It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

The first real snowflakes of the season dusted the brown grasses and bushes of the Northern Colorado prairie, and the bare limbs of the cottonwood trees twisted and contorted against the white December sky. Gravel crunched under Dmitri’s feet as he walked down the gravel driveway to the old farmhouse on the edge of town, his breath frosting in the cold air.

Smoke rose from the chimney and a golden light shone from the windows into the early winter dusk making the house look cozy and warm. What made it look like home, though, was the old red Ford truck parked in the yard. Troy’s truck. Three months they’d been living together, and the sight still thrilled Dmitri every day he got home from work. Today was one of the rare days Troy didn’t have to work in the evening, and Dmitri looked forward to spending some quality time together.

The door slammed shut behind him in the too quiet house. Where were the dogs? Usually, they greeted him in the driveway, if not; they at least came into the kitchen. “I can’t believe you lazy things wouldn’t even get up to say hi me,” he yelled into the living room as he dumped his briefcase on the counter and hung up his coat. “There had better be exactly zero dogs on the couch.”

A thump and the slither of dogs sliding off the couch came from the living room.

“That’s what I thought.”

A muffled thud came from deeper into the long kitchen.

Troy sat at the breakfast nook banging his head against the table. A thick book open on the table cushioned the blows, but still, it looked painful.

Dmitri quickly crossed the floor. As Troy’s head started its downward trajectory again, Dmitri slid his hand between forehead and page. “Hey.” He lifted Troy’s head up and kissed the top of it. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m stupid,” Troy said. “That’s what’s wrong.”

Dmitri slid onto the bench next to him. The nook was the most recent addition to the kitchen and one that Troy had designed and built with a little help from his friends. Dmitri ran his hands over the smooth wood of the table and wondered how anyone who could actually make something could ever think they were stupid. “You’re not stupid.”

Troy shoved his books away in disgust. “Tell that to my math professor. He suggested I get tutoring.”

Dmitri pulled the book towards him. College algebra. He flipped through the pages. It had been a while since he’d taken algebra, but he remembered the basics. He’d tried to help Troy early in the semester, but it hadn’t gone well. There was something he was doing wrong in trying to explain it. Nothing he said seemed to make sense to Troy. But still, he had to offer. “I can try and help you.”

“No offense,” Troy said, “but I don’t get the way you explain it at all. You just jump all over the place, and leave stuff out.”

“Sorry.” Dmitri closed the book. “So is there a tutor at school he recommended?”

Troy laughed harshly. “Yeah. And I met with her. She’s eighteen. Engineering major, already taking calc two because she ‘did all her math in high school.’ She’s very…perky,” he said as if it were an insult.

“So that’s good, right?” Dmitri rubbed Troy’s neck, feeling the muscles tight under his hand.

“It’s embarrassing is what it is. I can’t pass a class a tenth grader could pass. Though, come to think of it, I didn’t pass it in tenth grade either.” He dropped his head back down to the table, though this time, he rested it on his crossed arms.

Dmitri scooted closer and wrapped his arms around Troy, taking advantage of the situation to run his hands down Troy’s strong biceps, tracing the dark lines of the tattoos covering him from shoulder to wrist. “Hey, it’s okay. You’ll figure it out.” He kissed the top of Troy’s head and then laid his cheek against the prickly blond hair. He’d cut it military short again, and the soft curls were gone. Dmitri rubbed his face against it, enjoying the scratchy feel.

“What are you doing?” Troy asked, amused despite his annoyance.

“Feels good,” Dmitri muttered into Troy’s hair.

“Freak.”

“You love it.”

Troy turned his head quickly, meeting Dmitri’s mouth with his. He reached back to grab Dmitri’s head and kissed him deeply. He pulled off with a smile. “Yeah, I do.”

Dmitri leaned in for another kiss, a quick peck this time. “What’s for dinner?”

Troy raised an eyebrow. “What did you bring?”

“Was it my night?” Dmitri tried to remember. They alternated cooking, but more often than not, more often than they should, they met in town for dinner or had cereal. He could have sworn Troy said something about dinner when he was leaving this morning. It was Tuesday; the one day of the week Troy didn’t have classes or work. He tended to try and make something healthy for them to eat on those days.

