Christmas Coda #44
“I don’t do Christmas,” Parker said.
“Really?” Henry had answered. “I do.”
That’s where they were by then. This was the emotional odyssey from April to December.
Anyway, it wasn’t even completely true. Once upon a time Parker had done Christmas. He’d had a friendly, affectionate relationship with the holidays, even if he hadn’t always given them a lot of time and attention. That was another lifetime. Remembering how hard he’d worked to make up all those missed Christmases for Ricky… Honestly? Now days the idea of the holidays turned his heart cold.
At first Henry had tiptoed around Parker’s…call them sensitivities. Because he definitely had his weak spots, blind spots, sore spots. He knew it, and he did try to push past them. He appreciated the fact that Henry did not dole out kindness in measured doses. Henry was not a scorekeeper. Nor did he sweat the small stuff. He was a guy who had his priorities straight. Maybe that came from being a cop. Maybe that came from losing the love of your life.
Also Henry had a built-in bullshit detector like nobody else. Sure as hell unlike Parker who, as everyone knew, was one of the biggest suckers in town. Or he had been until he stopped believing in true love and Santa Clause.
But that wasn’t true either. He did believe in true love. He just knew it wasn’t for him.
Except sometimes when he was with Henry he thought maybe it was.
Maybe there was an element of guilt to Parker’s turning into the Boyfriend from Hell. He’d been working all autumn on an exposé of the investigation of the investigation of the investigation into the death of Police Officer Tori Sykes, and he knew Henry was taking a lot of heat from the, well, heat. He never asked Parker to cool it, never asked him to back off. The only thing he’d ever said was, “Are you sure of your facts?”
Reasonable enough, except Parker was a fanatic about his facts. Sometimes he felt like his facts were all he had left. He’d blown up. That was the first real argument they’d had.
It was not the last.
Once they crossed that line--the line of arguing about one thing when they were really pissed-off about something else--it was hard to go back.
But at least with Henry, Parker always knew where he was. And there was something liberating about being able to yell openly and loudly, and be yelled at back, and know he wasn’t going to be stabbed for it.
They weren’t moving closer, but at least he knew Henry wasn’t going to kill him when they broke up. Which they clearly were going to do.
“Okay,” Henry had said, “I’d like to have Christmas with you, but if you’ve got other plans, so be it.” He’d already assured Parker all he had to do was show up, and Parker had already declined to make the effort, so no wonder Henry sounded like suit yourself, asshole.
He’d tried very hard to make it work. And Parker, who probably wanted, needed it to work more than Henry, had barely tried at all.
So Henry spent Christmas with Jared’s family and Parker spent Christmas at home working, and pretending it was like any other day.
But it was not any other day. It was the day he had finally managed to push Henry away. And for the first hour or so after he woke up with no Henry in his bed--and no word from Henry as to the next time they might see each other--he was relieved.
Thank God. The pressure was off. At last.
The truth was this had been destined from the first. Parker was damaged goods and Henry was just too damned nice. So. Big Relief. Merry Fucking Christmas.
Except it didn’t feel like relief. In fact, he felt sick with disappointment. Like he’d applied for a job on the New Yorker, got it, and then hadn’t had the nerve to pick up the phone and accept the position. What was that about? He had never been like this before Ricky. He hated this frightened, angry guy that he’d become. But he didn’t know how to stop. And if he couldn’t stop for Henry, then it was safe to assume this was who he was now.
By lunchtime--which Henry would be having with his late partner’s family, who would no doubt be encouraging him to dump this neurotic, unappreciative, loser journalist he’d saddled himself with--Parker was questioning his fatalistic acceptance that his relationship with Henry had always been doomed. Parker had worked his butt off to make things work with Ricky. Couldn’t he have at least tried a little for Henry? Given that, unlike Ricky, Henry would have met him halfway. Hell, Henry would have met him on the welcome mat, if he’d ever made any kind of real effort.
It was confusing because he really liked Henry. Everything with Henry had been so…good. When he had let it be. So easy, so right. Too easy. Too right. He couldn’t trust it. It terrified him. He always felt compelled to fuck it up. Not consciously. But really that made it worse. As if he just couldn’t help being a total shit to this very kind, very nice, very decent guy who was trying and trying to have a normal relationship with him.
