Chapter 1: The Airport
Our four travelers start their journey to New York City for Christmas.
"Hey, you all packed?" Margo said softly, leaning in his doorway watching him as he lay exasperated on the bed.
"I think so. God, I can't believe I'm doing this. Margo, what if I can’t?" A sigh escaped him as he stretched out on the large bed. His suitcase was beside him, looking quite full. He was going home for Christmas for the first time in four years and he wished he could take Margo with him.
"El honey, you'll be fine. It’s all going to be okay and you’ll be on your way back to me in just a few days. I'm really proud of you for doing this." She walked over to the bed, kicked off her shoes and cuddled into him, bringing him into a tight hug.
He kissed her forehead. "I hope so. Thanks, Bambi." Tugging her closer, he whispered to himself over and over that he could do this.
"Why are you still here? Don't you have a trip to get ready for?"
Looking up from where his head had been in his hands, he saw Julia had situated herself on his desk."I just wanted to get this article finished before I left." Which was mostly true. There wasn’t a deadline, but he had wanted to get as much done as possible before he left for the holidays.
"Mmhmm. Sure, Q. It's okay that you're nervous, you know. You remember when I first met James's parents?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Q, I was so nervous and scared that they would hate me, but it turned out okay. I mean they don't love me, but they like me and it's enough. I'm sure they'll love you. I mean who wouldn't? You’re Quentin Coldwater! You are kind and generous and the best friend an editor could have." She was trying her best.
He sighed. "Yeah I guess."
"Will you please go home now? This will all be here when you get back, I promise. Text me when you arrive in New York, okay?"
"Yes, I’ll go and I promise I will text you when I land, thanks Jules." He got up and hugged her before he headed to his apartment.
God he was so late, he was going to miss his flight, and Alice was going to be so upset.
His phone began to ring as he got out of the uber and sprinted towards the terminal.
"Hey Alice," he answered, knowing who it was without looking.
Of course she would want to check in and make sure he had made it to the airport. She was great at keeping things on schedule, which he loved about her because he was not a schedule person, but at this point in time it was a little stressful.
"Yeah I'm at the airport. I know, I know I'm running just a little behind, but don't worry I will make this flight, I promise. Can't wait to meet your parents." He hoped that last part sounded sincere. He said goodbye as he hung up and ran towards security.
She sounded more upset than he had prepared himself for. He was almost at the gate and he actually wasn’t late. He was late for Alice standards, he guessed, but for Quentin standards he was a bit early. He hoped it was just the holidays and the whole meeting her parents thing that was making her more stressed.
Knowing he had a little time to kill after getting through security, he went by a newsstand to get the newest copy of Brakebills and see how his article turned out.
“Hey, Brakebills huh?” He asked the stranger who was perusing the same newsstand and just happened to be flipping through his magazine.
“Oh, um, yeah, I guess.”
“It’s a good magazine, but I’m a little biased I guess, since I write for them.” He definitely was biased knowing all the hard work Julia had put in to make the magazine the number one in Lifestyle, but it was a good magazine. It didn’t read like Town & Country or Southern Living , it was new and fresh. Julia had completely turned the once failing publication around and now it had the highest readership among the much sought after Millenial market! He was proud of his best friend and he was very happy he could be a part of it and work by her side.
“Oh that’s cool.”
“I guess so.”
“I should probably catch my flight. Have a nice holiday,” the stranger said, leaving the magazine and newsstand.
“Oh yeah, you too.” He was never good at small talk. Why did he even bother? He should just get to his gate.
His messenger bag dug into his shoulder as he headed towards his destination. Why on earth had he brought his entire “Fillory” collection? He was only going to be in NYC for three days. One book for each day had probably been his original thought process.
Mr. & Mrs. Pickwick
“Are you sure you have everything, Tick?”
“Yes, dear. I’ve got the tickets in my pocket. We’ve got plenty of time, Ellie.”
“Well, just wanted to make sure. Last time you left everything on the kitchen counter and we had to go all the way home and then we missed the flight.”
“I know dear.” Tick sighed, a little aggravated that his wife always brought that up.
“Let’s just get to the gate then shall we? I want to call Rafe and Abigail before we board.” Ellie tried to end the conversation, knowing it would just turn into an argument if she kept at him. She didn’t mean to, but after being married for twenty years, things just slip out. Why did Rafe and Abigail have to be all the way across the country?
He usually enjoyed working bar at the American Airlines lounge. The customers in and out quickly, left nice tips and didn’t talk to him. The holidays were a different story. Too many customers, no nice tips and everyone was yelling at him.
Margo came back from her break just as he was finishing a drink for a customer. He knew they still had to take breaks, but he felt she could’ve taken hers earlier especially when she knew he had a flight.
“Cutting it close aren’t you?” He asked grabbing his bag and coat.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, just get going. You’re not that far from the gate anyway.” She hugged him tightly.
“I was thinking about that. Why don’t I just stay here? We can host another of our amazing parties?” He looked at her with pleading eyes hoping she’d agree and he wouldn’t have to go through with this stupid plan.
“Eliot, you are not going to cock out on this one. You bought the ticket, you already told them you were coming and you are going. If I have to drag you to that gate and put you on that plane myself, I will.” Her face was making that look she always made when he was about to do something stupid.
He took a breath. “Okay, Bambi. You don’t have to get all worked up. I will get on that plane. I’m leaving now.” He kissed her cheek and made his way towards the gate.
Oh, of course this would happen. Just his luck to make it to the gate only to end up behind some guy that had no idea what carry on meant. This guy had the biggest messenger bag he'd seen and it was stuffed full.
"Sir, I'm sorry but that's too big. You'll have to check it," the agent was telling the guy.
"Um are you sure? Because I mean, I'm going to be taking out some books to read during the flight. I mean I can take them out now. I really have to make this flight."
Eliot sighed, maybe more exaggerated than was necessary, and the guy and the agent both looked at him.
"Sir, why don't you just step to the side and let me take care of this gentleman."
"Yeah sure whatever," the guy grumbled.
Handing his ticket to the agent, Eliot walked down the tunnel to the plane and found his seat. Why did some people have to bring entire libraries with them?
Quentin stood off to the side as the agent took care of that tall, handsome stranger behind him.
Why did everything seem to always be against him? He just wanted to get on the plane.
Taking a few books out of his bag, he approached the counter again.
The agent looking at him waved him through after taking his ticket. "It's Christmas, just consider this my present to you."
"Thank you! Really, thank you so much."
"Just don't bring all five Fillory books next time."
He laughed and thanked her again.
Quentin made his way down the tunnel towards the plane. He nodded at the flight attendant as he entered the plane.
He was on the plane, and he exhaled a little more fully now that he was actually on it. He’d made it in time. He looked down at this ticket as he walked down the aisle towards his seat to make sure he had the right one in his mind. He did, actually, and oh fuck. There was that guy from the gate seated in the aisle seat. He was going to have to spend a whole five hours next to this guy. Deep breaths, Quentin, he thought to himself.
“Um, excuse me, I’m in 14B, so if you could just let me through?” he asked the stranger.
“Oh yeah, sure,” the stranger replied, getting up.
Quentin slid past the stranger and removed a few more books, so he had three total, and then put his messenger bag under the seat in front of him and sat down.
“Thanks! I’m Quentin,” he told the stranger, holding out his hand.
“Eliot,” the stranger, now Eliot, replied.
“Sorry about earlier. I just...these books make me feel safe and I’m already feeling anxious about the flight, so I kinda packed too many.” He knew flying was very safe, but still the fact that his life was in the hands of a pilot so far away from him was a little hard to handle. Now, add in super hot guy and well, this was gonna be a great flight, he thought sarcastically.
"No problem," Eliot said, sitting back down after him.
This guy; Quentin; did not seem like the kind of person who traveled much.
"So New York City for Christmas, huh?" he asked, at least trying to have some sort of amicable friendship with his seatmate.
"Oh, um yeah. I'm meeting my fiance's parents for the first time."
"Fiance, huh? Why aren't they with you?"
"Oh Alice flew in a week ago. She needed to do some things in the city and I guess get her parents comfortable with me? I don't know. I really hope they like me."
"You seem like a nice guy." Well, a very cute, but straight, nice guy, he thought.
"Oh um thanks," Quentin answered, blushing a little. "So, uh going home to spend Christmas with family?"
"Something like that, I guess." Which was not the whole truth, but enough of it.
"Oh yeah that's fine, you don't have to tell me. I'm sorry for prying."
"It's fine, I'm just not excited about it. Not your fault."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but um, so what do you do here in LA?"
"I'm a bartender at the airport lounge. My best friend Margo and I, actually—we work together. How about you?"
"I write for a lifestyle magazine. Maybe you've heard of it? Brakebills . My best friend; Julia; is the editor."
"Oh, you write for them? Any articles I might have seen?" That was interesting. This guy did not seem like the type to write for a lifestyle magazine. He seemed like a nerd.
"My most recent one is an article about finding love. Julia thought it would be good for me to write it, since I'm getting married and everything."
"Oh yeah? And what's the secret to finding love, Quentin?” He definitely did not think this guy had it all figured out.
“I mean I just wrote about Alice and myself. I think we have a good relationship and so I just wrote about that.”
That was not the answer he was expecting. You’d think someone who’s engaged would be enthusiastic about an article they wrote on marriage. Granted, he was only teasing when he originally asked, but he had been genuinely curious.
It had only been an hour and a half and Quentin was already asleep, his head on the shoulder of the gentleman on his other side. He looked cute sleeping like that, Eliot thought, all scrunched in on the seat. The gentleman clearly did not like Quentin’s head on his shoulder, so he nudged him, and oh look at that, suddenly Quentin’s head was on Eliot’s shoulder.
Mr. & Mrs. Pickwick
“How was Rafe when you talked with him?”
“Oh he was fine. You know our boy, he was just busy. Trying to wrangle those little sloths of theirs. You could have talked to him, you know,” Ellie replied, getting a little more comfortable in her seat. She always had a backache after flying, no matter how she sat.
“I know, I know,” Tick answered, wrapping the airplane blanket around him. Why were airplanes so cold?
“I don’t understand this fight you two are having. We only see him, Abigail and the grandkids once a year. I would really just like to enjoy my Christmas, Tick.” Exasperated, she fidgeted again to try and get more comfortable, taking her copy of Brakebills out to read.
“I know, dear. I’ll talk to him when we get there.” Tick knew the fight was stupid, but his wife just didn’t understand how it was with fathers and sons sometimes. He loved Rafe, he really did, but saying yes to moving closer was a big ask and he wasn’t ready to leave LA yet.
Chapter 2: A Flight and A Blizzard
When a blizzard threatens our foursome’s plans they must contend with their new circumstances.
He woke up to the sound of the flight attendant’s voice coming across on the PAsystem. Looking up, he saw he’d been sleeping on Eliot’s shoulder.
“Oh, um, sorry. I guess I was pretty tired,” Quentin apologized, moving back. He hoped Eliot wasn’t too upset with him for doing that.
“It’s no trouble and besides, it’s not like you drooled or anything,” Eliot replied with a little laugh.
“So, did I miss anything?” He asked, pointing to the speaker.
“No, not yet. She just said something about an announcement soon.”
“Shouldn’t we be landing soon?” he mentioned, checking his watch.
“Thank you for being so patient with us folks as we get all the information to let you know what’s happening. I’m sorry to say that due to a blizzard, JFK is closed and we are being diverted to Buffalo. Once we land, we will have more information.” The flight attendant interrupted.
“Shit, shit, shit! We can’t be diverted!? How am I supposed to get to Alice!?” he frantically whispered to himself, trying to asses the situation he was finding himself in.
“Hey, Quentin, I’m sure it’ll be fine. So, you might miss Christmas. I’m sure Alice won’t be too upset.”
“Please, Alice is going to be so upset! This is the only time I could meet her parents and now I won’t be able to. She’s going to be disappointed.”
“Quentin, this is out of your control! She’s not going to be mad at you. I mean it’s not like you caused the snowstorm,” Eliot said in a tone that he knew all too well. This guy probably figured Alice was too demanding or something and yeah, she was particular, but he hadn’t even met her.
“It’s just I need to get to New York City by Christmas and I’d rather not discuss my personal life with you right now.” He didn’t mean it to come out as snippy as it had, but honestly he was not dealing well with what was happening right now. He just needed to get to Alice and meet her family and everything would be okay.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to overstep. I just thought it would help.”
