“This was the best birthday ever!” I almost shout at Patrick as me climb into his car. “Now we get to go to your house and you get to give me something a bit more physical as a present?”
“Oh god,” Patrick sighs. “Since you lost your virginity you’ve become one horny little bugger.”
I pout at him from the passenger seat.
“I haven’t heard you complaining,” I say.
“Oh, I will never complain about that, but we have a stop to make before we do anything else,” he answers. “There’s still something waiting for you that I have arranged.”
“Something more? You’ve just treated me to a picnic in the park and gave me a ring. I doubt there’s anything that can top strawberries, whipped cream, and your lips,” I say with a little giggle.
“Oh baby, then you don’t know me at all,” Patrick says making his eyebrows move up and down in a cocky manner. “I have so much more for you.”
He turns right at the diary, driving down a side street that goes in the opposite direction of his house, more in the direction of mine.
“Tell me where we’re going,” I say. “I want to know now.”
“To your house,” he answers.
“We can’t have sex there,” I say a smile on my face as I look down on the simple silver band on my finger, the one he promised with that he will make sure I have an awesome year. We’ve made a pack not to do the nasty at my house anymore after my mom heard us and told us that we needed to respect her and Chloe.
“I told you, we’re not on our way to do that,” Patrick laughs. “But if you bring it up one more time I might have to turn this car around and take you to my house, and then your mom would kill me!”
“So my mom is involved?” I ask getting a bit of a frown. “Interesting…”
“Can you just stop trying to figure everything out and let something at least be a surprise?” Patrick asks as we pull up to my small little house where the little patch of lawn is at least neatly trimmed.
“Okay, but after we are so going to your house? Okay?” I say as I open the car door, but before I can even climb out Patrick is already out, around the car and by my side, holding the door open for me.
“Come here,” he breathes as he pulls me out of the car and into his arms, pressing his fingers underneath my chin and kissing me softly on my lips.
Just as I open my mouth, allowing for something more he stops.
“Not now,” he says smiling at me. “Leave some for later.”
I sigh as I take his hand and allow him to lead me to my front door.
“Is this a surprise party?” I ask.
“Not in the slightest,” Patrick says as he opens the door, showing me to walk in first.
Every single available surface is covered in balloons as I walk in. I expect every person I have ever known to jump out from somewhere behind non existing furniture and yell surprise, but nothing like that happens. Instead Mandy is sitting on the ground, building a puzzle with Chloe. My mom comes through the kitchen door into the living room.
“Hey honey,” she says with a smile, holding a plainly decorated birthday cake that I am sure she baked herself if I can judge by the smell in the house. “Did you two enjoy yourself?”
“We did,” I beam, walking up to her and giving her a hug, making Patrick grab the cake out of her hands so that she can embrace me. “Thanks for not arranging a big surprise party. This is perfect.”
“Happy birthday,” Mandy says as she stands up from the floor, promising Chloe that she will be right back. “I hope you become so old that you outlive the Queen, and as you know, she is probably destined to outlive all of us.”
I smile at her reference. It’s one we haven’t used in many years, but I remember a time where we used to joke that Queen Elizabeth II would probably outlive every single one of us.
“I asked for blessings on my birthday. Not curses,” I laugh. “Nobody wants to become that old.”
“Are we still waiting for anybody?” Patrick asks, looking around the room.
“No. Everyone is accounted for,” my mom answers. “Mister Watson is in the garage, why don’t you go and help him?”
And with those words Patrick disappears from my side, leaving me alone with Mandy, my mom, and Chloe. Just as I turn to follow Patrick, my mom takes me by the arm.
“No, come and sit here next to me,” she says as she leads me to the single couch in the bare living room, and then fetching the cake Patrick put down on a little table before he left out the front door.
“What’s going on in the garage?” I ask, but my mom only smiles at me, sitting down next to me.
“You will see in a minute,” she answers just as the front door opens again and Patrick and Mister Watson walks in the door, followed by Mister Graham.
