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  • Nancy

A Christmas Story

Updated: Dec 28, 2021






“Come on. Don’t you think it would be cool?”

“It’d be cold, cold, that’s what it’d be.”

Finn shook his head. “Snow ain’t no big deal. As long as you got a warm fire, you’ll be fine.”

“Snow ain’t no big deal,” mocked Teague. “This Cajun boy was not built for the cold. Ever hear of hypothermia?” He jammed the tip of his pocketknife under the window screen, jiggling the blade up and down until it was in far enough to give him some leverage.

“I’ll say it again,” replied Finn. “If you got a fire, you’ll be just fine.”

Teague pressed down on the handle, lifting the screen high enough for him to shove his finger tips underneath. With a triumphant smile, he removed the window screen and placed it against the wall at his feet. “And I’ll say it again,” he responded. “A warm ocean breeze, soft white sand and palm trees are way better than a cabin covered in snow on top of a mountain.”

“There’s food in the mountains.”

Teague chuckled. “There’s food in the ocean.”

Finn sighed.

“Tell you what,” offered Teague. “We can compromise. Mountains in the summer, beach in the winter.” He ran the blade of his knife between the top and bottom window panes, forcing the lock open. “I don’t know why you’re fantasizing about leaving. We got everything we could want right here in San Antonio.” He slid the window open and gestured for Finn to enter.

“Right, right,” agreed Finn, climbing through the window. “A tinderbox for a bedroom, a small army of feral cats and all the tourists we can rip off.” He spun around. “The real question is, why don't you wanna leave? Is it your girlfriend?”

Teague crawled through the window. “Don’t underestimate the power of sex. If you got laid every once in a while, you’d agree.” As soon as the words left this mouth, he regretted saying them.

Finn grunted and stalked away into the kitchen.

A large Christmas tree stood tall and bright in the corner of the cozy living room. A rainbow of lights flickered off and on, casting a multicolored glow along the walls and ceiling. The earthy scent of pine needles and cinnamon permeated the air. Holiday knick-knacks sat atop every surface, decorated here and there with shimmery garland, laced with multicolored lights.

A sense of nostalgia swept over Teague as he recalled Christmas as a child. It was a time of innocence and wonder; a time of magic and endless possibilities. His grandparents went all out every year for Christmas. Come to think of it, there wasn’t a single holiday they didn’t go all out for. His Maw Maw had a special recipe for every occasion. She loved to cook; this worked out great because the old man loved to eat. Truth be told, Teague loved her cooking too.

In the kitchen, Finn was busy rummaging through the refrigerator.

“You take a shower first,” said Teague. “I’ll load up the food and see what else we can use. I don’t wanna be here too long.”

Finn opened a jug of milk, popped the top and gulped down half the bottle. "Aight," he replied, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "But don't blame me if there's no hot water when it's your turn." He sauntered down the hallway, whistling.

Alone in the kitchen, Teague scrutinized the contents of the cabinets and drawers, collecting food and anything else that would be of use. Matches, toothpicks, a lighter and duct tape, he stuffed these items into the pack, along with cans of soup and pre-made pasta.

In the bathroom off the hall, he found cold medicine, toothpaste, dental floss, various pain medicine and band aids. They would have enough medical supplies for a while. He studied his reflection in the mirror, scrubbing his hand over the patchy blond sprigs of facial hair along his chin, wondering when an actual beard would grow. His Paw Paw died before Teague hit puberty and he never knew his father. He had no frame of reference for those sorts of things.

Finn poked his head in the door, fresh out of the shower, his dark hair dripping wet, the clean scent of soap filled the air. “It’s all yours,” he said.

Teague relinquished the pack, and walked down the hall to the master bedroom. Considering the size of the house, the bedroom was rather large. Photos of smiling children sat atop the dressers and nightstands; some of them lying face down. He shook his head and stood them upright. Finn just couldn’t leave family photos alone.

Atop the dresser, sat an ornate wooden jewelry box. He flipped open the lid to explore the contents. So much costume jewelry, the gaudy type that older women like to wear. Rings so big, they covered half the finger and necklaces so chunky they could knock someone out if used as a weapon. Teague moved those aside uncovering a long, thin box. This looked promising. He flipped open the lid, exposing a shiny bracelet of gold encrusted with tiny diamonds. This would be a perfect gift for Maddie. He closed the small box and stuffed it into his pocket, then slammed the lid to the wooden box. After a cursory check of the drawers, he decided there was nothing else of value. He sauntered into the bathroom and turned on the hot water.

