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Bidder Rivalry

By E.F. Mulder


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2016 E.F. Mulder

ISBN 9781634865005

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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Thank you to everyone at JMS Books, and a special thanks to David, Tucker, Becca, and M.

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Bidder Rivalry

By: E.F. Mulder

Chapter 1: Gideon

Little Gideon sank into the huge, comfy, brown corduroy recliner as if he’d melted. He was a lanky boy, with black hair that had dried sticking out in every direction from being all wet with sweat because of his fever. He squinted at the artificial spruce right beside his chair. If he closed his eyes just so, the hundreds of glistening multicolored lights looked like laser beams coming right at him. With the 21st Century only ten years off, he wondered if Christmas trees would soon shoot laser beams for real.

The tree was really pretty, Gideon thought. Dozens of glass ornaments he and his siblings weren’t allowed to touch were nestled in amongst paper birds, toilet paper roll Santas, and Popsicle stick reindeer Gideon had brought home from kindergarten, first, and second grade. This year, his sister, Beth, who was currently trying to bang out “Jingle Bells” on their mother’s piano, had contributed several snowflake chains she’d made her first year in school. The best one she’d cut out was white. Later, she’d done one in green, then red, and finally purple, because that was her favorite color.

“Beth, sweetie, can you play for us later?”

Gideon wasn’t sure he liked purple snowflakes. He wasn’t sure his dad liked Beth’s piano playing either, but he kept both of those thoughts to himself.

Curtis, who’d recently entered preschool, wasn’t much into arts and crafts. The paper candy cane he’d created looked more like a red snake. Maybe that was why their mother had hung it on the side of the tree right next to the chair.

“Hmm, hmm, hmm. Hmm, hmm, hum…” Gideon’s mom had “Jingle Bells” on the brain, too. She only stopped humming it long enough to speak, as she put her hand upon Gideon’s forehead. “How are you feeling?”

“Okay,” he said.

“Daddy, look.” Curtis was running around the living room using a wrapping paper roll as a light saber, while their orange tabby, Cheese Doodle, darted in and out from under the tree skirt to attack his feet.

“Your cheeks are as red as Santa’s and you’re still a little warm.” Gideon’s mother put her lips where her hand had been. “I think staying home with Gramma is a good idea.” She walked away then, humming once again. It sounded way better than Beth’s playing.

“Beth! Enough piano! Go put on your socks.”

Gideon’s Dad definitely thought so, too. Both were pleased when Beth obeyed the order promptly.

“Daddy, look.” Curtis hopped up on the couch and swung his weapon at the stuffed fabric angel hanging from the ceiling fan. “Gid, come play with me.”

Curtis called Gideon “Gid” most of the time. He always had, because the other two syllables had been too tough to master when first learning to talk.

“Your brother doesn’t feel well.” Gideon thought his mother was as beautiful as the Christmas tree. Her dress was red, and her hair was loose, thick waves of gold, like the scalloped garland that hung around the perimeter of the room. Gideon hardly ever saw his mother’s hair down. She worked in a vet’s office and wore it up on top of her head most of the time.

“Daddy! Look!”

“I see you, Curtis,” Gideon’s father said, even though he hadn’t taken his eyes off the game on the TV.

“Curtis Star! Get down off of there. Ted?”

“Yes?” He glanced sideways barely a moment.

“Tell your son to get off the couch.”

“Get down, Gideon.”

Curtis planted one foot on the cushion and put his hands on his hips. “I’m not Gid!”

Gideon’s father looked back and forth between his boys, at Curtis who stood right beside him, and then at Gideon in the big chair across the room. “You sure?”

Two of them smiled.

“Yes.” Curtis frowned.

“If you say so.”

The frown turned to a fit of giggles as Gideon’s father tackled Curtis, like the defensive players on the screen, and started tickling him.

Gideon’s mom smiled, too. “Hmm, hmm, hmm. Hmm, hmm, hmm…” She paused at the rubber mat beside the front door, then turned and looked back toward the recliner. “Give your father his shoes, Giddy.”

Now Gideon frowned. Wearing Superman pajamas his grandmother had made for him last Christmas—Gideon liked Superman, Curtis liked batman—he had traded a pair of navy blue corduroy slippers for his father’s lace-up dress shoes.

“Beth, put on your boots.”

Beth skipped in from the hallway and headed for the shoe mat. “Hmm, hmm, hmm. Hmm, hmm, hmm…” She was humming now, too. “Jingle Bells” was one of three songs she and her classmates would be performing that afternoon. Beth loved to sing. Curtis was more into toy saws and hammers when not fighting imaginary battles. As for Gideon, he didn’t really know what he liked yet. So far, he mostly enjoyed watching his dad and Curtis work on projects in the basement, or being the audience member when Beth put on a little show out in the yard or in the living room, even if her piano playing sounded the same as when Cheese Doodle walked across the keys.

“Ted, tell your son to give you those shoes.”

Gideon’s dad said not a word as Gideon continued to shake his foot, making one of the size eleven black oxfords bounce.

“Curtis, are you getting ready, or are you playing?”

Curtis was definitely playing. Once their father had set him loose, he’d started running in circles around the room.

“Ted, help him put his boots on.”

The scene was a bit chaotic as the family readied to attend Beth’s very first elementary school holiday pageant.

“Come. Sit.” Gideon’s dad grabbed for Curtis as he ran by in hot pursuit of some make-believe intergalactic foe.

Curtis squirmed. “No!” But he didn’t resist very hard.

“Get his boots, will you, Giddy-Up?”

“How come you don’t have to wear boots?” Curtis asked their father.

“Dads don’t wear boots—or dress shoes if they can help it.” He offered a wink as Gideon walked past.

“I like these shoes.”

“I know you do. You wear them more than I do. Grab my sneakers while you’re over there.”

“Ted! You are not wearing sneakers to a concert.”

Though the request had come as a conspiratorial whisper, Gideon’s mother had heard it.

“No one’s going to be looking at my feet, Jennifer. They’ll all be staring at my little beauty, as she stands there and sings like an angel.”

Beth’s green, red, and gold plaid dress made noise as she twirled, basking in her father’s compliment. Her hair fanned out around her like a golden wreath. It even had a satiny red bow around it, just like the one on the front door, and her shoes were so shiny they reflected the lights from the tree.

“Beth, take those off.” Gideon’s mother sighed. “I said your boots. You can change into shoes when we get there.”

It was snowing outside. Not a lot. The grass was still visible even after an hour. As Gideon watched the flakes flutter down in the glow of the porch light, he sort of hoped the concert would be snowed out. If it was postponed until the weekend, he’d be able to go. Two feet or more might even guarantee a white Christmas. Sure, Christmas was still ten days away, but if that much fell, surely it all couldn’t melt before the big day.

“Do I have to take shoes?” Curtis asked.

“No. You can just wear your boots.”

“Why can’t I wear sneakers, like Dad?”

“Your father isn’t wearing sneakers. Gideon!”

Gideon turned away from the window, covered in festive, seasonal clingy pieces of plastic in all sorts of holiday shapes and colors. Gideon and his siblings had stuck them all on, though their mother would likely rearrange them later. She hadn’t seemed too pleased when Curtis and Gideon put Rudolph in the nativity with the sheep and the cows.

“Can we put up the stockings when you get home?” he asked.

Gideon’s grandmother had made them, too. Everyone got one the year they were born. He didn’t remember getting his—or when Curtis or Beth got theirs, for that matter—but they were really nice. They were going to make one for Cheese Doodle, since this was his first Christmas. Gramma Star promised they would. She was going to show Gideon how.

“We put up stockings on Christmas Eve, so they’ll be special. Now…Give. Your. Father. His. Shoes.” Gideon still thought his mom looked really pretty, even if she was scowling. He looked at her in awe, and also with defiance, waiting until she disappeared around the corner into the bathroom again before picking up his father’s sneakers from the big gray rubber mat. It held ten pairs of shoes when full, a pair of sneakers and a pair of shoes for everyone in the house. Boots were kept on another mat, one by the back door in the kitchen. They came out with the first snowfall and usually went back in the closet sometime before Easter. Gideon knew his mother had more shoes in the bedroom. Both pairs of hers were still on the mat, yet she had shoes on her feet. Both pairs of Gideon’s were still on the mat, too.

Gideon’s father mostly wore sneakers, even to work. He was a Shop teacher. Gideon used to think that meant his father taught kids how to buy groceries. Only recently had he discovered it was all about working with wood and tools. That made more sense, since Gideon’s dad did a lot of that at home.

“Giddy-up…my sneakers?”

“Oh.” Gideon had been lost in thought again.

“Thank you.” His dad stood and accepted them with a smile.

“I wish I could go with you.” Gideon hung his head.

“I know, buddy.” Gideon got a whiff of aftershave when his father scruffed his hair. “My little doppelganger.” People always told Gideon he looked just like his dad.

“My DNA had very little to do with this one.” That was what his mother always said, whatever it meant. All Gideon knew was that Curtis and Beth had light hair and hazel eyes, whereas his hair and eyes were both dark, almost black.

“You still had a fever this morning.”

“I know, but I’m all better now.” Gideon didn’t quite feel “all better,” but he figured the lie was worth a shot, since he didn’t want to stay home and miss all the fun.

“We’ll bring you home some Mickey D’s,” his father promised, grabbing for him.

“Dad!”

He’d lifted Gideon right out of the shoes. “You’ll have fun with Gramma. You can put the icicles on the tree.” Gideon’s dad walked him toward it. “No one else likes doing that.”

It was true. Curtis and Beth didn’t have the patience to hang the little silver strands one at a time, like Gideon did.

“And we’ll get the whole concert on tape.”

“Alright.” Gideon slumped, still in his father’s arms. “Just Beth’s part would be good, though. Not the whole concert.”

There was nothing like the sound of his father’s laugh, even right in Gideon’s ear. It was loud—booming—like the big bass drum at the summer parades around the county. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Walking like Frankenstein, with his arms around Gideon’s middle, his dad set him back down in the shoes once they made their way across the room.

“Gramma’s here!” Curtis ran to the door before she even came in. The snow seemed to be falling heavier now. Gramma Star was covered in white. “Did you bring cookies?” Curtis asked her.

“Of course, I did.” She brushed the flakes off her shoulders, kissed Curtis on the head, and then approached Gideon. “How you feeling?”

“Good. What kind of cookies?”

“Gideon…” His father never scowled. “Say hello to your grandmother first.” Even a scolding came with a grin.

“Hi, Gramma.”

“That’s better. What kind of cookies, Mom?”

“I see where this one gets it from.” She rubbed Gideon’s head, then his father’s, too. “You’re exactly alike. The house looks beautiful, Jennifer.”

“Thank you.” She flitted by like a butterfly. “How are the roads?”

“Fine. Totally bare.”

“We helped with the decorating,” Curtis said. “Me and Gid, mostly. Beth just stood there singing at us.”

“I did not.”

When Beth wasn’t looking, Gideon nodded his head. What Curtis said was true. “What kind of cookies?” he asked again.

“Oatmeal, chocolate chip, with raisins and coconut.”

“Can I have one?”

Gideon’s mom swooped in again. “If you eat too many now, they won’t be special for Christmas.” She said that about a lot of things. It was really important to her that things be “special for Christmas.” Cookies, snow, the decorations, new pajamas—if anything was eaten, walked through, put up, or worn too many days ahead, apparently it would ruin the entire holiday. She handed the bowl back to Gramma Star.

“There will be plenty more,” Gideon’s grandmother said. “All different kinds.”

Gideon took the Tupperware bowl when she offered it.

“We’ll all enjoy them together…after the concert.” His mother took it from him again and headed for the kitchen. She was hardly ever still, even when not preparing to go out.

“Okay.” Gideon didn’t fuss. He knew Gramma Star would give him a cookie or three as soon as everyone else left. He was patient about a lot of things.

“Are we ready?” His mom asked reentering.

“I should take a picture,” Gideon’s grandmother said.

