They sat cross-legged on the floor. The pizza box open between them. “Want the last piece” Carson asked smiling when the blonde shook his head.
“How can you eat so much and stay so fit” he asked watching as Carson demolished the last piece.
“Good genes” he smirked. He worked out for hours in the gym. Britland sometimes joined him but he was more sedentary by nature and didn’t join him often.
“What? No lecture on how I should exercise more” Britland asked in mock shock.
“Why? Do you want one” Carson teased winking at him “if you insist I can oblige.”
“No I’m good” Britland shook his head gathering the debris from their meal.
From experience Carson let him tidy things up. He knew asking him to wait or to leave it would only make the blonde anxious. While Britland was busy Carson took the moment to retrieve his duffel bag and take out the battered gift wrapped box.
“What’s this” Britland asked when Carson presented the box to him. Taking it from his outstretched hands with a tiny frown.
“Open it and find out” Carson encouraged eyes dancing with excitement. He watched intently as Britland raised the box to his ear, shaking it.
Sitting down Britland carefully removed the bow, picking at the tape holding the wrapping paper in place. “Just rip it” Carson suggested.
“No” Britland mumbled prying up the tape and carefully removing the paper. He took a moment to flatten the paper once it was off like he was going to preserve it.
Carson yelped in surprise when Britland slapped his hand to keep him from taking the used wrapping paper. “I’m keeping it” he informed him.
“Why” Carson blinked “it’s all crumpled up and torn from being inside my duffel bag. It can’t be reused.”
“Who said anything about reusing it” Britland asked “I save it. I have wrapping paper going back for years.”
Carson had images of their house after fifty years of marriage. A hoarders’ delight. Filled from floor to ceiling with wrapping paper scraps. A fire hazard if he ever saw one. He shook his head shelving that discussion for another day. Anxiously he watched Britland remove the lid. He smothered a laugh as the blonde removed another smaller wrapped box.
Groaning Britland demanded “how many of these things are there?”
“You’ll just have to open them all to find out” Carson chuckled at the murderous look in Britland’s eyes. He knew the Blonde was annoyed with him more so than he had ever been.
“This is getting ridiculous” Britland complained as he held up a much smaller box. The fifth one “if there’s another teeny tiny box in this one I’m going to throw it at you.”
Carson knew by that comment how much he had taxed Britland’s patience by this little scheme of stacking smaller boxes inside larger ones. He could barely keep his face straight in anticipation of what Britland would find in the last box. “Go ahead” he encouraged “open it.”
With the same meticulous care Britland removed the wrapping paper. “This isn’t” he gasped staring at a small ring box. Looking over at Carson, eyes shimmering “you didn’t have to.” He protested his hands shaking “we were already engaged. I didn’t need a ring.”
Carson reached over gently taking the box from Britlands trembling hand. “I know I didn’t have to. I wanted to.” He opened it to reveal a small oval-shaped purple diamond on a silver band surrounded by small brilliant green emeralds in the shape of hearts. “Will you marry me” he asked repeating the same question he had asked Britland a couple of months ago outside their apartment building. “From the moment we met I knew you were special.”
Britland’s face flushed a deep emerald-green. Tears rolled down his cheeks temporarily rendered speechless. “Yes” he choked when he thought he could speak “you know I will. A million times over.”
“Purple and green” Carson murmured slipping the ring onto Britland’s finger. “Our colors. You captured my heart and proved to me that love does exist.”
“I love you” Britland sniffed staring at the ring on his finger.
Britland stretched out on the bed moaning when the warm blanket fell from around his shoulders exposing his bare back to the chill of the room. Something didn’t feel right. It felt wrong. He was alone. His eyes flew open as his heart leaped into his throat. “Carson” he called falling to the floor as his legs tangled in the sheets.
Turning from the window Carson hurried towards the blonde. “Here let me help you” he said offering his hand.
