Other things Arsena indicated as positives for the story were a little bit of Reid and Casey and Nuke with kids, all of which I have included at least passingly. I hope you enjoy, Arsena, and had a Merry Christmas. Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!
Noah stared through the store window at Luke, Natalie, Ethan, and an unidentified man. His own shock and surprise reflected back at him in the window, and he drew his arms up to wrap around himself, as much an instinctual protective pose as a response to the late December cold. The two men stood with the kids near the front of a long line of families waiting to see Santa. Ethan and Natalie appeared to be vying for attention from the unknown man, who was laughing and smiling at whatever they were saying. Luke stood to the side, interjecting occasionally and grinning widely. The unknown man looked over at Luke and said something and Luke laughed heartily at whatever he had just said.
The unknown man looked just like him. Noah found the resemblance uncanny. Same jet black hair, tall, thin, same basic facial features. This guy had a slightly smaller nose, Noah couldn’t help but jealously notice, but other than that they looked just alike.
Noah stood frozen in that spot, trying to figure out what to do next.
He had just completed a year and a half of service in the Army, choosing to enlist after finding out Luke and Reid were together. Noah had needed to get out of Oakdale. He needed a change and a new direction, and the Army had given that to him for a time.
A few months in, he and Luke began to communicate regularly through e-mail and Facebook, and began having the types of air clearing conversations that had been so difficult to have when things were so tense and raw immediately following the surgery. Noah was grateful to have Luke back in his life in any capacity, so he was careful not to push too hard. He let Luke direct the flow of their conversations and inquired about Reid, even though it made him sick to his stomach to do so.
It had been only four months earlier that Luke had written Noah to tell him that he and Reid had broken up. More specifically, Luke had broken up with Reid--because he still loved Noah and always would. Luke poured his heart out to Noah in e-mails that Noah would never delete as long as he lived, beautiful e-mails expressing regret, offering forgiveness, and promising hope for the future. Noah would be returning to the States in just a few months and Luke would be waiting for him. They had missed the last Christmas together, but this Christmas would be one of renewing and reorienting themselves.
Noah was ecstatic. It was everything he had wanted since the moment he found out Luke and Reid were together. When Noah’s discharge orders came down, he knew he would be arriving in Oakdale on December 22nd, in time for all the Snyder family traditions surrounding Christmas. Wanting to surprise Luke and the family and add to the inevitably triumphant and emotional reunion, he wrote to Luke that his arrival would be on the 24th. “I’m SO happy you’re going to be here for Christmas Eve,” Luke had written back. “A LOT has happened in the last few weeks and there’s TONS to catch you up on.”
Now, Noah stood in front of the store window trying to decipher that statement. “A LOT has happened…” “…there’s TONS to catch you up on.” Who the FUCK was this guy!!!???? And why did Luke and the kids look so happy and comfortable with him!!!???
Noah thought back to all of his conversations with Luke in the past months. There was no way he had misunderstood. Luke wanted him back. He had broken up with Reid to get back together with him. Luke had told him so clearly and unambiguously. And yet there Luke was, having a grand old time with Noah’s doppelganger while Luke’s brother and sister treated the doppelganger like a cool older brother--the way they had always treated Noah. The way Noah had been looking forward to being treated again.
Noah’s brain was yelling at him to run away, to head for the hills and not to look back. If Luke had found someone else since breaking things off with Reid, if he had changed his mind about giving them another chance, Noah didn’t know if he could bear it. And for a guy that looked JUST like him! Noah reached up and pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Ouch! Nope, he was not dreaming.
“Well, look who’s back in town.” As if to prove that a bad situation could always get worse, there was that vaguely mocking voice that made Noah want to put his fist through a wall. Noah turned to look over at Reid Oliver, who had stepped up next to him at the window.
To his surprise, Reid put out his hand in offering.
“Welcome back, Noah,” he said simply. He wasn’t smiling. It wasn’t warm as far as greetings went, but it didn’t seem entirely insincere, either.
Noah accepted his hand, shaking it weakly before releasing it.
“I heard you’d be home in time for Christmas,” Reid said. Looking through the window, he caught sight of Luke, the kids, and the other man standing in line, still facing away from them and still chatting animatedly. “Have you met him yet?” Reid asked, pointing toward them.
