Every muscle ached. Sweat drenched my body. I thought only of showering and going back to the dorms to collapse on my bed. Then he appeared. Anakin Skywalker. I thought he’d tell me about my poor form in training. Boy, was I wrong.
“Hey, Kenji.” Anakin smiled and leaned in close. “I see how you look at me. Honestly, I can’t get you out of my head. I have never thought this way about a boy before. You want to hang out tonight?” He looked at me, blushing. He was as nervous as I was surprised.
“Did you ask me out on a date?” I could barely speak. My mind racing almost as fast as my heart.
“Yea. If you want to.” He looked around making sure we weren’t overheard. Anakin was biting his lower lip and staring at the floor, waiting for my response.
“Of course, I’ll go out with you, Anakin. Tell me when and where and I’ll be there.” I listened as he told me the details and I ran off to get ready. My feet barely touched the floor as I ran.
I slipped out a side door and stuck to the shadows as I made my way to our meeting place. I started to look for him, but then he appeared at my side. I jumped. “Anakin! I didn’t even hear you walk up!”
“Hey. No one saw you leave?” He looked nervous.
“No. I was cautious.” I told him.
“Come on. I know a great place down by the docks.” He led me into the city, towards the river.
We reached our destination in no time. It was small and clean, and everyone seemed very friendly. We sat at a table in the back and ordered our food. We talked. We laughed. We ate. It was the most fantastic dinner of my life. After dessert, we walked along the river with only the light of the full moon lighting our way. We’d been talking the entire night. He stopped walking, and he pulled me around to face him. “Kenji, I’ve had a great night. I like spending time with you, even more than I thought I would. Can we do this again?” He smiled at me, his emerald green eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
I reached up and touched his face. “Yea. We can do this again anytime you want.” My hand slid to the back of his neck, and I pulled his face down close to mine. His eyes closed, and I leaned in and kissed him. He kissed me back, tentatively at first but then with growing passion. His lips parted, and our tongues entwined. His hands slid down my body, and he grasped my hips, pulling me closer to him. He trailed kisses along my jawline and down to my neck. I moaned his name. “Ani, that feels so good.” His hands were now underneath my shirt, and then……
“Anakin Skywalker!” We heard the shout. Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was close, but he wasn’t in sight, yet. Anakin gave me one last kiss, and then we grudgingly parted.
Anakin looked panicked. “He can’t find us together. You must go. I’ll deal with Master Obi-Wan. I always manage to find a way out of trouble.” He grinned. “Go. Hurry. Get out of here. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“This was the best night of my life, Anakin.” I touched his hand then turned and ran off into the darkness.
Noah paced nervously on the sidewalk before finally walking into Sonya’s Flower Shop. He started looking around, but he didn’t know much about flowers. Noah had no clue what to pick out for his mom. He knew that red roses were for romance, but that was the extent of his flower knowledge. He hoped to find Sonya or at least one of her employees. A girl would know what Noah should get his mom for Valentine’s Day. He absently brushed a few stray strands of his unruly black hair out of his face and walked toward the cash register, looking for help.
Noah stopped dead in his tracks. The cashier was not a girl, but instead was the hottest guy Noah had ever seen. Even from across the room, Noah was captivated by the guy’s stunning blue eyes. Those eyes added with the neatly trimmed blonde hair and killer smile made Noah weak in the knees. He guessed the guy to be sixteen, no more than seventeen, which was perfect since Noah himself was sixteen. He composed himself, so he wouldn’t look or sound like a complete idiot and walked up to the cash register to ask for help.
Aiden spotted the guy as soon as he walked in the door. This dude was hot as hell. Aidan was glad there were no other customers in the store because there was no way he could have concentrated on anyone but this dark-haired, dark-eyed beautiful guy. Aiden chuckled softly to himself. The teen looked utterly lost in the flower shop. Was he searching for a gift for a first girlfriend, maybe? Aiden sure hoped not. If he could get a read on this guy, he wanted to ask him out. The guy started walking towards the cash register, stopped, then started walking again.
Noah took a deep breath and thought about what he wanted to say. He was always nervous when talking to new people, but this guy made him even more nervous than usual. “Uhm, excuse me, sir. I need help in picking out flowers. Is Sonya here? Or do you happen to know anything about flowers? I’ve never bought them before. I know they all mean different things and I’m just so confused on what to buy.”
Aiden grinned. “Well, you’re off to a good start in asking for help. Sonya is not here. I’m her son, Aiden. We live right upstairs, and I’ve always helped out down here, so I do know a thing or two about flowers. I’d love to help you pick some out. Who are they for? A new girlfriend?” Aiden caught himself holding his breath, waiting for an answer.
Noah blushed and couldn’t look at Aiden. “No. I don’t have a girlfriend. They’re for my mom, for Valentine’s Day. It’s been a rough year, and I wanted to get something special for her.”
“Aw, that’s sweet. I hope the year hasn’t been too rough. What flowers does your mom like?”
“Everything is starting to get a little better for both of us, I think.” He looked at Aiden finally. “Could you help me pick out something a mom would like? I honestly have no idea.” He shrugged and gave Aiden a shy smile.
“Yeah. Of course.” Aiden walked out from behind the cash register and clapped Noah on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s look around. By the way, what’s your name?”
“Oh God. I’m so sorry. I’m Noah. Didn’t you say your name is Aiden?”
“Yeah. I’m Aiden. Pleased to meet you, Noah. Now let’s pick out some flowers.”
They walked around the little store for about fifteen minutes. Aiden showed Noah almost every flower arrangement in the shop. Finally, they narrowed down the choices, and Aiden began to engage Noah in non-flower related conversation. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before? Are you new in town?”
“Sorta new, I guess. Me and my mom moved here from across town right after my parents got divorced.”
“Oh geez, that really sucks, Noah. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s ok. Things were actually worse when they were together than they are right now.”
Aiden gripped Noah’s shoulder. “It must still be tough. Anyway, what school do you go to?”
“I’m still going to West Side High, but I’ll be transferring next week. A new school right in the middle of junior year. I hate that so much.” Noah’s smile instantly turned into a frown.
“Hey, I’m sorry. That sucks.” Aidan put his arm around Noah’s shoulders. “You transferring to Mystic River High?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“It’s the only high school around here. It’s not bad. Kinda small.”
“I guess I’ll know one person at least. I’m sorry for getting emotional. I’m still getting used to the whole thing.”
“No worries, Noah. I’ll show you around and introduce you to my friends. You’ll know a ton of people in no time at all.”
“Thank you so much. Maybe buying flowers for my mom was a better idea than I thought.” Noah finally smiled again.
“Flowers are the answer to everything.” Aidan winked. “You pick out a college yet?”
“God, no! Still working on the applications. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. Ugh.” Noah rolled his eyes and laughed. “I’m such a mess. Just put my picture in the dictionary next to ‘teen angst.’”
Aiden smiled and poked Noah in the ribs. “How about next to ‘teen hottie’ instead.”
Noah blushed and cleared his throat. “Uh, I’m totally not hot but thanks. Uhm, I think I’ll go with these.” He pointed at the display of tulips.
“Good choice, hottie,” Aidan smirked and winked again. “Everyone loves tulips. I’ll put in a few assorted colors, and I’ll be right back.” Aiden went into the back room then returned with an armful of tulips. “Here you go. One dozen multi-colored tulips and a nice mom appropriate vase.” His blue eyes gazed up and down Noah’s body. “You play a lot of sports?”
Noah blushed again. “I run track and cross country, and I play lacrosse. What about you? I’d guess football or maybe wrestling?” Noah tried to give a sexy smirk, but only accomplished a shy smile.
“I get my workouts around here. Lots of lugging bags of soil and fertilizer everywhere. I don’t have time for sports, but hey I do know one of the guys on the lacrosse team. Zac Simpson. He just started dating one of my best buds, Cole. It was so sweet. Their first date was on New Year’s Eve at the biggest party of the year in this town.”
“Simpson? The Simpsons that own half the town? Wow. I’m not sure if I’m more surprised that he goes to public school or that he came out while he’s playing high school sports! I..” Noah stopped what he was going to say, blushing furiously. “Any jock would get their ass beat at my old school for coming out. I mean yeah, there’s gay kids at my school, but the jocks are the ones that pick on them. They wouldn’t accept one of their own coming out.”
Aiden rolled his eyes. “Homophobia is so stupid. I do give Zac credit for coming out. The lockerroom is a different place than the classroom. His coming out does make it easier for any other gay lacrosse players to come out, though.” Aiden said with a smile.
Noah blushed even redder and walked with Aiden back to the cash register. “After I deduct the hot boy discount your total comes to $23.99.” Aiden said.
Noah smiled and handed the money to Aidan. “You don’t stop, do you?”
“Not until I get what I want.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“Here’s your change, sir. I guess this means I’ll have to let you leave now. I hope your mom loves the flowers.”
Noah glanced down at the flowers. “Hey, Aiden, you made a mistake. There’s an extra flower in here. A red rose.”
Aiden’s grin returned. He reached into the bouquet of flowers and pulled out a single red rose. “It’s not a mistake. It’s more like a question. If you don’t already have plans, would you like to go out to with me for dinner Friday night?”
“Friday is Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t a sweet-talking gorgeous guy like you already have plans?”
“No. And even if I did, you are worth canceling any other plans I might have. Noah, will you be my Valentine?”
Noah nearly jumped for joy. “Yes! Absolutely, yes! I would love to go out to dinner with you. And I’d be honored to be your Valentine.”
Noah put Aiden’s contact info into his phone and smiled. A first date and on Valentine’s Day. He hoped that would be a good omen. He left Sonya’s Flower Shop, clutching his rose close to his chest, happier than he had been in a long, long time.
“The lights went out, but the chaos continued all around me.” Joshua Taylor told his young grandson.
“Grandpa, this is a great story, but it isn’t true, and that kid has no clue what he is doing at the register. This waiting is killing me!” Jase Taylor was a very hyperactive 12-year-old and kept giving the boy at the cash register dirty looks. The kid at the cash register was obviously new to his job and kept messing things up with the orders of all the customers.
“Jase, that is exactly what I am trying to tell you. Impatience can kill you if you are impatient with the wrong person. Listen to my story and heed my warning. Not everything is always as it seems to be and not everyone is who they appear to be.” Josh looked down at his grandson and continued his story. “After the lights went out, I just tried to hide and stay out of its sight. I hid behind a big display of canned spinach. I figured that if it came to it I could use the cans as a weapon. My priority though was to get the hell out of there and as far away from Sam’s Market as I could.”
Jase’s twin brother Jesse ran up to them. “Grandpa! Jase! Hey, what were you guys talking about?”
“Gramps was just telling me a story from when he was our age. He says that there was a monster right here in this store!” Then Jase leaned in and whispered to his twin. “Not sure if I believe him though!”
“Can you tell me, too, Grandpa?” Jesse asked.
I suppose I can. Now both of you listen close to my story. Every word is true.
Josh began telling the story all over again. “One minute I had just been standing in the checkout line here at Sam’s Market and the next minute I felt like I was in a scene from a horror movie. I had been more than a little irritated with the incompetence of the young girl at the checkout counter, but my irritation paled in comparison to that of the boy in front of me. He had gone from grumbling under his breath to loudly hurling insults at the girl and her supervisor who was attempting to help her. The girl kept apologizing to everyone in line, but that did not stop the boy’s insults. The girl was becoming more and more visibly upset and then she actually started to transform. I could not believe what I was seeing. I just stood and watched in disbelief. In twenty minutes’ time, I witnessed a face that could have only been described as magnificent turn into something horrid.”
“Grandpa, you’re pulling my leg. Aren’t you?” Jase was looking up at his grandfather with wide unbelieving eyes. Jesse looked on with an expression of eager anticipation waiting for the story to continue.
“No. Not at all. This is what really happened. Let me finish, Jase.” Josh cleared his throat and started talking again.
“Before my astonished eyes the sweet smile of that check out girl became a snarl of pure rage. Her calm unblemished face twisted into that of some demonic entity. Eyes as blue as a clear summer sky became red glowing embers. Her long dark hair spiraled upward and compressed into large sharply pointed horns. Her small frame shuddered with the force of transforming from about 5’2” to well over 7 feet tall.
As the beast that had been the girl heaved the overflowing grocery basket of the next customer in line roughly 150 feet across the store, I abandoned my own cart and started backing away. The beast-girl leaped over the checkout countered and roared at the boy who had been insulting her. Before he could react, the beast had grabbed him by the head with both of its gigantic claws. Its fingers clasped the back of his head and it sunk both thumbs into his eye sockets. I heard two sickening pops as his eyes were crushed and the thumbs pushed into his brain. Before I turned away I caught a glimpse of blood and brains dripping down both sides of what remained of the boy’s face. The creature then crushed the boy’s skull and threw his body aside. It pulled the entire checkout counter out of the floor and smashed it against the nearest wall. The counter must have hit a fuse box as it smashed through the wall because there was a shower of bluish sparks and that is when the lights went out.” Josh looked at Jase and then at Jesse. “This is where I was in the story when you ran up. Jesse. As I was telling your brother, when the lights went out, I looked for a place to hide to stay out of the beast’s sight. I found a display of canned spinach which I figured could double as a hiding place and a source of possible weapons if the need arose. My first thoughts were of trying to escape though. I had no intention of even trying to fight that beast.”
I heard a lot of crashing and screaming in the darkness. I stayed hidden behind the canned goods. The beast roared again, and the big front window of the store shattered from the force of a large shelf being thrown through it. People started running out of the store and into the parking lot. I followed cautiously. I got to the broken front window and peered outside. Chaos. Destruction. People running everywhere. I tried to get to where I left my bicycle, but I was knocked down by a panicked man running for his life. I rolled onto my back and was looking up into the red glowing eyes of the beast.
The beast was snarling, hot drool dripping down onto my face. I thought I was going to die. The beast was crouched over me, it’s muzzle inches from my face. I struggled but couldn’t break free. I thought about the girl, how panicked she looked just before the change. I locked eyes with the beast and started talking to it, to her. I don’t even remember what I said but the beast seemed to calm down. Then crashes and screams from behind us distracted her and she snarled, and her mouth opened, her teeth glinting in the lights of parking lot. Just when I thought the end was near, the beast’s face kinda relaxed and then it moaned as if in pain. The beast got up, then fell to the ground rolling around in agony. A few minutes later it was the girl again.
She looked around in horror at the remains of the storefront and the chaos of the parking lot. “Oh my god! What have I done?” The girl dropped to her knees, covered her face with her hands, and started to cry.
She looked so scared and innocent…and beautiful. I got to my feet, draped my jacket over her bare shoulders and pulled her to her feet. “Come with me. You need to get out of here before they notice you.”
She looked at me strangely, “Why would you help me? I would have killed you.”
“You didn’t kill me tho. You didn’t kill anyone. That beast did.” I walked her over to where my bike was parked. “Take my bike. Get as far away as you can.”
She touched my arm. “Thank you. I don’t even know your name. “
“My name doesn’t matter. Just take the bike and get out of here before they see us!”
She disappeared into the woods behind the store. They searched for weeks. Searched for the beast and for the girl. She’s never been caught. I hope she’s still alive.
So, boys that’s my story. Just remember when you are in line and you’re feeling impatient with the clerk; the beast is still at large.
Jase said “Aww gramps you’re pulling out legs! Not one word of that story is true!” Jesse nodded in agreement with his twin. But both boys were much quieter and kept a close eye on the boy at the checkout register.
Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a boy named Jonah. Jonah sat in the shadow of the old oak tree and chuckled quietly to himself. He watched the parade of prancing princesses proceed down to the pond, kiss the poor frog, and then storm angrily away when nothing happened. He chuckled because he knew his best friend in the entire world, Lucas, was having yet another dreadful day. He continued to watch until all the princesses were gone, and the frog sat alone by the edge of the pond. Jonah left his hiding spot and walked down to the pond and sat facing the poor little frog.
“No luck again today I see, Lucas. Just how many princesses are there in the world anyway?” Jonah grinned down at the frog.
“Ribbit.” Said the frog. The frog made a face as close to annoyance as a frog’s face can get.
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Jonah said and reached down and touched the frog’s head.
“UGH! Thanks. That’s much better. I still can’t figure out why that only works for you. I can’t even talk to my father or brother. As far as the princesses go, there seems to be an unending supply! I wish one would finally break this spell. I’m sick of being a frog!” The frog darted its head to the side, flicked out its tongue and caught and ate a fly.
“That’s so gross, Lucas!” Jonah pretended to gag but ended up laughing.
“I know, right! But I can’t help it. It seems to be instinct for this body. This curse really sucks!” Lucas groaned.
“Why were you cursed, Luke? We’ve never talked about that. Obviously, I know you are the prince of this kingdom, is that why she cursed you?” Jonah asked.
“Get me out of this pond for a while. Let’s go for a walk, and I’ll tell you.” Lucas said. Jonah reached over and picked up his friend. He set the frog on his left shoulder, stood and walked onto the path into the woods.
Lucas began his story. “Even as a small child, I was a spoiled rotten brat. My dad always told me that I’m meant to lead our glorious kingdom, but all I wanted to do was play and have fun. Book learning and army training were boring. I avoided my duties as often as I could. Then I turned thirteen, and my mind switched from my toys to girls. If I’m honest with you, I didn’t treat the girls any better than I treated my toys. They were princesses who were sent to woo me and win the heart of the crown prince of Lerithia, and I played silly games with their hearts, kissed them once or twice and sent them on their way.“ Lucas blushed, well as much as a frog can be said to blush.
“That just doesn’t sound like the Lucas that I know.” Jonah turned his head, so he was looking at Lucas. “You’ve changed so much. Cut yourself some slack. Hell, maybe being a frog has been good for you.” Jonah snickered.
“Anyway.” Lucas rolled his little froggy eyes at Jonah. “To continue my story, I was mean to a lot of people, especially girls. One night at dinner, this old lady burst into our dining hall and pointed right at me. She shouted at me about how I broke her granddaughter’s heart.” Lucas sighed. “Jonah, I couldn’t even remember what her granddaughter looked like. Anyway, then she drew a wand out of her cloak and pointed it at me. My father’s guards reacted, but not in time. The wand glowed, and she said ‘Shallow Prince with much vanity, like a frog you’ll now be. No cure for you shall they find until True Love’s Kiss clears your mind. If no love finds you before eighteen, you’ll end your days with skin of green.’” Lucas sighed again. “I’m doomed, Jonah. Tomorrow is my eighteenth birthday!”
Jonah let out a gasp and sat down on the side of the trail on an old tree stump. “Oh my god, Luke. Why didn’t you say something before? Tomorrow? Is that why your dad has been bringing in even more princesses than usual the last couple of weeks?”
“Yeah. My dad thinks if enough girls kiss me, one will be the right one. Trouble is, I can’t even talk to any of them like I can talk with you. How can I know if it’s true love? Do I want some silly spell to decide my future even if the curse is broken?” Lucas sounded depressed even in his froggy voice.
Jonah wanted so bad to reach out and comfort him, but how do you hug a frog? “What kind of girl would you want it to be if you could choose?” Jonah thought maybe he could get Lucas talking and get his mind off tomorrow.
“Someone kind and caring and compassionate. Someone who listens to me and doesn’t just want to talk about herself and her clothes. Someone… well someone just like you, Jonah. Why can’t you be a beautiful princess?” Lucas laughed.
Now it was Jonah’s turn to blush. “Shut up, Luke. I’m trying to help figure this out for you.” Jonah got back up and started walking back towards the pond. Suddenly, Kings Guards burst through the trees. One scooped Lucas off Jonah’s shoulder, and two more grabbed Jonah by the arms. The one in charge said, “Aha! We’ve found you! How dare you kidnap Prince Lucas. To the dungeon with you!”
Lucas was yelling at the top of his lungs for them to unhand his friend, but all they heard was the ribbiting of a frog. Jonah proclaimed his innocence, but they wouldn’t listen and dragged him off to the castle dungeons. Jonah was yelling, “You don’t understand! He’s my friend! You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t even know who I am!” The guards refused to even talk to him and locked him away in the dungeon.
That night and the next day passed slowly for both Lucas and Jonah. Jonah couldn’t find a way out of the dungeon. No one even came to talk to him. He was concerned and scared for his friend. He wanted to be with him, especially since it was such an important day for Lucas.
Lucas was also worried about Jonah and blamed himself for Jonah getting locked in the dungeon, possibly forever. If he couldn’t break this curse, and talk to his father, there would be no way to convince his dad to free Jonah. So, in hopes of miraculously breaking the curse, instead of running off to be with Jonah, Lucas stayed in his pond and submitted himself to today’s parade of princesses.
Night fell without the curse breaking. The princesses were gone, and the guards were out of sight. Lucas decided that, since he didn’t know if he’d still be able to talk to Jonah after the curse became permanent, he wanted to spend his last few hours before midnight with his best friend. He hopped out of his pond and headed for the tree line. Once in the trees, he hopped as fast as he could towards the castle. Lucas knew precisely where his dad would have locked up Jonah, and Lucas knew how he could get to him. He snuck in, undetected, through the back-kitchen doors when the cooks were bringing the night’s trash out. He stayed hidden amongst the pots and pans and brooms and finally found his chance to sneak into the cellar when a cook left the door open. From the basement, he made his way to the dungeons. He hopped right into Jonah’s cell. Jonah curled tightly into a ball and crying, didn’t see Lucas at first. Lucas hopped over to him. “I’m here, Jonah, I’m here.”
Jonah looked up and saw Lucas was still a frog and started crying even harder. Through his tears, he said, “No luck with the princesses again? I’m so sorry, Luke. I’m just so sorry. If that witch could see you now, maybe she’d undo the spell herself. You’re not a spoiled, arrogant brat anymore. You’re the kindest, sweetest guy I’ve ever met.”
Lucas blushed. “Thanks, Jonah. You’re a pretty great guy yourself.”
“Luke, it’s almost midnight. What’s going to happen? Will I still hear you like now?” Jonah asked.
“I don’t know. I hope so, but I just don’t know. I’ve never understood why you’re the only one who hears me anyway.” Lucas said.
Jonah reached down and picked up Lucas. He stared directly into the frog’s eyes. “If this is our last conversation, then I have to say this out loud for you to hear. I love you so much, Luke. More than you know. You’re my best friend in the entire world. I… I think if you were a boy and not a frog that I might love you even more than that.” Jonah blushed a deep, bright red. “You have an amazing soul, Lucas. I’ll love you forever.” He bent down and kissed the frog.
Electricity crackled around the boy, and the frog and a purplish colored smoke swirled around them. When the smoke cleared, Jonah was looking up into the bright, crystal blue eyes of, a now human, Prince Lucas. Lucas brought both hands up and cupped Jonah’s face between his hands. He bent down and kissed Jonah. After he broke the kiss, Lucas smiled and said, “I love you, too, Jonah.”
A small army led by the neighboring King entering his lands, interrupted King Samuel’s night of worry over his son Lucas’s predicament. King Samuel personally led a small force out to greet the other king. King Edmond rode out from his army and greeted King Samuel.
“My guards last saw my son, Prince Jonah, entering your kingdom, King Samuel, and he has not returned home. I’ve come looking for him. Have you or any of your people seen him?” Edmond described Jonah to Samuel. One of the King’s Guards spoke up and told his King what had happened at the pond and that he thought Jonah might be that boy. Samuel relayed that information to Edmond with his apologies, and they rode together to the castle.
The two kings walked together into the dungeon, turned the corner, and saw the two boys curled up together, sound asleep in each other’s arms. Both kings were speechless for a moment, and then King Samuel yelled out, “Lucas! You’ve broken the spell! How? Who broke the spell? Why are you in this cell? Guards, unlock this cell at once!”
The boys, shocked by the sudden intrusion, untangled from each other’s embrace and stood up. Jonah noticed his father standing behind the other king. Lucas spoke first. “Dad!” He ran and hugged his father as soon as the guards opened the cell door. “I hopped in here when I was still a frog. I wanted to spend my last few hours with Jonah. Then, just before midnight, Jonah kissed me and broke the spell!”
Both kings audibly gasped and turned and looked at each other. Samuel looked back at his son. “How do you feel about this son? Do you feel like he is your True Love? The spell said only True Love’s Kiss could break the enchantment.”
Lucas blushed and looked down. “Yes, dad. I’m in love with Jonah, and he’s in love with me. We want to be married. You always told me that whoever broke the enchantment was who I would marry. I couldn’t talk to you, but I heard everything you said to me. I want you to keep your word. I want to marry Jonah.” Lucas told his father that, for the last year, Jonah could hear him, and they talked for hours every evening after the princesses left. He told his father everything.
“Jonah? Son, is this what you want also?” King Edmond asked, stepping forward.
King Samuel stepped aside to let King Edmond to the front. Samuel said to Lucas, “Lucas, this is King Edmond from Garlandia. He is Prince Jonah’s father.”
Lucas’s jaw dropped, and he turned to Jonah. “Prince Jonah? You never told me!”
“It wasn’t and still isn’t the most important thing about me. I love you, not your kingdom and I wanted the same in return. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I didn’t want it to get in the way of our friendship.” Jonah said.
“It’s fine, Jonah, I definitely understand,” Lucas said.
Jonah turned towards his father. “Dad, to answer your question. Yes. This is what I want. I know I’m just sixteen. I know you planned on me marrying some princess and having lots of babies, but I’ve never wanted those things. I just didn’t know how to tell you. I’m in love with Luke. Like head over heels type in love. The love I still see between you and mom. Please let me have this.” Jonah was looking at his father, but his hands were gripping Lucas’s arm, and he was leaning into the taller boy.
The two kings looked at each other and nodded in silent agreement. King Samuel spoke. “I’ll put the proclamation out to the other kingdoms. The marriage of our sons, the crown princes of Lerithia and Garlandia, will take place one month from today. May fortune smile on you both and upon both our kingdoms.”
Even with both their fathers and a dozen guards right there, Lucas pressed his forehead against Jonah’s and whispered: “I love you.” Jonah leaned in, and they kissed.
Dylan shivered in the frigid wind, snow blowing all around him. He felt lucky that he still had his coat and shoes. The man who robbed him last night attempted to take those as well. Dylan woke up in time to run away, but he lost his backpack and everything in it. Three nights on his own and now he owned only the clothes on his back, three dollars and thirty-seven cents, a stick of gum, and a matchbook with three remaining matches. Pathetic. The wind and snow drove him to get up and get moving again. The cops moved him along if he stayed in one place too long anyway. He got up, brushed the snow off his clothes and walked off into the night, destination unknown.
Dylan considered the last three days of his life, while he searched for a place to crash for the night. He turned fourteen three days ago. The day began awesomely. His fourteenth birthday, a week before Christmas, everything seemed perfect to him. He thought that telling his parent would make things even better. He thought they would understand. He thought they loved him no matter what. So, with a broad grin on his face, Dylan walked into the family room and told his parents that he was gay. Their reaction shocked him. His mother burst into tears and ran out of the room. His father demanded that he stop lying and admit that he was straight. Dylan almost did just that, but he decided that he had come this far, he had to be honest with them and with himself.
Dylan’s mother returned to the room and dropped his backpack on the floor at his feet. This confused him at first, and he looked from his mother to his backpack and back again. She didn’t even look him in the eye, she just told him to leave. She didn’t want him and his sinful ways infecting his little brother. Dylan burst into tears, picked up the backpack and left the only home he had ever known.
A cry for help brought Dylan out of his memories and back into the cold reality of his new life. The sound came from an alley of to his right. He ran to the opening and looked towards the sounds. A man stood over a young boy. The boy, sprawled on the wet pavement, noticed Dylan and yelled louder. “Help! He’s stealing all my stuff! Help!”
That’s when Dylan noticed his own backpack slung over the man’s shoulder. “Hey!” Dylan yelled, running towards the man. “Give that stuff back!” The man glanced back at Dylan and then took off running. “Crap,” Dylan said. “that guy has my stuff, too.” Dylan extended his hand to the other boy to help him up. “I’m Dylan. What’s your name?”
The other boy stood up and brushed as much of the snow and dirt off himself as he could. “Thanks a lot, bro. My name is Jason, but please call me Jay.” Jay looked down at his feet. “I can’t believe he stole my shoes and my socks. I hate to think of what else may have happened if you hadn’t come. Thanks again, Dylan.” Jay wrapped his arms around himself, shaking with cold.
“Jay? Where do you live? Can I walk you back there?” Dylan asked with trepidation. Afraid that this boy, like him, may not have a home to go back to.
Jay frowned. “I ran away. My parents died in a car crash last year. I’ve been living with my aunt, but things haven’t been great. My uncle gets drunk and mean almost every night.” Jay scowled and didn’t meet Dylan’s eyes.
“Hey, I understand. No sweat, bro. No judgments from me. Do you have any other clothes, or did he get everything?” Dylan asked.
“He stole everything I had. Even my shoes and socks. I might have to try a shelter tonight, even though most are almost as dangerous as the streets.” Jay’s eyes glistened with tears, but he held firm and did not cry. “Don’t worry about me, Dylan. You look like you have as many problems as I do.”
Dylan sighed. “I guess. My parents kicked me out because I’m gay. My perfect little life blew up three days ago, on my fourteenth birthday no less. I totally misjudged my parents. My mom told me she didn’t want my sinful, disgusting ways to infect my little brother. Being gay isn’t a disease!” Dylan kicked a rock across the alley and clenched his fists. “I just don’t understand how they could do that to me. I’m their son. Aren’t they supposed to love and support me no matter what?”
“Gee, bro, I’m sorry. Yeah, that really sucks. People get so stupid about that stuff. Who you love shouldn’t matter to anyone but you. I’m only twelve, and I understand that. What’s the matter with parents?” Jay put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder to try and comfort him.
Dylan shrugged his shoulders. “Thanks, Jay. I appreciate it. I have some things I want to give you. I can’t just leave you like this. That dick took your shoes and socks for crying out loud. And it’s snowing!” Dylan sat on a nearby fire escape and took off his shoes and socks. He handed the socks to Jay and put his shoes back on. Before the boy had a chance to thank him, Dylan took off his jacket and his hoodie. He tossed the hoodie to Jay and put his coat back on. Next, he emptied his pockets and looked at his remaining belongings. He handed Jay the stick of bubblegum and one matchstick, leaving himself with three dollars and thirty-seven cents and two matches. “I hope that helps. Jay. It’s the best I can do. Kids like us got to stick together. Take care of yourself, bro.”
Jay couldn’t believe it. “Dylan, this is too much. I can’t take all this.” He lost his battle to not cry as tears streamed down his face. “This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me since my parents died. What am I supposed to do with the match though?” Through his tears, Jay smiled as he asked about the match.
Dylan just smiled. “Keep it. All of it. I don’t need it. Maybe you can start a fire somewhere with the match and warm yourself up. Take care of yourself, Jay. See you around.” Dylan turned and left the alley, taking one last look back and waving to Jay as he turned the corner.
Dylan fought his way through the wind and snow as he made his way through town. The snow pelted his face, coming down harder than ever. He walked closer to the buildings, trying to avoid the worst of the wind. He bent his head forward and attempted to walk faster. He needed to find a safe place to sleep soon, exhaustion was overtaking his body. He heard a noise and stopped. He looked all around and then noticed someone huddled in the doorway of the building he just walked past. Dylan turned and walked back to the doorway and peered in. An old man shivered, wrapping his arms around his knees, trying to stay warm. The man wore no coat, no hat, no gloves. Dylan bent down next to the man.
“Sir, are you ok? Is there somewhere you can go? It’s snowing pretty hard.” Dylan shook the man’s shoulder.
The man slowly looked up. “The shelters filled up before I got there. I’ll shelter here tonight. I’ve survived worse.” The old man tried to smile reassuringly. “What about you, son. Why are you out on such a snowy night?”
“My parents kicked me out. Then a man robbed me, so I left that place, too. I’m looking for a new place to crash. Right now, I’m more worried about you, sir.” Dylan said.
“Don’t worry about an old man like me. I’ve survived two wars and three divorces; a little snow won’t kill me.” He tried to laugh but ended up coughing.
Dylan frowned and stood up. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around the man’s shoulders, then he handed the old man his gloves. “Take these. Don’t even try to say no. You need them more than I do.” He reached into his pocket and took out the matchbook. He ripped one of the two remaining matches out of the book and handed it to the old man. “Here, sir. Take this, too. Maybe when it stops snowing, you can light a fire.” Dylan shrugged and gave the man a half-smile.
“Thank you, son.” The man said with tears forming at the corners of his eyes. “You don’t even know how many people walked right past me tonight and none stopped except you. You may be just a boy, but you have a bigger heart than any grown man I have ever known. Take care of yourself. I will never forget you.” Holding back tears of his own, Dylan said goodnight to the old man, turned and continued with his search for a place to sleep.
Dylan barely walked two blocks before he heard another noise that stopped him in his tracks. He heard loud banging and what sounded like a baby crying from behind the supermarket. Curious and concerned, he, once again, abandoned his own quest and investigated possible trouble. Dylan turned the corner and couldn’t believe his eyes. A baby sat in a beat-up stroller, alone, beside a big green dumpster. Dylan ran up to check the condition of the baby. He barely had any clothes of his own left, he had no idea how he would keep a baby warm if no one came back for it. Just before he reached the stroller, a girl’s head appeared from inside the dumpster and shouted at him.
“Hey! You! Help! I’m stuck in here. I reached in to see if I could find any food for Olivia and me, but I slipped and fell, and now I can’t get out.” The girl said while waving over at Dylan. “Please!”
Dylan walked over to the dumpster. He stepped up on a wooden crate and reached his arm over the side of the dumpster. When he felt the girl grab on, he pulled her out. They both fell off the crate, the girl landing on top of him. She smiled down at him. “Thanks a million, doll.” She kissed his forehead and got up.
Dylan blushed and looked more closely at her. She didn’t look much older than him. Sixteen, maybe seventeen, if he had to guess. “You’re welcome. I’m Dylan. Glad I could help. Why are you out here with your baby? I’m frozen. Your baby must be even colder.”
The girl turned towards Dylan. “I’m Natalie, and this is my son, Alexander. There’s nowhere for us to go. My mom kicked me out when I got pregnant, and Alex’s father won’t even admit he’s his son. The ignorant bastard.” Natalie’s voice held a mixture and anger, sadness and despair.
“I’m so sorry, Natalie. I’ve only been out here on the streets for three days, and I’ve already heard such horrible stories of what people do to each other. It’s overwhelming.” Dylan said.
“What’s your own sad story, Dylan? Why are you out here?” Natalie asked, placing her hand on Dylan’s arm.
“My parents kicked me out because I’m gay. They kicked me out on my fourteenth birthday no less! I… I thought my parents would love me no matter what.” He gave her a sympathetic look. “I thought they’d be cool with it, but they kicked me out with just a backpack full of stuff. And the backpack was stolen just two days later!” He shrugged. “Other people have it worse than me. I can see that already. It’s rougher out here than you can ever imagine when you’re safe at home. I never thought about the people, the kids, out here on the streets. It really sucks.”
Natalie nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it does suck. We’ll find a way to make it, though. I’m sure you will, too. You seem very smart and strong. And the sweetest guy I’ve met in a long time.” She smirked and winked at him, causing him to blush. “Anyway, this dumpster was a bust. We’re going to look for another one. You want to join us?”
Dylan shook his head. “Nah, I’m going to keep looking for a new place to crash. Good luck with your search.” Dylan dug into his pants pocket and pulled out the contents. “Here, I know it’s just three dollars and thirty-seven cents, but I don’t know, maybe you can get baby food or something. I don’t even know how expensive that stuff is” He shrugged. “And take this match and my beanie. Find somewhere out of the snow and light a fire to get warm. Alex looks really cold.”
Natalie hugged him and kissed his cheek, eliciting yet another episode of blushing. “Thank you so much, Dylan. We’ll never forget you. Good luck with finding a place to sleep.”