Wiping his hair with a towel, Teague stepped into the hall and followed the sound of the television into the living room, where he found Finn lounging on the sofa. Feet up, hair still damp, stuffing his face with sugar cookies, he stared at the large screen across the room.

“Catching up on your shows?” quipped Teague as he plopped down on the sofa and grabbed himself a cookie. It was nice to sit and relax in a clean environment. He wondered if they would ever have a proper home of their own. Sometimes it was hard not to envy people who were living regular lives in cozy houses. He glanced up at the clock. “We should head out soon. I don’t wanna be here when the family gets back.”

The desire to stay and hang out for a while was strong but they had to leave before the homeowners returned. After a thorough clean up, making sure everything was in its place, they crawled out the window, cut through the backyard, then out onto the street. All around them, the neighborhood was quiet, not a person in sight. A slight chill hung heavy in the air, making it feel more like Christmas Eve. Another year was drawing to a close. It was amazing how quickly time passed. It had only been a year and a half since he met Finn under the Lamar Bridge in Austin. So much had changed since then—most of it for the better. For one thing, Finn was much taller and stronger—though still quite thin. No longer the traumatized kid, he smiled and laughed often. With each passing day, he moved further away from his nightmare past. A brighter future lay ahead. Of course, there was the problem of Finn’s night terrors. Teague could hardly count how many times he was startled awake by Finn screaming or sleepwalking in a state of panic. At first, terrifying, he quickly learned how to handle them and keep Finn safe. The seizures, on the other hand, were an entirely different story.

Finn wasn't the only one who benefited from their chance meeting, Teague's entire outlook on life had changed. Prior to that night, he lived on the streets for two years, alone, cold and hungry most of the time. He learned the hard way not to trust people; far too many of them were only out to use, manipulate, or harm. He didn’t think there was anything good in the world; certainly nothing good for him. That night, under the bridge, he decided that the following day would be his last. At peace with his decision, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep—then Finn appeared, forever altering every aspect of his life.

“There’s gonna be a lot of tourists down at the Riverwalk tonight,” said Finn.

Teague nodded. “We’re meeting Maddie around ten.”

Finn grew sullen.

It was a mystery to Teague why Finn hated Maddie so. He wasn’t aware of any negative interactions, between them. Whatever the problem, both Finn and Maddie decided they didn’t like one another at all.

“Don’t be like that,” admonished Teague. “What is it with you and her, anyway?”

Finn did not respond. They walked the rest of the way in silence.

Back at the Blue House, they climbed the creaky steps leading to the back door. The dilapidated little building wasn't much, but it was their home. A ramshackle cottage, nestled in a quaint neighborhood of small houses and empty lots. When they first arrived in San Antonio, Finn and Teague had no other choice than to sleep under bridges and in alleyways. It was cold and wet and too exposed for Teague’s liking. That was when they took up staying in abandoned houses. Luckily for them, the small working-class neighborhoods around San Antonio had plenty to choose from. Six months ago, they stumbled upon the Blue House. Despite its name, the building wasn’t blue, they just imagined it would look good if it was painted a nice cool blue. It's actual color appeared to be white. At least, that was the color of the paint that remained; it was hard to tell after years of sun and weather beating down upon the decaying wood siding.

The people of the neighborhood either didn’t notice or simply ignored the two teens who took up residence among them, treating the duo with the same indifference they treated the pack of feral cats that also lived in the small house. As for the cats, Teague wasn’t sure how many there were. It was impossible to count them all. A few stuck out and made themselves known, but most of the others avoided the human interlopers.

Teague dropped the pack on the floor and pulled out a can of tuna. A half dozen cats circled around him, rubbing up on his legs and purring in anticipation as he opened the can and dumped the contents into a dirty bowl on the counter. As he walked back into the bedroom, the cats descended upon the free meal.

In the bedroom, Finn was busy sifting through a pile of clothes. He lifted a plain black t-shirt to his face and sniffed. “That’s yours.” He tossed it over to Teague.

“Really? How can you tell?” he sniffed.

“It smells like you.”

“And what exactly do I smell like?”

