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Author's Note: To my collaborator, my sweetie, my little brother and best friend... You have been the one who has held my hand, without you this story wouldn't be what it is. Thanks Davey.
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From Behind Those Eyes -- Chapter 25
It was kind of early for Christmas music, early in the day, early in the season too, but that's what played on the radio as we drove the few minutes to Jesse's house. Some people don't like to hear Christmas songs, but I do, in some sort of magical way, they make me smile. We were comfortably silent, mostly exhausted, and wishing the heater in my truck would start pushing out some warm air soon.
I don't want a lot for Christmas; there is just one thing I need. I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree. I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know. Make my wish come true, Baby, all I want for Christmas is you...
Jesse groaned, "Not already, its way too early for this. I mean, there are still four weeks until I get to open any presents. Why are they always so damn cheery anyway?" he grumbled as he snuggled up against me, the street lights still flickering a soft glow on the windshield each time we passed underneath one.
I don't need to hang my stocking there upon the fireplace; Santa Clause won't make me happy with a toy on Christmas day. I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know, make my wish come true, all I want for Christmas is you...
"Come on Jess," I smiled. "It's not that bad, and besides, this is my favorite one," I admitted as he looked at me with just enough skepticism to make me blush. Thankfully, it was still pretty dark out, the sun not yet making an appearance over the horizon, leaving the sky that pale blue color, frosted with just enough shadow still to hide the coloring in my cheeks.
"Your favorite? You have a favorite Christmas song?" he wondered aloud, and the disbelief in his voice was more comical than scrutinizing.
Oh, I won't ask for much this Christmas, I won't even wish for snow. I'm just gonna keep on waiting underneath the mistletoe. I won't make a list and send it to the North Pole for Saint Nick, I won't even stay awake to hear those magic reindeer click, 'cause I just want you here tonight, holding on to me so tight. What more can I do, Baby, all I want for Christmas is you...
"Yeah," I shrugged. "So what?"
"No, it's just... I never figured you for a festive kind of guy," he was trying not to laugh, but a little giggle escaped anyway. "I think it's... cute," he finally decided on the word he thought was appropriate.
"Are you laughing at me?" I asked, shooting him a sideways glance, complete with raised eyebrows, before I had to put my eyes back on the road.
Snowy night, where it's warm here by the fire, here with you, I have all that I desire. It's been a long year, but somehow we got by. Now it's Christmas Eve, and love is on our side...
"No, not at all. In fact, this is my favorite," he tried as the next song started.
"Whatever," I rolled my eyes, trying not to feel like he was teasing me.
I don't need a hundred gifts beneath the tree. Don't you know the best thing you could give to me, nothing else will do, all I want is you this Christmas. Children sing Christmas carols at our door, spreading joy, that's what Christmas time is for. Though we don't have much, you've got me and I've got you, and with a little faith, miracles come true...
"Well, it sounds perfect so far," he suggested, shrugging. "You and me, on a snowy night, by a fire," he nudged my side, and in accompaniment with the innuendo that could be heard in his voice, I couldn't help but grin.
He had a point; that did sound pretty damn good to me, too. Its funny how, when you're in love, it feels like every love song was made just for you. Maybe it's the same with Christmas songs, I wondered silently.
I don't want the love of any other girl; I want only one thing in this whole wide world. Nothing else will do, all I want is you this Christmas. Cheek to cheek, the lights are low, a kiss beneath the mistletoe. Your face lit by the fire's glow, that's all I want tonight, nothing else will do, all I want is you this Christmas...
"Yeah, it really does," I agreed. "But I don't need a fire, or mistletoe, or any of that, just you," this time the look I gave him was loving, pure emotion from the heart, and it was the truth, too.
"Well, you've got me, no doubt about it," he shrugged as if he wouldn't fight that fact, couldn't, even if he wanted to.
"Good," and my grin came, unstoppable this time.
"So what time do you think you'll be done tonight?" Jesse asked as we got closer to his house.
"I'm not sure, knowing Wilson, he'll try to shove me outta there by six, like usual," I said shrugging.
"And knowing you, you'll insist on staying till eight, or even longer, if he'll let you," Jesse said, a knowing smile playing on his lips.
"Yeah, I know. I have issues right?" I joked.
"Don't I know it," Jesse said, rolling his eyes for emphasis.
"Look at you being all brave and talking all that crap while you know it's safe and I can't kick your ass. Just wait till I park," I taunted, adding a promising look with it.
