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On My Way

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1. Faithful Friends Who Are Dear to Us

Dust puffs into the room as David pushes the curtain open on Christmas morning. The light filtering through the spray of motes stings his eyes, glaring off the freshly fallen snow. It’s a white Christmas, the kind that used to make them gather at the window of the mansion in a rare familial moment, watching the flakes settle quietly among the hedges wrapped in burlap to protect them from winter’s breath.

David can’t imagine them standing like that today, peering out the vinyl window at the bleak motel parking lot. As far as he knows, the four Roses barely left their beds yesterday. He didn’t even see his parents except when they warmed up frozen dinners purchased for this occasion, their first Christmas in Schitt’s Creek. He spent most of yesterday watching the Downton Abbey Christmas Special on repeat while he scrolled his Instagram feed, photo after photo of warm getaways and ski lodges scattered with his old . . . friends? Are they friends, still? No. He supposes they never really were. 

But he has a friend, now. A real one. And she has a case of wine apparently. So they’re going to get drunk in the love room and watch movies or something. He’s not entirely clear on the plan. Actually only Stevie is getting drunk. He doesn’t trust them together in that room with twelve bottles of wine. He’s not going there with the sloppy drunk love room sex again, even now that they know how to take advantage of the ceiling mirror.

He gathers the bag of snacks he packed for the day and tells Alexis goodbye. She mumbles something into the pillow while she adjusts her eye mask. On the way to the love room, his boots crunch on the shoveled, salted walk. There are a few more cars in the lot than usual with people visiting for the holiday. Which reminds him that for some people—for him too now—this is home. 

When he gets to the room, Stevie already has the first bottle open. He crawls into bed next to her and pours himself a glass. She has been drinking straight from the bottle, but she has a clean mouth so he will let it slide. 

“So when did this little tradition start?” David asks, handing the bottle back to her. 

“Same year I took over the motel,” she says. “Decided to give myself a Christmas bonus.”

“But you never had family to visit?”

“Oh, I do. You remember Sean and Bree, whose room we fled the first time we were in this bed together?” she asks, elbowing him. 

“Ah. Yes. I remember.” He takes a sip of wine. It’s not bad actually, a full-bodied Malbec. 

“Part of my Christmas bonus was no longer having to go spend it with them.”

“Hm,” he says, taking another sip.

They flip around on the TV channels until they find a Christmas movie.

It’s a comedy. Or it’s supposed to be, anyway. They laugh more at the movie than with it. Stevie snorts as Arnold Schwarzenegger is chased by a pissed off reindeer through his house. Jingle All the Way finishes and transitions right into Elf. David pours another glass of wine—probably his last if he is going to be careful here—and settles in. They’re both a little tipsy which makes the scene when Will Farrell attacks a department store Santa funnier than it should be. Stevie doubles over with laughter when Buddy the Elf tells the second-rate Santa, “you smell like beef and cheese” and she turns toward David, a swing of hair falling against her cheek. 

She’s gorgeous, buzzed and smiling and present. He catches the loose hair between his fingertips and settles it back behind her ear, his thumb ghosting along her cheekbone as he does it. 

“David I’m not—” Her eyes and mouth squeeze closed as she leans her head into his hand. When her eyes flutter open again, her brows arch above her soft features. Those eyes hold him, inscrutable, both of them suspended in the sea of red sheets. 

“I’m sorry.” He retracts his hand, tucking it under his thigh so it can’t go wandering again. 

She looks down at her fingers, picking at the skin along her cuticles. 

“We should probably talk about something,” she says, lifting her eyes until they lock on him again. He reaches for the remote and turns down the volume on the television. “Do you remember when we went to that bar together?”

“Mmhmm,” he nods enthusiastically. “The one where you said the clientele was very diverse and it turned out to be mostly septuagenarians?”

“The one where I took all twenty-three of the dollars in your wallet in a game of pool,” she corrects with a beautiful, arrogant tilt of her head.

“Yes, I think we’re remembering the same night,” he says, moving her along with a roll of his hand.

“We kissed and you said it didn’t feel right.” 

“Mm, as I recall we both said it didn’t feel right.” 

“Okay. Well at least one of us was lying.”

“Oh,” he says. Then it dawns on him. “Oh, god.”

David goes to stand up but she stops him, her small hand tucking in behind his knee. It’s urgent—maybe desperate—and so intimate. She is the only person he's not related to who has really touched him since he moved here.

“Do you still want—” He can’t finish. He can’t ask what she wants. What if it’s something he can’t give her? What if he gives it to her anyway?

“No. I don’t—I don’t want that.”

“Okay. Is one of us still lying?” he asks gently. 

“I think for a long time, I wanted to try both. Friends and—and whatever else we were. But I’m usually pretty bad at both of those things, so it seems smarter to pick the one that has the best chance of working out. Does that make sense?”

David smiles and reaches his hand back into her hair, tucking behind her head and pulling her close so he can kiss her forehead. 

“Yeah. That makes sense.”

“So I choose friends. Do you—Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah. I want that.”

“Okay.”

Stevie clicks the volume up again on the TV and they settle back into the pillows. 

“Um, this might be kind of weird, but I got you a present,” he says at the next commercial break.

“You did?” 

“Yeah. I don’t know, is that weird? I can take it back.”

“It’s kind of weird,” she admits. “But I want it.”

He reaches down in the grocery tote bag he used to carry the snacks and pulls out a brown box with a tasteful red ribbon. 

“This is from the Blouse Barn,” she says, recognizing the packaging.

“I know. I rescued it from the store closing sale. And please don’t tell anyone I got you something. Alexis and my mom would never wear something from there in a million years, but I would still hear about it every year from this point on.”

“Well this is making me feel very special,” she says, flashing the sarcastic sneer he adores.

“Just open it.”

She slides off the ribbon and opens the lid. “It’s a hat,” she says. It’s a long, bright red knit hat with a pompom on the end.

David rests his chin in his hands, fingers over his mouth. She’s staring at it with her mouth hanging just so slightly open. 

“This is—This doesn’t look like something you would buy.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t. For me. But it’s for you. And it’s a significant improvement over the one you currently wear with the ear flaps, so.”

“You could try a simple ‘I thought it would look nice on you,’” she interrupts, saving him from himself. She pulls the hat down around her head and mugs for him.

“It looks nice on you,” he says. 

“Thanks.”

“And I don’t mind telling you it looks nice, even though I noticed you didn’t get me a present.”

“We didn’t say we were doing presents!” she insists. 

“Okay. Well now you know for next year.”

“I guess we’ll see what happens,” she says. 

He forgets to suppress his smile and she smiles back, her cheeks tinting with just the slightest hint of pink. Her hands busy themselves adjusting her hair under the hat. He really hopes that someday they will be past these awkward moments. 