“Met him?” Noah questioned. “You mean Luke’s--you mean that other guy?” Noah was trying to play it cool, but could already feel his resolve cracking. Damnit to hell, he was not going to allow himself to be vulnerable in front of Reid!
Reid raised an eyebrow. “Yes, that guy who looks a HELL of a lot like you.” Reid’s eyes darted searchingly around in a way that made Noah feel uncomfortable, so he looked down at his gloved hands.
“Have YOU met him?” Noah asked.
“As a matter of fact, I have.”
Noah hesitated before asking, “How long have they been together?”
Reid didn’t respond immediately. “They’ve known each other about three weeks.”
“Oh,” was all Noah could bring himself to say out loud. Possibly the most pathetic, pitiful “oh” anyone had ever uttered, he thought to himself.
“Oh?” Reid repeated, as a question. “Noah, look at me.”
Despite himself, Noah raised his head and looked at Reid.
“Noah, four months ago I asked Luke to marry me. I had a ring. I got a reservation at our favorite restaurant in Chicago and had the waiter put the ring on his dessert plate. I had the Luxury Suite of the most expensive hotel in the city booked for that night. And he said no. With me holding a ring in my hand and asking him to be my husband he said no, because he loves YOU. With me right there at the table and you half a world away, he told me you were the one who had his heart. So, are you really going to give up over some guy he just met three weeks ago?”
Noah’s eyes had widened while Reid was talking. Luke had neglected to mention that he had broken up with Reid while he was in the middle of proposing. Noah almost felt bad for him. ALMOST…Still, this other guy…
“Well, why would he be taking up with someone else if he wants ME and knows I’m supposed to be here in two days?” Noah asked in a small, uncertain voice.
Reid gave just a hint of a smile, and Noah got the distinct impression that this man, who was clearly still nursing a broken heart from his mid-proposal breakup, was somewhat enjoying this exchange. “Noah, if you had fought harder for him before leaving to enlist, it wouldn’t have taken over a year for him to break up with me. I don’t love admitting that, but it’s true. Maybe you were too caught up in your self loathing and didn’t think you had the right or whatever, but all you needed to do then was fight for him, and that’s all you need to do now. Go in there. Show him you’re back and ready to fight for him. Be confident. Show this other guy who’s boss.”
Reid wasn’t even trying to hide his smile anymore. Before Noah even had a chance to gather his wits and respond, Reid gave him a friendly, motivating slap on the back and strode off into the wintry afternoon.
Noah entered the store and walked purposefully toward the group of four, who had just made it to the front of the line. Natalie was the one who caught sight of him first.
“Noah!” she screamed and darted out of line to run over and throw her arms around him. “I can’t believe you’re here already!”
Noah hugged her tightly for a moment, until he felt a tug on his pant leg and looked down to see Ethan waiting excitedly for his attention. He reached down and scooped up Ethan into his arms. “Hey, Buddy,” he said with a smile, while Natalie held onto Noah’s arm, jumping up and down in excitement.
Suddenly Santa Claus had enveloped both Noah and Ethan in a bear hug.
“Welcome back, Dude! Missed you like crazy,” Santa told him, and at that moment Noah realized Santa was none other than Casey Hughes.
“Talk to you later, Man. I got to get back before I get fired again.” Casey slapped him on the back and then ran back to his chair. A little girl stood next to the Santa chair crying hysterically while her mother dusted off her pant legs and glared angrily in Casey’s direction, and Noah had a feeling Casey might have flung the poor little girl off his lap and onto the floor in his haste to run over and embrace him.
Noah gently placed an overjoyed Ethan back on the ground and locked eyes with Luke, who was standing before him with a look of openmouthed shock.
“Oh my God, Noah!” he finally exclaimed, letting out a delighted laugh and throwing his arms around him. “You’re here early!”
“Yeah,” Noah responded uncertainly. God, it felt GOOD feeling Luke’s arms around him. But…
Noah could see the unidentified man shifting uncomfortably in line, apparently holding their place until Luke and the kids came back.
Luke finally let go of Noah and turned to look at the man in line. “Guys,” he said to Natalie and Ethan, “go back and see Case--um, Santa, and tell Nick to come over here by Noah and me.”
Nick and Noah.
The pairing of names reminded Noah immediately of Nick and Nora, the mystery solving couple played by William Powell and Myrna Loy in the classic Thin Man series of films from the 1930’s and 40’s.
