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As they walked to the car to drop off their bags, Marc asked, "Any idea of where you want to look next?"
"I don't know. I thought I had an idea, but while we were walking through the mall, I didn't find anything at all." Collin said helplessly.
"Would you guys like to go to a different mall? The Skyview Plaza isn't very far away. Maybe you'll find something there." Marc asked slowly.
Collin looked at Christian and received a shrug in reply.
"I guess so. It'd really help if we had a better idea of what we were looking for." Collin said quietly.
"I'm in the same situation Collin. I want to get you guys something that you'll really like, but I haven't been around you enough to know what you enjoy." Marc said frankly as he opened the trunk of the car.
"I had an idea for Uncle Galen." Christian said reluctantly.
"Really? Can you tell us or is it something you want to be a surprise for everyone?" Collin asked curiously.
"Well. I remember you saying how you want your dad to be the one to teach you how to drive." Christian said hesitantly.
"Yeah." Collin said slowly, trying to imagine how that could be anything like a Christmas present for his father.
"Then Marc said that Uncle Galen wants to wash the car himself and do a really good job of it." Christian continued.
"I think I see where you're going." Marc said with a delighted smile.
Collin glanced at Marc with aggravation, then turned to Christian and said, "Well I don't see it. What do you want to do?"
Christian smiled at Collin's impatience, then said, "I was thinking that if you wanted to, we could buy your dad all the stuff that he would need to do a really good job of cleaning up his car, then we could volunteer to help him do it."
Marc gave a pleased smile and nodded his approval.
"So it'd be like us giving him a gift that's something that he really wants AND it gives us something that we can do together." Collin said thoughtfully.
"I mean, it's only if you want to." Christian hurried to say.
"Yeah. It's a great idea." Collin said with a quick smile.
"I have a pretty good idea of the things Galen is going to need, so I can take you to an auto store and help you pick things out." Marc said with a grin.
"Yeah. And we can give it as a present from all three of us if you all want to." Christian said as he glanced at Marc with question.
"I think this will mean more to Galen if it's from you boys." Marc said gently. "Besides, I already have his present."
"The way you plan things, you've probably had it for two months." Christian said with a teasing smile at Marc.
"A month and a half." Marc said with an unrepentant shrug, then added, "It's part of being fussy."
Both boys chuckled at the statement.
"So do you want to go to another mall, or are you ready for the auto store?" Marc asked as he closed the trunk.
"I don't know. I mean, we know what we need to get at the auto store, but I don't have a clue about what to get at the mall." Collin said frankly.
"Yeah. You're hard to buy for, Marc." Christian said as he looked Marc in the eyes.
"Not really." Marc said as he met Christian's gaze. "Anything you get me, I'll automatically like because you got it for me."
"Yeah. But we want to get you something that you'll really enjoy and use all the time... but we don't know what kind of things you enjoy."
Marc shrugged and said, "Good luck with that. I don't really do much outside of work except spend time with Galen."
"You're a big help." Collin said with a roll of his eyes.
"Sorry. But I really don't have any hobbies or collections or anything." Marc said frankly. "I'm a fairly boring guy."
"You're not boring, you're just hard to buy for." Collin said immediately, then noticed that Christian seemed to be lost in thought.
"Do you have an idea?" Collin asked curiously.
"Yeah." Christian said distantly, then turned to Marc and asked, "Is it okay if we go back into the mall now? I just figured out what I want to get you."
"Sure." Marc said with a curious look at Christian.
"Come on." Christian said quickly as he hurried toward the mall entrance.
* * * * *
"I'll meet you guys in the food court in fifteen minutes." Marc said hesitantly.
"Yeah. But don't be worried if it takes us a few extra minutes. It looks like it's starting to get busy." Christian said as he looked around.
"Fair enough." Marc agreed, then walked away.
"Can you tell me now?" Collin asked curiously.
"Yeah. I think I figured out the perfect gift for Marc, and it's something that him and your dad can do together." Christian said happily.
"Yeah? What is it?" Collin asked curiously.
"A video game." Christian said in triumph.
"Isn't Marc a little bit old for that?" Collin asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. That's what I thought at first, but then when Marc said that thing about not having a hobby or a collection, I remembered how some of the guys from school were talking about their video game collections and how some of their parents would kind of try to take over their games." Christian said seriously.
"It would be something Marc and Dad could do together." Collin said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. The big trick will be to find games that they'll like playing." Christian said frankly.
"We can ask the sales clerk guy. We've only got, like, thirteen minutes. We'd better hurry." Collin said suddenly.
* * * * *
"Sorry Marc!" Collin said as he rushed into the food court.
"Where's Christian?" Marc asked with immediate concern.
"He's going to meet me at the car. I wondered if I could get the keys from you so we could stash the gifts?" Collin asked hopefully.
"Are you coming back here when you're done?" Marc asked as he handed the car keys to Collin.
"Yeah. We just realized that you'd probably figure out your gift if you saw the bag." Collin said quickly.
"I'll be waiting right here for you." Marc said with a smile at Collin's excitement.
