Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Wonderful Christmas Time

Title: (Simply Having) A Wonderful Christmas Time  
Author: Ranger

“You’re a total drip.” Robin confirmed for me just in case I had any doubts on the matter, confiscating my book off the bedside table as he put down the last box of Christmas decorations on the bed. “Stalky and Co. WHO reads this kind of thing?”  
“I do.” I said, giving him a filthy look and sorting through the box, past various colours of baubles that reflected Damien and my changes of mood at Christmas over the past few years. The purple set was particularly lurid. We must have either been having a particularly bad year, or else we’d got through a lot of wine.

”It’s charming, it’s incredibly evocative and beautifully written-“

”Evocative?” Robin flicked through the book with growing horror. “HALF of it’s in Latin. You’re a geek Hayes! A WET geek.”  
“Shift.” Damien said from the loft hatch. Robin shifted, smirking at me as he put the book back. Damien swung himself down through the hatch and dropped to the ground, peering over my shoulder.  
“Who or what is a geek? Good God who bought those?”  
“You did.” I passed him the set of scarlet bell shaped things. “The year we had that tree that wouldn’t stand up, remember?”  
“I must have been trying to weight the tree down, they weigh a ton.” Damien re wrapped them and sat on the bed, folding one arm companionably around my hips as I sorted through the box. “What looks good this year?”  
I rummaged, musing. “There’s a lot of red- the gold ones are nice- there’s another set of purple, and a whole box of blue stuff for no apparent reason.”  
“Red and gold then. That sounds like a good combination.” Damien took the two boxes from me, hefting them easily. “And the lights. Leave the rest, I’ll put it back later.”  
“You need one of the artificial Christmas trees.” Robin said, picking up the lights. He comes over all helpful and boy-scout when he’s around Damien, it infuriates the living daylights out of me. “We got one with the lights ready attached, looks much better.”

”We like the real trees.” I said, following them downstairs. “I love the smell of a real tree, and the feel of it, the whole point is having greenery in the house-“

”Geek.” Robin repeated sadly, shaking his head and taking the lights into the lounge.  
Damien turned back at the foot of the stairs and looked up at me, rolling his eyes and giving me a faint and sympathetic smile. It indicated that he also thought Robin was being a prat, which I appreciated and I stooped as he clearly was inviting me to do, and collected the brief kiss he was offering. It didn’t detract from the fact of Robin.  

He’d descended on us that Saturday morning purely because he was bored. Allen was approaching the deadline on a major project, was working flat out at home and was probably prepared to encourage Robin to ski, or rob banks, or do anything at all if it meant him being out of the house. I’d seen Robin trying to let Allen work. If anything it was worse than Robin actively trying to be a nuisance. So he’d arrived on our doorstep, apparently just dropping by for a social call, RIGHT when after a week of us both tearing around in circles, Damien and I finally had some time together. And Damien, being Damien, refused to simply tell him to get lost.  
He was helping Damien unknot Christmas tree lights now, which despite Damien coiling and tying them carefully, which no one else I’ve ever met does, were tangled up like a week’s worth of knitting. I left them to it, wandered into the kitchen and put the kettle on, leaning against the counter to pet Anastasia.  
It hadn’t been a great week. We always had a rush on at work before Christmas, of people wanting new signs and designs up and ready for the Christmas parties. The work had begun to gather speed in November when Beth and I were doing consultations and designs all over the place, and this week had been a mad rush of finishing off and mailing out the completed designs as soon as the paints and varnishes were fully dry. I hated rushed work. And Damien’s line of work was no better, since the world and its wife wanted all building projects completed and done before Christmas and the winter weather. We’d both been working late nearly all this week. Damien had made grim noises a few times at how late I stayed, and I’d worked four and a half days this week instead of my usual three, but since he wasn’t getting home any earlier than I was, I didn’t really see how he could argue about it.  
Which left us now, one week before Christmas, with very little done in the way of shopping or preparation. The postal and shopping services were making threats about how few days were left before their services jammed completely, and that was before we even got into what we did about our families for Christmas weekend itself.  Not only was I wet, I was totally disorganised. If I had the sense of a flea I would have sorted all of this out weeks ago instead of leaving it to the last minute where there was nothing left to do but panic.  
“Where did you go?” Damien asked, leaning around the door.

I got up off the counter and took down cups. “Making tea. What’s he doing?”  
“Criticising the video collection. What’s the matter?”  Damien came across to me and turned me around by the hips, linking his hands in the small of my back to look at me. His hair was rumpled, nothing like the smooth and well groomed Mr Mitchell that goes to work five days out of seven, and he had his Saturday clothes on: old jeans and a green and black rugby shirt that had seen better days. It made him look fit, vibrant as though he was ready to drop everything and play scrum half if an emergency arose, and about nineteen. I ran a hand through his hair possessively, pushing it back into place.  

“Nothing except what?”  
I didn’t answer, dropping my head and fiddling with the rugby union crest on his shirt. Damien looked at me for a minute. I could feel the weight of those hazel eyes on the top of my head, then he put a finger under my chin, lifted my face and kissed me, very firmly.  
“Stop it.”

”Stop what?” I demanded. “I’m not doing anything. HE’s the one being annoying.”

”He’s bored and lonely.” Damien said succinctly, holding on to me as I squirmed. “I say we go out to the garden centre, find a tree and he can help bringing that home. By which time it’ll be lunchtime and he’ll go home. Yes?”  
“I like doing this with you.” I said plaintively, aware of how pathetic it sounded.  
“You are.” Damien pointed out. “Give him another hour, that’s all. Leave the tea, we’ll get some coffee or something while we’re out, that’ll kill another twenty minutes. Robin!”

Robin appeared, with the ‘yes sir!’ expression on his face that made me want to hit him. It’s totally false, as false as the innocent eyes he flashes around Allen and Damien.  
“Leave the lights.” Damien told him. “We’ll go out to Frosts and find a tree, Nick and I can sort the rest out this afternoon.”  

The trip around the garden centre was as rotten as I thought it was going to be.  
For a start, Robin got into the front seat of the car beside Damien. I know, I know. Pettier than a five year old. I carefully didn’t say anything or even sound brassed off, even though I saw Damien hesitate, half way into the driver’s seat, and look at me as Robin beat me to the passenger side. When I didn’t comment and just got into the back, he took his cue from me and just carried on as though nothing had happened. But by the time we got to Frosts I could have cheerfully wrung Robin’s neck.  
Frosts is our nearest and favourite garden centre, and it’s somewhere I often wander around mid week when I’m in need of something to do. The interior was broken up into zones now their Christmas stock was in- a huge set of artificial Christmas trees, indoor lights, outdoor lights, every imaginable colour of decoration, and Christmas ornaments you’d go down on your knees and plead with someone NOT to give you.
Damien paused beside a large Father Christmas doll, in a white robe trimmed with a lot of feathers, sequins and fur, and gave me a quizzical look.  

“We’ll never know.” I told him. “We don’t want one.”  
“You have to buy something THIS awful almost on principle. Oh God, do we want a reindeer with sunglasses, dancing to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’?”  
He comes over like this when faced with serious tat. I grabbed his arm and towed him past the danger zone.
“If we’ve got a minute I’d like to look at the candles.”

“Candles?!” Robin demanded behind us.  
His tone implied I might just as well join the Brownies and be done with it.  
“Ok then, forget it.” I said shortly, letting Damien’s arm go.  
“I’d like another of the cotton scented ones while you’re looking.” Damien said calmly, keeping pace with me. “What were you after?”  
“Nothing, it doesn’t matter.”  
Damien’s arm hooked through mine this time, and was strong enough to keep me moving, against all discreet resistance, to the glass shelves of candles, candle sticks and pot pourri.  
“Geek.” Robin summarized behind me.  
That was the end of my patience.
Robin, and several other shoppers, ducked under the hail of cinnamon and apple pot pourri I flung at him from the scoop in the open necked sack.
Damien caught up with me as I stormed out of the front exit, caught my shoulders and we wrestled for a minute in front of the florists stall before he got my hands down and pinned. He still looked perfectly calm, as though having his partner hurl cinnamon sticks and slices of dried apple around was not at all inappropriate in a public place.  
“Go back and pick that up.”  
“I’m NOT going back in there!” I informed him. “NOT while HE’s there.”  
“HE is going to be waiting in the car if I hear one more word from him,” Damien said firmly. “Go and pick that up. Right now.”  
He meant it, and I knew he’d make me if necessary.  
Robin gave me a vengeful look as I walked, scarlet faced and furious, back to the pot pourri stand. I got several strange looks from other shoppers as I picked up what I could of the scattered pot pourri, returning it to the sack. My hands were going to reek of apple and cinnamon for days.  
“Thank you.” Damien said, acquiring a firm grasp on my hand as I put the last pieces back. “Which candles did you want?”  
I frankly didn’t care right now if I never saw another candle again. He made me look, talking quietly and cheerfully as we read through the Christmas stock labels, and by the time we were done we’d chosen several and my blood was boiling a little less loudly in my ears. Robin shook his head at me as we came back to him in the main aisle, then I saw him catch Damien’s eye and subside, fast.  
“Coffee.” Damien said cheerfully.  
I didn’t know about caffeine. Shopping with me was likely to put him on Prozac.  
He kept me in arm’s reach and in front of him in the coffee shop, and while we chose a tree, and while Robin annoyed the flaming hell out of me by his commentary on the wreaths on offer and the one we chose, and by walking along the side of the plant containers, wobbling all over the place like a tightrope walker until Damien told him to get down.  
“I’ve got pot pourri all down my neck.” He complained at one point. Damien didn’t comment, but I gave him a look meant to imply he’d have holly and anything else I could find down his neck if it was up to me.  
We managed to fit the tree and ourselves in the car, and Damien stopped outside Allen and Robin’s door on the way home, giving Robin what I thought was an unreasonably friendly smile.  
“Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”  
“I doubt it.” Robin said darkly. “I’m supposed to be being quiet.”

Allen was insane, that was all there was to it.

