As much as it strained Benji’s self-control, he and Alejandro fell into a routine over the next few weeks, even with his nightly visits to see his mom. Every morning when the alarm went off at five, he’d stumble out of the bed to find a fresh pot of coffee waiting for him while Alejandro showered. Then, after he’d had his first cup, they’d switch places and he’d shower while Alejandro made breakfast. When he was done, he’d then join his boss for breakfast.
A man’s breakfast. He nearly drooled as he pulled up to the table. Steaming bowls of food filled the space between him and Alejandro. Light fluffy eggs, what looked to be like two pounds of crispy bacon, golden hash browns, and thick chunks of fresh sourdough bread. Combined with strong coffee and orange juice, Benji was in hog heaven. Even when he’d lived at home surrounded by all the luxury that money could afford, more often than not, it had been either cold cereal or pop tarts during the week, or some frou-frou breakfast food like quiche or crêpes on the weekends.
“Damn, it looks good, boss.” He reached for a thick slice of toast and the jar of fruit preserves. “You’re gonna end up spoiling me. How am I supposed to go back to Cookie’s grub when I go back to San Antonio?”
Alejandro merely smiled as he filled his own plate. “Perhaps I’m trying to butter you up, so you’ll stay.”
He grunted as he sank his teeth into a piece of thick-sliced bacon. The salty hardwood flavor burst over his taste buds. “I’d say you’d have a good chance of it if you keep cooking like this.”
Rolling his eyes, Alejandro began eating. “Figures. Mom always said that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.”
Benji chuckled. “True enough, but honestly? I’m more apt to fall for a guy who enjoys music as much as I do. You never realize how much I appreciate coming back from seeing Mom to find you fiddling around with your guitar.”
“You need, I supply. Perhaps it means we’re meant to be together.” Alejandro joked around a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
Benji paused at the words. It was true. His boss was more in tune with him than any other man or lover had ever been. He always seemed to know when Benji needed a no-nonsense boss, or when the goofball could come out and lighten his hand’s mood. When had he ever been as content or happy in his life? Well, other than the erection from hell that always seems to be present when we’re together. Everything about Alejandro had him rethinking their agreement to just be friends. Especially the looks his boss kept sneaking when he thought Benji wasn’t looking. Perhaps it was time to put them both out of their misery? Maybe once they scratched their itch, the chemistry would calm down. He opened his mouth to suggest just that when the telephone rang.
Reaching behind him, Alejandro grabbed the old handset off the wall and answered it. “Hello… oh hi, Lucinda. How are you?” Then his expression went sober. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
Benji’s heart plummeted. His mother. Shit, not now. He closed his eyes against the searing pain in his chest. Even prepared as he had been for the inevitable news, he couldn’t believe his mom was finally gone. The soft gentle woman had been the one person, aside from Lucinda, who’d understood his need to be something more than a lawyer who sat behind a desk enclosed in an office. As he tried to cope with the reality of it, Alejandro’s voice was distant― at least until his boss mentioned him.
“…yeah, he’s right here.” Sympathy shone from Alejandro’s eyes as he tugged on the coiled cord and offered him the phone.
Swallowing hard, Benji took it. Putting it to his ear, he steeled himself to hear the grief in his younger sister’s voice, but nothing could compare to the reality of it. “Sis?”
“Oh Benji, she’s… gone.” Lucinda’s voice broke.
Taking a deep breath, he tried to compose himself. “Wh-hen…?”
“Early this morning.” She drew a deep breath, anger bleeding into her voice. “The hospice worker told me she woke Dad around two, but by the time I got there at three, she was gone. The asshole waited until she was gone to call me. What the fuck… did we ever… do to him?” She was openly sobbing now.
At a loss, he tightened his fingers around the receiver. “Nothing, sis. He’s just an old man who can’t accept change―”
“This has nothing to do with change, and you know it! We were born this way. It’s not a choice, despite what he thinks. Do you know he actually told me that my roommate wasn’t welcome at the funeral? After ten years he still refers to my partner as a roommate. That if I brought Anita, he’d have both of us removed?”
He flinched under his sister’s fury. It was true. The illustrious Benjamin Coleman the Third refused to acknowledge that both his beloved daughter and son were gay, but to ban his only daughter from having her partner at their mother’s funeral for support was beyond cruel.
“I’ll talk to him, Luc. Even if it comes to blows, Anita will be there.” He squeezed the bridge of his nose as he wondered what heinous price his father would demand in return.
