The Worst (?) Christmas Ever

If you'd asked most of the family – Lindsay, Melanie, Michael, Debbie, even Ben, Hunter and Carl – they would all have said that it was the worst Holiday ever.

But it really depends on how you look at it.

The problems all started with the very nasty weather system that settled over Toronto on 24th December.

The various members of the family were affected in different ways.

Carl, Michael, Ben, Debbie and Hunter had decided to drive up to Toronto rather than risk flight delays.  Michael and Debbie were determined not to miss Christmas with their little honeybunch, and the rest of their little family had been swept along by that determination. 

Of course, by the time they packed everyone plus all their accompaniments – luggage, food, Christmas gifts – into the car it was nearly midday, but Michael insisted that it was only a six hour drive at most, so they would still get there by early evening and they would be able to spend Christmas Eve with JR.  So off they went.  Having four adults and a teenager crammed into a car for a six hour drive would have been bad enough.  But the roads were so bad that it took them nearly five hours to get as far as Buffalo and the weather was getting worse all the time.

Carl and Ben were all for trying to find accommodation in Buffalo for the night in the hopes that the weather would have eased a little by the next day.  But Michael and Debbie were insistent that they had to reach Toronto in time to share Christmas morning with their little munchkin, so on they drove.

The snow came down even more heavily as they moved northwards, and as the winter day had darkened very early by the time they passed through St. Catherine's the visibility was very poor.  Which might explain why Michael, who had insisted on driving because Carl had been going so slowly, somehow misread where the edge of the road was and they all wound up in a ditch.

No one was hurt, but there was no way they could get the car back on the road.  Fortunately, they'd just passed a small motel, so they trooped back there and managed to get their last room.  The bored clerk told them they could have a pullout bed, but that's all that was available, so in the end, Carl and Debbie had the room's double bed, Hunter had the pull out and Michael and Ben tried to make themselves as comfortable as possible sleeping on the floor. 

After several unsuccessful attempts to call Lindsay and Melanie, and Brian, they finally managed to get through to the girls.  It was a terrible line, but at least they could reassure them that they were all fine and would try to find a way to get there sometime the next day.

It sounded, before the line cut out again, as if the girls were advising them to either stay where they were or go back to Buffalo, but of course that couldn't have been right.

To add to their woes there was only one place that sold food close by and it being Christmas Eve they'd closed up early, so that meant that all there was to eat were the crisps and chocolates available from the vending machines at the motel, and the food Deb had been taking to the girls in Toronto.  Of course they didn't have any way to heat anything, but cold lasagna and dry panettone were better than nothing.  At least there was a coffee maker in the room so they could have a hot drink.  Of course, there were only enough supplies to make two cups, so they had to share.  But at least they were relatively warm, safe and had a roof over their heads; really, they had a lot to be grateful for – there were many who weren't anywhere near so lucky.

Of course, that's not how Michael or Debbie saw it.  To them the fact that their personal plans to share Christmas with the adored JR had been disrupted was the greatest disaster that could have befallen anyone on the planet.

They were both still huffing and puffing over how unfair it all was and what a terrible way it was to spend Christmas Eve long after the other three had settled down to try to get some sort of sleep.



In Toronto, Lindsay and Mel had their own problems.  The severe snowfall had caused a power cut, so they had no electricity.  Fortunately, the furnace was oil-fueled, so it was working and they were warm enough; but they had an electric stove so they, like the Novotny crew, had no way to heat food and the best that they could manage for dinner on Christmas Eve was sandwiches. 

They spent some time arguing over what to do about the enormous turkey which had been defrosting in the refrigerator.  They debated taking it out and trying the "cold water" method, they considered putting it in a secure box and leaving it on the doorstep, they thought about just leaving it on a shelf in the pantry and turning off the heat to that part of the house; but nothing they could think of seemed to guarantee a safe method to let the turkey finish defrosting that didn't risk giving the whole family a case of food poisoning.  True, if the power came on again in the next hour or so, then it would probably be alright, but they had to admit that there seemed little likelihood of that happening.  They couldn't even put it back in the freezer since it had been defrosting for more than a day now, so it couldn't be re-frozen.  Sadly, they had to admit that the whole huge bird was likely to go to waste leaving them with very limited options for Christmas dinner.

