This is the story of two college professors who share an office and not much else – until the holiday season works its magic.
Eric’s semester hasn’t been going all that well. Not only have renovations to the English Department’s physical space forced him to share an office with the department’s newest faculty member, Mike Kistler, his mother showed up at the beginning of the semester with all her worldly possessions and a U-Haul. It’s not that he doesn’t care for his mother, but she’s disruptive. She keeps wanting to honor traditions they never cared about when he was growing up, starting with the giant antique advent calendar she dragged over from her parents’ house in Hamburg.
Eric has a solution, though. He might not have much interest in his mom’s traditions, but his irritating office mate does. He’ll bring Kistler over, and his mom will have someone who cares, and someone to speak German with, and Eric will be left alone to grade papers in peace.
Mike is the rising star of the English Department. He’s worked damn hard to get from homeless teen to young PhD, he’s proud of his accomplishment, and he loves to give back. He likes his work. He could live without his office mate, who’s attractive but stuffier than an overfull burrito. He’s shocked when Eric invites him to help his mother celebrate Advent, but intrigued by the old traditions. And it’s been more than ten years since he’s had anything like a family to celebrate anything with, so he agrees.
Moving from a cramped office to a family setting shifts things for Eric and Mike, and they start to see each other through different eyes. Can they find love, or will old family issues keep them apart forever?
The tension in the small office Eric shared with Mike Kistler lightened visibly when they went back to work on Monday. It lightened enough that one of Eric’s grad students, going over parts of his dissertation while Kistler was out at one of his classes on Tuesday, commented on it. “Wow.” Bergman looked over at Kistler’s side of the room. “It seems like a whole different space. When classes started in September it seemed like the Berlin Wall lived again.”
Eric glared at Bergman, but he had to chuckle at the mention of the Berlin Wall. “It turns out he’s from the same country as my mother. It’s a small world, I guess.” He stretched his neck. “I wouldn’t have thought my mom would have anything in common with Captain Pride, but I guess it just goes to show you.”
Suzanne had been at Eric ever since he got back to the condo after walking Kistler to the car, trying to make him remember more of his German “like that sweet boy, Michael.” It was just so good to see her happy he couldn’t complain about it, even if he wanted to.
Bergman shrugged. “I guess. Whatever, it’s a good atmosphere. More comfortable for everyone.”
Eric hadn’t thought the discomfort between himself and Kistler would be noticeable outside the office. If burying the hatchet or bridging the gap helped, he’d have to be happy about it. “Okay. Good.” He turned the conversation around to focus on the dissertation, but he couldn’t quite shake what Bergman had said from his consciousness. The tension between them had affected other people. If they made more of an effort to get along, would other people find things even easier?
He didn’t see Kistler that day. He had a class that started when Kistler’s finished, and then Kistler had another two starting after that. The guy had to be insane, because he taught in two different programs. He must have no life at all. Well, he’d only just finished his PhD. He hadn’t made tenure yet, although with all the enthusiasm with which the department had pursued him he had to be on track.
He turned his mind away from worries about Kistler’s contract status. It wasn’t any of his business. Instead, he headed home and commented on the revelation to his mother, who just gave him the biggest “your point?” look he’d ever seen.
“I’m not surprised,” Suzanne said as she brought dinner to the table. “I’ve seen your offices there. You’re all in close quarters, and of course the English department isn’t huge to begin with. You don’t exist in a vacuum, you know. You have to expect that people will pick up on any issues between you.” She patted his arm. “I know you’re probably doing your best to avoid having things spill out into the rest of the department, but people don’t really work that way, do they?”
“I suppose not.” He made a face. “I’d have liked to think we were both more professional than that.” He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “I probably shouldn’t refer to him as Captain Pride, though.”
Suzanne chuckled and dished out some of the stew she’d made. “That might not be helpful.” She looked up at him. “But if you want to keep improving things, why not invite him out to dinner? It’s a good way to spend a little time together in a place that isn’t all caught up in work issues.” She glared out the window for a moment. “Your father used to do that sometimes, when he didn’t get along with a colleague. It helped to humanize them.”
Eric hadn’t known that about his father. Had that been what led to the old man’s affair? He pushed the thought away. His father’s bad decisions didn’t need to have an effect on Eric’s life. Not anymore. “I’ll give it a shot,” he promised.
Suzanne smiled, eyes twinkling merrily. “Excellent! And then maybe I can step out a little bit myself.” She wagged her eyebrows at him.
Eric shuddered at the implications. “You know you don’t need me to go out before you can make plans, Mom. You’re free to go out and have whatever fun you want to. We’re both adults. I don’t need a babysitter.”
Suzanne laughed softly. “Some things don’t change, Eric. Even when you’re forty and sixty-four. You’ll always be my child, and I’ll always feel a little funny about leaving you alone in the house. Even if you’ve been living on your own for over twenty years.” She patted his hand, and they went ahead and ate their dinner.
The next day, Eric saw Kistler in their shared office. He froze as they went about their early morning routines. How, exactly, did a person invite a colleague out to dinner without it sounding like a come-on? Would it be the worst thing in the world if it did sound like a come-on? Other than Eric getting hauled down to HR over a misunderstanding, of course. That would be fairly terrible.
But it would only be a misunderstanding. Or mostly a misunderstanding. Kistler was attractive, and he had a decent personality when he wasn’t off trying to save the penguins or whatever. Eric could see where Kistler might be an acceptable companion, maybe.
“Hey, Westcott, are you okay?” Kistler turned to face him from his desk on the other side of their shared space. “You’ve been staring at your statue of Shakespeare for a while. It’s getting a little bit disturbing. Should I call someone to cover your classes?”
Erick snorted. “No, I’m fine. I was just wondering if you wanted to grab dinner tonight or something.”
“Wait, me?” Kistler looked around him, as though they weren’t alone in the office. His chestnut hair flared around him, like fringe.
Eric had to laugh. “Yes, you.” He explained about how other people had been perceiving the atmosphere because of the tension between them, and suggested they grab something at a local bar. “Nothing formal or anything like that, and it doesn’t even have to be a big deal. But I know we haven’t always gotten along as well as we could have, and I think this would be good for us if we want to improve things. Don’t you?”
Kistler considered for a moment. “Yeah. Yeah, we could do that. I guess I hadn’t realized it was bothering anyone, but since it is we should probably do something about it.”
“Exactly.” Eric relaxed. Kistler wasn’t reading into the invitation. That was a good thing, right?
J. V. Speyer has lived in upstate New York and rural Catalonia before making the greater Boston, Massachusetts area her permanent home. She has worked in archaeology, security, accountancy, finance, and non-profit management. She currently lives just south of Boston in a house old enough to remember when her town was a tavern community with a farming problem.
J. V. finds most of her inspiration from music. Her tastes run the gamut from traditional to industrial and back again. When not writing she can usually be found enjoying a baseball game or avoiding direct sunlight. She’s learning to crochet so she can make blankets to fortify herself against the cold.