Ryan Ballatt had always hated the holiday season. It was too loud, too full of obnoxious relatives, and way too expensive. Growing up, he had always gotten the cheapest kind of presents for everybody and hidden away in his room reading or, as he got older, messing around with some computer program during family Christmas parties. By the time he had gone off to college, his dislike of the holidays had progressed into pure, unadulterated loathing. The heart of Manhattan, where he was currently living, was full of the "holiday spirit of expensive spending" as he called it. In his opinion, it was overdone, tacky, crowded, and insufferable. On top of the hated hustle and bustle was the imminent threat of final exams, which were held the week before Christmas. They were his first exams in college, and the studying was driving him insane. He needed to keep a three point six GPA to stay at NYU, where he currently majoring in computer science. If he did not get high enough marks on all of the exams, he would be kicked out and sent packing back to New Jerseya fate worse than death. So by December third, three weeks before Christmas, while the rest of the city was being thrown headlong into the holiday frenzy, Ryan was throwing himself into a studying frenzy.
This frenzy was not shared with his roommatesNick Myers and Tony Higgins. The three of them had grown up in the same small New Jersey town and had decided to go to college together. Well, almost together. Nick was studying theater at NYU while Tony, whose main expertise was slacking and partying, was majoring in journalism (the only thing he had ever excelled at in high school was writing) at CUNY Baruch. For Nick, also known as Mush for his oatmeal colored skin, sensitive personality, and looks that could turn any girl (or semi-gay guy for that matter) to mush, the exams were not a problemhe was a huge organizational freak who had set up a study schedule and stuck to it. Therefore, a panic was not felt.
Tony was uniquehe had no reason to care if he did particularly well. He was a short Italian with brown eyes and hair and a very sarcastic mouth. He was also a chronic slacker. Unlike his roommates, he wasn't on any scholarshiphis family had been rich. His parents had died in a car accident when he was ten and had left their moneywhich was millionsfor him to have when he turned eighteen. What they did not think of was the stupidity of letting an eighteen-year-old kid like Tony manage his own fortune. As a result, Tony was happily paying his way through college with no job, scholarship, responsibilities, or real goalsjust the way he liked it. He was spending huge amounts of it weekly betting at different racetracks and playing pokeryet he always seemed to win more than he lost. This had earned him the nickname Racetrack. To Tony, exams were a part of life that could be ignored, since he had always been able to stay passing with an average grade point average, even in college. Anthony Higgins had perfected the art of coasting.
On this particular afternoon of December third, Ryan was alone in the apartment he and Mush, shared lying down on his bed poring over his calculus book. 'I'll never ever remember all of this. Why, oh why did I not start studying earlier.' The noise from the next apartment over was becoming unbearable. His neighbors were playing loud musicthere was even some drumming. The building he lived in had cheap rates and that made it a favorite for college students to live in. However, that meant that most of his neighbors were loud, obnoxious older teenagers.
The ones next door, causing the noise, were two of Race's new friends. They were both eighteen and were freshmen in college. Aidan Conlon, called Spot because he was rather shortRace had said he was nothing more than a "spot on the ground" and Jeremy van Tuch, called Dutchy for unknown reasons, were the inhabitants of the apartment. Spot was shorter than Racetrack with blonde hair and blue eyes. He, like Race, was a chronic slacker and was very sarcastic. He was slightly more of a jerk than Race but either of them could easily win the asshole of the year award in Ryan's book. He, like Race, was bi and the two of them had a very odd relationshipthey were either sleeping together or competing to see how many girls they could pick up at one time. Ryan thought they were insanely juvenile for doing so. But then, Ryan had always been a bit of a downer.
Dutchy was also blonde, but taller and had glasses. He was a stoner, plain and simple. Ryan had never seen him when he didn't have the aroma of weed wafting about him. He wasn't even sure if Dutchy went to schoolhe seemed to spend his days in his apartment all day smoking or out in Central Park. Ryan didn't know how Spot could stand to share an apartment with the guybut Race HAD mentioned about the two being cousins. The noise was probably coming from Spot and Racetrackthey both played guitar and were having a jam session.
Ryan was starting to consider getting up to tell the two of them offafter all they had exams tooshouldn't they be studying? But, he was tired. The bed felt so good, maybe a little nap would drown out the sound. He closed his eyes, and the next thing he knew, it was seven o'clock, and somebody was walking around in the kitchen. "Holy shit! A two hour nap. How the hell did that happen?! Oh no, oh no, OH NO!" he yelled, sitting bolt upright.
