by Paul Jamison

Chapter 32

Paul's viewpoint...

My alarm went off at a little after six thirty on Christmas morning. I quietly shut it off, slipped out of bed and, leaving a still sleeping Rick, padded down the hallway to use the new bathroom, so as not to wake him too early. I had much to do before all our guests arrived at one.

By seven I was showered, dressed and in the kitchen. I filled the kettle to make some tea and was just putting a tea bag into my mug when I heard footsteps come down the stairs and Will appeared around the kitchen door.

I smiled and said "Happy Christmas, Will. You're an early bird."

"Yeah, Happy Christmas, Paul," Will replied and added. "Is my dad home?" He wasn't when I went to bed last night. At least, I don't think he was back."

"Yes, he's home. I heard him arrive just a few minutes before Rick and I went up to bed," I said as reassuringly as I could.

"Where's he been so late?" Will asked as he went towards the window and looked out over the snow covered driveway. "Oh, it's a White Christmas," he said grinning.

"Yes, it is, we had another heavy fall of snow overnight. So this really is a white one," I replied and added "He told me he'd a few things to sort out and he'd see us all at one today. Nothing to worry about, I'm sure," I reassured him.

Will nodded and then started to make himself a brew before joining me at the table.

"So, what's the plan for today?" he asked after taking several mouthfuls of his tea.

"Here it is in full," I replied, grinning as I pushed an A4 sheet of paper I'd been reading across the table to him.

Will quickly scanned through the sheet of paper I'd passed to him.

"Wow, this is like a military operation," he giggled.

"Yes, your dad was impressed when he saw it the day before yesterday."

"Oh, he would be," Will replied, grinning widely and adding "So, we turn on the cooker in ten minutes?

"Yes, turn on cooker at half past seven to 200°, okay?"

"Yeah, then what?"

"It'll be at right temperature in half an hour so that at eight the turkey goes into the oven."

"Yeah, I see that now," Will replied having consulted the 'running order' once again.

"Right, when we've finished this tea we'll stuff the turkey neck with the stuffing mix I made last night and then rub the whole skin with the butter that's out in that dish softening and then we cover the whole top of the bird with streaky bacon. It stops the turkey going too brown too quickly," I explained.

"Okay, then what?"

"We wrap it in turkey foil and into the oven it goes for about four hours," I said.

"That it then?" Will asked.

"Er... far from it. We've a lot of other things to get ready and cooked so it all comes together at two o'clock and then we'll all sit down to enjoy it," I laughed.

"So, it's not just bung it in and forget it then?" Will asked.

"Not unless you just want turkey and no roasties or any of the rest of it," I said laughing.

"Oh!" Will said.

"After forty minutes I turn the heat down to 170°, then we let it cook till ready," I explained.

"Oh yeah, you've got that bit next. It then says get potatoes and other stuff underway."

"Yes, I'll start the potatoes by parboiling them and I'll begin roasting them in the top oven at around twelve thirty. Then, when the turkey comes out of the oven to 'rest', I'll be cooking the pigs in blankets and finishing off the roast potatoes."

"Uh, huh," Will mumbled, as he followed the running order. He was still perusing as he finished his tea.

"So, if you've finished your tea, you can help me stuff and prepare the turkey for the oven," I said smiling as I got up from the kitchen table and went through to the utility room to bring the box containing the fresh bird back into the kitchen.

"Oh, right," Will replied as he quickly gulped down the rest of his brew and stood by the table expectantly.

I set the box down onto the kitchen table and we unpacked the bird, setting it down on a large sheet of greaseproof paper. We cleared out the bag containing the giblets from the cavity. I would use those later to make the gravy stock and then once I'd opened the neck Will and I stuffed that as tight as it would go, then fastened the skin flap down with small wooden skewers.

We both lifted the large bird into the huge roasting tray I had bought specially for turkeys, which we'd already lined with heavy duty foil with plenty to overwrap the bird with once we'd finished the preparations. Then we liberally buttered the skin before applying some rashers of bacon all over the breast and legs. We then covered the whole bird with the foil wrap and sealed the edges with crimped folds. I checked the time and placed it into the oven resetting the timer as soon as we'd done that.

Then we washed our hands again and I set the potatoes to parboil on the hob.

"How many spuds are there in that pan?" Will asked.

"About fifty I think we did. There'll be at least four each and some to spare anyway," I replied.

"Oh, great, I love roasties."

"We know that," I laughed back.

"When do we do presents and stuff?" Will asked.

"Rick and I thought we'd do a present each in the sitting room before we sit at the table to eat and then the main present opening after Christmas dinner, that is if you lot can wait that long. It was something we did at home when I lived with my mum and dad. We never opened any presents at all until after the Queen's Christmas message broadcast.

"Yeah, I s'pose that's okay," Will replied, rather unconvincingly I thought.

"I honestly don't mind, but I don't want the meal late because everyone's opening presents. So make your minds up between you, all right?" I suggested.

"Yeah, I sorta understand that," Will smiled and added

"When's my dad coming over?"

"He said he'd be over here for one o'clock so we can have drinks before we sit down to eat. He's bringing his presents with him," I explained.

"Oh, right... Do you know where he went off to yesterday?" Will asked again.

"I think... it's something to do with your granddad," I replied carefully, not wishing to get too embroiled into any more subterfuge than was needed.

"Oh, is he coming home for Christmas?" Will immediately asked.

"Oh, no...," I replied confidently. "If you think back, you'll remember that your dad said it was not looking at all hopeful that he'd ever return home."

"Oh yeah, he did. I remember now," Will said glumly and added "I s'pose he just went to see him again before Christmas for a bit?"

"I expect that's it," I replied desperately hoping that I could change the subject and quickly, adding "Have you heard from Jus yet?"

"Yeah, just after five o'clock this morning, the ratbag," Will giggled.

"All's well then?"

"Yeah, he's opened my present to him already and was thanking me for it."

"Right... I see. I'd've thought he was too old for that 'crack of dawn' on Christmas morning thing to open presents."

"Nah, he loves it. He's still a big kid..."

"And you're not, of course?" I interrupted, grinning at Will who'd quickly coloured up as he did when caught out.

"Um... I did open his present to me... but only 'cos he's not here with us, you see," Will hurriedly explained.

"That's fine... I rather expected you to really. I've not opened any yet, but then I've been a little rushed off my feet even to think about it. I did my wrapping ages ago. Rick left his till last night... as usual," I laughed.

The cooker timer sounded and I turned off the heat under the potatoes and between us Will and I drained them over the sink and then tossed them so they'd fluff up ready for the roasting tin. We then carefully transferred them all to one of my two biggest roasting trays and set them aside covered with foil until we were ready for them to go into the oven later on.

"There's loads... are we really going to get through a whole tray full?" Will asked.

"Oh yes, easily," I replied and added "We've got a full houseful after all, with the Sutherlands coming," I explained.

"Oh yeah, I keep forgetting they're all coming," he grinned happily.

"Right, I think we can go chill in the sitting room for a bit. Nothing more to do here for almost an hour," I explained.

"Okay," Will replied and after we'd both washed our hands we went through into the sitting room to find Liam watching cartoons on TV.

* * *

Marcus's viewpoint...

I walked rather dozily out of my room after a solid night's sleep. I had tumbled into bed exhausted from the early start, the long drive down, unloading of all the stuff and getting as much of it as we could unpacked and set up where we wanted it. I had been a little aprehensive of all the 'help' that had materialised as I was just not used to having as many school friends as had turned up yesterday. Before, it had just been Dougie and... well me. I interacted in my form in school when needed and of course knew all the drama gang... those I'd acted with anyway, but had never had so many in my own room as that before. It was a little bit overwhelming until I realised that wow, these guys, well with just the one exception, were all gay, and were all there just to help... plus, I really liked Chris.

I wandered into the bathroom and turned on the shower, remembering what Chris had told me about waiting a minute for the hot water to come through from the boiler. We'd not had a power shower that worked off the central heating boiler before and I was impressed with the pressure and the endless supply of hot water it could provide. We'd only had an electric shower in our old flat and that was okay, but nowhere near as good as this one.

I came to under the stream of hot water and, after a long shower, shut off and towelled down. I also loved the warm towels off the heated towel rail, something else our old place didn't have. I trotted back to my room, got dressed and then headed downstairs to the kitchen.

'This's something else I'll have to get used to,' I thought to myself as I did. We'd no stairs in our flat. It'd all been on the one level once we'd got to our first floor landing. There'd been six flats altogether in our little block, two on each of the three floors, with the front doors opposite each other as you went along each landing. We now had a garden and a garage, something else that we'd never had before, not that one could see much of the garden as quite a fall of snow had come down overnight and added to the remains of what had already fallen over the previous week or two. It really was turning into a White Christmas. I'd stopped in the hallway to stare through the window at the white landscape outside when I heard from the kitchen the sounds of my mum making tea and breakfast. Then I heard her kitchen radio come up with the old show song to match the landscape. I giggled a bit as I went on through to the kitchen to see what Mum was doing.

"Happy Christmas, Marcus," she said as I entered the kitchen.

"Happy Christmas, Mum."

My mum came towards me with a mug of tea which I gratefully took and sat down at the table. That was something else there'd not been room for in our old kitchen. I was beginning to like all the extra space this house had.

"Here's to our new home, new job for me and a new school for you," she said laughingly as she raised her mug of tea.

"Oh, ha, ha," I laughed, but went along with the fun. "Have you seen outside and the snow...? It's a proper White Christmas."

"Yes, I have. It looks ferociously cold out there. I'm glad we're all settled in and warm anyway. People were so kind yesterday with all that help turning up as they did," Mum replied.

"I've never had so many people round at once," I admitted. "It was all a bit weird at first though."

"Yes, I can imagine, were you okay with it all, Marcus?" Mum asked.

"Yeah, after a sort of initial I'm being invaded feeling, it was fine and everything got unpacked and put away. I've nothing left to do except p'rhaps re-arrange some stuff as I need to."

"I'm sure we'll try different layouts and arrangements until we're happy. Only natural, really," Mum said.

"When're we going to eat?" I asked.

"When we've prepared and cooked it," Mum laughed. "I suggest we have a light breakfast, sort out our Christmas lunch, cook it, eat it, exchange our presents and then just relax. Have you made plans to go over to the boys' house tomorrow?"

"Yeah, Chris said he'd text me about it and try and sort out a lift. It's not actually very far, but the roads are bad. If there's anymore snow it might not be so easy," I said, slightly worried.

"I'm sure you'll manage somehow... I mean all the famous Antarctic explorers weren't put off by a couple of inches of snow," Mum replied.

"Muuuum... They had sleds, dog teams, Sno-Cats and stuff like that," I protested, laughing, and added "I've only got an anorak and welly boots and I've no idea where they are as I've not seen them yet."

"All our boots're in the hall cupboard, where they belong. You could try them on to see if they'll still fit you."

"We've a hall cloakroom?" I asked.

"No, not a room, it's just a built-in cupboard with half a dozen coat hooks and a shoe rack. That's all," Mum explained.

"What've we got for Christmas dinner?" I asked.

"Mrs Sutherland and I found a fresh turkey breast and we've got pork chipolatas and bacon to wrap round those to make 'pigs in blankets'. Potatoes to peel and roast, sprouts, but I only bought a handful of those, as I don't think you're too keen on them, are you?"

"Fresh ones're okay, can't stand the soggy frozen ones," I replied.

"That's good. I picked fresh ones from the vegetable display. We've gravy to make, carrots to peel and steam. Oh, there's a jar of cranberry sauce too. I got ready made stuffing... that should do us, don't you think, Marcus?"

"Oh yeah, it's way better then we've done before... we just had a frozen chicken last year, didn't we?"

"Yes, you remembered that... Everything was such a rush then, so much work on too. We wouldn't be having all this unless we'd had the help we got yesterday with moving in."

"I suppose not. It did all go so very quickly, didn't it?"

