Ebenezer Scrooge looked at the clock in his office. Almost seven on Christmas Eve. He could hear his clerk, Bob Cratchit, getting restless in the next room. He sighed and tossed down his pen and rose to go out to his clerk’s desk.
Bob looked up hopefully. “Almost finished up, Mr. Scrooge?” the slightly short, thin man asked in a timid voice.
“Can’t wait to get out of here, eh, Cratchit?”
“It is Christmas Eve, sir. The family, you know.” “Hmm. You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose.” “If convenient, Mr. Scrooge.”
“Well, it isn’t. If I was to stop a day’s wages, I’m sure you’d think yourself ill-used.”
“It’s just the one time a year.”
Eb narrowed his eyes. “Whatever. Be here early the next day.” “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Cratchit hurried into his coat and then wrapped his scarf around his neck. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge.”
“Get out of here,” he growled at his clerk who rushed out the door.
Just as he was leaving, his nephew, Fred, came in.
Fred, handsome, tall and muscular, and grinning like an idiot, called out, “Merry Christmas, Bob.”
“Merry Christmas, Fred,” Bob called back without stopping. Clearly wanting out as quickly as possible.
Fred turned to Eb. “Merry Christmas, Uncle. God save you.”
“God save me from idiots like you,” he returned. “What do you want? If it’s money you’ve come for, just turn around and walk back out.”
His nephew had the gall to laugh. “No, uncle. That’s not the reason for my visit.”
“What then? I’m conducting business here, you know.”
“I won’t keep you long,” Fred assured him. “I’ve just come to ask you to dine with me and my wife tomorrow.”
Eb snorted. “Your wife. Why did you get married?”
Fred smiled. “I fell in love. You’d adore her too if you met her.”
“Doubtful. And if there’s anything more stupid than Christmas it’s love.”
“Christmas stupid? Come on, you don’t mean that.”
“I do mean it. What good is Christmas anyway? It’s so commercialized and everyone spends so much money on gifts for people who don’t need them or appreciate them that they can’t even pay their bills.”
His nephew sighed. “I love Christmas.”
“Why? What good has it ever done you?”
“There are many things from which I have not derived monetary gains that still do me good and Christmas is one of these. I feel that people treat each other kinder at Christmas. And anyway, my dear mother, and your dear sister, loved Christmas and for that alone, I am quite fond of it.”
Eb’s stomach twisted at the reminder of his sister, Fan. It had been too many years since her passing. And he did not care for the reminder of it one bit.
“Nephew, you keep Christmas in your way and let me keep it in mine.”
“But you don’t keep it,” Fred protested.
“Then let me leave it alone. I’ve got some work to finish before I can leave, so if you don’t mind, get out.”
“Will you dine with us tomorrow?”
Eb shook his head. “No.”
“I don’t understand why you always refuse me,” his nephew said. “I want nothing from you except for us to be friends.”
“I don’t need friends. And I don’t need you. Get out.” Eb turned his back on his nephew and walked back into his office. He sat back behind his desk and picked up his pen and after a few minutes the door closed.
The truth was he hadn’t the urge to continue working himself this night. It was cold and quiet and he just wanted to go home. He’d been battling a cold all week. A battle he very much feared he was losing.
He got back up and was reaching for his own coat when the outer door opened again. Frowning Eb went back out to the outer office and was met by two men smiling at him.
“Sorry to disturb you, good sir, so late on Christmas Eve,” one of them said. “Have we the honor of addressing Mr. Scrooge or Mr. Marley?”
At the mention of Jacob, Eb felt tightness in his chest. He ruthlessly pushed aside such emotion. Jacob was gone and there was nothing he could do about it. “Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years. He died seven years ago this very night.”
“Oh, on Christmas Eve?” the man cried.
He shrugged. “Dying is dying, no matter the day.”
“Perhaps you’d like to donate to our cause in Mr. Marley’s name.”
“Cause? What cause?” he asked sharply.
“A few of us are endeavoring to collect for the poor to get them some means of food and drink and warmth. At this festive time of the year, need is keenly felt. What may we put you down for, Mr. Scrooge?”
