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.
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.
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.