Christmas Isn’t The End
By Ki Brightly
© Ki Brightly Christmas 2019
“No, Daddy, I hate this costume!” Bella broke out into tears, and her chubby face turned Christmas red. She scowled, and the adorable gap between her front teeth made me want to smile, but I knew better. That would send her into a full-fledged tizzy. Her long brown hair, almost black like my late husband’s, was piled up on her head in a bun with a ribbon securing the cute mess.
“Aw, baby doll, don’t be this way.”
She jumped up and down in place, her tap shoes clacking loudly in her irritation.
Dan had been better at all this stuff. Having Bella had been his dream, and I’d supported him the entire way, and I also loved Bella far more than I’d been prepared for. He’d been over the moon when we brought her home from the hospital with promises to send our surrogate photos through our may long years of joy. From the time she could walk, he’d had her in every activity under the sun, but dance was the one she loved best, so here she was, at the ripe old age of seven, already a four year Christmas show vet. Dan had gloated to every person he ever met about his little ballerina.
My heart squeezed. It had been a year since we lost him, and I didn’t know if I would ever feel the same about Christmas. If I never had to spend another holiday in a hospital, I’d be grateful. He’d gone from a mild chest pain at Christmas dinner, while I drank an extra glass of wine that I shouldn’t have as he convinced me the twinges he felt were nothing, to dead in under two hours.
“Daddy, it itches,” Bella whined. She looked so much like Dan, too, wearing her obstinate little scowl on her pretty bow mouth. She tugged sadly at the flipper of her penguin costume. Her tap shoes stuck out from the bottom of the long skirt, black with shiny red Christmas bows on them. The red rouge glowed too bright on her cheeks, but it was stage makeup, so I couldn’t say anything against it. My cowboy boots hurt my toes when I knelt down in front of her.
“You always love the Christmas show, baby. Are you sad because Papa Dan isn’t here?”
She shook her flippers like she might take off flying and nodded. I’d had to stay backstage to help her into her costume, thank goodness. What if I’d been out in the audience when this happened? Her makeup ran as more tears flowed from the corners of her deep brown eyes, and I had no idea what to do, so I pulled her into a tight hug and held her close. If the costume got wrinkled, I didn’t give a damn.
“Stars and feakin’ garters,” I grumbled. I was in my black tights with a short Santa-esque top on that barely covered my butt. The fake fur tickled my wrists and neck. I couldn’t show off too much or the parents would have a fit. Normally I only directed, but we could not find any older boys to dance this year, and my most advanced class of girls, fifteen-year-olds, had begged me to be the male lead in their number. They wanted to show off some jumps. I’d agreed, because how fun, but now I wished that I wasn’t in costume for this moment.
Wyatt was the dance dad every mom in the studio wanted to comfort—in all ways possible—but the man was queer as a three dollar bill, just like yours truly, and had not realized he was causing a hoopla all season long. He was a widower and didn’t need that mess. I’d been ready to drag some of the hussies out of my studio by their har to give them a talking to, most of them were married for cripes sakes, but every single one of those women backstage who’d been drooling over the six-foot-wow muscled hunk who trained horses outside of town for a living, averted their gaze as he crashed to the floor next to his little girl bawling his eyes out. He sat there on his butt and just sobbed.
I’d heard the sad story directly from Bella herself, how her Papa had dropped dead at Christmas dinner. It was shocking enough that I’d gone home that night and texted Wyatt, just to ask how things were going. He’d assured me they were fine, both he and Bella were in therapy and moving on with their lives. That had been in January of last year.
Clearly, things were still not okay at the ranch. Poor man.
I carefully walked over, trying to make some noise, but I was naturally light on my feet in and in slippers. “Wyatt?” I murmured, “let me get Bella ready for her number, okay?”
He leaned back and glanced up at me. He was classically handsome, rugged and manly in the jaw, wide shoulders—the whole outdoorsy thing really worked on him—but with tears on his face he was touchable and human. I went gently to my knees right beside him and gave him a stage hug. Barely there. What if he didn’t want one? He laughed and leaned into my arms.
“Mr. Weber, I didn’t miss the number, did I?” Bella’s eyes went huge and she pouted her bottom lip in my direction.
I glanced out toward the stage. We were in the wings off to the side, and the other penguins were out there under the sweltering lights, getting into their spots. “No, there’s time. Run, darling.” She did, rushing right out in all her waddling glory, and Wyatt sat there, shaking his head and wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his red-and-black plaid button up. He looked like he’d come directly from the pine forests of the Arctic my stage, but he radiated musky amber cologne.
“She’ll be okay.” I rested my hand on his shoulder and he glanced at me with a fragile smile. “Will you?”
He swallowed and nodded hard. “Eventually.”
The look he gave me was so lost, I leaned in and hugged him again. “You loved him a lot?”
He nodded with his face pressed to my neck. His warm breath gusted there and stirred things in me that were inappropriate for the moment. I took a deep breath and tried to breathe out my tension.
“What a lucky man, your husband was.”
He sat back and we both turned, right there, to watch Bella dance her number to the tune of Winter Wonderland. The people in the audience laughed, and I knew there were parents and grandparents out there snapping pictures of my penguins, even though I’d told them, repeatedly, that the flashes distracted the children.
Wyatt smiled at me when the number was winding down. “Thank you. You and the studio kept me sane.”
I gasped and rested a hand on my chest. “How so?”
“It gave us someplace to go. It kept us in a routine. And I’ve noticed, how you take extra care with her. It means a lot.” He held out his hand. I thought he was going to be all manly and shake, but he took my hand and pressed it between both of his own. “So thank you.”
My heart kicked in my chest. The dimples he flashed were killer. “Wyatt, I know you’re still raw, but when you’re finally doing better, call me honey. You’re a good guy, and there’s a shortage in the world.” I leaned over and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. He stared at me, wide-eyed, and I winked as I rushed out on the stage along with my older girls dressed as sugar plum fairies. The little ones toddled back toward Wyatt and slipped past him to their changing room. They were giddy, and giggly, and tried to be serious, but failed miserably.
When the girls and I were done with our number, I was exhausted and sweating, and swearing to myself that my New Year’s resolution would be to spend more time working on myself in the studio. I made my way backstage to my small dressing room. Being the only man, I got to use the small storage area that housed the cleansers and extra chairs as my transformation space. To my surprise I found a single rose on the folding chair I’d opened up earlier to drape my clothes over, along with a note folded under it.
Touched, I picked up the rose and rolled the cool, soft petals against my overheated cheek. I opened the paper.
You’re a good guy, too. Call me sometime.
If you missed it, here’s last year’s story!
Here is Ki Brightly’s New Holiday Book!
December 15th, 2019.
On preorder now: