Note: This is a story about the winter solstice (Yule, and the Yule log tradition in particular), which means it’s actually more of a New Year’s story than a Christmas-type story, so I waited until today to post. I hope you all have an amazing 2016!
I looked up from packing my bag. Platt stood, almost at attention, in my doorway, waiting for my acknowledgement. “Hey!” I said. “Come aboard.”
He stepped into the room and thrust his hand at me. Or, to be more precise, the card envelope in his hand. “For you,” he said, gaze somewhere just above my head. “And Seb.”
“…Thanks.” I took it from him. The flap was sealed shut. “Should I open it now, or–?”
“Later.” Shifting into more of a parade rest position, he stuck his hands into his pockets. “It’s. It’s for Christmas. I know neither of you are Christian, but Seb sent me a card that he drew, so I wanted to…” He trailed off and shrugged.
Ah, so that’s why Seb had asked me for Platt’s mailing address. I knew they’d exchanged a couple more emails after the attacks, though Seb was still refusing to tell me the contents. Whatever they talked about, I was glad it seemed to be leading to a deeper friendship.
“Just because we don’t celebrate Christmas doesn’t mean we don’t get into the holiday spirit,” I told Platt, smiling. “I’m sure he’ll be glad you thought of us.” I put the card in a side pocket of my bag, where it wouldn’t be bent, and zipped it shut, asking, “When do you head to Pennsylvania?”
“Tomorrow,” he said. “My uncle will be here to pick me up after my calc final in the morning.”
I looked at him carefully. He only had the one uncle that I knew of, and I found myself wishing I could delay my own leave a day so I’d have a chance to at least observe them together.
Platt went a bit pink under my scrutiny. “He takes me more seriously now,” he said, “after I broke Belcher’s arm. Thanksgiving was… better than it’s been since my dad died.”
So he needed to fight off a would-be kidnapper to earn a tiny bit of his uncle’s respect? And I noticed he hadn’t mentioned his mother at all. I wanted to ask how she was doing, but didn’t, for fear of pouring salt in a wound. Instead, I said, “You still have my number and Seb’s email. You can contact either one of us at any time you want, got it?”
A hit of relief crossed his features, before being schooled into a blank-faced military stare aimed over my head once again. “That won’t be necessary.”
“I said ‘want,’ not ‘need,’” I told him, rolling my eyes. “We’re friends, remember? Friends stay in touch.”
He looked slightly surprised, like he still did sometimes when I called him a friend, but then nodded and met my gaze. “I will. Anyway, I came to give that to you. Now I need to study.”
“I’d say ‘good luck on the final,’ but you don’t need it, what with having the best calculus tutor in the world.” I used an elaborate, flourishing gesture to indicate myself, ending it with, “AKA, moi.”
For some reason, he seemed unimpressed. “I’m going to study.”
Grinning, I held out my fist. “See ya next year, Platypus.”
He bumped his own against it and then left me behind, worrying about a full month of him being under his uncle’s thumb.
But it wasn’t like I was returning to an entirely harmonious and happy family, either. Omar said he was going to talk to Aliya when she flew in tomorrow. After that, I’d find out if she wanted to meet with me.
JJ’s sponsor parents drove me to the Baltimore airport. They had taken him the day before, and said it was all part of the service, refusing to let me even pay for their gas. Seb was already there waiting, fresh off a bus from New York. He texted me to look for him near the terminal entrance.
I spotted his huge suitcase first. Sneaking up from behind, I snatched him into a hug, and he emitted a high-pitched squawking noise. Through my laughter, I asked, “What was that, a pterodactyl?”
“ZAIN! I’m gonna kill you! Let go!”
He made a valiant effort to fend me off, but succeeded only in turning around in my arms so we were face-to-face. Then I kissed him, and his struggles stilled.
“Mm,” I said, drawing away from his lips and bumping our foreheads together. “Hi, babe.”
“You’re horrible and I hate you.”
“Missed you, too,” I replied, tenderly.
He rolled his eyes, which were now suspiciously bright. “That is not what I meant.”
“C’mon, you can enumerate all the ways in which I’m awful while we stand in line to check your behemoth luggage.” I’ve been trying for years to get him to pack lighter.
My own bag was a carry-on, so I waited until we were settling into our seats for the flight to take out Platt’s card. “From a certain pen pal of yours,” I said, handing it to Seb. “It’s for both of us, but you can open it.”
