London Christmasby Nick Winter
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An ebook of this story is available. There's a link up above.
There were three of them: a disgraced younger son, a soft-spoken doctor with a too pretty face, and a young man from the wilds of Asia who proved science didn’t know everything.
“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” Dice said, hands in his pants pockets. A clerk in the British Embassy, he should have been at work, his hair should have been shorter, and his violet eyes shouldn’t have lingered on the face of Dr. Black nearly as long as they did.
Standing in front of the store window, Dr. Black hardly seemed to notice his attentions. A slight man with ordinary brown hair, whose eyes only stood out for the keen intelligence and sarcasm that lingered there, the doctor was not usually the center of anything.
The third of the friends wore mittens and scarf, but was most comfortable in the Beijing mid-December. Skin slightly blue, if anything the snow brought more color and an easier smile to his face. Even his blond hair had a blue tint to it. Another of their friends, London’s lover, Jonathan Daily, had assured everyone that London was not unusual for the village he’d come from, and London, not fully understanding the forms and patterns of human speech, had failed to understand why such a seeming lie might benefit anyone.
“So,” Dice said, shoulders a little hunched against the cold he’d sworn wouldn’t bother him at all, “London, what are you getting for Daily?”
“I still do not understand why the lack of a present will cause him distress,” London said. “I asked him. He said that he needed only my company and for the influenza to leave him well enough alone.”
“Here, here,” Dr. Black agreed. “What a sensible man.”
London pulled his cap down a little more, afraid it would blow away, hoping it would. He liked the cold, longed for it with a strength that could only compare to what Dice had called ‘homesick’ when once he’d drank more than his share of rice wine. Jonathan Daily pulled harder though, and now his friends, Dice and Dr. Black. He very much wanted to see them happy. “Gifts cost money,” London pointed out the obvious.
Dice sighed. “We’re a perfect trio. The wicked, the good, and the beautiful.”
“Daily’s right,” Dr. Black said. “Each other is all we really need. I have a ham and some potatoes. Daily has a kitchen, and we can cook there, can’t we, London?”
Before London could reply, Dice leaned forward, those wickedly knowing eyes sorting through Dr. Black. “So you’ll cook for us, Blackie?”
“Sod that,” Dr. Black grumbled, “What makes you think I can cook?”
“You’re…,” Dice said slowly. He bit his lip and whatever word might have been about to present itself. “Irish. I thought all Irish could cook.”
“And you’re English Ton,” Dr. Black said, nose wrinkling. “I thought you lot had money.”
“I guess we’re all the odd man out then,” Dice said with a smirk.
“How so?” Dr. Black gave him a good shove to the shoulder.
Dice skidded on the snow-dusted wooden sidewalk. They might have been the only ones there for all the people around them paid any mind. Two Europeans and an elemental spirit posing as a European didn’t get much notice from Chinese going about their day. It was too cold for the wives of the diplomatic core to be out, and almost everyone else had serious work to be about, with only three days until Christmas.
Dice dodged the second push, a grin on his face. Dr. Black caught up a couple handfuls of snow and threw them at a laughing Dice. London ran after them, feet sure and steady on the building snow. His hat flew off, freeing long silky pale blue hair to dance in the breeze. Snow picked up, swirled in greater density. Laughter, light, and sparkling seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
Dice and Dr. Black froze, stumbling over the now thicker ice. Down the street, onto the bridge, they ran together, acting more like boys than the men they were supposed to be. Dr. Black made it to the top of the arch of the bridge first, turned and made a face, until, quite without warning, ice overcame traction and he slid perilously backwards. Dice lunged and reached for one flailing hand, his boots much more suited to the now thick ice. Within time too small to count, the good Dr. Black was held close to the very wicked Mr. Emile ‘Dice’ Whitehall. Color flashed over bright on Dr. Black’s face, and he looked down, struggling lightly to get out of the arms that held him. “Really, you can let go now, Mr. Whitehall.”
“I suppose,” Dice said through a grin, “But it’s cold out here. I won’t want either of us to catch ill.”
“Not at all,” Dr. Black said tersely, blush bright as summer blazing.
The ground hit London’s feet hard, as if it had jumped up to find him.
