Mistletoe '05: Comfort And Joy

He had seen many of these things. Many, many, many. He’d been to many events such as this; they were all the same, and he had long since tuned them out.

The first time he saw a magician, he’d been a child and it had all been very *fascinating*. Impressive to be sure, and *intriguing*, so much so that he had naturally wanted to discover all of the hidden secrets, learn all of the tricks, and in doing so found that the magic show wasn’t very magical at all. Quickly it ceased to be impressive or intriguing. It became mundane.

Perhaps, having been to so many places, having seen so many *magical* things in his lifetime, he was now quite simply jaded. A nice shell of cynicism is a good thing, a healthy thing, but to this degree, it was a barnacled crust. He could pick at the edges of it with his fingernails but never manage to scrape it away, and if he did, a raw and angry wound would lie beneath, surely. Surely it couldn’t be peeled away as easily as this.

In all the years he’d lived in Denver, he’d never traipsed downtown in the dead and frigid cold of night to watch the lighting of the Christmas tree. He could just as easily watch it on television, if he were so inclined. He could watch the entire *spectacle*. Of course, there would be carols sung and lights like beaded trim sewn onto the hems of the office buildings. There would be wreaths and curved horns and awkward candles shaped of greenery and decorated with iridescent ribbons hanging from the streetlights for blocks in every direction. Some of the taller buildings would leave office lights burning all night, a single uppermost light kindling a cascade of lights, forming the whimsical silhouette of a Christmas tree, as if *one* tree was clearly not enough.

He hardly gave it any thought, the season, the lights, the comfort and joy. At Christmastime, gentlemen were supposed to be merry, and he never had been.

Never is an awfully long time, even for someone so jaded

They sat on a wrought iron bench downtown, waiting. They sat in wool scarves, cashmere-lined gloves, and heavy coats, sipping from travel mugs of hot chocolate, *real* hot chocolate so thick is was nearly pudding. The fog of their breaths wafted out in great clouds, and Vin was smiling. Vin was smiling even though there wasn’t anything yet to see.

Sunset was well behind them, and in this square mile of town on this night the hemorrhagic bleed of industrial light pollution was staunched long enough to permit the most determined stars to be glimpsed overhead. One could almost pretend, with the drifting snow and the scent of evergreens, that they were somewhere on a hillside far from civilization, just the two of them, awaiting an angel choir to proclaim the good news.

Sentimentality was clearly getting the best of him; Ezra found himself smiling too.

The Mayor ascended his podium and Vin gripped the iron arm of the bench; he was that excited. It was almost time.

Ezra hadn’t asked why; when Vin invited him here to witness this prosaic event, he hadn’t asked why it was so important, why it was worth scraping the car, defrosting the windows, bundling up and getting there early just so they could have a front row seat when they could, he pointed out, much more easily and comfortably enjoy the festivities on his leather sofa in front of a roaring fire. He hadn’t mentioned any of that, he had simply said yes.

Had he known, had he been able to anticipate the change that would come over Vin, he would have invited Vin first.

The tree was at least eight feet in diameter, he estimated from their distance, and it was covered in monstrous gold and red balls, and long twisty things that one could only assume were meant to be icicles, if icicles were uniformly deformed and possibly demented. There was a star on top, crooked, but there, and it was a nice touch. Really, it was a nice tree.

The Mayor was taking his time, and Vin was getting impatient, tapping his fingers on the arm of the bench, bouncing his knee up and down. Gently, Ezra covered Vin’s knee with his left hand and stilled him, and Vin grinned at him, eyes crinkling, cheeks bright pink with cold and embarrassment at his poorly contained zeal.

They had spoken in the car on the way downtown, Vin explaining in his own understated way how they hadn’t had Christmas trees in his home when he was growing up. There wasn’t ever much to put under them, so his mother hadn’t wanted to emphasize that fact. They’d light candles and the two of them would sing carols and they would unwrap what presents they had at the kitchen table the next morning. Breakfast was their Christmas dinner because his mother always had to work. But every year, they would tumble into the car and drive around to the fancy neighborhoods and look at the lights, see the Christmas trees in other people’s living room windows, and Vin had always looked forward to that more than anything his mother could have put under a tree. It meant hope to him, it meant that there was a whole *world* out there, and it was only a car trip away.

