Sam yawned and stretched as he thought about his upcoming vacation. For some reason business always seemed to slow down right before Christmas. The lull usually lasted until early February. The boss was letting him have a week and a half off immediately after Christmas. It was Christmas Eve and the day was already half gone.
Sam was about to leave for his lunch break when Fred came up to his desk with a huge smile on his face. "Guess who's off till the third?" he asked beaming.
"I am," answered Sam with a grin.
"What? You too?" asked Fred looking confused.
"What you thought you were special?" teased Sam.
"Yeah," answered Fred making Sam laugh.
As they ate lunch they compared plans. Sam was spending the first few days with relatives. Fred was going to see his siblings.
"Got any plans for New Year's?" asked Fred.
"No. Probably gonna spend the night on the couch in front of the dam TV," said Fred with a pronounced look of disgust.
"What's so bad about that?" asked Sam.
"It blows! A few years ago I would be out partying or going somewhere or doing something."
"Where do you want to go?"
"A party, a ski trip, a road trip...anything."
"There's lots of parties. There-"
"Besides those night club orgies. I don't want to start the New Year by getting puked on by some underage kid! I hate this town!"
"Well, go somewhere else. Hell, I'll go with you."
"Ok...Ok, we'll go on a trip," decided Fred.
"Where?" asked Sam.
"Anywhere. We'll just get in the car and drive. We'll go exploring," answered Fred.
"We'll get lost," said Sam and then seeing Fred's annoyed expression added, "That's cool with me. Hey, you're good at getting lost."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Remember our last trip to Green Hollow?"
"You liked that trip! You liked that guy!"
"You got us lost! And you liked his sister!"
"Fine, lets go to Green Hollow then."
With that the issue was settled. They would spend a day in the small quiet town. Among Green Hollow's residents was a pair of siblings who owned a perfume and gift shop. Fred had had not been able to keep his eyes of the sister on their last stay. Sam liked the brother. Neither would say it but they were both excited about their trip.
Two days after Christmas Sam and Fred were packing camping equipment into Fred's SUV. He had discovered that Green Hollow had some nice campgrounds. If the mild weather kept up they would have an excuse to stay in town for several days. They were both secretly looking for reasons to prolong the trip.
"I think that's it," said Fred as he went through a mental checklist of camping supplies.
"Alright, let's hit the road," said Sam with a big smile.
Fred backed the SUV out of his driveway and they were on their way. It was a warm day for the middle of winter and a sense of optimism seemed to permeate the air. With many people still resting form the mad rush of the holiday season, the streets were less hazardous. Even the people on their way to work appeared calm. They seemed relieved to have survived to fight traffic for another day. Sam and Fred were giddy with hope. They turned on the radio and sang along as the car flew down the highway.
By noon they were taking in the sights of Green Hollow. The trees were now bare but beautiful. Their thin smooth branched reached for the sun casting long shadows on the road. The quaint houses looked fresh and clean despite the lack of flowers in the gardens. Curious chickens raised their little heads as the SUV navigated the pothole-ridden terrain.
Finally they reached the commercial district of the little town. They went into the diner and noticed that it was much more busy than the last time they had been there. Fred commented on the change and a smiling waitress explained their popularity. Thirty miles away a ski resort had closed about ten years ago. It had recently been bought and reopened. Green Hollow was the last stop on the way. The local businesses were getting more customers now. Unless the warm spell melted away all the snow from the last storm the town would likely stay busy.
As they finished eating Fred casually suggested that they take a walk around town before moving on to the campground.
"Yeah, sounds good. It'd be nice to see what's new around here," answered Sam just as casually.
They paid for their lunch and began walking up the little street. There were more people milling around than on their last visit. A shop window which had been boarded up now proudly announced the grand opening of Green Hollow Gym. It was across the street from Sally's Perfumes. As they wandered up the street Sam spotted Sally.
"Hey look, it's Sally. Let's go say 'Hi'."
Fred gladly followed his lead.
"Hi Sally," said Sam as he walked in.
"Oh, hi! How are you guys?" exclaimed Sally looking up from the display she was setting up.
