SUMMARY: Past, present and future are mixed together and served up in this loose retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story here. Please note that italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, please take note and consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
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AUTHOR NOTES: This is my holiday gift to you. It's undoubtedly been done before and better, but every generation of writers has a new take on the tale and this is mine. I hope it will haunt your house as pleasantly as the original. As Dickens noted, I have endeavored not to "put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me." Read, enjoy, and feel free to participate in the creative process, either directly below if you are reading this story at the web site where I post my stories or by sending me an e-mail if reading it elsewhere. You can find my e-mail address at either my web site or my my blog. I would appreciate hearing from you even if only to let me know about any spelling or other errors you find since I would like to correct those wherever possible.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 6 Brian recalls how his friendship with Eric had gradually deepened and taken root, then the evening in December when the two find themselves in town in the middle of a snowstorm. Brian tries to take Eric back to Rockville, but the roads prove treacherous and they end up at Brian's apartment in Bethesda instead. Suffering from a hangover, Eric falls asleep in Brian's bed. In the morning when he wakes up, he asks Brian to give him a back rub and then tries to have sex with him. Brian successfully resists his effort and encourages Eric to go back to sleep since they're snowed in. Later, after Eric gets up, he makes brunch for him. Then the two go outside and play in the snow together. After spending the rest of the day inside, they fall asleep together in the same bed after Eric assures Brian he won't try to have sex with him. Unable to control his own feelings, Brian has sex with Eric in the middle of the night. He apologizes in the morning, but the incident opens a gulf between the two. Later Brian starts a new job on Capitol Hill while Eric decides to move to Miami. Horrified by what he has done, Brian stops going to gay bars and throws himself into his job. He never hears from Eric again, but several years later he picks up the local gay newspaper and stumbles across a notice announcing Eric's death on Christmas Eve. He blames himself for the younger boy's death, which only intensifies his long standing distaste for the Christmas holiday.
WITH APOLOGIES MR. DICKENS
A Tale of Sin and Redemption
It was Christmas Eve and there I was, alone in the office.
I was trying to kill some time before noon when I would finally be able to have lunch with others caught in the same situation as me. Even on the day before Christmas, most Members of Congress wanted someone manning the office so I wasn’t alone. Others shared my fate.
But they’re probably not as tired as you, I remember telling myself.
I hadn’t slept well the previous evening. I never did. It was almost as if I was hoping Christmas Eve would never come or would somehow miraculously bring a different ending to the story. But the day always came and the story always ended the same.
I tried to remind myself that all of the memories I had been conjuring up the last couple of weeks were the past. They were over and done. Reminiscing about them would change nothing. I just had to get through today and that was mostly a question of finding some way to keep myself busy.
It was rare for a constituent to call on Christmas Eve. Like everyone else, constituents had better things to do with their time than to call their Congressman on Christmas Eve. But occasionally someone would experience some disaster they didn’t know how to cope with; and not knowing what else to do, they would call their Congressman in search of help.
While the rest of our staff wasn’t around, they were on call. They knew there was always the possibility I would be getting in touch with them if I needed help responding to a constituent on Christmas Eve. Even the Congressman himself was on call.
Helping people in trouble was our bread and butter, the one thing more than anything else that could be counted on to get us reelected every two years. So it wasn’t surprising most congressmen wanted someone in the office on Christmas Eve to handle that call should it ever come in. I didn’t blame my boss for it. It was something you needed to do if you wanted to have the opportunity to do all of the other things, the more interesting things, the things you considered important.
In our office, we used to draw straws to see who would take on the onerous task each year, at least the first couple of years I was there. It seemed like a fair enough way to settle the matter; and it wasn’t like you didn’t get compensated. Our boss made sure you got to take another day off to make up for having to spend Christmas Eve at the office; either the day after Christmas if that was a work day like it was this year or some other day.
So we drew straws and everyone prayed and then commiserated with whoever had been unlucky enough to draw the short straw.
But as Christmas approached the year after I had first read the notice in the Blade, I decided to volunteer. I hadn’t liked Christmas in a long time, but understood other people liked it and wanted to be with family and friends; and since I felt the way I did, it seemed like the perfect solution for everyone if I volunteered to cover the office on Christmas Eve.