"I don't know about kicking it, but I can think of plenty of other things I might let you do with my ass," he mentioned sideways as if it was an everyday occurrence that he offered himself to me like that. His implication left me pretty speechless, and I think my mouth even opened and snapped shut again a few times before he asked, "What do you think? Interested?"
Interested... Was I interested? I can't say the thought hadn't crossed my mind a few hundred times, at least, but ready? That was another question entirely. I mean, what if I do it wrong? What if I hurt him? What if he doesn't think I'm good at it? What if...
"Look, if you don't want to..." he interrupted my thoughts cautiously. New territory is often explored bravely and with a special kind of hope that somehow makes you want to put your entire self into it, give your whole heart and soul over to the possibilities, probably why it's so terrifying to so many people.
"It's not that," I disagreed quickly.
"I was just thinking about it, that's all. You don't have to do it," he tried to allay whatever hesitations I had, make it sound like it wasn't a big deal to him. Almost as if it was an afterthought, some sort of progression we were supposed to follow.
"Do you want me to do it?" I asked him, the thought suddenly occurring to me. That made sense right? Why would he offer if he didn't want it? Unless, he thought he owed it to me or something. Somehow that thought didn't sit right with me, at all. "I mean, this isn't some sort of like... weird thing where you think it's your duty or something is it? Like you have to let me, since I let you?"
"Stephen... No, is that why you let me?" he asked dubiously.
"No!" I said almost defensively. "I wanted that. I told you that night, I love you, and that's what I wanted," I reminded him.
"Well, maybe that's what I want, too," he said proudly, as if he had outsmarted me somehow. Maybe, he had.
"You do? Like you're sure, or you've just been thinking about it?" I asked, thankful that I had to pay attention to the road, even if there wasn't much traffic out this early in the morning on a Sunday.
"Well... yeah, I've thought about it, sure. I mean we're gay, right? That's like part of the deal, but that's not why I want to do it," he said accepting of his own thoughts. "It's more like... I watch you, you know when we... well, when I'm... and you look like there's almost nothing better in the whole world than that, and I want to be there with you."
I blushed, I couldn't help it. Not the kind of blushing you can feel creeping into your cheeks, like when someone is teasing you, all in good fun, but still being the center of attention makes your cheeks color or your face flush and heat, but the quick, incapacitating kind of deer in the headlights, nowhere to run, and you wouldn't anyway cause it's just so amazing that someone found just the right words to say to make you feel that way, kind of blush.
"You watch me?" was all I could manage as I chewed the inside of my top lip, more than likely as a way to make my mouth feel busy, even when my brain couldn't figure out the right words to say.
"Yeah, have you seen you?" he asked superfluously.
"Shut up," I laughed at the ridiculousness of his question, rolling my eyes for effect.
"No, seriously, and besides, you watch me too. I've seen you," he pointed out matter-of-factly, continuously feeding the color in my cheeks as I chewed the inside of my cheek now almost uncomfortably. It was a similar feeling to being caught with your hand in the cookie jar, except that you had already been told it was okay to have a cookie. "I like that you watch me. I want you to watch," he told me.
"You do?" I asked hesitantly. This was all so new to both of us, and I wondered briefly why he was so much more secure about this than I was.
"Yeah, I like knowing that it's me taking you there, to that place, the same one you take me to, and it makes me feel like... like you might be feeling the same thing I'm feeling, when I look at you," he tried to explain.
"Okay," I said.
"Okay?" he was confused, maybe that's not the response he had expected.
"Yeah, okay. I'll do it. We'll do it," I answered shooting him a quick smile. We'd do it together.
"Okay," he agreed happily, end of discussion.
I pulled up to the curb and stopped the truck in front of Jesse's house. It was warm in the truck now, and maybe that's why he wasn't in any rush to get out, then again, maybe it was cause he knew I was gonna kiss him senseless.
"I'll see you later, Jess," I murmured against his lips, my forehead resting against his, and even though my eyes were closed, I felt his smile.
"Mmkay," he mimicked before he reluctantly pulled away to go inside.
I waited as he walked up to the door and fumbled around in his pockets, looking for his house keys. I watched him as he exhaled a puff of air out through his perfect lips in an act of exasperation, blowing his hair out of his eyes while he looked for the right key. Exhaustion, I felt it too, but stronger than that, I felt pride, happiness, love, and it was those things that provoked me to roll down the passenger side window at close to six a.m. and yell out, " I love you, Jesse Green," before I drove away. The smile that earned me would last me for a few hours, I decided, as I drove over to Wilson's.
