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I had heard of the festival for several years, even before I saw the movie that had been filmed there. I had wanted to go the first time I was told about it, and this year was my chance. I even had a personal tour guide, two in fact. Marta and Charles had both grown up in the town and knew all about the festival, the town and its secrets. They had agreed to ride with me, probably more because I had the car than for any friendship they felt toward me. After all, I hardly knew them outside of the few classes we had together. Marta offered to serve as a tour guide after she supposedly heard me talking about wanting to go to the festival. The thing was I had only mentioned it out loud once and that was after a class she did not have with me. Charles had been standing nearby, however. He asked if he could join us a week later. I assured him there was plenty of room in the car.
When we were loading up to leave, I expected Marta to get in the front seat. I assumed that she had a crush on me and had dreamed up the trip to get closer to me. It wouldn't be the first time a girl had chased me. They liked the fact that they could relax around me and not be worried about the moves I was going to put on them. Of course I knew the real reason that they were always safe around me. I was gay. I didn't advertise that fact, naturally, since I was living in a small southern town. They still lynched people for being different, and got away with it for the most part. The local governments kept everything hush hush in those cases, but folks that lived in the area knew what was going on and why.
Once we got to the town where the festival was held, I was instructed by Marta and Charles that the best place to park was at the local junior college. I wondered about this, as the school was several miles from the parade route and festival grounds. They explained that the car would be in a parking lot that was patrolled, plus Marta pointed out that the parade lined up and started in another lot on the campus. We would be able to see the floats and the bands as they got ready.
Charles rolled his eyes a bit at this and said it was more fun to walk through town and sightsee a bit. He asked if I wanted to stay and hang out with Marta or walk with him. Marta was already involved in conversation with some old friend she hadn't seen since she left town. I opted for the walk about town.
Charles was a veritable archive of information about the town. He knew the history of practically every house we walked by. The family scandals I heard about would have had my strict and uptight parents thumping their bibles in no time. There was the house where the husband had been having an affair with the maid. Over here was the place that had the double murder a few years back, which is why it was still empty. This house was where the man had a midlife crisis affair with the boy who mowed the lawn. Charles blushed a bit as he told that story.
"I'll bet that one made for some great headlines," I said with a smirk.
"Oh, it never made the news," he said quickly. "I never… I mean, I didn't hear about it from the papers." He was suddenly blushing even more than he already had been. I wondered about this, but decided to be nice and let it go.
"What about this place over here?" I asked. "Wasn't it in the movie?"
"Yeah, and that's the only thing that has ever happened there," he replied. "It actually hasn't been lived in regularly for like twenty years. The folks that own that also have a place way up north somewhere in Tennessee. This is their summer place."
"If that's the summer cottage, I can't even imagine what the real home looks like," I mused aloud as I stared at the enormous southern colonial home beside me.
"They inherited this place from a distant aunt or something," Charles told me. "They say they are going to settle here when they retire, maybe."
"I can see retiring to a town like this," I said to him with a sigh as I looked around the town.
"Not me," he replied quickly. "Everyone in town knows everyone else's business. No one has any privacy in this hellhole."
"What do you mean hellhole?" I asked. "This seems like a really nice town so far to me."
"You didn't grow up here," Charles said sadly as he turned and started walking away.
"Hey! Wait up!" I had to call when I couldn't keep up with his sudden fast pace. "I'm sorry if I said something wrong," I apologized when I caught up to him.
"No, I should be apologizing to you," he said. "You came here to have some fun at the festival. Let's go to the park downtown. You can get some crunchy greasy food, some warm flat soda and a good spot to watch the fireworks."
"Sounds like a plan to me," I grinned. "Lead on, kind sir," I told him as I waved my hand in a flourish that would have done Ashley Wilkes proud.
Charles laughed softly at my hamming, but played right back with an impersonation of his own. "Walk this way, sir," he told me and began marching stiffly away.
I was suddenly struck with a thought that had become all too familiar since I had first met Charles. I knew it was wrong to think this way about him, but I couldn't seem to help myself. As I saw his pants pull tightly across his butt when he kicked his feet up in front of himself in the exaggerated march, I thought of how nice that butt looked.
I immediately tried to think of something else, but that's when I noticed that the motions Charles was going through had caused his t shirt to ride up in the back. I could see the waistband of his underwear above the top of his jeans. I felt very hot all of a sudden, and I also realized that I was getting stiff, and I don't mean my knees.
"Hey, you're falling behind again," Charles pointed out, looking back at me.
"Sorry," I called back.
"Nothing to be sorry about," he answered. "I just don't want you to get lost or anything."
"I already am," I replied thinking of my carnal thoughts about this wonderful boy I was following.
We got downtown to the park where they would be shooting off all the fireworks, and I was amazed by the spectacle I was witnessing. It was like the county fair only with red and green Christmas decorations everywhere you looked. There were more people in Santa suits of all kinds than you could imagine. What surprised me most was not the number of people dressed as the most famous Christmas elf, it was the costumes they wore. Naturally there were a good many normal Santas in the traditional red velvet suit with white fake fur accents. I also saw Old World style Father Christmas in a lavish blue fur robe with white accents. The costume was incredible.
To my shock, there was also biker Clauses as well. These were both men and women dressed in red leather. Some of the outfits were extremely revealing. One Santa was wearing nothing but a red leather thong. The white pompom that I was accustomed to seeing at the end of Santa's stocking cap… well, let's just say it was attached at the end of something else. The man was very hairy and slightly overweight, but then Santa is always pictured as being a touch on the paunchy side. This particular Christmas character seemed very pleased to see Charles.
"Charley, my boy!" he called. "Wonderful to see you again. Care to sit on Santa's lap again for old times' sake?"
Charles did his best to ignore the obviously already intoxicated man. He couldn't hide the intense blush as he hurried away, unfortunately. The man laughed heartily as he picked up yet another beer.
"Are you ok?" I asked Charles as I ran to catch up with him.
"They shouldn't let some people come to this anymore," he mumbled. "There are little kids who are here to have a good time and crap like that just confuses them."
"Yeah, he was not a very good example of the Christmas spirit," I agreed. "It looked like he'd had plenty of spirits though." It was a really lame play on words, but it seemed to work. Charles laughed a little. He also got that sparkle back in his eye again. "Thanks, I needed that."
"If you don't mind my saying this, it seems as if you're having some trouble with the ghost of Christmas past," I told him quietly. "Let's just focus on Christmas present. Everyone likes a good Christmas present." I never claimed to be a comedian, but you would have thought that I was from Charles' reaction.
"You know, I'm really glad I came here with you," he told me with a smile after he stopped laughing. "You're a lot of fun to be with."
"That's me, a regular Bob Cratchett," I said returning the smile. "I'm everyone's friend."
"You really are, you know," Charles said suddenly serious. "You just make people feel good when you are around. You brighten the room when you walk in."
"Stop, you'll make me blush," I denied. "I just treat everyone else the same way I would like them to treat me. A little respect and understanding go a long way."
"It's one of your best features," he told me.
"One of them?" I quizzed. "You mean there are more?"
"Of course there are more," he scolded gently. "You are a great guy. Any girl would be lucky to get you."
"I don't know about that," I said honestly. "I might be a letdown."
"I can't imagine you ever letting anyone down," he mused. Suddenly he blushed again, and started walking again. "We need junk food!" he called over his shoulder. "You can't come to the festival without getting sick from the crunchy, greasy food. It wouldn't be Christmas."
"Well, by all means, let's have Christmas dinner," I agreed. "What does my tour guide recommend we stuff ourselves with first?"
"We start with the gator tail on a stick," he answered.
"The what?!" I shuddered.
"Trust me, you'll love it," he smiled like a used car salesman. "It tastes just like…."
"Don't even go there," I warned with a grin. "The only thing that tastes like chicken is chicken."
"Come on, where's your sense of adventure?" he asked. "Come on; just try a bite… for me?"
How did he catch on to my weakness so quickly? He batted his eyes at me like an innocent little boy, but I knew better. I was being played like a violin, and I knew it. What did I do? I ate a gator tail on a stick, and told him it was good. It wasn't. I didn't hate it, and it didn't make me sick, but one was enough for this lifetime.
From gator tails we moved on to elephant's ears. These were definitely more to my liking. Flaky puff pastry the size of a dinner plate that's covered in brown sugar and cinnamon was heaven after the greasy aftertaste of deep fried alligator tail. I must have been a little more vocal in my appreciation for this new delicacy than I realized because Charles picked on me.
"If you make this much noise eating an elephant's ears, you must really be loud when it's your girlfriend's," he teased.
"I don't have a girlfriend, nor do I want one," I answered without thinking. When I caught what I had just said, I added, "I can spend my own money more than fast enough. I don't need help."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," he agreed. His smile seemed to be wider now than it was before, not that I was complaining of course.