Holden watches his family as they start to decorate the tree, each finding the perfect spot to place their ornaments. Molly's at his side, holding on to hers as one of the two new additions to the tree. Once Lily, Faith, Natalie, and Ethan have their ornaments in place, Luke steps up to the tree, and gazes at it thoughtfully.
He has two ornaments in hand. One for himself and one for Reid. Reid's is a little mini-stethoscope that he found online. Luke hangs his and then he hangs Reid's right next to his.
"You're supposed to put them in different places, Luke," Ethan tells him, staring up at the tree.
Luke just smiles while Lily talks to Ethan. "He can hang it wherever he wants, honey."
"I just figure since we can't be together today, we can at least be side by side on the tree," his smile dims a little as he looks around, eyes connecting with Holden's. Holden's smile is tight-lipped but warm. Molly squeezes Holden's hand and Holden squeezes back.
She's next and they all watch as she places her ornament on another empty spot.
Once that's finished, they gather together for their traditional photograph. There are a few people missing. Today's celebration is certainly more subdued than previous years. It's just the immediate family today. Holden's surprised that Faith's here. He's been asking her for weeks and she remained undecided until the last minute. She came with Luke. Maybe he convinced her to join.
His mother is staying with Meg for the holidays enduring another hospitalization. Lucinda's been called away on business to some far away land (although Holden isn't too heartbroken by it). Reid's not here. Things are quiet. But, they keep their spirits up for their kids, even Luke.
Lily cooks this year's Christmas dinner and they gather in the dining room to eat. Luke eats a little less than everyone else. He eats a lot less. Holden keeps an eye on him, making sure that something is going in. He needs to eat. He does take his medication with dinner so Holden's glad to see that.
Holden's been so busy with the farm, new business endeavors, new wife, Faith's problems, and other kids, that he discovers that he hasn't really been keeping up with Luke. Luke's his child too and he feels neglectful. The guilt has been gnawing away at him.
So, after dinner, he watches Luke step outside, and Holden follows.
"Hey," Holden greets him, stuffing his hands into his coat pockets.
"Hi, dad," Luke smiles, folding his arms across his chest for warmth.
"I have a thicker jacket inside if you need it."
"Oh, no. I'm okay. Thanks. I just wanted to get some fresh air. It's warm in there," he motions to the inside and Holden nods.
"I just ... wanted to see how you are. I haven't seen much of you lately and I know that we've both been busy but that's no excuse on my part. I'm sorry I haven't come to see you."
"Oh, dad. It's okay. We are both busy. We should do something soon like lunch or dinner."
"Can you pencil me in?"
"Dad," he laughs, nudging Holden's shoulder.
Sometimes Holden's fully aware of the man his son has become but moments like these when he uses that tone with him, all he can see is the little boy he used to be.
"Have you spoken to Noah at all?" Holden wonders, also unsure whether or not this is the right time to bring him up in conversation.
"No," he shakes his head. "Not for a while now. What about you? I know he e-mails you guys."
"Well, there was something from him last week. He's a production assistant on some indie movie. Sounds like he's doing something out there."
"That's more than he's told me," Luke scoffs. "But, that's ... that's good. Good for him."
Just last year, the two of them had been so close. Noah even had his own ornament. But, Luke left it at the bottom of the box, telling them not to take it out this year. He said he'll mail it to him or do something else with it but it shouldn't be on the tree.
"He's asked how you are --"
"Dad, mom's usually the one pushing for me and Noah to talk again. Are you taking up her cause?"
"No, no," Holden chuckles, waving a hand in front of him. "I'm sorry. You both were together for a long time and I guess he got close to us too. Sometimes it's hard to let go of your kid's ex's."
"You guys did a lot for Noah."
"We did it for you because you loved him."
"I just wish that, I don't know. You guys could see that so I've always wondered why couldn't he see that? I loved him. I'd do anything for him. I did everything for him. I just think that most of it went unappreciated. It's hard to make someone like that happy. I couldn't do it anymore."
It's different to hear things from Luke's perspective, how unhappy he sounds right now. Has that underlying unhappiness always been there and he just hasn't noticed? "Sometimes people just aren't meant to be and you found that out eventually."
"I did. I found that out. But, I guess also during that time, I found someone who helped me realize what it was like to be happy just as I am without expecting anything in return."
Luke nods, smiling as he thinks about Reid. His smile begins to fade a little and then he blows into his hands. "I'm going back inside. Are you coming?"
"I'll be there in a minute."
Luke smiles and gives his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. When the door closes, Holden looks out at the snow covered grass, and thinks about how things change over a year. People come and go, people are together and then they split apart, sons get older and wiser. That's what he thinks of when he thinks of Luke. He and Noah always seemed so right but when things unraveled, they unraveled quickly. As hurt as Luke was about their breakup, he also seems relieved, relaxed in a way that Holden's never seen him.
All he wants for Luke is for him to be happy, healthy and if he didn't find that with Noah, then maybe their relationship isn't what he thought it was.
Holden hears something in the distance and he looks up to see headlights coming toward the house. The car parks near the other parked cars and a figure walks toward the porch.
"Holden," he hears.
"Reid," Holden says with surprise.
"Yeah, who'd you think it was?" he replies in that gruff voice, shaking the snow out of his hair and pounding his boots on the porch to remove the dirt or mud he's stepped in.
"I don't know. Luke said you were working tonight."
"Was. Got someone to cover. First time in my life I'm not at the hospital on a major holiday," he murmurs. "Luke gave me that sad, doe-eyed look, something about some damn tree ornaments, did I miss that?"
"Yeah, we did it earlier. Just finished dinner."
"But in time for dessert? Awesome. Did Emma send pies or cookies? I'm okay with cookies."
"We have some in the jar and I think she's got a couple in the fridge."
"Great," he's about to bolt inside (probably for the kitchen before Luke) but Holden stops him.
"Hey, hold on." Reid groans but comes back, standing in front of him.
"I'm freezing, can we do this inside? We can probably get hypothermia out here. The conditions are right for it."
"I don't wanna do this in front of Luke."
"You're not gonna hug me or anything, are you?" Reid suspiciously begins to back away and Holden laughs, shaking his head.
"No, but I should since you backed away so quickly. No, listen. I don't know the next time I'm going to see you or get a minute alone to say this so just hear me out. I didn't know what to think about Luke splitting up with Noah. But --" he speaks quickly just as Reid's about to interrupt to say something sarcastic, no doubt. "But, watching Luke now, seeing how ... happy he is and more himself than I've ever seen him before, I know that you probably have something to do with it."
"I have everything to do with it," Reid amends, his ego not backing down a bit. At least it's not false modesty. That's sort of refreshing.
"Well, since you do, I just wanted to say thank you and welcome to your first Snyder family Christmas celebration."
Holden can see that he's uncomfortable with the idea but unable to respond as quickly as he does with other statements. "Yeah, well, there's only one Snyder that I'm interested in. But, no wonder you're good dad."
"What?" Holden asks, confused.
"Thanks," Reid says instead. He turns away quickly before anything else is said and walks into the house.
Holden can hear Luke's loud, "Reid!" from where he stands. He peeks through the open door behind the screen, watching as Luke practically attacks him the second he comes in. He hugs him, kissing him in front of everyone, and Reid happily kisses him back. He can't remember the last time Luke and Noah were that affectionate with one another in full view of the rest of the family. If ever.
He watches Ethan who runs up to hug the both of them and his gaze travels back and forth between both Ethan and Luke. Ethan is still a little boy who wishes for toys underneath the Christmas tree. Luke is a grown man and Holden thinks that he's already gotten exactly what he wants.
Reid's the one who takes hold of Luke's hand and leads him into the kitchen toward the fridge, disappearing from Holden's sight.
Dr. Reid Oliver's no Noah Mayer but he's starting to see that as a good thing. Anyone who makes his son smile like that is worth getting to know.