tagFirst Time'Twas the Night Before Christmas

'Twas the Night Before Christmas


It was cold outside, but inside Haller's Auto Repair it was warm with the bodies and the breath of men and the cooling engines of cars that people brought in to be worked on, and fragrant with that peculiar bouquet of engine oil, gasoline and dust that characterizes all garages. Since Christmas was approaching, it also smelled of the pine garlands tied up with red ribbons that Haller's wife had made and hung from the walls. Eugene Wanzack, the youngest of Haller's employees, was doing a minor tune-up on Harvey Beck's Ford. He was a sturdy, dark-haired young man of average height, with gray eyes and a squarish, Slavic sort of face that often bore a faintly worried look, but right now he was happy, because he was exactly where he wanted to be. Beck was good about keeping his car maintained, and all it had needed was the oil and other fluids checked and changed, and a new set of plugs. Everyone was trying to avoid starting any job that would hang over into the following day; it would just have to wait until the day after Christmas because everyone was going to be off.

Albert Reems, one of the other mechanics, said, "Hey, Gene, have you decided where you're going to stay tonight?"

"I guess I have till the end of the day to do that," he said as he adjusted the gap on a plug.

He had two choices: he could either stay in town, in his apartment in Matthew Haller's home behind the garage, or he could go home to his parents' farm, outside of town. Going home had its appeal; his mother was a good cook, and the whole family would be there. During the war, they had been one short on Christmas, as his older brother Adam had been in France and England, mostly disabling unexploded bombs and mortars that had landed in people's back yards, but he was home now. Zandra and her husband would probably drop in themselves. Zandra was not the most domestic of wives, and if she could eat someone else's cooking on Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day, she would. Later on Christmas Day they would visit Uncle Victor and Aunt Ruby and their bunch.

The very things that made going home appealing were also a good reason to stay where he was.

He had been living in the Hallers' home since the summer of '43; Haller had persuaded Anton Wanzack to let him learn all he could teach him about the art, science and business of car repair, and pointed out that if Gene lived on the premises, it would save Anton having to carry him back and forth every morning and evening. He spent so much time in the garage as it was that he might as well hang around and get paid into the bargain. Anton had consented under the condition that Gene stayed in high school long enough to graduate; it puzzled and irked him that a kid of his should be uninterested in higher education when he'd had to fight his father for every day of schooling he had. Zandra had been to veterinary school and Adam was majoring in electrical engineering at UT. Further, he saw the arrangement as an apprenticeship, pure and simple, and an Old World, old-fashioned way of doing things. But he figured he'd have better luck hanging onto the south end of a northbound bull, to keep Gene on the farm.

Gene's apartment had a rudimentary kitchen, but he had hardly used it in the three years he'd been there; Matthew and Clara Haller expected from the outset that he would take his meals with them, and he dined heartily on food that had a hearty, European, pre-War solidity and plentitude. Adam, who stayed thin as a rail no matter what he ate, had warned him in one of his letters not to get fat. Gene wasn't worried. Taking out and re-installing engines, differentials and transmissions, and wrestling tires on and off their rims was enough to keep any man fit. And he had reveled in the attention he received from the couple, as if he were the son they'd never had; he hadn't realized how much he had craved this until he got it. He had often felt shuffled aside, a mere spectator to the crisis and drama that just naturally seemed to blow up around his siblings.

And then there was that special bond between them; not that they tried to leave him out; they just did, they couldn't help it, for all that they would back him up in a fight. The closeness had worried Anton and Marie; they felt it was intense to the point of being...well, unhealthy. But the plain fact was, neither of them was the other's type: the women Adam looked at were girlier than Zandra had ever been or could be on her best day; and Zandra had married her type—big and brawny and strong enough to overpower her physically if he wanted to, but easygoing, and with all due respect to Dennis, he was a good man—not quite as intelligent as she was. It was this, Gene thought, which kept them off each other, more than fear of hellfire.

