[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.]
[Click Here for Chapter One]
Ben: The eagle has landed. I repeat, the eagle has landed.
Ben: And by that I mean, I’m at baggage claim.
Micah: Good lord, never do that again. In cell phone lot, heading over
Micah: In pickup lane. Door bay 2
Ben: K. Bag acquired. The eagle is going to land again. Which car?
Micah: A Rav4, bright red. But no eagles allowed. There’s a sign on the bumper that clarifies this is an eagle fr- the door popped open before he could get the text out.
“Never mind, I figured it out,” Ben said through a laugh. Micah started to get out to open up the trunk but Ben waved him off. “I got it.”
“Hey you,” Micah said when Ben slid into the seat. He smelled amazing, like citrus and mint, and looked even better. Dark-haired and blue-eyed with pale Irish skin, Ben was the kind of gorgeous that needed no work. He looked good no matter what he wore, no matter how much trouble he took with his appearance. Micah wasn’t even sure Ben was aware of how magnetic he was, how effortlessly charismatic. He navigated the world with charm, without hubris, without expectation. He simply was.
Being around Ben made everyone feel more confident. Hell, he always ended up making Micah feel more confident. Ben believed in everyone he loved as if being worthy of that love was a given.
Micah, on the other hand, questioned himself over even the smallest changes and choices. Every new job, every attempted relationship, every move, he worried over potential failure like he was rubbing at a stone until it was smooth and fit into his hand, molded by anxiety into a perfect shape for his palm.
Ben thumped him on the shoulder. “Hey, earth to Micah.”
“Yeah, hi, sorry.” Micah shook his head, hoping to clear it. He flipped on his turn signal as he pulled out of the pickup lanes. “Didn’t sleep well last night. I love staying in a hotel because it always feels like I’m getting away with something decadent, but the first night is always strange, you know?”
“I guess. I don’t get to stay in hotels very often.”
“Staying with family is a way better deal,” Micah said. He tossed Ben a smile to let him know there was no bitterness to the words. “That’s a whole different kind of treat.”
“How are you?” Ben’s careful gaze was as potent as any touch. Although he tried not to, Micah always resented these sorts of careful questions, trotted out every holiday season. How are you doing? You holding up? He resented being the closest to an actual orphan at orphan’s Christmas, where anyone passing through town or without family to celebrate would come together with whichever member of the Ryan clan was hosting that year. Ben meant well, and he cared, but Ben also got to come home to a big family that always loved him no matter what. Micah got to come home to that family as well because his own family had given him up. He was much luckier than many, many others, but it still wasn’t the easiest pill to swallow. “Any word from your family?”
Last Micah heard, they’d moved to a new house in Columbus, Ohio, but he didn’t know where. It didn’t matter. He merged onto the expressway. “Ben, it’s been over ten years. There won’t ever be word from them. It’s fine. I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry,” Ben said. He reached over and squeezed Micah’s forearm gently. He ran his hand up to Micah’s; he was gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white.
“I’ve come to terms with it,” Micah insisted. “I have.”
“I’ve never understood that,” Ben said.
“What, my parents disowning me?”
“No. Well, yes, because it’s fucked up and terrible humans always confuse me. But no. I mean how we’re conditioned to think that coming to terms with something means we’re done grieving or being upset. You can be both. You can know that it is what it is and it won’t change and move on, and still be hurt.”
Micah mulled Ben’s words over. “Yeah,” he said softly. “I guess that’s true.”
“What?” Ben asked, careful and quiet.
“It’s easier my way, but I can see how that may not the best way.”
“Pretending it didn’t happen and hiding behind grumpy sarcasm?”
Micah laughed, because Ben was trying to cheer him up and banter was easy. “Someone’s been talking to their sister,” Micah sang.
“Oh I didn’t need to. The moment I got glitter bombed by Christmas trees I knew that somewhere out there, Micah was cursing this cruel, cruel world.”
“So what you’re saying is that I’m predictable.”
“Absolutely. It’s pretty cute.”
“Well then,” Micah said, resisting the urge to preen. “Success. I’ve worked hard to build this prickly exterior and reputation.”
