by dagan732

Hey all and Happy Holidays!

First Day

I hung up the phone and stared at it for a minute before picking up the glass of wine I was nursing through dinner and throwing it against the wall. The sound of glass shattering into pieces didn’t relieve me as much as I thought it would and the thought of the chardonnay possibly staining the paint didn’t help. I picked up a rag and cleaned off the wine and picked up the phone not looking forward to my next conversation.

“Hey you.” Came a chipper voice.

“Hey Sarah. What’s going on?”

Sarah was my best friend and had been since we “dated” in high school. After two weeks of dating she had looked at me one day and said “I know you’re gay and I’m cool with it”. We had survived high school, college and our twenties together. Now, both at thirty two, we were giving this decade a go.

“Just packing. Are you all packed?” She said.

“Yes, but…”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“I just got off the phone with Derek.”

“Your supervisor?”

“Yeah. It seems like they’re short over the holidays.”

“Don’t say it, Ryan.”

“All right, I won’t.”

“Damn it!! I thought you told them you were going away?!”

“I did.”

“And it was approved?”

“That’s what I was told.”

“Then what happened?”

“Apparently someone with seniority applied for the same time after I did and they said they had to give it to him.”

“Who? I’ll cut out their knees. They won’t be able to go anywhere! Drew!” She called to her husband and I heard his voice answer from somewhere in their house. “Ryan’s not going to the cabin!”

I heard a muffled response.

“Drew said you’d better figure out a way to get to the cabin or there’ll be hell to pay!”

“It’s not going to happen.” I answered. “Besides, he just wants me to come because he knows you’ll be a total bitch the entire time.”

“Well, Duh! Ryan, it’s been planned! We were all going to the cabin for Christmas!”

“I know.”

“Everyone!!”

“I know!”

“Even Dennis!”

“I know!!! You’re not helping things, Sarah.”

“Isn’t there anything you could do?”

“I could quit.” I said, teasing.

“O.K.”

“No, Sarah. I can’t quit. Other than the people I work with, I love my job and it happens to more than pay the bills.”

“You can get another one.”

“It’s not that easy, especially now-a-days.”

“Yeah, I know. Damn politicians and their idiotic ideas on running the country.”

“Amen, sister.”

“So, we’ll cancel and do something here.”

“No, you’re not going to cancel.”

“You’re not spending Christmas alone, Ryan. That’s just pathetic.”

“It’s not pathetic, I’m a paramedic. It’s granted that I’m going to have to work a couple holidays.”

“But not this particular one.”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“Yeah, well. We’ll just cancel and have dinner here.”

“I’m going to be working the evening shift on Christmas eve and eight hours on Christmas day. There’s no point.”

“So come up for part of the week. We’ll do an early Christmas.”

“No. I’ve got my regular schedule since they’ve denied my vacation time so I can’t. The cabin’s over three hours away. I can’t go back and forth like that.”

“I’m so pissed I could shit right now.”

“That’s an odd expression.”

“It’s true.” Sarah sighed. “What are you going to do?”

“I’ll make myself something nice to eat and watch some Christmas show or something. Maybe I’ll help out in a food bank or something. We’ll do Christmas when you get back.”

“And Dennis?” She asked. Dennis was a hot guy that I was interested in and was good friends with Sarah’s husband. We’d talked a few times but our timing unfortunately sucked. One of us was always in a relationship when the other was single. Until this year.

“I don’t know. There’s always New Years.”

“He’s going to his sister’s in Jersey for New Years.”

“Like I said, there’s always President’s day.”

“This Christmas is going to suck without you.”

“It’s not going to suck. You have your husband, the kids. Think of the presents and the snow men and hot chocolate.”

“Christmas isn’t about that shit. It’s about adults sitting in front of a roaring fire, drinking hot buttered rum and making fun of each other.”

“Have you ever tasted hot buttered rum? It tastes like shit.”

“Again, not the point.”

“I know. Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now. We’ll just have to hope the holidays go quickly.”

“Yeah. Pathetic.”

“I know. Listen, I’m going to go unpack, have another glass of wine and cry myself to sleep.”

“Oh, stop. You’re making me depressed.”

“Sorry. Have a great time. Tell Drew I said he better drive safe and get you all there in one piece.” Her husband had better drive safe or I’d kill him myself.

“I will.” Sarah had a little sniffle in her voice and I sighed realizing how much I was going to miss her over the holidays. “Oh Ryan…”

“I gotta go, hon. Take care and have fun, O.K.?” I interrupted her before she could say anything that would make me feel totally miserable.

“All right.”

“Bye.” I hung up the phone. “Merry fucking Christmas.”

Second Day

I woke up the next day around eleven a.m. and crawled out of bed and into a shower. I stood in front of the mirror and gazed at my reflection. I stood 6’1” and was two hundred pounds. I worked out pretty regularly but not all of it was muscle. I was a hairy guy with dark brown hair down my chest, arms and legs and wore a trimmed beard to help with what many called my `baby face’. I kept my hair shaved close to my head hoping it added a bit of an armed services toughness to it but it just accented the roundness of my face. I hated dealing with long hair so I kept it. My eyes were bright blue but my cheeks were so big they disappeared when I smiled, damn Irish heritage. I sighed and jumped into the shower.

After, I dressed and tried to keep my thoughts off the fact that I should be at a cabin in the Berkshires right now. Instead, I was stuck in Hudson Valley, New York without friend or family. Don’t get me wrong, I know people around, just not well enough that I would have dinner at their house on Christmas. I threw on some boots and some heavy clothes and walked out into the winter day. At least it wasn’t too cold. It never really gets too cold until late January. That’s when it’s so cold, it hurts to breathe. I got in my car and turned the key ready to head into town and get some errands done, when a horrible groaning, whirring sound came from underneath the hood.

“Oh God. Not today.” I said and tried a few more times.

After a half an hour of fighting with my car, I called the mechanic. I can throw an I.V. in your arm before you can blink. I can take a look at you and guess with a fair amount of accuracy at least the nature of your most serious medical condition. I have been a paramedic for nine years now and to this day have not had a patient die on the way to the E.R. But I’ll be damned if I can fix a car.

The mechanic came and towed my piece of shit vehicle to the station and diagnosed it as $600 and at least three days. I’m sure he told me what was wrong with it but again, I know shit about that stuff so it’s just a numbers thing with me. $600 and three days. I did not need this. I borrowed a rental from him and headed out to town to take care of my errands.

I headed into town and stopped at a store to pick up a few groceries that I hadn’t needed when I thought I was going away. I was just picking up a bag of coffee beans when a voice stopped me.

“Ryan?” I turned.

“Charlie?” He smiled.

“I thought it was you. God, what’s it been? Two years?”

“More or less. What the hell are you doing here?”

“You know, coming home for the holidays and all that shit.”

“Really? That’s great.” My tone only lightly veiled my hostility but I really didn’t care. I was in no mood for this.

He hadn’t changed much. His black hair still waved across his head making my hands want to drag through it as it curled in the cutest ways about his ears and above his forehead. He still didn’t wear a beard or goatee and the clean, sharp angles of his face spoke of inner complexity and strength. His eyes burned bright green and held mine with his usual unnerving directness. His lips were full and brought back memories of him using them in places which made my pants feel tight. The rest of his large 6’3” frame did the rest and I moved the packages I was holding in front of my zipper to block my embarrassing reaction. `No!’, I told myself. `He’s scum and I hate him!’.

“Well, happy holidays and all that. Tell your parents I said hello.”

“Well, yeah about that-.”

“Look Charlie. I gotta go. Got things to do.”

“Yeah, O.K.” He said and actually looked a little offended but I really didn’t care. I had turned and walked a few feet away when he stopped me again. “Look, Ryan. Maybe we can talk? Get some coffee later or something?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I really don’t have the time.”

“Please, Ryan?” He said, his eyes pleading with me. I caved in quickly.

“Fine. When?”

“Whenever. When’s good for you?”

“I’m working tonight from midnight till noon. How about tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow’s fine.” He said and smiled a little. His smile used to get me going and could set my heart running. Now I just felt angry. No, I lied. His smile still got me going but I chose to concentrate on the anger.

“Great.” I said, not meaning it. “How about a little after twelve?”

“Great.” He said, meaning it. “Maybe we could grab lunch.”

“Maybe. Where?”

“How about that place you like in Red Hook?”

“They closed a year ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“I’ll survive.”

“What about the place we liked to go that serves the…. um.”

“Souvlaki?”

I felt a bit weird that I still knew what he was talking about after so long. I had barely remembered that one of my ex’s was deathly allergic to nuts and here I remembered his favorite dish at our favorite diner.

“Yeah! That’s it!.”

“Happy Pancake house.”

“Yeah.”

“Fine. I’ll see you there at twelve.”

“O.K.” I said and walked away trying to get far enough so that he wouldn’t continue the conversation and thought `What the fuck am I doing?’.

Having lunch with an ex was NOT the most auspicious way to start the holidays.

Third Day

I walked into the ambulance squad just before midnight and ignored the people that were there. I had nothing against them but I was not in the mood to talk. My mood had continued to worsen over the rest of the day until I was one large black cloud of emotion. I signed in and checked the duty roster seeing that I was schedule to work with Al at the Rosendale duty station. I liked Al, he was a good guy and had been an EMT since before I was born, but working in Rosendale meant most likely we’d have a quiet night just sitting in the rig.

“Hey Ryan! I’m talking to you.” Paul, one of the other paramedics said.

I sighed. I disliked Paul about as much as I liked Al and didn’t want to deal with his shit today.

“What?” I asked.

“What the hells up with you? You on the rag or something?”

Paul and his friends, the rest of his little ‘crew’ laughed as if it was the funniest thing they had heard. They were all biased little fucks who felt like they had to insult the resident fag to reinforce their own masculinity. I didn’t really mind because I knew I was more of a man than they could hope to be. I blame their parents. I stepped up to him and put my face in his, not minding at all if a fight broke out. The way I was feeling today, I could drop the little fuck and his friends without breaking a sweat.

“Hey, leave him alone.” Al said looking up from his paper and Paul backed down giving me a glare.

I grabbed my gear and headed back to the bay to stow it in the ambulance. Al had followed.

“You ready?” I asked him.

“It’s a bit early but if you want we can go.”

“Let’s get the fuck out of here.” I said and jumped into the passenger seat.

We drove in silence for a couple of minutes before Al said anything.

“You know the little prick wasn’t wrong. You look like you’ve got something on your mind.” He said and took a swig of his coffee. “You want to talk about it?”

“No.” I said.

“O.K.”

“I saw my ex today.”

“Ah.”

“We’re having lunch tomorrow.”

“Hmmm.”

“I guess I’m still a little angry.”

“I thought you were good with Eric?”

“It’s not Eric.”

“Steve?”

“Not Steve.” I said and smiled. Steve had been an all right boyfriend but a better ex. Actually we were still very good friends.

“David?”

“David?” I asked and quickly ran through the list of exes in my head. “Oh God, David. No, not him. I haven’t thought about him in forever. No, he could never make me this mad.”

“So who’s this guy?”

“This is Charlie.” I said and bit out his name. “We met about four years ago and dated for two years.”

“And he still makes you mad?” Al said with an inquisitive look on his face.

“Like I want to rip his head off and vomit down his gaping neck.”

“Reminds me of a call I was once on.” Al mused. “Well, if he still makes you mad why don’t you try to figure out why that is?”

“Because whenever I see him I want to rip off his-.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. But that means that there’s something still there.”

“Trust me, there is NOTHING still there.”

“Well, maybe not good emotions but the bad ones are just as powerful. Maybe you need to tell him how you feel about him or wonder why you ever felt anything for him at all.”

“I don’t think that’d be a good idea. I think I’m making a big mistake. I should just call him up and tell him I can’t meet him.”

“Well, do what you want but having this anger is not too healthy.”

I didn’t say anything as I thought over Al’s advice. The thought of telling Charlie just what I thought of him did feel good. Sit the lying, cheating bastard down and spew vile hatred at him until I was free of the last vestiges of feeling I had for him. Then he would never be able to hurt me again. But seeing him was making my insides churn with aggression and anxiety. Just the thought of having lunch with him made me sweat. I guess it was too late now since it was over two years that I’d had his cell phone number and I wasn’t even sure it was the same now.

The night went slow until about two o’clock in the morning when a slow but steady stream of calls kept us busy. By eleven a.m. we were both pretty beat and happy to head back to the squad house. We set the ambulance up for the next crew and by the time I headed to meet Charlie I was running late. The diner we had chosen was packed for a Wednesday but he was already there and waiting for me. `He’d never been early when we were dating’, I thought bitterly and sat down across from him feeling a wild mix of emotions. He drove me to insanity but he was still hot as hell. I put a lid on that thought quick and tried to bolster myself against him.

“Hey.” He said with a smile.

“Hey.” I answered with no smile.

“I wasn’t sure you were going to come. You seemed pretty ticked at me in the store.”