Sometimes the sun takes its sweet time rising, almost as if to taunt you with the day it's bringing along with it, and at other times, it gives you just the perfect amount of time to appreciate the magnificence that surrounds you. The clear, bright blue sky, or sometimes, the big fluffy white clouds that float carelessly in it, the way the trees looked darker, more impressive at dawn, the sound of life waking up around you just as slowly, one by one, as they join you underneath it.
The morning had gone by pretty slowly, but around eleven o'clock more people started showing up, and then there was a pretty steady flow of customers, families looking for the perfect tree for their holiday. It was warming up finally, the sun managing to burn through the cloudy haze that had been lurking at the hilltops for the last few hours, and the light that shone down seemed to illuminate the fact that it was a beautiful day.
Warm enough to make me pull my sweatshirt over my head and toss it down next to Maggie where she sat working away; she was busy building wreaths from tree trimmings, adding bows or pinecones, berries, and hangers, so she hardly seemed to notice it when my sweatshirt landed beside her. I wiped my forehead with my sleeve covered forearm as I looked around to see only a few people wandering around looking at trees and one older couple talking to Wilson, so I decided it would be okay if I took a second to find a shady spot and sit down.
I swear I only had my eyes shut for a second, but when I opened them again, Wilson was standing in front of me shoving a twenty dollar bill into my hand. "Burgers, go get us some, alright?" he asked as if I would argue. "Maggie, no pickles, right?" Wilson confirmed.
"No, hun, he's no pickles. I'm no onion," she corrected him.
He just shrugged, "You know what to get, right?"
"Yeah, I got it, Wilson," I assured him before he ambled off toward another couple who looked like they might have made their choice in a nice six foot Noble Fir.
"You'd think he would remember after all these years," Maggie mumbled under her breath as we exchanged a glance that said we both understood he was getting older and that, even worse, it was painfully frustrating to watch sometimes, even if he did fight it fiercely most of the time.
I nodded, mostly because I didn't know what else to say. "I'll be back in a while," I told her and walked across the parking lot to my truck.
The drive to Henry's was quick and his hamburgers were the best around, no contest, and it occurred to me as I pulled in to the parking lot, that I was pretty hungry. I hadn't eaten this morning, instead, spending my time to drive Jesse home, but it had been worth it. Any time spent with him far surpassed food of any kind, I decided. Besides, he fed a different type of hunger in me, I thought, smiling to myself.
I placed my order, one burger with everything, easy mayo; one no pickle; one no onion; two fries, Wilson wasn't supposed to eat them with his high cholesterol, but he always managed to eat a few of Maggie's before she'd smack his hand and he'd grumble at her saying something about life being too short to be miserable. Apparently, easy mayo and no fries, was the equivalent to that in Wilson's eyes, or at least, he was pretty good at convincing you it was, the way he would grind his back teeth together and mutter.
The counter I was leaning on as I waited for our food was a little more than waist high, and in some small way, I tried to take a load off by leaning on it, both elbows, crossing one leg over the other, and resting it on the toe of my boot as I watched them work. I could have driven through, it occurred to me as I stood there, but I always liked coming in, there was just something about the place. It wasn't some crappy hamburger stand. Henry's had video games along the wall that I had spent plenty of time donating quarters to, and the booths were comfortable and just secluded enough to be acceptable, but still open enough to spot your friends.
"Stephen! Stephen!" I heard, but as I looked over my shoulder to see who was calling my name, the small pair of arms that wrapped securely around my leg grabbed my attention instead.
"Lily!" I smiled reaching down to pick her up. "What are you doing here?" I asked, accepting the tight squeeze around my neck.
She grinned, "We're eating, silly," she said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "See, Mommy is right over there," she pointed and I glanced over to see Jesse and his parents in a booth along the wall, watching as she waved. Kathy waved back at her daughter and we walked over.
"Hello, Stephen," she offered. "It's nice to see you," Jesse's mom smiled genuinely. "Lily, sit down and finish eating, okay?" she added in that tone only a mother has, the one where you know it may have been phrased as a question, but you aren't actually being given a choice.
Lily sighed, sliding down my body as if I were a pole on a playground, until she got all the way to my feet, before she stood up and took her seat next to Jim. "Daddy is taking us to get a Christmas tree after we're all done eating. He says I better pick the perfect one so Santa can fit all my presents underneath it," she said, stuffing a french fry into her small mouth as her mind ran away with the incomprehensible amount of possibilities.
"Well, he's right," I agreed. "That's a crucial factor when deciding on what tree to get." I glanced over at Jim and smiled when he winked at me, a silent thank you for helping create the mystique in her little imagination. "Hey, Jess," I said nodding in his direction since he was stuck inside the booth, against the wall.
"Hi," he grinned. "What are you doing here?"
"Getting something to eat," Lily explained in a tone that said she couldn't figure out why that was so hard for everyone to understand.
"Oh," Jesse replied flatly, rolling his eyes.
"I'm done," Lily announced as she stretched her arms way over her head.
"I think my food is ready, too," I said as I glanced over at the two white bags that were sitting in the spot I had been leaning on before. "I guess I should get back, but I guess I'll see you over there."
"Can I go with Stephen?" Lily asked. "Please?"
Kathy looked up at me, unsure if I was willing. "I don't know, Lily," she said hesitantly. "Stephen is supposed to be working," she almost wondered allowed.
"It's fine with me, if it's okay with you," I agreed. "We're all going to the same place," I pointed out.
Kathy glanced over at Jim instinctively, looking for approval, before nodding, "Okay, but you behave and listen to Stephen, and don't forget your seatbelt..."
"We'll be fine, Mom," Jesse said, cutting her off and making a move to get up from the table.
"Okay, we'll be right behind you," Jim agreed, and I walked over to grab the bags off the counter before we headed out Henry's.
Lily sat between Jesse and me in my truck as we drove the few minutes back to Wilson's Tree Lot, chattering away. "So, I think that I better get a really big tree," Lily thought out loud, measuring and sizing up what she was imagining with her little arms. "That way, I can fit big presents under it," she reasoned.
"You're gonna get big presents?" Jesse asked. "How do you know?"
"Well, I don't, really, but this way I know there will be plenty of room for sure," she said.
Resourceful, I decided. "Big presents are exciting," I said as her face lit up inquisitively. "But, sometimes, the small ones are even better," I told her.
"Really?" she asked, as if this was news to her.
"Yeah, I mean, they're easier to shake to try and guess what's inside, and there's less trash to clean up afterwards, and if it's smaller, your dad probably won't have to put it together first so you can play with it, and... anyway, the odd shaped ones are always my favorite," I told her and Jesse watched us both curiously. "What?" I asked after he had obviously been thinking about what I said.
"I dunno," he shrugged. "I guess I never really thought about it that much," he laughed.
"What did you ask Santa for, Stephen?" Lily asked as Jesse and I exchanged glances.
Alright, I'll play along, I thought. I pretended to think carefully for a moment, "I want someone to play catch with," I said before I glanced over at Jesse who clearly understood the double meaning of my answer since he was switching back and forth between looking shocked, and trying not to laugh out loud.
"You mean like we did on Thanksgiving?" she asked still innocent to my intentions. "That was fun," she remembered.
"That was fun," I agreed as we pulled into the parking lot and came to a stop on the back side of the tree lot. "Ready to pick out the perfect tree, Lily?"
`Yep, ready," she said soberly as Jesse helped her out of the truck.
Lily ran ahead to the entrance where her mom and dad were waiting for her while Jesse hung back with me long enough to say, "I can't believe you told her that," and the smile that had spread across his face was immeasurable. His laugh was exhilarating as I hurried my steps to catch up with him, provoking in the way it pulled mine from me similarly.
Jesse walked off to find his family and I stopped off at Maggie's table with the food. "Hey Mags, where's Wilson?" I asked when I didn't see him after the quick look around.
"He's around here somewhere," she said absentmindedly as her fingers worked deftly to fasten the hanger to the wreath she was finishing up.
"Okay, thanks," I said sarcastically. "Your food is in there," I told her unnecessarily, pointing at the bags I left on her table. "I'm gonna go find Wilson."
I walked off in search of Wilson, keeping my eyes open for the medium blue, plaid flannel shirt he was wearing today with the sleeves rolled up to just below his elbow, the older, white thermal shirt sleeves covering the rest of the space down to his wrists, and his faded blue jeans. I rounded the corner and walked down the length of the lot, looking down each row of trees for him and then I spotted him, standing there with someone who looked exactly like my...
