Sharing Christmas

Bauble hanging on Christmas tree

by Cole Parker

I was the last one on the block to put up our outside Christmas lights. I finally did it myself instead of watching and then helping my dad. He said doing it for thirty years was enough, and the only reason he’d had a son was so he could get out of this chore. He was teasing, but then, most things he said and did were exactly that. A ball of laughter, that was Dad.

But I was fifteen now, an age when derisive comments about my parents were as natural as farting in church, and in fact I was certainly capable of putting up our lights unassisted. Mom didn’t like me climbing up the ladder, but as much as Dad liked to joke about things, Mom liked to worry. Most anything I did, some aspect of it would allow Mom to twist her hands and fret. I was surprised she didn’t wear the skin off them.

Guys my age do know their parents, don’t we? What makes them tick, how to get most anything we want from them, how to tick them off—we know them. Especially a single child like me. But I didn’t know my dad well enough to be capable of talking him out of my putting up the lights.

Everyone else had theirs up, and Dad would look at them, then at me, then back at the lights, and I knew I’d better get cracking. He was like that. He’d asked me to do it, and he wouldn’t nag. I could read his mind, though, when he looked at me. I didn’t like him being disappointed in me. I put up the lights.

The Olsons had strung theirs up first, hanging them under their gutters like they did every year. Right after Thanksgiving, they’d be on, coloring the front of their house at night. They had the traditional ones: red, blue, green, orange, pink and white. The Ballards had the new type: all blue, a piercing, jarring blue that you didn’t want to stare at too long. That kind didn’t seem very Christmasy to me. Too vibrant, too in-your-face aggressive.

Our neighbors didn’t only decorate their houses with lights. Many had spotlighted lawn displays: Santas and reindeer; gift-wrapped large boxes with bows, and things that moved, like teeter-totters with a Santa on one end and three elves on the other. We didn’t have any of that, only the lights we—well, I—hung on the house. More than half our block was like we were: plain and traditional. The rest went all out.

The Pattersons had the kind of lights that went on and off and twinkled and then were steady, faded and came back bright, went on and off in different sections of the house, a rotation of styles that was random so you never knew what was coming next. The Winchesters had ones that blinked in time to Christmas music that played over speakers in the front window. Up and down the street, we had all types and styles. Because of this, we’d have several cars every night driving past, looking at our individual displays. The Hunters even took advantage of that and put up a hot-chocolate stand—$2 a cup.

I hung our string of lights across the fronts of our two dormers, across the front edges of the gable, along all the eaves, and up, across and down the front-door trim. It was a lot of lights, and I did what my dad had done for years: plugged them into three different switch-activated circuits so no breaker would be thrown when they came on.

When I finished, it was twilight, and some of the lights on the street were already on. I went inside, threw the switches, and came back out. It was beautiful. I was proud of my work. My dad came out with me, clapped a hand on my shoulder and said, “Wow! Almost as good as when I did it.” I shoved him, not hard enough to knock him off his feet, and we both laughed.

We stared at the lights for a moment or two before going back into the house. I don’t know what he was thinking. I was thinking how lucky I was not to have a tree to decorate. He didn’t put one up. Instead, we drove to his parents’ house and spent a couple of days with them both before and after Christmas. They’d have a tree already up and decorated by the time we’d arrive. We’d been doing this for years. At first, they’d waited till we arrived before picking out a tree and bringing it home, and I’d help set it up and hang lights and balls and tinsel on it, but that was when we’d come earlier. Now, we were only there for a short time, and they wanted a tree up earlier than when we’d arrive, so it was ready now when we got there, which was fine with me. Just another chore I wasn’t taxed with. Decorating a tree was a pleasure for many; for me it was just another job.

Didn’t I say something earlier about how teenagers can be a jaded, rather negative lot? Well, I should have.

It was still three weeks till Christmas, but the mood of the season was already on us, even me. The decorated houses played a part in that. Driving in at night after we’d been out shopping or at a restaurant or an event at my high school—whatever—I loved it when Dad turned into our block and we saw all the lights. It was a spectacular show and gave me a tickling thrill every time we came upon it. All we needed now was snow on the ground. It had been a warm December so far, but the weather reports did suggest we had a chance for snow late in the month. We usually had white Christmases. I loved those. With everything covered in white, the world was quieter and seemed more peaceful.

Driving home that night, for the first time I noticed an anomaly. There were twenty houses on our block, eight on each side and four completing the cul-de-sac on the end. Ours was one of those four. Everything was lit up and joyful, with one lonely exception.

A house down near the end of the street where it met the cross street wasn’t lit up at all. No decorations and only a dim light showing somewhere inside. It was a smaller house, the smallest on the street. As all the lots were the same size on the two sides of the street, that meant this lonely dark house had a larger lawn on each side of the house. The yard looked a bit scruffy. This late in the year, most yards had gone dormant and so didn’t need mowing. This yard looked the same, except the lawn wasn’t as lush, and perhaps was even scruffier. The entire house looked a little sad, sitting dark and small among the glorious displays around it.

I knew something about the house. Back in the spring the family that lived there moved out. The house sat vacant with a For Sale sign in the yard for several months. Then, just after Halloween, the sign had been removed. I didn’t know if anyone had moved in yet; I’d never seen a moving van or anything to make me think they had. I walked to school each day and back home in the afternoon, and I’d never seen any activity there at all. I wondered if the weak light I was seeing as we passed the house that night was just a light to make it seem like the house had residents.

“Dad, do you know if anyone’s moved into the Collier house?”

He glanced at me. “I know it was sold. Supposed to be a man and a child. But I haven’t seen them. Perhaps they’re waiting to move in till after the first of the year.”

By then, we were pulling into our driveway, and I put it out of my mind.

The next day, returning from school, I walked slower as I passed the mystery house. I was curious. My dad always said the cat curiosity had killed had nothing on me, and I didn’t even have nine lives.

I walked slowly, then even stopped, studying the house. In the daylight the place looked even more woebegone than at night. It just sat there, silent and sad. I shook my head, started to walk on and then stopped. The large picture window in front had curtains on each side, leaving the middle half of the window uncovered. As the inside of the house was dark, I couldn’t see inside but could see the curtains, and one of them had moved. Someone was in there!

I stood still a while longer, but there was nothing else to see. I decided if someone was there, if it hadn’t been my imagination, then it was rather rude of me to keep staring.

What I’d have liked to have done would have been to walk up and ring the doorbell. But I had no reason to, and if anyone was there and wanted me to know the house was occupied, they could have let me know. A slight movement of a curtain didn’t really seem like an invitation to invade their castle.

