Nuttin’ For Christmas by Will Parkinson
“Oh I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas,
Mommy and Daddy are mad,
Oh I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas,
Cuz I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad.”
Eli Avery ignored the music in the background and checked the list again. It just couldn’t be true. It simply couldn’t. All these years and his name was still there? How could it be? He had to fix this. He just had to make it right.
“Beebs,” Eli began hesitantly, “I need to take some time off. Is that okay?”
Beebs Twilliger, Eli’s supervisor looked over his square-rimmed glasses and peered down silently from the catwalk. His gaze made Eli uncomfortable.
“Again Eli?” Beebs groused. “You do this every year. What’s so important that you need time off now? You know we just finished the holiday run and we need to start gearing up for next year. You’re the only one who ever asks for time off. Can you tell me why?”
Eli sighed and rubbed a hand over his cheek. He knew this was going to happen. It’s just that now might be his last chance to make sure that next year, the last year, his name wouldn’t be on the list. He shuddered to think what would happen if that came to pass.
“Beebs, really, I just need some personal time. I’ve got something I have to do and it’s really important.
“Oh Eli” Beebs whispered softly, casting a look that simply dripped pity, “Please, tell me it’s not about him again. You can’t let this go on. You can’t help him. No one can. He’s a lost cause.”
Eli felt his face heat.
“No!” he spat. “He is not a lost cause! I can fix this, I know I can. I just need time. Please Beebs. Give me some time.”
Beebs carded his hand through his long gray hair.
“I’ll give you till the next run, Eli,” he murmured. “That’s all. If you don’t fix this before then you’ll have to admit it’s useless and never speak of it again. Do you promise?”
Eli’s grin grew enormous.
“I swear to you, Beebs. Thank you!”
He bolted toward the door, grateful to have this chance. He wouldn’t mess up. He couldn’t. The love of his life depended on it.
Tommy Kennedy was panting heavily. He towered over the boy laying at his feet, breath coming in ragged gasps.
“You gonna get up?” he demanded.
The boy moaned and rolled over, clutching his side.
“That’s what I thought,” he crowed. “Who else? Any of you sorry lot? Anyone?” he roared.
The others looked at him, then down at the beaten boy before backing away.
“Guess that’ll teach you not to mess with me,” he said, tugging down his shirt and tucking it back into his pants.
“Mr. Kennedy, fighting again? This is–what–the third time this month?”
The voice of the principal, Jack Bryce, brought Tommy up short. He glared defiantly at the man, daring him to do–something.
“My office, Mr. Kennedy. Now, please,” Bryce groaned, his voice strained. Turning to the other students he pleaded, “Someone please help Mr. Larsen to the nurse.”
Tommy strode to the office, head held high. He wasn’t ashamed of what he’d done and that would only make them take more notice of him and leave him alone. The principal told the secretary to hold any calls before pulling Tommy into the office. Knowing the routine, Tommy plopped on the heavy leather sofa. He took his glasses out of his pocket and put them back on, causing his bright blue-green eyes to seem larger and more vibrant than usual.
“Well,” the principal began, “What was it this time, Tommy?”
“Kei wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept harping about what he got for Christmas and then asked me in front of everyone what Santa had brought me.”
“You beat him up for that?”
Tommy grinned and gave a slight shrug. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
“Mr. Kennedy, I’m going to have to contact your parents. This has got to stop. You’re nearly seventeen years old. Isn’t it time to grow up?”
“Go ahead. They won’t care. They never do,” Tommy said belligerently.
He knew it was true. The principal had tried talking to the Kennedy’s before, but they were always too busy with their charity work and their fundraisers to worry about Tommy.
With a resigned sigh Bryce pulled a paper from the desk drawer, “I’m sorry, Tommy,” he said, “but I’m afraid you’re suspended for the next three days. When you return one or both of your parents must accompany you.”
Tommy stood, took the paper from his principal’s hand, and stalked out the door, slamming it hard as he exited.
Eli made good time getting to Harmon Grove New Jersey. It was a long way from home, but he’d made the trip in just a few hours. He was grateful they’d dropped him in front of Tommy’s house. He glanced up. The place was still intimidating. He’d been here every year, but the house never looked inviting at all, even during the holidays. Sure there were plenty of decorations and lights, but the house just seemed–empty. The beveled glass heavy oak door had a fancy wreath hung from it, the Western cedar siding was twinkling with multi-color lights, the bay window had always displayed the perfect tree, all glittery and shiny with garland and tinsel, hand-blown glass orbs, and an insanely bright star atop. It was picture perfect, but no matter how he looked at it, Eli hated it.
He was about to knock, expecting the butler to answer this year, too, when he noticed a figure slinking down the sidewalk toward the circular drive. It was him! Now that he was close Eli hadn’t a clue as to what he should do. Run to him or away? Eli’s hands began to sweat in the heavy woolen mittens, but it was too chilly to remove them. Just as he was about to try and get out of sight he was stopped in his tracks by the most beautiful blue-green eyes he had ever seen.