There was no law that said, having messed everything up, he couldn’t try to fix the situation, right?
If it just hadn’t been for that note of finality in Henry’s voice when he’d said so be it. Like he was delivering the verdict in a trial that had dragged on for months. Which…was probably exactly how it felt to Henry.
Maybe Henry was feeling relief today too. Only in his case, genuine relief.
Henry had mentioned that Jared’s family had their Christmas dinner around two, so Parker figured Henry should be safely home by seven. He tried phoning Henry at .
His call went straight to message.
“Hi, Henry,” Parker said to the machine. “I just want--wondered--hoped.” Well, that pretty much covered all of it, and with embarrassing frankness. He pulled himself together and said, “I forgot to tell you Merry Christmas. And I…miss you.”
The minutes passed.
Very long minutes.
When Henry was working, he didn’t always call Parker back immediately. It was possible he was still at his in-laws. It was possible he’d been called out to a crime scene. It was possible he couldn’t hear his phone ringing over the fantastic time he was having wherever he was. It was very unlikely that Henry was sitting at home listening to that message and deciding whether he was going to call Parker back or not.
But as the minutes ticked by, Parker felt more and more convinced that was exactly what was happening. Henry was trying to decide if he was going to give Parker one final chance.
And with each minute that passed, the odds were mounting against Parker.
He felt desperate enough to phone again, but managed not to. He didn’t want to scare Henry. He just wanted him to know…so many things. But they were things you had to say in person.
So why not make the effort to drive over to Henry’s and tell him everything he’d been thinking and feeling all day? About how he knew he’d been a fool and he wanted another chance. That what they had together, fragile and delicate as a Christmas ornament, was worth…well, deserved not to be dropped on the floor and smashed into pieces at least.
Okay. Yes. He would do that. He would drive to Henry’s and tell him all that. But in the meantime, he waited for Henry to phone because if Henry wasn’t taking his calls, this was all beside the point.
But maybe that was the point. To, for once, make the effort without waiting for Henry to do it first.
Parker studied his phone, willing it to ring. The phone stayed silent. So okay. Henry would not sit here waiting for the phone to ring. Parker rose, found his wallet, shrugged on his coat, and opened the front door.
Henry stood on the other side of the security screen, hand raised as though he had been about to knock--or maybe punch Parker in the nose.
Parker said, “Henry?” Henry’s hand fell to his side.
“Merry Christmas,” he said. Gravely. Very gravely for Henry.
“I was just on my way to your place.”
“I was on my way over here when I got your call.” Henry was still looking very serious. Not like a guy brimming over with holiday cheer.
There’s nothing like an aborted launch. Parker felt off-stride, off balance. He unlocked the screen. Henry had not tried to use his key, which meant Parker’s instincts were correct. This was a mess. He unlocked the screen, stepped back, holding the door for Henry.
Henry stepped inside, and Parker caught a hint of Henry’s aftershave and his leather jacket.
Henry glanced around as though he hadn’t stood in that very room three days earlier. The only concession to the holiday was Henry’s own Christmas card perched on the mantel and the remains of a frozen turkey dinner sitting next to Parker’s laptop on the coffee table.
“Did you have a nice day?” he asked.
“Not really,” Parker admitted.
Henry nodded as though this confirmed something for him.
“I did. I actually had a really nice day,” Henry said. His eyes were blue and direct and unsympathetic.
Parker’s heart seemed to shrink a couple of sizes, like the Grinch in that Dr. Seuss cartoon. Only in the cartoon, the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. He made himself say, “I’m glad. You deserve to have a really nice day.”
As a matter of fact, Henry deserved a lot of really nice days. He deserved for every day to be a nice day because he was a very nice guy.
“Yeah,” Henry said. “It made a pleasant change being with people who can occasionally look on the bright side, who aren’t afraid to hope or dream or just plan a goddamned vacation now and then.”
Henry was not raising his voice. He did not sound particularly angry, but he did sound…unrelenting. Like he had decided on his plan of action. And Parker was pretty sure he knew what that plan of action was.
He nodded because he could not find the words, and even if he had, his throat had closed. Like a steel trap clamping tight. So he nodded again.
“Jared’s sister Eileen brought a work friend to dinner. I didn’t know anything about it, but he was someone she thought I’d get along with, and she was right. We hit it off immediately. And if I wasn’t in this sort-of relationship with you, I’d have asked him out when we left the house together…” Henry looked at his watch, “forty-eight minutes ago.”
The fact that Henry knew to the minute when he’d said goodbye to this holiday blind date arranged by Jared’s sister hit Parker hard. He felt like Henry had punched him in the throat. He literally could not draw a breath. He sat down on the arm of the chair behind him because his legs wouldn’t hold him.
It wasn’t that he had taken Henry for granted. Not for a single second had he taken Henry for granted. In fact, he had known from the beginning, the first time Henry had kissed him, that he was only in remission. That eventually--and sooner rather than later--he would be alone again, struggling to get through the nights and trying to convince himself there was a reason to look forward to the days. Beyond the satisfaction of his work, that is. Because he did, as Henry had pointed out a few times, live for his work.
Which made a certain amount of sense, given that he’d nearly died for it.
Yes, he had always known this day was coming, but that didn’t make it any less painful. In fact, despite his preparation, he hadn’t really comprehended just how painful it would be. In a funny way, it hurt worse than getting stabbed in the chest. In a funny way, it felt more like a mortal wound.
But the one thing he still had was his pride, and pride made him say, “So I guess it was just as well I didn’t go with you today.”
Henry laughed. It was not a happy sound. “Right. That’s what I’m saying to you, Parker. Thanks for not spoiling my Christmas by having any part it in.” He shook his head.
Parker said, “What you’re saying to me is you tried for eight months and you’re tired of trying. And I don’t blame you. You’ve met someone and that’s…you deserve to be happy.”
“That’s exactly right,” Henry said. “For eight months I've tried. The problem is, I love you. I really do. And I’d be willing to keep trying forever if I thought there was any point. But I don’t think there is. Or I didn’t. Until this.” He took out his phone, stared at it for a moment then pressed the screen and held it up so that Parker could hear his own tinny voice sounding as choked and desperate as a kidnapping victim.
“I forgot to tell you Merry Christmas. And I…miss you.”
Henry said, “I listened to that three times before I walked up to your porch. I wasn’t sure if I was hearing what I wanted to hear -- or if you’re really trying to tell me that it matters to you that we weren’t together today. That it would matter to you if you didn’t ever see me again.”
“Of course it matters,” Parker cried, rising to his feet again. “I don’t want to lose you. But I don’t know how to do…this. And I know it shows. And I know I’m wearing you out. I’m wearing myself out. I was going to tell you--”
He stopped because suddenly Henry was looking at him like he was a ghost. The Ghost of Christmas Past or the Ghost of Christmas Future? It was such a weird expression that he actually glanced over his shoulder.
“You’re wearing your coat,” Henry’s voice sounded odd too.
Parker glanced down at himself. “It's cold out.”
Henry said slowly, as if he was doing some elaborate computation in his head, “You’re still holding your keys. You were on your way out?”
“I was on my way to your place,” Parker said.
“You were coming to see me.”
“I do sometimes.”
“Yeah, but.” Henry was still staring at him in something like amazement. “Not after an argument you don’t. I wasn’t sure you’d even notice I wasn’t here.”
“I do notice,” Parker said wearily. “I always notice. I like it when you’re here. I wish you were here all the time. I love you too. I didn't think I ever would again--feel this way. I just…”
“Think that I’m not easy to be with.”
“That’s for sure.”
“And you can do better.”
“So I've heard. But maybe I like a challenge.” Henry smiled, but there was something a little sad in the back of his eyes.
Parker understood. He was never going to love anyone the way he had loved Ricky. Henry was never going to love anyone the way he had loved Jared. But that was okay. It wasn't a competition. Or a test. Whatever was between them had lasted eight difficult months. It was real and it was tenacious.
Despite the shadows, Henry's eyes were kind again. Warm.
And seeing that light in Henry’s eyes, Parker’s heart did the Grinch thing once more, expanding three sizes and then another size for good measure.
When Henry reached for him, Parker met him halfway.