Manny didn't show up till almost five the next day, and I must confess I'd been on pins and needles anticipating his arrival. I was at the door as soon as the first chime sounded, and he stomped off his feet and then pulled off his boots and left them in the entryway before coming on into the living room.
"Hi, miss me?" he giggled.
"Who were you again?" I teased.
"Your new boyfriend," he joked, "but seriously...I got some news."
"Okay, but first why don't I get us a cup of hot cocoa? You look half frozen."
He followed me into the kitchen and hopped up on a bar stool at the breakfast bar and watched me as I prepared the cocoa, but his news was too good for him to keep quiet for long.
"I played soccer with Jason today."
"In the snow no less," I chuckled, "You guys are crazy, snow on the ground and freezing temps."
"Yeah, well, it was worth it today."
I poured up the cocoa and sipped mine as I sat across from him and waited for him to start again.
"He was on my team and we talked," he said taking a sip of cocoa and leaving me in suspense.
"Well, he does know I exist," he chuckled, "he said he'd seen me around and wanted to talk to me before, but just never did."
"Oh, that sounds promising."
"And...I did what you said. I watched his eyes while we talked, and guess what? He looked in all the right places," he said smiling lewdly.
"That's awesome, so did you two make plans to get together sometime?"
"Actually...yeah, he's gonna come over Tuesday and hang out at my house, only..."
"Only, I was wondering if we could hang out down here instead? My papa will probably be at work, but I don't want to take a chance. I don't think he will understand."
"Well, how do you think Jason will feel about that?"
"I guess I didn't think about that, but if he's cool with it, can we?"
"As long as you understand I'm not going to let you guys have sex here."
He blushed bright red, then frowning he said, "Rob, I don't even know if he's like that. I'm not planning on having sex with him, just talking and getting to know him better, that's all."
"Okay, but while we're on the subject, I think its time we had a little discussion about sex."
"Okay, what do you need to know?" Manny teased, and I laughed.
"Yeah, you kids today have the internet, I forgot, but I bet I can still tell you a few things you need to know."
"Okay, but this is really embarrassing."
"Do you trust me Manny?"
"Yeah, you know I do."
"Okay, let's go into the living room and get comfy."
He shrugged off his jacket and hung it on the coat hook by the door, settled into the couch with his cocoa, then waited for me to get comfortable beside him. I took a sip of my cocoa and thought about how to begin. I decided humor was the best way to ease the tension between us.
"Well, see there are birds, and there are bees..."
He cracked up laughing and I could see him visibly relax, and I began again, this time for real.
"I assume you know about safe sex and all that," I said, and he assured me that the sex ed classes at school had covered all that. "Okay, but there are other things you need to know. For instance, not letting your little head control your big head," I chuckled.
"I can remember what it was like being a teenage boy. I was horny all the time and jerking off two or three times a day. I was fortunate enough to have some cool friends who were as horny as I was, and we helped each other out occasionally, but I know not all boys have that option."
"You may be tempted to do things that you know are wrong, or risky, because of the hormones raging inside your body. You see, what your body is basically telling you is...that you're ready to breed."
I held up a hand to ward off his protest, "Your body doesn't know if you are gay or straight, it's just saying to you...the gun is loaded with real bullets and it's time to shoot some game," I said, causing us both to laugh.
"Why? I mean, why would teenage kids need to make babies?"
"Remember, at one time people didn't live as long as they do these days, and someone your age was in their prime. Girls were having babies as soon as they reached puberty, and well...our bodies are still working on the assumption that we are running out of time."
"Wow, I never really thought about that before. So in the old days, kids my age were making babies and stuff?"
"Yeah, getting married young, raising families, then dying young. The life expectancy back then was probably half what it is today."
"That sucks, so...my body is saying: I'm ready for sex...so what's wrong with doin' it?"
"Nothing, as far as I'm concerned, but..."
He rolled his eyes, "There's always a but," then he cracked up at the double meaning of the word.
"For gay guys especially," I teased, "What I was going to say is, that society in general has decided that a person should be at least 18 to have sex, even though the age of consent in most states is 16."
"What's that, the age of consent thing?"
