This is my favorite time of year, so there's no question I loved writing this. Of course, this is based off of the lovely Galieo Figaro's fic Robin's Guest. Very angsty!Elaine here but a lot of cute Herbalot moments because they're our OTP and they're adorable. Also, the title is too perfect as it alludes to Herbert's song AND fits the mood of the story. :D Got to thank my favorite Christmas movie for the song.
Merry Christmas, everyone~
Where Are You, Christmas?
It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Elaine knew it.
That was the thing about this time of year. There was always a feeling lingering in the air, making her stomach jumpy with excitement as though she was five-years old again. She was glad it had come back to her after all these years.
She could remember like it had only been yesterday- seven years old, hardly able to contain herself as she set out milk and store-bough cookies for Santa Claus, huddled next to her father in the glow of the fire set in the living room's hearth, completely invested in the tale of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the family's ancient TV set, hoping the rabbit ears wrapped in tinfoil would hold up for the entire half-hour Christmas special.
The next morning, after opening presents, the small Shalott family would feast on the Honey Baked ham and Stovetop stuffing and the artificial flakey mashed potatoes. It was one of the few times a year the family ever used the dining room table.
Okay, so her family wasn't that perfect, nuclear family that's life was filled with Kodak moments and smiles, like it was on TV. But they still always had nice Christmases and the memories of holidays past were some of Elaine's fondest.
Of course, some of the most recent Christmases were a different story entirely.
She had spent these alone – well, her friends Smirnoff, Heineken, and Captain Morgan were always welcome to join in the holiday festivities. Together, they helped her forget about the what-ifs and the maybes and the whys and drown out her loneliness until she could feel that pink-cheeked lightness she craved as she sat on her couch, reverting back to childhood with Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
She was glad those days were gone.
But now it seemed like Elaine was in a Christmas purgatory – somewhere in between the happiness of the holidays she knew as a child and the lonely Christmases as an alcoholic just years prior. This year she knew she was going to be happy, but she was going to be just a little bit sad.
She did have all the things needed for a good Christmas – somewhere warm and good food and love. But they all came in strange and unexpected packages.
In almost eight months, her life took a one-eighty into a completely new direction, a direction she never dreamt her life would go when she met up with her ex-boyfriend, Lance Cockburn . . . and his husband, Herbert.
Lance's life certainly took a whole new direction. Only a year prior Elaine had been Lance's girlfriend and his almost fiancée. Now he was openly gay and married to a man.
At least one of them was doing well for themselves.
Elaine's life at that point had been in shambles. She drank too much, the floral shop she worked out was at the brink of going-out-of-business, her childhood home was going to been taken from her because she wasn't making rent on time. Lance and Herbert had been the ones to rescue her from her shattered life, give her room in their house when the house was taken by the landlord, good food, and helped her sober up. Elaine was immeasurably thankful for all that they had done for her, but they wanted something special in return.
They wanted a baby.
They were considering surrogacy, and once Elaine was in recovery, they asked her if she could be their surrogate mother.
At first, she was extremely hesitant. Was she really going to agree to mothering a child – to go through all that pain – for her ex-boyfriend and his partner? They had offered a generous amount of compensation – enough to get those dammed bank tellers off her case. And, she would become a lot closer to Lance . . .
She still had feelings for Lance. He had been the one to break her heart. True, she had been the one to turn down his marriage proposal down, but that was because of the recent and untimely death of her uncle, her closest and one of her final living relatives. She didn't feel ready for marriage then. But it seemed like right after she turned him down on that proposal, he spun around, turned gay, and asked the first guy he felt remotely attracted to if they could get hitched. She couldn't rest with this fact – maybe she'd never fully live with it.
But she did accept their baby proposal because here she was, four months into a pregnancy and still struggling to grasp the fact that Lance had moved on.
It wasn't like she didn't try. Oh, did she try. She was trying at that very moment.
She was sitting on the couch, head perched in one her hands, the other absently rubbing her slightly swollen stomach as she watched Elf of ABC Family's "Twenty Five Days of Christmas", and more focused on her own troubles than those of Buddy the Elf's.