* * * * *
"No problems?" Collin asked as he approached Marc's car.
"Nope." Christian said happily. "I can't believe I just spent almost all my money and the sales clerk didn't even blink."
"Yeah." Collin said as he unlocked the trunk. "I was thinking that since you spent most of your money on Marc, I'll spring for the stuff for my Dad and we could put both our names on both the gifts."
"That's what I was thinking too." Christian said quietly.
"What's wrong?" Collin asked immediately when he heard the sullen note in Christian's voice.
"I'm not going to have enough money to get you anything nice." Christian said reluctantly.
"How about this? When we're done getting my dad's gifts, why don't we put our money together and split it down the middle? That way we'll both get to spend the same on each other and neither of us will have to worry about it." Collin asked as he closed the trunk.
"Yeah. I guess that'd work, as long as you don't mind." Christian said slowly.
"I already got my best Christmas present. You're here." Collin said in a light hearted tone as he playfully hugged Christian to his side.
"Yeah. Me too." Christian whispered shyly as they started walking back toward the mall.
* * * * *
Marc was sipping a cup of coffee when the boys approached.
"So, are we done here?" Marc asked casually.
"Yeah. I think we need to go get Dad's gift before it's too late." Collin said happily.
"Would you guys like to get a snack before we do that? I mean, since we're here in the food court?" Marc asked seriously.
"Cookie." Christian said in a surprisingly good 'Cookie Monster' voice.
Marc looked at Christian with surprise at the response.
"Cookie." Collin said with a grin as he tried to suppress his chuckle.
Collin's response was all the prompting that Christian needed. As soon as he started walking toward the small cookie shop, Collin immediately followed.
Marc smiled as he watched the boys walking away, marveling at the utter contentment that he was feeling.
* * * * *
"Hey Marc. I noticed that your coffee needed a cookie to go with it." Christian said as he approached the table.
"Chocolate chip?" Marc asked hopefully.
"White chocolate macadamia..." Christian said hesitantly.
"Even better." Marc said with a grand smile, then gratefully accepted the cookie from Christian.
"So after the auto store, where are we going next?" Christian asked as he dropped into a chair.
Marc glanced to be sure that Collin was nearly back to the table before saying, "After we're done with our shopping, I was thinking that we could meet Galen at the house and then go for haircuts."
Christian's gaze snapped toward Marc in an instant and the look in his eyes was the textbook definition of 'fight or flight'.
Marc didn't want to laugh, but Christian's reaction was so immediate and extreme, that he couldn't help but react to it.
Finally he was able to get his chuckles under control enough to say, "Don't worry Christian, I wasn't meaning you."
Christian seemed to relax a bit at the words, but was definitely still on guard.
"I had already planned on Galen and I getting a trim today, and since we're going to visit with my family this evening, it really is a good time." Marc said frankly.
"And..." Christian prompted suspiciously.
"And if either of you wanted to get a haircut, this would be a good time to do it, but I'm not going to pressure you." Marc said, hoping that Christian could hear the sincerity in his voice.
"I can't remember when I got my last haircut, so I guess it's probably about time." Collin said without concern.
"Okay." Christian said reluctantly. "You just wouldn't believe how hard I've had to fight both my parents to be able to keep my hair like this. Hating my hair is, like, the only thing they agree on."
"I like your hair." Collin said gently.
"Thanks." Christian said and resisted the urge to go over and give Collin a hug.
"Well, if we're all finished with our cookies, we'd better get this show on the road." Marc said before finishing off the last of his coffee.
Collin popped the last chunk of cookie into his mouth, then followed Marc and Christian to the trash cans.
* * * * *
"Evelyn? This is Marc Stone, I was just wanting to see if you could possibly squeeze in one more..." Marc was saying into is cell phone as they walked out of the mall, but suddenly stopped.
"Whoa. Hold on. I scheduled this over a week ago. What do you mean you can't..." Marc started, but was stopped again.
"Evelyn. I know it's Christmas. That's why I scheduled the appointment so far in advance." Marc said in an increasing voice.
"You know what? Just forget it! Bye." Marc said then stabbed the 'end' button on his phone with his thumb.
"Problems?" Collin asked quietly as he noticed that Christian was lagging behind them with an uncertain and concerned look in his eyes.
Marc took a long, slow breath, then said, "I'm going to have to spend an evening with my family, the last thing I need is to get attitude from someone I'm not even related to... and that I'm paying."
Collin chuckled at the statement, then slowed his pace enough so he was walking even with Christian before pulling him into a casual hug of silent assurance.
"Well guys, what do you think the chances are of finding a decent hair stylist at literally the last minute, two days before Christmas?" Marc asked as they approached the car.
"Somewhere between slim and none?" Collin said timidly.
Marc nodded, then fished in his pocket and came out with the keys.
"I have one other thing to try before I give up all hope." Marc said as he held out his keys to Christian.
"I'm driving?" Christian asked with surprise.
"Yeah. In your dreams. Now unlock the car while I make a call." Marc said with a chuckle before going through the address book on the phone to find a number.
* * * * *
"Any luck?" Collin asked from the back seat as Marc got into the car.
