Castle Roland

Mountain Magic

by Sequoyah


Chapter 19

Posted: N/A

The next morning, before either Jason or I was awake, Wesley knocked on our door. I groaned as Jason answered, "Yes?"

"Hate to be this way, but if we are going to Asheville today, I think we need to be moving," Wesley said. "Granddad may have some things for us to do and we have to get back early enough to do the cleaning for Jake. I've finished in the bathroom. It's all yours," he added.

That was the first real indication we had that Wesley was an early riser and definitely a morning person. So much so that at times even Jason, who is also a morning person, was ready to strangle him.

"I hate the superior attitude early risers have," I groaned. "I may kill Cousin Wesley before he makes it to eighteen."

"I may kill him for his superior attitude, period," Jason said. "And I'm awake enough to do it! The very idea of HIM telling US what WE need to do as though WE were the newcomers around here!"

Jason and I went to the bathroom and did the minimum: drained our lizards and brushed our teeth, put on work clothes and went to do morning chores. Since we didn't have to go to school for a while, we had taken on milking as well as our usual morning duties. We finally convinced Granddad he didn't have to come to the barn at all in the morning until school started again.

When we had finished with chores and breakfast, we showered, taking our own sweet time about it--and it was definitely sweet time. We got into some very heavy and hot kissing in the shower, managed to get ourselves completely wrapped up in each other--not just figuratively--and each covered the other when our attention to the other got the desired results. Since we were still in the shower, cleaning up was quick and easy.

When we got back to our room, I got dressed as Jason braided his hair. Soon he, too, was dressed and we were ready to go to Asheville. Hank's dad had said Hank could go with us to complete his Christmas shopping, so we dropped by the music store and picked him up.

Turns out I was really glad he went because he helped me find a wonderful present for Jason. Later, Wesley asked about my going with him and I did as Jason and Hank went off to finish their shopping. We got our Christmas shopping done--and Wesley did have a neat idea for the grandparents' gift and had taken care of that.

There was no problem getting back in plenty of time to do the cleaning Jake had for us and to do our evening chores. All in all, it had been a good day.

Friday and Saturday were clear and unusually warm for December--I mean it was not like summer, but not cold either.

Granddad had everything ready to go early Friday morning and all four of the males in the household finally spent the day cutting wood. Granddad felled the trees and then kept a close watch on Jason as he used the chainsaw to cut the trees into blocks. When he needed a rest, Granddad took over. Wesley and I were kept busy taking the blocks to a splitter, which split them into wood ready for the fireplace, and loading it into the truck. As soon as we had a load, we'd all go to the house, unload and stack the wood, then take a break.

We also cut wood Saturday and when we had stacked the last load, Granddad said, "Men, I must admit I am surprised at the size of that stack of new wood. We probably have cut enough, unless we have a streak of really good weather and just want to cut more."

Christmas Eve--the Last Sunday in Advent for us--dawned bright, sunny and downright warm. When we came out of church there were people driving around with their convertible tops down. The forecast was for real winter weather later, but it certainly didn't look likely.

The high school group was going to hang the greens and decorate the church, so as soon as we had lunch, we headed back to Grace. We had asked Hank and Jonathan to go with us--Hank was going anyway because Beth had told him to, and Jonathan was invited to go along. Hank said he was picking up Beth, "So I'll take Jonathan with me, but I'd really like it if you could take him back home," he said.

When we arrived at the church, no-one had started doing anything. The weather was still unseasonably warm and everyone was standing outside the entrance to the parish house in the sun. The three of us walked over to the group where, after a round of Merry Christmases, I introduced Wesley to everyone.

After everyone shook Wesley's hand, Ken Nash--a classmate of Hank's and mine--introduced Cody Andrews, a kid about Jonathan's size and build, but the day to Jonathan's night: very blond with hair almost an Afro it was so curly and long. "Cody's my cousin from Raleigh who will be living with us from now on," Ken said. "He's a freshman."

"Cody, you'll have to get to know Jonathan Henderson. He's also a freshman. He's Hank Dennison's new brother. They will be here shortly," Jason said.

"Very shortly," Hank said, walking up behind Jason. "Time to get to work," Beth said, and everyone moved inside. Jonathan and Cody immediately hit it off and they and Wesley spent nearly as much time talking and giggling as they did decorating. As a matter of fact, I was a little concerned that Wesley was flirting with Jonathan and I was sure Jonathan didn't know it. But they were not the only ones goofing off. I wondered if the church would get decorated because there was as much horseplay as serious decorating, but finally everyone calmed down and started singing Christmas carols as they hung the greens. Mid-afternoon the church looked very much like Christmas. Everyone sat down and the church became very quiet for a few minutes then someone said, "See y'all later," and the exodus began.

When we got outside, Beth wanted to treat us all to hot fudge sundaes and we were happy to oblige. Sundaes in hand, we all got seated and Beth said, "Well, Cousin Wesley, I haven't had a chance to talk with you since I plucked you out of the 'bleak midwinter'," and asked what we should have expected. "So why are you joining the McElrath family? I know you are Douglas's cousin and all that but, if you'll pardon my French, your family has treated him like shit and you yourself have been a first-class asshole, so why are you here?"

I was shocked at Beth's language. She's no goody-two-shoes, but just isn't into foul language. But then, as Hank says, she doesn't suffer fools gladly. Yet I had never seen or heard her be quite so frank and acid. Of course, she had heard plenty about how the mom's family had treated us.

If I thought Beth had been direct, I was totally unprepared for, and very shocked by, Wesley's response. "I'm gay and had to run away from home," he said as if he were announcing, "I am male and like baseball."

Beth and Wesley were the only ones who were calm at Wesley's announcement. Fortunately, no-one sprayed ice cream across the table, but there was a lot of choking going on. As soon as everyone was almost under control, Beth said, "So your parents are not only snobs, but ignorant bigots as well. It figures. Too bad. You have a lover? I guess not, since you are here. Well everyone here's taken except Jonathan, and he's way too young for you." I was ready to panic, as was Jason. Beth knew more than she should have. It seemed obvious Hank had told her Jason and I were gay and lovers, but he shouldn't have and, even if he had, she should have kept her mouth shut.

"I mean I don't think you are man enough to fight off the entire female population of Coldsprings High--excluding moi of course. They are about equally divided in claiming Jason and Douglas," Beth reached over and pinched both Jason and me on the cheek and said, "These two just set those little old girls' hearts afluttering."

I wasn't sure whether Beth suddenly realized what she had said and was trying to cover up or if she had simply meant what she said. Anyway, it was something we had to take up with Hank.

We took Jonathan home and when we got back to our place, we were hardly in the house before Jason was on the phone calling Hank. Jason said, "Thanks, Mrs. Dennison. I'd appreciate that," and hung up the phone. "He's not home yet and we should have known. He took Beth home and, I am sure, found some place to park for a little making out before he dropped her off."

Only minutes later the phone rang. It was Hank, calling from Beth's place. Later, when the Jason and I were alone, I asked Jason what Hank had to say for himself. "You're not going to believe this, but Hank said he asked Beth what was going on as soon as they were in the car. 'I've told her nothing about you two, I swear,' he said. 'When I asked her what she meant she asked if you two were my closest friends and I didn't know you were gay. "It's so obvious," she told me. "Just watch how they look at each other. They are in love all right, and I assume that means they are gay and know it. They are so sweet together." I just left it at that, but I did want you to know that I hadn't betrayed your trust. And I am not sure I'd call you sweet, together or separate!' Hank concluded."

Jason assured Hank we believed him, but said it had seemed otherwise when Beth said what she had.

"I have heard some men have 'gaydar' and can spot a gay man a mile away, but I never thought much about it and especially about girls having it. Maybe we should just go ahead and tell everyone we are gay and get it over with," I said.

