Sunday, December 4, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar Review ~ The Orpheum Miracle by Pat Henshaw

2016 Advent Calendar Review ~ The Orpheum Miracle by Pat Henshaw

Title: The Orpheum Miracle
Author: Pat Henshaw
Anthology: Bah Humbug: 2016 Christmas
Genre: Contemporary gay romance
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publication date: December 4, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-1-63533-166-0
Pages: 25
Words: 8,129
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond

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Christmas joy is a matter of perspective. For some, it’s the happiest time of the year. For others, not so much.

Twenty-nine-year-old Mick, the son of crack addicts, isn’t exactly a dyed-in-the-wool Scrooge. Mick’s been on his own from childhood. As a teen, he lived in a shelter, where for a short time he had a boyfriend. After the boyfriend left, Mick moved to the Orpheum Theater. While squatting there and taking care of the grand old building, Mick watched others celebrate the holidays from a distance, never able to share in their merriment. Only his 
Technicolor dreams liven his dull, mechanical life until one day the world around him begins to change. Mick is surprised when a man named Jim buys the vintage Orpheum and plans to restore it. Something about Jim makes Mick think they’ve met before. In fact, Jim rekindles Mick’s longing for a better life and a little holiday magic for himself.

Excerpt: (841 wds.)
In early November, a new banner across the Orpheum Theater went up saying: Welcome to Christmas, the happiest time of the year. Coming soon.

Far as I could tell, Christmas was when children danced around like clowns on crack. Besotted parents cavorted around them like ninnies in the stupid race. And the rest of us stood back waiting for the inevitable explosion.

Despite how it started, Christmas had been morphed by the rich into a season of greed. It had nothing to do with whether a kid was good or bad, but how much money his folks had. Take the kids I knew down at the shelter. Shit, they could be as good as little angels, and the best they’d ever get was someone’s cast-off pity, which wasn’t going to do them a damned bit of good when the holiday parade of who-got-what started at school.

All Christmas did, as far as I was concerned, was make poor kids feel worse and rich kids feel more powerful and more ready to rub everyone else’s nose in their misfortune. And we all knew, where you started was pretty much where you ended up in life. The Christmas miracle was a lie that should have been shot in the head and buried eons ago.

Fortunately, here in the bowels of the old Orpheum Theater, the only Christmas merry-makers left were ghosts of vaudevillians, chorus girls, corrupt managers, and the live help. Those of us who weren’t going from office party to cocktail land were left here to sweep the floors, squeegee jizz off bathroom walls, pry gum from under seats, and oust anything that moves after the doors were closed and locked.

I’ve been called cynical, a Scrooge, a vulture perched and ready to rip the eyes out of the season. It wasn’t true. I was as big a sap as the next guy.

I was still working here at the Orpheum, wasn’t I?

Even after the new guy, a hotshot investor type, bought the building and threatened to give the Orpheum the Wonderful Life makeover, I was still here. The stately Orpheum might be closed to the public for renovation, but as the longest paid employee, I was one of the lucky bastards kept on during the project.

(After the new manager comes in, and our narrator Mick gets a promotion….)

That night, after we piloted the last cleaner on his way out the door and  I lagged behind the rest of the regular staff as they got out of there, I sat in the dark, the theater locked, the alarm on, and the heat turned down to its slumber setting.

For the past few years now, I’d sit like this, middle of the center row, shoes off, three pairs of socks, blanket bundled around me, feet and legs over the seat back in front of me. Sometimes I ate the leftover popcorn, sometimes not. I didn’t ever steal, so no candy, hot dogs, chips, or anything I wasn’t entitled to.

I’d sit, relax, and run my own movie, my mind movie. Sometimes it was a romance, with me meeting the perfect guy. Usually, he was walking by the Orpheum and a heavy rainstorm or windstorm blew in and he had to get out of the elements. Sometimes he’d run into me as I was cleaning up the lobby, maybe spilling some popcorn he’d just bought.

“Damn. Sorry,” he’d say.

Our eyes would meet, and that’s all she wrote.

(After Mick reminisces about his one, true love….)

So back in the Orpheum at bedtime, romances were my all-time favorite dream fare. My second favorites were homemade domestic comedies. Me, the dad of a brood of spritely boys, and husband to a goofy, well-meaning guy, whose day job working in an office was driving him nuts. We’d take the boys on camping trips and tell stories around the fire. We’d teach them all the stuff we’d learned as we grew up.

My husband, who grew up in a white-picket-fence-type family, would give them tips about being good, upright citizens. I’d pass along all my street lore. Where to find food that isn’t too tainted, where to find shelter, who to trust—no one—who to stay away from—everyone. My husband would tell them about fairy-tale hopes and dreams, about Christmas. I’d ground them with a reality where hopes and dreams only happened on film. Our lives would be paradise.

I liked watching my homemade DIY romances and domestic comedies. I could fall sound asleep, only getting up a couple of times to stretch my legs and take a piss. On those nights, I’d wake up rested, ready to meet the day, hardly missing breakfast or a real meal. Over the years, Randy, like some of my wilder hopes and dreams, faded. I wished I could remember what his face looked like, but after all this time, it was just a hazy blur, never coming into focus. No matter. My hero wasn’t so much a face as the feeling of being protected and happy.

*Copy provided to Bayou Book Junkie by the author for my reading pleasure in hopes of an unbiased opinion, a review was not a requirement.*

Mick has been on his own almost all his life. He lived in a shelter in his teens but has mostly kept to himself, other than a boyfriend he had who disappeared one day. After Randy left, Mick got a job at the Orpheum Theater and he's been taking care of the building and squatting there. The only things that bring him some happiness and that keep him from the monotony that his life has become are his dreams where he has a husband and a different life. When a man named Jim buys the Orpheum, Mick is surprised, especially when Jim seems familiar to him and when he makes a point of singling Mick out. But is Jim hiding something?

The Orpheum Miracle is an enjoyable Christmas short story. My heart just broke for all Mick had to go through. He was sweet and it was nice to see him with Jim. They seemed well suited for each other and it was lovely to find out the real reason why Jim bought the Orpheum. I'd liked the story to be longer, but at least we got to see the start of the guys' HEA.

Rating: 4 Stars!!!

Author bio:
Pat Henshaw, author of the Foothills Pride Stories, was born and raised in Nebraska where she  promptly left the cold and snow after college, living at various times in Texas, Colorado, Northern Virginia, and Northern California.  Pat enjoys travel, having visited Mexico, Canada, Europe, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Egypt, and Europe, including a cruise down the Danube. She now lives in Sacramento.
Now retired, Pat has spent her life surrounded by words:  Teaching English composition at the junior college level; writing book reviews for newspapers, magazines, and websites; helping students find information as a librarian; and promoting PBS television programs.
Her triumphs are raising two incredible daughters who daily amaze her with their power and compassion.  Fortunately, her incredibly supportive husband keeps her grounded in reality when she threatens to drift away while writing fiction.

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