"We're great. How are you?" answered Fred with a big smile.
"I've been pretty good," answered Sally as another man entered the shop.
Fred's attention was completely dedicated to Sally but Sam was wondering where her brother was. As if on cue Tom entered from the back room with his arms full of merchandise. Sam went to help Tom as Sally gave the newcomer a hug. She then introduced him to Fred.
"Mark this is Fred. Fred this is Mark. He's my__," she was interrupted by the sight of her little brother, "Tom I told you not to carry so much at once! You better not drop those," she warned.
Fred shook Mark's hand and smiled but his heart sank. Sally had already found someone. All he could do was pretend to be happy for them. Sally returned as soon as she was satisfied that her brother would not break anything. Mark went over to Tom. Sally explained that Mark had just opened the gym across the street.
"Ah, that explains why he's in such good shape," said Fred trying to sound cheerful.
"Yeah, he's been working really hard," said Sally with a note of pride in her voice.
Meanwhile Tom had arranged the merchandise and was busy looking at it. Mark quietly walked up behind him and tickled his ribs. Tom jumped and then they both laughed.
"This is Mark," Tom said as soon as he stopped laughing, "Mark this is Sam."
The two of them shook hands then Tom explained, "Mark's like my best friend."
"What do you mean, like your best friend?" asked Mark emphasizing the word like and pretending to be upset.
"Yeah, something like that," said Tom with a grin.
Sam was disappointed when he realized what was probably implied. He had never been sure if he would have the nerve to ask Tom out but now there was no hope of it. Sam tried to look happy as Sally and Fred joined them.
"So, what brings you boys out here?" asked Sally.
"Camping," answered Fred.
"Yeah, we read that there were some nice camp grounds around here and the weather's been good," explained Sam.
"There's a nice one on the other end of town," said Tom looking at his sister, "we used to camp there when we were kids."
"Our parent's used to take us. It was so much fun," added Sally smiling at the memories.
Then Mark announced that he had to get back to the gym. The group broke up.
In the Wild
With their spirits dampened Sam and Fred went back to the car. They tried not to show it but each was disappointed. A cool breeze blew down the street and suddenly Green Hollow seemed less inviting. Without saying anything Fred pulled a map out of the glove compartment. After a short examination he put down the map and started the car.
Farther down the street they noticed that the town's one hotel had reopened. Neither of them said anything. At that moment both of them wanted to get out of Green Hollow. Fred steered the car onto the narrow dirt road that would eventually lead them to the campground. Outside the wind was picking up.
By the time they got to the spot there was a noticeable chill in the air and the sun was low in the sky. They had to hurry to set up camp. Sam pitched the tent while Fred started the fire. By sunset they had a big fire and were warming up some canned beans. The physical activity had improved their mood slightly. As they ate by the fire Fred smiled.
"Not bad for a couple of computer geeks," he smiled as he opened a bottle of beer to go with the baked beans.
"Yeah, this trip's turning out alright," agreed Sam.
They ate quietly for a while.
"Those beans were pretty good," said Fred putting the empty can aside.
"Yeah. Hey, you remember that thing the kids used to say? 'Beans, beans, good for your heart,'"
Fred started laughing. "I think you need another drink," he said handing his friend a beer.
"What? I liked that. 'The more you eat the more you fart. The more you fart...'" Sam's voice was drowned out by Fred's laughter.
"Did you ever light them on fire?" asked Fred once he caught his breath.
"What? Beans?" asked Sam.
Fred responded with more laughter, "No dumb ass, farts," he explained.
"Oh," Sam laughed.
After a short lecture on the chemistry of natural gas form Fred, Sam suggested that they roast some marshmallows.
"I didn't bring any," answered Fred a little disappointed in himself.
"I did," said Sam going to the car.
Away from the fire he noticed that it had gotten much cooler. He was glad that the tent was quite close to the fire. Returning with the marshmallows he set the bag down and opened it. After eating three marshmallows Fred brought up the subject that had been bothering them all afternoon.
