“LADIES and gentlemen, we will be landing in New York in approximately fifteen minutes. Please fasten your seatbelts.”
Eli had been gazing out the window at a nebulous nothing for the past few hours but now saw what appeared to be a carpet of stars rising up to meet them. He glanced at Alec sleeping peacefully beside him and wished he had been able to do the same. An open magazine rested in his boyfriend’s lap, and his glasses sat atop his head as he snored lightly.
Eli reached over, put the magazine away, and fastened Alec’s seatbelt gently enough to leave him undisturbed. He had to smile. This man can sleep anywhere. He turned back to his window and noticed the city lights below them appeared even larger. His stomach twisted into a knot as he tried to remember why he had agreed to this trip.
Their friends back in London were either busy with their families or fleeing the country to avoid their families. His mother invited the two of them to Christmas dinner, but his stepfather put a stop to it, making it clear that “her defective son” was not welcome in his house, and she lacked the backbone to say otherwise.
In Alec’s case, his parents had written him off years ago. Despite the fact that their only boy had become a psychologist and bestselling author, there would be no eggnog waiting for them at their place in West Virginia. Lastly, Alec’s sister invited them to join her family at Disneyland for the holidays, but both of them had shuddered at the thought.
Alec stirred slightly as the plane made another steep turn and descended ever closer to the runway.
They had briefly considered staying in London—just the two of them, until Beverly Tucker called. She attempted to lure them with promises of good food, fun, and family insanity. And that’s what this was. The more Eli thought about it, the more he wished he could turn this airplane around, but they were committed now… or should have been.
When he had politely refused for the second time, Mrs. Tucker came at him with “but we miss you, boy.” That had given him pause and she barreled forward. “When you were with my son, you became part of this family whether you like it or not.” He had countered with “I can’t leave Alec at Christmas.” She parried with “Bring him! He’s more than welcome, and from what you’ve told me this past year, he could use this as much as you.”
Eli ended the call by assuring her he would see how Alec felt about it, not believing for a second he would agree to go. He was convinced his boyfriend would laugh in his face when he suggested they spend the holidays with his dead partner’s family, but Alec hadn’t laughed, and here they were.
The plane landed roughly, racing along the runway, and startling Alec awake. “Whaaa?” he asked, looking around nervously.
Eli smiled. “We’re here, love.”
Alec stretched languidly and rubbed the sleep from his eyes before placing his glasses back on his face and bringing his world back into focus. “Damn, that was faster than I expected,” he said with a yawn and running his fingers through his hair.
Eli was busy checking his trouser and jacket pockets to make sure all was where it should be. He didn’t want to leave anything behind. “Well, it’s been a while since you’ve flown home,” he said. “I’m not surprised you’re surprised.”
“Mr. Burke,” a flight attendant said as she materialized beside them. “Once we taxi to the gate, if you and Mr. Sumner will follow me, please, you may disembark at the front.”
“Thank you,” Eli said absently, never raising his eyes to hers.
“Will you need any other type of assistance?” she asked.
“No, thank you,” Alec said. “I’ll carry our bags, and he has his cane.”
The attendant nodded briskly and went to her station by the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated until the plane has come to a complete stop and thank you for flying British Airways,” she announced.
They had been sitting on their coats, and Eli held Alec’s open so that he could struggle into it. Alec returned the favor and unfastened his seatbelt. He sat a bit forward in his seat, ready to leap to his feet and grab their bags from the overhead compartment the instant he was allowed. Eli quickly buttoned up his coat to the neck as he looked out at the falling snow that coated the ground. He put on his ball cap and then gloves, took hold of his cane, and simply waited as the terminal grew larger in the window. What are we doing?