“I had a lot going on.” Which wasn’t exactly a lie.

“Yeah, the holidays suck, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So how have you been?” Charlie asked.

“I’ve been all right. You?”

“Yeah. I’ve been all right. Working a lot.”

“That’s good.” I said, feeling more and more confused about why we were sitting in a diner engaging in small talk.

“What are you doing for the holidays?”

“I was supposed to go up to Sarah and Drew’s cabin in the Berkshires but my vacation was pulled and they stuck me on duty to cover everyone else’s shifts.”

“Jesus, that sucks. Sarah and Drew got married huh?”

“Oh you didn’t know? No, you wouldn’t. That was after we broke up. Yeah, they got married and Drew’s doing really well. Obviously as they have a cabin in Massachusetts.”

“She still hate my guts?” He said and chuckled. He and Sarah had never seen eye to eye on anything.

“Yeah. She calls you `the big mistake’.”

“What do you call me?” He asked.

`Lying, cheating, piece of shit, asshole, motherfucker usually,’ I thought.

“I just call you Charlie.” I thought I’d be diplomatic.

“I bet.” He smiled and I found myself smiling back.

“Well, what do you call me?” I asked, feeling hopeful that this friends thing might work for us and I could finally let the dark feelings go.

“`MY biggest mistake’.” He said, sending anger rushing throughout my body quicker than I could blink. “I never should have treated you the way I did. I can only say that I was young and stupid and didn’t know how to let you in like I should have.”

Just as quickly as the anger arose it was deflated and replaced by confusion.

“I don’t know, Ryan…. If I had let you in maybe we’d still be together.”

Now the confusion was replaced by fear.

“Charlie,” I started quietly. “What exactly is going on here?”

He looked up from his coffee and into my eyes for a while before flashing that killer, boyish grin of his.

“Nothing, Ryan. We’re just talking, hopefully as two old friends.” It was more of a question than a statement.

“Yeah.” I agreed warily. “Two old friends.”

After that the conversation went just flowed, as `two old friends’ who hadn’t seen each other in years caught up on their life and times. But there was an underlying current of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on which added moments of awkwardness. Finally after an hour and a half of talking, I couldn’t hold back the yawn anymore and he noticed.

“You worked all night. I should let you get going.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry but I’m pretty beat.” I said and grabbed my coat, throwing a few bucks on the table.

“Don’t worry about it.” He said and handed me back my money. “I got it.”

“Thanks.” I said and pushed my arms into my coat.

“So, what are your current plans for Christmas since you’re not going up to Massachusetts?”

“I’ll be working a lot this week so no big plans. T.V. and T.V. dinners.”

“Ryan, I know this would be really weird but…”

“What, Charlie?”

“Feel like having a guest for the holidays?”

“Huh?”

“I was supposed to be working Christmas and at the last minute the job fell through so I thought I’d come up and surprise my parents. They surprised me by closing up the house and heading to Florida to spend Christmas with my sister. They’re not coming back till after the New Year.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked.

“I know, who would want to spend Christmas in Florida?” He joked.

“No, I mean-.”

“I know what you meant Ryan and you’re right. It’d be too weird. I was just going to head back to New Jersey but then I saw you and wanted to catch up and then we had a nice time, or I thought it was a nice time here and figured since I was already here and you were here and you’d be alone and I’d be alone that… we could be alone together.”

I had to remind myself to breathe.

“I think that’s a really bad idea.” I said and despite the conviction in my voice, suddenly felt sorry for it. We did have a nice time today and it would be better than spending Christmas alone.

“You’re right. Well, whatever you do for the holidays I hope it’s cool. You should give me a call sometime, just to chat or something. I have the same number.”

We parted ways in the diner parking lot and I made my way home. I was exhausted but my mind was racing and wouldn’t let me sleep. I kept thinking of Charlie and him spending Christmas by himself. `Fuck, he won’t spend anything alone! He’ll probably have some hot little bear or something curled up next to him to keep him warm.’, I fumed. By three o’clock I was still awake and dying to get some sleep so I did the only thing that I knew would give me some peace.

“Hello?” Came the sexy fuckers voice over the phone.

“Hey, you wanna come over for the holidays?” I asked, my heart pounding in my chest.

“I’d love to.” He said and I could hear the smile in his voice.

I knew I was getting played but I couldn’t help myself. I closed my eyes and prayed for strength, the strength to hang up the phone or tell him off. It didn’t come. Instead, I heard myself give him my address.

“I’ll be there in a little bit.” He said and we hung up.

`I hope I know what I’m doing,’ I said and sighed.

The doorbell rang an hour later and I opened it to find Charlie standing on the stoop with his suitcases. `This is a really bad idea’, I thought for the hundredth time. I stood back and let him come in.

“This is really cool of you, Ryan. Thanks.”

“Well, we’re both pretty much in the same situation so…”

“Yeah.” He said and I saw his eyes skim down my body. I realized that I was standing there in only in a pair of light cotton workout shorts. “You get some sleep?”

“No. I actually had trouble falling asleep.”

“When do you work next?”

“Tonight at twelve but I’m only running till eight in the morning.”

“You’ve been up since…?”

“Eleven a.m. yesterday.”

“Jesus, dude. Go in and lie down. I’ll be fine.” He said and I took his suggestion and laid back down on my bed.

Sleep did not come. I kept thinking of Charlie in my apartment, walking around, touching things. An hour later, I glanced at the alarm clock and saw it was four. I finally pulled myself out of bed and headed back into the living room. He was there, laying on the couch, his nose pressed in a book. Flashbacks of the two years we had spent together flooded through my mind. He loved his books, preferring them to t.v. and always had a pile with him wherever he went. The book he was reading was mine though, one of my embarrassing vices, a gay romance.

“Good book?” I asked. He looked up startled and grinned. My heart skipped a beat.

“Yeah, not bad. You always did love these things.”

“Yeah and you always called them `silly little wastes of paper’.” I said with a smile. “I tried forever to get you to read just one.”

“I read that one that had you crying for a week.”

“I didn’t cry for a week. Only a couple days. It was a beautiful story.”

“It was a passable story.”

“It was about two soldiers who each thought the other died in Pearl Harbor and then they found each other after the war. It was a beautiful story.”

“Like I said, it was a passable story.” He said and put the book down. “What’s wrong? Can’t sleep?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Ryan, you look like shit.”

“Yeah, well fuck you too.” I said with a bit more heat than I had anticipated.

“Calm down. Jesus, you’re so touchy when you don’t get enough sleep. I’m just saying you look tired as hell.”

“I am tired as hell! I’m exhausted!”

“Then go to bed!”

“I’ll go to bed when I’m fucking ready to!” I stood and stormed into the kitchen.

I don’t know how he did it but the man just had to open his mouth and speak and I wanted to rip out his heart. He had followed me and watched as I slammed the drawers getting ready to make a pot of coffee. It was going to be a long night.

“Charlie, I don’t think this is going to work. I think it was a mistake. Maybe you should just go.”

“All right.”

I was surprised and looked up to see him standing in the kitchen doorway. I was disappointed that he had agreed so readily but also relieved. I knew that it was the right thing to do. If you can’t handle something the only thing you can do is protect yourself and for some reason I needed to protect myself from him.

“O.K.” I said and went back to making coffee.

Charlie came into the kitchen and took the coffee pot out of my hands and put it down on the counter.

“I’ll leave after you’ve gone to bed.”

“I told you, I’ll go to bed when I’m fucking ready!”

“Then make up your mind to be `fucking ready’ now! You’re going to bed.” He took me by the arms and dragged me into my bed room. To be honest, I didn’t put up much of a fight.

He threw me on the bed and pulled the covers over me but I tried to get back up.

“Fuck that, Ryan!” He said, and laid down on top of me. I froze.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!!”

“What’s best for you, since you’re not! Now go the fuck to sleep!”

“Get off me!” I shouted and he did, but only rolled to my right and held me close with one arm while throwing a leg over mine. “I said, get off me!”

“Just be quiet, Ryan. Why does everything have to be a fight with you?”

“With me?! Are you fucking serious!” I said and tried to throw his arm off me.

“Hey, baby…” The endearment got me and I stilled. “You know you’ll get to sleep with me here. Just close your eyes. You have to be ready for work in a couple hours. Let me do this for you.”

I let his words flow through me trying to make sense of them and how I felt about him. I had hated him for so long but here I was laying next to him. Feeling his warm, hard body behind mine, his hot breath against the back of my neck, the comfort of his arms and leg trapping me against him and I felt a sense of peace fill me. `Oh fuck’, I thought as I drifted off to sleep. `I’m still in love with him.’

I woke hours later and rolled over to find the bed empty. Where he had laid was cold, he had left sometime before. I stood and walked toward the bathroom and passing the kitchen saw Charlie standing in front of the stove.

“You’re still here.” I said, in surprise.

“Yeah, I wanted to make you dinner before work. Actually, I was just about to wake you up.” He said. “Why don’t you take a shower and I’ll have everything ready when you get out.”

“O.K.” I said stupidly, not knowing what else to say.

“I’ll leave after dinner, Ryan.” He said and turned around to stir whatever was in the frying pan.

The water felt good and searing hot down my skin but it didn’t clear my head as it usually did, my thoughts being consumed by the man in the kitchen. I dried off and realized I had forgotten my clothes in my bedroom and had to walk through my apartment in just a towel. Charlie sat at my table, reading a book as I walked by. He didn’t look up but I thought I saw him glace out of the corner of his eye. I smiled a bit to myself as I dressed for work.

“So, about my little melt down…. sorry.”

“Yeah. You always did get bitchy when you were overtired.”

“I did. Do, rather.” I said and sat down across from him. He handed me a plate of teriyaki chicken over noodles. “So, what I said about you leaving…. You don’t have to.”

“I wasn’t going to.”

I raised my eyes and met his smiling ones and had to grin back.

“I figured you were tired and didn’t mean it. You were also dealing with a lot of stress. I saw the bill from the auto shop. Next time, ask me. I’d do it for you and if I can’t do it for you I’d get you someone I trust to do it for a lot less.”

“Thanks Charlie.”

“No problem. I don’t want to add to your stress, Ryan. I want to be your friend.”

“Why though? I mean, we’re exes. Not all exes are supposed to be or can be friends.”

“Maybe not. But out of all the friends I’ve ever had, exes or not, you’re the only one I miss.”

I started feeling uncomfortable and finished dinner quickly. I stood and placed my plate in the kitchen sink.

“I’ll do the dishes when I get home.” I said.

“Nope. I know I’m sort of a guest here, but you’re doing me a big favor so I figure I owe you. Don’t worry about it.” He handed me a brown paper bag.

“What’s this?”

“Three a.m. snack.” He said and grinned. I opened the bag and looked in.

“Oh you’re fucking kidding me!” I said, a bright smile on my face. “kolache?”

“I had some time while you slept. It’s not totally from scratch but it should taste pretty close.”

“I haven’t had kolache since we broke up.”

“Yeah, I figured. It’s kinda hard to find sometimes. There’s enough for whoever your partner is tonight.”

“Like I’d give them any.”

“Well, your choice. Take some coffee.” He said, handing me a thermos and leaned in and kissed my cheek. “Play nice with the other kids.”

“I will.” I said and grabbed my coat and keys and was about to head out the door.

“Ryan.” I turned back. “Be safe.”

“I will.”

Fourth Day

Al and I were again partners and again stationed in the little, quiet town of Rosendale. We sat in a parking lot with the heat on full blast as Al complained about his family whom I knew he loved more than anything. I barely paid attention as I kept glancing at the brown paper bag on the dashboard, wondering what it’s significance was. It was a while before I realized that Al was no longer talking but watching me.

“So you gonna tell me what’s in the bag?”

“kolache.”

“Kol what?”

“kolache. It’s a Czech dessert bread. It’s got poppies and apples and honey and stuff. It’s really good.”

“It must be that way you keep staring at it.” I blushed a bit and was grateful that Al couldn’t see it in the dim light of the dashboard. “Where did you get it?”

“Charlie made it.”

“Charlie the ex?”

“Yeah. He’s part Czech.”

“He gave you that at lunch yesterday?”

“No. He gave me that before I left for work.”

“Ah. So he’s…. staying with you?”

“Yeah, well… his family’s out of town.”

Al started laughing great big belly shaking laughs.

“What?”

“Your ex-.” he said after catching his breath. “the one you wanted to rip off his head and vomit down his neck is staying at your house and made you dessert bread, whatever the hell that means.”

“Yeah.”

“This is the guy you said you had no more feelings for.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you sleep together yet?”

“No! Well, sort of.” Al laughed again. “No, we didn’t sleep together.”

“I bet you didn’t!”

“I mean, he was just helping me get to sleep.”

“I’ve used that excuse with the wife. `Come on, honey. It’ll make me sleep better’.”

“We didn’t have sex. We just sort of laid together and I fell asleep.”

