Billy: *I’d be lying if I said this was the worst Christmas Eve I’ve ever had, but it’s coming pretty damn close. By eight o’clock I had resigned myself to an evening of solitude and depression, and now, an hour later, I’m just thinking bed. It looks quite comforting from my stance by my bedroom window, locked away from all outside bothers, and at least then I can shut off the worries in my mind. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, after all, and I will put on a brave face for Dom if it kills me. Which means I’ll need all of my energy. Besides, even if MS were to come, which I hope he won’t, I don’t want to see him. I don’t want to think. I just want to sleep without dreams, wake up in the morning, give Dom his gifts, and then make dinner, pretending that tonight means nothing more than my last lonely Christmas Eve. So it is with a resolved state of mind that I move away from the window and the softly falling snow, ready to find oblivion.*
Dom: *I’ve been shaking involuntarily for the past three days, but tonight tops all of them. I’ve worked so hard for this night, and as much as I’d like to say, “Well, Dom, there’s an evening too late. Guess we’ll have to think about next year!” I know that I can’t just give up. I promised Billy, and I promised myself, that MS would reveal himself on Christmas Eve. And here it is. Christmas Eve has fallen upon me, and it’s well twenty-one hours into the day. I have three hours to get into Billy’s heart or else. Or else...I never will. I know I’d leave. I’d go back home. I wouldn’t be able to have someone for months, years, forever, ever again. I know what kind of damage this night could do to me, but I’m beginning to get a general impression of what this night unfulfilled will do to me. I can almost feel him slipping from between my fingers. I want to be myself – the one that waits until the last second to finish anything he’s resolved to do, if he finishes at all – but this night calls for something more, something fast; I need to do this now. I can’t wait. I shouldn’t have waited until now to start thinking about how bloody frightening this would be. But here I am, blindly heading up the stairway of Billy’s home, out to find him and drag him off for what he’ll see as a “pointless Christmas Eve venture.” It’s not that, though. It does have a point. I want to see him smile again. And for some empty reason I have a crazy hope that he’ll smile in the end, not only because I’ve made him come out with me tonight, but also because I’ll have told him everything about MS. When I spill my heart before him, maybe he’ll be able to find at least one part of it worth keeping. Shaking my shoulders, breathing, still breathing (that’s good), I stop before Billy’s door and listen. (He has to come out tonight. I’ll take him in his pajamas if I have to.) Hearing nothing, I reach out a hand and lightly tap on the door with my knuckle.* Bill... *My voice falters a little, but much of my nerve is released on his name.* ...are you in?
Billy: *I almost roll my eyes at the question, but it would take too much energy and reward me too little satisfaction. Instead I content myself with sighing and placing my pajamas back on the bed.* No, I’ve jumped out the window, thank you. Try the front yard. *Well, I did say I was going to put on a brave face for Christmas Day. But I made no promises about being pleasant on Christmas Eve. Still, it’s got nothing to do with Dom, and I shouldn’t punish him for simply being in his own house. I approach the door but don’t unlock it, not yet.* What is it, Dom?
Dom: *This is a bad time. He’s certainly not in the mood for anything I’m going to say. A part of me considers this an excuse to forget about the plan and just say “goodnight then.” But there’s another part of me, too, that’s shouting at the top of its lungs, “Billy, I miss you so much, just let me see you tonight!” It’s rather hard to ignore the shouting. I lean toward the space between the closed door and the frame, sorry I have to talk to him through any door at all. This is a bad time. My Billy doesn’t even want to peek out and see my nervous expression. I wish he’d even give me a hard time about it. At least that would mean he’d have to open the door just a bit. And that would in turn mean that I could see him just a bit.* Did you know it’s Christmas Eve? *I try to sound positive, but the shaking subtly begins its course again.*
Billy: *This time I do roll my eyes, simply because Dom has the uncanny ability of bringing up exactly the things I want to speak about the least. I wonder if he does it on purpose.* Yes, I’m well aware of that fact. I do happen to have a calendar in here. *It’s definitely time for him to leave, before I say something I’ll regret later when my conscience comes back from holiday.*
Dom: Right... *I mutter to myself – more of an understanding of Billy’s tone than an accordance with his statement. Should I be angry? He is being rather obnoxious about this. Then again, I know I couldn’t really be angry with Billy if I tried. And I don’t really blame him for being angry either. Maybe I shouldn’t have started this whole secret letter thing in the first place. Or perhaps Leon was right about my carrying it on for so long; it wasn’t setting any of us up for good. I just know now that I bloody well better finish it. If I can even get Billy out of his room. I try to carry on with my original thought and ignore Billy’s comment for the time being.* I was just thinking I’d go out for a bit... *I shrug instinctively.* Was wondering if you wanted to come.
Billy: *I hesitate guiltily; even after being treated like complete shite, he’s still willing to try to make things right. I walk right up to the door, leaning against it, and sigh.* I don’t think I’m up to it tonight, Dom. *My voice softens. Damn it, this isn’t fair to Dom, to ruin his holiday because I can’t get myself out of a self-inflicted funk. But I can’t risk going out of this room, not when I know there is someone in town looking for me, because if he finds me, I’m not sure I can be held accountable for my actions, good or bad. Besides, after running on coffee for the past few days, a night of actual sleep is looking mighty appealing.*
Dom: *I shift my posture and rest a palm up against the door frame, sighing in frustration. He really doesn’t have to come out to meet MS. If anything he could just come out with me for a while to get some mochas so I can explain everything to him. Just Billy and me. Then we can just put MS aside for a while. My eyes fixate to one grain in the door for what seems like minutes while my mind ceases to function. Oh, damn it, I know I’m not going to fake all of that ‘reasonable talk over mochas’ shite. I’m going to end up doing just what I planned. Whether either of us like it or not.* Billy, if you don’t come out with me tonight I’m leaving the country forever.
