Lucas closed the last folder with a heavy sigh, stabbed his personalized pen into its’ holder, sat back in his chair and rotated his shoulders. His ‘in’ basket was finally empty while the ‘out’ basket almost overflowed with the pile of documents he’d just signed.
Due to the slight downward shift in the banking industry, the past few weeks had been overly demanding with several major problems concerning a couple of Lucas’ clients. In the end he’d sadly had to foreclose a small struggling business and a mortgage that was almost a year in arrears. He had carried both for longer than he should have and it had provided neither party with a successful conclusion.
Unfortunately, the stress of the last two weeks had played havoc with his relationship and as supportive as Stewart had been, Lucas had still felt himself slipping when it came to caring for his Brat. But that was about to change.
Stewart had been rather vocal in expressing his wishes to head south of the border to do some Christmas shopping on Black Friday. The subject had been discussed every year since Lucas and Stewart had got together, but nothing had ever come of it. Lucas did the majority of his shopping on-line while Stewart had begrudgingly gone into Kelowna to do his.
This year it was going to be different. Lucas had informed his partner that they would be leaving for Seattle first thing tomorrow morning. It was an eight hour drive and Lucas had already made hotel reservations for a three night stay. He just hoped his appeasement offering would not come back to bite him.
He got to his feet, grabbed his overcoat and left the office, determined to give Stewart the shopping experience the younger man was anticipating.
Stewart had taken off early from the bakery so that he could go home and start packing for both himself and Lucas. Well, it might be more appropriate to say that his staff had hinted he leave early as he had practically been bouncing all day with the prospect of his upcoming trip. Lucas had finally succumbed to his annual begging to experience shopping in the US on what they called Black Friday. The day after their Thanksgiving was the signal for the beginning of Christmas and he had heard that the sales were phenomenal. He enjoyed the thrill of the chase to get the best gift at the lowest price, which always meant he could buy more. But he also knew that shopping at crowded stores and malls wasn’t on the very top of Lucas’ list of things to experience, which was why he mostly shopped online.
In addition, Lucas had had a few very hard weeks at the bank. Time away from each other, as well as hard decisions regarding bank clients, had increased the stress level for both of them. As much as Stewart wanted this trip to Seattle, he also wanted it to be fun, or at least not stressful, for Lucas.
As the trip was going to be short, they would usually just share a larger suitcase, but Stewart had been watching the advertisements online for some of the tech stores and wanted to get Lucas an iPad Air. He didn’t want to risk Lucas finding it, so he decided to use two smaller cases for packing. That way he could hide his purchases from Lucas without risk. He would worry over exactly how he would escape Lucas and make the purchase later. It might not be as hard as he was thinking if the crowds were as bad as he had heard.
He was just finishing adding a sport jacket in each of their cases, just in case they found a nice place to have dinner, when he heard Lucas come home.
Lucas drove the car into the garage instead of leaving it on the drive, and shut down the engine. They’d be leaving early in the morning, well before first light, and he knew neither of them would want to waste time scraping a thick coat of frost off the windows.
He walked through the back door of the kitchen and was greeted by an exuberant young man with a suitcase in each hand.
“Running away from home, are you?” Lucas teased.
Stewart stole a quick kiss before putting the two bags by the back door. “Yes, and I’m taking you with me. I’ve got the perfect adventure planned. We’ll leave right after we eat. Wash up. I’ll set the table and by the time you get back I’ll have the stew served up.”
“Not so fast there, lover boy. As already discussed, we are not leaving before getting in a good night’s sleep. I do not plan to make that long drive after a hard day’s work. However, eating supper sounds good; smells good, too.” Lucas hung his suit jacket over the back of the nearest chair and headed towards the door leading to the lower hall and their small downstairs bathroom.
Stewart laughed as he got out the bowls. “It was worth a try. I can’t wait; midnight shopping and great bargains. I’m hoping to find gifts for the whole family at half the price. Oh, and I might want to shop alone for a while. There are some gifts I need to get and you aren’t allowed to know about them.”
