Jasper blinked in the gray light that filtered around the edges of the navy bedroom curtains. His nose was cold.
The air outside the covers was frigid. Damn. Jasper knew he should get up and bump the thermostat a few degrees, but the thought of padding across the cold wood floors was not appealing.
He snuggled more closely to the man at his back. Timothy. A young, thin, whip of a man. Not the sort Jasper ever thought he would end up with, but here they were, two month’s in, and Timothy hadn’t run screaming from the ghosts yet.
The pillow felt like heaven, the comforter held in the heat of two exothermic men. Timothy’s half mast erection felt like heaven, too. Jasper smiled, and burrowed in, like an animal in its den, and sighed. This was what contentment felt like.
At least the coffee was on a timer. He would get up when the smell hit his nose.
Which made him realize, that beneath the old scent of incense and beeswax from his altar, and the slight pong from last night’s sex, he smelled…cinnamon?
“What the…?” he whispered.
“Huh?” Timothy murmured into his neck. “Summ’in wrong?”
“Go back to sleep.”
Timothy relaxed again, his breathing even. Jasper didn’t think he’d actually woken up at all.
He heard a thunk from the kitchen, and woke up all the way.
“Damn,” he whispered, easing out of the covers and feeling around for the socks he’d discarded on the floor the night before. He really should get slippers, but the thought made him feel like an old man. He’d be shuffling about soon enough. Next came sweatpants, chucked on the chair next to the bed. Pulling a sweatshirt over his head, he paused as he reached the bedroom door.
Should he wake Timothy for back up?
He listened. Timothy’s breathing. The gurgle of the coffee pot, finally. And a clicking sound he didn’t recognize. No. He did.
Someone was using a whisk in his grandma’s favorite Pyrex mixing bowl. Red on the outside, white inside, with one tiny chip on the rim.
Nanna’s kitchen. A red and white marvel smelling of cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, and coffee.
The red of the curtains was echoed in the squat salt and pepper shakers, and the sugar, tea, and flour canisters set on the long, gleaming white formica of the kitchen counter. Nanna was at the ancient white stove, a hulking brute with a black, cast iron griddle in the center of four burners. Black knobs. Black oven door handle. White shelf above the range that held her most used spices. A tray of cookies sat nestled in the dinged and scarred metal sheet, balanced on the griddle, waiting to go in. She tugged the heavy door open, it groaned. She slid the tray into the hissing, flaming maw of the oven, and banged the door shut again.
A black rack of battered copper pots and cast iron pans hung overhead. That rack terrified Jasper. He’d felt how heavy the pans were one day, when Nanna let him “help” her transfer the pan from one burner to another. The pans were too heavy to pick up one handed for Nanna, and impossible for him to lift at all, boosted on the white step stool. Jasper carefully cut big sun shapes from the dough that Nanna had rolled out. That was his job. He’d helped mix ingredients in the red Pyrex mixing bowl, and kneaded the dough until it got too tough for his small hands.
“What are the suns for?” Jasper asked. “Sarah says her cookies are trees and Santas.”
Nanna wiped her hands on her plaid apron and sat across from him at the table. Her hair was salt and peppery and her body under the black slacks and red blouse was lush and comfortable looking.
“We make suns for the Solstice,” she replied. “You remember what the Solstice is?”
Jasper thought a moment, carefully lifting a big sun out from the surrounding dough. It was tricky to get the cookie part free without tearing off any of the pointed rays. She had told him stories. He remembered that.
“You said something about the sun getting tired and going to sleep, then waking up again? Like…it took a nap?” He didn’t really understand. Some days, the sun was there, other days, it wasn’t, though it was still lighter than at night, when the sun was really asleep.
Nanna nodded, and helped cut out more cookies.
“That’s just so,” she said. “Like everything else in the world, the sun gets tired sometimes.”
Jasper turned. Timothy, blond hair rumpled and beautiful, darker stubble shadowing the edges of his jaw, stood in the kitchen doorway, zipping up a purple hoodie. Beneath his soft, black, sleep pants, his pale feet were bare.
Gods. Jasper still felt so massive and ungainly around the man. He felt the full weight of himself, all the muscle and fat that kept him tethered to the earth. Without his flesh, the ghosts who came to him for help might carry him away.
“What are you doing?” Timothy padded into the blue kitchen, and opened one of the cupboards Jasper had painted with scrolling morning glories two summers ago. “Is there coffee?”
Jasper held out his hand for the handmade mug with the pine tree carved into the heavy clay and tipped the pot until fragrant, dark brown liquid swirled out.
“Aren’t your feet freezing?”
Timothy just shrugged and leaned against the counter. “What are you doing?” he asked again.
Jasper looked at the counter, where he’d set out vanilla, cinnamon, and peppermint. He had just begun to measure out the flour into the red Pyrex bowl.
“Did I ever tell you about my Nanna?”
Timothy shook his head, and took a big slurp of coffee.
“What was she like?” he asked.
“She was great. I loved her a lot, but she died when I was eight, and things got kind of hard after that.”
Timothy blinked, and then looked around the kitchen. “Is she here?”
Jasper smiled. Amazing. A man who looked around his kitchen for ghosts instead of thinking Jasper was some sort of freak.
“Yeah. Yeah, she is. I heard her this morning. Smelled the cinnamon.”
“Huh. What’s that about?”
“I think she wants some cookies.”
It was easier for her to lift the sun stars out from the surrounding dough with her large, pale hands. Hands that could make anything. Hands that made flowers grow and sewed pants, and cooked things.
Hands that took care of him, and his sister, too. But somehow, Jasper knew inside his little chest that what he and Nanna had was something special.
“Have you noticed that it gets dark earlier right now?”
He nodded, and pressed the metal cookie cutter into the soft, brown dough.
“That’s because it’s almost time for the longest night, the night with the least amount of sun. It’s called the Solstice. That’s Latin. It means ‘sun stops’.”
“Stops? Like gives up?” Jasper snuck a piece of raw dough between his lips. This batch was peppermint. They’d make the cinnamon ones next.
“Yes. Stops, like gives up. So we make these cookies to encourage the sun to come back. To not give up. To rise again. To let it know that, even though it’s dark outside, we haven’t forgotten that it’s there.”
“Whenever you remember something, it means that it still exists in the world. Even if it’s just in your heart, or your thoughts. Whether we can see a thing, or a person, or not, memory keeps it alive.”
She smiled her beautiful smile at Jasper. It lit up the entirety of her soft face.
“So, we make these cookies to remember the sun. And we eat them, and laugh, and enjoy one another, and the sun hears us, and comes back to us.”
“So I forgot that today is Solstice Eve. It was her favorite holiday. She celebrated both solstices, actually. Winter and Summer. We always made fresh lemonade for that one.”
A pang gripped at his heart, and he felt her brush by, smelling of Ivory soap. He shook himself, and went back to sifting flour into the bowl, cranking Nanna’s old machine until the flour drifted down in pristine clouds.
“She died Solstice day.”
Timothy set his coffee mug on the counter, walked over, and wrapped his arms around Jasper’s belly from behind.
“It’s nice that you loved her so much,” Timothy said. Jasper could feel the buzz of his lips on his back. It felt good. So did his arms. Jasper leaned back a little. Timothy squeezed him more tightly.
Despite all the big, burly men Jasper had been with, slender Timothy was turning out to be the most solid.
“Yeah.” He swallowed. Cleared his throat. “So, she had this thing about baking sun cookies for Solstice, to encourage the sun to come back.”
Timothy released him, and picked up his coffee mug again.
“So you’re making cookies?”
Jasper looked at him over his shoulder and smiled. “Yeah. So I’m making cookies. I’ve been falling down on the job these past few years. It’s a wonder the sun came back at all.”
“Why do you think she wanted cookies this year?”
“I’m not sure. I figured she’d moved on all the way. She was never one to need much help in life, that’s for sure.”
Jasper patted the sides of the metal sifter, shaking the last of the flour into the bowl. He paused to listen for a moment. He didn’t hear her voice, but she was definitely still in the room.
What is it, Nanna? Why did you come visit me? Do you need something?
Love you, she whispered. Love.
Tears welled up in Jasper’s eyes, just for a moment.
“Huh,” he said, then looked up into Timothy’s eyes. “I think she wanted to meet you.”
“Wow. Well, hello then… What’s her name?”
Jasper smiled again. “Nanna. I always called her Nanna.”
“Hello then, Nanna. Jasper here is going to teach me how to make cookies. Is that okay?”
Jasper watched as Timothy’s eyes grew wide. “Holy shit! I just felt something!”
“Like someone just squeezed my hand.”
“Good. That means she likes you. Now, pour me a cup of coffee, will you? And find the rolling pin.”
Warm cookies, fresh from the oven. Nothing ever smelled so good. It took every last bit of Jasper’s willpower to not snatch one up.
“Ah, ah, ah!” Nanna shook a finger at him. “You have to wait two more minutes until they’re cool. Besides, we need to save them for the party tonight.”
“Not all of them,” Jasper insisted.
“No. Not all of them,” she smiled.
She poured him out a cup of chamomile tea from a fat, white pot, into his favorite red cup. The one with a strawberry hiding at the bottom. Then she set out two small white plates, one in front of Jasper, and one in front of her seat at the kitchen table.
“Okay. They should be cool enough now. You sure you don’t want to wait until we ice them?”
Shaking his head, he reached for the nearest sun, and held it up to his nose, inhaling peppermint and sugar.
Then he bit in. It crumbled past his teeth onto his tongue. Sweet. Fragrant. Just the right amount of crisp around the edges and slightly soft in the center.
“This is the best cookie I’ve ever tasted,” he said.
“Well done, Jasper.”
She raised her own cookie, reaching out toward his. It took him a second to understand what she wanted. He tapped the edge of his cookie on the edge of hers.
“To the sun,” she said.
“To the sun,” Jasper said, raising his cookie toward Timothy. Timothy raised his own.
“To the sun.”
They each took a bite, and Timothy’s eyes got wide again.
“Oh my God, that’s good!”
Jasper took another bite. He had to agree.
“Nanna’s cookies were always the best.”
“Well then, thanks, Nanna!” Timothy raised his coffee mug to the air and took a deep swallow before shoving the rest of the sun cookie in his mouth.
The scent of Ivory soap increased. Jasper felt her ghostly hand upon his shoulder.
I remember you, Nanna. I will always remember you.
Then he leaned across the table, and kissed the crumbs off Timothy’s gorgeous lips.
“Happy Solstice, baby.”
Winter Solstice, 2017
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