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X Universe - Book 3
I Promise Forever - Chapter 10
There was nothing more nerve wracking than being a Wiccan shopping for the holidays with his shopaholic, Catholic husband. London was a mad house. I scowled at Mr. Packmule as he carried the results of five hours of store hopping. "Happy?"
"What?" He looked at me, perplexed.
"We've been shopping since eight, Jeff. My feet hurt, I'm hungry, I have a headache, and if I have to face one more store filled with screaming children I think I'll go nuclear." I took a breath and let it out before flashing him an insincere smile. "And how was your day dear?"
He laughed. "Okay, okay. I see the warning light flashing. I get it." He nodded at a restaurant across the street. "Food first."
We crossed the street, which was always a risk to life and limb in London, and got into the restaurant without incident. I frowned at the armload of bags and boxes Jeff was carrying. "We're going to need a table for the gifts alone."
"Good afternoon, gentlemen. Shopping?" The hostess smiled at us as I bit back an irritated response.
"Yes, could we have a table for four?"
"Are you expecting company?" She pulled out four menus.
I grinned. "No. We only need two menus, but we'll need the space for the 'shopping'."
She laughed. "Lucky then that you ducked in after the heavy hour." Putting two menus back, she walked into the dining room. "Follow me. We have an intimate little booth in the back that should be perfect for you to get to know your shopping better."
I groaned, but smiled as we followed her. "If I get to know our shopping any more intimately, I'll have to pay alimony when we give the gifts away."
Smiling, she set our menus on the table and helped us load the bags and packages into one side of the booth. "You do have a shop full."
Jeff flexed his fingers and unzipped his coat after the last package was safely on the seat. "Thanks."
"My pleasure," the hostess responded with an appreciative smile and a wink as Jeff peeled off his coat. She wasn't the only person in tne room who noticed that his sweater clung to him in very pleasing ways. "Your server will be with you shortly."
I took the inside of the bench after handing Jeff my coat. I waited as he hung both coats on the hooks at the end of the booth and then slid in beside me. "Did she wink at you?"
Jeff shrugged, picking up his menu. "I didn't notice."
Typical, I thought to myself. I let it slide, and changed the subject. "Who's left?"
Jeff set the menu down and pulled out his list. He checked down the names. "We still need to find something for Janet, Kate, Mom, Ororo, Rogue and Elizabeth." He thought about it for a moment. "I have no clue what to get Tyler. Should we get something for the twins?"
I shrugged. "I guess so. We don't have to ship the stuff though, since they're coming over the week after Christmas." I looked at the packages and bags. "Think we need to get anything else for Paulo?"
Jeff grinned. "Half of that stuff is for Paulo, Dan. I don't think he'll feel unloved."
I sighed. "I just feel guilty. We won't see him again until January. He'll be spending Christmas with strangers."
Jeff squeezed my knee under the table. "Was your first Christmas at school so bad?"
I smiled, remembering that Christmas watching Logan and Scott try to act like nothing special had happened. Anyone with eyes could see it had, but they played the game pretty well. "Nah, I guess not. I just hope he won't feel like we're ditching him."
"Did you feel like I was ditching you?"
I shook my head. "You never ditched me. I got the feeling you wanted me to spend Christmas with you in Florida, but you were afraid to ask." I'd replayed that Friday before Winter Break in my head dozens of times.
Jeff grinned. "Yeah. I was sure you'd turn me down, like Thanksgiving."
"I would have," I agreed. I hadn't known Jeff long enough, or felt secure enough to accept the offer.
"Being turned down wouldn't have made for a good Christmas present." Jeff traced the lettering of the menu as he talked. "I was so sure you weren't interested. I spent the break dreaming about showing you the beach and finding the guts to tell you how I felt."
He'd made how he felt pretty clear before he left. If I hadn't been so blinded by my own fears, I'd have seen it. I still had the present Jeff ever gave me before leaving that Winter Break. It was a stupid acrylic frame with the Polaroid of us, and the words "best friends" written with permanent marker on the white tab.
His first present to me, I remembered as I smiled. I'd put it up on my altar in the attic as a reminder of the importance of love. "I spent the whole break grinning at that ugly-ass picture you gave me."
He grinned. "You were making a funny face."
"You were still wobbling like a weeble in class."
Jeff frowned. "I passed flight class."
I squeezed his hand, noting the server heading our way. "Yeah, but you got a lot better at flying when you were given an incentive to try."
Jeff grinned. "What was that."
I leaned in, hoping the guy coming up with his order pad wouldn't hear me. "Trying to catch my ass while I flew circles around you."
Our server spoke up before Jeff could quip back at me. "Hello, I'm Ryan. Are you ready to order?"
I shook my head. "No, sorry. We haven't even looked at the menu yet."
Ryan nodded. "Alright then, would you like something to drink while you decide?"
"Tea," I answered, picking up my menu.
"Diet Coke," Jeff asked as he did the same.
"Right. Be back in a bit." Ryan left us to look over the menu.
"You really can't carry much more," I commented as I looked over my menu at the packages.
Jeff smiled. "That's why I have a big, strong husband. He's got really long arms and can carry tons."
I frowned. "You're going to keep us at this all day aren't you?"
"We've only got two weekends left to shop, Dan. If we need to special order anything, we'll have to do it today or tomorrow."
I sighed. "I still don't understand why we can't just give everyone gift certificates."
It was an argument I'd already lost, but I was never a graceful loser. The rest of the day was hell.
I sensed the electrical system again as Jeff added yet another strand of lights to the Christmas tree. There had been no indication of a load problem, but seeing all those lights pulling from one outlet made me nervous. "Jeff, I don't think the house was wired for this."
He snorted. "Oh please. They're little lights, not hundred watt bulbs."
I shook my head and let him have his way. All the fuss and fervor over Christmas -- decorations, gifts, cards, music and meals -- was enough to drive anyone insane. Being pagan was so much easier. A simple night of reverence spent with loved ones over Yule, a simple ceremony, possibly a present or two, and our "birth of the lord" was done. I refrained from reminding Jeff that Christmas had been moved to December Twenty-fifth because the Christian Church had tried to theologically pave over the pagan celebration of Yule. It hadn't worked. In the end, our pagan practices were merged into the Christian holiday. I snapped out of my internal argument about the holiday and watched as the "magic of Christmas" unfolded in our living room.
Misty eyed the tree with ever increasing interest. Twinkling lights, tinsel, glass balls, garland, the tree was a cornucopia of delights for a cat to explore. I had an image of Christmas morning, finding the tree on its side, balls scattered to the winds, garland wound about table and chair legs, and one very happy kitten chewing on evergreen needles.
"You do realize you just made a playground for the Little Miss, right?"
Jeff grinned. "She won't go near the tree."
I laughed, looking at the fascinated feline. "Yeah, right."
Jeff held up a package of mothball hangers. "A friend of mine told me cats hate the smell of moth balls. I'm going to hang a few of these in the tree." He peeled back the seal on one of the hangers and set the smelly thing in front of Misty. She sniffed it once, made a sour face, pawed at it, and then moved away looking disgusted. "See?"
I wasn't convinced that moth balls would save the tree from feline curiosity, but at least she hadn't ignored the smell. "When do Mom and Dad arrive?"
"Wednesday. Janet comes in Thursday, and George flies in Friday morning."
I shook my head. "Brian leaves Wednesday morning. This is going to be tight."
Jeff nodded, sighing as he hung another ornament. "Yeah. First Christmas in our own place and we get to spend it playing room shuffle."
That was an understatement. "Janet's using the computer room..."
"Mom and Dad are in Brian's room," Jeff added, picking up another ball and trying to find a place for it on the already overladen tree.
"George is on the inflate-a-bed down in the workout room." I paused, thinking about the wisdom of that. "We should deactivate the systems down there. George is pretty curious."