So I continued on home. But if I was curious before, it was double that now. I wanted to know who was there and why they were hiding. And it wasn’t that hard to figure out how to do just that.

I had homework to do, and I usually did it as soon as I got home so I’d have the evening free. Today, however, I pushed it to the side. Instead, I started making cookies.

Everyone likes cookies, don’t they? I specialized in two kinds, chocolate chip and peanut butter. I liked them both best. Yeah, I know, you’re supposed to have only one favorite, but those two were my favorite. Is it any wonder Reese’s peanut butter cups were my favorite candy?

I decided that chocolate chip was probably the preferred cookie of the masses, so that’s what I should make. The recipe listed on the chips package was pretty good, but I liked them better when they were crispier rather than breadier and chewier, so I always added more shortening than the recipe called for. Most recipes for chocolate chip cookies produce a bready, chewy product. I’d experimented, tweaking the recipe, and figured out how to make cookies more the way I wanted them. I use all white sugar, no brown, just an egg yolk with no white, and an additional tablespoon and a half of Crisco added to the butter. This makes the cookies spread out as they bake and become crispier. I figured I’d make these gift cookies the way I like them so if no one answered the door, my efforts wouldn’t go to waste. Hey, you have to think ahead about these things.

It doesn’t take long to make a batch of cookies, and about an hour later I was off down the street with a tin of freshly baked, still-warm deliciousness. I went up to the door and rang the bell.

I could hear the bell ring inside. I could also hear nothing else. No footsteps. Nothing.

So I rang again. As well as curious, I’m also persistent. And not shy. I feel for guys who are shy. I’m not. Maybe that has to do with my dad. He’s not shy, either, and I tend to copy him in lots of ways. My mom, not so much. Worrying never seems to get you anywhere, so why waste the energy?

I waited, but the house was very still. I was about to leave, the thought of devouring at least half those cookies in one sitting worming its way into my head, but then I remembered that curtain wiggling and decided one more try might be needed. So, I rang the doorbell and then called out, “Hey, I’m a kid bringing gifts. Homemade, just out of the oven, baked, absolutely delicious cookies, given as a housewarming gift to new neighbors. I’m harmless. I’m not leaving these suckers on the doorstep for anyone to run off with. I’ll take them home and eat them myself if it comes to that. You have thirty seconds, and then I’m gone, along with the largesse.”

Then I started counting. When I’d reached 29, I heard the door lock snap open, and then the door was opened.

Opened—but just that crack.

Hmmm. I stood looking at that inch of darkness, and maybe I do copy my mom a bit because the house itself was dark and a bit foreboding, and why hadn’t the door been opened all the way? What was awaiting me if I pushed it open? Hey, I was 15. Kids my age still have a lot of imagination! There could be an ogre in there, something on the order of Hansel and Gretel’s witch, waiting to nab me.

I’m not shy, I told myself. I shook off my jitters and pushed on the door. I then saw why it hadn’t been opened farther.

On the other side was a kid, probably my age, certainly not a whole year older or younger. I’ve heard adults say all teenagers look about the same to them, that they can’t tell one age from another. That’s just crazy. We’re all quite different. This kid was pretty close to me in age. And he was sitting in a wheelchair.

Now I saw why he hadn’t opened the door more than he had. His chair was right behind it. He’d have been unable to pull it any farther open than he had. He’d moved backwards so the door could be opened all the way.

Of course, how was I supposed to know any of this before seeing it for myself? Then I thought, maybe he can’t speak, either, and that’s why he hadn’t yelled out for me to push the door open. But some sort of accident or birth defect that took both his ability to walk and speak? Come on, now!

“Hey,” I said. “You could have told me to push the door open. I was about to leave!”

“Yeah,” he said. His voice was a little husky and lower pitched than mine. I always wished I had a rich baritone voice instead of a thin, reedy tenor. Shows my age, I think. All 15-year-olds have problems with how they look, sound, smell—everything. “I thought you might run and probably take the cookies with you, so I was about to say something. It was a close call: I almost let the thought of homemade cookies outweigh my shyness.”

“You’re shy?”

“Well, I have reason to be, don’t you think? Most people don’t even like looking at someone in a wheelchair, let alone talking to one. They think whatever I have is catching. It’s their reaction to me that makes me a little shy when meeting new people. I wasn’t always.”

“Well, if it were catching, I sure hope you’d wear a mask or a sign saying, ‘Don’t come close! Contagious as all get-out!’ Something like that.”

“You’re hilarious,” he said, not cracking a smile. “But enough chitchat. You’re bribing me with cookies, so let’s see more cookies and less innocuous gab.”

“To be fair,” I said, “these cookies, which will be the best you’ve ever had, are even better with cold milk. Now I don’t know if you have any cold milk. Probably not. I do at my house, which is just up the street from here. So if you’re deficient in moo-juice or if you’re so shy that inviting me in would be problematic, then we could go to my house. It’s uphill a little, but the exercise would probably do you some good. Get your arms in shape. If you can make it at all.”

OK, I need an aside here. Anyone reading this is going to be saying, ‘My God, what an asshole this kid is! He sees a cripple in a wheelchair who’s described himself as shy and who only barely had the courage to open the door and then only after needing a lot of enticement, and now this asshole is getting all over him about not having milk and saying they should go to his house but not offering to help him get there. He’s even suggesting the kid’s too weak to make it up the hill on his own. This asshole is a grade-A jerk! Even if he does make good cookies!’

And in self-defense, let me say this. I know kids. I am one. I’ve lived with them all my life. And I was reading this kid, listening to him, seeing his body language, and this wasn’t a kid I had to be gentle with. This was a kid who was testing me. Meeting my eyes when doing so. So I was giving as good as I was getting. Treating him as an equal. Maybe, for all I knew, he didn’t like people fawning all over him, telling him how sad it was that he was in a chair, asking him what they could do for poor little him and asking if he needed a hug.

I saw him repress a smile. “I have milk. It might not be as cold as yours as we have to keep it in the root cellar, but it’s only a little sour; I’m used to that. So, come in if you dare, uh, I mean, if you’d like.”

He wheeled himself back a little ways from the door. His chair wasn’t motorized; he just used his hands on the handrims and rolled backwards.

I’d never been in this house when the Colliers lived in it. They were an older couple without kids. No reason I should have been in it. Now I saw what it was like for the first time, and I was impressed. Looking at it from the outside, I’d been fairly certain anyone living here would not be well off, not be on the same level as others on this street. We were in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. From the cars they drove, I assumed all our neighbors were at least somewhat affluent. Now, looking at the furnishings I could see as he led me through the house to the kitchen, this house didn’t belong to anyone who was impecunious.

