Return From Paradise (Intro)

Taylor stepped out of the Light. He looked around and grinned. Taylor was finally home. Most people beyond the Light found peace and contentment, but Tay only found mind-numbing boredom. He longed for an adventure. It took a lot of convincing, but Peter finally allowed Tay to leave. Everyone beyond the Light was shocked. No one could remember anyone ever willingly returning to the land before the Light. Taylor shrugged. He had never fit in anywhere else, why should he fit in there? He took one last look over his shoulder and watched the Light disappear. What now?

Tay took a closer look around and scowled for just a moment. He was exactly where he was when he entered the Light, the bottom of the big hill on Mill Town Road. Taylor had a brief flashback of the two bright lights, and he shivered. He sighed and started walking up the hill. Taylor had his backpack slung over his shoulder, is skateboard tucked under his arm, and he knew he would be home in less than fifteen minutes. Life could be worse. Tay wondered what everyone would think when he showed up. How much had changed in the six months he had been gone? He was excited to get home to surprise his family and friends.

When he reached the top of the hill, Tay set his board down and glided down the other side. He skated all the way to the end of his driveway. As he picked up his board, he noticed two teenage boys playing in his front yard. He thought they looked familiar, but he wasn’t sure who they were. Tay assumed they must be friends with his little brother Dustin. Dusty was way more popular than Tay, and it seemed like he was friends with the entire town. Taylor walked over to the two boys, who eyed him suspiciously.

“Hey, guys, where’s Dustin?” Tay asked.

“Dustin who? The only Dustin I know is our dad.” One boy said.

“No, no. Dustin Bell. He’s my little brother. We live here.” Tay pointed at the house.

The two boys looked at each other, both confused. The older boy spoke. “What are you talking about? Who are you? Dustin Bell is our dad. We live here.”

Tay’s eyebrows shot up, then a look of intense concentration formed on his face. “That can’t be right. I’m Taylor Bell. Dustin is my younger brother. This is where we’ve lived our entire lives. Who are you guys, and why are you lying to me?”

The younger boy tapped his brother on the shoulder. “Jimmy, look at his skateboard! Look at him! He looks exactly like all the pics of Uncle….” Crash! The sound of breaking glass stopped the boys’ conversation.

“Tay? How can you be standing there? You look exactly like the night you left. Even your clothes are the same!”

Taylor looked at the older man standing behind the two teen boys. He squinted his eyes nearly shut, then opened them again. “Little Chief? Is that really you?”

The man stepped in front of the two boys. “I didn’t want to believe my own eyes, but no one else has ever called me that name. How are you here, Tay? Are you a ghost?”

“I’m not a ghost. I’m back, Dusty. How… how long was I gone? It was only a few months for me.”

“Tay, you died thirty-two years ago. I was devastated. I’ve missed you so much. We all have. What’s happening, Tay? How are you here?” Tears were streaming down Dustin’s face, and his two sons were both intently watching and listening.

Taylor reached out and took Dustin’s hands. “I’m back, Dusty. I’m here, but I have no idea why it was six months for me and thirty-two years here. Time must move differently over there.”

“Over where? Where have you been? We… we buried you, Tay.”

“Can we go inside the house and talk?” Tay looked at the two teenagers again. “These are your kids?”

“Yes, and yes.” Dustin put his arm around the older boy. This is Jimmy and that is Brian. James Dustin and Brian Taylor to be exact.”

“I’m named after you, Uncle Tay.” Brian beamed.

“That’s cool,” Taylor said. “How old are you boys?”

“I’m 14 and Jimmy is 15,” Brian answered.

“This is confusing, Uncle Taylor,” Jimmy said.

“I’ll explain it all the best I can when we get inside, Jimmy. I’m a bit confused myself.”

Home at Last

Chapter 1

The sun was just coming over the horizon as Noah Blake turned off the highway.  He reached up into the visor to get his sunglasses as he continued to drive east.  Noah leaned back and pressed down harder on the gas pedal.  Noah had been happy with his life in California, and he was dreading going home.

 Home. Did he even have one now? Noah doubted that he’d ever return to California. He needed to be near his mother now with everything that she was going through. New Jersey sure wasn’t home anymore. His father made that clear five years ago. Noah shrugged. Maybe someday he’d find a home of his own. A home he chose, not a home he ran to in order to escape a home where he was no longer wanted. Noah hated returning to New Jersey. However, circumstances made it necessary.

He tried to banish all the thoughts of his family drama, and, instead, Noah’s mind drifted to all the Facebook messages from Holly Simmons. Out of some quirk of fate, his five-year high school reunion was happening tonight, his first night back in town. Noah wasn’t sure if he’d actually show up. Would Tyler be there? What about Xander? If they were there, would either of them even talk to him? Noah sighed. He’d have to face them eventually.

In a town as small as Green Haven, there would be no avoiding them. Screw it. He may as well go to the reunion and deal with his former friends all at the same time. With that decision made, Noah pulled into the parking lot of the motel, which would be his temporary home. He’d decide how to proceed with his family drama later. Noah got out of his car and walked into the motel office.

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler cursed. Why did he attend this class reunion? The last person that Ty wanted to see was the first person that caught his eye. What the hell was Noah Blake doing back in town? Tyler cursed himself and wiped away the tears that came unbidden to his eyes. He thought he was over Noah. Shouldn’t five years be long enough to heal a broken heart? Tyler wiped his eyes and turned back toward the door. He was about to make his escape when he heard someone yell his name.

“Tyler? Tyler Higgins, is that you? Get over here right now! I can’t believe you actually came!” Tyler knew who that voice belonged to before he turned around. There was no escaping now. He’d been spotted by Holly Simmons, Homecoming Queen, Head Cheerleader, Gossip Monger Extraordinaire. Tyler hung his head, sighed, and walked over to the tables reserved for the class reunion.

“Hey, Holly. Of course, I’m here. I live right down the street. You probably would have sent the football team to my house if I hadn’t shown up.” Tyler laughed.

“Oh, you! I’ve missed your sense of humor! We should hang out more.” Now go ahead and have a seat. I set up seating arrangements. You sit right over there.”

Tyler looked where she was pointing and groaned. Of course, she put him right next to Noah. “This seat is empty. Why don’t I just sit here next to you, Holly?”

“Tyler Higgins! Don’t you go messing up my seating chart already! Once dinner is over, everyone will be moving around. For now, go sit in your seat!”

Tyler raised his hands in mock surrender. “Ok. Ok. I’m going.” He smiled and hugged Holly, but he walked past his assigned chair and on up to the bar instead. Ty leaned against the bar and waved the bartender over. “Give me a double of the strongest thing you have.”

The bartender smirked. “You with the class reunion?” She asked.

“How’d you guess?” Tyler chuckled.

She nodded toward the drink she was pouring for him. “Too many ex-girlfriends in one room?”

Ty rolled his eyes. “Nope. Just one ex-boyfriend.”

“Oh, now I’m interested. The first drink is on the house. Tell me more.”

Tyler heard a voice from behind him. “Ty? Can we talk?”

With a heavy sigh, Ty said to the bartender, “As if on cue, that’s him.” He turned and, for the first time in over five years, looked up into Noah’s chocolatey brown eyes. “No. We most certainly cannot talk, Noah. If I’d known you’d be here, I wouldn’t have even shown up.”

“Fine. Go sit with your friends. I’ll leave.”

Tyler laughed despite himself. “That’s perfect, Noah. Leave. Run. That’s what you’re best at anyway, isn’t it?”

“Ty, I had to get out of that house. I had to get out of this town. I was suffocating here. It was better for everyone.”

“And you had to leave me, too, right? Why are you even here if you hate it so bad? You should have just stayed in California.”

“I… leaving you was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, and it’s my biggest regret. You know how my dad was, Ty. He would never have accepted me, and it would have been a hundred times worse if he knew about us.”

“So, you just left? No warning? One night we were on a normal date planning for our future, and the next morning I get a goodbye text?”

“I wanted to tell you, but I just couldn’t. It’s…. It’s a long story, Ty. You deserve to know the whole thing, but not here. Maybe we can find the time, and I can tell you.”

“Screw you, Noah. You were a coward. You didn’t just break my heart: you shattered it into a billion pieces. I ran all the way to your house that morning, only to have your mom tell me that you were already gone. Why didn’t you wait for me, Noah? Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?’

“Ty, I had to get out. I had to. I couldn’t stay one minute longer.”

Tears glistening in his eyes again, Tyler said, “You could have asked me to go with you.”

Noah’s eyes grew wide. “But… your whole family accepted you. Your life was here. You had it all planned out. You would never have left all that.”

“I would have gone with you. You should have known that.” Tyler didn’t wait for a response. He turned and walked back toward the reserved tables.

Noah started to follow after him, but a hand grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Give him a few minutes, Noah.”

Noah turned to see Xander Morris. Xan was both Noah’s and Tyler’s best friend all through school. “Hey, Xan. I should have known you’d be here if Ty was. How have you been?”

“I’ve been good. How about you? How’re things out on the west coast?”

“Eh, I’ve been better. I just moved back to town. I’m not even settled in anywhere yet. Everything is all screwed up, Xan. I didn’t even realize how bad I screwed up with him until just now.”

Xan nodded. “You made a mess of it for sure. You should have talked to him, hell you should have talked to me, too, before you just up and moved three thousand miles away and changed your phone number.”

“My dad cut my phone off as soon as I left. He cut me off from my bank accounts and everything. As soon as he found out that I’m gay, he disowned me.”

“That really sucks, Noah. I’m sorry that happened to you, but it’s actually another reason you should have stayed here. You wouldn’t have been alone. You had us.”

“I know. I’m back now, and I’m going to try and make things right with a lot of people if it’s not already too late.”

“You’re in town for more than just the reunion?”

“Yes. I’m back for good. Let’s go eat. More people than you will want to hear the answer to that question, so I may as well get it over with all at once.”

Noah took his seat next to Tyler, sitting down just as his dinner arrived. Ty barely looked at Noah all throughout the meal. Noah glanced at Tyler several times and wracked his brain, trying to think of a way to get him talking again. Quiet conversations were going on during dinner, but the conversations increased in both number and volume as people finished their meals. Leave it to Holly Simmons to turn the spotlight onto Noah.

“Noah Blake, how did we get so lucky to get you to show up? I didn’t think we’d ever see you again.” Holly said.

“It was fate, I guess. If you’d had the reunion in the summer as most other classes do, I wouldn’t have been here. I’m back in town now, so I saw no reason not to come.”

“We tried to have it in the summer. If we continued to leave it up to Jason, we wouldn’t have had it yet. Rachel and I took over and finally got it scheduled. Anyway, how long are you in town for?” Holly asked.

“Forever. I’m not settled in yet. I got back to town today, and I’m here to stay.”

That caught Tyler’s attention. He was now listening intently.

“Your parents must be overjoyed to have you back just in time for the holidays.” A girl named Alice interjected.

Noah’s expression changed from a smile to a frown in the blink of an eye. Tyler noticed Noah’s fingers nearly drumming holes into the table, a telltale sign of his anxiety. Tyler knew that his ex-boyfriend, his ex-best friend, was doing his best to stave off an anxiety attack. Tyler almost reached out a comforting hand in a reflex action, but he gritted his teeth and held back. He did continue to closely watch Noah’s body language.

“I…” Noah started to talk, then stopped. he sighed and started back up again. “I’m here for my mom. She’s in the hospital again. She might be there for a while.”

Xander and Tyler, from each side of Noah, spoke almost as one. “Is the cancer back? I thought she beat it?”

Noah kinda half smiled as he looked back and forth between his two oldest friends. “Yes, it’s back, and the doctors say it’s worse than before. It doesn’t look good.” Tyler saw Noah’s fingers drumming even faster and literally sat on his own hands to stop himself from comforting the boy who shattered his heart.

Holly spoke again. “That’s so sad, Noah. It must be a comfort to her that you’re here. Also, for your dad to have you to lean on during such a difficult time.”

“I’m not staying with my father,” Noah said, his expression dark.

“Why not?” Holly asked.

Noah looked around the table at all the people listening, all his former friends and classmates. He looked down, then he looked back up again. “My father disowned me five years ago when he found out that I’m gay. I can’t even visit my mom in the hospital if he’s there.”

Tyler sucked in a breath. He knew that it was a massive step for Noah to say that out loud and say it to so many people. And his dad found out! Tyler was extremely curious to hear that story!

Holly nearly jumped out of her seat. “I knew it!” She pointed from Noah to Tyler and back again. “The two of you were a couple back in high school, weren’t you?! I knew it!”

Noah smiled, but Ty could see that his eyes still looked sad. “Yeah, we were, but then I screwed it up.”

Holly looked like she wanted to ask more about that, but she looked at Tyler and changed her mind. She looked back at Noah and asked, “So if you’re not staying at your parent’s house, where are you living?”

“For now, I’m at the motel down on Seaside Drive.”

Tyler couldn’t stop himself this time. He put a comforting hand on Noah’s shoulder. “No. You’re not going to be living by yourself in that dump through Thanksgiving. While your mom is in the hospital, you’re coming home with me.”

Noah turned toward Tyler, his eyes glistening with tears. “Are… are you sure?”

“It doesn’t mean that you’re forgiven. Don’t read anything into it other than the fact that no one deserves to be alone on Thanksgiving, not even you.” Tyler got a wicked glint in his eye and smiled when he said those last three words.

“I can accept that. I don’t have a car yet. I returned the rental that I drove here earlier this afternoon. I took an Uber here. I was gonna go looking for cheap used cars in a day or so. Can you take me back to the motel before we go to your house?”

“Yeah.” Tyler glanced around the table. “Most people have already left. Let’s get outta here and get you settled in.” The two boys said their goodbyes to their classmates that were still there and then made their way out to Ty’s car.

Xander followed the other two out to the car and pulled Tyler aside. “Are you sure that this is a good idea, Ty?”

