Christmas Lights and All that Jazz
Author: Nelson
Pairings: O/C Nelson/Zach, Vic/Ben
December 2003



“No.” The word hung heavily in the air all by itself, with no supporting dialogue surrounding it to give further explanation or rationale for its use. It’s a word with only two letters: a simple little thing with the same definition in many languages. And, probably the shortest word in the English language, except for “a”, which might not even be a real word, Zach thought. But, he knew the small size was no indication of the power behind it, and balked at feeling the finality of the tiny word’s punch.

An audible grunt escaped Zach’s lips and he demanded, “Why not?!”

Nelson looked at him levelly from beside him at the table and said, “If ‘because I said so’ isn’t enough, then because it’s dangerous.”

“I won’t fall! I’m good at balancing.” The sandwich Zach had been eating was momentarily forgotten, the issue at hand taking precedence over his stomach.

“I’ll help you get them hung on the lower level later this week. We will NOT be putting lights around the dormers.”

“But, they’ll look good around the dormers. And, I’ve already waited a week for you. We NEED to get the Christmas lights up. Ben will help me, won’t you Ben?”

Ben wasn’t given a chance to answer as Nelson cut him off, leaving his mouth hanging open in preparation to respond. “I said no, young man, and I mean it,” Nelson said, then turned his eyes to Ben, who was sitting across from Zach at the table. “That goes for you, too, Benjamin.” Ben nodded silently and turned back to his sandwich, uncomfortable with Nelson’s firm gaze. He was grateful when Nelson’s attention was turned from him and back to Zach. He said, “I’ll help you get them done later. We have plenty of time.”

“We do not,” Zach disagreed. “It’s already after Thanksgiving.”

“Zachary, that’s enough,” Nelson said with a look. It told Zach “this conversation is over”.

He bit back an angry “FINE!” and glared at Nelson with his own look. Nelson’s eyes were unwavering and Zach soon gave in and looked away. He huffed then stormed out of the kitchen as angrily as he thought he could get away with, and curled up on the sofa in the den. Ben was a mere millisecond behind him, quietly following Zach’s lead, but not before grabbing the last quarter of his PB&J sandwich.

While they were out of earshot, Zach began to complain fiercely about Nelson’s lack of understanding, his ridiculous rules, and his lack of trust in Zach to hang lights on dormer windows. His friend supported him wholeheartedly with nods and words of empathy around the remainder of his sandwich.

“It’s not like I’m some kid who can’t do a simple thing like hang lights,” Zach complained.

“I know,” Ben agreed.

“I mean, what is the big DEAL?”

Ben shrugged, “Who knows?”

“It’s so STUPID,” Zach said, punctuating the last word with a kick to the coffee table.

Ben nodded and said, “You’re right; totally stupid.”

“It’s JUST lights, damn it.”

Ben took another bite of his sandwich and said around the mouthful, “Yeah, just lights.”

Their conversation abruptly ended when they heard Nelson approaching, and they saw him stick his head around the door. “I have some stops to make then I’m going back to work. You two behave yourselves this afternoon,” he said. “Zach, don’t forget we have Christien’s play tonight.”

Zach didn’t say anything and kept his eyes off Nelson, deliberately ignoring him. Nelson wasn’t about to put up with Zach’s obvious attitude, so he walked fully into the room stopping in front of Zach.

“Pull the lip in, Zachary. You can be mad at me all you want, but you’d better do it without the attitude. I want you in one piece whether you like it or not.” Ben watched the two of them as if they were playing a tennis match, eyes from one to the other. The ball was in Zach’s court, but it lay lifelessly on the blacktop since Zach refused to engage. Nelson pulled out a spare ball and lobbed it back onto Zach’s side of the net by asking, “Do you need a spanking, Zach?” he asked with a glance at his watch. “I need to get going, but if I have to take the time, I will.”

Zach’s face flamed red at having been threatened with a spanking in front of Ben. He rapidly masked the attitude before Nelson decided it would be worth his time to be a little late. He answered with a quick, “No, sir, I don’t need a spanking.”

Ben, not wanting to be a witness to Zach getting spanked, was just as relieved as Zach to hear Nelson relent and say, “I’m glad to hear it because I really don’t want to have to spank you today. You and Ben enjoy your afternoon off and behave yourselves.” He leaned down to kiss Zach goodbye and Zach tried to return the kiss without complaint.

“See you, Nelson,” Ben said.

“See you later, boys,” Nelson said with a wave, and left to go back to work.

As soon as he was gone, Ben shoved Zach’s shoulder on the sofa. “Nice going, dope. You came about this close,” he said holding his fingers a hair apart, “to getting your ass spanked over Christmas lights. Is it that important to you? ”

“Hey! Whose side are you on, anyway?”

“I’m on your side. I didn’t say I agreed with Nelson, I’m just trying to tell you it’s not worth getting your butt toasted over it.”

“But, I got new lights. I want to put them up NOW. He’s been saying for a week he was going to do it. There’s more of a chance of them hanging themselves than of Nelson hanging them. I’m sick of waiting.”

“Looks like you don’t have a choice,” Ben pointed out then added to support his friend, “even if it’s not fair.”

Zach looked at him thoughtfully and said, “Don’t I?”

Ben’s mouth dropped open. “Are you nuts? You’ll get it for sure if you hang those lights. It’s not exactly like you can hide them.”

Zach weighed his options and decided he wanted to hang the lights, and Nelson could just get over it. “It’s stupid. I’m not so lame I can’t hang Christmas lights. I need to make a point. I’m hanging them; I don’t care what he says.”

“It’s not so much what he’ll SAY that you should be worried about. You’ve got to be crazy to even think about hanging them.”

“I’m hanging them and you’re going to help me.”

Ben’s eyes grew to a size that rivaled saucers and he said, “I am NOT. He told me ‘no’, too, remember?”

“Chicken.”

Ben lodged his thumbs under his armpits and flapped for Zach, not ashamed to be a chicken. Better a live chicken than a cooked goose.

Zach looked at his friend and changed tactics, going directly for his sympathy button. He tossed in a little reason to boot, figuring it couldn’t hurt. “Don’t you care that I might fall? I need your help. Nelson won’t do anything to you and besides, he won’t know you helped me.”

“The hell he won’t do anything! He’s spanked me before and frankly, I don’t want him to do it again. Across his lap is not a place I want to be.”

“But, Vic wasn’t around when he did that. He had to spank you.”

Ben leaned down and looked under the sofa, looked over both shoulders then back at his friend. “And, Vic would be where, now?”

