So many of you wrote to support me at this time of year, I wanted to do something for all of you. I hadn't intended to post this chapter yet, but it's complete - as far as it goes.
I hope each of you has a Merry Christmas, even those who are of a different faith. New Year's Eve is but a week away, and everyone can celebrate that. And yes, I know I goofed again on the chapter title in fifteen. I format my own HTML, and was distracted during the process.
Once again, this is a work of fiction involving a young teenage boy and an older man. It's a story of love and devotion, not a recitation of gratuitous sex. The characters are all figments of my imagination. None are real people, although minor players in the story are based on experiences I have had, and may reflect my bias.
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Thanksgiving started early in the week for Eric and I. I had invited all of the people closest to us to join in the celebration at the estate. Dennis and his boys had to regretfully decline the invitation because of his work schedule. For several years, he had been willing to work on holidays instead of those on his staff who had families. He had petitioned his supervisors to close the store for the holiday, but was denied. They insisted it remain open despite the fact that payroll far exceeded receipts for the day.
John had accepted for himself and Billy. Neither of them could "cook" more than a frozen dinner, and both were happy to avoid the restaurant crush.
Norman and his daughter, Judy, had also accepted - mainly because Judy wanted to see Billy again. George, his wife, Betty, and fourteen year old twins Butch (George Jr.), and Liz, were overjoyed to have an excuse not to attend a family reunion in Los Angeles. Dixie was thrilled to be invited, and said he would be there "with bells on." I wasn't sure but that he meant it literally, but didn't comment.
That made fourteen at the table, and I bought two fifteen pound fresh, natural turkeys rather than one huge one. Big birds make an impressive presentation, but they tend to dry out during the eight or nine hours it takes to cook them. I had two commercial sized ovens, and I decided I might as well use them.
Eric and I had developed a wonderful working relationship in the kitchen. He was an avid student, and after almost a year only needed occasional instructions. I would often start to ask him to do a chore, and find he had already done it. I couldn't have asked for a better assistant chef if he had been trained in a haute cuisine restaurant.
With a natural turkey, it's necessary to pull pin feathers, and we spent most of Monday afternoon performing that distasteful chore. We each did a bird, and then switched to check the other's efforts. I also taught Eric how to draw the tendons from the drumsticks - something most cooks don't do, but the simple chore makes the legs easier to gnaw on. Finally, I called the job "done", and put the birds in the fridge after wrapping them loosely with butcher's paper.
Tuesday morning, Eric started to make hors d'oeuvre, which he artfully placed on platters and covered with Saran wrap. I smiled as I thought of how much he enjoyed doing this tedious task. Each time he created a new taste combination, he would try it, and either make more of the same, or make a face and wordlessly try something different.
Meanwhile, I diced up the vegetables for the stuffing: onions, carrots, red and green peppers, and celery. I put each of them in a separate container, and stored them in the fridge. Then I set the giblets and necks from both birds on the stove to simmer in canned chicken broth with some chopped onion, carrots, celery, some fresh parsley, and two small bay leaves..
Tuesday afternoon, we brined the birds. My two biggest stock pots were placed on the island, and the turkeys put into them with a brining solution of Kosher Salt and sugar dissolved in our fresh, un-chlorinated well water. I also added a quarter cup of cider vinegar to it since there wasn't room in the fridge for both big pots. The salt and the vinegar would prevent any bacteria from gaining a foothold while the turkeys soaked overnight.
Eric made the cranberry sauce, and poured it into fluted molds. He was better at it than I. His firmed up nicely, while mine usually came out a somewhat soupy mess. I asked him how he did that, and he said "I added a package of plain gelatin to each mold." I was zapped by my own student.
Wednesday afternoon, we took the turkeys out of the brine, and drained them. I wrapped them in butcher's paper after rubbing them all over with vegetable oil, and put them in the fridge. We made two big "Green Bean Casseroles" so they would be ready to nuke in the microwave. I peeled and cooked the yams, and got them ready for the same treatment just before dinner was served. Eric spent his time kneading the dough for the dinner rolls. He had insisted I let him try it on his own, and I agreed.
While his dough was rising in the warming drawer, he made and rolled out some pie crusts, and baked them off. Following a recipe in one of my cookbooks, he made a pumpkin custard, and then poured it into the prepared crusts. He smiled at me as he closed the oven door on them. "I hope they turn out OK," he said.
I smiled back at him and said, "I'm sure they will. You put just the right amount of love into them."
While Eric punched down his dinner roll dough, kneaded it, and rolled it into little balls - putting three into each hole in the buttered muffin tins - I made some mincemeat according to my grandmother's recipe. The base was a very good commercially prepared brand, but the things she had added made it superior - finely chopped (not ground) fresh beef suet and tangy apples, crushed walnut meats, raisins soaked in Calvados for several hours, candied citron and currants, and a large dollop of Meyer's Dark Rum. To this unlikely potpourri I added the spices; cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves, black pepper, and just a bit of cardamom. This mixture would relax in the fridge over night so that all the flavors could get a chance to know and embrace each other. I would bake the pies for an hour and a half in a slow oven before the turkeys went in.
Thanksgiving Day dawned foggy, but cleared by ten. By that time, the mince pies were already cooling, and the well stuffed turkeys were cooking nicely. Eric and I had eaten a light breakfast of toast and coffee after our routine workout, and putting the mince pies in the oven. I had sauteed the stuffing vegetables, and added some raw mushrooms and oysters. After the mixture had cooled somewhat, we stuffed and trussed the birds and waited for the pies to finish. After the birds were in the oven, there was little more to do because we had prepared so thoroughly. I boiled a bit of water, and added two large packages of frozen peas with pearl onions to it. I left them slightly undercooked so that they wouldn't get mushy when I reheated them just before serving time.
Our guests began to arrive a little after noon. Dixie stopped at the gatehouse to socialize with Carl, but John and Billy drove on up to the house where Eric greeted them with his usual happy demeanor. As a host, he was unparalleled. He tended to every need a guest might desire, making sure the hors d'oeuvre were in copious supply, and the glasses filled with whatever the individual was drinking. George and his family arrived just before one, and Norman wasn't far behind him. Judy took Billy aside, and they began to talk quietly. John watched them with a somewhat sad expression on his face. I asked him what was happening. He said, "He's growing up."
"We can't prevent that," I told him.
"Oh, I know," he said with some exasperation. "He's going to make a fine man, but I don't think he is gay. I hate myself for it, but I'm going to miss him when he marries."
"Empty nest syndrome," I stated with a smile.
"I guess," he said. "It's going to be awfully hard to learn to live alone again."
"You'll manage," I said. "You always have."
I let Eric take care of the guests, while I finished the few chores in the kitchen. When the turkeys came out of the oven, I raised the temperature, and put Eric's dinner rolls in. As the turkeys rested, I zapped the casseroles and the yams, finished the peas, and put out the shrimp cocktails. As soon as the rolls came out of the oven, I went into the family room and announced that "Dinner is served." Eric led everyone to the table, and seated them .
Eric remained standing at the foot of the table, and said. "Welcome to our home. I have something I'd like to say."
He hadn't said anything to me about this, and I was as much on the dark as any one.
He launched in to a speech he had obviously rehearsed. "Today is a day of Thanksgiving." I noticed he put the emphasis on the first syllable. "I have a lot of thanks to give," he continued. Less than a year ago, I was destitute, cold, hungry, and without hope. Today, I have more than I ever dreamt of. I have love and plenty. Anyone who doesn't believe that there is a God only has to talk to me. He led to me ask Bob for help. I didn't expect anything more than a hot meal and a warm corner to sleep in - if that. God has blessed me with a home, the opportunity for an education, a respected place in society, and most of all, a new Dad who loves me. That's what I give thanks for today."
Eric sat down, and everyone was stunned by his earnest sincerity. Then Josh stood and said, "Last Christmas I lost the person I believed to be the only one who would ever truly love me. I had no reason to live, and thought of ways to end it all. Today, I realize I was wrong. My new Mom and Dad love me more than anyone ever has, and I have everything I ever wanted - except Jeremy." He wiped a tear from his eyes. "I will always love him, but I think he's happy for me. Maybe he's the one who asked God to find a place for me. Someday when my life is done, I'll see him again, and he'll introduce me to all the other angels who help him watch over me." He sat quietly, and wiped his eyes again.
By this time, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Billy stood and said, "I'm thankful for John, who took me in when nobody else wanted me after my parents were killed. My uncles and aunts couldn't be bothered, but John not only took me in, he adopted me, and made sure I knew I was loved in spite of the hate I had for a God who took my life and turned it inside out. I loved my parents, but today I know that God took them so that I could have the experiences John has given me. I'm a better person for it, and I hope to follow in his footsteps. I'm thankful that I have been accepted at Harvard Law School as soon as I finish pre-law at Willamette University."
This was a bombshell that caused a smattering of applause and congratulations for Billy. John sat quietly with a big smile on his face. He had known about the appointment, but was proud that Billy had given everyone the news in this manner. It was also bittersweet for him. Billy commuted to Willamette. Harvard was a continent away.
I stood and said, "A year ago I was a rich man with a dream and an empty house. Today, that dream is realized, and my house has become a home filled with love. It seems like the transgressions of my youth were in a former life," I paused, "but they happened in this lifetime. I am thankful to God that he gave me the means and opportunity to make amends for some of the terrible damage I caused when I was young.. I give thanks for Eric too. He is the light of my life." I paused, and than said more brightly, "And, I give thanks for good friends who trust me enough to eat the food we've cooked. Let's eat."
A cheer of sorts went up, and everyone dug into the shrimp cocktail in front of them. Eric and I retired to the kitchen, and like a finely tuned machine, got the meal on the table in record time. Eric carved a turkey at the foot of the table, and I carved one at the head. Every now and again, I would look up and see this fine young man as an adult with his own family around him as he bantered easily with Butch and Liz on one side, and George and Betty on the other - shifting gears seamlessly from one to the other. I was painfully aware of my own mortality, and silently prayed he would find a fine man or woman his own age to fill his needs after I was gone.
I watched Billy, rapt in awe with the possibility that he could be loved by a woman such as Judy, and knew that eventually, John too, would be alone.
Josh was animated and joined the conversation when invited, but sat next to Tom and across from Carl, and checked often that they had not disappeared. He had a long way to go before he was ready to go out on his own Come spring, I thought, Tom and I will have to talk Carl into letting him drive to his music lessons.
The turkeys had turned out perfectly - moist and tasty - and the food disappeared as if by magic. Eric and I cleared the decimated carcasses and empty serving dishes, and rolled the pies in on a cart with a huge bowl of whipped cream for those who wanted it. Eric's pumpkin pies had set nicely. He had resisted the temptation to leave them in the oven too long, so they were softly creamy and delicious. My grandmother's recipe turned out as it always did - fruity with just the right spiciness. Everyone had a small slice of each kind, and then retired to the family room where Eric and I provided coffee for the adults, and hot chocolate for the youngsters.
Teenagers being the dynamos they are, it wasn't long before they all followed Eric outdoors for a look at the lake. Billy and Judy followed along in the hope that they could find a place with just a bit more privacy. John excused himself, and went upstairs to lie down for a nap. The gathering started to break up soon after that. George went down to the lake to call his twins, and Eric and Josh came up with them. Billy and Judy straggled up the hill hand in hand a few minutes later. Thank yous and goodbyes were said, and the coast visitors headed down the drive for their trip home. It had been a very pleasant time.
Tom and Carl headed for the gatehouse with Josh between them, and Eric climbed the stairs to his room for a nap. Billy sat across the coffee table from me looking thoughtful.
"Can I talk to you?" he asked after a minute or two.
"Of course," I said. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he said, and after a long pause, "and everything."
I had no response for such a cryptic remark, so I waited patiently. He sat there gathering his thoughts, and finally said, "I think I might be straight." I nodded, and kept silent. +It'll hurt John, and that's the last thing I want to do," He continued. "I guess you know John and I have been lovers almost since the first day I started living with him. It's been great, but now I'm getting feelings toward Judy."
"There's nothing wrong with that," I said. "The bottom line is that you have to be true to yourself. Your love for John hasn't flown out the window. It has just changed to a different kind of love."
"I don't know how to tell him," he sobbed.
"John has watched you grow for what, four years now? Five? You're a grown man with your own agenda. Don't you think he knows you well enough to see the subtle changes in you? In your lovemaking?"
He turned pale. "He knows?"
"If things are as you've said, I'm sure he at least suspects," I said. "I think you owe it to him to tell him like the honest man I know you to be."
"I was kind of hoping you'd tell him for me," he said shyly.
"I could do that," I said, "but I won't. This is something you have do yourself - for yourself, and for John too. It's not the time to be a coward."
"I guess you're right. That would be the coward's way out."
"Billy, there is no way John will stop loving you. You are as much a part of him as if you were his own flesh and blood."
"Where is he?" he asked.
"Upstairs taking a nap. That tryptophan in turkey affects us older folks more than you kids," I chuckled.
He smiled and said, "Thanks Bob. You've helped a lot."
"You've helped me too," I said. "There may come a time when I face the same problem with Eric. I was watching him with Liz this afternoon, and I think he felt something stirring for her. At least he seems to be expanding his horizons. They were very 'touchy-feely' down by the boathouse."
"You mean he's Bi?"
"I don't know, nor will I even discuss it with him unless he brings it up. He's in his experimentation phase, and I intend to allow him all the latitude he needs to make his own decisions. Regardless of how he chooses, I'll support his choice."
Billy thanked me again, and went upstairs to lie down. I thought, John may need some support later this evening. I closed my eyes, and nodded off.
I woke about an hour later with Eric sitting on my lap with his head on my shoulder. For a moment, I thought he was asleep, but he noticed I was awake and said, "I love you."
My heart swelled. I hadn't heard those words in a while, and although I knew he did, it was nice to hear the affirmation. "I love you too," I said.
We sat there quietly for a while before he said, "I think I like Liz."
I didn't really know where he was going with this, so I gave him a noncommital reply, "She's a nice girl."
"You don't understand," he said. "I think I'd like to do things with her, and she acts like she wants to too."
I smiled and said, "If that happens, I think it's great, but you have a lot to learn about women before you can be sure what one wants. I don't know a lot about them, but one thing I do know is that they are all flirts."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Females are genetically incapable of the truth," I said, "particularly in matters of the heart." I looked at him, and added, "At least that's been my experience."
His eyes told me he was confused. "But she kissed me," he said in wonder.
"I know," I said. "I saw you down by the boathouse. I noticed you kissed her back, too." I chuckled a bit to let him know I wasn't angry.
He was horrified. "Did her father see us too?" he asked.
"I don't know," I said, "but I doubt he would have been surprised. She's a very desirable young lady, and has likely done it before."
"Butch told me she never saw a boy she didn't like," he said sadly.
"I wouldn't worry about that," I said. "In another year or so, she'll become a lot more selective. If she doesn't, she'll get a reputation of being 'easy,' and that's something no teen wants - especially a girl."
"I popped a woody when she kissed me," he said. "Why did that happen?"
"You were thinking about sex, and what might happen if you were alone with her," I said. "It's not a new phenomenon. It's happened before - even before you had ever experienced an orgasm."
He looked thoughtful and asked, "Does that mean I want to have sex with her?"
"I don't know," I said. "That's something you have to decide for yourself. One thing I do know; you shouldn't try to analyze your every thought and feeling. If it happens, it happens. You are a very attractive young man, and will have many opportunities to experience all sorts of things because of it. Just keep your wits about you, and don't let the head between your legs do the thinking for you. It has no reasoning power, and will get you into trouble if you allow it to control your behavior."
"Yeah," he said. "I guess you know what you're talking about. From what you've told me, that's what got you into prison."
"I'm glad you understand that," I said. "That's not the only trouble sex can cause. There are diseases out there that can ruin your life - or even end it - if you're not careful."
He hugged me and said, "You're not mad that maybe I like girls?"
"Of course not," I said. "That's a decision you have to make for yourself, and if I remember correctly, we had this conversation last year. I told you then that you might be straight."
"I don't want anything to change," he said.
"That's one option you don't have," I told him. "Everything changes over time. For one thing, I won't always be around. I'm nearing the end of my time here on earth, and I want to give you the tools you need before I leave."
"Are you going to die?" he asked with tears beginning to form.
"Of course," I said, "but not today or any time soon - at least I hope not. There is a lot I want to do before that time comes. I just want you to realize it's going to happen - maybe next year, maybe in ten years. I don't know when, but it will happen. Dying is a part of life just as birth is. I hope I'm remembered for the good things I've done, and not the bad. God will be the One to determine when the books are balanced. I hope He allows me enough time to make amends."
We sat there just being close - each with his own thoughts until John and Billy came down the stairs. They appeared to have had a serious conversation too. I tried to lighten the somber mood and said, "Is anyone interested in a snack?"
John groaned, but Billy and Eric perked up at the mention of food. I slowly disentangled myself from Eric, and got up to fix them some supper. I felt like the Pied Piper as I led the way to the kitchen.
Well, there's sixteen. I know it's short, but I haven't been working on it as much. Comments are welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org