Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Coda 18

Adrien and Jake from THE ADRIEN ENGLISH SERIES     





A touch so light, so delicate, it was hardly more than a breath, a sigh tracing the length of my throat…bisecting my chest…and then, to my relief, diverging from the roadmap of scars, off-roading to flick the tip of my right nipple.

I arched off the bed. Not far, since my hands were tied to the headboard -- tied loosely and with something soft. Silk scarves? I could free myself in an instant, but it wasn’t about freedom, was it?

The teasing touch moved to the tip of my other nipple.

I gasped. “That tickles!”

“It’s a feather.” I could hear the smile in Jake’s voice.


The feather ghosted its way over my ribcage…down to my abdomen. I sucked in a breath as the feather dusted and danced still lower…

“How’s that feel?”

I nodded. Everything felt lovely, from the cool, crisp linen sheets to Jake’s warm breath against my face. The feather teased and thrilled as it brushed across my thigh…groin…thigh…

I wriggled one of my hands free and pulled off the blindfold.

The hotel room was nearly dark in the fading afternoon light. Jake gazed down at me, his mouth quirking. “I wondered how long that would last.”

“I like to look at you,” I said. “I like to touch you.”

He nodded, pulled the other scarf off, freeing my wrist. He lowered himself beside me on the wide four poster bed, touched the tip of a drooping white peacock feather to my nose. I laughed and blew at the bobbing green-blue eye of the feather.

“How long before your mother’s knocking on the door again, do you think?”

“I’ve got the Do Not Disturb sign out.”

“Baby, you’re an optimist.”

“Maybe.” I smiled at him, looped my arm around his neck, pulling him down to me. He kissed me. I kissed him back. “Next year we’re staying home for Christmas. I don’t care who comes up with what plan.”

“Uh huh.”

He rested his head on my chest. For a time we lay there, breathing in soft unison, the muted sounds of London traffic providing a soundtrack to our thoughts.

“Regrets?” I asked at last.

Jake raised his head, studying me. He leaned back on his elbow. “No regrets.”

I smiled faintly.

He reached out, brushed the hair out of my eyes. “That’s not right. I have regrets. I regret the gutless, asinine things I did, the people I hurt. I regret hurting you. I regret the time I wasted. But if all those gutless, asinine things were somehow part of how I got to this moment, then no. I don’t regret anything.”

Considering what a painful journey he’d had to get to this moment, I thought that was a brave statement.

“You?” Jake asked. “Regrets?”

“Just the time we wasted.”

“We’re not wasting anymore time.” He reached around, found the feather.

I could feel my smile turning wry. “Is this going to be enough for you?”

He looked puzzled for an instant. Then his expression grew grave. “This? No. The feather and blindfold routine in an overpriced hotel? No. I need more. I admit it. I need entire nights and entire days. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. I need breakfast and lunch and dinner and every dessert we can squeeze in. I need every minute we can get.”

“For as long as we both shall live?”

“Yeah. That’s pretty much it.”

I closed my eyes, smiling. “I guess that’ll work.”

His laugh was quiet. I felt him bent over me, felt his mouth graze mine… My eyes shot open at the soft tap-tap-tapping on our room door.








Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

Unfortunately between the flu and the holiday -- and then the recovery from the flu and the holiday -- I ended up unable to do quite as many of the Christmas Codas as I'd intended.

However, I've been persuaded to collect and publish this batch for next year, so I'll probably add to what I did write with the others that I planned but didn't have time for.

Meanwhile, I'm very pleased my little gift went over so well. I appreciate all the very kind comments and compliments. I'm happy I could add to your enjoyment of the season.

There will be one final coda tomorrow morning.

Thank you for a wonderful 2012 -- and wishing you all a healthy and happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Coda 17

Will and Taylor from the DANGEROUS GROUND series.
The walkie-talkie crackled and Taylor said, “Romeo to Base.”

Romeo? Will, who had been blowing on his hands to warm them, spluttered a laugh, and picked up his walkie-talkie. “Base.”

“Refresh my memory. Whose idea was this again? Over.”

Will grimaced, looked up at the stars burning bright and cold in the black night sky of the Mojave Desert. Not another light for miles out here. Nothing but Joshua trees and sand and the sharp cutout ridge of distant mountains. “Not sure now.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Yours.”

“Thanks for not saying I told you so.”

Taylor’s wicked laugh rustled across the six chilly miles of empty airwaves and Will’s lips twitched in instinctive response. “That is one nasty laugh, buddy boy. I could get a search warrant based on that laugh.”

“Base, standby,” Taylor said, suddenly all business.

Will waited, his eyes scanning the darkness. Nothing moved in the sky or on the ground. He caught motion out of the corner of his eye. A shooting star. He smiled faintly. Taylor was not much for the great outdoors.

At the same time Taylor, sounding relaxed again, said, “Go ahead, Base.”

“You were saying?” Will replied. It was only the two of them out here, after all.  

