Hi everyone, and happy holidays! This post is part of the Rainbow Advent Calendar, put together by the wonderful Alex Jane. If you'd like to make sure you don't miss a single post, check out the Facebook Group!
Meanwhile, Sarah Honey and I have written a free short story in the Bad Boyfriends universe. This is the story of Harry and Jack's first Christmas after the events of Horribly Harry.
We hope you enjoy it, and happy holidays!
The last time Harry had stepped inside Saint John’s church at Goulburn, a little over two months ago, it had been wild. He hoped that today wouldn’t be nearly as exciting. Harry wasn’t religious, and neither was his boyfriend Jack, really, but Jack’s dad was a minister. Or a vicar. Or something like that. Harry also wasn’t great on all the terminology. But the Christmas morning church service went without a hitch, and he wasn’t struck from above by a lightning bolt, so he was pretty happy with that.
Staying with Jack’s parents the last few days had been good, but weird. Harry was trying really hard to not be the guy they’d met first—he’d been in full Bad Boyfriend persona, and might have tipped a glass of water over Jack’s dad’s head—and he thought that maybe they were getting it, because they were a lot nicer now they knew he wasn’t actually a terrible person, but a part of him suspected that they’d locked up the family silver in the back bedroom just in case, because Jack’s mum got twitchy whenever Harry went near the closed door.
Or maybe that’s where they kept their secret bondage gear—except no, obviously not. Harry was fairly sure Jack's mum thought shibari was a kind of China pattern. Harry had obviously just been spending too much time around Tristan.
And Harry hoped that Jack’s parents were coming around to actually liking him, even though he still called them Mr. and Mrs. Windsor instead of—well, he didn’t know what their first names were. He’d tried to be sneaky and listen out for what Tate, Jack’s sister Mia’s new husband, called them, but so far Tate just seemed to dodge calling them anything at all.
Harry guessed that at least he wasn’t in Tate’s shoes. While he highly suspected that Jack’s parents disapproved of him in a way that was too polite to actually tell, he knew they still had mixed feelings about Tate. Which had something to do with Mia’s shotgun wedding two months ago, and the fact that these days she looked like she was smuggling a watermelon under the flowy maxi dresses she liked to wear.
Harry liked Mia and Tate a lot—which was why he’d been Mia’s “date” the first time Mr. and Mrs. Windsor had met him. The idea—which had been his best friend Ambrose’s, not his—was that people could hire a Bad Boyfriend to make the next guy look like a saint in comparison. Harry had done his job a little too well. After trying the tablecloth trick at a fancy restaurant and being shocked that it had actually worked, he’d panicked, which had led to the glass of water over Mr. Windsor’s head.
He had been very memorable.
Except to Mia, apparently, who’d forgotten, in the rush of her wedding planning, to mention that Jack’s plus one for the wedding would be Harry, and that Harry was actually not a terrible human being, and please disregard that whole first impressions thing. Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Windsor had been blindsided by their son bringing who they thought was Mia’s dreadful ex-boyfriend to her wedding, and...yeah, it had been wild.
Harry had sort of hoped that two months would be enough time for a lot of water to pass under that particularly awkward bridge, but no, things were still strained. And, as he passed the back bedroom on his way to his guest room after church—he needed to get rid of his tie—he heard footsteps behind him.
“Everything alright, Harry?” Mrs. Windsor asked sharply.
“Um, yeah,” he said.
“We’re having morning tea,” she said. “In the living room.”
“Okay,” he said, his stomach swooping.
That was another thing.
The Windsors didn’t do presents first thing in the morning, which was understandable, because church—but Harry had scoped out the tree last night, and there wasn’t a present for him from Jack’s parents. There was one for Tate, but not Harry.
It was stupid, but it hurt. And he didn’t think it would hurt any less when he had to sit there and smile and pretend he didn’t notice they hadn’t gotten him anything. Jack and Mia would certainly notice, and he was worried it would turn into a whole thing, and Harry had already ruined Mia’s wedding—he didn’t want to ruin a Windsor family Christmas too.
He wished they’d gone to his mum’s place instead, which was a lot less formal—Mrs. Windsor had doilies—and a lot more fun, and even if Mum and Dad had been divorced for a while now, they still got on like friends. He certainly couldn’t imagine that Mum would stalk guests through the house and make sure they weren’t stealing the family silver, or whatever it was Mrs. Windsor had stashed away in that back room.
