“Russell wants to see me and exchange gifts.” It was the best answer I could give without causing a firestorm of arguments. It was a lie, of course. While I would see Russell while up there, I was driving up to Santa Barbara to see Michael who complained with me to see him. He was in from his home in Germany for the holiday and said he’d really been looking forward to seeing me. I felt obligated. It was a good three years past the expiration date on our relationship, one born from my indiscretion, but Michael didn’t know that. How could he? I was never honest with him.
“You’re seeing Michael, too.” An old wound opened up on Billy’s face.
“I’m just seeing Russell,” I said, notching another lie onto my belt. I left early the next morning, kissing Billy goodbye while he was still groggy in bed. I went to Michael’s first, then we both drove up the hill to see Russell. The day dragged its feet. After dinner at a local restaurant, Michael and I went back to his place. We stumbled for things to talk about until it was time for bed.
I turned on the TV, took an Ambien, smoked some pot. Michael tried to snuggle but my body built a shield, and he rolled over and fell asleep. I did too, eventually.
The next morning, I didn’t stay for breakfast. Calling Billy from the car, I told him I’d be home soon.
“I have a surprise!” He sounded excited, too excited, making me worry that old problems were about to visit for the holiday. When I arrived home, I found Christmas lights hung over the hedge archway Billy had grown years ago. They also spiraled down our little wooden columns that flanked the front door, and the lights lit up the living room window.
“Ta-Dah!” Billy loved “Ta-Dah”s almost as much as I enjoyed receiving them. I hugged him on the porch, carrying the gifts I’d received.
“What’d you get?” He was eyeing my packages.
“Nosy.” It was a pathetic response to hide my guilt. “I’ll show you.” We went into the house, and I showed him the round silver box that Russell gave me.
“What’s that?” He was pointing at another red-bowed box, barely looking at the silver box. I showed him the leather coat from The Gap that Michael had given me.
“Who’s that from?” He already knew but I told him anyway. “Nice coat.” He said it without any hint of bitterness, just a resignation of my deceit.
“You think? I don’t really like it.”
“Whatever.” He paused, his face scrunching just a little, a pout about to blossom. “When do you want to get the tree?”
“In a few hours? I want to relax for a little while.”
“We better hurry. They’re going to be gone!” There was urgency of a familiar kind but I looked at Billy hard, right in the eyes, and saw nothing but brightness and light. I determined I’d been wrong about our unwanted houseguest.
“There’ll be one, and it’ll have our name on it, Guyster.”
“O-o-o-kay.” He went upstairs to mix some music, I watched TV downstairs, and when we went to get our tree, he was right. They were all gone. We drove to three different lots before we found one that seemed worthy, one with our name on it, and later that night, on Christmas Eve, our last Christmas Eve, we decorated our tree. Bob watched from his perch on the couch, perhaps remembering the activity as he’d seen it seven times before.
“I put the lights up outside, you know!” He blurted this out just as we were putting the finishing touches on the tree.
“And you know what I put them up with?”
“No. What?” I knew the answer, though. I knew exactly the tone of his voice and the look on his face when he’d finally give me the answer, the answer I already knew. It was a joyful prescription, one of the million billion pieces from our script.