This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is copyright by Owen Hudson, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

Ten Steps Down

© 2010 Owen Hudson

Chapter 13

I stood in shock with the phone still in my hand after Seth had accused me of outing him. I couldn't believe he would accuse me of such a thing. I knew he was upset with me for saying that I was telling our friends that I was gay. However, none of this made sense to me.

"What's wrong, Honey?" Mom asked as she took the phone from me and hung it up.

"Seth thinks I told our friends that he is gay," I managed to say. "He called and then hung up before I could say anything."

"Well we know better than that," Dad said without hiding his anger. "Get your coat; we're going to have a talk with that young man."

"No Dad," I pleaded. "Let me handle it."

"He's right, Dear," Mom agreed.

"Alright," Dad reluctantly agreed. "But, I still think I should go talk to him."

"I thought Seth was a good guy," James said. I didn't realize that James was still in the room. It was evident that he was disappointed in Seth.

"Let's not deal with it now," Mom said. "Let's eat before dinner gets cold."

"Are you alright?" Grandma asked as she took a pan of hot rolls out of the oven.

"I'm fine, Grandma," I replied although I wasn't sure I sounded convincing.

As usual dinner was delicious, but I had little interest in food. I mostly pushed my food around on my plate until I noticed Mom watching me. I did finish the food on my plate in an attempt to keep her from worrying about me.

After dinner James and I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher while Mom, Dad and Grandma finished off the pot of coffee. "Let's go to the den for a family meeting," Dad said after we had finished our task.

"Craig, we're not going to tell you what to do, but together we might come up with a solution," Dad sad after we were all seated in the den."

"You know Honey, none of us know what Seth has gone through before he came here to live with his aunt and uncle," Mom said as she sat beside me and took my hand.

"Your mom is right," Grandma said as she sat on the other side of me and put her arm around me. "I lived next to you and didn't know the extent of what you were dealing with."

"I still think you should let me have a talk with Seth," Dad argued.

"Don, let Craig handle this his way," Mom said sharply. "We'll step in if he asks for our help."

"I know you're right," Dad admitted. "But, it angers me after everything Craig and this family has done for him."

"Seth has done a lot for this family too," I pointed out. "Remember that he did our chores when James was in the hospital."

"Have you talked to Seth about this?" Grandma asked.

"I would, but he has avoided me," I said. "He won't even answer my phone calls."

"Just go to his house and knock on the door," James suggested.

"I think James is right," Dad said.

"I'll go tomorrow after school," I said.

I hardly slept that night as I went over in my mind what I wanted to say to Seth. I knew full well that it was unlikely that I'd follow the speech that I scripted in my mind when I did talk to him. When my alarm sounded I felt as though I had just fallen asleep and in all likelihood, I had. After showering I realized that I looked like crap when I saw my reflection in the mirror as I was shaving.

"Are you alright?" Mom asked when I sat at the table for breakfast.

"Yeah Mom," I said. "It's just that I didn't sleep very well last night."

"Do you want to stay home from school today?" Mom asked. "You never miss anyway, and your grades are excellent."

"No Mom," I said after thinking about the offer. "I have a history test today."

"Good morning, Honey," Mom said as James joined me at the table.

"Good morning everybody," James said. "Where is Dad?"

"He went to the store for me," Mom said. "I forgot to buy milk when I went shopping."

"I hear him now," James said at the sound of the garage door opening.

"It is really cold out there," Dad said as he handed Mom the milk and headed for the coffee pot.

"Make sure you boys wear your heavy coats," Mom said as she placed bowls of steaming oatmeal in front of James and me. "Your toast will be ready in a second, but you can get your own drinks."

I was pleased that my family didn't mention Seth. James didn't mention him either as we drove to school. He was his usual self and talked mostly about Dan and Nicole moving into my old house. James had been begging me to go see what Dan had done to the house, but I couldn't bring myself to go see the house that had brought me so much unhappiness. I knew that eventually I would have to force myself to go.

