The door was open and he was so cold that only a pitbull could have kept him out. It was the third church he had tried. He had read the forecast in a discarded newspaper before he stuffed the pages in his sleeves. Anything to take the bite from the cold. He kicked himself for being so stupid. Getting caught looking was all it took to get around the school and then to his English teacher. Too bad he was also his father.
"How could you do this to me!" The words echoed long and deep.
He looked for a corner to be out of sight. He'd really like to be close to the candles; he wondered if they would notice one gone. Better not chance it. He made his way to the organ loft. It was warmer up there and no one goes there. He had to hurry, it was going to start soon. He found a corner in the loft with piles of things forgotten from other seasons. How appropriate, he thought, hiding amongst the other things forgotten. He snuggled in, pulling a half eaten apple from his pocket he picked the lint off of it before eating the rest. "Small bites," he told himself. "Make it last longer. Small bites."
The warmth of the material he had ensconced himself with was warm; so much warmer than his wet jeans and t-shirt. He shivered as his body fought to give up the cold. He felt good. This was warm and safe, two things not often found together.
It had been almost five days since it happened. Don't think about it. Rest. It may not be safe for long. He drifted off to a world of darkness and light. Scattered pictures of family and friends and what they would be doing. The angry pictures of his father and weeping pictures of his mother. He shivered awake. He could hear noises in the church. He had to stay where he was, if he moved now they might hear him. More sleep. "Please Lord, no dreams."
His rest was deep and he felt the warmth seeping into his wet clothes. At least they weren't cold any longer. He wondered if he could quietly pull the wadded up newspaper out. It had long since served its purpose. He was startled when the organ blew its first notes and he jumped. It sounded like it was all around him. He listened to the melody. He knew this one. He heard the voices of a boys’ choir ring out in a timber that spoke his name. If he had not been caught looking he would likely have been singing at his own church. It was Christmas Eve. He settled back and listened quietly as the voices heralded the birth of the new King. He quietly hummed along in his quiet spot in the loft. They stopped, he could hear words being spoken but he was too far away to hear them plainly. Then he heard the tap of the conductor's baton and they started again. This time he heard the timber of the treble section take the higher notes. It was Ave Maria, his favorite. He mouthed the words, the conductor stopped. He spoke again and again the words could not be heard plainly. The baton tapped again, and the choir began again. He listened and sang quietly in his hiding place. The material covering his face parted and he could feel a cool breeze on his face. He opened his eyes to find an elderly man smiling in at him and a hand extended towards him. He had been found. He stood, waiting to find out if he was in trouble. The older man placed a hand on his shoulder and realized he was soaked. The boy started to shiver again.
"Come with me son, we'll get you some warm things. Are you hungry?" A tentative nod told the old man there was fear still left inside of him.
"There's no need to be afraid, you may stay as long as you need to," the old man said with a kindly resonance. "You are among friends here." He took him through a door and into a part of the church that looked more like a home than a church. He stopped, "Here is the bathroom, I sense you could use a nice hot shower. I will have my son bring you something warm to put on, he's about your size and by then we should have some hot food to put into you. My name is Joe." He held out his hand. The boy's small hand slipped into the older man's hand disappearing in its immensity.
"I'm Mathew, thanks," was all that he could whisper. He went into the bathroom and stripped. Reaching into the shower he turned it on and shivered again waiting for the cold to turn warm. When it did he stepped in. It was the most wonderful sensation he had ever known. The warmth enveloped him and the chills this time chased away the cold completely. He turned his head to the warmth and grabbed the soap and washcloth and scrubbed the street off of him. He felt like he had months of it on him instead of days. A bottle of shampoo sat on the side. He wondered if he dared. He felt his hair. It would be awful to clean his body and then have greasy hair. He dared. It felt so good to be clean.
A knock came on the door, it opened a bit. "It's Nathan. I have some clothes for you. I'll just put them here. I'll take your dirty clothes to wash. See you in a bit."
The steam of the hot shower created a fog of warmth as he opened the shower door and reached for a towel. He dried himself inside the shower so as not to drip needlessly on the carpet of the bathroom floor. He stepped out to find a fresh pair of boxers and corduroy pants. His hand lingered on them. They would be very warm. He smiled. The socks he found in the stack were warm, as if the chooser sought warm above all else. He sat on the toilet to put them on. They all fit wonderfully. He hung the towels and took a last look at the bathroom to make sure he left it as neat as he could. He flipped on the fan to remove the mist as he donned the shirt. He glanced in the mirror at his unruly hair and ran his fingers through it as if his fingers were the teeth of the comb. His eyes stopped briefly on his own as the shame of who he was, what he was, lay in again upon him. He wondered if he would ever be accepted anywhere, by anyone. He wondered if the kindly gentlemen would make him return to his tattered wet clothes once he realized who and more precisely 'what' he was. He hoped to put off the questions until after the food. Sure it was dishonest, but he was so hungry. He had been nursing that apple for two days. It was time to find out. He opened the door and stepped out.
