Authors: Jay Northcote
“I’m just going to go outside to phone my family, I won’t be long.”
He had no trouble getting a signal outside Mari’s and ended up chatting for a while. His sister picked up, so he talked to her first, then his dad, then his little brother, and ended with his mum. She was amused when he told her what he and Ryan were doing for Christmas Day.
“That sounds like fun. I’m glad you’re still getting a Christmas dinner. I won’t feel too sorry for you when we’re tucking into ours now. Mari sounds quite a character.”
“Yeah, she’s pretty cool.”
“And is Ryan okay?”
“I think so. He wasn’t really looking forward to Christmas with his dad and stepmum anyway.”
“Oh, his mum’s away?”
Sam explained Ryan’s thwarted Christmas plans.
“So do you think you’ll be coming home tomorrow? We all miss you. The forecast says it should thaw tonight.”
“We’ll see how it goes, but I think we might be able to.”
“I hope so. Well… I’d better go.
Dad’s yelling at me to come and do something with the parsnips.
Have fun, darling.
And happy Christmas to you, and to Ryan and Mari too.
I love you.”
“Love you too, Mum. Have a good day.”
Sam ended the call and was about to go back inside when the front door opened and Ryan came out, phone in hand.
“You going to phone your lot too?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, thought I’d try now. See if I can catch my mum before she drinks too many of whatever cocktail she’s on and Dad before he falls asleep on the sofa.”
“Okay. I’ll leave you to it, then, see you in a minute.”
Ryan’s mum didn’t pick up when he called, so he left her a short message. He tried to swallow down the cold lump of disappointment at not getting to hear her voice. Hopefully she’d call him back later.
He tried his dad next, but when the call connected, it was Nicola who picked up.
“Oh. Hi, Ryan.” She sounded surprised, as though Ryan calling his dad on Christmas Day was unexpected. “Your dad’s busy carving. Can he call you back?”
“Not really, no.” Ryan tried to control the irritation in his voice. “The signal’s not very good indoors so he probably wouldn’t get through. I won’t keep him long. I just wanted to say happy Christmas.”
“Hang on, then.” She handed the phone over to Ryan’s dad without even bothering to say goodbye.
“Alright, Ryan.” From the tinny sound and the noises going on in the background, Ryan could tell he was on speaker.
“Hi, Dad. Happy Christmas.”
“Yeah, and to you too.”
There was a pause, and what sounded like the scrape of a knife on a plate.
“So… um. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. Once I’m back home, maybe I can pop ’round before New Year sometime? I’ve got presents to drop off.” Ryan had bought typical duty gifts, a bottle of port for his dad and some bubble bath and body lotion for Nicola. They knew he couldn’t afford much as a student.
“Maybe,” his dad replied. “We’ve got a few things on, though, so I’ll need to look at
when my hands aren’t full of turkey. I paid some money direct into your bank account this year, thought it was easier than a cheque or vouchers.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks, Dad.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. We’re dishing up now. Hope you have a good day with… uh… your mate.”
“Sam.” Ryan realised he was gripping his phone too tightly and forced his hand to relax. “Right. I hope you and Nicola have fun. I’ll call you when I get home.”
Ryan ended the call, his teeth gritted tight with irritation and hurt. His dad could have at least tried to sound pleased to hear from him.
Ryan saw Sam clock the expression on his face as soon as he went back indoors. He looked at Ryan, an eyebrow raised in question. “You get through okay?”
“Mum didn’t pick up. I spoke to Dad, though.”
Sam had been outside talking to his family for ages. It must have been painfully obvious that Ryan’s folks hadn’t wanted to chat for long. Ryan ducked away from Sam’s concerned gaze and caught Mari looking at him with sympathy in her expression. He swallowed down the hurt and tried to paste on a smile.
“I fancy a beer. I don’t think I can take any more sherry. Can I get a drink for anyone else?”
“I’ll try a little of that wine you brought,” Mari said. “There’s a corkscrew in the kitchen drawer. Can you check the potatoes while you’re in there?”
“I’ll come and help,” Sam offered, getting out of his chair before Ryan could refuse.
Ryan checked the potatoes while Sam did battle with the corkscrew.
“Bloody hell. I see why they invented screw tops.”
When Ryan had finished turning the potatoes and put them back in the oven, Sam handed him a beer. Their fingers brushed as Ryan took it.
“Cheers,” Ryan said glumly.
Sam frowned, his lips a narrow line of concern.
“Your mum might call back later,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m sure she will. She was probably swimming or something.”
Back in the living room, they had time for another couple of hands of poker before it was time to get the veg on to cook. Ryan’s dark mood was still pressing down on him. He felt detached from the jollity, not joining in with the jokes and laughter as they played.
But then he felt Sam’s knee leaning against his under the table, a firm, deliberate pressure that eased his loneliness and brought him back from his wandering thoughts and into the present. When he caught Sam’s eye, Sam smiled, and Ryan’s mood lifted another notch. A warm glow in his belly spread tendrils out, making him smile back.
Ryan’s phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a text from his mum, saying she was trying to call him but couldn’t connect.
He excused himself to go outside again so that he could try and phone her again. “It’s my mum,” he explained. “She’s free now. Back in a few.”
“Oh, Ryan! Happy Christmas. I’m so sorry I missed your call before, love,” she said when she picked up. “We were in the pool, and my phone was back in our room. How are you? I hope you’re having a good day with your dad.”
“Actually I’m still in Wales,” Ryan explained. He hadn’t bothered to phone and tell her before. It didn’t affect her plans, after all, but he realised, belatedly, he probably should have let her know in case she’d tried to phone him on the landline at home. Well, that obviously hadn’t been an issue. “We got snowed in here, but it’s fine. We’re having Christmas dinner with the lady who lives next door.”
“Oh, well, that’s nice. I expect your dad’s sorry you couldn’t make it, though.”
“I’m sure he’ll cope.”
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“I really miss you, you know,” his mum said, her voice softening. “It was Barry’s idea, this holiday. I wasn’t sure about it. Are you sure you’re okay? I don’t like to think of you stuck
in the middle of nowhere on your own.”
“Mum, it’s fine. And I’m not on my
I’ve got Sam for company. Now you enjoy the rest of your holiday and stop worrying about me, okay?”
“Okay.” Ryan heard the muffled sound of Barry’s voice in the background. “Give me a minute,” his mum replied to Barry, obviously holding the phone away from her face as she spoke. Then she was back with Ryan again. “Sorry, love, I’ve got to go. I need to get ready to go out for dinner. Take care now, and have fun with Sam.”
“I will, Mum.” Ryan’s cheeks heated as he remembered the particular brand of fun he’d had with Sam the night before and wondered what his mum would think if she knew about it. “Bye, then, happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas to you too.”
Ryan found Sam and Mari in the kitchen when he went back indoors. The tiny space was fragrant with delicious smells and thick with steam.
“You okay?” Sam asked.
Ryan nodded. “Yeah. Duty phone calls all done. I’ll text my sister later.” Ryan tried to sound cheerful, but Sam’s brow remained furrowed.
During the last-minute dinner preparations, Ryan didn’t have time to mope. Mari had them draining things and carving bits off the turkey while she laid the table. Somehow, miraculously, everything came together, and they sat down with plates piled high with food that was still mostly hot.
Mari closed the kitchen door to keep the leftover turkey safe, and several disgruntled-looking cats sat and watched them as they prepared to tuck in.
“No, you don’t!” Ryan held his palm out at Nerys, who looked as though she was considering jumping up on his lap.
She twitched her tail and lifted her leg, washing her arse with dedicated focus.
“It’s going to take more than that to put me off my dinner,” Ryan addressed the cat again.
Mari beamed at them both. “I’m not one for saying grace, but thank you, boys, for making this happen. I’d never have bothered to try and cook this lot if it was just
today. Now dig in.”
For a little while, only the sounds of cutlery scraping on plates and contented chewing filled the room. Everything had turned out pretty well. Ryan always thought there was some great secret to cooking Christmas dinner, having never been involved in the process before beyond peeling a few spuds and carrots. But today he’d learned it wasn’t rocket science. It was mostly about timing, and it had been fun.
He caught sight of the photo of Mari’s daughter and her family on the mantelpiece as he chewed. Their faces were bright with happiness. When Ryan was younger, he’d always assumed—without thinking about it too deeply—that he’d eventually have a family of his own of the conventional type. A wife, two-point-four kids, maybe a cat or a dog. But since he’d realised he was gay, he hadn’t thought too much about what a future relationship might look like. But today he found his thoughts wandering to a different type of future. Him with a guy, smiling and obviously in love, in a photo on his mum’s mantelpiece, maybe even with a kid or two on their laps. It could happen, right? Ryan wasn’t sure how, exactly, but he knew gay couples often had kids nowadays. In his imagination the other guy in the photo morphed into Sam with his arm around Ryan, grinning with his face full of affection.
Sam nudged him with his knee, and Ryan jumped, jolted out of his fantasies. He
glad Sam couldn’t see what was going on in his head.
“Sorry, did you say something?” he asked.
“You were miles away,” Sam said. “Mari was asking you about your plans for New Year.
“Oh. We’re both going back to Brighton for that.” Ryan turned to meet Mari’s steady gaze. “We’re having a party in the house we share with some other guys.”
“Should be a busy night, then?” She raised an eyebrow in amusement. “One of those wild student parties.”
“Yeah, I expect so,” Ryan admitted.
They were bound to end up pretty wrecked by midnight.
Sam’s knee still pressed against Ryan’s under the table. He hadn’t moved it from when he’d used it to get Ryan’s attention. Mari was telling them about some antics her daughter had got up to when she was a student, pub crawls in fancy dress and getting told off by the police for putting traffic cones on the heads of statues.
Ryan was listening and chuckling appreciatively in all the right places, and so was Sam. But Sam’s hand was distracting Ryan. They’d both finished eating now—fast eaters where Mari was slow and careful—and Sam’s left hand was lying palm down on the table, only millimetres away from Ryan’s. Ryan thought he could feel the warmth of it in the space where they weren’t quite touching. He stared at Sam’s slender fingers, the bony knuckles and bitten nails, and before he could chicken out, he moved his hand—just the tiny distance needed to close the space so the sides of their little fingers touched. He wondered whether Sam would think it was accidental. But Sam moved his knee, increasing the pressure a little.
As Mari carried on picking at her plate of food and the conversation flowed, Ryan and Sam communicated on another level entirely, saying things with tiny, careful touches.
The brush of a hand, the bump of an elbow, the gentle nudge of a knee.
Ryan was aware of all the places their bodies were in contact, and all the places where they weren’t, and where he’d like them to be.
When Mari was done eating, they refilled her glass and told her to rest while they cleared the plates away and sorted out the Christmas pudding.
Ryan put brandy sauce in a pan to warm, stirring it, while Sam put the pudding in the microwave.
“Hey,” Sam said softly from behind Ryan.
“What?” Ryan carried on stirring.
Ryan turned and looked up to see a sprig of mistletoe tied to the bottom of the lampshade with a piece of gold ribbon. Then he dropped his gaze to see Sam’s hopeful smile.
“Yeah?” Ryan smiled too.
“We haven’t had a proper Christmas kiss yet.”
“Better fix that, then.”
Ryan put his arms around Sam, and Sam wrapped his around Ryan in return. They kissed, sweet and mostly chaste, but lingering enough that Ryan knew Sam wanted more, just like he did. Ryan’s heart felt as though it was beating out of his chest, too full of confused feelings he was afraid to name. Desire tangled up with something softer, something sweeter.
When they separated, Sam’s pupils were huge, eclipsing the grey-green of his eyes, and he had a cute, slightly spaced-out expression on his face. Ryan wondered if he looked the same. He probably did. Kissing Sam made him feel pretty goofy.
“You okay now?” Sam asked.
“Why?” Ryan frowned, confused for a moment. He’d almost forgotten he’d been pissed off earlier. Everything was peachy now, apart from the fact they were no longer kissing. But he was hopeful Sam would want to do more of that later when they had some privacy.
“You seemed a bit down after talking with your parents earlier.”
“Oh, yeah.” Ryan sighed. “It’s just… I don’t know. You know what my dad’s like. And mum’s usually okay, but it feels weird her being away with Barry this year. But I’m an adult. She should be able to go away on holiday if she wants to without me being a baby about it.”
Sam pulled him close again, this time for a tight hug. “You’re allowed to feel weird,” he said into Ryan’s shoulder as Ryan hugged him back. “I’d feel weird if my mum was off on holiday somewhere at Christmas too.”
The microwave pinged, and Ryan squeezed Sam harder for a moment before reluctantly releasing him.
Sam turned the pudding upside down onto a plate, while Ryan rummaged through Mari’s cupboards to find a jug for the sauce. Once they were done, they carried them through to place on the table.