While he was musing on these matters, a black 1940 Caddy purred into the garage. Gene looked up. The door opened, and out from the car, first of all, issued a pair of slender, well-turned legs, taut and shining in one of the few pairs of nylon stockings existing in Koenigsburg; clothes rationing might be over, but some things were still rare. A young woman descended from the driver's seat, her dress riding up in a tantalizing manner as she did so. She shut the door of the Caddy, smoothed her skirts down, and came toward him. She had honey-colored hair that she wore in a long pageboy and a naturally melancholy cast to her face, unless she smiled. There were certainly prettier girls around, but on the other hand, besides those legs, she had the best rack he'd ever seen.

"Hello, Gene. Hello, Albert," she said, noticing Gene's colleague. "I'm going out, but Aunt Clara wanted me to stop in and ask you if you were staying at the house or going home to your family tonight." She smiled.

As quickly as that, Gene made his decision. "I reckon I'm staying in," he said. "Tell Miss Clara I'll see her after work."

"Will do," the young woman said. "I'll see you at supper, then." She smiled at him, turned around and went back to her car, her skirt swishing around her legs and her round rump swaying gently as she walked. As the car backed out, he turned his attention back to his work. He wondered why women had to truss themselves up in these torturous-looking underpinnings that might just as well be made out of steel plate, like the armor the knights of old wore, and kept them from looking natural in their clothes. He much preferred the way her breasts looked under her dressing gown, when he passed her in the hall in the mornings when everyone was just getting up. They seemed to shift and strain at the satin cloth of the robe as if they were live things, longing for fresh air, and if it was cold, her nipples—about the size of 3/8" acorn nuts, he thought—sprang out in vivid relief. He could almost imagine the weight and density of those fine Zeppelin breasts in his hands, the nipples pointing up in his palms—

"Boy, you're gapping that plug way too wide," Albert said. "Mr. Beck's car ain't gonna start nohow like that. And you better adjust yourself, before ever'body else in here sees what you're thinkin' about." He looked pointedly at Gene's lap, where the front of his pants was being tented by an all too obvious hard-on. Gene blushed and shifted the treacherous object into a less obtrusive position and tried to quit thinking impure thoughts. They'd gotten him in enough trouble already.

Cora was Matt Haller's niece, the child of his brother, who was an indirect casualty of WWI. He had been exposed to gas in Aisne and his lungs had never been any good after that; when the flu epidemic hit, he caught it too, and he died. When a few years later, his wife also died, Matt and Clara took their child to raise. The girl had a right to look melancholy, even so; except for her uncle and aunt's care, she had received some unlucky breaks: orphaned by WWI, she had been widowed by WWII. The last thing her husband had done before going off to Europe was to get her pregnant, but she lost the baby.

As she was young and healthy, she soon recovered from the miscarriage physically, but she was depressed for a while after. Sometimes Gene would bring her a cup of tea, when he was in the house, or something funny from a magazine or paper that he had cut out, to cheer her up, and they became friends as they never could have when they were younger. To a boy, a girl two or three years older seemed as distant as the moon. One evening, to his astonished pleasure, he found himself walking with her to the drugstore—she said she was in the mood for ice cream, and asked him if he wanted to come along. It was Saturday, and a few of his ex-classmates were in there with their dates. He wondered if anybody would think this little expedition was a date. She disabused him of that idea when the Sundaes came and he began to get out his wallet.

"Put your money away, Gene," she said. "You don't have to get my ice cream. I'm getting it for both of us. It was my idea." Gene put his money away. It was plain that she didn't think it was a date. He began to relax.

That was last year, but now everything was different. And it was his fault.

On summer Sundays, very little happened. There was hardly anywhere to go, and in the heat of the day, everything and everybody shut down. After dinner was finished and cleared away, it was a good time to take a nap. It was too hot to do anything else. That was what Matt and Clara were doing, and Gene presumed that Cora was doing the same thing. He was feeling sleepy, himself, but he was also thinking about the peach pie they'd had for dessert; he had turned down a second piece, and now he was wishing he hadn't. He padded into the kitchen in his trousers, undershirt, and no shoes, and got another piece of pie, which he ate standing up next to the sink, looking out the window. When he was done he put the pie back in the pie safe and rinsed his plate and fork, putting them on the drain board to dry.

