tiny silver bell at the top of the heavy door would not cease in its
irritating jangling as customer after customer stomped into the
cramped and crowded store, shaking snow and slush in all directions.
The turnout was surprising considering it was Christmas Eve,
and many had already finished their shopping.
With a half-hearted sniffle, Shawn tried not to slump behind
the cluttered counter, instead pasting an almost-convincing smile on
his pale face and using a slender hand to brush away a few lost
leaves, leftover from his last wrapping job.
Today, as he did every day, Shawn cursed his decision to work
at “The Dreamery,” a small Mom-and-Pop flower store in an
unassuming neighborhood with a high percentage of senior citizens.
As a lock
of silken ebony hair fell into his deep green eyes, he managed a
genuine smile, if only for a moment.
Seventeen years of age, a high school graduate, a gentle soul,
and bereft of any money, Shawn worked there because it was the only
place which would not rob him of his prized possession: his beautiful
hair. It fell halfway
down his back, in a perfectly straight waterfall of liquid onyx,
accentuating his alabaster skin and contrasting sharply against his
sparkling emerald eyes, those intense eyes that filled with allergic
tears every day as he slaved away in the small store that he almost
considered a torture chamber.
It wasn’t the owner, an elderly lady named Myrna with most of her original teeth and a stubborn insistence on dyeing her pure-white hair a ghastly shade of auburn. It wasn’t even the high volume of customers, especially during the Christmas season, with their rush orders and large coats that constantly toppled the cute displays of teddy bears. No, it was the flowers, all thirty-four kinds, with their clusters of sticky pollen that lodged deeply inside his quivering nose, producing sneeze after sneeze after sneeze.
Just thinking about the word made Shawn’s elegant nose wriggle disobediently, plagued by a phantom tickle that would not disappear nor provide him the sweet release he so desperately craved. He dug around in the pockets of his black cotton pants, looking for a tissue, but finding none, instead shivering a bit in the slight chill of the store, his black short-sleeved t-shirt offering little warmth. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a ruddy-cheeked woman holding two lumpy bundles with bright red faces, one in each arm, approached the counter, relieved that it was finally her turn in line.
“How much are the poinsettias?” she asked, pointing to the beautiful red blossoms accompanied by a large sign that read, “Christmas Special: Potted Poinsettias for $19.99 each.” Torn between telling the woman to learn how to read, or simply laughing at the sheer stupidity of people, he instead gave her what he hoped was a friendly smile, and replied, “It’s a Christmas Special. Potted Poinsettias for $19.99 each.” The thirty-something man behind her snickered, his amusement clearly unshared by the harried-looking mother and her runny-nosed toddlers. “Fine,” she snapped, looking embarrassed. “I want one of those. Wait, maybe two. How much would two be, with tax?”
Shawn took a long, calming breath and replied with a straight face, trying desperately to ignore the near-guffaws of the man waiting behind this difficult lady. “Since Anchorage doesn’t have sales tax, two potted poinsettias would be $39.98.” Hoping to nip any further discussion in the bud, he readied his slender fingers to punch in the price, asking, “Cash, credit, debit, or check?” Setting one cranky-looking kid upon the glass counter, she began to rummage through her purse, finally producing two twenty dollar bills, one streaked with a mysterious purple substance, and the other festively decorated with red crayon scribbles. Shawn forced a smile. “Thank you. Two cents is your change. Happy holidays.”
The entire line watched as she dug deeply inside her bag, eventually emerging with a tiny coin purse and depositing the two shiny copper coins. Watching all of this, Shawn rubbed the back of his wrist against his nose, staving off yet another tickle. Allergy medicine was expensive, and the brand he currently used did not seem to do the trick, especially four hours into the dosage. At last she scooped her kid back into her arm, then gave him a blank look. “Can you help me carry them out to my car?”
Shawn looked at the six people in line behind her, then at the back room, empty because Myrna had called in sick, then at the line again. To his immense relief, a young man spoke up from somewhere near the back of the store, near the rack of greeting cards. “I’ll help you, ma’am,” he offered, his voice youthful and sincere. He approached the counter and gave her a handsome smile. “Hello, there. My name is Damien.”
Discreetly rubbing at his nose, Shawn sniffled a bit, estimating the man to be in his early twenties. Short, slightly curly dark hair framed his open face, and deep brown eyes sparkled with a genuine expression of friendliness. As Damien walked with her to the display of poinsettias and asked her to indicate which two she wanted, Shawn gave an audible sigh of relief, thankful that she was no longer his problem. On to the next joyful interaction.
Fortunately, the snickering man knew exactly what he wanted, and took little time ordering and paying, as did the remainder of the line. As the store finally cleared, Shawn shivered slightly, able to sneeze freely in the rare solitude, though ironically, the tickle had finally subsided for the moment. Checking his watch, he realised it was only a few moments until closing time, when he could finally go home to his studio apartment and curl up with a good book.
He doubted anyone else would bother buying flowers at so late an hour, and so he disappeared from the counter into the back room, searching for something. At last he unburied the bucket filled with fresh mistletoe, the tiny sprigs that elicited multiple sneezes from his sensitive nose. Slowly, he took a blossoming spray and brought it to his face, trailing it along the tip of his nose, feeling his body shake with the inevitable hitching breaths.
Frozen at the front counter, Damien watched, open-mouthed, as Shawn teased his senses, tired of the tickle that wrecked havoc with his nose, only wanting the sweet relief of a sneezing fit. Giving an involuntary shiver, Damien bit his lower lip, thankful that he had managed to slip back into the store without alerting the beautiful young boy. He tried to ignore the bulge that formed in his blue jeans, and wrapped his thermal-clad arms around his frame. Taking three, gasping breaths, Shawn brought his pale hands, cupped together, to his face yet far enough away that Damien could still see his facial expressions.
“Haa… Haht-Chooo! Hatchoo! Haaah… HAH-tchoo!”
His allergy sneezes always came in groups of three, but the mistletoe continued to wreck havoc on his poor senses, the sneezes coming quickly and moistly, barely any time for breaths in-between. “Hahh… Hai-Tchoo! Hatchoo! Hah-Tschoo!! Hahhh… ahhh… HAH-Tschoo! Haschooo! Haht-CHOO!” While Shawn remained engrossed in the sneezing fit, deep green eyes filled with allergic tears, Damien crept past the counter, his movements masked by the sniffling from the dark-haired young boy. As Damien approached, Shawn struggled to coax out the last trio of sneezes that he knew lurked inside his tickly, sensitive nose.
His nostrils flared, his eyes closed, and Damien stepped up to him and kissed him gently on his lips, strong arms wrapping around Shawn’s thin frame, drawing him into a warm embrace as the boy struggled against the sneezes, the surprise of the kiss causing him to lose what little control he had left over his tickly nose. “Haa… Haahh… Hatchoo! Haht-Choo! Haiit-Schoo!” Sneezing to the side, the slight spray was all but invisible, though Damien could feel a cool, light mist on his bare arm from Shawn’s delicious release.
Confused and a little upset, Shawn took a few steps back and eyed Damien warily, one graceful hand rising to rub at his reddened nose. “What are you doing?” he asked, his tone carrying a plethora of emotions. As far as he knew, he was still in the closet, so for a man to come up and kiss him in the middle of the store was not something he had been expecting, especially since he had never seen Damien before in his life. Shawn was not quite ready to give up the façade of a “normal” life, and although his classmates sometimes suspected that he was not entirely straight, they left the subject alone, in search of bigger and better gossip to fill the halls.
“You were holding mistletoe,” Damien replied simply, giving Shawn his best innocent smile. “It’s a holiday tradition, you know,” he added, his expression playful and suddenly boyish. Shawn could only stare at him uncomprehendingly, before looking down at the slightly damp sprig still clutched in his right hand. “Oh,” was all he could say, wide green eyes displaying his confusion.
Damien filled the silence. “I would apologise for kissing you, but I’m not sorry in the slightest, and I do try to be honest, in contrast to whatever other faults I might have. Anyway, I suppose we should start at the beginning. I’m Damien. I took that… interesting woman off of your hands earlier.” He gave Shawn a wide grin and offered his hand. Looking from Damien’s hand, to his own slightly moist hands, and then back to the young man, he bit his lower lip and flushed with embarrassment. “I, uhm, I think I’ll go wash my hands, if you don’t mind,” he stammered, tossing the sprig into a nearby trashcan and turning his back to Damien for a moment to wash up, making sure to use a healthy amount of the watermelon scented hand soap.
When he turned back around, hands still a bit wet from the clean water, to accept Damien’s handshake, the handsome brunette held a cluster of mistletoe in one hand, and took a step closer. “It’s a shame this tradition only stuck for the winter holidays,” he murmured, bringing an index finger to stroke along Shawn’s cheek. Blinking slowly, Shawn leaned in and placed a tiny kiss upon Damien’s nose, then closed his eyes and brushed his lips against the older boy’s, thin arms encircling his waist. A small voice in the back of Shawn’s head told him to stop immediately, close the shop, and go home, but he promptly silenced it, losing himself in the kiss.