Billy: *For a second I consider bluffing, saying, “Ok, goodbye then,” but evidently my mouth is faster than my mind.* What?! *Still he’s managed to make me smile, albeit minutely, and that’s something I hadn’t considered possible this evening.* What kind of a half-arsed threat is that, Monaghan? *I pull open the door then, finally, still not entirely willing to give into his idea but wanting to face him while we talk, at least. I lean against the door frame with my arms crossed, tiny smile lingering.* If you’re going to blackmail someone, you’ve got to at least make it convincing.
Dom: *My grin appears at the same time Billy emerges from behind his door smiling only slightly, but smiling nonetheless. I pull my hand down from the door frame and stand before him, admiring how our personalities seem to work ‘just so’ together; how clever we must be to get to this point in our conversation, no doors between us.* Bill, as a postal worker, I am forbidden from tampering with mail, black or not. *I try not to smile too much, afraid I may be placing my hopes one level higher on the possibility shelf than they should be.* I just want to get you to come out with me and I happen to be using rotten methods. You can’t spend Christmas Eve cooped up in your room. *I raise my brow slightly to confirm.* It’s a rule, you know.
Billy: Since when? That wasn’t in effect last year, you know. *I shake my head, eyes shifting down to the carpet as I become suddenly aware that I’ve most likely traveled at least an hour away from my bed.* I’m going to have to see it written down somewhere before I’ll believe you. And then I still won’t listen to it. *I nod vehemently, quite ready to retreat back into my room now, thank you very much. He’s tipped the scales too far, and I’m too tempted to join him to be comfortable.* I’m a rebel, after all.
Dom: *I tilt my head, looking at my hand as I run it shortly up and down the edge of the door frame. Clever thing; but he’s not getting out of this so easily.* So... if I said, ‘Billy, stay home. I’m going out by myself and there’s nothing you can do to make me want to take you along,’ you’d come with me? *I bite my tongue at the tip of my cheeky grin and toss my glance back to him.*
Billy: *Damn it all to hell, I’m the weakest man on Earth. Did I ever really want to stay in tonight? Because really, his charming attempts to getting me to come out have won me over I think, and I don’t really know if I can avoid it now. My lips quirk upwards slightly, and I tip my head to one side, considering.* I suppose that might happen. But rebels make an effort to appear unpredictable, you know.
Dom: Well, I’ll be careful of that while we’re out. *I watch him, watch that newly contented sigh resting on his face, watch his head tilt gently. Damn, I’m adoring him to pieces. How will I ever get through this night? If I’m going to be making jokes with him all evening, trying to win him over, I don’t think I’ll ever quite get to the ‘hey, by the way, I’m MS’ part. Hell, but I don’t even want to think about that now. Is he trying not to smile? I can’t tell. Perhaps he just isn’t trying hard enough, because he certainly looks brilliant to me.*
Billy: Wait, wait, wait. *I send a quizzical glance in his direction, fighting the urge to shake a finger at him, while we’re in this state of mind.* I don’t believe I’m actually going out anywhere. *Yet.* That was a hypothetical situation, and I haven’t signed myself away to anything. It’s going to take more than that, you know. *For instance, an idea of where we are going and a promise that we’re just going out, and he’s not going to take me to any sort of clandestine... meeting.*
Dom: *I push my hands into my pockets and think to myself for a moment. Perhaps I should ask him out with me formally. After all, my entrance here was abrupt and, well for the most-part, unscripted. Though I received the feeling that I was doing quite well for myself, thank you. But if he wants more than that, he’ll get it. Formulating, glancing at the ceiling and contemplating some sort of proper request, I realise I’m still unable to hide my smile. This only ever happens around him. I know, ultimately, he’ll do something perfect and look lovely and we’ll end up somewhere in town poking fun at each other over drinks or something of that nature. So, it’s just a matter of me getting us there, for starters. I consider making another empty threat to sway his mind, but drop that idea quickly.* Well then... *I stand straight and give him a stern gaze, ready to give him my offer.* Billy... *His mouth picks up slightly at the sound of his name; one of the most attractive things he does. But only one out of the million.* Would you, please, join me this evening for …uhm, food *I grin shyly* at the diner on the corner of third and Cotton? I’m planning a small Christmas Eve celebration and would deeply appreciate your attendance. *I should really bow after a statement like that.*
Billy: *Hmm, this is different. It actually sounds as though he’s planned this evening out, and I’m curious.* A small celebration you say, hmmm? Are you sure you don’t have a hot date and are using me for my car? *My mouth twitches in a small smile as I try to imagine Dom with a hot date. Not that I think he’s incapable of getting one - on the contrary, he’s a very handsome young man and could have his pick - but I’m fairly sure he doesn’t have anyone in town that he would consider as such. After all, I’d like to think he’d confide in me about his love life as much as I confide in him. Besides, the way he asked me to come out with him makes it sound as if I were the date... if we lived in the early twentieth century and I were a woman.*
Dom: *I sigh and smile, trying to imagine myself with a hot date. From this town? Other than Billy? I don't think so. Though I enjoy making them want me, I don't think I'd actually have the strength to want them back. Unless it was Billy, of course. I don't think I've exactly succeeded in making him want me. That's a change. I'm totally out of my element now. I grin, hoping I'll play my cards right anyway, and look Billy in the eye.* No. And, by the way, if you haven't noticed, I have a very nice bicycle out front which, I'm certain, anyone would be honored to ride. *Before they crashed anyway, I think, stepping a bit closer to tease him.* Anyway, I was actually thinking of taking a walk. *I hesitate, taking him in. My brow bends.* Would you come?
Billy: *I snort at the idea of Dom’s bike being what one would call “nice.” I don’t think I’d ride on that thing if someone paid me. And Dom shouldn’t have to, either. My smile fades as I’m presented with this difficult choice. I’m still not entirely sure that I trust anyone tonight, including Dom, in fact, especially Dom. There are events he could bring about so easily that I’m not sure I could take at all. Still, what does he possibly have to gain by acquiescing with MS’s requests? After all, he’d just have to live with me. I believe that he just doesn’t want to waste the evening, and now that I think about it, neither than I. It’s the first holiday in awhile I’ve had someone to spend it with, and I’m going to enjoy it. I smile finally, nodding my head a bit shyly.* I’d love to, Dom, thanks. Let me get my coat.
Dom: *I beam with excitement, heart pounding at the sound of his agreement.* Great. *I turn to head downstairs for my own coat, but turn back shortly.* Thanks, Bill. *I say, brimming with happiness, and catching the sight of his smile that is just...it's like I could...well, do a lot of things I should save for later, if the chance comes. Then I turn on a dime and carry on to the stairway. As I bound down the stairs, I'm reminded of something and call back up to Bill before I hit the last step.* Remember a scarf and cap and mittens, I won't have you catching the flu!
Billy: *His enthusiasm is slightly contagious, I’ll admit, and I laugh as I dig into my closet, pulling out my warmest coat. I take his advice and find my scarf and a pair of warm gloves. The cold outside looks formidable, with the lightly falling snow and the... silence of it all. Well, I was promised snow, after all. I just didn’t think it would seem quite so scathing. I shut my bedroom door and head down the stairs, flashing the brightest look I can muster in Dom’s direction.* Ready then? *I ask cheerfully.* You sure you wouldn’t rather us just drive? It’s rather nippy out there.
Dom: *I look at him, surprised.* Are you mad? It's snowing! *Pulling my coat on tight and zipping it up to my chin, I bounce at my knees with anticipation of the chill. Of course it will be cold outside. But this walk means spending more time with Billy, and I'm pretty sure I'll need as much of that time as I can get tonight. Sort of 'prepare' him for what's to come, I think. I rub my hands together and then nod to the front door.* Shall we go then? *I look him over.* All bundled up? No danger of illness? *Grinning, I reach for the doorknob and tug the door open, letting in a waft of cool air almost instantly. My breath is hazy before me as I push the screen door open and hold it, awaiting Billy's exit and smiling gratefully as I see the grin on his lips and the slight blush on his cheeks suddenly radiate in the cold.*
Billy: *I highly doubt I’m going to die of pneumonia on a few-block walk, but I’m grateful to him for tonight, so very grateful, so I’ll indulge in his slight paranoia. The cold hits me like a punch in the stomach and suddenly I’m glad for all his advice, and I’m reminded of his bare fingers. I’ve noticed him going without gloves on his daily rounds, and it’s pained me then, but now it seems especially cruel. I consider heading back inside to pluck one of those carefully-wrapped boxes from underneath the tree and give it to him a day early, but as the door shuts behind him I reconsider, reminding myself that it is just a short walk. We’ll both be fine. We head down the drive and out into the street, heading for the café a few blocks away.*
Dom: *Snow falls in his hair. I'm not aware that it's touching me, but it's falling in his hair. The stark contrast of white on brown catches my eye and as we walk, the gravel of the drive crunching under our steps and steadily catching the drifts of snow, I can't stop glancing at him. I'm afraid he'll notice sooner or later. As he'll notice the fact that I can't stop smiling, even while I'm only watching my feet. I've actually gotten him out of the house! This is the first step to success, anyway. I'm so glad he's out. And not only for my sake. I would have hated to think of him alone all of Christmas Eve. He's probably been alone for too many Christmas Eves already. I won't let it happen again. We walk in silence for a ways, turning onto the neighborhood drive that leads into town. My breath curls into the darkness, and I glance at him again through falling snowflakes. His nose is pink from the cold. His cheeks are, too. And his breath puffs downward and away as he steps, looking at the road below him as he goes. I curl my fingers in my pockets to warm them, then break the silence.* I hope I haven't ruined any plans of yours tonight. You didn't have someone else to see, did you? *I hope maybe he'll think I'm referring to MS. Maybe it'll further convince him that I'm not leading him into some sort of trap, and he'll stay with me longer. Or all night...*
Billy: *My surprise feels like it’s written all over my face. Is he joking? Or perhaps he just doesn’t know as much as I thought he did. I look at him for a moment, trying to gauge his expression, before shaking my head.* No, not at all. You don’t think I’d be locked up in my room if I had someone to see, do you? *There’s a hint of something in my voice there... not bitterness, because how could I be bitter about something that’s my own fault? No, not bitterness, but... regret. Because I should have had someone to see on Christmas Eve. I frown and resolve to erase any similar future tone from my voice.* No, I’m glad to be out with you, Dom.
Dom: *I'm almost worried, until the sound of his last few words hit my ears. I nearly forget, then, what we were talking about before earlier. Or was I trying to make him think about something...oh, yes, MS. He was locking himself away from MS. Of course. "Please don't write me again." I try to smile a bit, watching a small snowflake melt on the tip of his ear.* Thanks, Bill. I'm glad to be out with you, too. And glad you didn't lock yourself up. *I attempt to sound like I'm teasing, but I know it wasn't a very good joke. I can't really play ignorant too well in this situation. My connection to it runs too deep. That's really a bloody shame.* Glad I rescued you, too.
