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 7 Brian finds himself alone in the office on Christmas Eve. Like many Members of Congress, his boss likes to keep the office open that day in case a constituent experiencing some kind of problem should call. Brian has been volunteering to staff the office for years on Christmas Eve so other staffers can spend the day with family and friends. He spends part of the morning working, part recalling memories of Christmas past, and part thinking about his life and career, both of which are frustrating and angering him. When Wade calls, they make arrangements to have lunch with some colleagues and to meet at the office of a mutual friend, John, who will be joining them for lunch. To fill the remaining time before lunch, Brian begins reading Robbie's gift. Later he looks at the clock and realizes he's going to be late. On his way to meet Wade and John, he hears a loud noise. Racing to John's office, he learns that John has committed suicide. Eventually he and Wade end up back at his office. They discuss why John killed himself, with Wade telling Brian there needs to be something more than a career in life. Wade invites Brian over for Christmas, but Brian declines, believing Christmas to be a day for families to spend together alone. After Wade leaves, the events of the day and the memories he has been recalling for the last month cause Brian to despair. He falls asleep on the couch in the Congressman's office thinking the world would be better off if he also committed suicide like John.
WITH APOLOGIES MR. DICKENS
A Tale of Sin and Redemption
I must have fallen asleep because the next time I opened my eyes and looked at the clock I was surprised to see it was almost 7 p.m. Winter’s evening darkness had long since arrived and I remember wondering how I could have napped so long. Even now I was still tired and for a moment I considered closing my eyes and resuming my nap. But finally I roused myself from the couch and walked out to the hall.
The building had been completely abandoned, almost as if it had been evacuated after some natural calamity. It was unusually quiet, even more so than when I arrived in the morning most days and usually I was one of the first to open the building up. I walked back to the office and checked the answering machine. No one had called. I was free to leave.
I started to gather up my stuff and turn off the lights, then stopped.
What now, Brian?
I had no place to go except back to the house and I didn’t want to do that. There was nothing waiting for me there except the cat and bad memories. The cat had more than enough food to ignore my absence. As for the memories, I had already spent too much time that day going over them still again. Dwelling more on how rotten my life was for the rest of the evening held no appeal.
My stomach started to rumble. It served as a reminder that Wade and I had never gotten to lunch that day given everything that had happened. I switched off the last of the lights and decided to walk up Pennsylvania Avenue to see whether I could find a place that was still open where I could get something to eat. A lot of the bars and restaurants had closed early by then, but the Hawk and Dove was open. I went in and found a table near the back of the place.
Four guys were sitting at the bar chatting with one another and the bartender. You could tell they were friends just by the way they were behaving. I remember wondering whether they would be celebrating Christmas together or were just having a couple of drinks before going their separate ways.
Other people have friends, Brian. Why don’t you?
I was glad when one of the waiters approached and handed me a menu. It diverted my attention from having to answer the question. He just stood there patiently, waiting for me to place my order. I took a brief look at the menu and quickly decided what I would have.
Almost everyone ordered some kind of burger at the Hawk and Dove and matched it with fries and a beer. It seemed pointless to experiment on Christmas Eve so I didn’t. But I tried to eat slowly when my order finally arrived. I still wasn’t in the mood to go home, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do except to sit there and read the newspaper.
After devouring just about everything in the New York Times that held even the slightest interest for me, I paid my bill and bundled up. It had been cold walking up to the place and I knew it would be colder still on the walk back to Rayburn. By then it was almost 8:45 p.m.
I had been right about it getting colder and the wind had picked up as well, making the going even more difficult. When I finally reached the only entrance to Rayburn still open, the police officer on duty looked at me strangely.
“Good evening, sir,” he said as I showed him my pass.
“A little late in the evening to be here, isn’t it, sir?” he added.
“It is,” I replied. “It is indeed. I just need to retrieve my car from the garage and be on my way.”
“Yes, sir,” the officer responded. “I understand. Have a Merry Christmas, sir.”
“And you have one as well,” I replied.
I remember laughing sardonically to myself.
It might be a few more days until you turn thirty, Brian, but there you go. See? You’ve reached the pinnacle. You’re finally there at last. You’re officially a sir.
I took the elevator down to the garage. It was almost completely empty and it only took a couple of moments before I got to my car and found myself headed toward the nearest exit. Ordinarily, I would have turned left and headed for the freeway that would take me out to Virginia. But I still didn’t want to go home so I found myself turning right and then immediately left on to Independence Avenue, headed west.