“I was saying, this is one hell of a way to spend Christmas Eve.”

Will was terse because he wasn’t enjoying freezing his ass off any more than Taylor was, “We need the money.”

The following silence stretched long enough to start sweat prickling on Will’s hairline. They had left the DSS in October to start their own security consulting business. It was not a great time to start a business, even when you had the experience and qualifications. Taylor had gone along with Will’s plan, but Will had the uneasy feeling his partner was still…withholding judgment.

“Copy that,” Taylor said at last. “Doesn’t change the fact that we’re currently one step up from snipers.”

Will started breathing again.  “Not if we don’t shoot anybody.”

Taylor said darkly, “That depends on how much longer we’re stuck out here.”

Will peered at the luminous dial of his watch. “I make it half an hour.”

He could feel Taylor’s sigh though the walkie-talkie remained silent. Taylor hated this op for a dozen reasons, starting with the fact that it was Christmas Eve and ending with the fact that any half awake civilian with a radio and a pair of binoculars could have handled this. They were simply providing backup for the backup.

“I’ll make it up to you, Romeo,” Will said suddenly, surprising himself.

“Roger so far.” There was a smile in Taylor’s voice. “Should we switch to a secure channel?”

Will was reminded of all those crazy phone calls Taylor had made to him while Will was posted in Paris. In fact, the memory of those calls warmed him now. Well, what the hell. Why not? It was just them and the coyotes, and any smart coyote was safely curled in his den dreaming of rabbits and the spring. “Affirmative,” he said.

“Yeah?” Taylor sounded alert and interested.

Will realized with blinding clarity that there was no going wrong with this, anything he said would, at the least, make Taylor laugh. But Taylor wouldn’t laugh. Will realized that too. Realized that however awkward he was at verbalizing…stuff…the very attempt would mean something to Taylor. Taylor, who spent more than his fair share of time putting it all on the line. Phone lines included.

“Yeah,” Will said boldly. “That’s right, Romeo. They don’t call me Roger Wilco for nothing.”







Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

We interrupt this program

Ugh. The holiday flu thing is apparently more persistent than I first thought, so I'm giving myself a day to rest and recouperate. I think I'll be more disappointed than all of you if I'm not able to finish these codas up as planned!

Anyway, I'm drinking my OJ and staying warm and thinking healthy thoughts! You do the same -- we don't want anyone sick for the holidays.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Coda 16




“How’d it go?” Sean asked, opening the door to  Vic’s knock. He kept his voice down, so the old lady, Sean’s Aunt Miriam, was in bed. That was a relief. Vic had just about had his fill of female relations that night, though Aunt Miriam was practically another species from his own mother.

“It went the way you thought it would.” Vic removed his scarf, shrugged out of his wool coat. Sean took them, limping over to the coat closet and hanging them neatly. Aunt Miriam was as fussy as a Fleet Admiral about keeping things shipshape.

“You okay?” he asked over his shoulder.

Vic nodded. “I could use a drink.”

Sean nodded toward the sitting room and they moved silently down the hallway.

There was a fire going in the hearth and a decanter of whisky on the table next to the arrangement of holly and candles. Vic flung himself down on the horsehair sofa while Sean poured out a pair of stiff drinks.

Sean watched Vic toss his back and said, “So we’re right where we were before you went to see her. No harm, no foul.”

Vic threw him a dour look. “She actually asked me what the point of my military service was if I was just going to throw away my brilliant career in politics.”

Sean laughed. They both looked guiltily up at the ceiling with it’s broken ceiling medallion. But not a creature stirred. Not even a mouse. Though the old house probably had plenty of them.

Sean remarked, “I didn’t realize you had a brilliant career in politics.”

“Neither did I. Apparently I could have if I wanted it – provided I don’t throw it away.”

Sean snorted. Vic looked up out of his gloomy preoccupation long enough to be glad that Sean wasn’t taking this personally. It wasn’t personal, that was the weirdest thing about it. It should have been personal.  The question of who her only child intended to spend the rest of his life with should have been of personal interest and importance to Abigail Stone.

“She actually said she didn’t see the point of my military service if I wasn’t going to use it as a springboard for the future.”

Sean’s brows rose. He took a thoughtful mouthful of whisky. “Sort of missing the point, isn’t she?” he asked mildly. He had a right to ask, having nearly given his life, not to mention his leg, in the service of his country.

Vic shook his head and finished his drink. Sean leaned forward and refilled his glass.

“Look, Stoney,” he said crisply, “I know you’re angry and disappointed, but the fact is, we’re no worse off than we were.”

“That money is mine. She has no right to block me from my inheritance.”

Sean shook his head. “You’ll get it eventually. In the meantime I’ve got my savings and my disability. We’re not going to starve.”

Vic winced inwardly. His own retirement pay was negligible as he’d chosen to retire after a measly twelve years. At the time he’d made the decision he’d had plenty of options, though politics had not been one he’d seriously considered. “That money could make a big difference to us.”

