Hello! I can’t believe we’re in the last month of 2016. I’m tempted to add “at last,” but the truth is, as much strife as 2016 has carried, it has for me gone by too swiftly (all years do), and on a personal level it has been a big improvement over prior years. And, for reasons we won’t discuss here but I’m sure most of you can guess, 2017 is looking kind of hairy, from here.
I’m jumping ahead a bit, though, as we haven’t had any of the December holidays yet, nor has the sun passed through it’s solstice bringing us well and truly into the winter season. Planning this December blog post, my thoughts kept going to holidays, Vasquez and James universe style. So hey, I’ve got an excerpt, and one fresh, just written for this blog, vignette of a New Year’s Eve gathering featuring the Vasquez-James family. Let’s just begin, shall we:
Excerpt From the novella, Yes:
A word about this. For anyone who doesn’t know, this novella is about Luki Vasquez and Sonny James, who have been married five years at the time, struggling to cope with Luki’s diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. As Christmas rolls around, they’ve come through a lot, overcome major hurdles both in Luki’s condition and in the strain it’s engendered on their relationship. Come Christmas, Luki finds himself with the gift of a little more strength, but empty hands for giving.
On Christmas day, Luki had nothing to give, and he felt good enough for that to bother him. Sonny had spent the hours since early morning at his loom, and that seemed like a second Christmas present for Luki. When Luki got sick, Sonny had dropped his art—the art that was like breathing for him—to take care of him. Luki had dealt with horrible guilt, but when he tried to talk to Sonny about it, Sonny insisted he had nothing to weave, was taking a long-needed break from weaving. Luki appreciated the spirit behind the lie, yet lie it clearly was. He thought he’d ruined something singular, something golden, something irreplaceable in all the world. But now Sonny went to his studio in the early morning, and the rhythmic clack and muffled thump of the loom—shuttle and treadle and beater—calmed Luki like music, like Kaholo’s lazy slack key songs.
It makes him more beautiful, Luki thought, though he wasn’t sure how Sonny could get more beautiful. He, Luki, had never been beautiful, though Sonny saw him that way. The long scar that slashed from eye to jaw on the left side of his face made him ugly to see. He knew that, and he’d always tried to make up for it with his perfect, tailored clothing, his perfect, fit body, and his curls. His magnificent curls. They were gone, at least temporarily. When he looked in the mirror and saw that shiny bald head over a puffy round face—a steroid induced moon—with a crevice down the cheek where the scar didn’t stretch as much as everything else, he said to his reflection, “Well, that won’t make anybody’s Christmas present.”
He could laugh about it, but that was the thing that most niggled at him, this Christmas day. He had nothing to give, and what if this was the last Christmas he’d have? The thought wasn’t bitter or angry; it was, he admitted, realistic. It didn’t devastate him the way it had at Thanksgiving, and he was not about to repeat that debacle, but… still. When he stood at the coffeemaker carefully pouring his black coffee, an idea floated into his thoughts, like a bubble of cautious joy pushing itself up from the sea bottom. He poured a second cup and stirred in flavored creamer until he thought it looked right, left his own coffee sitting on the shelf, and with slow steps—with Bear following—made his way to Sonny’s studio door. The dog sat on his haunches, waiting for Luki as he knocked twice, a knock Luki hoped Sonny would recognize.
“Just a sec,” Sonny said, and it was no more than that before the door swung open. At first Sonny’s face had mild alarm painted on it, but it turned into a smile.
“I brought you some coffee.” After Sonny took it from his hand, Luki added, “Merry Christmas.”
Sonny’s smile grew a bit wider. He set the steaming cup down on something behind the wall, then stepped into the hall to draw Luki into his arms for a long and intimate hug. Luki held on to him for all he was worth, and Sonny whispered across his ear. “Merry Christmas to you, Luki Vasquez. I love you, and you’re smiling.”
“Yes,” Luki said and let go.
Kaholo was doing Christmas dinner. Luki didn’t really have a desire to help, but he sat in the kitchen keeping the old man company and watching snow slowly blanket the yard, the chopping block, even the clothesline. Kaholo gave him a bag of green beans to snap, just like when he was a child, and for the first time in a long time, he felt at peace. Kaholo kept him busy with small, mindless chores until they were mostly done, and then Luki got an idea.
“Uncle, how about a game of Konane?”
“You’ve got the rocks and the board?”
“Of course. I’m your nephew.”
Taking it slow, Luki managed to fetch the game pieces from a closet where he kept such things and bring them out to the beat-up, round, kitchen worktable. Luki gave Bear an extra good scratching under the chin and whispered into his koala-like ear, “Merry Christmas, Bear. Then he turned to the game board, and by the time Kaholo finished tending to some stirring and poking, Luki had already set it up in diagonal stripes of black and white stones. “You pick, Uncle,” he said.
“No, I ain’t gonna pick, Mililani. Every time I do, you win.”
“I win anyway, Uncle.”
“That’s right, so why the heck did I agree to play? I haven’t won against you at Konane anytime after you turned ten years old.”
“You agreed to play because it’s fun, and it’s Christmas, and we always play at Christmas. It’s tradition.”
“All right, all right, nephew, then just beat me good, and get it over with.”
Luki laughed, and the almost smile he’d worn most of the day stayed with him as they played. Kaholo did pick after all, and Luki ended up with black stones. He moved them about the board, jumping and taking—“eating”—Kaholo’s white pieces. He hadn’t lost his skill despite very little practice over the last twenty years or so. Still, at the end, the last move was Kaholo’s.
“You let me win, Mili! Why’d you go and do that? You’ve ruined your perfect record.”
Luki leaned sideways to pet the dog, turned back to answer Kaholo’s smile, and almost impishly said, “Yes. Merry Christmas.
The newly written vignette, a New Year’s eve slice of life, occurring about two years after the Christmas in the excerpt above, after the London, England adventures of Jackie Vasquez and Brian Harrison in Yes, and just before their story picks up again in the upcoming sequel, Chasing Perfect. In addition to the regulars, making an appearance her are Jackie’s older brother Josh, his wife Ruthie and daughter Jade, both introduced in Yes, and Jesse Douglas who played a prominent secondary character role in Saving Sonny James.
The cushions on Kaholo’s sofa seemed to mold themselves around Jackie, fitting so perfectly he thought he might be unable to leave them even if he wanted to.
Brian stepped near, holding a bottle of J&B and a shot glass. He tilted his head and smiled, looking in Jackie’s eyes. “You want anything while I’m up?”
“Not a thing,” Jackie answered, and it was true. In all his life, he couldn’t remember a moment of such contentment. Partly, Brian was responsible for that. Last night, Brian had bound him in beautiful knots, tethered him to the bed’s headboard, and then sent him deep into submissive bliss with slow, silent sex.
The satisfaction remained, even twenty-four hours later.
But that wasn’t the whole story. Contentment seemed to reign throughout the little gathering at Kaholo’s snowbound Nebraska home. Christmas had come and gone a week earlier with all its bustle and fuss, but the family had stayed together, and now the eve of a brand-new year was upon them—the first New Year’s Eve ever where Jackie would get to kiss Brian at midnight.
In five minutes.
Being the kind of person always interested in the workings of the mind and heart, and also being in the habit of self-reflection, Jackie wondered briefly if something was missing from his emotions at that moment. Shouldn’t he be boisterously happy like the crowds at Times Square, or millions of partygoers and tavern customers the world over? He even tried for a breath or two to muster such an outlook, but he quickly realized he’d have to fake it.
But he was far from unhappy. His joy just then inhabited his soul like a broad, quiet river, and it seemed to touch the entire gathering at Kaholo’s snowbound Nebraska home. Brian had pulled the recliner close and now sat with a shot of J&B in one hand and the other hand resting against Jackie’s cheek. When Jackie turned his head briefly to look at him, he caught Brian smiling gently, a dreamy look in his eyes.
Josh and Ruthie occupied the other end of the sofa, with a sleeping Jade laying across their laps. Either they were secretly sleeping too, or they watched the lights twinkle on the Christmas tree, very still.
Luki sat near the fire, talking quietly with his old friend, Jesse Douglas, who’d come to visit for the night as he passed through on quick visit stateside sandwiched between a holiday with cousins in Scotland and a return to work at the US embassy in Denmark. Jackie had heard the story of how Jesse had been stationed at the embassy in Paris a few years earlier, and had helped Luki save Sonny from death by poison. It was quite a story. But when Jesse had arrived at Kaholo’s just in time for dinner, Jackie met him for the first time.
Sonny made the introduction—“Jackie, meet Jesse, Luki’s former lover”—tongue in cheek.
Jesse, who didn’t know Sonny as well as the rest of the people present, had momentarily flushed with what looked like near panic.
Luki rolled his eyes, as Sonny surely expected, and said, “Damn it, Sonny!”
That seemed to ease Jesse’s shock a bit, and it faded entirely when Sonny giggled, said he was sorry, and gave Jesse a welcoming hug and a bottle of ale.
An interesting man, Jackie thought now, eyeing him from his sofa corner. Tall, ginger, but all light shades—hair and brows and freckles glowing gold—unlike Jackie’s own deep auburn-red hair and speckled-dark skin. Jesse was about Luki’s age, and the two of them had a history, having been lovers a few decades past at the law enforcement academy at Glnyco, Georgia. It was an odd thought for Jackie, who couldn’t imagine anyone in Luki’s arms except Sonny.
Sonny was at the kitchen table—which could clearly be seen from the sofa—playing cards with Kaholo, and it was, at the moment, the only brightly lit and somewhat noisy place in the house. Even the non-humans had caught the mood of lazy contentment. Marley lay on the back of the sofa in an oddly undignified position on his back, and the dogs, Bear and Soldier lay curled near the woodstove, paws twitching in dreams. Sonny and Kaholo both seemed a little drunk. That was unusual—no one in the family drank to excess, generally—and kind of funny. Jackie smiled, watching Sonny drop three cards as he shuffled.
Kaholo, his deep voice carrying despite low volume, said, “Hah! At last I know how to keep you from cheating at cards!”
Sonny looked outraged! “Jus’ ‘cuz I’m too tipsy to shuffle, it don’ mean I can’t cheat!”
Everybody had heard, and everybody laughed.
Sonny actually proved more sober than Jackie had thought, because he got up gracefully and fetched the champagne—which had been chilling in the freezer—and brought the bottle out to Luki. Brian brought an old painted metal serving tray with glasses on it.
An ancient clock on a corner shelf chimed, the “Happy New Year” cry went up—subdued because nobody wanted to wake the baby—and Luki popped the cork. Brian splashed the bubbly wine in all the glasses and he and Sonny passed them out. Everybody got their kisses done, and then Kaholo raised his glass.
“’Ōkole maluna!” he said, bobbing his eyebrows and sniggering, “Bottoms up.”
When the obligatory drink was done, the room went quiet again, until Luki addressed Jesse. “You should sing “Auld Lang Syne” for us, the old Robert Burns version you taught me.”
Jesse pursed his lips, then said. “I will, if you’ll sing with me.”
When the song started, Jackie expected the usual, the tune everybody bawls out drunkenly all over America every New Year’s party. But that wasn’t what they sang, these two old friends. The melody was close, but more humble somehow, closer to the heart, and the words—though some of them were foreign to Jackie’s ears—told a bittersweet story.
All the men in the room snorted like schoolboys over the first line of the first verse, “We both ha’e piddled i’ the burn,” even though it obviously didn’t really mean peeing in the lake. Ruthie, the only woman present, shook her head.
But then, as the men sang “seas between us bra’e ha’e roared” and “we wandered mony a weary stoop sin auld lang syne,” a gentle longing seemed to descend over the room, reflected in everyone’s eyes. Jesse’s smooth, rich baritone blended with Luki’s scratchy remnant of a voice, and perhaps everyone, like Jackie, reflected on times lost and precious things salvaged, people missed and present friends and family, on survival and life and love.
Sonny stood next to Luki’s chair, where he’d been since the kiss, and Kaholo had joined the circle, too, having claimed his New Year’s kiss from the top of Jade’s slumbering head.
“So here’s a hand, my trusty friend, and gi’e ‘s a hand o’ thine,” they sang, and Luki reached out both hands, one to be taken by Sonny, one by Jesse. Around the room the rest of the family followed suit until every hand held another. By the time the last chorus rolled around, they’d heard it enough times to join the subtly different melody.
They all sang, “We’ll tak a cup ‘o kindness yet for auld lang syne.”
Their joined hands should have felt awkward, Jackie thought, but they didn’t. Six men, one woman, and a child like a promise, they all held tight to each other until the words died away.
I hope you enjoyed the holidays with the people of the Vasquez and James universe. If you’d like copy of the original New Year-themed vignette presented here, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a mailing address, and I’ll send you an artfully printed, signed copy.
I have an extra spot on Love Bytes late this month, celebrating the release of my seasonally themed novella, Falling Snow on Snow which is presently available for preorder at Dreamspinner. Until then, and always, may your December days be full of light, hope, joy, and most of all love.
Note: Robert Burns lyrics are in the public domain.