“No. Not at all, but I’m not letting him spend the holidays alone. Especially not with his mom in the hospital with her cancer back. We both know what he went through last time, Xan. This sounds worse, plus he doesn’t have his dad anymore either. Did you know about that?”

“No. I didn’t know about the thing with his dad or about his mom. I would have told you.”

Tyler glanced into the car and then back at Xander. “I can’t let him go through this alone. I still love him, Xan, even after what he did. I shouldn’t, but I do.”

“Be careful, Ty. I don’t want to see you get hurt even worse than you already have been.” Xander pulled Ty into a hug.

“I’ll call you tomorrow. Even if I don’t need backup or a buffer between Noah and me, maybe we can all hang out. I miss those days. The three of us had a lot of fun.”

“I won’t hold you to it, but I should be available if you call. I don’t have any plans for tomorrow. I love you, Ty. Be careful.”

“I love you, too, Xan. I’ll call you tomorrow. Good night.” Tyler got into his car and looked over at Noah. “Do you need to stop anywhere besides the motel?”

Noah raised one eyebrow and looked out of the window at the receding form of Xander. “Nope. Just the motel.”

————————————————————————————————————

It didn’t take long for Noah to pack everything he owned into a duffel bag and his backpack. “I need to stop at the front desk and make sure they save my room, and I’ll have to pay for next week’s rent,” Noah said as he locked the door.

“No. Turn in your key. You’re not coming back here. You can stay with me until you find something permanent.” Tyler said.

“Are you sure, Ty? I don’t want to impose, and you haven’t even asked your mom yet.”

“Oh, please. My mom always loved you more than she loved my brother or me.” Ty laughed.

“She did not!” Noah laughed. “Is Tommy still living there? He’s eighteen now, right?”

“Yep. Still there and almost nineteen. He’s a freshman in college now. Still, my bratty little brother, though.”

“Cool. If he doesn’t hate me, it’ll be nice to see the little squirt again.”

“I’m the only one who has a right to hate you.” Ty arched an eyebrow. “I’ll make sure everyone else behaves.”

“Can we make one more stop before we go to your house?”

“Sure. Where?”

“The grocery store. I don’t want to show up empty-handed.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “My mom is used to you eating her out of house and home. She fed you more often than your own mom did for thirteen years. I don’t think she’ll care about a couple of weeks.”

“Things are different now, though. Let me do this.”

“One condition. I know mom wouldn’t want you to bring too much, but we’ll make it a junk food and soda run.”

“Deal. Let’s go.”

————————————————————————————————————

The two boys struggled, both with their arms full of grocery bags, as Tyler unlocked the kitchen door. He nudged the door open with his foot and flicked the light switch on. They tried to be quiet in the darkened house. Still, between the plastic grocery bags and opening and closing cupboard doors, soon enough, the boys were startled by a voice from behind them.

“As I live and breathe, that cannot be Noah Blake standing in my kitchen. I never thought his shadow would darken my doorway ever again.”

The boys spun around and saw Tyler’s mom standing in the kitchen doorway, wearing a bathrobe and slippers. She stood with her hands on her hips and an unreadable expression on her face.

“Mrs. H! It’s been a long time!”

“That it has, Noah. That it has.” Debbie Higgins’ gaze shifted from Noah over to her eldest son, but she didn’t say a word. She just arched one eyebrow.

Tyler gave his mom a shy smile, nearly blushing. “He needs a place to stay, mom. I’ll explain everything to you in the morning. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not. It’s getting late. You finish up in here. Noah, darling, I’m sure you remember where the hall closet is?” She said with a gleam in her eye.

Now it was Noah’s turn to blush. Many memories were attached to that closet, including the first time Mrs. Higgins caught him and Tyler kissing. “Yes, ma’am. I remember.”

“I thought you might. Go get me a set of sheets and a blanket. I’ll pull out the couch. You can sleep there tonight.”

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler woke up to the sound of his bedroom door banging open and his younger brother jumping on his bed. “Tommy, what the hell. What time is it?”

“It’s quarter past eight, but that’s not the question that needs answering. Why is Noah sleeping on our couch?! I didn’t even know he was back in town, and I’d never dream you’d invite him over!”

“Ugh. Tommy, it’s complicated. I… I gotta explain some stuff to mom and dad. I’ll just tell you all at the same time, so I don’t have to say it three times.”

“Are you guys getting back together? He’s not in here with you, so maybe not?” Tommy was shaking his brother so he didn’t fall back to sleep.

“Get off me. Geez. Go to the kitchen. I’ll be out in a few minutes, but, no, we’re not back together.”

“I want answers, bro,” Tommy smirked. “If there are details that you don’t want to tell mom and dad, just make sure you tell me later.” Tommy laughed and left the room.

Tyler rolled his eyes at the receding form of his brother, then he got out of bed and headed to the shower.

————————————————————————————————————

As Tyler walked to the kitchen, he mentally kicked himself for taking so long to get himself ready for the day. He wasn’t going on a date. Ty had zero reasons to make himself look extra good for Noah, but that’s just what he did. Tyler picked out the perfect outfit. He paid extra attention to getting his hair just the way he wanted it. What was wrong with him? Ty spent the last five years hating Noah, and now that he had him here, and he could tell him exactly how he felt, Tyler realized that he only hated Noah so much because he was still head over heels in love with him.

Tyler walked into the kitchen and heard the conversation that he planned on having already taking place. It was just as well. The story was Noah’s to tell anyway. Tyler busied himself getting breakfast while Noah finished telling his story. Ty felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see his father standing beside him.

“I’m proud of you, son. Not many people would have done what you’ve done, inviting him over here. I have to go to work for a few hours, but I’ll be home early. If you boys go to the hospital and run into any trouble, give me a call.” Ty’s dad gave him a wink. “I’ve never liked Paul Blake, and now that I know how he’s treated his son, I like him even less.”

Ty smiled. “We’ll be ok, dad. Thanks. I love you.”

“I love you, too. See you tonight.”

Tyler grabbed a couple more slices of bacon and sat at the table. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Tyler let the three voices at the table wash over him but tuned out the conversation. He let the voices of his mom, younger brother, and Noah take him back in time to much happier memories. Ty smiled as his mind drifted back, but that didn’t last long. Whenever he tried to remember the good times with Noah, the memory of the day Noah left pushed its way to the front of his mind. Tyler relived the feeling of waking up to the goodbye text and then running as fast as he could to Noah’s house. He felt his heart break anew at the memory of Noah’s mom telling him that Noah was already gone. Tyler remembered Noah’s dad just standing in the doorway, glaring at him. He felt his eyes sting as the tears formed. Then Tyler felt someone’s hand grip his own.

Ty opened his eyes and saw his mom leaning toward him. She reached over and wiped a tear off his cheek. “You did the right thing bringing him here, son.” She looked over at Noah. “I realize that the two of you have a lot of baggage,” she looked back at Tyler. “But you made the right choice. I know it can’t be easy.”

“Thank you, mom. That means a lot.” Ty turned his head and saw Noah staring at him. “No matter how I feel about you, there’s no way that I could let you stay at that fleabag motel by yourself while your mom is in the hospital.”

“How do you feel about me, Ty? Is there any way I can ever make you understand why I left? Can I ever be forgiven?”

Tyler wiped his eyes. “I honestly don’t know how I feel about you right now, Noah. I’ve spent five years trying to hate you, but I don’t hate you. I don’t know if I am ready to forgive you either. Can we please just go to the hospital and see if we can get you in to see your mom? I’d actually like to see her, too. My dad said to call him if we have any problems getting in.”

Noah sighed. “Yeah, let’s go. I… want to talk to you about everything that happened, Ty. I want to explain, but only when you are ready to listen.”

“We’ll talk, Noah. I promise. Just not right now. Are you ready to go?” Noah nodded, and the two boys grabbed their coats and left the house.

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler led Noah through the hospital up to the third floor Nurse’s Station. Mrs. Blake was in room 327, according to the receptionist in the lobby. Noah was about to walk right to the room, but Tyler stopped him and pulled him over to the desk to talk to the nurses. Ty flashed his most charming smile at the young red-headed nurse at the desk. “Isabella! How is my most favorite nurse in the entire hospital doing today?”

Isabella rolled her eyes and laughed. “I bet you say that to all the nurses, especially the boys. Speaking of which, have you called my brother yet? I told him that I gave you his number!”

Noah suddenly became interested in the conversation as his eyes darted back and forth between Tyler and Isabella.

“You know you’re my favorite, Izzy, and no, I have not called Ozzy yet. I was busy with school, and now I have a few other things going on. I haven’t forgotten. Tell him that I’ll call while I’m home for the holidays as long as other things,” Ty’s eyes darted over to Noah before refocusing on Izzy. “don’t keep me busier than I expect.”

“You won’t be calling if I have anything to say about it,” Noah grumbled louder than he meant to.

“You don’t have anything to say about it. You gave up that right five years ago.” Tyler frowned at Noah and then turned back to Isabella. “Izzy, this is Noah. We are here to visit his mom.”

“Wait, not the Noah you told me about. I thought he moved to California.” Izzy said.

“Yep! The very same Noah. He’s back in town.”

Isabella’s eyes darted back and forth between the two boys. And you’re here together?”

Noah frowned but didn’t say anything. Ty smirked. “Yeah, we’re here together. His mom is in 327. Can you tell me if she has any visitors right now?”

Izzy pointed at Ty. “You have some explaining to do when I get you alone, mister.” She looked down at her computer screen and hit a few buttons. “There aren’t any visitor restrictions, Ty. Even if someone is in there, you guys can go in.”

Ty leaned forward and spoke in a lower tone of voice. “There’s a history of family drama. We’d rather make sure that no one else is visiting.”

“Understood.” Izzy walked down the hall and then returned. “All clear, Ty. Go right in.”

Chapter 2

Noah walked into his mom’s room, followed closely by Tyler. Cindy Blake looked up from the magazine that she had been reading, and her eyes opened wide in surprise. “Noah! I didn’t expect to see you! I didn’t even know that you knew I was in the hospital. Who’s that with you?” She peered around her son and smiled, though her face still looked sad. “Tyler Higgins. I shouldn’t be surprised. I rarely saw my own son without you at his side.”

“Not for the last five years,” Tyler said. “But, anyway, I’m so sorry to hear about the cancer, Mrs. Blake. How are you doing?”

Noah and Tyler sat on opposite sides of Cindy Blake, each holding one of her hands. “I’m doing ok. We’ve been down this road before, Tyler. I know what to expect.”

Noah kept glancing at the door. “Mom? How often does dad come to visit?”

“It depends on his work schedule. At least once or twice a day, though. Why do you ask?”

“I told him that I was coming. He said not to bother. He told me that I wasn’t welcome at the house or here at the hospital.”

Tyler spoke up. “He won’t kick you out of your mom’s room while I’m here.” Then Ty frowned and looked down. “Unless you decide to just run away again.”

“Tyler, I…”

Cindy Blake looked from one boy to the other several times then interrupted her son. “Noah, can you go see if the nurse can get me a fresh pitcher of ice water and maybe some crackers?”

“Sure thing, mom. I’ll be right back.” Noah said as he got up and walked toward the door.

“Take your time, son.”

Tyler started to follow Noah, but Cindy did not let go of his hand. She pulled him back toward the bed. “Sit down, Tyler. We need to talk.”

“What’s up, Mrs. Blake?” Ty asked as he sat back down on the bed.

“Tyler, you have to stop blaming him for leaving. If you want someone to blame, blame me.”

Ty took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “With all due respect, Mrs. Blake, he left. You didn’t. He didn’t have to leave, at least not all the way to California.”

“I don’t know how much he has told you of what happened back then, but it was bad.”

“I know his dad kicked him out, but he could have come to me. My family would have helped him. Hell, he even could have gone to Xander, but he didn’t. He went to California.”

“There was more to it than just his father kicking him out, but I will let Noah tell you about that. It’s not my place, but what I want to tell you is that after Noah and his dad had their… disagreement, he came to me asking for help. I could have stood up for my son, but I didn’t. Instead, I told him to leave. I told him that it was in everybody’s best interest if he moved as far away as possible and never looked back.”

Tyler scowled. “He still could have come to me.”

“Tyler, my husband is a highly respected police officer in a small town. I convinced my son that his leaving was also in your best interests. I’m sorry. I should have stood up to my husband. I should have protected my son.”

Tyler heard loud voices in the hall, and he listened intently. “Mrs. Blake, do you hear those voices? That’s your husband preventing your son from coming back in here to visit you. If you are truly sorry for what you did five years ago, prove it now. Fight this cancer. Stand up to your husband. Noah needs you in his life, and he needs you healthy. I’ll go out there and take him home for today, but we are coming back tomorrow. Make sure he can come in.”

Cindy Blake cocked her head to the side and stared at Tyler for a moment before she spoke. “You still love my boy, don’t you? I like you, Tyler Higgins. I always have.”

“I never stopped loving him. I don’t think I ever will. I just need to be able to trust him again.” And with that, Ty left the room.

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler stepped out into the hallway and paused a moment to take in the scene in front of him. He had been told about Noah and his father’s tension, but he still didn’t know how bad it was, and this was the first time he was witnessing it with his own eyes. Mr. Blake was standing in the middle of the hall, literally using his body to block Noah from going into the room to see his mother. Paul Blake was pointing and yelling at Noah while Noah practically cowered against the far wall. Ty steeled his nerves and strode across the hall and stood between father and son.

Paul Blake stopped in mid-sentence and sneered at Tyler. “What are you doing here? Get out of my way. I’m having a private conversation with my son.”

“It stopped being a private conversation when you started screaming in the middle of a public place.”

“It’s none of your business, boy. Now run along and take him with you. He’s not getting into that room.”

“I used to have a lot of respect for you, Mr. Blake. Both as a person and as a police officer. I never realized that you were just another mean bully. And by the way, it’s up to your wife who visits her and who doesn’t.”

