Angel had just walked in and told him to pack a bag. Xander’s heart
had stopped for a moment, thinking that Angel was finally asking him to leave; giving him the boot, as the cowboys say. Wintering
the off-season in Las Vegas, Xander had spent the last three months learning everything Angel could teach him about riding,
rodeos and things to do with rope that he’d definitely never seen in a Western, but almost nothing about Angel himself.
Angel lifted a brow and said, “Thought you said you wanted to go somewhere for Christmas,” Xander had started
throwing jeans and shirts into a bag. Xander had mentioned going somewhere…Montana, Canada, Texas…anywhere but
spending Christmas here, under the lights of the strip, “Blue Christmas” blaring from every casino.
tossed their bags into the back of the truck at nightfall and then they drove. Just drove. Angel silent, Xander fiddling with
the radio, trying as always not to acknowledge the silence. They headed east, and Xander was glad for that. California wasn’t
one of the places he’d had in mind, and in any case, he’d already sent his parents their holiday bottle of Crown
Royal – the perfect gift, because it both reminded them that he existed and helped them to forget, plus it came pre-wrapped
in cheap velvet every day of the year.
They stopped in Santa Fe, and New Mexico and Feliz Navidad was okay,
but Angel just shook his head and checked them into a cheap motel and that was even more okay, because cheap motels, the more
frayed and dingy the better, got Xander hot – something about rooms that weren’t supposed to be about anything
They headed out again the next morning, still heading east, and Xander looked over at Angel, his eyes flickering
over a quiet mouth that was quirked in an enigmatic half-smile. His gaze continued over bare arms, Angel’s sheepskin
jacket having been discarded as soon as the truck’s heater kicked on, and followed them down to strong, tanned hands
that flexed around the steering wheel. Xander sighed. He knew it wouldn’t do any good to ask – again – where
they were headed, since he’d held those hands in his last night, pinning them to the threadbare white sheets, his body
pressed flush against Angel’s, teasing him with his cock, his tongue, his words, trying to find out where this holiday
road trip lead. Angel had just smiled up at him, moving his body against Xander’s, rubbing, sliding, thrusting, until
Xander forgot what the question was and why the answer mattered.
They crossed the Texas state line and Xander perked
up, leaving the radio alone. They passed stockyards and he got Angel talking about Dallas and the 1999 championship he’d
won there, digging for clues. He started looking around for the Dallas skyline, but Angel just laughed and said that they
were closer to Santa Fe, which they had left behind hours before, than Dallas. When Xander started to argue, Angel just gave
him that half-smile again and said, “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” as his hand slid between Xander’s
thighs. Xander conceded his argument – because highway hand jobs? Always a good thing.
When Angel got quiet
again, somewhere outside of Amarillo, Xander fell asleep, waking to find a dark, grayish purple sky, and his cheek pressed
against the window. He sat up, wiping a little drool away, and blinking around at loops of interstate that stretched in front
of them. He looked up at the highway road signs. Tulsa/Wichita – exit 2 ½ miles. Oklahoma State Fairgrounds –
Xander turned and looked at Angel. “Oklahoma? You brought us back to Oklahoma ‘cause…it’s
where we first met?” Xander frowned. “That’s uncharacteristically sentimental. And random.”
grinned widened a tiny bit, but he drove past the fairgrounds, looping around the highway and turning north. They left Oklahoma
City behind as the sky grew darker, matching Xander’s mood. This wasn’t fun anymore. Seven country radio stations
at his command was nothing when compared to Angel’s power games, and outside of bed, they were starting to get really
Thirty minutes outside of Oklahoma City (or track twelve on Merle Haggard’s “Going Home for Christmas”
cd, by Xander’s estimation), they were turning off the highway and onto a dirt road. The truck’s headlights bounced
off a small road sign. Guthrie, Oklahoma, city limits.
“Okay, where the fuck are we?” Xander asked, snapping
the cd off.
Angel didn’t answer, but his grin was gone, and a muscle worked tightly in his cheek. Xander was
beyond caring if his questions were pissing Angel off. “Angel, I’m really tired of this. Not just this,”
he said, waving his hand around at the dark country road outside the truck. “All of it. I’m tired of being on
the outside, not knowing what this is, who we are, Christ, who you are.” He stared at Angel’s profile, seeing
the brow darker in the dim light of the cab, the jaw clenched tightly.
Xander sighed, leaning back and turning away.
“If this was some plan to piss me off so that you could get rid of me…so that I’d just leave without you
having to take back your, ‘want a friend,’ offer – it’s working.”
They were both silent
as Angel turned at the next side road, the truck rattling over a cattle guard until Angel pulled halfway up a sprawling dirt
driveway in front of a white ranch house and parked. “Xander,” he said quietly.
Xander shook his head.
“I mean it, Angel. I don’t wanna do this anymore. I can’t.” He was silent for a moment, the soft rumble
of the truck’s engine and the hiss of the heater making Angel’s silence seem louder. Xander turned to him, his
voice low, intense, “We’re not friends. We fuck and we hang out and we go home together every night,
but we’re not friends, we’re not,” he laughed harshly, “lovers. You don’t give me anything of
Xander cut off as Angel reached past him, his hand brushing Xander’s thigh. “Except that,”
Xander snapped, jerking back and then relaxing as Angel’s hand reached farther, popping open the glove box. He pulled
out a flat jeweler’s box and dropped it into Xander’s lap.
“Merry Christmas, Xander,” Angel
Xander looked down at the box, the black velvet dark against his jeans, and then picked it up, opening
it. He swallowed hard, and then lifted a hand to touch the black and silver belt buckle, his finger tracing the lines of the
“A” that curved down, twining around a matching “X.”
Xander looked up at Angel, his mouth
opening, and then the lights snapped on at the ranch house, lighting the porch and spilling out into the yard as the font
door opened and a woman stepped out, shading her eyes against the glare from the truck’s headlights. Xander stared at
her for a moment and then turned to Angel. “Where are we?”
“My house,” Angel said, leaning
toward him and brushing his hand against Xander’s cheek. “Where I grew up.”
Xander looked back at
the woman on the porch, seeing someone else walk up behind her and look out at the darkness, toward them. “Do they…know
about me?” Xander asked.
Angel laughed a little harshly, hunching his shoulders. “They don’t know
about me,” he answered.
Xander stared at him. “You’re outing us for Christmas?!”
Angel said, killing the engine and getting out of the truck. Xander looked down at the buckle in his hands, and then shoved
it into his pocket, opening the door and following Angel.
As he stepped up onto the wide front porch, he watched as
Angel slowly walked toward the slight, grey-haired woman who stood in the doorway, tears streaking down her cheeks as she
opened her arms. Xander stood awkwardly behind them as the woman wrapped her arms tightly around Angel whispering, “Happy
Xander looked past them at a young girl, fifteen or so, long dark hair trailing down her
back, with eyes as dark as her brother’s, opening wide as she looked back at him. Xander grinned slightly, wondering
if she knew she had a horse named for her. Past her, a fire burned in an old brick fireplace, and on the dark wooden mantle
stood a picture of a man with Angel’s stubborn jaw, surrounded with candles.
Angel pulled away from the woman
in his arms and turned back, reaching for Xander’s hand. “Happy Christmas, Mama,” he said. “This is
Xander. We’ve, ah, well, we’ve come a long way.”
The woman smiled Angel’s half-smile and reached
for both of their hands and drew them inside, closing the door behind them.