Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

It's A Spooky Night Out There, Charlie Boone!

© 2017 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation.

"Another Halloween coming," Kippy Lawson said, his voice sounding anything but enthusiastic. "And I have nothing to wear."

Charlie Boone pulled back in the bed and gazed fondly at his boyfriend. Kippy didn't have a stitch of clothing on, and the view to Charlie's eyes was just heavenly. "I kind of like you in nothing," he said, smiling and flexing his fingers affectionately on Kippy's chest. "Then I don't have to guess what you're thinking about."

Kippy laughed, and leaned forward and deposited a kiss upon Charlie's lips. "Have I told you how clever you are?"

Charlie considered that. "Not lately."

"Perhaps there was a reason." Kippy frowned then. "I'm serious, Charlie. I need a good costume, like I had last year."

Charlie smiled, remembering the tiger-striped, form-fitting suits they had worn to Greg Everon's Halloween party the year before. That had been a lucky fluke, finding them at the thrift shop, the discarded play costumes of some young married couple, likely, who had apparently grown out of their fetish for jungle cats. Charlie sighed inwardly, remembering how beautiful and sexy Kippy had looked in his costume, which had displayed his lithe body in fabulous detail. Especially when he had danced, and most especially when he had danced with Adrian Whitacre. Their movements together had been the highlight of the party, and to more people than just Charlie.

"I don't think you're going to find anything as good as what you wore last year," Charlie decided. "That was a one-of-a-kind deal, if I ever saw one."

Kippy smiled, remembering, and leaned forward again to kiss Charlie. "You were so sexy as a tiger. You made my heart pound, Charlie."

"I managed some growling myself," Charlie returned. "I think the way you looked in that skin made tigers everywhere a little jealous."

Kippy snuggled closer. "You say the nicest things. Now help me think of a good costume to wear to the party."

Charlie sighed. "Or you won't stop bugging me until I do?"

He felt his boyfriend's smile against his cheek as Kippy kissed him. "Now I can say you're pretty clever."

"We don't even know that there will be a party," Charlie pointed out. "Greg graduated, and he's off at college. And no one else has stepped forward and said they were going to have one."

"They will," Kippy insisted. "There's still a few days. We'll just do it ourselves if no one else does."

"What!" Charlie sat up in the bed, and Kippy sat up with him. "And where will we have this party? Not in this house, let me tell you right now."

Kippy gave him a slight push. "Oh, Charlie. You're such a party-pooper."

They heard a rustle from the cot next to their bed, and then Ricky Travers lifted his head beneath the blanket and stared sleepily at them, his face softly illuminated by the reflected glow from the early morning sun streaming in through the bedroom window behind him. "Are you guys gonna talk all night?"

"What's the matter?" asked another sleepy voice, and then Adrian Whitacre was peering out from beneath Ricky's arm. "Is it time to get up?"

Ricky sighed. "It's the middle of the night. These two keep talking and waking me up."

Charlie gave a small laugh, and turned to look at the clock on the nightstand by the bed. "It's almost eight o'clock in the morning, Ricky-tick. You see that sunlight? We associate that phenomenon with daytime around here."

Ricky blinked at the golden sunlight seeping into the room. "Oh. I feel like I just went to sleep."

"Not hardly," Kippy said. "And what are you two doing sleeping on a sleepover, anyway?" He arched an eyebrow pointedly. "You two haven't even played yet."

"We're tired," Ricky said, an annoyed note creeping into his voice. "A certain someone ran us ragged yesterday, delivering all that donated stuff to the hospital."

Charlie felt Kippy tense, and hoped that Ricky would wake up enough to see the danger he was in.

"Are you saying it's not a good cause?" Kippy asked, quietly. Charlie cringed, knowing that tone of voice.

Ricky knew it, too. His eyes suddenly widened a little, and he shook his head. "No, it's a great cause. I'm just saying that you went around and talked to the kids, while Adrian and I carted all the stuff up to the sixth floor for them. So we have a right to be a little tired."

Kippy had organized the recent Hospital Haunts project at school, which had taken donations of games, toys, masks, and safe goodies, meant for kids hospitalized during the Halloween season and unable to participate in the festivities. The turnout had been better than expected, and there had been quite a lot of stuff that had to be delivered to the hospital. Charlie had taken his newly minted driver's license - the only one in their little group thus far - and borrowed his Uncle Fred's pick up truck and driven the boys and all the donations down to to the hospital delivery entrance.

There he had waited with the truck and the donations while Kippy and the other boys started carrying things inside. It had become apparent to Charlie almost immediately that only Ricky and Adrian were returning to the truck each time to get more things; but he hadn't said anything, not wanting to start trouble. Kippy did things his own way, and was not one to shirk his duty when it came to working. But he was also easily distracted, and Charlie had readily imagined his boyfriend wandering about, talking to the bedridden kids, not realizing that Ricky and Adrian were doing all the work.

Kippy pouted, and unconsciously squeezed Charlie to him. "I'm sorry. I just got to visiting some of the kids, and all of a sudden you were done."

Charlie tried not to smile at that. Ricky and Adrian had come back and forth to the truck for more than a half-hour. The donations weren't heavy, but there was some kind of maintenance going on in the hospital and the freight elevator had been unavailable, and rather then walk through the entire hospital carrying things to the elevators out front, the boys had instead hauled the things up six flights of steps each time. A half hour's worth of that was enough to wear anyone down a little.

Charlie spied Adrian give Ricky's wrist a gentle rub, and Ricky's expression immediately softened. "We didn't mind the work, Kip. But we have a right to be tired, okay?"

Kippy sighed. "Yeah, you do. I'm sorry."

Charlie laid his head against Kippy's and kissed him just in front of his ear. "You did a nice thing, and those kids were really happy to get that stuff. So take that pout off your face, right now."

Kippy smiled. "It was so sad, seeing them there in their beds, knowing they were going to miss trick or treating."

"It will just be different for them this year," Charlie pointed out. "Nurse Jefferies said the kids that are mobile will get to wear the masks and go around and visit the ones that can't leave their beds. Their families will be with them, and everybody will still get goodies, and the staff is going to provide a couple of witches and a skeleton to help out with things. The kids will make do, as kids do in times like this."

"I suppose. Still, I wish I could do more for them."

Charlie wrapped his arms around his boyfriend and held him. "What you've done so far has been really nice, Kip. Let nature takes its course now, and those kids will find a way to have fun. Okay?"

"Okay," Kippy said, and kissed Charlie. It was a very nice kiss, too.

"Are you going to let them have all the fun?" Adrian said then, sighing and giving Ricky a gentle nudge.

Ricky looked at him, opened his mouth, then closed it again, smiling. "What's that I feel poking me?"

Adrian returned the smile, his eyes lighting up in the glow from the morning sun. "Come back under the covers and find out."

Ricky looked over at Charlie and Kippy, and grinned. "See ya!"

He flipped the cover back over himself and Adrian, and then they heard the boys laughing together as the covers twitched and tangled.

Kippy sighed. "That's so romantic." He turned his head and smiled at Charlie, his eyes looking hopeful.

Charlie felt a small inward thrill, and smiled. He reached down for the covers, pulled them up, and then gently pushed Kippy down beside him as he laid back down and pulled the covers back over them. "I can take a hint."

Kippy snuggled close, kissing him in the new darkness. "It's one of the things I like about you, Charlie Boone." Kippy's hand slid slowly along Charlie's hip, and around to the front. "Oh, my."

"Find something else you like?" Charlie asked, trying not to laugh at the tone of his boyfriend's voice.

Kippy kissed him, and then whispered into his ear. "Let you know in a second." And then he was sliding downward, and Charlie was sighing contentedly.

It certainly was a beautiful morning.

Over breakfast, the boys tried to decide what to do with their Saturday.

"I can't believe it's only three days to Halloween and no one has announced a party," Kippy bemoaned, stirring his cereal listlessly. "I wish the phone would ring and someone would invite us to one."

Charlie's cell rang just then, and he grabbed it up and pulled it to his ear. "Speak to me."

"Charlie? It's Pat."

Pat Burroughs, Charlie realized. He grinned, looking at Kippy. "What's up, Pat?"

Kippy's eyes widened, and he smiled.

"I just wanted to invite you and Kippy to my Halloween party," Pat said. "I would have called sooner, but I was busy finding a place to have it."

Charlie gaped a little, and stared at Kippy. "How'd you do that?"

"It wasn't easy, let me tell you," Pat replied, into Charlie's ear.

Charlie shook his head. "Not you, Pat. We were just sitting here, and Kip said he wished someone would call and invite us to a Halloween party. And then you called."

"No shit?" Pat said, sounding delighted. "Ooh, I love that spooky fate stuff. Are Ricky and Adrian there, by any chance?"

Everyone at school now knew that the four boys hung out together, and Charlie didn't think it an unusual question at all. "Yeah, they're here."

"Tell them they're invited, too."

Charlie grinned, and looked across the table at the other two boys. "Pat says you two are invited, too."

Adrian laughed, and called out loud, "Love you, Pat!"

For just a second Charlie wanted to laugh himself, realizing at that moment just how far Adrian had come since admitting that he was gay just one short year ago.

"I heard that," Pat said, laughing. "Tell him I get the first dance, okay?"

Charlie grinned. "Pat says you owe him the first dance."

Adrian looked over at Ricky, who just sighed, but nodded.

"It's a date," Adrian said, his eyes twinkling.

"You got yourself a dance," Charlie told Pat. "So where is this party going to be? Your place?"

"Oh my god, no. My old man wouldn't go for that." Charlie could almost see Pat cringing on the other end of the phone. "I found a place I could rent for the evening, cheap."

"Is this a costume party?" Kippy asked, leaning towards the phone. His eyes touched Charlie's, and both boys grinned.

Pat had apparently heard the question. "Absolutely. We're shooting for really creepy this year. So hide those cute faces under something gruesome, okay?"

Charlie laughed. "Okay. You going to tell me where you're having this party?"

"Wait...let me give you the address. You have something to write with?"

Charlie looked at Kippy and made a writing motion with one hand. Kippy reached to the center of the table and grabbed a pen and a small notepad off the little lazy Susan there, and nodded.

Charlie put his cell on speakerphone. "Okay, shoot," he told Pat.

"From where you are, take Karloff Street to Westmore. You go out Westmore to Chaney Road, turn left, and go all the way until it ends at Mockingbird Lane. Turn right there, and go to 1313." Kippy wrote hastily, recording the directions.

Charlie blinked. "That's kind of out a ways, isn't it?" He looked over at Kippy, who was frowning at the address "I mean, that's out in the boonies."

"It was all I could get," Pat said. "My Uncle Lennie's a real estate broker, and he owns the place. He said he's been trying to unload it for years. It's a little rundown, but everything works. He said we could use it if we just cleaned up afterwards." Pat laughed. "He charged me twenty bucks to rent it, just to make it official."

"You have people helping you?" Charlie asked. "I mean, setting up a party is a lot of work."

"Are you guys offering? I could always use more help."

Charlie covered the pick-up of the phone with his hand and looked around at the others. "You guys wanna help Pat get the party house set up?"

"Ooh," Kippy said, his eyes lighting up, "that sounds like fun!"

Charlie looked questioningly at Ricky, who looked at Adrian, who grinned and nodded. "We'll chip in," Ricky agreed, smiling at his boyfriend.

Charlie put the phone back to his ear. "Four willing sets of hands, Pat. Just tell us where and when."

"You guys are awesome. I have to go to the mall and get some things this afternoon, but Kenny and I will be at the house this evening to get some stuff done. Can you guys come by then, or do you have plans for tonight?"

Kenny was Pat's boyfriend. The two had met up in school at the start of the new year, and been inseparable ever since.

Charlie laughed. "We were just sitting here, wondering what to do with the day, when you called. I think we can do this evening okay." He looked around the table, and all the boys nodded. "Yeah, we can do it," Charlie finished.

"We should be there about five," Pat said. "Just come on over around about then."

"Will do. Anything we need to bring?"

"Just your sweet selves will do for now. See you later, okay?"

"Okay, Pat. See you then."

Charlie put his phone away and grinned. "I guess we're in business for Halloween, huh?"

Adrian pointed at Kippy. "That was freaky, the way you said you wished someone would call, and then Pat did call."

Kippy grinned. "Well, Frit and Pip said I had a lot of Skwish in me."

Charlie laughed, recalling the sleepover with the two elfin teens the previous Christmas. He nodded. "That's right. They said that Kip was just loaded with Skwish."

Adrian and Ricky looked at each other. "Um, I never did get that, exactly," Ricky said. "What did they mean by Skwish, anyway?"

Charlie let his eyes go to his boyfriend, where they settled fondly upon his face. "Skwish is the property that governs good fortune. People who have a lot of it tend to have interesting things happen around them."

Ricky and Adrian looked at each other, and burst out laughing. "That sure applies to Kip!" Ricky said.

Kippy looked smug. "I can't help it if the universe has chosen to smile upon me." But then he frowned. "Well, most of the time. I try my best to do right by it, either way."

Charlie got up from his chair and went around the table to his boyfriend, and leaned over and wrapped his arms around him. "I think I'm the one that is lucky," he said softly.

Kippy turned his head and gazed up at him, his eyes shining. "I love you, Charlie Boone."

Charlie nodded, and smiled. "Me, too, Kip. Me, too." He planted a nice kiss on Kippy's lips, just to prove it.

Adrian sighed at Ricky, and smiled, too. "I love you, Rick."

Ricky looked momentarily uncomfortable, and Charlie and Kippy both laughed.

"What is this, contagious?" Ricky grumbled. But he turned and put an arm around Adrian, leaned in and kissed him. When he pulled back, though, his expression was a tender one. "I love you, too, Ad."

Charlie straightened, giving Kippy's shoulder a last fond squeeze. "We have all day before we have to be at the house. I was thinking we could swing by the thrift shop and see if we can get lucky again on some costumes."

Kippy looked pleased with the idea. "I'm in."

Ricky and Adrian shrugged at each other, and nodded. "Couldn't hurt."

"Think your mom will loan you her car?" Kippy asked.

Charlie opened his mouth to answer, but closed it again as the door to the backyard opened and his mom came in. She was dressed in a sweatsuit and flowered cloth gloves, and carrying a small garden spade. When she saw the boys, she smiled. "Well, the gang's all here. What are you guys doing?" Her eyes wandered to the clock on the wall above the counter, then back to Charlie. "Trying to figure out what kind of mischief you can get into today?"

Charlie laughed. "We were just invited to Pat Burrough's Halloween party, mom. He wants some help to get the house ready, and asked if we could come by around five. We were just getting ready now to go to the thrift shop and see what we could dig up in the way of costumes."

Mrs. Boone nodded. "You can take my car, if you want. I won't need it today." She smiled. "For that matter, you can have it to go to the party Tuesday night, too, as long as you promise to bring it back in one piece."

Charlie's eyes shifted momentarily to Kippy, whose own eyes had widened at Mrs. Boone's words. But then Kippy just grinned, and shrugged. "Skwish, Charlie."

"Uh, thanks, mom." Charlie said, trying not to laugh.

Mrs. Boone nodded, and then looked questioningly at Kippy. "Squish? What's getting squished?"

Charlie pointed at the little garden spade in his mother's hand. "What are you doing?"

His mom blinked at the change in direction, and then looked at the spade herself. "Oh. I'm digging up my geraniums and putting them in pots. They have to come inside before we get a frost."

"That won't be long," Charlie said, nodding. "Been pretty chilly the past few nights."

"Exactly. It's either now or never." His mom smiled. "If I bring them in for the cold months, I'll have some nice plants ready to bloom in the spring, which I can put back in the flower bed when it warms." She frowned then, and scratched her nose. "I came inside for...oh."

She went to the kitchen closet and opened the door, squatted, rummaged in the box of things on the floor inside, and came up with several small plastic flower pots, each nested inside the other. She shut the door and returned to them, her smile taking in all four boys. "Have fun, okay?" Her gaze shifted to Charlie. "You're not going to be late tonight, are you? Midnight, okay?"

Charlie laughed. "Home by the witching hour. How apt." He nodded. "We'll probably be back well before then, mom. This is just the set up, not the party." He offered his mother a sweet smile then. "I have to be really good so you'll let me stay out later on Halloween night."