“Everyone, if you could sit back in your seats, make sure your tray tables are up and your seat belts are buckled, we will begin our descent to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Please remember to turn off all electronic devices,” the flight attendant said as she came on the speaker again.
He turned away huffing and looked out the window. He’d rather look at the sky then Eliot now.
He’s been through better landings, but hey, at least they were on the ground and he could get a hotel room and take a shower. Who knows, maybe he’d have to miss Christmas and wouldn’t have to go through with this plan he had decided on after all.
His phone chimed. Probably a text from Margo making sure he got in alright.
8:45 am: Eliot wtf? U okay? Stop butttexting me honey. Fly safe! Xxx
What on earth? That didn’t make sense. He scrolled to see what she replied to and saw it.
8:30am: Ok. Uomovk. Can fntf I Cincinnati xrx
Oh goddammit, he must have had his phone unlocked when he had it in his back pocket.
12:45pm: Love you Bambi. What can I say, my butt has thoughts I can’t explain. Flight got diverted to Buffalo, so I’m gonna figure it out. It was uneventful. Cute guy next to me, but he’s engaged. I’ll text when I know what I’m doing. Xoxo
12:47pm: Ugh gross Buffalo?? You better find a way to get there or I’m gonna take a redeye and take you myself. Sucks about the cute guy, but hey eye candy for the flight. Call me later. Love you! Xxx
Well, better get his bags and then find the hotel. Hopefully the airline would at least put them up somewhere.
On his way over to the baggage claim he couldn't help but roll his eyes as he overheard Quentin talking very loudly on the phone. Probably arguing with that Alice.
"Alice listen I'm sorry. I really am. Every airport around New York City is closed. I know, I know I'm supposed to be there tomorrow night. Yes, I talked with the agent. There are no flights. I'm gonna get my bags and I'll call you later, okay? Love you."
Ugh. Alice was understandably upset and he was sorry, but there wasn't anything he could do. At least the guy at the counter had mentioned a hotel they would be put up in, so he could try that or stay here and see if the airports open up. He needed his bags first though.
There was a couple he'd seen on his way onto the plane that he ended up standing next to at baggage claim.
"This sucks, huh?" he mentioned to them, trying to start a little small talk. His ulterior motive was that it would be nice to know a few people in case something opened up.
"Well yes, it does, doesn't it? I do hope we can get a flight soon. I don't want to miss the grandkids’ faces on Christmas morning. I'm Ellie by the way, Ellie Pickwick, and this is my husband, Tick."
"Oh hi, I'm Quentin." He shook their hands. "Tick, huh? I've never heard that before."
"Oh, it's a nickname. Apparently I was obsessed with clocks as a kid. No one calls me my real name."
"Well, that's definitely unique. So you’re seeing your grandkids for Christmas?" he asked the couple.
“Yes, we come every Christmas. Rafe is our only child. He and our daughter-in-law; Abigail; have three little ones. Winnifred; the oldest; is eight, Casper and Callum; the twins; are five. So, who are you on your way to see for the holidays?”
“Oh, I’m travelling to meet my fiance’s parents. They live in New York City and Alice; my fiance; well, she said this is the only time I could meet them before they go to some island for their yearly spring vacation.”
“Hmm? That’s nice. I hope you’re able to make it.” Tick replied.
Just then a familiar figure showed up on the other side of Quentin.
“Making some more friends, I see?” Eliot said casually.
“I guess so. This is Tick and Ellie Pickwick. They were on our plane.”
“It’s nice to meet you both. Quentin and I sat next to each other.” Eliot greeted them.
He thought Eliot might say something more about Alice, but the anchor on TV decided at that moment to update them on the storm. Eliot confounded him and he didn’t like it.
“Looks like this blizzard is sticking around for a little longer, folks. If you have to leave your home, please do so with caution. The FAA has issued a ground stop for all airports along the eastern seaboard as the blizzard continues.”
He was texting Alice already, not even hearing the rest of what the newscaster was saying. She hadn’t told him too much about her parents, but he got the impression it was hard for her to be alone with them. He hated telling her again that all the flights were still canceled.
It was so fucking freezing! He’d forgotten how cold it got here after so many years in LA. Thank goodness he was only going to be back here for a few days and then he could go home to Bambi and everything would be fine.
As he waited for the shuttle to the airport the Pickwicks joined him in the covered bus stop and of course, struggling with too much luggage, Quentin was not too far behind them. If the messenger bag was bad enough the guy also had a pretty large rolling suitcase. All he could do was shake his head and laugh internally at him.
“Alice says the snow at her parents’ house is really pretty right now. I hope I can get there in time.”
“Oh, I’m sure you will dear.”
He laughed to himself again. Quentin just had to face the fact that they were never going to make it to New York City on time, and if this Alice loved the guy she would understand.
“You haven’t shown us a picture of your fiance yet.” Mrs. Pickwick asked Quentin, who seemed to oblige her request.
As much as he had decided to not like this Alice person who was making Quentin so anxious, he was actually interested in what she looked like. He wasn’t sure why he felt protective of Quentin, but he just didn’t like the way the guy was getting all worked up about missing Christmas. Surely Quentin could meet Alice’s parents some other time.
“This is us at her work function for Thanksgiving. She’s the head of the Library Science department at UCLA,” Quentin announced, taking the small photo out of his wallet.
Well she didn’t look awful, he thought as he looked, along with the Pickwicks, at the picture Quentin was holding. They looked like a pretty cute couple. Well, no matter what he thought, he wished them the best in their marriage.
The hotel looked nice and he was thankful the airline was being so accommodating about everything, but that good feeling became less so when he realized that Eliot was getting off on the same floor as him, and then they stopped at two rooms next to each other. Well, this was going to be just great.
He let his bag drop off his shoulder onto the floor and put his suitcase against the wall. Kicking off his shoes and hopping on the bed, he turned on the TV, hoping to see if anything had changed with the weather.
Well, this wasn’t good. The news anchor was saying the blizzard was getting worse. At this rate he was never going to get to Alice’s home. He should probably call her again and let her know he was in the hotel.
Except he’d thrown his phone in his bag, so now he had to figure out where it was.
It only had 1% left when he found it. He should really get a new one. This one no longer held the battery well and of course, on top of that, he forgot to pack his charger!? Alice had kept asking him to get a new phone and he hadn’t and now it was dying when he needed to call her. He tried the phone on the nightstand, but it seemed all the landlines were down. Thinking to himself, he had noticed on the plane that Eliot had the same model of phone he did. He probably had a charger, because Eliot seemed like the kind of guy that wouldn’t forget to pack something like that.
Just knock on the door, he told himself. He took a breath and knocked and then knocked again.
“Give me a minute!” He heard Eliot yell from the other side before he pulled open the door. “Okay, can I help you?”
“Uh huh.” Words suddenly escaped him. Eliot was standing in front of him in just a towel and wet hair, as if he’d just walked out of the shower. “Um sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Not disturbing. I just got out of the shower. I like to take one as soon as possible after a flight. How can I help you?”
“I, uh, I wondered if you had a charger? I didn’t pack mine and I wanted to let Alice know I got in okay.”
“Oh yeah, of course. No problem.” Eliot went over to his carry on and grabbed it out of the bag. “Just let me know when you’re done.”
“Um yeah, I will. Thanks again.”
After Eliot shut the door, Quentin went back into his room and flopped back onto the bed. Stop thinking about him and his stupid beautiful body , he told himself. You are engaged. You love Alice. Stop thinking about Eliot. He sighed and plugged in his phone.
“Hey, yeah I’m in the hotel. It’s nice, not too bad. They’ve got a restaurant downstairs that I might try out for dinner. Yeah I know, I’m really trying Alice. I can’t tell the FAA to not ground all the planes. I know, I’m frustrated too. I really want to meet them, I do. I’m gonna go back to the airport tomorrow and see if anything changes. Love you too.”
His stomach was growling a little. Maybe going down to the restaurant wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Shutting the door to his room behind him, he made his way to the elevator.
The Pickwicks were already at a table when he got down there.
“Mind if I join?”
“No of course not,” Tick replied.
The whole ride down to the restaurant in the elevator he kept thinking about Quentin’s reaction to seeing him in a towel. It felt like Quentin found him attractive, but the guy was straight, wasn’t he?
He just needed to get some dinner in him.
Walking into the hotel restaurant he saw exactly who he probably should’ve expected to see. Quentin and The Pickwicks were sitting at a table chatting. If he just walked a little to the left, they wouldn’t see him and he could just go back to his room.
“Eliot.” Ellie waved and called to him. Welp, too late.
“We meet again,” he greeted them as he sat down.
“I think it’s so wonderful to make friends while traveling. Tick has always told me I’m too much of a busy body, but I just think it’s so nice.”
“I didn’t call you a busy body. I just mentioned that you didn’t have to say hello to everyone.”
“Anywho, welcome to the table. Quentin here was just telling us about the latest article he wrote.”
“The one about falling in love?”
“You heard about it then?” Tick asked.
“No, he just mentioned it on the plane. So, as you were saying? I’d love to hear your take on love.” It may have come out as more of a challenge than he meant, but he did really want to hear this.
“Oh, um it’s just like I said on the plane, Alice and I have a pretty good relationship.”
“Care to elaborate?” Eliot asked.
“Well, um, she helps me with my time management. She’s pretty type A, so she’s good at making sure things happen on time, which is nice because I’m awful at it. She’s pretty stable. We get along pretty well. I mean, I don’t know. We’ve been dating for a few years and Alice thought we should, you know, get married and so we talked about it and it seemed like the right idea, so here we are.”
This is what Quentin thought was love? It sounded more like a business decision honestly. It was only right that he tell him how not good this was, right?
“It seemed like the right decision to get married? That’s how you got engaged?”
“Yeah why?” He asked defensively.
“It just doesn’t sound a lot like love to me is all.”
“There are a lot of different relationships and just because Alice and I don’t have some fairytale movie romance doesn’t mean what we have isn’t love.”
“Okay, I get that, but it sounds more like you and Alice made a business decision. Does she even make you laugh?”
“You heard me.”
“What kind of question is that? What does making me laugh have to do with anything?”
“Laughter is an integral part of a relationship, Quentin.”
“Not for everyone. Look, I’m sorry you don’t think my relationship is worthy or whatever, but I do love her.” Quentin replied and Eliot could hear the anger and hurt in Quentin’s voice.
So he might have pressed a little too hard about it, but if it got Quentin to realize this wasn’t love, maybe it was worth it.
“Anyway, thanks for your concern or whatever. I think I’m going to go back to the airport and wait there. Maybe a flight will open up or something.” Quentin huffed, getting up from the table.
“You know Tick,” Mrs Pickwick said uncomfortably, “I think maybe we should follow Quentin’s idea. I think it might be better to be there.”
“You all go. I’m going to stay and get a lovely night’s sleep.” He had a knack for pushing people away didn’t he? He watched them ask the waiter for to-go boxes and they packed up the rest of their half-eaten food. When they finally left he took his plate and moved to the bar to finish his meal.
He should probably try and think of a way to make it up to Quentin for acting like an ass. Bambi would’ve called him on his bullshit if she were here.
"You don't think my relationship with Alice is like Eliot said, do you?" Quentin asked Ellie while they sat together at the airport.
"I'm not the best one to ask about love advice, darling, but if you love her then you shouldn't let what Eliot said bother you."
"But you and Tick have been married quite a while?"
"Yes, and we just basically go through the motions now. He's not the man I fell in love with long ago and after a while you just fall into a routine and changing it feels like too much work."
"I don't want that to ever happen to Alice and me."
"I'm sure you and Alice will have a wonderful marriage, Quentin."
He hoped so too, but a part of him still wondered if Eliot was right. He hadn't ever had a good example of being in love and Alice made him feel safe and taken care of. That was the most important, right? Sure, they didn't do anything crazy and they had their own routine, but that was okay, wasn't it? Sleep overtook him and the rest of the second guessing was lost.
Chapter 3: Buffalo
Eliot finds a way to get them to their destinations.
His neck was so sore when he woke up. Sleeping on a chair in the terminal wasn't the best idea, but hopefully now that it was a new day some flights had opened up. It was Christmas Eve. Something should be available.
"Any news?" he asked, seeing Tick walking back from the counter.
"Everything's still grounded. They thought the Greyhound was still running, though. The bus stop isn't too far from here."
