We Only Kiss at Christmas
Our next Christmas together rushes up in what feels like a blink. So does Jack one evening by hurrying out of an Underground station to meet us.
“There you two are!” He taps the face of his watch. “It’s after nine. You better hurry!” He heads back inside, and here’s proof that a year of lunch dates with Arthur means that Jack has picked up one of Penny’s habits: he yodels, and it echoes. “Coming through! Mind your backs!”
People scatter as Jack forges ahead even though we have plenty of time to get to our destination. At this pace, we’ll be early for the sleeper train to Cornwall, which Seb tells him. Or more accurately, he snaps, “Jack, will you slow the fuck down?” His voice also echoes, bouncing off the tiled walls leading to our Tube platform. “Anyway, what are you doing here? We already said goodbye and exchanged Christmas presents this morning.”
He’s instantly suspicious, and there’s no rhyme or reason for why that does it for me, but Seb’s narrowing eyes have the same effect tonight as when I first saw them at uni. That was in the kitchen of our shared halls after someone stole his Yum Yums.
Did he spit bullets when he tracked down the fresher who took them?
No, he did fucking not.
Seb saw what I did—someone stuffing down their homesickness with an overdose of sugar—and he reacted with the same fierce care that made me fall head over heels for him and that he now aims in Jack’s direction.
“Seriously, what are you doing here and why are you still dressed for work this late?” He grinds to a halt, which would go against every rule of city survival if it was daytime instead of nine at night. Seb would be mown down by commuters, crushed by the sheer weight of numbers, like I am so often. “Do not tell me that you’re heading back into the office.”
Boom. Seb goes off like a rocket, and I love to see it, narrowed eyes and all.
“Or are you telling me that Rex really expects you to work through the night just because he’s in another time zone? Because if he does, I’ll—”
Jack looks over his shoulder, and here’s the kind of transformation I definitely love to witness: he stands his ground without buckling. “You’ll what?” He comes back to wrestle our suitcase from Seb, wheeling it away so he has to follow. There’s a smile in Jack’s voice that I also see when he turns again, still hurrying us to our destination. “You’ll make sure that Rex doesn’t exploit me?”
He doesn’t need to add like Lito tried to. Jack isn’t the same person who washed up on our doorstep. He’s a more resilient version, which is largely down to who tries to snatch our suitcase back from him. Seb and Jack have a little tug-of-war right where other travellers pretend they can’t see what looks like a live-action mugging, one that Jack wins.
“You do know Rex wouldn’t do that, don’t you? Exploit me, I mean. Because he isn’t a massive tosser. We have a great relationship with good boundaries.”
“That’s what worries me,” Seb admits, but he has to hurry up to do it because Jack is a man on a mission, wheeling off with our case again. Seb matches his pace, then grabs Jack’s elbow. “Listen. I’m not convinced. Rex can’t have good boundaries, can he? Not if he keeps texting you in the middle of the night.”
“Rex? He doesn’t text me.” Jack’s pace falters. “Not at night. He’s a complete professional, and very mindful about time zones.”
“Well, someone’s started to text you at all hours lately. It’s been going on for weeks. I know because they keep waking me, even through the bedroom wall.”
Seb’s indignant. I don’t know what it says about me that I grin at him getting strident. Other travellers, though? They have more sense, and I can’t blame them for swerving the prospect of a stand-up fight in this city, one that Seb escalates as easily as breathing.
“If it isn’t Rex, then who is it? Because if it’s some bellend from the gym who won’t take no for an answer, I’ll drop a weight on their bollocks for you.”
“There’s no need. It isn’t anyone from the gym.” Jack slides a look my way that comes with a hint of the same flush I last saw two weeks ago at Penny’s after an early Christmas dinner with the whole family gathered together.
A flush just like this one stained Jack’s cheeks after he exited the mistletoe-strewn bathroom hallway, looking unusually flustered. He’s flustered again now, but neatly deflects by pointing. “This way next. Come on. We need to keep moving.”
Tonight’s flush climbs even higher, and I’m pretty sure I know why. Or at least I have my own suspicions, because I also get text messages that have similar dawn o’clock timestamps to the ones that ping so loudly from Jack’s bedroom. The difference is that I leave my phone on Do Not Disturb, while Jack must set his volume high so he doesn’t miss whichever repeat offender makes his cheeks this pink. I’m not saying that it’s definitely one of my brothers, but either of them could send too-early good mornings or too-late goodnights, given their current time zones.
Seb hasn’t joined any of those incriminating dots yet. He keeps hold of Jack’s elbow, returning to his most likely suspect. “Are you sure Rex is—”
It’s Jack’s turn to go off like a rocket, which is proof all over again of the strength of nurture versus nature because this stridency is a pure Sebastian Street replication.
“Am I sure that Rex is a lovely man who is tragically misunderstood because he can’t keep track of his willy? Yes.” Jack’s nod is emphatic. “And is he someone who visits your auntie every time he’s in the Caribbean? Yes, to that too. Tell me, would a wanker ever take the time to do that?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer, which is another sign of confidence that I’d pump my fist at if I wasn’t carrying bags full of Christmas gifts for my family. Besides, Jack doesn’t need my affirmation, not when he goes ahead and lists his reasons for constantly being on the clock while omitting any mention of my blood relations. Relations who I’ll be having stern words with the minute they’re next in the UK. I’ll winkle out which of them is costing Jack sleep, although he sounds far from tired. If anything, he’s so energised he fizzes.
“I’m at work all the time because we’re busy and I love it. The job, not my boss.” Jack must have guessed Seb’s real worry. “Yes, Rex is sex on legs. Yes, he always looks fabulous and smells even better. And yes, he has a reputation for being very generous with his penis.”
His grin is wicked, and who knew Jack could tease like this? Not me during his first shaky weeks with us. Now he cackles over the rattle and hum of a train approaching.
“Or he used to be generous with it until he started getting horizontal with someone in Canary Wharf who must have a solid-gold bottom. But I promise you, his flings never last for long, and they never, ever feature yours truly.”
That promise is almost blown away by a Tube train’s arrival. It also blows away Seb’s grumbling, carrying it off on a sudden warm breeze that sums up Seb and this city to me—both full of contradictions.
He’s so warm under an icy surface. All I had to do was wait long enough for it to melt, proof that even if biomechanics isn’t my skill set, persistence is what I’m built for. Jack too, as evidenced after an Underground ride that delivers us to Paddington station.
That’s where he insists on boarding the sleeper train to Penzance with us, trundling our case along a corridor to a compartment complete with bunk beds. He can’t resist neatening their sheets before pulling out his phone to give Seb some more reassurance. Jack scrolls through message after message from Rex.
“Listen to this, Seb,” he orders. “‘Hey, Jack, don’t go into the office over Christmas. Everything can wait until the New Year.’” Jack scrolls some more. “‘Pops sends his love.’” He means Arthur, and Jack’s smile turns sweet, only fading when he reads a final message. “‘He keeps asking if you’ve changed your mind and will come to Cornwall this year.’”
I dump the presents for my family on the top bunk, already knowing Jack’s answer before he says, “Spend Christmas in Cornwall? No, no, no. Nothing could ever convince me to spend it away from the city.”
London really is life to him. He lives and breathes it.
For me, it’s more a matter of tolerating where Seb is rooted, and he has so few of those that I’ll do just about anything to extend them, even if that means planting myself here long term. That’s the real reason Jack came to meet us—he’s brought along a Christmas gift to help me prove that. A gift that Jack helped me talk over with a Chancery Lane silversmith before choosing a design that I’d worried wouldn’t be ready in time.
Jack fighting his way across a city full of Christmas shoppers to collect it for me at the last minute means I’ll get to surprise Seb on Christmas morning, just as long as he doesn’t notice our handover.
Jack handles that by deflecting again.
He swoops in for a kiss, landing one on Seb’s cheek, then points to the suitcase. “Your tickets are in there. You better get them out.”
The moment Seb turns away to do that, Jack backs out of our compartment. I follow to take the gift he’s kept hidden in his coat pocket, and stow it safely in mine, and then Jack’s gone.
That handover only takes seconds.
Seb still almost catches us in the act.
He comes to the compartment doorway, frowning. “Wait a minute.” He’s instantly suspicious all over again. “The tickets are on your phone, aren’t they?”
He stands on the threshold of this tiny room on wheels that will carry us home while we sleep in a bunk that isn’t designed for two people. We’ll make it work like we’ve made everything else work since kissing for a first time under a different doorway.
Seb is on the same wavelength as me—he looks up at where mistletoe would be a good excuse to kiss him again.
There isn’t any above this doorway, but that’s okay.
I’ve got a ring in my pocket with plenty of leaves and berries engraved on it.
(Until next Christmas!)
You'll find Jack's story here: His Until Christmas
Want to find out more about Rex?
He has his own standalone romance novel here: Finding Mr. Fabulous
Rex, Pops, and Jack also appear in: A Wedding in a Week
(Rex and Pops first appeared in Heppel Ever After, where they play a significant role. That book isn't a standalone, and does requires knowledge of events in Charles: Learning to Love #1)
Con Riley © 2023
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