"Well, it's a myth actually," I laughed, "it says that a kid that's 16 can agree to sex, but when it comes to a sixteen year old and an adult it never works. All the parents have to do is say the kid was forced, and the adult is history. But if it's two teens, and there's no more than a few years difference in ages, it's usually okay."
Manny sighed, "So, like if me and Jason did stuff, that's okay...legal and stuff?"
"Yes, unless of course one of you forced the other to do things."
"Oh, you mean like rape?"
"Yes, consent means permission. So if you consent to have sex, you're saying yes."
"Okay, I won't rape Jason then," he giggled, "but I'd let him rape me."
I rolled my eyes, "Get serious man. Where was I?"
"About society not wanting kids to have sex."
"Oh yeah. I guess one reason is because we obviously don't want a bunch of teenage girls and boys making babies. But the thing is, just because society doesn't approve of underage sex, that doesn't keep kids from getting horny and doing it anyway. That's one reason the schools and social services have started teaching sex ed, and helping kids have safe sex. They aren't condoning the sex however, just making sure that there are no unwanted pregnancies or passing of STD's."
"What's con...done mean...is that a rubber?"
I laughed, "No that's condom, condone means allowing or encouraging something. What the adults are saying is, we don't want you to have sex, but we know you are probably going to anyway, so here's how to be safe. Some parents even go so far as to buy their teenagers condoms if they know they are sexually active, and most health clinics give them away as well."
"Wow, that's a lot to think about, but I don't need no condoms...do I?"
"Not at this point, but if you ever become sexually active and practice anal sex, then yes...you would."
Manny blushed, "I never thought about the butt stuff before. Isn't that gross and nasty?"
I smiled, "Tell a hard penis that."
He laughed, "Yeah, I guess I see, but I'm not ready for anything like that."
"And that's fine, really. In fact, my own thinking is, 15 is a bit young for sex, period. I think 16 is a better age, but all kids mature at different rates, so...I guess it is possible for some kids to be ready at a younger age."
"How old were you when you had sex?" Manny asked, taking me completely off guard.
"I thought so," he laughed, "Probably 12," he added cracking up.
"I'll have you know I was 13," I confessed, "but I was mature for my age."
"Uh huh. Just admit it, that rule is lame."
"Okay, okay...but what's important above all else is not how old you are, but how mature you are, and how ready you are for the intimacy that comes with sex. It's not just about getting your rocks off you know? There's another person involved in a relationship and there needs to be more than sex. There needs to be mutual attraction and caring."
"But...what if two people, um...just want to have sex? I mean you don't have to love someone just to have fun, right?"
He had me there? How much casual sex had I had over the years? Gay men were even more prone to that kind of thing, and even some straight guys would occasionally find release with a gay guy, simply because of the no strings attached mentality.
"Good question, and I'm not gonna lie to you. Sometimes sex is just sex. It's like masturbating. You don't have to love your hand to find release that way, and casual sex can be sort of like that. But if there's another person involved, I find it's best if you at least like and respect that other person. You don't have to be in love with them or marry them, but you shouldn't use them either. Sex should be fun for both participants, and neither should feel used or neglected. That being said, I still find that the most satisfying sex is with someone I really care about, and I think you will too."
"Thanks Rob, for being honest," Manny said smiling, "I'm not sure I'm ready for the real thing, even if I did say I wanted a boyfriend for Christmas, but if Jason and I hit it off, then I wouldn't mind trying it. But..."
"Uh oh, here comes the but again," I joked.
"But I've never done that much with a boy before, so...how do I know if Jason's the right one if we don't...you know, try some stuff first?"
There was no easy answer to his question, but in the end I decided to just be honest, again, and tell him what I'd discovered in my own journey.
"15 is kind of young to make a commitment of any kind, but I know you're curious about sex, horny all the time, and eager to try things out. If you're like most 15 year-olds, you're hard more than you're soft and you jerk off at least twice a day, I know I did, so sex with another warm body is going to sound pretty good, right?'
"Yeah, really good," Manny said blushing.
"By your age, most boys have already had some kind of boy on boy sexual experience, even if it's only show and tell or mutual masturbation. Personally, I had done everything but anal by that age, and that actually made it easier when I did enter into my first committed relationship. What about you Manny? Have you ever messed with your buddies?"
"Uh, well...me and some guys jerked off a few times, and me and my cousin Miguel we did some stuff when I was like 12 or something. I liked it, but I was scared to act like I liked it too much, you know? Cause they might figure out I was gay and stuff."
"Typical behavior then, my cousins were a constant source of fun and information when I was a kid," I chuckled.
"So, is it okay for me and Jason to...to mess around even if we don't become boyfriends?"
"Absolutely," I said, surprising the heck out of Manny, who was no doubt expecting one of those wait till you're married speeches, "My personal belief is, that's part of getting to know someone. If you're not sexually compatible, then it won't matter how much you like the guy, you won't stay with him if he doesn't turn you on."
"Wow, I never thought of that. So, my new Christmas wish is: I want to mess around with Jason while we're on break."
"Well, like I said, not here, but I wish you luck," I laughed.
We talked for a long time that evening, pausing only to eat pizza, and continued to talk even as we ate. Manny had a good head on his shoulders, and a good heart, and whoever wound up with him as their significant other was going to be very lucky. I hoped it was Jason, but if not him, I was sure there was someone out there who could appreciate Manny.
At ten o'clock, Manny started for home, and as usual I watched him till he was out of sight. I envied him, he was on the threshold of something new and exciting, and all those wonderful firsts to yet experience. First love, first sex, first heart break. Yes, even that was life affirming, and though it hurt for a while, our hearts were meant to heal, and they soon do, and love on the rebound can be fun and exciting.
I turned off the lights in the living room, unplugged my little tree, and headed to bed, but it was quite sometime before I was able to fall asleep. I kept thinking about how I'd first met Manny when he'd came caroling at my door. I hadn't been kidding when I said his voice was that of an angel, and I wondered if anyone else appreciated it for what it really was, a gift from Heaven.
He'd said his father didn't understand, and that he wasn't pleased with his voice, and that was so unfair. Manny's voice should be heard, not hidden away, and I made a mental note to talk to his folks about that, the first chance I got.
Sunday dawned bright and early and the snow had begun to melt a little, but there was still a nice snow cover, and the weatherman said we were due more later in the week, guaranteeing us a white Christmas. I was excited about the holiday since I'd met Manny and his mom and siblings, and was looking forward to Christmas for the first time since I'd moved here.
Though I'd seen and talked to Manny's mom a couple times since she'd visited me, I had yet to meet Manny's dad, and I wondered if he was avoiding me, or if Manny and his mom were keeping me a secret. I didn't like keeping secrets or being a secret, so that day when Manny showed up I asked him about his papa.
"Does your dad know about me?" I asked point blank when we were settled in.
"Yes," he said simply.
"And, what does he think about the whole situation?"
Manny shrugged, "My papa and I do not talk much. He and mama talked it over and he did not say no, so I do not ask questions."
"I see, and he didn't ask to meet me?"
Manny shrugged, "I don't know. Mama only said that everything was fine. My papa is a strong willful man, but mama knows how to handle him," he said grinning.
"Still, I'd feel more comfortable if I at least introduced myself," I said, making a decision I hoped I wouldn't regret.
Manny's eyes grew big and he looked at me as if he was about to say something, then he relaxed and just shrugged again. "He is home if you want to go see him. He is usually in a good mood on Sunday, because he doesn't have to work."
"What do you think Manny, should I introduce myself, or just leave things alone?"
"It's up to you. I don't think it will matter one way or the other."
"Hey, how can he resist my charming personality?" I teased.
"Trust me, my papa is a hard man to get to know."
"Well, I feel like I should try. Want to come introduce me to him?"
"Okay, if you want to go, I will go with you," he said looking a little nervous.
"Come on, we have nothing to hide, right? Let's do this?" I said hopping up.
I slipped on my boots and grabbed my coat while Manny did the same, and a few minutes later we were on our way to Manny's house. His father's pickup was parked in the drive, and in the bed of it were a few pieces of scrap lumber and a half square of shingles. I knew his dad worked construction and remodeling, a sort of a jack of all trades, and I knew that it was very hard work, and I admired him for his devotion to his family. He might be a hard man to deal with, but it was obvious he was a good man from the way he took care of his family.
Manny opened the door and led me inside where the two little ones were playing on the rug in front of a small flat screen TV. When they saw us they jumped up and swarmed Manny, who picked up his little sister and carried her along as his little brother hung onto his leg.
