It's not Christmas that's the hardest for Aaron, it's Thanksgiving.
Christmas was about Jesus and duty and then there's that whole thing about finding the right gift. (Or, you can make it one of Aaron's favorite gifts ever was a scarf knit by his Aunt Laveen three years ago before cancer took her.)
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was all about being with your family and eating a huge meal with them. There were no specific duties to perform (unless you counted the rule about trying a little bit of everything and eating three bites of it but that only applied to children, really). It was all about just enjoying each other and having fun.
Christian didn't quite get it. "God," he moaned, "a day spent with my family? Can't think of a worse hell. Really."
A sentiment quite alien to Aaron, because when his family got together all the Uncles and Aunties and Cousins, plus Grandpas and Grandmas they laughed and told stories, and some years a few of them had even planned songs and did dances. There was even a small pageant one time.
"My family," Christian continued, glancing up as he did something on his Palm, "spends the day sitting around and you can cut the tension with a knife. Nobody likes each other and yet, my mom pretends so hard. She wants us to be a happy family, despite the fact that my dad and the in-laws never liked each other. So, basically, it's all one big calm before the storm.
"Sooner or later, somebody usually Uncle Rick can't resist making that catty remark, or a drink accidentally gets spilled on the rug, and ka-boom! it's happened again. Meltdown." He shuddered melodramatically.
"It's ... my life growing up was built around family and we, loved each other. A lot," Aaron said lamely.
Christian snapped upright. "We should go," he declared. "It would unite them, bring them all together, us showing up. They'd all agree that we were the great unwashed, and Grandma M would just say that I hadn't met the right girl. We could be playing tonsil hockey and she'd go on about finding me a nice girl."
"It was my favorite holiday," Aaron mumbled before he let the subject drop.
Aaron missed the fact that So-Cal never got a real winter the way that Idaho did. Driving up to Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear at the end of December to go sledding and throw some snowballs wouldn't be the same thing (but it was sweet of Christian, who hated the snow and cold to offer).
But somehow, it felt really cold as he hopped on the bus to head back to the apartment. Waiting tables wasn't for him. Instead, through his volunteering with the meal outreach program that Christian worked with, Aaron had heard about an opening at Safe Place. It paid crap. But it allowed Aaron to still feel like he was doing a bit of God's work on earth, just not as an Elder of the LDS Church, but as a mentor to homeless teens. Yes, he had zero background with drugs and alcohol, but he knew oh so well what it felt like to have your family turn you out and shut doors in your face and hang up when you called because you were queer.
And after eight hours spent serving up hot meals and making sure everybody who had dropped in that day had a safe, warm place to sleep, Aaron just felt weary as he headed home. He wasn't really hungry, but Christian had probably made him up a great plate from the restaurant, and he'd eat some of it, but mostly he just wanted to spoon up to Christian and close his eyes and not open them until Friday and then it would all be better.
One of his neighbors must have had a fantastic Thanksgiving. He could smell the food all the way up the walk.
With a long, shuddering sigh, Aaron turned the key in the door. The place was still dark, so the after-hours party at the restaurant must be still going on. He flipped the switch for the hallway light
"Surprise!" several voices yelled.
Aaron spent the next several moments blinking in shock. A Happy Thanksgiving banner hung across the kitchen table, which groaned with food. Everybody from the restaurant was there. Christian pulled him into a bear-hug and kissed him.
"You ... you threw me a surprise Thanksgiving Dinner?!"
"Yup." Christian beamed.
"I don't ... I don't know what to say to you all "
"Don't say anything, darling," Lila purred. "Just eat, drink, and be merry!"
Finally, Aaron just laughed and picked up a plate, loaded it, and dug in.
As he stood in his living room, spooning down mashed potatoes and gravy, he pondered the fact that some days, the world just seemed like a random mass of dots
He looked over at Christian who had just said something funny to Keith and Julie, so funny, in fact that Julie dabbed at her eyes with her napkin.
Lila poured herself a glass of Champagne and raised it to him when their eyes met.
He stood surrounded by people who cared enough for him that they were throwing what was probably the world's first Surprise Thanksgiving Dinner to cheer him up, and he smiled as his heart swelled with love for them.
and some days, it all fell into place.