"Well, I just ordered pizza because I really don't feel much like cooking on Christmas Eve's Eve," Herbert announced as he hung the phone up.
Elaine barely noticed that Herbert was in the kitchen. A lot of the time he was quiet and soft-spoken, it was sometimes hard to notice him. Unless, of course, it involved singing and then it seemed like Herbert was a different person.
"That's fine," Elaine said quietly.
"Oh?" Herbert was behind the couch now. "Is that Elf? Why didn't you tell me that was on? It's my favorite holiday movie!" Elaine could feel Herbert beam and plop himself next to her on the couch.
There was a lot of unspoken tension between Herbert and Elaine. Despite being under such awkward conditions, Herbert always was the one to extend an olive branch to Elaine. She was, after all, giving him one of the best gifts he could ever hope to receive. They would have to find peace somehow.
But Elaine didn't want peace.
Herbert didn't seem to realize how hard this was for her. Lance was a married man now. It was like he proposed to Elaine, she didn't feel ready quite yet, so he turned around and decided he was gay, and proposed to Herbert. It wasn't fair.
Living with them made this all the more difficult, but she had nowhere else to go. Welcoming her into their home meant that she had to watch them be affectionate with each other. They didn't realize how hard it was for her to watch them hug and kiss. How much it hurt to see them snuggling on the sofa. How she couldn't bear to look at the photos in the stairway that lead to the bedrooms which exhibited Lance and Herbert together with each other – in New York City in front of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, on their wedding day, Herbert in a lacey wedding dress and Lance in a raven tux, by the Eiffel Tower on the honeymoon. How many times she couldn't fall asleep because of the mocking sounds of bedsprings creaking in the middle of the night, drifting from the bedroom across the hall.
She was going to be the one to receive those kisses. She was going the one wrapped in Lance's big and strong arms during a movie. She was supposed to be in those photos, walking New York with him, wearing that beautiful dress, experiencing Paris with him. She was going to be the one who fell into bed with him every night and made love to.
So, even though Herbert was trying to be so nice to her, she felt like she really couldn't accept him.
But she loved being so close to Lance again. She hadn't spoken with him much after their breakup and it was now she realized how good of a friend he was to her, if he was never going to be her lover. There never seemed to better moments then when it was just the two of them, alone, without Herbert, talking. They didn't even have to be talking. They could just be on the couch, Lance watching a football game or one of his murder crime shows, Elaine close by. She wasn't really a big fan of those kinds of things, but to be next to him, so close, it made her stomach feel as though a bunch of butterflies had been set loose inside her.
Part of this feeling, she admitted, wasn't solely based on Lance's presence. She had started to feel the baby move. No earth-shattering, Rockette-esque movement quite yet, but whispers of life every now and again. She would smile to herself at the fluttering; knowing that Lance's baby – their baby- was thriving.
Herbert-grudge aside, Elaine was starting to feel like her old self again. After becoming sober ( and that had not been easy), she became pregnant and with the joys of the first trimester – the morning sickness, the fatigue, the unexpected fits of sobbing over nothing – she felt like her body was not her own. Now that she was in her second trimester, she was starting to see glimpses of normalcy, of what it was like when she and Lance were together.
During her darker days, she often thought about what it would be like if she accepted Lance' proposal, what their Christmases would be could see it now, the Christmas tree decorated to the nines, the delicious Christmas supper, the mistletoe set above the door, the CD of classic holiday tunes playing in the background.
But she doubted that this Christmas was going to be anything like the ones she had dreamed of. This was so different and she knew that she would have to follow Herbert's traditions.
One of the less agreeable was that Herbert didn't want to set the Christmas tree up until Christmas Eve. But everything else was allowed to be set into place prior. The wreaths had decked the doors and the lights had hugged the porch for weeks now. But the tree was that sacred thing that needed to be saved until the last possible moment.
The sound of the front door opening made Elaine's heart swell as she awkwardly shifted herself to watch as the snow-powdered Lance came through the door.
