The Nature of Christmas was originally written for the 2019 Rainbow Advent Calendar. The Rainbow Advent Calendar featured daily (and sometimes twice-daily!) LGBTQ+ holiday-themed stories from some great LGBTQ+ authors from December 1-24, 2019! You can access the stories via the website of our fearless leader, Alex Jane, although it’s important to note that some of these stories were only available for the duration of the event, others were uploaded to Amazon and priced accordingly, and others (like The Nature of Christmas) are perma-free.
Read The Nature of Christmas below or download it to your device to read later.
The Nature of Christmas (Stick Side #2.5) features Ash and Dan, the main characters from the second book in my Stick Side series, The Nature of the Game. If you haven’t read The Nature of the Game yet, not to worry—there aren’t any significant spoilers in this short story… Except maybe for the fact that they lived happily ever after!
If you enjoy my story below, I hope you’ll consider reading The Nature of the Game to find out more about how Ash and Dan got together. Read more about The Nature of the Game here.
Or, if you want more holiday romance, check out my Christmas books below. Happy reading!
A small town, age gap, low-angst romance with an HEA. Find it in KU!
What happens when you meet The One but the timing is always off? A sweet & steamy romance with an HEA!
A friends to lovers, second chance romance full of holiday sweetness! HEA guaranteed!
The Nature of Christmas by Amy Aislin
TIMING: This short story takes place three years after the epilogue of The Nature of the Game.
Having spent the last few winters in Florida, Dan Greyson wasn’t all that fond of Toronto’s snowy landscape. It was a far cry from Tampa’s palm trees, sunny skies, and open ocean. He missed not having to check the temperature before he went out. Missed being able to slip on a pair of flip flops to take out the trash and his feet wouldn’t get cold. Missed not having to dress himself in seventeen layers just to walk to the corner store for milk.
Most of all, he missed his boyfriend.
The last day of the Toronto Christmas Market meant less selection, vendors having sold much of their stock already, but more people, holiday revellers searching for that last-minute gift. Dan didn’t need any gifts; he’d had his purchased and/or made for weeks. But it was a nice way to spend an evening with his brother, his brother’s husband, and their friends who were visiting from Vermont, on one of Mitch’s rare nights off. In fact, Mitch and his husband were off for the next few days, until morning skate with their NHL team on the twenty-seventh, which meant a stretch of five days in a row Dan would get to hang out with his brother, the most they’d have seen each other since the summer.
“What do you think?” Mitch hung back, waiting for Dan to catch up. His husband, Alex, strolled ahead with Mitch’s best friend Cody and his boyfriend.
“I’m thinking I wish it was my year to host this Christmas. Do you know it’s seventy-five degrees in Tampa right now?”
Mitch bumped his shoulder. Through their heavy jackets, it was barely a nudge. “I meant about the market.”
“Nice,” Mitch grumbled. “Someone’s lacking the Christmas spirit.”
“I’m not lacking anything.” True, the market was beautiful. A twenty-foot tall Christmas tree in the center lit in blinding white lights. Fairy lights strung above the pedestrian walkways. Christmas music serenading shoppers from hidden speakers. Wreaths hung around old-fashioned lampposts.
But it wasn’t the same without his own special someone to share it with. “It’s just that you’ve got Alex and Cody’s got Roman.” The three of them had stopped up ahead at a vendor selling pretzel bites. “I feel like the odd man out. The third wheel. The rain on your parade.” It didn’t help that he was surrounded by shopping couples every time he turned around.
“Yager’ll be here soon.”
“Yeah.” Soon being two days from now, which was also Christmas Eve. In Dan’s opinion, that was cutting it much too close. At this time of year, bad weather could strand passengers even in sunny, warm locales.
Like Arizona, where Ash—Ashton Yager, his boyfriend—had had a game last night. This morning he’d flown to Los Angeles for a two-day working session with Sport U Apparel, his biggest sponsor for which he was the current face of, as he had been for the last few years, since publicly coming out as the first bisexual NHL player.