"What do you think of that Mark character?"
"Freak must be on something. His neck is bigger than his head," answered Sam sounding more disgusted than he wanted to.
"You said it."
They toasted their agreement with another drink. Then they burned Mark in marshmallow-and-stick effigy for good measure.
Half an hour later they were sound asleep. Around their tent the weather was getting colder. The sky clouded over and snow began to fall. Luckily their sleeping bags were designed for cold weather and they never noticed the drop in temperature. By morning their tent was surrounded by heaps of snow. The clouds outside made it easy for them to sleep in. At nine it still felt like six in the morning.
Sam awoke to the sound of footsteps. They were extremely loud and close. They made a distinct crunching sound as they interrupted a happy dream about Tom and him on a tropical island. Sam looked around trying to remember where he was. When he recognized the tent he tried to imagine what might be outside it. His imagination quickly shifted gears from romance to horror. He was suddenly certain that only a bear could make that much noise. He was paralyzed with fear as the animal proceeded to open the zipped-up front flap of the tent. Sam reached over to wake Fred as the intruder poked his head into the tent.
It was Mark. "Sorry guys," he said, "Sally and Tom were kind of worried about you. We figured you'd be out here since you mentioned this campground."
"Thanks, but we can take care of ourselves," answered Fred irritated at being woken up.
"They sent you to find us?" asked Sam now recovering from the shock.
"Yeah. It's a small town. We look out for people," answered Mark.
He left to tend to his business shortly after waking them up. The snow was not letting up and the shallow fire pit was filled in.
"I guess that's it for our camping trip," mumbled Fred kicking at the snow.
By eleven the two friends were packed and ready to go. Fred started up the car and turned on the heater. It coughed up a gust of cold air. He switched it off. "Dam! This sucks!" he complained.
"Tell me about it! Another shitty New Years Eve and this time in the snow!" added Sam, "If it wasn't for you I would never have come here."
"So its my fault now!"
"No, that's not what I said."
"Well let me tell you something. If you hadn't been checking out pretty boy we wouldn't be here!"
"Yeah, well who got us lost in the rain the first time!"
"I was not lost! The road was closed. What was I supposed to do?"
"Try using a map or maybe your brain."
"You're such an asshole!"
By the time they were back in town they were furious. Putting their anger aside momentarily, they pulled up in front of Sally's shop. Pretending that nothing was wrong they went inside. Sally was ringing up a purchase. Sam and Fred waited for the customer and than thanked Sally for her concern.
"No problem. We just weren't sure how prepared you were for the weather," she said with a smile, "so, you heading home?"
"Yeah, guess so," shrugged Fred.
"You two want to join me for a cup of coffee before you leave. I was about to ask Mark to join me," she suggested.
"That sounds great," answered Fred trying not to let his feelings towards Mark show.
"I'm trying to cut back. I'll just hang out here," said Sam with a forced smile.
He was hoping it would not seem rude. Fred and Mark were the last people he wanted to join for coffee. Sally did not seem to mind. She called her brother to watch the store. He emerged from the back of the store somewhat annoyed but the sight of company cheered him up. When Sam did not go with the others Tom leaned over the counter and asked him why.
"Uh, Coffee makes for a lot of pit stops," answered Sam.
"Oh, Yeah. Does that to me too," said Tom, "So you going back already?"
"Yeah camping's not so great in the cold."
"We were a little worried about you last night."
"We were alright just, you know, trying to get away from the city. We were hoping to spend New Year's Eve here but looks like that won't happen."
"Just because you can't go camping doesn't mean you have to leave town," said Tom looking down at the counter, " we're not a party town but I guess that wasn't want you were looking for."
Sam loved the way Tom seemed a little shy sometimes. He blushed slightly as he looked away. Now Sam was wishing he could stay a few more days. Normally he would have been able to talk Fred into it but after their drive into town he could only hope that Sally would give him a reason to stay.
"I would like to stay a while but I think Fred wants to go home," explained Sam.