Finn shrugged. “Like you.”

“Yeah, that’s some circular shit right there,” replied Teague.

A black female cat strolled past the doorway carrying an enormous rat in her jaws. No doubt on her way to feed her latest litter of kittens in the other room.

“Looks like Sketchy caught dinner for the kids,” observed Finn.

Teague unpacked the food, stacking the cans against the wall with the rest of their collection. “At least she’s earning her keep,” he replied. “Any rodent I don’t have to deal with—” Out in the hallway, a scuffle erupted. A cat hissed and growled, the ruckus moved closer. Teague turned around in time to see a large rat scurry into the room, three of Sketchy’s kittens close on its tail. The rat ran beneath Finn’s sleeping bag.

“Oh, shit!” shouted Finn, as he lifted the bag in the air and shook it. The rodent tumbled to the floor with a heavy thud.

It hopped to its feet and tried to burrow into Teague's sleeping bag but he snatched it away, holding it above his head, leaving the rat exposed. The kittens surrounded their prey but were unable to do anything more than frighten the animal. From nowhere, Sketchy appeared, pouncing on the rat, breaking its neck with an audible snap. Head high, she pranced away, carrying her catch into the other room, her kittens following close behind.

“We need to stop feeding the cats,” stated Finn. “Some of ‘em aren’t earning their keep.”

Teague chuckled. “I think Sketchy brought that one back alive to teach her kittens.”

“She needs to stop that shit,” replied Finn. “Cause I don’t want to wake up with one of those things gnawing at my face.”

Teague shuddered at the thought. There was nothing they could do. The cats owned the home, they merely tolerated the humans. He grinned. “We’ll have to sit her down and have a chat tomorrow.” Finn scoffed. “I dare you to try.”

“Seriously,” joked Teague. “We’ll just start out all stern like.” He wagged his finger in the air. “Now listen here, young lady—”

Finn chuckled and tossed another shirt at Teague.


***


They arrived downtown as the sun disappeared from the sky. Overhead, pale blues gave way to darker blues turning to black. All around them, the city was a hive of activity. Tourists milled around on the sidewalks, bumping into one another, mumbling apologies.

Standing at a crosswalk, Teague sidled up behind a woman carrying a large red designer bag. Her purse wide open, wallet in plain sight, he waited for his opportunity. The crosswalk chimed and the throng of people moved into the road. As she stepped off the curb, he plucked the wallet, quickly stuffing it in his coat. Beside him, Finn snagged the wallet from her companion, a gray-haired man. As the crowd disbursed on the other side of the street, the duo took off down a back stairway leading to the Riverwalk.

Hidden under the shadow of an overpass, Teague popped open the wallet. “Who the hell carries a designer bag but has no money?”

“Is it empty?”

“May as well be.” He pulled out two ten-dollar bills and held them up.

Finn scoffed and opened his wallet. He fared a little better, though still not even close to what they hoped to score. He held up a twenty and a ten. “That makes fifty at least.”

“You boys best be stayin’ out of trouble,” warned a familiar voice from the shadows.

“How you doin’, Bo?” asked Finn.

A dark-skinned, white-haired man came near. He flashed a huge grin. “I can’t complain. Another year on this earth. All in all, I’m pretty good. I’m about to head on over to get me some food at the church. Y’all care to join me?”

Bo was one of the first denizens of the Riverwalk to make their acquaintance. Years of sleeping outdoors had taken its toll on the old man's body, he had a permanent stoop to his frame, and a pronounced limp. His tattered and worn army field coat was covered with multi colored patches covering holes. Teague knew little about Bo. He knew he was a veteran, and that he used to have a family, but years of alcohol abuse and PTSD had taken that all away. Teague shook his head. “We got plans.”

“Well then,” said the old man. “I’ll reiterate what I just said. You boys stay out of trouble.” He glanced down at the wallet in Finn’s hand. “And I’d get rid of that sooner than later. Officer Hernandez and his new partner are on patrol tonight. They came by over a half hour ago, which means they should be comin’ back through soon.” He turned to walk away.

“Hey, Bo!” called Finn.

The old man stopped and turned around.

“Merry Christmas.” Finn held out the money from the wallet. “Get yourself a burger or somethin’. That church food sucks.”