Eb rolled his eyes. “Nothing.”
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“No, I want to be left alone. I am forced to contribute toward welfare and food stamps and social security through taxation as it is. And there are shelters for the poor to go to if they wish.”
“Have you been to some of those shelters, sir? Many people would rather die than go there.”
Eb nodded. “I’m sure. But perhaps then they ought to go about the business of dying then and decrease the surplus population.”
The man stared at him aghast but he cared not. Let them think what they wanted of him. It mattered not to him. He went to the door and held it open. “Goodbye.”
When they had left, he finished putting his coat on and closing up his office, went out into the cold and fog shrouded night.
The walk to his apartment was not that far from his office. He’d rented it for that purpose. That and it was relatively inexpensive for this part of the city. The streets were crowded and people ran about exclaiming pleasantries and laughing and Eb paid them no mind.
He hated Christmas. And Christmas Eve most especially. He only knew heartache when it came to that day. Well, when he’d had a heart left.
By the time he reached his apartment on the third floor, Eb was feeling miserable with his cold and he just wanted to fix himself a bowl of cream of wheat and a cup of tea. He’d fall into bed and not get up until the morning after Christmas.
But when he went to put his key into the door of his apartment the doorknob wavered and then changed to Jacob Marley’s face. His heart stuttered in his chest.
“Jacob?” he whispered.
There was no way he could be seeing Jacob. He hadn’t even really thought of him, except for bringing him up earlier that night, in years. Jacob had died seven years before and though initially his death had destroyed Eb, he had vowed not to dwell on it. Yet—
Jacob’s face faded from the doorknob and Eb shook himself.
“Idiot,” he muttered and opened the door of his dark and quiet apartment. He flicked on the light switch which illuminated the living room and of course there was nothing. Great, he was losing his mind now.
He locked up the door and went into his kitchen to make himself the cream of wheat and tea. It was cold in the apartment and he debated turning on the heat but in the end decided it would be much cheaper to just keep his coat on.
He finished making his cream of wheat and tea and he took them into the living room and curled up on the couch. Eb was about half way through the bowl of cream of wheat when he heard footsteps approach his apartment door.
A visitor? Him? Not likely. More likely someone had the wrong apartment. He waited for the footsteps to move away. But instead he watched as someone walked through the door. No one had opened the door. No. The man walked through it, through the solid door.
Eb stared and his heart leaped into his throat. For the man now standing before him was Jacob Marley. He looked as solid as Eb himself. Dressed very much like he had been on the day of the car accident seven years ago. A navy suit, a pale blue tie, his overcoat and a red scarf. His dark hair expertly cut salon style. Gorgeous. And all Eb could do was stare at him longing for him to be real.
Jacob’s voice even. Damn. He was seriously losing his mind. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Ask me who I was.”
Eb frowned. “Who were you then?”
“In life, I was your law partner and lover, Jacob Marley.”
He swallowed. “Yeah, whatever. You aren’t real.”
“You doubt your senses?”
“Of course. Anything can affect them. I have a cold you know. I’m probably delirious.”
Jacob stepped up to him and leaned down and kissed him hard and long until Eb was breathless. “Now, do you believe in me?”
Eb touched his fingers to his kiss swollen lips. “I do. But, Jacob, what are you doing here? You’re…dead. Aren’t you?”
“I am, Eb.”
Eb grimaced. “I just kissed a dead person.”
“A romantic to the last, Eb,” Jacob said, with some humor. “I’m here because you’ve lost the spirit of Christmas. Of generosity. You’ve lost the spirit of life, really. I’m here to restore it.”
“I do fine without Christmas.”
Jacob shook his head. “You only think that. The way your life is going, Eb, you’re going to be very lonely and sad in the time you have left. You’ve always been a bit cold, standoffish. But you’re getting worse. Pretty soon no one will want to be around you.”
Eb shrugged. “What of it? I don’t really like people anyway. Why should I give a damn if they like me?”