"Have you seen Seth?" I asked at lunch after not seeing him all morning.

"He was in our English class," Jon said. "He said he was skipping lunch to study."

"I saw him at Wal-Mart yesterday evening," Rachel said. "I asked him why he didn't talk to you since you two have so much in common. He just turned and walked away without saying anything."

The implications of Rachel's comment suddenly hit me. "That's probably why he called me and accused me of saying he was gay, and then he hung up on me," I said slowly.

"Oh my God!" Rachel exclaimed. "He probably thought I was saying that he was gay too. I only meant that you two have a lot of the same interest. We have to talk to him."

"I'm going to his house after school and see if he will let me explain," I said.

"I'm going with you," Rachel said. And, as if reading my mind added, "And you can forget about trying to talk me out of it."

"He's angry at me and not you," I pointed out.

"I'm the one that got him upset with what I said last night," Rachel said.

"I told you that you talk too much," Jon said. "Oh, I know that I'll pay for that."

"You sure will," Rachel said with an evil-sounding laugh as the first bell rang.

After school I rushed out of the building, planning to avoid Rachel going with me to talk to Seth. However, she was waiting for me at my car.

"How did you get out here so fast?" I asked.

"I knew you would try to get away without me," Rachel said. "I told Mr. Shackelford that I needed to use the restroom just before the bell."

James was a little surprised that Rachel was with me when I picked him up. "I'm going with Craig to talk to Seth," she explained.

"Me too," James said.

"I'm dropping you off at the house," I said.

"I'm not getting out of the car," James argued.

"Alright," I relented. "But, call Mom and let her know that you're going with me."

Seth's Aunt Stephanie answered the door with her baby on her breast. I had never seen a mother nursing her baby, but it didn't throw me. Neither Rachel nor James seemed embarrassed either.

"Seth is in his room," Stephanie said as she pulled her shirt down since the baby had finished his dinner. "I'll tell him that you're here."

"May I hold the baby?" Rachel asked.

"Sure, Stephanie said. "But, you'd better put this towel over your shoulder. He may throw up on you."

Apparently Seth wasn't pleased to hear that we were there to see him. We could hear the argument that became louder. I suspected that Seth hadn't mentioned that he was angry at me and thus avoiding me.

We finally heard Stephanie say, "I don't want to hear it. Get out there and talk to your friends."

Seth reluctantly came into the room with his head down and Stephanie pushing him forward.

"Make yourselves comfortable while I put Chad to bed," Stephanie as she took the baby from Rachel. "Seth, be a good host and offer your guest refreshments."

James, Rachel and I turned down the offer of refreshments. There was a period of uncomfortable silence that seemed to last forever, but in reality was less than a minute. Finally Rachel said, "Seth, I'm sorry that you misunderstood me when I said that you and Craig had a lot in common. It never occurred to me that you would think that I was saying that you're gay. It was just an observation that you and Craig like a lot of the same things. But, you should know Craig better than to think that he would tell anyone that you're gay."

"Yeah Seth, I asked Craig if you were gay and he said that I would have to ask you that," James said.

"Seth, I thought we were friends," I said sadly. "Friends talk things out."

We all looked at Seth waiting for a response, but none came. "Seth, you need to tell them everything," Stephanie said from the doorway. None of us had noticed her returning.

"I can't," Seth said as tears began to flow.

Stephanie rushed to Seth's side and put her arms around him. "These are your friends," she said. "They cared enough to come and see you. They won't judge you for something which you had no control."

"James has been through more than most people could endure," I said. "He has managed to overcome both physical and emotional scars. The first step is talking about the hurt."

"He's right," Stephanie said. "You need to get this off your chest."

Seth took a deep breath and then began in a quivering voice, "Craig, I told you that my dad kicked me out when he found out I was gay. There's more to the story. My dad roughed me up until my mom got him to stop. He then told some of his friends that he had a fag son. Word got out at school and one day when I was walking home from school some guys jumped me and dragged me under a bridge. They beat me up and then... And then they... They..."

