AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Lori L. Otto
A MAX & CALLUM CHRISTMAS
I stare at Nolan sitting in the big, cushioned chair, his red suit stuffed with pillows, and ponder the little girl’s question to me. Shouldn’t Santa already be delivering presents to kids in other parts of the world by now? She’d made sure to remind me that it’s already morning in Asia.
Matty should have prepped us better for this volunteer gig for A Kinder New York.
“I’m pretty sure this is just a layover,” I tell her, swallowing. “Have you taken a plane before?” I ask her.
“It’s just like that.”
“But doesn’t Santa make his own schedule? Who’s he waiting on?” she asks.
This girl’s too smart to be in line for Santa. I look to her mother for help, but she’s busy reading something on an iPad, not even listening to us. I could just be honest with her now… rip off the Band-Aid.
“Reindeer,” I say suddenly, a stroke of brilliance coming to me. “The reindeer can’t go non-stop. Sure, Santa gets to sit on his ass and–”
“Ahem.” I glance up at the little girl’s mom glaring at me. Sure, now she listens to me.
“He gets to sit on his assss-tronomically big sleigh that holds all those toys all night, but the reindeer have to do all the work. So, yeah, they’re up on the roof right now, noshin’ on some reindeer kibble and stretchin' their hooves.”
“Hooves don’t stretch.”
“Lookie there, Santa’s ready for you,” I say, walking her up to Santa-Nolan. “She’s a smart cookie,” I whisper in his ear.
“Amber, give the elf your toy for the poor kids.”
Before I help her up into Nolan’s lap, she gives me a colorful box that she can barely hold. “It’s a construction set for girls. Girls can build things, too.”
“Of course they can,” I say, nodding and taking the toy set from her. “Some little girl’s going to love this. Thank you!” After taking her place and starting to list the things she wants, I stand back with her mother for a second before delivering the gift to the tree.
“She can’t just like princesses like all the other girls,” her mom says to me, clearly disappointed.
“Just disown her at sixteen, like my dad did. Problem solved. Merry Christmas,” I tell her curtly.
“I didn’t mean… that.” She puts her tablet away and looks at me, horrified.
“I think Amber’s pretty cool. Nothing wrong with being different.”
“I’m sorry,” she says, and I can tell she genuinely means it. She moves closer to her daughter and listens to the list she gives to Santa. “Merry Christmas,” she says to me as I walk away.
“Easy there, Mascot,” Zaina says, setting down the gift under the tree that she’d collected at the same time I do. “That was a little harsh, wasn’t it?” she asks me, fixing my collar as I adjust her matching one. The costume shop obviously didn’t iron the tops we’re wearing before handing them out.
“I call it like I see it. I don’t bring a filter on holidays. Not even Christmas Eve,” I tell her with a wink.
“Fair enough.” She links her arm with mine and we walk back to the line together, undoubtedly looking completely ridiculous in our identical unisex elf outfits. It’s okay, though. As long as I’m in it with her, I’m having fun doing it.
I open my mouth to greet the next person in line, but she interrupts me before I can say anything. “Are you Max? The guy who’s dating Callen McNare?”
“On any other day, yes. Today, I’m Mascot the Elf, workin’ hard for Santa.”
“Oh, my God!” she squeals, rallying her tween friends to do the same. “So it’s true? Callen’s here?”
“I want to see Callen!”
I guess the fact that I–a guy–am dating Callen–another guy–doesn’t speak to the hormones of twelve and thirteen year old girls. They’re still going nuts over my boyfriend.
“What am I? Chopped reindeer liver?” I tease them, knowing I’m just as good looking as Callen. Screw that, I’m hotter than Callen any day of the week. Except today, when I’m dressed like an actual fairy. Today, I’m just cuter.
“We love you, too, Max!”
“Is Trey Holland here?” one of the girls asks. I glance over at Zaina. She’s heard her boyfriend’s name, and is already walking toward the conversation.
“Hey, look, here comes Zany the Elf!” I say, introducing her to the girls.
“He and Callen are working in the back today,” she answers for both of us apologetically.
“Can we see them? Pleeeeease?” they beg.
I scoff at their plea. “Trust me, you’ve got their better halves right here.” A few of the girls giggle.
“I like you better than Callen,” one of them says. “You’re funnier.”
“And I like you,” I tell her. “You get to see Santa first. Oh, and here, have a reindeer cupcake.” I take my favorite design off the stack and hand it to my admirer.
“I want a cupcake,” the other girls start to whine.
“Everyone gets a cupcake,” Trey’s uncle, Matty says, breaking up our conversation. “Hey, elves, let’s keep the line moving, please.”
“Nothing like being a second-rate significant-other, huh?” Zaina says as we walk to the next group of visitors with toys for the displaced children we’re collecting gifts for.
“Wow, you call yourself significant?” I tease her, finding a little boy with a big, plastic dump truck filled with a bunch of pieces in the back of it. After talking to him, I drop him off with Nolan and take the toy to the side of the tree where there’s room for it.
“Who’s making your toes curl?”
Unaware that anyone else was around, I drop the toy dump truck on the black and white marble-striped floor of The Mark Hotel lobby when I feel his hot breath on my neck.
“Damn it, Callen!” I exclaim, getting my red and green cap caught in the Christmas tree as I try to stand up.
He shushes me, laughing as he nods toward the families standing in line fifteen feet behind me. “Good thing you’re the elf. My big feet wouldn’t fit in those shoes.”
“For the millionth time,” I say, standing up straight to speak to him directly, “my feet are one size smaller than yours.” Zany looks over at me curiously as the white, fluffy ball at the end of her cap flops over her right eye. “And it’s no indication of the size of anything else,” I say loud enough for her to hear.
She presses her lips together to stifle a giggle, returning to the crowd after she places a few stuffed animals under the tree.
“I know, Max,” he says. “You’re just such an easy target in that costume.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not wearing it for you, okay?” I look down at the red, white and green striped tights that tuck into the black boots that coil at the toes and wonder how Trey convinced me to do this in the first place.
“They couldn’t get you a longer… shirt-thing?” he asks, looking around to make sure no one’s watching before he puts his hand at the top of one of the zig-zagged hems and tugs it down. “I can see your package, you know.”
“Well, the sign out front does say to bring unwrapped packages…” I tell him, looking up at him with a straight face. “Why are you out here bugging me, anyway? Shouldn't you be in the back room, organizing toys and shit with Trey?”
“Can you try to watch your language?” He smirks at me, knowing I can’t help it.
“What are you gonna do about it?” I ask him, quirking a brow. “You gonna hurt me?”
“Shut up, Max,” he warns me, looking beyond me and turning red.
“Do it, Callen. Hurt me. Hurt me good.” I get turned on when I say it, even though I was just teasing him. The fact is, it’s been too long since I’ve said it for real. When his eyes settle back on me, the look in them is a direct reflection of mine. His tongue juts out of his mouth to moisten his lips, and for a a second, I forget where I am and start to take a step toward him.
“Move behind the tree, Callen.”
“The line goes behind the tree,” he says, shaking his head and running his hand through his short, blonde hair, clearly frustrated.
“Boys,” Matty says as he claps us both on the shoulders. “What’s going on?”
Callen’s eyes dart below my waist quickly. When I look down, I can see that the stupid triangular cut of the shirt is sticking straight out parallel to the floor.
“Matty, these fucking shirts–”
“Oh, Jesus Christ, Mascot, put that thing away,” he says, “and Callen, get to work. Stop being a distraction and doing… that… to my elf. It’s completely inappropriate.” He pushes my boyfriend toward the back room. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
I look at Matty. There’s no way in hell I’m facing the crowd like this. “Kids are gonna be frightened by this oversized candy-cane, man.” I angle my hands toward it as if I’m trying to show off a prize on a game show, causing Matty to swat frenetically at my arms to get me to stop.
“Take five minutes, but if I find out you went somewhere with Callen, I’ll make sure you’re taking the subway home in nothing but those pantyhose and that hat. You understand?”
“Yes, Matty.” He sure is uptight when he’s running the show.
Immediately, I go to find my boyfriend in a private room just off the lobby that they’re using as a staging area. Without being too obvious, he follows me. I make a gesture toward the men’s room, but he shakes his head. Turning a corner down an empty hallway, I lean my head against the wall and bang it four times, just wanting two minutes alone with him.
“Don’t do that,” he says, taking my hand and leading me farther down the hall to a small area where the wall juts in for two ornate doors. Taking one final look around, he pushes me against the wall, removes my glasses and hangs them on his long-sleeved St. Ignatius Spartan t-shirt, and kisses me roughly.
His skin is salty from sweating. He and Trey have been doing manual labor all afternoon while Zaina and I have been traipsing around in face paint and our silly costumes, looking like Christmas pixies and making little kids–and older ones, too–laugh.
“Watch out for my cheeks,” I say, not wanting Matty to know I was with him. Matty’s husband, Nolan, had meticulously painted red circles and black freckles on my face, and I didn’t want them to be smudged when I went back out there. Our Santa doubles as our makeup artist. He’s even busier than most.
“These?” Callen asks, grabbing my ass. The thin fabric of the tights allow me to feel every movement of his fingers, and they explore freely.
“This sucks, Callen,” I complain, running my hands through his hair. “I don’t think we’re ever going to get to be alone again.”
“I don’t either,” he says.
“Twice,” I remind him. “Twice, we’ve played our parents. Twice, we’ve been together. In four fucking months.”
“If it was just our parents, you know this wouldn’t be so hard.”
“I’d still be this hard.”
“You’re an idiot, Max,” he says, but he can’t hide the sexy smile I bring out of him.
“You love me this way,” I say, shrugging. “And you left it wide open for that comment, come on,” I say. The fact of the matter is, we can’t go anywhere without people following us around, taking pictures of us, or posting our whereabouts on tabloid sites. It’s the most stressful relationship of my life, no doubt, but he’s still one of my best friends. We have so much fun hanging out and talking to each other that I have no regrets in dating one of the most well-known guys my age in Manhattan… but I still go mad sometimes with how badly I want to be with him. “It’s kind of sick that you’re turned on by an elf, by the way.”
“You always have an elfish look to you,” Callen says. “It’s your long lashes… and your nose.”
“Fuck you, my nose is cute,” I argue with him, touching the tip of it.
“I never said it wasn’t. It is cute. A little button nose. You have very youthful features, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Yeah, because my ears are anything but pointy.”
“Your ears are perfect, Max,” he says softly, kissing my right one.
“I know they are.”
“Careful, your vanity’s showing.”
“Callen McNare!” I hear my best friend, Trey, yelling from the end of the hallway. “I know your parents have hundreds of missing posters left over at your house, and the only reason I’m not calling them right now to have them deliver some to this hotel is because I can smell your Dolce & Gabbana cologne from here!”
I stick my arm out to my side and point my middle finger skyward, saluting Trey.
“Hi, Trey! Thirty seconds!” I holler back to him. “And don’t say a word to Matty!”
“Fine,” I hear him say stubbornly.
I bring my hand to the back of my boyfriend’s neck and start to massage his tense muscles. “When I sit on Santa-Nolan’s lap–”
“Please don’t,” he says, interrupting me.
“Well, if I did, I’d tell him the only thing I wanted was one night alone with you. And not a night at your house where we pretend to have a sleep-over with Trey, and he finds something to occupy his time for a few hours in another part of your mansion… I mean a real night alone with you.”
“I’ll return the Diamondback.”
“Wait. What?” I ask him, looking up at him with wide eyes.
“That bike you wanted?” He smiles and takes my hands into his. “Yeah, I bought it. I got one for me, too.”
“Well, shit, that may solve all our problems! We’ll just ride until no one can find us…” I say dreamily. He laughs. “I can’t believe you got me the bike…”
“Why wouldn’t you get what you wanted for Christmas?” he asks me.
My eyes shift to the floor. “I don’t know… a lifetime of disappointment has prepared me for that, I guess.” I can count on one hand the number of Christmases I’ve actually received what I asked for. Granted, I was born into a poor family, so I was predisposed to be set up for that sort of let down. Fortunately, the past few years have been better since Jon’s been making money.
“Well, you’re at least getting the bike. I can’t promise you the night alone… but the first opportunity I see, I will seize it, trust me, Max. I want it, too.”
“Love you, Max.”
“Love you, too.” We kiss again, this one sweeter.
“You okay to go back out there?”
I look down and check myself. “Yeah.”
“I’ll try to leave you alone…”
“Please don’t,” I tell him, taking my glasses from his shirt and putting them on. He bites his lip. He’s developed this thing for me in my glasses these days, which is why I only wear them now instead of my contacts. I think he likes my sexy, nerdy vibe. He really likes it when I’ve got them on and my shirt off. Something about the juxtaposition of my newly defined muscles and my geeky specs.
“Okay, I won’t.” He gives me another quick peck on the lips and walks next to me back to his temporary stock room, holding my hand the whole way. I pull down my elf shirt, cursing it under my breath, before I return to the ornately decorated lobby to continue meeting kids and taking their toys.
“You’ve been with Callen,” Zany accuses me, eyeing me suspiciously.
“How can you tell?”
“You have that dumb smile on your face.”
“Nothing dumb about this smile,” I tell her, grinning about as big as I possibly can.
“No fair. Did you see Tria?”
“Don’t think he wanted to see me,” I comment, walking up to the next family in line. “He’s all business, your boyfriend…” I whisper to her.
“That’s Trey,” she says to me as she walks back by me, stopping to readjust her grip on two video gaming systems.
“That’s you, too, come to think of it,” I tease her as I take my gift to the tree.
She meets me there. “Well, we are here to work. We’re volunteering for A Kinder New York. Matty’s counting on us, you know? So are all the kids who wouldn’t have a holiday without our help.”
“I know, I know. That’s how Trey suckered me and Callen into this all-night gig.”
“It’s for a good cause, and it’s the organization that brought Callen home. Don’t forget that.”
“I would never forget that,” I tell her. “Hey,” I say, looking toward the check-in counter. “Zany, look.”
“What?” she asks, taking my hand and pulling me back toward the line.
“No, look! Is that my brother?”
“Where? No,” she says, not even stopping to check.
“That looks like Jon from the back.”
“Why would Jon be at The Mark Hotel on Christmas Eve?” Zaina asks, blowing me off. “He’s home with Livvy and the baby. Or didn’t you say they were doing something with the Hollands tonight?”
“No, they’re doing their family thing tomorrow, since Trey’s going to be here all night. They figured Edie’d never know Santa came the day after on her first Christmas.”
“That’s right. And you guys did your family thing last night? Here, help me with these scooters,” she says, giving me a task. I swear that’s my oldest brother.
“You didn’t tell me what you got.”
“I did, too,” I tell her, stopping her and looking in her eyes. “We had a very long conversation about the red leather jacket Jon got me. And remember I told you about the rainbow-colored dart board Will found while he was on tour?”
“Oh, right.” I finish pushing the scooter to the tree and step toward the counter, looking for the man I saw a minute ago. He’s gone. “Were you distracting me?” I ask her suspiciously.
“I don’t know what you mean. Go help that little boy with the broken leg, Mascot. He’s struggling with his crutches.”
After finding out Cary injured himself playing hockey, I have a ten minute side conversation with the seven-year-old about his burgeoning sports career before Matty gives me his death stare and I take the kid up to see Santa. As he hobbles up the red carpet-lined path, he confesses to me softly that he doesn’t actually believe in Santa Claus, but he doesn’t think he’ll get big presents anymore if he admits that to his parents. He found out three years ago, but Santa’s the only one who gives him the “good stuff.”
I wish him luck and take the wagon that his mother had been towing behind her to the tree. In it are about thirty new baseballs. I remember a number of Christmases when just waking up to one of those balls would have made it the best holiday of my life.
“Santa’s sick today, Max.” I’ll never forget that feeling. I’d believed my mother, and actually felt bad for the jolly old man for the rest of my Christmas vacation. It wasn’t until I went back to school that I started questioning things. Santa had been well enough to visit all the other kids in my class. When I’d asked Will and Jon about it that afternoon, they’d both produced for me presents that they said they’d found waiting on the doorstep for me when they’d gotten home from school. There was a card, too. Santa apologized that my gifts were late.
I don’t remember what the gifts were now. The only other thing I remember from that day was that when I asked Will what he got from Santa, he’d said, “that old fat man doesn’t give a shit about me.” Jon had smacked him on the back of the head.
“Daydreaming about someone’s balls?” I blink twice out of my reverie and chuckle at Callen, who’s collecting more toys from the tree.
“You know it.”
“Let me have that wagon.” He deliberately closes his fingers around mine before I let go of the handle. His taut arm muscles strain, his grip purposefully tight. I trace my finger up his arm quickly and smile coyly at him. “I’m sure we’ll find a few more minutes tonight to do a little fooling around.”
“Not if Trey and Zany and Matty have anything to say about it,” I argue.
“I’ve got to take these things to the back. Looks like your line’s almost clear. Then you get to come help us organize and wrap presents.”
“And I get to put on normal fucking clothes, thank God.”
“That room is almost entirely full. I have no idea how we’re going to get everything done. We’ll definitely be up all night.”
“Yeah, there’s no way we’re getting out of doing any work,” I tell him, dejected. “See you in a few.”
After handing out the final cupcakes, we say good night to the last of the kids and ceremoniously wave goodbye to Santa, letting Nolan leave before the rest of us since he has a sleigh to catch. Once all the kids are cleared out, Nolan corrals all the volunteers from the back, bringing everyone to the lobby where we’ve been staged all night.
“Alright, everyone. You guys have done an amazing job so far. All of my elves were perfect!” Matty exclaims, coming over to me–of course–and pinching my cheek. I glare at him, which just encourages him to pinch the other one. The only good thing that comes out of it is that he now has makeup caked in his fingers. “Everyone give yourselves a round of applause.”
We all clap for the hours of work we’ve put in today for Matty’s organization.
“We’ve literally collected hundreds of toys today,” Nolan says, looking at a clipboard that Trey has handed him. “Our back room staff has been keeping everything organized in different areas in a meeting room on the second floor. Everyone who’s working the overnight, you’ll be assigned a section to work in. We’ll bring you wrapping paper and bags and ribbon and tape and scissors and everything you need to make things pretty.”
“And if you can’t wrap pretty,” Matty says, “you need to learn quick, or you’ll be on trash and box duty. Wrapping’s easy. Just slow down and take your time. Remember that we have all night. Vans will start picking up the gifts at seven in the morning. You’ve got ten hours.
“So, everyone who’s only signed up until nine, you're free to go! Get one of the reserved cupcakes on your way out, and have a very Merry Christmas, happy holidays, etcetera… Thank you for your kindness!
“Overnighters, let’s take fifteen. Elves, feel free to change into something less… elven.”
“Max, Callen,” Trey says, grasping Zaina’s hand, “can you guys help us with a few boxes of supplies? We need to take them to storage on another floor to make sure they don’t get mixed in with the rest of the gifts.”
“Can’t Zany and I change first?” I ask.
“After,” Trey says. “This will just take a minute, I promise.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t be making people wait if it was your junk squished in peppermint hooker stockings.”
“My poor Mascot,” Callen says, laughing as he puts his arm around me.
“Zai, you look hot,” Trey says to her as they push a hand truck of boxes toward one of the elevators.
“Yeah, clearly this unisex outfit is geared more toward the ladies,” I comment, following my friends and wondering what they need help with since they’re pushing everything on a cart. “What’s my purpose here?” I ask when we get on the elevator. Callen taps the button for the third floor, but Trey hits a different one.
“What’s on twelve?” Callen asks.
“The storage room we’re going to.”
“It’s on one of the guest room floors?”
The elevator opens on the third floor, but no one makes a move to get out, since we’re still trying to figure out where exactly we’re going.
“Yeah,” Trey says, turning around to face the wall of the elevator.
“You lie.” I grab him by the shoulder and turn him around as the elevator starts moving again. He’s the worst liar I know. “What’s on the twelfth floor, Trey?”
“A storage room, Dyo,” Zany says sweetly, stepping in between me and my best friend. She hasn’t called me that nickname since Mascot took its place a few months ago. She’s lying, too, and she’s normally a damn good liar.
“What’s going on?” Callen asks. Both of our friends stay silent until we reach the twelfth floor. When the doors open, Trey hurriedly pushes the dolly out, leading the way for the rest of us.
“Twelve-oh-seven,” he murmurs, rounding a corner. “There we go.” I stop walking when I see a crowd gathered at the end of the hallway.
“Whaaaaat the fuck are our siblings doing here?” I ask Trey, seeing Will, Jon, and Livvy all standing in front of a room. “Callen, what’s going on?”
“Don’t ask me!” he says, walking a step behind me when I finally start moving again.
“Holy shit, what are you wearing?” Will asks me, running his hand over his stubbled jawline and eyeing me from head to toe.
“A fucking superhero costume, what does it look like, genius?” I ask him, the actual genius of the family. I guess, technically, both of my brothers are. “Why are you here?”
“Merry Christmas, Max and Callen,” Trey says, opening the largest of the boxes on the push cart and pulling out two suitcases.
“Merry Christmas,” my family chimes in, and Zaina does, too, adding a little applause to her greeting.
“I’m not quite sure I get what’s happening,” Callen says.
“Yeah, me, neither, because your uncles are waiting for the two of us to come back downstairs and wrap presents for the next ten hours.”
“Is he?” Zaina says with a funny grin.
Trey picks up a clipboard and hands it to me. “You see, I convinced you guys to sign up for the overnight. You told your parents you were doing the overnight… but I told Matty you were only staying until nine. So your alibi’s solid.”
“No way…” I say, grasping Callen’s hand tightly. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“The room’s under my name,” Jon tells me. “Please don’t wreck the place.”
“I didn’t even have to sit on Nolan’s lap!” I exclaim. Callen backhands me in the chest. “Fucking best Christmas present ever. But please still give me the bike.”
“You’re getting the bike,” he assures me.
“I packed you some clothes,” Will tells me.
“And I stole some stuff from your house when I was at your family’s Christmas party last weekend, Callen,” Trey admits. “I really thought I was going to be arrested or chased down by your guard dogs.”
“Yeah, I guess we need to tighten up security,” Callen jokes with him.
“I don’t ever want to go through your underwear drawer again, though.”
“Sorry, man, but thanks for doing that.”
“And I packed you both a little present,” Zaina says. “Just something special for Christmas.”
“You didn’t have to do that, Zany,” I tell her.
I go to both of my brothers and Livvy and give them all hugs, thanking them for the gift.
“You’re welcome, but this was all Trey’s idea,” Livvy says.
I smile at my best friend and hold my arms out wide. “Come give your peppermint hooker fairy a big hug.”
“Oh, Max, really?”
“I owe you one!” I say, grabbing him in a bearhug and squeezing him tightly. “Thank you so much for this.” Callen descends on us both, getting in on the action.
“Wanna join us?” Callen teases Trey.
“Fuck that, Callen, I said ALONE,” I remind my boyfriend, messing with him.
“As tempting as your offer is, I do have to go wrap presents for the next ten hours.”
“Man, when you could have finagled your way into something like this for you and Zany?! It’s brilliant!” I say, stunned that he wouldn’t take advantage of his own master scheming. Granted, it’s way beyond what I thought innocent, rule-abiding Trey Holland would have come up with.
“You know it’s not like that with us,” Zaina says, taking Trey’s hand in hers. “When we’re ready, we’ll find a way to be alone–”
“And we won’t have to hide it from anyone,” my best friend adds.
“My sweet, little brother,” Livvy says, throwing her arms around his waist and looking up at Trey. He’s nearly a full foot taller than she is.
“Unlike our cursing, obnoxious, sexually-active one…” Jon says.
“He’s barely sexually-active,” Will says as an aside to our oldest brother. “Cut the kid some slack.”
“Can we go back to the obnoxious part?” I interrupt, holding my finger up, but no one’s listening to me.
“No, but we’re helping him along here now,” Jon says.
“They’re in a committed relationship,” Livvy cuts in.
“Yeah, none of us had a problem with this when we were sixteen,” Will says.
“If Mom catches wind of this, we’re all dead. That’s all I’m saying,” Jon clarifies. “Use protection, that’s all I care about.”
“I packed some,” Will says, winking at me.
“I’ve got you covered, Mascot.”
“Literally,” I say to him, earning groans from everyone. Callen puts his arms around me and pulls me into his chest.
“You left yourself wide open for that, Will,” he says, sticking up for me.
“I did,” my brother concedes. “Anyway.” He checks his watch. “She’s probably wondering where we are,” he says to Livvy and Jon.
“Yeah, we have reservations up the street. Oh, and room service is bringing you guys dinner in twenty minutes,” Jon tells me. “I figured you’d be starving.”
“So, you guys are expected downstairs at ten in the morning for the volunteer breakfast,” Trey says as everyone heads back toward the elevator. “Meet me on the second floor and I’ll put your suitcases in my car.”
“Have a good night, guys.”
Callen and I had just enough time to shower before our food was delivered. After dinner, we open the cards attached to the wrapped presents that Zaina had stuck in each of our suitcases. There were explicit instructions on each envelope that said to read the cards first.
“Go to a different room and put these on. Then let the games begin. Merry Christmas. What does yours say?” I ask Callen.
“Go to a different room and put these on, then take the reins and have some fun. Merry Christmas. Shit. Why am I suddenly frightened by what’s in these boxes?”
“Suck it up. I’ll take the small bathroom,” I say with a smile, nearly running with my gift and tearing off the paper on the way. I can’t even contain my laughter when I see what’s folded inside the box. I take out the underwear and hold them up, examining both sides and feeling my cheeks turn the color of the plastic red nose attached to the front of them. “Oh, fuck!” I say as the little orb lights up when I touch it. “No fucking way!” I strip down to nothing and quickly put them on, looking at myself in the mirror and chuckling at the ridiculousness of it all.
“I’m not wearing these!” I hear Callen yell from across the suite.
“You’re wearing them or you’re wearing nothing at all!” I holler back.
“Nothing at all is fine.” He’s right outside the door now.
“Please just put them on so I can see what she got you. Are you a reindeer, too?”
“Oh, hell, no,” he says. “Get out here.”
“Let me know when you’ve got yours on and I will,” I bargain with him.
“I don’t want to, Max.”
“You really think we’re going to have these on for that long anyway?”
He’s quiet for a few seconds. “Good point. No pictures.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Wait, before you come out–”
“I came out months ago, love,” I tease him.
“Yeah,” he says, ignoring me and continuing his question. “Why in the world would Zaina even think to buy us shit like this?”
“You know she’s going through a guy-on-guy romance novel phase,” I say to him. “I told you that… she thinks we’re hot…”
“Oh, Jesus. To think she knows we’re wearing these…”
“We’re never admitting to wearing these, Callen. Gag gifts. We never took ‘em out of the boxes.” We have to get our lies straight.
“Wait, does Trey know she reads gay erotica?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Straight-laced Trey has a girl with a little kink.” I can hear the smirk in his voice. “Come on. Get your reindeer ass out here,” he says.
“Yeah.” I turn around and open the door, showing him my ass first and saving the best asset for last. “Oh, my god, there’s a tail on yours.” He yanks it, attempting to pull me toward him by it. I stretch, glancing behind me to see his skimpy undies with a Santa face, a white beard hanging from the growing underside of them.
“Oh, those are bad,” I say. “What’d your card say? Take the reins and have some fun? Santa’s gonna get him some reindeer love tonight,” I say, wiggling my eyebrows and turning to face him. “And this isn’t just any reindeer.” I take a step away from him so he can see the full picture.
“I’m riding Rudolph tonight, huh?”
“Want to touch his nose?” I ask, looking down at the perfectly placed globe. Callen grins and reaches his hand out, ready to palm me, but the second his warm hand touches the reindeer nose, it glows red, and he shirks away from it, bursting out in laughter.
“I’ll guide your sleigh tonight, Santa,” I tell him, trying to flirt, but then shaking my head at how incredibly stupid that sounded. “Just come with me to the fucking bedroom.”
“Yes, deer,” Callen says.
“Ha!” I laugh, turning around and high-fiving him for the Max-worthy pun. He wraps his arms around my waist, slowing my gait to the bedroom, but I don’t mind as he starts kissing my shoulders.
When we get to the bed, we both look out the window and notice other windows across the street. I don’t think either of us have ever moved faster in our lives to close the curtains.
“That would have been the most embarrassing tabloid story we’ve ever been involved in,” he says, leaning against a chair. “I’m pretty sure we’d both have to quit school.”
“Fuck that, we’d have to move to another country.” I sit down on the bed.
“One without the internet.”
My eyes flicker down Callen’s body and linger. “It’s Christmas Eve,” I say to him.
“I know,” he says, walking toward me.
“I think Santa has better things to do than to be hanging around you.”
“Is that what you think?” I nod my head. “Like what?”
“Giving people what they want,” I say softly, looking him in the eye as I tuck my fingers under the black waistband of his underwear and push them down his muscular legs. His arms wrap around me and down my body, and I can tell his fingers of one hand are pinching the reindeer tail while his other hand tucks beneath my underwear. He angles his head to ensure full, deep kisses as he brings my body closer to his.
“And I already know what you want…” he says as he takes a breath.
“In case you didn’t, though, I think Rudolph’s giving a hint.” We both look down to see the red, glowing nose, getting up close and personal with Callen. He moves his hands to my side and plants kisses on my neck and chest, then drags them further down my body as he kneels in front of me.
Finally, he takes the orb in between his teeth and grips my hips tightly, moving me to the edge of the bed. I stop breathing in anticipation of his next move. His tongue encircles Rudolph’s fucking nose, driving me fucking crazy.
“Callen, Jesus,” I say, grabbing his blonde hair in my fists. “You’re killing me.”
“No more reindeer games?” he asks.
“Clever,” I tell him, hoping that particular Christmas carol doesn’t stay in my head while my boyfriend and I have our first true night alone. “And no.”
“Okay,” he says softly, removing Zaina’s gift from my body and standing up to kiss me.
I break away from his lips but hold him close, feeling my heart pound wildly against his chest. “Callen, this is already the best Christmas of my life,” I tell him. “I just want you to know that.”
“We haven’t done anything yet,” he says as he nudges me onto the bed. I scoot back, making room for him.
“I’ve got my night alone with you.” I reach my hand out to him. He gets on his knees and climbs on the bed toward me. “That’s what I wanted.”
“You wanted more than that,” he says, leaning over and taking off my glasses. After setting them on the nightstand, he returns to me, kissing my torso. “I guess I’ll have to top the best Christmas of your life with the best night of your life… in the same night. I bet I can do that,” he boasts.
“Hmmm,” I say, challenging him and laying back on my arms, watching him settle between my legs. “Good luck with that.”
His hands trace down my V muscle that he often admires when we’re swimming together. “No luck needed. Merry Christmas, Max.”
“Thanks for the best night of my life,” I tell him, “until I get the bike.”
He stops what he’s doing and glares at me, but one side of his lip curls up. I smile back at him playfully so he knows I’m kidding. “Either way, at least I’m responsible for giving you the best night of your life.”
“It’s tonight,” I whisper to him an assurance and push myself off the bed toward him. He sits up to meet me in another kiss. I don’t want there to be any doubt.
“Good,” he says, putting his hands on the back of my neck and dragging his thumbs against my cheekbones as he looks into my eyes.
“Merry Christmas, Callen.”
Not Today, But Someday (Emi: Lost & Found #0.5): http://amzn.to/1O1nosM
Lost and Found (Emi: Lost & Found #1): http://amzn.to/1O1nC33
Time Stands Still (Emi: Lost & Found #2): http://amzn.to/1O1nEI5
Never Look Back (Emi: Lost & Found #3): http://amzn.to/1NUvhtG
Emi Lost & Found series: http://amzn.to/1NUvmgQ
Number Seven: http://amzn.to/1O1nZe6
Contessa (Choisie #1): http://amzn.to/1O1o6WS
Olivia (Choisie #2): http://amzn.to/1NUvAEW
Dear Jon (Choisie #3): http://amzn.to/1O1oaWI
Livvy (Choisie #4): http://amzn.to/1NUvEEG
Love Like We Do - Side A: http://amzn.to/1O1ojt5
Love Like We Do - Side B: http://amzn.to/1O1oiFE
1. If money was no object what would take out the number one spot on your Christmas list?
I would probably go on a nice, long vacation… and take my family with me, but make sure there was plenty of stuff for them to do while I have my Lori time.
2. What was the first book you read that made you think “wow this is what I want to do, I want to be an author”?
Back in junior high, it was probably the Outsiders, and then everything else S.E. Hinton wrote, because she made me cry a lot. But more recently, it was the Twilight series (and the ensuing fan fiction) because it seemed like there was a need for a more mature love story, and I thought I could write that story.
3. What does Christmas mean for you?
Christmas means family to me, and more specifically, my parents. My sister moved away fourteen years ago, and I rarely see her around Christmas anymore, but even if my mom and dad don’t spend the actual day with me, we have a day or two that we celebrate together. We like looking at all the ornaments my mom has collected over the years–and there are some really good stories behind them! Mom typically makes breakfast casserole and we have mimosas and listen to Christmas music. We don’t always have a traditional Christmas dinner (I’m not big on that, and it seems silly to go to that much trouble for three people), but we have a good time together.
4. What’s your guilty pleasure, the one thing you hate admitting out loud?
I’m really not attracted to guys my age. I seem to like guys in their mid-twenties… I don’t know what it is, but I can’t get enough of Logan Lerman or Dylan O’Brien these days. (I’m on Season 4 of Teen Wolf… that’s how bad it is.) Oh! And if you haven’t watched The First Time, you MUST. I’ve watched it twice in the past week, and it’s just adorable. (Or Dylan’s just adorable…)
5. What’s next for you in terms of writing?
I’m working on a novel for Will Rosser. He’s the younger brother to Jon Scott (from the Choisie series) and older brother to Max Rosser (from the Love Like We Do series). He’ll be 24 in this book. It’ll be a standalone, but it does have a prequel that’s out now called Crossroads that explains how he got to be the way he is.
After that will probably be a novella for Max and some other Love Like We Do characters that takes place just after high school graduation, and then a novel for Trey Holland (from the Choisie/Love Like We Do series) when he’s in college.