Dylan turned and left. Now with empty pockets, no hat, no jacket, no hoodie, no socks, and no gloves, he walked off and continued his quest for a warm place to sleep.
Dylan’s could barely feel his face, his hands, or his feet by the time he heard the bells. The church! The church bells always sounded at midnight on Christmas Eve. Shivering uncontrollably, Dylan headed in the direction of the bells. He hoped the pastor left the church unlocked. A warm building, any warm building, filled his thoughts. Dylan saw the lights of the church at the end of the street. Just a few more yards. Then the world spun, and everything went black. Dylan collapsed into the snow.
Dylan heard a voice and felt warm hands rubbing his arms and face. “My dear boy, wake up. I need to get you into the church where it’s warm, but I’m not sure I can carry you there by myself.” The voice said. Dylan blinked his eyes, trying to open them. They felt frozen shut. Ice crusted on his eyelashes. He finally opened his eyes and stared up at the person trying to lift him out of the snow. It was a lady, maybe a little older than his mom. Her small frame struggled just to keep his upper body out of the snow while she tried to rub warmth into his arms and hands.
Dylan groaned. “Where am I? What’s happening?” Weak and disoriented, he tried to sit up. “Who are you?”
“I’ll answer all of your questions as soon as we’re inside, young man. Let’s get you out of this snow.” The lady helped him to his feet, and they walked into the church and sat in the back pew. “I am Amelia. I came here to pray, and when I left, I found you in the snow. I should be asking you the questions, but first let me get you a blanket or an old coat from the church’s donation bin.” Amelia left him sitting on the bench, lost in his thoughts. She returned a few minutes later with both a big puffy jacket and a blanket. Dylan quickly put on the coat and wrapped the blanket around himself as tightly as he could.
“Thank you so much, Amelia. I… I think you might have saved my life. My name is Dylan. I’ll tell you anything you want to know… as soon as my teeth stop chattering.” Dylan gave Amelia a half-smile and pulled the blanket even tighter around himself.
Amelia thought about taking Dylan to her house, but she didn’t want to chance taking him back out in the cold yet. She gave him the time he needed to warm up before asking him any more questions. When he felt a bit warmer, Dylan looked at Amelia and began his story. He told her everything. From his parents kicking him out to the man stealing his backpack and everything that happened to him tonight. When he finished, they both had tears streaming down their faces.
Dylan pulled back from her a little and spoke. “You seem like a church lady, just like my parents. If you want to kick me out of this church now that you know I’m gay I understand.” He sobbed. The tears now freely flowing down his cheeks.
Amelia started crying even harder. “Oh no, Dylan. Never. No one should kick anyone out of church. And you… you’re the sweetest angel I have ever met.” She reached over and wiped away his tears. “The bible I read teaches love not hate. Your parents were wrong to kick you out. You’re only fourteen! The things you’ve done amazing things tonight and I believe that God led me here to save your life as you may have saved three other lives tonight. I woke out of a sound sleep with a burning desire to come here to this church and pray. I can’t explain why. I’ll just call it a Christmas miracle. Right after the bells rang to signal Christmas, I left the church and found you face down in the snow! God doesn’t care that you’re gay. He cares that you have more love in your heart than any other person I’ve ever met. He brought me here to save you. I truly believe that. Dylan. I’m bringing you home with me tonight if that’s ok with you. We’ll talk about plans beyond that after I feed a nice big breakfast tomorrow morning. No one should ever make plans on an empty stomach.” She looked at him with questioning eyes.
“I think I’d like that, Amelia,” Dylan said, a genuine smile forming on his face for the first time in days. “Oh yeah, Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas, Dylan.” Amelia took his hand in hers, and they walked out of the church. The snow finally stopped falling, and the light of the full moon lit their way home.
Elijah finished cleaning the fireplace and went to wash up. He didn’t even get to the washbasin before he heard one of his stepbrothers yell for him.
“Eli, get back in here! You’re not done. This fireplace is a mess.” Robert yelled.
Elijah went back into the front room. “Robert, I’ve told you guys a million times, my name is Elijah, not Eli. And I cleaned that fireplace already. You jerks must have spread more ashes all over it.” Elijah yelped in pain and surprise as his other step-brother hit him in the back of the head.
“You will not talk back to us, little brother. And your name is what we say it is. Look at you all covered in ash and soot. Your name isn’t Elijah or even Eli. Your name is CinderEli.” Edward said.
Elijah rubbed the back of his head and scowled at his step-brothers. He didn’t bother saying anything else. He knew it was pointless. Their mother had his father wrapped around her little finger. Elijah felt like he was just a servant and not even part of the family. He knelt and started cleaning the fireplace all over again. He nearly finished cleaning it for the second time when his step-mother rushed into the house.
“Boys! Edward! Robert! Come here at once!” She yelled. Elijah stopped what he was doing and turned around to see what was so important. His two step-brothers returned to the room and said, almost in unison, “What is it, mother?”
“You’ve both been invited to a Royal Ball at the castle. A notice went up in the village requiring all boys of royal blood and at least fifteen years of age to attend the Princess’s eighteenth birthday ball. It is tomorrow night. We’ll have to spend all day tomorrow getting you both ready. People say she’s looking for a suitor. She just has to pick one of you!” Their mother said.
Elijah spoke up. “I’m fifteen. Will I be going to the ball, too?”
All three laughed at him. His step-mother said, “Of course not, boy. Look at you. You’d be an embarrassment. Now be quiet and go back to your cleaning.”
Elijah was furious. He considered going to his father, but he knew that would do no good. He turned back to his work and tried to put the ball out of his mind.
The next day, the house was a constant hive of activity. Rebecca was ordering her two sons around, getting them ready for the ball that evening. Rebecca sent Elijah out on numerous errands to pick up things his two step-brothers needed. Each time she forced him to help, he got madder and madder.
The evening arrived, and Elijah watched as his father, step-mother, and two step-brothers got in the carriage and left for the ball. He finally allowed the tears of anger and of sadness fall from his eyes. Elijah left the house and headed straight for the clearing in the woods behind the house. At the far edge of the clearing, he found his mother’s grave. He dropped to his knees in front of her headstone and cried. “Mother, everything is horrible without you. Father has remarried, and she’s a mean and wicked lady. She has two sons of her own, and I’m cast aside and treated as a servant. Papa won’t even help me. He does whatever she tells him to do.”
Through his tears, Elijah noticed a little blue light flickering back and forth over the headstone. It was a weird little light. It distracted him for a moment, but he continued with what he needed to tell his mother. “They are all at the Princess’s Birthday Ball, Mama. They made me stay home. I have more right to go than Robert or Edward! My whole life now is just cleaning up after them and putting up with them bullying me. I wish… well, I wish a lot of things, but right now, I wish I could go to the ball.”
His tears were flowing heavier now. When he first saw it, he thought it was his imagination, but the little blue light was growing larger. Before Elijah’s astonished eyes, the blue light grew into a brightly dressed man with glowing blue wings. Elijah blinked, wiped the tears from his eyes, and looked again. The winged man was still there. “Uh… hi… who… what are you?” Elijah asked.
The man huffed. “I’m a who, not a what, Elijah. I’m your fairy godfather, and I’m here to grant your wish.”
A broad smile crossed Elijah’s face, but a suspicious frown quickly replaced it. “If you’re my fairy godfather, why wait until now? I’ve made a million wishes since my mom died. My step-brothers have bullied and tormented me for months. Why haven’t you helped me before now?”
The fairy sighed and looked at Elijah. “I’m not allowed to guide every event in your life, but I’ve watched for a key moment to intervene. This is that key moment.” He waved his wand over Elijah.
Elijah looked down at himself and smiled at the fancy, crisply pressed black and white tuxedo. Then his suspicious frown returned when he noticed the “Hello. My name is Elijah” sticker just under his left lapel. “Hey! What’s with the nametag?”
“You will be working with the caterers, serving drinks to the guests at the ball. I’ve arranged it, so they won’t notice that you aren’t really their employee.” The fairy said.
Elijah’s eyes welled up with fresh tears. “Great. Some fairy godfather you are. You grant my wish to go to the ball, but instead of sending me to dance with the princess, you send me as a servant.”
“Elijah, you know as well as I do that a princess is not what you seek.” The fairy smiled and patted Elijah’s shoulder.
Elijah looked up at the fairy, eyes wide. Then he looked down and blushed. “That may be true, but then why should I go to the ball at all?”
“Trust in me that I know what is best for you. It is my job, after all. More than princesses are at the ball.” The fairy grinned.
Elijah looked up at him, the suspicion fading from his eyes. “Ok. I’m used to people looking at me as a servant anyway. I may as well be a servant at the Royal Ball, too.”
The fairy smiled. “Trust in me, Elijah. And leave the ball before the last stroke of midnight, that’s when the enchantment will wear off.” The fairy waved his magic wand again, and Elijah disappeared.
Elijah blinked his eyes in surprise. One second, he was standing in front of his mother’s grave, and the next, he was in the most massive kitchen that he had ever seen. The kitchen was bigger than his house! Before he had much of a chance to look around, an older man stormed up to him. The man glanced down at his nametag and then said, “You. Elijah, grab that tray of drinks and get out front. The guests are thirsty. You’re not here to gawk around at the kitchen like some dumb country farm boy. Move it!” Elijah picked up the drink tray and walked through the door and into the main ballroom.
After an hour of walking the floor handing out drinks, Elijah found himself at a stationary bar along the back wall. In between serving drinks, he watched longingly as everyone danced. He knew that the fairy was right, that he didn’t want to marry a princess, but he still longed to dance at the Royal Ball.
He ducked down behind the bar every time he saw his step-brothers. Not that they would notice him anyway. With his perfectly pressed black and white tuxedo and his blonde hair clean and combed back off his face, they’d never even recognize him. From off to his left, he heard someone clear their throat, and a boy’s voice said, “Excuse me, Elijah, can I get a glass of ice water, please?”
Elijah turned and nearly dropped the glass he was holding. His breath caught in his chest, and his heart skipped a beat or two. The boy sitting at the bar smiling up at him was the most gorgeous boy that Elijah had ever seen. He had light brown hair, cut short in the back, but the bangs were long. He combed his hair to the right, and the bangs partially covered his right eye, and that was a shame because he had stunning bright blue eyes. They were a bright blue to make a cloudless summer sky jealous. Elijah set the glass he was holding down on the bar and tried to steady his nerves. “Sure thing, sir. One ice water coming up.” Elijah gave the boy a nervous smile and prepared the drink.
“Here you go, sir. Enjoy your water and enjoy the Ball.” Elijah said.
The boy shot Elijah a killer smile. The ruby red lips and perfect dimples nearly left Elijah in a melted puddle on the floor. The boy leaned forward. “I’m only just now enjoying the Ball. It was boring me until I spotted you over here. You’re not one of the usual servants. I’d have noticed. My name is Will, by the way.” Will stuck his hand out to Elijah.
Elijah shook Will’s hand and blushed. “Pleased to meet you, Will. As you noticed from my nametag, I’m Elijah. And you’re right. This is my first time here at the Royal Castle.”
“Welcome to the castle. What do you think of it?” Will asked.
“I’ve only seen the kitchen and the ballroom, but it’s stunning,” Elijah replied.
“I’ll have to give you a private tour sometime,” Will said and winked at Elijah.
Elijah blushed a deep, bright red. “Are you the Royal Tour Guide, Will? If so, sign me up for that tour.” Elijah grinned.
Will reached over and took one of Elijah’s hands in his. “What’s with these gloves anyway? I want to feel your hand in mine, not these stupid gloves.”
Elijah shrugged. “The Royal Family doesn’t want us, lowly servants, to touch the things that they serve to them and their guests. I was told to wear gloves all night.”
Will rolled his eyes. “That’s ridiculous. Wait…” Will squinted, looking at Elijah with a look of intense concentration. “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
Elijah scowled. “No. Should I?”
Will gently took Elijah’s face in his hands and leaned in and kissed him. Elijah’s eyes nearly popped out of his head in shock, but he soon recovered and kissed the younger boy back. After several minutes, Will pulled back from the short make-out session, smiling broadly. “Sorry to be so forward, but I wanted to see if you wanted that before you found out who I am. I could probably have any boy in the kingdom, but I want one who wants me, not my title or family.” Will said, looking a little sad.
“Any boy in the kingdom?” Elijah scoffed. “Just who are you? The crown prince?”
Will sighed. “I am who I said I am. I’m Will. Most people insist on calling me William, though.”
Elijah looked confused, and then his jaw dropped. “No way. You ARE the crown prince?! Oh my god. No way! But… you’re here. Talking to me. You freaking kissed me! Why aren’t you up there with your parents and sister?”
“I was. Then I saw you. Now I’m here.” Will smirked.
“I… I don’t know what to say.” Elijah blushed and looked down.
“Say you’ll take off those stupid gloves and dance with me,” Will said with a grin.
“I’m not allowed to take my gloves off by order of the Royal family, though.” Elijah laughed.
Will stood up straight and puffed out his chest. He spoke in as deep a voice as his fourteen-year-old vocal cords could muster. “I hereby order, by Royal Decree, that you, Elijah the Beautiful, must remove your gloves so that I can feel your hand in mine.” Will burst out into a fit of giggles. “Just give me the damn gloves, cutie.”
Elijah blushed a deep red, but he smiled and took off the gloves. “Here you go, your Royal Highness.”
Will rolled his eyes and stuffed the gloves into his pocket. He took Elijah’s hand and led him out onto the dancefloor.
Elijah didn’t know how to dance, so he let Will guide his movements, and he soon caught on. An hour later, they were still out there and were attracting more stares than any couple, except for the Princess and her chosen companion. The music slowed, and Will pulled Elijah close. Though he was a year younger, Will has about three inches taller than Elijah.
“You have the brightest and most beautiful green eyes that I have ever seen. Brighter even than the emerald in my father’s treasury.” Will said, looking down at Elijah.
Elijah just couldn’t seem to stop blushing around this boy. “Hey now, don’t even talk about pretty eyes with those beautiful baby blues of yours.” Elijah reached up and pushed the hair out of Will’s eyes. “And your hair is perfect, too.” He smiled.
“Listen, blondie, don’t get me started on perfect hair,” Will smirked.
Elijah couldn’t help but smile. “You’re gonna have like a million princesses come calling when it’s time for your own Royal Ball. You’re as sweet as you are gorgeous. She’ll be a lucky girl, whoever you pick.”
Will pulled Elijah even closer and bent down close to his ear. “What makes you think I’ll pick a girl?”
Elijah looked up at him, confused. “Won’t your father make you? Royal heirs and all that?”
Will leaned in and kissed the side of Elijah’s neck. You’re so cute but so thick-headed. We’ve been dancing right in front of my parents for over an hour. They know I’ll never marry a girl. We’ve already talked about it. As the first-born son, I will be King. But, I’ve already said that I will designate my sister’s children as the heirs to the throne. That’s why they’re so formal and so careful with who she chooses to marry.”
Elijah’s eyes widened. “Over an hour? What time is it?”
“Time doesn’t matter when I’m with you. You fit perfectly within my arms, Elijah. I think I want to keep you around.” Will leaned in, about to kiss Elijah. Then the clock struck the first stroke of midnight.
Elijah pulled back from Will’s embrace. “Will, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I really, really like you, but I need to go. Right now.”
Will’s face showed surprise and disappointment. “Elijah, if it’s the job, don’t worry. You’re with me. You’ll never be a servant in this castle again. Stay with me.”
Tears stung Elijah’s eyes. “It’s not that. I can’t explain right now. I just need to go. I’m so sorry.” With that, Elijah turned and ran out of the castle as fast as he could.
Elijah’s sudden departure stunned Will. He wasn’t sure exactly what just happened, but he was confident that Elijah didn’t really want to leave. He felt something was wrong, and he was determined to find out what. He took off at top speed after the other boy without even calling for his Royal Bodyguards.
Will couldn’t catch up to Elijah, but he managed to keep him in sight as they passed out of the Royal Compound and out into the town. Will lost count of the number of streets they passed and side streets they turned down. He nearly lost sight of Elijah, but he turned the last corner just in time to see him dart off the road and into a backyard. Will couldn’t find Elijah anywhere. He searched the nearby woods and other yards but couldn’t find him. Finally, Will gave up and headed home. He vowed inwardly to order the Palace Guards to perform a more thorough search of the town. He would see Elijah again if it was the last thing he did.
Elijah was even more depressed than usual. He had the absolute best night of his life last night, and now here he was, cleaning the fireplace again. He had to put Will out of his mind. He, of course, would never see the Crown Prince ever again. It was an awesome night, but that’s all it was just one night. Just then, his step-brothers interrupted his daydreams of Will.
“There’s a palace carriage stopping out front. Get out of here, little CinderEli. We can’t have your filth embarrassing us. Go clean the kitchen.” Robert said.
“Yeah,” Edward added. “No one wants to see dirty old CinderEli.” Both boys laughed as Elijah left the room in silence.
A loud knock on the door echoed through the house. Robert and Edward raced to the door and pulled it open. The palace guardsman looked them both up and down and then asked, “Is the Lord or Mistress of the Manor at home?”
“Our step-father is out of town on business. I’ll go get our mother at once, sir.” Edward responded and turned and ran into the house. He returned not a minute later with his mother.
Edward stated to the guardsman. “Sir Guardsman, may I present Duchess Wainwright, Lady Rebecca.”
The guardsman entered the house, followed by a smaller figure who, wrapped in a hooded cloak. The hood completely shadowed the second person’s face. The guardsman bowed to Lady Rebecca. “A pleasure to meet you, my lady.”
“How may we be of service to the Royal Guard?” Rebecca asked.
The guard took a small item from his pocket. “I have been sent out in search of a boy who left this glove behind at the Royal Ball last night. We are ordered to find the boy whose hand fits this glove.”
Robert and Edward elbowed each other to get up close to the guard. They looked expectantly back and forth between the guard and their mother. Rebecca nodded to them.
First, Robert and then Edward tried on the glove. Neither boy could even fit all their fingers into the glove. They growled in frustration and handed the glove back to the guard.