As he washed his hands, Lucas listened to the younger man’s rambling with a smile on his face. It did his heart good to see Stewart so happy and excited.
“If we get off really early tomorrow, we should be checking into our room by two o’clock,” Lucas announced as he took his seat at the table. “Won’t that be close to when the big sales start?” He had never really searched for information about this mammoth bargain event and as a result, knew little to nothing about it. “And I understand you needing some time on your own, sweetheart. Thank you,” he replied in response to a bowl of steaming stew being place in front of him.
“Well,” Stewart started as he passed the plate of crusty bread he brought home from the bakery. “I looked online and many of the stores are starting their sales tomorrow. Some opening as early as six in the evening and if you want to go to some of those stores I won’t object, because I still need to get gifts for my two employees and something special for Mom since she is pitching in while I’m gone. But the best sales and the ones I really want to go to don’t start until the morning, which will mean getting in line the night before. I’ll pack some blankets for us so we will be warm while we wait at the door.”
Stewart wasn’t sure how that announcement would go over, but the electronics store was sure to be packed and he needed to be there early to get that iPad; the deal on that was too good to pass up and would allow him to buy the accessories for it too. The laptops they owned were great, but Lucas usually kept his in their study. The iPad is more portable and this way Lucas could work with his finance group and still spend time with Stewart watching sports or even a movie.
Lucas frowned slightly as he buttered the piece of bread he’d just accepted. “First off, I’ve done my shopping so I won’t be looking for anything in particular. I don’t think I care for the idea of camping out on a city street in the cold. Surely if we get to whatever shop you have in mind early enough, the item you are after will still be in good supply.”
“But that’s half the fun of it. I know I don’t care for the cold, but we could take our rain coats, umbrella and some blankets. I’ll bring a thermos and we can fill it with coffee from the hotel. Please Luc, we’ll probably only do this once and I’d like to see what all the fuss is about. Besides, there’s this deal I really don’t want to miss out on. Everyone will be lining up the night before and all the good door-buster sales will be gone. But if you really don’t want to go, then I can go alone and we can meet up later.” Stewart crossed his fingers, hoping Lucas would consider that option.
Lucas sadly shook his head as he reached across the table and took his partner’s hand. He’d been worried about Stewart wanting to do something like this and knew it wasn’t an activity he’d allow to take place. “I don’t want to burst your bubble, sweetheart, but neither of us wants to get sick if we can help it. Somehow standing for hours in cold and possibly wet conditions speaks loudly of us taking a chance that should be avoided. We’ll just have to wait until the morning, I’m afraid.”
Stewart’s heart sank at Lucas’ words and he couldn’t keep the look of disappointment off his face. This wasn’t really about staying out all night now. It was something he wanted to be able to say he had participated in, that is until the weather was forecasting rain on top on the near freezing temperature. But it was still about getting that gift for Lucas. At nearly $100 off the original price, those wouldn’t last long.
He squeezed Lucas’ hand to let him know he wasn’t angry, but didn’t say anything. He was afraid if he did, Lucas would call the whole trip off. There was still a chance that he might get one and small as that chance was, it was better than paying full price in Kelowna.
Lucas understood the expression on his partner’s face and sympathized with the younger man who had been hoping for a new adventure.
“How about we finish up in here and get ready for an early night? Maybe we can cuddle up in bed and watch a Christmas DVD to get us in the mood for our shopping excursion. Your choice. What do you say?” was Lucas’ caring proposal.
Stewart knew Lucas was trying to make the refusal easier and the evening pleasant, and he wanted to try too. “How about ‘Auntie Mame’? I’m in the mood for something light and fun, and if Auntie Mame isn’t a brat then neither am I.”
“Auntie Mame it is then,” Lucas agreed as he got up from the table and began to clear away the dishes. “So I’m in for an evening with two Brats, huh?” He laughed cheerily when Stewart feigned a glare of indignation.