“Now that we’re very clear on what this is and isn’t, can we agree to never speak of it again?” he asks, getting out of the bed.

“I kept the other thing we did in here a secret, didn’t I?” Her full lips stretch into a smirk.

“You told my father less than eight hours later.”

“He thought I was being kidnapped or something!” she cries. “What was I supposed to do? Let him call the police?”

“Yes. And by the time they got here, I would have been dressed and gone, and he would have looked stupid instead of me.”

“If I buy you dinner, will you let it go?” she asks, standing up on the opposite side of the bed. “I think it’s still Taco Tuesday.”

“Festive,” David grins. “But yeah. Let’s go.”

They put the cork in the wine bottle and pull on their coats and boots and trudge through the snow to the café. 

A little effort has been made to transform the center of town for the holidays. A plastic sleigh and reindeer glow above Bob’s Garage, and garland drapes each of the storefront windows on the general store. Twyla wound colored twinkling lights around the greenery in the planters in front of the café. In the twilight, it almost looks pretty now that it has been overlaid with fresh, crystalline snow. 

To his surprise, Alexis and his parents are already inside Café Tropical. They must have just sat down because they don’t even have water yet.

“Oh David! Stevie! Why don’t you join us,” his dad says, waving them over.

Stevie looks at David for confirmation. She’s prepared to make an excuse for them, but he gives a consenting shrug. She tugs him to the Roses’ usual booth, and David drags over an extra chair from a nearby table for her. David realizes, sitting down across from his dad, that this is the first time they’ve ever had a Christmas dinner as a family. Which maybe isn’t the kind of gift he is used to on Christmas, but it’s a gift all the same. 

“Stevie, I like your hat. It’s such a bold color,” Alexis says, reaching across David with one of her limp hands to tap on the folded brim. 

"Yes. You look quite comely," his mom agrees.

“Thanks,” she says, sneaking a look at David. “I got it from a friend.”

 

2. Kiss Her Once For Me

Rachel has always wanted to walk through the winter market holding hands with her boyfriend on Christmas Eve. So that’s what they’re doing today. And then tomorrow they’ll have brunch with his family and dinner with hers. And then on December 26, Patrick is going to figure out the proper number of days that have to pass between Christmas and breaking up without him looking like an asshole. Not that it will keep her from calling him that when it happens. Asshole is the name she chose last time, too. Among others. 

The thing is, he really doesn’t want to break up with her. He loves her. She’s his best friend. He looks at her on days like today, and she’s radiant really. Light-filled. He can’t bear to snuff it out. He’s happy most of the time anyway. Surely no one is happy all the time, so if he’s happy most of the time, he’s ahead of the curve. And their lives are all wrapped up and tangled together and there’s no way he loses her for good without losing part of himself. 

But everyone keeps telling him they are at a point where they should either get married or move on. She’s been hinting lately that she might be interested in the former. Maybe he could do that after all. Ask her to marry him. Plan a wedding. Plan a life. Maybe if he just makes that choice, he’ll stop wondering what might happen if he packs up his things. Moves away. Moves on. 

If he is going to propose, Christmas will be romantic. She’ll like that. Maybe even here by the Christmas tree in the center of the market. He’s been carrying around his grandmother’s ring for weeks. But no. She doesn’t like big public gestures. So tonight then in front of their tree. Which. Huh. This is a big deal. God, this feels like the hardest decision of his life.

“Oh, we could get one of these for your mom,” Rachel says, interrupting his thoughts with her delicate fingers pressing into his hand as she pulls them toward a booth of stained glass ornaments. 

“Yeah, she’d love that,” Patrick says. And she would. Rachel is practically a member of the family at this point. Sometimes it seems like she knows Marcy Brewer better than Patrick does.

They buy it and walk around, browsing. Rachel stops at a jeweler and studies a display of sterling silver necklaces. 

“That one looks perfect for your sister,” Patrick says as Rachel holds it up in front of her neck and turns back and forth a little to see different angles in the mirror. 

She glares at him. They both know she is hinting that she’d like the necklace for herself. She hangs it quickly back up on the display rack before chasing his laughter with her pinching fingers until they’re both laughing, wrapped up in a flirty twist-and-turn toward the food vendors. Between his winter layers and her thin gloves she’s not making actual contact, but oh is she trying. And he loves this. Her. The way she gives as good as she gets and never gives up. He takes her hands and pulls her in close, a truce.

“You having fun?” she asks, tipping her head back so she can look at him as she tucks her hands into his parka.

“I am,” he says. Which is true. The weather is perfect for this time of year—cold but sunny—and there’s music and lights and people ice skating in the rink around a big central Christmas tree and the smell of pine needles and cinnamon and yeah. It’s fun. This part is always easy with Rachel. This is not a bad forever.

She nuzzles into his neck and he tips her chin up with his soft gloved index finger and gives her her favorite kind of kiss, a long slow press against her lips, noses squished together. She smells and tastes and feels so familiar and safe and warm. And yeah. This is pretty easy, too. 

Her lips quirk against his in a smile. It’s a weird feeling when she smiles against his lips, like he’s lying if he doesn’t smile back. So he pulls away and studies the band of her green wool stocking cap as he straightens it. He’s not ready for the full strength of her beaming hazel eyes just yet. 

An elderly couple passes them, ogling. 

“When you have one like that, you keep her,” the man says, clapping Patrick on the shoulder.

It feels to Patrick like the man stuck the words to his back. Like they’re following him around for real now, instead of just in his head. He’s heard it before. From his mom. From his cousins. From his friends. Hell, from her dad just last weekend. When you have someone like Rachel, son, you keep her.

“Apparently you look like you need relationship advice,” she says, nudging his shoulder as though she’s trying to knock away the stress that’s settled there. Patrick can tell she’s nervous about the comment though; her full lower lip is stretched into a tight smile. 

“You still owe me hot chocolate,” he says, looking for a subject that will get her charged up again. And anyway, she lost the bet and fair is fair.

“Technically neither of us won. You picked Billy Gilman and he was the runner-up.”

“I know, but he did better than your pick.”

“Wé McDonald was robbed. And I am team Alicia Keys for life,” she huffs.

“It’s Alicia’s first year coaching!” he cries, as though they haven’t had this entire discussion before. It’s fun to rehash things like this with her. Easy. And just as familiar and warm as her kisses. “The bet was not who picked the most talented singer on The Voice. It was who picked the winner of The Voice. And my guy did better than yours.”

“Ugh, fine. Whipped cream?” she asks, stepping up to the hot cocoa vendor.

“It’s fifty cents extra, so yes,” he says. “Because if you’ll recall. I. Won.”

“You’re such an ass.” Her voice is fond as she pecks his cheek and tugs on his hair where it’s poking out under his hat. He’s trying to grow it out a little for her even though it drives him crazy when it’s long like this. 