Billy: *I smile softly back, my regret for treating him like utter shite during my miserable last few days coming back in full force. How can he still care at all? Most friends would have gotten fed up with such behavior. But he still cares enough to make an effort to make it better. I’m almost unaware when we reach the main drag of town, and suddenly the streetlights break the spell between reality and the calm of winter. We’re at the café, out for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, and this is real life, not some sort of story that’s going to resolve itself happily for all parties. I’ve made my decision, and it’s nonreversible. This sudden realization is obvious but still painful, and as we walk into the café and take a seat, I realize I may not be as good of company as Dom might have hoped.*
Dom: *The café is warm and, though it's late, a bright-looking waitress hails us as we enter through the doors. Billy and I move to take our seats at the booth opposite one another. I plop down onto the red vinyl and grin as I look up to Billy through the yellow light of the café lamps. But that's where my grin stops short.* Bill, are you okay? *He certainly doesn't look it. When last I looked he was smiling, now a frown covers all of his countenance. He doesn't really look at me straight away. I look up as I sense the presence of the waitress beside our table, never hearing Billy's reply. Not something I'm unaccustomed to, though not bitterly. The waitress, quickly catching my upturned gaze, flashes a practiced smile and holds up her notepad. "Something I could get for you two?" she asks, almost with a detached sweetness. I make myself smile.* I think I'll have a cup of coffee... Decaf. And uhm... *I look about our table, catching sight of the small dessert menu bent near the salt and pepper.* And... *I look back to her.* What kind of pie do you recommend? *She taps her pen on her notepad and tries to look interested. I'm sure she's tired of questions like this. "The pumpkin is really good, this time of year. We've been getting a lot of orders for it," she speaks pointedly. I bounce my fist on the tabletop, keeping my smile.* I think I'll have a piece of that, then. *She scribbles something on her paper, and I glance to Billy as she asks, "And you, sir?"*
Billy: *I hear Dom’s question and dread answering it; it’s a relief when the waitress asks to take our orders. I stare at the tabletop as Dom places his and smile up at the waitress when my turn comes.* I’ll have a cup of coffee, and a slice of marionberry pie, please. *Not in season, but it’s always good here anyway, even with frozen berries. Besides, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to eat tonight, anyway. The waitress disappears for a short moment and returns with a pot of coffee, filling our cups with another smile and promising us our pie will be out in a minute. Should be, considering the café’s not very busy at this time of night. As she moves away I slip off my gloves before wrapping my fingers around the coffee mug, appreciating the heat and trying very pointedly to ignore Dom’s question, though I know he probably won’t give up so easily. The first sip burns, but it’s a welcome distraction.*
Dom: *I take a hold of my mug, holding it under my chin and allowing the steam from the coffee and its smell waft to my face. But I don't take my eyes off of Billy, or close them as usual to revel in the feeling of the warmth. His face is again downcast, and he sips from his scolding mug with a bitter reaction. He still doesn't look at me much. It gives me a better chance to look at him, which I would usually enjoy, but there is this tension around us. I suppose he doesn't want to tell me if he's okay or not. I'm sure he just wants to keep this sudden sadness to himself. But I can't let him hide away like that.* Billy, *I lower my voice a bit.* is everything all right? You can tell me, you know. I think I know why you're upset. Want to talk about it?
Billy: *I look up at Dom, at his concerned look and kind intentions and have the urge to throw them back in his face, say something like “If you knew, then you’d know I don’t want to talk about it,” but then the waitress comes with our pie, setting the plates down in front of us with another saccharine smile before moving away again, and by then I’ve come to my senses. I don’t know. Is this something that needs talking about? Or is it something that speaking about would only make worse? And I don’t like to think of Dom having to deal with this any more than he already does. So I settle for shaking my head and picking up my fork, poking at my slice of pie.* I don’t know. I shouldn’t need to. *I look back up, attempting a feeble smile.* I’m sorry I’m such poor company.
Dom: *I glance at the waitress as she comes again and sets our food before us, clinking the plates on the table and convincing me of her impeccable timing. Almost as soon as she leaves, however, Billy speaks up. And, actually, I'm not upset that he hasn't really revealed any more of what he's feeling to me. He sounds sincere about what he has said, which is assuring, in a way. And his sad smile comforts me suddenly. At least he's responding, a bit. I smile, trying to sympathise with how he feels. Though I don't really know how he feels. Because he hasn't told me and that was just my point. But that doesn't make him poor company.* You're not. *I take up my fork and push it into the filling of my pie, taking off the point and plucking it into my mouth.* In fact... *I continue, swallowing, while hoping to cheer him up.* I'm really a bad excuse for company, seeing as how I didn't pick you up in a nice car or give you flowers at the door or anything. I don't think I even held the door open for you as we came into the café; I'm surprised you're not infuriated with me.
Billy: *I give a short laugh into my mug, eyes watching Dom. I take a sip and put the mug down.* Well, you don’t honestly think I’d show my anger in public, do you? I’ve got to put on a dignified face, after all. *I raise an eyebrow and point at him.* Just you wait until we get home. *I continue to smile at him, watching him eat his pie.* Dom... *I start, wondering just how I might be able to convey my appreciation to him. But I’m at a loss for words.* Thanks.
Dom: *I'm hooked on the words "until we get home"...that is, until he thanks me. Thanks? For making a fool of myself in front of him every thirty seconds in a meager attempt to make him laugh, by some miracle. Though, by the laughing look on his face, it must have worked somehow. With one word, he's so honest and so, so beautiful, my heart aches in my chest. But I can't show that, right? I'm disentangled from this whole...cuddly... 'thing.' Right.* You're welcome. *I grin at him cheekily and pop another piece of pie into my mouth, digging my fork back into the pie almost as soon as it appears. I wonder if my reply was a little too short. He really sounded like he meant what he said when he said 'thanks.' Maybe I should have taken to opportunity to look at him a bit longer, to smile more slowly, and to actually say something meaningful. My eyes return to him, wondering.* So... *I cut off a piece of the pie but let it rest on my fork for a moment.* how is your pie? *I look to his plate, noticing that he's hardly touched his piece at all.*
Billy: Oh. *I look down at my plate, having partially forgotten and partially ignored the pie in front of me.* It’s wonderful as usual. But I’m... just not very hungry. *I pick up my fork, thinking I might as well make an effort, but the idea of actually eating something right now turns my stomach. I set the fork down again and push the plate towards Dom.* You finish it. My gift to you. Merry Christmas. *I smile and fold my hands around my rapidly emptying mug, watching him fondly. I’m glad I’ve come out tonight. It’s made the evening at least ten times more bearable. Still... I’ve made an effort here that I’m not sure I can keep up all night. Because the more we sit here in this brightly lit café, the more my musings are brought into stark resolution, and sooner or later I will have to think about them, really think about them, and then maybe even speak of them. This companionable comfort is wonderful, and Dom’s company is more than welcome. Still, I’m looking forward to the walk home.*
Dom: *I tilt my head as he pushes the pie before me, and then give him a sideways glance. I decide not to badger him about giving up the dessert, however; he seems to be dealing with enough behind that smile of his. So I grin in turn and scoot his plate to my edge of the table.* Thanks. And a Merry Christmas to you. I'm paying for your coffee. *I smile as I bite down on another piece of pie, adoring the way his eyes don't stray from me; they even brighten as I poke my fun, and he curls his fingers further around his warm mug. I'd rather like to know what he's thinking. Maybe he wishes he could be in bed asleep now and just wants to be polite by staying. I know, at least, that he'd like this day to end without a mention of two specific letters, which is something I can't really guarantee. I suppose, if I end up losing my nerve, if it just comes down to it and I can't think of the right words and the right ways in which to say them, I may just leave it at that, and be content to be his friend. My brow twinges as I stare at the slice I've made in my pie. I want to beg myself not to act like this. We can just be friends, Billy and I. That's right. I stop and chew on a bite of pumpkin filling thoughtfully. To never taste his kiss, or feel him in my arms, like I'd imagined ever since I started this; to give up without even trying. Of course we could be friends...but not without mentioning MS first. I have to at least try. The curious look Billy is beginning to give catches my eye and I perk up instantly, eating another bite and smiling.* Sorry. Thinking.
Billy: That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone apologize for something that’s impossible to control. *I come back teasingly. This is why I can’t speak of MS with Dom tonight, among other reasons. Sometimes I seem to forget that he has a life of his own, one that I’ve been mightily neglecting since this business all started, and he has his own business to worry about. I can’t burden him with mine. I tip the rest of my coffee back, setting the mug down on the table with finality. My hands are going to be cold again in a minute. Is it impolite to wear gloves at the table?*
Dom: *I grin and prod at the crust of my pie.* It just happens to me at the most inconvenient times. *I look to him to see if he's smiling, ignoring the crust on my plate and not wanting to eat it anyway. I was never a big fan of crusts. Finally, I push my plate to the end of the table and bring Billy's pie before me.* I'll give you one last chance to redeem this pie before I make it disappear. *I throw Billy a questioning glance and bite my lip. It does look like a rather nice Billy...erm...pie. I can't believe I just did that.*
Billy: *I sigh dramatically and gaze at the pie.* I’m afraid I can do no more. It’s a lost cause. *I shrug and nod at Dom resolutely.* Take it with my blessing. *I smile and lean back against the seat, folding my hands on the table in front of me.*
Dom: *I nod to him as well.* Consider both taken. *And I drop my fork into the pie, pushing a few berries from the filling onto the plate. I perk my eyebrows at Billy and greedily shove a bite of his pie into my mouth, chewing happily as I look at him, and then beginning another bite as soon as I swallow. It's only a matter of minutes before I'm scraping the final bits of filling from the plate and cleaning them from my fork, finished both with the pie and with eating for the next five days, I'm so full.* Well. *I put my fork on the plate and push it aside, leaning back in my seat with satisfaction and enjoying Billy's look of...either amazement or disgust...for a moment. I gesture to the empty plate frankly.* You really should have had some.
Billy: *I shake my head with a laugh, looking amazedly at the two empty plates.* No, watching you enjoy it was enough for me. *It’s true; I got more out of watching him eat it than I would have eating it myself. I fiddle with my gloves in my lap.* Are you ready to go? *I ask him finally, looking back to him with the question on my lips. It’s impolite of me, to be so blatant, but I think he knows by now that I’ve gotten everything I thought I could get out of a night out and more and now it’s time to go before the whole evening goes sour. Dom will understand.*
Dom: *I start, but settle for leaving now - as good a time as any, that is. I can tell he just wants to go home. If I suggest staying out any longer he may just agree to be polite and then end up having a miserable time. So, I nod.* Sure, Bill. *I scoot out from the booth and stand up, fishing my wallet from my back pocket and then waiting for Billy before I make my way to the cash register. Billy stands from the booth with a small smile and I smile back, turning and walking to the waitress who is now standing at the cashier in wait. As I hand her the money, she smiles in protocol, holds out my change, and coins that familiar "Have a nice night, sir." Taking my change and pushing it into my pocket, I nod, and return to Billy without lingering. In any usual circumstance I might have tried to win the girl over, flirt just a little, but I've been having a hard time doing anything as usual tonight. And I'm thinking too much about Billy to even consider impressing someone else. I have to make things work tonight, and I'm finally getting to the hard part. I sigh silently and approach Billy with a crooked smile, reaching the café door and opening it for him at last.* After you, - *I nearly say "love." I hadn't noticed myself becoming so much a part MS's letters. 'Love'? Is this a side-effect of missing his letters for so long? Or is it just due to missing him for so long?*
Billy: *I hope that next time Dom has a bad day he’ll take it out on me, so I can feel better about tonight. This isn’t a date, and yet he’s acting like it’s his responsibility to make sure I have the perfect time. I suppose it’s all a part of the joke now, especially with the door-holding that seems to be occurring now. I smile gratefully at him and step out into the chill, quickly slipping my gloves over my hands before my fingers have a chance to register the frigidity. Once he’s back at my side I nod and smile softly at him before turning and heading back in the direction of home. My room isn’t so very far away. I can control myself until then.*
Dom: *I walk in step with him out into the cold again, staying just close enough to catch some of his warmth, but not close enough that he'll notice, I think. We have a little way to walk before I'll have to veer him off to my planned destination, so I hope I can prepare him for the change before we get there. Lifting my chin a bit, I try to puff something like a smoke ring into the air, but apparently those don't work quite the same with breath. Also, I haven't really had the practice with real smoke either. I grin shyly as Billy looks at me, and then turn my eyes to the road ahead and keep my hands pressed at the bottom of my pockets. If we were together, like that, now, I would take his hand at this moment. It would be the perfect time. And he would walk a step closer to me, so our bodies were touching. And I'd say something about the cold and he'd just smile. Well...I glance at him... He is smiling.*
Billy: *Maybe I misread him. Maybe he’s just as glad to be going home as I am. Because he smiles as we walk, as if he hasn’t got a care in the world, as if he’s having the time of his life. But that’s not entirely accurate. It’s subtler than that, more like he’s just... pleased. He doesn’t mind then, that I’ve spoiled his evening, his Christmas Eve. I feel better then, and I am struck by the sudden realization that I don’t think I’ll ever be capable of being uncomfortable around Dom.*
Dom: *I'm so distracted with his soft smile and idle thoughts of holding hands, that I nearly miss the turn I'd planned to take - into the woods, instead of on the road. Without thinking about what I'm doing, I take Billy by the mittened thumb and tug him to my attention, looking into the dark woods lying at the turn of the road before us. Noticing a point of warmth in my palm, I return my eyes to Billy and quickly let go of his hand.* Hey, Bill. *I say, puffing nervously into the chill and trying to look enthusiastic.* Let's have an adventure. *I know he's going to hate me for this; really. I'm already touching him and forgetting where I am; it isn't as though this is all going to run as smoothly as it did in my mind this afternoon, if I can get him to follow me into that forest at all. I observe the woods as though I haven't an idea of what lies in store within. The snow still falling around us seems to make the whole earth quiet, and I'm sure he can hear my heart pounding.* I think there's a way home through here; what do you say? *Please say yes.*
Billy: *Of all the random things to suggest, on all the random days.* Dom... *I start slowly. I know his nature enough by now to recognize this as a Dom-like thing to do, so it really shouldn’t surprise me, but tonight of all nights... still, I think of how well he’s put up with me thus far, and I can’t really see myself saying no. Perhaps staying out a bit longer won’t kill me. Besides, who knows what, rather who could be waiting at my house right now. So I give him a resigned smile and nod.* Sounds good. Lead the way.
Dom: *I give him something of a double-take when I hear his words. I was sure I'd felt some sort of defeat lingering in my near future, but...he's agreed? He must have lost his mind, because this certainly isn't the Billy I'm used to. In an odd way, however, I'm glad for that - for now. I'm actually smiling, ear to ear, heart running in my chest. And he's smiling, too; whether from my hilarious beaming or just by his own decision, he's smiling. I shrug tightly to myself in the cold.* Right. *And I nod, turn, and begin a path straight into the forest, through the soft layer of snow collecting on the ground. I look behind every couple of feet to see him trudging behind, then look ahead again into the dissipating stalks of trees with every confidence that he will be near me.*
Billy: *Dom has obviously lost his mind sometime this evening, because no one right in the head could want to stay out any longer on a freezing night like this, especially when home is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Still, I must be ever madder, because I’m the one following him. But I’m beginning to think this isn’t just a random walk in the woods, what with the way he’s practically jogging through the trees, swiftly enough that I’m almost having to jog along with him to keep up.* Dom - *I call as he makes a turn and I lose sight of him for a moment. I don’t want to be left out here alone.*
Dom: *I hear his voice and turn sharply, peeking at him from behind a tree.* Here, Bill. *I smile and step back a ways to meet him, not wanting to lose him in the dark, but excited nonetheless to reach my destination. I don’t suppose it’s very far off now. I peer off into the trees, squinting around a vapor of my breath, until Billy finally reaches my side. I look to him, puffing a sigh and grinning lightly.* Didn’t mean to lose you. How are you doing? Cold? *I look him over a bit, hoping I haven’t made him suspicious, or frustrated with me.*
Billy: *I’m relieved to see him, convinced that this isn’t just some awful joke, because if it were, that would have been the perfect place to lose me. I nod quickly, rubbing my hands together. Seems the gloves aren’t doing much good anymore.* I’m ok, just cold. *Actually, I’m a lot more than cold. I’m confused and still a little suspicious, and I wish I had some indication as to what is going on.*
Dom: *A twinge of concern runs through my body. My mind digresses to MS-like thoughts, which consist of mainly ‘my billy’s and various methods of taking his hands in mine. He looks a little excluded from all of this, from what I’m doing and where we are. I want to assure him that it’s all right, and I have it all planned out, but then I know he’d leave for home right away. He’s expecting MS at any moment, I’m sure. Expecting I’ll set him up for some sort of meeting. And I guess I am, but not quite in the way that he has in mind. At least, I hope it turns out better than what he’s thinking of, causing him so much worry.* Here... *I smile comfortingly and step to his side.* I’ll walk beside you, then; I think we’re almost there. *I hope silently that he assumes I mean “home.”*
Billy: You think? *I don’t mean to sound so incredulous, but I’m beginning to get a bit worried here. I’ve been to my house through the woods before, but it’s always been in daylight, and I’ve found myself lost even then. Does Dom know the way any better than I do? Are we even going in the right direction? My mind flickers briefly on ludicrous thoughts of us freezing to death out here before shaking them away. Dom knows what he’s doing, and I’ve got to trust him to lead us through.*
Dom: *I begin to walk, more slowly this round, being sure to keep my hands deep inside my pockets so as not to be tempted to do those things MS might.* C’mon, Bill. I wouldn’t get you lost. *He steps carefully over a root and hops in stride with me again, keeping his eyes to the snow on the ground. I didn’t mean to make him worry. Really. I need him to feel better before we get there, or I may have no chance at all. I glance at him, then shrug my warm shoulders to my ears and watch the snow as well.* Anyway, if we did get lost, and it came around to it, you could eat me and take my coat.
Billy: *I laugh softly, the sound seeming to echo off the trees in the darkness.* As tasty as you do look Dom, I’ve never been much for raw meat. Besides, what would happen if I went first? *I bump shoulders with him gently, still a bit apprehensive, but I know I can trust him. He won’t lead me astray.* Let’s just hope it won’t come to that, all right?
Dom: *We touch again and I turn my eyes to him with a warm smile.* It won’t. *He doesn’t look up at me, but I get the feeling he’s feeling a little better anyway. Glancing over his shoulder, I see a familiar-looking tree and my heart starts up again. We’re getting very close now; not lost at all. We’re heading in exactly the right direction, which is the very thought that’s giving me chills. It’s going to have to happen. In a matter of minutes, I’ll be awaiting Billy’s verdict on pins and needles. I can already feel their impressions now. Another recognizable patch of saplings passes by, and I shudder from my toes to my shoulders.* So, Bill... *I redirect my attention to him quickly.* how do you like the snow? *I brought it for you, like I promised. See? I try not to grin too much as I watch him between the drifting flakes.*
Billy: It’s lovely... *I breathe, watching the slowly falling flakes. When it started off and on a few days ago, I hadn’t thought it would last. I’d almost hoped it wouldn’t. But here it is, and there’s something to be said for that.* We didn’t have much last year, and I thought this year would be the same. It’s very unexpected. *I smile softly, looking back to see our footprints form. I hope the snow doesn’t completely fill them in, in case we have to follow them out.* Makes me want to go make snow angels in the front yard.
Dom: *My grin radiates fondly, and I can’t really take my eyes off of him. He would make a perfect snow angel, you know. He’s just right for it; playing and laughing in the snow. I’d love to join him if I could. We’d lie beside each other and swing our arms and make wings in the snow side by side. Then I might have to turn over and kiss him where we lie in his front yard, and spend all afternoon melting the snow around us. I step lightly past the low branch of a tree and then glance away from Billy curiously. Millions of snowflakes are now falling about us, and I realise we’re standing at the foot of a circular clearing in the midst of many thin trees. My heart races in my throat. This is it. We’re here already. I don’t really notice I’ve stopped walking until Billy turns before me and gazes back with a question on his face. I look at him, wanting to smile, but my nerve gets caught somewhere between this moment and that thought and I’m still for what I would consider a million heartbeats. Then I notice a shape darkening over Billy’s shoulder, and I follow it with my eyes all the way up until its silhouette touches the sky. And there it is. My plan now lies in front of me, and all I have to do is speak and trigger the moment off. I swallow, very hard, and walk the few steps to Billy’s side, gazing before me at the last of my attempts. It’s an old oak tree; the biggest and grandest one, I think, in the entire forest. With spindly branches and nooks twisted into its bark; it’s actually lovely in its antique character, and I’m really very fond of it. But now I can only look upon it with anxious fear. I feel Billy’s eyes leave me, and I’m sure he’s searching in the direction of my gaze. My fingers tangle inside my pockets. Please work.*
Billy: *He stops and I step into the clearing, eyes unable to take in more than the darkness, the snowflakes, and Dom. But he seems to see something and so I try to follow his gaze, but nothing registers beyond the forest. He seems almost petrified, and suddenly I’m worried again. I take a step towards Dom, reaching out to touch the sleeve of his coat lightly.* Dom... you okay? What is it?
Dom: *I glance at him quickly, then take a step forward.* Come here. *I tug at his own sleeve respectively and we take a few steps closer to the great oak before us, the moonlight peeking out of the clouds for a moment to light upon the snow. The tree branches glitter and sway, reflecting on little points between twigs and knolls that I hope Billy won’t notice. Some snow has gathered in the crooks of the tree’s braches, which has actually given it a very appealing look, but it doesn’t calm me at all as we come nearer to it’s soft shadow. I know Billy will want to leave; any moment now he’ll see what this is and tell me that he’s tired of it all, that he’s said before – he wants it all to end. But just as I begin to worry I stop short at the sight of a small square of white, hanging out from the shape of the tree and beckoning in the moonlight. It looks as though it’s suspended mid-air, but I know where it is attached above to an overhanging branch, now invisible in the darkness. I sigh and tug Billy again without noticing, and we both stop, gazing at the same small spot of white hovering before the dark figure of the oak. I nudge Billy a bit and attempt to sound curious.* What do you suppose that is? *I really just hope he’ll walk up and take it for himself, but with as much suspicion as I’ve been causing tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised if he needed a little direction.*
Billy: *The bit of white catches my eye, somehow standing out against the snow. That old nagging feeling of anxiety comes tripping back into my stomach, and I look apprehensively at Dom before glancing back at the spot. This is getting a little too Blair Witch Project-y for my liking. I shake my head.* I don’t know, what do you suppose it is? *I’m getting the niggling feeling that Dom may know more than he lets on.*
Dom: *I look at him, frightened.* Well, it looks like a bit of folded paper, but I don’t suppose I’ll be going up there to find out any more. I’d probably piss myself, Bill. *I glance at him, hoping he’ll play on this; take me for the spineless coward and step up in my place. C’mon, Bill, I know you have the nerve to do it. You’re the curious sort, right? I nudge him and speak resolutely, hoping I’ll egg him on a bit more.* Probably releases the rabid forest squirrels or something.
Billy: *I shake my head with a snort, still eyeing the paper (if indeed that’s what it is) dubiously.* It’ll probably just knock the tree down, so maybe you had better run. *I steel myself and walk towards the tree, keeping my eyes on the paper and ignoring everything else. Stepping in front of it I reach for it, wondering whether to read it first, but in the end just yank it quickly off its string. Suddenly everything becomes clearer than it ever has been. The entire forest seems to be alight, and I gasp when I realize what it is that has brought everything into focus. The tree is covered in tiny white Christmas lights; there must be a billion littering every limb, branch, and twig on the gigantic tree. It must be visible from miles around, a glowing beacon in the night, but to me it’s more than that. Did I do that? I back away from the tree slowly, trying to take in as much of it as possible at one time, trying to digest how much time it must have taken to string these all up as well as simply appreciate its beauty in the same thought. The paper is still clutched in my hand but it’s unimportant for the moment, minor compared to what sits before me.*
Dom: *I stand up slowly from the generator resting beside one of the smaller trees near the clearing, hearing it rumble to a start just after I’ve flipped the switch on its side and only seconds before Billy takes the paper from its place on the tree. The forest ignites with a bright flash, all of the snow glittering under the tiny lights that are dashed throughout the branches of the oak. At Billy’s hand, the clearing around us has become a separate haven from the darkness; a glowing island in the forest waiting silently and pristinely before our eyes. I am captivated by the sight of Billy, eyes cast to the boughs of the tree and hand still in the air, grasping the small piece of white paper. I try to walk without stumbling in the deepening snow, blinking through the falling snowflakes now illuminated by the golden light of the tree, trudging on until I reach Billy’s side and gaze up proudly into the tangle and beauty of my masterpiece. I didn’t think I’d smile quite so much, but this really is amazing. If Billy doesn’t like it at all, then I’ll take it home with me. I turn my eyes to Billy, then, looking silently over his awed expression and lingering on the points of light reflected in the corners of his eyes. His blush is beautiful in the light; he looks much like a small boy gazing up into the stars without comprehending their existence, and I’m moved a last time to take his hand again. Breaking from the sight of him, I nod toward the paper in his hand finally and, trying not to silence this new magic, speak softly.* What is it, then?
Billy: *My hands begin to tremble slightly as I remember the paper clutched in my fist, and I look at once from Dom’s smiling face to the little note. The paper is so familiar, and it sends a jolt straight for my stomach, launching me once again into that uncomfortable place between elation and dread. My fingers struggle to open the note, finally unfolding the paper, and the type jumps out at me, so recognizable, sending back memories of letter after letter. “Surprise, love,” it reads in large font. Well, it certainly is that. The smaller letters below it take me longer to absorb, with my mind as muddled as it is. “P.S. – Dom has something for you,” they read, and I look immediately to Dom, trying to find a common ground between a feeling of betrayal and gratefulness. He’s led me into this blindly. It was a setup after all! My mouth turns downward in somewhat of a sad frown. I’m not sure I can take this. Not tonight. I’m supposed to be done with all this. I’m not supposed to be susceptible to it anymore. But Dom has brought it all back. So much for only being the messenger. I see whose side he’s been on.* Dom... *I begin, trying to remove as much of the tremor as I can from my voice.* What is it?
Dom: *Shite, he’s angry. His whole structure is shivering before my eyes and I know I’d deserve the blow if he were to send it to me. My smile quickly fades, but I’m not wounded too deeply to stop here. He’ll see. He’ll understand. I keep telling myself, reassuring that I’ll see his smile once again tonight, but I have to try very hard. I look away from the sharpness of his eyes, not wanting them to pull me apart. My Billy. He’s forgotten about the tree and the lights and the magic. He just wants it to be done with. And I’m sorry. Is this, what I’m about to give him, enough to make him remember? I sweep my pocket for what he has requested to see, and finally pull from my coat a long envelope; one of MS’s envelopes, and I pray silently, as I extend my hand in offering of the letter, that he will take it to read, and not to throw aside into the snow. Where there was coldness is now the presence of a burning tension between our bodies. My face is painted with heat, and most rapidly on my cheeks and ears. My heart is working hard to keep me on the edge, while my mind is doing its best to stay calm, but either way I’m not thinking about either course. I’m only staring at Billy over the edge of the letter, trembling nervously in the grasp of his observation. My stomach dips as he plucks the letter from my fingers and turns his eyes from me in frustration. A small wince echoes across my features as I watch him turn slightly away. My heart is now in my throat, and I can’t even swallow it down. If this is to be the end of me, then let it come quickly, so I can leave without hearing Billy’s objection to my hope. As he finally presses a finger under the edge of the envelope flap and I hear a small tear, my eyes fall to the snow at my feet, unable to look at him anymore, or stand helpless in the weight of his rejection. All of my being stands on the verge of falling, shuddering desperately in the shadows, as the rustle of paper resounds to silence in my ears.*
Billy: *The letter feels heavy in my hands, as if every word that has come before it now rests upon this page. I should have already had the last one. I could have sworn it came today in the post. But yet here it is, dangling from my fingers, with the words “Billy Boyd” written across it in clear script. I’m afraid to read it. I’m afraid that when I at last lift my eyes from the page he’ll be there before me and I won’t know what to do. Because he has this amazing power of seduction, MS does, one that comes shining through on the page, and I’ve only succeeded in resisting it once. I’m almost positive my resolve would break if I were to see him for the first time, here and now. But I steel myself for that eventuality and turn away from Dom. His part in this drama is over. I gently tear open the envelope, pulling out the sheet of paper and unfolding it. It reads:
“My Lovely Billy,
I told you the day that these letters began
I’d write you with every intention
Of telling you how much I couldn’t withstand
I poured all my thoughts and my soul in these words
And you know, or you wouldn’t be here
Awaiting an answer to all that you’ve heard
I’m sure as you read now you wonder what kind
Of subject I’ll choose to endeavor
While knowing, in short, that I can’t change your mind
You’ve left me
But didn’t you know of my foolhardy heart
And my stubborn tenacity, too?
I can’t be convinced that we’re broken apart
I’m not done
This present letter is my final try
To open your eyes to see me
If you can still push out the phrase ‘you and I’
This letter soon will be folded away
And if it goes, I will go, too
I’ve no need to hurt you again every day
But know that I’ll still think of you, all-my-own,
When the whole earth has fallen away
When I hold you to me while I am alone
I’ll think of
I’ll think of you, beautiful, hair gently curled,
As the reason my heart has become
The store of my life, because you are my world
For a long moment all of my senses disappear, and the only thing I am aware of is the pounding of my own heart in my chest. Dom. Dom. My Dom, the one who has been a rock for me through this entire affair. The go-between who didn’t have so very far to go after all. I am distantly aware that I am still in the clearing, still bathed in light from my tree, and that Dom is still by my side, though not as jubilant as before. All of tonight revolved around this. How long had he been planning this? How could I have never guessed?* Dom - *My voice breaks, and I swallow back what feels like the beginning of a minor form of hysteria. I’ve never been more frightened than I am at this moment. My rejection of MS was clear and yet he still came through for me. But can I come through for him? I’m terrified that he will end the same as Leon, the beginning and end a fantasy but with reality left out of the middle. With Leon, I was so ready to accept him. And yet here was Dom all along, and the thought never even crossed my mind. And then I have to know.* Why?