This was a three-part short story I wrote for the blog tour promo for Falling for Santa Claus. In the story it’s been a four months since the ending of the book. It’s summer, let’s stop in at Mabel’s Diner and see what’s cooking in Great Falls…
Mabel cursed at the shrill ring of the phone, wondering who in the world was calling her diner so early. She’d just opened and her only customers were the usual early-birds—Wilma, Beatrice and Connie, the three spinster McCoy sisters who always did their daily power walk around the town at 5 am sharp, followed by coffee and breakfast at Mabel’s. Then there was Herb, George and Stanley, three of the local farmers who gathered at Mabel’s every morning to discuss farming and solve the world’s problems while they were at it.
“Mabel’s Diner, this is Mabel. Make it snappy, I got home fries burnin’ on the grill.”
“Mabel. It’s Flo.” Flo was whispering as if the phone was being tapped.
“Hey sweetie, you gotta speak up. Or better yet call me later, hun, the rush is gonna hit soon.”
“I just saw Jackie.”
Getting irritated at her old friend, Mabel sighed. “Yeah, so?”
“I just ran into him on our street…”
“At this hour of the morning?”
“Yeah, I had to take Miss Pansy out for her morning poop, cause you know she gets really cranky if I wait too long. Not that I blame her, poor thing, I get cranky too—”
“Flo!” Mabel chided.
“Anyway, Jackie was walking up the street toward his house and he seemed in a real hurry. He didn’t even stop to chat when I called out to him, just waved and scurried into the house.”
Mabel nestled the phone receiver in the crook of her neck and grabbed the spatula to flip some pancakes “Well, maybe he was just—”
“He was coming from the direction of Nick’s house!” Flo rasped.
Mabel threw down the spatula and ducked behind the freezer for more privacy.
“Last week, Jeannie said he came rushing into the library, hair still wet and wearing the same clothes he had on the day before…and they were wrinkled, like they’d been slept in.” Mabel whispered.
“Or they’d been thrown to the floor in a mad rush to get naked and have hot monkey sex.”
“Flo!” Mabel cried out, while peeking her head around the freezer to see if anyone heard her.
“What? I wish I had someone to have hot monkey sex with.”
Mabel sighed exasperatedly and fanned herself. “Will you focus and stop talking about hot monkey sex!”
“Mrs. Glassman had Nick over to fix her toilet and she said he was whistling. Whistling! And he gave her a smile when he left. A smile, Mabel!”
“Oh my God. Something secret is definitely going on with those two.”
“But why are they hiding?” Flo asked.
“I don’t know, but I think I know how we can get them out of the closet, so to speak. Flo, bring over the calendar and the books tonight. It’s time we start plans for the First Annual Great Falls Pride Parade!”
Mabel looked up at the sound of the door chime and smiled widely.
“Jackie! Good morning! Come on up here, there’s plenty of room.”
“Up here” was the front counter of the diner, and where Jack usually sat when he came in. However today, Nick was already sitting at the counter with two empty seats next to him. Jack, hesitated uncomfortably, glancing longingly at a couple of empty tables that he would much rather occupy.
“Well don’t be such a slowpoke, your coffee’s getting cold!” Mabel had already poured him a cup and was waiting impatiently.
Letting out a resigned sigh, Jack walked slowly to the counter. Mabel had placed his coffee cup in front of the seat directly next to Nick. Without a look at either Nick or Mabel, Jack sat down on the second stool down from Nick and deftly slid his coffee cup over in front of him, quickly taking a big gulp of the warm brew. When he sat the cup back down, he glanced over at Nick, who gave him a head nod of acknowledgement and then kept right on eating.
Mabel’s eyes narrowed to slits as she glanced back and forth between the two men. Jack’s little stunt didn’t fool her. Something was up between these two men, she knew it in her bones the same way she knew it when a rainstorm was a mile away.
“Um, yeah, Mabel, that’d be great.”
As Mabel headed back into the kitchen, the door chimed again as another customer burst in with a clatter of noise. Papers flapped around as someone huffed and puffed, interrupted by “Oh excuse me, darlin,” and “Pardon me, Margie.”
Flo came wheezing up to the counter, squishing into the space between Jack and Nick and tossing what looked like a pile of brightly colored posters on the counter. She leaned on the counter for a minute to catch her breath before scooching herself up onto the stool.
“Hey, Jackie, hey Nick,” she panted. “Whew, it’s hot out there today!” Her face was red and damp with sweat.
Jack looked at Flo with concern as he handed her a couple of napkins from the dispenser. “Mabel,” he called out, “can we get a glass of water out here, please?”
“Thank you, hun,” Flo huffed as she gratefully took the napkins and dabbed at her forehead.
“Flo, what were you doing?”
“Posting up these flyers all over town. Thought I’d get an early start to beat the heat, but sheesh it’s like an oven out there.”
“The weather report did predict unusually hot temperatures for July today.” Jack said sympathetically.
“I’ll say! He—” Flo was interrupted by a loud growl coming from her right.
“What in the freaking hell is this?” Nick was clutching one of Flo’s flyers in his hand and his face was a dangerous shade of red.
Jack grabbed one of the flyers to see what it said. Great Falls First Annual PRIDE Parade Celebration. July 29, 2016, starting at 11 am at Maple Street and ending in the town square, where there will be food and games and fun for the whole family! Jack opened his mouth but didn’t get the chance to say anything. Mabel bustled back to the counter placing a plate of hot food down in front of him.
“We’re having a Pride festival! We know it should have been in June but there was already too much to do for the Spring Fling that month.” Mabel answered Nick.
Nick waved the poster in Mabel’s face. “I thought I vetoed this years ago!”
“You did but you’re not the only gay man in town anymore.” She gestured at Jack and smiled sweetly “And he approved it!”
Jack’s eyes widened as three pairs of eyes turned to look at him. He was only concerned with the angry pair that looked like they were going to shoot lasers at him and incinerate him instantly. Looking away from Nick he turned to Mabel. “I don’t remember anything about—”
“It was your first day, here remember?” Flo piped up. “When you came into the diner and we were having that nice conversation, getting to know you.”
Jack groaned inwardly. That had been nearly nine months ago. He’d completely forgotten and assumed the ladies had too. “I never actually agreed—”
“Listen boys it’s already planned and everything’s coming along real nice,” Mabel said. “Although I’m afraid it will be a bit toned down from the usual celebrations. Two celebrations in one month put a strain on the budget, and of course most of the money had to go to July 4th.” She frowned sadly for a minute before brightening back up again. “But everyone’s pitching in, it’s become a real labor of love. And isn’t that what Pride is all about?”
“Pride is about gay people, Mabel.” Nick sputtered through gritted teeth. “Gay people celebrating that they’re gay. It is not for straight people, much less planned by straight people!” His voice had risen loud enough that the whole diner could hear.
Flo looked devastated and on the verge of tears. “Well that’s not very inclusive, Nick,” she said quietly.
Mabel just rolled her eyes. “Flo, Nick’s just being a big ol’ party pooper!” She leaned over and got into Nick’s face. “Now we have all kind’s of holidays and celebrations to honor members of our community—our mothers, our fathers, our veterans, heck, we even have the Kiddie Fest in August for the kids to have one last hurrah before school starts. We should be allowed to honor the gay members of our community just as well.” When she was done she stood back with a satisfied grin on her face, still looking Nick squarely in the eye.
Nick crumpled the poster in his hand. “It will be a cold day in hell before I show up to this circus.”
“Well get your parka out then because you and Jack are going to be there as our Grand Marshals!” she cackled.
The day of the First Annual Great Falls Pride parade dawned bright and sunny. The temperatures had cooled down and it was a beautiful, perfect day.
Nick stepped outside and sighed heavily. He locked the door of his house and trudged down the sidewalk, heading toward the Parade. He could already see the rainbow flags from here. He’d watched the preparations the past few days and he had to admit he appreciated Mabel and Flo’s—and the whole town’s—enthusiasm. They had really been working hard to decorate the town and get everything together for the celebration. Local businesses were donating materials and food and many of the townspeople had come together and donated their time to help out. Unlike Nick, Jack thought the whole thing was a very sweet gesture from the town. He had attended Pride parades in Chicago when he was younger, and while it had been a few years since he’d last been to one, he remembered what it was like. While he had felt a happy camaraderie being around so many others in the LGBT community celebrating life and love, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. There were always groups of protestors, with signs like “Die Fags!” “Sodomy is a Sin,” “Burn in Hell,” “Marriage equals Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.” Horrible reminders that they were still hated by many. Nick, who didn’t like to bring attention to himself and had never really lived outside of Great Falls, did not realize how amazing it was to live in a town—a small town at that—where everyone who lived here accepted him without judgment or hatred.