Bo smiled and took the cash. “You boys have yourselves a merry Christmas.” He disappeared into the darkness, calling out behind him. “Get rid of those wallets.”

Hoping for better luck, the duo made their way toward the restaurants and bars.

Bright lights twinkled overhead, Christmas music played over speakers, drowning out the sound of flowing water from the river. Riverboat guides navigated their crafts along the canal, pointing out locations of interest to their passengers, while revelers packed restaurant tables covered with dishes overflowing with delicious food. The noise of a hundred conversations taking place at once reverberated throughout the area, bouncing off the surrounding buildings. The savory aroma of fajitas on sizzling pans floated on the air, making Teague’s mouth water. His stomach rumbled.

A gaggle of men and women had gathered by a tree planter. From what Teague could hear, they were trying to figure out where they wanted to go for dinner. Christmas Eve on the Riverwalk meant that most of the restaurants were booked solid. Good luck getting in without reservations. He sauntered up behind one of the men as another mob of people passed through. The timing couldn’t have been better. The jostling of the crowd provided perfect cover for him as he swiped the man’s wallet, shoving it into his coat sleeve.

Grinning from ear to ear, he stepped away from the group, only to be stopped dead in his tracks when a heavy hand slammed down upon his shoulder.

“Now, what are you boys up to tonight?” asked a husky, sultry voice.

Teague turned around and smiled. “Hey Jesse,” he said, looking up at her.

Jesse released his shoulder and stepped back, straightening her apron. “Did we or did we not have a chat about you boys doin’ your thing in front of my restaurant?” She placed her hands on her hips and tapped her toe.

“We didn’t even notice this was your restaurant,” offered Finn.

“Uh, huh,” scoffed Jesse.

“Hey Jesse, Merry Christmas,” said Teague, attempting to change the subject.

“Merry Christmas, my ass,” she replied. “You know when you two do this shit near my restaurant, you’re stealing my tips.” Her hulking frame hovered over him. “I’m not saying you can’t do what you need to. All I ask is that you do it by someone else’s place of work.” She leaned back and grinned. “It's not cheap maintaining this gorgeous style. Do you have any idea how expensive size thirteen women’s shoes are?”

Jesse was one of the few people in the world they trusted. Having been homeless herself for several years, she understood the ins and outs of life on the streets. She kept her eye on the teens, always there to help or intervene when she could. Quick to scold when they did something wrong, but also ready to comfort when necessary. She was like the giant sister they never knew they wanted.

“We’re sorry,” said Teague. “We’ll head down the other way.”

Jesse gave them a once-over. “Have you eaten tonight?”

They shook their heads.

“Are you hungry?”

“Always,” replied Finn.

Jesse sighed. “Okay, come with me. I’ll have the kitchen whip something up for you.” She stepped away. “But after you eat, you don’t hang around in this area. Got it?”

A little over an hour later, they emerged back onto the walk, bellies full of enchiladas, tamales, and multiple bowls of chips and salsa.

“You boys stay warm tonight,” said Jesse. “And stay out of trouble.”

Finn flashed a wide grin. “Don’t we always?”

Jesse scoffed. Shaking her head, she walked back inside the restaurant.

“So, where to now?” asked Finn.

“We gotta go meet Maddie by the Hard Rock.”

Finn groaned.

“Don’t be like that,” admonished Teague. “Are you jealous?”

“I ain’t jealous,” blurted Finn. His jaw clenching.

Teague put his hands in the air. “Okay, okay.” He smiled. “Maddie and her brother are having a party. We’ll go there and hang out for a while, then leave. Deal?”

Finn nodded reluctantly.

***

“Close your eyes,” said Teague.

Maddie squealed with excitement. She giggled and closed her eyes.

He pulled out the bracelet box and placed it in her hand. "Okay, you can open them."

“Wow! You shouldn’t have,” she sighed, looking up at him with her big blue eyes. “But I didn’t get you anything.”

“No worries,” replied Teague. “You can make it up later.” He winked.

“What is it?” she asked. Her eyes sparkled in the glow of a thousand twinkling lights.

“You’re gonna have to open the box to find out.”

“Oh my god, you are so sweet!” She ran her fingers through her long, blonde hair. “Tell me what it is.”

Teague shook his head. “Open it and see for yourself.”

Maddie squealed again. She shook the box, listening to the contents jiggle around inside. “Hmm, it sounds like jewelry—”

“For the love of—Just open the damn box!” shouted Finn.

An angry look swept across Maddie’s face. “Don’t be such an asshole,” she snarled back.

“Mais la!” exclaimed Teague. “Finn, stay out of this. Maddie, open the box.”

Maddie stuck her tongue out at Finn.

“Real classy,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

“Okay, here goes,” she announced. With a final giggle, she lifted the lid. “Oh!” she gasped. She shoved the box at Teague. “Put it on me,” she demanded.

The bracelet sparkled in his hand. He wrapped it around her wrist and secured the clasp. It was a perfect fit.

Maddie moved her hand back and forth, admiring the beauty of the tiny diamonds in gold. She wrapped her arms around Teague’s neck, pulled him close and kissed him.

Something in the air shifted. Teague opened his eyes to see Finn walking away. He pulled away from Maddie and ran after him. “Where are you going?”

“Anywhere but here,” replied Finn.

Teague grabbed hold of his arm. “Hold up, we had an agreement. We go to the party for a while, then we leave.”

Finn shook his head. “I’m not really up for sitting around watching you two grope and grunt all over eachother.” He yanked his arm free.

“Teague, what is going on?” demanded Maddie, standing several feet away, hands on her hips.

“Hold on,” he snapped. He placed his hand on Finn’s arm. “Come on,” he pleaded. “Just for a bit. For me.”

“Teague!” shouted Maddie. She stomped her foot for emphasis.

Finn glanced over at Maddie, then back at Teague. He flashed a wicked smirk. “Your girlfriend is demanding your attention.”

“She can wait,” replied Teague. “I’m not going if you don’t come along.”

“So, if I refuse to go?”

Teague shook his head. “I won’t either.”

“Your girlfriend will hate you.”

Teague shrugged. “She’ll survive.”

“Didn’t you just give her an expensive bracelet?”

“I did. So?”

“That’s it!” shouted Maddie. “Teague, you have exactly one minute to come back here or I’m leaving.”

Finn smiled. “Count down’s started. Who are you gonna choose?”

“No choice at all.” Teague smirked. “I’ll say it again. I ain’t going unless you do.”

“Ten! Nine! Eight—” counted Maddie.

“Do you really want to go?” asked Finn.

Teague nodded. “I mean, I did just give her an expensive gift. She’s extremely grateful right now.” He grinned.

Finn sighed.

“Two and a half! Two and one quarter—”

“Alright, I’ll go,” said Finn. “But I’m only stayin’ for a couple hours.”

“Just a couple of hours,” replied Teague, realizing he had been holding Finn’s arm the entire time. He released his hold, and they walked back over to Maddie, who was in full pout mode.

“I thought he was leaving,” she demanded.

“He changed his mind,” replied Teague. “He’s coming with us.”

“Whatever,” said Maddie with a wave of her hand. “Just stay out of the way and don’t break anything.” She took hold of Teague’s hand and led him up the stairs.

The house sat in a neighborhood filled with expensive homes, each one more grand than the last, all sporting elaborate decorations for Christmas. As they strolled down the street, Maddie explained the home belonged to her cousin. Their family was in Mexico for the holidays, so they left Maddie and her brother in charge of the house.

Music blasted from speakers somewhere inside the home. Teague wondered if the neighbors minded all the noise. He glanced around, realizing that most of the other houses were hosting their own parties; it was a safe bet that none of the neighbors cared.

The pale stucco house was a grand affair with its four-car garage and large hand carved front door. Christmas lights glowed brightly, illuminating the driveway as if it were daylight. They walked through the huge wooden door, into a white marble tiled entry. The heavy beat of music thumped throughout his body. All around him, people lounged, some dancing, some standing in clusters, talking. How they could hear one another over the din was beyond him.

Maddie guided them to a table with a giant crystal punch bowl in the center. After pouring three cups, she held hers high. “Cheers!” she shouted, then tapped hers against Teague’s. She took a sip, then wrapped her arms around him, kissing his neck. “Let’s go upstairs,” she whispered in his ear.

Teague winked at Finn, who finished his drink, then poured himself another. He rolled his eyes and shook his head, then sat down on a sofa.

Once again, Maddie took Teague by the hand. She guided him through the mass of dancing bodies, up the grand staircase and into a bedroom.

