Grumble Monkey and the Department Store ElfGrumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf by [Thomas, B.G.]
By: B.G. Thomas
Release Date: November 30, 2013
Length:  95 pages
Reviewed by: Grace
Price:  $3.99
Kit Jefferies, a part-time department store Christmas elf, is an artist who loves life and his family. Unfortunately, his car dies at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere as he is heading home for Christmas. Enter Nick St. George.

Nick is a very unhappy man—he's achieved his professional goals only to find the rest of his life bleak and empty. Deciding there was only one way to make everything right, he is on his way to San Francisco on a dark mission, and even the horrible sleet storm that blocked his path won't deter him. That's when he found Kit.

At first, Nick is pretty sure rescuing Kit was a big mistake. Kit's personality is just too, well, effervescent. But as the miles go by, Kit begins to bring light to his dark heart. It might even be bright enough to illuminate a Christmas miracle.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2013 Advent Calendar package "Heartwarming".
Nick is the guy you love to hate.  Rude, mean, snotty… he covers all of them.  He’s gay, but doesn’t want to transmit that to anyone.  He even lost his ex because he refused to go to Pride and even ridiculed Spencer because he wanted to go.  When he lets Kit into his car, he knows he’ll regret it.  Kit is Nick’s opposite; overtly gay, sweet, open and colorful.  His literal job is as Santa’s Elf.
As they travel to Kit’s family’s house, Kit pulls Nick into conversation and Nick slowly finds himself inexplicably opening up to Kit.  And strangely, he starts entertaining ideas that he hasn’t allowed in over a decade.  Just has he is ready to drop Kit off and head on with his singular drive, Kit discovers his family is stuck at the airport and may not make it home for Christmas.  Nick can’t leave the sweet elf alone and stays the night, putting off his mission just a bit.
Nick and Kit enjoy their night and morning together but when Kit’s family show back up, Nick cuts out as soon as he can.  He soon realizes he doesn’t have Kit’s number to get him an art show set up with one of his peers.  Does he stay on the road and finish his last run or does he turn around and go back to the young man who has reminded him of who he could be?
This story isn’t truly an HEA, it is more a HFN.  I was not prepared for the actual reason for Nick’s trek across country and was in tears when it was first revealed.  It again reminds us that the words spoken and actions taken leave imprints on people long after they are said and done.  Even with that stark reminder, this is a very sweet Christmas tale and just another reason B.G. Thomas is one of my faves.  
The 5 Snowman Rating for Nick finally opening up and doing something spontaneous and silly just to do it with Kit.
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“BABY, IT’S cold outside,” declared the famous old song from the speakers of the car radio.
No kidding, thought Nick. It was cold. It was colder than a well-digger’s butt in the Klondike, is what it was. Colder than a nun’s buns in a steel chastity belt.
In other words, it was damned cold.
The windshield wipers were icing up bad again, and Nick knew he was going to have to try to pull over and clean them—a prospect he didn’t relish, with its very real possibility of being struck by a passing motorist. The shoulder of the road was piled high with snow, and in most places there was nowhere to stop the car. In front of him was nothing but snow and ice and a gray and ugly sky. And sleet. It was the scariest driving he’d ever done in his life.
And that’s when he saw the sign. “Rest Area One Mile,” it read, along with the information that it was twenty miles to the next stop. A distance that would take another hour at the speed he was being forced to drive. Nick hadn’t dared go over thirty-five miles an hour since he’d left the motel.
At this speed, I won’t get there on time.
When Nick woke up that morning in the tiny, crappy motel room and turned on the TV with its strangely yellow-tinted screen, the first thing he’d seen was the weather advisory. Sleet, sleet, and more sleet, and cautions to drive only if it was absolutely necessary. But wasn’t it? Hadn’t he made up his mind (finally) that it was completely necessary?
Despite that, Nick thought about staying another night. But for what? Certainly not the scenic locale. Not the luxurious accommodations. Undoubtedly, not the cuisine. Dinner last night had been a bag of Lay’s potato chips, some trail mix, and an ancient Snickers bar for dessert (via the vending machine in the motel office). The little hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street had been closed—as in permanently—and the local pizza place, several miles away and the only option for hot food, was closing as he called. The bastards had refused to deliver even when he offered them an extra twenty bucks. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford it.
That’s what you get for driving so late last night.

BUT HE wanted to get to San Francisco. He wanted to get there by Christmas Day, and that certainly wasn’t going to happen now, was it? Not if this ice storm didn’t clear up soon, or unless he drove far enough to move out of it. He’d already driven for sixteen hours straight.
Why does it have to be Christmas Day?
It was that internal question again, and he squashed it down and made the split-second decision to pull off the road. But even driving at only thirty-five miles an hour, it was too fast, and for one brief alarming instant (which seemed to last about a week), he thought he was going to go into a ditch as the car swerved first one way and then another. Somehow, through the grace of Who-knew-what (if there was any “What,” and Nick had stopped believing in fairy tales long ago), he got the car under control, just barely missing a red-and-brown Jeep at the bottom of the off-ramp. A moment later he sat—panting, heart racing, knuckles white from his grip on the steering wheel—in a parking space in front of the nondescript building in the middle of nowhere.
This is ridiculous, he told himself.
He should have stayed at that motel, hellacious as it had been, with its musty, moldy smell (except for the office, which had reeked of curry so strongly he’d hardly been able to breathe,) and its nasty-smelling towels and the dripping faucet and the dead pill bug by the drain (and where had it come from, he’d wondered). Not to mention the pair of panties he’d found behind the bed when he’d tossed his glasses next to the lamp, and they’d skidded across the surface of the end table and onto the floor.
That morning, as he sat on the edge of that uncomfortable bed, watching the crappy television, he had known, ice storm or not, there was no way he was staying at that motel another day. So despite the weatherman’s frantic misgivings, Nick had hit the road—only to discover how bad it really was. Now he was sitting in a rest-area parking lot, hundreds of miles from his goal, his only shelter either his Bentley or a small building that most probably reeked of piss.
Why should any of this be a surprise? Whatever could go wrong, would go wrong, were the words of the famous prophet and sage. Those words, and the equally well-known “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” were his themes. It had always been that way. Why should things change?
Well, Nick thought as he sat there, his wipers still slapping noisily across the windshield. Might as well make do. Take advantage of the situation. He turned off the engine, along with the duetting voices of Barry Manilow and K.T. Oslin, pulled on his knit cap, turned up the collar on his Eddie Bauer coat, and got out of the car. He glanced at those ice-encrusted windshield wipers, shrugged and decided they would wait, and without another look, headed into the brick building.
Nick was surprised when he walked into the lobby. For what it was, the word “nice” might almost have applied. The room was well lit, with nary a burnt-out bulb, and there was a pleasant smell, manufactured though it may have been, of lavender and disinfectant. The walls were clean, if not the floor (but that was due to the wet feet of travelers escaping sleety weather, not neglect). Nice photographs had been hung—a few nature scenes, as well as neighboring cityscapes—and there was a kiosk of maps and pamphlets for local attractions in one corner. Two nearly comfortable-looking couches were along one side of the room, as well as (of course) the ever-present soda and snack vending machines. At least these had packaging that looked new, and not from a previous century (he shuddered at the thought of last night’s petrified candy bar).
Not too bad.
Color me surprised.
Of course, he hadn’t gone into the actual bathroom itself, had he?
Nick braced himself.
Once more into the breach.
And surprise, surprise. Clean! Spick-and-span. The bathroom was all tile and stainless steel and mirrors that might have been cleaned in the last few hours, although the weather surely would have prevented that. The smell of the room deodorizer that was being used wasn’t so strong that it made him want to gag, nor was there the heavy piss smell he’d imagined. The dividing walls separating the toilets went all the way to the floor—no hanky-panky underneath the partitions here!
Or was there?
Just as Nick stepped up to one of the urinals to relieve himself, he heard a noise. A crying out. A gasp. It sounded like sex. Were two men actually doing it in here? His stomach clenched in distaste. Could anything be so cliché? Don’t we have a bad enough reputation without proving our base nature?
Nick finished his business quickly, washed, and then fled from the building and into the waiting car.
Only to remember he hadn’t cleaned his wipers. Already, in the short time he’d been gone, the windows had glazed over and the wipers were worse—they looked glued to the windshield.