"Doug, I don't think I will be ready to tell EVERYONE for a long, long time."

"I didn't really mean that, I meant the people who count. You know, the Dennisons and our grandparents."

"Doug, I don't think that is a very good idea either. You heard Granddad. He's struggling with Wesley being gay. That's something he can work through or not. There's no pressure on him. If, God forbid, he decides he can't have a gay man around, he can send Wesley packing and he knows it. It's kind of a free field he's playing on. That would not be true with us--or at least you. He obviously feels some responsibility for you, which he does not have or feel for Wesley or, I guess, me for that matter. Why don't we just give him time and space to come to grips with the question then tell him when he has made a decision."

"But what if he decides he doesn't want to have anything to do with gay grandsons?"

"Do you think that is possible, Doug? I don't. He's a good-hearted, caring, loving man. He'll come out on the side of caring. I'm sure it may take a while, but I'll bet my life on it."

"Maybe not your life, but you're betting a lot."

"Aren't you sure what he'll decide?"

"I guess I am. Sure I am."

"Ok, so when we are ready--or, better yet, when we think Granddad is ready--we'll tell our grandparents. But what about Wesley?"

"I think we tell him."

"I agree."

"But later."

"Yeah, later."

Grandmom had suggested we invite Hank, Jonathan and Beth to come for a "bit of a celebration" after the midnight Christmas Eucharist. When I called the Dennisons and told Mrs. Dennison, she said they were planning to go to a 7:00pm candlelight service at their church, Coldsprings Baptist, but Hank had already told them he would be going with Beth and had asked Jonathan to go with them. "I don't care where they go, so long as they remember what Christmas is all about," she said.

When I talked to Hank, I told him we had a tradition of opening gifts after the Eucharist and if he, Jonathan and Beth would like to bring their gifts for each other, they could join in.

The evening had continued unseasonably warm, but by the time we left for church at 11:30 there was definitely a downturn in the temperature and the clear sky from the afternoon was showing patches of cloud. When we arrived at the church I could hear the congregation singing carols, but we did not go in. Granddad said he liked to wait until just before the Eucharist started, when the church is dimly lit.

Shortly afterward Hank, Jonathan and Beth arrived. Jonathan was standing with Hank when he was attacked from behind by Cody. The two were talking and giggling when Beth said, "I see the lights have been dimmed, so we need to go inside."

Cody asked Ken if he could sit with Jonathan and Ken said, "I don't think so, Cody, you won't know what to do."

"Hank and I will help him," Beth said. "We'll be helping Jonathan as well."

"If you don't mind," Ken said.

"Not at all," Hank responded.

"Then I can sit with my ladylove," Ken smiled and walked down the aisle and

took a seat beside Marie Schultz.

Inside the darkened church, the organist started a prelude on "Veni, veni Emmanuel". It was very haunting, in a minor key, not Christmassy at all. In fact it had a very pleading tone. As people entered the church, they were given candles and, during the prelude, an acolyte lit the candles of two people at the back of the church and the flame was passed from candle to candle and the church gradually grew brighter and brighter.

The prelude finished on a very soft note and I suspect most people jumped when, moments later, a brass choir let loose with "O come all ye faithful". As the congregation started singing, I heard a fine, strong male voice behind me, just as acolyte came down the aisle swinging a thurible with great vigor, raising clouds of incense. She was followed by a crucifer carrying the gleaming processional cross, behind which was the procession of candle bearers, flag bearers, the choir, and the Eucharistic ministers with Fr. Hanson bringing up the rear. All took their places and the service began.

Beth and Hank had Jonathan and Cody between them so they could help them follow the service. Hank had been going with Beth enough that he was a self-proclaimed expert at what his father called "that Episcopal exercise class with all its getting up and down."

The Wilsons were either Presbyterians or Episcopalians. Wesley's family, I guess to cover all bases, was divided into the male Episcopalians and female Presbyterians. Wesley said he hadn't been to church very often in recent years, since he had heard a priest raving about the "gays and queers" who were out to destroy Mother Church. "I decided this queer wasn't going to be a part of a church that didn't want him." He was very surprised that Fr. Henson--a priest out in the boonies--had a very different idea. "I guess I thought a sophisticated urban priest would be more open to reality than one in a more rural setting. Another time I was wrong," he said.

I don't know if it was the Christmas spirit or what, but Wesley had climbed down from his elevated position and high opinion of himself and was becoming a real human being. That change in attitude probably saved him from a painful death, and Jason and me from a murder trial. And I certainly couldn't complain about his not doing his share of the work around the place. Hard work and good food were making their mark on Cousin Wesley and he was becoming a pretty good-looking young man, even if more than a little bit colorless compared to dark Indians in the household.

I had been allowed to stay up and go to the midnight Eucharist since I was six or seven, and it has always meant Christmas to me. Of course I liked getting gifts--I still do--but it's the midnight Eucharist which means Christmas. And this was a very, very special Christmas and Eucharist. Somehow or other it meant I had weathered the storm of losing my family and having faced what a selfish person I had been. I had never thought about it until recently, but in looking back I didn't like that Douglas very much and I did like the Douglas I had become and was becoming, and that even included knowing I was gay Douglas.

Most of all, this Christmas I gave thanks for having been given the greatest gift anyone one can receive, the unconditional love of another human being. At the Peace, I glanced sideways at Jason just as he reached down and took my hand in his, leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Merry Christmas, Christmas gift." I caught myself just before I would have taken his face in my hands for a great kiss. Instead I smiled and whispered, "Merry Christmas, my special gift," as I embraced him.

Generally I am uncomfortable with some of the displays of affection which take place during the Peace, but tonight was different and all of my extended family exchanged embraces and--except for Grandmom and Beth--bear hugs.

When I turned around, I saw a tall, young man with curly red hair. He was taller than I am, with a good build. He was, I'm sure, the young man I had heard singing. "Merry Christmas," I smiled. The young man smiled in return and wished me a Merry Christmas.

When we went to the altar rail to receive the Sacrament, I had a real sense of what "communion" meant as the eight of us extended our hands for the Bread and Wine. I had never really felt so much a part of a community as I did then, and knew I felt part of a community because I was and we were.

At the end of the service the lights were again dimmed as the congregation sang "Silent Night" after the recessional. The carol ended and Fr. Hanson announced in a loud and jolly voice, "Merry Christmas to all!" Before the congregation could respond, a child's voice piped up, "And to all a good night!" which, of course, brought the house down.

Parishioners were wishing each other a merry Christmas and happy New Year as they slowly walked toward the back door of the church where Fr. Hanson was speaking to each one. I looked around for the red-headed guy, but did not see him. I wanted to introduce myself to him and welcome him to Grace since I had never seen him before.

As I stepped out of the church, I realized everything seemed very bright, and then saw why. While we were inside, it had started snowing and the ground was covered with fresh snow. Snow was still falling and it was definitely no longer unseasonably warm. As we walked toward the Jeep, Granddad called to us, "Be careful driving home. The roads are already covered and will definitely be slick, especially the overpasses."

Hank was driving Josh's Miata since Brad and Jeremy, Josh's roommate and his boyfriend, came by mid-afternoon to ask Josh to go skiing with them. They had the use of Jeremy's family's place at Sugar Mountain. Josh had been delighted and went, much to his mother's displeasure. Hank said later, Josh had seemed a changed person after Thanksgiving. "I think he sees two people really in love and that gives him hope. He even said he isn't always on the lookout for a piece of tail these days."

To keep Jonathan from being crammed in--so Hank said, but we knew he also wanted to be alone with Beth--Jonathan rode with us back to our place.