“Yeah? Well I for one am relieved I won’t have the Manchurian Candidate’s mom for my mother-in-law.”

Their gazes met and after a long instant, Vic grinned. “True, right? Why the hell are you sitting over on the other side of the room?”

Sean rose and came around the low table to join Vic on the lumpy sofa. Vic put his arm around Sean’s broad shoulders and pulled him closer still. “Ah hell. I know we’ll be okay. I just wanted to…”

“Keep me in the style to which I've never been accustomed?” Sean was laughing at him now.

Vic grimaced. “Something like that.”

The clock on the bookshelf began to chime. Twelve lazy, silvery chimes. Midnight.

“Merry Christmas,” Sean said. He touched his glass to Vic’s.

“Cheers. Anyway, Mother made a point of saying she had nothing against you personally. She always thought you were a nice boy.”

“I am a nice boy.”

“And if we wanted to see each other on a regular basis, she couldn’t see why anyone would—could you stop laughing?” But Vic was laughing too now, reluctantly. His arm tightened around Sean. Maybe Sean was right. It was only money after all, and he’d gladly have given every cent he ever earned to have what he had at this very moment: Sean alive and well and in his arms.

Sean stopped laughing and said, “Hey, if it makes things easier for you, we don’t have to move in together right away. We could—”

“Shut up, you,” Vic growled.

“Make me.” Sean smiled, eyes glinting in invitation.

And Vic did.









Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Coda 15

Colin and Septimus from THE DARKLING THRUSH



Septimus invited me to his home for the Yule Feast. I thought perhaps there would be a party, and I told myself I wouldn’t mind that. This would be my first and only Yule spent across the Great Big Sea and I might as well see how a traditional feast was properly done.

But I can’t deny I was pleased to discover that Septimus and I were spending the afternoon alone. I was tired of being looked at and whispered about by my colleagues at Leslie’s Lexicons. There was no need to pretend with Septimus.

Besides. Septimus was…Septimus. I was happy to spend every moment I could with him.

“I brought you this,” I told him, handing over a bottle of mulled wine.

Septimus smiled and kissed me – right there in front of his butler. “We’ll have it after our dinner.”

I smiled too because I knew that meant we would be spend the night together.

The meal was indeed a feast. We started with raw oysters, supped right out of the shell. Then bouillon that tasted of wild herbs and venison. Champagne was next, served cold and dry, and pâtés made from veal and goose livers.

I knew roasted boar was the most traditional of Yule suppers, but I was relieved when the brownies carried in a large platter with roasted goose.  The goose was golden brown and tender, stuffed with sage and onion and pine nuts. There were small potatoes in a white sauce, exotic roots and vegetables, and cranberry and orange sauce.

“I can’t eat another bite,” I told Septimus, pushing my plate away at last.

He laughed as though this were nonsense, and I suppose it was since after that I consumed my fair share of plum pudding, chocolate truffles, cheese and nuts and biscuits.

When we finally pushed away from the table, I was convinced I wouldn’t need to eat for a week.

“I expect you’ll be hungry enough by breakfast,” Septimus said slyly, and I felt my face warm.

He led the way to his library. I had been in that wonderful room several times, but that afternoon, he reached behind one of the old, rich tapestries, and one of the towering shelves slid soundlessly away to reveal the entrance to another smaller room. I followed Septimus through that low doorway. There were two brocade chairs, a small round table, an old-fashioned lamp, and all four walls lined with books. Very old, very valuable books.

Septimus chose several volumes while I gazed around myself in awe.

“I’ve never heard of half these books!”

“No.” He smiled faintly.

“Do you keep them for the texts or Perusing their previous owners?”

“It depends. On the text and the owner.” He handed me a gilt-edged volume. “Go ahead and Peruse to your heart’s content.”

“Truly? You don’t mind?”

Septimus nodded. “We’ll spend all day here if you like.”

There followed one of the happiest afternoons I can ever recall. The books in that secret library were a treasure chest of fabulous sights and sounds and smells…sometimes the jewel was the text. Sometimes the rush came from the imprint of a powerful previous personality.


Necile gathered the softest moss in all the forest for Claus to lie

upon, and she made his bed in her own bower.  Of food the infant had no

lack.  The nymphs searched the forest for bell-udders, which grow upon

the goa-tree and when opened are found to be filled with sweet milk.

And the soft-eyed does willingly gave a share of their milk to support

the little stranger, while Shiegra, the lioness, often crept stealthily

into Necile's bower and purred softly as she lay beside the babe and

fed it.


“That’s sweet,” I murmured, turning the browned page. I could feel many small ghostly hands turning the pages with me. Their smiles and laughter were like sunlight.

“Try this one,” Septimus said.