“Eb, I know you. Well as well as anyone can know you. You care more than you think you do.” Jacob reached out a hand. “Let me show you.”
Eb stared at Jacob’s hand. “What do you intend?”
“Come with me. I have a lot to show you.”
He took a deep breath and reached for Jacob’s hand and he suddenly felt like he was floating above the city, and he realized he was, looking down at rooftops.
“Jacob, Jesus, are we flying?”
“We are. I thought you might like looking down at the city, sort of like how you like looking down at people.”
He felt his cheeks heat at the gentle rebuke, but he said nothing for several minutes. And then, “Where are we going?”
“Your past, Eb.”
And then suddenly they were standing on the ground, snow covered ground at that. It was frigidly cold, way colder than it had been in the city. They stood before a large old building several stories high. It was very old. Built long before Eb’s time. But familiar nonetheless.
Jacob was watching him closely. “Do you know this place?”
Eb smiled sadly. “Know it? Yeah. I know it. I spent my years at school here.”
They walked toward the building, a boarding school where he’d spent much of his school years.
“This place is so desolate, Eb. I had no idea this is where you went to school.”
“My dad never liked me, you know? I think he always guessed I was gay, even when I was small, and he hated that. He wanted a kid who would play football or something.”
Jacob pointed at a young blond boy of about twelve. “That’s you.”
Eb nodded. “Yeah, it’s me.”
The young Eb stood off to the side, his hands clasped behind his back while he watched his school friends load a bus. One of the boys came to where Eb stood.
“I can’t believe your parents don’t want you home for Christmas, Eb,” the boy said.
He shrugged. “They don’t think much of Christmas and would rather I get in some extra studying.”
The other boy frowned. “Are you sure you don’t want to come home with me? I could still call my folks to see if it’s okay.”
“No, that’s all right. I’m used to it by now.” Young Eb smiled. If the other boy noticed it was a little watery he didn’t comment. “Merry Christmas. And happy New Year.”
The bus finished loading and drove off, leaving only twelve year old, Eb, standing there.
Jacob squeezed his shoulder. “Let’s see another Christmas.”
“They were all like that one, really.”
They moved into the building and went up to the fourth floor where this time Eb was around sixteen. He lay stretched out on his stomach on a single, uncomfortable looking bed, reading.
Jacob tilted his head to look at him. “You were beautiful even then.”
“The things you say,” Eb said, feeling himself blush.
“I would have loved to have known you then. I think—I don’t know— maybe things would have been different for you. For us. If I had.”
Eb found it hard to swallow past the lump in his throat, so he said nothing. Just kept his eye on his teenaged self because he knew what was coming next.
A young girl with long curly blonde hair, a year or so older than Eb himself at the time, came rushing in.
“Ebby! Ebby, get up! It’s me,” she yelled happily.
Eb sat up on the bed as she rushed at him, embracing him. “Fan?”
“Yes, Ebby. I’ve come to take you home with me.”
“Yep! I brought my car and I’m taking you home for Christmas. Dad’s so much cooler than he used to be and I asked him if you could come home for Christmas and he said yes. And, that you wouldn’t have to come back here again after. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Eb blinked. “Never come back here to the boarding school?”
She laughed. “No, never. Let’s pack your things.”
“Pretty girl,” Jacob commented. “She clearly adored you.”
“Yeah,” Eb agreed. “She really did. Didn’t care what I was. She just loved me.”
“She had kids before she died, didn’t she?”
Jacob watched him intently. “Yeah, your nephew, Fred.”
“He got married recently didn’t he?”
Eb looked at him. “How did you know that?”
“I’ve kept tabs on you, Eb. Sometimes, I even sit with you, watch you while you go about your day.”
“Okay, that’s kind of creepy. Having your dead boyfriend watching you. Isn’t it?”
“Probably,” Jacob said. “Can you focus on what’s going on in front of you now though?”
Eb’s lips twitched just a little. “Fan made that Christmas tolerable, but my dad didn’t suddenly accept having a gay son. I left again when I was eighteen. I think it was a relief to both of us.”
