Happy Holidays! I know many of my readers are big Matt and Aaron fans and have been anxiously awaiting their wedding short story. I’d hoped to post it before the holidays but it’s looking more like next month. In the meantime, I’ve gone through one of the original short stories I wrote soon after Better Than Good and dusted off this little one about the day Matt and Aaron went Christmas shopping. Chronologically, it takes place around their second holiday season together.
Hopefully, you’re all finishing those last minute holiday preparations and are enjoying time with your families and friends now. I’m thrilled to have all my kids home. The house is loud and it’s hard to get anything done but I love it!
**I’ll be sure to keep you posted about upcoming releases in 2018 (the first one is January 18, 2018, btw)!
Merry Christmas and Happy Reading! Lane xo
Better Than Christmas Shopping by Lane Hayes
It must be love, was all I could think as I was dragged from one overcrowded holiday decked out store to another. What had started out as a simple light lunch at a café in Georgetown had turned into a full-fledged holiday shopping spree.
“I want to get something for your parents for you to take with you. Just pop into a couple of shops with me. I’ll make it quick, I promise.”
“Aar, you don’t have to get them anything. Don’t worry about it,” I grumbled, pulling his elbow to halt his progress before he escaped into the nearby William Sonoma.
He stopped short and scowled at me. And fuck, it was kind of cute when he pouted and his dark hair fell into his eyes. I pushed it off his forehead and grinned at my lover who responded by saying something I was sure wasn’t so nice in Spanish.
“Don’t worry about it?” he repeated, narrowing his hazel eyes irritably.
Oh boy. I pressed a quick kiss on his nose and straightened the collar on his navy wool coat. “Let’s go home and get back in bed. It’s cold and—”
“Matty, I’m surprised at you. Don’t you want your parents to like me?”
“Gifts don’t make people like you. Besides, they like you already.”
“True, but they help,” he quipped with a wink. “And no…your parents don’t like me. Scratch that…they like me fine, but as a friend for you, not as your partner, significant other, boyfriend, etcetera. Your mom still flinches when you touch my hand. Trust me, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way over the holidays. You know, goodwill toward your fellow man and all.”
I groaned but it was hopeless to argue. It was a nice gesture and I wasn’t going to squash the idea. I shrugged and motioned for him to lead the way. I yanked at his sleeve and gave him a sharp look before he walked away. “Make it quick. I’m already feeling claustrophobic.”
Aaron rolled his eyes. “All right. Then give me a little help. Should I do a family gift? Separate gifts may seem too personal, like I’m trying too hard. What do they like? How about something for the house or better yet, the kitchen. Like an olive wood cutting board or gourmet treats…hmmm. Come with me.”
The second we walked into the overcrowded home goods store, I felt that familiar overheated, uncomfortable sensation begin a slow crawl over my skin. Shopping was torture. I hated it when I was a kid and it hadn’t gotten any better as an adult. The desire to flee was strong but I was trapped and Aaron was on a mission. I needed to help find something quick so I’d be free.
“Do you think they’d like a salad bowl? This one is such a gorgeous wood. Do you think it’s olive wood? It might be a pain for you to transport though. How about—?”
“They love salad. They would love the salad bowl,” I deadpanned.
“Okay, but what about the cheese board? It’s made of the same wood. I could add—”
“Yes They love cheese. Get that.”
He eyed me sharply. “You are not taking this seriously.”
“I’m dying here, babe. It’s hard for me to take anything but my diminishing sanity seriously right now.”
“We haven’t even been here for ten minutes. How can you be complaining already?”
“I’m not complaining,” I insisted. I pointed at the small cutting board and tried to smile. “Get the cheese thing. It’s easier to transport, like you said. Done. Perfect. Now let’s go home.”
I turned away to avoid being drawn further into conversation, knowing he’d add five other possible choices if I stood still long enough. I stopped short a moment later when I spotted one of the partners at my firm, Trey Hughes, with another man and two small children in the next aisle. I stared at them for a second, thinking it was kind of cool to see an interracial couple like Aaron and me. Or sort of like us.