"Well, how do you feel about taking the bus?" he asked his new friends.
"Winnie did hope we could make her Christmas Eve recital," Ellie added.
"I'm gonna call Alice and then I'll walk over there with you," he said. He hadn't thought about taking the bus, but honestly he didn't care how he got there now.
"Hey Alice. I know it's Christmas Eve. I'm trying, I really am. The greyhound might be running, so I'm going to try that. I'm sorry, I know. There aren't any flights. I know. I love you, too."
He hoped the bus was actually running. Seemed like no one was there besides the three of them.
"What on Earth?" He heard Ellie gasp.
He turned around and saw Eliot in the driver's seat of an suv.
"I felt bad about last night, Quentin. I shouldn't have goaded you like that. Your relationship is none of my business. This morning I went to the rental car place and this was the last one they had. I thought we could all drive down to New York City together, make it a road trip. If you want to, that is?" Eliot told them, getting out of the car.
"I don't know. I mean what about the bus?" He wasn't sure Alice would like this.
"Quentin, nothing is running. You want to get to your fiance by Christmas, right?"
"Yes, I do want that."
"I think it'll be fun," Ellie told them, while giving a look to Tick.
“Well, I guess if everyone else is up for it. You’re sure we can make it in time?” he asked Eliot, hoping he’d get a good answer.
“The main highways are closed, but even taking the backroads we should definitely get there by tonight,” Eliot replied.
“Alright, let’s take a road trip,” he finally said, knowing it was really the only option. What could go wrong?
The roads weren’t as bad as he thought they would be, for backroads at least. He liked driving. It calmed him, and the company wasn’t awful.
He looked over as Quentin turned the radio dial, switching through stations until he landed on the one playing Christmas music.
‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ began playing through the car.
The fact that Quentin began humming along with it was not making him smile. Nope, not at all.
Soon enough he heard Quentin start to actually sing along while Ellie joined in.
They both should not take up singing professionally, but it was nice to be around the joy they had in singing the songs. By the time the fourth song came on, he joined in as well. Couldn’t very well have Quentin and Ellie ruining ‘White Christmas’ could he? Tick even joined in on a couple.
“So, how did you and Alice meet? he asked about an hour and a half into the drive.
“Oh, yes, I'd love to know as well,” Ellie added.
“Can we not start this again, Eliot?” Quentin huffed.
“No, I really mean it this time. I’d like to know more about her. I will not make fun of your relationship. Scout’s honor.” He grinned as he held up his hand in the same shape he used to make all those years back.
“Well, okay. If you’re serious.”
“I promise, Quentin.”
“Alright. So, Alice and I met a few years back. Julia; my best friend and editor; asked me to write a piece on Alice. It had been a couple years since I broke up with my college boyfriend; Pete; and I hadn’t really put myself out there. I guess we hit it off and I thought she was cute, so I asked her out and then we just kept going out together. We moved in together after about six months and then we got engaged a few months back, but I think the wedding might be put off for a while.”
“Well, what a nice story,” Ellie said.
“Yes, that sounds like a nice meeting you had with Alice, but could we backtrack a minute here?”
“You had a college boyfriend?”
"Yeah, Pete and I dated for a few months, but he was a dick so I ended it. Alice has never treated me like he did." Quentin seems thoughtful saying those words, but Eliot doesn't want to push him. “How did you and Tick meet, Ellie?” Quentin asks, obviously changing the subject.
“Oh, well let’s see. I believe for us it was at Suzanne’s party wasn’t it?” She turns to Tick when she asks him.
“Yes, it was,” Tick answers her.
“Right. Anywho, I was at my friend Suzanne’s party and her boyfriend; Gregg; was friends with Tick and had invited him. I think I liked your smile.”
Eliot notices watching in the rearview mirror that Tick doesn’t seem at all interested. His mind wandered to questioning when they might be getting a divorce, but of course that’s not something to say aloud.
The music continues to play and they talk less and settle into the drive.
It’s a few hours later when he realizes they should probably stop for lunch and gas, so he pulls into the next service station he sees.
Quentin hadn’t realized how hungry he was getting until Eliot had stopped. They’d been on the road for four hours already and he hoped they would be able to get to New York City tonight.
They ordered food and found a table. He was starting to get comfortable around these three and he was thankful Eliot hadn’t teased him about meeting Alice. He knew their love wasn’t like everyone’s or even that exciting, but he hoped it was something that would finally make his mom proud of him. Why had he brought up Pete? He never talked about his college boyfriend, let alone with basically strangers.
“How much longer do you longer do you think the drive will take?” he asked Eliot, hoping the answer would be only a few more hours.
“Hard to say. It’s been slow going with the way they’ve cleared the roads and the snow. It should take about six hours, but it’s been four and I’m not sure we’re even halfway there yet,” Eliot answered, confirming his fears. He needed to get to Alice.
“I um, I think I’m gonna go and call Alice and update her,” he said as he excused himself.
"I think I'll go call Rafe as well," Ellie added, following him out.
“Hey. I know it’s taking a lot longer than I thought it would. What?!?!? Alice why??? You can’t tell me that and not explain!? Alice, can’t you talk to her? Alice, I’m trying. I really am. I have to get back. Yeah it’s just a nice couple I met on the plane. Listen, Alice, I am going to try and get there tonight. I love you.”
How could her mother even suggest postponing the wedding? Why was Stephanie so strict with this? Why did it matter if he didn't meet them before the wedding? Why wouldn’t Alice fight for him? There was nothing to do, he guessed. He'd just have to try and get there as soon as possible.
He hadn’t seen that Ellie was behind him and had heard him on the phone as he made his way back to the table.
Tick was an interesting person to keep company with. He hadn't spend too much time with the man alone. In fact, thinking about it, he hadn't spent any time at all with the man alone.
"So, Tick, I don't think I ever asked what you do for a living?" he asked, trying to come up with some good small talk.
"Oh, it's nothing too interesting. I'm an accountant. I've always liked numbers and my coworkers are nice and it pays well, so I've been able to provide well for Ellie and Rafe."
"I hate numbers, but it's great you've found something that you like to do. I don't know if I've found that yet. I like being a bartender and I love working with my best friend, but maybe one day I'll open my own bar." Which was true. Working with Margo was one of the best things in his life. He'd moved to LA knowing no one and then he'd met her and it felt like he'd known her his whole life.
"That's a good dream to have, Eliot. I hope it works out for you one day."
They both looked at each other, trying to find something else to say. Well this was fun, he thought. When would Ellie and Quentin come back?
He hadn't been meaning to snoop, not really, but all of a sudden he noticed Quentin had left his messenger bag at the table and he caught sight of a notepad inside it. It wouldn't hurt to just look, would it?
He reached over without thinking and took the notepad out. It was a list of reasons why marrying Alice was a good thing, for Quentin's article. First of all, who needs a list of reasons to marry someone? Second of all, these reasons were all practical. At the top was maybe mom will be proud of me ? Why would Quentin's mother not be proud of him? None of this made sense. Reading down the list he saw stability and good hygiene. He should definitely talk to Quentin about what a bad idea marrying this Alice was. Not that he knew more about love, but if he ever did fall in love he wouldn't need a list.
“What’s that?” Tick asked, peering over his shoulder.
“A notepad Quentin used for his article. It’s a list of reasons to marry Alice,” he answered.
“Like a pro/con list?” Tick asked him.
“Maybe? You didn’t need a list when you married Ellie, did you?” he asked, not really knowing much about the other couple other than they didn't seem to be all that in love.
“No, I didn’t, although maybe I should have. We’re so different than we were back then.” Tick laughed awkwardly.
“You don’t love her anymore?” He didn’t want to pry, but Tick brought it up.
“I love her, but we’re not the same people we were. It’s different now. When you've been married for as long as we have, things change. We barely talk anymore," Tick told him.
“I don’t really believe in love myself, but I don’t think you should need a list.” He hadn’t believed in love for a long time, in fact, but he knew he would not have needed a list to know it if he ever saw it.
“What are you doing?” Quentin asked, grabbing the notepad suddenly from him.
“Sorry, I was just curious,” he replied.
“Please don’t go through my stuff,” Quentin said harshly, stuffing the notepad back into his messenger bag.
He was thankful to be back in the car. Besides the wedding date being under duress and Eliot going through his things, he was just happy to be on the move again.
"How was Rafe when you talked?" He heard Tick ask Ellie.
"Oh, he was good," Ellie answered.
It was nice to hear a normal couple's conversation. He hoped it would be good when he and Alice had kids. He wasn’t sure how she felt about having kids. Alice had plans for everything, so even if they hadn't talked about it yet he was sure it was on her list. He definitely wanted them.
"Let's play a game," he said suddenly, trying to get his mind off things.
"What kind of game?" Eliot asked, intrigued.
"I spy is a fun game," he replied, because it was fun and it was easy.
"Hmmm, okay. I spy with my little eye a tree."
"Haha very funny Eliot. There are a million trees around."
"Fine. I spy a farmhouse."
"Oooh is it that one there?"
"You are correct, Ellie!"
They played the game for another hour or so before both Tick and Ellie were asleep.
"I'm sorry about going through your things," Eliot apologized to him.
"Um thanks for the apology. I shouldn't have gotten so upset, but Alice had just told me some bad news, so I wasn't in the greatest of moods anyway."
"She told me her mom said we'd have to postpone the date if I couldn't make it on time. Apparently they're going to Ibiza right after Christmas for six months."
"Wow! You have to postpone the date because they want to go to Ibiza?" Eliot shockingly asked. “That’s So messed up Quentin.”
"Yeah." he sighed because what else could he do?
"I know I said I wasn't going to tease you anymore, but seriously, Quentin, I just think this doesn't sound like the best relationship to base a marriage on."
"And I told you that you know nothing about our relationship." he replied with exasperation.
"You're right. Sorry."
They drove for a while in silence, until they heard an unusual noise emanating from the car.
"I think there's something wrong with the engine," Quentin said with alarm.
"It's fine. I checked it before we left." Eliot calmly replied.
"Okay, but what's that noise?" Quentin asked again trying to quell the fear that something was terribly wrong.
"Oh my god it's Ellie! She's snoring!" Eliot cried, laughing.
"Oh, goodness." Quentin couldn't help but laugh too.
It was nice. This little bit of frivolity they were having.
He was just about to say something to that effect when all of a sudden, he saw a rabbit run out into the road.
"Eliot, watch out!" he shouted and pointed.
He watched Eliot swerve and they must have spun too hard on the ice because all of a sudden, they were spinning off the road and into a ditch.
Chapter 4: Christmasville Part 1
Our travelers find themselves stranded in Christmasville, New York.
“Welcome to the O Tannenbaum Inn!” A very excited young man greeted the four of them as they entered the bed and breakfast, stomping the snow off their feet and brushing it off their jackets.
“Uh thanks...um?” he asked the kid behind the counter.
“Oh, Todd. I’m Todd and my family runs the inn.” The young man replied a bit too cheerfully.
“Well Todd, I’m Eliot, this here is Quentin, and these are the Pickwicks; Ellie and Tick.” He introduced them all. “We are indeed in need of some lodging as someone thought they saw an animal in the middle of the road and made us crash the car.” He looked at Quentin when he said the last part. His tone was accusatory, but honestly Quentin had shouted and he’d swerved and then there was nothing in the road. He just hoped the rental wasn’t totaled. He did not need a huge bill on top of everything. He was suddenly thankful he had decided on this one occasion to get the insurance with the rental. At least when they’d dropped it off, the mechanic had said they could probably fix it tomorrow, but that meant one night here.
“Look, I said I was sorry, Eliot. What else can I say, it looked like a rabbit!” Quentin snapped back.
“Oh um, sorry, guys, but we only have two rooms left,” Todd answered, stopping him from saying what he probably shouldn’t say next to Quentin.
“What?” he asked, hoping he hadn’t heard the kid correctly.
“Oh yeah, we just have two rooms left. We get really busy this time of year. Everyone wants to visit Christmasville.”
“Christmasville?” He asked again. Had they entered a twilight zone or something? Who names their town Christmasville?
“Yep! Every year here at Christmasville, NY we do a huge Christmas village. It’s Christmas here the whole year, but we go all out in December,” Todd explained excitedly.
“Okay…...and so you only have only two rooms left?” he asked again.
“Yes.” Todd nodded.
“I’m sure Ellie and Tick would like to be in a room together? Are you okay sharing Quentin?” He turned, asking Quentin, hoping it would be fine. It was only going to be one night.