“Who’re you?” Tommy snarled.
“Um–I’m Eli. Eli Avery. It’s good to finally meet you Tommy,” he whispered, hand extended.
Tommy looked at the hand and then back to the person holding it out.
“What do you want?” he asked, voice rough. Had he been crying? No, of course not. Since his name was on the list that wasn’t possible.
“I came to talk to you, actually.”
“Go away. I don’t want to talk to no one.”
Eli was pushed aside as Tommy threw open the door, yelled out “Carl!” and slammed it in Eli’s face.
“Okay.” Eli mumbled to himself, “That seriously could have gone better.”
He waited a couple moments, watching his warm breath make strange patterns in the cold morning air, then shrugged his shoulders and rang the bell. It took only a minute before an older man, tall and gaunt, opened the door and looked down at him.
“Yes? May I help you?”
“I’d like to speak with Tommy, please.”
“I’m sorry Master Kennedy is not available to receive visitors. Thank you.”
Eli dashed inside before the door could fully close.
“Now see here young man,” the butler sputtered, “this is private property. Leave here at once or I shall notify the authorities!”
Eli ignored him and flew up the stairs to Tommy’s room. He threw open the door and found Tommy sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring down at something in his hand.
“Tommy?” he called softly.
Tommy flinched, jumped to his feet and turned, thrusting whatever was in his hand deep into his front pants pocket.
“What the hell are you doing in my room?” he screeched. “Carl! Who let this kid in here?”
Carl appeared at that moment, grabbed Eli by his jacket and began to drag him away.
“Wait! Please!” Eli begged. “I just wanted to give something to Tommy. Just give me a minute, please?”
“Wait Carl,” Tommy struck a pose, arms crossed against his chest. “Why are you here?” he asked Eli.
“I wanted to give you something. Please? It’ll just take a moment.”
Tommy beckoned Eli over to him. Eli approached cautiously and held out a box, wrapped in silver and red paper, topped with a large bow made of blue ribbon.
“What’s this then?” Tommy asked, obviously curious.
“Merry Christmas, Tommy,” he managed to squeak.
After handing off the box Eli turned and ran to the door, pulled it open and disappeared into the bitter chill.
Tommy glared at the box as if he was expecting it to lash out at him. He tentatively pulled at the ribbon, letting it fall to the floor as it unfurled. He gently undid the paper, careful not to tear it, and placed it on his nightstand. Removing the lid he peered into the box, seeing something glittering. Reaching in, his fingers brushed against smooth, yet rough surfaces. He pulled out an ornament. The most unique one he’d ever seen. Obviously hand-crafted, it was a combination of highly polished wood, glass and burnished metal, hanging by a long sterling silver chain. Etched onto the surface of the glass in wintry white letters it simply said Eli & Tommy – 2012.
Clutching it to his chest he ran to the door, hoping against hope that the strange boy was still there. He wasn’t and it filled Tommy with rage. He wanted to smash the ornament, crush it into tiny bits, but he didn’t. Instead he returned to his room, ornament in hand, and quietly closed the door. He hung the ornament near the window, the glass catching the light and refracting it around the room in a cascade of color. Tommy stood mesmerized, watching as the light did its beautiful dance, touching every corner of his room.
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the crumpled note. He carefully smoothed away the creases, trying to bring it back to its original form. It had been many years and the scrawl had faded, but the words were burned into his memory and he could never forget them.
“Dear Santa, I know that you’re very busy, but I needed to ask a favor of you. The doctor says this will be my last Christmas and I want something extra special. My brother needs a family. One who loves him and can care for him. We both know that our parents don’t really want us, but we have each other and that makes it okay. Next year he won’t have anyone. Please Santa, bring Tommy someone who cares? Your friend Nicky Age 6.”
Tommy placed the letter in the drawer of his nightstand. Ten years ago he cried when he found the envelope on the kitchen table, lying amongst the discarded circulars. His parents hadn’t even seen fit to mail the letter off for Nicky. Tommy winced. It didn’t matter anymore. Nicky was gone and nothing could change that. Santa be damned.
Eli let out a pitiful sigh. He wasn’t sure what he had expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. He’d seen Tommy growing over the years. At first he was concerned for the boy, growing up in a cold, sterile environment, but Tommy always seemed happy and carefree. Then Nicky got sick and Tommy grew sullen and hostile. His attitude became harsh. Eli couldn’t help himself. As Tommy grew into a young man, Eli fell in love with him. He had tried to visit him in the past, hoping to strike up a friendship, to be there for him, but the butler always turned him away and he could never figure out what he’d say if he was able to talk to him. Today though, meeting face to face for the first time? It made him so tense he thought he would just burst at the seams. He wondered if Tommy had opened the gift. Did he like it? Eli cursed himself for a fool. He never should have engraved the gift, but he was afraid that this would be the last chance to give something to the boy that he had fallen so deeply for and Eli truly wanted to be remembered.
