LPfiction

Category Linkin Park

Melt Into You by hearts.on.fire & L.Phoenix

When Desert Meets Snow

A/N From L. Phoenix: I finally did it, guys! I finally persuaded hearts.on.fire to do a collab! **EVIL LAUGHTER HERE** I absolutely adore this writer, and I’m having such a blast writing this, what we’ve dubbed, ‘Hallmark Movie’ Fan-Fic with the talented, lovely hearts.on.fire! Neither of us are really taking a ‘Mike or Chester’ role here. We just go through and add things, blending our styles together, and we really hope you enjoy what we have for you! This probably won’t be updated as quick as our other stories (especially since this’ll be my fifth story), but we promise to dish the chapters out as fast as we possibly can given our busy lives. Thank you so much reading! Also, we decided on OC’s for all the children and wives. We figured it left more room for artistic freedom. :)


Disclaimer: FICTION


* * * * * * * * *


It’s another cold morning as Mike Shinoda sits on the floor, the machine in his hand beeping, and he counts out the number of books that are to be returned to their proper publisher. He hands them to his helper, smiling wide.


“How many are here, Oli?”


Oliver, crossed leg, counts out loud to his Daddy, “One… two… three… four…” He looks up at him, his emerald eyes quizzical. “Four?”


“That’s right, little man.” Mike ruffles his ebony curls. “Good job. Could you put them in the Random House pile for me, please?”


Oliver nods and, one by one, walks the copies of the due out books into the proper pile on a black v-cart that’ll be wheeled into the back once they’re done scanning the Mystery section of the store. Smiling, Rob Bourdon watches the father and son duo, the little boy plopping down next to his Daddy, the two attired in similar green and blue flannel shirts and distressed blue jeans. He’s proud at how far Mike has come in the last six years, his wife, Anna Shinoda, having passed away from childbirth complications, leaving a first-time parent to care and raise for a newborn while battling through the maelstrom of loss and grief.


Rob thinks back to a time when Oliver was just five weeks old, Mike had called Rob up in hysterics at three AM, begging him to come to the house. They’d been friends since the sixth grade so, naturally, Rob was out of bed before either man could say ‘hello’, and he drove to Mike’s quaint little house next to the mountains. He stayed on the phone with him, the screeching wails of the newborn baby deafening and Mike was trying to soothe him, singing lullabies although Rob could hear him crying as well.


When Rob got to the house, he took Oliver from a frantic Mike and checked his temperature just in case he had a fever, but his forehead was cool and he didn’t seem to be ill. Rob asked the typical questions: When’s the last time he had a bottle? (“A half hour ago”); When’s the last time he slept? (“Two hours ago.”) How long did he sleep? (“Seven hours.”) When’s the last time he went Number Two? (“……….”)


Rob grinned. “He’s just constipated. You have any prune or pear juice?”


Mike nodded and Rob fixed a bottle of formula and pear juice. He took Oliver from Mike and settled in the recliner in the living room to feed the fussy baby, the two men sitting on opposite sides of the cozy living room next to a crackling fireplace. Mike ran his fingers through his hair and let out a long sigh of relief, Oliver happily sucking down his bottle and tucked safely and warmly in Rob’s cradling arms.


“I suck at this whole parenting thing,” he said, despaired. “I should know this shit, y’know?” He extended an arm towards Oliver. “You’re not even a Dad and you knew what was wrong!”


“Mike, you’re doing a damn fine job. Stop cutting yourself short. You’re dealing with a lot. I brought a change of clothes. I’m going to stay here tonight and take care of Oli and you are going to get a good night’s sleep.”


Mike protested at once, sitting straight up on the couch. “No, no. I can’t ask you to do that.”


“It’s not up for debate. Go to bed, Mike. No offense, but you look like a corpse. You need to sleep.” He smiled down at a suckling Oliver, his green eyes droopy, his tiny hands grasping at Rob’s around the bottle. “Little Man is doing awesome. We’ll have a fun, won’t we Oli? Just you and me for a night. I’ll hire some strippers and get a bag of coke and Daddy’ll be knocked out cold, so it’ll be our little secret.”


Mike chuckled. “Fuck off, Rob. Sad thing is, I’m so exhausted that, yeah, you could totally get away with that.”


