Holiday Cheer December 16, 2011Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in advent Calendar, Happy Holidays!, Heart's Master, short story.
In honor of the holidays (whatever holiday you celebrate), here’s a holiday story that I wrote, and that appeared last year as part of the Circlet Press Advent Calendar. The main characters, Steven and Nick, are two of my favorites – the stars of my short story The Hand You’re Dealt, and of Heart’s Master, the novel that I will be finishing today (Deus volent and the creek don’t rise…)
Have a happy whatever-you-celebrate!
“It’s coming down pretty hard here, Mom. Nick says that he can’t even see the car in the driveway, and he doesn’t think we’d be able to get off of our street, let alone to the airport…”
“Which, by the way, they just closed,” I heard Nick call from the other room. “Steven, nothing will be flying into or out of BWI for days, they are saying.”
“Did you hear Nick, Mom?” I asked. She had, but some maternal need to have me home for Christmas for the first time in six years, combined with Irish-Catholic guilt, required one more foray. Not that there was anything she could really guilt me about — Boston was currently bracing for their turn with the snowstorm that was burying Baltimore. But, she was my mother, and she had to at least try, for form’s sake. I sighed, “Yes, I know that Dad wants to see me. I wish we could be there…”
“Tell her we will come for Easter,” Nick said as he plopped down next to me on the couch. “We’ll come for all of Holy Week. I’ll change the tickets once I get back onto the computer.”
I coughed and covered the phone, muffling my mother’s delighted burbling. “Nick,” I whispered, “Do you know what you’re getting us in to?”
“I do. Talk to your mother.” He nudged me gently, and I shook my head and uncovered the phone.
“Mom, will that work for you and Dad? Having us for a week at Easter? Great. I’ll send the presents up as soon as we can get to the post office. No, really. I want to. Okay. Oh, Mirage is fine. Nick brought the snow-blower up onto the covered part of the deck, and he’s been going out every couple of hours to clear the snow off the rest so she can get out. Yeah, it’s going to be a mess come spring. Not much else we can do. Okay, Mom. Love you, too. Give our love to Dad.” I waited until I heard the phone click, then pressed the disconnect button and put the handset on the table next to the couch. “Nick, you’re sure about this?”
“Styopa, I was raised Russian Orthodox. Easter services started on Saturday night and ended at dawn. And involved a costume change. I can do heavy incense and Irish Catholic aerobics for an hour if it will make your mother happy.” He slid one arm around my shoulders. “You’re only just starting to talk to them again. I don’t want to endanger that.”
I nodded and snuggled into his side, listening to the hiss of the snow against the windows, and the crackling of the burning logs in the fireplace. It was still strange to me, having my parents talking to me again. Really talking, not just the furtive phone calls that I made at Mother’s Day and Christmas.
I suppose it really happened after Dad’s heart attack last summer. Mom had called us in the middle of the night to tell us that Dad was in the ICU, and wasn’t expected to make it. We’d caught the first flight to Boston, and while Nick and I were sitting at Dad’s bedside, that weird magic I still couldn’t control had flared up and taken over again. I wasn’t sure at the time what I’d done, but then Dad had made what the doctors all called a miraculous recovery. I was never going to tell him that it had less to do with miracles and more to do with me.
Once Dad woke up, things got little strange for me. Stranger, anyway. I mean, this was the man who had thrown me out on my ass for being gay. And there I was with my lover. What was I supposed to say to him?
It had been Nick who said it. Once Dad was out of the ICU, Nick escorted me to my father’s room, and without hesitation told my father that he loved me and that he wanted my father’s permission to marry me. My heart had just about stopped when I heard that, and I missed the rest of the proposal, which Mom later told me involved Nick giving his pedigree and his professional CV. Dad, with his usual irascibility, had thrown me out, telling me to go wait in the hall while he “discussed things with Mr. Rozhenko.”
Which was how I ended up engaged to be married. It was something that I still had to keep reminding myself — that come next June, Nick and I were going to be getting married. The reality of it all made my head spin. My father, not only welcoming me back into the family, but welcoming my lover in, too? And agreeing not only to my marrying Nick, but offering to host the ceremony in the backyard of the house where I’d grown up. I felt like I’d fallen down the rabbit-hole. And I wasn’t all that certain I wanted out.
Part of me was a little worried that I’d done something, changed something in my father. That when I’d healed the damage done by the heart attack, I’d also changed something in his heart. Nick keeps telling me that magic doesn’t work like that, that I couldn’t have brought out anything that wasn’t already there. That it was probably the near-death experience that had driven it home to my dad just how petty he was being, and how much he missed his only son. I hoped he was right.
I decided I didn’t want to think anymore and rested my head on Nick’s shoulder, breathing in the scents of the fire and the live Christmas tree that Nick had insisted on buying and decorating for me.
“Happy, mily?” he murmured into my hair.
“A little sorry that we’re going to miss Christmas with the folks,” I admitted. “But otherwise? Yes, I’m happy.” I tipped my head back, expecting him to kiss me. Instead, he ran his finger down my exposed throat to hook on the chain that I wore, the one that marked me as his. He tugged gently and laughed.
“Shall I make you happier?”
I smiled, “Is that a proposition, Kolya?”
“Do you want it to be?” This time he did lean down and kiss me, his arm around my shoulder tightening as he pulled me to him. I closed my eyes and leaned into him, sliding my hand up under his sweater and tugging on his undershirt. He laughed against my lips and pulled back. “Not yet, you don’t,” he said, pushing my hand down. He gently pushed me back and the couch shifted as he stood up. “Take your clothes off. I’ll be right back.”