Castle Roland

Northern Lights

by Gee Whillickers


Northern Lights

Posted: N/A


An editor suggested I put this here since some of the terms might not be familiar to non-Canadians. So here it is:

Toque: A knitted winter cap. Wool or cotton or polyester or, these days, a million other things. A million types and shapes and styles and colours. Most of the world probably just calls it a winter hat. Pronounced like saying the word "two" with a "k" sound at the end.

Shinny: A game of pick-up hockey using whoever is around as players, and using jackets, boots, or whatever to mark out the nets if nets aren't available. Often younger and older kids as well as adults will play together no matter the ages, and amazingly this often works out well. Sometimes a few kids will play in boots if they don't have skates with them. Unless there's exactly two kids without skates. Then they're the goalies.

Gretzky: Wayne Gretzky is probably the most famous hockey player of all time. Retired for a few years now, but that doesn't matter. If you're Canadian, you know who he is. No matter your age. Period.

Big Rock: A brand of beer made by a micro-brewery in Calgary, Alberta. Named for a large glacial erratic south of Calgary. Popular in the prairies.

Mounties: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The cops. No, they don't all run around in red and ride horses, except at ceremonies. Most of the time they're regular cops in regular cop uniforms and drive regular cop cars.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I'll be sixteen years old. It also happens to be New Years Day. Yep, I was a New Years Baby. I was born at 12:03 AM on January First just shy of sixteen years ago. Being the first baby born in town that year my mom received a nice gift basket from the hospital and from the town council later that day. One of the items in that basket was an envelope, addressed to Baby Marleux, to be opened on New Years Day sixteen years hence. Tomorrow.

Being a New Years baby has its pluses and its minuses. One the plus side, I can always be guaranteed a party, usually many to choose from, on the eve of my birthday, I never, ever have school on my birthday unlike some of my friends, and everyone is in a celebratory mood. On the minus side, my birthday is usually a distant second to the day. It's all "Happy New Year!" and Auld Lang Syne and all that, followed by, "Oh yeah, and it's Morgan's birthday too, isn't it? Happy birthday, Morgan. We should've got a cake or something."

Ok, I guess I'm being selfish. I sound like a spoiled brat I suppose. I know I do. I rationalize it to myself though because, especially for the last five years or so, it's almost exactly true. I remember getting a cake on my tenth birthday, my dad brought it home from the supermarket, which was awfully nice of him, even though it said 'Happy New Year' on it. Still, he put ten candles on it and I got to blow them out with my older brothers and sister all gathered round and he had a birthday present for me, a GT SnowRacer which I loved and wore out before the winter ended. My mom was there too. I remember because she raised her beer bottle, yelled drunkenly and obscenely loudly, "Happy Birth..." and at that moment tripped over her fuzzy slipper and landed with her elbow in my cake. After yelling something about moving that stupid fucking cake she passed out for the next couple of hours. My dad took me sledding. I wonder if the cake was good.

It's my fault she drinks. At five I asked her if I could marry a boy instead of a girl when I grew up. At six I learned to play doctor with the neighborhood kids. Always boys. I got caught, a lot. By my parents and their parents. Usually kissing my patient's owie better. Funny how I always had to get him to take his pants off to fix his owie. At eight I asked Mom what gay was, even though I knew. That's when she started drinking every day. I stopped playing doctor and asking questions. But she never stopped drinking.

Since then I've backed myself so far into my closet that I can't even find the door anymore. My dad copes. With me and with Mom. He's fifty going on sixty five now by the looks of him. He still provides for us, still asks me about school and homework and friends. But I don't think he hears my answers because no matter what I say he has a plastic smile on his lips, he nods, and then he says something along the lines of, "Keep working hard, Morgan. Now find something to do while I check on your mom and make dinner."

There's only me and my brother Grant at home with my parents now, and Grant will be going to university next year. Of my other brothers, Mike is still in university and Greg is married with two kids. They don't come home much. I don't think they really like being around Mom much these days, or me for that matter. My sister Angie is around a lot. She and her husband Mark live a block away. She comes over and checks on my mom almost every day, and spends time talking with Dad. Sometimes we say 'hi' to each other.