"It's okay Honey," Stephanie said as she took Seth's hand. "Take your time."

"They stuck the end of a screwdriver up my ass," Seth said as he began to sob. "When I got home I was bleeding because they just jammed it in there and were saying, 'How do you like that, fag?'"

"I'm so sorry," I said as I too had tears flowing. I noticed that Rachel and James were wiping their eyes.

"Mom took me to the hospital and they had to do surgery," Seth continued. "When I was released from the hospital and Mom took me home. Dad had my things by the door and said that I no longer lived there. Mom brought me here to live with Aunt Stephanie and Uncle Steve. Craig, when you said you were telling your friends you were gay, I was afraid that people would figure out that I was gay too. I was terrified that the same thing might happen to me again."

"How could your Mother go back to him after that?" Rachel asked in anger.

"My sister has never had any gumption," Stephanie said. "I told her that she was crazy to go back to him, but she said that she had no job to support herself and Seth."

"Hasn't she heard of a divorce settlement?" Rachel questioned.

"I've never figured her out," Stephanie said.

"Seth, nobody has to know what you are," I said. "If people find out that I'm gay, they're not going to assume that Rachel, and the rest of our friends are gay too. I don't think they will assume the same about you."

"I'm sorry I was such an ass," Seth said. "As I said, I was afraid that if anyone suspected that I was gay the same thing could happen to me again."

"Forget it," I said. "I understand now. You know, I don't think you got enough money out of your dad."

"I didn't tell your Uncle Jason about this," Seth confessed. "I was too embarrassed."

"I was embarrassed by the scars on my back, so I know what you mean," James said.

"What scars?" Stephanie questioned.

"My birth mom's boyfriend beat me and left some really bad scars on my back," James said. "Mom took me to Topeka and had them removed."

"Well, I don't have scars," Seth said.

"Yeah you do," James said. "They are the type that can't be seen, but they are just as real."

"You're a wise young man for your age," Stephanie said.

"We had better go before he gets a big head," I teased. "Besides, we still have to help Dad with the chores."

"I'll bet he already has everything done," James said.

"Thanks everybody for caring enough to come by," Seth said.

"Yes, thank you all," Stephanie agreed.

After dropped Rachel off at her car James and I arrived home as Dad was finishing the evening chores. "I'm sorry that we're late," I said.

"That's okay, I'll deduct it from your pay," Dad joked. "How did it go with Seth? Oh never mind, you may as well wait until we're inside and only tell the story once."

"That poor boy," Mom said as James and I told what we had learned about Seth. "Just what kind of mother would let her son go through what Seth has?"

"He's lucky to have Steve and Stephanie," Dad said. "Boys, this is a good lesson for both of you. Sometimes people react the way they do for a reason. However, sometimes it is just because they are callous. Always be willing to listen and not give up on a friend. I'm proud of both of you for reaching out to Seth."

"This from somebody that wanted to go confront Seth," Mom laughed.

 Everything seemed to be back to normal at school when Seth joined our group at school for lunch. He seemed to be a little nervous at first, but after a short time he was himself again.

I was glad that it was finally Friday. Not that I minded school, but I enjoyed weekends of being carefree. When the final bell rang I grabbed my book bag and was about to bolt for the exit. "Craig, may I see you for a minute?" My English teacher, Mrs. Durant, called out.

Although I was never in trouble at school, it always made me nervous when a teacher asked to speak to me after class. Mrs. Durant was one of my favorite teachers and her warm smile put me at ease when I approached her desk.

"Craig, your essay on 'What my family means to me' is not your normal type of work," Mrs. Durant said as my heart sank. Then she continued, "Your work is always exceptional, but this is something that was written from your heart. I want you to enter this in a writing contest sponsored by the University of Kansas."

"Do you really think it is good enough?" I questioned.

"Of course I do," Mrs. Durant said. "I've already made a copy of the essay and have it ready to mail. All I need is your permission."

"If you really think it is good enough," I agreed. "I'm sorry, but I really need to go. I need to pick up my little brother at the middle school."

"If I didn't think it was good I wouldn't have suggested that you enter it," Mrs. Durant said. "I'll drop this in the mail on my way out. Have a good weekend."

I was a little late picking up James at his school. I spotted him standing next to the building in an effort to shelter from the bitingly cold north wind. When he saw me he came running toward the car and quickly jumped in. "You're late," he barked.

"I'm sorry, but Mrs. Durant wanted to talk to me after class," I said. "Why didn't you just wait inside for me?"

"I was afraid that you might think that Mom or Dad had picked me up," James said as he tried to turn up the heat. "Why won't this heater work?"

"The car hasn't had time to heat up," I said. "Stop messing with the controls. Hey, isn't that Kenny?" I asked as a boy ran out of the building toward a bus that was already departing.

"Yeah, it is," James said. "He's missed his bus."

"We'll give him a ride home," I said.

"Get in and we'll give you a ride home," James said when I stopped the car. "What happened that you missed the bus?"

"Some of the jocks were pushing me around and scattered my books and papers on the floor," Kenny said. "When I was trying to pick up everything Carson Myers put his foot on my back and would let me up."

"You have to report that to Mr. Zimmerman," James said.

"No, that would just make things worse," Kenny protested.

"Kenny, the school district has adopted a strong anti bullying policy," I pointed out.

"They'll just beat up on me," Kenny argued.

"They probably will if you do nothing," I said. "This type is tough when they can gang up on one person, but they are really cowards."

"I'm not reporting them," Kenny firmly said. "I don't want you to say anything either."

"I think you're making a big mistake," I said. "I'll not say anything this time, but if it happens again, I'll say something to mom. She's on the school board."

"Are you going to say anything to Mom?" James asked after we dropped Kenny off at his house.

"No, I promised I wouldn't, but I will if it happens again," I said.

 "It looks like Dad has already done the chores," James said when we saw Dad walking from the barns toward the house.

"Dan and Nicole will be here this evening, and your uncles will be here too," Dad said when I asked why he didn't wait for us. "I wanted to have everything done when they arrived. You guys are a little late, aren't you?"

"Yeah, Kenny missed his bus and we drove him home," I admitted without explaining why. "I'm glad everyone will be here, but is there a reason?"

"It has something to do with your house," Dad said as we entered the kitchen to the aroma of freshly baked bread.

Jason wants to check everything with you and Dan before he and Nicole move in," Dad explained. "Dan has had the inside painted and new carpet installed. He plans to move next weekend."

"I thought they were moving in during Christmas break," I said.

"Christmas break starts Friday," Mom pointed out.

"I guess with everything going on it slipped up on me," I admitted.

"Did that have something to do with Mrs. Durant keeping you after class?" James asked.

"No, she wanted to talk to me about my essay," I said.

"What about your essay?" Mom asked.

"She wanted me to enter it in the University of Kansas essay contest," I said as I was becoming embarrassed.

"Oh Craig, that is wonderful," Mom said. "I'm so proud of you."

"Yes, we all are," Dad agreed.

"I haven't won anything yet," I said.

"You will," James said.

"When you were little you used to write stories and read them to me," Grandma said. "You already had talent in writing back then."

Dinner conversation revolved around Dan and Nicole's upcoming move, and my essay. We also made plans to go check the house before the move. I really didn't want to go, but knew that I had no choice.

"Mom, Chelsea wants me to sing in her church's youth choir Christmas Eve," James said quietly as if he were embarrassed. "She said there weren't enough boys. They have practice tonight and I'll need a ride."

"Honey, that's wonderful," Mom said. "What church is it?"

"The Lutheran Church," James said.

"We used to go to that church," Dad said. "But, after Patrick's funeral there it was too painful to go back. I think it is time for us to go back.