Stewart woke up almost thirty minutes before the alarm was set to go off. He had been waking up all night and knew this time he might as well get up because rolling over and trying to go back to sleep was pointless. His mind was on the trip and how he was going to get that gift with Lucas so against waiting in line at night.
Rolling out of bed and heading for the en suite for a quick shower, he briefly thought maybe he could tell a small white lie and say the gift was for his mother, a surprise for her, but knew that wouldn't sway Lucas one bit. Maybe Lucas would be open to leaving an hour or two earlier in the morning for their shopping, but he wouldn’t bring that up until they were well on their way to Seattle.
As he climbed out of the shower, he felt a little better about his chances for getting that gift. Now he just had to get Lucas to agree.
Lucas had felt his partner leaving and had turned unto his stomach, spread out his limbs to take up most the bed and immediately fallen into a deep sleep. He often referred to this half hour before the alarm sounded as his ‘dead’ time when he slept so soundly a tornado could pass over them and he’d not be disturbed by it. Only one thing could awaken him during this time and that would be his Brat in distress when a sixth sense of sorts would kick in. Stewart was safe so Lucas dreamed on until the buzzing of the clock radio followed by the morning news had him up and ready to start the day. The light from the en suite had him heading in that direction.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Stewart said through his toothpaste-filled mouth. "Want a kiss?"
“Not just yet.” Lucas chuckled as he lightly swatted Stewart’s bare butt. He grinned at his lover’s reflection in the mirror. “But I’ll take a rain-check for as soon as I brush my teeth and all signs of toothpaste have disappeared.”
Stewart quickly finished up and dressed. “I’ll go start the coffee and get the car packed. What do you want to eat? Warm cereal or eggs, bacon and toast?”
“Warm cereal and coffee is good enough,” Lucas answered as he stepped into the shower.
Half an hour later, they were on the road and heading south.
“You better stop that bouncing, babe, or we’ll both be exhausted long before we reach our destination,” Lucas teased with a grin as he placed a hand on Stewart’s left knee and gave it a firm squeeze.
“I just can’t believe we are finally doing this. Well that and maybe too much coffee.” Stewart wondered briefly if this was the right time, then decided to plow ahead. “You know, Luc, I was thinking that maybe you’re right; midnight is too early and it will be cold out there. So I thought that it would be a lot better if we waited a few hours longer, say to four o’clock. Once we got inside we could split up and then meet back in like an hour. What do you say? We could still bring the coffee and I packed plenty of blankets in the trunk.”
“We’ve already discussed this, sweetheart. So you already know the answer. But no one can accuse you of not being tenacious. Be patient and I am sure everything will turn out right and you’ll find what you’re after.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Lucas. It’s just that I don’t want to miss out and some things go so much faster than others. I won’t bring it up again. I promise.” Stewart knew he’d played his last card. Anything more might see them turning around and heading home. “Do you think we can stop soon? I’m getting hungry and could use something warm to drink.”
Before Lucas could respond a deep rumbling was heard. “Seems like my stomach is in agreement,” he laughed. “Keep a look out for a place where you’d like to eat lunch.”
After a lunch of soup and a sandwich, they were back on the road and in Seattle after a couple more hours of driving. Lucas checked them in while Stewart tried to find a newspaper. He was hoping to see sale ads. He saw the hotel was providing a traditional American Thanksgiving meal that evening and wondered if Lucas would want to go.
“Hey, Luc, want me to treat you to a turkey dinner tonight? I’m guessing not too many restaurants will be open, so we might want to consider it. Or we could order room service if you would rather rest after that long drive.”
“Thank you. I accept your kind offer,” Lucas answered formally although his eyes were crinkled at the corners to indicate he was teasing. “And I’ll provide tonight’s entertainment,” he whispered in his lover’s ear as the elevator took them up to the fourth floor. His husky voice clarified any possible doubt, as unlikely as that was, of what he was promising.
The two men quickly unpacked and cleaned up after their trip. Next they enjoyed a leisurely meal during which Lucas kept Stewart sitting on the edge of his seat in anticipation of what was to follow.