Under Mrs. Windsor’s watchful eye—like she thought he was going to make a break for the back room at any second—Harry took his tie off and put it in his pocket, and trudged back to the living room.
Tate and Mia were sharing one couch, and Jack was sitting on the other one. Mr. Windsor was leaning back in an armchair, smiling benignly at everyone.
Harry felt a rush of relief when Jack spotted him, and veered around the coffee table to join him on the couch. Jack reached for his hand, and Harry just about melted.
Okay, yeah, things were weird and strained and awkward, but as long as Jack was holding his hand, he could get through this.
Mrs. Windsor brought in a tray of shortbread. “Mia, get your feet off the coffee table. It’s Christmas.”
“Ugh.” Mia made a sound like a competitive powerlifter as she obeyed. “Tate, pass me the shortbread?”
“Which one?” Tate asked.
“The tray.” Mia rested it on her pregnant belly and dug in.
“Babe,” Tate said, brows drawn together. “Your indigestion.”
“It’s fine,” she said, and shovelled some shortbread into her mouth.
“I think there’s more in the kitchen,” Mrs. Windsor said. “Jack, come and help me with drinks.”
Jack let go of Harry’s hand and followed his mum out of the room.
Harry met Tate’s gaze, and Tate grimaced sympathetically. Mia was distracted by shortbread.
“Um, great service this morning,” Tate said at last.
Mr. Windsor smiled. “Thank you, Tate. Which part did you like the best?”
Tate froze like a possum.
“I like the whole nativity story,” Harry said. “But I liked how you said it was important to remember to be kind, and not just at Christmas, but always.”
“Yeah,” Tate said, nodding like a bobblehead. “That was really good. Really, really good.”
“Really good,” Harry echoed.
“Really—” Tate shut up when Mia elbowed him.
“Thank you,” Mr. Windsor said, nodding his appreciation. “I like to encourage people to embrace the real meaning of Christmas.”
“Oh, well, um,” Harry said, “I definitely felt you did that. Encouraged the embracing, I mean.”
“Dad gives the same sermon every year,” Mia said, yanking the plate away from Tate, who was attempting to snag some shortbread.
“Yes, well the message is timeless,” Mrs. Windsor said, sweeping into the room with a tray of hot drinks. It was forty-two in the shade, and Harry couldn’t think of anything he felt like less than a cup of tea, but he wasn’t going to say that. Instead he took his cup and set it on the side table, careful to use a coaster.
Mia let out a gasp at the same time the biscuits on the plate gave a distinct rattle. “Oof! There’s a footballer in there!” As Harry watched, the plate wobbled again.
Mrs. Windsor leaned forward in her seat, cooing. “Oh look! The baby’s kicking! Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, wide-eyed, because it really was.
Mia caught his eye. “You want to feel, Harry?”
He swallowed. “Um, if that’s okay?” Harry was aware that just because someone was pregnant it didn’t mean they wanted people touching them, but Mia had offered. He glanced sideways at Jack who’d settled himself next to him on the couch, and found that Jack was looking at him with that small, special smile he saved just for Harry.
“Go ahead,” Jack said softly.
Mia grinned, and Harry stood up and skirted around the coffee table. He knelt down, and pressed his hands gently to Mia’s belly, eyes widening as one of his palms grazed her bellybutton. If it had ever been an innie, it was an outie now, as though the baby was taking up every bit of space it could find in there.
“Here,” Mia said, putting her hands over his and sliding them lower. “I think that’s a foot. Or an arse.”
“Oh, definitely a foot,” Mia said with a laugh.
Harry melted. He loved babies. Like, to a degree that people thought was weird for a young guy. They were just awesome though. Babies and little kids, just bright and new and bursting with potential. Babies changed the world. He hadn’t been lying when he told Mr. Windsor that the nativity story was his favourite. Except that Harry thought allbabies were as amazing as that one born a couple of millennia ago in Bethlehem.
“He likes you, Uncle Harry,” Mia said, and a lump formed in Harry’s throat at that. At least someone in this family accepted him.
“Does that mean you know it’s a boy?” Mrs. Windsor said, her hands fluttering in her lap.
Mia shrugged. “We’ll find out soon enough I guess.” She ate another bit of shortbread. “Can we do the presents, Mum? I need to lie down soon, I think.”
“Yes, of course!” Mrs. Windsor exclaimed, and clapped her hands together.
