Chimney made his way over to the tv to put the movie in the dvd player, but he stopped to look at Maddie.
“Is it okay if I take a picture of your Christmas tree?” He asked.
Maddie was confused. “Why?”
“I talked to my parents earlier and I tried to convince them that I wasn’t going to be by myself for Christmas, so I just want to send them a picture of your tree to prove that I’m not at home.”
Maddie smiled. “Of course you can take a picture.”
“Thank you,” Chimney said as he grabbed his phone out of his pocket.
He stood in front of the tree and took a few pictures. Maddie watched his thumbs tap the screen for a few seconds before he put his phone in his pocket and looked back up at her.
“They’ve always worried about me.. but ever since the accident, they’re always making sure that everything’s okay… or I’m not alone during the holidays,” Chimney explained.
Maddie nodded. “That’s understandable.”
“Yeah, I hate that I don’t get to see them that much. I do wish they lived closer, but they’re happy where they are… and I’m happy where I am.”
“How long has it been since you last saw them?” Maddie asked.
“About three years,” Chimney answered. “But I talk to them on the phone all the time. They only started using cellphones to keep in contact with me, but now I think they’re attached to them. They send me pictures all the time whenever they’re on vacations. They’re actually in Scotland right now. Do you wanna see a picture of them?”
“I’d love to.”
Chimney walked over to her and held his phone up.
“Oh my god!” Maddie shouted as she looked at them.
Both of his parents had party hats on and Chimney’s dad was kissing his mom on the cheek.
“That was on my mom’s birthday a few months ago,” Chimney explained.
“They’re so adorable,” Maddie said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen two people love each other as much as they do,” he added.
Maddie smiled sadly. His parents reminded her a lot of her own.
The love her parents had for each other used to make Maddie roll her eyes when she was a child. It was the kind of love that made her stomach ache because it was just so sweet.
But the older she got, the more she adored that kind of love. The only problem was, Maddie had never had anything like that. She only hoped that she would get to experience it someday.
Maddie began to think about how much she missed her parents.
Even though she had lived in the same state as them for the longest time, she had hardly ever got to seem them. And now, she couldn’t even talk to them; she couldn’t let them know where she was. The last thing she wanted to do was drag them into her situation and possibly put them in danger.
“Maddie, are you okay?” Chimney asked.
She planned to give him her best smile and tell him that she was okay, but she decided against it. Besides, she was sure that he would see right through her anyway.
“Not really,” she admitted.
Maddie walked over to the couch and sat down. Chimney was sitting by her side within five seconds.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked.
Maddie really wanted to say no, but she had begun to realize that keeping her feelings locked away wasn’t a good thing. In order for her to get better, she had to talk about what was on her mind.
“I was just thinking about how much I miss my parents,” she said softly.
She looked up at Chimney and he was waiting for her to keep going.
“I haven’t seen them or talked to them in a long time… and even when I did get to visit them, I couldn’t ever enjoy myself because I always had to be so careful… I had to be careful about what I said, what I wore… I had to make sure I covered up all the bruises...I had to act like I was happy with Doug… it was just a lot of pretending and I hated it. I hated what it did to my parents. They had their suspicions about Doug, but I know they don’t know how bad it got. It would probably kill them if they knew… and now that I’m away from Doug, I just want to see them. It’s Christmas and I can’t even call my parents and tell them I love them.”
Maddie’s eyes began to sting; she desperately tried to keep herself from crying.
Chimney placed his hand on her knee and moved it in a circular motion.
Maddie focused on his hand as she talked.
“I don’t want them in the middle of this, so I can’t call them. I know they’re worried sick about me, and I hate that I’m doing this to them. I should’ve gotten away sooner. They probably hate me because I’m not calling them. It’s all my fault.”
“Hey, hey, hey. Don’t talk like that,” Chimney said.
Maddie’s breath caught in her throat when Chimney grabbed both of her hands with his.