When he tore the envelope along the top edge and extracted the card, I recognized the front of it from one of the racks at the Mid Store: a little clapboard church beneath a starry sky, its windows gleaming bright against the snow. Inside, under the pre-printed May all the blessings of the season shine upon you, there was a handwritten message.
Thank you both for everything, and for the card, Seb.
Have a good break.
“Does he sign off his emails like that, too?” I asked. “Seems weirdly formal.”
Seb shook his head. “He usually doesn’t sign off at all, or write a greeting. It came across as abrupt, at first, but I think that’s just his style.”
“Or he’s still learning how to behave with friends,” I said. “You should’ve seen him giving that to me. He was so stilted and embarrassed. Adorable. Speaking of which, it was sweet of you to send him one.”
“I wasn’t sure anyone else would,” he said, closing the card and rubbing his thumb along the church steeple. “I hope his leave goes okay.”
“Me too. He told me his uncle has been better recently, and I reminded him he can contact us if he wants. I’ll send him a few messages to check in, alright?”
Sliding the card back into the envelope, he nodded.
We had a short layover in Chicago, taking off again just after nine PM local time. Seb’s eyelids started to droop as the city lights grew more distant below. I raised the armrest between us, and it wasn’t long before he conked out, tipped over onto my shoulder.
As always, the protectiveness in me — the desire to shelter him and claim him, to make him so completely mine that nothing else would dare touch him — grew five times stronger while I watched him sleep. It almost hurt. Holding very still, so I didn’t disturb my boy, I attempted to concentrate on the airport novel I’d bought.
His breath hitched halfway through chapter four. At first, I thought he was waking, but then he made a tiny, distressed sound, and I realized a nightmare had him in its grip.
“Habibi, it’s okay, I’m here,” I murmured, closing the book to stroke his hair and down over his cheek. He didn’t feel sweaty, like he would if a low was triggering it. “Shhhh.”
For a moment, he settled under my touch. Then he inhaled sharply, his eyes popping open as he jerked upright.
“You’re alright, it was a dream,” I said, pulling him back against me with both arms. “Just a dream, babe. Only a bad dream.”
Though I tried to keep my voice low, a few people near us looked around, and I was very aware that Seb didn’t notice them at all. Or if he did, he cared shockingly little about clinging to me in front of them. He’d normally be squirming away from me, not closer.
“The demon,” he whispered into my neck.
Again? I shifted him so I could rub my palm across his shoulders and back, where the creature manifested. It hadn’t haunted him in weeks. “Okay,” I soothed. “It’s not real. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”
His breath tickled my skin on a shaky exhale. “I know.” Ah, there was the wiggle I’d been expecting. I tightened my hold until he gave up with a small huff, saying, “I’m fine now.”
He did sound better, yet out of principle, I waited another few seconds before releasing him and watching carefully as he shifted back into his own seat. “Babe,” I said, “is this maybe because I scared you at the airport?”
“What? No!” he said, folding his arms as his eyebrows met in a little crease. “I’m not so delicate I’m going to have nightmares because you jump out and say ‘boo.’”
“Yeah, but the combination of me being… well, me, and you having Platt on your mind, and even traveling… it could’ve subconsciously triggered you into dreaming about the attack, couldn’t it?”
Sighing, he rolled his eyes. “That’s your guilt talking. My psychologist said I might still have the nightmare occasionally, remember?”
“Yeah.” At least, I remembered him telling me the shrink had said that. I also remembered my own counselor’s advice from the end of the summer, about accepting the limitations in my ability to protect. Easier said than done, especially with my boy’s vulnerability so close to the surface.
We stayed in almost constant contact, not sleeping, for the rest of the flight.
It was nearly midnight when Seb’s dad Charlie, who picked us up in San Jose, pulled into the driveway of the farm. He helped carry our bags upstairs, gave us each a hug, and left for his and Maeve’s bedroom on the first floor. Seb started unzipping his suitcase, probably thinking he was going to brush his teeth or something.
I spun him around and pushed him so his legs buckled against the edge of the bed, and he sat down hard. His mouth dropped open as he bounced a few times. “Zain–”
“Sir,” I corrected, reaching into his shirt and pulling the dog tags out, needing to see my name on him. We were finally alone. I couldn’t hold back any longer.