"I don't know yet. I'm waiting for a call back." Marc said a bit anxiously.
"The hairdressers hotline?" Collin asked with a grin.
"Something like that. I remember, a while back, my boss was telling us something about taking his kids to get haircuts and he mentioned that the hairdressers were friends of his. So I thought I'd take a chance and see if he could pull some strings and get us in." Marc said honestly.
"Well, if he can't, it shouldn't be a big problem. Your hair doesn't look bad." Collin said seriously.
"Yeah. It's nice." Christian agreed.
"I just want to do everything I can to make tonight go as smoothly as possible." Marc said quietly and betrayed a little bit of the nervousness he was feeling.
"Just remember that no matter what happens tonight, you've still got us." Collin said as he leaned forward in his seat.
"Yeah." Christian said with an encouraging smile.
"Thanks guys. That put everything right back into perspective for me." Marc said, sounding quite a bit calmer than a moment before.
Marc's cell phone rang and he had it to his ear immediately.
"Allen?" Marc asked hopefully.
Collin and Christian waited silently and watched Marc's expression for any clues as to whether it was good or bad news.
"No. Actually, two-fifteen is perfect. Are you sure it isn't going to be any problem for them?" Marc asked happily.
"That's fine. I'd rather wait around for a few minutes than look like a Muppet in all this year's Christmas pictures." Marc said then turned when he heard Christian's chuckle from beside him.
"Thanks again Allen. I really appreciate you doing this for me." Marc said sincerely.
"We'd love to, but we have people coming over. Actually, I was going to invite you and your family to come over to our place if you didn't already have plans." Marc said in an apologetic tone.
"Really? That would be great! I hope it works out that way." Marc said happily.
Collin and Christian exchanged curious glances at Marc's words, then shared a mutual shrug.
"However it works out, I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday." Marc said, then a moment later he hung up the phone.
"I'm guessing from that smile that it's good news." Collin said with a smile, drawn into Marc's happiness.
"Yeah. And we'd better get moving if we're going to stay on schedule. Skyview Plaza or the auto store first?" Marc asked as he started the engine.
"The auto store, that way we'll know how much money we're going to have left to spend on each other." Collin said honestly.
"Are you running short? Do you need more money?" Marc asked with concern.
"No." Christian answered immediately.
Collin looked at Christian for a moment, then said, "We'll let you know after the auto store."
"We can do that." Marc said as he pulled the car out of the parking lot.
* * * * *
"Here all this time I thought all you needed to wash a car was a bucket, a water hose and a few rags." Christian said as he climbed into the car.
"That's all you need to get the dirt off, but what we're doing is a lot more than that. The paint is oxidized and I doubt that the car has had more than a rinse off in the past three decades. We need all the tools and brushes and compounds to do the job correctly." Marc said as he started the car.
"I can't believe how long that took." Collin said as he tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
"Actually, it took longer than I thought it would too." Marc said honestly.
"Do I sense a change in plans?" Christian asked as he slowly turned to face Marc.
"That's up to you guys." Marc said honestly.
After noticing that he had both boys' attention, he continued, "If I understood you correctly, you said that the only gifts that you have left to buy are for each other. Is that right?"
"Yeah." Both boys answered in unison.
"Then there wouldn't be any reason that Galen couldn't join us while you're doing that shopping, right?" Marc asked in a leading tone.
"No. I didn't even think of that." Collin said as a smile spread across his face.
"So, if you guys don't have any objections, we can go home right now and we should have time to stow the gifts before Galen gets home." Marc said happily.
"Where are we going to put all the car stuff? We almost filled up your trunk and that trunk is big enough to park a car in." Collin asked seriously.
"Do you remember the loft in the garage where all the Christmas stuff was stored? I think we should be able to fit everything up there pretty well now that all the Christmas stuff is put out." Marc said cheerfully.
Christian shook his head in wonder and muttered, "I never realized that being fussy was so cool. You really get stuff done."
"Thanks Christian." Marc said quietly and Collin was surprised to see the tender look in Marc's eyes in the rear view mirror.
The glimpse of that expression hit Collin like a physical force. For just a flash of an instant, he had a sense of the emotions that Marc was feeling toward Christian.
Collin glanced to the passenger seat to find Christian looking at the scenery passing them by.
He sat back in his seat and made a promise to himself that he would do anything and everything in his power to make sure that Christian and Marc would be able to stay together.
* * * * *
"Hey Dad!" Collin said cheerfully as soon as his father got out of the car.
"What did you do?" Galen asked cautiously.
"I didn't do anything, why would you think that?" Collin asked as he ran to his father to give him a hug.
"Maybe it's just fatherly instinct, but I don't think I remember seeing you look this guilty since we got you potty trained." Galen said frankly.
Collin giggled as he led his father toward the front door of the house.
"If you don't tell me, I know that Marc will." Galen said firmly.
Collin chuckled, then said, "I didn't do anything wrong. Come in the house and tell me how your day was."
Galen froze, then looked back at the driveway.
"Where's my car?" Galen asked then looked sternly at his son.
"It's in the garage." Collin said as he took his father's arm and tried to get him moving toward the house again.
"And what is my car doing in the garage?" Galen asked as he reluctantly began to follow.
"Isn't that where cars are supposed to go?" Collin asked as he opened the front door.
"No. At least, not for as long as I've owned it." Galen said with a glance back at the garage.
"Would you like something to drink? I bet you're thirsty." Collin said as soon as he was inside the house.
Galen closed his eyes and seemed to be silently counting to ten.
"Collin, did you wreck the car?" Galen asked with a tone of dread.
"No! It's nothing like that. I promise." Collin said as he hugged his father again.
"Then will you please just tell me what's going on?" Galen asked imploringly.
Collin chuckled, then said, "Okay Dad. We went Christmas shopping this morning and got home about two seconds before you did. So Marc asked me to get you into the house while him and Christian put the gifts away."
Galen let out a gust of breath in relief, then gave Collin a firm hug.
"You really love that car, don't you?" Collin asked with a grin.
"It's more than a car to me. It's kind of a symbol of my new life." Galen said quietly.
"I don't understand." Collin said honestly.
"I guess your mother would accuse me of having a midlife crisis... and she might be right. But whether it was because of the divorce or me just wanting to reclaim my youth, that car is probably the only impulsive, impractical thing that I've bought in over a decade." Galen said distantly.
"Why?" Collin asked as his father guided him to sit on the couch.
Galen took a seat in the chair next to him and continued, "I suppose that I *could* have bought a car like that anytime I wanted. But I was caught up in what I *should* do. I was trying to be a responsible adult, doing all the things that responsible adults do."
"So what changed?" Collin asked curiously.
"When I got here I couldn't remember what it was that was holding me back from doing the things I wanted. When Marc's brother-in-law showed me the car, I knew that I shouldn't buy it, but I couldn't come up with a single reason not to." Galen said contemplatively.
"I'm glad you bought it. I love your car." Collin said warmly.
Before Galen could respond, a noise from the hallway interrupted them.
"Did too!" Christian said with a grin as he walked into the living room.
"Did not!" Marc said as he followed just a few steps behind.
"Tell me what happened." Galen said with an exaggerated aire of impatience.
"Marc saw his gift." Christian huffed.
"I did not!" Marc said immediately.
"I told him to turn around while I put his gift away, and when I turned back he was watching me." Christian said accusingly.
"When I heard the plastic stop rustling, I knew that you were done and I turned around." Marc said, matching Christian's tone.
"How much did you see, Marc?" Galen asked firmly.
"Not much." Marc admitted shyly.
"A ha!" Christian said with triumph.
"So I saw that you got me something in a white plastic shopping bag. That narrows it down to 95% of the stores in the mall." Marc said with irritation.
"I thought we could trust you." Collin said in a grave tone.
"You can." Galen said as he put an arm around Marc, "Except when it comes to gifts."
"Now you tell us." Christian said with a roll of his eyes.
"I'm sorry Christian, I didn't think one peek would hurt." Marc said quietly.
"Okay. But one more peek, and it's a lump of coal for you, Mister." Christian said sternly.
Marc nodded as he hugged Galen tightly.
"Did you guys get everything put away?" Collin asked curiously.
"Yeah. It's all stashed..." Christian said, then looked at Galen as he slowly continued, "...where we said."
"You don't have to worry about Galen. He's trustworthy." Marc said seriously.
"How are we doing for time?" Collin asked curiously.
Marc glanced at the clock on the side table, then seemed to consider.
"Well, if we leave now, we can rush to get something to eat and take a chance of missing our appointment at the hairdresser's. Or we can take our time and be hungry while we wait to get our hair cut." Marc said, not sounding particularly thrilled with either choice.
"Is anyone starving hungry?" Galen asked as he looked around.
"I'm okay right now, but I don't think it'll be too long." Collin said honestly.
"I could eat." Christian said frankly.
"Marc, is there anyplace decent to eat near Evelyn's? I can't think of any." Galen asked slowly.
"Evelyn won't be doing our hair anymore. We're going to a little shop downtown." Marc said slowly, watching for Galen's reaction.
"Any good eating places nearby?" Galen asked, seemingly without concern.
"There's a little sandwich shop on the corner. I don't think I've ever been in there, but it always seems to be busy." Marc said thoughtfully.
"I'm pretty hungry, so I say we go for it. That way we can eat until the very last second if we need to." Galen said to the group.
"Sounds good to me." Marc said with a shrug, then looked at the boys with question.
Collin and Christian shared a look, then in unison, they said, "Plan."
Both the adults chuckled as they led the way out of the room.
* * * * *
"Hello. My name is Marc Stone. Allen Thompson called ahead for us." Marc said hesitantly to the hairdresser who was currently styling an elderly woman's silvery blue hair.
"Oh yes. He said you just needed trims. I don't think it should be any problem." The hairdresser said as he kept the majority of his attention on his work.
"Thank you for working us in on such short notice. I really appreciate it." Marc said quickly.
The hair dresser put his styling brush down and turned to Marc with a pleasant smile.
