Patience comes to the ugly, not me. Laughter comes to the lucky, not me.
December arrived with wind and rain, temperatures dropping to a couple of degrees above freezing during the day, though the wind chill made it feel colder and in the mornings the grass would be covered in frost and the puddles would be iced over. Nick and Dave spent time together any chance they got, mostly at Nick’s house. At school, where they could be seen, they behaved the way they always had, occasionally amusing themselves by staging a fight or an argument, and then meeting behind the bike shed for a quick make out after.
As the Christmas holidays approached, the two had less and less time to spend together, however, as they were both at increasing rates hijacked into doing chores and preparing for the celebrations in their respective homes. Dave’s mother dragged him along Christmas shopping (‘Not that I do much shopping, mostly I just carry stuff,’ said Dave), and Zoë had Nick hoover and wash all the floors.
With the holidays came the snow, more of it than they had seen in a long time, and all over the country airports were shut down and train services were delayed or canceled. It was lucky, as Zoë reminded Nick, that their mother and aunt Karen would be driving. Less lucky, thought Nick, if they crashed on the way.
Since her last episode, their mother’s condition had been steadily improving and, with the blessing of her doctors, it had been decided that a short visit to her children for Christmas would be both healthy and productive for her.
Nick was looking forward to seeing her, of course, but he couldn’t quite help but feel nervous. He knew exactly when he had last seen her. It had been for his fifteenth birthday. All he had wanted was to see her, so in the end he and Zoë had got in the car and driven to Coventry.
The person he had met then had been nothing like his mother. She had been so thin and pale, and when she had seen him, she had burst into tears and had to leave the room. It had been the most miserable birthday of his life.
Nick spent Christmas Eve in quiet anticipation. There were no chores left to be done. Everything was neat and tidy and sparkling clean. All that remained was to wait. So Nick hid away in his room, chatting with Mel on messenger (an activity that had become so much more interesting now that they had met) and texting with Dave.
Around five o’clock, Nick heard a car pull up in front of the house. Then the doorbell rang downstairs. Nick turned off his computer and left the room.
Zoë and Craig were waiting at the foot of the stairs. When Zoë saw Nick, she smiled at him and went to open the door.
His aunt stepped inside first, shaking snow off her coat. Karen Parsons was a petite, athletic woman in her forties, with lightly curled brown hair and ever perfect make-up. She was pragmatic and strict, but very kind.
Aunt Karen took a few steps forward and then . . . There she was. Thin, pale and grey, but somehow much more alive than the last time he had seen her. Angie Parsons. Nick’s mother.
Mandatory greetings and introductions and hugs took place as Zoë showed Craig off, and then it was Nick’s turn.
His mother approached him slowly, smiling weakly. ‘Hello, Nick,’ she said quietly, and all at once her eyes, the same silver grey as Nick’s own, were brimming with tears. She controlled herself, however, beaming as he smiled back.
‘Hi,’ said Nick. ‘Er . . . Welcome.’ It was an odd thing to say, he realised. This was technically still her house.
She reached out and cupped his face in her hands. ‘Let me look at you,’ she said. ‘Oh, you’re so grown up!’
Nick looked away, uncomfortable.
‘Well, let’s get your things inside!’ said Zoë. ‘Dinner will be done in just a minute.’
* * *
Zoë was a good cook, when she took the time to do it properly. They had baked salmon with fried potatoes, and sautéed mushrooms and onions, and a fresh green salad on the side. It was a lovely meal, and everyone made polite conversation.
Afterwards, they sat in the living room, drinking hot chocolate and looking at the snow falling outside. Craig was obviously anxious to make a good impression, and had put on his best, most smiling face. He told tasteful jokes and amusing anecdotes about being a carpenter, and Nick’s mother and aunt laughed and seemed to like him very well indeed. Nick supposed this must be what Craig was like with Zoë most of the time. That must be why she liked him. Craig’s performance might even have made Nick like him, if he hadn’t already known what the man was really like.
Craig hadn’t laid a finger on him since that first time, though, and once, when he and Nick had been alone in the house one afternoon, he had even grunted some sort of half-arsed apology, which Nick, taken aback, had accepted. Nick supposed that it was possible that Craig had simply had a bad day, though that still didn’t quite account for why he seemed unable to show Nick this friendlier side of himself when they were alone. Nor did it excuse his actions.
