MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY
Dan wobbled on the ladder, sweat dripping down his back, trying to attach the last of the twinkle lights that covered the ceiling in the main room of the old train depot. He meant for it to create a canopy of warm sparkling light. At the moment, it looked like a tangled hot mess.
“It looks great in here.”
“It’s a shit show and you know it.”
Dan’s uncle Minh grabbed the bottom of the ladder. “Get down from there before you kill yourself.”
Dan stapled the last bit of lights to the ceiling and climbed down.
“Do I even want to know what the inspector said this time?” he asked.
“We passed plumbing and electrical.”
“At least one thing’s gone right today.”
Uncle Minh gave him a skeptical look. “Are you sure you want to do this? You’re not exactly full of Christmas cheer.”
Dan rested his hands on his hips and lowered his head with a heavy sigh. “Yeah, I do. Even if Reid is being a stubborn asshole.”
Uncle Minh put his hand on Dan’s shoulder. “Talk it out. You guys kind of bolted right out of the gate. If you want to be in this for the long haul, you need to talk.” Uncle Minh looked around the room. “You and Reid have done a great job of bringing this place back to life. And you did it by working together, coming to a compromise when you didn’t agree.”
In the past few months, Dan and Reid spent every spare moment restoring the aging train depot, transforming the small building into a place that would hold a brewery and small distillery. The exterior had a fresh coat of white paint with black trim. The interior had the same warm white paint on the walls and they replaced the dull finish on the original wide pine boards, sanding them to a satin finish, stained and polished them into a warm golden glow.
“Yeah, you’re right. No matter what we agreed and disagreed on, we wouldn’t have gotten any of this done if you and Sam have spent all your spare time helping us out, rewiring and updating the plumbing.”
Dan’s uncle Minh grinned. “It’s not every day I get to help my favorite nephew plan something special.”
“You have a lot of nieces and nephews. How did I make it to the top of the list?”
Uncle Minh’s eyes grew bright. “You’re my favorite because you have the courage to live your life the way I never did.”
Dan’s eyes grew wide. Uncle Minh put his hand on his shoulder with a wistful smile. “We can talk about it later. You have a big night ahead of you.”
Dan gave his uncle a hug. “I love you Uncle Minh.”
“I love you too,” he said in a gruff voice.
Dan looked around the depot after Uncle Minh left, wondering if he’d done the right thing. He and Reid did talk. They’d been talking almost nonstop since they met. They talked about work, about distilling and brewing, and about the future. Reid was the first person he’d shared what he wanted his future to look like with. And together, their visions for the future intertwined and become something bigger… better than what he envisioned for just himself. In many ways, their goals aligned except for one. Family and the holidays.
Last year, they were still getting to know each other when the holidays came around. They were in the phase of their relationship where nothing else mattered except their eagerness to see each other every chance they got. Dan swore he wore permanent groves worn into the pavement on the 55 between his home in Jackson and Colton. Knowing he’d get to hold Reid in his arms at the end made seventy-four miles fly by. This year, he noticed Reid turn inward as soon as the first Christmas decorations went up in the town square. All the talking they’d been doing stopped.
Minor disagreements became big ones, and then Dan suggested they put up a Christmas tree in Reid’s loft and he lost it. Dan had never seen Reid so upset. He shouldn’t have pushed, but he did, and invited Reid to come home with him for Christmas. He wanted to introduce him to his family, but Reid rejected the idea. To be honest, it hurt. Dan tried to explain that his family supported him. Bringing home a boyfriend wouldn’t be controversial or upsetting to most of his family. Reid walked away from the conversation, refusing to talk about why he wouldn’t come.
That was almost a week ago. Dan returned to his gray, dull apartment back in Jackson feeling confused and rejected.
A week went by without talking to Reid. One of the longest weeks he ever had. But he got a call and a good chewing out from Primus. Reid smiled faintly, shaking his head. Primus reminded him he was so excited about his own vision for Christmas, he’d forgotten how other people might feel about the holidays. Especially someone who grew up rejected and outcast by their mother. He made a mistake, and now it was time to make it right and let Reid know they could make their own traditions.
The lights were up and the picnic basket he packed sat in the middle of a quilt on the floor with a bottle of champagne chilling in an ice bucket. Now all Dan had to do was head over to the Buckthorn and kidnap Reid to surprise him.
The door banged open, and a tree was shoved through with a grunt, followed by Reid.