"Let's go ahead and get one of you in the chair so I can..." the hairdresser said, then his gaze fixed on Collin. "Oh dear."
"What's wrong?" Marc asked with immediate concern.
"Eric love, I need you up here." the hairdresser said in an anxious voice.
"I'm working on Mrs. Henderson right now. Can't it wait a minute, Bobby?" A voice called from the back room.
"No. I don't think it can." Bobby said with a pained expression.
After a moment, Eric walked around the partition.
"What's so important? I was in the middle..." Eric said, then stopped at the sight of Collin.
"Oh dear." Eric said with a wince at the sight.
"How do you want to handle this?" Bobby asked as he turned askance and put a hand on his chin in a considering posture.
After a moment, Eric said, "Call Joaquin and ask him if he can come in early to help us out... will you be able to manage by yourself until then?"
"I don't know..." Bobby began to say, then glanced at Collin. "Yes. I'll find some way to make it work. Just, for God's sake, do something to help him."
"Go finish up Mrs. Henderson and I'll get started. When you get her under the dryer, call Joaquin." Eric said firmly.
"Yes love." Bobby said as he rushed away.
* * * * *
"What's wrong?" Collin asked with confusion as Eric gently guided him to a chair.
"Don't worry. No one blames you. We realize that someone did this to you." Eric said assuringly, then moved around Collin to look at his hair from a different angle.
"Is there something wrong with my hair?" Collin asked cautiously.
"Be honest. How old are you?" Eric asked quietly.
"I'll be fourteen in a few months." Collin answered slowly.
Eric winced at the answer, then gently said, "No one over the age of 8 should have this hairstyle."
"But I've always had my hair like this." Collin said in confusion.
"I have no problem believing that." Eric said, then seemed to give up on finding an easy place to start and picked up a spray bottle.
While Eric was misting Collin's hair, he glanced over at Galen and asked, "Are you the father?"
"Yes. But before you blame me for anything, he lives with his mother and this is his first time visiting me since the divorce." Galen said quickly.
Eric seemed to be considering the words for a moment, then as he picked up a pair of scissors, he said, "If his mother was responsible for this, I can see why you're divorced."
Marc couldn't restrain his chuckles and leaned into give Galen a quick peck of a kiss on the cheek.
Eric raised an eyebrow at the display of affection, then broke into a smile as he started taking small snips of Collin's hair.
* * * * *
"Joaquin will be right in. I told him it was an emergency." Bobby said as he rushed to the front.
"Would you have time to work on Mrs. Smithson now?" Eric asked in a voice of deep concentration.
"I can wait for Joaquin. I just need a wash and set and he's always so gentle with me." Mrs. Smithson said quietly.
"Thank you Millie." Eric said gently, then turned to ask Bobby, "Do you have time to help one of these gentlemen?"
"I left Mrs. Henderson to bake for 10 minutes and Phyllis just needed a touch-up. She's already done." Bobby said quickly.
"Who wants to be next?" Eric asked with a glance at the front of the store.
Marc gestured for Galen to go ahead.
When Eric saw him stand, he whispered to Bobby, "He's the father."
Bobby looked down at Collin, then at Galen who was approaching.
"I had nothing to do with his choice of hairstyle." Galen said before Bobby could accuse him of anything.
Bobby gestured for him to sit, then said, "But you saw it. That hairstyle only looks good on 6 year old boys and female Olympic figure skaters."
"...from the 1970's." Eric added over his shoulder.
Bobby nodded, then looked at Galen's hair critically for a moment. Finally Bobby said, "I can see from this that it wasn't your fault. This is a very nice style for you."
"Thank you." Galen said hesitantly, expecting a barbed comment at any moment.
"I'll just trim this up for you. It won't take a minute." Bobby said as he moved in to get to work.
"I'm sorry I'm late. Can you still work me in?" A woman asked desperately as she rushed in the door of the salon.
"If you can wait about five minutes, we should be able to." Bobby said as he paid close attention to what he was doing to Galen's hair.
* * * * *
"Is my hair really that bad?" Collin asked Eric quietly.
"It's just a very bad style that any self respecting stylist should have steered you away from long before this." Eric said as he continued to cut Collin's hair.
"Some of the guys at school called me 'Helmet Head' a few times, but I just thought they were being jerks and didn't worry too much about it." Collin said honestly.
"Count yourself lucky. Stylists call this cut a 'Mushroom Cap', but barbers refer to it as 'The Dickhead'." Eric said frankly.
"Really?" Collin asked with a squeak.
"You won't need to worry about it any more. I'll have you looking like a teenager before you know what happened to you." Eric said in a voice of deep concentration.
"Thanks." Collin whispered, then tried to glance at the mirror without turning his head.
The chair that he was in was at such an angle that seeing himself was impossible, but he was happy to find that he could see Christian in the mirror.
Collin relaxed and stopped worrying about what Eric was doing as he watched Christian and Marc talking in the waiting area.
* * * * *
"All done." Bobby said with accomplishment as he removed the apron from around Galen's neck.
"That was quick." Galen said with surprise as he stood and looked at himself in the mirror.
"Years of practice." Bobby said happily.
"This looks great. Thank you." Galen said in an impressed voice.
"Glad to do it." Bobby said as he gestured for Galen to go to the waiting area.
"Where do you need me?" A young man who looked like a surfer asked as he hurried into the room.
Christian looked at him curiously, since he seemed to be completely out of place in a hair salon.
"Joaquin." Bobby said, then gestured toward the waiting area, "Mrs. Smithson."
Mrs. Smithson stood as Joaquin smiled warmly and said, "Hi Millie, come on back and we'll get started."
Christian noted that Joaquin's casual appearance and friendly demeanor made him very approachable. He just seemed like genuinely a nice guy.
"Are you ready?" Bobby asked Marc pleasantly.
"How much longer?" The woman beside Marc asked impatiently.
"Just a few minutes, he's only getting a trim. You can get in the chair by the window if you want and I'll be right with you." Bobby said gently.
"Yes. Thank you." She said timidly, seeming to have just realized that she had interrupted.
"Ready?" Bobby asked as he gestured Marc toward the chair.
Rather than answer, Marc walked over and took the seat that Galen had just vacated.
* * * * *
"Bored out of your mind yet?" Galen asked as he sat down beside Christian.
"I'm okay." Christian answered half heartedly.
"I noticed that there's a toy store next door. I'm finished, if you want to go look around for a few minutes." Galen suggested quietly.
Christian flashed him an incredulous look, then seemed to get an idea.
He patted his pocket to make sure he had his half of the money that he and Collin had split after leaving the auto store, then said, "Y'know, I think I would like to go over there."
"Let me tell Marc where we're going to be." Galen said, as he stood.
Christian glanced over at Collin and met his gaze in the mirror.
Collin immediately smiled when he saw Christian looking at him and Christian couldn't help but smile in return.
"If we're not back before they're finished, Marc will come and get us." Galen said as he walked to Christian's side.
"Okay." Christian said distractedly, then waved at Collin as he turned to leave.
* * * * *
"Do you need to be on your own for this shopping, or can I come with you?" Galen asked as they walked into the small 'Mom & Pop' toy shop.
"You can come with me if you want. I'm just going to look for a toy car for Collin." Christian said frankly.
Galen followed along silently for a moment, but then felt compelled to say, "As far as I know, Collin has never had any interest in cars."
As Christian looked over the selections before him, he absently said, "This isn't so much about the car as it is something else."
Galen puzzled over Christian's words for a moment, then watched as Christian seemed to have found what he was looking for.
"Do you think Collin will like it?" Christian asked as he handed the toy car to Galen.
"From what he said at breakfast this morning, I'm sure he'll cherish it." Galen said with a chuckle as he handed the Hummer back to Christian.
* * * * *
"They're still working on him." Christian said with surprise as they walked back into the salon.
"But Marc's done." Galen said as he held out an arm to invite Marc into a casual hug.
"I think Eric reached the lowest substrata of hair a few minutes ago, so it shouldn't be much longer." Marc said as he gave Galen a quick hug, then moved to take his seat again.
"Wow! Look at that pile of hair on the floor. Who would have thought Collin was carrying around that much." Christian said in wonder.
"Imagine how he's going to look in his new clothes." Marc said speculatively.
Christian thought about it for a minute, then broke into a grin as he said, "I can't wait."
"New clothes?" Galen asked curiously.
"We just picked up a few things while we were Christmas shopping this morning." Marc said dismissively.
"Excuse me." Bobby said as he approached the trio.
They looked up in unison, but it was obvious that he was talking to Christian.
"Yeah." Christian answered hesitantly.
"I was just wondering if you'd like a little spritz of product to add some shine to your hair, you know, just to perk it up a teeny bit?" Bobby asked as he held up a spray bottle.
"Um... Sure. I guess." Christian said hesitantly.
"Come over by the mirror, I'll spray it on, then the rest will be up to you." Bobby said happily.
"Yeah. Okay." Christian said as he walked to stand in front of the mirror.
"If you snip one hair on that boy's head I will personally see that your cosmetology license is revoked. His hair is perfect." Eric said firmly.
Bobby rolled his eyes at Eric and simply said, "He needs a spritz."
Eric glanced at Christian, then went back to work on Collin's hair as he muttered, "Alright then."
After a few sprays from the spray bottle, Bobby left Christian alone to fuss over his hair.
* * * * *
"That looks nice." Marc said as Christian walked back to the waiting area.
"Yeah. It really does and it's not all sticky like most of the hair junk that I've tried." Christian said happily.
"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Eric said in a booming voice from beside the partition.
Everyone turned with surprise at the sound.
"May I present to you! The new and improved..." Eric said loudly, then seemed to falter.
Eric leaned close to the partition and whispered, "What was your name again, Sweetie?"
"Collin." a voice whispered in return.
Eric straightened and boomed, "The New and Improved... Collin!"
A moment later, a very shy and nervous looking Collin stepped out from behind the partition.
Galen, Marc and Christian all stared in shock for a moment at the complete transformation.
None of them expected that something as simple as a new hairstyle could make him look so much older and more mature.
Christian was especially amazed because Collin didn't just look older, but was also drop dead gorgeous. He felt his heart skip a beat as he gasped, "Wow!"
"You look great!" Marc said in wonder.
Galen stared in amazement, not able to find any words to express what he was feeling.
His little boy had grown up and turned into a teenager... in half an hour.
"Do you really like it?" Collin asked shyly.
"What's important is, do you like it?" Eric asked as he guided Collin to stand in front of the mirror in the center of the partition.
Collin took a moment to study his reflection, then with a giggle in his voice he said, "Yeah. I do."
"Then my work here is done." Eric said happily.
"Why don't' you guys go on out and meet me at the car?" Marc asked as he stepped toward the cash register with his wallet in his hand.
"Okay." Collin said happily, then turned back to Eric and said, "Thanks. I really like it."
Eric nodded, then turned his attention to Marc.
"Thanks for doing that. You're a miracle worker, he looks one hundred percent better." Marc said as he glanced toward the door.
"It really made my day to be able to see him smile like that." Eric said happily, then in a more casual voice, continued, "That will be $58.00."
"I'd like to get some of whatever that was that Bobby sprayed on Christian's hair, he really liked it." Marc said quickly.
"Just a second." Eric said, then rushed over to Bobby who was hard at work.
After a moment of whispering, Eric returned to the register carrying a spray bottle.
"That will be $66.00." Eric said as he added the new item to the total on the register.
"Do you allow tipping?" Marc asked before taking the money out of his wallet.
"Absolutely." Eric answered immediately.
"Then keep the change." Marc said as he handed Eric a $100 bill.
"Thank you." Eric said with a smile.
"Merry Christmas." Marc said happily as he left.
"And a Happy New Year." Eric called in return.
* * * * *
"Uncle Galen?" Christian asked cautiously as they walked toward the car.
Galen put his key in the driver's side door, then looked at Christian with question.
"Would it freak you out really bad or anything if I kissed Collin?" Christian asked hesitantly.
Galen chuckled as he opened the door, then said, "No, it wouldn't freak me out. But you'd better be sure that you'll be able to let it go at just a kiss. He's looking pretty good right now."
Christian looked at Collin, then said, "I'd better wait till we get back to the house."
Collin blushed, but was obviously enjoying the attention.
Galen got into the car and unlocked the back door, then leaned across the seat to unlock the other two doors.
When Collin and Christian got into the back seat, time seemed to stand still for a moment as they sat and looked at each other.
Galen watched the pair, recognizing something in their matching gazes.
The spell was broken by Marc opening the passenger side door.
"Did the boys tell you about us going to visit my family tonight?" Marc asked, not noticing the smitten gazes being exchanged in the back seat.
"Your family?" Galen asked cautiously.
"I guess they didn't." Marc said anxiously, then continued, "Apparently, my sister Denise has been planning a family holiday celebration for a few weeks now and she forgot to mention it to me. Mom called this morning to let me know that the party is going to be at my sister Linda's house."
"Forgot?" Galen asked as he met Marc's eyes.
"You don't have to go, but I... well, you're invited." Marc stammered.
"So is this why we're getting new clothes and haircuts all of a sudden?" Galen asked cautiously.
"No. I mean, I was planning on us doing this anyway so we'd all look our best for the Christmas pictures." Marc said nervously.
"Dad. He made the hair cut appointments over a week ago." Collin said from the back seat.
"But your regular hairdresser crapped out on us." Christian added helpfully.
"Evelyn crapped out?" Galen asked with a barely restrained grin.
"Pretty much. I don't think we'll be going back to her." Marc said with a look of apology at Galen.
"Good. I like this place a lot better." Galen said as he started the car.
"Me too." Marc agreed, then looked into the back seat and asked, "How does the new hair style feel Collin?"
"It's weird, I feel like my head's about ten pounds lighter." Collin said cheerfully.
"I think it is from that pile of hair that he cut off of you. They're going to need a lawn tractor to haul all of it off." Christian said with a chuckle.
"I like my new hair, but I still like yours better." Collin said as he looked at Christian with an undisguised leer.
"I was thinking about driving through to get us some sundaes on the way home, but it looks like we need to get those two behind closed doors ASAP." Galen said with a grin.
"We'll behave." Collin said immediately, his attention momentarily diverted by the word 'sundae'.
"Dairy Queen?" Galen asked as he pulled up to a stop light.
"Yeah!" Collin answered happily.
"Sounds good." Christian said with a tender smile at Collin's enthusiasm.
"Good call." Marc whispered lovingly at Galen.
* * * * *
"Did you guys set all your new clothes aside when we unpacked the car?" Marc asked as they pulled into the driveway.
"Yeah. It's all still in the garage, right beside the door." Christian said seriously.
"Then I think we should start getting ready. We're going to have a long drive ahead of us." Marc said frankly.
"Long drive?" Collin asked curiously as he got out of the car.
"It's about an hour and a half to my sister's house." Marc said with an apologetic look.
"Oh." Collin said quietly as he looked at Christian.
"I'll share my iPod with you. One ear piece for each of us." Christian said with a grin.
Collin thought about that for a moment, then looked at Marc and asked, "Only an hour and a half?"
Galen and Marc exchanged a smile as they walked toward the house.
* * * * *
"We've still got plenty of time, so there's no need to rush." Marc said as they walked into the living room.
"Do we need to bring anything? I hate to go to a gathering empty handed." Galen asked with concern.
"I asked my mom, but she said that I just need to bring all of you." Marc said quietly.
"It sounds like a set-up to me." Christian said frankly.
Marc glanced at Christian, and was surprised to hear Galen say, "I agree."
At Marc's inquisitive look, Galen continued, "I'd feel a whole lot better if we brought something to contribute. I'd feel like we were freeloading if we show up without anything."
"Even my dad wouldn't go someplace without bringing a bottle of Jack or a 12-pack... of course by the time we got there it would be a 9-pack." Christian finished weakly.
Collin gave Christian a quick squeeze from the side.
"What can we take?" Galen asked curiously.
"I suppose we could stop off at the liquor store and get a nice bottle of wine." Marc said uncertainly.
"So you're thinking we'll have more fun if we get hammered on the drive up?" Christian asked with a chuckle.
"We might." Marc said with a grin, then continued, "I was just trying to think of what we could bring."
"Dad, could you make some more of that cream cheese stuff that you made for us? It was really good and I bet everyone would like it." Collin suggested quickly.
Marc looked at Collin with surprise, then at Galen with question.
"The woman who told me how to make it said that you can make it look better by rolling it in slivered almonds, so it really does look like a cheese log." Galen said speculatively.
"Do you have what you need to make one?" Marc asked thoughtfully.
"No, but there's not that much to it. I know I could get it done before we leave." Galen said with a little enthusiasm.
"Don't forget the slivered almonds and a variety of crackers." Marc said as he seemed to be deep in thought.
"Why don't you just go with him? It's not going to take that long is it?" Christian asked frankly.
"I suppose I could." Marc said, then looked at Galen with question.
"Will you guys be okay on your own for a few minutes?" Galen asked hesitantly.
Collin smiled, then said, "We'll just be getting ready. Don't worry about us."
"Alright. We'd better go if we're going to get everything done in time." Marc said decisively.
"Right." Galen said as he started walking toward the door.
"Boys." He said from the doorway.
Collin and Christian both looked at him curiously.
"Have fun." Galen said with a mischievous smile and a wink before closing the door and locking it behind him.
* * * * *
"What do you want to do?" Collin asked with a hint of nervousness in his voice as he realized that they were alone.
"I think we should do like Marc said and start getting ready." Christian said as he started walking toward the bedroom.
Collin was confused by the reaction, but followed along slowly.
"Of course, getting ready involves us both showering... what do you say?" Christian asked with a devilish smile.
"I say 'yes'." Collin said a bit shyly.
"Um, there's one thing I think we should talk about before we do that." Christian said uncomfortably as he sat on the edge of the bed to take off his shoes.
"What's that?" Collin asked with concern.
Christian gestured for Collin to come over and sit down beside him.
"You know that thing we were talking about last night, you know, about not loving each other?" Christian asked as he seemed to be focused on his shoes.
"Yeah." Collin said quietly.
"I don't think I can do it." Christian said in a whisper. "I can't not love you."
"Me either." Collin said in a matching tone.
Christian turned his head and looked Collin in the eyes before quietly saying, "I *do* love you."
"I love you too, Christian." Collin said as tears started to well in his eyes.
Christian allowed his shoe to fall to the floor, then moved in to give Collin a firm hug.
"I'm scared." Collin whispered.
"Of what?" Christian asked, knowing he was also scared, but not sure of what.
"I'm scared of loving you, then something happening so I can't be with you." Collin admitted quietly.
"I know. When the lobster people rise up, they're going to keep us apart." Christian said with a weak smile.
"Yeah. That sounds just like them." Collin said with a chuckle.
"Face it Collin, all we've got is right now. When things finally do fall apart, do you want to look back at all the things we did or at all the things we wished we would have done?" Christian asked quietly.
After a moment of consideration, Collin said, "The first one."
Christian smiled and said, "Me too. What do you say? Do you feel like showering with me?"
"Yeah." Collin said, feeling completely at peace with the idea.
"Oh yeah, I forgot to do something." Christian said suddenly.
"What?" Collin asked with concern.
"This." Christian said as he moved in to give Collin a deep, firm kiss.
Involuntarily, Collin's arms snaked around behind Christian's back and pulled him closer.
Neither of the boys wanted the kiss to end, and neither resisted the pull of gravity that drew them back onto the bed.
Editor's Notes: Well it's about time they did that. This story keeps getting better and better. It looks as if the boys are falling in love, and that Marc is going to do whatever he can to have Christian stay there. I bet he and Galen will have two sons. This is indeed another classic MM story. Every new chapter brings us more insight into the people, and we can't help but fall in love with them, as they become part of our lives. I am ready for more.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher