This page was last updated: December 8, 2007
Episode Five of 'Steven's Story' an original story
Melissa J. Vivigatz

~ * ~
“Merry Christmas”

  All warnings aside, we received less than a foot of snow (though the weatherman still insisted we were going to get it tonight) and it was a good thing we were awake when the guy hired to plow showed up and flagged him down. The shovel had snapped (old wood) so it was another trip to the hardware store for me. The kid had been up early again, and though he looked fine, I didn’t think he’d managed much sleep so I told him to catch a nap and when I got back we’d go on a hike, a pond I would try to remember the way to so he could get more pictures for my computer screen. Not that I didn’t want him around, but I wanted to check out that antique shop again. Say all he wanted about the incense stuff, but I felt I owed him a bit more.
  Luck held, the punker girl was working today, saying good-bye to a pair of friends, one pierced like her and the other, a young woman in early twenties looking normal as they came in jeans and matching overcoat.
  Before leaving, she turned, “Amethyst, you asked the Lady for a task last night, right?”
  “Yes.” Then ‘Amethyst’ glanced at me and went, “Oh, man.”
  “You want to be an HP, right?”
  “Yeah, but...”
  “No buts. She thinks you’re ready and so do I. Your choice though, always is.”
  “Okay already. Man...”
  “Good luck, sister. BB.”
  Waves and out the door they went, the girl coming up to me, “Hi, Mister. Is there anything you would like me to help you with?”
  Odd way of putting it, but all right, “Actually, yes. Remember the young man I was in here with the other day?”
  “David? Sure. He’s really cute. He your nephew or something?”
  Ouch. “Actually, we work together, are pretty good friends. Hasn’t been out of the city for years, no family to visit, and since I’ve got a big house out here, invited him to tag along. Split the gas and stuff.”
  “Hey, that’s cool. So he’s not like, seeing anyone or anything? Was sort of hoping he’d show up last night.”
  “Sorry, he’s in his twenties.”
  “No way!”
  “Yes way,” I grinned. Man, talk about some fucked-up type of luck. Ah well.
  “Awe man, so he can buy, like, beer and stuff.”
  “You sure do speak your mind, don’t you?”
  “Yeah, gets me in trouble, but what can you do, right?”
  “Well, do not expect to get in any with David. Sorry, little Miss, even if you weren’t underage it is not a good time for him. Had a recent break-up.”
  “Ohhh,” she said and nodded to herself like I had explained something.
  “Yes, well anyway, that is sort of why I am here. I really have no idea about the stuff you two were talking about, yet he was sort of feeling down and I was wondering if there was anything else like that ash-pot in here to help cheer him up?”
  “You mean his cauldron?”
  “Is that what you call it?”
  “Yeah. The Great Mother. Dissolver as well as womb of creation. Passage back from the underworld.”
  Huh, all that meaning in an ash-pot. Or ‘cauldron’ as she called it. “He mentioned something to the effect last night when he lit a candle in it. Gave me a candle in a pinecone wreath as well, explained a little, and I was hoping to pick something up to pay him back in kind.”
  “That’s neat. Sure, follow me and I can show you a couple of booths. I got plenty of time today, besides my friends it’s been, like, nobody at all. You’re the only one in here and there’s a buzzer at the door if anyone else comes in.
  “So,” she asked over her shoulder as we started going down the isles, “you know anything else about the Trad he’s into?”
  “I am sorry, I do not know what that means?”
  “Trad as in tradition. Even eclectics tend towards one thing or another. He ever talk about any gods or anything?”
  “Only the one, Miss Amethyst.”
  “Uh-huh. Figures.”
  “Excuse me?”
  Fine. “We went to an India restaurant once. He seemed to know a lot about the statues there. Had me pick out a Green Tara and he got one called Rama. He also mentioned some stuff about the elephant headed guy.”
  “Yeah, Ganesh is cool. I like the Celtic stuff more, but even I know about him. Starlight likes him because she’s a writer. Keeps one on her altar.”
  This was starting to get a little creepy. “Maybe I should check around someplace else.”
  “You could hit the New Age shop, but I think that would make you a lot more nervous.”
  “Excuse me? What do you mean?” More like how can you tell?
  She turned around and glanced at me, “Because your aura is like a big pincushion now, all wavy and yelling, ‘Keep back!’. Geesh, Mister, chill out. I was just going to show you some candle holders for goddess’ sake.”
  Yikes, I was in here with a little nutcase.
  “Oh, come on,” she huffed and turned, stopping and putting her fists on her hips to glare up at me. “I know you’re a big, bad, Christian jerk, but I’m not going to bite you or anything. Look, do you want my help or not?”
  “I think I know why your father gets so ‘pissed off’,” I grunted through my teeth.
  “No, he’s just trying to deal with stuff he can’t understand, that’s all, just like you.”
  “No, what I do not understand is your attitude or why you are saying half the stuff you are to a stranger. Look, kid, you really need to put a binder on your mouth. That’s twice now you’ve told me no one hardly comes in here and that this huge place is empty except for the two of us. What if I was some perv-job or something?”
  She shook her head, “Nah, you’re a good person, Mister.”
  “How can you tell that? Looked at my ‘aura’ or something, right?” I scoffed.
  “Yeah, I see them all the time. That’s why Starlight thinks I would be a good HP and is training me. HP means High Priestess by the way.”
  “Oh, yeah? Prove it then. What does a purple headed ‘high priestess’ with a pin in her nose see when she looks at a big Christian jerk?”
  “That you’re a giving person in a lot of pain. Your head really hurts you, doesn’t it?”
  “What?” I asked, startled.
  “Mm-hmm,” she nodded, and squinting her eyes, tilted her head and sort of looked up at me. “Yeah, it hurts you a lot and not just physical pain. Your own thoughts are like, tearing you up inside. Only, it’s all coming from your heart, Mister, and if you don’t do something about it, it is going to make you do something really stupid.
  “Owe,” she raised a hand and rubber her own temple. “Man, that’s what I get for not grounding first. I guess I do need a lot of work yet. Look, check that booth out and I’ll be right back. I need a soda.” She pointed at something across the way and walked off, leaving me standing in the isle.
  I just stared unseeing at stuff, crunching up some aspirin till she came back, soda can in hand.
  “Caffeine and sugar help,” she said before she sipped. “So, see anything he might like?”
  “I think you are a better judge than me. I don’t care about price.”
  “Okay, but you’re just going to get freaked out worse.”
  “I am not certain that is possible.”
  “No where near as bad as my dad, then, because at least you listened and thought about it. I tell him stuff and he’s like, get her back on Prozac or something.”
  “How did you guess that stuff, Miss Amethyst?”
  “I didn’t guess anything and you know it,” she snorted as she drank more soda.
  More quietly, “And I’m sorry, Mister, but don’t ask me what to do because I don’t know. That’s going to be up to you. I don’t get details, all I know is what I saw, and that was like a big, dark blob of crap trying to suffocate you. It’s really thick, and it is coming from your heart. Looks like a big hole in there, and the only stuff you are letting in is bad, because negative stuff is heavier than the good, and it just sorta sinks right in.
  “Mister, I really wish I could help, but I can’t. Maybe in a few years when I have more control, but not now. Man, I’d even send you to the new agers if it would do any good, but the ones here are jerks. Bad enough we get the Christians on our case, but then you got to listen to their lecturing you too? Ah well, just more tests. So, anyway, you are looking for your present, so I’d recommend that,” she pointed to a piece in the glass case and I shook my head. A creature with horns and goat legs ending in hooves sitting on a tree with the candle holding part overhead in some leaves.
  “That’s the devil.”
  She rolled her eyes, “That’s not a devil, that’s Pan!”
  “Well, whatever he is, Mr. Pan needs to put some pants on.”
  “Oh come on, you can barely see anything. Not like he’s in the rampant pose or anything. He’s just chilling out with his pipes.”
  “Like I said, he needs to put some pants on.” Jesus, did I just say that to this kid?
  “Whatever. Like I said, you were going to freak. Any candle holder will do, or a pair, only, you did ask my opinion.”
  “I did. Sorry, Miss, no matter what you say, that’s the devil.”
  “No he’s not, he’s the god of the woods. We don’t have devils, that’s a Christian deal. Oh, some demons, sure, but they’re more like clumps of bad crap built up and can’t do much unless you let them. No, we don’t copout and blame anything else for our dumb mistakes, take responsibility for ourselves. That’s a lot harder to do and probably why people don’t like us too much.”
  “What do you mean?”
  “I mean ‘cause it probably freaks a lot of people out when someone strong comes by saying, ‘yeah, I screwed up bad, now I’m going to face-up, take my hits I sewed, an’ do my best to fix it, or at least learn not be so stupid again,’ while they are all whining and busy pointing fingers instead of just getting up to deal. Bet deep down inside they feel like weak crap, and no one likes that, so they get all pissed and mean like a kid throwing a tantrum ‘cause they just don’t know what else to do. Not their fault, just no one showed them any better.”
  Jesus Christ, a purple headed apostle.
  Only of what, was the question?
  I looked back at the figure, “A god of the woods, huh?”
  “Yeah, he’s really cool. Pan is like the male aspect and the earth is the female mother. Between the two of them, they sort of keep life going here. He is like spring and summer all rolled into one, watches over the animals and makes sure wheat grows, flowers have seeds for next year and all that. Plus he knows how to have fun. Plays his pipes to make people dance and have a good time, that sort of stuff. Want to see it closely? I’ve got the key.”
  “I’ll look at it at least, but no promises.”
  She nodded and pulled out a big ring of assorted keys, checked the worn, numbered masking tape on them till she had the one matching, “I know, wait till you see the price. Wish I had two hundred for a candle holder, though between you and me it’s still a deal. Sooner or later the guy is going to put it on the internet and you watch what a collector will pay for it. I’m going to hate when that happens, not just because I’ll miss it, but because I hate thinking of him up on some or shelf or museum somewhere.”
  Case open and I had to reach in and pick it up myself because I was taller. A lot heavier than it looked, and I had to admit the craftsmanship was exceptional. Again the girl had called it correctly, this thing did belong in a museum someplace, if only for that.
  “He’s not as mean looking as I first thought.”
  “Yeah, one of the lights are out in the case, has a short, and the guy just can’t get it fixed. Knowing how theses things work, wouldn’t surprise me if it’s out for just that reason, to keep the wrong person from buying.”
  “Now that I do not believe.” She just shrugged a shoulder, same move I had seen David use.
  “Not that I’m trying to push a sale or anything, because we don’t get commissions or nothing, only I bet your friend would like that.”
