Castle Roland

Noah Osgood - Boy Detective

by Parker Sheaffer

In Progress

Chapter 9

Posted: 18 Feb 16

The Adventures of

Noah Osgood, Boy Detective

Copyright © by Parker Sheaffer

The Christmas Case
Or "Yule Be Sorry"

Noah Osgood sat in his bedroom reading a book for school where they were studying a classic Greek story called the Odyssey. It was about Odysseus and his group of men trying to get home from the Trojan War and their adventures along the way. Some of it was interesting, but mostly Noah found it boring. He liked the part about the Cyclops, and the witch who turned Odysseus' men to pigs well enough, but Noah's mind was elsewhere and he found himself rereading some parts of the story, trying to remember what it said. There was something about Sirens, women who sang and tried to lure sailors onto the rocks to drown, and there was a lot of stuff about Poseidon and other gods, but it was all too much to keep in his head.

The trouble was that Christmas was coming and even though Noah was a teenager now, he still got excited at this time of year. It wasn't quite the same as when he was younger and had eagerly awaited his Christmas gifts. Now he was just happy about the holiday decorations, the smell of evergreens and cookies baking, the special music and just the cheerful attitude of everyone around. It was the Christmas spirit that filled his thoughts and left little room for homework. School would soon be letting out for a two week break and it seemed unfair that the teachers were loading them up with work before the vacation. He was relieved when his mother interrupted his studies.

"Noah," she called, "Will you come down and set the table. Dinner is almost ready."

"Sure, Mom," he called back. He closed his book and trotted downstairs.

As he opened the cabinet to take out three plates his mother said, "Set an extra place tonight, sweetie. Artie is bringing a new friend for dinner."

"Cool, Artie doesn't bring his friends around enough. I'm glad he has a new one," Noah said. "Where are they anyway?"

"They should be here any moment. They're probably throwing snowballs or sledding. You know how he loves the snow."

"Yeah, and if I know him, he'll be really hungry so I hope you made extra. It smells like spaghetti."

"It is spaghetti, and I made tons; even enough to fill three hungry boys."

A moment later Artie and another boy came rushing through the front door.

"Wipe the snow off your boots," his mother admonished from the kitchen. Artie and the other boy laughed and began stomping their feet on the rug. Their faces were red from the cold and they were out of breath. The next thing they did was to remove their coats and hats and hang them by the door.

"Artie, who's your friend," Noah asked.

"This is Mike. Mike, this is my brother Noah and that's my mom," Artie said cheerfully, slapping his friend on the back. Mike was a bit smaller than Artie, with a button nose and light brown hair that was brushed up into a sort of Mohawk. There was enough gel in his hair that it retained its peak even after having been clamped under a baseball cap for an hour.

"It's good to meet you, Mike," said Noah.

"Same here," Mike replied.

"Hello Mike, welcome. I'm glad you could join us for dinner," said their mom.

"Thanks a lot Mrs. Osgood. It smells great."

"You boys wash up and sit down. I'll put it on the table."

As the boys headed upstairs to wash their hands Noah noticed that Mike's jeans seemed to be a little short. They barely came down to his ankles. Noah could see his socks sticking up out of his somewhat worn looking boots. Noah thought that Mike must be going through a growth spurt.

As Noah had predicted, the two boys were ravenous, especially Mike. They each put away seconds, and then had dessert. Afterwards they went up to Artie's room and played a video game while Noah cleared the table and helped with the dishes.

While they put away the pots and pans his mother said, "I hope the two of you won't mind having leftovers tomorrow night. There's plenty left, even after those two ate, and I know you can look after yourself and your brother for one evening."

"Sure I can, Mom. Where are you going?"

"Well, I haven't wanted to say anything before now, but I have a sort of ... date," she said with a bit of embarrassment.

"Mom, really? That's great. It's about time you started seeing someone again. It's been months since you've gone out anywhere. Who is this guy? Do I know him?"

"Actually, yes, you do know him. It's Thomas Jackson."

"Thomas Jackson? Who's ... wait, not Officer Jackson, my friend at the police station," Noah exclaimed with surprise. "When did this come about?"

"Yes, that Thomas Jackson. I saw him at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and we talked and then had coffee. We've spoken on the phone a couple of times since and a few days ago he asked me out. You don't mind, do you sweetie?"

Noah said, "Heck no, Mom. I really like Officer Jackson. He's cool and he doesn't treat me like a kid."

"Yes, he's very fond of you too."

"Can I start calling him Thomas now?" Noah said with a grin.

"You'd better wait on that for a while," she replied.

The next day after school Artie was late getting home. His mom asked where he had been and he said that he had been shoveling snow from the neighbor's sidewalk.

"You shoveled Marge Granger's walk? That was nice of you," his mother said.

"Well, she paid me five dollars. I'm going to talk to some other people in the neighborhood and see if they will pay me to do theirs. Okay?"

"I suppose so, as long as it doesn't interfere with your homework and you don't wear yourself out. Why are you trying to earn money all of a sudden? Does it have something to do with Christmas coming up?"

"Yeah," Artie said. "I want to get something special for someone."

"That's nice. Listen, I'll be going out in a bit so you behave and listen to your brother. He's going to warm up dinner for the two of you so help him clean up afterwards. I'll be home around eleven, but call me if you need me, okay?"

"Sure thing, Mom, have a great time."

An hour later, Alice Osgood came downstairs looking and smelling really nice. She had put on a dress that Noah and Artie had never seen and she had pulled her hair up into a nice arrangement. She even seemed to have taken more care than usual with her makeup, Noah noticed.

"Wow, Mom, you look great," Noah said. "Officer Jackson is going to be proud tonight."

"Why, thanks sweetie. I love you too," his mom said as she gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Just then the doorbell rang and Noah said, "I'll get it."

A tall man stood on the porch and Noah almost didn't recognize him without his uniform. Tonight Officer Jackson wore slacks and a nice jacket. Noah said, jokingly, "Yes? May I help you, Sir?"

The man laughed and said, "Cut it out, Noah. Is Alice ready?"

"Alice? Who's Alice?" Noah said with a chuckle.

"That's enough, Noah," his mom said as she gently pushed him aside. "I'm ready if you are, Tom." She walked out and waved as she got into her date's car.

Noah grinned and waved back and shouted, "Bye, have fun, Tom."

Later, Alice and Tom sat over a quiet dinner and chatted.

"How are things in the crime fighting business," she asked.

"About the same as usual for this time of year. It seems like thefts always pick up around Christmas time. I guess people just don't have enough money to get the things they want, so they just steal them. Of course, I can't blame them on one level for wanting to give their families nice things. I just wish I didn't have to arrest them and make their holiday even worse," he replied.

"Yes, it's sad, especially when there are children involved. And, you know, a lot of the desire for things at this time of year is because of the constant flood of advertising on television and elsewhere. People see other people getting new 'toys' and they feel inferior if they don't have those things too."

"You are a very understanding woman. It's no wonder you have two great boys. They have your heart," Tom said.

"Thank you, yes, I'm really proud of Noah and Artie. And thank you for being so nice to them."

"Hey, that Noah has helped me to look good down at the station more than once."

The next day was Saturday and Noah's best friend, Adam, called to see if Noah wanted to go to the mall with him.

"We can just hang out and look at the decorations. A lot of the kids from school will be there. Mom said she would take us," Adam said.

"Sounds great, I actually have to get something for Mom so this will be a perfect time," Noah agreed.

The mall was really festive. They went all out with huge Christmas trees and giant decorations hanging from the ceilings. There was a Santa Village, and tons of lights everywhere. The best thing was that everyone seemed to be in a cheerful mood, even though it was very crowded. Noah and Adam hit all of their favorite stores, but bought very little since they didn't actually need anything. As they passed by a trendy clothing store Noah noticed a particularly handsome young man working there.

"Say, Adam. Why don't we check out this place for a minute," Noah said slyly.

"Okay. I can't afford these clothes, but it doesn't hurt to look and see what I can't have, I guess."

Noah steered them over to the area where the good looking clerk was standing. They found themselves by the shirts.

"Can I help you gentlemen find something?" the clerk asked.

Noah blushed and nervously said, "Oh, uh, we're just looking I guess." He found himself staring at the young man, who recognized at once a kindred spirit.

The young man turned on his warmest smile and said, "I'm Chance, if I can help you with anything. We have some very nice shirts that I think would look good on you. This color, for example, would go very nicely with your eyes." He held a blue shirt up against Noah's chest and let his hands rest for a moment against Noah's shoulders. Noah felt himself growing warmer at the man's touch.

"Yes, that's nice," he said nervously.

Adam gave him a funny look, recognizing that Noah was having a moment. The clerk held up another shirt and said, "This would be perfect with your physique. You have nice musculature. It would cling nicely to your pecs." Again his hands lingered for a moment on Noah's chest.