“Yes.” His mother put some of her hair behind each ear. “Everyone together in front of the tree.”

For the first time all afternoon, the entire family moved as directed.

“Even me?” Gideon asked.

His father stopped partway across the room. “Of course, even you.” He reached out. “Stand here right next to me.”

“I’m wearing pajamas.”

“Pajamas and dress shoes,” Gideon’s dad said. “You’re the spiffiest looking one in the bunch.”

“Say Merry Christmas!” Gideon’s grandmother instructed once everyone was in place.

“Merry Christmas!”

* * * *

The picture didn’t come out perfect.

Curtis was making a silly face, Beth’s smile was a bit exaggerated, and Gideon would swear his mother was looking at the dress shoes on his feet—his father’s shoes—instead of at the camera.

“It’s perfect to me,” Gideon said aloud as he dusted the frame that held it some twenty-five years later. In the time that had passed, Beth’s dress was a little less vibrant, her blond hair and their mother’s a little less golden. Curtis’s eyes shone just a bit less mischievous, and the shoes Gideon wore looked more gray than black. “But still…yes…perfect.”

Gideon remembered watching his family rush to the car as if it was yesterday. Curtis’s face was so animated, Gideon could almost hear him laughing, then and now. Beth’s arms were flailing, her mouth wide open, probably singing at the top of her lungs and conducting the rest of the choir she would no doubt nearly drown out. Gideon had watched the red minivan until he could no longer see it. Then he’d drawn a tiny Christmas tree in the fog his breath had left on the glass.

“Milk or hot chocolate with your cookie?” Gideon’s grandmother had asked.

“Mom said…”

“I know what she said, but those sparkling, charming eyes of yours…who can resist them? Milk or hot chocolate?”

“Milk.” Gideon had followed right behind his gramma, clomping toward the kitchen in his father’s shoes.

He touched them in the photograph. “So many holidays have passed since then,” he said. “I can’t wait for everyone to visit this year.”

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas, 2016. Gideon was cleaning his tiny apartment in Las Vegas, Nevada, the one he’d moved into just after the new year.

“Plug your ears, Priscilla.”

Priscilla was a goldfish.

“Daddy has to vacuum, and then we can put up the Christmas tree.”

Gideon turned on the Hoover he’d purchased at a thrift store just down the street. Starting by the front door, he removed each shoe from the rubber mat there, eight in all, cleaned the whole thing with the brush attachment, and then did the tile underneath. Every shoe went back in its precise spot once finished, the smallest ones with the Batman logo on the heel first, then a sparkly pink and silver pair. Gideon’s ratty old sneakers were size eleven, the same as his father had worn two and a half decades earlier. There was always an empty space left beside the next pair, two scuffed brown penny loafers. Gideon hoped he’d finally be able to fill that space this Christmas.

“All done,” he said just eight minutes later. “And I even did all the corners, because it’s almost time for angels and Santa Claus.”

The walk-up above a dive bar called Elvis’s Vegas Sing-Along had three rooms, a living room and kitchen that Gideon counted as one, a bedroom, and a bathroom so small he always dried off in the living room after a shower. Gideon had poked fun at his living situation with the last guy he’d brought up after dinner and a movie, a liquor delivery guy named Patrick. “I sleep in all four rooms.”

“You take turns?” Patrick had asked.

“No. My head’s in the bedroom, my feet are in the kitchen, one hand is in the bathroom, and the other’s in the living room.” It was a dumb joke. Maybe that’s why Gideon’s first date with Patrick had also been their last. On the other hand, maybe it had more to do with Gideon’s fetish.

“Onto the shoe shelf.”

Dusting wasn’t quite as quick. In fact, it took forever, because Gideon was still as meticulous as he had been when putting icicles on the Christmas tree back when he was a kid. He also liked to relive the history of each piece in his collection as he wiped it down. “Maybe I should take a break first. What do you think?”

Gideon knew the answer to that was no. He couldn’t help himself, though. He had to check his laptop.

“I know. I know,” he said as he opened the screen. “I swore I wouldn’t look for another half an hour, Prissy. I’m not going to bid, though. I just want to make sure it hasn’t gone up too high.”

He signed into his BuyBay account.

“Still $147 even…with forty minutes to go. By the time I finish the shelf, bidding will be just about ready to close.”

Reading the description on the screen one more time, Gideon felt a lump in his throat.

“Blah. Not today.” He stood. “I know. We’ll put up the Christmas decorations now, and dust the shoe shelf later. I think it’s close enough to the twenty-fifth that they’ll still be special, don’t you?”

Priscilla didn’t offer an opinion. She likely didn’t have one.

“We’ll put the little tree right here beside you.” Gideon patted the counter next to the sink where Priscilla’s bowl sat. “And we’ll put some lights around every door…and some garland over there.” Now Gideon was excited. “Curtis and Beth will love it.”

He went to the closet. With so few Christmas decorations, they all fit in one boot box. “Mmm.” The scent of leather wafted through the air when Gideon moved it. The boots that had once been inside it were on one of the shelves on the other side of the room. Two walls were entirely taken up by the handmade pine unit Gideon had built, sanded, and varnished himself. It rose all the way to the ceiling, with five levels—ten shelves in all—each one illuminated with amber rope lighting from Kmart to show off the items Gideon had set out.

“Beautiful!” Loops of gold tinsel followed the line across the top of both sections, leaving long, flowy, fluffy tails to cascade down either side. “It’s not the original from back when I was seven, but it looks just like it.” Gideon sighed. “Too bad we don’t have room for a big tree with the shelf here, huh?” The contents of it would likely distract any visitors from looking at one anyway. Not that Gideon had much company over. He was kind of shy, at least in his everyday persona.

Gideon plugged in all the lights, stood back to admire his work, and then looked at the clock.

“Pretty. Can’t admire it too long, though. I think it’s time, Priscilla.”

Sitting at the kitchen table—a TV tray and a folding chair—Gideon booted up his laptop. “Still $147.” His finger poised over the Enter key, he fixated on the countdown clock in the upper right corner of the BuyBay.com page. “Seven seconds remaining, plenty of time. I want those shoes.”