Tom looked up at him and their eyes met for a brief moment. Then Tom looked away. A customer came in saving them from an awkward silence. Sam wandered around the store as Tom helped the lady find a knit cap. As soon as she found what she wanted another customer walked in followed by a couple with two children. Sam sat on a chair near the back of the shop and wished that he could spend some time with Tom.
When Sally and Fred came back Sam was surprised to see a genuine smile on Fred's face. Fred approached Sam cautiously and choosing his words carefully asked Sam if he would mind spending another day in town.
"We might as well," sighed Sam disguising his own happiness, "What'd they put in your coffee Mr. sunshine?"
"Look I'm sorry man, I thought Sally was dating Mark. That's why I was so pissed."
"You thought Sally was dating Mark?"
"Yeah, but she's not! Mark practically arranged a date for her and me! We're going to a dance or something tonight."
"I can't believe you thought they were dating! Mark's gay."
"How the hell do you know?"
"I saw him and him and Tom flirting with each other."
"Oh," Fred suddenly realized why Sam had been so unhappy, "Maybe its nothing serious."
"They all but kissed right in front of me."
"I'm sorry, Sam."
Sam did not answer. He just shrugged his shoulders. He did not want Fred's pity and did not know what to say. Sally interrupted the awkward moment.
"Are you two gonna stick around?" she asked.
"Yeah, we are," smiled Fred.
Sam and Fred checked into the town's one small hotel, later that morning. They got the only small cramped room available and were grateful for it. The hotel was full of skiers and snowboarders all of who were waiting for a storm that was on its way. It was a freak event that even the weatherman had not seen coming until late the previous night. Now the forecast said that it would come in two days. To Sam it felt like it was bearing down on him ready to bury him in frigid snow.
The rest of the hotel's patrons seemed not to notice the gloom. Their eye's gleamed with anticipation, as did Fred's. Eventually the excitement wore of and was replaced with anxiety. Fred looked through the cloths he had brought and began to complain that he had nothing to wear.
"Well, I guess you're going to have to go shopping," said Sam with an exaggerated lisp.
He was still unhappy and glad to take it out on Fred. Fred did not seem to notice.
"Guess so. You want to come with me?"
"Hell no," answered Sam.
"OK then," said an absentminded Fred as he went out the door leaving Sam alone.
Sam sat for a few minutes looking at the uninspiring little room. Then he decided to go out for a walk. He put on his scarf and coat and made his way past a group of excited college kids in the hallway.
Outside it had gotten noticeably colder than it had been when they checked in. In the morning it had seemed like it might clear up but now a dark cloud hung over the horizon and only slightly lighter ones passed overhead. As Sam walked, snow began to fall again. It came down in big flakes. They leisurely sailed through the air and danced on the almost imperceptible breeze. Sam could not help smiling as he stopped for a moment to watch.
Then he continued his walk passing smiling snowboarders. In the distance he could see Sally's store and Mark's gym. They looked tiny with people scurrying past them like ants making their last preparations before winter set in. Sam took some satisfaction in the sight of people passing by the gym without giving it a second look while the perfume shop was somewhat busy. Sally knew how to pleas her customers. She had put out a rack of knitted scarves and sweaters just as the weather turned cold.
After a while Sam could not ignore the cold. His nose was getting numb. He looked back towards the hotel and realized that he had walked a long way. He was about to walk back when he saw a coffee shop just ahead. He went inside to warm up and inhaled the aroma of fresh coffee and baked goods. His stomach growled at the thought of food. He had skipped breakfast and it was already two thirty in the afternoon. He ordered a large cup of coffee and two slices of freshly baked banana bread. As he sat by one of the small spindly tables, the door opened. He looked up and saw Tom coming in. Sam smiled involuntarily.
"Hi Sam," said Tom smiling back.
"Hi," answered Sam and invited Tom to join him.
As they sipped their coffee Sam's mood improved. "So, what's this thing Fred and Sally are going to?" he asked.
"It's a party one of Sally's friends throws every year. It's become a tradition."
"That's all? The way Fred was acting you'd think the president was coming."
Tom laughed, "Where is Fred?"
"He's out shopping for cloths," answered Sam with a smirk, "He'll probably show up in a tuxedo."
"I don't know if he'll find one in Green Hollow. We're usually pretty casual. A suit is nice for New Year's or Christmas but you don't need anything that special for Isabel's after Christmas party."
"I hope someone takes pictures," laughed Sam, "are you going?"
"No I'm stuck in the store till seven. You'll have to let me know how it went."
"I'm not going either."
"Why not? Didn't Sally ask you to come?"
"No, she didn't get a chance. Besides, I'm not much of a dancer."
For the next few minutes Tom tried to convince Sam to go with Fred and Sally but Sam refused. Tom offered to set him up with one of the local women but that only made him more depressed. It had taken him a long time to admit even to himself that he liked men. Tom had somehow given him the strength to do it. Sam had let himself believe that they were made for each other. He had never considered that Tom would find a new boyfriend. He now knew how silly he had been but it did nothing to dissolve the bitter resentment that was eating away at him.
"You don't have to go," said Tom with a sigh, "but what are you going to do all night?" He knew that something was bothering Sam.
Sam wanted to tell Tom that he would spend the night dreaming of him but instead he answered, "Just relaxing in the hotel."
Tom wrinkled his nose at that. He was about to ask Sam what was the mater when the door opened letting in a gust of biting cold winter air. An irritated Sally came in with it.
"Tom, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be helping me!"
Tom jumped out of his chair startled and speechless.
"I'm sorry, Sam," said Sally, "but we've been having more customers lately and the store is a mess. We need to put out more merchandise too."
"I can help out," volunteered Sam looking out the window at the snow, "I've got nothing to do and I don't really want to hike back to the hotel in the wind."
"Thank you, Sam," said Sally as she led the two men back to the store.
The snow was falling more heavily and the town seemed alive with frantic energy. There were people trying to make it to the resort before dark and people coming in from more urban areas looking for food or a place to stay the night. They seemed to sense something. They could tell that a change was coming. Some of the ill prepared city dwellers were looking for scarves and gloves. They swarmed around Sally's shop. Inside Mark was helping them. He gave Sally a smile, happy to hand the chaos back over to her.
"Thanks Mark. I'll take over now," she said.
"I need to start selling sporting goods," commented Mark looking at his own business as he made his way to the door.
Sam helped Tom hang and stack merchandise while the customers did their best to return the shop to its disordered state.
"This stuff is going like hotcakes," said Tom with a smile, "That ski resort is really saving us."
"I thought you guys were doing really well," said Sam surprised at the comment, "I mean what about the fairy dust and the other perfume."
"That stuff does well in the summer but it slows down in the winter."
"What about Christmas?"
"We get a lot of local business. We get much more for Valentines day."
They went to the storage area for more scarves. Tom nearly knocked over a bottle of perfume but Sam managed to catch it. Tom gasped.
"Oh my gosh! Thank you. Sally would have killed me!"
Sam looked at the bottle with the little fairy printed on it and smiled. He would have never guessed that such a little bottle could hold so much trouble and adventure. He looked up and saw Tom look away with a strange smile on his face. Sam wondered what he was thinking but did not ask. Instead he grabbed a pile of scarves and took them to a table near the front of the shop.
Slowly the flow of customers subsided. When the store was finally in an acceptable state the sky was prematurely dark and the snow was falling as heavily as before. Sally was organizing a few things by the register while Sam and Tom were flattening some cardboard boxes. Then with a burst of cold air Fred made his grand entrance. Dressed in a new navy blue suit and a purple tie he approached the register. Sam and Tom looked at Fred and then at each other and started laughing. Fred gave Sally a confused look. She smiled, complemented him on his appearance, and followed him to the car.
It took Sam a while to stop giggling. After regaining his composer he looked over at Tom and said, "I don't know I'm laughing. He has the car and I'm stuck walking in the snow."
That sent them into another fit of laughter before Tom offered to help. "I could close down for a few minutes and give you a ride...unless you want to hang around for a few hours." He tried not to sound to hopeful but he wanted some company.
"I can wait. That's fine," said Sam as Mark walked in.
"Hey Tom, is Sally gone already?"
"Yeah. She just left. Why?"
"I'm about to leave, just wanted to say bye to you guys."
"You're gonna leave me all alone?" asked Tom in mock despair.
"Can't I trust a fairy to sell fairy dust?" asked Mark with a smile.
Tom put his hands on his hips and was about to say something but Mark was already outside. "He'll never let me live that down," he said mostly to himself.
"Live down what?" asked Sam.
"You remember when I told you who the fairy on the bottle was modeled on?"
"Sally was out of town the day they did the sketches. Guess who they made pose for them."
Sam smiled at Tom's blushing face. "It's a nice fairy," he said trying to sound casual even though he was a little red in the face too.
In the Dark
By six thirty the customers had sopped coming. It was dark, cold, and snowing outside. Tom had just finished some bookkeeping. Sam was standing in front of one of the store's giant display windows watching the snow cover everything. He was replaying the events of the last few days in his mind. He kept thinking about Mark and Tom. Even if it did not last between them there was no way Sam could take the place of someone that big and muscular. He considered starting an exercise routine and wondered how much good it would do.
He was startled by a voice from behind him. "Wanna close down early and get something to eat?"
"I thought we could close the shop early. I don't think anyone is going to come and I'm starving."
"Yeah sure. That's fine with me."
"Great! Let's get out of here," said Tom leading the way to the door.
In a minute they had locked up the shop and were in Tom's car.
"Man, It's cold!" complained Sam rubbing his hands together.
"It'll warm up in a minute," Tom assured him as he started the car, "Do you like Italian food?"
"Good, because we have this great little restaurant."
Sam watched as they passed the coffee shop and then the hotel. The car was getting warm as they drove down an unfamiliar street. A few minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of a small restaurant. From the outside it looked run down. Only the light from inside gave away that it was open. Sam gave Tom a questioning look. Tom just smiled as they approached the door.
Inside the restaurant was another world. It was warm and inviting. The dining room was furnished with small tables covered with red and white checkered tablecloths. Candles glowed cheerfully in the middle of each table. The happy conversations of many diners mixed with the obligatory Italian music. Tom was immediately recognized by the staff and he and Sam were seated.
After they had ordered their food Tom asked Sam what was bothering him.
"At the moment, hunger," answered Sam with a smile.
"I don't mean that. You seemed miserable all day."
Seeing no way around it Sam decided to be honest. "Itr17;s someone I like. This person likes someone else."
"I know what you mean," answered Tom sympathetically, "I like this guy and I think he's straight."
For a moment they both took some comfort in the knowledge that neither was alone in his misery. Then Sam was confused. He had been sure that Tom and Mark were a couple. "So you're not sure if he likes you?"
"He's really nice to me. I'm sure we could be friends. I'm just not sure if it could be anything more. I don't think he likes guys," explained Tom nervously playing with his napkin.
"Have you thought about dating someone else?" asked Sam trying not to get his hopes up.
"I don't think I could. I mean, I could go out with someone else I don't think I would enjoy it. I just keep thinking about him. I sound like a complete drama queen, don't I?"
"No. I hope not. That's exactly what I'm going through."
They exchanged smiles as the waiter arrived with their dishes and a bottle of wine. The food was exceptionally good. They enjoyed it in silence for a few minutes before returning to the topic at hand.
"It's weird what liking someone can do to you," mused Sam, "Last night Fred and I were having more or less the same conversation."
"Do you and Fred like the same girl?" asked Tom wondering if they both liked his sister.
"No, we like different people but Fred thought that Mark and Sally were a couple."
Tom nearly choked as he started laughing, "Mark and Sally!"
"I know. Fred has some strange ideas," Sam agreed wishing he could see as much humor in the situation, "Anyway, after a few beers he made a little stick figure out of marshmallows and twigs. He named it Mark and we roasted him."
Tom could not stop laughing. When he finally caught his breath he said, "I'll have to tell Sally what her knight in shining business suit did."
"Yeah I'm sure she'll love that."