Finally, he pulled away, just enough to gaze into Damien’s chocolate-coloured eyes. What he meant to say was, “I should close the store and head home. It was nice meeting you,” but what he actually said was, “I’m Shawn. Would you like to come over for dinner?” Looking almost as surprised at his own offer as Damien did, Shawn bit his lower lip once more and gazed up at the older man with a hopeful expression. Nodding, Damien slipped his free hand into Shawn’s and squeezed it gently. “I’d love that, actually.”
Still a bit flushed with embarrassment, and still a bit sniffly, Shawn smiled, then looked past the counter to the empty store. “I just need to close up, and then we can go.” While Damien watched, Shawn double-checked the flowers, adding fresh water and trimming stems, then straightened the displays and turned off all of the lights. As the two exited the small flower shop and Shawn locked the door, Damien pulled his jacket more tightly around him, as if to ward off the bitterness.
“You’d think I’d be used to the cold, having lived here all my life, but it still gets to me,” he muttered, nose already pink from the wind. Shawn slipped on his winter coat and walked with Damien to the parking lot, their cars the only two left in the little space. At half past eight in the evening, it had been dark for five hours, and the scattering of stars in the Heavens twinkled brightly upon the pair, bathing them in a silvery light.
“You can leave your car here, if you want, and I’ll drive us to my apartment,” Shawn offered, indicating the blue Saturn hidden under a good inch or two of fresh snow. Damien nodded and Shawn unlocked the vehicle and found the ice scraper, using the brush side to clear off the snow, and starting the car to warm it up. It wasn’t long before both men climbed into the car and buckled up, rubbing their hands together and watching their breaths come in frosty puffs. As Shawn turned on the CD player, the alternative sounds of Evanescence drifted through the speakers, making Damien smile. “I was listening to this on the way here,” he commented.
Easing into the comfortable icebreaker topic of music, the two lost themselves in conversation as Shawn drove carefully through the ice-covered streets, down Muldoon Rd., past the movie theatre and then onto a maze of side streets. Pulling up into the driveway, Shawn put the car in park and hopped out to open the garage door, returning and carefully threading the car through the narrow passage between ski poles and spare tires. He turned off the engine, locked the doors, and led Damien up to the apartment door, unlocking it and ushering his guest inside, closing and locking the door behind him.
“It’s not much, but it’s home,” he offered, gesturing towards the small, modest apartment with its cozy living room and dark blue carpeting. A studio design, it had an open area that served as a living room and bedroom, with an attached kitchen and washroom, and a small closet space. Various Christmas decorations accentuated the soft, homey feel, including a miniature living Christmas tree in a red pot by the window, adorned with white lights and silver ornaments. Damien looked around appreciatively. “I like it.”
When the jackets had been hung in the closet, and the shoes had been removed, Shawn brought Damien into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. “So. I have ramen, spaghetti, more ramen, and fish sticks,” he listed with a playful grin. “Take your pick.” Damien’s brown eyes sparkled with mirth, and he poked Shawn gently on the shoulder. “I’ll take… you.” Shawn laughed and shook his head, grabbing the package of spaghetti and the jar of sauce. “I’m for dessert, so you’ll just have to wait,” he quipped, placing the food on the counter and rummaging around in a lower cabinet, emerging with a large pot.
After he filled it with water and started it on to boil, he turned to Damien. “How hungry are you?” he asked, opening the package of spaghetti, trying to decide how much to cook. “Pretty hungry,” he admitted thoughtfully. “I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast this morning, before I left.” Shawn took a handful of spaghetti from the package with one hand, and grabbed two plates from a cupboard with another, then turned to face his guest. “Left from where?” he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
“It’s a long story,” Damien began, smiling wryly, “but if you want to hear it, I don’t mind telling you.” Shawn nodded and lowered the spaghetti into the pot, stirring it in with a fork. “I don’t mind,” he replied, placing the fork on one of the plates and getting a saucepan from a lower cupboard and emptying the jar of sauce into it. As he adjusted the temperatures on both burners and stirred the food alternately, he added, “Go ahead, really. I’m listening.” Damien leaned against the counter and sighed softly.
“I go to school in Fairbanks, at UAF, but my parents live here in Anchorage. I usually come down for winter break to celebrate Christmas with them, but a lot of things changed this past year, and… well… I found a different path.” Shawn nodded once more, to show that he was listening, then waited for his guest to continue. “Shortly after the fall semester began, I made a new friend in my philosophy class, Terah. She opened me up to a lot of new things that I had never considered, and one of them was Wicca. Eventually, I decided that it was my path, and so I became Wiccan. I hesitated to tell my parents, because they’re very old-fashioned and traditional.”