"One of us will get you there for practice, Mom said." "We'll all be there Christmas Eve to hear you."

"I used to go there some with Grandma when I was little," I said.

"I recall seeing you there with Margaret," Mom said.

I had to force myself to go inside my old house when we arrived the next day. Mom must have sensed my reluctances and said, "It's only memories, Honey. They may not have been pleasant, but they are still part of you."

I was surprised at how much better the place looked with fresh paint and new carpets. It didn't seem as dreary as when I last saw it. It even seemed larger than it did when I lived there. Sharon's furniture was gone and had been replaced with what appeared to be new. When Dan had asked me what I wanted to do with Sharon's furniture I said that I didn't want any of it. He gave it to a family whose rented house had burned and they had lost everything.

"I picked this room," Nicole said when we came to my former room.

"This was my room when I lived here," I said as we looked inside at a room that had been transformed into a little girl's room. "Daddy let me get new furniture. Do you like it? I picked it out."

"It looks perfect for you," I said.

"It sure does," Mom said. "Who selected the comforter?"

"I did with Daddy's help," Nicole said. "Do you like it?"

"You and your daddy did well," Mom said.

"Most of our furniture was old and we decided to get some new," Dan said. "We have very little to move next week."

"Let me show you a secret," I said as I opened the closet door. I opened the panel that hid the lever to open the trap door to the secret room, and when I pulled the lever and the door opened.

"I searched for that when I was little," Dan said. "I found the panel, but just a stick down there."

"It's the lever that opens the trap door," I explained.

"I pulled on it and it never moved," Dan said.

"There's a little release next to it," I said. I accidently pushed it when I pulled the lever and the door opened."

"What's down there?" Nicole asked.

"When I was little it was a place where I hid from a bad man," I said. "Come and I'll show you. I thought of it as ten steps down to safety."

"There's a bedroom down here!" Nicole exclaimed when she saw the room.

"I slept down here most nights," I said.

"I'm so sorry that I let you down," Dan said. "I had no idea what you went through."

"It's all in the past," I said. "We've already talked about it and I've put it behind me, and you need to do the same."

"You're more of a man that I'll ever be," Dan said. "I'll always be proud of you. I'm thankful that you found Don and Libby."

"This is really cool," James said as he and Nicole inspected the room. "I wish I would have had a room like this when I was little."

"You can come here anytime you like," Nicole offered while not fully understanding the meaning of what James had said.

"Margaret has invited us to her apartment for lunch," Mom said as she looked at her watch.

Grandma served us a roast beef sandwich with a delicious French onion soup. The soup was perfect for the cold winter day. The platter of homemade cookies was an added bonus.

After lunch Uncle Jason said, "Dan, the work you have done on the house looks good. However, I wouldn't do any additional work. It's possible the probate judge may not approve your purchase offer."

"I haven't spent all that much," Dan said. "I want to remodel the kitchen after I purchase the house. I want the exterior painted too. For now I just wanted it to be livable."

"After you move in you can take Jade to live with you," James said. "Dad will you take Jade's doghouse over when they take her?"

"I'd be happy to do that," Dad said.

"I hope Jade will like her new home," Nicole said. "I hope she doesn't miss Jake."

"I'm sure she will be fine as long as you give her a lot of love and attention," Mom said.

Monday when I went to pick up James at his school I arrived just as he and Kenny came out the door with some other kids. Three boys grabbed Kenny's backpack and scattered its contents on the ground. I then heard James yell, "Pick those up."

The larger of the boys grabbed James' backpack and threw it to the ground while pushing James around. I got out of my car to intervene but, before I could get there James had the boy on the ground with his arm behind him. Mr. Zimmerman and a male teacher that I didn't recognize came rushing in to break up the fight.

"Alright, what's going on here?" Mr. Zimmerman yelled.

"He tripped me and when I fell he pinned my arm back," the boy said.

