The Gift

by Rob Warr

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While there is no graphic sex, certain sexual situations may be alluded to. This work is the property of the author Rob Warr and should not be reposted or reproduced without his permission. Copyright ©2020 Rob Warr.

Vintage truck and tree

It's unusual to have snow in these parts at Christmas time, however this year mirrored that year long ago, the year that I learned the true meaning of Christmas. As I sat watching the snow fall outside my bedroom window, I was whisked back to that time when I was just a boy.

I was ten that year, I remember it clearly, because it was the first time my age had two digits. A strange thing for a kid to think about, but to me it was like some sort of major achievement. My birthday was in March, and I remember having a small party with my mom and grandparents, an aunt and uncle or two, and my best friend Ely and his two little brothers, Eric and Edwin. I always thought it was neat that all three boys' names began with an E, and I learned later that they were named after their two grandpa's and a great grandpa.

I don't remember what presents I got that year, they were never very big or expensive, for my family didn't have much money, but birthdays were still memorable for me. Maybe I felt that way because I was the center of attention, if only for a day. I do remember playing games with Ely and his brothers, blowing out the candles on my cake, and the delicious taste of cake and ice cream. After the party, Ely and I walked over to the railroad tracks and looked for pop bottles and wound up making 20 cents in deposits, which we shared equally.

Ely and I were best friends, and we spent a lot of time together. His family lived three houses down from ours on the other side of the block, and we'd known each other since we were barely able to walk. In fact, my mom often said that Ely and I became friends when we were still peeing our diapers. Of course that made both of us blush and protest such talk, causing my mom to laugh.

If Ely and I were best friends, his two brothers were a different story. Eric was a year younger than Ely, and Edwin was two years younger, and both were brats in our eyes. Looking back, I realize they were just typical little boys, wanting to tag along with their big brother and his pal, but to us they were a pain in our rears most times. As we got older however, they became less of a pain, and easier to deal with. Sometimes it was nice to have a couple other kids to play with, and a friendly game of marbles or a board game were enhanced by their presence. I found myself liking the two younger brothers more and more as time went on, and by the time Ely and I were ten, I considered them to be friends as well.

I liked Ely's family a great deal too, and felt very comfortable at their house. Mr. Stevens, their father, worked for the railroad as an engineer and moved the cars around from the industrial area outside of town to the main yard. He often took us for rides on the train, though I suspected it was not exactly company policy to allow riders, and thus began my life long love of trains. Mrs. Stevens was always very nice to me and she was a great cook, making cookies and cakes and pies, and other treats that I always looked forward to tasting when I visited.

As for my own family, well, we weren't quite as traditional as the Stevens. I was raised by my mom and grandparents in the same house my mom had grown up in, along with an uncle or aunt or two at different times, but I never really thought much about my situation. I did envy Ely sometimes when I saw how different his family life was than mine, but I loved my family and tried not to think about such things too much.

I did wish we had more money, but I knew my family did the best they could, and I never went without the basics. I had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a warm safe place to live, and most importantly, I was loved. Yes, all my basic needs were covered, but still deep inside me I longed for something more.

In a way, visiting Ely's house satisfied that need that I felt, but I could not put my finger on what it was I was looking for. I genuinely liked his parents, especially his dad, who always seemed to have time to talk to me and bring me into his world. I guess in a way I sort of had a crush on Ely's dad, but not in a sexual way. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind at that age, and I guess what I felt for Mr. Stevens was more like what a son might feel for his father.

Mrs. Stevens was nice too, and she always made sure I was fed, and fed well. Every time I came to visit she fed me, and even these 40 years later I can still remember the delicious smells that always greeted me from her kitchen. She loved her husband, and she loved her boys, and by proxy, she loved me too. I was Ely's closest friend and had earned myself a place in their family, and I considered myself lucky to have two families.

That year, the year Ely and I turned 10, Ely's birthday being in May, we started 5th grade in the fall. Our teacher was Mr. Neil, who was also the school Principal, and though a stern disciplinarian, he was usually very fair and quite personable. Not having a father, I tended to look for male role models, and I guess I looked up to Mr. Neil. My hand was always the first to go up if I knew the answer to his questions, as I tried my hardest to please him, and maybe become his favorite student.

Ely was not as good a student as I was, and he seemed neutral when it came to Mr. Neil, but he never berated me for my efforts to be teacher's favorite. At recess we would join his brothers who were in 3rd and 4th grade, and hang out till the bell rang. A time or two Ely and I had to set some older kid straight when they tried to pick on his little brothers, who by now I considered my brothers as well, but eventually everyone got the message and no one messed with the little squirts anymore.

One day in November, the four of us were sitting on top of the monkey bars during recess, when this kid named Donnie climbed up and just sat there staring at us. I knew him from class, but not outside of school, and he was one of those kids that didn't attract much attention to himself. He was always very quiet, never spoke unless spoken to, and was what I considered a loner. I never saw him with any friends, never saw him participate in the games at recess, or for that matter, associate with the other kids at all.

"Hi," I said, finally breaking the ice, "How you doin' Donnie?"

"K," he mumbled, then he looked up from under a mop of dirty blond hair and said, "How'd you know my name?"

I laughed, "Donnie, I been going to school here since first grade, I know everyone."

"Oh," he said, seeming to be satisfied with my answer.

"So..." Ely said looking at me and grinning, "what's up Donnie?"

"Nuttin'," the kid muttered, barely looking up.

"You're weird," Edwin said then. Edwin was always a bit too honest, and I suspected that was what got him into trouble the few times we'd had to bail him out.

"You're mean," Donnie said, tears filling his eyes, and suddenly he started to climb back down.

"Wait," Ely said grabbing Donnie's arm, then to his brother, "Edwin, you apologize, right now, or the next time you run your mouth and get in trouble me and Brian will just let you get beat up." I knew it was just a bluff, and that Ely would never let anyone harm one of his brothers, but it was enough to make Edwin rethink things.

"Sorry," Edwin said holding out his grubby paw for Donnie to shake, "You're not weird, I was just funnin'."

Donnie ignored the hand, but he sat back down and wiped at his eyes then stared out at the school yard.

"You wanna sit with us at lunch," I blurted out suddenly. I don't even know why I offered, I guess I just felt sorry for him, and I thought about how I'd feel if I had no friends. Anyway, what could it hurt?

Ely gave me a questioning look, but he was a nice kid, and he liked everyone, so having Donnie hanging around at lunch was no big deal to him.

" mean it?" he said, actually smiling for once.

"Sure, us four and a couple other guys usually sit together, but there's always extra chairs. Just look for us in the cafeteria."

"Okay," he said, still smiling, then the smile left his face and he looked ready to cry again, "you're not just foolin' me, are ya? Are you gonna make fun of me when I try to sit with ya or somethin'?"

"No, I swear. Right guys?" I said, looking at the others for help.

"Why would we do that?" Eric asked, he was more like Ely, and got along well with other kids, and he'd already accepted Donnie.

"I dunno, kids are always making fun of me and stuff," he said sounding miserable.

"Well, shame on them," I said, repeating something my mom liked to say, "If you're with us, no one will make fun of ya."

"Okay, but if you trick me...I, I'll be mad."

I suspected he'd be more sad than mad, but I tried to reassure him anyway, "Look, we been going to the same school for 5 years, you see me around every day. Don't you know me by now? Don't you see that I'm not a bad guy?"

"I guess, that's sorta why I climbed up here. Some guys were botherin' me and I had to get away."

"What guys?" Ely asked, looking around to see if he spotted any desperadoes.

"6th graders," Donnie said, doing some looking of his own, "they was gonna pants me in front of some kids and I ran."

"Dirty birds," I said. I wasn't one to use curse words, and that was about as harsh as my insults got, "you should tell Mr. Neil. I hear he has an electric paddle in his office."

The rumor of the electric paddle had been floating around Washington Elementary as long as I could remember, but thus far no kid had ever actually reported it being used on them. I suspected it was just something hatched in the fertile imagination of some long ago forgotten grade schooler, but the legend lived on.

"I can't snitch. Snitches get beat up, or worse."

"Well, Mr. Neil would make sure they didn't do that," I reasoned.

"He can't do nothin' off school grounds, and that's when they'd do it."

"What about your folks? Try telling your dad or something."

"Ain't got one," he said hanging his head. Well, now there was something I could relate to.

"Me either," I said, causing Donnie to raise his head and look at me, perhaps to see if I was serious.


"Really, I live with my mom and grandparents."

"It's just me and my mom now," he said in a quiet voice, "she don't need to hear 'bout my trouble."

"Have you tried fightin' 'em?" Ely wanted to know, "sometimes if you fight back they stop pickin' on ya. They like to pick on weak kids."

"Yeah, I tried, but I ain't good at fightin'. Got a bloody nose is all. I was lucky that was all I got. They was three of em that time."

Where had I been all these years that I didn't see that Donnie was not just shy, but that he was picked on, bullied, and maybe worse? I was just a kid, but I knew right from wrong, and picking on kids was definitely wrong. I might not be able to stop the bullies all together, but if we could keep Donnie near us at school, maybe the bullies wouldn't have a chance to pick on him.

"Well, hang with us if you wanna," Ely offered, "they won't mess with five of us."

"Hey, I ain't fightin' his battles," Edwin said in a snotty tone.

"Shut up tadpole," Ely said, cutting Edwin down quickly, "you ain't gotta fight nothin'. Seems to me we're always protectin' you from other kids cause you can't keep your mouth shut."

"Well...I gottta right to talk," Edwin huffed.

"Yeah, and you got a right to get a black eye every now and then too," Ely laughed, and soon we were all laughing, even Donnie.

The bell rang then, and we walked the two younger brothers to class, then the three of us 5th graders went to our own class. It was time for math and we pulled out our textbooks and were soon exploring the wonderful world of fractions.

The first day Donnie joined us for lunch sort of set the tone for the rest of that school year. Our cafeteria was at the far end of the school building and served all grades 1-6, though there were three separate lunch periods. The first and second graders ate at 11, the third and fourth at 11:30, and us big kids, grades 5 and 6 ate last at noon.

Even though we had separate lunch periods, there were always a few kids who overlapped because they were slow eaters or just wanted to hang around. However, by the time the older kids hit the cafeteria it was pretty empty. Two exceptions were Ely's brothers, who always waited to eat lunch with us. Classes resumed at 12:45, so that gave us plenty of time to eat our lunches.

The four of us usually brought our lunches, but that day for some reason we hadn't, and as we got in line to get whatever they were serving that day, Donnie tagged along carrying his brown paper sack lunch. I couldn't help but notice him looking at the food on the serving line, and I swear he was drooling.

I wondered what his home life was like with just him and his mom. My mom and I actually had it pretty good, living with my grandparents, cause we all pitched in to make it work. I didn't even know where Donnie lived, now that I thought about it, but as small as our town was, he couldn't live too far from me, especially since we went to the same school.

We finally got our lunch and found a table, and Donnie waited for me to direct him to a seat before he sat down. I positioned him next to me and across from Ely, with Eric on his right, and Edwin across from Eric, as far from Donnie as possible.

As we started eating our lunch, I noticed Donnie seemed reluctant to begin, so I finally asked him what he'd brought for lunch.

"Oh, just an eggs sandwich," he said blushing, "I really like egg sandwiches," he added quickly.

"I love eggs," I said, trying to make him feel better about his meager lunch, "Sometimes I have my mom fix me one for a snack."

Donnie just nodded, but at least he finally pulled the sandwich out of his bag and unwrapped it. It appeared to be wrapped in plain white butcher's paper, and when he got it unwrapped I saw that one of the pieces of bread making up the sandwich was the heel.

"I like the heels," he said quickly, "they got more...flavor."

"Yeah, I like heels too," I said, "especially toasted."

"Yeah," he agreed. I wondered if there was anything else in his sack to go with his sandwich, but so far he hadn't pulled anything else out. He'd paid a nickel for a carton of milk, but he'd yet to open it as he worked on the dry-looking sandwich.

"I don't remember what was on my tray that day, but I do remember thinking it was pretty tasteless and nothing like my mom's and granny's cooking. I pushed it around for a while then had a brilliant idea. Well, it seemed brilliant at the time.

"Hey Donnie, you want any of this stuff. I can't eat it."

I could tell he wanted to say yes, he was practically drooling at the thought, and his eyes looked like those of a starving puppy, but pride or whatever kept him from accepting.

"I don't need your food," he said sounding angry and hurt. God, did I mess up.

"Sorry, I said. I was just offering, you don't gotta bite my head off," I said, making things even worse.

"I'm just fine," he said growing more agitated by the moment, "I don't need your food or nothin' else."

"Hey, Donnie," Ely said then, "Brian was just bein' nice. He didn't mean nothin' bad."

"I know," Donnie said blushing, "but I'm just fine with my lunch."

I could tell Edwin wanted to say something, but after the incident on the monkey bars he was doing his best to keep quiet. However, it was Eric, the middle brother who did the most good.

"You got lucky," he said holding up a spoonful of whatever the slop on his tray was, "you got an egg sandwich and we got this stuff," he said making a face."

After that, Donnie seemed to relax, and I did manage to get him to take the Jello I'd added to my tray at the last moment. I truthfully didn't like Jello all that much, but it had looked good at the time. Donnie made quick work of it, but I think he was as repulsed by the main course as we were. As I recall that day, Donnie was probably the only one of us five that didn't go back to class hungry.

From that day forward Donnie became our constant companion, joining us at recess, at lunch, and eventually he began to open up to us. We learned that his dad had died in a fire when Donnie was just a little kid, and that his mom couldn't work and drew some kind of check from the government. It was around Thanksgiving when we finally found out where Donnie lived and we were shocked to say the least.

Like I said, our town was a small one, and the area that our school served was mostly lower income families, or what was referred to as: the kids from the wrong side of the tracks. Now, I'm not saying that everyone on that side of town lived in a shack, there were some nice houses there too, but it was still referred to as the bad side of town by some.

The street that Ely and I lived on was actually one street over from the tracks, but most of the houses there were pretty nice. Most of the residents were older people, but there were a few families with kids, like ours, and we knew everyone on the block by name.

Some of the nicer houses were those nearest the school, but the worst houses of all were those to the north of us, near the old rodeo grounds. It was there that Donnie and his mom lived, and one day Donnie finally showed us that part of his life.

I don't know what possessed Donnie to share this part of his life with us, but that day he did, it was just the three of us. The two younger brothers had gone on home when their classes let out and both had plans for the weekend.

Somehow the subject of the old rodeo grounds came up and Ely suggested we should all go there and look around. Donnie said he went there a lot, and offered to show us around, and we were eager for an adventure.

Donnie, who had been quiet and reclusive when we first met him, was actually a little chatter box that day as we walked along, and the three of us were giggling and having a great time. We finally reached the rodeo grounds and spent about an hour there, during which time we found fifty cents in lost coins and wet down the wall of a little room beneath the bleachers with our pee.

When it was time to go, Donnie suddenly said, I just live over there," he said pointing in the direction of the nearest street.

"Cool, so you can come over here and play all the time," I said, not really understanding what Donnie was leading up to.

"You guys wanna come meet my ma?" Donnie said, his face bright red now and his smile fading a little.

"Sure, lead the way," Ely said for the both of us, "think we could get a drink of water when we get there?"

"Uh, sure," Donnie said brightening some, but I could tell he was still nervous, "ma might even have some Kool-Aid."

That alone was enough to get us moving, and pretty soon we were on our way up the road leading out of the rodeo grounds. We turned left onto Maple Street, and the first thing I noticed was how run down the houses on the block looked. There were old cars in the front yard of some houses, sofas on the front porch of others, and junk everywhere in still others.

Donnie's house was smack in the middle of the block with a burned out house to his right and a vacant lot to the left which, was grown up high in weeds that did little to hide the assorted junk scattered there.

"This is it," Donnie said, looking at us to gage our reaction.

Not knowing what to say I just nodded, which I think made Donnie even more nervous, but I just couldn't think of anything positive to say at the moment.

"Come on, ma is probably watchin' TV," Donnie said opening the front door and leading us inside.

Inside was a little better than outside, the furniture was ratty and worn, the linoleum on the floor faded, but at least it looked relatively clean. There were pictures of Jesus and other religious themes on the walls, as well as a couple of what looked like paint by number pictures without frames.

"Ma," Donnie said, causing a slender lady to pop her head out of the kitchen, which was to the left of a small chrome dinette set with only three chairs, "I brought some friends home with me."

"Well, for Heaven's sake," she said smiling, "hello boys."

"Mom, this is Ely and Brian, the friends I been tellin' you 'bout."

"Hello ma'am," Ely and I said almost at once, then we grinned at each other.

"Hello boys," she repeated, "Would you boys like some Kool-Aid? I just made a pitcher of cherry."

"Yes ma'am," I said, and Ely nodded.

Donnie did the pouring though, using three mismatched jelly glasses and a few ice cubes from a tray in the freezer of a refrigerator that seemed to be wheezing and on it's last leg. I looked around the small kitchen and noticed the range was missing one of the grates, and the other three were so black and encrusted with grease that I wondered if they might catch on fire if the burner was lit.

A sink held a few dirty dishes and a wire dish drainer sat to the right, filled to capacity with clean and dry dishes that had never been put away. It was from the drainer that Donnie had extracted the glasses which was encouraging, since I assumed they were clean.

The Kool-Aid was weak and barely had any sugar in it, but it quenched our thirst, and we thanked Donnie's mom when we'd drained our glasses. We followed Donnie's lead and placed our glasses in the sink, then Donnie suggested he show us his room.

His mom seemed happy to have us there, and I wondered if we were the first friends Donnie had ever brought home. I had to admit I just didn't know that much about Donnie, but I did know that I liked him and so did Ely, and if we were his only friends, then we'd be the best ones he could ever have.

Donnie's room was small, but neat, and in a way reflected Donnie's quiet self absorbed life outside his house. He had an insect collection so large it took up four poster boards, which he proudly showed us, recounting where and when he'd found and captured various insects. Next, he pulled a couple cigar boxes from beneath his bed and showed us his button, pin, and coin collections, which I thought was a bit odd, but Donnie seemed excited about it. I finally decided that maybe Donnie was just excited to be sharing a bit of his life with someone else. I knew it was important that we not reject him in any way, and so I listened raptly and pretended to be as enthused about his treasures as he was, even if Ely wasn't quite as enthusiastic as I was.

Last, but not least, Donnie showed us his comic book collection. Now there was something I could relate to. I had several hundred comic books myself, and Ely had almost as many, and though none were what you'd call collector pieces, we still treasured them all.

Donnie's comics ranged from Disney comics to Marvel and DC, and even some I'd never heard of. Not all were in pristine shape, some even missing covers, but they were still interesting, and I saw dozens that I'd never seen before.

Donnie offered to let me borrow some of the ones I hadn't read, and I assured him he was welcome to borrow some of mine as well. I took home six comics that day, and we made plans for Donnie to stop by my house the next day so he could borrow some of mine.

Except for Donnie's full size bed, a beat up night stand, and a book shelf with his comics and a dozen or so paperback books, his room was pretty empty. Besides the bug collection, the walls were adorned with posters of cars, airplanes, and a few drawings, that I discovered Donnie had made.

"These are pretty good," I said gazing at a pencil drawing of a '57 Chevy Belair," did you do this?"

"Yeah," Donnie said blushing, "I just like to draw sometimes."

"These are really neat," Ely said checking out the rest of the drawings, "I like this one of a B-52. My uncle used to fly one of those."

"Thanks," Donnie said shrugging, "It's no big deal."

"You kidding?" I said, "I wish I could draw like that."

"Can you draw animals or people?" Ely wanted to know.

"Yeah, I reckon. I do sometimes, but I just like drawing cars and stuff."

"Do you have any more drawings?" I asked then.

"Yeah, in my notebook, over there," he said pointing to the bookshelf, "but some of em are kinda private."

"Private?" Ely chuckled, "why, are they of naked girls?"

"No, not that," he said blushing even deeper.

"Well, show us the ones that aren't private," I suggested.

"Okay, but don't laugh," he said grabbing the notebook.

We sat on his bed as Donnie pawed through the notebook, keeping the book tilted so we couldn't see what he was seeing. He'd occasionally pull out a picture or two and hand them to us, most of them the same as the others, cars, planes and boats, but there were a few of dogs or cats, and then finally he handed Ely a drawing that knocked both our socks off.

"This is really good," Ely said admiring the drawing, "look at this Brian," he said handing the drawing to me.

"Man," I said excitedly, "this is like some artist did it. Who is that anyway?"

"It's my cousin Jordie, he lives in the country. I went to stay with him last summer for a week and I drew that picture to remember him by. He's nice."

The drawing was obviously done in pencil on a piece of plain white paper and showed a young boy shirtless and wearing cutoffs. He was lounging on a bale of hay while chewing on a piece of straw, and looked real enough to reach out and touch. Even though it was done in black and white, I could envision the boy being blond and blue eyed, and as it turned out, I was correct. He was a cute boy, with a few freckles across a cute pixy nose, and his face was lit up in a smile that seemed to cause him to glow.

"How old was he?" I asked.

"He was 9, same as me then. That was last year."

"So, you were 9 when you drew this? Oh Donnie, you need to let someone know how good you are. You could like be a famous artist someday. Does Mrs. Marsh know you can draw like this?" Mrs. Marsh was the art teacher who came in once a week and taught an art class for anyone interested.

"Yeah, I reckon. I've showed her my drawings a few times. She says they're good and all, but she don't say anything about being famous or nothin'."

"Well, you will be if you keep this up," I assured him. "When we start Junior High you can take a regular art class and I bet you'll get all A's."

"C'mon, what are those pictures you didn't wanna show us?" Ely said then, "I promise we won't tell anyone or make fun of ya."

"They're private," Donnie insisted, but he didn't sound as resolute as before.

"Come on Donnie," I pleaded, "you can trust us," I said, giving him my puppy dog eyes.

"Maybe one," he said, looking uncertain.

"Okay, just one," I said, "I bet it's gonna be really good."

Donnie thumbed through the stack he'd been holding back then pulled out a drawing, looked at it for a long time, then handed it to Ely. I moved closer so I could get a good look, and what I saw only confirmed the feelings I had earlier, that Donnie was one very talented boy.

"Oh man," I said staring at the picture in Ely's hand, "who is that? Do I know him?"

"I don't think so," Donnie said, sounding embarrassed, "he was a sixth grader last year, he's in seventh now."