At about nine o’clock, Nick’s mobile buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out as discreetly as he could. Unsurprisingly, the text was from Dave.
Save me now, please! I can’t stand another second of this.
Nick smiled and wrote back.
Is it that bad?
The response came quickly.
My mum is baking mice pies. She doesn’t like baking and she’s not good at it, and this is the one time of the year where she tries to be a mum and she sucks at it!
‘Texting, little brother?’ Zoë asked.
‘Oh, yeah,’ said Nick, a blush creeping up his face. ‘Sorry. Just . . . yeah. Texting.’
‘Oh, mum,’ said Zoë, turning to their mother, ‘I never got round to telling you! Remember Dave Thompson?’
‘Of course I remember Dave Thompson!’
‘Well, Nick’s only gone and made friends with him, hasn’t he?’ Zoë beamed at her brother and Nick blushed again. ‘Only it’s all a big secret cause his dad’s a git.’
Nick’s mum nodded emphatically. ‘Oh yes, that man never could stand our family! We were just not good enough for him. Especially your father . . .’ She trailed off, then, staring off into the proverbial distance. Then she regained her composure. ‘But you’ve made friends with Dave? That’s great! I’m glad to see you break the cycle. Shows how you’ve grown.’ She smiled at Nick, and he felt oddly uncomfortable again.
‘Er, yeah, he’s actually really nice . . . We . . . we had detention together and got to actually talking and, well . . .’ He trailed off and looked away. Conversation resumed.
Shortly thereafter, his mother complained that she was tired and would like to go to bed, giving Nick an excuse to retreat to his room, after giving her a good night kiss.
He wrote a text to Dave.
Can I ring you?
A few moments later, his phone rang. ‘I rang you, hope that’s okay,’ said Dave’s voice on the other end of the line.
‘Of course it’s okay.’ Nick shut his door and went over to his bed, where he lay down, staring at the ceiling.
‘So, how are things?’ asked Dave. ‘Is it weird, having your mum over?’
Nick nodded, then remembered that Dave couldn’t see him and said, ‘Yeah . . . It’s like she’s not really my mum, she’s so different, and I feel like I have to be so careful with what I say and how I act.’ He paused for a moment, sighing. ‘It’s nice, though. Seeing her. She’s better than last time, and that’s great.’
‘Yeah,’ said Dave. ‘That is great.’
There was a brief silence.
‘Zoë told her we were friends,’ said Nick.
‘Yeah, and Mum told me that our families never got along. Especially our dads, she said. Do you know anything about that?’
‘No,’ said Dave. ‘He’s never talked about it . . . Not to me.’
‘So, how are you doing?’ Nick asked.
‘Meh. I hate celebrating Christmas with just my parents. At least when one set of aunts and uncles or another is here they make an effort to act nice. But Mellie and Uncle Clive are in America to celebrate with Alice’s family, and my cousin Jason and Aunt Camilla and Uncle Jeremy are celebrating with Uncle Jeremy’s parents, so it’s just us. And so Mum’s trying to be a mother and baking mince pies and decorating everything, only she’s not really trying, she’s just going through the motions. And now she’s angry because it’s Christmas Eve and my father’s not back from the office yet.’ Dave paused, as if to catch his breath. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t mean to rant, it’s just . . . We’re a fucked up family.’ He chuckled warily into the phone.
‘I’m sorry, love,’ said Nick. ‘That really sucks. I mean, Christmas is supposed to be fun.’
‘Christmas hasn’t been fun for me since I was six,’ Dave admitted. ‘Except for when Mellie or Jason or both came here to celebrate with us. To be honest, though, my father doesn’t really like Uncle Jeremy much. I think he thinks his sister married beneath her or something.’ He sighed. ‘God, I hate my family sometimes.’
‘Hey, at least you’ve got two parents,’ said Nick, before realising how petty that sounded. ‘I mean, I’m not belittling what you’re feeling, it wasn’t supposed to come out that way!’
‘No, it’s okay,’ said Dave. ‘I do have two parents. You barely have one. But I guess it can’t really be compared, you know? Our families are different. It’s like comparing first world and third world problems. Just cause there are people starving in the world that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel like your life sucks.’
Nick smiled. ‘You have to stop being so clever, it really fucks with your image.’
Dave laughed. ‘Well, with you I don’t need an image,’ he said. ‘I can just be me.’
Nick turned over on his side and hugged himself. Hearing Dave say things like that made him feel cold and warm all at once. ‘I wish I could see you,’ he said. ‘I miss you. I want to hold you.’
‘Yeah, me too,’ came Dave’s reply. He sounded a little breathless. ‘I can’t stop thinking about you. I’d offer to meet you somewhere, but I think if I tried to leave the house now my mum might actually kill me.’
Nick laughed in spite of himself. ‘Yeah, I don’t think Zoë will let me out of here until Boxing Day at the earliest, not with Mum in the house.’ He sighed. ‘But I really, really want to kiss you right now.’
He could hear Dave’s breathing through the phone. ‘I wanna kiss you too,’ he whispered. ‘I want to see you and be with you and . . .’
‘Maybe we can get out, for just a little bit tomorrow,’ said Nick.
‘Yeah, maybe,’ Dave replied. Nick heard a noise in the background. ‘Fuck, I have to go. Father’s home. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, yeah?’
‘Yeah,’ said Nick. ‘Goodnight.’
* * *
Christmas day arrived with the smells of cakes and cooking turkey. Nick descended the stairs in pyjamas and a dressing gown to find the rest of the family plus Craig in the living room drinking hot chocolate, a heap of brightly coloured gifts piled under the Christmas tree.
There was small talk and jokes being made while the gifts were unwrapped. Nick got a couple of books and a CD, and then that seemed to be it, the presents were all gone. All but one big one, hiding behind the tree.
‘This one’s for Nick,’ said Zoë, hauling it out. ‘From all of us.’
Nick opened the present, feeling puzzled at its size and shape. It was hard and rectangular. As the wrapping went away, a tweed case was revealed. Further unwrapping revealed the distinct Fender logo. Nick tore away the rest of the paper, heart in his throat, and with trembling fingers he opened the case to reveal its content.
‘You . . . you guys bought me a Telecaster?’ he said weakly. The guitar was white. He stroked his fingers over the smooth maple neck. ‘This is . . . How did you guys even afford this? It’s a Fender, for Christ’s sake! Are you people insane, couldn’t you just buy me a Squire?’
The others all laughed at his reaction, but the looks on the faces of his mother, aunt and sister were kind and loving. Craig stood off to one side looking mildly uncomfortable. Nick supposed he must have chipped in.
‘Thank you,’ he said softly. ‘All of you.’
‘Oh, wait,’ said Zoë suddenly and ran off out into the kitchen. She returned a few moments later lugging a Fender Mustang amplifier. ‘This goes with it, I believe,’ she said.
Nick shook his head, grinning. ‘You guys are completely mental. I think this is officially the best Christmas ever!’ he said.
‘Only the best for my boy,’ said his mother affectionately, and the spell broke. Nick’s grin faded as he looked down at the guitar in front of him.
‘Yeah,’ he said, absently. ‘I . . . excuse me.’
He left the room and stepped out into the hall. He found his boots and put them on, and then stepped outside into the chilly Christmas morning. The snow was falling again, and he pulled his dressing gown tighter around himself, hugging himself against the cold.
A few moments later the door opened behind him.
‘Nicky . . .’ His mother’s voice was quiet and frail. ‘I know what this must look like.’
‘You mean like you’re buying me off with shiny presents so I’ll forget about the four years you’ve spent out of my life?’ said Nick bitterly. ‘You’re right, that’s exactly what this looks like.’
‘It’s not what it is.’ His mother sighed. ‘I know that I’ve been a terrible mum. I haven’t been there for you when you needed me, and Zoë’s had to just drop her life because of me. I know that. I’m so, so sorry, sweetheart. I’m not expecting you to forgive me, not even a little. But I want you to know how sorry I am. And I want you to know that I’m trying. I’m really working very hard to get better, so I can come home. And by the time I get to that point it’ll probably be too late and you’ll be all grown up and you won’t need me anymore, but . . . I love you, Nicky. I’ll always love you. You’re my little boy.’
Nick drew a deep breath and turned around to face her. She looked so small, in her great big coat. She was so thin and sunken looking, but her eyes were bright and full of emotion and sincerity. Nick stepped closer and put his arms around his mother. He was taller than her now.
He didn’t tell her that he forgave her. He didn’t say another word. But when they broke apart, they smiled at each other. Then they went back inside to celebrate their Christmas, together.
* * *
At predicted, Dave and Nick didn’t get to see one another until Boxing Day. Only then did Dave manage to convince his parents to let him out to hang out with his friends for a couple of hours. Instead, he practically ran all the way to Nick’s house. Once there, he was obliged to introduce himself to Nick’s mother (‘It’s so nice to meet you, Dave! I hear you’ve been taking good care of my boy!’), followed by a mandatory sit-down involving Christmas cakes and tea. He rather liked Nick’s mum, and his aunt even more. They seemed like nice people. He had no idea how to behave with regard to Craig, though, knowing what he’d done back in October. After a good half hour of chit-chat, he and Nick were at last allowed to retreat to the latter’s room.
Dave watched with mild amusement and a smile on his face as Nick waxed lyrical about his new guitar for a few minutes, before he managed to pull him down on the bed with him to kiss him thoroughly.
‘Merry Christmas, boyfriend,’ he murmured.
‘Merry Christmas,’ Nick responded, smiling. ‘God, you have no idea how good it is to see you.’
‘Oh, I think I have a clue,’ Dave countered.
Nick grinned at him. Then he got to his feet again and went over to his desk, rummaging through a drawer. When he had found what he was looking for, he returned to Dave, handing him a present wrapped in shiny golden paper.
Dave unwrapped it eagerly, and found within a book. It was monstrously thick, and the title on the front read American Gods.
‘This looks familiar,’ he said.
‘Yeah, I seem to remember you saying something about a gay book about yankee gods,’ Nick teased. ‘But yeah, I think you’ll really like it. It’s my favourite book. Has some great characters and settings and stuff . . . Oh, and, they didn’t have it in the book shop, and by the time I knew what I wanted to get you it was too late to order it, so that’s my copy.’ He pointed to the spine. ‘That would be why it’s all bent and the spine’s cracked and everything . . . But that way you can, you know, think of me when you read it.’ He blushed.
Dave opened the cover. On the first page was written, To Dave, with love.
‘Thank you,’ said Dave, turning his eyes to Nick. ‘Really. Thank you. I’ll read it, I promise.’ He reached into his pocket, pulling out a small box. ‘I don’t really know how to buy gifts for boys,’ he said apologetically. ‘And it’s not much, but . . .’ He handed it to Nick.
Dave had agonised over his gift to Nick for a long time. In the end, he had settled on a bracelet. It was simple. Just a silver plate engraved with a delicate leaf pattern on a brown leather thong. A blend of the masculine and feminine, like Nick himself with his delicate features and strong personality.
Nick picked it up and gazed at it, apparently dumbstruck. Then he found his voice. ‘I . . . wow. Thank you. It’s . . . It’s stunning.’
Dave’s face cracked into a wide smile. ‘I’m so glad!’ he said. ‘Here, let me.’ He took the bracelet from Nick and clasped it onto his slender wrist.
It fit perfectly. Nick slid his arms around Dave’s neck and kissed him deeply. Then they just sat there for a while, holding hands, not talking.
‘So, are you gonna give me a demonstration of this new guitar of yours?’ Dave asked after a while.
‘Oh! I . . . I don’t, er . . .’ Nick stammered for a bit. ‘I mean, I don’t really play for people.’
Dave grinned. ‘You know, I’ve actually heard you play before,’ he said, suddenly remembering.
‘Before . . . all this. You were playing out in the back garden and I sort of passed on my bike and then I . . . listened for like two hours.’ Dave looked away, blushing. ‘I was doing a really bad job of convincing myself I wasn’t into you.’ He looked back up at Nick to find him blushing too. ‘You’re really good,’ he continued emphatically. ‘I mean, really. So, you know, play me something. Please?’
Nick smiled crookedly and bit his lip in that adorable way. ‘Yeah, okay.’
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. We're just over halfway! If you have any questions, comments, or critiques, you can e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you!