Rebecca looked sympathetically at the guard. “Sorry to waste your time. Good luck with your search.”
“Thank you, Lady Rebecca.” The guard started to turn away, but his cloaked companion grabbed his arm and said in a whisper, “This is the manor I followed him to. Make sure there is no one else here. I have to find him!”
The guard turned back to Rebecca. “I’m sorry to bother you, my lady. Are there any other young boys in residence here? A servant? A distant relative? I have to check everyone.”
Rebecca frowned. “Well, my step-son Cin… Eli lives with us, but he did not go to the Ball. You can’t possibly be looking for him.” She scoffed.
The guard said. “Call him here at once. If the glove doesn’t fit, we’ll be on our way.”
Rebecca turned and stormed off into the kitchen and returned moments later with a dirty, disheveled Elijah, covered from head to toe with cinders and soot. Elijah brushed himself off and started to walk towards the guard.
The cloaked figure stared intently at Elijah as he walked forward. Robert reached out and roughly grabbed Elijah’s arm. He said to the guard, “Are you sure you want this little soot-covered CinderEli to dirty the glove. There’s no chance that they belong to him.”
The cloaked figure leaped forward, the butt of his staff striking Robert squarely in the abdomen. Robert doubled over in pain. The cloaked figure grabbed him by the hair and bent in close to Robert’s ear. “If you touch him again, you will lose the hand you touched him with.”
Edward jumped to his brother’s side. “The King will hear about this! Just who do you think you are?”
The cloaked figure reached up and lowered his hood. “Go ahead and tell my father what happened here today. While you’re at it, tell my mother that your mother ignored her order that ALL boys fifteen or over of royal blood attend the Ball.” He pointed at Elijah. “He is fifteen and the Duke’s blood heir. Yet she did not allow him to attend. Though I will say that it worked out for me that he got there on his own without the need to dance with my sister.” Will smirked at Elijah as he took the glove from the guard and took the other one out of his own pocket. “Make it official. Put those stupid gloves back on. I know it’s you, though. The ash can’t hide those pretty green eyes.”
Rebecca inhaled sharply and bowed deeply to the Crown Prince. “Your Majesty, Prince William, I and my sons beg your forgiveness.” She glared at her sons, and they bowed to the prince as well.
Hands shaking, Elijah put on the gloves. They fit perfectly. His step-mother and two step-brothers were in shock.
Will smiled at Elijah. He reached up and brushed some of the soot and ash out of his hair. “Elijah, I knew from the moment I saw you that I wanted you in my life. I don’t want you staying here with these cold-hearted bullies. Come live at the castle.”
Elijah took both of Will’s hands in his. “But what would my role be there? Servant? Friend? Why would your father allow it?”
Now, Will was the one who looked nervous, with unsteady hands. He got down on one knee in front of Elijah. “I know we just met last night. I know I’m just fourteen and you’re fifteen. I know you have absolutely no reason to say yes, but I am hereby officially asking you to be my betrothed. We can be married after my eighteenth birthday. What do you say?”
“Oh, Will!” Elijah gushed. He pulled William to his feet and kissed him. “Oh, yes, Will, yes! A thousand times, yes!”
The boys kissed again. Will looked over at Rebecca. “Give anything belonging to Elijah to the guard. We’ll be leaving immediately. His father is welcome to come to the castle upon his return home. You and your sons would be best served to stay at home.” He slipped an arm around Elijah’s waist and guided him out to the Royal Carriage.
The guardsman exited the manor with all of Elijah’s possessions, and then the carriage rode off into the distance towards the castle and, more importantly, towards a bright new future for Elijah and William.
Cole’s best friend, Samantha, spotted him in the hallway. “Cole! Hey, Cole, wait up!” She ran up, almost out of breath. “Hey, idiot. I wanted to catch up to you before you got to class. What are you doing New Year’s Eve? Got a date yet?”
“No, Samantha, you know damn well I don’t. Who should I ask? This school is so close-minded it isn’t even funny. I don’t think this town realizes it’s 2018 and not 1950!” Cole ran a hand through his longish jet-black hair and focused his dark brown eyes on his friend. “I wish I could go up to anyone here and ask them out without being afraid of getting beaten up, but you know how this place is, Sammie.”
“I know, sweetie. And I also know you wish you could ask out Zac Simpson. I think it might go better than you expect. I don’t have proof, but I think he plays for your team.”
“If there’s a God, he does. I gotta go, Sammie. I’ll see you at lunch.” He ran off down the hall.
Next up for Cole was algebra, his favorite class of the day. Not that he loved math, but Zac sat directly in between Cole and the blackboard. He could spend the entire class pretending to pay attention but all the while staring at Zac. The short blonde hair, the piercing blue eyes, the hot jock body. Yeah, Cole could stare at Zac for hours. After his conversation with Sammie, Cole decided to do something bold. He spent the entire class sketching Zac, he even wrote a poem and added it at the bottom of the picture. Cole wasn’t sure if he’d be brave enough to give it to Zac, but he drew it anyway.
Cole slid into the seat next to Samantha at lunch. No one else was at the table yet. Sammie looked up. “Hey, Cole. You ask him yet?” She smirked and nodded towards Zac, who was sitting with the other members of the lacrosse team and a few cheerleaders.
“No. Of course not. He’s probably going out with one of those cheerleaders anyway.” Cole blushed. “I did doodle a sketch of him and write a poem.”
“Aww! Let me see.” Sammie reached for Cole’s backpack.
“Cole Kendrick, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! The art and the poem are both fantastic! You have to give it to him!” Sammie nearly squealed, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.
“Oh, look the little fag has a girlfriend. How sweet.” Cole glanced up and recognized Danny, one of Zac’s friends on the lacrosse team.
“Screw you, Danny.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, fag?” Danny reached over and flipped Cole’s lunch tray up, the food and milk splattering all over Cole’s clothes.
Cole stood up quick and started brushing off his clothes. “No, Danny, I wouldn’t let you touch me even if you paid me. I’ve heard how small your dick is.”
Danny raised his fist, but someone pulled him backward, and he landed on the floor. Zac stood over Danny, looking directly at Cole. “I’m sorry my friend is a jerk, Cole. I’m sure he’s sorry. Aren’t you, Danny?”
Danny looked up at Zac. “No. Why would you defend that little faggot?” Danny started to stand back up.
Zac lifted one foot, put it right in the center of Danny’s chest, and pushed him back to the floor. “Stay on the floor if you can’t be nice.” A crowd was starting to form around the boys. “What he did wasn’t cool. Let me get you a new lunch.” Zac smiled the smile that made Cole fall for him in the first place.
Cole looked down and blushed and then took a deep breath and looked back up at Zac. “Why are you so nice to me. You’re a popular jock like he is. Don’t you feel the same way about me?”
“Not all jocks are bigoted jerks.”
“Hold that thought,” Cole reached into his backpack. “Here. This is for you. I better give it to you now before I lose my nerve. If you decide to punch me, I understand.” Cole handed Zac the sketch.
Zac looked at the picture and read the poem, expression blank. He glanced around the table at all his friends. He peered down at Danny. He reread the poem and then stared directly at Cole. “Thank Goodness! I was starting to think there weren’t any other gay guys in the entire school. Especially none that are both smoking hot and smart, too.”
Danny stared up at him incredulously. “You’re a faggot?”
Zac pressed down harder with his foot. “Yeah, Danny. Do you have a problem with me being on the team now?” Zac directed the question at Danny, but he glanced at each of his friends that were standing around watching the drama unfold.
“No, Zac. Whatever, dude. Just get off me.”
Zac removed his foot from Danny’s chest, and the other boy got up and stormed out of the cafeteria. Zac scanned the group of his other friends. None of them made eye contact. He focused his attention back onto Cole.
“Now that that drama is out of the way, do you have any plans for New Year’s Eve, Cole? My parents always have this huge party, and I’m usually bored out of my mind. Please say you’ll go with me. I’d owe you a huge favor.”
Cole nearly melted into a puddle on the floor. He stuttered and stammered, “I… uh… I think…” He glanced helplessly at Samantha.
“No. No. No. We definitely do not have plans.” She put an arm around Cole. “He’s my best friend in the whole world, and I love him to pieces, but his tongue sometimes gets in its own way. What this boy is trying to say is that he’d love to go out with you on Monday night.”
“I am capable of speaking for myself, thank you very much. Yes, Zac, I’d love to go.”
Zac reached out his hand. “Phone, please.”
Cole handed over his phone. Zac put his contact info in then sent himself a text from Cole’s phone. “Now you have my number, too. The party is formal. Do you own a tux?”
“No. I have a suit if that works?”
“I’ll have a tux sent to you. You look like you are about the same size as me, but text me your sizes just in case. I’ll make sure the tux is delivered by four, and I’ll be over to pick you up Monday at six. Okay?”
“You don’t have to go through that trouble, but yeah it sounds great,”
“No trouble at all. As I said, you’ll be doing me a huge favor. I’ll see you on Monday night.”
Cole turned to Samantha. “Oh my God! Did that just happen?”
“I know right! Damn, boy, you’re not just going on a date with your crush, you’re going to the biggest party of the year!”
