The Yule Log

byartisticbiguy©

"I thought you should try something new. You've been drinking the same thing for weeks. Sometimes change is good." He took up his own cup and sipped.

I took another sip, savoring the flavor now that I wasn't being shocked by the unexpectedness of it. It was smooth and creamy with a hint of spices I couldn't quite place. I raised any eyebrow at him. "Ok, I like it. What is it?"

"Our new Holiday Spice latte. We started offering it at the beginning of November."

I tasted it again. It really was pretty good. "It's good. I bet people enjoy it." I grinned. "I wouldn't want it all the time."

Chuckling, he smiled. "Nah, everyone needs a change every so often. Little ones are usually better than big ones; they spice up life without causing too much commotion." I just melted into that smile. It wasn't perfect, but it was real, like Jesse. I hadn't realized I'd been staring till he pulled a funny face. "Earth to Kevin."

I blinked, suddenly embarrassed by my behavior. "Sorry, lost there for a moment." I looked back out of the window. Change; that was something I still wasn't comfortable with. We sat there in silence for a few minutes. It wasn't really uncomfortable, just necessary. I turned back to Jesse and smiled. "What are you doing for turkey-day?"

Jesse shrugged. "Probably a Stouffer's hearty meal and a beer."

"You're kidding? Don't you have any relatives nearby?" Jesse was such a person-oriented guy; it was hard to believe he didn't have plans.

"No, they all live a few states away. With 'Black Friday' right afterwards, I can't leave town for the holiday." He sounded tired. I believe that he hadn't had a break since his father had died.

"Then you're coming over to our place. With half the crew coming in for the weekend, one more mouth won't even dent the fixings."

He looked shocked. "I couldn't do that, Kevin. Thanksgiving is a family day."

I frowned. "Originally it was a time to give thanks for friends and neighbors too. I'm not going to sit around, stuffing myself on turkey and home made fixings, knowing you're eating a microwave meal."

He grinned. "You sure?"

I laughed. "Mom loves to cook. If you want to bring something, supply the coffee for after dinner. Mom can still burn Maxwell House."

Jesse cringed. "I'll be there, if only to save the good name of coffee."

I couldn't have been happier to hear it.

*****

Katie arrived Wednesday night. It was great to see her. My youngest sister had taken education even more seriously than I had. She was finishing her masters in the spring and had already been accepted into a doctorate program. She was brilliant. Donna and her brood arrived Thursday morning, a little before noon. They must have hit the road before seven. Dinner was at one, and Jesse showed up around half past twelve with three thermal dispensers, two of coffee and one of hot cocoa. He won the hearts of my nieces and nephews instantly and earned Tony's eternal gratitude when he smelled the first cup. Yeah, my mother's coffee was that dreadful.

It was after grace, but before we had obscenely overloaded our plates, that I had a near death experience. Tony junior, TJ to everyone, looked up suddenly, seemingly surprised by a thought, and blurted out. "Where's Uncle Steve?"

I don't know how I kept from dropping the mashed potatoes into the green beans, but I got the bowl to the table without breaking anything. Mom came to my rescue. "He couldn't make it, dear. He's with his family this year."

TJ was genuinely disappointed. Steven had won the hearts of the kids and the ire of all their parents. He loved spending money, and it really didn't matter on whom; so he was the next best thing to Santa on Christmas. That was, if Santa had a sadistic streak and loved to watch parents squirm. He had a talent for picking out the toys that would bring the most delight to the kids and the greatest headaches to the parents. Loud, multipart, or just plain complicated instruments of parental torture. It was only his feigned innocence and natural charm that had kept my siblings and their spouses from ripping him apart.

If Jesse had noticed my reaction, he didn't show it. He must have assumed that Steven was just another family member or in-law. I spent the rest of the meal trying not to look at him and to keep myself from hyperventilating. I hadn't realized that I'd gone "back in the closet" since I'd returned. I didn't like it. That put a major wedge between me, and a decision to seriously consider Jeremy's offer.

Katie went with me on Friday for more "coffee salvation" while Mom went with Donna on their obsessive sales barrage. Katie needed to talk, or that was her excuse to beg off the shopping. She'd never been a "stuff" girl. For the youngest, spoiled sibling, she had turned out about the most sensible of all of us. We walked the campus, a habit I was unconsciously forming, before getting our coffees. I told her about the offer and my reservations about it. She didn't buy my crap.

When we hit Starbucks, the lines were vicious as shoppers demanded warmth and caffeine before braving the sales again. Jesse didn't have time to chat, which was fine; I still hadn't recovered from the previous day. He gave us what time he could spare, smiling the entire time and taking my sister's flirtations with an ever-increasing blush. I actually felt a stab of jealousy at how easily she could do it. She had never liked Steven and took to Jesse like a fish in water; the bitch always had good taste in men.

She didn't say anything serious till we'd gotten our to-go cups and had left to walk Main Street and peek in the windows. Neither of us wanted to face the rabid sale-hunters. She raised her eyebrow at me as we stood in front of a boutique, admiring a dress she'd seen. "So, when are you going to tell Jesse?"

I frowned at her. "Tell him what?"

She laughed. "That you're so in love with him you're tripping over yourself."

I spit my coffee, making a mess of the poor shop owner's window. Scowling at her, I took our napkins and did my best to clean up the mess. "That wasn't very nice."

"That's an evasion." She was so damn smug.

"I'm not in love with Jesse. I don't do straight men, sis." Katie had been the most accepting of my siblings about my gender preferences. I think, next to Mom, I loved her best.

She rolled her eyes and took my arm. "What ever you say, big brother. You realize you're going to have to tell him you're gay, right?"

I sighed. "Yeah, I know. I was just really enjoying the friendship."

Laughing, she gave me a peck on the cheek. "You are such a drama queen, Kevin. Jesse's cool; I don't think you'll have any problems with him."

I hoped I wouldn't, but I wasn't convinced. We tabled the discussion for the rest of the day and just spent time as siblings. I was going to miss her when she left.
.
I spent the rest of the weekend seriously thinking about what I wanted to do. I knew, whatever it was, I couldn't live life I the closet. I didn't need to be on fire and marching in pride parades, but I wasn't going to hide who I was; never again. I'd talked with Mom after the brood had returned north. The hopeful look on her face when I mentioned the position gave me another reason to take the job. I hadn't realized how lonely she'd been since Katie had gone away to school. None of us had remained in town; none of us had considered how she would feel living alone with no family nearby; it seemed terribly unfair.

I met with Jeremy the week after the holiday. I was nervous as hell, but I wasn't going to apologize for whom I was. He greeted me with a smile and I took a seat across the desk from him. I couldn't believe my palms were sweating. I'd been an out, active gay man for fifteen years; this was ridiculous.

"Jeremy, before I give you an answer, I need to make a few things clear."

He nodded, folding his fingers in front of his lips in a very "I am listening to you" manner.

"I'm gay. I'm not ashamed of it, and I have no intention of hiding it. If that would be an issue for you or the school, I don't want to take this any further." I made sure I didn't break eye contact.

He didn't even flinch. "Ok." He waited for me to say something more, but I really didn't have anything more to say. His simple answer had thrown me. He took a breath and smiled. "For the record, I already knew that. When I'd asked around with some people back in New York, the topic came up. I'm glad you told me though, it makes me more comfortable knowing the people I work with aren't concealing things from me."

I was nonplussed. "You don't have a problem with it?"

He shrugged. "I have a gay son, my youngest. I got over my issues with that a while ago. As far as the school is concerned, as long as you follow the accepted code of ethics, don't date students and refrain from inappropriate acts in the class room, it isn't anyone's business who you sleep with." His lips curled into an amused smile. "I think it would be nice to have an open, well adjusted, successful gay role model for the students. Maybe it would help a few of them deal with their own issues."

I really couldn't believe it, but the grin on my face must have lit up the room. "Then I'd love to take the position."

His smile was relieved. He stood up and put out his hand. "We'll get the paperwork finalized before the end of the week. You won't regret it."

I left a few hours, and a very sore hand later, and went straight to Starbucks. I had to tell Jesse. He greeted me with his usual smile and told me to take a seat and he'd bring out some drinks. I was practically drumming the table when he got there. I probably looked like a kid who'd just gotten his first job. He laughed at me as he sat down. "What's up with you? You look like you're about to bounce off the seat."

"I just got a job!"

His eyes seemed to loose their shine, but he smiled at me. "Congratulations, when do you leave?"

His reaction really didn't register. I was too excited to see anything beyond my nose. "I'm not. I'm the new head of the Business Department for FCC."

He graced me with a thousand watt smile. "You're shitting me!"

"Nope, just finished the paperwork today. I start January fifth." I was all grins.

"That's the best news I've had this month."

I laughed. "It's only the third, Jesse, the month is young." The look he gave me nearly had me melting. If I hadn't known any better, I'd have thought he was going to kiss me. I looked back out of the window and Katie's words haunted my thoughts. I was going to have to tell him the truth, and soon; I was really beginning to wonder what "the truth" was.

*****

The days flew by as I helped Mom prepare for the Christmas invasion. Kids, couples, singles and more presents than any one family should have to contend with would be descending upon us in a matter of days. Mom got off the phone with Jack, my brother, and looked a bit worried. "I think we have a problem."

I looked up from the textbooks I was reviewing. I'd gotten advanced copies of the available texts for the classes I'd be teaching, and I was trying to figure out which ones would be best so I could have the book store stock them. I'd written off a couple already, but there were still several I had to wade through. "What's up?"

She sat down at the kitchen table, looked at my notes and texts that littered the surface, and smiled at me. "Oh honey, I'm so glad you're staying. I think you're going to be a wonderful teacher."

I squeezed her hand and blinked back the tears. Mom could just do that to me; her unconditional love through everything had kept us all going. I was glad I could do something that made her so happy. "You're evading."

She grinned. "Ok, maybe I was." Setting down the cocoa, she sighed. "I don't think we can fit everyone. You and Steven had always stayed over in Haydon and just came up for Christmas Eve and Day. Katie can stay at Julia's, they still like to get together over the holidays, but I don't know what to do with Jack and Leigh."

I shrugged. "I'll just get a motel room, Mom. They can have the old room and the kids can all bunk in the basement like usual."

"I'm not going to throw you out of your own house, Kevin. You live here and will be till we find you a place of your own." She chewed on her lip. "We'll figure out something."

I was sitting at my usual spot in Starbucks, reading over an economics text, and hoping to find some redeeming value in the book. The thing was drier than week old biscotti and nowhere near as enjoyable. I seriously wondered if it would be improved by dunking it in my coffee.

Jesse came over and plopped down across from me. He'd been in high spirits all month. I wish I could have shared in it, but I still hadn't reconciled what and when I was going to tell him. Even if he was cool with my being gay, he might think my desire to spend so much time with him was because I "wanted" him. The problem was I couldn't convince myself that it wasn't the reason. Katie had opened up Pandora's Box at Thanksgiving, and all my submerged desires were rearing their lustful heads. Why did he have to be so fucking great? I smiled over my textbook. "Care to be lulled into numbness by the most boring text anyone ever wrote?"

He laughed. "No, thanks. Even with such a fascinating reader, I don't think I could survive a book you label as 'less enjoyable than razor burn'."

I grinned. "That was the book on Business Accounting; this one is Basic Economics."

"So, Mr. Hamilton, what do you read for fun at night?" His spirits just wouldn't diminish.

I laughed and grabbed up "Introduction to Business Practices" and grinned, "The classics." I looked at the book and sighed. "I'm going to have to figure out where I'm going to read at night for a while."

He looked at me, surprise written all over his face. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing serious; small house, big family. No matter how we work it out, two of us have to find outside accommodations. Katie has already gotten a room with her best friend, but I'm looking at Motel-Six." I shrugged. "It will be great to have everyone down."

Jesse looked offended. "Why the hell didn't you ask me? You had me over for Thanksgiving; the least I could do is put you up for the holidays. I've got plenty of room."

The thought of spending my nights alone with Jesse made my heart race. I knew I'd fuck something up. I was going to turn him down, but the look on his face made me stop. Behind the happy eyes was a bone biting loneliness that made my heart clench. God, he was alone for the holidays. I'd never been alone for the holidays, even when I hadn't had a lover I'd had family. I smiled and decided I'd survive keeping my hands to myself if I had to bolt my door and tie myself to the bed. "That'd be great. Think you can handle me from Christmas Eve through New Years?"

He grinned. "I think I can manage." I wasn't so sure I could, but it was too late to back out now.

