Prompt/Summary: Turkey, grocery store, first meeting.
WARNINGS: Terminal illness (no one in the main pairing dies), mental illness
Author's Note: Holy shit I finished something on time. Amazing. I really enjoyed writing this though, cheers to the prompter. I hope you like it! <3
As I walked the pavement along the front of the shop, searching every possible spot a trolley could be hidden, I repeatedly cursed Waitrose for its lack of trollies on this particular day. Finally giving up, I grabbed two of the mini stand-up trollies, the kind the old ladies take to the high street markets to buy under-priced clothing made in Chinese sweatshops. I prayed I could fit everything into them. With some careful calculating, it could definitely work.
Focus, Dom. I ran through my mental checklist for the day: parsnips, carrots, potatoes for roasting, potatoes for mash, brussel sprouts, chestnuts. There was something else that I was definitely forgetting. The fucking turkey, you bellend. Right!
The shop was a mess, queues backed up all the way into the shopping aisles, empty shelves, screaming children, forgotten advent calendars trampled into the floors, and damaged, dented tins of Quality Street sweets. I wanted nothing to do with any of it, so of course Mum sent me to do the shopping. It wasn’t all half bad though; at least I didn’t have to do any of the cooking.
I made my way through the shop, grimacing at the wilting vegetables that looked like they’d gone off days past but apparently were still good for a few more days. They would have to do though seeing as there was nothing else available. I finally made my way to the meat counter where a butcher was placing sausages into a container for an elderly woman. I waited until he was free.
“I need a whole turkey,” I said to him.
“Sorry mate, we ran out this morning.” You’ve got to fucking be kidding me. “There may be a few more frozen ones in the freezers, but we’re all out here.
I gave a half-hearted ‘cheers’ to the man, when really all I wanted to do was scream at him, asking how on Earth they had run out of turkeys the day before every fucking family in Britain has a turkey. But, holiday cheer and all. I kept my mouth shut.
When I arrived at the frozen section, my prize awaited me. One turkey left, and it had the name ‘Dominic James Howard’ written all over it. A smile broke out on my face as I waltzed toward it, reaching for the bird when... Smack!
“Oh shit sorry!”
I landed hard on my arse on the shop floor, wincing as a sharp elbow hit me in the eye as a small man toppled over me. “What the fuck!” I shouted, beyond annoyed (and also humiliated).
"I'm so sorry! Here, let me… Fuck!"
A jagged fingernail stuck in my shirt and I winced as my opponent ripped his hand away, pulling a long thread loose. "Mate, just, leave," I said furiously, shaking my head and finally meeting the eyes of the man. Oh Jesus Christ. He was homeless, by the looks of it. Tattered clothing and unwashed hair, probably a drug habit too judging by the nervous tick that was shaking all his skinny limbs.
"I'll just, be on my way!" the small (homeless?) man said, scurrying toward... No!
"Oi!" I yelled. "That's my turkey!"
The man nearly jumped out of his skin, his eyes going wide and his skin paling to a ghostly shade of white. In his hands, he clenched the bird, my bird. "Sir, please, I-"
"I don't want to hear it," I said, walking forward and taking it from his hands. He gave the smallest, most pathetic tug but alas, failed to hold onto it. "Happy Holidays," I spat, turning on my heel and walking away, waiting for this absolutely dire day to be over.
When the man didn't reply, my pace slowed without realising so. When I reached the end of the aisle, turkey in hand, I'd slowed to a mere crawl. Cursing myself, I turned around to face the man again, and, oh God no. Was he really fucking crying?!
I heaved a dramatic sigh and walked up to him. "So," I said, startling him out of his sob fest. God, he looked so sad. His bottom lip wobbled furiously and I could tell he was resisting the urge to scratch at his own skin. Definitely drugs, then. I looked at him expectantly. "What's your story then?"
The man stuttered. "Um... I-"
"The turkey," I interrupted, motioning to the bird I had safely tucked beneath my arm. "I highly doubt you can afford it. You don't look like the typical Waitrose customer. So why the big fuss?"
"Please," he pleaded. "I've walked to all the other shops within six miles. Everywhere is out, even the meat markets. This was my last option."
I raised an eyebrow, suspicious. "You walked to all the supermarkets within six miles of here?"
"So, why is this turkey so goddamned important that you walked all day looking for it when you, clearly, have no money?"
The man flinched, my words seeming to have hit a painful spot. I only cared a tiny bit. "It's Mum's last Christmas," he said, his throat croaking. "I promised her I'd make a roast Christmas dinner for her to make up for all the past ones I've ruined. I’ve been saving up to buy the turkey for weeks, see!” He pulled out a small plastic bag full of 20p coins.
