Secret Santa

Seb and Jamie argue over most things, even in the season of presumed good will. When a totally unsuitable “Secret Santa” present for each of them causes even more tension, the hostility threatens to ruin the pleasant Christmas meal they had planned with friends. But there are strange forces at work tonight and both of them seem to be acting out of character. They find they’re working together in the kitchen, sharing confidences, and admitting to feelings they never dared before – and cooking up something rather more exciting than food!

This story is 10,000 words in length.

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© Clare London

It was like High Noon on the domestic front.

“Jamie, I know it was you.” Seb leaned over the counter in the middle of the small kitchen, one hand braced on the worktop, the other brandishing a wooden spoon. There were various pans and utensils scattered on the surface around him, but no evidence of any cooking. The only lingering aroma in the room was one of fruit punch and the hint of roasted coffee with a cinnamon twist. Certainly nothing to suggest the two men in the room were there to cook, rather than just glare at each other.

“Nonsense. It was you, and you’re just not man enough to admit to it,” Jamie snapped back from the other side of the counter. “You’re trying to shift the blame on to me.”

“Hey, I don’t play childish tricks like this-”

“Of course you do! All the bloody time.”

“And you don’t?”

“At least I own up-”

“When you’re caught out,” Seb growled.

Jamie shrugged. “Just admit it, Seb. It’s a stupid joke that’s missed its mark.”

“Says you, because you’re embarrassed I didn’t fall for it.”

“The hell I am! You were the one played all the practical jokes this Halloween. Remember the pumpkin head at the bathroom window? The blood smears on the milk bottle? The false teeth embedded in the butter?”

“That was different-”

“Why? Because it’s you?” Jamie hissed through clenched teeth. “Don’t deal it out if you can’t take it in return.”

“So this was your idea?”

“No way!” Jamie almost yelled.

Seb scowled, feeling his face twist. “This is fucking ridiculous. It must have been you.”

“If the cap fits…” Jamie was shaking his head.

Seb knew if he caught sight of himself in the polished fridge door, he’d see eyes dark with anger. His voice was too loud, too-it’d easily be overheard in the living room, even though the kitchen door was closed-but what the hell did he care? He’d never been accused of holding back his emotions. Everyone knew he spoke his mind, and forcefully. His long, dark hair flopped forward over his forehead but he was too distracted to push it back out of the way. He realised he was embracing this argument with some kind of glee, savouring the escalating bitterness.

Jamie glared back at him, just as angry and-more unusually-not backing down. He was blond and pale, not only a contrast physically to Seb’s more swarthy looks, but in temperament too. At least, he usually was. Right now his lips were pursed and his face flushed, and it looked like it was taking all his self-control to keep calm. He was much more cautious than Seb; he was so often the one to step away first, to change the subject. But not tonight. Seb could recognise anger similar to his, if nothing else. And at this very moment, Jamie was sorely tempted to let rip.

They were well matched when it came to arguing. After all, they’d had enough practice; they fought almost all the time. Not major, fists raised, wrestling kind of arguing, but a constant, bickering banter. If Seb ever stopped to think about it, he reckoned it was a kind of trademark for them. They disagreed about movies, about clothes, about cars, about celebrities. What one said, the other contradicted, sometimes just for the hell of it. That wasn’t to say they couldn’t get on. Sometimes, they discussed football games quite civilly and played Xbox together, and laughed at the same jokes. And what was even weirder, Seb called up Jamie most days on the phone-or Jamie messaged him online first-and they often talked for an hour or more about all kinds of stuff. But they still argued.

Yeah, very weird. Seb didn’t like to think about it any deeper than that, it confused him. And whatever fun they had when they were in truce mode, it was never very long before they were back to sniping. In the past, their friends had laughed off their habitual animosity, then attempted to mediate. They quickly learned it meant they got caught in the crossfire. Now they just stepped away from it.

Which was exactly what had happened tonight. The kitchen door was firmly closed behind Jamie, acting as a barrier between him and Seb and what was meant to have been a pleasant evening’s Christmas celebration with a group of good friends.

You have to admit I’m justified,” Seb said to Jamie. “It wouldn’t be the first time you’d tried to convert me.”

That’s rubbish,” Jamie replied, spiritedly. “Not any more. No sense, no feeling where you’re concerned. And on that basis, my suspicions are just as valid. You’ve mocked my lifestyle often enough in return.”

Your lifestyle? That’s no more than a pale imitation-“

“-of the excessive and sordid life you lead?”

Seb glared at him, Jamie glared back. “But I didn’t buy it,” they both said, almost simultaneously, then fell into a confused silence.

So…what’s going on here?” Seb lifted up the item in question, a brand new cookbook, its pages flapping as he swung it through the air like some kind of paper seagull. The cover of the book was illustrated in vibrant greens and yellows. “I mean, this really is a stupid joke.”

Why the hell are you asking me?” Jamie’s cool demeanour was obviously slipping. “I’ve got the same problem, haven’t I?” He held a similar cookbook in his right hand, though this one had a different coloured cover, full of dark reds and browns. “No one’s admitting they got them for us. Both of them wrapped up under the tree in the same kind of paper, same unfamiliar, anonymous handwriting on the label, with nothing different between them except for our name.”

Seb stared at him. Was it true? Was Jamie as much in the dark as he was? “It’s Harry’s flat, Harry’s dinner invitation, Harry’s tree. So, can’t we assume…?”

Jamie laid his book down and leant back against the counter. “I don’t think so. Harry denied it very convincingly, and you know what a poor liar he is at the best of times. He kept up that pathetic charade about them being gifts from Secret Santa.”

“Yeah. He told me the same, with that suspicious smirk on his face.” Seb ran his hand through his hair, but it just flopped forward again. Hell, he’d given up a couple of party invites to come along this evening. Invitations to plenty of free drink and food and probably more than a few, no-strings-attached, young men who’d enjoy Seb’s brand of sexy humour. This kind of corny, present-giving evening was uncomfortable, not that he didn’t think his friends were great. Just… Christmas sucked at the best of times. Commercial greed, pseudo-religious ritual-that’s all it was. He couldn’t remember ever enjoying the festivities, at least not since he was a small kid and Mum had been around. It was a holiday to be struggled through. And he’d always somehow believed that Jamie felt the same way. Eventually, they’d have a good laugh about tonight, he was sure. Then he glanced back over at the other man, and remembered they were meant to be arguing.

Jamie looked so coolly sanctimonious in the face of Seb’s own outrage, all tight-lipped with disapproval, picking his words so bloody carefully, like he always did, even in the middle of all this crap. Lounging against the counter with that slender, athletic body of his, his long, strong legs crossed at the ankles and his arms folded firmly across his chest, pulling his shirt tight across well-developed pecs…

He’s cute. When had Seb started to notice that? When hadn’t he noticed it? The unbidden thought startled him at the same time as sending a gentle shiver through his body. He really should’ve gone to one of those parties instead. Now was not the time to recognise elements of the erotic-and bloody uncomfortable-dreams he’d been having over the last few months. He cleared his throat. “So what the hell is this Secret Santa thing?”