Relief flooded his system leaving Britland feeling weak. “I thought…” he closed his eyes blotting out the doubts from his mind.
“You thought what” Carson asked caressing his partners cheek when he could see the color deepening in the blonde’s befuddled state.
“I thought you left me” his eyes turned away fixed on the floor. He saw all the things the maids neglected to clean. Shivering he tried not to think about having sat on the floor the night before eating pizza.
“Now why would I do that” Carson asked his voice gentle. Lifting the blonde’s chin up “I’d never leave you in the middle of the night like you were some cheap lay. You’re more than that to me.”
“I know” Britland’s voice quivered “I wish….” He shook his head “never mind.”
“What do you wish” he asked. A part of him didn’t want to know. As soon as Britland put it into words he would have to explain.
“You were talking in your sleep” Britland said instead of answering.
Carson felt his entire body stiffen. “We forgot to leave a light on,” he mumbled. It never failed. The nightmares would return every time that happened. It might still have happened even if the light was on. The nightmares always increased this time of year. A half remembered face shrouded in darkness. Familiar yet monstrous to his five-year old self. It was almost like his conscience was trying to tell him something. Deep down he was afraid he knew who had come into his room that night .
“I wish there was something I could do to help you” Britland glanced up intending on meeting Carson’s normal calm steady gaze. This time however Carson was staring at the floor “you always know what to do or say to help me and I….I don’t do anything.” He watched in horror as tears slid down Carson’s cheeks. “I’m sorry” he cried thinking he had done something to upset the older man.
“Hold me” Carson mumbled his words almost indistinct. “Just hold me. Tell me everything is going to be alright.”
Britland wrapped his arms around the larger man. A feeling of inadequacy swept over him as he held the man who meant more to the him than life itself. He didn’t understand what was going on. He sensed something was terribly wrong to make Carson act like this. It frightened him.
They sat like that for what felt like hours but was no more than a few minutes. Clearing his throat Carson wiped his reddened eyes with the backs of his hands. “We should probably get ready to go.” He stood up holding a hand out to help him up. He tried to ignore the worry he could see in the light green eyes staring up at him. “I hate Christmas” he muttered gathering his clothes and running into the bathroom.
Stunned Britland stared after him. Not once in the months since they had gotten together had Carson felt the need to dress in another room. It was an all new horrifying experience. Walls were being erected between them and the happiness from the night before was slipping through his fingers.
They drove in silence for about ten minutes. Britland kept glancing over at Carson. The words he wanted to say stuck in the back of his throat every time he saw the rigid tense way Carson gripped the steering wheel.
“Go ahead and ask it” he mumbled catching the furtive way the blonde kept looking at him.
“What” he asked taken off guard.
“Ask me why I hate Christmas” Carson said his voice bitter almost angry.
“Not if it’s going to make you upset” Britland turned his gaze to the passenger window staring unseeingly at the beautiful white world that lay beyond. The snow sparkled in the sunlight. A winter wonderland full of hope and promise.
“I’m not angry” Carson denied out of hand “at least not at you.” He took his right hand from the steering wheel and held it out to Britland who took it. “I told you about the night my brother was taken.” His voice was rough like he was stuck in the memories of the past “what I didn’t tell you was the night he was taken. It was Christmas Eve. My parents had a party. Lots of people.” He shivered as a half remembered face came to mind shrouded in shadows. “We were sent to our rooms early. Put to bed. The music drifting up from the floor below keeping us awake.”
“That’s why you hate Christmas” Britland nodded with understanding. “Why didn’t you tell me? If I had known I wouldn’t have insisted you come with me. My parents would have understood.”
“I know” Carson squeezed his hand “I guess I was hoping this year would be different. That the nightmares wouldn’t come if I could see Christmas through your eyes. I hoped with you by my side it wouldn’t hurt as much.”
Britland turned his gaze from the window “I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you. I’ll understand if you don’t want to participate in all of the things we do to celebrate.”
