Christmas: Past, Present … and Future?


Past: 2000

Their first Christmas together … well the first Christmas after they met, Brian still refuses to acknowledge they were together then … was a messy affair, full of awkward moments in the loud bustle of Deb’s and the diner.


Justin, still smarting over his abrupt expulsion from the loft, had not long moved into Deb’s and was finding the exile from his family particularly painful during the Holidays.  Brian, after making the usual disastrous visit to his parent’s house, and with the bitter taste of memories and spite flooding him was in no mood to sympathize.


Justin tried hard not to mope or pout, but Brian’s harshness was almost the final straw for the lonely and heart sore boy who still lurked inside the proud gay man Justin was so determined to become.  He wanted to be strong, wanted Brian to respect him, to be proud of him, but he also desperately wanted to feel just once more, just for a day, the safety and unquestioned love he’d felt on all the Christmases of his life till now.


He knew now that there had been a strong element of illusion in that sense of safety, that the picture perfect Christmases of his childhood had fallen apart like a scattered jigsaw as soon as he’d asserted his need to be himself.  But that knowledge didn’t stop him missing his family. 


His mother rang, and brought Molly to see him Christmas Eve.  But she avoided his eyes when he asked about his father, and Justin knew then that his childhood was over, and he was never going to have those Christmases again.


He did his best to keep cheerful, and Deb deliberately kept him busy, both at the diner and at home, making sure that he knew how grateful she was that he was there to help her and doing her best to make him feel that he still had a family.  But alone in his bed on Christmas Eve, he couldn’t help but allow a few tears to soak his pillow.  His attempts to persuade Brian to come to dinner that night at Deb’s had been met with derisive comments about how lesbionic he was becoming, and when he hinted that he’d be happy to join Brian at Babylon, or wherever he was going, Brian had harshly reminded him that they weren’t a couple and spat that he should stay at home and hang up his stockings and let Brian go play with the big boys.


Most of the family did turn up at Deb’s on Christmas Day, all of them very conscious of Justin’s unhappiness; but none of them were sure how to help, and for the most part their clumsy attempts just made things worse.  Brian turned up eventually, drunk and morose, and Justin found himself wishing that he’d stayed away.  It wasn’t till after everyone had finally finished eating, and had lapsed into post Christmas dinner somnolence that Brian finally seemed to relent.  Heading to the backyard for a smoke, he grabbed Justin’s jacket as well as his.


“You coming?” he asked.


Justin’s eyes began to clear, and for the first time all day, a glimpse of his sunshine smile seemed to break through the clouds of his misery.  He slipped his arms into the sleeves of the jacket, and followed Brian quickly, before anyone could say anything.  Out in Deb’s small backyard, Brian took out a joint, and after one deep drag, passed it to Justin.  While Justin sucked on it appreciatively, Brian’s hands reached out and straightened the boy’s jacket, pulling it close around him and zipping it up. 


“You get fucking pneumonia and Debbie will have my balls,” he said, as if to excuse the action, but neither of them were fooled.


Whether it was the gentle buzz from the drug, or Brian’s actions or just the sudden knowledge that no matter what his coming out had cost him there was no going back now, and he wouldn’t if he could, Justin suddenly and amazingly felt truly happy. 


After they’d finished the joint, Brian hooked an arm round his neck and said, “You coming back to the loft tonight?”


Justin knew then that it wasn’t the drug.  He plastered himself against Brian and pulled the man’s head down to snake his tongue between Brian’s lips.  By the time they came inside, he was radiant again. 


The reactions of the others to that ranged from envy to exasperation to pity. 


But neither he nor Brian had cared.




Past: 2001


Their second Christmas was too soon after the aborted trip to Vermont and not long before Justin’s 19th birthday. 


If the previous Christmas had been haunted by ghosts from their individual pasts, this one was maybe haunted by some Ghost of their immediate future.


The rift between them was already looming and neither of them knew how to repair it. 


Justin was still suffering from PTSD triggered by the bashing, and despite his best efforts to deny there was anything wrong with him, his self esteem had been severely dented.  He desperately sought reassurance about Brian’s feelings for him, craving romantic gestures to replace the one a baseball bat had beaten out of his memory.  He read every failure of Brian’s to respond to his sudden need for romance as rejection, and worse, as further evidence that Brian no longer really wanted to be with him, was only letting him stay out of pity and guilt.  He was depressed and miserable and unable to pull himself out of the pit of despondency which threatened to swallow him whole. 


Brian could feel Justin’s unhappiness like an ache in his soul, but his energies had been exhausted by months of fighting to help Justin regain his life, his art, his whole being after the bashing, and he had no reserves left to fight this new threat.  He was torn between hating his inadequacy and a growing resentment of Justin for seeming to need more and more proof of Brian’s feelings for him, when he’d turned his whole life inside out to help Justin recover, which should surely have been proof enough for anybody.  Weary and trying to convince himself it didn’t matter if Justin finally wised up and left, went elsewhere for the things Brian so obviously wasn’t able to give him, Brian found himself more and more reverting to his tried and true pain management techniques, which of course made things infinitely worse.


When he went missing Christmas Eve and stumbled into the loft just before three am, drunk, high and reeking of other men’s cum, it pretty much put paid to any hope for a happy Christmas.




Past: 2002


Their third Christmas, Justin was back in an empty loft.  Brian was broke, bitter and brittle in the weeks before, and Christmas should have lacked any sense of cheer.  Yet for some reason, it’s one that they both remember as being happy.


They’d had dinner Christmas Eve at the Munchers' (as Justin had reminded him, they were in no position to turn down free food) and had come home to fuck on the futon and watch old black and white Christmas movies on the small TV Jennifer had brought over to the loft from Justin’s old bedroom in the condo.  They’d turned the sound down and Brian had made up new and outrageous dialogue for Scrooge’s encounter with his ghosts, while Justin fed him bits of his Mom’s Christmas cookies and they shared the rum laced eggnog that Deb had dropped off earlier.


Next day they’d gone to Deb’s and Brian had been allowed to sit on the couch in peace while around him all the bustle built and built until finally dinner was served, and then he’d sat at the table between Justin and Vic and ate too much and didn’t drink enough, but somehow it was all okay.


That had been Vic’s last Christmas with them, and, looking back, they’re glad it was a good one.




Past: 2003


The fourth Christmas, the loft was once more full of designer furniture and Brian once more visited the Munchers on Christmas Eve, but Justin hadn’t been with him.  Justin had been in LA.  A last minute glitch to some damned thing for the film had cropped up that just had to be sorted before Christmas, and by the time it was fixed, the earliest flight Justin could rebook on was the red eye 26th, getting in on the morning of the 27th.  As he had to be back in the office on Monday 29th, he’d reluctantly had to agree with Brian that it wasn’t really worth it.


(Although later he would regret that choice and know that he should never have let Brian persuade him.  Later he would realize just how much Brian was prepared to give up if he thought it was for Justin’s own good – even if he was completely and utterly wrong about what Justin really needed.  Later Justin would learn to make better decisions for them both.)


There had been lots of phone calls, and they’d used the video connection Brian had bought him for Christmas, (and had couriered to him as soon as there was a chance he wouldn’t be home) to have better than usual phone sex, but it was still a cold and lonely Christmas – even in sunny LA, let alone in the sleet and slush of Pittsburgh.




Present: 2004


Now Brian isn’t looking forward to the fifth Christmas at all.


It had started out looking as if it might actually be okay, well as okay as a holiday that involved huge amounts of noise, food, family and fuss could be in Brian’s opinion. 


In early December, Mel and Linds were promising to bring the kids down, and Deb was planning a huge family gathering.  Jenn was looking forward to seeing her son.  And Brian … Brian was taking careful breaths, conscious that each one brought his two main reasons for going on breathing closer to being back home with him … at least for a while.


But then Justin broke the news of his decision not to come home and since then everyone has, of course, been all over Brian to fix whatever has gone wrong. 


“Do something, asshole!” Deb hisses at him every time he’s stupid enough to go into the diner.


