“Aye, lads, stop dozing on the sofa,” Deirdre called as she made her way to the back door. “Tis almost midnight.”
Johnny blinked sleepily as he lifted his head off of Gheorghe’s shoulder. His eyes caught the countdown on the telly. It was several minutes till the New Year. He nudged Gheorghe when he saw he was still sleeping.
“Gheorghe, it’s time to wake up. We have to ring in the New Year proper like.”
Gheorghe sat up fully and rubbed his hand over his face. “It is almost midnight?” he asked, voice husky with sleep.
“Aye, love,” Johnny said. “You can go up to bed as soon as you help Nan and I with something. I mean if you want to help. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Gheorghe smiled as Johnny ducked his head and started shuffling his feet halfway through talking. He found Johnny’s shyness endearing and loved the way his ears and cheeks blushed a light pink.
He placed his hand on Johnny’s cheek and gently lifted his head up. He pressed a soft kiss on his lips.
“Do not worry so much,” Gheorghe said. “You know I will help if I can.”
“I know,” Johnny said as he pulled Gheorghe closer. He kissed him firmly, drawing a low moan from Gheorghe as his tongue licked its way into his mouth.
“None of that, boys,” Deirdre called as she walked back into the room. “We’ve got a tradition to uphold.”
The couple pulled apart; both blushing at being caught kissing by Deirdre. They should have been used to it by now. Deirdre walked in on them being affectionate at least once a week. After eight months, they were still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. It was hard to keep their hands off each other whenever they had a moment alone.
“Gheorghe, will you go out to the barn? I left a small basket by the door. Will you fetch it?” Deirdre asked.
Gheorghe nodded although he looked confused by what she needed from the barn this late at night. He put on his coat and boots and walked briskly to the barn. It was a really cold night; he could see his breath misting up and floating away. His mind wandered to his mother’s superstitions about Saint Vasile’s Day or January 1st. If the day dawned really cold, then it was a sign that the New Year will be good and many marriages celebrated. He wondered if Johnny ever thought of getting married.
Then, he shook his head to clear it. He had a basket to find and return to the warm house. It was too cold to stand outside thinking about weddings. However, he thought the farm would be the perfect place for a late summer wedding.
After Gheorghe had left, Deirdre turned to the telly and saw the countdown was at five seconds to midnight. She caught Johnny’s eye and said, “Black rabbit, black rabbit, black rabbit.”
Johnny stared at her in surprise. They hadn’t done the rabbit tradition since he was a kid. T’was a foolish tradition she had said when he was ten years old. He smiled at the thought of bringing the tradition back; their family could use all the luck they could get.
“Black rabbit, black rabbit, black rabbit,” he said quickly before the clock chimed midnight.
Then, as soon as the clock struck midnight, they said in unison, “White rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit.”
Gheorghe walked in right as they were saying it, and he quirked an eyebrow at Johnny.
Johnny laughed. “Tis an old Yorkshire tradition for good luck in the New Year.”
Gheorghe nodded and then frowned down at the basket in his hands. “Here is your basket, Deirdre.”
“You’re a good lad,” she said as she received the basket. “And I told you to call me Nan.”
Gheorghe smiled softly. He gestured at the three items nestled in the basket. “Why do you need bread, salt, and coal?”
“Another tradition called first footing,” Johnny explained. “At midnight, a dark-haired man enters…”
“A young, handsome, dark-haired man,” Deirdre interjected quickly.
“Aye, a young, handsome, dark-haired man,” Johnny said, blushing as Gheorghe chuckled softly. “He comes into the house through the front door, bringing in those three things for good fortune for the family.”
“Bread symbolizes food, salt symbolizes money, and coal symbolizes warmth. It’s so the family has enough food, money, and warmth to last throughout the year,” Deirdre said.
Gheorghe nodded in understanding. They had similar traditions in Romania to bring about a prosperous year.
“What did you do back home for New Year’s?” Johnny asked curiously.
“We call it Saint Vasile’s Day,” Gheorghe said. “We light a lamp at midnight and let it burn until dawn. It is to bring sunny mornings and rich harvests in the coming year.”
Johnny walked over to the closet and rummaged around until he found their old camping lantern. He was glad to see it still had oil in it. He brandished it at Gheorghe like it was a trophy.
“Here, we can take this up to our room and light it before we go to bed,” he said as he handed it over to Gheorghe.
“Just don’t burn the house down, lads,” Deirdre cautioned.
“We won’t, Nan,” Gheorghe said, shyly blushing after calling her Nan for the first time.
Deirdre smiled softly but then brusquely said, “Off to bed with ya. Animals will be needing fed in a few hours.”
“Happy New Year, Nan,” Johnny said as he grabbed Gheorghe’s hand and led him upstairs.
Gheorghe smiled brightly at Deirdre over his shoulder as he followed Johnny up the steps. It felt right to call her Nan. New year, new traditions, he mused.
Johnny paused outside Martin’s door; his father had retired to bed long before midnight.
“I’m going to check on Dad,” he said.
“I’ll meet you in our room,” Gheorghe said as he brushed his lips against Johnny’s cheek.
Johnny touched his cheek lightly as he watched Gheorghe enter their room down the hall. He really had won the lottery when Gheorghe came into his life.
Inside their room, Gheorghe placed the lantern on the window sill and lit the wick. He set the flame on low, so it would burn steady through the night. He watched the small flame, lost in thought, until he felt Johnny’s arms wrap around his waist.
“Are you thinking about your home? Your family?” Johnny asked. He knew Gheorghe missed his family.
“This is my home,” Gheorghe said, tilting his head back to look Johnny in the eye. “I do miss my family, but I am happy here. You are my home, John.”
Johnny’s arms tightened around Gheorghe, and he rested his head on Gheorghe’s shoulder. He closed his eyes and let the feelings of happiness and safety wash over him. Whenever he was around Gheorghe, he always felt like he found the place he belonged, the place that allowed him to be himself without any walls or masks.
“You are my home, too,” he said. “It feels like I’m only me when I’m with you.”
Gheorghe turned around in Johnny’s arms. He cupped Johnny’s face in his large hands. Looking deep into his eyes, he said, “I love you.”
Johnny blinked as he felt his eyes well up with tears. Even after months of hearing it, it still felt like the first time he heard Gheorghe’s confession of love.
“I love you, too, Gheorghe.”
Gheorghe tenderly brushed away the lone tear that trailed down Johnny’s cheek. Their lips met in a loving kiss. Soon, their kisses grew heated and hands began to wander, pulling at clothes to get them out of the way.
They stumbled over to the bed, trying to walk and take their pants off at the same time. Johnny pushed Gheorghe onto the bed and yanked his pants off. He quickly stepped out of his own and lay down atop of his boyfriend.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Gheorghe said as Johnny kissed along his neck and down his chest.
“Whatsa matter?” Johnny asked, looking up at Gheorghe.
“I just wanted to ask you to do something with me in the morning,” Gheorghe said. “I did not want to forget.”
“Well, what is it?” Johnny asked, trying not to sound impatient, but they were in the middle of something.
Gheorghe rolled his eyes; he knew what Johnny was thinking. “On the morning of Saint Vasile’s Day, we toss a coin in the water to bring wealth and prosperity. I would like to go to our pond after we give the animals their breakfast.”
“Aye, love, we can do that,” Johnny said, eyes softening. “A little extra money couldn’t hurt the farm.”
“We can continue now,” Gheorghe said as he rolled his hips up against Johnny’s. He smirked as Johnny moaned. “I believe another tradition is to start the New Year in a positive way.”
“I’ll show you a positive way,” Johnny said. He kissed Gheorghe fiercely, muffling his laughter.
The couple celebrated their love and the New Year long into the night. As Johnny drifted off to sleep on top of him, Gheorghe lightly ran his fingers down his sweaty back. He pulled the blankets up higher, not wanting Johnny to catch a chill. His eyes found the still burning lantern, and he hoped good things would come to the Saxby family and his own family.
Gheorghe believed this year would be better than last year. After all, he was starting the New Year with Johnny in his arms. What could be better than beginning the year with the man he loved by his side?
‘Nothing is better than this,” he thought as he closed his eyes and fell asleep with a gentle smile on his lips.