Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Have Yourself a Merry Little... Free Short Read



So, Tommy and Bobby decided they needed a little Christmas story. Well, Bobby decided. Tommy, frankly, couldn’t give a shit. Bobby loves him anyway.

Huge thanks to Nico Jaye for looking it over in a flash! Not only is she a crazy talented writer, she’s a hell of a friend. :)

I’m going to settle in and watch The Grinch with my (not so young) younglings now.

I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful holiday season with many joys in the coming year!


Everything He Needs
Word Count: 4K+
Characters: Tommy and Bobby from The Last Thing He Needs
Content Warnings: Overly sentimental and heavy on the sap because that’s just how I roll this time of year.

“Tom.” Bobby wasn’t annoyed, exactly, but Tommy could tell he was getting tired of the debate. Tommy was too, for that matter, but no matter what he said, Bobby wouldn’t back down. “It’s been almost a year, and you still act like everything good in your life is temporary. I’m trying like hell to be patient, but you’ve gotta give me a break here.”

Tommy let out an exasperated huff. The store was crowded, his coat was hot, and the scarf around his neck seemed to be getting tighter. “Fine,” he muttered. He tossed the phone cases for Colleen and Mike into his cart and watched them slide down to the bottom through a pile of toys and other shit no one needed.

Bobby snorted a laugh. “You act like I’m asking you to give up a kidney.” As they moved on from the electronics department, Bobby laughed again. “Actually, I think it’d be easier to talk you into donating an organ to one of the kids.”

He shot Bobby a narrow glance. “Yeah, well, their lives don’t depend on getting new phone cases or doll houses and whatever the hell else you’ve snuck into your cart.” Not that the doll house for Zoe was a secret from Tommy, but he wagered Bobby would’ve done it on the sly if he thought he could get away with it.

“The doll house is from Santa, it doesn’t count.”

Tommy rolled his eyes. “And the matching trikes I keep tripping over in the bedroom?”

“Those too.” Bobby had become very interested in a display of glass ornaments, but it seemed more likely he was avoiding Tommy. After a beat, Bobby said, “They’re too hard to wrap, it makes more sense for them to be left out on Christmas Eve.”

At least the bastard had the decency to sound a little guilty about it.

“Right.” There was no point in arguing. It was their first Christmas as a family. Judy had used the excuse early on and it had stuck. This one had to be special. This one had to be one the kids would always remember. By next year, Colleen might be in her own apartment and Mike wasn’t far behind her.

Their lives had turned around on a dime and maybe Bobby was right. Maybe it was time for Tommy to start accepting it.

He didn’t laugh when Bobby tucked an art set for Carrie into his cart, but he didn’t resist either. He did put his foot down when Bobby tried to make him pick out an ‘our first Christmas’ ornament. Bobby had been leaning toward one in the shape of a little house with snow on the roof, edged in tiny little Christmas lights. It had the year written in gold over the door.

“We could probably find one online with two guys under the mistletoe or something….” Bobby was seriously debating this. “But I think this one is better, ya know? What with the kids and all….” When Tommy arched a brow, Bobby said, “What? Too sentimental for you?” His voice carried a tease, but there was a hint of embarrassment tangled up in it too.

“I was thinking cheesy, but we can go with sentimental.”

Bobby put the ornament back on the fake tree and laughed. “Fine, asshole. No cheese for Christmas. This year.”

“I just don’t know why you wanna waste money on something like that.”

Pushing his cart ahead a few more feet, Bobby turned to look at Tommy. “It’s not a waste. It’s a… a reminder, years later.”

Tommy nearly changed his mind, but when he looked at the two shopping carts, both overflowing, he decided they’d done enough damage for a lifetime, let alone one holiday. And that stupid little ornament was over twenty bucks, for fuck sake.

“If I can’t remember you in a few years without an overpriced light up ornament, we’ve got bigger problems.”

With another laugh, Bobby said, “You’re such a romantic.”

“Never been accused of that one.”

“Believe me, I know.” The tease was clear in Bobby’s voice. Not a trace of irritation, or even disappointment. “What about when we’re old and senile?”

“Then every Christmas will be our first Christmas together.”


****

He managed to drag Bobby out of the store without adding anything else to their carts. That felt like a Christmas miracle in itself. They’d gotten three things for each of the kids to open. Plus Santa. It didn’t sound like much, but when you multiplied it by seven and compared it to every other Christmas they’d ever known, it added up fast. There had only been two Scrooge jokes from Bobby and one comment from Tommy about spoiling them. As compromises go, they did okay.