Jacob grabbed his hand. “Come, let us see something else.”
And they were gone from his old boarding school and at an office building in the city.
“Do you remember this place?”
Eb laughed. “Of course I do. This was my first job.” He pointed to a portly man behind a desk. “Oh, my God, it’s Mr. Fezziwig. God, he’s been gone for years and years.”
Mr. Fezziwig was smiling and singing a Christmas tune off key as he worked and Eb found himself smiling in return.
“He couldn’t carry a tune to save his life, but he loved to sing just the same.”
Just then two young men came into the office area where Mr. Fezziwig sat. Eb recognized himself and Dick Wilkins easily.
“And who is that with you?” Jacob wondered.
“Dick Wilkins. We worked together.”
Jacob watched as young Eb stole a quick glance at Dick. “I’d say you were more than co-workers.”
Eb nodded. “Yeah, he was my first boyfriend.” He sighed. “I haven’t really thought of him in years.”
“Let’s listen,” Jacob said.
“Ah, here you are, boys!” Fezziwig exclaimed. “I know it’s only eleven but it’s time to close up.”
“Close up?” Eb repeated.
“It’s Christmas Eve, Eb, Dick. I say we close up and I’ll take us to lunch.” He reached into his desk and pulled out two envelopes. He handed one to each of them. “This is your Christmas bonus.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fezziwig.”
Then he took out two brightly wrapped gifts and handed those out too. “And these are from me and Mrs. Fezziwig. Wait for Christmas to open them.” He grinned and stood up. “You can just go home after lunch. And we may as well close up the day after Christmas too because who the hell wants to work the day after Christmas! Right?”
They grinned. “Right!”
Eb couldn’t help but grin and he noticed Jacob watching him with a funny expression. “What?”
“Well, you act like this guy is so great. What’s the big deal? So he spent a few dollars on you and Dick. So?”
“It’s not that. It’s just he had the power to make work fun or tedious and even when we were swamped, Mr. Fezziwig always appreciated us and did his best for us. He was a great boss.”
Eb stopped and thought of Bob.
“What?” Jacob prodded.
He sighed. “I just…I’m not always very nice to my clerk. I was just wishing I had done things a little differently earlier today.”
“Shall we see one more Christmas from your past?”
And the scene changed again and it was him and Dick sitting on a bench in the park and Eb felt his throat tighten.
“Must we see this one?”
“These are shadows of the past that have been, Eb. That they are what they are, it cannot be changed. Let’s listen.”
“Wait,” Eb from the past said. “Are you…you’re breaking up with me?”
“I don’t want to.”
“Then why are you?”
Dick sighed. “You’ve changed from when we first met, Eb. You’ve always been quiet, reserved. But now, it’s like I can’t even reach you. You always shut others out, but you’re shutting even me out these days.”
“That’s not true,” Eb protested. “I haven’t changed toward you.”
“Yes you have. God, when was the last time we made love? Every night you tell me you’re too tired.”
“I’ve been working a lot. I want to get ahead. What’s wrong with a little ambition?”
“Nothing, except you never make time for me anymore.” Dick paused. “I’ve thought of little else these last few months. I’ve turned over everything I’ve done and said in my mind, trying to figure out where I went wrong. Eb, you’ve never even said you love me.”
Eb looked down at his hands. “You don’t think I do?”
“I wish I could believe that you do. I’ve said it dozens of times to you and you’ve never said it back. Not once.” Dick sighed, looking off into the distance. “I thought at first it didn’t matter to me if you never said it but I find that it does matter.”
He stared at Eb waiting but Eb just stared right back without saying a word. Finally Dick bowed his head. “That‘s what I thought. I’m sorry, Eb. I can’t be who you need me to be. I need more from my boyfriend than you seem able to give.” He stood and leaned down to kiss the top of Eb’s head. “Bye. I hope you’ll be happy.”
Both the past Eb and the present Eb watched Dick walk away. He had loved Dick. But saying he loved someone had never been easy for him. He just didn’t do it. And even when it was clear Dick wanted him to say it or he would walk, Eb still couldn’t do it. It felt like some sort of ultimatum and Eb didn’t like those. Wouldn’t give into those. And he’d stubbornly let Dick walk out of his life forever.
Just like he’d never said it to—
“That’s it for the past,” Jacob said. “I’ll show you Christmas present now.”
And whoosh, just like that they were in front of a tiny duplex in one of the seedier parts of the city.
Eb frowned. “What the hell? What are we doing here, Jacob?”
“This is where Bob lives.”
Jacob nodded. “He doesn’t make much money. Come and see.”
They stepped up to the window and then walked right through it into the duplex as though walls were nothing to them. Eb felt a little strange for a moment, but it went away quickly.
Sure enough Bob was there with a young wife who held onto a baby, probably less than six month’s old. Next to them was a small boy who was very pale and appeared sickly, coughing often. There was a tiny Christmas tree decorated sparsely with what looked like old fashioned lights and cheap ornaments.
“I didn’t know Bob had a sick child.”
“How much do you really know about him, Eb? Do you ever ask about his family? How he’s doing?”
“No, I-I figured it was not my business.”
“You sit there, my dear,” Bob said to his wife as he took the baby from her and set her in a playpen. “I’m going to make Christmas dinner this year and I want you and Tim to just rest there.”
She smiled. “Oh, Bob, you? You’re going to make a disaster out of my kitchen.”
“I will not,” he declared. “And anyway, I’ll clean up any mess I make. Promise.”
“What are you going to make, Daddy?” Tim asked.
“Well,” Bob said thoughtfully. “We’ve got a box of stuffing I got down at the dollar store. It’s perfectly good. And I think we have some chicken I can defrost from the freezer. Don’t you worry, kiddo, it will all be delicious.”
Eb frowned. “What’s wrong with the boy?”
“He’s always been sickly, poor boy,” Jacob said. “And now Bob’s wife just got diagnosed with breast cancer. They aren’t sure how they are going to make it since Bob’s employer doesn’t offer insurance.” And now he looked pointedly at Eb.
His face felt very hot indeed as he faced the disapproving look of his late lover. And he turned back to look at the family. “Will-will they make it?”
Jacob shook his head. “I don’t know, Eb. If she gets proper treatment for the cancer and the boy, too, maybe. But I fear Bob won’t have too many more Christmases with his family.”
“I had no idea,” Eb whispered. “I had no idea.”
“Anyway, what does it matter if they die, right? Perhaps they should go about the business of dying and decrease the surplus population.”
Eb gasped. “Jacob—”
“Come, Eb, let’s visit your nephew next.”
They were suddenly in a much nicer suburban area in a cozy three bedroom house and Fred was laughing and laughing, standing next to a Christmas tree. He had what appeared to be a glass of eggnog in his hand and there were at least ten people surrounding him all laughing with him.
“No, no, I tried to get my Uncle Ebenezer to join us today and he refused as usual,” Fred told them.
“Well, it’s just as well,” another man around Fred’s age said. “Your uncle is a rather unpleasant fellow.”
“I like him,” Fred said. “And my mother adored him. I just think he’s really rather sad. He hasn’t had the easiest life you know. His boyfriend was killed on Christmas Eve.”
“That is sad,” a pretty brunette said, coming to wrap her arms around Fred. “I can’t imagine how that must make him feel when Christmas comes around.”
“Exactly, darling,” Fred said to his wife. “And I mean to give him the chance every year to come spend Christmas with us. I want him to think of it as a happy time to spend with family. And I swear someday it’s going to work and he’ll come.” He clapped his hands. “Now, let’s put on some Christmas music, pass out more eggnog and do the gift exchange.”
Eb turned to Jacob. “I didn’t imagine Fred even realized how sad I am at Christmas.”
“He’s more observant than you realize, Eb,” Jacob said. “Dick was right, you know. You do shut people out of your life. Until the point they can’t try anymore.”
“You didn’t give up on me,” Eb said softly.
