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Where Are You Christmas?

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Winter is the season of cheer. As the cold outside grows stronger, so too does the love in other people’s hearts. Friends and families join together simply to celebrate each other’s presence in their lives, giving gifts, sharing great feasts, and singing songs.

But not for Creighton Styles.

Creighton exhales, stepping back to look at the last poster on the window. It says “Christmas special: Buy one cinnamon apple tart, get the second 50% off!” He smiles to himself, admiring his handiwork. As he turns to watch the people go by, he feels a sense of pride at how they admire it, too. This is all he could ever ask for.

December is only half over, and his sales have boomed even higher than the last holiday season. He’s had to put in a lot of work: The Grey’s have opened a new food truck, spreading Christmas cheer and giving people not 30%, not 60%, but 100% off - Handing out free food like it means nothing.

Creighton has trouble understanding why anyone would do that. How is that supposed to turn a profit? Why waste all that food and effort and get nothing? It’s a miracle their business stays alive.

Try as he might, though, their approach still trumps his own. He’s noticed his profits are beginning to fall: why have something half off when you can have it free? The thought makes him grind his teeth in anger.

So one night, Creighton takes matters into his own hands. When the Grey’s all go to sleep, and the restaurant is all closed, he sneaks into the warehouse where they keep their food truck. It takes all night, put with a hundred nails and a little work, the tires of their food truck are no more.

The next morning, Creighton slips into the restaurant during business hours. The new heir, Simon Grey, seems glum about something.

“Whatever could be the matter?” Creighton asks, sick amusement tinting his voice. “You look like someone spat in your eggnog, Grey.”

Simon raises his head, and narrows his eyes at Creighton. “Creighton, were you the one who ruined our food truck?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Creighton flipped his hair, and tried not to break out into a grin. “Your food truck is just low quality.”

“All the puncture wounds were the same sizes!

“Probably bugs. Lord knows you don’t keep out the pests in this place.” He says it louder than he should over his shoulder, and he sees some customers look at him in concern. One woman starts packing her things.

Simon leans on the counter. “Creighton, if you’re not here to do business, can you please leave?”

Creighton hums. “Fine. I wouldn’t buy anything from you if you paid me, anyway.” He turned away and sauntered out of the restaurant, free to grim smugly as Simon Grey watched him leave. Nothing felt better than sweet revenge.

 

Not all good things last forever.

After the Grey’s repaired their truck, his business started going down again. He just wanted to leave it be: After all, it surely wouldn’t last forever.

Right as he served the last customer of the night and got ready to close his restaurant, his phone rang. He held it to his ear. “Hello, Creighton Styles speaking.”

“Creighton?”

Creighton’s eyes widened. “Oh. Mom.”

“Creighton, Dear, are you coming home for Christmas this year?”

Silence followed. The line was tense before he replied. “No, I… I think i’m too busy with the shop.”

He heard a sigh from the other end. “This is about your father, isn’t it?”

Pursing his lips, Creighton flipped the sign on the door so it said “We’re closed!” He turned away from the door, and lowered his voice. “No, it’s not that.”

More silence.

“...Yeah, it’s about him.”

“Honey, i’ve asked him to be civil-”

“I don’t care! I can’t be around him after what happened on Christmas two years ago! I’m not… I don’t wanna be around him.”

His mother pleaded with him. “Creighton, darling, he told me he’d be on his best behavior. He just… has some conditions, is all.”

“Like don’t be gay at home, right?”

Creighton. He just doesn’t want you bringing any boys home, but he said-”

Creighton snapped. “No, I don’t want to be around him! He had a chance to be there for me, and he fucked it up!”

“Language!”

Creighton leaned against the counter and sighed. “I’m an adult, I can say whatever I want. And it’s true.”

“I’m your mother, you shouldn’t say it to me! And it’s not. He’ll come around, darling! You know i’m always here for you.”

“I know. I love you, mom.”

“I love you, too. Please consider it.”