Zach locked eyes with Ben, not laughing at all. “He was hundreds of miles away at the time. He’s just across town now. It doesn’t matter anyway because Nelson won’t KNOW you helped. I won’t give you away. Come on, please?” Zach said pleadingly. Ben looked warily at Zach, not fully convinced he wouldn’t be implicated. Zach could sense Ben was on the brink of crumbling so he grabbed his hand and cast a pitiful look his way. “Pleaaassee? Pretty please??”

Ben grunted and rolled his eyes, rising from the couch. “WHY do I let you talk me into these things? Let’s do it if we’re going to. But, if I get in trouble…”

“You WON’T,” Zach said, grinning broadly with the thrill of the win. He jumped to his feet to join his friend. “I’ll get the lights and stuff.” He jogged off through the house to gather the lights, some nails and a hammer.

Zach reappeared triumphantly carrying the items and held the bag of lights high for Ben to see. “These are going to look so good,” he said with a broad grin. “Come on.”

Ben thought again about what a bad idea this was and only hoped he wouldn’t get dragged into the middle of Zach’s trouble. He followed Zach to the garage and helped get the ladder, and they carefully propped it against the ledge of the steep roof.

Zach went up first, determined to cover the dormer windows with the dangling icicle lights, and Ben followed him up to the roof. Ben stepped off the ladder and carefully peered over the edge of the roof, backing up in a hurry. “Geez. It seems a lot higher from up here than on the ground.”

“Don’t look down! It’s not that high. It’s just the second floor,” Zach said as he dislodged lights from the hateful plastic thing holding them hostage. He added with a twinkle in his eye, “If you fall, try to aim for the bushes.”

“Kiss my ass,” Ben said.

Zach laughed at his friend then pulled a nail from the container, holding it in place. He turned to Ben and said, “Hand me the hammer.” Ben was passing the hammer over and mistakenly thought Zach had it when he let it go. They watched it slip from their hands and slide in slow motion down the angled roof, tipping end over end after hitting the gutter before landing on the ground.

“Damn,” Zach muttered. He stepped over toward the ladder without hesitation, obviously not nervous about meeting the same fate as the hammer.

He was on his way back down the ladder and Ben called after him, “That could have been us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You sound just like Nelson. When did you become a Top?” Zach chided on the way back up. “We know how to balance, the hammer doesn’t.”

Ben rolled his eyes and followed Zach back to the dormer, holding the lights while Zach wielded the hammer. They were so totally engrossed in what they were doing that they didn’t hear the car pull in the driveway below them.

They jumped a mile high with Nelson’s sharp voice calling to them from below. “What the HELL are you two doing??”

At the sound of Nelson’s voice, Zach whispered under his breath to Ben, “God Almighty. Where did he come from?” He turned slowly and saw his angry partner with his hands on his hips, staring up at the two miscreants. Zach noticed the car door was hanging open and the engine still running, evidence that Nelson obviously exited the vehicle in a hurry.

Zach said as casually as possible, somehow managing to keep a tremor out of his voice, “Nelson. What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

“I forgot the checkbook and had to come back; I’m glad I did.”

Zach took a seat on the roof since he no longer trusted his legs, and peered down at Nelson. “We’ll be down in a minute, as soon as we’re finished,” he said stubbornly, but he had to swallow hard before he spoke to wash down the cotton in his throat.

Nelson said through clenched teeth, “GET down here right now.”

“But, we just got started,” Zach explained. Ben gulped hard and tried to hide among the shingles. He wasn’t sure what to do. Nelson was obviously displeased and Zach wasn’t making a move to go down. He anxiously waited to see what Zach would do before making a decision, although if it were Vic down there, he’d already be on the ground beside him.

“NOW!” Nelson said, raising his voice another notch, pointing in front of him. Nelson’s sharp response to Zach’s comment broke Ben’s train of thought.

Zach’s eyes went wide and he realized only too late just how serious Nelson had been about the lights. Zach had wanted to make a point, and Nelson obviously got it. Unfortunately, from the look on his face, he had a point to make as well. The only problem was he would be making it on Zach’s ass and Zach knew it. Nelson had raised his voice and Nelson NEVER yelled. Knowing how mad Nelson was, Zach had no intention of going down the ladder and getting within swatting distance of him. Instead, he reasoned, “We aren’t going to fall. We need to stay up here and finish since we’re already up here.”

Nelson spoke slowly, his finger remaining on the invisible spot in front of him. “I said to get down NOW. That means both of you. If I have to come up there, I’ll swat your butts all the way down! MOVE!”

Zach said nervously, “Now, THAT might make us fall, Nelson.”

Nelson wasn’t the least bit amused. He started to count, “ONE!”

“Shit,” Ben whispered to Zach. He decided he didn’t want Nelson coming after him on the roof whether Zach wanted to go down or not. He also knew things disintegrated quickly when Vic started counting, and he had a sneaking suspicion it would be the same way with Nelson.

“Ben!” Zach said in hushed tones, hoping to keep his friend from descending. “Don’t go!”

“I’m going, Zach. Stay if you want to.”

“Zachary Adam, you’d better follow Ben’s lead and get your butt moving.” Nelson saw no activity from his partner and he said, “TWO, Zachary. Be careful, Ben.”

“But, Nelson, you were NEVER going to do it,” Zach argued. “We had to get the lights hung.”

When Ben was almost at the bottom of the ladder and within Nelson’s reach, he felt a firm, steadying hand settle against the small of his back. Nelson held off on saying “three” until he was sure Ben was safe with two feet on the ground. He looked back up and saw Zach was no closer to coming down than he was at “two”. Nelson looked up into his partner’s face, which was peering at him over the ledge. “Do you want the belt, young man?”

“No, sir, but you’re mad. I don’t want to come down.”

“Do you think disobeying me further is making me any less angry?”

Zach considered it and the question got him moving. “Three” wasn’t necessary since he was making progress, albeit slow progress, down the ladder. By the time Zach made it to the ground, Nelson had Ben by the upper arm and was waiting to clamp onto Zach’s at the bottom of the ladder. Zach was going to have to go back up eventually because he was pretty sure he left his stomach somewhere up on the roof, along with the lights he had abandoned.

As soon as he was within reach, Nelson had a matching grip on Zach’s arm and started pushing the two toward the house. As they reached the porch steps, he began swatting at their butts, pushing them along, as they were clearly dragging their feet. He was fair in giving equal attention to both boys: a couple for Ben, a couple for Zach, a couple for Ben… Two sets of hands quickly covered the area to keep from getting more stinging slaps to their bottoms, and their backs involuntarily arched to get their butts out of the way. But Nelson’s aim was good, being the seasoned Top that he was, and he easily found and swatted unprotected ground. Zach reached for the front door, getting inside as quickly as possible in an attempt to avoid more swats and turned his back away from Nelson.

