Romance heroes tend not to have celebrated quite as many birthdays as most of the people who write them–but Larx and Aaron are different. They’ve both had children from prior relationships, and aren’t quite the spring chickens we’re used to in a romance. But what they lack in youth, they make up for in heart. Please enjoy this brief foray into the world of Bonfires.
The Smallest of Presents
By Amy Lane
Larx did Aaron a solid and took him out to the frostie for a turkey burger while Larx was supposed to be “distracting” him.
“I appreciate this,” Aaron mumbled into the Formica table, embarrassed. Larx’s metabolism was lightning fast—probably because, for a forty-eight-year old man he moved almost constantly—so he didn’t have to worry about going home to a house full of pizza. But Aaron—who spent half his life in his cruiser and the other quarter doing paperwork—was not nearly as active.
It was a thirty-pound difference between them, and in spite of their almost daily morning runs, Aaron was embarrassed how hard he had to work to keep his waist trim.
“I’m not sure how taking you out to eat before you eat is going to help you out,” Larx said kindly, taking a bite of his double cheese. “But if I get ground beef in my body this week and nobody at home knows about it, I’m game!”
Aaron glared at him. “Is your cholesterol even—“
“Totally within range,” Larx said, licking ketchup from the corner of his mouth. “I know. You hate me. Hate me into the mattress after the party.”
Aaron groaned and took a virtuous bite of his turkey-burger, full-on-salad and ketchup only. No mayo. God, he used to love mayo. “How could you plan a party for me?” he asked, wishing his hands weren’t greasy so he could tug at his hair. “Forty-eight. Who has a party for a forty-eight-year-old—“
“I’m going to be forty-nine next year,” Larx said, wiping his face. “And then you know how old I’ll be?”
Tension bled out of Aaron’s shoulders. “Twenty-eight forever,” he said, smiling slightly.
Larx’s eyes were a deep, limpid brown—but when he rolled them, it wasn’t the color that caught Aaron’s attention. It was their expressiveness, and right now he was expressing “Pure bullshit.”
“We’re not kids,” Larx said, taking another bite. “We’re grownups. We’re even in… uh, the middle of our grownupness. Own it, baby. They don’t call them the golden years because we all get gorgeous tans.”
Aaron scowled—and took another bite. He couldn’t stomach pizza anymore. Cheese, onions, super greasy meat—was a recipe for gas and disaster, and he hated to be the guy who gave himself extra lift off the couch. But if he didn’t eat something he’d be gorging on pizza that was better put in the fridge for the two male teenaged eating machines who lived in their house.
And maybe a piece for the dog, who thought he was one of them.
“Why do we call them the golden years?” Aaron asked suspiciously. “And don’t we have to wait until we’re retired? Because I’ll call them the golden years if we’re traveling the country in an RV with a dog and a refrigerator full of beer.”
Larx’s eyes got big and dreamy. “Could we go up into Canada? I’ve always wanted to travel Yonge Street from coast to coast.”
“It doesn’t go from coast to coast,” Aaron said through a full mouth. “It doesn’t even go over a thousand miles. People thought it did because it got mixed up with another road in Ontario.”
Larx pouted. “Well, that’s a disappointment. But I still want to see it. And we can go on that other road in Ontario. And we can see Vancouver and Victoria. And Europe. I mean, I backpacked around Europe before I got my credential, but I want to go back with someone cool and spend entire days in places. And Mexico. And you know, Jimmy Carter is in his nineties and still doing habitat for humanity. You want in on some of that action? Because I always thought being old and useful beat being young and stupid by a mile. We could start shelters for emancipated minors and LGBTQ kids who got kicked out and—“
Aaron started to chuckle. “Slow down there, buddy. We haven’t even turned fifty yet.”
Larx’s grin was all teeth. “According to our kids, you haven’t even turned forty-eight.”
One last bite of burger left. Aaron finished it off, sort of enjoying the plain taste of unsalted turkey. When you’re young, you don’t really savor actual food—you think if it doesn’t have five hundred sauces on it, it’s boring. But Aaron had just had a date with Larx in a small town frostie, eating a turkey burger and talking about the future, and that had been the best part of his week—and of his birthday.
Youth really was wasted on the young.
“So, pizza.” Aaron had to make sure now that he’d officially ruined his appetite.
“And ice cream and pudding cake and—“
Aaron rubbed his stomach, feeling gassy already. “There goes sex,” he muttered, and Larx guffawed.
“Please. If gas even slowed either of us down we never would have kissed. Now let’s get home, you can open your presents, and we can go to bed and kiss.” Larx stood and tossed their garbage, then grabbed his hand and hauled them out of the frostie. Back in October when they’d first started seeing each other, neither of them would have dared to have this conversation in a public place, and Larx certainly wouldn’t have grabbed his hand.
But times changed—children grew older, their parents grew old—and things got better when they were worse.
Today, Aaron’s boyfriend could take his hand in a small-town diner when he wouldn’t have dared four months ago.
The piled snow attested to January in a mountain town, but Aaron was driving the cruiser and it had great traction and chains. He negotiated the icy roads expertly while Larx sat in the passenger seat and talked at length about all the things he hadn’t done yet but he was saving for when the two of them could go together.
Yeah, sure. They’d have more wrinkles—and probably more gas—but they’d be together. He’d have a companion who got him, who liked his smile, who wanted to touch him in public. The older he got, the simpler the things that made him happy. Like the turkey burger, having a companion at his side as his children moved up and away from him seemed like a luxury he’d never appreciated as a young man.
They pulled up in front of the house, where their kids waited with balloons and pizza and a whole lot of refined sugar and carbs—the trappings of a young man’s party because their kids were young and wanted the best for him.
“Wait,” he said softly, putting the car in park and tugging Larx’s chin a little until Larx was facing him.
“What?” Larx asked, but he was smiling a little, his mouth parted, so he knew what.
That didn’t make the touch of their lips any less sweet, or his taste any less warm, any less exciting, any less wonderful.
He pulled back and Larx’s smile went ear to ear. “Happy birthday,” he said softly.
“Forty-eight. Best year ever.”
“Wait until fifty,” Larx said, with all the confidence in the world. “I’ll really knock your socks off.”
They went in for another kiss, and as Aaron got lost for just one more minute in Larx’s arms, he wondered what they could possibly do to top a turkey burger at the frostie and necking in the front of the car.