LA, Christmas Eve
“Not again.” Noah groaned when he saw the out of order sign on his apartment building’s lift for third time that week. “I should never have taken that top floor apartment” He muttered and started walking up the stairs.
“Out of order again? How am I supposed to get these bags up four flights of stairs?” Noah heard someone say behind him when he was halfway up the first flight.
“Maybe someone can help you ma’am. It will probably be out until after Christmas. Busy time for all of us.”
“Don’t you think a lift in a four story building is a priority? Lots of people use that lift every day. People with small children.”
“I did what I could ma’am. We need to order a certain part. That will probably take until after Christmas. Nothing I can do in the meantime. I’m sorry. Happy holidays.”
Noah heard footsteps and the building’s front door open and close.
“Happy holidays to you too, you useless repair man.”
“Excuse me.” Noah said as he walked back down the stairs again. “I couldn’t help but overhear.. do you need help with those bags?” He asked the elderly woman standing near the lift doors.
The woman smiled.
“Thank you, that’s very nice of you. But I live on the top floor.”
“That’s ok, so do I. I think I live a few doors down from you. I’m in 4E.”
“Oh, yes, that’s right. You’re that young man that moved in a few months ago, aren’t you?”
“Yeah that’s right. I’m Noah by the way.” He said and shook the older woman’s hand.
“Ruth Copper. You can call me Ruth. None of that ma’am stuff alright?”
Noah smiled, she reminded him of Lucinda.
“My aunts name is Ruth.” He said as he picked up the woman’s bags and started walking up the stairs again.
“Is that so. Is she a nice aunt?” Ruth asked.
“Well.. I haven’t really seen her in a long time.. but she was always nice to me when I was a kid.”
“Of course. She’s a Ruth. Us Ruths are good people.” She said and winked.
“Do you need help getting up the stairs?” Noah asked when he noticed Ruth wasn’t going quite as fast as him.
“Did you want to carry me up the stairs too?” She joked.
“Well I could run upstairs, put your bags down and come back.” Noah suggested.
“Don’t be silly. I’ll make it up those stairs eventually. You can just go up and put the bags by the door, you don’t have to wait for me. You probably have plans to spend the holidays with your friends or family.”
“I don’t have plans.. or friends or family..” Noah replied, hating how pathetic he sounded.
“A lovely young man like you? I don’t believe that. I bet the girls are fighting over you and your aunt Ruth would love to see you this Christmas. And your parents.”
“My aunt lives in Texas.. and my mother is dead and my father.. well.. he might as well be. And as for the girls.. I uh.. just broke up with someone. That’s why I moved here.”
“Oh dear. Did she cheat? Did you cheat?” Ruth asked, picking up on the fact that Noah’s parents wasn’t something he liked discussing.
“No, no nothing like that. We uhm.. we went through a lot together.. and things just didn’t work out.”
“That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard.” Ruth said as she walked past Noah, a few steps further up the stairs.
“It’s not an excuse. It’s the truth. We just.. weren’t meant to be.”
“I don’t believe that. Tell me about her. What’s her name? Does she live here in LA?”
“No uhm.. they uhm.. well.. you see..”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to track her down and call her mother to ask what happened. I might be a crazy old lady but I’m not that crazy.. yet.”
“Well.. my ex.. is not a she.. His name is Luke. And he’s pretty amazing.”
Oakdale, a few days earlier
“Luke can you help your brother and your father with the decorations outside?” Emma asked her grandson. “At this rate they’ll still be working on them by Christmas next year.”
“That’s because you always insist on putting up more decorations than last year.” Luke replied jokingly.
“It looks festive. The lights bring a smile to people’s faces. And I haven’t seen enough of those lately.”
“No, smiling faces. Especially yours young man.”
Luke flashed his grandma a smile.
“It’s a start. Come here.” She said and wrapped her arms around her grandson. “I worry about you, you know. You haven’t been yourself the last few months. You were always such a happy boy.”
