© Christmas 2005 Crackerwriter
"It's only a matter of days now Frank; well, less than two now before they're here."
"It certainly is, Wendy. They'll be boarding the plane in less than twelve hours from now. I wonder how Nicky is looking forward to the flight?"
They had never seen Nicky in person before and were looking forward to meeting him. Nicky was their grandson, and he and their daughter Pamela, and son-in-law Roger were flying over from Australia for the Christmas holiday season. Roger was an Australian who had met Pamela when he was over here on business with his firm. He had been posted in England for a period of eighteen months, during which he had met and married Pamela. That had been ten years ago now, and finally they were coming home for Christmas.
Strictly speaking it would have been a lot more sensible for Frank and Wendy to have sold up and found somewhere smaller, but it was the chance of a Christmas like this that had made them keep it just on the off-chance. And anyway, they had their much younger son Jack. He had been something of a surprise; a really late baby for Wendy, when she was thirty-eight. Jack had been a real surprise all right. He'd been born a little before Pamela and Roger had left for Australia and was now twelve, nearly thirteen really. His birthday was in two months. They had gone through the usual worries and trauma over what might happen with a late pregnancy, but their fears had been unfounded, and they now had Jack. Wendy had joked that they must have given them the wrong baby. Jack was such a lovely looking baby, and had grown into a good-looking boy. He didn't look anything like either of them really, but there was no mistake.
He had light brown hair and incredible green eyes. He was a little slightly built, even though he was quite tall for his age, but then he was only young yet and they didn't encourage him to eat 'junk' food. Chips were things that went with fish from the fish and chip shop, not with every meal. Also on the plus side he was quick on his feet and played in the school football team, so kept himself active.
Frank and Wendy settled down with their evening meal in front of the television. They would normally all sit at the table, but as Jack was out until ten o'clock at a friend's party down the street a bit, they thought it would be nice to be a little informal. As they ate their meal snuggled together on the sofa, they chatted about old times, and Christmases when they were children themselves, and then when both Pamela and Jack had been little ones.
They reasoned that although there was about three years difference between Jack and Nicky, they would be quite good company for one another they reasoned. It had snowed heavily three days ago, and was bitterly cold; the temperature hadn't risen above freezing since the night it snowed. It was extremely slippery out and they had advised Jack to wear spiked shoes when he went out and take a change of footwear with him. The snow was about five inches deep and had packed to solid ice on the pavements. The boys would probably enjoy a snowball fight out in the back garden sometime. It hadn't been touched out there and looked like a comfortable soft white blanket from the back bedroom windows.
At three minutes to ten, just after the advertisements had started, and prior to the Ten O'clock News, they heard the lock turn on the front door. It was Jack of course; he'd never been late and they would have been surprised if he had been.
"Wickedly cold out there tonight mum. I reckon it's got colder still tonight. Good idea of yours about the spiked shoes. I saw several friends slip up on their way home. One hurt his arm quite badly when he hit the curb. I hope he's all right."
"I'll make a hot drink shall I?" asked Wendy.
"Yes please mum. I've almost got cold just walking back from there. There is a slight breeze getting up and it's like a knife of ice that cuts right through you to the bone. Thank heavens for our central heating eh?"
"Thank heavens we had a new boiler and double glazing put in last Spring you mean," laughed his father, "that and all the insulation round the pipes in the loft. Heaven help anyone who hasn't got their pipes insulated this Christmas."
"Mind you," observed Wendy, "you'll have your own hot water bottle in a few days. Are you sure you don't mind Nicky sleeping in with you?"
"No of course not mum. It's a big bed, and anyway he's smaller than me isn't he?"
"Yes quite a bit really. But if you're not completely happy we'll get a camp bed or something."
"Mum, he'd freeze. What about when the heating goes off at night? And anyway my bed will be a lot more comfortable than any camp bed!"
His mother smiled. "Well actually we've reset the heating controls and now it won't turn off at night. In fact the temperature won't drop below six degrees at night. That way nothing freezes up!"
"Oh right. Good idea."
"Well it really is just too cold out there to turn the heating off altogether Jack. Down at night yes, but not off. We don't want it like the North Pole in here first thing in the morning."
"And anyway," laughed Frank, "When you get up at about five in the morning, Christmas Day, you can turn it up a bit early can't you? You won't be suffering frostbite at least!"
"Yea, ok dad," grinned Jack.
Wendy brought the hot drinks in and they all huddled round sipping them gratefully. Central heating or not, it was so cold that Frank could swear he could feel a draught somewhere. The telephone, when it shrilled, made them all jump.
"Who on earth could be calling this time of night?" asked Frank with a puzzled frown, and getting up to answer it. "Hello? Winchester 834826. Pamela is that you? What's wrong?"
There was a few moments pandemonium in which it transpired that Nicky had gone down with mumps overnight and they would not be coming. Wendy was most upset.
"Of all the times to catch mumps! I thought they had him inoculated?" she spluttered after the phone call was over. "Well that's put paid to a full family Christmas. Oh god I hope they can get a refund on the flights."
"Maybe they could come for Easter or something."
"Oh bother! They, and we did not need this. That's ruined Christmas for all of us. Well no, perhaps not ruined, but it has spoilt our plans. Oh gosh we'll never get through all the extra food we've got in."
"Don't worry dear," Frank consoled her. "We'll just have to make the most of it as best we can. Well, I'm ready for bed," he said yawning profusely. "I'll just go and lock the back door and check we're all secure." He went out and was back in less than a minute. "I just looked at the boiler briefly; a light had come on that I haven't noticed before and then I remembered. It's the anti-freeze thermostat kicked in. Remember the engineer talking about the system never freezing up if we were away overnight? If the temperature drops below a certain minimum the boiler kicks in to warm things just a few degrees. It's obviously gone below critical temperature out there."
"Brrrrrr… don't remind me Frank," complained Wendy, "we still have to go out and pick up fresh bread and milk and the cream I ordered. Well, bed for me too then; it'll mean an early start tomorrow, before the shops get prohibitively crowded. Come on Jack it's late enough for you too…"
And so the Fletcher family retired safely to their beds for the night. Jack dived into his bedroom and put on the bedside light before turning out the main light. It had been embarrassing at the party. One of the girls, Mandy, had deliberately been touching him front and back, when no one was looking just to see if he was interested he supposed. She had kept grinning at him afterwards, which was annoying. What was more worrying though was how his body reacted when during a party game, a boy he liked had sat on his lap in a race to get a chair. He had sat there maybe five seconds too long, but those five seconds told him the answer to what he had been worrying about. After all, he had been looking forward to sharing his double bed with his nephew! It seemed strange, but even though there were only a few years between them, he was still his uncle. He'd seen a recent picture of him taken on the beach in just his swimsuit, and sometimes the image had shared his dreams, and woke him up just at an embarrassing moment. He had hoped maybe Nicky would be attracted to him…
He stripped off his clothes, wearing only a pair of boxers in bed. No other boy he knew ever wore pyjamas these days! He settled down and was soon asleep.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Carr family in the house next door had gone to bed earlier, to stay warm. They only had storage heaters, which didn't seem to work very well these days and only gave out much heat first thing in the morning and faded out somewhat by the evening. They did admittedly have a gas fire in the living room and they had been forced to have this full on all evening. Even then, other parts of the house seemed cold, damp, and uninviting. Like the Fletchers, Bill and Carol Carr had one daughter, Anne, and one son, Ben. However the Carrs were a younger family and their daughter was just seventeen, and the son, thirteen and a half. Ben was a kind of sickly looking boy, who never spoke much in his somewhat croaky broken voice, and although he was just that bit older, he was about the same height as Jack, but thinner still. If he hadn't been very pale and somewhat freckled, with a crop of red hair, he could have been a starving kid from a third world country. The two families, although on speaking terms as neighbours had very little to do with each other as they did not share the same friends or interests.
The pipe had been seeping for a few days. Successive nights at sub-zero temperatures in the loft had left the unprotected pipe prone to attack of freezing and the previous night it had frozen solid. The seepage had now become a steady trickle. It had soaked the ceiling over the bathroom and had now started running down behind the old heavy wallpaper with its successive years of thick paint unseen, doing its damage on the way. The slow seepage had been going on for ages and the floor joists were now quite rotten. All they had noticed was an increase in the floor creaking as they walked into the bathroom. Water now collected on the ceiling of the kitchen below and soon had that in a near state of collapse. It was inevitable at some stage that something would give.
At two twenty-one in the middle of the night, the sodden old-style bathroom ceiling gave way, and landed with an immense crash on the floor of the bathroom, and in the bath. The support for the header tank groaned and collapsed, aiming the heavy galvanised tank straight at the bath. The old cast iron bath took it pretty well, but the floor beneath didn't, and shortly thereafter, the whole shebang landed in the kitchen. Fuses blew as wiring was ripped out.
The resulting noise was appalling, and the whole family came violently awake. If the noise from the collapsing ceilings and floors wasn't enough, the piercing scream provided by their daughter was certainly enough to rouse their neighbours.
The Fletchers were jolted awake by the tremendous thud as everything landed in the Carr's kitchen, and shook the building to its foundations, since they were large semi-detached houses and shared one common dividing wall.
In the Fletcher household, Frank leapt out of bed, followed quickly by his wife. They scrambled into clothes as Frank said, "That was something major that gave way next door Wendy. I'd better check they're all right. I didn't like the sound of that scream."
As Frank hit the landing and stairs at the rush, a sleepy voice asked, "What's going on dad? Want any help?"
"Not sure son," he gasped as he turned up the heating and pulled on his coat. "But since you're awake now, get dressed in case, and make a cuppa, ok? Or at least stick the kettle on…" He grabbed his keys and went out the front door.
In the Carr's side of the building, there was utter confusion. None of the lights worked, the fuses having blown. Bill had found his one working torch and gone to see what had happened. He just about stopped himself falling down the hole, which used to be the bathroom. He pulled the door shut behind him, hearing running water as he did. He shouted to the others.
"Keep out of the bathroom; the floor's gone there's just a gaping hole. If anyone needs the loo, use the downstairs one." As he clopped downstairs in his slippers, there was a knocking at the front door.
Frank had shot round the path to next door as quickly as he could. He'd gone round in slippers, as they were a better grip than his shoes. He noticed the illuminated doorbell push was out, but heard voices from within. With trepidation he gave a firm knock on the door, which was opened almost immediately.
"Oh hello Frank." "Bill, are you all ok in there? We heard the crash, and the scream and wondered if anyone was hurt?"
"Sorry, that was Anne. Always panics over anything out of the ordinary."
"The bathroom is in the kitchen.
Where's the water stopcock in these places?" "In your downstairs loo there, look."
Bill shot into the downstairs loo and suddenly the sound of running water subsided. Frank shut the front door behind him and they both made their way carefully towards the kitchen. It was a total wreck. They couldn't even get right in. The bath was half jammed across the doorframe.
"Oh god," Bill muttered, then backing away, he said, "Come into the lounge a minute Frank. Oh shit no lights." As he opened the lounge door it smashed into something just inside. "Oh hell, the plaster is down in here as well. Christ what do we do?"
Frank did some swift thinking. "Ok, your water is off now, yes? So it can't do anymore harm. Get the missus and kids and your nightclothes in a bag, and come next door to ours. You can't stay here; it might be dangerous. Turn your gas and electric off for safety, and then you can look tomorrow when it's light."
"Frank we couldn't possibly…"
"Yes you bloody well can. We've got space. Our daughter and husband and their boy were coming Christmas, but they phoned last night to let us know that young'un has gone down with mumps! Typical isn't it? Kids!"
"I don't know what to say…"
"Don't bother saying anything. I'll pop back and let the missus know what's happened. No problem because it woke everyone, anyway. You get your lot ready, and whatever you need for tonight, and all come round when you're ready. Don't forget that gas and electric."
"I'll do it now." Bill poked his head in the cupboard under the stairs and ten seconds later re-emerged. "That's done. Ok Bill, thanks. We'll be round in about ten minutes, I'd guess."
"Right, I'll go and get the kettle on again. Young Jack will have made me one already. Don't be long, they'll bloody freeze!"
Frank made his way back to his own cosy house. That was one lot of work Bill had on his hands, and a fat estimate from the builder as well if he wasn't much mistaken. He put the key in the door and turned on the porch light as he went in. He wiped and dried his slippers carefully as he stepped inside, then put them back on and went through to the lounge where Wendy and Jack were dressed and sipping tea.
"What's happened dear?" asked Wendy.
"The bathroom floor has collapsed. There must have been a leak. The bathroom ceiling came down and with it a tank from the loft, which smashed into the bath, and the bathroom floor, bath and tank are now in the kitchen. To add to the misery, the ceiling, or at least a large portion of it adjoining the kitchen, is down in the lounge too. I'm just going to put the kettle on." He was back in a moment.
"Oh! The poor dears. What are they going to do?"
"Well in a moment, they'll be here, to stay the night. And I suggest, as we don't have our own family coming we invite them to stay for Christmas. We've got enough room if Jack is prepared to share for the moment. How about it Jack? Their son Ben, is only about eight months older than you, so would it be so bad? You were going to share with Nicky weren't you? You see until we can take a closer look at it in daylight, we can't even say whether the rest of the house upstairs is safe, and anyway how could they possibly manage without a bathroom and kitchen, let alone sit round a pile of rubble in their lounge?"
"You're right Frank. It's time to be neighbourly and help out. What about you dear?" she asked Jack.
Jack had been thinking fast. Ben might actually be more interesting than Nicky. Apart from the fact that he was a bit skinny and they hadn't spoken much, he looked reasonably ok. Jack had seen him in the summer in shorts and knew that what might interest him was there in plenty all right. Not only that but Ben's voice had broken and he might just be…
"Jack?" repeated his mother. "How about it?"
"Yeah. It would be ok. He's not exactly big is he? About the same as me really and we could share without a problem I should think. I guess it depends if he minds." Although, thought Jack, he had a feeling he wouldn't. Once, they had met outside that time in the summer, and Ben had been taking a very keen interest in him or at least his body, Jack thought. Well this was one way and the time to find out.
The bell dinged briefly. "Ah that's them," said Frank, looking to see how near boiling the kettle was, when it suddenly clicked off. Timing, he smiled mentally, and went to the door and let them in. They came in quickly, already half frozen to the bone with the biting wind outside, and were ushered into the lounge, where Wendy had put the gas fire on full, knowing they'd need to warm up. It was more like the Bahamas in the front room.
As Carol made to thank them, she suddenly burst into tears, and Wendy spent the next five minutes comforting her. It was the shock of course, but it was nevertheless just as upsetting. Anne sat next to her mother with an arm round her. Bill helped Frank make hot drinks for them, and carried them through on a tray. Ben eyed Jack with a little trepidation, but Jack gave him a friendly smile and received a wan smile in return. Jack noticed he brought a small back bag with him, and received his hot drink gratefully.
"I'll take you upstairs and show you where we are in a moment, if you like; we're sharing. Is that ok with you?" He noticed that Ben gave him a careful look up and down before nodding with a smile.
"Yes that's fine with me Jack. I don't think I snore!"
"Me either," grinned Jack, realising that Ben had been eyeing him up. He had pulled on a pair of shell bottoms and a top that rather showed off his body nicely. Could this be, he thought? Did Ben like the look of him, like he saw other boys and thought of them? Was this someone with whom he could talk about his worries? Did he have the same thoughts? He felt his body respond at the thought and saw that Ben noticed the movement too, and that he smiled faintly.
"Well," said Frank, "I think we all ought to get to bed as soon as we can, so that we can get some rest at least. Fortunately in anticipation of our daughter coming, all the beds are aired and ready, so you can get straight off to sleep again. I know this must be difficult for you, but we must make the best of a bad situation and perhaps in the light of day it won't be as bad as it looks right now."
"Frank, Wendy, I can't tell you how much we appreciate this," said Bill sadly, "I don't know what we would have done without you. I feel exhausted, and despite all that has happened, I know I shall fall asleep quickly. I just hope everyone else can as well." He turned to his wife and children. "Come, drink your drinks and let's get to a warm safe bed so kindly provided for us. Time enough to sort things out in the morning."
With the heating back on timer and turned back down, it wasn't long before they had all gone to their bedrooms. Ben and Jack both surveyed each other as they undressed in front of each other; neither of them tried to stop their bodies responding to the other, and they both noticed. They both climbed in, Jack lying on his back and Ben on his side turned away from him. Jack sighed as he turned out the bedside light.
"You don't have to try and hide yourself Ben."
Ben rolled back onto his back, his smooth thigh coming into contact with Jack's equally smooth one.
"I thought you might hate me."
"No, why should I do that? Hey you're cold. Come here." He reached over the opposite side of Ben and pulled him close, but as Jack discovered, Ben wasn't entirely cold. One part of him was practically on fire.
"Now do you hate me?" "Ah I see now why you were worried."
He took Ben's hand and guided it. Ben's eyes opened wide. "You too?" he breathed, as he felt Jack's hand exploring him, and then whimpered as he felt his body reacting, unable to resist.
"Wow! You're big aren't you? You like how it feels?"
"I can't help but like it Jack."
"Ok, we don't have to do this tonight. We're going to have plenty of time. Your house isn't going to be fixed in five minutes is it?"
"Ok. Thanks Jack. We'll talk tomorrow, just us. Ok? This will be like an early Christmas present for me Jack. I can't believe we like the same thing."
"Yea. Definitely. Oh and Happy Christmas Ben," he grinned.
What Ben wasn't expecting was the sloppy kiss that he got right on the lips. Fifteen minutes later they were asleep in each other's arms, limbs still entangled, the only movement having been to kiss. They had both found something they desperately needed and life would never quite be the same again, whether it was together or with someone else, they had taken that first step on the path to finding themselves.
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