"He's lying," I heard a girl say. I turned to see Chelsea and another girl in the crowd. "Carson threw Kenny's backpack on the ground. James told him to pick it up and then Carson threw James' backpack to the ground and then started pushing him around. James then grabbed Carson's arm and flipped him to the ground."

"Carson you know that we have an anti bullying policy here," Mr. Zimmerman said. "Bullying will not be tolerated."

"I didn't start it," Carson protested. "James tripped me."

"I have it all on my cell phone," a girl in the crowd said as she handed her phone to Mr. Zimmerman.

"Well Carson it appears that you're not only a bully, but you're a liar also," Mr. Zimmerman said after viewing the video on the phone. "Come with me to my office and we'll call your parents. The rest of you go on home. Abbey, would you E-mail this video to me."

"I don't know how, but my brother can," Abbey said.

"Damn, I missed my bus again," Kenny said.

"Get in and I'll give you a ride home," I offered.

"Thank you," Kenny said. "I guess you were right that I should have reported Carson to Mr. Zimmerman when he started pushing me around. James, how did you learn to defend yourself like you did?"

"Craig and I took self defense training," James said. "You should go too."

"I don't have a way to get there," Kenny said in disappointment.

"Craig, could you go pick him up when we go?" James asked.

"Sure, but Rachel lives past him and I'm sure she would pick him up on her way," I said. "I'll ask her about it."

"James I got a call from Mr. Zimmerman," Mom said when James and I arrived home.

"I'm sorry Mom," James nervously said. "I was just trying to help Kenny."

"James, you're not in trouble," Mom said as she gave James a hug. "Mr. Zimmerman called to let me know that you were only protecting yourself and that Carson was being suspended from school for a week. The other two boys will get a week of detention."

"Mom, it doesn't make sense to suspend someone like Carson from school," James said. "He's not a good student anyway and will like being out of school."

"He broke the rules on bullying and has to be punished," Mom said. "What would you suggest?"

"He's the basketball team's best player," James said. "Make him stay in school but don't let him play basketball. Instead of basketball, make him go to detention and study."

"Libby, it sounds to me like James has a good idea," Dad said.

"It's a wonderful idea, I'll call Jay Zimmerman and make that suggestion," Mom said.

"How did it go with Carson today?" I asked James when I picked him up at school the next day.

"He gave me a dirty look when I saw him," James admitted. "But, he didn't say anything to me. The basketball team is pissed at me as well. They were all afraid to say anything because Mr. Zimmerman had an assembly first hour and talked about the anti bullying policy. He never mentioned Carson, but everybody knew who he was talking about. You know something; I hope Carson gets some help with his anger. If he doesn't he could grow up and be an abuser."

"I hadn't thought of it, but you're probably right," I agreed. "Maybe Mom can get Mr. Zimmerman to get somebody to work with him."

"Man, it looks like Kenny missed his bus again," James said as we saw Kenny chasing after his bus.

"It sure looks like it," I concurred as I stopped the car to offer him a ride.

"Need a ride?" James asked as he rolled down the window.

"Yeah, thanks," Kenny said as he hopped in the back seat.

"Surely Carson wasn't dumb enough to rough you up again," James declared.

"No I had to go use the restroom, and then I realized that I forgot some papers I need to study for a test tomorrow," Kenny said.

"Kenny, I talked to Rachel and she doesn't go to martial arts training every week now," I said. "But, she said she would be happy to give you a ride when she goes. Seth said that he wanted to start going and he'll give you a ride when Rachel can't, but can't go on the evenings when he has to work. I'll pick you up the evenings that neither of them goes. James and I don't go every week, but we'll make sure we go the days you don't have a ride."

"Cool, thanks," Kenny said. "Dad said that he would pay. But, he couldn't take me because it was during the time that they milk."

"You boys meet us over at Dan's tomorrow after school," Mom said during dinner. "Margaret and I are going over to help Dan unpack and put things away. We'll either eat out or order a pizza for dinner."

"We'll go over as soon as we finish the evening chores," I said.