“Ok. That’s fine. I’m not much into listening to other peoples sex lives anyway.” He chuckled a bit more. “So, are we going to have some kol… whatever it is?”

I opened the bag, pulled out the gooey pastry, handed him some and poured coffee into his empty cup. I watched him take a bite and saw his eyes go wide.

“Oh my God!”

“I know.”

“I think I just got diabetes but I don’t care.”

“I know.” I took a bite off my own piece. “God, I missed this stuff.”

“As much as you missed Charlie?” Al asked and I didn’t answer.

I got home not long after eight in the morning and quietly opened the door hoping not to disturb Charlie if he was still sleeping. I saw him bundled up on the couch and heard his soft snores. I kicked off my shoes and crept over toward the couch, sat on the coffee table and stared into his sleeping face. We had met at a party Sarah had thrown for one of her girlfriends birthdays when we were both twenty eight. The connection was immediate and the chemistry was amazing. We left the party early and went back to his apartment where I moved in not two weeks later. I had never actually been in love till I met Charlie and apparently had fallen hard and not taken time to look first. Things began to degrade a few months later with arguments over cleaning habits and money. By the end of our two year relationship we were arguing about who was stifling who and how much space each other needed. The break up had been as quick and decisive as the beginning and he had moved to New Jersey to take a job with a construction firm. A mutual friend had told me of his cheating after we had split up. I had been left standing in the middle of what had been a life together wondering what the hell had happened. Now I sat in the middle of my living room wondering what was happening now.

“Hey.” Charlie said, sleepily.

I had been so wrapped up in the memories that I had failed to notice him waken.

“Hey.”

“What’s going on?”

“I was just thinking.”

“Bout what?”

“Nothing important.” I said and stood. “I’m gonna catch a quick nap. Wake me around noon?”

“Sure.” Charlie seemed to want to say something but he let me go.

I stripped down to my boxers and laid down in my bed and decided that nothing was happening. Some people were just better friends than lovers and not meant to be together. After the holidays Charlie would return to his life and I would return to mine. That’s just how it had to be.

“Ryan?” A voice said, pulling me from my sleep. “Ryan?”

“Yeah?”

“You said to wake up you around noon. It’s one.”

“All right.” I said and opened my eyes.

Charlie sat on the edge of my bed.

“Come on. Get up. I want to go get a tree today.”

“A tree? Really?”

“Yeah. Why not?”

“I don’t know. I just didn’t think about getting one this year.”

“Well, bah humbug to you too, motherfucker.” He chuckled. “Come on! Let’s get a tree and some decorations and shit. We’ll do up your apartment and it’ll be all garish and horrible! It’ll be great!”

“Oh God! Like our first year-.”

“-and that horrible Christmas tree!”

“You remember that thing? It was pitiful!”

“It was awful!”

“The only pine tree that looked like it had Dutch Elm disease.” I laughed.

“I loved it.” He said.

“Yeah, me too.” I agreed.

“It was our first.”

“It was special.”

“Maybe this one could be special too.” Charlie said.

“No Charlie, this one can’t be special.”

“Why not, Ryan?”

“Because things are too different now.” I said and Charlie sighed.

“You’re the most pessimistic hopeless romantic I’ve ever met.” He said and smiled.

“I’m not a romantic anymore. I’m a realist.” I said and sat up.

“That would be a horrible waste if it was true. You have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You always saw the best in people. Made me want to be a better person.”

“So, what happened?”

“Ouch.” He said and stood up. “I’m going to let you finish waking up.”

“Charlie, I’m sorry.” I said as he started walking out of the room.

“Don’t worry about it.” He closed the door and I sat feeling horrible.

I dressed quickly and headed into the living room where I found Charlie reading another book.

“Come on.” I said.

“Where?”

“To get a tree.”

“No. That’s all right. I’m sorry, Ryan. I didn’t mean to push that on you. It was stupid.”

“No, you’re right. We’re here, we’re together, we’re friends, we should have a tree.”

“I don’t know. I think maybe you’re right. We’ll skip it.”

“Passive aggressive much? Get your ass off the couch and let’s go. We’re getting a tree if it kills me.”

He looked no where as enthused as he had before but I was hoping I could get him back into the mood. We threw on our coats, got into Charlie’s truck and headed out into the cold. The radio played a mix of new and old music with a few Christmas songs added in. I wished I had thought to bring some coffee or hot chocolate or even brandy but figured we could pick some up on the way. I told Charlie to pull into a local hardware store.

“What are we stopping in here for?” He asked.

“A saw or an ax.”

“For what?”

“We’re going to chop down our own tree.”

“What?” He laughed. “I thought we’d just buy one from the Boy Scouts or something.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “We’re gonna do it ourselves. Have you ever cut down your own tree?”

“No.”

“Then it’ll be new.”

After buying both an ax and a saw, and picking up some pumpkin coffee at Dunkin Donuts, we headed out to a Christmas tree farm and parked among car loads of families each trudging off to pick the perfect tree. We made our own way through the farm with me pointing out potentials and him giving his comments which weren’t as energetic as I had hoped. We continued on toward the edges of the property and away from the rest of the people who tended toward to stay toward the middle of the farm. Charlie’s mood hadn’t changed, not that he was being morose, but I didn’t feel like I had kicked his puppy. I figured it was up to me to make the peace.

“Look, I’m sorry I said what I did. I just can’t go back to the way we were.” I started as we walked along the neat little rows of trees.

“What’s wrong with the way we were?” I chuckled at his question.

“Let’s see, we fought all the time, we never got along. I think we were just too different.”

“We weren’t too different, Ryan. We got along, really well actually. We just got caught up in the little shit. We let it get to us and break us apart.” He sighed. “I felt that you were always at work and you never listened to me. I also felt that you didn’t appreciate what I did for us and the relationship.”

“`What you did for us and the relationship’?” I asked, feeling a knot tighten in my chest.

“Yeah. It’s just how I felt.”

“Are you including the fact that you cheated on me in `what you did for us and the relationship’?” I said and realized he had stopped walking. I turned around and saw him, hands in his pockets looking at me. “Is that one of the things you did for us, Charlie?”

“You knew about that?” He asked, a pained expression on his face.

“Yeah. Well, not when it was going on. After you left.”

“How did you find out?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does.” He said and I let out an exasperated sigh.

“Your good friend Brad told me after I told him I wouldn’t sleep with him. You ever see him?” I asked.

“Yeah. We still hang out.” Charlie took a breath. “Or did till now.”

“Don’t blame Brad, he was just horny and thought he’d tell me and make me so mad I’d want to sleep with him to get back at you. Truth was, I was so hurt and disgusted I didn’t want to sleep with anybody, much less him.”

“He had no right to tell you.”

“He had EVERY right to tell me because the one who SHOULD have told me didn’t!” I yelled. “Wouldn’t! You were too chicken shit to tell me the truth.”

“You’re right. I still am. I’ve been debating on telling you since I saw you in the grocery store.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because I hurt you and don’t know how to make it right.” He said.

“That depends on what you mean by `make it right’?”

“I think you know what I mean.”

“I do and it’s not going to happen. It can’t. You fucked up, pal. The most we might be able to be is friends and that’s a maybe.” I said and continued walking. He fell into step beside me.

“Can I ask you a question?” I asked.

“Sure.”

“When did you do it? When did you cheat on me?”

“The day before I left. I realized we would never survive that.”

“You didn’t even give us a chance.” I said. “We might have.”

“You would have forgiven me? With all the shit we were going through at the time?” His piercing green eyes stared into mine searching for something. I feared he was looking for hope or forgiveness. God, I hate the holidays.

“No, probably not.” We walked a couple of feet not even paying attention to the trees at this point. “Was it worth it?”

“No. I knew it wouldn’t be but I felt like I was failing with you and couldn’t fix it so I thought `why not fuck up REALLY big?’ I felt like the biggest dirt bag in the world.”

“Well, people fuck up, I guess.”

“Yeah. Me more than others?”

“No, you just `fuck up REALLY big’.” I said and chuckled. “I guess it’s ancient history now.”

“If I could do anything to take it back, I would.”

“I know. But you can’t. We’ll have to get over it.”

“Think you can?” He asked.

“I don’t know.”

The rest of the afternoon was pretty much shot and we left the tree farm without a Christmas tree. It was a quiet and awkward ride home, feeling like there was so much unsaid. The bad thing about things unsaid is that even if they’re spoken they might not be powerful enough to heal the rift between us.

We walked into the apartment and kicked off our shoes. Charlie went to the kitchen and started dinner while I chose to turn on the t.v. and stare at whatever was on just to be away from him and spend some time with my thoughts. God, this felt like we were dating again. How had we learned so many bad habits in just two years? Finally after an hour I went into the kitchen and asked if he needed any help.

“No, I pretty much got it all done. You could set the table though.”

I set out the plates and silverware and sat down to eat. He placed the meal, sausage and peppers in front of us and we dug in. He always had been the better cook.

“No work tonight?” He asked.

“No. It’s my only day off till after Christmas. Tomorrow I work from seven a.m. to seven p.m.”

“That sucks.”

“Well, that serves me right for leaving the other ambulance squad I worked for and starting over.”

“More money though, right?”

“Yeah.”

We sat, eating in silence for the rest of the meal. He filled up our wine glasses and sat back in his chair staring down at the glass in his hands.

“I think I’m going to head to New Jersey tomorrow.” He said and I stopped chewing, feeling a lump in my throat.

“Why?” I asked, when I was able.

“I think it’s better, Ryan. I don’t want to hurt you and that’s all that I seem to be doing. Hurting you and making you angry.”

I was shocked and to tell the truth, pissed. I laughed.

“What?” He asked.

“Nothing. Fine. Leave.”

“What do you want me to do? I didn’t know how to tell you that I cheated but you knew already. How can I expect you to be friends with me much less…. what I want?”

“I don’t fucking know, Charlie! All I know is that you come here, worm your way into my house for the holidays, drop this shit in my lap and now you want to leave! So go! Get the fuck out! Why wait till morning?!”

“You want me to stay?” He asked, incredulously.

“I don’t know what the fuck I want. I never do when you’re around. I want what I shouldn’t want, what’s bad for me. I wish we could start all over but we just can’t.”

“Why not?” He asked and reached over to take my hand. His grip was firm and I clasped it back as if I were holding on to a lifeline.

“Because there’s so much shit that we’d have to get over and I just don’t think you have it in you to put the effort in.” I said, coldly but honestly. I felt his grip weaken in my hand.

“You don’t trust us. You don’t trust me?”

“I don’t know that I do.”

I let go of his hand, blinked back a few of the tears in my eyes and stood up.

“I think you’re right. I think you should go. Second chances never work anyway.” I said and headed to my room.

A half hour later, I heard the front door open and close. When I forced myself out into the living room, I saw his bags were packed and the sofa was straightened with the blankets folded. I fell down onto it and shut my eyes against the blinding pain in my chest. I sat there in the dim light of the neighbors Christmas lights shining through my window until I fell asleep.

Fifth Day

The next morning I woke to a muffled but insistent and horribly repetitive sound. I opened my eyes and saw the first rays of morning streaming into my living room. The sound I realized was my alarm clock blaring from my bedroom and quickly checked the clock on the cable box. It read 6:30. Fuck! I was going to be late.

I made it barely five minutes after my shift started and that only because I had skipped a shower. Checking the duty roster I saw that I was going to be stationed in the more populated area of Kingston but I was going to be working with the asshole Paul. My day couldn’t have gotten any worse.

“Hey, sissy!” Paul called from across the room. “You’re late!”

I dropped my gear on the floor and walked over to him, again getting right in his face.

“Listen, you little drop of dick snot,” I whispered. “I usually let you say whatever the fuck you want because you’re a fucking homophobic moron who doesn’t know shit about shit but I swear to God, Paul, if you screw with me today I’ll tell everyone here the reason you’re always ragging on me is that we had a torrid love affair and I broke it off.”

“They won’t believe that.” He said, in fear.

“Why wouldn’t they? You’re always saying shit against gays and insulting me. Sounds a little personal, if you ask me. And if you keep up your shit, then I’ll start filing sexual harassment charges against you. So whaddya say, Champ? You just stay the fuck away from me and I won’t even acknowledge you exist. Can we do that?”

“Yeah.” He said, looking down at the floor.

“Good choice.”

I grabbed my stuff and headed out to the ambulance to do a quick rig check and make sure our supplies were all stocked. Paul had followed me after a few minutes and mumbled that he had already done a rig check. I didn’t trust the fuck with most things, but he was a good and conscientious medic so I took his word. I jumped into the passenger seat since I didn’t want to drive and closed my eyes as we rode along the city streets. We drove for a while before Paul got the nerve to attempt conversation.

“So-…. so what’s up with you today?” I was surprised to hear genuine interest in his voice.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You seem…. pissed. I mean, more than usual.”

