Making it as an influencer is tough. Orion should know; he’s been plugging away at his online brand, but keeps a full-time job to make ends meet. All that could change this Christmas, though. Orion has built a holiday campaign called the #12DatesOfChristmas. Under the guise of looking for true love, Orion will “date” twelve other influencers in hopes of generating buzz for himself and his dates. All of which is to culminate in a date with “the one,” a popular model and online personality named Afonso. Orion hopes that by shipping himself as part of a power couple (albeit one with a pre-ordained expiration date), he will finally be able to launch his career as a full-time influencer.
Naturally, mere hours before Orion’s first day is set to begin, he bumps into a tall, attractive Swede named Gustav. The thing about Gustav is that he just doesn’t care about followers, influencers, or social media. He just wants to get to know Orion. For the first time, Orion starts to analyze the life he lives online and how well it does(n’t) mesh with who Orion truly is. But the timing is terrible. Orion has worked hard to construct the perfect scenario for his impending dates; he found other influencers with whom to collaborate for some mutual brand-building and promised his followers more than a week of romantic, holiday content. It’s everything Orion thinks he wants…but he can’t get Gustav out of his head. And when a chance meeting lets Orion and Gustav act on their mutual attraction, Orion is suddenly trying to juggle his #12DatesOfChristmas project—which is very much in the public eye—with his heart’s desire: a quiet life with a man who wants Orion for who Orion is, not what he wants Orion to be. Can Orion figure out how to balance his dissimilar desires before his followers all find out the whole thing is a sham or Gustav tires of Orion’s publicity stunts?
12 Dates of Christmas is a contemporary holiday get-together story by Tanya Chris. Even though the narration is in third person, we stay with Orion for the book. Predictably, this gave me, as a reader, a very good idea of Orion’s motivations and struggles. And he does struggle with the attraction he feels for, and feels is reciprocated by, Gustav. I thought that Orion’s inability to tell himself “no” where Gustav is concerned was pretty relatable. Their first meeting is just as strangers on the subway, but they randomly encounter each other in a clothing store and things get a bit steamy. Numbers get exchanged and soon, they’re sleeping together. Of course, Gustav learns bit by bit that Orion has committed himself to a dating challenge of his own design. I enjoyed the brief but fairly frequent scenes where the two grapple with Orion’s scheme for fame. Gustav isn’t on board exactly, but he’s also not immediately writing Orion off as a flake for his holiday dating scheme. The way the details of Orion’s plan get meted out make the whole unraveling very enjoyable, especially because Gustav does demonstrate a very high level of understanding and tolerance for Orion’s plan. Up to a point.
I felt a bit like Orion was underwhelming as a character, almost too shallow to be real. Maybe this was intentional as a way to share/show how superficial he is or can be as an online personality. I think there is great consistency in how he is portrayed. Barely a scene goes by that Orion isn’t actively engaging with his fans, passively keeping tabs on his social media, or orchestrating photos to get likes/comments from his followers. His is near dogged in pursuing his challenge, despite waning enthusiasm on his part and a few dustups from former dates who feel they were spurned. Gustav fairs better, in part because of his mystique. He’s from Sweden and we get a glimpse at some of his (apparently) Swedish traditions, which are something of a departure from those in America. He’s also surprisingly tolerant of Orion. Not just for the whole date thing, but for the ways that Orion misrepresents himself (pretending to be versatile rather than a dedicated bottom, lying about being bisexual…the latter of which I thought was sort of cringe). Despite considerably less on-page time compared to Orion, I thought I got a much better idea of the quality of person Gustav is supposed to be. But again, perhaps that is all intentional given where these two characters are coming from.
Overall, this short story showcases a fairly self-centered, shallow character as he learns about what he really wants and what in life is truly worth fighting for. For readers who enjoy contemporary stories, or stories that have “poor little rich (well, semi-famous) boy” tropes, I think you’ll enjoy this story. I also thought it was an interesting look into how hard influencers have to work and how fraught that line of work can be.