The older man has insisted on taking a small booth in the corner and sitting closer than need be to his partner. While Lucas was able to maintain an air of composure throughout the evening, Stewart felt the atmosphere around them crackling with sexual overtones. He couldn’t understand why no one else noticed until he realized it had to do with the way the big man carried himself. Even though Lucas easily caught the eye of many who were seated near them, he was more often than not viewed as just an exceedingly fine-looking, well-dressed business man. Right now, no one but Stewart saw him as a lover on the prowl, and one in a very possessive mood.
“I plan to have my way with you, my handsome one,” Lucas ensured his companion, and he reached over under the cover of the tablecloth to run his hand down the front of Stewart’s pants. The hardness he found there had him smiling wickedly and the younger man blushing in case anyone saw what was going on.
Stewart tried unsuccessfully to squirm away and ended up settling for an inane conversation about a hockey tournament taking place this weekend in Seattle that a couple of boys from Jade Heights would be playing in.
He found it difficult to keep his mind on what he was saying and eventually gave up, at which point Lucas sat back in his seat with a self-satisfied smile on his face.
Dinner over with, they returned to their room where all the promises alluded to were fulfilled.
Lucas didn’t know what disturbed him some time before their agreed upon wake-up call, but as he came around he recalled that Stewart had gotten up during the night to use the bathroom. Lucas bolted upright. That was a while ago, so why was he sleeping in the big bed by himself and why was the room in darkness?
The clock on the nightstand read 5:30 a.m. and Stewart was obviously gone. Lucas hastily dressed and then sat down heavily on the bed when he realized he had no idea where to even begin looking for his Brat.
Stewart sat huddled on the sidewalk, shivering under his blanket and umbrella. The rain had started and while it wasn’t all that windy, the damp air was finding its way into his bones. What was worse, is that he now felt this was all for nothing. The rain kept the crowds away and he was probably no more than the twentieth person in line. When he left the hotel, he was determined to be here regardless of the punishment. But now he knew Lucas was right and wondered if he would ever be forgiven for this bit of disobedience.
Looking at his watch, he knew they would open the doors soon. He was torn between staying to get the gift or heading back to the hotel with the slight hope that he could sneak back in bed before Lucas knew he was gone. He knew he would confess what he did, but at least Lucas wouldn’t be worrying about where he was. Making up his mind, he headed back to the car. He would rather pay full price for this gift than live with the knowledge that he had deliberately disobeyed and showed a complete disregard for their relationship.
As soon as he opened the door, all his hopes of sneaking back in the bed and then being able to tell Lucas in his own way and time about what he done were dashed as he faced a very unhappy partner.
Lucas had been pacing the floor and raking a hand through his hair when the door quietly opened and he turned to see his Brat tip-toeing in. For all the good it did the younger man. They stood for several seconds trying to out stare each other. Lucas’ eyes narrowed warningly and Stewart sensibly ducked his head.
“Where the hell have you been, Stewart?” Lucas ground out between clenched teeth. He didn’t wait for an answer before reaching for his partner and pulling him into his arms. “You’re wet!” he announced unnecessarily as he felt over Stewart’s trembling body. “We’ll talk after you’ve had a warm shower and are dressed in dry clothing.” Although still angry, Lucas was calming down now that he knew his Brat was safe.
Stewart started to explain as he followed his arm, currently in Lucas’ possession, to the bathroom. He wisely stopped speaking when Lucas turned him and with a heavy swat to his backside, told him they would be discussing it once he was out of the shower. He stripped quickly, now very conscious of his exposed bottom, and stepped under the warm spray of water.
As he stood under the shower, he wondered how long he could delay the inevitable and if there would be any chance of explaining this without giving away why he went against Lucas’ wishes. The worst part of all this was that by the time he finished showering, it would almost be exactly the time they had planned to leave for breakfast and then shopping. He leaned his head against the shower wall, wondering how he had made such a mess of things.