Wide-eyed, he watched me lower myself to kneel in front of him. “But… my family’s probably still awake.”
Biting back my laugh at the weak protest, I tugged loose the drawstring of his yoga pants. “I’m not going to make any noise,” I promised. “What you do is up to you, my boy.”
We spent the day before the solstice in full prep-mode. According to family tradition, presents for our gift exchange had to be made, not bought, and I still hadn’t started mine.
“You just wanted to make me help because I’m better at the homemade stuff,” Seb said, following me into the woods surrounding the farm.
“Yep,” I agreed. “Also because you gave me the idea. Remember you sent me that drawing of your dad arguing with the tomato stakes over the summer? I thought he should have some nice wooden ones, instead of twisted metal.”
“Uh-huh,” he said. “So how big should the sticks be?”
“Seven feet long and a bit thicker than a switch.”
“What?” I asked, innocently. “That’s how big they should be.”
He rolled his eyes and started searching.
By the time we made the teepee-style trellises, stuck bows on them, and hid them behind the garden shed, we were being called into the living room to decorate the tree.
Anyone passing by the window would have thought it was a Christmas tree, but a closer look revealed that the ornaments had a definite star theme. We hung each one in a carefully-chosen spot, and then Charlie stood on one of the chairs from the breakfast nook to perch a copper sun on the pinnacle. The whole family applauded as he climbed down.
“Time to sing carols!” said Keegan.
Seb, curled up next to me on the couch, dropped his forehead against my arm and groaned quietly. I whispered to him, “If I sing super loud, no one will notice that you aren’t. Just mouth the words.”
While his family decided on a song to get us started, though, I got a call from Omar. Seb saw his name on the screen and followed me into the foyer as I answered.
“Hey, little man. What’s up?” I asked, trying not to sound too eager.
“Hi,” he said. “Soooo… I couldn’t tell her everything, because it was hard to get her away from Mom and Dad for long enough. But I said you wanted to meet with us, and she agreed to it.”
Excitement rocketed through me. “Awesome! What about tomorrow?”
“Uh… I think Dad’s planning some sort of family thing? Tuesday might be better.”
There was a time when I would’ve been a part of whatever the ‘family thing’ was, but now wasn’t the time to let that get to me. I could wait one more day to be reunited with my sister. “Yeah, sure,” I said. “Figure out the details with Aliya and let me know.”
“I will. Gotta go, talk to you tomorrow.”
“Alright, love you.” I hung up and turned to Seb, who watched me with worried eyes. Catching him in a tight hug, I rocked back and forth a few times and crooned into his ear, “We’re gonna meet on Tuuueeesdaaaay.”
“Really? Z, that’s great!”
“I know!” I smacked a kiss on his lips and then took his hand to pull him along back to the tree. Now I truly felt like singing carols.
He was awake first on the morning of the solstice. Not in itself unusual, but when I saw him at his desk drawing rather than doing yoga, it tripped off a warning bell. I rolled out of bed and went to look over his shoulder. Surprisingly, he didn’t try to close or hide the sketchbook.
A demon, similar to the one from the painting of Saint Michael he’d shown me, snarled out of the page. I pressed my palms down on his shoulders, hard, and asked, “Did… did you have the dream again?” He’d been doing so good until I scared him.
“No,” he said, dropping the drawing and grasping my right wrist with his left hand as he looked up at me. “It’s for the Yule log tonight. The thing I’m leaving behind.”
I considered him, and the demon, and nodded. A ritual inferno seemed just the thing to help him move past it. “Good idea.”
“I want you to burn your guilt.”
Blinking, I sat down on the edge of his desk so I could face him. My hands slipped off his shoulders, though he kept hold of the right one, interlocking our fingers as he met my gaze steadily.
“I mean it,” he said. “I know you don’t believe in the power of the ceremony exactly the way I do, but it will help you let go of that burden, which you shouldn’t even be carrying in the first place.”
“You’re mine,” I told him, quietly, “and I didn’t protect you.”
His voice matched the fierceness in my heart as he replied, “Yes, you did. You came when I needed you, and you taught me the self-defence that let me fight back, and you’re mine, too, salaud, so you’ll do this for me.”
