Monday, December 1, 2014

A Cape of Good Hope Christmas excerpt by Lloyd A Meeker

“A Cape of Good Hope Christmas” excerpt by Lloyd Meeker, is not the typical Christmas romance with miracles and mistletoe.  It’s the story of an established couple who find they now want different things.

Chaz and Neil have been together ten wonderful years, but now for the first time it seems they each want a life too different for the other to accommodate. Taking a break from their regular surroundings they fly to Cape Town to spend a sun-filled Christmas with their friends Jerry and Piet in hope that the change will help them see their situation in a clearer light.

They love each other deeply, but can love provide enough common ground for their life together? Will a mid-summer Christmas at the southern tip of Africa bring them the gift of renewed happiness?

A Cape of Good Hope Christmas
Wayfarer Press (November 23, 2014)
ISBN: 978-1-939092-07-6
I watched Chaz cut a bite of lamb from its bone, his delicate, precise motion thoughtful, and oh, so gentle—exactly the same way he arranged flowers in his shop. The soft light of the restaurant made him radiant, angelic, breaking my heart.
He was always that gentle, and in that particular instant I resented it. If our relationship was in trouble and he was the soft, pliant one, what did that make me? The hard-ass bad guy. It was unfair to be summarily convicted by his gentleness.
He seemed utterly absorbed in savoring his food, which I could readily understand. This was our third night at the Lanzerac Estate, nestled between the Paarl and Stellenbosch wine regions, and the rich flavors of the Cape’s vineyards and cuisine still surprised us.
The thick white linen on our table spread like a snowfield between us. Adoring him, hurting at our distance, I waited for him to glance up.
When he saw me staring at him, his eyes widened, as if surprised by danger. After eleven years together, I knew that startled deer-at-the-edge-of-a-clearing look very well. I hated that sometimes I scared him when that was the last thing I wanted.
Maybe he expected me to raise The Awful Issue. It hadn’t come up at all on our trip, and although I knew it eventually must, I was grateful it hadn’t so far. I wasn’t eager to share what I had to say from my side of the problem.
"Would you rather have stayed in Cape Town with Jerry and Piet?" I picked up my wine glass and stared into it, not wanting to spook the wary soft-eyed deer. As a worst-case scenario I could imagine he might have agreed to three days in the wine country even if he hadn’t really wanted to come. That would make it my fault if he wasn’t happy here. I was braced for that.
"No," he said, his eyes bright. "This is wonderful. Besides, the whole purpose of this trip is for us to be together in different settings. I want to be with you." He put down his fork. "I always have, from day one." Chaz smiled, radiant. So beautiful.
I ached when he smiled like that. I knew what he said was true—but he also wanted to be with me in ways I couldn’t give him, and it was tearing me apart.
He’d smiled at me like that almost twelve years ago when I walked into his flower shop The Enchanted Forest for the first time, needing flowers for a date. He’d led me on a slow tour of every cooler, standing half an inch in front of me, forcing me to peer over him as showed me what he had in stock.
It was easy to see everything he pointed to, because the top of his head barely came to my chin. In that first moment his melodic voice and uncanny grace enchanted me. I imagined the sharp floral odors of the shop to be the cool green scent of his body. He became a beautiful, slender sprite moving among his flowers and it took willpower not to pull him back against me and crush him into my arms.
My date that night years ago didn't go well, and I'll readily admit it was my fault. I'd been bewitched by a sprite in The Enchanted Forest. Every time I looked at the flowers I'd brought my date, I'd see Chaz's smile. The next day I returned to The Enchanted Forest after work, and every day after that, buying far too many flowers until he agreed to have dinner with me. And here we were at dinner years later and half a world away.
"I’m glad," I said, pulling myself back from sweet nostalgia. Reluctantly. Our present was a more difficult part of our story. I raised my glass "Here’s to Christmas in the Cape."
He lifted his glass to clink with mine. "To Christmas in the Cape."
"I love you," I said, holding his gaze. "No matter what."
"I know. I love you, too." His smile turned wistful. "We’d be in deep shit without that, wouldn’t we?
I nodded and took a sip. "Do you want to talk about it yet?"
He shook his head. "I can’t. I’m so certain your answer is going to be no, and I’m not ready to hear you say it."
"Will you hate me if I say no?"
He tilted his head a little to one side and smiled sadly. "Probably. For a little while, at least." And maybe longer. Which was exactly what I was afraid of.
Whatever I might have said right then would only make things worse, so I grabbed his free hand and held it. He turned his over so we were palm to palm, and spread his fingers. His sweet energy sparked up into me.
"I want you so much," he whispered. "Take me to bed."
I set my glass down and signaled for the check.
Back in our room I pulled off my own clothes in a hurry, but undressed Chaz slowly, standing behind him, reaching around him to unbutton his shirt, peel it away, rubbing against his back as I unzipped his pants and pushed them down. I pressed him down onto the bed to pull off his shoes and pants, stroking and kissing his knees, calves and feet as I uncovered them.
We made love in an unhurried ceremony of respect and tender affection—knowing, giving each other pleasure in ways we’d learned in our years together. We both were careful not to think of anything else.
The following morning we loaded up the car and drove back to Cape Town.