They were ugly as hell, plain black leather lace-ups a size and a half too big, but Gideon had to have them.

“Better too big than too small. Five, four, three, two…” he counted off, and when the clock got to one—BAM!—he put in the final offer, $147.01.

Unlike other auction sites, BuyBay had no rules about minimal incremental increases. A bidder named 90sFandemonium had put up the $147 even. Gideon pictured him as a walrus of a man in a ratty T-shirt he wouldn’t change out of for days, even after dripping French fry ketchup on it, his keyboard, and his half-exposed gut as he cursed at the Internet gods because his bid had been one upped. One cent upped.

“Ha, loser! Game over.” Gideon sucked in the paunch at his waist. At least the undershirt he had on as an outer shirt was clean. “I don’t even like ketchup, do I, Prissy?”

As usual, Priscilla had nothing to say. That was probably a good thing.

Gideon checked his email for his order confirmation. “Come on.” He cruised BuyBay.com often, though he didn’t order much. Disposable income wasn’t exactly plentiful. This time, however, he couldn’t resist. “Daddy needs an old pair of shoes.” He turned to Priscilla.

Nothing.

So, Gideon stood. He paced around the four hundred square feet of space, pausing at the front door, then rushing back to the computer. A few clicks brought up his email list again. Still nothing.

“Shoot.”

He switched over to the BuyBay site to check the status on the item.

“No fucking way! I got that bid in on time.”

According to the page, the winning bid was $147.00, posted at 7:24 P.M, six minutes before the auction closed.

“That bastard!” 90sFandemonium was in for a beatdown. “He cheated, Prissy. I don’t know how, but he did.”

Gideon clicked on BuyBay’s Contact Us button and started a note.

Listen, you fucked up, lowlife cretins.

Then he recalled the phrase about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Dear sir or madam:

Re: Item 348-91B

I believe this item should have been awarded to me. My bid of $147.01 was submitted with one second left on the bidding clock.

Gideon wished he’d gotten a screenshot.

One second is one second, after all, and my raise is perfectly legitimate according to your regulations, which, yes, I actually read before checking the little box. I understand mistakes are sometimes made, and I’m definitely willing to forgive this one as long as I am awarded the shoes. If I do not hear from you within 24 hours, I will contact my attorney and we can let the courts resolve this very unfortunate issue.

Sincerely,

Gideon Star

“They won’t know I couldn’t really afford the shoes, let alone a lawyer,” Gideon said to Priscilla. The real reason he’d bid $147.01 was that his credit card only had $148 available credit. Another 99¢ and he would have been out. Gideon had no idea how he was going to buy Christmas gifts for his mom and dad this year, but he’d figure something out. “They want me to have those shoes, too. I know they do. I already got Curtis’s and Beth’s…and Mom always said handmade gifts are better anyway.”

The guitar, sitting in its spot on the two-seater sofa caught Gideon’s eye. “There’s always the song.” He got a pang of guilt—and some other twinge. Gideon had been promising his family a song for years, his mom and dad, his brother and sister. “It’s almost finished. I swear,” he’d told them just the other day. “The new job…the new apartment…You know how it goes.”

Another year, another excuse.

“I don’t want to spoil your surprise, Priscilla, but guess who’ll be getting fresh, clean water in her bowl and an extra bit of fish food from Santa. Maybe even a little green plastic tree I bought around Halloween…if I can find it.”

Once Gideon proved he wasn’t a robot by identifying buildings that could be stores, he submitted his BuyBay note. After the Your message has been received notification came up, he stood to survey his collection. Gideon knew just where he was going to put Frank Funn’s shoes. Frank Funn, as portrayed by Brock Anderson, was Gideon’s favorite TV dad. Barely seven at the time, Gideon had first watched The Funn Family Christmas episode way back in 1991, just a few days after Beth’s school concert. The story was entitled “Walk a Mile in Dad’s Christmas Shoes” and was all about how Skippy Funn went out to play in the snow in a brand-new pair of dress shoes his father had been given for Christmas. That TV era was chock full of schmaltzy sitcoms. Since this one was on Saturday mornings, on a network for pre-adolescents, it was the schmaltziest of all of them. Skippy got in big trouble, but then, in typical Act 3 fashion, he and Mr. Funn had a long, sweet talk to work everything out. Afterwards, the whole family hugged, and then burst into a rousing rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in front of a twelve-foot, decorated tree. It was quite sweet and very wholesome.

“Fathers and sons…” Gideon said, thinking back over the dozens of times he’d watched it since, on VHS, DVD, and YouTube. “Nothing can tear them apart.”

After checking his inbox one more time, “I didn’t really think they’d write back that fast,” he plopped down on his sofa with a sigh. It was almost time to head off to work. “Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” Gideon cleared his throat. “I know.” He’d had a thought while ascending the vocal scales. “I’ll wrap the shoes up when they come and sign the card from you, Priscilla. You’d get them for me, wouldn’t you?” Gideon got up and went to her. “You would if Capital One let fish apply for credit cards…because you know why I want them so badly.”

As always, Priscilla was noncommittal.

Grabbing his garment bag through the window to the fire escape, Gideon headed toward the door to step into his canvas slip-ons. “See you when I get home, sweetie.” He blew Priscilla a kiss. “When I do, those shoes had better be officially mine.”

* * * *

Chapter 2: Rudy

“Don we now our gay apparel…” It was the day after Christmas, 2007. Surrounded by a mountain of clothes, shoes, and underwear, Rudy was straddling his sixteen year old cousin on the unmade bed they’d shared on Christmas night, neither of them wearing much. “Fa-la-la, fa-la-la, la-la-la!”

“Me gay? You wish,” Dondre said.

“Are you two working or goofing off?” Rudy’s father bellowed from downstairs.

“You think he knows?” Rudy whispered nervously.

“Goofing off,” Dondre yelled toward the floor.

Rudy tugged at his boxers in front as he anxiously awaited his father’s reply.

