Christmas music filled the elevator as I rode in silence up to our apartment, thankful my new client had signed on the dotted line with little fuss. I think we had both been trying to get home for the holidays. Nothing sped up the process like a late afternoon meeting on the day before Christmas, I guessed.
The elevator doors opened, and I stepped out into the empty hallway. Even on busy days, people in our building were quiet, respectful and kept to themselves, which was how I liked it. My fiancé, Jeremy, wasn’t expecting me for at least another couple of hours. I kind of looked forward to surprising him. We had reservations at nine for dinner, so it would be nice to chill out, maybe throw on some news before we headed into the frosty night. Well, for New York City, it wasn’t the coldest Christmas I’d seen. In fact, it was downright seasonal.
I pulled my keys out of my pocket and slipped the right one into the lock before turning it clockwise and pushing open the door. I stepped in and was immediately surprised by the dimmed lights and a handful of lit candles glowing inside. Sometimes, Jeremy takes relaxing baths. I opted not to yell out and didn’t want to break his mood. Hell, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll slip into the tub and join him.
I hung up my coat on the hook near the door and set my briefcase down on the counter. I walked into the living room and immediately saw clothes strewn about the apartment. Well then, I thought to myself. If that’s how he wants this evening, I don’t want to disappoint him. We’d played this little game before. I’d come home, Jeremy would have stripped and had been waiting for me on our bed. Once, for Valentine’s Day, he’d had a trail of rose petals leading me into the bedroom.
Without thinking, I shrugged out of my suit coat, laying it over the back of the sofa. I kicked off my loafers and made quick work of my tie. Before long, I was naked as the day I’d been born. I stared down at my washboard stomach. Not as flat as when I’d been a teenager, but I still looked pretty damn hot. Just staring at my nude body and its tightly manscaped features had me growing in anticipation.
The bedroom door was closed. I reached out, grabbed the handle and twisted it. I pushed it open quietly, just in case Jeremy had fallen asleep while he was waiting for me. The thought of walking in on a nude Jeremy lying on our bed facedown definitely caused my cock to twitch. I looked down at all eight inches of me standing as straight and hard as a ship’s mast.
It took a second for my eyes to adjust.
“What the fuck!” I yelled.
Jeremy was mid-thrust into some young twink’s ass.
He whipped his head in my direction. “Roger,” Jeremy started, his voice trailing off.
I stared in disbelief as Jeremy’s cock sat nestled in the guy. The twink, whose face was shoved into the mattress, lifted his head and looked at me.
“Oh…hey, Roger,” Avery said. “Wanna join?” He winked at me and licked the top of his lip.
Part of me wanted to go over and shove something between those lips to see if he’d choke on it. But with my luck, he’d have no gag reflex. Instead, I narrowed my eyes and said, “Avery Addington.” I sounded like a principal who wasn’t too surprised to see a pupil in the main office. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Avery looked at me with a ‘are you fucking kidding me’ look, before he said, “Uh…having a good time.”
My nails bit into my palms in clenched fists. Jeremy sat there with his cock still sitting inside the kid. Then he slowly slid out.
“And you’re not wearing a condom!” I was pretty sure neighbors up and down the hall heard that one.
“Don’t worry, daddy,” Avery said, drawing out the word ‘daddy’ like it was some kind of badge of honor for reaching the ancient age of forty. “I’m totally on PrEP.”
“I’m. No. One’s. Father.”
I knew if I didn’t get out of there, I was going to say a few things I wouldn’t want to repeat in polite company, not that Avery was polite. Avery was one of those kids who had a reputation, and now I saw the reputation in all its glory splayed out on my bed…and on the sheets I’d bought!
I shut the door.
I looked out at the living room. Only then did I notice that there’d been two pairs of pants on the floor. How had I been so blind?
I walked over to where I’d discarded my clothes and heard the bedroom door open.
“You don’t get the right to be angry with me,” Jeremy said.
“What?” I spun around and looked at Jeremy. “I’m not the one who was fucking around on my fiancé…on Christmas Eve!”
“Well, if you weren’t working all the time…”
“I work all the time so we can afford to live here, so we can afford that dream wedding you’ve been wanting.”
“Hey! It’s not my fault I’m having a problem landing a job.”
“Jeremy,” I said, trying to keep the venom out of my voice as much as possible, “you’ve been having a problem landing work for years. When are you going to realize that you’re a two-bit hack of an actor who will never make it big? Sure, you’re hot, but you don’t have any fucking talent.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I kind of regretted them—but not really.
“Well… How long have you been holding that in?”
I breathed in through my nose and let it out. “This is neither the time nor the place to have this conversation.”
“Oh, and why not?”
“You’re naked. I’m naked. And that two-bit hustling twink is in my bedroom.”
“As if that makes it better?” I groused.
Avery chose that moment to make his appearance. He reached up and rested his arm on Jeremy’s shoulder as he draped himself around my fiancé. I couldn’t help but focus downward, seeing that Avery was the only one in the room who was on full alert.
“I am not a hustler,” Avery said.
“You’re what? Twelve—?”
“I’m twenty-five, I’ll have you know.”
“And yet you act like you’re a child. You’re the fucking gay version of Peter Pan. All the rumors about you are true, aren’t they?”
“I don’t pay attention to rumors. Anyone who has a problem with me isn’t my problem.”
“What the fuck ever,” I said. “I just can’t—”
“We need to talk about this,” Jeremy said, cutting into my dressing down of Avery.
“Talk about what?” I asked. In the flickering candlelight, I realized that all three of us were standing there stark naked. I was so mad at Jeremy that I hadn’t thought about the fact that I was letting an absolute stranger stare at my naked body. “I can’t talk to you now…not like this—”
“Don’t, Roger, me.” I found my underwear on the ground, reached down, grabbed them and pulled them up. When I was finally covered, I looked back up at Avery and Jeremy. “I hope you two are happy together.”
“Oh, I’m not looking for a relationship,” Avery said, with almost a hint of disgust at the thought of it. “I found him on Grindr and thought he looked like fun.”
“Grindr!” I yelled again. “You’re on Grindr?”
“It’s not like that—”
“Like what? Like you created a profile on a dating app behind my back.” Only then did I realize what other implications this had. “Is Avery even the first?”
The look on Jeremy’s face was all I needed to see. Avery clearly wasn’t the first. My face went slack.
I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. I’d never felt more betrayed by anyone in my entire life.
I got dressed. I heard Jeremy’s voice in the background, but I’d honestly stopped listening. At some point, Avery had slunk back into the bedroom. I looked up at one point and could see the kid acting like he owned the place. Avery was propped up with his arms crossed behind his head. The light from the living room provided me enough to see the smug look on the little prick’s face.
I laced up my shoes, stood, walked to the front door, grabbed my briefcase, pulled down my coat and left.
Even as I shut the door behind myself, I could hear Jeremy calling after me. I walked in a haze to the elevator. A happy, smiling couple stood in the small box hand-in-hand when the doors opened. That should have been me. As much as I wanted to make a snide comment about how love was fake, I plastered on a smile and turned my back to the couple. On the ride down, a tear fell down my cheek.
I walked through the lobby and quickly realized I did not know where I was going. Out in the cold air, I pulled out my phone and pulled up my favorite hotel app. On Christmas Eve, there wasn’t exactly much availability, and the prices for booking this late made my eyes bulge. I found a hotel I’d always wanted to stay at and booked it. I had the money in my savings, so I might as well enjoy the stay. I booked for three nights. I needed distance. I needed to figure out what my next move was.
Fuck! I have nothing with me. Thankfully, Duane Reade was always open, so I could get my necessities there. If I hurried, I could buy some new clothes for a few days. At least, I hoped I could find a department store still open. I hailed the first cab I saw and said, “Take me to Macy’s Harold Square.”
The guy got a weary look on his face before saying, “Whatever. It’s your funeral.”
I leaned back and stared at my reflection in the cab’s window as we passed the familiar sights of the city. What am I going to do now?
* * * *
I got out of the cab at Macy’s Harold Square. I looked down at my watch and saw I had about twenty-five minutes to get inside, make purchases and get out before the place closed at six p.m. I looked at the throngs of people through the windows, took a deep breath and walked in.
I hadn’t stepped foot inside a department store in years. Jeremy always shopped for me. I never quite trusted my style choices, so it was nice to have a boyfriend, then fiancé, who enjoyed doing that. I looked at the map and realized I had to get to five floors. I wouldn’t have time to try on anything. This should be fun. I rode the escalator up to the mezzanine and grabbed some sportswear, so I could still hit the gym. I dashed up to the second floor for casual pants, then to the third for a couple of pairs of jeans. On to the fourth, I stocked up on underwear. Last, I ended up on the fifth floor and picked out three dress shirts, a sports coat, two pairs of slacks and two ties. I looked at my now-overflowing bag of stuff and tried to figure out how much this crazy shopping spree was going to set me back.
I found a checkout line and stood in it with the rest of the impatient holiday shoppers. I let out a breath. The intercom system warned shoppers that the store would close in five minutes, so people needed to make their final selections. The queue was already long, but more and more people seemed to pile in behind me. I guess there were a lot of last-minute Christmas shoppers in the world. Thankfully, the people behind the counter clearly wanted to get out of work as much as the holiday shoppers wanted to make their purchases and be on their way.
A mother in front of me was trying to juggle a bag of stuff, two kids and a baby. I did my best to keep the baby entertained by making faces at it, which made the time fly by faster.
“Next customer,” a chipper voice said when it was my turn. I was directed to a clerk in the middle who wore a pair of reindeer antlers with twinkling Christmas lights.
I hoisted my bag of purchases onto the counter.
“Oh dear,” the clerk said, “did an airline lose your luggage? I hate it when that happens. You’d be amazed at how many people I see come through here in a hurry, needing to purchase a new wardrobe like this.” She kept chatting away as she scanned the barcodes and removed the RFID anti-theft security tags from my purchases. “That’ll be thirteen-hundred, seventy-nine dollars and twenty-seven cents. I sure hope the airline is paying for all this. Can I charge this to your Macy’s card?”
“I don’t have one,” I responded.
“Would you like to open one today?” the clerk asked.
“Probably not today. You are busy,” I said, looking back at the long line of people still waiting to check out. I pulled out my wallet from my back pocket, flipped through the cards and laid down my platinum American Express Card.
“Thank you,” the clerk said as she swiped the card, handed me my receipt and asked me to sign the store copy. Once I had put my John Hancock on the bottom line, she packaged all my new purchases into giant Macy’s bags and handed them to me. “Have a Merry Christmas,” she said with a huge smile.
“Thanks. You, too,” I replied almost automatically.
I grabbed my purchases and followed the path to the nearest exit. A security guard stood next to the door. I wasn’t sure if he was there to make sure no one was shoplifting or keep any other customers from sneaking in. I nodded as I walked up. The guard opened the door for me, and I stepped back into the cold air.
With clothing in hand, I knew I needed to go buy the rest of my essentials. I shifted my bags into one hand so I could pull out my phone. I quickly searched for the nearest Duane Reade’s and headed off in that direction.
The streets were quieter than they would have been on an ordinary evening. I followed the map to the closest store, which was less than a block north of Macy’s, right on Sixth Avenue. I walked in and found it busy, but not nearly the chaos I’d just gotten out of. I grabbed a basket and made my way through the store. I picked up shaving cream and a razor, toothpaste and a toothbrush, gel and a comb, deodorant, bodywash and a small bottle of cologne that I hoped wouldn’t make me smell like a teenager going on his first date. I also picked up some food essentials—and by essentials, I mean I bought a shit-ton of comfort food. By the time I got out of Duane Reade’s, I had spent almost one hundred and twenty dollars. I looked down at all my bags and made my way to the hotel.
I’d never stayed at The Time New York before, but I’d heard good things about the upscale hotel. I thought about hailing a cab but ended up walking the twenty minutes to West Forty-Ninth Street—quite the feat with the load I was juggling.
My mind was a jumble of thoughts. I wanted to talk to someone, but the last thing I wanted to do was bring my drama into someone’s life on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t anyone else’s fault that Jeremy had imploded my life with one trick.
The snow crunched beneath my loafers as I walked. Along the way, I passed a few restaurants that were still open, serving customers who either didn’t want to stay at home on Christmas Eve or didn’t celebrate the holiday at all. That’s one thing I can say about New York City. There is always something open, since we have so many faiths represented. Many years ago, before I’d met Jeremy, I remembered hanging out with my Jewish friends on Christmas Day. Their tradition was to go to a nice Chinese restaurant then to a movie. Maybe I’d drag myself out of the hotel tomorrow and find a Chinese place…or at least get delivery.
I made it to the hotel, got checked in with no problems and took the elevator up to my room. It was modern but small. There was a king-sized bed and a small writing table, but that was about it for the main part. The bathroom was also pretty small, but it had all the necessities.
I took a shower then pulled the tags off the new pajamas I’d bought and lay down on the bed. For the first time since I’d walked in on Jeremy, I let myself soak in everything that had happened to me that evening. I was numb. Trying to think made me a little lightheaded. I sat cross-legged and let myself cry. At first, the tears came one at a time. But once the flood works opened, I was a waterfall of pain. After I finished my first emotional catharsis of the weekend—I was sure there would be more—I washed my face to take some of the puffiness out. I called down to the hotel restaurant, Serafina, and ordered lasagna al forno. I wanted carbs, carbs and nothing but carbs. I also ordered a bottle of Seravino, Malbec, Antigal Uno, Mendoza. I’d learned a long time ago that I love a good Malbec wine, and the only good Malbecs were the ones straight from Argentina. None of those fake American Malbecs for me. I didn’t need to order dessert, since I’d already splurged on comfort food at Duane Reade’s, but I ordered the tiramisu, anyway.
I grabbed the remote control from the bedside table and turned on the TV. I flipped around a few channels but wasn’t paying attention to what was on the screen. The simple act of flipping channels was enough to occupy my mind for the moment. Part of me wanted to roll up into a little ball and go to sleep, but I knew that would be a bad idea with my room service heading up. I kept channel surfing.
The sudden knocking on the door drew me out of my weird zombie-like funk. I forced myself off the bed and answered the door. The guy on the other side saw my shadow because he said, “Room service,” right as I looked out of the peephole. I opened the door.
“Good evening, sir,” a handsome young Italian man said in a thick Brooklyn accent. He may have had all the Italian genes in the world, but he was clearly a New Yorker. “Want me to put this on the desk?” he asked, motioning with his head down toward the tray he was holding.
I stared into the man’s chiseled face and into the dark brown, almost black, eyes. “Huh?” I heard myself ask in a dazed and confused voice.
“Your food? Would you like me to put it on the desk, then open your bottle of wine?”
“Yes,” I said, snapping out of it. “Thanks. Sorry, just a bit slow tonight,” I said with a thousand-watt smile. I’d learned years ago how to put on the fake show-smile for clients, so it came almost second nature. I stood out of the way and held the door open for the young man, who quickly entered the room and set down the tray. He made quick work with the wine opener.
“One glass or two?” the guy asked.
Such a simple question with such huge implications. “Just one,” I said, casting my eyes down to avoid breaking down in front of this guy—not that it mattered, because it wasn’t like I was ever going to see him again. He poured a small amount into one glass and handed it to me to smell and taste. I swirled the wine around in the glass. I noticed the legs sticking to the top of the wine glass before slowly sliding back down, indicating a fuller, richer wine experience with a higher alcohol proof. The Malbec had a bold and spicy aroma with hints of blackberries and plum. I lifted the glass to my lips and took a sip. Damn! This is good. But at seventy dollars a bottle, it should have been pretty decent.
“Thanks,” I said. The server filled the rest of my glass, then recorked the bottle before setting it back on the desk.
While he did that, I pulled out my wallet and found I had no cash on me but a couple of fifties and a one-hundred-dollar bill. Oh well, at least someone will have a nice Christmas. I pulled out the hundred and handed it over to the man.
“I can’t,” the man said.
I waved him off with a “Merry Christmas.”
He thanked me again before letting me know to call down if I needed anything else. I assured him I wouldn’t, but I promised to call if I did. I showed him out of the room and turned on the ‘Do not disturb’ sign when he left.
Once the waiter was gone, I grabbed the tray and moved it from the desk to the middle of the bed. I decided dinner in bed was just what the doctor ordered. Before I dug into the food, I drank my first glass of wine, then topped it off while I tried to once again find something to watch on television. I finally settled in on A Diva’s Christmas Carol. It was a two-thousand film starring Vanessa Williams as Ebony Scrooge. Part of me preferred the nineteen-thirty-eight black-and-white film, but I never pass up an opportunity to watch Vanessa Williams.
With Vanessa on the television, I dove into my lasagna and enjoyed every carb-alicious, cheesy-drenched morsel. I also finished a couple more glasses of wine. By the time I’d finished dinner, I only had enough wine for half a glass of the tasty red stuff. Too bad you can’t lick inside a wine bottle, I thought to myself. I also considered ordering another bottle but thought that would probably be a bad idea.
Instead, I made the insta-coffee in the hotel room and served it up with my tiramisu. During all this, Vanessa Williams was replaced with a more recent remake of Dickens’ classic novel, where Ebenezer Scrooge was played by Sir Patrick Stewart. When I finished my dessert, I left the dishes in the hall outside my door. The movie played on in the background as I brushed my teeth. I curled back up on the bed and sighed. I can’t even remember which Ghost of Christmas Past, Present or Future I’d gotten to before I passed out from emotional exhaustion.