“Maddie, it isn’t your fault. None of it is… and you got away and you’re safe now. That’s all that matters. I know I don’t know your parents, but I don’t think that they hate you. I’m sorry that you can’t call them today and tell them how you feel, but they love you. A lot… and I don’t think they could ever stop loving you.”
Maddie couldn’t hold back the tears any longer and she began to cry.
“But… how do you know that?” Maddie whispered.
“Because you’re Maddie Buckley, and you’re amazing… and kind… and adorable… and caring… the real question is, how could anyone not love you?”
That made Maddie laugh and Chimney gave her a smile.
“Everything will be okay… and I just want you to know that I’ll be here during all of it.”
Maddie looked him in the eyes and she could tell that he meant every word. She believed him.
God, she was so thankful that he was her friend.
“Thank you,” Maddie whispered.
Chimney smiled. “You don’t have to thank me, but you’re welcome.”
Maddie looked down and realized that his hands were still wrapped around hers; he immediately moved them away and scooted further down the couch.
“Sorry,” Chimney mumbled.
Maddie could see that he was embarrassed.
“But why?” Maddie ased.
“I thought you didn’t want me to…” Chimney trailed off.
He thought that she didn’t want him to hold onto her hands like that.
“It’s not that… It was okay. I was just... umm… looking at our hands,” Maddie said.
Chimney let out a sigh. “Oh. Sorry.”
Maddie knew what he was apologizing for that time; he felt bad for moving away.
They both fell into an awkward silence after that.
Maddie really wanted to ask Chimney if he was ready to start the movie, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak. And she was sure it was because she was trying to count how many times Chimney glanced at her every minute. The most he had looked over at her was five times.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, and Maddie closely watched Chimney get it out of his pocket. Part of her was sad that he wasn’t spending his time looking at her anymore.
Maddie liked when he looked at her. She had caught him doing it more times than she could count, but lately it had gotten to the point where Chimney was watching her all the time. Sometimes, he looked at her like he had to keep a close eye on her… like he was being protective in a way. And other times, he looked at her like she was the only other person that existed… like she was the only person who mattered to him.
And the way he looked at her didn’t make Maddie feel weird at all. In fact, it made her feel safe… it made her feel wanted.
Out of all the people Maddie had met, no one had ever looked at her that way. No one had ever made her feel the things he did.
Maddie was brought out of her thoughts when Chimney laughed. She looked over at him and he was smiling at her.
“My mom wants me to tell you that your tree looks very nice and she hopes you’re having a great holiday,” he said.
Wow. Chimney’s parents knew she existed. Maddie didn’t expect that at all.
“Wait, she knows about me?” She asked, shocked.
“Both my parents do,” Chimney corrected her. “I told you I talk to them all the time.”
“I know, but I never thought that you actually talk about me.”
Chimney shrugged. He acted as if talking about her was something he always did. “I do.”
Maddie smiled. She wondered what Chimney had told them about her and what they thought of her.
“Tell her I said thank you,” Maddie told him.
Chimney nodded and texted his mom again. He laid his phone on the arm of the couch and turned towards her.
“So… are you ready to start the movie?” He asked.
Before Maddie could answer, Chimney’s phone vibrated again.
He picked it up and let out a nervous laugh.
“What is it?” Maddie asked.
He sighed. “They want to know what you look like. They told me to take a picture with you.”
Maddie smiled. Instead of getting up, she lazily scooted her way to Chimney. By the time she was settled, their elbows touched.
“You don’t have to do this,” he told her.
“I know, but I want to.”
Chimney smiled and shook his head. He went to the camera app and held the phone up.
Maddie grinned and Chimney did too before he snapped the picture.
She didn’t even bother to move away from him.
“Okay, that was a bad picture, so you should definitely delete that,” Maddie said.
“But we look good?” Chimney argued as he began to type on his phone.
“You might, but I don’t,” she pointed out.
Maddie’s eyes widened as soon as she realized what she had said, but Chimney didn’t seem to notice.
“Maddie, you look fine,” he said as he glanced over at her.
Of course, she didn’t plan on moving away from him, but she realized that they were sitting a bit too close. They couldn’t even move without hitting each other. Maddie moved away and settled herself, so her back rested against the armrest. Chimney did the same exact thing at the other end of the couch.
His phone vibrated again.
“Oh, god,” Chimney muttered after a few seconds.
He immediately pressed the top button to put his phone to sleep and put it face down on his lap.
Maddie wondered what the text said because his cheeks started to get red.
Chimney picked up his phone again and it looked like he read the text message again before putting it back on his lap. It seemed like he had hoped the text had changed or disappeared.
“Chim?” Maddie whispered. “What does it say?”
He looked over at her. “It’s embarrassing…”
“I’m sure it can’t be that bad,” Maddie said.
“I just don’t want you to think I’m the reason why they got a certain idea in their heads.”
Maddie was a little confused, but she was still very curious.
“If you don’t want to read it to me, can I read it?” Maddie asked.
Chimney sighed and handed over the phone to her. “I just don’t want you to be mad… or uncomfortable.”
“I could never get mad at you. I’ll be fine,” Maddie said honestly.
She began to read the text out loud. “You two look very happy. What a beautiful couple. You look very handsome, and Maddie is as beautiful as you described her. I’m so happy for you, Howie. My sweet son.”
She looked up at Chimney and his cheeks were somehow more red than before. She directed her attention back to the text and read it a few more times.
Maddie couldn’t deny the amount of emotions she felt while she read those five sentences.
Chimney’s mom thought they were a couple… Maddie looked at the picture they had taken. They were both genuinely smiling, and she was surprised. She couldn’t even remember the last time her smile was genuine in a picture. Chimney had a twinkle in his eyes… and well, Maddie understood exactly why his mom thought they were a couple.
And the fact that Chimney’s parents thought they were together, didn’t bother Maddie at all. Yeah, they were only friends now, but she also knew their relationship wouldn’t stay that way forever. Maddie would be a liar if she tried to say otherwise.
The next thing that made Maddie’s heart skip a beat or two was the fact that Chimney knew how to describe the way she looked so perfectly… his mom had called her beautiful. Maddie wondered how many times Chimney had used that word to describe her.
“I just… I don’t want you to think this is my way of pushing you or anything like that. I’ve already told them ten times that we’re only friends,” Chimney said.
Maddie smiled. She appreciated the fact that he cared so much about her feelings.
“It’s okay, Chim. It’s okay. Trust me. I know how parents can be. They always get the wrong idea no matter how many times you tell them something,” Maddie told him.
“Your mom was right when she called you handsome though,” she said after a few seconds of awkward silence.
Chimney grinned. “Mom was also right when she called you beautiful.”
Maddie handed the phone back to him and tried to ignore the fact that her heart began to race.
Chimney texted his mom again, and Maddie was sure he was just telling her they weren’t a couple… again. But Maddie couldn’t keep from wondering what his reply was to his mom saying that she was beautiful.
His phone vibrated once more about a minute later and Chimney let out a loud, dramatic sigh.
“Chim?” Maddie questioned.
“I’m sorry. My parents are really pushing it today,” he said before he laughed nervously.
“Tell me,” Maddie urged.
Chimney shook his head and gave her a small smile. “I don’t think you want to know what this says.”
“I do,” she told him.
Chimney let out a sigh and looked at Maddie before he began to speak.
“I told them that we weren’t together and they said: We don’t believe you. We didn’t believe you the first time you told us. Your dad wants me to tell you that you need to visit us very soon and we both want you to bring lovely Maddie with you. We both hope you two have a very nice night.”
That made her smile.
Chimney’s parents didn’t even know who she was, but they seemed to like her so much already. And they even wanted to see her. That warmed Maddie’s heart.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have read it to you. They shouldn’t be saying things like this,” Chimney said after a moment.
“No, don’t be sorry. I was just thinking about how sweet your parents are. Now I know where you get your personality from,” Maddie told him.
Chimney shyly lowered his head.
“Visiting your parents… that… would be interesting,” she said.
“Yeah. That’s something you definitely wouldn’t wanna do,” he said.
Chimney had it all wrong. Maddie didn’t say that because she didn’t like the idea of going, she said it because she would actually go if she was given the chance. Even though he wasn’t looking at her, Maddie shook her head.
“When I said that it would be interesting, I meant that it would be… fun.”
Chimney’s head shot up and he was obviously surprised.
“You’d actually want to go… with me?”
Maddie nodded. “I really would,” she confirmed.
Chimney’s expression changed, and Maddie had never seen him react like that before. It almost looked like he was going to cry.
“Maddie…” Chimney whispered.
He cleared his throat and raised one of his hands to wipe his eyes.
He was definitely crying.
“You actually have no idea how much that means to me,” he said.
“Chimney?” Maddie whispered.
She knew he was crying because he was happy, but she still wanted to check with him and make sure he was okay.
He quickly wiped both his eyes again before he let out a quiet laugh.
“No one has ever wanted to meet my parents before. You’re the first one,” he told her.
The first one.
What did he mean? The first friend? The first special person in his life who he even wanted to take home to his parents? Maddie didn’t have a clue, but she wasn’t going to question what he meant, especially since she viewed being the “first one” as a positive thing.
Maddie smiled. “Maybe you could come with me and meet my parents too… whenever that will be,” she said sadly.
“I’d love to,” he told her.
Maddie nodded and continued to stare at him. Then, she remembered that he hadn’t texted back his parents yet.
“So, umm… just tell your parents that I would love to come with you next time you visit them, and tell them I hope they have a good night too.”
Chimney nodded and began to text back. Once he finished, he looked up at Maddie.
“Do you still want me to delete that picture?” He asked.
Oh, right. The picture.
“You don’t have to.”
“What changed your mind?” He asked.
Maddie definitely wasn’t going to admit that Chimney and his mom were the reasons she had changed her mind.
She shrugged. “It’s just not as bad as I thought it was.”
“I told you we looked good… so… does this mean that I can set it as your contact picture?”
Maddie’s brows raised. “Do you have to?”
“No, but I want to,” he said.
“You know, I’ve never understood the whole contact picture thing. It makes me feel like someone uses that in case they’ll forget what the other person looks like.”
Chimney laughed. “Maddie, I see you almost every day. I’m not going to forget what you look like. But really, if you don’t want me to use it as a contact picture, then I won’t.”
Maddie smiled. “No, you can use it… but on one condition.”
“What is that?”
“Send it to me and I’ll set it as your contact picture,” Maddie said.
Chimney smiled. “I can do that.”
“Maybe we should take more selfies sometime…” she suggested.
“Really?” Chimney asked in a surprised tone.
“Yeah, why not? I need to start actually taking pictures again.”
“Well, I’m very honored that you want me to be your selfie buddy,” Chimney said as he grinned at her.
Maddie laughed. “But can you do me a favor?”
Chimney’s expression turned completely serious. “Of course, whatever you want.”
“If I ever take as many pictures as Buck does in one day, then I give you full permission to take my phone away.”
Chimney laughed out loud, and Maddie smiled at that. She loved his laugh, especially when she was the reason why he was laughing.
“He takes so many… sometimes I can't even get into the bathroom because he's in there too busy taking selfies,” Maddie complained.
Chimney finally stopped laughing so he could speak. “If you think he's bad here, you should see him at work. He can't work out without taking at least thirty selfies… and one time, Bobby tried to teach him how to make an omelet, and Buck kept taking pictures with the pots and pans. Bobby got so mad at him.”
Maddie covered her face with her hand and shook her head. “He's so weird.”
“Is it bad if I agree with you? Because I know how siblings have the ‘I can say it but if anyone else says it, then that's not allowed’ thing? Do you and Buck go by those rules?”
“We do, but I’m going to let it slide this time because that kid is weird.”
Chimney smiled. “He is.”
A few seconds later, he began to laugh.
“I just realized I never even sent you that picture. And… it's sent,” he said.
Maddie looked around and realized that her phone wasn't near her. It was one the kitchen counter. She stood up.
“I have to go get my phone,” she announced.
Chimney immediately stood up. “I can get it for you. Where is it?”
“It's on the kitchen counter, but you don't have to do that.”
“I know, but I want to,” he said before he walked away.
Maddie sat back down in the same exact place she was in before. She stretched out her legs but made sure she left enough room for Chimney to sit down.
She couldn't stop the stupid grin from forming on her face. Chimney really was the sweetest.
He came back a few seconds later and handed her the phone.
“Thank you, Howie,” Maddie said softly.
Chimney chuckled. “Uh, no one ever calls me that.”
“Remind me why again,” Maddie said as she smiled at him.
“Because Chimney is a lot better.”
“Howie is really cute too,” Maddie argued.
“You and my parents seem to be the only people who think so,” Chimney said.
Maddie shrugged and gave him a smile. “You know, you still haven’t told me the story of how Chimney became your nickname.”
“That story is embarrassing.”
“If it was so embarrassing, then why did you go with that nickname?”
Chimney shrugged as he sat down at the far end of the couch. He also stretched out his legs so that they were diagonal to Maddie’s.
“It was one of those things that I couldn’t get away from, and then it just stuck.”
Maddie slowly nodded.
“Can you tell me the story?”
He looked like he was thinking and then he let out a sigh. “The only people who know this story are the people who work with me, so if I tell you this, then you better realize how much I love you.”
Maddie let out a gasp and Chimney’s cheeks turned as red as a tomato.
It was almost like Maddie was looking at her own reflection because Chimney had the exact same expression as she did; their eyes were opened as wide as they could go, and their mouths were slightly open.
Chimney cleared his throat. “You know, since you’re my best friend and all,” he corrected himself.
Maddie nodded quickly. “Right,” she said.
Whether he loved her as a best friend or something more, Maddie was so happy that he even cared about her that much.
She had the urge to say something.
She didn’t need to say it.
It would only make the whole situation more awkward.
Besides, it didn’t even need to be said to begin with. After all the time they had spent together, and the countless times Maddie had thanked him for everything, she was sure Chimney knew.
She. Didn’t. Need. To. Say. It.
But she couldn’t stop herself.
“I love you too,” Maddie whispered.
“...best friend,” she added a few seconds later.
Chimney breathed a sigh of relief, and his lips turned upward into a small smile.
“So, the story… it actually happened near Christmas,” Chimney began. “One of the guys that used to work at the firehouse, he fosters a lot of kids, and he lived in this huge house with this Chimney… so every year, everyone would go to his house and have a Christmas party. It was mostly all for the kids, but everyone loved to go. Anyway, we would put our names in this bucket, and whoever got picked, would dress up as Santa Claus and surprise the kids. Well, that year my name was picked.”
“I know… me as Santa Claus? A travesty,” Chimney said.
“No, it isn’t. I’m just trying to imagine you dressed up. I’m sure you looked adorable.”
“I didn’t… but anyway, anyone who got picked as Santa would have to literally come down the Chimney.”
“Okay, that sounds kind of dangerous,” Maddie said.
Chimney shrugged. ‘Well, every other year, everything had went smoothly. The guy checked his chimney a few times before he even let anyone near it and it was a huge one so people could fit down there easily. He even made everyone wear these safety harnesses just in case.”
Chimney let out a sigh. “It seems like bad luck follows me wherever I go, because on my way down the chimney, the safety harness broke… I slid down the whole way and my ass got brick burn.”
Maddie’s brows raised. “Brick burn?”
