Christmas on Muscle Street: The Gift that Keeps on Giving (musc)

A companion piece to Yachirobi's Grench Who Found Christmas.

A gift for my readers on Christmas 2011. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.

“Christmas sure goes by fast when it’s just the two of us, huh?”

Shepard looked at his dad but didn’t answer. It was a look that had grown terribly familiar to Charlie Weeks. Shepard had soulful eyes that asked the questions themselves, without him ever opening his mouth: Why did you let Mom leave? Do I embarrass you? Do you wish you’d had another kid so that my passions would be easier to ignore?

But it wasn’t a look that Charlie was used to seeing on Christmas morning. Shepard was typically his happiest on that day, and the rest of the teenage emotions got checked. But this year, they were seeping through. Shep was trying to keep them in, but his eyes were betraying a little sadness.

It wasn’t for lack of gifts. The large Victorian living room was littered with wrapping paper and Shepard had a pile of booty next to him – everything he’d asked for and that his dad hadn’t wanted to buy. A new e-reader, a stack of comic books, Julie Andrews’ autobiography, a motherboard, an internal CD burner, and an iTunes gift card for 50 bucks that Charlie knew would be used to buy Broadway cast recordings.

The pictures on the mantle showed a man holding his little newborn baby, both males clad in matching father-son football jerseys. Charlie had just known that Shepard was going to be the athlete Charlie had never been. Charlie had the height and mass, so he’d raise Shepard to get the muscle, the quickness, and boom – free college, a life in the pros.

Somehow, he’d wound up with a theater geek who built computers.

Charlie loved his son, but it hurt him to see Shepard systematically dismiss each and every thing that Charlie had always dreamed of doing. Charlie wanted Shepard to be happy, and he was confused how to go about that: Shepard was clearly unhappy, no bones about it, but was that because he was doing things that he didn’t find fulfilling simply to piss off his old man, or was it because theater and technology WERE his passions and he intuited that Charlie didn’t approve of them?

Charlie didn’t know. Shepard wouldn’t talk to him. The father just saw his boy - almost a man now - sitting across from him in the living room, with an ocean of silence in between them. Shepard’s teenage doldrums confused Charlie, and the father couldn’t wait for the son to grow out of them. He knew it would happen eventually, and it couldn’t come soon enough.

“There’s an Amazon receipt in this book,” Shepard mumbled.

“Hm?” Charlie looked up from his coffee, which he had been staring into awkwardly in an effort to fixate his eyes somewhere. As if his coffee was the most fascinating thing in the whole damn world.

“Did you buy it online because you were embarrassed to buy it in the store?”

“Shep-” Charlie stopped right there. He knew a trap when one was set. Shepard’s mom had set them all day every day, all over the house, like she was hunting for a bear or something. Leaving paint cans out on purpose so that she could bitch at Charlie for not putting them away…that was the final straw for that money-stealing-

Charlie realized his thoughts were getting away from him and he looked back up, speaking slowly. “I bought it for you. It was what you wanted and I bought it for you because I want to make you happy. Why does it matter where I got it?”

“You want to make me happy?” Shepard chortled and look back down at the book. “You want me to make you happy.”

“I’m not doing this this morning, Shep. I’m not. It’s Christmas, can we not do this?”

Shep heaved a little this-isn’t-over sigh and shut the book, placing it on top of the pile. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” he said, a little maturity breaking through. “I know you love me.”

That was as good of an admission as Charlie had gotten in a long while. It wasn’t as good as an “I love YOU,” but it would do for the time being. Charlie couldn’t make himself apologize for his love of sports, just as Shep couldn’t apologize for picking fights. The divorce had hurt Shepard badly, and Charlie knew it. Shepard had heard some really awful things said about both of his parents, the people whose beings comprised him. He was still wounded from it. Charlie was almost sure that was why Shepard was always lashing out. He would’ve snapped at his mom, too, if she hadn’t run off.

“There’s still two presents under the tree,” Shepard finally offered, breaking the silence as he crouched down and reached under and around the prickly needles.

The wrapping was unfamiliar to both Shepard and Charlie, and the “From” part of the gift tags just had a smiley drawn on it. “Must’ve been left by Grandma and Grandpa when they visited.”

There were no external hints as to what the packages contained: each was the same square shape. Shepard’s gift was bright red with a giant green satin bow, and Charlie’s was a green embossed Christmas tree pattern with a shimmering mass of gold ribbon on top of it.

