Comfort and Joy

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COMFORT AND JOY

We were running late when we finally managed to extract ourselves from my in-laws’ warm embrace, and the light snowfall slowed the mercifully light traffic on the highway to around thirty miles per hour. I was in the backseat with the twins, keeping their Christmas Eve excitement from getting out of hand. Kay’s an outstanding driver, but the road conditions called for extra attention.

The kids and I had just gotten through singing the twelve days of Christmas when Kay said, “Hon, I’m going to have to go straight to the church if I’m going to be there on time to get the Bishop on task.”

“No worries,” I assured her. “I’ll get the kids home. Can you catch a ride back with Todd?”

She nodded her head. “I’ll confirm it, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. I wasn’t counting on this snow!” There really wasn’t a lot, but it was fresh and slippery, and as usual it seemed like half the locals had forgotten how to drive in it.

“It’s pretty, though,” I said softly, mesmerized as always. Making my light tenor as warm as I was able, I sang, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten, and children listen, to hear sleigh bells in the snow!”

Juliette squealed, “Santa!”

Her brother, always inquisitive, asked, “Why does Santa ride a sleigh?”

“‘Cuz he’s got reindeer! Duh!” Jules was only seven minutes and twenty-four seconds older than Spencer, but she was convinced that she had the answers to all of his questions, and everyone else’s, too.

I diverted them before things could escalate, and soon we were singing Jingle Bells together. It was, oddly enough, less distracting to Kay than conversation. The words were so familiar she was even able to sing along without diverting any attention from the road.

She pulled into the parking lot at All Saint’s just before 11:30, cranked the parking brake, and turned back to the kids with her always-infectious smile. “Okay, cherubs! I’ll see you Christmas morning! Be extra good now, ‘kay?”

“Why do you have to go to the church, Mommy?” Spence sounded simply curious. We all go to church plenty — but for our family it’s usually a Sunday morning activity.

“Well, you know tomorrow is Jesus’ birthday, right?” When Spence nodded solemnly, Kay continued, “It’s a special day, so we have a special mass tonight, as well as the one tomorrow morning.”

His mother’s words seemed to satisfy Spencer — they almost always did — but Jules said, “Why aren’t we all going?”

Kay chuckled. “We’re already past your bedtime, missy, as you know very well! We’ll all go together tomorrow morning.” With that, she blew them kisses, popped the door and stepped into the snow.

I got out behind her and got a real kiss. Holding her close, I said, “Give them Isaiah, love.”

“‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.’” Her gloved fingers touched my temple, part caress, part benediction. “Yes. I will.”

Even murmured in the cold and dark of the parking lot, I could feel the power and passion of her voice, the purity and conviction of her faith. No-one could proclaim that scripture passage quite like Kay.

“Call if there’s any problem with transportation,” I urged. “I’ll work something out.”

“Will do. See you soon.” She smiled, brushed a snowflake from my cheek, then turned and walked briskly up the stairs to the church, ready as ever to organize befuddled bishops, dithering deans, and the usual battalions of church ladies.

Getting in the driver’s seat, I double-checked that the twins were still buckled in before releasing the brake and getting back on the road. The snow falling in the path of the headlights wasn’t nearly as pretty when you needed to see through it to drive safely!

The kids were chatting amiably enough, still hyped up as kids are on Christmas Eve. I knew it was going to take some work to get them calmed down, and I was going through the checklist in my mind.

Our house is only a ten-minute drive from the Cathedral Church. The snow eased enough for me to relax a bit and enjoy the festive lights on houses along the way, each surrounded by a halo of falling snow. The world really was transformed — a different and magical place of heart-stopping beauty.

Most of the streets had been plowed within the last half-hour or so, though our street hadn’t and the tires slid a bit as we made the turn. But I got us safe into the garage and sent the kids upstairs to get their PJs on and brush their teeth.

While they were taking care of their business, I turned on the Christmas tree lights and lit the Yule fire I had set earlier in the day. The paper caught first, then the small kindling went up in a roar and the larger pieces began to catch.

When the twins padded downstairs, they took in the scene with eyes that were alive to the magic of it all. The house in darkness, except for the tree and the fire; the crackle of the flame loud in the stillness.

“Okay you two,” I said. “First things first. You need to hang your stockings.”

They eagerly came and took the impossibly long knit tubes from my hands and hung them on the hooks I had set in the wall to the right of the fireplace just for this purpose.

Wrapping them each into a one-armed hug, I pulled them to the couch and sat one of them on each side of me. I gave them the story of angels and kings, of shepherds and their flocks, of a crowded inn and a stable, an upright man and a young mother, filled with grace. A star shining bright at midnight, a song of unworldly beauty, the mystery and majesty of the living God, once more touching the clay of creation.

By the end, finally, they were ready for sleep. I brought them upstairs, tucked them in, and said a prayer to guard their rest. At six-and-a-half, this wasn’t an everyday occurrence anymore, and I cherished it.

I had a few things to do before Kay got home, so I tiptoed back downstairs, careful not to make a noise that would keep the twins awake any later. I couldn’t stuff their stockings until I was certain they wouldn’t try sneaking down to catch Santa in the act!

The first thing I did was wrap my special gift for Kay. With all the bustle, I hadn’t gotten it done earlier. I went to my hiding place and pulled it out, then popped into the study, where we’d stashed all of our wrapping supplies.

Someday I’ll get her diamonds, I vowed to myself silently. But we’d agreed to be frugal until we’d paid off the house and put enough away for the kids’ educations. And really, it was fine. Kay likes nice things as much as the next girl, but what she really appreciates is thoughtfulness.

She would look spectacular in sexy nightwear. She is tall, trim and athletic, with perfect skin that positively glows, and I’m always tempted to buy her something gorgeous and classy and ultra-feminine.

But much as I would love to see her in silk, satin and lace, her Christmas present isn’t about what I want. She's a flannel pajamas gal who loves feeling warm and cozy, so I had hunted high and low to find something she would like. I was starting to get desperate when I stumbled on a fleece dressing gown in a deep, rich plum. It was feather-light but warmer than any flannel, with a high, soft collar in jet black that would emphasize her graceful neck.

I lined a box with pale lavender tissue paper and folded the gown so that the shoulders and neck would be visible when she first opened the present. Then I wrapped the box with forest-green paper, creasing each edge to perfection, added a wide gold ribbon, and spent some minutes creating an intricate bow on top. I tucked a couple holly sprigs I had cut fresh in the morning into the bow, making sure the bright red berries stood out against the paper.

Once I was certain the package was as perfect as I could make it, I brought it out and set it under the tree. Time check: 12:45. Midnight mass always runs long; the Cathedral Choir of All Saints is powerful enough to stand up to the massive pipe organ, and they literally pull out all the stops. So, probably another half hour before Kay would be out.

I listened carefully at the bottom of the stairs for a full three minutes. Not a sound from the kids’ rooms. All clear. Going back to my hiding place, I pulled out all of the fun things that we had collected over the last few weeks to add to the kid’s stockings. All small stuff – silly gifts and clever gifts, and, of course, candies and cookies and a couple pieces of fruit. Everything that needed to be wrapped had already been wrapped, to make sure this part of the process went just as quickly as possible so the kids didn’t see it. The stockings were finished almost as fast as Santa could have managed, and the empty box went back into my hiding place.

One o’clock. They would be in the middle of communion, now. My next stop was the kitchen, where I put together a small platter of special snacks. Kalamata olives, three different cheeses, two kinds of crackers. I sliced up a ripe, fragrant pear and added the slices to the platter. Hmmm. Still needs something.

Diving into the pantry, I pulled out a small box of dark chocolate truffles I had found at a local shop in mid-December and had squirreled away for just this purpose. I smiled as I placed them. Yep. That’s what we needed!

Last but very much not least, I opened a ten-year-old bottle of Barbaresco that I had tended carefully in the basement for seven years. It was inexpensive when I bought it, but would fetch quite the price today!

I arranged the platter on the coffee table in the living room, then went to the hutch and pulled out the crystal toasting glasses from our wedding. Looking at them critically, I saw they had acquired a bit of dust since the last time we’d used them, so I took them back into the kitchen and restored their original sparkle. I gave each glass a generous pour of the Barbaresco and set them by the platter to breathe.

Finally, I grabbed a plastic shovel and did a quick clearing of our front walk. There was only an inch or so of snow on it, but Kay was in heels and wouldn’t want to ruin them.

Though it was no longer snowing, the night retained the intense stillness that accompanies snowfall. Our street still hadn’t been plowed; apart from the tracks of a few cars, nothing broke the pristine whiteness that blanketed the ground. Everything glittered, sharp and clear.

Magic.

Kay would be back any minute. I went back inside, added a log to the fire, lit a couple of candles, and sat in the leather recliner. The quiet, and the fire, and the magnificent twelve-foot pine were worth savoring. Kay had always wanted a big tree, and I’d worked with the architect on the design of the house to make sure the ceilings in the main living area would be high enough to make her dream come true.

By 1:30 I was getting a little worried . . . but not too much so. Midnight Mass can be an emotional high, and the people who work hard to put it together need a minute or two of “merry Christmases” before they’re ready to go their separate ways.

I saw a car turn up our street a few minutes later, so I went outside. It was, as I had hoped, Todd’s big Chevy Suburban – a vehicle that wouldn’t have any difficulty with a little snow and ice. I walked down to the street and opened the passenger door. “Thanks, Todd, you’re a life-saver!”

Todd had a cheery grin. “Always a pleasure, Paul. Merry Christmas!”

I handed Kay down, wished Todd and his family a merry Christmas in return, and waved as he drove off. Then I tucked Kay in close and led her back to the house. “How was Mass?”

She smiled. “Wonderful. I’m really looking forward to us all being able to do it together, though. Maybe in a couple years.”

“Your reading went well?”

She nodded. “The spirit was there, for sure. And Todd’s proclamation of the Epistle was positively inspired.”

Inside, I took her coat and hung it up.

She stepped into the living room and absorbed everything, breathing in deeply, reveling in the smell of the fresh pine tree, mixed with earthy smokiness of the wood fire. She laughed — one of my favorite sounds in all the world, an uninhibited peal of delight — and spun to face me, eyes glittering like the new-fallen snow. “Will you marry me?”

“Pretty sure I did.”

“Yeah. I remember something about that. Best decision I ever made!”

I moved into her arms. “Yeah. Me too.”

When we broke our kiss, she asked, “How were the kids?”

“Perfect. I wish I could bottle these moments. Mom and Dad keep warning me that they won’t last.”

Finally, we settled ourselves into the comfy couch and raised our toasting glasses once again, reaffirming the love we had shared for almost ten years. They hadn’t always been easy ones, but in the end the hard times had brought us closer together.

She loved the nibblies, as I had known she would. It’s not like I don’t know exactly what flavor combinations tickle her taste-buds best! But it was time to draw the night to a close. Even though they had been up well past their bedtimes, the kids would be certain to wake us bright and early, in just a few short hours.

I got up, bent to plant a kiss on her forehead, and got her present from under the tree. “Merry Christmas, love.”

She wasn’t one to rip the wrapping off a package, but her approach was always swift and eager. She slid the ribbon off while preserving my elaborate bow, then slipped a nail under each piece of tape to remove the paper. Her eyes lit up as she opened the box and moved the tissue paper. “This is perfect! Oh my God! It’s so soft!” She pulled the gown all the way out of the box and caressed her cheek with it, feeling the nape against her smooth skin. “Thank you, Paul!”

She hopped up, gave me a proper kiss, then disappeared into our bedroom. A minute later she came out with a gift box. It was store wrapped, but I never minded. Kay has many wonderful talents, but wrapping presents isn’t one of them.

We sat back down on the couch, snuggled close together, and I opened it up. Inside was a nightie that would look absolutely spectacular on her – calf-length, empire waist, in a lovely shimmering teal, with delicate lace at the hem and the neckline. I smiled and shook my head. “It would look so much better on you, Kay!”

She snuggled closer. “You say that every year. But I love the way my little presents make you feel, and how your face lights up whenever you wear them.”

I love her so much, I still wonder how my heart can hold it all! “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“You really can’t see it, can you?” She sounded more amused than surprised.

I shook my head. She could have had anybody. Anybody at all.

She kissed me lightly, then slipped onto my lap, snaking an arm around my neck. “I can think of a million things. You are the most considerate lover a woman could want. And an incredible father, while still being a good provider.” She paused and pointedly looked around the room – at the tree, the fire, the platter, and her present – making sure I saw the direction of her gaze. “You find a way to make everything you touch, and every moment I’m with you, special. It’s all that, but that doesn’t capture it. You just have the most beautiful soul I have ever encountered. I love you so much it hurts.”

Her face blurred as my tears poured out. I held her close, savoring the moment, until she said softly, “Come to bed with me, Jane, my love. I want to see how you look in your new nightie . . . until I take it off of you!”

– The End.

Author’s Note: I wrote this as a new solo story, set in the present day, intending it as a bit of a present for a friend who had asked why my trans characters are all attracted to men. (Note to my friend: Merry Christmas! Know that I always hear you!).

