Last October Thorny Sterling introduced the idea of a Flash Fiction Holiday Blog Hop on his blog, Thorny Not Prickly. Thorny together with Kris T. Bethke and LC Chase set the wheels in motion and the rest of us enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon. Below is the photo they provided for the participants’ inspiration followed by my story. At the bottom of this post you will find a link to the Blog Hop page, the ‘rules’ and links to the other participants’ blogs. All stories will go up over the next seven days. I have no doubt we’re in for a wealth of imaginative writing as well as a good dose of holiday spirit. Thank you Thorny, Kris and LC for this wonderful idea and allowing me to play along.
God, why do I have to be such a prick?
When had I turned into this moody, self obsessed wanker? Why did I feel the urge to shrug him off? I knew I’d regret it the moment I did and yet a small but persistent voice in my head dared me to do it.
It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t even know there was a problem. How could he? I hadn’t told him. He didn’t know this would be my first Christmas without my family.
I picked up a small ornament. The bright red ceramic house glittered in my hands while the tiny words on the side mocked me; Home is where the heart is. Only if the heart followed well established rules, apparently. I put it back in disgust before we walked on. Everything around me was bright, sparkly and festive as if to emphasise everything I’d lost. The beautiful wrapping paper and bright bows reminded me of the people I hadn’t bought presents for this year.
“Give me a moment. There’s something I need to do.” Too caught up in my dark musings I barely noticed him walking away.
No, it wasn’t Declan’s fault. It wasn’t fair to take it out on him. And yet...if I’d never met him I wouldn’t be in this situation. I almost laughed out loud; who was I trying to fool? Without Declan I’d still be living a lie, how was that better?
“What’s wrong?” Declan had returned without me noticing. His arm tightened around me and his warm breath caressed my neck.
“Nothing.” My single word reply made an instant liar out of me.
“Doesn’t sound like nothing to me.” He kept his tone light but I recognised both the concern and frustration underneath his words.
I wanted to tell him and yet couldn’t bring myself to say the words. I didn’t want to be just another ‘rejected by his family for being gay’ sob story.
“It’s this...” I waved my hand around. “All of it, the lights, the glitter, the forced happiness, all of it gets on my nerves.” It wasn’t untrue; it just wasn’t the whole truth. Today I did detest the decorations and huge crowds. Christmas used to be my favourite time of year. Before I became persona non grata. Now every single Christmas tree, all the bright lights, the decorations and seasonal jumpers only grated as they reminded me of everything I’d lost... again.
For a moment I allowed myself to sag into his embrace. I tried to find strength while my back rested against his chest. The soft brush of his lips over my cheek made me feel both better and worse. In Declan I had found everything I’d ever wanted in a partner. Declan, or rather my attraction to him, was what kept me away from my family. The urge to pull away struggled with my need to turn around and kiss him openly, for all to see.
I wondered if things would have been different if it hadn’t been for the earlier incident. It had taken a lot for my parents to forgive me after I’d been brought home by the police. My friends at the time had been into joy riding and one night, after a few drinks too many, I’d hung around when they went on the rampage rather than walk away as I usually did. One wrecked car and arrest later, the fact I’d only been a passenger had made little difference. Of course, I’d only hung out with those guys to prove my manliness, to deny my nature, even to myself.
“Let’s go for a pint.” His simple and very welcome suggestion made me wish I could tell him how I admired his patience. I had no idea how he put up with my mood swings. There’d been days over the past two weeks, I could barely tolerate myself. He had the option to walk away from me, even if I didn’t, and yet he stayed.
Only a few other people were in the small pub when we entered. I walked straight to a booth at the end of the establishment and moved along the bench until I reached the wall. While Declan walked to the bar to get our drinks I gave myself a stern talking to.
I had to stop taking it out on Declan. I’d known I was gay long before I met him, even if I had tried to deny it. It was true I’d come out to my parents because of Declan. But I couldn’t blame him for that or the resulting rift either. He hadn’t asked me to come out. He’d never mentioned it after he’d discovered my family didn’t know. I’d told them because Declan was important to me, because I wanted to share the man I’d fallen for with the most important people in my life. Much as I wanted to blame him for the loss of my relatives, I couldn’t.
“Here you go.” Declan placed the perfectly poured pint of Guinness on the table before sitting down next to me, pushing his way along the bench until our thighs touched. Our movements mirrored each other as we picked up our glasses and brought them to our lips. A long drink later we both put our pints back on the table. I felt rather than saw his unwavering focus on me.
“Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?” When I turned to look at him, the confusion on his face and the pain in his eyes squeezed my heart.
