Sam decides he’ll cook individual chicken breasts, rather than a whole turkey, because it makes more sense when he only needs to feed two people and besides his oven isn’t big enough for an entire bird. He’ll coat it with that spicy sauce Annie always makes appreciative noises over. He carries on like this, daydreaming about the meal and the presents and the wine selection, and napkins, and does Annie like sprouts? Sam has planned out almost the entire day before he realizes - he hasn’t actually asked her yet.
He gets her alone in a corridor on the way to lunch. “Annie, what are your plans for Christmas?”
She strolls along beside him, hands in the pockets of her waistcoat. She sounds cheerful, even though she must be just as tired as he is. There’s also a note of resignation in her tone, but that might be wishful thinking on Sam’s part. “I’m going to my parents’ house, same as every year. They like their traditions. We even have a schedule. Stockings, presents, turkey, Christmas pudding, fruit cake, and my Nan always makes these homemade mince pies with horrible dry pastry but everyone’s too polite to tell her…”
Sam turns in front of her, stops walking, gently takes her hands. “Do I get an invite?”
Her face falls. “Oh, um.”
Sam’s heart lurches. He’s made a terrible mistake, and now it’s going to be awkward. He is going to spend Christmas alone. He can’t intrude on a family occasion, even if he is Annie’s boyfriend. But Maya had been delighted when he’d offered to meet her parents, said it showed he was ready to take the next step in their relationship, and that made her optimistic about their future.
Annie squeezes his hands, swings them gently back and forth. “It’s…Don’t take this the wrong way, but…They wouldn’t like you. You’re still technically my boss, and my dad hates this job enough as it is, let alone if he hears I’m sleeping my way up the ranks.”
Sam is instantly indignant on her behalf. “But that’s not-!”
Annie shushes him, letting go of one of his hands to cup his jaw instead. “Of course it isn’t, but that’s what he’ll say.”
Sam ducks his head. His voice comes out a little higher-pitched than he’d like. “So your parents don’t know about me? Huh.” After three months of dating, Sam’s a little dismayed to hear this. And slightly annoyed at himself for being too busy to even ask. “Gene knows about you,” Sam says, pouting. Gene is the closest thing he has to a father, these days.
Annie laughs. “Yes, and he still seems to be shouting it for the world to hear, whenever he gets the opportunity. Anyone would think he’s proud you finally nabbed yourself a girlfriend. That, or monstrously jealous.” She snuggles in close, almost brushing their noses together, teasing him.
Sam shudders. “I hope not.” He leans his forehead against hers, a little too enthusiastically, and the slight knock is enough to remind them both that they’re at work and anyone could walk out into this corridor. They reluctantly let go of each other. Annie straightens his shirt and he tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, and then they carry on towards the canteen.
“Sorry, Sam. We’ll talk about this again later, okay? I don’t want you to be on your own.”
Sam breathes a sigh of relief and grins at her. She’s beautiful. He’s so glad he chose to stay.
They’re distracted by work and the topic doesn’t come up again for three days. In that time, Annie has thought about it some more and suggests Christmas with her family is tiresome anyway. It’ll be nice to do something different, make a change. Sam rubs his hands together gleefully and promises her a Christmas feast to remember.
He overdoes it. Annie unbuttons her cardigan and stretches out on his couch, toeing off her shoes and rubbing her full stomach. “I feel sick,” she moans, “that was too good.”
Sam smirks. “So, compliments to the chef, then?” He leans over the back of the sofa and attempts to tickle her.
She slaps his hand away. “Yes, you smug little man.”
He curls up and clings to the top of the settee and kicks his toes against it like a little kid. It hurts his ribs but he’s too happy to care. He’s also a bit tipsy, having consumed a generous amount of wine along with the meat and seven different kinds of vegetables. Annie, it turns out, does not usually like sprouts, but she just gave Sam’s a try and cleared her plate without comment, so Sam considers that a success. Buoyed up by this achievement, he puts his feet on the floor again and pushes up with his arms, vaulting over the arm of the couch. Annie squeals and lifts her legs out of his way. He lands arse-first, provoking an ominous creak of springs and floorboards.
“You’re mad,” she complains, attempting to kick at his leg but mostly settling her feet in his lap.
“And this is news?” Sam wiggles his eyebrows at her.
Annie tucks her forearm over her face. “Sit still for a bit, while I digest things.”
Sam shrugs, hyperactive and needing an outlet. He grabs the remote and sticks the telly on, but as expected the choice of programming is nothing he hasn’t seen before, back in the future on UK Gold. He makes do with Top of the Pops for awhile, but he has Annie’s stockinged feet resting on his thigh and he’s more interested in rubbing her soles than watching the box. Annie sighs, stretches out further, and Sam can’t help looking at her fondly. She hasn’t worn a special dress for the occasion, and that’s fine by him, when he gets to peek at her bra between the buttons where her sunny-yellow blouse has fallen open, a glimpse of her soft thighs under her less-than-knee-length skirt. She’s bucking more than one tradition today, it seems.
Annie peeks at him from under her elbow. “Are you checking me out, Inspector?”
Sam bites his lower lip, half-suppressing a guilty grin, and shakes his head. He goes back to massaging her ankle, eyes firmly glued to Suzi Quatro singing Can The Can. The sofa cushions shift beneath him. “I thought you were busy being full?” He tries, as Annie sits up and pecks at his cheek, and then she’s dragging him down by the collar, her queasy stomach quite forgotten.
In the evening, he drives her home, back to her family. He means to stop on the corner of her road, watch her walk the rest of the way. He doesn’t want to cause any arguments.
Instead, her parents are waiting outside for her. They hurry over to the car as soon as it appears, Annie’s mum shivering in a thin shawl and her dad in a baggy Christmas jumper. Sam’s chest goes suddenly tight with nerves. Annie gets out of the car, hugging her mum tightly. Her mum asks “Did you have a nice time?”
Annie turns and smiles brightly at Sam, arm around her mother’s shoulders. “I’ve had a wonderful day.”
“So this is your young man,” Jeff Cartwright says. He leans in through the open door and reaches across the passenger seat to shake Sam’s hand.
“Sam Tyler. Good to meet you.” He manages not to squeak.
Annie’s dad straightens up and looks at Sam appraisingly for another minute. Then he nods at Annie and slaps the roof of the car. “Come on in, then, lad. We’ve half a Christmas cake still to get through.”