It’s Christmas Eve, my birthday, WOOOOOHOOOOOO! Not.
Though, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this year feels different. And in a way, everything is different between me and my family and Max. This will be the first year that I won’t be home for my birthday or the holidays. I made the decision, which sadly came easily, to stay in California and spend the holidays with Thomas and his grandparents and our friends. Breaking the news to my mom wasn’t easy. And when I finally called her, she told me that she was preparing for the idea of me not coming home this year, but it didn’t stop her from trying to bribe me to at least come home for a couple of days.
That plead nearly broke me. Thomas could see the conflict in my eyes as I spoke to my mom, and I could read the conflict in his. One that told me that if I were to go home to Indiana even for a couple of days. I would not be doing it on my own. And I don’t think I’m ready to confront Max or the slice and diced memories I’m still trying to figure out. And lord knows what the hell Thomas will do if he and Max are in the same room. Even with me present, I don’t think it will stop Thomas from seeking a vengeance he fills I deserve.
The sad part? I don’t think I’d stopped Thomas either, but I don’t know what I’ll do if what I’m remembering is the actual truth. I’ve been trying to mentally prepare myself, but how are you supposed to do that without completely breaking down. I’m barely hanging on as it is, and the only person who is able to keep me from fully drowning is Thomas.
The way he opened up to me last week about the car crash that took his parents from him just confirms I’m doing what’s best for myself. For us as a couple. That day was somber, but we didn’t feel like the world was trying to cave in on us. Instead, we were there for each other to pull the other through. With each secret we divulge, it’s like a fucking weight has been lifted from our shoulders.
Too bad I’m still chicken shit to tell Thomas my final secret.
I had this plan to tell him today. That the perfect time would be while we were in private on an overlook. Ha, well, one thing led to another....ya, let’s just say me telling Thomas didn’t happen.
And now, as we pull up into the drive, my nerve is gone, but I know I have to tell him. Maybe once we get into the house and over dinner. That would be better than attempting to ruin the sweet birthday surprise of driving up the coast he surprised me with early this morning. We watched the sunrise, and we sat in the back of the Mercedes SUV with the seats down with blankets sprawled out, along with pillows, and a panic basket filled with food and bottles of water.
Today has easily been the best birthday I’ve ever had. The sex was an added bonus.
“Come on, beautiful,” Thomas purrs as he holds his hand out for me to take. Taking his hand, I lace our fingers together and allow him to guide me up to the front door, where he suddenly pauses. He gives me a nervous smile, “Ryann.....”
Now I’m nervous. What the hell is he up to. “Thomas, what are you up to?”
Shaking his head, “Nothing.”
For an actor, he sure is shit at acting right now, “I swear if something jumps out at me when I open....Nope, scratch that. You’re opening this door. I’m not being scared. Go on.” I prompt as I wave my hand for him to open the door.
But Thomas doesn’t move. Instead, he pulls me into him and places a firm kiss to my lip as his tongue slips in only for a brief moment before withdrawing. Suddenly, with me caught off guard, he spins me in front of him and covers my eyes with one of his large muscular hands.
“Thoams,” I cry out. “What are you doing. You know I hate surprises.”
He lets out a soft chuckle as I feel him shift his weight over my shoulder, and the sound of the door slowly creaking open now has my attention. “That’s a lie. You loved the one I gave you in New York.”
Thomas guides me into the house with one hand covering my eyes and the other wrapped around my front to help guide me. His mouth at my ear and I can hear him breathing with each delicate breath blowing against my skin. “That one will always be the exception.” I laugh.
“Plus, I do have another surprise for you,” he says gently. “I know you’re upset that you can’t be home with your mom for Christmas. So....” He trails off and slowly lowers his hand away from my face.
I can feel my eyes go wide at the sight of the living room. When we left early this morning, it was just a living room, and now! Now it’s this beautiful winter wonderland. There is a large Christmas tree that nearly touches the ceiling in the center of the living room. It is decorated in bright white lights, sliver and white garland, and silver and white ornaments. And there are even presents under the tree.
The room is decorated in red, white, green, and silver decorations. There are seven red and green stockings hanging from the fireplace mantel. Each one has a different name on them and seemed to be filled. The mantelshelf has faux snow with a green spruce wreath with berries placed sporadically and the finishing touches are the deep red and white poinsettias.
I’m speechless. How in the hell did he manage to find time for this to get done?
“Thomas...how in the? I don’t know what to say.” I stumble with my words trying to convey how much I appreciate the extra mile he has gone.
