A Very English Christmas: Chapter One


“It’s perfect.”

They stood at the end of a little no-exit suburban street that backed up to a narrow stretch of land running along the railway tracks. Isaac’s heart thumped. David was right—it was perfect.

“The garage would be just the right size,” David added.

“It would. It’s almost as big as the house.” Isaac peered around. “It’s quieter here at the end of the street. Except for the train, I guess.”

David smiled slyly and leaned closer. His warm breath puffed over Isaac’s cheek. “But we don’t mind that particular noise, do we?”

Isaac flushed. Growing up in Zebulon, he’d dreamed of running away and riding a train all the way to the ocean. And on more than one icy Minnesota night, he’d pleasured himself to the train’s distant rumble.

After checking the time on his phone, David straightened the collar of his shirt beneath his jacket. “She should be here any minute.” His pale blue eyes were bright in the way they got when he was excited about something. He ran a hand through his thick, dark hair, fiddling with the bangs that fell over part of his forehead.

They both wore button-up shirts and nice pants, although Isaac wished he’d put on a sweater as he shivered in the gray December gloom. “For California, it sure gets cold here sometimes.”

David took Isaac’s hands and rubbed them with a smile. “It hasn’t even been a year yet, and we’re getting soft. Just think of how cold the outhouse must be in Zebulon today. June said they already have a foot of snow. Maybe I’ll get you some gloves for Christmas.”

Isaac arched a brow. “We said we wouldn’t buy each other anything. We need to save our money, or we’ll never be able to move out. The gloves I have are perfectly fine. When I remember to bring them, that is.” They both laughed.

“Yoo-hoo!” a woman’s voice called. “Are you the boys I talked to about the rental?”

An older, redheaded woman approached from down the street, and David waved. “Yes, that’s us.”

“I’m Margery Hunt.” She thrust out her hand, and David and Isaac introduced themselves. “Let me show you the place.” She turned back up the street.

“Isn’t it here?” Isaac pointed over his shoulder.

“Oh, are you interested in the house? I thought you answered the ad for the basement apartment.” She opened a notebook and held it at arm’s length, squinting.

“There must have been a mix-up,” David said. “We need a place with our own garage. We saw the rental sign out in front of the house and thought that was it.”

“That’s for rent too if you’d rather.” Margery scrawled something in her notebook. “The other house is divided into two apartments, but this one’s a single. Two bedrooms and no basement, although you do get the garage. Of course the rent is higher.”

Of course. Isaac’s stomach clenched. “How much higher?”

“Fifteen hundred a month.”

Isaac couldn’t believe his ears. “It’s fifteen hundred a month for the house?” They could afford that! They’d have to work hard, but—

“Sorry, kid. It’s fifteen hundred more. Three thousand a month, and that’s including utilities.”

“Oh,” Isaac said. He saw his own disappointment mirrored on David’s face.

“Want to see it anyway?” she asked.

“Sure,” David answered. To Isaac, he whispered, “Maybe it won’t be what we want inside anyway.”

“Maybe not.” Isaac threaded their fingers together, and they followed Margery.

And of course the house was just as darn perfect inside.

Despite the faded wallpaper and scuffed parquet floors, it was just what they needed. A regular-sized bedroom for them, a tiny bedroom where they could put a desk, a small kitchen, and a bathroom that needed new tiles and grouting. It wasn’t fancy, or big, but it could be theirs.

Isaac held tight to David’s hand as they peered around the good-sized garage where David could easily set up his workshop. There was even a storage shed in the backyard, which ended at the ridge before the railway tracks. It wasn’t as if it was their dream house or anything. It was way too small, and the neighbors were too close for that.

Still, it would be years before they could afford to buy a place of their own, with land and perhaps a barn for a workshop and a few animals. Isaac still had to finish his GED, and college would be four years if he decided to go.

Margery had kept up a steady stream of chatter as she toured them around. “So that’s about it. It’s a great starter home for a young couple. What do you do?”

“We’re both carpenters,” David answered. “Although Isaac goes to school as well. It’s an alternative school with flexible hours for students who are a little older.”

Isaac added, “I’m still an apprentice carpenter. David does the designing too.”

“Carpenters, hmm? That’s a good trade. Do you make furniture and such?”

David nodded. “I’ve been fortunate to stay very busy since we moved here. Word of mouth has been good.”

And fortunately for them, people in San Francisco were willing to pay huge amounts of money for custom furniture, cabinets, and fancy places to sit in the backyard called gazebos.

“Where are you boys from?” Margery asked.

“Minnesota,” David answered.

Isaac knew she could hear the German in their accents but didn’t explain any further. Most “English” people—as the Amish called anyone who lived in the modern world—were nice, although a few had treated Isaac and David like zoo animals once they found out they’d grown up Amish. Especially when they found out they’d lived in an ultraconservative sect that didn’t even have indoor plumbing and had hardly any contact with the outside world.

At least now Isaac and David had learned a lot and could usually get by without being endlessly confused.

“Minnesota, huh?” She smiled kindly. “I hail from Wisconsin originally. My husband’s people were from Modesto, so we ended up here in the Bay Area. Do you live in Dublin, or are you looking to move here from somewhere else?”

“Right now we’re living in the city with my brother Aaron and his wife Jen,” Isaac answered. “They have a town house in Bernal Heights. She’s a doctor, and my brother teaches math.” Why was he telling her that? Focus and get to the point. People don’t want your whole life story. “It’s been great living there, but we’d really like our own place somewhere a little quieter. We figured Dublin might be good since it’s the end of the BART line and we can still get into the city.” The online listing had said it was “steps” from the train station, although it was a fifteen-minute walk. But Isaac didn’t mind.

“So you own two houses on this street?” David asked.

“Three, including the one my husband and I live in.” She led them down the driveway and pointed to a bungalow with faded red trim and a fence that needed fixing. “It was his bright idea to buy these houses as rental properties years ago. I think it’s time to sell them and stop being landlords. He’s not convinced, even though his back has gotten so bad that he can’t do much of the handyman work around the places anymore. So, what do you think? Can you take the house? If you’ve got your references and such, I can get the ball rolling today.”

With shoulders slumping, Isaac and David shared a glance. Isaac said, “I think we’d better see the basement apartment.”


David stripped down to his briefs and stretched out on the bed with a sigh. He knew he had to let it go, but he couldn’t get the house out of his mind. Before they got their dream house, they needed to find a place that would do in the meantime. The cramped basement apartment Margery showed them was…fine. They’d have neighbors upstairs, though, and David would need to find a space to rent for his workshop.

He’d hoped that if they could find an affordable house to rent with a garage, he could save money on the workspace and get a tax write-off—which he wasn’t sure he quite understood, but it was apparently a benefit of working from your house. Most importantly, he could spend more time with Isaac.

Isaac had been working so hard between school and carpentry with David; if they could work from home, it would make it all so much easier. David loved the idea of not having to take crowded buses to his workshop.

Still, it didn’t seem worth it to move out of Aaron and Jen’s town house until the right place came up. Yet the more they looked, the more it seemed impossible to find anything in the Bay Area that was even in their ballpark. Even though he’d been putting away a bit every month to save for first and last months’ rent, it wasn’t enough.

Leaning a slim hip on the doorway to the adjoining bathroom, Isaac leered. “How you doin’?” He ran a hand over his sandy hair, which he kept short. After years with shaggy Amish haircuts, they both liked their hair neat and trimmed.

David waggled his eyebrows with a chuckle. They didn’t always understand the jokes on TV, but Isaac loved that one from the show about friends. Lifting his arms over his head and keeping them in place, David wriggled down a bit on the mattress.

Isaac’s eyes gleamed as he licked his lips. “Want it like that tonight?”

Copyright © Keira Andrews

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