Creighton hung up without another word. There was an awful feeling in his gut, and he already knew he wouldn’t be able to make it go away by cooking to distract himself. And when in doubt, only one thing truly cheered him up.

That’s how he set out to make good on his rumor about the Grey restaurant being riddled with pests. One night and several same-day deliveries of bugs later, Creighton felt a whole lot better.

Thinking back on it, the admiration of his customer’s wasn’t the best feeling, not by a long shot. It was seeing Simon Grey’s face crumple in frustration at a kitchen full of cockroaches and aphids.

 

---

 

Stupid Greys. Stupid Simon. Stupid dumb luck.

Somehow, Simon had befriended an exterminator by giving his struggling family free food, and his pest problem was gone before opening the next day. More than that, Creighton’s sales were dropping, fast. He needed to do something to easy his nerves, but he couldn’t think of a plan at all.

With a sigh, Creighton settled on his couch. He had to close his restaurant today due to a massive snow storm, but the Grey’s were still fucking open. He was bored out of his mind.

Creighton pulled out his cellphone and tapped one of his contacts. As the dial tone rang, he closed his eyes and massaged his temples. She’d know what to do.

Then, a beep.

‘Hey, this is Alex! Leave a message at the tone.’

Creighton growled, and dialed again. One ring. Two rings. Three. Four.

“Think you could take a hint?”

“Alex, I don’t wanna hear it. My shop is snowed in and i have nothing to do.”

Alex scoffed on the other end of the line. “Right, like i’d want anything to do with you right now.”

Creighton frowned. “Oh great, what is it now?”

“Wanna know what Vivien told me today? She said you released bugs into her friend’s kitchen. That’s gross, Creighton! Normal people don’t do that.”

Creighton grit his teeth. “What?! You know the fierce competition I have with the Greys!”

“Yeah, and i’ve always thought it was really weird of you.” Alex began chewing him out. “Vivien always talks about how upsetting it is that you try and shut her friend down for no reason-”

“Simon Grey is a threat to my career!”

“He’s a threat to your dumb title and your ego!” She sighed. “Creighton, i’m sorry, but if you keep doing this kinda stuff… I gotta stick by Vivien. I don’t think we can talk for a while.”

Creighton didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything.

“Okay, well… i’ll talk to you when you drop your pointless rivalry with Simon. He’s not that bad if you’d just set your pride aside.”

The phone beeped, signaling the line going dead. Creighton turned his phone off and leaned back onto his couch.

“I’m gonna lose my fucking mind.

 

Creighton trudged through the snow in his boots, muttering to himself about the cold. “Why isn’t there salt on the roads? Where are my tax dollars going?!”

When he made it to Simon’s restaurant, he saw him cleaning inside getting ready to close. He quickened his pace to make it before Simon got to the door to flip the sign.

The bell rang with his entrance, and Simon turned to look at him. Creighton didn’t bother wiping his snow-caked boots on the welcome mat as he marched right up to the counter. Simon just looked at him.

“Why does everything go right for you people?”

Simon shrugged, daring to look smug as he grinned at Creighton. “We’re good people.”

Creighton began seeing red. “What, and i’m not? Jesus, can’t I get a little Christmas miracle, too?!”

Simon Grey had the audacity to turn away from him and continue cleaning the counter. “Maybe if you were a little nicer, things would turn out good for you.”

“Things always turn out good for me!” Creighton poked his chest with his thumb. “I’ve never struggled, not once, until you came into this town and made my life hell! Just get off my back already!”

That did it. Simon turned to Creighton, frowning. “Sorry, who is it that’s on someone’s back?” He leaned against the counter. “Last I recalled, you were the one always trying to get my restaurant shut down. I’ve never gotten on your case about anything!”

Creighton scoffed. “Right, it’s like you don’t remember when you hired a private investigator on me. Real good example of not getting on my case.”

Simon stood tall, shoulders squared. “I need to close the restaurant. You need to leave.”

