There are few things worse than being homeless, especially during our northern winters.
Will Joey learn that being homeless for Christmas is one of them?
Mom just wouldn’t let it go. It was Christmas break and it was bloody freezing outside and snowing like hell, but that didn’t matter. She needed Da Vinci French Vanilla flavoured whatever for her friggin coffee, and she needed it now. So here I was, after walking the six blocks to Save On Foods and freezing my arse off, slowly trudging my way back home, facing into the wind now, and hoping my nose wasn’t going to freeze off as well as my arse.
About a block from home I saw a guy pushing his bike through the snow and carrying a huge garbage bag full of cans and bottles over his shoulder, I guess heading for the bottle depot. Okay, nobody in their right mind is going to need to cash in their bottles in this kind of shit weather. Well unless maybe they needed Da Vinci French Vanilla flavoured whatever for their friggin coffee.
Then, when I got closer, I almost shit myself, figuratively speaking of course. It was Joey. Joey, who lives with the Johnsons, five blocks over. Joey, my buddy from my drama class. Joey, the sweetest most caring guy I’ve ever met. Joey…my Joey. All I could think was, ‘What the hell is he doing out in this weather, never mind packing bottles and cans? I mean, WTF?’
And that’s exactly what I said when our eyes met, “What the fuck?”
“Oh, hey Connor,” he responded, “Old man Johnson needs beer money.”
“Needs beer money?” I questioned.
“Yeah he sent me to cash in our cans and bottles,” he replied, before quickly moving on down the street.
Okay, a bunch of things didn’t make sense here. First, old man Johnson, as he put it, was a big time insurance agent with his own company, and really didn’t need to cash in bottles and cans for beer money. Second, Joey looked totally miserable, like he’d even been crying maybe. Third, he looked like he’d been out in the cold for a lot longer than a five minute walk. And fourth, he had a pretty decent bruise on his face.
Okay, there was something totally wrong here and it freaked me the hell out. I almost ran the rest of the way home, gave Mom her French Vanilla crap, and I was back on the street heading for the bottle depot in minutes. I stood across the street shivering in the cold for about five minutes before Joey appeared. He glanced around quickly, and instead of heading home, he walked in the opposite direction towards the mini mart. I followed him and waited a minute or two after he went in before I went in. When I spotted him, he was at the till buying a little carton of milk and a chunk of bologna. Then he went straight to the bench near the door, tore off the bologna wrapper and began eating like he hadn’t eaten for days.
Then he saw me. He had a mouthful, was halfway through a chew, and just froze, staring at me. I walked over and sat down beside him. Then, after almost a minute, he started chewing again.
“Those cans weren’t for beer money were they?” I asked, like I didn’t already know.
“C’mon man, somethings going on. You cashed in bottles and cans to buy friggin’ bologna, not beer for old man Johnson.”
“Look, you’re scaring me here bud.”
A sigh this time, and when he glanced at me…a tear.
“Oh God Connor,” he managed, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’ve got nowhere to go,” he stated.
“What?” I questioned.
“Mr. Johnson hates me,” he replied, “He told me to get out of his house and never come back.”
I had to think about that statement for a second because Mr. Johnson had been at our Christmas play a week ago and thought we were great. In fact he and Mrs. Johnson couldn’t say enough good things about our ‘Hollywood-bound’ acting abilities.
“Okay, you lost me,” I said, “Mr. Johnson hates you and kicked you out?”
Then going from desperate to angry in like a split second, he said, “Look, I’m sorry I even brought it up. It’s not your fucking problem anyway.”
“Uh, yeah, it kinda is,” I responded, “You’re my friend and I care about what happens to you. I sure as fuck don’t want you freezing to death.”
“Why not?” he asked angrily, “I got no reason not to.”
“Hey, come on, don’t be talking like that,” I said.
“After this everyone’s gonna hate me, even you,” he stated. “So why not?”
Okay, now he really had my attention, but just then the store clerk told us they were closing and we’d have to leave.
“Come on,” I said as we got up to leave, “This conversation’s not over yet. You’re coming home with me.”
“It is over,” he remarked briskly.
“No it’s not,” I said with some force, “And there’s no fucking way I’m leaving you on your own to freeze to death. You got that? No fucking way.”
He kinda kept resisting, but I made it very clear he had no choice. Once he finally gave in, it took us about ten minutes to get to my place, mostly because it was a pain in the ass pushing his bike through the snow.
As I opened the door when we finally got there I announced, “Hey Mom, look who I found…Joey. You remember him from the play last week, right?”