Mush came running in from the kitchen, flushed from the cold. "What happened Blink?" he asked, referring to Ryan's old nicknamea remnant of his pirate phase. In seventh grade Ryan had gone around everywhere with an eye patch on demanding to be called Kid Blink and talking about how he was a dangerous, swashbuckling pirate. Somehow the name Blink had just sort of stuck.
"I have to be at work in half an hour. I cannot believe I overslept. Damnit!" exclaimed Blink.
Mush kicked off his shoes and jumped on the bed next to Blink. "Babe, ya gotta calm down," he said to his agitated boyfriend, leaning over for a kiss. Soon the two were entwined in one another, albeit fully clothed, and intensely making out.
Blink glanced at his watch. Five minutes had gone by. "Shit! I really gotta get going. Nothing against you Mush but I am going to be so late." Mush kicked him playfully. "Man, your feet are COLD!" exclaimed Blink.
"I was walking around the city in late fall. What do you expect?" asked Mush. "It's freezing out there."
"Wonderful, I'll be in a rush and cold. So what did you do after class then?" As he was talking, Blink was changing out of his sweatpants and old NYU t-shirt into jeans and a black Element hoodie.
"Repeat that?" asked Mush, distracted by a view of his shirtless boyfriend. He got a sock thrown at him.
"Honestly dude, you have the attention span of a flea. Now I gotta go or the bossman will get mad."
"Oh because you wanna work at an overpriced coffee place all your life?"
"Niiick," whined Blink. "I happen to like working at Starbucks. Besides I get paid good money. I just can't wait till the holiday season is over, too many stupid Christmas tourists who are demanding and picky. They can all bite me!" Mush winked suggestively. "Now I'll see you later. And if our vertically challenged Italian roommate actually comes home tonight tell him I said don't be so loud when I'm studying next time." He hurried out the door.
"Bye babe," called Mush. "Honestly, stop working so hard though. Give yourself a break. You'll work yourself to death. And learn to like the holiday seasonit really isn't that bad." The only response Mush got was the sound of their apartment door slamming shut. He sighed. 'That boy needs to learn to appreciate the holidays while he can. I need to do something for him,' he thought.
Blink meanwhile was walking hurriedly to the nearest subway stop, metro card in hand. He needed to get from the Village to Times Square where he worked quickly. Otherwise he'd be late again. Of course the crowds just would not cooperate. Half of them were gawking at the sights of the city. 'Damn tourists should MOVE' thought Blink impatiently. Finally, he pushed his way into the subway station, swiped his metro card, and got on a train bound for Times Square. Within ten minutes, he was getting out and running up the steps three at a time, all the while thinking of all the different things he had to do that night.
In his head, Blink was making a to-do list. He needed to get a Christmakuh present for Mush. (They called it Christmakuh because Mush was Jewish and Blink was Catholic so they gave each other gifts on a day the week before Christmas and called it Christmakuh. It was just something they had always done.) He also needed to buy Christmas presents for his parents, his older sister, Tony, and other friends. On top of that there was the studying for exams and writing of final papers. Blink gritted his teethhe hated spending money, and he hated staying up all night doing work.
Lost in thought, he didn't realize he was at work and had just gotten there on time. "Ballatt!" barked Mr. Greene, the manager, as Blink walked in. "Good to see you're here on time today. That's a first." Blink swore under his breath. He really could not stand his boss, a stuck up asshole that had fun making his employees irritated at him. Mr. Greene sneered at him, and Blink clocked in. 'I hate my job,' thought Blink for the millionth time.
The night wore on. It was a typical time at work for Blink. He waited on self-absorbed costumers who were never patient in waiting for drinks and almost always forgot to tip. Then, of course there was the type of costumer who was the talkerusually a tourist who became interested when they found out Blink lived in the city. They'd ask him a thousand questions about it and gush on about how beautiful it was at Christmas time. Blink wished he could throw all of these costumers into a bottomless well. It was really getting on his nerves.
At ten-thirty, an hour before he was due to get off work, Blink saw it--the perfect Christmakuh present for Mush. It was a travel coffee mug, one of those long ones with the handles. The outside of it was decorated with different logos and slogans from Broadway plays and musicalsChicago, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Hairspray, and even Mush's favoriteRent. It was perfect for somebody with a theater obsession the size of Mush's. There were only two left. Unfortunately, there was a rule that employees could not make purchases during their work hours. So Blink had to wait another hour to buy it. And by then the mugs could be sold out.
The next hour was torture for Blink. He spent all of the time the costumers were talking to him trying to dissuade them from buying that particular kind of travel mug. The whole ordeal was getting on his nervesthe more he thought about it, the more he realized that the whole presents exchange idea was the most idiotic thing that had ever been made up. Before he knew it, it was eleven-thirtytime to clock out. Blink wasted no time doing so and then went to see if there were any more mugs left. Call it fate or call it luckthere was one left. Before anybody could grab it, he snatched it up and bought it. At least now Mush had a present.