The one thing I didn’t see was carpets. The entire downstairs that I saw had hardwood floors. Made sense.

I watched as he rolled around the kitchen. I’m sure if you’re in a wheelchair very long, you learn how to maneuver it. Now, watching it being done by a kid your age, I marveled at how proficiently it could be done. The way he moved around looked like a ballet to me. He swooped over to a cupboard and grabbed a couple of small plates, did a uey and set them on the table. Then he detoured to the fridge, opened it and took out a half-gallon of milk. It was whole milk. My mom always got 2%. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had whole milk. I remembered my dad saying there were only a kid and a man living here. Maybe whole milk was the results of not being encumbered by a woman who allowed only 2% milk in the house.

He got a couple of glasses out of another lower cupboard, then brought them to the table and settled there. All this had taken him less than a minute. “Sit,” he said. Bossy bastard!

I sat down and opened the tin I’d brought, setting it on the table in the middle. Well, sort of in the middle, but closer to him. He frowned at me.

“That’s the first thing you’ve done wrong,” he said. “You’ve been extraordinary up till now. But I’m as close to the table as you are.” He was glaring at me, and I had no experience with him; he could have been putting me on or could have been serious. But I had his measure now.

“I put them closer to you because they’re a gift for you. If I’d have brought you a birthday cake, you think I’d have set it in the middle? No way! I’d have set it where you could cut it and take the first slice. These are for you, a present for you, a housewarming present, welcoming you to the neighborhood, and you get first dibs, so I set them where that would be obvious. What’s obvious is that you’re slow on the uptake. And that you owe me an apology now.”

He was repressing a smile again. I’d guessed right. I reached over and snatched a cookie. “Too slow,” I said. “But you’re excused; you don’t know my cookies.”

“You talk funny,” he said. “You sound like you’re showing off your vocabulary, but I don’t think that’s it. I just think you just talk funny.” After that and a smirk, he took a cookie, too, and took a bite. Now there was no repression. For the first time, he seemed to be completely open. “Hey, these are good. You get them at a bakery around here?”

“Fooo,” I ejaculated, spitting crumbs out in front of me. “Good one.”

He laughed. “OK, they are good, and thank you for making them and bringing them over. What’s your name?”

“Charlie. Yours?”

“Don’t laugh,” he said in a voice that meant he was serious. “It’s Hollis. No one calls me that, though. I hate that name, and as soon as I started school, I told everyone, teachers included, to call me Holly. But eventually, if we get to know each other, I’ll tell you where the Hollis came from! Maybe. I don’t usually tell people. You have to earn it.”

Maybe the test phase, his testing me, was over. He now sounded like just a kid making conversation, a kid being friendly, not someone trying to make an impression or score points or play some role. If he was done with that and ready to be real, well, great, and it was worth a try for me to engage him the same way.

“I’ll try. But the cookies should be worth something, and maybe that something could be the story you’re loath to tell. But I should tell you that I had an ulterior motive with the cookies. I wanted to find out if anyone lived here. And, maybe, to find out if anyone did, why they weren’t decorating the house like everyone else on the street. Now I know.”

I gave him a large smile, letting him know I wasn’t being critical or insensitive; I’d merely been curious and now was appeased. But I wasn’t going to let it end there. Curious I’d been, and curious I still was. “So you’re all alone here? I mean, you’re about my age. I don’t think it’s legal for you to be here all by yourself. But maybe you’re not. Maybe I’ve just never seen your dad around.”

There. I didn’t ask too many questions, and hopefully this would get him talking.

It did. “I’m not really alone. Well, sort of. I guess I can tell you if you promise it won’t leave this room. I have reasons for keeping my situation to myself. Can I trust you? I’d like to. When we set this up this way, with my being alone a lot, one thing that I didn’t think about was how lonely this was going to be. Just talking to you has already cheered me up some, even if you are a bit weird and don’t talk right.”

I grinned. “I’m 15. All guys my age are weird. And I read a lot and like to use the words I read. But yes, I’m good at secrets.”

“Yeah, me too, about the 15, I mean, and I’m probably weirder than you are! Anyway, it feels good to talk to someone about this, and when I explain, you’ll understand about the secrecy bit. Are you compassionate?”

“Huh? Oh, you mean about the wheelchair. Sure.”

“No, I don’t mean that. And you took the wheelchair in stride, better than most people. That’s a big reason why I’m going to trust you. No, I meant compassionate about other people’s problems, not this chair specifically.”

“I guess. I’d have to hear what you’re talking about to be sure, but I guess I’m as compassionate as the next guy.” I snatched another cookie. The pile was diminishing. Was that showing a lack of compassion, eating about half the cookies I’d brought him? I’d have to consider that, but not while there were cookies left to be eaten.

“OK. I’ll trust you. If you squeal, pass on what I’m going to tell you, it only means my life will be turned upside down, so no biggie, right?” He gave me a lopsided grin, like he was be being facetious, but not really. I gave him the same grin back but didn’t say anything. I knew he was going to talk, and I didn’t want to say anything to disrupt that.

He stared at me for a few moments, looking into my eyes. That gave me the chance to do the same, and I suddenly realized how attractive his were. Funny, I usually take in a person’s appearance right off, but with him, I’d first concentrated on the chair he was in, then looked at the house and how it was set up for someone in a wheelchair, and then came the peculiar chat with him that seemed as much an assessment and maybe a challenge as it did two kids just meeting each other, and I realized with all that, I hadn’t really looked at him at all. Now I did.

He had light, sandy hair, messy as long weeds in a windstorm, deep-blue, expressive, intelligent eyes; a long face with regular features that wasn’t cute but could be called handsome, especially when he grinned. Unique would be a better word for it. It was one of those faces that are a bit unusual but capture your interest; you end up staring at it longer than you normally would, trying to figure out just why it was different and why it held your attention as it did. A face that would grow on you.

I don’t know what he was seeing in my eyes, but it must have been enough to satisfy him, because he began talking.

“You’re probably wondering about a lot of things. Rather than answer a lot of questions, I’ll just tell you about me, and that should be enough. I haven’t always been in a wheelchair, and I won’t always be.”

He was still watching me closely, and I guessed he saw my face relax a little. Maybe my shoulders, too, because he said, “See? Compassionate. I thought so.”

I grimaced. I didn’t like being able to be read that easily.

He continued. “I was a normal teenager before the accident. Well, in some ways. In some not. I’ll get into that. This’ll take some time. You should have made more cookies.”

I laughed. I was finding I liked this guy.