“Well,” he said quietly to himself, “the damage is already done. Now we just have to wait and see what happens.”
He cast his gaze toward the house once more before he thrust his hands into his pockets, and slowly trudged through the snow.
Tommy sighed heavily when he heard his father calling his name. He’d used the full name which Tommy knew meant he was going to be “disappointed” in him once again. He steeled himself for the upcoming discussion and slowly made his way down the stairs.
“Yes Father?” he muttered.
“Carl told us that you had been suspended. What did you do this time, boy?”
“Fighting, Father. I got into a fight.”
Mrs. Kennedy gave an exaggerated sigh, casting her son a baleful look.
“Thomas we have a standard that we must maintain. People look to our family to uphold certain traditions. We are not ruffians. Why do you persist in embarrassing us?” she exclaimed.
Tommy’s face grew hot. He opened his mouth, prepared to launch into an angry tirade, but knew that the outcome would be the same regardless. He quietly shook his head, refusing to look his parents in the eye.
“Tonight we have to go to the annual Blue Gala. It’s Carl’s night out so he will not be here to watch you. Since you’ve proved that you cannot be trusted you will attend the gala with us and you will be on your best behavior,” Mr. Kennedy warned his son, “Do I make myself clear, Thomas?”
Tommy smirked and shrugged his shoulders.
“This is a black tie event, Thomas. I’ve asked Carl to lay out your tuxedo before he leaves for the evening. You’ll no doubt find it on your bed. Please be ready by seven o’clock.”
Tommy felt a wave of disgust as both of his parents began nattering about the event, one of the biggest social events of the season, completely disregarding Tommy. He wasn’t surprised. It’s not as if it hadn’t happened before. Upon entering his room he found Carl laying out the sleek black tuxedo, carefully ensuring it remained wrinkle-free.
“Master Thomas, is there anything else I may do for you this evening?”
“No thank you, Carl. I appreciate it. Enjoy your night out,” Tommy mumbled.
Carl inclined his head and exited the room. Tommy picked up the tuxedo, giving it due consideration. He hated this. He wanted nothing more than to just stay home and–he glanced up at the ornament, slowly spinning near the window. He thought about the strange young man who’d given it to him. A thin, delicate figure, hair like spun straw, full pouty lips, and soft gentle brown eyes, so warm and inviting. Tommy’s hand balled into a fist, crumpling a corner of the tux and his expression grew harsh. He hated him. He hated him with a passion. He hoped to never see this Eli again.
Tommy got into the limousine. He settled into his seat, ignoring his parents as they gave him his list of things he could, and could not, do.
“We will brook no outbursts, Thomas. We have been more than willing to overlook your youthful exuberance in the past, but tonight is very important for your mother and me. I trust that I can expect you to act accordingly?”
Tommy merely nodded. All this pomp and circumstance gave him a headache.
Eli watched as the Kennedy’s exited the stretch limousine. He was intrigued by how amazing Tommy looked. Short auburn hair, full cheeks that he was sure would show dimples if the boy ever smiled, as well as a toned, but not overly muscled, physique. Tommy had truly grown into a beautiful young man. He could see the sullen look on Tommy’s face, knew full well that Tommy was uncomfortable, and was disappointed that he could do nothing to help him right now.
Eli’s fingers tingled in the wooly mittens. He thought he would be used to the cold by now, especially since home was much colder than this, but it still sliced through him and chilled his bones. He suppressed a shiver and carefully made his way into the hotel, wanting to keep an eye on Tommy.
“I’m sorry, sir, this is a private event. Unless you have an invitation I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the short Hispanic man told Eli.
“My friend is in there. Can I just wait out here for him?”
“Who’s your friend?” he asked, giving a look that Eli took for doubt.
“Tommy Kennedy. That guy over there,” Eli motioned.
The guard’s eyes darted between the Kennedy’s and Eli before he finally told Eli that he could wait outside, but would have to move away from the ballroom. Eli gave a grateful thank you and shuffled to a respectful distance from the area, far enough to satisfy the guard, but not so far that he couldn’t watch Tommy.
The night was so boring. Eli watched as Tommy trudged around the room, oblivious to the happenings around him. He kept moving from table to table, almost as though he was looking for something, but Eli couldn’t figure out what was on Tommy’s mind. He quirked an eyebrow when Tommy approached the crystal punch bowl, running his finger lightly over the scalloped rim. Eli was so nervous he began to shake.
“No Tommy–“, he pleaded quietly. “Don’t do this.”