"Yes, and if you've finished your tea, we can make a start on preparing our Christmas lunch. Would you peel the potatoes and carrots, while I have a look at this cooker instruction book? I've never used an oven like this before."

"Okay, Mum," I replied and put my mug in the sink.

"Not in there, Marcus, we've a dishwasher now," Mum said smiling.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot," I replied grinning as I put my mug into the dishwasher.

We then set to and prepared the vegetables for our Christmas dinner. Once that was done and everything was ready to cook we went and relaxed in the sitting room to exchange and unwrap our presents while watching Christmas Day TV together.

* * *

Chris's viewpoint...

I woke when my alarm went off, got out of bed and opened the curtains. There had been another heavy fall of snow... well, heavy by what we were used to anyway, and the garden was completely covered. I looked out on the scene for e few moments, glad I was inside in the warm and not out in it. I then quickly put on my bath robe and went off to have a shower and dress. As soon as I was done I gathered the carrier bag I had put all my presents in and headed downstairs for the kitchen.

I had just reached the kitchen door when I heard someone else coming down the stairs behind me and turned to look to see Liam bounding down two at a time till he reached where I was. I'd turned around and was waiting for him when he said

"Happy Christmas, Chris. What's in the bag?"

"Hi, Liam, a happy Christmas to you too. It's just Christmas presents for everyone... do I put them around the tree or what?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah I guess so. I'm not really sure to be honest. This is my first Christmas here too," he replied.

Just then Paul came to the sitting room door and said

"Happy Christmas, Liam and Chris. Yes, come in and put your presents around the tree. We thought we'd all open one before Christmas dinner and then the rest we'd do in the sitting room after the Queens Speech at three this afternoon."

"Happy Christmas," Will chirped from his comfortably curled up position in an armchair.

"Happy Christmas, Will. Liam and I said back and Liam added.

"Oh, right, okay then. I'll go and get mine down after breakfast," Liam said as I placed my presents round the tree and we both followed Paul into the kitchen to see about some breakfast.

"You guys are late down," Will said as he followed us into the kitchen from the sitting room.

"Anyone else for a brew?" Liam asked.

"Yes please," Will replied grinning, "and some toast too, if you're making some," he added.

"Don't stuff yourself too much, Will," Paul warned. "You've an enormous Christmas dinner in a few hours, that's all."

"I know. I'll only have one piece of toast, please, Liam," he replied.

"Okay. Anyone else want any while I'm at it?" Liam asked.

"Two for me please, Liam," I said grinning at Will's quizzical expression and added "Well, I've not had anything so far today."

Will nodded and we all settled around the kitchen table chatting and eating toast and marmalade while drinking our teas.

Just then Rick appeared around the kitchen door and smiled at Paul. They exchanged glances and Rick simply nodded back to Paul in a silent exchange.

"Happy Christmas, Rick. Would you like tea or coffee?" Liam asked.

"Happy Christmas, one and all," Rick replied and added. "A coffee'd be very welcome, thanks, Liam."

Liam busied himself making Rick a coffee and he'd just passed it to him when the oven timer went off.

"Is it ready?" I asked a little excitedly.

"Nah," Will replied. "Not for ages yet, it's just time to turn the oven down and start parboiling the parsnips for roasting, that's all," he explained.

"How come you know all about cooking Christmas dinners then?" Liam asked.

"Since I helped to stuff and get the turkey in the oven with Paul hours ago and read the running order of the day," he replied with a smug look all round.

"Oh, what time were you up then?" I asked.

"Around seven," he replied.

"What! For real...?" Liam asked incredulously and added "...Why?"

"I often do on weekends or holidays. I just wake early if Jus isn't here and well, I come down make a brew and just sit and look out of the window and think, that's all."

"What on earth do you think about?" Liam asked.

"Just stuff... recently it's been how Granddad's not getting along as well as we'd all hoped. He wasn't too clever when I went to see him with Dad the other day," Will said quietly.

"Oh, I see, sorry to hear that," Liam replied.

Everyone nodded and nothing else was said for a few moments. Then Rick broke the ice with

"So who's opened a present?"

"I've opened the one from Jus, that's all so far. Paul said we had to wait till later."

"You don't have to wait. It's just I'd rather present opening didn't take over when the Sutherlands and Will's dad arrive and us all having dinner late as a result. So I thought if we could all open just one present when everyone's here, then leave the rest till we've eaten Christmas dinner and watched the Queen's Speech on TV," Paul explained.

"I've never done that before," Will said. "I just rip them all open at breakfast time, sometimes well before if I woke up early... especially when I was smaller."

"Yeah, I did that too. When I was smaller, that is," I grinned.

"I think most of us probably did," Rick said. "I certainly did until my teens anyway."

"After about the age of six my parents introduced the 'no waking up early rule'. We'd have one present at breakfast time and then we'd have to wait until we'd been to church, eaten Christmas lunch, listened to the Queen and then we could open all the rest," Paul said.

"I bet we could get them all open in like two minutes and we'd still not delay Christmas dinner," Will said grinning widely.

"I really don't mind when we open presents. I'd rather do it leisurely, after dinner, when we can all sit down in the sitting room, pass presents around and just enjoy it, that's all," Paul said a little defensively.

"I think I'd really like that," Liam said.

"Yeah, that sounds good. I mean we're not little kids anymore who just have to rip them open at the crack of dawn," I said quietly.

"Yeah, okay," Will said as he got up from the table moved towards the dishwasher with his mug where Liam was standing, tripped over his trailing trainer lace and flew forwards arms flailing towards Liam. He grabbed at the air to stop himself and making contact with Liam's legs held on and slowly slid to the floor taking Liam's joggers with him revealing to us all the most amazing pair of body hugging Lycra multicoloured boxers I'd ever seen with some bright white printing right across them.

Liam struggled to regain his joggers from Will's vice like grip and just about managed to get them back up as Will collapsed in a heap at his feet. Rick rushed forwards to help Will to his feet.

"Nice trip?" Rick asked as he helped Will up.

"Yeah, thanks," Will grinned as he kneeled to re-tie his laces. "Sorry, Liam, I just caught my foot... what on earth are you wearing under your joggers," he grinned wickedly.

"Um..." Liam coloured up, then taking a deep breath said "It's one of Craig's Christmas presents. I had to promise to wear them today, that's all," he said.

"Well show us them properly then," Will grinned wickedly having cleared up his broken coffee mug and sitting back arms folded at the kitchen table.

"You don't have to do any such thing!" Paul interjected. "Especially if they're a private present," he added.

"It's okay, you guys are my family now, so, um... here they are," he replied as he slipped down his joggers to reveal the stunning boxers with Property of Craig Sutherland screen printed over the front of the very stylish underwear.

"Oh wow, they're just so amazing. I wish I'd thought of something like that for... you know who," Will exclaimed.

"Thanks, Liam," said Rick... "they're very um... eye catching... um... and fit you perfectly."

I giggled quietly as Liam pulled his joggers back up yet again and sat down blushing profusely.

"Don't be embarrassed, Liam. You're not the only owner of a pair of those... although the printing's slightly different," Rick added grinning widely and looking towards Paul, who instantly coloured up like Liam and turning to the cooker said

"Rick, please help me to drain these parsnips and put them in the flour and parmesan mix to roast later or there'll be no Christmas dinners for anyone today."

Will and I started giggling and Rick leaned down towards Liam and said in a stage whisper "and he's wearing them today as well," before he straightened up and went to help Paul with the pan of parsnips.

Liam looked up and immediately began to laugh out loud. Paul snorted and after a second or two started to laugh too. It was only seconds before we were all helplessly laughing and Rick and Paul had to put the parsnips pan down hurriedly to avoid an accident.

"Come here, you scallywags," Rick said.

Will and I and then Liam got up and moved over to where Paul and Rick were by the sink and they just put their arms round us and held us all in a group hug. It was sheer heaven. We broke away still giggling when Rick said

"It's moments like this, shared with you guys that make this strange family a real family... we love you guys," Tears were streaming down all our faces by then, but they were of sheer happiness.

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