Immediately the snow flurries subsided, the ice ran off, dripping over the side of the bridge. He grinned, not at all sure that there should be pale blue sakura blossom petals flitting through the air, but there were, and he was happy.
“I wish to give presents to both of you,” he said, loving them both, though the feeling was quite different from what he felt for Jonathan. He turned to look down the street for his hat, which would keep him warm and keep him from
being seduced by the cold air back into the world from whence he’d come.
Filling his blue eyes with an innocence rare, a perfect treasure, he grinned a little brighter and pulled off his mittens. Slender fingers wiggled, expressing happiness at being free of the mittens, very slightly blue fingers, just like the rest of him, but fluid and comfortable in the snowy cold air.
“What are you on about,” Dice complained, still standing too close to Dr. Black, but he shoved his hands back in his pockets again.
“It’s just…,” London said. It was hard to come up with the right words. “It’s just that with you as my friends, I’m not homesick like I was. I’m sure I’ll be able to stay and I want to stay. I love Jonathan very much and I never want him to be sad.”
Dice and Dr. Black looked at each other, then back at London. Grins broke out on both their faces at the same time. “Of course,” Dr. Black said, moving to slide an arm around London’s waist, “we’re your friends and not just because it’s Christmas either. You’re a brilliant chap.”
“Don’t go all mushie,” Dice said and slid his arm around London’s shoulder, fingers just happening to be close enough to accidentally touch Dr. Black. “London’s a decent enough chap. No one I’d rather see the city with, except
maybe the fine Dr. Black, but I still won’t go so far as brilliant.”
London held out a mitten to each one of them. “Here then, Christmas presents.”
Dice rolled his eyes. “You can’t give someone one used mitten for a Christmas present.”
Dr. Black took it and gave it a good look over. Handmade, certainly, a nice variegated blue. “I think it’s a very nice gift. Thank you, London.”
“Always a new take on things,” Dice said, pulling the single mitten onto one hand. “Does it mean something, you know, where you come from?”
Walking between them, London leaned his head back to watch the few falling white fluffy flakes. “Where I come from, it’s always cold, always in snow. Everything is ice and rainbows. The sun shatters through the palace walls so
brightly that it’s like walking inside a diamond. There is dancing all the time. Everything is clean and bright. There is no money, and no one has to do anything they don’t wish to do, not like Jonathan having to work so hard to make money so that we have a place to live.”
“Sounds like a sodding fine place to me,” Dice said. “Why’d you leave?”
“I saw Jonathan the very day he arrived at the village below where I lived. He was a new kind of light, and I had to have him.”
“I bet your family was hot over that,” Dr. Black said, sounding like the voice of experience.
“My family wasn’t happy, but I knew I couldn’t leave him. I hear from my family a lot. They want me to come home, but I know I will stay here. That’s why I gave you the mittens. Just because my hands can feel the call of home, does not mean I’ll go home.”
“That’s deep, London,” Dice said, head down a little. “At least your family wants you. Where’d you get the name London?”
“It was a word I got from Jonathan. I thought it was the most beautiful word.”
“What’s your real name?” Dr. Black asked.
London slipped away from them, just at the foot of the bridge. Naked hands danced in the air and formed crystals, rather like Chinese written characters, except more complicated, three dimensional, and gracefully intricate. “It can only be written like this,” London said.
The other two studied the delicate and already fading ice sculpture that hung in the air. “London ain’t nearly as pretty as that, but it’s a damn sight more practical,” Dice pronounced.
“It’s very strange and lovely,” Dr. Black said. He pulled off a glove to reach out and touch the ‘word’. “How do you make it hang in the air like that?”
“It’s just the way it’s done,” London said, not at all sure how to answer.
“It’s like the boxers, you know? Breaking boards with their faces and stuff,”
Dice said, bare hand back in his pocket again. “What is that stuff called? Chi gong? I’m sure it’s like that.”
“I’m certain I could never learn to do that,” Dr. Black said firmly. “What would my name look like in that…language?”
“You,” London said, tongue between his lips, “Um…this.” The ice swirled, spider webbed, made a complex, inside-out structure that seemed to beg to be unwrapped, but really communicated not a thing in any language spoken in
Beijing. Still, it seemed very telling, intimate, in some unspeakable and magical way.
“No,” Dice said, slipping past them both, both hands again in his pockets.
“Hey!” Dr. Black yelled, running along.
All three were brought up short by Mr. Allen Albright, a bent and hawkish man who was eighty if he was a day. With Dice out front, the three of them had the good sense to look a bit abashed by being caught out on the town.
“So here we have it,” Mr. Albright started, his onyx-colored walking stick tapping rhythmically on the ground. “Mr. Whitehall, the never-do-well, that I had the good grace to take in and give a job to. You have brought me poor returns, Mr. Whitehall. Our trickster doctor, who thinks we’re all denser than lead and, yes, as I would expect, the mysterious master of the oriental arts, Mr. London Daily. Allow me, please, to ask if there is any good reason whatsoever that any of you should be gadding about instead of attending to whatever duties I may presume you perform for my school? A school devoted to serving Her Majesty’s diplomatic core deserves the utmost in service and respect.”
“Well,” Dice hedged. “It’s nearly Christmas, and I—we—needed to find some presents.”
Mr. Albright tapped his walking stick hard against the stones of the street. “That, Mr. Whitehall, is what you should be doing during hours when you are not at work for the embassy.”
“It’s just….” Dice stood up straighter, looking much more like a diligent employee all of a sudden. “I know that you wanted Irish whiskey, and as clerk second grade it is my job to procure needed assets at optimal times. With substantial snow predicted, I thought it would be an excellent idea to get needed supplies while we still can.”
“Odd that no one mentioned this blizzard to me,” Mr. Albright said suspiciously. Then, like a cat with feathers between his teeth, the old man smiled, tight-lipped and well too pleased with himself. “I’m sure your sources are very reliable, Mr. Whitehall, but I shall still compose a telegram to your father. Should your blizzard occur, I’m sure I shall be unable to post the letter, and your foresight in caring for the embassy’s needs will certainly soothe my discontent with your service. Otherwise, I’m sure Lord Devon will find some comfort in knowing that his son is as he most feared and there can be no further disappointments. Indeed, I expect that would be quite the holiday celebration for your brother, who would find his own estate no longer to be divided with a wastrel such as yourself.”
Calm as the pretty, fluffy flakes of snow, Dice gave a polite bow and smiled. “I look forward to earning your good opinion of me, sir. Reputations can be frightful things to defeat.”
“Be that as it may,” Mr. Albright said, still grinning as he turned to walk along his way, “If I were you, I’d pray for snow. I hope that you have not become so degenerate that such an act of piety is lost on you.”
“I, sir,” Dice complained loudly to the back of his employer, “rely on science! I shall have no need of prayer to be exonerated in this matter!”
As soon as he was a few steps away, Dr. Black said, “I think you’re good for his health, Dice.”
“How do you come to that?” Dice growled, murder in his voice.
“I’ve never really seen such a spring in his step.” Dr. Black’s head cocked to the side. “He must hate you. What are you going to do, Mr. Whitehall?”
“Buy Irish whiskey and hope for snow.” Dice leaned back to look up at the sky, which now seemed very stingy.
“It’s Christmas,” Dr. Black offered. “It always snows for Christmas.”
“Just what is this Christmas again?” London asked, running to catch up with the other two, who already strode forward.
“It’s a made-over holiday,” Dr. Black said, lecture mode on full. “Mithras done over by the emerging Christian population won over the Pagans with a little holiday redecoration.”
“Uh?” London rolled his eyes. “Jonathan gives me books to study, but English is so hard to pull meaning from.”
In front of the luxury provisions shop, Dice and Black both turned to stare at him. Dice tilted his head a bit. “What do you mean English is hard?”
Thumbs and pointer fingers making a diamond, London squeezed his eyes shut. “The characters are so small and stubborn. It’s an unexpressive language.”
“Maybe compared to yours,” Dr. Black agreed. “I can help you with history studies sometimes. I can teach you Latin.”
“Egghead,” Dice teased, grinning. “Latin, ancient gods, that’s not what Christmas is about. It’s about a whole lot of nice stuff that happens to good people.”