I closed my eyes and rested my hand on the cover. This one had lain forgotten many years in a dusty attic. The imprint of previous readers was very faint. Twin sisters…an elderly collector…


The young man came swinging along, debonairly; he was whistling under his

breath. He was a dapper figure in a long coat and a silk hat, under which

the candles lighted a rather silly face. When he reached the spot in the

sidewalk where the Flanton Dog lay, he paused a moment looking down. Then

he poked the object with his stick. On the other side of the street a

mother and her little boy were passing at the time. The child's eyes caught

sight of the dog on the sidewalk, and he hung back, watching to see what

the young man would do to it. But his mother drew him after her. Just then

an automobile came panting through the snow. With a quick movement Cooper

picked up the dog on the end of his stick and tossed it into the street,

under the wheels of the machine.


I shook my head. It was growing late and I was tired from perusing so many books. I looked across at Septimus and he was watching me, smiling.

“Overwhelming after a time, isn’t it?”

“A little. They’re nearly unspoiled they’ve been so little touched since their last reading.”

“One more then.” He handed the final book. The cover was of faded blue and amethyst silk, patterned with lotus and lilies. When I took the book in my hands I felt a faint and funny tingling. I looked at Septimus in surprise.

His smile was almost rueful.

I turned the pages gently, but the book fell open to the place where it had been most read.


Juventius, if I could play at kissing

your honeyed eyes as often as I wished to,

300,000 games would not exhaust me;

never could I be satisfied or sated,

although the total of our osculations

were greater than the ears of grain at harvest.


I looked at Septimus and he cleared his throat a little self-consciously. “I knew you would have no difficulty Perusing that one.”

I smiled and turned out the lamp.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Coda 14

Christopher and J.X. from the HOLMES & MORIARITY series



**This holiday scene takes place between Somebody Killed His Editor and All She Wrote




It rained Christmas day.

It had rained every day since I arrived in San Francisco. It’s not that I particularly minded the rain, but the wet, gray weather didn’t do a lot for my mood – or for the headache I’d had ever since the plane had touched down on the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport.

“It’s the shift in barometric pressure,” I told J.X.  “It’s giving me a migraine.”

He looked sympathetic – he had been looking sympathetic for three days, so he was probably starting to run low on milk of human kindness, though you’d never guess from the soft look in his dark eyes. “Maybe you should call your doctor? Ask for a prescription for your migraine medicine.”

I waved that idea off. “No, no. I’ll be fine.”

“We could stop and fill the prescription on the way.”

“It’ll be impossible to get hold of anyone today.”

“You should try at least. You don’t want to have the day spoiled by a migraine.”

“Ha. No fear of that!”

I felt a little guilty at the white, relieved smile that greeted my words. Of course, what I was thinking was that nothing, not even a raging migraine, could make this disaster of a day worse than it was. Or would be.

It was my own fault. I’d wanted to see J.X.  We’d only had one chance to get together since the murderous events at Blue Heron Lodge, but picking Christmas weekend was a bad move. Our relationship – could you even call something this new, this tentative a relationship? – was not ready for the weight of all those expectations and comparisons that inevitably came with the holiday season.

Not that our beginning romance – could you call something this new, this tentative a romance? – would necessarily fare badly by comparisons to what holidays had been like with David, my ex.

If it had just been me and J.X. it might have worked out all right. But no. We were spending the day with his family. His parents and his nephew and his ex-wife. J.X.’s ex-wife, not the nephew’s. The nephew was just a kid. Six or seven or something. And the ex-wife was because J.X. had felt duty bound to marry his dead brother’s pregnant girlfriend in order to give the kid a name. It just didn’t get more soap opera-ish than that.  

He was a real idealist, J.X.

That’s what worried me. I’d already disappointed him once. You only got so many chances with idealists.

    * * * * *

“At least let me drive you back,” J.X. said in an under voice.

“That would make me feel even worse!” I looked past him to where his four year old nephew was peeking around the hall corner. The kid looked like a miniature J.X. minus the van dyke beard. Gage stuck his tongue out at me. I took the high road and ignored him, saying to J.X., “I don’t want to take you away from your family.”

The family that hated me on sight.

“Yeah, but the idea is for you and me to spend the weekend together.”

“We did. We have.”

J.X.’s brows drew together. He opened his mouth.

“Julian? Oh.” J.X.’s mother – “call me Mrs. Moriarity” – stopped at the end of the hall. “We were just about to serve pie.”

Laura Dolores Moriarity was of Castilian Spanish descent, an icy blue-eyed blond. In looks, J.X. took after his father who was what they used to call “black Irish.” Mr. Moriarity was pleasantly distant. Then there was Nina, who was both pretty and pained. Maybe J.X. thought that marriage had all been platonic on her side, but he was the only one who did.

The only comfort was that they probably would have hated me just as much if I’d been female. But I don’t think being the gay boyfriend helped.

“Be right there,” J.X. said over his shoulder.

Laura raised an eyebrow and departed.

“Kit, are you going to be there when I get home?” J.X. asked bluntly.