“Are we really going to do this? You’re really going to have a conversation with a fag?” I asked and was rewarded with a couple minutes of silence.

“I don’t hate fags.” He mumbled.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t hate fags. Gay people. I don’t hate them.”

“Well, that’s good. It shows you’re one step closer to achieving human being status.”

“My brother’s gay.”

“Seriously?” I asked, genuinely surprised.

“Yeah. My twin brother. I got a lot of shit about it in school. `Are you the one that sucks dick?’ or `It doesn’t matter, they both suck dick. You know how twins are’.”

“Paul, I’m really sorry but you know high school kids are fucking rejects. Think how your brother must have felt. Not only was he getting shit, you were getting shit too. He must have felt guilty. It’s not fair but it’s not his fault.”

“I know. I just… I started with the jokes and shit so that people-.”

“Wouldn’t think you were gay too.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, guess what. You’re an adult now. It’s time to put on the big boy pants and get over shit like that.”

“I know. I’m sorry for the stuff I’ve said.”

“Whatever. You didn’t bother me. I just can’t deal with it today.” I sat silently for a moment before a random thought crossed my mind. “How are you and your brother now?”

“We don’t really talk.” Paul said and I saw that it hurt him to admit that. “I said something he overheard and… well, we just don’t talk now.”

“Maybe I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Another treasure of silence passed between us, though it was interesting to know where all the homophobic bullshit he spewed came from. The silence didn’t last long.

“So why are you so pissed?”

“Paul, I know we’ve just had a heart to heart and that’s an amazing step in our relationship but I really don’t think I can talk about this with you. Nothing personal.”

“No, I get it. I just figured- I don’t know what I figured. Maybe it would help.”

I thought about it for a moment and decided that it might not help but what could it hurt.

“My ex who cheated on me and left me two years ago came back and wanted to get back together.”

“Wow. That’s pretty big.”

“Yeah.”

“Still love him?” I thought about lying but couldn’t.

“Yeah.”

“Gonna give him a chance?”

“No!” I said, with defiance. “No, I’m not. It’s done.”

“But you still love him.”

“And? What the fuck does that have to do with anything?”

“It means that you deserve to give him a chance.”

“He doesn’t deserve anything!” I spat out. “Look Paul it’s nice that you’re trying here- actually it’s a little weird, but you’re young and you’ll realize that there are some things you can’t get over.”

“But you haven’t even tried.”

“What do you mean?”

“You sound pretty angry. It’s been, what, two years since you’ve seen him? Sounds like you’re holding on to that pretty hard, using it more like a hurdle he’s gotta jump.”

“He CHEATED on me. Do you know what that means?”

“Yeah, I do. I’ve been there. I’ve done it and had it happen to me. Sometimes you can get over it and sometimes you can’t. But at least be honest and say you’re not even trying.”

“All right, fine. So how am I supposed to get over it?”

“You believe the person is sorry that it happened.”

“I do.”

“You don’t let it affect you anymore. Say it’s in the past.”

“I guess.”

“Then forgive the person.”

“O.K. I might be able to do that.”

“And then you learn how to trust them again.”

“Yeah, there’s the problem. That I can’t do.” I said, shaking my head.

“Have you even tried?”

I was saved from having to answer by a call coming over the radio. I had never been so happy to have to deal with a case of food poisoning in my life. After we dropped the patient off at the hospital and cleaned the rig of vomit and God only knows what else, Paul tried to bring up the conversation again to which I staunchly refused to comment. The rest of the day seemed to lag until we were finally off the clock at seven. I left work and headed home, kicking off my shoes and sat down on the couch. Not ten minutes after I got home, the phone rang. I answered.

“I hate you for not being here.” Sarah started.

“I know. I miss you too. I REALLY do.”

“Why? What’s going on?” She asked, her ears always attuned to the presence of drama in one’s life.

“Nothing. I just miss you.” I said, not wanting to hear her thoughts on Charlie. She would just confuse me and I was already confused enough.

“Life’s boring without me, huh?” She asked. `Not so much’, I thought.

“Yeah, I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

“Well, here’s something that will pick up your spirits. You’re going to have a little company for the holidays.”

“Oh really?” I asked, warily. “Who?”

“Dennis. He felt really bad that you’re down there all alone and figured he’d spend some time with you.”

“Oh my God.” I said, feeling my stomach churn with stress induced acid indigestion.

“I know, isn’t it great?”

“Yeah. Really, really great. Listen Sarah, my dinner’s burning. I’ll call you later, ok?” I hung up the phone before she could respond and refused to answer when she called back.

I shook my head and thought, `this can’t be happening. Why did Dennis have to chose now to hang out?’ That’s when the door bell rang. Figuring it would be Dennis, I tried to put a smile on my face and opened the door to find Charlie standing there with a large Christmas wreath.

“Hey.” He said with a smile and walked into the apartment.

“Hey. I thought you left.”

“Nope. I moved into a hotel.” He handed the wreath over. “This is for you.”

“Thanks.” I said and took it. I then realized that I was standing in my doorway holding a wreath and looking like a schmuck. “Why did you move into a hotel?”

“I figured that it would be easier this way.”

“What would be easier?” I asked. He smiled and held out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Charlie Novak. I’d really like the chance to start over.”

“Oh God, Charlie.” I stared wide eyed at him. He lowered his hand but his smile didn’t diminish.

“I REALLY want to start over Ryan. I want to show you that you can trust me, that you can depend on me and that we can make this work.”

“You think it’s that easy?”

“No, but I’m willing to do what ever’s necessary.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because you make me happy and because I want to make you happy. Because I feel stronger when you’re with me, Ryan and I’ll show you that you can believe in that.”

“You think that will be enough?”

“Come to dinner with me and find out.” He challenged and I thought over the conversation I had with Paul this morning.

“All right, but no Indian.” His smile was bright and I wondered for the first time in the longest time if we might actually make this work.

“You don’t like Indian anymore? It was your favorite.”

“I love Indian but my stomach hates it and I’ll be in the bathroom for three days.”

“Gotchya. No Indian.”

“I’ll need to shower.” And left to to take the fastest shower I had ever taken. I got out and headed into my bedroom to dress. I threw on a nice pair of jeans and a turtleneck which brought out my eyes.

“Wow.” Charlie said as I returned to the living room.

“What?” I asked, worried that I didn’t match or something.

“You just look great.” My heart skipped a beat. He used to say sweet things like that when we first dated. “I mean, you always do but…”

“Let’s go.” I said and we left for our `date’.

The restaurant was a nice one, but crowded as hell with all of the holiday shoppers out for a bit of frolicking before heading home. The food was good, the liquor flowed, and the atmosphere was light. I was grateful the ambiance was more festive and not particularly romantic. It led the way for the conversation to be light and easy, which we had always done well. I had been crushed when Charlie left then hurt beyond reason that he had betrayed me but after that had faded I was left missing our friendship more than anything.

“I don’t understand.” I said, laughing. “She got drunk and did what?”

“Tried to stick her hand down my pants.” Charlie answered with a bright grin on his face as he remembered a particular Christmas party that his construction company had hosted.

“Really? How far did she get?”

“Let’s just say I’ve had medical exams that weren’t so thorough.”

“Pig. You just wanted to see what a woman holding it felt like.”

“Let’s remember, I was drunk too and she was fast. I mean, one minute we’re talking about her husband’s new car and then she was grabbing my junk.”

“She’s what, seventy?”

“She was a very sprightly sixty two at the time.”

I chuckled and shook my head at the thought.

“I’m surprised she didn’t break her wrist, you’re a handful.” Charlie looked up at me and his smile widened, while my eyes did in shock. I can’t believe I had just said that. “If memory serves.” I added lamely.

“You’re memory’s just fine, Ryan.”

I made a mental note to switch to water after I finished my forth glass of wine. My mind swam a bit with the warm, fuzzy feeling of alcohol, good food and happiness. I was on dangerous ground and seemed to be loving it.

“Why don’t I pay the check and we’ll take a walk down the avenue. They’ve got it all done up for Christmas.” Charlie said, pulling out his wallet.

“Oh, here.” I started pulling mine out to contribute to the bill and stopped when he glared at me.

“No, Ryan. Whatever this is, whatever it becomes let me do this. Give me this one night. If you decide you only want to be friends I’ll at least have this.”

I couldn’t answer but to nod and watch as he paid. The temperature outside had dropped by more than a few degrees but the small city I lived in had gone all out for the holidays and the streets were decorated with lights and wreaths. The seasonal decorations tempted a few brave souls out of their houses to walk under them. `Damn,’ I thought as we walked down the street pressed close together. `This was romantic’.

“What’s wrong?” Charlie asked.

“What? Oh, nothing.”

“Don’t do that, Ryan. I think if this thing is going to work, especially if neither one of us wants to get hurt more than necessary, we have to be honest with each other. Brutally honest.”

“All right.” I said and sighed. “I’m feeling confused. This is great, being here with you. I had a great time at dinner and this is romantic. It feels like old times.”

“But…?”

“But there was a lot of shit we went through and that brings up bad times.”

“I don’t have a right to ask you to wipe the slate clean, do I? And that’s what I’m doing. I’m not perfect, Ryan. I’ve got flaws, you know that better than anyone. If you take me back I’ll piss you off.”

“What?” I asked, surprised that he would say that.

“Come on, how could I not? You’re a bit anal, I’m a slob. You’re a penny pincher, I spend it like it’s going out of style. You’re practical, I’ve got my head in the clouds. We let ourselves get into a bad place last time, we don’t have to do that again.”

I stopped walking and turned to him.

“So we’re just gonna steer clear of that `bad place’?” I asked and actually heard hope in my voice for the first time in a long time.

“Yeah, and we can. But I’ll need your help.” Charlie said and leaned in as if to kiss me.

“I don’t know Charlie-.”

“You don’t have to, Ryan. I’m gonna give you as long as you need to decide.” He didn’t step back and his face was mere inches from mine. I could feel his warm breath on my lips. “But while you’re making up your mind, I’m gonna do my damnedest to convince you. In fact, I’d like to take you somewhere.”

“Where?” I asked suspiciously.

We drove to a club which had closed down a couple years ago because of all the fighting that had gone on. From all of the cars in the parking lot it seemed someone had reopened it and was catering to redneck hicks. Not my type of place and I said as much to Charlie.

“Oh come on! Where’s your sense of adventure?” He grinned and got out of the truck leaving me no choice but to follow him.

Inside, the d├ęcor definitely convinced me that the ideal clientele of the establishment were those of the `shit-kicker’ variety. Country music poured out of the doors, most people wore cowboy boots and there was more flannel and polyester here than one could find at Walmart.

“Charlie, I’m not sure-.”

“Just a couple dances. I got into it a few years ago. I think you’ll like it.” He said, pulling me to the bar and ordering us some beers. He dragged me to the edge of the dance floor where people were spinning, kicking and stepping to the music in sync.

“I can’t do that.” I promised.

“It helps if you’re a bit drunk.” He said, but I didn’t feel confident and I was pretty sure I was still buzzed. The song changed and he smiled. “This is an easy one. You can do this.”

He pulled me onto the floor and made me watch his feet as he began to dance. It was pretty simple and by the time the song ended I had gotten the hang of it and was actually having fun. I figured I’d give it another dance or two and then make him take me home.

They bar closed four hours later after I had stripped down to my t-shirt and stolen a hat from some large woman named Cindy. Charlie helped guide me as we made our way to the truck. I was wasted and I knew it but I also realized I hadn’t had that much fun in years. I actually giggled as I climbed onto the passenger seat and Charlie chuckled at my state.

“You ok, tiger?”

“I’m fine.” I said and tried to close the door but couldn’t seem to manage it. One of the cowboys from inside who had shown me one particular dance walked by.

“You boys have a good night.” He called.

“You too, Pete! See you next Saturday.” I answered, thinking `when the hell had I decided to come back? When the hell had I learned his name?’ and coordinated myself enough to close the door.

“Look at you, making friends.”

“Yeah. Pete’s good people.” I slurred making Charlie chuckle again.

“Jesus, you’re bombed.”

“Maybe a bit. Which means you can’t hold anything I say against me.”

“Oh?” He asked. “Why is that?”

“Cause I’m drunk.” I said.

“Ok. I promise I won’t hold anything you say against you.” He started the truck but left it parked. “What do you feel like saying Ryan?” He had lowered his voice when he asked and suddenly the cab of his truck felt very intimate.

“That I love you. I’ve loved you for so long that I can’t remember not loving you. I never believed in love at first sight, I still kind of don’t. It’s stupid. But the first time I saw you I fell for you really hard, Charlie.”

“Oh God, baby.” He whispered and leaned across the seat toward me. “You can’t say stuff like that to me in a parking lot.”

Charlie took my mouth with his and near sucked my soul from my body. I threw my arm around him pulling him closer to me and in seconds I was stretched out across his seat with his hard body on top of mine. His weight felt so good, so right. I knew I didn’t want to think too much about what this meant and that if I did, reality would crash down around me and ruin the moment. I moaned, or maybe he did and I felt his hands roam over my body.