“What kind of good things?” London asked, fingers tapping against each other, eyes wide like a little kid. “We’re all good people! So good things will happen for us.”
“Speak for yourself,” Dice shot over his shoulder. “I am a very bad man and deserve everything I get. Besides, as soon as I’m gone, you know he’s going to go after you next, my dear Dr. Black.”
“Then we shall have to keep you around, won’t we?” Dr. Black held open the door. “Come on. No more bleak belly-aching. You’re not gone yet. It’ll snow.”
“I can make it snow,” London offered and followed them inside. “Do you want it to snow a lot? Would that make everything okay?”
“Don’t be a fool, London,” Dice said, throwing a friendly arm over London’s shoulder. “Parlor tricks are one thing, but stirring up a blizzard is out of reach of any man. You’re just a human, a little blue, but just a human, like the rest of us.”
London looked back over his shoulder for a moment, at the white fluff falling towards the ground. “Thank you.”
“Of course, silly,” Dr. Black said, “it must be really hard to be with strange people, but we’re all a little unusual, so we all belong together!”
* * * *
“Jonathan! I’m home,” London shouted. He kicked the door shut, arms loaded down with brown paper wrapped packages.
“Good Lord,” Jonathan cursed, “where did you get all that…stuff?”
“Dice’s father,” London said. He looked back over his shoulder as he set the stack down on the table. “We have ham and apples, sugar, some fancy tea for you, all the things to make a feast. Dice and Dr. Black are coming for dinner on Christmas.”
“You don’t say,” Jonathan said suspiciously. “Mr. Whitehall is not exactly the most reputable of persons, my dear London.”
Starched shirt unbuttoned at the collar, black tie hanging around his neck, slacks tailored and smooth against lean legs, draped in nice curves where slacks should, Jonathan blushed. He pulled his glasses off and glared sternly at London.
“Why are you looking at me like that? It is afternoon, not quite tea even, not the middle of the night.”
Hands under his chin, London’s blue eyes twinkled with mischief, tearing after Jonathan’s blush and very proper sense of timing like a cat after the end of a piece of string. “But when I look at you I feel very happy and I want to unbutton your shirt and I feel desire to hear you make contented, happy sounds.”
“Now, see here,” Jonathan said, fingers buttoning up his shirt, glasses hanging hooked over a finger, “Even with the fact that we’re in Beijing, gentlemen do not engage in certain pursuits until certain hours of the day. I have work yet to do, and London! Gentlemen do not lick their lips in that very, very, um, suggestive manner!”
The elemental bit the tips of his pointer fingers lightly while grinning in a very ungentlemanly manner. “Jonathan, I am not a gentleman.”
They were of a similar height, and with London now improperly close, his hand on Jonathan’s tie, another somewhere unmentionable, Jonathan fell tumbling into to the blue eyes of winter. “Yes, yes, well, now, what if, now…. Oh my lord. Perhaps it would be best to take some private exercise prior to tea.”
“Dr. Black tells me that exercise is very good for the body,” London agreed. “I want to lick you. I like when your face gets so warm and bright. You’re very beautiful, Jonathan.”
For all that he was an English teacher and had never given himself much authority, his arms were strong enough as they wrapped around London and pulled the magical man closer. “I am too common to be beautiful. You are
beautiful and rare. I am lucky to have met you.”
Hands sliding under Jonathan’s shirt, London hooked his leg around Jonathan’s. “Well, if I’m beautiful, it’s because you are, because you drew me into this world. You seduced me into staying in this world where I am a stranger, yet your presence makes me long to be here above all places. Make love to me, Jonathan,” London pleaded, eyes full of genuine feeling, unclouded by any concepts of culture and propriety. “You’re hard for me. Just a little hotter and the kettle will give off steam!”
“You are a wicked,” Jonathan growled, kissing pale blue throat under a silken curtain of blue hair, “wicked, wicked man, and I love you.”
“Say it again!” London jumped a little, easily lifted by his lover, to wrap his legs around Jonathan’s waist. “I love you too! Loving you is so happy! I feel so happy!”
“London,” Jonathan said softly and held him close, face hidden against London’s shoulder. “You are so bright, so full of life. When you’re not here, I slip back into books and verbs, vocabulary, and my red pencil can feel like the most powerful force in my life, but then you come back and it’s like a rolling avalanche swirling around my boring little life. Where is your hat?” Jonathan asked, suddenly concerned. “You didn’t…?”
London touched both hands to the top of his head. His eyes rolled up to look kind of to the side at the ceiling. “The other called me, but now there’s not only you, but Dice and Dr. Black too. I have friends here. I don’t want to go back.”
Jonathan touched a fingertip to the end of London’s nose. “You don’t sleep with Mr. Whitehall or Dr. Black, do you?”
“Am I supposed to?” London asked, pulling away a little, hands on his hips. “I don’t want to.”
London peeled his shirt off as he walked towards their bedroom. “I want you to rub my back and rim me!”
“Is that so,” Jonathan said loudly, smiling though, eyes watching London’s ass sway. For one tiny second, David’s memory grayed out the world, but London’s laughter glittered brighter than any gray could ever manage. With a very fast stride, Jonathan followed his lover down the hall, caught him, and took them both over onto the bed. The bedroom was meant to hold one single bed and a small desk, but they’d need a larger bed, and well, now it held the bed and many good memories.
Jonathan shivered when London’s fingers caressed his cheek. Both of them lay on their sides, so close, legs entangled, clinging to each other.
“It is so,” London nodded slightly. “And then I want you to penetrate me and fill me with heat. I like your heat.”
“I still can’t believe you like me, that you want to be with me,” Jonathan whispered. “I am sure I’m drab in the extreme.”
London smirked. His blue eyebrows rose in an arch as he rolled so that he straddled Jonathan. “English still confuses me sometimes. Does drab mean comfortable, addicting, something that makes a person feel giddy, something that
makes me hard and in need of gentle attentions? Does drab mean that you inspire people to kiss you?”
“Take your pants off,” Jonathan begged. “I want you to ride me, like this.”
“Umm-umm,” London agreed, slipping his pants off to shove them over the edge of the bed without ceremony.
While London was getting rid of his pants, Jonathan took his and his boxers off, hanging them both over the mahogany stand with a minimum of neatness. The brief separation gave a chance for both of them to look each other over again. Coming back together in the center of the bed, now on their knees, chests together, Jonathan ran his fingers through London’s wild blue hair. “You’re paler than you were,” he observed.
“The more I let go of my home, the more I become a man of your world,” London said. His slender fingers took a teasing hold of Jonathan’s nipples, twisted them gently. “I want to be a man of your world. Then you can marry me.”
“We must discuss that,” Jonathan said, voice thin, his thoughts much more centered where their bodies touched. “The intimacies of physical touch are making more prosaic thoughts less possible.”
“I don’t understand,” London said and moved lower with kisses whose trajectory were obviously meant for Jonathan’s hardened manhood. “But the intimacies of physical touch make me want to touch you more!”
“Yes, quite!” Jonathan managed as London nudged him over. “More!”
Jonathan spread his legs, letting the avalanche who was his lover have control. Laying there, naked before tea and waiting for the touch of another man, he knew London had left everything of his old world behind. He wanted very much to believe that London was always going to be with him, would always value him. Like no one Jonathan had ever imagined, found somewhere in the wilds of Asia, from a tribe that held strange ideas, London had more energy and curiosity about the modern world than maybe the entire university that had been Jonathan’s home before. Love filled him, glowed warm, made him feel that he must be as happy as London looked sometimes.
“Your smile is like light snow that swirls in the light,” London said. “Reach the oil?”
“Oh yes, of course,” Jonathan said. He scooted up in the bed a little to reach out and pull over a bottle of very nice olive oil. “Is this for rubbing your back?” he teased.
“Later.” London took the bottle, poured a bit in his palm, then handed it back. “Want something else now.”
“What,” Jonathan started, just getting the stopper back in the bottle when London’s hands encircled his penis, igniting every nerve a British man wasn’t supposed to have. He clenched his eyes shut. “Damn!”
London slid down around him, stealing whatever might have been left of his mind, sheathing his most private self in heat and pleasure.
“Oh certainly,” Jonathan gasped, making the words into a blaspheme, an expression of uncontrollable intensity, then softly rising from love and connection, “London!”