Aaron was a five foot eight Puerto Rican American spitfire who barely came up to my shoulders while I looked like a basic all-American former jock with dark blond hair and blue eyes. Trey, on the other hand, was a tall African American man in his early forties. He was lean and handsome with dark, close cropped hair and green eyes. He was one of my favorite partners at the office because he went out of his way to be friendly to newbies like myself. But he looked as miserable as me at the moment, if that was possible.
Trey headed down the cramped aisle and greeted me with a friendly smile. “Hello Matt. How are you?”
“I’m good. Thanks.”
He held his hand out for me to shake but withdrew it to make a superhero-style save, reining a small blond boy to his side and then grabbing a kitchen gadget from his hands. Trey gave me a sheepish half smile that made him look more like a flustered parent than the cool competent partner of a well-respected law firm. “Owen, this is Mr. Sullivan. He works in my office. Say hello.”
I shook Trey’s hand then bent to greet the boy. “How’s it going, buddy?”
“Good. I’m gonna see Santa,” he said in a serious tone.
“Hey, that’s cool. What are you going to ask him for?”
“Legos. I wanna build a space ship. A really big one that has a zillion pieces.” His blue eyes widened comically as he flailed his arms for emphasis.
“That sounds awesome. I love Legos,” I commented.
“Me too, but we have to hurry.” Owen glanced up at Trey and tugged his jacket. “Let’s go, Daddy.”
I straightened and gave my boss a lopsided smile. “Good luck with that Santa line.”
“Hmph. Thanks. Are you doing some holiday shopping?” Trey asked politely.
I turned briefly to see where Aaron was before replying. “My boyfriend is. I’m along for the ride.”
“Same.” He chuckled before pulling a different boy of about the same age away from a free sample platter on a nearby table. This child was his spitting image. He had light brown skin like his father and short dark hair. “Tyler, knock it off. Sorry, these two are a handful today. This is our other son, Ty,” he said, setting a protective hand on the boy’s shoulder.
Tyler said a quick hello then grabbed Owen’s sleeve and sprinted to their other dad who was busy checking out the same “gorgeous wood” salad bowls Aaron was still perusing.
“They’re cute. How old are they?” I asked.
“Five. They’re Tasmanian devils at the park let alone in a store like this. We’re asking for trouble.” He glanced back just as his sons started to climb a display of high-end pots and pans. “Oh boy. I better corral them. Have you met my husband, Patrick?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
I followed him over toward where one of the little boys had successfully removed a few pots from the display to create a clearer platform for climbing. I laughed. It was exactly the kind of thing my brother and I would have done when we were little and our mom took too long in a store. Trey gathered the small boys by their jacket collars then leaned down and said something to the squirming boys that had them suddenly behaving like angels. Then he inclined his head and introduced me to his husband.
“Honey, this is Matt Sullivan. He’s one of the associates at the firm. Matt, this is my husband, Patrick.”
“Nice to meet you, Matt. Did you meet our little terrors here?” Patrick turned to look lovingly at his brood, his hands clutching at the same salad bowl Aaron had been checking out a few minutes earlier.
“Yes, they’re adorable.”
They really were. I didn’t know the story here, but it seemed obvious that each boy was the biological son of the other. I remembered seeing the family photos in his office, and I knew Trey was married, but I didn’t know the details. Partners and associates didn’t socialize much at our office. Not because it was frowned upon, but because there weren’t enough hours in any given day with our workloads.
I studied Patrick while his attention was fixed on his boys. He was my height with short hair blond hair and sharp even features. He reminded me a refined professor with his wire-rimmed glasses. And the red scarf draped over his black pea coat added a layer of sophistication that was a funny contrast to the monkeys jumping around him.
I started when Aaron jostled my elbow a moment later, carrying the cheese board he’d been eying and a few fancy looking bottles.
“Hey! I think I’ll get the cutting board and a couple of gourmet olive oils. Oh, wait. Can those travel on a plane with you?”
“I don’t think so, babe.” I pulled Aaron against my side and introduced him to Trey and Patrick. “And those two are their sons, Owen and Tyler.”
“Pleased to meet you both.” Patrick graciously held out a hand to Aaron and then to me.
“I love that bowl.” Aaron said pointing to the bowl in Patrick’s hands. “You know, I think I’m right about the liquid ban. Do you know anything about it?”
My eyes glazed over. I stepped away to give Patrick and Aaron room to discuss airplane regulations and salad bowls. Trey chuckled, but his grin faded when the little boys wiggled out of his hold.
