What I Needed For Christmas
By Sean English, December, 2019

Christian looked over the room at his various 12- and 13-year old classmates, all currently sitting with varying stages of apathy. Some watched him take his place and stand behind the lectern, waiting either with patience or boredom as he sized up the room. A few of his classmates glanced at each other with either a smirk or a smile, clearly in disbelief that anything he had to say wasn't going to be any different from what already heard from others. Although they behaved politely, some rolled their eyes or found other ways to fidget among themselves. At least, he thought, his was the very last of the presentations. If they could be patient just a little longer, then all of it would be over, and they could go home and be done with it.

The young teenager glanced quickly at Mrs. Gardner, who sat behind her desk observing him closely with an encouraging smile. She took his hesitation as being nervous, or at least as one lacking in poise or confidence. The assignment had been simple enough, she thought: write and give an oral 2-minute presentation, on the person you most look up to in life, your hero. Many had already risen to the task over the last couple of days, giving various reports honoring their parents, or an older brother or sister. One surprised the class by writing a short take on his younger, four-year old brother, full of goofy moments and silly highlights. It was odd to think that someone young like that as being looked up to, but the way the boy made his case, it was quite well in the end: his brother was someone who made him laugh, and above all made him happy in a lot of different ways.

Family seemed to be the common thread of the reports, but it was not the only one. One of his peers had written about someone in Hollywood being a role model of sorts, and THAT surprised several students considerably. Given that person's history, however, it wasn't totally shocking, as that person had a tendency to think about things and people "outside the box" anyway.

Christian wondered what his peers would think of his effort. He cleared his throat, and stared down at his paper. The palms of his hands were sweaty, and a sudden mental block descended upon him, so heavy that it took his breath away. Breathing deeply, however, he gave his teacher a half-smile and then nodded. With Christmas only days away, this was their end-of-term project, and he decided he wanted it over with. If he could just get past these next few minutes, he could be free at least.

He just secretly hoped that his classmates would understand what he did was ... different.

"Um, I know..." Christian started, but then stopped and glanced up as a hushed silence invaded the room. He had their attention now and he tried to smile, but it felt as if it was only a half-hearted attempt. It was then, however, that his eyes found and met that of his best friend sitting near the back row. What met him was someone watching closely with no expression, no nod or other sign of encouragement. If anything, it was just a blank look, and it caused Christian to take another deep breath before continuing. 'Come on, already!' he told himself, gathering his wits. "Some of you have already spoken about your heroes and everything, and I ... I don't want to take anything away from them. My Grams has told me lots of times, that people come from all walks of life, meaning that no two roads are ever the same for us. We might share a road sometimes with people, like our friends or relatives, or others, but we don't always get to go in the same direction the same way, or to the same destination."

"But," Christian continued shyly, "when I first tried to do this, it was hard. You see, I have no parents with me like the most of you do. I have no real brothers, or sisters either... just my grandparents, really. And... although I'm not complaining, I haven't always been as lucky, or rather we haven't been as lucky, as some of you. So, when I talked to Mrs. Gardner and told her what I came up with and why, she told me this would be okay. So, if you'll give me a minute, maybe you'll understand, too. You see, instead of a report I wrote a poem, and I called it 'All My Heroes'. And, well... it goes something like this."

Christian paused to take a deep breath, placing the paper where he could focus and read from it.

"Mine are the heroes, that most see every day,
some who know me, but others who just pass my way.
My heroes are those who seek to keep me safe,
Or guide me through troubles, or lead me by their faith.

There's the fireman, who fights toward his goal,
to keep flames and heat, from invading my soul,
There's also the policeman, God help him too,
To keep me from my wrongs, all the day through.

Then there's the ambulance workers, the doctors and nurses,
who work tirelessly through countless days and nights,
To keep us healthy, strong and well,
when whatever ails gives us frights.

Closer to home, there's my Gramps, who works hard and walks proud,
unafraid of stepping up, and guard us with the sweat of his brow,
There's also my Grams, watching over me while I live,
feeding and clothing me, and giving me all the love she can give.

There's my bus driver, who picks me up and brings me home,
watching over me and everyone else, to transport us safe from harm,
I shouldn't forget my teachers either, giving us life's rules,
not just for school and smarts, but for the world's unhatched broods.

My heroes include my parents, though I know them not today,
for though they gave me birth, a long time they have been away,
My hero is also my dog, who faithfully stays by my side,
He's the one true hero I have, and will keep until one of us dies.

My last to name though is you, each of you here this day,
listening to me do this, with what little courage I find to say;
Some more perhaps than others, either passing or close by,
even my best friend back there, who has always been by my side.

You see, my heroes in life, they're those who travel beside me,
they're the ones who let me walk, and the ones who let me see,
They're also the ones who watch, talk, laugh and listen,
but most of all, they're the ones who let me ... be me."

Christian laid his paper upon the lectern and looked out across the crowd, who had by now taken a more intense interest. The stillness that followed was eerie at first, as he realized most, if not all, had stopped and listened to what he had to say. He blushed, then bowed his head and closed his eyes. "You see guys, my heroes in life, they're a lot of people, but they include all of you, too. As goofy as that sounds, you're the ones I know here and now - for better or worse. You're the people I will always remember, see. I mean, if anyone asks who my heroes are again, then I can always point to you. That's because you're my friends, and well, it'll be the truth." At that moment, Christian did tear up, enough to turn his face away briefly. There, he had done it. Whatever come now, it would be up to them.

For the next few seconds, a dead silence enveloped the room until he stepped back from the lectern. When he glanced at his teacher, he saw her eyes were glistening as she suddenly smiled. She was obviously pleased with his effort, and in its own way that was a relief to the teenager. She had told him he could do the poem, as long as he explained why he wrote it. Christian could tell though, that she didn't quite expect the results. He couldn't blame her, as he knew he was among the quietest of the class, the one who always lived and worked silently in the background. The point was that Mrs. Gardner felt it would be a major breakout, a stepping stone toward letting others get to know him. Maybe she was right, but he didn't feel it just then.

While Christian had been writing his poem, he had had mixed feelings about presenting it to his classmates. Would they snicker, or think him somewhat 'girlish' for doing it? Although initially unsure of himself, it was in the final hours he decided to go through with it. The day before, they had all heard Cole's presentation, and it was then that Christian began feeling better about his plan overall. He glanced again in his friend's direction, recalling how he had sat there with almost total indifference. At least, until he heard the one small part that was directed at him. He had never voiced how he felt about him, but as Christian spoke those few words at that moment, he noticed his friend's eyebrows shoot up, obviously surprised. It wasn't until the final phrase was spoken that a knowing look crossed Cole's face. Maybe, Christian hoped, he would see what he really meant, even if no one else did.

Suddenly a clap was heard, then another, before the room erupted into spontaneous applause. It wasn't a slow, methodical or necessary ovation either, but instead one offered with warm enthusiasm. Christian blushed as he looked up and saw their faces, many with smiles. Some of the girls had that awed look, as if they could have cried, which made the teen blush even deeper. Someone near the door let out a loud whistle, which made others clap at a brisker pace. Christian grinned and just nodded to them, feeling immensely relieved. He made his way around the lectern and back toward his seat, but not before a few girls reached out and touched his arm, or some of the guys politely raised a fist in mid-air for him to meet and bump. These were the small gestures that told him his effort had been accepted in the right way, and that gave him a broader feeling of acceptance. When he reached his desk he was smiling, and as he sat down, even Cole leaned forward to clasp and squeeze both sides of his shoulders briefly.

After a moment, Mrs. Gardner cleared her throat, bringing their attention forward again. "Well done, Christian, well done indeed," she stated kindly, before addressing the rest of the class. "As for the rest of you, I want to tell you how pleased I am at how each of you stepped forward for this task. I know, some of you probably think that it was not that much of an academic exercise - but I beg you to consider this at least: it made you have to think outside the box, did it not? You had to think about things that encompass your own lives, and the people who influence you the most, right? It's the kind of task that makes us have to look at both ourselves and others really, and see who is important to you in life, and why. That - my dear students - is what makes us better human beings in the end." She looked at the clock, and then smiled. "So, since the bell is about to ring, let me end our period wishing all of you a very happy, safe and prosperous holiday this year, alright?"

Several responded, returning her holiday wishes in kind, and then as if on cue, the last bell for the school day rang. As the multitude of desks and chairs started scraping on the floor, the room suddenly filled with noise and expressions of glee. Several of Christian's peers passed by and continued to express how much they appreciated what he had said and done. Although most were girls, he accepted their thanks with grace. Inwardly, however, he just felt relieved to have it all done and over.

Cole eventually stepped up beside him. "That was... really awesome, man. I... I don't even know what to say, really," he remarked, waiting as Christian grabbed his books and stood.

"There's nothing to say really," Christian replied nonchalantly. "I'm just glad it's over with." He glanced sideways as they began moving. "So, am I still invited to come with you tonight, or...?"