"Hello, darling," Herbert called as he paused the smack-down between Buddy and the imposter Santa, so they were floating above a stack of boxes, forever frozen from impact, while he greeted his husband with a kiss.
"It's really coming down out there," Lance said, shaking the snow off of him by shrugging his coat. A mini-indoor snow fall.
Herbert took the black coat from his husband and placed it in its home next to Herbert's fashionable peacoat and Elaine's awkward, thrift-store bough coat in a few sizes above hers as she knew she would be shifting in shape fairly rapidly till spring. "I hope the pizza guy will be alright. Are the roads bad?"
"No ice from what I can tell.." Lance pulled at his gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of the jacket. "Just snowy. " Off went the scarf. A winter strip tease. "But a total pain to drive in, of course."
"I'll take you hat," Herbert sang as he plucked the knitted tossel cap off of the top of Lance's head. With a giggle, he added, "Your hair looks swell."
Not much of a singer, but knowing the tune, Lance added, "Gosh, your lips look delicious." He kissed Herbert. Elaine looked at frozen Buddy and Santa. "Oo, your lips are delicious."
"Thank you for humoring me," Herbert gushed.
"You're really into the Christmas mood, aren't you?"
"I am." Herbert tucked the final pieces into the pockets of the coat. "Elaine and I were watching Elf before you came in. Care to join us?"
"I'd love to," Lance told him as Herbert took his seat on the other end of the couch, leaving the middle between him and Elaine open for Lance.
He sat down like it was nothing, like it didn't mean anything to him that he was right in the middle between his old lover and his husband.
Elaine tried to ignore it, by watching as Buddy got toted off to jail for wrecking havoc in the store, but when she felt Lance shift on the couch she couldn't help but watch as he pulled the ol' stretching out his arms and wrapping one around Herbert. A girlish giggle followed. The smacking of lips to a cheek.
What was so romantic about a dopey Elf-man in New York jail cell? Lance and Herbert could be affectionate whenever; they didn't have a dial on the PDA.
What hurt Elaine even more than Lance being gay was the hard realization that he had never been so sweet, so tender to her all the time they were dating. He was wonderful to her and when he kissed her, it felt like something beautiful. But he hardly ever took the time to do stupid, sappy things like kiss her nose and her fingers when they were cold from the wind or throw oldie Christmas songs into everyday conversation if she wanted to sing them. What had made her so different from Herbert?
Tears budded in her eyes. Buddy's ventures in the city were suddenly foggy. She awkwardly pulled her legs up onto the sofa and pulled down the knitted afghan from where it draped the couch and then made it give her a tight, warm hug. She tried her best to smile at the jokes, tried to distract herself from her thoughts again. She was so trapped in the movie that she didn't notice anything else until the doorbell rang to the tune of "Jingle Bells", signaling the arrival of the pizza man.
Herbert paused the movie. "I'll go get it." He stood up and straightened his tan tee-shirt. "Do you guys want to eat in the living room?"
"Already on it, babe," Lance assured him, following Herbert suit.
The younger man went to the door to pay for the pizza while Lance pushed out the coffee table farther away from the couch.
"Elaine, can you go get drinks and plates?" Lance asked her.
"Sure," she croaked, unsure why her voice was suddenly taken from her. She shove the blanket off and went to the kitchen, pulling out the pitcher of pink lemon from its spot on the inside of the fridge. She went to the stack of paper plates for various parties (the leftovers were typically used for eating take-out, when no one felt like cooking, much less washing the dishes) and cups and took three of each before returning to the living room.
She made out three places and gave Herbert the creepy, ugly hissing black cat Halloween plate and herself and Lance two heart-covered Valentine's Day plates.
Herbert sat the pizza box topped with a tinfoil-wrapped bundle of garlic bread down in the middle of the coffee table , a piping hot centerpiece. He sat himself down and pulled out a piece of steaming cheese pizza while Lance poured pink lemonade into cups.
"So tomorrow, I was thinking that we head out around nine-ish to the Christmas tree lot, the Boy Scout one over by that bank," Lance said, handing Herbert his Saint Patrick's Day cup. "I need to get the stand and skirt out from the attic tonight and set that up."