“No,” Jacob agreed. “I never would. But you haven’t got me anymore, Eb. And sometimes, you have to try. Perhaps you can think about trying with Fred?”
Eb felt the prick of tears. “Maybe.”
Jacob took his hand again. “It’s time to see the future.”
“I dread this part, Jacob.”
“I’m here with you. You have nothing to fear. Except for your own stubbornness. Come.”
And just like that they were back at Bob Cratchit’s house, but this time it was only Bob and a little girl of perhaps five. There was no sign of Bob’s wife or Tim.
The girl wore a dirty dress and sat on a soiled couch hunched over what looked like a video game. Bob held a bottle of whiskey in his hand and he kept taking drinks.
“Where is his wife and little Tim?”
“Gone, Eb. They died.”
“Oh, my God. No. I never meant for this to happen.”
Bob’s eyes were red and glassy and he just stared into nothingness. “Bob’s lost his job too.”
Jacob shrugged. “He was drinking on the job. You had little choice.”
“No, no. This isn’t how I want it to be.”
“Come, Eb. There is more for you to see.” They appeared in a dark alley.
“Where is this?”
“Look.” Jacob pointed.
And suddenly Eb saw himself as a very old man picking through the trash in the alley. He recoiled in horror.
“What? This is me?”
“You kept shutting everyone out, Eb. Closing further and further off. You had no boyfriend, no friends, no family to care for you, you pushed even Fred away,” Jacob explained. “You got Alzheimer’s and when there was no one around to care for you, you ended up here, wandering, completely unaware of who you are.”
Eb dropped to his knees in the alley. “This? This is my fate?”
Tears streamed down his face. “God, life is cruel.”
“That’s the problem. You fear life, you fear closeness. You don’t let anyone too near you. You have to let them in, babe.”
He bowed his head, feeling the sobs tighten his chest painfully. “It hurts.”
“I know. But you have to open your heart.” Jacob was kneeling next to him, his hands on Eb’s face.
“Please don’t leave me, Jacob. Please. I-I love you. I’m sorry I never said it. I’m so sorry.”
“I knew you loved me, babe. It’s all right. I knew you did.”
“Please, don’t leave me. I can’t make it without you.” He clutched at Jacob.
“You can.” He stroked Eb’s cheek. “You have to. As long as you keep the spirit of Christmas and generosity in your heart, you’ll always have me with you. But I’m gone, Eb. I’m not alive anymore. But I watch over you and I always will. I love you more than you can even imagine. And I want you to live. Live for me. Live for both of us.”
Jacob smiled. “I have to go now. You’ll be okay, Eb. I know you will.”
And then Jacob was gone and Eb woke up on his couch. The bowl of cream of wheat was half eaten on the coffee table and the cup of tea cold.
Eb took a deep breath and grabbed a tissue from the box to wipe the tears off his face. He got up and went to the window to look outside. It was daylight again. He checked the date on his watch and saw that it was December 25. Christmas.
He went into his bedroom, showered and dressed, and then he arranged for a four course dinner from a local restaurant to be delivered to Bob Cratchit’s house. It cost a small fortune to have it delivered on such short notice, but Eb found he no longer cared.
After that, he found Fred’s address and drove out to the suburb where his nephew and his wife lived. He wasn’t a bit surprised when they welcomed him with big smiles and open arms. Fred almost never left his side the whole day and about two hours after he’d been there he’d brought over a good looking man only perhaps a few years older than Eb’s forty-five.
“Uncle Ebenezer, I’d like you to meet my friend, Jason. I’ve been telling him about you for a while now,” Fred said with a laugh. “Jason, this is my uncle.” Fred whispered, “He’s gay, too.”
Eb found himself turning a bright shade of red, but Jason just laughed, and it was a rich, hearty laugh that Eb found very appealing. It was a very nice Christmas indeed.
And the next morning, Eb got to the office extra early. He wanted to be sure to beat Bob before he arrived and as it turned out he had no trouble for Bob was twenty minutes past his usual time.
Eb came out of his office and folded his arms across his chest. “Well?”