“The thing is,” I hedged apologetically, “I’m afraid I’m coming down with the flu. I think maybe the best thing I could do is grab a red-eye flight and go home.”

Kit.” I felt that dark, hurt look right in my solar plexus.

“Julian? Gage is hoping you’ll help him put his train se—oh.” Nina hastily backed up and disappeared around the hall corner.

The door bell rang. “That’s my taxi,” I said, and I don’t think I could quite hide my relief.

“To hell with the taxi,” J.X. said. “Don’t go like this, Kit. Let me drive you back to my place. Maybe you’ll feel better if you lie down. At least we can talk.”

Oh God. Not that. Not The Talk.

“I wouldn’t think of it!” I said honestly. I dragged on my coat and fumbled with the door handle almost shaking it to get it open. “I’ll call you!”

Kit!” I closed the door on his protest and ran down the rain slick steps to the waiting taxi.   










Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Coda 13

Mark and Stephen from the I SPY series




**This coda is actually a snippet from the novelette I Spy Something Christmas that will be out (fingers crossed) in time for the holiday.



I closed my eyes, dozed.

Music was playing downstairs. Bing Crosby. Very traditional. I smiled. The floorboard squeaked and I opened my eyes to soft light and wonderful smells. Irish coffee and warm gingerbread.

Stephen set the tray on the bed and crawled in beside me once more.

“You’re spoiling me.”

Lena is spoiling us both.” He broke off a piece of gingerbread and held it out to me as though he were feeding me wedding cake. I raised my head, nibbled the gingerbread, licked his fingers when I’d taken the last bite. He closed his eyes and gave a twitchy smile. I kissed his fingertips and let my head fall back in the pillows.

“Favorite Christmas carol?” I asked.

“Modern or traditional?”


“‘Silent Night.’ ‘Please Come Home for Christmas.’ You?” He offered another bite of gingerbread.

I took a bite. Swallowed. “This year? ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas.’”

He smiled, understanding. “Traditional?”

“Not really a carol. The Christmas section of Handel’s Messiah.”

“I should have guessed that. My turn. Favorite Christmas movie?”

Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”  

Stephen laughed.

“Quite serious. It’s one of your classics, yes? I loved that razzleberry dressing and woofle jelly cake.”

“You do enjoy your food. I’m not sure where you put it.” He stroked my ribcage.

I sucked in my stomach. “Yours?”

It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I said, “You’ve made a difference in a lot of people’s lives. A good difference.”

His green gaze was grave. Sometimes he saw too much.  “Best Christmas memory?” he asked.

“This,” I said. “Tonight.”



Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Coda 12


Wyatt and Graham from PERFECT DAY



It started to fall apart right before Christmas.

Everything had been fine up until then. Better than fine. Graham and I were seeing each other a few times a week, talking almost every day – talking about moving in together, in fact. It was relaxed and easy and I started to believe in it, trust in it, count on it.

And I know Graham did too.

Ten months. Almost a year. But then along came Christmas.

Not an easy time of the year to be alone. Not an easy time of the year to be in a relationship, either, at least not a new relationship. Not with all that potential for disappointment and comparisons and miscommunication.

But I really did think –

Part of learning to be a couple is figuring out the way through all those different, sometimes conflicting, holiday traditions.

“Do you go home for Christmas?” I asked Graham.

It was a Sunday morning and we were having brunch at Metropol Bakery.

“I haven’t seen my parents in eighteen years,” Graham replied, calmly picking the cranberries out of his smoked turkey breast sandwich. “Not since I told them I was gay and they told me to get out.”

I was shocked and I don’t think I hid it very well. Graham had mentioned his parents a few times and I’d never had any hint that he wasn’t on polite if distant terms with them. It underscored how much we still didn’t know about each other.

“Did you want to go to your parent’s for Christmas?” he asked.

“If you do.”

“If Bill and Dana don’t mind, sure. I’d like that.”

“Mind? They’ll be thrilled.” My parents loved Graham. They absolutely believed he was my Mr. Right. He talked sports and gardening with my dad and cooking and politics with my mom.  He was clean, polite, and employed. You bet they loved him.

Graham grinned and that was that.

“What did you want for Christmas?” he asked a couple of evenings later.


He laughed. “Yeah you. Can you give me a few ideas of something you might like?”

“You mean a list?”

That was apparently even more amusing. “If you want to make a list.”

I didn’t want to make a list. I wanted him to surprise me with something he’d chosen particularly. Having to come up with ideas seemed too much like handing over a grocery list and asking him to remember to pick up a bottle of milk. I didn’t want him to give me a list either – and, in fairness, he didn’t offer one.

“I don’t mind surprises,” I told him, hoping he’d see what I was getting at.

“I don’t want to get you something you already have.”

A reminder that for all the time we spent together, and the discussions about moving in together, we didn’t live together, didn’t really share a life.

“What did you do these last couple of Christmases?” I asked later that night. “Did you spend the day on your own?”

We were at Graham’s, in bed. We’d finished making love and we were lying there, quietly. Not talking, just holding hands. Looking at the stars through the skylight.

I can’t say that Graham tensed, but I could feel something changed. He said, “I spend Christmas with friends.”

“Oh.” I knew a lot of his friends by now. He knew a lot of mine. I was wondering which friends he’d spent the holiday with.

He said abruptly, “I usually spend Christmas with Jase’s parents.”


Until that moment I had never given a thought to Jase’s parents, or to the fact that Graham might still be close to them, that they might – probably did – regard him as another son. That Graham probably loved them too. That he might prefer to spend Christmas with Jase’s family over mine.

And even if he didn’t prefer Jase’s parents to mine, I couldn’t help feel guilty – awful, in fact – that I was taking Graham away from these people who had already endured the worst thing that could happen to parents.

Graham turned his head my way. I knew it was too dark for him to read my expression, just as it was too dark for me to read his.

 I said hesitantly, “Did you want to—?”

“No.” He said it with finality. So much so that I didn’t feel I could question it. But I did question it, and although he probably meant to reassure me, I didn’t feel reassured.

It all came to a head over the Christmas tree.

I usually got my tree the first weekend in December. That’s what we did when I was growing up and I continued the tradition when I had a place of my own. I like Christmas. I like it all. The music, the decorations, the presents, the special feeling in the air – the fact that most people are a little nicer, a little kinder, a little more generous this time of year.

This year I kept putting it off getting the tree until the weekend before Christmas. Graham went with me to the tree farm. We were tying the tree onto the roof rack of my car when he said, “You’re going to a lot of trouble when you spend most of the time at my place anyway.”

“Maybe we should set it up at your place?” I was partly kidding. Partly not.

Graham barely hesitated. “Okay. Sure.”

“Do you have a tree stand? Decorations?”

“I’ve got everything.”

That was the truth. He had everything from tree skirt to tree stand to boxes of ornaments – all neatly organized and labeled. Labeled in handwriting that wasn’t Graham’s.

When I saw that square, legible writing I knew I had made a mistake. But it was too late by then. So we dragged out the boxes and set up the tree. We strung the lights through the fragrant needles. And then we began taking the ornaments out, one by one. There were a lot of very old bulbs and beautiful handmade ornaments. Someone had taken their tree trimming as seriously as I did. Graham, who had said very little from the time we set up the tree, stopped talking altogether.

 After hearing my too cheerful, too loud voice break the silence a couple of times, I had nothing to say either. 

Graham finally, mercifully went to turn the stereo on. When he came back I was holding two clay  ornaments, one red, one green. They were imprints of small hands, a child’s hands. I turned them over and read JASON KANE, age 5.

I looked up, saw Graham’s face, and looked down again.

He said in a muffled voice, “Why don’t I get take out for dinner?”

I nodded.

A second later the front door shut.

Graham didn’t come back. He didn’t phone. It got later and later. I decorated the tree, put the boxes away, and went home.



He didn’t call the next day either. Or the next.

I could have called him, I guess.

I didn’t.

I drove up alone to my parents on Christmas Eve.

“Where’s Graham?” they both asked.

“Not coming.” I couldn’t leave it like that though. “I don’t think things are going to work out with Graham.”

“Oh no!” my mom exclaimed. “What happened?”

My dad came to the rescue. “Wyatt’ll tell us when he’s ready.”

But no. I didn’t think I’d be able to talk about it. Not that trip anyway. I lay awake that night wondering what Graham was doing. Wondering if he was lying there in that big empty bed staring up at the stars and grieving for Jase.

My heart felt like a lump of coal.

It was still a good Christmas, though, and if I did occasionally think about Graham, who was probably once again spending the day with Jase’s parents, I didn’t let my preoccupation spoil the day for my own folks.

We had reached the turkey sandwiches and coffee part of the evening when the doorbell rang.

“It can’t be the mailman today,” my mother said cheerfully as I went to answer it.

Graham stood on the doorstep, hands shoved in the pocket of his navy parka, snowflakes in his dark hair.

 “Hi!” I know I looked and sounded dumfounded. I was.

“Wyatt.” Graham’s eyes were somber, his expression a mix of pain and embarrassment. He was wondering what the hell he was doing there. Which made two of us.

“You’re…” I didn’t finish because yes, he was obviously there and yes he obviously hadn’t come for dinner. “Come in.”

“No. I don’t—that is, I wanted to see you. To talk to you.”

And whatever he had to say wasn’t going to work in front of an audience. That I understood perfectly. “Hold on.” I half closed the door, grabbed my coat off the hook on the wall rack, and yelled, “I’ll be right back.”

I closed the door on the inquiries of where I was going. Graham turned and we walked by silent agreement away from the house toward where his jeep was parked.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” he said. “I only know I couldn’t let another day go by, this day go by, without trying to talk to you.”

“You could have called. You didn’t have to drive all this way.”

He didn’t answer.

I stopped walking.  “Graham.”

He stopped walking too. “Why did you leave that night?”

“Why did I--? Huh? So you could come home!”

“What are you talking about?”

I was already sorry for that flash of bitterness. “Look, we both know you didn’t want me there.”

“You’re wrong, Wyatt.”

I laughed shortly. “No. I don’t think so. The last person you wanted or needed to deal with that night was me.”

He put his hands on my shoulders, gazed intently into my eyes. “Wyatt, you’re wrong. I did want you there. I always want you there.”

Why did he have to say that? I pulled away and wiped my eyes on my coat sleeve. “I know you care about me.” Exasperatingly, my voice shook. I steadied it. Took a deep breath. “But the fact is, you still love Jase. You were right. You’re not ready to move on. I’ve been pushing you the whole way.”

“You’re wrong.”

I shook my head. “No. I’m not. I saw your face that day. Not just that day either. It’s exactly what you said at the start. You miss him all the time.”

“Yes, I miss Jase. But that doesn’t change the fact that I love you and want to spend my life with you.” Graham’s hand was a warm weight on my shoulder. He turned me to face him once more.  “I wanted you there that night. When you left like that, without a word…I figured you were angry or hurt or both. I thought maybe I should give you some time. And I was…embarrassed, I guess.”


His face twisted. “I feel like I’m always breaking down in front of you. It’s not fair to keep putting you through that. It’s a strain on our relationship. I know that. But sometimes…something will get to me. That night…was tough. But having you there helped.”

“You didn’t come back. You didn’t call. It didn’t feel like I was helping.” I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea that Graham believed he was always breaking down in front of me. He was one of the least demonstrative guys I’d ever known. Not cold, but not effusive. Not by a long stretch.

“All I can tell you is when I got home and saw you were gone…” The pain in his eyes surprised me. “I thought I’d better give you a little space. I hoped you’d call. I thought you would.” He glanced automatically toward the house.

Seeing the situation from Graham’s standpoint, I felt a stab of remorse. It had never occurred to me he would feel anything but relief at being let out of spending Christmas day with my family.

“I was waiting for you to call. I felt like it was your move.”

“Why would it be my move? Aren’t we in this together?” He was frowning.

I wanted to believe him. I did believe him up to a point. But if he was wrong? I wasn’t sure I could take it. Something inside me seemed to snap. I blurted, “I feel like I can’t live up to Jase, to what you had with Jase.”

Graham looked stunned. I rushed on, afraid if I didn’t get out now I never would. “I feel like I can’t compare. Like you’ve already had the best there is and anything I can offer is just going to be second best.”

“Sweetheart. Wyatt. Stop.”

I stopped. That had been way more than I had ever meant to say. And Graham thought he was always falling apart?

 Graham pulled his glove off and rested his warm hand against my face. “Listen to me.” His gray gaze held mine. “Everything is completely different with you, completely new. And I’m glad. I don’t compare you to Jase. You’re nothing like him. That doesn’t take anything away from either of you. I loved Jase but he’s gone. You’re here now and I love you with all my heart.”

“Is that true?”

“You must know.”

I looked into Graham’s face, into his unguarded gaze, and I did know. I could see the depth of his emotion, the emotion he kept so firmly in check, regardless of what he thought.

“When  I see you, I see the future,” he said. “I don’t know what that future holds. I just know I want it.”

I began to smile. “I’m pretty sure one thing that future holds is a turkey sandwich and a cup of coffee.”





















Sunday, December 16, 2012

Another holiday photo

Taking a little bit of a breather today. I know, I know. What kind of an Advent Calendar is this?!  And there hasn't been a single piece of chocolate yet!

Oh but how about some of that legendary figgy pudding (photo by Christopher Elwell)?

So favorite figgy pudding recipe? Can there be such a thing?

Favorite holiday side dish recipe?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Coda 11

Tim and Jack from CARDS ON THE TABLE




“Where the hell have you been?” Jack yelled before I even closed the front door.

“Sorry,” I apologized, shrugging out of my jacket. “Sorry I’m late. I swear to God it couldn’t be helped. I’m mostly packed. We can be on the road in half an hour. Promise.”

He caught my arm as I was brushing past, heading for the bedroom. He sucked in a sharp breath. “Jesus, Tim. What happened?”

I said quickly, though I should have known by then there was no heading off the inevitable lecture, “It looks a lot worse than it is.”

“Really? Because it looks like a split lip and a black eye.” He followed me into the bedroom, watching, angry and at a loss, as I grabbed my suitcase and threw it on the neatly made bed. The bed sloshed in warning.

“Sorry,” I said again, automatically. That would be all we needed. A leak in that fucking waterbed as we were about to take off on our trip up north. We were heading to San Francisco to spend Christmas Eve with Sam, one of Jack’s best friends from his police academy days, then on to Mendocino to spend Christmas with my family then back to Los Angeles so Jack could be back at work on Thursday. I was just grateful Jack’s parents had moved to Florida so we didn’t have to try and include them in the holiday endurance run.

“What happened?” he asked in an ominously quiet voice. “Did you have a seizure? Were you driving?”

“Hell no, I didn’t have a seizure!” I’m not sure why that incensed me so much because though I’d been seizure free for six months, I’d only been driving for one, and it still felt pretty new to me. I knew Jack was still worried about the thought of me behind the wheel if I did have another seizure.

“Well, you didn’t walk into a wall!” He was yelling at me again. It was so unlike him. I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t that late and he was mostly used to my unpredictable schedule – as a cop, his own wasn’t much better.

“Look, the interview didn’t go smoothly. Mayer punched me. And I, er, punched him back.”

Jack’s jaw dropped. Which I guess was better than having him flap it at me.

Reminded of my injuries, I noticed how much my mouth and eye were smarting. A lot. I abandoned the suitcase and went to the bathroom. The sight in the mirror was not reassuring. The fact that I was wearing a suit and tie almost made it worse.

I turned the cold water tap on.

Jack appeared in the mirror behind me. His face was stern. His gray eyes looked dark and there was no evidence of dimples. “I can’t take this,” he said.

It felt like being punched all over again. I gripped the side of the sink. “What does that mean? What are you talking about?”

“You’re so goddamned reckless!”

“You haven’t even heard my side of what happened.”

“You’re a reporter and you punched your interviewee. Is there another side to that?”

“He punched me first!”

“Great. That’s your side of it? We’ve had this conversation, Tim. How many times? You take stupid, reckless chances. And I can’t deal with this anymore.”

He walked out of the bathroom leaving me to gape at my battered reflection. After a second or two, I bent and splashed cold water in my face, thinking.

Once, and not that long ago, I’d have charged back in there and we’d have had an argument that probably would have ended with one of us – me -- walking out the door. But I’d learned a few things in the past months. Learned them from Jack, as a matter of fact.  

I turned off the faucet, dried my face, and went into the bedroom. No Jack. I went into the living room and he was sitting on the couch, leaning forward, massaging his forehead.

I sat down beside him. He didn’t look at me. I said, “I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I don’t take stupid, reckless chances. Not anymore. Because of you. Because I don’t have to prove anything anymore. Mayer is a thug and the interview fell apart, but I’m telling you, I did not provoke him. I was protecting myself, that’s all.”

“You shouldn’t be talking to guys like Mayer. He’s scum. He’s a killer.”

“It’s for the courts to decide if he’s a killer. And interviewing him is my job, Jack. I don’t give you a hard time when you come home with a few bruises.”

He burst out, “Why do you have to—why can’t you--?”

I stared at him. “What? Write a society column? What are you talking about?”

He massaged his head some more.

“You wouldn’t be saying this to me if I was a girl.”

He raised his head. “What?”

“Who gives anybody this kind of a bullshit hard time over their job now days?”

“You know your situation.”

“Yeah, better than anyone. And you know that I am taking care of myself and being responsible about my health. You know I haven’t had a seizure in half a year. And when was the last time I came home with a black eye? What’s really going on here?”

Nothing from Jack.

I didn’t know what his expression meant. I said slowly, “Should I finish packing for Sam’s or should I grab a cardboard box?”

He shook his head.

I put my arm around him, pressed my forehead to his. “Don’t be mad at me. It’s Christmas Eve.”

To my relief, Jack turned to me, kissed me. He put his arm around me and pulled me closer. “Sorry,” he whispered. “Sorry. Just don’t take dumb chances.”

“I don’t. I promise.”

He nodded.

I looked past his head at the clock and said, “We’ve got to get moving or we won’t be there until late.”

“We’re not going.”

“What? Why not?”

Not that I minded. I’d have killed for an early night in my own bed with Jack. I wasn’t all that crazy about Sam, a big, dour bruiser of a cop, although I liked Rhys, his boyfriend, a lot. Even if he was a little obsessive on the topic of the afterlife.

 “Rhys is in the hospital. He got into a car accident driving up Friday.”

“My God. Is he okay?”

Jack nodded. “Sam says he will be, but I guess it was touch and go. He was in a coma for a couple of days. He’s out of it now. Sam says he keeps talking about some guy named Roger.”

I laughed. “Good for Rhys.”

Jack gave me a sour look, but I could see the dimple trying to make an appearance. He was holding my hand, or more exactly my wrist where I wore the snazzy sterling Medic Alert bracelet he’d given me. His fingers absently stroked the silver links.

“So…it’s just you and me tonight?”

He nodded. His gray eyes were still a little moody, but he was finally smiling again. “That okay with you?”

I pumped my fist. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!”

“Merry Christmas.” Jack’s mouth found mine. “And don’t call me Virginia.”