  I was still looking the thing over, “Why do you say that?”
  “No sure. Sometimes things just pop out.”
  “Uh-huh. Miss Amethyst, do you mind if I ask you something?”
  “Go for it.”
  “You made a comment before, so I was wondering what you saw when you looked at my friend?”
  “Well, I usually keep this stuff private. Personal, right? ‘Cept you are his friend—again, don’t ask me why, I just know it. Even like he was, something just sort of ‘leaned’ a little your way. Not much, but some, but considering what I did see, it said a lot. Beyond that I didn’t get much at all. You aura is large and moving even though it is full of snarls and blobs. Lots of anger you point at yourself. His was all closed down, shut tight like a clam, like he just keeps everything locked in in.”
  “That sounds like David all right.”
  “Yeah, it’s too bad, too. Closed up, but still really bright. Was sort of weird though, all that brightness, I bet he laughs a lot, only, over it was this other layer. Only way I can describe it is a quiet sad. He doesn’t let it get to him though, but then I don’t think he lets much get to him. He is really closed up tight.”
  “Girl, what the hell are you doing in this place? You should have one of those television shows or something.”
  “No way, I get enough headaches. And I like it here.” She waved a hand around, “All this stuff is just so cool, feels neat to be around. Except for the guns and swords and some of the knives and stuff. Those really creep me out bad. The owners say it is because I’m a girl, but that’s not it. A lot of that stuff has hurt people and worse. Talk about crappy blobs, I don’t know why people don’t use flashlights in that room. It really sucks.
  “Beyond that, dad cut off my allowance. He says if I want to buy garbage he’s not going to pay for it. I only got the Tat because it was a birthday present from mom. Other than that I’m on my own as far as books an’ supplies and stuff go. Man, I can’t wait till I can get a credit card next year. I hate the new age shop, they’re all jerks there, but until I can order stuff online, it’s the only place around close enough. It’s real hard to keep my mouth shut there, but as long as I pay in advance, they’ll order what I need.
  “Hey, Mister, is that a card on the shelf? Behind where Pan was?”
  “Looks like.”
  I picked it up from where it had fallen over and the girl grinned, “Talk about lucky, he put it on sale. Fifty-bucks off, guy really wants to move it. So you interested or not? If not, I’m going to call Starlight back, see if the group can pull enough together for the main altar. At least enough for a deposit or something. That’s another neat reason to work here, I sort of spot the deals when they come in. I mean, we’ve already got a really, really cool Cernunus, so we’re kind of all set, still, this would be fun to have too, because he can hold a candle.”
  “I don’t know. You certain he’s not evil or anything?”
  “No way! Pan is all about the good stuff. Life and fun.”
  “And you have a feeling that David would like it.”
  “Yeah, I do, just don’t ask me why.”
  “Well, he does like to grow plants and feed animals and things. All right, Miss Amethyst, I’ll take your word for it.”
  “Cool,” she said as she relocked the case. “And if it doesn’t work with his Trad, you’ve got a week to bring it back. You want to charge it?”
  “Yes.” So we made our way back to the front counter where she wrapped the thing up in plenty of bubble wrap and paper. Handed her my plastic as well as a fifty in cash. “For all your help,” I told her.
  “Man, I can’t take that.”
  “Why not?”
  “Because you don’t, like, charge people for helping them out is why.”
  “So consider it a tip then. I would have spent it anyway if you hadn’t noticed the card that fell over. Or if that doesn’t work, call it a belated Solstice present from a Christian jerk. Buy something to piss your day off with it.”
  “Man, like that’s hard to do. But all right, Mister, I will and thanks a lot. Yeah, the way mom is going at it, I could get her a silver pentacle and still have plenty to get some of the herbs and stuff I needed for my practice. And I really need help with my grounding to keep my head from hurting all the time. I get sort of sick around lots of unshielded people, start saying all sorts of goofy stuff. I can get a few stones that will help with that as well as a chiastolite to ward off the negative stuff in the weapon’s room as well as help progress to the next phase of my training. That is going to be really cool. And I know I’m going to get a lot of crap and nightmares, but if I could start cleaning up some of the bad knives and stuff I’d feel a whole lot better. People are crazy to collect them, but it just makes me sick thinking that they bring something like that into their home, you know?”
  “Whatever you say, Miss Amethyst. Don’t really understand what you are talking about, yet it sounds like something decent.”
  “Well, I try, you know? Starlight says I could be a really good healer one day. I don’t know about that, except I hate the crappy blobs. You know, you might want to go to the new age shop yourself for a chiastolite. That is a stone with a cross in the middle.”
  “A stone with a cross in it?”
  “Yeah, not carved or anything, they grow naturally like that and they’re really cool. You don’t need a fancy one either, just something to carry around in your pocket. Cost you like seven bucks or something, but they help a lot. Just tell ‘em it’s for your son’s rock collection or something or else they will try to sell you all sorts of crap. It’s not like they’re bad people or anything, just sort of snotty.”
  “In other words, do not mention who sent me.”
  “Yeah, they can be a pain. I don’t like preachy people too much. I mean, everyone gets to the same place sooner or later, it shouldn’t matter how they chose to do it, because not everything works for everybody. Sort of like preferring carrots over brussel sprouts—which I hate. Still, what can you do, right?”
  “Mm-hmm. Before I go, Miss Amethyst, may I ask one more thing?” She nodded. “You mentioned a lot of things like different traditions and Celtic stuff, and I’ve a touch of Irish so I know a little what you mean, stories like Merlin. Still, is there a general name you use to describe your philosophy?”
  “Yeah, but it is just going to freak you out because it’s got a bad rap from people who don’t know what it really means.”
  “I assure you, young lady, nothing that I have heard so far has sounded bad.”
  “Well, okay, just remember you asked. See, depending what they are into, people call themselves a bunch of different stuff. A lot of the time you can say pagan, because we look to the older gods. Wicca is the PC name a bunch use, but since I study the magickal aspect, I just call myself a witch.”
  “You are not a witch,” I laughed.
  “Yeah I am,” she said, dead serious. “And before you get all freaked, all that means is that I study things in nature, use the tools like plants and stuff from the earth to help change what I can for the better. Like you might also want to pick up some White Willow bark tea for your head. That’s the stuff they developed aspirin from, you know, before everything was made from chemicals. It’s a lot better for you and I use it all the time myself because the other junk gives me a stomachache.”
  “Maybe I’ll give it a shot.”
  “Cool. Hope your friend likes the candleholder, Mister. Have a Merry Christmas and Blessed Be. That’s what witches say by the way.”
  “Again, it doesn’t sound bad, however, I will just wish you a Merry Christmas.”
  “Like I said, each to his own way, Mister. Take care, and if you and your friend are still around after the holiday stop in. He’s really cute even though he’s all closed up. Reminds me of a fae or something because he’s touched with pink and lavender. A fae is like an elf, only bright like he is, I bet he’s one that helps people, not plays tricks.”
  “You really need to get your own show one day, Miss Amethyst.”
  “Nah,” she shrugged again. “Though once I get my grounding together I’ll probably start doing psychic readings and stuff. Lots of people going around hurting and I really hate that.
  “Hey, Mister,” she called as I was going out the door. Looked at me sadly, “I really wished I could have helped you more, but I’m not at that level yet. Please, Mister, don’t do anything stupid. Its your choice, only you got a lot to give to a lot of people. Even this,” she held up the fifty, “is going to do a lot of good. Not that I’m saying go around giving people money or anything, because that doesn’t mean much to most, they’ll usually end up wasting it on junk anyways. Only from in here, right?” she patted her chest. “Get that fixed and you’ll know what to do and how naturally. Mostly it comes down to just being yourself. Got it?”
  “I’ll try, Miss Amethyst. I promise.”
  “Good. World’s a hard place and needs more like you in it, Mister, not less,” she stressed and I simply nodded and left, feeling more disturbed than freaked out. Christ, did I have a sign on my forehead or what?
  A witch. Girl said she’s a witch, for God’s sake. I know, I know, I should have been totally freaked out, but I wasn’t. What did that mean, that I was lost already? Already knew I was walking the path straight to hell, but, man, talk about helping and healing and trying to get rid of bad vibes off of crap that had hurt people so it did not bring more ‘dark blobs’ into other lives even if she would get headaches and nightmares from it. Hated when people were hurting. None of that sounded evil, just the opposite in fact.
  Steven old boy, you are really screwed up, you know that? That girl certainly did. More, had described the both of us perfectly, what was I supposed to make of that?
  Fix my heart? Impossible. A big hole that was filled with negative, heavy stuff? Yes, I guess maybe that was right, but not the rest. I was not a ‘giver’ or a good person, all I ever did was fuck things up, ruin things for other people. I mean really, I saw that Sheila had everything she wanted and what was the result? All bad.
  Because she spent it on junk, Steven. Was that your fault? How she chose to spend money?
  Yes, it was, because I could not give her what she really wanted to make her happy.
  So what had Shell really wanted? That was the problem—my fault—because I just didn’t know.
  The girl also missed fact that David is queer. Sure, she said he was all ‘closed up’, but come on. Then again, I had worked and hung out with him for months and never figured it out either.
  Anyway, it was ‘what the hell’ and I went to the kooky new age shop all the same. Picked up a couple of the rocks she’s told me about. They did have crosses in them, which was pretty amazing. Grew like tubes, stalactites or something, yet running up through the whole length was a matrix of solid black, so when you cut them into slices the crosses were there at both ends. Picked up a couple, one for me and David. (Woman at the store told me they were called the ‘Stones of Truth and Transition’ because they supposedly helped you get from one place to another. Physical travel as well as changes in your life, spiritual growth and further yada-yada. ‘Follow the path of the Cross’. Uh-huh.) Got some of the tea Amethyst had mentioned as well. I drank coffee, but David was always drinking one plant thing or another so I doubted it would go to waste. Another call on the money because the stitched-on smiling yahoos dressed in purple did try to sell me the store. That fact more than anything kept me from doing my usual, which was peruse the CD rack and grab things at random. (Sorry, dudes, I was all done with my Christmas shopping. Maybe next time for the quartz crystal and copper pyramid to hang over the bed for astral traveling to the ‘Spirit Guides’ during sleep, uh-huh. Yes, I did have frankincense up the ass, thank you very much. Myrrh? Awe, hell, they got me for a pound, but that was it!)
  Not wanting to push things when I got back to the house, I found David sitting in the living room listening to some Japanese music and just placed the packages as is on the coffee table.
  “What’s all that?”
  “This,” I held up the myrrh “is for me to toss into the fireplace at Christmas while you hand over more frankincense to go with it. Then I bought some bark you are supposed to drink instead of taking aspirin. Told it was easier on the stomach.”
