I think about the winter holidays as more of an entity than a season. It isn’t merely a time of year for me; it carries with it all the years that have come before and all the ones I look forward to in the future.
My family is growing up. I hardly believed when I was putting together that first Little Tyke’s Country Kitchen that –this soon– I’d be watching my oldest go off on her first date. I still remember staying up all night on Christmas Eve, putting together toys, my eyes heavy and gritty as I followed the instructions and stuck on all those annoying little stickers. Who knew that the time it takes to put those on is inversely proportionate to the time it takes a toddler to peel them off and eat them?
It stands to reason that if I’m feeling a little nostalgic, it might be fun to get in touch with some old friends to see if they have a special holiday memory they like to share.
With that in mind, I hopped into my car and headed over to Apple House, the shelter for GLBT teens run by my friends Michael Truax and his longtime lover, Tristan. I made a quick stop in Fullerton to pick up a number of boxes of See’s Chocolates, because no one likes to go visiting empty-handed. Since it’s such a sunny, lovely day here in southern Cali, even though the air is a relatively crisp 60 degrees, I found Tristan outside doing what he likes best, showing off his skills on the skateboard.
“Hey,” I waved as he did a quick kickflip and neatly pushed the board off to a kid who was strapping on a new looking helmet. “Don’t you worry that one of these days your luck will run out or your bones will get brittle and you’ll break something?”
“I don’t dare.” Tristan shot me his brilliant smile and I admit to being dazzled by it. I didn’t see Michael come up from behind me until he caught me in a hug. “Officer Helmet would never forgive me.”
“Hi.” I hugged Michael back. Who can resist a hunk of man like Michael Truax? I offered him a box of chocolates, Nuts and Chews, because I know that Michael likes the crunch and Tristan lives on the wild side, dentally speaking, and can’t resist an opportunity to test the resolve of the fillings in his teeth. “I came by because I’m writing up a Christmas piece for Wave’s blog, you know Wave?”
“Jessewave?” Michael asked. “I love her! Jeez, did you see the one A.J. Llewellyn did about porn?”
Tristan cleared his throat but his pale freckly face colored violently. “Um.”
I laughed at him. “I’ll bet you bookmarked that.” I didn’t mention that I certainly had.
“So.” Michael gave Tristan an affectionate shove. “What’s up ZAM?”
“I thought I’d ask you if you have a favorite Christmas memory.”
Michael frowned in thought and Tristan took his hand.
“My favorite Christmas was the first one Michael and I spent together,” Tristan told me.
Michael snorted. “Because nothing says Christmas like getting stabbed.”
“That was bad.” Tristan agreed. “But I never knew how grateful I could be to see the sun rise on another day until I was sure you were going to be okay. They let you go home, remember? On Christmas Eve?”
“Yeah.” Michael cleared his throat. “And as I recall I got a little Christmas show…”
“Yes. Well.” If anything, Tristan’s color deepened. “For a while I wasn’t sure we were going to have that day to spend together.”
Tristan buffeted Michael with his shoulder.
“And now we have this.” Their eyes met and suddenly I was entirely de trop.
“Okay, well, yeah.” I told them, heading for my car as I watched the kid behind them mimic the move Tristan showed him. “I’ll be seeing you guys. Happy holidays!” They held hands and waved goodbye. Those two were so stinking happy that it could rain frogs and they wouldn’t notice or care.
From there it was only a short drive to Richard Hunter’s house, where I thought I’d stop in and see if Richard and Logan were taking advantage of the nice weather too… It was a cinch that if Nick had anything to say about it, he’d be outside riding his bike. When I parked in front of the attractive cul-de-sac home all three of them, Richard, Logan, and Nick, were outside putting up Christmas lights. Were there ever three more adorable people? I calculated that they’d been together a little over a year now, time flies…
Nick looked excited to be allowed on the ladder. While I watched, Nick reached for something and lost his balance. Logan was there to catch him easily after which Rick fussed with Nick’s jacket for a minute. I could tell it was out of sheer relief — that need you have sometimes to touch someone and make sure they’re all right. Everyone was laughing it off by the time I got out of the car.
I gave Logan a box of See’s soft centers, and when his beautiful blue eyes met mine I took it that he got my little joke. His was about as soft a center — where these two, Richard and Nick were concerned — as you could get.
“Hi ZAM,” he said. “How’s your holiday?”
