When the party thinned out, Ben found Ryan, and they escaped from the cheerful uproar into the dark courtyard where the white tree with its single red bauble glowed and glittered.
Ben poked the bauble with a fingertip and watched it swing back and forth. “The first time I saw this, I wondered if it was a signal.”
“I knew you were a clever man.”
“You mean it is a signal?”
“Of course. It’s our way to say that everyone is welcome, whether you’re like everyone else or one of a kind, whether you’re in a crowd or on your own. That’s what hospitality is all about. We always make room for one more. Or two.”
Ben swallowed past the lump in his throat. He reached for Ryan and smiled when Ryan leaned against him with a deep sigh. “Tired?”
“You said it. I could happily sleep standing here.”
“Recovering from exposure isn’t pleasant. And if you fall asleep right now, you’d miss… this.” He didn’t give Ryan a chance to ask. He wrapped his arm around Ryan’s shoulders, drew him close, and kissed him.
Ryan’s lips were dry, and a little rough, but he leaned into Ben’s hold and kissed him back, sharing the taste of cinnamon and custard, and the elusive flavour of Earl Grey tea.
It was the most perfect end to a perfect day.
Ben hadn’t forgotten that they stood in front of a lit Christmas tree, that anyone who cared to peer out into the courtyard could see them, wrapped around each other.
He didn’t mind.