Hey all and Happy Holidays!
I hung up the phone and stared at it for a minute before picking up the glass of wine I was nursing through dinner and throwing it against the wall. The sound of glass shattering into pieces didn't relieve me as much as I thought it would and the thought of the chardonnay possibly staining the paint didn't help. I picked up a rag and cleaned off the wine and picked up the phone not looking forward to my next conversation.
"Hey you." Came a chipper voice.
"Hey Sarah. What's going on?"
Sarah was my best friend and had been since we "dated" in high school. After two weeks of dating she had looked at me one day and said "I know you're gay and I'm cool with it". We had survived high school, college and our twenties together. Now, both at thirty two, we were giving this decade a go.
"Just packing. Are you all packed?" She said.
"What? What's wrong?"
"I just got off the phone with Derek."
"Yeah. It seems like they're short over the holidays."
"Don't say it, Ryan."
"All right, I won't."
"Damn it!! I thought you told them you were going away?!"
"And it was approved?"
"That's what I was told."
"Then what happened?"
"Apparently someone with seniority applied for the same time after I did and they said they had to give it to him."
"Who? I'll cut out their knees. They won't be able to go anywhere! Drew!" She called to her husband and I heard his voice answer from somewhere in their house. "Ryan's not going to the cabin!"
I heard a muffled response.
"Drew said you'd better figure out a way to get to the cabin or there'll be hell to pay!"
"It's not going to happen." I answered. "Besides, he just wants me to come because he knows you'll be a total bitch the entire time."
"Well, Duh! Ryan, it's been planned! We were all going to the cabin for Christmas!"
"I know!!! You're not helping things, Sarah."
"Isn't there anything you could do?"
"I could quit." I said, teasing.
"No, Sarah. I can't quit. Other than the people I work with, I love my job and it happens to more than pay the bills."
"You can get another one."
"It's not that easy, especially now-a-days."
"Yeah, I know. Damn politicians and their idiotic ideas on running the country."
"So, we'll cancel and do something here."
"No, you're not going to cancel."
"You're not spending Christmas alone, Ryan. That's just pathetic."
"It's not pathetic, I'm a paramedic. It's granted that I'm going to have to work a couple holidays."
"But not this particular one."
"I'm sorry, honey."
"Yeah, well. We'll just cancel and have dinner here."
"I'm going to be working the evening shift on Christmas eve and eight hours on Christmas day. There's no point."
"So come up for part of the week. We'll do an early Christmas."
"No. I've got my regular schedule since they've denied my vacation time so I can't. The cabin's over three hours away. I can't go back and forth like that."
"I'm so pissed I could shit right now."
"That's an odd expression."
"It's true." Sarah sighed. "What are you going to do?"
"I'll make myself something nice to eat and watch some Christmas show or something. Maybe I'll help out in a food bank or something. We'll do Christmas when you get back."
"And Dennis?" She asked. Dennis was a hot guy that I was interested in and was good friends with Sarah's husband. We'd talked a few times but our timing unfortunately sucked. One of us was always in a relationship when the other was single. Until this year.
"I don't know. There's always New Years."
"He's going to his sister's in Jersey for New Years."
"Like I said, there's always President's day."
"This Christmas is going to suck without you."
"It's not going to suck. You have your husband, the kids. Think of the presents and the snow men and hot chocolate."
"Christmas isn't about that shit. It's about adults sitting in front of a roaring fire, drinking hot buttered rum and making fun of each other."
"Have you ever tasted hot buttered rum? It tastes like shit."
"Again, not the point."
"I know. Well, there's nothing to be done about it now. We'll just have to hope the holidays go quickly."
"I know. Listen, I'm going to go unpack, have another glass of wine and cry myself to sleep."
"Oh, stop. You're making me depressed."
"Sorry. Have a great time. Tell Drew I said he better drive safe and get you all there in one piece." Her husband had better drive safe or I'd kill him myself.
"I will." Sarah had a little sniffle in her voice and I sighed realizing how much I was going to miss her over the holidays. "Oh Ryan..."
"I gotta go, hon. Take care and have fun, O.K.?" I interrupted her before she could say anything that would make me feel totally miserable.
"Bye." I hung up the phone. "Merry fucking Christmas."
I woke up the next day around eleven a.m. and crawled out of bed and into a shower. I stood in front of the mirror and gazed at my reflection. I stood 6'1'' and was two hundred pounds. I worked out pretty regularly but not all of it was muscle. I was a hairy guy with dark brown hair down my chest, arms and legs and wore a trimmed beard to help with what many called my `baby face'. I kept my hair shaved close to my head hoping it added a bit of an armed services toughness to it but it just accented the roundness of my face. I hated dealing with long hair so I kept it. My eyes were bright blue but my cheeks were so big they disappeared when I smiled, damn Irish heritage. I sighed and jumped into the shower.
After, I dressed and tried to keep my thoughts off the fact that I should be at a cabin in the Berkshires right now. Instead, I was stuck in Hudson Valley, New York without friend or family. Don't get me wrong, I know people around, just not well enough that I would have dinner at their house on Christmas. I threw on some boots and some heavy clothes and walked out into the winter day. At least it wasn't too cold. It never really gets too cold until late January. That's when it's so cold, it hurts to breathe. I got in my car and turned the key ready to head into town and get some errands done, when a horrible groaning, whirring sound came from underneath the hood.
"Oh God. Not today." I said and tried a few more times.
After a half an hour of fighting with my car, I called the mechanic. I can throw an I.V. in your arm before you can blink. I can take a look at you and guess with a fair amount of accuracy at least the nature of your most serious medical condition. I have been a paramedic for nine years now and to this day have not had a patient die on the way to the E.R. But I'll be damned if I can fix a car.
The mechanic came and towed my piece of shit vehicle to the station and diagnosed it as $600 and at least three days. I'm sure he told me what was wrong with it but again, I know shit about that stuff so it's just a numbers thing with me. $600 and three days. I did not need this. I borrowed a rental from him and headed out to town to take care of my errands.
I headed into town and stopped at a store to pick up a few groceries that I hadn't needed when I thought I was going away. I was just picking up a bag of coffee beans when a voice stopped me.
"Ryan?" I turned.
"Charlie?" He smiled.
"I thought it was you. God, what's it been? Two years?"
"More or less. What the hell are you doing here?"
"You know, coming home for the holidays and all that shit."
"Really? That's great." My tone only lightly veiled my hostility but I really didn't care. I was in no mood for this.
He hadn't changed much. His black hair still waved across his head making my hands want to drag through it as it curled in the cutest ways about his ears and above his forehead. He still didn't wear a beard or goatee and the clean, sharp angles of his face spoke of inner complexity and strength. His eyes burned bright green and held mine with his usual unnerving directness. His lips were full and brought back memories of him using them in places which made my pants feel tight. The rest of his large 6'3'' frame did the rest and I moved the packages I was holding in front of my zipper to block my embarrassing reaction. `No!', I told myself. `He's scum and I hate him!'.
"Well, happy holidays and all that. Tell your parents I said hello."
"Well, yeah about that-."
"Look Charlie. I gotta go. Got things to do."
"Yeah, O.K." He said and actually looked a little offended but I really didn't care. I had turned and walked a few feet away when he stopped me again. "Look, Ryan. Maybe we can talk? Get some coffee later or something?"
"I don't think that's a good idea. I really don't have the time."
"Please, Ryan?" He said, his eyes pleading with me. I caved in quickly.
"Whenever. When's good for you?"
"I'm working tonight from midnight till noon. How about tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow's fine." He said and smiled a little. His smile used to get me going and could set my heart running. Now I just felt angry. No, I lied. His smile still got me going but I chose to concentrate on the anger.
"Great." I said, not meaning it. "How about a little after twelve?"
"Great." He said, meaning it. "Maybe we could grab lunch."
"How about that place you like in Red Hook?"
"They closed a year ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"What about the place we liked to go that serves the.... um."
I felt a bit weird that I still knew what he was talking about after so long. I had barely remembered that one of my ex's was deathly allergic to nuts and here I remembered his favorite dish at our favorite diner.
"Yeah! That's it!."
"Happy Pancake house."
"Fine. I'll see you there at twelve."
"O.K." I said and walked away trying to get far enough so that he wouldn't continue the conversation and thought `What the fuck am I doing?'.