“It’s not actually a real thing, but that’s what everyone called it. I’ll get to that. But I finally made it out of there, and I got to be Santa… except I was in so much pain, I couldn’t even sit down. I had to actually leave early. The kids weren’t too happy about that… but when I made it outside, I had to have a few people check my ass to see how bad it was. My whole ass was scraped...and then I couldn’t even sit down properly for the next two weeks… and everyone started calling me Chimney as a joke at first, but then it just stuck, and here I am.”
He grinned at Maddie. “It’s okay. You can laugh if you want. I won’t be mad.”
Maddie shook her head. “Chimney. I don’t want to laugh,” she said sadly. “That’s actually an awful story.”
Chimney shrugged. “I guess, but it’s one of those memories that will never be forgotten. Every time they hire someone, we all have to sit around for story time and explain our nicknames, and mine is the first one they tell. It used to bother me, but now it’s been told so many times, I just laugh with everyone else.”
Maddie gave him half a smile. “But I’m still really sorry that happened to you… and your ass.”
Chimney laughed. “My ass says thank you.”
Maddie chuckled. “After hearing that story, it makes me wanna call you Howie more often. Can I really not call you that?”
Chimney sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’ll make an exception for you, but only because you’re my best friend… but…” he trailed off.
“But what?” Maddie asked.
“Can I call you something else besides Maddie? It could be our thing. You call me… Howie sometimes and I’ll call you whatever you decide.”
“It’s only fair, right?”
“Everyone calls me Mads or Maddie, but I guess you could call me Madelyn,” she said.
Chimney’s mouth fell open and he sat up. “Your real name’s Madelyn?”
As soon as he said her name, Maddie wanted him to say it a thousand more times. He made it sound beautiful…
“I know everything about you. How did I not know this?”
Maddie could tell that he was disappointed in himself for not knowing. He was overreacting just a little, but she thought it was cute.
“Because no one ever calls me that and Maddie is better,” she explained.
“Hmm, those choice those words sound very familiar,” Chimney pointed out.
He was right; he had used the same exact words when he talked about his own name.
“Madelyn isn’t a very good name.”
She didn’t exactly know why she didn’t like her real name. Maybe it was because she went by “Maddie” her whole life, and her real name just sounded so weird to her.
“At least your name doesn’t make you sound like you’re five years old.”
“It doesn’t. Howie fits you. It’s sweet and adorable like you.”
“Madelyn fits you, too. It’s lovely and beautiful… like you, and I’d be honored to call you that if you want me to.”
She had already been called those two words several times that evening, and it was too much for her heart to handle.
“I want you to,” she said as she began to blush.
Maddie remembered that they hadn’t even watched the movie that Chimney brought.
“I’m ready to watch Die Hard now. I’m sorry that I wasted a lot of time just talking,” she said.
“You don’t have to apologize for that because I love talking to you… movie or no movie, I just really love spending time with you.”
Maddie was going to try to ignore the fact that he said “love” two times.
“I feel the same way about you.”
Chimney smiled as he stood up and walked over to the tv. He kneeled down on one knee, so he could put the disc in the dvd player.
Maddie watched him and a certain feeling hit her.
She was thankful… thankful that Chimney was in her life... thankful that he was her best friend and he was always there for her whenever she needed someone to talk to, or just when she needed someone to laugh with.
Maddie was just so damn thankful for his existence.
She stood up and slowly made her way over to Chimney. She tapped his shoulder a couple of times and he immediately stood up.
Maddie grabbed his arm and pulled him closer. His arms wrapped around her.
“I just really wanted to hug you. That’s okay with you, right?” Maddie asked.
“I’m more than okay with it,” he said.
Maddie knew that Chimney thought that she was just thanking him for the hug, but she was thanking him for everything.
“I haven’t told you yet, but it’s not too late. Merry Christmas, Madelyn,” Chimney whispered.
Maddie’s heart began to race and she felt butterflies in her stomach. She was definitely going to have to learn to control her emotions whenever he would call her that in the future.
“Merry Christmas, Howie.”
Maddie felt Chimney’s grip tighten around her, and she closed her eyes.
It was a Merry Christmas, indeed.