Christmas Shopping

Christmas Shopping

By Grant Bentley

Just so you know, if any person, place, event, happening, thing, sport, nice person, or nasty person, seem familiar, it is purely coincidental.

You never know what you’ll find at the mall when you’re Christmas shopping.

Just so you know a little about me, my name is Scott Alexander MacKenzie, or Scotty to my friends. I’m eighteen but unfortunately I look like I’m fifteen. I am five feet seven inches tall and weight a hundred and ten pounds. I am in my first year of college. I grew up in a small town and moved to the city in June right after I graduated from high school. My parents bought a small condo just off campus. They figured they could sell it after I graduated and make money rather than pay rent and get nothing back, so I was living on my own.

Now that’s out of the way, on to my story.

It was a week before Christmas and I was walking through the mall doing some last minute shopping. As I was beginning to feel hungry, I walked through the food court to see what looked appealing. Just as I was about to head across to get a coffee and cinnamon bun I noticed a young guy standing near one of the trash bins. I was immediately drawn him. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know why. There was just something about him that attracted me. No, not that way. Well okay that way, a little. He was definitely cuter than average. But it was more like a need get to know him and maybe to help or something, I don’t know. I mean, I’m eighteen so what do I know.

He was about an inch taller than me and appeared to be really thin with almost shoulder length brown hair. He looked pretty rough, like he hadn’t changed clothes or showered for a couple of weeks. And he was definitely underdressed for the weather we were having. All he was wearing was a hoodie, no coat or parka. He had big holes in his jeans and it was obvious he wasn’t wearing long underwear. If he had to be outside for more than a few minutes, I figured he was going to freeze something or at least get frostbite in places where no one should get frostbite. He looked around and then pushed the door of the trash bin open to look inside. He then reached in and grabbed a half eaten burger and quickly left the food court. I totally forgot about my need for a coffee or cinnamon bun and followed him. He went down the escalator, sat at the first bench he came to and began eating the burger. That kinda creeped me out because he had no idea who had been biting into it before he got it.

I stood back and watched him for a few minutes. It was obvious he was very hungry and probably hadn’t eaten for a while. I wanted desperately to talk to him but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. You don’t normally walk up to complete strangers and say ‘Hi’ to them. As I was trying to decide what to do, I heard the words, “You a fag or something?” I turned to see this big guy staring down at me.

“No,” I replied.

“Then why you staring at girly boy over there?” he asked.

“I wasn’t,” I said.

“Yeah you were, he said, “I seen you.” Then he yells to some other guy, “Hey John, we got a fag here. He was staring at girly boy over there.”

The guy I was following turned and looked our way just as the big guy grabbed me by the arm.

“What should we do with the little fag?” he asked his friend as he started to walk me down the mall past the guy I’d been watching. The next thing I knew, the big guy was lying on the floor and the guy I had been watching grabbed my hand and started running the other way dragging me with him. It didn’t take long to come to my senses and start running along with him. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I was sure that whatever it was, the big guy wasn’t going to be too pleased and we were as good as dead if he caught us. We ran around a corner, down a side branch of the mall, dashed into West 49, through the store, out the side door and into the parking lot.

“My cars over here,” I yelled to him as I turned and ran between the cars heading towards where I had parked. As we reached my car, I unlocked the doors with the remote and the two of us got in as quickly as we could and relocked the doors. I looked around towards the mall and couldn’t see the other two guys anywhere so I relaxed a little. We must have lost them when we cut through West 49.

We were both out of breath and gasping for air. Suddenly I realized that the guy I had been watching was sitting beside me in my car. I wasn’t sure what to do. But since we were still both gasping for air, I had a couple of minutes to try and figure something out.

After a few minutes, he said, ”Look man I gotta go.”

“No, wait, don’t go, I’m Scotty,” came out of my mouth before I had time to think.

“I’m Travis,” he said, “But I still gotta go.”

“Where?” I asked.

“A little nosey aren’t we?” he asked.

“No…sorry…I mean…I can give you a ride…or something,” I stuttered.

“You’re just too cute,” he responded smiling.

“Excuse me?” I asked staring at him and he just laughed.

“You’re just too cute when you get all flustered,” he replied still laughing.

