A few Christmases ago, I wrote a short epilogue for The Boys of Summer. I ran across it again today, and decided it would be fun to share again this Christmas.
Warning: there are mild spoilers for the novel, so you might want to consider whether or not you want to read more if you haven’t read the story yet! And also, this short story contains a very explicit sex scene (okay, a smoking hot sex scene…). This is an adults only website, but I thought I should point that out.
David McIntyre has been enjoying the heck out of his current assignment: touring the Hawaiian Islands in search of the ideal shooting locations for a series of film company projects. What’s not to like? Stunning scenery, great food, sunny beaches…and a secret crush on his hot, ex-Air Force pilot, Rick Sutton.
Everything changes when a tropical storm and engine failure force a crash landing on a deserted atoll with a WWII listening post. Rick’s injuries, and a lack of food and water, make rescue imperative, but it takes an intensely vivid dream about the war to make David see that Rick is more than just a pilot to him. Will David gather his courage to confess his feelings to Rick—before it’s too late?
Finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards. Nominated Best Historical in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards. Selected as a Best Read in 2013 by Jessewave and a Top Pick Read by The Romance Reviews. Winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards.
So without further ado, here is “All I Want for Christmas”.
Em’s voice coming from behind startled David. He yelped at the sudden intrusion of sound and spun with the pan of cookies he’d just taken out of the oven. Cookies threatened to slide off the no-stick surface and he had to juggle them to keep them from falling onto the floor.
“Jeez, Em! You scared the bloody wits out of me!” Hastily, he set the hot pan down on the stovetop, tucking the potholder under one arm as he glared at her.
“Sorry. I thought you heard me come in.” She didn’t look sorry, however. She smiled widely at him, obviously amused at his expense.
“I couldn’t hear a thing over Bing there.” David indicated the CD player with the oven mitt, where Bing Crosby crooned about a White Christmas. Despite the fact that Emma was standing in his kitchen wearing a navy crop top and white shorts, which just so happened to set off her tanned legs very nicely, Christmas was right around the corner. Less than a week now. David was determined to make it absolutely perfect this year.
“You’re so cute when you get this domestic urge to bake,” Emma commented, flicking a long strand of copper hair back from one shoulder. “It’s particularly funny because you never cook at all the rest of the year if you can help it. I think you’d live on take-out, if you could.”
For the briefest of moments, David saw Rick in his kitchen, peering in his refrigerator with disapproval and volunteering to cook dinner. Standing in the kitchen, drinking a glass of wine, and watching Rick create a delicious meal out of what seemed like nothing at all had been one of his favorite memories to revisit in the four months since Rick had gone back to his home in Hawaii.
Well, one of his favorite G-rated memories, that is. His cock stirred hopefully at the thought of some of his other favorite memories of the month Rick had spent in California last summer.
“I like baking at this time of year. I’ve never heard you complain before, unless it’s about the calories.”
“I’m not complaining. I’m commenting. You’ve baked a lot this season, haven’t you? Tell me you made sausage balls again. No one makes them like you do.”
“The recipe is online. You just have to Google it.”
“I don’t care what you say.” Em shook her head. “No one has quite your touch.”
David couldn’t help but preen a little. “The secret is in the mixing of the ingredients. And the choice of ingredients, too. The right sausage is important, but the right cheese? That’s critical.”
“See?” Emma arched an eyebrow. “No one makes sausage balls that are as good as yours. I’ve never seen you bring home any leftovers from a party, either.”
“Well, I made plenty this time, but they’re all in the freezer right now. No one gets to eat them until Christmas.”
David had a reputation to maintain. He’d made several batches, experimenting with a gluten-free recipe as well. In the past, the sausage balls never made it to the Christmas party because everyone kept eating them before the big day. He’d made extra at Thanksgiving this year, but they were all already gone.
“What kind of cookies are these? They smell fabulous.” She reached around him to pick up one of the cookies cooling on the rack beside the stove.
“One,” he admonished. “Tell me what you think.”