“Hey, at least I’m honest.” Dondre smirked up at him.

“Get back to work, and then come down for breakfast.”

Suddenly, Dondre flipped Rudy, taking the top position. “Ten more minutes!”

“Five!” Rudy’s father shouted.

“Eight!”

“You’re going to get us in trouble,” Rudy whispered.

“How many times I got to remind you, Rooty Tooty? I’m adopted. Everyone’s afraid to yell at me, out of fear they’ll make me feel like an outsider.”

Being yelled at by Russ Winner and his brothers was what most of the family had in common.

“See?”

Rudy was still. “Shh.” He even held his breath.

“You shush.” Dondre didn’t. He was blowing peppermint all down in Rudy’s face, making the wisps of wheat colored hair in front of his eyes dance. “Listen. No more hollering. I told you. Now sing to me some more while I suck your…candy cane.” He reached for it back on the nightstand.

“You’re always right, Mr. Know-it-all.” Rudy took the opportunity to regain control. Using a scissor leg move he’d learned from his wrestling coach, he was breathing down on Dondre now. Dondre’s hair didn’t move. It was too short. “You sing.” He was a beautiful boy, Rudy thought—a man—almost. They were both almost men. “Or we can sing together, like we used to.” He grabbed the candy cane—rightfully his from his stocking the day before—and took a lick.

Rudy got a solo every year at the holiday concert, from first grade all the way through eighth. That year, 2003, he and Dondre were supposed to sing “Silent Night” as a duet, but Dondre cut out at the last minute.

“I can’t believe he did that!” Rudy had complained on the way home in the car.

“I think it’s time for you to stop singing like that, too,” his dad had said. “It’s okay when boys are little. The older they get, the more people will start to wonder.”

“Wonder what?” Rudy had asked.

“Russ…”

Whenever Rudy’s mother said his dad’s name like that, the conversation usually ended.

“Come on, Don. One verse.” Rudy had eventually gotten over Dondre bailing on him. Now, years later, as he closed his legs around Dondre’s hips and pushed his shoulders into the rumpled sheets, he just wanted to kiss him. They’d kissed before—just once. They’d done more than that several times. As much as Rudy enjoyed putting his mouth on other parts of Dondre, there were times all he wanted was his lips.

“Get away from me, homo.”

Rudy flinched. “Jerk.” He climbed off his cousin and the bed and looked over the pile of donations they’d gathered for Good Will, two beds’ worth and part of the floor, some from Rudy’s drawers and closets, and some Dondre had brought over in bags.

“I didn’t mean it.” Dondre sat back on his heels, his neon orange boxer briefs pulling tight across the front. “Don’t be mad. It’s just…”

“I know.”

They were quiet a while, as Rudy folded some clothes and Dondre sat like a sexy statue. “You’re getting rid of a lot of stuff this year,” Dondre finally said.

“I wanted a good selection…just in case it’s my last Mismatch Day.”

The day after Christmas was known as Mismatch Day in the Winner family. For every item received under the tree, each family member had to part with one. The tradition extended beyond the immediate household. Aunts, uncles, and cousins took part as well. Before the clothes were all packed up, each Winner had to put together a hideous outfit with clashing colors and patterns. Whoever came up with the worst look won a prize, usually a ten dollar gift card. It wasn’t really about the reward, but rather the victory. With a last name like Winner, the competitive edge ran deep, even amongst the people who only married into the name. Rudy’s mother’s mother had started the game. Her sisters and their families were pretty cutthroat, too, on the golf course, the pool, or the dining room table playing marathon sessions of Monopoly.

“I can’t believe our little boy is going all the way to Arizona for college,” Dondre said.

“Maybe not…” Rudy was bent over, rooting through the pile of hand-me-downs on the floor. “…if that whole Y2K thing finally happens, like Dad keeps predicting.”

Dondre chuckled. “It’s been six years, bro. I think he can relax about that.”

“Tell him. He still swears it’s going to happen eventually.”

“Six days until the end of the world…” Dondre got down off the bed and pressed himself to Rudy’s ass. “Maybe we should…”

Rudy turned and stood up straight. “I am going to miss you.”

“Don’t cwy.” Dondre faked a few sobs. What started as a caress on Rudy’s cheek ended up as a hard smack, then he grabbed Rudy’s hand and used it as a weapon. “Why are you hitting yourself, Fruity Rudy? Why are you hitting yourself?”

“Knock it off.” Rudy pulled away.

“Did I hurt you?” It was obvious Dondre didn’t really care.

“No. I was getting a boner.”

The confession made Dondre bark like a seal. “You’re such a woman.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” An orange sweater draped over the rod between some hangers caught Rudy’s eye. It would look pretty bad with burgundy sweatpants. “Perfect.”

“You’re not going to explain to me the difference between the male and female anatomy, cousin?”

Wherever Rudy went, Dondre followed. They were literally now in the closet, where Rudy nodded toward Dondre’s erection. “Don’t think I have to.”

Dondre didn’t try to hide it. “I really can’t believe you’re ditching me six months early, man! Why you can’t wait ‘til June?”

“You’ll get over it.” Rudy flung the orange sweater onto the bed. If there was a way to put on everything that lay there, an eye offending rainbow of mismatched mishmash, he would win for sure.

“Hey. Wait, bro.” Dondre clutched a striped polo shirt he’d pulled off a hanger to his bare chest. “What do you mean your last Mismatch Day? You’re coming home next Christmas, aren’t you? And for Easter…and your birthday?”

“That shirt’s brand new.”

“Dude…”

“What?”

“You’re coming back.” Dondre brought his lips close. “Tell me you’re coming back.”

“Give me a reason to.”

Rudy’s door opened then with a smack against the wall.

“Can’t you knock?” Dondre covered his dick with both hands and the balled-up shirt.

“Easy, Don.” Rudy came out of the closet. “Morning, Dash.”

Rudy’s baby brother Dash was only six. He was still in his pajamas—Snoopy bottoms with Sponge Bob on top—and not even on purpose to celebrate the occasion. He’d likely wet the bed again. “You’re not coming home next Christmas?” Dash asked.