"This is, good," I said as I admired the picture of the athletic looking boy before us. In the drawing he was wearing nothing except a pair of what looked like gym shorts, was shirtless and barefoot, and for some reason looking at the picture caused a tingle in my middle.

"Who is that? Do we know him?" Ely asked, apparently having missed my already asking that question.

"I don't think so, his name is Todd, he used to live on my block and we hung around sometimes. He was older, he's in 7th grade this year.

I did a mental calculation and decided Todd must be 12 now, but he looked at least that old in the drawing, and that made me wonder.

"How old was he in this picture?"

"Eleven, almost 12, I drew it this summer."

"He looks older," Ely said, voicing my thoughts.

Donnie shrugged, "I...I might've made him look a little older. The way I drew him," he confessed.

"Were you guys good friends?" I wondered aloud.

"Yeah, pretty good friends, but I haven't seen him since he moved away at the end of the summer."

There was something about the way Donnie spoke of his friend Todd that made me wonder just how close the two were. Maybe he and Todd were as close as me and Ely, and if so, then his moving away must've been hard for him to deal with. That was all the more reason to be the kind of friend that Donnie needed now, and I knew Ely agreed with me.

Eventually, Ely and I had to go home, and Donnie walked us to the street. His mom had said goodbye to us as we passed through the living room and told us we were welcome anytime, which I thought was nice of her. They might not have a nice house, or a lot of money, but Donnie and his mom were both nice people and I was glad to know both of them.


Thanksgiving was fast approaching, and we were looking forward to turkey and dressing with all the trimmings, and especially the desserts. Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, chocolate cake, fruit salad, cookies, and all the rest, and I couldn't wait to dig in.

In years past our two families had started the tradition of alternating Thanksgiving dinners at one house or the other. This year it was Ely's family's turn to host Thanksgiving, and boy was I looking forward to Mrs. Stevens baked goods. Christmas dinner we spent at our own houses, though we'd mingle before the day was over.

I never gave much thought to what Donnie and his mom would be doing until that Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when Ely and I were talking about our Thanksgiving dinner plans and all the food our folks were preparing.

I noticed he seemed quieter than usual, and in fact he hardly spoke at all the whole lunch period. I tried drawing him into the conversation several times, but all my attempts were in vain, and I finally gave up. I quickly forgot about it when we returned to class, but that day as we walked home from school I mentioned it to Ely. Ely wasn't quite as observant as I was, but he too said he noticed Donnie was quiet today, though he didn't know if it had anything to do with our conversation about Thanksgiving.

"Maybe he's just tired, or worried about something, or...maybe he's in trouble with his mom," he suggested.

"I dunno, I just...I feel bad about him and his mom not having money for food and stuff. I wonder if they'll even have a Thanksgiving dinner."

"Well, we could invite them to my house," Ely said simply, "Yeah, why not? It's not like we won't have tons of food. Heck, we could invite ten more people and still have enough."

"Yeah, but...what if we hurt Donnie's feelings by inviting him? Remember the thing at lunch that first day?"

"Yeah, well...we're friends now. Maybe he won't feel so bad now. He knows we like him and are just trying to help, right?"

"I dunno, I think I might talk to my mom about it," I said, "and maybe you could talk to your folks. Maybe they know how to help without upsetting Donnie and his mom."

"Okay, deal, we can talk more about it on the way to school tomorrow."

My mom and grandma were already getting ready for Thanksgiving and I found them both in the kitchen that day after school. Over my snack of baked cookies and milk I brought up the subject of Donnie and his mom, and my mom and grandma listened intently till I was finished.

"I remember when Mr. Barnes died, that was an awful thing," granny said, "that poor woman lost her husband and everything they owned. How she can stand to live next door to the place where he died, I'll never understand."

"You mean that house next door to them is where Donnie's dad died?" I asked in horror.

"Yes, they were living in that house at the time, Beverly had taken Donnie to her sister's house in the country, so they weren't home when it happened. The fire chief said it was a gas leak and that when Mr. Barnes lit a cigarette it caused a small explosion. I guess it knocked him out cold and he burned to death before the fire department could get it under control. It was horrible, hardly enough left to even bury," granny said looking ill, and she wasn't the only one.

"Momma, don't tell him things like that. He'll have nightmares. I went to school with Donnie's daddy, but I didn't know his momma till after they were married. They seemed happy and Donnie seemed like a nice boy. I'm so proud of you for becoming his friend."

"So, anyway, me and Ely were kinda worried about Donnie and his mom. I mean, what if they don't have money for a turkey or anything?"

"Oh honey," my mom said, "I am so proud of you for thinking of others, but with people like Donnie and his mom you have to be careful. Some people can be very prideful, and you might do more harm than good if you press them too hard."

"I know, but what can we do? I...I just feel bad thinking about all that food we're gonna have and worrying if they'll be eating beans or something."

Granny laughed, and patted my hand, "Well, sonny boy, we'll make sure that doesn't happen, but we'll have to figure out a way to do it without bruising any egos. You let us old folks talk this over and we'll figure out something."

"Okay, thanks granny, thanks mom, and thanks for the cookies," then grinning I said, "think I could have one more?"

"No more young man," mom scolded, "You'll ruin your dinner."

But granny already had one wrapped up in a paper towel and I quickly grabbed it and ran off to my room. I could hear my mom and granny laughing as I made my getaway, so I knew everything was okay.

In those days there were no cell phones, but we did have a telephone, and Ely's folks actually had two. One in their bedroom and one on the wall in the kitchen. Ely and I didn't call each other much though, living only a few houses apart, we usually just got together if we needed to talk. That night after supper I walked down to Ely's and found him and his brothers in the back yard wrestling around.

"Hey," he said from the ground where both of his brothers had him pinned down, "help me get loose from these two squirts."

It didn't take much to overpower the two, and they took off running as soon as Ely was on his feet.

"Did you talk to your folks about Donnie?" I asked as soon as we were alone.

"Yeah, and she called your mom. I don't know what they decided though," he said sitting down on his back porch.

I sat down beside him, our hips and shoulders touching, and stared out at his two little brothers who were chasing each other in the cool night air.

"I wonder what they decided," I said, "I hope they figured something out."

"They will, they're grownups, grownups always know what to do," Ely said, leaning back on his arms and staring up at the night sky.

"I hope so," I said joining him, but instead of staring at the sky, my eyes were on my best friend.

"Are we being too nosy?"

"Nah, not really, " Ely said looking at me then, "he's our friend. Friends watch out for each other."

"Yeah, I know," I said grinning, "Am I still staying over tomorrow night?"

"Course you are," he said, laying down completely now and reaching over to pull me down with him.

"Wish I could stay tonight," I sighed, "but we got school tomorrow so I know I can't."

"Yeah, just one more day though. Then we got four days off in a row. Oh man, we can have so much fun."

"Yeah, what are we gonna do?"

So, we discussed our plans for Thanksgiving break, and around nine I walked back home. My mom was waiting for me in the kitchen and she asked me to sit down at the table. At first I thought I was in trouble, but when granny came in to join us, I figured it must be about Donnie and his mom.

"Tomorrow I want you to find out if Donnie and his mom are going to have a Thanksgiving dinner," mom said, "be careful how you go about it though."

"Don't come right out and ask him, sonny," Granny said, "beat around the bush, talk about what we're gonna do and just feel him out. Can you do that?"

"Yes ma'am," I said grinning, "I'll be really tricky, but I'll find out. But then what? What are we gonna do if they ain't having no dinner?"

"We'll figure that out when you find out, but meanwhile I think we need to cook another turkey, momma," my mom said.

"Never can have too much turkey," granny chuckled.

I went off to take a bath, afterwards went to my room. I knelt and said my prayers and momma came in after a while and kissed me goodnight. She lingered longer than usual, just looking down at me and sort of studying melooking thoughtful. She finally smiled and kissed my forehead again, then left me to wonder what was on her mind. I supposed it was something good, maybe something only mom's know about, but I liked the way she looked at me. It gave me a good feeling inside.

Finding out what we needed to know turned out to be easier than we thought. I'd discussed with Ely what my mom and granny had said about being careful, and together we managed to ease into the subject. Suddenly, Donnie said he had never even tasted turkey before. He said he'd had chicken, but never turkey, and the chicken was fried, and he didn't know if it tasted like turkey or not.

For some reason that really bothered me. How could a kid live 10 years and never taste delicious roasted turkey? I was almost drooling just thinking about what it tasted like, and to know Donnie had never had that pleasure was just unthinkable to me.

A few more carefully placed questions gave us the answers we were looking for, that Donnie and his mom didn't have any kind of special dinner planned for Thanksgiving, but the question was, what could we do about it now that we had that information? Well, our job was to find out, now it was up to the grownups to figure out what to do about it.

As soon as we found out what we needed to know, we changed the subject and Donnie seemed to forget about the enticing subject of turkey and all the trimmings. However, that didn't keep me from thinking about it, nor did it weaken my determination to make sure Donnie and his mom got a taste of Thanksgiving this year.

Donnie walked as far as our street with us then split off to go home. We'd made plans for the three of us to hang out on Friday, but I was hoping we'd see Donnie before that, and that he'd be full of turkey and stuffing by then.

"Gosh, I can't believe Donnie has never tasted turkey," I said once he was out of earshot.

"Yeah, that's crazy. I wonder if he just can't remember or something? Maybe he was too little to remember. Maybe it was when his daddy was alive."

"Yeah, I guess that could be possible," I said, feeling some better, but still determined to make sure that this year he got his fill of turkey.

When we got to my house, mom and granny were waiting for us at the dining room table drinking coffee. Granny poured us some milk and cut us a piece of apple pie, and we dug in while they interrogated us. We told them what we'd learned and they shook their heads, and something passed between them as they did. I should've known they would already have a plan, even before they knew for sure whether they needed one.

"What are we going to do?" I asked as I scraped up the last bite of pie and downed it.

"We have an idea," mom said grinning and looking mischievous, "but we'll need you boys to help."

"Yes ma'am," I said, "we'll be glad to help, right Ely?"

"Yes'em," Ely said, downing his milk and wiping a white mustache from his upper lip.

"Good, you boys will be our legs," granny said, "for now, leave it to us. We'll call you when we need you."

I changed out of my good school clothes, grabbed a change of underwear and clothes for tomorrow, then Ely and I headed to his house. We played in the backyard with his brothers till dinner time, then washed up and sat down with Ely's family. His mom had fixed stew and cornbread, and as always, it was delicious. I ate two bowls of stew and a huge chunk of hot buttered cornbread, and barely had room for the chocolate cake she'd baked for dessert.

"You boys get full, 'cause breakfast tomorrow is gonna be oatmeal or dry cereal," Mrs. Stevens said, but she was too late, we were so full we felt like we could pop.

We were too full to do much but lay around after that wonderful meal so we retired to Ely's room and read comic books while we recovered. Around eight, Mr. Stevens came knocking on the door and we scampered out to see what he wanted.

"We need to go down to Brian's house" he said to us both, "Brian's mom and granny have a job for you two,"

"Oh, it must be about Donnie and his mom," I said grinning.

"Yes, and I'm driving you two," Mr. Taylor said, "I think it's a fine thing you boys are doing, but be careful, pride is a very powerful thing."

"Don't we know it," I sighed, "I wonder what mom and granny have in mind."

The plan was simple; Mom and granny had fixed a Thanksgiving dinner for Donnie and his mom, everything from turkey and stuffing, to desert, most of it already cooked, leaving only a few things for Donnie's mom to have to prepare. It all fit neatly into a wooden orange crate, which Ely's dad had brought in from work, and Ely's and my job was to quietly put it down on Donnie's front door step without getting caught.

"But how will they know it's there?" Ely wanted to know.

"You boys are going to wait till you have the box in place, then knock on the door and run like heck," Mr. Stevens chuckled, "the getaway car will be waiting in the alley."

The plan was simple, but to two ten year old boys it seemed very exciting, a real adventure, and we were raring to go by the time everything was packed and ready to go. The box was heavier than I'd guessed it would be, but between the two of us, Ely and I were able to heft it fairly easily. The plan was this; Mr. Stevens would drop us off in front of Donnie's house, then drive around to the alley and wait for us. We'd carefully place the box at the front door, knock, run like crazy through the side yard and hop in the car, and Mr. Stevens would slowly drive away, so as not to attract any attention.

What is it they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? They usually fail? And so did ours. Everything went fine, right up to the point where we knocked on the door, then everything went wrong. As we made our getaway, Ely suddenly tripped over a bush we hadn't seen in the dark, and since I was right behind him, I wound up tripping over him, and when the front door flew open, there we lay in a tangle of arms and legs.

"Who's there?" A voice I recognized as Donnie's said from the doorway.

"No one," I said stupidly.

I heard Ely giggle as he tried to untangle himself from me and stand, but he'd gone down hard and I guess he must've hurt himself cause he groaned as he stood.

"You okay?" I asked even as I checked out my own body to make sure it was still in working condition.

"I hurt my knee," Ely said, "damn, ripped my pants too."

"That you Brian and Ely?" Donnie said, finally recognizing us.

"Yeah, sorry..." I said brushing myself off.

"What's this?" Donnie said kicking the wooden crate with a socked foot.

"Uh, well..." I said, not really knowing how to answer.

"We might as well tell him," Ely said finally getting to his feet.

"I guess," I sighed, "It's turkey and stuff. My mom and granny fixed it for you and your mom."

"And my mom made the pies," Ely added.

"Yeah, so it's kinda from both our families. No big deal, just we had lots of food..."

But Donnie cut me off before I could finish, "And you thought we needed you to give us food? Well, we don't. We do just fine," Donnie said indignantly.

"I know, but it's Thanksgiving," I reasoned, "and you said you'd never tasted turkey. Gosh, everyone should get to taste turkey. Don't be sore. We only did it cause we really like you," I pleaded.

Suddenly Donnie's mom was there behind him and she took one look at us, the wooden crate, then looked to Donnie for an explanation. "What's all this noise?"

"Hello ma'am," I said politely, maybe I could reason with her if Donnie was going to reject our help.

"Hello boys," she said squinting in the darkness to make out who we were, "that you, Brian and Ely?"

"Yes ma'am," Ely confirmed, "How are you tonight?"

"Fine, well...I was," she chuckled, "what's all this about son?" she said turning to Donnie again.

"They brought food ma," Donnie said crossing his arms and looking stubborn, "I swear I didn't know nothin' about it, they just done it on their own."

"Is that true boys?" she said looking out at Ely and me.

"Yes ma'am, well actually, it was our folks that got it all ready, we just did the bringin'."

"I see, well...that was mighty nice of them. Thank you boys, and thank your folks too. Donnie, thank these boys then help me get this inside."

"But ma..." Donnie whined.

"Donnie Ray Barnes, you be polite. These boys went to all this trouble and the least you can do is thank them."

"Yes ma, "Donnie said lowering his head, "thanks you guys, and thank your moms too."

"That's better," Mrs. Barnes said, then looking at us again she said, "you boys didn't walk up here and carry this big heavy box did you?"

"No ma'am, our ride is um, waiting for us," I said blushing, hoping he was still there, and that he hadn't abandoned us when we didn't show up right away. Then suddenly a pair of headlights came up the street and a car stopped in front of Donnie's house. I didn't have to look to know it was Mr. Stevens Chevy, but when he called to us from the street I felt much better.

"Everything okay boys?" he said from the open window, "Hello Mrs. Barns, I'm guessing the surprise didn't work out quite like we planned," he chuckled.

"Well, I don't know what all went on, I just sort of came up on the tail end of whatever it was," she chuckled.

"I tripped," Ely confessed, "and then Brian tripped over me. Sorry dad."

"Well, seems like it all worked out fine, right Mrs. Barnes?"

"Yes, just fine. Thank you for thinking of us. I know Donnie here tends to be prideful and he gets a burr under his tail when folks try to help, but I ain't so proud I can't accept a little help now and then. God bless you folks for what you did."

"You're quite welcome ma'am. Boys, are you ready to go?"

"Yes sir," I said, then turning to Donnie I said, "still friends?" I offered my hand and Donnie reluctantly took it, then shook it enthusiastically as a small grin crossed his lips.

"Yeah, thanks," he said more sincerely this time, "but we was okay...really."

"I know," I said smiling, "see you Friday, okay?"

"Yeah, Friday," he said.

As we walked to the car, he was helping his mom carry the wooden crate of goodies inside, and before they closed the door, I saw Donnie give us a wave. Things might have not gone as planned, but in the end it looked like everything turned out okay after all.

Mom and granny laughed when they heard what had happened, but they were glad everything had turned out as well as it had. We managed to beg a few cookies off granny before we walked back to Ely's house, and we were both smiling as we recounted our adventure to Mrs. Stevens and the two brothers.

Thanksgiving was a big success, and there was certainly a lot to be thankful for that year. I had a warm feeling inside about what we'd done for Donnie and his family, and I hoped that Donnie would be more accepting of our help in the future.

On Friday, Donnie came over to my house around one o'clock as we'd planned. Of course Ely was there too, as well as his brothers, and we all walked to the park to play some baseball. We were in luck, there were some other boys at the park who had the same idea, and soon we had a real game going. We didn't have quite enough players for two full teams, but we did the best we could and had a lot of fun.

Eventually, the other boys said they had to get home, and that left the five of us to toss the ball around and practice our batting. After a while we tired of that, and after getting a drink from the fountain near the bathrooms, we found a shady spot and sat down.

Edwin and Eric, however could seldom sit still, and soon they were off, headed toward the swings, leaving us older boys alone.

"So, how did you like the turkey?" I asked at last.

"It was good," Donnie said enthusiastically, "everything was good. There's this old lady that lives at the end of the block, Mrs. Green, and see she lives alone and ain't got no family, so momma invited her to have dinner with us, and it was real nice."

"That's great. I bet she was really happy about that," I said grinning, "that was nice of you and your mom to invite her."

"Yeah, well...we couldna done it if you didn't give us that food," Donnie said blushing.

"We had plenty, so it was no big deal. Heck, we still got lots of food left over," Ely offered, "I had some pumpkin pie for breakfast," he added chuckling.

"Yeah, well...I know I was kinda upset at first," Donnie said, lowering his head in shame, "but my momma made me see that there ain't nothin' wrong with letting someone help ya once in a while. She said when we can help someone, then we gotta do it too. That's why we invited Mrs. Green to dinner with us. She's like my granny or something," he chuckled, "I like her a lot. She treats me real nice."

"That's great Donnie, really. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Hey, I was wonderin', does your mom ever let you sleep over at someone's house?"

"Well, I stayed over at my cousin's house, and at Todd's house a couple times. You know? The boy I showed ya the picture of."

"Okay, so...what I was wonderin' was, if maybe you'd like to stay over tonight with me and Ely. We're gonna be at my house, and I ain't got no bratty brothers to bother us," I teased.

"Yeah, Eric and Edwin are a pain sometimes," Ely said frowning, "it would be just us three if you can sleep over."

"Hey, we can hear you," Edwin said, and we all laughed.

"I bet she'll say yes, I reckon we can walk over there and ask," Donnie said when the laughter died down.

Eric and Edwin decided they were going to go on home, so we split up at the park and headed to Donnie's house, which was about a quarter mile away. As we walked, we talked about what we might do for fun and Donnie seemed to open up and come alive. I got the feeling that this was all new to him, but that he was adjusting just fine to having friends and hanging out. He'd certainly come a long way since the first day when he'd sought sanctuary with us on the monkey bars, and I was glad we'd been able to help.

As expected, Donnie's mom had no problem with him sleeping over, and she even helped him find a change of clothes, shoving them in a paper bag before handing it to him. She kissed him on the cheek causing him to blush, then he joined us and we headed back to my house.

"Momma said she was gonna go down and visit with Mrs. Green later and have supper with her."

"That's nice," I said, "I hope you won't be disappointed but, all we have to eat at my house is turkey," I teased.

"That's just fine," Donnie said, "now that I know how good it tastes, I can't get enough of it."

My mom made a big fuss over Donnie coming to stay, and he was blushing red by the time I finally got him out of there and to my room. He seemed to get over his embarrassment pretty quick, and he seemed to be fine after a while. He said he really liked my room, and my house, and that my mom seemed nice, and that made him blush again.

"So, you like my mom huh?" I teased, "she's a little old for ya."

That caused Ely to burst out laughing, but Donnie just blushed brighter and clammed up for a while.

"Aww, don't get sore," I said putting an arm around his shoulder, "I was just teasin' ya. Don't you know that's just our way of makin' you feel like part of the gang, right Ely?"

"Yeah, if we don't mess with ya, it means we don't like ya," he joked.

"I know," Donnie said, "it's fine. So, what are we gonna do now?"

"Well, it's getting close to dinner time so we shouldn't go far, but we can go outside and hang around if you want."

"Okay, what can we do?"

"We can throw the Frisbee around, how does that sound?"

"Yeah, okay," he said perking up.

We played Frisbee till mom called us into dinner, and I was shocked to see the huge spread mom and grandma had laid out for us. Not only was there left over turkey, but mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, and fresh baked rolls. Granny had made more stuffing and baked it in a pan, and she'd made her delicious turkey gravy too.

"No cranberry sauce?" I said looking the table over. I was kidding of course, but it turned out there were cranberries, they'd just forgot to set them out.

Donnie ate sparingly at first, but once he saw how much Ely and me were packing in, he went back for seconds. I warned him to save room for dessert, and we had a small slice of pumpkin, one of pecan, and a piece of mom's German Chocolate cake too.

By the time we left the table we were waddling like ducks, and we went straight to my room and piled down side by side on my bed as we groaned in misery.

"Do you always eat that much?" Donnie moaned.

"No, not always, but it was just so good," I admitted.

"We'll be hungry again before bedtime," Ely said, "maybe some popcorn later."

Donnie groaned out loud and we both laughed. As we stared up at the ceiling, Donnie was quiet for a while as Ely and I filled in the silence with our own banter, then Donnie finally spoke.

"I was wonderin', where am I gonna sleep tonight?"

"Well, that's a good question," I said looking over at Ely and giving him a soft poke in the ribs to let him know he needed to follow my lead. "Usually, my company sleeps out back on the porch, but it's kinda cold out there tonight. What do you think Ely, think we can find him a place inside?"

"Yeah, he could probably sleep in your floor, or under the bed," he said suppressing a giggle.

"The floor is fine," Donnie said easily, not catching on to the fact that we were teasing.

