The temperature had been steadily dropping since noon on that bitter cold Christmas Eve in the quaint little New Jersey suburb of Lodi. For the third time that day, it was snowing--fat, thick flakes wound down from a low grey winter sky, blanketing the city in heavy white. According to the forecast, another cold front was on the way, along with even colder temperatures and a sixty percent chance of more snow after sunset. It went without saying that there would be a white Christmas in Lodi that year.
Gazing out at the sparkling winter world beyond the frosted windowpanes, Michale Graves watched the snow fall. There was something magical about snow on Christmas, Michale thought--a certain novelty that made sipping cocoa by the fireplace and baking cookies in a warm kitchen that much more cozy. This, he decided, would be the perfect Christmas.
With a wistful sigh, he turned from the window and surveyed his work with a swelling sense of self-satisfaction. Decorating the entire parlor of the Caiafa house from ceiling to floor had proven an arduous task, but he’d done it on his own. Now the spacious hall gleamed in red, green and gold, with bows and tinsel galore. In the once-bare corner opposite the fireplace stood a stately faux fir, adorned with twinkling lights and glittering glass ornaments. The room was definitely a far cry from the usual sober atmosphere that Jerry would have otherwise insisted upon, holidays or no. But fortunately for Michale, Jerry hadn’t been in all day, and he was near finished. All that was left to do was to hang the mistletoe wreath.
“Now where the hell did I put that hammer…?” Michale wondered aloud. The jangling of the phone in the kitchen interrupted his thoughts, and he scurried to answer it. “Caiafa residence,” he chirped brightly. “Merry Christmas!”
“Oh, thank God,” came a teasing voice from the other end of the line. “For a second, I was afraid I’d forgotten my own phone number.”
“Doyle, you dork.” giggled Michale. “Where the hell are you?”
“On my way back from the store with your ten cans of godforsaken cranberry sauce.”
“Um…” Michale paused. “You didn’t get the kind with cranberries in it, did you?”
A long hesitation on Doyle’s end.
“Isn’t cranberry sauce supposed to have cranberries in it?”
“Doyle, if you got the cranberry sauce with whole cranberries in it, heads are going to roll. That’s all there is to it. I asked for jellied cranberry sauce because whole cranberries make me gag. You know that.” Doyle sighed, and by the sound, Michale could tell he was rolling his eyes. He did the same.
“You haven’t heard from Jerry at all, have you?” Doyle quickly changed the subject, wisely skirting the issue of cranberries altogether. “I’ve been calling his cell all afternoon, but I haven‘t been able to reach him.”
“No,” replied Michale. “I was hoping you had.”
“That doesn‘t surprise me.” Doyle replied, his otherwise calm tone betraying a note of underlying worry. “That’s Jerry for you.” He sighed. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I’m almost at our exit. I’ll see you in a few.”
“Be careful,” chided Michale. “It’s snowing like crazy out there.”
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you too. I’ll try to track down Jerry for you.”
“Yeah. Good luck with that.” Doyle laughed. “See you, babe.”
“Bye.” Michale replaced the receiver, then leaned back against the kitchen counter. He could already feel the workings of a frown upon his face.
It troubled Michale that Jerry picked now to drop completely off the metaphorical radar. The fact that he was somewhere out there alone on Christmas Eve, let alone in near-blizzard conditions, was disconcerting to say the least--though he knew there wasn’t anything he himself could do. Jerry was going to do what he was going to do; that was a given. Still, the least he could do was call home, even if just to let him or Doyle know he was all right, and not dead or freezing in a ditch somewhere. He doubted with good reason that he could get a hold of Jerry. Hell, worth a shot. He frowned and picked up the phone again, dialed Jerry’s cell.
No answer. No surprise. Only Jerry’s automated voice mail, asking that Michale record his message after the tone.
“Hey, Jerry. It’s Michale. Doyle just called and told me he’s trying to get in touch with you. Guess you’re pretty hard to get a hold of. Anyway, give us a call when you get this. Talk to you later, Jer.” A long moment’s pause. “Merry Christmas.” Wherever the hell you are. Michale hung up the phone. “Fuckin’ scrooge,” he muttered aloud to himself with a momentary scowl. Then he turned and pranced back into the parlor. One thing was for sure--nothing in the world could possibly dampen his holiday spirits.
He fetched the last wreath and returned to his trusty stepladder. A quick flip of the wrist landed the wreath directly on its mark.
“Suck it, Martha Stewart.” Michale smirked. Presently, there came the clamor of jingle bells from the front door, announcing Doyle’s arrival.
“Michale, I’m--sweet baby Jesus.” Michale turned to see Doyle standing in the entryway, grocery bags in hand, mouth agape. “What the hell happened here? Did a truck carrying three tons of gold tinsel crash into the house?”
“What?” Michale smirked. “You can never have too much tinsel.” He straightened the wreath above his head and then nodded, satisfied. “There. Done.”
“I would certainly hope so.” Doyle‘s gaze drifted about the room, taking in the spectacle of the lights, the ornaments, the wreaths, the tinsel--the tinsel. Dear God, so much tinsel. “Wow.” Dazed, Doyle blinked a few times in quick succession. “Wow. You certainly went all out.”