I blamed my sister Gillian for making Chaz want children. A mother of three, she’d somehow gotten to Chaz, filled his head and heart with the joys of parenthood, and then suggested we adopt a child. Or two—because two weren't a whole lot more work than one, and way more than twice the happiness.
When he first raised the idea, Chaz’s eyes glowed with his eagerness. My response was very different. I filled with claustrophobic panic I’d never imagined, let alone experienced. I couldn't explain it. Then Chaz decided he didn’t want to adopt, since adoption was difficult for couples like us. Instead, he wanted me to sire children with a surrogate.
Gillian probably hadn’t put those ideas in his head deliberately, so although I blamed her I couldn’t be angry with her. She loved being a mother, and maternal contentment shone through everything she did. Raising those kids was her life, her calling. Childrearing was about as far as anyone could get from mine.
We watched the scenery slide by. Chaz pulled my left hand into his and squeezed it against his thigh. "You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?"
I squeezed back. "I haven’t been able to think of much else." He didn’t ask for more, and I was content leaving the rest unspoken. Straight people would have talked about having children early in their relationship, but when we first got together our current dilemma hadn't been a realistic option for us to discuss, let alone plan.
I loved kids. I did. But some terrified voice in my head insisted it made no sense for two men pushing forty to start a family. We both had successful careers that demanded at least fifty hours a week, and now after years of hard work we finally had the resources to travel more, which we loved to do.
Was it selfish of me to want to be free to travel now that we could? Maybe. Even for super-mom Gillian, loading the car just to go across town with infants required packing for an expedition. I'd watched her with amazement as she did it. Chaz said he was willing to sell his shop and be a full-time parent. I was certain he'd be a good one. I was equally certain I wouldn’t, and the prospect froze my guts every time the idea came up.
We pulled into Jerry and Piet's driveway, and it was a relief to be yanked out of the future into the present. Our plan was to take the guys out to dinner tonight, and then tomorrow spend the day at the Kirstenbosch Gardens.
I loved botanic gardens, but I loved Chaz's love of botanic gardens even more. Walking paths through unusual shrubs and flowers with him was nothing short of inspirational. He had a passion for growing things—their beauty, their uniqueness. When he saw them arranged or landscaped with artistry and imagination his excitement, his childlike wonder, carried me with him into a way of seeing the world that I could never experience by myself.
Next morning I awoke with the sad, quiet understanding that today I had to tell Chaz I couldn't be a parent, just didn’t have the most basic capacity for parenthood in me. Below the understanding sat a dark well of dread. I knew two things—no, three.
One, I couldn't dedicate the next twenty-plus years of my life to raising children. Two, Chaz might feel just as strongly that he wanted them. And three, if he wanted children so badly, he deserved them. What that might mean to our relationship was an unknown. If I had the right to take a unilateral stand for what I wanted or didn’t want, so did he.
The uncertainty of what my decision might bring wasn't as painful as not being completely open and honest with the man I'd loved and lived with for more than a decade. If he needed children to be happy, then with a broken heart I'd let him find someone he could raise children with.
I imagined him hauling kids to recitals and soccer games, attending parent teacher meetings, coming home to someone else. I could see him herding the kids to the dinner table and settling their squabbles, making them pick up their mess in the living room before bed. Crawling into bed himself, next to someone else. That part drove me crazy.
No matter which way I looked at the issue it was a colossal no-win situation. If Chaz stayed with me he didn't get children. If we did have children, I was certain there would come a time when I would resent both Chaz and our children for forcing me to live a life I didn't want and wasn't cut out for. That was unthinkable.
We got to Kirstenbosch no more than an hour after they opened, but even so the parking lot already held a dozen cars. We paid our R45 each and decided to hike up to the waterfall first while it was still cool. Because the gardens were set against the slope of Table Mountain, it wasn't likely to get as hot as it had been in the wine country. Still, a morning hike seemed the more comfortable choice. We ambled up to the waterfall, with Chaz providing expert commentary on what we passed.
The garden was stunningly beautiful, both the cultivated areas and the natural setting. The summer day was bright and perfect. But as beautiful as my surroundings were, I saw everything through the lens of my sadness, my fear that whatever happened between Chaz and me about kids would be bad.
At the waterfall we walked to the edge of the ravine to see as much as we could. Chaz stood so close that our hands touched on the protective railing. Without taking his eyes off the cascading water he said, "So. You're thinking about it again, aren't you?"
So this was the moment. "Yeah. I am. Are you ready to talk about it now?"

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1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

Ah, this is so beautiful - I can see right into the hearts of both these men - and find myself thinking, maybe the narrator is right, maybe sometimes love is not enough - though in my own heart, I know that can't be true. I think it is this, his uncanny ability to let us see into the hearts of his characters, that most distinguishes Lloyd's writing. Thanks for posting this