Paul narrowed his eyes. “Don’t test me. If I don’t want him in there, he won’t get in there.”

“Maybe you should go talk to your wife. For now, I’ll take Noah home, but we will be coming back.”

“That embarrassment of a son has no home.”

“He may not have a home with you, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a home. Noah is no embarrassment. He is amazing. Noah is kind, and he is compassionate, loving, and so many more things. It’s your loss that you don’t want him in your home. He has a home with me. Now and forever.” Tyler turned his back on Paul Blake, grabbed Noah’s hand, and led him down the hallway and out of the hospital.

As the boys reached Tyler’s car, Ty went to let go of Noah’s hand, but, instead, Noah pulled Ty in for a hug. “Thank you so much, Ty.”

“Anytime, Noah. No one deserves to be treated like that.”

“Did you mean what you said?”

“Every. Single. Word.” Ty grinned.

“I want to kiss you so bad right now, Ty, but I don’t want to mess up anything that we might be rebuilding.” Noah huffed out a laugh.

Tyler’s grin grew wider. “Hold onto that thought. That door isn’t open yet, but it’s not closed and locked either. Now get your cute ass in the car. We have some errands to run for my mom before we go home.”

“You think I have a cute ass?” Noah smirked.

“I’ve always thought that. To be honest, I’d say the last five years have been good to you.” Ty waggled his eyebrows and got into the car.

Noah couldn’t help but smile as he ran around the car and got into the passenger’s seat.

————————————————————————————————————

Noah and Tyler stumbled through the kitchen door, arms laden with shopping bags. Both boys were laughing as they regained their balance and set the bags down on the kitchen countertop. Debbie Higgins arched one eyebrow. “Are you boys ok? I take it that your trip went well?”

The laughter died down, and Tyler shrugged. “It could have gone better, but I think that I made an impression on Mrs. Blake.” Ty winked at his mom.

Noah threw up his hands. “Yeah, and he won’t tell me what they talked about, but, Mrs. H., you should have heard what Ty said to my dad! He was incredible!”

Tyler blushed. “I only spoke the truth.”

“Woah! What’s that smell? Pizza!” Noah yelled. “I almost forgot that you guys always have pizza the night before Thanksgiving!”

“Pizza and movies,” Tyler said. “And if we have a guest, they get to pick the movies. You should remember.” Ty smirked.

“Yes! The best two non-Christmas Christmas movies of all-time! ‘Diehard’ and ‘Gremlins’!”

Tommy walked into the kitchen. “Finally! We haven’t watched those two movies since… well, since the last time you were here, I think.”

“Why not?” Noah asked. “They should be part of the tradition by now.”

“Because you weren’t here to pick them. The movies weren’t part of the tradition. You were.” Tyler said with a frown.

Noah reached over and took Ty’s hand. “I’m here now. Let’s watch the movies.”

Tyler shrugged, but a small smile crept onto his face. “Ok. I suppose we can.”

“Great! Just like the old days.” Tommy cheered and ran into the living room to get the movies started.

As the credits began to roll on ‘Diehard,’ Tyler started to get up off the couch. He felt a weight against his left side and noticed, for the first time, that Noah was pressed right up against him. The night had been so calm and relaxing that Ty hadn’t even realized it happened, even though his own arm was wrapped around his ex-boyfriend’s shoulder. Ty smiled down at the other boy. “Hey. How long ago did this happen?”

Noah grinned. “A while ago… I don’t know how long… it… seemed right. Do you want me to move?”

Ty’s smile faded. “I…”

“You do want me to move. I can see it. Do you want me to leave?” Noah sat up and slid to the other end of the couch.

“Noah, no… I…” Tyler sighed. “I don’t know what I want, but I do know that I don’t want you to leave. I didn’t notice that you were next to me, because you’re right. It felt natural. It felt like that’s where you belong.”

“So… do you… uh… can I…” Noah started to tentatively scoot closer to Tyler.

Tyler extended his hand, and Noah took it, their fingers entwining. “Come with me. I think it’s time for that talk that I’ve been avoiding all day.”

Ty’s mom spoke up. “Do you want us to leave you boys alone in here, Tyler?”

“No, mom. We’ll go to the dining room. You guys stay and enjoy the next movie.”

“We’re not starting ‘Gremlins’ without you guys. That was always Noah’s favorite!” Tommy interjected.

“Thanks, Tommy. You’re the best.” Noah grinned.

“You guys take your time. We’ll be ok in here.” Tyler’s dad said.

“I don’t even know why we’re going into the dining room. It’s not like I’m not going to tell you guys everything anyway.” Tyler said.

Debbie Higgins gave her son ‘the look,’ “Go talk in private. I’m sure we don’t need to hear all the details. You can give us the highlights later, but only if you both want to.” She glanced at Tommy for a second. “We will all respect your privacy if there’s stuff you don’t want to share.”

“I understand, mom.” Ty nodded toward the dining room. “You ready for this, Noah?”

Noah took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah. I think I’ll feel a lot better after I tell you everything, and maybe then we can figure out if there can be an us in the future.”

————————————————————————————————————

The boys sat on opposite sides of the dining room table, and Tyler focused his gaze on his ex-boyfriend. “Here’s your one and only chance, Noah. Make me understand why you ripped my heart out without an explanation other than that half-assed goodbye text.”

Noah took another deep breath and began. “You know that I always felt suffocated in this town. Neither of us was truly allowed to be ourselves. Yes, your family knew about us, and Xan knew and like two others at school, but mostly we had to pretend to be best friends. I was proud to have you as a boyfriend. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.”

“That’s more of a reason to stay, Noah, not a reason to run away.”

“I know. I know. I’m getting to that part. I… I’ve never said all of this out loud. I’ve done my best to bury my feelings for the last five years, Ty.”

“You and me both.” Tyler nearly snarled.

Noah got a sad look on his face and continued. “The night of the graduation party, after I dropped you off at home, I wasn’t ready to go home. I made the stupid decision to go back to the party. By the time I finally went home, I was pretty drunk. Yeah, I know, you would have been pissed at me for drinking and driving, so I didn’t tell you that part either.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “You’re exactly right, but I don’t think that’s what you wanted to tell me about.”

“Well, I guess I thought I’d go ahead and unload everything while I’m at it.” Noah huffed out a laugh. “But you’re right. That wasn’t the worst thing to happen that night. I walked into my house, and my dad was still up watching tv. He got up when he heard me come into the house. I tried to get to the stairs and go right to bed, but he stopped me. He started yelling at me. He said he could smell the booze, and he said I was lucky I didn’t kill myself or anyone else. Then he gave me a dirty look and said that he hoped that I didn’t get any girls pregnant in my drunken stupor. Before I even realized what I was saying, I told him that I’d never get any girls pregnant because I was gay and in love with the most beautiful boy in the world.”

Tyler’s eyes grew wide. “You actually said that to your dad?” Then Ty blushed and cocked his head to the side. “Did you mean it? Do you really think I’m beautiful?”

“I said it. I meant it then, and I still mean it now. You are still the most beautiful boy… man… in the world.”

“So, what did he do then? I can’t imagine him taking that well.”

Noah looked down and sighed. He stared at the table and drummed his fingers faster and faster. “This is where the story gets difficult.”

Ty reached over and placed his hand over Noah’s. “You are safe here. You can tell me anything. I… I need to hear this, I think. I’ve been angry at you for so long. I need to know what happened. I need to know why you left.”

“He hit me, Ty. After I said what I said, the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor looking up at my dad as he started kicking the crap out of me. I wasn’t sure if he was going to stop. I thought my dad was going to kill me right then and there.”

Tyler gasped in shock. “The black eye and the bruises. I remember that. You said you got in a fight with a kid from school, but you wouldn’t tell me who because you didn’t want me to go after him. Why didn’t you tell me that it was your dad?”

“He threatened to do it again if I told anyone. He said he’d hurt you, too. Ty, we couldn’t even go to the police. Hell, he is the police! They wouldn’t have believed me over him. So, I decided that I had to leave for my own safety and for yours.”

“Maybe I could have helped.” Tyler motioned toward the living room. “Maybe we could have helped. Worst case scenario, I would have gone with you. Didn’t you know that? I would have gone anywhere to be with you.” Tears started forming at the corners of Tyler’s eyes.

Noah got a pained look on his face. “I didn’t want to mess up your life. You had everything planned out. Never mind a five-year plan. You had a fifty-year plan! How could I ask you to throw that all away?”

Ty leaned in closer to Noah. Tears began to drip out of his eyes and roll down his cheeks. “You idiot! I had a fifty-year plan because of you. Living a life with you was my plan. I could have easily adapted the plan to California or anywhere else. When you left, everything fell apart. My life fell apart. I failed all my classes the first semester at college because I couldn’t concentrate on anything except wondering why you left. I dropped out of school completely and took two years off. I’m only in the middle of my sophomore year now. I loved you more than anything. I fell apart without you.” The tears were flowing faster now, and Tyler started to sob uncontrollably.

Noah leaped to his feet, rushed around the table, and pulled Ty up out of his chair. Noah wrapped his arms around Tyler and pulled him close. “Ty, I am so sorry. I… I thought I was doing the mature thing. I thought I was doing what was best for you. I thought you’d be better off without me.” Noah held Ty’s head tight against his shoulder while his other hand gently caressed the other boy’s back.

Ty melted into the hug and allowed himself to cry for the first time in five years. He lifted his head off Noah’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “I’ve been angry with you for so long. I didn’t let myself cry over you except for that first day. It was easier to be mad. I’m still mad, but I think I understand now. You should have talked to me. We should have made that decision together just like we made all of our decisions together.”

Noah cupped Ty’s face with both hands and used his thumbs to wipe away the tears. “I am truly sorry, Ty. I know I can never apologize enough, but I want you to know that leaving you was the biggest mistake of my life and my biggest regret.”

“You have to give me time to process everything, Noah. Now that I know what happened and why you did what you did, now I can begin to understand and maybe forgive you.” Tyler’s hands had unconsciously settled on Noah’s hips as he still clung to the other boy. His eyes flicked down at Noah’s full sensuous lips before looking back up into his eyes. “You know that I always have to overthink everything.”

Noah smirked down at Ty. “Do you remember how I used to get you out of your head so you could let your heart take control?”

Ty’s eyes sparkled, and his mouth opened to speak, but before he could utter a word, Noah’s lips met his in what started as a sweet, simple kiss. Ty pulled back for a second, and their eyes met, then Ty’s hands were in Noah’s thick curly hair pulling the taller boy down into a much more passionate kiss. Ty’s lips parted, and their tongues began battling back and forth into each other’s mouths fighting for dominance. Without realizing it, Ty was sitting on the tabletop with his legs wrapped around Noah’s hips in a full-blown make-out session. Then he remembered where they were and jumped up. The two boys separated, and Ty spun around, making sure they were still alone. No one else was in the dining room. Tyler blurted out, “I… I didn’t mean for that to happen!”

Noah looked hurt. “Are you sorry that we kissed? Do you want me to leave?”

“No! Don’t be an idiot! And stop asking if I want you to leave. We still have things to figure out.” Ty wrapped his arms around Noah’s neck. “I’m not sorry that we kissed. I don’t want you to leave. Not now, not ever. Do you understand me? Don’t you dare ever leave me ever again.”

“I don’t deserve you. Not even a little bit.”

“You’re wrong. Don’t be an idiot. You deserve better than me. I should have made you feel comfortable enough to tell me anything. I should have found you after you left. I should never have given up on you… on us.”

“You had no way of knowing any of what I just told you or where I went. None of what happened is your fault. It’s all on me. And, hey, no one has called me an idiot in five years, and now you’ve done it like five times in ten minutes. I’m gonna start to believe it soon.”

“You should believe it. You’re an idiot, but I love you.” Tyler let out a big sigh. “Yeah, that feels right. I love you, Noah. I don’t think that I ever stopped loving you. That’s why I tried so hard to hate you.”

“I never stopped loving you either, Ty.” Noah leaned in, and their lips met in another fierce kiss. They broke apart and turned toward the living room when they heard the sound of someone clearing their throat.

“Get a room, you two!” It was Xander. He was standing there in the doorway, grinning like a fool. “I’ve been waiting all day to hear something. Finally, I decided not to wait for you to text me, Ty. I wanted to make sure you two weren’t murdering each other, so I texted Tommy to see if it was ok to come over. I showed up just in time to see the tongue wrestling show. I guess you’ve made up?”

Tyler blushed. “I… we’re working on it. There’s so much that we didn’t know, Xan.”

Ty’s parents and brother followed Xander into the dining room. Ty’s mom smirked at her eldest son. “Is it safe for us to come in here?”

Tyler blushed a darker shade of red. “Yeah. It’s safe. Sorry about that. Did you guys hear any of his story?”

“Bits and pieces. I always knew that Paul Blake was an arrogant jerk, but I never suspected he was abusive to his own family. You boys be safe when you go to the hospital tomorrow. Maybe all three of you should go together.”

Xander’s eyes grew wide. “Abusive?” He walked over and put a hand on Noah’s shoulder. “Can you please tell me what happened? The two of you have always been brothers to me. I want to understand. I want to help.”

“Have a seat, and I’ll tell you everything. I’m so sorry, Xan. I should have talked to you and Ty about all of this instead of running away, but just know that I’m back to stay. I want to try my best to earn forgiveness from both of you.”

While Noah began retelling his story for Xander, Tyler stepped away and walked over to his mother. “I saw the look, mom. I… I’ll be careful.”

“I know you will, son. I trust you,” She looked right into her oldest son’s eyes. “My opinion, if you want it, is that you are making the right choice. He made a mistake. He was young, and he was going through a lot. Should he have made better choices? Yes. Should he have confided in you and Xander? Yes. But he was eighteen years old and dealing with more than any teenager should have to deal with. He thought he was protecting you. I forgive him, do you?”