Jeff laughed. "I'm sure you're not the first person to call him 'monkey boy'."
I frowned, not getting the joke. "Okay?"
Jeff raised an eyebrow, turning from his decorating task to look at me. "You know, 'Curious George'? Children's book?"
I shook my head. "Never heard of it."
Jeff gaped at me. "You're kidding!"
"Nope." I scooped up Misty and tickled her belly. "I remember my mother reading me The Adventurers, and Peter Pan, and Dr. Seuss."
Jeff shrugged and turned back to his task of trying to collapse the poor pine by adding that one final ornament. "I thought everyone had read the Curious George books."
"I'm not everyone."
Jeff grinned at me. "I'll say."
I looked away from his amused leer and checked the calendar on the wall. Three days before all hell breaks loose. I set Misty down. "Wednesday is going to be a nightmare. We have to pick up the last presents after seeing Brian safely to Gatwick, and then get over to Heathrow to pick up Mom and Dad."
"Makes you wish we could fly instead of using the rail and underground, huh?"
Jeff placed the last ornament, walked around the couch, and hugged me from behind, dropped his chin to my shoulder. "So, what do you think?"
I waved at the light switch, causing it to snap to the off position, and viewed our first Christmas tree in all its glory. The thing looked like a Gay Pride celebration. "Did you have to get the rainbow multipacks of balls?" They really were very pretty, but I'd have preffered a more homogenous theme for the tree.
Jeff grinned into my neck as he nibbled my flesh, causing goose bumps to rise along my shoulders. "I thought you were going to complain about the iridescent garland."
"That was next on my list," I chided. "At least you didn't get rainbow triangles. I'd have boycotted Christmas."
Jeff chuckled. "Come on, it isn't that bad."
"If you like 'Christmas by Skittles'."
"You like it, I know you do."
I sighed and leaned into his embrace as he got to my ear and started chewing. "Just promise me you won't go out and buy Ru Paul's Christmas CD, okay?"
"Then I like the tree."
His hands slid down my body and he started unbuckling my belt. "Decorating for Christmas makes me want to start opening presents."
"What present do you want to open first?" I tried to play along, but his lips on my ear and his hands stroking me were very distracting.
"You," he whispered, before turning my brain to mush. Making love under twinkling lights and garland was fun. The only bad part was the rug burns.
Jeff looked about the back yard as I set the last candle in place. "You sure no one can see us?"
I nodded. "Mrs. Radcliff is already asleep, and the Chesterfield's are downstairs watching television." I opened my senses for good measure, but I'd already checked twice. "No one else can see into the yard from their upper windows." That wasn't actually true, but anyone else needed binoculars to see anything in detail. Though Jeff was worth a telescopic view, I doubted anyone had gone to the trouble.
"Okay." He stepped off the porch and shivered as his toes touched the frozen ground. "Damn, it's cold."
"Cry baby," I teased, "just extend your aura under your feet."
He did, and walked into the circle. "So..." He looked nervous. "What do I do?"
"Stand quietly in the circle and look beautiful as always."
"Will she really talk to me?"
"If you're open to it, I'm sure she will." Grams had tried to talk to Jeff at Autumn Equinox, but he hadn't been ready. He'd felt her touch and that had shut him down. I hadn't even bothered with Samhain; Jeff had been miserable and congested. He'd have spent the ritual time trying not to blow his nose or sneeze.
Jeff stood quietly as I drew the quarters and raised the temple. Misty stretched out in the circle and acted like she was the one who'd raised the cone of power; the little fur ball had some nerve. I supposed entitlement was part and parcel with being a cat. I gave thanks for the last year, for our blessings and for struggles overcome. I raised my hand over the piece of Yule log that had been saved from the last Yule Grams and I had been together. I'd found it along with other of her tools. I hadn't been ready to celebrate Yule while in school. Now I had a reason. With a thrust of my will, the piece of log ignited and crackled in the night air.
