Britland woke up early savoring the feel of Carson’s warmth next to him. It was strange how normal it had become to wake up next to someone. He was loath to move knowing when he did Carson would wake up. Carson’s arm was draped over his hip. He could feel Carson’s breath tickle his neck. Gently he tried to squirm from beneath his arm without disturbing him.
“It’s too early” Carson whined tightening his grip around Britland.
“We have a long day ahead” Britland whispered “I need to get up. Get things ready.”
“Ten more minutes” he mumbled.
Placing a soft kiss on Carson’s forehead Britland rolled from bed before the larger man could protest further. “Sleep” he encouraged smiling down at his partner. It never ceased to amaze him how much younger Carson looked sleeping with his long hair cascading over the pillow.
Collecting the clothes he had laid out the night before Britland made his way to the bathroom. He hoped a hot shower would help wake him up. His entire body felt like it was still asleep. Yawning so much he almost dislocated his jaw he entered the shower letting the water beat down on his head.
Feeling somewhat revived he walked into the kitchen to prepare their first holiday meal together. He searched the cupboard for the rolling-pin he knew they had but never had the opportunity to use before. checking the last cabinet he smiled relived upon finding it. Now he wouldn’t need to use a skillet.
He opened a bag of candy canes that were lying on the counter. He stuck one in his mouth while he unwrapped the rest. He placed the candy canes inside a plastic bag then raised the rolling-pin. Forgetting that Carson was asleep in the next room he gave the candy a whack. Then another and another until candy was crushed.
Carson stumbled from the bedroom holding a baseball bat demanding “what’s going on in here?”
Turning Britland gasped finding Carson standing ready to swing the bat. “I’m uh making breakfast” he wasn’t sure if he should be worried that Carson was sleep walking and dreaming.
“Did you have to kill it first” he grumbled leaning the bat against the wall “I thought you needed help.”
“Sorry” his cheeks flushed with heat “I didn’t think about the noise.” He gave Carson a strange look before turning to get a cup “hot chocolate” he asked.
“Sure” Carson yawned rubbing his eyes “why are you looking at me like that?”
Britland waved his hand helplessly towards Carson “you’re sitting on the ….”
“What’s wrong with me sitting here” he frowned taking a sip of the rich chocolate drink Britland set in front of him.
Turning his back on him Britland sighed “you’re not ….well….dressed.”
“Oh” Carson stared into his cup lips twitching. “Sorry” he managed to choke out “I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s alright” he looked up from the bowl he was mixing batter in. “I need to overcome my squeamishness.”
“You do that” Carson chuckled “and I’ll try not to sit my bare bottom on the furniture.”
“You’re making fun of me” Britland pouted as he flipped a pancake.
“Whatever gave you that idea” Carson asked draining the last of the hot chocolate “I’m going to get dressed now.”
Britland nodded removing the pan from the stove. Once he heard the bedroom door close he grabbed the Lysol to sanitize the stool.
By the time Carson was showered and dressed breakfast was ready. “Smells good” he complimented the chef. “What is it” he asked sitting on the same stool as before. He could smell the faint scent of Lysol beneath the prevalent scent of peppermint.
“Peppermint pancakes” Britland watched intently while Carson took his first bite of the confection. “Every Christmas while I was growing up Mom would make this for breakfast.”
“Christmas is still three days away” Carson pointed out “why make it today?”
“Because today is special” he laid his fork aside “it’s our first holiday together.”
Chewing the sugary morsel Carson could feel it sticking to the back of his throat. He knew the blonde had been planning something with all the decorating he had been doing even though no one was going to be home for the holiday. “Thank you” he mumbled blinking several times. He hadn’t thought about Christmas in years. Not since his brother was taken. His parents could barely look at him after that night buying him presents was beyond their capabilities.
“Did I do something wrong” Britland asked noticing how quiet and solemn Carson had become. The look in his lavender eyes was heart wrenching.
“No nothing” he choked attempting to smile “it’s altogether right not wrong. I …. I forgot how magical this time of year could be.”