Creighton frowned. “Hell no. I hate the cold, and i’ve got more to say. I’m staying here a little longer!”

Simon walked out from behind the counter and placed a hand on Creighton’s shoulder. Creighton lept back, startled. “Don’t touch me!” Simon backed up, hands in the air. “Alright, alright. What did you want to say?”

Creighton glared at Simon. “You listen here, Grey, I’m not going to leave you alone until you stop threatening my career.”

“Threatening your career?” The taller man crossed his arms. “Is this what your feud with me is about? Taking your title as the king of Tasty Hills?”

“Yes, exactly!”

Simon stepped forward. “I don’t want your title! I cook for the love of cooking! If I get the title on the way, without even trying…” Simon scrunched up his nose, his face getting red with anger. “...Then maybe that means you just don’t deserve it!”

Creighton’s eyes widened, and he staggered back from the force of Simon’s words. He desperately wanted to argue, but he couldn’t find his voice. Everything he said was too much to think about. Even Simon looked taken aback by the fact that he said that. 

The two men stood in silence, watching the other, waiting for one of them to make a move. Finally, Simon sighed and looked at the floor, the tension easing from his shoulders. “We shouldn’t be fighting. I don’t like fighting with people, and… it’s almost Christmas, for God’s sake!”

Creighton huffed, indignified. “What does that change? Christmas doesn’t mean anything.”

Simon looked up at him. “Of course it does. We should be getting along, at least for the holidays.” He ran a hand through his curly red hair. He looked so upset. Upset wasn’t a good look on him; Not when it wasn’t Creighton’s doing.

Suddenly, his blue eyes lit up. “Hey, you think you could be civil for a night?”

Creighton sneered. “What’s that supposed to mean…?”

“I’m holding a Christmas party. It won’t be a lot of people… Maybe just close friends. Johnny, Vivien, Martin… Vivien’s trying to get Alex to come. You two know each other, right?”

Creighton’s stomach twisted at the thought of seeing Alex right now. He turned away. “Sorry, Grey, but I wouldn’t be caught dead at a party of yours. Plus, i’m… going to be with family this Christmas.”

If it was his only out, then so be it.

“That’s fine, you don’t have to come.” Simon opened the door, letting in a gust of cold air. “Well, Merry Christmas anyway.”

Creighton glared at Simon. “I don’t need you to hold the door for me,” he argued, but left anyway. As he stomped away, he kicked some of the snow. “God, I hate the cold!” he growled, probably loud enough for Simon to hear.

 

---

 

On Christmas eve, Creighton paced anxiously in his living room as the phone rang. Once the line clicked on the other side, he paused.

“Hello?”

So he hadn’t saved his number.

“Dad.”

“Creighton? What are you calling for?” He sounded on edge. This was the first time they’d spoken in almost 2 years.

“Mom said you’d play nice if I came over for Christmas this year. You… agreed to that, right?”

“...I’ve been thinking it over. I’m just… you- you gotta understand, the generation I grew up in-”

Creighton growled. “That’s not an excuse.”

“Would you stop? I’m trying to explain myself, damn. You’re always getting offended too fuckin’ easy, it’s a wonder I didn’t figure out you were a fruitcake before you told me.” He paused, then laughed, like it was a joke. It took so much for Creighton not to hang up right then.

“Anyway… yeah, i’m willing to cooperate. I just don’t want you talking to guys while you’re back home. Or, y'know, dressing the way you do.”

“What’s wrong with the way I dress?”

“It ain't right for a man. You dress like a fairy.”

Creighton hung up, and put his face into his hands, groaning for a long time. He fell back onto the couch, and it felt like there was a pit in his stomach. 

“I can’t do this,” he mumbled. He removed his hands to look up at the ceiling. As he stared into the expanse of white, he went over his options.

He could go home for Christmas, but he’d have to deal with his dad… and he’d certainly get into a bigger fight than the time he came out to them and ‘ruined Christmas’. Or he could spend Christmas totally alone. Even last year, Alex came to visit him, but that wouldn’t be the case this year; She would be at the Greys’ party.

He could go to the party…

But why would he do that to himself? That would be admitting defeat. There is nothing Creighton hates more than submitting to the likes of the Grey family. Still, compared to every other option…

 

---

 

Christmas is the holiday of cheer. But not for Creighton Styles. Not this Christmas.

Creighton stood on the sidewalk outside of the grey’s restaurant. It was was closed, but Simon and his troupe of friends sat in the common area sharing drinks and cookies.

Creighton looked inside longingly at a distance. He was slightly illuminated by the warm lights coming inside. As he kept watching, the pit in his stomach grew wider, swallowing his heart whole. He looked down at the ground and kicked some snow.

He couldn’t do this. Simon was the only one who made the offer. He wasn’t really welcome.

God, he wasn’t welcome anywhere. Not even on Christmas.

He turned to leave. He made it a few steps onto the road when he stopped in his tracks as the sound of a bell announced a door opening behind him.

“Creighton?”

Creighton turned around. Simon stood in the doorway with a scarf around his neck. He looked surprised to see him. “I thought you were spending time with family?”

The words stung Creighton like wasps. There were a million excuses he could put to good use right now: “Of course, i’m on my way now.” “Actually, I have even better places to be.” “I just wanted to get a good look at how awful your party is.” 

But he couldn’t bring himself to lie. He wanted in. He wanted in bad. And he hated it.

“I don’t have anywhere else to go.” It came out ugly and weak. He hated how it sounded coming out of his mouth, meek and muffled by the collar of his jacket sipped up high, covering his face. He desperately wanted to crumble and die where he stood. He hated this. He hated being vulnerable like this.

But Simon just smiled, and tilted his head. “Well, door’s open. Come in!” He backed up and held the door open for Creighton. 

Creighton took a shaky breath and looked at the floor. He lifted his foot with a great amount of effort, and the feeling of the first footfall ran up his back, goading him on. He made his way carefully to the door and peeked inside.

Everyone was looking at him. Johnny in fright, Alex and Vivien in surprise… none of them in disgust. Small mercies. 

Simon turned back to the group. “I hope you guys don’t mind that I invited Creighton.”

Johnny raised his shoulders. “Why?” Vivien smacked him gently, and he rubbed the spot of contact with a soft ‘ow!’

“Of course we don’t mind! Come in before you freeze your butt off, Creighton!” Alex smiled, looking a little relieved. Creighton took off his boots by the door, and put his earmuffs on the coat hanger.

“That’s a lot of gear,” Vivien commented.

Creighton shrugged, unsure of how to ease into talking to these people. “I’m not a fan of… uh, the cold.”

He nervously takes a seat beside Alex, because he doesn’t feel particularly comfortable around anyone else there. “So… what are you guys doing?”

“We were debating watching a movie!” Vivien holds up a remote. “They have Home Alone 2 on Netflix.”

“Home alone is the better movie,” Martin says. 

Vivien looks him in the eye. “What? No way! Home Alone 2 is a Christmas classic!” she argues.

Nothing beats the original! There’s no movie who’s sequel was better than it’s predecessor.”

Johnny hums. “Not true. Shrek 2 was better than Shrek one.”

Martin frowns. “Okay, that’s the only exception.”

Vivien points the remote at the TV. “Whatever you guys, let’s watch the movie!” She presses the play button, and it begins loading. Simon walks around to where Creighton is sitting, and sits next to him. 

Creighton tenses for a moment, and Alex turns to look at him. He looks back at her. She smiles kindly, and nods. He sighs, and relaxes.

Halfway through the movie (and halfway through a plate full of gingerbread men), Creighton felt like you would have to pay him to move from his spot. The tension melted as the movie continued; even Johnny looked more comfortable. 

