“Mom… Dad… I’d like you to meet my partner.”

Most of us have had at least one of these awkward, anxious moments in our lives. And the stakes are even higher when the first meeting takes place during the holidays.

In my most recent novel, If I Seem Quiet…, Aaron Bradbury came out to himself, came out to his parents (it did NOT go well!), met a guy, reconciled with his parents, and so much more.

Now, he’s taking his partner Ryan to Ohio for Christmas, where his parents will meet Ryan for the first time.

This story is an excerpt from my next novel, which will come out in the spring of 2024. Enjoy!


Meet My Partner: A Christmas Story

Friday, December 23, 2016

 

Aaron and Ryan’s flight from Phoenix, via Dallas, arrived at the airport in Dayton, Ohio, at 4:14 p.m. They had mailed their presents for Aaron’s parents and grandmother to their home in advance, so they were able to fit all their clothing into carry-on luggage. Aaron’s father was waiting for them at the exit from the secured area.

As Aaron approached, Ralph extended his hand. Aaron ignored that and gave his father a big hug. Ralph was momentarily taken aback, given all the other people passing by, but no one seemed to notice or care. He decided it was okay.

Then Aaron said, “Dad, I’d like you to meet my partner, Ryan.”

“Ralph Bradbury.” He extended his hand.

Ryan shook it, figuring their first meeting might be too soon for a hug. “Ryan Robertson. Nice to meet you.”

Ralph looked up toward the ceiling. “How’s the weather up there?”

It took Ryan a moment to realize Ralph was joking about him being 6’6”.

Ralph turned to Aaron. “How do you kiss him? Do ya hafta get up on a step stool?”

Aaron said to Ryan, “Dad has, shall we say, a unique sense of humor.”

“Oh, hush. I’m just tryin’ to be friendly.” He turned back to Ryan. “I hope we can fit you in the car without havin’ to fold you in half.”

Ryan chuckled and smiled at Aaron. “I see where you get your sense of humor.”

“Shut. UP!”

As corny as he was, Ralph had made an endearing first impression upon Ryan.

They started walking toward the front door. The parking garage was just on the other side of the pick-up and drop-off lanes, and in five minutes they were on their way out of the airport.

Ralph asked, “How was your trip?”

Aaron replied, “Our flights were on time, but oh my God, we’re exhausted. We had to get up at 4:00 a.m. so we could be at the airport by 5:30 for our 7:15 flight. Then we had a two-hour layover in Dallas. The airports in Phoenix and Dallas were madhouses.”

Ralph said, “Well, you shouldn’t have waited until two days before Christmas to come.”

Aaron said, “We didn’t have much choice. I had to work up through yesterday.”

Ryan added, “And I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starving.”

Ralph said, “Well, Martha’s at home right now whipping up a big feast.”

Aaron said, “Dad! I told her we wanted to take everyone out for dinner!”

“Oh, she wasn’t havin’ that. She didn’t want you to spend all that money on dinner when you’ve already paid for two airfares and three nights in a hotel.”

Aaron sighed. He knew it was pointless to argue.

Twenty minutes later, Ralph pulled into their driveway. He said, “I figure you boys can just leave your suitcases in the trunk. I’ll let you drive my car to your hotel later this evening.”

The three men entered through the side door into the kitchen. The tantalizing aroma of home cooking filled the air, making Aaron and Ryan even hungrier. Martha stopped stirring the mashed potatoes and ran up to Aaron. She flung her arms around him and smothered him with kisses. “Oh, honey! It’s so good to have you home!” She took her time letting him go. “Awww… I love you so much.”

Finally, she released him, and Aaron introduced Ryan to Martha and his grandmother. He gently hugged his grandmother and kissed her on the cheek. “Merry Christmas, Grandma. You look great.”

“Thank you, dear. I’m just hangin’ in there as best as I can.”

Martha exclaimed, “Good heavens, you’re tall!”

Ralph said, “I’ll bet you save a lot of money on haircuts.”

Ryan looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“All you hafta do is stand under a ceiling fan!”

Ryan forced a polite chuckle. Aaron rolled his eyes.

Martha said, “Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. I made meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and some fresh cornbread. And there’s apple pie for dessert, so save some room!”

Ryan said, “Wow, Mrs. Bradbury, that sounds delicious! You really went all out!”

“Oh, honey, just call me Martha. None of that Mrs. Bradbury nonsense. We’re all adults. Anyway, I hope you like it. I guess I should have asked if you have any food allergies.”