I kept quiet as we manoeuvred the tree into the house. Anastasia flew upstairs at the sight of it. Damien laid it down on the carpet in the lounge, brushed off his hands and gave me a level look.  
“Go take your coat and shoes off please, and then you can stand in the corner on the landing.”

Joy to the world.  
I hung my coat up, left my shoes by the front door in total defiance of the Damien Mitchell Rules of Footwear, and stalked upstairs. Damien followed a few minutes later, while I was glowering at the paintwork. It hadn’t blistered yet. Possibly if I tried a little harder, it would peel right off. There was a creak as Damien sat down on the top stair behind me.  
“Why do you let him get to you?”  
I paused on that thought, wrong footed. This was not how this conversation was supposed to go. I was entitled at this point to lecture 349, “We don’t throw things in temper, DO we Nicholas”. I knew it well, I knew how it went and how it ended, this was right off the script.  
“Because he’s a total dickhead.”  

”Well he is.” I said shortly, not at all inclined to take warning from Damien’s tone. The way I felt right now, not much more could go wrong. “He was digging at me all morning.”

”I heard him call you a geek exactly three times.” Damien said, unmoved. “Whatever that means. I’d think personally he’s been watching way too much Buffy the Vampire Eater.”


”Yes.” Damien was not noticeably interested in the exact phrasing. “It’s not exactly a word that has much meaning here, and I don’t think it’s the ultimate insult.”

”It’s not JUST that!” I exploded, turning around. “It’s the looks and the smirks and the-”
 Breathing. Some days Robin infuriated the hell out of me purely by existing. And some days I REALLY wasn’t in the mood for him.  
“I’m just NOT in the mood.” I said aloud for Damien’s benefit.  
There was a creak as Damien got up. “Well in the mood or not my lad, you don’t hurl things at people’s heads. Particularly not in shops. Come here Nicholas.”  
And I wasn’t in the mood for that either.  
“No.” I said flatly, meeting him glare for glare. Or at least I was glaring. He was just looking at me, with that steady, quizzical expression of his.  
“Ok.” He said eventually and perfectly civilly, starting back downstairs. “Let me know when you’ve had enough of that corner.”  
I banged my head gently against the wall as he disappeared into the kitchen, and I could hear him humming the Twelve days of Christmas as the freezer opened. He’d whacked the ball nicely back into my court: stand here until hell froze over, or call him back and explain that yes, I was ready to be spanked now. If I only had a brain…  
Nicholas Hayes, you total and utter TWIT.  
It was nearly half an hour before I got up the nerve to call downstairs, by which time my stomach had stopped doing the twist and was going for the full hand jive.  
He came to the foot of the stairs, wiping his hands on a tea cloth, and gave me another of those steady looks. I looked back down at him, doing everything I mutely could to broadcast unconditional surrender and to plead with him not to make me say it.  
“Done?” he said mildly.

I nodded and my stomach jumped still higher as he hung the tea cloth over the banisters and started upstairs, offering his hand to me at the top. I took it and trailed him into our room where he took a seat on the bed and drew me in between his knees.  
“Do you want to tell me what that ‘no’ was in aid of?”  
Another ‘no’ at this point was not going to be politic. I fought back an hysterical urge to say it anyway. Damien waited, his eyes on me as they had been in the kitchen earlier, before I made a hideous mess of the day. My eyes started to sting in response.  
“I’m sorry.” I said eventually and despairingly, for want of anything better to tell him. 

Damien didn’t push any further. Quietly, he unbuttoned my jeans, pulled them down and I went where he led me, to his right and across his lap where I buried my face in the familiar sanctuary of my arms and the duvet. It wasn’t going to help, but the illusion was always there that it might.  
“However angry someone makes you,” Damien said as his fingers slipped under the waist of my briefs and pulled them down to mid thigh, “It is not acceptable to throw things at them. You do not throw things in temper. If you’re getting that angry, you talk to me, or you leave the situation, but you do NOT throw, is that clear?”  
Yes. It was clear, like on the other occasions I’d thrown something when I’d hit the end of my tether. Right now, bent across the warm solidity of his legs, temporarily cool and feeling very vulnerable, it made perfect sense. Damien’s arm wrapped around my waist and I jumped, hard, as his hand cracked across my rear. I hated this. I never stopped hating this. The stinging in my eyes redoubled, I took a deep breath and held it as his hand repeated itself and repeated itself, landing swiftly and unbelievably hard all over my buttocks and the tops of my thighs, leaving a blazing smart quickly spreading in it’s wake There was a moment or two of struggling with my dignity, of deep gulps for breath and stifled jumps at any particularly effective smack, then my eyes quickly flooded, I began to shake with tears I couldn’t hold down any more and I relinquished myself to utter misery.  
I was aware I was in a lot more of a state than a short, albeit sound spanking really justified when he helped me to my feet, sorted out my briefs and jeans since I was past caring, and then pulled me down into his lap. His arms folded around me and I felt his chin against the top of my head, his lips against my hair as I collapsed against him, my head pounding.  
“I’m sorry.” I said eventually, meaning it. Damien shook his head against mine.  
“I know, it’s all right, it’s over now.”  
The conversation wasn’t, I could tell by his tone. He shifted me in his arms, moving me over until he could see my face, then felt in his pocket for his handkerchief. He always has them. And they’re always clean, soft and capacious. I scrubbed at my face, still leaning against him.  
“What did he say or do that got to you?” Damien asked quietly. I shook my head, still scrubbing, which didn’t do much good as tears were still trickling pretty steadily.  
“I don’t know. He’s just a pain.”

