[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 kidding me.” Micah stopped dead when the crowd from the wedding chapel began to back up at the doors to the reception hall. Nicole, who had sat next to him during the ceremony, wobbled on her pencil thin heels.
“What?” Nicole pulled away from him.
“Do we seriously have to wait outside right now?”
“They’re doing pictures with the wedding party in the hall before people are let in.”
Micah pulled her closer for warmth. “I’ll keep my opinions on that to myself. I’ve been told I’m a terrible sport.”
She knocked their shoulders together, a fond response to his characteristic sarcasm. “Come on.” She tugged at him. “I see Owen and Amanda over there, let’s go say hi.” The wind whipped up, tossing strands of her curled blond hair into his face. They were rough to the touch when he tucked them behind her ear, sticky with hair spray. Nicole had always been the most beautiful woman he knew; the kind that needed no makeup, no attention to stun. She shivered when the wind kicked up again, harder.
“Ok, you’re wearing a coat and are freezing. What if someone didn’t bring winter attire? You have to admit-”
“Okay, can the downer routine.” She squeezed his arm “First of all, it’s December in Minneapolis. Anyone without a coat is a dumbass. Second, look, hot chocolate.”
Everyone was congregating against a small stand, strung with bright multicolored bulbs and boughs of evergreen. A sign propped next to a tip jar read Baby it’s Cold Outside with a small menu of warm beverages under it. Micah snorted; it was cute, but a little on the nose and such a Liv thing to do. This was a Christmas wedding to a T, with tiny moments of irreverent humor tucked in. He had to admire the stealth and cunning that went into planning a wedding designed to go over the top while going to great lengths to limit guests.
Micah opted for plain hot chocolate, no alcohol. He wanted a clear head tonight, which meant pacing himself. Despite the hot chocolate and laughter shared with friends, Micah couldn’t feel his fingers by the time they were let into the hall. The chapel was pretty and more tasteful than he’d anticipated, but the hall made it easily the most beautiful wedding he’d been to. Even the placeholders, which he’d thought too cutesy, delicately complimented the centerpieces.
Nicole switched her placeholder with Owen’s when no one was looking, running a finger over the champagne glasses already set at their table. A heavy red syrup collected at the bottom, fading up to a lovely gold champagne, with sprigs of what looked like evergreen (but which upon investigation turned out to be rosemary) and a couple of cranberries as garnish.
“Weird,” Micah said just as Nicole spoke.
“These are so cool.” She laughed at his wink and strung her arm through his, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’ve missed you, Micah. I’m so glad I flew in for this.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I’ve missed you too. I feel like it’s been years since I’ve seen you. A lot of people. It’s college all over agai-”
He was interrupted by the sudden crash of noise. Eye of the Tiger began thumping from speakers their table was parked up against.
“Of all the clichés,” Micah moaned just as the DJ announced the wedding party. Despite the obviously worn out and cheesy music, cheers rose from the party-goers. They might have been dragged out here on a Christmas weekend, but based on the guest list, even Micah felt like it was going to be an amazing night.
After the side-splitting meal, after the toasts and the endless first dances, the real party began. Ben had honestly never looked as good as he did. The cut of his tuxedo perfectly accented his lean, long body, a red vest highlighting his green eyes. More than anything else in the room, Ben looked like Christmas personified—only more beautiful than anything else in sight.
Well, except Liv, who was radiant. And Sam, who, when forced into a dress, went from pretty to bombshell. Of course, their kind of beautiful and Ben’s, who was now approaching with two drinks in hand, weren’t nearly the same thing.
“I’ve barely seen you,” Ben said. The old fashioned he pressed into Micah’s hand, once tasted, was perfectly balanced.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Micah turned so only Ben could hear him. “I feel like I’ve been seeing nothing but you. You look-”
“Micah,” Ben interrupted. “I don’t have words for how good you look tonight. It’s a gorgeous suit, too.” Ben flicked Micah’s tie, mischievous eyes and a dangerous smile unwavering. “I can’t wait to get you out of it.”
Lust, anticipation, and the tingle of nerves hit so hard Micah almost dropped his glass.
“There you are!” Sam popped up at their side. Micah swallowed his response; Ben’s cheeks flushed. “Micah, I demand a dance.”
“Really?” Micah set his glass down. “You’ve danced with your brother already, I’m just gonna make you look like a fool.”
“Nonsense.” She brushed invisible lint off of his shoulders. “Obviously I haven’t danced with all of my brothers if I’m asking you.”
He laughed to cover the pang her words caused, but also because he loved her so gratefully much. “Lead on, then.”
“Save me a dance,” Ben said and winked.
“Oh yeah sure,” Micah said with an eye roll. “The electric slide has your name all over it.”
An hour later, the dance floor was packed. Ties were undone, vests and coats slung over chairs. Liv’s hair was slipping from her beautiful updo; Nicole’s carefully curled hair was in a messy ponytail as she fanned herself. Laughter underpinned the thump of music, fun and alcohol and friendship stripping everyone of self-consciousness and in some cases, boundaries. Micah watched from one of the high top tables by the bar. Lisa, Amanda and Owen were doing shots with Greg’s family at the second bar across the room. Ben was in the center of it all, body a fluid ripple of movement, arms in the air, laughter bright in every line of his face. He was a beautiful dancer—always had been.
Even in college, Micah had been more content to watch others dance than to join. No matter how much he drank, he could never give in to the reckless abandonment of self-consciousness. He didn’t drink much as an adult, and definitely not tonight when he wanted a crystal clear memory of the night to come. Watching Ben was a more potent aphrodisiac than even the night of clandestine and fleeting flirtation they’d indulged. A fingertip brushed along the skin of Ben’s hand as they passed; Ben’s body, too warm from dancing, pressing against him in one long line as he made his way past a crowd toward the bar. The heated glances over the heads of friends.
Micah was contemplating another soda and risking a sugar overload when Ben grabbed his hand.
“Oh, geez!” Micah fumbled with his glass, heart thumping. “I didn’t see you.”
“Come on, it’s our song,” Ben said, laughter spilling over the shrill first notes of the Electric Boogie.
“Uh, that was a joke,” Micah said.
“Nuh-uh,” Ben said. Black hair spilled against his forehead. His eyes were so bright, even in the half-dark and flashing lights. He fished the cherry out of Micah’s drink, took his glass and set it down. “You promised.” He slipped the cherry between Micah’s lips and his hand over Micah’s hip. Those eyes and the spell they cast, the tension ratcheting to an unbearable need, would make a reckless fool of anyone. Micah wanted Ben so painfully he would have thrown all caution to the wind if Ben hadn’t blinked and stepped back. His palm was hot, running down Micah’s arm to link fingers and tug him onto the dance floor. He spun Micah, once, fast and fluid.
“Just one dance,” he whispered, and settled Micah in front of him. “All you have to do is follow directions.”
Oh fucking hell. Micah closed his eyes.
“Micah!” Sam popped up at his side. Liv and Greg were in front of him, the beautiful lace train of her dressed pinned up, hand curled tight together with Greg’s. To Micah’s left, Amanda grabbed his arm and tugged him to the left, to the left with the song. Ben’s hands on his shoulders guided him backwards. Micah didn’t even attempt the cha-cha until Liv spun to take his hands and showed him, slow and goofy.
Micah was awful, with no rhythm and stiff joints and still too aware of himself, but really, nothing else mattered. Not in a pocket of found family, of love. Liv was giggling, Ben’s hand was between his shoulder blades, Sam was so beautiful and alive, and at nearly thirty, Micah had more love than his heartbroken twenty-year-old self ever could have dreamed.
Breathless with laughter and damp with sweat, Micah found Ben reclined against a mostly empty bar an hour later. Ben was rumpled, casual body language and direct look an invitation for touch.
“I can drive,” Micah said, so far past coyness.
“You sure?” Ben nodded at the sweating glass in Micah’s hand.
“Here.” Micah held it out, straw between his fingers. Ben’s lips closed around it. Micah snorted and laughed at his wince.
“What is that?”
“A Shirley Temple.”
“Seriously? Are you ten years old?” Ben turned and Micah followed. They collected their coats and said their goodbyes. Sam was still on the dance floor, a shade past tipsy, but smiling dreamily at her husband Dean.
“I wanted a clear head.” Micah said. Out in the dark, the wind cut through his sweat-damp hair, against his bare hands and exposed throat. In the large, silent night, stars scattered like confetti above them. It was a night for chances, a moment for recklessness. He took a risk, stepping close and thumbing the pulse point on Ben’s neck. “I’d like to remember everything.”
“Hell, yes.” Ben put his hand over Micah’s and leaned down for a kiss.
Micah stepped away when their lips brushed, a teasing smile and soft fingers tracing Ben’s jaw. He nodded toward the hall. “Save it,” he suggested.
They didn’t speak in the car. Silence, heavy with anticipation, followed them into the mirrored elevator, where they stood at opposite sides and didn’t break eye contact once. Micah caught a glimpse of his reflection behind Ben; hair a tousled mess, red-cheeked, and hungry for more.
Micah kept himself out of Ben’s reach until the hotel room door closed behind them and he’d flipped on the lights. Ben leaned against the door, waiting. Even clothed, still not touching, there was a nakedness, an intense intimacy to the suspended breath between the here and the then. Ben’s skin was hot against Micah’s finger when he cupped Ben’s face, but his lips were just as warm.
Ben let him do what he wanted. He touched Micah’s sides gently and sighed beautifully against the teasing touch of Micah’s mouth. Sugar from Micah’s drink was fed back to him, hunger in the teasing dance of Ben’s tongue, the blazing heat of potential between their bodies.
Micah gave in. A button popped off of Ben’s shirt when Micah pulled him in. Ben laughed, fingers fumbling with Micah’s shirt as well. He edged Micah back and with only the light from the entry spilling across the bed, they undressed each other in the crush of desperation for touch they’d teased and built over the last few days.
After, in a room only half lit, Micah couldn’t stop touching Ben; the curves of his biceps, the way his hips jutted out when he lay on his back, the contrast of soft inner thigh and the powerful muscles of his quads. Micah’s palms and fingertips and lips wanted to memorize every inch of Ben’s body. Sex with Ben was always a powerful force; it moved Micah. Every time after, he felt himself and world realigning until he filled his skin more comfortably than ever. Then Ben left, and he thought maybe he’d imagined it all.
Still, Micah rarely let himself do this with Ben. Showing Ben he was wanted was one thing, but showing him how much he wanted was another. How he ached to glut himself on Ben until he was drunk on his smell and the salt of his skin.
“What’s this about?” Ben’s fingers lingered, playing with Micah’s hair, which he was reasonably sure was standing on end.
“Sorry,” Micah said and pulled away from where he’d been nibbling his way from one hipbone to another. “It’s been a while.”
“For us?” Ben kept Micah still, preventing him from pulling away.
“Well that too, but in general. I can stop if you want.” Ben’s finger was gentle against his lips, quieting Micah with the lightest touch. He sat up, slinging an arm around Micah’s waist to pull him closer.
“Please don’t,” Ben said against Micah’s mouth.
This time, it was slow. A tease and a build unlike the dance they’d engaged in for days. Years, even. Micah rocked against him and with each kiss, Ben’s desperation, his abandon, stripped Micah in a way they’d never been together. Ben’s body and heart were a gift, Micah understood suddenly, and he was getting to unwrap them.
“You feel so familiar,” Ben whispered. “It’s like home.”
Micah closed his eye, biting back a surge of emotion, desperately clinging to any barrier, the last vestiges of that wall protecting him from the world.
“I should hope so. We’ve done this enough.” Micah winced as soon as he spoke, wishing back the tone, the redirection away from an intimacy unusual for them. Ben’s eyes, which had been so steady, flickered away. Micah put a hand on his cheek. He kissed it and Ben’s lips, thumb tracing his cheekbone. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Ben rolled them over, bracketing Micah in his arms.
“Ben.” Micah cupped his face in trembling hands. His whole body strained toward Ben. Everything did, and it was too much, it was overwhelming and splintering through him, a dual surge of pleasure and a cresting wave of fear and affection and love. “It is like home.”
Micah didn’t see Ben again until Christmas Eve dinner. It was a quiet affair, Chinese takeout, a warm fire and the quiet hum of Christmas music while everyone recovered from the wedding. Sam’s small house was decked out in comfortably homey decorations he knew had been their parents’ from when the Ryans were kids. Maggie had long since fallen asleep on Micah’s lap.
Ben had left the hotel the morning after the wedding with a series of kisses to Micah’s shoulder and a smile pressed like a promise against his lips. Now those very lips moved around a laugh, sipped a drink, made quiet conversation. Micah tried very, very hard not to obsess. The memory of being stripped so vulnerably bare haunted him. He wanted more of Ben, wanted his touch and body with a greed that surprised him.
They never had this, days together after a night. Micah was conflicted; it was lovely to have so much time, yet fear and insecurity whispered behind each desire. He’d probably imagined the meaning behind the moment they’d shared. Ben would be gone soon, to his secure life and perfect-for-him job at a non-profit literacy center to a circle of friends completely foreign to Micah, into the arms of some gorgeous man Ben would surely meet—or had already met. He wouldn’t be alone, not for a moment.
Early the next day Micah snuck into the house with his spare key. Only Sam was up, shuffling sleepily around the Christmas tree in pajamas covered in dancing candy canes. Micah kissed each of her cheeks.
She snuggled into a hug and sighed out a good morning. “What are those?” she asked suspiciously, waking enough to notice the overstuffed garbage bag at their feet.
“I swear, only half of those are for Maggie,” he said, shying away when she pinched his side.
“They’d better be.” Sam sat under the tree and helped him distribute the gifts. There were small ones for everyone, and okay, maybe more than fifty percent were for Maggie. “Micah, you have to stop spoiling her.”
“Well, who else am I going to spoil?” He’d meant to joke, but it fell flat. Sam took his hand.
“It’ll happen for you,” she promised. “It’s just the baby fever. Makes you feel more alone. You won’t be, always.”
Micah smiled because she wanted him to, but couldn’t quite make himself believe.
“Morning,” Ben said, and they both startled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Oh, hey, no worries.” Micah gestured vaguely. “I’ll be right back.” He hurried down to the small bathroom to splash water on his face. In the mirror he practiced a smile. The holidays always made him maudlin; it was easier to wear sarcasm and reticence to combat them than let himself give in.
“Hey.” Ben opened the door enough to slip in. “You okay?”
“Of course,” Micah dried his face on a hand towel and moved to leave. The bathroom was so small and Ben filled every room he was ever in.
“No, really.” Ben stilled him, touched his cheek and checked Micah’s eyes.
“Ben.” Micah covered Ben’s hand with his own. “I’ll be fine. I always am.”
“You don’t always have to be, you know.” Ben’s eyes were spring green, still sleepy but unafraid. They were too direct and sweet; Micah told himself to step away, to leave the room, not to return the kiss he knew was coming.
But he didn’t, because he was a traitor to his best interests, because nothing seemed more important than Ben’s mouth and hands and care right then. Because when Ben’s mouth touched his, nothing was so loud as Micah’s heart.
“Oh, oh my god.” Sam’s voice, shocked and too loud broke through the moment. Micah jerked away and oh, fuck, Dean was right behind her. Ben didn’t move, not even when Micah slipped from his arms and straightened his shirt.
“Um.” He looked at Ben for help, but Ben was oddly still, painfully silent. The silence was interminable, and too short, and heartbreaking; a silence in which Micah realized how foolishly he’d put his heart in Ben’s hands without meaning to. “Wow, yeah. I think the holiday blues are getting the best of me.” Micah forced levity into his tone, a smile from his mouth. “That or last night’s eggnog was way more potent than I realized.”
Sam searched both of their faces. Dean hid a smile behind a cough and walked away.
“Ben?” Sam’s voice jerked him into movement. Ben pulled away and smiled. It wasn’t right, it fit his face all wrong. Everything about Ben’s body and tone was wrong in a way Micah couldn’t quantify. As if he were ashamed; as if he hadn’t just been kissing Micah like there was no one in the world so important and deserving of that attention.
“Yeah, must’ve been the eggnog,” Ben repeated, brushing past them both with a wink and a shrug. Micah twisted his fingers together and avoided Sam’s gaze, the weight of his own foolishness tight in his chest. Of course Ben would pull away. Of course Ben could play it casual, because it was casual. It always had been and it wasn’t his fault that Micah had quite suddenly and with painful clarity realized that every feeling he’d named friendship and ease was perilously close to a thing called love.
“Micah,” Sam whispered.
“What?” Defensiveness and anxiety coiled through his muscles.
“You and I are having some words later.” There was no threat in her tone. No censure. A demand nonetheless, an assurance that neither he nor Ben would be able to brush a stolen moment caught under the table.