“Don’t I know it,” Rob laughed. “Go to bed, buddy. I swear we’re good and if I need anything, I’ll wake you.”


Mike bit down on his lip, his eyes heavy and dry. Rob was right. Mike couldn’t remember the last time he had a full eight hours of shut eye since Oliver was born. It was instinct to stay attached to his son; so much so that he wouldn’t even leave the nursery when he put him down for a nap. Mike would sit on the futon in the room and read a book or doodle in his sketchpad. However, it made no difference if the plot of his chosen book was thrilling or if the drawing he was creating was coming out exactly as he pictured it in his imagination, he’d find himself spacing out, his mind drifting through memories of Anna. When he looked at Oliver, he saw her: her bright, honey eyes and pale skin, but Oli inherited Mike’s Japanese eye shape, his proportioned nose and jet-black hair. Their son was a perfect balance of delicate and strong—just as they’d been as a couple.


Mike thanked Rob, kissed his son on the forehead, and headed off into his bedroom to catch up on some well-deserved sleep. Rob, however, never told Mike that he heard him sobbing from the other room or that he called out his deceased wife’s name in his sleep. After all, there things in life that are better left unsaid. His friend was in mourning, and how he dealt with it was none of Rob’s business.


Now, six years later, Rob isn’t sure if it’s safe to say that Mike is steady, but he at least smiles more. They printed a large canvas photo of Anna and hung it up in the office above the desk. Every morning, Mike will stand beneath the mounted photo, kiss two fingers, and hold them up at his wife’s face smiling back at him.


“Good morning, darling,” he’ll say. “Oli and I love you.”


And, every night before they lock up Shinoda & Sons Books and Café, he’ll do the same kissing motion. “Goodnight, darling, Oli and I love you.”


Rob is, respectfully so, admirable towards Mike’s strength. He has, with the occasional help from Rob and Oliver’s uncle, Brad Delson, raised Oliver to be a smart, well-mannered young man. It took a couple of years until Mike could narrow down an ideal routine of running a bookstore and raising a toddler. Once Oliver was old enough to start school, Mike dropped him off at Boulder Private School and, when he got to the store, accepted a hug from Rob, crying into his shoulder.


“We haven’t spent a day away from each other since he was born.”


“I know, Mikey. They grow up so fast.”


During the weeks, Mike spent his mornings and early afternoons at the store, and Rob would take care of the night shifts, so Mike could spend his nights with Oliver. On the weekends, Mike took over the late hours and gave Rob Sunday’s and Friday’s off. Mike’s entire life revolves around his son and as much as Rob holds his friend in high-esteem for his fatherly dedication, there’s a particular topic that sprouts up every once in a while, and it’s the same conversation every time.


“You need some you time. I can’t even keep track of how many numbers you’ve gotten over in the years, but you never call any of them.”


“I don’t want to date. I don’t have time to date. I’m a single Dad and—”


“—and a business owner and you don’t trust anyone to be around Oliver and it’ll only confuse him if you bring strangers around.”


Over time, Rob had given up on trying to push Mike back into the dating world. Sure, it’d been six years since Anna passed away, and maybe Mike wasn’t fully recovered from the loss, and Rob couldn’t even begin to imagine what it means to lose the love of your life, but Mike had so much love to give and Rob just knew that if the right person were to come along, Mike could learn to share that love. On the other hand, it wasn’t Rob’s place to say when or if Mike was in a proper mindset to open up to another person just yet. It had to be on Mike’s terms, so, hence, Rob eased off, even if it was done so reluctantly.


“Alright, Oli, great job.” Mike encouraging his son brings Rob out his thoughts, and he peers over at them. “I’m going to wheel these to the back because we’re going to open the shop now, okay? Why don’t you go behind the counter with Uncle Rob and start on your homework?”


“Okay, Daddy!”


Oliver skips across the store and takes a seat at the small table behind the cash register. Rob kneels down next to him and unzips his Spiderman backpack. He takes out a yellow folder, the word HOMEWORK written in Mike’s blocky lettering and decorated in his artwork: bold skulls and bones, cartoon animals, and koi fish.


“If you need any help just let me know, Oli.”


His curls bounce along with his bobbing head. “Okay, Uncle Rob.”


