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Victor rubbed his arms and shivered under his wool coat. It had been so warm in the house that he couldn’t bear the thought of putting on his wool undershirt under his knit sweater, and he was regretting it now. He pulled out his pocket watch with numb fingers and checked it. Four past the hour. He didn’t know what to make of the situation? Was he late? Was he early? He could only wait.

The snow was fine as powdered sugar, and it felt as if God had removed the sound. A flash of movement on Victor’s right side made him turn his head, and he was rewarded as an owl swooped over the pathway and into the trees on the other side. His gasp was the loudest sound. Victor put a hand over his heart. He looked for the owl, but it had disappeared like a ghost. Victor was pondering how soft and warm an owl must be to survive an English winter, when he heard the footsteps.

Victor turned around and sighted the figure. The red color of the cape identified the man and Victor exhaled in relief. He waited for Paul to approach.

As they got closer, Victor waved. Paul waved back. They stopped a few feet apart.
“You came,” Paul said with a tone of amazement. “I didn’t think you would on a night like this.”
“You slipped me a note at great risk to yourself. I found it very exciting, so of course I came.”
“No one questioned you leaving your house?”
“Only my father was still awake, and I said it was stuffy and I wanted to clear my head.”
Paul shook his head and snow fell off his hat. “You should be an actor.”
“I feel as if I’m acting every day.” Victor’s gaze lowered to the floor.
Paul lifted his chin with a gloved finger. “I dislike it too, but we must survive, Victor.”
Victor grasped his hand and pressed the palm to his cheek. He sighed as he nuzzled it.
“It makes me sad to hear you sigh at Christmas, but hopefully this will cheer you up,” Paul said. With his other hand, he produced a brown parcel from under his coat.
“A book?” Victor asked. He let Paul have his hand back.
“Yes. A special book.”
Victor took it with both hands.
“Where are your gloves?”
“Forgot to grab them,” Victor muttered.
“Silly boy.”
“Should I wait to Christmas morning or …?”
Paul shook his head. “No, open it now. It will need to stay a secret, like us.”
Victor gently undid the twine and peeled back the layers of brown paper. It showed a blank cover, so he turned the book over. He gasped for a second time on this adventure. “A Picture of Dorian Grey! Oh Paul, how did you get a copy of this!”
“The publisher knows our store well, but I knew my father would send them back if I ordered directly. So I wrote to them in private and had them shipped to the library instead. I’m going to be selling them quietly, but I saved the best one for you.”
Victor gazed fondly at the book. “An Oscar Wilde novel of my own. Oh Paul it’s wonderful. Thank you so much.”
Paul was smiling. “I’m so happy you like it. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Paul.” Victor rose up to tip toes and pressed a soft kiss to Paul’s lips.” Paul couldn’t hide his surprise. Victor was suddenly, painfully aware of what he had done and blushed furiously. “I’m so sorry, pardon-”
Paul returned his affection. Victor grabbed onto his arm to steady himself as everything was spinning.
When they broke the kiss, their breath fogged the area between them.
“Oh my,” Victor blushed.
“I have to say, I quite like being a book seller.”
Victor giggled. “I quite like you being the local book seller.”
Paul smiled. “You are a light in my life.”
“As you are mine.”
Paul stole another kiss. “Please head home and warm your hands now. I worry about you, my little actor.”
“I shall be fine. I feel quite warm, actually.” Victor tucked the book inside his sweater. “I assure you I will get home safe.”
“I will watch you go then. Good night, Victor.”
“Good night Paul.” It was hard to turn and leave, but it had to be done. Victor glanced over his shoulder once, twice, until the red cape was just a shape in the snow.

Victor began the trip home, trying to remember how to walk normally. He wanted to sprint home and dive under the covers. He couldn’t wait to start the book, despite the late hour. However, Victor was sure that first he was going to spend some time in bed, undressed, thinking about that warm kiss and imagining the hand stroking him was Paul’s. Sometimes, being an actor worked out in his favor.

Captions are fictional.


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