LOVING - FIRST CHRISTMAS
Author: lucel Loving Series: The Beginning, All’s Well, Ringing True, First Christmas Parallel Series: Ray: Trick and Treat
Characters: Ryan/Andrew, Joe, Students
It was rainy and wet, and the gusting winds from the Bay swirled
“Good night, Joe,” said the young man, his smile sunny despite the weather as he wrestled his cumbersome guitar case past the driver. “I hope you’re going home soon. It’s too cold to be out on a night like this!”
“You got that right, Andrew, you sure do!” The big black man smiled with real affection at his friend. “I won’t be too much longer. And thanks for the hot coffee. It really helps on a cold winter’s night! You don’t have far to go, do you?” Big Joe was not all that impressed with the coat Andrew was wearing, or the fact that he didn’t seem to have umbrella, hat, or gloves.
“No, remember? Our house is just a couple of blocks from here. With any luck, my partner will have a fire going.” With a final “You take care, now!” Andrew Stewart-Williams took off into the mist clutching his guitar case with his backpack slipping around on his back. The wind pushed at him until he was almost running down the street. The old Victorians, some decorated for the holidays, loomed and lurched at the edges of his mist-imposed tunnel vision. He almost felt as if he were moving in his own private bubble.
It was later than he had hoped, but Andrew had warned his partner that he would be late every day this week due to rehearsals for the Christmas Revels stage show his college was producing. Despite the cold, Andrew couldn’t help smiling as he thought of how proud he had been to tell Ryan that he had been cast as the King’s Troubadour, one of the lead poet/singer/musicians in the production. So much had changed since he had met Ryan just before Thanksgiving last year. First Andrew had spilled his drink all over Ryan at a friend’s party, then he had dated the handsome United Airlines pilot, then Ryan insisted that Andrew quit drifting from friend to friend to move into Ryan’s house, then, wonder of wonders, they had become partners and wore the rings Ryan had had specially made in Hong Kong.
Thanks to Ryan’s encouragement and support, Andrew had
Now Andrew enjoyed the challenges of his required liberal arts courses, and he thrived on his music major. His school assignments, including performance commitments, kept Andrew more than busy when Ryan was in town. They also helped Andrew through the lonely days when his pilot partner would be flying a long route over the Pacific or points east. Sometimes it seemed to Andrew that his life just flew apart when Ryan was gone, with every piece of his life conflicting with every other piece. Lately, Ryan had helped him make careful schedules to be sure Andrew got through everything he needed to do.
Finally, with the cold and rain pushing him on from one hazy
street light to the next, Andrew could see the Presidio Wall ooze through the
mist and knew he was at the end of
Bounding up the front steps, Andrew was surprised to feel how stiff his hands were as he reached to open the door, his fingers and eyes briefly appreciating the shiny brass plaque under the door bell engraved with “Ryan Williams and Andrew Stewart-Williams.” A gust of wind and rain pushed him into the well-lit entrance hall where warmth was waiting.
And so was his tall partner. “Hey, Andrew! I was beginning to worry, it was getting so late, and the storm seems to be getting worse!” Ryan Williams was tall, toned, and blond with blue eyes that could twinkle with fun, smolder with passion, or cut directly to the no-nonsense heart of any matter. He took the dripping guitar case and leaned it carefully against the foyer bench, then helped his younger partner slide his heavy back pack from his shoulders. His welcoming smile changed to dismay when he realized that Andrew’s only protection against the winter weather was a hoodless windbreaker. His partner bore a strong resemblance to a drowned and frozen rat.
“Hey, Ryan! Man, am I glad to see you! It’s great to get out of that nasty weather.” As soon as Andrew started to shed his thoroughly wet jacket, he started to shiver.
“Why didn’t you wear your down parka, or carry an umbrella? Though I don’t guess an umbrella would have helped you much with all the wind. Andrew, you’re all wet and cold… Why didn’t you take a taxi… or call me for a ride?” Andrew just shook his head.
“All I could think of when rehearsal was over was making it to Joe’s bus on time! I got him a coffee and just ran!” His teeth were chattering, and rainwater was dripping from damp dark curls on his forehead. His clear gray eyes were slightly apprehensive and full of mute appeal.
“Well, come on. Let’s get you in a warm tub to thaw out.” Ryan pushed his slender partner toward the stairs and started him up with a well aimed swat on Andrew’s rump. “Hurry up; I’ll help fill the tub while you change out of those wet jeans. Then while you’re in the tub, I’ll make us some tea. When you are warm and dry, you can tell me about the Revels rehearsals, and we can discuss how you got home tonight… what your options were…”
“OK, Ryan,” said Andrew, full of dramatic resignation. “I’ll hurry. But at least you knew I was going to be late…”
“Yep, I knew that, alright. I just didn’t know you intended to turn yourself into a dripping ice cube!” Ryan smiled and kissed his very wet partner. “Why don’t you strip down on the bathroom tiles, instead of getting the bedroom carpet all wet?”
Working quickly, the two men soon found themselves curled up together on the living room sofa in front of the very satisfactory fire Ryan had built in their rather ornate fire place, with mugs of lemongrass tea steeping on the table in front of the sofa. Andrew was finally warm after the hot bath and slipping into his dark gray sweats, and he loved having Ryan’s arm around him. They seemed to have fewer opportunities to enjoy quiet time together lately with the heavy December holiday schedule coming into play. Andrew snuggled closer, delighting a somewhat preoccupied Ryan. Ryan did not want to tell Andrew his news, but first there was Andrew’s little “voyage” through the rain!
“Andrew, what were you thinking, exposing yourself to all that rain and cold? You will be lucky if you don’t catch something that will keep you from singing… You know we have talked about planning ahead…” Ryan gave Andrew a little shake to be sure of his attention, then drew the warm sweat clothed armful that was his partner closer still.
Andrew turned to look up at Ryan
earnestly. “It was warm when I left for the university this morning, and all I could think of when rehearsal ran a little late, was that I would have to hurry to catch my bus. You know I’m just not used to being able to count on anyone besides myself. I just didn’t think of calling you or taking a taxi… maybe calling would have been better, but I for sure knew I didn’t want to be later than we said…” His voice rose on a hopeful note.
Ryan looked at his partner with exasperation, love, and concern. “Wanting to be on time was good, but you really have to learn to consider all of your options and to take reasonable precautions. That’s what we do in the cockpit of my airplane, and that’s what you should be doing, too. I think you are warm now. Why don’t you get your journal from the bookcase, and you can consider taking precautions while you write a few lines. To help you remember.”
Ryan was trying for a stern, but reasonable tone. And he was trying to keep from grinning as he saw Andrew’s face run the predictable gamut of expressions from dismay to petulance to disgusted resignation. Ryan watched appreciatively as Andrew rolled out of his favorite snuggle position, then slunk over to the bookcase where he kept the leather-bound journal he had begun during the early days of their partnership. A red ribbon marked the page where previous entries ended, and he pulled out the pen that resided in the convenient leather loop attached to one side of the binding. He wrote the date at the top of the first empty page then said, “I’m ready. What do I have to write?” He tried very hard to keep the whine out of his voice: he knew what “whine” got him.
“Ok, write this down:” Ryan couldn’t help letting a grin slip through. “When the weather outside is frightful, and a fire would be delightful, I won’t go dashing through rain or snow. I will taxi or let my partner know.” Seeing the grin, Andrew risked a tongue-in-cheek “Ryaaaaan…!” which he followed by a brisk, “How many times?”
His cockiness was short-lived, however, as Ryan replied, “I think 200 times will just about do it. Here, you can drink your tea as you write.” His partner settled down on the floor so he could write comfortably on the low table in front of the sofa. Ryan looked at the fire, watched his partner, thought about his news, and finally sighed and picked up a folder of navigation charts and flight plan sheets that he had been working on before Andrew got home. The fire crackled; the pen scratched; Ryan opened and closed charts.
Finally, Andrew sighed again, capped the pen, and said, “There!”
“Let me see,” said Ryan reaching for the book. Once, Andrew had scribbled his lines so they were illegible. Ryan had requested quite firmly that he reconsider his action with corner time before rewriting the assignment. From then on, Andrew wrote lines carefully. After looking at the neatly laid out lines, Ryan said, “Ok. Now tell me how rehearsals are going. What did the director think of your song selections?”
“Oh, he thought they were coming along. He showed me a few chording tricks and how to pitch my voice further using more of my diaphragm, and he gave me several songs in Old French that he thought would suit my voice. He wants me to see if I can play an accompaniment on a lute: he’s going to sign one out from the Musicology Department for me to try!” Ryan loved seeing Andrew so animated and interested in what he was doing. “The director also thought the song I wrote using the medieval phrasing was really good, and he wants to put it in the show.”
“That’s great, Andrew. Do you think you’ll be ready for your performance on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas? In just two weeks?”
“We’ll have to be! Seriously, though, we should be ready. Now that we’ve started running through whole scenes at a time, we all have a better idea of how things should go. I don’t know about the dancing, though. I feel as though I’m all left feet. Most of it is so slow and formal! It’s all I can do to listen to Professor Meeks. She just goes on and on about the ‘integrity’ of her old ‘choreography’!” Andrew’s reservations accompanied by a slightly petulant pout rang a few alarm bells for Ryan.
“Now, Andrew, I hope you are always polite and try to follow her direction. I think it’s probably not easy to have to realize your creation through someone else. And remember, she can see how the dancing looks, and you can’t since you are doing it!”
“Aw, Ryan, you know I always try my best. Actually, I know she is good. I’m just worried about me.” Andrew was a little shocked to think that Ryan thought he might make trouble for the dance professor. He couldn’t help it if he let loose with some of his more “colorful” street “slang” on occasion. Frustration forced it out of him. He was really doing much better on controlling that! His bottom flexed in sudden stinging memory: Ryan’s capable hand could be very hard on occasion…
“Well, you don’t have to worry about the dancing. You are very good when we dance together, so I’m sure you’ll be able to dance in tights or whatever you’ll be wearing, too!” Ryan’s eyes were full of love as he looked down at his partner, who looked very devilish with his lithe form back framed by the flames from the fireplace. Ryan patted the sofa next to him. “Why don’t you come back up here so we can talk about the next few weeks?”
Andrew was moving before Ryan finished his sentence. “And that’s another thing:” the young man complained in an aggrieved tone, “The tights they want me to wear don’t leave a thing to the imagination. Some of the ballet guys were trying to show me what they do, but I feel like an idiot using something called a ‘codpiece.’ Do you think it would be too much to ask that they make the tunic a little longer? It’s made out of this Harlequin velvet in jewel tones of dark red and blue with gold accents. I’m going to love wearing it for you!” Andrew was practically bouncing with excitement and enthusiasm.
With regret both for his partner and for the tights (which
he thought would look spectacular), Ryan said, “That’s just it, Andrew. I’m not going to be here for Christmas or the
Revels… They’re changing and reassigning
all the air routes at the airlines, and I will be flying a Pacific route with
mandatory rest days in Hong Kong followed by another long route across Europe
and the Atlantic, with more mandatory rest days in
The younger man drew himself up, put a little distance between himself and his partner. He looked in Ryan’s direction and smiled a little smile that was somehow lacking in sparkle. Ryan could see the disappointment in Andrew’s eyes, which seemed to mirror the gray mist of the winter’s night.
“That’s too bad, Ryan,” he said, “but I know you have to put
your work first… and you know I‘ll have plenty to do while you’re gone. Besides the Revels performances, the cast is
going to get a group together to play Christmas music at Children’s Hospital on
the 23rd of December, and there was even talk of visiting that big
retirement community on
Ryan reached for the younger man, wanting somehow to bring
back the sparkle and enthusiasm. “That
sounds like a good plan, Andrew. And we
can put up some decorations together before I have to go, maybe you can have a
friend or two come to stay over Christmas, make sure you’re able to keep some
of your own
Instead of relaxing, Andrew stiffened a little more. “Well, since my parents were both engineers for the UN, they were often sent around the world to various building sites. When everyone was home, my Mom would make sure we had at least a small tree, but sometimes I spent Christmas with my grandparents, and they weren’t much into serious decorating. I guess we don’t have to bother with decorations if you’re not going to be here...”
“Well, I inherited my family’s Christmas decorations with the house: they’re all up in the attic. I thought maybe we could take a look at them tomorrow morning…maybe put some up… astound the neighbors…drink hot chocolate…play some Christmas music on the stereo…What do you say?” Ryan planted a kiss on the top of Andrew’s dark curls and pulled him into his lap.
Ryan put another kiss on the sensitive spot he had discovered behind Andrew’s left ear and was delighted to feel his young partner arch his back and reach out to him. “I’ll do whatever you say, Ryan. Rehearsal isn’t until 2 pm tomorrow because it’s Saturday. You could bring me and stay, or you could pick me up, and we could have dinner together at one of those Mexican places near the school.”
Andrew moaned as Ryan’s talented hands reached deep into his sweatpants. He could only nod when Ryan finally whispered, “I think it’s bedtime, don’t you? Our duvet will feel wonderful on this cold night.” Together for now, they went upstairs.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, but the winter wind was still gusty, and it was cold. Ryan woke late, just before 9 am, only to find himself totally wrapped up in a sleeping Andrew wearing his “Renaissance Angel” look. Ryan thought he looked beautiful, and he didn’t want to disturb him, but every time he tried to shift out of Andrew’s sleeping embrace, Andrew mirror-moved to continue holding him. Finally, Ryan had to laugh and gave his still sleeping partner a little shake.
“Andrew, Andrew. Let go. Nice as this is, we need to get up. There are only 13 shopping days until Christmas, and I want us to go up in the attic to see if we can find the Christmas decorations. Come on, it’s nine o’clock.”
Andrew moaned and opened his eyes cautiously. “You can’t mean it-- it’s the middle of the night! No, no, we have to sleep!” With that petulant declaration, he burrowed deeper into the warm covers. Ryan laughed and tugged at the covers, which his “sleeping” partner seemed to have in an iron grip. In a surprise move, Ryan leaned over to place a gentle kiss on Andrew’s full, very kissable, lips, and was rewarded with the sight of laughing gray eyes and his partner’s warm arms around his neck pulling him down to another more thorough good morning kiss.
Ryan felt his resolve begin to slip away, which he decided called for drastic measures. He launched a tickle attack, which had the desire effect of waking his partner up, but Andrew’s retaliation soon developed into a full-blown pillow fight. Soon they were both laughing and gasping out “Truce, truce!” as they held on to each other to catch their breath. The shared shower which followed was full of love and satisfying passion, leaving both men ready to take on the day.
After dividing the breakfast chores and reading the paper, Ryan suggested that they go up in the attic together. He tried to remember how his Mom had packed the Christmas decorations. “I think there are several boxes that look green and Christmas-y somehow. Let’s look over in that back corner. I haven’t really gone through everything over there yet.”
They shifted a couple of old trunks, and Andrew lifted a dusty old quilt to spot the boxes printed all over with a green pine bough pattern. There were six of them, and they were neatly labeled “Before Christmas” and “Tree.”
Meanwhile, Ryan lifted the lid of the next box, one labeled “Before Christmas.” “Great! Here are all the outdoor lights and the electric candles for the widows. I remember my Mom always saying they were to show the Christ child the way home, but I always used to think they would help Santa Claus find the way, too! I wonder if the hooks my father installed to hang the lights are still there. If they are, we could put the outdoor lights up today…” Suddenly, Ryan was all business, replacing the lids and handing one box off to Andrew.
“You’re right… they are light. I can probably manage two. Load me up, and I’ll take them down to the foyer, OK?” Andrew was beginning to be caught up in the excitement his partner was projecting.
“OK, Slave. Here you are. Not too heavy, are they?”
“No, they’re not,” he replied as he started downstairs with a suggestive wiggle to his hips. “And that’s ‘Beloved Love Captive’ to you!”
Soon they had the “Tree” boxes stored temporarily under the table and bench in the foyer. While Ryan got the ladder from the garage, Andrew put on some Christmas music, and opened the “Before Christmas” boxes. He was entranced: nothing in his past had prepared him for the excitement and joy he felt at handling family Christmas decorations. There were pine cones and silk greenery and poinsettias; he loved finding a soft stuffed Rudolf whose nose lit up when he touched a little red heart on his chest. After finding red velvet bows, some candles, and some holiday table linens, he hurried to check the outdoor light strands to be sure all the bulbs were lighting.
Then after putting on parkas, hats, and gloves with Andrew blushing from Ryan’s hug and kiss of approval, Andrew held the ladder for Ryan and passed him light strings for the hooks which were still there. There were enough to outline the porch, the roof line, and the turret while neighbors and passersby offered encouragement and season’s greetings. They took time for hot chocolate before putting an electric candle in each of the windows facing the street. The lights glowed red, the candles gleamed white when they finished and turned everything on just before noon. They were both pleasantly tired and very happy.
Just as Andrew was beginning to think they might heat some soup and have cheese sandwiches for lunch, the phone rang. He could tell something was up when Ryan came into the kitchen.
“There are a number of pilots down with the flu, and I’ve
been called in for a flight this afternoon to
“Oh, Ryan!” cried a very disappointed Andrew. “I thought we’d at least have until the 20th -- can’t they get someone else?” There was a suspicious brightness o the young man’s eyes.
“You know I have to go, Babe… It’s what I do.” He took Andrew into his arms, holding him close. “Why don’t you finish fixing lunch while I pack my kit. Then you can drive me to the airport before you have to report to your two o’clock rehearsal.” He gently kissed his partner’s hair, then gave him a little shake. “Come on, ‘Drew, be strong for me… Maybe we can go away together for a few days when I get back… Start the New Year right…”
Andrew drew himself up, determined to be cheerful for Ryan’s sake. “Ok, Ryan. That sounds like a plan. It won’t be so bad. I’ll get to drive the car whenever I want, leave clothes on the bedroom floor, have wild parties, wait ‘till all the dishes are dirty to run the dishwasher, play the stereo loud, leave my music notes lying around…”
“Stop, stop! I get the picture. Just remember Santa will be keeping a ‘naughty or nice’ list, and I better not get any bad reports. Seriously, Babe, I’ll try to call, keep in touch, let you know my schedules, as soon as I know them.”
Ryan saw to it that they left the Christmas lights on for Andrew to come home to later that evening, and they discussed Andrew’s schedule and plans as they drove to the airport. They talked about which friends Andrew might ask to spend Christmas with him at the house. They were fairly businesslike as Andrew dropped Ryan at curbside: a few silent tears spilled over from woeful gray eyes, but Ryan’s loving thumb wiped them away for his partner. With a quiet “See you,” Ryan walked inside looking very confident in his Captain’s uniform, turning back once to wave before Andrew drove off to his rehearsal.
Andrew worked hard to keep to his schedule of school work
and Revels rehearsals, and he even found time to help his friend, Jimmie. When a scheduled act cancelled suddenly, he
called to offer Andrew a pick-up singing gig at the swanky Oak Room in the
On Monday, he finally got an e-mail from Ryan, who was in
Subject: Safe Arrival, Missing You
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 2004 17:05
I had a very good flight, not a reindeer in sight, LOL. The hotel is not an igloo, but seems cold without you.
I may fly to
Remember, Santa’s keeping a list about who is naughty or nice, and we’re checking it twice. I hope the Revels are going well, and that you are finding ways to enjoy the season. Keep to your schedule, and remember to dress warmly.
You have my love for the holidays and always. Keep the Christmas lights burning…
Reply: Re: Missing You
Date: Tues, 14 Dec 2004 22:35
It’s good to hear from you. I miss you. I’m cold at night, even with our duvet. But the Revels rehearsals are heating up, and I’m singing at the Oak Room with Jimmie through the 22nd.
Revels Dress Rehearsal is the 23rd, and I’m going to try to get a copy of the videotape they will make so you can see it when you get home. I’m doing well enough on the lute that the director has decided I should play that instead of my guitar in the production, at least for part of the time.
The Christmas singing is on at the retirement home and the hospice, but I decided I didn’t want to invite anyone here for Christmas.
I’m remembering to wear my parka. Nothing is going on that ‘naughty’ list!
Watch out for reindeer when you fly, and come home safe.
You know you have my love.
The days flew by, Andrew kept to his busy schedule, and he exchanged “where are you e-mails” with Ryan. The gig at the Oak Room ended. The Revels rehearsals got more intense. The kids at Children’s Hospital loved the visit from the clowns, singers, and musicians of the Revels cast, and all the performers enjoyed playing games, singing, and handing out small toys with the kids. If one singer/musician was sad and lonely for his partner, his smile for the kids was real.
After the hospital visit, the Revels Dress Rehearsal took twice as long as it should, with starts and stops to fix and work through various glitches. Andrew was relieved to note that the costume tunic did cover everything important, and their sound man gave him the CD Andrew had made to be Ryan’s Christmas present: it had all of the songs Andrew was singing in the Revels, along with the recording he made of the song he wrote for their first anniversary.
Andrew was tired as he drove home. The director had given them the old pep talk about a bad dress rehearsal heralding a great opening, and for everyone to go home and get a good night’s rest. That sounded good to Andrew. Even though it was only about 9:30 pm, he would rather go home and go to sleep and dream about Ryan than stay up and miss him in the empty house.
Finally, he turned the corner and was pleased all over again to see the house outlined in red lights with a white candle in every window. He had never lived in a house with outdoor decorations before, with such a glowing, sparkling Christmas tree in the big Bay window of the living room.
“Wait a minute!” Andrew’s heart started to pound as he turned into the driveway. “We don’t have a Christmas Tree. At least we didn’t this morning! What the…”
And then the red door opened, and Andrew couldn’t get out of the car fast enough! Ryan stood there grinning at him with his arms wide open to catch him as he practically flew up the steps! “Ryan, you’re home; you’re here; I can’t believe it! How? How did you do it?! I’m so glad to see you!” Andrew couldn’t help a small sob of pure joy as he threw his arms around his tall partner’s neck.
“Whoa, whoa, take it easy, Love! I’m here; we’re real; and I’m glad to see you, too! Because I had to take off early on the new schedules, I was able to pull a few strings and favors in time to get back home for Christmas. I didn’t want to e-mail anything about it in case I couldn’t pull it off…but I did it.”
“Well Santa must have liked my position on his list, because all I really wanted for Christmas was you!”
“…Was you!” Ryan echoed Andrew, and they both laughed before they kissed long and hard. “Let’s put the car in the garage and unload, then we can put the finishing touches on our tree. I loved coming home to our lights, but I wanted the tree to surprise you, and I didn’t want to interfere with your final rehearsal. That’s why I didn’t call to tell you I was home earlier. Now come on in, I want to see if you approve… It’s important to make new family traditions together…”
“You’re right,” said Andrew with eyes full of love as he followed his tall partner through their big red door, “and after all, it is this family’s first Christmas…”