“No, Ryan.” Charlie said and lifted his head to stare into my eyes. “We can’t do it this way. I can’t take advantage of you like this. You’re blitzed and I don’t want you rethinking this in the morning.”

“I want it Charlie.” I said simply not knowing how to express myself more simply than that.

“I know you do, baby and I swear to God, I want it too. But not like this.” I closed my eyes and felt the first shards of reality enter back into my mind. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.”

Charlie kissed me and then licked his way down my chin and neck as he pulled my shirt up exposing my stomach and chest. His lips teased my nipples until they were hard and just a bit tender before he swirled his tongue through the hair on my belly. I felt my belt being unbuckled and my zipper lowered. His hand brushed my hard cock through my briefs making me thrust my hips toward him.

“You like that, sweetheart?”

“Oh God, yes!” I said and felt my pants being pulled off my hips.

Charlie’s tongue ran over the length of my dick still in my briefs and spent special attention to the small wet patch of precum that had leaked through at the tip. I shivered a bit at the cold when my briefs followed my pants passed my hips but I didn’t have much time to think clearly as Charlie’s tongue was on my dick, my balls, my sensitive pubic area. He even pushed my legs apart and licked my grundle. Then his mouth was back on my cock, teasing my head and swallowing my length to the back of his throat. I moaned and took his head in my hands, running my fingers through his hair.

“Oh God, Charlie! Suck my dick!” I demanded as my hips thrust my cock up into his warm, hot mouth. He hummed in response and I felt the vibrations travel down my erection and reverberate in my prostate.

I lifted him off me and threw him down on the seat where I had laid and moved over him to aim my dick back at his mouth. He looked surprised but his lips curved in a quick grin till I gave them something else better to do than smile. I started fucking his mouth with all I had knowing that I was going to cum soon. I felt the tingle in my balls and felt the desperation in my entire body.

“I’m gonna cum soon, Charlie.” I whispered not really caring if he heard me.

He must have cause I felt his hand grab one of the cheeks of my ass and licked his finger before slipping into my tight ass. It started off slow and gave the sensation of my impending orgasm another dimension. I gasped as I breathed and thrusted getting closer to fulfillment and just as his finger touched my swollen gland, I cried out and let my cum pour over his tongue only to collapse against the window. Charlie took my spent cock from his mouth and moved behind me to pull up my briefs and pants. After he finished dressing me he pulled me back against his chest.

“I love you too, baby. I love you so much.” His arms wrapped around me and squeezed. He sat me down, buckled my seat belt and sat back in the drivers seat. We drove home holding hands but didn’t speak. There was too much to say.

After we got home and opened the door I headed into my bedroom, collapsed on the bed and passed out.

Sixth Day

My head hurt. It was my first conscious thought and probably my second and my third. My fourth conscious thought was `oh fuck, does it hurt’. I was brave enough to open my eyes and almost immediately closed them against the sunshine pouring through the window. That was until I heard the snoring next to me. I opened my eyes and looked over at Charlie’s sleeping face and the little bit of drool falling from his lips. Memories of last night came rushing back to me and I just shook my head. I thought about claiming I was too drunk to remember anything of what happened, but that had been a hell of a blow job. My eyes wandered down his naked chest to the covers that were pulled just above his belly and I wondered if he was naked beneath them. I noticed he wasn’t snoring anymore and my eyes flew to his. They were open and he was giving me his patented sleepy, sexy, I-want-to-fuck-you-till-Tuesday grin.

“Morning.” He said.

“Morning.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been lobotomized.”

“Yeah, you were drinking pretty heavy there for a bit.”

“Why didn’t you stop me?”

“It was the first time in the last week you let yourself go and have a little fun. I was there to protect you.”

“Like you did in the car?” I asked and his grin widened.

“No one got hurt as I recall.”

“It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“Of course it wasn’t supposed to happen.” He said and I was a bit surprised he agreed. “Like that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. I would have preferred it to be in a bed, you a little more sober and without all of your `I know I’m going to hate myself in the morning but do me baby’ speeches.”

I tried to be angry but I had to laugh.

“You’re a fuck and I don’t sound like that.”

“You really do. It was one of the first things you said to me when we met, `I’m really drunk’.”

“Never happened, you prick.” I chuckled.

“It did. I was like `oh yeah, this ones mine!’.” We both laughed and he reached an arm over to pull me closer to him and I let myself be pulled. It felt good to be pressed up against his chest, wrapped in his arms but it also scared the shit out of me. “Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“I know you. Any minute you’re gonna start thinking and start talking yourself out of this.”

I didn’t answer. He was right. The minute I admitted to myself how nice it felt with him, I started freaking out so I gave in and just let myself be with a contented sigh. That was until the doorbell rang.

“Don’t answer it.” Charlie said. “They’ll go away.”

“And what if they don’t?”

“I promise you, they will.”

They rang again and I went to answer the door. It was Dennis. Of course, it was. My life only asked for this. `How much drama can one person have?’

“Hey, Ryan.” Dennis said with a dimpled smile. He was a bit shorter than I was and built stocky. His blond hair was cut close to his head

“Hi Dennis.”

“I know it’s a little early but I saw your car here and wanted to catch you before you headed off to work.”

“That’s all right. I just got up.”

“I stopped by last night but you weren’t here.”

“No, I was out.” I answered lamely.

“I was wondering if you were doing anything tonight.”

“Actually, I have to head in to work in a little bit. I’m working 11a to 11p.”

“Ah. Tomorrow?”

“Same thing tomorrow. I’m pretty busy this week with everyone taking vacation time. That’s why I couldn’t come up to Sarah’s cabin.”

“Yeah, she said. I thought of you down here alone and figured I could keep you some company. I guess I didn’t think about you having to work so much. Why don’t we do breakfast tomorrow?”

“Sure. That’d be good.”

“Great! How about nine?”

“Sure.”

“Cool. I’ll see you then.”

“Yeah, see you then.” I said and watched as he headed to his car.

I closed the door and turned around to see Charlie leaning naked against the doorway of my bedroom staring at me with his eyebrows raised. My groin tightened in response to the picture he made and I felt betrayed by my own body. My dick thickened, my heart raced and skipped beats, my mouth watered and all I wanted to do was drag him back to the bedroom and have my way with him.

“So, who’s this Dennis guy?”

“He’s…. he’s a guy.”

“I understood that much.” Charlie said as he came into the living room and sat down on the couch. “You’re interested in him?”

“No. Yeah. I don’t know.” I answered honestly and sat next to him on the couch.

“Sounds like you don’t know what you want.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious. Thank you for saving the day with your powers of perception.”

“Don’t get bitchy.” He said with a sigh. “I’m not exactly in the great mood I woke up with either.”

“Sorry.”

“Why did you say you’d go to breakfast with him?”

“We were both going to be up at Sarah’s for the holidays. We’re both single and we were both interested.”

“Sort of a first date?”

“Yeah.”

“Until you found out you had to work.”

“Yeah.”

“Until I came back?”

“Something like that.”

“And now you have to choose.”

“Yup. I have to figure out if we can fix everything between us or if I should try to build something new with someone else.”

“That’s a nice way to look at it.”

“For one minute Charlie, see where I’m coming from. I’m in the middle of this and either way I choose I could be missing out on something special.”

He was silent for a moment, just sitting and frowning.

“You’re right. I can’t say I’m sorry you’re in this position cause the fact that you are means you feel something for me and I think that’s worth fighting for. So I know what you have to do.”

“You do?”

“Yup. You have to give Dennis a chance.”

“What?”

“Get to know him.” He stood up. “See what he has to offer.”

“I don’t understand Charlie. Is this some sort of fucked up game you’re playing?” I said as I stood and followed him into the bedroom where he dressed.

“No game. If I stay you’re going to be confused and I need you to know how you feel. If you choose him then I wish you the best in the world. If you decide you want me, I’ll be waiting.”

Having finished dressing, he pulled me into his arms and lowered his forehead to mine.

“You need to trust me and know that I’ll do anything for your best interest. That’s something you’re going to have to figure out by yourself. If you believe this Dennis or some other guy can give you more than I can then you should be with him.”

I was speechless. The old Charlie would never have said this or much less meant it, but his sincerity was obvious.

“I love you, Ryan Miller and I pray to God you choose to give me another chance. But most of all I want you happy and if I can’t make you happy then I’ll let you go.”

Charlie tilted his head and took my lips with his and his tongue slipped in to mate with mine. I felt my heart beat faster and my head swam a bit. When he pulled back I looked up into his eyes. He smiled but I could tell he was as scared as I was. Scared that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to him. His arms tightened around me for a second before he let me go and left.

I dressed for work and arrived early but sat out in the parking lot thinking till I was five minutes late. I was assigned to work with Paul again but thankfully he only said some generic greeting and left me to my own thoughts. The day progressed typically and I was even drawn out of myself by some of the calls that we had. As I arrived home I figured it was time to ask for advice and reluctantly called Sarah at the cabin.

“Hello?” She answered.

“Hey.”

“So you ruin my holidays by not showing up and dragging one of the only other adults away leaving me alone with my family and then don’t call for days. I hate you. We’re not best friends anymore.”

“The other adult chose to leave, I didn’t drag him anywhere. You love your family and you’re having a great holiday and you could never hate me.”

“Fine. I guess we’re still best friends. But you could call every once in a while.”

“Sarah, I’ve been going through something and I’ve not been sure that I wanted to tell you.”

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Probably not, but I need you to be my friend on this and not freak out. I need help.”

“Ok. What’s going on?”

I told her all the things that had happened since they had left for vacation, that Charlie had come back and after I was done the silence on the other end of the phone was deafening.

“Sarah?”

“I’m here.”

“You’re also awfully quiet.”

“I’m on my way. If I pack tonight and leave in the morning we’ll be there by the afternoon.”

“Funny.”

“I’m not joking.”

“Sarah, don’t do that. I don’t need you here, I just need to talk to you.”

“You obviously do need me there! Jesus, I leave you for six days and all hell breaks loose!”

“Nothing’s broken loose, I’m just a little mixed up right now.”

“Seriously? How the fuck could you be thinking of taking that scumbag back? Jesus, Ryan! You were a mess when he left and he cheated on you!”

“I know.”

“And now you have Dennis who’s adorable and into you and never cheated on you.”

“I know.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I’m not in love with Dennis.”

“You don’t even know him. You DO know Charlie, the cheating asshole. You’re just caught up in what you USED to feel for him.”

“What I STILL feel for him. Sarah, I’m not a kid. I know what I feel for people. I just don’t know what to do about it.”

“You still love him?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why are you asking me what you should do? If you love him, then you know.”

“Oh come on! This isn’t a fucking Lifetime movie! Real life’s a bit more complicated than that.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Ryan. I’m telling you what I think you should do but you don’t seem to want to hear it.”

“I guess I don’t.” I admitted. “I hate the holidays.”

“Look, I love you and I’ll stand by you no matter what you decide but I don’t think you’re making a good decision right now.”

“I haven’t made any decision yet. You’re not exactly unbiased, Sarah. You never liked Charlie.”

“I did like him Ryan, up until he left you and then we found out he cheated.” Sarah sighed. “All right, you want an unbiased opinion?”

“Yeah, that’d be nice.” I answered with a bit more attitude than I intended.

“Charlie’s done. You went there, you gave it a try and it didn’t work out. Move on. If you don’t want Dennis then find someone else.”

“What if I move on and miss a great opportunity with Charlie?”

“You can’t think like that. `What if’s’ aren’t going to help you move on. If you go with Charlie you might be missing an opportunity with Dennis.”

“Does life REALLY have to be this hard?”

“Only if you’re doing it right.” Sarah said satirically.

“Well, it sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.” I could hear Sarah’s smile over the phone. “I know I didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear but did I help?”

“I guess. Never leave me again. For the rest of our lives you have to be within fifty feet of me at all times.”

“I’ll try. Now if I know you, you have some thinking to do.”

“Why does everyone say that? Do I over analyze things?”

“Just a bit. Take a breath, stop beating yourself up and figure out what you want.”

“What if what I want is risky?”

“I hate the fact that you said that. Well, if you’re going to throw away all our years of friendship and make me answer as an unbiased friend, I’d say risk is a part of life.”

“And if you were answering as my dear friend Sarah?”

“I’d say Charlie sucks, he deserves to be beaten and Dennis is so much better.”

“Right.”

“You asked.”

“I did. I think I’m going to do that thinking thing now.”

“Give me a call, you shit.”

“I will.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too. Give the kids and Drew a kiss for me.”

“I will. Bye, kiddo.”

“Bye.”

I hung up the phone and sat back on the couch. This life stuff was really unbearable at times.

Seventh Day

I walked into the little cafe Dennis had chosen to have breakfast at and sat down to wait for him. I was a little early and already dressed for work so I wouldn’t have to go home before my shift. I didn’t have to wait long before he showed up and I took the time to watch and study him as he approached. He smiled when he saw me and headed over to the table.

“Hi.” He said.

“Hey, good morning.”

“Morning. You been waiting long?”

“No. Just a few minutes.”

“Good. So how have your holidays been going?”

“Oh with work, I’ve actually been pretty busy. Not much time for holidays really. Yours?”

“Not bad. My family’s out west and I have to stay pretty local for work. I was up with Sarah and Drew but I heard you were down here alone.” Dennis smiled and shrugged. “I figured I’d come and keep you company.”

“That was nice of you.” I said, feeling a moment of guilt. “So how do you know Drew?”

We spoke of the trivialities and minutiae of our life and enjoyed a very nice breakfast. I tried very hard but couldn’t stop myself from making comparisons between him and Charlie. Not all of them landed in Charlie’s favor but I was left no closer to being able to make a decision. I figured I was putting too much pressure on myself and not giving Dennis enough time or credit. This entire situation was entirely unfair and I began to feel horrible about my part in it.

“Ryan?” Dennis was looking at me expectantly.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said, I was… you know, it’s not important. Are you all right?”

“Yeah. It’s been a tough week.”

“With Sarah gone and everything? I don’t mean to throw her under the bus but she was worried how you were doing down here alone. She actually said you would probably lose it without her. It was kind of her idea for me to come down. I thought it might be a little presumptuous but she said you’d appreciate it.”

“Did she?” I couldn’t really be angry with her since at the time she didn’t know Charlie was back, but even if she did she probably still would have suggested it. “She’s great like that.”

“She is pretty cool.” Dennis smiled and took a sip of his coffee. “So what’s your day like tomorrow?”

“I don’t work until 11pm.”

“Would you want to get some dinner tomorrow then?”

“Yeah.” I said and tried to convince myself that I would. “That sounds great.”

“Nice. I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon and we’ll set up the details.”

“O.k. I’ll talk to you then.” I said and gave him an awkward hug as I left for work.

Once I got to the ambulance squad I saw that I was going to be working with Al today, threw my stuff in the back and sat in the passenger seat. Al drove around for a while before asking if I wanted to talk about anything.

“No.”

“Is that a real no, or a no and then you spill your guts.”

“What do you think?” I bit out.

“Got it.”

The night passed slowly.

Eighth Day

I woke up around eleven and lay in bed trying to find the energy to get up. I found it about an hour later, washed, dressed and headed out to do a little Christmas shopping since I didn’t have much to do that day. Even though Sarah and her family’s gifts had already been bought I found some other things that I thought they’d like. As I carried the bags out to my car I saw that part of the parking lot had been roped off to sell Christmas trees. I figured I’d go and see if anything caught my eye. The one that did was the saddest, most miserable tree I had ever seen. I loved it.

“I’ll take that one.” I said to the guy.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re one of those people, aren’t you?”

“`Those people’?”

“Charlie Brown Christmas Special People. The ones that want the most pitiful tree they can find.”

“I guess I am.”

“Well, it takes all kinds.” He said and took my money. I tied the tree on the top of my car and had to laugh at the pathetic sight.

I got back to my apartment around three and brought everything inside. When it came to the tree I just leaned it in the corner that I was going to set it up in and started wrapping the gifts that I had bought. I had just started when the phone rang.

“Hey Ryan, it’s Dennis. How are you?”

“I’m good, Dennis. How are you?”

“Doing real good. What you up to?”

“Did some Christmas shopping, picked up a tree and now I’m just wrapping some of the gifts I got.”

“You got a tree? You put it up yet?”

“Um.. no. I didn’t.”

“Well, how about I pick up some take out and we put it up?”

“O.k. Sure.”

“I’ll be over in about an hour?”

“O.k.” I hung up the phone and ran around cleaning up all the stuff thrown all over the place.

True to his word, he was there an hour later with Chinese food, a cute little Santa’s hat and smile on his face. He had even brought a mix of Christmas music he had made.

“Where’s the tree?” He asked after he set the music to play and I got out the decorations.

“There.” I said, pointing at the tree.

“That?” His expression showed confusion. “Really?”

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, defensively.

“Nothing. It’s just…. small. It’s good, though. We might be able to do something with it. I guess I’m not really a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree type person.”

“Is that really a thing? Is there a union for Charlie Brown Tree people?” I asked and Dennis laughed.

“It’s cute, actually. It’ll be easier to set up anyway.” He said and went to placing the tree in the stand.

We talked as we decorated the sad, little, wonderful tree and it was nice and comfortable but it was all very friendly. I tried very hard to shake the feeling that I would rather be decorating the tree with Charlie but it persisted. After the last decoration that we could fit on the tree was hung, we sat down and ate in it’s light.

“Oh my God, I haven’t heard this song in years!” I said, as Christmas Rapping by the Waitresses started playing.

“It’s a classic. How could you not have heard this song? They play it every year.”

“It’s just one of those things. Like every year I try to catch March of the Wooden Soldiers on t.v. but I always miss it.”

“My favorite Christmas movie is Mixed Nuts. It’s new, but it’s hysterical.”

“I’ve never seen it. I’ll have to check it out.” I said, as my cell phone started ringing.

I picked up and had a short conversation by the end of which I almost threw my phone out the window.

“Everything o.k.?” Dennis asked.

“No. Someone went home sick. I have to go in and cover.”

“Doesn’t anyone else work at that place besides you?”

“Apparently not. I’m sorry, Dennis. I’m gonna have to go in early.”

“That’s all right.” He said and I could see he was a little annoyed but doing an admirable job of keeping it to himself. “Maybe we can do something tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I’ll give you a call.” I said and walked him to the door.

He put his coat on and turned to me. Dennis put his arms around me and leaned his head in to kiss me. He kissed me passionately for a good couple minutes and even moaned against my lips as he pulled away.

“You taste good.” He said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I said and closed the door after him.

I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and sighed. I felt like I had just kissed my brother. I don’t even have a brother but if I did that’s what it would have felt like to kiss him. `Wonderful’ I thought as I went and got ready for work.

Ninth Day

Since I had gone in to work early, they had let me go early and I was home by nine a.m. I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow and refused to wake up until four the next afternoon. By that time my phone had a dozen messages, most from Sarah but a few from Dennis. None from the one person I hoped would call me.

I got out of bed and made myself some coffee and nuked some left over Chinese food for breakfast. One of the great things about working odd hours are any food can be breakfast. I sat down in front of the t.v. and ate my sesame chicken and dumplings. I hadn’t gotten to take the first bite when someone knocked on my door. I spilled some of the food on my chest as I tossed it irritably on the coffee table and opened the door. It was Charlie.

“Hey.” He said with a smile.

“Hey.” I grinned back.

“You have lo mein noodles stuck in your chest hair.” He pointed out.

“Yeah. Breakfast. Come on in.” I said and went to the kitchen to grab a paper towel.

“So how have you been?”

“I’ve been good. You?”

“Good.” He answered.

“Good.” I said, lamely and stood wiping Chinese food from my body.

“Well, now that we’ve lied to each other why don’t we tell the truth? How have you been?”

“Pretty shitty. You?”

“The same.” He answered and came wrapped his arms around me. I sighed and leaned into him. The man just fit me too fucking well.

“I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too.”

“You got a tree.”

“I did.”

“It’s horrible.”

“I know.”

“I love it.” I smiled when he said that.

“Me too.” He kissed me, lightly on the lips, no tongue and grabbed my hand to pull me to the couch.

“What have you been up to?” Has asked and I spoke of work and speaking with Sarah while trying to avoid the topic of Denis altogether. At some point his name did come up and he let that slide as we talked. He was, of course going to have to comment some time.

“So you went out with him?”

“Yeah.”

“How was it?”

“It was fine.” I said, feeling horribly uncomfortable speaking with him about another man.

“Ryan, I’m your friend and I want to be your best friend and this is weird as hell, for me and for you, but we can talk about this. We should be able to share our lives totally.”

“You really want to hear about me and another man?”

“If that’s what you want to talk about.”

“You want to hear how we had awesome sex right here on the couch?” I said and watched his face grow stiff, his smile now plastered and he looked like he wanted to jump off of the couch.

“Sure.” He gritted out.

“We didn’t. He kissed me. That’s it.” Charlie relaxed a bit.

“Did you kiss him back?”

“Yeah.”

“How was it?”

“It sucked.” I said, honestly and watched his face relax into a heartfelt smile.

“I’m sorry.” He said, still grinning.

“Yeah, you look it.” I laughed. He chuckled.

“No, I really am. Not that the kiss sucked, or maybe I am. I don’t fucking know. I’m trying to be the good guy and give you what you need but all I want to do is be a dick and make you come back to me.”

“It’s a real shitty situation.”

“That it is.” He agreed.

“I think I know a solution though.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“It might not work. It actually might fuck everything up but since everything’s really fucked up anyway, it might not matter.”

“Sort of a `fuck up REALLY big’ situation?” He asked.

“Oh yeah.”

“I love those. Those are my favorite.” He said, sounding like a little kid on Christmas.

“Then you’re gonna go ape shit over this.” I said as I stood up and grabbed his hand.

“Oh yeah?” He asked, with a smile the size of the grand canyon.

“Oh yeah.” I answered and pulled him toward my bedroom.

His grin slipped as we entered my room. He let his hand slip from mine and stared at the bed. I sat down on the messy covers and looked up at him.

“What’s up?”

“I don’t know what to do.” He said.

“Well, it’s been a while for me too but I think we can figure it out.” He ignored my joke.

“Ryan, I don’t want to fuck this up. I can’t fuck this up.” My heart ached at his words but my mind knew he was right. I just wanted to lose myself in the certainty that I felt every time he held me and touched me. I wanted for a moment to have everything I wanted even at the cost of losing everything I needed.

“Charlie-.”

“Ryan, I will not do this to you anymore. I want you in my life so fucking bad because you’re in my heart and you always will be. But I think I may have fucked up too much for you to trust me and if so then you’ll never be happy with me. And if we sleep together now, you’ll hate me forever. I can’t let that happen.”

He came and knelt down before me and took my face in his hands. Charlie pressed his lips to mine and slipped his tongue gently into my mouth.

“I love you too much for that, Ryan. I want you to be happy.” He said as he looked in my eyes. “Goodbye, baby.”

He got up and walked out the door leaving me with a sudden depression I couldn’t shake for the hour I sat there. I finally stood, walked over to the wall and put my fist through it until it was so battered I couldn’t hold it anymore. I took myself to the hospital and sat while doctors and nurses I knew professionally, cleaned the cuts, took x-rays and made a cast for it. They never said what they were thinking but the looks they gave me and each other said they knew something was wrong with my explanation of how I broke my hand. I was sent home with a note saying I wasn’t to work for at least three weeks and I would have to have x-rays after that before I’d be cleared for duty. My supervisor was beyond irate when I told him.

“What the fuck do you mean you broke your hand?”

“That’s what the x-rays said.”

“It’s fucking Christmas!! What the fuck am I supposed to do with a paramedic who can’t do anything?!!”

“I really don’t know.”

“How did you break it?”

“The plow on my friends truck was stuck and when I was trying to fix it, it dropped onto my hand.” I had actually taken some kid into the hospital for just that thing two years ago and thought it was a pretty neat story and should work.

“Fucking dumbass!! You’re a medic, not a mechanic!!”

“You’re telling me.” I knew I was just pissing him off by my nonchalant tone, but I really couldn’t be bothered with him.

“Fine. I’ll take you off the schedule. Let me know when you can work again and I’ll let you know if you still have a job.” He said and hung up in my ear.

`Fuck him’ I thought and fell back against my couch. `I’m probably going to have to find another job next year.’

My cell phone rang and I picked it up to hear Denis on the line.

“Hey sexy, what’s going on?” He asked.

“Not much. Just got back from the hospital.”

“Oh yeah? How was work?”

“It wasn’t for work. I broke my hand.”

“Jesus! How did you do that?” He asked.

“Umm… I was helping a friend plow some drive ways and the plow got stuck. I was fixing it and it dropped on my hand.”

“Oh shit. Well, hey I’ll be over in a little bit. I’ll pick up some dinner.”

“You don’t have to do that. I think I’m gonna take a pain pill and head to bed.”

“Nah, it’s all right. I’ll be a few minutes.” He said and his phone started crackling.

“Really Denis-.”

“What? I can’t hear you. Ten minutes. I’ll be there in ten minutes.” He said before his phone cut out completely.

“Fuck my life.” I said and threw the phone across the room.

Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door and Denis came in with bags of food. He babied me for a minute or two before going and setting up some plates filled with Indian food. I grimaced.

“I hope you like Indian food. I forgot to ask.”

“I do, actually.” I said, leaving out the part of what it does to my stomach.

“Are you comfortable? You look like you could use another pillow.” He said and headed into my room.

