“Dan. No. We’ve talked about this. I really want to spend Christmas with you too, but we can’t. You know we can’t.” Phil sighed frustratedly, running his hands through his hair. They had been talking about this for weeks, the conversation continuing far too long for Phil’s liking. He couldn't believe that the discussion was still continuing even after they had reached their respective families houses. He thought they’d decided like every year to spend Christmas apart with family. Dan in the south, and Phil in the north.
“I could just catch the train up after lunch and be there after dinner. It will be a bit late by the time I catch the plane as well, but you know we’re both night owls. We could spend Christmas night together. Just for once.” Dan’s voice sounded wistful and falsely optimistic down the phone, like he already knew the answer coming. He should know, because this conversation was a repeat of many before.
‘Dan trains don’t run on Christmas Day and there’s no planes that run on Christmas Day to the Isle of Man. Or ferries. Plus, your family want to spend time with you. They hardly see you enough as it is,” Phil said pointedly.
“Not my fault we’ve just been on a world tour,” Dan snapped. “You know with the editing of the video and the promotional stuff we’ve had to do I couldn’t have got here before now.”
“All the more reason to give them some more time and spend a decent break with them over Christmas,” Phi said coaxingly. “You’ve only just got there, it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow and you would either have to leave tomorrow or a day or two after Christmas. If you leave tomorrow, you’ll have only spent 2 days there.”
There was a pause at the end of the line, as Dan contemplated what to say next. Phil could predict the substance of it – the arguments familiar and now tiresome.
“Two days is more than enough. They get to see me every Christmas normally. I’ll get some peace on the plane without having to chat to everyone about how my life’s a mess. Hardly anyone will be on public transport this close to Christmas. I can relax for once.”
Phil sighed again. “You know there’s always fans anywhere we go. Someone will see you travelling and suspect where you’re going and why. Especially if they see you catching the plane to here.”
“Is that such a bad thing Phil? Really? For fucks sake half of them already suspect, and honestly, I don’t care whether they see or not. I just want to spend Christmas with my boyfriend. For once. Please.”
The please at the end was sounding more broken, as Dan knew he had lost the argument yet again. Phil had held firm through more tense arguments than this. He knew this was the right thing to do. It wasn’t the right time to announce their relationship. Yet. Maybe one day. For now, it would cause a huge on-line storm if Dan was seen going to the Isle of Man for Christmas Day. Something he didn’t think he could handle. He pushed down the feelings of guilt – Dan would get over it, like he had every year in the past. Then things would continue on as normal.
“Dan. No. Please don’t argue. Lets just have a nice conversation for once without having to argue about this. It’s nearly Christmas Eve. I just want to talk about nice Christmassy things. Talking to you on Skype is one of my favourite things to do at Christmas. How about we have a nice Skype call. I can turn the laptop on. Do you think we can do that and not argue?”
There was another pause at the end of the line. “Stop being so fucking patronising Phil”. Dan’s voice had gone cold and Phil felt a shiver of fear down his spine and a grip on his heart. Coldness was bad. “I just wanted to spend Christmas with you. For once. Is that so bad? I miss you so much when you’re gone.”
“Dan, I miss you too. It’s not the same without you here.” Phil miserably stared at the wall in front of him, wishing he was lying next to Dan right now instead of having this conversation which seemed to be deteriorating rapidly.
“Then why aren’t we together this Christmas? There’s still time to organise it.”
“There’ll be no plane tickets left and someone’s bound to see you. Do you really want to deal with what comes after?”
“I thought maybe we could deal with it together, but you don’t seem to care about us, you care more about what the fans are going to say and how much media shit we’ll have to deal with. Like I said I don’t care about all that.”
“Dan…” Phil protested weakly, but Dan overrode him with a stream of cold bitter words.
“No, fuck you Phil. I’ve had it. I’m sick of spending Christmas apart just because you’re anxious about the media. Actually, maybe you just don’t want to spend Christmas with me. Is that it? You want to keep your perfect bubble of Christmas just like it always was, without me intruding to ruin it. Well you know what? Maybe I don’t want to spend Christmas with you after all. If it’s just going to be you fucking stressing about what the media will say, and not wanting me there to ruin your Christmas then I don’t want to be there. “
“Dan you know that’s not true,” the anger now invading Phil’s voice as well, “I would love to have you there. It’s not just the media. Our families want to see us at Christmas. You wouldn’t…”
“Fuck off.” The interruption came swiftly and coldly. “Am I not your family too? That really hurts Phil.”
Phil paused, thinking hard what to say. Dan was family, he was the most important thing in Phil’s life, but he couldn’t disappoint either of their parents at Christmas, especially when they didn’t get to see them as much as they liked. He opened his mouth to speak but he was too late.
“Guess I know the answer to that question then. Just spend Christmas with your perfect family like you’ve always wanted.”