  “Willow bark? Geesh, I’m sorry, I forgot all about that. Kimber gave me some for my face but I drank it all.”
  “Uh-huh. By the way, hours do not count when you are alone, kid.”
  “Yeah, oops. Then there were these groovy rocks that I figured could go along with the Tara in the shelf herb garden. Didn’t want to cause jealousy, so there is one for her and one for Rama.”
  “And that?” he looked at the large thing wrapped in paper and twine.
  Time to kick the Irish into overdrive.
  “That, my friend, is the deal of the century. Man, just wait till you see the craftsmanship. See, got to thinking about one of the plant stands I saw at the antique place and went back for another look. No go, it had a crack in one of the welds. However, hardly getting a word in edgewise with a certain purple-haired girl whom has tendency to piss her father off a lot and thinks you are cute as hell and would like for you to buy her beer, thus getting her in further trouble, she kindly directed me to this case of sale stuff with a broken light. All right, I have to admit it took a lot of convincing on her part, not my thing at all, being as she politely put it a ‘big, bad, Christian jerk,’ yet to make a long story short, this is the part where I say ‘Happy Belated Solstice, David’.”
  “David,” I shot back and snorted, “Come on, it’s just a simple candle holder for crying out loud. One, which I might add again, was on clearance sale. So please, shut up and open up before I have to go pour wood chips into my coffee.”
  “That’s not how you are supposed to drink it,” he said with a shake of his head.
  “Each to his own path, you cauldron toting, pagan.”
  “Or is it a witch? Man, Covergirl must make a fortune with all the foundation they sell for you green skinned people to blend in.”
  “That’s stupid, we’re not green.”
  “Got’ch ya!”
  “Hey!” he flushed clear to the roots as I sat down grinning.
  “Nope, caught you flat out by an admittance through denial, kid. Damn, no wonder driving the car makes you nervous, you’re used to getting everywhere by broomstick!”
  “If only.”
  “Yeah, smog must be a real bitch in the city. Good thing too, pigeons hitting the windows are bad enough without worrying about some warty-nosed old lady needing to be scraped off. Man, imagine opening the shades in the morning and seeing something like that greet you into the day. Whew!”
  “Are you about finished?”
  I sat back and crossed my legs, giving him a confident, half-grin, “Kid, I’m just warming up.”
  “So you’ll shut up if I open up?”
  “Okay,” he reached for the thing, got a surprise at the weight before pulling it onto his lap. “Only, Steven, how come you’re not creeped out?”
  “Because my freaked out meter got busted from overuse by a purple-haired, baby Pinhead sporting her first teething nail. Don’t worry though, plan to smack you a good one on the head later with my bible, for all the damn use it’s been to me this year.
  “Hey,” I chirped, “you’re not going to like melt or anything when that happens, are you? Forgot to pick up any rug cleaner. Or is it more like cinders? Now that’s a reason to carry an ash-pot around that I can understand. Emergency storage, wouldn’t want bits to blow away before you turn into a werewolf at midnight. Wind up missing your nose or toes or something.”
  “I’m opening it already!”
  “Smart kid.”
  So I sat there watching nervously as he struggled with all the twine and packaging taped layers to open it, humming a bit and foot moving from side to side as I awaited the outcome.
  “Oh, Steven...” I heard him say softly.
  “Uh-huh,” I said, hand over my eyes. “Dude needs a hanky wrap or something. Forget borrowing, you can have one of mine. Match for your skirted Rama.”
  “I can’t take this.”
  “What?” I lowered my hand. “Why not? Wrong Trad?” Man, was I hip with the lingo or what?
  David shook his head, “No. And I’m not a witch, just pagan. Just...this is too much.”
  “Nah, told you I got it cheap.”
  “Even on sale for a hundred and fifty dollars it was not cheap.”
  “I saw it, Steven. At the store. It’s too much.”
  “No it’s not. David, look, I am not trying to one-up you here if that is what you are thinking. That wreath of yours is fantastic and I plan to use it every year. If I had known and had the talent to make something like that for you I would have, only I didn’t and I don’t. Kid, come on, this is the best I could do.”
  “You mean that?”
  “Ask an army of Tiny Tims if you don’t believe me,” I snorted.
  “No,” he was looking at me seriously, “I don’t mean that. I mean is that the only reason you got it for me, for a Solstice gift?”
  “What other reason would I have?”
  “So I will like you and be your friend.”
  Oh shit.
  “David, that’s—”
  “How you think of people,” he cut me off. “You think no one will want to hang around you unless you give them stuff.”
  “Bullshit,” I scoffed as I started rubbing my temple hard. “Because if that were true then my wife would be sitting there instead of you.”
  “No she wouldn’t because she never did. I am here sharing vacation with you because I am your friend, like the things you do and I care about you. You are always calling the bitch a whore and you are right. All she ever did was use you and take stuff. Steven, I know what I am, but please don’t think I am like her.”
  “David, I swear to god, never. And you are not a... Jesus, David, you are not ‘kept’ all right?”
  “Okay. Only sometimes you make me feel like I am.”
  “Son of a bitch,” I swore and got up from the couch, hand to head and shaking. “Look, I’ll take it back, alright? Jesus, David, I never meant that. Not anything like that!
  “Just wrap it up and I’ll take it right back. I have to go to my room first. David, I am so fucking sorry. I was just trying to understand, okay? I thought last night was really special and it upset me pretty bad because you were feeling so down. I also hate how you go around cringing and hiding the things you are into all the time because you are afraid I’ll yell or get creeped out. Swear, kid, I never meant to make you feel bad or—owe, son of a bitch...”
  “I’ll make some of the tea.”
  “No,” I pressed palm to my forehead, “beyond bark here. Just going to go to my room for a bit like I p-promised you.” Jesus, I cursed and squinted my eyes shut against the stabbing light. So sudden!
  Come on, Steven, you don’t need to be able to see to get there. Lived here as a kid, can get there blind. Got a brand new bottle just waiting to be cracked along with the heavies. Everything you need is in your room so start the old feet to moving...
  “Sit down.”
  Waved my arm, fending off the offered help. Didn’t have full hold of me yet, could still think and speak even as things started to echo and ricochet.
  “Not k-kept. Not using you.”
  “I know, I was wrong.”
  Damn straight you were, you little shit. At least about that part. For the rest though...
  “...bastard. Stubborn...” I wheezed as sinuses shut with a snap.
  “You and me both,” I heard the words down the tunnel. Jerked as I bumped into something, the contact sending waves of pain through my sloshing skull.
  Not bumped, he’s got his arm around...bringing me to the couch.
  Not like the set-up at the apartment, could not stand behind and give the massage because it was against the bay window, more laid me down and probably knelt on the carpet next to me to use his hands.
  Jesus, I can’t get upset like this anymore. Another few like this and I won’t need to take a walk to the old ledge. (Knew I could find the place, too. Bend in the old river that time had turned into a stream yet still flooded now and then, place was always filled with downed trees and snags that looked like a small hill under the snow.) Doc Samlin did the scans, know there’s nothing growing in the head, but a few more like this and I don’t think it will matter... My god, that hit so fast!
  Able to breath again and lungs expanded gratefully. Still out of it though, the suddenness of the full onslaught instead of the half-hour to hour building pressure of the vice leaving me weak as a jellyfish cast up on shore.
  “Better?” Couldn’t even open my eyes, so I just nodded a little. Quiet voice continuing to speak after I did so, “Good. I really like my Solstice present, Steven. More, because of the things you said, the reasons. It meant so much when you said you would use my wreath every year, because it meant that part of you wants to stay alive and do that. I was wrong to say the things I did. I know you don’t think of me like that because I saw it in your eyes. You are a really good person, Steven. Please don’t get upset again when I say I am sorry because I am. I was feeling upset because I was thinking about a lot of stuff last night, remembering and thinking about people who hurt. I try not to be, but I think I am still a little messed up, too.”
  My hand moved and he took it, “’S’okay, kid. Understand.”
  “I really like my Pan. I always wanted one.”
  That had me smile, “You did?”
  “Mm-hmm. Dellan thought he was too creepy.”
  “Yeah. Only now I don’t know which is the best present I ever got, the first pipe you gave me or this.”
  “Groovy.” That cracked him up and I managed a half grin.
  “Steven, is your headache all gone?”
  “Are you sure?”
  “Yeah. Thanks. Owe ya ‘nother one.” Only, think I am just going to go to sleep here for a bit, kid. That last one really took it out of me. Real killer...
  “I am not kept. You do not see me like that, and you are not using me.”
  “Nope. Just said y’cared, kid.”
  “Good, just as long as you know that.”
  Huuhh-oh, David...
  The hand he had taken placed and held against his face...stayed there on its own as both of his were pressed and rubbed small circles; massage of a different type with far opposing results done slow and steadily.
  “Hoohh...” My hand slid up, touched his hairline with fingertips...then slid in, but the guide was not necessary, his head already dipping down. Not even bothering to slide top of pants down, just opening and god, so good.
  No rushing, no insistence whatsoever, simply caresses and touches, warmth and breath and finally complete, gently pressing wet envelopment.
  Awake? Asleep? No real difference between, only knowing it was the longest, the best, and somehow closest time shared between, the barriers down before it had started.
  Had to be asleep when it ended though, the dream unremembered of any detail, only last impressions fading and then soon after gone completely when I woke up, David in his familiar place, napping on my chest, my arm pulled up over him.
  Almost like that nightmare I had with Sheila, time when I dreamed she had come back to me. My wife returned, familiar face, only with blond hair that cascaded across the bed. Strange bed in this one though, room not recognizable and yet feeling of long familiarity. (European. Old world. Real old world, like beam ceiling and thatched roof...smoke from the fireplace. Lamb stew? Other things, only...)
  Shift and a couple blinks as the living room in my aunt’s house came into focus, and at that, details of the dream were gone. If the woman’s face had been different than Shell’s I could not recall it. No sense of horror or pain though as in the past, only a lingering touch of something that eased as well as caused disquiet. Usually the nightmare started with me saying, “Shell, you came back.” This was different because when it ended, my Wife had looked up smiling and whispered, “You are back.”
  Another small shift, (one of my arms was asleep) and as the kid made a small sound I forgot what I had been thinking about.
  Got the arm settled more comfortably and stared at the ceiling. The lighting was odd; looked like the warned of snowstorm had come early.
  Fine. No place to go and nothing needs doing. Think I’ll go back asleep for a while, and after a couple slower blinks and deep breath I did so, thoughts stilling.

  Christmas morning was a blast. Not forgotten was that proud declaration of a present for me so a couple of things were changed. The big assortment of tinned tobaccos, a cellar which would have made many a pipester drool was now marked to David and Steven from Jolly Old Saint Nick, thing to be divided. The funky shirts save one were from Kimberly and Casey. (Quick dash into town and a card shop where an ‘internet’ printed ‘To and From’ tag was stuck on since I did not know either of the two’s penmanship.) Oddments like lighter fluid and some of the craziest teas that the gourmet shop back in the city had to offer along with some CDs were still fine for the kid’s stocking, but no way in hell was there a chance I would not be giving him the hand-crafted pipe rack as the main gift. A one-of-a-kind creation, could stand or be wall mounted, three rows tall, made by this artist lady who used old materials. Restored barn wood planks with wood-burned leaves lightly stenciled across top and down the sided, four small pull-out drawers and a single, length running drop-hatch for tins or small jelly jars, (which it was lined with, ready to go) all with handles come off of something much older, thick, green glass leaves that the stenciling mirrored.
  And wouldn’t you know it? All of that, and the kid’s single gift to me topped them all.

  Started with breakfast that we cooked together, the Panster (with strategically placed garland; an ‘decorum decoration’,) there lighting the table accompanied by Tara and Rama as we ate. Fireplace roaring, cauldron centerpiece on the decorated mantle and the old record player batting out the best of the best, new candle in my wreath in the bay window glowing, steaming mulled cider in cups, video camera going the while, the kid thanking the two girls with many a ‘cool beans’ though he left to change into the forest green shirt that ‘I’ had given him. Wide collars and leather thong lace up between, puffed sleeves, all he needed were some suede boots and he could go riding a dragon with the best of them.
  (Note to self, get the kid’s shoe size in time for his birthday. Ha.)
  Pact was made and we signed both our names to one of the tins of Christmas Cheer dated this year to be opened on some really special date in the far future to share. A dozen cans to split, one was cracked, another earmarked for next year, then divvied up the rest for whatever that was worth.
  I know he was all but dying by then, still, my gift was opened last, the eight inch box decorated with holly handed over with an as contained bounce as the kid could manage.
  “Don’t shake it, just open,” he warned, meaning as well no more delay with anything like guessing games, just do it before he exploded or went into an epileptic fit.
  Sat on the couch and went to tearing, (never saw the fun in peeling off tape, for crying out loud,) and there was a box in my hand stamped with a logo that I just knew the thing did not contain...only it did.
  “Oh, my gosh. David, you have got to be kidding me,” I breathed as I just stared at the pipe. A Ferndown. Somehow, some way, the kid had bought me a Ferndown pipe.
  “Is it okay?”
  “Is it okay, he asks? Wow. David, this is incredible.”
  “Really? I mean, it is only an estate, but...”
  “Shhh. No buts, kid. Swear to god, I am in awe here.”
  “Oh, good, I was so worried. I mean, I know what you said once about old pipes being better sometimes than new ones, but, well, I really wasn’t sure.”
  “Shut the fuck up.”
  How had he managed it? Yes, it was an estate, but an incredible one. Far from being the most expensive thing out there in this day and age, still, I knew it had set him back a couple hundred. Was not going to ask though, not insult him or hear about months of saving up, pinching non-existent corners or loans from friends.
  “I can’t believe you remembered,” was all I said and he beamed. After all, it had been a comment made in passing the first time I showed him my pipe collection. He’d asked me why my case was kept locked. (At that point I hadn’t smoked for years because Sheila had hated it.) All I had said was that it was a matter of a Ferndown ending up in the sink’s garbage disposal. Did not say it had happened during the divorce, or fact that it had been my aunt’s. Her personal favorite, only one she had ever bought for herself, my grandfather’s making up the rest in her rotation. That had been the only Ferny I had owned, no plans to ever buy another. No way and no how, something like that could never be replaced, not and not look at it every time in bitter remembrance.
  Of course this one was not the same style, the chamber larger because that was my preference for Virginia, yet getting this now, here in her home on this day...
  “Hey, David?”
  “Yes? You want the open tin of Cheer?”
  “In a moment. Come here and sit down a minute, would you?” He did, and moment of doing I put my arms around and hugged him, vision blurring with tears which were not pain. “Thank you,” I whispered. “My friend, thank you for this. It means so much, I do not even know what to say.”
  “You said all you need to, Steven. You are welcome. Merry Christmas.”
  “Merry Christmas, David. Merry Christmas.”

  Whew. Rest of the day was perfect as well. Easily had a couple of seats on the horse pulled sleigh ride, they were doing them all day. No smoking of course, though pair of pipes stuck into mouths all the same as lots of video was taken. (Actually had a good chuckle there in the beginning, because as we were standing around a tight-assed, pinched-faced young busy-body came up to us and told us to put them out because the nasty cloud of cigarette smoke was making everyone cough. [Oh yeah, had ourselves a real winner here, boys and girls.] That was some trick I told her since neither pipes were filled, let alone lit and smoking. Can you believe we actually had to show her? Even then she did not back down, just telling us ‘don’t’ with a snotty air of the indignant sufferer. Scolded me with a finger for Christ’s sake, said I should go to jail for letting my son smoke. [“Hey!” David had ‘piped up’, irate. Watch out lady, this elf had a loaded cauldron full of white sage and knows how to use it!] Told me she was glad I was going to die and that people like me were all going to go to hell. [Hand quick on the kid’s shoulder, David, who’s face had gone cold and eyes steely at that. Yet we were all here to have fun, not a pointless cat fight. And really, I was simply in too good of a mood to let anything like the truth bother me.]
  “Lady,” I told her, teeth showing as I grinned broadly around my stem, “You know what your problem is?”
  “I do not have a problem.”
  “Of course you do, and it is as clear as that pinched, piggy snout on your face. You’re problem is that you’ve never had a good ‘pipe’ in your life, and with an attitude like that I doubt you will.”
  “Yeah,” David said. “She’s got envy bad.”
  “Well, I never!”
  “Yup,” the two of us clowns said together, “Exactly!” and she huffed off on her way to brighten someone else’s world.
  Problem with the owners of the place? Nope, a driver (a spry, wiry sixty year old if a day) coming over and patting a pocket on his coat and winking, “Grabow with Stonehaven. Tonight I’m a’ goin’ t’ go out on my own an’ do this here sleighin’ right. Fellers ever of a’ mind to, your welcome to come back after t’ hours.” Groovy.)
  Home later and it was a goose dinner with all the fixings and then some to die for. All in all, it was one of those days you wished would never end, only it did. Even then though it was fine, because it gave you a promise, a thing to look forwards to next year. Never to be repeated, of course not, yet remembered and savored while you made new memories just as fine.
  Was that it? Thought like that before your head hit the pillow and you fell asleep? A day so (emotionally satisfying) grand, ending on that note after a series of nights where true, restful sleep had been managed, naps and slow paced days preceding? Thoughts and conversation, walks through snowy woodlands, jokes and laughter as well as other great times shared that nudged something, shifted a tiny little piece deep inside the psyche someplace?
  Or was it just weakness? A fall from grace taken knowingly as the empty chasm which had been your life crumbled away the final, thin ledge you stood upon out from beneath your boot heels, a few grains more before you tilted back and were finally, if not blessedly, engulfed...yet being a man, a human being with a soul, you performed one last act of free will before the end?
  Cowardice? Bravery? Or just the fact that you were so fucked up in the head you made a mistake as simple as hitting the answer button on a video call instead of the cancel like you had wanted. Just a god damn, clumsy, pathetic, life and hopeless, faith lost, screwed up son of a bitch idiot who couldn’t even get it right that you were supposed to fall backwards into the killing hole you had dug straight to hell, not step forwards as last of the ground gave away into (onto) a new one.
  God forgive me.

  Morning of December twenty-sixth, the main event over. Still feeling the feast from day before it was a light breakfast for the both of us. (Though even then we were talking about a huge lunch of heavenly leftovers.) Oatmeal to which mine I had added some honey and the kid brown sugar to his, the sliced orange coming from the toe of his stocking (Yeah, I was a traditionalist, deal with it,) shared between. He had never had the peppermint sticks stuck in them like straws and I had forgotten to pick any up. Ah well, couldn’t remember everything. Next time, then.
  (Next time, Steven? What next time? What do you mean by that? Do not tell me you plan on sticking around for another year? No, I did not, only... Ah, screw you, Sheila voice, I’m in too good of a mood right now.)
  What was the game plan of the day? Check out his new CDs and talk about the music. Kid always had the most fascinating perspectives in regards to such. Beyond that, a hike in another direction for more photographs and vids, excuse to come back chilled so you could heat up with hot cocoa as well as get ready to attack the second half of the goose in the fridge...not to mention the remaining apple and pumpkin pie, both items of which I had the ‘honor’ of dumping the measured spices into and stirring up, thank you very much. Would have been a second apple pie, but those damn cinnamon and sugar coated, crunchy slices kept flipping out of the bowl and once they hit the counter it was fair game, man. No problem, the overflow of the now single pie filling just got dumped into a pot on the oven and you had yourself some applesauce to dunk the goose in since the cherries jubilee was getting a touch low. Huh, when was lunch going to be again? After all, there was the gravy to consider. How long did that stuff keep after all? Wouldn’t it spoil if left sitting in there too long? Talk about risking a tragedy, all those mashed potatoes with no gravy, Davey!
  Really started to talk myself into it as we were taking care of the dishes by the small sink, trying to keep out of each other’s way.
  “You are not going to be able to walk if you start now.”
  “Fine, your turn to pull the sled anyways. I’ll just lie back and call directions.”
  “What the hell do you mean by, ‘uh-uh’?”
  “I am not supposed to stress my hip out for half a month. Doctor’s orders.”
  “Yeah, right. Sorry, kid, I’m not buying. Way you scrambled up that snow bank so fast the other day I thought I was the one going to have a heart attack. What an elf,” I chuckled and rubbed his head, leaving a mess of water and dish-soap suds behind.
  “Oops, my bad. Hang on, let me get a fresh towel,” I said as he turned, aiming for the paper ones and we sort of bumped into the other a bit, his hip into my front and...and...
  Oh no.
  I do not know what happened, I swear. It was like some switch was pulled, crack in the damn which poured forth a floodgate of sensations, impressions, memories and emotions all in a shot. You know how they are always talking about at the last instant on earth your life flashes before your eyes? It was something like that, best I can explain it, there and gone, yet left changed after its passing.
  Silent the both of us, yet I finished picking up the fresh cloth towel and wiped his hair off carefully...took a long time to do it. Too long, and during it he had come closer and closer, pressed against me again...stayed there and...