“I still am, grandma. I’m just busy with work and stuff.”
“And that doctor.”
“You know we broke up grandma. He’s a nice guy when you get to know him.. but just not the right guy for me.”
“Then who is the right guy for you? I want to see my grandson smile again.”
“I don’t know.. but when I find him, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Oh come on, we all know who the right guy for you is. His name starts with N and ends in Oah Mayer.” Aaron said, leaning against the doorjamb. “Dad needs your help in the barn.”
“I was already coming to help.” Luke said, quickly shrugging on his jacket, knowing there would be hell to pay if he went outside without it in the middle of winter. “And Noah and I are over. He’s moved on. He has a whole new life for himself in LA.”
“Yeah so you keep saying.”
“It’s the truth. He made his decision, he chose LA.”
“Because you were banging his doctor.”
“Reid and I had broken up already by the time Noah left!” Luke protested. “And I never slept with him..” He added quietly.
“Really?” Aaron asked.
“Yes really. Is that so hard to believe? You think that because I’m gay I sleep with every guy I meet?”
“No not at all. I just understand everything a lot better now.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Him. Doctor evil. His mood. He wanted to get you in bed but you’re still in love with Noah so he wasn’t getting any. No wonder he was always in such a bad mood.”
“What? You.. That.. I mean.. What. No. That.. that’s just not true.”
“What are you two talking about?” Holden asked when his sons walked into the barn.
“Luke still being in love with Noah.” Aaron replied.
“Ah. Nothing new then.”
“What? Dad! Noah is just a friend.”
“Of course. Now come on, help me with these lights.”“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“Luke, I think I speak for this entire town when I say we’re all just waiting until one of you gets their act together and tells the other they miss them and you two get back together.” Aaron told his brother.
“But don’t move to LA, your mother and both your grandmothers would have a coronary.” Holden said and Luke wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.
“Yeah just borrow Lucinda’s jet and go get your man in LA and bring him back here for Christmas.” Aaron suggested.
“Like I can just get on a plane and go to LA.”“Why not?”
“Because.. he moved on. He has a life there. He might be dating someone!”
“You and I both know that’s not true. I know you stalk him on Facebook.” Aaron said. “How much is a plane ticket to LA anyway?”
“I don’t know. How am I supposed to know that?”
“Because you’ve been checking ticket prices since the day he left.”
“Ok so tell me more about this Luke of yours. How did you two meet?” Ruth asked as she leaned on the banister for a minute to catch her breath.
“Uhm well.. we both worked at this local TV station for a summer a few years ago.”
“Oh a workplace romance. I met my husband through the workplace too.”
“It wasn’t quite like that. I wasn’t out yet and my father definitely didn’t approve.. it took a while before we got together.”
“But you got together in the end, that’s what matters.”
“Yeah I suppose so.. but we broke up again too..”
“So you hit a few bumps in the road, big deal.”
“I got in an accident. With fireworks. They exploded in my face and I lost my eyesight for a few months. Luke found a doctor to help me, but he ended up falling for that doctor. Big bumps. More like mountains.” Noah said, quickly.
“Ouch. So is he still with that doctor?”
Noah shook his head.
“No they broke up.”
“That’s good isn’t it? For you.”
“Yeah I guess so. When I left I told him I’d always be there for him.. And things were.. hopeful between us.”
“Then why are you here standing on a staircase with an old woman like me, you crazy boy!” Ruth said and slapped his arm. “Go get your man!”
“It’s not that easy. We’ve barely talked since I moved here. Just a few Facebook messages here and there and he texted me on my birthday.”
“Which was when?”
“That’s the last you heard from him?”
“No.. he sent me some cookies his grandma makes around Thanksgiving.. and a happy holidays text a few days ago.”
“Sounds to me like he’s still sweet on you.”
“I just.. don’t want to assume anything. Maybe he just wants to be a good friend.”
“There is only one way to find out. Ask him.”
“I can’t just call him and ask if he still wants to date me.”
“Who said anything about calling?” Ruth said as she started walking up the stairs again. “Like I said, I met my husband in the workplace. We worked in the same office and I liked him and we’d flirted a little over the mail, he was the mail boy, but he never actually asked me out. So one day I decided to ask him out instead.”
“And how did that work out for you?”
“Oh he said yes, of course, I was quite the catch back then.” Ruth joked. “We got married a year later and we had two daughters.”
“Aren’t you spending the holidays with them?” Noah asked.
“No, no, not this year. My eldest daughter Lisa, she lives in Paris. In France. And the other one, Jane is in the middle of moving from Pennsylvania to Hawaii. She and her husband are both in the Navy. So this Christmas it will just be me and the bad holiday themed films on TV.”
“Why don’t I keep you company?” Noah suggested “I’m alone this Christmas.. and I’ve been told I’m not a bad cook.”
“That’s very sweet of you, but you don’t have to do that. I’ll be fine on my own.” Ruth said as she walked up the final steps to their floor. “What apartment did you say you lived again?”
“4E, why? It’s really no trouble carrying these bags for you. I can help you put your shopping away too if you want.”
“No, no you don’t have to do that. Tell me, this Luke of yours, what does he look like?”
“Uhm.. he has blond hair, brown eyes, the best smile you’ve ever seen, about as tall as me.. his mother and grandma always say he’s too skinny but he’s pretty much perfect to me.”
“Yes, he is a little skinny, but you’re right about that smile.” Ruth said, taking her bags from Noah as he walked onto their floor. “I think you have a visitor.”
“What do you - Luke?!”
“Hey.. Sorry I didn’t call..” Luke said, suddenly feeling very shy.
“Uhm.. no that’s ok.. I uh.. what are you doing here?”
“He came to see you! Because he loves you!” Ruth said, slapping Noah’s arm again. “And you love him!”
“Well.. she’s right about the first two.. Hopefully that last one too.”
“I am. Merry Christmas to you two.” Ruth said as she opened the door to her apartment and went inside.
“She’s uhm.. something else.” Luke said after Ruth had closed the door.
“She is.. She reminds me of Lucinda.” Noah replied. “You know, I’ve lived here for months and today is the first time I’ve actually spoken to someone.. and only because the lift is broken.”
“Yeah you’re such a boy scout. Helping little old ladies with their shopping.” Luke said and stepped closer to Noah, stopping himself at the last minute from grabbing the other man’s hand. “That’s what I love about you. You’re always ready to step in if someone needs help.”
“I’m just not very good at helping myself.. or so I’ve been told.” Noah said and chuckled. “It’s so good to see you. I can’t believe you’re actually here.”
“Same here.” Luke said and both boys laughed. “This is my Christmas present. Everybody chipped in for my plane ticket. So uhm.. I guess I’m your Christmas surprise.. if you’ll have me.”
“Of course I will. But let’s go inside, I can feel the neighbours’ eyes on me.” Noah said and opened the door. “Come in.. it’s not much but well.. it’s better than a bench in the city I guess.”
“What? What’s wrong?” Noah asked when he noticed Luke wasn’t following him into the apartment.
Luke smiled and held something above their heads.
“Nothing. Nothing is wrong.” He said and kissed Noah softly. “Merry Christmas.”
Noah looked up when the kiss ended.
“Yeah.. I stole it from some Christmas decorations at the airport. I seemed less cheesy and more romantic in my head.” Luke admitted.
“It’s perfect. Merry Christmas.” Noah replied and kissed Luke, properly this time.
One year later, LA
“Argh why did I agree to this? Why did we say we’d host Christmas dinner for the entire family?!”
“It was your idea babe.” Luke said, wrapping his arms around Noah’s waist from behind and placing a small kiss between his shoulder blades. “You wanted grandma to relax this Christmas and say thanks to everyone for the past year.”