"You might get stepped on though," I said frowning, "me and Ely get up to pee a lot, so...under the bed is probably safer."

"Under the bed?" Donnie said, looking at me with serious eyes, "well...if that's what you want."

"Donnie, buddy...we're teasing," I said, unable to take it anymore, "you're gonna be sleeping right up here with me and Ely."

"Won't it be crowded?" he said, sounding surprised.

"No, it's a big bed, and we're not that big. You can sleep in the middle and that way we can share ya," I laughed.

"Share me," he giggled, "what do you mean, share me? What are you gonna do to me?"

"You'll see," Ely teased, "You know we sleep nekkid, right?"

"Do not" Donnie laughed, then seeing the look on Ely's face he said, "you don't, do you?"

"You'll just have to wait and see," I said, jumping in, "Why? Ain't you never seen a nekkid boy before?"

"Well, yeah...lots of em, I mean not lots, but some I reckon."

"You ain't shy are ya?" Ely asked.

"Nope, got nothing to be shy about, we're all boys. We all got the same stuff, right?"

"Except my peter is huge," Ely teased.

"Really?" Donnie said looking interested, "How big?"

"Huge," I said holding my hands out to span about 6 inches, which was of course bullshit.

"I ain't that big, but I'm pretty close," Donnie said, causing me and Ely to look at each other and frown.

Was he for real? If so, we were gonna look like peewees compared to him. Oh well, we weren't really gonna sleep naked anyway, well that is, I didn't think we were.

"Boys," I heard my mom call from the other side of my door, "baths, don't forget."

"Ugh, my mom always makes us take a bath," I said apologetically, "you might be able to get away without taking one though. It's up to you."

"I don't mind," Donnie said shrugging, "I like baths really. Do you have a rubber ducky I can play with?" he asked seriously, causing me and Ely to give him a strange look, then he burst out laughing and we joined him.

I was worried it might look weird to Donnie for Ely and I to take our bath together, but we'd been doing it since we were little kids, and we weren't about to quit now. Maybe later when we got too big for the tub, but not now while we were skinny little boys.

We did allow Donnie to go first, and once he was back in my room, dressed in clean undies and a pair of gym shorts, but no shirt, Ely and I took possession of the bathroom. We cleaned out and refilled the tub, then stripped off as we always did and waited.

For some reason tonight seemed different though. That night I found myself staring at Ely's body, and it was as if I'd never seen it before. He was still slender, but he was filling out some, and I could see muscles in places where they weren't before. He was still smooth all over, just as I was, but it looked like he'd grown some down there, between his legs, and for some reason that part of him fascinated me that night.

I couldn't tell if Ely was looking me over as closely as I was looking him over, but he did glance my way a few times and he seemed to be deep in thought. If we'd been older, even a year or so, I'd have understood what was happening better, but as it was, I was clueless as to what it all meant.

The tub was finally filled enough to wet us both, but not overflow, and we slid into the hot water and sighed softly. Our feet and legs touched as we stretched out at opposite ends of the tub, and we stared into each other's faces as we let the water cover us.

"This feels good," Ely said leaning back against the tiled wall.

I was at the faucet end, and couldn't get quite as comfortable, but I had to admit the water felt good. Perhaps for the first time I was aware of something else that was pleasant, the feel of Ely's feet and legs against me, and I playfully grabbed one of his feet and squeezed it gently.

"Hey," he giggled, countering by grabbing one of my feet and raking a fingernail against the bottom causing me to cry out and kick at him.

"No tickling," he said getting a firm grip on my foot and just holding it, then he did the strangest thing, he pulled my foot into his lap and set it down right on his pecker.

I don't know if that's what he intended or not, but he didn't move it once it was settled there, and I was in no hurry to move it either. In fact, I was sort of enjoying the feel of his spongy appendage beneath my foot, but as my foot continued to rest there, the soft spongy appendage began to stiffen.

"Uh," Ely said closing his eyes, not pretending that he didn't like the feel of my foot on his penis.

"Ely?" I chuckled, "do you have...a hardon?"

"Huh, no, no way," he said, practically throwing my foot off his lap and quickly covering himself with his hands.

"It's okay," I said seriously, "I get 'em too."

"Well, I don't have one. So, shut up about it."

"Okay, okay," I said, feeling bad for him, "but if you did, it's okay."

He didn't say anything else, but he did move his hands and start to soap up. When he was finished, he handed me the soap and I began rubbing it all over my body and the inevitable happened, I got hard too.

"I think there's a snake between my legs," I giggled as I pointed at my penis, the tip of the head just poking out of the water.

"What?" he said, then seeing where I was pointing at he began to laugh, "It's more like a worm, a big ole' fishin' worm."

"Ha, biggern' yours," I dared.

"Huh uh, I'll show ya," he insisted, and that's how we wound up comparing our penises that day. And you know what? He was right, his was bigger.

Back in my room, we found Donnie stretched out on my bed reading a Donald Duck comic book, and when we walked in he looked up and grinned.

"What took you all so long, did you play with each other's peter while you was takin' a bath?"

I don't think my face had ever been that red, and if that was any indication of my guilt, then Donnie had me pegged right off. Ely just shrugged it off, and countered with, "Yeah, next time we'll let ya play too."

Oh man, what was happening? I wondered. I didn't know if Ely was serious or not, but it sure got me to thinking about things. I mean, I was only 10, but I knew what jacking off was, and I liked that good feeling that came at the end. Only thing was, up until now, I'd never thought about including anyone else in that fun. Was that what sex was? And if so, was I ready for that at only 10 years of age?

I managed to divert Donnie's attention to other areas and suggested we play some rummy, then a board game till bed time. Donnie was a pretty good rummy player, but he sucked at the board game called Sorry, but then again, Sorry is sort of a game of chance and luck, where as rummy requires skill.

Around ten o'clock, my mom knocked on my door but didn't come in, "Okay boys, time for bed. You don't have to go to sleep right away, but at least make an effort," she said, the laughter in her voice clearly coming through.

"Well, you said you was sleepin' nekkid," Donnie said then, eying both of us to see if we were gonna come through.

I looked at Ely to see what he was going to do, after all it was him who had brought it up, but he seemed unsure what to say or do. I decided to help him out a little and jumped in then.

"Well, we don't just get naked right off, we get in bed first," I explained, "but first we strip down to our undies, right Ely?"

"Yeah, that's right," Ely said sounding relieved.

"Okay, let's do it then," Donnie challenged, then led the way by stripping down to his white Fruit of the Loom briefs. Well, they had been white at some time in their life, but actually they were a kind of dingy yellow now.

Ely was next, and I noticed Donnie was watching him closely as his shorts came down, revealing a pair of JC Penney white briefs with gold trim around the edges. They looked new, and sometimes I envied him his new clothes and simple things like socks and underwear. Not that I went naked or anything, but my underwear were plain old Fruits, and I had more than a few pair of socks with holes or bad elastic.

I was next, and Donnie turned his attention to me. I swear his eyes lingered on me longer than they had on Ely, and suddenly he said, "You got underwear jus' like mine."

So that was it, he was looking at our undies. Maybe he envied Ely as much as I did, and maybe he envied me too, since my underwear were in better shape than his. Surely he wasn't thinking about what was inside our underwear, although, I had to admit after what he'd said earlier I thought he might be more inclined to sex stuff than me and Ely.

We piled into bed then, just as Ely had suggested, with Donnie in the middle, and I reached over and turned off the bedside lamp. As I lay there waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, I suddenly felt something warm against my foot and I realized it was Donnie's foot.

He didn't seem bothered by our feet touching, and the truth was, I sort of liked it. In fact it sent tingles up and down my leg and gave me goosebumps. I could see Donnie's face now, and he was watching me, looking as if he were waiting for me to say something, but it was Ely who spoke then.

"I was just funnin' ya," he confessed, "we don't really sleep naked."

"I knew you was just foolin' around," Donnie said, letting him off the hook easily, "but I wouldna cared if you did, heck, I was gonna do it too."

We lay there in bed for a long time that night, talking about what it would be like to sleep naked, but none of us was brave enough to make the first move. While we didn't do it that night, it did plant some ideas in our head, and eventually we would shed those undies along with our inhibitions and go natural. That was a ways off though, but at least we'd broken the ice that night.

The rest of the month passed quickly and we began to think about Christmas. Though retailers didn't jump on the Holiday quite as early back then, Thanksgiving was usually the beginning of the shopping season. There were no Black Friday sales back then, but all the stores were typically decorated and raring to go that weekend after Thanksgiving.

Christmas to a ten year old boy was just about the most wonderful thing ever, and we were no exception. One of our greatest joys was perusing the Sears Wish Book, a catalog dedicated to nothing but toys. It had arrived the week before Thanksgiving at our house and I'd already dog-eared several pages with toys I found most desirable. Of course I had no hopes of getting all of them, but if Santa could bring just one, I'd be the happiest boy on earth. Especially if that one toy just happened to be a James Bond 007 road race set, or a gigantic Erector set with real electric motor.

Ely, coming from a family that was better off financially than mine, was sure to get more than one of the toys on his list, but being his best friend, I would benefit too. Especially if it was him who got the James Bond 007 race set, and not me. What good was a race set if you didn't have someone to race against.

Donnie, however was a completely different story. With his mom not working and only drawing a small Child Welfare check to support them, there wasn't much chance that Donnie would be picking any gifts out of the Wish Book this year, or any other book for that matter.

Up until that year, I guess I had sort of taken for granted what I had, even if it wasn't as much as others had. I was never really jealous of Ely and his folks financial situation, but I did envy Ely a little bit because he was able to have things I only dreamed of. But Ely was the kind of kid who would give you the shirt off his back, and he never acted as if he was better than anyone else, and was always eager to share with his best

One Saturday as we lay in my living room floor thumbing through the Wish Book, I brought up the subject of Donnie and what Christmas must be like for him.

"I wonder if he gets any gifts at all?" I said frowning, "I mean, do they even have a tree, or a nice dinner? Is Christmas just like Thanksgiving at their house?" I pondered.

"I dunno," Ely said scratching at a scab on his elbow that he'd gotten climbing the tree in my backyard a week or so ago, "but I guess we could find out like we did about Thanksgiving. You know? Be sneaky about it."

"I guess we could, but helping them with Christmas is a whole lot different than Thanksgiving. I mean, yeah...we can probably make sure they have a nice Christmas dinner, but what about presents? I sure don't have money to buy them presents, do you?"

"Well, I don't, but I'm sure my folks would be able to get them something..."

"Boys, what are you talking about?" My granny asked from her spot on the couch where she was sewing a button on one of grand dad's shirts.

"Oh, just about Donnie and his mom...and Christmas. That's all," I said turning to speak to her so I could see her reaction.

"Well, what about it?" my mom jumped in.

"Well, see here's the thing, we don't know if Donnie and his mom even celebrate, or have a tree, or dinner, or presents, or anything..."

"Well, I happen to know for a fact that the church delivered them some food last year and some simple gifts, socks for Donnie and a scarf for his mother, and some other things." mom said, "but it would be nice if they had a real Christmas with a tree and all the trimmings, and gifts of course."

"Yeah, that's what we were thinkin' too," I said, hoping mom would lay out a plan for such a thing to happen.

"Well, we'll see that they don't go hungry, that's for sure," Granny said, "but we'll have to see about the rest."

"I could talk to the ladies at church," mom suggested, "surely someone must have some Christmas decorations they aren't using, and well...someone could chop them down a tree."

"Yeah, I said, maybe me and Ely could do that. There's a bunch of evergreens down by the river, I don't think they'd miss one," I said grinning.

"I know a place," gramps said from his easy chair where he'd been reading the paper and listening to our conversation, "I can take you boys there and we can pick out a nice one for them, and one for us. A friend of mine owns the land, and he won't mind a bit."

So, at least that much was taken care of, now for the presents. But of course we still had some research to do, to make sure our help was really needed, and that would begin on Monday when we went back to school. For now, Ely and I just put the whole thing out of our mind and enjoyed our weekend.

That night after supper, Ely and I played under the street light out front till an injury drove us inside. It wasn't unusual back then for kids to stay out till bedtime, hanging out under the streetlights playing tag, or just chatting, and it was something Ely and I did a lot, though mostly in the summer.

That night, as usual, me and Ely got to wrestling around on the ground beneath the streetlight. It was all in fun, I mean we weren't really trying to hurt each other, but suddenly Ely's elbow slipped, and bam...I got it right in the kisser.

I yelped like I'd been shot and jumped up holding my mouth, and though it took Ely a minute to realize what had happened, as soon as he did he was right there with me trying to make sure I was okay.

"Oh man, sorry," he said, "let me see. Is it bleedin'? Oh man, it is. Did I bust your lip or knock a tooth out?"

"My lip," I said spitting out a little blood, "I think I'm okay though," I said, but from the look on Ely's face, I wasn't sure.

"Come on, let's have your mom take a look at it," he said frowning and looking sick to his stomach.

"Why, what's wrong?" I said, feeling a little panicky now.

"Just come on, it's time to go in anyway," he said taking my arm and leading me to the front door.

Mom spotted us first as we came in, took one look at the situation and made her assessment, "What now?" she chuckled, "Did you put an eye out this time?"

"Uh, I kinda hit him in the mouth with my elbow...on accident," Ely explained, "I think you should take a look at it."

Granny was just coming in from the kitchen and she was first to reach us. She made me follow her into the bathroom and Ely was right behind us. Mom came to the doorway, but when she saw granny had everything under control she disappeared again.

"Well, you didn't lose any teeth, looks like you just got a split lip. I think you'll live," she added chuckling. Then turning to Ely, she teased him by saying, "Are you sure you boys didn't get into a scrap and you just got the better of him?"

"No ma'am, me and Brian don't never fight, do we?" he said, pleading with me for support.

"He hit me granny," I joked, "he just hauled off and hit me for no reason," but I was laughing so hard I knew granny wasn't buying my act. Besides, she knew what Ely had said was true, we never fought, well...not physically anyway.

"Well, I bet you deserved it," she teased, "sometimes a good pop in the mouth will do more than a thousand words."

All the while we were talking, granny was doctoring my lip, and suddenly she put an alcohol soaked cotton ball to my open cut and I howled like a banshee. "Ow, ow...ow, what was that? Acid?"

"Lands sake, it's just a little alcohol to clean it out and kill the germs. There, I'm done. It's not deep enough to need stitches and I don't think a band aid will stay on it, but it's stopped bleeding now. We'll keep an eye on it. and make sure it doesn't get worse."

"Thanks granny," I said looking in the mirror to see how bad it was, and decided I'd had worse injuries. It might make eating a little difficult, but hopefully it would be all better by Christmas.

"Just don't get any salt in it," she laughed, "or it will sting worse than the alcohol did.

"Gee, thanks," I moaned, "everything you cook has salt in it."

She chuckled, "Well, I can fix yours without salt if you'd like."

"No, no way. I'll just deal with the pain. Come on Ely, let's go to my room."

"No rough housing young man," granny said as we started out the door, "and no kissing," she cackled.

"Eww," Ely said, "don't worry ma'am, I won't let him kiss me," he laughed.

"Very funny," I said shaking my head, "like I'd want to." But you know what? The thought of kissing Ely really didn't seem all that gross to me. It was certainly not something I'd ever thought of doing before, but it didn't sound awful. In fact, kissing a girl sounded worse, not that I'd ever kissed anyone, except for a kiss on the cheek for my mom and granny.

In my room, Ely closed the door and sat me down on my bed and bent down to inspect my lip, "Ah, it's not that bad, but I'm really sorry Brian."

"Hey, it's no biggie," I said, wondering why Ely was being so weird about things. We'd bumped heads, or accidentally hurt each other before, and it had never been a big deal.

He sat down beside me then and sighed, "I know, it was an accident, but I still feel bad."

"Thanks, you're a good pal," I said slipping my arm around his shoulder and pulling him in till we bumped heads.

"If you need anything just let me know," Ely said, pulling back and looking at me with a serious look.

"I'm fine Ely," I chuckled, "I've been hurt worse than this before."

"I know," he mumbled, "just lettin' you know..."

"Okay, thanks," I said smiling.

We puttered around my room for the rest of the evening, and when it came time for our baths, Ely took control. He cleaned out the tub and ran the water till it was just right, then waited till I was in before he joined me. We stretched out in the warm water, our legs meshing together as we leaned back and relaxed.

"Aww...this feels good," Ely sighed.

"Yeah, want me to wash your feet?" I suddenly blurted out. Now where did that come from?

"Okay, and I'll wash yours, but no tickling," Ely laughed.

"Promise," I said taking the bar of soap and rubbing it all over my washcloth before handing it to Ely.

I lifted his foot up and placed it on my leg and began gently washing it, and presently he did the same. I don't know why such a simple thing seemed so pleasurable, but it was a toss up as to which felt better, washing Ely's foot, or having him wash mine.

We didn't spend a lot of time washing each other's feet, and when we were done, we turned our attention to our own bodies and washed up quickly. The water was still warm, and after rinsing off, we stretched out, and suddenly I felt Ely's foot rubbing against my side. I giggled and retaliated, and pretty soon we were using our feet to do battle.

"No fair," I giggled as one of Ely's feet wound up in my crotch. It didn't hurt, in fact it actually felt kind of good, but I felt the need to protest anyway.

"You can do mine too," he said, actually grabbing my foot and placing it in his lap.

I giggled again as I felt his soft spongy penis beneath my foot, and did him one better and opened my toes and grabbed it. He let out a yelp, then did the same to me, and the battle was on in earnest. Eventually we tired of the game, but somewhere along the way we'd both popped boners, though they quickly subsided once the footsy ended.

We finally climbed out and dried off, donned our undies and went off to my room for the night. It was too early to sleep, but the room was cool and we slipped under the covers to warm up as we talked quietly. We talked about school, sports, TV, the things we wanted for Christmas, and eventually the conversation got back to Donnie.

"Did I tell you that Donnie's dad died in that house next door to the one he lives in now?"

"No way, are you serious?" Ely said, his eyes as big as saucers.

"Yep, my gran told me that day I asked them about the Thanksgiving dinner and stuff. I can't believe I didn't think of it till just now. She said that Donnie and his mom were at Donnie's aunt's or something and it happened while they were gone. I guess there was a gas leak and he lit a match or something...and blew up and knocked him out, and he burned up in the fire."

"Oh, man, that's brutal," Ely said, "and they actually have to live next door to the place it happened? I don't think I could do that. I'd have to move far away."

"Yeah, me too," I agreed, "Do you, do you think Donnie feels sad when he sees that place?"

"Probably, I would. I wonder why his mom stays there?'

"I don't know, maybe it's cause it's cheap or something. Or, maybe she just can't bring herself to leave the last place she saw him alive."

Ely shook his head, "Thanks for telling me that," he said giving me a gentle shove, "Now I'll have nightmares."

"I'm right here if you need me," I said softly.

"I know," he replied just as quietly, "how's the lip?"

"It's fine, hardly hurts at all," I said, dabbing at it to see if it was bleeding again, and happy to find it was dry.

"That's good," he said yawning, "well...goodnight."

"Night," I said, mimicking his yawn.

It got quiet then, but it was a while before I drifted off to sleep. Ely however, was sawing logs almost as soon as I turned out the bedside lamp. I could hear his slow steady breathing, and in the near darkness I could just make out his face. He looked different when he was asleep, peaceful, and, did I dare think it? So beautiful. Yes, beautiful, inside and out, and I felt lucky to have him for a friend. I thought about Granny teasing us about no kissing, as I stared at Ely's lips and I felt my own lips give a little twitch. What would it feel like to place my lips against his? It was a weird thing to be thinking, but I couldn't help myself. For one brief moment I actually considered doing just that, but common sense won out, and I rolled over facing away from him to end the torture and temptation.

I awoke sometime later and smiled to myself. Ely was snuggled up to my backside and had an arm thrown over me and I had never felt so safe, so warm, and so loved as I did at that moment. With a sigh, I drifted back to sleep, secure in the knowledge that despite not having a lot of money, or a fancy house, or lots of toys, I was one of the luckiest boys in the world.

At school on Monday, Ely and I began our investigation into Donnie's Christmas plans, if any. We were more subtle than we'd been at Thanksgiving, but Donnie seemed to sense that something was up right away. Over the last month or so the three of us had grown closer, and Donnie wasn't nearly as shy and secretive as he'd been the last time we went snooping.

"So what do you want for Christmas?" Ely asked me, flicking his eyes in Donnie's direction to see if he was listening.

"Well, there's this really neat James Bond 007 road race set that I really want, but I'd settle for this really cool Erector Set that I saw in the Sears Catalog. It has an electric motor and everything. It's so cool. How about you? What do you want?"

"A new bike," Ely said, and though this wasn't news to me, I couldn't let Donnie know that, "Wow, really? What kind? Do you have one picked out?"

"Yeah, there's this neat Western Flyer that I really like. It's in the window of Western Auto downtown."

"Cool, we should go look at it, right Donnie?"

Donnie smiled and shook his head, "Yeah, what are you gonna do with your old bike?" he said, surprising both of us.

Up until that moment I hadn't thought about the fact that Donnie didn't have a bike. I mean I'd never seen one at his house, and he didn't ride one to school, so I guessed he didn't own one. Even I had a bike, it wasn't the greatest one in the world, but it was pretty nice. My gramps had bought it at a swap meet and repainted it, put new tires on it, and it was almost like new. That had been a year ago, and though it took me a while to learn to ride it, I was a pro now.

"I dunno, I never really thought about it, I guess give it to one of my brothers," he said looking at me and shrugging.

"Oh," Donnie sighed, and that word weighed heavy on us for a long time. It was as if all the air had gone out of the room and a darkness had entered it.

"But who knows," Ely went on, "they aren't old enough for bikes yet...not really."

"Oh yeah, well...if you wanted to sell it...I might be able to buy it," Donnie said perking up, "if it's not too expensive."

"I'll think about it...if I get a new bike that is," Ely said.

Well, there was no need to wonder what Donnie wanted for Christmas now, but we still felt the need to ask anyway, but the answer wasn't what we expected.

"I don't really want nothin'. I just wish I could buy my mom a new dress," he said lowering his head, "she wears the same three old worn out dresses all the time and she deserves something better. She always makes sure I have clothes to wear to school, but she never buys anything for herself."

"Well, that's mighty nice of you," I said wiping at the tears that had suddenly sprung up in my eyes.