“It almost feels wrong to open this, it’s so pretty,” Shepard said in a rare unprompted statement, even as he was ripping off the wrapping. Charlie struggled to even get his package up to his lap – it was so HEAVY. What was in there, four or five bricks for their walkway?

Charlie heard Shepard say out loud what they were both thinking. “Are you KIDDING me?”

Charlie didn’t even bother taking his gift out of the package. In the box, surrounded by tissue paper, was a coffee table book the size of a Gutenberg Bible. An old drawing of Superman, probably from the ‘30s or ‘40s, peered out. “75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking,” Charlie read aloud. He expected Shepard to respond with excitement, but when he looked up, he saw Shepard staring at him with intense anger. In his hands, Shepard held a brand new, beautiful leather football.

“You got me THIS? I keep telling you, Dad, I keep telling you and telling you, do you ever listen to me?! I don’t care about football. I’ve never cared…stop trying to, to…” Shepard’s words started sputtering as he got angrier.

“That’s not from me! I don’t know who it’s from! Grandma and Grandpa maybe? But they would know better by now—and you got me the history of comic books, I don’t care about this, I’ve tried, for you, I’ve tried…”

They began speaking over each other, their words intertwining nonsensically until Shepard dropped the football to the floor and put both hands behind his neck, massaging it. “Ow. My neck, oogh, ah…”

Charlie began the work required to set down the heavy book. “You alright?”

“It…ah, shoot, I-ahhhh-I think it may be cramping or something…ow! OW!” Shepard rolled off the chair onto his knees, slumping forward and moaning loudly, in obvious and clear pain. “Daaaddd…” The voice went upward in inflection, seguing into a long squeal of fear.

Charlie stood and headed for his son. He crouched down next to Shepard, who by now had his head almost between his knees, his hands clutching fistfuls of hair. The whines he was emitting sounded animalistic, and desperate.

“Let me look, c’mon Shep, move so I can look at it,” Charlie said, saying the same things he’d been saying for his boy’s whole life: through all the skinned knees, the bonked heads, the falls from the monkey bars, the cuts, the bruises, the gravel burns. Let me look at it.

Charlie could indeed see a strange happening near the base of Shepard’s neck. “Your muscles back here are spasming, Shep – can you feel this?” Charlie pushed a finger against the quivering block of muscle, and Shepard yelped in response. “Okay, good, you can.” Although he didn’t say it out loud, Charlie thought how good it was that he, not his ex-wife, had Shepard this Christmas. Charlie had always been the calm one in emergencies. That woman would just freak out immediately, and nothing would get done.

Two square-looking shapes were bulging out right above the middle of Shepard’s shoulderblades. From the back, to Charlie, Shep’s neck looked far stronger, thanks to the traps swelling out of it, bulging up straight from his collarbone and hooking around to in between his lats. Soon Shepard’s shoulders were shaking just as hard, and the poor boy’s hands were trying to reach any place to massage. Charlie tried to knead the muscles, but they kept getting thicker and he couldn’t grasp them.

Shepard’s shoulders were getting bigger.

A lot bigger.

Not just the muscles, but the width – it was a beautiful, if scary, sight for a father. Shepard’s shoulders were a mottled range of peaks, jutting out from the middle of his neck and soaring broadly to the delts that looked like bowling balls welded to the ends of the clavicle.

Shepard was howling with fear and pain. Charlie realized he couldn’t fix what was happening. He couldn’t alleviate it. So he flipped Shepard over and saw his son’s eyes darting wildly around the room before fixing upward.

“Wh-wh-what’s wrong with me!”

“I don’t know, buddy, but I’m here.” Charlie wrapped his arms around Shepard, trying to not touch any of the spasming muscles. His heart soared when Shep wordlessly hugged him back.

“AhhhhhhHHHHHHGGG…OW OW OWWW…” Shepard’s chest looked like it was jumping out of his shirt. Pecs shifted out, up, out, up, over and over, bigger and bigger, destroying his crewneck and shredding the fabric. The two men reconfigured their positions until Shepard was laying in his Dad’s lap, head toward the ceiling.

Shepard’s eyes widened. “I…I…”

“Stay with me, okay? Look at me. Focus on me.”

Shep’s eyes locked with his father’s, and that’s when Charlie saw that the brown eyes he knew so well were now a deep emerald green.

“Ohh, Shep...”