When they got home, they stashed everything in their little garage apartment. Bobby tossed a sheet over the pile. “Just in case the kids come in here before we get everything wrapped.” By the look on his face, all those presents could’ve been for him. Tommy didn’t think he’d ever seen Bobby so happy.

“You look like a little kid yourself, copper.”

Bobby slid his arms around Tommy’s waist and pulled him close. “It’s Christmas, we’re all supposed act like little kids.”

He couldn’t help a small laugh as he leaned in, grinning against Bobby’s soft kiss. “If you say so.”

Unfortunately, a few kisses were all they had time for. Bobby had less than a half hour to eat and get ready for his shift.

After they said their goodbyes, Tommy went next door to Judy’s. The kids were all scattered, picking at homework and chores, but Max toddled over to him with his arms up as soon as he saw Tommy.

“Oh, good, you’re home.” Judy looked relieved when he walked into the kitchen. “I needed to talk to you.”

Tommy never liked the sound of that, but he kissed Max’s cheek and set him down. Judy passed him a cookie before he could run off to the other room.

Without commenting on the cookie for Max, Tommy asked, “What’s up, Madam M?”

Judy wiped her hands on a bright red dishtowel, smiled, and nodded toward the living room. “Did you get your Christmas shopping done?”

“All but Bobby.” He had no idea what to get Bobby. The guy had everything he needed, and damn near everything he wanted. When Tommy had asked him what he’d like for Christmas, Bobby’s unhelpful response was you. Safe to say, that one had already been delivered.

He followed Judy past the eight foot Christmas tree, around the coffee table, and collapsed onto the couch.

“Well,” Judy said, picking up a small stack of notebook paper. “I guess I’m a little late, then, but I wanted to share something with you.”

She knew how to catch his attention. Tommy sat up and leaned forward.

“The other day, I asked the children to give me their Christmas lists.” Judy thumbed through the papers and then looked at Tommy. “I got the impression they’d never done that before.”

Tommy shrugged. Christ knew there’d never been a point to writing out a list of wishes in their family. Last year was the closest they’d ever come when Carrie and Collin told Santa what they wanted. Two things each, Tommy remembered. Collin had wanted a new pair of shoes and a puppy and Carrie had asked for pretty hairclips and a book.  

Judy nodded, as if Tommy’s shrug had been confirmation. “When I asked this year, I had expected… I don’t know, maybe a laptop or an iPod, something… big, something they can’t get every day.”

There was something unsettling about the look on Judy’s face. “What’d they ask for?”

Reading from the paper in her hand, Judy said, “Colleen says: I don’t really know what I want. I love the phone you got me for my birthday and that feels like more than enough. What I’d really like is to get something special for Tommy. He’s a pain—she’s scratched something out here, but I’m fairly certain it was in the ass—to shop for, but I’d like to think of something for him. If you have any ideas, please let me know.”

Tommy didn’t trust himself to speak, even if he knew what to say, but he could feel his eyes pricking.

Judy looked pointedly at him and set Colleen’s paper on the table. “We’ll put a pin in that one for the moment.” She looked at the next one on the stack. “Mike says: I can’t really think of anything I want, not as far as presents go. But, I think it would be really cool if we could have a fancy Christmas dinner. The kind with really nice plates and matching glasses and pretty napkins and stuff. I saw this lamb roast on a cooking show last week and it looked really good. I’ve never tasted lamb. I’d help cook and clean up and everything, but that’s what I’d like most. If we can’t do that, it’s okay, but I’ve always thought that would be nice.” By the time she finished, Judy’s eyes were shining and she had to pause for a breath. “He added at the bottom: Can you think of anything to get Tommy? I have a few ideas, but I’m not sure. I want it to be something special this year.”

Judy and Tommy sniffled at the same time and a hint of a smile flickered across Judy’s face before she read the next paper. “Davey says: If it’s not too much, I’d like a new pair of earbuds. Only one ear works on mine now, and it kind of crackles. Can we get something for Tommy too? I don’t know what, but something.”

She set his paper aside and looked at Tommy. “Are you recognizing a theme?” Thankfully she didn’t wait for an answer before looking at the next wishlist. “Carrie says: I’d like some new hairclips and maybe a pretty dress—She put a question mark there, not a period. Just so you know. She went on to add: Nothing fancy or anything. If it’s not too much, maybe some paints, too. And, I know what I’m doing for Tommy and Bobby, but what would you like, Judy?”

For fuck sake. Was she trying to kill him? When Judy smirked, Tommy wiped his eyes and asked, “What?”

“Nothing. I just thought I saw your heart grow three sizes.”

“I’m not a Grinch.” He wasn’t. Really. “I just don’t want ‘em spoiled is all. There’s nothing wrong with limits.”

He expected an argument, but instead Judy said, “I agree. Limits are vital. But these kids could be millionaires and not be spoiled. Coming from where they started out, they will never ask for much. And that’s almost worse than being spoiled sometimes.”

Goddamn it all. “So I’m supposed to…what? Force them to dream big?”

Judy titled her head to the side, looking like she was thinking. “Yes, actually. But, mostly, they follow your example in everything, Tommy. What’s the last thing you asked for?” When Tommy opened his mouth, Judy raised her hand to stop him. “For yourself.”

Tommy couldn’t remember. Come to think of it, the only thing he’d ever asked for was forgiveness from Bobby on more than one occasion.

And really, when it came right down to it, he had more for himself now than he’d ever hoped for. Safe home, healthy kids, a little money in the bank, fulltime work. And Bobby. Most of all, Bobby. “I don’t need anything else.” It took him a long time to say that.

“Wanting things is good, Tommy. Healthy, even.” When he started to say something else—not even he knew what that would be—Judy said, “There’s one more.” She looked at the last letter. “Collin says: I’d really like a puppy or a kitten. A dog might tear up the yard, though, so maybe just a kitten. I’d clean up after it and take care of it. I could even use my allowance for food and stuff so it wouldn’t cost extra. But, the twins might get in the litter box. Maybe a cat or a dog is a bad idea. I’d really like one, but maybe it’s too much trouble. There’s a toy drive at school. Maybe I could just get something really cool to donate? It’s sad to think about all the kids out there who don’t have anything, even less than we used to. It would be awesome if we could make someone’s Christmas, know what I mean? PS, what should we get Tommy?”

He suddenly wished Judy really was trying to kill him. Who knew hearing Christmas lists could be the hardest part of a person’s day? Davey was smart enough—and shifty enough, frankly—to fake a slim Christmas list to pull a few sympathy strings, but he didn’t think that was the case. Tommy was learning that selflessness was a hard habit to break, especially when it had been instilled in you at birth.

Tommy stood up suddenly, feeling restless and maybe even a little annoyed. He paced the floor once or twice and then paused in front of the tree. Lights sparkled against red garland and dozens of ornaments hung from the branches. A pair of silver turtledoves caught his eye. They were wrapped in a banner with 1976 etched into the plating. “What’s this?”

Judy stood next to him and reached for the ornament. She touched it carefully, as if it might break, even though that didn’t seem possible. “Warren gave that to me on our first Christmas after we were married.” She sounded happy and sad at the same time.

On another branch close by, Tommy noticed a silver rattle with a green ribbon tied through the handle. The year of Bobby’s birth was etched into it. “Bobby’s first Christmas?”

Judy grinned and nodded. “And he made this one for me when he was five.” She reached higher and pointed out a little glitter snowflake. Most of the glitter had fallen off, but it still sparkled. “Christmas trees aren’t just for decoration. They’re where we hang our hopes and dreams, our blessings, and our memories.”

How she could say all that and not cry was beyond Tommy. Even he was choking up. Between Judy and the kids, he wasn’t going to make it to the new year without some kind of emotional breakdown.

Tommy glanced at Judy when she spoke again. “Every year, I take these out and I remember what was happening in our lives. What Bobby looked like when he hung this on the tree for the first time. What my husband said to me our first year, when we were too poor for a real tree and he’d made one out of fallen branches, how he made me laugh. Christmas is family and love and hope for an even better tomorrow.”

In Tommy’s world, Christmas was an extra expense, a letdown, and a hassle.

But between the two of them, Tommy knew the kids deserved Judy’s version.

“I gotta get outta here.”

Judy watched, a surprised look on her face as Tommy made his quick retreat.

“Please think about it, Tommy.”

He only nodded in response, not sure she even saw him as he closed the door behind him.

The bells on the doorknob jingled cheerfully.

****

When he and Bobby had gone shopping early that morning, they’d decided on a one-stop trip at the local all-in-one store. Tommy had insisted.

Now, though, gripping the steering wheel like he was trying to throttle it, Tommy pulled into the mall parking lot.

He muttered to himself as he got out of the car, “I should tell ‘em all I want a carton of Marlboros for Christmas.” He’d found a spot, but it was on the back lot, a hundred miles from the entrance. “I’d spend the day on the front porch, smoke the whole damn thing.” It’d been months since he caved and had one, but damn it all, when he tried to think of what he really wanted, that was all that came to mind. He decided to drop the train of thought before he broke down and bought himself a pack.

He didn’t feel like he had money to burn, not really, but when Tommy looked at the totals in his (first ever) checking account, he felt like he’d won the lottery. Gene had made him a fulltime bartender—complete with a nice raise and sometimes really nice tips—and Tommy had been saving his pennies ever since he’d moved in with Bobby. It was easy to do since the guy wouldn’t take anything for rent. “I don’t even pay rent, why the hell should you?” Bobby had said, and he had a point there, but it still felt wrong sometimes, felt like charity.

Tommy paused as he pulled open the heavy glass door to the main entrance and wondered if there would be anything left of his savings when the day was done. Thinking back on the lists the kids had given Judy, he decided it didn’t matter. Judy wasn’t about to kick them out in the streets, and even if her house burned to the ground too, Tommy wagered that—unlike them—she was heavily insured.

For the first time in his life, Tommy O’Shea chose not to worry what fresh hell was lurking around the corner. He decided to teach the kids to dream big.

Or, at least to dream medium.  

****

Several hours later, Tommy sat in the middle of the floor surrounded by paper and ribbon and bows. He’d managed to wrap about half of the presents when Bobby came home.

“You’ve been busy.” Bobby kicked off his shoes, pausing to lean down for a kiss before he made his way to their bedroom.

“Had the night off, remember?”

Bobby grunted in acknowledgment, but didn’t say anything else. He was used to finding Tommy in the middle of something when he came home at the end of a shift. On his days off, Tommy cleaned gutters and scraped moss off the roof, mowed the lawn, and anything else he could think to do. Living most of his life under a cloud of frantic worry with one fucking crisis after another dogging him day in and day out had turned Tommy into a restless ball of energy when he wasn’t busy.

Less than twenty minutes later, Bobby joined him on the floor, fresh from the shower in a clean pair of sweats.

“How’d it go today?” Tommy wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know the truth, but he asked every day anyway.

Bobby seemed to know how Tommy felt and his answer was almost always the same. “Nothing too major, usual bullshit.” He laughed then and added, “I got a Christmas card from a woman whose son I hauled in last month for trying to shoplift a bottle of booze. She said he’s been doing well ever since and thanked me for putting the fear of God into him.”

“That’s a lot better than the one who tried to slug ya for it the other day.”

“Agreed.” Bobby reached for the nearest box and lifted the lid. “Did you buy more stuff?” He pulled back the tissue paper and found a fancy velvet dress inside. The box was huge because of the fluffy skirt. Tommy figured Carrie could wear it for their Christmas dinner. He didn’t know what a lamb roast would cost, or what the hell it was even called, but he was going to find out tomorrow.

Tommy shrugged. “I had coupons for that store on the mall so I got Carrie a few things.”

Glancing around, Bobby asked, “Why are there two Xboxes?”

“Santa thought the older kids should get something too.”

Bobby was obviously confused. “Why two, though?”

“They were on special, ya know? And they came with free games. Collin wanted to donate something nice to the toy drive at school and tomorrow is the last day before winter break.”

“What the hell happened to you today?”

Tommy laughed and passed Bobby a roll of wrapping paper. “My Grinch heart grew three sizes, apparently.”

Bobby didn’t quite cackle, but it was close enough. “You mean you spent the afternoon with my mother.”

“Afternoon, hell. She had me in less than a half hour.”

****

The next day, Bobby was off and Tommy didn’t have to go in until eight. They spent the morning in bed and then moved all the presents—all but Santa’s contribution—into Judy’s living room. When the kids came home from school, half the living room was piled high with presents. Davey dove straight for the tree and started sorting through the packages, shaking the ones with his name on them. 

Colleen looked like she was going to cry. “This is too much, Tommy.”

“Yeah, well.” Tommy pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. He almost told her not to expect it every year, or to just enjoy it while it lasts, but instead he said, “It’s all socks and underwear, don’t get too excited.”

“That’s a lot of socks and underwear.” Colleen laughed and hugged him tight.

Judy watched the kids sort through the presents and laughed when Zoe kept saying, “Open ‘dis one!” Mostly she looked at Tommy with a bright smile on her face and something close to smug triumph in her eyes.

Bobby picked Zoe up and kissed her cheek. “You can’t open any of them for almost a week, Zoe.” She giggled and squirmed out of his arms.

Tommy hadn’t considered what a pain in the ass it would be keeping the twins—not to mention Davey and Collin—off the presents until Christmas morning. “Maybe we should put up a fence or something.”

“Maybe we should let them enjoy it.” Bobby whispered against Tommy’s ear.

“Maybe so, copper.” He relaxed against Bobby and reminded himself that he wasn’t spoiling them, he was making up for a lot of lost years. “Oh, before I forget,” Tommy said, loudly so everyone could hear. He pulled out a piece of paper from his back pocket and handed it to Davey. “Here’s my list. One of everything should do.”

Davey looked at it and laughed. “A trip to Mexico, I’ll get right on that, Tommy.”

Tommy had put everything he could think of on that stupid list. Cologne that some sales girl had sprayed on him, because Bobby smelled him all afternoon after that. A new wallet. More pictures of the kids. Handprints from Max and Zoe. Small stuff the kids could do for free and big stuff he knew he wouldn’t get, but, what the hell. He was trying to lead by example. “Well, someone told me I should dream big. I bet I could dream up something big on a beach.”

Colleen snatched the list out of Davey’s hand and Mike leaned over her shoulder to read it with her. Only the babies were still interested in the pile of presents under the tree. Jesus.

Bobby took a deep breath against Tommy’s neck and whispered, “I’m going to need to see your ID. You’re doing a piss poor impersonation of my Tom.”

Tommy laughed and turned in Bobby’s arms. “Oh, I’m still yours. It’s not my fault your mother is right every damn time I turn around.”

“You should say that louder so she can hear,” Bobby laughed softly and kissed Tommy again before going on. “Then we wouldn’t have to buy her something for Christmas.”

Tommy couldn’t help but grin. “I already got her somethin’.”

“You gonna tell me what it is?”

“Nah, you can wait until Christmas, but you can have one of yours now.” He pulled Bobby away from the kids, into the kitchen. On the counter was a little box, wrapped in red foil with a glittery green bow on top. Presentation was becoming a priority to Tommy. Who knew?

Bobby shook it and then ripped the paper off in one quick motion. So much for presentation.

He didn’t say anything at first, just stared. Finally, one word came out of Bobby’s mouth. “Bullshit.” He looked like he didn’t believe it, but he was grinning, his eyes bright with obvious emotion.

Tommy had never been hugged so hard in his life. “I take it that’s the right one?”

“Yeah it is.” Bobby whispered. He held the ornament in his hand against Tommy’s back and Tommy wondered if Bobby was still looking at it over his shoulder. “This means a lot to me, Tom.” The tough cop was sniffling, for Christ sake.

“I can tell.” Maybe Tommy sniffled a little himself.

He really did have everything he needed, right there in his arms. Maybe Bobby did too.

Tommy decided he’d tell Bobby about Collin’s puppy later.


13 comments:

  1. Oh, lovely!
    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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    1. Thank you, Suzi! Merry Christmas to you too! :)

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  2. But...but... it isn't DONE!!! *sob* What about Christmas morning! I need Christmas morning! lol

    I totally loved this. Thank you! Happy Holidays. I hope you have an awesome Christmas.

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    1. Rofl! Don't tempt me! My kids will throttle me if I spend the day on my laptop.

      So glad you liked it. I hope you have a fantastic holiday as well!

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  3. Thank you!! How did you know what I wanted for Christmas? ;) Merry Christmas!!

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    1. You're very welcome! I hope you had a lovely Christmas and New Year! :)

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  4. I TOTALLY agree with Jambrea! I need Christmas morning! LOL. Oh man. I <3 this so much! Thank you for this. Such a great present. Loved it! Happy Holidays, JH!!

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    1. Thank you, Vicktor! And, lol, you and Jambrea are terrible influences on me. I'll post Christmas morning on FB later this week. Better late than never. :D

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    2. Woohoo!! -happy dancing- Can't wait. Thanks a bunch. Hope you had a great Christmas and New Year. And better late than never is a great writer philosophy. LOL.

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  5. Gahhhhh I loved this. I just finished reading The Last Thing He Needs and loved it HARD. This Christmas story is like the icing on the cake of the best dessert I've ever had! Thanks! <3

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  6. I come back to this every few weeks. Just love it! Will we have more Tommy and Bobby and the kids? =]]

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