“Well, when you put it so sweetly…”
He didn’t return my faint smile, but his grip tightened on my hand, squeezing it until his knuckles went white. I let him. I needed a moment to consider what he was asking of me, and if I could do it without it being merely a hollow gesture to humor his wishes — something I would never let him get away with if the tables were turned.
Finally, I nodded, and the clench of his fist relaxed.
The family gathered by the tree and fireplace in early evening, sitting on couches and chairs, and, when those ran out, the floor. I took the end of the loveseat and pulled Seb into my lap, paying no attention to his disapproving hiss.
Charlie stood before the mantlepiece, waiting for quiet. Once our conversations died down, he began to speak. “The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year, and the shortest day. Yet even in the period of darkness, we are reminded that this, too, shall pass. The day will come, and the next night after that.
“Impermanence is the very nature of things. We are here to observe this renewal, and to let go of anything we may have been holding onto. To ignite it and see how ephemeral it is in reality.” He paused, looking around at us all, and Seb settled against me. After a moment, Charlie went on, “The tradition of the Yule log–”
“We know, Dad,” Quinn said, laughing. “Just light it already!”
“Yeah, light it!” Dax, and a few others, put in.
Shrugging, Charlie turned to the fireplace, knelt down to strike a match against the brick, and held it to the kindling arranged around the log until it caught fire. Then he waved the match out, and we watched in silence as the flame grew. Though the log was large, it had been carefully dried over months, so it burned well and would continue long into the night.
“Alright,” said Charlie. “Who would like to begin?”
Maeve rose from the armchair nearest him and held up a dried flower. “This is one of many roses I’ve saved from my great-aunt Georgette’s garden in France. September marked the thirtieth anniversary of her passing, and I still hold onto boxes and boxes of her things, most of them silly, like this. She would be the first to remind me that things are not memories. I’ve decided to start letting go of a great deal of it, and this will be first.” Bending, she gently laid the flower over the log, and then retook her seat as the petals curled and burned.
One by one, the rest of Seb’s family placed an item in the flames, each of them offering a few words of explanation beforehand. It was a solemn ceremony, for the most part, though we laughed when Dax said he was letting go of his bitterness over the Mets losing the World Series. As she sat down, Keegan asked, “Who hasn’t gone yet?”
“Zain and Seb, I think,” her wife, Jaz, replied.
“I’ll go first,” I said. “Let me up, babe.”
He did, and I walked to the fire, pulling a sheet of notebook paper from my pocket. Without any artistic skills, I had simply written “GUILT” across it in large letters, showing it to Seb when I was done. He’d nodded in approval.
Reaching the hearth, I went down on one knee and held it out so a corner caught the flame. It spread over the sheet slowly, darkening it into sooty black first, and then crumbling into ash and raining down on the coals. I held it, thinking about how I could stop my self-reproach, until the heat got too strong against my fingers. Then I dropped the rest and returned to Seb.
“Not sure I’m very good at this,” I said, for his ears only, “but I did my best.”
“Thank you,” he replied, before kissing my cheek and stepping around me to deliver his own demon to the fire. The paper was folded so the drawing couldn’t be seen, and like me, he said nothing to explain it, simply waiting until it had turned to ash to stand.
As he came back and let me yank him down into my lap once more, Quinn said, “Okay, time for presents!”
In the bustle of activity, no one noticed the quiet buzz of my phone, or me showing the message on the screen to Seb. Meet Aliya and me at that cafe we used to go to on Pacific Ave at 1pm?
Seb smiled against my neck while I typed back, See you then!
Later, when the presents had all be unwrapped (or, in Charlie’s case, unveiled from behind the shed), and we were biting into slices of Yule log cake in the kitchen, I noticed Seb slipping out the door. Putting my plate on the counter, I snuck after him.
He was by the fireplace again, where the log had split into several glowing chunks. I watched him take another folded paper from his pocket and drop it on top of them.
“Thought you burned the demon?”
“I did,” he said, apparently unsurprised by my presence, though I knew I’d made no sound. “This isn’t something I’m letting go of, it’s a wish for the future.”
“A wish for what?” I asked, walking over to stand next to him.
He rolled his eyes sideways at me. “I can’t tell you or it won’t come true.”
“Bet I can guess,” I said. It had to be something to do with wanting to spend more time together.
“I will neither confirm nor deny any speculations,” he replied. Naturally, that meant I had to make increasingly ridiculous ones for the rest of the night.
I knew exactly what cafe Omar meant. The cookies they made at it were our reward if we behaved while tagging along with Mom on her errands. I hadn’t been back since moving out of my parents’ house, and when I walked in with Seb by my side, the smell took me right back to being fifteen.
We’d arrived a little early. Looking around, I didn’t see Omar or Aliya at any of the tables. The booth in the back where we’d usually sat with Mom was empty. I pointed to it. “Let’s wait for them there.”
“Okay.” He followed me over and slid onto the bench next to me, with both of us facing the door. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The place was fairly busy, and each time it opened, my heart skipped, thinking it could be my siblings. After a minute, Seb said, “I’m going to order coffee. Do you want anything?”
“Cappuccino,” I said. “You know how I like it. Thanks, babe.”
His hand brushed over mine before he got up and went to the counter. Moments later, a young woman wearing a dark green hijab passed by the window. I straightened as the door opened again and she stepped through. Aliya?
She seemed slightly familiar, but I couldn’t be sure until Omar came in after her. He looked directly at me and waved. Aliya caught sight of me too, then, and her expression changed. It was hard to read.
Wiping my sweaty palms off on my jeans, I stood to greet them as they crossed the room. “Hey, guys,” I said, when they got close. “Thank you for coming.”
Aliya was silent. Omar said, “Hi,” and gave me a one-armed hug.
I gestured to the booth after letting go of him. “Wanna sit?” They did, while I glanced over to Seb. He was still in line at the counter, but watching the scene unfold with worried eyes. Pointing him out, I said, “My fiancé is getting drinks for the two of us. I can ask him to order you guys something. My treat.”
“No, thank you,” said Aliya, speaking more to the tabletop than to me. Omar shook his head, too, so I gave Seb a reassuring smile and sat down again. As I did, Aliya leaned forward, clasped her hands together, and asked, “Can we get to the point, please?”
“Sure,” I said. “Um, how much did Omar tell you?”
“Not much,” my brother said, apologetically. “I couldn’t. I just let her know we’d been talking and you wanted to meet while she was in town.”
“And I agreed out of a burning curiosity to find out what could possibly lead you to suddenly wanting a relationship with your family again.”
Omar looked surprised. However she’d reacted when he told her, it must not have been this way. I swallowed before carefully saying, “I never stopped wanting that. Aliya, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stay in touch. When you hear what happened, you’ll understand why I had to leave.”
“I know why,” she replied. “I came out of my room after you said goodbye to us and overheard Dad telling you that all you had to do was go to therapy, and then you could come home. You refused.”
Her chilly tone bore into my heart. Through the pain, I asked, “Do you know what kind of therapy?”
“Yes,” she said, shortly, “and I know it’s quackery, but you could’ve just gone to it and lied about being gay. Did you even consider that?”
“Putting myself back in the closet? No.” I meant to say more, explain why that simply wasn’t an option. Aliya spoke again before I could, and for the first time, her mask of anger broke, into hurt.
“DId you consider how you leaving affected us?” she asked, gesturing between Omar and herself. “I became the oldest overnight, with all of the responsibilities and expectations, and all of Mom and Dad’s hopes pinned on me. And they got incredibly overprotective. Do you know how hard I had to work to convince them to let me study abroad? Everything changed after you left. After you chose him over your own family.”
She stabbed an accusing finger towards Seb, who had just stepped away from the counter, holding a mug in each hand. He froze, clearly overhearing.
“Stop,” I said. “You can be mad at me if you want, but he’s done nothing to you.” Aliya’s eyes dropped to the table. An urge to hug her rose in me. Suppressing it, and keeping my voice steady, I added, “Seb, c’mere and sit down. My cappuccino’s getting cold.”
The use of his name worked, startling him out of the terrified expression. As he took his seat and put the mug topped with frothed milk and cinnamon under my nose, he looked merely nervous as all hell. I sipped from it and dropped one hand beneath the table to gently squeeze his knee.
Aliya surprised me by being the first to break the tense silence. “I’m sorry,” she said, glancing up at Seb. “He’s right. It’s not your fault he’s so damn stubborn.”
Snorting, I slouched down on the bench. “That’s a family trait,” I said. “You’re wearing the hijab again. There’s another sign of it.”
She frowned in puzzlement. “I starting wearing it again because, for me, it’s an important part of my faith.”
“I know,” I said, “and I know why you stopped wearing it before, too. It’d be easier to take it off sometimes, right?”
That struck a nerve, as I’d known it would. Her eyes narrowed. “I am not going to let some people’s uninformed, bigoted opinions prevent me from being who I am and showing what I believe in. I don’t care how difficult it is.”
I hid my smirk behind the rim of the mug and waited.
The realization came to her face slowly, and then shame overtook it. “That’s what… I was asking you to do, isn’t it?”
Omar laughed a little. “He’s got you there, sis,” he said, while she ducked her head again. “Plus, you haven’t heard the worst of it.”
“What?” she asked.
“They thought Zain would abuse me.”
She blinked a few times quickly, looking from him to me. “How could they?”
With a wry smile, I said, “They don’t really understand what being gay is. That’s why they wanted you two out of the house, and why they forbade me from talking to you.”
“If… if that’s true,” she said, “then they must still believe that, and if they find out we’re meeting with you like this-”
“That’s why I warned you not to tell them,” Omar said. “It has to be secret, okay?”
She nodded, distractedly, like she was deep in thought.
“Ali,” I said, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t find another way to fix it so I could stay with you guys. I never meant to abandon you that way.”
Frowning at me, she said, “I’m remembering some comments Mom and Dad made over the years that seem less weird now, if they thought… that. Which means you didn’t leave us. You were forced out. Can– can you forgive me for being angry at you?” She was nearly crying by the end.
My nose pricked with oncoming tears, too. “Of course,” I said, reaching across the table to take her hands in mine. “Can you forgive me for not at least explaining better before I went?”
“Yes,” she said, “if you buy me a cookie.”
Omar and I both laughed, and Seb smiled as he stood, saying, “I’ll get it. Omar, do you want anything?”
He went back to the counter, while Aliya and I started catching up.
The roof over Seb’s room is perfect for stargazing, with nothing obstructing the view of the sky. That night, there were no clouds, either. We lay side by side in comfortable silence, his head resting on my bicep, like we had as kids.
“I can tell you my wish now,” he said, softly. “It came true.”
I looked over in surprise. “Did it?”
“Yeah, it was that you would reconnect with your sister.”
“I thought you’d’ve guessed.”
Shaking my head, I said, “No, actually, I figured it was something to do with wanting to spend more time together.”
He rolled onto his side, facing me, with a frown. “Why would I wish for that? I mean, not that it wouldn’t be nice, but I know it’s not going to happen for awhile, so what would be the use?”
Good point. I shrugged the shoulder he wasn’t lying on. “I don’t know.”
Then he lifted himself up on one elbow to look at me through narrowed eyelids. “Zain,” he said, “is that what the guilt is really about? Thinking you left me, the way you thought you left your siblings behind?”
“…Now that you mention it, it could be.” The feeling had been gnawing at me long before Belcher and Gould attacked him; it only intensified after. “Yeah.”
Sighing, he rolled onto his knees, straddled my lower abdomen, and pressed down on both my shoulders with his hands. My lips twitched. It was a mirror of something I’d do if I really wanted his attention.
“Stop smiling and listen,” he said. I tried to look serious, and he continued, “You did not leave me. We made that decision together, and you’ve been doing everything you can to make it easier for me, including letting Quint… handle… things, which is difficult for you, I can tell.
“And you didn’t leave Aliya or Omar, either. You were forced out, like she said. I know your heart. I drew it, remember?” He tugged up on the hem of my shirt. I lifted my lower back off the shingles to help him, until he could stick his arm under it and trace the lines of my tattoo with his fingers. “Semper fidelis,” he said. “It’s a part of you, and will be forever. You couldn’t abandon someone you care about, or leave them unprotected. So there’s no reason to feel guilty.”
A lump grew in my throat. Swallowing it back, I pulled him against my chest and wrapped my arms tightly around him. “Thank you, habibi,” I whispered into his hair. “That helps. It helps a lot.”
“Good,” he said, still sounding a bit fierce. “I told you burning it would work.”
“Yeah, you did.”
A meteor shot across the sky behind him, leaving a bright trail. I closed my eyes and made a wish of my own for the year ahead: To be worthy of him.