Shepard tried to say something but his voice caught in his throat. He arched his neck and rolled his head back, sticking his chest up in the air as his mouth sucked in short, frenzied breaths. Charlie started massaging the shaking pectorals with his thumbs, but it was like trying to rub the knots out of a freshly-laid brick wall. His fingers didn’t even make an imprint, and the pecs were just getting bigger and more solid – their round base squared out in angles at the bottom, a jut visible even when their owner was laying flat. The center divide thickened into a cleft that had no visible bottom.

“Daa-uhhmmd-“ Shepard tried to say “Dad” again but his jaw cracked when he opened his mouth, and locked in position, leaving him gurgling monosyllabic nonsense. As the bones and tendons changed positions, he was unable to open his mouth past a slit. “Duhm, guh, Aaahd…” Both hands hugged the shifting jawbone, and the green eyes squeezed out tears of pain and fear. Charlie watched, frozen, panicked. It took him a moment to realize that the hands gripping Shepard’s head were bigger than before, with muscular fingers and thick veins. There was a loud snap as Shepard’s jaw hurtled itself forward on his face, bringing the skin of his neck tight as a drum. “Bruugghhh,” the boy moaned.

“What’s going on with you…” Charlie breathed, dumbstruck.

“Nnnngh!” Shepard held his jaw with his right hand, like he was palming a basketball. He squeezed with all his might, trying to hold back the growth, but his jaw was getting wider, and wider, and wider, and soon he couldn’t touch both angles with the same hand. When he finally pulled his hand away, he revealed a big cleft in his square chin.

“Holy Pat Tillman.”

“Wh-whuh…” Shepard’s green eyes were bulging out of his head. He rolled out of Charlie’s lap and crawled across the floor, spurred on by the shakes shooting through his body. They made him move around the floor on his hands and knees, his back curving out like the shell of a turtle, each muscle thickening up with firm precision. It was like a thousand steroid injections going directly into each individual muscle. The forearms that held him up were twice as big as before. His upper arms curved and bulged in all the right places, each one as full as his pecs. Big, sleeve-shredding pythons.

Each trap swooped out in a 45-degree angle from his jawline, swooping down to connect right at the edge of his broad chest. His deltoids ran into his pecs and covered his armpits. His lats held his forearms away from his body. His hands were the same size as his muscled forearms.

“My boy,” Charlie whispered, his voice cracking. He reached out to Shep, who was curling into a fetal position on the floor. “Shep, stay with me. Look at me,” he repeated, and Shep obediently rolled his head up from the floor to hold a steady gaze with his dad.

Shep’s handsome jock face staring up from the hardwood planks was almost, but not quite, foreign to Charlie Weeks. The big cheekbones, hulking jaw and thick eyebrows were all new. But the wide eyes – despite the green color – and quivering mouth were his son’s, and though the nose had a more athletic precision, it was still a Weeks nose.

Shepard leaned up, remaining on his knees, and let his broad back rest against a chair. His chest heaved in and out, in and out, as sweat poured down his frame. His muscles continued to pump up, fuller and rounder with each breath. He had a physique of pure beauty, highlighted by the sharp clavicle that perfectly divided his pecs. He was like a roided-out Abercrombie boy, but the body was clearly juice-free: the muscles were too symmetrical, too chiseled. They looked like they belonged on him, earned instead of purchased.

Shepard was staring at the mantle, his round eyes soaking in the pictures on it. That picture of him with his Dad as a baby – it was one of the best ever. But it had mates now, and Shepard knew, deep down, that these things had happened in some alternate universe. He remembered them, he loved them. They formed him. But they formed the new him, the body. Not the old him – the soul.

Shepard in his Pop Warner uniform, his child’s grin sporting a gap between every tooth, hands too small to even hold the football.

Shepard in his white shirt and black tie, holding a leatherbound folder before his children’s choir concert.

A teenaged Shepard posing with his junior high football team, looking slightly taller and older, his features beginning to lose their softness.

Shepard, a shirtless 14-year-old, tinkering with his first computer in the garage.

The pecs were starting to come in, along with the square jaw, in his junior high graduation picture. By the time high school rolled around, Shepard was more man than boy. Standing 6’1” and rocking 16” arms as a 16-year-old, there was Shepard playing Gaston in Beauty in the Beast at his high school, framed with equal pride next to his media picture as the school’s starting quarterback. Every year, his chest got broader, his shoulders wider, his face more handsome. The smile was perfect by his senior year. He’d grown another three inches at that point, filling into an NFL body, and an endorsement face. And though he was about to head to college on a full football scholarship, the last picture on the mantle was of Shep starring as Li’l Abner, his titanic muscles poured into a tight red sleeveless polo and unbuckled overalls. He towered over every other person in the picture. The school had put on the musical specifically for Shepard to star in it. Never before had the drama program been graced with such a flawless male specimen, let alone one who could sing tenor and baritone with equal power. Shepard’s singing voice was as good as his looks.