I think I'm setting the wrong tone here. It's not always all that bad. Mostly I go through my days like most kids my age. School, friends, and activities take up most of my time. Mostly I even have fun. The problem is, lately it seems like I'm only pretending to have fun. I'm only pretending to be a regular closeted kid. Like I'm just going through the motions. That's why I'm writing this. I'm trying to figure it out, and Dad used to say, back when he said stuff, "When you're stuck, write it down. Then read it back. Sometimes it helps to sort stuff out." I don't see how, but I don't really know what else to try.

Our town is eight thousand people in the middle of the northern Canadian prairie. Thanks to a nearby large oilfield the town is growing like crazy, and the council thinks we'll be a city within five years. They talk like that's a good thing. I don't know. But I do know the rig workers all come to town on the weekends and smash things and make a mess and race their cars and drink. Mostly drink. More bars per capita than anywhere nearby except Fort McMurray. Our claim to fame. It's a two hour drive to the nearest real city.

There's not a lot to do in the winter here for a teenage boy if you don't play hockey. I have the coordination of a drunken Parkinson's patient, so I don't play hockey. That makes me pretty much uncool, though of course I'm not the only one. I'm a decent swimmer despite my coordination problems on ice, and I like science, so I spend my time at the pool and at the library, on the internet, and with a few friends from our school's science club. GSA's are a distant internet rumor around these parts, and even if we had one I probably wouldn't go. I doubt anyone else would either. Nobody is gay here. Nobody. It just isn't done.

Anyway, it was New Year's Eve later tonight. I was going to stay home this year. I didn't feel like celebrating. My sixteenth birthday seemed hollow, my dad was out of town at some Petroleum Conference New Years Eve party in Edmonton that for some reason he couldn't miss, and Angie and Mark were going to a New Years party too. Grant was with his buddies somewhere, probably getting hammered while complaining about Mom being hammered all the time. So I was staying home to babysit Mom. Lucky me.

I needed to get out for a bit though before then. I looked in on Mom. I counted the beer bottles on the coffee table and looked at her face. Her eyes were open and more or less focused on the TV so I figured she was OK for a while yet.

I grabbed Fiddlestick's leash and whistled him to the door. He didn't look enthusiastic though he came. He didn't like the cold very much and it had been a brutal week. I checked the thermometer. Minus 38 Celsius. Cold enough that even teenage boys wore jackets, gloves, and toques. Mostly we braved the weather with just hoodies over a t-shirt and a long sleeved shirt until it hit minus 15 or so. After that, screw looking cool. It was better to not actually freeze to death than to look cool. The worst part? LCD screens on cell phones didn't work for shit when it was this cold. Ski gloves made it pretty hard to text anyway, so whatever.

I hassled myself into jacket, boots, gloves and toque after putting Fiddlestick's sweater and booties on him. He didn't much like them, but tolerated it. He knew that they helped when it was anything below minus 30.

Yeah, it was cold. I mean, sometimes it was worse but today was one of those days when it just seems to suck the soul right out of you when a breeze came up. Every breath I took froze my nose hairs to each other inside my nostrils in that familiar weird feeling. And every breath out added frost to my eyebrows and eyelashes, which would stick together when I blinked. I let Fiddlestick run off-leash. He knew enough to keep running to stay warm.

Maybe it just seemed worse today, the soul sucking part, because I'm not sure I had a soul anymore. Like I said, hollow. A Morgan automaton going through the motions. If you didn't much have feelings then I guess it didn't matter really if I was gay or straight, old or young, had a goal or was lost.

The weather and the snow squeaking under my boots perfectly matched my mood. Frozen solid.