“Um, yeah, I guess. There are two beds right?” Quentin asked Todd in a tone of voice Eliot couldn’t place.
“Oh, yep. Two beds. Our only rooms left are both doubles,” Todd answered.
He saw Quentin heave a sigh of relief at that. That was fine, it wasn’t like he was looking forward to sharing a bed with Quentin either.
“Okay yeah we can share. It’s just one night, we’ll be fine,” Quentin replied.
The room, like the whole inn, was decorated in a somewhat tasteful Christmassy way; reds and greens everywhere, but not so it was overpowering. The sheets were a deep green color, topped with a poinsettia-themed comforters. The window seat had a dark berry-colored cushion with sage green pillows. There was garland wrapped around the window and door frames. He put his bag down on one of the beds and plopped down, relaxing a little as he watched Quentin walk in.
“It’s getting close to dinner time. Maybe we should check with the Pickwicks and see what they’re doing? I think I saw a diner on the way over here,” Quentin said, putting his bag down on the other bed and sitting in the window seat.
“That’s probably a good idea. You’re right, it is getting late and we should definitely eat something. Maybe Todd knows a place in town.” All that driving had tired him out, but he should definitely get some food before crashing.
They stopped by the Pickwick’s room, down the hall, and they were more than happy to join. According to Todd, there was indeed a diner in town.
Ellie and Tick went on ahead to check out some of the stores, which left Eliot and Quentin to walk to Dasher’s Diner & Pub. Of course it was called that. Practically everything here was named after something Christmassy.
It was starting to snow again, so he pulled his coat tight around him and watched Quentin walk a few feet ahead of him. A smile came to his face as he saw Quentin looking around at everything as if he were a kid in a candy shop.
To say the town was obsessed with Christmas would be an understatement. It was like walking through a winter wonderland. Christmas trees and lights galore dotted the street. It was as if every Christmas movie ever made had been filmed here on this main street.
Quentin was stopped in front of a large window display when Eliot caught up with him. "It's beautiful," Quentin said. It was a display of a family all in their pajamas around their Christmas tree.
"We used to look like that," Eliot replied almost without thinking and as he said it, his mind was going back to his childhood.
"Why is it you don't want to go home if your Christmases are like that?" Quentin asked. "I mean, I know I shouldn't pry, but you brought it up."
"My family, our Christmases, used to be like that growing up. It was kind of perfect until my sister; Arielle fell in love with my ex-boyfriend Mike. They just announced their engagement." He laughed. "Well, you found out my secret, I guess. The reason I haven't been home in so long."
"I'm so sorry, Eliot. I had no idea," Quentin replied earnestly.
"It's the reason I don't believe in soulmates. I thought Mike was the one, you know, but he just wasn't for me, I guess. It's why I don't believe in them anymore." He didn’t, really. After Mike broke his heart, he fled and he found Margo and he never looked back. His mom and step-dad kept in touch and tried to lure him back home, but nothing ever worked. That is, until he’d gotten a call from his mom, to say that Arielle and Mike had just gotten engaged and she wanted him there this year. From that moment, it was like a little plan started to form in his mind. He would go and ruin their perfect first Christmas as fiances. His mother wouldn’t be happy, but he’d failed in that regard for a while now.
"Just because Mike wasn't the one doesn't mean they don't exist. Your soulmate could still be out there," Quentin told him.
"Maybe." Quentin could be right, he thought. This little voice in the back of his head kept gnawing at him, saying he should make this trip longer to enjoy more time with Quentin. He’d just met him, but there was something about him that made Eliot think maybe his views on dating and love might be in need of revision.
After Eliot's confession of why he was really going home, they left the display window and started walking towards the diner again. He hadn't known what to say, really, but now he understood a bit why Eliot had been so against the way he talked about Alice; Eliot was jealous. Hopefully, one day, Eliot could find love again.
There was a little stall just ahead of them that was selling roasted chestnuts.
"I wonder what other lines of the song they've got going on?" Eliot mused, as Quentin heard him come up behind him. "I'll take a bag" Eliot paid the girl and offered a few to Quentin as they continued on their way to the diner.
"What do you mean?" Quentin asked.
Eliot looked at him quizzically. “‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ ring any bells? Nat King Cole? A Christmas Classic?”
“Well, yes, I do know the song. It just took me a minute,” He answered, a little upset with himself he hadn’t recognized it at first.
“Good. If you hadn’t, I think we might have had a problem,” Eliot responded jokingly. “You want any by the way?” Eliot asked him, holding out the bag.
"Oh, no thanks," He replied. Chestnuts were not his kind of snack. "Listen, Eliot, I'm sorry about earlier. I had no idea."
"Quentin, really it's okay. I just. Can we forget I said anything at all?"
"If that's what you want, but Eliot, you have to believe there might be someone else out there for you."
He watched Eliot sigh and then look at him. There was something going on in Eliot's face that he couldn't quite place.
"Oh, hello boys!"
He was brought out of his thinking as they both turned to see Tick and Ellie.
"You find anything?” Quentin asked them.
“Oh a few things I might want to get.” Ellie laughed. “I’ll probably end up getting them. Well, aren’t you two going to kiss?”
“Um. W-what?” he stuttered. He turned to look at Eliot, who was also a bit startled.
“You’re standing under mistletoe,” she said matter of factly.
Quentin stepped quickly back from Eliot, not realizing how close they had gotten to each other.
"Um no," he answered her quickly and set off at a quicker pace to the diner.
The diner was exactly what you would think a diner in a Christmas town would be; lights and wreaths all around.
Ellie sat down at a table near the dance floor and they all followed her.
“Okay, we’ve got nachos, beer battered fries and jalapeno poppers. That is not exactly your festive fare, but it’s going to have to do, I guess,” Eliot said as he looked at the menu and laughed a little.
“Remember our first Christmas dinner?” Tick asked his wife, suddenly becoming very pensive.
“I do, in that tiny apartment in the East Village?” Ellie responded and looking as if her mind was wandering back, too.
“We didn’t have a stove, so we made macaroni and cheese on a hot plate,” Tick explained.
“Tick, um, put tomatoes and spinach on top for the red and green trimming.” She laughed.
“Had to make it feel more festive,” Tick remarked.
“We had this bottle of wine that his parents had given us for our wedding,” Ellie added.
“It was so awful,” she explained. “So bad,” Tick replied in unison.
They both laughed and looked at each other wistfully.
“It was a good Christmas, though,” Ellie told them.
“It was,” Tick agreed, taking her hand.
“My step-dad always did the turkey at our place. He’d roast that bird all night long and the smell was incredible. Arielle, that’s my sister, she and I would sneak down to the kitchen in the morning before anyone else got up and we would each take a piece of that turkey and then we would go and look at all of our presents under the tree. My step-dad would always blame me for picking at the bird, but Arielle, she would step in and take the blame for me every time,” Eliot said, smiling at the memory.
“What about you, Quentin? You got a favorite Christmas story?” Tick asked him.
“Oh…..yes.” He paused, unsure what to say, “I remember the big christmas tree in the living room with all the presents and a big family around the table and—actually, that’s not true. I’m sorry, I don’t even know why I just said that.” He wasn’t quite sure why he had lied, but he figured it was safe enough to tell his real story. “Honestly, growing up, it was just my dad and me and money was always really tight, but he did his best. My mom left when I was really little and only helped out when it benefitted her. So since it was just us, every year, we just, uh, we watched them light the Christmas tree on tv at Rockefeller Center, and we would clap along at the tv as if we were standing right there with everyone else. It was silly.” He smiled sadly, remembering all those nights sitting with his dad watching the tree lighting.
“I think that’s sweet,” Ellie said, smiling at him.
He cleared his throat. “Then he got sick, and Christmas didn’t seem as important anymore, and then he was gone.”
“And now you’re going to get a big family Christmas of your own,” Eliot mused.
Quentin nodded his head, thinking of Alice, wondering if they would have that. “Basically the kind of Christmas you’re all trying to avoid.”
“No, I think the kind of Christmas we all take for granted. It’s good to be reminded,” Ellie remarked.
They lapsed into a bit of silence as the waitress came and took their orders. Bringing up your dead dad, he thought to himself, that’s perfect dinner conversation. He usually never talked about his dad except with Julia or Alice, but sitting here amongst these strangers that were starting to feel like friends, he realized he felt at ease here.
Chapter 5: Christmasville Part 2
Still stranded in Christmasville, our travelers try to make the most of it.
The food wasn’t bad, and they fell into easy conversation. The Pickwicks talked more about their son; Rafe. Quentin seemed more quiet than usual beside him, but he hoped that wouldn’t last.
He watched as a girl walked over to the jukebox in the corner and “When We’re Together” by Sleeping at Last started to play across the diner. “Sure it's nice to open a gift // It's tied up with a perfect bow // But the greatest present of all was given to me long ago // It's something I would never trade // It's a family that we weighed // 'Cause when we're together // I have everything on my list // And when we're together I have all I wish.” It wasn’t a well known Christmas ballad, but he loved it.
“How long has it been since we danced?” Tick asked Ellie thoughtfully.
“Well, gosh I don’t remember.” She laughed a little when she answered.
“It’s been too long then,” Tick said, getting out of the booth and extending a hand to her.
Ellie looked at her husband for a moment and Eliot thought she might decline, but then she took Tick’s hand and they walked to the dance floor.
“They look wonderful out there together,” Quentin mused.
“I guess they do,” he replied, knowing Quentin probably wasn’t thinking about how those two barely spoke two kind words to each other.
“I know you said you stopped believing in love because of your sister, but I’m sure she didn’t mean to fall for Mike,” Quentin said all of a sudden.
“Probably, but who knows. I haven’t talked to her in a long time,” He replied. The last time he’d talked with his sister had ended in a shouting match, with tears and broken hearts on both sides.
“Maybe she’s sorry about everything.”
“Well, I won’t find out tonight.” He hated talking about Arielle and Mike, especially without Margo there with him. “You know what, why don’t we cap off this evening with a Christmas Eve dance, huh?” he asked Quentin, trying to change the subject.
“Sure, why not.” Quentin agreed and took his hand as they headed to the dance floor.
They passed the Pickwicks just as Ellie began to laugh from Tick twirling her.
Eliot put an arm around Quentin’s waist and took his hand in his as they began to sway with the music. He wasn’t sure why, but somehow this felt right. That voice in the back of his head nagging him about this boy was back again and he couldn’t ignore it. Quentin had gotten under his skin and he didn’t let that happen.
Feeling Quentin pull away, he asked, “You okay?”
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Quentin told him.
“It’s just a dance,” he replied, wondering if that was truly the case.
“We still shouldn’t be doing this. I’m engaged!”
“Quentin, we’re just dancing and it’s Christmas Eve. We’ll go our separate ways in New York City tomorrow and we’ll never see each other again,” he responded, trying to calm the man in his arms.
“I’m sorry,” Quentin said, pulling out of Eliot’s arms and heading back to the booth. It was just dancing, he thought. He didn’t think Quentin needed to make such a big deal about it. To be quite honest, he also felt a little hurt by Quentin’s abrupt dismissal.
Ellie and Tick looked at him as if to ask what happened, and all he could do was shrug.
At least it had stopped snowing, he thought as they walked back to the inn from the diner. He couldn’t believe that he’d danced with Eliot and couldn’t figure out why it was running on a loop in his mind. Something had changed in the way he saw the man after they’d talked about their favorite memories of Christmas at dinner and when Eliot had told him about his sister in front of the display. He didn’t like what was starting to creep in. He was with Alice.
“Oooh, Tick look!” He heard Ellie exclaim. “I want a few more stocking stuffers for the grandkids.”
“I guess we’re spending more money,” Tick joked as the Pickwicks walked over to the shops and left him alone with Eliot again.
“Well, all in all, it turned out to be an alright Christmas Eve. A lot better than some I’ve had in the recent past,” Eliot said thoughtfully.
“Yeah, it was pretty perfect,” he answered without even really thinking.
“Wait, did you just say it was perfect?” Eliot joked.
“I mean, yeah it was. I just didn’t think my first perfect Christmas Eve would be with you.”
“Because I’m not Alice.”
“I just when I pictured tonight, this isn’t how I thought I would spend it. I had this whole idea of what it would be like to spend tonight with a family around a tree instead of getting drunk on eggnog and watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. I thought it would be perfect to spend tonight with Alice and her parents,” he said pensively.