"With this, the last of a year past, do I light the fire for a new year. We carried the light within ourselves, and now we shine it again for a brighter year to come." I set the piece of old Yule log into fire pit, and watched the flame ignite the kindling and then the new Yule log. The aroma of holiday spice, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and clove filled the air. The smoke swirled about us as I sent my thoughts to Grams. "Let this fire be a bridge between the past and the future as we carry the light with us into the days ahead."
Swirling, the smoke coalesced on the far side of the fire, and I could actually see Grams' features in the figure that formed. It was only a translucent whisp of a person made of smoke, faerie dust and air, but it smiled. Jeff looked like he was about to faint. I took his hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
"Hello, Jeffrey." Grams' voice was a lot stronger than it had been at Samhain. I suspected the difference was that I used her Yule log remains in the spell. Grams' magic had been a part of that log, so the release of it probably allowed her to manifest more completely than before.
Jeff swallowed. "Hi..."
"Do not worry, Jeffrey," Grams teased, "You won't go to hell or have your soul taken away. The Gods do not work that way. Yours or ours."
Jeff stopped rubbing his cross, and I felt him relax. He looked at me. "What do I say?"
I laughed. "Anything you want."
Jeff looked back at Grams. "Thanks for sending Dan to Xavier's."
Grams smiled. "It was the best for all concerned. I am happy he found people to love and who loved him in return. My only fear had been that he would be alone after I was gone."
I wiped away a tear. I missed her so much, but at least I got to visit a few times a year.
Jeff let go of my hand and slid his arm around my waist. "I'm going to love him forever."
Grams smiled. "That is a pretty tall promise. Are you sure you want to commit to that?"
He didn't even blink. "I promise."
There was a wavering, something very subtle but deep, that rippled through the circle. I realized Jeff had done something reserved for bonds made before the Gods. He'd stood in a space between worlds and promised to love me forever. What would that mean?
I squeezed him, smiling through the tears I refused to shed. "So do I."
Grams smiled. "I could not ask for more than that."
Damn it, I was not going to cry.
As the last of the original Yule log crumbled to ash, Grams began to fade. "Be safe, my little faerie child. You have so much to do before I hold you again."
"I love you, Grams."
I almost couldn't make out her smile. "Blessed be..."
She faded away, and I looked at Jeff.
"I love you."
He leaned in and stopped me from blubbering by kissing me. We kissed through several long, ragged breaths, before he released my lips. "I love you too."
"Mom! Dad!" We waved to get their attention as they got into the main concourse. It felt like there were a million people waiting around for relatives and loved ones.
Mom and Dad made their way through the front wall of waiting people and got to us with only a moderate amount of jostling. I wanted to just have Jeff push everyone aside with an auric-field, but that wouldn't have been very nice. Mom hugged me while Dad hugged Jeff.
"You look wonderful," Mom commented as we swapped parent and child for second hugs.
I laughed. "It's only been three weeks, Mom."
"Well, those weeks have treated you well," she insisted, letting Jeff go.
"You wouldn't know it by the blisters on my feet," I complained, looking accusingly at Jeff. "Someone is obsessed with gift shopping in this family."
Dad shook his head. "Takes after his mother."
I bit my tongue. Jack was just as bad as the rest of the Watkins clan. They all had a particular shopping vice. Mom's was jewelry. Janet's was shoes. Jack's was electronics. Jeff's was clothes. George. George shopped for men. It was a shame he traded them in almost as soon as he got them. "Ready to pick up your rail passes?"
Jeff and I took their bags and stood outside the queue while Mom and Dad got in line. Mom fished out her passport as she talked. "Did you get our packages?"
We nodded, and Jeff answered. "Three boxes?"
"We got them. We also got a box from Janet." Jeff frowned. "Nothing from George though."
Dad snorted. "He will probably have them with him. Knowing George, he'll be buying the gifts from the duty shops at the airport."
"Jack," Mom chastised, "don't talk ill of George."
"He should think ahead. Sometimes I think he read about 'living in the now' and decided to take it to an extreme." Dad stepped up to the counter and presented his passport. "Jack Watkins. We bought our passes over the internet."
They got their passes without difficulty and we settled into the first class area of the train before picking up the conversation in earnest.
"Really, Jack. George has held a steady job since graduating, and is doing quite well."
Dad shrugged. "He needs to start using his head." He tapped his temple. "The one on his shoulders, not the one below his waist."
Jeff had told me that Dad never reconciled himself to George's lifestyle. The gay part was fine, it was George's constant man hopping that drove Dad nuts. He wouldn't have approved if George were straight and womanizing either. I squeezed Jeff's hand and looked back at Dad. "At least he's enjoying himself. Better than living with angst in the closet."
Dad smiled, but it was strained. "I'm proud of you two. Don't let the pressures from the Georges of the world make your decisions for you. Be true to yourselves."
I smiled. "Always."
Jeff squeezed my hand back. "Dad, what's got you so riled up about George?"
Dad sighed, sinking back into his seat. "Nothing. Everything."
Mom slipped her hand into Jack's and looked at us. "Your father hasn't been sleeping well."
Dad shrugged. "Call me crazy, but I'm worried. I just have a bad feeling about George. I'm afraid he will wake up one day to find life has handed him a bill that he won't be able to pay."
"Being promiscuous isn't a sin." I didn't really approve of George's life choices either, but I didn't think the universe was going to punish him for enjoying himself.
"No, but it can be dangerous." Dad shrugged again. "I don't know. His behavior is so outside of my way of thinking that I just can't understand what he derives from it. I don't think I've ever seen him with anyone longer than a month."
I did the figures in my head. "Been sexually active since about sixteen, average of a new guy each month... wow, he should be cresting a hundred lovers at this point."
Jeff frowned at me. "You're a big help."
"Well?" I shrugged. "That's pretty amazing.
"It's pretty scary," Dad insisted.
"Yeah," Jeff sighed. He squeezed my hand again. "I was lucky. I found the right guy the first try."
Gods, I loved him. I smiled from ear to ear.
"Yes, I think you did." Dad smiled at us. "It won't always be easy, but if you work at it, communicate, and focus on the love, you'll beat the odds."
Mom smiled. "I think they've already beaten the odds."
I hung up the phone, and carried the hot cocoas back into the living room. "That was Brian. He got back fine. He and Justin say 'hi' and wish us a merry Christmas."
"About time," Jeff grumbled, taking his cocoa, "He only left two days ago."
I grinned. "He hasn't seen Justin for four months, Jeff. I think they were a little preoccupied."
George laughed. "Guys after my own heart."
Dad frowned, but didn't say what he was thinking. He looked at me as I sat down beside Jeff. "How long did you say they've been a couple?"
"Over two years. This is the first time they've been apart since they met." I sipped my cocoa. "I don't know how Justin's taking it, but Brian is having a rough time. He really misses his man."
Mom nodded. "I remember what it was like when your father was deployed overseas during Vietnam. I didn't even think about the dangers; I simply missed him terribly."
"That was the hardest year of my life." Dad squeezed Mom's hand.
"I'd have jumped ship and swum to England by this point if I hadn't gotten into school with Dan." Jeff smiled at me. "I had too many sleepless nights wondering about Dan before we got together. Knowing he was alone and missing me too would have been too much."
"Okay, enough of the mushy stuff." George set down his mug. "What about tradition?"
Dad frowned. "This is tradition; the 'family chat' after the meal on Christmas Eve."
George tapped his watch. "It's after eight pm. What about the 'one present tradition'?"
Janet laughed. Jeff grinned. Mom rolled her eyes as she smiled. Even Dad couldn't stay stone faced at George's pleading expression. "Alright, George. Go get your present."
George grabbed up presents for everyone, passing them out with a "ho ho ho", and then plopped back down in his spot on the floor. He started tearing into his gift with gleeful abandon.
I looked at the present he'd dropped in Jeff's lap. The tag said, "To my Bros, it's time you lived a little." I grimaced at Jeff. Though I knew I shouldn't, I sensed the contents and shook my head. "I think we'll open this one later."
George looked up. "What? I didn't wrap it well enough?" He pulled the present I'd bought him out of the box, and frowned at the swim trunks in his hands. They were black and deep blue, and came down to his thighs. I had pinned a note to them, which he read aloud. "You can be sexy without putting it all on display. Mystery is half the fun. Your brother, Dan."
I grinned. "Lycra is over rated."
George laughed. "Thanks."
Dad shook his head, and then opened his box. There was a DVD inside. He read the case. "Top Secret. Mutant information files enclosed. Do not release this information to anyone..." The warning continued into legal disclaimers and other technical jargon. Tyler had outdone himself with my present for Dad. Dad looked at me. "What is it?"
"All the energy manipulation records we have of my training, including how I made the rings." I grinned. "I thought you might like it." Dad stared at the little box like I'd just handed him the Holy Grail. I could see the wheels turning in his head. "At least wait for everyone else to open their presents before popping it in the player." I looked at Mom apologetically. "It's boring, and technical, and Hank's narration notes are enough to put a manic person to sleep."
She smiled. "He'll love it."
Janet finished unwrapping her present and smiled. "Oooooh." She pulled out a pair of dark burgundy velvet high-heeled shoes. Standing up, she kicked off her slippers and slid into her new shoes. She shifted her weight, looking about in vain for a full length mirror. "Mom, these are beautiful."
"I thought you'd like them." Mom smiled and opened her present. She looked at the little velvet box curiously. "You didn't have to buy me jewelry, Dan."
I grinned. "I didn't."
Mom raised an eyebrow at me and opened the box. She eyed the contents with slowly growing appreciation. "Dan, they're beautiful." Pulling out the earrings, Mom held them up to the light. "They look like solid diamond."
"They are," I replied, adding, "Well, not the posts; those are eighteen carat gold."
She held them out to Dad, who took them and studied them for a moment.
"You created these didn't you," he asked as Mom pulled them back to look at them again.
I nodded. "Mom likes unique jewelry. You can't get more unique than solid diamond hoops."
Mom got up, came over and kissed me on the cheek. "Thank you, Dan. They're lovely. Now I'll need to find something to go with them."
I feigned distress. "Oh... horrors. You'll have to go... shopping!"
Mom smacked the top of my head before returning to her seat. "Brat."
I grinned at her. "Every moment."
Dad looked at us. "You haven't unwrapped your present."
"Yeah," George insisted, looking at us expectantly.
Jeff looked at me, and I grimaced. What was inside was not a family friendly present. I would have to kill George later, slowly and painfully. I sighed. "Just remember, this is a present from George." I looked at him, narrowing my gaze. "We aren't responsible for the contents."
Jeff ripped open the wrapping and we looked at the box. It was a plain, brown, cardboard box, about twelve inches long by five inches wide and deep. Sliding off the top, we looked inside at the nine inch, vibrating dildo. The tag on it had the words, "The Other Man," written on it.
I sighed. "Thanks, George. Very thoughtful."
Janet rose up on her knees and peeked over the arm of the couch. "Oh my God. George!"
George grinned. "Don't worry, Janet. If you need one, I'll get it for you."
Dad held up his hand in warning. "You don't need to display it, boys. We get the idea."
Jeff closed the box, blushing. We were both as red as Santa's hat. "Thanks, bro. I'm sure we'll make good use of it." He rolled his eyes and set the box on the coffee table.
George frowned. "Well, you need some variety, and I don't think you'll be hunting it down on your own." He picked up his suit and looked at it again. "Maybe this won't be so bad."
I rolled my eyes. "It's soft material, George. You can always polish your car with it."
Jeff and Janet laughed.
Dad didn't seem amused.