“Have a seat. I’ll be right back,” Nelson said to them, indicating the sofa.

The boys scrambled to sit on the couch while they could still do so comfortably. Zach glanced at Ben and wondered if his own face was as red as his friend’s. Ben released the breath that he had been holding since he first heard Nelson’s angry voice call out from the ground beneath them. He looked anxiously at Zach after Nelson went outside and asked, “Where is he going? Will he get a switch?”

Zach looked at his friend and said, “I hope not. He’s never switched me before. I think he’s just going to close the car door and turn the engine off…I hope.”

“You’re lucky. A switch stings like a bitch. Sometimes, Vic makes me get my own off the ‘switch tree’, as he calls it, in the backyard. I don’t know what’s worse: being sent for it or having to wait while he gets it.”

“The ‘switch tree’?” Zach asked.

“That bushy thing in the backyard,” Ben pointed out.

Zach muttered, “Oh. We don’t have one of those, thank God.”

The boys fell quiet, each caught up in their own thoughts of what awaited them. Finally, Ben spoke. “Do you think he’s going to spank me, too?” Ben asked, recognizing that Zach knew his partner better than Ben did.

“What do you mean ‘too’? Why do you just assume I’m going to get a spanking?”

Ben glared at Zach out of the corner of his eye and said a sarcastic, “Puhlease…”

Zach rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I didn’t DO anything. This is just stupid,” he said angrily.

Ben made a decision and announced, “Well, I’m not going to let him spank me. He can just tell Vic if he has to, but he’s not going to spank me again.”

Zach mimicked Ben’s earlier comment, and tried to adopt the same facial expression he had used. He said, “Puhlease!”

“He’s NOT!” Ben said firmly. “I don’t care what he says.”

“Like you can do anything if he decides he wants to. You won’t try to stop him if it comes to that.”

“Watch me!” Ben said determinedly.

Their conversation ground to a halt when they heard the front door open. They waited nervously for Nelson to plant himself in front of them, and were happy to see his hands devoid of switches or any other spanking implements. All he was carrying was the bag of lights, the nails and the hammer. He had obviously gone back up on the roof while he was outside, to collect the supplies.

Laying them on the coffee table, he crossed his arms, turning a hard glare intermittently between the two boys squirming on the couch. “What did I say?” Nelson demanded to know. The boys looked anywhere but into Nelson’s eyes, and neither wanted to answer. “WHAT did I JUST say not twenty minutes ago?” Nelson’s question was again met with silence. When it was obvious no answer was forthcoming, his voice switched to its usual calm level and he said, “If I don’t get an answer right now, you will each get a turn over my knee and I’ll spank you until I get one.”

“That’s not fair!” Ben said with a sudden flash of temper, momentarily determined not to let Nelson spank him. “You can’t do that to me!”

Nelson easily put out Ben’s flames of anger while lighting another fire a bit lower. He yanked Ben up from the couch and delivered a sharp round of swats hard enough to elicit a yelp out of Ben, and melt his resolve. “OW! Stop it!” he shrieked. The swats easily chased away any defiance he was harboring, and he decided in a hurry to lose the attitude even before Nelson said anything else.

Nelson turned him to face him and stood inches from his nose. “You flare up at me again, and I’ll pull your pants down right here and show you really quickly what I can and cannot do. Do you understand me, young man?”

Ben looked down and massaged his stinging behind. His earlier decision to fight Nelson, if it came down to it, quickly faded into a long lost memory. He muttered a quiet and compliant, “Yes, sir.”

“Sit down,” Nelson directed, realizing he had made himself quite clear. He waited until Ben was back in his seat and said, “I’m still waiting for an answer.”

Zach glanced at Ben who was even redder than before. Zach had been thoroughly distracted by the sideshow with Ben and he cautiously asked, “What was the question again?” Nelson glared at him with a look that indicated he thought Zach was stalling. Zach said defensively, “I forgot! I don’t remember the question, I swear!”

Nelson said slowly and calmly, “I asked you to tell me what I said before I left.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Zach answered quietly, “You said not to hang the lights.”

“Yet you chose to do it anyway.” It wasn’t a question; it was a statement that screamed the boys had disobeyed a specific directive.

Two guilty voices uttered, “Yes, sir.”

“That is outright disobedience. Not to mention that what you did was extremely dangerous. Did you think I told you not to do it for my health?”

Zach shook his head and said, “No, sir.”

“Benjamin?” Nelson asked, fully expecting an answer from Ben as well.

“No, sir,” he muttered.

“I said not to hang the lights for a reason, and even IF I had none, you are to obey me. Zach you knew better. Ben, you know when you are in my home you follow my rules.” Ben and Zach wanted to melt into the cushions and their heads dropped instinctively. “Look at me!”

As soon as the two pairs of eyes were settled back on his, Nelson asked Zach, “What happens when you disobey me, Zachary?”

Oh, shit. Nelson was going to make him say it in front of Ben. His stomach was tightly wrapped around a bundle of nerves and he looked pleadingly at Nelson. “You know…” he said.

“What happens, Zachary Adam?”

It was all Zach could do not to turn his eyes away, but he managed to maintain contact. He said quietly, “I get a spanking.”

“And, you have earned a good one, young man. You park yourself upstairs in a corner and wait for me.”

“But, you need to go back to work…” Zach said hopefully.

“How thoughtful of you to consider me, Zach. You’ll be happy to know I have some time this afternoon and this won’t put me very late at all. Now, move it.”

Zach hated it when Nelson got sarcastic, mostly because it meant he was extremely displeased with him. Contrary to what Nelson had said, he wasn’t the least bit happy that Nelson had time to spare. “But…” Zach started.

Nelson interrupted, “Zachary, it would not be a good idea to push me any farther right now. Get your butt upstairs, and plan on staying for a while because I need to calm down before I deal with you.”

Zach’s eyes stung with tears immediately with Nelson’s comment as he made it blatantly clear how annoyed and disappointed he was. Zach tried to hold back the tears as he slinked miserably up the stairs to wait, leaving Ben to face his partner alone.

Ben looked away when Nelson turned his attention directly to him. His hands were sweating as he sat under Nelson’s scrutiny, wondering if he had decided to spank him. He knew if that happened, he would likely get spanked twice: once by Nelson then again by Vic. Vic wouldn’t be the least bit tolerant of Ben disobeying Nelson, and Ben knew it.

Nelson said, “You, young man, are calling Vic. You’re going to tell him exactly what happened today.”

While Ben was relieved to know Nelson didn’t plan to spank him, he wasn’t keen on having to tell Vic what had happened. Ben said, “Please, Nelson. Don’t make me tell him. Please?”