She orders them both a hot chocolate with whipped cream and hands a few bills to the cashier, throwing change in the tip jar with an extra dollar. 

“Want to eat here or make something at home?” she asks.

“Whatever you want,” he says, then smiles. She has a little whipped cream on her upper lip and nose. He should probably kiss it off or something, but he feels like he's copying a movie when he makes moves like that, like it's not really him. So he takes his glove off and catches the cream on the tip of his finger and goes to put it in his own mouth. She stops him and pulls his finger back, sucking the dollop off of the tip. 

“Let’s go home,” she says. Her eyes are wide and there’s a promise in them that doesn’t feel easy at all. But that’s familiar, too. The unease when her eyes go dark.

After they celebrate that night, limbs tangling, lips dragging against tender skin, his name whispered and cried out and stuttered against his throat, his hips shuddering in her hands, he clings to her. He also clings to the hope that in time all of this will feel as easy as laughing their way through the winter market on Christmas Eve. 

The next day they have brunch with his family and dinner with hers and tell everyone the news, and their families are so, so happy. And it feels good, Patrick thinks, hauled into the arms of her parents as they squeeze the life out of him with their hugs, to make everyone this happy on Christmas. Then on December 26, they’ll figure out the proper number of days to be engaged before a wedding.

 

3. I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You

The vibration startles him awake, an insistent rattling on the table next to the couch. Patrick rubs his eyes and sits up, the pounding in his sinuses resuming at full force now that he’s conscious again. He fumbles around until he manages to unplug his phone from the charger. A picture of David atop Rattlesnake Point floats above the video chat icon and then disappears before Patrick can take the call, replaced by the missed call notification. 

Patrick calculates the time difference and decides he has a few minutes to call back before the store opens. He stretches his back, sore from the Brewers' lumpy couch. The movement triggers a coughing fit, which he buries in the blanket, wishing it would loosen the phlegm in his throat. Rubbing the last of the sleep from his eyes, he swipes up to return the call. David appears, standing in front of the new espresso machine they got each other for Christmas. Finally. David is smiling the way he does often now, wide and easy. And so happy. Even though it makes the pressure in his face ten times worse, Patrick can’t help but smile back. 

“Well,” Patrick croaks, shoulders shaking with another cough. “I see you found the surprise. Hi.” 

“Hi. We were going to set it up when you got back,” David says. 

“I know, but I wanted you to have it while I’m go—” He’s interrupted by a sneeze which he mostly buries in the nearest available tissue. He finds a fresh one to blow his nose. 

“Oh, honey, you look awful.”

“I’m just tired. Lots to do here.”

“Which you’re not doing because you’ve been stuck in bed.”

“How do you know? Never mind. Of course she told you.” Patrick says. They smile knowing smiles into their screens. 

The text chain between David and Patrick's mother started with wedding planning, but now that most of the wedding decisions have been made, it has gone off the rails. It’s become a constantly evolving mixed-media opus involving photos, articles, YouTube links, updates on the store, anecdotes about Patrick past and present, and an alarming and growing number of inside jokes. 

“So instead of helping out while your dad recovers from his knee replacement, you’ve given your poor mother another person to care for.” David sounds sympathetic but the line of his mouth is quirked at one end. “Are you sleeping on the couch?”

“My bedroom is on the main floor, and my dad can’t go upstairs yet so he’s sleeping in there right now.”

“Have you gone to the doctor yet?” David asks.

“It’s just a cold.”

“That’s not what Marcy said. She said you haven’t been able to get out of bed since you got there,” he says, shaking his head. “So I told her about that time you got the paper cut when you weren’t using those thimble things and claimed you couldn’t fold laundry for a week.”

They both know the injury was inflicted by a paper cutter and not paper, but a little fictional flavoring seems to be par for the course when David and his mother are exchanging stories.

“Whose side are you on?” His voice breaks and he coughs again.

“It depends. Are you sick because you touched the in-flight magazine?” David asks.

“Possibly. But in my defense, Oprah was on the cover,” Patrick says.

“What have I done to you?” David asks, shaking his head.

“Probably best if we don’t dig too deep for the answer to that question while I’m sitting in my parents’ living room,” Patrick says, winking. David says he hates the wink, but he definitely doesn’t. Even on the small phone screen Patrick can see the smile dart across his eyes before he rolls it off. “I thought it would be fun if I learned something about Oprah that you hadn’t heard yet.”

“I guarantee you there is nothing about Oprah that I haven’t heard yet in the in-flight magazine. And are you having fun, now, in this condition?”

“Did you know Oprah is thinking about returning to Broadway?” Patrick tries, used to brushing off David’s pointed questions.

David just shakes his head and blinks. Hard. And oh. Yeah, Patrick feels that too, that rigid line from his heart to his throat. The tightness that tells him he’s missing the person who makes everything feel easy, even when it’s not. 

“Hey. I really love you,” David says. 

Patrick is glad his eyes are already swollen from the cold because David still doesn’t deliver those words unbidden very often. 

“I’m glad you’re there with your dad, but . . . well, you know.”

“Yeah. I know. I wish you were here.”

“Me too.” 

They’re both blinking tears back now, although Patrick’s cold symptoms are doing a better job of hiding it. David has to open the store soon, and Patrick should really give him shit about something. He can’t think of anything at the moment though. That’s been happening more and more lately. It’s not that they don’t still tease each other, but it’s softer now.

“Anyway, as the numbers guy, it is my job to tell you that the store is opening in two minutes and we can’t miss out on customers doing their last-minute Christmas shopping.”

“Hey, I had a question for the numbers guy though,” David says, quoting his words back with just an edge of taunting. 

“I’ll do my best to answer it.”

“I was thinking we could go somewhere closer and cheaper for the honeymoon, and I could use the extra money to fly out and spend a few days with you there next weekend. The store is closed for New Year’s and we’re always so slow in January anyway. We could close for an extra day or two and probably break even if I took the day off unpaid.”

“Oh,” Patrick says. His head is really pounding now but his heart . . . that’s pounding, too. Hard and fast and caring not at all about the numbers, only about seeing David a few days earlier than expected.

“Did the connection freeze? Or is it your brain that’s buffering?”

“Come,” Patrick says, still hoarse but not just because he’s ill. “Yeah. Come. It’s been a good holiday season. We’re not touching the honeymoon. We’ll figure out the numbers.”

“Okay,” David says, his eyes flicking down. Presumably he’s inspecting his cuticles, but since they’re out of the frame Patrick can’t tell for sure. “I’ll find a flight.”

Patrick starts rustling around, pulling out his laptop. He’s going to find them a nice hotel and maybe make a dinner reservation for the weekend. They’ve been sucked into wedding planning and are way past due for a date night that doesn’t involve Elmdale or a movie night.

“Okay. Tell your dad I hope he feels better soon. Even though he did steal my partner during the busiest time of the year.” 

“I will.”

“Talk again tonight?” David asks.

“Yeah,” Patrick says. “Hey. I really love you, too.”

 

4. Love and Joy Come to You

It started with a generic and lighthearted discussion about Bob and Gwen of all people. David still barely knows who Gwen is, so when she came in to buy something for the special someones—plural—in her life, Patrick had to explain their arrangement. The conversation flowed from there, somehow, to open relationships in general. 

And then David, who remains a world-class expert in self-sabotage, had to ask, “Do you ever wonder what that would be like?”

It was met with one of Patrick’s little shrugs like his shirt is too tight and a quiet “Sometimes.” 

It wouldn’t have been so startling, except he has gotten used to Patrick always having the right thing to say. They are not always the words David is expecting, but they are always right. So he’s startled by that whispered word. Sometimes. They both are. 

And then. The inevitable. The follow up: “Do you ever think about what might have happened with Ken?”

And the equally honest little shrug with an even quieter, “Sometimes.”

And that was all it took. That was the Mrs. O’Leary’s cow that kicked over the lantern that started the great Chicago Fire of 1871. It was just a delicate flame at first, catching the surrounding straw of things they have been talking around recently. But soon every frame of reference, every touchstone of their relationship was engulfed in the blaze, open to reassessment and reframing and rehashing until it was reduced to ash. So now he is back at the motel. Alone. He’s been here since yesterday.

It’s not that he hasn’t seen Patrick. He just saw him at the store. They are too busy now to just have one of them working on Christmas Eve. Which means they are also too busy to talk about any of this when they’re working. So Patrick did the opening tasks and David did the closing tasks. And it’s stupid, really. They should talk. It’s Christmas fucking Eve. If it’s an open relationship Patrick wants, then . . . Hm. Well they should talk about it at a normal volume at least. And probably lay some fucking ground rules.

Those ten minutes with Ken and his tiny polo suddenly loom large. David remembers sitting in this room with Alexis waiting to see what would happen on Patrick’s date. Wondering if that was the night he would return to a future alone, a future he’d gotten out of the habit of expecting. 

It did change everything, in the end. It was the night, Patrick said later, when he realized that he wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. And now they’re in that future—or they were anyway—the future David has said yes to a thousand times since the first it’s a yes on Rattlesnake Point.

When Patrick showed up there after his date with Ken—here, in fact, in this very room—he’d said I feel no need to meet up with other guys right now. Right now. How did he miss that? God, maybe this has been lurking at the edges of their happiness ever since.

David is scared. That’s part of it. It’s not the idea of the open relationship, exactly, although . . . he is still not sure what he thinks about that. But things have felt so tenuous lately. And historically, when someone he is with suggests an open relationship, it’s not long before they have shut David out completely. 

They argue sometimes, but this is the first real fight they’ve had since before the wedding. The first time words have been flung as weapons and hit their intended mark with no effort to tend to the wounds. Looking back, the fight hadn’t really been about open relationships, but about the closing of the space they keep for each other.

That’s the crux of it, really. He’d asked Patrick a question. Patrick had answered honestly. David had overreacted. The rest of it, the rest of the damage, they’d inflicted together. Not just the night of the fight, but in ignored questions and distracted responses and petty differences and small dissonances in the midst of being overworked and overstressed and over all of it.

He can see now that this had been three months in the making, really, since they set out with a goal of becoming a holiday shopping destination. Weeks of increased planning and website redesign and networking with new suppliers for holiday-themed products and gifts taking up all their time and energy. Early mornings making sure things are stocked and ready. Long days of smiling and helping strangers find the perfect gifts for other strangers. Evenings spent unpacking new boxes and breaking down old boxes and turning labels back in the same direction after a barrage of browsers. Dinners amid scurrying to prepare for holiday events and workshops, shoving forkfuls of food in their mouths from the takeout containers by the cash whenever they walked by. Nights where they were so tired after working extended hours both open and closed that they barely managed undressing, much less anything else. And it’s paid off, if that is even the right word for it—they’re about to have their most profitable quarter by nearly double. At what cost, they have yet to find out. Maybe they haven’t said no to the relationship, yet, but recently they’ve stopped saying yes. 

David doesn’t want to say no to Patrick. Not like this. Their house is ten minutes away and he’s in this fucking motel where he was stranded the last time his life fell apart. It’s Christmas Eve and this is not how he is spending the rest of the night. 

David wrestles on his boots as he snatches his keys and wallet off the dresser near the door. He’s too impatient to find his hat or gloves, so he pulls up his coat collar to protect his ears from the winter chill and shoves his hands in his pockets. As he walks toward the road, the air pricks at his face like a million little tacks. He’ll be red-faced and chapped by the time he gets home, but he doesn’t care.

“David?” 

It takes David a minute to find the source of Patrick’s voice amid the parked cars. Patrick shuts the door of their sedan, white tendrils of air clouding the expression on his face as he exhales into the frozen night. 

“Hi,” David breathes, digging his hands in his coat pockets. “What are you doing here?”

“Eh . . .” It’s a shrug, another of those small shrugs that came with sometimes, but then Patrick’s shoulders keep shaking, harder and harder. His body shudders into the tears that start to fall, and Patrick is swiping them away against his sleeve, his cuffs, his gloves, more and more desperate to catch them all. And oh yes. David still very much wants to say yes to whatever this man might offer. So he steps forward and extends his own hands, trying to catch the tears before giving up and hauling his husband close so they can each weep into the shoulders of the other’s coat.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what else to say,” Patrick croaks. “I mean I know we need to talk, but I don’t know where to start.” 

“I’m sorry, too. Come inside?” David mumbles into the hood of Patrick’s parka. Patrick nods and then squeezes David so tightly that it feels as though he might lose circulation everywhere but his thudding heart. When Patrick finally lets go, David has to fight to stay standing as he walks back to his old room.

Patrick stomps the snow off his boots and follows David in. As he scans the walls, his brain seems to take in the little room with the ugly wallpaper and the drab bedspreads and the thrift store artwork. David sees the instant the past rushes in to fill the space around him. David had the same moment his first night back here. Every surface is soaked with memories: words and kisses and firsts and lasts dripping on the floor until they’re drowning in them. 

Patrick finishes his slow circle with his eyes back on David’s. He shakes his head, his jaw rigid. 

“Is it your turn to do the lip sync dance number, or mine?” David asks, his lips trembling with the effort to keep everything he’s feeling from spilling out. 

Patrick laugh-sobs and shakes his head again. 

“Probably mine. But first I brought you something,” he says. He slides a piece of paper out of his back pocket and hands it to David. It’s a faded sheet torn off the receipt roll with a phone number half smudged off. Above the number is a note: Call me sometime. There’s that word again, singular. Sometime. 

“What is this?” David asks, even though he knows.

“It’s Ken’s number.”

