Ben desperately needed to get out of the house before he had an anxiety attack. It was bad enough that they over-decorated their home, but now, even here at the cabin, they were all rushing around putting lights and garland on everything in sight. Ben didn’t hate Christmas, not the overall idea behind it anyway. He did, however, hate the over-commercialization and all the stupid decorations.
Obviously, at nineteen, he didn’t believe in that fat elf-lover in the red suit. And flying reindeer? Please. Maybe reindeer in a tasty stew for Christmas dinner, though. He chuckled at his own joke. He looked around at his parents, his little brother, and his two younger sisters. He shook his head. How many freaking decorations does one small cabin need? He grimaced and inched closer to the door.
He tapped his mother on the shoulder. “Hey, Ma, can I get out of here for a little while?” She was about to say no, then she saw the anxious, trapped look in her oldest son’s eyes.
His mother pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket. “Sure, Ben. Go for a drive into town. Pick these things up on your way back, please.”
Ben took the grocery list from his mother. “Thanks, Ma! You’re the best.” He kissed his mother lightly on the forehead and ran out the door.
Ben was driving aimlessly through town with the windows down, despite the winter chill. The cold wind helped to clear his head. Without even realizing it, he was stopped in front of Landon’s house. Ben smiled for the first time that day. He met Landon at the beginning of their freshman year of college last year. They immediately became inseparable. They did almost everything together, except date. Then, after over a year of being best friends, everything changed. Ben’s mind drifted back to that night, October 23. They were, as usual, sitting on the couch in Landon’s basement binge-watching “Supernatural” on Netflix.
Landon looked over at Ben with a curious expression on his face. “After all this time, why haven’t you ever asked me out?”
Ben was almost too shocked to answer. “I didn’t think you were interested in me in that way.” He shrugged.
Landon got up, then straddled Ben’s lap, looking down into his brown eyes. “What if I asked you out?” He asked with a smirk.
Ben looked up, almost unable to speak. “I’d say yes.” His brow furrowed. “Are you asking?” Whatever else he was going to say was silenced as Landon kissed him. Ben’s lips parted, still trying to speak, and Landon’s tongue darted in.
After twenty minutes of a heavy make-out session, Landon casually got up and sat back where he had been before. He restarted the episode of “Supernatural” back at the beginning, then looked at Ben. “So, do you want to go out to dinner sometime?” He smirked.
Ben smiled the biggest smile of his life. “Yes. Absolutely yes.”
Ben focused back on the present. He got out of his car and sighed, shaking his head at the Christmas lights and decorations all over Landon’s yard and house. He slowly walked up to the door and was just about to knock when the door opened. Landon pulled him inside and planted a kiss right on his lips. “Merry Christmas Eve, Ben!”
“Wow. A greeting like that could get me to like the holidays.” Ben laughed.
“You are not allowed to be grumpy about Christmas around me, Benjamin Jacobson!” Landon scolded.
“Whatever.” Ben rolled his eyes.
“What’s up anyway? I thought you guys left for the cabin today.” Landon said.
“We did. Everyone is there, decorating everything in sight. Mom is baking cookies. The cabin is chaos. I had to get out of there. Mom let me go but gave me a shopping list. Want to go for a walk?” Ben asked.
“Sure. Hold on.” Landon stepped from the hall into the kitchen. “Hey, mom, Ben is here. We were going to go for a walk. Is that ok?”
Landon’s mom waved to Ben. “Hi, Ben. Tell your family Merry Christmas for me. You boys have fun. Landon, just please be home before five.”
“Ok, mom, thanks. See you later.” Landon said. He grabbed Ben’s hand, and they walked out the door.
Ben’s eyes darted everywhere as they walked up the street. He pointed up. “See what I mean! Why do we need wreaths hanging off the traffic lights? It’s too much. It bugs me.”
Landon stepped in front of Ben and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s waist. “Why? Why does it bug you so much? I love it. I think it makes the town look pretty for a month. I even plan to decorate our house someday.” His smile broadened.
Ben rolled his eyes. “Ugh! No! To answer your question, though, I don’t know. It’s the whole holiday, I guess. Whichever way you spin it, it’s bogus. Religion is crap, and the Santa myth is just lies spread by parents trying to get their kids to behave. It’s all stupid. Plus, the music is annoying!”
“You must not be listening to the right Christmas music,” Landon said, pressing his forehead against Ben’s. “It is my goal in life to get you to believe in the spirit of Christmas as much as I do.” He said.
“Good luck with that. It would take Santa Claus himself coming down my chimney and hand-delivering me a present to get me to believe even half of it.” Ben laughed.