Dan had been keeping an obsessive eye on the weather all day, hoping a midwestern storm, or even a local one, wouldn’t delay Ash’s Christmas Eve morning flight here. So far so good but you never know.
They caught up to Alex, Cody, and Roman, who’d ordered enough flavored pretzel bites to last into the new year. Onward they continued, past vendors selling coffee and pastries, puppets and stuffies, beard oil and shaving products, artisan grilled cheese sandwiches and flavored lemonades, onesies for babies and onesies for adults.
He was eyeing the onesie, seriously considering it for future winter trips to Toronto to visit Mitch and Alex. It looked nice and cozy and even had a flap in the front for easy urination.
“You’d never wear that,” Mitch said through a mouth full of cinnamon sugar pretzel bites.
Dan sighed. “True.”
He had a perfectly plain red onesie that Mitch had gifted him a few years back that he adored. But this monstrosity with the cartoon Christmas trees and reindeer with too large eyes?
According to his boyfriend, he was too much of a fashionista. So he liked nice clothes? So what? He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his navy wool peacoat with the leather cuffs.
Mitch popped another pretzel bite in his mouth. “Yager would though.”
“Oh, in a hot minute.”
Dan would’ve bought him one too except they didn’t have a size that would fit extra large hockey players with wide shoulders and gigantic thighs.
They continued walking. Alex, Cody, and Roman were lost in the crowd somewhere, probably on their way to the next food vendor. Dan removed his phone from his coat pocket. No messages from Ash. Sighing he put it away.
Mitch offered him a pretzel bite. “You’re such a sad sack today.”
“Ash and I have barely seen each other the last few weeks.” Ash—a defenseman for Tampa’s NHL team—had a series of away games followed by meetings in Manhattan with his agent and a couple of his smaller sponsors. The few days he was home Dan was in crunch mode in his studio finishing up custom orders for his clients and smaller pieces to restock his store in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village. “We haven’t spent any quality time together since…” Dan thought back and winced. “Thanksgiving?”
“Yeah, I know what that’s like,” Mitch said. Prior to being traded to Toronto in February, Mitch had played for LA, and Boston before that, and his college team before that. He and Alex had been in a long-distance relationship ever since they’d met several years ago. If anyone understood distance, it was Mitch.
“How’s it been? Finally living with your husband full-time?”
Mitch was grinning as he tossed the empty pretzel bite wrapper in a trash can. “Good. Awesome actually. I don’t have to miss him all the time now. It’s been nice being able to come home after practice and vegging in front of the TV or grocery shopping together.”
“It hasn’t been too crazy, working and living together? I think Ash and I would be at each other’s throats if we shared both work and home.”
“Nah. It’s different because Alex and I are on a team. Sometimes we go entire practices without seeing each other. He’s defense, I’m a forward,” Mitch explained at Dan’s questioning glance. “Our drills are sometimes separate.”
They carried onward, stopping to browse the wares of vendors that caught their interest. The tall figures of Alex, Cody, and Roman popped into view up ahead every so often as the crowd parted. Mitch pulled his phone out of his pocket, grinned at whatever was on the screen, thumbed a message back, and put his phone away. Dan ignored him and checked out a vendor displaying mini wooden dollhouses.
Mitch came up beside him and elbowed him. “I have an early Christmas present for you.”
“Why?” Dan said with a smile in his brother’s direction. “Can’t wait a few more days?”
“Not even a few more minutes.” Taking Dan by the shoulders, Mitch physically turned him around, pointing him in the direction they’d come from. “It’s right there.”
It was a he. Specifically, a six foot four he with deep set brown eyes who was wheeling a carry-on suitcase behind him. A he wrapped in a puffy, black winter coat and a gray scarf up to his chin. A he wearing a black knit hat that hid hair Dan knew very well had gone prematurely gray several years ago.
Simply by virtue of the confidence in his stance as he walked, Ashton Yager commanded attention. Heads turned as he made his way in Dan and Mitch’s direction. He hadn’t spotted them yet; he strode forward with purpose, eyes scanning the small crowds huddled in front of every vendor, appearing to seek them out. Seek Dan out.
Dan’s toes tingled, heart lifting. He forgot about Mitch entirely as he made tracks for his man.
Head turning in Dan’s direction, Ash’s gaze met his from too many feet away. The smile that split his face was more than delight—it was happiness and affection, pure and utterly unrestrained, teeth flashing in the glow of the fairy lights strung above the walkway and over the stalls of every vendor. It creased his cheeks, tilted his eyes up.
Dan grinned back, cheeks hurting he was smiling so wide, and picked up his pace. Ash met him in front of the ten-foot tall Christmas tree taking up space on this side of the market, sweeping Dan into his arms and kissing him like they hadn’t seen each other in weeks.
Ash’s lips were cold and dry, but the rest of him was warm and solid. There wasn’t an inch of space between them. Even their feet were tangled. Dan groaned into Ash’s mouth, not caring who heard or saw. It was dark, it was busy, and his boyfriend didn’t look like Ashton Yager, NHL player. He looked like Ash, regular guy greeting his lover.
Ash nipped Dan’s lips, a playful bite that made Dan chuckle. “Hi.”
“Hi, baby,” Ash murmured, bending slightly to tuck his face into Dan’s neck. Dan hugged his head to him and held on, nosing his way under Ash’s scarf to plant tiny kisses on his neck.
Ash blew out a breath and straightened, cupping Dan’s face. “Fuck, I missed you.”
“What are you doing here?” Unable to help himself, Dan gripped Ash’s coat in his hands, hauled him even closer, and kissed him again, hard but fast. “I wasn’t expecting you for another couple of days.”
“I called Jeff.” Jeff was the founder and CEO of Sport U Apparel. “He said he was already on vacation and was just accommodating my schedule, so we rescheduled to the new year.” Ash let loose one short self-deprecating laugh. “I should’ve done that weeks ago when his admin sent me these dates. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Moving the meeting by a few weeks won’t mess things up for you guys?”
Ash shrugged. “Jeff went for it so I’m not gonna question it. And I really wanted these extra days with you.” Little pinpricks of light reflected in his brown eyes. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
Dan hugged him again, burrowing as close as he could. “I was thinking the same thing earlier.”
“Hey.” Mitch appeared beside them, waving his phone. “The restaurant texted. Our table’s ready. Hey, Yager.”
After Ash said brief hellos to Mitch, Alex, Cody, and Roman, Dan said, “We’ll meet you guys there.” Then he rose onto his toes to claim Ash’s mouth again, playful this time, one, two, three quick kisses, before Ash pulled back with a laugh and took Dan’s gloved hand in his, the handle of his carry-on in the other. The rest of their group was already out of sight, but Dan knew the way so he guided them in the restaurant’s direction, taking his time, milking every second of alone-time with Ash that he could.
Relatively alone anyway as they weaved through and around groups of shoppers.
“Ooh.” Ash stopped in front of the onesie vendor and ran a hand over one on display. “It’d be like sleeping in butter.”
“I checked already. XL is the biggest regular size they have. Mitch said it wouldn’t fit Alex so it wouldn’t fit you either.”
“What if I got a plus size and had it tailored?”
Dan arched an eyebrow. “You really want to go to all of that trouble for a onesie?”
Ash held the arm of the onesie out to him and rubbed it over his cheek. “Feel how soft.”
Dan bought him the damn onesie.
* * *
Two days later, minutes before Christmas Day, they sat cross-legged and face-to-face on the bed in the guest room at Mitch and Alex’s, dressed down in briefs and T-shirts.
Dan pulled the plate of sugar cookies closer. “This is a pretty good haul.” He took a bite of cookie, tiny crumbs falling onto his lap.
Ash ate his own cookie. “Let’s see what you got.”
It was tradition in Alex’s family to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve; Christmas Day was for opening the stocking. Ever since Ash and Dan had started spending Christmases with Mitch and Alex, they’d adopted the tradition, as had Cody and Roman, and Cody’s parents, and Mitch and Dan’s dad, and whoever else happened to be invited to Christmas any given year.
As had become Ash and Dan’s personal tradition, before they went to bed on Christmas Eve they went through all of their gifts and played with any new toys, swapped ones that were better suited for the other, and modeled their new clothes for each other.
Dan set his half-eaten cookie aside and wiped his hand on his thigh. “A couple of dress shirts, some books—”
“Here.” He handed them over. “We both know you’ll get to them before I do.”
Ash got a lot of reading done while on the road with his team, and they both knew Dan had a bad habit of taking on too many commissions at a time in his woodworking business. Reading became a seventh, eighth, ninth—hell a bottom of the barrel—priority.
“A gift certificate to the lumber store, rubber flip flops with crocodiles on them.”
Ash held out a hand; Dan slapped the hideous things into his palm.
“A Visa gift card.”
“I got one too.” With a scoff, Ash held it up. “Someone didn’t know what to get us.”
“Yup. What’d you get?”
They went through Ash’s stash, oohing and aahing over a deep purple silk tie with a lavender paisley pattern they’d no doubt end up sharing, chuckling at the puns in a bathroom book, and petting the onesie Dan had insisted on wrapping and putting under the tree.
“I’m trying it on.”
Hopping off the bed, Ash shed his T-shirt, baring his cut torso to Dan’s gaze. Six years together and the site of a naked Ash still made him sweat, still made heat arrow straight to his dick.
Ash stepped into the Christmas-red onesie and lifted it up his frame. Before it reached his shoulders, Dan knew it wouldn’t work. His snorted chuckle became a full-blown laugh as Ash settled the onesie over his shoulders and zipped the front.
“What’s so funny?”
The crotch was halfway down Ash’s thighs, the waist sagged, the sleeves went past his fingers, and there was way too much room in the chest.
Ash pulled the top away from his skin. “I could fit you in here.”
Laughing, Dan fell back onto the bed. “You look ridiculous. Told you you should’ve bought the 2XL instead of the 3XL.”
“It was hard to tell without trying it on.” Ash opened the closet door; on the back hung a full-length mirror. He inspected himself for a second then said, “I look like a hippo with too much skin.”
Dan’s stomach hurt from laughing. “Maybe it’ll shrink in the wash.”
“By two sizes? We really could fit you in here. Let’s try it.”
Bolting up, Dan stood on the bed, as far away from Ash as he could get without falling off. “No.”
Ash’s grin was much too pleased. “Yes.”
“No. Don’t come near me.”
“Huh.” Cocking his head, Ash stalked forward. “Don’t think I’ve ever heard those words from you before.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
“Including fitting two people into a onesie meant for Santa,” Ash said, waggling his eyebrows.
“You keep saying that but I don’t think you mean it.” Ash swiped at Dan’s leg, unbalancing him. Swearing, Dan fell off the bed…
Right into Ash’s waiting arms.
Ash was laughing as he unbalanced himself and tumbled them both onto the bed next to their pile of presents. The plate of cookies bounced. Landing on top of him, Dan kissed his neck, lowered the zipper to kiss his chest.
“Hmm.” Ash tilted his head back. “You do want to get in here with me.”
“More like I want to get you out of it.”
“I think I like that plan better.”
Dan surged up and kissed him as Ash’s arms came around him, tight and steady. His heart expanded with gratitude, so thankful that Ash had been able to spend extra time with him at Christmas.
Drawing away a bare inch, Dan whispered, “Thank you for coming here early.”
Downstairs, the grandfather clock in the hallway gonged the midnight hour.
Ash’s hand went up Dan’s back to cup the base of his neck. “Merry Christmas, baby.”
“Merry Christmas, Ash.”
The onesie came off rather swiftly after that.
Copyright 2019 Amy Aislin as part of the Rainbow Advent Calendar 2019. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
THANK YOU FOR READING!
If you enjoyed this short story, I hope you’ll consider reading Ash and Dan’s origin story in The Nature of the Game (Stick Side #2).
Curious about Mitch and Alex? Read their origin story in On the Ice (Stick Side #1), or their very own Christmas story in Christmas On the Ice (Stick Side #1.5).
Want to know more about Cody and Roman? Find them in Shots on Goal (Stick Side #3).