“Wow, this looks incredible.”
Steph nodded in agreement as she walked beside her dad, the two of them entering the park beside the Brown Bear Diner. “Yea. This town only has two festivals a year, but they go all out for both of them.”
“I see that.” George looked around, taking in all of the decorations. Christmas lights has been strung between all of the trees, and larger lanterns hung with even spacing, giving the whole area a multi-colored glow. Several pine trees were spaced around the edge of the park, each one also decorated with lights and ornaments. A cluster of concession booths were at the far end of the field, which had three different fire pits that people gathered around. “This looks like fun. Where’s Alex?”
“She should be helping them set up the beer table…” Steph peered around. “There she is.”
She led the way to one of the concession table, where Alex was helping Duckie. The older man was filling long troughs with snow, while Alex stuck beer bottles into. “I think this one’s full,” she was saying as Steph and George approached.
“Nonsense,” Duckie protested lightly. “We can stick at least one more case in here.”
“You realize that it’s thirty degrees out, right? The beer’s gonna be cold no matter what we do.”
“It’s the principle of the matter, Alex.”
She rolled her eyes, finally brightening as she spotted Steph and George. “Hey guys!”
“Hey!” Steph bounced forward, pecking her on the lips. “You guys all done? Can we start drinking now?”
Duckie hiccupped, producing a flask from his jacket pocket. “Some of us started a while ago,” he informed her as he unscrewed the cap.
“Well, some of us prefer booze that won’t take the paint off a car.”
“It doesn’t!” He paused. “So long as you wash it off right away.”
“Gross.” Alex plucked a couple of beers from their case, handing one to Steph and George. “Happy Holiday Festival.”
“Well, it’s certainly off to a good start.” Steph twisted the cap off her bottle and took a healthy swig of beer. “Now, where are the smores fixings?”
“Over there.” Alex pointed to the table beside Eleanor and Riley, the two women selling white roses. “Charlotte set it up. And she bought out Reese’s cups.”
George arched his eyebrows. “She did?”
“Thank God. A woman of culture.”
The three of them spent a while sitting around one of the fire pits, chatting and laughing. Alex spent most of it nestled under Steph’s arm for protection against the chill; even with the fire beside them, the temperature was starting to cut through her jacket.
It was with great reluctance that she finally stood up to get a fresh round of beers, bringing Steph and George their new ones first. They were in the middle of a lively debate regarding the best Star Wars movies as Alex went back to the tub to get her own.
She was just twisting off the cap as she caught sight of a familiar face. Standing off to the side of the festivities, watching the sun set over the mountains, was Mac. He had a pensive look on his face, both hands shoved deep in his jacket pockets as he ignored the rest of the festivalgoers.
Huh. Haven’t seen him since the blizzard.
Shifting her focus, she saw a light blue aura surrounding him. Not deep enough to sense what bothered him, and just barely visible, but it was there.
I wonder if he’s okay?
Alex weighed her options before grabbing a second beer, slowly walking toward him. She finally stopped behind him, clearing her throat to get his attention. He blinked at the distraction and turned to face her.
She held the beer towards him. “I still owe you one of these, in case you forgot.”
Mac smirked. “I, uh, didn’t forget,” he admitted. “I just didn’t want to take you up on it. You don’t really owe me anything.”
“You kept our asses from freezing in the middle of the road. A Chen always pays her debts.”
“Anyone else would’ve done the same thing.”
“Maybe, but they weren’t there, and you were.” She held out the beer again. “Besides, maybe you didn’t catch it, but all the beer is free.”
He inhaled slowly as he looked longingly at the drink in her hand, before shaking his head. “… I actually stopped drinking,” he finally admitted.
“You… wait, really?”
“A few months ago, after the town hall.” He met her gaze. “Which I still need to apologize for. I’m sorry for being an asshole and trying to involve you in my personal shit.”
Alex hesitated, lowering the beer. “… honestly, I’d almost forgotten about it.”
“I haven’t. I just…” he scratched the back of his head. “You’re usually at the Black Lantern, but my sponsor says that I need to avoid places that serve alcohol. And I was really busy during that blizzard, so I didn’t have time to talk.”
“Your sponsor? Are you in AA?”
“Yea.” He sighed. “Full disclosure, I was drunk off my ass at the town hall meeting.”
Alex was taken aback. “I had no idea you were drinking so much.”