While Stewart did what was needed to warm up, Lucas sat down to think things over. Their present situation was definitely not conducive for what would normally take place for this purposeful act of defiance. There was just not enough privacy. But then Lucas had never in the past kept Stewart waiting for whatever chastisement he had coming. He wondered how Stewart would act in response to waiting until they returned home; would he be able to enjoy the rest of the weekend with a reprimand hanging over his head.
“Guess we’ll just have to find out,” Lucas muttered to himself as the bathroom door opened and a billow of steam followed Stewart into the room.
Stewart stepped tentatively into the room, never taking his eyes off Lucas while he walked to the clothes Lucas had laid out on the bed. He knew a spanking was coming and dressing was pointless but still he would feel better, less exposed, with at least a shirt on. He wished Lucas would say something; anything would be better than just being watched.
“Luc, I’m sorry. Really I am. I know you said no, and I know that I went out against your wishes, but at the time it seemed worth it.” He stopped after seeing the look on his partner’s face.
Lucas merely shook his head, let out a sigh of loving exasperation and held out his arms.
Stewart’s guilt didn’t stop him from moving quickly into those understanding arms, but it did start a flood of tears. When he could finally talk, he tried to apologize again.
“I knew it was wrong when I left and the longer I stood there the more I hated that I’d just ignored our agreement in favour of punishment, hoping that it would make everything all right again. I came back as quick as I could and hoped to tell you before you found out I was gone. I wouldn’t have kept it a secret, Lucas. Please believe me.” He searched Lucas’ face, hoping for empathy and a sign that he was believed.
“I do believe you, sweetheart,” Lucas assured him. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll take care of it.”
Lucas rested his head on Stewart’s when it dropped back onto his shoulder. He continued to move his hand on Stewart’s back in slow circles under his shirt. “I want you to pay close attention to what I am about to tell you,” he quietly instructed. “Stewart, sweetheart, we are not going to have our discussion now. I’ve decided it can wait until we return home as this is certainly not a place where it can be held. This weekend is about doing some Christmas shopping and checking out Black Friday sales to see if they are all they’re cracked up to be. Does this sound reasonable to you and do you think it is doable?”
Stewart pushed back and stared at Lucas. They had never done this before and he wasn’t sure how he felt. Part of him was glad. He didn’t want to be spanked, but he also knew, no matter how much he wished he didn’t, that there was relief and forgiveness for him in that action and it was something he desperately needed. “Lucas, please, no. Couldn’t we find a way?”
“Sorry, babe, we really do not have a lot of choice here. Please do not see it as additional punishment; I would never do that to you. I am sure the time will pass fast enough if we keep busy. Besides, I do not think I care for the idea of you believing it would be okay to disobey because you’d willingly pay the price later. Hmmm?”
Those words brought more tears to Stewart’s eyes which he quickly brushed away. “I know it was wrong and I am sorry, Luc, really. I won’t cause any more trouble today, but I do still have to go get that gift. We can still shop separate, right?”
Lucas gave the request some thought and then answered slowly. “I plan to keep you close for the rest of our trip, Stewart. However, I will give you space to do some of your shopping. Finish getting dressed and we’ll head out to the Pacific Place Mall. I’m sure there will be plenty of stores to choose from as well as a coffee shop or two where we can get breakfast.”
As they shopped Stewart stayed quiet, responding mostly only when Lucas asked him a direct question. His mind was on Sunday and having to wait, and wondering whether Lucas was still angry. When he was finally allowed to shop on his own, he was given an hour and was to call Lucas if he would be taking longer. The line at the electronics store wasn’t too bad, mostly because they had enough staff to handle the crowds. When it was finally his turn, he saw that the price of the iPad was quite a bit more than at the other store. However, as he talked to the clerk about how it would be used, he was steered to the Kindle Fire which was considerably cheaper. Knowing this and knowing he didn’t research well enough had him feeling even guiltier about his actions earlier that day. Having made his purchases, he called Lucas anyway just to let him know he was heading back to their meeting place and would wait there. He secretly hoped some of this might work in his favour.
While waiting for his partner, Lucas spent most of the hour window shopping. It was something he had little interest in but it passed the time. He eventually returned to the electronics store where he’d left Stewart and busied himself by reading the sales flyer at the customer service desk. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular and so was easily distracted by the raised voices next to him. A young woman was trying to cancel a lay-away order and was having trouble getting her deposit back.
“I originally purchased this for someone who is no longer a part of my life,” she explained. “It is not something I can use personally. I do not understand why you can’t just put it back on the shelf.”
Lucas found himself attracted to the item being discussed and made an offer. “How about me reimbursing you for the amount you’ve already paid?” he suggested to the woman, who happily accepted.
When she had gone about her business, Lucas turned back to the clerk. “This item is on sale in your flyer. Will you accept the balance as payment in full?”
Just as he completed the arrangements to have his purchase mailed to the bank in Jade Heights, his cell phone vibrated. He turned to see Stewart just outside the store and hurried to catch up to him.
Stewart was briefly confused when he could hear Lucas both over the phone and in his other ear, until he turned and saw Luc beside him. “I’m almost finished shopping,” he said into the phone, smiling at his partner as they continued walking. “Maybe we can meet at the coffee shop and have a cup while I go over my lists?”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Lucas responded, returning the smile.
As Stewart looked over his list, he mentally ticked off each item he’d bought and finally said, “All I have left is a small stocking stuffer for my mother. Maybe something to go with the coat we bought. A nice pair of gloves would be good, but that’s something I can get at home. This place is starting to get crowded and I’m a bit tired. If you aren’t looking for anything, I think I’d like to leave.”
“There’s nothing I need, and a nap sounds like just the thing so let’s go back to the hotel.” Lucas was remembering the sleep Stewart had missed out on that morning.
Stewart looked hopefully at Lucas. “Maybe we could order lunch from room service and talk about this morning?”
“Lunch is doable,” Lucas amicably agreed with the first suggestion. “But I really do think we talked about this morning as much as we can until we get home,” he patiently stated as he used the remote to unlock the car doors and trunk that was steadily becoming full of packages.
Once inside, Lucas started up the car and then reached over to place a hand on Stewart’s knee. “I am not at all angry, sweetheart, if that’s what been worrying you.” As he turned to concentrate on his driving, he saw a brief look of disappointment pass over his partner’s face.
“I know. You never are. But this is different to anything I’ve ever done before. I’d be mad at me. I’d want to know what I was thinking and a whole bunch of other questions.”
Lucas stopped for a red light and glanced at Stewart. His expression was one of loving understanding. “Oh, I’ve got questions all right. I guess I just might have a slightly easier time waiting for the answers.”
Stewart turned to stare out the window. He knew from past experience that Lucas was immoveable once he’d made up his mind. This trip was not going at all like he thought it would. They were supposed to be having fun but all he could think about was how he’d ruined it all because he couldn’t wait. No, that wasn’t true. It was all because he didn’t want to wait. He had no idea how he would ever make this up to Lucas.
Back in their hotel room, lunch was mentioned again but neither of them was really hungry so it was decided that maybe a nap was in order after all.
Lucas easily picked up on his Brat’s restlessness; just as he had the lack of enthusiastic participation in their earlier conversations. He spooned around his partner and tried to pull Stewart closer, but that action seemed to cause the younger man to become more rigid instead of helping him to relax. Lucas elected to wait it out.
Lying in bed with Lucas wrapped around him was one of Stewart’s favourite places to be. There was always comfort to be found in his arms. But when Lucas tried to pull him close, he realized he didn’t want comfort. He wanted to talk and Lucas was refusing. Lucas being nice to him was just making him more upset and now he was getting angry. Didn’t he also have a say in where and when they discussed things? He knew he would never sleep now, not with all this running around in his head. Making up his mind, he sat up and turned to Lucas. “I don’t want to sleep. I’m not tired. If you want to take a nap, that’s fine. I’ll be quiet. I brought book and can sit over by the window and read it.”