“Anyway, I rode horses or, actually, rode my horse most every day. And one day, while I was doing dressage training with her, getting her to walk backwards just by reining back and using the right pressure with my legs and heels, I was concentrating too much on her and not where we were. I had her backing up, and we came to the edge of the rink without my noticing. She tripped over the logs that surrounded the training space. She fell over backwards, I fell with her, and she landed with most of her weight on my hips. It cracked my pelvis in two places.”

I squirmed. “Ouch!”

“Exactly, though actually I was quite lucky. Lower, it could have completely fractured both legs; higher, maybe crushed my ribs into my lungs. This way, I’m just inconvenienced for a bit too long, but what is, is. But I’m healing. You can’t put a cast on your pelvis. You just have to stay off your feet and let the damn thing knit itself back together. So I graduated from a bed to this chair, and eventually I’ll be in rehab and therapy, learning to walk again. Boring.”

“When’ll that be?” I asked.

“I have at least another month in the chair. They’ll do another X-ray in a couple of weeks.”

“Uh, well, this might be rude, but, they X-rayed your pelvis? I mean, that’s where your junk is. Won’t that mean you’ll have to worry about your babies? Or won’t it just sterilize you?”

He grinned. “You’re interested in my junk? I knew you were compassionate, just not how far it extended!” He grinned at me while I blushed. Then he said, “No, they use as light a dose of radiation as they can. The technician thought he was a comedian. He asked me if I was pregnant because even a little radiation wouldn’t be good for a fetus. I smiled at him and asked if I should take off my boxers to prove he didn’t have to worry about that, and he said, no, he was just teasing.”

“Ah, so you didn’t have to strip down?”

“No, but by then, I wouldn’t have cared. A number of doctors had already examined me thoroughly down there, really thoroughly, sometimes with a nurse or two watching, once even by a doctor doing rounds with a bunch of students. I still get embarrassed, thinking about that! They wanted to be sure nothing was injured, and of course I was glad they were making sure nothing was, although getting me hard to prove that that still worked was more than embarrassing.”

He stopped and grinned at me. What could I do? I grinned back. Hey, functioning properly down there is important to any 15-year-old!

“Anyway, the X-rays showed two breaks. They said bed rest and eventually therapy was the only treatment I needed. So I was in bed for a short time in the hospital, then moved to a convalescent home. After some time there, they got me established in the chair. After I was able to get around by myself in the chair, the home kicked me out. I came here for further healing. Just a little more time getting better in the chair and I’ll begin therapy.”

“Wow! OK, then. I’m sorry you went through all that. Now, what’s the rest? You’re here alone. You’re not letting anyone know you’re here. What’s that all about?”

He laughed. He had the kind of laugh that makes you want to join in. I’d noticed with the story he was telling me, he’d never once sounded like many kids would, never evincing a ‘poor me’ attitude. I liked that.

“All right, the rest. It’s just me and my dad. No mom. Why? Well, now we’re getting into why you need to keep all this to yourself. You see, my dad is Horton Cooper.”

He looked at me harder. Wanted to see my reaction, if any.   Of course I reacted!  Horry Cooper was famous!  He was the lead singer/guitar player of Horoscope, a band typical of the time when they were formed, the 80s, with a name based partly on Horry’s name but on something gigantic, too.  They were a rock group that was still performing today, thirty-five years later.  In one way, it was not a typical group of that era: no make-up or catchy pop-influenced anthems played in endless loops on MTV.   Still, their music was definitively rock. No abrasive thrash or speed-metal influences could be found in their sound.

They had managed to keep that original sound over the years, hadn’t gone in for the later, harder sounds of grunge or “nu metal,” and in doing so hadn't lost their original fans. Their music had mellowed as the years had passed, and now they now appealed to a more mainstream audience. But, too, they hadn’t sold out as the soul of their music had remained intact over the decades.

The one way they were a typical band of the time was what they were probably as famous for as their music. There was no secret that they were partiers. They were well into the sex, drugs, alcohol and groupies that came with the fame they generated, and it was written up in the tabloids with innuendos and photos. Much was written about Horry as he was the most visible member of the band. He had long hair down to the middle of his back, and it was colored bright silver. Swinging it around as he twirled on stage, letting it catch the spotlights, always encouraged the teens in the audience to scream. He always performed shirtless and in the tight, tight trousers of the time. Horry Cooper didn’t leave anything to the imagination and had teen girls and some boys going apeshit over him. It was hinted that he made no distinction which gender he took to bed with him. Both, it was suggested. Often at the same time. The guy was bigger than life, and was in the news all the time.

“Horry Cooper,” I said, not entirely covering the awe in my voice.

He grinned, but his eyes didn’t show any joy. “Yeah. Only I call him Dad, not Horry. And you can see now why I was named Hollis. Dad wanted my name to somehow or other relate to the band. He didn’t have much imagination and what he came up with was a stretch, but it resonated with dad for some reason. The HO at the beginning of Hollis duplicated what began the band’s name and his, and the S at the end reflected the S in the second syllable of the band name. But no one really knows Hollis is my name; I go by Holly. I don’t know why I’m telling you this; I never explain it to anyone. There’s something about you that kind of makes me want to tell you things and do so honestly.”

He stared at me another moment before speaking again, just long enough to make me wonder what about me demanded honesty. Maybe it was my openness. More likely my blatant naiveté.

“Anyway,” he continued, “the fact he’s my dad explains a lot that you’ve been wondering about this house. But I need to tell you why.

“His life is performing, and that means touring. That also explains me. Touring, especially in the early years, meant groupies. He’s proud of what he’s done with the band and his life, and when he’s drinking he tells me things most dads don’t discuss with their sons. After every concert back when they were beginning, groupies would follow them to their hotel, and most nights ended in orgies. Hey, they were young and randy, and the groupies weren’t only willing—they were eager.

“The wild sex and drugs both slowed down as the band members all grew older. But it didn’t stop; it was simply less frequent. I was conceived when dad was forty. If you know anything about Horoscope, you’ve probably read that dad is bisexual. Actually, he’s more gay than bisexual, and usually if he’s entertaining groupies, it’s males and females at the same time, with most of his attention spent on the males. But that fateful night—fateful for me—he ended up impregnating the girl. And she was a girl. He was forty, she was 17. Legal in the state they were in, but still way too young for him. He should have been ashamed of himself.”

He didn’t really sound like he disapproved of or was scornful of his father. Maybe because what had been done was why he existed. I couldn’t stop to dwell on that, however, because he was continuing.

“She didn’t want anything to do with a baby and wrote to him that she was pregnant, that it was his, and she was planning to get rid of it; she wanted him to pay for the procedure. Dad was forty and liked the idea of having a kid of his own, and he hated like the idea of it being aborted. So, long story short, nine months later, little Hollis was born, and Dad took custody.