I followed Jesse to his place after he closed up on Christmas Eve. I'd packed for a week, had plenty of reading material and had convinced myself I could keep from molesting him even if I saw him naked. I realized I'd never even seen him in short-sleeves. God, I had to get my thoughts out of the gutter. The house was on five acres of orchard. He'd kept the property the way I'd remembered it from childhood. The house was well maintained, clean and filled with antiques. I was amazed at the lack of dust or clutter, and he admitted that he had a maid come in a couple times a month.

He put me in a room down the hall from his. He still hadn't moved into the master suite. I thought that was odd, but he simply smiled and said he was saving it for when he met someone special. I hadn't realized he was a romantic; damn, I wanted him.

I looked around after I got my stuff into the room, and met him in the living room. He'd gotten a fire started and had some soft jazz playing. "You don't decorate for the holidays?"

He shrugged. "No one to see it but me, and I spend most of my time at the store." I had to admit, the store had been done up with abandon.

"So nothing, no tree, no holly, no stockings?" I was actually disappointed and a little sad. I'd never spent Christmas without the trappings.

He blushed. "Well, I do have one tradition I keep up with." He nodded to an adorned log that was next to the hearth. "We always burned a Yule Log on Christmas Eve, and had mulled wine." He sat back and cast his eyes around the room. "The decorations, tree and such are there for families. I'll do it again when I have one. The log is kind of a personal thing; you don't have to be with a bunch of people to use it."

"I've heard of them, but I thought they were a log with some holly and three candles on the top." The log looked nicely decorated, no candles, and smelled seasoned with spices. "I don't know the traditions; what's it about?"

Jesse smiled. "The Yule Log is normally burned on 'Yule', which is a few days before Christmas and is the longest night of the year." He shrugged. "We usually just did it Christmas Eve. Anyway, the idea is that you invest the log with all the love, happiness, blessings and good fortune you and your family have had throughout the year. Then, on the darkest night, you burn the log and it is supposed to shine with that love and happiness into the darkness and illuminate the year to come."

Something about it sounded so perfect. It wasn't all big and blown-up and centered on the giving of gifts. It was about cherishing the things we already have and gave hope for a brighter future. I was deeply touched. "Are we going to burn it?"

"Yeah, but I didn't want to do it if you thought it was weird."

I smiled. "Let's get out of our work clothes, mull some wine and toast our blessings. I think this year I've got a lot to be thankful for."

I grinned self-consciously as I came back down to the kitchen. I actually do own pajamas, and I wear then in cold weather. Ok, so I wear the bottoms even in hot weather. Steven said it was a waste of effort since he usually had me out of them before I went to sleep anyway. I'd grown up sleeping in them; sue me. Jesse had quickly showered off the smell of coffee and changed into some soft sweat pants and a button down flannel shirt. He warmed the wine on the stove, adding the mulling spices while we talked about my plans for the department and what I would look for in a home. We went back to the living room with the wine, some bread, meats and cheeses, and our good cheer.

Once we were settled, he took up the log and set it atop the already burning ones in the fireplace. Smiling, he lifted his glass in a toast. "We give thanks for the blessings of friendship, family and guidance. May they shine brightly into the New Year and bring us happiness and joy."

I really couldn't think of anything to add. I clicked my glass to his and went, "Amen."

We drank our wine and nibbled on the food as the log burned. It did seem to burn brighter than the other logs and the smell of the spices filled the room in the most sensual way. I closed my eyes and just enjoyed the warmth and the aromas. I couldn't imagine how a guy as great as Jesse could remain single so long. I poured myself some more wine and smiled at him. "Ok, Mr. Carlson, it's time for you to tell me why a guy with all your blessings isn't sharing them with someone special."

He shrugged. "I thought I was."

He was not getting out of it that easy; no matter how his words made my heart quiver. "Evasion, try again."

He frowned, poured himself some more wine and shrugged. "I guess I just haven't been lucky enough to interest someone I'm interested in."

I didn't buy that for a second. "Yeah, right. I remember a certain track star who got anyone he wanted back in High School." I'd spent a lot of time remembering since I'd gotten home. A part of me had always noticed Jesse, but we didn't really hang in the same circles often and I wasn't 'out'. Not that he'd have been interested; he always had a gaggle of girls around him.

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