“Probably.” Rudy put on the sweatpants. He looked at a red T-shirt with a yellow stripe across the middle. It might clash more than the orange sweater, he figured. “Hurry up before Dad yells again.”

“He’ll get over it.” Dondre put on sweatpants, too. He put them on quickly.

“Sometimes he doesn’t.” Going with the orange sweater, Rudy pulled it over his messy blond hair. “What do you need, bud?” He scruffed Dash’s, just as messy, but dark. Grooming was rather lax on Mismatch day. Bedhead added to the style.

“Dad said to come get you.”

“He did, did he?” Rudy bear hugged his brother and spun him around. “Come on, let’s get you dressed in something fugly first.”

“The girls always win,” Dash said with a frown as Rudy set him down.

It was true. Girls’ clothes seemed to have a plethora of patterns and colors that were way more easily mismatched. “Well, maybe not this year,” Rudy said. “We’ll see what we can do.” He picked his little brother up again, then glanced back at Dondre before heading for the door. It might very well be their last school vacation sleepover together. The desperation to kiss his cousin was strong. Rudy did it with his eyes. The look in Dondre’s—when he locked them on Rudy before glancing away—said he understood.

“We’ll have to come back up here later and…fold all this stuff Ru.”

“Yeah,” Rudy said. “Later.”

The TV was on in the kitchen. The morning show host was chirping away about how much money The Pursuit of Happyness, Eragon, Charlotte’s Web, and Happy Feet—which Rudy had already taken Dash to see twice—had brought in at the box office over the holiday.

“Dashiell Winner! You march right back upstairs and put on something hideous.” Rudy’s mom folded her hands over her chest, but her smile gave her away.

Dash giggled.

Rudy smirked. “I used the blow dryer.” He’d colored his brother—his brother’s long johns, more accurately—using every jar of paint and magic marker he could find. Dash looked like a psychedelic zebra. Having stripes that went in every direction next to each other was more dizzying than the color pallet. Several shades of vomit brown created by mixing colors willy-nilly put next to red, purple, and pink didn’t hurt, though. “But be careful. He still might be wet.”

“It’s very original, Root Beer. You’re a great big brother.”

One who was old enough to outgrow his mother’s nickname, he thought—all the nicknames. Each family member seemed to prefer a different one.

“You look busted, Dashy,” Dondre said between sips of coffee. “And today, that’s a good thing.”

Rudy’s father flapped the back of his hand at his family as if shooing a fly. He was on the phone. “It’s my pleasure. I’m always glad when we can make a difference, especially this time of year.”

Russ Winner was a politician through and through. He was using his Town Councilman cadence, his elected official tone.

“Of course, it’s not just a holiday situation, so let’s make sure we keep it up after the New Year, as well.”

“If there is a New Year,” Rudy thought, rolling his eyes. His father was not a dumb man. Sometimes it seemed as if he chose to be ignorant.

“We’ll have a campaign ahead of us. Reelection is right around the corner, so we’ll want to get that into full gear January second. Family values…the constitution…America first…that’s what we’ll concentrate on.”

Their district was pretty conservative.

“Talk to you soon, Billy.” Rudy’s father hung up the phone. His sneer turned to half a smile quickly enough, as his children and his wife stood across from him clashing with the cabinetry and each other. The girls would be tough to beat. Cousin Vicky had on leopard leggings with a floral top in fuchsia and gold, plus a scarf the same shade as Rudy’s sweater. His sister, Connie, had chosen to stay in the same color family.

“Who knew there were so many yellows?” she asked.

“Or that they could look so nauseating all put together? I guess that’s why people don’t put mustard on a banana,” Rudy said.

“I wanted Dash to win,” Connie whispered as their little brother headed for the cereal cupboard. “Good job.”

Rudy didn’t take time to bask in the compliment. His ears perked up when he heard the TV anchor mention Sydney Morrison.

“You’ll recall he played little Skippy Funn on The Funn Family sitcom back in the nineties,” she said. “Well, now make-believe father and son have been reunited. When Morrison came out of the closet last month, it seems not everyone was supportive.”

“A lot of people tore me down,” Sydney Morrison said, his handsome ginger baby face taking up the whole screen. “But it was important for me to live in my truth. Brock was really there for me. My TV dad was more supportive than my real one, actually. ‘I’m gay,’ I said to Brock, and just like something out of the last act in our show, where everything turns out okay, Frank…Brock…he took my hands and—”

Rudy’s father flicked off the TV. “Hollywood fags.”

“Russ…” Rudy’s mom wrung the dishtowel in her hand.

“First Doogie Howser ruins How I Met Your Mother and now this fruit thinks we care who he unzips for.”

“Russ…”

Rudy’s heart twisted. He looked to Dondre. It wasn’t a shock, his father’s feelings on the matter. Still, the way he expressed them so freely, it really hurt.

“Let’s have breakfast.” Rudy’s mom smiled as she brushed by.

“It’s disgusting, and I don’t care what any liberal says, no father wants to hear those words coming from his kid.”

So, Rudy never spoke them.

* * * *

Nine years and almost a thousand miles away from that time and place, Rudy had replaced real love with other things.

“Suck it, StarlightStarbright!” He wallowed in his $147 victory, sitting at the desk in his huge master bedroom in his Bullhead Arizona home, reading his email from BuyBay.com on the latest Apple iPhone.

December 10, 2016

8:07 P.M. PST

Congratulations 90sFandemonium! With a bid of $147, you are the winner of item 348-91B, costume shoes worn by Brock Adamson on The Funn Family TV sitcom.

“I’ll resell them for a grand or more to some pathetic moron who believes all that fake TV crap is real.”

Some people liked reading. Some watched sports. Rudy Winner was into buying and selling. Granted, the online auction playing field might not have been level. He’d truly lived up to his name, though he wasn’t always thrilled with where it came from. The wealth Rudy had amassed surely gave him an unfair advantage on BuyBay. Whether the turnover was ten bucks or hundreds of thousands, however, as it was in Rudy’s everyday business ventures these days, there was a feeling he got from profiting on a flip, an adrenaline rush—a bump. Better to get it in a legal, non-addictive way, he figured, because he knew firsthand that drugs could fuck a person up.

“Maybe that Starman…Starwoman…whatever…will want them even more when I get Mr. Funn to autograph them.” Rudy had connections. “Or maybe I’ll just chuck ‘em into a wood chipper and stand there watching gleefully as they’re spit out in little pieces like chunky vomit.”

“You talking to me?” The guy Rudy had just fucked was dressing to leave.

“I was,” Rudy said, somewhat disappointed his repulsive metaphor had fallen on deaf ears.

“What’d you say?”

“Never mind. Not important.” Rudy didn’t even glance back to catch one last glimpse of his one night stand naked. That was how much he cared, even when he heard a small crash.

“Shit. I knocked over your lamp.” The dude had apparently stumbled while putting on underpants. “Sorry. The shade’s bent, but the bottom part’s okay.”

“Whatever.”

“Take it out of my check.”

Rudy stayed focused on his iPhone screen. “They’re just things.”

Rudy had a lot of things—artwork, designer clothes, expensive electronics, and antiques he kept in storage because they didn’t go with his modern décor. Some would call his home a mansion. The grounds were well manicured, all decorated with fresh pine boughs that would need spritzed daily, plus velvety red ribbon, and twinkling white lights for the holidays. The guy in his bedroom had put it all up.

“Okay. Well…see ya around, Rudy.”

“Maybe.” Rudy tossed an extra fifty on the bed for Tommy? Toby? Todd. That was it! Todd. “Someone has to water the greenery.”

Once alone again, Rudy finished the transaction for Frank Funn’s shoes, and then checked the rest of his emails. There was one from his assistant. It was Melinda’s first Christmas working for Rudy. She wasn’t quite familiar with the process.

Thank you, Melinda, Rudy replied to her note. It’s not necessary to tell me what gift you got each person, just as long as everyone listed gets something.

Between his siblings, the cousins, and the rest of the family, business associates, and the Toys for Tots donations that made him feel good inside, there was a great deal of shopping to do. Rudy didn’t pick out a single item.

Cash bonuses for the postman, the UPS guy, etc. will be $250 this year. A hundred times their hourly wage will be the rate for the women who decorated inside the house today and the extra help we bring on for the quarterly functions. Same for the regular staff plus an extra $500. It’s been a good year and I want them to enjoy the holidays. Everyone is granted time off from Christmas Eve until January 3rd. I am greatly appreciative for those who help me throughout the year, which includes you, of course. Be sure to pick up something you like for yourself now or closer to the holidays up to $500 to go along with your stipend. Merry Christmas!

Rudy

Reading down the list of eight more emails—”Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Dash”—Rudy decided he could wait and look at them later. The ones from his mother were likely positive affirmations or maybe some song she’d stumbled upon that she really liked. Dash’s would just make him sad.

Rudy took a shower, read the Wall Street Journal front to back, and then tried to decide whether or not to head out for a nightcap. “Already been fucked, is there any point?”

Looking around the empty living room, noticing the tree for the first time, done by the professional decorator in all crystal and blue this year, and at the fireplace with blue stockings, Rudy recalled years of decorating with the family back in Utah. It was always an event. Each person had a job. Rudy was in charge of untangling the lights when he was little, back before Dash was even born, because he was the only one of the brood with the patience to do it, a real “never quit” attitude. Every decoration had meaning back then, a story or a memory. He remembered the year his mother announced one more Winner would soon be on the way.

“My sisters and I always wanted nine,” she’d said, standing in front of the tree holding up a red baby sock with fur around the top against her big belly. “It’s going to be a boy. We need a Dashiell.”

She hadn’t even had an amniocentesis. She’d set her mind on what she’d wanted, and sure enough, just after New Year’s 2001, she’d delivered Dash.

“He’s so little.”

“You were that little once,” Rudy’s mother had told him as he’d sat on the edge of her hospital bed at age eleven, holding the tiny bundle in his arms.

“The world didn’t end, and I got a baby brother. The new century is starting off pretty good.”

“Don’t mind your father.”

“Hmm, hmm, hmm…” Rudy had started humming. “What Child Is This?” was one of his favorite Christmas songs, so he sang it full out, even though the holiday season had come to an end several days earlier. His mother had closed her eyes and gently moved her head side to side on the hospital pillow. Then Rudy’s father had returned, and the look he’d shot Rudy’s way, it all came to make sense a couple years later on that car ride home from the holiday concert.

Dash hadn’t stayed little for long. By the time he was five, he was taller than all the other kids in kindergarten. When puberty hit, he’d shot up about a foot overnight. The last time Rudy had been home, three Christmases ago, at not even thirteen, Dash was nearly as tall as he was.

Rudy picked up a cow from the brass nativity scene on the sofa table. “I wonder how much this cost,” he thought. It had been a gift from one of his business associates the year before, which reminded him, he had to check with Melinda concerning the menu for the Christmas Eve soiree, and also for a head count. “Hopefully I can cut out early.”

The chime from Rudy’s iPhone cut into his thoughts.

“Hey, bro.”

“Dash. I was just thinking about you. How you doing?”

“You shouldn’t have to ask that. Brothers should know how brothers are.”

“Seven words in, you’re giving me shit?”

Dash laughed. “I’m good. So, I was thinking of coming over that way for Christmas…Mismatch Day, actually. Maybe we can—”

“I won’t be around.” Rudy pressed at his gut. “I have business out of town.”

“Dang it! We haven’t seen you since…2013.”

“I know.”

“Like, hardly at all since you went to college.”

“That’s not true.”

“It feels like it.”

Rudy was at the window, looking east, as if he could see his brother across the miles. “We skyped on your birthday.”

“That was eleven months ago.”

“Well, I found a gray hair since then, otherwise, nothing else has changed.”

“Premature graying comes from stress, dude. You’re not even thirty! How many screens are you looking at for business purposes while we’re talking?”

The answer was four, but Rudy lied some more. “None.”