“Dan, what are you doing here?”
Dan smiled weakly and raised his shoulders, holding out his arms. “Surprise?”
Reid wrestled the tree he strapped on top of his car off, half carrying it, half dragging it up to the door of the train depot.
He’d been an ass. Primus read him up and down for the way he’d been behaving. The old man was right. It wasn’t fair for him to take his dislike of the holidays out on everyone around him, and especially Dan. It was time to let go of Christmas past and embrace the future.
If he hadn't been wrestling with the tree, he would have noticed the soft sounds of I’ll Be Home for Christmas coming from inside.
Why was the door unlocked? He fumbled with the knob, kicking the door open, and shoved the tree through. When he followed, he saw Dan.
“Surprise,” he said with a weak smile.
“What are you doing here? I thought you’d be with your family.”
Dan came toward him, stepping over the tree that was laying at his feet. “I’ll see my family later. I…” He reached for Reid’s hands. “I wanted to be home for Christmas. Do you want to tell me what the tree is for?”
“I was going to surprise you when you came home.”
“You didn’t have to get a tree for me.”
“The holidays are important to you.” Reid sighed. “I shouldn’t have pushed you away. I overreacted when you wanted to put a tree up in the loft.”
Dan shook his head and cupped Reid’s cheek. “I was so caught up in wanting to have a perfect Christmas with you, I didn’t think about what you wanted or needed. I want to introduce you to my family, but only when you’re ready. And we don’t have to celebrate Christmas but,” he tipped his head to the picnic basket. “I hope we can start some new traditions."
Reid shook his head. “You should be with your family. I’ll, I’ll go with you if that's what you want.”
“No babe, we’re going to take it slow.”
“I’m scared,” he admitted. “What if they don’t like me? Do they know I’m mixed, wouldn’t they rather have you bring home someone whose Vietnamese?”
Dan laughed softly. “Half of my family has married outside. Black, Mexican, White, we joke we have one of everything.” He grew serious. “They’ll love you because I love you.”
Reid wrapped his arms around Dan’s neck, burying his face in his shoulder. “I don’t know why. I keep thinking I’ll wake up one day and find out none of this was real.”
“Then we just need to do something to make sure you know."
Dan wrapped his arm around Reid’s waist and led him over to the picnic basket. Dan let go and knelt down. Reaching into the basket, he pulled out a little black velvet box. Reid gasped, watching Dan turn on one knee.
“Reid, the day we met, I knew my life would never be the same. I didn’t expect… I’d wondered if I could ever find someone to spend my life with. And then I met you. You make me laugh, you give me a shoulder to cry on when I need it. I know that together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. You’re my best friend, Reid, and you’re the love of my life. Will you marry me?”
A sheen of tears blurred Reid's vision. “I knew there were people in my life who cared about me, who loved me.” His voice broke. “I came to Colton because I wanted to be close to my brother and Callie. I wanted to rebuild my family, but I never thought I would have what Callie and Dax have. There was a part of me that still believed… I thought I wasn’t worthy of being loved. And then I met you and I didn't know life could be so… bright and happy. I never knew what it was to be loved until I met you.” He looked down at the gold band with a strip of wood inlaid in the middle. “Are you sure?”
“You’re not dreaming,” Dan said, taking the ring out of the box and sliding it onto his shaking finger. “Every day you’ll wake up with this ring on your finger and me by your side and you’ll know that you’re loved. We’ll make new traditions and we’ll make our own family.”
Reid’s breath caught. “I… I don’t think I want children. Are you okay with that?”
“I’ll be happy being the fun uncle’s if you don’t mind helping me spoil all my nieces and nephews.”
“I don’t mind. I adore my niece and I expect Callie and Dax will announce another Ellis is on the way soon.”
Dan grinned. “Done. Hey, babe? My knee is starting to hurt. Do you have any more reasons why I shouldn’t marry you? No matter how many you come up with, I’m sill gonna love you.”
Reid took a deep, shuddering breath and pulled Dan up from his knee. Dan wiped away at his tears and kissed his forehead and then his mouth.
He looked down at the ring on his finger. “It’s a perfect fit."
“You’re the perfect fit for me. Does this mean the answer is yet?”
“Yes,” Reid nodded.
“Merry Christmas, baby,” Dan whispered against Reid's lips.
Reid knew this Christmas would be the first one he would celebrate with a heart filled with joy and love.