Title: EATING; THE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
Epilogue in Two Parts
(Hey! They do this on TV all the time. No reason why we can't do it, too.)
Date: December, 1999
Summary: Walter and Alex spend Christmas with Mom and family.
Rating: PG 13
Archive: CJK at http://adult.dencity.com/CJK/index.html
Yes to Basement
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but it would be a nice Christmassy gesture on their part to gift them to us. After all, 'tis better to give than to receive.
WARNING: This is a Christmas story; BETA'S WARNING sappy alert. You have been warned.
EATING: THE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
They arrived earlier than expected. Arms filled with wrapped boxes, plastic bags strung along their arms. Bringing the cold into her warm house.
Walter grinned, kissed her on the cheek. "Hi, Mom."
Nadia glared at him. "I wasn't expecting you till this evening."
"We left at five a.m." Walter set his armful down on the landing. He cocked an eyebrow at Alex who responded with a little turning up of the mouth.
From that she concluded that Alex had driven, probably too fast, and that they had left later than five. Walter used to try and cover up for his brother and sister in that same way.
Walter took the things from Alex, set them down beside his.
"Did you have a good trip up?" she asked Alex.
He had a much better poker face. "Yes, ma'am, thank you."
"We had good roads," interrupted Walter. "No snow until Albany. We stopped for a good, hot lunch and I really would love a cup of coffee, Mom, and Alex would prefer tea."
Then the two of them went back to finish emptying the car.
Nadia sighed. She hoped this would not be the pattern for the holidays; with Alex trying to blend into the woodwork and Walter running interference.
She shook her head at the packages littering her entry, shrugged and went to prepare a snack for the two.
They hauled everything up to their bedroom before coming to join her in the kitchen. Walter went for his usual place at the table while Alex took a chair nearer the wood stove. He sat, pulled up a stockinged foot onto the seat, dropped his chin onto the raised knee and watched, body still, eyes never missing anything.
He still made her a bit nervous.
They had spoken over the phone several times since the first visit. He was always very polite, answered her questions about work. She needed to ask Walter for more information about that; Alex answered, never offered specifics. Was that because he was uncomfortable with her, or was it because the work was confidential?
While Walter chatted, bringing her up to date on his work she never had to ask much these days, he was happy to volunteer she served them large pieces of the thick apple pie she had prepared for dessert.
Alex, she was pleased to see, thanked her, "ma'am", tucked in as though famished.
The phone rang. Walter was closest, so he answered.
"It's Louisa." Since Walter was picking Ouisa and Eli up at the airport the next day, he took the call.
Nadia took a sip of coffee, watched Alex concentrate on the pie. Maybe this was the opportunity she'd been waiting for.
He spoke around his mouthful. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Do you think you could find something else to call me besides that? It makes me feel quite ancient, and I don't think that I'm there yet."
She watched Alex sit back in his seat, swallow his mouthful. He picked up the mug of sweetened tea - she had counted at least three heaping spoonfuls of sugar going into that mug sipped thoughtfully.
"Nadezhda?" he offered, a bit tentative.
"My grandmother used to call me that." For a moment she was overwhelmed with memories long forgotten. She felt the smile on her face grow. "Yes, I would like that. Alexei."
His answering smile was nowhere near as wide as her own, but she knew he was pleased.
Walter looked at them with a puzzled inquiry when he joined them again. She just smiled at him, offered him more pie.
"No thanks, Mom, I haven't finished this piece yet."
"Would you like a second piece? Alexei."
"Yes, thank you, I would. Nadezhda."
Walter looked a bit surprised, but then he just shoved another piece of his pie into his mouth, his eyes happy.
Nadia always had the grandchildren over for tea their last day of school before the holidays. Jilly was a health food fanatic and didn't allow sweets of any kind under her roof. Nadia had learnt over time that six males, one female could inhale an inordinate amount of forbidden treats when out from under their mother's eagle eye.
Walter couldn't believe the quantity of cupcakes, bars, cookies, tarts that covered the table. Alex, she noticed, still had room to sneak a couple of cookies.
