|The vodka is still humming through my system. Even while sitting, I feel light headed. It’s not a bad sensation, but an unsteady one.
I doze off for a moment, and the next thing my eyes see is Ryan, at my side, clasping my face.
“What were you thinking?” He asks, his voice full of worry and dread.
It’s hard for me to find the words to explain myself and being intoxicated only adds to the difficulty.
“You hurt me,” I answer honestly.
Christian starts to steam, his body ready to pounce, as he yells, “What the hell is she talking about, Ryan?”
“OK, calm down,” Kelly intervenes. “What Ally means is that Ryan is leaving next month and her heart is hurting. To the point of resorting to boos.”
“I don’t understand. Why are you leaving?” Christian inquires.
My brain doesn’t have any problem answering for him, though my speech projects differently.
“Because Ryan’s gonna be a colleged professhor now, all while going backs to school, in a galaxy far far away.”
Christian relaxes his arms to his sides, astonished by my words. “Seriously?”
His change in tone suggests he might even be a little pleased.
Kelly takes a step closer and whispers. “Guys, I’m sorry to interrupt, but we got bigger problems right now. If Jason finds out about this, Christmas dinner is gonna turn into a horror fest real quick.”
“You’re right.” Ryan says, standing to his feet. “Can, you mix some kind of concoction to help sober her up?”
“We can give her lots of coffee to make her appear more alert, but nothing else is going work that fast. She needs time and rest.”
“Alright, you get started on coffee while I help her to the dinning room.”
“Good luck with that,” Kelly says, quickly exiting the entry way.
Even though I can hear everything they are saying, it doesn’t even phase me how severe the situation really is. Or maybe I’m just too far gone to care.
“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here,” Christian says, glancing at Ryan.
“Honestly, I can barely think right now. Can you just help me with her— please?”
“Yeah, definitely,” he says, picking up the gift he brought. “Listen, I’m sorry I hit you. I don’t usually lose my cool like that.”
“It’s fine, really,” Ryan insists. “We can discuss it later.”
Christian sets the present on the console table, then, gazes sympathetically to me.
“You ready for this?” He asks, offering me his hand.
“Ready for some... ” I fall forward on the stairs, completely missing his hand. “Sleep,” I stutter.
“Woah, I got ya,” he says, wrapping his arm around me, helping me to balance. “You gotta make it through dinner first. Then sleep.”
I let out a frustrated grunt as I’m met with another strong arm at my side. My arms stretch above me and circle around both their shoulders. I never thought I’d be in the arms of both the guys I love and adore at the same time. It’s an epic moment, even if I’m not completely myself.
On our way to the dinning room, Jason suddenly appears in our sight.
“What’s this?” He asks, confusion stretched across his brow.
Ryan looks at me, then responds with, “Oh... Ally tweaked her ankle and we’re just helping her walk.”
“Yeah, we don’t want it to get worse,” Christian adds.
I let out a chuckle, but am immediately nudged in the ribs by both of them.
“I see.” Jason smiles. “Glad you made it Christian. We’re just about to eat.”
I hear them both sigh in relief as my brother walks away, carrying a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes.
“Screw this, I’m just gonna carry her.” Christian picks me up in a cradle position, and a groan escapes me.
“I don’t feel sooo good,” I mumble, feeling dizzy from all the motion.
“You just need to eat something,” Ryan says.
I’m blinded by light, as I’m carried into the dining room. Christian sets me in a chair, and I continue to squint from the piercing florescents. Kelly walks in, carrying a cup of coffee, and sets it in front of me.
“Drink up,” she demands.
I take a sip and frown at the bland, bitter taste of black coffee. Yuk.
“Here, eat a roll.” Ryan is leaning next to me, making sure I ingest the buttery, smelling bread.
That’s when I notice the beautifully decorated table. Little glass bowls filled with red and green bulbs, and garland with tiny lights strung through it. As pretty as it is, staring at it all makes my head hurt.
“Dim the lights, Kel,” I say, shading my face with my hands. “Too bright.”
“Yeah, just a sec.”
Jason enters with the ham in hand and sets it on the table. He glances our way, but I can’t tell if he’s staring at Ryan, Christian or me.
“How did you say you got that black eye again?” Jason asks. “It looks terrible.”
“Christian punched him,” I blurt, barely slurring any syllables. “Now can someone please make it darker in here?”
“What?” Jason asks, his expression confounded.
“She’s kidding, obviously,” Christian implies. “Right, Ally?”
“Yeah, sure. But those lights. Pleeease!”
Fake laughter exudes from Kelly. She is doing her best to placate my outburst. The alcohol is really messing with my impulse control. I imagine it has everyone on edge.
Ben joins our crazy family, looking confused by the hideous laughter. He looks dapper in his white tee and black suspenders. Love that for him.
Kelly finally dims the lights some, then pats Jason’s arm. “Honey, can you get the knife for the ham?”
“Yeah, sure.” He replies.
After Jason leaves, Ben’s inquiring mind takes over, “OK, what did I miss?”
“Ally’s drunk,” Ryan says, hovering over the table, one hand on his forehead.
“What? For real?” My brother seems overly fascinated by my current state.
“Yes, it’s a long story,” Kelly explains. “No time to fill you in.”
Ben decides to sit across from me. “Okay, but you realize you just asked Jason to get a knife, right? He’s gonna flip when he finds out.”
Kelly sighs. “Just help us keep this under wraps. I’m sure between the four of us, we can manage to control the situation.”
“You all are nuts.” Ben laughs. “But whatever. I’m game.”
I’m glad one person is feeling amused tonight. My amusement keeps coming and going.
Jason returns with the knife and sits at the head of the table.
“Anyone want to make a toast before we eat,” he asks.
My hand shoots up, but is quickly brought down by Christian.
Jason scratches his head. “Uh, Ally, you wanna say something?”
“Yes,” I declare, standing from my chair, having no clue what I’m actually doing or saying. I’m in my own world.
Two hands firmly grab my waist. “No. No, she doesn’t.” Ryan sets me back down and shoots me a quick glare. “But if you want, I can say grace.”
They really don’t want me to speak, and it finally registers why. I’m a drunken mess.
Most of our dinner is normal and pleasant. I manage to down a huge piece of ham, two rolls, all the vegetables on my plate, and several bites of mashed potatoes. I finish off my coffee and lean back in my chair, lifting the back legs off the ground.
“Hey, be careful,” Christian whispers, bringing me back to all fours.
I absentmindedly lean back again, rocking my body in the chair. This time I lose my balance and fall. I hear the gasps erupt, but I remain indifferent.
“Oops,” I say, with a giggle. I’m so oblivious to my weird behavior that I’m not even embarrassed. Ryan assists me into my chair, whispering warnings into my ear as he helps.
But it’s too late.
“Does Ally seem a little off to you?” Jason asks everyone.
“I gave her an anxiety pill,” Kelly quickly explains. “Probably why she seems a little loopy.”
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s it. Come over here, kiddo,” my brother insists, gesturing with his hands.
I stand with no problem. However, when I maneuver around the table, I feel unbalanced, tottering here and there, my head spinning more than I thought possible. When I finally make it to Jason, he scowls and sighs, before exposing the truth.
“Ally your drunk. Your eyes are completely blood shot, you can’t even walk straight and you’re sensitive to light. Did you think you could hide this from me?”
Jason is furious but at least he’s not yelling. I don’t think my head could handle the noise.
“No, I— Uh...” My pupils begin to see a hazy shadow, along with jumbled white specks. I reach for the table and plant my hands, letting my head fall forward a little. “I think I need to lie down.”
I begin to stagger my way out the room, but feel more faint and weak than ever. Sounds are fading, blackness is overcoming and my legs give out. I’m gone.
I wake up on the couch, a buzzing sensation all over my body. I see Ryan over me, looking calm for my benefit, but my thoughts and feelings are lacking. I remember blinking in the dining room and now I’m in the family room, feeling confused and lethargic.
“What happened?” I ask.
“You fainted,” Ryan says, stroking my face. “Just relax.”
“How do you feel?” Christian asks, peaking over me from behind the couch.
I close my eyes for a moment. “Nauseous,” I answer.
“The medicine you took doesn’t mix well with alcohol,” Jason explains. “What you did was really stupid.”
My brothers words should hit a nerve, but I’m too dazed to notice.
The next hour or more, I’m thoroughly questioned and checked on by my brother. Kelly also monitors my vitals. Ryan only leaves my side for a minute to talk with Christian alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are able to work things out. I’ve watched them interact over the last few months— definite bonding has occurred in my presence.
Though my head is pounding, thoughts and memories start to flood through me. I raise myself up a little and bite on my lower lip. I’m feeling a strong need to apologize.
“I’m sorry I ruined Christmas,” I say, with a tremor in my voice.
“Christmas isn’t over yet,” Jason says, handing me some water. “But if you ever do something like this again, I’ll have no problem whooping your ass. I don’t care how old you are. And I bet everyone in this room agrees with me.”
“I most certainly do,” Ryan says, surprising me.
“Yeah, I’m not a big fan of over drinking,” Christian states. “Especially when mixed with meds.”
“OK, I get it. I screwed up and you’re all pissed at me.”
Jason’s face softens. “What you did was dangerous, and yes, we’re upset, but only because we don’t want to lose you. You scared us to death.”
I sigh and cover my face with my hands. “I know.”
My pity party and sulking is cut short. I’m interrupted by horrible nausea, and have to bolt to the bathroom. I don’t know how long I puke for, but it feels like an eternity. An eternity of torture. Ryan joins me on the floor of the bathroom and starts gently rubbing my back.
“I don’t want you to see me like this,” I cry.
“That’s too bad. Because I’m not leaving your side.”
It shouldn’t bother me that Ryan is with me as I vomit. He’s already seen me at my worst, but now that we’ve entered new territory, I desperately want to hide my unpleasant situation.
After awhile, Christian pops his head in and asks, “You doing OK?”
I lift my head from the toilet, but remain close. “Ugh, I’m literally dying but I think I’ll live. If that makes sense.”
“It makes perfect sense,” he says, “You get some rest. I’ll check on you tomorrow.”
Soon after he leaves, I start sobbing and shaking. My body is hunched over my knees, while my arms wrap around my stomach.
“It’s OK.” Ryan traces my back with his fingers. “You’re going to be get through this. I promise.”
His touch is soothing and brings me much comfort. I throw up a few more times, then curl up against Ryan’s chest, letting him hold my fragile body.
I awake in my bed, a little muddled and confused. The sun is peeking through the curtains of my window, birds are chirping in the tree, and someone nearby is mowing their yard.
Ryan is on top of the covers laying next to me. His eyes are still closed, his face peaceful. I bet he’s exhausted from taking care of me.
I watch his beautiful blue eyes flicker open and smile. He reaches for me with his arm, resting it on my hip.
“Good morning,” he says with a struggle. His voice sounds extra sexy when he’s tired.
I run my finger along the side of his face. “Did you sleep here all night?” I ask, feeling a blush coming.
“Yes, all night.”
I love that he stayed with me. But then I remember he’s leaving me soon.
“I’m still mad at you,” I say, frowning.
“I know. And you have every reason to be angry with me— but Ally, promise me you’ll never do anything like this again?”
The panic in his voice is real and it makes my heart swell with guilt.
“I never want to be that sick again. That’s an easy promise.”
“Good, now let’s talk about us. About how we’re going to make this relationship work.”
My face lights up in surprise. How is a relationship even possible with him leaving? My once sobbing heart thought we were done before we even started.
