Naked, sweaty, and sated was one of my favorite looks on Ryan. Lying on his back, his chest heaving as he caught his breath, the lights from the tree reflecting on his skin, he damn near took my breath away. I’d never been gladder that I had installed radiant heating in the floors. Though we were on the rug, it still would have been chilly to be naked without it.
My grin, I was sure, looked dopey on my face but I didn’t care. He was here and he was staying. “Now all you need is a bow and you’d be the perfect present under the tree.”
His smile was radiant as he tilted his head back to see that he was very nearly under the edge of the tree. We’d started out farther away but things had gotten vigorous. I hoped he didn’t have rug burn on his back.
Suddenly, Ryan shot up into a sitting position and only my quick jerk back saved his from knocking his head right into my chin. “Presents!” he shouted.
I blinked. “What?”
He was scrambling up and trying to find the clothes I had peeled him out of. He found the sweatpants and started hopping into them. “I left your present in the car. I wasn’t sure—“ He cut himself off with a shake of the head. “I need to go get it. And, you know, maybe bring the car closer because I parked it where we used to. I have to assume you have a driveway.”
I was stunned. I hadn’t even given a thought to presents. I hadn’t really expected him to show up, even though I had hoped he would. Now I found myself woefully unprepared. And panicking just a little.
Ryan dressed in record time and it wasn’t until he was shoving his feet into boots that I realized he was asking, again, if there was a driveway. I absently told him how to find it from where he’d parked his car and then, before I realized it, he was out the front door.
For a long moment, I just sat there, stunned. Then I stood up quickly and searched for clothes. One thing was certain. I was going to need pants. I was sure that once I had them, my brain would start functioning again.
By the time Ryan returned, I was ready. I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it the instant he said presents but I could only blame the fact that he’d shocked the shit out of me with his announcement. But once he was out the door, and I was dressed again, I realized I had the prefect gift for him.
He had a duffle bag with him that he dropped unceremoniously by the door before bending down and riffling through it. A moment later, he straightened, holding a large, flat wrapped present in his hand. Fleetingly, I wished I’d taken the time to wrap my box but then Ryan smiled and I realized it didn’t matter.
“You first,” he said, holding out the brightly wrapped package. I took it from him and sat on the couch. “I saw it in the store and… It was like a sign. I was always coming back but when I saw it?” He stopped and shrugged, a gentle smile gracing his lips. “I knew. It just said, ‘buy me and take me home to Jack.’ So I did.”
I removed the paper carefully and then gasped. It was a large coffee table book with pictures of Christmas trees from all around the world. I reverently flipped through the pages for several minutes. The photos were gorgeous and each had a small caption on the bottom stating when and where the picture had been taken and the meaning of the traditions behind it. It was a perfect gift.
“Do you like it?” Ryan asked quietly, his voice a little unsure.
“I love it,” I murmured. Then reached up to cup his face in my hand, pulling him closer so that I could kiss him. “It’s great.”
He released a relieved breath and sat down next to me, leaning against my side. Carefully, I set the book down on the table in front of me, took a steadying breath, and gestured toward the box on the floor. “That’s for you.”
Ryan gave me a slightly skeptical look. “I thought you thought I wasn’t coming home.”
“Just open it,” I said gruffly.
He reached for it and pulled it closer before he lifted off the top. Inside were six smaller boxes. After a curious glance my way, he picked one up and started to open it while I held my breath.
It contained a tiny gnome; and not the creepy garden gnome variety. No, this little guy had a green pointed hat, was standing next to a deer, and was made from ceramic. He was meant to sit on a shelf. Ryan stared at it, not saying a word, turning it over in his hands.
“Remember? You dragged me to that craft fair that fall before—“I cut the sentence off there, not willing to mention our parting. “There was a whole table of these little figurines. You said you thought they were adorable and you didn’t care how gay it made you, when you had your own house, you were going to have shelves dedicated to the little things.”
“I remember,” he whispered.
“I went back and got him the next day. I was going to give him to you for Christmas but then…” I trailed off again with a shrug and tried not to blush my embarrassment. “Then I went back the next year and that same booth was there.”
“There are six boxes in here,” Ryan said, his voice shaky as he set the gnome down on the table and reached for another box.
“Yeah,” I said.
He opened each one reverently, admiring it fully before he set it down next to the others and opening a new box. He kept at it until all six figurines were arranged on the table. He stared at them for a long time and I started to sweat. I couldn’t see his face and I had no idea what he was thinking.
Finally, he cleared his throat though it didn’t seem to help because he sounded like he was speaking through tears. “I can’t believe you did this, Jack.”
Suddenly he turned fast and launched himself into my arms. I held him tightly while his body trembled and he tried to get himself under control.
“You were always in my head, baby. Always. Even if I never got to see you again, this was something I could hold onto. I know it’s kind of crazy—“
“No,” he said, interrupting me fast. “This is the most thoughtful, wonderful thing anyone has ever done for me.”
I was stupidly pleased that I had made him so happy. “New tradition.”
“What’s that?” Ryan asked, his voice muffled against my neck.
“After the coffee and kisses and the fucking by the tree? That’s when you get to open your new gnome to add to your collection.”
The kisses that followed were wet with his tears but I knew they were the happy kind so that was just fine.