"Lola's stopping by around six when she gets off work with our surprise," Herbert said quietly, a smile playing at the corner of his lips.
For once, Elaine actually truly interested in what Herbert had to say. "What surprise?"
"Remember how we said we wanted to learn the baby's gender a while back?" Herbert asked.
Elaine remembered. Her twenty-week ultrasound appointment wasn't very long ago. They had said they wanted to know, but they wanted to find out in a unique way. Like when they had the baby shower, they would cut into the cake or open a box of balloons and if it was pink or blue it would reveal the gender of the baby. "Yeah."
"Well, we finally decided how we want to know, so she's bringing it to us when she gets off from her shift at the hospital."
"What is it?" asked Elaine.
The smile broadened on Herbert's lips as he told her, "That's why it's called a surprise."
The next morning found the three of them in a humble forest of evergreen trees in the middle of a parking lot near the bank. The snow had calmed itself from the feverish blizzard it had been last night and now floated lazily, going wherever the gentle but snappy breeze carried it.
Herbert and Lance strolled down the next aisle of trees, their mittened hands clasping each other's, Elaine following behind at a slower pace. Through the whispering of the wind and the blasting of Christmas pop tunes, she really couldn't hear what they were saying, but she could bet they were critiquing each tree. Well, there really wasn't much to critique, as Elaine saw it. As they had waited until Christmas Eve to even think about choosing a tree, there got their choice of the runts.
She looked over to several of the trees. Runts, alright. Tiny, frail, and filled with gaping holes between the branches, these really weren't magnificent trees as everyone had dreamt their Christmas tree would be. They looked more like the sad, little excuse Charlie Brown bought for the Christmas pageant.
"Oh, darling, what about that one?"
Elaine's head snapped to Herbert's voice, where he was pointing to a tree. It was fuller than most of them, but it was still rather puny.
"I like that one, too. I think it has a good amount of branches, what do you think?"
"Well, it's not like we have many ornaments to begin with, so I think it's perfect." Herbert craned his head to look at Elaine. "Thoughts, Elaine?"
"Oh, uh." She shuffled closer and looked at the tree. "I think it's pretty good." Better than most of these.
"So it's settled then?" Herbert asked. "Did we find our tree?"
"We found our tree," Lance confirmed, nodding. "I'm gonna go pay, then I'll help tote it back to the car."
"Sure thing, sweetheart," Herbert said, but just as Lance turned his back, Elaine saw a devious little smile play at the corner of Herbert's lips as he bent over, gathered some of the untouched snow, pack it into a ball, and hurl it straight to Lance's back.
Splat. It was like a white paintball dripping down Lance's black coat. The older man quickly whipped his head around to find the culprit.
Herbert shrugged his shoulders guiltlessly. "I dunno, somebody's throwing snowballs around here."
A grin like a cat spread across Lance's face as he quickly made his own snowball and before anyone knew it, he had chucked it at Herbert.
The blonde looked down at the wound of snow on his peacoat. He practically cackled. "Oh, this means war."
A squeal of laughter and Herbert took off flying, running, running away from Lance, turning the corner and disappearing right into the edge of the mini-forest.
She only wished that Lance had engaged in a snowball fight with her.
Stuffing her gloved hands in the awkward coat's pockets, she followed them at a slower pace. When she turned the corner to the next row of trees, she found Lance and Herbert tumbled over in a snow drift, their peals of laughter resounding over the blaring Christmas music.
She wanted to see her and Lance becoming winterchildren, their laughs floating up like feathers in the snowy air surrounding them.
She shuffled closer to them and Lance looked up at her. "In all seriousness," he said as he pulled himself up and dusted the snow off of his soaked jeans. "I'm going to pay right now." He extended a hand to Herbert and helped him stand up before shuffling a way, chortling to himself every so often as he disappeared around a thicket of trees.
Herbert took Elaine's hand. She wanted to pull away. "C'mon, let's go warm up in the car for a while."
So they sat in the Cockburn-Swampcastles' evergreen hued Jeep, the car's engine shaking off the cold from their pink noses, the CD lightly playing Herbert's latest volume of Carols for a Cure before watching Lance walk up to the vehicle, dragging behind him the humble little tree.
Herbert giggled and rolled down the window. "Need a hand?"
"You're better at tying things up than I am," Lance confessed.
"Getting shipped off to summer camp every year came with its advantages," Herbert told him and he exited the Jeep.
Elaine watched as the two worked together to get the tree on top of the car, Lance doing the lifting, Herbert doing the knot work. She felt like she needed to help them out, but she was sure if she tried to do anything, they'd insist that she get back into the car and rest. From Lance she usually found the doting sweet but somewhat overprotective, Herbert's was just downright annoying. She was pregnant, not made of glass.
Once Lance and Herbert had successfully secured the tree to the top of the Jeep, they headed out of the Boy Scouts' shrinking forest, homeward and holiday bound.
"The reason why we look for such small trees is because we don't have many ornaments," Herbert confessed to Elaine as he emerged from the depths of the basement, balancing a good-sized white box at his hip, strings of multicolored lights and tinsel around his arms.
He set the box down and shut the door to the basement behind him. "We only buy a select amount of ornaments a year, and Lance and I have only been married a year, so we don't have many from last year and only some from our own trees before we got married."
He picked up the box again and carried it into the living room, where Lance was artfully arranging the branches of the tree. "Of course, we bought some this year. We buy ornaments with significant meaning to what has happened to us in our lives."
"Hand me the lights please, babe. I'll start hanging them up," Lance asked. Herbert shrugged the lights off of his shoulders and handed them to his husband.
"So anyway, we only have a few as of right now, but we bought some earlier this year that has relates to what's happened in our lives." Herbert opened the box and pulled out an ornament of two love birds. "This one I bought when gay marriage was ratified in the state. I bought it because I was hoping I'd find love and get married."
He sat it down and picked up one of a chalkboard proudly stating 'A-plus teacher'. "This was when I got my teaching certificate and I started working as a music teacher. Actually, one of my students gave it to me while I was still student-teaching at an elementary school."
He finally pulled out one of the Eifel Tower. "Lance and I bought this one while in Paris on our honeymoon." A smile played at his lips, his eyes glazed over with memories as he said, "A lot of good memories come back from these ornaments. But, if you'd like to see the new ones we bought this Christmas, we should first finish lighting the tree."
So together, they worked on trimming the tree and by the time all the silvery tinsel and rainbow lights had vanished and danced around the tree, the Charlie Brown tree was starting to look plumper, healthier.
Huh, she thought as she backed away. Art does imitate life.
"Now, to unveil our new ornaments," Lance said, as he pulled out Hallmark bag from its hiding place in the armoire next to the door. "Drum roll, please."
Herbert slapped his thighs in increasing intensity to only climax to him hitting the near-by couch, a la Cabaret, as Elaine recognized it. She tried to help smiling.
Lance reached inside the bag and pulled out a glittery, black piano and handed it to Herbert and hooked it, handing it Elaine to hang on the tree, creating a Christmas assembly line of sorts. "It's for our new piano," he told her with a smile. A grill was handed to her. "And our new grill."
Lance pulled out a mini-blue sparkly bag, identifiable with the Disney font. "From our first trip to Disney World with Herbert taking the chamber choir down there with the marching band," he told Elaine as he handed her a Mickey Mouse-shaped ornament.
"Don't get me started on how many times Lance made me ride Tower of Terror with him," Herbert said with a sigh, shaking his head.
A Willis tower came next. "My brother's graduation in Chicago this year," Lance explained. "We found time to make it to the top of the tower." He dug deeper in the bag and pulled out one final ornament. "This last one is for you, Elaine." He was grinning as he handed it directly to her.
It was a pregnant-looking snowwoman, wearing pink dotted maternity dress and a wide-brim sunhat, a book reading "Names for Baby" and a baby shower gift-list tucked under her one hand, carrying a double—decker ice-cream cone topped with a pickle in the other.
"It's to remember the beautiful thing you're doing for us," Herbert said quietly, "and how we can never thank you enough for it."
She stared at the snowwoman for another moment, then looked up to Lance and said, "It's nice," before adding the ornament in its own private section of the tree, near the top.
The rest of the ornaments that needed to be hung were from year prior, and every so often they would stop and tell her the story that came attached with the decoration, the married couple chuckling over their own little inside jokes like a pair of best friends. Elaine would smile and laugh at some of the things that they had said.
But it wasn't until the tree was deemed finished and they had all sat back and enjoyed their handiwork with mugs of hot chocolate that she notice she hadn't once thought about how this would have been different with Herbert out of the picture. She had been so caught up in decorating for Christmas that she had forgotten that this was her ex-boyfriend and his husband's tree she was decorating and she resented Herbert.
A Christmas truce, she guessed. She could try and let go of her bitterness for Christmas.
"Take these away from me, Lance, before I eat the entire bag," Herbert commanded as he stuffed another marshmallow that had been initially used for the coco into his mouth. He handed the bag to his husband. "Lock these up where I can't find them."
"I'll take another one, before you hide them in the safe," Elaine said with a laugh. Lance extended the bag towards her and she took another two marshmallows that went straight to her mouth.
It was luck that right as Lance was taking the bag of marshmallows back into the kitchen, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," he told Herbert, who was just setting his mug on the coffee table in order to get up and answer the door. Lance went to the door and a snow-brushed Lola was standing there in her pink scrubs, carrying a large Santa Claus-covered package.
"Feliz Navidad," she called out as she brisked into the living room.
Lola was a bit much to take in when you first met her. Raven-black hair with dyed forest-green roots and the occasional wearing of violet-hued contacts with an equally eccentric personality to match, she wasn't the kind of woman Elaine had assumed would be working as a midwife and doula. But over the time and course of her pregnancy, Elaine had grown to like the other woman.
"Merry Christmas, Lola," Elaine said with a smile.
The other woman walked over to the couch where Herbert and Elaine sat. "Hello, all," she said.
"Did you just get off?" Herbert asked.
"Yep, just helped deliver a baby boy to a woman who was in labor for thirty-six hours," she said with an exhausted sigh that Elaine could only imagine was only a fraction of the one the mother gave when her baby was finally born. Lola motioned to the bump in Elaine's stomach. "Here's hoping that your little one doesn't take so long to get here. And on that note, how are you feeling?"
"Fine," Elaine said, running her hand over the swell of her belly. "The baby has started shifting around a bit – I think he or she's excited for the holidays."
"Would you like to sit down, Lola?" Herbert asked. "I made hot chocolate for everyone. It'd be no trouble to get you a mug –"
"Would that I could, Herb," she said. "I'm heading over to Patsy's apartment for our Christmas Eve dinner."
"But. . . Patsy's Jewish," Lance added. "What are you doing then for Christmas?"
Lola shrugged. "I think we're having Chinese take-out and watching movies." She shrugged. "I'm not all that much into Christmas revelry, anyways, so it'll be a nice way to relax." She glance at her watch. "And I promised him I'd be there by seven, and with this crazy snow, I'd better get a move on. So-" she extended the present and handed it to Herbert – "here's your Christmas gift. I know you're all excited about it, but I highly recommend waiting until tomorrow to open it." She winked. "Jus' makes it all the more exciting."
"Will do," Lance assured her as he set the present down next to the collective group of presents forming under the tree, before picking up a blue snowflake covered package and handing it to the nurse. "And you can do likewise."
"Of course," she said with a smile. She walked the door and, just before leaving and disappearing into the winter snowfall, bided her goodbye, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!"
Later that night, Elaine lay awake, staring at the ceiling fan above the guest room's bed.
The Cockburn-Swampcastle home was alive yet dead and quite around this time. Across the hallway, she knew that Lance and Herbert were asleep in their bed, but the TV typically blared Cabaret, Herbert's favorite movie for falling asleep when he had insomnia. The heater huffed and puffed, a night worker, exhausting its poor self to keep the house nice and cozy. Downstairs the laundry was tossing and turning, humming its own tune to sooth itself.
Elaine brushed back her hair as she sat up in bed and leaned against the headboard. Some nights, she fell sound asleep very easily, her pregnancy working its sleep magic. But tonight wasn't one of those nights. Tonight she was having trouble falling and staying asleep. It was just like being a kid again, unable to fall asleep of Christmas Eve. But unlike being a child, she wasn't looking forward to a visit from Santa but rather what was in that mysterious package Lola had dropped over earlier.
Elaine couldn't stop thinking about it. She honestly hadn't thought much about it when Herbert had told her they were expecting to find out the baby's gender that way, but now it seemed like one of the most exciting things this Christmas. She had been so occupied by the other Christmas preparations, it slipped her mind.
As she tossed and turned throughout the night, she contemplated about the secret hidden in that package under the tree and what was the surprise was. Eventually in the wee hours of the morning, she drifted off into a fuzzy sleep to which she awoke not exactly rested, but none the less excited.
From a glance out the window, she could see that the snow had stopped, the sky was still a little gloomy, but with the fresh snowfall, the whole world looked glittery and straight out of a Christmas card.
So far, so good for this Christmas, she told herself as she stumbled out of bed and shrugged on her blue and white bathrobe and slipped her feet into the matching slippers. She padded downstairs to find Herbert and Lance sitting on the couch, watching the Walt Disney World Christmas parade on television, both still tucked into their pajamas, Herbert wearing his pink slippers.
Lance was the first to notice their surrogate come down the stairs to join them. "Merry Christmas, Elaine!" Herbert followed suit, waving to her.
"Merry Christmas," she said with a sigh as she leaned up against the railing leading from upstairs to the living room.
"Now that you're finally up, Sleeping Beauty, we can finally open presents," Lance said as he paused the Christmas parade and stood up.
"You waited for me?"
"Of course," Lance said. "It wouldn't be Christmas without the whole family together."
Elaine was overjoyed. Lance thought of her as family.
With a proud little smile that she tried to hide, she retied her robe as she shuffled down the rest of the stairs to where she joined and eagerly waiting Herbert sitting next to a pile of presents sitting under the tree.
"We were going to wake you up earlier," he confessed. "But, take it as another Christmas gift to let you sleep later."
"I appreciate it," Elaine said, awkwardly sitting herself down across the way from Herbert. "But it didn't do me much good – to excited to really sleep."
"I think everyone was," Lance said, shifting through the presents under the tree until he found a small box wrapped in blue paper, decorated with a silvery bow, and then handed it to Elaine. "For you."
"We know it's a little early for a push present, but we thought now would be a good time to give this to you," Herbert told her as she carefully unwrapped the present- it seemed far too pretty for her to absolutely shred through.
What fell out into her hands was a humble black jewelry box and inside that little box was a stunning diamond necklace and stud ear-rings, simple but nonetheless breathtaking.
"As a 'thank you' from Herbert and me," Lance told her. "For what you're going through for us."
She looked up to Lance and she believed that he had picked it out, just for her.
And then she could see it all over again, the day Lance proposed to her, right before he moved to New York City. She could see him getting down on one knee, pulling out a ring, and asking her if she would be his wife. She could still hear him tell her how beautiful a new life would be, the two of them living in a snug apartment, comfy and cozy in married life. She could still remember how she had walked away, Lance dashing after her but eventually let her go into the night. How it took her a whole day to call and tell him that she was sorry, but she wasn't ready for marriage yet, and she still wanted to be friends with him. And then how he disappeared, leaving her alone with that delightful dead fantasy he had painted for her.
Her eyes glazed over and her face grew hot as she looked down to the jewelry presented before her.
"E-Elaine?" Herbert asked quietly. "Are you okay, honey?"
She didn't look to Herbert, though. All she could focus on was Lance as she said, "It's lovely." She wasn't lying, but it was still really hard for her to say. Especially with Herbert right in front of her.
Just when she was starting to get into the holiday spirit . . .
