Sophomore Year

Chapter Twelve

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

The next thing we knew, it was almost Christmas break, sixteen days of freedom. We would get out on the Wednesday as Christmas was on the Saturday. All the guys from our lunch group decided to get together at my place for a celebration on Christmas Eve. Since none of us had a lot of money, well except Joel, we decided to draw names for Christmas presents. We set a limit of twenty-five dollars since most of us were limited by our allowances or sad little minimum wage after school jobs. Dad, thanks to his total lack of baking skills, went to the local bakery and bought three-dozen of everything. He also bought four gallons of eggnog. There was definitely no lack of Christmas treats as we all sat around the living room, listened to our favourite rock station, talked, told stories, and laughed till we hurt. Finally at ten o’clock sharp, we did our gift exchange. It was actually quite amazing to see the variety of things you could buy for twenty-five dollars. Everyone was happy with what they got, partly because they actually liked it, but mostly because it was bought with love.

Jeff, Carol, Jamie and Martin left first as they all were expected home by eleven. They all had family coming to spend Christmas and there would be little kids, so if they were lucky, they might get to sleep in till six, but probably not. The rest of the guys gradually left between eleven-thirty and twelve. Chad, Jake, and Brett left about twelve-thirty after helping us do most of the cleaning up. That left Craig, Joel and me with just a little to clean up which, thankfully, only took about twenty more minutes.

Craig was staying over as he and his mom and dad were spending Christmas with us. Dad had bought a twenty-eight pound turkey and Craig’s mom had dropped off all the things she needed to fix dinner this afternoon. Dad’s bakery trip included dessert in the form of several kinds of pie and what was left of the treats he had bought for our party. I was very thankful there would be no little kids to wake us up before nine or ten the next morning. We gave Joel first dibs on the bathroom to shower and get ready for bed, so it was close to one-thirty by the time Craig and I made it to bed. We were both exhausted by then and simply curled up together and were asleep in minutes.

It was surprising how quickly nine o’clock rolled around. It felt like we had hardly slept at all when Dad banged on the door and announced that Craig’s mom and dad were here. Since we had showered before we went to bed, it didn’t take us long to make our way to the kitchen and a nice steaming cup of coffee. It was only about fifteen minutes later that Joel made his way into the kitchen. He still looked like he was half asleep. It didn’t take him long to wake up though once he got a few sips of Dad’s coffee. Dad was busy making everyone breakfast. He had hashbrowns going on one burner, sausages on another and bacon on the third. It wasn’t long before he had scrambled eggs going on the fourth burner. When Craig’s mom offered to help he reminded her that if she was going to cook the turkey and do the bulk of getting dinner ready, he was at least going to do breakfast. She didn’t argue with him but, instead, poured herself another coffee and sat down to chat with the rest of us.

Once breakfast was done, Craig, Joel and I cleaned up and then gathered around the tree with Dad and Craig’s folks to open our presents. Within five minutes, we were all sitting on the floor with a stack of gifts piled up in front of us. When I looked over, Joel actually had tears running down his cheeks…tears combined with a huge smile. When he looked up at me, his smile turned into a big grin. I don’t know what he was expecting, but he was part of the family now and would be treated as part of the family. That meant his pile of Christmas gifts was just as big as Craig’s or mine.

“I can’t believe you guys,” he said later, as we sat surrounded by piles of torn up gift-wrap.

“Believe what?” I asked.

“This is the most stuff I ever got for Christmas,” he replied grinning. “And it’s not all really ugly clothes that don't fit.”

“Hey, you’re family now,” I responded. “What did you expect?”

That earned me, and then Craig, a big hug. “Thanks. I don’t know what else to say. I mean…I never got treated like family, even by my family…not like this.”

“Well get used to it,” Craig replied with a grin. “That’s how this family works.”

Craig’s response not only got a big grin from Joel, but from me as well. He had said ‘this family’, not ‘these families’ or ‘our families’, but ‘this family’. It was the best present I had received this morning.

After a few more minutes of admiring our gifts, Craig and I took ours to my room and Joel took his to his room. We then met up back in the living room and began the task of gathering up all the paper and bows and ribbon and pack it all out to the recycling bin in the back yard. Once we were finished with that, we went into the kitchen to see what we could do to help Craig’s mom. After a half hour of peeling potatoes, chopping veggies and salad making, we were on our own for the rest of the day. First stop was Joel’s room to help him set up his new laptop and connect it to the wireless router. Second stop was my room to set up my new PS3. The three of us alternated back and forth as we tried out several new games. After a couple of hours, Craig and I got into this strategy game and Joel left us to go play on the Internet with his laptop. Before we knew it, we were being called to a Christmas dinner fit for kings. It was amazing.

Once we had everything cleaned up and put away, we all gathered in the living room. Most of us were too tired or still too full to do much more than stretch out and vegetate. About seven-thirty, Chad, Jake, and Brett came over. Chad and Jake joined Joel and the three of them went to play on his laptop. Brett stayed with us and joined in whatever conversation we had going at the time. We did manage to get into some healthy discussions about politics and religion. Fortunately, we were all in agreement so none of them became too lively and no one left feeling upset. Craig’s mom and dad left about midnight. Once again, Craig stayed over. Dad went to bed soon after they left, and Brett, Craig and I got into the PS3 for a while. It wasn’t until about one that Chad, Jake and Brett decided to head for home.

Next on our agenda was New Year’s Eve, and it was a blast. Almost everyone from the GSA got together at a local outdoor skating rink. Several of the parents were there to chaperone. Dad had, once again, emptied out the bakery, someone’s parents had made about forty gallons of punch, and some of the other parents made enough sandwiches to feed the whole city. We had the rink and dressing rooms to ourselves so we could skate, we could eat, we could skate and eat, we could rest and eat; it was great. The weather was great too. Not too cold and not too warm. At midnight, we all gathered at one end of the rink because from there, we had a perfect view of the downtown fireworks display, not that many of us were paying attention the moment it hit midnight and for a minute or two after.

We still had a week of vacation left after New Years. Before anyone left the rink, Adam’s dad told us he drove for one of the local bus companies that arranged tours through the mountains, ski trips to Nakiska, Lake Louise, Sunshine, Fernie, or Norquay, and trips to the hot springs in Fairmont or Radium. He said he could get a great deal, plus an employee discount on a bus. Everyone nearly freaked. A full day of skiing or snowboarding in the mountains was almost too much to ask for. Not everyone was able to go of course. Many had other family commitments over the holidays, or were already going skiing with family, but forty-four of us could go. As we were bouncing up and down in our excitement, Joel noticed one of the guys turn and slowly start skating towards the dressing rooms with his head down. It was Todd Jones. Joel quickly caught up to him.

When he saw a tear, he asked, “You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Todd replied.

“No…you’re not,” Joel responded. “Come on, you were having a blast before. What happened?”

“Nothing happened, I just have to go,” he stated.

“Okay, if you’re sure,” Joel said before asking, “You’re gonna be able to come skiing with us though, right?”

“Uh…no…I won’t be able to make it,” he replied.

“Why not? It’ll be fantastic,” Joel exclaimed.

“I just can’t, okay,” he stated. “I just can’t. Look, I gotta go.”

“Okay then. You sure you’re okay?” Joel asked, the concern showing in his voice as he watched Todd continue towards the dressing rooms.

Todd turned and looked at Joel for a second. “Yeah, I’m okay…I promise,” he said with a half smile.

Later, as we were walking home, Joel mentioned to me that as soon as the ski trip was mentioned, Todd got emotional and left. He asked me if I knew anything about Todd that would set him off like that. I explained that the only thing I knew for sure was that he was very quiet, but he was a great guy, always ready to help others, and he and his boyfriend Marcus put their heart and soul into the GSA. Oh, and I also knew he lived in Bristol House, a group home just down from the school.

“So he’s a ward of the province and Family Services looks after him then?” Joel asked.

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied.

“Which means he can’t afford to go on a ski trip to the mountains,” he said.

“Yeah, there’s no way Family Services would pay for all that,” I said.

“Okay, tomorrow we are going to visit Todd,” he said.

“I don’t know man. If he thinks we see him as a charity case, he might feel hurt or get pissed off,” I warned.

“Not if we do it right,” he replied with a grin.

It took Adam’s dad a couple of days to arrange a bus for us, so it wasn't tomorrow as Joel first planned. The day of the trip, we drove to Bristol House. Fifteen of us including Jeff, Joel, Craig, and I made our way up to the house. We had arranged with John, the supervisor of the home, to ‘kidnap’ Todd at exactly five-thirty in the morning. As soon as he saw the bus pull up, he opened the front door to let us in. Once we were all inside, which wasn’t an easy task, we went up to Todd’s room and John opened his door. The look on his face when he woke up to find his room full of people was priceless. He just laid there staring at us and looking stunned for several seconds.

“Wha…what’s going on?” he asked in amazement.

“We’re going skiing,” Jeff announced.

“But…I didn’t ask and I can’t afford it,” he responded.

“You’re holding us up,” Joel said as he grabbed Todd’s jeans and started towards the bed.

The poor guy didn’t know what to do so he grabbed his blankets and pulled them up tight around himself.

“You gonna come peacefully, or are we gonna have to tie you up?” Craig asked.

“I suggest you go peacefully,” John said, laughing.

As soon as he saw John was in on it, he knew everything was cool and visibly relaxed.

“O…Okay,” he replied and about ten minutes later, he was dressed, cleaned up and ready to go. Everyone but Joel, Craig, and I were back on the bus. John handed him a bag of pop tarts and a mug of coffee and told him to have fun. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with a bigger grin on his face than Todd had as he stepped onto the bus, except maybe Joel's on Christmas morning at our place. As soon as we sat down, we were on our way, forty-five kids and ten chaperones…look out Nakiska.

Soon after we sat down, Todd looked at Joel, grinned and said, “This was your idea wasn’t it?”

“What makes you think that?” Joel asked in response, also grinning.

“New Year’s Eve at the rink,” he replied.

“Well you looked so sad,” Joel responded. “Wouldn’t you have done something if it was the other way around?”

“Yeah, I guess. Thanks. You guys are the best,” he stated with another big grin.

“What are friends for?” Joel responded before looking our way and saying, “If it wasn’t for Craig and Steven, I might not even be here right now.”

To say the whole day was as good as it started out would be an understatement. It was crowded and the line-ups for the lifts were pretty huge, but with everyone there, it never got boring or tedious waiting for a chairlift. We even met up with a ton of other people from school. The day would go down in history as one of the best days of my life…especially watching how much fun Todd was having.