“Nope. I eat pretty much anything.”

Martha said, “Aaron, why don’t you show Ryan where the bathroom is, in case he wants to get washed up.”

Aaron led Ryan into the living room, where a six-foot-tall over-decorated Christmas tree rose above a sea of gift-wrapped boxes, including the ones they had mailed earlier in the month. A fire crackled in the fireplace. Ryan was shocked to see five stockings hanging from the mantle, including one for him. “I can’t believe they put a stocking out for me!”

Martha heard him from the kitchen and called out, “Well, of course! You came all this way to celebrate Christmas with us, we want you to feel like part of the family!”

Aaron led Ryan into the bedroom hallway. “That’s the bathroom there on your right. And this was my bedroom.” He opened the door and showed him his old room. There were still some memorabilia from his childhood years mounted on the walls, along with a large Ohio State Buckeyes flag.

Soon, everyone was seated around the dining room table. There wasn’t much talk while the food was being passed and everyone was taking their first few bites. Then Ryan said, “Martha, this is amazing. Everything is delicious! I can’t believe you went to all this trouble.”

“Oh, it was no trouble at all. And the mashed potatoes are from a mix. It’s not like I spend all afternoon mashing them.”

“It tastes excellent. I can’t tell the difference.”

“Well, thank you, dear. So, what are your parents doing for Christmas?”

Aaron gulped. He realized he hadn’t told his parents about Ryan’s family situation.

Ryan said, “My parents and I aren’t on good terms.”

Martha said, “Well, I’m sorry, honey. It’s too bad when things end up that way, but sometimes I guess it just can’t be helped.”

Aaron couldn’t remember his father ever being quiet for this long.

Ryan thought, At some point I’m going to have to tell the Bradburys about my past, but do we have to do that now, during our first dinner together? We just got here and I’m tired. On the other hand, I might as well get it over with. There’s going to be an elephant in the room until this gets talked about. “It’s kind of a long story and not a pleasant one. Let me give you the quick version. Basically, my parents found out I was gay during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. My parents – well, mostly my dad – couldn’t deal with it. He was the pastor of a huge mega-church. In fact, it was the largest church in Kansas. He had just gotten a book deal and he had all these big dreams about becoming a famous televangelist. Obviously, having a gay son didn’t fit in with his vision. They were planning to send me away to a gay conversion therapy camp, but I found out about it in the nick of time and ran away from home.”

Martha said, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. That’s terrible. Where did you go?”

“I ended up in Los Angeles and went to UCLA. But anyway… It is what it is. That was a long time ago and life has gone on. But I’m really grateful to you for having me here. This is the first family-style Christmas I’ve had in ten years.”

“Honey, we’re happy to do it. We’re thrilled that you came.”

Ryan said, “And besides, I want to get to know my future in-laws.”

There was another moment of silence while the meaning behind that statement sank in.

Finally, Ralph spoke. “I’m sorry you had all those problems with your parents. Things started out that way for us when we found out Aaron was gay, but thank God we pulled our heads out of our asses and got over ourselves.”

Martha was about to chide Ralph for his use of crude language at the dinner table, but she didn’t. She knew he was right.

They silently agreed this was enough talk about those matters for the time being. Martha tried to steer the conversation to lighter topics. “What do you boys have planned for tomorrow?”

Aaron said, “I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it. We were focused on getting here and spending time with you.”

Ryan said, “Maybe you could show me around Troy.”

Ralph said, “That’ll take about 15 minutes. There ain’t much to see here. I mean, it’s a nice place to live, but there’s not much goin’ on.”

Ryan asked, “How about Dayton?”

Aaron said, “There’s not too much there either.”

Grandma said, “You could take him to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”

Aaron said, “That’s a great idea. And we could have lunch at Skyline Chili.” Aaron looked at Ryan for approval.

Ryan shrugged and asked, “What’s Skyline Chili?”

Aaron said, “It’s Cincinnati-style chili. They make it with a special blend of spices, then serve it over spaghetti with a huge mound of shredded cheese on top. It’s awesome!”

Martha said, “It’s probably southwestern Ohio’s only claim to regional cuisine.”

Ryan said, “Sounds good to me. Why don’t we all go? It’ll be something we can do together.”

Everyone looked around the table at each other. Everyone seemed to like the idea.