Harry’s heart sank at the humiliation he was sure was waiting for him, and he stood up and rejoined Jack on their couch. Jack smiled at him, and Harry answered with a wavering smile of his own. He wasn’t going to ruin Christmas for the Windsors. Just because there was no present for him under the tree. He’d just...he’d smile and pretend it didn’t matter.
But when Tate, who was volunteered by Mia to be Santa, handed the first present out—a gift from Mia to her dad—Harry’s resolve cracked.
“I’ll just—” He stood up. “I just have to go to the toilet.”
He walked out of the living room on shaky legs.
“Harry?” Mrs. Windsor called.
He turned. “Yes?”
“Don’t go in the back room.”
He nodded, cheeks flaming, and dashed away.
How long could he stay holed up in the Windsor’s bathroom? He stared at the toilet doll and it stared back at him. Harry hadn’t seen a toilet doll in real life before. It was one of those cheap Barbie-knockoffs, with a knitted skirt that disguised a roll of toilet paper. It was awful. For some reason it made him think of Beryl from the op shop. It seemed like exactly the sort of thing she’d shove in his face and dare him to buy. And he would too, just because he was trapped in a weird battle with Beryl, but he’d display it ironically. This didn’t seem to be an ironic toilet doll.
He washed his face. For the third time.
Beyond the door, he could hear laughter coming from the living room. He wondered if he could just escape out the window and hitchhike back to Sydney. No, the window really did seem very small. And he’d promised his mum that he’d never hitchhike anywhere.
He sat down on the lid of the toilet, and put his head in his hands.
He’d just wanted Jack’s parents to like him, and he really had tried his best, but it just wasn’t working. They could have at least managed a box of chocolates or something, surely? Just for appearances’ sake?
There was a rap on the door and Jack’s voice came through, low and concerned. “Are you all right in there, babe?”
And that was it. Just that one single word. Babe. Harry had never had a boyfriend before Jack—or a girlfriend—and the whole pet names thing was new to him. And he was crazy for it. He loved it almost as much as he loved Jack himself. Hearing it now, so warm and full of concern and so his, was the final straw. Harry burst into tears.
Jack opened the door. “Harry? Are you okay?”
Harry wiped his face with his hands. “I’m sorry. I’m just—it doesn’t feel like Christmas.”
Jack crouched on the floor in front of the toilet and took Harry’s hands in his. “Are you homesick?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, because that seemed like the perfect excuse to glom onto. “A bit.”
Jack’s worried gaze searched his. “I mean, we can leave early and go to your parents’ place—”
“No.” Harry sniffled. “I’m good. It’s fine.”
He wasn’t good and it wasn’t fine, but just as he thought he might have actually gotten away with it, and this day couldn’t get any more stressful, he heard the sudden sound of something breaking from out in the living room and then, moments later, Mia yelled, “Holy fucksticks! Did I just piss myself?”
“A boy,” Harry said, several hours later. “Mia had a boy.”
He and Jack were sitting in front of the Christmas tree, surrounded by cleaning supplies. Harry hadn’t thought he’d be trying to figure out how to clean a couch and a carpet on Christmas Day, but he didn’t mind. There had been...fluids. And okay, Harry still loved babies, but he wasn’t sold on the very messy way they were delivered. Still, the place was clean now, and he and Jack were relaxing with soft drinks and shortbread, and the lights on the tree were twinkling prettily.
“I’m an uncle,” Jack said. “And so are you.”
Harry’s eyes felt hot again, but this time it was happy tears. “Do you think she’ll call him Chris? Or Noel?”
“I think they’re talking about Bazza.”
“It’s not going to be anything Christmas-related,” Jack said. “The poor kid already has a Christmas birthday, Mia’s not gonna make it worse for him. She may as well call him ‘beat me up and take my lunch money’ otherwise.”
“I’ll bet Mum and Dad have suggested a Christmas name, though,” he said. “And I’ll bet Mia’s already told them she’s calling him Jesus. That way, when she doesn’t, they’ll be so relieved they’ll be happy with anything.”
“That seems to be how Mia does a lot of things,” Harry said, thinking of his Bad Boyfriend date with her. He sighed. “But it works. At least they like Tate.”
Jack nudged him. “They like you.” He laughed. “My parents are buttoned-up, I know. They’re not very demonstrative people. But they do like you.”
“Jack.” Harry’s throat hurt as he swallowed. “No, I don’t think they do. There’s...” He drew a deep breath. “They didn’t get me a present.” It sounded childish, but there it was.
Jack’s brow creased in confusion, and then his expression cleared. “You poked under the tree, didn’t you?”
Harry bit his lip. “I have the self-control of a small child at Christmas, okay? And there’s nothing for me from your parents.”
Jack leaned over and pressed a kiss to the tip of his nose. “I promise, there is. It just…” he hesitated. “You know how Mum’s been funny about the back bedroom?”
Harry nodded. “She’s been like a rottweiler. I’m starting to think your Dad’s Bluebeard or something.”
Jack grinned. “She didn't want you looking in there because it’s where she’s hiding your present. It’s too big to fit under the tree.”
Harry’s jaw dropped. “What?”
Jack laughed. “God, of course! Harry, if we’d got here and my parents didn’t at least have a Cheese of the Month subscription or something for you, we wouldn’t have stayed!”
“I would actually love a Cheese of the Month subscription.”
“Well, I’ll tell them to bear that in mind for next year,” Jack said.
Next year. Harry loved the sound of that. Jack didn’t think he was stupid or weird or needy—or, if he did, he at least didn’t think those things were big enough be deal breakers. Jack wanted them to have a next year, and maybe even a whole bunch of years after that.
“They really got me something though?” Harry asked. “And it’s big?”
“Yes!” Jack laughed. “Mum’s super proud of herself.” And then he shook his head. “No! We can’t peek!”
“I didn’t say we—”
“I can see it all over your face!” Jack exclaimed. “I mean, we’ll just wait until they get home, and...” He sucked breath in through his teeth. “I wonder if Tate will be with them, or if he’s staying up at the hospital with Mia. And then there’s the evening service at church, and Dad usually has some parishioners over for dinner. Wow, I think we might have actually missed our present opening window today, because of the baby. I wonder if we’ll do them tomorrow?”
Jack bit his lower lip. “We should totally sneak a peek now, shouldn’t we?”
“Come on, then.” Jack stood and took Harry’s hand and led him down the hallway. Even though it was just the two of them, Harry couldn’t help looking around, as if Mrs. Windsor was going to come bursting out of the coat rack. When they got to the spare bedroom door, Jack distracted him from his nerves by wrapping his arms around him and pulling him in for a kiss, soft and sweet, and it was almost enough to make Harry forget that they were meant to be peeking at his present.
“So are you going to show me this big surprise or not?” Harry breathed against Jack’s lips.
“That’s what she said,” Jack said with a grin, and it was so ridiculous that Harry burst out laughing.
His laughter faded when Jack opened the door and he saw what was waiting for him. There, adorned by a big, glittery, stick-on bow, was a ten-drawer, rainbow hued, craft storage unit. It came up past his waist, and there was no way it would have fitted under the tree. The storage stack was on every preschool teacher’s must-have list, but they weren’t cheap, and Harry hadn’t dared dream of owning one, except in the far distant future. He stepped forward and ran a hand reverently across the top. His throat tightened. The Windsors had really thought about this.
“Oh,” he said quietly. “Oh.”
“I told you,” Jack said. “Mum was super proud of herself for thinking of it. And that’s not all.” He pulled out one of the drawers. Inside lay fourteen different types of craft glue. The next drawer held packets of glitter in all the colours of the rainbow, and the one under that, pom poms and pipe cleaners. Every single drawer was filled to the brim. Jack gave an apologetic shrug. “She got a bit over-excited.”
“God, this is…” Harry’s chest squeezed tight. “This is so much! And I only got her a cheese board and knife set!”
Jac stepped in front of Harry and cupped his face in one palm. “Breathe, Harry. And tell me again they don’t like you. Not that the value of a gift represents someone’s worth, but in this case, I think it’s pretty clear they think you’re great. And so do I.”
He leaned in for a kiss, and butterflies swooped in Harry’s stomach just like they always did when Jack acted like this, like he found Harry irresistible. He kissed him back, deep and slow, and, feeling bold, whispered, “You know, we have the house to ourselves…” Jack’s phone pinged, and Harry froze. “Oh my god, does your mum have a spy camera?”
Jack pulled out his phone and his face split in a wide grin. “No, it’s baby photos from Tate!” He turned the screen around so that Harry could see.
Mia’s baby was small, red, and squished looking—and utterly miraculous. “Oh look,” Harry breathed. “He’s so tiny!”
“Well, he’s a bit early.” Jack typed out a string of heart eyes, and as soon as he hit send his phone rang. He answered and put it on speaker. “Hey, Tate. Congratulations! He’s amazing!’
“I know, right?” Tate sounded awestruck, and Harry couldn’t blame him.
“He’s gorgeous,” Harry said. “Have you thought of a name?”
“I told Harry that Dad would be gunning for a Christmas name,” Jack said.
Tate laughed. “When your parents suggested a biblical name, she suggested Andy.” He paused. “Andy Christ.”
Harry screwed up his nose, and then snorted when it hit him.
Jack cackled. “I bloody love Mia.”
“Me too,” Tate said, and Harry could tell he meant it. “Anyway, I’m calling because Mia wanted to let you know that her folks are on their way home, and—” He let out a long sigh. “She said to tell you, and I quote, don’t get caught pulling Harry’s Christmas cracker.”
“But I don’t have a Christmas--oh.” Harry could feel his face heating.
Jack just laughed. “Thanks for the heads up, man.”
He ended the call and they made their way back to the living room, hand in hand. “Now, you have to act surprised,” Jack warned. “This is a no peeking household.”
“Oh, of course,” Harry said, unable to wipe the smile off his face. “I’m an excellent actor.”
By the time Jack’s parents arrived home the cleaning products had been put away and they were sitting on the couch that hadn’t been subject to the miracle of birth, watching some Christmas movie where the heroine went home to her small town and fell in love with the curmudgeonly but kind-hearted vet. Or was it a policeman? Despite his love of rom-coms Harry was having trouble keeping track, distracted by thoughts of Mia’s new baby—and by the way Jack's hand was resting on his knee, welcome and warm, a contrast to the cool air blasting from the aircon.
Mrs. Windsor stopped short in the doorway of the lounge, her husband behind her, and for a split second Harry wanted to scoot to the other end of the couch, but then her face lit up. “Boys! You cleaned!” She stepped into the room, beaming. “I was worried I’d never get the stains out of the couch. How on earth did you do it?”
“It was Harry,” Jack piped up, squeezing his knee. “He works with little kids, so stains are his specialty.”
“It’s true. You’d be amazed what tricks you pick up,” Harry said, giving a tentative smile.
“Oh, well isn’t that wonderful?” Mrs. Windsor said. “He’s a keeper!”
Mr. Windsor smiled and nodded, and Harry didn’t care if they were flying high on new-grandparent endorphins. This was the nicest they’d ever been to him. Or, it was the nicest they’d ever seemed to be to him, because he knew now that they’d been nice this whole time—they were just terrible at showing it. He bounced up from the couch, and darted forward to hug them both.
“Hello,” he said. “Merry Christmas and congratulations and thank you for having me here and everything.”
“Have you boys been drinking?” Mr. Windsor asked, no judgment in his tone as he patted Harry gently on the back.
“Oh!” Mrs. Windsor drew back. “You went into the back room, didn’t you?”
Harry couldn’t lie to her. She was married to a minister. “Yes. I’m sorry!”
“Oooh!” She sounded more amused than annoyed, and hugged him again. “Well, who knows how long we might have been gone? I hope you like it.”
“So, so much,” Harry said, fighting the urge to hug her again.
She beamed. “I’m glad! Now, speaking of drinks, I think there’s a bottle of sherry in the kitchen, Jack, why don’t you go and find it?”
“Aren’t you going to be going back to the hospital later?” Jack asked.
“Yes, but your father’s driving.” She clapped her hands together. “Harry, will you have a little glass of sherry with me?”
“I would love one!” Harry exclaimed. He’d never tasted sherry in his life, but he wasn’t going to let that dampen his enthusiasm.
Moments later, sitting on the slightly-damp couch with Jack’s arm around his shoulders and a glass of sherry in his hands, Harry smiled at Mr. and Mrs. Windsor, their faces bathed in the flickering lights of the Christmas tree, and thought that, despite his visit’s rocky start, there was actually nowhere else he’d rather be.
“Merry Christmas!” Mrs. Windsor said, and downed her glass of sherry.
“Merry Christmas!” Harry echoed, and did the same.
Mr. Windsor smiled and tsked. “Oh, I think this might end badly!” But his smile grew as he said it, and Harry felt warm inside.
Although that might have been the sherry.
“Merry Christmas, Harry,” Jack said, and leaned in to give him a kiss.
“Merry Christmas,” Harry said again, and smiled until his face hurt, because it really, really was.