“You are the most ridiculous,” Ben said. “You can act as grumpy as you want, we all know-”
“Benjamin Kelley Ryan, do not dare to besmirch my reputation with slander.” Micah laughed so hard he almost missed his exit off the expressway.
“I would never. I take it back. Your heart is made of anger and stone, blah blah.” Ben adjusted the seat, glancing back to make sure he had room, eyes lingering on the car seat Micah had set up for Maggie.
“Sorry,” Micah said. “The only person who ever rides with me is Sam.”
“I can see. Oh yeah, total heart of stone stuff back here.” Ben turned and plucked something from the floor behind Micah. The heat of Ben’s skin when their arms pressed together brought goosebumps to Micah’s. He winced when Ben held up Pebbles, the stuffed kitten Micah had given Maggie when she was born.
“Well, I mean- I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like, but it helps to have stuff, so when I take them Sam doesn’t have to do things like fuck around with moving the car seat. I swear Sam is counting down the days until Maggie is big enough for a booster seat. You need an advanced degree for some of these things.” He didn’t feel defensive, exactly, about how much he doted on Maggie. A little exposed maybe, like loving her so much stripped some of his armor. “Um. Yeah.”
“How is Sam anyway?” Ben asked after a protracted silence. Micah knew he saw right through his nervous chatter but allowed for a subject change anyway. “I didn’t realize she wasn’t coming until you texted me.”
“Really? I’m sorry-”
“Don’t be. This is a nice surprise. Really nice. You look great, by the way.” Ben’s eyes lingered, taking his time studying Micah’s face. Micah ran his hand nervously over his hair, which he hadn’t had time to tame.
“She said she’d text you. Liv needs last minute help with some wedding stuff, some of your cousins got sick.”
“Oh, no, Micah, please tell me you’re taking me to Sam’s?”
“Oh, thank god, I do not want to get roped into one of Liv’s crafts-”
“Oh buddy,” Micah said. ”Sweet summer child.”
“You’re laughing at me,” Ben said. “Oh, fuck my life, tell me they aren’t there.”
“Sorry, man.” Micah bit back a grin. “Sam told me to tell you that Liv said it was all hands on deck.”
“Well, call Sam and tell her I said no. C’mon, we can go back to your hotel.”
“Jeez, Mr. Ryan, proposition a guy much?”
“Shut up,” Ben smacked the back of his hand against Micah’s shoulder. “You know that’s not what I mean. We could watch replays of old football games or something.”
A lesser person, someone who didn’t understand, would be smarting from rejection. Micah knew it wasn’t rejection. It was drawn out anticipation. Ben was here alone, Micah was dateless. Everything seemed like a given. “No can do,” Micah said. “I’m terrified of both Liv and Sam right now and football sucks.”
There had been a time when that ease of anticipation hadn’t existed. In college, they’d rarely slept together. They never planned it, they didn’t flirt around it; half the time Micah forgot about it. It was fun and spontaneous. Easy. Not because it was a sure thing, but because Ben knew Micah and Micah knew Ben. Ben knew almost everything about Micah, even the clumsy parts. The ones that made mistakes and struggled. Ben never failed to show Micah that he found him attractive even when Micah knew he paled in comparison to the men Ben dated. Sleeping with Ben was a decadence, something to be parceled out.
Despite the contradiction, this was a part of what made it casual. Perhaps that’s how they learned to make it that way, even in the years after college, when they rarely saw each other and it was a treat turned into a kind of game.
“You suck,” Ben grumbled.
“I’ve been known to, on occasion.” Micah almost managed to deliver the line without cracking up. Ben snorted. His laughter filled the car, a sound that rose into Micah’s chest. Ben’s laughter felt more like the holidays than any music or decorations or even gifts.
“That’s food for thought,” Ben said. “Kind of really delicious food for thought.”
Micah slowed and turned right, pulling onto a quiet street with houses decked out in all the garish trappings of the holiday: inflatable snowmen, flashing lights, beat-up nativity scenes. Sam’s small bungalow was almost lost in the sea of bad taste, lit up like a tiny gingerbread house, with large colored Christmas lights lining the outside—even the peaked roof.
“I try,” Micah said. He touched the back of Ben’s hand and leaned in for a hug. “I’ll see you later right?” He laughed and squirmed away when Ben turned his face into Micah’s neck, tickling the sensitive skin under his ear.
“You know it,” Ben said.
It was going on eight o’clock when Micah’s phone buzzed with a text.
Ben: How dare you leave me defenseless with this?
A picture came through: a table strewn with tiny candy canes and red and silver ribbons.
Micah: please tell me Liv doesn’t want the tables to look like that.
Ben: What do you care, you hate Christmas. You’ve spread your darkness and now I hate it too.
Micah: Those are heavy words Ben. You’re just filled with crafting ennui.
Ben: This is what Liv says is supposed to be happening.
Another picture came through, this one obviously from a website. Small candy canes were inverted and stuck together, wrapped in curled ribbons. Sprigs of evergreen cradled a place card carefully set in the curves of each.
Micah: oh, that has Pinterest fail all over it.
Ben: This whole wedding is a Pinterest fail. I have no idea what Liv was thinking. They won’t stand up. They’re impossible to tie, they just slip around. She’s freaking out.
Micah: Well it would probably help if you stuck three candy canes together and not two.
Ben: Oh. That’s….okay that’s totally in the example picture. How did we miss that?
Micah: I don’t know. You told me the eagle had landed. Where did your superior eagle eye go?
Ben: Fuck you. He sent an emoji of a head exploding. Sam is trying but they’re still so finicky when you tie them.
Micah: Maybe glue dots between them so they stay in place a little? I don’t know that they’ll be perfect but it might help.
During a long silence, Micah finished drying off. He’d gone for a long swim after dinner to get out of his head and followed it with a longer shower.
Ben: Okay, I’ve consulted Liv and she is demanding your presence.
Micah: Yeah right. I’m no fool, I wasn’t born yesterday. You’re on your own bud.
He’d barely sent the text when the loud jangling of Christmas bells—his new ringtone for Liv—erupted. Micah was so startled he almost dropped his phone into the sink. Normally, that sound meant run for the hills, but avoiding a call from a bride two days before a wedding when he knew said bride was freaking out was cold, even for him.
“You have to come, you have to go buy glue dots and come,” Liv said on one breath.
“Uh, yeah, hi Liv. How’s it going?”
“Awful, and I don’t have time for niceties. Please, please save me from incompetent crafters. All I needed were candy cane placeholders. I’m trying to spray paint pinecones and I think I’m a little high from the fumes and there’s glitter everywhere. I implore you. I call upon a decade of friendship. I promise you snickerdoodles for days.”
“Okay, okay.” Micah relented. “Screw the incompetents, but I will work for your snickerdoodles.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Liv’s voice broke. Jeez, now he felt guilty for being an ass.
“It’s no problem,” he said, pulling on a shirt as he went. “I’m just messing around, I promise-”
“I don’t need your sentiment, soldier. I need results.” And there she was, his assertive, sharp girl.
“Aye, aye.” And if Micah accidentally saluted when he said it, there were no witnesses to attest.
“Glue dots. Lots of them,” Liv demanded. “And gold glitter too. There’s no such thing as too much glitter right now.”
Micah stared at the phone when she hung up. Where the fuck did one acquire glue dots and glitter at eight o’clock?
Ben: Please, for the love of all that is holy, come fast.
Micah: That’s not a line you hear every day.
Ben: You’re hearing it now. Did she tell you about the glitter? Micah, I’m worried she might need a twelve-step program.
Micah: Believe me, I know. It haunts me still. Pretty sure I found a confetti tree in my bed the other day and it’s been weeks.
Ben: Yeah there was one on my sweater after I got out of your car earlier.
Micah: Okay. Intervention is in order. After the wedding.
Micah: On that note, tell her I am on my way. Should I get food or anything?
Ben: I’d say yes because I’m starving but I’m also scared to stop because she is genuinely terrifying right now.
He pulled out his car keys, grabbed his wallet, and did a quick search to find the nearest craft store that might still be open. As he jogged down the stairs, he pulled up the number for the closest pizza place to Sam’s and, guessing at the number of cousins that might have been roped into helping, ordered a shit ton of food to pick up on the way.