Our talented and generous pal, Steve Leonard, was kind enough to contribute a second coda this year. This one from the Adrien English series -- and something many of you are always asking for -- a story told from Jake's POV!
So This Is Another Christmas A Jake & Adrien Christmas Coda
Old Pasadena was still bustling as I pulled up to Cloak and Dagger Books. Most of the stores lining the streets were still open and it looked like business was brisk even at this hour on Christmas Eve. Multi-colored lights twinkled merrily in shop windows and the street lights were ablaze in holiday colors.
I’ve always loved Christmas. This would be our second Christmas together and the first one – of many – in our own home. I smiled. I found myself doing that a lot lately.
“Sorry I’m late,” I apologized as I rushed into Adrien’s office. “I had to finish up the paperwork on the Costello case and take Scout for his walk and then make sure he and Tomkins were fed and…” He turned from where he was straightening a painting on the wall opposite his desk and gave me a long, appraising look. “What?” I asked, suddenly self-conscious. “Is my fly open or something?”
“No,” he laughed, his head falling back. His blue eyes lit up and he came over and kissed me hello. “I… You look great!”
I blushed. “Thank you. So do you.” I knew the trim gray trousers and fitted navy cashmere sweater I’d picked out were the right choice. He was wearing a purple sweater over a gray oxford, and black pants. So beautiful. He was always going to be the best looking guy in any room.
I nodded at the painting; a weathered, white church, steeple tall, framed by dark, storm-tossed skies. I liked it. “That’s nice. Is it new?”
He stood back to judge how straight it was. “Yes. I saw it when I was having brunch with Lisa a few weeks ago. It’s by a new artist: Perry Foster. He had an exhibition at the Thies/Goodman Gallery on East Union Street.”
“Hold on a second. Your mother came all the way to Pasadena to have lunch with you? What was the occasion? Or did she take a wrong turn?”
“Very funny,” he laughed, reaching out to give the painting a final tweak. “Leave my mother alone. She was here for the exhibit. One of her clubs sponsored it.”
“Okay, okay, sorry.” I looked at the picture again. “Wait... Did you say Perry Foster?”
“Yeah, why? Have you heard of him?”
“I think I know him.”
He gave me a squinty, side-eye look.
“Don’t look so shocked. I’ll have you know I’m not completely culturally deficient.”
He snorted. “Sorry. How do you know him?”
“If it’s the same guy – and how many painters named Perry Foster could there be in LA? – his boyfriend... well, partner I should say, is a PI I know named Nick Reno.”
“Nick Reno, Private Eye. Sounds like the name of a TV show. Is there a club or something all you PIs belong to? Did you meet him at one of your monthly PI meetings?”
I picked up the mug on his desk and gave it a sniff. “Have you been hitting the eggnog again?” He stuck out his tongue and blew me a raspberry. I chuckled. “Charming. I met him when I still a cop. He...” My voice trailed off as the memory stopped me cold.
I caught my reflection in the mirror and saw him staring at me. I knew he could see the pained look on my face.
“Jake? What is it?”
I cleared my throat and continued, but my voice was hoarse. “It was during those… occult murders…”
“Christ. I wish I could just let the past go.”
|Let's rub out those bad memories!|
“Because sometimes I still see you on the floor after I... And I... I...”
His mouth was suddenly on mine, kissing me and stopping my words. He held my face gently in both his hands, his thumbs softly stroking my cheeks and the corners of my eyes. When he drew back his eyes were fierce and shining.
“Listen.” His voice was firm as he locked his gaze on mine. “That’s the past. Gone. Ancient history.”
I nodded sharply and tried to look away.
“It is,” he insisted, turning my face back. He put his forehead to mine. “We’ve talked about this, Jake. What’s done is done. Over. I told you I forgave you a long time ago.
“I know,” I whispered with a shudder, smiling even as a tear slipped down my cheek. He kissed it away.
“I love you,” he said, wrapping his arms around me, holding me tight.
“I love you too.” I held him tighter, feeling the strong beating of his heart. I took comfort in his strength, resting in his arms until my breathing steadied and calmed.
There was a patter of feet coming down the stairs from the apartment above and Natalie poked her head into the office.
“Hey, lookie! Here’s Uncle Adrien and Uncle Jake!” She was holding the baby who was dressed in some ridiculously festooned getup.
“Aren’t you supposed to do that under the mistletoe?” Angus asked, sidling up to Natalie, a huge diaper bag slung over his shoulder.
I tossed him a look as Adrien and I slowly moved apart. “Aren’t you supposed to be locking up?” He smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
Adrien had a horrified look on his face. “Natalie! That poor baby’s going to be scarred for life with all these outfits you’re putting–”
“Oh hush, Adrien,” she interrupted, pulling the baby in closer. “You’re such a Grinch!”
“Yeah, Adrien,” I mimicked as Angus grinned and slipped out of the room. “‘You’re such a Grinch!’ You sound just like your mother.”
He shot me an affronted look at the same time Natalie squeaked as she tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a laugh. I smirked and took a step backward, holding my hands up to protest my innocence. He opened his mouth to say something but a familiar voice intervened.
“Hello, hello!” Lisa trilled. Saved by the most unlikely source. I blew out a mock sigh of relief and Adrien poked me in the ribs just as Lisa and Bill poked their heads into the office. Angus was behind them.
“Darling, you’re not still open, are you? The front door of the shop was unlocked. Anybody could just stroll in.” I wasn’t sure, but I swear her gaze flicked to Angus once or twice.
She continued her lecture on safety, the inconvenience last minute shoppers placed on those wanting to enjoy their holidays, and whatever else was irking her at the moment – boy, the woman could talk – but suddenly switched gears when she spied the painting.
“Oh Adrien,” she fluttered, grasping his arm, “you didn’t tell me you bought it! Isn’t it exquisite? He’s such a talent!”
“Yes, in fact, Jake–”
“There’s my beautiful grandchild!” she interrupted, making a beeline for Natalie and the baby. Poor Natalie looked like a deer in the headlights.
“I think we’d all be more comfortable if we moved out of the office,” Bill suggested and he began to herd everybody out and into the store.
“Adrien, darling,” Lisa clamored as she took the baby from Natalie, “where did you get that beautiful gift basket? It’s enormous!”
“Candace and Benjamin Arbuckle sent it.”
“Oh, how lovely of them,” she cooed, leaning in to kiss the baby. “And so thoughtful.”
The Arbuckles were friends of Lisa and Bill, and Adrien had gone to school with their older son. Last Christmas their younger son had gone missing and they’d hired me to find him. Adrien and I found him, nearly dead, and we ended up saving his life. The family had been extremely grateful.
“We should head over to the restaurant soon,” Bill announced, tapping his watch.
“I can’t believe Emma volunteered to babysit Neal and Breanna’s kids,” Adrien said as he locked the door to his office.
“She’s turning into a real entrepreneur,” Bill remarked, beaming with pride.
“And Lauren?” Adrien asked.
“She’s meeting us at the restaurant with her new boyfriend,” Lisa said, her tone flat.
“He’s hardly new, dear,” Bill gently pointed out. “They’ve been dating since the end of summer.”
“Yes, I know,” she acquiesced. “I just hate to see her rush into anything. That Brad–”
“It’s best we not think about him,” Bill interrupted and Lisa looked up at him and smiled tightly.
“Bill, Lisa,” I said, taking their hands in mine. “Thank you, again, for inviting my family. It’s… You didn’t...”
Lisa pulled me in for a hug, surprising me. “Nonsense, Jake,” she said before she released me. “Your family is our family now.”
Bill put his hand on my shoulder and nodded. Then he took Lisa’s hand and kissed it. “Shall we?”
Dinner was in a private room at the Parkway Grill on South Arroyo. We stayed in Pasadena, relatively close to the bookstore so Natalie, Angus and the baby could make an early evening.
The room was surprisingly intimate and the dinner was great. Lisa went all out with the menu and decorations. It was elegant, but in an understated way, which was very much her style. I’d been worried that my mom and dad would feel out of their element, but after a stilted beginning, the conversation began to flow. Of course, that probably had as much to do with all the alcohol than anything else.