“Happy birthday,” Mister Watson and Mister Graham say almost together, Graham grabbing my hand and shaking it while Watson walks in behind the couch and gives me a small hug from behind.
“Thanks guys,” I say with a smile.
“Cake now?” Chloe says from the floor, abandoning her puzzle to come and sit right in front of the cake.
“Yes baby, cake now,” my mom replies and within minutes, with the help of Patrick they light eighteen candles.
“Make a wish,” my mom whispers.
I close my eyes tightly, thinking of something to wish for, but coming up with nothing but blank space in my mind. Not wanting to jinx things by hoping to never have a year like the previous one ever again, I open my eyes and focus on each person in the room, standing around me, waiting for me to blow out the candles.
“Can I make my wish out loud?” I ask.
“Only if you do it quickly,” Patrick says gesturing to the melting candles.
“But it won’t come true then,” Mandy chimes in.
“I will need everyone’s help to make it come true,” I answer her, making my mom nod, showing me it’s okay to go ahead.
“Everyone here…” I start but I feel the tears stinging behind my eyes. “Everyone here has made such a difference in my life this past year. Please… Always be in my life. That’s my wish. To feel like this again, every year, come what may.”
As I end my sentence and before I can burst out crying, I take a deep breath and blow hard, taking out every single candle on the cake in one go, making everyone clap hands and cheer around me.
“Present time!” Mandy screams, running over to her backpack as my mom immediately slices a piece of cake for Chloe before she can decide to help herself to the frosting and mess everything full of cake.
Before I know it, six wrapped packages appear on my lap, one from each person in the room, Chloe included.
“You guys shouldn’t have done this,” I say, but before I can unwrap the first present wrapped in a brilliant blue paper my phone interrupts the festivities around me.
“Hello?” I answer the unknown number after my mom showed me to rather take the call, probably thinking like me that it might be someone wanting to wish me a happy birthday.
“Good afternoon. Is this Cory speaking?” the woman on the other side of the phone asks.
“Yes. I’m Cory,” I answer.
“Cory, my name is Bianca and I am calling from the St. Mary memorial hospital in mid-town,” she says in a very formal way, making me think that this won’t be anything like a birthday call.
“Yes?” I answer again, the confused look on my face making Patrick give me a confused look as well.
“You have a friend that has been admitted to the hospital yesterday after having a heart attack. He has asked us to call you and ask that you come and see him as soon as possible,” she says. “His name is Paul Elderman.”
“Dumbledore?” I say, almost speechless. “How serious is it?”
There is a moment of silence on the other end.
“I think you’d better get here as soon as you can,” Bianca says on the other side before I lower the phone and end the call.
“Who can get me to the hospital as soon as possible?” I ask, looking from one person to the other, but before anyone can even answer, Mister Watson has already taken me by the arm and started leading me out of the house, the presents and the cake forgotten as I leave my own party, hoping that I will be in time to see Dumbledore alive.
His eyes are closed as I enter the room, and although I can hear the beeping of machines telling me that he is alive, I can’t help but feel fearful that he may already be dead and that I am actually walking into a room with a corpse.
Almost as if he knew I entered the room he opens his eyes, looking at me as if he can see right into my soul.
“Cory,” he whispers, patting the space on the hospital bed beside him where I go and take a seat. “Are you alone?”
His eyes scan the room.
“My boyfriend and my vice principle is waiting outside,” I say as I take the hand he holds out to me and hold it in my lap.
“I’m glad you came,” he says giving a little cough that seems to put his entire body in pain. “I didn’t know if you would.”
“You’ve meant a great deal to me,” I say, trying my best not to blink at all, scared that if I do tears may fall from my eyes.
“I need to ask you a favor,” Dumbledore says.
“Anything,” I answer and I really mean it. What Dumbledore had done for me means more than what he could ever imagine I assume.
“Look in the drawer,” he says, pulling his hand out of mine and pointing to the bedside table next to him. “Take out everything that’s inside.”