Tyler’s eyes were glistening with tears again. He looked from his mother to Noah and back again. “Yes. I think I do. I forgive him. I still love him, mom. I don’t think I ever stopped.” Tyler wiped his eyes and turned to see Noah and Xander standing there staring at him.

“You ok, Ty?” They said almost in unison.

“Yeah. Let’s get back to the tv. We have another movie to watch.”

“Tommy said there’s more pizza, too! I can stay, right?” Xander asked.

Mrs. Higgins shook her head. “Of course, you can stay, Xander. You are always welcome in this house.”

“Well, I’d hope so with my best friend and my,” Xan unconsciously looked at Tommy.

Tommy smirked. “And your what?”

“I… my…” Xander glanced around the room nervously.

Tyler’s eyes darted back and forth between his little brother and his best friend. “Oh! My! God! Please tell me that you two finally got together! It’s about damn time!”

Tommy stared at his brother, mouth agape. “What do you mean by finally? It just happened a couple days ago, and it was only a kiss.”

“Oh, come on! The two of you have been lusting over each other for years.” Ty laughed.

Tommy looked over at Xander and quirked one eyebrow. “Is that true?”

Xander blushed a deep scarlet. “Well… yeah… of course it is. I mean, look at you. You’re gorgeous.”

Now it was Tommy’s turn to blush. “I’m not half as hot as you. If you liked me, why didn’t you say something sooner? I’ve known you my whole life.”

“That was actually part of the problem. I mean, you’re my best friend’s little brother, but that alone wasn’t the entire issue. At first, it was your age. When I first realized that I was attracted to you, you were thirteen, and I was seventeen. The four years felt like a huge deal. Then you were dating Reed, and I was dating Kevin. Then I was in college, and you were in high school, and that didn’t feel right either.” Xander shrugged. “Now, the age difference doesn’t matter, and we’re both single. When you looked at me the way you did the other night, I knew the timing was finally right.” Xander’s smile nearly split his face in two.

“That is the absolute sweetest story I have ever heard. You two are like a Hallmark movie. Well, once you add a little spice in there.” Noah said.

“Are we sure it’s gonna be a Hallmark movie, or is it gonna be a porno?” Tyler laughed.

“Tyler Joseph Higgins, you behave yourself!” Debbie Higgins shouted.

Ty put his hands up defensively. “Go ahead and defend your baby boy. Just remember he’s eighteen, not eight!”

Tommy blushed, but he also huffed out a laugh as he took Xander’s hand and led him into the living room. “I think it’s time to start ‘Gremlins’ if anyone wants to join us!”

“Movie Night at the Higgins house never was dull!” Noah laughed as everyone followed Tommy and Xan into the other room to watch the movie.

After the movie was over, Mr. and Mrs. Higgins went to bed, and Tommy walked Xander out to his car, leaving Ty and Noah alone on the couch. Noah was, again, curled up against Tyler’s side. Noah cocked his head and looked up at Ty. “Mm. I could just stay here all night. I’m too comfy to move.” Noah yawned and laid his head back onto Tyler’s chest.

Ty smirked. “Are you sure there’s nothing I could say to get you to move?”

Noah’s eyes popped open wide. “Well, maybe there’s one or two things that could wake me up. What are you suggesting?”

Tyler sighed, but he smiled. “Nothing. Not tonight. I still need to process everything that’s happened and everything that I’ve found out.” Ty cupped Noah’s face with one hand. “There is one thing that I’m sure of. I love you, Noah Blake. I never stopped loving you. I will love you forever.” Ty leaned in, and their lips met. Noah laid back on the couch and pulled Ty down on top of him as the kiss deepened. Noah wrapped his legs around Ty’s hips and moaned. They started thrusting against each other. They heard the front door close, and they untangled from each other and sat up just as Tommy came into the room.

Tommy gave the other two boys a quizzical look. “Uhm, you guys look a little flushed. I think I’ll just go to my room. Have fun, guys!” Tommy giggled and disappeared up the stairs.

Ty shook his head and smiled at Noah. “I think that’s my cue to go to bed, too.”

Noah got a pouty look on his face. “Does that mean that I have to stay out here?”

“For tonight, yes. If you slept in my bed, we’d end up doing what we almost just did.” Ty huffed out a laugh.

“That’s the perfect reason for me to sleep in your bed, not a reason not to!”

“Give me tonight to wrap my head around all this, Noah. I’m not saying no, I’m just saying not tonight.” Ty got up and helped Noah turn the couch into a bed and then, after one last kiss, went off to his own room to sleep.

Chapter 3

Tyler woke to the sound of his bedroom door opening for the second morning in a row. He covered his face with a pillow and groaned. “Tommy, why are you waking me up again? Ugh!” When he didn’t hear his brother answer him, he uncovered his face and blinked open his eyes. His heart nearly skipped a beat or two when he saw that it wasn’t his brother. Noah stood just inside the bedroom. He was shirtless and wearing only a pair of baggy pajama pants.

“Your mom said that breakfast is almost ready. She sent me in to wake you up.” Noah said.

It only took Ty two seconds to make a decision on what he wanted. He held open his blankets and smirked. “I’m already up. Come join me.”

Noah’s mouth fell open. He gaped at Tyler’s naked body and sprang into action. He pulled the drawstring on his pajama pants and let them fall to the floor. He left the clothing behind and slid into the bed next to Tyler. “You sure about this, Ty?”

Tyler rolled over on top of Noah and looked down into his eyes. “I’m surer of this than I have been of anything in a long time.” He said and leaned in for a kiss. Noah wrapped his legs around Ty’s hips as they thrust their bodies together. Lips, tongues, and hands tried to be everywhere at once. Necks were kissed, ears were nibbled, shoulders were bitten. Noah moaned into Ty’s ear as his hands slid down Tyler’s back, finally cupping his lover’s backside, urging their bodies together. All too soon, their mutual lust erupted in twin explosions that splattered all over Noah’s body from his groin clear up to his chin. Ty collapsed onto Noah and then rolled over to lie next to him.

“That was intense and amazing,” Ty said, nearly out of breath.

That was beyond amazing. Also, it was quite surprising. I thought you needed more time to process things.”

“I was awake most of the night. I processed. When I saw you in the doorway, I decided what I wanted. I’m glad you agreed.”

“Ty, from the minute I saw you at the reunion, I knew I still felt the same way that I always have. I love you more than words could ever express.”

Ty leaned up on one elbow and bent down to kiss Noah again. “I love you, too. I know now that I never stopped.”

Noah smirked. “I want more than sex. I want it all. All the little things. All the big things. But,” Noah huffed out a laugh. “While I’m lying here completely covered in our combined love juice, I have to say that sex with you is better than anyone and everyone else combined. One thing though, next time, we need condoms and lube. I want… no I need… to have you inside me.”

Ty grinned. “I was just about to tell you the exact same thing, so I guess we will need lots of condoms and lube.”

“That works for me!” The boys quickly pulled the sheet up to cover themselves when they heard the sound of the bedroom door opening. They caught a glimpse of Tommy before he backed out of the room and pulled the door shut behind him. Tommy reopened the door, but just slightly.

“Sorry, guys! But I’m so happy for you!” Tommy laughed, then in a louder voice, they heard Tommy yell out. “I told them, mom! They said they’ll be down for breakfast in like ten minutes!”

Ty and Noah heard Ty’s mom yell from downstairs. “Tell them it’s not my fault if breakfast is cold!”

Tommy whispered into the partly open door. “You two better hurry up before mom comes up here herself.” Then the door closed, and Tommy ran back downstairs.

Noah huffed out a laugh. “Super quick shower? Obviously, I need one even if you don’t.”

“Quicker if we shower together,” Ty smirked.

“Not necessarily.” Noah grinned.

“We do need to hurry, so we best both behave.” Ty laughed.

————————————————————————————————————

When Noah and Tyler finally walked into the dining room, thankfully, everyone else was still there and still eating. Debbie raised one eyebrow as she looked at them both. “That ten minutes was closer to twenty.” She focused her gaze on Noah. “And I sent you up there to bring him down twenty minutes before that. I won’t even ask what you two were up to up there!” Then her expression softened. “Just know that I’m happy for both of you. I know from the time you were both five years old that you were meant to be friends forever. I didn’t know yet that it would be more than friends, but friendship is the bedrock of the best marriages anyway.” While she said this, she had reached over and grasped her own husband’s hand without even realizing it.

Ty’s dad interlocked his fingers with his wife’s and held up their hands for the boys to see. “What she said is true. My wife is my best friend, and that is just how it should be.”

Ty smiled broadly. “I hope we can say the same someday when we are old like you guys.” Noah tried to stifle a laugh from behind Tyler.

Debbie rolled her eyes. “Shut up and eat some breakfast.”

————————————————————————————————————

After Mr. and Mrs. Higgins left the breakfast table, Tommy brought his own dishes into the kitchen and then sat back down at the dining room table. He looked over at his brother and Noah and smirked. “You two sure are eating a lot. You guys work up an appetite this morning?”

Both boys blushed, and then Ty said. “We did at that. Why do you ask? Do you need pointers on what to do with your new boyfriend?”

Tommy grinned. “I know what I want to do with and to Xander. I don’t know if we’ve labeled ourselves boyfriends yet, though. I’ll have to pin that down.”

“You know I love you both to pieces, and I support whatever relationship that you have, but It’s also gonna be a little weird for me at first.”

“We’ll figure it out. Nothing should really change for you. He’s over here all the time anyway!” Tommy laughed.

“True. And I have my own stuff to worry about.” Ty said.

“I hope that I am not considered a worry,” Noah said.

Ty blushed and smiled. “You know what I mean. Everything is changing. Changing for the better, but changing all the same. You know it takes me a bit to adjust.”

Noah leaned over and gave Ty a soft, sweet kiss. “Take all the time you need, babe. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

Tommy rolled his eyes and chuckled. “If you two keep up like that, I might need a barf bag!”

Tyler shook his head. “Whatever, little bro! Anyway, are we ready to head out to the hospital? Who’s going? Just me and Noah?”

“Xander mentioned wanting to go, and I’m ready anytime,” Noah said.

“If Xan is going, I’ll go, too,” Tommy said.

“We should leave soon to make sure we get back before mom is ready to serve dinner. It is Thanksgiving Day, after all. She’ll kill all of us if we’re late.” Ty said.

Tommy looked up from his phone. “Xan will be here in less than five minutes, and he said that he’ll drive.”

————————————————————————————————————

Xander, Tommy, Noah, and Tyler all walked off the third-floor elevator. Nurse Isabella noticed them and motioned for Ty to come over to the desk. She smiled at him as he approached. “First, I see that you’re still with your ex, and you look happier than I’ve seen you in a long time. Should I tell Ozzy not to expect a call?”

Ty blushed. “I am happy, and I’m not single anymore.” Tyler shrugged. “If Ozzy wanted to hang out sometime, that would still be cool, but it wouldn’t be a date.” Tyler looked thoughtful. “There are some single gay guys that I’m friends with in college. Maybe I’ll throw a New Year’s Eve party and invite them and invite you and Ozzy.”

“Can I bring my plus one?”

“Of course. The more, the merrier!”

Izzy’s expression turned serious. “The more important reason that I waved you guys over here is to tell you that Noah’s dad is in visiting his wife. I know that was a problem yesterday.”

“Thanks, Izzy. We’ll deal with it, and I promise we won’t cause too much of a scene.”

“You better not, or I’ll call your dad before I call security.”

Ty winked at Izzy, and then he turned to Noah. “Did you hear that?”

Noah sighed. “Yeah. Let’s go see what happens.”

Noah turned the corner and stepped into his mother’s room. His father looked up and glared. What are you doing here?”

Noah’s mom reached over and put a hand on her husband’s arm. “Paul, I told you that I want to see him. My son is here to visit me, not you. If you want to give up on your son, that’s your decision, not mine.”

Paul Blake looked furious. He glared down at his wife and then nearly stomped his way toward the door. Noah stepped aside, but his dad stopped right in front of him. “She may want to let you in here, but you are never setting foot in my house ever again. You left some of your trash behind when you ran off to California. It will be in the front yard tomorrow. If you don’t pick it up before Monday, the garbagemen will take it to the dump.”

Noah began to nod his head and was about to speak, but Xander stepped in front of him and looked Mr. Blake right in the eyes. “I used to defend you when the other kids in school complained about mean ole Officer Blake. I told them that you were a super cool guy and a fair cop. I spent a lot of time at your house over the years, and I’m ashamed that I never saw the truth about you. You’re nothing but a mean bully.”

Paul looked at the four boys and sneered. You’re all worthless scum. Get out of my way.” He bumped Xander with his shoulder, and he stormed down the hallway and out of sight.

After they visited with Mrs. Blake, Xander dropped the other three boys off at the Higgins house. Tommy was bummed that Xander couldn’t stay, but their relationship was brand new, and it was Thanksgiving Day. Xan already had dinner plans with his extended family. Head hanging down, Tommy followed his brother and Noah into the house.

————————————————————————————————————

Noah pushed back from the table and rubbed his stomach. “That was fantastic, Mrs. H! I’d forgotten how good a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings could be! Even the cranberry sauce was mouth-watering.”

“Why, thank you, Noah. It’s refreshing to have someone who appreciates the time I put into cooking. I always did like you.” She winked at him. “Just for that, you get the first choice of desserts before these other animals devour it all. That is if you’re still hungry?”

“Dessert? Of course, I’m still hungry!” Noah cheered.

Pies were brought in, along with a plate of cookies, most of which were gone in the blink of an eye. Tommy helped his mom clear the table of dishes. Noah sighed and looked over at Tyler. “I guess the next thing to worry about is getting my stuff off of my parent’s front lawn.”

“How much stuff did you still have there?”

“Not a lot. If you know someone with a pickup, it would definitely be just one truck full.”

“What are you boys talking about?” Mr. Higgins asked. “Why is your stuff on the front lawn?”

“When my mom made my dad let me visit the hospital, he retaliated by saying that I could never again set foot inside his house. I didn’t leave much behind when I left five years ago, but whatever was still there is now out on the lawn. If I don’t pick it up before Monday, the trash man will.”