“I’ll have Lily make you a cup of hot chocolate. If your Daddy asks, it’s milk.” Rob winks and Oliver makes a zipping motion over his mouth. “That’s right—our secret.”


Mike unlocks the doors to the shop and flips the sign to OPEN. Downtown Boulder is alive with twinkling Christmas lights, the first week of snowfall decorating the roads and rooftops in white, sparkly fluff. Tiny flurries whoosh through the air from a breeze and Mike skims over the morning streets, the sidewalks already abuzz with people in mittens, hats, boots and winter coats starting their holiday shopping, gazing in through windows.


Mike’s sigh fogs the glass. The holidays are always the roughest times for him next to Oliver’s birthdays and firsts: the first time he crawled, walked, talked; the first day of school; his first musical performance and plays and his first sleepover.


“You should be here, Anna…” he whispers to the busy streets, and the vision of a blond girl and green eyes tightens his throat. The woman spots him and returns her smile with a wave. He shakes his head, “Snap out of it,” and goes back into the store to start his day.


* * * * * * * * * *


At noon, Liam rolls a cart into the main lobby and Mike peers up at his teenaged employee from over his thick, black framed glasses with a hiked brow.


“New order?”


“Yep,” answers Liam, stopping the dolly of boxes in front of the octagon table labeled New Releases by means of a black and white sign. “Just came in.”


Mike walks from around the Customer Service counter and opens the boxes, cringing automatically at the jackets and the metallic gold name displayed on the bottom of the books. “Another Jacob Master’s novel?”


Liam, laughing, shrugs his broad shoulders and goes about clearing an area atop the pine table. “The dude is a writing machine,” he says, piling the books. “At this rate he’ll have more books than Stephen King by the end of the year.”


The front doors open, a chilly wind sifting into the store along with a cluster of chattering children. Mike looks up from the octagon table to the clatter of kids jumping and sprinting by carelessly that Mike has to dodge them, his hip bumping into the table in the process.


Ow! Shit! What the hell? Is there a goddamn school bus parked outside?


“Hey! No running!” Comes a male’s stern voice.


The doors shut and Liam taps Mike on the arm. “Is this spot okay?” he asks his boss regarding the frontal location of the newest murder mystery novel by Jacob Masters.


Mike picks up a copy and reads the inside jacket:


In Master’s Fifth book of the Lindon-Murder Series, Brandon Lindon, a retired CIA agent, moves to the small town of Boulder, Colorado with his wife, Shelia in hopes of a quiet life after thirty years of police work and raising three kids. After purchasing a cabin in the mountains, their plans of filling their golden years with ski lessons, hot chocolate nights in front of the fireplace and spending quality time with each other and their grandchildren comes to a screeching, haunting halt when their oldest granddaughter, Ava, suddenly goes missing. Now, Lindon finds himself right back into the chaotic lifestyle he’d just moved on from. Ava’s disappearance is one of many in the recent months, and none of the other girls had been found alive. There’s a serial killer on the loose and the police have no leads. Will Lindon be able to crack the case before it’s too late?


“Good, God,” grumbles Mike, rolling his eyes dramatically. “As if we don’t have enough James Patterson or Michael Connelly novels in the world as it is. Who publishes this gibberish? It’s the same ol’ plot over and over and over. Someone gets kidnapped. Someone goes missing. Some old, retired cop has to leave his new, comfortable life in some small town and find the killer before the killer finds him and blah, blah, blah.” Mike slams the hardback copy onto the rest of the stack on the octagon. “Leave it front and center, I guess. People love to read this trash and God only—” he stops and puts his palm to his chest, his heart thumping an extra beat out of its regulated tempo.


“You alright there, boss?” asks Liam.


“Yeah… huh, that was weird. My heart just like… skipped a beat. Must be the caffeine. Anyway, front and center. Thanks, Liam,” he tells his employee and without watching where he’s going, Mike spins on his heel and runs straight into something, or, someone, a gathering of books crashing onto the hardwood floor, landing over the toe of his shoes.


“Oh, My God, I’m so sorry,” he apologizes, kneeling to collect the books.


The poor sap he bumped into kneels as well. “No, no, it’s my fault. I was standing like, right behind you and I should’ve let you know I was there.”


