Mark sifted through the bin. He hummed along to the store radio. There’s got to be something here.
“I guess it’s hard to come into a place like this right now.”
He glanced over his shoulder as the owner of Jodie’s Antiques bustled down the aisle with a loaded box. “Why?” This is pointless. I’m not going to find anything in this one. It’s full of old golf and tennis balls.
She blushed. “We’ve been playing Christmas music since mid-November. Doesn’t that make you… uncomfortable?”
Mark straightened, resisting the urge to dust off his hands. When had he told Jodie’s eldest daughter he wasn’t Christian? “I don’t mind.” He stepped back as she hefted the box. “Do you want help?”
Over their heads, the song changed. Mark tapped his foot. This one’s quicker rhythms used to make him dance as a kid.
“I’ve got it,” Jodie said. “Are you done in there?”
“Yeah.” He lost the beat and sighed. “Don’t know why this particular bin called to me.”
She poured another layer of balls into the box. “Keep going with that feeling. You’re bound to find something. Your boyfriend walked in here three days ago and bought a card on poster board and two plastic containers of Play-DohTM. What did he do with them?”
Mark browsed the shelf across from the overlarge bin. “He created a unique Hanukkah gift.” Books on sewing, gardening, cooking… He snorted. Not happening.
She joined him, leaning a hip against the creaking shelf. Her lips curved slightly. “Was it well-received?”
“Hm?” He glanced at her and then back to the books. On the other hand, whatever I find, as long as it’s got me written all over it, will make him smile.
“The Hanukkah gift. Was it… Never mind. What exactly are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”
He stood back from the shelf, scanning the wide range of titles more quickly. “I don’t know. Luke’s hard to shop for.”
“I always thought lesbian couples would have the easiest time of all the partners out there just because men are absolutely impossible. Knowing what they want is like trying to get vodka from a stone.”
“Don’t you mean blood from a stone? And that’s a bit insulting.”
“Isn’t Luke having trouble shopping for you?”
That’s not what I meant. Explaining proper etiquette to Jodie would take more time than he had. “No.” The song changed again, and he grabbed onto it this time as a distraction. “You’ll be playing Christmas music all the way up through the twenty-fifth?”
“Probably through New Year’s. Everyone — almost everyone — likes it.”
He hummed the slower melody as he drifted to the end of the aisle. “Maybe I could get him a music box.” Now I’m yanking ideas out of the air. What’s a present that will make him smile because it’s got a touch of me in it? The cooking did even when it was burned because I’d worked so hard on it. The flowers worked because I’d put a lot of thought into them. So what can I do with no talents beyond my negotiation skills?
“I thought you didn’t celebrate Christmas!”
Mark blinked at Jodie. “I don’t.”
“Then how do you know ‘Silent Night?’”
He picked through the knick-knacks. Nothing but bears and little ducks. “It plays on the radio. Like you said, from mid-October through the end of December.”
“Too bad you couldn’t just sing Luke a Hanukkah song.”
“All of our gifts have been romantic ones or I would.”
“There are romantic Christmas songs. Are there any romantic Hanukkah ones?”
“Not that I know of.” He grinned. “But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t write one.” Or take a page from Luke’s book and combine a little of this and a little of that. He headed for the door. “Thank you, Jodie! Happy Christmas! Merry Hanukkah!”
He minimized the document he was working on and spun away from his desk. “Come on in, Luke.”
“Why do you have your door closed?” The genie poked his head in. “What are you hiding?”
“I’m working on your present. I didn’t want to take the chance you’d accidentally see it.” He assessed his lover’s vaguely worried expression and stood. “Are you — ?”
Luke took several steps back. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”
The dragon pursued him into the living room. “What’s wrong?”
Luke mumbled something.
Mark crossed to him and took his hands. “What?”
“I have your real present from yesterday. The poem was… I was trying to show you that it’s not what we give, but how we give it. Except I was embarrassed to be reading that thing.”
Mark widened his eyes to roughly the size of headlights and deadpanned, “I’m not the only one who learned something last night? It’s a miracle!”
The genie punched his arm. “So you don’t mind if I present my real gift tonight?”
“Present away. Just so long as you go away for right now and let me work.” He kissed the tip of Luke’s nose. “I love you, but this isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Let me stew in peace?”
Mark stalked into his office and slammed the door.
“So,” he asked several hours later once the sixth candle had been lit and they again sat in the living room, “comedic or romantic first?”
“You really think my gift will be romantic?” Luke asked.
“You’re expecting mine to be comedic?”
“My Mark, you’ve been snickering like a hyena with a dirty secret.”
I’ll buy that. “I’ll go first, if only because I know your gift will be romantic. We’ll have to see if you can stop laughing long enough to offer it.” He stood, pulled the binder from beside the couch, and faced his lover. “If you’re going to laugh at my singing, at least have the decency to pretend you’re laughing at the words. Agreed?”
Luke opened his mouth, closed it, and then finally said, “Agreed.”
“Do you know ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’? It’s a — ”
Luke hooted. “A Christmas carol! This is going to be good.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He gazed rapturously up at Mark. “Your apostle is listening, oh Messiah!”
Mark scowled to keep from laughing.
“O see my sweet lover/See him in his glory/See him in morning’s glow/Or moonlight’s gleam./All shall come to praise him!/Nay, I’ll keep him for myself./For he’s my love forever./For he’s my love forever./For he’s my love forever,/Luke Morrison.”
Luke leaped off the couch, and Mark realized his lover was doing a version of a football cheer.
Mark laughed outright as Luke lifted him off the floor and spun with him until they landed on the couch together in a tangle of arms and legs.
“So?” Mark asked after they’d had a chance to breathe.
Luke produced a white box only three inches square.
With a delicate touch, Mark pulled the tab out and folded the top back. The burst of color inside reminded him of a blooming flower and he carefully shook the tiny sphere out of its nest.
An almost-sphere, he noticed, when he held the tiny wonder. Its flat bottom nestled on his palm, creating a base for the paradise inside. Dozens of miniature roses, small as beads and made of myriad colors, smiled up at him from inside the glass.
“It doesn’t look made; it looks grown.”
Luke put his hand under Mark’s as if supporting his hold on the miraculous bit of work. Then he turned Mark’s face to his. “One origami flower for every hundred joys we’ll share. And the glass is there to protect them until we’re ready for each one.”
Unable to think of anything to say, Mark kissed his lover. We’ll start the joys now.