Mr. Higgins grumbled under his breath, cursing Paul Blake. “Noah, I can get a truck. We’ll go get your stuff tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mr. H! You guys are the best. The only thing now is I don’t know where I’ll put it. I… have nowhere to live right now. I guess I’ll rent a storage unit.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Noah Blake.” Debbie Higgins turned to look at her husband, and unspoken words passed between them. “Bring everything here.” She said.

“Wait… what? Why?” Noah asked, confused.

“You’re going to live here as long as that’s something you want. I haven’t even talked this over with Tyler yet, so it’s really up to you boys, but I am extending the invitation. Move in here with us. The guest bedroom has loads of closet space, and we can find room for anything else that you want to bring.”

Noah was speechless, but Tyler wasn’t. He let out a whoop and leaped to his feet to hug his mom. “I have always known that I have the best mom ever, but you’ve topped everything else just now. Thank you for this, mom. I love you.” Ty turned to look at Noah.

Noah’s lips were trembling, and his eyes were wet with tears. “Ty? Do you really want me to live here? Like not a temporary thing, but actually live here? Is it really ok?”

Tyler slowly walked over to Noah and pulled him to his feet. Ty cupped Noah’s face with both hands. “Noah Samuel Blake, yes, I want you to live here. Everything my mom just said, I mean all that times infinity. If anyone told me last week that I would say this to you today, I would have called them crazy. The last couple of days have shown me why every relationship I’ve ever tried to have has failed over the last five years. You own my whole heart. You always have.”

Noah leaned forward and gently kissed Tyler. “Mm. If we weren’t in the middle of the dining room in front of your parents and brother…” He let the sentence go unfinished.

Ty returned the kiss then pulled back. “Well, now you’ve made it too obvious for us to disappear into my bedroom. We’ll have to revisit this discussion later.”

Mrs. Higgins cleared her throat. “Good idea, boys.” Then she chuckled. “And, yes, we know you are both grown adults and not teenagers anymore. We don’t care if you sleep in your own rooms or together, just for Pete’s sake, don’t be as loud as you were this morning!”

Both boys blushed deep scarlet and said almost in unison. “Sorry! We promise to be quieter!” Then Tyler added, “Unless we are home alone.” Ty’s mom rolled her eyes and laughed.

————————————————————————————————————

After the third episode of ‘Lost in Space – Season 1,’ Noah stretched and yawned. “I think it’s time for me to call it a night. Good night, everyone!” He put a hand on Tyler’s knee and squeezed gently as he stood up, then he strolled up the stairs.

“I’m pretty tired, too,” Ty said. “Good night, guys!”

Tommy laughed. “What a coincidence. Have fun, big brother!”

Ty grinned and ran up the stairs. As Ty rounded the corner, he saw Noah leaning against the wall, his red and black flannel shirt already mostly unbuttoned. Noah waggled his eyebrows. “Your place or mine?”

Tyler closed the remaining distance and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt with both hands pulling him in. Ty pressed his body close to Noah and claimed his mouth in a hot passionate kiss. Ty pushed Noah against the wall. His lips and hands were everywhere at once. Ty kissed along Noah’s jawline and lightly nibbled on his earlobe. At the same time, his hands were busy unbuttoning and unzipping anything that needed unbuttoning or unzipping. Ty’s hands slipped beneath the waistband of Noah’s tight boxer briefs, and Noah moaned into Tyler’s ear. “Oh, God, Ty, we better move this into one of the bedrooms before we end up having sex right here in the hall.”

“My room. It’s closer.” Ty said. They were both stripping off clothes as they stumbled into Ty’s bedroom. By the time Ty closed and locked the door, Noah was naked and pulling Ty down on top of him on the bed. 

Ty stared down at Noah, his eyes filled with that rare combination of love and lust. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed us. I’ve missed this.”

Noah reached over to the bedside table and then handed the bottle of lube and a condom to Tyler. “So, have I. I hope you don’t plan on getting much sleep tonight.” Noah smirked.

Ty grinned. “We have five years to make up for. Who needs sleep?”

————————————————————————————————————

The next morning was filled with another visit to the hospital, thankfully uneventful, and the boys ran errands for Mrs. Higgins. After a quick lunch, they borrowed a pickup from one of Mr. Higgins’ friends and picked up all of Noah’s belongings from his parent’s front yard. It was mid-afternoon by the time that they collapsed onto the living room couch with their tasks for the day finally complete.

“I still can’t believe that he threw all your stuff all over the yard like that. It wasn’t even stacked.”

Noah shrugged. “I’m not surprised. That chapter of my life is over now. If I have my way, I will never see him or go near that house ever again.”

“What about when your mom gets out of the hospital?”

“We can meet at a restaurant, or she can come here. I’m not taking the chance of dealing with him in that house with no witnesses.”

“I understand completely.” Then Ty looked around and smiled. “Not to change the subject, but we are home alone right now. NO need to be quiet.”

Noah arched one eyebrow. “How long are we alone for?”

Tyler shrugged. “A couple hours. Tommy is at Xander’s house. Dad went in to work, and mom is at the mall for Black Friday sales.”

“Let’s go!” Noah said, and he began pulling off his shirt even as he ran up the stairs. Both boys were already naked within seconds after they reached Tyler’s bedroom. Ty tackled Noah down onto the bed, and they rolled around wrestling for a few minutes. Noah ended up on top of Tyler and had Ty’s hands pinned down over his head. Ty wrapped his legs around Noah’s hips and leaned up and kissed him. Noah’s lips parted, deepening the kiss as he pressed his entire body down on Tyler. Ty was thrusting his hips up and moaning into Noah’s mouth. Noah broke the kiss and looked down at Ty, and smirked. “After last night, I guess it’s my turn.” He waggled his eyebrows and thrust his hips, grinding their groins together.

“Oh hell, yes!” Ty leaned over to the nightstand, grabbed the lube and a condom, and handed them over to Noah.

“I know you always used to prefer our roles reversed… are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes. I mean, I’m sure more often than not, it will be the other way, but yeah, I want this right now. I need you inside me, Noah. I need that closeness. The bond. Let’s do this.”

————————————————————————————————————

Tyler woke up to the sound of his bedroom door slamming open and his brother jumping on his bed. “Ty! Wake up! It’s Christmas Eve morning!”

“Ugh! I’m awake! How many times have I told you not to come in here without knocking, Tommy? What if Noah and I had been doing stuff that you wouldn’t want to see us doing?” Ty tried to sound mad, but he huffed out a laugh.

“Noah is in the kitchen making breakfast. I knew you two weren’t in here having sex. Geez. Give me a little credit, big bro.”

“Why did you wake me up?”

Tommy sighed. “I need some advice.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “I think the ship has sailed on giving you the talk. I’m sure Xander has stolen your innocence by now!”

“Oh, please. I lost my v-card to Reed Simmons. It’s not about sex, you perv. I’ve never been in a serious relationship before. I mean… Reed and I were together for over a year, but it wasn’t serious, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I get it. So, what’s your question, little bro? How can I help?”

“Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and it’s our one-month anniversary. What should I do?”

“If I know my bestie like I think I know my bestie, he’ll already have something planned. Let me talk to him and find out on the down-low. It would be silly if you both planned something different for the same night.” Ty thought for a second. “Flowers would be good, though.”

“Thanks, Ty! You’re the best big brother a guy could ask for.” Tommy jumped off the bed and headed toward the door.

“Oh, one thing, Tommy,” Ty said.

“Yeah, what is it?”

“Make sure you put out tonight. That’s the best anniversary gift ever!” Tyler snickered. Tommy rolled his eyes and ran out the door laughing.

————————————————————————————————————

The day of Christmas Eve went by relatively quietly for Tyler. Tommy was out with Xander, but Ty and Noah decided to spend a quiet day at home with Tyler’s parents. They’d been binging Christmas movies and snacking on fresh baked cookies and hot buttered popcorn all day long. Now, after dinner, they sat back in front of the tv and put on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Noah leaned into Ty’s side and looked up at him. “It really is a wonderful life. Well, now it is anyway.”

Ty smiled. “It’s been quite a month.”

“I know, right? I was lost and alone when I moved back here from California. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or where I would stay or really anything. I’m not even sure why I went to that class reunion. Boredom, I guess. I just needed to get out of that dirty motel room.” Noah huffed out a laugh.

“You never went back, except to pick up your things,” Ty smirked.

“I thought you hated me. You wouldn’t even let me talk to you at first. I was in shock when you brought me here that night.”

“The best decision I ever made. Plus, even if I did hate you, which I never did, I could not let you stay in that motel. When you came out to the entire class and then told everyone about your mom. I reacted on impulse.”

“Now, my mom is out of the hospital, and she left my dad. Her life is getting better right along with mine.”

“Mine is, too.” Ty leaned over and gave Noah a kiss. “And with that in mind, we have a tradition in this house. We each get to open one present on Christmas Eve.” Ty looked over at his mom. “Do I have to wait for Tommy to get home?”

“No. He said that he’ll be home late. You go on ahead.”

Ty grinned and walked over to the tree. He reached into the branches and pulled out a small package wrapped in red, white, and gold paper. Ty motioned for Noah to join him by the tree. Noah walked over and extended his hand to receive the gift.

Tyler reached out with his free hand and grabbed the front of Noah’s shirt. He pulled the other boy in and planted a kiss firmly on his lips. When he broke the kiss, Noah smiled. “What was that for?”

Ty grinned. “Do I need a reason to kiss the man I love?”

“Well, no, but…”

Tyler cut him short and pointed up. “Ah,” Noah said. “Mistletoe. That wasn’t there earlier. When did you put that up?”

“While you were in the kitchen helping mom with the last batch of popcorn.”

“Sneaky devil.” Noah grinned. “Can I have my present now?” Ty handed the gift over to Noah, who gleefully ripped the wrapping paper off of it. He opened the box and held up a single key. Noah looked puzzled. “What’s this go to?” He asked.

“Do you remember what we were doing last weekend?”

Noah thought for a second. “You don’t mean the condos on the beach, do you?”

“The very same. The one that you said you liked the best is ours as long as you still want to move in with me. I have until the twenty-ninth to change my mind, or I can make one phone call, and it’s officially ours. What do you think?”

“What do I think? I think that you’re freaking awesome! Yes! Of course, yes. There’s nothing I want more than to live with you.”

“You’ve been living with me for a month.” Ty huffed out a laugh.

Noah smirked. “No offense to your parents and Tommy, but this will be different, and you know it. This will be a place that is just ours.”

“That’s the plan. It’s also rent to own. If we like it well enough, it can be ours forever. It won’t just be an apartment. We can make it into our home.”

Noah took one of Ty’s hands and placed it over his heart, then he put his own hand over Tyler’s heart. “I love that you want to build a home for us, but I want you to know something. Ever since the first day I saw you way back when we were five years old, somehow even back then, I knew. My parent’s house was no longer my home. California was never my home. You are my home, Tyler. Wherever you are is where I want to be. Here. An apartment. Our new place. As long as we’re there together, it is home.”

Tears were flowing down both boys’ cheeks. Ty leaned in and gave Noah another kiss. “I love you with all my heart, Noah. I always have and I always will.”

Noah blushed and smiled. “Can I give you my gift now?”

Ty grinned and wiped the tears off his face. “You better!”

“Well, I was super nervous about this, but with the condo and the proclamations of love, it kinda boosts my confidence in your response.”

“Aw. Babe, what is it? Why would you be nervous?”

Noah smiled and pulled a small box out of his pocket, then he dropped to one knee. He opened the box and held it out toward Tyler. “Tyler Joseph Higgins, I have loved you nearly my entire life, and I will love you forever. I can’t imagine a life without you. I nearly lost you once. I never want to take that chance again. Will you marry me?”

Ty’s tears were flowing freely now, and he heard his mom squealing with glee in the background. Ty pulled Noah to his feet and kissed him. Ty’s hands ran through Noah’s hair as the kiss became passionate. Then Ty broke the kiss. He looked behind him at his parents. “Ooops. Sorry! I got carried away.” Then he looked back at Noah. “Yes! If you couldn’t figure it out, a billion times yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!”

Noah scooped Tyler up into his arms. He looked over at Ty’s parents. “Good night, Mr. and Mrs. H!” Then he carried his fiancé up the stairs and into his bedroom. He set Tyler down on the bed, and as he turned to close the door, he said, “Just think, a month ago I was almost homeless, and now I am finally home at last.”

The Haunting of Tommy Mills

“Tommy, who were you talking to?”

“My new friend Lucas. He said he lives here.” 

“Where is he?”

“He’s right next to you. Geez, mom.”

“Tommy, no one’s there. Stop fooling around and help me bring these boxes in the house.”

“Now he left. I think he’s mad.”

When Tommy walks into his new bedroom, he sees Lucas sitting on his bed, and says, “I thought you were gone for good.”

 Lucas stretches out on the bed. “Nope. You’re stuck with me. This is my room, but I guess I can share.”

“Mom can’t see you. “

Lucas laughs. “Good catch.”

“So, you lived here before? What happened to your family?” asked Tommy.

“Dad deserted us when I was real young. He used to hit mom and she cried a lot. We were both happy when he left.”

Tommy opened a box full of clothes and began putting things away.

“Where’s your mom?” asked Tommy.

“We were in a car accident,” said Lucas. “A drunk ran a red light and t-boned us. Mom died immediately and I was taken to the hospital. I died in the emergency room. Now I can’t find mom, so I came back here.”

Tears welled up in Tommy’s dark brown eyes.

“Please, don’t be sad Tommy,” Lucas said as he began to phase in and out then disappeared.

“Lucas, where did you go? Please come back.”

Lucas reappeared then explained, “Sorry about that. Sadness drains my energy field.”

“You can bet as soon as my energy recharges I’ll be back,” Lucas said. 