“Okay, I need to remove these guys from potential catastrophe. We’re going to see Santa. Care to join us, Matt?”
“Yeah! Santa, Santa, Santa!” Both boys jumped up and down with excitement.
I loved kids, but there was no way I was prolonging the mall torture.
“Thanks, but we’re going to get going as soon as Aaron makes up his mind,” I replied, shooting a meaningful glance at my man. “Right babe?”
“Right.” Aaron nodded then resumed his conversation with Patrick when Trey left the store holding each kid by the hand.
I watched my boss and his kids disappear into the sea of shoppers, wishing they’d said they were going anywhere but into the mall. I shrugged, intent now to persuade Aaron to move it along. He and Patrick were still deep in conversation. Aaron seemed to be telling an animated story judging by how fast his hands were moving. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was too warm now and the sound of innocuous chatter over the strains of an overplayed Christmas song was slowly driving me nuts. I had to get out.
“Hey um…what did you decide on?” I set my arm over Aaron’s shoulders and kissed his cheek. The public display of affection was slightly out of place. At the very least, my timing was off but I figured it would get his attention.
Aaron narrowed his gaze then smiled mischievously. “You about to burst if I don’t get you out of here, aren’t you?”
“That’s a nice way of putting it… yes.” I smiled but I couldn’t help the note of desperation in my voice.
Patrick laughed and shook his head fondly before stepping aside.“My boys feel the same way, Matt. The big guy and the little ones. I rarely attempt even the shortest shopping expedition with them. It was nice to meet you both. We’d love to have you over to try the dish I was telling you about, Aaron. I’ll talk to Trey about getting something on the calendar after the first of the year.”
As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t help being amused that my boyfriend had so effortlessly made friends with my boss’s husband. But Aaron was like that. He made friends easily.
“He was nice,” Aaron said conversationally as he moved toward a long line leading to the registers at the front of the store.
I closed my eyes briefly and sent up a prayer for patience. “Very nice.”
“And kinda hot, not that I was looking, of course.”
When I rolled my eyes, Aaron burst into a fit of giggles. I glowered at him. “What is so funny?”
“You. You look perfectly miserable.”
“I am perfectly miserable. How is that funny?”
“It’s not. I’m sorry.” He didn’t sound sorry though, so I shot him another dirty look.
Aaron hooked his arm through mine and smiled up at me affectionately. “I love you, Matty.”
“I love you too. Obviously. There’s no other way to explain what I’m doing here.”
“Ha. I have to ask…how did you do your Christmas shopping in the past?”
“There’s this nifty thing called the internet. Heard of it? It is a life saver to people like me who hate to go to the fucking mall…especially during peak season when people are willing to push each other out of the way for the sake of a so-called deal,” I huffed sarcastically.
“You know, some people actually get into the holiday spirit by shopping. Christmas music in every store, the friendly hustle and bustle of cheerful folks trying to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones, and maybe a hot chocolate break as a reward for a job well done. You can’t say you don’t enjoy any of those things. That’s too Scrooge-y!”
Aaron chuckled and moved forward as the person in front of us slowly inched a space ahead. His eyes widened with delight when he recognized Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” played on the overhead speakers. He sang the chorus and leaned into my side playfully. Then he snaked his arm under my jacket and hugged me.
“Don’t you like this song?”
“Mmm. Just okay?”
“It’s too slow and sad and this line is too long. Forget the board. Or mail it or whatever. Let’s get outta here,” I pleaded.
“Someone needs a hot chocolate,” he singsonged.
“If it doesn’t come with a shot of Bailey’s or something stronger, I’m not interested.”
Aaron eyed me like I was a strange specimen under a petri dish. Interesting, but unsavory. “Wow. I didn’t realize how much work you’d be. That’s all right. I’m up to the task. I love Christmas and one day you’ll say the same.”
My Christmas spirit may be questionable, but I couldn’t help but be utterly charmed by his smile. He was freaking adorable. I gave him a dubious look and traced his clean-shaven jaw with my thumb. “I love Christmas. I just don’t like shopping, which means I must really like you.”
