Five fucking thrift stores.
“Five.” I got a dirty look from the old lady across from me on the bus, but I wasn’t going to feel bad about losing my mind. If she’d gone to five thrift stores all over the city for a stupid Christmas present for her boyfriend, she’d be insane too.
Leaning back against the seat, I tried to relax, but the hard plastic and constant bumps from the winter-ravaged roads made that impossible. The potholes were probably the only thing keeping me awake, so I should have been grateful for them. I wasn’t. I also wasn’t grateful for the early shifts and the cold weather.
But I shouldn’t even be complaining about the hours I’d been working.
When winter had hit and the landscaping jobs had stopped for the season, I’d thought I’d be out of work for months except for the occasional odd job. Thankfully, I’d been one of the handful of guys they’d kept on payroll for the snow removal side of the company.
There’d been all kinds of rumors in the previous months, so it felt like I’d been constantly on edge. Some had the company expanding and getting ready to hire more people in the spring, and others were the exact opposite. It was impossible to plan for the future when everything was up in the air.
Cooper had been keeping up a constant stream of excitement to distract me, but I wouldn’t feel better until I knew what the office guys were up to. I’d always been told that opposites attract, but I’d never believed it until I’d met Cooper. He’d been this wide-eyed kid with no filter when I’d first met him in high school, and that hadn’t changed in the years we’d known each other.
It hadn’t changed when our relationship had gone from friends to family, either. Cooper was still the same excited, loveable guy who always saw the glass half full. No matter how poor we were or how close we’d come to getting kicked out of the roach motel with the seventies decor we were living in, he was always unfailingly happy.
When I’d wrapped my arms around him and held him that first night we’d been out on our own, I’d expected him to break down or mourn the family that he’d lost when they’d kicked him out. Instead, he’d talked about all the things we would do and how he’d never been on an adventure before.
I’d chuckled and told him that scaring bugs in the bathroom was not an adventure. He’d laughed and said that when they were the size of small yappy dogs, it was. That was how he saw everything…as an adventure and something to experience until our perfect life came along.
I wasn’t holding my breath for perfect. I just wanted to be able to buy anything I wanted at the grocery store and have a real apartment to go home to.
Yawning again, I forced my eyes to stay open and watched as the buildings alternated between upscale trendy boutiques and dilapidated walk-up apartment buildings. Everyone kept saying the neighborhood was transitioning, but I just thought the place couldn’t decide if it was going back to the shit it’d started as or toward something nicer.
Part of me was hoping nicer, since Cooper and I were living in a cheap motel at the edge of it and I wanted someplace safe for him. The more practical side of me just pictured our weekly rent going up, making my stomach twist in knots. When Cooper thought I was starting to worry again, he’d just bounce around the room talking about how great we were doing and bringing up how much we’d saved so far.
But having a small emergency fund would never be enough to get us into a real apartment.
We just needed a few breaks—hell, even one would make a huge difference.
I shifted as I saw my stop coming up in the distance. Gathering my packages, I couldn’t help but smile when I thought about how crazy excited Cooper would be in the morning. Despite both of us being eighteen and out of high school, he really was a typical kid at Christmas.
It didn’t even matter to him that we had a sad Charlie Brown tree that was only about a foot tall and looked more like a dead bush than a Christmas tree, or that it would only have a few presents under it. He’d loved every minute of the holidays so far, and I had a feeling no matter what I’d gotten him, that wouldn’t change.
But he was going to love the movies.
They’d been one of the first things he’d finally opened up to me about. Disney movies and puppy play. When he shared secrets, they were never boring.
I’d had months to get used to the idea, but seeing him as a pup still made me smile. So did the way he watched Disney movies, passionately, like they were the best things ever. But memories of his secret brought back other memories.
God, he’d scared me so bad.
Hours after we’d graduated, I’d gotten a phone call from him explaining in the calmest voice that his parents were kicking him out, and he needed to know what to do. He’d said he didn’t want to bother me, but he wasn’t sure what to pack or where he needed to go once he left.
He was my Cooper.
He was supposed to be getting ready to go to college and having his overprotective parents stalk him to make sure he did everything he was supposed to. Instead, he’d listened to everything I’d told him and had even managed to crack a few jokes about the fact that he’d never run away from home before and it was so nice to have someone to walk him through it.
His parents were supposed to love him. Hell, everyone loved Cooper. Even the grumpiest teacher hadn’t been able to hold back against his cheerful optimism and teasing that always bordered on flirting, even when he didn’t mean it that way.
Instead, his parents had lost their marbles and kicked him out.
Figuring out why and what had happened hadn’t been first on my to-do list, though. I’d talked him through what to pack and what to leave behind before heading over to get him. Once I’d known he was safe and with me, then I’d started to question what the fuck had happened. He’d been a bit reluctant to admit it.
Which was impressive for him considering how hard it was for him to keep anything to himself.
He’d changed the subject in the most obvious way every time I’d brought it up that entire afternoon. When we finally crawled into the small double bed and awkwardly curled up together for the first time, he’d finally given in and started to explain.
I’d never forget how cute he’d been and how shocked I’d been.
“Well, you see…they didn’t like the gay thing, though they weren’t upset, but there were things that they wouldn’t appreciate me…exploring, and evidently, they went through my computer, and…” The rambling had gone on for almost five minutes before he’d gotten to the main point. “I want to be a pup and they found puppy play porn on my computer.”