David refolds the note along the well-worn crease and sets it on edge on the nightstand so it won’t give away how much his hands are shaking.

“You. Um. You kept it.” David sits on one of the twin beds and rests his chin on his palms. This is quite possibly even worse than he thought.

“I did.” Patrick sits across from him. “It’s the first time a guy ever gave me his number.”

“I gave you my number,” David says.

“I gave you my number. On a business card. And you called me. About business.”

“I called you because you had a nice ass and I was high and you pissed me off.”

“I . . . think that proves my point?”

“I suppose it does,” David concedes. “So why did you bring it here? Did you, um, did you call it? Him?” 

“No. I meant what I said. I don’t want to date Ken. Or anyone else.”

“But you want to, um, maybe see someone? Someone else?”

“No . . .” Patrick says. “Is that what you think I meant?”

“Of course that’s what you meant.”

David slaps his hands against his knees and pushes up to standing, tracking in a line from one end of the room to the other.

“I do sometimes wonder what it would be like with other people. I know people—we know people—who that works for. But mostly when I think about it, I—David.”

He gets up and blocks David’s path so he has to stop pacing. 

“We never touch anymore. We barely talk. And I’ve been sort of just holding out hope that everything goes back to normal when the holidays are over, but. . .” Patrick can’t finish. He shoves his hands in his pockets and stares at a spot on the carpet.

“But it feels like it’s not just about being busy anymore,” David finishes. Patrick’s eyes flick up at that, and David sees he hit a home run. The feeling that this is more than just the holidays, more complicated than a stage to get through, has been wrapping itself around David’s bones, advancing like the winter chill.

“Lately it feels like I’m another part of your to-do list,” Patrick says, sitting down so hard on Alexis’s old bed that the mattress whines in protest. 

“I assume you don’t mean that in the same way we used to talk about your to-do list,” David says, his mouth quirking. “Because that was a fun list.” 

Patrick’s choked laugh is muffled by his hands, covering his mouth where they cradle his chin, elbows to knees. David sits next to him; they’re so close that David can feel the thin film of air between them shift with Patrick’s every breath.  

“That was a fun list,” Patrick agrees. He reaches for David’s hand, arm slicing through the space between them so neither of them can second-guess it. His fingers make a tentative brush across David’s palm. There isn’t a part of David that Patrick hasn’t touched that way, and a million other ways too, and yet it feels new. Patrick clings to his hand like one or both of them are falling. 

Neither of them speak for a long time. David looks down at their hands now fit together, white-knuckled, trying to pass the words that need to be said through this single point of contact in case they don’t find the right way to say them out loud. He remembers talking with Patrick on their honeymoon about marriage, about how some people say it’s like jumping over a cliff together. It was silly, they had agreed. It didn’t seem scary back then, and David never doubted that they would always land on their feet. 

David understands what it means now, to do something crazy and reckless like jumping off a cliff with nothing but hope that their love is as big and bottomless as they want it to be. He knows what it means to ask questions they thought were answered already, to know the answer might change everything, to cling hard and fast and desperately anyway, to do all of that with no consideration for how messy the landing is as long as they land together. 

“And Ken?” David murmurs his name. “You said you still think about that, too.”

“What did you really hope would happen there? I never asked.”

“I don’t know. I just know I wanted to keep this from happening,” David says, flapping his free hand between them as though to encompass the whole of this mess.

“I know. Hey. I know,” Patrick repeats, sliding closer like he’s determined to cross the void between them, contact traveling up thighs to hips to arms to shoulders. When Patrick lifts his head, his eyes are wet, lashes dark and fused together.

“Do you remember that night after I left the date with Ken?”

“I remember,” David says. There’s a fraction of a second where they both forget everything except what had happened when they got back to Patrick’s. They’d pushed and shoved and snarled and growled out of clothing and into bed, Patrick begging until David took everything he asked him to take, possessive and greedy and rough until they came, eyes meeting with a deep and stunning softness. He remembered how they looked at each other then, the first tentative yes that told them both what the answer would be when the question hanging between them was finally asked aloud.

“I nearly went through with it. With him. And sometimes I do think about that. About whether I would have learned something about myself or about us.”

David leans his forehead against Patrick’s, closing his eyes. He’s not sure he can see his husband’s face when he asks his next question. “Do you wish you had done it?”

“No, David. I really don’t. When you sent me off with him, I learned the only thing I really needed to know, which is that this—us—was it for me. But what I didn’t think about until much later is that when it comes to someone who cares about you, who loves you for you, you have only been with me. I feel pressure sometimes to earn that. And as much as I love you, as much as I am trying, I really fuck up sometimes, you know?”

“Oh I know,” David says, a smile forcing its way through his twisted mouth. “I fuck up, too.”

“Sometimes you do,” Patrick agrees, the teasing glint contrasting with his red-rimmed eyes, and David is going to have to talk to him about that word. “So when I think about what you did for me with Ken, I feel . . . I don’t know. Frustrated with myself I guess. Because I don’t know if I could do that for you. And I worry what that says about me.”

“I see.” David needs a minute with that, so he picks up the number from the dresser. “So what am I supposed to do with this?”

“Whatever you want.” David can tell Patrick is trying for nonchalance, scratching a little at the stubble on his jaw to avoid crossing his arms defensively.

“Whatever I want.” David repeats, tracing the fold of the paper with his fingertip. 

“Do you—Do you want to talk about an open relationship?” Patrick asks. Patrick’s eyes are wide and unblinking; he’s trying so hard not to look away. David nearly crumples to the floor, seeing the effort it takes for him to ask the question. For all they need to do a better job talking through things instead of packing them away, they are both saying yes loud and clear. If David would just fucking listen.

“Here,” David says, handing the paper back. “Keep it. I—I really was proud. And happy for you when I saw him flirting. And you should keep this, if you want to.”

Patrick takes it with the same tentative reach as he did the first time Ken gave it to him and slips it back into his pocket. 

“Thanks,” he says.

“And I don’t. For the record. Want an open relationship. The two people in this relationship can be a lot to deal with as it is.”

“Hmm,” Patrick exhales a laugh. “That’s true. We could spend a lot more time working on them.”

David nods, and he’s blinking back tears again. 

“I’m worried that I scared you off.” David’s voice is tight and small. “That you’re not going to want to talk to me about it if you’re ever feeling like you do. Want that. Or something else that might upset me. Because I shut you down and stormed out.”

“I think we both do that,” Patrick says. “I’m not—I don’t do the storming out part usually but maybe that’s worse. I shut you down by focusing on the part I find unreasonable. And then we don’t ever deal with the part that is reasonable but would require me to change the way I handle whatever the situation is.”

“That sounds familiar,” David says, and it’s his turn to shake his head, because it is. Because it’s exactly what Patrick does, and it hurts when he does it. 

