Look what I found! A short story I wrote a year after the release of New York Christmas… Hope you enjoy 🙂
The AP English class he was teaching was hostile, but Chris didn’t blame them. The news that their school trip had been canceled wasn’t good at all.
“Settle down,” he said, though he didn’t put a lot of volume behind the words. After last night, and now today, he wasn’t in a good frame of mind to control twenty-two unruly teens, let alone consider what was happening next between him and Daniel.
In fact, from the way Angie Fuller was near tears, he wondered which was actually worse. The fact that the reward he’d promised the class was null and void, or the fact that his fiancé was a secretive fucking bastard.
“Are you okay, Mr. Matthews? It doesn’t matter, we don’t blame you.” This from Angie who was pushing through the disappointment just to make him feel better. She was the hardest worker in this class, the one who’d never before really opened a book for enjoyment let alone studied context or commented on descriptive narrative. She was a star, and at this moment Chris could have hugged her.
The rest of the class quieted, and finally, all twenty-two disappointed faces looked directly at Chris. He knew damn well he had to say the right thing. How did he say, “The school doesn’t have the funding for the visit to DC and most of your parents can’t afford the extra money to send you.” When the principal called him in after lessons yesterday, he’d expected news about next semester’s extracurricular decisions, not to be told there was a budget hole and that the English department, along with science, were the ones to lose out. No trip to Washington for his senior English class.
“We’ll go next semester,” he finally said. The young people who made up the class stared back at him.
“Yeah right,” a voice muttered from towards the back row. A couple of the kids close to the voice’s position hushed whoever it was. Chris wasn’t even going to ask who had spoken. The kids deserved to be pissed off.
The rest of the lesson was quiet, subdued, and just ever so slightly angsty. Good thing they were focusing on the scene they’d been studying.
The rest of the day was pretty much a rinse and repeat, Chris carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and not even wanting to go home. What was the point? He and Daniel were winding down now. They’d had a good year; in fact, in a few weeks’ time, they’d have been celebrating a whole year together since they met up again. But that wasn’t likely now. Two nights this week Daniel hadn’t made it home until a few hours after he said he would, said he was working with Jason at the newest shelter that the Bailey money was paying for. Add to that, two nights the week before and one the week before that, and Chris was convinced he knew what was happening. Daniel had found someone else. And that broke his heart.
They were engaged, shared a place that was in both their names. They’d even begun to talk about the actual wedding part of their relationship, but recently Daniel had been taking extra shifts in his job. He blamed it on the fact that the precinct was down on recruitment, that he and Alex were on call so much of the time. Then last night when Chris had been digesting the bad news about the school trip, he’d called the precinct to talk to Daniel. Only Daniel wasn’t there.
Daniel had lied.
* * * * *
Tired and cross, Chris let himself in the apartment and nearly fell over a pair of long legs just inside the door.
“Sorry,” Daniel said on a hiccup. “Couldn’t find the sofa.”
Chris crouched down beside Daniel. “Are you drunk?”
Daniel tilted his head, blinking his long eyelashes and attempting the innocent look. “No,” he finally said. He banged his head against the wall and left it there before closing his eyes. “Yes.”
“It’s only five,” Chris pointed out. He didn’t mean to sound accusing, but Daniel didn’t really drink much, and to find him sat on the carpet in their small hallway was a bit of a shock.
“Seven,” Daniel said. He rolled onto his side, and with all the grace of a newborn gazelle, he attempted to stand. Chris grabbed him and helped him until he was upright, then assisted, or more dragged, him to the sofa. “Seven drinks. Not five.”
Looking adorably cute and flushed, Daniel curled up in the corner of their huge sofa and scrubbed his face with his hands.
“Why?” The single word was loaded. Why Daniel was drunk? Why had Daniel even been drinking? Hell, why was Daniel pulling away from him and meeting up with god knows who behind his back?
“Bad day,” Daniel muttered. “Wanted to come home.”
“Better late than never,” Chris muttered.
“What?” When Daniel looked at him all puzzled, with his hair long and curling on his forehead, it was all Chris could do to hold back all the accusations. Why was Daniel staying out some nights, why was he lying?
“I’ll get you some coffee.” Chris made to leave, but Daniel reached out and tugged him down. Chris overbalanced and tumbled next to Daniel, and even though Daniel was far from sober, he still managed to get them into a position where they could kiss. The kiss tasted of something sweet, not beer or wine, and Chris couldn’t make it out. He pulled back to ask, but with a soft sigh of contentment, Daniel closed his eyes, rested his head on Chris’ chest, and went to sleep.
“Why are you lying to me?” Chris whispered into Daniel’s soft hair.
* * * * *
Breakfast was quiet. Daniel was nursing what looked like a doozy of a hangover, and Chris was quietly stewing.
“You okay?” Daniel asked for the second time. He was drinking coffee like his life depended on it and appeared more awake with every sip.
“I have to think of a way to get my English seniors a reward for their hard work. School budgets won’t stretch to our journalism trip to Washington.”
Daniel shook his head, then seemed to regret it, holding his head in his hands with his elbows on the breakfast bar. “I thought that was all set up for next Thursday, with the stay-over and everything,” he rasped.
“Nope,” Chris snapped. “So you’ll have to come home to me being here.” He grabbed his bag and keys and let himself out before Daniel could answer. There was no point in discussing anything when Daniel was hungover.
