Author's Note: A modest homage to Dylan Thomas’ brilliant “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”– Any faint similarity is intentional and meant merely as the sincerest flattery and not as disrespect.
One Christmas was pretty much like any other since Thomas had left his job back home in the States, along with his family and being called Tommy, and all that being a part of something bigger than himself entailed. It had been a life full of voices shouting – the voices of his many brothers and sisters shouting for a boy to get out of the bathroom as someone else needed it, shouting that dinner was ready and a boy had better hurry if he wanted any food to be left, shouting that the bus was leaving for school and a boy would miss it if he didn’t hurry. At the firehouse where the boy grew to manhood in his job fighting fires, the voices were just as loud, even more urgent – better get another hose over there, and give a guy a hand with this ladder, will ‘ya, and look out, this one’s a son of a bitch and look sharp or you’ll have a falling beam on your head.
Those voices are distant now. Some of them more than an ocean away. The most important one silent, never to speak again. Not to Thomas, at least, who never did have the “gift” that some in the family claimed, of being able to hear the spirits talk; not on Samhain and not on any other day either.
Thomas stood silently watching the fall of snow as it drifted against the pretend village that formed the set of the movie he was attached to as stunt director. It was an odd profession, working in the movies, especially working with the stunts. It was like its own little world of let’s pretend within a make-believe universe. Thomas had found that he preferred it to real life danger and disaster, where the bodies didn’t get back up when a director yelled “cut.”
Speaking of the devil, a tall figure was rounding the buildings, walking in the gloom, hands in pockets, face in the shadows, but recognizable by his long legs and curly hair blowing in the slight breeze. Etienne Lanier, better known as Stephen Lane, though I always preferred to call him Etienne instead of Stephen and Etienne never corrected me. Probably knew why, given that he knew my cousin well, knew of the damned tragic loss of my brother – no, not just a brother – my identical twin brother – it was still hard to even think the words without flinching – but I appreciated that my cousin knew enough to smooth the way for me and that my boss was kind enough not to make me use his preferred name.
Because I didn’t think I’d be able to. Call another man by Stevie’s name, that is. So much easier to use a last name, or say “buddy,” or “mac” or any of the dozen or so other names that men use to simulate friendship.
It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and I was doing all the usual closing up of the set before a work break. Almost finished with it, in fact. Which meant that seeing the director walking the set was a bit of a pain in the ass. Still, he was the boss, so I pasted a smile on my face and called out, “Yo, Etienne!”
Etienne looked up from whatever deep muse he’d been in – genius tends to burn brightest in the gloom, I’ve noticed – and he lifted his hand in greeting. A big smile broke out over his face.
“Bon jour, Thomas! It is almost Noel and you are still working? It must be my fault and I am sorry. But we can only take the one day off as we are behind schedule. I have never finished a movie late and do not wish to begin now. Is that terrible of me?” My family thinks so. I must tell you, it is the first Noel that I have a family and I am finding it a mixed blessing.”
I laughed. “I could have told you that.”
He turned around and matched his steps to mine. “Ah, I did not think. I was too busy hearing complaints from the cast to go to the crew and give them a chance to air their quite legitimate complaints also. Did the change in plans disturb your holiday plans also? What am I saying? Of course it did.”
“It was no problem for me, and most of the crew is local, so the extra money more than makes up for the loss of Boxing Day off. Folks around here are glad for the work, Etienne.”
“And Thomas O’Keefe? Missing another Christmas back home in New York? I won’t be getting an irate call from a certain green-eyed dancer we both know, will I?”
I laughed. “You might, but it won’t be because of me. You and my cousin have too complicated a relationship for me to ever work it out. Are you heading off to France for the day?”
“I was going to but there’s a problem with that scene we shot yesterday, and I’ve got to figure out what it is before we get back to work on Saturday, and my new family are not all that conducive to work.”
“Families can be like that.” I glanced inside one of the barns and sniffed, making sure that there was no stray ember left that could destroy all our hard work on the set.
“Do you have any plans?” Etienne placed a hand on my shoulder. I turned, and managed to move beyond his reach without seeming to shrug him off.