When he walked out the door, Blink noticed it was freezing and very windy outeven colder than when he had left. 'Perfect,' he thought. 'What a way to top off the night from hell.' As he walked slowly to the subway stop, he felt a pair of arms encircle him. "What the hell?!" Blink screamed and turned around.
There stood Mush. "Babe, what are you doing here?" asked Blink, very shocked. Mush had mentioned earlier that he had a lot of studying to do and wanted a nap anyway.
Mush grinned. "Well you looked really stressed and upset before. I thought I would come to pick you up to cheer you up. And plus Race and Spot are in our apartment supposedly studying. I decided to give them space."
"Great, the kitchen's gonna be a mess by the end of the night. Those two are freaking pigs."
"You're a cheery one tonight aren't you?"
"I hate winter, tourists, finals, and my job. You'd be like this too only you're Mushwhich means you never get angry or bitter."
Mush chuckled softly. "Well I know what can cheer you up." He took Blink's hand. "Close your eyes and follow me."
"This had better be good Mushee, I'm tired," whined Blink. Mush just tugged his hand. With an air of resignation, Blink closed his eyes and let Mush guide him.
After many twists and turns and city blocks, they stopped. "Okay, open your eyes now," demanded Mush. Blink did as he was told and was surprised. They were in Rockefeller Center, on the level overlooking the tree and skating rink. This brought back memories. The two had been going there every December together to see the lights since they could remember, long before they had started dating. They hadn't gone for two years, ever since Blink had declared he had grown out of itthe infantile holiday tradition that it was. Mush was hurt but didn't mention it again.
As Blink looked up at the tree, he realized he hadn't grown out of it, not at all. In fact, he had rather missed the yearly holiday night in Manhattan he and Mush had always done. "Wow Mushee, just like we're fifteen again huh?"
Mush laughed again. "Well almost, this time it's better." He leaned in for a kiss and they both grinned.
"Thanks for taking me, Mush. I needed cheering up," said Blink when they pulled away. "Oh, we're not done yet. I've decided that this is going to be my Christmakuh present to youwe're going ice skating down there."
"Right now?" asked Blink, hardly believing it. They had never gone when they were youngerhe, being the ice hockey lover that he was, had always wanted to, but Mush had never gone for the idea. Mush was not that interested in ice skating, so this was a huge surprise.
"Yeah, I'll pay for the skate rentals and admission and everything. Who knows, maybe I'll even like it. But we only have until twelve-thirty, then the session's over."
Blink nodded. "Thanks so much Mush. You have no idea how great this is."
The two of them went down into the rink to rent skates and pay admission. Then, hand in hand, they entered the rink, Blink still carrying the Starbucks bag with Mush's gift in it. Sure, the ice wasn't in the best conditionpitted and rutted, and the rink was very small. Still, it was perfect to Blink, a dream come true. And the best part was it was all because of Mush. The two stayed hand in hand as they completed circuits around the rink, Mush holding on to the wall and looking a little frightened all the while. Twice he fell, once pulling Blink down with him. As they got up, they both started laughing.
Then, Blink felt something cold and went on his cheek. He looked up; it was snowing. The first snow of the season was falling at midnight in Rockefeller center. He tapped Mush to tell him to look up, and they both went down again. Mush laughed. "I think I've had enough Ryan," he said grinning. "My muscles are going to be sore tomorrow. Oh wowlook it's snowing!"
Blink laughed. "Okay then, wanna go?" he asked. "And yeah, it is snowing. The first snow of the season." He helped Mush up, and the two of them skated to the exit still holding hands. After they got back into their regular shoes and were on their way out of Rockefeller center, Blink remembered his gift to his boyfriend.
"Hey Mush," he said. "I got your Christmakuh gift today too. It's not as awesome as what you just gave me, but I hope you like it." He handed Mush the bag.
As soon as he opened it, Mush's face lit up. "Oh my God! It has RENT on it! I swear you're the best boyfriend ever. I love it Ryan. Just like I love you." He cupped Blink's chin with his hand and pulled him in for a kiss that lasted several minutes.
"I love you too, Nick," said Blink when it was finished. Suddenly all the stress of work and finals and buying presents disappeared. Maybe the holiday season wasn't that bad a timein fact at that moment it felt very good. "And you know what? After tonight, these holidays don't look to bad after all."
Mush just laughed, grabbed Blink's hand, and the two walked off into the snowy Manhattan night.