“What if Alice isn’t the one for you, Quentin?”
“She is. We’re perfect together and she fits the list,” he answered incredulously. He hadn’t expected Eliot to be so upfront.
“Quentin, you can’t have a soulmate from a list.”
“Who are you to say how I can or can't have a soulmate? You're the one who doesn't believe in them." He hadn't realized how defensive he was until he heard his voice.
"That may be, but it's still the truth. It's not about how they fit things, but how they feel. You can't get a feeling from a list. She doesn't even make you laugh."
"Eliot, look…" he started to say, before Eliot cut him off.
"Stop. Tell me you don't feel whatever this is between us? This pull of some sort? I just— there's something between you and me."
"I can't! Alice has to be the one. She's everything my mother likes about people and maybe if I marry Alice my mother will for one time in my life be proud of me." He'd never said that out loud before. He'd never truly explained why he was trying so hard with Alice.
"I didn't really tell the whole story at the diner. My mom—she's hard to get along with and everything I do is somehow wrong. I just, I thought maybe if I could do this one thing right."
"Quentin, if your mother hasn't been able to be proud of who you are right at this moment, then I don't think marrying Alice will change that. You and Alice both deserve to be with someone you truly love and not someone you're just settling for."
Sighing with weariness that the conversation had come back to this again, Quentin looked up and laughed. He couldn’t believe it. How had they ended up under the mistletoe again?
"Eliot, whatever this is, I'll be with Alice tomorrow and like you said earlier, we'll never see each other again. All of whatever this feeling is will be a distant holiday memory, like Ellie and Tick's first Christmas, but this is tradition," he said, looking back up when he mentioned that last part. Eliot followed his gaze.
"It is." Eliot laughed.
"They say it's important to follow Christmas tradition."
"Well, if that's what they say."
He looked at Eliot, questioning what on Earth he was doing hoping to kiss this man, but he couldn't explain it. Eliot put a hand on his face and brought him closer and then they were kissing. God, it was unlike any kiss he'd ever had. It felt right. He opened his mouth just a little and moaned as Eliot deepened the kiss. He felt the snow on his face as it started to snow again and, oh, it was perfect.
"Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh,
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh."
Carolers brought him out of the moment as they passed singing Jingle Bells. He broke the kiss and pulled away from Eliot.
"What the fuck am I doing?" He yelled at himself out loud.
"Quentin, it's okay. It was just a kiss and like you said, this will all be a memory, so we just made it a better one."
“Eliot, no. I can’t, I have to go. I’m sorry,” he said, hastily excusing himself from the situation and making a beeline for the inn. He needed to get to Alice.
Mr. & Mrs. Pickwick
“Ellie, what are those for? The grandkids don’t need any of that. I thought we were just getting a few more stocking stuffers?” Tick asked, a little frustrated his wife was taking so long in the store.
“Honestly Tick, these aren’t for the grandchildren. They’re for Quentin and Eliot. I thought it would be nice to get them a little something,” Ellie replied.
“Well alright let’s just not get too much. I don’t want to get back to the inn too late,” he told her, moving down another aisle to look at some cards.
Why was it still so fucking cold?
He pulled his coat tighter around him as the snow started to get heavier. He needed to call Margo. She was the best at giving him honest advice. He wasn’t even sure what he felt for Quentin, but it was something and that kiss, it was perfect. Hopefully, Quentin didn’t hate him. Margo would tell him what to do. He would go back to the inn, he’d call her and everything would work itself out. Maybe he could talk to Quentin and apologize.
The walk back took longer than he thought, but that might have been because he was dreading who he might find when he got there. It felt pretty late when he eventually did get back, though, and he made his way to the room. Quentin wasn’t there when he entered, which was odd because he should have been.
Then he saw the note on Quentin’s bed.
Didn’t think I should sleep here tonight, so Todd let me sleep in the office. I’ll see you and the Pickwicks tomorrow morning.
Well, okay then, so he was alone for the night. He texted Margo and then headed to the bathroom, figuring that a nice hot shower would make him feel better. God he was tired, but he couldn’t get his mind off the way Quentin had signed his name. It felt...intimate.
Tick had left her at the store a little while ago, but when Ellie opened the door to the room they were sharing she found him fast asleep. It would have been nicer if he had fallen asleep on the bed he had claimed as his own. That bed was littered with his suitcase and clothes.
She put the shopping bags down and tried to rouse him.
“Tick! Tick!” she whisper-yelled at him.
“Hmmm,” he groggily responded.
“You’re supposed to be in that bed.” She pointed at the other bed as she told him.
“Ellie, it’s late and maybe it would be okay if we just slept in the same bed for one night,” he responded, sitting up in bed.
“I didn’t think you’d want to,” she told him honestly. It had been so long since they had. It was just one of those things that happened over time. Tick was busy with work and would come home late, so he’d sleep in the guest room. Slowly the guest room became his room.
“Well, I think it might be okay,” he answered.
She got ready for bed and then got under the covers. This was her husband, for pete’s sake, and she was nervous about sleeping in the same bed with him. When did they become this couple?
“Night Ellie,” she heard him say as he turned off his light and went back to sleep.
“Night,” she said back. She couldn’t remember the last time he had kissed her goodnight. This wasn’t the marriage she thought they would have when she was younger.
“Hey Alice,” he greeted as she answered the phone.
He’d asked Todd if he could sleep in the office, so Quentin fixed up the little cot and called Alice as he lay back down on the bed.
“Yeah I’ll be there tomorrow, I just wanted to call and wish you a Merry Christmas Eve.” He should tell her about the kiss, but he couldn’t. He hadn’t even told her Eliot was with them on the trip. He loved Alice, but he knew that she got jealous sometimes when he mentioned guys of a certain type. “Love you, too,” he replied to her affirmation before he hung up and tried to sleep.
He woke up to a couple text messages from Margo saying he should go for it. He must have fallen asleep right after the shower, but he was going to take her advice. He was going to be brave and say something to Quentin. He wasn't sure what he would say, but something.
After getting dressed, he walked over to the Pickwicks room.
“As soon as Quentin meets us, we’ll get this show on the road,” he told the Pickwicks. “He stayed in the office last night, I guess he didn't like my snoring," he joked, trying to hide behind the laugh.
“Oh, Quentin?” Todd asked, trying to clarify from behind the reception desk. “He left an hour or so ago. My uncle Henry took him on his truck. Uncle Henry had to make a delivery to New York City anyway.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you Todd,” he answered, not really knowing what else to say.
“Well, I guess it’s just us three now, huh?” Asking the Pickwicks as he turned back to them.
“It’s fine, Eliot,” Ellie told him. “Let’s pick up the car and we’ll be on our way.”
Ellie was right. It would be fine. He’d only spent a few days with the guy. He’d forget all about Quentin Coldwater, go back home and ruin Christmas for his family. This was fine. It was all fine. Everything would be fine. God, he hated that he'd let Quentin get under his skin. He'd been stupid to hope again.
Chapter 6: The Quinns
Quentin finally meets the Quinns and realizes sometimes the ideal is not what one expected.
All the trees were white from the snow that had fallen overnight. It was a little blinding to look at all the white as they drove past them. The radio was playing non-stop Christmas music; which was probably appropriate for Christmas Day, he thought.
He hadn't meant to leave without saying goodbye to Ellie and Tick, or Eliot for that matter, but it seemed like what was best. Whatever he felt or thought he felt for Eliot was just pre-marriage jitters, right? Could you get cold feet before the wedding was even planned? He just needed to get to Alice and everything would be okay. This little detour would just be a memory.
Thankfully, Todd’s Uncle Henry was making a trip to New York City to drop off some goods and had agreed to let him come along. He’d never been in a truck this big, but it was nice and Henry had the heat up so it was really warm.
Henry was awfully quiet, though, and it had only been an hour. He didn't think he could make this whole drive if either of them didn't say anything.
"So, you make this trip often?" was all he could think of first.
"About once a week or so," Henry replied gruffly.
"Thanks again for giving me a lift."
Henry just mumbled an affirmative.
Okay then, talking wasn't going to happen, so he just had about two hours to spend with his thoughts. This was just great. Hopefully they made good time and he could be with Alice soon.
About thirty minutes later, they were still passing the same white trees. He figured it couldn’t hurt anything if he just talked out loud.
“You know, it was really just a kiss. It didn’t mean anything.”
Henry looked at him with a look he knew meant Henry didn’t believe him.
“Look, Eliot was just acting on unresolved feelings about his old boyfriend and I was missing Alice.”
“Hmmph,” Henry murmured.
“I know what it sounds like, but I’m sure that’s it.”
“Mmmhmm.” Henry made another sound.
Quentin sighed and sat back in his seat while Henry gave him another look. This was not what he needed. He just wanted to enjoy Christmas with Alice and her family.
Henry turned the music up louder.
"Thanks again," he yelled back at Henry as he shut the door when the truck pulled in front of Alice's parents’ house. It was enormous! It reminded him of the house in the movie ‘Home Alone’, it was a large red-bricked mansion with white Christmas lights around the roofline.
He clutched flowers in one hand and his bags in the other. Henry had been kind enough to let him run into a CVS to get some flowers for Mrs. Quinn. Everyone liked getting flowers and it was a gift to apologize for being so late.
A very tall man opened the double black doors after he rang the bell.
"Hello, I'm Quentin Coldwater, here for Christmas."
"Oh yes, you've been expected," the butler; he assumed the butler; answered while looking him up and down with a snobbish stare. He was ushered into a grand foyer and let his coat and bags be taken away by the butler.
"Quentin!" Alice yelled as she came in from another room. "You made it."
"I'm so sorry that I'm late, Alice, but I'm here and it's still Christmas. Merry Christmas, Alice," he told her, wrapping his free arm around her and kissing her cheek.
"Merry Christmas, Quentin," she replied.
"Oh, so this is the famous Quentin that has finally decided to grace us with his presence," a woman said in a tone he didn't like. He assumed this was Alice's mother.
"Moth—" Alice didn't get far before she was cut off.
"You know you don't call me that," Mrs. Quinn sniped at her daughter.
Alice made a face he'd never seen before.
" Stephanie , this is Quentin; my fiance," Alice said after taking a breath.
"Ah Quentin, finally!" a man he assumed was Mr. Quinn exclaimed as he came into the foyer.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Quinn," he greeted them. "These are for you, Mrs. Quinn." He held the flowers out to her.
"Oh, why thank you, but you shouldn’t have." She grimaced as she took them and handed them to the butler. Her tone made him know for certain she was not thankful or appreciative of the gift at all.
“It was no trouble at all.” It hadn’t been. The CVS had a nice selection.
“Oh no, I meant you actually shouldn’t have. I have standards for flowers,” Alice’s mother corrected him.
So, this was turning out nothing like he had thought.
"Why don't we sit down," Stephanie said in a voice he hated as she led them to the parlor. “All this standing around is giving me a headache.”
He watched the butler throw his flowers away out of the corner of his eye as he followed the Quinns. He assumed that’s what Stephanie had said to him on the way to the parlor.
Alice gave him an apologetic look as they sat down.
"Umber, get us some drinks, will you?" Stephanie yelled to the butler. "So, Alice tells us you're a writer for a magazine?" she asked, turning to Quentin, and the way she said those words made him feel like he was at a worthless job. Alice's mother reminded him of his own.
"I am. I write for ' Brakebills' , the um lifestyle magazine," he told her, and all of a sudden everything about him felt wrong.
"Hmmm," she replied judgingly. "Alice has never had the best taste in partners. But out of all of them you might be the worst. Am I right Daniel?"
"Stephanie, you know you are. What happened to that nice Marina girl? We loved her. She was from a good family too!" Alice's father added.
"You should get cleaned up. We're having dinner at the country club and I will not be made a fool. Please tell me you have a suit with you? If you don't, I'm sure one Charlie's old ones might do."
"I do," he replied happy with himself that he had listened to Julia and packed his good suit. Well, it was his only suit, but still. He couldn't believe they brought up Marina. That was Alice's college girlfriend. From what Alice had told him, Marina had been awful.
Alice took his hand. "Come on Q, I'll show you the room you'll be staying in." She dragged him away from her parents and up the enormous staircase.
"Alice, why did you not prepare me? I thought your parents would somehow be different," he asked her after they'd entered the guest room.
She looked so small. This woman who always knew exactly what she wanted and what to do suddenly seemed so shy and quiet and it scared him.