We said our good-byes and Merry Christmases on the sidewalk outside the restaurant – complete with hugs, kisses and handshakes – even though we’d be seeing everybody again in a few short hours.
“I think that went well,” Adrien said as we walked hand in hand to my car.
“Yes, but as much as I enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to a long winter’s night with you.”
He squeezed my hand. “Me too.”
My thumb brushed over the ring on the third finger of his left hand and I smiled. So many things in our lives had fallen into place over the past year. I looked heavenward, whispering a silent ‘thank you’ to acknowledge how blessed I knew I was.
I let go of his hand and slipped my arm around him. He sighed and put his around me, pressing into me. This – this simple act between two people who loved one another – wasn’t something I could imagine doing a mere eighteen months ago.
I leaned in and kissed him. “This last year with you has been the best of my life.”
He pulled me closer. “Every year with you is the best year of my life.” I kissed him again.
We reached the car and I dug into the pocket of my coat for the keys. “I hope you’re okay to drive, because I’m pretty sure I’m not. Or I can call a cab.”
“I’m good,” he said, taking the keys and pressing the fob to unlock the doors. “My car will be fine at the store tonight. We can pick it up tomorrow.”
It was nearly 11:00 p.m. when we got back home. Adrien took Scout out to do his business while I leaned against the kitchen counter guzzling water under Tomkins’ scrutinizing watch.
“What are you looking at?” I groused.
“Don't you start on me,” I said as I refilled my glass.
He twitched his tail and meowed again.
“Whoah,” I said, as I made my way slowly up the stairs, holding onto the railing as I went. “Those Black Orchids really pack a punch. What did you say was in them?”
“Hmmm. Well, there’s raspberry vodka, Blue Curacao, Watermelon Pucker, and … oh yeah, a splash of cranberry juice.”
“God, are you trying to kill me?”
“Well, you didn’t have to have so many.”
“They’re like… drinking juice!” I sputtered. “And I swear, every time I looked down you were sliding me another.”
“I was?” he asked innocently.
“Hey, I didn’t see anybody twisting your arm,” he protested. I rolled my eyes.
“Between them and the Laphroaig – hell, I’m surprised I’m still on my feet.” I stopped and turned to him. “And please tell me I wasn’t walking like this when we were at the restaurant?”
“No, you were fine,” he assured me seriously, patting my back.
“Good. Because tomorrow’s going to be fun enough without your mother silently judging me.”
“She would never!”
“Uh-huh.” We both burst out laughing and then resumed the seemingly never ending journey up the stairs.
“You know, you’ve turned into a lightweight since you quit the force, Riordan,” he quipped, giving my butt a playful slap.
“Hey now,” I yelped. “You’re asking for it.”
He ran up the last couple of steps, spun around and flashed a big grin. “Promises, promises!”
He was in the bathroom when I finally made it to the bedroom. He’d lit the gas fireplace and turned on the lights to tree we’d set up. I sat down in one of the chairs to untie my shoes, overbalanced and nearly tumbled out of it. “Shit, I think I might be drunk.”
“Ya think?” he chuckled as he crossed from the bathroom into the closet.
“Easy now,” I growled, finally getting my shoes and socks off. I stood up and pulled my sweater and T-shirt over my head. “You know, you didn’t have to get me drunk to take advantage of me. I’m a sure thing.”
“I know, but it helps,” he said from the closet doorway. He was naked except for a Santa hat and a devilish smile, and was holding up two silk scarves and a white peacock feather.
I gulped and felt a sudden stirring. “Oh baby!” I dove for the bed, shoving my slacks down as I went, but they got tangled around my ankles and I face-planted ungracefully on the bed. I bounced and rolled onto my back, legs flailing as I struggled to get my pants off. Then I began the fight with my briefs, cursing as the elastic waistband caught on my erection.
Adrien bit his lip trying to suppress a laugh as he walked toward me. “The question is though, have you been naughty or nice?”
“Who cares?” I gasped as I finally kicked free of my briefs, watching as they sailed over his head to land on the tree. “Merry Christmas to me!”