So to help kick off this party, I'd like to introduce a favorite author of mine who I have had the lovely joy of actually getting to meet, Mr. David Berger! Take it away David!
This is an excerpt from “Father’s Day,” one of two short stories I contributed to the anthology New Years to Christmas: 15 Queer Holiday Tales. Jason and Aaron meet in “The Hanukkah Gift,” but this story actually has the Hanukkah flashback scene where Aaron meets Jason’s family.
• • •
A few more crackers and chopped liver. Aaron was trying to convince himself that he could make it through dinner without incident; it almost became his mantra. While his mother started regaling him with stories about her friend Hadassah’s new grandson or Aunt Pesha’s poodle, he wondered if he really could bring Jason here to meet his family. Surely, Jason’s family had to have its own tzouris—drama—right? Even though Aaron thought the man was near perfect, that family had to have some issues. But, despite all the drama, he really did want Jason to be a part of his family. Six months into this relationship, and Aaron was ready for a more permanent commitment, and that also meant being a part of Jason’s son, Aryeh’s, life. That boy makes Jason smile so big and his eyes just light up. It had been hard for Aaron, since he’s not used to being around younger children, and he didn’t want to make a bad impression, especially the day they met.
• • •
Hanukkah, 2011. 11:35 p.m.
As soon as Jason and Aaron arrived at Jason’s parents’ house, all eyes were on Aaron. The house smelled of Hanukkah candles that had already burned out as well as oil from the potato latkes. Jason’s sisters, Rebecca and Michelle, whispered to each other while looking at Aaron as their brother said hello to his parents. Aryeh had already gone to bed, exhausted from staying up to play dreidel with his grandparents. Once the introductions were over, Aaron joined Jason on the couch and asked about the man sitting with Jason’s mother, Adele.
“Oh, my step-dad. Mom remarried when I was 25. He’s a good man and treats my mother well. And, he adores Aryeh. It’s a shame he’s asleep. I wanted you to meet him.”
Mrs. Blumenfeld brought a plate of latkes over to the two. Rebecca quickly followed behind to hand them plates and forks.
“Sour cream or apple sauce?” Adele nodded at two bowls.
“Both, please.” Aaron smiled up at her while she put a healthy dollop of both on his plate.
Rebecca squeezed between them on the couch, nudging her brother away playfully. “So, how’d you two meet?”
“Go easy on him, Rebecca.” Jason laughed. “Aaron, I’m going to check on Aryeh. If my sister starts asking too many questions, just shove a latke in her mouth.”
Not long after the inquisition started, Michelle came over and sat on the other side of Aaron. He didn’t mind the questions, though, and it gave him the chance to find out more about Jason’s family. Both sisters, while having similar features, had some striking differences: Michelle, the younger sister in her early 20s, had a more casual presence with a long bob of blond hair with subtle pink highlights, baby pink sweatpants and a Thor t-shirt. Rebecca, on the other hand, in her mid-30s, had French tips on her professionally manicured nails and long, brown hair, and wore a pale blue cashmere sweater with blue slacks. Jason’s step-dad, Howard, just sat in his recliner reading a novel on his Kindle, chuckling to himself about how entangled Aaron was in the third degree. He knew better than to intervene. Adele asked the girls to leave him alone and help her finish putting dishes away.
On the side table, Aaron saw a photo of Adele, her first husband, Solomon, and all three children. By the looks of it, the parents must have been in their late 20s. Jason was clinging to his father’s leg, looking up at him.
Hearing Jason’s shoes on the tile, Aaron turned to see him carrying a sleepy little boy, his head nestled under his father’s chin.
“He heard me come in.” Jason felt the need to justify himself to his mother she gave him a look. “I had to give him his Hanukkah present.”
Jason gestured with his head for Aaron to join him in the dining room, and father and son sat on a chair. Aryeh’s eyes batted open a little, checking out this strange person.
“Aryeh, this is Aaron. Say hello.”
The three year old buried his face in Jason’s chest.
“Nice to meet you, Aryeh.” Aaron held out his hand.
No response. Aaron just smiled.
“It’s okay, Jason. He’s half-asleep.” He put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “I’d be scared, too.”
Aryeh never left his father’s lap, although he did eventually wake up enough to eat a latke, never taking his eyes of Aaron. Jason was right, though, about his parents: they were certainly night owls. He didn’t leave until 1:30 a.m., and Jason walked him to his car. Aaron leaned back against the driver’s door.
“I’m sorry about Aryeh.” Jason leaned his forehead against Aaron’s. “He was probably just tired.”
“No worries. Maybe next time, we’ll meet during normal daylight hours.”
“I think he does like you. He’s protective of me and usually throws things at people he doesn’t like. You could have been wearing that latke.”
Aaron gently kissed Jason’s lips. “Call me,” he whispered.
“Yessir.” Jason grinned.
As Aaron drove away, he felt a little sadness, especially since he didn’t remember his father being so attentive to him as a child. But, perhaps, things could change. Or not.
• • •
His mother handed him silverware and napkins to put at the table, but she kept talking about her Mahjong group or her community work at the synagogue. That woman could hold a conversation with herself quite easily. Aaron could have driven home and back, and she would still be talking, never having known he was gone. Through the front door came his sister, Rachel, kugel in hand and boyfriend in tow. Adele put the kugel on the table while Aaron said hello to his sister.
“Hey, brother.” She gave him a hug and a peck. “You remember Robert.”
They shook hands. “Of course.”
“Robert, go say hello to daddy. I need to talk to Aaron for a sec.”
Rachel took her brother by the hand and led him into the living room.
“So, where’s Jason?” She shook her hands like she’d won a prize. “Robert and I were so happy when Mom said he was coming.”
“Wait. Didn’t Mom ask you to bring him?”
“Uh, no. I’ll bet she told Dad, he made a comment, so she said, ‘Okay, okay, Jack,’ threw up her hands, and relented.”
Rachel pouted. “You now, you’re probably right. But, she did mention she would ask you. That has to count for something.”
DAVID BERGER is the author of the mythic fantasy series, Task Force: Gaea, stemming from his longtime love affair with Greek mythology and comic books. He has also contributed short fiction to the anthology New Years to Christmas: 15 Queer Holiday Tales. An English teacher since 1993, he currently teaches AP English Literature, IB English, and Creative Writing in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. He lives in Land O’ Lakes with his partner, Gavi, and cat, Shayna.