“Give me ten minutes,” I say, getting up from my bed. “I desperately need a shower. Then we can talk, OK?”
“Yes, I need one too. I’ll be here when you get out.”
My shower is swift but thorough. I’m anxious to be with Ryan, here what he has to say, and pray that he doesn’t pull on my heart strings again.
I find him at the the edge of my bed, looking very handsome in his gray sweater, holding a book in his hand.
“Are you reading my journal?” I ask, my mouth gaped open.
“Barely— I swear. I just wanted to do a little comparison.”
I grab the journal from his hand. “Comparison?”
“Yeah, I’ll explain later.”
I put the journal in my desk drawer and plop on the bed next to him, curling one of my legs, as the other one hangs off the side.
He reaches to the ground and grabs a water bottle. “Drink,” he says, handing it to me.
I take a few sips, then set it back on the ground. My body twitches from my long wet hair and the cold air.
“You smell incredible,” he says, resting his hand above my ankle.
“So do you.”
I nervously play with the floral scrunchy wrapped around my wrist. When, I finally gaze up at Ryan, I blush. He’s smiling at me— just staring and smiling. Does he even know how dreamy he looks when he does that to me?
“So tell me your plan.” I say, breaking the silence.
“Okay, but first of all, I want you to know that even if you and I weren’t together, I still had plans to fly you out to see me. Now that things have changed, I plan to fly you out even more. Either way, you were still going to be a big part of my life.”
My heart flutters with joy and amazement. He had a plan to keep us close all along.
“I’m sorry I didn’t give you a chance to explain all that before.”
“No, it’s my fault for not leading with that.”
“It’s OK... but flying is expensive. I could always drive to see you,” I suggest.
“That’s five hours I’d rather you not spend in a car. Maybe if Sam and Ayden join you. But trust me, there’s no way Jason’s letting you drive that far to see me. That’s why I’ll fly you out here and there when you’re not in school. You can stay longer in the summer.”
“So what you’re saying is that you’re perfectly fine with a long distance relationship?”
“It’s not ideal, but I think we can make it work for a while. I know Sam is the one that has always wanted to go away for college, but if you felt like attending a school near by, I’d be one, very happy guy.”
My feelings for Ryan keep magnifying with his every word. I’m smitten with his idea of me attending college in the same town as him. We could possibly even live together.
“Yes, that sounds amazing,” I say, throwing my arms around him. He embraces me back with the same amount of urgency and affection.
“Good, I was hoping you’d say that.”
His hold on me subsides, but his hands quickly move to my face, tucking strands of hair behind my ears. I move closer to invite his touch. He grins before planting his lips on mine, gently parting them slowly with his warm tongue. I moan as multiple sensations pour through me. He matches my sounds, while combing through my hair with his fingers. Our kissing heats me up inside. It heats everything up.
His mouth eventually releases, but I urgently pursue his lips again, kissing him forcefully, my hands hugging his neck.
“We better stop,” he says, breaking away, breathless. “Everyone is probably downstairs waiting for us.”
I stroke his jawline and admire his smooth face. Apparently, he decided to shave his shadow off this morning. I’m not sure which I prefer, because either way, he looks hot.
“Can’t we just lie on this bed and kiss till our lips hurt?” I ask.
“You’re not going to make this easy on me, are you?”
I shake my head.
He kisses me again, delving his tongue into my mouth. I hum with a great longing, realizing I have an insatiable thirst for him.
Making-out with Ryan is hot and sensual, but it’s also a unique experience for me. There are no expectations for me to meet, and no internal battle to overcome. It’s comforting to know where he stands, but at the same time, because he wants me to wait, it makes me want him more. It makes me want “it” more!
Ryan breaks off his kiss, sighs, and rests his forehead to mine. “I really don’t want Jason to find us like this.”
I kiss his nose. “You’re right, we cant risk that, especially after my behavior last night.”
“Yeah, besides you need to see what Santa brought you.”
“Right, because I’ve been soooo good this year.”