Phil opened his mouth to say an angry retort, but he was interrupted by the sound of the phone cutting off. He dialled Dan’s number immediately to continue the argument but instead got Dan’s voicemail. Fuck. He grabbed his laptop, fired it up and tried to Skype. No answer. He threw his phone onto the floor and jumped up to pace around the room. What was Dan thinking? Where was this coming from? Every other time they’d had this argument it had gone differently. The discussion had come to a close with Phil being able to make his points and Dan seeing sense. Why had Dan erupted like that? He stared dejectedly out of the window over the tree-line leading down to the next valley, the gently waving branches just visible in the moonlight. He’d been looking forward to a pleasant evening talking to Dan over the phone and then maybe Skyping later. Just like they’d used to do every Christmas holiday apart. He loved the intimacy. Just the two of the them. Talking about everything and nothing, far into the night. But Dan was gone in a storm of icy rage that Phil had not predicted was possible for these days of calm and organised discussions. They’d worked hard to get past these episodes of rage from Dan, therapy helping both to have civilised discussions.
Phil knew Dan had always wanted to spend Christmas with him, it was the one thing he talked about as the lead up to Christmas got closer every year. “Family is everything to me Phil and you’re my family now,” Dan would say every time Phil brought up the needing to spend time with family argument. Phil agreed in the bottom of his heart. He desperately wanted them to spend Christmas together too. Much as he loved being with his family at Christmas it was never the same without Dan’s witty jokes, sly arms moving around his waist at unexpected times and quick kisses behind closed doors so that the rest of the Lester family wouldn’t tease them mercilessly. But the old arguments always won over in his mind. He grabbed his phone off the floor and tried to ring Dan’s number again. The immediate flick into the familiar voicemail had Phil clenching his free hand and nearly throwing his phone across the room in a childish fit of rage. He stomped downstairs to grab some food in an effort to avoid the thoughts swirling around his brain.
Sleep that night was troubled and short. When he finally woke with the grey light of dawn casting shadows into the tiny room, he checked his messages. Nothing. Not even a text. He checked social media. Still nothing. He tried Dan’s number again, but the voicemail remained stubbornly in place, Dan’s cheerful voice mocking Phil’s increasingly bad mood. Phil pulled on some warm clothes and crept downstairs, trying not to wake anyone else this early. He was surprised to find his mother in the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea as she read through yesterday’s newspaper.
“Child!” You’re up early. Come to keep me company?” Kath said as she swept the newspaper closed. “Would you like some breakfast?”
“Just coffee please,” Phil said grumpily and slouched into the nearest chair rubbing his hands over his eyes.
“Bad night?” Kath said sympathetically as she stood up to make a fresh pot of coffee. “I heard you up at all hours. Couldn’t sleep?”
“No,” Phil said shortly, his mind travelling back and forth between Dan’s angry words that still haunted his mind.
“Anything the matter? How was your chat with Dan? It seemed rather short. You two normally talk for ages.” Kath got right to the point with no hesitation.
How did mothers always seem to know what was troubling their children?
“Mum I don’t want to talk about it.” Phil avoided her eyes and took a large sip of coffee that his mother had just placed in front of him.
“Aha. I knew there was something wrong. You’re not normally this grumpy on Christmas Eve. I was expecting my cheerful Phil today, all ready to help with the Christmas preparations,” Kath said as she sat down opposite him, staring at his bowed head.
A lump came unbidden to Phil’s throat. He thought about telling his mum everything but decided against it. It wasn’t fair on Christmas Eve when she had so much preparation to do. He wanted to avoid thinking about Dan’s final comments, too, as much as he could. They still rang in his ears and made him angry. He didn’t want to be angry on Christmas Eve.
“Mum it’s nothing. Dan had to go help his mum,” Phil lied, looking up at into the concerned gaze of Kath, and then immediately looking down, feeling even more guilty about lying to his mother.
“At ten in the evening?” Kath said suspiciously.
“Mum….. Please just drop it.” Phil kept his head down as the silence lengthened.
“Well ok then,” the reply came finally. “You know I’m always here if you want to talk about anything.”
“Thanks mum. I know.” There was a pause as Phil thought of things to say to redirect the conversation away from the one thing he didn’t want to talk about. “Where are you up to with the Christmas preparations? What do you need me to do?”
“Well! You’ve come just at the right time. I was just making a list of things to do and I really need your help with some things.”
“Mum you were reading the newspaper,” Phil said with tired amusement.
“Well, I was making the list in my head,” Kath retorted as she stood up and moved to the kitchen draw, grabbing a notepad and pencil. “Let’s plan and then we can get started.”
The morning dragged on slowly. The others woke, and people bustled in and out of the kitchen. Martyn and Cornelia decided to walk into the village to pick up some more supplies for dinner that night and some last-minute presents. His father, knowing he would be roped into cooking if he didn’t look busy, suddenly found some odd jobs that needed doing urgently. Phil had a bath and tried to relax but after 20 minutes of over-thinking he decided to help his mother again instead, wanting the distraction of his mother’s cheerful conversation.
They continued on the large list of tasks, his mother keeping up a cheerful one-sided monologue on the latest village gossip. Phil listened half-heartedly, checking his phone intermittently. He wouldn’t have expected Dan to be awake yet, but by the time lunchtime rolled around there were no amusing gifs or texts from Dan like he usually would have expected. By early afternoon Phil’s mood slipped even further. Dan would normally have sent him at least a few texts by now if they were separated, if they hadn’t talked on the phone already. He hadn’t realised how much he missed the constant little interactions until they were no longer there. He gloomily stared out the kitchen window where he was helping Kath prepare desserts for Christmas Day lunch.
“Child, you’ve been staring out the window all morning. I know something’s up.” Kath continued stirring something on the stove. “I’m always here to listen you know.”
Phil sighed, wondering whether to tell his mother or not. She was always good at listening and usually had good insights into aspects of issues Phil hadn’t thought about. He decided he might as well. Keeping things inside certainly wasn’t helping his mood.
“I had an argument with Dan last night. A big one.”
“Really?” Kath stopped what she was doing and pulled the saucepan off the stove, switching it off as she turned to face Phil. Phil remained silent for a bit and turned to face her, still unwilling to go over the conversation in detail.
“You and he haven’t had a big argument for ages. What was it about?” Kath pulled out a chair for Phil and gestured to him to sit, then pulled out a chair for herself.
Phil reluctantly sat down, tapping his fingers on the smooth wood. He blurted out the words before he could stop himself.
“He wanted to come here for Christmas. I told him it wasn’t a good idea. He’s always listened to reason before and I don’t know why. He was just so mad. He said some completely ridiculous things.”
“Oh Phil. We would have loved to have had him you know that. Why did you say no?”
Phil launched into describing the argument, careful to give both sides as he saw it. His mother listened carefully, asking occasional questions to clarify a point. Phil ended by outlining the parting words Dan had thrown at him, his voicing shaking as he repeated them.
“So, I tried ringing back last night, but he had his phone switched off. He hasn’t called or texted this morning either.”
“Have you tried calling him this morning?”
“No. I figured he would see the missed calls from last night. Anyway, he’s the one who should be ringing me to apologise. How could he think I don’t want him here?”
“Phil, from what you’ve just said you’ve argued against him every year when he’s tried to suggest coming here.”
“Yes, but he knows the reasons why. We’ve discussed it so many times.”
“Have you listened to his point of view?”
“Yes I have mum. Of course I have. We both want to be together at Christmas. He knows that I want it just as much as he does.”
“Then why are you stopping him? Family is the most important thing at Christmas. Not fans or media attention. Dan loves you and you’re his family just as much as his parents and other relatives are. If I know anything about Dan’s family, they would be supportive of him coming here for Christmas. After all he spends every other Christmas with them. Same as we would support you going to Dan’s family for Christmas. Most people your age move around places for Christmas. We love having you here, but we certainly wouldn’t expect to see you every year, especially when it’s keeping you apart from Dan.”
Phil considered Kath’s words for a long moment. Family was incredibly important to Dan, just as it was to Phil. They both loved their families. However, Dan’s idea of family revolved around Phil, much more than his parents these days. And Phil had just discouraged Dan from being with the person he considered the most like family in the world. He felt the tightness growing again in his throat.
“I really miss him. I wish he was here.”
Kath cast a sympathetic glance at his lowered head.
“Why don’t you give him a call then.”
“Yeah I might.”
“You’ve still probably got time to get him here for Christmas if you really want.”
“Mum there’s no way that’s possible. It’s Christmas Eve. There’ll be no way to get tickets or anything now. You know there’s no planes or ferries running here on Christmas Day.”
Phil stood up abruptly, grabbing his phone from his pocket and turning to walk to his room wanting some peace to collect his thoughts and maybe try to ring Dan. If he answered. Kath watched him go thoughtfully, remaining seated and thinking hard for a few minutes. She stood abruptly as well, moving to the landline hanging on the kitchen wall. She picked up her address book, flipped to a certain page and rang the numbers, listening to the dial tone.
“Hi Karen, it’s Kath!” She said brightly as the person on the other end of the phone answered. “Happy Christmas to you! Yes, I know, Phil just told me. I have a plan…..”
Phil had collected his thoughts and tried to ring Dan. The phone at least rang this time but still went to voicemail.
“Dan I’m sorry. Can we please talk? I miss you. Please ring me back”
He clicked off the phone and threw himself back on the bed, arm flung over his eyes, phone clutched in his other hand just in case Dan rang back. He heard noises downstairs. Martyn and Cornelia had returned, and his father had come in for a late lunch by the sound of it. He decided to stay put in his room as he didn’t think he could face any more pitying gazes. His mother would surely have told the others what had happened. Exhaustion filled his body as he noticed just how he tired he was feeling. Just a quick rest, he thought. An hour later, he suddenly woke, feeling guilty as he realised the time. His family were probably slaving away over Christmas chores and here he was avoiding them. He went to the bathroom, threw some cold water on his face and took a deep breath, descending the stairs and looking for his family.
He found them in the kitchen. Kath and Cornelia were discussing something quietly as they hovered over the stove, whilst Martyn and his dad were similarly talking in hushed whispers, finishing cups of coffee. They looked up guiltily as he entered. Phil sighed internally. Of course they were discussing him. But he was determined now not to let his mood ruin the rest of Christmas.
“Sorry I didn’t realise the time. So, what still needs doing?” he said, scanning the mostly completed list.
“Well!’ his mother said cheerfully. “Cornelia is going to help me finish up in the kitchen. Your father has decided we need to put up some more Christmas lights outside. He would really love you and Martyn to help.”
“I did?” Nigel said confusedly at the same time as Martyn groaned “Oh mum, no! Not more lights.”
“Yes,” Kath said glaring at her husband. “You said we needed more lights for our guests tomorrow.”
“What guests?” Phil said, feeling like he had missed some important conversation.
“Ah,” Nigel said. “Of course, I did say that. Come on boys. Let’s grab the ladder and the rest of the lights in the garage.” He stood up and finished off his coffee quickly, dropping his mug in the sink.
“There’s a dishwasher right next to the sink you know.” Kath said pointedly.
Martyn groaned again, grabbing his cup and his dad’s and putting them both in the dishwasher. “Come on Phil, otherwise we’ll be stuck here listening to a repeat of the latest village news. We might as well go and help dad.”
“Are you sure you don’t need some help here?” Phil said, reluctantly thinking of the cold icy air outside the house.
“No we don’t,” his mother stated firmly. “Go grab your coats and scarves. And don’t forget your gloves. I don’t want you with frostbite on Christmas Day.”
“Then why are we putting up more lights? I don’t want frostbite either!” Phil was now totally confused especially when Cornelia turned from the stove and shot Martyn a pointed look as well.
Martyn grabbed Phil by the arm as he passed and dragged him firmly towards the coat rack. “Ok Ok. Let’s go and help dad. Although what help you’ll be is debatable. You’re likely to trip and fall over the ladder.”
“Hey! I’ll have you know I’m an expert at putting up lights. We have a whole strand across our balcony – put up by me! I even had to use the cordless drill!”” Phil protested as they layered up.
Martyn scoffed. “Yeah right, I’ll bet you hired a buff handyman to do it instead.”
Phil hit him on the shoulder for that and the bickering didn’t stop until they were hard at work, stringing strand after strand of fairy lights across the front of the house. Their dad seemed to be on a mission to put up the most lights possible that Phil had ever seen. Luckily it was a calm clear afternoon, the wind having not picked up yet, but the temperature was near freezing.
“I didn’t know you had this many lights.” Phil said exhaustedly several hours later as they put up the final strand. His arms and legs were frozen from standing holding the ladder, as both his dad and Martyn had banned him from being the one to climb up after he nearly pulled the guttering off the house whilst grabbing onto it when he dropped a strand of lights. “Why on earth do you have so many?”
“Ah. Christmas light competition. The whole street does it. Best house wins a favour of their choice from the house with the least lights. You know how your mother likes to win. We’ve won 3 out of the last 5 years of course.” Nigel muttered gloomily as he threw the last strand over to Martyn, who deftly fixed it to the end of the gutter.
“I’m so not glad about that” Martyn grumbled, climbing carefully down the ladder. “NASA will be able to spot the house from space.”
“So, what have you won then?” Phil rubbed his hands together to get some circulation back as his dad picked up the empty boxes. Martyn gestured to Phil to grab the ladder. Phil grabbed one end as they carried it carefully back to the garage.
“Couple of dinners out, a months’ worth of lawn mowing. That sort of thing. We weren’t going to put too many up this year. Thought we’d give some others a chance.”
“What happened to that idea. I like that idea. Surely no-one is going to care this close to Christmas,” Martyn said as he grabbed the ladder off Phil and stacked it carefully against the wall.
“Ah you never know,” Nigel said vaguely. “Always the chance of unexpected visitors at Christmas.” He gave Martyn a look, and Martyn rolled his eyes.
Nigel flicked a switch and they walked back around the front. Twilight was setting in, the trees around the house casting a dark rustling shadow as the wind picked up. However, the front of the house was now covered in a myriad of sparkling lights. White and green, interspersed with occasional flashes of red. The low trees and hedges in the front of the yard were covered in nets of white fairy lights. It outshone every house in the street by far. They stood watching the lights for a few minutes in silence.
“Well I bet that beats your balcony Phil,” Martyn teased, grinning as he punched Phil on the shoulder.
Phil didn’t react immediately, and Martyn and Nigel both looked concerned as Phil’s face fell slightly and his gaze dropped briefly to the ground and then back up the lights, staring as darkness continued to fall and the lights became steadily brighter.
“Yeah it does look a heap better,” he finally said. “Dan always wants me to put up more lights. He would love this,” Phil said quietly. “I wish he were here to see it. Pictures won’t do it justice.”
Martyn and Nigel shot each other a knowing look, as Phil pictured in his mind how Dan would have taken a hundred aesthetic photos of the lights, spending ages choosing exactly the right one to post to Instagram.
“Well I think that’s a job well done boys,” Nigel said eventually clapping each of them on the shoulder. “Let’s go inside and see whether your mother has made any mulled wine. I saw the ingredients on the counter earlier.”
Martyn and Nigel turned to go inside but Phil remained looking at the lights. Their cheerful twinkling seemed to mock the heaviness settled in his heart and mind. Dan really would love this. He loved any kind of Christmas lights. One of their favourite things to do was to go and find the best lights in their area every December. They could have been watching this together if Phil had agreed to Dan’s suggested plans. Somehow now all of Phil’s arguments felt flat in the face of the gaping hole his boyfriend had left with the silence that continued between them. He was now no longer sure that Dan was in the wrong. As his eyes started to prickle with unshed tears, he flung his head up and stared morosely at the Evening Star, the first one in the sky. It shone brightly down at him and he remembered how he used to wish upon the first star of the evening. He recited the childish rhyme in his head and made a wish.
I wish Dan was here…
After dinner and several glasses of mulled wine, they were crowded around a roaring fire, watching the end of an old Christmas movie. Phil was startled by the buzz of his phone in his pocket. Dan. It had to be. No-one else would ring this late. He jumped up, nearly knocking Cornelia’s glass out of her hands which she saved with an impressing feat of balancing.
”Sorry,” he muttered as he grabbed his phone out of his pocket, seeing the familiar number lighting up his phone screen. He hurried out of the room, pressing accept as he leapt up the stairs two at a time, leaving behind the amused faces of his family staring after him.
“Is it all sorted?” Cornelia asked in a whisper to Kath.
“Yes. All sorted. Now all we have to do is wait and hope the weather reports are correct tomorrow,” Kath whispered back as she pressed the start button to the movie again and settled back against the sofa.
“Dan,” Phil said breathlessly as he reached the top of the stairs and jogged quickly into his room closing the door.
“Phil,” said the cautious voice on the other end of the line. “Skype?”
“Yeah give me a moment, just need to turn my laptop on.”
“Yep. Okay. Got mine on. I’ll be waiting.”
Phil started up his laptop as he hung up the phone. He impatiently paced around the room as the laptop whirred into life then threw himself on the bed as the log in screen came up. His shaking fingers made several failed attempts at his password, but finally his background screen came into view – a picture of the two of them under a cherry tree in Japan. Phil’s gaze centred on Dan’s happy smile in the picture, his eyes sparkling like the twinkling lights outside and his breath caught. He hadn’t seen that smile for a month, since before they had started talking about Christmas plans. Before he could think further an incoming call on Skype made him jump.
“Dan,” he repeated, staring at the familiar face before him. Dan was in his room at his parents’ home, lounging on the bed, laptop balanced on his thighs. His face looked tired and drawn, the purple shadows under his eyes even darker than they normally were. He was staring intently back at Phil, chewing nervously on his lower lip.
An awkward silence persisted until they both spoke at once.
“Dan I’m sorry…”
Another awkward silence ensued until Dan spoke up again.
“I’ll go first. I’m so sorry Phil. I just really wanted to spend Christmas together. And I let my emotions get the better of me again. I know you want us to be together just as much as I do.”
“I do,” whispered Phil, leaning forward to capture all of his nervously fidgety boyfriend in view.
“I still stand by what I said. I don’t care what anyone else thinks, but I didn’t mean to drag your family into it. I know they’re important to you.”
“Not as important as you. I hadn’t realised how much I missed you until I didn’t hear from you today. You’re just as important as my family. In fact, even more so. I let stupid arguments get in the way of what’s most important.”
Dan sighed, looking down at his hands for a long while. Phil waited anxiously, as Dan finally looked up, staring at Phil intently again.
“Phil, promise me something?”
“Promise me we’ll find a way to be together next Christmas? I don’t think I can stand being apart for another Christmas.”
Dan grimaced and dropped his head into his hands, rubbing his eyes tiredly. Phil felt another pang of guilt, as he saw how tired and dejected Dan looked. Knowing Dan, he’d probably stayed up most of the night thinking. As Dan looked up again, Phil raised his hand and traced the outline of Dan’s cheek on the screen. They looked into each other’s eyes until Dan smirked slightly.
“You can’t touch me through the screen Phil, much as I might want you to.”
Phil lowered his hand and took a deep breath.
“I promise. I promise with all my heart. We’ll find a way next year to be together at Christmas. You’re my world Dan, and Christmas just isn’t the same without you. I need to put my fears aside. My mum was right. We can alternate going to each other’s homes.”
“Talking to your mum about me again?” Dan leant back onto the headboard of his bed. “How is Kath?”
“She’s good. We had to go through the usual Christmas list. Kept us busy all day. We even had to put up some more lights this afternoon. They’re beautiful Dan. All I could think of as we were putting them up was how much you’d love them.”
Dan smiled faintly. “Tell me about them.”
They both settled back into their beds, spending the next half hour talking about lights, and remembering the best displays they’d ever seen, moving on to talking about random Christmas memes. Dan finally yawned and sat up, moving the laptop down his legs as he stretched.
“Well, much as I would love to keep talking, I need to get some sleep.”
Phil’s face dropped in disappointment. “It’s only early yet. Well before midnight anyway. Do you have to go?”
“Sorry yes. Mum mentioned something about a change in plans and having to get up early. It probably involves a whole heap of unexpected people that I don’t want to talk to. If so, I need to at least get some sleep, so I can think up half decent conversation.”
“Ok. You do look exhausted. Get some sleep babe.”