“Don’t you have any family traditions” Britland asked covering the hand Carson had resting on the counter with his own. “I know I’ve upset you. I’m sorry. I just wanted to share with you some of the things I look forward to each year.”
“I appreciate that you went through all this trouble” he gulped “it’s just it makes me sad I can’t do the same for you. I have no family traditions. No family to visit who want to see me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong” Britland gently reached up to dry the tears from the older man’s cheeks “you have me. My family is your family.”
Sniffling Carson nodded “what are these traditions I’m now a part of?”
Taking a bite of his pancake Britland grinned “you’ll have to wait and see. I don’t want to spoil all the fun.”
Nodding he took another bite of his peppermint infused pancakes. He had dreaded the approach of the holidays. Had ever since his brother disappeared Christmas Eve.
“What are you thinking about” Britland asked his voice gentle.
Glancing up with a smile that did little to hide the sadness in his eyes Carson replied “nothing.”
Taking the empty plates Britland sighed “you don’t have to tell me. I hope one day you will. What hurt you hurt me.”
Standing up Carson moved around the counter to help Britland with the dishes. “I don’t want to damper your holiday spirit. I know how much you’ve looked forward to this.”
Britland gave him an uncertain look before nodding in acceptance. “Tell me when you’re ready.”
“Thank you” Carson sighed “I just need a little a time.”
“Is this everything” Carson asked surveying the assorted bags and boxes.
“You don’t have to say it like that” Britland complained.
“We’re only going to be gone for a week” he pointed out.
“Not all of its mine.” Pointing to several colorfully wrapped gifts “those are presents.” Pointing to several grocery bags “Mom needed a few things she couldn’t get in Riverview.”
“Ok ok” Carson raised his hands in defeat “but you packed two big suitcases. Not to mention they weigh a ton.”
“I didn’t know what to pack.” Shrugging he continued “I gave myself plenty of options.” Surveying everything his brow knitted “should I repack?”
“No” Carson shook his head “we’ll make it fit.”
Thirty minutes later. “It’s never going to fit. Just give me my bags and I’ll go and condense down to one bag.” His voice was high full of the frustration he felt.
“No” Carson grunted “it’s going to fit if I have to tie it to the roof.” He slammed the trunk down in frustration. They stared at it like they had just witnessed a miracle. The trunk stayed down. “I guess that takes care of that.”
“I should go and check that everything is turned off” Britland said hurrying towards the apartment.
Carson let him go knowing that Britland had already checked everything at least twice before they came down to pack up the car. He knew it would do little good to insist that they leave now. It would only result in Britland fretting over something he had forgotten to turn off. Carson would turn around to let him check only to find it was off. In holiday traffic he didn’t want to waste the time of doing that. He got into the car drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
Ten minutes later Britland climbed into the passenger seat. “Dad call to tell us to be careful. It’s been snowing there and the roads are icy.”
Nodding Carson backed out of the parking space and merged into traffic. A car horn blasted the silence as they narrowly missed being hit. “Sorry” Carson mumbled hearing Britland gasp beside him.
They drove on through the crowded street of Bridgeport. He could feel Britland giving him concerned glanced but thankfully he refrained from asking him any questions that might have diverted his attention from the heavy traffic. Once they left the city behind them the snow became heavier and the wind seemed to pick up speed. “Maybe we should wait until tomorrow” Britland suggested squinting out the window at the swirling whiteness.
“It’s not that bad” Carson assured him.
“If it weren’t for me over packing” Britland continued “we could have been on the road sooner.”
“You had no way of knowing it would snow” Carson said attempting to reassure him.
“I should have checked the weather” Britland’s voice cracked. He had heard too many stories of travelers getting stuck in blizzards and freezing to death.
“It’s not that bad” Carson used the same tone he normally reserved for photo shoots Britland was uncomfortable with. “We don’t have that far to go. Riverview is only two hours away.”