“Thanks to me you’re going to be worrying about me” Carson sighed “I didn’t want that. I thought if I could avoid telling you. That you would be able to enjoy the festivities. I didn’t want to ruin your time with your family.”
“I care about you” Britland’s voice cracked “I appreciate you trying to protect me but I’m not that fragile.” He heard the muffled grunt that Carson tried to disguise. “I’m not. Alright maybe I am but I want to be here for you. I don’t want you picking and choosing what you think I can or can’t handle. If you do that than what kind of relationship will we have? I’m not your child to be coddled from the real world.”
Carson found himself nodding in agreement. His eyes locked on the glint reflecting off the engagement ring on Britland’s hand. “I know” he spoke quietly “I’ll try to do better. Please forgive me if I revert back to how I’ve always dealt with this in the past. It’s always been easier to bury the memories and the feelings that went along with that night.”
“I understand” Britland nodded when in all reality he didn’t. He had no idea how living through something like that would affect him. “Please don’t shut me out. I want the chance to at least try to help you if I can. You’re always there for me. I want the chance to do the same for you.”
“You’ll get that chance” Carson’s voice quivered “you already are by just being you.” Seeing the sign welcoming them into Riverview he asked “where do I go from here?”
“Take a left at the next road” Britland instructed “my parents won’t be home. They’re going caroling this morning. They said to make ourselves at home if we get there before they arrive.”
“Is that part of the festivities? Caroling?” Carson asked sounding somewhat relieved that they hadn’t arrived sooner to join them.
“Don’t worry you’ll get another chance to join them” Britland smiled enjoying Carson’s discomfiture for once “they’ll go out again tomorrow morning before church.”
“Oh joy. Can’t wait” Carson gave him a weak thin-lipped smile.
“Don’t worry” Britland chuckled “no one will care if you sound like a croaking frog.”
“Thanks a lot” Carson mumbled his lips twitching.
Sunday morning Felix took Crystal for a drive. It had taken some fast talking to get her to agree but it had been worth it he thought as they turned into his families private airstrip. Smiling at himself and what he had to do to keep her distracted from the fact he had never unpacked the car. Watching Christmas drama’s wasn’t exactly high on his list of things he enjoyed doing. But they watched one movie after another until they all blurred together. The best thing about it was being able to hold the girl who had his heart wrapped around her little finger. It had been worth it. He doubted anyone would believe him if he told them what he did yesterday. Maybe Britland. That would be about it.
As usual his parents were away for the holidays too wrapped up in their own lives to think he might want to be with them. They had sent him their usual offering. A larger than usual extension to his allowance, as if money could make up for their absence.
“What are we doing here?” Crystal demanded looking over at him her voice breaking into his thoughts.
“It’s a surprise” he grinned over at her only to find her staring back at him. Her eyes large with child like wonder. It was that look that kept him coming back for more. Kept him interested. That wasn’t quite it. It’s what made him want to be a better person than he was.
“Felix what did you do” she demanded “you know there aren’t any available flights.”
“At the airport” Felix turned into a parking space marked as reserved and opened the door.
“We can’t park here” she said her voice rising with irritation. “Let’s just go home. We’ll figure out what to do for tomorrow. Maybe go shopping so I can make Christmas dinner for us.” Her eyes told him the last thing she wanted to do was spend hours sitting in an airport hangar.
He walked around the car. Took her hands in his “I promised you that you were going home for Christmas.”
“And I said not to make promises you can’t keep” she mumbled looking away.
Tilting her chin up he asked “how do you know I can’t keep it? I did say I had contacts, remember?”
Focused on their feet Crystal nodded “I thought you were just saying that to make me feel better. I didn’t really believe…” her words ended with a sigh.
“Do I detect doubt” he asked his voice teasing.
“Maybe a little” she admitted meeting his eyes. A smile twitching at the corners of her lips “is this why you refused to unpack the car?”