Mrs. Boone looked stern, but her eyes smiled. "Is that right? Well, I have time to think about it." She shrugged. "Let me talk to dad and see what we can come up with."

"And the guys are staying over that night, too, remember?"

His mom nodded, heading for the back door. "We already said that was okay. See you guys later." She opened the door, and turned to look back at Charlie at the last minute before going out. "Put some gas in the car, if you use a lot, okay? If I go out to go to work Monday morning and I'm on empty, it will not bode well for your case."

"Okay, mom. I know the drill."

"Your mom's cool," Adrian said, after Mrs. Boone had gone back outside. He swung on Kippy then, and frowned at him. "And you're kind of creeping me out, saying what's going to happen right before it does."

Kippy and Charlie both laughed. "It's just coincidence," Charlie said.

"It is not," Kippy countered. "It's skwish." But his eyes were full of laughter, and Charlie only grinned.

"Tell you what," he said, leaning closer to his boyfriend. Kippy turned his head, and the tips of their noses gently touched together.

"What?" Kippy asked, softly.

Charlie moved his head incrementally, rubbing. "Just in case it is skwish, say that it would be nice for us to find great costumes at the thrift shop."

"It would be nice if we found great costumes at the thrift shop," Kippy breathed.

Charlie kissed him, for good measure, and then pulled away. Kippy watched him a moment, and then smiled.

Charlie waved a hand towards the front of the house. "You guys ready to head out?"

The other boys got to their feet, and headed towards the living room. Kippy waited a moment, and rubbed his shoulder against Charlie's as they drew together.

Charlie grinned. "What's that for?"

Kippy linked their arms, and walked Charlie down the hallway. "For skwish, of course."

"Will you look at this?" Adrian said, coming around the long rack of clothing. He held up what was either a very bedraggled leather jacket, grimy and worn; or the skin of an old bear, removed with something dull, like a butter knife.

"Jeez, that's ugly," Charlie said, making a face.

"Smells, too," Kippy added, his face settling into an expression of distaste. "And it looks rotten."

"What's that all over it?" Ricky asked, reaching across the top of the rack to finger the jacket. His mouth dropped open then. "It feels like fur!"

Adrian grinned. "The label says 'Bourgey Fine Furs, Paris, France'."

Charlie came around the rack and looked the jacket over, and shook his head. "Must have been a big woman that wore that thing."

Adrian looked startled, and eyeballed the garment doubtfully. "You think it's a woman's jacket?"

"Sure. The buttons are on the left side. Buttons on men's stuff are on the right."

Adrian examined the coat again, his eyes widening. "I didn't even notice." Then he grinned at Charlie. "Or know that, for that matter."

On the other side of the rack, Ricky gave a soft chuckle. "That's because you're not a Britannica Brain, Adrian."

Charlie just shook his head. But he reached out and took a sleeve, and brought it carefully to his nose. "Man! It does kinda smell." He frowned. "And I know what it smells like, too. Cheap laundry detergent, and a snoot full of camphor."

Adrian's mouth dropped open. "You mean someone washed it? Are you supposed to do that to a fur coat?"

Charlie laughed. "Not in a washing machine. That's why it looks like it does. It was probably hanging in a closet somewhere with mothballs, and someone thought they needed to wash it to get the camphor funk out."

Kippy's mouth dropped open. "Oh! I hope it wasn't an expensive coat."

"Fine furs from Paris, France probably aren't cheap," Charlie returned.

Kippy grinned then. "Put it on, Adrian. Does it fit?"

Adrian made a face that showed he wasn't for the idea, but shrugged into the coat anyway. It fit him well enough, if anything being a little snug in the shoulders. But it would even button, if he had any desire to do so.

He didn't. "Man! What a funk!"

Charlie walked around the boy, examining the coat. "It is really ugly. Like something the chainsaw killer would wear in some horror movie. " He suddenly grinned. "I like it."

Adrian looked horrified. "You're kidding! I can't wear this. It smells like shit!"

All the boys laughed.

"The odor can be dealt with," Charlie said. "We'll hang it up inside a garment bag with a pound of coffee grounds in the bottom. The worst that can happen is that you'll smell like a coffee shop."

Adrian frowned, and looked down at the jacket again. "It is kind of gruesome-looking." He suddenly grinned. "This may be the start of something good."

"All you need is some spiked hair and a little angry clown mask, and you're good to go," Ricky said, smiling.

Kippy reached out and patted Adrian's shoulder. "A butcher knife in-hand would add to the effect nicely."

"That wouldn't be very gay," Charlie pointed out, shaking his head.

Kippy put his hands on his hips. "I didn't hear Pat say the costumes needed to be gay. Just that they needed to be scary."

Charlie blinked at that, but then nodded. "You're right, Kip. I was thinking of last year, when Greg said that they needed to be gay, too."

Kippy nodded. "You're forgiven. Kiss?"

Charlie grinned, and blew Kippy a kiss. The other boy made a great show of snatching it out of the air, and then clapped it to one cheek. He closed his eyes and smiled sweetly. "Mmm!"

Ricky and Adrian both laughed. "That was gay enough for all four of us," Ricky commented.

Kippy smirked. "I am what I am. Now let's see what else we can find."

It soon became apparent that gruesome was going to be the theme this year. After some discussion, the boys agreed that if they all stuck to the idea of repulsive in choosing old clothing from the racks, they could make themselves up as a gang of mountain motel murderers or something. Every horror movie of that type they had ever seen was discussed, and it was generally agreed that psychotic killers of that type did have a dress code, if a very informal - and creepy - one. Lots of ugly seemed the order of the day, although they were careful to pick colors that were complementary, in a ghoulish fashion.

After an hour more of searching, they had all found something to wear. Every thrift shop has its cast-offs, the stuff that stays on the racks forever because no one in their right mind will buy them. Most of the stuff of this type was contributed in the first place because it was worn, or stained, or just plain butt-ugly. Charlie now had to admit that there were some clothing designers out there in the world that should be painting trucks for a living instead.

Ricky was delighted with their haul. "This stuff is great! I can do our faces up with face paint and make them dark and scary. I've even got some fake hair we can attach to make it even better."

Charlie recalled the wonderful tiger-face make-up Ricky had concocted for the tiger suits that Charlie and Kip had worn the year before. "You never did tell us what you were doing in your uncle's magic act as a kid that helped you learn to do make-up," he said then, grinning at Ricky.

Ricky acted as if he didn't hear, instead turning to his boyfriend and smiling at him. "Like the stuff you found?"

Adrian was not fooled, and smiled teasingly. "Answer Charlie, sweetie. He's waiting."

Ricky winced, and looked at Charlie. "Not now. If you think I'm handing you guys a bunch of ammunition for your taunt guns, you'd better think again."

Kippy gave out a delighted laugh. "Taunt guns! It must really be something juicy!"

Ricky's face colored slightly, but he shook his head, obviously not intending to give in. "Nuh uh. Not now. Remind me around Christmas, and I may tell you."

All the boys laughed. Adrian put an arm around his boyfriend and squeezed him. "There's my big, brave guy."

Charlie thought it best to change the subject, not intending to have put Ricky on the spot, but still curious about his role as a boy in his uncle's magic act. That Ricky was so obviously embarrassed about it probably meant that it was really cute, whatever it was, which was the same as awful to most guys when they got older.

"It's really cool to find all this cruddy looking stuff in one spot, isn't it?" Charlie asked, to no one in particular. "Like Hollywood just dumped the psychotic killer wardrobe here all at one time."

Kippy shook his head. "Actually, some of the really scary killers were nice dressers." He held up a tattered old flannel shirt that had a hauntingly visible stain on the front of it that could easily have been blood. "Hannibal Lecter wouldn't be caught dead in this junk."

"Yeah, but Leatherface would," Charlie countered, reminding his boyfriend of the killer from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "And we're shooting for hillbilly killers this time, not the ones that went to college first and got their degrees before going apeshit on the world."

They took the clothing to the checkout desk, where the old woman behind the counter looked startled as they laid it all out. "Why...uh...what nice things. Do you need some bags?" The tone of her voiced clearly said that this stuff should definitely be hidden away in bags.

Charlie grinned. "It's all for Halloween costumes, ma'am. We do actually have better taste than this."

The woman forced a small smile, but looked relieved. "That's good to know. I was just imagining you boys showing up at your girlfriend's homes dressed in this...finery. The result would not have been good."

Kippy laughed delightedly, giving Charlie a small push. "I can imagine what your girl would have said!"

Charlie frowned at him a moment, but then smiled. "She would have said, 'Oh, Kippy helped you pick these things out, didn't he?'"

Ricky and Charlie both snickered, but Kippy smiled in a way that said, paybacks are hell.

They got everything bagged up and paid for, and headed back to the car. They stashed their new clothing in the trunk, and climbed inside.

As Charlie started the engine, Kippy slid over against him. "Now what was that you were saying about my taste in clothing?"

Charlie looked in the rear view mirror and saw Adrian and Ricky grinning. He put an arm around Kippy's shoulders, drew him closer, and kissed him. "I was saying that your taste was wonderful, sexy, and gorgeous, just like you."

Kippy relaxed against him, smiling. "That's the right answer."

For a moment Charlie just closed his eyes and nuzzled his boyfriend's cheek, thinking about how lucky he really was. Kippy was a one-of-a-kind, and Charlie loved him with all his heart. He never really wanted to hurt Kip's feelings, and relied on his boyfriend to know that. That Kippy did seem to know was just proof that their relationship was as close as Charlie always felt it to be.

"Love you," he whispered, feeling momentarily overcome.

Kippy gave a small nod, and pressed closer. "I know," he whispered back. "I'll always know that, Charlie."

The farther they got out along Chaney Road, the more the houses drifted back from the pavement, until they were few and far-between, and almost hidden away back in the thickening woods. The evening sun was behind them, and its muted rays worked with effort to pass through the growing canopy that arched above them. The road ahead was dappled with soft patterns of light that pulsed in the gentle breeze that always seemed to to arrive to herald sunset, and Charlie smiled at the pleasant feel it gave him as the car surged along the blacktop. Driving had become a wonderful addition to his life, bringing with it a sense of freedom he had never known before.

Charlie knew that small breeze that came with evening was from atmospheric cooling creating pressure differentials in the air, but chose to think of it a little more romantically as the wind that blew the sun away, and ushered in the stars. As a small boy his grandmother had read him a story of just such a thing, and Charlie had smiled at the illustrations of clouds with big, puffy, rosy-cheeked faces huffing and puffing to blow away the day and bring on the night. The difference between fact and fiction was a simple ounce of romance, and Charlie was coming to understand the wisdom of erring on the side of affections, be they for clouds, or stars, or especially, for people.

"Man, is this the woods, or what!" Ricky said from the back seat, peering out his window at the ever-deepening forest around them. "I keep thinking I'll see Red out there, walking along in her hoodie."

"Red?" Charlie asked, looking at his friend in the rear view mirror. "Who's that?"

Adrian laughed, and gave his boyfriend a gentle push. "He means Red Riding Hood, Charlie." Adrian snuggled closer to Ricky and grinned. "My Ricky-tick would like to be the big, bad wolf, wouldn't he?"

Ricky gave a little growl, and squeezed Adrian against him in an uncommon display of public affection. "Only with you, my sweet," he said, in a deep and menacing voice.

Kippy looked over at Charlie, his eyes wide with inner laughter. "Someone's wound up this evening."

Ricky sighed, looking slightly embarrassed. "Can't I show a little love for my boyfriend?"

"Yes, you can," Charlie pointed out firmly. "And we've been telling you that for a year now. You don't have to be skittish about Adrian around us."

Ricky frowned, and looked at Adrian, who tried hard not to grin. "You know I love you, right?" Ricky asked.

"Yes." Adrian nodded. "I just wish you weren't so afraid someone would see it."

Ricky looked surprised. "I show it all the time."

"Yeah, when it's just you and me. But you're nervous about showing it even around Charlie and Kip, and at school you act like we're just best friends."

Ricky looked surprised, and stared at Charlie in the rear view mirror, as if for confirmation.

But it came from Kippy instead. "It's true, Ricky. I've never seen you walking in the halls at school with your arm around Adrian, not a single time."

Ricky looked astounded. "People would know!"

Charlie had to laugh at that. "They already do, Ricky! You're the only one that seems not to realize that."

"I'm not gay," Ricky said firmly. "I'm just bi."

Adrian squeezed Ricky's arm and shook his head. "It doesn't matter, Ricky. All that matters is that we're together."

Ricky turned his head and watched his boyfriend, and suddenly smiled at the affection he saw there. "Yeah. I'm not too bright, am I?"

"We like you anyway," Kippy offered over the seat, grinning.

Charlie laughed, trading his gaze between the road ahead and his friends in the mirror. Ricky watched Adrian a moment longer, and then nodded. "Okay. I'd much rather have people know I love you, than for them to think I don't."

Adrian could barely conceal his delight. "Kiss me, so I believe?"

Ricky laughed, and pushed his face against Adrian's.

Kippy gave a soft sigh, and snuggled himself that much closer against Charlie. "Show me how you feel?" Kippy puckered, and closed his eyes.

Charlie smiled, knowing better than to argue. He looked again in the mirror. Traffic this far out was non-existent. He pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road, placed it in park, and put the flashers on. And then he took Kippy into his arms and kissed him. The car filled with silence, save for soft moans and sighs of delight from both the front and back seats.

Charlie was just getting into the best part of the kiss when he heard a sound, and a car came up behind them and slowed to go around. He went to pull away to look, but Kippy held onto him tightly. Charlie was aware that the car came abreast of them, paused, and then sped off again. The horn tooted, and someone gave a piercing whistle. Then the car was gone.

"Now look," Charlie said, grinning, as they came up for air. "Probably someone we know, and the story will be everywhere before we get home tonight."

"Do you care?" Kippy asked playfully, smiling. "I don't think they could see our faces. It was just two couples kissing, is all."

"Yeah," Ricky said, reaching forward and giving Charlie a light prod with his fingertip. "No one knows this car, so what are you worried about? Afraid someone will see you showing affection for your boyfriend in public?"

Charlie sputtered a moment, and then laughed. "Me?"

Kippy squeezed Charlie's arm in support. Then he raised his hand, checked the time, and then waved his other hand at the windshield. "Ignore him, Charlie. Drive on, or we'll be late. It's almost five." He shook his head. "Honestly. You sure know how to waste time."

Charlie squinted at him in disbelief; but then Kippy grinned, and Adrian and Ricky laughed.

Charlie hissed to himself, put the car into gear, and pulled back onto the road. He favored Kippy with a short, piercing glance, but couldn't restrain the smile that came at the playful delight he saw in his boyfriend's eyes..

They continued on into the country, and soon came to Mockingbird Lane and turned onto it. The canopy above them immediately thickened, and the road took on a twilight appearance as the evening sun lost its battle to reach the pavement.

Kippy gave an approving nod. "I like it. Looks like ghouls might live out this way."

Charlie had to agree. The woods to either side of the road faded into darkness underneath the branches, and the road seemed to stand out weirdly in the half light, a dark ribbon meandering away from them into a murky distance.

"Start looking at numbers on these mailboxes," Charlie instructed, as they passed a small cluster of three weather-beaten boxes on leaning poles next to a single gravel drive that quickly forked into three separate drives that headed off in different directions.. "I think that one said 1331 to 1329." He frowned. "Must be three houses back there, somewhere."

"Odd numbers on the left, then," Kippy pronounced, pointing at another box as they passed. "That one said 1327, so they're descending."

Charlie turned on the car's headlights as the road in front of them darkened even further. Something on the shoulder of the road ahead immediately skittered away into the woods to their right, a dark form with shiny, night-sight eyeballs, that briefly glared at them before disappearing.

Kippy laughed in delight. "Man, this place is great! I can feel the creeps already!"

"The woods are like this everywhere, Kip," Charlie said. "It just seems creepy because you're not used to it."

Kippy made a face at him. "Don't spoil it, okay? I want to think there's creepy things slinking about!"

Charlie suppressed a laugh, but decided to leave it at that.

"You think Pat and Kenny are already there?" Ricky asked, from the back seat.

Kippy checked his watch again, holding it close to his face to see the time. "It's five now. Maybe that was them that passed us on the road." He suddenly waved a hand. "Slow down. There's another mailbox."

This one said 1317.

"We're close," Charlie said, slowing even further. "There's another one...1315. Almost there."

But the car wandered slowly on for another mile before the next mailbox appeared. This one was large, dented, and painted a dull black. On its side, in wavery white letters, were the numbers '1313'."

Charlie stopped the car and looked up the gravel drive. No lights showed to break the dark face of the woods beyond.

The air here was noticeably cooler, and a light, chill breeze wafted into the car from the side, causing Charlie to give an involuntary shiver. "Man! I'm gonna need my jacket from the trunk when we get there."

Kippy pressed the button and rolled up his own window, cutting off the exit for the breeze, which suddenly died.

"Maybe the house is a ways back," Adrian offered. "We've been seeing mailboxes, but no houses, all along."

"Turn in, Charlie," Ricky prodded, tapping him on the shoulder. "Let's go see the place Pat got for the party."

Charlie nodded, and nosed the car into the drive. The gravel crunched almost ominously beneath the tires as they made their way deeper into the woods. The drive curved, first one way and then the other, following the lay of the land, and then straightened and headed back into a dark tunnel in the trees. It was kind of spooky, but Charlie supposed it was only because they were all in a Halloween frame of mind. Everyday stuff of all kinds could look creepy when ghosts and ghouls haunted the backsides of your eyeballs.

Finally, Charlie saw a lightening of the road ahead, and then the car suddenly came out into a large clearing among the trees. In the center of the clearing stood a house, nearly dark save for the touch of sunshine reflecting downward from the still blue sky to light the oddly cluttered roofline.

Charlie drove closer, until they could see the place more clearly, and then let the car come to a halt, while everyone stared.

The house was big. And tall, too. A four-sided gambrel roof dotted with dormers covered a fairly massive square frame, the facade of which was mixed brick and clapboard and filled with narrow, tall windows with arches at the tops of them. An octagonal central tower full of tiny round windows stood another story above the roofline, and was centered over the front entry, which was barely visible within the shadowy interior of a stout covered porch that seemed to circle the first floor.

Each end of the front of the house was a small three-sided turret, each topped with a round, pointed roof just above the main mansard roof. Black shafts of some kind topped all the different roofs, sticking starkly up into the darkening sky. Charlie realized that they were lightning rods, though the idea that the house would be selected for a strike when trees towered all about it seemed unlikely.

The house was almost oppressively massive and forbidding in the off light. Just the place for a Halloween party.

"Second empire," Charlie said absently, noting the different features of the architecture. "Pretty old, I'd say."

Kippy turned a face to him that was delighted, even in the dusk there at ground level. "Amazing, is what I would call it." He laughed. "I wonder if the wicked witch is home?"

"Doesn't look like Pat and Kenny are here yet," Adrian said, peering around the shadow-filled drive. The gravel driveway formed a circle here that paraded by the base of the steps leading up to the front porch, and then turned back on itself ahead of them.

"Park, and let's get out," Ricky suggested.

Charlie nodded, and pulled the car up around to the front of the house. He turned off the engine, and a sharp silence settled over them.

Charlie pushed his door open, letting in the dusk. It got dark fairly early now, but there would still be another hour of daylight, and it only seemed dark here because of the height and depth of the encircling forest. The circle of blue sky above the clearing containing the house was streaked with red and gold; but here, at ground level, the light was haphazard at best.

They closed the car doors and joined up in a group before the six wide steps leading up to the porch. For a moment no one said anything, all faces turned to the great hardwood door just visible in the fading light at the back of the porch.

"Awfully quiet here," Kippy noted then, sounding uncharacteristically subdued.

It was true. The normal sounds of the woods as night approached were absent here. The house seemed to soak up both light and sound, the sky above the clearing weirdly bright considering the pure dusk below, and the circling trees, normally the playland of countless forms of nature's more vocal species, standing sullenly quiet and still all about them.

"Maybe the car driving up disturbed the bugs," Adrian said, scratching his head.

Charlie smiled at that. Adrian had a typically city boy idea of what went on in the forests at night. Not that Charlie himself was much of a woodsman; but at least he had grown up near the woods, and in a wooded neighborhood, and was used to the sounds that most often accompanied the night. And, of course, he had read a lot about the woods, too.

"That might occur locally by the car arriving, but not very far back into the woods," he replied. He shook his head. "This whole place just seems dead."

Ricky hooted. "Now you've said it! There's nothing living for miles around this place. What does that say about it?"

Charlie grinned. "It is pretty spooky. I have to admit that Pat found a great spot for a Halloween party."

"I'll say," Kippy agreed, taking Charlie by the arm. "Let's go knock on the door and see if anyone is home."

"Kind of obvious they're not here, Kip. Pat's car would be parked right where ours is, I think."

"Maybe they parked around back. Pat said he had to go to the mall for supplies. If I was bringing stuff that had to go in the kitchen, I might park around by the back door."

"There isn't a single light on anywhere," Charlie pointed out. "Would you also walk around in the dark?"

Kippy drew on Charlie's arm, bringing him closer. "I might, if I was feeling particularly romantic."

Charlie sighed, gave Kippy a quick smooch, and then started for the porch. "Okay, let's knock."

They climbed the steps and arrived at the front door of the house. It was wider than a modern door, and had a massive brass knocker in the center, which glimmered softly in the wan light.

"Those old-fashioned doorbells sure are clunky," Kippy said, his voice full of humor.

Charlie nodded, reached out and grasped the handle of the knocker. It was stiff as he drew it back, and he had to push it to get it to strike. He rapped three times, each blow resounding hollowly within the house.

Ricky laughed. "Sounds like a cave inside."

"No one is here, I tell you," Charlie said again. "They probably got held up at the mall, and --"

He broke off as Kippy suddenly gripped his arm tightly. From deep within the dark house had come a sound as if a door closing, and now they could hear slow, careful footsteps approaching the door. The footsteps echoed oddly, as if coming from a great distance, and seemed to go on for an eternity before arriving at the other side of the door.

They heard the thunk of a bolt being thrown, and then the click of the knob being turned; and then the door began to inch open to the accompanying creak of hinges probably not oiled since Charlie's dad was a boy.

Charlie found himself holding his breath, and sensed that the others were, too. The door slowly pulled back, revealing only darkness beyond. For the first time in his lifetime, Charlie had the incredible urge to just run.

But then there was a soft click, and a light came on within.

Before them stood a boy, who looked about their own age. He was dressed in blue overalls drawn up about a green tee-shirt, and had a wild mop of uncombed brown hair atop his head. For just a second there seemed a strange glow within the boy's eyes, but it vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared.

The boy smiled. "Hi, fellas. Can I help you with something?"

Charlie found his voice first. "Uh...are Pat and Kenny here?"

The boy shook his head. "No, not yet. They should be along shortly, though."

A sense of relief flooded throughout Charlie's body. For just a moment he had suspected that, even with the mailbox to guide them, they had somehow arrived at the wrong house. Or arrived at the wrong place, even if it was the right house. Ever since meeting the elves at Christmas, a sneaking suspicion that there was more to the world than met the eyes and ears had taken charge of Charlie's perceptions. That whole worlds of the unknown might be casually and invisibly intermingled with the world that people called reality had become apparent to him.

Charlie laughed, sensing the relief of the other boys, too. "You kind of scared us, opening the door without a light on."

There seemed to be humor in the other boy's response. "I'm sorry. I know the house so well that I often move about it at night without lights." The boy tapped his chest. "I'm Billy Matson. You fellas want to come in?"

Charlie nodded, stepping across the threshold as Billy drew back. "I'm Charlie Boone. This is Kippy Lawson, and those two guys are Ricky Travers and Adrian Whitacre."

"Great. Come on inside. There's a chill out there tonight."

Charlie had to agree. He'd meant to get his jacket from the trunk of the car, but had forgotten it in the moment of their arrival at the house.

Billy closed the door behind them. The light came from an overhead fixture made of crystal and white porcelain, which filtered the light from the bulb within to a soft glow. A staircase to the left climbed to the second floor, and a hallway to the right of the stairs ran to the back of the house. A small, ornate cabinet in the hallway, set against the stairs, held a small, chimneyed lamp obviously converted from oil to electricity.

Very quaint, Charlie thought, taking it in. It reminded him of the things in his grandmother's house.

But it was to an arched doorway on the right of the foyer that Billy led them next. He reached around the entry, clicked a switch, and the room beyond filled with light, revealing a sofa and chairs and tables, and a small baby grand piano nestled into the corner of the room. A fireplace took up an appreciable amount of the rear wall, with stone flooring before it and massive andirons supporting a black mesh cinder cage with a rounded top. Lamps on several of the tables offered up a cheerful palette of light through colored glass shades that winked and glimmered as they moved.

The furniture was an old style, the sofa overstuffed and ornate, the chairs wing-backed, and the cushions covered in the same material as the sofa. But it all looked well-kept.

Lacy doilies covered the tables beneath the lamps, and lacy pillows lay against the back of the sofa. Paintings of a sailing ship, a grand castle upon a bluff, and a group of swordsmen embroiled in a sword fight adorned the walls. There was something comfortable about the room, and also something a little timeless. The four boys all went to stand before the sofa, which was the only place they could all sit together.

It was only after Billy directed them to take seats that Charlie realized what was not present in the room. There was no TV, no stereo system, no computer. Nothing that could be deemed electronic at all. The room was about as retro as one could get and still claim an acquaintance with Thomas Edison and his inventions.

"I didn't know the house was furnished," Charlie said, smiling at Billy, who had plunked himself down into one of the wing-backed chairs. "I kind of imagined us sitting around on crates or something for the party."

Billy laughed. "No, there are a few things. The whole house is furnished, more or less." His eyes twinkled. "At the moment, anyway."

Charlie blinked at that. "Oh. live around here? Haven't seen you at school or anything."

"I live here, actually," Billy returned, smiling at him. "Did you expect someone else?"

Charlie looked over at Kippy, whose eyes had widened.

"You live here?" Adrian asked, surprise also apparent in his voice. "And you're letting Pat have a big party in this house?"

Billy smiled. "Oh, I don't mind the party. I'm sure it will be fun."

"Your parents don't mind?" Kippy asked, leaning forward to stare at the other boy.

Billy tossed a hand in a whimsical fashion. "They're here even less than I am. I doubt they'll even notice."

Charlie squinted at Billy, trying to figure out what was happening here. "Are you going to be at the party?"

For a second Billy looked sad. "Oh...I don't know. I'm not good with parties." He shook his head slowly, as if only just then deciding. "I'll be around, but probably not at the party."

Kippy looked at Charlie, questions plain in his eyes.

"You live here," Charlie repeated, frowning. "Uh...Pat told us his Uncle Lennie owned this house. You guys rent or something?"

Billy cocked his head to one side and smiled again. "Oh...owning things is so impermanent. No one really ever owns anything for very long."

The room was silent after that. Charlie looked around at the others, seeing the look of uncertainty in everyone's expressions.

"What's going on here?" Charlie asked, turning back to Billy. "Pat didn't mention any of this."

Billy made a face, and then sighed. "Well...he kind of...doesn't know I'm here."

"He doesn't know you're here," Charlie repeated again, watching the other boy carefully. "You mean he doesn't know you live here?"

"That's it." Billy grinned. "I haven't let him see me like I have the four of you."

Charlie suddenly felt still inside, Billy's words repeating themselves inside his head.

It was Ricky that gave forth a small, nervous laugh, though. "What? You're a ghost or something?"

Billy looked delighted. "Hey, that's very good. The 'or something' part, anyway." He shook his head. "I never believed in ghosts, myself."

Charlie suddenly leaned forward. "What year were you born, Billy?"

"Nineteen-thirty-seven," Billy said promptly, smiling. "My mom said it was a very good year."

"That's like a hundred years ago!" Kippy blurted, grabbing Charlie's wrist.

Despite the incredible situation, Charlie laughed. "More like eighty years ago," he pointed out. He turned back to Billy. "Are know? Not...alive?"

Billy smiled. "Uh huh. Just a few months back, in fact." He waved a hand at the house. "This wasn't quite where I expected to wind up."

"You lived here when you were young," Charlie guessed.

"Yes. Some of the happiest years of my life were spent in this house. of the saddest."

Charlie nodded. "I have a suspicion we're talking due to the saddest part of that statement."

Billy sighed. "Maybe. Maybe you're right. When I first got here, I was astounded. But I was also so thrilled to see the old place again. I kind of haven't wanted to leave."

Ricky slid forward in his seat. "You have a reason for showing yourself to us, and not to Pat?"

"I almost showed myself to Pat and Ken. I was just ready to do it when I heard him talking to you on the phone. I found I could follow his voice to where it wound up, and see what was on the other end." Billy nodded. "I saw the four of you. And I heard that you were coming here." He shrugged. "So I waited for you, instead."

Kippy shook his head. "Why us?"

For a moment Billy was silent, and Charlie could see him struggling with something. But then he swallowed hard, and nodded. "I'm like you."

"Dead?" Kippy breathed, his eyes wide.

Charlie laughed, and squeezed his boyfriend to him. "No, Kip. We're not dead." He looked up at Billy and smiled. "But I think I know what he means."

"You're gay," Adrian said then, looking stunned.

"Or bi," Ricky added, pointedly.

Billy laughed then, looking relieved. "Yes. And I lived an entire lifetime without telling anyone. Until now."

Kippy shook his head. "Pat and Kenny are gay. You didn't know that? You could have told them, and they would have understood."

"Maybe," Billy agreed. "And maybe not. Me being gay is one thing. Me being...not alive, let's say...that's another thing entirely. Some people will accept that fact better than others. I felt the chances only even that Pat and Ken would have waited around to hear me out." He smiled then. "What I sensed about you fellas, I felt the odds were more in my favor that you wouldn't just run the moment you learned what I was. Not alive, I mean."

"From what I know of them, you'd have been okay with Pat and Kenny," Charlie said. "They're good guys."

"I know. I sensed that. I just did not get a good sense from them of how they would react to me. On the other hand, I sensed immediately that you fellas would not be frightened. That you would hear me out. And, maybe, help me out, too."

Kippy turned to look at Charlie, and Charlie could see the beginnings of enchantment in his boyfriend's eyes. That Kippy sensed something important happening here was obvious, and for that matter, Charlie sensed something of the kind himself. That Billy was here to ask for their help now seemed plain.

"What can we do for you?" Charlie asked, grinning.

"Yeah," Adrian said. "Tell."

Billy stood, and walked slowly about the room. "This is so much like it was then. It's just so...comfortable." His gaze lingered a moment on the painting of the serene castle atop its mount, and then he turned to face them. "Just like it was in that October, in 1953." The boy sighed, and went back and sat in his chair. "I was sixteen then. So young." He smiled. "Like you fellas are now."

"Wow," Ricky said softly. "That's really ages ago."

Billy nodded. "A lifetime catches up with you. One moment you're sixteen, and in love, and the're gone."

"You were in love?" Kippy asked. "With another guy?"

"Yes. Will Hopkins. He lived on a farm about two miles down the road."

"There was a farm around here?" Charlie asked, surprised. The density of the woods here at the house, at least, did not suggested the possibility of open ground anywhere nearby.

"Yes. If you go down to the end of Mockingbird Lane, the trees end, and there is a farm there. Or, there was. It's a little shopping center now."

"Wow." Charlie could see the sense of loss in Billy's eyes. "And your friend Will lived there?'

"Yes." Billy sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. "Will and I grew up together. We went to the same school over in Cherry Oak...that's gone now, too...and we became friends." Billy shook his head. "There weren't a lot of guys around here back then. It was very rural, very sparsely settled. Just Will and I and a few other boys." Billy opened his eyes and smiled. "But Will was special."

Charlie could see that. For a moment there was a different light within Billy's eyes - the light of memory. That it was bright, and clear, and dear to the other boy, was apparent.

"You were lovers?" Kippy breathed, now fully invested in the unfolding tale. Charlie squeezed his boyfriend, already knowing that whatever Billy needed, he was going to get it if they could in any way supply it, or Kippy would know the reason why.

Billy looked surprised. "Oh, my, no." He laughed. "It wasn't like that, back then. I mean...well, we never got that far, anyway." He smiled, remembering. "We were very close friends, though. And...I always knew there was more there, but...we were so afraid to let it out. It wasn't like it is these days, where people are more free to be together. Back then, it just wasn't done."