"I been collectin' pop bottles for a while now, and I'm hoping I have enough to buy her one from the dime store by Christmas."

"Hey, man...we could help ya," Ely offered, "we could go bottle huntin' with you on Saturday or something, and you could use the money for your mom."

"Really, you guys want to?" Donnie said excitedly.

"Yeah, of course," I said, echoing Ely's feelings, "it'll be fun, like an adventure. We can cover the whole town, and I bet we find lots of bottles."

Over the course of the next few days we discovered that Donnie and his mom had not had a Christmas tree since the fire, and though the church usually provided a dinner and a few simple gifts, there wasn't really much celebrating of that particular holiday. I think I was as surprised as Ely to learn that not every kid lived and breathed for the coming of Christmas each year, and I felt a sadness that threatened to kill my own spirit.

I delivered the news to my mom and granny in bits and pieces as I gathered it, and Ely did the same at his house, then we waited to see what the adults came up with. Mom and granny talked to the other ladies at Church on Sunday and plans were made, but it was a couple of days before I found out any of the details.

On Monday of that week, Gramps, Ely, and I loaded up in gramps old International pickup and we drove to a small farm just outside of town. We parked in front of a cozy looking two story farm house, and as gramps climbed out, a man who looked much older than my grandpa came limping out to meet him.

The two shook hands and talked for a few minutes, laughing, and catching up on things, and eventually Ely and I joined them. Gramps took a minute to introduce us and I learned that the old man's name was Mr. Jones, but gramps kept calling him Pudge. I would definitely have to ask gramps about that later.

Eventually Pudge, Mr. Jones, walked us around to the side of the house and pointed to an old tractor, "You can use the old Farmall and the wagon, Carl. I reckon you still remember how to drive a tractor," he cackled.

"Oh, I might be able to drive us there without wrecking," gramps chuckled, "if I can't, I bet one of these ornery boys could do it."

"Well, take as many trees as you need. Did you remember to bring a saw?" he said, giving gramps a smirk.

"I'm not completely addle-brained yet, Pudge," Gramps laughed, "Brian, go back to the truck and grab my saw."

When I returned, Mr. Jones had gone back inside, and gramps was sitting on the idling tractor. He had us climb in the wooden trailer behind the tractor and soon we were on our way. We bounced along over a worn dirt trail that led across a big pasture and finally to a small creek that ran through the property. It was there that we found a number of evergreen trees, some no bigger than three or four feet, and others way over our heads.

"Come on boys, let's see what we can find," gramps said as he climbed down off the tractor.

It didn't take us long to find some nice looking trees, but some of them were too tall to be practical. Out in the open, the trees looked shorter than they would inside, but by using gramps height as a measurement, we finally found two nice trees. Ely and I took turns sawing the trees down while the other two held the tree in place, and though it was hard work, we finally had the trees in the back of the wagon and were on our way again.

Back at the house, Mr. Jones met us in the barnyard when he heard the tractor chugging in, and while Ely and I dragged the two trees to the pickup, the two men exchanged goodbyes. Mr. Jones walked to the pickup with gramps and Ely and waved goodbye as we drove off.

At home, we unloaded the tree we'd selected for our house and left the other one in the pickup for the time being. It was too late to deliver it to Donnie and his mom that night, but our plan was to take it to them tomorrow after school.

Mom and granny had the tree stand ready, and once we had the tree in it, we worked till we got it as level as possible, and positioned so the limbs were evenly distributed. It looked much bigger there in our living room and was nice and full, but the best part was the smell. Nothing beats the smell of a live evergreen tree. It was a smell that brought the spirit of the season ever closer to our little existence.

Ely stayed long enough to help us decorate the tree and then I walked him home. He and his folks had actually put their tree up the Saturday before, one bought from a tree lot in town, and I had helped him decorate his as well. We lingered outside Ely's house once we'd arrived, too pumped up to be tired, but knowing that we needed to end things and get some rest.

"Thanks for helping us," I said bumping Ely with my hip.

He bumped back and grinned, "It was fun, especially ridin' on the wagon."

"Yeah, it was fun," I agreed, "well...guess I should go..." I said, but I really didn't want to.

"Yeah, I guess," he said, seeming to be in no hurry either.

I looked into his eyes and suddenly I remembered that urge I'd had to kiss him the last time he'd slept over. My eyes dropped to his lips and I licked my own nervously. My split lip was all but healed, a tiny scab all that remained of my injury, but they were a little dry.

"What?" he giggled, "you're looking at me all goofy."

I blushed, "Am not," I scoffed.

"What? Come on, tell me? What is it?"

"Nothing," I said, suddenly realizing my breathing had become labored and my palms were sweaty.

"Nut head," he said grabbing my head and pulling me close.

I don't know what I was thinking, I guess I just misread his actions or something, but instead of bumping heads, as he had intended, I let my lips mesh against his in a quick dry kiss.

I jerked away quickly, realizing what I had just done, and felt the tears forming in my eyes, "Uh, I gotta go," I said darting off the porch like Satan was after me.

"Wait!" Ely called, but I was already running down the path to the safety of my own house.

For a moment I feared he'd follow me and demand to know what the hell I was thinking, but by the time I got home I decided I wasn't being pursued. I ran inside and went straight to my room and closed the door, and that's when the tears began to fall. I was terrified. What had I done? I'd kissed my best friend and he would hate me now. Wasn't that what they meant by queer? Boys didn't kiss boys. Boys were supposed to kiss girls. I groaned to myself. Why had I been so stupid. Why did I do it? Was I...queer, or was it just some stupid impulsive act that didn't mean anything?

I began to calm down after awhile and decided to take a hot shower and see if that helped. I was sweaty and dirty from the tree hunting, and the hot water cascading over me felt wonderful. As I stood there beneath the spray I thought about the kiss. As wrong as it was, and as much trouble as it might cause for me and Ely, I had enjoyed it for the few seconds it lasted. I'd felt all warm and tingly and happy, then the fear and embarrassment had kicked in, and I took off running like a scared rabbit.

What must Ely think now? Would he hate me and quit being my friend, or was there some small chance that he'd liked it too? I should have stayed and at least talked to him, I reasoned, I could have said it was a joke, yeah, a joke. We were always playing jokes on one another. That's what I'd do. Tomorrow I'd laugh and say...ha ha ha, gotcha, and play it all off as a joke, a big joke. Yeah, that would work, I decided, and I was almost feeling good about things by the time my shower was over.

As I dried off and got dressed, I thought about all the good times Ely and I had shared together. The sleepovers, the baths, the skinny dipping at the river, and all the rest, and I realized that my feelings for Ely were somehow more intense now than they had been when we were younger. What had happened to change things? I wondered. Was it because we were getting older, or was it just me that was changing? Was I...turning queer? Was I even old enough to be queer, or anything for that matter? I didn't really think about girls, but I really didn't think about boys either, well...except Ely. I guess I was sort of fascinated by Ely, but then I'd known him all my life and we were closer than most friends, more like brothers, only we didn't fight.

"Brian," my mom said from the other side of the bathroom door.

"Yes ma'am?" I said, suddenly terrified that maybe Ely had come down after all to point out my shame.

"Bring your dirty clothes and wet towels to the laundry, I'm gonna put a load in before I go to bed."

My heart, which had been threatening to beat out of my chest, slowed down then, but I was still jumpy as I gathered up the laundry and headed to the enclosed back porch where the washer and dryer were. Mom was nowhere in sight, and I dumped the clothes quickly and escaped back to my room.

She came in later to kiss me goodnight, but she didn't act any differently, so I assumed my secret was safe for the time being. If I could pull the joke thing off tomorrow, I decided, things would be back to normal before any word of my scandalous behavior got back to her, and my worries would be over. But I was still nervous, and it took me a long time before I finally drifted off to sleep that night. Tomorrow I'd face my best friend and try to worm my way out of this situation, but for now I couldn't help but wonder as I slowly drifted off to sleep, what was Ely thinking right now?

The next morning I considered pretending to be sick so I could stay home and put off facing Ely one more day, but my mom was not the kind of mom you could fool when it came to that stuff. If I pretended to be sick, I'd better be sick, or I might wind up getting a shot for something I didn't have.

I puttered around, dragging the time out as best I could, picking at my breakfast, then finally brushing my teeth before grabbing my stuff and heading out the door. As usual, Ely was waiting for me in his living room, watching cartoons, and when I knocked on the door he was up and outside in a flash.

"Hey," he said cheerfully.

Wait, he didn't look mad or upset or...even confused. He just, he just looked like the same old Ely I'd seen every day for as long as I could remember. Maybe I'd dreamed it all, the kiss that is, or maybe Ely had just thought it was a joke or something. No, I was pretty sure I hadn't dreamed it. I could still feel the tingle on my lips way after I'd ran away from him, and remember how his lips had tasted on my tongue. It had been fun, but scary, and to be honest, I had no way to describe how I felt about it. If Ely was to ask me, Why? I have no idea what I'd say, other than, I just wanted to do it.

Was I sorry I'd done it? That I'd kissed him? No, I was not sorry, that much I was sure of. What I was sorry for was that apparently, after seeing Ely's reaction or lack of this morning, it hadn't meant as much to him as it had to me. What was he thinking, I wondered as we strolled along toward school side by side. Did he even care enough to remember it, or was it just like all the other random things that happened to us every day, like my getting an elbow in the mouth?

"I think my folks are getting me that bike for sure," Ely said after a block had passed beneath our feet.

"Cool," I said trying to sound happy for him, "are you gonna give your old bike to your brothers, or sell it to Donnie?"

"Sell it? Nah, I wouldn't sell it to him, but I might give it to him, as a Christmas gift or something."

"Aww, that would be mighty nice of you," I said sincerely, "but do you think he'd accept it?"

"I dunno, maybe, probably. He wants a bike pretty bad. It's a nice one too, a little paint and it would be perfect."

"I know, it's way nicer than mine."

"Yeah," Ely said, then suddenly he added, "I never thought of that. Uh, maybe I should give my old bike to you."

"Nah, thanks, but mine's just fine. Donnie really needs it more, and mine is perfectly fine."

"If you're sure," Ely said giving me a questioning look.

"I'm sure, that's what I'd do if I was you...give it to Donnie."

By the time we'd arrived at school, I'd almost forgotten about the kiss and my worrying myself half to death over it. I still couldn't believe my good luck, but if Ely hadn't remembered or didn't think it was bad if he had, then who was I to stir up trouble? As far as I was concerned, it was over. The subject was closed, and I was certainly not going to make that mistake again.

We spent the day as always, classes, recess with Donnie, lunch, more classes, recess, and last period was PE. Donnie was really good at tumbling and stuff, but I had trouble getting my butt to follow my body sometimes, and wound up falling on my side a lot. Ely however, was as limber as a circus trapeze artist and I envied him his sleek muscled body. In fact, that day in PE I was noticing it a bit more than usual. His t-shirt kept riding up, and when he'd do hand stands or tumble it would fall up and reveal his smooth flat tummy. Now I'd seen that tummy a hundred times before, naked many times, but there was something about that casual peek at his soft vulnerable stomach that caused a stirring inside me. It was so powerful that I had to look away, and that's when I noticed Donnie had been watching me watch Ely. I blushed and looked away, then went back to my own mat and tried to execute some gymnastic moves, but my head and my body just wasn't into it. I finally gave up and just sat down on the floor by the wall and watched the others.

Donnie came over after a while and sat down beside me, but he didn't speak for a long time. When he finally did, I was surprised by what he had to say.

"I can help you with that stuff," he said softly, "with tumbling and stuff."

"Okay," I said smiling, "maybe we could get together at my the backyard sometime."

"Sure, yeah...just say when," he said nodding, "I been doin' that stuff since I was a little kid."

I laughed, "You're still a little kid," I said, and he punched me gently.

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah, thanks."

Fortunately, class ended before I had to try my luck at tumbling again, and pretty soon the three of us were dressed and out the door. Donnie walked as far as his street with us, then we split up, leaving Ely and I alone. Even though I'd decided that Ely wasn't fretting over the kiss, I still felt a little uneasy about things as we walked along, maybe still expecting him to mention it despite that fact.

"Wanna come over and play for a while?" Ely asked as we got closer to our street.

"Sure, but I gotta go home first and change clothes and tell ma where I'll be."

"I'll go with ya, then we can walk to my house afterwards."

I nodded, not giving it much thought at that point. After all, it wouldn't be the first time we'd done the exact same thing. Mom was gone that day, but granny was in the kitchen, and she peeked around the corner when we came in the door.

After saying hello and outlining our plans, we went to my room and I threw my books and stuff on the little desk grandpa had built for me, and began undressing. Ely sat on my bed watching me the whole time, chatting about this and that, and even though this was nothing new, I suddenly felt a little nervous about the way Ely was staring at me.

"What's got into you?" I laughed.

"Huh, what do you mean?"

"You're lookin' at me funny, that's all."

"Oh, well...can't a guy look at his best friend without it bein' weird?"

"I guess," I chuckled, as I unbuttoned my jeans, "what we gonna do?" I asked, wondering what he had in mind when we got to his house.

"What do you mean?" he said blushing, "I was just lookin', that's all."

"Huh? You're being all crazy," I said shaking my head, "I meant at your house?"

"Oh, yeah...I knew that. Maybe we can throw the ball around or something. If my brothers are home, maybe they can play too."

"Yeah, okay..." I said looking at him and shaking my head, "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, fine," he said, falling back on my bed and sighing.

I finished changing and we snagged a couple of cookies from the cookie jar granny always kept full on our way out the back door. Granny swatted at us, but she was laughing, and I knew she didn't care about the cookies. She knew I'd still have a hearty appetite when it came time for supper.

As luck would have it, Eric and Edwin, Ely's brothers weren't home that day, and his mom said they'd gone over to a friend's house and wouldn't be back till supper. For some reason that suited me just fine. It wasn't that I didn't like Ely's brothers, it was just that I didn't feel like dealing with anyone else right then.

Despite Ely suggesting we throw the ball around, he led me to his room that day, and that's where we spent most of the time I was there. He drug out his comic book stash and we thumbed through those for a while, but neither of us was in the mood to read or even look at the pictures.

Pretty soon Ely threw down his comic and tackled me. We rolled to the floor and soon we were flipping and flopping and laughing our heads off. Ely was stronger, and there was no doubt that he would pin me at some point, but I really didn't mind. I know it sounds weird, but I actually liked him on top of me, holding my arms above my head as he threatened to hock a loogie into my face.

"Stop jerk," I laughed, "your spit is toxic. It'll kill me."

"Yeah, didn't kill ya last night when you kissed me," he blurted out, causing the smile to disappear from my face.

It took him a second to realize what he'd just said, and I could see the change come over his face when he did. He looked scared, and worried, and embarrassed, and I could tell he was trying to think of something to say to fix what he'd just done.

"Let me up please," I said softly, "I need to get home."

"Aww...don't go," Ely pleaded, "I'm sorry. I wasn't really gonna spit on ya, I was teasin'."

"I know," I said as he rolled off, allowing me to sit up, "I just remembered I have to do something for ma, and if it's not done by the time she gets home I might be in big trouble," I lied.

"You sure?" Ely said looking sad. Then perking up a little he offered, "Maybe I could help ya do whatever it is and you won't get in no trouble."

"No, no that's fine. I just need to go," I said, standing up and starting for the door.

"Brian..." Ely said as I reached for the door knob, "I...I'm sorry," he said looking ready to cry.

I nodded and turned the knob, but I just couldn't go. I couldn't leave him like that, leave things like they were, and I turned and gave him a sad smile, "Wudn't your fault. It was me done messed up. So, I reckon it's me that should be apologizin'."

"No, it's okay. No need to apologize...I sorta liked it," he said blushing.

" did?" I managed to choke out, "you're not just funnin' me?"

"No, I swear. I been thinking about it a lot...all night and all day, but I was afraid to say anything. It just slipped out when we was wrestlin'."

I let go of the knob and turned to face Ely. He was wiping at his eyes, and only then did I realize I had a few tears in my eyes as well. Without being asked, I walked over to his bed and sat down and he took his place beside me.

"I don't know why I did it," I confessed as I studied my hands in my lap, "I just had this urge and I couldn't stop myself."

"It's okay, I get it. I never kissed anyone before, but I gotta admit, that was kinda nice," he said blushing.

"You don't think it's...weird, or queer, or anything?"

"Nah, not weird...and we're too young to be queer," he laughed, "I think it's like when we used to hold hands, remember that?"

I smiled. Boy, did I ever remember. In fact it hadn't been that long ago that we'd last held hands. It was at the 4th of July picnic. We'd joined hands and sat on the grass as we watched the fireworks display and oohed and awed. If anyone thought it was weird, no one said so, in fact, I remember our moms saying how cute we looked sitting there like that.

"Yeah," I said, daring to reach over and take his hand, "how come we stopped?"

"Shucks, I don't know. Wudn't my idea," he said blushing, "but some folks might think it was sissy or somethin'."

"We could still do it, only in private," I said blushing.

"Okay, yeah...and..."


"Maybe do that kissing thing private," he said, so red now I thought he might pass out.

I smiled and shook my head, "Like how about now?" I said, doing a little blushing of my own.

He licked his lips, and I swear he looked so cute as he closed his eyes and leaned in to meet me half way. I was no expert at kissing, but I knew I needed to turn my head a little to keep our noses from bumping together, and when our lips met the rest just seemed to come naturally. As far as kisses go, I guess that second kiss Ely and I shared was a bit awkward and not all that sensual, but to two ten year old boys, it was the most exciting thing that they'd ever experienced. At least that's how I felt.

When we broke the kiss, I was aware of two things, my thingy was hard, and my heart was beating so fast I was afraid I was getting sick. I could tell Ely was just as flustered as I was, but it was hard to tell what was going on down there between his legs since neither of us was that big.

"Was that okay?" I asked, not knowing what else to say.

Ely nodded and looked down at our joined hands, "I think it was just fine Brian, just fine," he said grinning.

You might think we spent the rest of our time that day trying out our new thing, kissing, but we didn't. In fact, we went out back after all, and threw the ball around, and never even mentioned what had happened in his bedroom. Oh, we would discuss it many times later, and practice some more, but that day we didn't need to. We'd both accepted that kissing and hand holding was okay, but it wasn't going to consume our lives or dominate our time together. It was just something we'd do when the time was right, and in between, life went on as usual.

Still, by the time I got home that evening I felt as if something very important and life changing had happened, and of course I was right. We might have been ten years old and too young for more than kissing and hand holding, but as we grew older we'd learn new things, together, and what we'd learned today was just the beginning.

We finally found time that next weekend to go bottle hunting with Donnie, and we struck gold. Ely had the idea to go door to door and ask if anyone had extra bottles they wanted to get rid of, telling them we were using the money for Christmas gifts, and you'd be amazed at how much luck we had.

I mean, here were three cute little boys looking all pathetic and needy, being oh so polite, who could resist them? Not many did, and soon we had Ely's Radio Flyer wagon full of pop bottles. We had so many that by noon we had to go redeem them because there wasn't room for anymore.

Donnie tried to get us to take a share of the money, but we refused and he didn't protest too much. I think he was thinking about all the things he could buy his mom with the money, and the look on his face was reward enough for our hard work.

We went downtown after we sold the bottles and Ely proudly showed us the bike in the window at Western Auto, then we went inside to admire it. While we were there, we looked around at the toys and sporting goods stuff and killed some time.

Donnie wanted to go to The Five and Dime Store to look at stuff for his mom, and we wound up looking at the toys and models and stuff there too. He found a nice dress for his mom and proudly bought it, then had the lady wrap it for 10 cents more. He was so proud of himself that he was positively glowing that day, and I felt happy just seeing him happy.

"I'll put this under the tree tomorrow and ma will be so surprised," he beamed.

We'd taken the tree over to his house the next day after chopping it down, and helped him and his mom decorate it with some lights and tinsel and ornaments that we'd pooled together from our two families. I'd never seen anyone as happy as those two as we plugged in that tree that evening, and I felt like I'd truly discovered what Christmas was all about.

"But tonight you can put it under our tree," I said. Donnie was staying the night, as was Ely, and we were looking forward to having a fun time.

Mom and granny had made a big pot of stew and served it with cornbread that night, and Donnie ate two bowls and kept telling them how good it was. He'd loosened up a lot since that first time he'd come over, and was very comfortable around my folks, and seemed especially close to my gramps. Well, I could sort of understand that, since neither of us had a dad, we looked to gramps for a male influence in our lives. Gramps was a real man's man. He'd worked on the railroad for many years, then did some farm work till he injured his leg and finally retired. He drew a railroad pension plus a small disability check, and with the child care check my mom drew on me, that was the sum total of our income. We never went hungry and we had all the basics, but most of all, we had each other and the love that we shared, and that was the most important thing of all.

After dinner, us boys helped clean up, but after we'd cleared the table, mom and granny shooed us out of the kitchen and we went outside and sat on the back porch. It was cool, but not cold, and the evening air smelled fresh and invigorating. So much so that soon we were running around the yard, and finally engaging in a wrestling match on the brown grass.

It was every man for himself and no one was really trying very hard, but at one time or another I had each of them pressing into me, and I swear they were both hard down there, just like I was. I hadn't really thought about it much before, but it seemed like that happened every time we wrestled or got in close physical contact. I wasn't sure how long it had been going on, but looking back I realized that I'd been aware of it for quite sometime, I just hadn't given it more than a passing thought till now. It was just something that happened, part of being a boy, natural and normal, I decided, and nothing to worry about.

I did happen to notice one thing that was interesting, Donnie's thingy seemed bigger than mine or Ely's. Maybe I was wrong, but when it was pressing against me it felt way bigger, and when I looked down there after he rolled off me his pants were sticking out more than ours. That was my first time ever thinking about the fact that some boys might be different down there. Up until now I'd just assumed every boy was the same, but I should've known better. I mean even Ely wasn't exactly like me. Oh, we were about the same size, but his thingy was shaped differently and was a little fatter than mine. I was uncut and Ely was circumcised, and when we'd first figured out that we were different that way, we'd both done some touching and looking till our curiosity was satisfied.

Of course that was a long time ago, when we were just little kids, and now we barely gave it any thought. I wondered if Donnie was like me, or like Ely. Except for asking him I didn't know any way to find out, but I would soon learn the answer to that question quite by accident.

When it finally got dark, we went inside, and as soon as we hit the door mom yelled at us to be sure to take a bath or shower. I rolled my eyes and shook my head when she wasn't looking, but I knew not to sass her. "Yes ma'am," I yelled back.