“Do you like it?” He asks slowly.
Smiling, I turn into him and feel him draw me closer. “I love it. Thank you, but you didn’t have to do this. You’ve already done so much for me.”
“Come on,” He encourages as she leads me towards the basement.
Laughing, “Where are we going?”
“The basement, I wrote something for you that I’ve been trying to find the courage to play all day.”
My words get caught up in my throat as I feel my eyes start to gloss over. Did Thomas seriously just tell me that he wrote me a piece to play. As in the piano? Maybe I’m dreaming. This all has to be a dream, right? I mean, how can my life be going in this direction? I was always told since I never repented for my sins, for my way of life, I would always find a life of misery followed by more sin. My dad was convinced and is still convinced that I’ve signed a one-way ticket to hell.
Reaching the bottom of the steps, I start to notice an inviting smell of Christmas dinner. Turkey, mashed potatoes, Mac N Cheese, rolls, and the whole fixins’. If he made us a Christmas feast, he’s really gone over the top and outdone himself once again.
“SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” The sound of everyone screaming with enthusiasm startles me, and I practically jump into Thomas’s arms as I squeal out in surprise.
Looking around the basement, I see Mauve, Bobby, Valerie, Xayla, and Andrew. All of them standing on the other side of the stairwell wall. Keeping them out of sight until you walk into the main room.
Smacking Thomas in the chest from the sheer shock of being startle, I walk further into the room. Valerie immediately engulfs me into a hug, followed by Xayla. “Happy Birthday.” Valerie says, “Did Thomas spoil you today?”
“Now, that’s a stupid question,” Xayla chimes in. “I’ve never seen him so smitten with someone in my entire life.” Beaming at Xayla, I feel my cheeks flush slightly. I look over my shoulders to find Thomas giving his grandparents a hug and shakes Andrew’s hand before going into a half hug. “Thomas has gone up the coast before on his own around this time of the year. But he’s never taken someone along for the ride. Was it magical? Thomas was very hush, hush with the details.”
“Speak for yourself,” Valerie states with a knowing smile.
I watch as Xayla places her small hands on her waist as a challenge, “What? He told you?”
Valerie looks at her with an obvious look, “Ya, you’re shit at keeping secrets. You would have told Ry as soon as Thomas told you.”
Xayla frowned, “I know, but still, I could have helped.”
Both Valerie and I wrap an arm around her, “Aw, Xayla, you did. You helped me decorate the house.” Valerie says sweetly.
“And you did a wonderful job. The house looks beautiful. The tree is magnificent. I’ve never seen one decorated so beautifully.” I add.
Xayla beams, “Really? Val called me early in the morning, saying she needed help finding a tree. I thought she was kidding at first when she told me it was for Thomas. Then she made me swore that I turn my phone off and not text you or Thomas and told me what was going on. I was all on board. He really loves you.” She whispers.
Biting my lower lip, I catch Thomas flashing me a smile as he continues to talk with Andrew and his grandparents, “And I’m really in love with him too.” I admit. Too bad I’m too chicken to tell him how madly in love I am with him.
“Aww,” Xayla coos, “Have you two......” Shaking my head, Xayla frowns slightly. “Hmm, and why not?”
Shrugging a shoulder, “Because the last guy I thought I was in love with sold me for his benefit.” Both women scrunch their faces up with vile and disgust, “It’s not easy to jump back in and tell the first guy you’ve dated since getting your life back that you love him. Plus, he still doesn’t know.”
Valerie and Xayla roll their eyes, “You have to tell him.” They both chimed in. The only reason why Xayla found out is because she busted me coming out of a meeting with Carl and thought I was cheating on Thomas. She called me out in the middle of the damn street, and I had to shove her back into the rec center that’s used for the occasional meetings and drag her into the office. Because let me tell you, people are still shocked to see an A-list celebrity walking into a sobriety meeting, and the gasp that rang out in the room was deafening. It’s not as common as you might think. Most of the time they have their own system set up with private coaches and meetings set specifically for them. If there are others in attendance, I have no clue. I guess Andrew would be the one to ask those questions too.
I had to physically drag Xayla into an office, and let me tell you, that is not an easy feat. She’s strong and will dig her heels into the ground she’s walking for leverage. If it wasn’t for Carl commanding her to go into the damn office, I don’t think I would have been able to get her somewhere private.