But she had sworn to a Christmas truce. She was going to try and forget everything that had happened for the holiday. For her sake, and for Lance's.
They opened the rest of their presents while she tried to block the past with Christmas present. After the excitement of the jewelry set, Elaine wasn't as thrilled by the rest of the gifts they had bought her – several gardening-related items, a journal (Herbert's idea), and a few nice maternity clothes, which was nice considering most of the clothes she had bought for herself came from the thrift store, not so much for practical reasons but more because the stores were so expensive.
She of course, gave Lance and Herbert their gifts, humble but it was what she could afford - coffee mug with The Simpsons characters covering it for Lance and a book for Herbert. She didn't expect for Herbert to get so excited about his gift, considering she had picked it up last minute and with not much thought.
It was actually quite humorous as he opened the long, rectangular package and the book fell into his lap.
"Oh my god," he breathed as he read the title. He looked to Elaine. "Oh my god!" He touched the cover and ran his fingers over the binding. "Oh my god."
Lance smiled faintly as he wrapped his arm around his husband and said, "The Complete Book of Curtains and Drapes has been on his list for a while now."
"Elaine, how did you know?!" Herbert asked, wide-eyed.
She shrugged. The thing was, she didn't. It was in the bargain-priced section of Barnes and Noble and Herbert liked curtains. That was kind of it.
"It's perfect," he said, hugging the book close to him.
"I really love the coffee mug, too, Elaine," Lance said, holding up the box. "My old one from college is getting really faded, so it's the perfect replacement."
Soon they were swimming in a sea of wrapping paper and bows and there was only one present under the tree- the present from Lola.
Lance pulled it out from its hiding place and said, "We saved the best for last." He set it down between the three of them. "And I think all of us should open it."
Together they ripped open the paper to reveal a large box with a slightly smaller box sitting inside. They unwrapped that present to only find another smaller box. And then another small box.
"For someone who's on-call so often, she sure has a lot of time to wrap presents," Lance grumbled as they opened the final box. Out tumbled an oddly wrapped gift. They stared at it for a moment, knowing that this was what their future was, knowing if the baby was a boy or a girl. It might have been dramatic, but the rest of their life was going to be defined by what was inside this package.
"I think you two should open it," Elaine said quietly. As much as she wanted to pretend that this baby was hers and Lance's, it really was Lance's and Herbert's child when you really got to it.
Lance and Herbert opened the odd gift to reveal a tiny, pink wreath ornament adorned with pastel Christmas balls and bottles and a teddy bear.
"It's pink," Herbert breathed. He looked to Lance. "Babe, it's pink. It's pink, it's a girl. We've having a girl." The lights of the twinkling Christmas tree made the tears budding in Herbert's eyes glint.
"A daughter," Lance said. "We have a daughter." He laughed lightly as he wrapped his husband in a tight hug, the two of them laughing in joy, Herbert sniffing from time to time.
Elaine stood up and hung the ornament next to the snowwoman from last night.
From the hug that to Elaine seemed to last forever, Herbert pulled away and announced, "We probably should get ready. We're heading over to Arthur and Gwen's house for dinner." The both of them stood up and with tears still in his eyes, Herbert went over and hugged Elaine, wishing her Merry Christmas and thanking her before heading upstairs to change out of his pajamas and slippers.
Suddenly, Elaine was facing Lance, who had a smile so genuine, so happy, that she only seen it a few times in their relationship. It must have been contagious, because she could feel herself smiling back at him as his arms, those think, strong arms that she had dreamt about snuggled in slipped around her shoulder and they fell in a hug.
So what if this wasn't the Christmas she had envisioned with Lance? So what if this one didn't include them married and in a snug house all their own? So what if this wasn't even the Christmas of her past? Things were changing – she was changing in more ways than one – didn't that mean that Christmas had to change, too?
But it was still there, she realized. The feeling of Christmas had returned to her, in a unique form.
"Merry Christmas, Elaine."
She hugged him tighter.
"Merry Christmas, Lance."
This purgatory Christmas was perfect.