I get up and open the drawer, only to find that on the very top is the book I gave to him, and underneath another leather bound book.
“The books are for you. Both of them,” he wheezes before he lets out another cough that ripples pain through his body, but he regains himself quickly and continue speaking. “But you need to do me a favor. Inside the bottom book is a letter. Make sure it gets to my son.”
“Where do I find him?” I ask, wondering why Dumbledore would be here, all alone, living on the streets for so long if he had a son out there all along.
“Just promise you will find him Cory. Promise me,” he says, his eyes tearing up.
“I promise,” I answer.
“And Cory… We should always reread the books we have already read. We should read them over and over if they have meant something to us. Not to put ourselves back in that position, but to remember the lessons of the past and to remember to be grateful for today,” Dumbledore says.
“Where do I find your son? Do you have a number for him?” I ask.
Dumbledore closes his eyes, and then a beep sounds loud through the room.
“Dumbledore?” I ask, but he doesn’t open his eyes. “Paul?”
I take him by the hand, squeezing on it, but he doesn’t open his eyes.
A doctor and a nurse comes rushing in before I can even say his name again.
“Come Cory,” Mister Watson says, standing behind me in the room, taking me by the shoulders as tears start streaming down my face and the nurse and doctor starts to switch of machines.
“No… No! Save him! Don’t turn of the machines! Bring him back!” I start shouting as Mister Watson pulls me out of the room. “Save him! Please! Bring him back!”
It feels like every part inside me is ripped apart as every sound of every machine stops, ending their lives with his.
It’s only when I look up into Patrick’s eyes outside the room that I know what he meant in his last words.
“We shouldn’t forget the past. I don’t want to put being homeless behind me,” I say through tears as Patrick holds me while Mister Watson walks back into Dumbledore’s room. “I need to remember, because it will always be a part of me.”
“I’m sorry baby,” Patrick says as he pulls me close to him again, making me nuzzle up against his neck, my tears leaving wet marks over his shirt.
I stand there, crying. Not knowing what to do or say, just knowing that somewhere, out there, a wise man now has a chance at some rest at least.
“No resuscitation,” Mister Watson says as he walks out of the room. “Paul signed a form.”
I try and nod, wanting to say something, but Watson takes me by the arm, as Patrick takes me by the hand, and together we walk out of the hospital, leaving behind the body of a man who might have been the most interesting person I have ever met…
The house seems cold as I walk in the front door, looking over at the unopened presents on the couch.
My mom comes over and tries to hug me, but I push her away. I don’t want hugs now. I want solitude. I want to speak to Dumbledore. I want to find his son.
“Do you want to open your presents?” Mandy asks, but I shake my head.
“Just tell me what you got me,” I answer, staring blank at the wall, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
“We all got you the same thing,” Patrick says. “Each of us gave you a copy of our favorite book with a message inside.”
“I’ll open it later,” I answer, still staring at the wall, wondering if Chloe at least enjoyed her piece of cake.
“I know it’s not really the time for it, but there is something else…” Mister Watson says. “Can I give you something else?”
“Sure,” I answer. I can already feel myself going into auto pilot.
Everyone walks with me, Watson leading the way, outside the house and to the garage door. I wait while he opens it, and I cannot believe my eyes as tears start rolling down my eyes once more.
“I hope you like it,” he says as I walk over to the piano. His piano. The one I played on while we were staying with him.
I turn around and try to say thank you, but somehow the words feel stuck in my throat, not wanting to come out as I even see wet stains over Patrick’s face, every single one of them standing in the garage door, allowing tears to run over their faces.
I run my fingers over the keys of the piano and sit down in front of it.
The first notes sound dull and dead, but as my fingers move, and the tears fall from my eyes, I allow music to enter the night once more. The melody speaks of loss and grief, and of leaving things behind, and off inviting the past in once more. I feel it. Everyone can feel it.
Sometimes you love. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you feel. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you find yourself homeless in an ocean of faces not giving a damn, but I won’t ever be one of them again. Sometimes you find yourself in a home. A true home. And it doesn’t matter what the home looks like, because it is a roof over your head, and you have the people you love. And the memories being made becomes photos on a wall. And some people leave your life because theirs were too difficult and you allow them to go and die because you know that they might have had enough. But you also know… Sometimes… Somehow… Some incredible way… No matter how hard the storm may blow. At one point you won’t be out in the wind anymore.
A book can carry a little part of your soul. I know that statement is true. I know because I live that way. Just as much as a part of my soul will be bound between the pages of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the pages keeping my secrets of how I slept in a park, underneath Dumbledore’s bench, right up to the point where I sold the copy Mister Graham gave me and the book opened up new opportunities for me. I can remember almost every book I have ever read. Sometimes I can’t remember the title, or the name of the main character, but those things aren’t always important. Sometimes what you need to remember, and what I do remember is the feeling that I had when reading the book. Each one is different. Each one made me feel different. Some made me smile and laugh. Others made me cry. Some made me throw the book at a wall. So…If I were to give someone my favorite book… Well, that’s probably not an option. I would have to give me a box of my favorites. But knowing that here, on this makeshift bed, on the ground, in my own room; my very own room, I am surrounded by presents that I still need to open. That’s special. It’s more than just special, because my friends and the people I love didn’t really give me books. They gave me something far more special. They each gave me a little piece of their soul.
“Cory… Baby… A penny for your thoughts?” Patrick asks.
I don’t know how I didn’t hear him come into the room, or that his hand was on my leg. I guess I must have been too far away. It hasn’t exactly been the easiest day in history. We lost Dumbledore. I played piano. My birthday was somewhere in between all of the commission. It had been neither a good nor a bad day. I think it was more just an emotional day.
“Hmm,” I answer. “I was just kinda thinking about books.”
I put my hand on top of Patrick’s before I lean over for a kiss. He turns the tables however and turns me around, allowing my back to rest against his front as he strokes his fingers through my hair and kisses me softly on the head.
“I thought you said you were coming to open all of these?” Patrick says gesturing to the wrapped presents laying around me on the bed. “They aren’t going to open themselves you know.”
“I know. I was just thinking about it. How each of you gave me a little bit of yourselves in these presents. I like the idea. I like that I will have a little bit of each of you with me forever,” I say with a smile, leaning my head back and turning my face to nuzzle in his neck.
“If you keep on doing that I might need to start undressing you in which case you will never get to opening presents,” Patrick says through clenched teeth as I keep on running my lips over the skin in his neck.
“You can’t,” I whisper, making sure to let my hot breath have a reaction on him. “My mom is here remember.”
“In which case I will need to pick you up and take you to my place, no matter how much you kick and scream,” Patrick gives a soft growl, his arms going around me, pulling me back against him.
“Who said I would kick and scream… Unless you wanted me too?” I ask. I know I am playing a dangerous game and that I should stop unless I want to have sex right now, but I find it entertaining to know how much I turn Patrick on. I like when he gets like this. When I feel like I am the only guy in the world. It feels good.
“Okay, seriously Cory. Your mom send me in here to check if you are okay and if you have opened your presents yet. So maybe we can get to that?” Patrick hisses as he pulls away from me a little bit. “After that… Who knows? Maybe we can ask your mom if you can sleep over at my place.”
I look up at the little grin playing over his face and I smile.
“She’ll know what we would be wanting to go and do,” I answer, kissing him on the cheek.
“And? It isn’t me who got us into this situation,” Patrick answers and I know exactly what situation he is talking about. I can feel the very hard situation straining against his jeans and pushing against my back.
“Let’s go then,” I answer and I know I look devilish. It’s not like I just want to go with Patrick and have sex. Too be honest, this is much more. I don’t want to look at the wrapped books around me any longer. I want to get away from them. Away from the pieces of soul that has been given to me.
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