Fifteen minutes later, we finally made our way outside. The street was crowded with holiday shoppers in a hurry. Someone ran into my side and sent the heavy bag in my hand careening against my leg. Aaron gave me a knowing look but instead of walking toward my car, he headed in the opposite direction.
“Aar, I want to go home.”
He was undeterred by cranky mood. He rubbed my bicep lovingly and grinned like a fool. “C’mon Scrooge, let me buy you a drink. How about a peppermint hot toddy?”
“Hot toddy? What are you from the 1800s? I’ll have a beer, and I’ll even let you buy it.” I offered magnanimously.
“How very good of you, kind sir. Follow me.”
He steered me to one of our favorite local bars. Of course there was a line. I sighed heavily, but Aaron shushed me then waltzed directly toward the bartender who smiled in recognition. I looked on, hoping he’d work his magic. I didn’t really care if he had to flirt to make it happen. I was desperate for a beer and a place to sit. Aaron motioned for me to grab the high table next to the window when the couple sitting there stood to leave. I obeyed then turned to admire my man’s sexy ass as he leaned over the bar to make small talk with the bartender.
Aaron set our drinks on the table a few minutes later, grinning triumphantly as he lifted his festive-looking cocktail in a toast. “To holiday spirit. Long may it live. Bottoms up, Crabbypants.”
“Crabbypants?” I chuckled in spite of myself and tapped my beer bottle against his glass.
“If the shoe fits and all that.”
“What did you order?” I asked before gulping my beer.
“A peppermentini. Want to taste?”
“Still grumpy, eh? Please tell me your lack of Christmas spirit is a low blood sugar thing and not a holiday thing. You hated picking out a Christmas tree and—”
“That’s not true. I liked it fine for the first half hour. I just think you took a little longer than necessary to make a decision. It’s a tree, for fuck’s sake. It’s going to dry out in a couple weeks max.”
“All the more reason to pay close attention and choose one that will last longer rather than the one standing next to it, which may appear to be exactly the same, but could have a terrible deficiency of some sort. You know, like dead branches lurking near the trunk.” He paused before continuing, “It’s a little like choosing a mate.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“I’m absolutely serious. If I was the type of person who just willy-nilly picked any ol’ tree, how is it that far removed from dating any ol’ guy?”
I threw my head back and laughed. “Well, for starters, one is a tree and the other is human. I hope.”
“You aren’t taking me seriously.” He huffed before taking a sip of his pink-tinted cocktail.
“No, I’m not. That makes no sense, babe.”
“Well, it may sound far fetched, but I’m picky by nature. I’ve “dated” a lot, but you’re the first person I’ve been serious about. Or… the first tree I’ve ever brought home.”
I smiled at him and impulsively reached across the table to put my hand over his for a moment. “Weird analogy but the same goes for me. Don’t freak out… but seeing my boss with his husband and their two kids…” I took a breath and paused to search for a sentiment that wouldn’t scare him away. “It’s cool to me.”
Okay, that was lame, I thought with a wince.
Aaron smirked. “So you want to have a hot husband and a couple of kids one day?”
“Yes. But you should know that even saying the word ‘marriage’ or ‘husband’ is a gigantic step for me. The last girlfriend I had—”
“Kristin? The pretty blonde?” If he was going for nonchalant, it wasn’t working.
“Yeah. She was constantly bringing up weddings. And I mean constantly. She either talked about one she was in or gossiped about who might be next. It was weird to me, but I guess that had more to do with the fact that I knew I never wanted that with her. We didn’t love each other. It wouldn’t have ended well.”
“You don’t think she loved you?”
“No. She liked the idea of me. Marrying a lawyer, moving to the suburbs, two kids, a dog, a luxury SUV. She didn’t love me. Hell, I don’t think she really knew me. You know me.” I reached out to touch him again, this time just letting our finger tips touch as our arms rested on the table.
“I do. I know you’re super crabby at the mall and that you leave your underwear and towels on the floor regularly, never make a bed and hate blue cheese. I love you anyway.”
I chuckled. “I love you too. And I’ve never said those words to anyone but you.”
He smiled sweetly and threaded our fingers together. “Same here.”
“Aar, I—I’m… Fuck, I’m so bad at this stuff.”