“No, no, no, totally…” he delays when they reach for the same book, their hands meeting in the process, and when he looks up, Mike stares right into the most unique shade of brown eyes he’d ever seen—the lights above them bringing out flecks of gold, the shape of them almond and small but not too small… just right. “…my fault.”


There’s no way to prevent time from stopping, yet in this moment, it surely does. The pop music station playing the newest music fades entirely, Mike’s heart beating profusely in his ears like white static. His fingertips have yet to move from the warm hand on the book. The customer smiles at him—a faint, friendly smirk spread just enough to show two dimples and a hint of laugh lines.


“I promise you it was my fault. I’m woefully clumsy.” The stranger says, pausing for a few seconds before reluctantly pulling his hand away, reaching towards another book to pick up. He pauses for a minute, his hand on his chest.


Weird… I think my heart just lost a beat… must be the caffeine…


“Me too.” Mike says immediately, smiling brightly at the handsome man. What? No I’m not….


“Well, fine then. Maybe I’m not to blame this time.”


The two men gather up the fallen stack of books quickly, both standing at the same time, Mike’s knee bumping into the other man’s. They both laugh, a faint blush flushing both their cheeks. Mike hands over his small stack of books and the other man takes them, arranging them awkwardly in his arms, one shifting precariously before he manages to balance them.


“Are you finding everything okay? Are you looking for anything in particular?” Mike says, his voice mechanically fluctuating into professional mode.


“Umm…” The customer says, tilting his head and looking at Mike inquisitively.


“Oh!” Mike’s hand goes to his upper chest, feeling for the name tag that isn’t there. “I’m sorry! I work here. I’m Mike.”


“Nice to meet you, Mike.” The other man says, smiling at Mike’s obvious nervousness. “I’m Chester.”


“It’s very nice to meet you, Chester.” Mike says, grinning idiotically, his heart still racing.


“I really like the store.” Chester says, gesturing with his chin. “I love independent bookstores like this. They’re so much more inviting than the big chain stores.”


“Thank you. It’s, uhh… I actually own it.” Mike says sheepishly.


“Get out! How cool! So are you Shinoda or are you Sons?”


“I’m Sons. My father started the store when I was a boy. He retired two years ago, and I took it over. So I guess that makes me Shinoda now?”


Chester nods, trying his best to keep from staring at the Asian man. God, he’s gorgeous. Chester moves his books to one arm, tugging at the hem of his gray denim jacket with his free hand. He smiles at Mike, aware that he’s waiting for him to reply. He can’t remember the last time he felt this unsettled around somebody. In his line of work, he met new people all the time and it was very rare for him to come off as anything other than confident and charming. He shakes his head slightly, trying to clear his mind.


“Sorry….” Chester says, his heart jumping when Mike grins back at him. “That must have been an amazing childhood, growing up in a bookstore. I would have loved to have all these books at my fingertips when I was younger.”


“I love it.” Mike agreed, nodding. “I would sit in the aisles while my Dad was working and read for hours. I’d get so wrapped up in these other worlds. I’d even act stuff out sometimes.” Chester chuckles, enamored with how adorable this man is. “I’m sorry…I don’t know why I told you that.” Mike mumbles, pushing his long black hair out of his eyes.


“It’s fine. It’s cute.” Chester says, delighted when Mike blushes.


“So, what do you like to read?” Mike asks, glancing down to the stack of books in Chester’s arm.


Chester subconsciously turns his books away from Mike. “Oh, this stuff is just research,” he mutters.


The Science Of Death?” Mike says, glancing at one of the titles. Chester looks up to Mike, taking in his raised eyebrows and his unsettled expression. Fuck, he thinks I’m crazy.


“Oh my God, I promise I’m not a serial killer or some crazy whack job you’re gonna see on the ten o’ clock news.” Chester says, running his hand quickly over his face and pulling at his bottom lip, giggling nervously. “It’s for a…project. I swear.” Mike continues to stare. “I’m not crazy!” Chester says with a laugh.


“Alright then, if you say so.”


“Anyway, I like to read all kinds of things. Science Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, thrillers, mysteries….” Chester says, trying desperately to get Mike to forget about his disturbing book choice.


“Mysteries, hmm? Not like this Jacob Masters crap, right?” Mike says, rolling his eyes and hiking his thumb over to the “New Releases” table. “I swear, this stuff is huge right now and I don’t understand the popularity behind it. I mean, it’s mostly old ladies who buy them but like… you know, there’s Connelly, Patterson, Kellerman, Coben, and now Masters and every plot is like clockwork, y’know? It’s like all these authors get together in the same cabin out in the middle of nowhere and compare notes and just copy off each other. This Master’s fella doesn’t even have a photo of himself in the jacket!”


Chester shrugs. “Maybe he’s a private man?”


“Or maybe he’s ashamed to show his face because he knows his stuff is a rip-off from all the other ‘mystery’—” he quotes the word with his fingers in the air, “novel bull. Gosh, I’m sorry,” Mike adds, toeing the burgundy carpet nervously. “I’m babbling. You don’t look like a man who reads Masters?”


Chester brings his hand to his mouth, trying to stifle his laughter. Should I tell him? Nah…


“That’s actually what I was coming over here to see. Before you so rudely ran me over.” Chester says with a grin.


“No! Seriously? Come on, you can’t like this stuff!”


“Occasionally. It may not be worth a Pulitzer, but it has its merit, right? I mean…he has been on the best seller list. With three different books. That’s gotta count for something.”


“I guess so.” Mike says with a shrug. Just then a loud squeal comes from the back of the store followed by crying. “Lord, they’re probably ruining the children’s section. And their parents are probably nowhere to be found.”


“Those are probably mine actually.” Chester confesses, running his hand over his short, brown hair once more, laughing when Mike’s mouth falls open.


“Oh my God, I’m sorry! That was so rude.” Mike looks utterly distraught.


Chester brushes him off with a flicking hand. “No, it’s fine! Don’t worry about it.”


He shuffles his feet fretfully, suddenly afraid the kids are destroying things. Single parenthood had been an adjustment for Chester. He had moved to Colorado three months ago to be able to spend more time with his children. He was happy and loved watching them grow into little people but going from seeing them one weekend every six weeks to having them every other week was like night and day.


“I’ve got a son. He’s six. And he can be a nightmare in public sometimes. I don’t have any right to judge.” Mike says, frowning uncomfortably.


“It’s okay, really. I’ve got a six-year-old son too. My only boy.” Chester says.


“How many girls?” Mike asks.


“Three. Eight, four, and three.”


“Four kids?” His eyes bulge as he adjusts his glasses up his nose. “God, you’re a saint. It’s hard enough for me to keep up with Oliver.”


“Well, I’m sure your wife is a big help.” Chester says, purposefully feeling out the waters.


“It’s just me.” Mike says, smiling softly.


“Gotcha. I’m divorced.” Chester says, kicking himself for being so awkward and offering up his marital status without any reason. Dang, what is wrong with me? This guy doesn’t care about my personal life. Sheesh, Chester, pull yourself together!


“It’s hard being alone when you have a kid. It’s lonely. I mean…I’m sure you have a girlfriend.” Mike says.


“No, definitely no girlfriend.” He glances up at Mike, smiling slyly. “No boyfriend either.”


What am I doing!? Am I flirting with this man? I don’t even know if he likes men. God, calm down, Chester.


“That’s good to know.” Mike says, returning the fleeting glance and the sly smile.


Well, well then Mr. Shinoda. Chester turns around when he hears the unmistakable sound of his second youngest crying. Amelia catches sight of her dad and runs full speed ahead, her blond curls whizzing behind her, her brother following close behind. Amelia crashes into Chester, wrapping her little arms around his leg and burying her face against his jeans, sobbing. Chester wobbles on his feet, his eyes going wide as the stack of books threatens to fall again. Mike rushes forward, catching the stack.


“Thanks.” Chester says with a smile and squats down, gathering Amelia in his arms. Parker quietly takes his Dad’s hand, looking up at Mike curiously.


“What is it Meliabug?” Chester asks, his voice tender and soothing. The four-year-old looks at her Dad briefly, before collapsing into his arms again.


“Lydia took her book Daddy.” Parker says quietly.


“Amelia baby, you know you have to share with you sister. We’ve talked about this.” Chester says, rubbing his hand in circles on her back.


“But whyyyy?” Amelia wails. Mike chuckles and Chester shoots him a smile.