Troy shook his head. “No. I’ve just been…” he gestured at the book-strewn table. “I’ve got these damn finals. I lost track of time.”

Dmitri pushed himself out from the nook. “Don’t sweat it. I’m pretty sure we have the fixings for grilled cheese and soup. Which is exactly what we need to have tonight.”

“Why?”

Dmitri pointed out the window. The sun had set completely, and snowflakes swirled in the beam of the light by the back door. “First official snowstorm of the season headed in. Grilled cheese and soup on the first big snow is a Greenberg tradition.”

The twin beams of headlights came in through the kitchen windows and played across the ceiling. “Even perfecter,” Dmitri said. “Angel can help you with algebra.”

A car door slammed, and two seconds later, Angel kicked at the door. They could just make out her tiny form through the panes of glass in the door. “Open up,” she called. “Or I’m gonna drop it.”

“I’m coming,” Dmitri answered, hurrying to open the door to his surrogate sister. He had a birth sister, but she lived up in Wyoming. Besides, he’d known Angel almost as long as he’d known his sister. She’d been the one to introduce Troy and Dmitri after Troy had gotten a job as a bartender at Vincent’s, the town’s unofficial gay bar that Angel had waitressed at for the last few years.

Angel carried a large pot wrapped in a towel. “First snow. I made baked potato soup.” She dropped the pot to the counter with a thud and then nodded at Troy. “How you doin’?”

“Finals.”

She nodded briskly. “Tell me about it. You think it’s too late to drop a class?”

She was joking, but Troy answered seriously. “No. But it’s not too late to take an incomplete. I talked to my TA about it.”

“Really? Which class?”

“Algebra.”

Angel walked over to the table and flipped through the thick math book, wrinkling her nose. “Why didn’t you take math for jocks or whatever it is?”

Troy sighed and leaned back. “Because algebra is a requirement for the psychology degree.”

“Ugh.” Angel unzipped her sweatshirt and plopped down next to Troy. Snowflakes melted to water on her thick hair. She’d dyed it a bright violet last week. The amount of bleach it had taken to get it light enough to dye had turned parts of it orange. The effect was rather sunsety and suited her dark skin. “Sucks to be you.” She looked around the kitchen. “Where are those dogs? Nobody came to say hi to me. I’m feeling unloved.”

“I love you,” Dmitri said as he moved the pot to the stovetop.

“Yeah, but you’re not as cute.”

“Not as smart either. They’re curled up in front of the fire. And not at all on the couch. Don’t feel bad; they didn’t even get up for me. And I feed them.” He called into the living room. “Moby! Sweetie!”

There was the scrabble of claws on the hardwood as Moby, Dmitri’s crazy border collie, came running into the kitchen. She skidded across the linoleum as she did pretty much every single time, slamming to a stop against Dmitri. Sweetie, Troy’s service dog, and the best thing that had ever happened to him outside of Dmitri, walked in more sedately. A ten-year-old golden retriever, she was still recovering from the chemo and surgery that had saved her life. Sweetie walked up to Angel and put her head in her lap.

“Hey, Sweetie. How you doing?” Angel asked, rubbing the dog’s head with both hands.

“She’s doing really good,” Troy answered. “She’s like a new dog.”

Angel looked at Dmitri for confirmation, and he nodded. “She’s almost a hundred percent.” Dmitri was a research vet at the University animal hospital and had been responsible for getting Sweetie into the cancer trials that had saved her and other dogs’ lives.

It was only fair. Sweetie had saved Troy’s life, something Dmitri would be forever grateful for. It still scared him when he thought about how close he had come to losing Troy forever, so soon after finding him.

Troy had been fresh out of his second tour in Afghanistan when he’d burst into Dmitri’s life. Neither of them had known anything about PTSD and the stresses of reintegrating into civilian life. They’d gotten a quick, hard lesson, which had almost ended in Troy taking his own life.

Luckily, they’d gotten past that, and Sweetie was a big part of it. The big dog comforted Troy when he had nightmares, brought him medication in the middle of the night, and always knew when Troy needed her to be by him, to ground him. Not that she was ever far from him, even at home. But the lure of the fire on a cold night was strong.

“Where’s Jay?” Dmitri asked. He liked Angel’s girlfriend. An art student, she was the first girl Angel had ever dated for more than two weeks. They’d been together five months and counting, almost exactly as long as Troy and Dmitri. They hadn’t moved in together, though. Angel was trying to fight the lesbian U-Haul stereotype. She’d confessed to Dmitri that she was afraid they’d hit the dreaded lesbian bed-death if they did. He thought she was nuts even to think that. Those two were all over each other.

“She’s working on her final projects,” Angel said. “I don’t expect to see her much for the next two weeks until finals are done. So you’re stuck with me.”

“Gross.”

Troy slammed his textbook shut. “You’re stuck with each other. I have to go out.”

“But I just got home.” Dmitri knew he sounded whiny, but, really. The stage had been set for such a nice time tonight. Snow, soup, friends, fireplace, maybe some sexy times later. “And it’s First Snowstorm Night.” Dmitri felt the pout on his face and tried to force it away. He was a grown up, damn it. He didn’t pout.

“I know. But there’s a group meeting.”

“I thought those were on Wednesdays?”

Troy leaned back and pushed his fingers through his hair. “They usually are, but Jerry called this afternoon to see if I would mind if we changed it.”

“Kind of late notice.”

Troy shrugged.

Dmitri pulled Troy against him in a hug. “Do you need to go? I mean, really need to?”

Troy took a deep breath and thought about it. “Yeah,” he said. “I could really use it. With everything, that’s going on. Finals, and the holidays coming up.”

Dmitri kissed him on the side of his head, the only part he could reach. “Okay, then. You go, and Angel and I will eat all the soup and talk about you and watch bad TV.”

Troy reached back to hold Dmitri against him. “So the same as every night then?”

“Hey,” Angel called from the stove. “Sometimes we talk about Jay. It’s not all about you.”

Troy laughed. “Okay. Fair enough. I’ll only be an hour or so. I should be back by eight-fifteen.”

He twisted on the bench to give Dmitri a kiss. That was another thing Dmitri would never take for granted – Troy’s kisses. The man kissed like it was an Olympic sport. Dmitri grabbed Troy’s shirt as the kiss when on and contemplated pulling Troy down on top of him on the bench.

“Don’t make me throw cold water on you two,” Angel said. “Much as I appreciate a healthy sex life, I have to eat at that table.”

Dmitri frowned at her. “If you think this would be the first time –“ Troy kissed him to shut him up. It was an effective maneuver.

“Okay,” Troy said, pulling away from Dmitri and sitting up. “I really have to go. Move it.” He tried to shove Dmitri away, but Dmitri didn’t budge, forcing Troy to climb over him to get out of the nook. Dmitri took advantage of Troy’s passage to grope every part he could reach.

Troy groaned, swatting his hands away. “Stop. I have to go sit in a room with fifteen straight men. I don’t want to be thinking about sex the whole time. It’s very…off-putting.”

“Vincent will be there. Vincent’s not straight,” Angel offered.

“He’s also like seventy years old,” Troy said.

“He’s sixty-four,” Dmitri and Angel answered at the same time.

“Troy,” Dmitri asked seriously. “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”

“I’m not feeding you now.” Troy pulled on his sheepskin-lined denim jacket and his baseball cap. Dmitri had been after to him to go for a cowboy hat for the full effect, but Troy told him that until they got horses, he would not be buying a cowboy hat. Dmitri was still considering it. He had the land. Horses were easy enough to find.

“True,” Dmitri answered. “Don’t be too late. I’ll try to save some soup for you.”

“I make no promises,” Angel said.

“I expect nothing less.” Bending down, he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before he left. He whistled for Sweetie, and she walked over to him, tail wagging.

It warmed Dmitri’s heart to see his two favorite people in the world getting along.

“Bye,” Troy said and left.

“So what will it be? Superhero shows or reality TV?” Angel asked as she pulled down the bowls from the cabinet.

“Definitely superhero. I’ve had all the reality I can take for a long time.” Dmitri stood and stretched. “Just let me change, and we can start.”

“Deal. Meet you in the living room.”

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