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"Warm fireplace. Cake. Feel better?"

"I feel like it's easier to tell you important stuff now."

"While you're distracted by knitting? And I thought I told you you couldn't knit me a Game Boy. What exactly are you making, then? Wait, don't spoil the -- "

"Gamecube."

" -- surprise. You think you can knit a Gamecube in a week?"

"I knit the fireplace in a month, didn't I?"

"You did. But maybe that's why it only warms the side that's not facing the fire. I wish you had taken more time, and asked for my guidance."

"You told me not to spoil the surprise, when I was making it."

"Ah, fair enough. I also told you I didn't need anything for Christmas besides you."

"True. It's..."

"You're more terse than usual. I thought maybe you'd be more willing to tell me what's up."

"And you're more talkative. More insistent. I thought you said you would give me time."

"I...yeah. I did. But you said you could tell me once we were at the fire. And we're done with the cake now."

"Well maybe I don't enjoy being insisted at. Maybe I feel like I'm backed up against the kitchen counter again."

"I'm sorry."

"It's alright."

"Is it?"

"It's always alright. To be honest. I'm sorry if I come off as standoffish. Maybe what I keep doing is -- it's like I want to be in control of the situation before I feel comfortable. Seems kind of sordid, really. Like I want to dominate the room before I feel safe. And I don't have to, right? Not here. Not with you. Old habits die hard, old scars are still visible. I had to be the most useful person in the room so that I could deflect from the things I was sensitive about. I have to be the most useful person to you so that...so that I never have to tell you, out loud, that I love you."

"But you say it now."

"Easier said now than before. Maybe...it was a good thing for you to confront me about this. Or else I might never have said all this, and I'd still be in the kitchen washing dishes, or worrying about the chipped wood on the cabinet, or planning dinner for tomorrow, or something. Mind you I'm not going to stop looking for chores to do -- "

"Oh yes you are. I'm doing the vacuuming from now on."

"Oh no you're not. I knit that thing, I'm the only one who knows how to work it."

"Fine. Dusting then. And garbage. And washing dishes."

"As you wish! I'm reluctant to give up any chores but I suppose I must, if you insist."

"You sound like a Jewish mother."

"I'm not TRYING to get you to do the chores. I don't have to try to get you to do anything! You decide what you want to do and you do it, come hell or high water. I'm surprised you haven't taken the chores away from me already."

"I have a job and you don't."

"Hey, knitting is a job. I'm making my share of the rent from this."

"Yeah, people will pay a high price for your knitcraft. Never figured out why."

"And I didn't have to get you to...Okay. This is what I wanted to tell you for a while. What's been eating me. Not just my life up to this point, or...I mean that's the biggest part of it, but -- but it's like I said, I feel like there's a big wall between me an accepting anyone's affection, like somehow I still can't take it into my heart, still can't act on it without thinking I've screwed up, I said something wrong, everyone is silently making fun of me, I shouldn't be talking to anyone, if I call even my closest friends on the phone I'll just be annoying them, and -- and I'm really embarrased and ashamed about the whole thing because it's like no matter what I do I can't trust anyone to the level that they proved they deserved over and over again. I don't know why this happens, why I hear someone say I'm a good friend to have around and immediately think, no, that can't be."

"If I had to guess -- "

"I'm not finished talking. This is your straight answer: I've been running myself ragged with the chores as a form of self-harm because I was ashamed that I couldn't fully accept your love. I wouldn't do that to myself if it was anyone else, but you -- I know you love me. So if I'm thinking I still can't trust you, that's my fault and I'm just a paranoid Jerk who doesn't deserve -- "

"Don't tell me about deserving. I know what you deserve."

"What, then?"

"Respect. Same as anyone else."

"Yeah. Well. That's what I like about you, day by day. That unwavering commitment to respect. Sometimes strident, sometimes forgiving. Always defending people from unjust treatment and unfair characterizations. That was why I stuck with you, years ago. Because of one thing you did, one word you spoke at the first moment of our meeting."

"Just one word? What did I say?"

"My name."

"Was it that hard?"

"Some people were having trouble. As in, they weren't bothering to try. And when I say some people I mean most people. Some friends I had, they took an entire year to get it. But you? Just a moment. Just a moment, even when I knew you knew my old name. And yet you spoke the true one without a moment of hesitation or a flicker of mockery in your eyes. And it was only then that the rest of my friends started to get it. And if anyone spoke the old name you shut them down. Even Professor Von Higgins. Nobody had ever stood up to Von Higgins before. So, you know, it's not entirely surprising that I was following you around like a loyal dog for the last three years of our education."