I gave him a hug and then pulled Richard in. Nick wasn’t about to let me manhandle him so I sent a grin his way. “I’m having a great time.” I told him, and it was true, once I’d made up my mind to visit old friends, I was having a blast. “I came by to ask you if you had a special holiday memory. Something that sticks out in your mind that you can share with me, I’m writing a blog piece.”
Logan gazed at Richard who was smiling down at Nick. “Nick had an interesting Christmas last year.”
Nick brightened. “Oh, yeah. I wanted a Wii, but when I came downstairs on Christmas morning there was nothing Wii shaped under the tree. Santa left me a note though, and it had treasure map with clues for all over the neighborhood and I had to do what the map said were heroic deeds for people but they just turned out to be chores…” The kid’s face said exactly what he thought about that.
“And in the end, there was a place in Logan’s yard I had to dig up with a big shovel and I found a Wii wrapped in plastic inside a treasure chest.”
I looked to Richard and Logan, who were smiling serenely at the boy. “So you had a good time?”
Nick answered for everyone. “Yeah, it was awesome, there were worms everywhere and I cut one in half with my shovel on accident and it still kept wiggling. Both halves!”
“Yes, well.” His enthusiasm wasn’t contagious enough to make me want to picture that. “God bless us every one. I’m glad you had fun.”
At that Nick must have spotted something of interest down the street because he seemed to forget I was there and took off running.
“How about you two? Any special memories?” I asked Rick and Logan.
Logan pressed his lips together. “Not that I’d share.”
“I’d share.” Rick gave Logan a lethal leer. “But then he’d make me kill you.”
“Oh,” I stammered, stepping back. “Well that’s okay then.”
“He’s kidding.” Logan shot speaking glance at me. “I have no secrets anymore.”
Oops. Admittedly, I knew I’d had a lot to do with that. “I just wanted to stop by and say happy holidays, guys.” I gave Richard a hearty hug. Logan came over to get his share and thanked me for the candy.
“It’s good to see you,” I said as I got into my car. While I put on my seatbelt and adjusted my mirrors I couldn’t help but notice that Richard was hanging a single string of multicolored lights along the eves of his attractive colonial house. Over those, Logan was stringing a line of the white lights that dripped like icicles. They would be beautiful together at night when they were lit, as beautiful as these two were together. Sure, they were different, but when all was said and done, they simply glowed brighter together, like the lights would.
I made a mental note to drive by when they were all lit up, maybe take the kids out, grab some hot chocolates, and drive around looking at Christmas decorations like we used to. If my kids didn’t have other plans.
I pictured four kids in the back of my SUV, ranging from ‘tween to sixteen, all stoic faces and grim determination to deal with a family outing, each wearing their iPod headphones, each with a different music playing inside the very same heads that used to hold visions of dancing sugarplums… Yeah, right. I am the proud owner of a new iPod Touch and FIVE can play at that game…
I headed for San Clemente and caught Kevin and Connor as they were just leaving for a little exercise. Connor likes to run, and Kevin bikes alongside him. On a beautiful day like this, I knew they’d head for the beach. Kevin saw me when I got out of the car and came over, nudging his beach cruiser along the sidewalk. It seems wise to be careful with Kevin. I worry that he can read my mind. What I was thinking when I saw his tall, tan, and gorgeous lover step up along side us didn’t bear scrutiny. He shot me a knowing look.
“So can you read minds now?” I asked, feeling awkward.
“I read faces,” Kevin’s eyes twinkled as he threw an arm around Connor. “You look at my boy here like he’s the last cupcake at a kids’ birthday party.”
“Sorry.” I handed him a box of assorted dark chocolate candies, saying stupidly, “These are for you.” I’m sure I was blushing. Kevin is hot, hot, hot and I always feel slightly exposed.
Connor snorted. “Pay no attention to him, ZAM. He thinks everyone is a perve because he is.”
I didn’t want to tell Connor it was true.
“Do you guys have a favorite Christmas memory?” I changed the subject.
Connor smiled. “That’s easy,” he said. “This last year, we took the boat out with my family for the Christmas parade and Kevin didn’t faint or puke.” He smiled indulgently at Kev. “Even my mom admits he might have potential.”
“It’s been a banner year,” Kevin admitted drily.
I was thrilled for them. They’d more than earned it. Maybe Kevin was getting a handle on how to control his gift. From the look of things, Connor was still more than capable of handling Kevin.
We said good-bye and I headed back up the 55 freeway. Ready to make on final visit before heading home. I stopped at In-N-Out for a burger, fries, and a shake, a little insurance against the holiday blues, in case my share of nostalgia got out of hand.
