Matthew made that purring hum which landed somewhere between a sigh and a soft laugh on the scale of sounds Gavin used to judge his husband’s moods. That particular noise meant Matthew was contented.
They pushed through the theater’s outer doors into the chilly night along with the rest of the holiday revelers who’d come out to watch the neighborhood cinema’s annual double feature of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. Personally, Gavin would rather have watched Bad Santa, but the sappy movies were well worth sitting through because contented Matthew invariably morphed into cuddly Matthew. And that was never a bad thing.
A light snow was falling. Gavin’s grandmother would have called it Christmas snow. Large, wet flakes, falling gently from the clouds, high above. The kind that made one want to turn up their face to the sky and maybe open their mouth to catch a flake or two on their tongue. Snowman snow, if enough of the stuff fell to the ground.
“Let’s walk home.” Matthew clasped Gavin’s hand and flashed his eyebrows.
“I don’t know.” Gavin gave that hand—warm even through their gloves—a firm squeeze. “It’s pretty late.”
“It’ll be fine.” The light from the streetlamp reflected off Matthew’s eyes, making them shine, and Gavin’s heart melt. “I don’t want to risk a stinky cab messing up the beauty of this night.”
Getting mugged on the walk home would screw it up even more, but Gavin glanced down the street. Plenty of people were still out and about, so he kept that pessimistic thought to himself.
“Okay.” Gavin lifted Matthew’s gloved hand to his lips for a brief kiss. Matthew’s eyes glimmered merrily from the twinkling lights around the movie posters they passed. Romantic gestures like that always brought a smile to Matthews lips, and Gavin loved nothing better than to make the love of his life smile.
The thud of their own steady steps, sounding heavy with the solid thick-soled boots they’d worn, blended with the general background clamor of footsteps and cars buzzing by. None stood out until they’d traveled several blocks, and the traffic—both foot and vehicular—thinned.
Even then, none stood out as exceptional or disquieting in any way. It was only that Gavin could now distinguish the individual sounds. He listened out of habit rather than because he felt any undue concern for their safety.
Matthew’s movements seemed buoyant even with the solidity of his strides. A pair of footsteps behind them took a right turn, and others replaced them, merging from a side street to join the handful of others still there.
Halfway home, foot traffic thinned to a trickle, and a streetlamp ahead of them winked out. The alley behind it was pitch black.
Likely, the timing was coincidental. Lights went out, and odds were, someone would be around to see it when it happened. Just because Gavin and Matthew were the people to see this one shine its last lumen didn’t mean there was anything nefarious about the timing.
Nonetheless, Gavin slowed and checked over his shoulder to make sure the street was clear, then steered Matthew across the expanse of pavement. They would pass an alley on that side, too, but the streetlight at the end of it shone brightly, and nothing—or rather nobody—was visible within it from their vantage point.
“You know…” Matthew’s tone was droll. “If somebody with the ability to turn off a single street lamp at will is after us, they’re going to get us eventually, anyway.”