“I’m good. I’ll probably just attend services and then make an early night of it.” I moved on to the next building.
“Very commendable,” Etienne said dryly. “Surely there will be a brief stop at an orphanage to drop off some handmade toys, won’t there?”
I laughed again. Etienne always amused me.
“Not this time. I gave all my handmade toys to the elves – they were a little short on their quotas with St. Nick so what could I do but offer to help by donating my bit to the effort.”
“Not another thing you could do,” Etienne nodded understandingly. We smiled at each other in perfect amity. Etienne suddenly spoke.
“Would you like to get a drink? A pint in the local?”
I tipped my head. “I warn you, I may not stop at one pint.”
“You might miss services.”
“Now that would be a shame...and not a first, I’m forced to confess.”
“So you’ll share that pint with me.”
“No...” I paused, and took note of the disappointed look on his face. “I insist on having my own.”
Etienne had a really great smile when he was genuinely pleased, as opposed to when he was playing one of his parts as Stephen Lane, the famous movie star and director.
“Thank you,” he said. “Are you done here?”
“Pretty much. Just a couple more to check.”
“Is this really necessary? I’m sure everything is fine.” He glanced down the row of make-believe houses.
I smiled wryly. Maybe I couldn’t let go of my past, had to pretend I was still a fireman, protecting people against real fires, but it was too ingrained in me. I couldn’t stop with the job incomplete. I could miss Christmas Eve services and be sure of forgiveness in heaven but not fail to check every building on my watch for a fire hazard and still call myself a son of Sean O’Keefe.
“Why don’t I just meet you down there at the Lucky Lantern? I’ll only be another fifteen minutes or so.”
“I’ll keep you company,” he said cheerily. “No sense my getting a head start on one of you O’Keefes. You’ll be drinking me under the table soon enough anyway.”
I returned his grin with my own cocky one. We made our way down the rest of the make-believe town and locked up what could be locked up. Then, consciences clear, we walked off toward the Lucky Lantern to get blind drunk – always a good plan for the holidays in my opinion.
We talked about soccer for a bit, bemoaning Ireland’s and France’s teams’ performances. I think Etienne was glad to be with someone else who wasn’t all about family and tradition at the holidays. He was choosing to work and he didn’t want a lot of grief about it – he let drop enough clues to tell me that he’d already heard plenty from his family and his boyfriend. Or, make that the guy who had been his boyfriend before he figured out that Lanier really was a workaholic who had no intention of settling down in France any time soon.
Seemed like gays didn’t have it any easier than straights. Maybe that was why Stevie had never settled down and it wasn’t because he’d been too fucking scared to ever tell us—tell me--he liked men. My twin. He could go into a burning tenement building with nothing but an ax and an air pack and run up several floors to rescue a half dozen kids, but tell his twin that he never dated the same girl twice because he’d much rather be dating men? Nah. But it couldn’t have been fear. Must have just been that he couldn’t find the right guy, just like I’d never found the right girl. At least, not back when I gave a damn about finding the right guy, I mean, girl.
Does it count as a Freudian slip if you only think it and don’t say it? Bi-curious. That was what my cousin Danny called me. He claimed that I was in denial and that I should just explore my sexuality. Yeah, like Stevie did. And...like little brother Cathal did eventually. Cat checked out the gay bars with Danny and never looked back.
I watched Etienne’s hands as he talked about the scene he was having trouble with. He had really good hands with long shapely fingers. He used them to communicate almost as much as words; they were a counterpoint to what he said in a way, giving his words added depth and accent.
Shaking my head to clear it, I paid closer attention to what he was saying – and not how he looked as he said it.
“This picture is important to me because this part of Irish history has not been told before. Not properly. Not in the way I want to tell it. And to the audience who needs to hear it. The Americans, who do not know of the bravery of the men who lived and died as a result of the First World War. The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest operations ever carried out. The British and the French battled together against the Germans, and the Irish boys from Ulster joined them, so many dying, over two thousand of them, another three thousand of them seriously injured.”