  (Oh no. Oh, God, no.)
  ...and moved a bit. His body, not hands pressing and brushing and I felt no urge to pull away. No, what I felt was just the opposite of pulling away.
  (Oh no. Oh, God, please, no.)
  Worse was way we were both breathing in the captured silence. Faster then should be, chests rising and falling deeply.
  Oh god. Oh god. Oh, God, please, no, no, no! I... I...
  Then a sigh, a moan as David pressed harder and I stopped with the towel.
  Instantly he pulled away, not looking at me, hands holding the edge of the sink, head ducked deeply.
  “Sorry. S-steven, I’m sorry! I won’t... S-s-sorry. Didn’t mean to. I...”
  Hard swallow, “David, was me.” He shook his ducked head violently. “It was. It...still is.” God forgive me, was it ever.
  He made a sort of hick-upping, hitching sound and nodded, “I... I-I will be at the couch in a minute. S-sorry, I just need a...just a minute. Sorry.”
  Oh god, what was I doing? Not much thought controlling things as I placed my hand on his shoulder; kept it there when he jerked and started shaking again.
  “David, I do not know, do not understand it, only, I...” Another swallow, “I think the couch is not the place for...this. David, I do not know what to...”
  “You do not have to do anything, Steven,” he said in a small voice. “I told you that. Not ever.”
  “Except it feels like I want to.” His head jerked up and he took a deep breath, but stayed silent. “I mean, well, if...if you wanted to that is. Only...”
   “Oh, Steven, yes, I want to. But it’s not worth it.”
  “What isn’t worth it?” Me, of course. Nope, Steven old man, it is not ‘you do not have to do anything’ it is you can’t do anything for anyone. Not in any way.
  Yeah, kid just forgot himself for a second there, that’s all. Been about eight months for him too, right?
  “Loosing all of this. You hating me,” he said with conviction that grated.
  What? “Christ, David,” I gripped his shoulder and stepped close, my turn to press. “Does it feel like I could hate you?” Myself, yes, of course, I did that already, yet the way he was shivering again...
  He can say what he wants but I was using him. Only, damn me, was this just more of the same? My God, I did not know what was wrong with me, so much loathing yet at same time desire.
  He’s right. What am I doing? I do not want this! How can I possibly be thinking that—
  David turned his face, glanced at me over his shoulder with one blue eye, lock of sandy-blond hair fallen—and that look! Emotions, a hunger, yet behind it all a quiet acceptance that, yes, nothing was going to change. ‘Steven’ was going to come to his senses at any moment and if not just crack a joke, then go to his room and probably drink the rest of their vacation away, the head-case bigot cursing himself in furious, disgusted, fest of self-pity and pain.
  Oh, David, I am lost when you look at me like that. Reveal how you really feel about me on your face. I do not even know if it has anything to do with bodies at this point, only something has changed inside of me.
  I think this is it, kid, moment of truth. I can’t be alone anymore, not take one more breath of it. The past couple of days have been really special, I feel things that I have not in a long time, things like happiness. Yet it’s not going to last, kid. Once I crash down from this that’s going to be it. David, forgive me, I know it.
  “Are you sure?” he asked me softly.
  Yes, I am sure that I can not see you suffer like this, David. I know you must have been, knew it would come down to this eventually.
  God, please forgive me if that is possible. I know it is not, still...
  “I want to do this.” No, my friend, what I want is you in my life. I give up, I am weak and can not fight it anymore. David, I want you close, want you safe and taken care of by me. Swallowed again and lowered my eyes, “Only, I’m not certain what to do here.”
  “I am,” he said, and it was like rolls were reversed. Me the one left stunned now, insecure, overwhelmed by many things while David calmed and became more of himself.
  Closed my eyes as he turned around and pressed his palm against my hardness.
  “Steven, just the fact that you told me that, that you are like this now makes everything fine for me. I really do not need any more than that. Yes, I do want you, only, if you do not think...I mean, it is all right like I said, only, if you really can’t then I would rather you tell me now because, well, it’ll sort of hurt later.”
  “David, the more you talk, I...”
  “Like I said it is okay. It doesn’t matter, I’ll be fine. I always am.”
  Oh, David.
  He must have seen something in my eyes when I opened them, because he took another hitching breath, his own shinning with that desire renewed, “Where?”
  “My room,” and he smiled at me; told me he would be right there.
  Oh, God, what am I doing?
  In my room, my bedroom, (he had come back and seen me just standing there in the kitchen, took my hand and I followed docile) and we were standing there together, close, and confusion and turmoil notwithstanding, my body still reacted, came to resumed hardness when he stroked me through my pants.
  “You won’t be able to look at me I know. Face to face, I mean.”
  “I am not stupid,” I trembled, swallowing.
  He just grinned, “No, I mean we can, but you won’t. I am going to wear my shirt. Sit down, Steven and I’ll get your shoes.” I moved like a robot under his directions, sat on edge of the bed and watched as he did my shoes...then belt and moved so pants could be taken off. Kneeling, his face was close and it was another dry throat swallow as I realized he had left before to get a condom.
  “I am fine, really, only everyone has to do this.” Of course they did. In fact if anyone might have been ‘sick’ it was probably me. After all, I had been married to Sheila, and who knows how many...
  Thought of her, pictures I tried to block out of my head, the idea of what I...or from the look of things probably not going to do even as David stood, and shirttails hanging, removed his pants as well.
  He saw, clearly expected it no matter what he had asked me before, and with his usual smile (no change or hurt in those eyes at all, just smiled in understanding!) he knelt down again. Just his face close again had things start to rise in expectation of what his mouth could do, and if there was anything more lower than the rest of me felt I did not want to know as he started to remove the condom.
  “David, no. I said I was sure. Said that...told you I wanted this.” And I did. As sick as it made me, I did.
  Smart kid? Of course he was because he did not say another word, just took me by the hand and led us both to the bed, him kneeling down and using my hand to pull me close.
  Touching close. Pressing.
  Not stupid, I did know what to do, (and, oh, God, please forgive me but I wanted this, no, had wanted him for months, finally able to admit it to myself) and the hanging edged of his shirt helped, covered thing slightly and at his small move back of wanting was made I used a hand to place myself, closed my eyes and...and...
  Resistance, yet not as much as expected, not much different than sometimes with the other, and then I was past that with my head and a small bit more.
  I am here. I did it. I am...I am inside, no am with someone, and it has been so long...
  He’s warm. He! No, Steven, not now! Don’t do that to David, to us both. Not now!
  David’s whole body was trembling beneath mine.
  “It...” I caught me breath, “It...does it hurt?” Not that I was a porno-sized stud or anything, yet I was in his...his...
  “No. Oh, no, it—you—feel so good...”
  “It...I do?” I blinked, also trembling. I couldn’t imagine that, that something like this there didn’t hurt like hell. That I wasn’t hurting him...same as I could not believe what he had just said did and meant to me.
  “Yes...” he breathed, and I just had to go in a bit more.
  “Yes. Steven, like that.”
  “I... More?”
  “More, yes. More of you.”
  God, impossible, yet I was getting more excited each time he spoke.
  “Tell me,” I said as things throbbed. I did not know why I did it, asked him for such, nor why I moved one of my hands to take hard grip on his shoulder, yet...
  “I want more,” he said quickly. Leaned his head back pressingly against my hand. I want more of you. Oh, Steven, not just that, it’s torture. Please, I need—OH!”
  Gasp from me as well when almost on their own my hips drove forwards, completely to the hilt, leaving both of us panting and shakingly locked together, mutually stunned from it.
  Now what?
  As if reading my mind, David said, no pleaded, “Again. Steven, please...
  Huffing through my open mouth as I drew out slowly, not completely, yet again that hard strike which ended in a thud of flesh and he made a sound which demanded I do it again. Twice more and I was panting through clenched teeth.
  Oh god, too excited! Have to calm down or else I am going to shoot my load like a first-time kid...
  Which I was. A first—our first—David’s and my time—together.
  Leaned forwards and gripped both of his shoulders, both of us moaning as I tried to hold still. Too much...too much.
  “I feel you. Oh, Steven, I feel all of you.” My cock throbbing, twitching deep inside of him, barely holding back from the brink.
  “David, I...” David.
  “Steven, Steven, oh, Steven...
  When was the last time someone had whispered my name like that? Had it ever happened? Had it ever touched...meant so much to me?
  Too much—too long since I had had this, been with anyone—(and this was David! Finally! After all these months, with David, finally!)—and I jerked back a few inches before grinding in fully, managed one more before orgasm came and my muscles locked from it. He cried out with me, sound of his voice, then clenching grip on me as there was a jolt and another load came out, emptying my balls completely.
  My god. Oh, my god... I collapsed forwards and he went with it till I was laying flat on his back, my dick relaxing, (though not completely,) still set inside of him.
  I suddenly laughed, a shaky sounding thing, “Like a damn kid myself...” Embarrassed, mitigated slightly because I found one of my hands rubbing his shoulder, “Sorry. I guess you didn’t, uh, get much from that.”
  Feel of his body beneath mine as he laughed softly as well, “Say that to me after you see the bedcover.”
  “You too?” I asked in surprise.
  “Oh, yes. Steven, it’s... It has been a long time since I’ve been with someone I wanted so badly. you.
  “It...Steven, from first moment I saw you I was attracted. Only, I knew...I swear I never even thought about it, not even once. Not even after what...the things you said when we first got here. Never even once dared to hope...for someone like you.”
  I placed my face against the back of his neck, heard and felt his quiet attempts not to sniffle.
  “Oh, David.” What was I going to do now? No. What were we going to do now?

  The next time, (and god, there had to be after that incredible first,) though I still hadn’t been able to look at him face to face. Not and not see a man there. Yet we were finished now, same quilt covering all, and I had no problem with fulfilling the urge to lift my hand and stroke fingers through his hair, David, eyes closed, facing me and smiling.
  I had never used the word beatific in my life, yet looking down into that face I did so in my mind now. That face, that smile which spoke of satisfaction. I had done that, made another smile like that. Longer than the first time, better in so many ways...
  Still playing with his hair, a finger lifting that stray lock around and he opened one of his eyes, took a deep breath and snuggled further into his pillow, smile remaining.
  “You’re a natural top, Steven.”
  I stopped, small clench in my guts, “David, there... There’s nothing natural about... Well, about this.”
  Both eyes open now, happy and relaxed, touch of humor in them, “Of course it’s natural. No problem either. Just ask any Catholic priest.”
  I jerked up, startled, upset and angry, “David! Jesus Christ!”
  “He hung around guys too. Twelve of ‘em, so they tell me.”
  “David! I... You...!”
  But he was still smiling that smile, eyes twinkling, and I don’t know where it came from, but suddenly I was laughing. Laughing so hard that tears came, ones that overwhelmed the shocked humor.
  He didn’t try to kiss me, thank god for that, but his face was close enough over mine as it was his turn to stroke my hair, my face, and whisper soft things of comfort.
  Oh, David. David, David, David... God, please, forgive me. I do not know what I am doing!
  “Steven, I love you. I know you do not love me, but that doesn’t matter.”
  How could he say that? How could I...why did I feel this?
  He continued to speak, “I am just happy to be needed again. I guess... I guess that is what I need. To be needed, I mean. I don’t know, maybe that is wrong, just, that’s the way it is.”
  “David, for the love of Christ will you please shut up?”
  I felt the hair on my face as he nodded, then him pulling away to lie down again.
  Oh, God... With a soft moan I reached over, wrapped my arms around and pulled him tightly to me, holding him, my face pressed against his cheek.
  “I’m sorry. Oh, David, I am so sorry.” For what I did not know, there was just so much and impossible for me to detangle any of it, yet all of it resulted in the same thing: “So sorry...”
  His arms came around my back as I continued to hold him tightly, shaking.
  “Steven, just holding me forgive you everything...even if there was anything to forgive.”
  If only that were true... Yet my back loosened and I kept holding him, kept this full body hug going; slid my cheek up against his till my face was tilted up in his hair, breathing deeply, filling my lungs with the smell of him.
  Oh, David, just give me some time. Just a little more time so I can say that back to you. I want to so damn badly, but I can’t. Not yet. It is all so strange, so wrong and yet so right!
  So please, you, David, the one I love so damn me, badly, forgive me. Just a little more time. Just a little more...

  We had fallen asleep of course, and grant one to the old man, I had awakened first.
  Well that’s it, Steven old boy, you have in all ways, literally and figuratively, slept with another man. Congratulations, you are now officially a certified queer.
  For some reason the word, that derogatory title grated, and I chuckled ruefully inside and decided I would stick to gay from now on.
  Only I still like women.
  Okay, even better, I was ‘bi’.
  Yup, I’m Steven the Bi-guy. Except, was I even that? I laid back with an arm tucked under my head and thought about it. Pictured some guys in my head, you know, muscular action dudes and pansy, fag actors and there was (thankfully) no reaction. Of course there wasn’t, it was David I loved after all. Not a young man, just...David. David the Human Being. Not a man or woman want-to-be, just, simply, David.
  Yes, he is the gay one in all sense of the word here. After all, it had originally mean happy, hadn’t it? One who was smiling and care free? So yes, possibly not the ‘care free’ bit, but the rest perfectly.
  As I lay there, I suddenly realized that I felt pretty damn good. Almost to the point where I was kicking myself for having waited so long.
  Well, if that was the only regret that was to come about from this entire farce than I would be real fucking lucky and I knew it.
  And no matter what happens, I’ll just take that as well. I don’t care. A small start, because I no longer felt like dying. At least for the moment.
  Not going to ruin it though, no thoughts, contemplations or soul searching about the woman I had called my wife for so long. That was a subject to be picked up later, not now.
  Grin, because I was able to push it away so easily.

  The remaining days of our vacation went by too quickly after that. Still did the same things, quiet walks, couple drives around visiting local landmarks as well as some homey little restaurants for occasional lunches. Two more visits to the antique shop, (actually did find some plant stands) though the girl was only there the last time. (No, I had not told him about her ‘aura’ peeking, not for either of us.) David had made some more cookies, stars and things and hade brought a plate for her along with a pouch of his sandalwood chips and thing he had braided up with some bittersweet vines and pinecones which she liked a lot.
  For myself I had made another foray to the kook shop with David, picked up a bunch of beeswax candle in different colors that he said everyone always needed, a large chiastolite, five inches long and hardly touched at all, only the ends polished and rounded off. I do not really know why I chose that one, per say, yet the girl ‘freaked’ herself when she saw it, gave this windy spiel about power wands and stuff, sword against dark blobs, so I figured it would do.

  New Year’s Eve. Everything packed and ready for the trip back to the city tomorrow except for the tree. Had to have that, yet there would be plenty of time to take care of it in the morning after breakfast. We did not have to be back to work till the second. Last fire of the night, the year, yet it helped light a first with its flickering glow.
  These things could be done face to face, or at least facing the other. Simple adjustment, matter of minor elevation, though quite frankly I doubted the makers of this couch ever envisioned something like this happening on it. Then again, what did I know?
  Balanced on my arms, slight pause for breath though nothing was being hurried here, David looking up at me.
  “Steven, can you...I promise I won’t kiss.”
  Oh, David, shut up.
  Just silently lowered myself down when his arms came up behind my neck...turned my head a bit as he ran fingers up through my hair as he held me close.
  “Love the feel of your hair,” he sighed happily. Responded to that in the way I was able, moves made which had those fingers grip tighter as he trembled and made other soft sounds of happiness as I pressed side of me face to his.
  I love him, I really do. So why can’t I just say it? Show it in other ways than this? Time, just needed time. A lifetime’s worth of it to overcome. Did my best though with the ways I could. Ways like this.
  God, he sounds just like a woman when he does that. And from the expressions his face made, it seemed at times he felt things like they did as well. Good, that is what I wanted for him, best I was able to.
  Move beneath I was starting to recognize, body desire for something a bit harder. A few times like this, then pull of his fingers so I could rise, easier angle achieved.
  Is he going to...yes, there. Twitch in his hand as well as biting of lower lip till it passed. Ah, David, denying yourself again. (Look at that face, Steven, his eyes closed. Enjoying it yes, yet...)
  Pause as I caught my own breath, “David, is there something you would like to do?” Eyes closed and still that bit of lower lip held between his teeth as he shook his head. “Fine. Is there something that I should be doing?”
  Faster shaking of head, “No. Just like this, Steven. Perfect. Everything this.”
  You stubborn, lying little... No, it is you insightful, knowing, self-sacrificing little...oh, hell, Steven, come on already. Look at yourself here—without cringing, damn you!
  Alright, if you can’t do that then look at David’s face. That look will be worth everything, so no more delaying here. It is quite simple. All you need to do is just take your hand and bring it over like this, lower it and touch David like...oh. Two reaction, no, three from it. Paramount was his face, yet the startled small jerk and things tightening about myself...huuhh.
  Alright, and there we have it. In fact, it is more than likely that something like this usually comes first. The touching as opposed to the full out sex part. Still, it was not that bad. Rubbed a bit, and had a moment of surrealness because a glance down and it could have been myself I was touching, not anything like ‘that’. (And what exactly in your, ahem, ‘bigoted’ opinion constitutes ‘that’ at this point in the game, Steven old man?) In fact, from the way he was ‘holding’ me, reactions and shivers in time, it could have been.
  “Oh. Steven.” Bit of a small arch he did for a moment and automatically I resumed things which had stopped till now, and his reaction from that, to both at once... “Oh, Steven! Ohhh!”
  And that was it. Quickly he lifted an arm to pull me down again, things a bit of a jostle beneath and between us, yet David took over and finished himself. I mean, I am sure I would have, yet it was a bit difficult like this, way he/both of us moved while that one arm squeezed me tight as the rest of him was, and if it was possible that he did have them like a woman as well, then there was one like that for him too because as soon as he finished I gasped, crested over the edge myself with some body-in-charge hard thrusts that put him in that state.
  Must have been something for him to feel that so close to the other, most likely while he was still feeling it because the hugs he gave me afterwards, the hands moving everywhere up my back and though my hair as he took a long while to catch his breath. And when I managed to lift myself up to look, saw that, yes, the expression, the smile on his face made it all worth it again.
  Should have been able to do more, the last few things, yet David’s eyes promised there was no need so, smiling, I simply lowered my face sideways against his hair again, everything right with the world.
  “Happy New Year, David.”
  “Happy New Year, Steven...why are you laughing?”
  “Because I never imagined I would say those words to anyone again.”
  “So I did help you?”
  “Oh, you did far more than that, David. Far, far more.” Yes, David, you did not just help me, you saved me.

  New Year’s Day and we were set to leave. Everything cleaned, covered back up, car all packed and I locked the front door a final time.
  “Bye,” David said to the house. “Thank you for everything.”
  What a guy.
  No pictures taken as we drove away, did not even look around much, or back. Quiet as well, then again my own mind was kind of set in neutral. Pretty long drive back and a little sleet for a while there. Not much, just something which called for a driver’s attentions.
  Decided to stop at a little diner to catch something before the last leg, and though he nodded and smiled a lot while I talked, it was clear his attentions were elsewhere.
  Back in the car, “Penny for them.”
  “Oh. Sorry, was just thinking.”
  “No shit, Sherlock.”
  “Yeah. Just about vacations, how they aren’t real. It is a little hard to find anything right now. Steven, is it okay if I stay for a couple more days at the apartment? I mean, I might be able to crash at Kimberly’s, but...”
  “What? David, what are you talking about?”
  “Well, you know.”
  “No, I do not know. What do you mean, leave? What makes you think you have to move out?” Tried to think back over everything in a rush. What might have happened, or thing I might have said—done—to have him think such a...!
  “Because you do not need me anymore.”
  “I do not need you anymore,” I said softly as I sat unmoving behind the wheel, heart lurching as the shock knocked the bottom out of my guts.
  “David, I thought...” What, Steven? What did you think? That someone like David would want to stay with you? Come on, he...the kid already told you he was never going to get himself tangled up in another relationship. Even if he does, you think he’s going to want something like that with you? No way, buddy. Nope, no way and no how, the kid is too smart for that. I mean really, he’s been through the wringer once real bad already, imagine what you would be like?
  Ha, you didn’t even think of it, did you? The reality of what it would be like, the repercussions. Didn’t bother you before, the word around the office because he was living with you. No, because it was only for a couple of weeks as he recouped from his accident. And even if something had been said it would not have mattered, because you never intended to come back. Bet it would matter now though, wouldn’t it?
  Vacation’s over, buddy. Time to wake up and return to the routine.
  I started the car, giving the engine a moment to warm before putting it in gear and turning to back out; waited for an opening in traffic and pulled the beamer back onto the highway. By the time the process was finished it was with accepting calmness I knew what to do.
  “Thought I had made that clear already? That you can stay at the apartment as long as you want. Meant what I said about the space going to waste there, kid. And don’t worry about having to deal with the grouch on the couch much. Not certain if you were right about it or not, but a corner office is a goal to shoot for at least.”
  “You can do it easy.”
  “Uh-huh. Still, doubt you’ll be seeing me much beyond firm hours. Even that may not last long.”
  “How come?”
  “Something Feldman brought up in November. Position which will be opening up around April this year. Lots of travel involved, quite a bit of it overseas. Some currier, explaining the deal with country bylaws to the locals, stuff like that.” Corner of my eye and I saw him look at me, though I kept my face forwards.
  “I never heard about this.”
  “No reason for you to have. Didn’t give it much thought myself before. Luckily it’s still not too late to start crunching, get myself in the running. Anyway, as I was saying, the place is there so use it as long as you want.”
  “All right. Thank you.” Nodded absently. Even if the guy decide to retire next year instead of this one it still wouldn’t matter. Other places had corner offices as well. Admittedly, there was some good stuff to put on the old resume. I’d start tonight. Had a feeling I wouldn’t be getting much sleep anyway.
  Yes, that was the ticket. Update that and start it circulating by the weekend. Not in the city though, had enough of that scene. Chicago maybe, hell, even something in Europe, who knows?
  No, it is, who cares?
  Habit to reach into my coat, yet soon as my hand touched the empty pocket I curled my mouth up and huffed sardonically. Didn’t ask the kid for his help in retrieving the aspirin bottle from the glove compartment. No, I had had all the help I deserved.
  “Yup, back to the routine,” I said as I managed to get the seal broken and pop the lid. (Crunch, crunch.) “Grindstone dead ahead.”
  “Steven, are you mad at me?”
  “What?” I glanced over in real surprise. “What hat did you pull that one out of, kid? Why did you think I would be mad at you for anything?”
  “Well, because of that,” he gestured with his chin at the bit of leftover plastic from the bottle seal. “You haven’t had a headache in days.”
  “Like you said, kid, vacation is over. Not to mention it’s been more than a couple hours behind this wheel and the road is getting shittier. Why? Want to switch places?” He shook his head so I returned full attention to the road. “Smart, kid, David. Yeah, smart and good.
  “Ha,” I chuckled, “Real good. Actually had me going there a while, got to admit it.”
  “What do you mean?”
  ‘Hoped for someone like you’? Yeah, kid, sure. Stupid sometimes, yet I know you’re not that dumb. Still, it was decent of you, was a nice thing to hear, even if it was a lie.
  Said he loved me? Well, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. Either way, I knew what I felt...and what was best thing to do. Nope, this sad old fuck was done screwing up other people’s lives. (Talk about being a sad old fuck, Steven, imagine getting faked out like that. Mean really now, having a woman do it is bad enough, but come on, that is just plain pathetic, man. Pa-the-tic.)
  Cleared my throat, “Ah, nothing. Think that waitress slipped me decaf. Either that or it must be the influence of the Parkinson files reaching out. Or the driving. Well, whatever.”
  ‘Well whatever’ was right. Something in my left eye, screwing up my vision and I wiped...dried the wetted fingers on my pants without bothering to look. Tired, that was all. Just very tired.
  Sheila’s voice whispering in my head, “Guess you did not spend enough, did you, Steve? See what happens when you do anything without your wallet?”
  “Shut up, Shell, I did my best,” I muttered. “Hmm? Sorry, kid, asked if you wouldn’t mind changing the CD? Give this one a rest, thing is getting kind of samey.”
  Same old story, Steven, that’s you.
  I know, Shell. Old dogs and new tricks though, no help for us. Not for you or me.
  Huh. Europe. Tenth anniversary was celebrated with a brief trip to London. Paris was not in the cards at the time, yet I had been planning to make it up to her on our twentieth. Just two years left to go. Then again, why wait? Man, talk about a real surprise!
  Christ, Steven, what are you thinking? You can’t be serious?! Why not? Those calls she’d made before I left; did not make a single demand for more money, sat there on her end of the screen nodding, actually listening when I spoke a little. Just small things happening around the office, yet... Says she wants to get together, has things she wants to say to me. Things to talk about.
  Of course she does. Ran through what she received in the divorce like a spoiled brat who knew there would always be more. Turned the guy she dumped me for into an embezzler, got him caught, ‘bank closed’ so of course she wants to ‘talk’ to me.
  She is pregnant as well. Not mine of course, she never wanted that, yet she’s several months along. Must be worried as hell. That wasn’t good. Not like Shell was in her twenties or anything either. Read somewhere about anxiety in the mother not being good for the growing baby.
  “Kid, do me a favor, have my hands full here.”
  “Sure. You want more coffee?”
  “No, all set there. The cell in the glove. Haven’t looked at it since we left. Mind flipping it open and scanning the voice message files?”
  He did and went, “Whew!”
  “Yeah, all part of the game. What I’m interested in though, anything with the author code seven, four, three, five, five?”
  “Yes. A lot of them. In fact, it’s like most of them.”
  “Thanks, all I wanted to know—no, I’ll take it,” I thanked him again as I stuck it in my pocket.
  “Steven, if that is a client you might be in a lot of trouble for not answering.”
  “Nah, you know I’m just backup staff for the big boys. Plenty others to cover. This one has to do with some financial investing I plan to do, that’s all. Yeah, going to take a real beating here. Should have gone into Euros years ago. Man, to think of the headaches I could have saved myself if I had done it earlier...”
  “I should check mine too,” heard the kid say from a distance so I nodded absently.
  Yes, I should have done this years ago. Hell, anyone can get bored, same old scene and story, the routine day after day. So yes, do some traveling, enjoy the smiles tossed back my way as I stood back with hands in deep pockets and watched her have her free for all in brand new places. Let her go a bit wild, had a year to make up pay for.
  Time to sell the old house. She’s right, it’s just a useless hole you toss money into. Used it a whole two weeks in fifteen year’s time, talk about a piss-poor return on an investment.
  “That spells shell.”
  “What was that, kid?” I asked as casually as I could.
  “The author code.”
  “Yeah, so what?”
  “Nope, say no more and have no worries, kid. Promise you there won’t be any problems with the apartment. Owe you far too damn much for your help, and no matter the rest, I do remember who my friends are. Meaning you, David. Yes, debt I owe you, kid, brought me back to my senses. Know exactly what I have to do now and how to go about it.”
  “Please do not start this again, Steven.”
  “What? That suicide bullshit? Nope, I’m all through with that nonsense, I give you my solemn word. No,” I gripped the wheel and smiled, “this is going to be even better. Something deserved. Uh-huh, she and I make a perfect match, you know. Same first letter in our names, same height, both part Irish. Hell, exact same eyes.”
  “Your eyes are nothing alike.”
  “Well, I don’t imagine they were thinking about lighting when they made the DVD, kid. Ha, still, I can assure you our shades match exactly.”
  “Why doesn’t your head hurt?”
  “Jesus, there’s no letting up with you, is there? Took a couple aspirin, I’m all set. Yep, it’s going to be cool beans and wavy gravy all the way from here on in. Ha, except I’ll never be able to talk like that again. Damn, hope the habit is not too hard to break or else I am going to be in sooo much trouble.”
  Shit, now it was both eyes acting up, so I wiped them fast and took a deep breath to clear the sinuses. Crap, you’d think you would have to actually be back in the city, not an hour away before the smog started pulling its shit on you.
  —Jerked me head away hard enough so hands on the wheel pulled us out of line, “Don’t touch me, kid.”
  “What’s wrong?” he asked as hand lowered.
  “Nothing is wrong. Everything is perfect, meant to be exactly as it should. Like Miss Amethyst said, there are different types of people out there. Well, whichever I am, I know it is time to step back up to the plate and deal. I made my choices in this life, kid, and there isn’t anything that can change that.
  “Ah, David, David, David...I am so jealous of you, you know that?”
  “Me? Why?”
  “Why? Christ, kid, just look at you. Got the whole god damn world ahead just waiting for you to grab it and do what you want. Young, talented, but above it all you are smart. See the pitfalls ahead in plenty of time to avoid them while the rest of us just get broken legs. Kid, promise you’ll do something for me?”
  “Well, if all works out we should be in Europe in a couple of weeks. Depending on how it goes...well, lets just say it would really mean a lot to me to get the occasional emails from you. You know, in case you need anything, but more, letting me know how it all turns out. I mean with your career, people you manage to save, most importantly though, when the right person comes along for you. Nope—I mean, no. No, do not open your mouth and start giving me all that bull. Finest human being I’ve ever met, David Markus Tyler, and even though I’m out of the fold, I still know enough to say that God is going to see good things your way. The best there is, kid, with no settling for anything less in any quarter. Swear, I do not know the reason for all the shit that went down this past year, or even if there was a reason, or purpose to it. What I do know though is because of it all, you have seen and learned the shit to avoid. Kept my promise there, kid, and I feel pretty damn good about that. Yes, I truly do.”
  “Steven, no! I didn’t mean to...oh, no...” he breathed out, eyes going wide and I knew he was drawing a deep breath to yell warning, yet I had already seen what was happening in front of us; a car three ahead loosing control as it hit some ice on the overpass, spinning out across lanes and like dominoes, causing all other’s behind to mimic the same in avoidance.
  Cold clarity descended instead of panic, time slowing. Did not instinctively slam the brake, but this turn was going to be sharp, so right arm came out, grabbed the kid before his head smacked the passenger side window, then it was to the gearshift, everything focused to ride this baby out to the end.
  Horns blaring, headlights facing wrong direction, saw in tail of my eye the one who’d started it all catch and hold on the railing, left front wheel over the edge. Could have stopped things right there, the beamer was a tank with airbags and we would be fine, but if I took this opening, hit the car that was sliding with brakes squealing before us the most likely outcome would be it slamming into the other, sending it half if not completely over the drop.
  Time to do some praying to your gods, kid. I’m not anything worthy that mine will hear anymore.
  “Hold on!” I yelled, and then grinned for all I was worth because at the same time David had yelled: “Do it!”
  Four hard jerks of the wheel, to yank it full left would have just had us hit the other side on instead of this chop-controlled maneuver, and fuck me if it didn’t work...except now it was our turn to hit the ice angled at speed; guardrails dead ahead, a drop of fifty feet straight down into the frozen river waiting below.
  No tricks left to play on this field. Nope, no amount of skill or even sheer, dumb, freak-out luck was going to do it here. Just feet off of both gas and brake, right arm pinning against the kid’s screaming chest and left hand on the wheel as the world outside moved past in violent slow motion.