“No, sir. You WILL be telling him and you’ll do it right now.” Nelson picked up the cordless and dialed Vic’s work number. He asked for Vic and he was soon on the phone. Vic wasn’t given time to say anything more than his name and a greeting before Nelson said, “Vic, it’s me. Ben has something he needs to tell you.”

Vic braced himself for what he was about to hear. He could hear the tenseness in his friend’s voice and had a gut feeling he wouldn’t like whatever it was he was about to hear. A frustrated tear trickled down Ben’s face and he wiped it away quickly, looking at Nelson for sympathy. He was met with a cold glare and a hand stretched out toward him holding the phone. Ben swallowed hard trying to dislodge the huge lump lying heavily in his throat, and took the phone from Nelson.

“Vic,” he sniffed. “I…um…,” he said, struggling for the words to give himself up, but couldn’t find them. His mouth worked silently around words that wouldn’t come.

Vic prompted him through the phone, “What is it, Benjamin? Just tell me.”

“I don’t want to,” he said frankly.

Vic gripped the phone tightly, not sure he wanted to hear it, but said, “Benjamin, you need to tell me right now. Don’t make Nelson have to tell me.”

The comment carried a hidden message that said things would get worse if the story had to come from Nelson, so Ben began to spill the details. “I, well…me and Zach…we, um, were just trying to hang Christmas lights.”

Vic was momentarily confused because hanging lights didn’t sound so bad. But, then he suspected there was more Ben hadn’t told him so he asked, “And? What’s the rest of the story?”

Ben looked back at Nelson for help and found none there. Knowing he would find out the whole story anyway, Ben cleared his throat and said, “Nelson told us not to.”

“I see,” Vic said. He heard the muffled sound of Nelson’s voice in the background as he gave direction to Ben, but he couldn’t make out what he said.

He then heard Ben say “Yes, sir”, obviously to Nelson, before he added for Vic, “We were on the roof.”

So, that’s what was so bad about hanging Christmas lights: disobedience and danger. Vic could practically feel his blood pressure rising, and couldn’t help imagining his partner falling from Nelson’s steep roof. “You were WHERE?!” he asked, not believing what he heard.

Ben squeezed his eyes shut and another tear slipped away. “The roof,” he answered, his voice cracking slightly.

“I cannot believe what I just heard,” Vic voiced. “What in the world were you thinking?”

“I don’t know,” Ben answered.

“You’d better know by the time I get there. You stay at Nelson’s until I can come and get you. You’d better do exactly as Nelson tells you while you’re there. Is that perfectly clear, young man?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll be there in about a half an hour. I have to clear my schedule for the afternoon before I leave.”

Shit. That didn’t sound good. Ben said, just barely above a whisper, “Yes, sir.”

“Let me talk to Nelson,” Vic said, and Ben handed the phone back to him before slumping against the sofa.

Nelson took the phone from Ben’s hands and left to go to the kitchen. He leaned against the counter when he got there and said to Vic, “I told them both before I left they were NOT to try hanging those lights, Vic. I had to come back home, and I found the two of them standing on the roof as though it were the ground.”

Vic shook his head and his face wore an angry frown. “I’m sorry Ben disobeyed you. I really am. He would be in trouble even if you hadn’t told him not to go up there. He should know better. I can’t believe they’d do that.”

“I know. I need to calm down a little bit before I take care of Zach. They could have fallen so easily.”

“So, you are going to deal with it now instead of after work?”

“I need to. We’re going to Christien’s Christmas play tonight and I don’t want to put it off until that’s over.”

“In that case, you’ll be there for a little while? I can be there in about a half hour or so to pick up Ben.”

Nelson rubbed the tips of his fingers across his forehead. “I’ll be here at least that long. Just let yourself in. I’ll likely be…occupied when you get here.”

“Will do. Thanks for calling me, Nelson. I’ll see you in a bit.”

“You’re welcome. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” Nelson said. “I need to go and call in then I’m going to deal with Zach.”

“Try to take a deep breath and relax first,” Vic said, taking his own advice and breathing in to fully fill his diaphragm.

“I will. Talk to you later,” Nelson said then disconnected the call. He phoned work and told the receptionist he would be about an hour late getting back. She was able to juggle his schedule so it wouldn’t cause any problems. He sat down heavily at the table and worked to calm his anger. He tried not to think about what could have happened, but his thoughts kept returning there. He finally rose from the table, feeling much calmer after having spent a few minutes alone. He walked over to the refrigerator and felt across the top for the paddle they kept there. His fingers brushed against it then closed around the handle, and he picked it up to take it upstairs with him.

Ben looked up from the sofa when Nelson came into the room and his eyes were drawn to the paddle in his hands. Nelson noticed the tissue Ben held and that his face was wet with tears, but he had little sympathy. He was fairly certain he would be met with the same or similar expression on the face of his lover, when he entered the bedroom upstairs. Ben looked away when Nelson’s eyes met his and he daubed nervously at his eyes with the tissue. Nelson didn’t say a word as he passed through the living room and ascended the stairs to his waiting lover.

Zach heard the squeak of the stairs with the weight of Nelson’s steps and knew he was moments away from facing him. Nelson’s form entered the room and Zach looked at his partner over his shoulder from the corner to gauge whether or not he was still mad. He immediately noticed the small rounded paddle he held in his hands, but was glad to see the frown was gone from his face. He expected at least the paddle, knowing he had directly disobeyed Nelson, not to mention he did something Nelson considered to be extremely dangerous. Neither was something Nelson took kindly to.

Nelson silently pointed to the bed with the paddle and Zach shuffled over obediently. He said as he sat down, “I’m sorry, Nelson.”

“Don’t say a word, right now, Zachary Adam. I have some things to say first.” Damn, damn! Usage of his first and middle names was rarely a good sign and it had happened more than once since Nelson arrived home. In fact, Zach couldn’t think of a time when it didn’t spell certain doom. Nelson continued, “You have earned yourself one world class spanking, young man. You deliberately hung those lights against my express direction not to.” Zach resisted the urge to defend himself and bit his tongue. “If you had fallen, you could have broken your neck or one of several other bones. I cannot believe you so blatantly disobeyed me over something so trivial.”

His speeches were usually punctuated with questions, both rhetorical and those he expected answers to, but not today. He obviously had a lot to say and the fact he wanted no input from Zach, went further to show how disappointed Nelson was. Zach was trying hard not to squirm as he listened to Nelson continue to point out the dangers of standing on a rooftop and the importance of obeying one’s Top. After only a few short minutes, he wished he had never seen the lights, much less tried to hang them. By the time Nelson asked for Zach’s input, he could barely talk from the effort of restraining tears. Nelson’s lecture left him feeling guilty and miserable, and he almost wished he’d just shut up and spank him…almost.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” Nelson asked, finally inviting Zach to join in the discussion.

