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There were many reasons that Jake hadn’t been home to visit his parents in Castorville in nearly a decade. The most obvious of those reasons—to him, at least—was the fact that he was about as deep in the closet as a man could be as he rapidly approached the age of thirty, and for someone like him to spend any more time than was absolutely necessary in a town like Castorville was simply begging for trouble.
But, given that he was the only one who knew that secret—well, in addition to Zach and now Coach Roberts—the more obvious reason that Jake and his sister Lucy stayed away from their home was their parents. While Jack and Cindy Huebner were perfectly respectable and well-liked citizens of Castorville, each having done their part to coach the odd little league team or run the PTA’s annual bake sale while their kids were still young, behind closed doors, they weren’t exactly what one would call the perfect couple.
For nearly thirty years, since just before Jake was born, Jack Huebner had worked at the oil processing plant on the edge of town. He worked nights at the factory, pressing castor cakes on the screw mills and then spent his days sleeping and running the house. Cindy, on the other hand, worked up at the high school as an administrative assistant. They had met at that very school thirty-five years ago and, while they still loved each other to some degree, the spark wasn’t quite there the way it was when they were younger.
Nowadays, most of the time they were together was spent bickering about stupid things of little importance, neither ever conceding nor admitting in the slightest that there may be some truth to what the other was saying. It drove Jake and Lucy wild and, instead of putting up with listening to what their parents’ marriage had devolved into, they stayed away.
Of course, Jake also appreciated not having his mom regularly lecture him about his need to marry and have kids before it was too late. As much as he wanted to tell her it likely wasn’t in the cards, he never quite had the heart to do so.
For all of the years of avoiding his return and the anxiety he had about doing so, Jake found his arrival to be much ado about nothing. His parents had welcomed him joyously the night before, and they had had a low-key evening of chatting at the kitchen table, making up for time lost without any bickering—at least nothing too bad—and no hard-hitting questions he didn’t have answers for.
He awoke Christmas morning to the unmistakable smell of cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. The scent wafted from the kitchen, bahis firmaları through the living room, and up the hallway to his room at the end. As if his nose was caught on a line, he was lured out of bed and into the main part of the house. The Christmas Tree glowed in the corner, presents piled high beneath it. His father was on the floor, leaned up against the couch, his eyes fixated on the television. The unmistakable voice of Jimmy Stewart was talking about lassoing the moon. He could see his mom in the kitchen, standing by the stove; her back was to him but, given the smell, he knew she had to be spreading icing on the cinnamon rolls. Outside, through the frosted windows, he could see the neighbor kids having a gay old time throwing snowballs and sledding down the hill.
A smile crossed his face and, for once, he felt glad to be home.
Jack took notice of his son’s presence and his face lit up. “Morning Jake. Merry Christmas!”
Jake continued into the room. “Merry Christmas to you, too, Dad.”
He turned his head toward the television and saw the muted paint-like colors of It’s a Wonderful Life. A young Jimmy Stewart stood there, beaming down at the youthful Donna Reed, as the nosy neighbor yelled at him to kiss her already.
“You’re watching the color version?” Jake asked as if it were blasphemous. “I thought you hated this version.”
His father shrugged, peering at the screen over his square glasses. “I do, but your mother got in the mood to clean and conveniently misplaced my copy, so I’m forced to watch whatever is on television. I guess a little color is better than skipping the thing entirely. You can’t have Christmas without it, you know?”
“I do,” Jake replied. “You never let me forget it.” Every Christmas, when he was on the phone with his parents, his dad asked him if he’d watched it. Jake always made an effort to have it playing in the background just to appease the old man.
“Sit,” Jack said, patting the spot next to him and inviting his son to join.
Jake did as he was told.
“To be honest, I think your mother lost my copy just so she wouldn’t have to sit through it again,” Jack admitted through a handful of M the tree skirt had been straightened, and the Christmas train was circling the trunk, hurrying along its route bearing gifts for all; candles burned ever so slowly on the dining room table, flickering here and there as the waft of Christmas ham floated in from the kitchen.
Jake sat eagerly on the edge of the couch, anxiously waiting for Coach Roberts to arrive.
The doorbell kaçak iddaa rang, and Jake’s heart leapt. He started for the door, but it opened on its own. Pushing their way through was Jake’s Uncle Marty and Aunt Susan. His heart fell and so did his face. The two relatives shouted “Merry Christmas” as they made their way out of the foyer and into the living room. Jake had just enough time to regain his smile before they noticed him.