Once the movie was over, Vivien stood excitedly. “Okay! It’s gift time!” She ran behind the table to a little Christmas tree propped in the corner, with decorated boxes underneath. Creighton tensed. 

“Ah, I… didn’t know we were supposed to bring gifts.” 

Alex patted him on the shoulder. “It’s alright! You just showed up, so it’s fine if you didn’t get anyone anything.”

Everyone gathered in a circle on the floor with a few boxes by their side. Creighton watched as they each opened the gifts they were given. As Vivien hugged a now blushing Johnny while wearing the yellow sweater he got her, Creighton felt an awful feeling in his stomach.

Suddenly, a box was dropped in his lap. He jumped, and looked up at Simon, who was standing behind him. “I didn’t know if you were going to show up, so… I thought I’d get you something.”

Creighton’s eyes lit up. He looked down at the box with the red ribbon. Martin leaned forward. “Well, open it! I wanna see what you got!”

With slightly trembling hands, Creighton undid the ribbon carefully and lifted the lid off of the box. Inside was a violet fleece throw with silver stars on it.

Simon rubbed the back of his neck. “I just know you said you hated the cold, so..”

Creighton lifted the material, feeling it with his thumb. It was incredibly soft. He pulled it up over his shoulders, shrouding himself in the fluffy blanket. He looked up at Simon. “You didn’t have to get me anything,” he said, but he was smiling. “O-of course, I’ve had… better gifts! But, uh… thanks.”

Simon smiled, and Creighton felt like he understood what he was trying to say.

 

---

 

When everyone was yawning with exhaustion, they bid their farewells and left. Creighton was the last to go, just after Alex.

Alex stopped at the door with him. “Thank you for showing up. I think it’s really nice that you spent Christmas with us.” She tilted her head and grinned. “I sure hope this is the end of your rivalry.”

“In your dreams, girl.” Creighton pulled the blanket closer. He’d been wearing it since he got it. He looked through the window at Simon, who was saying his goodbyes to Martin outside. “But… maybe I won’t be so vicious anymore.”

Alex punched him teasingly in the arm. “Just try to be fair to each other, alright? Merry Christmas, Creighton!” She left, waving a goodbye at Simon as she walked away. 

When Martin was finished talking to Simon, he stepped back inside. Creighton stood by the doorway with him.

“I’m glad you decided to show up,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad we could get along, at least for tonight.”

Creighton cleared his throat, and looked at his boots. “Right. Well… Grey.” He looked back up, taking a deep breath. “I suppose I shall… concede… to you… that this was a fun get together. And maybe in the future, I’ll… “ Creighton looked out of the window at the snow gently falling onto the ground. “Maybe i’ll consider being… nicer. Sometimes.”

“Aww, Creighton-”

“D-Don’t let it get to your head!” Creighton smiled smugly. “I’m still better than you in every way, I just think… even though you aren’t perfect like me, perhaps your… worthy of some respect.”

Simon smiled.

“Some,” Creighton repeated.

“Okay, Creighton. Merry Christmas.”

Creighton stood there for another second, then nodded, taking his leave.

 

---

 

Winter is the season of cheer. As the cold outside grows stronger, so too does the love in other people’s hearts. Friends and families join together simply to celebrate each other’s presence in their lives, giving gifts, sharing great feasts, and singing songs. 

But it’s just a little different for Creighton Styles. Just a little.

Once Creighton gets home, he sits on his bed and looks at his phone. He’s got three missed calls from his mother, and a line of texts.

Mom: Creighton sweetie im sorry for your father

Mom: I promise he’ll come around one day

Mom: I love you so much dear

Mom: merry christmas <3

Creighton smiles, and takes a second to tap out a reply.

Me: love you too mom. And a happy new year :)

 

Creighton falls back onto his bed, and pulls his fleece throw closer. He runs his fingers over the little stars in the blanket. As he snuggles closer to his pillow and falls into a deep sleep, he realizes it’s all he could ever ask for.