Touching, hands clasped, they moved together, pleasure building and cresting, sweetly braiding them into one person. With a possessive growl, Jonathan rolled them over, an arm around his slighter lover, and held him close as if he’d never let him go. Friction of movement caught London between them, carrying him up into the spiral of pleasure with Jonathan. London wrapped his legs around Jonathan’s waist, head tilted back as he moaned. His breath frosted the air around it, making little dancing rainbow crystals in the air.
“Jonathan,” he cried out; the rush of air disrupted the lingering crystals, surprisingly warm.
“Deeper!” Jonathan groaned, fingers tangled into London’s silky hair. “Fuck,” he swore softly, the word very intimate and loving, as his peak grabbed him. Deeply inside his love, he hid his face and held tight as the milk of life shot out of him in spasms. “Oh, London!”
London’s own release followed very quickly, with only a few strokes of Jonathan’s hand, and they curled there next to each other, the extra blanket over them for a bit. Jonathan combed his fingers through London’s just-past-shoulder-length hair. “You’ll never leave me, right?”
“I want to be here with you,” London promised. “This is my home now.”
“Being with you is my home too,” Jonathan agreed.
* * * *
Home and Christmas equate to turkeys and hams.
“You’re a doctor,” Dice said and stared at the pale, flaccid bird that was their turkey. “You take babies out, you can put stuffing in.”
“Idiot,” Dr. Black said before smacking Dice with the bubble end of the baster, which only managed to shoot white wine and melted butter back. “Ick!”
“Now, really,” Jonathan said, a finger in the now stained and tattered recipe book, “I don’t think that stuffing the turkey is completely mandatory. We could just leave it empty.”
“Now what man leaves such a cavity empty like that? You want the bird to die happy, don’t you?” Dice picked up an almond and popped it in his mouth.
“This bird is well and truly dead,” Black pronounced. “It’s going to be rotten before it gets cooked. Where’s London? Maybe he knows how they cooked it in his village.”
“I don’t really think ‘cooked’ would be the right description,” Jonathan said. He turned the page and squinted through his glasses at the slightly archaic French text. “What, exactly, is a caper?”
“Yeah, where is he, Jony?”
“He’s gone out on the back steps to talk to his family,” Jonathan said crossly.
“Like ancestor worship or something? I hear the Japanese do that.”
“Must be,” Dice said. “Will the turkey fall in on itself if we don’t stuff it?”
“I don’t think so,” Black said, dark eyes peering into the cavern. “The ribcage is intact, so I think that should hold it up.”
“It’s cold out there. Did Idiot Boy take a coat?”
“You know it’s not going to snow, don’t you?” Black said.
“Why is it so important that it blizzard?” Jonathan asked, closing the book
with a loud clap.
“Because Dice told Mr. Albright that he was out, avoiding his job, because he had to get things because there was going to be a blizzard. If there’s no blizzard, then Dice gets fired and his father is going to disown him.”
“Thanks! Thanks for bringing that blackness to the holiday. Mr. Albright hasn’t shown up to fire me yet, has he? He might forget what with that whiskey I got for him.”
“I doubt it,” Black said, arms folded, mouth tight. “What will you do?”
“Disreputable gambler in Beijing,” Dice said, looking up at the ceiling, “I’ll think of something. At least I won’t just be waiting for the old man to tell me how he really feels. Jonny, where are you going?”
“Hey, get a coat!”
Jonathan was out the door, though. The other two followed just as fast.
London stood in the middle of the yard, wearing only his pants, hair now much longer, flowing around him with a life of its own as it danced with small flurries of snow.
“London!” Jonathan called and ran across the yard, right into more fierce winds. “Don’t you do this!”
Turning, London smiled, but ice glittered over his cheeks, clung to the ends of his eye lashes. “But they can’t hear me. I have to go closer.”
“The hell you do,” Jonathan shouted against the wind, trying to force his way through.
“Stay back, Jonathan! They don’t like you,” London yelled back, skin much bluer now.
“I don’t like them either!” A strong gust of wind threw Jonathan back, landing him hard on his ass. “London!”
Strong arms caught Jonathan up to his feet, Black and Dice to either side of him.
“That is one hell of a ritual,” Dice said.
“He’s going to go away!” Jonathan cried. “He’s going to leave us so that he can make it snow for you.”
“Sod that,” Dice grumbled.
Together the three of them pressed forward against the swirling winds, until Jonathan drew close enough to lunge and grab hold of London, wrapping him in warm arms. “Stay with me!”
“I’m gonna come back,” London sulked, head resting on Jonathan’s shoulder.
Dr. Black draped a thick black coat over London’s bare back. “You’re freezing! You must be hypothermic. We should get him inside!”
“Damn fool,” Dice growled. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Making it snow so you don’t have to go away!”
“I won’t go away,” Dice promised. “Unless Jonathan kills me for costing him you, uh?”
“But you’ll get fired!”
“It won’t be the first time,” Dice said with a wink.
“Speaking of fired,” Dr. Black said meaningfully.
The wind and snow had abandoned them, but Mr. Albright strode forward purposefully, a look of satisfaction in his eyes.
“So I’ll take it like a man,” Dice said. He moved to stand between his friends and his soon-to-be former employer. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Albright!”
“Umn,” the old man said, holding out a telegram. “From your father.”
Dice’s hands shook as he reached for the folded sheet of paper.
My dearest son,
I always knew that you would find your place in the
world. I am deeply grateful that Asia has had such a
wonderful influence on you. Your mother and I send
our love. Merry Christmas, Emile!
Father and Mother
Dice read it over three times. “I don’t understand.”
“Frankly, it’s Christmas. Miracles happen. As he’s buying me a new Bentley and funding five more scholarships, I would be an ungrateful lout to discharge his son, however questionable the quality of his work may be.”
“You’re not firing me?” Dice said, blinking. “Why?”
“Probably has something to do with your spending spree. Merry Christmas, Misters Daily and Whitehall, Dr. Black.”
“Merry Christmas, sir,” they all chirped.
As soon as he was out of sight and hearing range, Dice turned on London. “I said you could buy anything you wanted on my father’s line of credit. What exactly did you buy?”
Still held in Jonathan’s arms, London recited, “Fifteen hams, one for each of the teachers, 193 scarves for all the students, new shirts for them all as well, and the carriage driver said that his horse was old and couldn’t keep working, so I bought him a new one, and the two horses seemed to like each other quiet a lot. I paid Xi Hua’s medical bills so she won’t worry anymore about her daughter. I bought shiny copper tea kettles for all the work staff at the school. The woman at the carving shop said that the yellow fat man would be a good gift to send to the Emperor and that there couldn’t be good Christmas unless the Emperor got nice
By that time they were just about back inside, Dice covering his face. “Anything else?”
“I bought Jonathan some shiny clear rocks to go in his cuffs and Dr. Black a long red dress.”
Dr. Black meeped like a frightened mouse. “Why on Earth?”
“Most women wear them,” London said. “I thought maybe if we weren’t working tonight, maybe you might like to wear that kind of clothing.”
“Well, Merry Christmas,” Dice said, surprise coloring his voice a little. “It’s just us.”
Dr. Black looked out the window. “I do believe it’s really going to snow. That’s amazing. How about stuffing that turkey now?”
“Are you a woman?” Jonathan asked, working on buttoning London’s shirt up. “Would it matter if I was?” Dr. Black challenged.
“Not at all,” Jonathan said. “We’re about as far from Britain as we’ll ever be. This can be a world as we choose it. Especially on Christmas.”
“Seems like a fair option to me,” Dice said, his smile encouraging.
“Fine. Then I’m a woman.” She crossed her arms. “But I’m a doctor first.”
“I think we’re all in good health, except for the turkey,” London said, face even paler, hardly looking blue at all.
“A toast then!” Dice opened the claret, poured it easily into flutes. “To Christmas and a world of our own!”
“To Christmas and a world of our own!” They all toasted, glasses clinking. Jonathan heard something as they all drank the toast. It was just a moment for him to glance at the window, to see eyes, narrow and jealous, teeth, so tiny like icicles. He shivered, sure completely that such a face had not been pressing hard against the glass of his kitchen window.
London took hold of his hand, and really, it was Christmas, and nothing else mattered.