“Fuck off. Don’t call me babe.” Dan growled playfully, throwing a sock at the screen. “I’ll speak to you tomorrow. Not sure when if my mum’s got plans. Have fun tomorrow Phil.”
“Sure. You too.” Phil looked wistfully at Dan as he leant forward. “Love you.”
“Love you more.” Dan looked sad again as he reached for the keyboard and the screen went black.
Phil kept looking at the screen long after, Dan’s sad face haunting his mind.
Love you most....
Christmas Day dawned cold and clear, a weak sun bringing an unexpected warmth to the chill air. The house was a bustle of activity as neighbours and friends dropped in and out, bringing gusts of cold air and cheery conversation. Presents were unwrapped and exclaimed over. Lunch was held with a table groaning under the weight of Kath and Cornelia’s cooking, inane Christmas cracker jokes mixed with cheerful conversation under the glow of flickering Christmas candles.
Phil tried to keep up with the conversation, but his heart wasn’t in it. He gazed into the candle in front of him, wondering what Dan was doing now. There had been a couple of Christmas texts early before Phil had been dragged out of bed by his family. A couple more pictures of a sad Christmas puppy and a grey aesthetic ‘I miss you’ snow scene came through while Phil was having breakfast. When Phil had tried to ring later in the morning, however, Dan’s phone had rung out. He sent a couple of gifs back of cute baby animals with Christmas hats on but didn’t get a response.
The afternoon brought more guests, more conversation, a recording of the Queen’s Christmas speech and more food until finally dusk appeared. Dan’s phone was now switched off, and Phil spent most of the afternoon looking at photos of Dan on his phone, ignoring the gentle ribbing from his family as they tried to draw him into conversation. The family gathered around the fire, as the last guests departed, and Cornelia switched another old Christmas movie on to play. Kath looked at her watch and poked her husband in the side where he was softly snoring.
“Nigel, wake up. Time to put the lights on.”
“Hmmm. Right. Ok.” Nigel got up and grabbed his keys from the near the front door, passing out into the garage. Through the window, Phil saw the glow of the lights flick on, casting glimmering reflections into the glass decorations on the Christmas tree. The sound of one of the cars startled him, and the engine noise became fainter as his father drove off.
“Where’s dad off to?” Phil asked in confusion.
“Just off to pick up something from a friend,” Kath said cheerfully. “He won’t be long.”
“Really? At this time of night?”
“Yeah I reckon it will get you out of that dirge of a mood you’ve been in all day,” Martyn teased with a smirk until Cornelia elbowed him in the side. “Oof, ow that hurt!”
“What? What does that mean?” Phil didn’t get a response as suddenly his family decided more mulled wine was in order.
The movie was nearly over by the time a sound was heard in the driveway. Doors slammed, and the doorbell rang.
“Phil, go and answer the door, darling.” Kath asked as everyone look expectantly at the door.
“Why can’t dad let himself in?”
“Just go answer the door, Phil,” Kath said firmly.
Phil sighed, and pulled himself out of the comfy sofa crease he had spent the afternoon creating. He trudged over to the door, pulling it open and letting a blast of icy wind inside. He looked up expecting to see his father standing there, but his jaw dropped as he saw who was standing there. There, standing in the doorway, one hand carrying a black duffle bag and the other fiddling nervously with the buttons on his coat was a figure so familiar and yet so unexpected but oh so welcome.
“Dan!” Phil launched himself towards his boyfriend throwing his arms around his shoulders and burying his face in his neck. “Dan, oh my god, Dan.” He tightened his arms around Dan’s shoulders. “How. How….” His voice choked as Dan dropped his bag and his arms crept hesitantly up to hold Phil around his waist.
“Is it ok I’m here? I wasn’t sure….” Dan trailed off, his hands running carefully up and down Phil’s back.
“Is it ok? Dan I’m so glad you’re here. You have no idea.” Phil’s voice shook and he moved his arms upwards around Dan’s neck as Dan rested his cheek on the top of Phil’s head, spending a few moments just holding each other. Flashes of white and green threw a soft glow on their bowed heads.
The sound of the garage door closing and doors slamming inside roused them. “Come inside boys, you’re letting all the cold air in.” Kath said as she took her husband’s coat and hung it on the rack.
Dan gently pushed Phil off him, grabbing his bag off the doorstep and Phil’s hand in the other. Phil followed dazedly as Dan pulled him inside and Kath closed the door behind them.
“Come get warm Dan, you must be freezing. Would you like some food? There’s plenty of leftovers. In fact, why don’t we all have some supper.”
“Great!” Martyn cheered as he leapt off the couch. “Hi Dan, welcome and Happy Christmas. Let me get your bag, seeing as Phil has seemingly lost his manners.”
He took Dan’s bag and Phil didn’t have a rational thought in his brain to even answer him back. He looked around at Dan, seeing the nervous expression hadn’t left his face yet. He pulled Dan into a fierce hug again as Dan exhaled and cupped Phil’s cheeks with cold hands, pulling his head towards him and kissing him gently on the lips. Phil deepened the kiss, as Dan’s hands moved around to entwine in Phil’s hair, both ignoring the wolf whistles from Martyn who had come back down the stairs.