He nodded. “They’re sour cream cookies. One of my favorites. This year I added a little lemon zest. I don’t make them often because they’re such a pain in the ass.” He glanced around the kitchen at the hopeless mess. Over on the CD player, Bing began singing about coming home for Christmas.
Emma laughed. “It looks like you detonated a flour bomb in here. That’s why I wanted to know what you were up to. That and you’re wearing an apron over your gym clothes. You have been to the gym, haven’t you?”
David glanced down at himself. He was wearing a threadbare brown T-shirt with the word “Shiny!” printed on it. Below that, he had on running shorts. He’d exchanged the expensive track shoes for a pair of old flip-flops as soon as he’d gotten home, however. It was just as well—he had flour everywhere, despite the apron. “Well, you know,” he said a bit self-consciously, “I have to look the part of a successful scriptwriter. You know Hollywood.”
She snorted inelegantly. “Bullshit. Most scriptwriters in Hollywood look like they spend all their time playing World of Warcraft in their mothers’ basement. This has more to do with impressing a certain ex-fighter pilot than meeting Hollywood’s standards. What’s the news on that front, anyway?”
David turned to shift the cooled cookies into a container so he could move the ones from the oven onto the cooling rack. When he spoke, he deliberately misunderstood her. “Well, they’ve cast the role of me. Of David Braxton, that is.”
After David had returned from his scouting trip in Hawaii, where he and Rick had crash landed and had to survive under grueling conditions until rescued, he’d sat down to write about his experience there. Not the actual plane wreck or being marooned on a deserted South Pacific island, but about the incredibly vivid dream he’d had while they were there. In his dream, he and Rick had been transformed into two young men during the Battle of Britain—and they’d been both doomed in love and by the war. David had changed their names a little bit for the purposes of the script, but had essentially written the dream as he’d remembered it. He’d feverishly written the screenplay in a matter of weeks, desperately trying to recapture some of the heartbreak of the story that had played out in his dream before he forgot all the details.
The fact that he could remember nearly every element of the dream as though he was watching a movie had been an unexpected blessing. When he was finished, however, he thought he had a hopelessly maudlin tearjerker that no one would ever want to read. Emma had sobbed her way through the script and then begged him to shop The Boys of Summer around. To his surprise, one of the smaller studios he’d worked with in the past had snapped it up, claiming that WW2 stories were back in vogue again.
David now found himself being hailed as a ‘promising’ scriptwriter after years of failed projects. Fortunately, his boss was cool about him needing flexible hours, and things had slowed down due to the holidays anyway. Besides, from a practical standpoint, David’s newfound status wasn’t hurting Pegasus Productions, either. And his boss had offered to invest in the project, too.
“I wasn’t talking about the movie, though I still don’t see why you couldn’t play you. You’re certainly buff enough these days.” She snagged another cookie.
He smacked at her hand, but not very hard. The ‘buff’ compliment was nice to hear. “Yeah, but no amount of makeup or workouts will make me twenty again.” His voice was rueful. “Most of those pilots were hardly more than schoolboys.”
“I thought you made the characters older for the movie.”
“A bit. More than I liked, to be honest.” The studio had balked at finding actors young enough for the script the way it had originally been written. A gay love story set during the Battle of Britain had been a tough enough sell to begin with. The studio had been worried about projecting the wrong image had they gone with lead actors barely out of their teens.
He’d argued for keeping the integrity of the story intact, but it had been Rick who pointed out that maybe it was better to compromise on that point in order to get the story out there for people to see.
“A movie like that might have made a difference to me growing up.” He’d shrugged when he said it, but he’d liked the script. He said so. He’d also given David a funny look after reading it. “That was your dream?” he’d asked.
“More or less.” David had shrugged in turn.
Rick had surprised him with a full body hug, and then had kissed him as though he was trying to put into that kiss all the words he could not say.
It had ended the debate on the age of the actors, as far as David was concerned.
“Well, they’ve got thirty year old actors playing teenagers in high school all the time. I think you could make it work if you wanted. Face it, you just don’t want to be in front of the camera anymore.”
David nodded in agreement. “It’s an unforgiving spotlight, especially in high-def. Besides, I like looking at things through the other side of the lens.” He’d given up acting years ago. He much preferred his job as a locations scout and being general dogsbody to the production teams for various movies and television programs.
Jaunty Irish pipes accompanied “Christmas in Killarney” on the player. David continued to roll out and cut cookies, dusting them with the lemon zest and granulated sugar before transferring them to the baking sheet.
“So, they’ve cast your role. What about Rick’s?”
“Nothing so far. They’re having a hard time casting that part.”
For the movie script, Rick Sutton had become ‘Rick Sheppard’. David had a very specific type in mind to play the role, and he’d made sure to make his wishes known. Everyone knew about the author of some popular vampire stories who’d been vitriolic over the casting of a mega-celebrity to play her main character. The producers for the film had completely shut her out for the rest of the film’s production. The author had later praised the actor’s performance—but that’s not what most people remembered. David didn’t want to end up shut out in the cold because he hated whoever they chose to play Sheppard in his story. But the role of Sheppard was critical. It had to be the right actor.
“So.” Emma dragged the word out playfully, reaching for another cookie but giving in with grace when David threatened her with a spatula. “Why the big push for the holiday spirit this year?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” David bent over the open oven door, positioning the cookies within. Hopefully Em would blame the redness of his face on the heat from the stove. He straightened and set the timer.
“David. The baking, the decorations. You’re kind of going all out with the Spirit of Christmas this year, aren’t you?
He maintained his cool, scattering more flour on the counter and re-working the dough. “I always decorate.”
“You haven’t done more than string some lights on the palm tree out front for years. This time it looks as though you hired Martha Stewart.”
“I told you, the Grinch stole all my decorations last year. He didn’t bring them back until this past week.”
“Uh-huh. Not buying it.”
David sighed and tossed the pot holder down on the counter. “Okay, so Rick hasn’t had much of a Christmas for the past, oh, I dunno, five or six years. This is the first time he’s been to his brother’s for the holidays since he was discharged from the military.” For being gay. Even though he didn’t say it aloud, he knew that both he and Em were thinking it. He often wondered what it was like to love something so much and yet know it was killing you. Rick had given the military everything he had and it had nearly destroyed him. It had taken a desperate man to deliberately use Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to force a discharge from service.
He swallowed hard. “I just want things to be perfect. Heck, if I could import George Bailey running through the village shouting ‘Merry Christmas’ while snow gently fell around him, I would.”
He snapped floury fingers when he realized he could recreate Bedford Falls, if he so desired. He had connections. He could hire a snowmaker and…
“Don’t.” Em put her fists on her hips.
“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t. Rick doesn’t want a Norman Rockwell Christmas. He just wants to be with people who care about him.”
“No buts. Trust me on this one. You don’t need to stage a big Hollywood-style scene. Besides, as hot as it is, you’d never get the snow to last.”
Damn, she really could read minds sometimes.
Emma laughed at his expression. “You’re so adorable when you’re in love.”
David stuck his tongue out at her. “When have you ever seen me in love before?”
“Like this? Never. That’s how I know it’s real.”
David certainly hoped it was real. Sometimes he wondered if the emotion was all one-sided—Rick was so guarded with his own.
“When’s he getting in town?”
David started prepping the next batch of cookies. He wasn’t avoiding her eye, really. “In a couple of days, I think.”
“Hmm.” Her tone indicated he wasn’t fooling her with his practiced nonchalance. “I saw his commercial the other day.”
“Did you?” David looked up, all pretense at not caring about Rick’s schedule vaporized. “What did you think?”
“I honestly teared up at his bit, and you know I am not particularly sentimental as a rule. But it was really good.”
The first time David laid eyes on Rick, he’d pictured him in Hollywood, playing a wide variety of tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold roles. He’d pulled some strings when Rick was visiting last and had gotten him an audition for a commercial which featured a solider coming home from the war. It had seemed tailor-made for Rick, and David had been right. Rick was perfect in the role.
“It was good, wasn’t it?” David tried to hide his bias but failed. “I mean, he’s more than just a pretty face—he can act too.”
Em nodded. “I thought he was going to cry when the dog came out of the house and it was so excited to see him. But he didn’t. The emotion was there just under the surface, though. Very convincing. “
“It’s getting a lot of hits on YouTube.” David felt this was a personal achievement. Well, in a way, it was. Rick had thought the whole idea of acting silly, and had only gone along with it to prove to David it wouldn’t work. He’d been surprised when he was accepted for the commercial, and staggered by how much he was paid for what he called ‘sixty seconds of work.’ The parent company, which had just been looking for a patriotic, schmaltzy way of tugging at the heartstrings in order to sell diapers, was delighted with the internet response. David had been getting other nibbles along those lines, casting agents looking for someone with Rick’s devastatingly rugged good looks. Unfortunately, all he could do was forward them on to Rick, along with the membership information to join SAG and the other local organizations for actors. He hoped Rick didn’t think he was being a nag or trying to pressure him into relocating to the mainland.
“He hasn’t said anything more along the lines of moving here, though, has he?”
David shook his head. The only thing David wanted for Christmas was to hear that Rick had given up his air charter business in Hawaii and was moving to California. Where they could have a shot at a real relationship. It was a lot to hope for, though. Nothing could have surprised David more than when Rick came to visit last summer. Sure, he was reconnecting with his brother again, but he’d spent a lot of nights over at David’s place, just the same.
The twang of a ukulele accompanied “Mele Kalikimaka” on the CD player, and David made a mental note to remember how to pronounce that phrase. It might come in handy over the next couple of weeks.
“No, but we email each other all the time.” Well, David emailed Rick. He sent chatty emails about his day, and photos that he’d taken that week. He’d written long emails from his hotel room late at night, when he was bored and just a little bit lonely, working on some out-of-town job for Pegasus Productions. Rick, on the other hand, leaned toward one word responses. Sometimes he sent links to interesting articles, which David took as a hopeful sign that they were still in a relationship, but a grand epistolary romance, it was not. On some level David wondered if it would have been different if they were still writing old-fashioned snail mail letters to each other. If maybe the very fact that the letters took so long to arrive would lend some poignancy and strength to the communication. He doubted it though. He suspected only the convenience of email made Rick communicate at all.
Something of his thoughts must have showed on his face.
Em came forward and squeezed his arm. “I just don’t want to see you getting your hopes up or anything.”
“I’m not,” David lied. He forced a smile. “I’m just happy he’s coming into town for Christmas, that’s all. Best gift ever.”
“Uh-huh.” Em touched his arm again. “Well, you know where to find me if you need me. I’ll see you at your party if I don’t catch up with you before then.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m going to be late for yoga class if I don’t leave now.”
“You shouldn’t have eaten those cookies, then. I thought you were supposed to do yoga on an empty stomach.”
Emma wrinkled her nose at him. “Oh-ho, listen to the expert here. Why don’t you come by and sit in on a class sometime? I think it would do you a world of good.”
“Maybe after the New Year.” David smiled and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Be an angel and restart Bing on your way out, will you? I’m all covered in flour.” He waggled sticky fingers at her. The CD player had fallen silent. “Set it on replay while you’re at it, okay?”
The impression of movement behind him caught his attention.
“What did you forget this time, Em?” he asked without turning around.
“I didn’t forget anything. Just admiring the view.”
David dropped the cookie cutter with a clatter and whipped around. Rick leaned negligently in the door frame, arms crossed over his chest, his eyes hidden behind dark aviator sunglasses. David stared in disbelief for several seconds, drinking in the long, lean form of his body, memorizing details to take out late at night and review like a miser counting his gold. The way Rick’s black T-shirt stretched taut over muscles that were impressive without being ridiculous in the extreme. The half-smile on his face, as though he weren’t quite certain of his welcome. His dark hair sticking up in wild disarray, as if he’d run a careless hand through it without notice of the results. The suggestion of a rapidly approaching five o’clock shadow on his jaw line.
“Rick!” David was conscious of equal parts delight and dismay. Great. He’d meant to look his best when Rick arrived—hell, he’d offered to meet Rick at the airport and had been turned down, so it had been in his mind to look his absolute hottest when Rick finally came over. Happy as he was to see Rick now—two days early hadn’t been in his plans. “What the hell are you doing here?”
It might have been his imagination, but he thought Rick’s features froze just a little.
“Not that I’m not glad to see you,” he added hastily, looking around for something to wipe his hands on and giving up to smear flour all over his shirt when he couldn’t find a dish towel. “But I thought you weren’t coming in for at least another couple of days. This place is a wreck.”
A curious expression passed over Rick’s face; there and gone so fast that David only had time to register that something wasn’t quite right.
There’s something he doesn’t want to tell me. David’s heart began to batter its way against the walls of his chest like a wild bird looking for its way out of a building.
“I was able to trade my ticket for a few extra days.” Rick removed his sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of his shirt. David was tried to decide if he should give in to his joy in seeing Rick again or play it cool and act as though it was no big deal.
Rick took the decision out of his hands, peeling himself off the doorjamb with an easy grace. David found himself meeting Rick halfway, and then they were kissing as only two people who hadn’t seen each other in months could do. As though their very lives depended on the breath of the other. David tried keeping his floury fingers to himself, but Rick had his hands in David’s hair, turning his head so that their lips could lock. David couldn’t help it; he wound his hands into Rick’s T-shirt.
Even when they parted for air, Rick continued to gently nip and peck at David’s lips, displaying a desire for contact quite unlike him. All of David’s apprehensions vanished under Rick’s touch. Instead, he was filled with a need to growl and mark territory—to lay claim to this man and make sure the world knew who he belonged to.
Embarrassment at his feelings made him push Rick back reluctantly. “Crap. I got flour all over your shirt.” He brushed ineffectually at the black cotton—making things worse as he spread flour and remnants of cookie dough.
“I don’t care.” Rick moved in to kiss him again. This time, David could feel the hard length of Rick’s cock pressing against the denim of his jeans. For one glorious moment, David pictured the two of them sweeping the counter clean of the baking, snagging a bottle of olive oil from the cabinet, and going at it like rabbits right there in the kitchen. Hell, they wouldn’t even need to take their clothes off. David thought he might come right now just from rubbing up against Rick, from the very scent of him, from the feel of Rick’s arms around his body. Just a little more friction, a little more rutting, and he’d be there.
Instead, the timer went off for the next batch of cookies.
“Sorry.” David let the regret leach into his voice. “I gotta get these.”
Rick stepped back and watched with that small smile in place as David got the batch of cookies out of the oven.
He raised an eyebrow when David turned the oven off. “Don’t you have more cookies to bake?” He indicated the remaining mound of dough on the counter.
“Screw the cookies.” David did growl this time.
“I’d rather screw you.” Rick gave David his sexy smile now, the one that should be registered as a lethal weapon.
“Perfect. Exactly what I had in mind.” David grabbed Rick by the arm and dragged him, laughing, toward his bedroom.
It didn’t matter that Rick was hiding something from him. It didn’t matter that David wasn’t looking his best. He pushed Rick into his bedroom and hurried down the hall to the bathroom to wash his hands, hastily glancing in the mirror as he did so. Okay, so he was still grubby from his workout. But he recognized the raw need on the face staring back at him in the glass. Fuck or be fucked, he didn’t care. All he knew was that he needed Rick, right now, in his bed.
He fumbled with the nail file, making sure he got all the dough out from under his fingernails, digging furiously in his haste. He shucked off his T-shirt, too, and ran dampened hands through his hair in an effort to look a bit more presentable before returning to the bedroom.
Rick was waiting for him, standing with his back to the room, looking out the window.
“God, what you do to me,” David said, causing Rick to turn. His cock stood up from the thatch of dark hair at his groin, begging for attention. David loved everything about Rick’s body, but most especially the aerodynamic perfection of his cock and the way Rick’s body hair seemed to do everything in its power to point to that lovely, wonderful organ.
He stalked across his bedroom, clashing with Rick in what was almost a grapple, mouths fighting for domination while their hands groped and clutched.
“Four months, three days, six hours.” Rick’s voice in David’s ear was electrifying. He was keeping track. By God, he was keeping track. Hope surged like a tidal wave and David engulfed Rick’s mouth, inhaling him deeply as their tongues met and fucked.
God, he was so close. It wouldn’t take much more—in fact, this whole thing was about to become very embarrassing if he wasn’t careful. Through his jogging shorts, he took hold of his cock, squeezing it off at the base to avoid coming too soon. He broke off the kiss with a mewl of frustration. “I need you to fuck me.”
The way Rick’s pupils darkened his entire eye was gratifying, to say the least.
Somehow they made it to the edge of the bed. Rick peeled off David’s running shorts, pausing to mouth his dick appreciatively until David pulled him up with a groan. Silently communicating to each other with only their eyes, they tumbled into bed. David reached for the beside drawer where he kept lube and condoms, but Rick beat him to it with a laugh. David rolled onto his back, clasping his knees with his hands and spreading his legs apart as Rick found what he needed. Yeah, he was begging for it. So what?
He cried out at Rick’s first touch, his cock bouncing up in anticipation. The shudder that ripped through his body was exquisite. More. He needed more. He spread his legs even wider, tucking his pelvis up for easy access. Take me. He didn’t care what he looked like. Just fucking take me.
And more he got. Rick lavished attention on his body like a man starved for water finding an oasis in the desert. The backs of his thighs, the curve of his hipbone, the soft skin of his balls. Every time David thought he couldn’t take it anymore, that he was going to blow his wad any second, Rick would somehow settle him down by changing gears and devoting his efforts to another part of David’s body. His nipples were teased and pinched just the way he liked them, sending an electric current straight to his dick. Rick mapped every inch of David’s skin with his mouth, his lovely, oh-so-talented mouth. David writhed and basked under the pleasure of Rick’s touch, again and again coming to the edge of orgasm without crossing over.
David almost sobbed with relief when Rick finally brushed his hole. He arched up into the touch, his thighs quivering with tension. “Oh God, yes. Yes!”
Lubed fingers entered his body, pumping and thrusting in a way that had him rocking back against Rick’s hand.
“Look at you.”
The sound of Rick’s voice, so unusual during their lovemaking, made David open his eyes.
“You want this so bad. You—” Rick was obviously at a loss for words. “You abandon yourself. “
“Less talk, more fucking,” David ground out.
Rick laughed, as he knew Rick would. Rick withdrew his fingers from David’s ass. The loss was keen, but momentary. He watched in fascinated anticipation as Rick rolled on a condom and lined himself up. The pressure of Rick’s cock against his asshole was exquisite torture. David forced himself to relax, even as his entire body wanted to arch up into the pressure entering it.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” David turned his head from side to side as Rick folded him up and began to thrust. He felt the powerful contact of Rick’s thighs against the back of his own, and the indescribable fullness that came from having Rick’s cock fully up his ass. The urge to push back against him was powerful but David held still, maintaining his position so that Rick could pound him freely.
A groan tore its way out of Rick’s throat and David smiled to himself at the knowledge of his power. It was a brief triumph, however. Rick caught the edge of his prostate, and David saw sparks behind closed lids. He slid over the edge into his orgasm. Rick continued to pound him, triggering shudder after shudder long after he thought he was done.
Rick suddenly stiffened, and David felt Rick’s thighs tighten as he released himself into the condom, the warmth filling David from within. He hooked his legs around Rick and rested, panting a little with the weight of Rick on top of him.
“Now, that’s what I call a Merry Christmas,” David said, in the quiet that followed.
He felt Rick’s laughter against his chest.
“No, you can’t have any sausage balls. They’re for Christmas.”
“Well, if I’d known you were coming into town early, I’d have made sure there was plenty of food for feeding time at the zoo.” The morning sun streamed through the kitchen window, as golden and glorious as David’s mood. He hummed “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as he filled two mugs with steaming coffee.
“But you have enough to feed an army!” Rick protested. He was looking gorgeous, as usual, shirtless and wearing nothing but sweat pants. David was tempted to give him anything he wanted but felt he had to put up a token fight.
“You’re welcome to as many gluten-free sausage balls as you can eat.” David smiled sweetly.
“Um, thanks but no thanks.” Rick groused a little bit more but then began fixing the two of them omelets with chopped spinach and green peppers.
David cradled his coffee mug in his hands and asked the questions he’d been avoiding since yesterday afternoon.
“So why did you come to the mainland early? Does your brother know you’re here?”
Rick froze momentarily as he stood at the stove, his back an expressive line of unwillingness to talk, and then he forced himself to relax. David had to give him credit; his level of self-control was amazing.
He tended to the omelets as though nothing had happened. “I got an audition for your script. For the part of Rick Sheppard. I came over early to test for the part. I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure, but they offered me the role.”
He expertly scooped the omelets out of the frying pan and turned, plates in hand, to face David. His expression was one of hopeful anxiety.
Elation and concern warred within David. He didn’t know what to say.
Rick’s shoulders sagged. “You’re not happy. I can turn the part down, you know.”
“What makes you think I’m not happy?” David forced a beaming smile. Okay, he’d pictured Rick in the role as he’d written the screenplay, but he never thought Rick would actually get it–he was too new to the business. Then too, there was the fact Rick would be acting out love scenes with some hot, young actor, and David wouldn’t be human if a part of him wasn’t slightly jealous. “This is fantastic! I mean, I never thought you’d be offered the part, but you are perfect for it.”
I wrote it with you in mind, after all.
Sure, the part had been written for a younger version of Rick, but it was Rick just the same. There was a kind of beautiful symmetry in Rick playing the character in the dream that had made David bold enough to declare his feelings for Rick in the first place.
The tension in Rick’s shoulders visibly eased. “Really? You’re okay with this? I wasn’t going to accept the part until I knew how you felt about it.”
“Are you kidding? You’ll be awesome.” David moved in closer and kissed him. He suddenly pushed Rick back so he could stare at him. “Wait, does this mean you’re relocating to California?”
Red-faced, Rick set the plates on the table. “I got an offer for the charter service. That, plus the insurance money on the wrecked plane gives me a little cushion to see if this acting thing is going to work. I’m not giving up the house in Hawaii just yet,” he was quick to add, “but I can lease that for now. I figure I’ll give the acting thing a shot and see what happens.”
David thought he was happy before, but now he wanted to burst into song like a character from a cheesy musical. “Well, you know you can hang out here until you find a place of your own, if you want.” He made an effort to sound nonchalant, and caught Rick grinning knowingly at him. Oh well.
“Sam doesn’t know I came over early,” Rick confessed when they were cleaning up after breakfast. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure what was happening.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” David warned. “I’ve seen more than one pilot or movie fold for lack of investors or poor market testing. Just because you’ve been offered the part doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing.”
“I know.” Rick was quiet when he answered. After a beat, he said, “Sam invited you to join us for Christmas. I guess he figures they’ll get to see more of me if you’re in the same house too.”
Images of himself by Rick’s side suddenly flooded his mind—the two of them holding hands at the table, taking a post-prandial walk after they’d stuffed themselves with holiday goodies, his sausage balls being the hit of the gathering. “Cool. I’d like that.”
Rick’s smile was like someone had turned on a spotlight. It dimmed a little as a small frown creased his forehead. “You’re sure you’re okay with the movie thing?”
Rick’s uncertainly was endearing.
“Yes.” David reinforced his affirmation with a kiss. “I was just surprised, that’s all. I hadn’t heard anything at all, and well, you’re brand new at this.” He frowned. “You didn’t agree to a ridiculously low salary, did you?”
Rick snorted. “Don’t worry. Remember, Sam’s a lawyer. He won’t let me sign anything unless he looks it over first.”
“Well, that goes ditto for me too. I know the difference between a good contract and a bad one, so let me take a look at it as well.”
Later that evening, he pulled out his duffle bag with the intent on packing a few things to take with him to Sam’s house. It was the same bag he’d taken with him on their ill-fated flight that had resulted in a crash landing on a deserted island. Sometimes David dreamed of the crash, only in his nightmares he’d turned Rick over in the pilot’s seat to discover sightless eyes staring off into eternity. He always woke from those dreams with a startled gasp. Just being able to reach out and touch Rick was a wondrous thing now.
The bag proved to still have some sand, leaf litter, and bits of paper in the bottom of it, and he took it into the bathroom to shake it over the trash can. Ticket stubs to a luau, markers for a snorkeling trip, and receipts from the hotel fluttered over the can, some spilling onto the floor as well. He picked up the receipts—he’d need those at tax time. In fact, he should have turned them in to his boss for reimbursement long ago. Obviously, those normal post-trip details had slipped his mind in the aftermath of a near-death experience. He gave the bag a final thump and something pinged off the can and landed on the tile.
Frowning, he bent over to pick it up. It appeared to be a small disc of some sort. He thought it was cardboard at first, but then he realized it was some type of compressed fabric. It was smooth to the touch when touched it. Something about it made him want to rub his fingers over it. When he did, he felt the worn edges of stamped lettering. He flipped the disc over, noting the how thin and frayed the material was around the hole meant for a chain to be threaded through. He couldn’t make out the words at first—he had to tip the disc toward the light.
To his surprise, he realized he was looking at a dog tag. A very old dog tag. He smoothed his thumb over the depressed letters in the material, his hand shaking a bit as he read them.
Sheppard, Richard J
It was followed by a string of numbers and the designation “RAF”.
It couldn’t be. It was impossible. He hadn’t even known that the RAF used compressed fabric for ID tags during WW2—he’d assumed they were metal, the way dog tags were in the military today.
How had it gotten in his bag?
Like a flash, the memory came to him of Rick holding the rotting leather journal they’d discovered in the abandoned base on the island. He knew Rick had tucked it in David’s backpack, which had later been stuffed in the duffle on the trip home.
The tag must have fallen out of the journal. What had happened to the journal?
Clutching the tag in his hand, he rushed to the desk in his bedroom, pushing aside papers and opening drawers until he found what he was looking for: the old journal. The book was in poor condition. He’d only tried to read it once; the ink was faded and the pages wanted to disintegrate when he handled them. He’d put it away, hoping it might dry out. But he’d forgotten all about it. Carefully, he opened the cover. On the flyleaf, in rusty brown lettering, he read the name of the journal’s owner.
Okay. This was a problem. Names that he thought he’d made up obviously belonged to real people. The very first thing he needed to do was contact the production company and request a name change for the characters.
But that begged the question: how had he come up with the names in the first place? Perhaps he unconsciously picked the name Braxton after having seen it in the journal, though he didn’t remember doing so. But the dog tag? He’d never seen it before today.
Sitting at his desk, the journal in his lap, he opened his palm and looked at the tag lying there. What if his dream wasn’t just a dream? If it was real, then the David in his dream somehow ended up in the South Pacific during the war—and carrying his Rick’s tag.
Goosebumps raised on his arms.
“Hey. You okay?”
He looked up to see Rick leaning in the doorway, as though he’d been leaning in David’s doorways his entire life.
David smiled, tucking the tag into his pocket. He closed the journal, placing it on the desk as he stood up. “Yeah.” His voice was a little shaky. “Just got distracted by some research.”
“That from the island?” Rick indicated the book.
David nodded, joining Rick at the door.
“Something tells me there’s another story there.”
“Yeah.” David took Rick’s hand in his own, marveling at the feel of the warm flesh against his skin. “But that can keep for another day.”
“Hey.” Rick looked down at their joined hands, his voice suddenly soft. “Things have been a bit crazy lately. I’m afraid I haven’t gotten you anything for Christmas yet. What do you want?”
He raised his clear blue eyes to lock gazes with David, giving his hand a little squeeze.
“You’re here,” David said simply. “What more could I want?”
The disc felt like it was burning a hole in his pocket.