Lucas was getting annoyed. He pulled Stewart down, pushed him onto his side and once more wrapped his arms around his fidgety partner. “Stewart, you need a nap far more than I do, so settle down,” he ordered.
“No, Lucas, I don’t need a nap,” Stewart said as he pushed against Lucas’ arms. “I may be tired but I’m not a child in need of a nap. I’m an adult who needs to talk, but you’ve refused every time I tried. Why can’t you see that?” Stewart’s voice had taken on that tone he always got when near to tears.
Lucas let go of his partner, which allowed Stewart to sit up and face him. “Okay,” Lucas slowly responded. “We both know you deliberately chose to disregard my directives concerning this morning. I think we both know why. And you’ve apologized several times. It is the end of this type of discussion that I prefer not to hold in a place other than our own home. So exactly what do you wish to add to your side of this particular conversation?”
Stewart recognized that tone in Lucas’ voice and it usually never ended well for him. Now that the moment was here, he was wishing he had waited. Gathering his thoughts, he pushed back to sit against the headboard and drew his knees up. “It sounds really bad the way you say it, but it was even worse, Lucas. It was more than just disobeying. I tried to get you to let me go out and when you wouldn’t, I planned this. Right down to knowing I would be punished and deciding it was worth it. I just tossed our relationship aside in favour of what I wanted to do. I hate that I did it. I hate how I feel now and it’s eating me up inside.” As he spoke, he had begun to cry and when he finished speaking, he laid his head down on his knees.
Lucas sat up beside Stewart and mulled over all that had said. Placing an arm around the crying man’s shoulders and drawing him close to his side, he talked softly next to Stewart’s ear, “Hush, sweetheart. Stop crying. We are going to work on this together as soon as you’ve calmed down.” He pressed a clean handkerchief into Stewart’s hand.
Stewart didn’t raise his head. He just leaned hard into Lucas’ side, taking the comfort that was offered. As he began to calm down, Lucas’ words finally registered.
“I’ll do anything to make this right between us, but I thought you said we couldn’t take care of it at the hotel?”
“And we won’t be,” Lucas confirmed. “I understand that a lot of what happened this morning is troubling you, but one thing I want you to know is that you have not damaged our relationship. Grant it, this has not been the mini-vacation we had planned but at least we’ve done the most important errands on our list and then some. Our shopping is finished, so we are going to pack up and head home.”
“Please, Lucas, I’m not ready to leave yet. I just wanted to talk, to make you understand,” Stewart pleaded at this announcement.
“I probably understand more than you realize, Stewart. But we’ll have more than enough time to talk on the drive home. Maybe you can consider our early departure as part of your punishment. We actually have several issues to discuss during the trip. For instance, you endangering yourself comes to mind. You had no idea about the size of the crowd before you got there, and while most would have been shoppers like yourself, there was always the possibility of someone wanting to cause havoc by pushing to start a fight or even pulling off a crime like pick-pocketing. If I objected to us facing something like that as a couple, why would you think I’d be happy with you being there on your own?”
“But now you’re being punished too,” Stewart mumbled, though he didn’t dare complain further about leaving. It was a deserved punishment for himself even if Lucas hadn’t intended it that way. “I hadn’t really thought about problems with the crowds or someone stealing. Really, Luc; all you said was you didn’t want to stand in the cold and rain. I didn’t think about there being another reason and I thought your refusal was unreasonable, so I just went.”
“Then I guess I should have explained myself better. I’ll remember to next time. Although the bottom line is that I didn’t want either of us standing outside for an unreasonable length of time. But enough talking for now; we have to get a move on. We’ve a long ride ahead of us, plus an undetermined time at customs. But you’ll be able to sleep during the ride.” An eight-hour drive with an over-tired, cranky Brat seemed daunting, but Lucas felt up to it under certain conditions.
Stewart stood up, headed for the small closet where they had put their suitcases and brought back both of them, plus the clothes hanging in there. His thoughts were now on clearing customs without Lucas seeing what he’d bought. He might be in trouble for his actions but he still wanted the gift to be a surprise. “I bought a lot of things here and one of them was for you, so I’ll need to make a separate declaration from yours. Do you think I’ll end up paying a lot of duty?”
