Season of Love
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One of my diversions since late August has been watching the construction of a house, the equal, if not more, of any in the development that backs up to my yard. Now on the Friday after Thanksgiving I'm out raking leaves in my back yard and glancing frequently at the house to see if there is any sign of life there yet.
I'm working along the fence where the leaves have collected in low piles when I see the back door of the house open and a young man come out. He looks to be sixteen or so, very attractive, and walking with a slight limp. Not to appear nosy, I continue my raking, glancing at him occasionally. He walks around a beautiful fir about five feet tall not far from the patio. I can't help but muse over the sad expression on his face.
He looks at the tree again then over to me and throws up his hand. I return the gesture and continue raking the leaves from under the azaleas. I'm quite surprised when he walks over to the fence and says, "Hi. I'm Nick Walton. You live there?"
I straighten up and start to hold out my hand when I remember the fence is six feet high. "I'm Steve Anders and, yes, I live here."
"You have horses?"
"No. Why would you think that?"
"You have a barn."
"That dates back years to when this was all my grandfather's farm. When he and my dad developed most of the land, they quit farming but just never got around to tearing the barn down. I expect I'll have to before long or it'll fall down on its own."
"I hope it's not too soon. I like looking out my bedroom window and seeing it; it's like living in the country. I was hoping you had a horse so I could try riding again."
I laugh. "You're a few years too late for that, Nick. It's just as well I don't have a horse because I think the city will try to annex us before much longer. Property taxes on your side of the fence will be just too tempting."
He grins. "The old man's already mentioned it. He's putting some pressure on some of the councilmen he knows. That may slow it a little."
"I hope. I saw you looking at the fir; you going to put lights on it for Christmas?"
He hesitates. "I think so. It won't bother you, will it?"
"I'll be delighted; it'll be nice to look at from my study. I planted that fir about eight years ago when I started in high school so I could use it for a Christmas tree when it got big enough. I'm glad the contractor didn't cut it when they started your house.
"Oh. I guess you'll be wanting it, then."
"It's yours now, but I'll enjoy seeing it. You going to put up any more lights?"
He shakes his head. "Just on that, it's all the Christmas tree I'll have."
"You'll have a big one in the house, won't you?"
He shakes his head, looking near tears. "No. Dad and mom are going on a cruise with some of their friends over Christmas. I'll be home alone."
"Not by yourself!"
"The cook and handyman will be here. They live over the garage, so they'll take care of me."
"I'm so sorry, Nick. I know how lonely it can get, especially at holidays."
"Nick?" The voice is harsh.
"Uh, oh, my dad." Nick turns and runs awkwardly toward the house. I continue to rake until the leaves are clear and I can use the yard vac to take them up.
I feel sorry for the kid and wish I knew him well enough to invite him to spend Christmas with me, but not much chance of that. Nevertheless, I look from my study window into their yard several times a day hoping to catch sight of him.
My situation is singular to say the least, not that I mind in the least other than for occasional loneliness, especially when winter comes and it's dark by 5. Most times I'm reading or playing around on the net, but if I happen not to have a new book or there's no one interesting on-line in the two clubs I belong to, I become depressed. My few friends tell me that twenty-four is too young to be depressed, and their wives frequently try to set me up with a date. The problem is that they don't know my deepest secret.
It's two days later, an unseasonably warm day, that I see him struggling with a large box. He sets it down beside the fir tree and lifts out a tangled string of colored lights. I go out to the fence.
"Hi, Nick, having trouble?"
He looks toward me and smiles. "Yeah. These lights are a mess. Wish I had a key to that gate so you could come help me."
"And what would your parents have to say about that? I am a stranger, you know."
He grins. "I'm the stranger; you've lived there all your life."
"If you could come over it wouldn't make any difference, my folks left this morning. The cook don't care what I do. I could sure use some help, though."
"All right." I take the key from my pocket and open the gate.
"You have a key?" He asks in amazement.
"The only one. I like to swim in the pool at the club, so I have permanent access. If I had to go through the main gate I'd have to drive. This way, it's a five minute walk. Which reminds me, I'll have to speak to your father about walking along his property line."
