[Note From Frolic: We are so excited to announce our Festive Four Stories! Every week in December we will have a new short holiday story from 4 of your favorite authors. This Jude Sierra with the most adorable LGBTQ+ story.]
“You’re late.” Sam cornered him fourteen feet into the ballroom.
“Geez, what, were you waiting for me?”
“Yes.” She straightened his tie even as she scolded him.
“Sam,” he put his hand on hers. “You look gorgeous.” Her skin was luminous against the gold of her dress, the bronze glitter of eyeshadow, hair swept and curled starlet fashion over one shoulder.
She paused and then smiled. “Thank you. You clean up quite well, yourself.”
“I try.” He tugged her fussing hands away from his shoulders.
“However, not even your stunning good looks will distract me from the fact that this started hours ago and you’re only just waltzing in.”
“Sam, I never promised to come. I said I’d try.” Truth was, it had taken him hours of waffling to convince himself to go out. A continued silence from Ben was pressing anxiety into him, making it impossible to focus on anything else.
“I assumed we both knew that meant you were coming.”
“You know what they say about assuming, Sam.”
She switched gears abruptly. “So, do you want a drink? You do. I—hey would you get me one?”
“Are you okay? You’re all twitchy. You wanna come with me?”
Sam smiled, tight, eyes slightly off center. “No, I see Dean over there, I think he’s stuck in a conversation he needs rescuing from.”
Dean was talking to Liv. “Wha- Are you sure you’re okay?”
“A Dragonfly please. Top shelf. I’m treating myself today, you know?”
“Okay, the babbling is weirding me out, you can stop trying to act normal. I’ll get you a drink, which you obviously need.” Her fingernail was sharp when she poked him.
“I’m fine. You’re fine. It’s all great.”
“Uh, yeah, ‘kay. Be right back.”
The bar was surrounded by what seemed like half a ballroom of strangers waiting for a drink. Micah settled himself behind a snappish couple deciding on drinks—it seemed neither approved of the other’s choice, which made very little sense to Micah—when he saw him. Two people down stood an unmoving Ben. And god, he was gorgeous, fitted in a tailored suit in dark blue whose sheen was festive but understated and subtle. Ben nudged his way through the crowd, shouldering his way through toward Micah.
“Uh, what?” Wow, he sure was articulate under pressure.
“Hi?” Ben’s hands were tucked deep into his pockets. Micah rarely saw Ben anything less than confident, but his posture was so unfamiliar he had the urge to make sure Ben wasn’t a hallucination born of anxiety and longing.
“What are you…I thought you were-”
“Surprise?” Ben shrugged with one shoulder.
“Are you going to speak in questions all night?” Micah twitched, a splinter of irritation bleeding into the words. He’d been reaching out to Ben for days, assuming he was in California, heading back to work. “Hold on. Did you come back or have you been here?”
“I can explain, I swear.”
“Explain what? You don’t owe me anything.” Micah’s fingers cramped into tight fists.
Ben leveled him with a look. “Don’t do that. You can be upset, and you have a right to that. But I do owe you respect. We owe it to each other. Because we’re friends.” Chatter and music, the clinking of champagne flutes and cutlery on plates stole volume from an already quiet follow-up. “Always, right?”
Micah turned. The ballroom overflowed with anticipation, with celebratory joy. Beautiful people in a beautiful place, ready to share hope for change in the coming year. He was a pocket of dark in a glittering room, and he knew it. He didn’t belong, and yet he’d convinced himself to try.
“So, confession,” Ben said, bringing his attention back. “I’m moving home. I’ve been so homesick, and I feel like I’m missing so much of Maggie’s life. There was a job posting at an LGBT youth center in Monticello that’s perfect for me. But it wasn’t a sure thing, not until a couple of days ago. Everything was mixed up and I was messed up and I didn’t know how to tell you. Not after we left everything how it was.”
“Wait…back up.” He narrowly missed hitting the woman next to him with his flailing hand.
“Here, come with me,” Ben said, nodding toward the doors. Micah let himself be steered out, Ben’s hand gentle but sure at his elbow. The lobby was mostly empty. It was close to midnight, everyone preparing for the ball to drop.
“Were you going to tell me?”
“Of course.” Ben could lie. Micah had seen him do it. Over a decade of friendship and private intimacy had taught Micah exactly what he looked like when he did, the way guilt vibrated through his posture and tight smile. He wasn’t lying.
“There are… reasons. Why I was waiting. I wanted to be sure it was going to happen, I had a whole plan”
Ben spoke fast, fingers tight in his lap and eyes on the floor. “Yeah, but then Christmas happened and I thought, well, no, it’ll never work. He won’t want-”
“He?” Cold, and then a buzzing heat washed over Micah. Surely Ben’s babbling meant something else. Anything else.
Ben’s eyes darted up then, held Micah’s so steadily, intensity Micah felt in his bones. “We have trust right? No matter what happens, you’re my friend and I’m yours. You have to promise.”
“Ben. Of course.” Micah’s heart felt like breaking. “I love you no matter what.”
“Okay.” Ben took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and breathed again. “Well. I love you too.” Micah breathed with him, matching exhales without meaning too. “I mean… Micah, I love you. I’m in love with you. I have been.”
“You- what? You can’t…” Ben’s words sunk in slow motion, bursting inside Micah one after another. “Wait a minute. How long?”
