It started three days before Thanksgiving.
Jim ran into Julia Grant in the supermarket, where she was- with no apparent irony- attempting to negotiate space for the buy-one-get-one-half-off second turkey in her already brimming cart. She had four children- three of them boys- so Jim didn’t foresee her having too much trouble making it all disappear, but he still boggled a little at the sight.
Once he was done boggling, Jim stowed his own shopping list in his pocket and tried to help her get the turkey in.
She was a little breathless from their efforts, and holding on to a produce bag full of yams, when she smiled brilliantly and said, “James- why don’t you come to our house and have Thanksgiving dinner with us? There’s more than enough- as you can see- and you’re practically family.”
Jim blinked at Mrs. Grant, feeling a kind of paralysis spreading to his extremities. He liked her immensely, despite having met her for the first time only a few months earlier, and his feelings for her husband extended well beyond mere liking. They had served together, and the man had been more than a commanding officer to Jim- he was also a father figure when Jim had needed one, badly. Later, when Grant had gone into the police Jim had followed him there, too, and never looked back. And all the while the Grants had treated him just as Julia had said- like part of the family.
Under the circumstances, it left Jim just a little unsure of his footing. “I- I- thank you.”
Mrs. Grant beamed. “That’s settled, then.”
He panicked, slightly. “But- uh- ma’am-”
“I’ve told you before- call me Julia.” She was still beaming- in fact, she was positively glowing. It was blinding. She found a place to put the yams in the back of the cart, next to a carton of eggs.
“Julia… It’s just that I’m- you know-” it felt strange for Jim to have to say it, he didn't have much of a social life to need to- “with someone.” It wasn’t that he had any reason to keep his marital status from the Grants- he had never tried to keep it a secret from anyone- but it seemed strange to him that they didn’t know. He and Artie had been together for a while, and Artie had lived next door for a while before that. Jim could hardly believe they hadn’t met before now.
“Well, the more the merrier,” she said blithely. Something about her tone made Jim suspect that she didn’t entirely believe him- though he couldn’t think why, and it seemed strange to ask.
“Julia,” he began again, weakly. “I… I’d love to. Thank you.”
Giving him a final enormous smile, Mrs. Grant went on her way, leaving Jim standing in the meat department with a stunned expression. "What just happened?" he asked no one in particular. A couple of women doing their own Thanksgiving shopping shot him odd looks.
Jim did his best to ignore them.
* * *
“What were you thinking?” Jim’s husband asked, with possibly deceptive mildness, over the pan sauce that he was making for their dinner.
“I guess I wasn’t thinking, really,” Jim returned from his stool beside the counter. After a long day he just liked to sit there, sipping wine and watching Artie cook. He loved watching Artie cook.
Artie elevated a dark brow. “Just what is it about Mrs. Grant that consistently turns your brain to mush?”
“She’s nice,” Jim replied. Thinking was something that Jim wasn’t always great at doing, not around a nice woman. Jim suspected that Artie actually knew this about him; everybody else did.
“Nicer than me? I’m crushed.”
Jim took another sip of his wine and didn’t take the bait. “Anyway, if I had been thinking, I might have thought that it would actually be a lot more fun to spend Thanksgiving at the Grants’ place than it would be to fly all the way to San Francisco just to spend one night packed like sardines onto your cousin Mallory’s couch, trying to figure out just what Aunt Maud put in the green bean casserole this year, and how much of it was actually organic matter- provided, of course, that we even made it out there before I got called in for some kind of work emergency, which both of us know would not be without precedent."
Artie’s mouth twisted, but he said, “Fair enough.” He stirred quietly a while, then raised his wooden spoon and shook it menacingly at Jim. “But Aunt Maud loves you- although I’m never completely sure she knows who you are- and if you miss her at Thanksgiving, we’re going visiting next Christmas and you’re going to wear the tinfoil hat she gives you and like it.” He transferred the meat and sauce to two plates, each serving framed with several asparagus spears, and went on: “Assuming, of course, that I am also invited to this dinner.”
Jim blinked. “Of course you-”
Artie’s downcast eyes were glinting and Jim broke into a grin as he realized that Artie had gotten him after all. He really should have expected it.
“Well,” he began, slowly starting to smile, “I do have a ring on my finger. Isn’t the plus-one implied?” He grabbed Artie by his tie and pulled him half over the counter, intending to kiss him thoroughly, and feeling his pulse- and other things- respond to the promise of more.
He hadn’t made much headway, however, before his cell phone beeped.
“What are the chances that’s vitally important?” Artie asked.
Artie made a noise low in his throat, but his expression was very tender as he gave Jim one more quick kiss.
Jim just looked at him for a long moment. “I’ll tell Mrs. Grant we can’t make it,” he said finally. Time alone together was too rare a commodity to waste, whatever the reason, and if they had agreed not to fly to Mallory’s…
“Oh, hush,” Artie said, retrieving the phone for Jim and handing it over. “Don’t be silly. It’ll be fun, remember?”
* * *
“If you’re lonely for the holidays, call me,” the hooker told Jim with a bright leer two days before Thanksgiving. She even batted her eyelashes at him. It seemed to Jim that his assurance that she would go free if she told him everything she knew about a client of hers who had been murdered shortly after she left his hotel room that night had led her to draw some erroneous conclusions about his feelings regarding both her person and her profession.
He stared after her as a uniform led her away.
When Jeremy- his partner- reappeared, Jim gesticulated with his ring finger, somewhat helplessly. “Why exactly does everybody think I’m single and alone?”
“Well, you don’t exactly seem like-”
“If the words ‘the marrying kind’ pass your lips, Jerry, there will be consequences.”
“Fair enough,” Jeremy said, grinning, and sat down. He reclined behind the desk across for Jim’s and looked thoughtful. “Anyway, I believe most people think the ring is to fend off girls looking for commitment, or it’s your dead mother’s.”
“My dead mother’s?” Jim blinked rapidly.
“That’s… in some show.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “Look, Mrs. Grant is great, but she always struck me as a little out of touch, and the hooker’s just doing her job- but three other people at the precinct have either invited me to their family get-togethers, or heavily implied their sympathies on my lack thereof. I thought that every police officer in the state knew about me and Artie even before we started dating.” It had certainly seemed that way, back when Jim really liked Artie and was agonizing over whether Artie felt the same way.
“Half of them think you two broke up. The other half think you never really got together in the first place.”
“It’s this pining from afar, junior high, ‘dear diary, he and I almost brushed shoulders today’ way of talking about Artemus that you have," Jeremy said. "It’s like you can hardly believe you breathe the same air as him. It's like you want him so much they think you can’t possibly have him.”
“Aren’t I supposed to want my husband?”
“After two years the novelty should have worn off a little. God, you two are so crazy about each other it makes me want to cry.”
Jim snorted. As if Jeremy and his wife didn’t still coo at each other like newlyweds on occasion, and it had been five years for them.
“Anyway,” Jeremy picked up again. “Let’s stop talking about it.”
“Okay,” Jim agreed easily, transferring his attention to the open case file on his desk. “Let’s. But if Ramirez tells me how her mother always makes more than enough tamales for me to come along one more time, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
“To be fair, Ramirez may have committed matricide long before that happens.”
Jim glanced towards his fellow detective, on the other end of the bullpen. She was indeed arguing with a woman of noticeably similar features, though of rounder and more weathered appearance, and the Spanish was flying louder and faster by the moment. “Doesn’t Gonzales usually arbitrate between those two?” Jim asked Jeremy.
“Yes, indeed," he replied, "but with our dear friend Detective Gonzales on leave, Ramirez has only us.”
“If we don’t do anything to help, we’ll pay for it later.”
It was a race for who got up first.
* * *
“Does it bother you that people think we aren’t together?” Jim asked Artie during his break that afternoon.
“We’re not characters in a play, Jim,” he returned mildly.
Jim sighed into his phone and watched helplessly as the break room coffee maker doled out its offering with a slowness that, in his opinion, constituted a personal vendetta. “That people think I single, then. And-” Jim fitfully selected a doughnut as he talked- “lonely at that.”
“Are you lonely?”
“No!” Jim yelped.
“Are you unhappy?”
“No,” he repeated, a little more calmly.
“Then no- it doesn’t bother me.”
Artie’s voice radiated unbotheredness, and Jim started to feel better. He started to feel silly for having felt bad in the first place. As he had told Jeremy, there was nothing whatsoever that was strange about loving the man he was married to.
“I have to go, James,” Artie said. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Yeah. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Jim glared into his only half-filled cup and called it good. That thing definitely had something against him.
* * *
Speaking of things which had something against Jim, his next stop was at the morgue. Luckily for him, Doctor Loveless was apparently out doing whatever it was Doctor Loveless did when he wasn't communing with the dead, so Jim got his report from one of Loveless’ morgue techs instead. Loveless always seemed to have a new one- usually a spectacularly pretty woman who would usually be named something like Antoinette, Belladonna, or Delilah, and wouldn't appear to be all there. This one was a very tall and full-figured woman whose name tag proclaimed her, amazingly, to be called Kitten.
“So what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” she asked, about as enthusiastically as he would expect her to ask if he had heard about some plague sweeping the nation.
Jim supposed that this was progress, at least from the inquiries he had gotten thus far. “Having dinner with friends.”
“I mean an old mentor of mine and his family.”
“Is that like dinner with the parents for you?’
“I suppose it is,” Jim said, his interest grudgingly piqued by this comparison. He had often thought of Grant like a father, and he supposed that if he could choose a mother, Julia Grant might well be the person he chose. In fact, they were indeed the closest thing to a family- beyond Artie’s, of course- that he had.
“And will you be bringing a date to this shindig?”
“…Yes?” It somehow became a question halfway through. He hadn’t really thought of Artie as his ‘date’ in quite a while.
“It’s pretty serious, then.”
“I’m pretty serious about this one.”
“I didn’t know you were seeing anyone. What’s her name?”
“His name is Artemus. And we’re not going out or whatever. We’re married. You think the wedding band is- what?- cosmetic?”
“Wow,” she said, frowned. “DADT really did a number on you, didn’t it?”
Jim frowned himself, but as he was fairly sure that he wouldn’t spend his leisure time chatting about his lovers with coworkers or Loveless' morgue techs even if he was straight, he decided not to think any more about it. The last thing he was- or had ever been- was ashamed of Artie.
But what she said about this being like a meet-the-parents dinner for him, though… that stuck.
* * *
It was far too late that night before they were alone together once more. Jim had learned to prioritize the hard way, so he didn’t bring up Thanksgiving to Artie again until after a particularly creative bout of lovemaking.
“We should bring something,” Jim said, breathlessly. “To Thanksgiving.”
Artie pulled a face as he rolled back onto the pillows to Jim’s left. “You know, I would have liked to carry on believing I could keep your mind off holiday dinners a little longer than that.”
Jim laughed and shrugged.
Artie held his expression for a moment longer before he laughed too. He said, “By ‘we’ do you mean me and by ‘bring’ do you mean cook?”
“…Yes?” Jim offered, as sweetly as possible. Artie had been teaching him to cook, but he still considered their kitchen more or less his domain. Jim was mostly only allowed to cut vegetables, which he was pretty sure was exactly how Artie wanted it.
“Since you’re being so helpful, do you have any suggestions?” Artie asked, still laughing.
Artie was always gorgeous, but Jim was pretty sure he had never seen him more gorgeous than right now, laughing, shiny and just a little sticky, trying and failing to look annoyed. “I’ve heard that green-bean casserole is popular.”
Artie’s eyes narrowed. Jim had suspected anything traditionally involving Aunt Maud and a can of soup would be a sore spot. “If you mention those one more time, I’ll hit you with a pillow.”
“I bet you could make a pretty good-”
Artie did hit him with the pillow.
Jim was only laughing harder as he ducked out of the way.
“How much do you know about Thanksgiving fare anyway?” Artie asked after a while, when they were back to lying side-by-side more or less peaceably.
“Sometimes we got care packages in the military,” Jim answered dutifully. “From little fourth graders.” The statement, while technically accurate, in no way reflected Jim’s breadth experience of the holiday, but he did like to play to Artie’s expectations once in a while. In fact, Jim was fairly sure that if anyone was out of touch with the realities of Thanksgiving, it was Artie and not him. Artie got cranberry sauce out of cranberries instead of a can, among other things, and though Jim knew that he wasn’t the only one in America, he probably didn’t have a large company of confederates either.
Anyway, it wasn’t as though Thanksgiving dinner was something that had happened to other people until Jim met Artie. He had had foster families, and he had also spent Thanksgiving with Lydia and her parents a few times. Lydia had been Jim’s first steady girlfriend- and incidentally the first person he’d ever come out to- and if ever she found herself inconveniently single over the holidays she would beg Jim to come and gamely insist to her parents that she and Jim had gotten back together and that they were really going to make it work this time. Jim was certain that they had stopped believing her years ago, and that they allowed the charade to continue only out of pity- but whether that pity was for Lydia or for him Jim couldn’t really say.
From the way Artie’s eyes rolled but his mouth had already started twitching again, Jim could tell that Artie knew some- if not all- of what he was thinking, and was deciding whether to be exasperated or amused. Jim gave him a kiss that seemed to decide him.
“I’ll make pie,” Artie said after another while.
“I’m sure Mrs. Grant will have some,” Jim told him. People like Julia Grant didn’t host Thanksgiving dinners without pie; Jim might not have known everything there was to know about big family get-togethers, but he definitely knew that.
“Oh, undoubtedly,” Artie replied serenely, between another few kisses. “But it won’t be mine, will it?”
That, Jim supposed, was just as true. Artie did make very, very good pie. And if Jim knew him- which, of course, he did- he would be bringing cranberry sauce along, too.
* * *
Jim’s murder victim’s wife- who was incidentally also his murderer- was hissing and spitting like a cat while a couple of uniforms wrestled the cuffs on her, and as Jim stepped out into the hall for a bit of air his phone rang.
Jeremy waved him off and headed back into the danger zone with a tight smile. “Go on,” he said. “I got this.”
Nodding, Jim backed away and answered his phone. He heard: “I was wondering what you were doing tomorrow.”
“Oh, not you too,” Jim groaned at Lydia down the phone. “You were at my wedding, for Christ’s sake.”
“Oh, keep your pants on,” Lydia snapped. “I know! I know, you’re with Artemus. But he could come too. We could say we’re trying something… postmodern.”
Jim did actually crack a smile as he pictured Lydia trying to tell her parents that they had some kind of ménage à trois going on. “Sorry, Lyd,” he said. “We really do have plans.”
He could hear her deflate for over a hundred miles away. “Okay.”
Normally, he would at least try to hold her hand through whatever crisis had prompted the call, but the sooner he finished up his paperwork back at the precinct, the sooner he would be able to head home. “Just go home alone this year,” he said. “They won’t think less of you, I promise. They just want you to be happy.” Jim had a theory that Lydia was in fact happiest sowing her proverbial wild oats. He was willing to bet that by now her parents knew and accepted it too.
She grumbled, but he knew she knew he was right.
* * *
When the day in question finally arrived, and Jim felt more nervous than he did before making a major arrest, or testifying in court, or even on his first date with Artie. But that feeling melted away when he walked out into the living room and Artie- from the kitchen- called out, “You look gorgeous.”
Jim smiled, feeling a little short of breath. He had just been thinking the same thing, and he said so. Artie’s own smile was slow and warming. He wore a green sweater vest over a button down, grey slacks and a tie- the kind of outfit that should have made him look like a much stodgier professor than he was, but just made Jim want to tear it off and kiss every inch of him.
He crossed to Artie and buried his face in his hair.
“I love you,” he said as he breathed in, nuzzling the side of Artie’s head.
“Love you, too,” Artie murmured, and sighed as Jim kissed the shell of his ear. “But if you keep that up we’re going to be late for dinner- if we make it at all.”
Artie trailed his fingers over the bulge in Jim’s slacks to clarify his point. Jim groaned softly, tempted. “We do have to go.”
“I know.” Artie turned his head to kiss Jim with saddening- but necessary- finality. “I know how much this means to you.”
“Yeah?” Jim asked, uncertain. He knew that it meant a great deal to him, but he still hadn’t managed to articulate why in his own mind. He wished Artie would just tell him, but that wasn’t Artie’s style. Sure enough, Artie gave him a final smile, put on his coat, picked up his bag of food, and headed for the car without another word.
Was it because Jim cared about the Grants and knew that they cared about him, and wanted them- at least- to know that he was happy? Or was it more than that, as Kitten the morgue tech had suggested? Was this the closest thing to showing Artie off to his parents he was ever going to get?
* * *
Jim checked his voicemail as they got into the car. He was a little too distracted by how menacing- yet somehow charming- Artie looked scowling at the traffic to get much more than the basic gist of the rapid fire Spanish, but he definitely heard ‘extra’ and ‘tamales.’ He hung up the phone.
* * *
“Oh,” Mrs. Grant said quietly as Artie hung up his coat. “You’re-”
“Artemus Gordon. We decided not to fuss about names. Anyway, I had all my business cards and resumes already printed up.”
Mr. Grant didn’t miss a beat. He relieved Artie of his bags and even found a way to balance one under his arm so they could shake hands. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Mr. Gordon.” Jim smiled; he had been relatively sure that Grant at least would be aware that he had gotten married, and he was glad now to think that he had been right. “He’s an actor, dear.”
“I mostly teach now,” Artie put in. “But I do still take to the stage on occasion. Jim and I met when I moved in next door.”
Mrs. Grant looked charmed, as if she hadn’t at all doubted his existence up until a moment ago. Jim wasn’t surprised; Artie had that effect on people.
Meanwhile, Grant clapped Artie on the shoulder- with energy- and guided him toward the dining room, leaving Jim in the entry hall with a fondly smiling Mrs. Grant and four kids.
“You’re married,” the youngest boy said, in a tone approaching awe. Why this was ground-breaking while Jim’s arrest record- the finest that his precinct had ever seen, by the way- was not puzzled Jim greatly.
“We thought you wore a ring to scare off girls,” said the middle boy.
“Or it was your mother’s,” the eldest said.
“Like on that show Nellie likes,” his brothers chimed in.
Nellie looked murderous. “Shut up,” she hissed as they filled into the dining room. “You watch it too, I’ve seen you.”
Jim found himself smiling as they continued squabbling all the way. Julia caught his arm and her smile had widened even further.
“Did you think I was wearing a ring to chase off girls or to remember my mother like on that show?” he asked, wondering if Jeremy had gotten to them somehow, or if everyone he knew had somehow drawn this conclusion independent of one another.
“I’m not sure what I thought, frankly. But I did worry that you might be unhappy. Now I can’t think why.”
Jim flushed slightly and looked at the ground. He felt warm all over.
Grant was still talking to Artie about his work when they arrived in the room. “Did you always want to be an actor?” he was asking.
"As long as I can remember," Artie replied.
“And your family supported you?”
“My parents died when I was fairly young, and I spent most of my formative years being tossed back and forth like a hot potato by aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles. Now that we’re grown, the cousins and I do much the same thing with them. I happen to be off duty this year. But don’t get me wrong- I love my family, and yes, they did support me. All the Gordon clan believes in following your dreams- although the more money your dreams include, the better respected they are.”
Nellie was closest to Jim, and she sighed, “He’s lovely.”
Jim suspected Artie would be horrified to note the somewhat dreamy look being directed his way by a girl half Jim’s age. Luckily he was too busy charming his audience to notice. Jim smiled at Mrs. Grant again. “Do you need help getting anything to the table? He could be a while.”
* * *
After dinner was done, the three boys- and Nellie, which didn’t surprise Jim a bit- piled onto the couch to watch football. The middle spot appeared to be a heavily contested one, and Jim smiled a little as he watched them. Artie went into the kitchen with Mrs. Grant and it didn’t look like he’d be coming out again that century.
Jim spent a moment standing- hesitating- in the no man’s land between the kitchen and the living room before Grant passed by, beckoning to him, and went out onto the porch. Jim followed him.
“The kitchen is off-limits,” Grant explained. “Not that there aren’t plenty of dishes to wash. Julia has a system with the leftovers, which I apparently only hamper. If your young man can figure it out, he’s much quicker than I.”
Jim smiled. He couldn’t imagine what Artie would say if he heard himself described as Jim’s young man- given that he was ten years older than Jim and probably not much younger than Grant.
“I think you can call it quite the benediction, anyway,” Grant added with a smile.
It was a cool night, but not cold. It had been raining earlier, and though the sky had cleared there was still the smell of it on the air. The porch was large, with a couple of chairs out front, one of which Grant settled heavily into. “I suppose I ate too much,” he said with a laugh. “This is the one day of the year Julia doesn’t try to make me cut back.”
Jim laughed too and joined him.
“I used to smoke out here most nights, before she made me quit.”
“Well, that was probably for the best.”
“Oh, I know it.”
“It’s a nice view,” Jim said. It was- the Grants lived on a peaceful street, the kind of place where Jim supposed he could imagine settling one day, maybe after he retired. “I’m glad I came,” he said. “This was… nice.” That felt like an understatement.
“Julia meant it when she said you were like family to us.”
“I know,” Jim said. “Me too.” He knew now that Kitten had most likely been right about him, and that this was indeed the closest to showing Artie off to his parents he was ever going to get- and finally doing it had made him feel all warm and peaceful inside. He smiled at the thought of her; he would tell Loveless that he liked this one, except that he knew that little man might break something in his rush to get rid of her if he did have any reason to suspect that Jim liked her. Half of Loveless’ turnaround rate, Jim suspected, was because most of his techs liked Jim.
“We’re just glad you’re happy.” And Jim knew that Grant meant more than just on that particular night, and that he was speaking for himself as much as Julia.
“I’m just glad you know I am.”
“Of course I do,” Grant said. “I’ve seen you unhappy, after all.”
Jim laughed a little at that; truer words had rarely been spoken. Grant had seen him at some of his very lowest points. “I’ve dated people who really made me want to shout it from the rooftops,” Jim said. “Miss work, laugh all the time… but the thing of it was- it didn’t really feel that good. It felt… wrong. It felt like… like lying to myself, and to everyone else. But from the very start Artie just… slotted into my life like there had been this space there shaped like him the whole time. He made me feel… like I was okay. Like I always had been.”
Grant smiled. “There you are, then," he said. "Happy.”
* * *
That night, Artie rolled over, sprawling over Jim’s chest. Jim stroked his back with a light hand, not sure whether he was awake or not. Then Artie mumbled something that Jim eventually translated as, “What are you thinking about?”
“One of my foster families were the ‘church every Sunday’ types,” he said. “We never developed a profound bond, exactly, but they were good people. At Thanksgiving they had us all say around the circle what we were thankful for.”
Artie gave a, “Hmm?” that sounded curious, interested.
Jim continued. “I’m thankful for you. And… for them. The Grants, I mean. I’ve got a home and friends and a family, and there were times I never thought that I would have any of those things. And yeah, I don’t like to talk about it. I guess I’m not the type. But I guess I also…” Jim sighed. “This one day of the year, I guess I expected everyone to just know how lucky I feel. But maybe it’s good that you don’t mind people not knowing that we’re together, because if it’s the way I look when I so much as think about you that makes them think I can’t possibly have you… well, they’re probably going to think that for a long time.”
“My technical director and some her stagehands,” Artie murmured.
“What about them?” Jim asked.
“They see you, every once in a while, when you come by to take me out to lunch or dinner. They’ve each come up with a different dramatic story about who you are and why you come to see me all the time. Because whoever I’m with- if I’m with anyone at all- it can’t be you. Because I always look at you like I don’t believe it. Like I could never be that lucky.”
Jim smiled. “I guess we’re both in the same boat, then.”
“I guess we are,” Artie murmured, snuggling against Jim’s chest. “It’s okay. I like our boat.”