"Oh, that is much better!" The elderly man took him by the hand and placing one on his shoulder escorted him into the kitchen. "Hot chocolate should warm you up and a hot turkey sandwich. Sit and eat. We have much to do yet."
The boy looked up in wonder. What is he talking about? His thoughts were interrupted by the smell of hot turkey and gravy; he closed his eyes and bowed to give thanks. He wasn't sure to whom he was thanking anymore. He felt abandoned by his family and his beliefs; but it was appropriate. He tasted the hot open faced turkey and gravy. It was good by any standard but at this moment was better than anything he had ever tasted before. He shoveled it in not wanting to miss a single morsel of food or a single drop of gravy. As he finished another plate was placed in front of him.
The old man spoke. "I heard you sing, Mathew. It was beautiful. That spot in the loft was designed specifically for the voice of a single treble. It was acoustically perfect. We have never had a treble who was serious enough about his music to work at it. But as we practiced, I heard it. I knew precisely where you were because of the beauty that flowed down from the loft. I knew it could only be one spot. We have our Christmas Eve service tonight, would you mind singing for us from your special spot in the loft?"
"I love the song. Ave Maria is beautiful, and when I sing it all the hurt seems to go away. I get lost in it. I would like to sing it for you. But you need to know who I am, …what I am. Then you may not want me to sing or even be here."
"I know why you are not at home Mathew. I know all about it. Nathan told me what you have been through. He is hiding in his room. When he saw who you were and how this affected your life, he burst into tears. You see, it was Nathan you noticed in gym. And what makes it worse, he used you to squelch his fears about anyone seeing him for who he was. He told me tonight after taking your clothes to the laundry. He is gay also. He feels awful. But that is something he has to come to terms with. I don't care if he is gay or straight. Only that he is loved.
"When this is over tonight, please be my guest. Stay here tonight. Tomorrow we can talk about things that can be done. But for the moment, would you sing for us? We have about thirty minutes before people start getting here, if you would like to go through it."
A smile appeared on Mathew’s face, "I would like that very much. But first, may I speak to Nathan?"
"Yes, but are you sure you want to? He is the one responsible for you being on the street."
"No, he's not. It was just a matter of time. My father is responsible, no one else."
A knock produced a soft, "Come in."
The room was dark. "I can't see and I don't know your room, do you have a light?"
He could hear the boy moving to sit up. A light came on from the nightstand.
"Your dad told me that you blame yourself for my being on the street. I wanted to tell you that it was just a matter of time. All you did was make me face myself a little sooner."
"No, I did it so that no one would notice me. I got scared, when my eyes met yours I thought you knew and everyone else did too. So I said the things I said to throw the blame on to you. It was cowardly. I'm so sorry. When I heard what happened to you it ripped me apart." His voice went to sobs as Mathew hugged him.
"Come on, it is Christmas Eve, I've been asked to sing. It's what I like most about Christmas and this will be my last year as a treble. Would you stand next to me in the loft while I sing? No one will see us, they will just hear me. It would mean a lot to have you there."
"Why? Why would you want me there? I'm the reason you have been cold and on the streets."
"No. You aren't listening. It is my father who is to blame and my mother for allowing it. Nothing you did made any difference. And right now my butt and my belly are both warm. Your father has invited me to spend the night. Maybe he knows some agency that can help. Right now, tonight, this moment in time, I need a friend, someone who doesn't hate me for what I am. Could you be that for me?"
Mathew stood and pulled him too his feet. "Come on, I have time for one rehearsal."
In the loft they stood quietly as the old man resumed his position as conductor, and he tapped his baton as the organist began to play. He took a breath ready for his entrance and when he did the beautiful resonance filled the cavity of the old church. So soft and sweet were the sounds that flowed from the lips of the boy that tears filled the eyes of many who listened. When he finished he glanced over at his new friend to see the tracks of new tears on his face. He placed an arm around him and hugged him. In his ear Nathan whispered, "My father saved me from my greatest crime. Silencing that voice would have been unforgivable."
"Come on, we have an hour before the performance. I'll bet there is more hot chocolate waiting for us," Nathan said, smiling. They came down the steps from the loft to applause from the rest of the choir. Nathan stepped back and applauded also, showing them who it was who sang so sweetly.
The boys filed back into the choir room as people began to arrive. Nathan said, "Have some more hot chocolate. I'll be right back." He disappeared back into the parish part of the church returning a few minutes later, smiling.
Mathew looked at Nathan, "I never thanked you for letting me wear some of your clothes. I'll give them back as soon as mine are out of the laundry."
"No worries but I think you may have to keep those, my father had to shoot the others as they tried to crawl out of the washer." Nathan grinned a big toothy smile as he said it.
The elderly man appeared once more and began to chivy the boys into their choir robes. The white on top of the red was festive; the old man opened a cupboard and withdrew a fresh cassock for Mathew.
"But no one will see me, I don't need that."
"It will make you feel more like part of the choir." The old man assured him. He slipped it over his head and his arms through the sleeves. "Wait," the gentlemen said as he placed a stole of red and green around his neck, "it’s the stole of a senior chorister and a soloist."
He turned to Nathan who stood staring at the boy in front of him. Smiling, the old man whispered, "Close your mouth or you may get flies!" Nathan blushed. "Now, why don't you show Mathew back up to the loft and wait with him through the service." Looking to Mathew he continued, "Feel free to join in whenever you feel the urge. Perhaps the Descant on Panis Angelicus, You know it?"
"I know you weren't here for any of the practices but I think you know them well enough anyways. Tell me do you know Pie Jesu?"
"Oh, the fact that you know there is more than one is more than I could hope for. Feel up to it at the end?"
"I'd love to. It is also a favorite."
On the way up to the loft Mathew asked, "Why don't you sing?"
Nathan grinned, "If you ever heard me you wouldn't have to ask. I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. It's one of the reasons listening to your beautiful voice moves me so much inside."
Mathew smiled as he felt the heat rise in his face, he knew he matched the red in his cassock. He was glad to wear it. It did make him feel more like part of the choir. He had thought he would never see one again once they found out who he was, what he was. He didn't want to jinx the evening by asking the old man why he was okay with it. He just wanted to sing. He hadn't thought he would ever do it again. His voice would change soon; and certainly before next Christmas. He loved the sound of his treble voice, and although it would soon be gone, he had decided he would enjoy every note of it as long as he could.
"You know your father broke down at school didn't you?"
Mathew turned sharply at this news. "What are you talking about?"
"Two days after, he was in his second period. He broke down in sobs. He went home and hasn't been back since. I saw him putting up signs down at the convenience store."
"Serves him right, I hope he cries himself to death."
"You don't mean that! Do you? I mean, it was out of the blue, hit him broadside, no warning."
"Some of the things he said that night …they went beyond surprise. If a soul can bleed he left mine dripping. I don't think I can ever forgive him for those things."
"Well, pay attention to the music, we're about to start. Sing for me, please?"
They evening began with "Away in the Manger" and then "Silent Night." The congregation sang softly along and then loud when they sang "Joy to the World" But when they heard the organist start to play Panis Angelicus the congregation went silent. The conductor shushed the choir by placing his finger too his lips so that they sang softly and Mathew came in and sang the descant. His voice rang sweetly in the air of the church that night. And when Ave Maria played, there wasn't a dry eye in the chapel. Such beauty hadn't been displayed there for so many years.
The evening came to a close as the conductor stepped up to the microphone, "This last song has not been rehearsed, our soloist has agreed to do it for me." He looked up to the loft. "Mathew, would you step forward to the rail please? Mathew has come to us just this evening. The love of music in his heart made him sing out and I discovered this blessing hiding from the cold in the loft. It shows that sometimes we don't look deep enough for a person's beauty. A few months from now his treble voice will be gone, and we may have not had the opportunity to hear these wonderful notes. Each note, like the boy who sings them, is a gift from god."
The organist began to play as Mathew began to sing. The chapel seemed to harbor the echo, never releasing the sounds. The stones themselves in the walls seemed to enjoy being tickled by his sweet voice. And as the last note played and the song ended, there was a moment of revered silence before the applause erupted.
Nathan rushed to his side at the rail, and turning him kissed him on the lips. Realizing what he did he stepped back, mortified at what he had done without thinking. The applause stopped and there was deafening silence. Mathew, surprised, stared at him disbelieving for a moment before stepping forward. Taking Nathan’s hand, he pulled him back to the rail and in full view of the congregation, kissed him fully on the mouth. A few moments into it and applause started, first one then a few more then the entire congregation.
The two boys sat down in the loft, figuring they needed to let the congregation leave first. There was a ruckus coming up the stairs. It was some of the boys in their cassocks, and they grabbed the two boys by the hands. "Come on, they won't go home until you come down," the oldest one said. They dragged them down the steps and out to the altar area where the applause erupted again.
The old man placed an arm around Mathew and hugged him smiling broadly. Mathew looked at the smiling gentleman and looked back to the audience to see his father standing directly in front of him. As he came forward, Mathew could see the tracks of tears in his father's eyes.
"Mathew," he said stepping closer, "son, I am so sorry. I have been so worried about you." Mathew glanced at the elderly gentleman who gave him a wink.
Mathew stepped forward, "Does this mean you don't hate me?"