Gramps had seen my head gesture and was chuckling while pretending to read the paper. He and I understood each other. As the only men in the family we'd learned how to get along with the womenfolk without getting into trouble, but we still liked to think we were in charge.

"Hey, I got an idea," Donnie said suddenly.

"What?" I said as I led them back to my room.

"We could take a shower together and save time," he said, surprising the heck out of us.

"Together?" I gulped, "all three of us at once?"

"Yeah, what's wrong with that? You and Ely take baths together, what's the difference?"

"Nothing, I guess," I said, "I mean, will we all fit?"

"Sure, we can take times standin' at the shower head and getting clean. We can even wash each other's back."

Wow, that was a lot to think about. I mean, I was used to Ely and me being naked together, but seeing Donnie naked seemed...I don't know, almost naughty. I had to think about that for a minute, but Ely seemed to have made up his mind already.

"That's a great idea, then we'll have more time to play," Ely said, nodding in agreement.

"Well, if you guys want to," I said, still not sure this was a good idea, but I didn't want to come across as a spoil sport.

"Okay, but not yet, let's wait till later," Donnie said, suddenly taking charge as if this was his house.

"How much later?"

"Till just before we go to bed, then we won't get all hot and sweaty after our shower."

"Good idea," Ely said, "as long as we take one before bed your mom won't care."

So we puttered around my room, played some board games, and of course wound up in a wrestling match. I swear it seemed like every time we got together we wound up wrestling or competing in some contest of strength.

Both were stronger than me, but I was wiry and fast, and when we were outside I could usually avoid them. Inside though, with nowhere to go, I was helpless to resist them and was soon overpowered and flat on my back.

"No fair," I giggled, "two against one."

"We're not gonna hurt ya little boy," Ely laughed, "right Donnie? Let's tickle torture him."

"," I giggled as they dug in my rips and belly, tickling me till I could barely breathe.

"I don't know when it happened, or why I hadn't noticed it till just then, but suddenly I was aware that my thingy was so hard it was actually hurting. The most embarrassing thing was, Ely and Donnie suddenly noticed it too.

"Look," Donnie said pointing at the tent in my jeans, "he's gotta boner. He must like gettin' tickled," he laughed.

"Do you? Do you like it?" Ely chuckled as he tickled my hips, coming dangerously close to my hard little spike.

"Stop...please...please..." I begged, "I'm...gonna...pee."

Well, I don't know if they believed me or not, and maybe they thought my hardness was the result of needing to pee, but for whatever reason they did let up, and I managed to roll away and break free. I ran out of the room and headed to the bathroom on the pretense of peeing, but once I was inside and the door closed I just stood there and shook till I could get my emotions under control.

Were they laughing at me because I was hard? Did they think I was weird cause I got a boner when they were touching me? Surely not, they were both hard earlier when we were wrestling, so if I was weird, then so were they. I stared down at the lump in my jeans and frowned, What did all this mean? Did my getting hard have anything to do with the feeling I'd recently discovered when I touched myself down there. For I always grew hard when I did that, and once I'd rubbed it long enough to get the good feeling, it went soft again. Was that what sex was? But what did that have to do with the boners we got when we wrestled or tickled one another? Did our thingies think we were trying to do sex stuff? It was all very confusing, and with no one to ask about such things we were left to figure it out for ourselves.

My dick eventually grew soft and I did manage to pee, but just as I was zipping up Donnie and Ely came barging in laughing and cutting up.

"We came to see if you fell in," Ely giggled.

"Or was playin' with it," Donnie added with a goofy grin.

"Yeah," Ely said looking at me and grinning, "we're ready to take our shower now, then we can go to bed and just talk or something."

"Oh, okay," I said. I was glad my boner had gone down, but worried what might happen when we started bumping around in the shower.

"Yeah," Donnie said, as he started to strip. Standing in his sock feet, he skinned his shirt over his head and tossed it on the floor at his feet, then straightened up and shook his head to get a few stray locks of hair out of his eyes.

Ely sat on the edge of the tub and stripped off his socks, then skinned off his jeans and stood up. He was still dressed in his underwear and a striped pullover, but for some reason I couldn't take my eyes off him. As he reached down to grasp the hem of his tee shirt, my eyes followed his movements as he lifted it upwards exposing his flat smooth belly, and I felt a stirring down below as well as in my stomach. These feelings were so new to me, yet it was as if my eyes were suddenly being opened to something that had been there all along.

"Well, are you gonna get naked or not?" Donnie suddenly asked, pulling me out of my funk.

"Oh, yeah..." I said skinning my tee shirt over my head, momentarily blocking my view of Ely. When I finally had the tee shirt clear of my head, I was shocked to see that Ely had already stripped off his briefs, and as he stood there totally naked, he bent over to turn the faucets on.

I tried not to stare as I fumbled with the button of my jeans, but there was Ely's cute little butt right there wiggling around in front of me, and suddenly my boner was back with a vengeance. How could I hide that? I wondered, but suddenly Ely straightened up and turned and I relaxed some. Ely was as hard as I was, and he didn't seem to be embarrassed at all.

"You too?" Donnie laughed, and when I looked his way he stood there completely naked as well, and just as hard as Ely and me, and I was right, his dick was bigger than ours.

"Gosh," Ely said, voicing the thoughts going through my head, "you gotta big one," he chuckled, "and you got skin like Brian."

"Thanks," Donnie said preening, "I guess I'm a little bigger than most boys my age, but it ain't no big deal."

"It's nice," I heard myself say, then I turned bright red as I realized what I'd said. Neither of my friends seemed bothered by my choice of words, and in fact Ely actually moved closer to get a better look.

Meanwhile, I'd managed to get my pants off, but I was in no hurry to remove my underwear and expose my boner to my friends, even if they shared the same condition.

"The water is hot," I said, bending to test the temperature, then lifting the lever to direct the water flow to the shower head.

"Oh, yeah..." Ely said recovering quickly, then seeing that I still had my underwear on, he chuckled, "You gonna take a shower in your underwear Brian?"

"Nooo..." I said blushing.


"Okay, give me a minute," I said delaying the inevitable as long as possible.

"What you worried about?" Donnie laughed, "we all got boners, ain't no big deal."

"I'm not worried," I said, finally taking the plunge and dropping my briefs. I don't know what I expected, but other than a casual glance, neither of them seemed to pay much attention to my puny boner. I didn't know whether to be annoyed or relieved.

Ely led the way into the tub, and one by one we stepped in and I pulled the curtain closed. Ely was in front, and he took a few minutes to soap up before handing the bar to Donnie.

"Wash my back," Ely said to Donnie who didn't hesitate to do just that.

For some reason I felt a little jealous that it was Donnie soaping up Ely's back, but I knew that was silly and I kept quiet. Eventually, Donnie turned his attention to his own body and then handed the soap to me with the same instructions.

"Who's gonna wash my back?" I said, taking the soap and going about the task at hand.

"Ely can," Donnie said, taking charge again.

That was fine by me, and I grunted my approval as I worked my fingers into Donnie's muscular back. His skin felt soft and smooth beneath my hands and he seemed to be enjoying my touch.

"That feels good," he sighed as I worked on his neck, "you got good hands."

When it was finally my turn to get my back washed, I swapped places with Donnie and presented my backside to Ely. I don't know if it was my imagination or not, but it seemed like Ely took an extra long time soaping up my back, using his hands to go all the way from my neck to the start of my butt.

His hands felt really good on my skin, and when I felt his hand down there near my butt my boner jumped a little. Then when Ely was done, he gave my ass a smart slap, and even though it hurt just a little, it was sort of exciting.

We stayed hard all during the shower, but when we started drying off our boners began to relax, and by the time we had our undies on they were gone completely. I didn't really attach too much importance to our state of arousal at the time, after all, I knew from experience that boners came and went sometimes for no reason.

In my room once again, we hopped into my bed, Donnie in the middle as before, but we didn't go to sleep right away. Instead we played what I liked to call 'bed games'. However, as dirty as that sounds, they weren't that kind of games at all. Bed games were games you could play in bed, like: Guess what I'm thinking of? In that game the person would think of a object, person, or place, then the other players had to make guesses about what it was. Another bed game was hangman, but for it you needed a pad and pencil and of course light. That night we played both, starting with hangman, and then turning out the light later and playing the other one.

As we played the guessing game, I could feel Donnie's body against mine and it felt warm and soft. It felt kind of nice to have Donnie so close, but I sort of wished I was in the middle for a change. For some reason I really wanted to have Ely next to me, but I didn't know how to make that happen without sounding weird.

My chance to make that happen came quite by accident when Donnie announced he had to go use the bathroom. While he was gone I scooted over next to Ely and as a ruse started wrestling with him. When Donnie returned, he just piled down on the bed beside me and joined in the melee. When we settled down, Donnie didn't ask to move back to the middle, and Ely didn't seem to mind, so I just stayed there.

The interest in the game had cooled, and instead of resuming it, Donnie started telling a scary story that had both me and Ely scooting closer to the nearest body. I was as close to both of them as was humanly possible without crawling under their skin, and it felt really cozy and nice.

The story ended with Donnie shouting Boo! and scaring the crap out of both of us, and I had to remind them to keep it down so as not to wake my family. Fortunately, no one came to tell us to settle down, so I guessed we weren't too loud, or they were really hard sleepers.

After we settled down, we moved a little ways apart, but we were still touching along most of our sides, and I could feel Ely's foot sort of spooned under mine. He giggled as he began to rub my foot with his foot, but it didn't tickle, it just felt all tingly.

Donnie had rolled onto his side facing me with his legs bent and only his thighs and knees touching me now. Even that felt good, so warm and cozy, and I felt a little tingle in my middle from our touching. On the other side of me, Ely rolled onto his side and pushed back into me, his rear end pressing against my hip now and his feet against my ankles. What was he doing? Was he just trying to get comfy, or was he desperate for human contact? All I knew was that it felt good to have my two pals snuggled up to me, and the warmth and softness of their bodies soon had me drifting off to sleep.

I don't think I had ever slept so soundly, and I felt as if my eyes had been opened to something new and wonderful. It was one thing to be cuddled and loved by my mom or grandma, but this was something on a whole different level. Of course it had been sometime since I'd needed my mom or granny to comfort me, but sometimes I missed that intimacy. This new thing with Ely and Donnie had me wondering what else I'd been missing out on.

I awoke sometime near morning and things had changed a little. For one thing, I was laying on my side facing Donnie and he was spooned up to me, his backside pressed against the front of my undies...and to my horror and surprise, I was rock hard. I tried to pull back a little, terrified that Donnie would awaken and notice my boner and give me a hard time, no pun intended, but the more I tried to pull away, the more Donnie pushed back.

Suddenly, I was aware of something else that was new, Ely was pushed up against my backside, and...if I wasn't mistaken, his penis was in the same state as mine, rock hard. I took a moment to contemplate what was happening, and I came to a conclusion rather quickly, touching someone down there caused a boner. Yeah, I know...not rocket science, but I was ten and knew nothing of sex, and very little of how the human body worked, even my own.

I lay there for a long time, afraid to move, but after a while I just let myself relax and enjoy the feel of their bodies against me. In front, my penis felt as if it might get that good feeling without my having touched it, and behind, I was enjoying the feel of Ely's hardness against my pillowy backside. I wondered if he was enjoying the feeling in his penis as much as I was, and if so, was he really asleep or just pretending to be?

I decided to put him to the test in the only way I knew how, instead of pulling away from him I began to push back, and to help things along I began to gyrate my hips, rubbing against his hardness. The effect was almost immediate. Suddenly, Ely began to match my movements, pressing into my fluffy mounds causing his breathing to become labored.

I had to smile at the effect I was having on him and I had almost forgot about Donnie and my own hard penis until suddenly Donnie began to mimic my movements, causing a wave of pleasure to shoot through me.

What was happening? Was this sex? Was I going to get that good feeling? Was Ely? Should I stop? I'd made my point, and found out what I wanted to know, was it wrong to keep going on like this? It was about then that Ely grabbed my hips and began thrusting against me hard, and suddenly he cried out and rubbed himself against me a couple more times before falling still and pulling back some, all the while still feigning sleep.

I was too surprised by Ely's sudden apparent orgasm (not a word I knew then, but later) that I completely forgot about my own situation until Donnie pressed back against me, hard this time, bringing me back to my senses.

I wasn't as bold as Ely, I couldn't just grab Donnie and do to him what Ely had done to me, but I had that aching need that we boys get when we're so close. I felt desperate to get that good feeling, no matter what. Fortunately, Donnie was very good at what he was doing, and without much help from me, I finally arrived at that place of no return as I felt the tingling go all through me, and at last I got my good feeling.

I can say without a doubt that it was the most intense feeling of my young life and it left me gasping for breath and trembling as if I were freezing. I felt a little ashamed and guilty, but what little of that there was, was swiftly forgotten as the feeling continued to resonate through my young body.

In front of me, I was suddenly aware of something I hadn't noticed the whole time Donnie was pushing against me, Donnie had been rubbing his own hardness. Then suddenly he cried out and began to experience his own good feeling.

Three spent ten year olds lay there for a long time, and though I don't know what the other two were thinking, I kept coming back to one thing, something wonderful and life changing had just happened and I was looking forward to experiencing it again.

We finally got back to sleep, but I found myself waking occasionally and checking on the other two to see if they were really sleeping or playing possum. Neither snuggled up to me as they had before, and I felt a supreme sense of loss at that, but they were close enough that I could still feel their body heat and smell their comforting scent.

Morning came bright and warm for December, and after a big breakfast we headed outside to play. Nothing was said about what had gone on the night before, nor did either of them act as if anything had changed. I tried to act accordingly, but my mind kept screaming out, Shouldn't we talk about this? When will we do it again? Maybe it hadn't been that big a thing to them, I thought, maybe it was something all other boys knew about and I'd been kept in the dark. Nah, I decided, if Ely had known about this stuff, he'd of told me long ago. But where did he learn it? Where did Donnie learn it? Or, was it just instinct? I mean, I'd pretty much figured out what to do once we got started. Maybe sex stuff was just stuff you figured out as you went along, and if so...I thought I'd done okay.

After awhile we walked to the park and played around, and eventually Donnie said he needed to pee. We followed him to the little cinder block bathroom and were relieved to find it wasn't locked up. It was dark inside and smelled of pee and poo, and other odors I didn't know about yet, but it was fairly clean and not totally gross.

The urinal was a long trough stretching down one wall, and there was plenty of room for all three of us to stand side by side and pee. Donnie started unbuttoning his jeans right off, then Ely followed his lead, and I was last to unleash my penis and start spraying the porcelain urinal.

I noticed Donnie staring at our dicks, and I took that as a go ahead to do some looking of my own, and I must've liked what I saw, cause suddenly my dick started getting a little hard. I guess it was contagious, 'cause I noticed their dicks had begun to chub up a little too, and Donnie laughed.

"I'm getting a boner dammit, makes it harder to pee."

"Yeah, me too," Ely said, "but I'm almost done."

"Brian's really hard," Donnie laughed, "you like lookin' at our peckers?'

"No!" I said looking away, my face turning bright red from being caught.

"I'm joking," Donnie said, "don't get all shy. I like looking too," he added boldly, giving my hard little dick a good looking over, "that thing was poking me last night," he laughed.

"Was not!" I said, totally embarrassed now. I mean, I wanted to talk about it, but not like this. Donnie was causing me to feel weird about it.

"It's okay, I liked it."

I half-way expected Ely to join in the conversation and tell Donnie what he'd done, but he seemed content to just listen and smile. I started to say something, but then I decided that what had happened between me and Ely was our business, especially if Donnie was gonna be a jerk about things.

We finally zipped up and went back outside and nothing more was said about peckers, or what went on last night, or in the bathroom. In a way I was relieved, but in another I was sort of disappointed. I felt like both Donnie and Ely knew something I didn't, and I was desperate to find out what.

We wandered back to my house and Donnie said he had to get home in time for supper. Ely was eating with us, but he had to be home by 8:30 so he could be in bed by nine. Tomorrow was a school day and we both had a nine o'clock bedtime.

In all the excitement that weekend I hadn't thought much about the kisses Ely and I had shared, but suddenly that night at the dining room table it was all I could think about. As I gazed across at him, his lips shiny with grease from the chicken leg he was gnawing on, all I could think about was how soft those lips had felt against my own and how much I wanted to taste them again. I was starting to bone up a little just thinking about it, and I guess I was squirming around a little when suddenly I felt Ely's foot against my own.

I looked directly into his eyes then, and he winked at me and I just sort of melted. Why was I suddenly so enraptured by this boy I'd known all my life? Was it the kiss, or what had happened last night in bed? No, it had begun way before that, I decided, and it had nothing to do with the kiss or the other thing. Was this what love was like? Was I in love with my best friend? I was only ten, what did I know about love? I almost laughed, I was a stupid kid, what did I know about anything for that matter? And yet, there was something different going on between us, and I could see in his eyes that I wasn't the only one aware of it.

I somehow managed to get through dinner, and for once mom and granny didn't ask us to help clean up. Mom said we didn't have much time, and we could spend it playing in my room, and she'd call us when it was time for Ely to go home.

We practically ran to my room, giggling like two little kids, and as soon as the door was shut behind us Ely tackled me and drug me to the floor. At first I thought it was just about wrestling, like we always did, but when I felt his hardness against my leg I knew something else was about to happen.

"About last night..." he said blushing.

"What?" I said pretending to be ignorant.

"You know..." he insisted, "It was okay...right?"

"Well, yeah..." I said shrugging, "I didn't mind."

"Cause you did it too, didn't you? Donnie told me you humped his butt," he giggled.

"Did not," I said, knowing my denial was a waste of time and energy, but feeling the need to do so anyway.

"It's okay, he didn't mind. It was fun for all of us, right?"

"Yeah, I guess..." I admitted. Then looking up into his eyes I saw something there that both frightened and excited me. Was it lust, need, love?

"Only thing would've been better woulda been this..." he said, then quickly he bent down and kissed me squarely on the lips.

It was a quick kiss, a little dry and without much passion, but to me it was just as exciting as what had happened in bed the night before.

"Well..." I said, reaching up to take him by the ears. Then slowly I pulled him down until our lips met again, but this time I wasn't about to let him get away with a quick kiss. I even opened my mouth a little and I felt his tongue against mine for a second. It was a lot wetter kiss than the first, and it went on for a good five minutes before I finally let go of Ely's ears.

"Wow, I have a boner now," he giggled.

"You already had a boner," I reminded him, "and so did I."

"Yeah, I feel it," Ely said, repositioning himself so that our boners were touching.

Then slowly Ely began to gyrate his hips and grind our boners together causing waves of pleasure to radiate through both our bodies. Then Ely bent his head down again and our lips met, and this time it was like we'd finally figured out what a real kiss involved. Our mouths were open, our tongues were darting in and out of each other's mouths, and we were actually swapping spit.

A few days ago I would've thought it was disgusting to have anyone's tongue in my mouth, to have my spit mixing with theirs, but at that moment, as our boners pressed together and brought us the most delectable feelings ever, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

I don't know how long we lay there, our lips locked together, our bodies moving in unison, desperate for release, but it seemed like hours, even though it was surely only a few minutes. When the orgasm hit me, I began to shake like crazy, my lips never leaving Ely's, and a second or two later Ely was trembling and coming just as hard as I was.

We continued to rub against each other till we were completely satisfied, and only then did we break the kiss. Ely laid his head in the crook of my neck and I could feel his still wet lips against my flesh. It felt warm and not at all gross, and I instinctively reached up and began to stroke his hair lovingly.

"Wow, that was...rad," Ely gasped. Then raising his head to look in my eyes, he said, "Did you like it too?"

"Yeah, I liked it...a lot," I said kissing his forehead.

"Was" he said as much to himself as to me.

"I dunno," I shrugged, "I thought there had to going in holes," I giggled.

"Yeah, I think so too, but we don't have any holes," he giggled.

We eventually pulled apart and sat on my bed, but once the moment had passed, we didn't dwell on it. We were still too young and inexperienced to process all that had happened, and it was easier to just pretend it didn't happen than to try.

I can't say I felt guilty or embarrassed, but I really didn't feel the need to talk about it, that is if Ely didn't, so I just ignored it for now. I couldn't really read Ely's mood, but he didn't seem upset, that much I was sure of. He fell back on the bed and I fell down beside him, and we just stared up at the ceiling for a long time, not saying anything.

"Yep, I'm definitely getting that bike," Ely suddenly said, piercing the silence and surprising me.

"Lucky," I said, "and you're gonna give Donnie your old one, right?"

"Yeah, but I feel kinda bad giving him something used."

"Hey, it's the thought that counts, right? That's what my grams always says. Donnie won't care, he'll love it."

"I know, I just feel bad for him, that's all."

"Yeah, me too. I might not have everything, but I know I'm a lucky kid to have my mom and grands, and all my aunts and uncles, and...a best pal like you," I said punching him gently in the arm.

"Thanks, I'm lucky too," he said softly, "you're like closer to me than my own brothers."

"Yeah, I bet," I chuckled, thinking about the kiss...and the rest.

"Aww...that too," he said obviously picking up on my meaning. Then he looked over at me and frowned, "you're okay...with everything...right?"

"Sure, why wouldn't I be?" I said, smiling my best smile.

"No reason, just wondering. It all happened kinda fast."

"Yeah, so...?"

"Nothing. It's fine. Just checking."

We were interrupted then by my mom yelling that it was 8:30, and I glanced at my alarm clock, surprised to find the time had slipped away from us so quickly. As Ely slid off the bed, I sat up and gave him my best smile again.

"Walk me to the door?"

"Sure," I said hopping up and throwing an arm around Ely's neck.

"Here's your jacket," mom said when we reached the living room, "be careful going home," she added, giving Ely a quick kiss on the cheek.

I gave Ely a grin and he winked when mom turned away. We were sharing some new secrets now, and it was kind of exciting and naughty to think about. I was sobered however when I thought about what would happen should our folks find out about our new activities, and my smile disappeared. If Ely noticed he didn't say anything as I walked him out the door. We said goodbye on the porch and he bounced off to his house, practically skipping the whole way. I watched as he disappeared into his house and he waved as he went inside.

I was barely aware of the cold as I turned to go back inside, but the house was warm and cozy and my mood lightened once more. I took a shower without being asked and got ready for bed, and when mom came in to say goodnight I was safely beneath the covers.

I laid there for a long time that night, thinking about all that had happened that weekend, but mostly what had happened between Ely and me. The kissing had been great, and the other thing was fun too, but I kept coming back to the kissing. Who knew kissing could be such fun? I guess it made sense, I mean when I thought about it there was a lot of kissing going on everywhere. In movies and books, on TV, and if you looked around there was plenty of it going on in real life too. Okay, so maybe it was between guys and girls, but it was still there. That got me to wondering though, was it always just guys and girls doing the kissing? Was it ever two guys doing the kissing, or were Ely and I the only two guys who'd figured out you didn't need a girl to have fun kissing?

No, of course we weren't the first guys to discover it. I wasn't completely stupid, I knew there were gay guys out there, somewhere, even if I'd never actually seen one, and surely they kissed too. And maybe there were other boys like me and Ely, who were just having fun and trying stuff out, and maybe it didn't mean anything in the end. Maybe it was just like touching yourself. You weren't exactly sure it was okay to do it, but you still wanted to, and once you'd tried it, there was no going back. Kissing was sort of like that. Now that I'd kissed Ely I wanted to do it again, and again, but I knew I couldn't let anyone else know about it, well...except for Ely that is. Not even Donnie, I decided. It was strange, I didn't mind him knowing that Ely and I had done the sexy stuff, but kissing? No way, that was private. Why did I feel that way? I wondered, did that mean the kissing was more than just...experimenting or figuring things out? Did the kissing mean we liked each other in a whole different way? I was too young to have all the answers, but I was well on my way to figuring things out, it would just take a while to understand all of it.

Sleep finally came, and I actually slept fairly well considering all that had happened in the last 48 or so hours. I remember waking once and getting up to pee. The house was cool, but actually just right for sleeping under a heavy quilt, and I hurried back to bed and got under the covers as quickly as possible. I thought about how warm and cozy it had been the other night, Ely's warm soft skin pressed against mine, and I felt my dick start to stir a little. I smiled at the thought of what had happened, and I wished Ely was there right then. I was tempted to touch myself and get that good feeling, but sleep overtook me before I could get serious about it.

The days passed quickly and the whole town seemed to be buzzing with Christmas cheer. Even at school the atmosphere seemed lighter, the teachers nicer, and of course the kids anxiously looking forward to Santa's arrival. Every classroom had a tree and decorations, mostly made by the kids, and there was a special Christmas play and a party the last day of school.

Some of the moms brought snacks, cookies mostly, and we had milk from the cafeteria, and were free to roam around and visit. Of course me and Ely and Donnie spent all our time together, goofing off and having fun. Some of the kids had brought presents for the teacher, and my mom and grandma had sent a knitted scarf for her, and Ely's mom had sent a box of Whitman Chocolates from the Rexall drug store downtown.

Our teacher, Mrs. Kirk, thanked us all and wished us a Merry Christmas, and gave us the best gift of all, she let us out of school an hour early. Some of the kids gave her a hug as they departed, but us boys just wished her a Merry Christmas and headed out the door, Christmas vacation occupying our thoughts and pushing out everything else.

Christmas was on Monday that year and it was Friday, and we had two whole days before the big day to have fun and get ourselves prepared for the big event. Because the stores would all be closed on Sunday, Christmas Eve, Saturday was the official last day to shop, and as expected, it would be a busy shopping day. Fortunately my family and Ely's were finished with their Christmas shopping, but that didn't mean us boys were going to stay away from town tomorrow.

That afternoon, with extra time to kill, we headed to the little grocery store by the school and Ely treated us to a pop and a candy bar. I actually had a quarter of my own money, but I thought it would encourage Donnie to accept Ely's offer if I did too. I knew Ely got two dollars a week allowance and he seldom ever spent any of it except for occasions like this. I understood that it made Ely feel good to be able to do little acts of kindness like this, and I'd learned to accept gracefully. Donnie was coming around, but he was still a bit reluctant to accept too much charity.

We grabbed our snack, wished the lady who ran the store a Merry Christmas, and headed out the door. We walked Donnie to his house and he invited us in, and we were surprised to see that his tree had a few more gifts under it than last time. Without prompting, he said the church had brought some gifts by, and for once he didn't seem embarrassed or bothered by their act of charity. I smiled when I thought about the bike Ely was giving him.

Ely had finally talked to his folks about his plan, assuming Santa brought him a new bike, and without actually admitting a new bike was in his future, his dad had helped him fix up and repaint his old bike till it looked almost brand new. They'd even put new tires on it, and Ely said it was like a new bike, and he was gonna miss it more than he thought he would.

I didn't get an allowance, but I was able to earn a little money doing chores now and then, and my gramps always seemed to have something for me to do, especially around the holidays. Last time it had been moving a pile of scrap wood to the front for trash pickup, and though it wasn't hard work, it had taken me most of a Saturday afternoon to complete it. For my efforts I had earned five dollars, which to a 10 year old boy was a small fortune. That, and a few more dollars I'd earned over the past few months, as well as the ten dollars I'd hung on to from my birthday, was enough to buy gifts for my family, and Ely of course.

This year however, I had a new friend, and I felt the need to buy Donnie a gift as well. I knew he liked to draw, and was actually very good at it, so I decided to buy him a new drawing tablet. When my folks heard what I had in mind, they chipped in enough to buy him a nice set of colored pencils as well, and we put all our names on the to and from card. It gave me a warm feeling inside to be able to give Donnie a gift, and even though it wasn't the most expensive or the grandest, I knew he would enjoy it and get lots of use out of it.

I'd bought my folks and Donnie's gifts first, and I had just over 10 dollars left to buy Ely's gift. At first I wasn't sure what to get him. He had most everything a boy could want, and he was getting a new bike for Christmas, but there had to be something. I made it a point to watch Ely closely as we were shopping around to see if he lit up on anything in particular, but nothing seemed to really peak his attention. Nothing that is until one particular day when we were going from store to store just to kill time.

We'd stopped by Western Auto to see his bike one last time, then headed to the sporting goods store to check out the cool sports stuff, fishing gear, and camping stuff. In addition to all the cool sporting stuff, they also had a large selection of knives in a case, and when I looked that way Ely was standing there staring at something as if mesmerized.

I made my way over and casually glanced into the case trying to figure out what had caught his eye, but I didn't have to guess very long.

"Look at that baby," Ely said pointing at a pearl handled knife with a lock down blade. It was about medium size, and was shiny silver with antique looking swirls on the part holding the blade. I had to admit it was pretty cool, but I had never been too excited by knives, though I did have a small pocket knife my gramps gave me for my birthday when I was 9. Boy, mom 'bout had a fit over that knife, but gramps told her he'd got his first knife when he was 8, and that I was old enough to learn the responsibilities of owning one myself. I don't think he ever really convinced her that it was all that safe, but she let me keep it, and I was extra careful not to cut myself the few times I used it.

"It's nice," I said, noting the price tag, $12.00. Wow, 12 bucks plus tax, that was a lot of money, but if there was any way on this earth that I could pull it off, Ely was gonna have that knife for Christmas. I had a little over ten bucks, so if I really hustled I figured I could come up with the rest by Christmas. I had one week to do it, and I was determined that I would make the deadline no matter what it took.

I was finally able to pry Ely away from the display and we checked out the rest of the stuff, but I knew I'd be back to get that knife, I just didn't know when. One week wasn't a lot of time, but I was on a mission, and nothing could stop me or dampen my resolve to give my best friend that knife.

That night, I considered my possibilities and decided to start with gramps. He'd never failed me before, but I'd already done just about every extra chore you could think of to get what money I had. Still, if anyone would be sympathetic to my plight it would be my grandpa.

I waited till after supper that night, and while the womenfolk were cleaning up the dishes I approached gramps where he sat in his easy chair reading the paper. He chuckled when he saw me coming and laid down the paper, opening the floor for me to present my case. He knew me too well not to know what I was up to, and I felt a little ashamed that I was so obvious, but this was important, and I hoped he would agree.

"I um, see..." I started, not sure exactly how to proceed.

"What is it boy, looking for more chores to do?" he chuckled.

"Well, you see, there's this really neat knife at Hess' Sporting Goods store, and well, Ely really likes it, and I was hoping to get it for him for Christmas. Only thing is: it's $12.00 plus tax, and all I've got is $10.53. I been trying to think of a way to get the extra money, but we've already hit every house in town for bottles and I'm running out of ideas."

"I see, and you're sure this knife is what Ely wants?"

"Oh yes sir, you should have seen his eyes light up. I think he was actually drooling on the display case," I joked, "and I thought he was never gonna pull away so we could go."

"I tell you what boy, since it's for Ely, who is just about as fine a young man as my own grandson," he said grinning, "I will spot you two dollars, but when Christmas is over, you owe me an extra chore."

"Oh, yes sir...whatever you say. Whatever you want done, I'll do it. Thank you so much," I said hugging my gramps tight. He hugged me back and patted me gently, and when I pulled away I thought I saw tears in his eyes, but my gramps never cried. Must've been coming down with a cold or something.

Gramps handed me two wrinkled singles and I folded them and shoved them in my pocket. I couldn't believe it had been that easy, but I still had a chore to do sometime down the road. Still, as easy as gramps was, he might just forget that chore, or make it something really easy. Anyway, it didn't matter, whatever I had to do it was worth it to surprise Ely with that knife.

I begged off going to Ely's house that Monday after school, rode my bike downtown, bought the knife and had mom wrap it. We decided to fool him and put it in a small box, then the small box in a bigger box, and then that box in another box, so he couldn't figure out what it was in a million years. Plus, it just looked better being in a big box, with colorful paper and ribbon, and two bows. I filled out the to and from card:

To: My best pal Ely,

From: Brian...Merry Christmas

Then I placed it beneath our tree, right in front, hoping that Ely would come snooping like he always did and discover it. Well, it didn't take long for that to happen. The next day after school we came to my house, and the first thing he did was start checking out the gifts under the tree.

"Hey, this one is for me," he said grinning, "ah, it's big...and heavy, what is it?"

"Nice try," I laughed, "you're just gonna have to wait till Christmas to find out.

"Aww...okay, but you gotta wait too. I got you something really neat. You are gonna love it," he said excitedly.

"I can't wait," I said, "Only five more days till Christmas.

"And only three more days of school, Yay!!!"

"Yeah, and the last day is so easy, it always is. We'll goof off most of the day."

"Yeah, so really...only two more days. Then ten whole days off."

That time had finally arrived and we were headed out the door with Christmas to look forward to, and ten whole days of freedom. After getting our snack at the little grocery store we walked to my house and hung out, just enjoying the extra hour of freedom our teacher had given us.

After explaining why we were home early, we went to my room and just hung around and talked. Ely said he'd overheard his mom and dad talking about his new bike, but so far he hadn't figured out where they were hiding it. It was too big to just stick in the closet or the attic like they usually did, but Ely said he figured they had to bring it home eventually. Little did Ely know just how close he was to that bike at that very moment.

Donnie seemed to hang on Ely's every word, and when he'd finished he asked again about buying Ely's old bike. I gave Ely a knowing smile and watched as he squirmed around trying to figure out what to say without giving away the true answer, and yet not disappoint Donnie.

"Well, I'm not sure yet, but I'll definitely think about it, okay?"

"Oh, okay...yeah. Anyway, I understand if you wanna give it to your brother or something," he said sadly.

"Oh, I don't think that will happen," Ely said grinning.

"Okay, good," Donnie said, sounding hopeful again.

I quickly changed the subject, and after changing out of my school clothes we went outside to play. As usual, we wound up rough-housing and chasing each other around the yard, and eventually our play turned into a wrestling match.

This time it was Ely and me against Donnie and we soon had him prone on the ground as we held him down and tickle tortured him. Donnie wasn't all that ticklish however, and it took some doing to find his tickle spots. It turned out it was his feet. The kid couldn't stand to have his feet touched, even through his shoes, and once we found out, we stripped them off and had at it.

He kicked and swore as we tickled his socked feet, and finally had to quit for fear he'd pass out from giggling, or pee himself. As he sat putting his shoes back on, we piled down beside him and he gave us a dirty look.

"No fair you guys," he said shoving us with his shoulders, "two on one, just wait till next time."

"Yeah, last time it was me," I reminded him.

"Well, next time it's Ely then," he reasoned.

"I'll remember that," I giggled, "I owe him one anyway."

Donnie stayed till around 6 o'clock, and though mom and gran invited him to stay for dinner, he said he had to get home. We walked him as far as the end of the block, then walked down to Ely's house to get his stuff because he was spending the night.

His mom had cooked fried chicken and we grabbed a leg on our way out to hold us over till we got to my house for meatloaf. We were both big eaters but very active, and there wasn't an ounce of fat on either of us. After dinner we spent some time with my mom and grandparents, watching Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer while sitting in the floor by our Christmas tree.

Ely kept checking out the presents and rearranging the ornaments on the tree, and I finally had to drag him down on the floor and practically sit on him to keep him still. After the TV show we headed off to take our shower, together as usual, and then dressed in sweats till we were ready for bed.

We wandered back to the living room to ask if we could have a snack, and Granny said there were fresh-baked cookies in the cookie jar, but not to make pigs of ourselves. Ely and I oinked all the way to the kitchen and I heard gramps chuckle. Gramps hadn't been kidding when he'd said he thought as much of Ely as he did me, and there was always a twinkle in his eye when he looked at my best friend.

It's ironic that gramps, man's man that he was, was the first to figure out that Ely and I were closer than just friends. Of course it would be sometime before Ely and I really figured it out ourselves, but eventually when we did, gramps was our biggest supporter. But that was much later, even if it all did sort of start that special Christmas.

By the time Ely and I were ready to settle down to sleep we were actually pretty tired. The wrestling earlier and our usual running around had us tuckered out, and almost as soon as we piled into bed we were drifting off to sleep. Although we didn't do any fun stuff that night, we did snuggle some, and once I awoke to find Ely spooned up to my butt, but this time he didn't hump me.

When we awoke Saturday morning we got quite a surprise. The sun was nowhere in sight and the sky was grey, and when we went down to breakfast, gramps informed us that the weatherman had predicted snow for Christmas.

"Yes!!" I said dancing around, "We never have a white Christmas. I've always wondered what it would be like. I have a sled I've only used a couple times, and never at Christmas. Usually we don't get snow till January or February."

"Well boys, this may be the year," gramps chuckled, "if you have any last minute shopping, better get it done today," he said going back to the newspaper he was reading.

"I have all my Christmas shopping done, but if we're going to get snowed in, I might need a few more things from the grocery store," Granny said wiping her hands on her apron.

"I'll run you down to the IGA after breakfast, how does that sound?"

"I'll make a list," she said hurrying off to check the cabinets and fridge.

We hurriedly ate our breakfast, blueberry pancakes and sausage patties, and ran back to my room to get dressed for our trip downtown. Gramps was going to drop us off on the way to the IGA, and we would walk back later, much later, after we'd explored all the stores one last time before the big holiday.

By the time we were dressed and ready to go, Donnie had arrived, and we hopped in the back of gramps' old pickup and off we went. The IGA was on the other side of town, but to get there we had to go right up Main Street, and gramps let us off at the light and we hopped off and waved goodbye as we watched them drive away.

In the first block, there really wasn't much to interest us boys, mostly clothing stores and a fabric shop, but there was a Coast to Coast Hardware store there which was kinda interesting for us boys. Since we had plenty of time, we decided to go in and check out the tools and stuff. We were surprised to find they had a few sporting goods items too, and we checked out the bats and gloves and other stuff.

From there we headed up the sidewalk, keeping our eyes on the sky and talking about the impending snow storm that we were certain was headed our way. By the time we'd reached the Ben Franklin's in the next block, the temperature had dropped and a cold wind was whipping up out of the north, both good signs that a white Christmas was indeed on it's way.

We took our time that day, browsing and wishing, and by the time we made it to McCrory's we were thirsty, but we decided to wait till we'd finished looking to get something to drink. On our way out, I treated us to an Icee and a candy bar and Donnie didn't object to my act of charity. I think he was finally starting to accept that his pride wasn't damaged when it was his friends that were helping him. Ely and I both knew that if the shoe was on the other foot, Donnie would gladly share anything he had with his two best pals.

We took our drinks and candy bars outside, but it was too cold to stand in one spot, so we stayed on the move as we enjoyed them. Maybe a frozen ice drink wasn't the brightest thing to buy on a cold day like that, but we managed to suck them down without too many brain freezes.

Our last stop downtown that day was the Western Auto, but to our surprise the bike in the window was gone.

"It's gone, do you know what that means?" Ely said excitedly.

"That your mom and dad bought it?" I reasoned.

"Yeah, I wonder where they hid it?" he said looking thoughtful.

"Maybe he got one of your neighbors to hide it in their garage or something," Donnie suggested.

"Yeah, I bet that's it," Ely said, "I bet he let Mr. Green store it for him. He doesn't have any kids to worry about, and he and dad are pretty good friends."

"Maybe," I said grinning. Truth was, I knew exactly where that bike was, even if I wasn't supposed to. That bike was in our outbuilding by gramps lawn mower. I'd heard mom and gran talking about it on Thursday, and of course the first chance I got I had to check to make sure it was really there, and sure enough it was.

I don't know why they thought they had to hide it from me, after all I was pretty reliable when it came to keeping a secret, but I didn't hold it against them. Nor was I tempted the least little bit to reveal what I knew. I couldn't wait for Ely to find out where they'd hidden the bike, even if I had to pretend I was ignorant of the fact for now.

"Let's go to Toy Land next," Donnie offered.

Toy Land was a actually an extension of the Western Auto. At Christmas time they would rent a vacant building downtown and fill it with nothing but toys. The tables were plywood sheets on top of sawhorses or cardboard boxes, and there was nothing fancy about the place, but to us kids it was like being in Santa's workshop.

There were hundreds and hundreds of toys, though not quite as many now as there had been earlier in the season. In fact, some tables were nearly empty, which was a good thing for the store, but there was still plenty of stuff to catch our eyes and keep us busy for an hour or more.

By the time we emerged from the store it was starting to get dark out, and the grey clouds above were so dense there was hardly any light coming through them at all. It was still early, but it looked like dusk outside, and we were convinced that the snow would start to fall any moment.

We walked the short distance to my house, and mom fixed us hot cocoa to help us warm up. She and gran had been doing some baking, and there were cookies to be frosted for the Church Party tomorrow afternoon. We volunteered to help decorate them, and after washing up, we sat down with bowls of frosting and sprinkles and set about decorating four dozen cookies.

Of course we had to sample the finished product, but there were still plenty of cookies left for the Church dinner. Gran also made one of her Applesauce molasses cakes, but we were disappointed to find out we'd have to wait till Sunday to taste that.

Later we retreated to my room and played a game of Clue while we discussed our plans for Christmas and the vacation ahead of us. One thing was certain, the three of us would be spending a lot of time together and I could see the excitement in Donnie's eyes at the prospect of that. I guess he'd been a loner most of his life, and having friends all of a sudden had been a major change for him. He was adapting well though, and he was neither too clingy or too eager, but he was always ready for fun when we asked him along.

"Think you could spend the night?" I asked Donnie after a while.

"I don't know, maybe. Are you sure it's okay with your mom and grand parents?"

I laughed and Ely rolled his eyes, "They never say no to company? I guess that's the way they were raised. Gram said their house was always filled with friends of their kids (my aunts and uncles) and they preferred it that way since they could keep an eye on them. Gramps said that way, they always knew what they were up to and it kept them out of trouble, not to mention keeping their friends out of trouble.

"I could ask, but I hate to leave my mom alone this close to Christmas."

"I never thought of that. Hey, I have a great idea. What if we asked your mom to come over for supper? She could visit with my folks, then Gramps could take her home and you could stay and sleep over. That way you'd still get to spend the evening with her, and when it's time for bed, well...she can go home and you can stay."

"I don't know, she might think she was intruding or something. She's not used to folks asking her to come to supper, or anywhere for that matter."

"Wait here, I'll be right back," I said zooming off to talk to my mom and grams.

Of course it didn't take much convincing on my part. My mom and grams loved company, and there was always plenty of food so that was no problem. The only thing left to do was make the invitation, and I left that to the womenfolk.

I returned to my room and Ely and Donnie asked what was going on, but I told them to just hold tight and wait, and they'd soon find out. We resumed the game, but I could tell Donnie's head really wasn't in it. I finally won the game, guessing Ms. Scarlet in the Billiard Room with the candlestick.

A few minutes later gramps appeared at the door and told us boys to get our jackets and pile into the back of the truck. I pretty much already knew where we were headed, but I didn't say anything until we were almost to Donnie's house.

"We pickin' up my mom?"

"Sorta looks like it," I said grinning, "could be mom and grans invited her to dinner."

"Oh, well...seems like you was right then," was all Donnie said, but I could tell he was happy about the way things had turned out.

Donnie's mom was waiting for us when we pulled up and carrying a pie tin that I later discovered held a raisin pie. Raisin pie, yuck...well, at least that was my first thought, but turns out I like raisin pie, a lot, and Donnie's mom made the best ones ever.

We had roast beef, potatoes and carrots, green beans, home made rolls with butter and honey, and for dessert we had Donnie's mom's raisin pie and gran's apple/peach cobbler with ice cream. Wow, we were stuffed by the time we waddled away from the table and we collapsed on the living room floor in front of the TV while the womenfolk cleaned up and talked. Gramps sat in his chair and watched TV with us while reading the TV guide. Even before it was a thing, gramps was a master at multi-tasking.

When the ladies joined us, we watched some TV and talked during the commercials, but eventually we boys drifted off to my room and left the adults to visit. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, and Donnie said he had never seen his mom this happy before. I suggested that maybe his mom should come visit more often, and he heartily agreed.

Around 9, Donnie's mom announced that she should be getting home, and after giving Donnie a big hug, gramps took her home. Mom rode with them this time, I guess so Donnie's mom wouldn't feel so weird about riding with a man alone, though I really didn't understand why that was a big deal. Gramps was just gramps, and certainly not a danger to anyone, but I guessed older folks just had weird ideas about things.

Mom yelled at us to get a shower before bed, and this time we didn't hesitate. We grabbed our clean underwear and headed to the bathroom, and as before, we all three shared a shower. This time I got to wash Ely's back and Donnie washed mine, and Donnie was a lot bolder than Ely had been. Instead of stopping at the top of my butt, Donnie washed my butt cheeks, and with a giggle, he ran his soapy fingers up my crack causing me to yelp.

"Goose," Donnie giggled.

"What did he do?" Ely laughed, "stick his finger up your butt?'

"He tried," I said, spinning around to hide my backside from him."

"Like this?" Ely said trying to poke me back there too, but I was too fast and pushed my butt against the wall to protect it.

We were all laughing really hard now, but I was relieved when they didn't try anything else after a while. We washed up quickly after that, and headed to my room where we piled down on my bed. I looked over at Ely and then Donnie, and I felt a warm feeling inside me. It was sure great to have two such good friends, guys you could share almost anything with, but it was Ely that really caused my heart to beat fast. If I'd been older and smarter I might have figured out that I had a huge crush on my best friend, but I did know that things had changed between us, and I liked these new feelings a lot, even if they did scare me sometimes.

I don't know what it was that attracted my attention to my window, but suddenly I jumped up and rushed over there just in time to see the first few snow flakes begin to fall. I yelped out in surprise, and soon both Donnie and Ely were at my side, crowding in to get a look and laughing excitedly.

"Boy oh boy, if this keeps up we'll have lots of snow for Christmas," Ely burbled.

"We can go to the park and slide down that hill," Donnie suggested.

I knew the hill he was talking about, it was on the back side of the municipal pool and pretty steep, though it didn't run for more than a hundred feet or so. Anytime there was the least bit of snow, kids flocked there to do some sledding, and in February when we'd had a decent one-day snow storm, the hill had been crawling with kids like ants on a sugar cube.

"Only bad thing is," I said frowning, "if you get a new bike for Christmas, you might not be able to try it out right away."

"I don't care," Ely said, I can wait. I can ride a bike anytime, but how many days do we have where we can sled, and have snow ball fights, and build snow forts?"

"Yeah, usually our snow only lasts a day or two," I agreed.

We stood at the window watching the snow fall, and I was amazed at how quickly the bland grey landscape was transformed into something magnificent. The white blanket covered the ground, the rooftops, the trees, and even the fence took on a magical appearance as the snow covered the posts and clung to the wire.

"Wow, it's pretty," I said in awe, "I wish we could go play in it now."

"Your mom would never let us," Ely said frowning, "unless..."


"We wait till everyone is asleep and then slip outside..."

"But, we'd get all wet and cold..."

"Not if we dressed up really warm."

"I have boots, but you guys don't."

"Yeah, maybe we could just go out naked," Donnie giggled.

"And freeze our thingies off?" I said in horror.

"Well, I guess we could wear our undies."

"Funny, very funny."

"No, wait, maybe he's right," Ely said suddenly, "What if we just went out long enough to check out the snow and maybe make a snow angel, then we could run back in and warm up."

As stupid and risky as that sounded, when you're ten years old a challenge like that has a special appeal. I knew it was crazy to even contemplate such a ridiculous idea, but darn if it didn't sound like fun. I knew that whatever I decided the other two would go along with, and though I'd never been much of a risk taker, for once I thought why not? Why not do something risky, and naughty, and so crazy that if my folks ever found out I'd probably be in the dog house for a long time to come? But, you only get an opportunity to be crazy like this and impress your friends a very few times in your life, and well...this was one of those times.

"I'm in," I said, causing Ely and Donnie to do a double take and stare at me like I'd grown a second head.

"You are?" Ely croaked out, "Wait, which thing?"

"Going out in our undies. We can run out, check out the snow, make a snow angel, then scoot back in before anyone is the wiser. We can dry off and change our undies, then hop into bed and warm up."

"You serious?" Donnie asked, not sounding as sure about the whole thing now, even though it had sort of been his idea to begin with.

"I am if you guys are," I said shrugging, "or we can just go to bed and wait till tomorrow."

"Nah, I think we should do it," Ely said, "Yeah, we should do it. It will be something to tell our kids about when we're all grown up," he laughed.

"Yeah, and then tell them not to ever do anything that stupid or they'd get a beating," Donnie joked.

"We need to wait though," I said taking charge, "Gramps and gran are probably already asleep, but my mom stays up later most nights and reads. I think we should wait till after midnight. That should be safe enough. They all sleep really sound, so if we're really quiet we don't have to worry about them waking up. We can slip out the back door, do our stuff, and be back in 15 or 20 minutes, okay?"

"Okay, but if we get caught, I may never get to sleep over again," Donnie said looking forlorn.

"Nah, my folks would never tell your mom," I assured him, "they'd just blame me for everything since it's my house."

"They're cool," Ely added, "even if they did catch us, they'd probably just think it was funny, and chances are they wouldn't even punish us."

"Okay, I'm in," Donnie said, sounding excited again, "after all, it was sorta my idea."

"Yeah, let's get in bed and warm up and wait for time. We can tell stories or something to stay awake."

We might've dozed a time or two, but by midnight we were all three wide awake and anticipating our little caper. We decided since we were going to get our undies wet, that we'd dig our dirty ones out of the hamper and put those on, then change back into our clean ones after we'd dried off. I tried not to stare as we stripped off our undies and changed into the other pair, but I noticed the other two were doing some looking themselves. Even though we'd been naked in the shower a short time earlier, I guess we were still curious about each other's body.

Somehow we managed to get our undies back on, then went over to the window again to check out the snow situation. Since we'd last checked, a half inch or so of snow had fallen and now a white blanket covered everything in sight. I placed my hand against the window and felt the cold, and I had a sudden urge to call off this crazy scheme of ours. However, if Ely and Donnie had any doubts about what we were about to do, they were doing a good job of keeping it to themselves, and I didn't want to be the one to spoil things for them.

"Okay, we gotta be quiet," I said in a near whisper, "follow behind me, and no talking. When we get outside we can check things out, then find a nice spot for the snow angels, and make them, then it's back to the house, got it?"

They both nodded, content to let me lead this crazy expedition, and I actually felt half-way good about it as we headed out the door and into the hall. I stopped, and they stopped, and I listened for any sounds of movement in my mom or grands rooms, but as usually the only sound was gramps snoring.

I motioned for them to follow me and I led them down the hall and into the living room, then to the dining room and the back door. This door led out onto the back porch which was enclosed, but not heated. The washer and dryer were located there, and mom used a small electric heater to keep the pipes from freezing, but it was still very cold out there as our bare feet hit the wooden floor.

"Damn, it's," Donnie shivered.

"Shhh...yeah, it's cold, but it won't take us long to do this, come on."

I led them to the outside door and carefully opened it, then waited for the other two to catch up before pushing open the screen door. There were two steps leading down into the yard and they were covered in snow several inches deep. This was it, the big moment, and I was about to find out if my little tootsies could stand the cold or send me running back to the warmth of my bed.

I gingerly placed one foot in the cold wet snow covering the step, and was surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. It was cold, but my feet were tough from going barefoot so much, and it took a moment for the cold to seep in. By then I'd placed the other foot beside the first, and next I tackled the bottom step, then stepped out into the yard. I advanced a few steps, then turned to watch Ely and Donnie descend the steps until they stood beside me in the yard.

A crisp cold wind suddenly whipped up from out of the north, and it was as if someone had wrapped an icy blanket around me. At that moment I felt the cold penetrate my feet and begin to travel up my legs and through my whole body. I began to shiver, my teeth chattering so hard that when I finally spoke it came out like machine gun fire.

"," I managed to say, all the while keeping my arms wrapped tightly around my shivering body.

We didn't need to go far to find a level and clear place to make our snow angels, but I was reluctant to be the first one to fall down in that pile of freezing white stuff at my feet. However, Donnie didn't share my reluctance, and with a plop he fell onto his back and began to fan out his legs and arms. Ely was next, and as he fell back into the snow a few feet from Donnie, he let out a sharp breath, and I heard him utter a dirty word.

Sighing, I turned around and closed my eyes as I fell backwards into the snow, and when the cold snow grabbed my body I felt my breath being sucked from me. It took all my mental and physical energy to move my arms and legs, but eventually I had my snow angel made and was eagerly anticipating my retreat to the house.

Unfortunately, I hadn't thought about how difficult it might be to right myself after laying there on the frozen ground, but help was on it's way. Donnie and Ely had already managed to scramble up out of there hollowed out angels and they grabbed onto my arms and pulled me up in a single movement.

Once I was on my feet, my brain began to work again and I led the way back to the steps and onto the porch. We shook off as much snow as we could by the back door, giving no thought to the clues we were leaving behind, made our way across the floor, which actually felt warm now compared to the snow, then finally inside to the welcoming warmth of the house.

By the time we arrived at my room, our blood had begun to flow again, but we were still shivering despite the relative warmth inside. I'd grabbed three towels for us earlier, and after stripping off our dirty, wet, and cold underwear, we dried off, helping each other with parts we couldn't reach ourselves before finally donning our dry underwear.

We slid into bed, this time Ely in the middle, and snuggled as close to each other as we could as we struggled to warm up. It was then that the giggles hit us and we couldn't stop as we bumped together and recounted our adventure.

"Boy won't everyone be surprised when they see our snow angels tomorrow," Donnie said innocently, and suddenly I realized just what idiots we'd been.

"Oh no," I said, "if my folks see our snow angels they'll know we sneaked out," I groaned.

"Not if we beat them outside tomorrow. Besides, if it keeps snowing like this, it will probably cover them up," Ely reasoned.

"Yeah, okay...right," I said feeling a little better, "We need to get up early then and get outside as soon as we can."

"Gotcha," Ely said, then yawning really big he added, "I'm starting to get warm now and I'm sleepy."

"Me too," Donnie agreed, mimicking Ely's yawn, and that got me to yawning.

I turned off the bedside light and we settled down, and soon we were sleeping soundly.

I remember waking once or twice and feeling either Ely or Donnie, or both, snuggled up to me, and each time I went right back to sleep feeling warm and happy. Even at the tender age of 10 I had discovered that there were all kinds of intimacy, and sometimes just having a warm body next to yours was the greatest feeling in the world.

I awoke around 8 the next morning, and after padding off to the bathroom to pee, I woke the other two. While they took care of their morning pee, I went to the window to check out the snow situation, and was pleased to see that it had continued to snow overnight and that another couple of inches had fallen.

I could just barely see where we'd laid down and made our snow angels and I had to laugh. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, and we'd given no thought to the consequences, but it seemed mother nature had taken care of covering up any signs of our escapade.

We dressed quickly and hurried to the kitchen to find mom and gran busy fixing breakfast, but gramps was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's gramps?" I asked looking around.

"Out shoveling the walk," grams said looking frustrated, "I tried to get him to wait till you boys could help him, but he's as stubborn as a mule."

"Want us to go help him?" I asked just to be polite. What I really wanted was some breakfast.

"No, but you can go get the old fool and tell him breakfast is on the table. Then after you eat you boys can help him finish."

I rushed off and found gramps where he stood resting a moment and gazing out at the snow. He'd cleared most of our walk and the snow was piled up high on either side and he looked exhausted.

"Come on gramps, breakfast is ready," I said, touching him gently to get his attention."

"Oh, hello son," he said, seeming surprised to see me, then suddenly a big grin filled his face and he said, "Seems like we had some visitors last night, you know anything about it boy?"

"Uh, what do you mean sir?" I asked, completely clueless to what he was talking about.

"I was up at sunup and went out back to get the shovel out of the out building, and I couldn't help but notice what looked like three snow angels in the back yard," he chuckled, "You wouldn't know anything about that now, would you boy?"

"Uh, well..." I muttered getting all flustered and red-faced.

"Fortunately, your momma and granny won't venture out of the house in weather like this. I just have one question though; what were you wearing when you did it?" he laughed.

I had to laugh too, gramps was all right, and he understood us boys, "Just our underwear," I confessed, "we didn't want to get our clothes all wet."

He laughed really hard then, "Well, that's one piece of clothing more than I'd guessed. Come on boy, let's go get some breakfast...and no need to ever mention this to the womenfolk, they're not quite as understanding as I am," he added chuckling.

"No sir, thank you sir," I said putting my arm around my gramps, "I love you gramps."

"I love you too son," he said in a husky voice, "Let's go get some breakfast now, we still have a lot of shoveling to do."

Breakfast was eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, homemade buttermilk biscuits with butter and jam, and us boys had tall glasses of milk, while the old folks had coffee. We ate our fill, then left the womenfolk to clean up while we dressed warmly and headed out to help gramps. We only had one more shovel, but we had a hoe and a rake, and Ely and Donnie used those to help keep the snow piles from falling back onto the walk while gramps and I cleared.

We cleared a path all the way to the street, then cleared the path on either side to line up with our property. Hopefully our neighbors would take care of their part, but if not there would be kids offering to do it for a small fee before too long. Our driveway was a short one and the pickup covered most of it, and clearing it didn't take very long at all.

The church service began at 11 that day, with a short sermon, then a Christmas play, followed by the potluck dinner. Grams and mom had been cooking for a couple of days and there would be tons of food for the potluck, and we were all looking forward to it. Donnie was coming with us, and his mom was coming with Mrs. Green, the lady she'd asked over for Thanksgiving.

Since Donnie hadn't brought any extra clothes, I loaned him a pair of jeans and a pullover shirt to go with the undies I'd loaned him the night before. Ely had brought a change of clothes though, and soon we were all dressed and ready to go.

Mom and granny looked really nice, and even gramps was more dressed up than usual. I suspected gran had something to do with that, and she just had to straighten his tie one last time before we put on our coats and headed out to the truck.

To keep from getting our clothes wet, gramps threw a tarp in the back, and mom supplied an old comforter for us to cover up with. Fortunately, it had stopped snowing for the moment, but more snow was predicted before the day was over. I just hoped we made it home before it started again.

The little church was only a few blocks from the house, and in the direction of the school. In fact, Ely and I passed the church each day on our way to school, and though we didn't attend regularly, we were still considered members. In the summer we'd gone to Vacation Bible School there since we were six or 7, and would probably go again this summer, and maybe bring Donnie with us if he was willing.

Despite the snow, the turnout at the little church was impressive, and almost every pew was filled. Fortunately, Donnie's mom and Mrs. Green had held a pew for us and Ely's family, which arrived shortly after we did.

Pastor Riley was in his 60s, and for a preacher he was pretty cool. He didn't preach long sermons, and he didn't talk about hell and sin a lot. He mostly talked about love and folks helping one another, and I think that's why so many people came to church there. He might have been a Baptist, but he didn't believe in the Hell and Brimstone type of preaching that most Baptists did. Heck, even us kids didn't mind sitting through one of his sermons, cause he injected a lot of humor, which kept our attention.

Bible Study was cool too, and our teachers made it fun and encouraged everyone to participate. Today there would be no Bible Study since we were having the play and the potluck, and the sermon would be a short one.

In fact the sermon was so short it hardly seemed like a sermon at all. Pastor Riley thanked everyone for coming, read a few announcements, including the good news that Rick and Sandy Nelson had a new baby son named Michael. Everyone applauded at that good news, and murmurs went through the womenfolk, no doubt already planning some sort of shower or whatever it was women did.

When the sermon was over, the choir sang a few songs, and that led into the play which featured nothing but kids. The youngest was 3 and he played baby Jesus. Fortunately, he was a small kid and looked the part, and for a three year old he was pretty good at acting.

The only glitch was when one of the wise men tripped over his robe and fell into the manger and I swear I heard baby Jesus utter the word shit. But it might've been my imagination. All of us kids laughed, and even a few adults, but my mom swatted at me to behave, even though she looked like she was ready to crack up herself.

The play was pretty nice, and the kids did a good job and got a standing ovation from all of us in the pews. Since we were already standing, the preacher said we should go on to the gathering room where the pot luck was being held, and the women folk rushed ahead to get everything ready.

Donnie stayed with me and Ely as we lined up to fill our plates, and Donnie's mom and Mrs. Green stayed with Ely's and my folks. We let the little kids get in line first, and we were about half way down the line. To keep the little kids from making a big mess, some of the ladies were there to help dish up the food and make sure things were going smoothly.

There was fried chicken, roast turkey, baked ham, meatloaf, all sorts of veggies, salads, all kinds of bread, and more desserts than I can even name. I knew one plate wasn't going to be enough to hold everything, so I told Ely and Donnie we should come back for dessert, and they agreed.

We found a seat at a table near the back, away from the serving line, and sat down and began to eat as we watched the others around us. We knew most everyone there, especially the kids that went to our school, but there were a few new faces among the crowd as well.

After dessert, we wandered outside to check out the snow and wound up in the middle of a snowball fight. I recognized several kids from school and a few kids I didn't know, but we played no favorites as we lobbed our icy cannon balls at our foes.

Finally, the snowball fight broke up as kids were called away to go home, and we wound up just visiting with some of our friends from school. The snow hadn't started back up yet, but the sky looked ripe and ready to open up at any moment, and the sooner we got home the better.

The womenfolk finally pulled themselves away and just in time too. We said goodbye to Donnie who was riding home with his mom and Mrs. Green, and Ely and I piled into the back of the pickup truck.

By the time we got to our street, the snow had begun to fall again, and when we dropped Ely off at his house it was snowing so hard we could barely see in front of us.

I sat in the back on the tarp, but it was snowing so hard that my bottom was wet with snow by the time we arrived home. Gramps grabbed up the tarp and shook it off and carried it to the back porch, while me and the womenfolk made our way inside.

After changing into dry clothes and socks, I came out to watch TV with my family and spend Christmas Eve as we'd always done as long as I'd been alive. One of our Christmas traditions was to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and I was quick to remind the adults, who seemed in no hurry to welcome in the season.

"Go ahead boy," gramps chuckled, "that red one there with the green bow, that's the one for tonight."

I grabbed the gift and shook it, but didn't start opening it till I had the other gifts handed out. I chose which one to give mom, and mom chose the ones to give our grandparents, and soon we were busy unwrapping our gifts.

For mom I'd bought a new flannel night gown, and I figured she could use it on a cold winter night like this. It was yellow, her favorite color, and unless she was a really good actor, she seemed to love it. She got up and came over to kiss my cheek and thank me, and I blushed bright red at her attention. For grams, mom and I had picked out a new apron to replace the one she'd accidentally caught on fire on one of the burners on the stove. It hadn't burned completely, but it was singed around the edge and grams had insisted it was perfectly all right. Still, she seemed to love the new one and thanked us both.

Gramps was much harder to buy for, but being a simple man with simple needs, mom had decided he needed a new pair of work boots, and that's what we got him. He seemed surprised, but pleased, when he unwrapped the big package and discovered the boots, and immediately set out to try them on.

"Perfect fit," he said standing to stomp around once he had them on, "these will come in handy tomorrow when Brian and I are out shoveling snow," he chuckled.

"Gramps, not on Christmas," I moaned.

"Well, we might take the day off tomorrow since no one is going anywhere, but first thing Tuesday..."

Finally, it was time for me to unwrap my gift. When I was smaller, I'd always been the first to open my gift, but as I grew older I enjoyed the anticipation of waiting and watching the others unwrap theirs first. I glanced at the package in my hand, fumbling with the tag and reading the usual, To: Brian, From: Santa, then carefully removed the bow and ribbon.

"Well, open it," Gramps said sounding anxious.

"Okay, okay...gosh, you'd think it was for you," I joked.

"I might want to borrow it," Gramps teased.

I couldn't wait to see what it was, and my excitement continued to build as I began to strip off the wrapping paper. As the wrapping paper came off I was encouraged by what I saw, and ripped the last few strips off quickly.

"Is it really this...or did you just use this box to wrap something?" I said staring at the colorful box.

"Well, open it and see," mom suggested.

"Here boy, use my pocket knife to cut the tape, then you won't ruin the box."

I took gramps knife with a trembling hand, wishing I'd had my own little knife in my pocket, but gramps knife was much sharper anyway. I cut the tape on the end flap, then folded gramp's knife and handed it back to him, prolonging the revelation just a bit longer.

Looking at my mom and grands, I smiled and opened the flap to find Styrofoam packaging beneath. The Styrofoam completely surrounded whatever was inside, and after pulling it out of the box, I opened the top half to reveal a brand new AM/FM transistor radio. It was much nicer and much bigger than the little one I'd practically worn out since getting it when I was seven or eight, and I might add, totally unexpected.

"Wow, oh wow!" I said, "this one runs on batteries or electricity. And it has a pull up antennae, I said demonstrating. Do we have any D cell batteries gramps?"

"In the drawer by the sink. I just bought some new ones for the lantern in case the lights went out."

I rushed in and located the batteries, placed them in the radio, and found a local station playing Christmas music.

"That's nice son, leave it there," mom suggested.

We sat around talking and listening to the Christmas music on my new radio, but eventually we got hungry, and mom and gran went off to the kitchen to fix a light supper. It was mostly left overs, some stew, cornbread, and sliced ham, but we really weren't all that hungry and it was just right.

We watched a Christmas movie on TV, but eventually I went in to take a shower and slip on my ski pajamas. I hardly ever wore them, but it was cold in the house and I had no one to keep me warm tonight, so I decided this was the perfect night for them.

I sat on the couch with mom and grams while gramps sat in his chair, occasionally dozing off, and eventually grams gathered him up and they went off to bed. Now that it was just me and my mom I felt the need to thank her personally for the radio. I didn't know exactly how much something like that cost, but I did know it was no small gift and it meant a lot to me, even if the gifts I got tomorrow wouldn't be near as neat.

"Thanks for the radio mom, it's really cool. I love it. I'll probably listen to music till I go to sleep tonight, with my ear phone of course," I said grinning.

"You're welcome sweetie, I figured you were getting old enough to appreciate a nice radio. When we go on family picnics or to the lake, we can take it along."

"Yeah, good idea. Are you gonna wear your new gown tonight?"

"Yes son, I love it, and it will keep me warm. Thank you so much," she said kissing my hair, "it's perfect."

"Mom, I know I'm not supposed to know this, but...did Ely's dad come and get Ely's new bike already?" I asked grinning.

She looked surprised, then she laughed, "Well, evidently you kept the secret, so I guess we could've clued you in, but yes, he came and got it and put it in his garage as soon as we left today."

"Oh cool," I said grinning, "Mom, do you think Donnie will feel weird about getting Ely's old bike as a Christmas gift?"

"No, I don't think so. I think he will appreciate it for what it is, a gift from the heart. Besides, it's just like new now that they repainted it and put new tires on it. Or at least that's what I've been told."

"Yeah, it looks good, way better than my bike even," I said, then regretting what I'd said, I added, "but I love my bike just like it is. I feel like it's special cause gramps put so much love into fixing it up."

Mom smiled, "Your grandpa loves you very much, we all do. I wish I could give you all the nice things you deserve, but we do the best we can."

"I know, I'm happy with things the way they are. Heck, I know I'm lucky. I wouldn't change places with anyone, I love you, and grams and gramps, and all my uncles and aunts and cousins."

"I know you do," she said pulling me against her.

As we sat there feeling the love radiating from one another and watching the twinkling lights of the tree, I felt a wave of happiness and contentment wash over me like nothing before. Christmas wasn't about gifts, or trees, or lights, or tinsel, it was about family, and love, and I had all the love anyone could ask for. Eventually, mom said I needed to get to bed before Santa came and I laughed.

"Mom, I know Santa isn't real," I insisted, "but just to be sure, I guess I'll go to bed. Anyway, I'm tired. It's been a long day."

I grabbed my radio then and she walked me to my room and tucked me in, then after kissing my forehead she just stood looking down at me and smiling.

"Sleep well son, I love you, and I'm very proud of you."

"I love you too," I said smiling, "you're the best mom in the whole world."

She wiped away a tear as she turned to go, and I laid there a long time thinking about my life, my family, and what my mom meant to me. But soon my thoughts turned to Ely, and I realized that he was just as important to me as my family. Was it because we'd always been together, well, at least as far back as I could remember, or was it these new feelings I'd discovered lately?

I wished he was there with me, snuggled up beside me, but I knew he needed to be with his family on this special night, just as I needed to be with mine. I smiled when I thought about the look of joy that would surely be on his face as he found that new bike beneath the tree, and later when we exchanged gifts and he saw the knife he'd wanted so much, the knife I'd bought for him.

I lay there listening to the soft music on my new radio, and eventually I drifted off to sleep, but no visions of sugar plums danced in my head. If I dreamed at all I don't remember, but I do remember waking once or twice and feeling warm and safe beneath the covers, even if I did wish Ely was there to share it with me.

Christmas Day, the most anticipated and treasured day of all days, and this year it seemed extra special to me. Meeting Donnie and his mom, and knowing that we'd made a difference in their lives, had opened my eyes to just how lucky I was. I might not have everything I desired, or live in the finest house, but I had my family, and the love we shared was worth more than any worldly treasure.

As usual, I was up before mom and my grands, but this year I was in no hurry to wake them. Instead, I sat down on the floor beneath the tree and stared into the branches, enjoying the twinkling lights and looking, really looking, at each and every ornament on the tree. Some of those ornaments had been in our family since I was just a baby, and some we'd added over the years, but each one had a history. Oh sure, we'd lost a few over the years, back then ornaments were mostly made of glass and pretty fragile, but the ones that were left were precious reminders of Christmases past.

My mom and grams showed up first, and when they saw me sitting there beneath the tree they stopped in their tracks and just stared at me.

"Good morning," I said when I noticed them, "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas son, I'm surprised you didn't wake us up like you usually do."

"Aww, I haven't been up that long, and I was in no hurry. I already got the best gift of all," I said, and I didn't mean the radio.

"I'm going to make some coffee," grams said as she headed off to the kitchen.

I moved to the couch and pretty soon gramps wandered in, and after we'd exchanged greetings he headed to the dining room table for his morning coffee. I sat there a few more minutes before joining the others at the table, and while they drank coffee, I had hot cocoa.

"Not chomping at the bits today I see," Gramps chuckled, "I guess you're growing up some boy."

"I just...I want it to last," I said, not really knowing how to express how I felt, "Sometimes when all the gifts are unwrapped and there's nothing left...I don't know, it seems kind of sad. Like Christmas is really over with, and I gotta wait a whole year to have that feeling again."

Mom gave me a warm look and reached over to smooth my hair back, "Christmas isn't just about the presents you know? Christmas is about people, and sharing, and the spirit of good will and love, and helping others. What you and Ely did this year to help Donnie and his mom, that made me very proud, and I think that helped you to get the spirit more than any present would. Am I right?"

"Yes ma'am, I feel like I'm very lucky to have my family and good friends, and the presents don't seem that important at all. But, I really do like my new radio," I said grinning.

"Well, there's nothing wrong with enjoying the gifts you receive as long as you understand there's more to life than getting, giving is just as rewarding."

"Yes ma'am, I think I understand."

"Well boy," gramps said draining his cup, "those presents aren't gonna unwrap themselves," he said getting up.

We followed him into the living room and I knelt down beneath the tree and began to pass out the gifts. This had been my job ever since I'd been old enough to read the name tags, and might have been why I was reading at a third grade level in second grade.

Once I had all the gifts passed out, I looked at the pile at my feet. Despite already having received what I figured was my main gift, I had quite a few gifts to unwrap, including one rather large one. My grands and mom had four each, and I had five. Later I'd go down to Ely's house and we'd exchange our gift to each other and show off our gifts from our folks, but for now it was just me and my family.

The first gift I opened was the usual socks and underwear, and though it wasn't the most exciting gift a boy could receive, I appreciated it just the same. Mom unwrapped a pair of fuzzy house shoes that grams had got her to go with the gown I'd given her, and we stopped to discuss that for a moment.

"Oh, they match my gown," Mom said slipping them on.

"Yeah, we matched em' up at the store to make sure," I said grinning.

Gramps unwrapped one of his next, a new leather belt from me, and he said it would come in handy to hold his drawers up since he'd been losing weight lately. It was brown to match his new boots and he seemed to really like it.

Gram's first gift was a button up sweater to keep her warm on those cold winter nights. She made a big fuss over it and told mom it was the exact one she'd been looking at at the store. Mom said she'd noticed grams going back several times to look at it, and had snuck back and bought it that next day.

My next gift was a new board game, called 'The Game of Life', and I could hardly wait to play it with Ely. It had cars and little pink and blue men, and you could get married and have babies , and all kinds of neat stuff. After thinking everyone, I grabbed the next gift and began unwrapping it oblivious of the others who were doing the same.

I was surprised and pleased to find the remaining gifts were toys, including an electric race car set that was a huge surprise. It wasn't the James Bond 007 set that I'd had my eye on in the Wish Book, but in some ways this one was even neater. It had a cool car and a pickup truck, and featured a jump and a figure eight track. Boy, oh boy, I couldn't wait to show Ely and Donnie.

I hopped up to hug my mom, grams, and gramps after checking it out, and the smiles on their faces said it all. They'd probably sacrificed a little here and there to get me such great gifts and I was a little teary eyed by the love they'd shown me.

The last gift was a new model kit, a '57 Chevy, and I jumped for joy at the sight of it. I had begun to collect models just last year, and only had a few so far, and this one would make a nice addition to my collection. Plus, I figured Ely could help me assemble it and maybe do some of the painting.

When the gifts were all unwrapped and the paper and bows cleaned up, gran and mom went off to fix a light breakfast to hold us over till Christmas Dinner was served. Usually it was oatmeal and toast, but I found I really didn't have much of an appetite that morning. I ate a small bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and cinnamon but skipped the toast, washing the oatmeal down with more hot cocoa.

"Can I go down to Ely's now?" I said, hopping up to place my bowl in the sink.

"Dress warmly," mom said from the table, "and wear your boots, it's stopped snowing, but it's plenty deep out there."

I rushed off and dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, and finally long socks and my boots. I grabbed my coat from the hall closet then grabbed Ely's gift and headed out the door. Mom hadn't been kidding, the snow was piled high everywhere, and even the path we'd shoveled Christmas Eve was partly covered again. I managed to make my way to Ely's without too much trouble though, and when I got there I found his garage door open and he was out there with his new bike.

I stomped off as much snow as I could and joined him to admire his new bike, but he didn't seem as happy as I'd anticipated.

"Hey, Merry Christmas," I said handing him his gift.

"Hey, Merry Christmas, come on in and I'll get yours."

"Nice bike," I said admiring the shiny new ten speed.

"Yeah, but...I've decided not to keep it."

"What?!" I said, nearly breaking my neck as I spun my head around to face him.

"I'm going to give the new bike to Donnie and keep my old one."

"Wait, you're what?!" I said increduously.

"I...I decided it would be...wrong to give him an old bike. He deserves something new."

"Wow, that's really nice of you, but do you think your folks will let ya?"

He nodded, "I already told them, and they said they thought it was a wonderful thing to do. I think my mom was crying," he said grinning.

"Are you sure?" I said, still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing.

"Yeah, I'm totally sure. Besides, I like my old bike, and with the new paint job and new tires, it's just like new anyway."

"Yeah, so...when are you gonna take it to him?"

"Later, before dinner though. Dad said we'd load it up in the pickup and take it over. Hey, wanna come with us?"

"Of course," I said grinning, "I wouldn't wanna miss the look on Donnie's face for anything in the world."

We headed inside then, and after saying hello to Ely's folks, we went to the living room where Ely pulled my gift from under the tree. We sat down on the couch and began unwrapping the colorfully wrapped gifts and when Ely got the first box unwrapped he laughed when he saw what we'd done.

"Ugh, another box, how many boxes are there?" he laughed.

"You'll see," I laughed as I continued unwrapping my own gift.

Ely finally got to the gift, and I paused long enough to see his reaction. His eyes got big and his mouth dropped open, then he turned to me and smiled.

"Man oh man, it's the one I wanted. Thanks Brian, thanks a lot. It's so cool," he said opening the blade and showing me how sharp it was on the cardboard box. This will come in handy if we go camping or fishing this summer."

"I'm glad you like it," I said as I continued to unwrap my own gift to reveal another model kit, a '64 Nova, and he'd also included a set of paints, some brushes and glue, "Wow, thanks, this makes two models I got this year, mom and my grands got me one too."

"I know, and I thought you could use the paint for both of them. I'll help ya if you want."

"Sure, that'll be great," I said happily, "Hey, we might need your knife too, to cut off the exess plastic."

"Yeah, cool," he said cradling his knife in his hand.

Ely's folks had two cars, a nice Chevy Impala and and old Chevy pickup, and we carefully placed the bike in the back of the pickup then climbed in front for the short trip to Donnie's. Ely's mom asked him one last time if he was sure he wanted to do this, and when he assured her this was what he wanted, she gave him a big hug and looked ready to cry again.

Ely's dad didn't say much as we drove the short distance to Donnie's, but when we parked in the drive he finally offered some advice. "Donnie may be reluctant to accept a gift like this, but if you really convince him that it's from the heart, I think he'll give in. Your mother and I are very proud of you becuase of this," he added, "it just goes to show what a fine young man you're becoming. So go on, do what we came to do, and good luck son."

I helped Ely get the bike out of the truck and Ely pushed it up to the door, but by the time we got there Donnie had opened the door and was staring out at us.

"Oh wow, you got it," he said coming out on the porch now.

"Well, sorta," Ely said, sounding shy and embarrassed.

"What do you mean?" Donnie said, leaning in to inspect the shiny new bike.

"Here," Ely said pushing the handlebars toward Donnie, "It's for you, Merry Christmas."

"What?" Donnie said, actually stepping back, "What do you mean...for me?"

"I mean, well...I decided I liked my old bike better, and well...I want you to have the new one."

"I can't take this..." Donnie said, looking at me for support, but I was on Ely's side.

"Sure you can," I said grinning, "It's a gift, and you can't turn down a gift. It's not charity, it's a gift, and a gift is something someone gives from the heart. If you turn it down, you'll hurt Ely's feelings...and well, mine too."

"But, why?" Donnie said, sounding near tears now.

"Because you deserve it moren' I do, and I want you to have it. Then when the snow melts we can all three go bike riding."

"But I was gonna buy your old bike..."

"I sort of like my old bike now that we painted it and fixed it up. I want to keep it and so...well, I had this one, and I want you to have it."

"Aren't your folks mad at ya?"

"Nah, they said it was up to me and they thought it was really cool of me to give it to ya. So see, everyone is okay with the idea. Come on, what do you say? Will you take this bike off my hands?"

"It's too much," Donnie muttered, but he was running a finger along the handlebars now, the sparkle in his eyes giving away his true feelings, "I'd have to ask my mom..."

"Then let's ask her, go get her," Ely insisted.

"Well, okay...but what if she says no?" he said, sounding disappointed now.

"Then it's no, but I bet she'll say yes." In fact, Ely knew she'd say yes, because his folks had already discussed the matter with her, and she'd tearfully agreed to let Donnie accept the gift.

"Mom!" Donnie hollered as he stepped in the door, and a few moments later she appeared at the door wiping her hands on a dish towel.

"Hello boys, Merry Christmas," she said cheerfully.

"Merry Christmas," we echoed.

"What brings you boys here on a snowy Christmas morning?"

"We brought something, a gift...for Donnie. See, I got this bike for Christmas, but I really...I mean, I gotta perfectly good bike already, so I wanted Donnie to have this one...if it's okay with you."

She smiled and snaked an arm around Donnie's neck, "What do you think son? Think you could put your pride aside long enough to accept a gift from your friend's heart?"

"I...I guess, if you think it's okay," Donnie choked out.

"I think it's just fine," she said giving him a gentle hug, "and I think you're a very lucky boy to have such wonderful friends."

"I know," Donnie said looking teary eyed, "well, I guess we oughta bring this inside then, so it won't get all wet and rust," he said taking the handlebars in his hands.

We followed him inside and to the back porch, which like ours at home was enclosed and offered shelter from the snow. We parked it and spend a few minutes looking it over before we went inside to find Donnie's mom working in the kitchen. Between the church and my folks, they'd provided everything Donnie and his mom needed to prepare a nice Christmas dinner, and Mrs. Green was going to dine with them as she had at Thanksgiving.

We went to Donnie's room for a bit to see the presents he'd gotten for Christmas and were happy to see that he'd done quite well. I'd given him his gift from me the night he'd slep over, and it was there among the other gifts he'd received that year.

Eventually, Ely said we needed to go, that his dad was waiting, and we said goodbye to Donnie's mom and Donnie walked us to the door. I could tell that Donnie had a lot on his mind, but that he didn't know exactly how to express what he felt.

"Well, thanks," he said at last, "I'll see ya guys tomorrow, okay. We can go sledding."

"Yeah, sounds like fun," Ely said, "well, Merry Christmas, don't eat too much," he giggled.

"Okay, you too," Donnie said, looking a little uncomfortable.

Then suddenly, Donnie grabbed Ely and hugged him tight and I heard Ely let out a grunt. When Donnie finally released him he turned to me and hugged me too, then turned and headed back inside.

"Merry Christmas," he said one last time, "and thanks, for being my friends...and all," he said trailing off.

"Merry Christmas," we said in unison as we headed to the truck, "See ya tomorrow," I reminded him, and he waved as we climbed in the warm cab of the pickup.

"I guess everything went okay?" Ely's dad said once we were back in the pickup.

"Great," Ely sighed, "everything went just great."

"That's good," he said as we drove home, "I bet he'll remember this gift for a very long time."

"I hope so," Ely said, "cause I know I'm gonna remember giving it for a long time," he laughed.


It's been 40 years since that magical Christmas, and though many things have changed, some things remain the same. Ely and I are still together, and we've talked many times about making it official and getting married. Though no piece of paper or silly vows could change how we feel about each other, we decided it might be nice to have some legal rights if one of us should become ill, or...heaven forbid, pass on.

That winter when we were ten opened our eyes to so many things. The love of family, the joy of giving, and what Christmas was really all about. But most importantly, it opened our eyes to the feelings that Ely and I had for one another. From that simple beginning, something truly wonderful and magical evolved.

It began with some simple fumbling and experimenting, our first kiss, holding hands, snuggling together in a warm bed, but eventually our feelings for one another blossomed into a full blown love affair, a love affair that has lasted all these years. While our friends were discovering girls, we were busy discovering each other, and eventually we accepted that we were different.

I think Donnie had us figured out from the start, but considering he spend so much time with us, and even did some messing around with us, it was inevitable that he share our secret. We tried very hard not to be too obvious, but I guess there are some things that can't be easily hidden, and love between too people is one of those.

I'm not sure exactly when our folks figured out that Ely and I had a special kind of relationship, but we were about 16 when gramps finally confronted us, and at first I thought we were in trouble. I should've known better however, gramps was always fair and honest with us, and this time was no different. He didn't rub our noses in it, nor did he chastise us, instead he cautioned us about keeping our secret and always keeping our guard up. He said the world didn't accept things they didn't understand, but that we shouldn't let that keep us from loving one another. We were amazed at how easily gramps had accepted us, considering that when he was growing up such things weren't even talked about, let alone encouraged.

I asked him if mom and grams knew, and he just laughed, "Boy, have you ever known a time you could put anything over on those two?"

I laughed, but I knew he was right. It might have been gramps who first figured out exactly what was going on with me and Ely, but I was quite sure my mom and grams had noticed the love that Ely and I shared all those years. Maybe at first they thought it was the innocent love of children, but eventually they had to come to know that Ely and I were a couple and all that implied.

Ely's dad had a hard time with our relationship at first, but at the coaxing of Ely's mom and brothers, he eventually came around. Ely's brothers Edwin and Eric, never treated us any differently than they had as runny-nosed kids, and we became even closer over the years.

Today the two brothers live together and run a gym in that same small town we all grew up in. Are they a couple? Ely and I have wondered that many times before, but both have been known to date women, so maybe they're living together is just a matter of convenience.

As I mentioned, Donnie and the two of us did some messing around right up until Donnie finally found his first girlfriend. Even then, he'd occasionally take some comfort with us just to relieve his sexual tension. He married right out of high school and has five kids, all boys. Though he never went to college or got any formal training, he continues to draw and paint, and occasionally sells a few of his works at local art fairs. Ely and I have several of his works proudly displayed on our walls, and we have stayed close to Donnie and his family.

Ely and I attended the same college after high school, and it was there that we were finally free to be a couple. After graduating, we accepted jobs in Kansas City and bought a home there. We made frequent trips home to visit our folks, but we missed our home town and often talked about moving back should the occasion arise. That occasion soon presented itself.

We lost gran in '98, and a few days later gramps followed her in death. I can't say we were surprised, gramps and grams were a match made in Heaven, and it was only fitting that they return there together. Practically the whole town showed up for their funeral, and Ely and I got up and took turns reading his epitaph. He was a kind, and loving man, a good father and grandfather, and I like to think our tribute did him justice.

My grandparents death was very hard on my mom, and Ely and I decided this might be the opportunity we'd been waiting for to move back home. We sold our home in Kansas City at a tidy profit, and with the money we'd saved over the years we moved back to the place of our birth.

At first we stayed with my mom until we decided exactly what we wanted to do. We'd talked about owning our own business, and when the True Value Hardware store came up for sale, we just knew this was the opportunity we'd been waiting for.

Using our savings as a down payment, we took out a loan and bought the franchise and the building, fixtures, and inventory and spent many long hours building the business back up. By the end of the first year things were going great and we'd actually began to show a profit. We'd retained most of the original staff, and actually hired a few new people, and we were finally able to relax and enjoy our life again.

Several things happened that year which would change our lives forever, some bad, some good. The first was the death of Ely's dad. He'd always been a hearty and healthy man, but one day he just fell over dead from a massive heart attack.

After her husband's death, Ely's mom fell into a deep depression and my mom spent a lot of time with her trying to cheer her up and get her back into the real world. Eventually, mom moved in with Ely's mom, and she still lives there today. After that Ely and I bought the house I grew up in and completely renovated and modernized it, and that is where we reside to this day, just up the street from our moms.

The second event that occurred that year was a more pleasant one and gave both families pleasure for many years to come. That year one of my female cousins contacted us about her son Ken. She was recently divorced and had four kids, Ken being the oldest, and was having some problems with him. He'd been in trouble at school and, in her words, was one step away from being in trouble with the law. She said that she was at wit's end, and thought the boy needed some male influence in his life and asked, or rather begged, me and Ely to take him in for a while and see if we could straighten him out.

I thought it ironic that she wanted two gay men to straighten out her 14 year old son, but I doubted she would see the humor in it. I had no idea whether she knew what kind of relationship Ely and I had, but we certainly didn't go out of our way to hide it these days.

Ken arrived in late October, surly and determined to hate us and his new surroundings, but a funny thing happened; he found happiness with us. At first he was uncooperative, but eventually we reached him and he began to ease up on us. By Christmas of that year, he was doing better in school, had made new friends, and had discovered that he loved all sports, and signed up for everything he could.

We encouraged him without pushing him, and eventually he began to accept that we weren't the enemy and we became quite close. Ely and I got attached to him rather quickly, and we dreaded the day my cousin would decide he was housebroken enough to take back. Fortunately, that never happened. Busy with her other kids and finally marrying again, she all but forgot about Ken and he seemed fine with it.

Sometimes I felt sorry for him, having been basically abandoned by the women who gave birth to him, and I tried to make it up to him by being there for him whenever he needed me. I think Ken liked having two male influences in his life, even if they were queer, a fact he acknowledged and accepted early on.

When Ken was 16, he met a girl named Lindsey, and for a while they seemed quite serious. But at that age love comes and goes, and by the time school was out, he was seeing another girl named Brook, who was a year older than Ken. They dated all through that school year, then Brook went off to college when she graduated and Ken was a free man again.

His senior year he dated off and on, but no one girl in particular, and we'd begun to wonder if he'd gotten burned by Brook and was soured on love and relationships. Ken continued to play sports all through high school and was so good that he was approached by several schools who were interested in signing him up for their football programs.

He finally accepted a scholarship at OSU, in Oklahoma and did quite well for the school. As good as he was at football, Ken decided he really wasn't up for a life in the pros, and after graduating became a coach at OSU, where he remained for many years. He visited us often and eventually married and had two fine sons who were just as enthusiastic about sports as he had been.

Today Ely and I live out our lives, working side by side at the store, visiting our family and friends, and enjoying the small town life that we grew up loving. Though Ken was like a son to us for the short time we had him, we have always wished we had kids of our own to make our house more of a home. But otherwise we wouldn't change a thing. We've had our share of good times and bad times over the years, but we're still together, our love as strong as ever, and we're looking forward to what comes next.

It's been a long time since that magical Christmas when Ely gave two of the best gifts of all, a bike for Donnie, and his love for me, and that year will remain in my heart forever. As the snow falls gently outside, I can almost see three young boys wearing just their underwear, lying in the snow, fanning their arms and legs, and making snow angels. Ah, to be ten again, and to relive the magic of that time and place.

The End

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