Page 48 of Eight Dates

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“I know. But I’m just trying to make my point here. It’ll definitely be a man, and he probably won’t be part of any practicing religion. I can’t promise I’ll ever want kids, and I’m not going to compromise on that to make someone else happy. I’m not bringing a child into the world—into a family—where they aren’t enthusiastically wanted a thousand percent.”

“I…” She trailed off, and he could picture her wringing her hand in a dishcloth. “I understand.”

“You probably don’t,” Ben pointed out, “but you don’t need to understand. You just need to respect that I know myself and what I want the rest of my life to look like.”

His mom was quiet again, and he tried not to feel the pulse of irritation that this was a big ask for her. But he wasn’t going to back down. He’d done that enough in his youth. He’d done it at the beginning of his relationship with Taylor when he went to her with his concerns, and she urged him to stay.

It had taken him far too long to realize she was more fixated on him being with someone and getting closer to her dream of grandkids than she was about whether or not his relationship was healthy. It was why he was still a little bitter, no matter how much he loved her.

“I need to go,” he finally said.

“Oh, but…are you cooking tonight? Do you have people to spend the last night with?”

Ben couldn’t help his grin this time. “I have plans. I’ll talk to you later. Love you, and love to Dad.” He hung up before she could grill him any further.

He only had a short while before he was due at the address Daniel had sent him, and then after what he hoped was a short and painless conversation, he could get back in his car and head over toward his happily ever after.

* * *

The address Daniel sent was a twenty-minute drive from the bar, which was longer than Ben preferred but shorter than it could have been, considering his brother had set his dating preference to within fifty miles of where he lived. It also seemed to be a house instead of a restaurant, which was bizarre, but Ben had been to a few little neighborhood cafés, so he didn’t want to assume.

He just headed down a few side streets until he got within two minutes of the destination and had to accept that Daniel had actually invited him over to his house. Ben fought the urge to turn and drive off, knowing he had to at least put a cap on the end of this week.

The neighborhood was fairly quiet, and Daniel lived in a cul-de-sac surrounded by homes that were lit brightly with Christmas lights and plastic Santas on the rooftops.

It was definitely festive, and seeing all the lights was the mark of the sharp chill in the air, and the zing of snow when it fell, and a sort of shift in the atmosphere of people, which was a nice break from how bitter and terrifying the world could be. It wasn’t lasting. It never was, but for him, winter had always been the season of hope.

And he had more reason to feel that way this year.

Pulling his car up against the curb for easy access, Ben narrowed his eyes on the house. All the lights except the one on the porch were off, which was strange. He turned off his engine, and as he stepped onto the sidewalk, the garage door opened.

Ben peered through the opening and saw a man there—tall and thin with olive skin and dark hair. He was wearing jeans and a hoodie—far more casually dressed than any of his other dates had been—and his movements seemed a little bit frantic.

The garage was also halfway full of moving boxes, which was not what Ben was expecting to see.

Ben shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat and walked up, trying to make his footsteps loud enough to be heard. The guy—Daniel, he presumed—was on his knees, rummaging through a dresser as Ben approached.

“Uh. Hey?”

Daniel’s head whipped to the side, and he gave Ben a long once-over before he nodded. “Glad you could make it. I won’t be long.”

Ben frowned. “That’s fine. But, uh…” He paused when Daniel turned his attention back to the dresser, frantically throwing clothes from each of the drawers. “Is everything okay? I thought we were supposed to go on a date.”

“We are,” Daniel said, sounding irritated and impatient. He turned his head and jerked his chin toward a small side table, and it was there Ben saw a paper bag with a familiar logo for a sandwich shop on the front. “I already picked us up food.”

Ben took a step back. “Yeah. So…the thing is—”

“Fuck yes!” Daniel’s cry made Ben jump half a foot, and he took several steps back as Daniel rose and held something over his head like a battle prize.

It took a few moments for Ben to realize he was holding a sizable dildo.

“I fucking knew that bitch was going to put this in her drawer.”

Horror claimed the space in Ben’s chest. “Where are we right now?”

Daniel smirked as he brushed past Ben, pulled his arm back, then made an impressive throw. The dildo sailed over several hedges, far enough that Ben couldn’t hear it when it landed.

“What’s going on here?” Ben demanded.