Landon shook his head. “I don’t need you to believe in an actual person in a red suit so much as in the spirit of giving.” He placed a hand over Ben’s heart. “The spirit of love.”
Ben closed the remaining distance between them and kissed Landon. “I believe in love. I love you. I just don’t love Christmas.” He shrugged.
Landon smiled, his face flushed. “I love you, too. And I guess we can start with that. I’ll have you loving Christmas before you know it.”
The two boys walked into the grocery store. Ben looked around at all the Christmas lights and decorations and shook his head. “Even here! Let’s just get what my mom needs and get out of here.”
Landon held tight to his boyfriend’s hand, and they hurried through the store, gathering what they needed. As they exited the store, Ben took a deep breath. “Lan, can we just go back to your place now? Getting away from the cabin was supposed to help, but this isn’t helping.”
“Sure. Let’s go.” Hand in hand, they walked back to Landon’s house.
They dropped Ben’s groceries off in his car and went into Landon’s house. “Mom, we’re back!” Landon yelled when they entered the house.
“Ben, come into the kitchen and try some of these cookies. I tried new varieties this year. You boys can be my taste testers.” Landon’s mom said.
“I’d love to, Mrs. Parker. I can’t stay long, though. My mom needs those groceries I picked up.” Ben said. They sat around the kitchen table, and Landon’s mom passed out plates of cookies and poured both boys a glass of iced tea.
“Mm, these cookies are awesome,” Ben said with his mouth still full of cookie. “Where’s Mr. Parker and Mason?”
Mrs. Parker rolled her eyes. “They said they were going to Mason’s friend’s house to drop off presents, but you never know with those two. Probably last-minute shopping.”
Landon laughed. “You’re probably right, mom. I’m glad I got my shopping done early. The mall has been packed all this week.”
Ben glanced at his watch. “Lan, I wish I could stay, but I gotta go.”
“Wait for me by the door. I’ll be there in a second.” Landon said.
After Ben left the room, Landon looked at his mother. “Mom, I know it’s Christmas Eve, but can I go with Ben to the cabin? He’s been really stressed out and depressed. I’m worried about him, and I want to be there with him.”
Mrs. Parker thought for a minute. “He doesn’t seem his normal cheerful self.” She patted her son’s arm. “You know I want you here, but go ahead and go with him. I can see how much you care about him.”
Landon blushed. “Aww, mom. You’re the best. Tell dad and Mason I’ll be home before noon. Merry Christmas, mom. Love you.” Landon hugged his mother, grabbed his jacket from the closet, and ran out into the hallway.
“Why do you have your jacket on?” Ben asked.
“I’m coming with you.” Landon smiled and kissed Ben on the cheek. “Let’s go.”
“I can’t believe you’re coming with me on Christmas Eve. What about your family Christmas?” Ben said with a shocked expression.
Landon looked up directly into Ben’s eyes. “I love you. I want to be with you. I told mom that I’ll be home before noon. Now let’s get you back to the cabin before your mom kills us both.”
Ben leaned down and kissed Landon. “I love you, too. I’m so happy you’re coming with me.”
While Ben drove to the cabin, Landon was texting with his brother explaining why he wasn’t going to be home. “We’re here,” Ben said.
Landon looked up from his phone, and his jaw dropped. Wow. It’s so beautiful here. And all the decorations. You weren’t kidding. I love it, but how did they do all this in one day?”
“They’re motivated when it comes to decorating.” Ben rolled his eyes. They walked up to the cabin, and Ben pulled open the door. Loud Christmas music immediately assaulted their ears. Ben grimaced and walked in, followed by Landon. He walked into the kitchen and set the grocery bags down on the table. “I got everything you asked for and picked up something extra for myself.” He grinned and nodded toward Landon.
“Landon!” Ben’s mother said. “I’m surprised to see you, but I’m so happy you could join us. Didn’t your family have Christmas Eve plans?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Jacobson. Yes, they have plans. Usual family stuff, but,” He leaned his head against Ben’s shoulder. “I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with this guy.” Ben blushed and put an arm around Landon’s waist.
“Get a room, you two.” Ben’s sister Alice said as she walked into the room.
Ben smirked. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.”
Landon elbowed him. “Not in front of your mom!”
Mrs. Jacobson Laughed and said, “Oh, don’t worry, Landon. I was eighteen once, too.”
“I’m eighteen now, and I don’t act like a hormone-crazed psycho,” Alice said, rolling her eyes at her brother.
Ben’s other sister, Amy, rushed into the kitchen. “Do I hear Landon’s voice? Hi, Landon! Are you spending Christmas with us? Is Mason with you?”