“I guess you don’t mind I’m here then.” Dan said breathlessly as they pulled back for air.
Phil uttered a shaky laugh, as he looked into the beautiful brown eyes fixed on his.
“Mind? This is the best Christmas present ever.” Phil gripped Dan’s hands firmly in his own.
“Come get some food Dan, you must be starving,” Cornelia said kindly, appearing around the door to the kitchen.
“You know me too well, Cornelia.” Dan laughed as he extricated himself from Phil, striding to give Cornelia a hug, “Happy Christmas.”
Greetings were exchanged all around, and Phil watched as Dan got to Kath, pulling her into a big hug. “Thanks,” he whispered. “I’m still not sure how you did it, but thanks.”
Kath hugged him back. “You’re welcome dear. You’re welcome here anytime, Christmas especially.”
Dan smiled as he looked over towards Phil, his face mirroring the one from Phil’s laptop background. Phil smiled too as he looked back. Nothing was more precious than that smile. He vowed silently to do all he could from now on to keep that smile on Dan’s face.
Dinner was a much more raucous affair than lunch, Dan’s now high spirits contributing in the majority to the loud debate on the aesthetics of coordinating decorations and tinsel colours versus the haphazardly cheerful rainbow of the Lester family tree. Phil didn’t contribute much to the conversation, preferring to listen to his boyfriend charm his family all over again, stealing gazes to the side to watch Dan’s animated face when he thought no-one was looking. He kept his hand firmly clasped in Dan’s right hand under the table, unwilling to let him go even for a moment. As the debate finally died down, and Dan helped himself to a second helping of roast potatoes and gravy, Phil asked a question which had been puzzling him since Dan had arrived.
“Dan how did you get here? I’m completely stunned as to how you managed it.” He looked curiously as Dan passed the bowl of potatoes on to Martyn.
“It wasn’t me, it was your mum and mine I gather.” Dan shot a quick fond smile towards Kath, who was smiling back at him. “I was correct about the early Christmas start by the way. I got hauled out of bed at 7 for a Christmas breakfast which all my extended relatives had decided to attend, and then got driven to Luton airport. I got picked up by a private jet and flown here. Your dad was kind enough to pick me up from the airport.”
“What? How much did that cost?” Phil was horrified at the expense that must have entailed. “We have to pay you back mum.”
“No need!” His mother said brightly as she smacked Martyn’s hand away from a third helping of potatoes. “It wasn’t expensive at all. Hardly cost a thing.”
“Don’t worry Phil,” his father said, seeing that Phil was still looking concerned. “We know the pilot. Your mum called in a favour, although I think that was probably the favour to end all favours.”
“Hmmm, the pilot said something about a favour.” Dan said thoughtfully, looking at the soft reflections of the Christmas lights scattering patterns on the wall beside them. “Something about losing a Christmas light competition? He said he’d made a deal though to make sure he didn’t lose for the next few years though.”
Phil turned his gaze towards his mother, who had turned slightly pink.
“Well luckily I hadn’t called in the favour yet from us winning last year. Poor Eric. He’s a lovely single man who owns a holiday house at the end of the street. He’s nearly always away for most of December so he never has time to put many lights up, so he loses quite often. He owns the private jet company for the island, so he ends up giving joy flights to all the neighbours most years.”
“Yes, well he’s going to have the best decorated house from now on,” Nigel said gloomily.
“So nice of you to offer to help him with lights for the next few years dear,” Kath said fondly. “He’ll be most appreciative.”
“Well, I guess it was worth it.” Nigel said gruffly as he watched Phil tear his gaze from Dan towards Kath.
“Thanks mum. You too Dad. Really, thanks.” Phil said softly as his mother patted his free hand gently. “Please thank Eric for us too.”
“I will. Eric’s a romantic at heart. I don’t know why he hasn’t got a partner yet. He heard the story and was glad to help. Especially when he heard he might not have to lose the competition for a few years. He said he would save hundreds of pounds in jet fuel alone!” Everyone laughed, and Martyn and Cornelia rose to start clearing the table.
“Well then Phil, Dan hasn’t had a chance to see our lights properly yet. Why don’t you go show him all our efforts from yesterday?” Nigel said as he took a stack of plates off his wife and gently pressed her back into her seat.
Phil looked doubtfully back at Dan.
“It’s probably freezing out there. Do you want to go look?”
“Of course I do you spork. I didn’t have time to have a good look before. We can rug up and you can keep me warm.” Dan rose and pulled Phil out of his seat, smirking at Phil’s red face as they heard more wolf-whistles from the kitchen. They grabbed coats, scarves and beanies and slipped outside, their breath making mists in front of them as they strode hand in hand to the front of the driveway.
“Wow Phil. Much effort, so sparkly. I love it,” Dan announced as Phil released his hand and pulled him into his side.
“Glad you like it. I was wondering why we had to put up so many lights yesterday, but I think it was a ploy to get me out of the house so I didn’t interrupt the planning.”
“I suspect your mother has a bit of a competitive streak as well.”
