Here’s another free short story to prepare for the release of Book 3! This is Vince and Dustin’s “second first Christmas” (it makes sense, I promise!) told from Dustin’s point of view. It takes place between Book 2 (By Blood) and Book 3 (By Fault).
Dustin had always loved Christmas as a kid, even if he didn’t get the same cool toys as his friends from school did. His parents had been too strict for “Santa” to ever bring him video games or even toys after the age of ten. Clothes and other practical things were all he usually got, but something about the season had always been inspiring to him.
Celebrating at Anderson Stables was certainly different. Last year he’d gotten himself a small fake tree from a local store, with a boxed set of ornaments. He’d gotten all his coworkers something small and kept the wrapped gifts under the tree until the party Anna hosted – along with the gifts Vince had sent him.
This was going to technically be his second Christmas with Vince, but it felt more like the first. Vince had been in Florida the year before helping his dad train racehorses. Much had changed since then, and now Dustin was living with Vince, much to his regular amazement.
How Vince accepted him so completely, Dustin would never understand. There were times when Dustin felt like a burden, especially when he woke up crying in the middle of the night from his nightmares, or when they couldn’t make love because memories of being gagged with his own underwear and having the fight beaten out of him flared up, and no matter how hard he tried to convince his mind that it was Vince he was with and Vince would never hurt him, he still shut down. As ashamed as Dustin felt in those times, Vince remained utterly loyal and comforting. Not once had they argued over his issues, and Vince had only casually suggested therapy one time. Vince put no pressure at all on him, and Dustin, though amazed and mildly surprised, was deeply thankful.
As he thought this, Dustin gazed across the table at Vince, who was sorting through their mail in between bites of his sandwich. He seemed to sense Dustin’s gaze and glanced up with a curious look. “What?”
Dustin smiled softly. “Just wondering about Christmas.”
Vince glanced at the calendar on the refrigerator. “It is December, isn’t it?”
“Only the third, luckily. I haven’t shopped yet.”
“Me neither,” Vince commented. “Want to help me put the tree up? I have a fake one in the basement that I’ve only had up once.”
Dustin grinned. “Sure. Who’s doing the party this year?”
“Since I’m home this year it will be here,” Vince explained. “So that means us. Which also means we are obligated to decorate.”
Dustin felt his heart warm at being so completely included. “Sounds good to me.”
The tree was fairly easy to assemble, though half the lights from previous years didn’t work. A trip to the local grocery store solved that issue and they spent the rest of the evening hanging Vince’s small collection of ornaments and the single box Dustin had from the year before.
“Most of these are ones we had on our tree when I was a kid,” Vince explained, holding up an ornament that appeared to be a baby riding a carousel horse. “After Mom died, Dad split them between Mandy and me. Guess he saw no point in keeping them all when he isn’t home for Christmas. I haven’t added many of my own.”
Dustin gently pulled the soft paper off another ornament. This one was a snowman standing beside a snowoman, with the words “our first Christmas” in the snow beneath them.
“Like this one?”
Vince glanced at it and nodded. “Yeah, like that one. Jane got it. I should throw it out. It’s not like I need to be reminded by an ornament that I was with her.”
Dustin gazed at the ornament for a long moment before finally coming to terms with his thoughts. “You should keep it. Yeah you aren’t together together anymore, but you’re still a family.”
Vince carefully took the ornament, smiling softly. “On one condition.”
Dustin raised an eyebrow. “Which is?”
Vince turned and placed a light kiss on Dustin’s lips. “We get us one.”
Dustin grinned. “I think I can agree to that. So is this our first real Christmas?”
Vince thought for a moment. “I think it’s our second first Christmas.”
Dustin laughed. “Perfect.”
They decorated sporadically over the next few weeks, putting up lights and other decorations. They managed to find themselves an ornament with two snowmen somewhere online, and it shipped quickly and safely.
Christmas morning, Vince and Dustin were given a pass on the morning chores by Anna so they could get things ready for the party. As they cleaned, Dustin found himself feeling strangely lonely.
“You okay?” Vince asked him gently.
Dustin forced a smile. “I think I’m going to call Eve. I’m sure she won’t answer because she’s with Mom and Dad, but I want to wish her a Merry Christmas.”
Vince nodded with his typical understanding expression all over his face. God, Dustin loved him.
“I’m here if you need me,” Vince assured him.
Dustin forced a smile, then wandered into the kitchen with his phone in his hand. He found Eve’s number in his contacts and only hesitated a moment before hitting the call button.
He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed when the call went to voicemail, but he took a calming breath and forced his words out.
“Hi, it’s just Dustin. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. I know you’re busy with Mom and Dad so maybe we’ll get to talk another time. Bye.”
He turned around to find Vince leaning in the doorway and he forced a smile. “She didn’t answer.”
Vince didn’t say anything, but he came forward and gave Dustin a tight hug. Dustin took a deep breath and melted into it. Yes, he definitely loved Vince with his unwavering support.
Dustin checked his phone several times over the next few hours, even when the house was full of guests. Finally, he put it on silent and tried to distract himself. It was easier than he’d expected once they started handing out the presents and playing games. He didn’t check his phone again until they started cleaning up that evening after the party had ended. Everyone else had left to feed the horses or visit other family, leaving just Vince and Dustin once again. Vince was cleaning up the living room while Dustin worked on the kitchen, so at least Dustin didn’t feel the need to step away when he saw a missed call and voicemail from Eve.
“Hi, Dustin. It’s Eve. Sorry I couldn’t call you back sooner. I couldn’t get away from Dad long enough. I’m sorry I missed you. I hope you’re having a great Christmas. I miss you. Bye.”
He wiped his eyes when he heard Vince enter the room, and didn’t look up as Vince passed him to put some glasses by the sink.
But Vince noticed anyway.
“You okay?” he murmured.
Dustin nodded. “Eve called me back and left a message.” He put his phone on speaker and played the message for Vince. “I think I’m ready to start talking to her now. Well, after the holidays anyway.”
Vince pulled him into a comfortable embrace. “I’m glad. Family is a good thing to have, but you can still share mine.”
Dustin smiled. “Gladly.”