Eleventh Christmas

The cover of the audio edition of Handmade Holidays, written by 'Nathan Burgoine and narrated by Giancarlo Herrera.
The audio edition of Handmade Holidays, narrated by the brilliant Giancarlo Herrera. Cover art by Inkspiral.

I thought I’d take today to revisit Nick and the gang for the last of the missing years. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, my wee Christmas novella takes place over fifteen Christmases, but not every Christmas gets a chapter—three are skipped. In the original outline, every year happened, but I soon realized pacing meant some of the years needed to go, as either not much happened to move the story forward (year three and year eleven), or they introduced characters we’d only see that one time and wasn’t worth it (year eight).

Still, as an Easter Egg, why not? So a few years ago, I wrote the missing third year—where the most famous of all the ornaments was up for grabs—which was the first of those skipped years, where the five original Misfit Toys spent their last Christmas in Nick’s terrible, tiny bachelor pad. Then I wrote the eighth Christmas, which happens five years later, after Haruto has had to move home to take care of his ailing father, but comes back to the Misfit Toys party—this year being held at Fiona and Jenn’s.

And now, finally? Eleventh Christmas. Ru is still in Oneida, where he’s taking care of his father and dating Kevin, and Nick is having another one of his annual Misfit Toys party.

So, if you’ve read “Handmade Holidays” before, I hope this revisit brings you a wee bit of joy, and if you haven’t? This link will take you to where you can start your own trek through fifteen Christmases with Nick and the rest of the Misfit Toys.

Eleventh Christmas

Nick had just managed to put his box of ornaments onto the small kitchen table when the buzzer sounded to let him know the first of his guests had arrived downstairs. He hit the button to let them in, then filled his kettle and eyed the nine mugs he had ready with cocoa powder and marshmallows and little candy-cane stir-sticks.

Johnny and Matt came through his apartment door a few minutes later, with Johnny’s sing-song “Merry Christmas, bitches!” making Nick laugh.

“Just boiling the kettle for hot chocolate,” he called back from his small kitchen. “Come on through.”

The buzzer sounded again before Johnny or Matt could answer, and Nick did a quick dash to hit the door button again. It gave him his first glimpse of the couple, and he snorted out a laugh at the sight of them.

Nick had always thought Johnny was more beautiful than handsome. Johnny’s hair was a frosted blond, his teeth capped, his lean, almost willowy body maintained mostly by hours on a treadmill or an exercise bike, and his skin given just enough of a tan via booths when the summer months were over. He’d often given Ru a run for his money with his chic style, but for the party he’d clearly decided to leave his usual look behind.

Both he and his boyfriend, the stockier Matt, wore matching green-and-white sweaters that appeared to be hand-knitted, the white of which created three lines—a row of snowflakes above and below knitted letters that read “Ho Ho Homosexual!”

“Wow,” Nick said, once he’d recovered. “Where in the world did you get those?”

“His grandmother,” Matt said, putting one arm around Johnny’s shoulders and shaking his head. “She knitted them.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Nick said, stunned. He’d only met Johnny’s grandmother once or twice—he and Matt brought her down to visit now and then, a couple of years after they’d moved in together—but she’d seemed very…

Well, like a grandmother. Like, sweets in her purse, not knit a pair of gay sweaters.

The apartment door opened again, and Phoebe and Dennis came through. As always, Phoebe looked like a million bucks, tall and glamazon-like with what he had no doubt was a crimson-and-white shawl of her own creation around her shoulders. Dennis, for his part, took a few seconds to help her take off said shawl and jacket before shucking his own bomber jacket and scarf, revealing—surprise, surprise—a green Henley.

The man really leaned into the whole otter hipster lumberjack thing he had going on for him. Though Nick supposed if his own chest looked that nice in a Henley, he’d probably buy one, too. Dennis stroked some snow from his beard, and smiled. “It’s really coming down out there.”

“Right?” Matt said.

“Oh my god,” Phoebe said, pointing. “Those sweaters!”

“Never mind my grandmother’s sweaters,” Johnny said. “Look at you. Holy crap, lady.” He gestured with both hands at the white linen dress Phoebe wore, with—it took Nick a few seconds to realize—had tiny beaded snowflakes from one shoulder down to the waist, where it was tied to one side with a kind of sash.

“Thank you,” Phoebe said, doing a little twirl that flared out the edges. “It twirls. And it has pockets.” Once she’d finished her spin, she pointed a silver-fingernailed finger. “But for serious, those sweaters. Are you saying your grandmother made them?”

“She did,” Johnny said.

“I could sell those, you know,” Phoebe said, taking Johnny by the elbow and walking him into Nick’s living room. Dennis followed, carrying two small packages and shaking his head, amused, and Matt paused to eye Nick. He had a plastic bag in one hand, and inside that bag, Nick saw two small gift bags.

“Need a hand?” Matt said.

“Nope, go ahead and set up.” Nick waved him off.

The door buzzer went off again. Perfect timing. He hit the button a third time and then went back into the kitchen, pouring the first mugs and then refilling the kettle.

The arrival of Jenn and Fiona had barely begun before the buzzer went off again, and they’d barely gotten their coats and boots off before Morgan and Zach entered—and in Zach’s case, very much filled—the small entrance area of his apartment. They all exchanged greetings and hugs and Nick told them to head on through, grabbing the first round of hot chocolates and bringing them out for those already settled before heading back for the next round.

By the time the hot chocolates had all been poured and delivered, everyone had settled in on the couch, seat, or kitchen table chairs—and in Johnny’s case, cross-legged on the floor in front of Matt—and Nick joined Johnny on the floor and raised his mug.

“To the Misfit Toys,” he said, and the cheer was returned in kind and everyone took a taste of their hot chocolate. Nick had splurged and bought individual packages of what he’d hoped would be better-than-usual instant hot chocolate, and his first swallow was indeed good enough to make him feel like he’d made the right choice.

“I didn’t know if we were going to make it,” Jenn said, toast done. “Between getting the kids to bed, the sitter being late from the snow, and then getting here…” She shook her head.

“At least it won’t be a green Christmas,” Fiona said.

“I was starting to think we’d never get to ski,” Zach said, nodding.

“Which would have been a tragedy for my Viking,” Morgan said, patting Zach on the shoulder playfully.

Nick smiled, glad Zach and Morgan had come. Slim, ginger Morgan worked with Phoebe at Urbane Myth, her consignment clothing shop in the Village, and had always fit right in with ease. His husband Zach, on the other hand, was a very large and muscular guy, intimidatingly so, and hadn’t always struck Nick as being super-comfortable around them all. Nick wasn’t sure if it was Zach’s later-in-life coming out, or his job as a police officer, which, well. Cops and queers. But Zach worked with the Hate and Bias Crime Unit, at least.

“This is good,” Matt said, lifting his mug. A fellow sugar-junkie and retail worker, he and Nick had often seen eye-to-eye on the sweet tooth front.

“I looked up a recipe for making actual, melted, real chocolate and for-real marshmallows and then I remembered I work retail and bought a bunch of packet mixes and a bag of marshmallows,” Nick said.

No one has time to make real hot chocolate,” Jenn said, holding up one hand. “And Matt’s right, this is just fine.”

“Can we stop pretending we’re civilized and start the game, please?” Fiona said, lifting her purse and putting two wrapped packages onto the table. “Because I brought a winner this year.”

“Oh God,” Nick said, turning to Jenn. “How bad is this about to be?”

“She wouldn’t show me,” Jenn said, raising both eyebrows. “So… Bad.”

Fiona flashed her tongue-stud at her.

Matt took a few minutes to get a deck of cards ready, passing them out to everyone while Morgan went back to the entrance hall to grab the two ornaments he and Zach had brought from his coat pocket, and then the pile was complete. Matt dealt out the cards, and Nick got a four, and then they made their way through the rest of the deck, revealing an ornament at a time—or swapping, or stealing—going three rounds before someone—Morgan—finally chose Fiona’s wrapped present and tore into it.

It was a penis. An ornament of a penis in a Santa hat, with balls and a bright red cock-ring, complete with jingle bells.

Silence fell around the table until Jenn let out a long-suffering sigh, then Morgan and Johnny burst out laughing, and Nick had to join in. Zach leaned over to get a better look, and when he said, “Why would Santa be circumcised?” that set them all off again, even Jenn.

From that point on, Santa Cock became the ornament most traded between Johnny, Morgan, and Dennis, while the rest of them played for more traditional ones, including a beautiful orange glass-blown ornament Phoebe brought from FunkArt, the gallery in the Village, which—at the end—Nick was more than grateful to have in his possession.

After, they decorated his tree, had another round of hot chocolate—this time with Baileys—and though Johnny and Matt called it a night after that since Matt had the early shift at work, the rest of them watched Die Hard on Nick’s television as their choice of Christmas Movie for the year.

“All the Christmas movies are too straight,” Dennis said, once they’d all cheered John Mcclane’s note about having acquired a gun, ho-ho-ho. “I mean, John is great and everything, but…”

“They should remake this with a butch lesbian John Mcclane,” Fiona said.

“Oooh, yes,” Phoebe agreed. “Joan Mcclane.”

“And Holly could pretty much stay exactly the same,” Jenn pointed out. “As the sheer perfection she is.”

“You up for writing that, Nick?” Morgan said. “I loved your last story, by the way.”

“Thank you,” Nick said, smiling. His most recent short story had been in a gay romance anthology released a couple of months ago. “I’ll add Joan McClane to the list of ideas.”

“You know, if you write a screenplay before you write a novel, Ru will hunt you down and murder you,” Fiona said.

Nick laughed. “True.” He decided to call Ru when the party was over, and show him this year’s blown-glass ornament.

“Ah well,” Phoebe said. “So much for Joan.”

They went back to watching, and Nick smiled, waiting for Hans Gruber’s fall and the sincerely satisfying punch that was always his favourite part of the holiday classic.

Low angst MM Reads, December 15-31; 24 romances to put the cheer in your holidays!

If you’re looking for more low-angst holiday reads, how about Twenty Four Low Angst Festive MM Reads? You’ll spot my own Felix Navidad on that list, the fourth of my holiday-themed queer romance novellas, but if you’ve already read Felix, there are still twenty-three other stories to discover!

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