“I’m o.k. Denis. Really.” But he came back with another pillow so I allowed him to shove it behind my back. It was very nice of him but I truly just wished he would leave.

He stayed for three hours while we watched Christmas movies. We even found his favorite one, Mixed Nuts and though I enjoyed it I just couldn’t shake the funk I was in. He cleaned up our dinner plates and even washed them before sitting back down and staring at me.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“You tell me.” He said.

“What do you mean?”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m fine for someone who has a broken hand.” I laughed.

“Yeah, about that. `Plowing accident’?” He asked, as if he didn’t believe me.

“Yeah.”

“So the large holes encrusted with blood in your bedroom wall have nothing to do with it?”

“Oh. Those.”

“Yeah.”

“Hanging a picture?” I asked, lamely.

“No. Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“It’s a guy, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re pretty torn up about him.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not me.”

“No.”

“That’s cool.” He said, with a sigh.

“It is?”

“Well, it sucks that you’re going through this. I assume it means that our timing continues to be shit. But if we can’t be together then we can still be friends and if you’re hurting this bad I think you could use one.”

“That would be a pretty lousy deal for you.”

“Well, maybe one day I’ll need a friend and you can be there for me.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure, why not.”

“All right.” I said and told him the whole thing. Another three hours later, I stopped talking and felt drained like I had just lived it all again in that little space of time.

“Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“What can I do?” I laughed, sardonically. “I either be with Charlie and risk my heart again or be with someone else and risk never having what I want. And with how I feel about Charlie, I’d say that’s a horrible thing to do to someone.”

“That’s a hell of choice to have to make.”

“Any thoughts?”

“Afraid not.”

“What?” I asked, surprised. Most people I had spoken to of this had been more than eager to give their opinions.

“You know what you have to choose between. It’s up to you now.”

“That’s not much help.”

“Where do you see your life in five years with Charlie?”

I couldn’t answer.

“Where do you see your life in five years without him?”

I still couldn’t answer but a pain flooded my chest. He must have seen it cause he smiled and grabbed his coat.

“You’ll make the right decision, which ever one you do make. If you ever want to talk, give me a call. It’ll save your walls from being battered to hell, if nothing else.” He leaned over and kissed my lips chastely. I felt a pang of regret that this man couldn’t be the one I got hung up on. “Night sexy.”

“Night Denis.” He had almost closed the door when I called to him.

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry.” I said, honestly.

“It’s cool.”

“No, Denis. I’m sorry I couldn’t give us a chance.”

He smiled and closed the door.

`Tenth Day

I left early the next morning to drive up to Sarah’s cabin in the Berkshires and was awarded the sight of my best friend running through the snow in her p.j.’s, bathrobe and wellingtons. She was screaming like a lunatic and waving her arms as I parked the car.

“I can’t believe you made it!! This was all a surprise from the beginning, wasn’t it?! A Christmas surprise!! You fake having to work and then surprise me up here!!”

“Yes Sarah, cause everyone’s life revolves around you.” I answered and started getting out of the car.

“Well, if it doesn’t, it should.” She saw my hand. “What the fuck did you do to yourself?!!”

“I had an accident with a snow plow. I was helping-.”

“Fuck that shit! What really happened?” I told her. “That motherfucker!! And you wanted to go back to that? See how he’s playing with your head?”

“Sarah, he’s not playing with my head. He left so that he wouldn’t play with my head.”

“How is that not playing with your head?!!!”

“Fine! Maybe it is! But it’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t kind of thing!!”

“Um, you guys want to come in and argue or should I bring the coffee out here?” Drew asked as he grabbed my luggage.

“We’re coming in. And Drew, I can grab that.” I said, feeling bad that he was carrying luggage I could still carry.

“My wife’s been bitching at me for the better part of a week cause you’re not here. I would have carried you AND your luggage all the way from New York.” He said, and continued on to the house.

“Have you really been that bitchy?” I asked.

“No, just a little mopey. He just knows how happy I am that you’re here.”

“Well, I’m happy that I’m here too. So let’s get the fuck inside. It’s freezing out.”

We spent the day doing Christmassy things; eating Holiday food, listening to carols and the whole nine. I was sick of it by five o’clock. I wanted to go somewhere that had never heard of Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or even winter. Some atheistic island in the West Indies would be nice, but I smiled and played along like I knew I was supposed to. At ten o’clock, the kids were so tuckered out they headed to bed and Drew, Sarah and I sprawled on the couch. I reiterated my feelings toward the holidays.

“Wait till you have kids.” Drew said.

“Never gonna happen.” I responded.

“Stop. You’ll be a great father.” Sarah added.

“Maybe, but I still won’t want to do Christmas.”

“It’s obligatory.” Drew said.

“Great.” I sighed.

“So how were the last ten days without my wife?” Drew asked and I actually thought about lying.

“My life went to hell very quickly.” I responded honestly.

“So I heard.” He smiled. “Gonna give him another chance?”

“I don’t know.”

“Apparently. You’re here instead of down in Jersey with him.”

“Drew, I don’t think Ryan wants to talk of this right now.” Sarah said, with an edge to her voice like he was going to say something she didn’t want me to hear.

“I didn’t say anything, babe. I was just thinking there’s no where that I’d rather be than with someone I loved on Christmas.” Drew smirked at his wife innocently, who glared at him with daggers in her eyes.

“I think I’ll make us some hot chocolate.” She said and grabbed Drew’s hand. “Care to help me, sweetie?”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“Not since you said `I do’.” Sarah led the way into the kitchen where I was sure she’d give him shit for encouraging me to think of Charlie.

I watched them go and thought of how cute they looked together for a straight couple. I chuckled at my thoughts and felt them shift to what Drew had said. I decided he was right. There was no place I’d rather be than with the people I loved on Christmas. It took me another two hours to admit that Charlie was the person I wanted to be with on Christmas.

Eleventh Day

I left the Berkshires in the morning despite Sarah’s wrath and made my way to New Jersey. A snow storm had started once I had hit my home town and I thought of stopping but continued on through. Taking it slow, I reached the city where Charlie lived and suddenly realized that I had no idea where he lived. I tried looking up his company but couldn’t tell his address from that. I tried calling his old friend Brad who promptly told me to go fuck myself. Finally, I was just about to give in and call Charlie’s cell phone when mine rang.

“Hello?”

“Ryan? It’s me. Charlie.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m at your house.”

“What?”

“I’m at your house. Where are you?” He asked.

“I’m in New Jersey.”

“What are you doing in New Jersey?”

“I came to see you.”

“Seriously?” He asked and my heart skipped at the joy and hope in his voice.

“Yeah. I got here and realized I didn’t know where you lived.”

He talked me all the way to his house and told me where to find the spare key. I opened his door and stepped into a warm, inviting home.

“Are you inside?” He asked.

“Yeah. It smells great in here.”

“I did a little baking. I had nothing else to do, so I figured I’d bake.”

“Really?”

“It kept my mind busy.”

“Yeah, I had a little problem with that myself.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I kinda put my hand through a wall after you left that day.”

“Oh babe.”

“It’s broken.”

“Oh Jesus! You broke your hand?”

“Yeah. We’re just one dysfunctional mess, aren’t we?” I asked and he laughed.

“I guess we are a bit. But I think we can make it work.”

“I think we’re going to have to try.”

“Oh babe, I wish I was there right now.”

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m on the thruway. It’ll take me about an hour to get there.”

“There’s no way it’ll take you an hour to get here unless you’re speeding!”

“No, I’m going the speed limit.”

“Charlie.”

“I’m going close to the speed limit.”

“Charlie!”

“I’ve got 4 wheel drive.”

“Charlie!!!”

“All right, all right. I’m slowing down.” He said and I could hear the pitch of his tires lower. “It’ll take me about an hour and a half.”

“Just get here safe.”

“I will, baby. I’m not going to risk anything ever again.” He sighed. “I’m only saying this now cause it’s been so hard to say when we’re face to face. I mean, I’ll say it again when I get there but I just want this one time….”

“What, Tiger?”

“I’m sorry.” He whispered and I clenched the phone tighter in my hand. “I’m so sorry I let you down before. I’m so sorry of everything I said and everything I did. I’m so fucking sorry I cheated on you.”

“Ah Jesus, Charlie.” I said with tears in my eyes. I was actually thankful he had chosen to say this when we weren’t face to face. “I forgive you.”

“I guess love doesn’t really mean `never having to say you’re sorry’.”

“That’s some bullshit some moron wrote under a cartoon. I think love is being able to say you’re sorry and accept it when the person you love says it to you.”

“And trying your damndest not to have to say it too often.” I laughed.

“I agree.”

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“I’m walking through your house. Do you mind?”

“Not at all. I just wish I was there with you.”

“You will be soon.”

“Yeah. I’m passing Harriman so I’ll be there in about 45 minutes.”

“Oh my God.” I said.

“What?! I’m not speeding, I told you.”

“No. You have a picture of us.” It was a picture of the two of us taken at least four years ago. It must have been taken-

“It’s from the day we met. At Drew’s party.”

“You kept it?” I asked, picking up the frame and seeing the frayed edges of the picture. It had creases like it had been folded and opened many times before being kept in a pocket or wallet.

“Of course I did. I had a few exes that didn’t like it but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. Tried to tell myself that we could never be, but somehow I never believed it.”

“Jesus, Charlie.” I sighed. “What the fuck took you so long to come back to me?”

“I don’t know. I wanted to. I tried calling you so many times. I did call a few times. You would pick up and I would hear your voice and then lose my nerve.”

I walked through his house as we spoke on the phone and finally made my way into his bedroom. I laid down on his bed and smiled as I listened to his voice. My heart felt whole and full, near to bursting really. Everything felt right and I was surprised and a little scared at the hope I felt.

“What are you doing now?” He asked.

“I’m laying on your bed.”

“Oh yeah?” He said in his bedroom voice. “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about you.”

“Are you doing anything naughty?” He chuckled.

“Yeah. I’m playing with my nipples.” I said, in my own bedroom voice.

“Oh God.”

“Now I’m running my hand over my belly wishing it was your lips.”

“It will be. I promise you, it will be.”

“I’m unbuttoning my pants and slipping my hand inside my underwear.”

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY YOU FUCKING MORON!!!! THE LIGHT’S FUCKING GREEN!!!!” He yelled suddenly and I dropped the phone from my ear. Picking it up, I heard him calling for me.

“Yeah, I’m here. What the fuck was that?”

“Some asshole is driving like two fucking miles an hour and won’t move for a fucking green light. He doesn’t know that I’ve got the love of my life finally at home waiting for me and I CAN’T FUCKING GET THERE CAUSE HE’S GOT TO DRIVE LIKE AN ASSHOLE!!!”

“Charlie!!!”

“What?!”

“Calm down. I’m still gonna be here when you get here.”

“You promise?” His voice sounded insecure for a moment, like he was afraid that I would change my mind and that this spell would break.

“I promise, Charlie. I will be there for you whenever you need me.”

“I’m gonna hold you to that, babe. Forever.” He said and I heard the sound of a truck pull up outside. I lifted up off the bed and glanced out the window, seeing him jump out of the truck and run toward the house holding the cell phone to his ear.

“You can, babe. Cause it’s true.”

I heard the front door open then slam shut and his feet pounded the stairs bringing him closer to me. He stepped into the doorway of his bedroom and stopped taking a moment to stare at me.

“What?” I asked.

“I almost thought you wouldn’t be here.”

“I told you I was.”

“Yeah. Things haven’t always gone right for either one of us though.”

“That was the past. Let’s work on the future.” I stood up off the bed and walked to him, drawing him into my arms and meeting his mouth for a hungry kiss.

He laid me back down on the bed and slowly stripped my clothes from my body, taking care of the cast on my arm. As he undressed me, I returned the favor and threw his clothes off to the side of the bed. He laid his naked body on mine and fit us together with our arms wrapped around each other. Our kisses were both fiery, passionate, needful kisses and soft, caresses that spoke of our emotions. I lifted my hand to touch his hair and instead, clunked his temple with my cast.

“Ow! Jesus!”

“Oh, tiger. I’m sorry.” I said, laughing. He chuckled, then looked at the cast.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you that day. I’m sorry you felt you had to do this.”

“I lost it for a bit, but I’m glad it happened. If we had slept together that day I think I would have been able to lie and tell myself that I just needed a good fuck to get you out of my system. I could have made a really huge mistake.”

“You don’t have any doubts now, do you?”

“No, not anymore.” I said, and knew that it was true.

“Good. You’ll never have to doubt me again. You’ll never have reason not to trust me.” He looked down into my eyes.

“I’m not worried. I have faith in you.” I said.

“Thank you.” He smiled.

“No problem.” I grinned. “Now shut the fuck up and kiss me like you mean it!”