"I'm sorry, Quentin, but my parents are hard to explain and I thought it might be better if you didn't have any expectations." She looked down as she answered his question. "Look, just get changed into your suit and we'll go to dinner and we'll get through it."
"Alice, I'm sorry. I had no idea they were like this."
"Don't look at me like that."
"With that pitying ‘I know how you feel’ look. Our mothers are not the same. At least mine never left." Alice could be cruel when she was upset. It had happened a few times in their relationship, but she'd never been this cruel. He knew she didn't actually mean that, but it still hurt.
"Fine, just let me get dressed then." He sighed.
"Look I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry, I just—she brings out the worst in me. I'll see you downstairs then." Alice looked at him like she was going to say something else, but just left, and then he was alone again.
He lay back on the bed and tried to relax. They just had to get through dinner, like she said, and then they could get married and start their life together. Getting up, he went to the bathroom and splashed some water on his face and then realized he should probably take a shower.
Why had she said that? She hadn’t meant it at all and she’d hurt him in a moment when they should have been trying to come together against her mother.
She closed the door to her childhood bedroom and looked at the dress she’d laid out earlier.
This always happened. No matter who she brought home it always turned into a fight either between her and her mother or her partner. Even when she’d brought Marina home during college. That had been one of her worst relationships, but she had needed to show up to her mother’s birthday with someone. Turns out her mother loved Marina, they got along perfectly, but it had made her so angry. She’d fought again with Marina that night and they had broken up. Now, she was doing the same with Quentin. She was fighting with him because of her mother.
Everything was par on course, she thought. She wished Kady was here, but she shouldn’t be thinking about Kady at all. She was with her fiance and should not be thinking about Zelda’s new assistant professor who was more attractive than she wanted to admit. She and Kady had become fast friends in the three weeks since Kady had started and the day before she was supposed to fly out here Kady had asked her out.
She’d said no, of course, because she had Quentin and they were engaged, but a part of her had wanted to say yes. There was something about being around Kady that made her stomach flip in a way being with Quentin didn’t, but that was just pre-wedding jitters. She loved Quentin and they were going to get married.
Finally putting on her dress, she knew she should go check on Quentin and apologize to him again.
There was a knock at his door just as he finished tying his tie.
"I just wanted to apologize again about before. I shouldn't have said it and my mother's behavior isn't an excuse," Alice said as she came in.
He sighed. "It's fine," he said, knowing it wasn't really, but he didn't want to make a thing about it.
"I love you," she told him.
"I love you, too," he replied, even if he wasn't completely sure anymore. At least not in the way that he should be, but he pushed the feelings down. He wasn't going to think about Eliot. Alice was his fiance and they were getting married and they were going to have a nice dinner and he should just forget about Eliot.
"You ready?" Alice asked.
"I think so?" He smiled. He hoped dinner would go better than drinks had gone.
The country club was nothing like he’d pictured. Well, he wasn’t exactly sure what to picture, but it wasn’t like any country club he’d seen on TV, or in those teen movies.
He watched the maitre’ d greet Stephanie and Daniel like they were all old friends.
The maitre’ d beckoned a waiter over to them, who in turn showed them all to what he suspected was the Quinns’ usual table.
Stephanie ordered drinks for them all. She hadn't even asked what they wanted. Not that he was particular about what he liked, but it was nice to have the option to look at a menu and choose.
“I was thinking I’ll call Tom tomorrow." Stephanie paused, looking back to Quentin. " Ford, of course," before continuing to speak to Alice, "I'm sure he can make time for a fitting for Quentin." She took a sip of her wine that the waiter had just brought. "Oh and Alice." She paused again. "I talked with Pierpaolo Piccioli, yesterday, about a fitting for you. Margaret couldn't even get him on the phone last year for Celeste's wedding, but he assured me they could do something for you and that figure of yours.” Stephanie looked disapprovingly at her daughter for that last part.
When did he say yes to having a designer suit? Why did she look at him like he didn't know who Tom Ford was? He worked in media. He might not wear Tom, but he knew the designer. Were they even ready to discuss this yet? They'd only just gotten engaged a month ago.
“Stephanie, I think we can manage on our own,” Alice replied through gritted teeth.
“Honestly Alice, you’re turning down a designer gown from Valentino just to spite me?" Stephanie asked tersely. "I'm only trying to help. Besides, if you think I'm going to let you walk down the aisle in anything besides designer, then you must know that in that case your father and I won't be there. I'm not having my friends look at something off the rack. God knows what you'd choose."
Alice took a breath. "I'm just saying, I would appreciate it if you let us plan our wedding. I will take your advice and thank you for calling Pierpaolo, Stephanie."
Quentin watched the interchange between them and had no idea how Daniel could sit there so calmly. Why was Alice even letting her mother walk all over her?
"I also talked with Stewart and he said the Rose Room would be available next Christmas, which works perfectly for your father and me," Stephanie added, taking another dip of her wine.
“The Rose Room is beautiful,” Alice remarked softly.
“Wait, next Christmas? I thought you were thinking about October for the wedding?” He asked, turning to Alice.
"It's fine, Q. A Christmas wedding is fine," she replied. "Let's just let her have this. I don't want it to be a thing," she leaned in and whispered to him.
So, now they couldn't even plan their own wedding? It wasn't like he was seriously excited about the planning process, but it was something that couples did together and now it was being taken over by someone he didn't even like.
Chapter 7: Eliot Goes Home
Eliot and the Pickwick’s somehow make it to their destinations.
They'd been told by Todd that Quentin had paid half the bill that morning when they were deciding who owed what. It was more than a nice gesture and Eliot wasn't sure what to make of it.
Everything went fine when they walked over to the garage to pick up the car. You couldn't even tell it had been in a wreck.
"You know, that wasn't much of a continental breakfast," Ellie suddenly said as they were all getting comfortable for another long drive.
He knew she was just trying to break up the silence that had plagued them since they'd paid their bill.
"You're right, it wasn't that great, but at least it was Christmas themed!" He laughed.
Ellie and Tick laughed at his joke even though in all honesty it was a terrible one. They settled into an easy rhythm and Ellie turned on the radio. Christmas music echoed through the car.
"So, you talk with your son?" he asked them, trying to talk about anything other than what was on his mind.
"Oh, yes we did. We talked with Rafe this morning before we came downstairs. He and Abigail said the kids had a wonderful Christmas morning and they're excited to see us!" Ellie exclaimed.
"They did and I think Rafe said they got all they wanted," Tick added.
He couldn't help but notice that there was a change between the Pickwicks. Before, they had been fairly cold with one another no matter how jovial Ellie's face might have appeared, but now Tick had a softer expression when speaking with her.
It was all fine for forty-five minutes, until that dumb song that he had danced to with Quentin came on. He reached for the button immediately to switch it off and Ellie and Tick both shot him weird looks as he did so.
“You know, I think he is making a huge mistake going through with it. You start a marriage out with a lie and it never works out...” He heard Ellie say, so matter-of-factly.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, unsure what she was getting at.
“When we stopped for lunch yesterday, Quentin lied to Alice. He only told her he was travelling with a couple. He never mentioned you,” she confessed to him.
"But why would he do that?" Eliot asked, confused. Why would Quentin lie about who he was driving with? Eliot had never even met Alice, so it didn't make sense.
Ellie looked at him. "You mean you don't know?" she asked.
He shook his head no, still not understanding what she was getting at.
"If you were on your way to meet your significant other, wouldn't you rather tell them you're travelling with a nice older couple instead of the hot single guy you just met on the plane?" she asked him.
"We weren't driving alone, though?" he countered. "It's all of us."
"Maybe Alice has a little jealous streak?"
"Or maybe Quentin's little checklist is missing a few things?" Tick added from the backseat.
"Quentin has his reasons for marrying Alice. Besides, whatever spark there was between us is in the past. He’s with his soulmate or whatever and I’m going home for Christmas,” he replied sharply, trying to get the conversation off of Quentin.
“Alright, the topic is dropped,” Ellie agreed.
A full two hours later, he was pulling up in front of a two-story red brick home at the end of a cul-de-sac. The directions Ellie and Tick had given him to their son’s house had been easy enough to follow.
“Thank you so much for driving us, Eliot,” Tick told him as he got out of the car and shook Eliot’s hand.
“It was no trouble at all, Tick. I have to say this is one of the most memorable road trips I’ve had.” He laughed as he shook Tick’s hand.
“Tick, would you mind getting the bags out of the trunk, please? I want to talk to Eliot for a moment,” Ellie asked her husband.
“No, that’s alright. Merry Christmas, Eliot,” Tick said, waving and going to the trunk.
“Merry Christmas!” He called out to Tick.
“So, you wanted to talk to me?” he asked Ellie, who had turned to look at him.
“Yes, I have something for you,” she told him, reaching for her purse and pulling out a present.
“Ellie, you really didn’t have to do this. I didn’t get you or Tick anything.” He hadn’t gotten a gift for anyone besides Margo in a long time.
“You drove us all the way to our son’s house. You brought us to our family for Christmas, Eliot, so I wanted to just get you a little something.” She gave him the present and he took it, because he knew whatever he said she wasn’t going to listen.
“Thank you, Ellie.” He finally acquiesced and took the gift from her.
“I got one for Quentin, too, but oh well. I guess I won’t be able to get it to him.” Ellie sighed as she told him and he couldn’t help but think she was plotting something.
“I’m sorry, Ellie,” he replied apologetically.
“Whitespire Country Club,” she mentioned offhandedly.
“Whitespire Country Club?” he repeated, confused at what she was getting at.
“Whitespire Country Club,” she said again. “That’s where Quentin and Alice are having dinner tonight and if someone were in the same area they could drop off his gift to him.”
There it was, he thought, the plot she had been planning. "Ellie." He tried to stop her.
"Eliot, I know what you'll say, but listen for a moment, please?"
"Alright." He sighed.
"You can deny it all you want, but I know what I've seen between you and Quentin. There's a spark and you should run after that kind of love." She implored him, "I don't know what's going to happen between Tick and I, but I do know we're in a better state than we were two days ago. Being around new love is infectious."
"New love, huh?" He scoffed at her.
"I'm just leaving this here,” she said, placing the gift she had gotten for Quentin on the seat as she stepped out of the car. “It’s in your hands Eliot.”
He nodded in acceptance of what she’d said.
“Merry Christmas, Eliot.,” she told him.
“Merry Christmas, Ellie,” he replied as he watched her close the door and meet up with Tick.
Well, Ellie really did pull out all the stops, he thought. Couldn’t blame her for trying. Was she right? Was this thing between him and Quentin that noticeable? He couldn’t think about this right now. He had to prepare himself for home.
“What did you give him?” Tick asked as he got everything together on their son’s front yard.
“I got him and Quentin each a gift and I told him where Quentin was having dinner tonight,” she replied.
“Ellie, you can’t meddle with people’s lives like that,” he said exasperated.
“There’s something between those two and it would be a shame if they didn’t do anything about it. Don’t you remember how it was when we first met? That new feeling of this could turn into something amazing?”
“That was so long ago.”
“Not that long.”
He sighed. “You’re right; it wasn’t and I do, but we're not those same people anymore."
"I wish we were," she said wistfully. "I miss them."
"They hadn't been married for some twenty-odd years or had a family yet" he countered.
"I don't want to go back to who we were before this trip, Tick. You'll talk to Rafe and fix whatever fight is happening and then I want us to figure out how to say more than good morning and good night every day. I want us to find that feeling again even though it'll be different than it was." All the words she hadn't known she had wanted to say just came spewing out.
Tick looked at her and his face changed. He took her hand. "Okay. We'll figure this out. I still love you, Ellie. I still want to be married to you." He kissed her cheek.
Before she could say anything else the door opened and three children ran towards them shouting, "Grandpa! Grandma!"
Everything looked the same. The high school he had gone to, the drive-in he and Arielle used to spend Friday nights at, and his childhood best friend; Benedict’s; house.
The house he had grown up in was just like he remembered it, garland and lights hung around the front porch and the large Christmas wreath that always adorned the front door. He could see his step-dad in the front room messing with the tree from where he sat when he stopped the car in front.
He took a deep breath and looked down at the gift Ellie had given him. He should open it before he went inside, he thought.