Noah was on the verge of taking the shirt, just to please Chance, but fortunately Adam intervened. "How much is it?" he asked.

"Oh, only sixty dollars," the clerk said with a smile.

Adam knew that Noah only had sixty-five dollars in his pocket, the result of saving his allowances for a couple of months. "Noah, if you get the shirt you won't have enough to get your mom's gift," Adam reminded him.

His words broke the spell that his friend seemed to be under and Noah said, "Oh, yeah. I guess you're right. We should head to the Scent store."

He looked at the clerk and said, "Maybe another time... Chance."

"I'll be here," the clerk said with a wicked smile.

Adam took him by the arm and led him out the door. "I figured I had better get you out before you tried to take out a credit card or something," he laughed.

"Yeah, thanks," said Noah, feeling a bit embarrassed.

The two boys continued to slowly drift around the mall, admiring the glittering window displays, pointing out various things that they wished they could buy, and saying hi to the occasional schoolmates who also were out cruising the mall. It seemed as if half the school was doing their Christmas shopping that morning.

"Hey, look," said Adam, pointing to a group of girls across the promenade. "There's Melissa, the new girl from New York. She is so beautiful."

A very pretty blonde girl in a pink sweater stood chatting with three other girls from their school. Her denim skirt was so short that Noah wondered how she kept from freezing when she went outside.

Noah realized that Adam was leading them across to where the girls were. As they approached they tried to be nonchalant and pretended that they didn't notice the laughing girls.

To their surprise, one of the girls, Sarah, suddenly said, "Hi, Noah, hi, Adam. Doing your Christmas shopping?"

"Oh, hi, Sarah, yeah, we're picking up a few things, but mostly we're just hanging out. What are you up to?" Adam asked cheerfully.

"We're boy watching," Sarah said with a giggle. "You know Emily and Beth, but do you know Melissa? She's new at our school."

"Yeah, we've seen her around," Adam said. "How are you, Melissa?"

Melissa gave him a warm smile and said, "I'm just great, Adam. It's very nice to meet you. I've seen you around school too. Actually, I've sort of been hoping that someone would introduce us."


"Yeah, you're cute," said Melissa, coyly. The other girls giggled.

Noah felt like rolling his eyes, but he maintained his smile.

Melissa said, "Why don't you guys hang around with us. We're going to grab something from the food court and shop for a bit."

"We've got to find something for my mom," said Noah, "but thanks anyway."

"Well, we're not in a big hurry, are we Noah?" Adam asked, hopefully.

Noah was stuck. He wasn't in the mood to hang out with some giggling girls, but he saw that Adam really wanted to get to know Melissa better so he said, "Actually, why don't you go ahead. I know what I want to get so why don't I try and catch up with you later."

"Are you sure?" asked Adam.

"Yeah, yeah, go ahead and have fun. See you later Sarah," Noah said as he turned to walk away.

He was more than slightly annoyed that his morning plans had been disrupted so he went to the Scent store and picked up the soap and perfume that he wanted. Once that was done, he decided to go to the Arcade and play some games. On the way he ran into Kevin Mason and his dad, who had their arms full of packages. They stopped to say hello.

"We're on our way out," said Kevin's dad. "I've had enough of the crowds and I'm feeling a pain in my wallet."

"Say, I don't suppose I could catch a ride with you, could I? If it wouldn't be out of your way, I mean," said Noah.

"Of course, it's only a couple of blocks over. Come on."

Noah was relieved. He didn't really want to see Adam enjoying himself with girls and he wasn't in the mood to walk around alone waiting for Adam's mom to pick them up.

Once they let him out at his house, he thanked the Masons gratefully.

"Noah, what are you doing home so soon?" his mother asked. "I thought you boys would be gone for hours."

"Oh, Adam met some other friends that he wanted to hang out with so I caught a ride with Mr. Mason and Kevin. I need to call Adam's mom and tell her not to look for me at the mall."

"Other friends? You mean he ditched you for someone else? That doesn't sound like Adam."

"Yeah, well, he met some girls," Noah said. It was impossible to keep that note of sadness out of his voice.

With a caring smile his mom said, "Oh, Noah. I'm sorry. You know that he needs to have girls in his life. It doesn't mean that he doesn't love you too."

"I know, Mom. I'm happy for him. It's just that I miss him when he's not around," Noah sighed. "By the way, how was your date last night?"

His mom smiled and blushed just a little as she said, "Oh, it was fine, just fine. Thanks for asking."

Artie was tired. He had shoveled three sidewalks that morning and had made another twenty dollars. That, along with his other earnings and allowance savings totaled more than fifty dollars. He thought he now had enough to get his secret present, but for the moment he had to rest. He took a hot shower to relax and then raided the refrigerator.

After he felt better he called his friend, Mike, and said, "If you are ready to do it, I think tomorrow would be good."

"Tomorrow sounds good, but really, are you sure? I feel bad about this," Mike answered.

"Please don't feel bad. Remember, it's for your sister and it's something that I really want to do. She will be blown away."

"I know she will. Thanks so much, Artie. This means a lot, but you know it's still embarrassing."

"Mike, you are not the only ones, you know? There are a lot of people having trouble now and it's not your fault. I like you and I want to help. Okay?"

Mike sighed and said, "Yeah, it's good. You haven't told anyone else, have you? I don't want people to feel sorry for me."

"I promise. It's our secret."

Later that evening Adam called to chat.

"Melissa is really cool," he said. "I can't believe she thinks I'm cute. We had a really good time today. I wish you had stayed."

"Yeah, I was feeling a little off so I thought I had better get home. I'm glad you had fun," Noah said.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, thanks. What did you all do?"

Adam said, "Mostly we just hung around. Melissa wanted to go into a couple of stores. She was buying something secret."

"Secret? What was it?"

"I don't know; she wouldn't let me see. She made me ask the saleswoman about some perfume while she picked out what she wanted, so I didn't see what it was."

"Where were Sarah and the others?" Noah asked.

"Oh, they stayed at the food court, talking to some boys. Melissa and I got to spend some time alone. Can you believe she likes me?"

"Sure I can; you're hot. I mean... well... oh, you know what I mean," Noah stammered.

Adam laughed and said, "I know. Melissa wants me to call her tomorrow. We may get to hang out again."

"That's cool," Noah lied, "I hope you have fun."

The next afternoon Artie was being very mysterious. He disappeared all afternoon and came home looking a little tired, but happy. Noah asked where he had been but he wouldn't say.

Noah called Adam, but no one answered the phone. Not for the first time, Noah wished that the two of them had cell phones. He knew that they were not really old enough to need one and they couldn't really afford the expense, but sometimes a cell phone would come in handy. Like when you wanted to reach your best friend and he wasn't at home.

"He's probably out with Melissa," Noah said to the mirror. "Stupid Melissa."

It was a boring afternoon so Noah used the time to study. There were only a few days of school before the Christmas break so he knew he should try and do well on Monday's history exam.

After dinner Adam called at last. Noah was glad to hear his voice and they talked happily. Adam explained that he had gone back to the mall to hang out with Melissa.

"It was really sort of boring after a while," he said. "She just wanted to shop, but she didn't buy very much. A couple of times she wanted me to talk to a clerk while she looked at jewelry. She said she was picking out a surprise for me and I told her not to buy me any gifts. I said that hanging out with her was all I wanted. That made her smile and she kissed me on the cheek."

"How nice," said Noah, although he didn't mean it at all.

Everything was good between the two friends the next day at school and they joked and bantered as usual. At lunchtime they were going to the cafeteria when they passed Melissa and her friends in the hallway. The girls were talking to Dennis Windsor, a handsome junior, and Melissa was laughing at something he had said. She flipped her hair coyly and touched his arm. Noah knew that she had seen them, but she pretended that she had not.

Adam scowled but said nothing. Once they had their food and found a table they saw the girls and their new friend sitting across the room together. Melissa was acting very friendly to Dennis and Noah could tell that it upset Adam. That made Noah feel bad for his friend and increased his dislike for the fickle Melissa. They avoided talking about her for the rest of the day and Noah hoped that Adam would forget about her.

Noah, however, couldn't stop thinking about her. Something that Adam had said stuck with him and he began to get suspicious about her recent behavior. The more he thought about it, the more certain he became that she was not a nice person. He decided to investigate the matter in a way that he had never attempted before. He was going to tail her.

When he got home he called his friend Sarah and after chatting for a few minutes he casually asked, "Do you have all of your Christmas shopping done?"

"Oh yes, I finished it last week. I didn't have to buy too much this year. What about you?" she said.

"I wouldn't mind picking up another stocking stuffer or two. I guess I'll go back to the mall. I don't suppose you and Melissa are going back soon?"

"Not me," Sarah said, "But Melissa said that she was going tonight. I don't know where she gets her money. She shops all the time. I guess her folks are well off. Must be nice."

"Yeah, I guess. Well, mom's calling so I have to go. See you at school tomorrow," Noah said, suddenly eager to go. He had smoothly gathered the information that he wanted.

"Bye, Noah."

As soon as he finished the call, he immediately called his friend, Hank Dixon.

"Noah, old buddy," said Hank, "How are you?"

"Great Hank," said Noah, "I hope I'm not calling at a bad time."

"Not at all, what can I do for you?" asked Hank.

"I need a favor, if you can and if you're not too busy. Do you have time to make a quick trip to the mall?"

"For you? Of course I do. What's going on?"

"I'll explain on the way. I'm working on a case and I just want to see something. I'll buy your gas," said Noah.

"Sounds like fun. I always like hanging out with you and besides, I still owe you for helping me find out who keyed my car that time."

After dinner, Hank came by and they drove to the Mall. Noah wished it was close enough to ride his bike there, but the mall was a few miles away and the traffic around there was really heavy. His mom was worried that he might get hit if he tried to cross those streets on his bike.

Noah knew some of the areas where Melissa liked to hang out so it didn't take long to spot her, even in the crowd of shoppers. It was actually Dennis Windsor that Noah noticed first, but Melissa was hanging on his arm. He and Hank followed discretely behind as they made their way around the upper promenade. Soon Melissa led Dennis into a department store and right to the perfume section. As Noah had expected, Dennis walked over to a clerk and started to chat while Melissa examined some small boxes on display. He watched closely, moving up behind her to see better, and his sharp eyes spotted what he had expected to see. Melissa dropped a box into her pocket. She was shoplifting!

That was all he needed to see. He took Hank to the food court and bought a couple of milkshakes. They relaxed and sipped the drinks and chatted. Noah explained to Hank what he had seen and why he had wanted to come to the mall.

"So, what are you going to do about it?" Hank asked. "You could go to the store management and tell them."

"I could, but I really don't want to be associated with her personally. I don't want Adam to know that I spied on her so I think I'll tell Officer Jackson and see what he thinks. Besides, she used Adam to distract the clerk just like she did Dennis, and I don't want anyone to think that Adam was in on it."

"Yeah, Adam's a good guy. He doesn't need that sort of trouble," Hank agreed.

Noah was happy to see a patrol car in front of his house when he arrived back home. Officer Jackson was sitting at the table, having coffee with his mom. Artie was sitting with them and laughing at something Officer Jackson had said.

"Well, Noah," his mom asked, "Did you get what you wanted at the mall?"

"You bet I did, Mom," Noah replied. "Officer Jackson, how are you doing?"

"Great Noah, just great. And you, solve any new cases lately?" the policeman asked.

"As a matter of fact, I was just about to ask your advice on something that I discovered tonight."

Noah quickly laid out the facts for him and the officer listened intently.

"I've been working a lot of the thefts at the mall lately and it sounds like this little lady has been really taking advantage of the crowds. If she is there as often as you say then she probably has taken enough be a serious threat. I'll go take a look at the store's surveillance tapes and if I can see her taking the perfume I'll get a search warrant for her house. Give me a description of her," Officer Jackson said.

Two days later the news was all over school. Melissa and Dennis had been busted for stealing at the mall. The police had searched her home and found thousands of dollars in jewelry and other items. She had spent the night in jail and her parents had to bail her out for Christmas. Dennis was soon proven to be an unwitting dupe who didn't know what she was really doing, rather than an accomplice.

Rumors flew all over school: Melissa had to move from her previous town for the same reason, Melissa was seeing a psychiatrist because she's a klepto, Melissa was going to prison, and lots of other things.

Noah didn't know how much of the gossip was true, but he was just glad that Adam's name was never mentioned. Adam seemed to be in a bit of shock over the incident and Noah suspected that he now realized how close he had come to being arrested with her. They spoke little about the incident, after that.

Christmas Eve was merrier and more fun than Noah had expected. Officer Jackson joined them for dinner and they watched a Christmas movie and ate popcorn afterwards. For just a bit, Noah felt like he had a full family again and it was a nice feeling. He slept really well that night.

The next morning he staggered downstairs, wiping the sleep from his eyes. Breakfast was ready and he sat down to eat. Artie was already having pancakes and twisting his head to see the gifts under the tree. Noah remembered how it felt to be so antsy and impatient to open his gifts, but now that he was a teenager he had more restraint. Besides, now it was fun to dawdle over breakfast and make Artie wait to start tearing into the gifts.

