GENRE: Contemporary, Romance
LENGTH: 8,350 words
This story is included in the anthology, So In Love
BLURB: A new take on a familiar holiday classic. Ned Matthews is a college student haunted by his last boyfriend's infidelity. Ned would rather wallow in self-pity than spend Christmas with Bobby Cratchett, the boy next door and Ned's old high school crush, despite the fact the two of them are the only students left on campus for the holiday.
Amid memories of Christmases past and the emptiness of the present evening, Ned realizes he isn't the only one alone this wintry night. Can Bobby somehow break through Ned's defenses to show him Christmas is better spent with someone you've always wanted to love?
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Frigid air blasts into the car as Bobby opens the door to slip inside. "Woo!" he laughs, clapping his gloved fingers together. "Feels like snow out there."
Ned puts the car into reverse and the vehicle shudders beneath him as he backs out of the parking space. "It's too cold to snow."
Slowly the car begins to warm up. The inside of the windshield fogs but Ned squints out anyway, ignoring Bobby. Just drop the guy off, his good deed done, and then get to work on the ice cream that's solid as a rock in the back seat -- that's the extent of Ned's plans for this evening. What a holiday. Why don't they sing songs about that? Tell it like it is ...
"So what are you doing tonight?" Bobby asks.
Ned gives him a sharp look, unnerved. "Nothing."
If Bobby's waiting to be asked the same question, he's got a long wait coming. Ned stares at the road ahead and hums tunelessly beneath his breath to fill the silence pressing them together. Another few miles to campus, two stoplights and one left turn, then he can go back to drowning in self-pity. Alone.
But at the turn Bobby speaks again, his voice easily interrupting Ned's thoughts. "What about tomorrow?"
"What?" It comes out harsher than Ned intends.
"Tomorrow," Bobby says again. "Got anything planned for tomorrow? It's Christmas."
No shit. Ned shrugs but doesn't answer.
Feeling his way around the words, Bobby says, "My parents felt bad about ditching me for the holiday. I mean, it's not like I'm a little kid any more, you know? But still. My mom sent me a fully cooked dinner -- spiral ham, homemade mac and cheese, cranberries, the whole nine yards. Just needs to be heated up and it's good to go. Easily enough for two."
"Dinner?" Ned asks, as if he's never heard the word. Was he getting asked out here? Did it count as a date if he only went next door?
He's just being nice, Ned reasons. It is Christmas -- this must be his act of charity for the year. Ask the loner to dinner, God bless us every one.