* * * * *
Friday turned to the weekend, Daniel working crazy shifts, Monday slid into Tuesday, Wednesday was a long slow day, and Thursday morning arrived with rain. Chris woke up to the reminder that today was the day he was supposed to be supervising twenty-two of his pupils on the first trip out of the city for some of them. The realization that it wasn’t happening hit him again like a ton of bricks. He was grumpy when he shaved, grumpy when he showered, grumpy when he realized Daniel was still out working and he couldn’t even get a response for his grumpiness.
Parking in the teacher’s lot, he locked his car and leaned against the side of it looking up at the clear early November day. There was a promise of snow for the city, but he’d put money on the fact it wouldn’t snow until after his birthday, which was only two days away. It had never snowed on his day, much to his disgust when he was a kid. No snow days for him ever.
“Mr. Matthews!” Angie hovered at the edge of the teacher parking lot waving her hands to get his attention. She had a travel bag by her feet and another by her side.
Great. Clearly, she expected a miracle to happen and for the trip to still be on.
Then he saw it. The brand-new school bus, so yellow it hurt his eyes, emblazoned with the school name. And under that name a smaller row of letters. He peered closer. “Donated by the Bailey Educational Foundation.”
“Everyone’s on the bus,” Angie said, “But your boyfriend said I should wait outside and give you this. And boy, he’s so cute in his uniform.”
Far from having trouble from the seniors for being gay, they’d embraced his choice. Well, they embraced it after a few weeks, but he’d just ridden the first few turbulent weeks with a smile and patience. That had been the way to go clearly. Angie handed him an envelope. He opened it and scanned the quick note from Daniel.
I heard you, and I love you, and this is for your kids. Always yours, Daniel.
Chris folded the letter up and pushed it in his pocket, looking up to see most of his class peering out through very clean windows. Angie then handed him the bag, which he recognized as his. Whatever was going on with Daniel, it was things like this, words like for your kids that grabbed hold of Chris’s heart and wouldn’t let go. They needed to talk. Chris couldn’t sit and watch life go by. If someone was trying to steal Daniel from him, then he sure as hell was fighting for him.
When he climbed on the bus, he looked at his students, at the smiling and the texting, the flirting, and even the kissing between two young guys on the back row. He loved them all, even Mickey with his temper and Angie with her hero worship.
“Right,” he announced, just so they focused on him. “Usual rules,” he said. “Let’s go.”
* * * * *
When he arrived home, exhausted from two days traipsing around museums and houses, the note on the counter with his name in red felt pen was the first indication something wasn’t quite right. Chris recognized Daniel’s writing and opened it. Another note from his lover.
Meet me at Ame’s at four tomorrow afternoon.
He immediately texted Daniel. Why Ame’s?
The answer took a while to come back. As was typical for Daniel, it was short and to the point. Need to show you something. Love you. xxx
* * * * *
At just past four, fresh from grading a whole load of term papers, Chris turned up at Ame’s. The coffee and muffin shop had been his haven after he left his job at Sacred Heart, and Ame was a good friend. He kind of got the idea of what was going on when he saw the coffee shop sign flipped to Closed and the interior filled with balloons.
“Happy birthday!” Ame called as soon as he stepped inside. She pulled him in for a hug and they embraced for ages.
“Upstairs in your old room,” she said with a smile. “Go see.”
Chris wound his way through the café and up the familiar stairs, stopping when he reached the small bedroom that had been his when he first met Daniel. Speaking of whom, Daniel was standing in the middle of the room dressed in a tux. The whole thing: black pants, jacket, bow tie.
“Hey,” he said. “Happy birthday.”
“Thank you,” Chris said.
Daniel crossed to him and kissed him. “I got you this.” With a smile, he handed Chris a garment bag and Chris unzipped it to see a tux the same as Daniel’s.
“Are we going somewhere?”
“Get dressed and meet me on the roof.” He dropped a kiss onto Chris’s lips and left the room with a smile and a love you.
Chris pulled out the clothes and dressed. They needed to talk. What was it that was keeping Daniel out? What was Daniel doing, who was he meeting? Watching the city from the roof was cute and all, but that didn’t mean Chris didn’t have questions to ask.
“You ready?” Ame asked from the door. She walked in and cradled his face in her hands. “You look gorgeous,” she said. Then taking him by the hand, she led him up the tiny stairs to the roof. Then she ushered him through the door and he stood at the threshold, knowing his mouth had fallen open.
Thousands of fairy lights, family, friends, students, and teachers from school, a large tent giving a warm space to stand with patio heaters, and the view of the city beyond. And, right in the center of it all, Daniel Bailey with someone who looked suspiciously official looking.
“He’s worked so hard on this wedding,” Ame whispered. “He’s a keeper.”
In a daze Chris crossed to his fiancé and took his hand, looking into smiling eyes. “All those nights…”
“And the night you got drunk?”
“Tasting sherry.” Daniel wrinkled his nose. “Apparently it’s a thing, but hell, it’s nasty stuff.”
“All for this?”
Daniel nodded. “For our wedding. So…” He pulled Chris close and they kissed. “Ready to have a birthday wedding?”
Chris kissed him back. All the quips he could make about Daniel only having one special day to remember died as excitement filled him. Was he ready?
“Yeah, I’m ready,” he murmured. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Daniel whispered back.
As snow began to fall lightly around them, they held hands, facing the minister and began the next step of the journey that had started last Christmas.
Being happy and in love.