It doesn't really feel like Christmas without snow and biting cold weather. It's the fourth December Jules has spent in Santa Clara, and it still doesn't feel real. It rains a lot, heavy, chilled raindrops which sting her skin, but there's never any snow or ice, and everyone bundles up for sixteen degrees the same as they do back home for three (it sounds even worse in Fahrenheit, sixty-one degrees, and skin should melt at that temperature, except it's really not as hot as it sounds, not at all).
Jess hangs fairy lights in the windows, just like she has every other year, and puts up a little plastic Christmas tree on the dresser in front of the mirror--it blocks most of the view, but they don't use it often anyway. She's collected delicate ornaments over the years, so small Jules is always afraid to touch them, and when the overhead lights are off and the decorative lights on, they glistened and glitter and gleam.
Fake snow on the windows and tinsel everywhere, slender shiny strands hanging from every surface and clinging to their clothes, that's Jules' contribution to the decoration, plus alcohol hidden under their bed (tradition even though they're legal to drink in America--when they first arrived, all the adults were so uptight about the drinking age, while no one cared back home, and they'd been legal there for years, so Jules learned to hide it, because she certainly wasn't going to give up drinking for most of the year).
(Jules remembers the weekend after Jess turned twenty-one, that arbitrary age of drinking in crazy America, and the party their team mates had thrown. They plied Jess with alcohol to take back to the dorm room, and one of the girls who'd transferred to the team just that fall said her last school had been a dry campus, no alcohol allowed on it anywhere whether you were legal or not. Jules can't even imagine, and it was a public university, not affiliated with any religion at all, not like Santa Clara.)
This is the first Christmas they won't be going home. They graduate in the spring, and they both have graduation portfolios and paperwork to do, plus the offers have already started to roll in, both from football teams and from graduate programs. Jules tosses the latter straight into the rubbish bin, but Jess reads through each brochure full of pictures of bright, smiling students, and actually gives the idea of an advanced degree some thought. She makes folders for each one she's interested in and sends off for more information.
Jules hates it, and when Jess spends too much time reading class listings and talking about psychology programs, she turns on music and dances around the room, holding out her hands so Jess will join her. If that doesn't work, and sometimes it's exactly the distraction Jess needs but sometimes it isn't, Jules climbs into bed with her, flattening the brochures and pushing paperwork out of Jess' hands.
Jess laughs and pushes at Jules' shoulders, but not very hard, and she never struggles away when Jules kisses her, the absolute best distraction in the world.
They agreed to tell their parents they wanted to spend one Christmas with their footie friends and finish up all the forms and applications for graduation and the dozens of pieces of paper which come along at the end of their penultimate semester, but really they just want one last holiday together, with no school and no friends and no family taking up all their time.
Their first year, Jess and Joe wrote long emails and spent hours on the phone. At Christmas then, Jess came to visit Jules three times over the fortnight-long holiday and each time she spent the first quarter hour talking about what it was like to kiss him, and how giddy she was, and how wonderful she felt when he got along with her parents.
During the summer hols, Jules expected the same thing, but Jess came over more and talked about Joe less. They went back to school early for practice and Joe didn't even come to the airport.
Jules didn't find out why until the next Christmas. Jess talked a lot about other things, but she liked to keep her emotions to herself, when they were really strong--Jules thinks it's because she couldn't tell her parents how much she loved football, and spent too many years talking to the Becks poster on the wall, which now hangs on the door to their en suite--but she never mentioned Joe on her own and when Jules brought him up, she'd just mention little things, old news mostly, and then right away go do her homework or suddenly have to run down the hall to talk to one of their team mates or ask Jules if she'd heard from Mel lately.
Back home for their second Christmas during university, Jess spent almost all her free time with Jules, and their families had dinner together a couple of times, and Jules didn't see Joe show up anywhere, not once.
Jess stayed over New Years Eve, and Jules' parents had plans with friends and were gone all night. Jules bought champagne and chocolates, Jess brought food her mother had made for them (a special treat, because Jules had become quite fond of Indian, and takeaway just wasn't the same as fresh, homemade), and they spent the night with the telly on and all the lights turned off, watching Never Mind the Buzzcocks and getting most of their answers wrong.
In the flickering semi-darkness, Jess drank too much and talked too fast and right after midnight Jules sat on the floor, tugged Jess down next to her, and gave her the last of the champagne.
"What happened with Joe?" she asked, and kept her voice quiet. It was an effort, but Jess could be so shy, so skittish sometimes. Jess made a noise, a little like a whimper, and put her head on Jules' thigh.
"He found someone new," Jess said. She sniffed and scrubbed the side of her face with the palm of her hand. "Some local girl, another footie player. She coaches little kids, and they're going to lead the summer league together, and she's Irish too."
Jess sobbed, wrapped her arms around Jules' leg, and buried her face in her jeans. It took awhile for the hot tears to soak through, and Jules didn't really know what to do, so she rubbed Jess' back and listened to her try to choke down the noises she made while she cried.
When her shoulders stopped shaking and she sniffled more than gasped for air, Jules hooked an arm around her waist and helped her sit up. Her face was wet, her cheeks and nose and temples flushed a dark red, and her nose ran a little. She sniffed hard, and rubbed her hands on her trousers.
Jules reached out and wiped away some of the tears with her knuckles. Jess smiled a little, her lips shaky, and Jules brushed the hair off of her face. The strands were wet from the tears and Jules tucked them behind Jess' ears, and leaned forward a little.
"He's a wanker if he thinks he can find better," he said.
Jess shook her head, but her smile widened and her mouth stopped trembling. "He's alright," she said. "Worst thing was I thought he was worth it, you know, but he wasn't."
"Worth what?" Jules asked. "Breaking the news to your family that you were dating your goreh ex-coach who helped you get a scholarship to another country to play football and took you away from them?" Jess' mum had gotten better about everything, but Jules still sometimes liked to shock her, and she loved to tease.
"Well yeah." Jess twisted her fingers together. "And that fight with you, I thought you hated me for trying to kiss him, I couldn't have stood it if we'd stopped being friends."
Jess sighed, and her breath was warm when it hit Jules' cheek. She realized she was still leaning forward, and Jess leaned forward as well; her fingers were still in Jess' hair where it lay on her shoulder, and Jess's eyes were damp, and looked wider and darker than before. Jules thought she could see stars and planets and maybe the entire universe if she looked hard enough.
Jess hiccupped, leaned closer still, and kissed Jules, full on the mouth (a little to the left, because her balance was off, and she had to grab Jules' hips to keep from falling over). She tasted good, a little like chocolate and champagne, a lot like salt on her lips.
Jules pulled back to breathe and Jess wobbled a little. She'd risen to her knees, and Jules put her hands on Jess' arms to steady her.
"Yeah." Jess' dark skin looked good when she blushed. "Sorry."
Jules could have passed it off as too much champagne. She could have told Jess not to worry about it, all girls kissed their best mate at least once, Jess was just a little older than most. She could have pretended to be pissed too (and she was a little, but not nearly as much, she'd held back from the champagne on purpose so she could get Jess talking).
She didn't do any of those things. Instead she pulled Jess down, her hands tight on her arms, and kissed her. It took Jess a second to catch on, but when she kissed back, it was even better than the first time.
Jules doesn't think about the past very often, and she tries not to think about the future much either. She'll choose a team and go pro, and she really wants Jess to come too, but that's not so certain. What is clear is she's had a good time going along for the ride, and she thinks that philosophy will continue to hold her in good stead.
Jess is out buying sweets (not chocolates, because American chocolates aren't nearly as good as British and Jules' mum promised she'd send a whole box full for the holiday), and Jules uses the alone time to wrap the presents she bought for Jess.
She doesn't bother with fancy bows or shiny ribbon, just steals some of the pretty paper Jess bought and uses lots of tape. They look sloppy in the end, but everything is covered, and Jess never minds that the gifts she gives Jules look so much better than the ones she gets in return.
Jules puts on Christmas music, only songs which sound modern and upbeat. Jess really likes choral performances of traditional carols, but they drag and make Jules want to fall asleep. She'd rather it made her want to dance, which she does all around the room.
She keeps dancing when the door opens and Jess comes in, laden down with bags and packages.
"Picked up the mail while I was out," she says. It's a hassle to get anything larger than a postcard, the dorm mailboxes are tiny, and they just leave little slips of paper you have to take to the front desk to get your things.
Jules shimmies over and grabs the larger package out of Jess' arms. She leans in for a quick kiss while she does so, and tastes the remnants of too-sweet coffee flavoured with cinnamon.
"No Starbucks for me?" she teases and wiggles her way to their bed. They've pushed together the two twin beds and put a big sheet over both the mattresses so it's like one large, more or less comfortable, bed. Their duvet is colourful, a gift to Jess from her mother, and matches the rows of brightly coloured saris Jess sticks in her closet, even though she mostly lives in trackie bottoms and trainers, just like Jules.
"Yeah, I told you you'd love coffee someday." Jess laughs and juggles the remaining bags and package and drops the whole lot onto the bed when she can't get a good grip on it.
Jules laughs back, grabs Jess' hands, and dances her around the room. It's an ongoing joke, how Jess has Americanized her drinks, and how Jules still loves tea best--and not ice cold like the other girls always drink when they go out to eat after practice.
"What'd you buy me?" Jules asks. She stops dancing and stands too close, invades Jess' personal space. Jess always buttons the top button of her jacket and none of the others, which Jules thinks is a little weird, but it does make it easy to snake her hands inside, one around Jess' waist, the other under her shirt so she can touch warm bare skin.
"What makes you think I went all the way to the shops to get something for you?" Jess teases, and giggles. Jules curls her hands, scrapes her blunt nails along the top of Jess' trousers, and Jess stops laughing and shudders. She scoots closer, twines her arms around Jules' neck, and presses their bodies together. Jules likes it a lot.
"You didn't buy me anything?" Jules can't even fake the pout, she's so happy to have Jess in her arms, alone for the holidays, warm and inviting. Jess grins, a Cheshire cat smile, and kisses Jules hard and fast.
"Maybe a little something," she says and tugs Jules toward the bed, but doesn't let go and doesn't move away. If anything, she pulls their bodies together tighter, and even though all the lights are on and it's daylight and Christmas is still a week away, Jules just knows it's going to be the best holiday ever, even if it's not exactly like Christmas.
Disclaimer: Kintop Pictures, and others, own the characters.
Written for: Alice in Stonyland in the Yuletide 2005 Challenge
Written for: Alice in Stonyland in the Yuletide 2005 Challenge