His place was at the end of the hall; one then turned right and went up a short staircase to a tiny landing. Cora's room was just opposite the passage. The latch to her door was bad; unless she closed it hard, leaned on it and listened for the click of the latch to make sure it had caught, it came open, and since nothing in an old house was quite level, the door would swing a little ajar. She had been after both the men in the house to do something about it—after all, she said, a pair of ace mechanics ought to be equal to fixing a doorknob—but so far nobody had got around to it.

Gene paused at the end of the dim corridor. She'd probably meant to close the door this time, and as usual the latch had slipped out and the door fallen open. He thought maybe he should pull it to for her. As he stepped forward to grab the knob, he saw into Cora's room. And all thought of pulling the door to completely fled his mind.

She was reclining in a chair of peach-colored velvet, her aqua blue satin dressing gown fallen open. Her naked body was everything that he had been wondering about or could have hoped for, from her luscious breasts to her tiny waist to her well-shaped legs, which were parted and spread wide, to reveal...well, more than he was expecting. Her luxuriant bush was a shade or two darker than her hair, and in its midst, like the flesh of a splitting-ripe fruit, her cunt swelled and glistened. Growing up on a farm, he had seen the parts of various female animals, in heat or not, and although he'd never had a clear look at a human female's parts before, he saw more similarities than differences. What he had not expected to see was the fingers of her right hand skidding wetly over all this suddenly complicated and exotic flesh, now slipping into her vagina, now parting over and bracketing the bud-like nub of her clitoris. While he watched, entranced, she brought forth from the folds of her robe a thick, partially-used candle, the blunt end of which she first slid up and down her slit, and then plunged halfway up inside her. She slowly began to slide it in and out. His gaze shifted between the utterly fascinating way the dark-rose inner lips of her pussy yielded and then clung to the white shaft of the candle, and the concentrated, inward look on her face.

He had taken for granted that Cora grieved over the loss of her child and missed the companionship of her husband. It had not occurred to him that she missed anything else.

His cock had sprung into ferocious readiness with the speed of a fire hose filling up, and was straining against the front of his trousers. He was barely breathing as he watched the woman's hips rocking to meet the thrusts of the candle, the long muscles of her thighs flexing, faster and faster. A few more thrusts, and she jammed the candle up and in a final time, and her body abruptly pronated and stiffened. Contractions rippled up the muscles of her belly. He heard the heavy panting of her breath.

He thought that if he didn't come himself, he would die. There wasn't time even to shove his hand down his pants, let alone open them; he grabbed his cock from the outside, and the encircling pressure of his hand was enough. He gasped as his climax slammed through his body. At that time, Cora relaxed, spent, and then looked up to realize that her door was open. Wild-eyed, she yanked the candle out and shoved it down the side of the chair, and was on her feet, her robe wrapped tightly around her body. It was just a few steps from there to her door, but, he thought afterward, there should have been time to get away. He didn't. He couldn't. She jerked the door open and there he was, hapless, helpless to do anything but what he was doing, gripping his cock which was pulsating wildly in his hand and making a spreading stain on the front of his trousers. She looked at him, her eyes wide, her face flushing; when the door banged shut in his face—and that time she put her shoulder to it and it clicked—he was able to move. He was back in his apartment so quickly he couldn't remember how he'd gotten there.

For a little while he stood with his back to his door as if something or someone were after him, trembling with shock and embarrassment. Despite the heavy warmth of the room, he felt cold. For several minutes he remained like that, waiting for the world to end.

Evidence, he thought. He had to get rid of the evidence. Making sure that his own door was locked, he stripped off his lower garments, feeling his spunk already cooling, congealing, and causing his boxers to cleave to the end of his abashed dick. He put on a pair of clean ones and threw the soiled trousers and underwear into the sink in his small kitchen, running hot water onto them. He attacked the clothing with soap flakes and a scrubbing brush, obsessed with the idea that no one must see the evidence of what he had done. Usually Mrs. Haller was kind enough to wash his clothing if he left them in a basket outside his door, but not these, no, never these. When he was sure the clothes were clean, he wrung as much water out of them as he could and hung them over a chair, and his window sill, to dry. He lay down on his bed in his underwear, looking up at the ceiling without really seeing it. His mind was a whirling chaos of images and fragmented suppositions. He'd never considered that a woman might have a need to do—that—the way a man did. He'd thought that girls were somehow...above all that. If some of them were not, maybe none of them was. It hardly bore thinking about.