I wouldn’t have to be out and about walking the malls, pretending there was someone special I needed to find the perfect gift for. I had no one to shop for and the malls were much too crowded for my tastes in any event. I wouldn’t have to be searching desperately for someone to spend time with the day before Christmas to escape the loneliness. Instead, I could keep myself busy with work and hopefully not have to dwell on that notice in the Blade very much.
So there I was on Christmas Eve sitting at the front desk where Emily would ordinarily have been sitting to greet the stream of people who wandered into the office. The door was open, the Christmas wreath was decorated with ribbons and bows, and the lights we had strung around the door to make it a welcoming office were twinkling brightly. But I had been doing this for years now and knew there wouldn’t be many people walking the corridors of the Rayburn building on Christmas Eve.
There would be one or two visits from the mailman delivering the bundles of mail that never ceased arriving, not even on Christmas Eve. There would definitely be mail. There always was. But other than the mailman, I knew it would be out of the ordinary for someone to stop by our office. Like I said, I had done this for quite a few years now; and knowing just how boring the day would be, I had brought along the gift Robbie had given me. I was planning to read it before the day was over so I could tell him I had done it.
I never liked disappointing Robbie.
When I arrived in the morning to open the office, I had plucked our copies of the Washington Post and the New York Times off the floor in front of the door. I had put them aside because I wanted to save them for the afternoon. Getting through the afternoon was always the longest part of the day and reading the papers would eat up an hour at least, perhaps even more.
Some Members only asked that the office be manned for half a day on Christmas Eve. My Member wasn’t one of those. If you were going to man the office, you should do it right and doing it right meant doing it the entire day. So I knew the afternoon would pass slowly. I was hoping the book and the papers would help me get through it.
I was looking forward to lunch. It would kill another couple of hours for one thing. The boss didn’t mind if you took a long lunch as long as you left a note on the door telling everyone when you would be back and changed the recorded message on the telephone to let those who might call in your absence know the same thing.
I had already made plans for lunch with Wade and a couple of others who I knew were manning the barricades this day. That included John. Like me, John was homosexual and one of the few people on the Hill who knew I was as well. It had been my suggestion to include him. John had been even more depressed than me the last couple of weeks and I hoped having lunch with the rest of us would help snap him out of it.
Like I said, he was homosexual but most people on the Hill didn’t really know that about him. They only knew he was older and quiet and not all that much fun to be around because he seemed to be morose most of the time. I knew that was because John was lonely and the others had humored me when I insisted on including him in our small luncheon group.
I had killed the first hour that morning finishing up some of my work, the speech the Congressman would be giving next month and one or two other things as well. The second hour my mind drifted off to the notice again and to all of the rest of it, to Father Richard and Eric, to Emily and the boy at the Palermo trying to make a living while staving off the cold in front of the bar where he worked, and finally to Robbie.
I remember sighing. It was tough thinking about all of that, reliving all of the memories, the happier ones from my earliest youth, then the sadder ones and finally the memories that were more current, especially that talk Robbie and I had up in the mountains less than a month ago.
It was during the third hour that my mind turned to my career, to my whole life really. I found myself getting more and more frustrated with just about everything as I sat there thinking about things.
Robbie had been right. Yeah, sure, I had friends, but not the friend I really wanted if I was being totally honest with myself. By now I was pretty much used to satisfying my own sexual needs. Mr. Hand and I had become the best of friends over the years. But it made me angry at times to see how easily other people seemed to find someone special.
Why does everyone else get a shot at happiness, Brian, and never you?
What did I ever do to deserve such a shitty life?
But I knew things weren’t going to change on that score anytime soon, maybe never if I was being perfectly honest. There was probably never going to be anyone special, not after Eric.
You can sit here stewing in your anger about that all day, Brian, I told myself, but that anger isn’t going to change anything. You’d be smarter to focus elsewhere, dude.
So that’s what I decided to do.