They finished dinner and Martha got up from the table. “Aaron, would you please help me clear the plates?” Aaron got up, along with Ryan. They started carrying plates and serving dishes into the kitchen. Martha said, “Now, I didn’t mean to put you to work. You’re our guest.”

Ryan smiled. “That’s okay, I had just gotten up anyway.”

Martha said, “Well, that’s mighty nice of you.” After she put the plates in the sink, she sliced her homemade apple pie. “Who wants ice cream?”

Grandma said, “Just a small piece for me, and just a taste of ice cream. I’m already full.”

After everyone enjoyed dessert, they moved into the living room.

After some chit-chat, Aaron asked, “Would it be okay if we headed over to our hotel now? We’ve had a long day and just five hours of sleep last night, so we’re pretty tired.”

Martha said, “Well, I suppose so. And we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow. What time are you boys going to be here for breakfast?”

“I think they have breakfast at the hotel.”

Martha frowned. That was obviously not the answer she wanted to hear.

Ryan stepped in. “But if that dinner was any indication, I’m sure breakfast here would be so much better. How about 8:00?”

Martha replied, “That’s what I was thinkin’. Certainly no later than that, especially if we’re going to get in and out of the museum before lunch.”

Everyone hugged and said goodnight. Ralph gave Aaron the keys to his car and said, “Now, you drive careful.”

Once they were in the car, Aaron said, “Great. I really wanted to sleep in tomorrow.”

Ryan said, “Relax. We’ll still get nine or ten hours of sleep. We can get up at 6:30 and take turns in the shower.”

“You mean we can’t take a shower together?”

“That would take longer than if we showered separately, if you know what I mean.” Ryan winked at Aaron. “But tonight, on the other hand…”

“I’m so exhausted, I’m not going to be doing anything tonight except sleeping.”

They arrived at their hotel. Fifteen minutes later, they were asleep.

 

(continued below)


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Saturday, December 24, 2016

 

Saturday was a full but exciting day. They spent three hours exploring the Air Force Museum, and Ryan enjoyed his first taste of Cincinnati-style chili. “I’m going to learn how to make this at home. I’ll bet I can find a recipe online.”

Martha said, “I think they sell packets of the spice mix in the grocery stores here. We can stop in and check. I need a few things for tomorrow, anyway.”

After dinner, they watched a couple of Christmas specials and then played games. At one point, Martha brought out some photo albums and regaled Ryan with pictures from Aaron’s childhood, much to his embarrassment. “C’mon,” Ryan said, “You were a cute kid. Get over yourself.” You’re lucky you have photos from your childhood, he thought.

“I was such a dork.”

“You were a cute dork.”

Finally, at 10:15, Aaron and Ryan said goodbye and returned to their hotel room.

As soon as they were in the door, Ryan started kissing Aaron. Aaron kissed him back a few times, but Ryan kept at it. He pressed his mouth tightly against Aaron’s and began exploring with his tongue.

Aaron pulled away long enough to ask, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Ryan wrapped his arms around his back and pulled him in closer. “Are you complaining? Surely you wouldn’t say no to me on Christmas Eve.”

Aaron smiled, “You know I can’t say no to you.”

Ryan kissed him again. “And I hope you never will.”

(continued below)

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

 

On Christmas morning, Martha had scrambled eggs, bacon, and freshly baked frosted cinnamon rolls ready for Aaron and Ryan when they arrived. Christmas music was playing on the stereo.

As they were eating, Ralph said, “So I was thinkin’ more about what you told us about your father, wanting to become a big famous televangelist and all that.”

Aaron tensed up. He fervently hoped that whatever his father said next wouldn’t be too cringeworthy or inappropriate.

“Is he somehow related to Pat Robertson?”

Ryan thought, Hmmm. That’s a new one. That never even occurred to me when I was picking my new name. “No. His name is Brad Bauer.”

Ralph, Martha, and Grandma looked puzzled.

Ryan knew he had to explain that. “I changed my name when I turned 18. That was only three months after I left home, and I didn’t want my parents to find me. Plus, if his dreams of becoming an author and a nationally-known televangelist came to pass, I didn’t want to have the same last name as him.”

Ralph asked, “Did you change your first name, too?”

“Yes. My birth name was Bryan Bauer. I chose Ryan because it sounds almost the same, and I figured it would be easier to get used to the sound of my new name.”

Martha said, “Brad Bauer… Isn’t he that big-shot pastor from Kansas?”

Ryan said, “Yep. The one and only.”

