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Locks & Their Keys

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I wish I’d decorated. Perhaps a bit of tinsel or holly would make this less depressing. As it is, it’s Christmas day and I’m sitting alone, slouched on my couch in my silent apartment, staring resentfully at my travel case still sitting by the front door with my leather jacket slung over it.

To think that I’d actually been looking forward to going home. One phone call from my mother as I was literally heading out the door to catch my flight quickly squashed that.

oOo

“Are you…are you actually telling me not to come?” Those were difficult words to say, especially with a lump forming in my throat. “You don’t want me to come home?”

“Please don’t say it like that; of course I want you home. It’s just…” I hear her sigh, her voice guilt-laden. “With your grandparents being as frail as they are right now, I don’t think… I don’t think any arguments would be good for them.”

“What makes you think I’m going to start any arguments?”

“Every time it’s the same. You know how your father is, and you do provoke him, Nico.”

Wh–? How? How do I provoke him? By not ignoring his snide comments? By refusing to allow him to belittle me?”

“You are as bad as each other; you’re both stubborn and you share the same temper!”

“Oh I’m very familiar with his temper.”

There’s a heartbeat of silence. “That was a long time ago, Nico.”

“Irrelevant.”

“He hasn’t done anything like that in years.”

“Only because the last time he tried I’d gained twenty pounds of muscle and threw a chair at him.”

“You see? You’re…you’re just as bad, sometimes…” Even she doesn’t believe what’s she’s saying, I can hear it in her voice.

I let my arm go slack for a second, looking up to the ceiling as I try to compose myself. I will not let her hear the emotion in my voice. When I lift the phone back to my ear she’s speaking.

“– let bye gones be bye gones?

“Fine,” I say through gritted teeth. “Then let me come home and we can play happy families.”

“Oh, honey. I wish it was that simple.”

I take a shuddering breath. “But it is that simple mom, just choose me for once.”

“That’s not fair,” she says, sounding broken. “There’s…there’s other people I have to consider, I have to think about how everyone is going to get along and…well, it would just be easier if…” she trails off, unable to say the words.

“It’d be easier if I wasn’t there.” I finish for her, my voice flat. “Thank you for waiting until after I bought the plane ticket to disinvite me. You know, perhaps it would just be easier if we cut ties all together, it would definitely be cheaper.” I’m glad I’m standing alone in my apartment and not in the airport right now. I’m glad there’s no one to see me angrily wipe the dampness from my cheek.

“Don’t be like that. I don’t want that…”

“I mean it’s always me calling you, isn’t it? Never the other way around. I ask after the family, no one asks after me.” I laugh humourlessly. “I should just take the hint already.”

“Oh Nico, you’re… you’re just so dramatic.” she says, her voice trembling, telling me that she’s upset and on the verge of tears herself.  “I wish you wouldn’t be so dramatic!”

“And I wish you were a better mother.” I hang up.

oOo

And the infuriating thing is… I feel guilty for saying it, for hanging up on her. I look at my phone. No missed calls, no messages. I have a reasonably large family, and not one single message.  

I will not spiral. I will not. Not again.

I’ve toyed a few times with the idea of calling him, just wanting to hear his voice, but that would mean having to explain why I’m not on a plane. It would mean having to explain that my mother asked me to not come home for Christmas. What the hell does that say about me as a person? I don’t want Levi to ponder that.

I just wish I’d taken him up on his offer; I could be with him right now. Damn it was cute…

oOo

“So…so you have Christmas off…” my kiss interrupts him and he lets out a muffled laugh. “I know we only have a few minutes here but I do have something I want to ask you.” He manages to get out.

“Text me later,” I murmur, my hands cupping his jaw as I walk him back towards one of the cots in the empty, dark on call room. “I didn’t get to see you yesterday and you’ve been teasing me all morning.” I grab him by the lapels of his white coat and pull him down as I turn and sit; he lets out a breathless laugh, steadying his hands on my shoulders. I love it when he straddles my lap. He’s small and handsome and perfect and gets just a little bit assertive when above me like this.

He pulls back a fraction. “Wait, teasing?” He feigns offence. “How have I been teasing you?”

“Don’t act innocent.” My hands sneak inside his lab coat, resting on his waist and then sliding down to his behind to scoot him closer in my lap. “Sneaking little looks, brushing past me every chance you get…I see you, Schmitt.” I smirk, pulling him into another lingering kiss.

“No idea what you’re talking about.” He grins into the kiss, wrapping his arms around my neck.

“Uh huh, real slick.” I laugh and then lift my chin at him. “C’mon, make out with me.”

He hums happily, pressing his lips to mine in a slow, leisurely kiss. “Keep those hands north of the boarder, mister.”

“Pfft, you should be so lucky.”

He lets out a surprised ‘oomf’ when I lift him, my hands under his thighs as I turn him onto his back and lay over him.

“You just can’t help but manhandle me, can you?”

“You complaining?” I tease.

His smile will be the end of me. He lifts his head just as his hand at the back of my neck pulls me down to meet his lips, but before his lips touch mine he pulls back and he slaps my shoulder. “Christmas! You keep distracting me.”

I groan. “Of course I keep distracting you; I’ve got you for like two minutes. Now shut up and let me grope you…”

“Nope.” He pushes my shoulders back and wriggles away so that he’s seated, crossed legged in front of me. “I’ll be quick.”

My smirk is devilish. “I can be quick too.”

He snorts, pointing a warning finger at me. “Behave.”

I begrudgingly push myself up to sit opposite him, mimicking how he sits. “Ok, so Christmas, what’s up?”

He bites his lip a second. “So, we both have time off and I know you’re family isn’t local…and, well…”  

I frown, squeeze his knee. “Why are you nervous right now?”

“Nerv –? I’m not…” he trails off with a very obviously nervous laugh. He wets his lip and I can see his mouth working as he tries to spit out whatever it is he wants to say.

“Levi –”

“Would you like to join me and my family for Christmas?” He lets out a deep breath, looking at me hopefully. “I mean if…if you don’t already have plans.”

I blink in surprise, that was the last thing I was expecting. He watches me, his smile faltering slightly when I don’t answer immediately. Before I can say anything, though, he’s rushing on, a flush creeping up his neck.

“It…it wouldn’t be a big deal, or anything. My cousins always bring their partners and boyfriends home at Christmas…” his eyes widen slightly in horror. “I mean it wouldn’t be like that, like I’m bringing the boyfriend home to meet the family type of thing, if that’s too…I mean I-I may have mentioned you a few times, but…”

“You have?”

I can see panic start to set in. “Just…just casually.”

“No, I mean…you’re out to your family now?”

He blinks and then shrugs. “Oh, yeah.” He says nonchalantly, like it’s nothing. “I told them as soon as I realised, after the ambulance…”

“And they were ok with it?”

“Of course.” He says with complete innocence. And though I’m slightly stunned, given how starkly different it was for me back in the day, I am secretly very relieved. But evidently I’m thinking on it a little too hard and my silence is misinterpreted.

“I can just introduce you as friend from work?” He says, his voice growing quieter. “We’ll pull crackers, eat turkey, watch old movies…play Pictionary, the usual stuff?”

I can’t help but let out a humourless laugh which of course is completely lost on him. His ‘usual stuff’ sounds…nice, normal. And could not be further removed from the Christmases I’m used to.

“I guess that’s pretty lame.” I see his throat bob when he swallows hard. “I’m sorry, was this all too much, too soon?”

I shake myself out of whatever self-pity stupor I’m in and quickly reach out for him and bring him forwards for a soft kiss. His hands hold onto my wrists and he pulls back slightly, his trusting doe-like eyes meeting mine, waiting for an answer.

“I really don’t want to scare you off,” he admits quietly. “It’s just…I like you so much.”

I friggin melt. He has this habit of saying things that are so small and so simple, that it just slots into my heart like a key into a lock. 

“I like you too, and thank you for inviting me over for Christmas. It sounds exactly like the type of day I’d love if it wasn’t for the fact that I already have a plane ticket booked to fly home...” I explain with a raised eyebrow.

His eyes widen and then he lets out a relived laugh, rolling his eyes at himself. “Oh,” he taps his forehead with his hand. “Of course, oh god and here I am blathering on about Pictionary and how much I like you. Real chill, Levi, real chill.”

I laugh softly and lean in to kiss him again but of course, of course, my beeper goes off. We both groan and get up.

“You weren’t kidding about only having a few minutes.” He gives me a sad smile, knowing we likely won’t cross each other’s paths for the rest of the day.

“Told you.” I grumble, straightening my clothes.

“We better get back to it…Nico?”

I have the door open a crack but then let it close again. “Yeah?”

“You want to come to my family’s house for Christmas next year?”

I give him a soft smile, because it’s a loaded question with a very easier answer. “Absolutely.”

oOo

I should have said yes. Who cares if it muddies the waters a little about how serious this relationship is becoming. I know I’m crazy about him and that’s that.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I’m going to get out of my pyjamas, off this sofa, then I’m going order some food –somewhere has to be open, right? – and watch horror movies all day and forget that it’s Christmas. It’s just another day. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. I will force myself to not care.

I’m embarrassed by the fact I jump out of my skin when my phone rings. I’m even more embarrassed, irritated, by my hesitance to pick up my phone to see who’s calling. I want someone in my family to be calling, but at the same time I don’t want to speak to them. Annoyed at myself, I pick up the damn phone and feel an instant wave of relief when I see the picture I snapped of Levi looking back at me. I took this photo after a quick fumble in an on call room at the hospital. He was getting dressed and the flash gave me away, in the picture he’s cracking up, a second away from scolding me.

Not knowing what I’m going to say, not really caring at this point and merely happy at the prospect of speaking to him, I pick up the call.

“Hey you,” I say softly, missing him and his sunshine.

“Hey,” he says brightly, “listen, I know you’re probably busy with family right now, but I just wanted to say Merry Christmas and…I miss you.”

Three simple words filled with more heartfelt meaning than anything my family has said to me in years. My throat feels thick. “I miss you too.”  I sit down on the arm of my sofa. “Have you pulled out the board games yet?” My smile feels nostalgic.

“Nah, not yet. Family’s still arriving. I’m in the kitchen making eggnog.”

“I bet you’re wearing the ugliest of all ugly Christmas sweaters, aren’t you?” I ask fondly.

He laughs softly. “It’s awful; I swear, but my mother made it, so…”

“I bet you look great.”

“Thank you.” He says softly, and I can picture exactly what he looks like right now, just…smiling softly, quietly pleased.

“What about you? What monstrosity have you been made to wear?”

“Oh, hell, I’m still in my pyjamas.”

“Really? You guys sure aren’t early risers; better get that turkey in the oven!”

“…Yeah.” I say awkwardly.

“…You ok?”

“Uh, yeah, yes I’m fine. Just…things didn’t go to plan.”

Whatever he’s doing I know that he’s stopped and I have his full attention, the background noise suddenly fades away. “What do you mean?”

On the one hand, I’d like to tell him everything, unload this ache and share how much I’m hurting, but this is new territory for me. Oversharing could otherwise kill what feels like the best thing I have going for me right now – and that’s every second spent with him.

“Nico?”

“My flight was cancelled.”

No,” he sounds pained for me. “There were no others flying out in time?”

“Nope.” I lie. “All booked up.”

“I’m sorry, handsome.” That small endearment is just another key sliding into another lock.

I shrug, knowing he can’t see it. “It is what it is.”

“Your family must be devastated; they hardly see you as it is.”

I close my eyes for a second, ignoring the stinging I feel in my eyes. He has no idea. “Yeah.”

“Well…hey, get your butt over here!”

“Levi, I can’t just…just show up now because my own plans fell through.”

“Why not?”

“It’d be rude for one thing, and I don’t have anything to bring, I don’t even have pie.”

I know exactly what his smile looks like by the sound of his laugh. “You’re cute, but shut up and get over here.”

“This is your family, I can’t meet them empty-handed.”

“There is enough food here to feed all of Seattle, ten times over, trust me.”

“…Levi...” It’s hard to pinpoint why it’s difficult to say yes when I know I want to. Then I realise that I don’t want his family’s first impression of me to be a poor one.

“Just raid your cupboards and bring something if you’re that worried.”

“Oh sure, hello Mrs Schmitt, I’m Nico, your son’s…” I fumble slightly and the line goes completely silent. “…Anyway here’s some banana-flavoured protein powder.”

“Bring cereal for all I care, just get over here. Honestly, I…ok, listen. I kind of talk about you a bit? And it’d be nice for my family to know that the picture of the gorgeous man on my phone isn’t just some random dude I screenshot off the internet.”

I feel oddly bashful at that. “Sounds like you’ve been bragging a little.”

“Have you seen you?”

I laugh. “Shut up.”