To my great amusement, it rankles the residents terribly when I appear for a swim. They regard me as a 'poor relation' they would prefer not be seen. It's even more amusing to me because with dual PhD's, I equal or surpass many of them in education and have enough inheritance from my parents to provide a simple but comfortable living.
Nick's smile vanishes. "Best you just do it and not say anything unless he sees you. He's not ever home when you'd be going to the club anyway, so he won't know."
"We'll see." I reach over and help him untangle the string of lights, then start on another. Once they're done, I watch Nick placing them carefully on the tree.
"You do a neat job," I say.
He smiles. "You can help, too."
"You've almost gotten it done and it's your tree. Besides, I'm going to have to decorate mine in a few more days. Wish I had some help, I'll need it."
"If you'll open the gate I'll be glad to help you."
"Won't you be going out with your friends and things like that?"
He shakes his head. "Don't have any yet. I only had two weeks at the school before it closed." The private prep school he attends has a longer holiday than the public schools.
"If you wouldn't mind, then. Go get your extension cord and let's see how good a job you've done."
The lights are as evenly spaced as I could have done, but there are several burned out bulbs. "Got any extra bulbs?"
"I didn't see any. If I had some way into town I'd buy some, but I guess it doesn't make any difference anyway."
"You are old enough to drive, aren't you?"
"Yeah, but I'll get killed if I take one of the cars when the folks aren't here and the cook'll sure tell if I do."
"I'll take you if you'd like. Go wash up and come in the back door. I'll leave the gate unlocked, but be sure to latch it."
"Gee, thanks, Steve."
On our way into town, he asks me a number of questions about myself, but says nothing about himself. From time to time I have to remind him that some things are personal and not revealed lightly to strangers. He grins at that.
I stop at a hardware store I know will have the bulbs he needs and buy a couple of packs for myself. No matter if they all work when I put them away, there will be two or three that won't when I bring them out. I'm shocked when I accidentally glimpse the wad of currency in his billfold when he opens it to pay the clerk for his bulbs.
When we're back in the car, I mention it. "Nick, I couldn't help but see that you have a fairly large amount of cash in your billfold. I don't think it's wise for you to carry so much around, especially at this time of year."
"I know. Dad gave it to me before they left this morning. Told me to buy myself something for Christmas." I see a tear or two roll down his cheeks. "I don't want his damn money. I want him and mom to stay home so we can have Christmas together like they did when I was little."
I reach over and pat his hand. "I know. It's hard being alone during a holiday."
"Yeah. Can we drop by the mall?"
"If you want."
Though I personally hate mobs, the crowd seems to cheer Nick up and I even find myself enjoying looking in the shops and listening to Nick's clever and sometimes barbed comments. He buys five CD's and looks at the selection of videos. To my surprise they have a selection of the more recent gay ones and those attract his attention.
"Wish I could buy that one," he says pointing to Get Real.
"You can't?" I ask in surprise.
"I tried but they carded me and I'm not eighteen."
"Oh." It hadn't crossed my mind a video store would bother to check someone who appeared old enough. "Did you try on the net?"
"Found a couple of places have it, but I can't get it 'cause my card's on my dad's account and he'd get the bill."
I grin at him. "Tough being a kid, isn't it?" I know immediately what I'll get him.
As soon as we're home he replaces the bad bulbs and plugs the cord in. There are more lights than I had thought and the little tree glows beautifully in the waning light. I put my arm around his shoulders. "Thanks for fixing something so beautiful for me to see at night."
He gives me a quick hug. "Thanks for helping and taking me to town. I had the best time today I've had since we moved here. Can I come see you? I'll help you with your tree, too."
"Thanks, Nick. I'll leave the gate unlocked if you make sure no one else sees you using it."
I'm reading the paper and having my first cup of coffee the next morning when there's a knock at the back door and Nick walks in. "Hi."
"I didn't expect you so soon. Have some juice or coffee?"
"Naa. Just got through eating breakfast. What we gonna do today?"
"I do need to go into town again to take some dry cleaning and pick up a couple of things when the mall opens. I'd like to go by the book shop; I have several on order that should be in."
"Cool. I like to read."