“He didn’t stop performing and touring. He hired people to watch me while he was gone, but probably spent half the year with me, on and off. He did care about me, did and does love me, and I love him.

“He made a lot of money. Still makes a lot. Some guys in that business blow it all on drugs and partying. That’s not Horry. He’s a smart guy, which you wouldn’t know without knowing him. The way he is on stage isn’t him. The partying wasn’t him, either, except for after concerts when pot was part of the scene. He saved his money right from the start. He bought a ranch just north of L.A. and that’s mostly where I grew up. That’s where I learned to love horses and learned to ride.

“When I was very young, his parents kept me while he was touring. Remember, he was 40 when I was born. His parents were old. They both died when I was still in grade school. After that, he hired a series of nannies. Then, when I was 13, he started to take me on the road with him. So from then on, I was with him basically fulltime, and we didn’t need anyone else to watch me. If a tour was scheduled during the school year, he’d just hire local tutors where he was performing to tend to my education.

“But then, I had the accident. That meant I couldn’t tour with him. So, once I was out of the convalescent home, I needed a place where I could stay and survive in the chair till I could walk again. The ranch wasn’t good—for a couple of reasons. What he did was, he bought this house. And it’s working out fine. I have a tutor who comes Monday through Friday. You haven’t seen him because he comes around nine and leaves at three. I’d guess from seeing you walk home, your high school gets out around three.”

“You’ve seen me walking home?”

He snorted. “Of course. I just sit back from the front window a bit. I had the tutor check. No one can see from the street.”

“But why all the secrecy?” I asked. “Why keep that you’re here under wraps?”

He shook his head and gave me a pitying look. “I thought you’d have worked that out by now. If either the police or Social Services realized I was here alone at night, they’d whisk me away, probably arrest my dad for abandoning a minor when he next came back. I’m not really abandoned. The tutor does come; he’s a responsible adult. He just doesn’t live here or come on the weekends. Anyone watching the house would think he was a house-sitter. The only thing we hide is that I’m here and, especially, that I’m here when he’s not.”

“So that’s why you almost didn’t answer the door when I rang?”

He nodded. “One of the reasons. But you seduced me with the cookies. And, to tell the truth, the chance to talk to someone my age overcame my caution. As I said, I’ve been watching you. You looked okay to me. Of course, I had no way of knowing if that were true or not.” He chuckled after saying that, and this time his humor did reach his eyes.

“So,” I said, having just thought of it, “if an adult rings the bell, you don’t answer.”

“Right. When I was in that convalescent place, there were social workers around all the time. There were kids there from all sorts of circumstances, and those women—they were mostly women—were very vigilant, making sure any abused kids weren’t sent back to their abusers. My problem was, I knew my dad would be going on a tour when I left that place. Arrangements had been made scheduling that tour long before I’d been hurt. Contracts signed. Hotel rooms and venues booked. No way he could back out. And there I was, indisposed. It had originally been the plan that I’d accompany him on the tour. Now, I couldn’t. So we came up with this plan. But it’s basically illegal. As it’ll only be like this till I’m on my feet again and no one finds out, it’ll be fine.”

“Why here? Why not your ranch?”

“It’s a tour that extends over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and when he’ll be gone for a month or several, he rents the house out. People are living in it now. It’s not available for me. Besides, it’s out in the country. Dad thought it would be better if I were more available for the tutor and to be living closer to other people if I ever needed help when the tutor wasn’t here. Besides, buying this place and keeping it for a while is an investment.

“So that’s it. Now you know. And I hope you’re not a blabbermouth.” He grinned.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” I said. “I won’t rat you out.” My turn to grin.


We talked a while longer, just briefly getting to know each other. I gave him my cellphone number and got his. I told him to text me any time he was feeling lonely. He asked if he could use it to order more cookies. It was a good start towards a friendship, I thought.

He did text me. And I texted him back. We mostly just goofed on each other. Small insults, but it was fun. I also started waving when walking home. I didn’t make a big deal about it, remembering that I wasn’t supposed to know anyone was home there. But I’d raise my hand to scratch an ear or my head and for a just a second make it clear to his front window that I was waving.

Pretty quickly I did something else, too. Right from the start, after I knew he was there, what I wanted to do after I got home from school was bake something like I had the cookies and take them over so we could meet again and talk. Something about him, maybe his circumstances but possibly just something about him personally, attracted me. But going to the house and entering would make it obvious someone was home, and that was a no-no. He’d only let me in the first time because, as he said, of his desperation for the cookies, and that time he hadn’t swung the door open. He’d made it look like the door had just popped open, like maybe I’d pushed it and it hadn’t been latched. But if I’d traipse over with goodies every other day or so, well, it wouldn’t take long before someone might get the idea the house wasn’t empty.

But I wanted to see him again, and where there’s a will, there’s a way if you’re clever enough. I gave it some thought and figured it out. I texted him.

:: I’m going to hang lights on your house. It’s despicable the way that house is the only one not decorated. Just awful. Disgraceful and an eyesore if you want the horrid truth. So I’m going to decorate it, and I’m going to pretend I was hired to do so. Will so announce should anyone ask. And when I was hired to do this arduous and unpleasant but demanding job, I was also given a key to check that the inside is okay, that no one left a faucet running and stopped up the sink with a spare sock and now the flooring is all warped. ::

He texted back.

:: The door will be unlocked. Pretend to use your pretend key to unlock it when you come. By the way, I’ve seen the job you did with your own house. With you doing mine, yours will still be a disgrace, and then we’ll have two on the block.  emoji ::

I guessed the emoji was him trying to make what we were doing look sneaky from the cant of its eyes. But it was smiling. I decided to take that to mean he’d be happy to see me, and the rot he was writing was just whimsical.

I quickly made a pan of my really, really good brownies. Melted butter, coconut oil, confectioners’ sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, salt and unsweetened cocoa powder. While they were baking for twenty minutes—you want the center slight gooey—I grabbed a quick shower. I didn’t even bother questioning why I felt it appropriate to shower. I just did.

We always had extra Christmas lights, some because we used to have our own tree to decorate, and some because Dad would buy another string now and then, telling me it put him in the Christmas spirit to do so. Weird.

I put the lights and what tools I’d need in a cardboard box and set the brownies on top still in the pan. Is anything better than brownies still warm from the oven?

He loved the brownies. I had only one because I had work to do. The problem with my plan was, now I had to hang his lights!

I went back in after getting as many up as I could without a ladder and had another brownie. And we talked some more. He must have been lonely because he really seemed glad to have me there and was making it difficult for me to get away. But I had to get home in time for dinner, and the deadline for that was creeping up on us.