“It was a bloody war...in all senses of the word.” I lifted my mug and drank deeply.
“They were heroes and the world should remember them as such,” Etienne insisted, raising his own mug and draining it. “The scenes of the lads going off to war – boys like your own uncles who died so tragically – I want to get that right and I’m not. They’re coming out all wrong.”
I took a closer look. Etienne’s face was so hangdog; it reminded me of the sad old hound dog that we used to keep around the station house. Other Ladders, they had the traditional Dalmatian. Not us, Ladder 35, we had a good old hound dog. Made you laugh just to look at its ugly mug. Etienne could be like that. Even when he was sad looking, he made you feel better. I thought I should give him some insight in exchange for the amusement factor if nothing else. And for the beer. I leaned back in my chair, tipping it way back on just two legs – ignoring the echo in my head of Mom’s voice telling me I’d fall and crack my head open.
“The problem with your scene is how you have the brothers being so solemn and noble as they spend their last day at home. They don’t really see it as such a noble thing they’re doing. They would see it as their duty, sure, but also a bit of fun. The fear wouldn’t really be there, not for brothers like that. They’d know they’d have each other no matter what else they faced...they’d have each other so it would all be all right....They’d always have each other….Always.”
I wasn’t quite sure when I started crying but Etienne pulled me against his shoulder before I was sobbing too loudly. Not that an Irishman sobbing in a bar, even on Christmas Eve, especially on Christmas Eve, gets much attention. But I appreciated the kindness behind his gesture, and strong shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, Tommy. So sorry,” was all he said as he rubbed circles on my back, but it was enough. I liked the feel of strong arms around me; with him holding me, I no longer felt like I would shatter apart. But, the fact of the matter was, I was a big boy and I couldn’t spend the whole of Christmas Eve sobbing on my boss’ shoulder. Much as I might want to.
“Thanks,” I muttered, brushing my sleeve over my eyes as I pulled away.
“You’re very welcome,” Etienne smiled gently. “It is I who thank you – you have cleared up for me what I was looking at all wrong. Thank you for sharing that with me, Thomas, though I am sorry that the memory cost you.”
“’Tis nothing,” I told him, standing up. “But I think I’m going to head back to my room, get some sleep.”
A silence fell between us, and I could see the concern in Etienne’s eyes but I didn’t know quite how to respond to it. It was into that silence that the first cry fell, like the clang of a gong, a clarion call.
I looked at Etienne, my heart racing. Most of the town’s men were either in Church or here in the taproom, three sheets to the wind. This was a small town, dependent on the old fashioned fire brigade and volunteer firemen. Volunteers who didn’t have to turn out if they were busy celebrating the holidays with their families.
“Come on.” Etienne was getting up, grabbing his coat and heading for the door. Halfway there, he turned and looked at me. “Well, aren’t you coming?”
“I’m not a fireman any more, remember?”
“And I never was, what the hell difference does that make? There’s a fire somewhere in this little place and we’re probably two of the most able-bodied men who are still able to stand straight. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go see what I can do to help.”
Amateurs fighting fires. One of the most dangerous things in the world, my Dad used to say. Uncle Pat would always argue about it since he firmly believed in volunteers as the solution for everything. He raised all his kids to believe the same.
I guess I fell somewhere in the middle. Volunteers played an important part but they needed to be trained and to act like professionals. Fires were nothing to fool around with. I wanted to shout that at my famous movie star/director boss as I chased after him down the narrow street of the village. I wondered where the fire would be. The kids had put on a pageant in the Church hall earlier in the afternoon. Someone might have left a candle burning. Or maybe the lights on a Christmas tree were old and worn out, the electrical wiring catching fire at an overloaded junction.
It didn’t matter how, not right now. Maybe later when it could be used as a teachable moment. But for now, we first needed to find the fire, make sure no one was in the building and then we needed to get the damn fire out.
How I hated fighting fires. But, it was what I once knew better than anything else.
I caught up to Etienne quickly enough. We ran down through the narrow streets, following the sounds of the crowd, to where the cry of “fire” was still sounding.
“They’re down near the set,” I yelled to Etienne. I managed to increase my speed but even then, the boss’ burst of speed topped mine and he pulled ahead. I could understand it. He had millions sunk into this movie. If that set caught fire….
Come to think of it, I was the one who did the safety check on that set, made sure there were no hazards remaining when we shut down for the holiday. I dug a little deeper and reached the corner first, Etienne right on my tail.
Speaking of tails. There was no fire to be seen. Well, not what I’d call a fire. What we found was a crowd of boys laughing at the sight of a poor cat running around frantically, trying to shake off the flaming branch that had been tied to its tail. Old Mrs. Murphy was screaming and yelling – it was her voice calling “fire” that we’d heard all the way down at the pub. Several of her cronies from the ladies’ auxiliary were with her, cowering behind her substantial bulk as she waved her pocketbook at the young delinquents. Two more young cats were shivering behind her as well. As soon as she saw us, she pointed her finger toward the cat and pronounced in stentorian accents:
“At last! You! You two men! Go rescue that poor cat and punish those wicked boys!”
Now, Etienne Lanier is a big guy, being all of 6'4' or 6'5" of rangy muscle, and me? I’m that tall and much broader across the chest. What is considered typical O’Keefe brawn back home. Here, we both stood out like giants. When we turned to look at those “wicked boys” with menace in our eyes, they turned tail themselves and ran for dear life. We trusted that Mrs. Murphy and her friends would take care of letting their folks and the parish priest know what they’d been up to. We sent the ladies on their way to do just that with assurances that we would catch the “wee puir creature” and help rid it of “that instrument of torture.”
Catching the frightened cat was far more difficult than soothing Mrs. Murphy. Especially without letting it set any of the houses on the set on fire. The closer the fire got to its ass, the more frightened it became and the more frightened it became, the more frantically it ran.
“You go over there while I try to get ahead of it, and then I’ll chase it toward you over by that wall,” I told Etienne, pointing toward the side of the fake barn. He nodded approval of my plan.
The cat came flying toward me and I went running at it, shaking my hands, my long leather coat flapping behind me, looking like a demon no doubt. The poor moggie came to a screeching halt then spun around and heading back toward Etienne, who was keeping as still as a mouse.
A very large mouse. He waited until she got within a meter of him and then dove for her. And missed.
I couldn’t help it; I had to laugh. He threw a glare at me as he scrambled to his feet.
“Don’t just laugh, get that damn branch off that damn cat before she sets this whole damn set on fire!”
Still laughing, I stumbled after the cat. I finally managed to corner it near the house of our lead family and I dove head first - into the lawn, rolling into a somersault.
It was Etienne’s turn to laugh as I lay there cursing a blue streak. The cat circled around me and headed back toward him.
“Together!” I yelled, scrabbling up and taking off after it like I was on the ball field. “Now!”
We both grabbed for the cat. One of us must have gotten the stick at least as it slid off while we landed on the poor cat. The frightened cat ran off, glad to be free of the burning stick and the two maniacs who’d been hunting her. Our bodies smothered the flame as we fell upon it, both of us landing hard. It was a wonder the cat did escape and wasn’t squashed beneath us.
We rolled over onto our backs. At least, I did. Etienne started to roll over but then cried out sharply.
“What’s wrong?” I leaned up on my elbow.
“My back. I...oh fuck.” He lay there half on his stomach, half on his side, his hand clutching his low back.
“How can I help?” I got up on my knees.
“Call Eli...no, damn it. He’s already left for...for his holiday. Damn it all.”
He proceeded to curse a blue streak in French. I’d been working with him for several years now, off and on, but the only French I’d managed to pick up were the swear words. Which came in handy, actually, since when Etienne was upset, he tended to switch to French and most of what he said were curses.
I got up and looked around. “Let’s get you off the ground.”
He managed to look up at me over his shoulder. “I do hope you don’t intend to use a fireman’s carry.”
I grinned. “I think I can manage a little better than that, boss.”