They traveled on for another twenty minutes in silence. Gripping the steering wheel like a vise his knuckles were white with tension. “Can you see the car ahead of us? I know there is one but I keep losing it in the snow.” He took his feet from the gas pedal letting the car slow gradually. He had no desire to wind up in the ditch like a few cars they had passed a few miles back.
Leaning forward Britland strained to see the tail lights of the car in front of them. “It’s there. I see it. Do you think we should turn around?”
Carson could hear the fear in the blonde’s voice without taking his eyes from the road. “Keep your eyes open for a turn off. I need all my concentration on the things in front of me.”
“I know there have to be turn offs along here somewhere” Britland said “I just can’t see them soon enough for you to slow down.”
“Is there a town between here and Riverview” Carson asked his voice strained and scratchy.
“Yeah. It’s small. Do you think we should stop for the night in a hotel?”
“Unless you want to drive in this” Carson leaned forward trying to see “I’m barely going 25 miles an hour and I still can’t see more than a few feet in front of us.”
“There’s a little town about thirty minutes from Riverview. There’s not much there” Britland informed him “it has a hotel. It’s run down and dumpy…”
“It’ll be better than the ditch” Carson clutched the steering wheel wondering if he would be able to straighten his fingers after this. “I didn’t think it’d get this bad.”
“There it is” Britland shouted pointing at the dimly lit hotel sign.
“Great” Carson slowed the car to make the barely discernible turn off. It had taken them three hours to make it this far in the snow. “I hope they have vacancies” he said as he drove up to the flickering sign that said office. “I’ll go and check” he could tell from the horrified look in Britland’s eyes that the blonde didn’t think much of the accommodations. At the moment Carson couldn’t care less. He couldn’t drive anymore in this white soup. He’d take a cardboard roach infested box to driving another mile.
Emerging from the dingy office Carson hurried to the car. “We’re in luck they have a room.” He drove around to another entrance closer to their room for the night. He handed Britland the room key. “Why don’t you go inside and I’ll bring in our stuff.”
Giving him a dubious look “don’t you want my help?”
“I can manage” he grunted moving towards the trunk “go on get out of the cold.” Carson could see that Britland wasn’t happy but he shuffled towards the door anyway uncertainty in every step he took. Once Carson was sure Britland was out of sight he slipped the present he had brought for him into his duffel bag. It barely fit and he knew the wrapping paper was going to get ruined but he wanted to give it to him tonight. Just the to of them.
He grabbed Britland’s two big suitcases wondering if he really needed both. He decided he better bring both and save himself the extra out into the cold.
By the time he had made it inside their room for the night Britland had stripped the bed and was struggling to lift the heavy queen sized mattress. “What are you doing” Carson asked setting all everything down near the door.
Grunting Britland let the mattress fall back into place. “Checking for bed bugs.”
Carson raised an eyebrow deciding that this was not at all surprising. “Can I help?”
“We need new sheets” Britland pointed towards the pile of discarded sheets.
“What’s wrong with those” Carson asked.
“They’re dirty” he gave them a dismayed glance “I’m not sleeping on them. There was hair all over them.”
“How do you know it wasn’t yours” Carson teased.
“It was long and dark” he shivered screwing his face up in disgust. “I’m not sleeping on them” he repeated.
With a long-suffering sigh Carson picked up the wadded up sheets and walked to the office. Several minutes later he returned with a sheets still in their original packaging. Tossing it on the bed he shrugged out of his coat “you don’t want to know how much I had to pay for that.”
“Thank you” Britland said wrapping his arms around him and giving him a soft sweet kiss on the lips. “I’ll make it up to I promise.”
“You better” he grumbled nibbling on Britland’s ear and his hands slid down his back and hips pulling him closer.
“Not here” he squirmed out of Carson’s arms.
“We don’t have to use the bed” Carson winked at him “there’s a nice sized shower.” He watched the color rise along the blonde’s cheek bones.
“Maybe” he murmured eyes shining bright like he had shocked himself that he would even consider it.
Sensing that now was not the time to press his luck Carson hugged him close then released him. “I’m going to order a pizza.”
“Do you think they’ll deliver” Britland asked opening up the package of sheets to make the bed.