I walked by the rink in our neighborhood. Despite the temperature a dozen boys from eight to eighteen were playing a pick-up game of shinny, a few more huddled around the fire-pit next to the shelter building. The sounds of skates scraping on ice and frozen pucks hitting the boards echoed strongly in the cold, dense winter air. Two or three boys that I knew gave me a half hearted wave, but most ignored me. I waved back with about the same level of enthusiasm and kept walking.

It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and at this time of year and at our latitude that meant it was starting to get dark. So I figured I'd head back. After the sun went down it got cold.

The sound of a truck behind me got closer, slowing down. It stopped beside me, big all terrain tires squeaking loudly in the snow, and the passenger window rolled down. "Morgan, for fuck's sake who takes their dog for a walk when it's minus 40? Get the fuck in here. It's getting dark."

My friend Tyler and me had a strange relationship. These days, mostly he seemed frustrated with me. I didn't blame him, I wasn't exactly easy to get along with lately. I honestly don't know why he still bothered. I wasn't exactly making much of an effort in the friend department for the past while.

I called Fiddlestick over and opened the back door of Tyler's truck. He gratefully jumped into the back seat of the warm truck and licked Tyler's face as he turned to look at the dog. I climbed in beside Tyler and gave him a lopsided half smile. "Hi Tyler."

He rolled his eyes at me. "Fuck you," he said, but he smiled back and started driving.

He kept glancing over at me while driving, before looking back out through the windshield. The heater was blasting on high, melting the snow on my boots. I reached forward and thumbed the seat heater button for the passenger seat. Tyler had a nice truck.

The fifth or the sixth time he glanced over at me I finally spoke. "What?" I asked.

He looked over one more time. "Christ, Morgan. You desperately need to get laid or something."

I just looked back at him and raised my eyebrows.

He shook his head. "What the hell is the matter with you? I've barely talked to you since school let out for Christmas."

"I've been busy."

He laughed. More of a bark really. Even Fiddlestick raised his head to look at him. "Fuck you," he said. Then his tone changed, softened. "Your mom?" he said.

I turned from looking at him and looked out the windshield without answering. Finally I just said, "Yeah, partly. She's been worse this Christmas. By the time she came downstairs Christmas morning she was half sloshed."

"Only partly your mom?"

"Well, and other things. I've got a lot on my mind."

I knew almost word for word the joke he was about to make about having not much room to have a lot on my mind, could see his smile, then could see him change his mind about the joke. "Lighten up Morgan. Really. Like I said, I think you need to get laid."

I don't know where it came from. Or why. "I'm gay."

He looked over at me for a second and frowned slightly before looking back at the road again. A few seconds passed. His lips pursed in a kind of pensive look. I knew Tyler well. I knew what he was doing. He was picking his words carefully before he opened his mouth. "So? Like I said, you need to get laid."

I didn't know I was tense until I felt myself relax slightly. I still don't know why I told him. I shrugged, "Yeah, right."

The truck rolled on slowly through the frozen streets for another few minutes before it occurred to me to ask where we were going.

"Uh, my house is back there Tyler," I said, pointing behind me and to the right.

Tyler just looked at me and smiled with the left half of his mouth.

"So where are we going then?" I asked


I frowned. Connor and I had an uneasy friendship, if you could call it that anymore. Ever since we were both thirteen. I was polite and respectful to him and he tolerated me more or less frostily. We had a sleepover at his place when we were thirteen, me, him, and two or three other kids. Tyler was there too. When everyone was asleep I was propped up on one elbow on my sleeping bag staring four feet away at Connor on top of his own sleeping bag. It had been the end of July and had been hot. Too hot to sleep covered up. Connor was lying there on his back wearing nothing but a loose pair of boxer shorts with the fly half open. And he was gorgeous. The half open fly gave me tantalizing glimpses of what lay beneath in the moonlight coming through the open window. I didn't even bother trying to resist. I was desperate. I was thirteen. I was tired of hiding. I rolled towards him and leaned closer, ever closer. Finally I reached out with one hand and ever so gently used my fingers to pull his fly open wider, hoping for a better look.

That's when I noticed Connor's open eyes looking at me, and the strangest expression on his face. Not angry, not pleased, not happy, not completely disgusted. Just, well, I still don't know. Bewildered maybe. Confused. He smacked my head, only inches from his boxers, with an open hand and said, "Go to sleep you idiot."

I scampered back and turned away from him and pretended to be fast asleep.

He never mentioned it. To me or to anyone. I never brought it up either, needless to say. But it changed everything. We didn't much hang out much after that. On the surface, we both tried to act as if nothing had changed. But everything had changed.

So we were going to Connor's. And I didn't know why. I had a guess of course. It was New Years Eve.

"Um, what's at Connor's?" I finally asked after another two minute silence.

"A party." Tyler's eyes remained forward.

It seemed I was invited. Whether I wanted to be or not.

"Fiddlestick is with us," I said, pointing into the back seat where he was licking a discarded fast food wrapper. "And I gotta make sure Mom is ok."

Tyler's eyes shifted off the road and onto me for a second. "Fiddlestick can hang out with Gretzky in the dog shed. Your mom is fine. We'll check on her a bit later."

Yeah, Connor named his dog Gretzky. When he was eight. We all thought it was perfect at the time and were convinced we could shape him into a world famous hockey playing dog if we could get him to stop chewing up the pucks.

"Tyler..." I started.

He interrupted, "I don't know what the fuck it is with you and Connor but just deal, ok? For one night? You used to like him, remember? Lighten up and have some fun for a change. Just being in the same room with you these days is like overdosing on downers."

I was getting a bit angry. "If I'm so horrible to be around why the fuck are you taking me there?" My voice was harsher than I had intended.

Tyler rolled his eyes and looked at me as if I was stupid. "Because you're my friend you idiot." He looked away and muttered, but loud enough for me to hear, "At least I thought you were."

I felt awful. I looked down in my lap. "Sorry," I said.

Tyler just rolled his eyes again, "Jesus, Morgan. Forget the self-pity. We're going to a party. I thought maybe it would help bring you out of your funk a bit."

I sighed to myself and decided to make an effort, "Sorry, Tyler. You're right. It'll probably be fun. So who's going to be there?"

"Everyone, I think. Connor's parents are away. It ought to be crazy."

Oh great. One of those parties.

Tyler had to park three quarters of a block away. He was right. Everyone was there. I wondered how long before the neighbors were calling the mounties.

At parties in Canada in winter the problem wasn't having enough fridge space for all the beer. It was more keeping the beer that was stacked up outside the back door from freezing before you could drink it. Connor's house has a mudroom at the back, which was insulated but not heated, so it was perfect. It hovered right around zero in the mudroom and Tyler stacked his case of Big Rock with all the other beer and the rest of the booze. I opened the door to the adjacent dog shed and Fiddlestick happily trotted in to see his dog friend. They hadn't seen each other in a while. When we were kids they were together pretty much every day. I wonder if Fiddlestick ever wondered why it changed.

The smokers, both tobacco and otherwise, were gathered inside the fire-pit shelter in the backyard. The fire-pit shelter was essentially an octagonal shelter with walls about chest high lined with heat-reflective material. Then it was open up to about three meters high or so and then a sloped roof. The roof was insulated with reflective material as well. A large hole let the smoke out so it didn't all go through the open sides and past people's faces. In the center, of course, was a fire-pit. There was enough room for a dozen or so chairs around it. It was amazing how much warmer it could be in there, despite the completely open sides. As long as there was no wind. The fire was lit and helped mask some of the odor from the combustibles people were smoking.

I turned and moved inside the house, kicking my boots off in the mudroom and threw my jacket, gloves, and toque into the large pile of them next to the door.

Tyler and I moved through the kitchen and into the living room. He pressed an open beer into my hand somewhere along the way. The house was as crowded as I thought it would be, and even noisier. I plastered a smile onto my face and traded insults and barbs as necessary while looking for a place to sit down.