Nick. Thinking of him made Jack sigh again. Nick had been scarce all week. He’d tried to talk to Nick several times, but Nick was not budging on his stance about the parade. And thanks to Mabel and Flo, he assumed Jack had some part in the whole idea, which had led to Jack spending every night that week in his own bed…alone. His balls were so blue they were practically frozen balls of ice.
There was still some time before the official start of the parade so Nick wandered through the town square. Booths had been set up for souvenirs and food and games. There were so many people…suddenly Nick stopped and turned around, taking the whole scene in. There were so many people. Too many people for the population of Great Falls. And too many…gays. And lesbians. There were men walking with men, holding hands or with their arms around each other. Women with women doing the same. There were families too—Two dads, one pushing a stroller and the other holding the hand of an adorable little girl. Two moms, each holding the hand of a small child. And the straight families of Great Falls that Jack knew so well were there as well, moms and dads and their kids. All of these couples and families—all of these people, gays and straights, decked out in rainbow shirts and LGBT-themed shirts, were smiling and laughing and chatting with each other. All of them just enjoying the beautiful day.
He saw Mabel and started toward her. “Mabel!” he called out loudly but she was already rushing off in the opposite direction, in such a hurry she never heard him.
“Excuse me, do you know Mabel?”
Jack turned to see a couple of men he didn’t recognize.
“Um, yes, I do.”
“Then you must live here? In Great Falls?”
“Yes, I do. I’m Jack.” He held his hand out and they each took a turn shaking his hand.
“I’m Brad,” the dark-haired man spoke, then gestured to the lighter-haired man next to him. “And this is my husband Greg.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jack said politely.
Brad spoke again. “We just want to thank you and your town for this Pride celebration, it really means a lot.”
“We drove over from Rutland, and brought my nephew, Tony” Greg paused and gestured toward a young teen standing in line at the food booth. “He’s just come out and it’s so wonderful to have a nearby Pride celebration to bring him to.”
“When we heard there was another town near us holding a Pride celebration, we had to come. I don’t think there has ever been one in this area of Vermont. We have to admit we were a little skeptical, but everyone we’ve met who lives here has just been so nice and welcoming. You have a great town here. And Mabel and Flo are a hoot!”
“Thank you,” Jack said, a bit in shock.
Brad held out his hand and he and Jack shook again. “It’s beautiful. Thanks again.”
“You’re welcome. Have a good time.” Jack responded. Greg and Brad smiled and walked over to join Greg’s nephew.
Jack spun around, taking in the scene before him with new eyes, understanding dawning. All of these people had come to Great Falls specifically for the Pride parade. To celebrate who they are because maybe they don’t always get to be so open in their own towns. They were thankful to have this celebration.
Smiling, Jack wandered back through the square toward Maple where the parade was going to start. He had a new sense of pride too, pride in his adopted town, for creating all of this.
“Oh there you are Jackie! Get your butt over here!” Mabel waved him over toward the small convertible car at the front of the line of parade cars. She had her clipboard in hand and her brow was furrowed and sweaty.
“There’s been no sign of Nick, so you may be our lone Grand Marshall. That no-good—”
Jack cut her off by wrapping her in a big hug. “Thank you,” he whispered in her ear.
She pulled away, looking more flushed than before, a shy smile on her face.
“I just walked the square and saw all of the people. And talked to a couple who drove here from Rutland just to come to a Pride festival.”
Her eyes lit up. “Isn’t it fantastic! We put the word out to every town in a 50-mile radius but I met a whole group of lesbians who drove three hours in an RV to come here! Here to our little old town of Great Falls! We’ve never had outsiders come to our festivals!” She was beaming. “We also got a lot of folks who responded and wanted to be a part of the parade!” She hooked her thumb behind her and Jack saw the rest of the parade lined up behind them—a couple of flatbeds and groups of people milling around ready to walk the parade. It was quite a mix of the LGBT rainbow. A group of Bears were on one of the flatbeds, there were six “Dykes on Bikes” as read their T-shirts, and there were even a couple drag queens.
Just then Jack caught a familiar sight walking up the sidewalk. He had a scowl on his face, but he was here.
Jack leaned over to Mabel. “Don’t freak, but it looks like your other Grand Marshall is here.”