When it was complete, though, I suddenly realized that I knew these characters and had written about them before. My muse had tricked me completely, giving me a secret view of that special marriage the minister marvels at in Tenebrae. All I had to do was change the names of the four characters, and it fit perfectly with the earlier story.

So it turns out this was a bit of a Christmas present for me, too. Tenebrae is close to my heart, but the nature of the story is such that I never thought I would revisit its characters.

Whether or not you read Tenebrae, I hope you enjoyed this story, and I wish each and every one of you a blessed holiday season!

December 22, 2023
— Emma

For information about my other stories, please check out my author's page.

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Comments

Great story

gillian1968's picture

Nice surprise at the end.

Reminds me of some special nights with my honey.

Joyous Noel!

Gillian Cairns

Merci, Gillian!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Always glad to spark good memories. :)

Merry Christmas!

Emma

I have not read Tenebrae……

D. Eden's picture

But now I will have to.

Thank you for this wonderful little story.

Merry Christmas!

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Thank you, Dallas!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

A very merry Christmas to you as well!

Emma

And to you, Dot

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Wishing you bushels of huggles, for Christmas, Solstice, all manner of holidays — with extra to start the new year right!

Emma

I was crying long before Jane did

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

A touching tale that plays on my emotions regarding family, faith and Christmas.

I'm going to have to read Tenebrae now just to see what I've missed. I'm sure it will be extraordinary.

Hugs
Patricia

Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt

Christmas as it should be!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Last year I wrote a Christmas story about a young transwoman who had been rejected by her family. I know that’s a reality for a whole lot of our sisters. But it doesn’t have to be, and this year I wanted to write about a positive outcome. I’m very glad it struck a chord for you!

Merry Christmas!

Emma

Merry

Andrea Lena's picture

Gentle Women!

Stories like this always help me to at least dismay less. Merry Christmas, dear lady!

  

To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

Most Def, Dismay Less!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

God rest ye gentle, women, and let little you dismay,
At least a little less than you were faced with yesterday!
May aches and pains diminish and depression go away,
Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy!

Merry Christmas, dear ’Drea. May your holidays be filled with friends and family who actually behave!

Emma

A smoothness of life in this piece

Helps me to stay mellow for the season. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ron

Just one note: the thing that keeps a car from rolling is a " brake " not the homophobe "break" .

Ooops!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

What’s worse, I had it right in one place and wrong in another! Anyhow, thanks for the catch — all fixed. :)

Merry Christmas, Ron!

Emma

This Touches My Soul

joannebarbarella's picture

Assuming I actually have one, but certainly my heart. I am a Jane. All my life I have been pretending to be what I am not, but I was not lucky enough to have a Kay.

What a magic story this is. I'm not a Christian inasmuch as I don't do the churchy things, but I try to live by what I consider are the best principles of the religion, not always successfully, but I try.

Those descriptions of Paul looking after his children and doing all the Christmassy things for them and for his wife made me cry, because I could see his/her femininity shining through. It didn't have to be overstated. It was just there and it called out to me.

I cannot be jealous of Emma (well, maybe just a little) because she has this marvelous talent for writing the very best stories. It has been my very great pleasure to work with her (and Angela Rasch[Jill]) over the last few weeks. It has been lovely and I hope it can continue.

This is another precious gem.

Kay is a rare gem

Emma Anne Tate's picture

But then, so is Jane. A wise person — who may read the comments! — told me that the only way you have a chance of having your wife accept even crossdressing is to be a perfect spouse in every other regard. Jane isn’t calculating that way; pouring out her love in everything she does is simply her nature. But the end result is pretty much the same. ;-)

I love working with you and Jill. And you’re both stuck with me for months!

A very Merry Christmas, Joanne.

Emma

Aw

Athena N's picture

After this, I just had to re-read – and re-cry over – Tenebrae. Lovely stories, both of them. Thank you!

Thank you, Daughter of Zeus!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. Thanks for reading my stories and brightening my day with comments!

Emma

Thank you...

Sunflowerchan's picture

Thank you for sharing this lovely story with us Ms. Emma Anne Tate, you are a true, wordsmith, and your muse did not trick you my dear, only misdirected you to something bigger and better. Your story made this joyless holiday, seem a bit more joyful and for a brief moment rekindled some of the magic, wonder and joy this day use to bring me. People like you are stars in the night sky for people like me who are lost in the forest below to follow. Stars to set a course too and chart our maps too. Merry Christmas, dear sister.

I wish . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . I wish this season were not so hard for you, and for so many of our sisters. You are a blessing to all of us in this community.

Merry Christmas, little sister!