When the hoard arrived, there were scarves, mittens, tuques, coats, boots all over the hallway leading to the kitchen.
The boys greeted their uncle with grunts and hasty hellos, ignored Alex who, she noticed, had pulled as far back from the crowd as he could and still be in the room.
Mouths stuffed, they told her the news, both from school and home. Elbowed each other out of the way to reach for a favourite treat. The noise level, as to be expected, was high. She handed Walter the pitcher of hot chocolate and told him to go serve his nephews.
Which reminded her that she hadn't seen Abby at the table. She looked around the room and found her with Alex.
Abby had not been very happy to know that someone had been in her bedroom. Jilly believed in communal living so Abby shared her space at home with her two younger brothers. Which meant that nothing was really hers, nothing was private. Nadia had found her crying inconsolably one afternoon over a broken doll. Since Abby spent so much time here anyway, Nadia had taken the girl with her to Burlington, had her pick out whatever she wanted for her dream bedroom. Then given it to her.
A combined birthday, Christmas gift for the next several years, Nadia had informed Gene and Jilly. Jilly was horrified at the "pinkness" of the room; and to think that she had been trying so hard to bring her children up in a non gender specific way. The room was still a bone of contention between the two women, but Abby was in heaven.
Jilly had wasted no time in telling Abby that her Grandmom had let Uncle Walter's new friend stay in her room.
Nadia knew how important that room was to Abby; she had apologized to the child when she'd heard what Jilly had done. Now she watched as Abby checked out a potential rival for her room.
She couldn't hear what Alex said; the noise level was that high. But whatever it was, she could see Abby relax a bit. So, she thought, Alex... no, Alexei had it in him to pick up a child's insecurity and deal with it. That was nice.
The back door opened and Gene came in, joined his children in forbidden food, nodded a welcome to Alex, chatted with his brother, eventually rounded up his hoard and, after confirming Nadia's supper invitation for the next night, got everyone out and into the van with no more, no less fuss than usual.
Walter sat at the table, looked over the crumbs, empty mugs, empty plates. "I don't think my ears are working right. Are they always that noisy?"
Nadia took her seat, smiled. "Well, dear, there are seven of them. Eight, if you count your brother. And it is the start of holidays. But they'll be much better behaved tomorrow night; Jilly keeps tight reins on all of them."
Walter just shook his head.
Alex joined them, licked his finger and picked up some of the crumbs that littered the tablecloth.
"Alexei, how did you get along with Abby?" Nadia was curious.
"I thanked her for the use of her room. Told her it was very pretty, but that it was definitely a girl's room, not a guy's. I think she was worried about losing it."
Nadia smiled her approval at him. "Thank you."
Supper was chicken pot pie and the trimmings. Alex had no trouble handling seconds, though he did refuse a second piece of pie.
Nadia could hear them in their bedroom that night. She was brushing her hair when she heard Walter's shout of laughter, then just a bit later, another from Alex.
She thought hard; she couldn't remember sounds, let alone laughter, coming from their bedroom whenever Walter and Sharon had visited.
The next morning, Nadia handed them the list of last minute items she needed in the village. She had work to do and they would be better occupied dealing with the crowds.
Lunch was soup and sandwiches. By now she knew Alex would eat more than Walter. She made him two thick roast beef sandwiches and watched as he devoured them both. The man was an empty pit.
Somehow, that made her more comfortable with him. So much so that she suggested that Walter go to the airport by himself because she needed Alexei here. Was that all right with them?
She caught the questioning look Walter sent Alex, who gave a little shrug in answer.
As Walter was going out of the front door, Alex called out, "Watch out for deer!"
Which reminded her, "Is that cell phone of yours working?"
Walter sent the two of them one of those Assistant Director looks. "Just once. It only happened the one time."
She and her son's lover shared a smile. Then she put him to work.