“Hey, Amy. No, your not-so-secret crush is not with me. He’s home with mom and dad. I’ll be sure to tell him that you asked about him, though.” Landon said with a grin.
Amy blushed a deep crimson. “You don’t have to do that. I don’t have a crush!”
Ben chimed in. “Want us to set-up a double date? Mason is a single pringle that’s ready to mingle. I’m sure he’d say yes.”
“Ugh! Boys! You’re all so annoying!” Amy stormed out of the room.
Ben shrugged his shoulders and looked at Alice. “I was serious. If she’s interested, we can ask him.”
“I’ll go talk to her,” Alice said and went off in search of her sister.
The youngest Jacobson, thirteen-year-old Lucas, walked in the kitchen. “Mom, when are we going to leave to go caroling? I want to be back here before eight o’clock. Oh, hey, Landon. I didn’t know you were coming over tonight.” Lucas bumped fists with his brother’s boyfriend and waited for his mother’s answer.
“Right now, if I can herd all you hooligans into the car.” She said.
Ben spoke up. “Mom, with Landon here, can I skip caroling, please?”
“Landon is more than welcome to join us. Landon, honey, do you want to come Christmas caroling with us?” Mrs. Jacobson asked.
Ben didn’t give Landon a chance to answer. “Come on, mom, please. It would give us a couple hours to just chill without all you guys here. It’s our first Christmas Eve together.”
“Ok. Ok. I really enjoy our caroling, but I understand. You boys have fun. We’ll be gone for about two hours. Behave yourselves.” She said and gathered the rest of the family together, and they all left the cabin.
Ben was waving to his family from the door when he noticed the first few snowflakes starting to fall. He scowled and thought to himself that he didn’t remember seeing snow in the forecast. He took out his phone and opened a weather app. The forecast showed a clear but cold night. Then while he was still reading the forecast, the screen flashed red with a weather alert: Winter Storm Warning. Unexpected snowstorm developing over Douglas County. Blizzard conditions expected with 18-24” of snow. Travel not advised.
“Landon? Have you seen the forecast?” Ben asked as he was walking back into the living room.
“No, babe. Let me look.” Landon pulled out his phone. “Oh, wow. It didn’t say that earlier. That’s weird. I hope your family makes it back before it gets too bad out.”
“Yeah. I’ll text Lucas and make sure they know.” Ben said. “He’s not answering. I’ll try later or text one of my sisters. I’ll get the fireplace going. Go pick out a movie.”
Ben was finishing up getting the fireplace started, and he smelt the popcorn cooking. Good. Landon found the popcorn. He smiled to himself. He stood up from the fireplace and pulled his phone out of his pocket. Finally, a text from Lucas. “This storm caught us quick. The roads are already so bad that mom talked dad into going home for the night. She said to say sorry that you guys are gonna be at the cabin alone. I know that won’t be heartbreaking for you, bro. Ha-ha. See you guys as soon as we can tomorrow. Merry Christmas, Bro. Tell Landon I said the same.”
Landon walked into the room, carrying a big bowl of popcorn and a six-pack of Sprite. “Nice fire. I scrolled through Netflix and picked out The Christmas Chronicles. I’ve heard it’s good, and I haven’t seen it yet, have you?” He sat down on the couch and handed a sprite to Ben and put the rest on the floor beside them.
Ben smirked. “Have you looked outside?”
“No. Why?” Landon asked, going over to the window. “Oh, my God. Have you heard back from anybody yet? Are they safe?”
“I just got a text from Lucas. Mom decided that they should spend the night in town at our home. We’re on our own for the night.” Ben winked at Landon.
Landon sat back on the couch and leaned in against his boyfriend. “Let’s start the movie then.”
Ben put his arm around Landon and turned on The Christmas Chronicles.
“I’m so glad my family didn’t make up any corny nicknames like Teddy Bear or Kit Kat,” Landon commented as the movie played. But this is a cute movie so far.”
“Cute guy, too. I might have to check his IMDb after the movie.” Ben said.
Landon rolled his eyes. “His name is Judah Lewis, and I’ve seen him in “The Babysitter” and yes, he’s cute.”
“He’s not half as cute as you, babe.” Ben leaned over and kissed Landon. Landon pulled Ben down on top of him, and the kiss deepened. Ben broke the kiss just long enough to reach over and turn the lamp off. Landon grabbed the remote and turned the tv off. The room was now lit by the light from the fire and the Christmas lights. The silver and gold garland sparkled in the dim light.