“Is that my little Jakey?” Aunt Susan squealed, passing the dessert in her hand off on her unsuspecting husband, whose own hands were full of bags filled to the brim with gifts.
“Hi Aunt Susan,” Jake answered, bracing himself for her ecstatic embrace.
“It’s so good to have you back for Christmas. Oh dear, would you look at you? Put on a few pounds, eh?” she said, pinching his cheek, before turning toward the kitchen.
“So I’m told,” Jake replied under his breath.
“Johnathan?” she called, referring to her brother. Susan was the only one who called her brother by his full name. “Why didn’t you tell me Jake was coming?”
“Surprise,” he heard his dad say from the other room.
“Everything good in the city?” Uncle Marty asked, his arms still full.
Jake shrugged. “Living the dream.”
“Good for you. Got yourself a sweet lady yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“You know, before I met your Aunt Susan,” he continued for some reason, “I used to have the most amazing times with those city gals. There was one by the name of Sadie Greene. She had golden curls running down into the nicest honkers you’ve ever seen. Not the biggest, mind you, but they were something else. Imagine, if you will, the best-looking honeydew melons you’ve ever seen. Got it?”
“Honeydew, yes,” Jake replied, wondering where this was headed.
“Good. Now cut those down about half—I told you, they weren’t the biggest—but they were just as sweet and juicy as any melon you’d find.” Marty lowered his hands from the melon gesture he had been making in front of his own chest. “Are the Bay City gals still like that?”
“Yeah . . .”
“Even better,” Jake lied.
Uncle Marty’s face twisted up like he was both reminiscing about the old times, fantasizing about the current times he’d never get the chance to experience, and relieving himself in his pants. “You’re a lucky kid, Jake. If there’s any advice I have for you: don’t settle down. Not until you have to.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Uncle Marty.”
“Marty!” Aunt Susan called from the kitchen.
“See kaçak bahis what I mean?” Uncle Marty asked. “Not until you have to.”
With that, he, too, disappeared into the kitchen. Jake rolled his head back to the ceiling and sighed. What on Earth made me think coming back for this was a good idea? he asked himself. As he lowered his head, there was a man standing in the foyer looking at him. Under his coat, he wore a light blue dress shirt beneath a red Christmas sweater that had a row of decorative white snowflakes. The sweater extended out around the man’s rotund belly and ran down into a pair of dark slacks. The Santa suit was gone, but the man came bearing gifts.
The smile returned to Jake’s face as he saw his former coach standing there in his home.
“Sorry, I’m late. The door was open.” Jerry said.
Jake opened his mouth to say something back, but before he had the chance, his mother hurried into the room and, upon seeing Jerry, rushed toward him. “Jerry Roberts? Is that you?” She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him in for a big hug. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Likewise,” Jerry told her.
“How long has it been?” Cindy asked.
“Well, let’s see, I retired in 2012, so eight years, I suppose.”
Cindy shook her head. “Incredible. It’s amazing how the time flies.” She turned back to where Jake was standing. “Jake? Did you see Coach Roberts is here?”
“Jerry is fine,” Jerry insisted.
“Why don’t you take his coat and get him settled. Dinner is in five minutes.”
As she fled the room, Jerry and Jake moved slowly toward one another. Neither knowing what to say, Jake decided the best course of action would be to just do as his mother said. “I can take your coat, if you’d like.”
Jerry smiled warmly back at the young man. “That would be swell. Would you mind?” he said, extending the plate of cookies and the wrapped gift in his hand.
Jake took the items and held them as Jerry removed his coat. “Coats go back in my room. I’m not sure why we’re still doing it that way. Lucy isn’t here, but that’s how we always did it when I was a kid, so I think my mom just wants to keep the old traditions alive as much as possible, especially since I haven’t been around in—”
“Jake . . .” Jerry cut him off, noticing his tell-tale nerves.
“Your room?” Jerry asked.
“Right. Follow me.”
Jake led the old man out of the living room and down the hall to his bedroom. At the end of the hallway, there was a door on the right that was Lucy’s room and a door on the left that was his own. He took the coat from Jerry and set it on the bed.
“I see you’ve had some fun with my jock,” Jerry said, noticing the stained fabric on Jake’s pillow.
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