Bob ducked his chin. “I am sorry, Mr. Scrooge. I am late. I…well it was Christmas and we kind of got carried away celebrating.”
“I imagine so. Bob, I don’t intend to tolerate this anymore.”
“My name is Eb, Bob.”
Bob stared at him as though he’d sprung a second head.
Eb smiled. “I think first we should go out to breakfast. What do you say?”
“Yeah, what the hell are we doing working the day after Christmas anyway? But let’s go get your family and take them with us. Bet they’re hungry too.”
“My family?” Bob said faintly.
“Yes. And we’re also going to get you a raise. A huge raise. And we’re going to get insurance. And get both your wife and Tim good doctors. The best doctors.”
“You-you know about Tim, sir?”
“Eb. Call me Eb.”
Bob straightened and smiled. “Eb.”
“I do know about him, Bob. And we’re going to get him well. And your good wife, too. And we’re going to see about getting you a better place to live, too.”
“That’s amazing. Thank you. Eb.”
“You are very welcome, Bob. Now, shall we close up and go to breakfast?”
“Yes!” Bob was grinning.
“And what the hell! Why don’t we close the office for the rest of the year. Open back up on January 2. What do you say, Bob?”
“I say, great idea.”
Eb found that having friends, family, and maybe even a new boyfriend changed him in ways he could not have imagined. He did help Bob and his family and they became as close to him as anybody could be to anybody else. And Bob’s wife and son did not die but thrived for many years to come.
Eb knew that some people wondered at the sudden change in him, but he didn’t care. He knew that he had Jacob Marley to thank for it. He’d opened his eyes to the rest of Eb’s life. And he knew no one had ever loved him like Jacob had and for that, he would always be grateful and happy. For both of them.
It was a year later, and Christmas was upon him once more.
It had been a good year. And though he’d enjoyed a few months of a fun romance with Jason, it hadn’t worked out and they’d ended up deciding over the summer that they made better friends.
In fact, at Thanksgiving, Ed had been invited to Jason’s house where he met Jason’s new boyfriend, Daniel. He’d been fine with it, unexpectedly so, and he realized he had never thought of Jason as anything serious. He was not his forever man.
Of course, once that had been Jacob, but Jacob was indeed gone, and though Eb missed him terribly still, he had made peace with it.
“Yes, yes, Fred. I’ll be there same time as last year.” Eb laughed. “No, I’m not working too late. And I’m not making Bob work too late either. Or Ralph and Mabel for that matter.” He smiled in the direction of his latest employees. His law firm was expanding. “Now stop pestering me so I can finish up here.”
“All set, Mr. Scrooge?” Ralph asked.
“Eb, Ralph. We’re not formal here. Yeah, I think you can all go on home for the day.”
Ralph frowned. “Are you sure, sir? It’s only just past three.”
Eb nodded and got up from his desk. “I hadn’t intended to keep you this long. It’s Christmas Eve. Go on and have fun. You too, Mabel. Don’t forget those presents for your kids.”
Mabel rose from her desk with a beaming smile. “Yes, Eb. And Merry Christmas.”
“Same to you. And Happy New Year. See you on the 2nd. And Happy New Year.”
Bob waited until the others had left before turning to Eb. “I wanted to thank you again, Eb. I swear I wouldn’t have passed the bar exam if you hadn’t helped me and given me so much time off to study. It’s made such a huge difference to all of us.”
“It was my pleasure, Bob.” He squeezed Bob’s shoulder. “And give my best to Emily, Tim, and Constance, too.”
“You’re still coming New Year’s Eve? Emily keeps asking.”
Eb laughed. “Of course I am. Merry Christmas, Bob.”
Bob grinned. “Merry Christmas. We’ve come along way since last year, haven’t we, sir? Don’t stay too late.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
Eb locked up after Bob, smiling as his employee and friend headed off. He turned to survey his office, decorated with a Christmas tree for the first time since, well, ever. He didn’t recall even when Jacob had been alive them decorating the office.