"What are you talking about? Of course, you're still invited!" Cole laughed. "Besides, if you don't, I think Mom will ground us both! Last I heard, she's making homemade pizza and salads for us all tonight!"

Christian grinned. His own grandparents were not the type who ate out very often, probably more due to finances than anything else. Still, it did not deter his grandmother's attempts to bring some of the outside world into their kitchen. For the most part she was successful, but her one Achilles was in getting any kind of Italian food to work out right. That is, except for spaghetti, which she surprisingly excelled at. "Really? That sounds pretty awesome to me! I don't get pizza much, except here at school."

Cole grunted as they began moving toward the door. "Yeah, yeah, I know. I actually tried to talk her into going out for pizza tonight, but it all kind of backfired. Mom said she was going to make the in-house brand, which she actually does a really good job at. She uses stuff like hot sausage, ham and pepperoni, and lots and lots of cheese! More than you get at the restaurants!"

Christian rubbed the side of his nose before replying. "I'm game. My mouth is already watering!" As they moved through the door, he paused. "Um, what bus are we getting on? I need to run to my locker kind of quick, if that's okay?"

"Yeah, no sweat, I do too. It's number 501, usually parked next to last at the end of the line," Cole replied. Christian nodded, and then both boys began moving quickly through the crowd.

Seven minutes later, both teens stepped on board the designated bus, but found it already nearly full with kids of all ages. Most were talking loudly, laughing and moving about rapidly, dispensing some of their pent-up energy in differing ways. Several of the younger boys and girls were carrying small toys, gadgets or candies - items which no doubt came from in-class Christmas parties held earlier that day. Moving down the aisle, Christian and Cole had to eventually take seats across the aisle from each other, as no other seats were found that allowed them to sit together. "It won't stay this way," Cole commented, leaning across the space to his friend. "After the first mile or two, several people will be getting off, and then we'll be able to grab a seat together."

Christian nodded, and then sat back as he watched the door to the old vehicle slide shut. With his backpack in his lap, he sat forward and listened to nothing in particular, as the crowd of bodies around him continued with their varying degrees of exuberant celebration. The Christmas holidays were now officially upon them, and by sanction of the glorious county school board, once they were delivered home all of them knew a two-week break awaited. Christian didn't mind the holidays really, but they were not something he went out of his way to look forward to - not like some did, anyway.

As Cole had predicted, within minutes the bus had deposited several students at their destinations, and both boys were able to move up together to another seat nearby. "Um, how long does it take to get to your house?" Christian asked, once they had settled in.

"Longer than it should," Cole replied with a hint of annoyance. "Our place is only a couple of miles out, but the bus route makes a loop past it and up into the county, before it circles back around to our road. What should only take about 10 minutes ends up being, I don't know... maybe 25 minutes or so."

Christian sat back and relaxed. "Well, at least that's shorter than mine. My bus rides ride is about 40- to 45-minutes each way." When his friend nodded, he continued. "So, what are the plans for tonight? Anything special?"

Cole grunted, but then sat back and propped up his knees onto the back of the seat in front of them. "Well, the church we go to has Volleyball night tonight. Are you interested in that? It's for all ages, where people get together mostly for just fun. Boys, girls, young and old - it's pretty cool, actually. And I promise you, no one will try to recruit you or anything."

Christian laughed, but then thought about it for a few seconds before nodding. "That sounds okay, I think. Besides, I think we've visited your church a time or two before."

"Yeah, I remember seeing you guys," Cole nodded. "Sorry, I just heard someone complaining the other day about always being bugged into going to somebody else's church and stuff. It's kind of annoying, I think, to have people bug you like that all the time, like they're trying to recruit you and everything. Our church doesn't do that though, at least as far as I know."

"Yeah, I understand. Gramps gets irritated when they come to the door and leave all their little leaflets and things." Christian shrugged. "Anyway, volleyball sounds pretty cool, although I really didn't pack any clothes for with me to play in like that. I kind of figured with it being as cold as it is outside... you know."

"That's okay. We're about the same size, and I've got all kinds of sweatpants and shirts that will fit you," Cole replied nonchalantly. "So, is this like, your first time being out? You know, at a sleepover and everything?"

Christian blushed, but then nodded. "Yeah, kind of." Glancing out the window, he tried to explain. "I have to admit, I don't think Grams wasn't all that great on letting me come tonight, but... I think your Mom called her or something and convinced her afterwards." He turned back. "It's not a bad thing, I just... I think it's kind of a first for her, too."

"Yeah, Mom told me she called her," Cole nodded. "Mom says your Grandma was just kind of protective, that's all. It'll be fun though, you'll see." Studying the boy curiously, he lowered his voice. "You're not, like, nervous or anything, are you?"

"Um, not really," Christian answered quickly. "I mean, it's kind of exciting and all to get out for a night. Exciting to me, anyway."

"It is, yeah," Cole grinned at him. "Just don't be nervous though, okay? It's not like anyone is going to kidnap you, or throw you in the dungeon and clap you in irons or anything. If anything, Patrick will probably be hanging all over you though, so don't be too surprised at that. He's kind of the clingy type."

Christian laughed. "Patrick? You're younger brother, right? Isn't he the one you did your report on and all? He's four, right?"

"Yeah, he turns five next month. He doesn't start kindergarten until next year, so he hangs around the house a lot with Mom - or with our Grandma when Mom has to work," Cole explained. "He's a goofy little turd, but meh. I didn't want to do the usual mom-dad-uncle-whoever crap everyone else was doing, so I made my report all about him."

"I thought it was kind of cool, to be honest," Christian replied.

"I guess so," Cole replied thoughtfully. "I mean, some of the stuff I said about him was true. He reminds me a lot of what I was like and all at his age, and he is funny, in his own goofy little way. He's just... hyper."

Christian shrugged. "Doesn't bother me." He studied the scenery outside flying by. "You said you're your Mom works sometimes. What does she do?"

"She does this medical key-entry stuff, like taking codes and stuff that doctors write-up, and gets them transcribed into the computer. She only works part-time though, like three days a week."

"That sounds kind of important, though," Christian observed.

"It is, I think. I mean, that's the kind of stuff that gets reported to insurance companies and all, so that everyone gets billed correctly and whatever. Plus, it's used to keep records on patients, too - like, their medical history and everything," Cole replied. After another brief silence, Cole changed the subject. "So, what about you? Looking forward to Christmas and all next week?"

"I guess so," Christian replied, shrugging. "I mean, kind of."

Cole's eyes narrowed sharply. "What do you mean? Don't you guys celebrate Christmas and all?"

An awkward silence fell between them before Christian finally replied. "We do, but... you already know, my grandparents don't have a lot of money and everything, so we generally don't make that big of a deal when it comes to presents and stuff. Not like other people do, anyway. Don't get me wrong, we understand what it's all about and everything, and we'll have a dinner with turkey and stuff. Gramps even gets us a tree, and we decorate it and all, too."

Cole whistled as he sat back. "Jeepers, man, I'm sorry," he intoned softly, suddenly feeling sheepish. "I honestly had no idea, really. I mean, we've always made a big thing out of it with presents, food, visiting family - all that goofy stuff. I guess I just kind of assumed everyone else did, too, or at least most people."

Christian wrinkled his nose. "Don't get me wrong, we do some of that stuff too, but it's like I said, Grams and Gramps only have their social security and everything to live off of for the most part. They don't get anything extra for me, because I'm family see, so it makes money a little tighter, I guess. It kind of limits things, that's all." Seeing his friend frown, he sighed. "Um, just do me a favor, okay Cole? Don't go telling that to anyone. Seriously, Gramps is always afraid people will like, start feeling sorry for us and all, and well, neither of my grandparents like taking charity or anything."

Cole observed his friend for a full half-minute before slowly nodding. "Okay, I promise, but..." The teen hesitated before speaking again. "So, can I at least ask if you, like, get any presents or anything at all?"

"Yeah, I get a little something. Usually a book or two, maybe some clothes - mostly socks, underwear, maybe some new t-shirts. Although, last year I did get a new Sunday outfit. You know, the dress-up kind for church, weddings and stuff like that." Observing the solemn expression that met him, Christian giggled and then elbowed Cole in his ribs. "Listen, please don't worry about me, okay? I mean it, it's all cool. Presents and things like that aren't what Christmas is about anyway, you know?" The teen grunted. "Besides, my getting to come home with you tonight? This is like, one of the most awesome things to ever happen to me, and it's like a present all to itself! That is, as long as I don't screw it up or anything."

"What the hell?" Cole replied, astonished. "Why would you say that? How do you think you're going to screw it up?"

Christian shrugged. "I don't know. Like you said, it's kind of a first for me."

"Okay... and?" Cole replied, but his tone laced with suspicion.

Christian fell silent, studying briefly before he answered. "I don't know, Cole. I just ... I don't want to do anything stupid, or make you mad at me or anything. I don't want to do anything that would hurt us being friends. Does that make sense?"

"Chris," Cole began, initially exasperated, but catching himself before he continued. "First of all, I wouldn't have invited you if I didn't want you to come, okay? Don't worry about screwing something up." Wrinkling his nose, he glanced up. "And second, just hang out and be yourself. You'll be fine, I promise." Christian nodded, but then fell silent again, so Cole decided not to push it.

Twenty minutes later, the old bus ground to a halt at the foot of Cole's driveway, and both teens hopped up. After wishing the driver a Merry Christmas, the gray-haired man who looked to be getting along in years, first stopped them. Handing Cole a paper sack, he wished the boy a Merry Christmas and then turned to Christian. "You take one too, young man. I have a few extra," he remarked kindly. Christian thanked him and then followed his host down the steps and onto the ground. After stepping away, both teens heard the familiar release of the hydraulic brakes, and watched the bus move on. While Cole crossed the road to the mailbox, Christian opened his sack to find it filled with candy canes and an assortment of chocolates inside, along with an apple.

"He gives everyone candy this time of year," Cole explained as he returned, carrying several envelopes that included what looked to be Christmas cards. "All the bus drivers do it, I think."

"No, not all of them," Christian replied, closing the bag and looking up happily. "At least, mine doesn't."

"Really?" Cole asked in surprise, then shook his head. "Maybe not all of them can afford it or something, I don't know. Come on, it's friggin cold out here, let's hurry up and get inside." With that, he led the way across their lawn until they reached the front porch, where he then opened the doors to the house and ushered his friend inside.

Christian had no sooner set foot into the foyer when he heard a loud thump, followed by rapidly approaching footsteps. As his eyes adjusted to the reduced lighting, he saw a figure suddenly spring around a corner and launch itself onto him. "Chris, yea! You're finally here!" the young boy squealed in greeting, as the teen caught him and had to struggle to keep them both from falling over. To make matters worse, the youngster suddenly pulled his legs upward and started swinging in the teen's arms, laughing wildly. "I thought you were never going to get here!"

Christian grinned, recalling it was not the first time he had met Patrick. His family had come across the Hunts some months before at a local shopping center, where they had all spent several minutes in pleasant conversation. It was there he first met Patrick, who had exhibited an abundant level of energy and excitement. "Hey short-stuff!" he replied, holding the boy aloft until he set his feet back underneath himself again.

Patrick giggled. "Who do you think you're calling short stuff, you big pup??!!"

"You, booger breath!" Cole announced, rounding his friend on the other side and attempting to grab his little brother.

Patrick was ready for him though, as he squealed and easily slipped away. "Too slow, potato Cole!" he sniggered, then escaped back into the living room, leaving the two teens behind.

Cole grinned instead and sat his backpack down at the entrance, where Christian followed his host's example. "What can I say," Cole commented. "The little punk's full of it right now! He'll likely be hyper all the way till Christmas, I imagine, and then afterwards, too!"

"I don't mind. In fact, it's kind of nice in a way," Christian replied, as they both shrugged out of their coats and hung them on a nearby rack. Once done, they entered the living room, where they found Patrick bouncing about between the floor and the sofa. There was a TV in the corner that currently had the boy's attention, where a cartoon of some sort played.

Once again, Patrick turned and started to run up to their guest of the hour, but Cole quickly held up both hands. "Hey, hold up, will ya? Let us at least get settled in first, before you start pawing all over him!"

Patrick stopped and grinned, but then shrugged before turning around and plopping down onto a bean bag and returning to his cartoon. Both teens looked at each other and grinned, before Cole led them onward and through another doorway, this time entering the kitchen. Once inside, they were greeted by a stocky woman who was, at that moment, spreading pizza dough over two rather large-sized cookie sheets. To her side sat various bottles and bowls, presumably containing the sauces and various toppings she needed for the planned dinner. She looked up as they entered, before wiping her brow with the back of her hand and grinning widely. "Ah! You're home, finally! Hello, Christian! I'm so happy to see you!" she exclaimed, immediately picking up a nearby towel and using it to wipe both hands. Coming around the corner of the cabinet, she greeted the young man with a quick, welcoming embrace. "How are you, this fine blustery Friday?"

"I'm good, thanks Mrs. Hunt!" the teen replied. When she pulled back, she placed a hand fondly upon Cole's shoulder, squeezing it before moving back around to her former position.

"Dinner will be ready in about an hour, boys... give or take a few minutes," she announced, causing Cole to raise both eyebrows in surprise. Seeing this, she paused to explain. "Well, if you boys are heading up to play volleyball tonight, they're going to be starting a little earlier, so as to make time for the potluck afterwards. That means we need to eat a little earlier, so we can have time to run by the bakery on the way out."

Suddenly Cole's expression changed to one of understanding. "Mom is getting a bunch of cupcakes to take with us tonight," he explained to his friend. "Tonight, there is sort of a celebration thingy after we get done playing and all."

"Since it's the last night we're together before Christmas, most everyone is bringing a dish or two. Just light stuff, finger foods, sweets and so on. I've already made up a batch of sausage balls," Mrs. Hunt added. She nodded towards a large bowl sitting beside the stove. "Go ahead, help yourself to a couple of them if you want. Mind you, ONLY a couple at most! Remember, those are for the party!"

Cole circled behind her and lifted the towel covering a large bowl, before retrieving four balls of the snack. He then handed two of them to his friend, which Christian took and bit into the first. Looking up in surprise, he grinned. "Wow! These are... are spicy! I like them!"

"They're meant to be!" the woman replied merrily. "They're made with hot ground sausage we get from one of the local meat shops around here. They're not overly hot-hot, but certainly spicy-warm-hot."

"They're good, though. Really good," Christian replied as he started on the second one. Glancing at Cole, he saw his friend's head jerk back to the doorway, and so both teens thanked the woman kindly before heading back through the living room and to the front door. There both boys picked up their backpacks from the foyer and Cole led them up a short flight of steps to the upper level.

Although the two had been friends since fifth grade, it was the first time Christian had ever set foot in the Hunts' house. It was a tri-level structure, one with what appeared to be three bedrooms and a bath situated on the uppermost level. Turning one corner, the two boys entered a small bedroom decorated with deep blue accents, and containing a full-sized bed, desk and chest of drawers for furniture. The walls were adorned with various posters and pictures of famous basketball players and teams, as well as video games and other paraphernalia. There was no doubt that it had to be Cole's room, and Christian found himself impressed. "Wow, this is pretty cool!" he remarked, setting his bag upon the foot of the bed.

Cole looked around and nodded as he deposited his own backpack at the side of his desk. "Yeah, I kind of like it." He then turned to jump heavily onto his bed, falling back and spinning crazily. "Ah! Two whole weeks now - no tests, no homework, no getting up early! Just sleep, and... and... doing crazy stuff!"

Christian laughed and then carefully sat down next to his pack, leaving the whole upper half of the bed freed for his host. Cole noted this, however, and then began kicking his shoes off his feet, before twisting around and tackling his friend in full force. Both fell backwards toward the foot of the bed, all the while Cole sought out various ticklish spots that rendered his friend practically helpless. Both laughed as Christian eventually curled up into a tight ball, unable to fend off the attacks under his arms, ribs and other strategic locations.

The commotion made over the next few minutes was loud enough to reach the living room, and within seconds Patrick zoomed through the doorway and jumped into the mêlée. His smaller body topped them both easily as his own hands aggressively sought out and dug into both of the older teens. As four-year old poked and prodded his older brother, Cole's resolve suddenly faltered, which then allowed Christian to stretch out and get some footing, finally able to fight back. Initially, they both ganged up against Cole, but before it was over, both teenagers had pinned the younger one up underneath them. Though he squealed and laughed excessively, the youngster was having a blast. At least, until he suddenly froze and emitted a certain, familiar sound not normally associated with coming from his mouth. "Oh no!" Cole suddenly exclaimed, quickly pushing back and letting go of his younger brother while backing away. "You little fart-aholic!"

As the scent permeated the air, Christian found he also had to let go and roll away. "I'll say!" Christian muttered before grinning. "What crawled up your butt today, anyway? Whew!"

Their expressions of disdain caused Patrick's giggling to increase ten-fold. Once again, the young boy launched himself onto Christian until he and the teen were on the bed again, and the younger boy had maneuvered himself in such a way as to straddle the older boy's lower belly. "Sorry 'bout that. Hey, you are going to play volleyball with us tonight, right?"

Christian glanced at Cole, who simply rolled his eyes and made to climb from the bed. Looking back, he observed his captor and slowly nodded. "I guess so, yeah." With an exuberant cry, Patrick suddenly leaned forward and gave the teen a quick hug, before scrambling away. Before either of the teenagers could react, they watched the kid exit the room quickly and, within seconds, heard him exchanging excited remarks with his mother downstairs. Sitting up, Christian watched as Cole turned and closed the door.

"There, that will give us a little privacy for a few minutes, at least," Cole remarked.

Christian grinned. "Is he, uh, always like that?"

Cole grinned as well. "What, full of energy? Yeah, afraid so. He's just excited because you're here though, I think. He'll calm down some by supper, you'll see. I mean, he'd better, or Mom will really have it in for him." The teen crossed over to his chest and pulled a drawer open before rummaging inside. "Okay now, let's see..." he muttered, searching and then extracting two pair of sweats along with matching long-sleeved t-shirts. "This ought to do us. Stand up here by me for a sec, will ya?" As his guest obeyed, Cole stood close with their hips side-by-side. After a quick study, he then nodded. "Yeah, we're almost the same size and everything. These should work out pretty good, I think. Which ones do you want to wear?"

Glancing at the matching pairs, Christian shrugged. "Um, I don't care, really," he replied. "Whichever ones you don't take, I guess."

Cole grunted before reaching out and grabbing the blue-colored pair, leaving a similar red-colored set behind. Stepping away, he started to remove his school shirt, pulling it up with a t-shirt that clung underneath. As both garments came free, he glanced to see his friend still standing where he had left him, shifting uncertainly on his feet. "Are you going to change, or...?"

"Oh!" Christian replied nervously, but then nodded. In the span of those few seconds, it occurred to him this was something he hadn't considered before arriving, and a sudden cascade of questions came to him. Not only regarding this moment, but possibly later in the evening, too. He tried to cover-up his hesitation by kicking off his shoes, as he had seen Cole do only moments before. Unlike his friend, however, Christian's shoes were laced too tightly, so in the interim the teen sat back down on the bed so he could reach down to untie them. "Sorry," he muttered, but kept his gaze toward the floor. In his peripheral vision, however, he saw Cole had pulled his belt free and was unsnapping his jeans. Without hesitation, his host shucked his jeans completely and was suddenly standing in the room in nothing but a pair of navy-blue briefs and white socks.

As Cole picked up and tossed his school clothes into a corner, he turned to grab his t-shirt. He paused though, watching his friend curiously and noting how he moved slowly. From his seated position, Christian had finally pulled his shirt up and off, but unlike Cole, he had no t-shirt underneath. As Cole observed his bare-chested friend, he noted that Christian seemed overly nervous. "Hey, you okay?" he asked, stepping a little closer.

Startled, Christian was unable to keep from glancing up and taking in the full view of his friend. "Uh, yeah... why?" he replied meekly.

"I don't know, you just seem... all jittery or something. Did I, like, do something?" Cole asked, perplexed.

Immediately Christian turned his gaze back to the floor, blushing heavily. "Um, not that I know of." When he saw his friend still watching him closely, he finally grunted. "Sorry, man. Just, um, kind of a first for me, that's all." He cringed inwardly after he spoke those words, because he had just inadvertently given his thoughts and fears away. He expected to be laughed at then, and braced himself.

Cole, however, suddenly understood. "Oh, sorry man. I didn't think is all. You, uh, can go in the bathroom, if you want to. I mean, it's just across the hall. Or, I could go..."

Christian quickly shook his head, however. "No! I mean, uh, it's alright." With that, he found the t-shirt that had been left for him and pulled it on over his head while Cole did the same.

Cole did not let the issue go, however, as he grabbed his sweats before moving over to sit down by his friend. "Are you sure? I mean, I don't mind. I didn't, like, think about you being shy or anything, I guess. Especially since you don't have any brothers or anyone to be around." He looked toward the closed door. "I'm always around Patrick a lot, and we don't, you know, we're pretty free around each other. I'm also around the guys on the team, too." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, really. I guess I just didn't think about you not being that way and all."

Surprised, Christian met his friend with a smile and leaned over, bumping shoulders with him. "No, it's... I mean, don't be sorry. It's not any different than when we dress out in Phys Ed, is it? I'm fine, really. I'm just being the goofy one here, that's all."

Cole sighed in relief. "Nope, it's not any different at all, Chris. Other than maybe, well, me sitting up close like this with you."

Surprisingly, Christian rolled his eyes. "If that's all I've got to worry about, then you can give me a titty twister later," the teen joked, but there was also an unmistakable element of relief in his tone. To back up his words, he suddenly stood and undid his belt, followed by the button and zipper holding his jeans. As they started to slide over his hips, however, he had to stop as his briefs started to fall away with them. "Crap," he muttered, then blushed. Cole giggled, not abashed at observing his friend in any way. Christian found that encouraging, but admired more the fact that his friend didn't tease or make fun of his sudden brash with modesty. Wordlessly, the teen grasped his underwear and pulled them back up, separating them from the outer fabric as his jeans fell the rest of the way to the floor.

If that had been the end of it, Cole would have been fine, and he thought Christian would have been, too. Instead, however, his eyes traveled toward his friend's midsection and stopped. It was everything he could do to keep from gasping, and he couldn't help but stare briefly before finally turning his eyes away. It wasn't bad by any respect, but Cole did want to avoid causing his friend any further embarrassment. What he saw though was that, not only did his friend wear simple, white briefs, but they were incredibly thread-worn and thin. Though somewhat shielded, the outline of what was inside and underneath the stretched cloth was unmistakable. In the seconds that followed, Cole thought maybe THAT was the reason for his friend's bashfulness. Cole began to chide himself because, if that were so, it would make complete and total sense. Their earlier conversation came back to him: **We generally don't make that big of a deal when it comes to presents and stuff.** Cole also recalled the remark about how he sometimes got t-shirts, socks and underwear as Christmas presents. That made the teen start to feel guilty. Maybe Christian's family really couldn't do much better.

Uncertain as to what he should or should not say, Cole fell silent. Maybe they would get to talk about it more, he didn't know, but he certainly didn't want Christian to feel let down. So instead, Cole pulled his own pair of sweat pants over and the slowly donned them, standing up to complete the process. Seconds later, Christian succeeded in doing the same. "Hey, yeah, these do fit me pretty good. Thanks!"

"No problem," Cole said with a smile, his voice hushed. The change in clothing fitted his friend well, and Cole wondered if he might could give them to him, as a kind of present. He resolved to ask his mother about it later. If Christian seemed embarrassed about them in any way, it did not show. In fact, Cole noticed he even looked pleased as the teen folded his school clothes and lay them aside. It was the first time Cole had ever seriously considered about how others existed outside their family, and were not as prosperous with having even the basics. For some reason, it made Cole respect his friend even more, and he felt an urge to do something, perhaps reach out and give his friend a hug. He feared that wouldn't be right though, so instead he leaned in and bumped shoulders as well. It was a small gesture, but one welcomed warmly as Christian glanced up and smiled.

Sighing inwardly, Cole pivoted around and turned on the TV on his desktop, along with a nearby game system. "So, have you ever played Mario Kart?" Seeing his guest shake his head, the two then propped themselves up comfortably, one in the floor with his back to the bed, the other on top of the bed with several pillows packed behind him against the wall. For the next hour, they engaged in several of the cartoon-like races, trading and exchanging vehicles along with multiple tracks. Although Christian had played with Nintendo systems before, none of them had included the popular racing game. Although he performed poorly at first, once he began getting the hang of it, the teen found himself loving it, laughing at the various antics and hilarious horseplay the characters engaged in onscreen. For Cole's part, he was happy that his friend was a quick learner, and before long they were able to keep up with each other side by side on most of the various tracks without much difficulty.

When called down for supper, both boys quickly joined the rest of the family, finding them already sitting down at the table. Mr. Hunt had arrived, and he greeted the newcomer with a warm handshake. Patrick, with his usual animated enthusiasm, was pulling a chair out at the table and waving for Christian to sit in it so that the other boys could sit on either side of their guest. Grinning widely, he accepted the ploy and did as he was told, before getting his first up-close look at the table itself. Sitting in the middle were two, overly large square pizza dishes, along with salads sitting to the side of each place sitting. "Wow!" he exclaimed, impressed. "Smells great!"

Cole, sitting down next to him, agreed. "Looks awesome, Mom!"

"Thank you, boys. The one down there is mostly all veggies, with a little sausage put in, and this one is mostly all meats, with a few onions added," the woman explained, before taking a rolling knife and cutting the pizzas into large, proportional squares. Once done, she sat down and they all allowed Mr. Hunt to say a blessing before digging in.

Sometime later, with their bellies almost stuffed to the point of misery, the crew of five moved about the house, finding and donning tennis shoes and coats, before making their way outside to the family van. Once underway, they stopped at the aforementioned local bakery, where Mrs. Hunt and the boys trotted inside, only to return with two large boxes of the aforementioned cupcakes. Once these were settled and stored in back, the band made their way to the church, which Christian noted was not that far away - but was located out in one of the more rural sections of the county.