It seemed like hours, but Eli knew only moments had passed before Tommy’s face set with a look of anger. He put a hand on the delicate container, filled with a bright turquoise liquid, and calmly gave it a push. The long stemmed goblets tumbled from the table with the bowl, shattering in bright bits on the floor, the liquid splashing across several of the finely dressed men and women in the room. One woman, decked out in a satiny white gown laced with blue trim, shrieked as the dress began to absorb the punch, drawing it upward on the gossamer fabric. Chaos ensued, servers and managers scrambling to clear the mess, patrons gawping at those who were now dripping with the spattered liquid, the Hispanic security guard trying to restore order and Tommy’s parents, clearly incensed, bearing down on him.
Eli could do nothing but bear witness to the events that unfolded before him. Tommy’s parents dragged him from the room, pushing him into an alcove. Mr. Kennedy’s voice was tight, obviously trying to reign in his fury.
“How could you have done this, Thomas? What were you thinking?”
“The party was boring. It needed something to liven it up,” Tommy cackled, smiling brightly.
Mrs. Kennedy, silent until this point, grumbled, “Nicky never would have embarrassed us in this way, Thomas. Why couldn’t you–”
“What Mother? Why couldn’t I have been the one who died? Is that what you want to know? Or why couldn’t we both have died and saved your precious reputation? Which one is it, Mother?”
For a second there was an all-encompassing silence then a swift crack of flesh on flesh.
“Did that make you happy, Mother?”, Tommy hissed, voice dripping with condemnation, “If it did, feel free to slap me again. Because we all know that it’s about your wants and your needs, isn’t it?”
Eli watched as Tommy pushed past his parents and staggered for the door, apparently oblivious to the fact that Eli was fast on his heels.
Tommy rushed through the hotel doors, breath hitching with each step. He ran about a half block before he stopped and slumped against one of the buildings, fists clenched tightly at his sides. He could hear the crunch of the snow as someone came up to him.
“Why are you following me? Are you some kind of stalker or freak or what?” he snarled, looking down at his shoes.
“Tommy, it’s too cold out. We need to get somewhere warm or you’re going to get frostbite.”
“So?” Tommy wailed. “They don’t care. They’d be happier if I never came back. They never wanted us.”
Tommy flinched when Eli took off his jacked and placed it around Tommy’s shoulders.
“What are you doing this for? I don’t even know you. Why are you being nice to me?”
Tommy heard Eli give a soft sigh.
“I can’t explain it right now, Tommy. It’s not time yet. I’m not sure when it will be, but I hope that when the time comes you’ll understand more. Keep the jacket, I’ve got another. Go home, Tommy. Get out of the cold.”
“What makes you think it’s any warmer there?” Tommy asked with a defeated whine.
“They say home is where the heart is, Tommy. Are you trying to tell me that a part of yours isn’t there, too?”
Tommy thought for a moment before he looked up, wanting to say something. Eli wasn’t there. He wrapped himself tightly in the jacket, which smelled faintly of cinnamon, clove and warm vanilla, hailed a taxi and headed for home.
Tommy lay on the bed, staring at the ornament that was flashing gently from the light of the moon. He buried himself beneath the down comforter, trying to force the chill out of his body. His parents still had not come home. Probably trying to salvage their reputation, as always. His mind drifted to a time long ago, when he and Nicky were four years old. He’d always taken care of Nicky because he was so small. It made him feel almost grown-up to know that he was responsible for his twin.
“Tommy, wake up! Santa was here,” a shrill voice cried out, as small fingers attempted to dig Tommy from the covers he was hiding under.
“C’mon Nicky,” Tommy grumbled. “Go back to bed. We can’t get up yet. It’s only four o’clock.”
Tiny hands refused to give up once they got a grip and even though Nicky was slighter than Tommy he was tenacious. He bounced on Tommy’s stomach, causing the boy to release his hold, allowing Nicky to yank back the covers. Tommy tried to scowl at Nicky, but seeing his brother’s delight he had to smile. He pulled him into a hug before they leapt out of bed, running down to the huge tree. There were presents of every imaginable shape and size, gaily wrapped, tagged for each of the boys.
“Masters, you’re up very early,” Carl said as he lumbered toward them, sleep heavy in his eyes.
“Look, Carl, isn’t it beautiful?” Nicky said breathlessly, eyes surveying the room. “When are Mother and Father coming down?”
The look of discomfort on Carl’s face told the boys everything they needed to know.
“They’re not coming–are they?” Nicky asked sadly.
“I’m terribly sorry, Masters,” Carl said softly, tousling the hair of each of the boys, “your parents were asked to join the Cunningham’s in France over the holiday. It was all very sudden and they didn’t have time to let you know. They flew out on the jet this morning.”
Nicky began to whimper. Tommy knew that it would soon turn into a storm of tears. He put his arms around his brother, holding him, comforting him. He hated his parents for making Nicky feel bad.
“Tommy?” a small voice whispered in the darkness.
“What Nicky? Why aren’t you sleeping?”
“My head hurts. Really bad. Can I come over?”
“Sure, Nicky. Come on,” came the quiet reply.