Ben looked down into Landon’s eyes. “You are even more beautiful in this light. How did it take me over a year to,” Whatever else he was going to say was silenced as Landon’s lips met his again. Landon’s legs wrapped around his boyfriend’s body, pulling him close. Then from overhead, “Thump! Thump!” The boys pulled apart from each other and sat up.
“Did you hear that?” Ben asked. “Is there something on the roof?” He looked at Landon, worry showing in his eyes.
“It did sound like it came from the roof. Wait. What’s that? Bells?” Landon said.
“It can’t be. Someone must be playing a joke on us.” Thumps on the roof and bells. Come on.” Ben tried to laugh, but it sounded more nervous than amused.
“In this weather? Look outside, Ben. They’d have to be nuts to get up on the roof in that snow, and the wind is literally howling. It’s gotta be a blizzard out there.” Landon said.
Then the fire in the fireplace blinked out. It didn’t sputter and die, it blinked out all at once, embers and all. Thump! A figure now stood where the fire had just been. Ben looked over at Landon, who was looking back at him, his bright green eyes wide with shock and awe. Landon mouthed words to Ben without speaking aloud, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Ben shook his head yes. What they were both seeing was a rather rotund man dressed all in red trimmed with white. His hat was red and came to a point with a white pompom on top and white fur trim all around the bottom. The man’s coat was also bright red with white fur trim. The buttons on the coat looked to be solid gold. His belt was black with a gold buckle. His pants were bright red and tucked into black leather boots, which also had gold buckles. The man was carrying an enormous red sack, which also had white fur trim around the top. The bag appeared to be full of oddly shaped items.
When the man turned to face them, they saw that he had a full beard of white, and his cheeks were tinged red from the cold outside. The man winked right at Ben, then turned towards the Christmas tree and started unloading wrapped presents from his sack and setting them under the tree. When he was finished, he turned back toward Ben and Landon. “I normally don’t like an audience while I’m working.” He said with a grin. “But, you,” He pointed at Ben, “have lost not just your belief in me, but your belief in all that I do.”
Ben could barely speak. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know if I’m awake or dreaming right now. How can you be real? If you are real, how can you go all over the world in one night? Are there reindeer on the roof right now?”
The man smiled. “You are very much awake, Ben. Just ask Landon. I am real, and I am kept real by the belief of the children of the world. And older kids like Landon, who still believe in the magic of Christmas. I don’t visit every house like some of the legends claim. I visit the kids who need something a little extra. Kids who wouldn’t have gotten anything if I hadn’t shown up. Or kids like you who needed something to believe in again. Parents take care of the other kids in my name.” Santa said.
“I just. I don’t know. I just think that the whole holiday has just been ruined by stores and crappy music, and I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s just all too much.” Ben said.
“Don’t focus on all that. Focus on the joy it brings to people like Landon. People like your family. Christmas brings loved ones together. Christmas is the spirit of giving. Not just giving presents but giving happiness and love.” Santa said.
Ben looked over at Landon. Landon had tears streaming down his face, but a broad smile on his face. Ben took one of his boyfriend’s hands between both of his and held on tight. “You’re right, Santa. Lan has tried to tell me the same thing. I’ve been looking at it wrong. What’s important is people, not things. I don’t even know how to thank you.”
“Cookies and milk next year. And don’t light the fire. I almost came down before I saw it.” Santa grinned. “One more thing, Ben. Here you go.” Santa handed Ben a present, then with a wink of his eye, he disappeared in a flash of light. The boys heard the tinkling of bells and the clomping of hooves, then a loud “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Ben and Landon rushed to the window and looked out. They saw a large golden sleigh pulled by nine reindeer flying off into the blizzard shrouded night sky. A bright red light shone from the front of the sleigh, lighting the way through the darkness.
“We just met Santa Claus!” Landon nearly squealed.
“I know, right! Oh my God. I’m sorry I bugged you about Christmas, Lan.” Ben said
“It’s ok, Ben. I love you. I can handle your moods and your anxieties.” Landon replied.
“Let’s wait until everyone else gets here tomorrow to open this stuff. It has all their names on it. They’re never going to believe us!” Ben laughed, setting the gift that Santa had given him under the tree with the rest.
“Yeah. I agree. Let’s wait. Let’s finish watching Christmas Chronicles and then go to bed.” Landon said.
Ben pulled Landon into a fierce hug. “I love you so much, Landon. For you, more than for anyone else, I promise to always keep the spirit of Christmas alive in my heart.” The two boys turned the movie back on and fell asleep cradled in each other’s arms as their first Christmas Eve together ended, and their first Christmas Day began.