Emma

Very Very Nice

BarbieLee's picture

Some appreciate what they have no matter how little or how much. Others fail wanting more or desiring it all. A beautiful story of two kindred souls sharing the true blessings of life. A Soul Mate is one we have reincarnated with one or more times and is the one who will fill our life to the brim. There may be more than one in one's life, a spouse, parent, friend (male, female) Truly one is blessed if there are several although bonding won't be as tight as a spouse. https://www.crystalinks.com/edgar_cayce3.html
Maybe this is a little easier for others to understand. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Hugs Emma, you are an interesting person
Barb
Life is a gift meant to be lived, not worn until it's worn out.

Oklahoma born and raised cowgirl

Gratitude

Emma Anne Tate's picture

You’re so right, Barb. Kay and Paul/Jane have a wonderful marriage and full lives because they are both capable of seeing the blessings they are, each for the other.

Best wishes to you and yours for a joyful Christmas and an “interesting” holiday season!

Emma

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My wife gave me my first nightgown for Christmas in 1978. . .45 years ago.

Thanks for lighting that memory.

Jill

Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

Oh my goodness!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

What a fantastic memory! And here I was just wish-casting. :)

Merry Christmas, Jill. I hope you and your family have a fabulous day!

Emma

Nicely done.

Wendy Jean's picture

Bru watch out you got competition. Thank you.

Wellllll . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Bru’s usually a lot less wordy. :)

Thanks, Wendy. A very merry Christmas to you!

Emma

Deja vu

Dee Sylvan's picture

Unfortunately, while reading your Christmas story last year, I was battling Covid for the second time and missed Christmas with my children. I'll miss Christmas with them again this year, and next year-God only knows. Paul's mom and dad were right, our kids grow up too fast, you need to cherish those Christmas' while you can.

I'm glad your muse kept you busy Emma. Thank you for this precious Christmas gift. Tenebrae is one of my favorites, but this story is a bit sad in its own way. Kay is a strong woman and as fine a spouse as any trans girl could hope for, but Jane, as in Tenebrae, is in a box that gives her just a glimpse of her hearts desire.

I hope this is a blessed time with your family Emma. I went shopping with my girlfriend today and had a wonderful time. Tomorrow will be spent baking and then enjoying Christmas Eve service with our own All Saints Cathedral Choir.

Happy Holidays to all of my Big Closet friends. My wishes are for your writing inspirations to burst forth with wonder and awe. :DD

DeeDee

Wonder

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Dearest Dee — Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I hope that you can find joy this Christmas, despite the empty chairs at your table, and close out the year with peace and serenity. Happy holiday hugs!

Emma

:)

Kit's picture

Merry Christmas Emma, a lovely touching story. x

I like Turtles.

Thank you!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Thanks for reading, and for your kind words. Have a very merry Christmas, Alyssa!

Emma

Touching story

The true issue will always be if one partner is not content with just clothes and transitions.

A vanishing few marriages survive such a thing.

I know some of like D. Eden is blessed with having their spouse staying but I am very sure that is in the minority, well not as surprising if they are bisexual of course.

It would be interesting for a story to get into the mindset of such a amazing spouse.

Thanks Emma for such a sweet story!

Kay’s mindset

Emma Anne Tate's picture

We do hear Kay’s own very private thoughts on the subject in Tenebrae, albeit related by someone else. But I think you are correct that it would be hard for a cis-het woman to stay married if her husband transitioned. They are out there, but . . . it’s got to be rare.

Thanks, Kimmie. Warmest wishes to you for Christmas and the new year.

Emma

A lovely scene

Erisian's picture

Thanks Emma, this was heartwarming! Merry Christmas! <3

Thanks, Erisian!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Merry Christmas to you and all of your fellow seraphim. Aren’t you supposed to do some singing tonight? You know, tradition and all? ;-)

Emma

Singing? Me?

Erisian's picture

I haven't been able to properly sing since being in the chorus when eleven and twelve...before the infernal voice cracking made a ruin of that.

Well, except for the rare dream when things sound right again anyway. :)

Voice

*Sigh* I too had a very decent voice pre-pub also.

Damn T, making a lemon of that voice I had when I became a solid midde baritone.

I've spent the last 33 years since going full time making the lemonade out of that lemon but while I do a solid job it will never be as at ease as a Cis girl.

Yes, there are some funky voice surgeries, some very intrusive and some not (supposedly in S. Korea).

In any case, it is too late now to consider surgeries as I am decent now and I will not risk what I do have.

Bird in hand .....