After three beers I finally felt like I could face unwrapping Geir’s present.
Nik had shown up at my door with it yesterday, wishing me a happy Christmas all cheerfully.
It had shaken me.
For one, we hadn’t agreed on exchanging Christmas gifts. I hadn’t got anything for him—and it hadn’t even entered my mind, because I didn’t do Christmas.
Second, I’d never expected Nik to show up at my flat. Especially not with a gift.
He hadn’t said much, except wishing me a happy Christmas and telling me it was a gift from Geir he’d been tasked with delivering.
I’d put the gift on the coffee table… and it was still there, flanked by three empty beer bottles.
I bent over a little, rubbing at my forehead. I had a headache. The beers had helped it along, so I’d decided to leave the other three full bottles in the fridge for now.
My hand shook a little as I picked the nicely wrapped present up.
We hadn’t spoken today, Geir and I. He was busy celebrating with his family, now that he actually had a proper one and I… I was actively avoiding mine. I’d been invited over to my uncle’s house, but Jo would be there and I just couldn’t.
I’d been over last year and it hadn’t ended all that well for me afterwards. So this year… it was best to stay away.
The paper ripped, even as I tried to be careful with the tape. Not that it mattered, it’d end up in the rubbish anyway, but he’d done it up so nicely I didn’t want to ruin it completely.
There were two things inside. On top, a smaller frame with a picture of the two of us. One he’d taken during the week he stayed with me for his autumn holidays. He was smiling in it, one arm was thrown over my shoulder as we lounged on the sofa, and I… I was smiling too. Not as wide as him, but there was a definite tilt to my lips. All his doing.
As I lifted the photo out, I saw that the bigger frame underneath contained a painting. He’d painted the previous picture—and he was damn good. It was stunning.
My eyes burned and I put the frames down to press the palm of my hands to them.
Don’t start crying.
Do not start crying.
If I did, who knew when I’d be able to stop?
But fuck… I missed him.
It was over two months since I’d last seen him now. Talking to him on the phone just wasn’t enough sometimes.
I stood abruptly, grabbing both frames and heading into my bedroom. The smaller picture I put on the bedside table, it fit nicely there and it was close at hand.
For the painting…
I eyed the wall. I didn’t have any pictures up anywhere, but this one definitely deserved to adorn some of that empty space.
After getting a hammer and two nails from the hall, I set to work putting the painting up. Not that it took me long—a couple minutes later and I stepped back to admire it.
In just a week, the year would be over. That meant there were only six months until he finished school. Until he came home. If he came home. I wasn’t convinced. If he found something better down in the capital—and really, he should—then I’d wish him all the best and break down all on my own.
He deserved happiness.
With or without me.
I wouldn’t blame him if something better came along.
My eyes burned again and I pressed my hands to them again, rubbing a little.
The doorbell rang.
I looked towards it, even though I couldn’t see the door itself from my bedroom. Even if I could see it, it wasn’t like I could see through it.
I put the hammer down on my dresser and went into the hall. I hesitated over the handle, not really up for family visits. I wanted to be alone, not force conversation with whoever was on the other side.
It rang again and now someone banged a fist against it too.
‘Hey, Jørgen,’ Tarjei’s voice sounded faintly through it. ‘I know you’re in there. Ben said you weren’t with them. Come on, man, open the damn door.’
I did open it, and he squeezed past me with a six-pack of beer under one arm and a bag in the other.
‘Your choice.’ He held both out to me.
I took the bag to peer into.
He’s brought alcohol.
He was definitely a lot more welcome now. I didn’t have to force conversation with Tarjei either. If I didn’t want to talk, we could sit in companionable silence. Or we could watch the telly.
‘Definitely this.’ I took the bag with me into the living room and deposited it on the coffee table. ‘Why aren’t you back home with your parents opening presents?’
‘We’re done.’ He shrugged as he walked past me to get glasses from the kitchen. ‘Both Nik and I are grown-ups, so it’s not like we’ve got dozens of presents each anymore. Besides, I knew you were alone and I wanted to spend some time together.’
I took one of the glasses he handed me.
‘I’m sure you’ve got better things to do on Christmas Eve than babysit me.’
‘As if this is babysitting. Come on, scoot over.’
I did and he plopped down on the space I’d just vacated. He ruled over the remote and channel switched until he found an action movie. It was kind of our thing… to watch movies with car chases and explosions and gunfights.
With Tarjei on the sofa next to me, with the telly on, and with alcohol in my glass… maybe Christmas Eve wasn’t so bad. It sure helped get my thoughts onto something else, something that wasn’t Geir and how much I missed him.
Nero hadn’t moved from under the table in hours. I should probably take him out soon, but as long as he snoozed on, I let him be.
It was comfortable lounging about on the sofa, after all.
‘Happy Christmas, Jørgen,’ Tarjei said, voice low, not looking at me as he faced the telly. He knew I had a difficult relationship with Christmas.
‘Happy Christmas,’ I offered meekly—and then I took a long, healthy sip of my drink.
Yeah, that was more like it.