***


The couple emerged from the room an hour later. The entire house was alive with raucous laughter, dancing bodies and a thumping beat.

Teague leaned over the railing, searching for Finn. He was not on the sofa. A surge of panic bubbled to the surface. He strode across the loft and peered down into the kitchen and family room. Relief washed over him when he saw Finn standing by a kitchen island. Obviously drunk, Finn struggled to stay upright, his body wavering back and forth, his eyes drooping. A group of men entered the room, gathering around the island. Finn tried to move out of their way only to stumble into one of them, causing the man to spill his drink all over his shirt.

Finn raised his hands in the air and spoke. Though Teague could not hear what was said, it appeared to be an apology. The big man would have none of it. Red faced and angry, he shoved Finn backward, right into one of his companions who promptly spilled his drink. The second man growled and shoved Finn.

From his vantage point, Teague could see that Finn was doing his best to avoid a confrontation. Because of his thin stature, it was easy to underestimate him. That was a fatal mistake that many people made. What the teen lacked in size, he made up for in speed and brutality. A viscous sneer spread across Finn's face, the corners of his mouth twitched. He tilted his head down and glared at the man in front of him. His fist shot out, striking the man in the throat. Exploiting the moment, Finn took hold of the man’s head and crashed it down onto the granite counter. Blood splattered on the people standing nearby. Someone screamed.

Slipping and sliding, Teague ran down the stairs. When he finally made it to the kitchen, two men were holding Finn while another stood before him, rolling up his sleeves. Teague tackled the man, crashing to the floor. A crowd of people gathered around. Sitting atop the man, he leveled two good blows to the face. It was too late to turn back. He may as well make the bastard feel some pain while he still could.

The music stopped, and the lights turned on. The crowd seperated, making way for five more men, one of them Maddie's brother. Two of them grabbed Teague and pulled him to his feet.

“What the hell?!” shouted Maddie. She pushed her way through the throng, coming to a halt in front of him. “What are you doing?”

“Your friends are assholes,” slurred Finn, still restrained.

Maddie spun around and glared at Finn. Whatever she was about to say, she decided it wasn’t worth it. She turned and stared at Teague, her face a combination of anger and sadness.

Teague flashed a wry grin and shrugged as best he could with two goons holding him tight.

“Get out!” she shouted, tears flowing from her eyes. “Take your loser friend and get the fuck out!” Without another word, she stormed off.

The men hauled the duo to the front door and shoved them outside into the cold night air.

“Well, that ended badly,” quipped Teague, standing at the edge of the driveway. His mood surprisingly light after a breakup. Drunk beyond all measure, Finn could barely stand on his own. Teague wrapped his arm around his waist. “Come on, let’s get you home,” he said.

“Home sounds good,” slurred Finn.

The walk back was a grueling, long haul. Finn was dead weight. As they slogged through the empty city streets, Finn rattled on and on about nonsensical things. He talked about road trips, leaving San Antonio and heading for points unknown. When Teague placed him down by a planter for a rest, Finn leaned so close to the flowers he fell into the bed face first. When he sat up, he rattled on about the smell of wild flowers in the mountains.

After all of that, Blue House was the most welcome sight of the evening. Teague was never so happy to see the decrepit old place. Just a few more yards. Exhaustion was setting in. As he climbed the stairs, his legs buckled, trying to prevent Finn from falling, he propped him up against the wall.

Too drunk to stand on his own, Finn fell forward, his head resting on Teague’s shoulder.

The warmth of Finn’s breath against his neck sent a shiver down Teague’s spine. He was keenly aware of Finn’s lips against his neck. Goosebumps formed on his arms, a rush of warmth spread throughout his body. Weak from the exertion of hauling Finn across the city, Teague struggled to get him to stand up, slamming his head against the wall.

“Oh shit, sorry.” He touched Finn’s head. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

Finn leaned into his hand, caressing Teague’s palm with his lips.

Teague’s pulse quickened. His mouth went dry.

Finn leaned closer, their lips touching just enough to ignite a fire in Teague’s belly that sent waves of heat throughout his entire body. He pressed his lips against Finn’s, reveling in the sensation as they kissed.

They pulled away from one another and stood in silence, hearts pounding, foreheads together, standing on the decrepit old porch. At that moment, Teague knew this was how it should be.

“Did that just happen?” mumbled Finn, swaying as he struggled to stay upright.

Teague nodded.

Finn’s body spasmed. He lurched forward, rushing past Teague, nearly toppling off the porch as he leaned over and vomited.

“That did a lot for my confidence,” said Teague, helping Finn to his feet. After a brief struggle, he managed to get Finn settled on his sleeping bag.

“I love you,” mumbled Finn.

Teague stared in stunned silence.

Finn rolled over on his side. “I think I always have.” He yawned. A moment later, he was fast asleep.

Sitting in the dark, listening to Finn’s steady breathing, a tempest of confusion whirled in Teague’s mind. Was this the right thing? What if it doesn’t work out? What would happen then? He didn’t want to lose his best friend, but he couldn’t deny his feelings for him. He raked his fingers through his hair and rubbed his head. Their entire world had turned upside down in less than one minute. He lay down, closed his eyes, and forced himself to sleep.


***

The sound of whimpering startled Teague from his slumber. The room was dark. Somewhere in the hall, a cat hissed and moaned. He reached over to feel for Finn—he was not there. Teague bolted upright. His heart raced in his chest. Finn was having another episode, and he wandered off somewhere. Cursing himself for sleeping through the initial phase, Teague climbed to his feet, turned on his flashlight, and searched the house.

Another whimper followed by a shuffling sound. Following the sound, he rounded the corner into the living room. Searching the darkness with his flashlight, the beam settled on Finn, curled up in a corner, arms wrapped tight around his knees, rocking back and forth.

Teague approached, kneeling down in front of Finn. “Hey buddy,” he whispered.

“It’s too dark!” shouted Finn, tears streaming down his face, eyes glassy in an eerie, unconscious stare. “I can’t find a way out.” He rocked back and forth, sobbing. “There’s no way out.”

“It’s okay,” said Teague. “I’m here, it’s okay.” He wrapped his arms around Finn and rocked with him until the sobbing ended.

When Finn calmed, Teague coaxed him back into the room where, once again, he helped him lie down.

Still feeling the effect of adrenaline on his body, Teague stared up at the ceiling. Doubt and fear settled deep in his heart.


***

The morning sun peeped through the cracks in the walls. Sketchy the cat lay snuggled against his side, purring while Teague absentmindedly stroked her soft fur, waiting for his eyes to adjust. Beside him, Finn was still sleeping, head buried under the covers.

It was Christmas morning.

“Merry Christmas, Sketchy.”

The mama cat purred and yawned.

Teague stretched one last time, then got up and dressed. In the kitchen, he opened several cans of tuna and fed them to the cats. It was a wonder the noise didn’t wake Finn. He pulled a wrapped package from atop the cupboards. His Christmas gift for Finn. It wasn’t anything special, just another one of those old books he loved to read. Teague wasn’t much of a reader himself, but Finn loved reading books about nomads and travelers. The boy had wanderlust in his soul.

Teague entered the room to find Finn stirring. “Merry Christmas!”

Finn moaned.

“How’s your head?”

Another moan.

He handed over a bottle of water. “Here, drink something.”

Finn took the bottle and sat up, rubbing his head. “What happened last night?”

“You don’t remember?”

Finn shook his head, then winced from the pain of the motion.

“What do you remember?”

“I think I punched some guy.” Finn looked at the back of his right hand. “At least my knuckles sure feel like it.”

“You remember nothing after that?”

“Nah.” Finn took a gulp of water. “How much of a fool did I make of myself?”

Teague smiled. Clarity settled in. An answer to his concerns had materialized. It was best to forget about the previous night. Forget about the kiss. He couldn’t take the chance that something could go wrong between them. He couldn’t imagine life without Finn. Sadness settled deep in his heart. “You took a big guy out. After that, we got kicked out and came home.”

“That’s it, huh?”

“Oui,” replied Teague. “That’s it.”

"I feel like there's something you ain't telling me," said Finn.

"Well, there is one thing," replied Teague. "You're a couillion, and you owe me for haulin' your drunk ass across the city."

Finn chuckled. "Add it to my tab." He reached under a pile of clothes and pulled out a wrapped package. "Maybe this'll make up for some of it," he said, smiling. "Merry Christmas."

Teague's heart swelled. He handed his gift to Finn. "Merry Christmas."

The End


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