Charlie leaned in and took my mouth in a slow, hot, possessive kiss which had me trembling from my head to my feet. He broke from my mouth and kissed his way down to my stomach. I moaned when he took my cock into his mouth and I felt his silky tongue swirl around the head and shaft. Charlie’s hand grabbed my balls and stroked and pulled on them until I felt precum leak out of my tip. He moved further down, bathing my ball sack as he went, until he reached my ass. My legs were spread and I closed my eyes as I waited for what I knew was coming. I moaned again when I felt the rough scratch of his five o’clock shadow on the inside of my ass. That combined with the soft, wet lick of tongue, his very talented tongue, made a shiver run down my spine and forced a quiet expletive passed my lips.

“Oh fuck.” I whispered.

“In time, baby.” He chuckled and turned attention back to my ass.

For five minutes he lavished my hole with tongue, mouth and fingers as I stroked myself spilling precum on my groin and belly. He finally lifted himself up and covered my body with his, bringing his face close to mine.

“Are you ready, Ryan?”

“Oh yeah, Charlie. Fuck me.” I demanded.

“The condoms are in that drawer there.” He said and nodded toward a bedside table. I got a pack to sheath his large cock and poured a generous amount of lube that I had also found.

He fit the tip on my hole and I felt the pressure grow as my body opened to receive him. Charlie rocked against me, giving and pulling back till I wanted to yell with frustration. I locked my legs around his waist and tried to pull him into me but he held back and chuckled.

“Not yet.” He said with a wicked smile. “I want you begging for it.”

“God Charlie, I’m begging now! Please fuck me!!”

“I will, baby.” He answered and locked his elbows behind my knees, lifting me and leaning in to stare into my eyes. “Soon.”

“Now, Charlie. I want you inside me!” I needed him inside me. My whole body was humming and ached for him.

I reached up and played with his nipples and was rewarded when his eyes closed with the pleasure of it. He always had loved nipple play. I tweaked them and pulled gently as he frowned and started bucking harder into me.

“That’s not fair, babe.” He said and when his eyes opened they were as dark as a stormy sea.

I grabbed the sides of his face and pulled him down closer. Our foreheads touched and I could smell myself on his face.

“I’m not trying to be fair, Tiger.” I whispered. “Now fuck me!!”

He slammed himself into my willing ass and buried his cock to the hilt. We both moaned in a mix of gratification and pain. My body accommodated him quickly but we lay still, wrapped in each other. Charlie lowered his face back to mine and seemed content to just stare into my eyes as I was to stare into his.

“Ryan, I never thought we could get this back. After everything we’ve been through, I never thought you could come back to me.” He said, his eyes a little glassy from unshed tears.

“I’m here, Charlie. And I don’t want to think about the bad stuff that we’ve been through. I want to think about the great stuff we’ll do together. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the boring stuff… it’s o.k. as long as you’re with me.”

“I will be, baby. Forever.” He kissed me and started moving his cock within me.

I moaned in his mouth as I felt him thrust. The length of his cock sliding in and out from tip to base, giving me pleasure as he took his own. He stroked every part of my body he could reach with his hands as I held his face and nibbled at his jaw and ear lobe. He always loved his ear lobe nipped, sucked, licked and blew into and I treated him to the best of my abilities. I watched as his eyes squeezed shut with the feeling and his mouth drop open as his breaths came short and ragged with the sensation. I licked his ear till it was nice and wet and then blew into it. He moaned loudly and began pounding into me in answer to my efforts.

“Oh God, Ryan. I missed that so much.” He said, as his hips continued thrusting at an increasing pace. “I missed you so much!”

“Make love to me, Charlie.” I whispered in his ear. “But do it as hard as you can.”

I stopped him only long enough to flip around onto my belly and take him back into me. He took me from behind and immediately resumed his rapid fucking. I grabbed the sheets of the bed in my fists as I submitted to him. The strong grip he held on my hips as his own met mine, again and again, would surely leave a bruise in the morning but I couldn’t care less. There was nothing but this moment and I intended to live in it with him for as long as I could.

Charlie repositioned himself so he was topping me more completely, with his chest lying on my back, his cock still pounding my ass and his hot breath on my neck. His hands were pulling on my shoulders, keeping me still as he plunged himself into me. I moaned into the bed and moved back to met him in time with his rhythm.

“You like that, baby?” He asked, his mouth inches from my ear. “You like my big cock inside your tight ass?”

“Oh my God, yes! I love your cock in my ass!”

“I’m gonna cum soon, Ryan.”

“Me too!”

“I want you to be on top when we do.” He said and pulled out of me.

I straddled him as he lay on his back on the bed and felt him slip inside me. The need to cum was so insistent that I rode him as hard as he had fucked me using the headboard from as much leverage as I could take from it. It squeaked and groaned in complaint but I didn’t care. I was able to raise almost completely off him and came down with my entire weight.

“Oh Jesus, Ryan! You’re so fucking hot! Ride my dick!!”

“I’m going to make you cum, Charlie! I’m almost there!”

“Me too, baby! Make us cum!” He said and sat up to wrap his arms around me.

As Charlie fucked up into me and I rode down on him we found our ecstasy together in a loud coupling. Charlie’s cock swelled in my ass as he shot his orgasm into me and I released mine over his stomach, chest and chin as my hole clamped down and spasmed around his dick.

We held each other tightly, waiting as the waves of euphoria washed over us. I had never had such an intense orgasm in my life nor felt as close to anyone, even Charlie himself, as I did at that moment. Generally, when I came my mind shut down experiencing nothing but the sensations in my body. This time I felt not only my own joy but his body, his scent, the sound of his breathing, the feel of his muscles trembling in release.

“I love you, Ryan.” He whispered. “I always have and I always will.”

“I love YOU, Charlie.” I answered. “I always have and I always will.”

Christmas

We laid together in his bed, holding each other. Sometimes we slept, sometimes we would just lie there soaking in the feeling of being together again, allowing the peace of the morning heal any lingering wounds we may have had. As the sky began to lighten I stared out the window, holding his hand in my own, feeling his body pressed against my back and smiled.

“You’re smiling.” He said, which made my smile widen.

“How do you know?”

“Cause I’m smiling.” He said, his voice gruff from sleep and emotion.

“Strangely enough, that makes sense.”

“Merry Christmas, baby.”

“Merry Christmas, Tiger.”

“We’re going to have to get up eventually.” He said and I heard the regret in his voice.

“Not yet.” I snuggled back into him, pulled his arm and the covers further up around my shoulders.

“O.k.” He chuckled and pulled me tight against him.

When we finally did get up, we spent an enjoyable hour under a stream of hot water washing the night off our bodies. Kissing and stroking each other to another incredible finish before heading downstairs. He made coffee as I sat at the kitchen table in an extra pair of his pajama bottoms and was content to watch him. He looked so beautiful in the morning light.

“What were your plans for the day?” I asked and he looked up and grinned.

“I had no plans for today. If you didn’t come back to me when I went up to your house yesterday I was going to come back here and get shit faced and stay that way for the rest of the year so I cleared my schedule.”

“Practical.” I said and we both laughed.

“We can do whatever you want. We can go to my aunt’s house in Ho-ho-kus. We can go to your house, if you want. We can even go to the Berkshires and spend the day with Sarah and Drew.” Charlie brought over two cups of steaming coffee and sat next to me, our legs intertwined under the table. “What do you want to do, baby?”

“I was up at Sarah and Drew’s yesterday. Drew said something that I thought made a lot of sense and so I came here.”

“What did he say?”

“He said there was no where he’d rather be than with someone he loved on Christmas. So I thought who do I want to spend Christmas with and the only person I wanted to spend it with was you.”

“Drew’s a very wise man. I had the same thought. That’s what I was doing at your house.” Charlie said and pulled me in for a kiss. “Come on.”

“Where we going?”

“To the living room.” I followed and he told me sit on the couch.

He went to the tree and grabbed an armful of packages and brought them to me. He had even gotten me a stocking and filled it.

“Charlie, what are you doing?” I asked, though I was scared I knew the answer. The bastard had gotten me Christmas presents and I didn’t have anything for him. I felt like an asshole.

“I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t know how it would happen but I knew you were going to be here for Christmas and if you weren’t I’d probably just have mailed them to you.”

He sat next to me and handed me a brightly wrapped box.

“I don’t have anything for you.” I said, miserably.

“Don’t worry about that shit. Just open your present.” He said like a little kid.

I opened the box and the next and all of the presents he had bought me, feeling more and more uncomfortable. The gifts were great but I felt horrible since I had nothing to give in return. I opened the last box and found a shirt of an incredible blue.

“I had to get you that. It matches your eyes.”

“Thank you, Charlie.” I said. “Thanks for them all. I love them.”

“You haven’t gotten the big one yet.” He said, with a bright smile.

“Oh Jesus, Charlie. I already feel like a schmuck.”

“Why?”

“Cause I didn’t get you anything.”

“There is something you can give me, Ryan. Something I want really badly.” Charlie said, suddenly unsure of himself.

“What do you want?” I asked and he pulled a small box from the stocking.

“All I want, for this Christmas and every other Christmas after, for every birthday and St. Patrick’s day and Groundhogs day and Labor day and every day in between, is you.” He opened the box to show me the silver claddagh ring laid on black velvet. “Can you do that, Ryan? If not, it’s o.k., I’ll keep this ring until you can but-.”

I stood and walked upstairs.

He didn’t follow and simply looked at me, resigned as I came back downstairs dressed. My heart broke as I saw the confusion on his face but also that he thought I had rejected him. I leaned down and kissed his forehead.

“I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll come with you.” He said.

“Charlie, I’ll be right back.”

I left and drove to Paramus till I found a jewelry store that, by the grace of God, was open on Christmas. A bit of a contradiction but I wasn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth.

“I can’t believe you’re open.” I said to the attendant as I walked in. I could tell by her expression that she couldn’t either and was irritated as hell.

“We’re open seven days a week, 365 a year.”

“Well, I’m extremely grateful.”

“Let me guess, you forgot to get your girlfriend something for Christmas.”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that but basically.” I said, not letting her attitude get to me. “I need an engagement ring.”

“Sweet.” She said, warming a bit to the romantic notion of getting engaged on Christmas. She started toward a row of cases. “Do you know her size?”

“Um… it’s a guy and no I don’t know his size.”

“Oh. O.k.” She changed directions and headed toward another row of cases. “So you have no idea what his ring size is?”

“Well, not really. He’s got hands like mine but I couldn’t really say.”

“That’s gonna be a problem.” The lady frowned, then a spark of inspiration seemed to cross her face. “I think I know how we might be able to figure it out or at least get close but I can’t guarantee it’ll work.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“How… freaky are you guys?”

“Huh?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“You ever suck on his fingers?” She asked.

“Well, yeah. Actually, I have.” She took out a key chain looking thing and poured some hand sanitizer on them and dried them off.

“I still don’t get it.”

“Each one of these rings are a finger size. Put each one in your mouth till you find the one that feels like his.” She said and I looked at her like she was crazy. “It’s the only thing I can think of. Unless you want to wait.”

“No, I can’t.” I said and began putting ring after ring in my mouth.

I felt stupid and didn’t think it would work till I started getting to the bigger rings.

“This one.” I said and handed it to her.

“O.k. We have those rings right over here.”

An hour later I left the shop and made my way back to Charlie’s house. He was in the kitchen rolling out dough, frowning down at it. He hadn’t heard me come in and was surprised and relieved when he noticed me.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“I had to get something.”

“Before giving me an answer?” He asked.

“Yeah, Charlie. Before giving you an answer.” He sighed and seemed to try to calm himself.

“Look Ryan, it’s o.k. It was stupid for me to push the issue. I’m just glad you’re still here.”

“I told you I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know but then I pushed you and I realize that was a stupid ass thing to do.”

“Oh. So you don’t want to marry me?” I tried hard not to grin which only seemed to confuse him more.

“Of course I do. It was stupid of me to ask so soon.”

“So you’re not asking now.”

“No. We’ll wait till you’re ready.”

“O.k.” I said and smiled. He smiled back but it was a weak grin. “What if I ask you when I’m ready?”

“That’d be fine. We can do that. Whatever you want.”

“Good.” I said and pulled him into a bear hug. I took the box from my pocket and handed it to him. “Marry me, Charlie.”

“What?”

“That’s where I went. To get you a ring. There was no way I was going to let you get me all those presents and a ring and not have anything to give back to you so I went and got a ring.” I opened the box and showed him a ring similar to mine but just slightly different. “If all you want is me, then you got me. Cause all I want is you.”

Our hands shook as he slipped the ring on my finger and my vision blurred a bit as I slipped his ring on his finger. We stood in the kitchen and held each other for a while enjoying the moment.

“Sarah’s gonna be pissed.” He said.

“She’ll get over it.”

“Where do you want to live, New York or New Jersey?”

“We’ll get married in New York but we’ll live in Jersey.”

“You’ll be o.k. with that?”

“As long as I’m with you.”

“Merry Christmas, baby.”

“Merry Christmas, Tiger.”