She didn’t even wait until the office door was closed to lay into me, “What the fuck, Ryann? Thomas trusts you. And you’re what? Shaking it up with some guy who looks like Martin Sheen.”
“Xayla, listen.....” I started, but she immediately cut me off. She was mad. Fiery pissed off because she thought she caught her best friend being cheated on.
“Fuck you. I’m calling Thomas and telling him.....” I watched with horror as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. I have no idea what the hell came over me, but I batted the phone out of her hand and stomped on it. The sound of the screen shattered under the force of my BOBS and screeched out in the small room.
“Xayla listen,” I pleaded. Instead, she shoved past me and was ready to bolt. “He’s my recovery coach. I’m over four years sober.” I practically screamed out. I knew that would stop her, and it did. She turned to look at me with total and uttered incredulity. “Thomas doesn’t know.” And that’s when all the questions begin. I had to start my story from the beginning with Xayla and end with the now. I, of course, got the lecture that everyone has been giving me.
But this time, I was getting that lecture from Xayla. She told me that she loved me and that she’s proud of me, but I need to tell Thomas. And looking around the room, I see everyone laughing and the holiday cheer on full display. It’s then that I realized I may have waited too long to divulge the past I’m hiding. I’m worried that I’ll lose not only Mauve and Bobby in sheer disappointment, but I’ll lose Thomas too.
We all mingle around and chat before sitting down to eat dinner with family and friends. Bobby leads us in a quick prayer, and as soon as he says Amen, we dig in. The conversations are split as everyone joins off into their different topics of discussion. Everything is peaceful and drama-free, and for a split second, I wonder what dinner is like back home this year. If there is yelling or fighting going on, or if it’s just as peaceful as this dinner is. The key being I’m not there.
“Tommy,” Mauve says sweetly as Valerie and I collect the empty plates and dishes from the table that was set up in the basement and set them on the countertop along the back wall. Per Thomas’s request, we are to stalk all dirty dishes there, and he will deal with them later. “I have a request.”
I hear Thomas, “Hmm, what’s that, grandma?”
“Will you play my favorite song?”
Valerie snaps her head towards me with confusion as I look to Thomas. I’m not sure what his reaction is going to be. If he’ll tell his grandma no with everyone around. He’s only recently started playing again, and this may be too much. As the room falls silent, I’m about to interject when Thomas stands, giving his grandma a warm smile before walking into the music room. All eyes turn towards me and his grandparents.
I watch Bobby get up from the table and take Mauve’s hand, walking her into the opening between the large theater seating armchairs and the screen up on the wall. Mauve gives me a warm smile as she mouths Thank you, to me. What she’s thanking me for, I have no idea.
Bobby takes hold of Mauve’s hand as his other hand rests at the middle of her back. I watch as they start swaying before the music begins to play.
“Ry, do you know something we don’t?” Xayla asks curiously as she attempts to strain her neck to look through the open doorway.
But before I can answer, the piano starts. The notes ring out in the room as if the piano was in the room with us. The tune is warm and familiar, and I watch as everyone at the table, their mouths partially flop open in astonishment.
“Didn’t know he played. God, he’s full of surprises.” Andrew chimes in before getting to his feet. He holds out his hand towards Valerie, “Would you like to dance?”
Valerie lets out a little giggle, “Sure.” I watch the two join Mauve and Bobby out onto the small dancefloor that they’ve created.
Getting to my feet, I make my way towards the piano room and watch Thomas play with ease before joining him on the piano bench. He’s in his eliminate as his fingers glide easily and smoothly over the keys. Making the ability to play the piano easy, and I think what’s even more impressive, is he’s playing from memory.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten. And children listen. To hear the sleigh bells in the snow.
Leaning my head against Thomas’s shoulder, I softly sing a song I haven’t sung since Middle School. This is the first time that Thomas and I have done anything like this. Him playing and me singing. It’s been one or the other. Never both at the same time. The moments were never right - until tonight.
Thomas and I lock eyes, and I can see the love and enjoyment in his bright green eyes. We smile at one another as I lean my head into his shoulder and watch him play. The music immerses around us and cloud us back into a world only populated by us. A world we can be our true selves and not live in fear of being judge by those who want to bring us down. And as I’m sitting here singing my heart and soul out for everyone in this basement, I know no matter what battle Thomas and I may have to face. We will always have the family and friends here with us tonight.
When Thomas plays the last notes of the song, his fingers gently takes hold of my chin, “Happy Birthday, babydoll.” Smiling, he places a sweet yet, simple kiss to my lips.