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Brett stared at the picture of Jesus winking of him on the mug. “You love coffee but Jesus loves you more!” it said. The paint was chipping off so Jesus had a mullet. He reckoned the mug was about 30 years old. He sipped the awful coffee and wondered why his grandparents used the grounds three times before throwing them out.

Loud engine noise cut through the chatter in the living room and kitchen. Everyone stopped talking to look outside. A beat up Camaro had pulled up; the red color stood out starkly against the dead trees and old snow in the grass. Brett could hear music through the glass of the living room window. His grandmother cursed. “Oh drat, who invited him?”
“It wasn’t me.”
“No idea.”

Brett couldn’t see who got out of the car. There was a tree in the way. People were looking to the door. No one knocked – it was thrown open in a haze of cigarette smoke. A murmur of discontent went through the family members. Brett’s jaw was wide open.
“Dammit Wyatt, what are you doing here?” Brett’s grandmother huffed. “Don’t smoke in here! Christ, what did you do to your face?”

Wyatt exhaled and took off his sunglasses. He was wearing torn black jeans with thermals underneath and a leather jacket with a sheepskin liner. “Oh I guess you haven’t seen my new face tattoo. Sick huh? Where is he…” Wyatt glanced around the room until he was looking directly at Brett. He pointed at him. “You. Get your coat on. And your long johns. And wool socks. You’re coming with me.”

“Brett?” Brett’s mother asked. “What do you want with Brett.”
“None of your business.” Wyatt drew on the cigarette.

Brett looked around bewildered. It was at this point, he noticed his Uncle Anthony smiling at him and giving him a thumbs up. Smiling was an understatement, you could have put a banana in Anthony’s mouth. Suddenly, Brett knew who had called Uncle Wyatt. It surprised him – Anthony came off as a goody too shoes to him. He was a total mamas boy, her angel, dressed in white, always perfect. When Brett didn’t move, Anthony gave him a little gesture that clearly meant “go.”

The cold air coming through the door snapped him out it. Brett put the mug down, slipped past his family members, and ran upstairs to get dressed. When he came back down the stairs, jamming his beanie on his head, there was a row going on, like a snake had been let loose in the hen house. Uncle Wyatt came out of the kitchen clutching some Christmas cookies with one shoved in his mouth.

He stuffed them in his pocket and grabbed Brett’s coat sleeve as he stomped out of the the house. Brett stumbled, but got his feet under him and followed Uncle Wyatt outside.

“You better bring him back before sunset!” Brett’s mother called out.
“Heather, the sun sets at like 4:30. Calm the fuck down, you’ll get him back after dinner.”
“You better or I’m calling the police.”
“He’s not 8, they ain’t gonna do shit.”
“Midnight. Wyatt, midnight.”
“It’s Christmas, have a heart!”

The door slammed shut.
Brett wondered if he was in danger. He didn’t really know Uncle Wyatt. As a kid, he was scared of him.

“Get in the car,” Wyatt said. “Fuckin freezing out here.” He stuffed another cookie in his mouth. “God these are so good.”
Brett silently got in the car. It smelled vaguely like cedar and cigarettes. Wyatt turned on the Camaro’s engine; it roared to life. Punk music blared out of the speakers. Brett winced. Wyatt turned it down. “Sorry. Don’t hear too well out of my left ear.”
“Um. Where are we going?” Brett asked timidly as the car moved down his grandmother’s driveway. He tried not to stare at the tattoo on Wyatt’s forehead.
Wyatt grinned. “To the woods, at the lake. To do drugs.”
What?” Brett shrieked.
“I got acid, shrooms, and edibles if you just want that. But I’d rather move around than be sitting still. Too cold to be still.”
“I’ve never done any of that,” Brett admitted.
Wyatt shot a look of pity his way.
“Well, now’s the time. Just you and I on this faggot sleigh ride.”
Wyatt chuckled when Brett gasped. “God, Heather coddled you. Little late at 17, but I think we can still make you cool before you go off to college.”
Brett just stared at him.
Wyatt sighed. “Ok, listen kid. Tony texted me.”
A-ha! Brett thought.
“Said you were having a hard time. I know what he meant. The Caruso family doesn’t give a shit about the gays – if they close their eyes, the homos doesn’t exist. If they acknowledge they got one in their family, they feel a little too close to all the nasty things they said about ‘the homosexuals’ and they get uncomfortable. Can’t have that. But there’s no denying it- sorry to tell you, there’s gay blood in this family, and guess what?”
“What?” Brett said.
“You’re the one that got it in your generation. Congrats.”
“Yeah,” Brett muttered. “I do.” He sighed.
“Well, don’t worry about those prudes. Dick is awesome, sleeping with men is awesome. You’re gonna grow up and have a real fine time learning about that stuff. And I’m not gonna let them ruin your Christmas by making you feel bad about liking dick.”

Brett furrowed his forehead. His brain was spinning. “You’re gay too?” It was almost a whisper.
Wyatt snorted and shoved another cookie in his mouth. “Yesh.” He chewed, and then washed it down with the can of Dr. Pepper that was sitting in the cup holder. “Yeah, I am, I mean. I got a beautiful little twink back at my place, love him to death. I’m not even allowed to bring Davey up, or I get gaslit and told I’m the one who is ruining the conversation”. Wyatt jabbed at his leather jacket he was wearing. “The fucking audacity,” he muttered as an afterthought.
Brett digested this. “Oh. Is that why I never see you at family stuff?”
“Part of it. And it’s not like I want to be there anyway. I got my band, so I’m always on tour. Or traveling. Or I’m in jail.”
Brett swallowed. “In jail?”
Wyatt grinned. “Not so much anymore. Would be a problem for the band.”
“Jeez,” Brett muttered.

“We got a bit of a drive, about an hour. So tell me about this boyfriend Tony said you have?”
Brett felt his ears get warm. “Well, sort of. Eric and I haven’t gone out on a date or anything, yet, but we like each other.”
“Have you fooled around at all?”
“We kissed.”
“That’s all?”
Brett groaned and pulled the beanie down over his face. “He won’t let me do anything else!”

Wyatt laughed. He gently coaxed more of the story out of Brett, which ended up being easier than he thought. Once Brett realized oh, it was actually ok to talk about this stuff and not downplay it to be socially acceptable, the flood gates opened. He’d been so desperate for advice and never had an adult who got it.

They stopped for snacks and drinks at a convenience store, and Wyatt gave him a piece of shroom chocolate.

“Only letting you microdose. Your brain is still developing, you know.”

Brett had no idea what he meant. But he learned while sitting on a rock at the lakeshore, staring at the green fir trees and thinking they had the most fascinating repeating patterns. He couldn’t believe something so straight and angular could exist in nature, when the beach was full of uneven ovals. Also, wow, it had never occurred to Brett just how old rocks were. It blew his mind.
Uncle Wyatt started skipping rocks and throwing stuff at the pieces of ice clinging to the shore, which was somehow, hilarious, especially since Uncle Wyatt kept saying the wrong words for things.

The shrooms lasted through the most beautiful sunset Brett had ever seen his life, an absolute masterpiece of orange and pink and red that made the residual snow glow. Brett thought about his boyfriend, and felt so much love for him; he wished Eric was here so they could hold hands.

By the time they got back to the car, Brett was more aware than ever how cold and tired he was, and just how dark everything was becoming. His stomach growled.

They drove to a diner for some Christmas ham, got damn decent coffee, and ate four slices of pie between them. Brett talked Wyatt’s ear off the whole way to the movie theater, asking every question about sex he ever wanted to ask. There was so many and somehow Uncle Wyatt knew all the answers. Answers that weren’t even in his text books. And what a fucking novelty to be allowed to say “penis” like an adult!

The movie theater was playing Die Hard as a Christmas special. Brett hadn’t seen it, but thought it was fucking awesome and vowed to watch it every Christmas. They didn’t make popcorn flicks like that anymore.

When Uncle Wyatt pulled up to Brett’s grandparent’s house, Brett had to be roused out of sleep. It was five to midnight. Heather was waiting for them, arms folded, as the car came to a stop. When they came up to the door, Brett hugged her, and muttered a “hi mom” with a sleepy smile.

“I present, your son,” Uncle Wyatt said with a flourishing hands.
“He smells like cigarettes,” Heather said flatly.
“You smell like grandma, so I guess we’re even.”

Brett wasn’t sure if he was dreaming or not when he heard his mom sighed and then admit that it was probably good Uncle Wyatt had taken him for the day, as Brett had been bored, and she did feel bad. But the confession came with a lot of scolding over Wyatt’s behavior.

“Why can’t you just be normal when you come over here?” Heather asked. “It’s like you like stirring shit up. You didn’t have to smoke, and walk through the kitchen in wet shoes, and let the cat out, and seriously? A face tattoo? What is it supposed to be anyway? Mom complained about it the entire-”

“Hey Mom, leave Uncle Wyatt alone ok?” It took Brett a moment to realize the words came out of his mouth. “He’s a pretty cool guy.” He yawned so hard his jaw cracked. “I’m going to bed. Thanks Uncle Wyatt for tonight. Merry Christmas.”
“See ya kid. Merry Christmas.”
Heather was stunned into silence.
After he left, Uncle Wyatt lit another cigarette. “Heather, I’m going to say this once, and once only. You let him be. Don’t discourage him being who he is ok? Or you’re only going to see more of me.”
“But Mom will-”
Uncle Wyatt held up his hand. “Forgot Mom. Better yet, don’t become Mom, Heather. You’re a modern woman. If you don’t embrace your son now, you won’t see him at Christmas once he leaves the house.”
“How dare-”
“How dare me, I know. He’s a good kid, and you’ve done a fine job in raising him so far, I admit that. Just be careful, please. Don’t draw a line in the sand. Let him be gay.”
Heather pursed her lips and folded her arms.
“By the way, I’m glad you finally cut your hair, it looks really good now.”

Heather couldn’t tell if Wyatt was being authentic, as she hated that haircut. She scrunched up her face. She knelt down, gathered snow in her hands, and pelted Wyatt with it.
“Oh don’t you-” Wyatt shrieked as it went down his collar.

Brett peeked out his window to his mother and uncle having a snowball fight in the yard. He shook his head in bewilderment and went to bed before he fell over. He had a weird dream that he went to school and Eric looked like Bruce Willis, and Bruce Willis wanted to make out in the locker room. Awesome.

Captions are fictional.


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