"Hi," Sofia said in a soft shy voice.
"Hi Sofia," I said patting the little girl and getting a big smile from her.
"Hola," Julio giggled looking up at me. He was obviously not shy in the least, or at least not around me, because he let go of Manny's leg and grabbed onto my hand.
We finally made it to the dining room just in time for Maria, their mom, to pop her head out of the kitchen to see who had entered. When she saw me she smiled, but I could tell that she was a little nervous about my sudden appearance.
"Hello Mrs. Rodriquez," I said smiling warmly, "I was wondering if your husband was home."
"Hello," Mr. Rodriquez said, suddenly appearing from the back of the house and looking me over carefully.
I was sure he knew who I was, we'd seen each other from a distance many times, but it was as if he had to make sure I was real or something.
"Hello, Mr. Rodriquez," I said walking over to shake hands.
His grip was strong, but not crushing, a real man's handshake, and he gave me a small smile as we shook.
"I'm sorry to disturb you on a Sunday, but I just wanted to meet you sir."
"Please sit down," he said pointing to the table, then to Manny, "Manny, take your brother and sister to your room and play."
"Yes papa," Manny said, giving me a frightened look.
Had I messed up by coming to meet Mr. Rodriquez? Should I have just left well enough alone? Was I about to get a dressing down by Manny's papa, and perhaps lose all that I'd gained?
Maria sat a cup of coffee before us without asking, then sat down at the end of the table and waited for her husband to begin.
"Manny and my wife tell me that you are helping my son...with his problem, and to fit in. I do not understand this thing, this gay thing, but my wife and my son have convinced me that it is not his fault, and that he is still a good person inside. I do not know why he is different. We did nothing to make him this way, and yet he likes boys and not girls. What am I to do?" He said shaking his head, "I can not ignore him, he is my son, but I cannot accept what he is. The church says it is wrong for two men to love one another..."
"Actually, the church has changed their position on this subject over the years. Not all religions mind you, but many have come to accept that love is love, regardless of whether it's between two men, or a man and a woman. Manny didn't ask to be born this way, and nothing you did caused this. It is simply the way God intended him to be. My personal feeling is, God doesn't make mistakes, and Manny is perfect just as he is."
"But you are...like him, are you not?" Mr. Rodriquez said staring me down.
"I will not deny that I am gay, but that only gives me more insight into the situation. As I have told your wife and Manny, I have no interest in Manny that way. I only want to help him figure out who he is and be there to support him as he does so. He's young and vulnerable right now, and he is struggling with his feelings. He's a good kid, and he cares about others. He's a good brother and a good son, is he not?
Mr. Rodriquez grunted, "Except for this one thing. I cannot help him with this thing, and if you can...then I guess I will allow it to go on."
"As I told your wife, you are welcome to check up on us anytime you'd like. We have nothing to hide. All I want to do is help."
"Si, I hope you can."
"While we're talking though, there is one thing I'd like to discuss with you. It's something that has bothered Manny a lot..."
Later, back at my house, Manny couldn't wait to get in the front door before he was asking me questions about what his father and I talked about. Once our boots and coats were off, I sat him down on the sofa and filled him in.
"So, everything is fine?" he asked at last.
"Yes, in fact...I'd say things are actually better than before."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know how you told me that you enjoyed singing, but that your papa thought it was foolishness?"
"Well, I think I've convinced him your voice is a gift, and...he has agreed to let you sing in the chorus at school."
"What, no way!" Manny said jumping up, "Really, you did that for me?" he added, jumping on me and hugging me fiercely.
I hugged back, warmed by his show of affection, and smiled, "Yes, and he said he would even come to see you sing."
"That is so wonderful," Manny said sitting back down, then he frowned, "but...it's too late to be in the Christmas program at school."
"Maybe, maybe not. You should talk to the choral instructor and explain your situation, maybe she will let you sing, even if you don't get any credit for it."
"I guess I could. She is very nice, and she tried to get me to join up when the year began."
"I'm sure she'd be glad to have a voice like yours to add to the choir. It can't hurt to ask."
"I will ask, tomorrow...I will stay after school and go see her. Thanks Rob, thanks so much."
I was happy to see him so excited about something as simple as this, and I just knew things would turn out okay. What choir director wouldn't want an angel's voice in their midst?
We talked for a while longer, but around 5 o'clock Manny said he had to get home for supper. He said Sunday dinner was very special because the whole family was always there. I walked him to the door and he threw himself against me again and hugged me, then he was off, sprinting toward home. He turned once, running backwards and waved, and I waved back.
I returned the work the next day, but I thought about Manny all day long and couldn't wait to find out what happened. I arrived home just before four o'clock, and not long after Manny came knocking on the door.
"Hey buddy," I said letting him in, "I assume from the huge smile on your face that you got in?"
"Yess," He said excitedly, "I even got a solo part. I have to practice it, but I already know the words. It's Silent Night."
"Oh Manny, that's so wonderful. When is the program? I will be sure to be there."
"Really? It's Wednesday night at the High School Auditorium at 7."
"Great, and what did your papa say? Is he going to go?"
"Yes, he said he would take off work early so he could be there. He would never have done that if it hadn't been for you."
"I think your mom might have something to do with his change of attitude as well. She loves the both of you, and she just wants the two of you to work this out."
"I think he might be feeling better about things, but I am still careful what I say around him."
"Hey, I just remembered, tomorrow is the big day, right? You're meeting Jason. Did you talk to him about meeting here?"
"Yes, at first he was kind of worried, but when I told him you were like friends of the family, he said it was cool. We'll come down right after school, okay? He can only stay till 6 though, then he has to be home to do something with his family."
"That's fine. I'll fix you guys a snack, then leave you alone so you can talk, or watch TV or...whatever," I laughed.
"You said no sex, right?" he said seriously, "what about kissing?'
"Kissing is okay, but if you get that far, I'd be surprised. Don't move too fast, okay? Get to know him first and make sure he's on the same page as you are."
"That means that he's thinking like you are. In other words, make sure he's into you before you shove your tongue down his throat."
"Gross," Manny laughed, "I know, I know. I'm not going to rape him, just talk to him and see if I can figure him out."
We talked a while longer, then Manny said he had to get home and he gave me a quick hug after I walked him to the door. I watched as he bounced down the driveway and I smiled. I hoped things worked out for him and Jason, but I wondered what that would mean for our friendship. Still, I wanted Manny to be happy, and if Jason was what he needed, then I'd do everything I could to help him get the boy of his dreams.
The next day, I arrived home from work to find Manny and a handsome boy that I assumed was Jason waiting for me on my front porch. When I opened the garage door, Manny took the hint and led the boy into the garage, and as I emerged from the car, introductions were made.
Jason was cute enough and I could certainly see why Manny was smitten with him. He had brownish blond hair and grey-blue eyes that were mesmerizing. He was what I thought of as average or typical for a boy his age, but even through his clothing I could see he was fit from hours of playing soccer and other sports.
Jason seemed very shy at first, but after we went inside and I got us something to drink he seemed to loosen up some. Once I had them settled however, I excused myself to my home office and left them to get better acquainted.
I'll confess, I was curious as hell as to what they might be doing out there all alone, but I wasn't worried about anything sexual going on. Manny had assured me that was not his intention, and let's face it, they knew I was only one room away, so even if they were tempted, they'd no doubt be too worried about me suddenly popping in on them to try anything.
I hoped they would break the ice with this first meeting and maybe that would lead to more, but I had no doubt that Manny would keep me in the loop as they went forward. I paid some bills and answered some emails and was about to pull up something to read when there was a soft knock on the door. I called for whoever it was to come in and Manny came in smiling sheepishly.
"Where's your buddy?" I said returning his smile.
"Bathroom, uh...is it okay if we play some PS2?"
"Sure, I don't have too many games but help yourself. I hardly ever play so the thing is probably dusty," I teased.
"Okay, and can we get another pop?"
"Of course. Manny, you're welcome to help yourself to some snacks if you're hungry as well."
"Oh, okay...sure, thanks Rob. Well, gonna go now..." he said backing up a little.
"So, I guess it's going okay?" I said before he could leave.
"Yeah, but like I said, we're just getting to know each other. He's really cool," he said, and the look on his face said it all.
"Good, I'm glad. Well, get back out there and have fun. Let me know when you guys are ready to go."
"Oh, I will...see ya later, Rob."
I went back to my computer, but I couldn't help but think about the two boys getting to know each other in my living room. Young love was so sweet, so precious, and I was glad I could help Manny find it.
I was proofing a story I'd written for Nifty when I heard voices in the hall, and I quickly closed the window and turned just in time to see Manny open the door and peek in.
"I'm gonna walk Jason home, then if it's okay, I'll come back," Manny said hopefully.
"Okay, do you want to stay for dinner? Nothing fancy, just soup and grilled cheese, but you're welcome to stay."
"Okay, I will stop by and ask my mother. Thanks Rob, see you in a little while.
I walked the two to the door and placed my hand on Jason's shoulder as I said goodbye.
"It was so nice meeting a friend of Manny's. He's a good friend and I hope we can become friends too," I said sincerely.
"Oh, sure..." the boy said blushing, "nice to meet you too. Thanks for letting us hang out and all."
"No problem, anytime. Well, you boys be careful and I'll see you later, Manny."
When they were gone, I went to the kitchen and started digging out the stuff for dinner, just in case Manny could stay. He returned quicker than I'd anticipated and informed me he could stay for dinner, but had to be home by 8.
I had Manny help me, and in no time flat we had dinner on the table and were sitting down to double-decker grilled-cheese sandwiches and hot steaming tomato soup, my own secret recipe. Manny liked chili seasoning in his, and I kept a shaker of it on the lazy-susan on the table.
"This is good," Manny assured me after sampling his soup.
"My secret recipe," I teased, "nothing like it on a cold day like today."
"So..." I said, finally breaching the subject of his and Jason's visit, "I assume you and Jason had a nice visit."
"Oh, yeah...it was great. We like a lot of the same things, and he's so nice," Manny said quickly, then he sipped his soup before continuing, "we held hands," he added, then went on eating as if he hadn't just dropped a bombshell.
"What," I sputtered, "really, this soon?"
"Well, it was kind of an accident," he said blushing, "see we were having trouble getting the PS2 to work and his hand accidentally touched mine but he didn't move it. He just sort of let it rest on mine and it felt so good, made me tingly all over...so...I just grabbed it and held it. At first I was afraid he'd get mad and hit me or something, or at least pull away, but he just grinned and squeezed my hand tighter.
"Oh wow, that's so romantic," I swooned, "so what happened then?'
"Well, we finally broke the handhold and played PS2, but we sat so close together that our legs were touching. It was great," he said looking love struck.
"That is so awesome. That's a really good start Manny. Maybe next time you can try a kiss on the cheek."
"Yeah, I was thinking that, or...on the lips."
"Yeah, just take it slow, and by Christmas you just might have that boyfriend," I chuckled.
Manny helped me clean up the mess, then we loaded the dishwasher andI started it before we retired to the living room. As he often did, Manny piled down next to the little Christmas tree on the table by the couch and fiddled with the lights and ornaments, moving a few of them around to suit him.
His face, lit up by the twinkling lights, was so beautiful, and once again I thought how angelic he looked. Not only could he sing like an angel, he looked like one as well, and had a heart of gold.
We watched TV, talking a little about this and that, but mostly we just enjoyed each other's company, and when it was time for Manny to go I felt a little sad. Again he hugged me at the door and then thanked me for being his friend and for letting him and Jason come over.
I realized that once again that for the first time in a long time I was happy and felt useful and vital once more. I had a mission, and that mission was simple: help Manny navigate the waters of adolescence and be the best person he could be.
Manny came down the next day around five but he didn't stay long. He said that he and Jason had sat together at lunch and on the bus on the way home. He said there were no opportunities to hold hands again, but that they sat really close on the bus and that was pretty exciting.
We talked about the concert that night and firmed up our plans for me to attend, then he was off like a shot. I stared after him, thinking about how wonderful my life was with this ball of energy in it. I was really looking forward to hearing him sing and I hoped this would only be the first time of many that I would get to hear my angel sing.
The Angel Sings
That night, at the program, I followed the Rodriquez family in their ten year old Ford Taurus to the high school he attended and nervously followed them inside the auditorium. I think I was as nervous as Manny, but Julio and Sofia helped me to forget my jitters with their infectious laughter and shenanigans.
