“Oh, sugar!” Peggy exclaimed in such a state of shock that Chandley immediately rushed into the kitchen to check if she was okay. There were no broken dishes or – God forbid – broken bones. Naturally, Chandley was confused as to why Peggy had been panicking when there was no apparent reason for it.
“We’re out of champagne”
Chandley’s shoulders relaxed. Nothing bad. Just the champagne. “So what? Two more hours ‘til midnight. The clock will strike without champagne just the same”
Peggy whipped her grandson playfully with the kitchen towel. “I can’t believe you just said that! It ain’t the New Year without the champagne”
“An old Texan saying?” Chandley teased, chuckling.
“It is now” A stubborn old lady. That’s what she was. But it’s what gained her all the well deserved respect and Chandley would’ve been the last person on Earth to object.
“More than half of us aren’t even at legal drinking age” Chandley argued, biting his lip.
She smirked, a little twinkle in her eyes. “I think I have raised you a little too well” She winked and threw the kitchen towel over her shoulder as she enthusiastically turned towards the door. “However, we need some champagne, so let’s get to it. Matt, darlin’, where are you?” She chanted, leaving the kitchen with that kind of cheerful bounce in every step that you rarely found in a lady of her age. Chandley had no clue what she was planning exactly, but since it obviously happened to involve Matt he was admittedly quite curious and was quick to follow her into the living room where the rest of the family was already assembled.
“Come here, Chandley. We need you here too” She had obviously already informed everybody else about their lack of champagne, but nobody appeared to be as shocked about it as she had been upon finding out.
“I was thinking…” She turned to Chandley as if he was really going to have a say in this. “The little kiosk in town...that’s open 24 hours. Do you remember that one?”
Chandley nodded, still at a loss where her plan was heading. “Is that still there?”
“Why, of course it is, sweet pea. So why don’t you and Matt take the ol’ pick up truck to get some champagne from there”
Chandley wasn’t convinced at all, but he didn’t want to question her plan either. His helpless gaze met Matt’s, but the older boy didn’t seem to mind, even though he clearly couldn’t understand the sudden emergency either.
“Why us?” Chandley shot his grandmother a look that said it all. She pretended not to have seen it, though.
“Matt is the only one in this room who is old enough to drive, but too young to have had alcohol” Now that she had said it out loud, it actually did make a little sense. Not that it justified any of her actions. “And, of course, it’s easier if a local person guides him. It’s quite a journey into town, after all”
It wasn’t, really. The way into town was basically just one long road surrounded by nothing but fields and dried out trees. But before any more objections could be made, Chandley found himself on the passenger seat of his grandfather’s old pick up truck with Matt right beside him behind the wheel. Last Christmas was quietly playing on the radio and Chandley was tempted to just reach out and turn it off, but he was afraid of the possible awkward silence that would most likely follow.
“I’m sorry, Nana is so pushy” Chandley sunk a little deeper into the seat as he felt Matt’s gaze briefly on him, before it returned back to the road.
“From everything I’ve heard about grandmas…” His grave voice made it seem like he was about to explain some scientifically proven facts. But, of course, this was not his intention. “…this seems to be the norm”
Chandley chuckled. “I wouldn’t know, I only have this one”
Matt shrugged. He had none, but he wouldn’t say that out loud. Chandley knew it well enough.
“It’s funny…” Matt suddenly kept up the conversation. “…I remember Hollie leaving for the summer sometimes…” It was clear that he hadn’t finished his sentence yet, but he somehow didn’t know how to continue either. Good thing, Chandley was always ready to jump in, even when he wasn’t asked to. “And now you actually get to see where she went?”
It wasn’t quite what Matt had been trying to say. He slowly nodded anyway. “Yeah…”
Silence fell over the two of them once again and Chandley began tapping his fingernails against the dashboard, nervously. “Now, after the next turn, you’ll already see a bunch of houses. And that’s Payne Springs downtown” He laughed, because there was obviously no such thing. The town centre consisted of a small shop, a gas station, a crappy motel and the kiosk that was opened for 24 hours for 365 days of the year. It might not make a lot of sense at first, from an economic point of view, but considering all the farms and cottages scattered miles and miles around the commune of Payne Springs, it actually came in handy more often than one would think.
Still, the rusty pick up truck was the only car disturbing the spooky silence that was currently living in those small town streets. Matt parked the car right in front of the kiosk and as the headlights turned off, the only light shining brighter than the stars in the cloudless night sky was a flickering neon sign from the motel across the street.
It was impossible to operate the doors of the truck without possibly waking up the whole neighbourhood, but chances were good that everybody was still awake anyway. It was New Year’s Eve, after all. Still, Chandley had an anxious look around as he followed Matt into the shop.
Good memories of home made pastries and whole days spent on the back of a horse weren’t the only memories linked to this place, after all. In fact, now that he had set a foot back into the town, far from the calm comfort of his grandparent’s farm and even farther from his new life back in New York, it felt like everything he’d been running from came back crushing down at him all at once. Maybe he should’ve stayed in the car. But as soon as the little bell above the shop door rang, he knew that it was already too late.
Before they had left the house, someone had been concerned about how Matt was supposed to get alcohol at his age. Of course, Peggy had argued that he looked a great deal older than he actually was. He also had Chandley with him. A local face that everyone was bound to recognize, knowing very well which family he belonged to. They would be willing to make an exception for the nice young boy they had all watched growing up in this town.
Naturally, he had expected to find the actual owner of the shop behind the counter working his butt off for the family, even on New Year’s Eve. He probably would’ve asked about New York and how his grandparents were doing, because these days they weren’t leaving the farm as much as they used to anymore. And Chandley would’ve casually chatted away about all the things that didn’t really matter, but were somehow essential to keep the small talk going. One foot set into the small shop, he knew that this was not going to happen, though. Because he hadn’t been prepared to face Landon Wright upon walking up to the counter to do the check out. In fact, he hadn’t been prepared to ever face his former tormenter again. He should’ve been, though. Of course he was still here. Nobody ever left Payne Springs.
“Well, won’t you look at that” His grey eyes were watching Chandley’s every step like an alligator eying his prey. He ran his fingers through his slick black hair. It was longer than Chandley remembered it. Maybe he had grown it out. “Didn’t you see the sign outside? No dogs allowed”
Chandley felt his features hardening. “I’m not a dog” He said, calmly, but weak. His eyes were nervously searching the shop for Matt, but he was somewhere in the back, probably getting the champagne. But the shop wasn’t actually that big. He must’ve heard Landon. That scratchy voice stood out of every crowd.
“Funny, because you sure yelped like one back then when we beat you up at the back of the school. Remember that? Good old times” Landon. He was always mad. But as far as Chandley was concerned - and he had thought about this a lot during those countless sleepless nights - there was no tragic back story behind it. He was just mad at the whole wide world for no reason at all, other than his own personal enjoyment.
He didn’t reply or fight back. He never did and he wouldn’t start tonight. It wasn’t worth it. Unfortunately, there was only one thing that Landon enjoyed more than his victim’s silence: his victim’s pain and tears.
“You have nerves to come here and present your boyfriend like that. It’s disgusting and it proves that we are right to ban faggots like you from this town” How could someone this young be so full of hatred?
“No thanks, I left on my own account” His voice wasn’t nearly as strong and confident as he desperately tried to make it sound. He didn’t even address the fact that Matt wasn’t his actual boyfriend. Because it sure would’ve been nice if he was.
“Yeah, right” Landon huffed. “I bet it’s your fault that your old people never leave their farm anymore. I’d be ashamed too if I were them. I bet they disowned you” This was so very far away from the truth, but the mere thought of someone talking like this about his family had Chandley shaking from anger and frustration. He didn’t know what to say. If he were to open his mouth now, he was bound to cry and he didn’t want to do that in front of bullies like Landon. Not anymore.
Just then, Matt had returned from the back of the shop and calmly placed two bottles of champagne on the counter. Landon was slightly startled as his eyes met Matt’s rather grim expression. Sure, Landon was quite tall himself, but he had underestimated Matt’s actual height until just now, as he was standing right in front of him. There was no doubt that he had overheard the conversation, yet, he didn’t say a word about it.
“Sorry, we don’t sell alcohol to faggots” He smirked triumphantly. Matt’s silence had convinced him that the older boy might be tall and broad shouldered, but not at all dangerous. He didn’t know how wrong he had been until Matt was suddenly leaning over the counter, grabbing Landon by his collar. “Okay, that’s enough” He said and threw two solid punches right at Landon’s face. The poor boy didn’t even have time to cry for help until he found himself lying on the ground.
Matt wiped his hands on his shirts as if he had just touched something rather disgusting. He pulled out his wallet and slammed a little bit more than the needed amount of money for the champagne on the counter. “There you go. Maybe you can buy yourself some common sense with it…or a plaster. Whatever you decide”
Chandley’s state of shock had long developed into pure delight. His steps were almost a little bouncy as he grabbed the two bottles and followed Matt back to the car, not turning around once.
The old truck was complaining noisily, coughing and shaking uncontrollably until – suddenly - it just stopped and wouldn’t start working again even after Matt had tried to turn the key and press the gas pedal several more times. The car was wrecked. Matt punched the stirring wheel, cursing quietly while Chandley took a nervous glance at the clock.
30 minutes left until midnight.
In other words, they were stuck in the middle of nowhere.
“Can we call someone?” Chandley asked, still as optimistic as the situation allowed him to be.
Matt searched his pockets for his phone, but gave up as he remembered. “I didn’t bring my phone…I thought we wouldn’t be gone for long”
Chandley bit his lip. Maybe that way he didn’t have to answer. But, of course, he did anyway. “Same” He admitted. It was kind of funny, though. They both could acknowledge that by laughing in unison.
“You think we’re going to make it back until midnight?” There was absolutely no hope in his voice. Just a casual question that didn’t need an actual answer. Matt shook his head anyway.
“Not even if we’d run”
Silence. A little bit longer this time, yet it didn’t feel awkward at all. Suddenly Chandley jerked the door open. He took some time to breathe in the fresh air outside, free from pollution or the never ending roaring of traffic. It had cooled down quite a bit and he actually felt quite chilly, wearing just a shirt. The sound of the door banging shut echoed all the way from the mountains in the far distance.
25 more minutes until midnight.
“Do you know what’s in the back of the car?” Chandley poked his head into the window of the driver’s seat. Matt shook his head. Chandley proceeded to walk down to the back of the car and pulled away the blanket that was covering a bunch of boxes piled up on the truck bed, containing enough fireworks to light up the sky for a whole night. His smile revealed that his questions had been rhetorical and that he had known about their possibly slightly illegal cargo.
Matt had gotten out of the car to see it for himself. Maybe he should’ve been concerned. Or questioning how Chandley’s grandparents had gotten their hands on all of that firework, but he found himself grinning as he took out some of the small rockets and firecrackers and carefully weighed them in his hands.
“We’re going to get in trouble for this”
“Maybe…” Chandley smirked. “But probably not. Nobody really cares about what happens out here, trust me”
But Matt didn’t mind trouble and Chandley didn’t mind it as long as it was with Matt. “I’ll check the car for a lighter” Chandley announced while Matt had already begun arranging the fireworks all around the car. That way it would be easier to later ignite them all at once.
20 more minutes until midnight.
“I found two” Chandley came back, handing one lighter over to Matt who had already done quite a bit of work with the fireworks. “There’s nothing we could use as glasses, though…for the champagne”
Matt shrugged, still preoccupied with securing the rockets into the soft desert sand. “Well, we have two bottles, though, haven’t we?” Chandley knew that he shouldn’t approve of that way of thinking, but he just couldn’t help it. “It’s still cold, too” He added, setting the bottles aside on top of the truck in order to help Matt out.
10 more minutes until midnight.
Matt and Chandley were ready for anything by now. The champagne wasn’t opened yet. They were saving it for later. There was no rocket left in the back of the car and the two boys already had their fingers impatiently tapping on the lighters, waiting for the right moment. The only dependable source of time they had was Chandley’s watch as well as the car watch, but Chandley knew for sure that neither of them was perfectly exact. Out here, nobody would care if they started their private new year’s celebration a minute earlier or even two minutes later than the rest of the town. There was no public fireworks anywhere near either. It was just him and Matt, two bottles of champagne, the old and broken pick up truck and a trunk full of fireworks. This already felt like the best New Year’s Eve Chandley has ever had.
5 more minutes until midnight.
His family must’ve already noticed their delay. Maybe they had made up their own story for why they hadn’t returned yet. But apparently they weren’t worried. Otherwise Hollie’s father could’ve long taken his own care to come and look for them. There was no other road into town. There was no way he could’ve missed them. But things like that happened. And they seemed to happen a lot to Chandley. And now it was midnight soon and none of that mattered anyway, because he was off to a new start. Funny, how one single change of numbers could mean so much more. A new year was a second chance. An opportunity to change everything. It was cheesy and maybe even a little overrated, yet, it drew people in. Why else would billions of people look up to the sky and celebrate the New Year in unison if it wasn’t for the hope for a better year?
The two boys had comfortably taken seat on the truck bed, patiently waiting and talking about anything and everything. Upon one quick glance at his clock, Chandley found that it was time. He leaped off the car.
The first rocket set off into the night sky. Then a second, a third, a fourth…they howled and sizzled, saying their last goodbyes before they lit up the dark in a dazzling chaos of colourful explosions, one louder and prettier than the other. There was not a single second of silence until the last rocket was shot, leaving a final trail of glittery sparks fading into the night. There was a thick layer of smoke surrounding the two boys and their truck. Chandley’s eyes were still fixed to the sky, even though all of a sudden everything was calm again, the stars and the moon shining on like nothing had happened at all. They didn’t care that the fireworks had stolen their spotlight for roughly ten minutes. To Chandley, those 10 minutes had seemed infinite.
If he could’ve chosen one single moment of his entire life to last forever, this would’ve been it. Just staring off into the sky, blinded by the magnificent lights, deafened by the roaring sound of the rockets travelling and exploding and yet feeling everything so much more intense, so much more real with Matt by his side. The first person he had ever given his heart to, wholly and truly without ever expecting anything in return. The person he had (not quite) chosen to love for no other purpose than to selflessly give something…like a gift, a nice gesture that would never be returned. He loved him so much that he was happy enough giving this gift to Matt every single day for the rest of their lives even if Matt would never even know about it. Because ultimately that was the only choice he had. He either chose to lose Matt and with him those moments of infinity forever or he chose to live with the pain, the everlasting urge to brush Matt’s skin with his own, to meet his lips and intertwine fingers with him. An urge he felt so strongly that it overcame him in painful waves of heat and cold and an unsettling tingling in his fingertips. The same way he was feeling it right now as he resisted the temptation of just grabbing Matt’s hand.
Little did he know that, as his eyes were still safely fixed to the sky - the gleaming reflection of colourful explosions still found in his gaze when, really, it were just tears shining from the corner of his eyes - Matt’s gaze was likewise resting on him, noticing every change of mimic that came over Chandley’s face.
Suddenly, Chandley straightened his shoulders as he grabbed one bottle of champagne. He lifted it up for a toast. “Happy new year”
Matt smiled and so did Chandley. Both their smiles lasted for a little too long. “Happy new year to you too”
Two more bangs followed as they both popped the bottles and immediately drank from them despite all the champagne spilling out and wetting their clothes.
No more than 15 minutes later the bottles were already half empty and the two boys found themselves half lying and half sitting on the truck bed.
“I used to have this huge crush on Landon” Chandley suddenly admitted, even though it was completely off topic and unrelated. Just like that he had finally said it. Not explicitly, of course. But it was enough to make Matt understand. Chandley expected grave silence or disbelief to follow his confession. Instead, Matt just huffed. “On that idiot?” To him the confession wasn’t about Chandley having a crush on a boy…it was about Chandley having a crush on decidedly the wrong person.
“Yeah…” Chandley suddenly felt bad. He should’ve chosen different words for his coming out. Now it was just awkward.
“Well…then you’re an idiot too” They both started laughing.
“I guess…it was in fourth grade, though. I told him about it…that I wanted to hold hands with him. I don’t know what I expected, to be honest. Some other kid found a letter that I had written to him and read it out loud to the whole class…they all started picking on both of us. Landon never got rid of his reputation as my boyfriend until he shoved me into a locker for the first time in middle school. I think that’s why he hates me. He blames me for his embarrassment…and I guess, in a way, it is my fault”
“No, it’s not” Matt’s voice was almost a little angry. He was clearly ready to beat that prick up a second time if they ever were to meet again. Good thing, Chandley had refrained from telling him about the horrible words they had chosen to call him back then. He never explained that shoving him into a locker used to be the least horrible thing that they had done to him. “He should’ve known better than turning against your for his own social status’ sake”
“Matt…we were in fourth grade” That’s what Chandley did. Always finding excuses and reasons for why someone else had acted a certain way. There was always an opportunity to blame yourself if you just thought hard enough.
“You think he’d act any different today?”
Chandley shook his head. “No…but now the damage is already done, isn’t it?”
“If people depend their every step on how they can be liked by everyone else, they’re gonna go crazy if even one single person comes along and doesn’t like them…no matter what they do”
Matt laughed. That’s not what he had been trying to say, but it amused him all the more for that. “Yeah, exactly”
“Well, it sounds easy when you say it…because you don’t care about anything anyone says”
“Do I have to?”
Chandley frowned and took a quick sip from the bottle. “I suppose not”
“There you go. Cheers” Matt took a longer sip.
What others might found annoying or suspicious about Matt, Chandley thought of as admirable and maybe even endearing in a way. It was something he would wish to strive for, if only he could. Rather being loved by few people than desperately trying to change yourself to please everyone else. How much easier and rewarding would that be? Yet, he knew that this was a character trait that just wasn’t to be found inside of him and therefore could never be achieved. But maybe he could care too much whenever Matt didn’t, even though it might be appropriate sometimes. Then maybe Matt could stop him from caring whenever it was all too much. If only they were this close…
A pair of bright headlights blinded them. They heard the banging car door before they could even make out someone getting out of the car.
“We saw your sign for help” Hollie’s father stopped right at the back of the broken truck where Matt and Chandley had sat up by now. His expression was a perfect mixture of fatherly authority and (not so well) hidden amusement. The fireworks had been too mesmerizing to punish the two boys for it, other than by having them wait a little longer for their rescue.
“Happy new year, boys” He smiled, kindly ignoring the champagne they technically shouldn’t be drinking. “Now get into the car”