Kippy looked over at Charlie a moment, his eyes filled with sadness. Charlie smiled, and settled his arm more comfortably around Kippy's shoulders.

"Well, what, then?" Kippy asked, turning back to Billy. "If you guys couldn't do anything, then how did you know Will was interested?"

Billy laughed. "Oh...that's not so hard, really. I does a butterfly know which flowers to go to? How do birds know north from south? How do any members of the animal kingdom, for that matter, know how to do the things they do?" Billy sat forward, and smiled at them. "Because it's built in, that's how. Nature has provided them with what they need to see the things that are important in their world. And it's just the same with people, too."

"Man, you don't sound like you're sixteen," Ricky said, grinning. "I mean, none of us talks the way you do...well, except maybe Charlie. And that's because he's a Britannica Brain."

Charlie and Kippy both laughed, and Adrian leaned his head over onto Ricky's shoulder.

Billy gave a small sigh. "I lived a full life, fellas. Eighty years of it. Why I show now as being this age is, I suspect, a matter more of the heart than anything else."

"What's it like?" Charlie asked then, impulsively.

Billy looked at him, understanding immediately. "Being...not alive?" The boy shrugged, and then shook his head. "It feels just like being alive, except maybe more peaceful. More unhurried. I don't feel a sense of time now. I don't feel a sense of past, except that I am here, in my own past. I don't feel a sense of future, as in what I may do tomorrow." He sighed. "I just feel like a few things are undone, that I would like done. More than that, I can't say yet."

"You said your parents were here, too?" Charlie asked.

"They come and go. They had many special moments in this house, too. But they aren't here like I'm here. They aren't remembering like I am remembering." Billy looked up at the ceiling, but it seemed his gaze went farther than that. "There is a lot to do...out there. A lot to see. My folks spend most of their time away from here. I guess they just like to touch base now and then to rest a little. When you feel the need to rest, it's always best to come home."

Kippy leaned into Charlie a little, and Charlie felt him tense. "What happened to him, Billy? What happened to Will?"

Billy closed his eyes, and a brief flash of pain crossed his face. "It was that very fall, when we were both sixteen. I was there, at Will's farm, and he and I were helping Will's dad put equipment away in the barn. Every year at fall his dad pulled all the equipment out and cleaned out the barn before winter set in, and made sure all the equipment was clean and stored away until spring."

Billy paused, his eyes still closed, and then smiled. "Will had been so dear of late, just treating me like I was so special. And I had been returning that to him, in all the small touches, the smiles that we traded. I knew by then that I loved Will, and I felt that there was something like that in his eyes when he looked back at me." Billy opened his eyes and smiled at Kippy. "One of those things nature has gifted us with, like my ability to see how close you and Charlie are." He nodded. "And you two, as well," he said to Adrian and Ricky.

"It was just a week away from Halloween, and my parents had given me permission to have a party here at the house. It wouldn't be a big party, just because there weren't that many kids around then. I had struggled to get kids at school to say they'd make the trip out here, because in most cases it meant that a parent would have to bring them and then come back and get them later. In the end I only had about a dozen, girls and boys both - including Will and I, of course." Billy smiled. "It was enough. It would have been enough with just Will, actually."

"Will helped you organize the party?" Adrian asked.

"Yes. My dad got a kick out of the stuff we made: jack o' lanterns, skeletons drawn on cardboard, and ghosts made from old sheets." Billy laughed. "My dad called Will and I 'William and William', and said it sounded like a law firm in the city. 'What will William and William think of next?" he used to say." Billy nodded. "Even my parents knew that Will and I were a team."

"So what happened?" Ricky asked.

Billy closed his eyes again. "We were in the barn that day. Will's dad had gone to the house to get something, and Will was being playful, kidding around. We were in the front of the barn, behind the big tractor, and no one could see us. We were laughing about the invitations we had printed for the party. Even though we had already asked everyone to come, we had gone ahead and made up invitations, and planned to hand them out at school on Monday. I had drawn skulls on them, but Will was kidding me that they looked more like happy monkey faces than scary skulls."

Billy paused, and then looked surprised. His eyes fluttered open. "And then, right out of the blue, while we were standing there laughing, he just leaned forward and kissed me. Right on the lips, just like any girl might do." He shook his head. "I had had girls kiss me, but this was different. This was Will. And knowing, all of sudden, that he really did feel the same about me as I felt about him was just so wonderful. And so scary."

Billy sighed, and closed his eyes again. "I just kind of stopped. I just stood there and looked at him, until I saw worry start to creep into his eyes. Worry, and the first signs of fear, and that I could not stand. The next thing I knew, I had leaned right back and kissed Will, and I mean kissed him. So that he could have no doubt about how I felt. And as I pulled back from that kiss, I heard him whisper, 'I love you, Billy-boy.'"

Kippy gave forth a tiny sigh, and pushed himself against Charlie. "That's so sweet," he said softly.

Charlie nodded, also feeling the depth of emotion from Billy. He could only imagine loving Kippy like he did now, but living in a time and place where he could not show it without facing destruction of one kind or another. The very idea was appalling, and frightening, and disturbing.

"I'm so sorry," was all that Charlie could think of to say.

Billy gave a small nod. "I had just opened my mouth to say that I loved Will back, when I heard his dad coming. Will and I stepped apart so suddenly that it was funny. But all I could think of was that I had not gotten to say those words, so I looked at Will, and said, 'Me, too.' I could see he understood, and that it made him happy to hear."

Charlie had felt that this story was leading up to something - something that Billy was hesitant to get to. The other boy sat still in his chair now, his eyes closed again, his expression unreadable. Ricky and Adrian were also watching Billy, and now Adrian looked over at Charlie and nodded at the other.

He needs a push, Adrian's eyes seemed to say.

Charlie sighed. "What happened next, Billy?"

Billy opened his eyes suddenly, and Charlie could see things in them that hurt to look at closely.

"We were finishing up, and ready to go back to the house. As we were walking out, Will stepped on something hidden under the hay, and reached out automatically for something to grab onto for balance. His hand happened to close on some sharp part in the back of the harvester, and when he pulled it back, his finger was sliced open." Billy shook his head in wonder. "It was such a little thing, just a cut. But it was deep, and it bled for a while, and I kidded him that he was early showing blood and should save it for the Halloween party."

Charlie felt a sense of dread take hold of him, suddenly feeling he knew where this story was going.

Billy looked up at them, his face white now, his eyes bleak. "Two days later he was so sick that the ambulance had to come from the city and take him to the hospital. Halloween came, and the party, but I was so distracted by Will that I barely remember it at all. It was like some part of me was missing." Billy leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling. "The morning after the party, my parents woke me and told me that Will had died in the night, from septic shock. I never saw him again."

Kippy gave a small sob, and turned his face against Charlie's. Charlie closed his eyes and held his boyfriend, wanting to cry himself.

Nothing they had been thinking this evening had prepared them for this. It had all been so simple, in fact. Come to this house, and help Pat and Kenny decorate the place for the party. Charlie really hadn't thought much more about it than that.

But now, there was...this. Completely unexpected, and even hard to believe. They were sitting here and listening to the events of a life now over, now gone. Two lives, now gone. For just a second Charlie became aware of all those people who had come and gone before him, since the first humans had walked the earth. How many?

In his book travels, Charlie had once read that the total number of humans to have ever lived and died probably exceeded one hundred billion. One hundred billion...souls.

Or whatever the word was for what underlay a human life, organizing its reality into visual and audio bytes that could be swallowed fast enough to make sense, allowing for its decisions, its judgments, its hopes, and its dreams. And, as time progressed, its memories.

People were an ongoing collection of memories, added to daily by experience, and ruled over by conscious thought and reflection.

What was Billy? A ghost? Or just a memory, refusing to fade?

Charlie had never really believed in ghosts, but nor had he believed in elves...until last Christmas. One hundred billion people was a lot of people. Yet the earth was not shoulder deep in ghosts. For the most part, if those that had died were somehow said to have been seen again, it was in the company of special circumstances, or special places - or both. Charlie had considered life and death, probably more so than most people his age. He had decided that he had not had enough of life yet to be able to consider death, and that the question of 'what happens next' was simply too intricate to be answered. Like a person in possession of one half of a complex encryption and with no clue as to the other half, all that was to be seen was a meaningless jumble of ideas, with only supposition to aid in linking them together.

Yet here they were, with Billy Matson, in the house where he had grown up, discussing events that had been over and done more than sixty years before, as if they were fresh with the air of yesterday. The questions that arose were numbing to consider, and Charlie found his ability to reason them out breaking down under the sheer weight of what was unknown.

There is no answer to this, he suddenly realized. Not now, anyway.

He stared at Billy Matson, seeing the grief in the boy's face over another boy loved, and now lost. Or...was that other boy lost?

"You', not alive," Charlie said then. "And Will is not alive. Shouldn't you both be in the same place? Shouldn't you be able to find him now?"

Billy smiled sadly. "There aren't any maps here, Charlie. It's big, out there. Huge beyond anything you can imagine. I could look for an eternity and never come close to finding Will."

Kippy sat up straighter and rubbed his nose. "Well, you're here. You lived in this house. Couldn't you find Will at the place he grew up?"

Billy nodded. "I've tried to go there. But the farm is gone, remember? The school is gone, too. All the places that Will and I knew are gone. Except for this house." Billy held his hands up, indicating the room around them. "I have been hoping he would come here, but he hasn't. Maybe he doesn't know about coming back. With his own house gone, he would not feel the draw to a place that I feel...that my parents feel...for this house. And someday this house will be gone, too, and then I may be unable to find my way back Earth." A look of horror arose in Billy's eyes. "I may never be able to find my way back to Will."

"What can we do?" Kippy said, getting to his feet. "Tell us, and we'll help."

Billy looked up at him, and nodded. He lay back in his chair and stuck a hand deep into the pocket of his overalls, and pulled out the bright white square of a folded piece of paper. He held it out to Kippy, who stared at it.

"What is it, Billy?"

"An invitation," Billy said, softly. "It's the one I made for Will, to our party, all those years ago. He went off to the hospital before I could give it to him. I've had it ever since."

Kippy pouted, and looked back at Charlie, who nodded. "Take it, Kip."

Kippy stepped forward and held out his hand, and Billy placed the square onto his palm.

The paper immediately curled at the edges, and turned a light brown before their very eyes. Kippy gasped, and nearly dropped it, closing his fingers upon it only at the last second to keep it from slipping to the floor.

Charlie rose to stand by his boyfriend, and Adrian and Ricky both climbed to their feet as well.

"Can we see it?" Charlie asked, putting his arm around Kippy's shoulders and giving him a reassuring squeeze.

Billy nodded. "Be careful with it. It's all I have left's the only one I have."

Kippy licked his lips determinedly, and carefully unfolded the browned square of paper. All four boys crowded close to stare at it.

To William Hopkins, Esq.:

You are invited to attend a party on Halloween night, Saturday, October 31, 1953, at the castle of William Matson, Esq., 1313 Mockingbird Lane, in the town you know and love. Or near it, rightly enough. You are commanded to dress appropriately, and to bring with you a handful of treats to be thrown into the pot, to later be handed out to others. Use your imagination, okay?

Be prepared for a night of scares and dares, and things that go bump in the night!

See you then.

William Matson. Esq.

The exuberance of the invitation was obvious. And the humor, and the intelligence came through, too. Charlie could imagine the pair of them, Will and Billy - or William and William - just right for each other, in the same way that other couples throughout history had in some way seemed meant to be together. Only these two had never had their chance.

Beneath the neat printing in pen was a line drawing of a skull, which somehow managed to look far from terrifying. Charlie grinned, feeling that Billy's heart hadn't been into scaring anyone when he had drawn it.

"Will was right," he dared to say. "It does kind of look like a smiling monkey face."

Billy grinned, getting to his feet. "Just no good with scary stuff, I guess." He stared down at the paper fondly. "Don't lose it, please?"

Kippy carefully refolded the paper, took out his wallet, and placed it inside. "I won't."

Charlie nodded. " you want us to do with this, Billy?"

Billy took a deep breath and let it out. "There is only one place on earth where Will might be able to get that invitation, and that's the place where he is buried. Take it there, if you will, and place it on his grave for me?"

Kippy grinned then. "You're inviting him here on Halloween? Cool!"

Adrian laced his fingers with Ricky's and grinned also. "That's pretty romantic, isn't it, Rick?"

Ricky frowned, looked around nervously at everyone, and then let his eyes settle back on Adrian's smiling face. Charlie smiled at the softening he saw in Ricky's expression.

"Yeah, it is," Ricky admitted. He looked up at Billy then. "So where is your friend's grave, anyway?"

Billy's smile faded away, and his eyes came back to Charlie's. "Uh...I have no idea. That's what I'm hoping you'll be able to help me with."

Charlie stared. "You don't know where Will is buried?"

"Well, I know the name of the cemetery, sure. Will is at the Garden of Heaven Cemetery, near Reedsville. I just...I can't get there. I don't know how."

Kippy tapped a finger against his lip. "Reedsville isn't ten miles from here."

"I know." Billy gave them a helpless look. "But being, uh...the way I am now, is different than being that way I once was. I could get here to the house because I know in my head where it is. I can see it inside my head. I had been here, you see?" He shrugged. "I've never been to where Will is buried, so I cannot see it."

"You never visited his grave?" Charlie asked, surprised.

Billy closed his eyes. "I couldn't. I just...I never could go. I wanted to, but I just couldn't do it."

Charlie nodded quickly. "I understand."

Billy bit his lip. "I can step outside this house, into the yard. But the further I walk away from the house, the dimmer my surroundings get, until they simply vanish. The house is an island, and here I am a castaway." He nodded. "When I try to go to Will's farm, I get this weird look at where it once was, and then the shopping center that's there now. But I can't go to either place. The places I knew around here as a boy are gone now. All except for this house."

"We'll do it," Charlie said then. "We'll leave early enough from here tonight to drive over to Reedsville and leave the invitation."

"The place will be closed," Kippy pointed out.

Charlie shrugged. "I've been there. My dad's granddad is buried there. There's no fence around the place, and it's lit at night. Nothing to keep us from going in."

Adrian made a sudden grab at Ricky, who started. "Visiting a cemetery at night will be cool!"

A sound came to them then, from the front of the house. It sounded like a car arriving.

"That would be Pat and Ken," Billy said, grinning. "I'd better go now." He waved a hand about the room. "If you just wait, they'll be in in a moment. Uh...don't sit on the furniture, okay?"

Charlie raised an eyebrow at that. "Why is that?"

Billy laughed. "Because when I go, so does it!" The boy came forward then, and smiled at all of them. "Thanks, fellas. This means a lot to me."

Charlie nodded. "I know."

The room suddenly grew dark around them, and Billy was gone. So, too, was the furniture, the paintings, and the piano. The hardwood floor, polished to a shine when they had entered, now bore the scuffs and marks of time. Balled up newspapers lay near the entry to the room, and the beautiful light fixture in the foyer was now a naked bulb hanging down from the ceiling.

They heard a sound at the front door, and then Pat and Kenny were standing in the foyer, peering in at them.

"Hey, guys!" Pat called, grinning. "Sorry we're late."

Charlie and the others went to meet them. Kippy pulled up his arm and looked at his watch, and then shook his head slowly. "You're not very late," he said, looking at Charlie pointedly. "It's just ten after five now."

Charlie took that in, and nodded to himself. Time, apparently, did not apply to people that, not alive.

Pat gave them an odd look then. "How'd you guys get in? I could have sworn I locked up the last time we left here."

"No, it wasn't locked," Kippy said, brightly. "We came right in and made ourselves at home."

Pat just shrugged, and then looked around at the laths showing through the plaster in some of the walls. "Is this a great place for a Halloween party, or what?"

Kenny nodded in agreement, also looking pleased. "You can almost imagine a ghost or two prowling around, can't you?"

"Yes," Charlie said, smiling. "We certainly can imagine that!"

Pat had driven his dad's big SUV, and the back was full of supplies for the party. There was an amazing amount of stuff, and Charlie came to the conclusion that the party had been in the planning stages for some time before Pat had called them.

Pat was sandy-haired and blue-eyed, cute more than handsome, and had some definitely effeminate qualities about him. He was proudly gay and wore it like a badge of honor. He had a thick skin, thought opinions were like assholes - everyone had one - and laughed off the few insults he'd ever received at school or in his daily life. His favorite riposte to gaybashers was to scrunch his face up in horror, shake his head at the offending party, and gush, "You mean you're not gay? I'm so sorry for you!". He was one of Charlie's favorite people that was not a part of his regular foursome of 'best' friends.