“I hate this,” he said aloud.
Then he geared himself up and stepped back into the cold. It was still sleeting, and he had to stand in the miserable stuff to clean things up.
There’ll be no sleet in California. There’ll be no sleet in California. There’ll be no sleet in California.
To Nick’s relief, scraping the glass wasn’t too bad since the car was still quite warm from the blasting heater—thank Who-knew-what for that because Nick was never warm enough—and he did away with the ice in no time. The wipers though took some whacking and smacking before the chunks broke off. But he wanted—needed—to be careful, because he had no replacements on hand. What a bitch that would be if he had to drive without one. It would be… well, impossible. He would have to stay in this miserable place, and that was the last thing he wanted to do.
“Let me help” came a voice that so startled Nick, he jerked and then began to pinwheel his arms as he started to slip on the ice.
When he fell, it was right into the long arms of a man who was almost a head taller than him. He looked up into a smiling face that would have looked happy, had not his large-framed glasses magnified eyes that had obviously been crying. Nick jumped back and might have fallen again if the stranger hadn’t reached out and given him a steadying hand. He looked again and saw his rescuer was probably about ten years younger than Nick’s own thirty-two. That, and the fact that he was so obviously gay that Nick’s naïve and senile old grandmother would have spotted the kid as a big old fag. Why, just his hat was ridiculous. It was a red-and-green striped pointed hat that was so long it was being used as the dual purpose of a scarf, wrapped several times around his throat. It was embarrassing. Who would be caught dead in such a getup? Did the kid have no sense of decorum?
“Sorry,” said the stranger in a slightly lilting voice that further confirmed Nick’s suspicion that he was gay. This guy could not have passed for heterosexual if he went down on a woman. He probably had a gay pride sticker on his car, maybe even one shaped like a dog or Mickey Mouse. As if being gay was something to toot your horn about.
This is exactly the kind of gay who feeds the hatred against us, Nick thought. Nick had never been to a pride event in his life—although he’d had a boyfriend for a little over a year, once upon a time, who’d tried to drag him to one or two. Nick didn’t see the point. Straight people didn’t have “pride” events. Why did so many gay people feel a need to make a spectacle of themselves? One’s sexuality was no one’s business but one’s own.
“So do you go back to being ashamed the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year?” he’d asked his then boyfriend (although he hated the word “boyfriend”—it was so high school!). Their relationship had been framed by two such “gay pride” celebrations, and it was Nick’s refusal to go to the second one (and the sarcastic comment he had made) that sent Spencer packing. Nick had come home to an empty apartment and a note.
Dear Nick, it had said, and his stomach had dropped as it had so many times in his life, through so many disappointments. He had known before noticing anything was missing that this was a break-up letter. I’m proud of us. I’m sorry that you’re not. I can’t live with that, Baby. I wish you all the luck and love and pride in the world. Love, Spin.
Baby. Imagine a man calling another man “Baby.” And Spencer’s preferred nickname for himself was just as silly. Spin. It put Nick in mind of someone whirling and spinning about. What was wrong with Spencer? It was a grand name. Or Spence, if he had really needed a nickname.
And all this reminiscing was going on as Nick was standing in the cold sleet, the ice beginning to melt down the back of his neck, staring at a tall, slim young man in a ridiculous elf hat.
Said “elf” bit his lip, chewed, then apologized again. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Butcha did,” Nick snapped, then shook his head. No need to be rude. And certainly no reason to do an imitation of Miss Baby Jane Hudson. That’s something Spencer would have done in a heartbeat.
The stranger grinned a dazzling smile. “That’s from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane!”
Nick barely stifled a groan. Of course the kid had caught the reference. What card-carrying, proud-to-be-gay boy wouldn’t?
You did, his inner self reminded him.
That’s only because of Spencer. He infected me with his gay trivia.
“I really am sorry,” Elf said for a third time.
Nick held up his hands. “Apology accepted. Have a nice day.” He turned and began to climb into his car.
“Mister! Wait!”
Nick stopped.
“A-are you going west by any chance?” Elf bit his lip again.
It was harder to fight the groan this time, but ten years dealing with indecisive and wishy-washy clients and collectors had taught Nick to control his emotions. At least outwardly.
Hell. What did this fairy want from him? Please not a ride. Please, please. “Yes,” he answered stiffly, and managed not to say, “What the hell do you think? You can only go west from here.” He wanted to say it. He’d been asked a stupid question. The exit from the rest area only went west. And oh, how Nick abhorred stupid questions.
“Oh!” Elf rolled his eyes. At least it looked that way. It was hard to tell since his cheap-looking glasses were getting wet from the sleet. “That was a really dumb question, huh?” Elf shuddered. “It has been a baaaaad day, what can I say? First this crap-o weather and then my car.”
“Your car?” Nick asked, and damned himself for it. Now the kid had reason to continue their conversation.
Elf nodded. “Broke down. I don’t know how I managed to limp it along this far. I don’t know what to do. I could call a tow truck, but then what? Home’s a few hours aways. Besides, I think Bette’s done for.” He sighed dramatically. “It’s been a long time a-comin’.”
“Bette?” Who the hell was Bette?
Stop! You’re doing it again! Stop talking! Let him get to the point.
Although Nick pretty much saw what was coming….
“Bette’s my car. Well, she’s a Jeep. Was a Jeep?” Elf gave a huge shrug. “She’s about a thousand years old. Anyways, I’ve tried to call home on the pay phone inside, but no one’s answering. I’m getting….” He hesitated¸ his cheerful tone gone. “I’m getting worried….” He stopped again. Looked away.
It was right then that Nick realized this was who had been in the bathroom. And he hadn’t been having sex. He’d been crying. Hell.
Nick felt more cold wetness running down his neck and found he was growing impatient. He wanted to get out of here.
“Look, mister,” said the stranger in the Christmas hat. “Are you going as far as Terra’s Gate?”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Nick honestly.
“It’s home,” Elf explained. “Where I grew up.” For some reason, he was smiling. “I’m on break. From school.”
Break? From school?
“I was hoping you’d be willing to drop me off. I can give you gas money. Keep you company. Help you watch the road….”
Elf’s face had taken on an expression of hope, and Nick felt a certain dread. He was on a mission and already behind schedule. It was San Francisco by Christmas, even if it was five minutes till midnight.
“I don’t know,” Nick said. “I don’t have time for any detours.”
“It’s not a detour. As long as you’re taking this road for a while. I’m about two hours from here.”
And of course Nick was taking the same road for many hours yet, and into tomorrow. Almost all the way to SFO.
Elf’s eyes were growing more and more obscured. Droplets of sleet were covering his big (cheap-looking) glasses, and Nick realized the kid—twenty-one, maybe—was getting just as soaked as he was. The whole front of his jeans was dark with wet, and oh God! Were those rhinestones along the front pockets? Could the elf be any gayer? Hell!
“Get in,” Nick said before he could change his mind.
The grin that spread across Elf’s face made the kid surprisingly cute. Nick crushed the thought like a cigarette under a shoe—not that he had smoked in years. He just didn’t want to find anything attractive about someone so gay. Rhinestones! What man with any self-pride wore jeans with rhinestones on them?
Why someone with gay pride!
“Thank you,” Elf squealed. He actually jumped for joy. “Just let me get my stuff out of my car.”
He started to walk away, and Nick saw the back of the kid’s coat was soaked.
“Where’s your car?” Nick asked.
“Over there.” Elf pointed, and Nick saw the very Jeep he had barely missed hitting when he first pulled off the highway. “That’s as far as I got. At least no one should hit it.”
Except I almost did!
Nick sighed. “Get in.”
“Get in! I’ll drive you.” He quickly moved the few things in the front seat to the back so that Elf could get in. The red-and-brown vehicle was at least 150 feet away. No sense in the little elf (well, he wasn’t really “little”) getting any wetter than he already was.
“Gee! Thanks!” And before Nick could even open the driver’s side door, Elf had dashed around to the other side of the car (Nick cringed, sure the kid would slip and fall on the icy pavement) and climbed in.

Nick joined him and only then realized how wet and nasty he was himself. Crap! I should change. I could catch my death. But damn! That would mean another delay. And just what the hell did the possibility of a cold mean to him now anyway?


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