Tommy asked, “Can you please tell me what’s going on with you?” There was a silence that seemed to go on for what seemed like forever, and then can the loudest boom and everything shook violently.

Tommy’s mom yelled from the other room, “Tommy! What was that? Are you ok?”

“I’m ok, mom! I’ll be right there!” Tommy looked at Lucas. “What was that?” 

“He’s coming! Get out! He can’t find you in my room!” Lucas looked scared and used his energy to nudge Tommy towards the door.

In the hall, Lucas held onto the doorknob, while Tommy cringed at the loud, angry voice booming from inside his bedroom.

“Lucas! I can smell him. If you’ve shown yourself again, I’m going to kick your friendly Casper ass!”

“W-W-Who’s that?” asked Tommy, backing down the hallway away from the bedroom door. 

“Someone you never want to meet,” cautioned Lucas.

Tommy suddenly backed into a body and he thought that thing, that monster, whatever it was had escaped the room.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

Two hands grabbed Tommy’s shoulders.

“Tommy! What was that loud noise? What are you doing?”

Tommy was never so happy to see his mom. He grabbed her and hugged her tight.

“Oh, my God, Mom!  You literally scared the sh__” he caught himself, “livin’ daylights out of me!”

Tommy looked as white as a sheet as he continued to shake with fright.

“You look like you have seen a ghost, son.”

“Duh, Mom. That’s what I have been trying to tell you.”

“Stop being silly. There are no such things as ghosts.”

Suddenly, all of the walls started shaking pictures flew off walls and the lights flickered! “Mom, see that it’s the mean one he’s messing with us now!”

 Mom said, “That’s utter nonsense. It’s either a jet flying over or an earthquake. “Go to your room and stay there. You will scare your brother.”

Tommy made a move as if to re-enter his bedroom. A cold force stopped him. “No, Tommy, you can’t! Please don’t go in there!” Lucas wailed. 

Tommy looked from the ghost back to his mom. Tears of anguish stung his eyes, “Mom, I’m sorry,” and he rushed past her and down the hall.

Sobbing loudly, Tommy bolted wildly out of the house, down the street, and into a public park. He slowed and threw himself on the grass near a picnic table. 

As he used his tee shirt to wipe his eyes, he felt guilty about leaving his mom alone.

“You run pretty fast, Tommy.”

“Lucas? You followed me? That thing in my room has got to go. Mom and I can’t live there like that,” said Tommy.

Tommy sniffed and wiped his nose on the arm of his tee shirt.

“What is that thing?”

“I don’t have all the answers,” said Lucas. “I haven’t been dead long enough.”

“I wish there was some kind of instruction manual for dead kids,” said Lucas. “Maybe we could find something at the library.”

“The LIBRARY?” yelled Tommy. “We can use my iPhone.”

“Your what-phone?” questioned Lucas.

“Hey! Just exactly how long have you been dead?”

“I really have no idea. I can’t feel time pass at all. I remember playing Galaga at the arcade next to Blockbuster video store yesterday.” Lucas answered.

“The arcade? Blockbuster? They have been closed for years. l can play games and watch movies on my iPhone.” Tommy explained.

Then all of a sudden, the phone rang. It was Mrs. Winslow his next-door neighbor. “Tommy you need to hurry home. Something has happened. Your mother said to call you and tell you to rush right home.”

“I’m on my way. I’ll be there soon as I can.” Tommy hung up phone and ran home quickly.

Tommy slowed as he got home. His mom and brother were out front with a cop. His mom waved him over. “Why didn’t you say there was someone in the house? I didn’t see him, but he pushed your brother!” 

Tommy’s younger brother, Brandon, scowled right at Lucas. “Who’s he, Tommy?”

“I’m Lucas. I met Tommy at the park. Right, Tommy?”

 “Uh, yeah. Right. We met at the park.”

 “Hello, Lucas. I’m Tommy’s mom.”

 Tommy looked from his mom to Lucas. “Mom, you can see Lucas?”

 “Of course, dear. Really, I don’t know what’s gotten into you!”

Lucas grinned.

“0kay,” said the cop. “Why are you pretending there’s some invisible kid there?”

“Wait, you can’t see him?” asked Mrs. Mills.

“See who?” asked the cop.

“Him!” she said, pointing at Lucas. “That boy! Right there!”

“Look lady, do you want to report a crime?”

“Ma’am tell him no,” said Lucas.

“Errrr, I’m sorry, Officer. There’s been some sort of mixup,” said Mrs. Mills.

The cop mumbled something under his breath and returned to his car.

“What’s going on?” asked Tommy’s mom.

“No human can see me unless I let them,” explained Lucas.

Tommy, Brandon and their mom walked back into their house. The air in the living room became as cold as ice. A loud crash came from inside Tommy’s bedroom.

“It must be that thing again!” Tommy yelled. “We really need to find out what that thing is, Lucas.”

As Tommy slowly moved to his bedroom door he was sweating profusely and couldn’t calm his breathing. “Are you coming Lucas?”

“No. I can’t, Tommy, be careful!” Lucas said.

Tommy opened his door and stepped inside. His stuff was floating around the room and bright lights shined out of the closet.

Before he could take another step, Tommy felt a cold breeze and Lucas was there in front of him. “I can’t let you face him, Tommy. He’s my problem.” 

“Who…” Tommy started to speak but was cut short by all of his stuff crashing to the floor.

“There you are, boy. Daddy is home.”

Tommy was scared but he just had to know who or what was behind this. He finally got his nerve up enough to speak.

“WHO ARE YOU?” Tommy shouted in his most demanding voice. 

A disembodied voice shouted back.

“SILENCE YOU LITTLE HUMAN TWERP OR YOU’LL JOIN MY SON IN DEAD LAND!”

“Dead Land?” Thought Tommy. 

Now it began to make sense. Lucas’ dad treated him bad in life, and now he must have died and is hunting him down in the afterlife. Tommy had to help his new friend… somehow… no matter what it took.

Tommy yelled, “SHUT UP YOU BIG BULLY!”

The demon inside of Lucas’ dad had completely taken control of him in the afterlife. Its eyes were now glowing bright red. Lucas floated in front of Tommy to protect him. 

“Ah, there you are Lucas boy! Looks like you found a new boyfriend. You filthy freak!” 

Suddenly, with a sudden upward motion Tommy was lifted off his feet with force so strong he blacked out. Lucas screamed at the demon that his dad turned into, “Stop! You want me, not Tommy. Please! He’s just my friend and I don’t want nothing to happen to him. Please, oh no!”

Brandon raced into the room and knelt by his brother. He shook Tommy, trying to wake him. Lucas growled, blasting a wave of energy at the ghost of his father. 

“Just as much of a sissy now as when you were alive. How many of your little boyfriends am I gonna have to kill, boy?”

As Brandon was shaking Tommy, trying to get him to respond, his eyes focused on an object hanging on the wall. It was a large religious cross. He remembered seeing a movie where a cross was used against evil.

Brandon jumped up and grabbed the cross from the wall.

He raised it high above his head until he could reach no higher. Brandon yelled at the top of his lungs.

“I COMMAND YOU IN THE NAME OF CHRIST… LEAVE THIS HOUSE AND LEAVE US ALONE!”

The demon inside Lucas’ dad turned into mist and flowed out through the air duct. His ghostly shell was left laying on carpet, unconscious. The cross and incantation also made the ghost of Lucas light up like a Christmas tree. He too collapsed onto the floor. 

Brandon yelled for his mom. “Mom! Hurry!”

Slowly, mom walks into the room with an evil laugh, “Hahahaha! You think you can get rid of me that easily little boy?” With a gust of air, the cross was chucked out the window. “Awe, what’s a matter, son? Mommy is gone for a while!”

Lucas’ energy levels fluctuated then stabilized just in time to hear what the boys’ mom said. “Brandon, help Tommy get up. I have to get you guys out of here quick. We’re in double trouble now that the demon and my dad have separated!” 

The ghost of Lucas’ father began to move.

Brandon helped Tommy to a standing position and as Tommy’s senses started returning, he saw his mom standing there.

Without knowing, Tommy instinctively ran to his mother’s waiting and protecting arms.

Brandon made a grab, but Tommy slipped through his fingers.

Simultaneously Lucas and Brandon yelled to Tommy.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

As Tommy reached his mom, the evil within her possessed body grabbed him and pulled him close, their bodies melting into one large evil entity.

Meanwhile, the ghost of Lucas’ dad awoke. He saw Lucas and said, “I’m so sorry for what I did and said to you son. The demon took over. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”

Lucas’ dad lunged at the demon possessing Tommy and his mom. “Take me!”

The demon used his powers to take Lucas dad and send him away from the house to the netherworld! “Now, as for you, little boy, we have plans for you.”

Lucas stood in front of Brandon and said. “You will leave him alone! What if I take his place?”

 “No! Lucas, you can’t I won’t let you!” Brandon screamed.

The demon hesitated and almost split back into two. Lucas took the opportunity to fling it against the wall. A path to the front door stood clear. 

“Brandon, come on! We need to get outta here and come up with a plan!” 

With a final glance at the demon, Brandon followed.

Lucas ran out the front door and just as Brandon reached it, he noticed his Super Soaker Water Canon in the top of an unpacked box. He grabbed it without stopping and continued out the door.

“Lucas!” he yelled, “Look!” Brandon held up the water gun for Lucas to see.

“That’s only a toy,” said Lucas.

“Yeah, but what if we filled it with… Holy Water?” suggested Brandon.

“It could work,” said Lucas. 

They stood out in the middle of the street, looking one way, then the other.

“But where are we going to find Holy Water?”

Brandon thought for a minute then said, “We could order holy water on Amazon or go into that church across the street. They have it for baptisms.”

“Going to the Amazon is too far.” Lucas replied.

“Not that Amazon,” Brandon giggled. “Forgot this is all new to you.”

“Well we can’t just go into the church and get it,” Brandon said.

“I know. I can’t enter the church. I’m dead and it is a barrier to me,” Lucas said.

Then all the sudden a lady in white came floating down the road with beautiful flowing blond hair and emanating light all around her.

“Mom?”

Lucas’s voice trembled as he watched his mother float towards him. “Mom! I looked everywhere for you! Where were you?!” 

“I was stuck in an in between place. I tried to get to you, but I couldn’t. Your father freed me and said you needed help!” 

Brandon watched, mouth agape.

Lucas and his mom hugged, creating a bright, white halo around them. Brandon was frozen in awe at the miracle he witnessed.

“Mom, I want you to meet Brandon. He’s a human. His family is being possessed by an evil entity. We need to find Holy Water… quick.”

The mother spirit glanced around and saw the church nearby.

“Brandon,” she instructed, “You need to run inside that church and yell for help. If no one hears you, look for a stone structure that looks like a wishing well. That’s where you’ll find Holy Water.”

Brandon opened the heavy, oak church doors and stepped inside. He looked around but didn’t see a soul. He did however see a bird bath looking thing with water. “This must be it.” Brandon thought to himself. He hastily filled up his super soaker then ran back outside.

“Now that I have my super soaker filled with holy water, I’ll see what I can do.” Brandon thought to himself. Then out of nowhere a swarm of mayflies started descending towards him. Brandon started to run as fast as he could, but when he turned down the alley, a pack of wild dogs chased him to large fence.

Brandon backed against the fence at the end of the alley and raised his super-soaker. He had to try something, and it was the only weapon he had. He shot at the cloud of mayflies and each one that was hit by the holy water burst into flames! 

Now the dogs were closing in.

Brandon aimed carefully at the lead dog and squeezed the trigger. It was a direct hit and the dog howled as it burst into a small fireball and disappeared. 

Brandon smiled and quipped, “Yes!”

This was just like a video game and he was good… really good at games.

He looked down the barrel of his super-soaker and kept his eyes focused on the sights.

Each time he aimed and pulled the trigger, he uttered, “Pow!”

“Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!”

Every shot was a hit. Every hit destroyed its target. Finally, he stood alone, his heart beating hard.

Suddenly, the demon possessing Tommy and his mom appeared. 

Brandon yelled, “Get out of my mom and brother now!”

He pulled the trigger on the super soaker, but it was dry. The demon smirked.

“Lucas, help!” Brandon screamed as he too was taken into the demon.

As Lucas watched Brandon be taken in, he felt so defeated. After all he was just a simple little boy ghost. “What am I to do? I brought this on this family.” He thought. In an instant he had idea. “I will go sit outside the church and leap into the priest when he comes out. He can help me figure this out!”

The priest exited the church and walked down the steps. Lucas leapt forward. Just before he reached the priest, a blast of cold power pushed him aside. 

Lucas’s mother stood on the sidewalk. “You were always an impulsive teen, even when you were alive. There are other ways.”

The priest stopped suddenly as a cold shiver ran through his body. He looked around, but saw no one.

“Hello! Is someone there?”

He got no answer, so started on his way.

“WAIT!”

He stopped again and turned around. Slowly, out of thin air, a young boy started materializing.

“Sir, we need your help. Please. My human friends and their mom are all possessed by a terribly evil spirit.”

Suddenly Lucas’ mom’s spirit materialized next to Lucas and confirmed what he said.

“It’s got three humans and grows bigger and stronger with each passing minute.”

Another spirit appeared next to Lucas and his mom. It was his dad who had been freed of the demon. He hugged his family saying,

“Love you both. I’m sorry for the bad things I did in life. We must stop the demon from destroying another family. Can you help us priest?”

“I don’t know if I can,” said the priest. “but I can try to do my best and assess the situation. I will consult with God and see if he can help me out.”

 Meanwhile, the demon was trying to talk with Satan. The demon snarled, “This is not just my battle, it’s the ultimate evil vs good!”

The sidewalk cracked under the demon’s feet. Smoke and the odor of sulfur filled the air. The priest uttered a frightened squeak and fled back into the church.

A voice bellowed from the crack. “It is not your place to question me, demon. Collect the souls, especially the boy!”

The demon headed toward Lucas, but Lucas’ dad jumped in front of him. 