Damien paused and made a face, then continued. “I thought my parents would still want me to come home over the winter break, but when I showed up at their house, on schedule, and explained to them that I was looking forward to spending Christmas with them, but that I had already celebrated Winter Solstice… well, they didn’t take it so well. My dad told me to go back to Fairbanks, and my mom didn’t really say much of anything. I went to the flower shop because Myrna is an old friend of mine, and I thought talking to her would cheer me up, but I guess she wasn’t in today. And then I saw you, and… well… you’re beautiful.”
At this, Shawn’s cheeks flushed pink and he ducked his head a bit, suddenly busying himself with the stirring and avoiding Damien’s gaze. “Um… uhm… Thank you,” he managed. “And that sounds mean, about what your parents did. My parents were always understanding,” he added, his green eyes clouding over with sadness. “They passed away almost a year ago.” Damien approached Shawn from behind and wrapped his strong arms around the young boy’s waist. “I’m sorry,” he offered.
“It’s okay,” Shawn answered automatically, his ready response whenever anyone offered sympathy or asked how he was doing. “My older brother went to the Lower 48 with his half of the life insurance, and left me here to fend for myself. He said Alaska would always remind him too much of Mom and Dad. I managed to graduate early from high school, and now I’m taking a few classes at UAA, when I’m not working at The Dreamery.” After a long pause, he added, “It will be my first Christmas without them.”
Damien rested his chin on Shawn’s shoulder and watched as the younger boy continued to stir the spaghetti and the sauce. “I don’t really celebrate Christmas for the religious reasons, but I’d love to spend it with you,” he offered, his voice filled with sincerity. Ordinarily, such an offer from someone he barely knew would irk Shawn, but somehow, Damien was different. The prospect of spending the holidays with his charming young man brought a smile to Shawn’s face, and he turned and kissed Damien gently on his cheek. “I’d like that,” he replied, actually meaning it.
Before too much longer, the spaghetti finished and Shawn dished it up onto the two plates and led Damien into the living area, curling up on the couch. “I don’t really have a table, so your lap will just have to do,” he explained. “That’s okay,” Damien replied. “You should see my dorm at UAF. There’s a table, but I never use it. I usually eat all of my meals in front of my computer, or on my bed while I’m playing video games.” He gave Shawn a lop-sided grin before shoveling a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth.
They ate in relative silence, each thinking of the absurdity of the situation: total strangers sharing a kiss, and then dinner, as if they were best friends… or long-time lovers. The thought made Damien smile as he finished the last of his spaghetti. Shawn took the plates and rinsed them off in the sink, leaving them there for later, and opening the fridge. “Do you want anything to drink?” he called to Damien. “Well, what do you have?” the older boy asked. “Um… water, milk, tea, hot chocolate, Pepsi, soy sauce, Sprite, and orange juice,” Shawn answered.
“I’ll take the soy sauce, of course,” Damien teased, then laughed and joined Shawn in the kitchen, sneaking up behind him and kissing the top of his head. “How about Pepsi?” Shawn took two cans and the pair returned to the living area, sitting closer together on the couch than before, sipping their drinks. “So… you don’t have anywhere to stay, do you,” Shawn commented, less of a question than an observation. “Not really,” Damien replied. “All my stuff is in my car, back in the parking lot of The Dreamery.”
“We’ll go get it in the morning, and you can stay with me,” Shawn stated matter-of-factly, giving the older boy a shy smile and placing his empty can on the carpet. “If you’re going to be spending Christmas here anyway, it doesn’t make any sense for you to stay somewhere else,” he pointed out, hoping there weren’t any holes in his logic. “That’s true,” Damien mused. “And I could think of worse people to room with,” he added playfully, setting down his drink on the end table and tickling Shawn.
As the two tumbled about on the couch, amidst squeals and laughter, Shawn suddenly froze and sat up halfway, long, black hair falling into his face, almost obscuring his expression. “What’s wrong?” Damien asked, worried that he had overstepped a boundary. “I ne… need to sn… sneeze,” Shawn explained through hitching breaths, his intense eyes watering and his elegant nose quivering. Damien bit back a moan, unable to keep from staring at the dark beauty half atop him. “Let me help,” he offered, sliding his index finger under Shawn’s nose, pressing it against the twitching nostrils.
The sensation died down with Damien’s assistance, but as soon as the tousle-haired boy removed his finger, it returned in full force, taking Shawn by surprise, giving him no time to turn away or cover his mouth. “Haitchoo! Hatchoo! Haht-Schoo!!” Three slightly moist sneezes landed gently on Damien’s face, and this time he could not contain himself. He rolled on top of Shawn and began to kiss and nibble hungrily at the younger boy’s neck, warm, wet tongue to pale, soft skin, his hands holding the boy down softly enough that he was free to move if he wished.
Shawn, on his back beneath Damien’s strong body, could not even fathom the thought of wanting to move; instead, he closed his eyes and released a low moan, the sound only serving to fuel Damien’s passion. It was Shawn’s first sexual encounter with a male, or even a female, for that matter, and it met and surpassed all of his deepest, darkest fantasies. Cautiously, he slid a hand to Damien’s jeans, feeling up his thighs before his fingers discovered a large bulge that throbbed beneath his touch. Opening his eyes, he gazed up at Damien, his eyes silently questioning.
Damien nodded his assent, and Shawn slowly unbuttoned the jeans and unzipped the fly, exposing a pair of dark blue cotton boxers that matched the thermal shirt Damien wore. He eased his hand into the boxers, fingers coming in contact with a hard warmth that twitched at his touches. Damien emitted a low growl, an almost predatory sound, and moved a hand under the fabric of Shawn’s black cotton t-shirt to stroke his fingers against the younger boy’s nipples. Squirming with desire, Shawn wrapped his hand around Damien’s manhood and began to rub gently, biting his lip at the myriad of pleasurable sensations that coursed through his body.
It was not long before Damien could not hold back, his breathing ragged. “I… want to… touch you,” he whispered softly, placing a hand atop Shawn’s to get him to pause in his movements. Shawn nodded and undid his black pants, revealing black boxers and a proud erection. Both boys began to explore each other, interspersing their desperate moans with passionate kisses that burned their lips with fiery desire. Without a word, Damien pulled Shawn onto the floor and stretched out beside him, tugging down the dark boy’s pants and boxers and placing a series of tender kisses along his warm skin.
Lying opposite of each other on the dark blue carpet, the pair continued to let the moment envelop them with its forbidden cravings. A drop of pre-cum glistened on the tip of Damien’s hardness, and Shawn leaned in to lick it, almost unaware of his actions, until the older boy arched his back and thrust his hips up, moaning with obvious pleasure. Encouraged by his reaction, Shawn began to lick and suck at Damien’s manhood, nearly exploding with bliss as Damien reciprocated.
As the boys fell into a steady rhythm of suckling and licking, Shawn grew more and more aroused, and paused in his movements to warn Damien that he was close to coming. But as he began to speak, he halted his words, taking a breath or two and shivering slightly, his message changing. “Damien, I think all the… the dust from the carpet is going to make… make me snee… snee… sneeze,” he warned, his breath hitching and his eyes tearing up. His words were all Damien needed, and he held himself at the edge, waiting for the inevitable ending to Shawn’s warning.
“Haa… Haht-Schoo! Haiiistchooo! HAI-Tchoo!”
All three sneezes landed upon Damien’s throbbing member, and with a primal groan, he released his seed, the creamy liquid spraying across his lean stomach. Sniffling a bit, Shawn began to lick at Damien’s skin, tasting the opaque pools of pleasure, then stiffened with surprise as Damien continued to suck at the young boy’s manhood, one hand moving to cup his balls. Seconds later, Shawn found his release as well, filling Damien’s mouth with the milky substance and shivering with the aftershocks of his most powerful orgasm ever.
They cuddled together in a half-dressed, sticky pile on the floor, spent from their most recent activity. After a long while, Damien opened his eyes and gazed at the Christmas tree, its lights shining merrily, as if giving the young men a special holiday blessing. He thought of his parents, and their Christmas tree, filled with their unique family ornaments, and all the traditions that he would be missing this year, like the candle-lighting and the turkey dinner, the acting out of the manger scene and the carols.
As if sensing Damien’s thoughts, Shawn slipped his hand into the older boy’s and squeezed it gently, reassuringly, and murmured, “Everything is going to be alright.” Feeling somewhat better, Damien rested his head against Shawn’s shoulder and nuzzled him lightly, then blinked a little and lifted his head as he felt Shawn move beneath him. “I brought something back from the flower shop,” Shawn whispered with a smile, reaching into the pocket of his discarded pants and pulling out a tiny sprig of mistletoe. He held it over Damien’s head and leaned in, his soft lips meeting Damien’s own in a tender Christmas kiss.