"Okay," Ryan had said, but he hadn't seemed excited about it.

"It'll just be for a couple of hours," Jacky said.

Mrs. Jennings found a parking space about a mile from the mall entrance. When they entered the chaotic crowd of shoppers, they parted ways. "Meet here at five," she told them.

Ryan followed Jacky into Bath & Body Works. Jacky didn't say he was getting a gift for his mother. He was sure Ryan's mood had something to do with this being his first Christmas without his mom. Quickly he found the lotion she liked and paid for it.

"What do you want for Christmas?" Jacky asked, nudging Ryan with his elbow.

Ryan shrugged. He had his hands jammed in his pockets and was looking around at the holiday decorations.

"No? No ideas? Like..." Jacky gazed into the store windows for ideas. "A book? An extra phone charger? A scarf?" All these ideas sounded stupid even as he said them. Ryan didn't look interested, either. "How about some sexy underwear?" Jacky said as they passed Victoria's Secret.

"Can we split up for a bit?" Ryan said suddenly, stopping. A woman pushing a double stroller had to swerve around them. "I have some presents to buy too."

Jacky felt his face burning. Shit, had his suggestion been that bad? "Yeah," he mumbled. "Remember we have to meet back by the food court at five."

"Sure. See you then." Ryan started to walk away. Jacky pulled out his phone to look at the time. Three o'clock. Two hours at the mall by himself? Ugh.

Then, across the open atrium, on the other side of the mall, he saw Lance and Matt walking with a skinny, dark-haired kid who Jacky knew was Lance's younger brother. Of course, that was why Ryan had bolted. He hadn't wanted to be seen with Jacky. Fine. Jacky stormed into the GAP and glared at the store employee who greeted him.

Why was he even bothering to buy something for Ryan? It was like Cody said. He was Ryan's secret boyfriend and Ryan was never going to come out of the closet and acknowledge him in public. He pushed his hand through a pile of cable-knit scarves. The blue one would look really nice on Ryan, and it was soft Merino wool. Jacky sighed and left the store without buying anything.

Standing against the railing, he looked down at the first floor, where families were lined up for photos with Santa. GameStop was down there, and he saw his mom's familiar belted jacket at the counter. In the other direction, he saw Ryan's friends looking at the hoverboards at one of the kiosk booths in the middle of the mall. They must have gone down the escalator.

He had figured Ryan was heading straight for his other friends, but the only blond head was Lance's. Jacky stood there watching them for a while, until he was sure that Ryan wasn't ditching him to hang out with his other friends. Then he wandered through the mall.

He stopped in Spencer's and found a suitably stupid gag gift for Cody. The store had nothing that made Jacky think of Ryan. He moved on.

What would Ryan even like? Jacky knew Ryan's interests, sure. Football. Drawing. School. God, he barely knew Ryan at all.

In his head he made a more specific list. Ryan liked pepperoni pizza, and Brokeback Mountain, and the color blue. Ryan liked full-body hugs and when Jacky kissed his neck. It was a nice list, but not one that translated into gift ideas.

Jacky passed the music store. He didn't know what music Ryan liked, or if he even liked music.

Maybe there was something Ryan needed, now that he lived at the group home. Jacky was sure they would provide Ryan with the basics: food, clothing, stuff like toothpaste and shampoo. He sighed. Ryan didn't even use hair gel or anything.

Cologne! Jacky doubled back and went into Macy's. There was a whole counter of men's cologne. He started sniffing.

"Looking for anything special?" asked a saleslady, who had her hair teased up into a tall pouf.

"Nope, just looking," he said quickly. He put down the tester and picked up another one. Ugh.

"That particular musk is very popular." The saleslady was still watching him. Her nametag said Kendall. "You might get a better sense of it if you spray it on this paper strip here." Kendall took a white piece of paper from the center of the display and spritzed it with the cologne. "There."

"Thanks." Jacky held it to his nose, unsure of why he was entertaining this woman. She was probably only taking an interest in him because she was afraid he'd steal some super-expensive cologne or something.

"What do you think?"


"Don't like that one? What kind of scent are you looking for?"


"Is this for you, or for your dad?"

Jacky felt his whole body drain of color.

One year he had gotten cologne for his dad. Old Spice. Yeah, pretty generic but he always wore it and Jacky liked the smell of it.

He backed away from Kendall and the cologne counter. Through blurring eyes he spotted the Old Spice display.

"Are you alright, young man?"

"I have to go," he said. Whirling around, he slammed into an older man with a cane. In horror, he watched as the man wobbled dangerously on his feet. The woman at his side, probably his wife, steadied him. "Sorry," he blurted out and hurried off.

Not fast enough to escape hearing them call him a "punk."

He gulped for air outside the store. Clean air, no scent of cologne. 

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