Not that it helped very much. Robbie had been right about that as well. I had been drifting along for a long time now without much direction or purpose. I mean, the job had been interesting at first and it was still okay, but I was getting to the point where I really needed to fish or cut bait. Did I want to stay on the Hill and become a lifer like Wade? If that was the case, did I want to stay with my boss or find something else to do on the Hill?
I couldn’t decide and most of the rest of the alternatives I thought about looked even less appealing. The only one that held any interest at all was teaching. I had been taking night courses at George Washington University in the evening off and on for a couple of years now. I had earned some credits toward an advanced degree.
But it was hard doing that. My job wasn’t 9 to 5 anymore. The hours were longer. Finding time to squeeze in a course or two wasn’t easy. Finding the energy at the end of a long day was even harder.
Still, teaching intrigued me. I had been invited to talk to students at a number of the local colleges because of my work on the Hill. I liked doing that. The give and take with students was fun. But if I wanted to do something like that I would probably have to go back to school full time.
How are you going to pull that off financially, Brian?
The more I thought about it, the more I seemed to be spinning my wheels career-wise. As usual, I didn’t come to any conclusion except how tired I was thinking about the same old shit all the time.
Is this all there is? I remember thinking. Getting up every morning, doing the same tired shit every day, going home in the evening and then to bed, only to do it all again the next day and the day after that?
I was glad when the phone rang on my private extension breaking my misery. I knew immediately it would be Wade.
“So where are we going to have lunch today, Brian?” he asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I replied. “Bullfeathers is closest, I suppose. We should be able to get in and out of there easily enough today if anyone needs to get back to the office quickly. If not, we can stretch things out a bit longer.”
“Noon?” Wade responded.
“Sure,” I replied
“Sounds good,” he said. “Why don’t you call in the reservation? Not that I can imagine we’ll need one, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt. In the meantime, I’ll let the others know to join us at Bullfeathers at noon. Why don’t I plan on stopping by John’s office a little before noon? Then the two of us can swing by and pick you up as well.”
“Why don’t we meet at John’s office?” I suggested. “It’s on the way and it’ll be quicker to get to Bullfeathers if I join you there.”
“Fine,” Wade replied. “I’ll see you there around noon.”
As Wade had suggested, I called in the reservation. Then, with everything settled, I looked up at the clock. I still had an hour to kill before heading down to John’s office. As much as I didn’t want to do it, I reached over and retrieved the little volume Robbie had given me. I opened it and began reading.
A Christmas Carol is a hard book to read in some ways. It was published in 1843, almost 170 years ago, and the language reflects that. Indeed, for Americans, the language is so different from what we’re used to that it becomes a barrier to anyone tackling the book.
And yet because the tale has been popularized on television, in movies, and on the stage, and because it’s a tale that’s so uplifting, we persist; and if we’re lucky there does come a point when the language barrier disappears and we get into the story itself. And I guess that’s what happened to me that morning because I completely lost track of time.
Eventually I looked up at the clock. It was almost noon. I was going to be late and I knew it.
Setting the book aside, I quickly scribbled a notice to place on the door and then changed the recorded message on the answering machine. Then, after grabbing my jacket and locking the door, I raced down the corridor and around the corner. Briefly I considered whether taking the elevator would be quicker. But since I was already late, I decided to dash down the stairs that would bring me to the long, marbled, corridor below rather than wait for an elevator to arrive.
I was about to push open the door two floors below when I heard the sharp retort reverberating throughout the building. It was loud, incredibly loud, and I remember hesitating momentarily before pushing the heavy metal door outward. I started to walk toward my destination. By now several people had emerged from their offices and were looking up and down the corridor, trying to figure out where the sound had come from and what it signified.
But by then it was already beginning to dawn on me what had caused the sound. Coming from Maine, I had heard that sound before breaking the silence as it reverberated through the cold winter air. Suddenly I found myself racing down the corridor. I turned left, then right; by now I was running as fast as I could toward the office. But just as I arrived Wade emerged from it. He was pale as a ghost and looked shaken.
“Don’t go in there, Brian,” he said looking over at me. “You don’t want to go in there.”
“Why?” I asked, but deep down inside I already knew the answer to that.
“It’s John,” Wade said. “He shot himself, Brian, and he isn’t going to make it. There’s blood everywhere and the place is a mess. I’ve called the Capitol police.”
I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there looking at Wade for the longest time and then I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and beginning to silently race down my face.
Turning around, I could see several officers from the Capitol police racing in our direction. They brushed past us and entered the office. Moments later they were followed by a couple of paramedics wheeling a gurney. Wade took my arm and moved me away from the door so those who needed to get in would be able to access the place without being hindered by our presence.
I can’t recall very much that happened after that. I was too stunned to be aware of what was going on. There seemed to be a steady stream of people moving in and out of the office; and then at one point one of the Capitol cops approached Wade and me. Wade explained why we had come to the office and how he had heard the shot just moments before pushing open the door.
The cop took our names and the names of the Members we worked for. I think he would have insisted we remain there except for the fact Wade worked for the Speaker. Knowing that, he suggested we go back to our offices and wait. They would come around to take our statements eventually he said; maybe not today exactly because they were understaffed like everyone else. But they would be around at some point.
Even as the cop was telling us this, the two paramedics I had seen earlier were wheeling the body out of the office. The gurney was covered with a sheet, but blood was already staining it and I could see John’s body outlined below. I remember gasping and being grateful that Wade was there holding my arm. I had never seen anything like that before. It was sickening.
Finally, the two of us walked down the corridor, turned left and then right. Wade punched the elevator button.
“I’ll walk you back to your office, Brian.”
The elevator arrived quickly enough and it wasn’t long before we were back at my office. I noticed my hand was shaking as I pushed the key into the lock and turned it. Wade closed the door behind us with the sign still in place. I hesitated momentarily, wondering whether I should go back, take down the sign and open the door. But I didn’t want to deal with anyone coming in at that moment and I was thankful when a quick check revealed that no one had left a telephone message either.
The two of us walked into the Congressman’s office. I sat on the couch while Wade settled down in the chair the Congressman usually used, the big one.
We looked at each other momentarily. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I needed to say something and then the words just started flowing freely between us.
“Why, Wade?” I asked. “Why would John do something like that?”
“I don’t know,” Wade replied, sighing. “I just don’t know.”
“No,” he added, reconsidering, “that’s not right. I think I do know the reason, at least most of it.”
“The thing is, John had been growing more and more frustrated these last two years,” he continued. “I’ve seen the same thing happen a million times. You come to Capitol Hill as a very young man. You’re full of ideals, full of a commitment to make things better. You bounce around from place to place for a couple of years. Then you finally stumble upon a Member who shares your ideals and you settle in for the long haul.”
“The Member you’re working for keeps getting reelected. He rises through the ranks. At some point he becomes the Chairman of a subcommittee, then, if you’re lucky, the full committee. It’s a heady experience, Brian. All the time and effort you’ve put in begins to pay off. You’re finally in a position to make a difference, a big difference, and other people around town recognize that. They begin courting you because they know you’re important; the smart ones begin doing that even before you’ve reached the pinnacle of power. But once you have reached it, you know because everyone tells you that over and over.”
“And then one day the Member you work for wakes up and decides he wants to do something else. Maybe he wants to go downtown and make more money while he can. Maybe he decides he’s tired of going back to the district every other weekend and pretending to be nice to all the idiots and ingrates who don’t have a clue. Maybe he gets just a little too confident, a little too convinced of his own self-importance, and then wakes up one morning on the short end of the vote count. Or maybe he really does want to spend more time with the wife and the kids like he’ll say in that statement announcing his decision.”
“Whatever the reason, the Member you’ve invested all of your time and effort into for years is no longer there. And you know what happens, Brian; when a Member decides to leave, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, his staff has to leave as well.”
“It happens every two years and two years ago it happened to John.”
“But he got another job up here,” I responded. “It’s not like he was out on the street selling pencils, Wade.”
“I know, Brian,” he responded. “But it’s never the same. When your Member is no longer there, you only have a couple of options. If you’re old enough and have put in enough time, you can decide you’re tired of the whole thing and retire as well. The retirement package is a good one so that’s not a bad choice if you’re eligible to retire. Or you can take everything you’ve learned and find yourself a job on K Street lobbying. There are lots of jobs on K Street for staffers with specialized policy expertise.”
“If the party you’ve attached yourself to controls the White House, there’s a good chance you can find a job in the Executive branch doing something, sometimes a very good job, one that’s powerful. But our party doesn’t control the White House, Brian, so John didn’t have that option.”
“John was from the old school as well. He didn’t think it was right to take what he had learned up here from doing the public’s business and peddle it for big bucks on K Street. He could have retired, I suppose, but to what? He didn’t have a wife or family. He was like you that way, Brian. It wasn’t like he had some big hobby like golf that he loved with a passion. Working up here was his life and then, in a flash, it’s gone.”
“So, yes, you’re right, Brian. He found another job just like you or I would if the same thing happened to us. He signed on with another Member who thought that perhaps hiring John would help move his career forward within the House; and when having John as a staffer didn’t help very much, he pretty much shunted John aside. You fall from the height of power to the basement pretty quick in this town, Brian.”
“It happens to all of us eventually. None of us has any control over it. It could happen next week, next month or next year. But it will happen. It will definitely happen one day.”
“Do you think the fact he was homosexual had anything to do with it?” I blurted out.
It wasn’t something I would have asked ordinarily because people on the Hill respected your privacy pretty much when it came to things like that. I mean, yeah, sure, things were beginning to change. The younger staffers were more willing to be out. Some Members tolerated that more than they would have ten or twenty years ago. Still, no Member of Congress wanted to see his name in the newspaper because one of his staff was homosexual. So, yes, you could be out now, but you still had to be discreet about it.
Like Wade said, John was old school. He never went public about it. Most people didn’t know he was homosexual and never would. It wouldn’t show up in the obituary they ran on him in the Post tomorrow or the day after that. But some of us knew he was and I was pretty sure Wade was among them. He would never say that to me, of course. He would never say it to anyone. He would respect John’s decision to stay closeted and would have covered for him if need be.
“Sure, I think it did,” Wade responded.
He could admit it to me now because I had raised it myself rather than him and because there was no way John could be hurt by letting me know. He could also say it to me because I was pretty sure he knew I was a homosexual as well. He had never asked and never would; and he would cover for me as he would have covered for John if the need ever arose. But Wade was smart. He knew.
“Like I said, he didn’t have anyone special in his life for one thing,” Wade continued. “His parents had died years ago. He was never that close to his brother; and he and his partner had broken up about five or ten years ago and he never found anyone else. He was lonely, Brian, and I’m sure that was a part of it.”
I knew Wade was right, but hearing him say it sent a shiver up my spine, as did what he said next.
“I guess I need to be getting back over to the Speaker’s office, Brian, but there’s a lesson to be learned from this. I mean, there are some ways in which you and John are very much alike. Like John, you’re heavily invested in your career and there’s nothing wrong with that. This country could use more people like the two of you. But there has to be something more. The career isn’t going to be there forever, Brian.”
“I never spoke to John about it because he was much older than you. He had made his choice a long time ago and it was probably too late for him to change. But you’re younger, Brian, and I worry about you. I’ve seen this a million times.”
“There has to be something more.”
“Think about it.”
With that he stood up and I followed him toward the door. I pulled it open, took down the sign, and kicked the doorstop into place so it would be open and welcoming again. Wade and I walked toward the elevator that would bring him down to the subway and then across to the Capitol. He wouldn’t take the subway, of course. I knew that. Like me, Wade liked to keep himself in good shape so he would walk the short distance between the two buildings even if the subway was running, which it probably wasn’t.
“Do you have any plans for tomorrow, Brian?” he asked. “Claire and the kids would love to see you. In fact, Robbie was just asking the other day whether I had invited you over as usual. The kid loves you, Brian, and it would make his day if I was able to tell him tonight that you were coming over tomorrow.”
I remember hesitating for a moment.
I appreciated the offer, especially given everything that had happened that day. I didn’t have any plans for Christmas Day. It was just something I needed to get through to make it to the day when work would resume. I would get through it somehow like I always did. I knew it. But I appreciated the offer and I was tempted.
I was definitely tempted.
I was a big admirer of Wade and I loved spending time with his wife and kids, especially Robbie. I really did want to see Robbie again after that conversation the two of us had had the previous month. But Wade already knew what the answer would be. He was expecting it. It was Christmas after all. If you had a family, Christmas was the one day each year you needed to spend with your family, to celebrate with your family, to be alone with your family.
“I’m already committed for the day, Wade,” I lied. “But thanks for the offer. I’ll give Robbie a call tomorrow and let him know I’ve already snagged tickets for the three of us to the Caps game on New Year’s Eve. I’m looking forward to our annual ritual. I know how much you hate hockey, Wade, but Robbie likes it and it’s only once a year that we do it together. Robbie’s getting older and he’ll be going off to college soon enough. You’ll miss him when he’s gone so you should spend more time with him now when he’s still around.”
“I know,” Wade responded. “I’ve been trying to do that. But Robbie likes his one on one time with you too, Brian.”
“Says you’re not old like me,” he added, laughing. “Am I that old, Brian?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “But you’re his Dad and you know how teenage boys like to jerk their parents around.”
“I’ll give you a call after Christmas and perhaps we can have lunch next week,” I continued. “I’ve been thinking about my career lately and would like to bounce some ideas off of you. In any event, I’ve already sent my presents for Robbie and the rest of your brood over to Claire,” I added.
Both of us knew I was lying about my plans for the next day, but I’m sure Wade had a fair idea by this time why I didn’t want to take him up on his offer. He placed his hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. Then the elevator door opened and he scrambled in.
“Merry Christmas, Wade,” I mumbled.
“And a Merry Christmas to you as well, Brian,” I heard him respond as the door closed behind him.
I turned around and headed back to the office. By now the building was beginning to empty out. A lot of the doors that had been open in the morning were closed now; and when I got back to the office I decided to close our door as well. I would stay there the rest of the day and do the job the Congressman expected me to do, but I didn’t want any more visitors that day if possible. I scribbled a sign that announced our office was open and that anyone who wished should just open the door and come in.
I walked back into my boss’ office and sat down on the couch. The place was quiet now, very quiet, and out the window I could see the sky rapidly darkening. They were predicting snow that evening, a lot if you believed them. But they were usually wrong and it hardly ever snowed in Washington on Christmas Eve. I chose not to believe them.
I don’t know why it happened exactly, but suddenly I found myself crying again. The tears were coming in buckets now and I wasn’t able to suppress the sobs that accompanied them. They were shaking my body.
What are you crying about? I remember thinking.
But I already knew the answer.
Part of me was crying because I wouldn’t be there the next day with Wade, Claire, and their kids. I recalled how exciting Christmas had been when I was much younger, the special magic of waking up in the morning, coming down the stairs to the lighted tree and seeing all the brightly wrapped gifts. I would have given anything at that moment to have the chance to experience that one more time.
Part of me was crying for John. We weren’t the closest of friends, but I had always respected him, always admired him. He had saved my bacon on more than one occasion and I would miss him. I knew that and I was ashamed of myself. I had been wallowing in my own depression too much. If I had been less selfish, I would have known how unhappy he was and maybe I could have done something to help him out.
Part of me was crying for Eric. I missed him so much. I missed him every day and I was so sorry for what I had done to him.
Why did I do that?
I had asked that question over and over, but there was never an answer.
Finally, trying to be totally honest with myself at last, I knew part of me was crying for me.
I was alone, totally alone in the world, without hope, without anything to look forward to.
I sat there crying until my body had released all of the tears it could produce, all of the sobs it was capable of. And then, when there was nothing more left to get out, when my body had exhausted itself with grief, I took off my shoes and stretched out on the couch.
There were too many things racing around inside my head I didn’t want to think about any more.
If anything, things seemed more hopeless than ever, completely hopeless.
Your whole life has been a waste, Brian.
The world would be better off if you had the guts to admit it and do what John did today.
No one will miss you. No one will care.
Tonight would be the perfect night to do it, the night he died.
Tonight I could be with Eric again and tell him how sorry I was.
I remember closing my eyes.
It was Christmas Eve and there I was, alone in the office.
I had just seen my future.