“Nico, I… I cannot have you spending Christmas alone. You’re…” he sighs. “You are too lovely for that, so you can either come over here, or I’m going to tell my family that I’ve been called into work on an emergency and just come hang out with you at your apartment instead. Screw the eggnog, forget the turkey, we’ll have sandwiches and banana flavoured protein shakes. But you are not spending the day alone and that’s final.”

I swallow hard. I have to clear my throat before I can speak. “I don’t have an ugly Christmas sweater.”

I hear the smile in his voice. “That’s fine; I’ll lend you one of the half dozen I have.”

“I…you’re sure?”

Oh my god Nico.”

“Ok! Ok,” I laugh. “Um… an hour?”

“Perfect! This is the absolute best –oh, crap, sorry.”

“For what?” His enthusiasm is more touching than I can say.

“I don’t mean to be insensitive; obviously you’d rather be somewhere else right now...”

“Actually…” I begin, hesitantly. “Given the choice I think I’d pick you.” I admit boldly.

He’s quiet, and when he speaks his voice is soft and intimate. “When you get here I need a minute alone to kiss you before I unleash the family, so text me when you arrive.” 

I smirk. “See you soon.”

“Soon.”

Despite what he said about not bringing anything, the manners my mother drummed into me as a child will not allow me to arrive empty handed. I stop at a gas station –the only place open– and pick the best bouquet of flowers they have to offer. Ten minutes later I’m parked outside the Schmitt residence, where several other cars are lined up along the drive, suddenly nervous as hell to go in.

And then I think of Levi, talking me up, waiting for me to arrive and nerves be damned I pull my shit together. I ping off a quick text to let him know I’m here and then climb out of the car. I can’t help but pat to check my hair is ok, straighten my jacket, I’ve never actually done the whole meeting the parents thing and this just kind of…snuck up on us.

The front door swings open and there he is. Wearing a sweater with a smiling elf on the front and not even a little embarrassed about it. What a hero. He ambles down the few steps, smiling from ear to ear.

“Hey, you made it.”

“Of course.”

He reaches for my hand but instead of going back inside he casts a quick glance over his shoulder and pulls me into the garden, under a tree. “What’s going–?”

He cuts me off a kiss, and not any kiss but an instantly deep and almost desperate kiss where he leans up on tip toes, wraps both arms around my neck  promptly takes my breath away.

“Hi,” I say when he finally lets go of me, my one free arm wrapped around him. “I guess you’re pleased to see me.”

“I told you I’d need a minute alone.”

“Yes, you did.”

His hands slide down to grip the front of my leather jacket. “You look nice.”

“Thank you, so do…uh…” I break off with a wide grin as I look down at his sweater and he laughs.

“Yeah ok, come on. Let’s go inside.”

He takes my hand again, tugging me towards the front door. “Everyone’s looking forward to meeting you.”

I look down at our hands; instead of letting go he entwines our fingers. I like it. “Me too.”

The front door leads into a small entryway where coats, hats and scarves are already hung up.

“Here, let me get your jacket.”

“Hold these?”

“Flowers?” He says, as if only just noticing.

I slide my jacket off, swapping back over with him. “Yeah, for your mom…”

He pauses slightly while hanging up my jacket, then smiles to himself and puts it on the hook. “You brought my mom flowers.” He says softly.

I shrug in response. That’s a normal thing to do, isn’t it?

“Thank you.” He says, though I’m not sure why. “Come and meet everyone.”

He takes my hand again; pulling it along behind him in both of his as we walk towards what I think is the living room. Inside are people who are clearly related to Levi. All a little on the short side, and with the same whisper of familiarity in their features.

“Everyone, this is Nico. Say hello.”

“The famous Nico!” One stout guy rises from the sofa, heading towards me with his hand held out, ready to shake mine. He’s bald, has a pot belly, glasses (of course) and is wearing a reindeer sweater. His expression is nothing but welcoming and his handshake firm. “Good to finally meet you, I’m John, Levi’s uncle.”

“Good to meet you, John.” I shake his hand. “Fantastic sweater.”

He laughs, squints and points his finger at me and then Levi. “Watch out for this one, he’s sharp.”

“Well he’s a doctor too, he ought to be.” Says a woman who appears next to John, gently moving him to one side. “I’m Helen, Levi’s aunt and this one’s wife.” She tilts her head towards John. “We’re so glad you could join us.”

Levi’s hand strokes up and down my back as the rest of his family quickly crowd to meet me, each as friendly and as much of a character as the last. He has two aunts, three uncles and six cousins, some who are just kids and don’t even bat an eye at meeting their Uncle Levi’s significant other, which is what I’m pretty much being introduces as.

Ahem.”

“Oh! Nico…” Levi touches my arm and we turn around. In the doorway is a small woman, hair up in a messy bun, wearing a flour-coated apron with a Santa sweater beneath. Her smile is warm and her eyes very familiar, framed by glasses which, I kid you not, are held on by a rubber band.

“This is my mother, Linda. Mom… “Levi says with an unmistakeable hint of pride. “This is Nico.”

“Nico, honey…” she says, starting towards me. “I’m so glad you could make it.”

Why am I so goddamn nervous again? “Mrs. Schmitt, thank you for making room for me at the last minute, it’s nice to meet you.”  I hold out the flowers for her and she blinks in surprise.

“Oh how lovely,” I hear one of Levi’s aunts say behind me, I don’t know which one.

“Oh,” when she smiles her cheeks are punctuated with dimples. “You didn’t have to do that.” She’s clearly delighted and takes the flowers; she cuts Levi a quick, approving smile and then hooks her arm through mine. “Come on through to the kitchen while I find a vase, it’ll give you a break from this group of misfits.”

“Oh that’s right; just keep him all to yourself.” Someone calls from the living room.

“He’ll be back.” Levi laughs, following us into the kitchen.

“Nico, honey, I’m sorry your plans fell through but I’m so pleased we finally get to meet you, Levi’s quite fond of you.”

“Mom…” Levi says helplessly, a flush creeping up his neck and as he quickly glances between us.

“Oh that’s the please don’t embarrass me look.”  She says with her lips pressed into a smile as she reaches into a cabinet beneath the sink for a vase. “This is the first person you’ve brought home for me to meet, sweetie. I have years of pent-up embarrassing anecdotes to get out of my system.”

I laugh softly, glancing between them and he rolls his eyes.

“Oh Levi relax, and offer Nico some eggnog.” She primps the flowers. “Levi makes excellent eggnog.”

“Ah, yes please.” I watch as he pours me a glass, and my hand purposefully brushes his when I take it from him, my eyes meeting his. It’s ok.