“Yeah, right. Have you told Mom and Dad you’re not coming?”

“Haven’t been invited.”

“You’ve become so important you need an invitation now?”

“Ha-ha. I’ll talk to them soon. I’m busy, Dash.” Rudy looked at the family portrait on the grand piano, the whole bunch of them, Mom, Dad, brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. How many Christmases ago was it taken? More than three, obviously. “Foreign markets don’t close for Christian holidays. I’m doing some stuff with a guy in Japan.”

“Cool…I guess. We need a baritone, though…and someone to be the racecar.”

Rudy smiled. “We haven’t played Monopoly on Christmas for years.” He didn’t mention the fact he hadn’t sung on Christmas for a while either.

“Maybe we oughta start again, now that I can compete.”

“Maybe.” Rudy had asked Santa for the game back when he was eight. It was his favorite “toy” of all time, though his sister and cousins debated whether or not it actually counted as one. Never overly thrilled with the endless board game, they became even less so over time, because Rudy always trounced them.

“I’d imagine Monopoly pales in comparison to being a real-life tycoon, huh?”

“Real life and board games have very little in common, baby bro. Board games come with a rule book.”

“You singing to anyone else these days?”

“Not lately, Dash.”

“I remember you singing to me all the time.”

“You do?”

“Of course.”

“You have a good voice, too, Dash. Ever thought of trying out for the school play or something?”

Dash snorted. “That’s gay stuff. No girl would come near me.”

Rudy twisted his window curtain in his fist. “Hugh Jackman does okay.”

“Wolverine?”

“Never mind.”

“Maybe I can come down for my birthday,” Dash said. “When do you get back from your business trip?”

“Not sure.”

“By summer?” The sarcasm was thick. “Maybe I can come when school gets out…or spring break.”

“We’ll see.” Rudy was pacing. The living room was so big he quit half way across it and turned around.

“I gotta figure New Year’s Eve in Vegas is something else.”

“Vegas is an hour away from me.”

“You trying to talk me out of visiting? You don’t want to see me?”

Rudy bit his cheek. His heart hurt. “Of course, I want to see you.” He had a whole other life now. The Rudy his relatives knew only showed up when he visited, which was less and less frequently as the years went on. “But I gotta go, Dash. Sorry. See ya soon.”

“I hope so.”

Rudy took a deep breath. “Me, too. Love ya.”

“Back atcha.”

The moment Rudy clicked off, he grabbed a light jacket and headed out the door. He drove about an hour, into Nevada, and then another thirty minutes. He was still in Vegas, technically, but it was the rundown seedier part. Rudy kept going. Where? He had no idea, not until he came to stop in front of a tacky little bar with those big old-fashioned Christmas lights around the entrance.

Elvis’s Vegas Sing-Along Bar the place was called. Sing with the king a red and green sandwich board outside the establishment read.

“Me, me, me, me.” Rudy shut off the car. “Not bad.” He got out and went inside.

* * * *

Chapter 3: Gideon and Rudy

Gideon noticed the stranger’s shoes immediately. “Nice. Expensive.”

“What’s that?” Brett the bartender should have been used to Gideon talking to himself by now.

“Nothing.”

Gideon had a thing for shoes, and not just those worn on television. There were 117 on his handcrafted shelf, most of them singles. He imagined slipping the ones off the feet of the guy who’d just walked in to add to his collection. A lime green flip flop Gideon had snatched at the beach when he was fifteen started it all. It was the first time he had given into the temptation that had gnawed at him for years. Once he’d experienced the rush that followed, he knew he would never need drugs. The flip flop’s rightful owner had amazing feet. They were average size, a nine or a ten, and really sexy when wet, with the little thatches of hair on each toe dotted with water droplets. Gideon liked a hairy man. He loved hairy toes, though not so much in the prison showers.

Gideon had spent four days in jail for attempting to lift a single sneaker from a local gym locker room a couple years after that very first flip flop.

“You were trying to steal my shoe?” the angry owner had asked when he’d caught him in the act.

Guilty as charged, Gideon had thought, then said to a judge. The gym rat had been hell bent on pressing charges. He was muscular, with jet black hair and piercing brown eyes. The cop asked if he and Gideon were related. “You look a lot alike.”

“If I could magically grow four inches and lose thirty pounds, we could be twins.” Gideon often cracked jokes when nervous.

They could have been siblings, maybe, the high school jock everyone liked and his weird, nerdy brother who sometimes embarrassed him. They would have had some turbulent years as teens, Gideon remembered thinking, if one got into a lot of trouble like he had, and one was always a good boy. As adults, they’d be closer than ever, though. No one could tear brothers apart. That was how he always imagined it.

“My brother and I don’t really look like each other,” he’d ended up saying, with his eyes fixed down on his own shoes. “I look like my dad. My brother looks like my mom.”

Neither the cop nor the “victim” had really cared about any that.

“Both parents must be real proud of what you’ve become,” one of them had said.

With no money to pay the fine, Gideon had been left with no choice but to serve out his sentence. Short as it might have been—though celebrities were getting less time for more serious crimes just about then—he’d decided to only buy shoes from that day forward, mostly at Saving Soles, the secondhand shoe section at the local Goodwill. He hadn’t purchased any new footwear for a while, though, not until he went after the pair on BuyBay.

This handsome stranger’s, his were at least a size twelve, Gideon figured. They were dressy, shiny, and black, not the type of footwear one was used to seeing in an establishment with a whip on the wall, chains and dog collars hanging on the front of the bathroom doors—blue for men, pink for women—and ménage a trois handcuffs attached to the bar rail. A taxidermy bear stood in one corner at Elvis’s Sing-Along Bar, a gumball machine in another. A pink Christmas tree lit up the third, and a piano took up the fourth, nearly blocking the door to the storage room. There was no rhyme nor reason to the style, no particular ambiance. The color scheme was purple, red, orange, yellow, blue, and black, and because it was Christmas, every other color in a box of sixty-four crayons was represented in lights, tinsel, or some other gaudy holiday doodad. It was kind of a mismatched mess.


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