Pop-Ups

Jack’s stressful, high-powered life leaves no time for anything except a casual friendship-with-benefits with his neighbor Henry, a laid-back, outdoors type with excellent computer skills. It’s the perfect arrangement for two men who are attracted to each other but don’t have much else in common. Then a few days before Christmas, Jack’s holiday plans are thwarted, leaving him home with just his volatile PC for company while Henry—his usual tech support—is on his way to a secluded Christmas hideaway. So what’s Jack to do when, to his horror, weird pop-ups start appearing?

This story is 5,000 words in length.

Buy Links: publisher website www black

EXCERPT
© Clare London

“You are our hourly winner!”
The banner flashed at me, garish neon yellow, scrolling across my laptop screen. Sitting at my PC in the corner of the living room, I glared back at it. Right. Where was the close down button? I may not have been the world’s greatest computer geek, but at least I could recognize spam when I saw it.
“Just click here and find out what you’ve won!”
What the hell interest did I have in pop-up ads? Of course I understood marketing. I knew I had to accept these outrageously misleading campaigns as part of the consumer world, though how and why they infiltrated even my respected financial advisory sites, I’d never know. But I’d never made a buying decision except as a result of sensible analysis and assessment of all the options available. And right now, all I wanted after an exhausting fourteen-hour day was to pick up my email, to see if there was any news from Sara, my sister-in-law. I wanted to know if she’d had her baby, if they were all okay. Also if the family was coming back to the city in time for the holiday, if our annual family get-together was still going ahead, if….
Well, to be entirely honest, if I had somewhere to go for Christmas.
“Good day, Can I trust you? Please get back to me this holiday on business proposition.”
I rolled my eyes at the screen and glanced over at the case propped up by the front door of my city apartment. My luggage had been waiting there ever since my brother Tom called to say it looked like Sara had gone into labor early while they were up at her parents’ home. Mum and Dad were with them, having gone there for a social pre-Christmas visit, but now staying to help out with the birth arrangements. Tom’s call had been hurried and his voice excited, most unlike his usual calm, cynical self. He’d suggested I’d better wait for further news before setting out to meet them all. Judging from the doctor’s initial advice—and the long range weather forecast for that part of the country—there was a good chance they’d all be stranded there for the holiday.
I understood how it was, didn’t I?
Of course, I said I did. To be honest, Sara was as much a sister to me as if we were related by birth, so I was pretty tense about the baby thing, myself. But it was a disappointment. I’d really been looking forward to seeing both her and Tom. As usual, my commitments hadn’t allowed me time off as the holiday approached, although my boss had all but insisted I kept bookings to a minimum over Christmas itself. He muttered something about the difficulty of closing the office for a couple of days, when I was being a complete workaholic. Or a word that sounded similar. So I’d been virtually forced to schedule in some family time for once.
But what was I meant to do now? My boss had been closing and locking his office door even as I picked up my jacket. The only place I had left to wait was back in my apartment.
Just keep me posted, I’d said to Tom. I’d make other plans if needs be. And I usually enjoyed the bustle and buzz of the city. It was just….
“All glitter supplies for Christmas available now. Have you hung your star this year?”
I looked around the living room of my apartment. Didn’t take long. It looked calm and plain, no different than any other time of year, really. Couch with neat, tastefully covered cushions, polished side table with small but efficient lamp, modest bookcase on one wall with my reference manuals and certificates of qualification on display. I hadn’t bothered with any Christmas decorations, as I’d been expecting to be back at my parents’ house. To be honest, I didn’t ever bother. Vacations weren’t my thing, let alone the festive ones. A couple of early cards—from business contacts and office supply vendors—were on my mantel, and that was it.
“Fun party animations for all your social networking needs! 1000s of smiles and winks, free for a limited time!”
I glared back at my case as if it might have something to say about my situation. It was often packed, often ready to go at a moment’s notice. As Investigations Manager at a financial services firm, I went where the contracts were. It was a lifestyle characterized by tight deadlines, liaison with senior executives in all industries, and often the potential for uncovering major fraud. Very exciting, of course, if you could keep up with the pressure—which I’d proved I could. The senior partners in my firm often praised my willingness to work unusual hours, to travel at a moment’s notice, when other employees balked at it. I was surely on line for a partnership myself one day.
Even if Tom still rolled his eyes and mouthed ‘bean counter’ to my mother behind my back.
“Great Prices on Timeless Masterpieces? Call today!”
I frowned at a new batch of pop-ups and stabbed at my keyboard, trying to get the little “x” to respond. Of course, I had to admit there were disadvantages to this jet-set, trouble-shooting lifestyle. Nowadays, I always seemed to be tired, or coming down with a version of the flu. Plus, working such long hours meant I didn’t have a local circle of friends. I’d lost touch with most of my school buddies. I struggled to get back home for family events, whereas Tom and Sara had more routine jobs near my parents and were always on hand. And dating… well, that was a bit hit and miss for me. More miss than hit, actually. Thank God I had some regular fun with….
Henry.
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