"Come on, Noah. Aren't you through yet?" Artie whined.

"Mom, these pancakes are great. I think I'll have a few more," Noah joked.

"Noah!" Artie said, almost despairingly.

Noah laughed and said, "Okay, I'm done. Let's see what Santa brought."

Their mom sat down on the sofa with a cup of coffee while Artie handed out gifts to her and Noah.

"This is from me, Noah," Artie said, handing him a surprisingly neatly wrapped box with a gold bow. Noah tore the paper back and laughed.

"This is great, Artie. It's a Clue game. How perfect. Thanks Artie."

Artie held up a remote controlled car and said, "Wow, thanks Noah. I love this. It'll be fun to run it around the street out front when the snow melts."

They had gotten other gifts from Santa, like sports equipment for Artie, and books and video games for Noah, as well as new clothes.

Their mom had made out well, too. She had some new books and some bath soaps and perfume.

Officer Jackson stopped by for a few minutes with gifts for them all. "I don't want to intrude on your Christmas morning but Santa dropped these off at the station and said to bring them here. I'm not sure what's in them, but they have your names on them."

They all received books. Noah had three new mysteries, Artie got a boxed set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and their mom had some new romance novels, the kind she always read in secret. She, in return, gave Officer Jackson a new wool sweater that looked good on him.

He had to go back on patrol but promised to come back that evening.

Not long after he had gone, the doorbell rang and their mom answered it. Mike Newton's mother was at the door so she was invited in.

"I don't want to disturb you this morning but I had to just come by in person to tell you what a wonderful boy you have. He is absolutely the kindest, most generous and thoughtful boy in the world," she gushed.

Their mom, taken by surprise, said, "Well, thank you. We are all proud of Noah."

"Oh, I don't mean Noah. I was talking about Artie."

Noah and his mom both looked at Artie, who was turning a little red in the face.

"What did Artie do?" his mom asked.

"That sweet boy went out and worked jobs to earn money to buy us a Christmas tree. A few days ago I came home and found a beautiful tree, all decorated and lit up in our living room. I asked Mike where it had come from but he refused to tell me. I finally got it out of him this morning. He said that Artie had paid for it and that he and Mike put it together. It was a surprise for my little girl. She's six and, you see, I was laid off earlier this year and money had been tight so we were going to have to do without a tree this year. I can barely afford to keep them in clothes, let alone splurge on a fancy tree. Mike is wonderful and doesn't mind that we have to shop for his school clothes at Goodwill, but Becky doesn't understand why she can't have the things her friends have.

Anyway, you should have seen the look on her face when she saw that tree. She hugged me and cried, and well, I cried too. See, I'm getting choked up again. Artie, you made this Christmas special for us and we will never forget it. I'll find another job soon and things will be alright for us again, but we will always remember you."

Noah and his mom were staring at Artie with their mouths agape. "Artie," his mom said, "That's why you were shoveling walks for people? You never said a word about wanting to help someone."

"Well, I mean, Mike didn't want people to know that he needed help and it was nobody's business anyway. I like Mike and it made me feel good. It made me feel like Christmas, if you know what I mean. People sometimes look down on him at school because his clothes aren't always new and nice and he has to bring his lunch instead of buying it in the cafeteria. That's why I bring my lunch now, so he doesn't have to feel so alone."

Noah had always loved his brother, but now he had a new sense of admiration for him. He hugged Artie and whispered, "Way to go, little brother."

Later in the day Adam came by with small gifts for each of them. He and Noah went to Noah's room to talk.

"I figure you probably had something to do with Melissa getting caught, didn't you," Adam said.

"Well, maybe, a little," said Noah, being truthful with his friend. "I had some suspicions."

"That's okay if you did. She wasn't the kind of girl that I thought she was. You know that she used me to distract the salesperson so she could steal. She said she was buying something for me and I fell for it. Now I feel sort of stupid," Adam admitted.

"You're not stupid, Adam. You're just straight. She was a pretty girl, like those Sirens in the Odyssey, luring you onto the rocks, like poor Dennis. Her charms didn't work on me because I'm gay. That's one of the great things about being gay. I'll never be fooled by a pretty girl."

Adam looked at him in disbelief and said, "Yeah, you're safe as long a handsome dude doesn't try and sell you a sixty dollar shirt."

Noah realized that he had been corrected and he blushed. "Oh, hush," he said. "Merry Christmas, Adam."

"Merry Christmas, Noah," Adam laughed.

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