My sarcasm makes him grin. “Yeah, I guess you’ve been pretty rotten... Not much different than any other year, I guess.”
I punch him in the gut. “Not funny.” I smirk.
He retaliates by tickling my ribs. I collapse on the bed from intensive giggling.
“OK, stop, pleeease,” I beg.
His fingers finally give and he lays down next to my curved position, gazing deeply into my young, impressionable blue eyes.
“I really am sorry for taking so long. It took me awhile to find my courage. Even now, you intimidate me.”
My mind is blown. How could I possibly intimidate him?
“Why do you say that?” I ask, confused.
“So many reasons, sweetheart. You have the guts to take risks. You know what you want and aren’t afraid to go and get it. You wanted Christian and nothing, not even Jason stopped you from getting him. I’m still surprised by your relationship with him. I never thought it would last as long as it did...
You love hard, you live hard. Everything you do is intense. And you’re one of the strongest people I know. You’ve been through a lot, but that hasn’t kept you from loving life. You think you need me, but the truth is I need you more...
Also, did I mention your breathtakingly beautiful?”
“Dang, Ry,” I say, tears coursing down my cheeks. “I never knew you felt that way. You are strong too. And you’re taking a huge risk by starting college again and a new career. I’m sorry I haven’t told you how proud I am. You’re going to do great things and I’m going to be at your side all the way.”
He frames my face with his hands and kisses my forehead. “You make me so happy.”
If he only knew the power he has on me. I’m the one filled with glee and ecstasy.
After cleaning myself up, Ryan and I wander downstairs into the family room, where the lights and ornaments on the enormous Christmas tree are twinkling. Jason and Kelly are snuggled in the chair drinking coffee. Ben is sitting crisscrossed on the floor by the wintery themed tree, looking adorable and excited to open presents. He turns twenty next month, but you couldn’t tell by his Christmasy flannels and enamored Christmas spirit.
“Finally!” Ben shouts, holding a multicolored candy cane.
I sit next to him and smile. “You are too much.”
“Hey, I can’t help it if I love Christmas. It’s who I am.”
He chomps on his candy, and I pat his shoulder. “Don’t ever change, bro.”
“Who wants to go first?” Jason asks, one of his arms wrapped around his beautiful wife.
“I will,” Ben says, grabbing four small gift boxes from under the tree. He passes them out, tossing mine into my lap. “Nothing exciting. Just a gift card to download music. Hopefully someday, you will be downloading one of my songs instead of the crap you all listen to.”
I give my brother a quick hug. “Thanks, Ben. It’s perfect.”
One of my favorite Christmas songs comes on, reminding me of the disastrous night before. I’m suddenly bulldozed with guilt, so I stand and advance towards the couch.
“Can I just say something before we continue? I’m really sorry for ruining Christmas dinner and for scaring you all like that. It was really immature of me.”
“We forgive you. But maybe you can give us a heads up next time,” Jason says, holding back a smile. “That way, if you’re planning to wreck any other holidays, we can prepare for it now.”
“OK, fair enough.” My eyes roll. “I know I ruined Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I promise Valentines and Easter are off limits. Well, I can’t promise that, but I’ll do my best.”
My brother laughs and it brings out a huge smile from me. I’m so happy he’s in a good mood and already looking past my scary incident.
Ryan tugs at my hand from the sofa and pulls me to him. I fall next to him and he puts his arm around my shoulder. We both lift our feet to the coffee table. It’s wonderful to snuggle with him, knowing exactly how he feels for once.
He doesn’t seem too worried about sending the wrong message to Jason. If he’s not worried, I’m not worried. And it’s nice that I don’t have to worry about Kelly saying anything to my brother. She knows better. Ryan and I will tell Jason at the perfect time and hope that he accepts it. Ben probably doesn’t know yet, and even if he suspects, he’s used to Ryan and I having a oddly close relationship.
“OK, my turn to pass out gifts.” I grab Jason and Kelly’s gift first. They open it together and seem to really love the expensive bottle of wine. Of course, they ask where and how I purchased it, apparently forgetting Christian is a big fan of wine. Obviously, he helped me pick it out.
My gift to Ben is half a day in a recording studio. “How did you do this?” He asks, shocked.
“Oh, ya know,” I reply, all shady like, “I know a guy that knows a guy.”
“Oh, do you now?” Ryan raises an eyebrow, but a grin quickly finds him because he knows I’m only playing.
“That— and now that I’m 18, I have access to my trust account.”
Jason shoots me a look of dismay. “And later, you and I will have a talk about what that money is actually for.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Ryan’s gift was the hardest for me. I’ve managed to be creative over the years, but this year I wanted to get him something useful and valuable.
He picks up the modern watch from the box, admiring the electronic display in the palm of his hand.
“Ally, this is too much. I can’t accept something this expensive.”
“I thought it would be helpful when you start teaching. Plus, it will be easy for you to answer when I text you. Of course, this was before I knew you were teaching in another part of the state. Now it’s a must have— because you can bet I will be all up in your business after your gone.”
He laughs. “Thank you, Ally.”
His lips kiss my hand and it sends a shiver down my spine. It feels like a preview of what’s to come. More kisses, but in different places. I’m ready to whisper in his ear to escape with me to pantry again, but he hands me a beautifully wrapped present with my name on it.
I open the box and find a brown, leather journal embroidered with the initials M.S.
“It was your Mom’s,” Ryan says. “It’s the journal she kept from when she was your age. I remember her mentioning she planned to give it to you when you were old enough. I found it in the garage last year.”
I have no words. I stroke the cover with my hand, tracing my Mom’s initials. My brain is fogged with so many emotions: happiness, sorrow, pain, guilt, joy, bewilderment. To be able to read something my mother wrote at my age is unbelievably exciting, but also terrifying.
“Did you read it,” I ask, trying to keep the waterworks at bay.
“Only a page or two. I was curious if your writing voice was similar to your mothers. That’s why I sneaked a peak at your journal earlier.”
“Are we— similar.” I ask.
“I think you should read it and find out for yourself.”
I nod and shrug, wiping my trickling tears away. “Thank, you so much for this. I think you know how much this means to me.”
He catches one of my tears with his finger. “I do. You’re mother was the absolute best.”
I pick up my moms precious words and notice there is another journal underneath, except this one is black, leather bound and initialed with A.L.
“I figured you could use a new one.”
“Yes— always.” I kiss Ryan’s cheek. “Thanks, I love it.”
Kelly passes out the rest of the presents, and I place my mother’s journal to the side of me to read later.
My gift for Christian is still sitting behind the tree. It wouldn’t make sense to give it to him now. It’s not even practical.
I’m handed a familiar looking box from Kelly. “Here’s one more for you, Ally,” she says.
It’s the present Christian brought with him last night. “Oh,” is all I say, before unwrapping the small box.
Inside the box, I find a silver necklace with a cross on the chain, similar to Christian’s but smaller and dainty. It’s beautiful. There’s also a ticket inside— an art show ticket. Underneath that is a note. It reads:
I have a special painting I’ve been working on. It will be displayed a month from now at this art show. Obviously, I wanted us to go together, but I know that’s unlikely now. I would really like you to see it, even if you were to attend with someone else. You don’t have to see or speak to me during the event. Just come. The date and time are on the ticket. Hope you can make it.
Lots of love,
I can barely breathe. Christians’s being so kind to me, even after the way I treated him. It shouldn’t surprise me, but somehow it does. I don’t deserve this kind of love. He’s so perfect it scares me. I guess I’m finally willing to admit that to myself. However, I don’t think I’m ready to reveal that to him. But I do owe him an explanation. A BIG explanation.
“Ryan...” I sweep my hand across his arm several times, hoping to soften the blow. “I’m sorry, but I need to see him.”