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turned my life around entirely

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When Alex decided he was going to take over his brother Gregory’s toy store, he did not think how hard it would be. It was ironic because he barely got customers, but when he did get a customer, they wanted something so specific that he always scrambled to help them.

When Gregory finally got a teaching job after struggling so hard to get one, he offered the manager job to Alex, who had been looking to keep himself busy after his injury. His brother went into big brother mode and didn’t want Alex to be sitting at home bored, feeling sad for himself. Alex was just thankful that he had at least one of his brothers in his corner.

Alex was in the middle of trying to fix one of the toys at the counter, while Christmas music was faintly playing throughout the store when the music was interrupted by the sound of the jingle of the bell above the door. Alex sighed, knowing he would have to look up to help the customer, and he heard the sound of boots walking towards the counter.

“Well, hello there,” a voice greeted him, and he looked up to see a curly-haired man with a cowboy hat on his head. The man was giving him a smile that he didn’t know how to interpret, as he waited for Alex to respond.

Alex continued staring, taking in the gorgeous curls that he suddenly wanted to put his fingers through before realizing he needed to stop looking at the customer.

“Hi,” he cleared his throat before placing the toy down and giving the man his full attention. “How can I help you?”

“What do you recommend for a four-year-old girl who likes dolls but also likes fire trucks?” Alex raised an eyebrow at the question before realizing he had the perfect gift.

“I think I have the exact thing you’re looking for. I’ll be right back,” Alex limped over to the doll aisle, using his crutch for support and finding the toy right away.

“Got it,” he yelled, waving the toy in the air. He heard a distant laugh and walked back to the register.

“We have an entire selection of dolls dressed up as firefighters. My brother’s ex-girlfriend was a firefighter whose daughter wanted one, so my brother found someone who made them. They’re surprisingly one of the more popular dolls we have in the store, according to my brother.”

Alex handed over the box with the doll, dressed in the firefighter attire, and watched as the man grinned.

“How much?” Alex watched as the man pulled out his wallet, taking in the man’s calloused hands. Were they smudged with ink, or was it oil? Was this man a mechanic?

Before Alex could continue wondering about this man’s profession for a reason unknown to him, the man in question cleared his throat.

“Sorry! It’s $24.99.” The man handed over $30, and Alex went to open the register but cursed as it jammed again.

“Having trouble there?” The man questioned, his eyes watching as Alex struggled at first, though he did finally manage to open the register.

Handing him his change, Alex shook his head. “I’ve only been working here a week, and this thing has done that to me about 20 times. Sorry about that.”

“No need to apologize. You managed to help me get my niece a gift a day before Christmas. My sister-in-law recommended this shop. Glad I came by.” His eyes looked Alex up and down, and Alex felt his cheeks go pink under the scrutiny.

“You’re welcome. If you can let your friends know about the shop, I would appreciate it.”

The man nodded, “I will be sure to let all my friends with kids know. My name is Michael, by the way.” A hand went out towards Alex to shake.

Alex took in Michael’s sincere expression and put his hand out to take hold of Michael’s.



“Rosa, are you sure you want me there?” Alex asked his best friend a day later, watching as the snow got heavier around them.

The older woman looked up at Alex, giving him her best glare, before grabbing his hand and dragging him towards her sister Liz’s house.

“Alex, you turned down going with Greg for the holidays to see your mom at the reservation, and your piece of shit dad is dead. I am not letting you spend the holiday alone. This is your first holiday back from overseas, and you’re going to spend it with me,” she responded before she continued cheekily, “Seeing Liz and Maria are just a bonus. Plus, don’t you want me to see your niece?”

Alex could only nod, knowing how right she was before she opened the door. It made him feel like a part of their family, knowing that Liz and Rosa saw him as their brother, considering they always referred to Molly as his niece.

As the door opened, he made sure his crutch didn’t get caught on the step-up going into the house.

“Alex is here!” Rosa announced loudly, and Alex groaned as everyone looked in their direction.

“Alex?” A friendly voice came from the hallway, and a familiar curly-haired man appeared from behind Liz.

“Michael?” Alex responded, shocked at the revelation.

“Max, you didn’t tell me you knew Alex! He’s the guy who helped me with Molly’s gift,” Michael walked over to Alex and brought him in for a hug.

Alex froze, not knowing why Michael was actually hugging him, before hugging back when he realized how warm Michael was while holding him.

Pulling out of the hug, Alex raised his eyebrow. “Max is your brother?”

“Yeah, I live in Albuquerque, but was visiting for the holiday. I teach over at UNM. I came here later than I expected with no gift, so I really owe you one.”

“How about a date?” Alex asked bluntly before going wide-eyed, realizing he just asked out a complete stranger, who gave him no indication that he liked guys. “I’m sorry! I should-”

“Yes, a date sounds good.” Michael grabbed his hand gently and walked him towards the living room. “Now how about we give Molly her gift to open.”

Alex could only nod, words escaping him as he thought about what just happened, and followed Michael.

“Uncle Alex!” Molly ran over to the man she had only seen through video chat before now. Alex’s eyes went misty as he took in how much she had grown. The last time he’d seen her he was on leave and was only able to be around to meet her shortly after she was born. He had missed so much due to the Air Force. He was just thankful that he was out now.

“Hi Molly,” he sat down in the chair, mindful of his leg, and let the little girl climb into his lap.

He twisted her around to face him, getting her comfortable and making sure he was comfortable himself before he turned to Michael.

“Your Uncle Michael has a gift he wants to give you. You want to unwrap it now?” She nodded excitedly and watched as Michael pulled out the gift from under the tree. It was not wrapped great, which amused Alex, but Molly did not care because as soon as she saw how big the gift was, she attacked the gift wrap.

Alex held onto her, making sure that in her excitement she didn’t fall off his lap. Alex thought that Michael would be watching Molly, but when Alex glanced over at him, he noticed that Michael was staring at him with a warm expression that made Alex blush.

He really needed to stop blushing in front of this man.

“A firefighting doll?” Molly gasped, pulling Alex back into the present and away from thoughts of undressing Michael with his eyes.

If only Alex knew that Michael was doing the same thing with him.

“Yes!” Michael replied, excited at being able to show the gift to his niece. “See, your Uncle Alex works at a toy store and helped find me this doll. I know how much you love dolls and fire trucks, so we combined it in one!”

Molly smiled wide, showing the gap in her teeth, and pulled Michael in for a hug. He laughed, not caring at the uncomfortable position he was in on the floor to hug her, and watched as she pulled Alex in for the hug too.

“Thank you, Uncle Michael,” she started before turning to look up at Alex, “and thank you, Uncle Alex. This is the best gift ever!”

Alex struggled to hold in his tears.

Why did he have to cry all the time now?

“Uncle Michael, Uncle Alex, look!” She let go of them and pointed up to see a mistletoe being lifted above their heads.

“Uh oh, guess this means we have to kiss you!” Michael said, grinning before him and Alex kissed Molly on her cheeks.

She giggled, pushing them away playfully. “That tickles!”

They watched as she carefully got down off Alex’s lap before looking at each other with a smile. Alex quickly turned away before the pink tinge in his cheeks could get any darker.

“You have to kiss each other!” Molly’s voice made Alex turn, and he looked up as the mistletoe still was being held above their heads. Michael smirked and then gently grabbed Alex’s face in his hands to bring him closer. Alex took note of how pink Michael’s lips were, and he licked his own before closing his eyes and crashing their lips together. Alex’s hands went through Michael’s hair, bringing him in even closer as the kiss continued, ignoring the gasp from Michael and the surrounding guests. A giggle brought them out of their mistletoe kiss as they looked down at Molly.

The little girl was looking at them with a grin stretched across her face.

“You two kissed forever! Mommy took pictures!” They both went red and turned to Liz, who was trying to hide her polaroid camera from view.

“That was definitely more than a quick kiss, my friend,” Rosa stated, smirking over Alex’s shoulder. He groaned before letting his forehead fall against Michael’s chest. The other man could only laugh before putting his arm around Alex.

“At least we gave them a show, right? This party was dying before you came in,” Michael declared, as an insulted Max was heard going “Hey!” from the kitchen. Alex lifted his head off of Michael’s chest and glanced up at him.

“Now, do you want a drink?” Michael asked. “I made eggnog, and so far, it’s made no one sick!”

Alex snorted. “I’d love to. Then maybe we can talk about our date?” He bit his lip, suddenly wondering if the date proposal was just a fever dream.

“How about tomorrow?” Michael asked, grinning and wasting no time.

Alex lifted an eyebrow but smiled back. “Sounds perfect. Merry Christmas.”

Michael gave Alex a peck on his forehead, then moved down to his cheek and then finally his lips. “A very Merry Christmas indeed.”