By good fortune, the book shop is practically next door to the video store, so while Nick is looking at books, I slip over and pick up Get Real which I had ordered by phone. It's wrapped so there's no chance he'lI see it. After he's special ordered a couple of gay theme books without being questioned by the clerk, he asks if I'll bring him to pick them up in a couple of days.
Our shopping done, we grab some lunch at a cafeteria and go back to my house. I point out several gay books now out of print I think he might like to read. He picks one out and settles down. It's practically dark when he slips through the gate and a few moments later the lights on the fir are bright.
For the next few days Nick is at my back door by the time I get my first cup of coffee poured. When I ask how he unerringly knows that I'm up, he tells me he can see the light over the sink come on. I habitually turn it on in the morning and leave it on until I go to bed.
He's quiet, unobtrusive, and begins to relax and treat me as his equal in age, not that I mind a bit. He's particularly cheerful and helpful with the decorating of my tree. When we both flop down on the sofa to admire our work, he moves closer to me.
"That was so much fun. Thanks for letting me help, Steve."
"Thank you for your help. It would have taken a lot longer if you hadn't been here."
"I guess I better thank you for letting me spend all my time here, too. It's a lot better than being at home alone."
"You'd probably eat a lot better at home, but you give me an incentive to fix better meals. I enjoy your company, too." I put my arm around him and pull him closer in a one-armed hug. "You're a great guy, Nick."
He hugs me and silent tears flow. I hold him until he's calm. "I'm glad somebody thinks so." He suddenly kisses me. "I love you, Steve."
Taken aback hardly describes it. Yes, I've been attracted to this beautiful kid from the first moment I saw him, but I know better, especially as a teacher! I finally get enough of my wits together to say, "I love you, too, Nick, but you should have someone your own age." I look him in the eyes. "For me to even return your kiss is illegal."
"Fuckin' laws always trying to dictate what a guy can do. If I love you, Steve, and you love me, it isn't nobody's business but ours."
"I wish that were true, but you're still a child and the responsibility of your parents until you're eighteen. I could go to prison for corruption of a minor."
He looks at me with a serious expression. "Long as you'll hug me sometimes, and maybe hold me when I don't feel good, it'll be enough. It isn't what I want, but I don't want to get you in trouble."
I hug him tightly. "Thanks for being so mature. Of course I'll hug you. We all need one now and then. I love you, but please don't fall in love with me, Nick. It can't happen, nor will I let it."
"Okay." He tries to smile, but it's a faint one.
He comes in one morning on crutches, verifying what I had come to suspect, his right leg is off about 4 inches below the knee.
"Sorry, but my leg was hurting me." He says in response to my stare.
"No reason to apologize. You're quite handsome on crutches, Nick." I take a deep breath and decide to see how he feels about being admired. "I wish you'd use them more often."
He shakes his head. "They're a pain! Can't carry anything much and I don't like people looking at me."
I get up and hug him. "I hope that doesn't include me, cause I'm going to be looking at you a lot, stud. You're beautiful."
He finally grins. "You aren't one of those devs, are you?"
I'm surprised he knows the term. "To be honest, I am. I hope that's not going to keep you from coming over."
"Naa. The guy made my leg told me about 'em. He was young and he sure hated 'em from what he said." He shrugs. "I couldn't figure why. My leg ain't coming back, so I oughta be glad somebody thinks I'm a still a stud." Then his smile is brilliant. "I'm glad it's you, Steve."
I can feel my face turn red with embarrassment. I've drooled over the few young amps I've seen, but I've never talked with one before, especially a friend. "I'm sorry, Nick."
"If I've embarrassed you."
He starts laughing. "It's your face that's red, not mine." Then he hugs me and gives me a kiss. The two seem synonymous in his mind; he seldom gives one without the other.
For the rest of the day I can barely accomplish anything for admiring the way he looks standing between his crutches with his stump dangling, the jeans leg rolled up so the tip is just slightly exposed. I can tell from his expression that he's teasing me, flirting and taking advantage of my devoteeism.
The next morning he's back on crutches again.
"Your stump still bothering you, Nick?"
"Should I take you to see the prosthetist?"
He shakes his head. "Don't know of one here. It can wait until the folks get home."
"You don't mind using your crutches all that time?"
He grins. "Naa, cause it makes you happy. I love you, Steve."
A man comes to the door a week before Christmas handing me a card identifying him as a dealer in special types of wood. He asks if the barn is in use and if not, am I willing to sell it to him. Barn siding is apparently a big architectural item just now. In a way I'm delighted because I'll be rid of a useless structure and make a few dollars instead of spending some.
We walk out to look at it. He pokes at some of the siding and beams with a pen knife and declares it excellent quality cypress and oak, offering me a price I can hardly believe. As part of the final bargain his people will also clear and smooth the ground beneath it once the structure is down so I can plant grass there. He wishes to start work tomorrow because the weather is good and unseasonably warm.
As soon as he's gone, I call Nick and we go out to the barn to see if there's anything left there I might want to save. In the loft I stumble across an old trunk and lower it to the barn floor.
Behind me I hear Nick say, "Steve, what's this?"
I turn to see him holding up a peg leg appearing in almost new condition other than being covered in a thick layer of dust. I remember dad saying that grandfather had a hired hand that used a peg. This must be one of his.
"It's a peg leg. My grandfather's hired man must have left it."
"For real? I never saw one before."
"I'm not surprised. I've only seen pictures myself."
"Can I try it?"
"Let me clean it off first. The leather has to be dry, but maybe some Neat's foot oil will soften it up."
I grab a rag and dust it off. "Put your knee on top and let's see how well it fits you." He does and I'm surprised to find it just a tiny bit long, or it will be with a rubber tip. "Excellent. I'll just need to get a tip and work on the leather. I'm surprised at how good it looks after all these years here."
"Cool!" His excitement is obvious. "It'll be great for when my stump hurts and I'm not using my leg. Sure will beat crutches."
Using one crutch, Nick helps me carry the old trunk to the house; I also carry the peg. He goes home for dinner expecting a call from his parents in the evening, so I take the opportunity to work conditioner into the leather straps and padding cover of the peg. The next morning I find the leather almost as good as new. It had to be excellent quality to begin with to have lasted this many years.
Nick comes in just as I'm putting a large crutch tip on the end of the peg. "What'cha doing?"
"Fixing up this peg so you can use it. Ready to try it out?"
He grins. "Yeah." He's using his crutches as he does most times he's here.
Once I've got the peg strapped snugly to his stump, I show him how to swing the peg out and around to take a step. He swings off across the kitchen and back. I find the sound of the 'thump' the peg makes against the floor as pleasing as Nick looks. With the leg of his jeans rolled up, I can glimpse his neat stump when his back is to me. If he was captivating to watch on crutches, he's absolutely entrancing on his peg leg. I have to swallow to keep from drooling physically.
"This is cool! Thanks, Steve."
"You're most welcome. You look quite handsome on the peg."
The workmen arrive soon after lunch to begin taking the old barn down. Nick and I go out to watch. While we're standing there, the foreman looks at us and walks over to speak to Nick.
"Don't know where you got that peg leg, son, but it's the first one I've seen in years. Any chance of borrowing it for a day or two?"
"What for?" Nick asks.
"I'd like to see if I could copy it for a guy I know in another town. He keeps messing up his leg at work and that's expensive, but he can't use crutches on the job. When I saw you on that peg I figured that'd be just the thing for him. Ain't gonna cost nothing but a little time in my workshop at home."
Nick looks at me. "Up to you." I tell him.
"I guess it'll be okay if it's just a day or two. I sure am going to miss it though."
"Tell ya what, I'll bring it with me when I come to work so you can have it all day and I'll take it home when we quit for the evening. That suit you?"
When Nick hands the peg to the man at the end of the day, he expresses surprise at its weight. "Sure don't look this heavy."
"I suspect the man it was made for was considerably heavier than Nick. He was a farm worker so needed a sturdy one. Nick should have one that's about half that bulk." I say.
The foreman nods. "Makes sense for him, but this is exactly what my friend needs." He looks at Nick. "Thanks, son. I'll have it here tomorrow morning at seven-thirty, then you can dump them crutches."
The next morning I awake to the sound of rain. It's pouring down, so I roll over and go back to sleep. When I finally get up, it seems odd not to see Nick. I expect he's sleeping in. Just as well, because the men will not be working today. Nick has apparently found something to occupy his time for I do not see him all day.
I hear a thump on my back porch early on, decide it's the workmen, and get up for my shower. When I go down to the kitchen I see Nick coming across the yard. I unlock the door and wait for the coffee maker to finish enough to fill my cup.
Nick hugs me then sits down at the table. "I sure missed being here yesterday, but it was raining too hard to come over."
I hand him a cup of coffee. "I did get some work done that I've been putting off. You can be an awful distraction, you know, especially on that peg. I wonder if he forgot to bring it back?"
"I don't know, but I hope he did. Isn't somebody driving up?"
I hear an engine stop then a door slam. I look out to see the foreman picking up the peg leg and something wrapped in heavy plastic from the bed of his pickup. "He's here with it." I open the back door and let him enter.
The man smiles at us. "Here's your peg, son. I sure do appreciate you lending it to me. What with the rain and not having to work yesterday I got the one for my friend all made and ready to send to him. He's smart enough to cut it off to make the length right."
Then he holds out the wrapped item to Nick. "I had plenty of time and after what Mr. Anders said, I made this for you."
Nick strips the plastic from a beautiful slender peg leg suited perfectly to his slim build and stares at it with his mouth open.
"I put a dark urethane finish on it so it'll look nice."
"Oh, gee! I don't know how to thank you." He stands and straps the new peg on and tries it. I can barely hear it strike the floor, whereas the other always made a resounding thump. His grin spreads from ear to ear. "It hardly weighs anything, too. I'm gonna love using this one. Thank you, Sir. Thank you."
The foreman takes Nick's outstretched hand. "I'm glad it works for you, son. It does look mighty handsome. If you had on black pants, wouldn't hardly notice where your leg ends and the peg begins."
"I really appreciate your thoughtfulness," I say. "Won't you have coffee with us?"
"No, thanks. Got to get back to work. I really am glad I had that peg to go by. Turning one wasn't no problem at all. I hope Harry's fits good as the kid's does."
Perhaps it's the thrill of something new and different, but Nick insists we go out somewhere for lunch. I expect drive-thru at some fast food place, but he picks a small restaurant near the center of town with a reputation for good food and struts proudly in.
I can't resist teasing him a little. "I know you like the peg, but you didn't want to go out when you used the old one. Why now?"
"The old one is kind of beat up. This one's cool enough to wear to a party. I want people to see it."
I smile. "Thought so. This one looks so much better on you because it's slimmer. It's a lot quieter than the old one, too."
"That's cause it doesn't weigh so much. This isn't much heavier than my crutches."
Back home I notice one thing. If he goes outside for anything, he puts on the old peg. "Want to keep this one clean and pretty," he replies to my question.
Christmas Eve morning he's over as usual, this time he has a backpack over his shoulders. He sheds it and sits down after putting on his peg.
"Steve, it's Christmas Eve."
"Sure is. Are you all ready for Christmas?"
"Yeah. Aaah, Steve?"
"Can I like spend the night here so there'll be somebody around when I wake up tomorrow morning?"
His expression tears at me; I can feel his loneliness. "I'll be glad to have you here, Nick. Christmas is the time we should all have someone around who loves us."
He nods. "You're all I've got now. My folks don't care or they wouldn't have gone on that trip."
"What if they call and you're not a home?"
He grins. "I put your number in call forwarding before I left home."
"Good thinking." Our Christmas dinner lacks only a little preparation. I have a small pre-cooked turkey and dressing in the fridge. The fresh green beans are ready to cook as are the potatoes for mashed potatoes. There's a cranberry salad I make frequently and an apple pie for dessert.
After lunch I build a fire and light the tree. Nick and I spend the afternoon reading and the evening watching a Christmas Vacation video that he'd never seen. I glance at him frequently reassuring myself that such a beautiful young man with a peg leg is actually sitting on my sofa laughing happily at the ridiculous movie. I hope he'll be pleased with the video and several gay books I've gotten him for Christmas.
I'm in bed and almost asleep when I feel the side of the bed give, then someone slide under the covers and snuggle against me. "Merry Christmas, Steve, I love you." His arms close tightly around me as he presses close. "Let me show you how much."
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