Tommy felt the bed shift slightly and heard Nicky sniffle. He reached out and stroked Nicky’s hair, hearing his brother sigh.
“Thank you Tommy.”
“Making me feel better.”
Tommy shifted closer to Nicky and gave a small smile when he heard his brother’s breathing deepen before he, too, drifted off to sleep.
“Nooooo,” I don’t want you. I want Tommy! Just Tommy! Go away!” Nicky gave a plaintive cry.
The wail became ear-splitting. Tommy rushed to his brother’s side, shooed the nanny away and held him.
“It hurts Tommy. It hurts so bad,” Nicky whispered, his fingers digging into his scalp.
“I know Nicky. I’m going to talk to Mother. It’ll be okay, I promise.”
Tommy looked at his twin, he was so pale. Mother would fix it. She had to. It took a long while before Nicky finally asleep. Tommy covered him with a soft quilt before going off to find his Mother. He found her in her bedroom, dressing up as if she intended to go out for the evening.
“Mother, Nicky’s been sick. His head’s been hurting a lot and he’s been really crabby.”
“It’s fine, Thomas. He’s a growing boy and he’ll be crabby from time to time.”
“No, Mother,” he protested. “I think he’s really sick. He’s been feeling really sick a lot. Why won’t you listen?”
“Nonsense,” she said with a dismissive wave. She glanced at her watch, “Oh dear, I have to run. I’m supposed to meet your Auntie Gloria for drinks this evening. Carl will have your dinner ready at six o’clock darling. Enjoy your night.”
Tommy watched her go, his eyes narrow slits. He knew something was wrong with Nicky and she wouldn’t listen. She didn’t care. God how he hated her.
“Nicky? Nicky, you gotta wake up,” Tommy said in a small, panicked voice. “Carl! I think something’s wrong with Nicky! CARL!” he cried out.
Carl burst into the room, looking down at Nicky’s ashen form. He scooped him up into his arms and strode to the door, Tommy following close behind.
“Where are Mother and Father?” he asked anxiously.
“They’re out of touch at the moment Master Thomas. I will attempt to contact them shortly, but for now we will take Master Nicholas to see Doctor Janes.”
Tommy hovered outside the study, listening to his parents speaking with Doctor Janes.
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do. He hasn’t responded to the treatments.”
Tears pricked at his eyes, his fists clenched in anger.
“How much time does he have left?” he heard Mother ask.
“Maybe a year, at most. Even with aggressive chemotherapy we weren’t able to get it under control. Perhaps if we had gotten to it sooner–”
Tommy burst through the door and ran to his mother, pounding his hands against her.
“I told you! I told you he was sick! Why didn’t you listen? Why didn’t you care? You’re taking him away from me! I hate you! I hate you!”
He fell sobbing to the floor. She turned around and called to Carl to have him taken back to his room, without even talking to him. God how he hated her.
“Tommy? Why’re you crying? Big boys don’t cry,” Nicky told him, wiping the tears from his face.
Tommy looked at his brother. He’d lost his hair due to the chemotherapy. He’d lost a lot of weight, unable to keep food down. He looked so skinny and frail. Yet here he was trying to comfort his brother and that made Tommy cry harder. Choking, sobbing gasps, unable to breathe. Nicky patted his back and murmured in his ear that it would be okay, but Tommy knew the truth. No one had told Nicky. They didn’t want to scare him. Bad enough that he had to take all the treatments that weren’t even going to extend his short life.
“I’m sorry Nicky,” he whispered. “I didn’t keep my promise to make it better.”
“I know, Tommy. I heard stuff. I know this is going to be my last Christmas,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.”
“For what? Why are you sorry?”
“Because I’m leaving you alone.”
And with that came the sobbing once again.
Mother and Father were in Buenos Aires when Nicky passed away. Tommy cried himself to sleep for almost a week before they returned home, acting as if they had simply been on vacation. They brought him back lavish gifts that he refused to acknowledge. They attended the funeral, as protocol dictated, but that night they went to a dinner, leaving Tommy home with the staff. He was incensed. They hadn’t really even acknowledged Nicky’s death other than making it seem to be an inconvenience to their social lives. It was the night that Tommy Kennedy stopped crying.
Eli paced around the room, hands gesturing as he talked to himself. How could he make Tommy understand what would happen if he wasn’t able to let go of the anger and guilt that was consuming him? Knowing that Tommy was never going to get off the list was unacceptable, but he had no clue how to make him understand. Even if he explained everything to him, assuming Tommy believed him, that wouldn’t be enough to break the block of ice that surrounded his heart. He’d give anything–give up anything–just to see Tommy smile again.
“Why did I have to fall for him? Why couldn’t I have just left it alone and gone about my life?” he berated himself.
The change that he saw in Tommy after Nicky died crushed his heart. Tommy was always strong, but he was so caring, especially when it came to Nicky. He was his brother’s protector, keeping him safe when no one else would. To fail him when he was needed most obviously devastated the boy.
Eli sighed and rubbed his eyes. He was so worked up about Tommy that he hadn’t been able to get a decent night sleep for days. He knew what he had to do but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out how to get it done.
Inspiration struck in a flash. He knew exactly who could help. He just had to hope that the man would be willing. Eli was now too excited to sleep. He had a plan and if it worked out Tommy would soon be off the list and ready to go on with his life. Eli just hoped that he’d be able to be a part of it.
Tommy was summoned to the drawing room by Mother. Carl led him in and backed out of the room, closing the door behind him.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Thomas?”
“Nothing. I’ve got nothing at all to say,” he snarled.
“Your behavior last night was reprehensible. The damage you’ve caused to our family name is incalculable” she snapped.
“I don’t give a damn about the family name, Mother. The only thing I’ve ever cared about was something you took from me.”
Mother rolled her eyes.
“Really, Thomas, you have to let it go. It’s been years. Your brother was sick, he died. There was nothing that could be done.”
“He didn’t have to die. You know it as well as I do. If you had just listened to me–”
“That’s enough, Thomas! Nicky is dead. Let him stay that way,” she shrieked.
Tommy’s eyes hardened.
“How dare you,” he hissed. “How fucking dare you.”
Spinning on his heel he ran from the room, grabbed Eli’s jacket and dashed outside wanting to be anywhere but here.
Eli was awake well before the sun started to shine. He had so much to do. He guzzled a glass of juice before he set off on his errands, knowing full well that today would be the make or break point. If he wasn’t able to find a way to help Tommy today it was all over.
Promptly at nine o’clock he knocked on the door to the Kennedy home. Carl opened the door and sighed when he saw Eli.
“Master Kennedy is not available. Please go away,” he said sharply, starting to close the door.
“Wait, Carl, I actually came to see you. Please?”
Carl stopped and looked at Eli curiously.
“Do I know you?” he wondered. “I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?”
Eli smiled up at him. “Yes, you have. Many times in fact.”
The expression on Carl’s face amused Eli greatly. Carl stepped back, allowing Eli entry.
“I’m hoping that I can talk to you privately for a bit?”
Carl nodded and led Eli to the servant’s quarters. He motioned for Eli to sit.
“I know what I’m about to say is going to sound strange,” Eli admitted. “I’m hoping that you’ll be willing to hear me out, though.”
Carl had a bewildered look on his face, like he was trying hard to figure out something.
“Yes, Carl. You do know me. You’ve seen me many times over the years. I’ve been here every year, and every year you wouldn’t let me in,” Eli smirked, a slight smile ghosting his lips.
Carl’s eyes lit up.
“But how–“he sputtered.
“I don’t have time for explanations now, I really just need some information and I think that you’re the only one who can help me. I need to know about Tommy and Nicky. Please? Anything you can tell me. I want to help Tommy but I’m not sure how.”
Carl’s expression was troubled.
“Carl, I promise. Anything you say to me will be just between us. I don’t want to cause trouble for anyone, especially you. You’ve always been there for him.”
The expression softened and Carl slumped in the chair.
“I’ve been the butler to the family for nearly forty-five years,” he admitted. “Master and Mistress Peterson were gracious and kind. We all enjoyed working for them. When they had a child, Master Thomas and Nicholas’ mother, we were all thrilled. Young Mistress Peterson was–distant as a child. She became enamored with the trappings of wealth as she grew into young adulthood. She was cruel to the servants, crueler still to those who would have been her friends. She married Master Kennedy when she became–“Carl paused.
Carl gave a simple tip of his head.
“She hadn’t wanted children. She hated the fact that she was with child, but Mistress Peterson was over the moon. She couldn’t wait to have grandchildren. When Master Thomas and Nicholas were born she set up trust funds for each of them, ensuring that they would always have the finest things in life. She could see that Mistress Kennedy was–less than thrilled with the children, so she wanted to be sure that they would be taken care of. She died before the boy’s second birthdays. They never had the chance to really know their grandmother. After her death Mistress Kennedy began to ignore the boys. Her husband also wanted nothing to do with what he called “disgusting urchins” and left their care to us.”
“If Tommy has a trust fund why doesn’t he just leave?”
“He won’t have access to it until his twenty-first birthday. Truth be known, he’s not even aware of the trust. His parents have kept it from him all these years. But there is also something else they’ve been keeping from him. I wanted to tell him, but I’ve always been too afraid to speak out.”
“What is it, Carl?”
Carl leaned close to Eli’s ear and whispered conspiratorially. Eli’s eyes widened as he heard the truth and he knew what he had to do.
“Carl–thanks. You don’t know how much this means. I think I finally know how to help Tommy.”
Eli stood to leave, but Carl put a hand on his shoulder. He raised a finger, trying to get Eli to wait a moment, and walked to the other room. When he returned he handed Eli a weathered envelope.
“It’s here. All of it. Please help him, if you can.” Carl begged.