I knelt down and got one arm beneath his knees, the other beneath his shoulders. I grunted as I deadlifted his weight, which had to be over two hundred pounds.
“I’m impressed,” he muttered through gritted teeth.
“Thought you might be. Is this a good time to discuss a raise?”
“Seeing as how you saved my set from being torched by a mad moggie?”
“Well, I didn’t want to mention it but it was a fierce moggie...and have you put on weight?” I pretended to stagger. He laughed weakly.
“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts. Do you have any idea where you are going with me? Speaking of my great weight and how far your mighty O’Keefe muscles will be able to haul it.”
“I was thinking that my place is closest and has the advantage of being on the first floor. I have some painkillers there as well as some great muscle relaxing balm that Eli gave me. Sound good?”
“Sounds wonderful. Onward, Thomas.”
I chuckled and made the rest of the way to my rooms, which were on the ground floor of a nice inn. I had a separate entrance. It was perfect for a long shoot like this one. I chose it thinking I wouldn’t have to worry about shocking the landlady when I brought lady friends home for the night. Not that I had done much of that, but still, I liked to keep my options open.
Once I managed to get the door unlocked and the two of us in without dropping Etienne, it was an easy matter to get him onto the bed. I was glad I’d straightened up that morning, somehow not wanting to face Christmas with a messy place. But, I’d not only made up the bed, I even had logs ready in the fireplace that graced the small sitting room/bedroom, all ready to see in the holiday. That and the little bit of greenery I’d put along the mantle looked a bit pathetic to me now, seeing it as I thought my boss would, and I wanted to somehow hide it from Etienne’s view. But then he spoke.
“Is that a fireplace? Oh my God, I would love to be in a room with a real fire. My room has one of those modern things that you turn on with a switch in the wall. And that evergreen smells so good. My aunt used to put a bit on the mantle in the little apartment we had when I was young and it brightened the place up so much. Mon Dieu, how it takes me back.”
I couldn’t quite hide my smile. “Are you sure you want to risk a fire?”
“Again, you want to make me laugh and put me in pain,” he complained teasingly. “If you must joke, then you must give me those pain pills.”
Laughing, I went to the bathroom and found both the pain pills and the balm. Etienne was lying on his stomach, his legs partially off the bed, his arms by his head. I went to the kitchenette and poured a glass of juice for him so that he could take the pill. I tried to remember how much he had to drink. I walked back to him.
“I think you’d better take just one. You’re not really supposed to mix these with alcohol but I’ve done it and all it does is make you sleepy – unless you are especially sensitive to medicine?” I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t want to be featured on every magazine and newspaper cover for the end of the year specials – ‘news flash! Stunt Director overdoses World Famous Star Stephen Lane in plot to steal his...’ Hmm, what would I be trying to steal?”
“My career, of course. And there would be no need to steal it. I’ve told you often enough, I will make you a star in your own right. No need to stick to stunts with your looks, mon ami.”
I laughed. “I think it would be Sylvester Stallone’s career I would be suited for then, not yours. But I think I will simply not overdose you and keep our respective roles, if that’s okay?”
He looked over his shoulder at me. I motioned for him to get up enough to swallow the pill and he grimaced but did it, with a little help from me. I’d watched Eli enough with him over the years to know that he made a bad patient but the best tactic to take was to be firm and to keep him distracted with talk.
“Do you think you will be finished by New Year’s Day? The cast was talking about a party,” I commented as I matter-of-factly put the glass down once he was done drinking. I then helped him out of his shirt and shoes and straightened him out on the bed so that I could easily straddle him to massage the balm into his back muscles. It was easy to find the spasms – they were practically visible, they were so strong.
“Does this hurt?” I asked quietly as I went about kneading the sore muscles.
“Yes, but in a good way,” he answered. “And to answer your first question, the party is to reward the cast and crew for working through most of the holiday. I promised to fly in any significant others they wanted and we’ll use the set, providing they finish the scenes for this location. We’re due in France for the rest of that interior work and then all done but the editing.”
We were quiet for several minutes. I continued to work on his back. He murmured once that I was good at this and I just grunted in response – a perfect imitation of Eli, I thought. Though Eli was usually more talkative. I found that I was becoming a bit more interested in what I was doing than I thought I would and it distracted me from talking.
Pretend he’s one of your brothers, I told myself. Denis or Darryl. Cathal even. I was so busy concentrating on pretending that it startled me to hear Etienne’s voice.
“Who do you want to bring in?”
“Huh?” Bright response, Thomas, I chastised myself.
“For the party.”
I shrugged. Not that he could see it, on his belly like he was. “No one,” I said shortly. Then I got up. “Let me start that fire. You must be a bit cold with your shirt off.”
“Well, now that your hands have left me, I am,” he said meekly. “A bit.”
Feeling churlish, I offered, “I can massage a little more of that balm of Eli’s in once I set a match to the fireplace. It won’t take more than that to start it.”
“I hate to seem greedy, but your hands really feel splendid – the pain is almost gone,” he told me.
“Most likely that’s the painkiller, added to the beer, but I’ll rub you a bit longer.” I tilted my head and considered whether it was worth rewording that answer but then decided it would just make it worse to say anything. So, I walked over to the fireplace and set it alight with one of the long matches made for that purpose that I kept in a metal tin by the hearth.
Standing up again, I lowered the lights. The homey room looked a good sight better with the softness of firelight. Funny how fire could be so destructive and yet so lovely too. Some people fell in love with it, couldn’t stay away from fires. I had my own strange love/hate relationship with it.
I walked back over to the bed. Etienne had turned his head and was watching the fire with a dreamy expression. I stayed sitting next to him this time as I dipped my fingers into the jar of balm and began to rub it into the muscles of his back. Slow, measured movements, in tempo with his breathing. No...his breathing was getting faster. I stopped and he rolled over onto his back. His blue eyes regarded me steadily as he reached out and grabbed one of my wrists with his hand.
I watched, almost holding my breath, as he lifted my hand to his mouth. His eyes held mine, as though asking permission. I don’t know if I gave it – I know I didn’t refuse it – but whatever he saw made him take my fingers one by one into his mouth. Sucking them. Tonguing each one, surrounding it with wet warmth.
I moaned almost without realizing it was me making that sound, and the next thing I knew, strong arms were pulling me down and I was kissing that mouth, our chins scratching each other because neither of us had shaved since early morning and the strange feel of those whiskers made me....
Made me hard. I opened my mouth and let in that tongue, felt it with mine, ran my hands along this man’s hairy chest.
“Oh fuck,” I muttered.
“Thomas, Tommy,” Etienne whispered, his baritone, his hard hands, the feel of his hard cock against my thigh – all of it was so strange and yet so familiar. Was this what Stevie felt? This strange familiarity that was exciting and different because it was so familiar. So un-female. Nothing soft, and yet...there was tenderness too.
I was not going to cry again, I told myself. And yet I was.
The next thing I knew, Etienne was cradling me in his arms again, speaking comforting words in French and English, with even a few bits of Gaeltacht thrown in – and if that didn’t remind me that he’d been with my cousin nothing else would – and I was ready to drink myself into a stupor over what a fool I was being.
“Sorry,” I muttered, turning away and trying to rise from the bed. I found myself being pulled back by surprisingly strong arms.
“There’s no need for apologies,” Etienne said calmly. “Unless I owe you one for, well, for finding you impossibly attractive and irresistible. I am sorry for that because it is not my habit to attack straight men and...”
“You didn’t attack me.”
It was his turn to raise an eyebrow, which he did like a natural born O’Keefe. “I most certainly thought I was attacking you. What would you call it?”
I had to smile. He looked indignant almost. “Mutual attacking.”
“Oh.” He let that sink in for a bit. Then, “So why did you get upset?”
I looked around the room for an escape. Would it be rude to run out on my boss on Christmas Eve when he was half naked in my bed and we’d just been rutting against each other like teenagers?
Put like that. I sighed. His hand came over mine.
“I’ve been told I’m a good listener. We’ve been too good of friends for too long, Thomas, for us to let this come between us and ruin our friendship.”
Looking at him hopefully, I asked, “So we just forget this happened and....”
He was already shaking his head. “It’s somehow mixed up with Steve, isn’t it?”
“You do hit below the belt.” I managed to pull away that time and went over to the fireplace. He followed, grunting a little bit when he got up from the bed. Which I was a little glad to hear. If I hadn’t seen and felt the spasms, I would have been thinking they were faked.
Sure, because men are always trying to lure me to bed. I took a deep breath and tried to figure out a way to talk my way out of this.
“You can’t forgive Steve for never telling you he was gay, can you?” The softly voiced question hit me like a sledgehammer.
“No...I can forgive that. I can’t forgive me for never telling Steve that I....” I turned to look at Etienne. “I made fun of gays along with the other guys. You know the type of jokes. Kept girlie magazines around and brought lots of girls back to the apartment we shared. Was stud of the Ladder. All so no one would ever think I was interested in guys. I was so wrapped up in keeping my, what did Danny call it? My bi-curiosity, a secret, that I didn’t listen to what Steve tried to tell me. What if he felt he had to be a hero that day because he didn’t want me, his twin, to think he was one of those cowardly faggots that I used to mock?”
Etienne was quiet. Then he looked into my eyes. “Did you feel distanced from your brother that day, that morning, on the way to the Twin Towers?”
I forced myself to think back to that morning. The last normal morning of my old life. We’d been laughing, teasing Cathal because he was starting out and we had a lot of pranks planned. Stevie had loved practical jokes.
“Before you found out his secret, did he ever give you any more reason to think there was a problem between the two of you than you had ever given him? Because you never had told him that you were, what was it, bi-curious? Horrible word, by the way.”
I really tried to think about this. Why didn’t I ever talk to him about my feelings? It wasn’t because I didn’t trust him. I loved and trusted him more than anyone in the world. It was just that...I always thought that there would be time enough, once I figured myself out.
“I thought there would be more time.” I looked at Etienne, stricken. “I always thought there would be more time, when I finally figured what I was all about myself, then I could talk to him about it.”
He nodded; there was a satisfied look on his face. He put his hands on my shoulders. “I have a Christmas gift for you, Thomas. It is absolution. As a full-fledged gay man, I can assure you that your brother would not harbor any grudge against you for not telling him everything about your personal life, any more than you should continue to feel like you failed him because he didn’t choose to tell you all of his secrets. Best friends, brothers, even twin brothers, keep secrets from each other, and sometimes they make mistakes. And the biggest mistake that all of us make is in thinking there will always be more time. It only proves we’re human. Let your gift to yourself be to not make that mistake anymore if you can avoid it.”
“Seize the day, in other words?”
“Or something like that,” he smiled, the one that was pretty hard to resist. I didn’t even try.
“I guess I should give you my present now too,” I whispered, moving my body closer to his.
He started to protest, “You don’t need to give me any....” But then he figured out what the present was and his eyes lit up with pleasure.
“On second thought, I believe you should give me a present,” he decided, walking backward toward the bed, his hands on my shoulders gently leading me. “I suspect it’s going to be just my size.”
“At least,” I assured him.
The bells began to toll for the evening services but neither of us made it to church that evening. Still, it was a very good Christmas in Erin after all.
Back home, there would always be music on Christmas. Uncle Frank would play his fiddle, and some of the cousins would sing along on favorites from the Old Country. It would always be very warm in the big old O’Keefe house where they’d gather. Aunt Rose and Aunt Elinor would drink a few glasses of eggnog and get to reminiscing, which would start the older folks to laughing, and the men to blushing. Tommy and Stevie would creep out of bed when they were small just to listen to the sound of the laughter from the adults, and smile at each other with that superior wisdom of children who see their elders acting foolish.
before they were caught, they’d creep back to bed, crawling under the covers
together, to whisper one final prayer in their youthful tenors, secure in the
knowledge that the Holy Father watched over them even on those nights when their
earthly parents got a little tipsy in remembering the old days and Christmases
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