“Nico, sweetheart do you have any food allergies I should be aware of? We have a vegetarian, a vegan and two people with nut allergies out there so we should have most bases covered…”

“I’ll pretty much eat anything you put in front of me, Mrs. Schmitt.”

She laughs softly. “You may be all grown up but you’ll forever be growing boys in your mother’s eyes, I promise you.”

I feel my smile falter slightly, but quickly recover. “Probably.” I nod.

Something registers in her eyes, but she lets it go and gives me a bright smile. “And what is this Mrs. Schmitt nonsense? Call me Linda.”

“Linda,” I repeat, nodding again. “You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you, if you look carefully you’ll see pictures of Levi growing up strategically dotted everywhere.”

I shoot him a grin. “Can’t wait.”

“Oh god,” he moans, but he’s smiling.

“The kindergarten ones are my favourite,” she continues. “He went through a phase where he insisted on wearing bowties to school.”

His shoulders slump and he looks to the ground, defeated and laughing pitifully.

“Ok, I need to see these immediately.”

“Oh,” her hand touches my arm, her expression one of pure sincerity. “And the ones of him in his high school band uniform, I swear he was the cutest–”

Mom.”

She stops, practically smirking. “Well if you’d brought him home to meet me sooner I could have staggered some of the embarrassing bits, sweetie.”

I laugh. He just looks at me apologetically as he rubs the back of his neck awkwardly, though I can tell that he’s pleased by the easy back and forth between us.

“Now, I guarantee you that those lot are whispering about you, likely about how utterly handsome you are, so grab a mince pie, put them out of their misery and go brave the mob. I’ll be through after basting the turkey. Levi honey, please check everyone has a drink.”

“Sure.” He takes the jug of eggnog in one hand and places the other at the small of my back to guide me out of the kitchen.

“There’s nothing we can help you with in here?” I ask.

“Oh no, I’m just fine, but thank you, sweetheart.”

“Come on,” Levi says, his hand rubbing my back.

When we’re in the hallway and have a brief moment of privacy I stop him with a touch to his arm. “What instrument did you play?” I grin.

He rolls his eyes and groans. “I know the whole nerd thing turns you on but come on…”

I shake my head. “The nerd thing attracted me; you turn me on, big difference. Now tell me, was it the trumpet?”

“Don’t make me say it.”

“Clarinet?”

“Nico…”

I squint. “Tuba?”

“The triangle. I played the stupid triangle, ok?”

“The triangle.” I repeat.

“Yes. The instrument which is not really an instrument because I am as about as musically inclined as I am coordinated.”

I press my lips together in a tight line and then let out a heavy breath. “So goddamn cute I just… I can’t with you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Come on, let’s join the others.”  He hand wrests at my hip for a moment and we move to join the others.

We both startle slightly when the front door swings open and a young woman walks in, immediately untwining her scarf and toeing off her boots.

“Sorry I’m late!” She calls. “I got held up by traffic. I require child labour to help haul Christmas gifts out of the trunk of my car –oh.” She blinks in surprise when she nearly walks into us. “Hello there.” She’s looking directly at me, doesn’t even cast a glance at Levi.

“Hi.” I smile.

“Hello Lesley.” Levi says beside me, sounding almost resigned.

“Hey shrimp.” She pulls Levi into a bear hug, kissing his cheek. “Who’s the hunk?” She nods at me and I laugh.

“Lesley, behave.” Linda says warningly as she walks past us into the living room with something that looks like a plate of oh my god delicious looking cookies. She winks at me.

“Hey Auntie!” She calls after her, and then hooks an arm around Levi’s neck. “Please tell me he’s my Christmas gift?”

Levi shoots me a look which is part withering and part utter fondness. I think this may be his favourite cousin, and standing next to each other they could honestly pass for brother and sister.

“Lesley, this is Nico.”

Her eyes go wide. “Th –this is Nico?

He looks at me. “I’d like to apologise now for whatever she says or does next.”

“Hold up.” She let’s go of Levi and slowly circles me, I give Levi an incredulous laugh. “This is Nico. This tall, stunning specimen of a man is Sunsword guy?

He goes bright red and groans, looking away, rubbing the back of his neck.

She takes my arm, shaking it with each word. “You. Are. Gorgeous.”

“Thank you?” I say, glancing at Levi who is shooting daggers at his cousin.

“Seriously, Levi, your taste in men is so much better than your taste in women. Gay suits you.”

“Yes, thank you, Lesley.”

“And you’re a surgeon, right? Like Levi?”

“Yes.” I grin at her.

She looks at Levi, ticking off on her fingers. “So he’s smart like you, saves lives, will probably be rich when the pesky student loans are paid off….looks like that.” She shakes her head and holds her hand up to Levi. “High five, cousin. You’ve outdone yourself.”

“Okay enough.” He laughs, setting down the eggnog, taking her by the arms and turning her towards the living room. “You haven’t said hello to anyone else yet.”

She reaches an outstretched arm to me with grabby hand motions. “But he’s so pretty…”

“You can play with him later!”

I tip my head back and laugh as he shoves her into the living room. When he turns back to me, he takes a deep breath and then just lets it out with a helpless grin, shaking his head and shrugging. “My cousin, Lesley.”

“I really like your family, Levi.” I say softly. “Thank you for inviting me over.”

His smile is warm and spreads slowly across his lips. He’s about to say something when the sound of Lesley’s voice from the other room cuts through.

“Have you guys met Levi’s boyfriend? I mean talk about smoulder. Oh! I call dibs on him when we team up for Pictionary!”

“They’ve…got character, that’s for sure.”

“Come on,” I say, taking the jug of eggnog. “Let’s join the party.”

The rest of the day is every Christmas I’ve ever wished for with my own family. Christmas movies, food, board games, more food, coffee, and friendly, comfortable conversation around a crackling fire. And Levi? He was just so… so proud to be with me and of the way in which I easily fit into this clan. It bolstered me.

His hand rested on my knee most of the time, or he’d sit with his shoulder slumped comfortably into mine, his smile appreciative when I’d lift an arm to drape against the back of the sofa and then around his shoulders. It was perfect.

I’m sitting contently, watching as they exchange gifts, laughter filtering through the room often. I especially loved seeing the tender look in Linda’s eyes as Levi opened his gift – an engraved stethoscope. It made me both happy for Levi and a little sad for myself.

“And here’s one for Nico.”

“Mom?” Levi asks with a frown, “you didn’t know he’d be here until this morning. When did you…?”