That what the fuck moment would stay with me forever.
The lady on the other side of the bus gave me another odd look when I chuckled at the memory. Of all the things Cooper could’ve said, that hadn’t been what I was expecting. The porn part had made sense…he was crazy curious. I just hadn’t pictured him exploring puppy play.
Once he’d realized I was okay with it—aside from me finding it cute—he’d really started opening up about it. He’d snuggled close and told me how cute he thought the pups were and how he wanted someone to look at him the same way the masters watched their pups.
He’d also said he wanted a tail.
So when he’d finally gotten a job at the coffee shop, that had been the first thing we’d saved up money for. A tail butt plug for my funny pup.
Life took very weird turns sometimes.
As the bus stopped, I stood and tightly gripped the bags I’d dragged all over town. Christmas shopping would’ve been so much easier with a little more money or at least a car. Figuring out which buses ran to which thrift stores had nearly driven me insane.
I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of looks the old lady would have given me if she’d realized I had the VCR tapes of Lady and the Tramp as well as The Little Mermaid in the bags she was glaring at. She’d probably be convinced I was a pedophile or something and would’ve called the cops.
Explaining that my boyfriend just liked Disney movies would’ve been fun.
Making my way toward the motel, I glanced down at the cheap watch Cooper had gotten me for my birthday. I’d cut it close. But he’d be at working at the coffee shop for another half an hour, so I was pretty sure I’d have time to get everything wrapped and under the tree.
He’d refused to talk to me when I’d called it a sad stick.
As I got to the motel and started climbing the stairs to the second floor, I tried not to focus on how dirty the outside was and how creepy the neighborhood looked. The view from our floor wasn’t as bad because as long as we focused on the distance, we could see some of the nicer areas.
Cooper could talk for hours about what our apartment would look like and how proud we would be of ourselves when we could finally get into a new place. No one had a better imagination than Cooper. He could also see the bright side of anything.
To him, our dirty roach motel was just a stepping stone to a new life.
Instead of complaining about our gross room with dirty floors, he batted his eyelashes until the cleaning lady let him “borrow” the cleaning cart once a week to do a real job on the room.
Some days, I wanted to scream and shout that I had to get him something better, and other days, he was the only thing that kept me going.
As I headed into the room, I couldn’t help but smile. He’d rearranged the furniture again, and we’d somehow gained a second Charlie Brown tree, this one even sadder than the first. Barely even two feet tall, the little bush had a few scraggly limbs, and that was about it. It’d probably been tossed out because it was one step away from death, but Cooper had evidently decided to rescue it.
The room had been a blank canvas when we’d first moved in, but Cooper hadn’t let that go for very long. We hadn’t even been in the place a week before he’d dragged home a bookshelf someone had been throwing away. After that, we got a little table he’d found at one of the local thrift stores for seventy-five percent off and a collection of fake plants he said brightened up the place.
I was waiting for him to talk management into letting him repaint, but thankfully, he’d gotten distracted before that plan had gone anywhere.
Setting the bags down on the bed, I got out the wrapping paper and tape I’d picked up at the dollar store. Since it was Christmas Eve, I hadn’t been surprised to see that they’d sold out of traditional holiday wrapping paper, but I’d managed to find a roll of green paper in the birthday section that didn’t look too bad.
The VCR was the hardest thing to wrap and wasn’t what I’d expected to get him for a present.
I’d first started looking for DVDs of the movies he liked, but that had proven to be a fruitless and expensive search. One thing I had found, though, was VCR tapes of a variety of old movies for basically pennies.
The problem had been what to play them on. The first store I’d found a few of the movies at had some old VCRs, but they were huge and looked like they were one step from the grave. But in another store, I’d finally found one that was almost modern and looked like it had a few more years left, so I was pleased.
Once the movies and VCR were wrapped and under the sad trees, I yawned and stretched, fighting the urge to lie down on the bed and sleep for a hundred years. It felt like I’d been awake for days and cold for longer than that.
The heat in the building was iffy, so I gave up waiting to warm up. Standing, I started stripping off my clothes and headed for the bathroom. The water pressure was the only good thing about the place.
Tossing my clothes into the laundry basket Cooper had picked up, I shut the bathroom door and turned on the water. As I watched the steam fill the small room, I tried to think about Christmas and the day off we’d both have.
Our schedules were so erratic that some weeks we never had the same day off. I was just counting down the days until the spring when I could get back to work full time. Which unfortunately brought my mind right back to work.
Stepping into the shower, I closed my eyes and let the water run over me. I just had to keep telling myself we were doing all right and things would get easier once spring came around when I could work full time again.
As I let the heat soak in, that just seemed very far away.
All Sawyer really wants for Christmas is to be able to provide a better home for Cooper. A run-down roach motel isn’t where he wants his bubbly, always-looking-on-the-bright-side boyfriend to live. But instead, he has to settle for surprising Cooper with a second-hand present tucked under their sad Christmas sticks trying to pass for trees.
Cooper can’t imagine a more incredible Christmas. He has wonderful presents for Sawyer and an even better surprise he knows will have Sawyer bouncing around their cute little Christmas trees. With all the adventures they’ve had over the past year, Cooper knows that next year will be even better. He just needs to make sure Sawyer can see the perfection that’s just around the corner.
Story contains: mild BDSM, puppy play references, and two cute subs who dream of a master.