“Feelings stuff.” I shook my head in frustration and looked out the window at the holiday revelers. “I may not be as choosy when it comes to picking out a tree, but I don’t take what we have lightly. Maybe I’m a little too serious sometimes but—”
“You?” he teased.
“Yeah, well… I wouldn’t have asked you to live with me or agreed to get tested so we can have sex without condoms. And certainly wouldn’t have said the L-word if I didn’t mean it completely. What we have feels special and sacred and you mean more to me than anyone ever has. I never thought I wanted this but, I’m grateful I have it now.”
Aaron’s eyes shone with unshed tears. He bit his bottom lip and gave me a watery smile. “Me too, Matty.”
“I don’t want to freak you out but someday I want what my boss and his husband have. I want to get married and have kids. I want to take them to see Santa, teach them how to ride a bike and…” I halted mid-speech, hoping to find a way to finesse my outburst so I didn’t ask for more than he was ready to give.
“And?” he prodded.
“I want it with you. Everything. I can see it. The house, the rings, the kids, the dogs. It doesn’t scare me when I think about having those things with you. We belong together,” I said softly.
The background music, clinking glasses and the hum of conversations faded. Aaron was all I could see and his voice was the only sounded I wanted to hear. I marveled at how he effortlessly turned me inside out. I’d do anything to be near him and part of his world.
Aaron nodded profusely as he dabbed the corner of his eye with a cocktail napkin.
“Yes. I think so too but… all this “normal” stuff scares me. I never thought I could have it so I convinced myself I didn’t want it. The truth is… I don’t want to scar my kids by forgetting to remove my glitter nail polish or by kissing their dad in public. It was hard to get to a place where I felt good about myself. What if I unintentionally put a child through hell by… being me?”
“That’s not possible. You’re fearless, sophisticated and confident. And you’re smart. Any child would be lucky to have you as their parent. Look, I’m not ready to get married or have kids immediately, but when the time comes, I’ll embrace it wholeheartedly. I know you will too. And you’ll be fucking amazing. The way you always are.”
“I love you, Matty. You’re a good man. You make me want to be better than I think I am.”
“You’re perfect the way you are. Don’t change a thing.” I lifted our joined hands to my lips and kissed his knuckles.
“Nothing at all? So you don’t mind that it takes me half an hour more than most people to find the perfect Christmas tree or that I blast “All I Want for Christmas” every time it comes on the radio?” he asked. He sat back on his barstool and unhooked the candy cane from the edge of his martini glass.
“I might not always be patient but I don’t really mind,” I said, lowering my gaze to the peppermint treat he sucked between his lips.
“So what would you say if I asked you to pop into one more store with me after you finish your beer?”
I opened my mouth intending to let him have it but when he held my gaze as he licked the length of the candy cane, my dick twitched in my jeans. It took me a second to refocus. I scowled when Aaron quirked his brow and winked. Then slipped my knee between his under the table and leaned forward.
“I’d say no fucking chance. We’re going home so you can do whatever you’re doing to that candy cane to me instead. Got it?”
Aaron’s eyes lit with humor. “Yes, sir.”
I hopped off my barstool and clandestinely adjusted myself before gathering our bags. “Come on, baby. Let’s put that extra Christmas spirit to good use. In bed.”
He chuckled then tipped back the last of his cocktail and gave me a funny look I couldn’t quite read. “Are you always going to be this bossy when you’re my husband and the father of our kids?”
On some level, I knew he was joking, but the words knocked me off my feet like a physical thing. In an instant I could see time unravel and reveal secrets I wouldn’t dare seek out on my own. I saw us buying our first house, walking down the aisle with our friends and family looking on. And then I saw Aaron holding a child’s hand. Our child.
My breath hitched audibly as an emotional wave hit me out of the blue. I licked my lips nervously and looked away to pull myself together. Then I turned back and cradled his chin before pressing lips to his. I pulled back slightly and smiled.
“I’ll always try to be what you need, Aar.”
“Me too, Matty. Te amo.”
This time Aaron’s smile blinded me. Fuck, he was beautiful. He threw his arms around my neck and squeezed, muttering sweet nothings in Spanish as he rocked from side to side. I realized then that I would do anything to always feel this way. I’d give him the moon and the stars and whatever else he wanted. I’d follow anywhere he led for a chance to make that vision come true. I wanted it all. With Aaron.