“He’s been much more of a pain without driving you to hurling dried fruit at his head.”  
I didn’t answer. I really didn’t want to talk any more about this. I wanted to take some painkillers, get rid of this headache, finish putting the Christmas tree up with just the two of us and make some sense of this whole mess, and I shook my head against his shoulder.    
“I’m ok. I’m fine, let’s put the damn tree up and –“
“Which you’ll love every moment of, I can tell.” Damien said dryly. 

I took a deep breath and stepped back, doing my best to look calm.  “It needs doing, let’s just get on with it.”

He wouldn’t let me get on with it.  
“In this mood, not a chance.” He told me when I argued, and I found myself examining a corner of the downstairs hall for a change while Damien pottered and hummed, apparently totally oblivious to the mutiny I was projecting from the corner. It was no good him wandering around cheerfully putting up Christmas cards as if he hadn’t noticed: I was cross with him.  
“The tree won’t decorate itself.” I pointed out to him, when twenty minutes later he still hadn’t noticed. “This is ridiculous. This is the LAST weekend before Christmas-”

“If need be, we’ll make do with a cheese sandwich and a bunch of flowers from the garden,” Damien informed me. “That’s a much better option than you rampaging around getting yourself into a state. Lose the mood and I’ll think about us carrying on.”  
There is nothing in a corner available to throw at his head. It’s an ongoing problem.  
I took a deep breath and hissed it out in a sharp sigh of exasperation that turned into a yelp as he materialised behind me and swatted, hard, right where I was still tender.  
“Stand up straight, put your hands down, STOP the hissing and sighing and give some serious thought as to why you’re standing here Nicholas Hayes. I’ll decide when this stops, not you.”  
I knew that tone; it made me jump. I straightened up in a hurry, swallowed down any further sound effects and concentrated instead on the sounds of him moving around behind me, well aware he was watching. I KNEW why I was standing here. Because Robin was a prat.  
“Come here.” Damien said sternly, about seven years later.  
I went to him, still distinctly subdued by the tone which said he wasn’t going to put up with much at all. He was waiting for me in the kitchen and he didn’t look promising.  
“Can you settle down and behave?”  
That’s very inspecific, which is not really fair. ‘Behaving’ could be construed to mean almost anything. On the other hand he was still giving me that look, which made it extremely clear what the alternative to not behaving was.  
“Yes.” I said grudgingly.  
“Then sit down.”  
I sat, trying to keep the glower out of sight. Damien put soup and rolls down, taking his usual seat beside me and cracking rolls open to butter them as though this was a perfectly normal day.  
“We’ve still got the last of the shopping to do.” I pointed out, stirring soup. Damien gave me a matter of fact look.  
“Tomorrow. Possibly. And anyone caught fainting will be immediately entitled to a week in bed. Eat that, don’t stir it.”

He made me wash up after lunch and clean the kitchen floor, which is a long job involving hands, knees and getting quite wet. He’d put some music on in the lounge, which I could hear while I worked and while he hoovered upstairs. A mixture of Christmas pop hits and carols, I had no idea where he’d got the CD from but it wasn’t bad. By the time I polished the last square of the kitchen tiles, I was tired and my back was aching but I did, admittedly, feel slightly better. Damien put the hoover away in the kitchen cupboard and gave me another of those looks, which this time made me flush slightly, well aware I was not just a brat, I was actually flaunting it.  
“Want to have another go at this tree?”  
I took the hand he was holding out and the warmth came back to his eyes, I saw the quick smile and the wink as we went back into the lounge.  
“Normal people don’t do this to tree lights.” I pointed out as we carried on trying to untangle them. “If you did what everyone else does and just screwed them up in a ball and stuffed them in a cupboard they’d be fine.”
“I’m funny like that.”  
Damien unwound his last strand and came past me to plug them in. They all lit up, the yards of them roped around our hands and over the floor. He moved past me to take the Christmas tree out of the net bag it was still restrained in and get it clamped into position in the tree holder we kept with the decorations. Humming along with the CD player, I worked on another tangle, stretching the two untrammelled pieces with both hands and ducking my head to catch the tangled bit of cord with my teeth. I heard the snap of the light socket a split second before Damien’s hand impacted between my shoulders, making me drop the entire cord of lights.  

”Ow!” I objected. Damien picked up the lights and Looked at me.  
“Nicholas. Darling. This is an electric cable, plugged in and LIVE-“

”It’s insulated!” I protested. “And I’ve only got two hands!”

”Put it near your mouth again and I’ll strangle you with it.” Damien warned, taking the end to start winding it around the tree. “Turn them back on for me?”  
I snapped them on at the socket. Nothing happened. I tried again, and looked at Damien for help. He pulled a face back at me.  
“I’d think a fuse has probably blown. My fault for snapping them off at the mains and not turning them off properly.”

”Do we have fuses?” I asked, getting up. Damien shook his head, starting to peel the lights back off the tree.  
“I think it’s a waste of time, darling. It might be the fuse or it might be because they were so tangled. By the time we’ve bought the right fuse and changed it and then found it’s a wiring fault instead, it’s probably quicker and cheaper to replace the lights. The garden centre had plenty on display.”  

We did find a set fairly quickly: plain white lights, small bulbs, with several flash patterns. The girl at the tills remembered us and gave us an understanding smile as we paid.  
“Temperamental lights? Isn’t it always the way?”  
It was. When we got home and plugged them in to test them, they didn’t work.  
“This is jinxed.” I warned Damien as he put them back into the box. “We probably ought to surrender now.”

“Rubbish, there’s bound to be faulty sets, we just exchange them.” Damien said, picking up his jacket. The phone rang as I opened the front door. Damien picked it up and I heard his voice change in between, “Hello?” and “Oh hello Jerry.”  
ARG. I glared at him, daring him to go back into work this afternoon. He put a hand on my shoulder, but was making “Hmm” and “Yes” noises, not “No, go away, it’s the weekend” noises.  
“Ok.” He said eventually, with annoying civility since I could see in his face he was annoyed. “All right, I’ll come straight over.”

I fixed him with a dangerous glower as he put the phone down but all he did was cup my face in his hands and kiss me, looking thoroughly apologetic.  
“I know. I’m sorry, but there’s a water mains blown on one of my sites and the water board were called in. They need a copy of the plans to trace the pipes or it’s going to take them hours. All I need to do is go over to the office and fax the plans to them, I’ll be an hour at the absolute outside.”  
This was turning out to be a really GREAT weekend. Damien felt through his pockets and handed me the receipt for the lights.  
“Get those exchanged, I’ll be as quick as I can and we’ll carry on as soon as I get back.”

He headed off in one direction out of the village and I headed out in the other. The girl on the tills gave me a slightly strange look as I walked back into the garden centre. An assistant was on duty at the lights display area and I went to him with the receipt and the lights.  
“Hi? I’m sorry, we need to return these lights, they’re faulty.”

The man took the receipt and the lights from me, checking it through. Then led me to a display cabinet.  
“You’re in luck, we’ve only got one of this type left.”

Checking the receipts and formalising the exchange at the till took only a few minutes and I was out in the car park again thinking that finally, that had been fairly painless. A familiar voice called me as I crossed the car park, and I found Allen and Robin, arm in arm, headed towards me. Robin, I could really have done without. Allen looked tired and somewhat hassled and I put the bag of lights down to kiss his cheek with sympathy.

”Hello. I thought you were up to your ears in this project of yours?”  
“I needed a break, and we needed a tree.” Allen said mildly. I suspected Robin harassing him had also had something to do with it.  
“Buying lights?” Robin said cheerfully, nodding at the bag. I gave him an icy smile in return.

”Yes, ours were faulty when we unpacked them.”  
“I’m surprised the store let you back in.” Robin said bluntly. “I told you he threw pot pourri at me in there this morning.” He added to Allen.

I flushed, heading towards the car. “I need to get back, Damien’ll be……”

Somewhere, wanting something. I let it trail off without being explicit. Allen called after me.  
“Nick? Ask Damien, if you two would like to come over tomorrow at about seven for a drink? The Coach and Horses is doing a carol evening, it might be nice to listen to.”  
I’d bring extra pot pourri.  
I nodded, mumbled something and escaped to the car. Allen and Robin disappeared into the outdoor area where the trees were being sold. I was unlocking the car when I realised I was without lights- I’d put the carrier bag down and not picked it up again.  
The crunch came exactly a split second later. I spun around, finding the carrier bag where I’d left it, twenty yards away behind a large Volvo which had just backed right over it.  
The man in the Volvo wasn’t pleased. We both apologised, him slightly less nicely than I did, and I looked in the wreckage of the bag as he drove away. The lights were dead. Seriously dead. I deposited them in a waste bin as I passed it, took a deep breath and went back into the garden centre.  
The man at the light display looked distinctly wary as I came over to him.  
“Is everything all right with those lights sir?”  
“I dropped them in the car park and they were run over.” I explained somewhat sheepishly. “I’m going to need to buy another set.”

“There aren’t any left of the type you’d chosen.” The man said, looking around the racks. “There are those- luminous, very nice-“

Bright red, Damien would have a fit and we’d look like an advertising brothel.

”Or these, multi coloured ones.”

“We like the small white ones.” I explained. “With different flashing patterns.”

Which I played with to annoy Anastasia when I got really bored. I gave the man a look of what I hoped was appeal.  
“I don’t suppose you have any more of that type put away?”  
“I’ll certainly ask.” The man offered.  
He pressed a buzzer by his station and a teenager in the store t shirt came over a minute later, giving me an interested look. There was a moment’s conferring between them, then I heard the teenager’s voice distinctly.  
“- that’s the bloke who threw the pot pourri this morning-”    
Arg. They were both looking at me now as if I had three heads. I scanned the shelves hastily, found a set of lights with small and clear bulbs which were not too different to our usual ones, and gave them both what I could manage of a smile.  
“These’ll be fine. Thankyou. Merry Christmas.”

I escaped back to the tills, where the girl gave me a still stranger look.

Damien’s car was on the drive when I pulled in, and he opened the door while I was getting the lights out of the car.  
“You were a long time, I was getting worried.”

“I met Allen and Robin at the garden centre.” I said, taking the lights into the lounge.  
No need at all to explain to him about the killed set of lights.  
“I thought Allen was busy?”  
“He said he was taking a break. And that there was carol singing at the Coach and Horses tomorrow and did we want to go.”  
“That sounds nice.” Damien said peaceably, taking the lights from me. “Didn’t they have any more of the lights we bought before?”  
“No, all gone.”

NO need for him to know any more than that. I pulled the box away, plugged the lights in and seventy twinkly bulbs came to life, just as a tinny musical tone began to belt out ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’.

Damien looked at me.  
“No.” I said firmly. “I’m not taking ANYTHING else back to that garden centre, they already think I’m mad. It’ll turn off.”  
Damien tinkered with the box settings for some time. And then shook his head.  
“These ARE musical lights. The best it’ll do is be quiet until a movement sensor is triggered. Which means we’ll have to stay away from the Christmas tree all through Christmas to keep it quiet.”

We WERE jinxed. I’d told him.

”I don’t care,” I said hotly, “I’m not going out to buy ANY more lights.”  
“Nicky, these are going to drive us insane-“

“Then YOU take them back!” I said, heading out of the room with my temper finally fried. The lounge door ricocheted back off its hinges as I slammed it, and the phone started to ring as I was about to run upstairs.

That didn’t help.  
I snatched up the receiver, aware of Damien untangling himself from singing lights to follow me and well aware I was already dead, which did absolutely nothing whatever to help the situation.  
“No we are NOT bloody coming out to do ANYTHING else today, it is CHRISTMAS. So PISS OFF!”  
Damien captured me with one hand, the receiver with the other, and separated us forcibly, pulling me back against him and pinning me there with one arm over my shoulders like a seat belt. I heard his much more civilised “Hello?” into the receiver, and then just as calmly,  
“Hi Mum.”  
Oh God.  
The enormity of it sank into me like I was turning slowly into stone. I fought out from under Damien’s arm and fled upstairs, hearing him behind me as I took refuge in the bathroom.   
“Yes, it’s all right. I’ll call you back in a while.”

 He followed me upstairs much more slowly, and tried the door once before he said, still calmly,  
“Nicky, open it now or I’ll break it.”  
He would. And the results would not be pretty.  
Even less than they were going to be anyway. There are many dreadful things you can do, but screaming abuse at your mother in law has to be one of the worst of them.  
I got up and unlocked the door, retreating back to the warmth of the floor by the radiator. Damien looked at me for a moment, then shut the door to make space and sat down beside me, putting an arm silently over my shoulders.  
He is, there is no denying, big, solid and extremely comforting. And he sounded mildly amused now more than homicidal, although I was aware he was probably doing that to stop me committing hari kiri in the bath. Right now it really wouldn’t have taken much.  
“What happened at the garden centre?”  
“I TOLD you it was jinxed.” I said, trying not to laugh or cry or shake, all of which were strong possibilities right now. Damien pulled me closer in one, companionable yank which got my head against his chest, and held me tight enough to stop the shivering.  
“What happened?”  
“The lights got run over.” I mumbled. Damien twisted to look down at me.  
“I bought a set and I was talking to Allen in the car park, so I put them down and forgot them until some idiot in a Volvo ran over them. And by then everyone in the shop thought I was mad, and they didn’t have any of that kind of lights left, and this bloody assistant told the manager with the lights that I was the one who’d thrown the pot pourri in the morning, so I just grabbed the first set I saw that looked right.”  
“I see.” Damien said mildly. “Do you want to go ring Mum and apologise?”  
“She’s going to hate me.” Tears, which so far had been muddled up with too much else to get out, were in real danger of over flowing. “She hates me anyway, she doesn’t think I look after you properly-“

“She does NOT hate you.” Damien rubbed my arm which lay under his hand and ran it up to stroke my hair. “And she raised three teenagers, she’s been shouted at before now.”  
I personally doubted that.  
I didn’t see Damien or Miles or Laura doing anything so uncouth as shouting at Damien’s mother, I’d heard several strictures and worse from Damien on his opinion on how I talked to mine when sufficiently fed up. Apart from which, no one sane would DARE shout at Damien’s mother. If I’d known who was on the other end of the phone I certainly wouldn’t have done.  
“She doesn’t think I look after you properly and she DOES think I’m mad.” I said unsteadily. “When they came to stay last Easter and the long static duster thing got welded to the light bulb in the lounge while I was dusting-“

”Bad example.” Damien said, dropping a kiss on my forehead.  
I dug him in the ribs. “It’s NOT funny.”

”It WAS funny.” Damien disagreed, fending me off. “Go on. Ring her, you’ll feel much better once you have.”

I took a few deep breaths. Then keeping hold of his hand, got up and headed for the phone.  
She was actually, amazingly sweet about it. I managed a confused explanation that ranged from Christmas tree lights to a thoroughly bad day and Damien being called out to work, and by the time I handed the phone over to Damien she was making reassuring noises and saying she quite understood. Damien sat down at the foot of the stairs, hooked his fingers into the waistband of my jeans and yanked until I fell backwards into his lap. And leaned against his chest, with his hand rubbing soothingly up and down my thigh.  
“Hi Mum. Yes. General Christmasitus I think. No, we haven’t decided yet. Nick’s parents are going away for New Year, and Miles said he was going to stay with us on the way up to you- no I haven’t heard from Laura. Well the kids wouldn’t cope here for a start-“

She was organising him, I was starting to hear that note of plaintiveness creeping into his voice. I kissed his cheek, got up and went into the kitchen in search of something for tea. He ambled in a few minutes later, hung both arms heavily around my neck and leaned against me while I debated the possibility of duck legs.  
“Well?” I asked him.  
“Laura and kids are going to them for Christmas. Miles is doing his own thing for Christmas, dropping into us on the 28th, and then going on to see them for New Year. And they want to come down here again for Easter, WITH Laura and Miles, and do the full family thing in Bedfordshire…”

”Oh God.”

”But that’s Easter. Which now just means negotiating with your parents.”

”They’re easy.” I handed him the packet of duck legs. “Do you want to try those for tea?”  
“No.” Damien said frankly, putting them back in the fridge. “I want a talk with you about slamming doors and shouting down phones-“

”Damieeeeeeeeeen………” I said pitifully. He nipped at my ear but still let me go with a gentle swat towards the door.  
“And you can start by going upstairs and standing in the corner on the landing please.”  
“It was just the lights, I came back in a foul mood and-“ I began valiantly. Damien shook his head at me.  
“I know. Landing.”

TWICE. Twice in one day.  
I stamped- quietly- upstairs and looked some more at the paintwork.    
The only thing worse than being spanked, is being spanked again when you’re still sensitive from the first time.  
I was sent to have a bath when we were done- which wasn’t any more comfortable- and we had a picnic of sandwiches and tea downstairs in the lounge, where we finally finished lighting and decorating the tree.  
“We should have done some shopping this afternoon.” I said unhappily, at some point through The Importance of Being Earnest, which was a video we often turned to in moments of stress since we loved the prose, Rupert Everett and Colin Firth. Damien, who was acting as a pillow for both me and the cat, grunted.  
“We’ll live.”

He was less philosophical when I felt him turn over in the night and got my eyes open to find him up on one elbow and growling.  
“What?” I said sleepily.  
Downstairs, something tinny was singing Jingle Bells.  
“Your damn cat.” Damien told me grimly, stalking downstairs to turn the Christmas tree lights off.  
It was COLD the following evening- a heavy frost was starting and it kept trying to snow. Damien had a look outside when we came back from shopping late afternoon, and sent me straight upstairs to check my peak flow.  
“I think we’ll ring Allen and Robin and invite them over here.” He said when he saw the figures. “Going out again when it’s this cold is asking for trouble. You’ve been fine all winter so far.”

”I’d probably be better still if they went to the carol thing without us.” I suggested. Damien shook his head at me, went to phone and left me to sprawl on the bed and spent twenty minutes on the oxygen cylinder. It was still a nuisance, but between that and the Bricanyl, I’d had two autumns better than I’d managed in years.  
“They’ll come over at seven.” Damien said, putting the bedside phone down and stretching out beside me. “I think Allen wants the company more than the carols.”

I wasn’t surprised. I was willing to bet he’d had a rough weekend.  

In the event, it wasn’t so bad. We had a tree which really was very pretty, and which once lit up, no one could walk within six feet of- the cat now gave it a wide berth- but we settled down in front of the fire with several bottles of wine which Allen and Robin brought with them, talked, and gradually the lounge filled with a pleasant kind of glow that grew as the evening wore on. Allen was such a nice man. So round. And Robin really was rather sweet when you thought about it. With hair that stuck up in little tufts, despite all his efforts towards designer hair, and the candle light shone through it. And Damien. I liked looking at Damien. He was looking particularly gorgeous this evening, his shirt sleeves were rolled up around his forearms which were looking extremely smooth and beautifully defined in the firelight, and the fabric stretched across his chest in an extremely fetching manner. It was so nice it was very difficult to do anything BUT sit and admire Damien.  
“What?” Damien said to me at one point.  
That made absolutely no sense at all, so I gave him a misty smile and floated into the kitchen for more wine. One of them was a desert wine, a Marsala or something that Robin had brought as I liked sweet wine- it was pleasantly thick and sweet like ginger wine, I was enjoying it, although the others much preferred the drier stuff and were sticking to that. Damien followed me into the kitchen and overwhelmed with a rush of delight at seeing him and just how lovely he was under electric light, I flung my arms around his neck and took the opportunity to kiss him.  

”Hello.” Damien said patiently, loosening my grip. “I think you’ve had enough to drink darling.”  
“I’ve only had two.” I said happily. “And it’s only wine. Shall we go into the garden?”  
“No, it’s sleeting.” Damien caught my hand and pulled me back to him. “Are you feeling ok Nicky?”  
“Fine.” I told him comfortingly. He was so sweet, he was always worrying about me. I patted his cheek, really overwhelmed with just how sweet he was.  
“I’m fine. It’s Christmas. That’s nice. We need sausage rolls.”

”No, we don’t.” Damien said, steering me away from the freezer and sitting me at the foot of the stairs. “Wait there a minute darling.”

He walked out of my sight, which was so unfair that I got up and wandered after him, wondering why I’d never noticed the ripples in the carpet before. They were so pretty, like little rivers. I trailed them to the doorway of the lounge and smiled at Allen. SUCH a nice man.  
“I think we’re going to call it a night if you don’t mind.” Damien was saying. “Nicky’s pretty tired-“

”I’m fine. It’s Christmas.” I told him happily, picking up my glass to finish the wine. He prised it gently out of my fingers.  
Robin laughed, a lovely laugh, full of pleasure and I smiled at him, wondering why I’d never noticed what a nice laugh he had. Allen was looking at me and then at Robin and he didn’t look at all like he was having a good time. He took my glass from Damien and tasted it, and then he looked still less like he was having a good time and handed the glass back to Damien.  
“You might want to taste that.”

”It’s the Marsala .” I said warmly. “It’s lovely. Very sweet. It’s lovely when it’s very very sweet. Very very sweet indeed.”  
Damien tasted it.  
There are times when his eyes do this little glint thing. It’s mostly at me, and I don’t always approve of it, although it IS rather impressive to watch. It was VERY nice to see that glint and it not be aimed anywhere at me, just a nice glint of green and gold and brown like sparks flaring deep inside his eyes. Very fetching.  
“What exactly did you put in that bottle?” Allen was demanding of Robin, who looked as wide eyed and as innocent as a choirboy.  
And then Allen barked. And Damien barked, and Damien did it better. I sat down on the sofa to admire him barking better, and then the Christmas tree started to look distinctly swimmy, and I lay down to make it stay still. And then to my delight Allen grabbed Robin by the wrist, pulled him over to the armchair where he was sitting, stripped down the tight designer jeans and still tighter and skimpier designer underwear, turned Robin over his lap and started spanking.  
How splendid.   
When Damien took me upstairs, what I could see of Robin was a wonderful, festive Christmas red, and he was making a really impressive amount of noise.  
“I feel SO much better.” I told Damien when he put me down on the bed. Damien went to draw the curtains and I caught his trouser leg, worked up to his hand and pulled until he sat down beside me. “You were quite right. It’s been a wonderful evening.”  
“This isn’t exactly the way I meant you to chill out.” Damien sounded unseasonally grim.  

”Everything’s wonderful.” I comforted him, feeling on top of the world. “You’re wonderful. Robin’s wonderful. Everyone’s wonderful.”

”Oh Nicky you are going to pay for this SO badly in the morning.” Damien said ruefully, pushing my hair out of my eyes. “Stay there darling. I’m going to get you a lot of water and a lot more coffee-“

”We need to go out for a walk.” I told him. “It’s Christmas. We need to go and get some more lights.”

”We’ll live with the singing ones.” Damien leaned down and kissed my forehead, leaning his against mine for a moment. I loved it when he did that and tonight it made me giggle helplessly.  
“Vodka, Marsala and ginger wine-“ Damien said, sighing. “I think it’s true what they say about mixing being worse than amount. Stay here Nicky.”

I heard him head downstairs. I rolled up off the bed and found my way out through a doorway, that wasn’t yet rocking fast enough to fool me. The stairs went on for several miles. I sat down at the top of them and beamed at Robin, who was tearfully being hustled out of the front door by an extremely annoyed looking Allen.  
“Merry Christmas to all,” I called after him, waving, “And to all a good night!”
~ The End ~
Copyright Ranger 2010
To Alex, Fem, FEB, Suann, Soni, Teri, Susan, Denise, Sheena, Bonnie, Ciejye, Max, Nick and Sheena- and everyone else who felt that Robin was never spanked half enough as was good for him- a very Merry Christmas!


A. K. Bantling said...

This story is one of my favorites! It is so nice to see Robin get it, ha ha. Nicky is brilliant when he's had too much to drink. I love how he's so cheerful and positive and yet a little bit sadistic with the whole "How splendid" bit.

Anonymous said...

Loved seeing Robin get it. And as much as I love these stories there are times when I think damien should really demand Robin show a bit of respect for his partner. I'm not sure how I'd cope if my husband happily let's in a girl he works with wander around my house calling me a geek and making snide comments all day without any noticeable defence of my honour

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