“I hope so” Carson enthused “I’m starving.”
Felix sat beside Crystal. His leg bouncing as they waited for their flight. He sensed that Crystal was looking at him in concern. Nothing she said could alleviate the ball of anxious nerves he had become. He was going to meet her parents. This time as the guy the girl brought home to meet the parents. Not as the guy the dad wanted to shoot. “What if they don’t like me?” he asked for the hundredth time.
“Don’t worry they will” she assured him.
“I need air” he stood up abruptly walking away.
“Felix where do you think you’re going” she demanded running up alongside him.
“I can’t do this” his heart was beating wildly in his chest “I’m not the kind of guy you bring home.” He began to walk faster making Crystal jog to keep up.
“Felix” she shouted “stop running.” Her sides ached from the exertion of trying to keep pace with him.
The entreaty in her voice broke through his haze. Stopping he looked behind him. “I’m sorry” he mumbled watching her jog up to him, her cheeks red softly panting.
“Remember what you promised” she prompted.
Nodding he looked towards the floor “to tell you when I’m about to freak out.”
“Uh huh” she reached a hand up to caress his cheek. “You keep forgetting. One day I’m not going to run after you.”
“I know” He shoved his hands inside his pockets “I wasn’t planing on running. I just couldn’t stop once I started moving.”
“You don’t have anything to worry about” Crystal assured him. “I promise my Dad will be on his best behavior but he…”
“He’ll ask me questions I might not have the answers to” Felix sighed. The same old fears and doubts were rising up inside him.
“Just be honest with him” she smiled up at him taking his hand and guiding him back towards the terminal. “What ever you do don’t run.”
He dragged his feet along the now familiar terminal. He had gotten up a few times in the past couple of hours. He had yet to make it to the exit door. “I’ll try. I wish the plane would hurry up and get here.”
Glancing out the windows Crystal stopped “it’s snowing a lot more now. I hope all the delays don’t mean they’re going to cancel the flight altogether.”
Putting an arm around her he said “we still have time.”
“Three days” she mumbled walking towards the window leaning against it. “I really wanted to go home.”
They weren’t far from their terminal. He could see the looks of dismay, disappointment and in a few instances anger on what would have been their fellow passengers faces. “We better get back” he urged even though he already knew their flight had been cancelled due to weather.
The first thing they noticed were the big letters announcing their flight had indeed been cancelled. Waiting in line for the beleaguered flight attendant at the desk Felix asked like the others before him did “What’s the next available flight?” Her response by ow was mechanical without feeling or warmth.
“But’s that’s after Christmas” Crystal cried.
Felix could hear the tears in her voice even though she wasn’t crying yet. “Isn’t there anything earlier?” he demanded trying his best to keep his irritation in check. He knew it wasn’t this woman’s fault that the flight had been cancelled or the weather was crap.
“No I’m sorry that’s the earliest flight to Brooklyn Heights” she made a small flick of her hand to indicate they should move along.
Felix’s eyes narrowed but before he could say anything Crystal pulled him away and out of line. “Don’t. It’s not her fault.”
“I know” he cast a nasty look over his shoulder towards the irritating woman “it’s more her attitude.”
“I just have to accept I won’t be going home this year.” The despondency in her voice and sadness in her green eyes made Felix’s heart ache.
“I’ll think of something” he assured her. Walking a short distance away he pulled his phone out. “Dad can i have use of the jet….Yes I know it’s snowing….Tomorrow….Crystal wants to go home for Christmas….Sunday….That’s great….Thank you!” He looked over at Crystal. She looked so small standing there alone a lost expression on her face.
She caught him looking at her. She smiled attempting to cover up her disappointment. When he approached her she sighed “I guess we better go home. I can always ship the presents home. It won’t be the same as being there though. What other choice do I have?”
“You’ll be home for Christmas” he assured her kissing her forehead “I promise.”
She shook her head at him “don’t make promises you can’t keep. I know you’re just saying that to make me feel better.”
“I’m not” he smiled down at her “I’ve got contacts.”