There was a moment of silence. Then Tom got a mischievous smile on his face. "Did you roast your girl's man over the fire too?"
"No, one stick man was enough for me. He kind of represented both our problems."
"I think you should roast your own marshmallow man," said Tom laughing.
"Yeah, that would be really mature of me," said Sam admiring the beautiful contours of Tom's face.
"Who cares? It's funny. I think I'm going to roast some marshmallow people tonight. I have marshmallows at home and a nice big fireplace. You want to join we?"
"Why not?" answered Sam. He would have agreed to almost anything looking into Tom's large dark eyes.
After desert and coffee they were back in the car. Sam watched Tom as the town went by. Outside the buildings slowly became scarcer and the road got steeper. Sam looked out the window and was suddenly reminded of a scene from Dracula. He thought of the unfortunate Mr. Harker who happily traveled towards the castle oblivious to the danger. Sam wondered if going to Tom's house was a good idea. Maybe Tom was not aware of it but Sam was sure that Mark liked Tom. Sam's morbid imagination painted pictures in his mind of his own death at the hands of the body builder. The vision was scary but it also angered him. Suddenly he wanted to roast those marshmallows.
They finally arrived at Tom's home. Unlike Sam's first visit this one did not involve running in the rain. The power was on and they were able to park in the garage. Tom led Sam to the living room and offered him a drink. Sam gladly accepted and sat down comfortably on the couch. He felt somewhat exposed in the light and made a point to look away from his host. His eyes scanned the room. It was perfectly neat. Meanwhile Tom went to the fireplace and began preparing for the marshmallow roast and anything else that might unfold. He moved the large fireplace screen aside.
"Do you need some help?" asked Sam.
"No, I got it. You just relax," answered Tom glancing over his shoulder.
Sam saw something in his eyes that he did not understand. There was an intensity in that look that seemed almost seductive. Sam dismissed it, thinking back to the way he behaved around Mark. Sam watched as Tom reached into the fireplace to open the flue. He had been treated to the same sight on his first visit and liked it even more in the light. He shifted uncomfortably and then picked up a magazine form the coffee table. It was partly a distraction and partly a shield to hide behind. He could not concentrate on it for long. Tom seamed to go out of his way to reach into the fireplace. The awkward reaches pulled his pants tight over his perfectly formed buttocks. Sam wondered if Tom had any idea how great he looked.
Once the fire was lit, Tom pulled a large loveseat in front of it and left the room for a moment. Sam moved to the seat by the fire still trying not to look turned on. He had to imagine Mark beating the life out of him to calm down. He was still concentrating on the gruesome image when Tom sat down beside him with two bags of marshmallows a box of toothpicks and some barbeque skewers.
"Time to roast people who suck!" he declared laughing at the idea.
Then he opened a bag of marshmallows and pulled out a handful of the treats. Next he built a stick figure. Then he put a skewer in its rear end and put it into the fire. "How do you like that, Ms. Trenton?" he asked the bubbling figure.
"Is she the one who got your man?" asked Sam.
"No. I think that guy likes my sister. Ms. Trenton was my high school English teacher," he put out the flames and bit her head off, "your turn."
Sam laughed and started building a stick figure of his own. He followed Tom's procedure, finally impaling the caricature. Then he began to roast it.
"Well? Does the marshmallow man have a name?" asked Tom.
"Yeah, Mark," answered Sam instantly regretting it.
"What? Mark is after your girl too!" Tom laughed.
"No. I mean, yeah," stammered Sam, "I didn't say it was your Mark."
"You like Sally. Don't you?" asked Tom.
"No! I mean I like her as a friend. It's someone else."
Seeing Sam's discomfort Tom changed the subject. Half an hour later Tom regretted making Sam feel at ease. Sam was full of marshmallows and dozing off. Through his half closed eyes he could see Tom sitting next to him. The firelight played over his features giving his eyes a faint golden glow. Slowly Tom moved closer reaching out and gently stroking Sam's cheek with his long fingers. Sam sighed as Tom leaned over and kissed him. Sam pulled him closer almost oblivious to the sound of the door opening. He tried to ignore the approaching footsteps as he kissed Tom's soft lips. He could feel the contours of Tom's lean body pressing against his own.