His ribcage got wider, his chest more barrel. Shepard remembered, as he inhaled a much-needed deep breath, that that was why he was such a talented singer – he had great capacity for breath support. One quick catch-breath and the voice would come belting out, strong and healthy. And the coordination he’d developed from a lifetime of sports really served in stage movement, and in dancing. Shepard exercised great control over his limbs.

Charlie was looking at the pictures, too, but only for a moment – absorbing them – before he looked back at his son. The boy was tall, huge, wildly handsome, with a smell of pure testosterone wafting off of his body. Shep’s shirt lay in pieces around the floor, but his sweatpants clung to his legs like cotton cellophane, the cuts in the muscles visible under the fabric.

A line of sweat ran over Shepard’s ass cheeks and disappeared into the fabric that was wedged between them. It took Charlie a moment to realize that his son’s dick was hanging free, over the waist of the sweats. The cock blindsided the father. He hadn’t seen Shepard’s manhood since Shepard was a little boy who needed help changing clothes. To see it now, huge, veiny, hairy – it confused Charlie. And its size confused Shepard, who moved his gaze upward to the ceiling and tried to ignore the feelings rushing through him. Every movement, even the slightest twinge, made him feel new curves and muscles on his form, and each of those curves and muscles made him more horny. The head of his dick began going purple, and Shep bit his lip, bucking his hips, muttering “N-no….”

The thrusts into the air were getting wilder. Shep’s beautiful face went red as a cherry. “I’m sorry, Dad!”

“Shepard Charles, don’t you dare-”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I can’t, I can’t, Ican’tIcan’tIcan’tI’msorrysorrysooooohhhhhfuucccck kkk…”

Cum blasted out over the bricks of the fireplace and Shepard collapsed forward, sweat pouring onto the floor as it streamed off the extreme muscles.


“Eeeee, uhhh, eee, uhhh…” Shepard tried to catch his breath. His arms, huge as they were, felt like jello. He pushed up off the floor but collapsed back onto his chest. Charlie scooted over and offered his hand, and when Shepard grabbed it, the grip was so strong that Charlie feared he was about to get his hand ripped off from the wrist.


“Oh my God.”

The voice was so deep, and smooth, a voice as trained in speaking as it was in singing. Shepard cleared his throat and tried to speak in a higher tone, but nothing fixed the handsome timbre. “Dad, I…I’m me, right?”

“I think so.”

“Shepard Charles Weeks?”

“That’s you.”

Shepard staggered to his feet and clamped two fingers around his nipple. He pulled on it, then cupped his pec, staring in green-eyed wonder at the magic of his body.

He started laughing. “Hoo-lyyyyy shit,” he whistled. “Dad, look at me!”

“I’m…I’m looking…” Charlie felt like he’d been slugged. Nothing made sense.

“I’m a magazine cover!” Shepard curled his arms up and flexed his biceps, which rounded up so high they ran even with his flat forehead. “Like, I, I never really cared about being this kind of guy, but now that…unnnghhh, YEAHHH!”


“I play football!” Shepard was processing it all much better than Charlie. “I play football and you’re so proud of me,” Shep said, stating it with supreme confidence. “I’m so good, Dad. I’m the best in the state. I’m one of the best in the country.”

“How do you…how is this…” Charlie fixated on a hanging picture of Shepard’s face, clearly shot for a magazine. His son’s cheekbones pushed into each side of the frame. The green eyes peered out from behind the thick eyebrows above and the eye black below. The mouth was curled into a cocky don’t-fuck-with-me sneer.

Shepard was laughing more and more. “FUCK yeah, and I’m a good actor too. And I sing! I can even dance real well!”

Shepard finally registered his dad’s confusion, and he crouched down and wrapped his arms around Charlie, feeling, for the first time, far larger than his own father. It was an odd feeling of submissive superiority. “I’m okay now, Dad. It doesn’t hurt anymore.” He released a little chuckle. “Nothing really hurts anymore.”

“You mean just like that? Just a little football and now you look…you look like this, and that solves everything?” Charlie shook his head. “That can’t solve everything, Shep.”

“It feels right. I feel right, and happy. You’d understand if you…” Shep trailed off, and Charlie looked up to see his son smiling ear-to-ear, the Cheshire Jock.