"Dad?" I said as I walked up to the two of them who were mid conversation. "What are you doing here? Is everything okay?" I asked, only a mildly worried tone creeping into my voice, not that it was unfounded though, since he rarely showed up here while I was working, and talked to Wilson even less than that.
"Yeah, everything's fine," he assured me. "I just came to see if you had eaten, thought I might take you to get some lunch."
"Oh, well, I just..." I started, thumbing over my shoulder at nothing in particular.
"Yeah, Wilson was just telling me he sent you out for burgers," he finished for me.
`Right, well, I'm back now," I said, stating the obvious.
"I was just thanking Wilson for what he did for you yesterday since you weren't here," my dad elaborated, nodding at Wilson.
"Oh, yeah... well, Tim's just being a jerk," I shrugged.
"I think he means the part where I told you to get your head outta your ass," Wilson said quietly as he leaned toward me.
"Oh, that part," I scowled.
"Yeah, that part," my dad chided raising an eyebrow.
"I guess I'll go eat now," I said backing away cautiously. I didn't get far though before I stepped back onto something other than the hardness offered by the pavement, and then quickly pulled my foot back up so as not to hurt whatever I had stepped on accidentally.
"You always step on the customer's toes?" I heard Jesse joke from behind me. "It's a wonder you sell any trees that way," he continued. "Must be all the cute guys that work here," he leaned in conspiratorially and whispered much louder than he needed to, and clearly loud enough for my dad and Wilson to hear.
What I hadn't expected, as I was rolling my eyes at his obvious attempt at humor, was all the people who laughed from behind me. My eyes widened in trepidation as I turned around to find Jesse's family standing there too, laughing right along with my dad, and Wilson, before the original perturbed look settled on my face once more. So glad I'm here to amuse everyone, I grumbled inwardly.
"Hi Wilson, Steve," Jesse said as if everyone hadn't just been laughing at me. "It's nice to see you again."
"You, too, what's it been? Six hours, way too long," my dad joked. "Hi Jim, Kathy, how have you been?"
"Oh fine, thanks," Jesse's mom said smiling that Green family smile. "We're just out in search of the perfect tree."
"For Santa," Lily added proudly and I suddenly hoped she wouldn't repeat my Christmas wish for everyone.
"Wilson," I interrupted nimbly. "Have you met Jesse's parents? This is Jim and Kathy Green."
"And I'm Lily," the youngest member of the family chimed in.
"Nice to meet you," Wilson said shaking hands with Jesse's parents. "Good kid you got there," he said with a gesture toward Jesse who was smiling contentedly now. "So, the perfect Santa tree, huh? I think I might have just the one you're looking for young lady," he said extending a hand out to Lily who switched her wide-eyed look momentarily to her mother for permission, before accepting his offer by placing her much smaller hand inside his larger, rough palm and following him, eyes filled with excitement.
Kathy and Jim followed their daughter, and her perfect tree picking guide, down the row we were standing in and then to the right, around the corner, while my dad watched them happily. The pair of arms that slid along my waist from behind and crossed over my stomach pulled me close, my back against a warm chest, were familiar, soothing, and I sank into them without thinking twice. There weren't many places I could think of that I'd rather be, and as if out of instinct, rather than habit, I leaned my head back on his shoulder and let myself be loved.
"Have you seen that one guy that works here?" Jesse's voice toyed with my senses as his words played quietly against my ear. "He's so hot. I see him every year when I come. Tall, dark, wavy hair, and he has these amazing brown eyes, and he has this great chest and these shoulders..." he sighed as if he was beyond infatuated. "He's great with kids; I've seen him, and his smile, oh my God. Every year when we come to get our tree he's working, and every year he throws our tree up on top of the car and helps tie it down, always so nice to us."
"Sounds like the owner really knows good help when he finds it," I swallowed instinctively.
"Mmmm, seems so," he murmured. "Seen him around?"
"I think that... he could be located. I hear it's his lunch time," I managed to get out, although it was becoming harder and harder to remain clever and play along the way I could feel Jesse's lips moving against my skin as he spoke, the way his fingertips toyed with the tender softness of my stomach.
"Ahem, I think I'll just go... look around or something," my dad said, not wanting to intrude, as he turned back around and saw Jesse hugging me from behind.
Jesse chuckled softly, his lips next to my ear still, "I guess he needs a tree or something."
"I guess... you should kiss me or something," I mimicked, turning in his arms until his mouth found mine, my arms rising to circle his neck, exchanging one hunger for another.