Tom suddenly pulled away with a shriek. Sam looked up and saw Mark standing over him. His eyes were red with fire and madness. He held an ax over his head.
Sam woke with a start. He nearly fell out of his seat as he tried to locate his would-be attacker.
"Are you Ok?" asked Tom.
"Mark... the ax!" Sam gasped.
"It's just a dream," Tom said taking his hand, "It's not real."
"Oh," Sam sighed, "Thank God!"
"What's going on with you?" asked Tom sounding concerned.
"It was just a nightmare. I've had a lot on my mind lately."
"Like Mark with an ax?"
"I guess you would be able to understand," said Sam deciding that it was better to tell the truth than seem crazy, "I'm...I'm gay and -"
"You are?" exclaimed Tom unable to suppress a smile, "Welcome to my world."
"Thanks," said Sam smiling back.
"So what does the nightmare have to do with it?"
"Tom, I like you. I would have told you sooner but it looks like you and Mark are going to get together," he let his voice trail off with out noticing the look of shock on Tom's face.
"I don't know what you do back there in the city but I'm not into that!" he answered.
"Into what? Love?"
"Not with my cousin!"
"I don't sleep with my cousins!"
"Mark is your cousin?"
"Yeah. What did you think?"
"When you were talking about the guy you like I thought it was him."
"No," answered Tom with a grin, "He's my cousin. We've been friends since we were little kids."
"Oh," Sam paused trying to organize the new information in his mind, "So, who's this guy you like?"
"You," answered Tom quietly as a faint pink color spread over his face.
"I would have told you but I thought you liked my sister."
Sam slapped his forehead and groaned at the irony. "Alright, I have one more question."
"Do you have any plans for New Year's?"
"I do now," answered Tom giving Sam a hug.
They sat by the fire for another hour talking. The tension was now replaced by comfort. After calming down they began to feel tired and went to bed. Not bothering with the guest bedroom they laid down together. Sam remembered the last night he had spent in that room. He had spent most of the night in agony looking at the man he did not dare to touch. Now they lay close together but not touching. Then Sam leaned over and shyly kissed Tom's cheek. Tom kissed him back. They whispered "good night" and went to sleep not wanting to spoil something so new and good.
Waking up together the next morning was surreal. It felt like a happy dream to both of them. It took a moment for either one to grasp that it was real. Once fully awake they got ready for the day.
Sam and Tom walked into Sally's shop feeling relaxed and happy. That changed when they saw the look of mixed anger and anxiety on her face. Fred did not seem happy either.
"Where were you two?" demanded Sally.
"We were at my place," answered Tom, "Why? What happened?"
"I called the shop at 6:40 and no one answered. Then I called your house. I must have called five or six times and no one answered."
"I called the hotel and your cell number," added Fred.
"I wasn't in the hotel," answered Sam.
Fred gave him a knowing grin when he realized what must have happened but Sally was not satisfied.
"What about you? Where were you all night?" she scowled at her little brother.
"I left the shop a little early. No one was coming. Sam and I had dinner. I was home all night after that," Tom explained.
"Then why didn't you pick up the phone?" Sally demanded.
Fred stifled a laugh as he pictured what Tom might have been doing. Sam gave him a dirty look.
"It never rang! I don't know what...unless that new internet connection did something to the phone. I just installed it."
Sally was still unhappy but a customer interrupted the conversation. Sally was angry with Tom and she made sure he knew it all day. Meanwhile Sam and Fred happily escaped for some sightseeing. The year was almost over and it was ending well for both of them.
By New Year's Eve Tom and Sally were getting along like always. They celebrated New Year's at Sally's home with Fred, Sam, Mark, and some other friends. At the stroke of midnight while everyone else was cheering Tom threw his arms around Sam and gave him a big kiss. At that instant Sam knew that this year would be much better than the last one, at least until his next trip to Green Hollow.