“Um.” Ben shifted. “Kind of always. But it never seemed right. I was leaving for California. Then I was in California. I wanted to tell you but the timing was always wrong. Whenever we were together it felt exactly right and then after I was sure I’d imagined that there could be… more. This trip home, it seemed like…” Ben shook his head. “I guess I fooled myself into thinking it could happen because I was moving home. Wishful thinking. I knew when you pulled away at Christmas-”
“Ben, I thought you wanted that. It was always a secret.”
“I know. And it was really fun, still. Anything more was an impossibility, so I never pushed it. I don’t want you to think I’ve been pining or that this has been painful or you’ve done anything wrong. But this time… I wanted to tell you. Maybe to see if it could be a possibility. And I know it wasn’t fair for me to be so hurt or to give you the silent treatment. I just needed to work some things out.”
“Wow.” The marble wall was cold against his back. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. I meant what I said about always being your friend.”
“But Ben. I’m me.”
“What does that mean?”
“You could have anyone!” Micah’s voice carried down the now empty hall. Revelry echoed from the ballroom. Midnight was almost upon them.
“Micah.” Ben took his hand. He looked so sad then, sad in a way Micah had never seen. “You’re right. No one is you. You are everyone to me.”
Micah twitched a smile. “That makes no sense.”
“Everyone pales compared to you, for me. And I tried to show you, in little ways.” Ben closed his eyes. Micah could see how the words hurt him to say. “Do you really feel like I’m too good for you?”
Micah had read an article once about the correlation between confidence and attractiveness. Nodding in agreement definitely wouldn’t help him any but he couldn’t bring himself to be dishonest.
“So all of those moments I thought we were having-” Ben started.
“I thought I must be imagining, so I told myself they couldn’t be what I wanted,” Micah finished.
“But they weren’t your imagination. Never.”
Naked emotion bled from Ben; warmth washed over and through Micah. Ben was a dream he never let himself linger on, a longing he buried out of sheer self-preservation.
“You love me,” he whispered. Ben’s finger ghosted over his cheekbone. Micah blinked. He was crying. His chest was so tight and he couldn’t breathe.
“I really, really do.”
“Oh, my god.” Micah gasped in a breath, and then another. Everything was white and buzzing and Ben telling him to breathe, just take a breath sweetheart, was too much. Ben was everything he’d ever wanted but never thought he’d deserved.
“Oh god, no Micah don’t say that,” Ben whispered. Micah realized too late he’d spoken out loud. “Don’t, don’t.” His palms were hot against Micah’s cheeks. “You deserve it all. You deserve every bit of love, and you need to stop forbidding yourself to have it.”
Micah closed his eyes. He exhaled and felt the heat of Ben’s body. The softness of his palms, a touch he was so familiar with. Funny how some words could change everything—could change the meaning behind a touch he’d known for years.
“Ben,” he whispered. “Would you kiss me?”
“Yes.” Ben spoke, soft against Micah’s lips. Micah held so still; letting go, understanding what a kiss could be like when you loved someone so. Noise swelled around them. Every nerve in his body strained toward Ben, his heart a drumbeat that thundered Ben’s name. Micah’s fingers were in Ben’s hair and the fizz of champagne was in his kiss.
“It’s the New Year.” Ben broke away, thumb catching Micah’s bottom lip.
“Is it? For us, to keep?”
“Yes.” Ben kissed his cheeks. “It is.”
Micah cocked his head, caught by the laughter in Ben’s voice and the amusement lining his eyes.
“But also, it’s the New Year. Do you hear them?”
Of course the swelling noise he’d heard a moment before was more than just Micah’s heart spilling into Ben’s hands. The sounds of party-goers cheering and singing rang through the ballroom doors.
“What’s your resolution?” Micah pulled away and this time, let himself trace the slope of Ben’s nose and his lovely cheekbones and the long line of his throat.
“Well, I had to change it,” Ben said.
“When you kissed me.” Ben’s eyes danced in the bright lights of the lobby. Revelers spilled out of the ballroom, trailing streamers and confetti, the high of a transitional moment palpable in laughter and bright chatter.
“Tell me,” Micah murmured against Ben’s lips. Permission to kiss whenever and wherever he wanted might prove a dangerous, dangerous liberty.
“If you’ll have me: to keep loving you, just like this. Because I’ve loved you for years and I want so, so badly to give you this every day. So that you’ll always know that you are worthy. That you are incredible. That you can trust me. I know I can’t make up for the things you’ve lost, and I don’t want to or expect to do that. But from now on, and this day forward, I want to promise to give you love.”
“And what about you?”
Ben smirked. “Well, I wouldn’t mind the same.”
“I’ve never really done this resolution thing. That doesn’t sound too shabby, actually.”
“Yeah?” Ben’s hopefulness, the way his whole body strained toward him and his face lit up, were everything.
“Okay, here goes. Ben, I love you too, and I have for a while. I’m sorry I’ve held myself back. I was scared. I can’t promise not to fuck things up every now and then because of it. I won’t be perfect-”
“Micah, I don’t want you perfect.”
“Good. Because neither of us could do that.” Micah laughed, a small thing, an exhale against Ben’s cheek that was relief and also comfortably familiar.
“And all the other stuff? Wanna do the being in love thing? With me?”
“Yeah.” Micah stretched up into another kiss, one perhaps too intimate for where they were. One that promised heat and a long night speaking a new language with their bodies. But also, so much more. “Let’s be in love.”
Author’s Note: I would like to thank Leigha Smith for being a fantastic editor for this piece.