So this is Christmas
“The most certain chances of liberation are born in what is most familiar.” –Raoul Vaneigem
Ike was sprawled lazily on the couch, feeling very tired and very good. The doorbell rang, almost made him start from his skin. He wasn’t expecting anyone, and Fred wouldn’t ring the bell, even if he lost his key. Better not be missionaries.
Cold poured into the room when he opened the door. It was, God help him, Francie.
“So—“ Francie said, flashing her dazzling smile at him. Snow was swirling in wild, airborne drifts, lifting her silken hair like this was a Victoria Secret commercial.
He looked her over, as she ducked his outstretched arm and came into the house. She’d cut her hair into a sophisticated, shoulder-length bob. Same blood-red lipstick. Fitted, military style wool coat that came down to her knees, where it almost met her tall leather boots with equally tall heels. A narrow strip of bare flesh showed between, rosy-pink. Knowing Francie, there wasn’t likely to be a lot under that coat. She looked the same.
He crossed his arms over his chest, his back to the door that he had not yet closed.
“What brings you here?”
“I called your mom and this is where she said you lived.”
“You didn’t call first?”
She reached out for his hand. “Do I have to?”
He shook her off. “You wanted a break…”
“I thought we could talk about that.”
“Took you long enough.”
Paulette called from the bathroom. “Ike? Who’s down there?”
“Francie,” he yelled back. The response was an immediate thunder of feet down the stairs.
“You’re seeing someone?” Francie said, pulling away, looking offended.
He didn’t like the surprise in her voice. “Yes, I am.”
He nodded toward Paulette, hair wet, a towel around her neck, her colorful ink sleeves disappearing into a brown t-shirt. She’d stopped half way down the stairs.
“Xena,” he said, which made Paulette laugh.
“That’s her name?”
“Competitively,” Paulette volunteered. Ike looked up, and they smirked at each other.
“Well, fine then,” Francie said, turning on her heel.
“Good bye, Francie.” Ike held the door for her.
“I thought we could be friends—“
“Cut the crap. This was a bootie call. Look at you.”
Her mouth fell open. “You’ve changed.”
“Not so much. More direct, maybe.”
She took one more look over his shoulder at Paulette and left.
“That was real nice,” Paulette said, rubbing a warm hand over his ass as Ike shut the door.
“You just got out of the shower…”
“I could get back in.”
He raced her up the stairs.
Paulette was coming down the stairs a second time, when Fred finally came home.
“Hey, Fred,” she said, casually toweling off her hair.
“Paulette,” he said in greeting, hanging up his coat and putting his satchel in the closet. “Where’s Ike?”
“Taking a piss.”
He nodded, and on cue, Ike came slowly down the stairs.
“Well, I gotta haul ass,” Paulette said, tossing the damp towel at Ike. “Catch ya later.”
She grabbed her coat from the chair and was out the door. Fred turned to Ike.
“Don’t fu—“ Ike paused, bemused. “Just don’t ask.”
Fred laughed. “As I have explained on numerous occasions, words must be respected.”
“I’d say disrespected, in this case.” He’d collapsed backward onto the arm of the chair, the towel still in his hand. “Anyway, where’ve you been?”
“Made a house call.”
“A house call—“ It came clear to him. “Was that a joke?” He’d wrapped the towel around his neck, holding an end in each hand.
“Yes, I think it was.” There was astonished pleasure in that speech. As Fred turned toward the kitchen, Ike called after him.
“Oh, I made the soup today like you wanted. It was easy.”
“I told you it would be,” Fred said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Then he stopped.
“It is magic worthy of Bes,” Fred said, his eyes large and his expression childlike.
Standing in the dining room was a Christmas tree, as tall as he was, flashing with multi-colored strands of lights, some large globes and others white pinpoints, with tinsel garland and mirroring glass ornaments to fracture and magnify the light. Through the darkened window, two men reflected faintly, at a distance from each other, against a spectrum of stars.
Ike approached, laying a hand on Fred’s shoulder. “Paulette and I picked it up this afternoon. You’ve got to have a tree, it isn’t Christmas without a tree.”
“I’ve never had one before… Even Gram only had a little tinsel tree that stood on her console TV.”
Ike stalked forward and extracted a small box from under the tree. It was a narrow wooden box, but not otherwise wrapped. He handed it to Fred. “Merry Christmas.”
Ike grinned at Fred who lifted the lid from the box and extracted a pipe. “Thanks!” he said a bit breathlessly.
“Tobacco in your stocking.”
Fred glanced back at the three mismatched stockings hanging from the mantle, two of which were stuffed full. “I commend your apprehension of my tastes. I do not believe I ever discussed my interest in the pipe.”
Ike shook his head, bemused. “Well, it seemed right up your alley.”
“As you know, my epicurean hero loved sucking cigars, but it has such an intensely Freudian allusion, I have long preferred the fragrant bowl of the pipe. Did you know that in French, the word “pipe” is feminine? They are perceptive, the French.”
“Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” Ike quoted.
“Except that it is. You know,” Fred said contemplatively, “An after-dinner smoke might be exceedingly compatible with elixir.”
“By the way,” Ike said, as Fred stood frozen in his reverie. “Where might that have come from?”
He was pointing to an ornate ceramic nativity scene—Mary, Joseph, the infant in his crib, wise men, shepherds and their beasts—all handsomely arranged in the midst of real straw in a wooden crêche.
Ike was half way to the floor with laughter.
Fred ignored this. “She believed that if we were going to celebrate all the holidays–”
“Payback!” Ike roared.
“You will find challah in the cupboard, too.”
“Oh, really?” Ike got to his feet, calling from the kitchen a moment later. “Did she bake this?”
“Yes, she did.” Fred’s smile sang with the joy the lost harmonic of angels. He heard Ike in the kitchen—bowls, spoons, the lid of the soup pot—smelled the beef vegetable soup.
His home. Casa Hector.
Do you want to start all over again? Find Chapter 1 here.