Both Heart of the Oak and Tempted from the Oak have moms in small but important roles.  Maggie, in Heart, isn’t Trevor’s mother, but she shares a mother’s story that’s such an important plot point I don’t want to give it away here. *laughing* And Maura Cross, Gavin’s mom, from Tempted, tries to get hold of Gavin at just the wrong time — when Jeremy’s given him notice to get out of their apartment, just before Christmas, in a frigid, snowy Minneapolis winter (which I wrote long before it became apparent just how frigid and snowy our Minneapolis winter was going to be this year!). And Maura, like pretty much all of us moms, just wants to make things all right for her son…

So here’s the beginning of Chapter Twelve, from Tempted from the Oak. With love to all the moms out there…

GavinAustinSanderson5

Chapter Twelve

“He’s only letting you stay one more week and you still haven’t found a place to live?”
Why can’t a phone ever lose signal when I want it to? Gavin grimaced. He could always fake it, sure, but as far as he was concerned, there were some things a guy just never did to his mother. No matter how tempting the idea was. “Yeah, that’s about it, Mom.”
At least she wasn’t giving him crap for his lousy taste in men. She’d taken care of that in the first ten minutes of this phone call from hell. He’d had his phone muted at work and when his mother hadn’t been able to get hold of him, she’d called the other number he’d given her—the one he’d forgotten he gave her. The apartment’s number. Jeremy’s number. And the son of a bitch had told his mother that he, Gavin, was moving out, but wasn’t sure where he was going. Exactly the information he’d been very carefully keeping to himself because he hadn’t wanted to have the conversation he was presently having.
Still, it could be worse. She could have found out that he’d almost fallen in love with a tree spirit. Almost.
“You should come home, sweetie.”
Of course I should.
The bus crept forward another few feet. It wasn’t that there was a lot of traffic, not at six o’clock on Christmas Eve, when anyone with anything better to do than drive or ride a bus home from work was undoubtedly doing it. But the near-blizzard had brought everything more or less to a standstill. He kept clearing a circle in the frost riming the window, trying to see where he was and the circle kept freezing back over before he could see much of anything other than his own reflection. Which he barely recognized, swathed in every scarf and hat and sweater he’d been able to come up with before leaving the apartment this morning.
“I’d have to rent a car, Mom. I have too much stuff to bring home on a plane.” Shit, he was calling Seattle “home” again. Had he already given up? “I can’t afford that.”
“I’ll send you the money.”
“No, Mom—”
“Don’t you ‘no, Mom’ me.” Her tone was light, but Gavin knew from experience that Maura Cross was deadly serious about anything affecting the well-being of any of her children. And when his mother was deadly serious, nothing opposing her stood a chance. “You hate your job—you’ve told me so I don’t know how many times. You don’t have any reason to stay in that godforsaken glacier now that Mr. Wonderful has turned into Mr. Self-Absorbed-Head-Up-His-Ass.”
Gavin choked a little. “Mom, you’re not supposed to talk like that.”
“Someone hurts my baby, I’ll talk however I want to.”
“I love you, Mom.” Which was the truth and which was what made this whole conversation truly miserable. He loved his mom, his mom loved him, his mom wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. But his mom couldn’t understand what made him happy. She’d never understood his dream of working at the Guthrie or how much it had meant to him to move to the city where he might be able to make his dream come true. And she would sure as hell never understand his hopeless longing for the other dream he’d left behind in what he was pretty sure was the Scottish Highlands.
How could she, when he didn’t?
“I love you, too. Now promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”
“Mom, I haven’t—”
“And that you’ll be home for New Year’s. I’ll have the champagne iced.”
God damn it. His throat was squeezed tight and his eyes were burning. It was time. He needed to give up his dream—both his dreams—because that was all they would ever be. Dreams. And he had to get on with his life. “All right, Mom.”
“Thank you, sweetie. That’s the best Christmas present you could have given me.”
Gavin clenched his teeth. He should be relieved. Should feel lighter, without the burden of needing to find a place to live. Should be overjoyed at the thought of being able to wish Jeremy’s new boyfriend luck on his way out the door.
To hell with how he should be feeling. He reached up and yanked the cord to signal a stop. “Mom, I’m at my stop. I have to put the phone away. I’ll call you later. Merry Christmas.” Fortunately, he touched off the phone before she could hear how his voice caught on those last words. There was no way he was at his stop but he didn’t care. Wherever he was, he could probably walk back to the apartment faster than the bus was moving. Getting numb would just be a bonus.
Jesus, listen to me, I’m turning into an honest-to-God drama queen. Complete with M.F.A. Gavin shook his head, pulling out his gloves and tucking his phone into the empty pocket as the bus came to a stop.
“Merry Christmas,” the driver called out down the aisle of the nearly empty bus as he made his way down the steps to the back door of the bus.
Minnesota Nice. “Same to you.” He pushed the door open and stepped down into the street.
A blast of snow-laden wind hit him in the face, just as he went into a bank left by a snowplow almost up to his knees. Maybe this was a bad idea. Behind him, he heard the bus pull away from the curb, or the part of the street that was as close to the curb as anything with four wheels and an engine would be able to get for a while.
Well, shit. Gavin pulled his scarf up from where it had fallen while he sat in the comparatively warm bus. He looked around, making his way to the sidewalk and trying to get his bearings as he wound the wool more tightly around his face. How do people get used to this?
Not his problem anymore.
The unmistakable sound of church bells was muffled by snow and wind. He recognized them, the bells of St. Mark’s Cathedral, probably ringing for a Christmas Eve service. He’d disembarked at the Loring Park exit. If he were able to see at all through the blinding snow, he’d see the tree he never wanted to see again.
Thank God for blizzards then. The words hurt. He wanted them to hurt. That was how a person learned, right? By avoiding pain. Maybe next time he wouldn’t be such an idiot. Snow stung his eyelids, the tops of his cheeks where the scarf left them exposed.
He pulled his knitted hat down further until it nearly met the top edge of the scarf.
Gavin…?
Faintly, the whisper of leaves and an impossible hint of moonlight.
Shielding his eyes, Gavin started to look in the direction of the old oak, then caught himself. Even a drama queen knows better than to go chasing off after his own wishful thinking during a blizzard.
Wishful?
Hell, yes. He wished. He was never going to learn.
Gavin…please.
Gavin lurched aside to avoid a very determined older woman, barreling down the middle of the sidewalk like a wool-clad, fur-hatted tank.
Cold.
The muted clamor of the bells was starting to subside. Gavin missed the noise. It helped. Though it apparently wasn’t loud enough to drown out an imagination desperate to hear Tearlach’s whisper one last time.
Sleepy
No one had shoveled the walkways through the park since the storm started. It didn’t matter. He was being drawn to the source of that last faint, despairing sigh as fast as he could plow through the accumulated snow.
Faster, even. He stumbled, going to hands and knees in the snow when he stepped off the paved path. His chest heaved, drawing in great lungfuls of burning-cold air. He fought down a cough, trying to listen.
Nothing. No sound except the blowing snow, the whipping wind that sounded nothing like a lover.
He staggered upright, covered with snow now, brushing at himself as he trudged forward. His feet were burning in a way that suggested they were going to be completely numb before long and his eyelashes kept trying to freeze stuck together. Where the hell is the goddamn tree? The blizzard was changing everything. Every shape, every sound, every breath. Nothing looked familiar in what little light there was. Jesus, if I’m not careful I’m going to go too far and end up in the lake.
In the end he tripped over what he was looking for, going face first into the snow. Tearlach was curled in on himself, knees drawn up against his chest, arms wrapped around his shins, covered with a coating of snow that looked like it had only been knocked off when Gavin stumbled over him. He wasn’t moving. And it didn’t look like the snow was melting on him.
Cursing, Gavin struggled to his knees, peeled off his gloves and started shucking his coat. “Tearlach!” He wrapped the coat around the motionless spirit, then manhandled Tearlach awkwardly across his lap, holding him as close as he could with one arm while reaching for his phone. Which wasn’t in his pocket. Son of a bitch. No doubt it was out there in the snow, where he had fallen.
Let me sleep

Advertisements