I’m feeling very festive and so are my characters. The below is a short story that happens after the end of my first novel, In the Between. It’s written from the perspective of the main character Layla’s boyfriend, Brian. This is the first time I’ve written from his perspective. It was fun and a nice break from my heavy editing of late.
It’s a little soppy and very daytime Christmas TV movie, but it had to be done.
So enjoy and Merry Christmas.
“Brian, I’m pretty sure Layla’s going to need sunglasses in here.” Andy kneeled over the back of the lounge and gave me a running commentary of his opinions, as I hung the last strand of Christmas lights around the ceiling.
“You don’t know that for sure.” I stretched to reach the top corner of the ceiling, to join it to the other row.
“There. All done.” I turned in a slow circle, and couldn’t help the wide grin that broke across my face. It was perfect, just like the McAlister house from Home Alone.
“I’d hope so. I don’t see how you could possible fit another piece of decoration anywhere.”
“Shut up, Andy. I just want her to have a big family Christmas, like we did when we were kids.” I shrugged and Andy’s shoulders turned in. Layla’s family died when she was four, and her Aunt raised her on her own.
Andy and I suffered many joint Parker Christmases with all the trimmings. Often Andy, my twin sister Annie and I would sneak under the table to eat the brandy truffles we’d shoved in our pockets.
“I know. But geez, man. We aren’t going to be able to eat in here, there’s no room on the dining table.”
The centrepiece I had bought home took up three quarters of the space, and dusted the rest of the glass table with fake snow. “Also, when was the last time you had snow at Christmas?” He ran his finger through the powdery mess on the table.
“Back in Michigan, when I was eleven.” I flicked my hand at him in a dismissive wave. “It doesn’t matter, they’re the ones I remember as being the best. The cold, the carols, the hot egg nog .”
Andy held his hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright, whatever you want. But you do know it’s 38 degrees outside, right?”
I glared at him and almost shoved one of the electric candles somewhere uncomfortable.
“When are Hunter and Max getting here? I’m starving.” He popped open a can a soda and poked at the baubles on the small Christmas tree I had perched on the end of the counter.
I shoved my hands through my hair, wishing that I’d sent Andy out with Layla, at least it would get him out of my face for ten damn minutes. I loved him and he was my best friend, but Je-sus he complained a whole lot.
The phone for the reception desk rang. “That will be them.” I jogged over and told Chucky at the front desk to send them up. Within minutes the place smelled like my childhood. The meaty turkey smell, the sweetness of the potatoes with marshmallows and the scent of cinnamon and cardamom from the mulled wine.
Hunter lugged the bird onto the counter and peeled back to foil so I could see the burnished and glistening skin. “She’s spent three days on this sucker, I hope it’s worth it.” Hunter pulled off his cap and wiped the sweat from his brow, as Max started unpacking the four cooler bags that Chucky had helped her bring up.
“It will be. You have to brine the bird first, Hunter.” She bopped him on the backside as she took lids of glass dishes and arranged them on the counter, buffet style.
“Prawns are so much easier, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Don’t listen to him, Brian. He’s annoyed that he doesn’t get to barbeque.”
Hunter shrugged and stole one of the green beans from the dish and scooted out of Maxine’s reach before she could smack him on the arm.
“Thanks for this, Max. I’d have done it but I don’t want to kill anyone.”
Andy chortled by the balcony door, his hands full of drinks. “Speaking of killing people, I’d love to know why you sent Layla out with Jay? That horn bag is not over your girlfriend.”
“He’s her best friend and unfortunately a good guy. Anyway, I trust Layla about as much as I don’t trust Jay.”
“Famous last words, my friend.” He handed me a beer and I turned away, decidedly not thinking about my girlfriend at the movies with her ex-boyfriend who was, as Andy said, a total horn bag.
I made sure Max had everything she needed and I went down to the fresh Christmas tree in the den to make sure the lights were on for the fifteenth time.
The soft glow of the tree made my heart twist in my chest. I’d had baubles made for all of us, but there was a special few additions. Layla’s parents, Julie and Mitchell, her Auntie Cecelia and one for Annie. Actually, Annie’s one I stole from Mum’s decoration box. It had Annie’s childlike scrawl on it in glitter pen. Mum would be looking for it in the next few weeks, I should probably post it back after tonight.
This was the first time in a long time that I felt right. Losing my twin was like losing a piece of my heart. But Layla, she fixed it and made it hers. I rubbed my chest as the fairy lights light swam in my vision.
“Brian.” Andy called from the top of the stairs.
I cleared my throat but didn’t turn around. “Yeah?”
“They’ve just pulled into the carpark. “
“Okay, thanks man.”
