The first several nights, Brooke was too elated to sleep. “Maybe my love is growing more like yours.”
Matthew spread her glossy dark hair across his chest rather than disagree, although she was growing up. Her budding composure reassured him; no reason to say, “Brooke, go to sleep.”
With their enforced separation in sight, it seemed that they had ascended to a higher ledge. His desire no longer threatened him. Rather, he bowed to its permanence—Matthew would always want her. Next year, he could love her blatantly.
The real threat began tomorrow evening. Yet beside her now, he noticed a fresh constancy going on between them. In bed, they easily exulted in this moment and that moment and then inside a moment that could last forever…
…after which Brooke fell asleep.
Tonight, holding her close, he experienced pure tranquility. His thoughts dispersed into dreams but his eyes focused on her beauty. He was attuned to her every shift and gesture; intoxicated by her scent, and insanely happy.
If Brooke hadn’t woken at four am, to insist he run as always, he wouldn’t have. But loping through the cold darkness invigorated him. After showering, Matthew knelt over her. And she smiled, pulling him up, her hands in his hair.
“What time is it?”
Early enough to make love?
All mischievous fun, Brooke so thrilled and surprised him that he inadvertently whistled.
She showered, emerging in a red sweater and short pleated skirt. Finding her tall boots, she skipped ahead of him, yelling, “Merry Chrimstas.”
At the farmhouse, they helped the caterers unload brunch and dinner: coffee cake; cherry juice; fresh bread, baked apples; salmon; dried beef; cucumber kim chi, rice, salad and— Christmas dessert since Connie’s childhood, Bûche de Noël.
Matthew’s kids nearly jumped on them. Finally, Connie retrieved their stockings from the mantle. Dex and Ivy unpacked wind-up toys, magic pens, paints, sketchbooks, and at the bottom, a tangerine.
Apparently, the others were upstairs, playing harmonicas. Sung’s gift to everyone, including himself, was a Lee Oskar brand harmonica. One of his first students in LA had been Lee Oskar. In return for sparring lessons, Lee had spent long weekends teaching Sung to play the blues. So he showed Tara and the rest of them how to make different sounds.
“Excellent, Chase. Here’s the first song Lee taught me.” Sung started Lowrider. Chase joined in but was soon improvising.
“I intended to show off,” Sung said. “Lee taught me classic blues. But Chase, you sound professional.”
Sung asked if Chase thought they could all play along with Lowrider, “following your recording by the band War. It’s on the new sound system.”
Already downstairs, Dex was calling, “Which album?”
“Nobody tell,” Ivy said. “Let Chase think.”
In what was now the music room, Chase patted Ivy’s head and stared at the ceiling. “Well, now...who’d a thunk? Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
“Correct.” Sung and Chase taught the others for half an hour. Then Dex maxxed the volume. Connie and Brooke couldn't get the harmonica at all, so they sang Lowrider.
Then Connie asked, “Doesn’t anyone want to open presents?”
When nobody ran into the sunroom, Chase said, “Later, music.”
Dex and Ivy opened ice skates and found sleds behind a curtain. Matthew gave celadon vases. His appreciation of the Korean Art pleased Sung, who gave celadon jars.
Fond of coincidences, Sung pronounced it auspicious that he and Matthew gave each other Turnbull & Asser dress shirts—and even more auspicious that they had both given the same shirt to their agent Jeffery and to Harold the movie director, along with 007 cuff links.
When Tara opened a set of plates and napkins matching her Limogres tea set, she threw her arms around Matthew and kissed his cheek. Connie swept through the house in a full-length black cashmere coat from Matthew—for the opening of Brooke’s play.
Sung doubted that, but said, “Ask Harold.” Certainly, he could wear it in their upcoming swordfight videos. “Not possible, however, for the pre-promotion Taekwondo demos.”
Then Tara wheeled in Matthew’s Yeti bicycle. “From me and Brooke,” who stepped back and looked away; she wanted so much to ride the Catskill trails with him—and couldn’t.
Ivy opened ballet slippers and a tutu. Tara opened the suede wedges from Brooke, purple not orange, a much better color, especially with Tara’s laser-cut skirt.
Connie handed Dex a present and Ivy another for their father. First, Matthew opened a framed photograph of him and Brooke standing beneath the flowered trellis. She looked dewy and blissful, and despite the obvious heat, wore an elegant long-sleeved blouse and heavy blue jeans. Matthew held her shoulder with one hand and her straw hat in the other.
“I took that picture but you never noticed,” Dex said. Connie had printed it and Ivy helped to matte and frame it. Matthew asked both kids to sit beside him. “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”
He showed it to Brooke. “Remember that afternoon?”
“Of course. I’ll never forget it.”
Her small, wistful voice recalled the exact day. The picture showed them returning from the hidden pond. Matthew remembered the minuscule buttons down the back of that blouse and how he had slipped it over her head before they made love in the grass.
When the others were occupied, he held her head and whispered, “Next year, we can do anything and everything you want.”
Pulling away, she hurried from the room but turned at the threshold where she sent Matthew that same heartbroken, heartbreaking smile. He started after her, but Tara, who wasn’t occupied after all, shook her head.
Sung gave Dex the red Fender guitar and soon Chase was showing him the chords to the Rolling Stones’ (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. Sung played the FLAC file but kept the volume low, adding his blues harp.
In the sunroom, Matthew opened the other present, a photograph of Ivy and Dex in the swimming pool. Connie had kept Brooke the life-guard in focus, however, as she sat on the diving board, wearing her French hat and two-piece turquoise bathing suit.
Dex was still practicing his fingering when Brooke returned, pink-faced, her eyes rimmed with red. Matthew signalled, sit here, and stroked her hair. She wouldn’t look at him, though, and he knew better than to express sympathy.
Connie called everyone to brunch and reminded them to wash their hands.
“Wait,” Matthew said. “I have something for Chase.”
Happy just holding the gift tied in stiff gold ribbon, Chase said, “This—for me. Ain’t that something? Thank you, Matthew.”
Ivy said, “Open it, Chase.”
Taking his time, he ripped the tissue paper inside. “Goddamm!” Chase held up a tan leather vest. “Now this here’s what I call the shit.”
Dex and Ivy giggled.
“Chase,” Connie said.
“I mean, thanks, man. It’s…” Then he lifted matching leather pants from the box. “Jesus H. Christ! Far fuckin’ out!”
“Please, Chase! Just say, ‘Thank you.’”
“He did say thank you,” Ivy said.
After leading Matthew through a handshake of fist bumps, clasped fingers, and criss-crossing thumbs, Chase yanked off his shirt and slipped on the new vest, skin to skin.
Connie led him away before he dropped his pants. He reappeared wearing the vest unfastened, showing his leathery, lean torso. He danced around the room in his low-slung buttery soft boot cuts, his freshly dyed, thick golden hair swinging counter to his swaying butt.
Dex said, “Flex your muscles,” and Chase lifted his arms, ropy biceps pumped.
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