Hi, everyone! For those of you who are new to my blog, welcome.
It’s my turn to get a little festive today as I add my story to the wonderful Rainbow Advent Calendar. Click the banner above (or here for our wonderful Facebook gròup) when you’ve finished reading, to find more free stories from a variety of excellent authors throughout Advent!
This story features two of the characters from my debut novel, Submerge, but it stands alone, it’s safe for work, and it’s (major) spoiler-free. I’ll add a buy link at the bottom if you want to know more about how the two of them met. Meanwhile, the story itself is free, but if you do like it and want to show your appreciation in any way, please consider making a small donation to the NSPCC today. It’s nothing to do with the story, but it’s a charity very close to my own heart and they do great work helping children who need protection, often from those who should be doing the protecting. If not, no pressure whatsoever – as I say, this is a very short, very free story!
So, without further ado…
By Eleanor Musgrove
Jamie came home from the office party to find that Christmas had exploded in Miles’ living room.
“What on Earth happened here?” A pile of decorations – paper chains, by the looks of it, though the tangled mess was hard to conclusively identify – moved in the corner and a familiar bowler hat popped out of the top, followed by Miles’ face and arms.
“You’re home! I, er-”
“Hold on. Let me try out my deductive powers. First of all, your job search went about as well as usual.”
“Correct. Still a surprising lack of opportunities for former managers of disgraced nightclubs. Shocking, I know.”
“Sorry. So… you got fed up and bored, and you knew I’d be home late today, so you decided to go for a walk into town.”
“And in town, you were entranced by the pretty lights and the glitter and the tinsel and now here we are.”
“Good try, but you missed a bit.”
“Yeah.” Miles shrugged. “I had an accomplice.”
“Who would help you collect this much shiny- oh. Gina.”
“Yeah… in my defence, she bought even more than I did. Her flat is going to be insane.”
“And yet I expect she’s managed to get at least one decoration up.” Jamie couldn’t help but smile fondly at the general mess Miles had made. He got it; Miles struggled to concentrate when he was having a tough time with his depression, and even just unpacking all the assorted Christmas tat covering the floor must have been a mammoth undertaking.
“After I unpacked it all, I started making paper chains and… I suppose I fell asleep.” Miles was obviously embarrassed, but Jamie thought it was adorable. “I only woke up when you put your key in the door.”
“Come on, then. If you can get out of that pile without ripping them all, I’ll help you put all this up.”
It turned out that Miles had actually bought more fairy lights than they had power sockets to plug them into – and that wasn’t even counting the strings of cheap, battery-powered bulbs he’d picked up at the local pound shop. They’d have to get themselves a couple of safe extension cords the following day. For now, even without getting all the lights plugged in, there was plenty to get on with. Miles must have made ten metres of paper chains before he’d fallen asleep, and although his flat was comfortably spacious, it wasn’t big enough to fit ten metres of paper chains across the ceiling without looking ridiculous. They hung them anyway, giving the living room the impression of a jungle with hanging vines in festive colours.
Jamie wasn’t sure where they were going to put it, but he took one end of a strand from Miles all the same. Eventually, they draped it along the edges of surfaces, wrapped furniture legs and – of course – stuck it around the frame of the painting on the wall. Miles, Jamie noticed once they’d finished, was also wearing a short length as a fantastically sparkly tie.
“Suits you. What next?”
“I, er, got some more baubles and things, for the tree.”
Jamie had bought their tree, a couple of weeks ago, and decked its plastic branches with lights and the handful of baubles he’d taken a fancy to in the shops. Miles had added his own decorations, but there hadn’t been very many of them. Too many were overtly Christian in theme, and since neither of them saw Christmas as a religious experience – the holiday was based in the wrong religion for both of them – it hadn’t seemed appropriate to cover their tree in angels and tiny baby Jesus figures that played Christmas hymns when pressed.
“Those don’t exist,” Jamie had exclaimed, when Miles had told him as much. Miles had showed him the website. “Those shouldn’t exist,” he’d corrected lamely.
Now, however, Miles seemed to have come up trumps, with non-religious baubles covered in glitter in fantastic patterns and colours. He watched with interest as Miles blushed slightly before rummaging in a carrier bag, pulling out a long train of sparkly reindeer. They seemed to just keep coming, until finally the string ended with an equally glittery sleigh.
“It… er… it called to me.” Miles seemed utterly ashamed of the decision, but Jamie only cared for one detail.
“Show me that first reindeer.” Miles obliged, and Jamie peered carefully at its face. Then he looked at the second one in the string. “Yes. That’s good. They can go on the tree.”
“What were you-? Oh, it’s Rudolph! I didn’t even notice that. And the rest have black noses?”
“Of course. There can only be one Rudolph. Let’s see… if we start Rudolph just under the star on top, and then wrap the whole thing round…” They were lucky; when they reached the end of the string, the sleigh just rested neatly on one of the lowest branches.
“Perfect,” Miles told him happily, looking not only at the tree but at the festive chaos of the room around them. He was practically glowing, and it warmed Jamie’s heart to see it. Miles had told him once, during a particularly bad spell, that when he was struggling with the darkness in his mind it helped to see something beautiful. There was no denying that the flat had been transformed into something beautiful now. “Perfect,” Miles repeated, but Jamie shook his head.
“Not quite. Close your eyes.”
Miles narrowed his eyes before he closed them entirely, clearly a little suspicious. Still, he followed Jamie’s instruction and even tipped his hat forward a touch to ensure that he couldn’t be accused of peeking. Jamie made his way quietly over to his discarded jacket and reached into the inside pocket for the item he needed. He had to stand on tiptoes to tuck the sprig of mistletoe into a paper chain above Miles’ head, and it took a moment to get it in just the right position so that it didn’t fall out. Then he took Miles’ hat from him.
“Open your eyes, then.”
Miles’ eyes darted around the room, looking for any difference in his surroundings. It took a few moments for him to follow Jamie’s gaze upwards and spot the innocent-looking little plant hanging above his head.
“Oh. Yes, that really does make it-”
Jamie was impatient; he moved forward and pulled Miles into his arms, barely waiting for him to lean in before he claimed his lips for his own. By the time they broke apart, they were both a little breathless.
“…Perfect,” Miles mumbled, grinning like an idiot. Jamie was sure he was wearing a similarly dopey expression. “Where did that come from?”
“The mistletoe? I stole it from work. They really shouldn’t put it up at work parties, anyway, that’s just asking for someone to need a sexual harassment seminar in the New Year.”
“You stole it? From work? Remind me what your job is again, Jamie?”
“Oh, stop it, it’s hardly the crime of the century. Even we have to have fun sometimes. Do you like it?”
“It’s definitely staying here – and so are you.”
Miles wrapped his arms around him again, his embrace warm and comfortable amidst the riot of colour and light they had turned the flat into. Truly, Jamie thought to himself, this was something beautiful.
You can find out more about Jamie and Miles in Submerge, available here and here. If you’d like to make a donation to my chosen charity, you can do so online here. Thanks to Alex Jane for letting me join this wonderful project, and for organising the whole thing. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!