Silence fell over the crowd gathered in the square, and the Mayor gave the order to light the tree. A whoosh of appreciative sound erupted alongside jubilant applause at this most extraordinary sight: a lighted tree. But Ezra wasn’t looking at the tree, he was looking at Vin.

In Vin’s eyes, the lights splintered and blazed, became a thousand pinpoints of color, a fractal galaxy, glistening and twinkling far brighter, far more beautiful than – than anything. His smile was breathtaking, nearly painful to witness, reflecting the brilliance of the tree and magnifying the glittering joy in his eyes until Vin was *burning* with it.

In Vin’s eyes, the show was still magical. It wasn’t a giant dead evergreen with oversized gold and green decorations and a gaudy extravagance of white lights. It *was* the promise of comfort and joy, both tangible and easily attainable, there, under the darkened streetlamps on icy wrought iron, watching the world come alive with light. It was, there, in a trailer park on the outskirts of town waiting for a day when he dreamt of affording his own tree.

In Vin’s eyes, Ezra could see the small child pressing moist hands against a car window, fogging up the glass with his excited breaths. He could see a man who had worked hard his entire life, someone who took nothing for granted, someone who always gave more than he took – someone who had roped the rest of the team into renting vans and escorting all the children in Vin’s apartment building on a tour of light-sightseeing next weekend.

Vin was someone who would come down here in the frigid dark to see something beautiful, to remember that there *is* beauty, that there is *light*, even if it seems impossibly beyond reach.

With Vin, it was hopelessly easy to believe. By the light in his eyes, Ezra could see all the way to Bethlehem, to poor peasants on a hill looking with wonder and awe at a radiance so bright it gathered men from a thousand miles just to witness its promise of hope, *the* promise of hope, which to Ezra had always been, had *only* been mere sleight of hand.

In the midst of carols and the tuneless singing of strangers, the brightness in Vin’s eyes spilled down his cheeks and he turned his head, clumsily wiping at his face with a gloved hand. In all of Ezra’s spectacularly jaded life, he had never seen anyone weep for joy, like it couldn’t be contained and had to overflow, and he thought it might do Vin some good to let it out, to let it spill all over the square and infect everybody. Ezra certainly felt infected, so he moved closer on the bench, took Vin’s right hand and let him experience the moment for whatever it was to him. For Ezra, the *moment* was the unfettered brilliance of seeing through Vin’s eyes.

“Stupid,” Vin muttered, sniffling. Ezra blamed it on the frigid temperature – anyone’s nose would run – and made a sympathy sniffle.

“I cried when the stock market crashed,” he offered, lightly teasing.

Vin did laugh, but then shushed himself with a hiss as the crowd began singing Silent Night. He’d stopped crying, if it could be called that, and not some spontaneous reaction to staring unblinking in all that cold wind, and now he held Ezra’s hand and stroked his thumb through dual layers of leather and cashmere. Ezra no longer noticed the cold, only Vin.

Next weekend there would be exhaustion from herding squirming children, combined with cookie crumbs and an endless supply of snotty noses, and Ezra would enjoy all that too. He would love every minute of it because of what it meant to Vin.

Sentimentality was not only getting the best of him, it was practically obliterating him.

“You ready to go?” Vin asked.

“Only if you are,” he answered easily.

“Hmmm.” Vin didn’t appear ready to leave any time soon. He appeared perfectly, wonderfully happy right where they were. “Just a little while longer.”

“You don’t suppose there’s mistletoe anywhere near?” Ezra inquired with all due innocence.

“Do we need it?” Vin turned to him, taking his eyes off of the tree for the first time, and Ezra closed the distance swiftly.

The kiss was dry and chapped but their breath was warm, and they kissed just long enough to feel that warmth travel to their hands, still joined. They parted grinning, letting the plume of their breaths embrace a while longer.

“Okay. Now I’m ready to go home.”

“Next weekend we’ll have to behave, you know.”

“We’ll be too busy to do anything else.”

“C’mon, Vin. We’ll take the scenic route home.”

And all this time, Ezra had thought he’d seen many such events. Many, many, many, and they were all the same. He’d been wrong.