He went back to his desk and went over a few more legal briefs for an hour or so and then finally stretched to head home. There was a cozy little bar close by his apartment that he sometimes stopped at and he’d mentioned to some of the regulars he might stop by that night.
Eb grabbed his coat and scarf and put them up on and left his office, locking up as he went.
He’d gone about a block, barely paying attention to where he walked, having walked it hundreds of times, and his mind on the upcoming festivities.
When he’d looked up the light had been green, so he stepped off the curb, and heard a horn and the screech of tires. His heart thudding fast, he was suddenly yanked hard out of the street and onto the curb.
“Fuck, man. You gotta watch where you’re going. You don’t want to end up in the hospital on Christmas Eve.”
Eb stared into all too familiar dark dark eyes. Even through the black rimmed glasses he could see the eyes were framed by long curly lashes. And the muscular arms that held him—
Eb sucked in a breath. “Dick? Dick Wilkins?”
The man blinked rapidly, going a shade lighter. “Ebenezer?”
Oh. My. God.
Without even thinking about it, he grabbed the collar of Dick’s coat and pulled him close, covering his lips with his own in a searing kiss. Dick’s lips softened under his and began to kiss back and then Eb remembered where he was and who he was kissing.
He pulled away in embarrassment, stepping out of Dick Wilkins’ arms. “God, I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. God. You probably have a husband or a boyfriend or something.”
He smirked. “Actually, no. And that was nice. Really nice.” He grabbed Eb’s arm and steered away from the street. “Let’s get a little further from the traffic.”
“Yeah.” Eb laughed nervously, looking back at the street. He ended up leaning against a building with his old friend leaning in very close. “It really is you.”
“In the flesh.”
Eb’s gaze swept over him. He was stunning. He’d filled out where he’d been super skinny before. Muscular, athletic. Dark windswept hair and a five o’clock shadow. He had a striped white and black scarf around his neck that somehow made him super sexy.
“You look amazing,” Eb said softly.
Dick smiled. It was all teeth, beautifully white. “I was thinking the same about you. So you don’t—?”
“No, there’s no one.” He licked his lips. “Back when, you know, before, I did, you know. I loved you. I was stupid.”
He stared at Eb intensely. “We all make mistakes in our youth, Eb. I don’t think I gave you the patience you deserved. And ultimatums are never wise. I can’t tell you how much I kicked myself after all that.”
“I had someone once. After you,” Eb said honestly. “I loved him very much. His name was Jacob.”
Eb smiled wistfully. “He died eight years ago tonight in a car accident.”
“Oh, Eb. I’m so sorry.”
“Me too.” Eb looked down the street. “Were you headed somewhere?”
“Not really. Just for a walk, actually.” Dick shook his head. “I just suddenly felt like walking down this way. My office is two blocks over. Small world, huh?”
“Yeah.” Eb put his hand on Dick’s chest, taking a chance. “Want to try that kiss again?”
“I’d like nothing better.” He leaned in and touched his lips to Eb’s, tentatively at first and then more deep though still sweet. “You taste like peppermint cocoa.”
Eb laughed. “That’s what you said to me the first time we kissed.”
“I know.” His fingers ghosted over Eb’s cheek. “How about you? Were you going somewhere?”
“This is going to sound stupid but I think I was looking for you.”
Dick kissed him again, slower and deeper.
“My apartment is close,” Eb said breathlessly. “You know.” He licked his lips. “If you want to come over. I have wine.”
“That sounds like the best Christmas Eve I could think of.”
“It’s this way,” Eb said as they made their way over to the intersection, stopping at the light.
“Perhaps I’d better hold on to you as we cross the street,” Dick said with a wink.
Eb grinned, feeling very warm and very hopeful. “Yes, perhaps you should.”
And as they walked to Eb’s apartment, they did not notice, for how could they, so wrapped up in each other, the man who stood to the side of the apartment building watching them carefully, dressed in a navy suit, a pale blue tie, an overcoat and a red scarf.
He watched as they went into the building, arms linked and eyes shining like two young men again, and the man smiled.
“Merry Christmas, Eb.”
He faded away.
And Merry Christmas to all.