Finally, it was time for the program to begin and the audience of mostly parents, siblings, and grandparents, fell quiet as the Principal read a few announcements then turned the program over to the choral director, Miss Perkins, a pretty young woman who looked to be in her early 20s.
She thanked the parents for coming and assured them they were in for a real treat, then suddenly the curtains opened, and there on a tiered stage were nearly two dozen students dressed in royal blue robes.
It was a stunning visual effect, and as I looked the glowing faces over, I finally found Manny's and we locked eyes for a moment. He gave me that sweet angelic smile, and I smiled back, then the music began and I was swept away by the majesty of the voices of those young performers.
I liked to think I could pick out Manny's voice among the others, but when his solo came, there was no doubt that his was the richest sweetest voice there. He sang from the heart, so perfect, so sweet, that I felt tears sting my eyes. I saw a lot of people, men and women alike wiping at their eyes as he continued to sing, yes, his momma and papa among them.
Julio, who had plopped down on my lap as soon as we sat down, was leaning back into me and looking up at my face. Once he reached up and wiped a tear from my cheek and looked confused, then seeing his momma and papa were also tearful, he just shrugged.
When Manny's solo ended, the choir wrapped up the song, then moved into the next one, and the moment passed. I still believed I could hear Manny's rich sweet voice above all the others, and though he was surrounded by all those other talented singers, I only had eyes and ears for him.
There was a short intermission, and when the show resumed the kids were in street clothes and there were backdrops that looked like houses. The kids then proceeded to go from door to door of the fake houses and sing traditional Christmas carols.
They finished the program by facing the audience once more and sang several songs, inviting the audience to sing along, and despite not having the best singing voice, I couldn't resist adding my voice to the hundreds of others all around me. Mrs. Rodriquez, Maria, had a very nice voice, and I couldn't help but compare it to Manny's. Mr. Rodriquez sang so softly I could barely hear him, but the two little kids were loud and bawdy and thoroughly enjoyed the singalong.
When the program was over, we waited out front for Manny and he soon appeared, all smiles. His momma pulled him into a hug and kissed his cheek and told him how wonderful he sounded, and even his papa mumbled his compliments.
"Manny, you did good buddy," I said giving him a high-five, which Julio insisted on mimicking.
"Thanks, it was fun. Miss Perkins said I could do more solos from now on."
"She knows talent when she hears it," I chuckled.
"Can I ride home with Rob?" Manny finally asked after we'd visited a while.
"I guess, but it's a school night, so come straight home," his father said, but he sounded happy for a change.
"Did you see Jason there?" Manny asked as soon as we were in the car.
"No, I'm sorry. I didn't think to look for him. Did he promise to come?"
"Yeah, I saw him with his mom, and he waved and I waved back, but that was before we got on stage."
"Well, I'm sure he was as impressed as we were. He's probably swooning by now, and eager to get you alone again," I teased.
"I hope so Rob. I can't wait to see him in the morning."
"Well, Christmas break will be coming up real soon and maybe you guys will have more time to hang out."
"At your house?" Manny said grinning.
"Sure, as long as you follow the rules, no sex."
"Aww...no fair," he said, then laughed, "I'm kidding. We're not that close...yet."
"Well, you're 15, and I know you have...urges, but just take it slow. You'll get there eventually."
"I know, I know," Manny sighed, "next...maybe kissing."
"That's a good next step. I'm sure he's as eager as you are to taste those luscious lips of yours," I teased.
He pursed his lips and smiled, "I should practice or something."
"Yeah, find some girl at school and practice on her," I joked.
"Nah, I don't wanna kiss no girl. I'll wait for Jason."
I dropped Manny off at his house and drove on home, then parked the car in the garage as usual. It had been an enjoyable evening and I felt good about being able to help Manny fulfill his dreams of singing. His papa seemed to be agreeable to everything that had happened, but I worried about what his reaction would be if he discovered Manny was trying to find a boyfriend. At that age however, it was not unusual for boys to have best friends who were boys, and I hoped Mr. Rodriquez would see Jason as that, and nothing more. Only time would tell if Manny and Jason became a couple, but I vowed to help Manny keep the secret, if, and when the time came. It was with these thoughts on my mind that I ended my day.
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