"And then you followed me home, har har har."

"I guess I'm still a loyal dog. Too eager to please. But dogs have unconditional love, don't they? And I have...paranoia in my way. I have been ashamed of it for so long. To treat someone like you, of all people, with disrespect. So yeah. That's why I've been keeping my mouth shut. Do you get it now?"

"It's a lot to think about. It puts a lot of things in perspective. Thank you for being willing to tell me about this, though."

"No problem."

"Really?"

"No. Lots problem. But here with you and now at the fire, it's a lot easier."

"I'm glad I could be of service. Then and now. For what it's worth...when I say everyone deserves respect, I mean you deserve to treat yourself with respect as well. No, more than that. You deserve to treat yourself with kindness. To forgive your mistakes, if you know you will try to atone for them and avoid making them again. To believe that you can do so. To believe in yourself, as you believed in me. Look -- either my memory is faulty or yours is, but the way I remember it, I didn't start advocating respect for everyone until after we met. The way I remember it, before we met I was righteous, not kind or respectful. I was being an energetic jerk, demanding justice without regard to respecting the personal space and feelings of others -- that was me being strident."

"A strident student. I remember when you almost pushed a guy into the pond for saying he'd vote for Ronald Blump."

"Exactly. Damn near willing to be violent in defense of my principles. Willing to burn any bridge for them, and I burned a fair few, because I didn't value my friendship with anyone enough to avoid insulting them for a transgression. I didn't think any of my friends actually liked me enough that keeping them around was worth compromising my principles. But then I had an argument about my behavior with Gamaliel where I said the Greater Good was worth small sacrifices and he said no, if you don't build the Greater Good out of the Lesser Good then the Greater Good is hollow. He said I was being a jerk, that the only lasting peace comes from using peace as a method. I didn't get it until I thought about you, from what little I had seen of you. You were a gentle soul and sad. You had good advice for others even when they weren't being respectful. I thought you were a doormat -- "

"Maybe I was."

" -- But then I decided to shut my mouth for once and observe. And everyone seemed more easygoing around you even if they weren't exactly being respectful. As if your presence was like a warm hearth fire. And I thought, damn, nobody's calling this kid by their actual name, and neither did I, and they deserve that much at least. So that was why I sidled up to you in the first place. So that you could hear your name spoken without hesitation."

"It was hard after all?"

"No! It was a choice. Not hard. Just something I had to decide to do. And we both benefitted from it, didn't we? You don't put up with shit now and I don't give people shit for the small things -- "

"I thought the guy in the express lane with the twenty-three items was a small thing."

"In the grand scheme of things, I guess. But you forgave me for yelling at that guy. You forgave me a lot of things...and eventually I figured out how to forgive myself."

"Of what?"

"Of the same problem you have. The wall and the gate. Look, both of us grew up without friends, right? That's a deep scar. And the kind of scar you get on your soul when you're a kid, it never heals completely, because your soul is still growing around it. In some ways the wound becomes a part of you. It never goes away entirely. I'm not trying to be a downer here, I'm just saying it's not your fault. Alright? You didn't build the wall. I didn't build mine. I would never judge you, nor harshly nor at all, for finding it still difficult to believe you are loved. You had twenty one years of solitude versus 6 years with me. It will take time to balance the years of your grief with years of peace. I will give you all the time you need."

"Now there's a Christmas gift."

"Also I will give you new knitting needles. Yours appear to be falling apart."

"And so is all my work along with it. Damn! I knit too fast and this is what I get."

"You get a valuable conversation?"

"I...yeah, that's fair."

"Let's say I knit you a valuable conversation."

"Oh come on. You don't knit a conversation, you sing it. It's a duet."

"Call-and-response, more like. Hey. Sable?"

"Hm?"

"I love you."

"I know it. I think I'm beginning to get it. Hey. Jade?"

"Hmmmmmm?"

"I love you. I'm sorry I couldn't say it earlier."

"Worry not, my dear. Nor be ashamed when I tell you that all this self-harm should never have been necessary. I have always known that you love me. I am only glad, now, that you feel safe enough at last to say it. And perhaps someday to say it -- "

"I love you."

" -- again. See, you're getting it! And now the fire is dead. I thought for sure the stone logs would last for another few hours. Oh, well, that's what we get for buying them from CoastCaw instead of making them. To bed, then."

"I would like to say I will be at work for a few hours longer, but I guess my needles have spoken. And I ought to relax for once. And come to bed at the same time as you."

"That's what I like to hear."

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