“So we should talk about that. Tonight, maybe. Tomorrow. Even though it's Christmas. As many days as it takes.”

“God, is it still Christmas? It feels like we’ve been sitting here for months,” David says.

“It’s still Christmas Eve in fact. Or I guess, no, it’s Christmas now,” Patrick says, checking the time on his phone. 

“Can I—Can I come home?” David asks.

Patrick swallows, nods. Their eyes meet again, and then their lips. David sways into him, solid and warm. It’s not just their hands now; their whole bodies are clasped together. Maybe if they can hang on to each other this way, they’ll land softly in forever after all.

 

5. I’ll Be Home for Christmas

The new Elmdale location of Rose Apothecary is a big deal. Which is why, on Christmas Eve, Patrick is there while David is here. In Schitt’s Creek. Alone. If the midday snowstorm blows in as forecasted, David will be spending the night alone too. 

When he sat down with Patrick to update their business plan at the five-year mark, they’d carefully plotted out what it might take to make the second location happen. Now, almost two years later, it’s thriving. 

Holiday shopping season has meant either he or Patrick has to be in Elmdale almost every day. There is staff now to help at both locations, but David misses his husband. Some days, he wishes they could go back to the nail-biting quarter-to-quarter existence that gave them ample time to tease and flirt in the store and occasionally duck into the back room for more. 

Now that there is the added wrinkle of winter weather, sometimes whoever is in Elmdale sleeps on the pullout in the office. They haven’t had so much phone sex since their early days when Patrick lived at Ray’s, but it’s still been a hard adjustment. 

David notices Stevie’s red stocking cap bobbing across the street from the café. Seeing her hands are full of warm beverages, he opens the door for her. 

“Hey, you’re here early,” he says, taking the drinks and setting them on the nearest table so he can wrap her into a hug. 

“Yeah. I wanted to get ahead of the storm,” she says. “Is it okay that I came by? I know you’re busy.”

“Yeah.”

“Hi Stevie,” Ronnie says, knocking her feet against the threshold to leave any snowy residue outside before making her way to the cheese case. “It wasn’t the same without you on the baseball team this year.”

“I missed playing,” Stevie says. Then she flicks her eyes to David to see if he caught her saying something she actually means. He did. 

“Anyway, how are you?” she asks David.

“Good,” he says, fluttering eyes giving him away. 

“Uh oh. I knew you were lying when you kept saying that in our texts.”

“It’s good. The store is thriving.”

“Okay,” she says.

David busies himself ringing up Ronnie’s blue cheese and two bottles of wine. Two more customers are ready to check out and he makes small talk with them, hoping that by the time they have left Stevie will have stopped looking at him like he’s falling apart. 

Elizabeth comes back from her lunch break, and Stevie asks her if she wouldn’t mind watching the store for a few minutes. It’s not really a question, though. She pulls David into the back room before she has finished asking it. 

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing’s going on. My best friend is visiting, and I’m looking forward to having dinner just the two of us and catching up.”

“Just the two of us? I thought Patrick—”

“With the snow and ice we're getting this afternoon, he’s staying in Elmdale.”

“Oh,” she says, like that explains everything. Which fine, maybe it does. Or close enough.

“I just feel like we were back to a really good place and then the Elmdale store got so busy and now I never see him again.”

“I know.”

“And now that you moved away, I only see you like twice a month.”

“David, I live less than an hour away. We only see each other twice a month because you’re really busy. And I talk to you more than most of the people I see daily.”

“I know. I’m just— I don’t know. Some days I wish we hadn’t even opened the Elmdale store.”

“David.”

“Nope. You cannot look at me with those big sorrowful eyes. You’re supposed to say something sarcastic like, ‘I know it’s so hard to be successful and have all your dreams come true.’”

“Sometimes it is,” she says, shrugging. “Sometimes dreams come true just to show you what you really want.”

“Are we still talking about me? Because this feels like it’s also about you.”

“Oh, let’s stay on you,” she says. “We can do me tomorrow.”

David puts a hand to both cheeks and sighs through his nose. 

“You realize every single Christmas since Patrick and I have been together, something has gone awry?”

“The first one was good.”

“The first one we were supposed to get an espresso machine, and instead we got a sad party in the motel.”

“But the after-party was fun.”

“Still, no espresso machine. Then the next year he spent it at his parents’ house with the flu. The year after that we went to his parents’ house together and his cousin’s kid threw up on my Neil Barrett sweater.”

“Oh yeah. I forgot about that,” she says.

“Unfortunately, I did not.”

“Okay, but the next two were good, right?”

“Did you forget the fight?”

“That’s right. You spent the night at the motel.”

“Yes. And we ended up trying to have make-up sex on that stupid twin bed instead of going home as planned.”

“Just like old times,” she says. “But that was Christmas Eve. You did say it was your best Christmas ever.”

“Yes. And it was. So I guess if we’re being technical about defining Christmas, that one doesn’t count.”

“And you and Patrick have been great since then.”

“We have. Although the next Christmas we had just opened the store in Elmdale and had all those supply issues with vendors not meeting the higher demand. It’s amazing we’re still in business, frankly.”

“Fine. I guess you’re cursed,” she agrees. “At least it’s just a snowstorm this year.”

“I guess.”

David drops his head into his palms, the heels pressing against the hollows around his eyes. It feels like so much more than just a snowstorm.

“Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to take three bottles of wine and your keys and head back to your place to start dinner. We’re going to drink and eat dinner and watch a dumb movie just like our first Christmas together. Except not as sad. Or horny. Good?”

“Yeah. Okay,” he says. “Hey. I miss you.”

“Nope. We’re going for less sad.”

She gets almost all the way to the curtain before she turns back and levers up to her tiptoes to peck him on the cheek.

“I’ve missed you too,” she mumbles quickly.

By the time Stevie comes back to pick him up, the snow is falling heavily, coating the windshield between each pass of the wipers. 

“I think this might be the dirtiest your car has ever been in the entire time I’ve known you. Which is saying something,” David says settling in the seat with his hands positioned gingerly on his lap to avoid sticking to the tacky surfaces on either side of him. 

“A clean car is going to be my New Year’s Resolution.”

“I see.”

It takes three times as long to get home over the snow-covered roads but finally they pull up in front of David and Patrick’s house. They haven’t even had time to decorate, but the wreath Ray gave them is hanging on the door. 

They have dinner and wine and David gets Stevie set up in the guest bedroom. By the time he gets back to his phone, he has a few messages from Patrick. 

Patrick, 11:55 p.m.: Tell Stevie goodnight.

Patrick, 11:58 p.m.: Let me know if you want to video chat.

Patrick, 11:59 p.m.: You still up? Or sober? [smirking face emoji]

David smiles at that. They’d only shared one bottle of wine and that was hours ago, but he’s so tired he feels drunk.  

David, 11:59 p.m.: I’m up. 

