Chapter Fifteen

Black Christmas

"Tell me again what happened," Tyler said when I told him about the blow up between Leo and Thad from the night before. We were on the phone and it was just hours before I was due at work.

"Well from what I understand Noah was talking to Thad about what it was like to be gay where he came from or something," I said, playing with the phone cord. "For some reason, Noah kissed Thad and Leo caught them. Leo went nuts, of course. Noah flew out of the house like his ass was on fire, and now Leo and Thad aren't speaking."

"So Noah kissed Thad," said Tyler slowly. "Did Thad kiss back?"

"He says he was too surprised to do anything," I replied.

"Well then why is Leo mad at Thad?"

"You know Leo has a little problem with homosexuality," I reminded him. "This probably just tipped the scales in his mind a bit."

"Poor guy," he said.

"Yeah," I sighed. "But listen I've got to get ready for work. You have fun with your family and don't kill your sister."

"I'll try," he laughed. "Have a good day at work."

"Later," I said.

"Sooner," he replied.

I got off the phone and headed straight to the shower. Greg and Thad were both already at work. Leo was waiting for me to relieve him. I was glad that I wasn't going to have to be around for any more of the tense moments between Leo and Thad. Noah had all but backed up Thad's version of what had happened, but Leo still wouldn't talk to Thad. I wasn't in the mood for that sort of thing so being at work for the closing shift wasn't such a bad thing.

Twenty minutes later, showered and dressed I headed out the door. I found Noah sitting on the porch. He looked sad, so I sat down beside him and put my arm around him. None of this was really his fault. He was just a confused kid with raging hormones. Thad and Leo were being idiots.

"Hey, Noah," I said softly. "How's it going?"

"Not so good," he said. "My brother treats me like I have the plague."

"Leo will calm down," I said. "If he doesn't soon then I'll talk sense to him."

"Thad won't talk to me either," he said.

"Well Thad is a different story," I explained. "You spooked him. Noah, you can't go around kissing people without their permission."

"I just want to know what it felt like," he said miserably.

"I understand," I replied. "I really do. Thad will be all right. He just needs some time to calm down about it. Leo's attitude isn't helping him though."

"Why is Leo so mad at Thad?" he asked, looking up at me. "I mean I'm the one who kissed Thad. It wasn't the other way around."

"And Leo knows that," I said. "He'll get over himself eventually."

"Will you talk to him?" he asked hopefully.

"I will," I said, looking at my watch. "But right now I have to get to work and relieve him. If I don't he'll be mad about something else. You gonna hang around?"

"No," he said quietly. "I'm going to help Thomas with his art today."

"Well you have fun," I said. "I'll see you later."

"Ok," he said as I hopped in my car.

Half way across town I got the shock of my life. I passed a bus stop. It was one of those brown shelter stops with plexiglas walls and a tin roof. What shocked me was the person standing there waiting for a bus. The first thing I noticed was the cast on his right arm. My stomach began to quiver as I looked at him. I even slowed down a bit to get a good look. Standing there was Jason Cox!

He was supposed to still be in prison for assaulting me in high school. What was he doing waiting for a bus? I didn't stop to confirm that it was him. I kept on going. I was a bit shaken but I thought about it long and hard. By the time I reached DH3 I was sure that it had to have been someone who looked like Jason. Jason was still in prison. I was sure that they would have warned me if he'd been released. Wasn't that the way it worked?

I tried my best to just put it out of my mind when I got to work. Leo was in a huff as soon as he saw me. I had half a mind to tell him off about his antics right then and there. Luckily for him there were customers in the place. I had to console myself with glaring at him.

"There are three tables who haven't paid," he said tersely when I got behind the counter. "That couple by the window have paid, but they may want another round."

"Thanks," I said simply. "Let me clock in and then you can get out of here."

"Fine," he said, turning to go back to the tip jar.

I just sighed and walked away. There was a note for me taped to my time card and I sighed as I read all about Drake's unhappiness with Leo's current attitude. That was just another thing I had to talk to him about. He was really screwing things up for himself. If he didn't stop his antics soon he'd be out of a job. Then I was sure the room mates would demand that he move out. I didn't want that to happen.

"Can I talk to you for a minute before you go, Leo?" I asked as I came back out from the store room.

"Yes, but I'd really like to leave," he said. "Let me clock out."

"I'll wait for you," I said for lack of anything nicer to say.

I was really getting angry with him. He had to know that he was being an ass about everything. I mean, what the hell was he mad at me for? It wasn't like I was the one who suggested that we leave Noah with Thad the night before. I hadn't done a damned thing to him.

"Look," he said as he came back out of the store room. "If this is about Thad and Noah . . ."

"This is about you," I said, cutting him off. "Have a seat, Leo."

"Fine," he huffed, walking around the counter and sitting on a stool in front of me.

"First I want to warn you about this," I said, handing him the note. I gave him a few seconds to look it over. "Drake is not happy with the way you've been acting at work. I got you this job, Leo, because I thought you needed it. If you don't need it then quit. Don't walk around here acting like a sour ass if you want this job or Drake will fire you."

"Is that it?" he asked hotly.

"No that's not it," I snapped, and then took a deep breath. "Leo, you have got to stop walking around acting all pissed off all the time. I know that you're upset about what happened between Noah and Thad, but get over it. You're treating the rest of us like it was our fault. If you remember correctly I wasn't the one who decided to leave Noah with Thad to begin with."

"I never said you were," he said.

"No, but you've been biting my head off every time I talk to you, and I want it to stop," I said. "Greg said you snapped at him this morning when he offered you juice. Leo we won't put up with that."

"Fine I'll be nicer to everyone," he snapped again.

"Whatever," I sighed. "I've given you your warnings. You'll either get your head out of your ass and be a human again or you'll suffer the consequences."

"I'll see you at home," he said, getting off his stool.

"And talk to your brother," I snapped. "He's actually under the assumption that you care about him."

I watched him walk out of the coffee shop while holding my breath. I couldn't believe how quickly he'd gotten under my skin. I honestly wanted to be his friend but he had the damned way of making it difficult for me. If he didn't change soon I wasn't sure how much longer I would be able to make excuses for his behavior.

The afternoon wore on with little business. Classes weren't in session so I had no studying to do. I hadn't brought a text with me. This made the day drag on. For once I was actually glad that it was taking forever. I wasn't in the mood for more of Leo's attitude so that meant as long as I was at work I was safe. I waited until I was down to one customer sitting at a table in the corner, reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee to start washing mugs and glasses. I was nearly finished when I heard the bell over the door jingle. I didn't even turn around. I figured whoever it was would come to the counter.

"Hey, dork," said a familiar voice. I nearly dropped the mug I was washing as I turned around to face Ben.

"Spaz!" I cried excitedly. "When did you get home?"

"About a half hour ago," he replied. "I had to answer a million questions after I dropped Wendy at her house. Then I beat my ass over here to see you."

"God it's good to see you," I said, rushing around the counter so I could crush him in a hug. To hell with the customer watching with wide eyes.

"It's good to see you, too," he chuckled, clutching me just as tight as I clutched him. "So what's been going on that you haven't told me in your letters, twerp?"

"Oh loads," I said, letting go of him. "Coffee?"

"Sure, mocha," he said with his signature grin.

"Well I'm sure you'll be surprised to learn that Leo is being a world class ass lately," I said.

"Yeah, my mom told me about Noah and Thad," he laughed. "Bet that burned Leo's ass good."

"Your mom knows about the kiss?"

"Of course she does," he laughed. "Do you think there's anything that happens in that neighborhood that my mom doesn't find out about?"

"Well no," I chuckled. "I can't believe you're here."

"Yeah, I thought the drive back would kill me," he said. "Wendy wanted to stop everywhere to grab something."

"Sounds like my partner in crime," I laughed.

We talked about everything we could think of while I took a break now and then to wait on customers. Before I knew it the last customer of the day was paying his bill and it was time to lock the door and clean up. It went fast with Ben helping. We talked about different things the whole time. I clocked out and we agreed to meet at my house. The drive home took no time and then I was parking in the driveway with Ben pulling in behind me. Wendy was sitting on the porch when we got there.

"Freak!" she cried, hopping to her feet and running over to wrap her arms around me as I got out of my car.

"Hey Wonder Woman!" I cried, holding her tight. "I missed you like crazy!"

"Oh God did I miss you," she said before kissing me on the cheek.

"Come on in the house," I said. "I want you to meet the gang."

"I've seen Leo," she said. "He didn't seem exactly overjoyed to see me though."

"Yeah, he's being a mega ass right now," I said. "Don't worry though, we'll lock him in his room if he doesn't play nice."

We got inside and I introduced my best friends to Greg and Thad. We all sat around the dining room table talking about school and old times. Greg and Thad got a huge kick out of the way that Ben and I bantered back and forth. Wendy declared them both hunks and that had me and Ben laughing like crazy. Before they left for the night I made them promise to have dinner with us on Friday, and I promised that I would be the one doing the cooking that night.

The next day I had to meet with Vince, Andy and the rest of the Storyville University GSA to help put the final plans for the annual Christmas Party together. The party was going to be held in the gymnasium. Maria got Wendy and a few of her friends to help with decorations. All of the students that were still in town and were a part of the GSA had all said they'd be there. My household was included on that list as well as Ian. Brian had said that he'd try to get that night off and be there, too. Wendy and Ben both said they wouldn't miss it for the world. I was shocked when even Leo said that he'd come to the party.

I'd noticed that day that he'd been acting a bit better. He and Thad were still not speaking but at least Leo was making an effort to be nice to everyone. I was happy about that. I just hoped that he was acting better while he was at work. He'd opened that day and I had the closing shift once again, so I hoped he was on his best behavior. Drake was there with him.

When I got home from my meeting Nick was sitting in my dining room talking to Greg and Thad. I was both happy to see him and nervous as hell. He smiled weakly at me as I came in the door and I walked over and gave him a hug. It felt awkward but I decided that I wasn't going to treat him any differently.

"It's good to see you, Tommy," he said when I let go of him.

"It's great to see you, Nick," I said, sitting down beside him. "How was school?"

"Not very good," he sighed. "I've decided to transfer to Storyville and come home."

"Well it'll be nice to have you around again," I said with a smile.

"Thanks," he said. "I think it'll be nice to be home."

It didn't take a genius to figure out that there was tension between us. Greg and Thad both made excuses to leave the house after that. I was thankful because I really needed to have that talk with Nick. He fidgeted with the place mat on the table in front of him until they were gone.

"So how are you really?" I asked once the side door was shit with my room mates safely on the other side of it.

"Miserable," he sighed. "I've been thinking about noting but you since I left."

"I've been thinking a lot about you, too, Nick," I said.

"Tommy, I don't want you to think that anything has to change between us," he said. "I hope that it doesn't. That kiss was just . . ."

"Don't play it off, Nick," I said. "Let's be honest with each other. We've never had any trouble telling each other anything in the past. Let's not start now."

"Ok," he sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "The truth is that I wanted to kiss you the day I saw you for the first time. When you got hit by that ball I really hadn't seen you standing in the yard. But when I was standing over you it was like my stomach was on fire. I couldn't believe how good looking you were. It drove me crazy for weeks. Then we got into that argument about me reading your email and I wanted to tell you about me so bad but I couldn't. I hadn't even told Steve."

"Are you trying to tell me that you're gay?"

"Hell I don't know what I am anymore," he said. "I'm not gay. I know that. I like girls just fine. It's just that I like you too. I can't explain it because I don't understand it either. I've never been attracted to any other guy in my life, Tommy. To be honest sometimes you scare the hell out of me."

"Nick . . ."

"No," he said, cutting me off. "Let me get this off my chest, Tommy. What I'm telling you is that sometimes I think I'm in love with you. I know I'm not really in love with you. But sometimes I think I could be. I love you like a brother, Tommy. I just had a moment of weakness when I was about to leave. I'd been drinking and I just couldn't stand it anymore. It started to get worse when you and Steve broke up. As long as you two were together you were his guy, you know? Then he hurt you and I hated him for it.

"It was eating me up how I felt about you all that time, Tommy. Then he went and did what he did. It was like I could have everything I wanted all of a sudden. I just didn't know how to tell you about it. I had all of these feelings and I couldn't sort them out. I just did what I'd wanted to do the first day I saw you. I came over here and kissed you."

We were both silent for a while after that. I didn't really understand everything that he'd said but I knew one thing: I wanted to stay friends. There was no way that I could reciprocate his feelings of romantic love, but I loved him just as much as he loved me in the brotherly sense. I didn't want that to end.

"I don't know what to say to that, Nick," I admitted after a moment. "I just know that I love you like a brother. I hated thinking that something was happening to our friendship that might end it. I'm happy that you're staying home. I missed you like crazy, but I can't return your feelings of romantic love."

"I'm not in love with you," he said quickly. "Tommy, I don't know how to explain this. I really don't. I love you, yes. But I don't love you that way. I just need to sort out what I do feel and who I am."

"So where do we go from here as friends?" I asked.

"Hopefully our friendship won't change," he said. "I guess that depends on you."

"Well as far as I'm concerned it hasn't changed," I said, hoping to God that I could really keep from feeling strange about our friendship after this.

"Good," he sighed. "I was hoping you would say that. It's getting late so I'd better get next door. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"I'll be home from work around three," I said.

I watched him walk out the door and sighed. That had been one strange conversation and my head was swimming because of it. I got up and went upstairs to shower and clear my head. There was no point in dwelling on it. I just needed to see if our friendship could stay the way it had always been. I hoped it would. That was the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep.

For the rest of the week things were great between Nick and me. Ben and I were nearly inseparable again. Wendy was with us a lot but I had work and she was helping Maria set up the gym at the university for the party. That was all anyone could talk about as the night grew closer. The party was going to be held on Christmas Eve and we had three days to go.

I spent the days when I wasn't at work shopping for presents for everyone. Wendy accompanied me more often than not and things were like they used to be with us. We had a blast shopping and even managed to buy something for everyone. On Christmas Eve morning our tree was up with all of the presents under it. I still didn't understand why Greg and Thad didn't want to go home for Christmas. I didn't press either of them about it though. I wanted this Christmas to be a happy one.

We had lunch together and I didn't even have to bite my tongue where Leo was concerned. He and Noah had come to a truce where the kissing of Thad was concerned. He and Thad were at least being civil to one another again. I was happy about that and decided that I couldn't ask for more at that point. Leo was an enigma in his own right and I would never understand him.

Brian wasn't able to get the night off so Ian was going to ride to the party with me and Nick. We were three excited guys as we drove to the university. The parking lot was full of cars when we got there and we could hear the music from the lot. Ian wasn't happy about Brian having to work but I promised him we'd do our best to keep him occupied.

The gym was decorated like a winter wonderland. Fake snow had been sprayed on just about everything. Tables were set up at one end of the gym with white plastic table cloths. Pine cones and pine garland were put together in interesting patterns to make the center pieces with candles in the center. We chose a table and then went to find out friends.

We found Dustin and Phillip at the refreshment table talking to Charlie and Vince. We each hugged each other and wished each other Merry Christmas. We wandered around looking for Ben and Wendy. I finally found them kissing under the mistletoe. I laughed silently when I saw them, but I left them to it. I actually felt a little left out with Tyler in Canada. We'd talked for two hours that morning, but I still wished he was there with me.

Maria found us as we sat down at our table. She looked beautiful in her long emerald velvet gown. The dress code for the party was formal and she looked like a queen with her hair pulled up. There were little green gems in her hair as well.

"Tommy you look great," she said, looking me up and down when I stood to hug her. I was dressed in a black tux with a red tie. I hated to wear them, but it was a formal party.

"Thank you," I said, hugging her. "So do you."

"Guys if you'll excuse me I'm going to have a word with the DJ," said Ian as he got up from the table.

We smiled at him but didn't say anything. Maria started asking Nick about school as Ben and Wendy made their way over to our table talking about the presents lined up on the table near the DJ. Maria explained that they were just small things that would work as presents for either sex. We laughed about it for a few minutes.

Then there was a bright light. We all stopped laughing and looked over at the DJ's table. I know that I expected it to be a light show, but the loud explosion that followed the light changed my happy excitement to terror. The entire gym shook. I was thrown off my feet and then everything went dark.

Storyville 3