His father broke into tears, "Of course I don't hate you. I love you. Mathew, those things I said, I didn't mean any of them. I was shocked. Nothing fit my dad's list of things to do in an emergency. So I, well, I freaked out. Please come home, let's work this out."
"You have no idea how bad you hurt me. I'm not so sure I can go through that again and live through it. I am afraid to go with you. Not because I'm afraid you would hit me. You have never done that. But I think I would rather have been hit than to have my heart run through a meat grinder." He looked at his mother who had come up beside his father, "And you let him. All that talk of unconditional love didn't mean anything when it came down to it. I love you both more than you will ever know. But my heart is still bleeding. I think I'd rather chance it on the street than take a chance on letting you have even a piece of my heart."
The old man stepped up again, "Come with me all of you. I have a place we can sit and talk," without breaking his stride or taking a breath he turned Mathew towards the parish, "Your music was beautiful thank you so very much. You have no idea how wonderful it was to hear the crisp treble resonance again. And you have touched some of the other kids, two have told me they want to sing like that. I expect a couple more will follow."
He opened the door and showed them all to a sitting room. "Please, everyone be seated. Mathew, will you help me get the tea? Nathan, perhaps you will see to our guest’s coats." And without waiting for a response he took Mathew by the hand and walked into the kitchen.
He put a kettle of water on the stove. "We never know how the things we do affect others until we see the results. Have you ever been hurt real bad and said things you wished you hadn't?"
Mathew thought for a moment. "No, I don't think I have."
"Well you are one of the few. So when you and your dad had your argument you never said that you wished him dead?"
Mathew's eyes went big, "Well ya, but I didn't mean it."
"You must have meant it, you said it!"
"No, see it was different, it's not the same thing at all."
"Really? Then you really meant you wished him dead?"
"No, I told you that already."
"But you said it, did you mean it then? And maybe just changed your mind?"
"No, I never meant it."
"So why did you say it if you didn't mean it?"
"I don't know, I just did."
"Could it be that you were hurt and just wanted to hurt him back? You wanted him to feel the hurt you were feeling?" The old man stopped and poured the cups full of hot water and placed the sugar and cream on the platter. "Could you get the door for me please Mathew?" He stood looking at Mathew as he saw his expression change to one of understanding.
"Can I ask you something first?"
"Sure, but keep in mind the water cools quickly."
"Nathan just came out to you tonight. Why didn't you react?"
"I did react. Just not the way your father did. Nathan has had something bothering him since this happened. It was eating at him. He couldn't sleep, he couldn't eat. He was clearly in pain and wouldn't talk to me about it. It was when he got your clothes and he saw who you were that he broke down and told me. He told me how he turned on the one person he loved. He had ruined it all. I reminded him that love conquers all. Come on, your parents are waiting and the water is getting cold."
Mathew went in and sat down between his mom and dad. "I'm sorry I hurt you dad. I didn't mean to."
"No, son. I'm the one who is sorry. You have nothing to be sorry about. I handled it worse than poorly. I can't ever take back what I said but you have to understand that I didn't mean any of it. I don't know where it came from. Then you left and I've been sick with worry. Please don't leave again."
"Well it wasn't like I had a choice in the matter, you were pretty plain on that."
"Ya, I guess I was. I'm so sorry. Please come home, give me a chance to fix the relationship. I know I have a lot to mend. I promise I won't ever fly off the handle like that again."
"Not even when I ask for the sex change?"
His mother gasped, his father hem hawed around, "Alright, if that is what you want, we can talk about it."
"Are you kidding? Nobody is gonna whack off little Mat. I was just testing."
Nathan walked over and knelt at Mathew's knees, "I'm sorry. All this is my fault. I'm the one that spread it around, I was afraid that someone had seen me. I was keeping anyone from burning down my house by setting fire to theirs, so to speak. I was just so scared. I almost destroyed your entire family."
Mathew’s father glared at Nathan, but his eyes showed humor. "No worries, Nathan, but you have detention until you graduate three years from now. You can begin serving it at my house the first day back from the New Year's Holiday. I happen to know you are far better at English than my son." He winked at Nathan's father.
"Dad, there’s just one thing I don't understand. How did you end up here?"
"Nathan called me. He said if we wanted to talk to you to come right away. He said to come and talk to the reverend after the service."
"Tomorrow is Christmas, I think maybe you and your parents have a lot to discuss. I know that Nathan and I have a few things to talk about too, seeing that he just came out to me tonight. So why don't you stop over tomorrow afternoon and have some tea and maybe we can plan a sleepover for this weekend."
He noticed Mathew's father's look. "Relax, now there is some benefit to this, we know neither one will get pregnant."
Both Nathan and Mathew blushed crimson.
"And look, they belong together! They blush the same shade of red!"