"I'll get them done early," Dad said. "You don't need to do anything."

"I thought Nicole was out for Christmas the same day we are and they might be moving in Saturday," I said.

"Dan wants to get her enrolled in school here," Mom said. "He wants to list us and Margaret as those allowed to pick up Nicole at school. He doesn't expect that we will ever need to pick her up, but will list us just in case. Speaking of school, you boys were a little late getting home today."

"Kenny missed his bus again," James giggled.

"Was there a problem at school?" Mom asked.

"No, he was just being Kenny this time," I said.

Both James and I were surprised to see that Jade was already at her new home when we arrived. She greeted us with a lick and a wagging tail. Nicole ran to greet us with a hug also. The house had a warm welcome look to it. Mom and Grandma had done wonders in changing it from a dreary old house to cozy home.

After filling up on pizza we sat around and made plans for Christmas. "Chelsea said that the church will be delivering Christmas dinner to the shut-ins. I think we should volunteer," James said.

"James, that's a wonderful idea," Mom said as she gave James a big hug. "I'll call tomorrow and offer. Who wants to go?"

"Count me in," Grandma offered.

"If they will let me bring Nicole you can count us in," Dan said.

"We used to do that," Dad said. "I enjoyed it and would love to do it again."

"Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan will be here," I said. "Do you think they would want to volunteer?"

"I'll volunteer them," Mom said with a laugh.

We arrived at the church early for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Services since James had to robe for the choir. This allowed our family to sit together since we filled one pew. James almost appeared angelic during the choir procession.

We had heard James sing before when he was goofing off and singing Kung Fu Fighting, but we were thoroughly surprised when he sang the solo part of "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

"James, you sang so beautifully," Grandma said to James when the service was over.

"I'm so proud of you," Mom said. "I never realized that you had that much talent. Everybody is invited to come to the house for snacks and hot drinks."

"Could we invite Chelsea and her parents?" James asked. It appeared that he wanted to change the subject.

"Of course," Mom said. "Margaret made plenty of cookies and Ryan brought some he made."

"I'll be right back," James said as he went to find Chelsea and her parents.

We all seemed to enjoy the evening with plenty of cookies, hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and hot coffee. However, we decided to end it early since we were going to deliver Christmas meals the next morning. Mom invited everyone over for breakfast before we went to the church.

I woke Christmas morning to the aroma of bacon, coffee, and a mingling of other foods. After showering and dressing I went to kitchen where Mom, Uncle Jason, and Uncle Ryan were busy preparing breakfast. The light breakfast Mom promised was anything but light. There were stacks of waffles, sausage, bacon, eggs, a variety of cereal, and fruit.

Following breakfast, James, Chelsea, Nicole and I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. We then drove to the church to deliver meals. I wasn't sure about the others, but it was a rewarding feeling to do something for those who were shut-in.

Once the meals were delivered Mom invited Chelsea and her parents, Harvey and Sherry Carnahan, to join us for our Christmas meal. They declined the invitation since they were going to Sherry's parents. After eating we finally got to open presents. It was fun to watch Nicole and James open their presents. At times James was all grown up, but at times like this he was a kid.

After all of the presents were opened Dan picked up a box that had been stowed at the end of the couch. "This isn't a present since it is yours anyway," he said. "It was in the basement. Sharon must have put it down there."

I opened the box that was full of old pictures. There were a lot of pictures of me from when I was a baby up until about the time Dan left.

"There are some pictures of your grandparents in there too," Dan said. "You'll be able to tell who is who since the names are written on the back of most of them. I had copies made of the ones I wanted."

I picked up a picture of me in my early teens that I didn't recall ever seeing. I looked on the back to see when it was taken, but it had Dan's name on it. I must have had a puzzled look when Dan said, "Yeah, you look like I did when I was a teenager."

"I would love to put some of these in the family photo album," Mom said.

"Sure, that would be fine," I said.

"I wish I had pictures of James from when he was growing up," Mom said with a forlorn look.

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