Abby was a romantic. Not the flowers and big gestures kind of romantic, but the kind of romantic that involved bringing home Harper’s favorite pizza - peppers, olives, and extra mushrooms - even though she couldn’t stand mushrooms in the least. The kind of romantic that involved surprising Harper with a bottle of pinot grigio, even though Abby preferred red wine, or even better, a bottle of smoky scotch. About two months into the relationship, Harper forbid Abby from even bringing Laphroaig into the apartment - she said it made Abby taste like a bonfire. Harper was not the same kind of romantic as Abby.
Abby was the “just thinking of you” text kind of romantic. Abby was the down on one knee, marriage proposal under the Christmas tree, just the two of them kind of romantic.
Harper was not a romantic. Harper dove into the pizza without noticing that Abby picked off all the (extra) mushrooms. Harper poured two glasses of white wine without asking Abby if she’d prefer something else. Harper was into big gestures - loud proposals in fancy restaurants.
And that’s why the weekend after New Year’s, Abby broke up with Harper. That’s why Abby spent Valentine’s Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving alone.
That’s why Abby was sitting in a dive bar in Fells Point, alone, drinking a Natty Boh, three days before Christmas. She had a few job interviews lined up, starting in DC, moving up to Baltimore and ending in New York after the holiday.
She had thought about texting Riley and letting her know she was in town, but ended up chickening out. It’s not like they didn’t text. They texted all the time, actually. Just last week Abby had woken up to a few drunken selfies, and a text that read “You were right - Laphroaig does taste like a bonfire. I love it.” Abby had maybe saved the drunken selfies to her phone, and maybe, once or twice, had taken her phone out of her pocket to stare at them.
Riley’s hair was a little longer, and she was wearing dark eyeliner and lipstick. Abby could imagine the lipstick rings on the whiskey glass, and she wondered if Riley took her scotch on the rocks or neat.
Abby’s phone vibrated against the table. Riley. Her heart did a silly little flutter thing and she smiled at her lock screen. Abby immediately turned pink and glanced around the bar, embarrassed, as if anyone around her gave a fuck about some weirdo smiling at their phone.
Abby opened the text and found her smile turning into a confused frown… Nice suit, I like you in black.
What? Abby’s head whipped around, and Riley turned to grin from her spot at the bar. She raised her hand in a casual wave and spoke across the bar, “Sorry to freak you out. I just walked in and saw you immediately. I couldn’t resist. What the hell are you doing in Baltimore?” Riley slid her card to the bartender, grabbed her tumbler of whiskey (neat - that answers that question), and threw her bag into the other side of the booth.
Abby found her voice and stuttered out, “Job interview. The BMA.”
“Nice. How did it go?”
“Um, really well, actually. Better than the few I just had in DC.” Abby was amazed at their ability to fall into conversation, skipping the pleasantries and ‘how have you been’ nonsense.
“You don’t want to live in DC anyway. You’re too cool for DC.”
“What? No…” Abby blushed pink and ducked her head, “I’m sorry, I am not cool. I’m a dork. You, you are cool.”
Riley raised an eyebrow and took a swallow of whiskey. “If I’m so cool, why didn’t you call and let me know you were in town?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t want to bother you.”
“We’re friends, aren’t we? You’re not a bother.”
“Yeah, but, I don’t know. I didn’t want you to bear witness to the Christmas time Abby Holland pity party.”
“We text five hundred times a day. We FaceTime every other week. I hate to tell you this, but I’ve already seen your worst,” Riley raised an eyebrow and smirked, “You know, it really is hard to hold someone’s hair back on video chat.”
At this, Abby let out a laugh and felt her remaining nervousness melt away. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I, um, I don’t know. I guess I assumed you would be in Pennsylvania.”
“Normally, yes. But residents get the short end of that stick, and I’m working the night shift on Christmas.”
“At least you get Christmas morning? That’s the big thing, right? That’s how Harper got me to come home with her last year - she said she wanted to wake up with me on Christmas morning.”
“Is that a typical lesbian fantasy? Sex under the Christmas tree? Santa watching?” Riley grinned while Abby stuck out her tongue and gagged.
“Gross, and no. I think it was supposed to be about the presents and breakfast and togetherness and all that… I don’t know. Obviously, it worked, because I went home with her and then everything imploded.”
Riley picked up her drink and took a swallow of whiskey, meeting Abby’s eyes over her glass. “To be fair, if you hadn’t gone home with Harper, we would have never met. And we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Abby’s cheeks blushed pink and she picked up her glass, “Cheers to that.”
“Did you know it’s actually our anniversary?”
“We have an anniversary? Have we secretly been in a relationship this whole time? I actually think it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been in a relationship without noticing…”
“We’ll come back to that at a later date. But no, we met a year ago today. It’s the anniversary of the day we met.”
“Why, Riley Bennett, somewhere under that hard exterior, you are a secret romantic.”
“Maybe. But really it’s the Doctor in me. I have an endless capacity for remembering useless data and trivia. It helped in med school, but not necessarily in relationships. For some reason, girls don’t find it charming if you remember the exact date of your last fight, or what they ordered for dinner last Tuesday.”
“What? No, that’s like, totally charming. What girl doesn’t want someone who could list every time she’s ever been wrong?”
At that, Riley gave a quiet chuckle. “Must be why I am eternally single. What’s your excuse?” she smirked over her glass.
Heat blazed to Abby’s cheeks. Why was she blushing so much tonight? She picked up her beer glass and without a second thought, threw back the rest of the drink. “For that conversation, I’m going to need something stronger. Shots?”
Riley’s smirk turned into a mega kilowatt grin, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Two shots later and Abby was licking the whiskey off her lips, trying not to imagine what Riley would taste like, what Riley’s lips would taste like against her own. Well whiskey and…what?
“I am… irreparably broken. Who wants a damaged queer orphan?”
“Abby, I hate to tell you this, but I’m a doctor. Very few things are irreparable. Besides, we’re all damaged. And never let me hear you talk about being queer like it’s something to be ashamed of - “
“The shit with Harper’s family made me feel, for the first time in my life, that it wasn’t something to be proud of,”
Riley’s eyes flashed with anger and she reached across the table and grabbed Abby’s hand, “Don’t let them take this from you. You wear being queer like a badge of honor. We are all damaged and traumatized and we make it out on the other side. The fact that we are here and breathing and I am holding your hand is an act of revolution. Fuck anyone who says otherwise. Seriously, Abby. Fuck them.”
Riley picked up their hands and brushed her lips against Abby’s knuckles.
“Okay?” Riley’s breath was ragged but her tone was hard as steel.
“Okay,” Abby whispered.
Four rounds later, the mood was considerably lighter.
Abby was thumping her fist on the table. “Die Hard is absolutely NOT a Christmas movie. I don’t know what kind of sick creature decided that it is, but it’s not. I don’t want Die Hard on Christmas. I want Muppets. I want Charlie Brown. I want Rudolph.” Apparently, Abby had strong feelings about Christmas movies when she was intoxicated. She laughed at Riley’s raised eyebrow and sucked in a breath as she watched the brunette chew on her bottom lip.
“You called me a romantic but you’re the big softy, Abby.”
“I am NOT soft...”
“Abby, you just did a full-blown monologue about how Christmas is for the Muppets, not Hans Gruber. It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone,” Riley reached across the table and patted Abby’s hand, “We’re both closet romantics. Nobody else needs to know.”
“Do you think Christmas is an inherently romantic holiday, or is this a story line we’ve been fed by too many heterosexual Hallmark movies?
“I think Christmas is what we make it. Just like everything else,” Riley paused, “I think women have been fed this Hallmark movie bullshit, and think that love and romance are tied to flowers and candy and weekends in a ski chalet... When, really, love is bringing home pizza because your partner had a bad day. It’s knowing to get the pinot noir and not the pinot grigio. It’s answering the phone when they call you drunk at 3am,” Riley grinned across the table, “And, yeah, occasionally a weekend in Vermont at a ski chalet wouldn’t hurt.”
Abby laughed and said, “You really think love is as simple as knowing the way someone takes their pizza?”
“Yes and no. Obviously, it’s more than that, and we could spend all night waxing philosophical on what love is. It’s honesty and vulnerability and trust. But at the heart of it, really, it’s the little things that make relationships worth having. It’s the little things that are the reason you decide to spend your life with someone.”
“It’s agreeing that Christmas morning is for The Muppet Christmas Carol and not Die Hard.”
“Exactly,” Riley smiled softly across the table while the bar speakers played an old-time country Christmas song and she hummed along and drummed her fingers on the tabletop, “You ready to get out of here?”
