On the first of December Florian woke to find an envelope on his dresser. He regarded it cautiously as he dressed, wondering what outrageous task Ray had dreamed up this time.

Florian had been part of the Courland household for several months but he still wasn't used to it. He'd been raised in a very traditional household and Ray's unorthodox ways often made Florian's head hurt. The mystery envelope was as likely to contain an invitation to the theatre as it was to contain a list of errands to run or a bill for food and lodging.

Sighing, Florian opened the envelope and peered inside, frowning at the generous sum of money inside. Scrawled on the envelope were the words: For Christmas shopping.

"He's probably added it to my debt," Florian muttered as he tucked the money away in his dresser. Still, he couldn't help but smile as one of his many worries subsided a little. He'd been saving a portion from the allowance that Ray gave him for pocket money each month, but there wasn't really enough to buy gifts for Ray, Laila and a few cousins. Hearing the downstairs clock chime, Florian quickly left his room and hurried downstairs it wouldn't do to be late for breakfast.



On Christmas Eve, after a late dinner, Florian followed Ray into the study and took his usual seat. It had snowed for most of the day and it was pleasant to sit in front of the fire and read. Ray often selected his reading material by mood and it wasn't unusual for him to wander the room, scanning the contents of the bookshelves until he found something to read.

Tonight, however, he immediately settled into his chair and reached into his jacket pocket. He took out the account book that recorded Florian's rapidly growing debt and opened it to the marked page. Without a word he turned it around and handed it to Florian to read. It took Florian a moment to realize what he was or actually wasn't seeing. The money Ray had given him for Christmas shopping hadn't been added to his debt.

Another tiny bit of heaviness lifted and Florian gave Ray a bright smile of gratitude.

"I expect to find something nice under the tree tomorrow," Ray commented mildly as he retrieved the account book and returned it to his pocket. Florian smiled and went back to reading.


"You don't have to keep doing this," Florian said as he returned the familiar envelope to the top of his dresser. Ray gave him a smile and slipped his arms around Florian's waist, pulling the slender man back against his chest.

They didn't speak, but they didn't need to. For seventeen years, on December 1, an envelope appeared on Florian's dresser. The amount of money varied over the years but the result was the same; Florian was happy with their private tradition and Ray received something very nice for Christmas under the tree and in his bed.


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