When we got home, Jason went directly to the living room, where he turned on the Christmas tree lights and then started a fire in the seldom-used fireplace there. Wesley and I went to the kitchen and started getting food and drinks ready. Grandmom had made eggnog in the afternoon and left it in the refrigerator. I put cups on a tray with the pitcher of eggnog and a bottle of rum. Grandmom and Granddad were the only people old enough to legally have "nog" in their eggnog, but the rule was to let your conscience and your parents be your guide.

When the grandparents came in, we had everything ready and, after toasting each other, we enjoyed the eggnog and cookies. Only Jonathan decided he really didn't want rum in his cup. I was somewhat surprised that Jason did, but after Thanksgiving when he said he was afraid of alcohol, we had talked at some length about the difference between an occasional drink and "drowning your sorrows".

At Beth's suggestion, we all gathered around the piano and I played and everyone sang Christmas carols. I was surprised when I noticed tears in Wesley's eyes and was even more surprised when he walked over and hugged Grandmom and Granddad, hanging on to them for dear life. When we finished the song we were singing, Wesley said, "I want all of you to know that I have had Christmases where the money spent on my presents would have kept an entire family well for a month, maybe more, but I have never had a Christmas present that would even touch the gift you have all given me. Thank you all for loving someone who has never been very lovable."

The change in Wesley since he was "plucked from winter's icy clutches", Thanksgiving, was amazing. Yes, the mountains and the grandparents were weaving their magic around him.

Grandmom and Granddad hugged him close and then Granddad said, "Speaking of Christmas gifts, I think it's time for Santa!" When we all had gathered around the Christmas tree and settled, he said, "The rule here is all presents are passed out then everyone opens one at a time, in turn. Ready? Ho! Ho! Ho! The first one is for Jason."

Granddad had soon passed out all the gifts and it was time to open them. All the McElrath family had several gifts, some very practical, but others were very special. It was the special gifts which made for a joyous Christmas.

It was obvious that Hank and Beth's relationship had been deepening all fall and into the winter, and Hank symbolized that with a beautiful friendship ring he had found in an antique store in Asheville. Beth, in turn, had been very retro and found a 1950s silver ID bracelet which she'd had polished and re-engraved. On the front was Hank's name and on the back it said, "To my first real love." They opened their gifts, put them on, showed them around, then gave each other a great kiss.

Wesley had asked about borrowing some money to buy a gift for the grandparents, then came back with a suggestion which meant we had to pitch in more than we might have spent, but we had a great gift for them. Inside a nice gift box was a letter from the three of us telling them they had a week in a condo in the Florida Keys. Wesley managed to arrange it with his sister's help, through some of his friends in Charlotte. Mary Capers was able to make the arrangements without revealing where Wesley was. In fact, the owners thought it was Mary Capers who would be using the condo. We found inexpensive airline tickets and everything else was taken care of. They would be leaving the day after Christmas and coming back New Year's Eve.

Jason, Hank and I had given Jonathan a game for the computer--he beat Hank routinely now--and an earring. He had wanted one and Hank took him and got his ear pierced a couple weeks before. He looked at the gold hoop a long time and said, "I've never had a Christmas present before," and was moist-eyed as Hank put in the earring.

All of us had chipped in to buy a gift for Jason, a beautiful and wonderful-sounding Martin guitar. It was hard to move on after he opened it since he wasn't about to put it down.

Hank's mom told us Hank had taken up banjo last summer, but hadn't played very much except for himself. "He's got a banjo, but it's not a very good one. If he keeps at it, we'll need to buy him a decent one." Her remarks settled what the gang was getting for Hank.

When it came my time to open a gift I was so emotional that I had to stop and catch my breath. "Folks, I'm having a little trouble keeping it all together," I acknowledged. When I regained control, I opened a present from the gang and found a charcoal drawing of my family done by an Asheville artist. It was beautifully framed and I really lost it. Everyone gave me time to get control again as I sat with Jason's arm around my shoulder.