“I started pretty much right after they arrested Jed and Diane. I only stopped to go apply at SubTerra, and once they blacklisted me, I picked the bottle back right up again.” He nodded across the park. “I didn’t really quit until Pike and my uncle cornered me after the town hall and browbeat me into admitting that I had a problem.”
She frowned. “You have an uncle?”
“Grimley, the guy who owns the body shop? He’s my mom’s brother.”
Guess that’s why he’s working as a mechanic now. Alex nodded. “I didn’t know that.”
“We don’t really make a big thing about it. But he hooked me up with the guy who runs the AA meetings at the church, and told me I could keep drinking or keep my job, but I couldn’t do both.”
Alex hummed. “Strong incentive.”
“I thought so.” He shook his head. “Like I said, I’m sorry I haven’t been by to apologize sooner. I’ve just been trying to fix my head shit.”
She nodded again, noting that his aura was still a light blue. “Is that why you’re standing over her by yourself?” she asked carefully.
“No.” He glanced sideways quickly, Alex following his gaze towards the flower table, where Riley spoke to customers in a happy tone. “I’m just avoiding everyone. I was about to leave.”
“You don’t have to go just because your ex-girlfriend’s here, man.”
Mac shook his head. “She could not have been clearer in her last text, that I need to leave her alone.”
“There’s a hundred other people here you can talk to.”
“Alex, between what I did at Typhon and how I acted at the town hall, most of them probably think I’m an asshole.”
Fuck. No wonder he’s got a mild case of depression.
Maybe I can… Alex looked behind her, scanning the park. I could’ve sworn I saw her earlier… ah, there she is.
“Hey. Come with me.”
“Just do it, man.”
He looked confused, but followed behind her as she made her way through the crowd. They made their way towards a fire pit on the far side of the field, and she stepped up behind someone, tapping them on the shoulder of their blue jacket.
The woman turned, saw who it was, and immediately smiled. “Alex!”
She stood, turning to quickly wrap Alex in a tight hug. “How are you doing?” she asked as they separated. “I didn’t see you here. Where have you been?”
“Over there with Steph and her dad.” She thumbed behind her. “He’s visiting from Seattle, and we’re showing him around.”
“Oh, how nice!” Lindsey glanced sideways and grabbed her daughter. “Kelly, look who’s here!”
The little red-haired girl brightened as she looked up. “Hi Alex!”
“Hey kiddo!” Alex extended a fist, and the girl knocked her knuckles against hers. “What’re you up to?”
She held up a messy graham cracker sandwich. “Makin’ smores.”
“Ooh, that looks good.” Alex nodded, before thumbing towards Mac. “Hey, you remember this guy, right?”
Kelly gave Mac a blank look. It took a few moments for her face to light up. “Truck man!”
Mac snorted. “Is that my superhero name?” he asked kindly.
“Truck man?” Lindsey looked between Mac and Alex, a confused expression on her face. “Who’s Truck man?”
“Lindsey, this is Mac,” Alex introduced, watching the mechanic shift uncomfortably. “He was there during the storm. When we got turned around and weren’t sure which way was which, he showed up and gave us a ride.”
She looked at him. “You did?”
“And he covered us in snow!” Kelly proclaimed.
“Only because I didn’t see them on the sidewalk until it was too late,” Mac said quickly. “It was really-”
The speed at which Lindsey wrapped him in a crushing hug was incredible. Alex watched it literally take Mac’s breath away, as he blinked in surprise. “Thank you so much,” Lindsey said as she squeezed him.
“You’re, uh…” Mac looked at Alex with wide eyes. “You’re welcome, I guess.”
“Both of you,” she added as she let go. “Between Tyler not being able to breath and the thought of leaving the girls in a freezing house by themselves, I had no idea what I was gonna do. Until Ryan showed up, I was having a serious panic attack.”
“It wasn’t a problem,” Alex assured her.
“Maybe not, but it was everything to me.” Lindsey glanced back at Mac. “Can I grab you a drink? I mean, I’ll still owe you since they’re free and all, but at least something.”
“Mommy, can I make him a smore?” Kelly asked.
Mac finally cracked a smirk. “… I wouldn’t say no to a smore,” he admitted.
Alex watched the faint blue aura finally fade away, and she patted his shoulder. “You enjoy that. I’m gonna go back to Steph.”
“Sure.” He nodded at her. “Thanks.”
“This is a really weird tradition.”
Steph shot Alex a perplexed look as she closed the door to the apartment behind them. “Why?”
“Because the twenty-fifth is tomorrow, not today.” Alex hung up her coat, stepping aside to make room for George. “Why do you guys open presents on Christmas Eve?”
“It was actually my wife’s idea,” George admitted as he unzipped his jacket. “And it was for practical reasons. We used to go visit Steph’s grandmother in Seattle for Christmas morning, but it was a three-hour drive and we’d be gone until late in the evening. Since there was no time on Christmas Day, we started doing presents on Christmas Eve instead.”
“What did you tell Steph about Santa?”
Her girlfriend scoffed. “That he wasn’t real.”
Alex glanced between her and George. “… really?”
“Hey, I was the one who bought all the presents, and I don’t remember seeing a fat guy in a red suit spending two hours in line with me at Toys R’ Us.” George kicked off his shoes, then turned and retrieved the large cardboard box he’d dropped at the apartment before the festival. “So, are we doing this at the kitchen table or what?”
“Couch.” Steph pointed before grabbing a pair of gift bags from the ground beside her. “Anyway, Alex, you said Mac was doing better?”
“I mean, you saw him throwing snowballs with Kelly and Melissa. I think he made a couple of new friends, if nothing else.” Alex took one of the bags from Steph, making sure it was the one with her presents as she followed them. “And chatting with Lindsey for a while.”
“Well, that has some hilarious connotations.”
“I draw no conclusions.”
Steph snickered as she sat on the couch, Alex taking the seat beside her. George set his box on the table before kneeling. “So, who’s going first?” he asked. “Should we flip a coin, or-”
“Me!” Steph produced a small box from her bag and threw it at Alex. “Merry Christmas, babe!”
Alex smirked as she caught it with one hand. “You seem excited.”
“Maybe. Open it already.”
She unwrapped her present, revealing a stark-white case with an Apple logo. “Are… holy shit, babe, did you get me AirPods?”
“I figured you might want occasionally something a little less bulky that your headphones,” Alex admitted. “Not to mention more compact. Do you like them?”
“Yea!” Alex looked at her and smiled. “They’ve actually been on my list of stuff to buy for a while, I just never seemed to get around to it. Thank you so much!”
“I’d make sure you charge them at night,” George offered. “I have a set, and the battery goes quickly. But they are definitely worth it.”
“I’ll do that.” Alex withdrew a box from her own bag and passed it back. “Hope you like yours, too. You’re kind-of hard to shop for.”
Steph ripped the paper off of the wooden box, turning it over with a confused look on her face, until she found the latch and opened the lid. “… woah,” she breathed, looking at a black-and-red set of dice with gold numbers on all the surfaces. She ran her fingers over them gently. “These are gorgeous! What are they made of?”
“African Bloodstone. I figured you’d want a really nice set of dice.”
“This is SO becoming my new dungeon master set.” Steph’s grin threatened to break her face. “Man, I cannot WAIT to use these.”
“I might need you to send me the link to where you got those,” George agreed as he produced a wrapped gift, handing it to Alex. “Merry Christmas, Alex.”
“Thank you!” Alex accepted the flat parcel pulled the wrapping paper off slowly, revealing a multi-colored record. “Oh, shit, the new Firewalk album!”
“My daughter told me that you were a fan,” George mentioned.
“One of my favorites! I love their…” her voice trailed off as she turned the album over. “… oh my God, is this signed?”
“Yea, I called in a favor.”
Alex looked up at him. “What kind of favors do people owe you?!”
“I have been in the entertainment industry for a long time. I know people who know people, especially in the Pacific Northwest.” He winked as he pulled out another box, handing it to Steph. “I hope you like yours as much. I figured it would be helpful, since you live above a bar now and I know how much you love beer.”
“I do love my Colorado Kool-Aid,” she agreed as she quickly opened the box, fighting through Styrofoam and plastic wrap before she pulled out the coolest wooden mug Alex had ever seen in her life. It looked like a small barrel, with an intricately carved handle and a metal plate with a Celtic knot design, Steph’s name engraved through it. “… holy shit, Dad, this is awesome!”
“You like it?”
“I LOVE it!” Steph glanced at Alex. “We’re keeping this downstairs, behind the bar, for my exclusive use.”