Will Lanier answered the door when I arrived at Kelly Mackay’s house. He wore rubber gloves and carried one of those telescoping poles in his hand that had a big puff of fluffy lambs wool on the end. His imp’s smile crept across his face as his eyes twinkled. “It’s not what you think,” he said, gesturing me in.
I pulled the other one out from behind my back and gave it to him. “That one is for you and Dr. Adorable, and this one is for Kelly and Will. Are they here?”
Will’s face fell. “You just missed them. They headed out to visit Kelly’s mother. I have it on good authority she always does Auntie Mame this time of year.”
I pictured Kelly and Jae sitting quietly while his mother sang, “We Need a Little Christmas.” [I hoped that it was a good visiting day.]
“Well, maybe you can help me. Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?”
Will’s face lit up again, like a kids. “I do. From last year, after my accident.”
That was the year Kelly finally let everyone know he’d written Doorways. “You and Dr. Adorable?”
“No.” Will put the pole aside and clasped his hands together. He looked younger than ever like that, happy, his eyes shining. “Me and my dad. For so long I thought he didn’t care what happened to me. Or that he wouldn’t want to know. We spent hours talking. It was nice. He invited me to come visit him in Vegas any time. I’m going to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s with them.”
“What are Kelly and Jae going to do?”
“They’re planning a quiet vacation here at the house. I’m cleaning so I can get it decorated for them.”
“Don’t they like to do that?”
“Are you kidding?” Will was appalled. “Left to their own devices there’d be nothing here but a bowl of dusty pine cones and some evergreen air freshener that smells like a urinal cake.”
“I see,” I said. And I did. Jae and Kelly had their heads in their work and their hands firmly on each other. They lacked the energy for much else.
“They’ll be glad I did.”
“I’m sure they will. They’re so lucky to have you to see to these things.”
Will pinkened. “I’m lucky to have friends like them.” He opened the door. “And Dr. Adorable.”
On the way home I thought about all my other friends. It would be impossible to track down Adin and Donte, who were currently traveling. I’d gotten a card from Adin a few days before. In it he informed me that he was making secret plans for a trip to Paris, which was –in his opinion– the place to be at Christmastime if you were in love.
My friends from Santo Ignacio –St. Nacho’s—would prove a little easier to find. I’d gotten an invitation from Jordan and Ken to attend the first annual St. Nacho’s Red Hat Christmas Pie Walk, (like a cake walk, I guessed, with pies…) and Bachelor Auction. This seemed to be the brainchild of Jordan’s mother, who planned it to coincide with the opening of her bakery, Miss Independence Pies.
Shawn sent me an eVite to the annual performance of A Christmas Carol at his school, where he would be signing the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and Cooper was giving an outdoor concert every Friday in the month of December. They were also trying to organize a local Harley riders toy drive. I planned to take the family up the coast to get in on some of the festivities as soon as I had my work done for the year.
I heard from Rory, who sent me a box filled with Cajun goodies, hush puppy mix, spices, red beans and long grain rice. I got the feeling from Rory’s letter that Yamane is more than content to be living in Louisiana, but has caused a number of small riots among the locals, most recently, and most notably, when he decided to take up ice sculpture as a hobby. (Who sculpts ice on the gulf coast…?) Apparently, Yamane favors working the large blocks of ice with a chainsaw in the front yard wearing a pair of low-slung jeans and not much else. This has caused some driver slowing. Rory told me that as soon as the phone company puts the telephone pole across the street from their house back up and reestablishes phone service to the neighborhood, he’ll give me a call to tell me all about it.
Finally, I got a card from Jared and Adam, saying they planned to spend their first Christmas together in Colorado at Adam’s parent’s cabin. It arrived along with a carefully packed bag of multicolored baubles, for lack of a better word, each like a light round bubble of translucent glass in a particular shade that I recognized as very nearly the blue of Adam’s eyes.
Once I arrived back at my house, I headed to the kitchen to begin the long days of chaos that become Christmas cookies at our house. There is so much to be grateful for, and so many friends with whom to share my love.
I want to say thank you to everyone who has read my books this year and followed my characters. I’m grateful for the editors who have worked so hard to make them as good as they can possibly be, the publishers who have taken a chance on me, the friends and mentors who have given me so much, and to my family, without whom all of this would be utterly meaningless.
Especially I want to say thank you to my own Very Special Someone, my husband, who is NOT, for the record, the wind beneath my wings, but the crazy psycho guy who sneaks up behind me and screams, “GO FOR IT!” because he knows that sometimes you have to shock a lady out of her complacency…
Happy holidays, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart!