Copyright 2002 by

This is a fictional story of holiday giving between friends, young and old. If you don't like friendship, don't read it. If you don't like love, I'm sorry for you. If you are not old enough to legally read this, find your friend and have him read it to you.

This chapter has been the most difficult to write. I feel that Stephy has more story to tell, but it wasn't coming through to me very clearly. I hope that what I've gotten here will work and that Stephy will be able to tell me more.


Stocking Stuffer Part 7

We had cuddled and hugged for a good ten minutes when I realized I hadn't actually given him an answer, so sitting him back on my lap a little, I said, "Yes, babe, we'll always treat them special." and we both jumped out of our skin when the phone rang!

I don't think the phone had rung for the entire time Stephy had been in my house and its insistent ringing, first shocked us, but then had us in giggles. I grabbed the handset from the kitchen wall and said, "Uh, Hello?" Stephy rolled his eyes at my seeming lack of intelligence, and got up and wandered to the fridge for another glass of milk.

"Nick? This is Gene, from Marshall Fields? I waited on you and Stevie the other day. Listen, I've got an idea that I think you might like – I know this is kind of weird, but hear me out and if you say NO and hang up, you'll never hear from me again. Now wait, I've got four passes to the Odeon Theaters which have to be used by the end of the year. My visiting nephew from Florida has been pestering me to see the new Harry Potter film, and I thought that maybe you and Stevie would like to go too. If I don't use these passes they're just garbage. My nephews about Stevie's age and I just thought, well, you know. Kids love the movies."

"Well, I don't know," I said. I knew Stephy was all ears, so I tried out, "Did you say Harry Potter?"

"The movie?" Stephy whispered and fairly danced around. "Can we go? Can we go? I've never been to a real movie?" by now he was jumping up and down.

I decided to play my fish a little before landing him, so I said into the phone, "Well, its awful short notice?"

Stephy was pulling on my arm and pleading, "say YES, say YES."

"Let me see what Stephy says," I said aside almost to the air.

"YES, YES, YES!" he shouted.

"Well, Gene, I guess Stephy would like to go. This is very nice of you."

"Great," Gene replied. "Can you meet us in the theater lobby at 10:45? There's a special holiday weekend schedule with an 11 am show. Like I said, no strings, no agenda, just a couple of tickets and a couple of kids out for a great day."

"Sure, Gene. We'll meet you there." and I hung up the phone. He was right, it was a strange phone call, but looking at Stephy dance around, I couldn't have said no if I wanted too.

"Are we going? Oh, Gawd! What do I wear? I've never ever been to a movie. Harry Potter is so cool. I saw part one at Timmy's house on DVD and thought I'd have to wait a whole year to see part two. Who are we going with? When do we go?"

"Whoa, slow down Tiger. Yes, we are going. You can wear any of the clothes you want, but you don't have to dress up. The jeans are fine. That was the man that helped us at the store, and he has his nephew from Florida here and they are inviting us." The dime dropped in my little vending machine mind and I realized we had used the nephew from Florida line when we were shopping. This was becoming an even stranger phone call!

Stephy ran from the room and was a whirlwind of putting on clothes. He tried all three shirts before deciding on the polo. I watched as he carefully folded and placed everything he had tried back in the dresser drawer we had set aside as his. Turning his sweet little face towards me, he pleaded. "Is this okay? Can I wear this?"

"Yes, babe, that's great. Now get your coat and let's go, the movie is in 30 minutes."

"Whoopee!" he squealed as he dashed for coat and car. About half way to the theater he got real serious and asked, "Nick? Can I ask you something?"

"Anything, Tiger."

"Can I be Stephen or Steph now. I think Stevie was somebody else. Now that I have you and new clothes, I think I should have a new name too. You can call me Stephy though, that'll be our name."

"I think that's a great idea Tiger. On with the new in every way."

"Thanks, Nick, I Love You!"

"You too, Stephy."

When we got to the theater, Gene and a young boy were standing together waiting in the foyer. Gene hailed me as soon as we entered and as we got to him he handed me two tickets and we went right to the entry. As we entered the lobby, Gene turned and said, "Thanks for coming, I'd hate to have wasted two passes. Nick this is Scotty. Scotty, Nick. And this is Stev.."