  Dead calm was an interesting expression. Quite apropos, really, given the circumstances. Big-ass sound of glass and metal saying, “How do you do!” behind, and eyes sliding across the rearview mirror showed the car which had been following had not miss the one I had, yet it was alright. Both had met with less force as well as well beyond the first car. (Two tiny faces with mouths wide open peering out of its back window. Pale little blobs of life captured and gone in a glance.) Everyone else was stopped, true disaster avoided.
  Ah well, here we go. Sorry, David. Knew I was bad, that I destroyed everything I touched, yet even if I had been a saint, taking you out with me grants this old bastard a golden express ticket straight to hell.
  Final few feet ticked off as I looked out my side, the piss-ant rails getting closer. Twenty feet—fifteen—ten—felt as the left tires (rear and then front) touched clear pavement and stomped the gas pedal flat, pulled the wheel straight no matter we were still moving sideways...rear bumper kissed the railing...bent them down like tinfoil and started to pass over, still moving forwards though and I did not yank a hard right, just kept the beamer’s nose straight. Scraping, denting, bumps as rear tire caught and raised us over something then it was Thump! and all four tires were back on the road moving us forwards on our merry way directly into oncoming traffic.
  Piece a cake, I snorted and flipped my high-beams a couple of times to wake everybody up before cruising into the clear, open lane of our proper side, not to mention having those oncoming (possibly with pants filled with fresh loads) not hit the awaiting ice at speed.
  Solid ground reached and I pulled us off at the first safe place, hushed the kid and flipped out my cell to make the call which would see all the right flashing-light cavalry take care of the ones behind.
  Snapped it shut, dropped the thing into pocket and sat back, “Well, that was fucking interesting.”
  “Easy, kid. You’re all right, I got you,” I soothed. Unsnapped my buckle and leaned over to hold and pat because he was really out of it; shaking and crying and unable to speak yet. “Come on, David, it wasn’t that bad.” Yeah, ha-ha, right. Still, I’d save my freak till later. For right now at least, the kid still needed me.
  “Mm-hmm. Yup, that’s me.
  “David,” I said softer, “You are all right. Safe. It’s all okay. Everything is fine now.” Smell of his hair and I closed my eyes, leaned my head closer, breathing deeply, pain filling the center of my chest in a burst spreading outwards, sharp stone catching in my throat.
  Last time. Final time I will ever be this close to him. Oh, God, this hurts!
  Still held him while he sniffled; sounds of sirens coming close then passing.
  “Steven, weren’t you scared?” he asked after a while.
  Moved my head, “No, kid. I wasn’t scared at all.”
  “Guess because there’s not a whole hell of a lot of things left that can scare me anymore. Some, sure, but that just wasn’t one of them.” One final small squeeze, lifted my head so chin touched top of his, my eyes looking up at nothing and blinking rapidly.
  All right, Steven, that’s it. He’s fine. Let him go now.
  Swallowed and did so, leaned back in my seat and rubbed my face before settling to stare out my side window.
  “Are you okay?”
  “Yeah, kid, I’m fine. Just hitting me a little. Figure they’re all fairly busy back there. They’ve got my name from the call so they know I was here. Insurance of whatever the fuck. Man, I don’t even want to look, but...” Hit the button to start the window sinking...and it jammed after only an inch down. “Uh-oh. That is not what I would call a good sign. Ah well.” Tried the door handle. No go. “Awe, fuck.”
  “You want me to look?”
  “No, no point.” Sigh. “No, it was meant to be. She wanted something in silver anyways.”
  “You love this car!”
   Absent shrug as I stroked the wheel, gazing out the side window, “Doesn’t matter. No way I was going to get the smoke smell out anyways. Damn.”
  “—Scoot out, kid,” I cut him off. “I have to see if we’re leaking oil or break fluid or anything. The fuel gage seems to be holdings steady, but something down there took a hell of a knock. Sooner I know if we need a tow or not the better.”
  Jostling and scooting and I managed to get out of the passenger’s side. Wanted to see this one my own though, so had him stay where he was.
  Walked around and, “Awe, damn.” Any car less and the doors would have been swiped off, yet a single glance showed that they would not be opening again anytime soon.
  Patted the top and grinned sardonically, “If I had a gun I’d put one through the engine. Poor Beamer.” Oh, well. Tons of crap in the trunk, but I eventually found a flashlight and bent to have a look while the kid was having his of the doors. Wheel seemed fine, minus the cap of course, but there seemed to be no new stains in the grimy salt-melt we were on, so I supposed we would make it back to the apartment fine.
  Couple more flashers and sirens going by, one noticing us and then it was more delay as the cops had their whistles, took notes and got my full info for the insurance company.
  Also got the word from back, no major injuries to people. The first car’s passengers, a mother and her two girls perfectly healthy if shaken up. More lights shone beneath, few tests made and we were given official clearance for takeoff. Cop Two told me I deserved a good drink—after I got home.
  Don’t worry, I planned to.
  Good guys, waited for us to pull back out onto the road, stayed around a bit then waves exchanged as they passed and everyone continued on with their lives.
  “He said it could probably be fixed, Steven.”
  “Are you going to fix your car?”
  “Sure. Get it back in shape then sign the title over. Least you won’t be so nervous about scratching it. Better than taking the bus to work.”
  “Steven, stop it.”
  “Hmm?” Glanced over, “Sorry, kid, was doing some thinking here. What did you say?”
  “I said to stop it. Stop talking this way.”
  “You got it. But if you don’t mind, kid, it is sort of catching up to me and I’d appreciate some quiet. We’re not back to the apartment yet.”
  Think it was fifteen minutes or so later when he got his basket pipe out and lit up. Good, would help with his lingering nerves. Stuff was marvelous when it came to stress.
  “You want me to fill yours for you?” I shook me head. “You are not going to give it up again, are you?”
  “I’m focusing on the road here.”
  “No you’re not because you just drove by our exit.”
  Just reached for the coffee thermos myself and forwent the cup for a few swallows. Turned the beamer off at the next ramp and started the long circle back. Christ, this day was never going to end. Stuck a jazz CD grabbed at random into the player and cranked it.
  At least my collection would be going to a good home. All of them except the Ferny for a keepsake.
  And if you ever dare touch it, Shell, I will fucking kill you.
  After nearly three more hours of shitty roads, delays moving around another accident and other crap, I finally pulled the beamer into its parking space and shut off the engine.
  Welcome home, I snorted cynically and rubbed my tired face, “You can open the door anytime, kid.”
  “That bitch is not good enough for you, Steven.”
  “That bitch happens to be my wife. Believe me, she is a perfect match.”
  “No she isn’t.”
  “Kid, I am really too tired for this right now.”
  “She isn’t your wife. She left you, Steven.”
  “My fault. Made a bunch of mistakes, but I know better now. Don’t fret, I got it covered.”
  “Why doesn’t your head hurt?”
  Snorted, “Got that covered as well. Couple bottles in my room and by tomorrow morning you will see some expert aspirin chugging.”
  Rubbed my temple, “Kid, open your god damn door.”
  “What are you going to do, hit me if I don’t?”
  “Fuck you.” So that is what you think of me, David, eh? Fine. I touched the button and lowered me seat. “Suit yourself, I’ll sleep here.”
  “I am sorry.”
  “Uh-huh. Whatever. Night,” I said as I crossed my arms and closed me eyes, as comfortable as I was going to get.
  Few minutes later, “Do you know why Dellan kicked me out?”
  “’Cause he was fucking nuts.”
  “Yeah, he was fucking nuts. Do you know why?”
  “Sorry, kid, don’t really care,” I muttered. Which was bullshit, and good thing my eyes were closed, because the left one was clenching down like a bitch as the aching rose with anger.
  “I am the reason why...because I said no to Frank.”
  “Huh? I don’t get you?”
  “He saw us at a club. I was with Elly, we were together. Even if we weren’t, I did not like him. He scared me. And then...he said I would be sorry.”
  “I don’t even know what happened. Except El...Dellan started to change. I never saw any drugs or anything, but he wasn’t there when I go home from work a lot. There were no new painting so I knew he had been gone the day, too. Then one night they just walked in together and I was out. Dellan was the one who pushed me around. He hit. He was bigger than me and I didn’t know what was happening, only that I was getting really, really scared. Something inside was yelling at me to get out of there, so I ran away. I left Elly with that sick bastard.”
  “Kid, come here.”
  “No,” he pushed me away. “Don’t you get it? I ran away! I caused everything to happen and then I just ran away! And then I get the email, saying how his hand got broken. He can’t paint anymore and he still wants to stay with him instead of me! He told me to leave them alone and go back to the gutters where I belonged.
  “Steven, I am never going to get anyone I care for hurt again. Not ever. All I would do is bring trouble if I stayed here. Steven, I know I am not any good, but for Goddess’ sake, don’t do worse!”
  “David.” Reached out and cupped side of his face as he breathed hard and fought back tears. “How can someone so young and smart be full of so much stupid shit? No way in hell, kid, I am the only one here who causes hurting and the trouble. What you see here is the bottom of the barrel. From here on in all you can do is go up.”
  “That’s not true.”
  “I’d do anything to prove you wrong, but I can’t, kid. All I am is me, and I’ve got nothing to offer.”
  “Stop saying that.”
  “Why? Come on, kid, you’ve already seen the truth yourself, know what it would be like if I stuck around. I’m not brave like you, David. Can’t live they way someone like you deserves.”
  “I am not asking you to.”
  “Not yet you’re not.”
  “Not ever. Steven, I really, really mean it. I know how to act when I’m out there,” he waved beyond the car. “We were in a small town for weeks for crying out loud. No one knew a thing. Believe me, I’d know.”
  “No. And I still mean all the rest of the stuff I said before we even left. I would love for you to find someone who can give you the things that I can’t. Casual or permanent, just as long as we were still friends, that is all I care about.”
  “David, I don’t think friends do things like this,” pulled his head close and brought mine in. First kiss. On the lips. No, it was not a tongue fest or anything like it, just a simple kiss, though it still left us both feeling well as wanting something more.
  “Well,” he said shakily, “maybe you just don’t have the right friends.”
  “Fuck you, you little shit.”
  “I’m ready when you are.” He gave me his pinched nose, elfin grin.
  “Now that is how you say welcome home. Before that though, mind doing me a favor?”
  “Anything, Steven.”
  Handed him my cell phone. Smart kid, did not even need to ask a question as he opened it, hit all the right buttons, captured a bunch of messages and deleted them.
  Happy New Year!


Continues with Episode Six: "David"

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Click to read from my book "Hunting Shadows"
Everything on this page is (C) Melissa Vivigatz 2007
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The following story contains adult language and situations.
Sexual content. For mature readers only.

Episode Six: "David"
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