“What was your present, Dad?”

“What are you-” Charlie’s eyes went wide. His mouth slackened and his breathing sped up. “Shep, I – are you saying I’m going to…I’m not sure I-”

“It’s already happening, Dad.” Shepard’s deep voice bored into Charlie’s skull like a drill bit, rattling around inside. Charlie shook his head ‘no,’ repeatedly, seeing no evidence that anything was happening to him. “No, no, I-”

“Then what’s this?” Shepard pulled on Charlie’s hair, and laughed good-naturedly when his dad yelped with surprise. “What is-I have-I don’t have, I…get that off!” Charlie felt the long tendrils hitting his face and tried to whip them back, or tear them out, but they held firm. Charlie’s movements became so manic that Shepard finally reached out and pinned his Dad’s arms to his sides. “Calm down, old guy.”

“Wh-what’s happening!”

“You’re okay, really!” Shepard started registering that playing it cool was just freaking Charlie out more. “It all worked out for me, it’ll be okay for you too.”

“Whuh-whuh…” Charlie looked down when he felt the swelling in his chest. The two mounds growing out of it were hard as rocks and just as square, a strong, proud set of pecs that made Shepard grin.

“See, it all makes sense,” Shepard said, trying to distract his father with pleasantries. “I have to come from somewhere. I can’t just have rogue genetics. See?” Shepard reached out and yanked at Charlie’s shirt, easily ripping it off, exposing a humorous sight: a built – and still building – upper chest with a flabby, pasty stomach below it, like two torsos fused together.

“St-stop! Stop that!” Charlie worked to modestly cross his arms over his bare chest, but he almost couldn’t: it was getting too big.

“See, look!” Shepard groped a large handful of his right pec and then shoved a finger against the boulder on Charlie’s chest. “They’re the same shape! They’ve got that real meaty, square look. That’s genetics! I got that from you, Dad.”

“I don’t…” Charlie looked down at his pectorals and smiled weakly, as exhaustion crept in. “This is temporary, right? This is just…just for today…” He knew the answer to that. Charlie ran a hand across the shelf of muscle, feeling his fingers dip into the cleft before rolling back up the crest of the round pecs. They really did look just like Shepard’s – just a bigger, larger, beefier version. Weeks’ pecs, First Generation. The Dad Edition.

Sweat rolled into Charlie’s eyes and he tried to wipe it free, flicking beads down his hands. “Shepard,” he muttered gruffly, his voice lined with a commanding edge. “Shepard, am I getting younger…”

“Don’t think so. Your hair’s salt-and-pepper. You can’t get younger, you’re my dad.”

Charlie grunted with surprise and rolled forward, his head falling right next to Shepard’s lap. Braced on all fours, he could feel his hands being pushed further apart by his back, by his chest, his shoulders – everything was getting bigger, just like he’d seen happen to his boy. He had to set an example for Shepard, and in this body, he had set a great one: muscles everywhere, shredded, bulging with dedication and precision.

Scooting on his hands and knees, Charlie began to head over to the giant book that sat next to his chair. He heard Shepard chuckling and had to turn his head over his shoulder. “What?”

“Your ass,” Shepard said between breaths, his laughter growing. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but you’ve got a big ass and it just-” The sentence dissolved into giggles.

“Don’t laugh like that, jocks don’t laugh like that,” Charlie said with a smile, letting himself laugh with his boy. “This ass is all muscle.”

“Oh yeah, how do you know that? You only just grew it.”

“It’s my body, I can feel it.”

“See? I kept telling you not to panic.”

Charlie shook his head back and forth. “I’m still panicking, but it…this feels good, I have to admit.” With a trembling hand, Charlie reached out and touched the book, staring at the front image. Everything was blurry for a moment before the world rocketed back into focus, and Charlie felt something resting on the bridge of his nose.

“Glasses?” He turned to his son and looked at Shep – big, handsome Shep. The young man he had envisioned that baby in his arms would grow into…and now here he was, broad-shouldered, deep-voiced and square-jawed. Shep looked so kind now; his eyes sparkled happily, the kind of sparkle that Charlie had been longing to see for the past couple of years as Shep had wallowed in misery and broken Charlie’s heart. “Am, am I wearing glasses?”

Shep smiled and nodded.

“What do they look like?”

“They’re big, black-framed, kinda retro. I like them.”

Charlie hesitantly put a hand up to the frames, almost expecting them to feel hot. His fingers traversed up his forehead and felt the clean, gelled locks of his now-perfectly styled hair.

He grimaced. His muscles went into another full-body flex, an overwhelming spasm that blew all his muscles bigger and thicker. His chest bobbed and flexed on its own, the muscles rolling from the outer edges inward, like the ripples on a lake. His shoulders – well, he knew what it felt like to be Shep, now, and he knew where Shep had gotten such broad shoulders. Shepard was right: it was the genes. The square jaw of his dad, the big barrel chest, the rippling shoulders, the winning smile.

The smile…

Charlie’s eyes darted up to the photos and there he was in them. Always nicely dressed, if not in a suit, then at least a dress shirt, with his arm around his boy. Black hair, thick glasses, and eye-popping good looks, like a school nerd made good. Nothing about Charlie was taken away, it was just accentuated. But he did suddenly remember that comic book convention he’d been to a few years back…and he’d taken Shep, and Shep had just been in hog heaven, the only kid wearing baggy Under Armour workout gear among all the nerds.

Charlie understoond Shep now. Why Shep loved all the things he did – the excitement of a good comic, how rapturous it was, an ecstasy only equaled by the roar of the crowd in a stadium, or in an auditorium after a successful performance. The recognition, the rush of getting to be someone else…Charlie got it.

He could feel the bones in his face moving around, the skin tightening around larger cheeks and a bigger jaw. His handsome features, the one his son had inherited from him, were settling into place. The slight pull he felt under his lip was from his chin clefting. “I…son…”

“You look really good, Dad.”

“Shep…” Charlie opened his arms, giant arms that were knotted from fingertip to shoulder with pounds of thick muscle.

Shepard didn’t miss a beat and fell into his dad’s embrace, and they just sat there by the tree, holding their football and their book, hugging.

“I love you, bud. I’m sorry I was so rough on you.”

“I could say the same thing,” Shepard replied. “And I will…I’m sorry.” He scooted back. “We’re each other’s heroes, Dad. You’re my comic book Pop.”

“And you’re my gridiron boy.”

They sat there, Shepard’s fingers digging into Charlie’s shoulder, for a solid ten minutes. They thought about the workouts they’d have. They thought about when Shepard would see his grandparents, and how proud they’d be of him and what a glorious young man he was.

“You didn’t, uh, you didn’t…y’know…” Shepard said, turning red. “I couldn’t control myself.”

“I’ve got a lot more practice holding it in,” Charlie chuckled. “Your momma was kind of a cold fish.”

Shepard laughed. “Poor Mom. Maybe if she’d stuck around she would’ve gotten a present too.”

Charlie wasn’t sure how to respond to this, so he merely smiled and stood up. He stretched out his tall form, marveling at how different everything looked from his higher perspective, then grabbed his robe from the back of a chair and wrapped it around himself, his furry pecs impossible to conceal.

“Hey Dad?”

Charlie looked down at his jock, sitting cross-legged on the floor. “Yeah?”

“Thanks for not giving up on me.”

Charlie smiled and crouched, cupping Shepard’s square jaw in his big hands. “I would never even think of it.” He kissed Shepard’s forehead and repeated the sentiment. “I will never, ever give up on you.”

Charlie went and got himself a cup of coffee, to calm his nerves. By the time he walked back into the living room, Shepard was curled up at one end of the sofa, each end of a ribbed scarf draping over his full pecs. On his lap was Julie Andrews’ autobiography.

Shepard looked up at Charlie standing in the doorframe. The jock’s face broke into a wide, gleaming smile. “Don’t tell the guys on the team, okay?”

“I don’t know who the ‘guys on the team’ are, buddy. Your secret’s safe with me. Y’want some coffee?”

“No, thanks. I’m just gonna keep reading, if that’s okay with you.”

“Fine by me.” Charlie picked up his favorite gift, the book that had changed his life. It was lighter, now that he had strength. He plopped it into his lap as he eased onto the other end of the sofa. “I’ve got some reading to do myself.”

“I wanna read that when you're done." A pause. "Do we know who they’re from?” Shepard’s voice was barely above a whisper, as it spoke of what would be his greatest secret.

“I don’t think I want to know.”

“I guess I don’t either.” Shepard's eyes danced as he talked. “I’m happy it happened. I think this is how we were meant to be. And to think I was rejecting it! I was rejecting how happy I could be. I'm so happy this happened.”

“Me too.”

“Merry Christmas, Dad.”

“Merry Christmas, Shep.”