The stress of all of this combined with Jenny's constant whining that she didn't like the dark in the corners of the rooms, she didn't like the way the candles flickered, she wanted the TV on plus her endless demands about 'when are Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa and Ben and Hunter coming?' did not make for a happy household.

But what really added fuel to the fire, of course, was the absence of Gus.  He'd been spending a few days in New York with his father and Justin and the plan had been for the three of them to fly up to Toronto two days before Christmas.  But then a major problem had developed with the Browns Athletics ads scheduled for the New Year, so Brian had had to fly to Chicago a few days ago.  The plan had been that he'd fly back to New York, meet his two boys at the airport and they would all fly to Toronto together late on the afternoon of the twenty-third.

Unfortunately, on that day New York had had its own weather problems, and all three airports had been closed by six in the evening.  Brian's flight which had set out from Chicago, had been sent back again and he and Justin had spent several frustrating hours trying to rearrange their schedules.  In the end, despite the heavy bookings over the holiday period, Brian had managed to pull strings with Liberty Air to get Justin and Gus on a direct flight to Toronto the morning of Christmas Eve and himself on a flight from Chicago.  They would meet up in Toronto – either at the airport, or at the girls' house.

It was the best that could be done.

Of course, their non-arrival on the twenty third hadn't made Mel and Lindsay very happy at the time; but now with the Toronto airport closed and all flights being diverted elsewhere there seemed very little chance that their son would get back to them in time for Christmas and they were even less happy.  Brian had called around lunchtime to tell them that he was in Buffalo, and he'd been told that Justin and Gus's plane was being diverted there as well. 

Since then, however, they'd effectively had communications cut off and had heard nothing.  Their landline phone wasn't working due to the power failure; both of their cell phones were low on batteries and of course the normal charger wasn't working either; they couldn't find the car charger so the cell phone batteries couldn't be recharged.  Dealing with Deb and Michael's phone call had finished Mel's phone and Lindsay's was teetering on the brink.  This meant that they couldn't do what they really wanted to do – which was to call both Justin and Brian ceaselessly until they finally managed to get hold of one of them and harangue them until they found some way to magically restore Gus to them.  They just had to wait for either Brian or Justin to call them.  In addition, the reception in their area was being affected by the storm, so their ability to even receive calls was limited and intermittent.

As always with Mel, her frustrations were expressed in a virtually unceasing diatribe against all things Kinney which finally got on Lindsay's nerves so much that she actually snapped back and reminded her partner that "all things Kinney" included their son, so maybe Mel should think a little before she mouthed off about her dislike of Gus's father. 

That little exchange did not improve the mood in the household one little bit, and despite the fully functioning furnace the overall atmosphere in the house was decidedly chilly.



Justin, of course, had his own problems coping not just with his own feelings, but with a very anxious and disappointed little boy.  Gus had taken Brian's departure to Chicago very well and he and Justin had enjoyed some fun together in New York; but he'd been a sad little boy the day before when his father couldn't join them as promised.  He'd cheered up and tried to be a good boy for Justin once the new plans had been explained to him, but it was obvious that he wasn't his usual happy little self.

Then this morning, Christmas Eve, they'd gotten to the airport and faced long plane delays which had considerably increased both their anxiety levels.  These hadn't been helped by the fact that they hadn't been able to contact Brian; they'd had to assume that he was already in the air and would wind up in Toronto without them.  Finally, they'd boarded their flight, and both Justin and Gus had relaxed considerably as the plane took off, feeling confident that they would soon be in Toronto and reunited with Brian again.

Sadly, that confidence was considerably dented about 45 minutes into their flight when the pilot made an announcement that due to the rapidly worsening weather in the Toronto area, the flight was being diverted to Buffalo.  He held out some hope that if the weather improved the flight might resume its interrupted journey later in the day, but both Justin and Gus feared that wasn't going to happen and they were going to be stranded in a strange city all by themselves on Christmas Eve.

Despite Gus's best efforts to be brave, Justin found himself dealing with a very anxious little boy because Gus was sure that there was no way that Santa would be able to find him if he wasn't at home on Christmas morning.  In fact, given that Santa insisted that all good children were tucked up safe in their beds long before his visit on Christmas Eve, if Gus failed to get there Santa might be so angry at Gus that he might not leave any presents at all.

Justin did his best to reassure him, but he felt rather overwhelmed, especially when they got off the plane in Buffalo to find the airport full of tired and distraught passengers who were all trying to make arrangements to get to wherever they'd been going before Mother Nature intervened.  They weren't even able to get their luggage because it was officially "in transit", so all Justin could think to do was to find somewhere they could get something to eat while he tried to figure out what to do.  Once they were sitting eating Mickey Dee's burgers and fries, Justin considered his choices.

He supposed he could try to hire a car, but if the weather was really that bad then maybe driving north wasn't the most responsible option.  He could, he supposed, just give up and try to find a hotel, but he'd run up a bit of money on his credit card buying Christmas gifts and stuff, and wasn't sure that it wouldn't be refused if the place was too expensive.  He supposed that would teach him that he shouldn't have refused the damned platinum card Brian kept trying to foist upon him.

Anyway, getting a hotel wouldn't ease Gus's disappointment over missing Christmas, or his sadness at being separated from his father and the rest of the family.  Maybe they should just hang around the airport and try to get on the earliest possible flight.  Although, Justin acknowledged to himself, that was a really lousy way for a little boy to spend Christmas Eve.  He sighed, and when he pulled out his cell to try calling Brian yet again he realized that he'd absentmindedly switched it off after his last attempt.  He saw that there were two missed calls from Brian and was just about to check his messages, when an announcement came over the loudspeaker system:

"Would Mr. Justin Taylor please make his way to the Liberty Air counter?"

Justin's heart thumped.  Maybe Brian's connections in Liberty were going to find a way to get them to Toronto after all.  He was approaching the counter when Gus gave a sudden jump and started running.  Startled, Justin took off after him and caught up to him just before Gus reached the tall figure looming over the poor clerk at the desk.  As they approached Justin heard a beloved voice saying with an edge that was so very familiar, "You'd better hope that my partner and my son are still in your fucking airport.  Your boss is a very good friend of mine and I don't think he'll be too happy when he hears that you've dumped my family in a strange airport and left them to fend for themselves."

The unfortunate clerk's response was drowned out by Gus's joyful "Daddy!"

Brian spun and in that instant Justin saw all the love that Brian felt for them both clearly revealed in his face. 

Brian for his part, felt the whole weight of the world lift from him; his eyes lit up with joy and he pulled first his son and then Justin into a long hug.  It was impossible for him to express the relief he felt.  Ever since he'd found out that their plane, like his, had been diverted to Buffalo, he'd been frantically trying to find them.  He'd been terrified that they'd already left the airport to find a hotel; or, even worse, that Justin had been tempted to try to find a car and drive to Toronto.  The thought of the two most precious beings in his world being on the roads in a blizzard without him to protect them had rendered him almost frantic with fear.  But now they were here, safe in his arms, and he really didn't care about anything else.

Justin, for his part, couldn't believe that Brian was here.  He felt that everything that had been wrong about this Christmas Eve was now righted; they might still wind up spending the night at the airport, but at least now they would be together so everything else would be okay.  Judging by the way Gus was beaming as he clung to his father's hand, he felt the same way.

Just then an official wearing a Liberty Air badge approached them a little anxiously.  "Mr. Kinney?"

Brian turned.  "Yes?" he asked abruptly.

"Ah … Mr. Kinney I wanted to apologize for the oversight in our dealings with your … er … family.  We didn't realize …"

"Yeah, well.  Now you know.  The fact that I'm queer doesn't seem to matter to your boss as long as my ads keep increasing the airline's market share, so …"

Justin nudged him, conscious of Gus so close beside them, and Brian forced himself to silence.

"Mr. Kinney, I've contacted Head Office and they've instructed me to offer you ever assistance in the current unfortunate circumstances."

Brian huffed, but Justin forced a smile and said, "Thank you.  We really just want to get to Toronto."

The official looked even more anxious as he responded, "I'm sorry, but I seriously doubt that there will be any chance of a flight to Toronto before tomorrow.  The airport there is likely to be closed for some time and the weather is moving south so …"

"So by the time Toronto opens, Buffalo is likely to be fucking closed," Brian summed up for him. 

The man nodded silently.

Brian, Gus and Justin all sighed deeply.

"Can you organize a fucking car?" Brian asked.  "Rob?" he added, reading the man's name tag.

Rob sighed himself.  "Well, I suppose we might be able to find one, although most of the hire cars are already gone.  But, Mr. Kinney, the weather bureau is strongly advising against any travel that isn't absolutely necessary.  The conditions are too dangerous."

Brian bit his lip, but after a glance at Gus, he nodded.

"Okay, well, what about a hotel for the night?"

Rob brightened immediately.  "Oh, yes.  We can arrange that.  I've already been instructed to get you the best that can be found in the city – at our expense, of course."

Brian and Justin both gave him a hard look at that, knowing that if it hadn't been for Brian's connections they would be stuck dealing with everything on their own just like all the other poor bastards who'd been diverted away from their destinations and dumped here.  But they had Gus to think of and weren't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

So twenty minutes later they, and their rescued luggage, were ensconced in a cab on their way to a suite at the Hyatt Regency.  Justin had taken the front seat to allow Gus to sit with his father, but he twisted as far round as he could to allow himself the pleasure of feasting his eyes on his two favorite men. 

"I couldn't believe it when I heard your voice," he said.  "It was like some sort of miracle."

"Yeah, well, if you'd kept your f … phone switched on, you'd have heard it a lot sooner," Brian groused.  But his hand was ruffling his son's hair, and his eyes were fixed on his partner's face as if somewhere in his secret soul he shared the sense of the miraculous.

Justin smiled his "I'm onto you" smile and Brian shrugged.

"My flight got almost as far as Toronto before it got sent back to Buffalo," he said.  "Then I spent f … far too long trying to find out where the hell you'd wound up."

"Santa must have made us all wind up in the same place," Gus said happily.  "I asked him last night to make sure that even if I couldn't get home, I could at least be with you and Justin."

Justin smiled at him, and even Brian grinned a little as he squeezed his son's shoulder.  "Guess that must be it, Sonny boy," he said.

They arrived at the hotel and walked in to a winter wonderland.  Gus's eyes were round as saucers as he took in the magnificent tree in the foyer and the incredible decorations.

He and Justin explored them while Brian checked them all in and then they were escorted up to their suite.

From the windows they had a wonderful view of the lights across the city which shone brightly in the dim light of an overcast winter afternoon. 

Gus exclaimed over them excitedly and the bellboy, having pocketed his tip, stopped long enough to say, "If you really want to see lights – take a walk along Main Street – just a couple of blocks up.  They have all kinds of illuminated displays every night starting around five.  Some of them are real old, some are state of the art.  But they're all beautiful."

To their surprise, they realized that although the day, with all its traumas and trials, had seemed to go on forever it was only a little after three in the afternoon.

"In fact, there's a Christmas fair just down the road at Broadway Market, if you were looking for something to do this afternoon."

Neither Brian nor Justin had even considered the matter, but at the prospect of doing something connected with Christmas, Gus's eyes had lit up.  The two men shared a look and reached a silent agreement that whatever they could do to make this disrupted Christmas better for Gus, they would do.  Including, Brian sighed to himself, going to some stupid fucking Christmas market where he would no doubt be cajoled into paying out money for all sorts of useless sub-quality shit. 

Before bundling back into warm coats, scarves and gloves, they tried to ring both Lindsay and Melanie – on both their landline and their cell numbers, and also Debbie and Michael, but it seemed like the weather was interfering with reception because none of the calls went through and they didn't have much confidence that texts would fare any better.

Brian used his iphone to send an email to the girls telling them where they were and that they weren't likely to get to Toronto until the next day at the earliest.  He couldn't, of course, know that the power failure, combined with her low budget phone plan, meant that it was a long time before Lindsay would see the email.

Meanwhile, the best Brian and Justin could do was to try to ensure that Gus still had an enjoyable Christmas Eve.

The fair was at a place called the "Broadway Market" and was far enough away from the hotel to make walking there an uncomfortable prospect in the persistent snowfall, so Brian had the hotel organize a car and driver to take them there and then wait to bring them back.  The fair itself – called, to Brian's barely hidden disgust – "Kriskindlemart", was about the way he'd expected.  There were all sorts of craft goods and "quaint" foods – old fashioned candies and the like - and the whole thing generally could have been specifically designed to set his teeth on edge, but Gus loved it.  Justin seemed to enjoy it as well, and it at least gave Brian a chance to purchase a few items that he could quietly stash in the trunk of their hire car while Justin and Gus were occupied with some damned food tasting stall.

Of course, being the last day of the fair, and late in the afternoon, some of the stalls were already closing up, but others, especially those selling perishable foods, were anxious to get rid of the last of their stocks and Brian's two "boys" were offered all sorts of treats – from English style mince pies to rolls filled with gourmet sausage.  Even Brian found himself enjoying sharing a jug of hot mulled cider with his sonnyboys. 

By the time the car took them back to the hotel they were tired but happy.  Justin and Gus went straight up to the suite, but Brian told them he needed to check to make sure that the account for their night's stay would be sent to Liberty Air, and spent some time talking animatedly to the lady at the front desk.

Brian and Justin weren't sure if Gus would be interested in going out again to see the light display the bellhop had mentioned, but after a brief rest while Brian had a cup of coffee and Justin and Gus shared some room service hot chocolate and watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on TV, Gus was ready all set to go.

This time they walked as they were assured it was only a block or two away, and they were glad that they'd made the effort.  For around two blocks all the store fronts on Main Street were decorated with amazing displays – some of them going back to the thirties.  There were animated figures and magical scenes and theirs wasn't the only family braving the cold to allow awestruck children to stand with their noses pressed close to the window glass, their eyes alight with awe and wonder.

They got back to the hotel cold and ready for hot baths, dinner and an early night.  But when they walked into the suite, Justin and Gus received a surprise.

Gleaming on a small table in the corner was a miniature Christmas tree.  It wasn't very tall, but it was a real tree, strung with beautiful lights and in two boxes either side of the tree sat an array of baubles waiting to be hung. 

Gus's mouth dropped open and his eyes nearly popped out of his head.  Then he gave a squeal of delight and was about to head straight for the tree when his father caught hold of him. 

"Bath first," he said firmly.  "Then the tree."

"Then dinner, then the tree," Justin corrected. 

Brian rolled his eyes.  "Sunshine neither of you could possibly be hungry after all the crap you ate at the market."

Justin huffed.  "We had a few snacks, Brian.  Of course we still want dinner.  And Gus shouldn't eat right before going to bed."

Brian just shook his head, and took it upon himself to supervise Gus's bath, leaving ordering of their Room Service dinner to his partner.  He and Justin then had time for quick showers before the food was delivered.

An hour later, warm, bathed and fed, they were all ready to start on decorating the tree.

It was only a little tree, so it didn't take long, but the time was filled with lots of laughter and a warmth that, for Brian, could only have come from the two people with whom he shared that precious moment in time.



Christmas morning brought surprises.  To begin with, it was obvious even before they drew the curtains that there had been a heavy snowfall overnight because the room was filled with the subdued glow of snowlight.  When they did pull back the drapes, they were faced with a world of whiteness.  The snow was falling so heavily that they could barely see any of the buildings that had been so brightly lit last night.  It was apparent to the two adults as they stood, arms around each other watching the snow fall, that they wouldn't be going anywhere in a hurry.

Then, when they'd wrapped up in snug clothes and ventured out of the bedroom, it was clear that Santa had somehow managed to find them since there was an array of gifts sitting under and around their little tree. Most of them were silly tchotchkes that a cynic might have thought came from somewhere like the Christmas fair.  But there were a couple of "real" gifts that looked a little squashed – almost as if they'd been crammed into a suitcase – those must have come from the bottom of Santa's sack.  There was also a beautifully written note from Santa, decorated with tiny drawings of busy little elves, explaining that he'd left most of Gus's gifts at his home in Toronto so that he didn't have to find a way to get them back there.

But before opening the gifts, the first task of the day was to decide what to order for breakfast, and while Justin and Gus took care of that, Brian called the airline.  He was informed that they, as expected, the severe weather in Buffalo had led to the airport being currently closed.  At the moment, it was expected that flights to Toronto would not resume until evening at the earliest, and they strongly advised that Brian and his family spend another night at their expense at the hotel.  Brian informed them that they would stay at the hotel for the day, but that if it was possible to get a flight out in the evening they would like to do that and he was assured that he would be informed and first class seats would be provided for them on the first available flight.

Then Brian called the girls.  He still couldn't reach them on the landline, but Lindsay answered her cell phone.  He was in the middle of explaining where they were and what was going to happen when Mel snatched the phone from Linds and began abusing him.  Before he could even respond, the line went dead.  He tried to call again only to be told that the phone was switched off.  He tried Michael's phone, and then Deb's and received the same message.

He shrugged and went to see what horrendous mounds of fat and sugar had been ordered for breakfast.

They were just finishing breakfast and about to start on the presents when Brian's cell rang.  It was Michael and he sounded on the verge of tears. 

He spent a lot of time telling Brian that they were stuck in some Godforsaken place because they couldn't find anyone who would tow the car out of the ditch on Christmas morning.  He ranted about how bad the phone company reception was up here in the north and that he'd been trying and trying to call Brian but hadn't been able to get through and now his cell phone battery was dead and so was Debbie's and because all the numbers they needed were programmed into the phones and they couldn't remember them, they hadn't even been able to call from the motel and it was only this morning that they found out that Carl's phone had Brian's number on it and it was the only one that was left working so he was using that.

He whined about the fact he'd missed both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with his daughter and he made it more than clear that he was extremely upset about it. 

Brian struggled in vain to get a word in to ask him exactly where he was, but Michael was too busy telling him about how disgusting cold lasagna was and that anyway they'd already eaten all of it and there wasn't anything except chocolate and crisps so they would probably starve to death on Christmas Day.

Then abruptly that phone too went dead, leaving Brian feeling both frustrated and exasperated.  If Michael had only shut up long enough to tell him exactly where they'd become stranded, Brian could have arranged a car to pick them up and take them to Toronto.  As it was …

He sighed, and then shrugged fatalistically.

As it was he couldn't do a fucking thing about it, so he was just going to relax and enjoy Christmas morning with his son.

He and Justin and Gus spent a happy morning unwrapping their gifts and playing with them, while the TV burbled holiday programming in the background.  A call to the front desk confirmed that the hotel was pleased to extend their stay and that the airline had requested that they be given reservations for the Christmas feast in the dining room of the main restaurant.

The sitting was at one and after a very satisfying meal – a full Christmas dinner, complete with all the trimmings - they'd barely returned to their room when the airline called to let them know that a flight would be leaving for Toronto in two hours.  They had just enough time to re-pack and get to the airport.

Fortunately, there were no more delays and it wasn't all that long before they were in a cab on their way to the munchers' house.



Meanwhile, at the house, things were still tense.

Power had been restored a little after one, so around about the time that the boys were sitting down to their Christmas feast at the hotel the girls were cooking their first hot meal since lunch the day before.  Given that all their meal plans had been based around the turkey, and Debbie's lasagna, the best they could scrape together was a somewhat strange meal of omelets served with festive side dishes, and both Mel and Lindsay at least found it totally unsatisfying. 

JR flatly refused to even try it; she was upset because she wasn't allowed to open most of her presents until her father arrived, and wasn't hesitating to let them know it.  They had trouble pacifying her, especially because they hadn't heard from Michael since the day before so they didn't know what was going on with him.  And thanks to Melanie's misappropriation of the phone during Brian's call, they didn't really know what was happening with their son, either – a fact that Lindsay was more than happy to point out to Melanie at some length.

In fact, when the argument escalated into a whole series of "if you/ Michael/ Brian had/ hadn't …" (like "if you hadn't allowed Gus to go to New York he'd be here now"), Lindsay wound up delivering a knockout blow by suddenly stating, "Don’t keep ranting about how Brian shouldn't have done this or that.  You can't blame the weather or the power cut or Michael getting stranded in some place on the highway on Brian.  The truth is that if you hadn't insisted on coming here in the first place we'd all be safely at home in Pittsburgh having a proper family Christmas.  So it's really all your fault!"

She then burst into tears, ran upstairs and locked herself in the bathroom.

Melanie wanted to do much the same thing, but as Jenny's wails escalated right then, she had to deal with her fractious daughter instead.

All in all it wasn't a very happy household.