“Well, this place was so dull. I had to do something to make it more festive. I swear, when it comes to holiday decorating, there‘s just no hope for either you or Jerry.” Michale turned and stepped down from the ladder. Before he could land both feet on the floor, he found himself swept up into a strong embrace. Michale smirked as he twined both arms around Doyle’s neck. “Nice try. You’re not getting any early gifts, though.” He punctuated his declaration with a kiss, pressed chastely to Doyle’s lips. Doyle grinned.
“Whatever. You’re all I want anyway.” He wrapped his arms around Michale‘s slender waist, squeezing him tightly.
“Mmm.” Michale pressed his lithe frame purposefully into Doyle‘s. “I missed you.” He kissed Doyle again, this time more emphatically. His lips lingered warmly on Doyle’s for a long moment before he pulled away, smiling mischievously. “I hate to interrupt this touching moment, but I think my cookies may be burning.” He slipped easily from Doyle’s grasp and flounced toward the kitchen.
“Tease,” Doyle called after Michale. “Wait. You baked cookies?” He followed Michale into the kitchen. He found the small singer darting about the kitchen, grabbing potholders, flitting to the stove. He opened the oven and removed a large pan of snowman-shaped sugar cookies and set them on the counter to cool.
“Perfect,” Michale mused. Doyle smiled.
“You do know you’re too painfully cute for your own good, right?”
“Damn straight,” Michale grinned.
Presently, the phone shrilled beside them, causing both to jump. “Ooh. Maybe that’s Lemmy.” Michale picked up the phone. “Caiafa residence, merry Christmas!”
“Bah, humbug.” The dour voice on the other end was thin, tinny, and sounding like it might have been calling from inside a wind tunnel. “It’s Jerry.”
“Oh! Hey, Jerry.” Michale threw a glance toward Doyle, who arched an eyebrow. “What’s up?”
“Not much,” Jerry’s tone was flat and reserved, and devoid of something Michale couldn’t quite put his finger on. “Look. I just thought I’d call you guys and let you know I’m going away for a few days. I’ve got some stuff I need to sort out, and I need some time to think on my own.” Michale frowned.
“But Jerry,” he protested. “It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. Why on earth would you want to be alone on Christmas?”
“It’s complicated. At any rate, I’m sure you’ll manage without me.” He didn‘t give Michale a chance to press the issue. “Let me speak to Doyle.”
“He’s right here.” Michale passed the phone to Doyle, immediately noting the troubled look on the latter’s face as he reached for the receiver.
“Hey. You all right?” He rose from his chair and walked from the room, out of earshot. Michale strained to listen. From outside the door, he caught bits and pieces of Doyle’s hushed conversation. “Listen, Jerry, whatever’s going on, we can help you.” A long pause. “Jerry, please don‘t do this. You can’t keep beating yourself up over--” Another long pause, a heavy sigh. “No, no. I know. I get it. I just wish--damn it, Jerry. Just be careful out there, all right? Don’t do anything you might--Jerry? Hello? Shit.” Then there was silence.
Michale arched an eyebrow. That didn’t sound kosher, he thought. He busied himself with the cookie trays as Doyle came back around the corner.
“Everything all right?” he asked without looking up.
“Yes and no,” replied Doyle. There was a certain edge to his voice that made Michale glance up in concern.
“Chalk it up to Jerry being Jerry,” Doyle said, shaking his head. “He gets like this around this time of year. The holidays seem to have a knack for putting Jerry in a foul mood. Best to just stay out of the way.” He crossed the room to the pantry, started putting away groceries, while Michale arranged sugar cookies on a festive green tray.
“Has Jerry always been such a Grinch about the holidays?”
“No,” replied Doyle thoughtfully. “He wasn’t always this way. Time, I suppose, has made him bitter and cynical and--well, there was the whole incident that took place around this time of year, which certainly didn’t help.”
Something about the way Doyle said that word in particular--incident--gave Michale pause.
“Whoa, wait. I didn’t know there was an incident.” Michale raised an eyebrow. “What happened?” Doyle didn’t answer directly. Rather, he seemed to stare reflectively past him for a moment, gazing out the window at the snow that was beginning to fall yet again.
“Glenn Danzig happened.” he replied finally. “And a Christmas Eve something like seventeen ago.”
“Glenn Danzig?” Michale shook his head. “Wait. Let me get this straight. Jerry hates Christmas because of some dispute with Danzig that could pass for ancient history by now?”
“I know.” Doyle shrugged. “It doesn’t make sense. But I promise you, there‘s more to it.”
“Something tells me there‘s a story in all of this,” said Michael pointedly.
“Yes,” Doyle agreed, “There is. And it’s a hell of a long one, too.”
“I’ll make cocoa,” declared Michale, and soon after he did, the two settled in beside the hearth, making themselves comfortable for what would inevitably be a long evening. The magnitude of the tale Doyle would tell that night was one Michale could not even begin to fathom.