“I’m sorry…I just…I mean…please…I can give you a ride to wherever you’re going. It’s too cold to walk dressed like that,” I finally got out.

He leaned back in the seat for a minute and closed his eyes. Then he turned and looked at me. “How long were you looking at me?” he asked.

“I wasn’t…I mean…not long,” I said.

“I saw you in the food court, didn’t I?” he asked looking into my eyes.

“Probably,” I replied blushing.

“You saw me didn’t you?” he asked quietly, turning his eyes to the floor by his feet.

“Yeah…sorry,” I said just as quietly.

“Look, I gotta go,” he said.

I’m not sure where I got the courage, but I almost shouted, “Please don’t go. We just met and I might never see you again.”

He turned and gave my a puzzled look before replying, “That wouldn’t be much of a loss.”

“I don’t believe that…please, I don’t want you to go. Not yet,” I pleaded.

He just stared at me for at least a minute without saying anything. He was staring directly into my eyes and as difficult as it was, I stared back.

“Why not?” he asked, “You some do-gooder Jesus freak out to save the poor street urchin?”

“I don’t even go to church,” I responded.

He kinda laughed as he asked, “But you still feel a need to save my sorry ass don’t you?”

“I don’t know…no. I wanted to meet you even before…well you know,” I told him.

“Before I picked up my lunch?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know, I just did. I saw you and for some reason, I really wanted to get to know you,” I replied, “I guess you think that’s seriously weird right?”

He looked at me again for a while, “Actually not really,” he said, “I’ve noticed you too.”

“Yeah?” I asked with a smile.

“Yeah,” he replied smiling back.

“So…” I said, finding myself suddenly at a loss for words.

“So, what?” he asked still smiling.

“I don’t know…can I give you a ride somewhere?” I asked.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” he responded, suddenly losing his smile.

“Want to go get something to eat?” I asked.

“I don’t have any money,” he replied, “But you already know that.”

“I invited you, so it’s on me.” I said.

“Look, I don’t want your charity,” he said with a frown.

“It’s not charity,” I said, “I asked you out so it’s on me, that’s the way it works.”

“Oh, so this is a date then.” he said as his smile returned.

“If that’s the only way you’ll let me pay, then yeah,” I responded with a grin.

He laughed out loud at that and replied, “Okay, but next time it’s on me.”

“Next time?” I asked hopefully.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“There’s this great little cafë just off Mount Royal campus. They have great food and their prices are reasonable,” he said.

“Cafë Royale?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he responded.

“I go there all the time. It’s just two blocks from where I live,” I told him.

“I know,” he said with a grin.

“You know?” I asked puzzled.

“Yeah, I’ve seen you there,” he said.

“Why haven’t I seen you there then? I would have remembered if I had,” I replied.

“I was the dishwasher there this summer,” he said, ”I was in the back so you wouldn’t have seen me.”

“So you remembered me when you saw me at the mall then?” I asked.

“Why do you think I bothered to save your ass from jockboy?” he responded with a laugh.

“Thanks for that by the way,” I said with smile as I started the car, “Now, let’s get out of here I’m starving.”

We drove more or less in silence to the cafë. The stereo was on playing Can’t Get You Out of my Head by Kylie Minogue

“I love this song,” he said.

“Yeah so do I,” I said.

“It kinda says it all,” he said as he leaned over and looked out the side window.

I glanced over at him and saw a tear run down his cheek. ‘Who he was thinking about’ I wondered.

Just then we arrived at the cafë. He quickly wiped his eyes, looked over and smiled at me as we got out of the car and walked towards the cafë. We entered, found a booth close to the back and sat down. Within a couple of minutes a waitress was there with menus and two coffees.

She looked at Travis and winked at him before smiling and saying, “Hey Travis, it’s good to see you. Everything going okay?”

“Hey Kim, yeah, everything’s going good.” he answered.

“So, the usual for both of you?” she asked smiling.

“Yeah, please,” we both said together.

“Comin’ right up,” she said, as she looked at me, then at Travis and back to me and smiled.

“I better go wash up,” Travis said as he got up and headed for the washroom.

As soon as he disappeared into the washroom, Kim came over to me. “He’s the sweetest guy you’re ever going to meet. Don’t you hurt him. He’s been through enough,” she said and walked away. I just sat there with a stunned look on my face. I was going to go after her and ask her what she meant by that, but just then Travis came back to the booth and sat down giving me a big smile.

Within a few minutes, our food arrived. Kim looked at me and smiled. I wished there was a way I could talk to her. I wanted to know what had happened to Travis and what she meant by, ”He’s been through enough.” I was suddenly feeling unsure of what to do. I looked over at Travis. He was finished his burger and fries already and smiled at me as he began to help himself to my fries.

“You want another burger?” I asked him.

“No thanks. I’m good,” he replied as he grabbed a few more of my fries.

Once we were finished, I asked for refills for our coffees when Kim brought us the bill. I looked over at Travis and he was staring at me.

“What” I asked him with a grin.

“Nothing,” he replied.

We had spent the last couple of hours together and after what Kim had said, I was even more curious about him. I wanted to know more about him but I wasn’t sure how to go about asking. I didn’t think I could just ask him why he was looking so rough, or why he had no place to go. I thought maybe I could just throw out a general statement about myself followed by a general question about him.

I looked at him and said, “So, I’m eighteen, in my first year of computing science. I love old movies and techno. And I’m single. Your turn, what’s your story?”

He looked at me for a minute or so. His smile disappeared and his eyes lost their sparkle. “You don’t want to hear about my shit,” he replied.

“Yeah, I do,” I said.

“No, you don’t,” he said a little more forcefully, ”Not now…not here.”

“My place then?” I asked.

“Look Scotty, I like you, but seriously man, you don’t want to know. Just let it go. Go home to your studies and let me go home to mine,” he said.

“But you said you had no place to go earlier,” I reminded him.

He just looked at me for a few seconds. This time he looked a little angry. “Look,” he said, “I don’t want to be anyone’s charity case. I’ll get by. So don’t worry about me okay.”

“Too late for that,” I responded, “I’m going to worry about you probably forever now.”

“Fuck,” he growled, “I should have just buggered off and let jockboy kick your ass.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t and I think there was a reason you didn’t,” I snapped back.

“What do you want from me?” he asked almost in tears.

“I want to get to know you. Is that so bad? Tell you what, an hour of your time and tell me as much or as little as you want,” I answered, “After that you can do whatever. I won’t get in your way or try to stop you.”

After a long pause, during which he stared down at the table, he looked up at me and said, “Okay, one hour.”

I looked up and I saw Kim standing not too far from our table. She had tears in her eyes but she still smiled at me and gave a little prayer sign with her hands. I smiled back and threw a twenty on the table.

“Okay,” I said, “One hour.”

I got up from the table and waited for Travis to get up and then headed for the door. He followed me out to the car. We got in and drove over to my condo. The whole way over, Travis stared out the side window. It looked like he was quietly crying. Once we got to the condo, I parked in the garage, we got out of the car and walked through the garage entrance into the kitchen.

“Coffee?” I asked as I started to set up the coffee maker.

“Please,” he replied as he sat down at the table.

I looked at him and smiled. He gave me a very weak smile back.

“Why do you care so much?” he asked me.

“Honestly?” I responded.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“I don’t know,” I said, “But, like I said before, there’s something about you. From the moment I saw you something screamed out at me to get to know you. Like I HAD to get to know you. I know, it sounds totally stupid but that’s it.”

“I don’t think it’s stupid,” he said.

The coffee was ready, so I poured us each a cup, grabbed the cream and sugar and sat down opposite him at the table. Once we had our coffees fixed, I smiled at him and said, “So?”

He let out a big sigh. “Yeah…so,” he said, “I’m gay. But you already figured that.”

I smiled and replied, “Yeah, I figured that when you said I was cute.”

“I realized it four years ago when I was thirteen. I managed to hide it until this year,” he told me, “There was this guy Jerry who moved here in May. He was in three of my classes at school. He was drop dead gorgeous. Anyway, one day, he caught me staring at him for about the twentieth time and called me on it. He called me a faggot in front of the entire school cafeteria. I could just feel everyone’s eyes were on me and I knew my life as I knew it was over.”

Travis began crying at this point and couldn’t go on. I moved around the table and put my arm around him. I asked him if he wanted to take a break and we could go and sit in the living room. He just nodded, so I led him to the living room and we sat on the sofa. I kept my arm around him and felt him relax into me. We sat like that for a long time before he started talking again.

“Jerry’s father was my father’s new boss. I guess Jerry told his father or something and his father told mine. I really don’t know. Anyhow about an hour after I got home, the phone rang. It was my father on his cell. ‘Tell me what I heard today isn’t true,’ he yelled at me. I was so scared I couldn’t even think let alone say anything. ‘You are aren’t you?’ he yelled, ‘You won’t even deny it, you’re a fucking fa’…Then there was silence.

About an hour later the doorbell rang. When I answered it, there was a cop standing there. He asked me my name so I told him it was Travis Beaton. He told me there had been an accident. Apparently my father ran a red light and was struck broadside by a semi. When he said ‘no one’ in the car survived I knew my mother must have been with him. He usually picked her up from work on his way home. I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say or do. I just stood there staring at him. Then it hit me. I killed my parents. I guess I completely lost it and started freaking out.”

He started crying again so I just hugged him tighter and rested my head on top of his. I told him to rest for a bit, we had all day. I asked if he wanted another coffee but he shook his head ‘no’.

“I don’t even remember the next couple of days,” he said, “I know I was in some kind of hospital, but that’s all I know. I was convinced that I had killed my parents. They were dead because I was gay. I was in the hospital for about five weeks. They worked with me everyday and eventually they convinced me that it wasn’t my fault. If Dad hadn’t been so homophobic and angry it wouldn’t have happened, although they didn’t use those exact words. They said the accident was his fault. I’m still not totally convinced it wasn’t at least partly my fault. I mean if I wasn’t gay, it never would have happened.”

“They’re right, I wasn’t your fault,” I whispered to him.

He paused then before saying, “That coffee would be good about now.”

We stood up together. I still had my arm around him as we walked into the kitchen. I poured a couple of cups and fixed them up. Travis just stood leaning into me with his head on my shoulder. Once we had our coffees, we went back to the living room and sat on the sofa again. We sat quietly and sipped on our coffees for a few minutes. I wanted to say something more to make him feel better but I didn’t know what else to say. In any case, he seemed satisfied that I was holding him and being able to snuggle up to me.

After a few minutes, he cleared his throat and went on, “After about the third week, a social worker came in to see me. She told me that since our house was rented, my father had no life insurance and was deep in debt, there was very little in the way of an inheritance or financial aid. She was really nice and told me that she was looking for a foster home for me but not all foster homes were willing to take gay kids. I almost laughed at her. My own family was gone because I was gay. Why would some other family want me?”

“That’s so not true,” I responded.

“Yeah I know now, but at the time,” he said as he snuggled in closer to me, “Anyway after five weeks, I was ready to be released. They hadn’t found a foster family yet so I was moved to a group home. It was actually pretty good there. A couple of the guys were assholes but all in all everyone was okay. While I was there the social worker came by to talk to me for about the twentieth time. She asked me how I was doing. I told her everything was fine. She then apologized again for taking so long in finding me a place. She said there were a couple of homes that might be willing to take in gay kids but they wanted younger kids than me. She told me to hang in there for a while longer as she was going to talk to them again.

Unfortunately one of the guys was listening at the door. All of a sudden I was the house faggot and my life went to hell. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I could stick it out. I’m in my senior year of high school and figured I could last until I graduate or until, hopefully, they found me another place. Then one day two of the guys at the home decided since I was a fag, I was going start doing them favours. There was no way that was going to happen, so I ran out of the house and haven’t been back since. That was three weeks ago. And that brings us to today.”

“I can’t imagine having to deal with all that. I don’t think I could have done it. You’re stronger than me,” I told him.

I didn’t get a reply. He just snuggled into me and quietly cried. I hugged him a little tighter and cried with him. After about fifteen minutes, I realized he had fallen asleep. I gently laid him down on the sofa, got a blanket, covered him up and let him sleep. He slept the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. I decided to order out for pizza and when it arrived about 7:30, I woke him up, told him I ordered pizza and asked if he was hungry. At first he looked like he was about to panic and then he seemed to realize it was me and settled down. He lay there for a few seconds before he smiled and answered me.

