Christmas Story Continued: Part IX
In which things finally start to come full circle.
Part One: Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html
Jack’s home was a small side split with long, narrow rooms and the warmth of wood and stone and care that wrapped around Kriss the moment he entered. The kitchen opened onto a cozy great room with stairs leading to a second floor at the far end. The second floor housed an office, spare room and second bathroom, and Jack’s own ensuite nestled under the eves of the third floor. He gave Kriss the grand tour before showing him to the spare room to deposit his bag.
“You can sleep here.”
Kriss nodded and placed his bag at the foot of the bed. “Thank you.” He’d lost himself in the careful niceties of politeness. Jack was being so kind, helpful. He couldn’t reconcile this kindness with a man Michael hadn’t wanted to share his truth with. He didn’t understand.
Jack leaned against the door frame. “What is it?”
“Why?” Kriss wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask. He felt like a secret. Something Michael had kept in the dark from everyone including this man with whom he’d shared every other aspect of his life.
“You said yourself, he was private.”
Kriss nodded. He found he was crying again. He didn’t know why. He sank onto the bed, hands dangling between his knees, lost without the comfort of Michael’s presence.
Jack shuffled, came to sit beside him. “He was trying so hard to do right for everyone. He wanted tot protect my feelings. My career. I’m sorry, Kriss. I let him hide you away in that little house. I should have…”
“It’s fine.” Kriss sniffled and looked up. It wasn’t fine. There was nothing he could do about it now.
“I’ll let you sleep.”
“I don’t–” Kriss almost told him he didn’t sleep. If Michael had kept their relationship quiet, he certainly wouldn’t have told anyone about Kriss’s oddities.
“I don’t really want to be alone either.” Jack stood. “I can make some tea.”
“That’d be good.” Kriss wiped his face and followed the other man out of the room.
They made tea and toast in silence. Kriss ate and drank slowly, surprised to find the tight knots in his stomach loosening as he did. He hadn’t thought he’d be able to stomach much, but he felt better for the food. Another mystery he didn’t have the heart to solve.
Jack showed him to his room again afterward. They hadn’t spoken much, just kept one another company.
Kriss folded himself into the small bed after Jack left him and listened to the other man’s footsteps pad away. The stairs creaked under his weight and the floorboard above sighed as he passed. Kriss lay still listening, following the progress of Jack’s movements through his room, to the bathroom and back again. For a while, all went quiet. Outside the bedroom window, the snow continued, a silent shroud hiding the world under it’s perfect curves. Every once in a while, he heard the creak of floorboards and smelled the cloying scent of cigarette smoke.
Eventually, the sun came up. Kriss waited until he heard sounds in the kitchen and then waited a little while longer. When the smell of coffee drifted up to him, he rose, dressed and went down. He was still at the foot of the stairs when an unfamiliar voice could be heard in a one-sided conversation from the kitchen.
“I know. But he’s your brother, and this is a big deal…It’s Christmas…Please…He needs us. Needs family…And Michael’s boyfriend is here. Maybe this is the best time to settle this, once and for all. We miss you. Come home.”
A wave of weakness overcame Kriss and he found he had to sit. He plunked onto the bottom step, arms wrapped around his middle. How many strangers knew about him and he had no clue about them? Did he even know the man he’d been living with?
“That will be my dad.” Jack had come up behind him on silent feet, and he joined Kriss on the steps. “I forgot he’d be in this morning. So much else going on, you know? He’s probably talking to my little brother.”
“It’s almost Christmas.”
Jack nodded. He had a pack of smokes in one hand and an unlit cigarette in the other.
“Your family is here. I’ll be in the way.”
“I wish you would stay.”
Kriss watched as little bits of tobacco fell from the tip of Jack’s cigarette. “Why?”
“My little brother is gay, you know.”
Kriss shook his head. “I didn’t know you had a little brother.” he looked up to Jack’s haggard face. “I don’t know much about you at all.” his gaze drifted back to the cigarette. “Does he know you smoke?”
Jack glanced at his smoke. “Sure. And he knows I’m a cop and a jerk.”
“You’ve been nice to me.”
“I should have been nicer to him.”
“Michael?” Kriss frowned. “He always said very nice things about you. He admired you.”
“No. Cody. I should have listened to him. Accepted what he was trying to tell me.”
A million tiny details tumbled into place. Kriss gasped. All the vague memories he’d tried to make sense of, the feeling he’d been in the wrong place, the wrong time, like Michael had not filled the gap he couldn’t quite identify came down in a crushing weight. He groaned.
“What is it?” Cigarette and carton fell forgotten to the floor as Jack turned to him and gathered him into a firm embrace.
“I missed him so much,” Kriss whispered.
“I know. Michael loved you…” Jack’s hand roved in little circles over Kriss’s back.
But Kriss wasn’t thinking about Michael. Poor, lost Michael who hadn’t ever managed to break free of his self-imposed exile. There was nothing Kriss could do for him now. He was thinking of Cody. Of the perfect week spent in the man’s bed, of the smell of chicken noodle soup in a cup and of sunlight on the worn carpet. The soft feel of Cody’s hands, his smooth skin, over hard muscle, his loneliness and fear of letting his family back in. Tears dribbled down his cheeks at the ache in his chest.
How was he ever going to explain to Cody where he’d been? Or to Jack…
How was he going to fix this before Clive fetched him away, a failure?