Patrick’s face appears above the video chat icon. David took the photo one day at the Schitt’s Creek store on a whim. Patrick is grinning in David’s favorite medium-blue button-up with his arms crossed, standing at the cash. David has any number of photos of Patrick from the special occasions that have marked their lives together, from the private moments they have shared, but this is how he likes to think of Patrick when they’re apart, mirroring David’s smirk on any normal day. 

“Hi,” David says, voice soft.

“Hi,” Patrick echoes. David realizes he’s wearing his coat. Everything behind him is black in the night.

“Are you outside?” David asks.

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Because I lost my keys and need my husband to let me in, and I didn’t want to ring the bell and wake up Stevie.”

“Wait, what?” David asks. 

Patrick turns around and the wreath on their door shows up behind him. 

“Before I freeze would be nice.”

David traipses down the stairs and opens the front door to find Patrick standing there looking smug.

“You promised me you would not be stupid and try to drive in this.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I was stupid and tried to drive in this,” Patrick admits. “But not being with you until tomorrow night felt even more stupid.”

“I can sort of understand that,” David says. “I’m just glad you didn’t get stuck.”

“Oh I did. And then gave my keys to the tow-truck driver. Thankfully a snow plow driver was headed this way and gave me a ride.”

“Good.” David kisses him, feeling the rawness of the winter night on Patrick’s lips. “And maybe next time you’ll listen to me.”

“We’re not doing this again,” Patrick decides. “Christmas is obviously cursed. So next year, I’m going to handcuff myself to you from December 23 to 26, just to be safe.”

“Is that a promise?” David asks. “Because I have—” 

Patrick cuts him off with his tongue and drags him toward the stairs. They muffle their giddy laughter into each other’s mouths as they stumble up. The laughter doesn’t stop as clothes are shed, as bodies entwine and connect, as they revel in the joy of the familiar shape and feel of each other and the pleasure of this unexpected time together. 

After, David finishes wiping them clean and presses a stubbled kiss into the ticklish place on Patrick’s side. David feels Patrick’s ribs shake and his own mouth curves into a smile against his husband’s skin, soaking in warmth they’ve managed to keep simmering between them.

David settles in facing Patrick. The streetlight outside reflects off the snow so David can see his smile is still loose with laughter. 

They exchange their normal kiss goodnight but David lingers, tracing his right dimple that is worn in more than the left from his frequent smirk.

“I’m glad you made it home.”

 

+1. When Loved Ones Are Near

David looks out the window as he rinses their coffee mugs in the sink. Blades of brittle grass poke up through a dusting of snow; it has been a dry winter so far. Still, there’s a crispness to the mid-morning light that warns of a bite in the air. 

David is surprised Patrick managed to go back to sleep. David had woken up to the heat of Patrick’s breath trapped between his teeth along the stretch of David’s neck, searing his skin. In winter, morning sex tends to be a frequent, mostly-clothed, and somewhat hasty affair due to the chill in their house. But this morning, Christmas Eve, Patrick had pushed David’s sweatshirt gradually up and off as he provoked each inch of revealed skin with languid kisses and sleep-warm touches. When he was finished feathering hands and lips across his arms, over the curve of his shoulders, into the hairs on his chest, Patrick had pulled the sweatshirt back down with a coy smile.

“I don’t want you to get a cold. Nothing is ruining Christmas this year,” Patrick had murmured, his tongue flicking against the crease of David’s thigh with the words. But being cold had been far from David’s mind as Patrick took him deep into his mouth. 

David’s phone vibrates on the island behind him, bringing him back to the present. Stevie’s message flashes at the top of his notifications.

Stevie, 10:02 a.m.: We’re finally leaving. Stopping at Jordan’s parents for the night. If I survive, we’ll be to your house by ten tomorrow.

He smiles and swipes to open the chat. 

David, 10:02 a.m.: Brewers and Roses coming at noon. Plenty of time to put you back together if Jordan’s family breaks you. 

Stevie, 10:03 a.m.: Thanks. Have the wine ready.

David, 10:03 a.m.: I will. And it will be great.

Stevie, 10:04 a.m.: Apparently I’m being a bad road trip companion so I’m going to go. See you tomorrow.

David, 10:04 a.m.: Ok. Drive safe.

David finishes setting the cups on the dry rack and is about to go dig his cold toes under his husband when his phone buzzes again in his hands. He looks at the readout and sighs. 

Ray, 10:09 a.m.: David. SOS. Very special date tonight. Need a gift.

David replies with a polite reminder that the store is closed today.

Ray, 10:10 a.m.: I know. I saw the note on the store. Please I will be very fast.

David stares at the message as he weighs his response. 

The last year has been one of soul-searching. They finally decided to partner with someone to run the Elmdale store. She owns ten percent of the overall business and takes a greater share of the profits at her location. She has an eye for detail and—David will grudgingly admit—excellent taste. In a prank Patrick and Stevie swear they had nothing to do with, she prepared for one of David’s early inspections by rearranging the storefront displays with an artful array of hanging plungers, toilet brushes, brooms, mops, rubber gloves, and buckets. So now she’s part of the team.

David and Patrick have been working Sundays this holiday season, one of the days they typically close, but unlike previous years they remained closed on Mondays. They also made the decision to close both stores on Christmas Eve. Even with the changes, the holiday season is extra work, more inventory, and longer hours, but it’s not draining the way it has been in years past. They’ve managed to keep track of themselves through it. 

David knows if he opens the store for Ray, others will follow. But Ray has been good to them over the years and Patrick will probably be upset if he finds out they didn’t help him out. David scowls at his thumbs as they agree to meet Ray in an hour, as if they’re typing the words without his permission.

Ray, 10:12 a.m.: See you soon!

David goes back into the bedroom to let Patrick know he’s about to open the store and a can of worms with it, but he’s curled up on David’s side of the bed, covers tucked under his chin, and David can’t bear to wake him. He’ll just get ready and go help Ray and no one else and come back.  

“Hmph?” Patrick mumbles, stirring awake as David reemerges from the bathroom.

“Hey, sorry,” he says.

“You're dressed. Where you going?” Patrick asks. 

“To the store. Someone asked me for a quick favor.”

“You’re going to the store?” Patrick is rumpled and confused and somehow still gorgeous and David really wants to tell Ray something came up and crawl back in bed with him.

“Yeah,” he says instead.

“But we closed the store so we can have a stay-in-bed Christmas Eve.”

“I know.” David leans over, a hand flat on the mattress on each side of Patrick, and presses his lips to Patrick’s mouth. He feels the smile come, still, after all these years and lets it, their mouths curving against each other. David finally pulls away and nudges him softly with his nose. “Keep the bed warm for me.”

Patrick sits up and rubs the sleep from his eyes.

“Is this right?” he asks, gesturing at the clock.

