The Twelve Days of Randy
Know when to up the ante…and when to fold.
Randy and Ethan are ready to enjoy their first Christmas in Vegas, but Ethan is still struggling to find his feet as the owner of the casino. He’s stuck in the office while Randy’s ex Crabtree enjoys Ethan’s husband’s holiday antics. When it’s clear Ethan feels left out in the cold, Crabtree tries to mend fences by suggesting Ethan make Randy’s fun and games a main event at the casino instead of a backroom sideshow. This way Ethan can have his cake and eat it too, especially since Randy’s the one jumping out of the center.
Randy knows Crabtree’s motives are never entirely pure and that the gangster can easily twist Ethan’s thinking. Playing naughty elf isn’t worth it if it’ll cost him his cozy holiday with his husband, and as The Twelve Days of Randy spin slowly out of control, Randy fears his perfect Christmas will come crashing down around him. It’s going to take a Christmas miracle to untangle this mess.
Luckily, miracles are Herod’s specialty.
One Saturday November morning as Randy and Ethan lay spooned sleepily together in bed, their cats curled up at their feet, Ethan asked, “What are we going to do for Christmas?”
Randy had been drifting back into unconsciousness, but at Ethan’s question he opened his eyes. He’d have been safe if he’d been behind his husband, but wrapped up tight, his head pillowed on Ethan’s arm, his legs tangled and naked, he was exposed. Especially when, at Randy’s silence, Ethan lifted his head.
Ethan sighed. “Wait, don’t tell me you hate Christmas.”
Randy glared at him. “Excuse me?”
“I saw the expression on your face. You were panicking. Guarding against letting me see your reaction too.”
Randy pulled a pillow over his head. “I should never have taught you to play poker.”
Ethan drew the pillow off again. “I’m serious. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but I’d like to do something.”
“This is Vegas at Christmas. There will be ‘something’ everywhere you look.”
Ethan frowned. “I hadn’t thought casinos would do anything.”
Randy regarded him dubiously, then realized Ethan wouldn’t know. The two of them had only been together for a year, and last Christmas they’d been in the Caribbean on a private island for their honeymoon: a wedding and Christmas present from Crabtree. “Wait until you see what your casino does for the holiday. I hear last year they had quite the fun decorating your golden demon statue.” He glanced at his husband. “Unless you’re going to stop them from celebrating, but I advise against that. You saw how much money this season made you last year.”
“Of course I’m not going to tell them to stop. I’m delighted to hear Herod’s has a history of celebration, and yes, I’ll have Sarah put in a call to Caryle right away about upping the ante on the way we put on the dog.” Ethan ran a finger down Randy’s nose. “I’m not talking about Christmas at the casino, though. I’m talking about celebrating just you and me. The two of us here. I’d like to at least have a tree. Maybe we could have some people over for a small party.”
This sobered Randy. “Do not tell me you want to have your parents down.”
Ethan raised an eyebrow at him. “You think they would come? They were sure I’d gone to the devil before when I was just entertaining a married man on the occasional weekend. Now that I’m married myself—”
“—domestically partnered,” Randy interjected automatically.
“—married to a man and running a casino in Sin City, all they’ll do is pray for me.”
Randy relaxed. He’d met the Ellisons once last summer, when they’d gone to collect the last of Ethan’s things from Utah. It hadn’t exactly been a pleasant experience. He propped himself up on the pillows and turned to face his partner. “Who do you want to have over, then? People from the casino?”
“Well…I was hoping maybe Sam and Mitch. Crabtree if you think we must, but I wouldn’t mind leaving him out.”
“Ah.” Randy’s smile was wry. “You can try to invite the Tedsoe-Kellers, but likely they won’t come. Sam has this thing about wanting to be cold at Christmas.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I was looking forward to seeing them for the holiday. Maybe we could go to Iowa? But no, they’re not in Iowa right now. Where are they? Illinois?”
“Wisconsin.” Randy patted Ethan’s leg. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll do something here.”
“We can just put up a little tree. I don’t mean to make a fuss if it’s going to bother you— Ow.” Ethan rubbed his leg where Randy had pinched him. “Why did you do that?”