“Don’t, Benji!” His sister’s plea filled his ear. “It’s not worth what it’d cost you. You know what Dad will demand.”
He dropped his hand to the table, his breakfast a sudden lead weight in his stomach. Across the table, Alejandro covered his hand with his, giving it a squeeze― offering comfort silently. Meeting his boss’s dark eyes, he reassured his sister. “It won’t happen. There is nothing on God’s green earth that will convince me to work for him. I’d end up killing him within weeks. I still plan on heading back to Texas. Roscoe offered me the job of foreman on the Flying J after roundup. He’s looking to retire.”
At the mention of his eventual return to Texas, Alejandro removed his hand. Benji immediately felt its loss and wanted it back. He caught the younger man’s wrist and held on, while still focusing on his phone conversation.
“Good.” She sighed. “Don’t let that bastard win. At least one of us should be happy.”
He kept his gaze on Alejandro, unwilling to let him withdraw. “I know you love your job as a partner in Coleman and Winterest, but is it worth dealing with Dad every day?”
“He’ll eventually retire. Mom had been pushing him for the last few years to retire. Maybe her death will convince him.”
In the background he could hear the bellow of his father’s voice. “Is that Ben?”
“Yes, Dad.” Her answer was terse. “I called him to let him know about Mom.”
He thought he’d heard something about making sure “that damned irresponsible son of mine is at the funeral home by ten,” before his sister came back on the line, but he refused to look away from Alejandro. He needed him. He didn’t know if he could hold it together without him.
“Sorry, about that. Can you meet us at Hedke’s Funeral Home around ten to make arrangements?”
“Ten?” He softly asked Alejandro.
Freeing himself, his boss started putting the leftovers in the fridge, but paused long enough to nod. “I’ll drive you into town.”
“Yeah, Alejandro offered to drive me. If he does, can I catch a ride back with you?”
After his sister assured him it wouldn’t be a problem, he said good-bye, and reached across the small table to put it back on the cradle.
“It bothers you when I talk about leaving.” He caught Alejandro’s arm as the man returned for another load of dishes.
Alejandro glanced down at the hand on his arm, then sighed. “Look, it’s my issue. I care about you. I shouldn’t, but I do. But right now, you have other things to worry about than my feelings.” He brushed his fingers over Benji’s cheek. “Take the time you need. Me, the ranch? We’ll be here when you’re done and we can have this discussion then― if you’re still so inclined. Deal with your mom first, just promise me you won’t drink, no matter what an unforgiving ass your dad is. Your mom loved you― don’t honor her gift of life by falling into the bottle. I may never have met her, but from your stories, she sounded like a wonderful woman.”
Benji gave a curt nod, even as his eyes teared up. “She was. And she would’ve liked you. Kept asking me to bring you to see her, but with my dad…” He winced, not even wanting to contemplate his dad’s reaction to that.
“Is an asshole. I get it. Nothing new for me. I’m familiar with asshole dads.”
Benji wondered if Alejandro understood the shit-storm he was about to walk into just by driving him to town. “Still you know you don’t have to drive me. I can ride the Harley. Because sure as the sun rises in the east, Dad will catch one glimpse of you and accuse of you of everything from being a fag to corrupting his worthless son.”
A grin kicked up one corner of Alejandro’s mouth. “Well considering I am gay and I am more than willing to corrupt you… I’ll just be living up to his bad opinion.” A determined look crossed his boss’s face. “I’m driving you. End of discussion.” Then in a move that had Benji freezing, Alejandro leaned down and brushed a kiss over his lips. “Now get moving, cowboy. We have chores a-waitin’.”
As Alejandro gathered up the last of the dishes and threw them in the old dishwasher, Benji suddenly realized that leaving the Rancho de la Luna after roundup might not be as easy as he’d thought. Somehow with everything he did Alejandro had snuck past his defenses. If he weren’t careful, he’d fall in love with a man almost young enough to be his son. And wouldn’t dear old dad just love that.
“Hey Benji?” Alejandro glanced over his shoulder at him.
“Someone once told me that us college boys will fuck anything that sits still. So unless you’re planning on playing the willing victim, I suggest you get a move on. Or I might just think you’re looking for some lovin’.”
“You wish.” Benji tried to say it with a straight face, but couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped him. Even with the horrific loss of his mother, his Alejandro knew how to make him smile.