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if we make it through december

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November 1st, 2020

Last year, Laura had learned that Bradley didn’t want a fuss made over Christmas almost by accident. 

They’d driven into Bozeman proper together—normally, only Bradley did the grocery shopping, a routine they hadn’t dropped from the earlier months of the pandemic, when they’d both been concerned about Laura bringing the virus home from the store. But today, a brisk first day of November, Laura had slipped into the passenger side of her own Jeep next to Bradley, ready to help Bradley schlep a few heavy bottles of laundry detergent home from the store.

So they’d wound up walking the dairy aisle together, and Laura had scoffed low in her throat as they came around the corner.

“Earlier every year,” she’d said.

“Mm?” Bradley had looked up, not knowing what Laura was referring to.

“The eggnog,” she’d clarified, nudging Bradley faintly with her elbow and jerking her head to her left. “I swear they put it out earlier every year. Who is drinking that shit on November first?”

“Not me,” Bradley had said, and though she’d intended it with the same joking energy as Laura had had, her tone must have been sharper than she’d thought, because Laura looked at her askance, halfway down the aisle.

“I don’t subscribe to the ridiculous maxim of anything even minutely Christmas-related before Thanksgiving, so take this question in that spirit, but are there any little holiday traditions you would like to mark when it’s the appropriate calendar time to be festive?” Laura asked, and the look she’d given Bradley was a little searching, a little careful.

“Not really, Christmas isn’t really my thing,” she’d said, shrugging. “I’m, like, a decently Grinch-y person, I think.” And Laura hadn’t said anything, had just snaked her arm around Bradley’s as they turned out of the dairy aisle.

Later, their groceries in the car, Laura had held Bradley’s gaze for a short moment longer after she’d turned her head to back out of their parking spot, before Bradley looked back at the road.

“I’m a decently Grinch-y person, too, I think, to borrow your phrase,” she’d said. “The holidays were never really the same after my mother and I stopped speaking. And then, of course, my birthday is in that Christmas week, too, and it…” she shook her head. “I don’t begrudge anyone for loving Christmas, but I’m kind of glad you don’t, because I don’t, either.”

And Bradley had felt closer to Laura in that moment than she had in quite some time. In many regards, Bradley still felt like she was always playing catch-up to Laura. Or, at the very least, that she was playing catch-up to her in her understanding of her own sexuality, or catch-up to her in dialing back her reactivity and addressing her insecurities through therapy. It was comforting, she found, to stand on this uncertain ground with Laura, to lock eyes with this woman she admired and adored in equal measure and to understand that they were in this trench together, both a little unsure if this would ever be a hurt that wouldn’t sting, instead of Laura gently beckoning Bradley down the road from up ahead, secure in her own healing.

Once Bradley had pulled out of the parking lot and had merged into the lane that would lead them in the direction of the ranch—home, Bradley had begun to think of it—she’d reached across the console and had taken Laura’s hand in hers.

“No Christmas for us, then, okay? It’ll just be a normal day for us. We’ll just celebrate your birthday that week—but only if you want to, you tell me no if you don’t want that, either.”

Laura had squeezed Bradley’s hand back.

 


 

November 15th, 2020

“Will you tell me about your favourite birthday ever?” Bradley had asked, one Sunday morning in November in bed.

Laura had wrinkled her nose a little bit, laughing. “You know you don’t have to make a fuss,” she’d said.

“Who said I’m making a fuss?” Bradley had argued, eyes twinkling with mischief. “Can’t a girl just want to know about a cherished memory of yours?”

Laura had rolled her eyes. “I think a girl might have ulterior motives.” But Bradley had pouted, so after a moment, Laura had flopped onto her back, dark hair splaying out across the pillow, and said “I think it was the year I turned twelve.”

"Notoriously awful age for girls, so now I have to know the details of whatever this birthday party was like,” Bradley had interjected.

“Well, you’ll be glad to know I had all the frizzy hair and acne required of that age, don’t you worry,” she’d said. “Now shush, let me tell my story. This isn’t about the girls I went to school with.” Bradley had flopped on her back then, too, but Laura could still feel her eyes on her, watching.

“My grandmother, my dad’s mom, lived out in Boston, and when I turned twelve, she took the train down to New York City and told my parents that I was supposed to meet her in the city for tea. And it was the first time that I was allowed to take the train into the city by myself, I was coming in from Hartford and she was coming in from Boston, obviously, so we were on different lines, but she met me at Penn Station. And, I don’t know, she just said that since I was twelve, I was old enough to be treated like an adult, and then she just did that? We went to tea and she didn’t hold back. I mean, I think we talked about politics, and there was just no condescension. I really appreciated that.” Laura had turned her head back to Bradley, then. “Plus, the little sandwiches and petit fours were a hit.”

“Your needs are few, clearly,” Bradley had said, laughing.

“Mm, I think you know exactly what my needs are,” and Laura had reached for Bradley’s waist to pull her back on top of her.

 


 

December 25th, 2020

The ranch is set far enough back from the main road that nobody can even tell that they don’t put up Christmas lights.

The only Christmas paraphernalia that makes its way into their home is a Santa hat, overnighted from Bradley’s colleagues at The Morning Show for on-air use. Bradley dutifully dons it during the run-up to the holiday segments, even alludes to baking cookies being her favourite part of the holidays, which Laura ribs her for later, because they both know she’s useless at baking. The hat stays tucked in a desk drawer in the studio she and Laura have been sharing, otherwise. 

When Bradley is in a scheduling meeting, negotiating anchor coverage for the holiday season, she volunteers to work December 25th. Alex raises an eyebrow at that but doesn’t prod any further (then, at least). It will be easier, Bradley thinks, to treat Christmas like a normal day if she’s working. 

She hosts with Allison on Christmas Day, and Allison takes most of the human interest, Christmas-forward stories, which Bradley is grateful for. It’s a slow news day, to be sure, but the vaccine rollout has begun, and that has her feeling buoyed up, even if it’s not the holiday cheer that’s expected of her.

She and Laura are both competitive, and it almost feels like a challenge, stripping Christmas down to its absolute brass tacks like this. After Bradley has wrapped the show for the day, they cross paths in the kitchen for the first time since Bradley had slipped out of bed that morning. Both of them have matching furtive gleams in their eyes, as if daring the other to make reference to what day it is, to break this suspension of disbelief they’re both engaging in.

It is—through sheer force of will on each of their parts—a normal Friday. Laura’s been asked to blurb a book that’s being published in the second quarter of 2021, so she spends part of the morning in the study, reading and taking notes. Bradley’s therapist had encouraged her to pick up an activity that would keep her hands busy, so she tucks herself into the couch with her knitting after work, quietly catching up on a podcast she’d been listening to as she purls her way closer to a scarf. They come back together in the afternoon and go for a walk, boots crunching in the snow down their favourite trail, watching the sun disappear behind the mountains.

“It’s too early to be this dark,” Bradley complains as they make their way back to the house, the last of the light slipping away to the west. Laura chuckles, quiet and low in her throat, knowing that her girlfriend of all people has more room to complain about the dark than almost anyone else she knows, dragging herself out of bed five days a week at 1:30 in the morning in Montana to do The Morning Show. She sees so little sun.

Laura rubs small circles into Bradley’s back through her coat. “The days are getting longer again now,” she reminds her. “Soon enough you won’t want to go to bed when you should because it’ll be too light in the evenings.”

Laura cooks dinner (pasta); they put on a movie but talk through it, Laura’s head in Bradley’s lap, Bradley carding her fingers through Laura’s hair.

Laura faintly leans her face into Bradley’s hands, relishing one of these holy nighttime hours that she only gets with Bradley on Friday nights, when Bradley doesn’t have the threat of a show the following morning and she’s willing to ruin her sleep schedule to stay up with Laura. It’s there that Laura is the one to break the spell, to speak the word they’ve both been avoiding all day.

“So,” Laura rumbles, a little drowsy despite herself at the feeling of Bradley’s short fingernails lightly running over her scalp. “We successfully ignored Christmas. How do you feel?”

And Bradley opens her mouth, intending to say Fine, but nothing comes out.

Laura opens her eyes in Bradley’s lap, after the silence stretches out, and finds Bradley’s gaze from below. “Hey,” she says, a little more alert, a little less casual, now. “Do you want to tell me what’s up?”

Bradley slips her fingers out of Laura’s hair, then, and props an elbow up on the arm of the couch, leaning her temple into her hand. “I don’t know,” she says, truthfully, shaking her head.

But then, after a minute, she thinks that maybe she does know, after all. 

And Bradley hadn’t said this, back in the grocery store or in the car that afternoon, nearly two months ago. It had only been Laura who had put into words why this day brought fraught emotions to the fore for her. Bradley hadn’t shared.

“I…When I was a kid it felt like every Christmas got ruined, my parents were always picking fights with each other around the holidays.” She’s understating it, a little, but she knows that Laura knows enough about the reality of her upbringing, now, to read between the lines. “And I was just always so…” Bradley picks her way to the right word, slowly, “I was always so angry that everybody else’s family seemed to get a good Christmas, and not mine. And, I don’t know,” she scoffs, and looks away, and Laura sits up slowly, then, turning in on the couch so she can face Bradley.

“I thought I didn’t want to do Christmas, that like, maybe ignoring Christmas would make me less angry, would make it, I don’t know, not matter or something, but it—I still feel…” she trails off, can’t bring herself to finish that sentence the way she wants to, which is by saying empty.

And Bradley hates even thinking that word, because she never feels empty with Laura, and Laura had given her exactly what she’d thought she’d wanted, today, but it’s the gap between years’ worth of expectations for Christmas and the frustrating unmet realities opening like a dark, gaping maw to swallow her whole, now, all of a sudden.

Laura knows Bradley well enough by now to know that she doesn’t like to be touched when she’s feeling like this. She scoots away from Bradley on the couch, just faintly—sitting close enough for Bradley to take her hand again, whenever she’s ready. Laura leans down, too, and pulls a throw out from under the coffee table, passing it wordlessly to Bradley.

After a while, they both turn their eyes back to the movie, though they’re both aware that neither of them is really watching. Bradley tucks herself up under the fleece throw and picks, halfheartedly, at a loose thread. 

“I think I…I think I just want a happy Christmas,” Bradley says haltingly, looking sidelong down the couch at Laura. “But I just…I don’t even know what that would look like.”

Laura meets Bradley’s eyes and smiles, looking a little wan herself. “I think I want that too,” she admits, “and I get it. It’s hard to know what’s gonna make…missing out on so much any better.” Laura inhales, as if she’s about to go on—and this, Bradley knows well now, too: when Laura is feeling complicated emotions, she’ll often try to therapize herself, intellectualize out of the way she’s feeling, and Bradley can see she’s on the brink of doing that.

But Laura stops herself and sighs, instead. “Next year,” she says, after a moment, and Bradley can hear the conviction in her tone. “We’ll try something different next year, okay?”

Oh. Bradley’s stomach lurches with surprise—but not unpleasantly—at the thought. This is the first time that Laura has spoken about them like they’ll be a sure thing a year from now. And Bradley knows—she knows—this is serious, what they have. They’ve been here in Montana for most of the year, and months ago it had stopped feeling like they were playing house together out in the middle of nowhere and started feeling like they were making a home instead. 

“God, Bradley, I mean I love you,” Laura had said, spontaneous and unplanned and true, when Bradley had only been in Montana for a few weeks.

Bradley had needed longer, had needed not only to figure out how to say it, but to figure out how to give her love to Laura. “I do, you know?” she’d tripped her way to, eventually. “I do love you.”

And she’s still trying to wrap her head around the idea that this could go on without end. That they can go the distance, like that. That she wants to, with Laura. And hearing Laura say things like what she’d just said…that Laura wants that, too.

Bradley lifts the corner of the throw with her right hand and pats the space on the couch next to her with her left. Laura slides back over, shoulder to shoulder with Bradley.

“Next year,” Bradley repeats back to Laura, once they’ve settled, taking her hand again under the blanket.

 


 

December 29th, 2020

By virtue of her volunteering to work Christmas Day, Bradley has plenty of room to negotiate other days off, and she manages to finagle both the 28th and 29th off from the show. So the first few days that follow their stilted Christmas are quiet and languid.

Snow falls, again, on the 26th, blanketing the ranch in a fresh coat of white, and the world seems to still for the two of them. The days they have feels positively expansive. They adjust, almost, to a different sleep schedule—Bradley has enough days off in a row to stop jerking awake just before 2 AM out of habit by the 28th, and they both sleep in past 6 every morning.

That is, except for the morning of the 29th, when Bradley untangles her legs from Laura’s and slips out of bed early that day. She’s halfway to her robe and slippers when she hears Laura turn over, trying to figure out where she’s gone.

“Mm, go back to sleep, birthday girl. I have a surprise I want to wake you up with.”

Laura’s voice is dark with sleep as she replies, “I’m not sure I want the surprise if it doesn’t start with you in bed with me.”

“Who says I’m not getting back in bed with you?” Bradley challenges, slipping out the door of their bedroom.

“I’m holding you to that,” Laura’s voice floats down the hall after her.

When Bradley pads back into the bedroom ten minutes later, Laura is already dozing again, so after Bradley sets the tray down on the bedside table nearest to Laura, she leans down and pushes the hair off of her neck, letting her mouth brush the shell of Laura’s ear as she whispers “Happy birthday, Laura.”

And if the tea Bradley had brought for them gets a little tepid, if Bradley doesn’t even get the chance to explain what the spread is because Laura pulls her down on top of her before Bradley can get much further, well, so be it.

“It’s a little corny, but I wanted to do breakfast in bed for you,” Bradley says, once Laura will finally let her. “And listen, I know, crumbs in bed, but I’ll wash the sheets and I won’t even make you help me wrangle the duvet back into the duvet cover.”

Laura chuckles at that. “This is the best birthday yet.”

“No, seriously, I sort of wanted to recreate your twelfth birthday tea with your grandmother for you. I mean, I know it’s not the same, and I couldn’t find anyone in Bozeman who was willing to do tiny little egg salad sandwiches for me, but I called Gordon and I had him help me get my hands on your favourite cake from that place in your neighborhood, so at least you get a little taste of New York out here.”

“You made Gordon help you ship a cake across the country?”

“I can be very persuasive.”

“Don’t I know it.” And Laura leans in to kiss Bradley again, warm and full. “Thank you,” she says, as she pulls the serving tray Bradley had set on the bedside table onto the bed, setting it between the two of them.

“I just…” and Bradley taps her fork rhythmically against the plate she lifts from the tray. “I was just thinking about the other night and about how between the two of us, we don’t exactly have a lot of great family memories. And I want you to be able to hold onto the good ones you do have.”

And Laura has her mouth full as Bradley says this, so her own “Bradley…” comes out a little garbled, both by cake and by emotion. “Thank you,” she says again, after she’s swallowed. “I love you.”

“I know. I love you too.”

 


 

November 29th, 2021

Bradley remembers that Laura has little good will for anything overtly Christmassy before Thanksgiving, so this year, it’s nearly December 1st before Bradley makes any Christmas requests of her.

“Listen,” she says, one night at the end of dinner, and even though she’s been working so hard for much of the past two years to be comfortable telling Laura what she needs, to not be ashamed of needing things from her, even though Laura was the one to suggest that this is what they should do about Christmas this year, Bradley finds it’s hard to get the words out.

“I think that this year, for the holiday, I’d like to put up a little tree, okay? If you’re okay with it.” Christmas is something they haven’t really discussed again in earnest since last winter, so Bradley doesn’t know if the specific contours of any Christmas images that remind Laura of her mother, of the way her family used to be, that she can no longer tolerate or entertain.

Laura sets her fork down and picks her napkin up off her lap, dabbing faintly at her lips before she replies. “We can do that. Do you mind if it’s small, though? And maybe fake? We can pick one out together, I just…I don’t want it to be this huge thing.”

Bradley nods. “Of course.”

Laura stands, then, and collects their plates, taking them into the kitchen. “Is there anything else you’d like to do? We’ll get the tree, of course, but do you want lights on it or anywhere else, do you want ornaments? I think I might have a strand of fairy lights somewhere in storage, but I don’t have any ornaments.” 

Bradley leans a hip into the doorway to the kitchen. “Lights would be nice, I think. But if we’re getting something small, we probably don’t need ornaments, really.”

Their plates rinsed and put in the dishwasher, Laura turns back to Bradley, leaning against the kitchen counter herself. “Good,” she says, and she sounds just a little breathless.

And Laura has been so perceptive with Bradley practically since the day they’d met, but now, nearly two years on, Bradley has learned Laura’s tells, too.

“Hey,” Bradley says, finding her eyes from across the room. “You okay?”

Laura’s smile is small and terse. “Yeah,” she says. “Putting up Christmas ornaments just used to be a big deal, with my family.” She doesn’t elaborate any further, and Bradley doesn’t press.

“I don’t need to do the tree if it’s gonna make you upset,” Bradley says instead. 

“No, it’s okay, this is what you want. We’re trying to make Christmas better for both of us, right?”

“Yeah, Laura, but not at your expense.

Laura laughs a little, then. “It’s okay. I promise. You asked for this, I want you to have this. And as long as it looks significantly different than what I remember from growing up, I’m sure I’ll be okay with it.”

They end up on the couch, later that night, Bradley leaning her head on Laura’s shoulder to get a better look at Laura’s laptop screen. They settle on a silly little tinsel tree with LED lights built in, just two feet tall and abjectly ridiculous in silver. It makes them both laugh as Laura adds it to her cart, which seems to be the right mood to strike with this fraught sort of purchase.

“Hold on,” Laura says, as she clicks over to the checkout, then she stands and leaves the room.

She’s gone for a while, almost to the point that Bradley wants to get up and check on her, but she can hear Laura rummaging around in their bedroom, then the console table in the front hall.

When she comes back into the room, Laura’s holding something Bradley had scarcely thought about in almost two years.

“I have a gift card,” she says.

It’s the very same Crate and Barrel gift card that Bradley had thrust into Laura’s hands on that cold February evening, before the Vault article, before the pandemic, before Montana, before everything, alongside all of her excuses that she didn’t know how to do this.

And she’s struck, suddenly, by how much she does know how to do this now, how natural being with Laura has become. She’s struck by how far she’s come.

And Laura had never replaced that vase that Bradley had broken with anything—in fact, the plinth is no longer even in the room—and now she’s using that gift card to buy something for their home, something they’ve chosen together. Bradley’s chest feels a little tight, in a good way.

Order complete, Laura turns her head back to Bradley. “Is there anything else you want to do for Christmas? Do you want to do gifts? I think I’m going to vote to uphold the moratorium on Christmas music—on the grounds that it’s annoying.”

Bradley laughs. “Fair, I won’t fight you on that one. And no, I don’t think we need to do gifts. I don’t need anything.” She’s quiet for a moment, and then adds, “Let’s just see how the tree makes us feel, and next year we can decide if we want to add anything else to the holiday tradition docket.”

Next year. It feels good, it feels secure, to say that, to know that they have time like this to change together, to make different decisions.

They’re in it for the long haul, Bradley knows.

Not officially, not yet—although over the past few months, she and Laura have started to talk, have had a conversation or two about what marriage would mean for them. It requires some intellectual reframing, for both of them. Bradley had never thought that she would get married. Laura had been asked, once before, and hadn’t said yes. There are still things that need to be ironed out, to be discussed before they can take that step. 

It’s been a long time since she’s truly looked forward to Christmas—she must have been eight or nine the last time she’d let herself get her hopes up, so it’s hard for her to remember what it felt like to be excited for the holiday. And she’s still not that jazzed about it this year, if she’s being honest with herself. 

But Bradley thinks that at some point, when she was young, she must have felt giddy about Christmas the way that she feels giddy, now, thinking about Laura being her wife, someday.

And she doesn’t need Christmas cheer if she’s got that.