As I was leaving, he said, “Oh, wait. One more thing. I’ve seen a car with official license plates cruising by a few times yesterday and then again today. They drive slower going by here. I’m thinking Social Workers. If they do come and ring the bell, I won’t answer. But I thought it might help if I texted you and you could come down and tell them no one lives here. I’m thinking they may have seen the lights. You could straighten them out on that.”

“Sure. Just text me 911; I’ll know what that means.”

For the next few days I was busy with school things. End of term was coming with the beginning of the school holiday, and we had tests and projects to finish. As a result, I was out of touch with Holly until, with just a couple more days of school to go, I got a text from him as I was finishing going over my notes for my pre-calc exam. Yeah, I admit it. I was a nerd. I was a year ahead of my age group in math. Big deal. Whatever!!!

:: 911!!! ::

So I dropped my notebook and made my way down to Holly’s house. There were two people at the front door. As I approached, the Christmas lights went on.

“See!” I heard the woman say. “Someone’s in there!”

I stopped a few feet behind them. They hadn’t heard me approach. The man was holding the doorbell button in, then releasing it and punching it repeatedly.

“Can I help you guys?” I asked, causing them both to jerk around.

The woman spoke before the man could. “Who’re you?”

I laughed. OK, it was forced, but I doubted they noticed. “Hey, now we have two questions going. Who wants to answer first? How about you? Oops. Now it’s three.”

The man scowled at me. “What’re you, some sort of a wiseass?”

“No. What’re you, some guy who tries to intimidate kids by using foul language and calling them names? You really should take it down a notch, you know? Especially as I have a right to be here and I doubt you do. But I did ask nicely if I could be of help. I’ll ask again: anything I can do for you guys?”

“And I’ll ask again, too?” The man wasn’t softening his voice any, remaining way too aggressive. “Who are you?”

“I’m Charlie Adams. I live down at the end of the cul-de-sac. I was hired to string the lights here and look after the house till the owner is back after Christmas. There. Now, who’re you, and why are you trying to wear out the doorbell?”

The man opened his mouth, then closed it. The woman wasn’t so inhibited. “There’s someone in there. They just turned the lights on.”

“No. I set them on a timer. You notice how it’s just getting dark now? That’s when I set them to go on. Besides which, if you ring the bell and anyone is in there and not answering, it would probably mean they don’t want to. There isn’t anyone home, though, so I suggest you leave. I’m sort of responsible for the place, although I was asked to call the police if I saw anything going on over here. I wasn’t asked to confront them.”

The woman set her jaw and glared at me. “We’re from Social Services. We got a tip there’s an underaged person living alone here. We need to get in to check. Please give me your key.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I acted shocked. I don’t know how good my acting is; I haven’t had much need to use it. But I thought I was pulling it off.

The man had recovered. He gave me another hard look and even took a step closer to me. He said, “Look, kid—”

“Charlie,” I said, interrupting him. “You don’t have to remind me I’m a kid. Politer to use my name. You never did give me yours or show me any kind of ID.”

The man continued when I stopped speaking like I’d never interrupted him at all. “—we’re official. We have the authority to go into the house and see if it’s empty. Now, open the door for us.”

“That’s not how it works, is it? I mean, you can’t just go barging into people’s houses on a suspicion, on an anonymous tip. Not even the police can do that. They can only go in without a warrant if they have hard evidence that someone’s in serious trouble inside needing assistance. So, since there’s no reason to think that’s the case, and since you’re not the police and don’t have that sort of authority, you can’t go in, even if you can show me a warrant. So, it would be best if you’d leave now. Please.”

“Now look here,” the woman began, but then stopped. “What are you doing?” she asked.

She’d seen me take out my phone. “I’m calling the police and having them send a car around. I’ll show them my letter from the owner authorizing me to look after the house. I’ll tell them about the nuisance you’re causing. In the process I’ll learn your names so I’ll know whom to cite at your agency when I file my complaint.”

The woman took the man’s arm. “Later,” she said to him. “When he’s in school.”

The man looked like he wanted to do more, but she pulled him away. I stood still. They walked around me and left.

After they’d driven away, I rapped on the door and it opened just enough for me to get inside and lock it again.

“That wasn’t good,” Holly said.

“Hey. I thought I was great!”

He managed a grin. “Actually, you were. Much better than I’d have done. You’re not shy at all, are you? Wish I had some of that.”

“You keep living here, I’ll teach you. I like you, Holly. You’re smart and fun.”

He blushed. Then turned and rolled into the kitchen, saying, “Follow me. I cooked you something.”

“What!? You baked something. I thought you just nuked all your dinners ?”

“Yeah. If you can cook, so can I. And I have more time for it than you do.”

When I reached the kitchen, he was already at the table. There were two places set, and in the middle was a cake. Frosted. Chocolate frosting. He was grinning at me hard now.

“I wanted a cake, so I made one. I made it today. I guess you’re leaving soon for your grandparents’ house. That makes this a going-away cake. But just like you shared some of ‘my’ cookies after making them, half of them at least, I’ll share a little of the cake I made with you.”

He cut the cake, and I saw it was a chocolate cake. Maybe he got the idea with the chocolate chip cookies and the brownies that I liked chocolate. He wasn’t wrong.

Eating cake and drinking milk, I told him what I was thinking. “Those Social Services guys said they’d be back tomorrow. When I’m not here. Is your tutor on Christmas break? Yeah? So he won’t be here either. I don’t know if those two will simply ring the bell and then leave when you don’t answer or if they’ll try to break in. They might even manage to get a warrant, though I don’t see how. But what I’m thinking is, it would be best if you weren’t here and the house looked unoccupied.”

“I can’t leave, Charlie. I have things here that allow me to get in and out of bed and to use the toilet, and the house itself is set up with everything I need at a low level which is accessible for me.”

“I wish I knew when they were coming,” I said. “Then I could be here, and they’d be screwed unless they brought along a policeman with a warrant, and what judge would award them with one of those on some sort of anonymous tip they could have made up? Hey, I have an idea. You could come to my house for an hour or so, couldn’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but how would that work? You have school, so you’ll be gone all day. And we don’t know when they’d come, or if it would actually be tomorrow! It could be anytime.”

“It’ll take some conniving and maybe some luck, but maybe we could pull it off. Here’s what I’m thinking . . . ”

The next day I was up early, had breakfast, then walked down to Holly’s house. He was ready to go. It really was uphill to my house, and I pushed him. All the way there I made comments about how much work it was pushing such a heavy load uphill and listening to his rejoinders about weak-assed friends and that he supposed they were better than no friends at all.

Then I went back to his house. It took some time, but not all that much, to move everything from the low cupboards to the high ones. Then I went to his room. He had a crane-like contraption that he used to hoist himself from his chair to the bed. It was a collapsible unit and only took me ten minutes to take down. I had to do it twice as there was a sister unit in the bathroom. I stripped his bed, folded his linens and put them in the cupboard with fresh ones.

Then I took all the food out of the refrigerator and put it in a large box, taped it shut and put it in the garage behind some paint cans and supplies which included an old paint-speckled tarpaulin.

I was ready. I called Social Services and asked for the lady I’d spoken to late yesterday, the one who’d been at our house. I’d found out who she was by telling the receptionist the person who’d been here the day before had asked me to do something for her and to let her know when it was done, and somehow I’d lost her card. The receptionist looked up the daily sheets of their agents and transferred me to the lady.

I told her I’d checked with the house’s owner, and he said to let them in and look around, and if they still wanted to do that, I could arrange it today, but that it had to be this morning; I had a test at school in the afternoon, and after that, I was leaving town for a few days. She said fine, and they’d be there in a half hour. I said okay, but to come alone, that I didn’t like the man, I didn’t trust him, and if he was there, I wouldn’t let them in. Ha.

Then I waited, and she was there in twenty minutes.

We walked through the house. In the kitchen, she opened the refrigerator.

“Hey,” I said. “You’re looking at the house, not going through things. I don’t know what’s personal in here. I don’t poke around, and neither should you.”

“I need to know whether someone’s staying and just left while I’d be here. We usually come unannounced. I need to be sure the house is really unoccupied.”

“Well, I guess it’s okay. Just don’t touch. Looking is okay as long as I’m watching you.”

She hated me talking down to her like that. She wanted to be in charge; that was obvious. But she put up with it. She looked through the entire house. As Holly only used very few rooms, there wasn’t much for me to worry about. We passed inspection, and she left. On the way out, though, she said, “Just remember, we make unannounced inspections, and next time, I expect you to let me in when I come.”

“Maybe you do, but I’m sure that’s in houses where you’ve placed kids. This isn’t a house like that. You come again unannounced before the owner moves in, I won’t have his permission for you to enter. Sorry.”

I waited till she was halfway to her car before calling out to her, “Gee, you guys in Social Services must not have much to do, wasting time on an empty house. I always wondered a bit about government workers. Seems we could cut some departments’ payrolls and there would be no great loss.”

She just kept walking away, but I could see her face was red.

My math class was in the afternoon, so I only missed the morning, and no tests were scheduled for me then, anyway.

Holly was happy to be out of his house for the first time in weeks. My mom worked from home. She was an accountant, and this was a slow time for her. She spent the morning while he was there entertaining Holly, and when I got back, he didn’t want to go home!

School was finally done for the year. I hated the idea that Holly would be alone for Christmas, but we were leaving in a couple of days. The trip to my grandparents’ house had been planned for months.

My mother saw my dejection and asked about it. I told her how Holly would be alone. I told her I’d like to stay here for him.

“You want to share your Christmas with him?”

“Well, yeah. I’d miss having it with you, but, well . . . ”

“I don’t like him being alone, either. He’s a very nice boy. We got along very well when he was here. I feel sorry for him. And you know, we’ve been visiting Dad’s folks every year, and I don’t see the harm in your missing just this one time. And it’ll be much better for Holly if someone’s here for him. You two are certainly old enough to be by yourselves for a few days. So, why don’t you stay? Stay at his house for the four days we’ll be gone. I’ll feel better if he has someone with him over Christmas. Would he want that?”

I jumped up and hugged her. “I’m sure he would. Thanks, Mom! This is great.”

Now I had to figure out how to work this. No way I was just going to ask if I could spend a few days at his house. No, I had to do it in a way where I was the boss. My decision. Not his. It would be more fun that way, and he couldn’t hold it over me that he’d invited me.

It wasn’t hard to come up with a plan. Dad helped. He thought it was funny. Most things were funny to him. Maybe I owed that part of my personality to him.

We went out and bought what we needed, and then added to it some stuff we already had, and then, after packing a suitcase, Dad drove me to Holly’s house, unloaded everything I’d brought, hugged me goodbye, wished me a Merry Christmas and left.

I went up and pounded on the door. I was so excited I didn’t even notice the car that had parked across the street. Holly opened the door and his eyes opened wide. He saw me standing there with an undecorated Christmas tree and several boxes.

“Surprise!” I said. ‘You and I are having Christmas here. We’ll decorate the house and tree. Also, I’ve brought some groceries; I’m cooking Christmas dinner. I’m also staying over. My parents are off on their trip. I’m staying here with you.”

The look on his face was wonderful. Hope and happiness were shared. It felt like I was grinning like an idiot as well. And then the bubble burst.

I heard a car door slam and, turning, saw the woman from Social Services marching across the street with a look of triumph on her face.

“Gotcha!” she said when she had reached us. “I knew it. You’re coming with me,” she said, speaking to Holly and ignoring me. Evidently she’d had enough of me.

I looked at Holly, trying to hide the fear on my face. I was surprised not to see any on his. He was looking at the woman rather like an entomologist studying a rare bug, and then he frowned.

“Who’re you, lady, and what’s this ‘gotcha’ shit?”

That was the first time I’d ever hear Holly use a bad word. And I was wondering where this attitude was coming from. He’d told me he was shy! This wasn’t shy I was seeing.

“Don’t play games with me. I heard about you from a nurse at the convalescent home. You’re fifteen, and there’s no adult here. You’re coming with me. It’s illegal for you to be here alone.”

She stepped around him to take the handles of his wheelchair, and he set the brakes, then said, “You try to move me and I’m calling the police. You’ll be in big, big trouble.”

“No, I won’t. I’ll show them my ID. I have the authority to take underage, unsupervised kids into my custody.”

“Maybe so, but that doesn’t apply to me. “I’m 16. Legal. So I suggest you get the hell out of here. Charlie, you want to call the police?”

I took my phone out of my pocket, wondering just what game he was playing here. The woman wondered, too, but stepped away from his chair. “Prove it,” she said. “Prove it, and I’ll go.”

“OK, just to get you off our backs. Wait here.” He spun the chair around, rolled back into the house, and a couple of minutes later came back with a piece of paper. He handed it to me. “Let her read it,” he told me, “but don’t give it to her. She’d probably try to run off with it.”

I looked at it and saw it was a birth certificate with his name on it. I also saw it was true: he was 16. He’d been 16 for two whole days. I thought back and realized it had been his birthday the day he made the cake. It was a birthday cake! Why hadn’t he told me? Well, that was for later.

I held on to the certificate but let her read it.

“Well,” she said, but her voice wasn’t as hard as it had been. “But this confirms that you were only fifteen when we were here before.”

“But that was then, and this is now, and you have no authority over me now. So, ta-ta!” He turned to me. “Let’s go inside.”

We didn’t. We stayed there and watched as she seethed, then turned and went back to her car. As we watched, I saw a few flakes of snow fall and then more, larger ones began to join their earlier brethren and start to accumulate on the ground. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. After watching that for a time, I carried the tree and the other things I’d brought into the house.

So that’s about it. We did all the Christmasy things together, decorating the house with stuff I’d brought with me. When we trimmed the tree, I told him I’d do the low branches; he could do the upper ones. It went like that all the time I was there. I’d bought him some presents and brought along the ones my parents had bought for me. Horry had sent a whole trailer full of gifts for him, so we both had things to open on Christmas morning. I had the perfect jibe for him: I’d bought him presents and he hadn’t bought me any. Ha. Of course he had no way to do that, but neither of us mentioned that. It would have ruined the joke. I’d brought a ton of groceries and on Christmas cooked the turkey, my first ever, but he helped with the meal and we had a ball doing it. I followed Mom’s recipe for the dressing and the gravy and both came out fine.

Oh, I know, I know, you want to know more personal stuff. What happened at the extended sleepover? Damn. I’m not shy, but some things, well, you know. But, I’ve come this far, and you’re probably tapping your foot and maybe your fingers with impatience. So what’s the big deal about going a little further? I guess there is none.

I didn’t think the acorn had fallen far from the tree in his family situation; I’d been pretty sure Holly was gay. Spend time with a guy, you get a feeling about him. But he hadn’t brought it up at all, and—for some reason—neither had I. I guess I did have a reason, and it had more to do with not wanting to change the atmosphere, the relationship we’d developed. We loved to tease and disparage each other playfully, and if I told him I was gay and it turned out he wasn’t, things in that regard might change. It perhaps would be subtle, or maybe it wouldn’t. I didn’t want to take a chance on either of those changes happening, and I didn’t want him learning about me accidentally. I needed to tell him.

I was planning on sharing a bed with him while we were together. So before we retired that first evening I was there, the subject had to be brought up, the matter settled. It seemed I had to lay my feelings bare, to be honest about myself to him. The only questions were how to tell him, and when the right moment would be.

I thought one way to approach it might be to lay hints, perhaps to subtly flirt with him, maybe introduce some risqué comments to our talk. That should set the tone. We were both at that age when guys think about sex all the time. He couldn’t be different in that, could he? Well, one way to find out.

The first thing we did when we were alone in the house and Lady Vile had vamoosed was to unload the stuff I’d brought from the boxes. That was tree decorations, food, house decorations and a couple of movies I liked on DVDs. The food included things needed to make a sage dressing for the turkey. Two of those things were carrots and celery.

So when I was putting away what needed refrigerating while he was advising—it being cumbersome to try to work together with his wheelchair getting in the way—I handled the celery stalks and the carrots in a rather crude way, cupping my right hand around them and sliding it up and down.

Little got past him; I already knew that. I also knew he’d talk about it. That’s what he was good at, finding a way to insult me about whatever I was doing.

“What in the world are you doing to those innocent vegetables?” There was shock in his voice. Well, humor, too, but feigned shock as well.

“Huh? What’s wrong?” I played innocent. “I’m just checking them for freshness? What did you think I was doing?”

“That didn’t look like checking for freshness. It looked more like you were being fresh with them!”

I laughed. “Yeah, right. Like I’d do that in front of you. Although, to tell the truth, I’m surprised you’d understand that motion, you being chaste and pure and all.”

“Huh? Who told you that?”

“I can tell just by knowing you. Now I’m a healthy teen boy. Jerking off is one of my great talents. Cookies and jerking off—I’m in the expert class with each. But you . . . no, I don’t think so. You’re not the type.”

“Says who?” Sounding affronted. Great! This was going to be easier than I thought.

“Well, I just assumed. When you spoke of your dad’s sexual prowess and activities, you sounded a bit Victorian, a little censorial. Like you found his lifestyle objectionable, offensive, even lewd. So I assumed you yourself didn’t indulge in such things such as—.” I stopped talking and again stroked the carrot I was still holding.

He was studying me as I spoke. I was being playful, but he was smart, probably as smart or smarter than I was, and I could see from the look in his eyes that he wasn’t entirely buying it. His next words showed I’d read him correctly.

“You’re up to something. I know your voice, and you’re not being yourself; you don’t sound right. You sound all fake! Hmmm. You’ve never talked about sex since I’ve known you, and here you are introducing it. And it just happens you’re doing that when you’re planning to spend the night here. Uh, just what’s going on here, Charlie?”

I had to decide if he was upset or not. It wasn’t hard to determine that because he smiled and wiggled his eyebrows up and down after asking the question. It was almost like he was flirting with me with his eyes.

I felt pretty good about that but figured I should play along a little longer just to be sure of my footing.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, all innocence still. “You’re the one who put sex on the table here. You’re the one who transformed my perfectly guileless attention to a root vegetable into something depraved. You, not I!”

He grinned. Seeing that, I had to as well. I decided enough was enough. “Okay,” I said. “I was just wondering about you and didn’t quite know how to approach the subject. So, here’s a less subtle approach. I’m gay. And I’m attracted to you. And I only saw the one mattress in the house. It happens to be on your bed, and I didn’t want to sleep with you in that bed without you knowing my proclivities and my feelings. Also, and I hope this is okay to say, my impression is that you’re gay, too. If so, maybe we can break that bed in tonight right and proper in a manner that wouldn’t delay your recovery. If you’re not interested, I’ll keep my hands and other parts to myself.

“There. The ball’s in your court now.”

He was still smiling, so I wasn’t all that worried about his answer.

“Well,” he said, “so am I, and what I’m thinking now is, that tree decorating will wait, and everything that needs to go in the refrigerator is already in it, and it’s been a lot of work putting it away, and I’m beat, even if you did all the work, so perhaps this is the perfect time for us to take a nap. In that to-date-uninitiated bed.”

He started rolling toward the bedroom. I called after him, “I just realized. I forgot to pack any pajamas.”

He called back to me, “GOOD!”

The End

Many thanks to my editors for their skill at making my stories readable. Linc, Colin, Rob and Dan all contributed to the well-being of this story. Glad you guys don’t charge by the word!

And of course thanks to Mike for running such an amazing site. If you, esteemed reader, have been reading for free all this time, shame on you! Please, this is the gifting season, and financial support, a monetary gift to the site, would be so, so useful in keeping it going.

Merry Christmas, everyone! And let’s hope 2021 is a much, much better year than 2020.