Abby didn’t know what she was expecting, but Riley’s apartment surprised her. It was all warm leather and wood with a skinny but tall Christmas tree glowing in the corner. It smelled like cinnamon and cloves. Abby closed her eyes for just a moment and let the feeling rush over her. She couldn’t place the last time she felt like this, so at ease and… warm. Is this what home is supposed to feel like?
“Want coffee? Cocoa? More whiskey?”
“Actually, cocoa sounds great. I haven’t had any yet this season.”
“How can you make it to December 23 and not have had hot chocolate? We need to remedy this, stat,” Riley opened the cabinets and pulled out some expensive-looking peppermint hot chocolate mix. She pulled the milk out of the fridge and grabbed a saucepan for the stove.
“You make it on the stove?”
“Uh, yeah. How else would you make it?”
“My Mom always made it on the stove. Harper made it in the microwave. With water.”
“And that’s why Harper’s hot chocolate tastes like garbage. I’m not sure you’re even ready for this.”
Abby wasn’t sure she was ready for this either. They had been flirting all night, and, if she was being honest with herself, for the past year. She could feel her pulse rising as she watched Riley move around the kitchen, putting some classic Christmas music on shuffle on her phone, whisking cocoa powder into the steaming milk. Riley’s hips moved in time with the music and Abby could feel her heartbeat quickening.
Her thoughts were interrupted with Riley sliding in next to her at the kitchen counter, passing her a mug topped with what looked like a handmade, artisan marshmallow. “Cheers,” Riley said softly, clinking their mugs together.
Abby blew gently on her cocoa and took a small sip. She moaned as the warm liquid hit the back of her throat. “Oh god, you weren’t kidding. This is the best thing I have ever tasted,”
“Oh yeah? The best thing?” Riley’s eyebrow shot up, and Abby could hear the teasing double entendre in her voice. The brunette bit her lip and her tongue snaked out to clean up a bit of chocolate at the corner of her mouth. Abby was a goner from the second Riley’s tongue escaped from her mouth -
“Are you trying to drive me crazy?” Abby burst out, not taking her eyes off Riley’s mouth.
“What do you want for Christmas, Abby?” The line was cheesy, but it worked. Abby turned her head and emboldened, made the first move.
“I’d really like to kiss you, if that’s okay.”
Riley nodded and their mouths met, and for the first time in Abby’s life - the world stopped.
Riley tasted like peppermint, chocolate, and whiskey, all at once. Riley tasted the way her apartment felt - like Christmas lights and a worn leather couch, all warm and soft and… home.
Riley nuzzled her nose into Abby’s and gently deepened the kiss, taking it slow and easy. For the first time in the year that they had known each other, there was no snark, no witty banter - just the feeling of Abby’s hands cupping Riley’s face and Riley smiling into their kiss, pulling back slightly to allow them to breathe.
“Wow,” Abby whispered.
“Wow,” Riley whispered back.
And then they were in Riley’s bed and Abby was drunk all over again - Riley was all over her, in her eyes and ears and nose. She pulled Riley’s blazer off and cautiously began unbuttoning her collared shirt, one button at a time, excruciatingly slowly -
“You’re that kid that tried to save the wrapping paper each year, aren’t you?” Riley laughed as Abby looked up guiltily.
“Sorry,” Abby mumbled against her neck, “I’m not very good at the quick fuck and go type thing…” She started to panic. Fuck. Maybe she had misread the entire situation.
“Babe, stop,” Riley grabbed a fist full of blonde hair and pulled Abby in for another deep kiss, “Stop. I can feel you panicking. I was just teasing you. That’s what we do. I love that you’re going slow.”
“You deserve more than a drunken fuck.”
“You have to know that’s not what this is. Abby, I’ve wanted you since that night at the Oxwood. I’ve wanted you since that night at the white elephant. But, I fell for you sometime between now and then. Sometime between drunk FaceTimes and our nonstop texts, I fell for you. So please don’t think that this is because we had one too many or because I haven’t had sex in over a year. This isn’t a quick fuck. This is me and you and what I’m hoping is the start of something.”
“Okay. That’s good to know. Because I think I’m in love with you.” Shit. She absolutely was not supposed to say that. Riley had been right, she really was too soft. Such a sap. Such a sucker for Christmas lights and a pretty girl and -
“I think I’m in love with you too,” Riley sucked in a breath, slowly exhaled, and grinned, “So, what are you doing Christmas morning?”