A hand grabbed onto my shoulder and I turned around ready to give another fake smile to another friend who didn't really know me. Connor stood there looking like he had already had enough to drink. He swayed gently before he spoke, "Morgan! 'Bout time you got here. Where's Tyler?"

I pointed and Connor took a step in the wrong direction before correcting and swayed in Tyler's direction before saying something into his ear and laughing.

I took a pull on my beer and swallowed without tasting it. A seat opened up and I grabbed it. A kitchen chair against the wall of the living room beside the TV. I tried my best, I really did, but I must've been giving off 'leave me alone' vibes because after a few hellos mostly I was left alone.

Somewhere around 11:30 my brother Grant made an entrance in his usual way, opening the front door with a bang, standing there letting the freezing air waft in for 15 long seconds while staring around the room, and then raising his hands in the air like he just scored the winning goal. He waltzed in yelling something about how the party could start now, since he was here. His girlfriend Shelley, his best buddy Shawn, and Shawn's girlfriend came in behind him and they began shedding their outerwear. Finally the door closed. My socked feet were getting cold.

Grant grabbed a beer from somewhere, downed it, set the empty can down and had another one in his hand by the time he spotted me. He worked his way over to me.

"Hey, little brother. I checked in on Mom before I came here. She's fine. She's sleeping already."

I felt guilty. I was supposed to be keeping an eye on her. It was only right it should be me. I think he misinterpreted my expression.

"Aww, don't worry about her tonight Morgan. Relax for a change. You're way too wound up lately."

My brother Grant really was a good guy. When he drank, he really drank. But he didn't drink that often. Not like Mom. Weeks would go by with him working, going to school, playing hockey, and spending time with Shelley without him touching a drop. But when he let loose, look out. He never did seem to worry about Mom the way I did. Or maybe he just showed it less. Why should he though? It wasn't the same with him as it was with me.

I just looked at my brother. He shook his head and said, "Forget about her for one night. Even Dad takes a break sometimes. The way you act you'd think you were personally responsible for her problem."

I couldn't believe my ears. I frowned at him. "No. I don't pour the booze down her throat you know. I know it's her problem. But if I hadn't..." I let myself tail off and just shook my head again. I didn't want to get into this. Not today. Not with Grant.

He wouldn't let it go though. "If you hadn't what? Christ, Morgan, you were, what, eight when it happened? Nine?"

I nodded sadly, remembering only too well.

"So," Grant continued, "relax Bro! You didn't even know Dad was cheating back then. Never mind the syphilis." Grant took a swig of his beer and walked away.

Have you ever had your foundations shaken? Have you had something you understand as clearly as your own name suddenly twisted and shattered before your eyes? That's how I felt at that moment. My thoughts were rushing around so fast I swear I could hear the white noise from them in my ears. I took a huge swallow of my beer and stared at the floor while I watched all of the thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that used to be so firmly grounded in my world view take a free fall through empty space.

So, ok, maybe I had a few things wrong. Mom had some other stuff going on. It did explain a lot though. About Dad, and about other stuff. Still, I'm not sure how much it really changed for me. No, I'm not sure it changed much at all. I felt my world start to firm up again. My still rather hopeless world.

I would graduate in a couple of years. Then what? We had no money for university for me. I had no illusions about that. Grant was only going because of his hockey scholarship. The university fund for Grant and me had long ago been spent on useless alcoholism treatment for Mom. There was nothing for me here. Neither for work or personally. The jobs were pretty much solidly construction, retail, or the oil patch. I'd die a slow death in any of those fields. There was no gay community in town. At all. At least none I knew of, besides scratched phone numbers on bathroom stalls. Nor would there be. Not here. My closet door didn't have much chance of being opened any wider than it already was. I guessed I'd leave when I could and try my luck with some kind of work in Toronto or Vancouver. Or maybe Montreal. At least I wouldn't have to hide anymore.

I still felt alone and lost.

I looked up. There were more people in the room now. Almost everyone I think. The noise level and sense of anticipation rose. Connor pointed a remote at the TV and turned it on, changing channels to a New Years Eve special. The countdown began. A new year was imminent. New hopes, new starts, new resolutions, new goals. I wonder what that would be like.

I stood up and watched along with everyone else. I didn't join in with the counting down from ten though.

Everyone yelled, "Happy New Year!" and began cheering and clinking beer bottles and plastic cups. I got a couple of hugs from people which I returned with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

I turned away from the crowd intending to get out back for some air, but didn't get far. Grant was in front of me all of the sudden. "Here he is," he yelled over his shoulder while pushing me down into a chair.

Grant, Tyler, and a couple of my friends from school were suddenly nearby, all grinning. Connor, looking remarkably sober somehow, came into the room from the kitchen. He was carrying a cake. With candles. Lit candles.

A birthday cake.

I didn't believe it. My first birthday cake in six years. I actually felt a little choked up. Out of nowhere. I had to take a couple of breaths to calm down so I didn't embarrass myself.

Someone found a tray table and pulled it up in front of me. Connor set the cake down on it. I counted. Yep. Sixteen candles. White icing with chocolate words inscribed between the candles. Not 'Happy New Year.' Instead, it said, "Happy Sixteenth Birthday Morgan."

I looked at Grant. He just smiled and raised his eyebrows.

I looked around at my grinning friends and felt more than a bit foolish. I opened my mouth to say something, though I didn't know what. I didn't get a chance though.

"Don't make a speech you idiot, just blow out the candles," said Connor.

I grinned at him and did exactly that. I had to take a second breath to blow out the last one, much to everyone's amusement.

A knife and plates and forks appeared out of nowhere and someone rescued me from the task of cutting and serving the pieces of cake. I was handed the first slice.

Unlike my last birthday cake, I even got to taste this one. It was delicious.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and looked at the number. I didn't recognize it. I set down my plate and plugged one ear with a finger while holding the phone up to the other.

"Hello?" I said.

"Happy birthday, son. And Happy New Year." It was my Dad.

Twice in ten minutes I felt a bit choked up. I honestly didn't think he would remember. "Hi Dad. Thanks. Happy New Year to you too. Aren't you supposed to be in Edmonton?"

"I am. That doesn't mean I can't wish my youngest son a happy birthday."

He must've heard the noise in the background. He asked, "Are you at a party?"

Uh-oh. I waited for the lecture. "Uh, yeah," I answered.

"Good," came his surprising answer. "Have fun." I guess he just couldn't leave it at that though. "Stay safe though, Morgan. I mean it. Don't indulge too much."

I smiled into the phone. "Thanks Dad. I won't. How's the New Years thing there?"

He answered and we talked for a few more minutes before I clicked off and slipped the phone back in my pocket.

Finishing my cake I set my plate down and downed the rest of my beer. I stood up and went through the kitchen and into the mud room. I pushed on my boots and found my jacket in the pile and slipped it on but didn't zip it up. Nobody was in the fire-pit shelter so I went outside and stood with my back to the fire, staring north out over the rooftops. The stars stared back down at me. They didn't twinkle much in the cold winter air. I zipped up my jacket and stuffed my hands in the pockets. Despite the fire and the shelter it was cold.

I heard the door slam and somebody walked up to stand beside me. I glanced over, and did a double take. It was Connor.

We both silently stared north out over the rooftops. Minutes passed.

"They're beautiful tonight, aren't they? The Northern Lights?" Connor said. His voice was quiet. The fog from his breath carrying the sound away like a fleeting memory.

They were. They shimmered and undulated in the distance, glowing with energy, talking directly to my emotions, somehow bypassing my thoughts.

I nodded. "Yeah. I don't remember the last time they were like this."

Connor eventually spoke again. "What happened with us? After that night?"

I tore my eyes away from the light show and looked at his face. It shone with reflected light playing off his cheeks, his nose, and his eyes. He was still gorgeous. More now than two years ago. He looked back unblinkingly.

I shrugged. "I...I guess I couldn't deal with it."

He looked confused. His eyebrows scrunched up a little. "But...You came over to me. And you've been different ever since."

Now I was confused. I ran his statement through my head a half dozen times, trying to extract meaning from it. I conceded defeat. "Uh, what do you mean?"

He looked a bit frustrated. "Well, if you knew, why didn't you avoid me then? You came over to me. If you didn't care why did you avoid me after?"

I stared at him. For the second time that evening I found a few foundations spinning. I looked back at the Northern Lights, trying to settle my thoughts. Bad idea.

I had to ask. "If I knew what?" I knew it was a dumb question even as I asked it. No matter what the answer. It was awkward as hell.

He answered, "If you knew that I liked you. That I was trying to figure myself out."

I guess that was the best I was going to get until this conversation became a bit more grounded than the shimmering ribbons of light in the distance.

"You shoved me away. Called me an idiot," I said.

He looked at me and frowned. "Well fuck, Morgan. I was messed up. I didn't know what to think. I just reacted to give myself some space."


He looked up and then back at me. "So, then, is that why? Did I piss you off?"

I frowned. This conversation felt, well, off somehow. Tumbling and twisting like the lights in the distance.

"No. I pissed myself off. I thought I pissed you off."

I watched him go through the same process I was going through. Trying to extract meaning, to put the puzzle together.

"You thought...I mean you figured I wasn't...You didn't....Oh fuck."

We stared at the lights for another minute or so before I said, "Aren't we a couple of fools."

I saw him smile. "Yeah. You could say that."

I smiled back. He grinned and shook his head. "Fuck this shit. Fuck this stupid redneck town. Fuck me."

It was the first time I felt like making a joke in a long time. He intercepted me though. It was too obvious. "Don't say it, Morgan." He was still grinning. "You know it's only gotten worse, right?"

"What has?"

"You. Me liking you. Pretending not to. Watching you avoid me."

I kept smiling and looking into his eyes. "How do you think I felt? I thought you barely tolerated me. I couldn't believe you kept quiet all this time about me. And I still thought you were irresistible despite that."

"So we're fools." His eyes glowed brighter. Maybe it was the reflected Northern Lights. "So kiss me you fool," he said.

I couldn't believe it. But I'm not that much of a fool. I kissed him.

He giggled, "Nice. But I'm fucking freezing. Let's go inside."

I laughed and we did.

People started leaving around 1:30 and by 3:00 AM everyone was gone except Tyler and me. Tyler was in no shape to drive so we were staying. Grant went home to check on Mom. I hope Shelley drove and not him. I helped Connor clean up a bit but it was late and we were too exhausted to do much so it was time for bed.

I had already been outside to check on Fiddlestick and Gretzky. They were fine, as I knew they would be. The dog shed was kept well above zero and the dogs were enjoying each other's company.

Despite the kiss I didn't quite know where things stood. I wandered around in the middle of the living room looking around awkwardly, not sure how to ask the obvious question. Tyler was already crashed on a couch and he didn't look like he'd be moving anytime soon by the looks of the drool slipping out of the side of his mouth.

Connor came out of the kitchen and into the living room and saw me looking lost. He cocked his head slightly and gave me an amused grin.

"I know what you're thinking," he said.

I chuckled a bit, "Yeah."

He made me wait another few seconds while pretending to straighten up a bit.

I threw my hands in the air. "Connor!" I whined, "Not fair!"

Connor laughed and stopped what he was doing. He came over to me and gave me a proper hug. The first one. Outside didn't count. It's hard to feel a hug with two bulky jackets between you. He pulled away but kept his hands on my shoulders. "You're sleeping in my room. With me. If you want to, that is. You started something two and half years ago that I was too scared to let happen. Now, I intend to finish it."

Connor finished turning out the lights and held out his hand to me, smiling. I took it and we went upstairs.

I'm not going to say what happened after that during the night except to say that apparently our town had New Years fireworks after all. Who knew?