“We’re entitled to a personal exemption of four hundred dollars between us, and I don’t have anything to declare. Due to the prices to be had at these Black Friday sales, I don’t imagine you’ll owe too much. However, the procedure will take up more time.”
Both men shut their suitcases, shrugged into their overcoats, and turned to leave. Lucas placed a hand around Stewart’s shoulder to waylay him.
“Rest assured, sweetheart, regardless of how late it is when we get home, you will be going to bed with a mighty sore backside. Then the slate will be wiped clean. Am I understood?”
Stewart’s face heated up at that announcement, his eyes on the floor. All he could manage was a mumbled, “Yes, sir.”
“Good man!” Lucas leaned down and kissed his partner’s lips. “Now let’s get out of here.”
Half an hour later, they were on the highway heading north. They’d picked up sandwiches and coffee after checking out of their room.
Lucas drained the last of his beverage and put the empty cup in its’ holder. “All right, sweetheart, you wanted to talk and I am very interested in hearing what you have to say.”
They had been riding in relative silence since leaving the hotel, with Lucas driving and Stewart staring out the window trying to get his thoughts together. He knew Lucas would eventually ask and now that the moment was here, he wished that Lucas would have insisted he sleep first.
“When I left this morning, I was a bit angry. Well, maybe not angry so much as determined. When we planned this trip, I wanted to do the whole experience. I thought it would be fun being with you and waiting outside the stores. It seemed like an adventure. When you said no because it would be cold and wet, I thought you were being unreasonable and also because…. well there was a gift I wanted. I knew it would be popular and I was afraid I would miss out on getting it. I knew if I went alone I would be punished. But I also knew that after it was over, everything would be fine between us again. I decided, knowing it would turn out all right, that it was worth it. I don’t know what to say that could ever make this better, Luc. I’m sorry that I did it and I wish I could turn the clock back and make that decision all over again, but I can’t. I just want you to know that I’ve never done anything like this before and I never will again.”
Lucas had kept quiet during his partner’s explanation. He really did appreciate where Stewart was coming from and hoped he could set the younger man’s mind at ease. “I’m sorry the trip from the get-go didn’t go the way you had anticipated, sweetheart. I truly empathize with your disappointment. I know you’ve never done anything like this before, as I am aware of you always trying to live within the perimeters of our relationship. While it may not excuse your blatant disobedience, it does make it understandable. It is also definitely forgivable.” He reached over and squeezed Stewart’s nervously bouncing leg. “Of course there are after-effects to be faced.”
Stewart's eyes were heavy with tears but the small smile he bestowed on his partner was genuine. “I know and I’m almost looking forward to it. Almost.” After a minute he had to ask the one question that had been on his mind. "Luc, is there more punishment? I feel like there should be something more”
“There is nothing more, my love. A physical reminder is all there will be, promise,” Lucas vowed. “Come morning, we start anew.” He reached for Stewart’s hand and lovingly let his thumb gently draw circles on the back of it.
Stewart held tight to Lucas’ fingers for a few minutes. He needed that reassurance and having gotten it, he felt like a weight had been lifted from him. “I think I could sleep now, if you don’t mind driving for a little while without company?”
“I don’t mind at all. You could do with some extra shut-eye.” Lucas tuned the radio on to some classical music and kept the volume down low while he kept an eye on his precious Brat who slept next to him. He wasn’t looking forward to what lay before them, but knew it was needed if his promises were to be kept.
Christmas Day finally arrived with Black Friday having gradually become a distant memory. Or had it?
Each man passed the other one last gaily wrapped present. Neither of them noticed that the size of both was exactly the same. They hastily removed the ribbons and paper; then held their gift up for the other to see.
First Lucas and then Stewart began to laugh. Both men had given and received a Kindle Fire HDX.
“It looks like we’re always going to have a reminder of that particular shopping excursion after all.” Lucas’ comment had them both laughing even louder.