“LEAVE HIM ALONE!” yelled the dad spirit, as he made the form of a cross using his arms and held them up in front of the demon’s eyes. “I COMMAND YOU TO LEAVE!”

The action did nothing but annoy the demon.

“GET OUT OF MY FACE,” bellowed the demon. “Satan wants the boy’s soul and he shall have it.”

The demon swatted at the dad spirit, knocking him off his feet, then grabbed at Lucas. 

Lucas saw the evil claw-like hand coming at him and bolted for the church door.

Lucas’ mom and dad continued to fight the demon as its clawed hand grabbed Lucas’ head. The memory of his death rushed back to Lucas. He recalled his dad yelling at him in the arcade, running into the basement and falling down a shaft. The same shaft he saw in Tommy’s basement.

Lucas remembered he came face to face with Satan before. He was told that one day they had plans for him and that he was the chosen one to lead them to victory over the forces of good. But remembers that something was told to him by something else but he can’t focus on what.

Lucas felt himself being absorbed into the demon. His parents continued to fight but it did no good. Then the church doors flew open and the priest stood there holding the biggest balloon that Lucas had ever seen. The priest threw it at the demon’s face. Water sprayed everywhere.

The Holy Water spilled down over the demon and its skin began burning and smoking. It released its hold of Lucas’ soul and Lucas slowly returned to the Holy Spirit that he had been.

The Demon becomes transparent and the human bodies of Tommy, Brandon and Mrs. Mills are released.

The six of them stood there with the Priest looking on, thinking the demon had finally been defeated.

The ground suddenly rumbled, feeling much like an earthquake and the small crack that had opened previously got wider.

A netherworld voice trumpeted from the depths of hell.

“Spirits back to limbo where you belong!”

Huge vines grew out from the crack, wrapping around Lucas, his mom and dad slowly dragging them underground.

“Tommy, you will find our bodies in the shaft. Give us a proper burial so we can finally be at peace!”

“I will Lucas. I promise!”

As Tommy made his way back home, he thought about all that had happened he was still shocked to know ghost and demons existed he made a promise to himself right then and there that he would always help kids and families being haunted or possessed by demons. He headed for his basement.

As soon as they reached home, Tommy’s mom and brother collapsed on the couch and fell asleep. The ordeal inside the demon wore them out. Tommy was too restless and was determined to find the bodies. He went downstairs and located the opening to the shaft and peered inside.

It was pitch black inside, but Tommy could see that the shaft went down a short way, then cut its way back into a tunnel. A rickety wooden ladder was attached to the side of the shaft’s wall.

He climbed onto the ladder and carefully made his way down to the tunnel.

He peered into the tunnel.

“HELLO!”

‘Hello… Hello… Hello…’ only an echo answered.

Tommy pulled his iPhone from his pocket and turned on the flashlight. He pointed it into the tunnel but could see only a few feet ahead.

He cautiously entered the dark, damp space.

Tommy was glad to be on solid ground. He thought to himself since he almost slipped off the ladder a few times coming down, “I’ll bet that when Lucas’ parents came looking for him, they fell to their death climbing down that rickety old ladder.” He shined his phone’s flashlight on the floor and saw three skeletons. He carefully collected the bones in the three canvas bags he had brought with him.

Before he could start climbing back up, Tommy heard a loud booming voice, “You Can’t Have Them! A swift glowing red hand snatched the canvas bags out of his hands. They belong to us and now so do you! You will never be able to get out of this portal to Hell!

Something grabbed Tommy’s legs and pulled him deeper into the tunnel.

Tommy kicked at the claw that held him, but he couldn’t get free. In desperation, he yelled into his cell. “Text Brandon. Help! I’m in the tunnel! Found bones but the demon got me!”

The one bar he had on his phone disappeared so he tossed it behind him, hoping it would be found.

Brandon and his mom had been sleeping upstairs, but Brandon had found the urge to pee. As he stood at the toilet relieving himself,

“Ding!”

He pulled his phone from his pocket and clicked on messages, seeing what Tommy had just wrote.

He zipped up and ran back to his mom.

“MOM! WAKE UP!”

Brandon showed the text to his mother. Mrs. Mills jumped up and the two of them hurried to the basement.

“TOMMY? TOMMY?”

They found the uncovered shaft entrance but couldn’t see or hear anything. 

“Brandon, run upstairs and get flashlights from the kitchen.”

Brandon quickly got the flashlights and ran back into the basement. He and his mom were right under where the arcade was years ago. They shined their flashlights down into the dark shaft and yelled, 

“Tommy!”

“I’m going down.” Brandon said.

“Be careful honey!”

He was getting scared as he made his way deeper and deeper, it was so dark. He got to a spot that was so hot that he was sweating badly and was hearing screaming and very loud voices. “Boy, how dare you come down here. You can’t help your brother. He’s mine now. Replacing Lucas in my army! Roar!”

Brandon recognized the voice of the demon. The same demon who he had just recently escaped from. He stopped and picked up his brother’s iPhone. Further along, he found the three canvas bags. He wondered to himself, “If I bury the bones, will they be free to help me again?”

He grabbed the bags and quickly made his way back to the basement. 

“Mom, these are the bones of our three spirit friends. I think we need to bury them to lift this curse and get Tommy back.”

“I think you’re right, son. Take them to the church yard and hallow ground. Hurry!”

Brandon grabbed his folding Boy Scouts shovel and ran to the church. His mom had phoned ahead, and the Priest was waiting. He quickly led Brandon around back to the cemetery.

“Dig right there,” said the Priest, pointing. “Make it deep enough so we won’t ever have to disturb it.”

Back in the tunnel, the demon had Tommy pinned to the wall and was ready to consume his soul. Suddenly, a brilliant white light flooded the tunnel. The demon screeched then disappeared as three angelic beings appeared. It was Lucas with his mom and dad.

“Our souls have been freed.”

Tommy was then greeted by an angelic figure. The angel spoke, “You are the guardian of good here on earth. I am bestowing you with special abilities to help you in your journey of fighting evil demon spirits and protecting souls from evil. Do you accept?”

Tommy grinned. “Yes! I will gladly accept. Thank you! I am ready.”

Tommy looked at his mother. She nodded, knowingly.  He faced the three spirits. “As Guardian I can release you to Heaven.”

Lucas blurted, “I wanna stay with you!” As Lucas’ parents agreed they shimmered and were gone. Tommy took Lucas’ hand and Lucas became a live boy once more.

Epilogue

Tommy led Lucas into his bedroom, hand in hand. “I’m so happy that mom got all the paperwork sorted to let you live here. I even started cleaning out the spare room to make it into your bedroom.”

“Don’t you mean your bedroom? This is my bedroom.”

“Very funny. This is my bedroom.”

“It was mine first. I guess we’ll have to share it.” Lucas smirked and winked.

Tommy blushed a bright red. “I wish. Mom would never go for that, though.”

Lucas sighed. “Ok. Ok. Let’s go check out this new bedroom.”

Back down under the arcade, the tunnel began to glow with an orange light again. Heat and the smell of sulfur poured forth. A clawed hand appeared out of the darkness pulling its owner forward. The demon’s eyes flashed with Hellfire. “I’m not done with you yet, boy. I’m coming and Hell is coming with me.”

The End…. For Now.

The New Kid

Skylar stopped at the corner, looked around, and stepped into the alley. He fidgeted with the straps on his backpack and cursed the man for being late. Where was this guy? Skylar glanced at his watch, seven-thirty. Sky was on time; the guy was not. Finally, the man entered the alley and walked over to Skylar.

“Hey, kid, sorry I’m late. You got the money?”

“Yeah. Right here.” Sky showed the man a bundle of cash. “You got what I asked for?”

The man pulled something out of the pocket of his hoodie. They exchanged the money for the merchandise. “Kid, don’t do anything stupid. I don’t want to regret my decision to sell to you.”

Skylar scowled. “Give me a break, dude. You know you don’t care what I do. You have your money, don’t worry about anything else.”

“Whatever, kid.” The man turned and left.

Skylar shoved the bundle into the bottom of his backpack and walked the rest of the way to school.

Jack sat in the back of the classroom and watched as the new kid, Skylar, arrived not ten seconds before the last bell rang. He also watched as, once again, Nate tripped the kid, sending him sprawling down the aisle between the desks. Idiot. Bullies are such cowards, and the people that laugh and do nothing are just as bad. Jack decided that the time to act was coming soon, maybe even today.

Skylar got up off the floor and quickly sat down. He blushed furiously when almost everyone in the class laughed. Sky held his backpack in his lap and caressed the outline of his new purchase. He was tired of being the target of bullies. If no one was going to help him, then he needed to help himself. Skylar decided that the time to act was coming soon, maybe even today.

Jack was in the cafeteria, eating his lunch. He saw Skylar walking across the room, tray in hand, looking for a place to sit down. He was about to call out for Skylar when he noticed Nate walking quickly, angling straight for the boy. Jack decided that the time to act was now. He got up so fast that his chair fell over and rushed towards the other two boys.

Skylar was walking through the cafeteria just trying to find a quiet place to sit down. The next thing he knew, his lunch tray flipped up, spraying the food all over him. He looked up just in time to see Nate’s fist connect with the side of his head, knocking him down. Tears of pain and rage welled up in Sky’s eyes. He didn’t even hear what Nate was yelling at him. Unthinkingly, his hands unzipped his backpack, and he reached inside. His hand reached the bundle that he put there this morning, and he began unwrapping the cloth from around it.

Jack reached the other two just as Nate knocked Skylar to the floor. He crouched down next to Skylar. “Hey, you ok? You want me to call a teacher or the nurse?” He rested a hand on Skylar’s shoulder. “First let me get rid of this idiot.” Jack gave Skylar a reassuring smile.

Skylar was unsure what to do. No one had ever helped him before. He decided to let go of the item he was holding and see what happened. He zipped his backpack securely closed again.

Jack stood up in between Skylar and Nate. “Nate, what is your problem anyway? Are you so insecure with yourself that you have to pick on other people? Grow up.”

“Shut up and stay out of this, Jack. This is between me and the little fairy.” Nate said with a sneer on his face.

“Fairy? Name calling now, Nate? What is this? Third grade? Your bullying of him and of everyone else for that matter ends today. Unless you want to try and bully me.” Jack’s track teammates had started to gather around the boys.

“What are you a fairy, too, Jack? Sucking dick in the locker room after school?”

“Whether I am or whether I’m not, that isn’t what this is about. It’s about you trying to target someone who you think you can get away with bullying. That stops now. You can stop on your own, or I can stop you. Your choice. I almost hope you want me to stop you.”

“You know what? Screw you. Screw all of you. I’m outta here.” Nate turned and stormed off.

Jack turned and saw his friends gathered in, watching. “You guys can go finish lunch. Thanks for having my back, but I can handle jerks like Nate.” After the crowd dispersed, he knelt next to Skylar. “Hey. He hit you pretty hard. You want me to walk you to the nurse?”

“No. I’m ok. Why did you do that? No one has ever helped me before. I didn’t think anyone even cared. Usually, everyone just laughs at him.” Tears streaked down Skylar’s face, though he tried his best to make them stop.

“Hey. Stop that.” Jack reached over and brushed away Sky’s tears. “Let’s go somewhere more private.” They walked out of the cafeteria and into an empty classroom. “Skylar, I’m so sorry I never stepped in sooner. I never laughed. I… I don’t know. I should have said something to a teacher or did something sooner. I’m so sorry.”

Skylar looked up at him through fresh tears. “I’m surprised you even know my name. I loved my old school, but I hate it so much here. No one even talks to me.”

“Well, that’s gonna change, starting right now.” Jack put an arm around Skylar’s shoulders. “You’re under my protection.” They both grinned. “By the way, don’t you have a study hall with Mrs. Jamison next period?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Ditch it. Come to art class with me. I’ll have Mr. Jenkins call her and tell her he said it’s ok. I’ve seen the drawings in your notebook. You need to show them to Mr. Jenkins. You belong in art more than I do!”

“You’ve seen my doodles? I didn’t think anyone even knew I existed in this school. I’m not really that good, but I’ll come to class with you.”

“Good. Come on. Let’s go.” The two boys headed down the hall towards the art room.

The last bell rang, and all the kids ran out to either catch a bus or walk home. Skylar looked around for Jack, not seeing him, he started walking home.  He was just crossing the Stormy Brook Bridge when he heard Jack yelling from behind him. “Skylar! Hey! Wait up!”

“Hey, Jack. I thought maybe you took a bus. I don’t even know where you live. I forgot to ask you which way you went home before we left art class.”

“I live on Mitchell Drive. What about you?”

“Only two streets further. Monument Street.”

“I guess we get to walk home together then.” Jack nudged Sky’s shoulder with his own.

“Jack, I need to tell you something. I know we just started talking, and we don’t really know each other very well yet, but I need to tell you this. You have to swear to me that won’t tell anyone. Not your parents, not my parents, not the police, no one! Promise me!” Skylar said, leaning against the railing of the bridge, with tears forming in his eyes.

Jack grabbed both of Sky’s hands and held them in his own. “I promise. Whatever it is, I promise. You can tell me anything, Sky.”

“I bought something this morning. It’s in my backpack. I bought it because of Nate and all the people who laugh instead of stopping him from hurting me. In the cafeteria today, I had my hand in my backpack. I had it in my hand. I was going to use it. Then, like a miracle, you showed up. I don’t know why you picked that moment to show up and help me, but if you hadn’t, I would have used it.” Skylar had slid down the railing. His head was resting on his knees, his arms wrapped around his knees, sobbing uncontrollably.

Jack knelt and wrapped Skylar in his arms. “Shh, stop crying. I’m glad you told me this, and I’m glad I was there today. If that had happened, I never would have gotten a chance to meet you and talk to you. I’m sorry I didn’t get involved sooner, Sky. I’m sorry you felt so alone, but I’m here now, and I’m not going anywhere. I never want you to feel alone ever again.” He took Sky’s face in his hands and made him look at him. “If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, what do you plan on doing with it now? Are you going to keep it?”