By the time Louisa threw open the door, the hallway and staircase were festooned with evergreen boughs and red bows. The living room was decorated, except for the corner where the tree would be put up later after supper. Alex had a bandaid on one finger where it had gotten in the way of the staple gun; Nadia was always amazed at the medical value of a handful of cookies, even with grown men.
Louisa, as befitted her role as one of the top New York City agents for new musicians, sported a new look. Her hair was white blonde, cropped. Needing some type of comment.
"What have you done to your hair? Ouisa! You had it so nice last time."
"Hello, Mom." Louisa hugged her mother. "Knew you'd like it."
Actually, she did. It suited Ouisa's extrovert attitude to life. And she did look the part what with the long dangling silver and turquoise earrings. The denim shirt and jeans. And the cowboy boots that added a couple of inches to her almost six foot height.
"Eli? Dear, you are looking well."
Eli smiled one of his sleepy smiles and let her hug him. He stayed next to her, arm around her waist.
Eli had been mistakenly born into a family of giants. At nineteen, he barely measured five foot seven. Even his younger cousins were taller than he was. Not that it bothered him. Actually, Nadia had never known Eli to be bothered much by anything. He ambled through life, always took the path of least resistance, never worried about anything.
Except, that one time, a couple of years back, when his cousins had decided to pound on his portable keyboard. Eli never went anywhere without his keyboard; he was always tinkering with something on it. His father was a blue grass musician so he came by his ability naturally. He had been very vocal when he'd heard David and Gene Junior hammering away at the keys for the fun of it. It had ended up with Jilly upset with Eli's refusal to share his "toys", Louisa enraged at hearing her son referred to as "the Geek".
"The Geek" had a budding career as a composer and songwriter.
Now, he slouched against her, watching his mother taking off her boots, all the time talking a mile a minute. Walter had escaped to bring in the rest of the luggage; Louisa did not travel light. Nadia noticed that he wore that look he had when he was fighting off a headache. Ouisa did take some adjustment. "I've got to tell you, Mom, the hall looks great."
"Yes, Alexei did a lovely job." She looked around, found the man in one of the darker corners. "Alexei, come meet Louisa and Eli."
She had had several phone calls with Louisa about Walter and his partner, knew that Louisa had called Walter but this was the first time she and Alex were meeting. And Louisa was as protective of Walter as he was of her.
She stood up, drawing herself to her full height, placed her hands on her hips and took her time looking him over.
Alex returned the favour.
Eli turned his head, whispered up into Nadia's ear, "She likes him. She's wearing her 'Found another winner' look."
"Eli," said Louisa, just as Walter brought in the last of her stuff, "come say hello to your uncle Alex."
Eli went to offer his hand. "Hello, Uncle Alex."
"Just Alex." He was a bit surprised by the strength in Eli's handshake.
"I think I like Uncle Alex better." Eli turned back to her. "I don't have to sleep in Abby's room, do I, Gram?"
"It's either that or the couch in the tv room."
Supper required two settings. One for the children in the kitchen, one for the adults in the living room. The doors in the archway were thrown open so that both groups could see each other.
It was Jilly who had seen to the tables being set; she felt that the situation this Christmas might prove to be a bit tense, so she had insisted at home that her two eldest preside over the children's table, not join them in the dining room. Of course, she had included Eli at the children's table without consulting anyone.
"Well, I'm sorry," she told Gene that night, "I keep on forgetting how old he really is. He looks so much younger than Gene Junior that I forget he's older. I don't see why Louisa was making such a do about it; he didn't care."
Jilly was the first one of the family who got Alex's back up.
Nadia sighed; Jilly affected a lot of people that way. She meant well, but managed to irritate people with her well meanings. Still, she was a good mother, in spite of some of her quirks. And she did love Gene who in turn loved her dearly. But there were times that she was difficult to bear with.
The meal at the "adults' table" was rather stiff. Even Louisa was quiet, for Louisa. Jilly held centre court, directed the conversation, making sure it was always politically correct, especially as it concerned Walter and Alex. She obviously had boned up on gay issues, health care and its concerns with gay relationships. Went on to offer Walter some other suggestions on reading matter that dealt with cholesterol he was at *that* age, wasn't he? and suggested that maybe Alex should read them as well. Had Alex ever taken a course in CPR? Just in case.
Walter's Louisa headache, a small frown between the eyes, had now become a Jilly headache, tight lipped, eyes a bit angry. Alex, Nadia discovered, was wearing that remote look he had the morning they'd left, on that first visit. Gene just smiled at his wife, sure everyone appreciated the time and care she was demonstrating for his family. Sometimes Nadia wondered just where his blindness came from.
She had had to kick Louisa under the table twice already, to stop her from snapping at Jilly. It wouldn't have any effect on Jilly; Jilly was certain everyone appreciated her suggestions and would not comprehend that they weren't.
Still, she did push the limit, even for Nadia, while they were cleaning up after the meal.
All the grandchildren had convened in the tv room, to watch The Grinch; Gene and Walter were in the living room, getting the tree set up for decorating, discussing football. Nadia, Louisa and Jilly were in the kitchen, when Alex quietly joined them, picking up a dishtowel to help dry.
"It's all right, Alexei," Nadia said, "we have things under control. Why don't you join Walter and Gene?"
Before Alex could answer, Jilly jumped in. "Really, Nadia, it's obvious that Alex is more comfortable here with the women."
Louisa, who was washing the dishes, got very still.
Nadia wasn't thinking and said, "I'm sorry, Jilly, why would that be obvious?"
Jilly put on her superior know it all face and explained very carefully to her mother in law. "Nadia, dear. In every gay relationship, there is a masculine and a feminine partner. It is obvious that Alex is the feminine partner in this relationship and so, of course, he feels much more comfortable in our company rather than that of the men."
Nadia couldn't believe her ears. As quickly as she could, she invented a reason to send Jilly to check on the children, almost pushed her out of the room. She took a deep breath and turned to face Alex.
Alex was looking at the dish he had been drying. He was standing very still.
Nadia didn't know what to say. Dear God! For a woman who prided herself on not supporting stereotypes of any kind, Jilly... Nadia was speechless. And how would Walter react when he heard about this?
A small snicker broke the silence. Then another one.
Louisa, who knew far more about Alex's past than did Jilly, looked up from the sink to Alex and began laughing out loud. Alex bit his lip then gave up and joined her. The two of them were laughing hysterically.
Nadia was taken aback at first by the reaction, but then felt a bubble of laughter well out of her. She tried to stop it, couldn't.
Walter pushed open the kitchen door to find his sister clinging onto Alex, her head on his shoulder, his mother sitting on the table, all three of them laughing out of control.
"What's so funny?"
Louisa tried to tell him, started laughing again.
"No." Nadia wiped her eyes on the corner of her apron. "I'm sorry, Walter, we can't tell you. Not right now. Alexei can tell you later, but not now. All right, Alexei?"
Alex nodded between guffaws.
Nadia waved towards the door. "It's time to get the children together to put the tree up. You and Gene organize that. We'll join you, in a bit. Oh, and Walter, keep Jilly busy for the next little while, will you, dear?"
They had a dusting of snow that night so that Christmas day dawned new, and crisp, and brilliant.
Nadia was pleased that Alex joined them at morning service. Even though she knew that none of her children practised her religion, she was pleased that they cared enough to accompany her on special occasions.
They walked to the church, Walter with her, Louisa and Alex chatting behind, Eli strolling dreamily behind them. Walter had been told of the incident in the kitchen, but only when the others had left. For a moment she had worried about his reaction, until Eli had commented, "Do you think maybe she meant feline? Aunt Jilly does sometimes get confused about things."
Louisa had muttered something under her breath that Nadia pretended not to hear; Louisa had very little patience with people who underrated her son.
Alex had just shrugged. Walter had gotten a look on his face that she feared meant he was to going to pull a big brother routine on Gene.
They opened gifts after lunch.
