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A Family of Four

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Yuuki wasn’t too fond of Christmas.

Since he was a small child, that holiday seemed like nothing but an excuse for his conservative and strict family to gather at his house and judge him. Relatives he only saw once or twice a year would immediately point out how small and scrawny he was, and then ask about his grades. It was never a pleasant experience.

But that year, for what was probably the first time since he was a toddler, Christmas was something he was looking forward to: spending the night at Ryuji’s house, with his two boyfriends and Ryuji’s mother—who, by that point, had become a motherly figure for both him and Yusuke.

Convincing his parents to allow him to spend the holiday somewhere else wasn’t easy, especially considering how against his friendship with Ryuji they were. Yuuki then used his trump card: Aoi Sakamoto and her maxed-out speech skills—was he spending too much time with Futaba?

Aoi was more than happy to join him in the fight to change his parents’ minds. Their battle started at the end of October, and by the middle of December his family finally gave in. They weren’t pleased by the idea, of course, and made sure to let some indirect comments slide every now and then; but Yuuki gladly pretended to not understand their meaning, disarming their usual passive-aggressiveness with a slight smile and a nod.

Truth be told, he didn’t think anything could spoil his mood. As Christmas got closer, that child-like euphoria that he had almost forgotten started to take him again. He already had his gifts ready, and even planned out his outfit a week before. When Christmas Eve finally came, he could barely contain his excitement. He woke up early, cleaned his bedroom, took a shower, tried—and failed—to watch a movie and play some games, walked in circles, took another shower, changed into his clothes, and now was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, certain that his heart would burst out at any second. After some long minutes of silent suffering, his phone buzzed, calling his attention. It was a message from his older sister.

 

Haruka: Merry Christmas, small bean!

Haruka: How is your day going?

 

Haruka was six years older than him, and had left home as soon as she graduated from high-school. Ironically, she and Yuuki became closer after she moved out, since the constant arguments she had with their parents resulted in her rarely leaving her bedroom, and never talking about her interests to any of them. Now, years later, she was a professional photographer with half a dozen tattoos, a pierced nose, and a new hair color every other month, who lived in a small but cozy apartment with her Brazilian girlfriend and two cats. His parents didn’t invite her to family reunions anymore.

Yuuki turned on his stomach before typing an answer, somehow managing to only scream on the inside.

 

Yuuki: I’M GOING CRAZY!

Yuuki: I got ready almost three hours early…

Yuuki: I’m almost dying of anxiety here!

 

Haruka’s answer came just a few seconds later, in the form of a shocked emoji, followed by three short lines.

 

Haruka: Don’t die on me!

Haruka: That would ruin my holiday!

Haruka: No one wants a sad Christmas!

 

Yuuki sighed, a slight smile on his face: of course she would say Christmas was her priority.

 

Yuuki: Thanks… I love you too.

 

She sent him a full line of hearts.

 

Haruka: Don’t worry too much, peanut.

Haruka: It’s Christmas! Have fun out there!

Haruka: And give Ryu and Yusu a hug for me.

 

The fondness in how his sister and boyfriends referred to each other always made him happy. They had only met twice before, but got along pretty well. It made him wish that, someday, all of them could spend a holiday like that together.

 

Yuuki: Leave it to me!

Yuuki: Give Carina a hug for me too.

Haruka: Already did! She said she misses you.

 

She sent him a picture of the two of them with their cats, and it made Yuuki smile—also, Haruka’s hair was bright-orange now. They chatted for a while longer, and it helped to calm him down a little, until Haruka said she was going to help Carina with the food, because ‘that pie better be ready before the others arrive, or I’ll die’.

 

Yuuki: Merry Christmas, crazy witch.

Haruka: Love you, small bean.

 

Before Yuuki’s anxiety could take him again, he sent Ryuji a message asking if he could go a little earlier, to which his boyfriend responded that ‘he should be there already’. Yuuki laughed to himself, feeling all giddy and excited as he got out of the bed, getting ready to leave his house.

 


 

Yusuke was looking forward to that night. Madarame, in his false humbleness, had never wasted money in celebrations like Christmas, or even birthdays. According to him, ‘art should be the only gift they needed’, and for a long time, Yusuke agreed with that. His opinion only started to change on his previous birthday, when his partners and friends prepared a small surprise party for him. The bliss he felt on that day made him look forward to that—until then ignored—date on the years to come.

The same could be said about Christmas. Other than the pretty lights and decorations, it never felt like a special day for Yusuke. However, now that he finally had a chance to celebrate that holiday, he felt anxious, as if he could barely wait for it. Besides, Ryuji had promised him that he would leave the decoration of their Christmas tree in his hands, and that was another thing he was looking forward to.

The Sakamoto residence became like a home to him, unlike Madarame’s house or that small room in Kosei’s dormitories where he now lived. Even before the beginning of their romantic relationship, Ryuji welcomed him there with open arms, and so did his mother. The two Sakamotos offered Yusuke a warmth that he could barely describe, and to which he quickly grew used. He always considered himself the “lone” type of person, but, as the time passed, he was coming to crave more and more human interaction, especially when it came from Ryuji and Yuuki, the two people he loved with his entire being.

As he finished to change into his clothes, his phone buzzed, alerting him of a few new messages from Yuuki.

 

Yuuki: Are you ready?

Yuuki: I know it’s early but I’m leaving right now.

Yuuki: I can meet you at the station in around fifteen minutes!

 

He would be lying if he said he didn’t expect something like that. Yuuki was the kind of person that was early for every date, and it became a habit for Yusuke and Ryuji to arrive around twenty minutes earlier as well, so he wouldn’t have to wait alone. Neither of them complained about it, and—actually—it was a pleasant feeling to know that Yuuki anticipated so much their moments together.

 

Yusuke: Sounds perfect.

Yusuke: I’ll see you in a moment, love.

 

Yuuki answered with a heart emoji, and it made Yusuke smile fondly. He put his coat and a scarf, then took the three small paintings he had made as gifts. He made each of them with a person in mind, using bright warm colors for Ryuji’s, delicate pastels for Aoi’s, and gentle bluish tones for Yuuki’s. Yusuke was proud of the results, and already anticipated their reactions as he walked out of the dormitory.

As Yuuki said, he arrived at the station a few minutes later. Yusuke wished to greet him with a hug, but, aware of his boyfriend’s shy nature, decided to do it as soon as they arrived at Ryuji’s home, instead. The carefully wrapped paintings soon caught Yuuki’s curious gaze.

“Is one of them for me?” he asked.

By itself, the excited glint in his eyes was worth the time and effort Yusuke put into that gift.

“Who knows?” he answered with a soft smile. “I suppose you will have to wait and see.”

Yuuki’s smile widened.

“It is, isn’t it?”

As much as Yuuki already knew the answer, Yusuke chose to keep the mystery, if only to amuse himself as they made their way to Ryuji’s house.

 


 

Ryuji and Aoi were busy the entire day, cleaning and decorating the house, and also preparing enough food to keep the four of them full for the entire holiday—and then some. The smell of the baked potatoes as he took them out of the oven made his stomach growl, and he silently thanked Yuuki’s impatience for reducing the time he would have to wait to stuff his face with them.

“I can’t stand this anymore!”

His mother’s annoyed tone made him look over his shoulder at her, who was staring at their naked Christmas tree with a look of reproval. It was an old and small artificial tree, but as soon as it got decorated by some lights and ornaments, it would look pretty enough to brighten up the living room… For the moment, however, it was nothing but a small cone covered in green plastic leaves.

“I’ll go get some lights…” she said.

“No, mom!” answered Ryuji. “I promised Yusu I’d let him decorate it!”

“Then tell him to come soon!” She frowned at the poor tree. “Looking at this naked tree is making me depressed…”

Ryuji sighed, taking a bright-yellow star and approaching the tree, placing the star at its top.

“There ya’ go…” he said. “A decorated tree.”

Aoi looked at him in disbelief.

“Don’t be silly, Ryuji!” she said, crossing her arms. “You can’t give a naked man a hat, and say he’s fully clothed!”

Ryuji shrugged, taking the star and placing it lower down the tree.

“Better now?” he asked.

It took Aoi a second to understand his juvenile joke, and then she threw her arm around his neck, pulling his close and messing his hair.

“You’re a brat, you know?” she said.

“Who did I learn it from?”

“I don’t know… Who?”

She stopped ruffling his hair, only to hug his torso and cover his face with kisses, making Ryuji laugh.

“Mom, stop!” he protested.

“No,” she tightened her embrace. “You deserve this, you little punk.”

Ryuji groaned in protest until she let go of him. He went back to the kitchen, finishing to set the table while Aoi put a few more decorations in place. Their meal looked and smelled amazing, with a bunch of different dishes, without even counting the two desserts waiting inside the fridge. And, of course, in the middle of it all was a roasted chicken with a strategically-placed plaque with the word “turkey” stuck on it. That was an old inside-joke between him and his mom, that started on the first Christmas they spent alone in that house. With her side of the family living in the countryside, and the low-paying job she got after moving to Tokyo, there was no way she could afford anything fancy, like a turkey, for dinner. So, thirteen-year-old Ryuji had the brilliant idea of placing a small plaque, like that one, on their chicken and pretend it was a turkey for the whole night. A silly thing, he knew, but it became a yearly habit for them, even now that they could afford a turkey if they wanted to.

“So, did you choose the movies we’re gonna watch?” asked Ryuji when Aoi entered the kitchen.

“Not yet,” she said. “Can you give me some help?”

“Sure,” Ryuji offered her a big smile, pointing at his own chest. “Count on me to find all the cheesiest ones.”

“You never failed me before, honey.”

Ryuji went to the living room, ready to find the corniest, most dramatic and magic-filled Christmas movies before his boyfriends arrived. When spending Christmas with the Sakamotos, you had no choice but participate in the Sakamoto traditions as well... and mountains of food, silly family photos, and cheesy festive movies were definitely included in that.

 


 

As soon as Yusuke and Yuuki stepped inside the house, Aoi placed a pile of ornaments in the hands of her artist son-in-law, telling him to cover that horrible, naked Christmas tree at once. Yusuke seemed more than happy to comply, carefully decorating it while the other three opened their gifts.

She gained a pretty necklace with matching earrings from Yuuki, and a pastel-colored painting from Yusuke—which she could already visualize on her bedroom wall. Ryuji’s gift, as well as her gift for him, was a three-day trip for the two of them during her next vacation, at the beginning of the following year. The last time they went on a family trip she was still married, and, for many reasons, that trip was sprinkled with memories they would rather forget. That was part of the reason why she was looking forward to it so much: new memories for her and her son. More happy and meaningful moments to replace those painful ones.

And, speaking of pleasant memories, that day would surely become part of them. It had been a long while since the last time there was anyone else but the two of them celebrating Christmas in that house, and the sound of voices and laughter made a warm feeling grow in her chest.

“So…” said Aoi, turning on the TV. “Who’s ready for some Christmas miracles?”

“I’m always ready for them,” answered Ryuji, his mouth half-full of chicken.

They sat on the floor, in a nest of pillows and blankets. Ryuji took his VIP seat between Aoi’s legs, and she hugged his torso while Yusuke and Yuuki got comfortable on each side of them, until they were a cozy pile of people, blankets, and food. As expected, the movies were very cheesy… Which was perfect, since part of the fun was to laugh at them—and also find ‘proof’ that Santa was some kind of secret villain. It didn’t take long for Yusuke and Yuuki to join their game, and soon they had entire scripts describing that old man’s evil schemes.

“I’m sure those reindeers could kill a man…” said Ryuji. “Fuckin’ Rudolph never fooled me.”

“That red light is the last thing you’ll see when he finally catches you,” agreed Aoi.

“Accompanied by the sound of a jolly laugh,” added Yusuke.

“Ho, ho, ho…” laughed Yuuki in a slow, grim manner, raising an imaginary ax in his hands. “We’re about to have a merry, merry Christmas.”

That evil Santa impersonation coming from such a small and sweet boy was enough for them all to have a fit of laughter. Aoi glanced at Ryuji, and that wide, bright smile in his face filled her with a joy that she would never be able to describe. He was happy, probably happier than she had ever seen before.

Truth be told, when he first told her about his bisexuality, and his feelings for two different boys, she was surprised to say the least. She made clear that she loved and accepted him, no matter his sexuality or who he loved, but part of her couldn’t stop worrying about how his partners would treat him. She had been an unlucky person in that aspect, and hoped the same would never happen to her boy—he had been through more than enough pain in his life.

However, as soon as she met Yusuke and Yuuki, her worries became smaller, shrinking more and more as she got to know them better, until there was nothing but relief left in her chest. It was clear how much those two loved and cared about her son, and soon she felt like she had adopted two other kids. That thought made her giggle every time.

“Alright…” she said, raising her phone in front of them. “Family photo.”

“C’mon, mom…” protested Ryuji, rolling his eyes.

“Don’t complain!” she answered. “It’s a yearly tradition.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Ryuji glanced at his boyfriends. “You two better get used to it. Mom loves her family photos.”

Despite his protests, the four of them got close together, smiling for the picture.

“It looks good!” she said, looking at the result. “I’ll send it to you.”

“Okay,” answered Ryuji.

The hours passed, and after they ate as much as they could, and were in the middle of their fourth movie, one by one they fell asleep, until Aoi was the only one still half-awake. She considered waking the boys so they could move to the bedroom, but they all looked so peaceful and comfortable that she didn’t have the heart to disturb their sleep.

She looked at that picture she took again, then at those three boys around her, and a wide, fond smile took her lips.

The four of them really made a beautiful family.