Oh, shut up, he told his cinematic encyclopedia brain.
Luke, usually not short on words, still seemed to be taking in Noah’s unexpectedly early arrival. “Noah, I can’t believe you’re here already,” he said, as if to say something. “This is so amazing.”
He cast a quick glance back at Nick, who was already on his way over. As Nick reached them and stood beside Luke, Noah was once again struck by the remarkable resemblance between them. For his part, Nick looked every bit as nervous as Noah felt.
Luke took a deep breath, as if preparing himself. “Noah, I want you to meet my friend, Nick Pollard.”
“Hi, Noah,” Nick said with a shy smile, extending his hand to Noah.
Noah reached out and shook Nick’s hand. “Hi Nick.” His eyes darting from Nick to Luke and back again, he added, “Well, you two seem to have gotten pretty close from the looks of it.” He tried to keep his tone neutral, not letting the bitterness that was building up inside him become apparent in his tone.
“We have,” Luke replied, sharing a look with Nick. “Noah, Nick is-“
“I know who Nick is,” Noah interrupted quickly, not being able to bear actually hearing Luke say it. “I talked to Reid outside before I came in.”
“He told you?!” Luke exclaimed. “He knew I wanted to sit down and explain everything to you and not have it sprung on you like this. What the hell’s the matter with him?!”
“I’m grateful he was at least willing to tell me how things are,” Noah said, and now the bitterness in his tone was obvious. “It would have been nice not to come home and be blindsided by this after you and I have made so many promises of openness and honesty to each other the past few months.”
Luke looked stunned and hurt, and Nick quickly jumped in. “Noah, I asked Luke not to say anything to you until you got home. I wanted to meet you in person and have the two of us tell you together.”
How sick was that?! Noah felt like he’d walked into the Twilight Zone. This was actually making Reid moving in on Luke while Noah was his patient look not so bad in comparison.
“Excuse me, but who do you THINK you ARE?!” Noah seethed, stepping right up into Nick’s face.
“I KNOW I’m your BROTHER,” Nick replied emphatically, locking eyes directly with Noah.
The exact same cornflower blue eyes as his.
“What?” Nick looked out of focus to Noah for a moment, and then he felt hands gently steadying him. Luke’s hands, he immediately recognized. Luke stepped into his view just then, hands still loosely holding him in their grip.
“Noah, Nick IS your brother,” Luke told him. “And contrary to whatever impression you seem to have gotten, he and I have become good friends and nothing more.”
“Not to mention that I’m straight,” Nick supplied with a nervous chuckle. “So you really have nothing to worry about.”
Noah still couldn’t wrap his mind around what he was hearing. He was also right at that familiar moment following a surge of intense emotion where you regain your senses and start to feel very foolish. “I don’t?” he finally asked.
“Of course not,” Luke told him firmly, his hands reaching up to hold the sides of Noah’s face. “Everything I’ve been telling you for months is true and always will be. I love you, Noah. And if Reid told you anything else, he’s in for a world of hurt.”
“He didn’t tell me any different,” Noah clarified quickly. “In fact, he encouraged me to fight for you and…I think he just wanted to have a little fun at our expense. I guess I can’t really blame him too much.”
“Well, thank God we got things figured out before you kicked my ass,” Nick commented wryly. “I was nervous about meeting you, but this was certainly a very different introduction than I was expecting.”
Noah looked Nick up and down. Of course this was his brother. He had never seen anyone who looked so much like him.
“How…” He looked between Luke and Nick, unsure how to finish the question.
Nick gestured for Noah and Luke to follow him to a nearby bench. They sat down, Noah in between the other two.
Nick took a deep breath before launching into his story. “I’ve always known I was adopted. My mom’s name was Wendy Pollard. She took me home when I was only two days old, and raised me in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a single mother. She was an amazing mom--loving, patient, and nurturing.” He paused for a moment and cast his eyes downward, as tears welled up in them. “She died two years ago,” he said, looking up. “Leukemia. She fought hard right to the end.”
“I’m so sorry,” Noah told him, wiping away a tear which had formed in his own eye.
“Thank you,” Nick replied with a grateful smile. “After Mom passed, I filed for legal guardianship of my younger sister Kayla. She was twelve at the time, fourteen now, and I wasn’t sure if the Court would grant it to me since I had only just turned eighteen myself, but thankfully we got a sympathetic Judge who understood how important it was that we stay together. It’s been hard, but I’ve managed to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table the past two years.”