He sniffed back tears and said, “I just wanted to hang the lights. I’m sorry.”

“You wanted to hang them, and I told you ‘no’. What part of that was unclear to you?”

“I didn’t want to wait. But, I won’t do it again,” Zach said. “I swear, I won’t. I’ve learned my lesson, I promise.”

Nelson said, “I highly doubt you’ve learned anything yet, but I’ll be sure you do. From your answers, I’m hearing exactly what I expected: you wanted to do something I told you not to do, so you chose to do it anyway. Does that about cover it?”

Zach’s head dropped almost to his chest and he nodded. Suddenly, Nelson had a hold on his upper arm, and he was dragged to his feet. Zach’s eyes widened and he said, “Please don’t, Nelson. Not while Ben’s here!” Nelson didn’t answer with his mouth, but his actions told Zach he was going to get a spanking whether Ben was downstairs or not. Nelson positioned himself on the bed and Zach continued to protest. “Please, Nelson! Can’t you wait until after work? I promise I’ll stay off the roof…”

“This can’t wait until after work. We have the Christmas pageant tonight.” Zach groaned with the reminder of the play they were to attend, knowing full well sitting through it was about to become a less-than-desirable prospect. Nelson said, “Drop your pants, Zachary.”

Zach’s face had fallen and his chin quivered slightly, but neither did anything to change Nelson’s position. The expression on Nelson’s face pricked Zach’s heart and he hated that he had disappointed his lover. His fingers moved to his waist, and he slipped the button on his jeans out of the buttonhole then urged his zipper down. Before he pushed his jeans down, he looked back at Nelson through tear-filled eyes that begged for clemency, or at the very least, leniency.

Obviously, it wasn’t working because Nelson said, “Drop them, Zachary. Let’s go.”

“But, it was just lights,” Zach’s argued miserably. His voice was higher than normal from being tight with restrained tears. “I didn’t get hurt.”

“You disobeyed me and you could have fallen.”

“But, I didn’t fall, though,” Zach said.

“One,” Nelson said.

Zach dissolved into tears with the damn countdown starting again, and he slowly pushed his jeans down before Nelson had to count further. He continued to protest while he worked, “But, I won’t do it again,” he cried while sliding his pants down. “I promise, Nelson. Don’t paddle me, please…”

Nelson continued to look at him, not intending to waver in the least. Zach blushed when he sent his underwear to join his jeans around his knees, and he continued trying to sway Nelson even as he worked. “You don’t have to paddle me, Nelson. Please?” Nelson responded with two pats to his thighs, telling Zach where he wanted him to be. Zach lay across the knees of his lover, and put his forehead against his arms on the bed.

“You do NOT blatantly disobey me, young man,” Nelson was saying as he raised the tail of Zach’s shirt out of the way. Zach felt the brush of the fabric against his exposed bottom and his breathing became rapid and shallow. Nelson was saying, “There was not a thing unclear in what I told you. If I EVER catch you on the roof again, I’ll take my belt off and wear you out. Do you understand me?”

A teary “Yes, sir,” came out of Zach’s lips and Nelson took that as his cue to begin. Zach lost his breath with the first stinging swat of the paddle when Nelson laid it down across his right cheek. He brought it down in the same place before moving to the left side. Every time the paddle lifted from Zach’s bottom, it left a swarm of tiny stings encased in the circle of pink before Nelson moved to another location. He was cracking down the paddle hard and Zach knew in a hurry that Nelson was serious about obedience when he said not to hang Christmas lights.

Ben curled up on his side and covered his ears to block the sounds of the paddling. The shotgun sound of the paddle smacking bare skin was easily heard in the living room as were Zach’s cries. Movement in the doorway caught his eye and his lover suddenly appeared there with his arms crossed. Vic’s stern demeanor changed with the sight of his lover curled up on the sofa trying to drown out the sounds from upstairs. He didn’t say a word at first, but just walked over to the sofa and urged Ben to sit up enough for him to take a seat. Ben stretched out on his back and settled his head in Vic’s lap. Immediately after he was settled, Vic began to run his fingers through Ben’s hair. He knew the sounds from upstairs were unsettling to Ben since it was like looking into a crystal ball and seeing exactly what was around the corner for him.

Ben’s worried eyes glanced toward the hallway where the sounds were filtering through and Vic said, “Look at me, Benjamin.” Ben pulled his eyes away and looked up to Vic and Vic said, “Nelson knows what he’s doing. Zach will survive.”

Ben didn’t say he was equally worried about his own survival, but Vic knew that was as much a part of the problem as hearing Zach’s paddling. Ben finally said, “I’m sorry. I just wanted to help Zach.”

“I’m sure you did, but what did Nelson say?” Vic asked.

Ben hesitated, not wanting to admit again that he had disobeyed Nelson. He knew without Vic telling him that he was expected to obey Nelson, the same as he would obey Vic. “What did he say, Benjamin?” Vic asked again.

He said with a voice barely above a whisper, “He said ‘no’.” Vic had been speaking in a voice that was gentle yet firm. Ben couldn’t help but notice the role reversal of the two Tops. Nelson had been uncharacteristically loud and Vic was surprisingly calm.

Vic was conscious of his tone and demeanor because he was most interested in settling his brat at the moment. He noticed how upset he was from the moment he laid eyes on him after he arrived. He understood how hard it was for Ben to listen to Zach’s paddling while anticipating his own, but that didn’t sway him from his plans to punish him. He was sympathetic yet firm. He said, “When you’re at Nelson’s house, you follow Nelson’s rules. You know that, young man.” He continued to finger Ben’s hair, pushing it back from his forehead. “Don’t you?”

Benji nodded his head against Vic’s lap and his eyes wandered again toward the hallway. The paddle was still falling in a slow rhythmic pattern, and Zach’s voice rose and fell with the swats. His words were no longer intelligible, and it seemed Zach wasn’t even trying any longer. Ben knew exactly how it felt to be at the point of surrender. He hoped it wouldn’t last much longer, both for his friend and himself since he couldn’t stand to hear it.

Vic was sympathetic to Benji’s feelings, but he made no move to leave. “We need to stay here until Nelson comes down so you can apologize to him. Then, I’m going to take you home and you’re going to get your own bottom paddled. Is that clear?” Ben squeezed his eyes shut and nodded in response; a single tear slid past his cheekbone and settled in his ear, and he wiped the tickle away. “You would have been paddled for going on the roof whether Nelson told you to or not. You should have known better, young man.”

“I was just trying to help.”

Vic’s eyes were on Ben and he said, “Look at me.” He was trying to draw Ben’s attention away from the sounds emanating from the upstairs bedroom as he spoke. “You need to do a better job of choosing the right thing to do if helping means disobeying. Don’t you?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry. I don’t want to be paddled,” Ben said sincerely meaning every word.

“I know you don’t but you’re going to be,” Vic said. The paddling going on upstairs mercifully stopped and only Zach’s voice could be heard, strained with the effort of crying. His voice was muffled after a few minutes as he cried into Nelson’s shoulder. From the sounds Vic had heard, Nelson hadn’t been stingy with the paddle, but had generously applied it to Zach’s bottom, delivering a sound spanking before he stopped.

Back in the bedroom, Nelson pulled Zach away from him and tenderly slipped his pants back up over his flaming bottom. Zach winced when the fabric slid over his butt and the tears increased. Nelson wordlessly walked him back to the corner and turned him to face the angle where the bedroom walls were locked against each other. Zach looked back at him helplessly and Nelson said, “No,” answering the unspoken question in Zach’s eyes. “You stand here until I tell you to come out.”

He left Zach in the corner and turned to go downstairs. As he rounded the corner of the stairwell, he saw Vic on the sofa with Ben’s head in his lap. Ben turned red-rimmed eyes to Nelson then quickly returned his gaze to the ceiling. Nelson was still holding the paddle he had used to punish Zach, and he nodded to Vic, who gave him a slight smile of support and a knowing nod in return. He went to the kitchen to put the paddle back and returned to the living room, taking a seat in the big chair.

Vic took hold of Ben’s arm and tugged him into a sitting position; Ben’s head stayed down with his eyes focused anywhere but on his lover or Nelson. He heard Vic say to Nelson, “Benjamin has something to say to you before we leave. Go on, Ben.”

Without meeting Nelson’s eyes, Ben said to the floor, “I’m sorry I helped Zach with the lights. I shouldn’t have done it since you said not to.”

“No you shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have had to tell you not to climb on the roof in the first place. I’d better not ever catch you doing anything so dangerous at my house again,” Nelson said.

“Yes, sir. You won’t; I’m sorry.”

Nelson continued with the mini-lecture, “You know, I didn’t say you couldn’t hang the lights just to be mean. You two could have been severely hurt.”

Vic’s eyes were on Ben as he watched him struggle to hold a conversation. “But we didn’t get hurt,” he mumbled.

“Benjamin,” Vic said with an edge to his voice.

“Sorry,” Ben said. “I know you weren’t trying to be mean.”

“Thank you, Ben. I just want the two of you safe.”

Vic took a deep breath and ran a supportive hand across Ben’s shoulders, squeezing the one opposite from him. “It’s time for us to go,” he pronounced. He pushed against Ben’s lower back encouraging him off the sofa. To Nelson, he said as he stood, “I’m sorry for the trouble, Nelson. We’ll be back to get Ben’s car later.”

Nelson nodded knowing he wouldn’t want Zach driving if he were as upset as Ben. “It will be here when you want to come get it.” He stood to walk his friends to the door and followed them out, intending to get the ladder down while he was out there.

Vic said to Ben from beside his SUV, “Get in the car and buckle up.” He watched Ben obey and waited for him to close the door before speaking to Nelson. “I really am sorry for Ben’s part in this. He had no business disobeying you or even considering climbing up there to begin with.”

“It’s okay,” Nelson said. “I’m just glad they weren’t hurt.”

“Well, they didn’t FALL,” Vic stressed, “but I don’t know that they’ll agree they weren’t hurt by the time it’s all over with.”

“Better their butts than their hard heads. I was aggravated with myself for forgetting my checkbook, but I’m certainly glad I did, in retrospect.”

“Me, too,” Vic agreed. He expelled a deep breath and glanced at his lover who was obviously miserable in the front seat and he felt an ache inside at the thoughts of possibly losing him. He knew he had a tough lesson to deliver and needed to get on with it; Ben had waited long enough. “I’d better get him home and take care of him.”

“Yeah,” Nelson agreed. He said, “I need to go back and check on Zach anyway. Then, I need to get back to work.”

Vic nodded and gave Nelson a reassuring pat on the shoulder before getting behind the wheel and driving off. Nelson turned from the driveway and went to work on putting the ladder away. Once it was stored back in the garage where it belonged, he went back to Zach. His head was lying against the wall and his shoulders jumped with his hitching breaths. Nelson walked up behind him and put his hands on both of Zach’s shoulders. “Come here,” he said gently.

Zach choked back more tears at Nelson’s voice, the disappointment no longer evident. His strong arms enveloped Zach, and he tightened them around him. He showered kisses all over Zach’s head, noting the dampness underneath his lips. Nelson held him silently and Zach cried softly into his shoulder. Once the cries diminished a second time, Nelson took Zach’s hand and led him to the nightstand to pull a few tissues from the box for him. “Let’s go downstairs,” he said, and led the way to their chair, while Zach mopped at his face.

He gathered Zach to him and stroked his back to relax him. His hand moved to Zach’s head beneath his chin and he said, “I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.”

“I wasn’t going to fall,” Zach said, still convinced he was more than capable of hanging the lights without Nelson’s supervision.

“You don’t know that, Zach. I’m sure no one who’s fallen from a high place ever intended or expected to fall.” Zach listened as Nelson rubbed the back of his head. “I want you safe, Sweetpea, not hurt from a fall over something as ridiculous as Christmas lights.”

“I’m sorry I disobeyed you, Nelson,” Zach said.

“Thank you.” Zach sniffed occasionally from his seat in his lover’s lap but was beginning to feel better inside. His bottom felt hot and the throb couldn’t be ignored, but he knew Nelson wasn’t mad at him any longer. Nelson spoke again and said, “I’ll help you hang the lights on the lower level tomorrow night, all right?”

“You will?” Zach asked hopefully.

“Yes, I will.”

“But, what about the dormers?”

Nelson’s hand stopped working and he said, “Zachary…”

Zach leaned heavily against Nelson’s chest and he said, “Whaaaat?”

“No lights around the dormers.”

“But, they would look so pretty.”

“We’ll have to imagine it. We aren’t climbing on the roof to hang lights on the dormers. Did I not make my point a little while ago?”

Zach huffed softly, “I got the point.… But, it won’t look as good just on the bottom.”

“I don’t really care,” Nelson said, “because having us in one piece is more important to me.”

“I won’t let you fall,” Zach said, offering his protection.

“You won’t have to worry about it because neither of us is going to be up there. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I love you too much to lose you, Sweetpea, or see you hurt.”

Zach cuddled against his partner, and although he knew he’d be feeling the paddling for a day or so, he was happy to be so cared for. “I love you, too, Nelson.”

Nelson patted Zach’s back and said, “I have to get back to work.”

“Nelsoooon, don’t goooo,” Zach whined.

“I’m sorry, Sweetpea. I have to go back work. I’ll be home in a few hours.” He pushed Zach off his lap and stood with him. Zach threw his arms around Nelson and hugged him fiercely. Nelson wanted nothing more than to stay home with Zach, but unfortunately, he had afternoon appointments.

Nelson brushed the hair back from Zach’s forehead and kissed him, “I have to go. Are you going to be okay until I get home?”

“No, I don’t want you to leave.”

“I have to go,” Nelson said, starting to rethink his decision to handle the situation earlier rather than later. “Why don’t you go upstairs and lay down for a bit? By the time you wake up, it will almost be time for me to be home.”

The exhaustion following the spanking left Zach feeling that a nap might not be a bad idea. “Okay. Walk up with me?”

“Let’s go,” Nelson said, figuring the few minutes it would take to settle Zach wouldn’t make much difference. He took Zach’s hand and they went back upstairs to their bedroom. Zach cuddled up on his side in the bed and Nelson covered him with a blanket. “I’ll see you in a bit,” he said, delivering another kiss. “Behave this time.”

Zach thought back to the last time Nelson left and gave the same instruction to behave. The pain in his bottom made him wish he had. “I will,” Zach said, sincerely meaning it this time.

***********

A few hours later, Nelson returned home to find a refreshed Zach lying on his side on the sofa. Nelson squeezed in next to him, and Zach got comfortable with his head in Nelson’s lap. Nelson asked, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”

“Sore,” Zach responded truthfully. “I don’t want to go tonight and sit through that play.”

“You should have thought about that before you decided to disobey me and climb on the roof.”

“But, Nelson…”

“Roll over, so I can check you out.” Zach had already assessed the damage and hoped his pink cheeks would elicit enough sympathy from Nelson to let him stay home. He unzipped his pants and rolled over on his stomach for Nelson to give him the once over. Nelson said, “Raise up a bit so I can get your pants down.” Zach hitched up his hips and Nelson slid his pants down low enough to take a look. He saw what he expected: a twin set of cheeks still glowing.

Zach said, “See? It’s still red. I don’t want to go.”

“I think you’ll survive.”

“But, it still hurts,” Zach pouted.

“I’m sure it does, but it’s not so bad you can’t sit for an hour. Why don’t you go up and take a shower first, then I’ll get ready?”


Zach rolled his eyes, but gave in. He really didn’t want to miss the play; he just didn’t want to sit for it. The two of them quickly got dressed and headed for the school auditorium to watch Christien’s performance. They only expected to see a performance on-stage but they saw much more than that by the time the evening was over. They walked in and scanned the crowd, picking out the other Jamesons sitting on the front row with seats saved for Nelson and Zach.

“Hey, Dad,” Nelson said as he sat beside his father.

“Nelson!” Max replied, clapping a hand to his son’s back. “Hi, Zach.” Zach looked up at the greeting and pulled his eyes away from the metal folding chair with his unwritten name on it. This was going to be a miserable hour. “Have a seat,” Max said.

Zach looked at Nelson who simply looked back, patting the seat of the chair beside him. Zach sighed and gingerly sat down, squirming to get as comfortable as the hard metal would allow. Their family filled the row except for a lady sitting on the end next to Zach. Mary leaned up and made introductions. “Boys, this is Christine. She’s Timothy’s mom.” Timothy was Christien’s best friend and co-conspirator in class; the two of them shared a time out bench quite often from what the couple had heard.

“Oh, nice to meet you,” Nelson said with an extended hand. “This is my partner, Zach and I’m Justin’s brother, Nelson.”

The play commenced just as Christine was returning the greeting. Zach wiggled again, trying to get his butt in a new position, seeking a bit of relief. Nelson had allowed him some Ibuprofen and lotion to try to ease the discomfort during the evening, but Zach’s constant fidgeting told him it hadn’t helped a lot.

The entire front row swelled with pride as Christien and Timothy’s class came out first to perform. The best friends made up two-thirds of a trio of kings bearing gifts for the Christ child. The group of angels, kings and shepherds began to sing, and the Jameson portion of the front row watched in awe when Christien stepped up to the lowered microphone to sing a solo. Their digital cameras hovered expectantly with flashes of light going off randomly to capture several moments in time. Smiles burst out all around on the proud faces sitting in the front, as Christien sang his part like a Christmas angel.

Once the solo was over, Christien stepped back into the group of kings and managed to behave fairly well, with the exception of an occasional goofy facial expression worn to elicit giggles from his fellow kings. Once the song was finished, the little ones climbed down from the stage and were ushered to waiting parents and family in the audience to clear the stage for the next group of children.

Christien ran directly to his family, getting to Zach first with Timothy close behind. “Hey, Uncle Zach!” Christien exclaimed, throwing his arms around Zach’s neck. Zach carefully leaned forward and returned the hug, trying to keep the pressure off his rear end while he did so. Christien turned his attention to Nelson who pulled him into his lap for hug.

Nelson whispered in his ear, “You made me so proud, do you know that? You sang beautifully.”

Christien grinned from ear to ear with the compliment then quickly jumped down to be with his friend. With no row in front of them, the boys had plenty of room to spread out. Christien stood slightly in front of Zach and Zach’s face dissolved into a scowl as a pungent odor, thick enough to slice with a knife, wafted up to his nostrils. “Oh, man,” Zach groaned. “Christien, what did you do?”

Christien burst into uncontrollable giggles at being found out and he promptly pointed at Zach and said aloud, “EWWWW! I think it was Uncle Zach!”

Had the auditorium been lit, anyone would have been able to see Zach’s face glowing in response to the comment. In fact, he was surprised his face didn’t light the room judging from the heat he felt there. The odor left no question about what it was Christien had accused Zach of doing. He had said it loud enough for Timothy’s mother to hear and Zach was sure her olfactory senses had been graced as well. Zach could have easily melted into a puddle from embarrassment. Nelson was privy to the sounds and smells coming from Christien, and he uttered a disapproving, “Christien.” The trouble was, he couldn’t manage to say it without chuckling himself, after seeing the look on Zach’s face.

Zach looked to him and whispered, “I am SO embarrassed.”

Nelson put a reassuring arm around his shoulders and said through a smile, “No one thinks it was you, Zachary. I’m sure of it.”

“I don’t care. It’s embarrassing.”

While Zach was recovering from being mortified, Christien turned his attention to Timothy. He saw Zach watching them and he said, “Uncle Zach, this is my friend, Timothy. He’s got broken teeth, but I still like him. He’s my best friend.”

