As a bauble falls to the floor with a hollow clatter, David can’t help but feel a little mocked by the universe. Because, after Johnny had left the motel in a disappointed whirlwind, David had agreed to return to the store and check for Christmas items that could be damaged out; those will be a loss anyway, so it can’t hurt, and it won’t take anything additional from their saving fund for the espresso machine. Win-win.
This is just… a little too on the nose.
Patrick pokes his head out from behind the curtain.
“David? You okay?”
“Mm, fine,” David replies, indignant as he frowns at the dot of blood on his index finger. “Stupid thing bit me.”
“Bit you?” Patrick crosses the room, picking up the rogue bauble on the way and setting it on the counter next to the cash. He turns David’s palm to inspect the damage, then puts on a sympathetic face that is clearly exaggerated.
“Aww.” His mocking tone would be annoying if it weren’t too busy being charming. “Do you think you’ll make it to the hospital, or should I call an ambulance?”
David swats his way out of Patrick’s grip, rolling his eyes. “I’m just lucky the little bastard is from our store, not that box of horrors from the motel’s attic.” David shakes his hand out before grabbing a tissue from the counter; he presses it against his finger with a grimace. “I would be contracting scurvy as we speak.”
“Right, right… Nana Budd did get those decorations from a band of pirates.”
David pulls his lips to one side, trying not to smile. “Well, they certainly weren’t worth saving for… however long they were up there.”
“And yet…” His partner gestures at the stock of tinsel, garland, and ornaments as if to say and yet, you won’t give them any of this stuff.
Worse, Patrick gives him a look. And David knows the look. It’s Patrick’s patented, ‘I know you’re better than this,’ face — something he whips out when David is being particularly selfish. Those soulful brown eyes go wide and soft, his lips tugging downward into a version of that upside-down smile David loves so much in literally any other context.
He sighs. Technically, they can afford the loss. It’s not like David anticipates selling all of this after Christmas, anyway; they’ll put the products on post-holiday clearance to get rid of the remaining stock, which won’t be super profitable in the end… Meanwhile, they’ve had a really successful quarter and can finally, truly say they’re in the black… So they can spare some of these ornaments and decorations and not worry too much.
And yet… When the assumption that he would just provide the decorations for free was made this morning, he was more than a little offended. Like, as if Alexis and their mother don’t already just take product from the store basically whenever they feel like it, as if his business is just some toy he’s fiddling with right now? As if it’s meaningless?
Don’t get him wrong — he’s used to not being taken seriously. He knows what people think when they first meet him, whether they know his family’s story or not. They see a beautiful man with impeccable taste and perfect hair, obviously, but they also see his flailing limbs, hear his voice get a smidge too shrill, and assume he has no idea what he’s doing. His own parents had bankrolled his galleries because they were just so sure that he would fail.
But this store? He really did make it on his own, like they thought he never could.
Well. He did it with Patrick, but that’s different because Patrick is his partner, and… The point is, he didn’t get any handouts.
...Except for grants. But that’s different too because he earned them. People saw value in his business idea and invested in it. Invested in him. In Patrick. In what they could build together.
And, despite all of that, sometimes David feels like his family sees this store as nothing more than a flighty venture. Just David being David, right?
So, yes, he’s used to not being taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. And how is he going to change any of that if he doesn’t take himself seriously? If he doesn’t demand that they give his business the respect it rightfully deserves?
“And yet,” David retorts, “I’m still not giving away products just because my dad threw a temper tantrum about a holiday we haven’t celebrated in three years.”
“But it was fine when you opened that block of manchego from Heather for, uh, what did you call it…? Quality control?”
David folds his arms over his chest. “Um, I obviously need to be familiar with the product if we’re going to sell it.” He pauses. “And, also, I hadn’t eaten lunch that day.”
Patrick holds his gaze, raising a single, barely-existent brow.
It’s only about three seconds before David lets out a loud, “Ugh!” and throws his hands in the air. Patrick has a fair point, but it’s the principle, at this point.
“Mmkay, but he didn’t ask… is the thing.”
“I’m sorry?” Patrick blinks twice at him.
David sighs. “He didn’t ask if we could donate some of our product,” he says. “He assumed that we would. Like, he didn’t even offer to buy some of it? He didn’t even pretend to offer.”
Patrick nods, his expression shifting into one of understanding.
“I just don’t know what else I have to do to be taken seriously,” David continues. “Like, mom and Alexis just… take our stuff all the time and, like… It’s just the principle of the thing, Patrick! First they assume I’m going to fail, and now that I haven’t, they just want to...” He waves his hands around wildly, as if that completes the sentence for him.
It seems to work because Patrick nods again before moving to place his hands on either side of David’s face. “People take you seriously,” he says. “This place exists because you had an idea, and you convinced a lot of people that it was a good one — because it is.” Patrick’s voice is gentle, but sure, and David’s stomach flips as he holds David’s face steady, grounding him. “Look at how many vendors trust you with their products.”
“Trust us,” David corrects.
Patrick smiles. “You got the ball rolling with the vendors, David. You got them here.” He moves his hands to grasp David’s shoulders. “I just keep the lights on.” He pauses. “Literally, since you’re apparently physically incapable of calling an electrician.”
That forces a surprised laugh from David’s throat, which Patrick happily kisses off his lips. If he notices that David’s eyes are a little wet, he doesn’t mention it.
“We’re doing great, David,” Patrick continues. “We’ve got something really special here — and I think your family knows that. They just have a funny way of showing it.”
“Mm, hilarious, is more like it.”
His boyfriend squeezes his shoulders before releasing him. “Come on, let’s pack some of this up and get back to the motel,” he says. “Not gonna let you be a grinch over a principle.”
Patrick is right. David hates it when he’s so right.
(No, he doesn’t.)
“Fine,” he says, “but we’re coming back to the espresso machine fund at a later date.”
Patrick smiles. “Okay, David.”
“I think it looks great, David.”
Patrick claps a hand on David’s shoulder, watching as he glues the final usable branch of their (very sad) Christmas tree into place. It’s filled out quite a bit, at least, after reattaching and rearranging the fallen branches. (Though, anything is better than the war-torn disaster of this morning — that was far too dark for his taste, and certainly not deserving of ornaments from his store.)
“Mm, great is certainly a stretch, but I appreciate your support.”
Patrick laughs. “I’ll be right back. Got a finishing touch in the car.”
David assumes he’s running to grab more crap from his trunk — decor donated by the alarming number of townspeople willing to “chip in” — but, when Patrick returns, he slides a large, wrapped box at David’s feet.
He stills, looking up from where he’s started arranging ornaments and eyeing his boyfriend with poorly-contained glee.
“Umm, what’s this?” David asks, shoulders shimmying.
“You’ll find out later.” Patrick’s lips curve into a smirk. “Finish decorating, David.”
And, in perhaps his most stunning show of restraint yet, he does.
He ignores it while they finish decorating, and while his father marvels at their handiwork when arrives. He keeps his longing glances to a minimum, even as it taunts him throughout the Jazzagals’ caroling (though Stevie crying is an excellent distraction).
And, okay, David will need to have a talk with his family about taking advantage of the store later, but for now... David’s actually happy they did this. He’s not admitting it to anyone, but he thinks the look of pure, unadulterated joy on his father’s face as he works the room makes all of that stress worth it.
Seriously, not telling a soul.
Several hours and far too many carols later, David finally has Patrick (mostly) alone again, the large box between them on the tiny breakfast table. He makes quick work of the wrapping paper — David isn’t one to waste time when it comes to gifts — and makes a noise of genuine surprise when he sees what’s been under his nose this entire time...
“You got the espresso machine? H-How did you…?”
Patrick smiles. “I gotta keep some of the mystery alive, David.”
David looks down at the box in his lap. It’s the exact one he’d been fawning over, as if Patrick had written down every specification — which, now that David thinks about it... He actually might have, because that’s just the sort of thing Patrick does.
So maybe it’s stupid to get emotional about a fucking espresso machine, but it’s… It’s just that Patrick found the one with the custom pour-speed dial because David had gone off on a tangent about how essential it is to get the correct water-to-ground ratio; it has the built-in grinder with the obscene number of settings, and the separate spout and water heater for making Americanos, and… holy shit, he really must’ve written stuff down.
No one has ever, ever committed his specifications to memory like this. Partners have dismissed him as too picky, or spoiled, or rigid — and, okay, maybe he is all three of those things, but clearly Patrick knows that. He’s known it from the day he went postal over breath mints and toilet plungers. Sure, Patrick needles him from time to time about it, and David generally deserves it, but then he goes and does something like this, making David feel seen and cherished in a way he never has before — just like he had earlier that day, when he saw David's stubbornness for what it was and made him feel validated while still telling him to get his head out of his ass.
Ugh, and his eyes are wet because of a fucking espresso machine, but it’s so much more than an espresso machine, and the words are falling from David’s lips before he can catch them.
“I love you.”
Patrick barks out a laugh. “Me or the machine?”
David considers that for a moment. Admittedly, he’s literally been staring at the box this whole time, so he can see why Patrick wouldn’t take the declaration too seriously. It probably did look like he was talking to the machine. So, he pauses, his lips tugging to one side in a poorly-disguised smile. It broadens into an outright grin as Patrick holds the box up next to him… as if to give David a clear view of his options.
So there’s a laugh in David’s voice when he says, “Both?”
Patrick looks at him like he’s trying to decide how serious David is, but David doesn’t leave him hanging for more than a millisecond.
“I love you,” David says again, quiet, but sure, this time meeting Patrick’s warm eyes.
For a moment, David forgets that his family is behind him because Patrick says, “I love you, too,” and the entire world goes silent.
Because, somehow, someone like Patrick Brewer is in love with David Rose.
He’s sure his parents and Alexis are staring at this point, but he doesn’t care. He reaches across the table to pull Patrick in for a kiss without a thought.
It’s chaste and short-lived because, sure enough, his father clears his throat and Patrick pulls back — but David still doesn’t let him go far, hands firmly on either side of his face.
“Merry Christmas, by the way,” he says, lips still brushing against Patrick’s, a sudden smile clinking their teeth together.
“Merry Christmas, David.”