Having lunch with an ex was NOT the most auspicious way to start the holidays.
I walked into the ambulance squad just before midnight and ignored the people that were there. I had nothing against them but I was not in the mood to talk. My mood had continued to worsen over the rest of the day until I was one large black cloud of emotion. I signed in and checked the duty roster seeing that I was schedule to work with Al at the Rosendale duty station. I liked Al, he was a good guy and had been an EMT since before I was born, but working in Rosendale meant most likely we'd have a quiet night just sitting in the rig.
"Hey Ryan! I'm talking to you." Paul, one of the other paramedics said.
I sighed. I disliked Paul about as much as I liked Al and didn't want to deal with his shit today.
"What?" I asked.
"What the hells up with you? You on the rag or something?"
Paul and his friends, the rest of his little 'crew' laughed as if it was the funniest thing they had heard. They were all biased little fucks who felt like they had to insult the resident fag to reinforce their own masculinity. I didn't really mind because I knew I was more of a man than they could hope to be. I blame their parents. I stepped up to him and put my face in his, not minding at all if a fight broke out. The way I was feeling today, I could drop the little fuck and his friends without breaking a sweat.
"Hey, leave him alone." Al said looking up from his paper and Paul backed down giving me a glare.
I grabbed my gear and headed back to the bay to stow it in the ambulance. Al had followed.
"You ready?" I asked him.
"It's a bit early but if you want we can go."
"Let's get the fuck out of here." I said and jumped into the passenger seat.
We drove in silence for a couple of minutes before Al said anything.
"You know the little prick wasn't wrong. You look like you've got something on your mind." He said and took a swig of his coffee. "You want to talk about it?"
"No." I said.
"I saw my ex today."
"We're having lunch tomorrow."
"I guess I'm still a little angry."
"I thought you were good with Eric?"
"It's not Eric."
"Not Steve." I said and smiled. Steve had been an all right boyfriend but a better ex. Actually we were still very good friends.
"David?" I asked and quickly ran through the list of exes in my head. "Oh God, David. No, not him. I haven't thought about him in forever. No, he could never make me this mad."
"So who's this guy?"
"This is Charlie." I said and bit out his name. "We met about four years ago and dated for two years."
"And he still makes you mad?" Al said with an inquisitive look on his face.
"Like I want to rip his head off and vomit down his gaping neck."
"Reminds me of a call I was once on." Al mused. "Well, if he still makes you mad why don't you try to figure out why that is?"
"Because whenever I see him I want to rip off his-."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. But that means that there's something still there."
"Trust me, there is NOTHING still there."
"Well, maybe not good emotions but the bad ones are just as powerful. Maybe you need to tell him how you feel about him or wonder why you ever felt anything for him at all."
"I don't think that'd be a good idea. I think I'm making a big mistake. I should just call him up and tell him I can't meet him."
"Well, do what you want but having this anger is not too healthy."
I didn't say anything as I thought over Al's advice. The thought of telling Charlie just what I thought of him did feel good. Sit the lying, cheating bastard down and spew vile hatred at him until I was free of the last vestiges of feeling I had for him. Then he would never be able to hurt me again. But seeing him was making my insides churn with aggression and anxiety. Just the thought of having lunch with him made me sweat. I guess it was too late now since it was over two years that I'd had his cell phone number and I wasn't even sure it was the same now.
The night went slow until about two o'clock in the morning when a slow but steady stream of calls kept us busy. By eleven a.m. we were both pretty beat and happy to head back to the squad house. We set the ambulance up for the next crew and by the time I headed to meet Charlie I was running late. The diner we had chosen was packed for a Wednesday but he was already there and waiting for me. `He'd never been early when we were dating', I thought bitterly and sat down across from him feeling a wild mix of emotions. He drove me to insanity but he was still hot as hell. I put a lid on that thought quick and tried to bolster myself against him.
"Hey." He said with a smile.
"Hey." I answered with no smile.
"I wasn't sure you were going to come. You seemed pretty ticked at me in the store."
"I had a lot going on." Which wasn't exactly a lie.
"Yeah, the holidays suck, right?"
"So how have you been?" Charlie asked.
"I've been all right. You?"
"Yeah. I've been all right. Working a lot."
"That's good." I said, feeling more and more confused about why we were sitting in a diner engaging in small talk.
"What are you doing for the holidays?"
"I was supposed to go up to Sarah and Drew's cabin in the Berkshires but my vacation was pulled and they stuck me on duty to cover everyone else's shifts."
"Jesus, that sucks. Sarah and Drew got married huh?"
"Oh you didn't know? No, you wouldn't. That was after we broke up. Yeah, they got married and Drew's doing really well. Obviously as they have a cabin in Massachusetts."
"She still hate my guts?" He said and chuckled. He and Sarah had never seen eye to eye on anything.
"Yeah. She calls you `the big mistake'."
"What do you call me?" He asked.
`Lying, cheating, piece of shit, asshole, motherfucker usually,' I thought.
"I just call you Charlie." I thought I'd be diplomatic.
"I bet." He smiled and I found myself smiling back.
"Well, what do you call me?" I asked, feeling hopeful that this friends thing might work for us and I could finally let the dark feelings go.
"`MY biggest mistake'." He said, sending anger rushing throughout my body quicker than I could blink. "I never should have treated you the way I did. I can only say that I was young and stupid and didn't know how to let you in like I should have."
Just as quickly as the anger arose it was deflated and replaced by confusion.
"I don't know, Ryan.... If I had let you in maybe we'd still be together."
Now the confusion was replaced by fear.
"Charlie," I started quietly. "What exactly is going on here?"
He looked up from his coffee and into my eyes for a while before flashing that killer, boyish grin of his.
"Nothing, Ryan. We're just talking, hopefully as two old friends." It was more of a question than a statement.
"Yeah." I agreed warily. "Two old friends."
After that the conversation went just flowed, as `two old friends' who hadn't seen each other in years caught up on their life and times. But there was an underlying current of something that I couldn't quite put my finger on which added moments of awkwardness. Finally after an hour and a half of talking, I couldn't hold back the yawn anymore and he noticed.
"You worked all night. I should let you get going."
"Yeah, I'm sorry but I'm pretty beat." I said and grabbed my coat, throwing a few bucks on the table.
"Don't worry about it." He said and handed me back my money. "I got it."
"Thanks." I said and pushed my arms into my coat.
"So, what are your current plans for Christmas since you're not going up to Massachusetts?"
"I'll be working a lot this week so no big plans. T.V. and T.V. dinners."
"Ryan, I know this would be really weird but..."
"Feel like having a guest for the holidays?"
"I was supposed to be working Christmas and at the last minute the job fell through so I thought I'd come up and surprise my parents. They surprised me by closing up the house and heading to Florida to spend Christmas with my sister. They're not coming back till after the New Year."
"Are you kidding me?" I asked.
"I know, who would want to spend Christmas in Florida?" He joked.
"No, I mean-."
"I know what you meant Ryan and you're right. It'd be too weird. I was just going to head back to New Jersey but then I saw you and wanted to catch up and then we had a nice time, or I thought it was a nice time here and figured since I was already here and you were here and you'd be alone and I'd be alone that... we could be alone together."
I had to remind myself to breathe.
"I think that's a really bad idea." I said and despite the conviction in my voice, suddenly felt sorry for it. We did have a nice time today and it would be better than spending Christmas alone.
"You're right. Well, whatever you do for the holidays I hope it's cool. You should give me a call sometime, just to chat or something. I have the same number."
We parted ways in the diner parking lot and I made my way home. I was exhausted but my mind was racing and wouldn't let me sleep. I kept thinking of Charlie and him spending Christmas by himself. `Fuck, he won't spend anything alone! He'll probably have some hot little bear or something curled up next to him to keep him warm.', I fumed. By three o'clock I was still awake and dying to get some sleep so I did the only thing that I knew would give me some peace.
"Hello?" Came the sexy fuckers voice over the phone.
"Hey, you wanna come over for the holidays?" I asked, my heart pounding in my chest.
"I'd love to." He said and I could hear the smile in his voice.
I knew I was getting played but I couldn't help myself. I closed my eyes and prayed for strength, the strength to hang up the phone or tell him off. It didn't come. Instead, I heard myself give him my address.