She whirled around. “Holy crap!” Then she turned back to Jack, tapping his chest with her clipboard. “I’m going to let you deal with him.” She gestured to the car. “This is your car, Sam will drive you, all you two have to do is sit on the back and try to look happy okay? Okay.”
With that, she was off again. Coward, Jack thought, but then again she probably was right. He might be the best one to deal with Nick today.
As Nick stopped in front of him, Jack didn’t say a word, just raised an eyebrow and smirked. Nick’s response was a growl.
“Long time no-see,” Jack commented. “What made you decide to grace us with your presence today?”
Nick mumbled something.
“What’s that?” Jack had to ask.
Nick grimaced and leaned closer. “I knew you would show up and I didn’t want you stuck riding in this stupid parade by yourself.”
Jack smiled. From Nick, this was practically a declaration of love, and apology. Maybe it would mean he would finally get some action later.
“Hey boys! Happy Pride!” Herb walked up and waved a rainbow flag at them. Jack stared, open-mouthed. Herb, was wearing a chauffeur’s type leather cap, and a leather harness over his ample bare chest. His farmer’s tan underneath the leather harness was almost blinding.
“Herb, what in the hell are you wearing? Did Mabel and Flo put you up to that?” Nick growled.
Herb looked sheepish. “I Googled Pride parades to see what all the fuss was about and what to wear. It was either this or a dress, and that wasn’t happening.”
“Oh good God, Herb.” Nick rolled his eyes. “Go home and put some clothes on!”
Herb grinned broadly. “No time, now. The parade’s about to start and the bears invited me to ride on their truck!” He happily trotted off toward the Bear truck, eliciting a big cheer when he got there.
Nick was shaking his head, and Jack was clutching his stomach, trying to hold in his laughter.
“See, this is the kind of ridiculousness Mabel and Flo have started. He’s not even gay for pete’s sake!” Nick groused.
Jack took a breath, the laughter finally under control. “Well who knows, maybe the bears will turn him gay by the time the parade is over!”
Nick just grunted as he climbed onto the convertible. Jack climbed in next to him.
“Anyway, you haven’t even seen all of the “ridiculousness” Mabel and Flo have created,” Jack told Nick.
Nick just rubbed his hand over his face and groaned.
Jack said no more as the car took off, he just waited to see Nick’s reaction. It only took half a block before he saw Nick’s head come up and swivel around to see all the people lining the sidewalks waving rainbow flags and cheering.
“Am I seeing things or did the population of Great Falls suddenly get larger and…gayer?” Nick asked out of the side of his mouth.
“Word got out about the parade we were having. People have driven from all of our neighboring towns, even as far as three hours, to come participate and celebrate.”
He told Nick about meeting Brad and Greg and their nephew. “This means a lot to people, Nick. It’s important to them, and they are grateful to Great Falls. It might be hard for you to admit, but Mabel and Flo did a very good thing today.”
Nick’s continued facing forward, not acknowledging Nick’s words. Slowly though, he raised his hand and started waving to the crowds. Next, a small smile inched its way across his face.
They traveled another block, and were just entering the square when Nick finally spoke. “There are so many…” he whispered. “It’s…nice,” he said quietly.
And before he knew it, Jack felt a very large, very warm and familiar hand close over his. Nick was holding his hand…in public. For everyone to see. Jack looked over at Nick in happy shock. Nick turned just enough to wink at him, then focused his attention back to the crowd.
By now, they were at the middle of the square, and Jack, in a sudden, crazy burst of inspiration and love, let go of Nick’s hand, grasped the man’s face and planted a kiss on the his lips, right there, right in the middle of this huge crowd.
Nick’s eyes grew wide, and for one split second, Jack expected him to pull away. But after the shock wore off, Nick closed his eyes and his whole body relaxed into the kiss, even slipping Jack some tongue.
The whole crowd erupted in cheers and cat calls. Mabel elbowed Flo in the side excitedly as Flo clutched Mabel’s arm.
“See Flo! I told you!”
Flo wiped away a tear. “Oh they look so happy together!”
As the cheers died down, Jack pulled away from Nick, his lips tingling. “Please tell me we can go back to your house after this damn parade is over. My balls are so blue they’re iced over.”
Nick laughed evilly, and faced the crowd again. Sneaking his hand down behind Jack he grabbed Jack’s butt and squeezed it lustily. Jack sighed happily, as his balls slowly began to defrost.