Skylar stood up and set his backpack on the railing. He fished the bundle out and held it in his hand. Sky looked from item in his hands to Jack and back to the bundle again. He slowly unwrapped the cloth revealing the gun that he had been carrying around all day at school. He reached over the railing and dropped the gun into the river below. He smiled as relief flooded over him. “It actually feels like a giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders today. Jack, what you did for me means more than you can ever know. I’m happy for the first time since I moved here.” Skylar’s smile lit up his whole face, his bright blue eyes twinkling as he looked at Jack.

“I’m so glad you dumped that gun. If you hadn’t, I might not have done this.” Jack leaned in and kissed Skylar. Shocked, Skylar pulled back at first.

“Oh, my God. I’m sorry. I’m such an idiot. I thought you …. Oh my god….” Tears of embarrassment filled Jack’s eyes.

“Hey… hey stop. You were right. I do. You just surprised me.” Skylar grabbed the front of Jack’s shirt and pulled him close for their first real kiss.

Jack grinned from ear to ear. “For a minute I thought you were straight, and I’d ruined things already.”

“Hell no. How can I be straight when I’m around hot guys like you?” Sky teased.

Jack rolled his eyes. “I’ve created a monster.” They both laughed and continued their walk home.

The Christmas Ghosts: Behind the Scenes

The Ghost of Christmas Past floated into the chamber where his brothers waited. “So, do we get this Christmas off or what?”

The Ghost of Christmas Present looked up from the documents he was reading. “You can’t be serious. Look around the present on occasion. If you noticed current events instead of always looking into the past, you’d know we are needed more than ever before.”

“Well, who do we visit this year? After that green beast in Whoville and the miser in London, we are due for an easy one.” He looked towards their third brother.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come simply pointed at the most immense Blood Ledger that any of them had ever seen.

“Who the blazes does that belong to?” He said, his translucent jaw hanging open.

Christmas Yet to Come mutely pointed at the cover of the ledger. Christmas Past groaned and rattled his chains. “Oh, dear. We are in for a long night.”

The Ghost of Jacob Marley moaned to himself as he floated through the halls of the house of his new target. He thought that, after assisting in the haunting of his former business partner, he would have been free to move on. But no, here he was about to haunt yet another businessman.

Jacob did feel honored to participate in this particular haunting, though. He took in the beauty of this significant and historic house. The mix of antique paintings and furniture and newer décor was breath-taking. He readied himself and floated through one final wall. As he entered the Oval Office and faced the man behind the desk, Jacob began moaning and rattling his chains in earnest.

The man behind the desk shouted, “You’re just a Fake Ghost! Get out!”

Jacob Marley rattled his chains even louder. This was bound to be a long night.

Red Death

Charlie pulled the parka tighter around his slim body and ran through the blinding snow. He was the only one left now. He didn’t see what took his friends, all he saw was a bright red flash of light then the screams. Screams that he knew he would never forget. That red light, could the legends be true? He pushed the thought from his mind and ran on.

Finally! He saw the soft warm glow of the light in the cabin window. Only fifty yards more. He pushed himself to ran faster. Wham! He felt something heavy slam into his back, knocking him face first into the snow. He groggily turned over and his eyes widened in shock and fear.

The legend was true. It made a weird kind of sense, he thought. Rudolph existed, so why not his evil twin? For every beacon of hope and light in the world there also existed a beacon of despair and darkness. That was what Charlie faced now.

He got to his feet and started backing away from the pawing, growling reindeer. Just when he thought he escape into the cabin, the reindeer’s red nose glowed bright. Surprised by the unexpected light, Charlie raised his arms to shield his eyes. The last thing he felt was the reindeer’s razor-sharp antlers piercing his body.

Khristoff, the Red-nosed Terror of the North had claimed yet another victim.

Home For Christmas

Danny sat in his bedroom, knees pulled up to his chin, watching a Christmas special marathon. He could have gone downstairs to his parents’ Christmas party, but there were way too many people down there. Danny doubted if his parents even noticed that his absence. His phone vibrated in his pocket, but Danny ignored it. Then it vibrated again, and almost immediately a third time.

He slipped his phone out of his pocket and looked at the notifications. Three texts from Greyson.

Greyson (text): Yo! Where are you?

Greyson (text): Upstairs or downstairs?

Greyson (text): Never mind. Just look out your window!

Danny rolled his eyes and got up. He went over to his window and looked down. As expected, there in the yard below, Greyson was looking up and waving at him.

Danny (text): Hey (laughing face) what’s up?

Greyson (text): Get your ass down here. Let’s chill.

Danny (text): Ok. Be right down. They’ll never notice I’m gone.

Greyson (text): Just put some clothes on. I don’t want you scaring your neighbors (laughing face).

Danny (text): They’re used to it (eye-roll face) (laughing face) I’ll be right out.

Danny ran down the stairs and carefully weaved his way through the crowd of guests. He waved to a few people he knew and hoped they’d mention seeing him to his parents. Maybe they’d think he was there after all.

Bundled in his winter jacket, with a red beanie pulled down over his thick brown curls, Danny joined Greyson in the backyard. Even though he’d only known Grey since they met in freshman orientation back in September, they had quickly become the best of friends. Grey lived in the dorms, but since the college was only ten minutes from his house, Danny still lived with his parents. “Hey. What are you doing here? I thought you were going to Colorado over Christmas Break.”

“Ugh. No.” Grey blushed and looked down. “I lied to my parents. I told them I had a lot of schoolwork to catch up on. I just wanted to go home for Christmas, not a stupid ski trip. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, but now you’re stuck in the dorm. You’re still not at home.” Danny pointed out.

Grey smirked. “I’m not stuck in the dorm. I’m in your backyard. Let’s go get coffee or something. It’s freaking cold out here.”

They walked into the coffee shop, and a young blonde-haired waitress ran over to them and hugged Danny. “Danny! Where have you been hiding? I haven’t seen you since graduation! Do you have a girlfriend yet?” She asked excitedly.

“Hey, Beth. Good to see you. I’ve been busy with schoolwork, mostly, and no girlfriend.” He pointed at Grey. “This is my best bud, Greyson. Grey, this is Beth. We went to high school together.”

Beth said hi to Grey, but her attention was still on Danny. “I have to go. We’re busy tonight, but I’d love to catch up sometime. Maybe you could stop in more often.” She winked at Danny and left to help other customers.

“Future Mrs. Miller?” Grey chuckled.

“Not on a dare.” Danny rolled his eyes. He motioned for Grey to be quiet as he saw Beth bringing their drinks.

His hands finally wrapped around a steaming mug of hot cocoa, Danny nearly moaned. “This is so much better than coffee.”

“Are you sure your parents won’t miss you?” Grey asked.

“Nope. They’re way too busy having the perfect Christmas party to notice that their only child isn’t even home on Christmas Eve.” Danny said.

“That’s unbelievable. I would totally notice if you weren’t there.” Grey said blushing.

“Of course, you would. I’m your only friend. Without me, you’d have no one to talk to.” Danny laughed.

“Idiot. You’re my best friend, not my only friend. Get it right.” Grey rolled his eyes.

“Why wouldn’t you want to get out of here for a couple weeks. Have fun skiing. You didn’t actually stay to study, did you?” Danny asked.

“No. I thought if I told them that I couldn’t go, that they’d stay home. I know I don’t live all that far away, but I’ve been in the dorms for three months. I just wanted to go home and spend the holidays sleeping in my own bed. I wanted to wake up Christmas morning and spend the day playing games with my brother and relaxing. But, no, they went anyway. They told me if I changed my mind that they’d send me a plane ticket. So, now, I’m stuck in the dorm by myself. I’m not at home or on vacation. My diabolical plan failed.” Grey said.

“Why stay by yourself? I’m sure you can find some cute girl to shack up with for the week. Or if she doesn’t mind your annoying personality traits, date her.” Danny shrugged his shoulders and smirked at his friend.

“Yeah, right! No thank you. I’ll pass.” Grey said.

Danny cocked his head and looked intently at his friend. “We’ve never really had this conversation, but I can’t believe that you don’t have a girlfriend, or maybe a boyfriend?”

Grey blushed. “I’ve never had a boyfriend before. None of the guys in my high school interested me.”

Danny grinned. “What about now? There’s a lot of hot guys on campus. You ever ask any of them out?”

“Well, there is this one guy, but I was never sure if he liked me back in that way. I was too scared to mess up the friendship I was building with him to ask him out and have him end up being straight.” Grey said.

Danny reached over and took Grey’s hand. “I think you should chance it. The dude would be a fool to say no to you.”

“You want to get out of here? We can go back to my dorm and talk about this some more.” Grey said.

Danny’s brow furrowed in concentration. “No. You wanted to go home for Christmas. Your parent’s house is only like an hour away. How about we go there?” Danny said with a smile.

“That’s brilliant!” Grey said, leaping to his feet. “Let’s go!”

Danny motioned for Beth to bring them their check. After paying for their drinks, he went to put the receipt in his pocket, but he noticed some writing on the bottom. He laughed and showed Grey what it said.

“Poor girl. If she only knew.” Grey said.

“Yeah. Her bad luck that she gives me her number the same night I finally decide to stop hiding what I really want in a date.” Danny said, smiling at Grey. “Now, let’s get you home.”

Less than an hour and a half later, they were pulling into the driveway. “Are you sure no one’s home?” Danny said, looking at all the Christmas lights and decorations in the yard and the lit-up tree in the front window. Light snow started falling while they were driving. The snow and all the lights in Grey’s yard looked like a scene straight off a Christmas card. “It’s beautiful, Grey. Your family does an awesome job decorating.”

“Thanks. Mom does the whole inside of the house. Dad and me and my brother do the outside lights and stuff. Well, I didn’t help this year, but it all looks the same. The lights are on automatic timers. So, even though they aren’t home, the lights still go on and off.” Grey said, getting out of the car. He ran through the falling snow to take Danny’s hand as he exited the vehicle.

Danny smiled, and they walked into Grey’s house together. Danny shook the snow off his coat and beanie and hung them by the door. Grey gave him a quick tour of the house, ending in the living room by the Christmas tree.

Grey stood in front of Danny, just staring at him for a moment. “You are so beautiful, Danny.” He reached up and touched Danny’s face. “I have wanted to do this since the first time I saw you back in September.” He leaned in and kissed him. The kiss was tentative at first but quickly grew in passion. Danny’s hands wandered down Grey’s body coming to rest on his hips. He pulled their bodies even closer together. Grey’s hands were tangled in Danny’s curly brown hair. Grey broke the kiss and started licking and sucking on Danny’s neck. Danny moaned in pleasure, but he pushed back from Greyson.

“Let’s save some of this stuff until we’ve actually been on a real date.” Danny laughed.

Grey nearly growled. “Mm. OK, I guess.” He gave Danny one last kiss and led him to the couch. They cuddled close, and Grey pulled a big blanket over the two of them. Danny grabbed the remote.

“Let’s watch the Christmas movie marathon that I was watching before you stopped by.” Danny said and turned on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“Do you prefer classic cartoons or new movies?” Grey asked.

“I love both, but I prefer the classics. Jim Carrey did great as the Grinch, but this cartoon is pure gold.” Danny said.

“I know, right! Mostly I hate the old-fashioned animation, but it just seems to fit the Christmas cartoons. And the stop motion animation in the ones like Rudolph is amazing. Watching classic films is what got me interested in film making, to begin with,” Grey said.

“That’s right. I won’t ever have a problem getting you to watch movies. It’s your obsession and your future career.” Danny said.

Grey leaned in and kissed Danny. “And I’ll buy the rights to your first novel and hire you to turn it into a screenplay. I might even let you make a cameo appearance on screen. It depends on how well your audition goes.” Grey winked and kissed him again.

“After my sexual harassment suit, I’ll own your company!” Danny acted like he was offended.

“It’s not harassment if we’re married,” Grey said.

Danny smiled. “Let’s start with a first date, Romeo.” He leaned in for another kiss. They leaned against each other and watched as “The Grinch” ended and “It’s a Wonderful Life” started. With the Christmas tree lights blinking and the tv playing, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

When Greyson woke up the next morning, he looked down and smiled. Waking up with the boy that he was quickly falling in love with wrapped in the arms was the best feeling ever. He leaned down and kissed Danny’s forehead. Danny groggily opened his eyes, and Greyson said, “Good morning, sleepy-head.”

“Morning, Grey.” Danny leaned in and kissed him. “Merry Christmas.”

“It’s already the merriest Christmas ever,” Greyson said and couldn’t stop smiling. He had come home for Christmas after all, and not just home to his house. He had come home to the arms of the man that he hoped he’d spend every Christmas with for the rest of his life.

Christmas Heart

Christmas Heart

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.

Happy Birthday to Me

The Devil’s son died, on his birthday, June sixth, two thousand six, he was six years old. The only problem is, he didn’t stay dead. Now, he can feel the power growing inside him. His eighteenth birthday is fast approaching. He sent out the invitations. All the important people in his life will come. After he massacres them, the power will be his. His father promised.

The Collector

The Collector

“Do you think he’s gone?’

“Be quiet. I don’t know.”

“The screaming stopped at least.”

“She’s probably dead. There was a lot of blood.”

“I hope he doesn’t find us. You think he’ll look in here?”

“How should I know? But, please stop touching me.”

“What are you talking about? I’m not touching you.”

“Then who… uuuhhh…”

“Daren? Darren? What’s wrong?”

“Darren can’t talk right now. He’s dead.”

“What? No! Shit! No! The door won’t open! Please don’t kill me! Why are you doing this?”

“If you’re quiet and sit still, I won’t kill you. I only want your eyes.”

“My eyes? What do you mean? I don’t understand!”

“They’re such a pretty blue. I need them for my collection. Now sit still.”

“Aaaaahhhhh……”