“About a year ago, I decided to try and find out about my biological parents. After going through all the proper information requests, I eventually learned that my bio mom was a woman named Charlene Wilson. She had given birth to me in June of 1991 in Dearborn, Michigan. On the birth certificate, she listed the father as ‘unknown.”
“When I did some internet research, I found out that Charlene had been murdered in 2007 by her former husband Winston Mayer and that they had a son together--you.”
Noah felt a lump forming in his throat. His tears were flowing freely now, and he felt Luke taking hold of his hand and grasping it comfortingly.
Nick continued. “Another Google search later and I found out all about your accident and surgery, and that’s when I decided to put in a call to Oakdale and see if I could get in contact with you.”
“And that’s how Nick and I ended up getting in touch,” Luke jumped in. “I filled in the blanks on your history for him and invited him and Kayla to come to Oakdale so he could take a DNA test.”
Noah turned to Luke, raising a questioning eyebrow.
Luke smirked. “You know I’m always going to do what I can to protect you, Noah. I had a good feeling about Nick from our phone conversations, but I needed to be sure he wasn’t some con artist. But the DNA test confirmed that yes, both of you are the biological sons of Charlene Wilson.”
“And,” Nick added, “although I’m not exactly thrilled to have to report it, the test also confirmed that Winston Mayer is my biological father, too. Although I’m fairly certain he has no idea I even exist, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
For a long moment, Noah could only stare into the face of his brother. His full blood brother, whom he was only just meeting for the first time.
“Nick and Kayla have decided to stay in Oakdale indefinitely,” Luke told Noah. “They’ve immediately hit it off with the Snyders and have basically been adopted into the family in record time. They’re staying at the Farm for the time being, and of course Grandma has been doting on them. I’ve set Nick up with a job at the Foundation until he has something else lined up.”
Nick pulled his phone from his pocket, and showed Noah a picture of himself with a red haired, freckle faced young teenage girl. “This is Kayla,” he said. “She’s adopted, too, but is still a few years too young to do her own family search. She’s been just as excited about the results of my search as I’ve been. She considers you as much her brother as mine.”
Noah looked around the crowded store, expecting to see people staring at his tear soaked face, but of course, everyone was wrapped up in their holiday shopping and paying him no attention.
“I’m sorry I got in your face, Bro,” Noah finally managed to choke out, laughing through his tears.
Nick returned a wide grin. “Hey, it’s a first meeting with my brother I’ll never, ever forget.”
This was his brother! His brother! And he had a sister waiting to meet him at the Farm. And of course there were the Snyders, who had already been his family in his heart for years now.
Things had certainly changed for Noah Mayer, the lonely and isolated boy who had never had meaningful relationships growing up.
Natalie and Ethan had long since finished with Santa Claus, AKA Casey, and had been standing with him a short distance away, patiently waiting for the three men to finish their conversation. A sign reading “Santa will return later” had gone up in front of the line, but judging from the unhappy look on Casey’s face and the hat and fake beard in his hands, his supervisors had apparently decided he would not be the Santa who would return.
“I’ll give you guys a minute,” Nick said, standing up and walking over to Casey and the kids.
Luke scooted closer to Noah on the bench and rested his head on Noah’s shoulder. “So, you really thought Nick and I were together, after all the promises I’ve made to you the last few months?”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I just panicked. I’d spent every moment of the last year and a half dreaming about being back together with you, and then all of the sudden some lookalike had shown up to ruin it for me.”
“Nobody could ever ruin it for you,” Luke assured him. “There’s nothing and nobody I want more than you, Noah. I need you to trust that. Promise me you’ll never doubt that again.”
“I promise,” Noah replied, his eyes welling up again. He turned his head and pressed a kiss into Luke’s cheek. “What an unbelievable day,” he said with a sigh. “I feel like I suddenly got everything I’ve ever wanted.”
“But Noah,” Luke said, lifting his head and making that sly grin he always did when he was clever enough to work quotes from Noah’s favorite movies into their conversations, “don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted.”
Noah chuckled at Luke’s paraphrased quotation of Gene Wilder’s penultimate line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Together they supplied the answer.
“He lived happily ever after.”