“Brian, there must be something we can do,” Jenn sighs at him over the phone.  Except of course, she doesn’t really mean ‘we’.  She means ‘you’; she means Brian.


“Brian, I’m sure if you just …” Mikey advises. 


Just … just … just … do something, they all insist. 


For days, it’s all he hears.


He doesn’t know what they expect him to do.


He’s still trying to figure out where things are between him and Justin.  It wasn’t long ago they were planning a wedding.  Now the mansion he’d bought for his prince has been sold and the prince is living in New York.  Although whether he’s still Brian’s prince or not is something Brian isn’t at all sure about.


They talk on the phone.  They email almost daily.  Brian’s seen him twice – two business trips that got extended over the weekend so they could suck and fuck each other into oblivion and pretend that nothing had changed.  But everything’s changed.  Brian wakes up to an empty bed every morning and Justin is …


Not there.


And apparently doesn’t want to be.  Doesn’t even want to come home for Christmas.


And Brian feels paralyzed.  He can’t do anything.  He’s too afraid that if he tries, he’ll find out beyond all denying (and Brian is a master of denial), what it means that Justin doesn’t want to come home.


So he puts on his best poker face and does his best to sound like himself when he snarls out his usual snarky responses to their whining and tells himself that it’s all for the best really.  If Justin has found something better out there, then he should be free to go for it.


While inside he feels like he’s shredding into tiny pieces and he can’t believe that none of them seem to notice.  Or to care.


They do care, of course.  They just don’t know how to show it.


All they can do is to repeat the seemingly endless chorus of “do something”.


Then, just a week before Christmas, Deb calls Brian at work.  She’s almost incoherent but in between the constant demands for him to get off his ass and do something and the threats about what she’s going to do to various parts of his anatomy if he doesn’t, he finally gets what’s set her off this time.  It’s not about Justin any more. 


Mel and Linds have decided that they’re not coming back for the Holidays after all. 


He his gut clenches and spasms, leaving him feeling nauseous but he tells Deb it’s not his problem and hangs up on her, knowing he’ll pay for that later.  Then he sits and stares at the wall for a while, seriously considering flying off to the Bahamas, or even Ibiza, and saying “fuck you” to all of them, leaving them to wallow while he spends Christmas in the sun, sucking and fucking with as many hot guys as he can find.


Cynthia interrupts that nice little fantasy, telling him there’s a call from Michael, who, of course, also wants Brian to do something.  It’s when Mikey spouts something about ‘Gus’ and ‘you’re his father’ that Brian hangs up on him.  Then he turns off his cell and tells Cyn he’s not accepting any more calls.  From anyone.


So when it’s several hours before he gets Justin’s voice message, he has only himself to blame.


Justin was clearly trying to sound upbeat when he made the call, but Brian can hear the quaver in his voice, and he can tell by the slight slur that little Sunshine has been drinking.


“I just wanted … I know I’m being a shit for not coming home.  I know that okay.  I just wanted … I just wanted to tell you that you shouldn’t take it personally.  I mean, if you make it here for New Year like we talked about that would be … that would be … fabulous.  Perfect.  I just wanted to tell you that, okay?  That it’s not because I don’t want to see you that I’m not coming.  Okay?   Because I do.  I just … I can’t … Anyway … well … call me.”


When he hears that, Brian’s fantasy changes.  Suddenly it doesn’t involve strange bodies on sunny beaches, it involves a very familiar body in wintry New York City. 


He still has contacts with Liberty Air.  He could call in a few favors, get on a flight straight away, land in NY and then whisk Justin off to a 5 star hotel and fuck him senseless right through Christmas.  In between fucking they could eat at the best restaurants, shop till they drop, gorge themselves on “culture”  and hit the clubs before heading back to the hotel to fuck some more..


Then, when he has Justin sated and relaxed and too exhausted to think clearly, he can shake him till his teeth rattle and get the truth out of him about what the fuck is going on in his head.


But that’s another fantasy.




At 2 pm on Christmas Eve, Brian finds himself trying to find a parking space at Pittsburgh airport.