Randy shoved the covers back, untangled himself, and climbed out of bed. “Would you mind starting coffee? I’m going to take a shower.”
Ethan called his name, but Randy didn’t answer, only double-timed it to the bathroom. He kept an eye on the door as he undressed, half-assuming Ethan would come bursting in and insist on continuing the conversation, but he didn’t.
Randy wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed.
For a long time, Randy stood under the spray, head bowed, staring at the tile above the hot and cold knobs and the faucet. He wondered if he should tell Ethan the truth. Well, no, he didn’t really wonder. He knew he needed to let his husband know he’d read the situation wrong and this had all been a misunderstanding, this idea that Randy didn’t care for Christmas, but he didn’t want to do that. Not yet.
Maybe it was because Ethan had brought up Sam and Mitch. In the past Randy had spent the holiday with them. Granted, he was often busy trying not to let them know how jealous he was of their relationship, but he’d enjoyed those holidays. They were golden times in his mind.
How was he supposed to explain to Slick he didn’t know how to make sure their first Christmas together at home was just as great as those times with his friends, preferably greater?
They hadn’t been able to test run things the year before, because they hadn’t been home. First there had been the domestic partnership ceremony, which Crabtree and Sam had insisted should be a big deal, but mostly it was rushed and insane. One second Ethan was rolling wedding rings onto the craps table, and before Randy could take a breath, he was lying naked on a white sand beach, his whole body throbbing from fantastic honeymoon sex. And rum. So much fucking rum.
If they’d been home for Christmas last year, they could have gotten over the awkward first-Christmas thing then. Which, maybe—probably—Randy was making too much out of this, and he shouldn’t feel pressured about their first Christmas together being so great.
Except all his instincts told him Ethan was going to try, and sure as shooting those attempts would backfire. The problem was they were both working, particularly Ethan, who was still feeling his way around running a casino in general and had the added burden of making a small outfit function in a flagging economy against a sea of giants.
Additionally the two of them weren’t in that shiny new relationship stage any longer, high on the thrill of being two men in love. They’d always fought with each other, but now their scuffles were over who had scooped the cat litter and whether or not Ethan was eating dinner at the casino too often. They were small, irrelevant arguments in the big picture, but they added up like grit in the gears, and Randy worried how they would whip up a fancy Christmas together in the middle of all the other hectic whatevers.
There was a third liability lingering in the air, and it was in Randy’s mind the most important. Crabtree.
Crabtree was, to put it quaintly, Herod’s resident gangster, a dinosaur leftover from when the place had been owned and operated by the Chicago Outfit. It wasn’t any longer—Ethan had the deed fair and square—but Crabtree liked to stick his nose into everything and make sure things were being “done right” and that Billy Herod, the former owner and his deceased lover, would approve of the decisions Ethan was making. Because Randy had played around a bit with Crabtree in the past, Crabtree also felt he had the right to butt in to Randy and Ethan’s marriage and tell them how he thought things were going and what they could do differently.
Crabtree would definitely get in the way of Ethan and Randy having any kind of a cozy Christmas together.
Randy wasn’t sure why he cared so much about this, either. He should go with the flow of whatever festival preparations happened at the casino, let Slick put up his baby tree and have his tiny party, and not expect miracles to happen. No question, he was overthinking this and making it more complicated than it needed to be.
Trouble was, though he could acknowledge the truth of that statement, it didn’t mean he could stop wishing for something more or worrying that no matter what, this was going to end up being a mess and a headache.
Sighing, Randy shut off the shower, threw back the curtain, and swiped a towel. Once dry, he wrapped the terrycloth around his waist and peered tentatively into the hall, but it was empty, and he could hear Ethan bustling around in the kitchen. By the time he climbed into jeans and a T-shirt and followed the smell of coffee, Ethan was at the table with his laptop open, scrolling through spreadsheets and making notes on his steno pad beside his coffee cup. He glanced up and smiled at Randy, but he made no further comment about Christmas.
It was probably for the best, Randy told himself as he grabbed his own mug out of the cupboard. Still, he found himself leaning against the counter for a long time, trying to decide how to restart the discussion before he eventually gave up and went to gather up the laundry.