Santa’s Elf Part X: Love is Messy.
Sometimes, remembering the past is a way to keep the ones we’ve lost close. Sometimes, it’s just a con of worms that’s going to make a mess on the carpet…
Part One: Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html
“Jack, that you?” The slightly over-loud, rusty voice of Jack’s father dropped over them. “There.” A hand patted Kriss’ shoulder. “Now.” A gruff harumph followed by another pat. “I’ve made coffee.”
Kriss pulled himself together. Obviously, his tears were making the older man uncomfortable. He pulled from Jack’s arms and straightened, managed to wobble to his feet and hold out a hand. “Hello, Mr. Stanton. I’m Kriss.”
“Just Peter, please. It’s nice to meet you, Kriss. I’m sorry for…your loss.”
Kriss nodded. So much lost. Michael, and his half life with the man who’d sheltered and cared for him was just a part. His heart ached for the empty space there. He ached. And when he thought of the year past with Cody thinking he’d left, imagined how he would take the news Kriss had been living with another man. It made him light headed to envisage the mess he’d made of everything. He deserves to be whisked away by Clive to some back-room dressmaker’s shop to be pin pricked for all eternity.
“You all right?”
Two sets of hands were holding him steady, one on his left and one on his right. Kriss blinked the hallway back into focus.
“You need to sit down, son,” Peter took a firmer hold on Kriss’s arm and ushered him into the kitchen. The bright, overhead light pierced Kriss’ vision and he blinked again.
“I don’t feel so good,” he admitted. His stomach churned and his head wobbled, at though its connection to the rest of his body was precarious.
“Some food,” Jack suggested. He had followed them into the room and now he headed for the refrigerator. “That toast last night wasn’t much. You probably haven’t had a proper meal since yesterday. Sit tight.”
Kriss couldn’t bear to tell them what was really going on. And the way his stomach roiled, maybe Jack was right. Maybe food would help.
“So, dad. You were on the phone.” Jack pulled eggs and butter form the fridge while his father found some bread and dropped a few slices into the toaster. “Talking to Cody, no doubt.”
Kriss tried to discern what Jack was feeling, but there was no inner vibe telling him if the other man was upset. He had only the flat tone of voice and carefully neutral expression on Jack’s face.
“I asked him to come down and spend the holidays.”
Jack’s hand stilled in the act of cracking an egg. The liquid insides dripped down the side of the hot pan and onto the stove. “What did he say?”
“That he’d think about it.”
“Where does he live?” Kriss asked. Realizing that though he’d been in Cody’s house, details like what city that house had been located in had fled his memory.
“Anchorage,” Jack said, shaking himself back into motion, discarding the empty egg shell and fetching a cloth t clean up the mess. “He moved up there four years ago for work. Mechanics who want to live that far north are hard to come by, apparently.”
The toast popped and Mr Stanton busied himself with butter and adding more to the toaster. “He moved up there to get some distance between himself and a couple of narrow-minded fools,” the older man said. He and Jack exchanged looks.
“What?” Peter set his butter knife down with a clatter and faced Jack. “I miss him. I should have tried harder to understand him. We both should have.”
Jack just nodded and turned back to the eggs he’d cracked into the pan. “I miss him, too, Dad. Doesn’t mean he’s going to drop his life and rush down here because of this. Michael was just a work colleague.” his voice choked and stopped.
“Son, you spent ten hours a day with the man. Sometimes more. No one was closer to you than he was, and I dare say, aside from Kriss here, the same was true for him.”
Jack nodded. “I should have had his back.”
“Don’t blame yourself. No one is responsible for Michael’s death but the one who pulled the trigger.”
“I know that.”
Kriss couldn’t sit by and watch the man in so much self-loathing pain. He got up and put a hand on jack’s shoulder. “He knew the dangers, Jack. And so did I. Don’t blame yourself for what happened.”
Jack just nodded without looking up from the sizzling eggs. It felt like there was something on the air he wasn’t saying. Kriss couldn’t pry it out of the man. If there was something else he wanted to say, he would say it in his own good time. Kriss would just have to be patient.
“Does anyone else want coffee?” he asked, hoping to fill a bit of the strained silence.
Jack nodded and Peter held out his half empty mug.
“Thank you, son.”
It warmed Kriss’s heart to hear that title from the older man. He hoped he wouldn’t lose the esteem of all the men in the Stanton family once his truth came out.
As he was pouring, the phone rang and Jack took the pan off the burner to go answer it.
Kriss handed him his coffee, and the act brought him close enough to hear the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Jack! Hi. Sorry the connection sucks. I’m at the airport. I managed to book a flight right after Dad called. Be home soon, bro.”
“Cody.” Jack’s cheeks paled. “You’re really coming home?”
Kriss heard the hearty laugh on the other end of the line, a balm to his tattered heart. A sound so familiar it was rooted in his memory and came back to him now like the cool brush of snow on his cheek. It brought a whole host of other memories; flashes of sight, sounds, the tingle in his flesh every time Cody touched him, the smell of his lover’s skin and the way his soft curls framed his dimpled, smiling face. The memories crowded in on more recent ones of Michael and the cop’s big, soothing hands, his gentle voice, everything Kriss had loved about the man.
His head spun. The room spun.
The phone clunked to the floor and Kriss realized it had landed beside his head. How had he ended up on the floor?
“Jack?” Cody’s tinny voice called down the telephone line and Kriss turned his head, focused on the sound.
“Cody,” he whispered.
How soon would his lost love be here? The world faded in and out. Hunger no longer seemed a huge issue. Something more dire was going on. And before it took him out completely, he needed to see Cody one last time.
“Cody,” Jack’s voice now. “Get off the phone and on the plane. I have to call an ambulance.”
“No, nothing like that. We’re both fine. It’s Michael’s boyfriend. He’s collapsed.”
“I’ll explain…Cody, please! I need the line. Just…” There was a pause. “Please, bro, just come home. I need you.”
The broken sound of Jack’s voice, the pleading, sank into Kriss’s awareness and he managed to haul himself to sitting. “No ambulance,” he croaked as Jack hung up the phone. “I’m fine. Just help me up.”
“Kriss,” Jack eyed his dubiously.
“Please.” Kriss stretched a thin smile onto his face. “This is embarrassing enough. I just want to sit and just be. I’m fine. Better once I eat.”
“Does this happen often, Son?” Peter asked.
Kriss accepted Peter’ help getting to his feet. “No. Well. Sometimes. I forget to eat. Or I don’t sleep enough.” Understatement. The only consolation Kriss had at the moment was that needing to eat and sleep meant he was close to his goal. Maybe there was hope Clive wouldn’t snatch him away at the last second this time. Hopefully.