Eli threw his arms around the butler who stiffened momentarily, then pulled Eli in close. He whispered to Eli, “Are you–?” Eli nodded. Carl’s shock was evident, but quickly replaced by a smile. Envelope tightly clasped in his hand, Eli left the house and set off to help Tommy finally get off the list.
It was cold. Way too cold. Tommy huddled near a vent by the train station, the escaping steam warm, but damp. He wasn’t sure if it was helping or just making the problem worse. Mother had always been aloof and uncaring, but this time she was downright vicious. The crunch of snow caused his eyes to snap up. The thin figure was shrouded in the steam. For a moment Tommy was afraid, but when he recognized who it was he huffed.
“What do you want? Come to gloat or something?”
“No, Tommy. I’m here to help you. If you’ll let me.”
Tommy watched Eli kneel next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“I’m someone who’s been watching you for a long time. I’ve watched you grow up and–”
“You’re just a kid. What do you mean you’ve watched me for a long time?” Tommy asked sarcastically.
“Come with me, Tommy. Let’s go somewhere we can talk, okay?”
Tommy looked at the extended hand. He raised his own and gave a slight gasp when he felt the warmth of Eli’s wrap around his. They walked together, hands joined, to a small café where they stopped in for warmth. Eli bought hot chocolate and a couple of scones, placing them on the table in front of Tommy, who took a few hesitant sips.
“Thank you,” he said quietly. He moaned in appreciation at the taste of the buttery scone.
Tommy nodded at the chair and Eli sat across from him.
“So is it time yet?” Tommy questioned.
“Yeah, it is. All I’m going to do is ask you to hear me out, okay? What I’m going to say will sound really wild, but I swear it’s the truth.”
“I’m–not from around here, Tommy. Where I come from we maintain lists of people. Those who have been good and those who haven’t. For a lot of years your name has been on the not-so-good list.”
“Like a naughty list? What are you? Santa Claus?” he mocked.
“There’s no Santa, Tommy. Well, not anymore.”
Tommy barked a laugh.
“Because there used to be, right?”
Eli simply nodded and Tommy froze.
“That’s a lie. There’s no such thing as Santa.”
“There used to be. Kris was an orphan. He used to travel the world, trying to help other orphans. Those he couldn’t find homes for he offered a choice. They could come with him and try to help others or they could stay on their own. Very few chose not go with him. It wasn’t an easy life, but they made it work. Kris grew old, though. He got tired of the constant grind and one day decided he’d had enough. He called Beebs, he’s like the next guy in charge, and told him that he was retiring. Beebs decided to keep things running. He’s been doing Kris’ job for years. The system works, chaotic as it is,” he smiled. “We each are assigned an area. This was mine. I first saw you and your brother when you were babies. You were so adorable,” he gushed.
Tommy flinched when Eli mentioned Nicky.
“I saw Nicky getting sick, but there wasn’t anything I could do to help. When he died I know how it hurt you. I’d see you every year and my heart would break because I couldn’t help you. I wanted to, but with you being on the list I was forbidden to interfere. Still watched you, though. I saw you grow up. I–I fell in love with you.”
Tommy’s eyes popped wide, but he said nothing.
“It’s okay if you don’t feel the same. You barely know me after all,” he mumbled. “This is my last year with you, though. If I can’t get you off the list I won’t be able to see you again.”
Tommy felt a clutch in his chest. He wasn’t sure why. Like Eli said, Tommy barely knew him.
“Why not?” he asked quietly.
“Once you reach adulthood the magic is gone. You’re going to be seventeen soon and there won’t be enough magic left for me to help you,” he explained. “That’s why this year is so important to me.”
“You can’t help me,” Tommy replied. “No one can anymore.”
“I think I can, Tommy. If you’ll let me.”
Eli could see the pleading eyes. He knew that the ice was beginning to crack. He knew that Tommy wasn‘t a lost cause despite what Beebs believed. He slid the envelope to Tommy and waited for him to open it.
“What’s this?” Tommy questioned.
“It’s your grandmother’s will, Tommy. When you were born she made out a new one. Everything was to be split between you and Nicky. She was cutting your parents out, Tommy. She saw how they treated you both and she was going to leave them with nothing. Your grandmother left the will with Carl, but he was afraid to give it to you because it could mean his job.”
“But what do I do?” he whined.
“Whatever you want to, Tommy. The choice is yours. You can continue as it is now, which means your parents continue to control everything. You could seize control and force your parents out, meaning you’d be in charge, or–”
“What? Or what?”
“You could come back with me. You could be with me.”
“What are you talking about? That’s ridiculous.”
“You could come back to the North Pole with me, Tommy. You could live with us and work with us. It’s a nice life and it comes with perks.”
“Perks? What do you mean?”
“I’ve been watching you for years Tommy. How old do you think I am?”
“Seventeen? Maybe a little older.”
Tommy’s jaw dropped.