“Hi Joey,” my mom responded, “Oh yeah, you were Bob Cratchit weren’t you?”
“Hi,” he replied, “Yeah I was. It’s nice to see you again.”
“Oh my, how’d you get that bruise?” Mom asked when she noticed it.
“I tripped and bumped into the kitchen door the other day,” he quickly replied.
“That must have hurt,” Mom said, “Hot chocolate?”
“Oh yes, please,” I answered.
Parkas, wet shoes, and gloves off, we were both sitting at the table waiting for a very much needed hot drink. Joey sat quietly with his hands in his lap just staring at them. He didn’t seem to want to make eye contact with either Mom or me. Of course Mom wanted to know how he was doing and was full of questions about the weather, Christmas, school, and yada, yada, yada. He was ultra-polite as he answered every question, but he lied at least twice. He was not doing fine and he was not looking forward to Christmas.
As we were slowly sipping our hot chocolate, I asked Mom if Joey could stay over.
“You know the rule about having boys sleep over,” she responded.
Mom didn’t allow me to have boys sleep over for kinda the same reason most mom’s won’t allow their sons to have girls sleep over, if you know what I mean. So, oops, not what I wanted to hear in front of Joey. But I think he was a little too wrapped up in what he would do if Mom said no to catch the drift.
“Mom, can I talk to you in the living room for a sec please,” I asked.
Once we were far enough away I quietly explained Joey’s situation and that he would very likely freeze to death if we didn’t help him.
“But Connor. If Mr. Johnson told him to leave, he must have done something serious,” Mom noted, “I really think I should just call social services.”
“No, please Mom, Joey is the sweetest, kindest, gentlest, guy I know. I’ll find out what happened, but I know there’s no way he did anything bad to make Johnson so angry. No way. Please let him stay over. Even if it’s just for tonight…please,” I begged her.
“I don’t know Connor,” she said. But I could tell she did seem to be questioning herself.
“Look, I’ll stay up all night if you want,” I offered, “But we can’t just turn him out, and social services…I don’t know.”
“Well okay,” she finally consented, “But I don’t think I’ll sleep much. And you better find out exactly what’s going on. Otherwise tonight is it. I won’t be able to handle two nights without knowing what he’s been up to that caused him to get kicked out.”
“Thanks Mom,” I said as I gave her a hug, “You won’t be sorry, I promise.”
We walked back into the kitchen to see a very frightened Joey. As soon as he saw my smile though, his expression lightened up a little bit.
“Well you won’t be freezing your arse…sorry Mom…bum off tonight,” I declared.
He looked at Mom, and as a tear rolled down his cheek, he quietly said, “Thank you.”
Mom told him he was welcome as she gave me a seriously puzzled and concerned look.
“Grab your hot chocolate and let’s go to my room and listen to some music,” I suggested, for lack of a better reason to get the two of us alone.
Once in my room, I flopped down on my bed and patted the other side to let him know he should get comfortable. When he did lay back, he seemed to be very careful to stay as far away from me as possible and I began to wonder if he did catch the gist of Mom’s no boys sleeping over rule.
We lay there quietly for several minutes just staring at the ceiling until I finally got up and actually turned on some music. When I got back to my bed, I sat on the edge just quietly watching him. He would sit up a bit every so often to have a sip of hot, well now warm, chocolate and was still being very careful not to make eye contact.
After a while I quietly said, “Joey you gotta talk sooner or later, bud.”
He finally looked at me and the tears were instant…big time tears. I immediately scooted around the bed, pulled him up, and held him tight. Unfortunately, that seemed to set him off even more.
I quietly whispered, “Joey, come on. I want to help you so bad, but you gotta tell me what’s happening.”
He slowly released his hold on me, pulled back, looked right into my eyes and kinda whispered between sobs, “Mr. Johnson found my diary. He knows.”
“Knows what?” I asked.
After a long pause and a bunch more tears, he finally managed to choke out, “I’m sorry Connor…but I love you.”
I just stared blankly into his eyes until he started to cry even harder and began to push himself away from me. I immediately pulled him back into a tight hug.
A few minutes later, as he seemed to settle down a little bit, he pushed away again, gently this time, looked at me, and asked in a choked up and confused voice, “You don’t hate me?”
I wasn’t quite sure what to do at that point, so I just smiled, and said, “I could never hate you.”