No. This wasn’t his fault and yet I punished him as if he’d caused the problem. I took another large mouthful of the black stuff and decided he deserved to know why I’d been treating him like shit. Now was as good a time as any.
“It’s my family. And Christmas.” Telling the story turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be.
“You told them.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes, I did.” I paused again. “And they didn’t take it well. Words like ‘no son of mine’ were used. My mother cried and my sisters just stared at me.” Hard as it had been to open up, now I’d started I couldn’t stop myself from continuing. “It was the single worst experience of my life. By far. Worse even than the joy riding incident I told you about.”
Even to my own ears my voice sounded detached and flat, devoid of emotion.
Declan put his hand on my leg and squeezed. “That sucks. I’m sorry.”
I stared at the man next to me. The man who’d come to mean so much to me over the past three months. The man I could imagine a future with. The man who’d separated me from my past.
“No, don’t you dare say you’re sorry. This is not your fault. Even I didn’t know my family were such bigots. It hurts. But you’re not to blame.” My anger was way out of proportion; I knew it and couldn’t stop myself from venting it anyway.
“That’s not what I meant. I’m sorry you have to go through this. I don’t...” His words trailed off as he looked over his shoulder. A grin appeared on his face.
I’d started to turn when a voice reached my ears. “Hello lads. Want another pint or are you okay for now?” I froze in my seat as time stopped and my heart skipped a few beats.
Declan’s grin had turned into a broad smile. “I’ll have a pint. Thank you Grainne. But I’ll get them. What are you having?”
Grainne. My sister. I vaguely heard her ask for a Guinness as I tried to make sense of what had just happened. I refused to believe this was the coincidence my brain tried to convince me it had to be. No way had she accidentally walked into the pub we’d picked. No. Fucking. Way.
“Aaron, how are you?” Grainne sat down on the other side of the table and looked at me. Completely lost for words, all I could do was stare at her. I glanced at Declan and wasn’t surprised by the silly grin he threw me over his shoulder as he walked towards the bar.
“I’m sorry bro.”
My heart broke a little when she used the pet name she and my other sister had called me for as long as I could remember.
“Things happened too fast that evening. Between your announcement, Da and Ma’s reaction and everything, I didn’t have time to respond. By the time I’d figured out that none of it mattered, you’d gone.” Grainne paused to take a breath. “Sarah feels the same. She couldn’t come today but I speak for both of us.”
“Thank you.” The words weren’t big enough to convey the relief and gratitude I felt but they were all I had in that moment. “I was sure I’d lost all of you.”
“That was never going to happen, how could you even think that?” Grainne’s voice held a note of disappointment.
“It’s been two weeks, sis. None of you contacted me. It was as if I’d fallen off the edge of the world. Of course I thought I’d ceased to exist for you.”
Grainne looked at me for a moment and understanding dawned on her face. She opened her mouth to reply but Declan’s return to our table with the drinks made her close it again. When he placed a pint in front of my sister a few pieces of the jigsaw slotted into place. How had he known her name or her preference for pints over glasses?
“You two met before.” I didn’t phrase it as a question.
Declan had the decency to look embarrassed. “Yes. About that.” He glanced at Grainne, who smiled at him, before continuing. “Your sisters called the house phone a few days ago, looking for you. Remember, it was the night you didn’t get home till midnight?”
The night my phone had run out of juice and I’d forgotten to bring my charger. I nodded and waited for him to continue.
“We met in our local pub and they told me what had happened. Initially they wanted to wait for you to come home but it got too late and they had to leave. We planned this encounter as a surprise. At the time it seemed like a good start to your Christmas, but...”
“But what?” I didn’t know whether to be angry or delighted.
“You never said anything. You didn’t tell me about your disastrous meeting with your family.” A defensive note had slipped into Declan’s voice. “If I’d known how torn up you were about the whole thing I’d never have kept their visit a secret.” His tone softened and he stroked my hand. “I’m sorry.”
I looked from my sister to the man I loved. It would be so easy to stay angry and blame them. But most of this mess had been caused by my lack of communication.
“Ma and Da will come around as well you know?” Grainne’s voice broke through my thoughts. “Ma’s almost there already, but you know what she’s like. Anything for a quiet life. Da will take a bit longer but I’m willing to bet this time next year you and Declan will be planning a trip home for Christmas. Mark my words.”
With that my anger evaporated. For the first time in weeks the tension in my muscles and the pressure behind my eyes were absent.
“Here, I got you an early Christmas present.” Declan reached into his pocket and retrieved a tiny package wrapped in golden paper.
I opened it with fingers not quite as steady as I would have liked. Inside was a Christmas tree decoration in the form of a red ceramic house. Tiny letters said, ‘Home is...’
It was bright and glittery as fuck. I loved it.