“Essentially I’m immortal. Kris was, too, but he grew tired of it and renounced it. He grew old and died, but he was happy because he found someone to share his life with.”
“Could you do that?” Tommy wondered.
“Maybe. I’ve never known anyone like that, though.”
“Me? Could you do it with me?” Tommy almost begged.
“What do you mean Tommy?” Eli asked, head cocked.
“When you gave me the ornament I wanted to find you so badly. I wanted to hold you and get to know you. You were the first solid thing in my life since Nicky died. When you weren’t there I was mad at you, but I know it’s because it hurt that I was being left alone again.”
Eli gaped at Tommy.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you so badly, but I was confused. There were these feelings I didn’t understand until now, though. I wanted you to hold me, to tell me everything was going to be okay. I didn’t want anything else in my life as badly as I wanted that.”
Tommy stood and threw himself at Eli, grabbing him tightly, desperately afraid that if he loosened his grip Eli would vanish. Eli put his head into the crook of Tommy’s neck and spoke softly, promising him that he’d be there for him for as long as Tommy would have him. Tommy kissed him then and Eli knew he was where he belonged.
So much had happened over the next three years. Tommy finished school, apologizing to those who he had most wronged. When he told them about Nicky and why he acted the way he had they understood and forgave him. Some of them even became good friends. Jack Bryce, the principal, was stunned at Tommy’s transformation from being the bully to being the one who protected those who were being picked on, as he had with his brother. Given his reputation very few chose to cross him.
Tommy went to the lawyers, his grandmother’s will in his hand. As soon as it was verified that the will was authentic Mother and Father’s assets were frozen. Tommy took Eli with him to see his parents. There was anger, rage and howling. That was quickly followed by begging and pleading when they realized they no longer held the cards. Tommy remained implacable. He was more than willing to toss them out into the streets, but Eli begged him to temper his anger because that was, after all, what had him on the list in the first place. Grudgingly Tommy agreed to allow them a small stipend. It would be enough for them to rent an apartment far away, but they would be required to get jobs. Mother was absolutely aghast at the idea. Tommy had to admit, the bulging of her eyes at the thought she would have to work amused him to no end. She shrieked with indignation when he turned to Eli and kissed him good and proper. That, too, made him smile.
On the day of his eighteenth birthday Tommy asked Eli to meet him for dinner. Eli was brought to the restaurant, seated and told that Tommy would be joining him shortly. When his boyfriend strode through the door, dressed in a white tuxedo, Eli was confused as to why Tommy would be so dressed up for a simple dinner. Tommy moved quickly across the room, all eyes upon him. Eli felt his face heat when Tommy stopped at the table and dropped to his knee, offering a small sterling silver box. He pulled it open to reveal a satiny white palladium ring, surrounded by eighteen diamonds.
“This was my grandfather’s ring,” Tommy told Eli. “He wore it for the forty-eight years he was married to my Nana. I think it would look good on your finger while you stand next to me as my husband,” he paused. “If you’ll have me,” he whispered.
Eli wasn’t sure he could speak. When he gave up his immortality to be with Tommy he never once thought this would happen. Eli’s eyes filled with tears as Tommy slipped the ring on his finger
“Eli Avery, would you do me the honor of marrying me?” Tommy asked reverently.
Eli was quiet for a moment before he launched himself at Tommy, knocking them both over. “Yes, Tommy. Definitely yes.”
The crowd in the restaurant stood and cheered while Tommy and Eli shared a gentle kiss on the floor.
The wedding was a small affair. Despite the fact that it would be considered the social event of the season, Tommy and Eli only invited the staff and a few close friends. Kei Larsen, the boy Tommy had fought years ago, stood as his best man, beaming brightly as his closest friend walked down the aisle.
They exchanged vows, each solemnly swearing to stand together against all adversity, to love and comfort each other, to treasure what they found and honor what they had. When they were done there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen. After the ceremony Beebs came to them and admitted to both men that he was never so pleased to have been wrong. He hugged each one and told the newlyweds that he’d see them again when they had children of their own, giving them a sly smile.
A few weeks after the wedding Tommy and Eli offered the servants a very generous compensation package that would allow them to retire if they chose. Tommy wanted to be sure that everyone on the staff would be taken care of as they had taken care of him and Nicky. Most decided to stay at the house. Carl told them in no uncertain terms that he was not leaving, as he would need to keep an eye on Tommy and his new husband. Eli and Tommy both hugged the stodgy old butler who blustered for a bit, before squeezing them both close to him.
Eli glanced down at the ring on his finger and realized he had never been so happy. He then looked to the man who had made it all possible and he smiled when he saw him. Tommy gazed back at Eli and gave a brilliant smile of his own. Eli felt his insides melt when he saw it. He was right. There were some pretty amazing dimples there.
He strode to the man whose heart he had freed and won and pondered what the future would hold for them, knowing full well it was going to be beautiful.