“I’m fine, Tav,” sighed Luca, shrugging off his boyfriend’s arm as he unlocked their apartment. “It’s been literal years since the accident.”
“You can’t tell me it doesn’t hurt to walk long distances like that.”
“I can, actually,” grumbled Luca mulishly.
“Why do you want to go climb up that valley anyway?” Tav pulled off his coat and scarf and hung them up. “I was always the one who had to get you out of bed for it.” Luca followed, then crossed to the kitchen and started making tea so Tav couldn’t see his face.
“It’s been forever since we climbed up there--”
“Yeah, cause it hurts you--”
“And that was where we first kissed. It’s romantic, Tav, c’mon. Aren’t I allowed to feel nostalgic?”
Tav paused with his hand on the biscuit tin and sighed. Luca suppressed a small happy dance. He’d won, and he knew it.
“Fine. If you take ibuprofen, and we have a hot bath when we get home, and you promise to stop if it starts to hurt.”
“Deal,” said Luca, perhaps too quickly. He had been prepared for Tav’s condition to be bringing Luca’s old wheelchair with them. Tav shot him a suspicious look, and Luca did his best to look innocent.
“Just for that, you aren’t getting a biscuit,” said Tav, and took the whole tin with him into the other room. Luca was caught between laughter and indignation.
“MUM!” came the shout as Tav pulled the beat-up Ford into his own driveway. “THEY’RE HOME!” Tav had barely got out of the car when Becky came flying down the stairs and threw her arms around her big brother.
“Hey, Bex,” he said, pulling her close. “Missed you.”
“Missed you too, ya big lump,” she said into his coat, and then released him to hug Luca, too. Mum, Ian, and Amy trickled out of the house more slowly, and Tav had barely got done hugging his own family when his arms were full of Mamma Alessandra, who had evidently noticed the car pulling in across the street.
“Chreestopher,” she said. “How are you?”
“Finals,” he said by way of answer, and she laughed.
“Mamma,” said Luca, in the tone of voice that meant “One of us is actually your child and it isn’t Tav.” Mamma Alessandra laughed and pulled him in, ruffling his curls and making him squirm. Tav laughed.
“Shove off,” Luca muttered.
“Let’s put your things in the house, Luca,” said Mamma Alessandra, so Tav opened the boot and pulled their suitcases out.
“Catch you later,” he said, and dragged his own suitcase into the house, followed by his family. Luca’s brothers liked to pretend they were too cool to rush out and say hello, but Tav knew they’d all be waiting to say hello once Luca made it in the front door. The first few days of winter break were always like this: each of them would visit their own family, drown in attention and not see each other, and then things would calm down and it would be just like they’d never left.
Christmas break had never passed so slowly for Luca.
“What are you so antsy about?” Paolo asked him on the second day, and when Luca admitted his plan, “Why don’t you just do it then? Get it over with?”
“I want to wait until after Christmas,” said Luca stubbornly. “Just in case.”
“Luke. It’s Tav. You’ve been together literally six years.” Luca made no answer, and Paolo sighed, ruffled his hair, and stood up. “I’m going to help Mamma with the cookies. Try to calm down, won’t you? You’re making everyone twitchy.”
Luca flopped back onto the bed and scrubbed at his eyes. Paolo had a point. Perhaps he’d ask Antonio. Their oldest brother wasn’t coming down until Christmas Day, but he wasn’t exactly a long drive away.
Tav woke up with a start when a reasonably heavy Italian boyfriend landed on top of him. He clamped down on a shout, and reached out from under the covers to flick Luca in the ear.
“The fuck are you doing?”
“Let’s go down the river, Tav. Please?”
“Now?” Tav called him a nasty word, and Luca clapped a hand over his mouth.
“Don’t let your mamma hear you say that, or she’ll ground you till Christmas.” He removed his hand and tilted his face down demandingly, peering at Tav through his eyelashes. “Baci.”
Tav rolled his eyes, admitted silently to himself that he was embarrassingly wrapped around Luca’s little finger, and planted a quick kiss to each cheek before a longer one to his lips. Luca stayed put for all of two seconds before bouncing on Tav’s knees, a surefire way to wake him up completely. “C’mon, Tav. Put some clothes on.”
“This is payback for all the times I got you up at dawn to run down the river, isn’t it?”
Tav wrested back enough control of the situation that he managed to eat breakfast before he let Luca drag him out into the snow. He seemed to get more and more hyper the closer they got to the foothills, until Luca let go of his hand entirely and raced off down the river.
“Slow down, you idiot!” he yelled as Luca bounded ahead. “What the fuck are you so excited about?”
“Don’t you remember how we used to run and chase each other?” Luca yelled back, pausing to swivel and grin at Tav.
“Don’t you—damn it!” Tav cut himself off as Luca darted away, at full speed now, and quickly ended up out of sight. Laughing despite himself, he raced after. Worried as he always was about Luca’s health, Tav had to admit that it felt good to fall back into their old pattern. He wove his way down the familiar path, breaking away from the river as it turned into a stream, and up the valley. Through a copse of brambles he spotted Luca’s red scarf—lower to the ground than a scarf should be. “Luca?” he called worriedly, rounding the copse—and stopped dead.
Under a tree—and not just any tree, Tav noted in the back of his head, the same tree he’d first kissed Luca under—Luca knelt on one knee, holding a small velvet box.
“Oh my god,” said Tav, barely aware what was coming out of his mouth. “You’re proposing.”
Luca opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again. “I had a whole speech planned,” he said finally, “but yeah, I’m proposing, will you marry me, Tav?”
“Yeah,” said Tav, somewhat distressed to find his voice choked. “Yeah, I’ll marry you.” His feet carried him forward and Luca stood up in time to catch him in a tight hug.
“Air, Tav,” said Luca, sounding strangled, and Tav loosened his grip. Luca leaned back far enough to grab Tav’s face in the hand not still holding the ring box and kiss him.
“Love you,” he whispered into Tav’s ear. Tav bit back a sarcastic remark about how he’d better and answered,
“Love you too.”
He pulled off his left glove, and Luca slid the ring onto his finger. “I really did have a whole speech planned,” he said, flushing slightly, “about how long you’ve taken care of me and all the shite you’ve put up with.”
“You took care of me first,” Tav pointed out.
“I had a whole speech the first time I kissed you that I didn’t say, too,” Tav admitted. “How the fuck did you remember which tree it was?”
Luca flushed darker and didn’t look at him.
“Secret sap,” said Tav, and ruffled his hair.
“Yeah, well, don’t tell anyone.”
“You are the embodiment of that ‘babe, you had a crush on me’ meme.”
Luca’s phone buzzed and he tugged it out of his pocket. He glanced at the lockscreen and snorted, then showed it to Tav.
Another text appeared above it.
Antonio: or are you still lollygagging around in the woods?
Luca tugged off a glove and typed in his passcode.
Me: He said YES!!
Antonio sent back a series of congratulatory emojis. Luca turned off the screen and shoved his phone back in his pocket so he could put his glove back on. Tav took his hand and they began to walk back to the house in a comfortable silence.
“You told Antonio you were doing this?” Tav asked finally.
“Apparently I was driving everyone insane with how antsy I was, so Paolo told me not to wait for Christmas like I planned. But if you said no, I didn’t want Christmas to be awkward, so…”
“In what universe would I have said no?” Tav demanded.
“I don’t know, maybe you wanted to graduate before you got engaged, or you had some moral objection to the whole institution. I wasn’t actually afraid you didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives together.” A pause. “Not really.”
Tav squeezed his hand. “Antonio?” he prompted.
“He’s married, so I asked him what I should do. He said do it today, then if you said no we’d have a couple days to get over the awkward before Christmas.”
“’S probably why he texted you,” mused Tav. “Didn’t want to ask in person in case I’d turned you down.”
They rounded the bend and came back into view of their houses. Before they could decide whose house to go to (because no way were they each going home after this), Tav’s front door was flung open and Mam rushed out in her carpet slippers. Hot on her heels were Mamma Alessandra, Ian, Luca’s dad, both of Tav’s sisters, all four of Luca’s brothers, Antonio’s wife Katie, and their daughter Melinda.
Tav gaped at the veritable flood of people. All the Prettys and all the Jensens in the same house wasn’t all that unusual an occasion—take every Christmas, for example—but usually they were a bit more spread out. And not all staring at him. Luca, however, was grinning. He let go of Tav’s hand long enough to pull the glove off it, laced their fingers back together, and held Tav’s hand up to display the ring.
The uproar was instant.
Their mothers rushed to hug them, Mamma Alessandra babbling in Italian and Mam in English. Becky flung her arms around him next, and Amy didn’t wait to do the same. The men were more sedate, gradually trickling over to pull Luca, and Tav in Ian’s case, in for hugs, several of which turned into headlocks, with a lot of back-slapping. Antonio shook Tav’s hand.
“Didn’t you tell them I said yes?” Tav asked him, somewhat bewildered.
“Nope,” said Antonio, grinning. “Just waited for the confirmation before I told Mamma he was doing it. The rest sorted itself. Figured I couldn’t deprive him the chance to be a drama queen about it.”
Tav rolled his eyes, and only didn’t punch Antonio because Antonio could murder him with one hand behind his back.
Luca was not allowed to forget his promise of having a hot bath and ibuprofen, though he suspected Tav was capitalizing on the deal to get out from the crush of people. He seized their first moment alone to pull out his phone and update his Facebook relationship status, tugging Tav in to take a quick selfie with the ring on display. Tav opened his own phone and confirmed it with little complaining. Luca watched the notifications start pouring in.
“Aaron says it’s about fucking time,” he reported to Tav.
“Shut up and take your bath, you can count likes later,” Tav told him.
That night, he opened the app again. Almost three hundred people had liked the status change. College mates, high school friends, family on both sides were excited for them. But one name in particular made the wave of exhilaration Luca was riding even higher, if that was possible.
Jack Collins likes your status.