“I hated that we were the only school open between Christmas and New Year’s, but I guess it was fate. If I hadn’t been at school today, Zac would have never asked me out!”
“I know! All the snow days we’ve had killed our Christmas break, but now it’s all worth it.”
“Should I call him this weekend or wait until Monday?”
“He said Monday. He’s got your number. If it were me, I’d wait for him to call.”
“You’re right. We better go. The bell rang two minutes ago.” They both hurried out of the cafeteria.
Cole spent Friday night and the entire weekend driving himself and everyone around him completely insane. He was so distracted by the thought of going out with Zac on Monday night that he could barely focus on anything else. Finally, Monday afternoon, Samantha arrived at his house to keep him occupied until the tux came. They were watching their second movie of the afternoon, “Love, Simon.”
“I am so glad that I came out on my own terms. If I had been outed like Simon was, I don’t know how I would have handled it.”
Sammie leaned in and hugged her best friend. “I would have been right here helping you deal with it and kicking the ass of whoever outed you.”
“You’re the best, Sammie.” Cole kissed her cheek. Then the doorbell rang. Cole leaped off the couch and ran to the door. He came walking back into the living room, carrying a garment bag and smiling from ear to ear. “It’s here. This is really happening.”
“Of course, it’s happening, now go get dressed.”
Cole stopped and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “It’s him. He asked if the tux got here and if everything was ok.” Cole quickly typed a reply text. “Alright, I’m gonna go change. Are you leaving?”
Sammie scoffed. “I’ll be right to take pictures of your skinny ass in that tux. Now hurry up. You don’t want to make your boy wait.”
Cole laughed and ran off to his bedroom to change. A little while later, he walked back into the room, straightening the cummerbund and adjusting the bowtie. “Does all this look right? I’ve never worn a tuxedo before.”
“Oh, Cole. You look so handsome.” She hugged him. “I don’t know how you have stayed single this long. You are going to knock his socks off. You’re gorgeous, Cole. The tuxedo is perfect, too.”
“Aww, you’re making me blush. Thank you so much. You’re my best friend. I love you.”
“I love you, too, sweetie.” The doorbell rang for the second time that evening. Cole looked at the clock. Five fifty-seven. Zac said he’d be here at six. He started to walk out of the room, but Sammie stopped him.
“Wait here. I’ll go answer the door.”
Samantha walked back into the room, followed closely by Zac. Zac stopped and stared at Cole. “Wow. You look incredible.”
“Thanks. So do you.”
“Seriously. You’re stunning. Dressing up suits you. You should do it more often.”
“Give me a reason to, handsome.” Cole tried to sound sexy but, with the amount of blushing he was doing, only managed to pull off shy and innocent.
“I might do that. You ready to go?”
“Yes. Let’s get this party started.” Cole grinned, and the two boys walked out the door. Sammie yelled after them, “You guys have fun tonight. Cole, text me when you get home.”
“I will, Sammie. Thanks for everything.” Cole waved to Samantha and then got into the limo.
The limousine pulled up in front of the biggest house that Cole had ever seen. “Wow. You live here?”
“Yeah, I do. Home sweet home.”
Cole’s eyes were darting everywhere, trying to take everything in at once. “Looks likes there’s a lot of people here already. Has the party started?”
Zac shook his head. “No. These are all the decorators and caterers and delivery people. The guests will start arriving around eight.”
Cole followed Zac into the house, weaving around various trucks and vans and avoiding all the workers. He glanced at all the party streamers and growing tables of food as Zac led him up the stairs.
Zac pointed to a closed door as they passed, “That’s my bedroom. I can show you that later, but there’s another room I thought you might be interested in first.” Zac led him a little further down the hallway. They entered a room, and Cole’s jaw nearly fell to the floor. He felt like he was in “Beauty and the Beast.” The room was as big as four rooms in his own house. There was floor to ceiling bookshelves taking up most of the walls. There were gorgeous paintings between the bookshelves and sculptures on pedestals throughout the room. There was even a suit of armor standing in the far corner. Cole didn’t know what to look at first.
“This room is mind-blowing, Zac. I could spend the whole night in here looking at everything and be happy.”
“I’m glad you like it. I figured you would. Your poem was fantastic, and the drawing was beyond extraordinary.”
Cole walked all around the room and stopped to take a closer look at a section of books that were leather-bound gold embossed editions. “Can I pick them up?”
“Go ahead. My mom loves for people to read them. These aren’t just showpieces.”
“This is my all-time favorite book, and it’s even signed by Orson Scott Card. I would kill to own this copy of “Ender’s Game,”
Zac raised both his hands up. “Please don’t kill me. I haven’t even had a chance to kiss you yet.”
Cole’s head snapped up, and he looked right at Zac. “Hm. Ok, you get to live a while longer. I’ll just kill Danny instead.”
Zac laughed. “Nah. He was a total jerk, but let’s give him until I show up for practice Wednesday. If he’s still a dick at practice, you can kill him.”
“Dammit. I guess I can wait.”
Zac’s phone beeped, and he slipped it out of his pocket to check the notification. “Text from mom. Time to head downstairs. The guests are starting to arrive. You ready for this?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be. I mean I’m more than ready for a date with you, but I’m kind of nervous about the whole town being on our first date with us.”
“Don’t let them get to you.” Then Zac leaned in close. “And you can be sure that I’ll take you on a date with only the two of us very soon.”
“In that case, I’m ready to go downstairs.”
Zac and Cole walked down the staircase together, slowly weaving their way through the growing crowd. Party guests stopped Zac every few feet to talk with him. Cole recognized a face here or there, but he didn’t know most of them. His family and Cole’s traveled in different circles. While Zac made small talk, Cole spent the time looking around the room. He bet that the chandelier cost more than his parent’s entire house. The whole place felt like a fairy tale setting with the waiters and drink tables and decorations, and everyone dressed up so fancy. He looked down at himself and remembered that he too, was in a tuxedo.
Zac touched his arm. “Something wrong with the tux?”
“Not at all. I can’t believe this night is happening. The party is wonderful, Zac. It’s like a Disney movie.”
“Then I guess we should dance.”
Cole took Zac’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled in close, and they started dancing. They drew some stares, some nods of approval, and even a few winks. Then Zac’s mother stepped between them. “Zachary Simpson, what do you think you are doing?” She was flushed and looked beyond angry.
Zac looked confused. “I’m dancing. What do you mean?”
“With,” She waved absently toward Cole. “This boy? Dozens of girls are simply waiting for you to ask them to dance, and you dance with some boy?”
Now Zac was a little flushed. “Mom, I won’t have you talking about Cole like that. I told you over a year ago that I’m gay. Why would I dance with a girl when I can dance with him?”
Isabella Simpson got a look on her face like she had smelled the worst smell in the world. “Saying you might like boys and actually dancing with one at my New Year’s Party are two totally different things. I will not have you embarrass this family in front of the entire city.”
“You are the one causing the embarrassment, mom. Not me. Look at them.” He waved his hand toward the growing crowd of guests. “I think more of them care that you are a bigot towards your own son than care about me dancing with Cole.”
“Don’t be crude, Zachary.” His mother scoffed. “And you, boy, get out of my house.” She glared at Cole.
One of the party guests, Dr. Emily Baxter, spoke up. “Isabella, I can’t tell you what to do in your own house, but if you make this boy leave, I will leave, too.” Other guests started speaking up. Over half the guests committed to leaving if she made Cole go.
Isabella was shocked. She waved a hand toward Cole and Zac. “Do whatever you want. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.” She stormed off into another room.
Cole looked at Zac. “It’s your decision. Do you want me to leave so you can go talk to her?”
“You’re not going anywhere except back out on that dance floor. I’ll deal with my mom tomorrow. Tonight, my focus is on you.” He swept Cole back into his arms and started dancing again.
The next few hours went by in a blur. Cole was aware of the other guests, but it felt as if the world had shrunk down to him and Zac. They danced, they talked, they drank punch, Cole was happier than he had ever been. Then all the tv screens switched to the ball drop in Times Square. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and everyone shouted Happy New Years!! Amid the yelling and streamers and noisemakers, Cole, for the first time in his life, reached out and took what he wanted. He made the first move for the first time ever. He pulled Zac close, put a hand on each side of his face, and kissed him. Zac wrapped his arms around Cole’s waist and pulled him even closer. It was their first kiss, but they kissed like it was the last thing they would ever do. When they came up for air, they realized that most of the people in the room were throwing confetti in their direction. They looked around and saw much more approval than disgust. Then Zac saw his mother walking toward them, and he braced for another confrontation.
Isabella handed a bottle of champagne to her son. “For you and Cole. I know I forbad you from drinking in my house until you were of age, but I’ll make this one exception. Take it as a peace offering. I’m still not one hundred percent on-board with this, but I won’t stand in your way either.” She hugged Zac and walked back upstairs.
Zac peered over at Cole, both boys with astonished expressions. “I’ll call that a win. Let’s go drink this champagne.”
Cole smiled the biggest smile of his life. “Maybe it will be a Happy New Year.” He pulled Zac into another kiss then they walked off hand in hand to enjoy the rest of the New Year’s Ball.