“Dunno,” Victor replied.
Not that it really mattered. Although they were still breakable, they’d put only cheap baubles on the tree this year along with some more meaningful, but more durable ornaments. They’d had enough sense to do the math—one new kitten plus one unforgiving floor equaled two men with enough sense to hold back the treasured fragile ornaments.
Bryan stooped to pick up the broken pieces of a basic metallic ball. “You know those interlocking foam floor tiles they make for kids’ rooms? We should get some to put under the tree. Nothing has a chance when it hits this granite flooring.”
“Good idea.” Victor gently pried Felix from where he’d hunkered down about two-thirds up the tree. When Victor turned back to him, Bryan turned on his best puppy dog eyes, and Victor, who truly was soft-hearted—all current protestations by Gavin and Matthew notwithstanding—quirked his mouth into a reassuring smile. “I’m not really planning to kill them off like that.”
“Just venting?” Bryan raised an eyebrow.
Victor nodded. He gave the kitten a scratch behind the ears and let him down.
“I hope you don’t continue a series just because you know I love it. You write in your free time because you enjoy that creative outlet, and if you aren’t having fun with it, it’s time to stop.”
“I still love writing.” Victor shrugged. “I’m on the fence whether or not to end the Gavin and Matthew series, but not writing overall. I just…I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I get it.” Bryan had been with Victor when the trigger had been pulled, unleashing his annual holiday season blues. This year, with a little help from his sister, Amelia, Bryan hoped to banish those blues once and for all.
Victor wobbled his head as if trying to literally shake off his mood, and pasted a smile on his face. “How about dinner out tonight?”
“You’re a mind reader. That’s why I went into the office…to suggest that.”
“Chinese?” There was a place they liked just five blocks away.
Bryan grinned and grabbed their coats. He pointed an index finger at Felix. “We’ll be gone only a couple hours. Behave yourself.” Not that he expected that caution to do any good. But it hadn’t really been for Felix’s benefit. A corner of Victor’s mouth quirked up, so yeah, the warning’s true purpose had been successful even though there would likely be another ornament down when they returned.
Out on the street, it was darker than expected. Clouds covered the full moon. Victor shivered and pulled up his collar against the chill.
Bryan nudged him. “Figure there are vampires lying in wait for us in one of the alleys?”
Victor snorted a laugh. “Doubtful.”
There were lots of not-quite-but-almost-last-minute shoppers milling about, laughing and chattering as they left one store and entered another. Jingle bells tinkled as each door opened to let people in or out.
Once upon a time, that used to bring an easy smile to Victor’s face. Now that smile always appeared more forced. Each December as the city came to life with holiday decorations and good cheer, Victor slid deeper into the gloomy shadows.
Why, oh, why couldn’t Bryan have foreseen how Victor’s family’s rejection when he’d come out to them that Christmas would infect the holiday season for years to come? From things Victor had said about his family, Bryan hadn’t been surprised by the rejection despite Victor’s high hopes that their response might be tempered by holiday spirit.
Victor sighed and took Bryan’s hand. Much as Victor was obviously wounded by the rejection, Bryan knew he’d never regretted the decision to come out and to commit to Bryan. He only regretted the timing. Bryan gave Victor’s hand a squeeze and softly hummed along with Mariah Carey as “All I Want for Christmas Is You” drifted out from one of the shops. Although Bryan would add that he wanted Victor’s happiness as well as the man himself.
Bryan added a jaunty little swing to their handhold, swaying their joined arms back and forth to the beat of the music. Until it stopped short—not the music, but the arm-rocking—when the streetlamp ahead of them winked out.
To be continued December 26…