"Stephen." I quickly interjected.

"Right, Stephen," said Gene not missing a beat. "That coat really looks good. You made a good choice young man. Here, Scotty, here's $10, take Stephen and go and buy a giant popcorn and a couple of drinks. It's at least an hour since you ate, I'm sure you're famished by now."

"Thanks!" Scotty trilled and grabbing Steph's arm they headed for the popcorn counter.

When the boys had their loot, we all went in and sat near the front. I didn't get to say anything to Gene, because the boys sat together between us. The movie was good and the boys were over the top. They were into the story as thick as any author could ever hope for and I must admit, I was again a little jealous of Ms. Rowling's creation. But I'm over that quickly, because the interest Harry Pottermania developed in reading in general had even helped boost my series. Sales of juvenile fiction had been very good since the young wizard had hit the scene!

As we left the theater the boys were deep in sync reliving the best scenes and driving the flying car! Gene stopped at what must have been his car and asked, "Up for a little more? I'm sure my monster is practically starved. We could go to Donatello's for pizza. It's like Chucky Cheese's, except with out the mouse and with a better selection of beer."

"Can we please, Nick. I'm starving!" my monster chimed in.

"Sure," I knew better than to fight that battle! "Let's do the town up right!"

"Great, follow us."

"Can I ride with Steph?" asked Scotty.

"Okay by me." Gene replied.

Next thing I knew I had two young wizards battling Valdemort all the way to the pizza.

I was impressed with Donatello's, kind of half English Pub and half penny arcade. We found a booth and a waiter took our order for pizza and pop, Gene and I had beers. The boys took off for the games and before I could say anything, Gene started.

"Okay, now. This is just a fun time for the kids. Everything or anything after we leave here is totally up to you. If you don't ever want to see us again, I'll respect that. But before we get into your questions, I want to tell you a story. Drink up!"

"Okay," I offered, "what's the story."

"About three and a half years ago, I was sitting in my back yard at night, looking at the stars and feeling pretty sorry for myself." Gene began. "I'm an artist by vocation, retail just keeps food on the table, and my friend of several years had walked out about six months before that. I was lonely, depressed and thinking about drinking myself into a stupor for the umpteenth time. In fact, it was late and I don't know why I hadn't started drinking yet. But I hadn't. Suddenly there was the terrible screaming of tires right before a crash and I steeled myself to hear that awful tearing thump of car on car. Instead, I heard a door slam and a whole lot of shouting begin. I got up from the deck and started around to the front of the house to see what was up. I could hear a little better and heard someone shouting, 'Just get the fuck out. Die for all I care. You're a worthless little shit anyway,' and then there was the screeching of tires as the car peeled out and sped away. I got around the corner of the house and figured I wouldn't see anything, but I was wrong. There was a light pile of something laying in the middle of my front yard. I went over to it and about collapsed. It was a child. At least I thought it was a child. It was clearly hurt and lying there making little whimpering noises, dressed only in some underwear. I couldn't tell much else in the dark, but I could see it was really hurt. I didn't have a clue what to do, so I did the stupid thing and picked the kid up and ran inside. I could see all kinds of injury inside. One eye was black from some previous beating and the other eye was just beginning to swell where it had been smacked real recently. The arms and shoulders were a mass of bruises, old I would guess and it had a bloody nose. I still couldn't tell if it was boy or girl, but I realized my arm and hand cradling its bottom was wet and sticky. When I looked, I thought I'd gag. The back of the underwear was bloody and that was what was sticky on my arm."

Gene took a big drink of his beer and I followed suit. Before I could even think of what to say, Gene continued.

"I ran with the child into the bathroom and threw a towel into the tub. I placed the child on the towel and started the water and began to use a washcloth to gently clean its face and body. I dreaded what I'd find the lower I went, but something made me want to help the poor little tike. Getting to the underwear I gently pulled them down and saw it was a boy, although a beaten and bloody boy who had just been made to do and take God knows what. I washed the front side and gingerly turned him over and washed the dried blood from his cheeks. The more that came off, the more certain I was of how the blood had gotten there. He'd obviously been viscously raped, but as I got the dried blood off, no more was showing up, so I guess I prayed for the best and got him as clean as possible from head to foot."

"The whole time he had been whimpering, but had never cried out at any touch, so I hoped that I was right that no bones were broken. I couldn't do much about the other, so I did what I could. I lifted him out of the tub and dried him and then carried him to the bedroom. I grabbed a blanket that my grandmother had given me and I still had around. I remember my friend had laughed that I kept 'that stupid old thing with ducks on it,' but for some reason I just knew it was the right thing to wrap this little bundle of pain inside. I went to the couch and held him and rocked him all night."

"He never woke up, but I knew he was sleeping and, I prayed, not dying. In the morning I used a washcloth and washed him in warm water all over again. He stirred about supper time and I just held him and rocked and cooed while he drifted in and out of sleep."

"The next morning, I was able to get him to drink some milk and at lunch he ate some chicken broth. This was our routine for the next five days. He never said a word, but I would talk to him and rock him and soothe him and he gradually got stronger and would stay awake longer."

"Suddenly, one day between spoons of broth, he looked directly at me and asked, 'Are you an angel?' I told him no, that he was the little angel and that I was glad he was feeling better and could talk. No matter what I asked though, he wouldn't speak again. "

"The next day, he suddenly asked, 'Is this heaven?' No I said. You're still here on Earth and I'm taking care of you. 'You are my angel then.' he said with finality and I realized that I may have really confused the issue when he first asked by telling him he was the angel. I told him maybe I was his angel, but he needed to eat and get better. I kind of offhandedly said if I knew his name I could call him that, but he was still my angel to hold and cuddle."

"We were back on the couch and he was cuddling into my body when I heard him whisper, 'Scotty, I'm Scotty.' I told him thank you for trusting me, and we just cuddled some more."

"I didn't have a clue what I was doing, I didn't know anything about kids, I hadn't considered any consequences. Since that night I have certainly wondered what I had gotten into, but you know, I have never felt sorry for myself again."

Just then the pizza and the boys arrived together and we spent the next 10 minutes trying desperately to get a piece of pizza each before our eating machines devoured it table and all. They were chattering a mile a minute between mouthfuls, but I was still stunned by Gene's story and overwhelmed by the two angels at our table. As the boys rushed back to the video games, I managed to mumble, "Polar bears and snowflakes."

Gene raised an eyebrow and asked, "What?"

I shook my head and said, "Polar bears and snowflakes. That's what is on Stephy's blanket. But how did you ..."

"How did I know? Well, I didn't, for sure, but all the signs were there. See, when Scotty came to me, he didn't have anything except a pair of ruined, bloody underwear. When I had to go to the store for groceries, I would show him the kitchen timer and set it for 50 minutes. I promised him I'd be back before it rang. The first time, I practically killed him when I came back, because he was sitting on the kitchen floor not two feet from the door, holding the timer and rocking and rocking. I almost ran over him with all the groceries. The next time, he was sitting there, but the timer was still on the counter. He hadn't talked again since telling me his name, but he was physically much better. The third time I went out, I ran into CVS beside the grocery and grabbed a t shirt and pair of shorts and beach sandals. At least he'd have something other than the blanket. He never seemed to want them though, the blanket and my lap were the only places he wanted to be."

"I know I had to get him outside some and opening up more, so I knew I had to get some real clothes. I dressed him in his shirt, shorts and sandals and we headed for the only place I knew how to shop, Marshall Fields. I didn't work there then, that actually comes as part of this story."

We both paused for a little more beer.