“Parker, where are your other sisters?” Chester asks the six-year-old.


“They’re still back there.” Parker says distractedly, looking up again at Mike. “Who are you, mister?”


Mike laughs before leaning down to Parker and putting out his hand. Parker flashes a smile and places his little hand in Mike’s, shaking it animatedly. “I’m Mike. It’s nice to meet you Parker.”


Parker stares back at his Dad, beaming, thrilled that he got to shake hands like a grown up. Chester ruffles his light brown curls before standing up, Amelia on his hip. Amelia sniffles, her cries dying down as her interest moves to Mike.


Mike takes a knee in front of the little boy. “Parker, I’ve got a son who’s six just like you. His name is Oliver. Do you want to meet him?” Mike asks.


“A boy!? Yes, please! I hate girls…” Parker groans, his head falling, and his black Chuck Taylor clad foot kicking at the floor.


“Parker, we don’t say hate.” Chester says, firmly.


“Okay, I’m gonna go get him. Do you want me to take these books to the counter for you?” Mike looks down to the stack, scanning the titles. “Serial Killers of The Twentieth Century, Agriculture of The Western United States, Breweries of Colorado? What kind of project is this?” Mike raises his eyebrow, pinning Chester with a questioning gander.


“I’m looking into starting a microbrewery. And possibly becoming a serial killer.” Chester says with a smile, appreciating the puzzled look on Mike’s face.


“What’s a seri killer, Daddy?” Amelia asks.


“Serial. It’s somebody who doesn’t like cereal.” Chester says without missing a beat.


Mike laughs, shaking his head and heading towards the front of the store. Chester wipes the remaining tears from Amelia’s face.


“Daddy, I like cereal. Do you like cereal?” Amelia asks, resting her head on Chester’s shoulder.


“Yes, baby, I love cereal.” Chester says, his eyes focused on the front of the store, waiting for Mike to return.


“Then why did you tell that man you’re a seri killer?” Amelia asks and Chester chuckles, placing a kiss to her forehead.


“I don’t know baby. It was a joke.”


“Dad, can I play with Oliver? I don’t want to play with my sisters anymore. I want to show him a book I found.” Parker says, tugging on Chester’s hand.


“We need to go home soon, buddy. But maybe we can set up a time that you can play together later. Would you like that?”


“Yeah!” Parker gleefully shouts.


Mike comes walking around a row of bookshelves, Oliver walking excitedly beside him with his hand in Mike’s. Parker goes to run towards him, but Chester reaches out, pulling him back and wrapping his arm across his chest, his hand clasping his shoulder.


“Wait, buddy.” Chester whispers.


Mike comes to a stop and Oliver follows suit, looking up eagerly at his Dad, their facial features identical.


“Oliver, this is Parker.” Mike says, gesturing towards Chester’s son.


“I’m six!” Parker boasts proudly, Chester still holding him back as he tries to pull away.


“Hi.” Oliver says quietly, looking down and scooting behind one of Mike’s legs.


“I found a book about dinosaurs! Do you want to see it? My sisters hate dinosaurs.” Parker rolls his eyes.


Oliver looks up to Mike, asking permission. Mike nods and lets go of Oliver’s hand.


“I like dinosaurs.” Oliver says softly, stepping towards Parker. “Which one do you like most?”


Chester releases his hold on his son. “Parker, five minutes, okay? Then I want you and your sisters back here. Amelia, do you want to go?” Amelia shakes her head, her eyes heavy as she snuggles into Chester’s neck. “Okay, Parker? Did you hear me?”


“Okaaaaay, Dad. I like the T-Rex!” Parker says, walking away with Oliver without a backwards glance.


“Wow, Oliver usually doesn’t warm up to kids that quick.” Mike says, watching the two six-year-old’s until they turn towards the children’s section.


“Must be the dinosaurs. Parker knows the way to a boy’s heart.” Chester says. “So, what would you think about getting together some time?” Mike’s eyes bulge. “I mean, getting the kids together.”


“Oh, right. I’d like that. I mean…Oliver would like that.” Mike says, a smile crinkling the outer corners of his eyes.