“It would have been near impossible to keep it a secret if I had.” He grinned smugly down at her “what would you have thought if I had started to pack up the car this morning?”
“That you were crazy” she giggled her eyes lighting up with excitement.
“Right” he leaned forward pressing his lips to her forehead. “It was so much easier to just ask you to come for a drive.” Stepping back he took her hand and walked towards the hangar. “We’ll have to thank my Dad later for the use of his jet.”
Crystal stopped making Felix stumble before turning to look at her. “What’s wrong” he asked.
“We’re flying in a jet?”
“Well yeah” he shrugged like it was the most normal everyday thing that people do.
“I’ve never flown on a private jet before” she stammered “what do I do?”
“It’s like any other plane” he shrugged “my parents use it to host business parties. There’s even a bedroom…” He stopped talking wondering why he had felt the need to add that part. It’s not like he hoped, well he did, he just didn’t think it would happen.
She giggled throwing an arm around him “don’t get ahead of yourself lover boy.”
An hour later Crystal had her face pressed against a window looking down like a child on their first flight. Looking up she found Felix watching her “I can’t believe you did all this for me. Why?”
He tried to give her a nonchalant shrug. “It meant so much to you to go home. I wanted to make you happy.”
“I am happy” she got up moving towards him “but why go through so much trouble? I accepted I wasn’t going home this year. I was willing to stay here with you.”
He looked up at her a tenderness in his eyes that wasn’t normally there. “I spent too many holidays alone. My parents were never home. They’d send me money thinking that would make up for them not being there. I was left in the care of either the butler or the maid both of whom made it clear that if it weren’t for me they’d have been able to go home to their families.”
She sat in his lap wrapping her arms around his neck. “You know it was the weather that caused our flight to be cancelled, right?”
“Yeah I know” he looked away.
“Don’t” she whispered gently caressing his cheek. “It wasn’t your fault that I might not have been able to get home. I love that you went through all this trouble for me. It means a lot.”
“I didn’t want you to resent being stuck here with me.” He bit his lip like he hadn’t meant to say any of that. “The only person who never made me feel like a chore to be around is Britland. But even when I spent the holidays with him and his family. I always felt like a an intruder looking in. Like I didn’t belong and I wondered if they really wanted me there.”
“Of course they did. I know how much you mean to Britland.” She held his face firmly in her hands “you never have to feel that way with me or my family. They’ll love you.”
“No they won’t” he shook his head trying to shove the growing melancholy aside.
“Yes they will” Crystal asserted “give them a chance to show you. Don’t close down before you’ve even met them. They might surprise you.”
“I’ll try” he looked into her eyes. He could feel himself falling, deeper and faster than he ever had before. His arms tightened around her waist. How had he let this happen? He wasn’t supposed to fall in love; especially not with the girl next door.
The next think he knew her lips were on his igniting a fire he didn’t know was there. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted anyone. Yet he found himself withdrawing from her. He pulled away. He could see the confusion in her eyes.
“What’s wrong” she asked “don’t you want me?”
“God yes” he gasped “but you deserve something special for your first time…”
“Whoever said this was my first time” she laughed softly.
“I…” he gulped an uncomfortable burning sensation filled his insides. He didn’t know if he should be jealous of the guy who had been her first or if he should be thankful because the guy had been stupid enough to let her get away. “I just assumed you were.”
“Does it make a difference” she asked her eyes holding his.
“No” his heart raced, beating loudly in his chest. “Are you sure? I’m not…”
Putting a finger over his lips “shh I don’t want to hear why you think you’re not. I know what you are.” Standing she held her hand out to him “and what you are is good enough for me.”
He stared at her hand. Her words echoing in his head. No one other than Britland had ever said that he was any different from what others saw him as. Somehow he always felt that he was never good enough. That he needed to be more than he was. He took her hand letting her guide him to the bedroom. The room he hadn’t thought they would need. The touch of her lips on his reminding him to turn his thoughts off and enjoy the moment.