“I know, I know.. but grandma is the best cook in the world and everyone will be expecting her turkey and stuffing and all of that.”
“They’ll just get your specialties instead. It’ll be fine.”
Noah wanted to protest but at that moment the alarm on his phone started beeping, telling them dinner was ready.
“The moment of truth.” Noah said and went to take the dish out of the oven.
“That looks like a pretty great lasagne to me.”
“But it’s not exactly holiday food.”
“It is now.” Luke said and kissed Noah. “Don’t worry so much. They’ll love it because they all love you. Just like me.”
“Just so you know, I’m blaming you if it all goes horribly wrong.”
“But it was your idea.”
“Hey are you guys actually cooking in there or just making out while we starve?” Aaron yelled and everyone laughed.
“We’re coming!” Luke replied laughingly.
“Oh great, so it’s the latter Where is the nearest pizza place around here?”
“Shut up or you’re not getting dessert.”
A little while later everyone was enjoying dinner and each other’s company.
“Dinner is absolutely lovely, boys.” Emma told them.
“Thanks grandma.” Noah replied.
“Yeah it’s really good guys. Where did you order from? I’ll go give them a good review on the website.” Aaron teased.
“Oh shut up. We made all this ourselves.” Luke told his brother.
“You burn grilled cheese.”
“Not anymore. Ruth has been teaching me how to cook.”
“Really? You must have the patience of a saint.” Aaron said, turning to Ruth.
“Ruth, please ignore my brother, he thinks he’s funny but he really isn’t.”
“Ah honey that’s what big brothers are for, to make fun of you at family gatherings. God knows mine always did.” Ruth told them. “But yes, I really have been teaching both of them to cook so they wouldn’t have to live on noodles and take out anymore.”
“We weren’t that bad!” Luke protested. “Noah knew how to cook.”
“I made you pancakes every now and then, that wasn’t really cooking.”
“Well thank you for looking out for our boys for us Ruth.” Lily said.
“It’s my pleasure. I know what it’s like when your kids live so far away from home.”
“Yeah.. about that..” Luke started. “We have news..”
“Oh, do tell.” Holden said, putting down his knife and fork and turning his full attention to this sons.
“Ok uhm.. as much as we love living here in LA..”
“And we really do love it. You’re the best neighbour anyone could wish for Ruth.” Noah cut in.
“As much as we love living here.. we don’t like being so far away from everyone either.” Luke told them.
“You’re moving back to Oakdale?” Lily asked hopeful.
“No, not quite.” Luke said, looking at Noah for help.
“We’ve been looking at places in Chicago. Luke applied for a job at the Chicago Tribune and the station I work for now has a sister station in Chicago.”
“And it will be easier with the wedding planning.” Luke said, enjoying the shocked reactions from his family a little too much.
“Wait, what? You’re engaged? Since when?” Aaron asked.
“I proposed to Noah on his birthday and-”
“Noah’s birthday is in October! Why didn’t you say anything?” Lily asked.
“We wanted it to be a surprise. Something happy to share with the family at Christmas.” Noah explained.
“Well.. congratulations boys.. we’re definitely surprised.” Holden said.
“We want to get married back home. At the farm. Where it all began for us.” Luke explained.
“If that’s ok with you grandma.” Noah added.
“Of course it is! Come here you two.” Emma said as she hugged first Luke and then Noah.
Both boys were smiling as everyone congratulated them.
“Aaron, you’re an asshole and you’re not funny.” Luke said jokingly. “But you’re my brother and I love you, will you be my best man?”
“Of course!” Aaron replied and hugged his brother. “I’m going to start collecting embarrassing stories for my best man speech.”
Everyone laughed as Noah turned to Ruth.
“I just want to say thank you for everything you’ve done for us the past year. And I want to ask you to be my best.. woman.”
“I’d be honoured.” Ruth replied and as she hugged him, Noah thought that this was definitely the best Christmas of his life.