Zach had noticed the child had a problem with a couple of his teeth, but he would have never pointed it out within hearing distance of the child’s mother like Christien had just done. He could feel the heat rise to his face once again since he was certain Timothy’s mother had heard the comment. Zach tried to recover quickly and said, “You and Timothy did a really good job tonight. You were great kings.” He hoped a change of topics would keep the teeth issue from coming up again and prevent Christien from elaborating more. The boys smiled with pride and decided to spend their time playing in the floor.

Zach was grateful when the boys were distracted, although that was distracting in itself. Neither understood the concept of a whisper, and they talked and giggled incessantly from their prone positions on the floor. Nelson’s mother was trying to shush them. but she was making as much noise as the children in the process. At one point, Nelson leaned over to Zach and whispered, “I think I’m going to have to take them both out,” referring to Christien and his mother.

Zach grinned at the picture knowing what it meant to be “taken out” by Nelson. He whispered back, “I think you might.” About that time, Mary started talking to Christien aloud again, and Nelson and Zach exchanged looks. They each worked to keep giggles from erupting as the conversation between Christien and Mary continued. Finally, they quit talking and the surrounding guests could turn their attention back to the play on stage and away from the drama on the front row.

Every once in a while, Jordan and Justin would offer their own “shush” and get about five seconds of silence. Once, when the boys got particularly loud Nelson uttered Christien’s name with a snap of his fingers toward the boy. Christien turned a pouting glare his way but remained quiet at Nelson’s unspoken request. Zach looked at his partner and wondered how he performed such magic, but was soon disappointed minutes later when spell wore off, and Christien and Timothy began to chatter again. A woman directly behind them began to hiss several “shhhhh” sounds and although Zach couldn’t agree more, he bristled at her nerve to shush his nephew. He turned around in his hard metal chair and gave her a disapproving glare before turning back to the play.

Justin had had enough long after Nelson had, and beckoned Christien to him. Christien went, but protested – out loud, of course – the entire way to his father. Justin pulled him into his lap and began whispering something to Christien that he obviously took issue with. Zach’s mouth fell open as Christien promptly went into a mini temper-tantrum while sitting on his father’s lap. He kicked and fussed, making sure anyone near him knew he was displeased at having to sit with his parents instead of his best friend. Zach’s eyes grew in surprise as he watched the small form writhe on his father’s lap, trying alternately to get down and grunt his displeasure at his father. Nelson glanced at Zach’s surprised expression and Zach caught his eye. Nelson just shook his head with a weary frown, obviously not at all impressed with Christien’s latest performance. After several long minutes of tantrum, Christien finally surrendered and settled down on his father’s lap.

Trapped on his father’s knees, Christien managed to behave through the remainder of the play and soon enough, the house lights came on and Zach immediately stood. He had squirmed almost as much as Christien, trying to find a comfortable, less painful position on the hateful metal chairs.

Christmas goodies were offered to the friends and families of the play participants, and Zach stood with Nelson’s family, munching on punch and cake. Justin came over and stood near Nelson and Zach, rolling his eyes when he looked at Nelson. “I don’t know what gets into him sometimes,” Justin said, referring to his errant son.

Nelson responded, “You should have taken him out, little brother. He knows better than to behave like that.”

“I thought about it but he would have made even more noise on the way out than he was making in my lap.” Nelson raised his eyebrows and shrugged indicating that wouldn’t have bothered him at all. Zach listened as the brothers discussed discipline and wondered, not for the first time, why Nelson couldn’t be more lenient like his brother. Feeling his sore bottom every time he moved or sat, made him not only wonder about it, but wish for it as well.

Nelson said, “He’s your son, Justin. If you don’t mind it, it certainly isn’t any of my business. I just wouldn’t put up with it for a minute.”

Justin sighed and changed the subject slightly. “He did a good job, though, didn’t he?”

Zach jumped in and said, “He did a great job! I didn’t know he could sing like that.”

“He DID do a wonderful job,” Nelson agreed. The conversation wore on and time slipped by. Finally, Nelson glanced at his watch, took in the late hour, and asked Zach, “Are you ready to head out?”

“Any time you are.”

“In that case,” Nelson said, turning back to his family, “I think Zach and I are going to go on home. We have work and school tomorrow.” Hugs of goodbye were delivered all around and the couple got in the car to leave.

Zach was saying as he buckled up, “Christien did act pretty bad tonight, didn’t he? I KNEW you would have taken him out.”

Nelson slipped the key into the ignition and said, “I expect him to act like that at times, especially if he’s with a friend, but what surprises me is that my brother lets him get away with it when he does misbehave. I would have hauled his butt to the bathroom in a heartbeat if he were mine.”

“Yeah, you guys aren’t very much alike,” Zach pointed out dismally. He knew Nelson wouldn’t put up with that sort of behavior and could easily imagine him taking Christien to the restroom to let him know it wouldn’t be tolerated. “I wonder why Justin puts up with it.”

“I have no idea, but I think he has a little brat in training sometimes.”

“I don’t,” Zach disagreed. “Christien doesn’t need any training.”

“True,” Nelson said. “Speaking of brats, how’s the seat?”

Zach tried to sound and look as pitiful as possible, to elicit at least a little sympathy, and said, “It still hurts. I didn’t think I was going to be able to sit still through the whole play on those horrible folding chairs.”

“You didn’t sit still,” Nelson pointed out. “But, you would have had trouble sitting still whether you got a paddling or not. I know how you are, Sweetpea.”

“I would NOT,” Zach disagreed. “It’s all your fault…”

Nelson took his eyes off the road long enough to cast a sideways glance toward his partner. “Excuse me? Was it my fault you climbed up on the roof today and disobeyed me?”

“No, but you could have waited to do something about it,” Zach complained.

“Would you rather be going home to get a paddling right now? Aren’t you glad it’s over with?”

Zach couldn’t really argue that. It WAS behind him, but he offered, “What I’d RATHER is not to get paddled at ALL, before OR after the play.”

“Apparently not, or you wouldn’t have disobeyed me today, would you?”

Zach sighed heavily, knowing he was fighting a losing battle. He surrendered somewhat and said, “I can’t talk sense to you.”

Nelson smiled at his partner’s frustrated comment and interpreted, “You mean my sense doesn’t match your sense.” Nelson laughed and reached over for Zach’s hand as they drove toward home. “Merry Christmas, my little brat,” he said with a wink to Zach. “I love you. Does that make sense to you?”

“Now, THAT makes perfect sense. At least we can agree there. I love you, too.” He leaned over and kissed Nelson’s cheek as they traveled home.

The End