Unwrapping it, his breath hitched. Ellie could give Margo a run for her money with the way Ellie had planned this all, he laughed to himself as he stared at a picture frame with a picture of him and Quentin in it. He had no idea when she’d taken this, but the moment she captured was beautiful. They were laughing about something in Christmasville and Ellie had caught them just as they had both looked at each other. It was more than he’d ever expected. Looking at themselves from Ellie’s perspective, he had to give her credit. He felt a spark between himself and Quentin and now looking at this photograph he knew he had been right.
He shoved the feelings down. He couldn’t do this right now. He had to go inside and play brave in front of Arielle and Mike.
Steeling himself, he took another deep breath and turned the car off. Taking his bag out of the trunk, he headed towards the house.
“Oh, Eliot!” his mother exclaimed as she opened the door and immediately enveloped him a tight hug. “I wasn’t sure if you would come or not, sweetheart. Oh, I’ve missed you so much.”
He noticed his step-dad had come in to check out the commotion. “Eliot, son, you came home!” Dale said with tears in his eyes, enveloping Eliot in another hug.
“Hi mom, dad. It’s good to be back home. I’ve missed you both so much.” He hadn’t realized how much until he was there in front of them.
“Well, now I’m glad I made your father get that bigger turkey!” his mother said, and they all laughed.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mike come down the stairs.
“Eliot.” Mike said, shocked.
“Oh, Mike, I was think…” Arielle stopped mid-sentence when she saw her brother. “Eliot.” Her voice also sounded shocked.
“Come on, Dale, let’s check the cookies,” his mother said, leaving him alone with Mike and Arielle.
“No one said you were coming home,” Mike said, still a little unsure.
“Mom called me, said you two were getting married and it’s Christmas, so I thought why not surprise you.”
“Eliot, I’m sorry. We both are,” Arielle said softly.
“I wanted to say congratulations and Merry Christmas,” He told them. They both looked uncomfortable. “Could you maybe help me with some things, Arielle? I still have a few things left in the trunk.”
“Sure” she replied unsure of what was about to happen.
The air seemed colder as they stepped out onto the porch.
“You know, when I started out on my way here, I had a few ideas of how this might go. I’d make Christmas so miserable for the both of you that you would know how I felt when you did what you did,” he told her as they made their way to the car.
“And now?” she questioned.
“I think you and Mike were supposed to find each other. I thought Mike was the One for so long, but he was the one for you.”
“Eliot,” she said softly.
“Arielle, I forgive you,” he told her and then reached out for a hug.
She started to cry wrapped up in his arms. “Eliot, I love you so much.” she told him through tears.
They broke apart and he handed her a kleenex.
“Okay, but I did really have a couple more bags, sis.” He laughed.
He opened the trunk and grabbed a bag, but he was taken aback by what he saw in there. How had he missed that? Had it been there the whole time?
“You starting to read fantasy?” Arielle jokingly asked him, pointing at the 'Fillory and Further' book laying in the trunk.
“”Ha, uh no, it’s um, it’s a friend’s book.” He wasn’t usually at a loss for what to say in the moment, but how could he explain Quentin to her? How could he explain that he’d fallen for a stranger he had only met two days ago? At least he thought that’s what this feeling was. It had been so long since he’d let himself be open to the possibility of love.
“You okay there, Eliot?” she asked him.
“Uh yeah, um hmm.” He smiled to himself, realizing Ellie was right. Whatever there was between Quentin and him, he needed to know for sure. “I um, I have to go. I’m sorry, Arielle. Tell mom and dad I’ll be back, I just have to do something.” He quickly explained as he closed the trunk and got back in the car.
Arielle just stared after him, unsure of what had just happened.
Chapter 8: Declarations
When the truth must come out and things might be okay.
Why was traffic always the worst when you were trying to get somewhere fast. Every single fucking light was red. The navigation system said Whitespire Country Club was only forty-five minutes away, but he knew it was gonna be an hour. Everything was taking longer since it started snowing again.
The only good thing about the trip taking longer was that he had more time to figure out what the hell he was going to say to Quentin when he saw him. Should he barge in and take Quentin outside? No, he couldn’t, he had to think carefully. This was a country club and he didn’t want to cause more of a scene than he had to.
He would just get there and ask for Quentin, saying he had a message or something and then would calmly take him aside and tell him how he felt.
Oh God, except that Alice was going to be there, and her parents. He couldn’t just storm in there. He needed to come up with a plan that wouldn’t embarrass her. He’d mention he had a book for Quentin, which was the truth. He took a few more deep breaths as he continued the drive.
The ominous Whitespire Country Club loomed large as he drew closer. An old, enormous red brick building with ivy trailing up its walls.
The guard at the gate stopped him, but he got through by saying there was an emergency and he needed to let the Quinns know. Apparently the Quinns were important enough that no more questions were asked and he was waved through.
He drove under the grand columned porte-cochère and was greeted by the valet. Handing his keys to the gentleman, he straightened his tie and was so thankful he has the kind of fashion sense he did that lets him fit in at places like this, so he wasn't looked at too oddly at Whitespire.
She had kept her mouth in a tight smile the whole time Stephanie had talked. She hated that her mother had picked this time to take over the wedding. There was no way she could talk to Quentin and explain to him her mother again. They couldn't make a scene, of course, so she let her mother go on all the while knowing Quentin was giving her aren’t you going to say something look the whole time.
Even if she did think she’d want a wedding dress from Valentino, the idea of accepting help from Stephanie was so abhorrent. Besides, she didn't want to get married next Christmas. There was something about a fall wedding that just seemed perfect to her.
Her father hadn't said a word and she knew he wouldn't, of course, but it still hurt. Daniel usually didn't say anything when Stephanie got this way—it was best to just let her say whatever she wanted. She'd known that for her entire life and it shouldn't surprise her, but somehow it still did.
A part of her wished Kady was here and she hated herself for that feeling. Kady wouldn't just sit there and let her mother talk. Kady would probably punch Stephanie, and honestly Alice would have loved to see that. She needed to stop thinking about Kady.
It wasn't that she didn't think Quentin had her back, she knew he did, but she also knew that he was taking his cues from her and she had told him that whatever Stephanie said, he should just let it go.
He’d had about all he could take for the night and was thankful it was almost over. First, Stephanie had taken over their wedding wardrobe, then their venue and date, and then she had to take over their guest list.
Just another hour, and then he and Alice could maybe go out for coffee or something and come up with a way to deter her mother.
It wasn't that he was meek or a pushover, but in order to at least try and make a good impression and not upset Alice more, he thought keeping silent was best. He was taking a sip of water when he felt the tap on his shoulder.
"Excuse me, Mr. Coldwater, there's a message for you at the front of the club," a waiter informed him in a hushed voice.
A message? Only a few people knew he was here, and why would they be asking for him? Had something happened? Was Julia okay? Was it James?
Alice took his hand. "Are you okay?" she asked him.
"What's going on?" Stephanie asked.
"Um, it's nothing. There's just a message for me. I'll um, be right back," he assured them as he excused himself.
Their table wasn't too far from the front, so it didn't take him too long to get to the maitre' d. Whatever had been going around in his mind as to what the message might be about, the last thing he thought was that it would be Eliot standing there leaning on the bar.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" he asked, incredulous as to why Eliot was here. This wasn't happening. Eliot was just supposed to be memory. Eliot couldn’t be here and he definitely couldn’t be here looking like he did.
Eliot looked at him with a soft expression. "You, um, you left this in the car and I remembered what you said about them being important to you. I didn't want you to lose it."
"Oh, um, thanks." He wasn't sure what to say. Eliot had come all this way just to bring him his book?
"Well, the book, and the thing you left in the book," Eliot tells him, opening up the books to show the list that Eliot had placed in there.
"I thought you might need your list again, to make sure you had everything you needed checked off," Eliot added with a sly smile.
"Thank you" was all he could say. He took the book and list from Eliot, shivering a little from the electricity he felt when he touched Eliot's hand.
"I guess that's everything. Oh and uh, Ellie wanted me to give you this." Eliot handed him a present. "She got us both something."
"She shouldn't have, but again, thank you for stopping by."
"Merry Christmas, Quentin," Eliot said, turning around to leave.
He opened the gift as he watched Eliot walk away and gasped as he saw what it was. It was a picture of them. They looked like what he thought about when he imagined being in love with someone.
Why was he feeling this way? He loved Alice, didn't he? This was just another attempt at Eliot trying to tell him how wrong his relationship with Alice was, right? He thought about all the photos he’d taken with Alice. They never looked like that even in the candid photos of them.
He took a deep breath and realized that wasn't true anymore. He loved Alice, but after meeting Eliot, he knew it wasn't the kind of love you built a marriage on. He needed to talk to Alice.
"Eliot wait!" He heard Quentin yell behind him. He hadn't gotten that far since he had been walking very slowly as this was part of his plan. He smiled as he turned around.
"Yes?" he asked, feigning confusion.
"Just, um, will you wait? I need to tell you something, too, but I need to talk to Alice first," Quentin explained.
He could tell Quentin was becoming anxious since Quentin was wearing a nervous expression on his face. "Of course I'll wait. I've got all night," he calmly replied.
Taking a seat at the bar, he ordered a drink and watched Quentin walk back to the table where Alice and her parents sat.
Eliot had stayed. He had asked Eliot to wait, but he hadn't expected Eliot to stay.
He needed to talk to Alice. What would he even say? I'm sorry, but I've fallen for someone else and this was all for nothing ?? He'd fallen in love with someone else when he wasn't free. He hadn't meant to. It had just happened, but the last thing he wanted was to hurt Alice.
"What was so important you had to leave the table?" Stephanie asked with that tone he hated when he returned to the table .
"A friend needed to talk to me," he replied, unsure how to exactly explain what was happening. "Um, Alice could we talk?" he asked, turning to her. “Alone?”
She looked at him with a look that he knew meant ‘of course, but what are you doing?’ "Okay" was all she answered out loud.
Stephanie looked like she was about to say something, but Daniel stopped her. "Let's let them have their privacy, darling," Daniel told his wife.
She huffed in annoyance, but allowed them to leave the table.
He took Alice's hand and led her to the balcony. He thought being outside might afford them a little more privacy.
"Look Alice, I um, I need to tell you something and you might hate me, but I need to tell you the truth," he said when he'd closed the balcony door.
"Quentin, what's going on?" she asked him. He let go of her hand once outside and she leaned against the railing.
He ran a hand through his hair and shuffled his feet nervously. "I wasn't entirely truthful to you about the road trip I took to get here," he started.
She folded her arms and gave him a weird look as he watched for her response. Might as well rip the band aid off.
"What do you mean exactly?"
"I mean that it wasn't just me and the Pickwicks on the drive down. There was also a guy; Eliot Waugh, and uh," He laughed nervously. "I think I might have fallen for him." All the words came out fast because when did he ever not talk fast when he was nervous and if he got it all out at once he could take a moment to gauge her response.
There were quite a few reactions he had expected from his fiancee when he told her he had fallen for someone else, but a sigh of relief was not one of them.
"Alice?" he asked, unsure of what she might say or do.
"Quentin, I'm really glad you said something." She exhaled a breath and started to laugh and cry at the same time.
"Alice, I still love you, but I think I love Eliot more. My heart does this flippy-floppy thing whenever I’m close to him. I want to know what he’s going to do next. I should be having these feelings with you and not some hot stranger I met on a plane.” He hadn’t realized how animated he’d gotten trying to explain with his arms flailing all over the place.
“It’s okay, Quentin. Really it is. It’s, um, actually kinda funny,” Alice told him, taking one of his hands in hers.
“What?” he asked her, confused by what she was getting at.
“I um, I have a confession too, Quentin. I think I’ve fallen for Kady, the new assistant professor working with Zelda. Quentin, I’m so sorry I didn’t realize it until today.” She squeezed his hand. “I wasn’t sure how I felt and then I kept wishing she was here while Stephanie was being Stephanie.”
“Hey, Alice, it’s okay. I uh, guess this means we shouldn’t be getting married if we’re both falling for other people, huh?” he asked with a little laugh in his voice.
“I guess not,” she replied, giggling a little, too. “You think we were both settling?”
“I know I was. I thought you were everything I wanted and that being with you would make my mother finally be proud of me or something.” He sighed, letting more truth fall out.
“You think maybe we should stop trying to impress other people and make ourselves happy?” she asked.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Me too. You’re right; I love you, but not like how I should if we’re supposed to be getting married.”
“I feel the same.”