“Right, Oliver.” Chester says with a chuckle. He grabs his phone from his pocket, swiping his thumb across the screen and handing the phone to Mike. “Here, type in your number. It’ll be nice to find Parker some new friends. All of the moms of his school friends are friends with my ex-wife.”


“And that’s a problem?” Mike asks, handing the phone back.


“No, not really. I just always feel like I’m under surveillance. I just moved here three months ago, and I feel like they’re all reporting back to Ashley. There.” Mike’s phone dings. “I sent you a text so you’ve got my number too. You’ve lived here your whole life then?”


“Yep, born and raised. Where were you before?”


“Phoenix. All this snow and all this cold is…different.” Chester says, shivering subconsciously at the thought of going back into the wet, dreary world.


“You don’t like it?” Mike asks, beaming slightly. “It’s my favorite time of year. I love all the Christmas lights against the snow.”


“It’s beautiful, for sure. But I’m just not built for the cold. I miss the desert.”


“You just haven’t learned to appreciate it yet. Oh, I know what we should do! We should go ice skating!”


“What? No way. I’m not embarrassing myself in front of you by falling on my butt. No way.” Chester grimaces, shaking his head and holding up his hands in front of his chest.


“Come on! It’ll be fun. Have you ever gone?”


“Once, with the kids when I came up here to spend Christmas with them. It…umm, it didn’t go well.” Chester says, flashbacks of a bruised and frozen tailbone running through his head.


“I’ll teach you. I won’t let you fall.”


“You promise?” Chester says mischievously. God, what am I doing? I’ve just met this guy and he’s already got me acting like a lovesick teenager.


“Promise.”


They smile at each other, both caught up in the excitement of flirting and in the promise of what was to come.


“Daddy, I’m tired.” Amelia pipes up, pulling both of them out of their trance.


“I know, sweetheart. We’re going to go home soon. Look, here comes everybody.” Chester tells her, pointing back to the pack of four children bounding towards the two men.


“Dad, Oliver showed me a book about t-rexes!” Parker says excitedly.


“That’s awesome buddy.” Parker bounces next to Chester and Stella, Chester’s oldest daughter, walks up with him, pulling along the youngest girl, Lydia.


“Mike, this is Stella and this is Lydia.”


“Nice to meet you, ladies.” Mike says as Oliver steps beside him, quickly reaching for his hand.


“Daddy, up!” Lydia tries to pull away from her older sister, her gold flecked eyes—Chester’s eyes— immediately on Amelia. “Daddy, up!”


“Okay, okay. Climb on.” Chester leans down, balancing Amelia as Lydia wraps her arms around his neck. He stands, teetering a little as he adjusts each girl.


“Dad, look!” Stella turns to the octagon shaped table, the tail of her blond hair set in a high ponytail whipping, and she points to the display. Chester’s heart leaps into his throat. “It’s your new book, Dad!”


Mike glances to where Stella’s pointing, Liam adding the finishing touches to the stack of Jacob Master’s latest novel. He turns back to Chester, puzzled. Chester smiles, watching Mike’s expression go from confusion, to surprise, to terror.


“Yeah baby, it is my new book.” he says, grinning as Mike’s eyes swing from the table, to Chester, and back.


“Your…your book?” Mike says, his heart racing as mortification washes over him.


“Yeah.”


“But….” Mike says, searching for words, any words.


“Who wants to buy a book by Chester Bennington? I thought Jacob Masters sounded more refined.”


Mike stares, dumbfounded.


“Well, alright then. We’re going to go pay for my books. And just let me know when you want to set up a time to take the kids ice skating.” Chester says, thrilled by Mike’s response. Poor guy.. “It was nice to meet you, Mike!”


“Umm… it was nice to meet you too, Jacob. Uh, Chester.” Mike says, his brain moving at turtle speed.


Chester gestures for the kids to follow him as he walks away, turning back and grinning, Mike still frozen as the Colorado winter weather.


“Oh, and Mike, if you have any suggestions on how I can improve on my ‘crap’ books, just shoot me a text.”


Mike’s mouth drops, his mocha skin bright as a stop sign. Chester flashes him one more smile before walking away.


Liam, having been a witness to the whole awkward though equally flirty scene, stands up and smacks Mike on the back.


“Good job, boss,” he teases a flustered Mike. “Real smooth.”


* * * * * * * * * *


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