“Yeah.”

“Did we fast-forward or something? I can’t believe I slept so late.”

“Me either,” David says, tipping his head with a fond smile.

“Who are you meeting at the store?” he asks, the sleepy fog starting to dissipate.

“Ray.”

“Oh no. He’ll be at least an hour.”

“He will?”

“Yeah. He’s all nervous about this new person he’s seeing. He was in the store for two hours yesterday trying to pick something out and left with nothing except shaving cream for himself.”

“Oh. Want me to text him back? I can tell him he has five minutes to make up his mind.”

“No, I’ll just come with you.”

“Why? Then he’ll want to talk to you about whatever his latest venture is and we’ll never get out of there.”

“I know how to handle him.”

“As I recall, you handling him generally means letting him interrupt my morning blow job and perch on the end of the bed for twenty minutes to talk to us about his latest podcast idea.”

“Well luckily you already had your morning blowjob,” Patrick says, kissing him quickly on the way into the bathroom.

And that’s how they end up back at the store for the next three hours, the store that they have been telling customers will be closed Christmas Eve for the first time since they opened it.

And even though it’s not what they planned and far from a lazy day in bed, it’s not a hard day either. The traffic is constant but slow, and it’s all people they know, people who are friends and acquaintances who pop in to say hi as much as to drop twenty dollars for a gift-sized jar of hand cream. So it feels strangely like that first Christmas in the store when they knew most of the faces that walked through the door, when they were together from open to close, when the transactions were unhurried enough that Patrick could scratch comfort into the small of David’s back as he reached behind the cash for tissue to wrap a candle, when they could catch each other's eyes across the store and marvel in how lucky they were to have made this place together.

As soon as they succeed in clearing out Roland and George and Darlene and her cousin they lock the front door and turn out the lights. It’s almost four o’clock and already starting to get dark outside. 

“I’ll straighten up while you do the till?” David asks.

“Yeah,” Patrick says, tipping his head just slightly to the side.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he says, biting the edge of his lip. 

“You’re giving me one of your looks.”

“One of my looks?”

“Yeah.” David brushes an imaginary piece of lint off of Patrick's arm, just to make contact.

“I was just thinking it’s been awhile since we’ve had a day like this. Just you and me and people from town dropping in. No staff. No strangers.”

“Yeah,” David says. “I miss those days sometimes.”

“Me too.”

“But I don’t miss the lack of privacy as a result of our cheap living arrangements. So a mortgage has its benefits.”

“It does,” Patrick agrees, grinning before he turns his attention to the cash register.

They fall into the old patterns easily, David using the dust mop around the store as he straightens labels, Patrick counting the receipts and balancing the till and bagging the deposit for the bank. They’re mostly quiet while they do it. Patrick disappears back into the office to tuck everything away in the safe and David follows him.

“Should we eat at home or stop at the café?” Patrick asks, hearing him come in.

“Let’s eat at home. If we allow ourselves to be seen in the proximity of the store we never know who else might have a shopping emergency. I think there’s still one or two residents of this town we didn’t see today.”

“True,” Patrick says. 

“Finished back here?” David asks. 

They have enough years together that David can tell what Patrick wants from the slightest signs. A brief flick of his eyes to David’s lips while they talk. A scratch on the ridge of his shoulder where he knows David loves to mark him. A quick scan of David’s wardrobe to plot his way through the layers of fabric and knits.

“All done,” Patrick says, and there's another sign, the briefest flash of teeth and deepening of dimples when no one has said anything humorous. 

He’s about to say more but David cuts him off with a kiss. Their lips tease and chase and open, kisses alternating between soft and hard, chaste and depraved. Patrick’s right hand sinks into the softness of David’s sweater, palm heavy against his chest, as his left hand tickles along the nape of David’s neck, wedding ring cool against his heated skin. 

Each touch and kiss and breath and press brings them closer to their goal and yet they’re in no hurry. This day is just for them now. But when Patrick reaches down to unbutton David’s jeans, David stops him.  

“Wait.” David says, his hands tracing up the veins of Patrick’s wrists under the cuffs of his sweater. “I’ve been thinking all afternoon about getting you back in bed so we can do this properly.”

“I think I can probably handle both.” Patrick kisses the set of David’s jaw, but doesn’t protest when David steps away.

“Good, we can do one round at home now, and another one after dinner,” David says.  

“You remember what I used to do on days when things were slow in the store?” Patrick asks, shrugging into his coat.

“I do. You usually made a plan for whatever you were going to do to me later that night.”

“I did. And then you would set out to make me lose my mind before I got to execute it.”

“Mmhmm. Usually worked too,” David grins. 

“I’m not as easy as I used to be,” Patrick says, challenging.

“Oh, honey,” David replies, stepping close and cupping Patrick’s pants where the tightness of the denim is doing its best to hide how hard he is. “I love you, but that’s not true at all.”

Patrick leans into David’s hand and laughs into his lips. It’s sloppy and uncoordinated and perfect. 

“I guess we should get going so we can find out,” Patrick says. 

“Mmm, we should,” David agrees.

“Are you still worried about the numbers?” David asks as they lock up and turn down the main road toward their house. David, who refuses to wear bulky insulated gloves, tucks his hands into his coat pockets. Patrick loops his arm around David’s elbow as they walk, hips bumping every few steps, a comforting reminder of their closeness. 

“I’m not worried. We won’t match last year but it should still be a really good quarter.”

“I’m glad we got to spend more of it together,” David says.

“Me too.”

“And I’m sorry I didn’t want to push us to keep growing. It just feels like the bigger this gets, the worse we get at everything else.”

“I know. And for the record, I only ever wanted to push us to grow because I wanted to be able to give you something closer to the life you lost.”

“I know that. But there’s nothing about that life that is worth losing this one,” David says. It’s something he’s thought of a thousand times since Patrick showed up here in Schitt’s Creek.

“Well good, because I’m not sure boutique retail is ever going to get us there,” Patrick says.

“I came to terms with that a long time ago,” David replies. “That’s what online consignment fashion is for.”

The winter wind gusts behind them, pushing them home. Walking close to Patrick, David feels warm despite the bitter notes in the wind’s howl. Either fresh or freshly blown snow whips off the rooftops and redistributes itself, a flaky dusting over the ground, over their shoulders. The streets are quiet as people retreat from the cold into modest houses with family and friends. They turn onto their lane where lights twinkle on inside houses, along gables and eaves, in shrubs and trees. The wreath Ray gives them every year from his Christmas tree business decorates their door, the only indication that the people who live there are aware of the holiday. They don’t even have a tree.

It’s been a good day together though, despite being somewhat different then they planned. Most of their best days together go off the rails at some point anyway. Ray will probably have a few leftover trees tomorrow if they really want one. David could send him a message in the morning. But really they don’t need a tree; they have each other. And there’s always next year.