At his parents’ house, Theodore leaned back against the refrigerator, one hand wrapped loosely around his cane. His mother was still in the process of making food, and though she wouldn’t let him help, he still liked being in the kitchen. The warmth the oven put out always felt good on his hip, if nothing else.
His best friend, Gina, was in the living room with her son and Vera. Though she had already seen the fish tank and the fish inside, she had refused to tell him anything about it. As it stood, Theodore was choosing to hold that against her until she caved and spoiled the surprise.
Tragically, he had a feeling she wouldn’t.
“I heard you and Gina talking about a fish tank?” his mother, Bonnie, asked.
“Yeah. Russell, umm… For Christmas, Russell bought me a fish tank and some fish. Gina helped him move it into the house, so she’s seen it and everything in it, but I haven’t yet.”
“That’s… very sweet of him. You told him about the old one?”
“No. Vera did, and then he eventually asked me about it. I told him about some of the fish I used to have, showed him some pictures. I guess he was planning this that whole entire time.” Theodore smiled, shaking his head. “He’s really in this for the long haul, Mom.”
“I’m glad, baby. You deserve a good man who’s in for the long haul.” After wiping her hand on the towel draped over her shoulder, she reached out to touch his cheek. “I’m so glad to see you happy, Theo.”
“I’m glad to be happy. I-I’m still nervous about a lot of things, and Russell says I probably will be for a long time, but I didn’t think I’d ever get to actually be happy again. But… thanks to Russell and Vera, I do get to be happy again.” Theodore shook his head. “I still can’t believe it. Feels like some sort of dream sometimes.”
“I can only imagine, sweetheart. I wish so badly that I could take away everything that man did to you, but I don’t envy the hand you were dealt.”
Theodore nodded. “Yeah. I don’t want to credit anything to Shane, but at least I finally learned that not all people are good, that it’s… naive to think everyone has some sense of genuine goodness in them. Might’ve had to wait for someone even worse if I hadn’t met Shane first instead.”
Rather than telling him it was stupid to feel that way or that he shouldn’t think of that way, she gave his hand a tight squeeze. That, Theodore appreciated. Being able to share how he really felt without being told it was the wrong way to feel about the thing that happened to him drove him up the damn wall.
If nothing else, his first Christmas with his parents in years was off to a good start. His first Christmas without Shane made it even better.
After lunch, Theodore helped his mom separate leftovers between containers for Gina, Theodore, and his parents. “I’m really glad you and Vera came out here for today, Teedie.”
He turned to look at her, but her back was to him. “I’m glad we came over too. It was nice.” Theodore cleared his throat. “Everything’s still a bit… weird for me, but I really do want you two in my life. You and Dad, I mean. I want you both in Vera’s life, too. I hate that Shane made sure… you guys weren’t really involved much, but I wanna do as much as I can to fix that, even if it’s a little weird for now.”
“Your dad and I want to fix it, too. So if there’s anything we can do to help things be less weird, let us know.” Finally, she turned to face him. “Okay?”
Theodore smiled. “Okay, Mom. If I think of anything, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Bonnie smiled back at him. “Good. Great.” She slid a small stack of Tupperware over to him. “When Russell gets here, you let him know to get his butt in her for a slice of pie and to carry those out for you.”
“I can do it, Mom.”
“I know you can, but he’s less likely to drop all the lovely food I just separated out for you.”
Theodore snorted. “Well… True.”
“Daddy!” Vera shouted as someone knocked on the door. “Daddy, it’s Russell’s car!”
“You can let him in, baby.”
It wasn’t long before Vera hurried into the kitchen, tugging Russell behind her. Dressed in a pair of dark dress pants and a nice sweater, Russell looked much different than he did in the other two main outfits Theodore had seen him in–his suits for work and his go-to hoodie and sweatpants for every other time of day. In his suits, he looked confident. In his New York Law hoodie and RPD sweats, he looked comfy. In his sweater, he looked like the family man Theodore had always craved.
He looked absolutely gorgeous.
“Russell, it’s good to see you again.”
Russell flashed that megawatt smile, the charming one Theodore had seen him use on cashiers the few times they had bought groceries together. “Good to see you too, Bonnie.”
Bonnie grabbed a small plate and held it out to Russell. “Saved you a slice of pie. Theo wasn’t sure what you liked, so I went with cherry.”
“Ah, cherry’s great. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” Bonnie held her hand out to Vera. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go say bye to Gina and Boyd.” Once the pair walked out of the kitchen, Russell leaned back against the refrigerator and stuck a forkful of pie into his mouth. He closed his eyes for only a moment, a little smile tugging at either corner of his mouth.
“You don’t have pie often, huh?”
“For holidays? God, no. Not since Mom stopped being able to host them. My sister doesn’t do much baking or cooking either. If we have pie for a holiday, it’s one of those little box ones from, like, McDonald’s.”
Theodore’s brow furrowed, but he hoped Russell hadn’t caught sight of it. Maybe he should have sucked it up and invited Russell over for lunch anyway. “What about food?”
Russell shrugged. “Depends. Chicken nuggets and macaroni today.”
“When was the last time you had… a Christmas meal?”
“What’s your definition of ‘Christmas meal’?”
“Something that takes more than twenty minutes to make for the entire meal.”
Russell stuck another bite of pie into his mouth, chewing as his eyes drifted up to the ceiling. “I dunno. Mom didn’t do the big family shit after she managed to get us all away from my father. Most of our ‘family’ was on Dad’s side, since he made sure to cut her off from her side of the family. You know how people are. They don’t understand how hard it is to get out of an abusive relationship. So when she finally did, it was too late, as far as they were concerned. Still hasn’t managed to patch things up with most of ‘em, last I knew. So… over a decade, I guess. Probably over two.”
“I-I’m gonna make you a belated Christmas supper as soon as my hip’s better.”
Russell smiled. “You don’t have to do that, Teddy. I’m still with my family, even if it’s… at different times of day and in different buildings. That’s all that matters to me.”
“I’d still like to give you an Eckart Christmas when I can. Maybe you could even help, and we could do it sooner?”
“I think I’d be more in the way than helpful for any big meals.”
“Maybe, but I’d rather you be in the way with a spoon in your hand than never there at all.”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “Me too. When do you wanna do our Eckart Christmas supper?”
“We could do it for… Valentine’s Day? We could spend the whole day cooking and baking together, and for supper, we have everything we made together. You, me… some candles?” Theodore asked.
“I do like the idea of not having to go out to some fancy restaurant and pretending that’s the only way to show someone you care about ‘em.” Russell cut off another little piece of pie. “I’d like that. You, me, and an Eckart Christmas supper for Valentine’s Day.”
Theodore smiled. “Aw-awesome. We’ll plan for that, then.”
“Awesome.” Russell forked the last bite of pie into his mouth and set the plate on the counter. “Those Tupperware for your house?”
“Sweet. I’ll carry ‘em out to the car. You go ahead and say goodbye to everyone. Take your time. I’ve got time.” Russell pushed away from the refrigerator and curled two fingers beneath Theodore’s chin, tilting his head back. “Merry Christmas, Teddy.”
Theodore smiled, heat rising to his cheeks. “Merry Christmas, Russell.”
Russell kissed him, soft and sweet. “I don’t wanna intrude, so I’ll be in the car. You and Vera come out when you’re ready, no matter how long that is from now. Then we’ll get you home and see some fish, yeah?”
“I like the sound of that.” Theodore smoothed a hand over the front of Russell’s sweater. “Thank you for being so… understanding with the distance and all of that. W-with my family, I mean.”
“No problem, Theo. When you’re comfortable with me joining in on family holidays, I’ll be here, but I’m perfectly fine waiting until you’re comfortable with it, no matter how long it takes.”
Warmth flooded Theodore’s face again. He couldn’t help it. Russell made him blush more than anyone he’d ever met. He leaned up and kissed the detective. “Vera and I will meet you in the car in a few.”
Russell flashed that soft, charming smile of his. “Sounds like a plan, Teddy.”
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