When Jason opened my present, he got a funny look on his face and then laughed. I had given him a silver ring engraved with Indian friendship symbols which I had spotted in a small shop, the Silver Armadillo in Asheville. I understood his expression when I opened my gift from him and found an identical ring. "How did this happen?" he asked.

"Sometimes your friend has to help out," Hank laughed. "I guess that means you two are also going steady," and winked. I thought I saw a strange expression cross Grandmom's face, but when I looked closely I guess I was just imagining things.

Anyway there were, as I said, other gifts. Shortly after the gifts were opened, Grandmom and Granddad excused themselves and, just as they stood up to leave, the phone rang. Grandmom answered it and when she hung up said, "Hank, that was your mom. She is concerned about your driving tonight. There are several inches of snow on the road now and it is still snowing heavily. I assured her you were welcome to stay here and she wants you to do that. Beth, I think you need to stay as well. I'm sure your mother rather you do that than risk ending up in a ditch somewhere."

"I'll call, Mrs. McElrath, but Mom will want to speak to you. I have never lied about where I am but some of my friends have, and Mom wants to make sure I am where I say I am and that my host has actually asked me to stay. Makes me feel like a little kid sometimes, but that's the way it is."

"Nothing wrong with that," Grandmom said. "I'll just go ahead and call your mom. Jason, Douglas, you can get everyone bedded down upstairs except Beth...."

"That's ok, Mrs. McElrath. She can sleep with me," Hank said.

Granddad laughed and said, "Son, I bet if she slept with you, you'd have a very long nap. I suspect her father and brothers would make sure you slept permanently!" Beth was the youngest of five children, the others being brothers. She was sixteen years younger than the next oldest and, needless to say, carefully protected by them.

"I am sure you are right, Mr. McElrath," Hank agreed.

"Beth, The guest room is the second on the right down the hall. I'll turn down the bed and lay out one of my nightgowns. Not nearly as romantic as most young girls would like, but warm."

"Thanks, Mrs. McElrath. And when it comes to sleeping, I look for comfort."

The grandparents went down the hall and very shortly Grandmom stuck her head around the corner and said, "Your mom is pleased you are not going out on the roads tonight, Beth, and your bed is ready. Goodnight to you all."

We all turned and told my grandparents goodnight.

When I turned back I realized we had all gotten on the floor when Granddad was passing out presents. Now Jonathan was stretched out in front of the fireplace lying on his stomach, his chin in his hands, on one side of the two couples, and Wesley had taken the same position on the other. Hank sat facing the fire, his arms around Beth who sat between his legs. Jason and I were sitting the same way with me between his legs.

I was just drifting in the warmth of the fire and of Jason's touch when I felt Jason's lips on the back of my neck. I turned my face to his for a kiss and then stopped suddenly. If anyone was looking, I think we had pretty much outed ourselves, but maybe not. I was sure Beth had already figured out our relationship from what she had said earlier, even if it hadn't been confirmed. Jason had told Jonathan about us while he was in the hospital. The only one who didn't know about us was Wesley, and he had to be a lot dumber than I thought to miss seeing it now.

Just as I realized that, Wesley turned over on his side, raised up and said, "Don't get offended if I am wrong, but it seems to me Jonathan and I are the odd men out here."

"Just what does that mean?" I asked, hoping my voice didn't betray my sinking feeling.

Beth turned to look at Hank, laughed and said, "See, I told you your two best friends were gay and in love."

I looked back at Jason who said, "Babe, I don't think we have much of a secret anymore."

"You two are gay? And lovers?" Wesley asked, proving, I guess, he was a lot dumber than I thought. "I don't know why I asked that," he said. "I thought so a couple times, then decided I was wrong. Are you?"

"Are we what? Gay and in love?" Jason asked. "Yes, we are in love and, since we're both men, I guess that makes us gay. I don't know if that makes us lovers or not. I'm sure if being lovers means having sex the way you and Dwight were lovers--having sex I mean--I guess we're not. If being lovers means being in love, really in love with each other, then we are."