Under the tree was presents from all our friends, even though Christmas wasn’t for another three weeks. We were going away for the holidays, not to see my parents, much to my Mother’s horror, but we were taking a road trip, just me and Layla.
There was a small gift under the tree that I had taken away and put back many times. I picked it up again and opened the small velvet box. There wasn’t a ring in it yet, and I felt kind of silly giving her an empty box, but it was a promise more than anything else. I’d give it to her later, when everyone had left. There were other gifts under that tree for her, this one was going to just be between us.
The elevator chimed and I opened the front door. Layla came out first, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. Her laugher carried down the hallway and hit me right in the gut. Every time I saw her was the same, a full body blow.
Jay came out after her, re-enacting a scene from whatever movie they just saw. If I was the jealous type, I might have been worried about the way she looked at him, the love in her eyes, the wide smile on her face, or the way she’d casually touch him to fix his collar or wipe a crumb off his face. But when she turned to me, it was like magic. It wasn’t Jay’s smile, it was mine, it was just different, her eyes changed, her movements changed and I don’t even think she knew she did it, but it was incredibly sexy.
I understood from the first moment I met her, that Jay and Layla were a package deal, they had been through too much together, and in the beginning it did worry me. But now, even when he would use every skill he had to try and take her back, I knew deep in my soul that she wasn’t going anywhere, not with him and not with anyone else. Layla and me were it.
“How was the movie?” I asked as she folded into my body, looking up at me with those green eyes flecked with soft brown.
“Really, really bad. So, Jay loved it.” She flicked her eyes over to him.
“What can I say? My taste is awful.” His eyes travelled to all the places her hands were on me, but he schooled his face within seconds, but I saw the loneliness he hid from everyone.
“Come in. I have a surprise for you.”
She turned into the apartment and I covered her eyes with one hand and waved Jay through with the other, he scooted past and I ignored his sharp inhale as he stepped into the living area. Around the bend, Andy pulled Jay to the dining table and shoved a paper Christmas hat on his head and glared at him when he went to pull it off.
“Brian? Have you been cooking?” She stuck her nose in the air. “I didn’t think you could cook?”
I brushed my lips against her ear in a small kiss. “I can’t cook, you knew that when we started dating.” She smelt like heaven. Lavender, honey and it mixed with the meaty smell of the turkey. Yeah, this is what I was going to look forward to every year.
She snorted and her eyes moved in a roll under my hands. She reached back and gripping my thigh as we came to a stop.
I pulled my hand away and she blinked several times, maybe Andy was right, all the lights were too bright. I should have stopped at twelve boxes of string lights.
“What?” She spun around taking in all the small ornaments, the two giant nutcracker soldiers by the balcony doors and the reindeer out on the side balcony.
“Merry Christmas, Layla. I wanted you to have a big dinner like I had when I was a kid, before we left on our holiday.”
She brushed the small tree on the kitchen counter with her fingertips.
“You did all this for me?” She asked looking at the food, and then over to our friends, her family by the dining table.
Maxine and Hunter smiling, their arms around each other. Jay was eyeing the turkey and might as well have been drooling, and Andy was leaning back against the lounge, his legs crossed at the ankles, his paper Christmas hat on an angle.
“Of course,” I said shoving my hands in my pockets. What if she didn’t like it? What if this reminded her of all the Christmases she missed with her family?
“I know it’s kinda over the to..”
Her body slammed against mine and she crawled up into my arms, I held her to me and she wrapped her legs around my waist and buried her face in my neck. Her body shaking in small sobs.
“I love it, Brian,” she said finally, wiping her face with the back of her hand.
I kissed her then, relief making me weak at the knees. “Our first Christmas.”
She slid down and took another look around, Andy gave her a glass of champagne mixed with orange juice and Maxine slapped Jay’s hand away when he tried to steal some turkey skin.
“I think this is what it would have been like at home. Auntie Ce Ce always said Mum loved Christmas.” Her voice shook but her smile was wide. “Except for the fake snow.” She popped her brows and Andy choked on his champagne. He flicked me a smirk, that was in any language an ‘I told you so.’
“So, I’m not a big weirdo that has totally blown all of this out of proportion, and gone way overboard.” I moved a small Santa figurine into line with the reindeer on the dining table.
“Overboard yes, but absolutely perfect.”
She came to me, this miracle of a woman who made me remember what it feels like to live, and love without holding back. As her hand traced the length of my back following my peacock tattoo, I realised that this party wasn’t just for her, it was for me too. I hadn’t had a Christmas since Annie died and now I had a future to look forward to. All because of this woman, who was moving the Santa figurine back an inch to the right, just out of alignment with the reindeer.
She flashed me an impish grin, and my heart soared, maybe I would just leave it like that, imperfectly perfect. I waited until she was filling her plate with turkey before I nudged it back into line with the reindeer.