Kenny had simply ambled into Pat's life at the right time, showing up the first day of the new school year wearing a tee-shirt that proclaimed in loud, red letters, "YAG is GAY spelled backwards!" Charlie himself had witnessed the love-lights coming alive in Pat's eyes the moment the new boy had come into the cafeteria that first day for lunch, and the speed with which the two boys had become close was sort of a legend now in the little gay community at school.

Kenny was brown-haired, with twinkling blue eyes and a smile that meant business, and he hauled it out readily and often. He and Pat made a formidable pair, and the few new taunters that had also arrived with the new school year had quickly learned that they had met their match, and gone silent.

It took about ten minutes for the six boys to empty the boxes and bags of supplies from the back of the big SUV and carry them inside and deposit them in the front hall. By then the evening was chilling fast, and Charlie retrieved his jacket from the trunk of the car. Kippy helped him put it on, and stood inside the front of it, against Charlie's chest, for the few minutes that was needed to warm Charlie up again. They just so happened to trade a few kisses in the process, which served to accelerate both of their metabolisms, and soon they were warm and smiling again.

Charlie was feeling a need to be close to Kippy after hearing Billy's tragic story. Kip, for his part, seemed to feel the same draw, as if each of them had realized that life could suddenly intrude on what they had together and change things forever. Touching and holding each other seemed reassuring, and Kippy's smile and loving gaze did wonders to return Charlie to a feeling of safety and good humor.

Pat grinned as he passed them in the front hallway, nodding his head at the boxes that still needed to be moved around the house. "We're on the work now, play later plan, guys. One of these boxes has a small microwave oven in it, and Kenny and I got some sandwiches for all of us to heat and eat when we're done." He clapped his hands as if to accent his words. "Work, work!"

But his tone was anything but demanding, and he walked away with a box and left Kippy and Charlie smiling at each other and in no hurry to end their embrace.

"I guess we should," Kippy finally said, giving Charlie a last, long kiss. "Wouldn't want to not earn our goodies."

Charlie sighed and nodded, and gave his boyfriend a last hug. "Okay. Let's see what we've got."

The boxes were all marked, and they grabbed the ones that said 'kitchen' first and carried them to the back of the house.

The kitchen was large, with a high ceiling, and a gas stove that had to be an antique. There was a refrigerator, and a kind of arty-looking breakfast table with vinyl-covered chairs clustered about it that would have looked ugly in just about any other kitchen that Charlie could imagine. Here they seemed fitting, in character with the odd atmosphere of the house, which seemed to straddle eras in time with no effort at all.

Kenny was there opening boxes, and happily dove onto the pair that Charlie and Kippy delivered.

Back in the front hall, they found Ricky and Adrian removing delicate-looking black mesh fabric from a box, which they were opening up and attaching to the walls and ceiling with thumbtacks. The squares of material were about five feet on a side, and so sheer that you could see through them. Ricky and Adrian were using a small stepladder to attach a corner of each square to the ceiling about a foot out from the wall, and then draping the hangings in haphazard arrays down the walls and tacking them in place. The result was a cobwebby look that inspired images of overlarge spiders lurking somewhere about, and Charlie just grinned at the ingenuity that Pat had displayed with this decorative idea.

"Oh, Kenny thought it up," Pat said, when they asked him about it. He grinned. "He's creative like that. We got the cloth at the dollar store - they had tons of it. Gives the place a creepy look, doesn't it?"

There were some cheap dollar store decorations, too: witches on brooms, flying past the moon; skeletons that had riveted joints and which could be posed, and the bones of which glowed faintly in the dark; pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns; a mummy or two; and Count Dracula himself, with his cape whipped across his face just beneath his staring, hypnotic eyes. All of the decorations were printed on sturdy card stock, and Charlie and Kippy helped to tack them up in every room on the first floor, among the lacy cobwebs. It took them three hours to hit every room on the first floor; but when they were done, the place looked suitably attired for Halloween.

"Next trip we have some folding card tables and lawn chairs, and we can bring those ugly chairs from the kitchen and place them around," Pat said. "And I found a couple of old futons in our basement, and we'll stick them in the living room. Most people won't want to just sit, anyway. They'll be moving around the place."

"What about the second floor?" Ricky asked. "There isn't enough stuff to decorate that, too."

"I'm just going to rope off the stairway or something," Pat said. "I only invited about twenty people." He grinned then. "Word-of-mouth will probably double that, but this dump is big. Forty people can meander about this first floor, no problem."

Kippy leaned closer to Pat, a little smile on his face. "Did you just invite the gay crowd?"

"No, Kenny and I invited everyone we liked. The sad fact that someone might not be gay in no way influenced our guest list."

They laughed at that. "Is there more to do in the decorating department?" Adrian asked.

Pat considered that. "I'm going to have some music, but that's just an MP3 player and a small amplifier. I also want to bring some lights in, because some of these rooms just have a bare bulb in the overhead fixture, and that's kind of bright. I want people to be able to see, but the dimmer the place is, the creepier it will feel."

"If you guys know anyone you want to invite, feel free," Kenny added. "I think we got most of the people at school we all like, but you may know others that would enjoy coming. Just keep it reasonable, okay? We get a hundred people walking around in here and we may all just wind up in the cellar."

"At least you don't have to worry about the neighbors," Charlie said. "The houses don't seem to be very close together here."

"My Uncle Lennie said this house sits on fifteen acres," Pat returned. "The neighbors won't even know there's a party on here."

It was nearly nine o'clock when they finished placing things about and adjourned to the kitchen to eat their sandwiches. The 'little' microwave oven that Pat had mentioned was actually rather large, and had been set on a countertop near an outlet that worked. They heated their sandwiches, and sat around the kitchen table and talked as they ate. Charlie noted that the chairs might have been ugly, but were certainly comfortable enough, which was really what mattered when you wanted to get the weight off your feet.

"I kind of like this house," he decided, between bites of his sandwich, which was roast beef, and quite good. "They built houses big back in those days. Not like the tiny houses they sell today."

"People had larger families back then," Pat mused, nodding. "Six or eight kids was more common. Everyone chipped in and got things done. A big house was easy to take care of with that many hands to help."

"It was a different culture, too," Kippy said. "Kids stayed at home until they were adults and ready to get married and go out on their own. Relatives of all kinds came by and visited and stayed a while. Every house had a guest room or two for that purpose."

Charlie grinned at his boyfriend. "You've been reading again," he accused.

Kippy stuck his tongue out through a grin of his own. "I do know how, and you're not the only one that is interested in stuff."

"Children, no fighting," Pat said, looking mock-stern. "Now kiss and make up."

Charlie grinned, and leaned over and pecked Kippy on the cheek. "I'm sorry. Are you sorry?"

Kippy tried hard not to smile, but couldn't quite conceal it. "I'm not sorry that I met you. Just that I have to push you constantly to meet my standards."

Adrian hooted, and Ricky's eyes glowed with a smile that was mostly hidden behind his mouthful of sandwich.

Charlie sighed. "I do try. I'm only so good, though."

Kippy relented, and put a hand behind Charlie's neck and pulled him closer, offering a kiss that was liberally laced with the taste of tuna fish. Charlie grinned, not minding at all. He loved tuna fish.

Pat looked at Kenny, and both boys grinned. "You two seem a little inclined tonight," Pat said. "Nice to see that romance isn't dead in your relationship."

"Bite your tongue," Kippy said quietly, smiling.

"Yeah, don't encourage anyone," Charlie agreed. "It's hard enough now for me to keep up with him."

Adrian sighed, and leaned his head over on Ricky's shoulder. This was becoming a favorite position for him to be in, and it was not lost on Charlie how happy Adrian was with life. That he was somewhat inspired by the relationship that Charlie and Kippy had was becoming obvious to Charlie now, and also that Adrian hoped to someday achieve the same level of openness with Ricky. Adrian did seem to be breaking down the barriers that his boyfriend held against total gayness - that Ricky considered himself bisexual often got in the way of the fact that he was heavily invested in a gay relationship at the moment.

But this time Ricky didn't flinch at all. Shifting his sandwich to the other hand, he placed his free arm around Adrian's shoulders and leaned his head over to kiss Adrian's hair. It was a warm and affectionate thing to see, and Charlie immediately noted the grins that appeared on Pat's and Kenny's faces.

Pat sighed, and looked about the kitchen. "Must be something romantic about this place that I'm missing." He looked over at Kenny, who smiled. "Do you see it?"

Kenny set his sandwich on the wax paper it had been wrapped in, and leaned over and kissed Pat's cheek. Pat immediately turned his head to intercept the kiss with his lips, and the two boys traded smiles and then laughter as they let the kiss grow into something a little larger.

Charlie nodded, understanding. Romance was indeed a contagious enterprise. Seeing it often inspired it, made one aware that the person they loved the most should always be shown that love, should always be cherished. Love did not grow on trees, and if you were lucky enough to find it, you had better damn well take care of it, because if it got away from you, it was really hard to get back.

He smiled. "Seems to me the two of you aren't doing too badly, either."

Pat nodded. "We need to hang around you guys more often. Misery loves company."

"We're not miserable at all," Kippy pointed out, his eyes flashing at Charlie.

"That's what I mean," Pat replied, smiling at Kenny. "You guys are a nice influence."

"We try," Kippy said, looking happy with the idea that he and Charlie might positively affect the emotions of others.

Kenny grinned. "Well, keep it up." He leaned forward and kissed Pat again.

Charlie stifled a belch, and grinned. "Oops. Oh well, we need to get going soon. We have to run an errand for a friend before we go home."

Pat sighed, but his eyes were on Kenny. "Thanks for the help, guys. We'd never have finished getting this stuff up tonight if it had been just the two of us."

"You need us again?" Charlie asked, smiling at the way the two boys were looking at each other.

Pat blinked. "Huh? Oh...we'll be here tomorrow afternoon by about one, to bring the chairs and tables and lights and stuff. Come on by, if you guys want."

Charlie looked around, received nods from the others. "Okay. We will if we can." He grinned. "You and Kenny leaving soon?"

Pat gave a little smile, but didn't take his gaze off his boyfriend's face. "Not just yet. Kenny and I have to inspect, and make sure everything looks good."

Kenny laughed. "That would be fun."

Charlie nodded, and went back to finishing his sandwich.

Definitely, there was something romantic about this house.

"Should be over the next rise," Charlie said, slowing the car to look for the turnoff to the cemetery. "I haven't been here for a couple of years, but I do remember this little hill."

They topped the rise, and immediately spied the cemetery, spreading out behind an open gateway with the words Garden of Heaven written in wrought iron above them. The landscape beyond was lit by tall light poles that cast a warm yellow glow over rolling fields of markers watched over by evergreens and cedars at regular intervals. The cemetery was unfenced, open, and well-lit.

Charlie slowed further and turned the car in through the gate, and followed the drive to the parking lot. A small structure like a little house sat at the end of the lot, and Charlie knew that there was a grave guide inside, to assist in finding the markers of everyone buried there. He also knew that the building would be closed, and the attendant not back until morning.

"How are we going to find Will's grave?" Adrian suddenly said, staring out of his window at the acreage beyond. "I didn't know this place was so big."

"Yeah. This could take hours," Ricky added, looking at Charlie in the rear view mirror. "Or all night, even."

Charlie frowned. "Well, like I said, I've been here before, so I have at least walked around this whole place. It's big, but not as big as it looks from here. And, there is a method to this seeming madness."

Kippy laughed. "There's always a method to your madness, Charlie."

Charlie sighed. "Don't you get started. Let's think of Billy and Will, okay?"

Kippy pretended to look hurt, and patted himself on the chest. "Moi? I'm here to help, lover."

"Uh huh. Grab that flashlight out of the glove box, will ya?"

They got out, and clustered near the edge of the parking lot. Kippy flicked the switch of the flash to make sure it was working, then turned it off again. "Ready here. Now what?"

Charlie considered. "The earliest graves are close to the parking lot. I remember that from being here before. Some of them go back to the beginning of the twentieth century. I remember me and my dad trying to find the earliest death date, and I think that 1911 was what we came up with."

"Wow." Adrian shook his head. "This place must have a lot of people in it, then."

Charlie nodded. "They opened new sections as each one got full, so the death dates are grouped together pretty well. We just need to find the early fifties, and I'm sure Will will be somewhere in there."

"I hope it's that easy," Kippy said, looking at his watch. "Let's go."

They started off into the field, taking care to stay to the paths between lanes of markers. The markers themselves varied in size, and ran the gamut from the plain to the ornate. Some bore simple birth and death dates, while others carried elaborate inscriptions. Charlie was impressed with the fact that death was all the same to those who were buried here, but that, for those who had remained behind, the levels of anguish and loss - and acceptance - varied widely. The grave markers spoke of those feelings with eloquence.

They walked well back from the lot before they encountered a death date in the 1940's. They turned left, but the dates seemed to descend; so they turned around and went the other way.

"Here's a 1950!" Ricky called, pointing at a headstone with angels carved to either side of it.

They concentrated in that area, but found the dates again descending on them.

Charlie frowned. "Maybe we have to go deep, instead of along the edge. He pointed to a group of headstones in the shade of some tall fir trees. "There."

They wound their way back, entering the darker recesses beneath the trees. The ground here was strewn with brown pine needles, and the air bright and fresh with scent of the trees. Kippy turned on the flashlight, and led the way, directing the beam at the headstones as they passed. "Oh, look. Here's a 1951, and another, and a 1952, and..."

And then he stopped. "Here," he said, his voice suddenly quiet. They stopped at a headstone just a few feet away from the bole of one of the big fir trees.

Charlie and the others crowded around, staring at the headstone revealed in the light from the flash.

William Benjamin Hopkins

Born May 8th, 1937

Died November 1, 1953

Beloved son of Alfred and Margaret Hopkins

Forever in our minds, forever in our hearts

Charlie stared at the lettering, feeling emotion surge in his own heart. He blinked, his eyes suddenly feeling scratchy, and then damp. "That's him."

Kippy moved to his side, and Charlie put an arm around his waist and drew him closer. Ricky and Adrian also came together, and the four of them gazed in silence at the headstone, recalling Billy's grief at telling his story.

"Hello, Will," Kippy said then. "Billy sends his love."

Almost as if in answer, a light breeze picked up, blowing a few leaves past them. Charlie leaned his head against Kippy's and closed his eyes, briefly overcome with emotion. He could picture Billy's face in his mind's eye, and wondered what sort of boy could have made a smile like the one Billy wore when he spoke of Will. Charlie had only known happiness in life, never loss. He had Kippy now, and he had just been accepting that as part of his days and nights. He could not imagine him suddenly gone forever.

He did not want to imagine such a thing.

"It would be nice if Will could hear us," Kippy said softly. "Maybe he would come."

Charlie felt Kippy tense then, and opened his eyes.

The place where they were standing, beneath the fir trees, seemed to have dimmed. The beam from the flashlight waned, and the tall lights on the poles around them faded perceptibly even as he watched.

The flashlight went out. At the same moment, the darkness beneath the nearby tree flowed and fluttered, and a tall shape seemed to separate itself from the trunk. Charlie's first thought was that Will had indeed come; but this figure was too tall to even be human. It towered over them, at least eight feet in height, just the outline of something of human shape, but in no way human in size.

But then it seemed to dwindle, to narrow, while at the same time coming closer. By the time it came to stand at the rear of Will's headstone, it seemed to be their own size now, and completely human in outline.

"Who are you?"

The voice was a whisper, like the wind. There was an ethereal quality to it that was both eerie and strangely compelling, as though whatever had spoken the words had not spoken aloud in a very long time. The figure was still without detail, one in the shape of a human being, but made of darkness and shadow and unfulfilled dreams, and fighting now to take back a reality that had been lost over sixty years before.

Charlie was certain now that this was Will, after all.

Kippy seemed to have become their spokesperson. "Billy Matson sent us."


The one word was heavy with emotion, one Charlie could sense so deeply that he nearly gave out a sob.

"Yes." Kippy's voice caught, and Charlie immediately squeezed him reassuringly. "He sent us to bring you something," Kippy continued. Charlie let loose of Kippy as the boy reached for his wallet, but kept his palm pressed into the small of Kippy's back to let his boyfriend know he was right there if needed.

Kippy opened his wallet and pulled forth the browned and curled square of paper, and held it out, keeping his thumb atop it to prevent the breeze from taking it away.

For a full minute nothing happened. The four of them stood there in a small group, watching the shadowy shape even as it seemed to be watching them.

But then it moved, seeming to come forward through the headstone and across the top of the grave. It's hand, still dark as midnight, extended towards Kippy.

Kippy leaned forward, and carefully placed the square into the waiting hand.

The lights around them suddenly brightened, and the flashlight came back on. The square of paper in the dark, outstretched hand illuminated, as if caught in a sudden stray ray of moonlight. The paper whitened, flattened out; and then that new illumination extended itself to the hand, which became visible, and then the arm, as the light crawled upward...and then the dark figure burst into brilliance and became a boy, standing there before them, his arm still outstretched.

He was dark haired, with a pleasant face, and interested eyes that watched them with just a hint of new wonder in their depths. The boy was dressed in light blue overalls over a yellow, short-sleeved, button-down shirt, and wore heavy work boots upon his feet. He closed his fingers on the invitation, and drew his hand back to stare down at the paper.

"Will Hopkins?" Charlie asked, even though he was sure now of the identity of their visitor.

The boy gave a small laugh. "It's like I haven't heard that name in...." He nodded.

"I wasn't sure there, at first," Charlie said. "You scarcely looked human when you first arrived."

The other boy smiled. "I had to...had to remember how."

Kippy stepped forward anxiously, pulling Charlie with him. "Billy Matson sends his love."

Will's face compressed, and he shook his head slowly. "Billy. I can't believe it." He looked around then, as if only now noticing his surroundings. "I can't believe I am back here. I thought this place was lost."

Charlie realized that Will could not mean the cemetery. Unless he had been here while living, he had never seen it before.

"Earth, you mean?" Charlie asked, trying to figure it out.

Will nodded. "Home."

Kippy pushed himself against Charlie again, and Charlie let his arm go back around his boyfriend.

Will looked down at the square of paper in his hand, and a smile pulled itself across his face. "I can feel him, in this."

"Read it," Kippy urged. "It's for you."

Will nodded, and carefully opened the invitation. They watched as his eyes traversed the page, across, then back, then across again, as he read what was printed inside. Will smiled, and his eyes seemed unnaturally bright.

He finished, and drew the paper against his chest, and closed his eyes. "I see it. I can see his house again."

"Will you come?" Kippy asked anxiously, as though he had sent the invitation himself.

Will's eyes opened. "Yes. I'll be there."

"You don't have to wait," Charlie said then. "You could go right away. I know he would love to see you."

But Will shook his head. "He will not be there. Not until the appointed time."

He smiled at them, and took the paper and carefully folded it again, and slid it into the pocket of his overalls. "Thank you for coming." The boy nodded. "Thank you for guiding me home."

And then he was gone, just as Billy had gone away from them in the living room of the house in the woods.

"Let's go home," Ricky said quietly. He drew Adrian to him, slid his arms around him, and hugged him.

Charlie felt the same need to hold Kippy, and drew him into a hug as well. Kippy clung to him, and Charlie simply breathed in the scent of Kippy's hair and skin, feeling the life within his body.

"I feel wonderful," Kippy finally breathed into Charlie's ear. "We did a major good thing tonight."

"Yeah. We did." Charlie drew back and smiled. "Ready to go?"

Kippy looked around, at the headstones, at the memories they implied , and nodded.

The next afternoon, the four boys showed up at the old house to help move furniture and finish decorating. Pat and Kenny seemed unusually happy, laughing and carrying on together, but attributed it to the brisk fall weather when Charlie smilingly mentioned it to them.

"You guys have been pretty frisky, too," Pat pointed out, his eyes full of good humor. They were setting up card tables in the dining room to hold the drinks and food that Pat had planned for the party. "Kippy's kissed you four times since you got here, and even Ricky seems like he's trying to show the world he's in love."

"Shh!" Charlie grinned. "Don't let him hear you say that. We're just getting him to admit he's slightly gay now!"

They both laughed at that. That Ricky was now seeing that he wanted to be more comfortable with his relationship with Adrian was a positive change.

Pat sighed. "I think it's a done deal, Charlie. I can see the love in both of their eyes."

Charlie had to agree. Ricky had certainly become more outgoing with Adrian in public since just the other day.

"I think it's this house," Charlie said then. "It's a little charmed or something. Even I feel it."

"Maybe." Pat looked around and nodded. "Kenny was saying something like that, too. How nice it would be to maybe live in a place like this someday."

"It has its attractions," Charlie had to admit.

Kippy came into the room then. "Oh, there you are." His eyes were on Charlie, and seemed to hold something he wanted to share.

"What's up?"

Kippy smiled. "Come here a minute, Charlie. I want you to see something."

Charlie nodded, and told Pat he'd be back. Then he followed his boyfriend to the front foyer. "What's up?" he repeated.

Kippy smiled, and went to the staircase to the second floor. "Come upstairs."

They climbed the steps, and Kippy turned and headed towards a doorway at one front corner of the house.

It was a bedroom, and it was in one of the three-sided corner turrets that marked each end of the front of the house. The afternoon sun entered through the right-hand window and spilled across the old hardwood floorboards in a comfortable glow that gave the room a certain pleasant attraction that Charlie felt right away.

Kippy turned in front of Charlie and put his arms out, and Charlie took his boyfriend's hands and squeezed them.

"You feel it?" Kippy asked, grinning.

Charlie looked about the room. That there was something extra here seemed obvious, but what it was exactly, Charlie did not know.

"I feel something. It's just...really comfortable here."

Kippy nodded. "I think this is Billy's bedroom."

Charlie gave a small laugh, and looked around again, for now it seemed obvious. The joyful presence that somehow accented this old house was concentrated here, in this room. What else could it be, but the link that drew Billy Matson to this time and place?

"I think you're right, Kip. It feels right, doesn't it?"

Kippy came closer, wrapped his arms around Charlie, and kissed him for the fifth time since they had arrived at the old house. Charlie closed his eyes and smiled. If nothing else, coming to this house and meeting Billy Matson had shown all the boys just how much magic they actually had in their lives.

They kissed for a long time, only drawing slightly apart as they heard someone coming up the stairs. A moment later Adrian and Ricky came into the room, laughing, holding hands and swinging their arms together.

Ricky leaned over and kissed Adrian's cheek, eliciting a look of pure delight from the boy. "Oh, Richard! Not in front of the kids!"

Charlie and Kippy both laughed. "What brings you two up here?" Charlie asked.

Adrian looked surprised, and Ricky gave them a look. "You called us, that's what," Ricky said.

Charlie and Kippy looked at each other. "We called you?" Charlie asked, looking back at Ricky. "When?"

"Just now," Adrian supplied, his eyes searching back and forth between Charlie's eyes and Kippy's. "We came into the front hall and you called down the steps for us to come up."

Kippy looked skeptical. "We didn't call you. Who's voice did you hear?"

"Yours," Adrian said.

"Charlie's," Ricky said at the same moment.

Ricky and Adrian looked at each other in amazement. "It was Charlie," Ricky repeated.

"I distinctly heard Kippy," Adrian countered.

Charlie held up a hand. "It doesn't matter. Neither of us called you."

The four of them were silent a moment.

"The place is haunted," Adrian said quietly.

There was a sudden faint rustling sound, like squirrels running about inside the walls, then a soft thunk, and a door to one side of the room opened about two inches.

The four boys gaped at it, and it took a moment for Charlie to regain his composure. Despite the sun filling the room, that the event was supernatural in nature felt obvious. But who could it be but Billy Matson trying to get their attention? And if so, why didn't he just show up in person like before?

Charlie disengaged from Kippy and approached the open door. It had to be a closet, because Charlie remembered that the upstairs hallway was beyond that wall.

It was. Charlie grasped the knob and pulled the door wide, and the sunlight spilled within, revealing a shallow closet with shelves on either side. The other boys came to stand beside Charlie, and all of them stared at the interior of the closet. It was absolutely empty.

"They must have folded everything back then," Kippy commented idly. "There's nowhere to hang anything up."

The rustling started up again within the wall, and everyone turned to look at the spot the sound emanated from. It was moving towards the closet, and in a moment seemed to be coming from inside. There was another indefinable small noise, and then movement down at the floor level. Charlie's eyes dropped as a section of the baseboard trim popped out from the wall.

Charlie licked his lips nervously and looked at Kippy. "Should we look?"

"Well, duh," Kippy said softly...yet made no move to go himself.

That made Charlie smile, and the smile filled him with the energy of assurance, and he stepped boldly into the closet and squatted to his knees by the back wall.

The trim piece had pushed out just enough that Charlie could get is fingers behind the end of it. He pulled it out farther, bent down and peered within the recess behind it. The sunlight offered enough of a glow that he could just make out something within.

"Looks like a book." Charlie grasped it and gently tugged, and the thing popped out into his hand. He stood erect and turned to better see what he had found.

It was a small book, about six by four inches, and maybe an inch thick. The cover was leather, now somewhat dried and scuffed with age, and bore no markings at all. A fine gold chain was wrapped around the book side-to-side, then turned on itself and wrapped about it end-to-end. A small padlock secured the ends of the chain, forbidding entry to the pages within.

"A diary?" Kippy asked, staring at the book.

"Or a journal," Ricky suggested.

Adrian nodded. "You think it's Billy's?"

Charlie frowned. "It must be his. He wanted us to find it."

"But not to open it, apparently," Kippy decided. "Unless there's a key in that hole, too."

Charlie handed the book to Kippy and squatted down again and pushed his hand into the wall and felt about. But there was no key.

"That chain wouldn't be hard to break," Ricky said, peering closer. "Probably there just to let people know it was off limits if they found the book, and to let Billy know if anyone had been in it."

"Should we break it?" Kippy asked, looking doubtfully at Charlie. "That feels like trespassing to me."

Charlie nodded. "I agree. For now, we won't do anything. I think Billy just wanted us to bring it to the party. So that's what we'll do."

Kippy frowned. "I wonder why he didn't just get it himself?"

"Maybe he couldn't," Adrian suggested. "Maybe he has limitations. Like not being able to pick up real stuff."

"He had that invitation," Kippy pointed out. "It was real. I felt it in my hand."

Charlie frowned. "But was it real? I mean, I saw the way it went from new to old when he gave it to you, and then back to new again when you gave it to Will. Real things don't change states like that."

Kippy looked annoyed. "I felt it, Charlie."

"I know. But we don't really know what forces we are dealing with, Kip. How much of what we see and hear is real in a physical sense, and what is just in our minds and seems real?"

Ricky laughed. "That's a statement right from the pages of Britannica, if I ever heard one."

Charlie felt a flash of annoyance. "I'm serious, Rick. The bald fact is that we don't know what we're really dealing with here."

Ricky looked surprised, and then contrite. "Sorry. I'm just out of my depth with this ghost stuff."

"We all are," Kippy decided. "I trust Charlie's thinking, deranged and strange as it often is." He squeezed Charlie's wrist to show he was kidding. "If I can be made to see something that isn't there, I guess I can be made to feel it, too."

"So is this journal real?" Adrian asked, pointing to the book in Kippy's hand.

"I think it is," Charlie decided. "Or that, for the moment, it is. I think that place in the closet is where Billy Matson hid the book when he was a boy."

Kippy frowned. "So it might be real, and it might just be...what? Like a representation of something?" He smiled. "Billy's feelings for Will, maybe?"

"He didn't live in this house his whole life," Adrian said then. "Pat said his uncle owns the place, and has for years. I would think if Billy moved from here, he would have taken that book with him."

Charlie considered that. "Maybe. I don't know. If this book is somehow a record of Billy's secret thoughts about Will - and the fact that it was so well hidden seems to support that idea - then maybe it was too painful for him to keep after Will was gone. Maybe he just left it behind when he moved out."

Everyone was silent a moment. "That just doesn't seem right," Kippy finally said. "We're missing something."

"Maybe." Charlie nodded helplessly. "But I can't figure out what." He shrugged then. "It seems clear that Billy wanted us to find this. So it also seems clear that we need to bring it to the party."

Kippy looked down at the book, and shook his head slowly. He lifted his shirt, and tucked it into the front of his pants, and then arranged his shirt over it again. "Can you tell it's there?"

Charlie grinned. "No. But it sure will be fun getting it back later."

Kippy smiled, and swatted him playfully. "What if I resist?"

Charlie's eyebrows popped upwards. "Will you?"

"No. I was just asking."

Charlie pushed the molding back into place in the closet, and they all moved back so that he could close the door. "Let's not mention this to Pat and Kenny, okay?"

The others nodded, and then the four of them headed for the stairs. Charlie looked back into the sunlit room a last time, feeling again the sense of special joy it held. That it was a remnant left over from another time, and another life, seemed certain now.

Another memory from the past, finally making itself known.

"Remember what I said about gas in the car, okay?" Charlie's mom said, as Charlie came down from his room that Halloween evening. He was wearing his costume, and now his mom looked him over critically and nodded. "My god, but you're ugly. Must come from your father's side of the family."

Charlie laughed at the way his dad, seated at the kitchen table looking over the day's mail, rolled his eyes. "That's right, talk nasty about me right in front of me."

Charlie's mom laughed, and went to her husband and leaned down and kissed his cheek. "Better than behind your back, isn't it?"

"I don't know. It seems to hurt more in the face than behind the back."

"It's just a matter of perception, dear."

Charlie grinned. "Am I going to be able to go off and leave you two? Now kiss and make up."

His dad smiled and turned his head and puckered, and Charlie's mom kissed him fondly.

His dad sighed. "I always thought that making up was the best part."

Charlie's mom swatted him playfully, and turned back to face Charlie. "You look great. And Ricky is going to make up your faces, too?"

Charlie nodded. "I'll pick up Kip, and then we'll go by Ricky's house and do the face paint. Adrian should already be there." Charlie looked up at the clock on the kitchen wall. "That's why I'm leaving so early. To give us time to get that done."

"Well, you guys have a good time, okay?" His mom smiled then. "Your dad and I talked, and feel that if you are home by one o'clock, we won't feel like you took advantage of us."

Charlie grinned. "Thanks. I'll be here. The guys are staying over, remember? We'll try to be as quiet as we can when we come in."

His dad sighed. "That's okay. I'm usually tired enough I can go right back to sleep, anyway."

Charlie went to his mom and hugged her. "Thanks again for the car. I'll get gas, too."

"No beer," his dad said pointedly.

"I don't drink," Charlie returned, grinning. "Yet."

His mom eyed him. "You think you might someday?"

"Being a part of this family? Absolutely."

Charlie ran as his mom chased after him. He beat her to the front door and opened it, but paused just long enough that she could catch him.

"Be careful," she said, giving him another hug. "And have fun."

He grinned at her, and kissed her cheek. "Stop worrying. Kippy will keep me straight."

She laughed. "I rather doubt that!"

Charlie sighed as he walked out to his mom's car. Life sure was pretty good just now.

The retiring day had left an orange glow on the horizon to the west, and the coming night was already peppering the sky above with stars. It wasn't warm, but it wasn't cold, either. Just right, it seemed, for Charlie to be comfortable in the costume he was wearing

He drove over to Kippy's house, and had scarcely pulled into the drive when the front door of the house opened and his boyfriend came hustling out. Kippy looked ominous in his costume, the fading light giving him a ghoulish cast that had Charlie grinning as the boy opened the passenger door and slid in beside him.

"What are you looking so happy about?" Kippy asked, smiling as he leaned over to kiss Charlie.

"I was just thinking, that if Billy and Will show up at the party, they'll be the least frightening looking people there!"

Kippy grinned, and patted the front of his costume. "I've got the book. I really hope this meeting works out for them."

Charlie nodded, backing the car out of the drive. "Do you feel like it will? Skwish, remember?"

Kippy was silent a moment, but then nodded. "I feel like it will be okay."

"Then it will," Charlie answered, relaxing. Kippy had called the shots correctly thus far, and now was no time to start doubting his boyfriend's feel for things.

They drove over to Ricky's house and pulled into the driveway. "Just keep up the positive thoughts, okay, Kip?"

Kippy reached over and squeezed Charlie's hand. "Everything will be okay, Charlie."

Ricky met them at the door. His face was already made up to look like the undead, and Charlie and Kippy both oohed as they stepped into the lighted entry hall.

"Wow," Charlie said, admiringly. "You look evil as hell."

Ricky grinned. "You should see Adrian. He looks like Freddie Kreuger's meaner brother."

"I think so, too," Adrian said, coming out from the kitchen. Charlie and Kippy both stared. Adrian looked as gruesome as any zombie Hollywood had ever exhaled onto the screen.

Charlie looked at Ricky. "Boy, you missed your calling."

Ricky looked embarrassed, but happy. "It's kinda fun, actually."

Kippy came over and leaned playfully against Ricky. "When you're a famous horror movie make-up guy, can I have your autograph?"

Ricky nodded, playing along. "Sure, for a small fee."

Charlie laughed. "Can you do me and Kippy now?"

Ricky grinned, and looked from one boy to the other. "Both of you at the same time? I don't know." He glanced at Adrian. "And what would my boyfriend think?"

Charlie and Kippy stared at each other, and then both started laughing.

"Man, when you come out of your shell, you kick that sucker down the street, don't you?" Charlie asked.

Ricky's face reddened. "Well, I'm trying to be more open."

"I'd say you're there," Kippy replied. He looked over at Adrian. "You'd better keep your eyes on him now."

"I'm not worried," Adrian said, coming to stand beside Ricky. "This guy knows who he's with."

Ricky looked embarrassed again. "Yeah."

Charlie looked around, peering into the living room. "I take it we're alone?"

"Uh huh. My mom took my little brother out for trick or treats, and my sister is down the street at Janie Paully's house."

Kippy glanced at his watch. "So you gonna do us, or what?" His eyes held mischief, but Ricky pretended not to notice.

"Come on into the bathroom and stand in front of the mirror."

The boys followed Ricky down the hall to the bath, where his face paints were laid out on the counter by the sink.

Kippy went first, and Charlie watched his boyfriend quickly become another of the undead.

"What's that?" Kippy asked, pointing to a black curly mass that resembled a hamster's nest. "Is that fake hair?"

"Yeah. You want some?" Ricky grinned. "You'd look cool with big, furry eyebrows."

"Yes!" Kippy looked delighted.

Charlie watched, grinning, as Ricky trimmed off several hunks of black hair, shaped them with a pair of small scissors, and then attached them with spirit gum to Kippy's own eyebrows. The result was amazing.

"Is that my cute BF under all that gruesome?" Charlie asked, wondrously.

Kippy examined himself in the mirror, looking delighted. "I am so butt ugly! I love it!"

Charlie shook his head in wonder. "There's something I never expected to hear from your lips."

Kippy managed a grin, and stepped back and grabbed Charlie by a shoulder and thrust him forward in front of the mirror. "Now do Charlie!"

Ricky smiled evilly. "Okay, Charlie, now I'll do you."

Charlie laughed. "You're actually enjoying all this gay wordplay, aren't you?"

Ricky's grin widened." Yup. Now shut up and hold still."

Charlie watched now as his own face was altered. Ricky attached a small rubbery lump to Charlie's nose with spirit gum, and then glued a tuft of thick hairs to it. Then he colored Charlie's face a light blue like the other boy's, mottled his cheeks with a bruised purple and black, and added dark shading around his eyes. Almost as an afterthought, Ricky sketched a few ragged red lines here and there that looked amazingly like open wounds, and then stepped back to examine his handiwork.

Kippy leaned closer, grinning. "Charlie, you look terrible!"

"Is that all the hair I get?" Charlie asked, blowing a puff of air upwards at his own nose. "Hey...these hairs stick up in front of my eyes. I have to be able to drive, Rick."

Ricky nodded, used the scissors to trim the hairs down a little until Charlie could see, and then attached a few ragged clumps of hair to Charlie's chin and jawline. Charlie stepped back a bit, turning his head slowly from side to side to examine himself in the mirror. "I'll bet my own mom wouldn't know me."

"She wouldn't want to, looking like that!" Adrian said, laughing.

The four of them crowded together and peered at themselves in the mirror, grinning and pushing each other playfully. They looked hideous, and all of them loved it.

Kippy looked at his watch again, and pronounced it time to hit the road.

They quickly cleaned up Ricky's paints and put them back in the case he kept them in, and headed for the door. Ricky locked the house, and the four of them walked out to the car. The sun was going now, with only a weak shine on the horizon to indicate it had ever been there at all.

They got into the car, and Charlie backed it out of the drive and headed it up the road to Karloff Street and turned right. At the stop sign with Westmore, Charlie paused while an older couple crossed the road, walking a white poodle on a leash. The man waved and smiled at them, obviously unable to see clearly into the car. Charlie grinned, wondering what reaction they would have gotten had the light been a little better.

They headed out Westmore to Chaney Road, and followed it over to Mockingbird Lane.

"I'm a little nervous, Charlie," Kippy said, as they approached the driveway to the old house. "I hope Will shows up. Billy will be devastated if he doesn't."

"Will said he'd be there, Kip. Relax, okay?"

Kippy nodded, but didn't look appeased. Charlie shook his head, and reached over and took his boyfriend's hand and squeezed it fondly. "I said to relax."

Kippy grinned at him, an action that was still somehow adorable even through the gruesome make up. Charlie grinned back, thinking that only Kippy could be adorable while looking like he had just been dug up after several years in the ground.

This time when they pulled up the gravel drive it was to find the house brightly lit. A half-dozen cars were already parked around the circle of the drive, and Charlie nosed his mom's car between two parked ones and found a good spot in the grass to stop. They could hear music from within, but sufficiently muffled to offer no clue as to the artists. Charlie had been to parties thrown by people at school where you could identify the music being played a block away from the house.

"That's our Pat, being cool with the neighbors," Charlie said, shutting off the motor and opening his door. "Party, anyone?"

They got out and headed up the steps. A small, hand-lettered sign on the front door said, "Come in!", and so they did.

Carly Enders and her girlfriend, Jennifer Tambuck, were standing in the front foyer, sipping from cups and talking. They turned to look at the boys as they came in, and their eyes widened in unison. Charlie grinned at that, and waved as Carly peered more closely at them. "That you, Charlie?" She smiled then, and nodded. "Yeah, it is. So I know who all the others are, too."

Adrian laughed. "Guilt by association. Who would've thought?"

"How's the party going?" Ricky asked, peering around into the living room. "Not exactly crowded in here yet."

"It's early," Jenny said. "We only came when we did because we rode over with Craig and Rudy."

"Rudy's here?" Ricky asked then. "I didn't see his car out front."

"Craig drove. The hot rod is in the shop or something."

Ricky sighed, and Charlie smiled. Rudy Sinkert had some kind of old muscle car - a Chevy, as Charlie remembered - and Ricky had made no bones about the fact that, after Adrian, cars like Rudy's were going to be one of the chief loves of his life. When Ricky eventually got his license, Charlie expected his first acquisition to be a fast car of some kind or the other.

"I'll drive recklessly and at a crazy speed on the way home, I promise," Charlie said, grinning at Ricky and holding up a hand as if he were swearing.

Ricky rolled his eyes, which looked particularly funny in his make up. "Shut up, Charlie. You just don't get it, is all."

Charlie didn't, really, but could see no reason why that mattered. He felt it was perfectly fine for Rudy and Ricky to love cars as something more than transportation, while Charlie just drove them from point A to point B like most other human beings. But it didn't mean he couldn't have some fun with it.

Pat came out of the living room then, calling their names. He was dressed in a bright outfit of clashing colors, with a vest, tie, and shirt that were garish to say the least, and a pair of awful striped bell-bottom slacks that must have been in someone's attic for the last fifty years or so. Pat's hair was fixed so that it flared backwards around his head like he'd stuck his head out in the direct winds of a tornado, and his face was painted a pasty white. Black circles around his eyes and blue veins drawn on his cheeks completed the guise, which in its own way was just as hideous as what Ricky had cooked up for Charlie and the others.

"Man, you look great!" Charlie said, stepping back and eying the other boy up and down.

"Me? Look at you guys!" Pat put his hands on his hips. "I see Ricky has been at work again."

Charlie grinned at Ricky, who was smiling. "Good, ain't he?"

"Yup." Pat suddenly struck a pose. "Bet you can't guess what character inspired this outfit."

Charlie examined the other boy again, and while Pat's get-up did look familiar, Charlie could not place the character.

"I know who you are!" Kippy said then, jumping up and down excitedly. "You're that guy from that old movie! Buggermass, or something like that!"

Pat hooted. "Beetlejuice, is what he's called." He grinned. "Wait until you guys see Kenny."

They didn't have long to wait. A tall figure came out from the living room to join them, and Charlie took an involuntary step backwards. The newcomer was a head taller than they, and what a head it was! It looked shrunken, and deformed, and quite hideous perched atop the dark suit, white shirt, and floppy gray bow tie the fellow was wearing.

"I heard my name being abused," Kenny said, from somewhere within the depths of the thing.

Charlie peered closer, and could just make out the boy's eyes looking out from beneath the bow tie. Charlie grinned, looked more closely at the shrunken head, and realized then that it was the carved souvenir coconut head that Pat had gotten in Hawaii when he was thirteen. It was a coconut carved with a demonic-looking human face, with a hooked nose, and glaring doll's eyes attached beneath the heavy carved brows. A tuft of green hair stood straight upwards from the slightly pointed top of the thing, and the mouth had been painted red and was full of crooked teeth painted an off-white.

"That's great," Charlie breathed, nodding his head in appreciation. "I'd have never guessed it was you."

"We used styrofoam blocks to build fake shoulders atop Kenny's, so that they would be in line with the top of his head," Pat explained. "The suit we got at the thrift shop, in the big and tall man's section."

Charlie and Kippy grinned at each other at that.

"The coconut head is attached to that lightweight helmet I used to wear when I rode my bike everywhere, so that it turns when Ken turns his own head. Cool, huh?"

"Absolutely," Ricky said, in an admiring tone. "Pretty clever, too."

Behind them, the front door opened and a small crowd of new arrivals entered, with witches and ghouls and more undead well-represented. Charlie was deciding already that their own costumes, while very well-done, were not going to be totally unique at this party. Everyone had seemed to take seriously Pat's wish that they come dressed in gruesome fashion, and it was already evident that some creative energy had been expended on the part of those in attendance.

"This is going to be great," Kippy whispered, leaning closer. "Remind me to take some pictures."

They circulated about, talking to people, and even having to guess who a few of them were beneath their costumes. Ricky loved this, reminding Adrian of the costume he had worn the year before, with a helmet like a Star Wars bounty hunter that camouflaged even his voice.

"You were so sexy in that outfit," Ricky said, grinning at the other boy.

"I'm not sexy in this?" Adrian asked, wiggling his hips suggestively - which actually looked hilarious in the bedraggled fur jacket and moth-eaten pants he wore.

"Yeah, you are...but only because I know what's underneath," Ricky decided, putting an arm around his boyfriend. " smell like coffee, too!"

Kippy rubbed himself unsubtly against Charlie, who immediately put an arm around him. "What?"

"I was feeling left out," Kippy whispered.

Charlie smiled, and offered a quick kiss. "Better?"

"Yes." Kippy looked around the room they were in, and then directed his gaze back to Charlie. "Seen any sign of Billy or Will?"

Charlie had almost forgotten about them. He turned and looked about too, and shook his head. "No. Do you think they'll be in costumes?"

Kippy looked startled. "I hadn't thought about that. I wonder if they can look any way they want?"

Charlie grinned. "If that's the case, all we need to look for are the two best costumes at the party."

Pat found them then, and put a hand on Adrian's shoulder. "I'm here for that dance you promised me."He grinned at Ricky. "Is it okay?"

Ricky grinned. "This I gotta see. Proceed, gentlemen."

Pat grinned at Charlie. "I hope you don't mind, but Kippy's next."

"Don't you think you should ask me first?" Kippy said, feigning annoyance.

Pat smiled sweetly at him, a kind of horrifying sight given his make up. "Dance with me next, cutie?"

Kippy visibly melted. "Well, when you ask like that..."

They went back around to the dining room, where the music was playing. Pat picked up the MP3 player and fiddled with it a moment, then set it back on the table and turned to Adrian.

The speakers made a soft click, and then a song Charlie was not familiar with started. It was fast and had a kind of techno beat, and Pat immediately started gyrating to it, while holding out a hand to Adrian. Adrian moved closer, his own body already mimicking Pat's movements.

The crowd gathered around to watch, and Charlie smiled at the interested light in Kippy's eyes as he watched the two boys move about the floor. Kippy loved to dance, and part of that was a fascination with the way the male body could be made to move. Kippy loved to watch good dance almost as much as he enjoyed doing it himself.

Adrian was a natural, and a pleasure to watch. Pat had talent as well, and a love of movement and music. The smile on Ricky's face gave away how much he loved to see his boyfriend dance, and a more subtle quality in his expression gave away how sexy he thought it was. Ricky's eyes followed Adrian's every movement, his satisfaction and affection apparent, as well as his desire to see Adrian happy.

Charlie sighed, realizing again how much he loved these guys. Kippy most intensely, for Kippy was the other half of Charlie's soul, and always would be. But Charlie loved Ricky and Adrian, too, as friends, and companions, and just because they loved each other, and some of that love spilled over into Charlie's world. Seeing people in love was immensely satisfying, emotionally, and being in love yourself, and being able to share that state of love with others in love, incredibly fulfilling.

Charlie watched the two boys move about, and had to shake his head a little at the idea that the human body could be pushed to such limits of grace and motion.

The song ended, too soon, and Pat spun away to Kenny's side, and Adrian returned to Ricky, sliding into his embrace, smiling and laughing. "That was a blast!"

Ricky just nodded, and kissed him.

Kippy looked over at Charlie, and they shared a brief grin together.

Pat gave Kenny a hug, and whispered something into the dark space beneath the floppy bowtie. Kenny raised his arms and returned the hug, after which Pat pulled away and went back to the MP3 player. He picked it up again, hunted through the menu, selected something, and set it down again. Then he turned to Kippy, smiling.

The song started - Katy Perry's Firework.

Kippy grinned. "Kind of a cliché, isn't it?"

Pat returned the grin. "I love oldies but goodies."

"Just try to keep up," Kippy returned, laughing.

They started moving together, and people drew closer to watch.

Charlie's eyes followed Kippy as he moved, and he could only marvel again at how easy his boyfriend made it look. Kippy was many things, and Charlie loved every single one of them, not the least of which was Kippy's ability to shape the movements of his body to sound. The grace and precision he showed as he moved was entrancing, and Charlie was aware that many eyes watched the boys with equal intensity as they moved together around the floor.

Pat was good, but Kippy was kind of in a league of his own. Adrian was the only boy that Charlie had ever seen that seemed able to nearly match Kippy in movement. He slid his eyes to one side, saw the smile in Adrian's eyes as he watched, saw the way Adrian's body swayed gently in place to the beat of the music. And saw the way that Ricky's arm encircled Adrian's waist, and the way his hand moved gently on Adrian's hip as the boy moved back and forth. And the way that Ricky's expression exuded equal parts of affection, contentment, and pride.

Charlie smiled inwardly, seeing just how much could be gained by simple observation.

His eyes moved on, reading the expressions of the other watchers, until they settled on a curiously familiar face and stopped.

The boy wore a pair of dark overalls tucked into heavy boots, with a long-sleeved shirt that looked to be of black silk. Both the shirt and the overalls glowed with an eerie but beautiful sheen, an almost otherworldly affect that seemed at initial glance the result of the room's lights against some satiny material. But as Charlie looked closer, he could see that that wasn't so. No, the look was deceptive, and it seemed the longer that Charlie looked, the more certain he became that the clothing itself glowed.

But it was the boy's face that captured Charlie's attention and held it. It almost looked like a face drawn on paper, a face that might have been a skeleton face had it not looked so much like a smiling, happy monkey. But this face was not a drawing. It looked real.

The boy's eyes came up and met Charlie's, and then he knew for sure.

Billy Matson.

Charlie smiled and nodded, and the happy monkey face smiled in return.

And then Billy's gaze moved to a point over Charlie's shoulder, and froze.

Charlie turned instinctively to follow that gaze, and came to rest on another figure dressed all in black. Another boy, and another glowing costume.

This boy looked like a figure from the old west, decked out in tight-fitting black pants over boots with pointed toes, a black long-sleeved shirt under a black vest, and a black bandanna tied around his neck. Black gloves, a black Stetson, and a black belt dotted with the shiny forms of ammunition, and supporting a black holster filled with an ominous black six-shooter, completed the outfit.

Like Billy's costume, this newcomer's clothing had an odd yet pleasing sheen to it, as though every stray ray of light in the room was somehow captured and diffused around the clothing.

What was striking, though, was this new boy's face. There wasn't one.

Almost as if he had pulled a black nylon stocking over his head, the faintest traces of features showed - the shallow hollows of eye sockets; the blunt point of a nose; the suggestion of ears to either side. But the effect was far more convincing than a nylon stocking, and the boy looked like a shadow in clothing, or the night come alive in human form.

Where those blank eyes were directed was clear. Charlie looked back at Billy, and it was plain that the newcomer's gaze was directed at him.

Billy suddenly turned and started to walk around the crowd, and the dark gunfighter turned and started walking the other way, towards him. Charlie's eyes followed, his heartbeat picking up as he realized that the two boys were moving to come together. Charlie reached over and tapped Ricky's hand, and pointed when the boy looked over at him. Adrian picked up on the movement and glanced at Charlie, and then turned to see where his boyfriend was looking.

Suddenly, Ricky turned back to Charlie and moved towards him, pushing Adrian at first, until the boy got moving.

"Is that...?" Ricky whispered, when he and Adrian reached Charlie's side.

Charlie nodded, and all three boys turned back to watch.

The smiling monkey and the gunfighter reached each other, and both of them stopped, about two feet apart. For a moment in time they just gazed at each other; and then Billy raised his arms slightly, and Will flowed into them.

As their faces came together, their costumes glowed madly, soft lights rushing back and forth and around the two with a wondrous splendor. The effect was just in time to cap the end of the song, and as Kippy and Pat ground to a halt, all eyes were drawn to the couple embracing beyond the crowd.

Pat stared, and then shook his head. "Now...those are some good costumes!"

Kippy was at Charlie's side in an instant. "Is that them?"

Charlie nodded, and put an arm around Kippy and drew him close.

The crowd watched in silence as the two boys at the other end of the room held each other, and kissed each other, and the lights danced about them like the stars drawn down from the night sky. Charlie could hear whispered comments among the crowd; but what really captured his attention was the way that couples everywhere drew together and held onto each other, as if somehow sensing that this was perhaps the most special moment they ever might witness together.

The attention seemed to dampen the lights about the two boys somehow, and in a moment they let their faces drift apart, and just stood looking at each other.

At Charlie's side, Kippy raised his hands and thrust them lightly together, and started clapping. Charlie grinned and followed suit, and Ricky and Adrian both laughed and joined in. In a moment, most of the crowd was laughing and clapping, not sure why they were, but somehow enjoying the hell out of the moment.

The smiling monkey and the gunfighter looked over at the crowd, and then turned to face them, and bowed slightly, holding hands.

Charlie took that moment to circle around towards the two boys, aware of Kippy at his heels and Ricky and Adrian just behind. He reached them, and turned to face the crowd, holding up his hands.

"Can I have your attention, please?"

The crowd quieted and focused on Charlie. He turned to Billy and Will and smiled at them. "We were told we could invite anyone that we thought might enjoy this party, and so we did. These are our friends, Billy Matson and Will Hopkins." Charlie grinned at the crowd. "As you can see, they're kind of fond of each other."

The crowd laughed, and Kippy came to stand next to Charlie, putting an arm around his waist.

Charlie nodded at the crowd. "Will and Billy knew when they were young that they loved each other, but events came along in their lives that separated them. This is their first night back together in a long time, and I think we can all see that the light of love between them has not dimmed a single watt in the interim!"

The crowd laughed again.

"Anyway, I'm sure the guys would love to say hello if you want to introduce yourselves, but keep in mind that this is their night as much as it is yours, okay?" Charlie grinned at Will and Billy. "Give them a little space, if you will. Who knows where this night might go?"

The crowd laughed again, and Pat went and restarted the music. Couples moved together and held each other, and the mood of the party became gentle and affectionate.

Kippy squeezed Charlie close, and kissed his cheek. "Oh, Charlie, that was so sweet of you," he whispered.

Several people came over and complimented Will and Billy on their costumes, and asked how the lights were done, and Billy surprised Charlie and the others with a very solid description of electroluminescence, and went on to explain that the fabric they had used for the costumes had some special qualities. Most of the people just nodded and smiled, and soon they had all wandered off.

"What was all that?" Charlie asked Billy, after the six of them were briefly alone again.

Billy's monkey face smiled. "I had a whole life, remember? I was an electrical engineer by trade."

"You're amazing," Will said affectionately, squeezing Billy's hand. "I missed so much by not being able to grow old with you."

"There's still time," Billy said softly.

"What will you do now?" Kippy asked.

"We're together now," Will said. "Bonded. That bond cannot be broken, so we will never lose each other again."

Billy nodded. "Now, no matter where we go...out there...even if we lose our way back here, to home, we will never lose our way to each other."

Kippy sniffed, and leaned against Charlie, who smiled and sighed. "I'm so glad for you guys."

Charlie felt Kippy suddenly start, and then his boyfriend was patting the front of his costume. "The book! I have your book!"

Billy smiled, and looked over at Will. "I have something for you."

The mysterious face of the gunfighter somehow managed to convey a smile. "What is it?"

"Not here," Billy whispered. "Let's go." He looked over at Charlie and the others. "All of us."

They moved from the room to the front hall, and Billy and Will climbed the stairs. They walked straight through the rope that Pat had placed there to keep people on the first floor, while Charlie and the others had to scramble over it to follow.

Charlie felt he knew where they were going, and was proved right when they turned at the top of the stairs and headed for Billy Matson's old room.

They entered, and moved to the center of the room. Charlie looked about and smiled, feeling that same small joy that he had noticed the room held the last time he was here. Happy memories, maybe, now a part of the paint and the plaster, and still somehow making themselves known to anyone sensitive enough to look.

Kippy dug into the front of his costume, pulled forth the little book, and handed it to Billy, who looked down at it fondly. "There's a lot in here."

Will looked down at the book, and suddenly his face was that of the boy they had met in the cemetery. Billy's monkey skull flowed into the face they knew, and the two boys gazed down at the book that Billy held in his hands.

"Is that thing real?" Kippy asked. "I mean, did you actually leave your diary inside that wall all those years?"

Billy smiled. "No. When I was a boy I kept my diary there, but I took it with me when my family moved from this house."

"It feels real," Kippy said. "Especially when it's stuck into my pants."

Billy laughed. "There are worse places to keep things of value."

"We wondered why you didn't get it yourself," Adrian said. "Why you had us do it."

"I couldn't get it." Billy smiled. "These are...memories. Memories are funny creatures. They exist inside our heads, but they have no form until you share them with others. I needed you to find these, so that they would take a form I could share with Will."

Billy turned to Will. "I used to keep a diary when you and I were friends. I placed all the things I thought about you...about that book. And after you had gone, I never stopped thinking of you, not for the rest of my days. Every memory, every thought I ever had of you, is in here. I wanted you to know that even though you were gone...I still loved you, forever."

Will smiled, and put his hands out, and Billy placed the book into them. Will closed his eyes.

The chain binding the covers closed vanished, and the cover flipped open so suddenly that Charlie started. A page turned, and then another; and then suddenly the pages were flying by, as though blown by a full fledged tornado. Charlie staggered as a flurry of images moved through his mind, so quickly that only a few, here and there, seemed to pause long enough to be identified: Billy and Will, twelve years old, sitting together on an old log over a creek, their bare feet dangling in the water, their shoulders pressed together, laughing and smiling and lost in each other's company; the two boys, thirteen, sitting together in a darkened movie theater, their eyes on the movie but their thoughts on their hands, sharing the armrest between them, and touching together so gently; and then the boys, sixteen, briefly hidden behind the hulking form of an old tractor inside a large equipment barn, sharing their first real kiss.

And their last real memory of being together.

The images that came after were of Billy only, aging a few years in each one, paused for a moment in his day and remembering, smiling and talking to Will as if he were right there beside him; sharing his day, his thoughts, and his dreams with his lost love. A lifetime passed, full of all the things that every lifetime brims over with; and each and every day connected to a past...a past shared. Billy remembered everything, to someday share with Will.

In a way it was terribly sad. The love Billy had had for Will had never once waned, nor his sense of loss ever once dimmed. Throughout his long lifetime, Billy had held onto one single hope: that he would someday be able to see Will once again.

And then Charlie understood why the Earth was not filled with ghosts. Most people went off, out there, and met their destinies, knowing they had lived their lives and that that phase was over and done. Only occasionally did something happen like this thing with Billy and Will, where two lives had remained unfulfilled, due to one single tragedy. Where a love that was meant to happen, and to grow, was terminated before it could rightly spread its wings and fly.

When Billy's time had come he had remained behind, at home, hoping for a second chance at love.

The images ended, evaporated, and in instant they were done, and the rear cover of the little book snapped closed with a slap. The book remained in Will's hands a moment longer, and then began to fade, and then was gone.

Will opened his eyes, and a soft light shone from within them. "Oh, Billy," he said softy. "Such beautiful things there."

Billy nodded, and bit at his lip. "I saved them, every one, for you, Will."

"I'm so glad you did. It was almost like we shared that life, together."

Kippy dug through the pockets of his costume, found his hanky, and blew his nose. Charlie smiled at that, and understood completely. Love will do that to you, every time.

Ricky had a stoic look on his face, and Adrian was holding onto him tightly. Charlie understood that, too.

"What will you guys do now?" Charlie asked, turning back to Billy and Will.

"It's time to move on, finally," Billy said. "I cannot thank you fellas enough for what you have done for us."

"Yeah," Will said. "Thanks so much...for helping us get back together."

Kippy sniffed. "Anytime."

Charlie smiled, and pulled Kippy closer. "You guys will be together now?"

Billy nodded, and Charlie was surprised to see the boy growing indistinct. He shifted his gaze quickly to Will, and saw that he could almost see through him as well.

"You're going?" he asked quickly.

"Yes." Billy reached out and took Will's hand. "Thanks Kippy, and Charlie, and Adrian, and Ricky. Thanks again, all of you."

The four boys stood together, and watched as Billy Matson and Will Hopkins faded away, and then were gone. For a moment longer the room stayed the same; and then something went out of it as well, something with no name, but like a small joy, leaving the room just another room in another old house past its prime.

Kippy turned and came into Charlie's arms, and they stood quietly and held each other, just as Ricky and Adrian held each other. And they were still there, safe in each other's arms, when Pat came looking for them twenty minutes later.

"It was a great party," Charlie said, smiling at Pat and Kenny. "Thanks for inviting us."

Pat nodded. "It really was fun, wasn't it? Except that kind of odd feeling at the end, like it was time for it to be over. Half the people here left in a space of ten minutes."

Charlie looked over at Kippy and smiled. "I know. We felt it, too. Like the party had left, and we were just standing around in an old house."

Kenny grinned. "Yeah." He looked around again, and shook his head. "I thought this place was kind of cool when I first saw it. Like it was something special. Now it just seems old and empty."

Ricky shook his head. "This is still a great old house. It just needs some new memories to fill it up again."

Pat's jaw dropped, and he laughed. "Why, Rick! How dare you be sweet and romantic!"

Ricky's face probably reddened underneath his face paint. Charlie grinned, and Kippy laughed, but Adrian snuggled close to Ricky and stuck his tongue out at Pat. "He's right, so you just leave him alone."

Everyone laughed.

It was nearing midnight, and only a handful of people remained, all friends from school. They gathered together in the old dining room and sat and talked, and for Charlie it was one of the best parts of the evening. He was surprised at how candid everyone seemed, discussing their hopes and their fears about the future. But each of them seemed to take comfort in the special person they had come to the party with, and in the end, everyone gathered to go, smiling and happy.

"You guys want to come by here after school tomorrow and help clean up?" Pat asked, as they met at the front door to go.

"Sure," Charlie said. "Well, I'll have to see if I can get my mom's car, first. Can you come by and get us if I can't?"

"Yeah. Call me, okay?"

It was agreed. They exited the house and walked out to the cars, and Charlie and the others got into theirs and sat a moment in silence.

"Everyone have a good time?" Charlie asked, looking at Kippy, and then into the rear view mirror.

Kippy slid over against Charlie, and leaned against him. "I feel kind of let down, somehow."

"Yeah," Adrian said, from the back seat. "Like something wonderful is suddenly over."

Charlie could see Ricky nod, and nodded himself.

"I think I feel like that, too," Charlie said. "And I think it's because, for just a while, we were wrapped up in something special. It isn't every day that you get to help two guys that are...not alive...find the love they missed out on sixty years before."

Kippy laughed, and snuggled closer. "Charlie. You are so going to get it when we get home."

Charlie blinked in surprise. "Me? What did I do? You're the guy with the skwish."

Kippy smiled. "I might have the skwish, but you're the one that's going to get lucky."

Ricky and Adrian both laughed.

Charlie grinned, and started the car. Just then Pat's SUV pulled up next to them, and Kenny rolled down the window. "You guys left the light on in that upstairs room. Let's remember to turn it off when we're here tomorrow, okay?"

Charlie nodded, and the other boys waved and drove off. As soon as they were out of sight, Charlie opened the door and got out. The other boys looked at each other, and got out, too.

"What's the matter, Charlie?" Kippy asked, staring up at the house with him. The left-hand turret was shedding a soft glow from the upstairs window, pale white, like the light of a full moon.

"I turned that light off. I know I did."

The four of them stared upwards. "Should we go back?" Ricky asked.

Charlie shook his head. "No. Pat locked up, remember?" He smiled. "I'm not sure, but I think it's just someone saying goodbye."

Kippy gave out a little aww!, and raised a hand and waved at the window. "Bye guys. Lots of love, okay?"

They all waved, and said their goodbyes, and then got back into the car, and Charlie put it into gear and eased it back into the driveway. He watched the house in the rear view mirror, and the others turned to watch it, too. For the long minute it took the car to drift down the drive, the old house briefly shone with the warm light of memories.

But then the car reached the edge of the clearing, and just before the house disappeared, the light faded, and went out.

They let themselves into Charlie's house with a minimum of noise, and took turns in the bathroom off of Charlie's room, showering off the face paint. It was past one-thirty when Charlie and Kippy eased into Charlie's bed, and Ricky and Adrian into the cot next to it.

"What a wonderful Halloween," Kippy said, snuggling against Charlie. "When I was little, and all I thought about was trick or treat, I used to dread growing up and missing out on that." He laughed softly. "I didn't know that it would just get better, and that it would come to mean more special things."

Charlie sighed, and pulled his boyfriend closer. "It's a lot better when it's shared, too, don't you think?"

"Yes." Kippy stretched his neck and kissed Charlie. "I do."

"I know I do," Ricky said. He must have poked Adrian under the covers, because that boy jumped, and then reached behind himself and gently slapped Ricky. Ricky just grinned, and plowed his face into Adrian's cheek.

Kippy sighed. "I think Ricky is a little gay, don't you, Charlie?"

"Just a little. But it looks good on him."

The other two boys laughed, and Ricky pulled the covers up over them.

"About time they learned how to do a real sleepover," Kippy said approvingly.

Charlie sighed. "I love you, Kip."

"I know you do," Kippy said. He puckered and offered a very nice kiss. "I love being with you, Charlie," he said, after the kiss was done. "We make a good team."

Charlie nodded, and rubbed his lips against Kippy's forehead. "Wanna make love?"

Kippy smiled. "Oh, Charlie. You say the nicest things."

"Is that a yes?"

"It's a yes."

Charlie grinned, and pulled the covers up over them. He went to kiss Kippy again, but for just a second Kippy held him off. "Wait. What are you doing for Christmas?"

Charlie laughed. "Spending it with you. Why?"

He heard Kippy laugh in the darkness. "Just a feeling I have, that it's going to be interesting."

For a second, Charlie paused. "Skwish?"


For just a second - a very brief second - Charlie was tempted to ask if Kippy knew more. Or felt more. But then he didn't, knowing it wouldn't matter.

Some things are best left for later, anyway.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead