A Walk Through Fire: The Chanukah Scene
“Asher, darling come here, will you?”
Ash followed Drew’s grandmother into the kitchen, where the wonderful aromas of frying onions and roasting chicken enveloped him, then through to the spacious dining room, where a large table was set with beautiful china and crystal.
“Do you need help with something Esther?” He smiled down at the tiny woman who stood before him. He’d reach into the sky and grab the moon for her if she asked. And even if she didn’t ask, there was nothing Ash wouldn’t do for her. No one in the world meant more to him than Esther. Except for perhaps Drew.
Thinking of Drew and the way they woke up this morning sent a flush of heat through him. Their lovemaking had been extra sweet; perhaps it was because they’d been together six months now and it only seemed to be getting better and better.
“I wanted you to help me set up the menorah for the candle lighting tonight.” She indicated the large bronze candelabra set in the center of the dining room table.
Ash fidgeted, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know much about the holiday. We didn’t learn much about other religions growing up. Just that we’d go to hell if we didn’t believe in what the teachers and the preachers were telling us.”
Esther squeezed his arm. “That’s why I wanted you to do this with me. You’re part of our family now, Asher. That means you celebrate our holidays. I’m not asking you to give up what you believe in, merely join our traditions with yours.”
“I’m more than happy to celebrate Chanukah. Believe me, as I’ve said before, Santa never stopped by our house growing up.”
“Nana, what are you up to?” Drew strolled in, a smile lighting up his face when he saw Ash. “Are you sneaking off with my guy?” He slipped his arm around Ash’s waist and Ash drew him closer. When had the mere touch of this man become so important to him that he wasn’t complete without him near? Ash leaned into Drew, soaking in his warmth. He no longer questioned his right to be this happy.
“If I were ever to leave you, this is the only place I’d go. This is home to me. I can’t explain it, but—”
“Shh.” Esther stood watching them and wiped her eyes with the corner of her flowered apron. “You don’t need to explain anything. What you said right now, about this being your home, means everything to me. You mean everything to me, my darling boy. I love you like you were born to me.”
He slipped his arm from around Drew’s waist to enfold Esther in a hug. “I love you too.”
Hopefully, there would be many more years of embraces and joy with this remarkable woman. He let her go and watched her give Drew a loving kiss on the cheek.
“Now, Drew knows what to do, so you need to learn so you can do this at home together. Get the candles from the breakfront, please, Drew.”
He produced a box of candles and a matchbook and handed them to Esther. “Aren’t we going to wait for Rachel and Mike?”
Esther shook her head as she opened the box “They’re coming here for dinner, but are doing the candle lighting at his parent’s house tonight.” She pulled out two candles and handed them to Ash.
“What do I do with these?” The thin twisted candles rolled between his fingers, their waxy lengths fragile.
“Come.” Esther took him by the hand and led him to the table. “Put one on the far right side and then light this second one.”
Drew struck the match and lit the wick on the candle Ash held. Their eyes met over the flame and he smiled. “Thanks.”
“Light the one already in the menorah and then place this one in the middle.”
Ash followed her orders obediently and soon both candles flames were dancing, their shadows flickering against the walls as Esther recited a prayer in Hebrew. After she finished, her eyes were wet but a smile lit up her face.
“Nana you cry every time you light the candles.” Drew hugged her and handed her a tissue.
She sniffled. “I used to pray that your children find your happiness. Now I pray that I live to see you all married and with children.” After tucking the tissue into her sleeve, she slipped her arm through Ash’s and they stood for a moment looking at the candles. A sense of peace stole over Ash. He truly meant it when he said this place was home to him. While he loved his apartment, even more so now that Drew lived there, memories of his former life, the pain, and loneliness he’d endured for years followed him through those hallways.
Here, nothing lived but love and acceptance. These walls sheltered him, keeping the demons of his past at bay. When he came here, he could breathe, simple as that.
“Do you know what the story of Chanukah stands for, Asher?” Esther led them back into the homey kitchen, where once again they were surrounded by mouth-watering aromas of the impending dinner. She took a bowl from the refrigerator and stirred it, then set it down on the counter next to the stove. “Come help me, while we talk.”
Drew winked. “You’ll get to taste everything as it’s cooked. Best spot in the house.”
Before he joined Esther at the stove, Ash leaned down and kissed Drew. “I love you, baby. Did I tell you that today?”
“You might have this morning. Afterward.” The pale skin on Drew’s neck flushed as Ash pressed a quick kiss to the rapid pulse beating at his throat.
“I’ll make sure to tell you again tonight. Afterward.” He smiled into Drew’s pale green eyes, loving how they gleamed with desire.
“I’ll hold you to it.”
Esther had been busy at the stove, drop heaping spoonfuls of a potato-onion mixture into the hot oil. They smelled like heaven.
“Take the platter, sweetheart, and put some paper towels on it to soak up the oil, please.”
Ash followed her instructions and watched as she deftly flipped the pancakes. When they were done, she slid them onto the platter and spooned more into the hot oil. It sizzled and splattered in the cast iron pan.
Ash couldn’t resist taking a bite of the crunchy fried pancakes. They were crisp on the outside, soft inside with just the right flavoring of saltiness.
“Oh Esther, these are amazing.” He snuck another one, finishing it off in one delicious bite.
“Do you know the story behind the holiday? Here you try it now.” She handed him the spatula and stood back.
“Not really. Something about eight days is all I know.” Ashamed at his ignorance, Ash concentrated on the frying pan, making sure he didn’t let the pancakes burn.
“Don’t be embarrassed. It’s not a major religious holiday. But we love to celebrate it because it symbolizes hope and a miracle.”
He slid the crusty pancakes on the second layer of paper toweling Esther had laid over the first batch, sprinkled on salt the way he’s seen her do, and waited for her to taste them.
“Delicious,” she proclaimed, then, taking the platter in one hand and his arm in another, she walked back to the table and sat down next to Drew. “I bring it up, Asher because the holiday reminds me of you.”
“Of me?” He let out a self-conscious laugh. “How so?”
“Because I’ve witnessed your struggle this past year and saw how you, with the help of my Drew, never gave up hope.” Her soft hand, mottled with age-spots came to rest upon his. “And like the oil, the Maccabees found that burned for those eight nights was a miracle, so is the love you have found with my grandson.”
A year ago, it would have been impossible for Ash to imagine himself sitting here, part of a family, in love with a man who not only loved him back but changed the way Ash looked at life. Though the guilt still tore at him and sent him into darkness, those times were less frequent now, and he could talk about them. Holding Drew at night, having someone to whisper his fears to, who understood him and loved him unconditionally was his miracle.
“You may be right, I never thought of it that way.”
With a self-satisfied smile, Esther patted his hand. The front door opened, heralding the arrival of Rachel and Mike. As she stood to greet them, she whispered to him. “I know I’m right.”
* * * *
Later that night after they returned home, Drew pulled Ash into their bedroom, shutting the door on a very unhappy cat. “Make love to me. I’ve been dying for you all night.
Ash laughed as he stripped off his clothes. “I hope he doesn’t take it out on my furniture.”
“Is that all you can think about? The furniture?” Drew cocked a dark brow and stroked his erection. “Perhaps you aren’t that interested—”
Drew wasn’t able to finish his sentence as Ash tackled him to the bed, holding him down. “Never say or think that.” Ash pressed his lips to Drew’s and as their tongues met in an eager slide, Drew fell into the sweetness of their kiss, Ash’s mouth hot and hungry across his own. “You are everything to me. There could never be anyone else.”
Though his body had become so dearly familiar to Drew, tonight Ash’s touch was somehow different; stronger and surer, he knew exactly where to press and stroke with his fingers until Drew writhed, crying out for release
The bed creaked in a slow and steady rhythm as Ash continued to thrust into Drew. Drew lifted his knees, placing them over Ash’s shoulders to slide Ash even further into his body.
A fine sheen of sweat gilded their naked bodies as they moved together until Drew could no longer hold back and came with a harsh cry. Ash followed him a moment later, filling Drew deep inside with his warmth. They lay plastered together, chests heaving and breaths mingling in the cooling air. Drew loved these quiet moments after they’d both climaxed; neither of them wanted to move and break the skin to skin contact.
He pressed his lips to Ash’s shoulder, thinking back upon the night and the holiday. So many years he’d spent alone or at bars making small talk with people; strangers he never had any intention of seeing again. But they weren’t wasted years, at least he didn’t believe them to be so. Like Rachel once said, everything happens for a reason, even the mistakes you made were a pathway toward your final destination.
Ash kissed his hair and drew him into a tight embrace. It seemed he too had a need for nestling and holding on tonight. “What’re you thinking about, baby?”
“I’m thinking about you and me.” Drew brushed the hair from Ash’s forehead to gaze into his glittering, diamond-bright eyes. “And miracles.”