"Yeah, I guess it depends on what you mean by being lovers and I assure you, we haven't spent a lot of time discussing whether or not we are," I said.

"You know, I think this is a non-revelation," Jonathan said. "Wesley was the only one of us who didn't know about you guys--well Beth just guessed, but we didn't know it together, we knew it separately. You know what I mean ..." Jonathan blushed and stammered to a halt.

"Yeah, we know what you mean, Jonathan," Hank said.

"And I guess Hank is really the odd man out," Jonathan said and blushed again. "I'm gay. At least I think I am. I mean I get crushes on boys so I guess that means I'm gay."

"No need to label yourself one way or another, Little Brother. I guess at fourteen you probably know whether you're gay or straight, but it's no big deal," Hank said as he reached over and gave Jonathan a tap on the arm.

We all settled down to do some serious talking about our sexuality and the implications so far as school, work and home were concerned. Nothing really changed: Jonathan's sexuality was not to be discussed or announced. Jason and I would play it by ear, but everyone did think giving Granddad time to work through his feelings was a good move. No-one thought our sexuality had anything to do with our work and certainly was not something we needed to announce to Jake. School was a biggie. We agreed that we weren't about to make any announcements but that if the subject came up we weren't going to lie about it.

"And, guys," Hank said, "in spite of how I acted when I found out, I want you to know that I am here for you when the time comes at school, and I have no doubt it will."

"You don't know how much that means to us," Jason said.

"Yeah, there is no way you can know. Thanks," I said.

We talked a while longer and then headed off to bed. Hank walked Beth to her room, kissed her goodnight and came up the stairs with us. When we got upstairs, Jason said, "Obviously I will sleep with Doug--as usual. There's Wesley's bed and the pull-down sofa in the den."

"I think I better sleep on the sofa," Wesley said.

"Why?" Hank asked.

"In case someone ever suggests I tried to seduce Jonathan," Wesley said. "And, Hank, I suspect you don't want to sleep with a fag."

"In the first place, I don't like that word," Hank said, "and in the second place you can't have it both ways. I either sleep with a gay brother or he sleeps with you. Jonathan snores so I'll sleep with you, Wesley, and I better have my virginity in the morning!"

"I didn't know you could get it back once it was gone," Jason laughed and Hank tackled him and wrestled him to the floor. The two wrestled on the floor until Jason finally got the better of Hank, pinning him to the floor--or so he thought. Hank got one hand free, grabbed Jason by the back of the neck, pulled his head down and planted a very wet kiss on Jason's lips. Jason turned Hank loose and immediately started wiping his mouth with the back of his arm as a kid will do, saying, "See, I'm wiping it off."

I found PJs for Hank and Jonathan and soon all five of us were sitting in the den, dressed for bed. We seemed reluctant to leave each other. Finally Jonathan said, "This is the most wonderful Christmas I have ever had. It's really the first Christmas I have had of any kind. It's like I have a family for the first time."

Wesley, who was sitting beside Jonathan, put his arm around the young man and hugged him to himself. "I know what you mean, Jonathan. I have a family, and Mary Capers and I are pretty close, but I know what you mean about having a family."

We all fell silent, I suspect thinking our own thoughts about families.

After several minutes Jason said softly,"Don't you think it's amazing how tragedy is transformed by love? I don't mean love like mine and Doug's--well I do mean that too--but what the plain caring love of our grandparents and, Hank, your parents, has made happen. Jonathan has been saved from an abusive family and is loved as a member of the Dennison family. Wesley has escaped from a horrible situation where he was placed by his family and at least for now is warm and safe...."

"And a big, big part of that is being warm," Wesley said, softly.

"Out of a tragedy in which Doug lost all of his family, he has found a new one, larger and certainly loving," Jason continued. "And I, I never had a real chance in this world until tragedy struck."

Again, we all fell silent until Jonathan said, "Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!" To which we all responded in one way or another and went off to bed, each of us in deep thought about our lives in our new and extended families.

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