We woke up around 10:30 and took turns in the shower before going downstairs. I borrowed a pair of sweatpants from Connor and that's all we wore as we went into the kitchen. Somewhere in the intervening two and a half years Connor had apparently become a coffee drinker. I watched him go through the ritual of getting it brewing and then we fixed ourselves some toast and cereal and brought our food into the living room.

I flicked a finger hard onto Tyler's head as I walked by before sitting down. Tyler awoke, moaned, and turned over. Connor set his food down and went back into the kitchen to pour his coffee.

Tyler watched me butter my toast and slurp some cereal with an amused half grin on his face. I looked over at him and raised my eyebrows. "What?" I asked.

His grin spread across his face and he answered, "Told ya."

I narrowed my eyes and frowned at him. "Told me what?"

"That all you needed was to get laid." His grin somehow widened.

I stared at him. "How...?"

"Oh, it's so fucking obvious, Morgan." He looked to see if Connor was coming back in the room. His eyes flicked in Connor's direction and then back on mine with a question in them.

I blushed slightly and looked down at my Honey Nut Cheerios.

He laughed. "About fucking time." He moved to get up and made his way to the bathroom.

Connor came back with his coffee and sat down. He looked over at me and smirked. I found myself grinning back. Tyler came back into the room. He took a look at us. "Oh fuck, I can't take it," he laughed and walked into the kitchen. I heard him pour his own coffee.

"So what are we doing today, Birthday Boy?" Connor asked.

I thought about it. Connor's parents had one of those large ornate thermometer/barometer things on the wall near the entrance to the kitchen. I glanced over at it and grinned. I looked over at Connor again. "Sledding!" I said.

"Sledding!? Are you nuts?"

I nodded vigorously, "Look at the temperature. It's warming up. It's only minus 22. It'll probably be above minus twenty by the time we get to the hill. We gotta stop at my place and get my sled."

He caught some of my enthusiasm. "Ok! I haven't been sledding in like forever. Let me get my sled out of the garage and we'll go. Is Tyler coming?"

We asked him but he couldn't. He had some family thing. He did agree to drop us at my place first though.

We climbed out of Tyler's truck at my place a half-hour later. Connor pulled his sled out of the back of Tyler's truck and I opened the back door and let Fiddle and Gretzky out. We put the sled and the dogs in the backyard and went inside.

Grant was eating toast and watching hockey highlights when we walked in. "Mom's good today. She actually went over to the Miller's for a while." He glanced over at Connor. "What are you guys up to?"

"Sledding!" I answered with gusto.

He cocked his head and looked at me questioningly. "Okayyyy...," he said slowly. "Who are you and what have you done with my morose brother?" He grinned. "Whatever. Have fun. Oh, there's a couple of birthday cards for you in the kitchen. They're on the table."

Connor followed me into the kitchen and I looked at the table. I opened the cards. One was from Angie and Mark and another one from Greg and his family. Angie's card had a fifty dollar bill in it. Grant had been busy. After the cake at Connor's I knew he was responsible for making sure they sent something. I grinned at Connor. I looked down at the third envelope. It was simply labeled, "Baby Marleux" and had today's date on it. I had completely forgotten.

Connor looked excited. "You told me about that, like, years ago! What do you think it is?"

I shrugged. "I have no idea. I guess we'll find out."

Grant was at the kitchen door now, watching. They looked at me as I tore open the envelope.

I pulled out the folded papers and unfolded the top one. I read the letter. Then I glanced at the papers underneath, and re-read the letter again.

I looked up at Connor and Grant, questions in their eyes. My own eyes were having a hard time not watering. I found it difficult to tell them what I read.

"Dude! What does it say?!" asked Connor. He was practically vibrating.

I handed him the letter. "I'm going to university." The tears finally made their way out of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks.

Sledding was perfect. Connor was perfect. The hot chocolate after sledding was perfect. The sex after the hot chocolate was even more perfect.

It was the best birthday I had ever had.

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