“We bought a couple of his books back when we were goin’ to that fundamentalist church. Our pastor recommended them to everyone in the congregation. They sold them at the little bookstore they have there. So after reading his books and some of the others they sell there, that’s why we treated Aaron so badly when we found out he was gay. But after we came to our senses and switched churches, I threw all those books in the fireplace.”

Ralph said, “I can see why you don’t want to have the same name as him. So why did you choose Robertson?”

Ryan said, “Well, at the time – and remember, this was when I was in high school – I had a boyfriend named Chris Robertson. We were planning to go to college and spend the rest of our lives together. So I thought if it ever became possible for us to get married, I’d already have the same last name.”

Grandma said, “Awww, that’s sweet. But what happened to him?”

Ryan said, “Well, once I ran away and I went into hiding, that meant I had to leave him behind. He went to college at the University of Maryland and he met a guy there. They’re still together.”

Martha said, “Everything about what happened to you is just so sad. I feel sorry for you. You’re such a nice young man. You didn’t deserve to get cut off from your family and have all that stuff happen to you.”

“Thanks. But it hasn’t all been bad. The guys I lived with in Los Angeles were wonderful. They were my chosen family. And now I have Aaron! I’ve got a good job and a nice place to live, so really, my life turned out pretty well after all.”

After breakfast, everyone helped clear the table. People migrated into the living room to open their presents. Ryan made a side trip to use the restroom. When he came out, Ralph was walking down the hall toward the living room, having just used the restroom adjacent to their master bedroom. Ryan paused to let him pass, but Ralph stopped and said, in a low voice, “Young man, I have a question I need to ask you.” He paused and leaned in closer. “What are your intentions for my son?”

Ryan totally did not see that coming. He stared at Ralph and thought, What the hell kind of question is that? Are these people stuck in the fifties? How am I going to answer that? Then, inspiration struck. Ryan looked Ralph right in the eyes with a serious look on his face and said, “I’m just going to use him for my sex slave.”

Now it was Ralph’s turn to be shocked. The two men stared at each other, neither one batting an eye. Finally, Ryan couldn’t stand it any longer. He looked away and broke out laughing. A second later, Ralph started laughing too. “Good one, son. You and I are going to get along just fine.” Ralph gave Ryan a light hug. “What I really meant was–”

Ryan cut him off. “I’ll answer that question for you soon.” He motioned for Ralph to go first as they headed back to the living room. When Ryan passed the coat closet, he stopped long enough to get something out of his coat pocket.

Aaron donned a Santa hat and passed out everyone’s presents, just like he used to do when he was a kid. Martha had her camera close at hand to take pictures of people as they opened their presents. Ryan had the presence of mind to take some pictures on his phone too, so Martha would be in some of them.

After the excitement of opening gifts had subsided and the torn wrapping paper had been gathered and disposed of, everyone settled into their places around the living room. Ralph reached for the remote and said, “I wonder what’s on.”

Ryan said, “Before we get into watching TV and doing other stuff, there’s something I’d like to say.”

Everyone turned to Ryan and gave him their attention.

“First, I just want to say this is the best Christmas I’ve ever had. Seriously. Ever since I left home nine years ago, I’ve spent most Christmases alone. And that’s okay, I’ve gotten used to it. I still enjoy the Christmas season, with all the lights, decorations, parties, concerts, and all that stuff. And back when I was growing up, Christmas always meant going to church on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas morning. We had presents and Christmas dinner and stuff, but – I don’t know, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but – my family was never like this. It’s kinda like we just went through the motions. But you folks laugh and have fun and truly enjoy each other. There is so much love in this room! I’ve never felt anything like it. I mean, you never even met me before, but you’ve made me feel welcome and included and – well, loved. So yeah, this is the best Christmas I’ve ever had. Thank you!”

Martha said, “Well, that’s so sweet of you to say all that. Having you boys here has been a joy for all of us. It’s the most exciting Christmas we’ve had around here for quite a few years. I hope you come back next year and every year after that. You’re always welcome in our home.”

Ralph said, “Yeah. You’re like family to us already.”

Ryan said, “Well, that leads nicely to the other thing I wanted to say. It’s great to have a family to be part of again. So I’d like to make it official.” Ryan took a few steps over to where Aaron was seated and dropped to one knee. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the small box he had retrieved from his coat pocket earlier. “Aaron Bradbury, in the last six months, you have totally changed my life. You convinced me to start playing my trumpet again and join the band. It’s been years since I’ve felt so alive. But most of all, you’ve loved me. Relationships have been difficult for me, for a variety of reasons. I had pretty much resigned myself to being single for the rest of my life. But you came along and changed all of that. Now, I’m filled with hope for everything that lies ahead in the years to come, but only if I can share those experiences with you.” He paused and took a deep breath. The anticipation and excitement in the room was palpable. “Aaron, will you marry me?” He opened the box to reveal a ring.

Aaron could barely believe what he had just heard. He was so shocked and overtaken with emotion that he couldn’t speak.

After a few tense seconds, Ralph spoke up. “Well, say yes, dummy!”

That jolted Aaron out of his momentary paralysis. “Yes! Yes! Of course! Yes, yes, yes! Oh my God!!!” Aaron leaned forward in his chair, grabbed the sides of Ryan’s head, and planted several huge kisses on him. Up to this point, he had been hesitant to kiss Ryan in front of his parents and grandmother or show any other kind of physical affection, but in this moment, he couldn’t care less. Everybody, even Ralph, was reveling in this moment.

When Aaron stopped kissing Ryan, he had tears streaming down his cheeks. He wiped them with his sleeve. Ryan said, “Here, let me put the ring on your finger.” Aaron looked confused, so Ryan reached for his left hand. “This one.” He slid the ring onto Aaron’s ring finger.

Martha, also overcome with emotion, clasped her hands in front of her chest and exclaimed, “I can’t believe our son is getting married!”

Ralph couldn’t resist the temptation to tease Aaron. “So, uh… since he gave the ring to you, does that make you the bride? Shit. That means I’m gonna hafta pay for the wedding. And does that mean you’re gonna be wearin’ a wedding gown?”

Aaron wasn’t amused. “Dad! Of course not! We’re men, and we’re going to dress like men. Sheesh.”

“Oh, come on now. I was just teasin’ you.”

Ryan laughed and said, “Don’t worry, we can pay for the wedding. And of course, we want you all there. We can pay for your airfare if that would be helpful.”

Ralph said, I think we can swing that, but thanks for the offer.”

Grandma said, “I’d love to be there, but I don’t know… I may not be up for a long airplane flight.”

Martha said, “Maybe we can decide on that closer to the time.”

Aaron said, “If you can’t make it, we can livestream it on Facebook, so you can watch it from your place.”

Grandma said, “I’m not sure I know how to do that. I’m not on Facebook.”

Ryan said, “Maybe Zoom or Skype would be easier.”

Aaron said, “Well, we’ll get it all figured out and get you set up.”

Martha asked, “So, have you picked a date yet?”

Aaron replied, “Mom, I just now found out about it. This was a total surprise!”

Ryan said, “We’ll talk about it and let you know as soon as we decide. But I was thinking maybe next fall, like September or October.”

Ralph said, “Good. Just don’t have it in the middle of summer when it’s so blasted hot out there.”

Ryan said, “Yeah, that’s why I was thinking about the fall. The weather will be perfect then. But we’ll talk about it and let you know.”

Aaron said, “Dad? I want you to be my best man.”

Ralph looked genuinely surprised. “Really? Are you serious? Usually, guys pick their best friend.”

“There’s no one I’d rather give this honor to. And Mom, we’ll find some special way for you to be part of the ceremony.”

Grandma said, “Martha, do you still have that little essay I read at your wedding?”

“Of course I do, Mom.”

“Good. And if you didn’t, I still have my copy. But anyway, when Martha and Ralph got married, they asked me to read a short essay at their wedding. It was just a few bits of wisdom and advice for having a happy marriage.”

Martha said, “It was really good. I still get it out and read it now and then.”

Aaron asked, “Well, then, would you please read it at our wedding?”

Ryan added, “Yes! I think that would be a great idea.”

“Well, okay. I’m not much of a public speaker, but I’ll do my best.”

Ryan said, “I know you’ll do fine.”

Martha stood up. “Stand up, boys! I wanna hug you.”

Everyone stood up and hugged each other. Then Martha said, “And I want to take some pictures! We need some new family photos. And I want to be able to show off my future son-in-law to my friends.”

Ralph said, “Let me get out the tripod. I’ll set the timer on the camera so we can all be in the picture.”

After they had finished taking dozens of pictures with various combinations of people, Ralph collapsed the tripod and headed toward the master bedroom to put it back in the closet. Aaron headed in that direction at the same time because he wanted to use the hall bathroom. Ralph turned to Aaron and said, “I still can’t believe you asked me to be your best man. That means a lot to me.”

Aaron smiled. “I really appreciate how supportive you are about this whole thing and how nice you’ve been to Ryan.”

“He’s a fine young man. And y’know, if you’re gonna be gay and spend your life with another man, I think you picked a really good one. I mean, it’s not like you need my permission or anything, but…”

“I don’t, but it’s nice to have your support. Thanks, Dad.” He paused. “I love you.”

“I love you too, son.”

“I love you and your terrible jokes.”

Ralph chuckled. “Well, it’s a good thing. They come with the package.”

They hugged each other, then Ralph resumed his trip to the master bedroom. Aaron stepped into the hallway bathroom. While he was seated on the throne, he pulled out his phone and launched Facebook. After scrolling through dozens of ‘Merry Christmas’ posts from his friends, he realized he had post-worthy news. He turned on the phone’s camera, held his hand out with the ring on his finger, and snapped a close-up photo. He posted it with the caption, ‘Of course I said yes!’

Then he navigated to his profile and changed his relationship status to ‘Engaged.’

Meanwhile, Martha headed into the kitchen to start making their Christmas dinner. Ryan followed her in. “Martha, may I help with anything?”

“Thanks, honey, but I can manage…” Then she realized Ryan wasn’t offering just to be polite. This was an opportunity for a bonding experience. She flashed a smile. “You know, on second thought, I’d appreciate a little help.”

“I’m a pretty good cook, so just let me know what you’d like me to do.”

“Yes, Aaron has raved about your cooking. Can I put you in charge of the salads? There are two heads of lettuce in the refrigerator, a package of cherry tomatoes, and a cucumber you can slice up.”

“I’d be glad to.”

“And then when the ham comes out of the oven, you can slice it.” After a few minutes, she said, “You know, I probably should’ve done more to teach Aaron how to cook. I just assumed he’d marry a woman someday and she’d do most of the cooking. I guess it never occurred to me that there might be other possibilities.”

“Yeah, that’s how it works most of the time.”

“You know, I was starting to get worried about him. He’s 28, and he never mentioned having a girlfriend. In fact, he avoided the topic. Whenever I asked, he’d get flustered and change the subject. Now I know why. But it didn’t seem like he had many friends either, and no social life. But now, he has you, he’s playing his trombone again, which I’m really happy about, and he seems to have a lot of friends now.”

“It’s funny how much has changed in the last six months – both for him and for me. I have a lot more friends now, too.”

“So, did your mother teach you how to cook?”

“A little. Sometimes if she was busy at the church, she’d ask me to make lunch for my younger brother and me. Nothing complicated, though. She did almost all the cooking. My parents bought into the stereotypical gender roles, which meant the woman did all the cooking.”

“Yeah, we’re kinda like that too. But if I go first, heaven forbid, I don’t think Ralph would starve. He knows how to use a microwave! Of course, he could stand to lose a little weight.”

Ryan chuckled. “When I lived in LA, I rented a room in a house near UCLA. The guy who owned it, Hal, was a really good cook. Every Sunday evening, he’d cook dinner for the four of us who lived there. It was a chance for everyone to be together – sort of a family night. I learned a lot about cooking from Hal.” Ryan paused. “I learned a lot about life from Hal. He was more like a father to me than my real father.”

“Are you going to call him sometime today and wish him a Merry Christmas and tell him you’re engaged?”

Ryan sighed. “Hal passed away suddenly near the end of my senior year.”

“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry. What happened to him?”

Ryan started to tear up. “Well, it’s kind of a long story, but the short version is he got depressed and started drinking. Later in the evening, he got in his hot tub. He passed out, slumped down into the water, and drowned.”

“Oh, my word! How terrible!”

Ryan sniffled. The tears were starting to flow. “I was the one who found him the next morning.”

Martha stopped whipping the mashed sweet potatoes and set the spoon down. She turned to Ryan and hugged him. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. I probably shouldn’t have brought it up. I ask too many questions sometimes.”

Martha’s hug was surprisingly comforting. Ryan pulled himself together and said, “That’s okay. You didn’t know.”

“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”

“You have no idea. But it’s made me a stronger person. I’ve learned that life’s going to throw stuff at you whether you like it or not. It doesn’t do you any good to blame others or say, ‘I don’t deserve this.’ You just have to accept responsibility for yourself and deal with it as best as you can. There will always be good times and bad times, and you just have to work through the bad until the good comes around again. Really, though, I’m very fortunate. I got a good education, I have a good job, I live in a nice house in a beautiful community, I have bands to play in, I have friends, and now I’m engaged to a wonderful man who has wonderful parents. I’m truly thankful for everything I have. I’m very well off in all the ways that count. And I’m pretty sure I’m strong enough to deal with whatever comes along in the future.”

As Ryan was speaking, Martha gazed up at him in admiration. Then she hugged him again and said, “You’re a wonderful man. Aaron is so lucky he found you.”

“I’m the lucky one.”

They resumed their food preparation. A moment later, Martha said, “You know, back when Ralph and I were engaged and we were making plans for our life together, we always talked about having two or three kids. But when Aaron came along it was a difficult pregnancy, and the doctor said I shouldn’t have more kids. We were disappointed at the time, but we got over it and let it go, and we’ve always just focused on being thankful for Aaron. But now, I feel like I have a second son after all!”

Ryan smiled. “Thanks! You’ve certainly made me feel like I’m part of the family.”

“That’s ’cause you are. And I hope you’ll come and visit us whenever you can.”

“That goes for you too. We have a guest bedroom. You and Ralph need to come out and visit us sometime.”

“We’ll certainly be coming out for your wedding!”

Ryan snickered. “Just think! You now have another son and you didn’t have to change any diapers or pay for college.”

Martha chuckled. “You got that right. And you’re so big, I’m glad I didn’t have to try to push you out of my birth canal.”

Ryan laughed. “Mom said I was a long, slender baby. I was 24” long when I was born. So it might have been easier.”

“It’s never easy. But oh Lord! Aaron was 17” long and that darn near killed me.”

The timer dinged and Martha pulled the ham and the dinner rolls out of the oven. She and Ryan worked together to transfer the ham to the cutting board so Ryan could slice it.

Dinner was delicious and conversation flowed freely. Aaron talked about his new job at the Food World pharmacy and Desert Pride’s holiday concert. Ryan attempted to explain what he did for a living, but due to the technical nature of his job and the intellectual property restrictions he was bound by, he couldn’t say too much. But he talked about playing his trumpet, how much he loved jazz, and how he had recently reconnected with his high school boyfriend, Chris.

They talked about Ralph’s job, when he planned to retire, and what Martha and Ralph planned to do after he retired. Grandma talked about activities they had at her retirement home.

In the evening, they sat around the table and played games. Ryan recalled the game nights he and his housemates enjoyed during the years he lived in LA. He said to Aaron, “This is so much fun. We should start hosting game nights with some of our friends.”

Hours passed and nobody noticed. Finally, Aaron pulled his phone from his pocket and said, “Good lord! It’s 11:15 already. We’d better get back to the hotel and get some sleep. We have to get up at 6:00 a.m. Our flight’s at 9:15.”

Ryan said, “Thanks, everyone, for the best Christmas ever.”

Aaron said, “And thank you for the best Christmas present ever.”

Everyone got up and hugged each other, then Aaron and Ryan drove back to the hotel.

Once they were in the room, Ryan said, “Well, as much as I’d love to fuck your brains out right now, we really need to get to sleep.”

Aaron kissed Ryan. “Now I understand why you were so… enthusiastic last night.”

“Yeah. When I looked at you and thought, ‘this man is about to become my fiancé,’ well, that kind of turned it up a notch.”

“Fiancé. I like the sound of that.”

Ryan gave Aaron a tender kiss. “It’ll do for the time being. I think ‘husband’ sounds even better.”

 

© 2023 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.


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Cruise Virgins is a short story about two young men experiencing their first gay cruise. You'll meet some of the characters in my new novel, If I Seem Quiet.... It's a perfect intro to that story.

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Meet My Partner: A Christmas Story

2 thoughts on “Meet My Partner: A Christmas Story

  • December 20, 2023 at 5:52 pm
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    Thanks, Bob! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I’m originally from Springfield, Ohio, which is 25 miles east of Troy. I’ve been in Arizona since 1995, but I still remember gray, dreary winters in Ohio.

    Reply
  • December 20, 2023 at 4:49 pm
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    Thanks for the sneak preview. I loved it and can’t wait for the full novel. Your writing is so realistic and the AZ connection is refreshing.
    Best to you and your husband.
    Bob Kman

    Reply

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