“I think she knows you like Christmas lights too.” Phil pulled Dan around into his arms as they continued to watch the lights sparkle from the house, almost but not quite out-shining the glow from the Milky Way above. “Do you want to take a walk and see all the other lights in the street?”
“Much as I love lights Phil, I had to get up at seven a.m. this morning. Seven. I didn’t remember such times existed. I just want to haul myself off to bed, preferably with you as well, and sleep until December 27th.”
“Your wish is my command.” Phil untangled himself from Dan’s arms, and led him back into the house. “You definitely need to take some photos of our lights though. I don’t want all this effort to be forgotten.”
Dan snorted as they closed the door behind them. “I heard you were just the ladder holder. You realise you’ll have to put much more effort into our apartment lights next year to keep up.”
“I don’t think anything can keep up with these lights or this Christmas in general. It’s turned out to be the best ever.” Phil grabbed Dan’s lapels on his coat and pulled him in for a brief kiss.
“You sap,” Dan said fondly against Phil’s mouth as he returned the kiss. “But I love you anyway.” He pulled away, taking his coat off. “Come on then, lead me to bed. Let’s go find your family and say goodnight first though.”
Later as they lay entwined under the duvet, Dan’s head resting in the curve of Phil’s neck and Phil’s arms loosely encircling Dan’s bare chest, Phil dropped yet another kiss on Dan’s curls.
“Dan I just want to say I’m so sorry again. I hadn’t quite realised how much spending Christmas together meant to you. And me as it turns out. I was trying to force seemingly rational decisions on something that should have been so obvious. You’re the most important family I have, and nothing is more important than you. Having you here is so much better than Skyping, and I don’t know why I was hanging on to that memory when we can make so many better ones. I want to spend every Christmas together from now on.”
Dan’s grip on Phil’s neck tightened and he didn’t say anything for a long moment.
Dan sniffed, and Phil felt his neck growing wetter as Dan’s shoulders shook slightly. “Dan! What’s wrong?” Phil grabbed Dan’s chin and forced his head up to look into his eyes anxiously. “I thought you’d be happy about this?”
“I am happy you spoon. Just let me be happy in peace.”
Dan turned his head out of Phil’s grasp and buried his head into Phil’s neck, taking several deep breaths as he got himself under control again. Phil clasped his arms more firmly around Dan, shifting so they were pressed into every surface of each other possible.
“I’m glad you’re happy.” He muttered as Dan’s breaths evened out.
After a while of Phil nearly drifting off to sleep, he felt Dan shift against him. He turned his head and opened his eyes to find Dan staring down at him uncertainly.
“I had an idea. I had lots of time to think on the plane. And in the car.” Dan said determinedly.
“I know, I owe you one for all that travelling.” Phil’s hand caressed up and down Dan’s bare back.
“Stop that. I won’t be able to think straight if you do that, and I want to discuss this while I’m still rational.”
Phil stilled his hand. “I’m listening.”
“Well, you know how we talked about getting a forever home next year? It’ll be a lot of work, but why don’t we have Christmas at ours next year? Invite both our extended families early before they make plans. If we get Cornelia and Martyn to help it won’t be such an effort. I’m sure they won’t mind if it’s not at their place. Their place is too small anyway.”
“How big a place are you planning on getting?” Phil said amusedly, flicking Dan’s nose as he scrunched it up.
“Doesn’t matter. You know what I mean. Stop trying to avoid the subject. I know it would work and from what your mum and mine both said today, I’m sure they just want us to be happy. I think it’s a great idea.”
“Dan Howell. Hosting a Christmas get-together. What is the world coming to?” Phil giggled as Dan glared down at him.
“Stop it. I know you’d love it, having both our families there and not having to choose between them.”
“I know, I know, it’s a great idea. I’d love to host Christmas with you next year.”
“I’m full of good ideas.” Dan’s gaze turned softer as he realised Phil was being serious finally.
“You are. Your ideas are the best. I should listen to them more often.”
“I’m going to remind you of that.”
Dan lowered his head and placed a trail of kisses down Phil’s neck and Phil gave a shiver. He suddenly pushed Dan off and rolled him over so that he was now lying underneath Phil. Dan gave a startled yelp as Phil’s weight came to rest firmly on him.
“Although I don’t think much of your idea of going to sleep early. I think I’m going to ignore that one.” Phil firmly crushed his lips to Dan’s, and Dan inhaled sharply and returned his kiss. His wandering hand found Dan’s hip and squeezed, as Dan moved his arms around Phil's neck to clasp his head, deepening the kiss. The room quietened, talking becoming superfluous.
Much later, a sparkle of white, green and red lights played through the gap in the curtains onto Dan’s back as the night lengthened. Phil played with the patterns, running a finger up and down his boyfriend’s spine, Dan having passed out a while before into a sprawl of exhaustion. He shifted and pulled Dan closer into him, as Dan muttered in his sleep, firmly wrapping his arm around Dan’s chest. He closed his eyes, still seeing a faint glimmer of lights flickering behind his closed eyelids and made another promise to himself. Next year he would give Dan all the lights he wanted on their forever home. Next year, and all the years from now on.