I leaned back a bit and we slowly settled back across my bed. However, this time there was no distance between us. Neither one of us said a word for the longest time. It was kinda like we were both letting things sink in. Actually it was almost two hours, because that’s when Mom knocked on my door to see if we were ready for dinner. I guess somewhere in there we had both fallen asleep. Don’t ask me how we managed that with all the stuff that was going on, but we did. What I do know is I had a completely different Joey on my hands when we woke up. He seemed almost relaxed…almost.
I gave him a little squeeze and smiled as I asked, “Ready for some food?”
“Yes please, I’m so hungry,” he replied with a little bit of a smile.
Okay, so it didn’t take Mom long to notice a different vibe going on when we walked into the kitchen.
“So you seem much more relaxed,” she noted as she glanced at Joey.
“Yes, thank you. I feel much better now,” Joey responded.
Of course Mom wasn’t about to leave it there, and as soon as we sat down to eat, the inquisition started. By the time we finished, we had all, eaten, smiled, shed a tear, and hugged one another.
It seems Joey was writing in his diary when Mrs. Johnson called him to help her move some furniture in the basement. When he ran to see what she needed moved, he’d forgotten to hide it. His foster sister found it and had given it to her dad. Fifteen minutes later, Joey was laying on the basement floor, holding the back of his head, with Johnson shouting every homophobic slur he could think if at him. He finished up by telling Joey to get the hell out and never come back. Joey had spent the last three days in back alleys and condo doorways just trying to survive. He was getting way past hungry so he’d started collecting bottles and cans just to be able to buy some food.
When he was done, Mom was beside herself, obviously with heartfelt compassion for Joey, but some serious infuriation with Johnson and his wife. By the time dinner was over I had a new roommate, at least temporarily. And yes, from his explanation of what happened, Mom had figured out he was like me, so I don’t know if she was overly thrilled with the, ‘Connor has a cute gay roommate’ thing. I didn’t mind, I mean, I did have a double bed and all.
We watched some TV with Mom after dinner, partly to keep her from going to Johnson’s and kicking his bigoted ass, and partly to keep her company. Later, after a quiet little no hanky-panky warning, and after Mom wished us sweet dreams, we simply curled up together in my bed and slept. Even after our two hour nap we were still both exhausted. Actually I can’t imagine how tired Joey must have been after three days on the street in the freezing cold. I must say though, we slept very well. In fact we didn’t move until about 10:00 the next morning.
Soon after brunch or lunch or whatever it was, Joey and I had a long chat. We went to my room, curled up on my bed listening to Years & Years, and got into talking about his life at the Johnson’s. When his mom and dad had been killed in a plane crash just over a year ago, he had been placed with the Johnson’s. He had never been happy there, not even close. He said Johnson was nothing like he appeared in public. In fact he was a loud, domineering, bigoted prick and Joey had spent more than half his time living in fear. When I asked why he didn’t report it, he said he was scared to tell social services because they probably wouldn’t do anything more than simply give Johnson crap, and things would have just gotten worse.
The only sort of good thing was, that after he left, and as he stood in the alley trying to figure out what to do, Johnson had come out and thrown all his stuff in the garbage. He’d waited until the lights were out in the house and, once he thought it was safe, he saved a few things, including his diary, which he was surprised hadn’t been thrown in the fireplace. After a little persuading, well begging actually, he let me look at it. I had been mentioned on nearly every page. Plus it had some rather explicit stories, as well as a few extremely well done drawings of Joey and me together. I must say he was rather generous in his depictions of me. I had to smile as I hoped I wouldn’t disappoint.
As we were chatting, I began to think about the difference a day makes. I mean, at least for me now. I’d kinda had a thing for Joey for a long time, thinking he was a totally cute sweetheart and all, but as I lay there beside him, reading his diary, I began to realize that I just might be falling in love.
Mom called us out for an afternoon snack and we watched TV with her for a bit. She had found some documentary about LGBT youth. About halfway through it Joey fell asleep. While he was asleep, Mom and I did have a bit of a talk. She apparently doesn’t miss much, and I guess she felt she’d noticed that Joey and I seemed to be developing feelings for each other. I noted that she had accepted having a gay son without a second thought, so accepting I might be becoming involved in a relationship shouldn’t be that big a deal. She acknowledged that, and since Joey and I were nearly eighteen, she shouldn’t be too freaked out by it. But she did mention that in our particular situation, ‘stuff happening’ was a possibility, and ‘stuff happening’ in the bedroom next to hers, was a little disconcerting, I think she called it. I gave a definite sigh of relief at that moment though, because that’s when Joey decided to wake up, and thankfully the discussion was over.
Once again at dinner, Mom was full of questions. When I asked her later why so many personal questions, she mentioned we were four days away from Christmas and there needed to be something, if not several somethings, under the tree for Joey. Damn, I love that woman, I really do.
Even though I had saved a chunk of my weekly allowance, I was more than happy when Mom gave both of us a hundred dollars to go shopping. We made our way to West Edmonton Mall…we call it West Ed…to fight the crowds. It was a total zoo, like people on top of people, and at least half of them were borderline insane. We spent most of that experience together. However we did have to part company for about half an hour. You know how it is, right? You can’t shop for someone when they’re standing right beside you. It was kinda cool too, shopping for someone I loved, besides Mom that is. And yeah I said loved…wow. Of course I had already chosen one thing I wanted to give him for Christmas. One I hoped wouldn’t disappoint.
After more than three hours, we were finally and thankfully on the bus headed home. We each had three of four bags of stuff we now had to gift wrap. Other than a couple of gifts that we had to hide from each other, Joey and I were soon up to our armpits in gift wrap. Watching Joey wrap gifts was an experience. Every move, every cut, was an exercise in precision, and when he was done…perfection. I, on the other hand, was lucky I didn’t cut off a finger when I was attempting to wrap a gift. But, being the sweet person he is, Joey helped me of course. When it came to wrapping his gift though, I had to put my memory and keen sense of observation to work. As I worked, I pictured his every move, and believe it or not, when I was done wrapping the box his gift was in it still looked like a box, square corners and everything.
Very quickly, almost too quickly, it was Christmas eve. There were just a few presents under the tree. A couple from my grandparents, Mom’s from Joey and me, and of course mine from Joey, and Joey’s from me, but that was it. We had our usual Christmas eve meal. Nothing big. Just something we always reserved for Christmas eve. One of my favourite meals, grandma’s faggots in tomato chutney, served over mashed potatoes, with sausage rolls, and fresh peas. By the way, for those of you who never ate a faggot, some people call them meatballs. After dinner, and laying around for an hour just to recover from eating too much, Mom, Joey and I played a few games of cards, and then we settled in to watch one the best things that happens every Christmas, Alistair Sims in A Christmas Carol.
And then it was Christmas morning. We were up bright and early at like 9:29. I think Mom was up a bit before us since the coffee was brewing and there was the smell of bacon in the air. A quick look under the tree and I could tell Santa had been here. Sadly we had to wait until after breakfast to see if all our wishes had come true. Actually one of my wishes already had. Joey was not disappointed.
Finally, breakfast was done, cleanup was done, and we were sitting around the tree. Of course Mom was in charge, so Santa gifts first. When Mom handed Joey a gift, I think he was a bit surprised that Santa knew he had moved, hehe. He got a really nice eagle pendant. As we moved along, I got an awesome sweater that I happened to mention I loved to Mom. Joey also got an awesome sweater, similar but not matching, thank God. Mom got an awesome necklace with matching bracelet and earrings from Joey and me. Then finally, after multiple awesome gifts of shirts, socks, and underwear, it was time for Joey and me to open ours from each other.
I watched Joey carefully remove the gift wrapping and, after giving me a big smile, open the box he found inside. When he saw it and started laughing,
I thought, ‘Oh damn, he thinks it’s stupid,’ and I was starting to actually feel a bit stupid.
“Seriously, you bought me this?” he said laughing.
“You don’t like it? I asked apologetically.
“No, no, no, I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah,” he replied, “Open yours, quick.”
I was a bit taken aback by his reaction so I tore mine open as fast as I could. When I opened the box, I just stared at it for a few seconds before laughing until tears were rolling down my face.
He had bought me the exact same bracelet that I had bought him, the exact same. When Mom saw them, she giggled, gave us both a quick kiss and told us to put them on. I took Joey’s and put it on his wrist, and threw in a nice warm kiss to go along with it. Then he did the same for me. Later, as we sat on the sofa holding hands, matching bracelets side-by-side, I grinned to myself as I thought how much it felt like we were really meant to be.
When Joey cuddled in closer and whispered that this was his best Christmas ever, I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a big squeeze. I couldn’t have agreed more. This was completely, totally, absolutely, undoubtedly, the best Christmas ever…yes it was.
A special thanks to Colin for editing, prepping, and posting this story for me.
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This story may contain occasional references to minors who are or may be gay. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG13 (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don't want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don't want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren't supposed to be here, be careful and don't get caught!