He thought of Cora's face when she had opened her door and seen him, and wondered what she must be thinking of him. Was she thinking he was some kind of pervert, some kind of peeping tom? In a way, he was, but he hadn't looked at her on purpose. He just hadn't been able to look away. Would she tell on him? Surely not, when he had seen her as well...but it wasn't as if he would say anything.

For the next several days when they met each other in the house, they could hardly look at each other. Gene noticed the Hallers looking at both of them with puzzlement and a little concern, and dreaded the moment when one or the other of them would demand some kind of explanation from him. They would not have been the only ones. He could use a few explanations, himself; he wished there were someone he could talk to. Anybody he worked with was out of the question. The priest? He hadn't been to confession since he'd left home, and he would be doing penance from now until next summer. He thought briefly of talking to his father, or his brother. One was a possibility, although Anton would probably just remind him that blue-balledness was a natural condition for a man of his station of life, as surely as a flower had to be a bud first. As for Adam...he used to be a romantic, falling in love at least once a year, but the war had changed him. There was a woman, a good-looking widow who lived between Koenigsburg and the next town, who would let certain gentlemen call on her and spend the night, as long as they understood that they were to leave money on her dresser the next morning...That was the kind of advice his older brother would give him. It wasn't his business, but it seemed to Gene like an unsatisfactory way to operate. That left his sister, so a couple of Sundays after this event had taken place, he borrowed one of the garage cars and went to his brother-in-law's farm. He found Dennis there alone.

"It's Sunday!" he said. "What's she doing out on calls?"

"It's not like animals know to put off being sick until Monday. Well, Dr. Muldaur promised to take her into his practice, and it looks like that starts with taking over his Sunday business. She gave me a list of where she was going to be..." He pulled a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket. "Looks like you're going to have to chase her down. You want me to come with you?"

"You don't have to," Gene said, "unless you just want to see her."

"That's all right," Dennis said with a grin. "I know she's coming home."

He ran her down at the Elsings' farm, where she was examining a horse. She looked surprised to see him. "You look a little down in the mouth," she said. "What's going on with you?" She gave him a sharp look. "Something bothering you? Tell me about it. But it'll cost you." Gene looked at her questioningly. "Just hold this beast's head while I get this dose of medicine down him, will you?"

She listened while he related his story, one corner of her mouth twitching. "Well, blow me down," she said when he was done. "And here I thought you'd made up your mind to die young." "It's not funny," Gene said. "If Mr. Haller had caught me, I would have died young."

"You know what I mean. You were always the good kid of us three. I must say, when you decide to bust loose, you do it up brown. Anyway, he didn't catch you and he won't find out unless she tells him, and I'd bet a week's pay she won't do that. You've got a Mexican standoff here. Another thing: for all you know, she could have been thinking about you..."

"That's crazy," Gene said. "She thinks I'm a kid."

"Do you think so? You're not, you know." She was right. Now that high school was behind them, he and his classmates were sorting themselves out into what they would be doing with their lives; some, to work their family's land, some to take jobs in town, some to college or the military. Many of them had paired off already. He was keeping his eyes and his options open. As the best-behaved of the Wanzack kids, he'd had his share of pleasant dates, but the older he got, the more he found that some of the girls' parents were giving them The Talk—the one that invariably included the phrase, "His folks are good, good people, but..." But. But. The family's obscure eastern European origins, and their eccentricity. The fact that they worked the land, and didn't live in town. Maybe he should have considered going to college. Trouble was, when he thought of it, he couldn't see himself there. He couldn't imagine anything at a university as interesting and challenging as working on cars. The other men in the shop made enough money to live decently and support a family. Now that he was through with school, he was working more hours and starting to make more money, most of which he banked. He was saving up for a car of his own...

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