“You really didn’t need to,” I say, at a loss as she places the parcel in my hands.

“Oh I have plenty of these in stock, trust me” She winks at Levi. Something seems to dawn on him and he laughs and rolls his eyes. “Well open it up!” She urges me.

I shoot Levi a nervous smile and open up the gift, the only gift I’ve received for Christmas other than the chocolate kisses left in my locker at work with a note from Levi, the sneak. I tear the paper and can’t help but laugh as I unfold the ugliest Christmas sweater I’ve ever seen. I love it.

“I hope you like snowmen.” She smiles at me.

“I love snowmen,” I smile back, standing to hug her. “Thank you.”

“Oh, honey.” She says in surprise, patting my back. “It’s nothing. Now go try it on.”

I look at Levi, hold it up against my chest and raise an eyebrow. His grin could not be wider.

“I’ll show you where you can change.” Levi says, standing.

“I can show you!” Lesley offers, scrambling to her feet, making me laugh.

Sit.” Levi orders, and then adds cockily… “Get your own man.” He takes my hand and leads me out of the room.

Get your own man?” I repeat quietly as he leads me to the bathroom.

He shrugs. “It’s Lesley, nothing short of me peeing in a circle around you is going to deter her.”

I laugh as he closes the bathroom door behind us and I start to unbutton my shirt.

“Not that I can blame her, mind you…” he says with a smirk as he tilts his head to the side, unashamedly looking me up and down.

I slide the sweater down, over my head, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how soft it feels and how well it fits. “It fits.”

He’s presses his lips together. “You look so cute. How did you go from beefcake to cute so quickly?”

I flick the carrot nose sticking out in the snowman’s face. “This might have something to do with it.”

“Maybe,” he concedes. “I have another present for you.”

“Stop,” I groan, hyper aware that I don’t have anything for him. “Unless it’s more chocolate kisses in which case gimme.”

“Well, it’s not chocolate, but…” he bites his lip and pulls something from his pocket. He holds it up between us.

Mistletoe.

I sigh, tilting my head slightly as I regard him. “You know, you’re pretty good at this whole romance thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, you got me hook line and sinker over here.” I tug him forwards by his sweater. “Come here.”

His arms settle loosely around my shoulders and he kisses me slowly.

“You’re on your tippy toes,” I murmur between kisses. “I love it when you do that.”

He grins around the kiss. “And your hands are on my hips, I love that.”

“Oh, this a competition now?” I chuckle and he laughs softly, carding his fingers through the hair at the back of my head. My fingers scrape gently against his chin. “You have perfect scruff.”

He raises his eyebrow, I can tell instantly that he likes that I like that.

“It sends a shiver down my spine when you kiss my neck; no one’s ever been able to do that to me before…”

His hands grip the front of my sweater and he pulls me down into a hard kiss which deepens instantly. He grunts into the kiss and without thinking I walk him backwards towards the sink and quickly lift him so he’s perched on the edge, his legs wrap around my waist and he moans into my mouth.

His hands suddenly push my chest away, breaking the kiss. We’re both breathing heavily. “Nico, we’re in my mother’s bathroom, with my entire family downstairs.”

I blink at the sudden reality check and then laugh softly. “Um…whoops?” 

He laughs, sliding down from his perch to stand. He opens his mouth to say something but the sound of my phone ringing in my back pocket stops him. I reach for it. “Sorry, let me get rid of whoever that is.”

I pull the phone out of my pocket and feel the smile that has been etched on my face all day slide away instantly. It’s my mother. I glance at Levi and then pick up the call. After a day of feeling wanted and welcome for once, I don’t particularly feel like playing nice, but I will.

“Mom.” I’m not sure what my tone sounds like but it makes Levi frown slightly.

“Nico,” she says carefully. “I’m glad you picked up.”

“I can’t really talk right now.” I look at Levi, hold his gaze. “I’m with my boyfriend.”

He watches me, pressing his lips together to hide a smile as he hunches his shoulders and digs his hands into his pockets, glancing away when the smile finally splits across his face anyway.

“His family invited me over for Christmas and I don’t want to be rude. Can I call you back later?”

Levi’s waving his hands at me. “No, no…” he says quietly. “Take it; I’ll give you a minute.”

“I’d really like to talk, Nico...please?”

Levi pulls the door too behind him and I sigh, closing the toilet lid and sitting down on it. “Ok, go ahead.” Talk about a complete about face, one minute I’m frantically making out with Levi and now...

“I hate how we left things yesterday, I hate it.”

“Well, there’s nothing I can really do about that, is there.”

She’s quiet for a few seconds. “You were right.”

“About what?”

“About me being a terrible mother.”

I feel my shoulders sag. “That’s…that’s not what I said.”

“But it’s true though, isn’t it? I didn’t stand up for you, I never have…”

I don’t know what to say, instinct tells me to make her feel better, and then the very notion of it angers me.

“I’m not sure what you want me to say.”

“I…I was just so scared of him, honey.”

I let out a humourless laugh. “You were scared of him? He never touched you.”

“No I…I know that, but–”

“You know what, mom?” I say as I close my eyes and punch the bridge of my nose, hating the tremble in my voice. “To this day I still remember what it felt like to have his fists connect with my ribs.”

“Oh please” she whispers, “don’t…”

“I was a kid, a kid. No kid should have a bloody nose form his father. No kid should have to hide bruises in gym class. No kid should have to–”

Stop. Please, Nico…”

“You’d just…you’d just leave the room. You’d get up and just leave me alone with him… knowing what was about to happen, and you have the nerve to say you were scared?” I swallow hard. “You’ve no idea what fear feels like. I do. I’m just embarrassed that after everything I still tried to form a connection with you all, that I still wanted to be a part of a family that does not want me in it.”

“That is just not true, Nico. It simply is not. And I know –believe me– I know that mistakes have been made, that I have failed you in every way a mother can but whether you like it or not you are loved, fiercely.”

“Yes, but not by you…”

“Of course by–”

“You know what? I have felt more wanted and connected in one single day with Levi’s family then I have with my own in the past…god, in the past twenty years?” I let out a harsh breath. “I didn’t even realise what I’d been missing out on.”

“Let me fix this, Nico, please. We can’t go on like this…”

I run a quick hand through my hair in frustration. Just a moment ago I was perfectly happy; she’s not spoiling this for me. “I’m not…I’m not doing this, not right now. You disinvited me. You asked me not to come home, not the other way around. Now I’m here with Levi and his folks, and…you’re not ruining this for me.”

I hang up. As soon as I do I fight the instant urge to either breakdown or call her back. I sit with my elbows resting on my knees, the end of the phone pressed against my forehead.

Get it together, Nico. Get it together.

My head shoots up when I hear the door creak open, my heart sinking when I see that it’s Levi’s mother. One look at her face tells me that she heard most, if not all of the upsetting exchange over the phone. I swallow hard, an apology spilling out of me as I stand but she quickly shakes her head, shushing me as she pulls me into a hug.

She’s tiny but surprisingly strong and pulls my head down onto her shoulder. I give in and let her hug me. It’s a little weird, but oddly comforting.

“No child should ever experience that.” She says softly, loosening her grip on me enough so I can lift my head and so she can press a hand to my cheek. “Not ever.”

“You heard all of that?”

She nods, her expression grave. “I was only coming to the bathroom; I didn’t mean to listen in.” She looks at me sadly, like she wants to cry as she tilts her head to the side. “She really asked you to…to not…?”

I drop my gaze, suddenly ashamed, and she lets out a harsh, angry breath. “Well their loss is this family’s gain.” Her finger under my chin forces me to look at her. “Understand?”

“That’s very kind of you, but you don’t have to –”

“Oh I know I don’t, it simply is what it is.” She rests her hands on my shoulders, wiping away imaginary dust and looks at me in my ugly Christmas sweater. “Any sane woman would be bursting with pride to have you as a son. So handsome, so accomplished, such impeccable manners, and oh…” she practically melts. “The way you look at my Levi, and the way you make him smile…”

A small smile graces my lips at the mention of his name. “Levi’s…he’s very important to me. Please don’t share what you heard with him.”

“Well of course not, that should come only from you.”

I begin to shake my head. “I don’t want to spoil today.”

She presses her lips together. “He has a very big heart, you underestimate how big. Don’t be afraid to share with him.”

I swallow; nod my head, not trusting my voice to speak.

She pats my chest. “Now come on, take a few minutes to gather yourself and then join us back downstairs. You are more than welcome in this household, any time, understand?”

I give her a weak smile. “This is not the first impression I intended to make.”

“You brought me flowers and offered to help in the kitchen, you passed with flying colours.”

I let out a small laugh and she smiles at me.

“I’ll see you downstairs, alright?” Just before she closes the door though, she pauses, looking back at me. “If I may say, Nico, it sounds like that conversation with your mother wasn’t quite finished. Just something to think about.”

I nod, and she closes the door behind her.

I take a few moments to compose myself. When I look in the mirror, I can’t help but wonder what it is the different people in my life see. Levi looks at me like I hung the moon. Linda looks at me like I was placed on this earth to make her son happy. My father looks at me with disgust. My mother… doesn’t look at me at all.

I sigh and run a hand over my hair, leaving the bathroom. Christmas. Damn.  

When I walk back into the living room there’s soft music playing and people are actually up and swaying together, some a little more than others courtesy of the whisky from Uncle John. Linda catches my eye as she pours some tea, her eyebrow raised in a silent question. I give her a small smile and nod in answer. I’m fine.

Next to catch my eye is Levi, he’s sitting, perched on the edge of the sofa arm while one of his younger cousins lean against him, showing him something on his video game. When he looks up and catches my eye he smiles one of his easy smiles. I know that instant, that second that he is my future.

He watches as I make my way across the room to him but I’m waylaid by one very tenacious cousin who steps in front of me.

“One dance.” She says, “If my lucky cousin gets to go home with you, you can spare me one dance.”

“Oh but of course.” I hold a hand out to her and cast another glance at Levi who’s laughing. 

She ignores my hand and slings her arms around me. “Oh my god you even smell good.”

“It takes a lot to get the sterile hospital smell off, just ask Levi.”

“I don’t have to ask Levi anything, he tells me e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.”

I pull my head back a fraction and look at her with a suspicious raised eyebrow. The look she shoots back is downright devilish and I groan. “He really does tell you everything, doesn’t he?”

She smirks, “Even the juicy stuff.”

“Oh god.”

“Yep, I have to give my cousin props for straddling you half naked in an ambulance in the middle of a storm. Sexy…”

My jaw drops slightly at that and I laugh.

“So uh…I know exactly how crazy my little cousin is about you.” She says with a pointed look. “My brave, leaps before he looks little cousin who wears his heart on his sleeve…

I know straight away that this is some sort of friendly warning. “Levi’s very lucky to have such a protective cousin slash big sister like you in his life.”

“That goes without saying,” she says deadpan, making me snort. “But what’s I’m trying to get at is–”

I pull her close a second so I can speak quietly into her ear. “I love him very, very much.”

She pulls her head back a fraction to look me in the eyes, as if searching for the truth, and then devoid of all the usual jokes and sarcasm she offers me a soft smile. “Well then, I guess we’ll keep you.”

“I’m glad to have made the cut.”

“I mean it was close,” she says, back to joking. “We have a certain standard to uphold, as you can see…” She nods over towards her uncle John who is sitting, wiping the cookie crumbs from his sweater. I grin at her.

“Just out of interest…I’m guessing Levi hasn’t heard those words yet?”

“If he had, seems to me you’d already know about it.”

“This is true. You get that you have nothing to worry about, right? That he’d sooner set himself on fire than not say those words back?”

“I know now.”

She rolls her eyes. “Men.”

“And there are two of us in this relationship, so twice the stupid.”

She laughs, giving my shoulder a little slap. “I mean at least you’re aware of it.”

“Excuse me…” we both glance to one side where Helen, Levi’s aunt stands patiently. “May I cut in? It’s not every day I get an opportunity to dance with someone so…” she glances towards her husband John who is now blowing his nose with one hand, and has yet another slice of Christmas cake in the other. “…with someone so handsome.”

“Oh you poor woman,” Lesley laughs. “Get in here. Hell, cop a feel. I’m sure Levi will understand.”

“You stop that.” Helen warns her, though she can’t hide her smile. “Thank you,” she says to me.

“My pleasure.”

I dance with Levi’s aunt, and then to the utter adoration of anyone in the room who has ovaries plus Levi, I dance with his ten year old cousin, Kimberley. She stands on my feet and blushes when I kiss her hand like a gentleman afterwards.

I see an opportunity to make a discreet exit and find Levi who seems to have disappeared, but as I turn to leave I find John standing in front of me. He takes my hand in his and puts the other on my shoulder.

“Let’s see what all the fuss is about then.”

That forces a surprised laugh out of me and he lets me go, smirking and pushing me towards the hallway. “I know who you’re looking for; he’s in the back yard switching the fairy lights on for Linda.”

“Thanks,” I chuckle.

I make my way to the back yard, and just as Levi stands from his crouched position the yard comes to life with twinkling lights strung amongst the trees. I stare for a moment and then come up behind him, making him jump when I wrap my arms around his waist. “Found you.”

“Hey,” he turns easily in my arms, his hands travelling up to rest loosely around my neck. “You’ve been so great today, you know that?”

“You say that like it’s been some sort of hardship.”

“It wasn’t all too much?” His thumb follows the curve of my jaw. “I know meeting the family is usually considered a bit of a milestone in relationships, and I threw all of them at you at once…” he trails off with a laugh. “I mean today was the first time we’ve even used the word ‘boyfriend.’ It’s been a lot…”

I lean down for a kiss. “It was a good day, I promise you.”

He sighs quietly and it sounds a lot like relief. “It really was, yeah.” 

His hand presses against my chest as if smoothing down an invisible tie. He looks almost sad for a moment, a frown coming out of nowhere as he bounces on the balls of his feet.

“What? What’s this?”

“I’m…argh; I’m getting dangerously close to saying something that would definitely be too much so can you please just…just say something douchey?”

I snort. “You want me to what?”

“Be a jerk, say something that will stop me from ruining everything and completely scaring you off. Now.”

“Ah, ok…” I laugh. “Oh! I swapped email addresses with Lesley; she says she’s going to send me pictures of when she made you dress up as a princess to act out the little mermaid when you were both kids. Douchey enough?”

His eyes widen slightly and he presses his lips together in a tight line. “Yep!” He pats my shoulders. Hard. “That’ll do it.”

“You ok?” I smirk. “There’s a vein in your forehead kinda pulsing a little bit.”

“I’m fine, absolutely fine. I’m uh…” His eyes glance back towards the house. “I’m just gonna go find Lesley. Excuse me…”

I grab his hand before he can get away from me. “Hey, no. Stay with me out here for a minute.” I look up at the tress, lights twinkling above us. “It’s nice out here.”

“How about this,” he says, leaning his body back into mine. “We say our goodbye’s and go back to your place.”

“You want to go?”

“It’s been a long day, surrounded by a lot of people. Let’s go to yours…” his hands on my waist sneak under my sweater, brushing my hips. “Turn off the lights and go to bed.” His voice is silky smooth, he doesn’t want to sleep.

“You really know how to tempt a man. Can we take leftovers with us?”

“Pfft, my mother will overload your car. You’re fridge will be stocked for weeks, trust me.”

“Then lead the way.”

We said our goodbyes; I shared a meaningful hug with Levi’s mother, was pulled into an almost violent bear hug by Lesley and nearly had my hand shook off at the wrist by Jon. We loaded the car with food and headed back to my apartment.

Today could have been a lot different, lonely. Instead, people I didn’t know welcomed me into their home and made me feel like I was already known to them, already a firm fixture in their lives. The ride home is comfortably quiet but I rest my hand on his knee, somehow trying to convey my gratitude with that one small touch. His hand covers mine.

We don’t need to speak, as soon as we’re through the door he head’s straight to the bedroom, lifting the sweater over his head and looking back over his shoulder in a silent command. Get in here now.

There’s something daring in the way he moves tonight. His confidence is bolstered, or he’s feeling something more intense than usual for me, because I can feel it in his every touch. He makes me sit up against the headboard and straddles me, it takes me a moment to realise that this was how he intends to make love, and a loud groan leaves my lips when it finally dawns on me.

He takes the lead, controls the pace and moves in a way in which I feel as if his only focus is me. He uses my shoulders and the wall for balance, his lithe body arching against me. And he’s not doing what feels good for him, he’s not focussing on getting off, he wants me to feel ecstasy, he wants to bring me to the edge with his body and then send me tumbling. His kisses are desperate, like he needs to breathe me in. My every nerve is on fire with it, this is love making. 

I hold him close, so close, my hands scraping down his back. His movements quicken and he rocks harder, rides me harder, his hand gripping tight the hair at the back of my scalp so that he can tip my head backwards and lay his mouth over mine.

It doesn’t take long for me to completely lose it. He holds me close as I shake apart, a look of something between smugness and pride in his eyes. As soon as I have my breath back I practically throw him down onto the mattress and scale down his body. I hook one of his thighs over my shoulder and take him deep into my mouth. His back arches off the mattress, graceful as he presses one hand back against the headboard, the other pushing against my shoulder.  

 Tremors wrack through his body and I slide up behind him to pull him back against my chest, leaning back comfortably against the pillows as he comes slowly back down to earth. And even after catching our breaths we don’t move. He’s snug against me, wrapped up tight in my arms. There’s no noise but for the sounds of his content sigh when I press my lips to his shoulder.

“Thank you for today.” I say into the still, quiet room.

“Shouldn’t I be the one saying that?”

“No,” I say, and meaning it. “No, definitely not.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.” I answer.

“Have you done the whole meeting the boyfriend’s family thing a lot?”

“No, first time, actually. Why?”

He pulls my arm tighter around him, and even though I can’t see it I can feel it when he smiles. “Nothing, you were just perfect, that’s all.” He brings my hand up to his lips, brushing them against the backs of my fingers. “I feel as though you’ve set the bar a little high if I ever meet your folks.” He says with a quiet laugh. “Expect my usual awkwardness magnified by a thousand.”

It occurs to me that no matter how much I may not want to share this part of my life with Levi, he’s going to realise that something is up with my family regardless.

“I’m not perfect, far from it. I’m just lucky.” I clench my jaw, eyes stinging. “Lucky to have ever met you.”

“Nico…” he says softly, surprised by both the frank admission and the emotion in my voice. He begins to turn in my arms to face me but I hold him still.

“Stay there a second…” I press my temple to the back of his shoulder, holding him close.

“Ok,” he says quietly, sounding uncertain.

“You…I’m sorry, but you probably won’t ever meet my parents.”

He goes very still in my arms. “Why?” He says in a voice which sounds small, guarded.

“This morning…I…I lied to you.”

He moves to turn around but my hand on his arm stops him. “Wait.”

“You’re worrying me.” He says, his voice oddly vulnerable, as if waiting for me to burst today’s happy bubble.

I kiss the top of his shoulder. “You don’t need to worry, this isn’t about you or today, this was before you even called. I just…wasn’t truthful.”

“About what?”

“My flight wasn’t cancelled. I just…couldn’t go home.”

He turns and when I try to stop him he shakes my hand off with a frustrated ‘stop’ and roles to lie facing me. “Why couldn’t you go home?” His thumb brushes over my chin. “Hmm?” he prompts ever so gently.

“This is complicated.”

“No, it’s not. Why couldn’t you–?”

“Because I was asked not to.” I cut across him. “I was politely asked to not come home.”

His thumb against my chin stills, and I can see it’s taking him a moment to fathom how that could be. “I don’t understand.”

“My family isn’t like yours. They are not….accepting, of me.”

“Be...Because you’re gay?” He says incredulously. And what a luxury to be incredulous of such a notion, rather than feeling annoyed or impatient I’m actually relieved that this is beyond his every day understanding of how some families function.

“Yes.”

He frowns, shaking his head. “That’s the dumbest…I don’t…”

“Hey,” I stroke his arm. “I came out when I was a kid. Whole different world then for gay people then coming out now, in our twenties, a lot has changed in a small amount of time.”

“But I can’t imagine… I mean even if it was ten, fifteen years ago my family would never…” he trails off, his eyes meeting mine. He doesn’t know how to finish that sentance without hurting me. He quickly wets his lips. “But your mother called you, when you were at mine?”

“Yeah,” I say flatly. “A list of self-pitying excuses disguised as an apology.”

He sits up to sit cross-legged so that he can look down at me. I prop myself up on one elbow.

“But it must mean she cares, if she’s reaching out?”

“The words too little, too late come to mind.”

He cups my jaw, his thumb stroking over my cheek. “An olive branch is an olive branch.” He says tentatively, not wanting to overstep.

“This is not something I’d expect you to understand.” I say with the slightest edge to my voice.

“She’s your mother, Nico.”

“Not all mothers are the same; they’re not all like your mom. Some people…” I let out a frustrated breath and glance away, shaking my head. “Some people don’t have that protective instinct all parents are supposed to have.”

“Isn’t it possible that she’s regretful of the past?”

“It’s irrelevant.”

“But if she called...”

“She made that call yesterday too, remember? The one where she said it’d be easier on everyone else if I wasn’t there?”

He winces, and then nods. “I’m not saying I know how you feel, and I would never presume to make excuses for anyone who would hurt you like that, I just…I don’t believe that she doesn’t love you.”

“Why?” I snap.

“Because it’s impossible not to love you!” He snaps back.

Silence fills the room and his shoulders sag as he quickly glances away. Eventually he shrugs sadly, his gaze meeting mine. “I mean, I’ve been trying like hell all day not to tell you how much I love you. I don’t know what it is, you dancing with my little cousin, bonding with my annoying one, brining my mother flowers or just the way you look at me, I…” He lets out a harsh sigh. “It’s a goddamn burden to not say the words ‘I love you’…” his voice breaks slightly and he swallows hard. “Because I do, very much. And it is beyond me how anyone else who knows you can feel differently.”

I slowly push myself up into a seated position and then lean forward to kiss him softly. “That’s because you’re one of a kind, Levi Schmitt.”

“No,” he pulls away when I try to kiss him again, shaking his head. “I’m not, and I…I don’t have magic goggles that let me see you in a different light than others.”

“You’re frustrated right now because you have no comprehension of this, and that’s ok. In fact I’m glad…”

“I’m not some sheltered idiot who –”

“Levi my father would beat me black and blue when I was a kid.”

He goes completely still, a look of utter sadness filling his eye. “No…” he whispers, tilting his head to one side, not wanting it to be true.

“He could take his belt off in front of her and she’d just walk away, knowing what was about to happen. Some people… some are just too afraid to do what’s right, or what should be instinctive. And…” I swallow hard. “I don’t really want to talk any more about this in particular, but please understand that even if I don’t want to write her off, I’m not in a place where I want to hear her out, either. Not after she broke my heart yesterday, and not after all the second chances I’ve already handed out over the years.”

He nods his head as he reaches for my shoulders and practically climbs into my lap, wrapping himself tightly around me. He presses his lips hard against my temple. “I’m sorry that happened, I’m so sorry.”

He’s practically vibrating, his hands shaking ever so slightly. I run my hand over his back, hugging him close. “I’m ok, Levi, honestly.”

“I’m still pissed off.” He chokes out, clutching me close.

“Hey,” I say softly. “Hey come on, listen…” I pull back and my hand to his cheek forces him to look at me. “That was yesterday. This morning, when I was spiralling, all I wanted was to talk to you and then low and behold, my phone started to ring.”

He lets out a humourless laugh. “To say Merry Christmas, that’s it…”

“And it’s all I needed. Just a few minutes on the phone to you and I was smiling again. Hell, thirty seconds of you over the phone and I felt like me again. That’s what you do to me.”

“Stop it.”

“What?”

“Stop trying to make me feel better.”

“Well I certainly didn’t want to make you feel this.”

“I’m the person you confide in, Nico. I’m the person.”

I nod.  “I know, I just…” I let out a heavy sigh. “I didn’t want to put those pictures in your head. I didn’t want you to look at me any differently.”

What?”

“It’s a lot to share, Levi, come on. Everything’s so good between us I didn’t want to take the romance out of it all by oversharing on the serious stuff.” My hand runs gently up and down his side, down the outside of his naked thigh and back. “But we ended up playing leapfrog today anyway, didn’t we?”

He lets out a small laugh. “You could say that, we went from hey meet my family, to calling each other boyfriends to I love you in one day.”

 “Go big or go homes, I guess.”  I shrug, making him smile. “Seriously though, I know it’s been a lot to take in but I couldn’t have you wondering why I hadn’t introduced you to my folks at some point down the line. I wish they were better people if only to…if only so I could…”

His hand brushes my hair away from my brow “what?”

“I would be beyond proud to introduce you to anyone as the man I love.” My voice only catches slightly as I say it. My hands reach up, either side of his neck and he let’s out a small, tearful sounding laugh as I touch my brow to his. “I love you, Levi.”

“I love you,” he whispers back, kissing me. “I love you too.”

My hands slide down to his waist and I lay him back against the mattress, settling over him. “I’m only sorry I don’t get to show you off like you did with me today. I just don’t have the people.”

He shakes his head and threads his fingers through my hair, holding me there above him. “I’m your people. Understand? That’s me now.”

“You’re mine.” I concede. “And I’m yours and that’s how it is.”

I feel another key slide into another lock.