The biggest of the boxes was hers. From Walter and Alex. An iMac computer. Bright orange.
She smiled her thanks at both of them, thought, Just what was she supposed to do with the thing? She didn't know anything about computers.
She'd gotten Walter the new collection of Irish poets that a professor from the college had recommended at a book club meeting. He had read them the one by Louis MacNeice, about an encounter and she had thought of Walter and Alex.
For Alex, she had knitted him a thick sweater in a dark green wool, a nice intricate pattern that, since he worked with patterns, she thought he might like.
At first, she wasn't sure she had done the right thing. Maybe a book would have been better. He just looked at it for a long time. Then he passed his hand over it. Even when he looked up, she still didn't know; he just looked at her, that remote expression on his face. Then she caught the expression in his eyes and knew it was all right. That and the shy smile that pushed the remoteness away.
And the fact that, for the rest of their stay, the sweater seemed to be always at hand.
Eli's present to Louisa was the icing on the Christmas cake.
He handed her an envelope.
"Go on, open it." For Eli, he looked excited.
Everyone watched as Louisa, smile on her face, opened the envelope, shook out the contents, a thick bunch of paper folded in three.
She began reading. Looked up at her son whose smile just grew a bit bigger. She went back to the papers, scanned them quickly, flipped to the final page.
When she looked up, she was crying. "Oh, Eli!" And grabbed him, holding him tightly, laughing and crying at the same time.
"Ouisa?" Walter took the sheave of paper, scanned it. "Is this what I think it is?"
"It's a contract to compose the music for a film. It's just an indie, but the director's last film won an Honourable Mention at Sundance and was shown in Toronto." Eli was bursting with happiness.
By the time he had been passed from one person to the next, Eli was bruised. Even Alex had gotten a hug from Eli and given one in turn.
"Pays to be a geek, doesn't it?" he said to Eli.
Boxing Day, Walter came downstairs to find his mother and his lover at the dining room table, huddled over the computer. Alex's portion of their gift was a manual for his mother to use, explaining, in careful detail, all the programs he thought she might use, how to send and receive e mail, even how to use a search engine on the Net.
He left them to it, got himself a cup of coffee and checked in on Eli in the tv room. The kid was sprawled, one leg hanging off the couch. He picked up the blanket on the floor and covered his nephew with it. For a moment it crossed his mind that Alex must have been about this size and age when he'd been so badly hurt. He bent down and kissed Eli on the head.
Louisa joined him at the kitchen table, moaning about all the food they had packed away last night. Their mother had prepared for an army. Of course, between Eli and Alex, she might have been right.
From the dining room came an "I did it? I did it. I did it!" followed by the sound of their mother's laughter. Alex's joined hers.
Louisa smiled at Walter, bent over and gave him a peck on the cheek. "You done good, brother mine."
Walter smiled back, nodded to the other room. "You didn't do too badly yourself, sister mine."
The rink was an outdoor one in the park. The lights came on automatically after dark so that Nadia could see the people playing hockey on the ice.
She locked the car door, took the hamper off the roof and carried it to the bench for later.
Walter was watching the "game" from this side, arms resting on the top of the rink boards, chin on arms. He looked up when she came to stand next to him. She slipped her arm under his.
The teams playing hockey were unbalanced. On one side were Gene's four youngest sons; even the five year old had more experience than the oldest player on the other team.
That team was composed of Louisa, Eli, Abby and Alex. Who were spending more time propping each other up, picking themselves off the ice, laughing than actually in play.
Nadia watched as they tried to get the puck into the opposite net and shook her head when Alex just took it in hand and tossed it into the net. His side did a victory dance while the boys shook their heads in disgust. This was a *serious* game, hockey, not something to fool around with.
Nadia leaned a bit more into Walter's warmth; the temperature had dropped. She watched him watching his lover then tried to see what he was seeing.
"He's having fun."
"Yes." Walter spoke softly, in such a way that she looked at him again.
"He hasn't had much of that."
Walter looked at her, a small smile on his face. "No. Not much."
She looked back as Abby shrieked with laughter. Alex was holding her so she could stick handle the puck around their net. Eli was encouraging them on with very un Eli like noise.
"Gene and Jilly have been having problems."
Walter straightened, pulled his mother closer. "Oh."
"Gene has been offered a visiting position at a university in South Africa. For a year. Jilly doesn't want to go."
Walter grunted, neutrally.
"She feels it may not be good for the children, what with the situation and all. Gene Junior starts university next year. David wants to finish his last year of high school with his friends. Gene has made arrangements with a colleague to keep an eye on Gene Junior in residency. And he's quite willing to let David stay with them for his final year. Abby wants to stay with me. The other children are all for it. There's even a visiting professor here whose stay has been extended who would like to rent their house for the year."
Walter waved back at Louisa who was now making snow angels on the ice. "I thought Jilly liked Africa. So what's the real problem?"
"She's pregnant again."
Walter leaned back against the boards. Got a funny grin on his face.
She gave him one of those questioning looks of hers.
"Just trying to picture Alex pregnant."
She swatted him on the arm. "I reminded her that the first heart transplant took place in South Africa so they must have doctors there who can deal with a pregnancy, even if she is 42. I'd like to bring Abby to D.C. for the cherry blossoms. Will there be room for us at your apartment?"
Walter kissed her on the cheek. "Whenever you want, Mom." So, Gene and Jilly would be going to Africa.
She waved the players over. "Hot chocolate!"
As the custom, she had also brought replacement headgear for everyone. The boys played so hard, their hair was usually sopping wet. While they drank their hot chocolates, exchanged skates for boots, she went around with a towel, roughly dried their hair, replaced their tuques with dry ones.
Abby was sitting next to Alex, chatting happily away about a movie she wanted to see before going back to school. Nadia always made sure that her tuques were pink and purple. She tugged the dry one onto her head, pulled her bangs down.
And moved on to the last one on the bench. Alex.
He looked up at her, not understanding what she wanted.
She pulled his tuque off, the one he'd found in the hat and mitten box by the back door. She caught his surprise as the towel dropped over his head and she treated him to a brisk rub. He had the same expression on his face as when he'd opened his gift to find the sweater.
She answered someone's question as she held his eyes, finger combed his hair into a semblance of order. From out of her pocket she pulled out a tuque, a green one she had quickly knitted with the left over wool. She tugged it onto his head, smiled at him, went to pour more hot chocolate for the youngest.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his hand come up and touch the tuque.
They were the first to leave. Gene would be driving Louisa and Eli back to airport the next day.
There were hugs, kisses all round. Abby, who had spent the night, hugged her Uncle Walter and Uncle Alex, thanked them for letting them come for the cherry blossoms. Eli reminded them that he would like them to come to New York to see the first run through of film and music, hopefully by the end of February. Louisa hugged them both and told them she could put them up, even if things would be cramped.
Louisa was escorting them to the car when Nadia called, "Alexei?"
Alex turned and came up to her. She was standing at the top of the stairs, coat slung over her shoulders. Alex was wearing the green sweater, the tuque hanging slightly out of his pocket.
"Dobro pozhalovat' v nashu sem'iu."
Alex stopped breathing for a moment. A look very much like pain flashed across his face.
"Did I say that right?" She had called the professor who taught Russian at home last night for the right pronunciation.
Alex had to try a couple of times before he could whisper, "Yes."
She leaned over and kissed first one cheek and then the other. She put her arms around him, felt his come up around her waist. She just held him for a moment. When she pulled away, his eyes were bright.
She kissed him on the cheek. "You'd better get going. Walter's waiting."
He climbed up the steps till he could reach her cheek, cautiously returned the kiss and started towards the car.
"And Alexei," she called after him, "speed limits exist for a reason. It takes almost ten hours of driving to go from here to D.C. See to it."
Russian = Welcome to the family. I think. The nice woman at the Russian Embassy wasn't sure as to the Latinization.