Well, that's another year gone by. Here I am at another office Christmas party, "celebrating" the fact that we all get a fortnight off working at this place. I'll probably put in some overtime anyway, it's not as if I have anything else to do this Christmas.

My family has already sent me their cards for the year, and I've sent some cards of my own back to them. It's basically the only communication we have any more — it's not that we hate each other or anything, we've just lost touch. Ever since I moved away to the city and got this "temporary" office job — against their wishes, of course, but they don't hold it against me that much any more — we haven't talked in person once. They call or write to tell me how everybody else is doing, the way my older brother is successfully running the family business, how my younger sister is progressing through law school, and asking how my job's going.

As always, I'll tell them it's "just great". All through the conversation, though, I'll be asking myself how I've managed to be in this "temporary" job at the office for ten years. Ha, at 35 I'm really pushing the boundaries of what I can do… not. I've even managed to escape all but the most marginal promotions going around the firm. Just my luck, I guess.

Somebody interrupted my thoughts by tapping on a glass and standing up to make a speech. I was only half listening, since I knew it was only going to be another high-up spouting off about how they "appreciate the hard work" of the "amazing staff" and "hope we all have a good holiday". Sometimes, you have to wonder if they all write their speeches together and change a few words to make it "original".

At the end of the speech, (at least, when everybody else started clapping), I applauded quietly and cast my gaze across the room. Everybody else seemed to be chatting away in little groups, smiling at the people who walked by but not actually welcoming them into the group. It's funny how, even though I'd worked here for a decade, I seemed to know almost nobody on more than a "say hi to them in the morning" kind of way.

As another group moved out of my line of sight, I saw Antony sitting on the other side of the room, sipping a drink of coffee and looking about as bored as I felt. Antony was an exception to the "knowing nobody" statement, although only during work hours. We'd chat a little bit over lunch every now and again — I guess he stopped me from forgetting how to talk to other people other than in monosyllabic sentences. He even set me up on a date with Janet, a friend of his. She doesn't work in the company, so I guess he actually has a bit of a life outside of work too, unlike me.

I made my way through the gossiping crowds and sat down beside him.

"Bored?" I asked, stating the painfully obvious.

"You know, Derek, that has to be the most observant thing anybody has said to me all evening" he replied, and we both started laughing.

Ignoring the odd stares from around us, we eventually settled down enough to continue the conversation.

"So, I take it you're spending the Christmas with your family again this year?"

From the lunchtime chats, I knew he normally spent Christmas with his parents and sister, so this was just another question intended to kill time. What I hadn't expected was to see him stiffen slightly, before replying quietly "No, not this year."

Concerned, I inquired "Anything wrong?"

"I'd rather not talk about it," he replied in the same quiet voice, and quickly steered the conversation in another direction.

A few minutes later, the conversation had reversed, as he asked me "What are you doing for Christmas this year anyway?"

"The usual," I sighed. "Nothing but sitting at home, since practically no shops are open over Christmas. I'll probably work through most of the break afterwards, I've got nothing better to do."

"I guess I'll be doing the same this year, too."

"Hey, if you don't mind my cooking, you could come over for dinner. I could use the company, and there's no point in us both burning our places down when just one will do," I said with an attempt at a slight smile.

He gave a small nod and we exchanged cellphone numbers, before going our separate ways as we left the party. Nobody would notice our absence anyway, so we figured there wasn't much point in hanging around.

- - - - -

— Christmas day, Derek's apartment —

I looked down at my watch to find that there was still plenty of time before Antony was due to arrive, and mentally chided myself for my paranoia. Moving around the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the food before it went into the oven, I was surprised to find myself nervous, almost dropping some of the things I was carrying.

'Odd', I thought to myself, 'it's not like I haven't cooked for people before…' Ignoring the feeling, I continued to prepare dinner.

Just as the roast was ready to come out of the oven, the buzzer to the apartment sounded to let me know Antony was here. As I opened the door to let him in, he pressed a bottle of wine into my hands.

"Since you're doing the cooking, I thought I'd better do some work myself," he said in reply to my raised eyebrow. "Squeezed the grapes myself, you know. Tough job," he finished with a perfectly straight face.

I continued my incredulous stare until he burst out laughing. I couldn't help but join him as I closed the door and escorted him further into the sparsely decorated apartment. When he attempted to follow me into the kitchen, I shooed him out and pointed him to his chair, then made my way back to the kitchen to begin dishing up the meal.

I came back to the table with our two plates to find a glass of wine poured for me on the table. After giving Antony his plate, I raised my glass.

"Merry Christmas," I declared.

"And a Merry Christmas to you," he replied as we touched glasses and began the meal.

"Not bad," he commented after a couple of bites.

"No need to sound so surprised" I said in mock offense. Actually, I was quite pleased with the way my cooking had turned out. It was no prize-winner, but at least it wasn't burnt, which was an accomplishment in my books.

We ate slowly, talking about nothing in particular between mouthfuls. 'See,' I thought to myself, 'what were you nervous for?'

"How are you and Janet going, by the way?" he asked a while later, catching me a little off balance.

"I thought I told you before… obviously not. Heh, great memory I have."

"Well?" he prompted.

"I took her out to dinner a couple of times, but we just didn't seem to connect. We're still friends though, and she didn't seem to take me breaking up with her too badly. She said she was going to wait a while before looking for another date, though, so that might be why she didn't tell you anything," I said, referring to the fact the he had been the one to set me up on a date with her in the first place.

Upon hearing that, a thoughtful look crossed Antony's face for a moment before being replaced with that same slight smile as before, making me wonder if I had been imagining things.

"I guess you're not the matchmaker you thought you were, huh." I say with a chuckle, eliciting a similar response from him, but his heart didn't seem to be in it.

Noticing that we had both finished, I stood to collect the dishes. As he tried to get up to help, I put my hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him back into his seat.

"No, you're the guest. Sit."

Instead of the sarcastic response I had expected, Antony suddenly tensed up.

"I have to go," he muttered before pushing my hand off his shoulder and rushing out of the room.

After almost dropping the dishes in shock, I managed to put them down safely and run to the door, calling for him to wait, but by the time I got there he was nowhere to be seen. Puzzled, I closed the door again and reluctantly started to clear up again. I was still wondering why he ran off as I took a shower, and made my way to bed.

- - - - -

Lying in bed, I still couldn't get to sleep so I kept myself occupied by thinking about the evening.

'Antony really is a great guy, I just wish I knew why he ran off like that. Up until then, the evening was going fine. Better than my date with Janet, that's for sure.'

I stopped and ran the last thought through my mind again, trying to figure out what was happening, and why I thought that. I slowly realized that the dinner had been almost exactly like the dates I had been on with Janet, except that Antony was a lot easier to talk to and more fun to be around.

Involuntarily, the thought 'I'd rather be with Antony than Janet any day of the week' popped into my head. I was still confused — why was I comparing Antony to Janet? I mean, they're both my friends, but it's not as if I want Antony to be…

That's when it struck me; I did want Antony to be what I had been trying to be with Janet, but had never managed to be. I thought back to some of the other women I had been out with over the years (not that I had been out with many anyway) and it hit me that they had all ended in almost exactly the same way: I just couldn't feel anything deeper than friendship for them. The same deeper feelings that I was starting to have for Antony.

'That's not right, though!' I screamed in my head. 'Guys should like girls, not other guys, and I'm straight, dammit! I'm not gay, I would have figured it out by now if I was…'

By this time I was clutching my pillow and struggling not to cry. 'Maybe I am gay… but it doesn't matter now, I need to find out why Antony ran away from me.'

I let out a single strangled sob before pulling myself together enough to grab my cellphone off the bedside table. No sooner had I dialed Antony's number than the buzzer to my apartment rang.

"Not now," I growled to myself. "This is more important."

Several seconds passed with no answer, and the buzzer sounded throughout my apartment again.

"Fine!" I said angrily, pulling on my bathrobe and striding to the door. "If you don't have a good reason for being here…" I started as I ripped the door open.

My voice faded into silence as I saw who was standing there. Right in front of me, holding his ringing cellphone in his hand, was Antony. My heart broke and I let my phone clatter to the floor as I saw the tear streaks down his face, and the haunted look in his eyes. I pulled him further into my apartment but he shook me off after a few steps.

He looked up at me, with a determined look on his face, and said "I can't stay long… you won't want me to anyway, after what I have to say. But I have to say this.

"Derek, I feel close to you, even from the short time we've had together. I mean really together, not just stupid talk at work."

A little stunned, I respond cautiously "Well we've always been good friends…"

"No," he interrupts me. "I mean more than just that. I know you won't understand… but God! All night I'd been enjoying talking and being close to you, and when you put your hand on my shoulder… it was like somebody set my heart and soul on fire!"

He stopped and looked me squarely in the eyes.

"I'm gay, Derek, and I think I love you," he proclaimed, tearing up again. "Now I'll just leave and you'll never have to talk to me again, but I had to tell you how I felt or I'd explode."

Antony started to turn away to leave again, but I quickly pushed past him and closed the door, blocking his escape. I saw the fear in his eyes and I almost broke out crying again myself, before I regained control and said softly:

"Antony. I'm not sure what to make of all these things I'm feeling right now… but…" I looked into those hazel eyes, still red from the tears he had shed, and in that instant I knew I had to tell him exactly how I felt. It was now or never, and I couldn't wait that long. "I think… I think I feel the same way about you."

With that, his eyes opened even wider as I closed the space between us and pulled him into a light hug. We were both crying into each other's shoulder by now, and I gently maneuvered us both into the living room where we collapsed onto the sofa.

"I thought you'd hate me too…" he whispered to me.

"Why would I ever do that?" I asked of him, equally quietly.

"Well… Two months ago, I told my parents." He tensed up slightly, so I just rubbed his back and waited for him to continue.

"They didn't take it so well, they said that… that 'no matter how old you are, no faggot is a son of ours.' I haven't talked to them since." He just managed to get the sentence out before his body convulsed back into sobbing once more.

I simply held him and told him to "Let it all out, it's going to be alright now," over and over again.

After a short while, his even breathing told me that he had fallen asleep from exhaustion. I looked down at the sleeping man in my arms, and I knew at that moment that I really did want to be with him, more than anything in the world. 'Might need to cancel that overtime,' I thought to myself sardonically. 'I've got better things to do.'

I smiled as I leaned down and whispered softly in his ear.

"Antony. My Antony. I love you."

Antony smiled in his sleep and just snuggled closer to me as I, too, closed my eyes and drifted off peacefully.