He continued, "Brian was working in the boys department that day and he helped me pick out some real shorts and a shirt and then we went to the dressing room. He helped Scotty off with the t shirt and then as he stepped out of his shorts, I was stunned to realize I hadn't gotten him any underwear. How can you try on clothes without underwear? I thought I would die, but Brian was wonderful. 'Oh, ' he said, 'wait a minute, you know every boy needs a swimsuit in the summer.' and he left the fitting room and was back in an instant with a little pair of blue speedos. Putting them on my angel like nothing was the matter, he helped us pick out three outfits and then called the shoe department man up. My Scotty was fixed with a complete wardrobe, including briefs and socks, and I was beginning to think I could maybe cope. Three days later Brian called and asked me if I'd like to work part time in the boy's department. I really needed some money then so I jumped at the chance and Scotty and I worked out our deal on the timer and the floor. I got him a watch with a count down alarm, and he would watch TV until I got home. The little devil is as smart as a can be though, because if I was even close to being on time or late, I'd find him right on his spot in the kitchen. In fact, he still does that. We set my curfew, and boy I'd better meet it, or I've got one little scared rabbit to hold for hours, not that I mind the holding! The day after I started, Brian took me to lunch and had a conversation much like this with me. He told me his and Tommy's story and we've been friends ever since."

"Yeah, but, how did you know about us?" I persisted.

"Well," Gene laughed, "there were all the signs. First, the visiting nephew from Florida. I bet that was written not 30 seconds after 'the check is in the mail' was penned. It's okay," he waved aside my protest, "everybody thinks it's original. Then there was you. You didn't know a thing about sizes, didn't know what Stevie's, I mean Stephen's, favorite color was, didn't even know what you needed to buy. Finally there was Steph himself. Essentially no coat, brand new shoes and socks and a ratty t shirt and jeans he had outgrown and outworn at least six months ago. But when I got those terrible jeans off and he had on the new boxers, it was a cinch. At least you had tried to keep him from being embarrassed, but you have to take the store tags off the boxers, next time."

"Gawd," I groaned.

"It's okay. You've heard my story. I'm just offering to be a friend, to help if you have questions, to do anything I can to help another 'family' like mine. Steph loves you dearly, when I tested him while trying the cords, I thought he'd nod his head off when I asked if he loved you. Then when he whispered that you were his savior and that he hadn't even gotten you a Christmas present, I knew. He got a little teary eyed and I a quickly told him we could fix that, because we had some stocking stuffer type gifts in the stock room and I bet that one of them would work. I thought he was going to giggle himself silly when I said stocking stuffer, but he followed me to the stock room. As I was getting ready to show him what I had in mind, he saw the Valentine display we were working on and he knew immediately what he wanted. That ones got a mind of his own. He pointed to the bikinis and said plain as day. 'This, I want this.' I stupidly said, 'but they won't fit him, honey.' He shot me the drop dead look and actually said, 'Duh!' and I realized you had a real live one there! I grabbed them and we headed back to the fitting room and he had me help him put them on and hide the boxers."

"Now, like I said, once we leave here, whatever comes next is totally up to you. Here's my card and my number. If you want to talk, call me anytime. There's quite a few of our kind of families out there and it really helps sometimes to just have someone to talk to."

"Thanks, Gene, I had no idea," I said, "I'll think about it, I think we need to go now, I can't imagine my Tiger if he has very much more fun!"

We called the boys and they sprinted ahead of us out the door. As we stood near the door shaking hands, there was a sudden blood curdling scream and suddenly Scotty was shouting, "Dad! Dad! Nick! Help! Help! Over here, Quick."

We both raced for the edge of the parking lot and I almost collapsed seeing Scotty jumping and yelling and waving at two huge dogs, trying to get them away from Stephy. Stephy was curled up in a ball and lying in the snow. The dogs were nosing and pawing and trying to get around Scotty and a little lady was trying to get them away and get leashes back on them.

As I got to Stephy everything was in slow motion, I heard Gene yell at the woman, "Get those dogs leashed and away form us before I shoot them! Scotty get the car blanket from the truck and then get that woman's name and address." I heard his cell phone dial and I heard, "Hello? Brian, I need you. No Scotty's fine. It's a new friend, there's been an incident. Dogs. Good met me at," and I heard him give my address.

I knelt over my boy and tried to get him to talk, but he was out cold. I was vaguely aware that he had voided his bladder and was soaking wet as I lifted him and cradled him and cried and prayed that he would be okay.

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