Alex looked at it. “Well, it’ll have to be hand-washed. No way that’ll survive the kitchen’s dishwasher.”
“Don’t care. Worth it.”
“Oh, and I got this for both of you.” George pulled out a third, larger box and handed it to both of them. “Though it’s less of a Christmas gift and more of a congratulatory present for moving in together.”
Alex scooted closer to Steph as she accepted the box, opening it with the same gusto she used towards the rest of the gifts. She finally got the cardboard apart to reveal a simple white framed canvas, and turned it over to reveal the front. It consisted of two cartoon-like caricatures of their faces under flowing black script.
Alex & Steph
Living in Sin since 2019
Alex immediately started laughing, clutching her stomach. Steph closed her eyes and groaned. “Really, Dad?”
“Hey, I thought it was funny. And not inaccurate.”
“Oh my God, I love it!” Alex proclaimed as she took it from Steph. “We’re hanging this up right in front of the door.”
Steph had a pained look on her face. “Do we have to?”
“Hush. It’s adorable.”
“You could do that tomorrow, you know,” Steph mumbled, as she brushed her teeth later that night.
“I want to do it now.” Alex gently tapped a nail into the wall with a hammer, before lifting the canvas and setting it on her makeshift hook. “Come here and tell me if it’s level.”
“Does it look level?”
“That’s why I want your help. I’m not great at this.”
“Hang on.” Steph spit in the sink, rinsing her mouth before dropping her red toothbrush in the cup and leaving the bathroom. “Yea, it looks fine.”
Steph shrugged. “Good enough.”
“You’re not going to take it down later, are you?”
“No. I’ll give it to my dad; it does look cute.” Steph reached around Alex, giving her a side-hug. “Do you think he liked his present, or he was just pretending in front of us?”
Alex rolled her eyes. “You got him an autographed photo of Paul McGann in his Doctor Who outfit. I’ve never seen someone more psyched about a piece of paper.”
“Well, it was the last one he needed for his collection.”
“That would explain his enthusiasm.”
Steph snorted. “Yea. I forgot how much he nerds out over stuff like that.”
Alex looked at her. “Well, you haven’t seen him for a while.”
“Yea.” Steph sighed. “This was really nice, having him over the Christmas. I gotta tell you, I was a little apprehensive when you mentioned it back in October.”
“But you’re good now?”
“Yea. Having him here was great.” Steph nodded. “Now I just need to work on calling him more often.”
“Glad to hear it.” Alex paused. “By the way, I’m really disappointed that you never saw the decoration I put up the other day.”
Steph looked around, confused. “What decoration?”
Alex looked up, above their apartment door, and Steph followed her gaze. Taped to the wall just above the doorframe was a piece of mistletoe.
“How long has that been up there?”
“Like, three days.” Alex smirked. “I was wondering if you were ever going to notice. Do you never look up?”
“I guess not as much as I should.” Steph shrugged, then placed a hand on Alex’s chest and shoved her backwards.
“Uff!” Alex gasped as she stumbled into the door.
Steph caught her a second later, planting her lips firmly against hers. Alex let her irritation at being shoved melt away as the brunette pushed her against the door for several seconds.
“That’s more like it,” Alex breathed as they separated.
“Good.” Steph touched Alex’s forehead with hers, smiling. “Merry first Christmas, babe.”
Alex smiled back. “I think it’s been the best Christmas I’ve ever had.”
“I’m glad you liked it.” Steph gave her a peck on the nose. “I plan on making all of them good ones.”
“Then we’re definitely doing this again next year?”
Steph raised an eyebrow. “Do you remember what I said back in May? That day I was supposed to get on the bus?”
“… refresh my memory?” Alex asked hopefully.
“All I want is you.” Steph moved a hand to Alex’s neck. “Whatever happens, nothing matters if you’re not beside me. So yes, Alexandra Chen, we are doing this next year, and all the years after that.”
Alex couldn’t stop her heart from skipping a beat as she let her hands rest on Steph’s hips. “… shit, babe, you didn’t have to be this romantic about it,” she told her quietly.
“I heard that some chick liked it when I was romantic.”
“Some chick, huh?”
Alex kissed her again. “You should see if some chick wants you to drag her to bed right now.”
Steph grinned as she grabbed both of Alex’s hands, tugging her away from the door. “Merry Christmas to me.”