Michael, Debbie and the rest eventually arrived around six – only twenty four hours later than they'd planned.  They were all tired, hungry and cold and hoping for at least a warmed over Christmas dinner.  What they got were omelets served with stuffing and bean and bacon mix. 

The endless chorus of "couldn't you just have …" suggestions for how they could have managed to rehabilitate the half-thawed turkey at least drove Mel and Linds back into alliance.

A short time later (although it seemed much longer) – just a little after seven - a cab pulled up at the house to deliver Brian, Justin, Gus and all their luggage and extra gifts.

They were greeted, of course, by a deluge of complaints.

Brian's solution to the food situation was to tap away at his iphone till he found a place that would deliver – pizzas at least, if not a turkey dinner.  So at least everyone got some substantial hot food.  He and Justin thought it wiser not to mention that they'd already had a fabulous Christmas dinner and Gus took his cue from them and also kept silent on the matter.

Brian and Justin stayed only long enough for the kids to open all their presents, then they escaped to their hotel. 

They would have felt bad about abandoning Gus, but he'd actually fallen asleep on the floor, his head pillowed on Justin's knee, so they just carried him up to bed and tucked him in and left the house with a manic chorus of whines and complaints echoing in their ears.

There really wasn't a lot they could do right then to make things better for anyone, but before going to bed they organized for their hotel's restaurant to serve a proper turkey dinner for nine people and two kids for lunch the next day, and to have a stream of groceries delivered to the girls' place in the morning.

That was pretty much the best they could manage in the circumstances.

Of course, the family at the house didn't know about those arrangements and went to bed still whining about what a dreadful Christmas it had been.  In between, of course, indulging in whole orgies of "if only's" and allocating blame to pretty much everyone they could think of – with much of the blame of course being put upon Brian for reasons that were clear to most of those involved, no matter how irrational those 'reasons' actually were.

"The worst Christmas ever", they told each other over and over again. 

But Gus, sleeping soundly through all the complaints, and the two men safely ensconced in the calm and quiet of their hotel room, all held a completely different opinion.

From their point of view, it had been a magical time – something set apart from the normal routine.  Gus had gotten to spend time alone with his father and Justin and they'd done fun things that were completely different to any Christmas Gus had known before.  And Moma and Mommy weren't there complaining about Daddy all day and ruining it all.

Justin, once all the stress and trauma of all the travel delays had been banished by Brian's appearance, had enjoyed spending Christmas with his lover and their son in an atmosphere untainted by the judgmental bitching and disapproval they always had to face from both Melanie and Lindsay and Debbie and Michael.  For the first time he was able to just relax and enjoy Christmas without having to worry about how to defend Brian and Gus from the spiteful little remarks that were made with no regard from the speaker as to how hurtful they might be to not only Brian but also his son.  Justin's New Year resolutions would include implementing some strategies to improve that situation.

As for Brian - he'd spent time with his son at Christmas before, of course.  But it had never been just the three of them.  Before there had always been Mel with her bitching and Linds with her judgmental WASP frown and of course, Debbie and Michael, comparing his parenting to theirs and deriding him for just being himself.  All of that was bad enough for him to take but he was used to it and prepared to shrug it off as always; what was really starting to bother him was that Gus was old enough now to understand what was being said and to be hurt by it as well.  And he didn't know how to prevent that hurt.

But this Christmas there had been none of that.  There had just been love and laughter, and from now on, when he thought of Christmas Brian wouldn't immediately think of the horror Christmases of his childhood, or of the loneliness which came from the overwhelming sense of being tolerated at Debbie's and Lindsay's – an outsider, only given entrance because of their "generosity".

No, what he'd think of now was the laughter he'd shared with his partner and his son, the joy in their faces as he'd hugged them to him in the airport, the glow of the street illuminations reflecting from Gus's eyes and Justin's, and the look of awe on Gus's face when he'd seen the tiny tree Brian had managed to get the hotel staff to provide for them.

For all of them, memories of this day would fundamentally change how they thought of Christmas.

In fact, for Brian, Justin and Gus this had definitely been the best Christmas ever.

Of course the three of them were smart enough to keep that opinion to themselves. 

But for ever afterwards, whenever the rest of the family were declaiming about the "worst Christmas ever", Brian, Gus and Justin would just share a look, and know that for them, at least, it had been a really different story.

December 2011

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