"What do you mean it's her last Christmas?" I asked with a laugh. "Is she converting to Judaism or something?"
He frowned, tears gathering in his eyes. "No, she... She's terminally ill."
"Fuck." You've done it now, Dom. Way to fucking go.
"The doctor said she has a week left. I hope she makes it to the New Year. Then I would get my New Year's kiss. I've always wanted a proper New Year's kiss." The man was properly picking at his skin now, pulling at the little hangnails until blood began to gather. I felt sick. "I'm sorry," he said. "I've just ruined your Christmas Eve. I'll go." He turned and started to walk away, his shoulders limp and dejected.
"Wait," I said before I could stop myself. He stopped, slowly turning to look at me shyly. I don’t think I’d ever seen someone look so heartbroken before. “It’s a big bird,” I said, nodding at the turkey. “I’m only cooking for myself, my mum, and my sister. Perhaps you could, um, join us?” I felt my cheeks heating up. Being nice didn’t suit me.
“That’s okay,” said the man, already turning back to walk away. “We can just go to hospital. They offered to make us a dinner there.”
“I insist!” I exclaimed, grabbing his shoulder and pulling him back before he could get away. God, he was way too fucking skinny. “Mum would love to have guests,” I said with a shrug. I stuck out my hand for him to shake. “I’m Dom, by the way.”
“Matthew,” he replied softly, hesitantly taking my hand and shaking it. “But really, I can’t accept. It’s too much. I don’t want to be a burden. Plus I’d have to take Mum on the bus. She wouldn’t like that.”
“Nonsense. I’ll pick you both up. Where about are you?”
“Honor Oak Park.”
I looked at Matthew for a good long second. “You walked all the way to Greenwich from Honor Oak Park?” I asked, astounded.
He nodded, smiling just a tiny bit, seeming quite proud of himself.
“Well, you’re dedicated, I’ll give you that.” I gave him a small smile. “Let me just buy these things and I’ll give you a lift home, yeah?”
“Okay. Thank you, Dom.”
‘Home’ for Matthew was the smallest bedsit I’d ever seen. There wasn’t even a proper cooktop, just one of those tiny plug in burners that intoxicated uni students use to make scrambled eggs at four in the morning. I wondered how on Earth he’d planned on cooking the turkey but made myself try not to dwell on it too much. His mum was there, a frail little thing with big blue eyes like her son and thinning grey hair. I noticed she had the lumpy mattress and a few cheap blankets for herself. On the floor was a pile of hoodies with a prominent human shaped dent in the middle, and I gathered that that was where Matthew slept. Something pulled at my heart. This cold, dark room was no place for a dying woman to be spending her last few days.
“Matthew,” I said, looking at the small man as he walked me back out to my warm, waiting Mini Cooper.
“Yes, Dom?” He had a spring in his step that hadn’t been there before.
“Look.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “I feel so bad for being a right arse earlier.”
Matthew shrugged. “It’s fine. Holiday stress gets to us all.”
“No, my actions were unacceptable. And I feel horrible. After seeing this”—I gestured up to his bedsit—“I want to ask you and your mum to stay with me. It’s the least I can do.”
The smaller man shook his head. “I can’t accept,” he said. “We manage. It’s not all that bad. I can hear the baby above us giggle some nights, and that makes things better. I’ll see you tomorrow, Dom.”
And with that, Matthew turned around and went back inside, leaving me standing there with my jaw nearly on the floor.
The streets of South London were deserted as I drove through them, not a single red bus or hoard of uniformed school children in sight. When I arrived outside of Matthew’s bedsit, I gave a gentle beep of the horn and then moved to arrange the passenger seat for his mum, Marilyn.
“Merry Christmas, Dom,” the older woman croaked as Matthew and I helped her from the pavement to the car.
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” I replied, giving her a gentle peck on the cheek.
The three of us rode silently back through the streets to Greenwich. It wasn’t until I pulled up outside my house that Matthew spoke.
“This is your house?” he gasped, gazing in awe.
“Uh, yeah,” I said shyly, ignoring the ping of guilt that spread through me. “Come on, let’s get inside. It’s nice and warm.”
With Matthew helping Marilyn up the steps, I moved to unlock the front door, giving my Boston Terrier Hendrix a bit of a push to move him aside.
“Mum! Diana!” I called. “We’re here.”
My mum came bounding out of the kitchen just as Marilyn and Matthew made their way from outside and into the foyer. “Hello, hello!” she exclaimed. “Do come in! I’m Sarah. Let’s get you all set up in the reception room!” She quickly latched onto Marilyn, talking all about the food she was preparing and how glad she was to have them join us. I was left in the foyer with Matthew.
“Uh, so, yeah,” I said, gesturing around. “There are four bedrooms on the first and second floor and two bathrooms.” We began to move down the hall. I pointed to two different doors. “Reception room number one here, and water closet if you need it. The kitchen, dining area, and main reception are all open concept.” We ended up in the middle of the kitchen where Diana was working on the mash. “And this is my sister, Diana.”
“Hello Matthew!” she chirped. “So glad you and your mum could join us!” She gave me a stern, pointed look, the kind that screamed ‘See how good it is to be nice for once?’.
“Cheers for having us,” Matthew said politely. He seemed a bit uncomfortable in the large, clean space; his fingers wouldn’t stop jittering and he was tearing at his bottom lip with his teeth. I figured he needed settle down a bit.
“I’ll get a bottle of wine, then,” I said awkwardly, leaving to do so. Once I was out of sight, I sat down at the foot of the stairs and put my head in my hands, letting out a long groan. I rubbed at my temples, feigning off the headache that somehow always came on Christmas. “Right then,” I whispered to myself. Time to get your act together.
I found us a bottle of wine and took it back to the kitchen. Matthew enthusiastically asked if he could uncork it, and I watched with fascination as he worked the corkscrew into the top with energy and excitement. After pouring himself a glass of the bold Cabernet Sauvignon, Matthew went to sit with his mother. I stayed in the corner, hovering, watching as mother and son interacted.
Matthew took his sick mum’s hands in his own and rubbed them gently. She was sat on the sofa, wrapped up in one of my mum’s homemade quilts. Even in the stages of dying, she smiled and laughed with her son, kissing his cheek and giggling as he blushed, embarrassed even though no one was watching but me. I tried to remember the last time I’d seen two people with so much love for each other. My heart constricted painfully as memories swam through my brain, and I quickly blinked to wipe them away. Now was not the time. I’d spent far too many Christmases with bad thoughts in my mind. This year would be different.
Halfway through dinner, Marilyn began to feel very unwell. We abandoned Die Hard and eggnog after to help her into one of the guest bedrooms upstairs so she could rest. Softly closing the door, I turned to Matthew, who was beginning to cry.
“Hey,” I said softly, putting my hand on his cheek and pulling him close. “It’s okay to cry. I’ve got you.”
“She doesn't deserve this. She’s in so much pain.”
“No,” Matthew said angrily, pushing me back. “You don’t know. You're living here with your perfect life, your perfect health, your perfect house, your perfect family, your perfect dog. You have no idea what it is we’re going through!”
It was like a knife being sent straight through my chest. I watched as Matthew marched downstairs, then reluctantly followed. “I’m going out for a fag,” I said, moving quickly through the kitchen, past my mum, sister, and a sulking Matthew.
Outside in the garden I sat on the step, cigarette dangling between my fingers and a full glass of wine beside me. I heard the door open and close and ignored it. There was a cough.
“Go away, Mum,” I grumbled.
“It’s me,” said Matthew, appearing in my vision and giving me a small wave. He sat down beside me, sighing heavily as he did so. “I’m sorry for what I said back there. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s okay. You’re right.” There was a long pause as we both stared out at the garden, the cloudy sky threatening rain any moment. I took a few more drags before stubbing out my cigarette. “I lost someone too, you know,” I whispered quietly.
I heard Matthew swallow thickly beside me. “I’m so sorry,” he croaked.
I shrugged. “My dad. Five years ago. Car collision on Christmas Eve. I’ve hated the holidays ever since.”
“That’s horrible,” said Matthew. “My heart aches for you.”
I turned to look at him. His eyes were wide and sad. His statement was pure, genuine. For the first time in a long time, I believed someone. “That means a lot,” I said. “Thank you.”
We stayed outside for a long while. Inside I could hear Mum and Diana washing up, the distant hum of Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ playing from the stereo. Watching our breath between us, I felt Matthew edge closer to me, his hand sitting just next to mine. Taking a chance, I laced our fingers together, squeezing tightly. I was met with no resistance and smiled, feeling the soft lean of Matthew’s head coming to rest on my shoulder.
“We should go back inside,” I mumbled sometime later. “It’s getting pretty cold out.”
The crackling fire awaited us. Marilyn had come back downstairs and was cuddling with Hendrix. She smiled at Matthew and me as we sat down on the sofa beside her. “I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas,” she said with an honest smile. “Thank you, Dominic, for welcoming us into your home.”
“I’m glad I did,” I said, looking Matthew in the eye and sharing a shy smile. “Really, really glad.”
As the clock struck midnight and Mum and Diana returned to their bedrooms, I turned to Matthew and Marilyn. “Please stay the night?” I asked. “I would feel horrible taking you both back to that tiny bedsit tonight.”
“Oh Dominic,” Marilyn said weakly with tears in her eyes. “That would be so lovely. You are far too kind.” I gave her a small smile before moving to help her up again. Once in the guest bedroom, she pulled me close before Matthew came in. “Please take care of Matthew once I’m gone,” she whispered in my ear, tears gathering at the corners of her eyes.
“I will, Marilyn. I promise.”
Her eyes closed and I took a shaky breath, quickly leaving just as Matthew walked in to say goodnight to his mother. A few minutes later the small man emerged from the room, gently shutting the door behind him. “I’ll just, um, get the sofa downstairs settled.”
“Matthew,” I said, taking his hand. He looked up at me, and before he could respond to me, I pressed the gentlest of kisses to his chapped, bitten lips. He was still against me and I pulled back, looking at him intently. His eyes were wide. “It’s okay,” I breathed between us, gently touching his shaking arm.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I nodded. Hesitantly, he pressed his lips to mine. We moved together gently as I slipped my arms around his waist, pulling him close and adjusting to the feeling of the weight of his body against my own. “That’s it,” I said gently, just holding him. “Let’s go to bed.”
Matthew was the gentlest of lovers I’d ever had. We didn’t engage in much, just a long, heated kiss. I looked at his bare body in the moonlight, small little scars illuminated all over his stomach, arms, and legs. Tracing my finger over them and pressing soft kisses to his shoulder blade, he began to speak.
“I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder when I was 14, after Dad died.” That explains the shaking and jittering. “They thought it was Asperger’s for the longest time. No one would believe Mum at family dinners when I would panic and seize. They just thought I was crazy. I guess I am.”
“You’re not crazy,” I said gently, wrapping my arms around his small form as tight as I could. He turned over and looked me in the eye.
“You’re not lying.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“You believe me,” he said.
I nodded. “I do.”
He shut his eyes. “Thank you, Dom.”
I pressed one more kiss to his lips before shutting my own eyes. “Merry Christmas, Matthew.”
When we awoke the next morning, Marilyn wasn’t breathing. She laid peacefully on the guest bed, her eyes closed and a look of relief spread over her face. She was finally out of pain, no longer suffering.
After they came and took her body away, I hugged my own mum and sister extra tight, telling them how much I loved them. Together, we took the sheets off the guest bed and carried them to the washer to be washed. As I moved pillows out of the way, a paper fluttered to the floor. It was a note, folded with ‘Dominic’ written on the front in shaky letters. I opened it.
You have my blessing. And I know if Matthew’s father had been here, you would have his as well. Love him just a fraction of the amount I love him and he will be okay. He is stronger than he thinks he is.
All the love,
A tear fell from my eye onto the paper, smudging the ink. I pressed the note to my heart, breathing deeply and looking up at the ceiling. I didn’t believe in heaven, but briefly imagined my dad and Matthew’s parents looking down at me, smiling. “Thank you,” I whispered to the empty room, slipping the note into my pocket.
Two years and five days later…
“Love!” I called into the kitchen from the front reception room. “We need another flute of champagne, Diana dropped hers.”
I could hear shuffling down the hallway then smiled as Matthew entered, hands full of munchies and a full flute of champagne. He handed it to my sister, his cheeks red from alcohol and his blue eyes sparkling. I eyed him hungrily as he conversed with guests, tipping his head back and letting out loud giggles as my uncle told him some outrageous, definitely made-up story.
“You’re quite the social butterfly tonight,” I said an hour later as he finally made his way to me, inconspicuously pressing his bum to my crotch. “I was worried I wouldn’t get my kiss,” I whispered, pressing my lips to the shell of his ear.
“You never have to worry,” he replied, turning his body to fully face me. As the people around us chanted a countdown, I found myself lost in my partner’s eyes, leaning forward as cheers of ‘Happy New Year!’ echoed around us. Our lips met, eyes closing as my fingers closed over his own, feeling the cool metal of his engagement band against my warmed skin. The weight of my own band was already memorised, even after only a few days since my proposal to him.
As we pulled away from our New Year’s kiss, I gave him a cheeky grin. “Good?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not good. Perfect.”
I smiled, pecking his lips once more before interlocking our hands and turning back to the bubbling room of family and loved ones, plates of leftover Christmas turkey and sweets littering the tables and chairs. I didn’t mind the mess one bit. In fact, I welcomed it. Closing my eyes, I let the sounds and smells wash over me. Cinnamon, drunken singing, spilled wine, the forgotten hum of Frank Sinatra. I opened my eyes again and looked at the framed photograph we had of Marilyn Bellamy sitting on the mantle of our fireplace. There was kindness in her eyes, and I knew she was watching us from above. I sent her a quiet ‘thank you’ in my mind before turning to my fiancé, taking his hand, and joining the party.