The terminal is in fucking chaos.  There are people everywhere, and most of them seem to have screaming kids attached.  The kids are running around shrieking, women are crying on each other’s shoulders, men are greeting each other with macho backslaps or hugging each other awkwardly and Brian hates it all.


He stifles the desire to just turn and flee, and fights his way through the throng until an excited young voice shrieks, “Daddy!” and he finds himself with his own over excited rug rat hugging his knees and demanding loudly to be picked up.  Then he has his son’s Mommy clutching his free arm and weeping on the shoulder of his favorite coat, while Mel stands close by holding a baby who has Mikey’s eyes and he’s in the middle of his own little happy family reunion and it’s not as bad as he’d expected.


He decides it was worth while calling in those favors from Liberty and dealing with the ridiculous arguments about “we can’t afford it” and “the kids need to get settled” and all the other pathetic bullshit excuses he had to demolish to get Gus and his Mommies on a flight home.


Later, after he’s packed the Munchers and munchkins into a taxi and sent them off to surprise Deb; after he’s dealt with Gus’ tears and tired tantrum and soothed him with promises of “presents at Deb’s” and “Daddy will be there soon”; after he’s spent an hour drinking airport coffee and marking time, finally, finally the doors of the damned shuttle open and he gets to claim the last piece of the baggage he’s come to collect.


He wraps one long arm around Justin’s neck and steers him out to the car, not even stopping for a kiss.  He promised Gus he’d get to Debbie’s as fast as he can, but that’s not going to prevent him from stopping at the loft to get Justin settled in.  If that takes a while and requires removing various articles of clothing and accessing the supplies of lube and condoms he’s replenished for just this occasion … well, it’s been a while for both of them, and the whole thing doesn’t really take that long.  Besides, Brian regards the detour as more of a necessity. than an option, especially if he’s expected to behave himself through the rest of the day at Deb’s and refrain from dragging Justin upstairs into Mikey’s old room for regular fuck breaks.


Once they’ve cleaned up and dressed again quickly, Brian steers them through the usually tidy loft, littered now with the boxes and packing cases that started arriving two days ago.


“I can’t believe there’s so much shit,” he complains.  “How the fuck did you accumulate all this in just a few months?”


“Shut up!” Justin elbows him.  “Half of it is my canvasses and paints, and the rest is mainly stuff you bought, asshole, because you just couldn’t cope even for a weekend without a microwave and a coffee machine and …”


Brian shuts him up by kissing him again.  They both know that Brian hadn’t bought the stuff for his weekend visits, that Brian would rather cut off his hand than see Justin go without something Brian could provide for him, but there isn’t any need to dwell on that.


Especially now.  Especially since Justin finally remembered the lesson he had learnt after his lonely Christmas in LA and managed to get the message across to Brian during the long and shatteringly honest phone conversation that had followed that sad little voice mail. 


Brian had responded by providing the one thing Justin had really needed the whole time he’d been in New York.


He’d acknowledged that if what Justin most wanted wasn’t in the Big Apple, then he should come home and get it. 


Not for the Holidays, to be banished back to New York as soon as they ended – a prospect Justin simply hadn’t been able to face which is why he’d been ready to bail on Christmas.  But for good.  For always.  For better or worse, sickness and health … all that stuff.


So now Justin is home to stay, and a few blocks away his son is waiting for him.  Brian figures Christmas doesn’t get much better than this.


Although, he thinks as he starts the car, maybe next year he should just organize the whole thing himself from the beginning.  He could hire a plane and book a whole damned hotel and move everyone in there for the Holidays.  Somewhere better than fucking Pittsburgh though.  The Bahamas maybe.  Or Italy.  Justin would like Italy, and Deb could …


Then they’re at Deb’s; the door is opening, his family is spilling out, Justin is close beside him, and, swinging Gus up in the air, Brian shelves those thoughts till later.


But sometime in the New Year Cyn will get a memo to check out small hotels in Rome or in Florence and see what can be booked for December. 


And Brian will take the VP of Marketing for Liberty Air out to dinner.


December 23rd 2006


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