Originally written in 2019 as part of Rainbow Advent Calendar, this standalone short story features shy interior designer Julian and his boyfriend, A&E doctor David Christmas. You can read more of David and Julian’s story in Let Your Heart Be Light, published by Carnation Books in 2019.
Christmas with You
by J. R. Lawrie
He was never more gorgeous than in his afterglow: those velvety brown eyes, soft and sated as they gazed up from the pillow; the playful curve of his mouth; the sleepy brush of his silver-touched stubble. His large and gentle hands soothed slow patterns across Julian’s back as they kissed, settling them both back to earth. For three Christmasses now, only Julian had ever seen him like this. It felt like a lifetime and five minutes at once.
“You alright?” he murmured between the soft dots of Julian’s kisses. His body stirred beneath Julian, warm and broad and comforting. His chest felt as safe as an island in the sea. “I didn’t hurt you?”
“Of course you didn’t,” Julian whispered. He stroked his thumbs beneath his lover’s lips. “You never have. Never once.”
David smiled against his mouth. “Couldn’t bear it if I did. Even for a second.”
Opening his eyes, Julian found a gaze as warm and dark as bonfire toffee coming back at him. They smiled at each other for a moment, cocooned in the sleepy quiet of their bedroom as Christmas music drifted through from the lounge. It was two in the afternoon; it was Christmas Eve. Neither of them would have to lay eyes on another soul until Boxing Day.
All to myself, Julian thought, gently kissing his boyfriend’s nose. David’s smile broke into a grin. My grumpy bear. Not so grumpy, these days.
“You did spoil my yearly joke, though,” Julian said, fondly. “I thought of it in February. I’ve been looking forward to it all year.”
David’s grin widened. “Is this your annual allotted ‘my-boyfriend’s-last-name-is-Christmas’ joke?”
“That’s the one,” Julian said.
Smirking, David rubbed the sides of their noses together. He’d never been overly fond of his unusual surname, especially around this time of year. Julian supposed he could understand why. People tended to ask David why his parents hadn’t named him Harry, or Dwight, or if he’d been brought home from the hospital in a reindeer-pulled sled.
But as with most things in his boyfriend’s life, Julian was the proud and happy exception.
“Go on, then,” David murmured to him, amused, and braced himself with a sigh. “Let’s hear it. Before all my fuzzy hormones start to ebb.”
“It won’t work now,” Julian said, sadly. He brushed his mouth across David’s, humming, enjoying the responsive stroke of his lover’s lips. “Ten months waiting for Christmas Eve sex, and you ruined it.”
“Yeah?” David said, stealing another kiss. “What did I do?”
Julian grinned. “You definitely didn’t come early.”
David’s face worked. He visibly fought back his smile, his gaze bright and playful.
“You didn’t seem to mind,” he remarked, and trailed his fingertips over the backs of Julian’s thighs. Julian squirmed, biting down into his lip. “Was it worth spoiling your joke?”
“Good. Maybe I’ll up your quota to two per annum, now we’ve moved in together.” David nuzzled up to Julian’s ear. “And seeing as you’ve been good all year,” he added in a husk, with a squeeze of Julian’s arse.
Dissolving into a fit of giggles, Julian pressed his boyfriend back against the pillows. They grinned as they kissed, shivering together. Julian stretched on top of David with a sigh, enjoying the whisper of the sheets over his back.
“I love you,” he mumbled, as he cupped David’s jaw. “I’m so glad you got these three days off work. It’s been lovely so far.”
“Will you miss me at New Year’s?” David asked, smiling.
“Desperately,” Julian said. “I’ll have to fake some urgent medical issue, just so I can come in and see you. Otherwise I might pine away.”
David chuckled, stroking up his sides.
“Don’t you dare,” he said. “The ED’ll be manic. And it won’t be nice people, either. Arseholes who think having their stomach pumped is a safety net. I’ll have my hippocratic oath written up my arm to remind me.”
Gently, Julian kissed his nose. “We’ll just have to make it an extra special Christmas then,” he said. “So it feels worth it.”
David’s gaze warmed.
“I guess we will,” he said. He glanced down at Julian’s lips, smiling as Julian coyly bit the lower one. “Always makes me hungry. Sex in the afternoon, I mean. Suddenly ravenous.”
Julian chuckled. Many things made David hungry. Since he’d moved into Julian’s flat, Julian’s kitchen cupboards had quietly filled themselves with stashes of chocolate biscuits, cereal bars and nuts, there to be grazed on as required. When David cooked dinner, he cooked like he intended to survive the winter: huge curries and vegetable samosas, shepherd’s pie with butter and cream in the mashed potato. Christmas dinner was going to be an indulgent affair tomorrow, even just for the two of them. They’d somehow squeezed half of Waitrose into the freezer.
“Shame it’s not open ’til six,” David added, leaning into Julian’s kisses.
“Mm?” Julian hummed. He cupped David’s jaw again, holding him up to kiss. “What isn’t open?”
“We’re having Chinese tonight, are we?”
“Tradition,” David said, grinning. “It’s our anniversary, angel. ‘Course we’re having Chinese.”
Dear lord, I love you. “Two o’clock might be a touch early to order,” Julian said. “I’m sure we can find something to put you on, though…” With a mental scan through their cupboards, an idea occurred. Julian smiled. “Shall I bake some cookies?”
David’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Mm. I restocked my supplies at the weekend. Chocolate chip, maybe?”
“Angel, you had me at cookies. Throwing chocolate in there just seals the deal.”
Julian smiled, pulling at his own lower lip. “Well, then,” he said, and carefully eased himself up from David’s chest. “I think that might be a plan…” He blew a curl of tousled white blonde hair out of his eyes. “I’ll go preheat the oven, shall I?”
David gazed up at him from the pillow, his eyes bright and soft.
“I love you,” he murmured. As Julian turned his bare legs out of bed, David caught hold of his hand. “Oi… I mean it. I love you to bits.”
Julian’s heart gave a happy thump. He lifted both their hands to his mouth.
“I love you, too,” he said. He gently kissed David’s knuckles, enjoying the tangle of their fingers. “Come and bake with me, grumpy bear. We’ll make them together.”
David smiled, fond and wary at once. “You sure I won’t mess it up?” he said. “I’ve not got your talent for baking.”
“It’s a nice easy recipe,” Julian promised. “You can be my assistant, if you like. Fetching and taste-testing. You’re wonderfully good at those.” He grinned at David’s growing smile, slipping out of bed. “Just using the bathroom,” he said, kissed David’s hands one last time, then let them go. “I won’t be a minute.”
When he emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in the cream silk dressing gown David had given him for his birthday, Julian found the bed empty and the sheets still crumpled. He could hear distant washing up being done in the kitchen.
He smiled to himself, straightened out the bed, then padded happy and barefoot through the flat.
David was stationed at the sink, washing up a pan from last night as he hummed along to Here We Come A Wassailing drifting from the lounge. He’d opted for loose pyjama bottoms, but no shirt; his salt-and-pepper hair was still scruffed onto end from making love. The gentle flutter of the fairylights picked up the shimmer across his bare shoulders.
He felt wonderfully warm as Julian nestled against his back.
“Not sure what we’d need,” he murmured. His voice vibrated through his ribcage, deep and soft and loving. “Thought I’d try and be helpful.”
Julian kissed between his shoulder blades, looping both arms around his middle. “You’re perfectly helpful,” he said. “Thank you.”
“We’ll be melting butter, right?”
“And I got your…” David gestured to Julian’s favourite purple silicone spatula, already washed and drying in the rack. “Right?”
“Perfect,” Julian said, stroking his nose along David’s broad shoulder. He always smelled like heaven, fresh from bed. His tummy felt soft under Julian’s hands, with just enough hair to stroke his fingers through. The steady thump of his heart was the most calming sensation in the world. “What sort of chocolate would you like to use?” Julian said. “Dark, maybe? With a little sea salt?”
David groaned softly in the pit of his throat. “I’m not going to fit into my scrubs come January.”
“We’ll go for a good walk on Boxing Day,” Julian said, softly. He kissed the side of David’s neck. “Drive over to Cliveden House, perhaps. Enjoy the woods while they’re quiet.”
“You’re having the best ideas today, you know that?”
Julian smiled, his heart glowing against his boyfriend’s back. He watched as David rinsed the soap suds from the pan. “I can’t believe we’ve not made post-coital cookies before,” he said. “Seems rather remiss of us, really. Two years, and finally here we are.”
David chuckled, transferring the pan to the drying rack. “I must’ve really hit the spot this time.”
“You always do, love. No complaints from me.”
“Mm? Not bored of me pawing at you yet?”
Julian tightened his arms around David’s middle, pressing his nose to David’s pulse. “Never,” he said, as David reached for a tea towel to dry his hands. “Never ever.” It didn’t seem too much to say, and it was true—and so he said it. “I wouldn’t want to be with anyone but you. It… it just wouldn’t feel right. Not after you. I couldn’t make love with someone else.”
As David hung the tea towel back on the cupboard door, his hand seemed to shake a little.
It was steady as a rock as his arms wrapped over Julian’s, holding the hug around his stomach.
“M’glad to hear it,” he said. He tilted his head back to nuzzle at Julian’s cheek, butting their foreheads gently. “Not sure I’d want you to have someone else either.”
Julian’s heart gave a squeeze. “My life wouldn’t feel like my life, if you weren’t in it,” he said. “If there weren’t days like this. I mean it.”
Though David said nothing, his throat muscles tightened as he swallowed.
Julian went on, smiling gently against his cheek.
“I can’t imagine weekends without you,” he said. “Christmasses without you. It’s just… wrong. It’s like imagining the sky with no air in it. I’ll never ever be bored of you, grumpy bear. Not when you make me so happy.”
David inhaled slowly in his arms. He seemed to settle something back in his mouth, releasing a thought on his outbreath, then turned from the sink to face Julian.
Smiling, he pressed a kiss between Julian’s eyes.
“You’re my world,” he said. Julian’s heart gave a skip. “My whole world. What’re we doing first? Measuring everything out?”
“That might be best,” Julian said, still fluttering a little inside. He wasn’t sure why he found himself blushing. “Could you maybe get the butter from the fridge, please? The baking butter, not the Lurpak. It’s in a yellow wrapper. And we’ll need a large egg, too.”
David bowed, turned away, and made himself useful.
Smiling, Julian retrieved the electronic scales from the cupboard where they lived. He had the pan set up on them as David reappeared with the butter, unwrapped at one end and ready to cut.
“Perfect,” Julian remarked, fondly. “Thank you, kind assistant.” He measured out just over a hundred grams, scraping the knife clean against the rim. “Can I put you in charge of melting this?” he asked. “Just until it’s a liquid, not too hot.”
David lit the smallest gas ring with a click, smiling.
“‘Course,” he said. “Chuck it here, love. What are you doing?”
“I’ll measure out our dry ingredients. I’m very glad we picked up more brown sugar. White will do, but it’s not quite the same…” Julian strayed across to the pantry cupboard, opening it and searching through the shelves. It was a good thing they’d bought a new bag of flour, too. Their open one was very nearly empty. Might as well use it up, he thought, settling it in the crook of his arm, and stretched up to grab the baking soda. “Did you manage to speak to your sister yesterday?”
“Gave her a ring on my drive home from work,” David said, from outside the cupboard. “She’s alright. Christmas has ended up a bit thrown together, but… well, she’s doing the best she can in the circumstances.”
“Bless her. Is Andy still being a bit of an arsehole?”
“Well… he’s not making things easy. Put it that way. Wouldn’t be so bad if his mum would back off and let them work things out between them. Nicky says she never misses a chance to cause fuss, though. A messy divorce is probably the best Christmas present they could have given her. The gift that keeps on giving.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Julian asked, pained, closing up the cupboard doors. He didn’t like the thought of Nicky struggling. She’d been nothing but lovely on every occasion they had met, even with surly teenagers and a surlier husband in tow. “We could take the kids with us to Cliveden, maybe,” Julian suggested. “Give her a few hours on her own.”
“I, ah… think she’d rather have time with them, to be honest.” David reached across to the dial for the gas, turning it down a little. “She’s still clinging to the scraps of a family Christmas. I just hope the kids play along, for her sake.”
Julian tried not to wince. He doubted four teenagers would be able to appreciate the fullness of their mother’s situation. Certain details of their father’s behaviour, and the miseries he’d put their mother through, had been kept from them to preserve their relationship with him. The gentleman in question didn’t seem to appreciate the enormous grace he’d been shown.
With a sigh, Julian said, “I suppose we can only be here, if she needs us.” He laid his ingredients out neatly beside his scales, then reached beneath the counter for a bowl. “Has she decided on her surname yet?”
“Whether she’s going back to her maiden name, you mean?”
David snorted, smiling. “Rock and a hard place,” he remarked. “Keep the arsehole’s name or revert to being Nicky Christmas. I’m not surprised she’s struggling to choose.”
Julian gave a small smile, glancing down at his scales. He wished there was some subtle way to express that certain people would leap at the chance to be a Christmas.
“Unusual last names can be very charming,” he said in the end, simply, and opened the cutlery drawer to look for a tablespoon. “They’re memorable and special.”
“Mm, I think so. There’s certainly nothing wrong with yours.”
“Tell my sister,” David said, amused. “Everyone used to call her Saint Nicky at school.”
“Ah… well, yes, some people will always think they’re funny. It doesn’t mean they’re right.” Julian coughed, suspecting he waged a hopeless battle here. “Is Nicky, erm… alright for money?”
David huffed. “She says so. I’ve offered, but…”
“We don’t want to offend her.”
“I’ve tried saying to her, look, don’t struggle. We’ve got two salaries and one flat, and you’ve got three kids and Christmas and solicitor’s bills. But I don’t want to push it. Might be all she’s got right now, feeling like she’s handling it. I don’t want to take that away from her.”
Julian reached out gently, laying a hand on David’s arm.
“I’m sure she’d tell you if she was in trouble,” he said. “Just keep letting her know you’re there. She’ll be alright.”
He reset his scales, then picked up the near-empty bag of flour.
“This time of year does seem to amplify things,” he said, unrolling the top. “For better or for worse… I suppose there’s so much pressure to be happy that we—”
He tipped out the bag into the bowl. Instead of the flumph of flour he was expecting, there came an odd metallic clatter and a tinkle.
Startled, Julian took the bag away.
Sitting in the centre of the bowl, crowned by a small pile of flour, was a ring.
Julian reached for it at once, concerned. He brushed the flour off with his fingertips to find what looked like a vintage art nouveau piece. It was white gold, set with white diamonds and an enormous princess-cut sapphire.
It was beautiful.
As he realised that David had switched off the gas, and was now standing in silence behind him, Julian’s heart squeezed its way into his mouth. He turned around from the counter, not daring to breathe, not daring even to think, and met his boyfriend’s gaze, wide-eyed with shock.
David visibly swallowed, a little pale.
He then quietly sank to one knee.
As David reached up for his hands, Julian began to cry. Shaking, David gathered his fingers around the ring still covered in flour, held them there, and looked up into his eyes, visibly on the verge of nervous tears.
“This is exactly why I—” His throat seemed to close around the words. He inhaled, gripping Julian’s hands, and forced himself to keep speaking. “Because you care about Nicky. You care about the kids. You care about me. You do daft things with me like start baking in the middle of the afternoon just because we’re here and we’re happy.”
Julian’s knees were already threatening to give way. He listened, crying in silence, as David rubbed the back of his hand with a thumb to try and comfort him.
“All I ever did was work,” David said, and a sob broke its way through Julian’s mouth. The tears welled down his cheeks. “All I did was… was wait, just get up and go to work and come home and then wait, and I never knew what for.”
His hands tightened around Julian’s.
“You,” he said. His voice broke. “W-Waiting for you. For you to get here. Be here. With me, forever. Baking with me on Christmas Eve.”
He inhaled, shaking, and their hands gripped together so tightly it hurt.
“Please,” David whispered. “Please, angel. Please don’t say no.”
Julian sank to the lino, crying, and threw his arms around David’s neck. David’s fingers buried at once in his hair. His other arm wrapped around Julian’s waist, cradling him close, holding him up as he cried against David’s shoulder.
It took almost a minute for Julian to recover the ability to speak.
When he did, there was only one thing he wanted to say.
“I want to be Julian Christmas,” he wept. His fiancé’s arms tightened around him. “I want that. I want that so much. I love you.”
Shuddering, David released a breath against his shoulder that sounded like it had been held for several days. “You… y-you actually want my surname?” he said. “You don’t want to stick with Reynolds?”
“More than anything in the world. Please. Oh god, I want to marry you. I want to be your husband. Please.”
“S-Sweetheart… you don’t have to take Christmas. We can get married anyway. I won’t mind, I promise.”
Fresh tears flooded Julian’s eyes.
“But it’s yours,” he said, trembling. “It’s your name. I want to be Christmas with you.”
David seemed to breathe it in. His cheek pressed warm against Julian’s own, as his fingers stroked the back of Julian’s neck.
“Then you can be,” he whispered in his ear. “If you want it, it’s all yours. So long as you’re mine, all our lives.”
“I meant it. You’re my whole world.”
“Here, sweetheart…” David released his arm gently from around Julian’s back, bringing his gathered hand around to show him. “M’sorry I got it all floury,” he said, as his fingers unfolded from the sapphire ring. “If you don’t like it, we can swap it for another.”
Shaking, Julian held out his fingers.
“I-I want that one,” he whispered. “It’s perfect. It’s beautiful.”
Together, trembling, they eased the ring onto his third finger. It seemed somehow more beautiful for the smudges of flour, as if it had always been there—at home on his hand in an instant.
“Knew I wanted to ask you over Christmas,” David whispered, lifting Julian’s hand to his lips. He kissed the ring as their fingers curled. “I wasn’t sure when, but… god, I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t have kept it to myself another hour. Should I have asked you at Cliveden?”
Julian’s heart heaved, overwhelmed by the sight: his fiancé, reverently kissing his engagement ring. He’d never seen anything so wonderful in his life.
“I’ll let you borrow it back,” he said. David grinned from ear-to-ear. “You can ask me there, too. A-And tomorrow. Ask me on Christmas Day, too. Ask me every single day, over and over, and I’ll say yes.”
David’s arms wrapped around him once more, pulling him forwards into a hug. Julian squirmed and nestled closer until he was cuddled in David’s lap on the kitchen floor, held as warmly and tightly as the barriers of physics would permit. He could feel the ring snug around his finger, solid and somehow familiar; he would feel it there for the rest of his life.
My fiancé, he thought, aching to the soul as he nuzzled into David’s hair. My David. My grumpy bear.
“Am I hurting you?” David asked in his ear, rubbing both hands over his back and the silk of his dressing gown.
Joy burst in Julian’s chest like a bubble, beautiful and bright.
“No,” he said, laughing, gripping onto David’s shoulders ever tighter. “No, not at all. You’ve never hurt me. Not once. Not ever.”
The tip of David’s nose stroked against his ear.
“Nobody’ll hurt you again,” David murmured. “Ever. I promise. And if anyone wants to try, they’ll have to come through your husband.”
Oh my god—
“I love you,” Julian gasped, as his tears began again. Helpless to stop them falling, he let his fiancé nuzzle them away. “I love you, David. I’ll love you my whole life. I love you, I love you, I love you—”