The church was not overly large, but it did have a gymnasium built off to one side. As they approached with their goods in hand, they could hear various Christmas music playing inside, along with loud conversations. Entering, they found several families had already arrived, with men women, boys and girls of all ages surrounding the nets and forming up teams. The party goods were deposited on tables off to one side, presumably well out of the way of the action, and then the family shed their coats before approaching the nets. Mr. Hunt shook several hands with people already there, as a good many of the players welcomed Christian, making him feel better with being amongst them. He even recognized two girls from school, one of whom he and Cole shared classes with.

Game-play began almost immediately, with everyone divided into teams. The younger kids were whisked off to the far corner of the gymnasium floor, where a smaller net had been set up for them to enjoy, and Patrick wasted no time jumping and carrying on with his friends. Both Christian and Cole ended up the adults and were selected for the same squad, but Cole's father was placed on the opposing team - something that amused Cole to no end. Mrs. Hunt did not play, however, instead choosing to join several other ladies off to the side. It soon became apparent to Christian that their purpose was to cheer the players on, as well as share the local news and gossip.

The game-play progressed for almost two hours before halting, both sides having whetted their skills in all sorts of hilarious ways. The teenagers of the groups, both boys and girls, seemed to have an upper hand on the adults by being both nimble and quicker-reacting. Still, almost everyone experienced the occasional setbacks, missed plays, falls and other amusing antics - all of which added a lot of laughter and horseplay into the event. Once they had broken up, however, the groups found themselves hungry and thirsty, so they moved over to the tables which had their foods and refreshments prepared and waiting. In short order, everyone filled paper plates with various finger foods and sweets, before sitting down and enjoying a common fellowship with their friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

It was here that Christian saw something else interesting in his friend, as he and Cole sat among the others. Cole, it seemed, was not bashful being around the older generations at all, often contributing his own thoughts or remarks along the way as they chatted among themselves. In fact, he appeared to be as free with everyone in the party as he would be amongst teenagers his own age, something which struck Christian with an uncommon warmness. It was true that, in the past, he had only known his friend mostly through their interactions at school. Seeing this side, however, was both pleasing and saddening. Sad, because it made Christian realize that he didn't have that level of carefree confidence in himself. Maybe it would come someday, Christian thought, but thus far it had escaped him.

Eventually the group broke up, and after a short effort in which everyone helped clean and put the tables away, all departed with well wishes for the upcoming holiday and then headed home. It was closing in on half-past nine when the Hunts returned, and as they plodded into the house, the atmosphere had definitely changed to one of weariness. Climbing the stairs, the older teens returned to Cole's room, where they sat down in the floor and stretched out. Patrick had followed them and made it as far as the doorway, but had to turn back after being called by his mother. It appeared he was about to be subjected to taking a bath, and it was a task that did not particularly please him at the moment. As the boy slowly disappeared, Cole spoke up. "Usually Mom makes him go to bed right after he finishes with his bath," he explained, before sitting back silently and fishing out the controllers for the game system.

They were just beginning to play when Mr. Hunt appeared in the doorway, carrying not one, but two small bean bags with him. "Here, why don't you boys use these for the weekend, I think," he muttered, smiling as they each accepted and thanked him for his generosity. Cole set his against the wall atop the bed, then plopped down, patting the open space beside him. Following his host's lead, Christian then did the same with his own, setting them side-by-side and joining his best friend.

Some minutes later, Christian heard a noise coming from the hallway, and as he glanced back to the open door, he was surprised to see Patrick standing there watching them play, completely naked and oblivious to the other two. To his surprise, the younger boy walked in and over to Christian's side, pressing a button on the controller at one point, and then guiding the older boy's hand in an effort to get his on-screen character around a particular curve of track. He grinned widely when he saw his efforts were successful, before he then hopped up next to their guest and began giving short, quick tips on how to improve Christian's game-play. Cole, annoyed at the extra help his brother was giving, was about to tell him to leave, but another call from out in the hall saved him the trouble. Frowning, Patrick then scooted back to the floor and slowly exited the room.

"Wow," Christian whispered, before grinning and shaking his head. Cole glanced at him and then grunted.

"What? Him in his birthday suit?" When Christian nodded, Cole dropped his controller into his lap and sat back, putting his hands behind his head. "He trusts you, so no big deal, I think. You seriously haven't been around anyone at all then, have you? You know, guys and all?"

"Um, afraid not. Just, the guys in Phys Ed is all. In the locker room, I mean," Christian replied quietly, laying his controller down as well. The race was over, and a replay of the race he had just lost was being shown anyway. He turned to observe his friend. "Is that what you meant earlier, about you and Patrick being free around each other and stuff?"

Cole nodded. "I think it's kind of normal for us, yeah. Mom use to make him take baths with me, but meh, not so much lately. I've also been in the showers with some guys at school, too."

"Yeah, but that's different, isn't it? With Patrick, he's your little brother and all, and well, I mean, you play on the basketball team and everything, right?" Christian asked.

"Well, yeah, but... meh. I guess it is different, in its own way," Cole replied. "Not all the guys take showers after practice or the games, but some of us do."

Christian became thoughtful as he lay back into the bean bag. "Do you think I can ask you something, without you, like, getting weirded out at me or anything?"

Cole laughed. "You're still afraid you're going to screw something up, aren't you?" When he saw his friend blush, he rolled over so he could face his friend. "You can ask me anything you want, Chris. I promise, I won't think you're being weird."

Christian smiled, and although he did hesitate, there was an air of warmth and openness in his friend that appealed to him. "Well, what's it like, showering with the other guys and all? Do you, like, point at each other and goof around, or tease each other or anything? You know..." He glanced to make sure no one was in the open door, and then subtly pointed to his groin.

Cole giggled before becoming thoughtful. "I don't know, maybe we did the first couple of times we did it. Eventually though, I don't think anyone thinks much about it anymore. I mean, as far as being in there naked, everyone gets to see you, and see that you're no different than they are, really. And then, you get to do the same thing back. You know, you get to see them and find out they aren't any different than you are. But everyone is different in some way or another, you know that. Like, some of us have more hairs than others, or are bigger, or... just things like that."

"So," Christian started, but hesitated before continuing. "You don't get teased or anything? What about, like, does anyone get boners, or...?"

Cole nodded. "We all get them, Chris. Not all the time, mind you, but we do - and, I don't know, maybe sometimes we might make a joke, but it's not like being mean or nasty about it. It's like, uh, 'who's the hot date tonight?', or 'where's the nude beach at?' ... you know, goofy stuff like that."

"Oh," Christian mused, falling quiet and obviously thinking.

Cole waited a moment, and when the silence continued, he decided to push forward. "Go on, I know you want to ask something else... I can see it on your face." When his friend blushed and looked away, Cole giggled again. "Listen, I promise, you can ask me anything you want, and I will not laugh or disown you or anything. I swear."

Christian also giggled quietly. "It's okay, I'm just... thinking, that's all."

"No shit, Sherlock!" Cole mused, but before he could say anything else, a voice interrupted them coming from the hallway. "Pat- Patrick! Come back here! Cole, catch him!"

The next instant, Patrick came streaking back into the room again, naked as before but this time wet, giggling at the fact he had slipped away from his mother. Seeing Cole roll and get up off the bed, however, caused the boy to turn quickly and head back through the door. Cole grinned down at Christian and held a finger up. "Hang on a minute, I'll be right back!"

Christian then watched in amusement as his host hurriedly left the room and, luckily within only mere seconds, caught his brother quickly. Patrick squealed and laughed as he was carried back toward the bathroom. Passing the open door again, Christian saw the younger brother twisting and squirming half-heartedly in an attempt to get away, but to no avail as Cole had a firm grip on the body he held in his arms. A moment later, the teenager returned with another big grin as he shut the door behind him. "Not the first time, believe me," he muttered as he plopped back down on the beanbag beside his friend again. "Now, where were we? Oh yeah, I was trying to get you to talk to me without being afraid."

Christian blushed yet again. "I'm not afraid to talk with you, Cole..."

"Bullshit!" Cole scoffed. When he saw his friend begin to blush even deeper though, he decided to change things up. "Listen, Chris. I'm going to offer something just for you, okay? So, listen up and think about it." When he was sure he had his friend's attention, his voice lowered. "Tonight, until we go to sleep, I promise you on my heart that you can talk to me about anything, ask anything you want, all of it. I don't care if it's about guys or girls, about sex or wieners or..." He stopped as he saw Christian begin to blush again, and it made him giggle. "I'm serious dude, lighten up. I will not hide anything from you, and I will tell you anything and everything I know. There's only on one condition though: you have to do the same for me."

"What do you mean?" Christian asked quietly.

"I mean, if you ask me stuff, you have to let me ask you stuff, too. No holding back." When Cole saw a look of doubt surface, he sat back. "We don't have to, man. I'm just... I'm offering, okay?" An awkward silence followed, before he leaned in again. "Look, Patrick's going to be out of the tub in a minute, so we can get our shower. Just think about it is all. It's not meant to make you feel weird or anything, but... yeah, just don't be afraid, that's all." When his friend nodded, he let out a sigh of relief before standing up. Moving over to his dresser, he opened a drawer. "Do you, uh, need any more clothes or anything? For tonight?"

Christian was glad for the change of subject just then. "Um, no, I brought some pajama bottoms and a t-shirt with me."

Cole looked up just then. "Undies?" When he saw his friend blush again, he rolled his eyes. "Stop that, will ya? Your whole head is going to turn into a tomato if you don't!" When he heard his friend laugh at that point, Cole relaxed. Pulling a pair of briefs from the drawer, he tossed them to his friend. "There... I promise there's no spunk or anything waiting in them."

Christian laughed then. "Shit!" the boy whispered in a rare display of colorful language. It made Cole grin as he moved up in front of the boy.

"Just... lighten up, man. Come on, it's just me and you tonight, okay?" Cole offered quietly.

"Okay, okay!" came the soft reply as the teen laughed again. Shaking his head, Christian added, "You're something else, Cole. You know that?"

"What? Meh... nothing more than just you're average, neighborhood spider-boy is all," Cole retorted good naturedly. Turning with his garments in hand, he suddenly stopped and glanced back. "Seriously, okay? I'll be back in a few minutes. You can even come into the bathroom with me if you want, so you don't have to stay out here all by yourself. I'm mostly just going to rinse off anyway."

Christian was once again taken by complete surprise. "Wha-? Are you serious?" Without waiting for an answer, he started giggling again and shaking his head. "I admit, you had me there for a second. You promised you wouldn't tease me though, remember?" he whispered.

Cole raised both of his eyebrows. "Who said I was teasing?" Seeing the incredulous look again that followed, he grinned sheepishly. "Seriously, I wouldn't care if you did. Like I said, lighten up a little, bro. It's just us. Understand?"

Christian studied his host carefully, but then relented, smiling weakly. "I'm trying, Cole. I'll be alright though, I promise."

Cole nodded. "Sure you don't want to join me? I meant what I said, I wouldn't care."

"It's okay. I wouldn't want your Mom or anyone thinking the wrong thing," Christian replied, looking away and still blushing, but not as much as before.

Cole hesitated, but then nodded. "Suit yourself. I doubt they would even know about it, but okay." With that, he left the room and closed the door behind him, leaving Christian alone.

Ten minutes later, Cole stepped from the tub. As predicted, he had simply stripped and entered the shower after Patrick and his mother vacated the room. Rinsing off quickly, he exited and began toweling himself dry. The entire episode from the bedroom replayed in his mind, leaving him feeling weird. Despite the blushes surrounding the 'talk' as they had, he sensed something else wasn't quite right. Cole had assumed initially it was all about the sex, but now he wasn't so sure. He tried to imagine living in Christian's shoes, and then realized that, perhaps, certain topics might not come easily between his friend and his grandparents, or others. Cole didn't think anything of it, but then he started thinking about something he said earlier that day, about how everyone traveled their own roads and all. As much alike as they were, their friendship was still separated by their own road. Cole was the athlete, or at least trying to be, while Christian was... what? Certainly not friendless, but... something very different. It was then Cole saw it. Between himself, his cousins, and what innuendo he heard while participating at school and in the showers, Cole was perfectly fine with talking about sex and things. Christian didn't have that, though.

Cole had no reservation with his friend though. He liked him, immensely. Getting Christian to realize it, however, was another thing. Cole had made it pretty plain there was nothing off limits, but what else could he do to make his friend realize his sincerity? He started to wonder if he could have been wrong, too. Maybe there was only so far that he could go to make his friend understand how he felt. Maybe he had already pushed too far, or too hard. That thought started depressing him. Cole assumed he and Christian were at least tighter in their friendship together, but suddenly he worried that he might have been wrong. Just as quickly though, he threw that out. They were tight, and close. If that's all I have to worry about, then you can give me a titty twister later. Besides, Cole had invited him to spend the night, and he would never forget the look he saw upon his friend's face that day. Whatever was out of place now, Cole knew it had to be something else, and that was when he really began to worry. The more he worried, the quicker he moved to pull his clothes on and get out of there so he could return to his room.

Upon entering, however, Cole had to pull up short. There, still on the bed but sitting up, was his best friend with his face buried in his hands. As Cole approached, he saw a large area of wetness underneath on Christian's t-shirt, and when he looked up, Cole saw his eyes were red along with cheeks that were streaked from recent tears. Just as suddenly, his guest turned his face away in shame, just as Cole maneuvered in front of him. "What is it, buddy? What's wrong?" The words only made more tears fall freely across Christian's cheeks, and it was then Cole climbed onto the bed and moved to his friend's side. "Come on, Chris," Cole whispered, trusting his own voice not to break with the panic he felt. He pushed the extra beanbag aside and scooted up close. "Don't cry, man. Believe me, there is nothing worth it. Whatever I said or did, I'm sorry, honest."

"Y-you didn't d-do anything, Cole, I promise." The words were spoken barely above a whisper, and were followed by the teen wiping at his eyes with both hands. "I, I'm... I'm just being stupid, that's all." He cleared his throat, and then looked around for his backpack. Seeing it, he reached to take it, but Cole intercepted and sat it down on the floor.

"Now you've really got to talk to me, and don't lie. Tell me the truth, what's going on? What's wrong?" Cole sensed a fear welling up in his friend, so he draped an arm around his shoulder in an effort to sooth him. "Seriously man, don't you trust me?"

Just then, Christian turned sharply and gazed deeply into his friend's eyes. "Don't you know, already? There isn't anyone, anywhere, that I trust more than I trust you!" Closing his eyes briefly, he sighed deeply. "It's... It's all because of that though, Cole. That's why. I- I've been an ass about it, and... I'm trying, it's just, I'm scared, and..."

Cole sat there, just as confused as ever, but marveling at the revelation that had just been made. "Well, then... if you trust me, talk to me. Help me understand what's going on, and what you're so scared of, okay?" The two sat there for a moment, with an eerie silence that followed. It was in that moment that a though occurred to Cole. "Hey, tell me something, do you think I don't feel the same with you, or something like that? Is that it? You know you're my best friend, right? Of course, I trust you, and a whole lot more!"

Christian suddenly scoffed, looking away. "Don't lie, Cole. You said we had to tell the truth, remember? You've got all your friends on the basketball team, at church, and... and..."

"Yeah, I do have some friends," Cole said quickly, cutting his friend off. "Mostly just guys I hang out with some, yeah... but Chris, they aren't you. Seriously, they aren't the kind of people I could, like, pour my heart out to or anything. They aren't the kind of friends I can let get inside me." When Christian slowly turned back, Cole could see he had struck a chord in some way, making him smile. "It's true. You're someone that I CAN do that with, you know? That's why I said you're my best friend. I really, really mean it."

Christian was surprised, and it showed, but he was also on his guard. "Why?" he whispered.

Cole thought for a few seconds, already understanding what he was being asked. This was new territory for himself, but he already knew the answer. "Because, I just do. I mean, you're here tonight, you know? I've had a couple of cousins stay with us before, but you're really the first friend I've ever invited. To tell the truth man, you're the first that I've ever WANTED to invite. I'm not lying about that, either. You're someone I can talk to, and who will know and understand me - maybe even better than I do myself sometimes, especially on the inside."

Christian frowned. "But... but I don't, I mean... I'm not, like, all sporty and stuff, not like you are, and popular, or..."

"So what? Do you think I give a fuck about that?" Cole answered sincerely, and his friend saw and felt that he meant it. "I'm not Mr. Popular, Chris. Leave that up for Matt Robinson or some of them, okay? I'm not in that group, trust me." He sighed. "As for you, I like you for being just who you are, and believe me, that means a lot. Remember your poem you read today? I'm one of those who really likes you for just being you."


Cole sighed and nodded. "Of course! You're not the only one who has feelings, you know!" He paused before he spoke again. "Chris, can I maybe ask you something, for a change?" When his friend nodded, Cole looked deep into the blue eyes that met him. "Do you believe me when I tell you that I trust you? I mean, do you really understand?"

Christian was surprised by the question. "I.. I guess so, I mean..."

Cole then turned and stood up. "Come on then," he whispered, extending his hand out. When his guest hesitated, the teen leaned in closer. "Come on, I'm going to prove it to you. You don't have to do anything but just follow me, that's all."

Intrigued, Christian allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Cole held onto the hand, not letting go as they both approached the door. "First of all, Patrick's room is next door. Do me a favor and go in there with me, okay? If he's awake, let's give him a hug or something, just so he knows he's not being ignored or anything. It might sound strange, but it's something I usually do anyway before he goes to sleep. Believe me, it'll go a long way in letting you and me have some privacy to ourselves tonight, okay?"

"Um, okay," Christian answered, before allowing himself to be led into the hallway and then to younger boy's room. Although the lights were off, there was sufficient enough light from the hallway that allowed them to easily make out the figure on the smaller, twin-sized bed.

Upon their entry, Patrick suddenly sat up, but Cole quickly held a finger to his lips to hush the boy. As they drew near, he whispered, "Shh! Don't let Mom know we're in here, or she'll be hollering at all of us!"

"But... I don't want to go to sleep yet!" the younger boy pouted quietly, before he suddenly yawned.

Christian understood and then moved around his friend, before sitting down next to the younger brother. Glancing around briefly, he was glad the room was subtly dark just then, so that the boy could not see that he had been crying. They faced one another briefly before Christian reached out and took hold of the four-year-old, cradling him in his arms and hugging the boy close. "We'll do some stuff tomorrow, okay? I'm not leaving until way up in the afternoon," he offered softly. "Besides, I want to play some with you, too."

"Really? Promise?" was the whispered replied, but as he pulled back, one look between them and both boys knew it was one promise that would be kept. As Patrick relented, he lay back down, but not before whispering. "Night Christian, night Cole. Love you guys!"

Cole smiled. "Love you too, squirt, now go to sleep." With that, he tapped his guest on the shoulder and then led him back into the hallway, closing the door behind him. "You have no idea what that probably meant for him," he whispered, before crossing the short distance to the head of the stairs and turning out the hall light. The space around them plunged into semi-darkness, with only the lamp from Cole's room lighting the area.

As Christian looked about, he saw a third bedroom in the corner with its door opened, but no one inside. "Um, where are your Mom and Dad at?" he whispered quietly.

"Their bedroom is downstairs. We're pretty much on our own up here for the rest of the night," Cole replied, before turning again and grasping his guest by the hand. He then coaxed him toward the bathroom, where they entered and shut the door before them. A dimmed night light shone over the sink, enough to illuminate the room around them as Cole turned and faced his best friend again. "Now, don't be scared, okay? No fear. You trust me, right? Well, I trust you, too. Maybe this will prove it to you. At least, I hope it will."

With that statement, Cole peeled his t-shirt off and laid it atop a nearby hamper. Before Christian had time to process what was happening, however, Cole also quickly shucked his sweats, pulling both the garment and his underwear down simultaneously and stepping out of them. As he stood there naked, Christian gaped in astonishment. "Wha-" he started, but Cole quickly raised and placed a finger upon his lips.

"Shh..." It was all that needed to be said, and its warning was all Christian needed. Cole could tell he had surprised his friend to no end, and it made him smile. He also saw Christian looking over him over with no pretense of shyness. It made Cole almost giggle, thinking about the first time he had taken a shower with his teammates. Instead though, the teen reached around and turned the shower on for the second time that evening.

"But... you- you already showered tonight, didn't you?" Christian whispered, still in awe.

"So? I can do this again, especially for you," Cole whispered back, making his point. "Don't you see? Getting in the showers with other guys, it's not always this easy, I promise. But when it's with someone you know and trust, well... get it? I know you, and I trust you, completely." With those simple statements, the teen then turned his back to his friend and faced the shower before stepping in. He didn't bother to pull the curtain closed or anything, instead choosing to step up into the spray.

Christian snapped out of his trance then as he watched with still a veil of disbelief. His eyes never left the other teen, and seeing the opened shower curtain made him realize something else. An understanding suddenly swept over him, and it brought about an idea that suddenly made him spring into action. It was so outrageous that, though taboo to most people in the world, he honestly didn't care. His friend had made the invitation, and done it in a way that made Christian realize the statement being made. Lest he lose his nerve, he glanced quickly to make sure the door was not only shut but locked, before he nervously peeled his shirt off and away. Stepping on each foot in turn, he pulled his socks free and then hooked his thumbs inside the waist of both his sweatpants and his thread-worn briefs. Here the teen hesitated slightly, thinking he had already come this far once earlier that evening. Taking a deep breath though, he didn't hesitate any further. Cole had done this for him, why shouldn't he feel free enough to do the same in return? If it was wrong, he'd deal with the consequences later, but somehow he doubted he'd have to worry about that. In all honesty, it just seemed to feel right, and the more that dwelled inside, the happier he felt. Pushing down, he dropped the garments away and stood just as naked as his friend. With another deep breath, he then approached and stepped into the tub.

Cole sensed his presence almost immediately, and leaned back before opening his eyes. He saw someone smiling nervously at him in return, so he reached out and pulled Christian up close, all the while steadying themselves in the small tub. "I was hoping you would do this," he whispered, eliciting another surprised look from his friend. "Because, bro. Just because, okay? Not everything has to have a reason, you know? Just, don't try and over-think this stuff. Go with the flow, okay? I'm just glad you did, that's all. I'm not going to hurt you, or tease you. Besides, if I did, you'd have every right to kick me in the balls, you know? I mean, I'm just as naked as you are, and I'm not afraid."

Christian observed his friend in a new light as he relaxed. "I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't make fun of you for all the money in the world. In fact..." Leaning in close, he whispered. "Can I do something, just one thing, right now, before I chicken out? Please? At least, just once?"

Cole smiled. "Sure, what is it?" he asked.

Even though they were naked, even though there were probably a hundred taboos they were breaking in the course of just being boys, Christian didn't care. He leaned in and threaded his arms around his friend's torso and pulled them together, hugging him closely. Cole did not resist or hesitate, but instead hooked his own arms around the teen, keeping the intimacy alive while their chests and midsections found and snuggled up close. Each laid his head into the other's shoulder, and when Christian found not only the lack of resistance, but the hug being returned, he began rubbing Cole's back and keeping him close. "This is what I was afraid of most, Cole. I was afraid you'd kill me," he whispered.

Cole could have teased him, but decided the moment wasn't to be denied. "Are you kidding? I told you, you're the only one I can let inside with me like this, remember? If I feel like that, then this is nothing, bro. I swear, scouts' honor."

Christian giggled. "You're not a scout, so you can't swear like that," he replied amusedly, but then pulled back slightly. "Okay, you let me inside, and I've let you inside me, too. That says something, I think."

Cole giggled, but then closed the shower curtain before slipping up close again. Taking his friend back in his arms, he whispered. "That? Like I said, that's nothing, Chris. What is something though, is that our dicks are all boned up, trying to make out with each other while we hug."

"I know," Christian whispered back, relaxed in the arms holding him. "Do you care?" he whispered.

"What do you think?" Cole replied, suddenly grinding their groins together. "It kind of feels good, if you want the truth," he whispered. They could each feel the other completely, but neither backed away. It was an intimate moment, certainly like nothing either had experienced before. There they remained, until Cole sighed and finally let go, backing away. "Come on, doofus, you won't have much hot water left if you don't at least rinse off now." Christian smiled, then stepped under the spray.

Shortly afterwards, Cole turned the water off and stepped out. Grabbing another towel from the closet, he then helped his best friend out of the tub. As Christian started to reach, Cole smacked his hand away and told him quietly to turn around and spread his arms and legs. Giggling, Christian complied and then got a rather special treatment for the first time in his life, at least since he was a toddler. Cole dried his friend from head to foot and front to back, including his groin and the extensive boner that was still there. Once completed, Cole quickly dried himself off for a second time. Christian had been too surprised to offer any assistance, but he did turn around and watch. It didn't matter in the end, because once done, Cole picked up all the various clothes and opened the door, before peeking out into the hallway. Finding the coast was clear, he grasped his friend's hand again and quickly pulled, leading them both still naked into the hall and back into his bedroom. Christian had hesitated, but the daring dash produced a giggle from him as he watched their door close.

Cole grinned and tossed the clothes aside. Looking about, he found the fresh pair of briefs he had given his friend earlier. Holding them out, he heard Christian giggle. "I know how to dress myself, Cole!"

"So? Let me have a little fun for once," came the hissed reply, so Christian stepped up. All thoughts of modesty had long been pushed aside by then. When Cole had successfully pulled them up, Christian pulled a pair from the clothes they brought back with them before turning to his host. Nothing was said as Cole grinned and offered first one, and then the other leg to his friend, reciprocating their play. As Christian began looking for his t-shirt, Cole stopped him. "So, are you, like, cold or anything?"

"Um, not really. I mean, maybe a little chilled since we got out of the shower and all, but it's not bad or anything. Why?"

Instead of answering, Cole pulled the t-shirt from his friend's grasp and tossed it back onto the pile. Seeing the curiosity, he then grasped his friend's hand again and pulled him to the head of the bed. "Good. Come here, then," he coaxed, pulling the covers back and climbing in, leading his friend in beside him. Pulling the covers up, Cole then arranged a single pillow for them both to share, and lay back on his half. When Christian replicated the effort, he smiled. "Now, this is kind of nice, isn't it?"

Christian smiled. "And how," he replied. "Is this how we're going to sleep tonight?" he asked, although shyly. When Cole nodded in reply, the teen grinned and lay back even further. He waited a moment and then spoke again. "So, can I still ask you some stuff?"

Cole giggled. "I promised you could, remember?"

"Is that what it's like? When you showered with the other guys?"

"Hell no, doofus! Are you kidding me?" Cole teased, before whispering. "Sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded and all. Remember, though? I told you, you're the only one I let inside me. With those guys, it's just like jumping in and, you know, cleaning up really quick and all after you've played a hard game, or had a hard practice or something."

"Oh..." Christian smiled. "So, do guys really have, like, differences and stuff, down there I mean?"

"Yeah, in different ways though. I mean, like I said, some are bigger than others, some with or with hair and such. Some have big balls, or at least, they hang down a lot and all," Cole explained. "Some have small butts, others not so much... Is that what you're asking?"

Christian nodded, this time without blushing. "Kind of, yeah."

"It was hard, the first time I did it. I mean, I had a boner, and was afraid and everything," Cole went on. "But... the others were doing it, and I didn't want to chicken out, so... It was okay afterwards, but it was still kind of hard doing it my first time."

"Still... you did that for me, kind of, and you didn't seem weirded out or anything." It was a statement, and it was not lost on Cole.

"So? I'd do it a hundred times again, if you wanted me to. I told you bro, I'm not afraid of you. With or without clothes," Cole asked with a hint of amusement, as he reached over and bumped his friend on his arm. "Tonight, it was just more because, well, you know."

Christian scooted a little closer. "Okay, I believe you. I would too, Cole. I'm not afraid of you, either. Honest."

"Good," Cole whispered in reply. Before either said anything more, he reached over and finished pulling his best friend up close, so that they lay against one another. "I don't know about you, but I kind of like this. Being close and all, I mean. It keeps us warm, and... it just feels good."

Christian was surprised. "You... I, I mean... wow."

"What?" the teen asked innocently.

"I... when you let me do it in the shower, hug you I mean, even though we were, you know, naked and everything, it was like..." Christian stopped and then just sighed deeply. "Thanks, man. For everything, tonight. I mean, I don't know what to say or do anymore, it's been... it's just been so awesome and all, holding you like I did. It's like a dream almost, except... this one came true."

Cole smiled. "All because I got naked with you? Or because of what we did for each other?"

Christian blushed. "I- I don't know that I ever dreamed about THAT part, but... okay, I'll be honest. You told me I couldn't lie, right? I've wanted to give you a hug for a long, long time."

"How come?" Cole asked. "I mean, why didn't you?"

"I don't know, really. I guess I just, you know, thought the jock in you might come out, that's all," was the whispered reply. "I was afraid you'd be weirded out and everything."

Cole thought about that for a moment, but then nodded. "Don't be afraid, though. I like hugs, really. I mean, maybe not in school so much, if we can help it, but... you know what I mean." Christian grinned but nodded, so Cole relaxed against the pillow again. They were close again, their noses only inches apart. "So, tell me, what DO you dream about?" He saw the hesitation again, but also noticed the goofy grin that came to his friend's face. "Come on," he whispered. "We promised each other, right?"

Christian smiled but closed his eyes. "I don't dream about a lot of stuff, Cole. When I do though, it's usually goofy crap and all."


"I don't know, just... stuff," was the whispered reply.

"Do you like, dream about girls, or...?" Cole coaxed.

Christian giggled. "Sometimes, but not like getting naked or anything. Maybe kissing, but..."

"Same for me," Cole confessed, surprising his friend. "What, we're not all that different, you know!"

"Yeah, maybe," Christian admitted, but then sighed. "Cole, you're my best friend, and... and... I love you, you know? Not like a gay love or anything, just..."

"You don't have to explain, bro. I understand, really." Cole reached out and laid his arm across his friend's side. "It's not gay to care for each other, and I do care about you, you know. You're my best friend, too." He saw Christian smile at him, but in the silence that followed, he could tell the cog-wheels were turning. "What are you thinking about now?"

Christian rolled onto his back, but scooted up next to his friend. "I don't know... Just, when we were in the shower, and... were close, and our - you know, our things were touching and all... I wondered if that was kind of being gay and all."

"Why?" Cole asked quietly.

"Well, because they touched, and... and..." Christian paused. "Well, like you said, to me it felt kind of good, too." He blushed again, but did not turn away.

Cole smiled widely again before leaning in and whispering into his friend's ear. "Oh yeah, it was kind of awesome."

"Really?" Christian asked, surprised.

"Yep," was the coy reply. "It even does now some, too." Indeed, Christian could feel his friend by his side, and a certain little, or big in this case, thing poking and rubbing up the side of his leg.

"I'm glad you didn't shove me away or anything," Christian replied.

"Hush," Cole spoke softly. "I didn't care, Chris. Honest." He smiled. "Do you regret it?"

For the second time that night, Cole heard his friend use an expletive. "Oh, fuck no! No way!" Christian immediately blushed afterwards, though.

"Good, you had me worried for a sec." Cole saw his friend smile, so he went on. "You want to know something? I love you too, bro, so there. If I can tell you that, then..." He left the rest of the sentence unsaid.

Christian turned his head so he could face his friend again. "Thanks. Thanks for everything. It means a lot to me, you know. I don't think I could ever have had a better Christmas present than tonight. Well, that and my hug."

Cole smiled. "You liked that, didn't you? Well, I'm glad we did it too, honest."

Christian smiled, then settled in tighter. "You know, I still can't believe it, really. I'm still trying to figure out how it all happened."

Cole giggled. "It happened because I wanted to prove something to you, remember?" Seeing his friend smile again, Cole rested his head on Christian's shoulder. "You know, I was going to give you one before you went home, anyway."


"You told me once that you thought you could never get what you really wanted for Christmas, remember? I kind of thought, well, maybe that was it. Because, in a way, it was something you thought you could never get or have from somebody except your Grandparents."

"You remember THAT?" Christian hissed in surprise. "Jeez, I told you that when, like, a year ago?"

Cole nodded. "Yep. Was I right?" When his friend didn't respond, Cole went on. "I've watched you all year long, Chris, and then tonight, I felt something inside. When you held Patrick so close and everything, and then earlier, when you found your way to trust me when we were changing clothes and all. I just... I kind of knew."

Christian suddenly choked up, but fought to maintain control of his emotions. Cole could see it, however. "Don't hide from me Chris, it's cool, I promise. I just wanted you to know that I really do understand. You feel alone sometimes, and... and I understand, bro."

It was several seconds before his guest could respond. "Thanks." Following a big sigh, Christian smiled once again. "You know, I'm glad you call me that. It kind of makes me feel like I've really got a brother here, lying next to me and holding me and all."

"Well, we are brothers, kind of. I mean, maybe not blood brothers, but I think I could adopt you and feel for you like I do Patrick," Cole replied. He rested his head on his friend's shoulder again. "You know, you surprised me tonight, too."

"What do you mean?" Christian asked.

"Well, it wasn't until you got in the shower and hugged me, that I realized I needed this, too." Cole paused, before lowering his voice to a whisper again. "So, how about it? Do you think we can hug some more? Please?"

With a whimper and a sigh, Christian launched himself, rolling and pulling, scooting and closing the distance between them until every inch of both once again clung to the other, heart to heart and chest to chest. "Even if our dicks make out some more?" he whispered, smiling and wiggling his butt.

"ESPECIALLY if they make out some more," Cole whispered back, giggling. "This night isn't over yet, bro." To emphasize that fact, he moved his leg on top and used it to mash their groins together again.

Christian moved in and rubbed noses with his friend. "You know something? I think you were right. You're what I needed for Christmas, Cole. More than wanted, but really needed. God, I love you, you goof-ball!" Christian leaned back. "Maybe I can give you something back for Christmas, too."

"You already are giving me something, Chris," Cole whispered. When he saw the questioning look that met him, he giggled. In answer, he reached down and grabbed both their waistbands. He didn't pull on them though, until he saw Christian's smile.

"Go ahead," his friend whispered, so Cole pulled their briefs off together. Then as they hugged close together again, Christian sighed, closing his eyes. "It feels... it feels, I don't know..."

"Awesome, yeah," Cole whispered back.

Other Works by This Wanna-Be Author
Terry and Sam (Co-authored with Ruwen Rouhs) - Short Story, Original (Dec 2008)
When Shadows Pass - Full Story, Original/Incomplete (Nov 2011), Revised and Completed (Oct 2018)
The Bully and the Bullied - Full Story, Original (2008), Revised (Dec 2018)
One Autumn Weekend - Short Story, Original (Feb 2010)
My Road of Life's Discoveries - Full Story, Original (June, 2008); (Revised) 2019
Scars Above My Heart - Full Story, Original (October, 2019)
What I Needed For Christmas - Short Story, Original (December, 2019)