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"Well, go on." A brilliant smile spread across Mac’s face as he nodded to the present in Hayden’s hands. "Open it."
Hayden held on to the box as though it were made of glass. He stared at it longingly, allowing himself to get lost in the dream for just a moment, then shook his head and handed it back. "I can’t accept this, I’m sorry."
"Now listen here, you’ll offend an old man if you don’t keep it. And you don’t want to get on the wrong side of your boss now, do you?"
Hayden sighed. It had been a long time since anyone had given him a gift of any kind. He didn’t mean to be ungrateful, but he didn’t want Mac to think he was some sort of charity case.
"Uh, I don’t know..." Hayden chewed on his lip while he tried to decide what to do.
"Look, it’s your birthday and I’m giving you a gift. Get over it." Mac thrust the box back into Hayden’s hands.
"Fine, I’ll open it, but if it’s expensive I swear to God—"
"Will you quit yakking and open it already? I’m growing old here."
Hayden rolled his eyes but the corners of his mouth tugged up into a smile. He had to admit he was curious to know what was inside. He picked delicately at the tape holding the package together.
"Christ, son, you’re worse than my wife. You’re not planning on keeping the paper, are you?"
Hayden felt his cheeks flood with heat. He would never admit it to Mac but that had been exactly what he had in mind. The paper was purple and sparkly and he could use it for...well, for something.
Mac tapped his fingers impatiently on the kitchen worktop. Hayden finally managed to get the gift unwrapped, revealing a white cardboard box.
"What is it?"
"Jesus, kid, give it to me. I’ll open it myself."
"No, I can do it." Hayden lifted the lid on the box and peered inside.
He drew in a sharp breath, feeling a lump rise in the back of his throat, and tears began to form behind his eyes, threatening to shatter his resolve. It had been three years since he’d last cried and after the last time he’d sworn he never would again. But, as he stared from the gift in his hand to Mac’s speculative gaze, he felt cracks begin to form in his carefully constructed dam.
"Well?" Mac asked. "Do you like it? If it’s the wrong kind, I’m sure I can change it."
"No," Hayden said, "It’s perfect. It’s a, it’s a..."
"I know. It’s a Kindling." Mac sounded triumphant.
"A Kindle," Hayden corrected.
"Yeah, right. Well, I told my wife whenever you’re on a break you’ve always got some scratty book in your hand so she said you might like one of these. Apparently all the kids have them."
Hayden bristled at the word kid. Today was his twenty-first birthday so he was now officially a man, but he let the comment slide. Mac was practically old enough to be his grandfather, so to him he probably did seem like a kid.
"I don’t know what to say." Hayden swallowed down the lump in his throat, which had grown so big he felt as though he were choking on it.
Mac shrugged. "Just say thanks."
"Thank you,’ he whispered. He lifted his head to meet Mac’s gaze. It was something he didn’t do often, but, to his relief, Mac was looking him directly in the eye and his gaze didn’t once drift lower.
Hayden sniffed and a solitary tear escaped his eye and trickled down his cheek.
"Now, now...we’ll have none of that." Mac cleared his throat and patted Hayden roughly on the back. "You’ll start me off. It’s nearly opening time and you don’t want my damn customers to think I’ve gone soft, do you?"