“Yeah, pizza sounds real good,” he said.

I brought the pizza in and set it on the coffee table. Then went back to the kitchen and brought out a couple of cups of coffee and he sat up to eat. In about fifteen minutes the pizza was gone and we both sat back and sipped out coffee. We were both quiet, wrapped up in our thoughts. After a while, he asked what time it was. I told him it was about 8:30 and he said he should get going.

“Where?” I asked him.

“I got a place to go,” he said.

“That’s not what you told me this afternoon,” I said.

“Look, I told you my story. That was the deal and now I have to go,” he said as his eyes teared up.

“I don’t want you to go,” I told him.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Truth?” I asked.

“Yeah truth,” he replied.

“I think I’m falling for you,” I told him.

“Don’t confuse pity with love,” he responded, “You’ve known me for what, five hours.”

“I’m not confused, trust me,” I said smiling at him, “And so I’ve only known you for five hours, what’s that got to do with anything?”

“How could you love someone like me?” he asked as a tear escaped and ran down his cheek, “I’ve become nothing better than street trash.”

“Whoa, you are not street trash,” I said.

“Yeah I am,” he replied, “You even saw me eating someone else’s garbage for fuck sake.”

“I saw you doing what you had to do to survive,” I told him, “I wouldn’t have had the balls to survive as long as you did. I’d probably still be in the group home doing favours. You are one of the strongest people I know and I have nothing but admiration for you. It has nothing to do with pity. The second I saw you this afternoon, I knew there was something special about you. Why do you think I went to all the trouble I did to get to know you?”

He just stared at me for a minute. “You mean that?” he asked.

“Yeah of course I mean that,” I replied.

“And you’re falling for me?” he asked with a tentative smile.

“I think I’ve already fallen,” I said smiling back.

We stood for several minutes just staring at each other.

“Come here,” I finally said and held out my arms. Within seconds he was in my arms. He laid his head on my shoulder and began to cry, not great sobs or anything just quiet tears. I gave him a squeeze and he squeezed back. It felt so right to have him in my arms. I kissed his ear and he pulled back and looked into my eyes before he brought his lips to mine. It was a long, soft, gentle kiss. When we finally broke the kiss we just stared into each other’s eyes. We both had smiles from ear to ear. Our lips met again and it became more passionate this time.

When we broke apart he looked at me again. His eyes teared up again as he said, “Can we go slow?”

I gave him a big grin, “We can go as slow as you want. We have the rest of our lives,” I told him. He pulled me into another tight hug and the tears started again. I just held him.

“You want to hear something funny” he asked after a few minutes.

“Sure,” I replied.

“This summer whenever I saw you at the cafë, I would picture us like this. You know. Cuddling, kissing and in love,” he said.

“Seriously? That’s so sweet,” I said as my eyes now filled with tears.

I sat down and then laid back on the sofa pulling Travis down with me. He wriggled around a bit on top of me until he was comfortable. Then he leaned down and our lips met once more before he laid his head on my shoulder and began nibbling my neck. After a couple of minutes, I heard his breathing slow down and I realized that he had fallen asleep on me. I just relaxed enjoying the closeness and I guess I dozed off as well. It was about midnight when I felt him gently try to get up.

“Hi,” I whispered.

“Hi,” he whispered back, “I tried not to wake you but I gotta pee.”

“We should probably go to bed anyway it must be getting pretty late,” I said.

He glanced at the clock, “Yeah it’s after midnight,” he said.

“We should shower and head for bed then,” I said.

“Yeah, I must really reek,” he laughed, “How have you been able to put up with me?”

“I stuffed cotton up my nose,” I said laughing.

“No you didn’t,” he said as he tried to see up my nose. That just set me off and I fell off the sofa I was laughing so hard. Soon he was laughing just as hard.

“Oh my God,” he said, “I haven’t laughed like that for ages. It feels so good.”

I managed to get myself up off the floor. As I stood up, Travis leaned in and kissed me. He then took my hand and we walked slowly down the hall and towards a better life for both of us.

Which just goes to show. You never know what you’ll find at the mall when you’re Christmas shopping.