“Oh God, I can’t wait for Kady to meet Stephanie. Kady would knock my mother a peg so fast Stephanie wouldn’t know what hit her.”
“I’d love to see that.” he told her.
"Where's Quentin, Alice?" Stephanie asked when she'd returned to the table alone.
"He had somewhere more important to be and so do I," she told her parents. "By the way, don't bother your contacts, the wedding is off." She smiled, knowing she'd left her mother in shocked silence, and walked outside.
Taking her phone out, she made the call she'd been wanting to make all night. "Hey, Kady. Yeah, yeah I'm good. Um ,are you having a good Hanukkah with your family? Oh, that's great. Hey Kady, I'd like to see you. Would it be okay if I came to your place? Really? Oh, thank you! I'll see you tonight."
She called a cab and excitedly started the trek to Kady's grandmother's house in the Bronx.
After about half an hour, he watched Quentin walk back over to him.
“You and Alice talk?” he asked, climbing off the barstool.
“We did,” Quentin told him with a smile that he wasn’t quite sure what to make of. “Alice and I, well, we decided to call the wedding off.”
He couldn’t believe it. If they were calling it off that must mean something, right?
“So, since you’re no longer attached, is it okay for me to tell you the other reason I came?” he asked, closing the distance between him and Quentin. It probably wasn’t the best idea to be doing this in front of the bar, but he didn’t want to wait any longer.
“Um, yeah, I’d like that.”
“Honestly, the book and present were just a ruse to get here. Quentin, I got to my house for Christmas and all I could think about was how I wanted to share this with you. I have no idea how or when it happened, but in these last couple of days I think I've fallen in love with you." As soon as he said it out loud, he knew it felt right.
Quentin just stared at him for a moment and then began to smile."You love me?" Quentin asked him.
"Yeah, I love you Q." He cupped Quentin's neck and brought him in for a kiss. The kiss was perfect.It was better than the one underneath the mistletoe. Quentin’s lips were soft and there was just a little bit of tongue that Eliot snuck in and it was worth it when Quentin moaned ever so softly. He pulled away suddenly, "Wait, you never said it back!"
"Oh yeah, I love you El," Quentin answered with a big goofy smile on his face and then they were kissing again.
"Come on, I want to take you somewhere," Eliot exclaimed, grabbing Quentin's hand and pulling him along and out towards the car.
Everything was just as it was when he'd left his home earlier, except now his family was sitting around the tree.
"Where are we?" Quentin asked him as they got out of the car.
He couldn’t believe he was bringing Quentin to his childhood home, but here they were. He hadn’t brought anyone home since Mike and that had gone so well, but he felt so differently about Quentin. He should be nervous about bringing someone to meet his family and he was a little bit, but with Quentin beside him, he felt at ease.
"You'll see." He heard Quentin follow behind him as they walked up to his front door. He took Quentin’s hand in his and opened the front door so they could walk in.
His mother was the first to welcome him back. "Eliot, where did you go?"
"I had to get someone. Quentin, this is my mother, Pearl, my step-dad, Dale, my sister, Arielle and her fiance, Mike. Everyone, this is Quentin and he's going to be spending Christmas with us," Eliot said, introducing everyone.
Quentin was suddenly surrounded by people and hugged by all of them.
A few hours later, Eliot and Quentin sat tucked into each other on the couch, watching the lights on the Christmas tree and drinking the hot cocoa his mother had made.
"This is perfect. Thank you, Eliot," Quentin told him, pulling him in for a little kiss. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Q," he replied, giving Quentin another kiss. He felt Quentin snuggle into him and he pulled the large quilt his mother had sewn a few years ago over them. It really was perfect.
Chapter 9: Epilogue
The New Year’s Eve party
Six days later, he found himself being relegated to the couch at the apartment Eliot and Margo shared while Eliot and Margo finished all the decorating. He'd only suggested one small thing and Margo had looked at him like he had said the most shocking thing ever.
"You sure you've got it?" he asked them anyway.
"Q, we've got it. Just stay there and look pretty," Margo told him, shaking a finger at him.
Eliot had told him that they always did a New Year's Eve party and it would be fun to invite all their friends, so they had. They had about five hours until the party, but that wasn’t enough time for all the decorating Margo had wanted to do.
He relaxed back into the couch and was glad he’d brought his book to read. He thought back over the last six days since Christmas Day. That night with Eliot’s family had been wonderful. It was incredible how much his life had changed in six days. He had amicably broke up with his fiancee after they both figured out they had fallen for other people; Eliot had thought it would be nice to stop in to see the Pickwicks and meet their son and grandkids, which ended up being so fun; and then they’d flown home and immediately had dinner with Margo and Julia.
The Pickwicks had been so different from the couple they’d met at the start of that trip. They really did look a couple in love. Their son, Rafe, had been quite welcoming. They had spent a few hours there enjoying some hot cider and the Pickwicks’ grandkids had even put on a little show for them. The grandkids had been sad their grandparents hadn’t made it to their recital, so they reenacted it while the home video played in the background. Quentin and Eliot had laughed and promised Ellie and Tick they would come over for dinner when they were all back in Los Angeles.
It was a good thing that he and Alice hadn’t gotten too far into the wedding planning process before they called it quits. He didn’t even have to ask for the ring back. It had been his mother’s and, feeling like he ought to have it, he’d asked for it at some point when he had last visited her. He didn't want it back, so he told Alice as much and she was cool with keeping it.
“What are you reading?” Penny asked him, plopping down beside him on the couch. That was another new thing. He’d met Margo’s boyfriend, Penny. Penny was a flight attendant that Margo had met at the airport. Their personalities seemed to blend well with each other.
“Oh um ‘Fillory and Further’,” he replied.
“Is that some nerd shit?”
“Now, now, Penny, don’t go harassing my boy,” Eliot said, suddenly appearing, sitting in between them and putting a protective arm around Quentin.
“Of course not, but he could be a little more extroverted,” Penny remarked, getting up and going to check the playlist.
“So, how are you doing, Q?” Eliot asked, turning to him.
“I’m okay, just wish I could be a little more helpful. I feel useless,” he told Eliot.
“Well, Margo does have a temper, but I’m fairly certain that she might forgive you,” Eliot said.
“All I did was break something small,” he replied with a little exasperation.
“I know, I know,” Eliot answered, kissing his forehead.
He’d never felt this at ease with Alice. With her, he was always trying to not mess things up, but with Eliot, he could just relax and be himself. It had only been six days, but they had been the most amazing six days and he couldn’t wait for even more days with this man.
The doorbell rang and since he was closest, Quentin sat his drink down on the hutch and opened the door to see Julia and James.
“Hey!” he greeted them, wrapping them both in a hug.
“Hey Q!” Julia replied, kissing his cheek.
“How’s it going, Q?” James asked, giving him another hug.
“I think good?” he told them.
“Your first party as a couple! It’s exciting!” James told him.
“Yeah.” He agreed.
He introduced James and Julia to everyone else that was there and then showed them to the bar where Eliot was, so they could get drinks.
He saw Penny open the door to Alice and Kady who walked in after ringing the bell.
Giving a kiss to Eliot, he went over to talk to them. He figured it was best to get the awkwardness over with.
“Hey,” he said as he caught up to them.
“Hey,” Alice replied, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Um Q…Quentin, this is Kady.”
As Alice introduced them, he realized he remembered her from the last department function Alice had taken him to.
“Hi.” He greeted her.
“Hey,” she replied a little gruffly.
“I’m really glad you both could make it.” And he really was. He wanted to get to know Kady better and he wanted to be friends with Alice. He wanted her in his life even if they weren’t going to get married.
“Thank you for inviting us, Quentin. I’m glad we could make it, too,” Alice answered, taking hold of Kady’s pinky as she did.
Kady looked at Alice and then back to him. “It was nice of you. You might be okay, Coldwater.”
“Um, thanks.” He’s not sure how to respond to that, so he just showed them the way to the bar instead of saying anything else.
Behind the bar was always his favorite place to be at a party. It didn’t matter that this was what he did for a living. He could people watch and make sure everyone got the drink they needed and were taken care of.
He watched Quentin talking with Alice and Kady and a part of him wanted to hop over the bar and wrap his arms around Q protectively. He wouldn’t though, because he knew Q had to do this by himself. There would be time for Eliot to talk with Alice and he hoped they could be friends. He was glad for Q’s sake that everything had gone so well.
There was a time not so long ago when he thought he would never feel this way again. When his heart had been broken, it seemed like a thing that would never be possible. Margo had kept telling him he’d find love again, but he always brushed her off. Now, though, he thought maybe she was onto something. He couldn’t help but smile everytime he was near Quentin, and he never wanted this feeling to go away. It had never been this way with Mike. With Q it was something entirely different and new, and it made him excited and scared at the same time.
He saw Quentin let the Pickwicks in when they arrived. He had been hoping they’d make it, but he wasn’t sure they would. Tick and Ellie had decided to move closer to Rafe after all, but were back in LA to sell their house.
“I’m so glad you two could make it!” He exclaimed as he came out from behind the bar to give Ellie a hug.
“Well we couldn’t miss a party from Eliot and the famous Margo we’ve heard so much about!” Ellie teased back.
The four of them chatted some more before he saw a few people waiting back at the bar for him.
When everyone was finally satisfied with their drinks, he left the bar and plopped down next to Margo on a couch. “Well, what do we think, Bambi?”
“Hmmm, 8 out of 10, I say. Not our best party, but definitely up there,” she replied with a laugh. “So why are you next to me and not with your boy?”
His boy. It was still weird to hear Margo say it. “He was talking with Alice and I didn’t want to interrupt.” Which was partly true.
“Okay, but now he’s just standing all weird and alone, so go save him from that pitiful look he has on his face, El,” Margo told him. “Now, I’ve got to go find a Penny to make out with,” she added, getting up and leaving him alone on the couch.
Margo was right, so he got up, changed the record, and walked over to his boy.
“Dance with me?” he asked Quentin as Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is You’ started playing.
“Yeah,” Quentin replied, setting his drink down and taking the hand Eliot offered.
Eliot walked them to the middle of the room, where he and Margo had made room for dancing, and put his arms around Quentin’s waist. Q laughed into him and Eliot couldn’t help but smile big.
They swayed and danced to the music in a way they hadn’t been able to before. When they were at the diner, it had been tentative. He hadn’t wanted to do too much or to scare Quentin, but now that they were together, he could sing along into Quentin’s ear, he could hold Q tight and kiss his neck, and then he could cup Quentin’s face and kiss him on the lips in front of everyone. No fear of hurting themselves or other people.
He saw Margo dancing with Penny, Julia dancing with James, Tick and Ellie were dancing together in the corner, and even Alice and Kady dancing together. They all had smiles on their faces as they danced to the beat. It was perfect. He wanted this night to last forever, even if he knew that was wishful thinking.
More drinks flowed and more dancing was had and then Margo stood up on the table and whistled to get everyone’s attention. “Listen up!” she shouted above the music. “There’s about a minute left of this year, so get the person you want to kiss and let’s count this baby down!”
Eliot tugged Quentin into him and buried his face into Quentin’s neck.
Margo held up a hand. “Okay, people!”
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!” They all shouted.
Cupping Q’s face, he kissed him deep and hard. “Happy new year Quentin,” he giggled into Q’s ear.
“Happy new year Eliot.” Quentin giggled right back. They were deliriously drunk and happy.
“I’m really excited to begin this new year with you, Q,” he said, looking into Quentin’s eyes.
“Me too, El. I’ve never been more excited about what’s in the future...” Quentin smiled at him and he knew again in that moment that he was gone. This boy was his and he was so in love.
Eliot took Quentin’s hand and led him to the bay window seat. They collapsed into one another. Wrapping his arms around Quentin, he kissed Q’s forehead again and they cuddled like that for a while as they watched the others dance and drink. He loved watching Ellie and Tick fraternizing with all of his and Quentin’s friends.
It was about two in the morning when he looked at his watch and then saw Quentin had fallen asleep. He hadn’t realized how late it had gotten since he’d been watching everyone talk and dance and laugh while Quentin leaned on his shoulder. He picked Q up and carried him bridal-style up the stairs to his room. He took Quentin’s shoes off, put him in bed and then snuggled up against him.
“Eliot?” A sleepy and drunk Quentin asked him.
“I love you, Eliot,” Quentin told him, turning and burying his head into Eliot’s chest.
“I love you too, Q” he replied, resting his head on top of Quentin’s and falling asleep.