I didn’t have any particular destination in mind, but eventually found myself nearing the Lincoln Memorial. I pulled over and parked, then climbed out of the car. No one was around. Walking to the bottom of the stairs, I looked up at the lonely figure that stood vigil there. There wasn’t a tourist or guard in sight.
I was alone with Mr. Lincoln and I remember recalling there had been times when he had despaired as well. And yet he had never given into the despair, never abandoned his post. He had done his duty; indeed was still doing it that April evening when the end came all too suddenly.
My problems seemed insignificant by comparison, but knowing that didn’t seem to help very much. They were mine after all and it seemed like I had been grappling with them forever.
A sudden gust of wind engulfed me and I remember shivering, then realizing just how cold and windy the night had turned. There was a hint of moisture in the air as well.
Maybe the forecasters were right. Maybe we’re going to get a little snow tonight after all.
The kids will be happy if we do.
“Yeah, but there’re never going to be any kids in your life, Brian,” a voice deep within taunted.
Retreating to my car, I circled around the monument and headed back east toward the Capitol rather than crossing the bridge to Virginia.
There were hardly any cars on the road by then and it wasn’t long before I found myself turning north on 14th Street. That led me past Constitution Avenue and then up to New York, where I turned right. Crossing 13th Street and looking over to my left, I could see the Café Palermo up ahead. It was lit up brightly and still open for business. As with my last visit, no one seemed to be manning the wall.
There weren’t many cars around either so it was easy to find a parking space across the street from the place. I turned off the engine to the car and just sat there staring straight ahead.
“This is really pathetic, Brian,” I said to myself. “Here it is, Christmas Eve, and you’re sitting in a car alone across the street from a bar that caters to young male prostitutes and their customers. Are you planning to buy yourself a present tonight, something to keep you warm for the evening?”
“If you had a shred of dignity left, you would be on your way home by now. But never mind; go ahead and indulge yourself. You’ve been trying to hit bottom for a long time now. Why not Christmas Eve at the Café Palermo?”
“You can’t sink much lower than that.”
Ashamed of myself, I put the key back into the ignition and started to turn it. Then I stopped and took it out again.
“Why should I give a damn what anyone thinks,” I recall telling myself. “It’s Christmas Eve and I’m queer and alone in Washington. No one gives a shit about me. Why should I worry what anyone thinks? This is where people like you belong, Brian. You want to go home for the holidays? Well, here you are. This is your home for the holidays, the only real home for someone like you.”
I pushed open the door, stepped out, and locked the car. Then I turned around, walked briskly across the street, and headed toward the front door. I pushed it open and walked into the place. A blast of warm air engulfed me and I could feel my heart starting to beat a little faster than usual. I was nervous, but I wasn’t about to show it.
Walking past the bar to my right, I headed toward the back of the place. I was hoping to find some nook or cranny where I could hide, but had to abandon my quest. Seeing the place again reminded me that everything was out in the open at the Palermo, not hidden or concealed.
I found a table next to a wall and sat down.
Looking around, I could see a few older men sitting at tables by themselves like I was, more than I thought there would be actually. They were much older than me and most of them seemed oblivious to their surroundings from all the booze they had been drinking. One or two were eyeing a couple of boys talking to one another across the way. I took off my coat and began drumming my fingers on the table. With nothing better to do, I walked back to the bar and ordered a beer.
I remember wondering how much a beer would cost in the bars these days; it had been a long time since I had been to one. Not wanting to show just how little I knew, I slapped a $5 bill on to the bar. The waiter who brought me the beer replaced it with two singles. I left one for him and then retreated back to my table and sat down again. By now a couple of the boys were eyeing me. One even got up, casually walked by my table, and smiled.
From habit I returned his smile. Then, mad at myself for doing that, I looked away quickly. I wanted to be alone and tried to send that message with my body language. The boys must have gotten the message because everyone settled down once again after that. I was alone by myself like I wanted to be, but in a place where I felt I belonged somehow, a place where all of the people were the same as me, all of us sinners, all of us god forsaken on this cold and blustery Christmas Eve.
My mind had gone totally blank by now. I was trying not to think about anything at all. I wasn’t feeling anything either. It was almost like being dead and somehow that seemed appropriate.
But I wasn’t dead.
I was alive and staring at the front door and at some level of consciousness I must have been aware of people coming and going because I took notice when he walked in. He was younger than some of the rest of the boys in the place, perhaps nineteen or twenty, and to me he was much better looking as well. His black hair was cut fashionably and nicely accented his eyebrows. I could feel my groin come alive ever so slightly and remember being embarrassed by that.
He walked to the back of the bar where I was sitting and sat down at a table by himself. Walking into the place he had seemed angry. But now, looking over at me momentarily, he smiled. Startled by the attention, I looked away. But my eyes had seen enough to be interested and a minute or two later I looked back over in his direction.
I had always tied to be discreet in the bars, especially about looking. But he was better looking than the rest of the boys and my eyes were demanding satisfaction. I must have forgotten I was even staring at him because eventually he noticed me doing so; and since this was the Café Palermo after all, I guess it wasn’t surprising when he stood up, came over to my table, pulled out the chair across from me, and sat down.
“Looking for some company, Mister?” he asked, staring directly at me. “My name is Vinnie. What’s yours?”
“Brian,” I replied, sensing from the tone of his voice that he was still angry about something.
“I’m sorry I was staring at you,” I added, hoping my apology would ease the tension.
“I thought I knew you,” I lied. “But I guess I was wrong about that.”
“That isn’t the most original pick-up line I’ve ever heard,” he responded, his voice relaxing a bit, “but it’ll do for now. I’m kind of thirsty by the way, but short on cash. In fact, I don’t have any cash at all. But I’m cute and I’m thinking a good looking dude like you would be glad to buy me a drink, especially on Christmas Eve.”
He said it casually, as if he had no doubt at all about how I would respond.
I remember thinking he was taking me for granted, but he was right. He was good looking and I admired his boldness. I had never been self-confident like that
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll be happy to buy you a drink. What would you like?”
“A rum and coke would be good,” he replied. “But you’ll have to buy it for me. You have to be twenty one in D.C. to buy hard liquor. I’m only nineteen.”
I remember wondering momentarily whether I should do it given his age.
“No problem,” I said.
I stood up, walked to the bar, and ordered the drink.
As I waited for the bartender to fill the order, I remember being impressed. Within moments of sitting down at my table, Vinnie had taken command of the situation and persuaded me to open my wallet and do something I knew was wrong.
I carried the drink back to the table and placed it in front of him.
“Thanks,” he said. “It’s tough being broke, especially at this time of year.”
I didn’t say anything. I just smiled at him again.
He was very good looking and suddenly I realized how attracted I was to him.
“So what brings you to the Palermo this evening, Brian?” he asked, staring at me. “Looking for a little quiet time before you head home to the wife and kiddies?”
“No wife,” I responded. “No kids either.”
“How about the boyfriend then?” he asked. “Did the two of you have an argument about who’s going to be the wife tonight? Need some time away from him before going home?”
“No boyfriend either,” I replied.
I remember being a little on edge at the disdain in his words and the way he was so easily dominating the conversation. But then he immediately took the edge off of what he had just said.
“That surprises me,” he responded. “Good looking guy like you; in shape. It seems as if a guy like you would have someplace to go, especially on Christmas Eve. But that’s not my business, is it? Whatever floats your boat is fine with me. And speaking of business, Brian, are you interested in renting a boyfriend for the evening? You’ll have a good time if you do.”
“Um, I don’t know,” I responded, stunned now by how quickly he had gotten to the point I knew he would get to eventually. “I mean, um, probably not.”
“I’m not really sure why I’m here,” I continued. “But since you mentioned it, I’m a little curious what renting a boyfriend costs these days.”
“You’re here for the same reason all of us are,” he replied. “And as for how much it’ll cost, it depends on what you’re looking for from a boyfriend. Different things, different prices; like I said, it all depends. What are you looking for, Brian?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe just someone to talk to,” I responded, trying to parry his aggressiveness.
I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation. I had never done anything like this before. And yet, looking at him, I was tempted by what he was offering and didn’t want the conversation to end.
“Nothing really I guess, at least not tonight. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, Vinnie. You’re a very good looking guy. I guess I was really just curious what the going rates are these days.”
“Sounds like you’ve done this before if you’re asking about the rates like that,” he said. “Were you a buyer or a seller back then?”
The conversation had now drifted off in a direction I wasn’t really interested in pursuing. I had been honest. Vinnie was good looking, no doubt about it, and I was pretty certain he didn’t lack for paying customers. But the more he talked, the more nervous I was becoming about the whole thing.
“Neither,” I replied. “I just had a friend who had some friends who were in the business back then. But that was a long time ago.”
He just sat there staring at me, not saying anything one way or the other. It was his way of upping the pressure on me and it worked because I felt compelled to say something.
“I shouldn’t have asked,” I continued. “I apologize. Maybe I should leave. I mean, it’s been quite a while since I’ve been in this neck of the woods and it’s getting kind of late and I don’t want to waste your time,” I added, looking up at the clock.
It was almost 10:00 p.m. by now.
“Whatever you say,” he responded. “But tonight could be your lucky night, Brian. It just so happens I’m giving a discount on all-nighters; if you’re interested in having some company for the night, that is. A hundred bucks buys you my company this evening. That includes me fucking you or you sucking my cock, whichever you prefer. Believe me, it’s a bargain. Ask any of the boys in here what I usually charge. And I can guarantee you’ll like spending the night with me.”
He was smiling at me now and he was good looking and I was so lonely.
I remember hesitating.
It wasn’t the money. I had enough money. And it wasn’t a lack of interest either. I was definitely interested. I hadn’t been fucked since Father Richard had done it to me a long time ago and the prospect of letting some nineteen year old kid do it to me that evening was enticing. But there was something about Vinnie that troubled me. I don’t know what exactly. Maybe it was because he was a little too self-confident and taking me for granted; or maybe it was because I sensed he wasn’t interested in anything about me except my wallet.
“Thanks, Vinnie,” I responded. “You’re a really good looking dude and anybody would be lucky to have your company tonight. It’s tempting and definitely a bargain, no doubt about it, but I guess I’m just not in the mood for whatever reason. In any event, it’s getting kind of late and I guess I should be going. It’s been really nice talking to you. Maybe I’ll see you around some time.”
It was a lie. I wasn’t planning to come back to the Palermo any time soon, but by then I was becoming more and more anxious to get out of the place as soon as I could. If I stayed longer, I wasn’t sure I would be able to resist the temptation.
I started to stand up, but at that very moment another kid burst through the door and came rushing over to the table the two of us were sharing. He was even better looking than Vinnie and younger as well. Taken by surprise, I sat back down.
“Vinnie,” the boy shouted, ignoring my presence, “it’s snowing out there. It’s been snowing for the last thirty minutes at least and it’s coming down hard, really hard. You should come out and see.”
“Oh, hi,” the kid added, turning and nodding at me.
I remember thinking there was something familiar about him, but I didn’t know what.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything, Vinnie,” he continued, looking back at the older kid.
“You are,” Vinnie responded, a hint of annoyance evident in his voice. “You seem to have a knack for doing everything wrong today.”
“So how much money have you made tonight?” Vinnie added, looking over at the kid while I just sat there watching the two of them talk.
“I haven’t made a dime, Vinnie,” the kid replied. “It’s totally dead out there. I even made a couple of runs through the bus station, but nothing’s happening there either.”
“Hey, don’t I know you?” the kid said, looking back over at me, this time more closely.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I doubt it. I was just going to leave in any event.”
“Hey, don’t leave yet,” Vinnie said, looking over at me and placing his hand on my arm as if to hold me in place.
“You haven’t finished your drink and it looks like both of us could use a friend tonight. I can tell you’re lonely and I have the perfect cure for that, eight inches of pure love that’s guaranteed to take all the hurting away. And it looks like I’m definitely going to need a place to stay tonight because Miss Jimmy here couldn’t scrape up the money for us to rent a room somewhere.”
“I’m sorry, Vinnie,” the kid responded. “I’ve been trying really hard, but there’s no one around. The weather is wicked nasty and it’s Christmas Eve. It seems like everyone has gone home for the evening.”
“You should have thought about that earlier,” Vinnie replied. “You should have thought about it before annoying that dude whose place we were staying at. I mean, for Christ’s sake, what were you thinking? We’re broke and now we don’t have a place to stay for the night.”
“He wanted to do something nasty to me, Vinnie,” the kid replied, pleading his case. “Remember? I told you. And he wanted to do some even nastier stuff too that I didn’t tell you about.”
“Big fucking deal,” Vinnie responded. “So he wanted to piss on you. What’s the big deal for crying out loud? But, no, not Miss Jimmy; you’re fussy about what you do, too fussy. You’re never going to be any good at hustling with an attitude like that. And what pisses me off the most is you did it so late in the day. I told you there wouldn’t be a lot of johns around tonight. I told you to get started earlier, but you didn’t listen, did you?”
By then he was making no effort at all to suppress his annoyance with the kid.
“I’m sorry, Vinnie,” the boy said. “I didn’t know it would be so hard to find a customer tonight.”
Then he looked over at me in an effort to escape Vinnie’s anger.
“Hey, you’re the guy,” he said, looking at me more closely.
“What guy?” Vinnie asked.
“He’s the dude that gave me the hundred bucks a couple of weeks ago,” Jimmy replied. “Remember? I told you about him. He didn’t ask for anything, not even a quick hand job. Just gave me the money; that’s why we were able to get a room over on 9th Street that night. Remember?”
I don’t know if Vinnie remembered, but suddenly I did and now I recalled just how the two of us had met the night I took Emily to the bus station.
“What’s your name?” I asked, curious.
I recall Vinnie mentioning it earlier, but I hadn’t been listening that closely and couldn’t recall it.
“Jimmy,” he replied. “What’s yours?”
“Brian,” I responded. “Nice to meet you again, Jimmy.”
“Well, shit, before everyone goes all soft and mushy in here with all these fond memories, could you put me up for the night, Brian?” Vinnie interjected. “You heard what happened so I’m going to need a place to stay for a day or two until I can line up something else.”
“I’ll tell you what. It’s Christmas Eve. I won’t even charge you. You can’t do better than that.”
“As for you, Jimmy, you had better get your ass back out there and pray someone comes along if you don’t want to spend the night in the bus station,” Vinnie added. “I know how much you love that station at night.”
“Not the bus station, Vinnie,” the kid pleaded. “That place gets so creepy at night and then the cops end up busting your ass in the middle of the evening. I don’t want to spend Christmas in jail.”
“You should have thought about that sooner,” Vinnie responded, shrugging his shoulders.
I had been listening to all of this and by then I had lost all interest in sleeping with Vinnie. Yeah, he was good looking, but he could be mean so I tried to put him off as gently as possible.
“The thing is, well, I live pretty far out in Virginia, Vinnie,” I said. “It wouldn’t be very convenient at all. There must be someone who lives in town who would be willing to put a couple of cute guys like the two of you up for a couple of days. That would be a lot more convenient than my place, that’s for sure.”
“Oh, I get it,” Vinnie replied, looking over at me. “So you were lying to me all along. You do have a boyfriend and don’t want to be bringing any trash home from the Palermo. Is that it?”
“Not at all,” I responded, finding myself on the defensive again.
“Like I told you, I live alone. And, more importantly, I don’t consider either you or Jimmy to be trash. I was just thinking some place in town would be a lot more convenient for the two of you.”
“Well, duh, it would be, Brian,” Vinnie replied, as if I was dense or something. “But while Jimmy was working the streets, I’ve been checking around and no one has any room at their inn for the two of us.”
“Um, well, how about a shelter?” I asked. “There must be some place the two of you can go to get out of this storm. I could drive you.”
“It’s too late, man,” he replied, “even if I wanted to go to one of those places and I don’t. Have you ever actually been to one of them?”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t.”
“Consider yourself lucky, then,” he replied. “Even the best of them are dumps and the best of them would already be filled in any event. That’s why you need to let me come back to your place.”
“Like I said, I think it would be too inconvenient,” I countered. “But I do have some money. How much would it cost for the two of you to get a room? I could pay for it.”
“Forget it, dude,” Vinnie replied. “The guy who owns this place used to rent lots of rooms out up above, but he closed most of them down a year ago. Says the demand isn’t there anymore since AIDS hit the scene and that it’s costing too much to keep the rooms heated. He only rents out the six on the second floor now.”
“He likes Jimmy so he was holding the last one for us. But then it got late and he rented it to someone who could actually pay. The other place we use sometimes over on 9th Street is already booked up. I’ve checked. And these newer hotels going up around here don’t rent to hustlers like us anyhow. They’re trying to drive us out of this neighborhood.”
I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. On the one hand, it was getting late; and if Jimmy was right, it was snowing as well. I didn’t want to have sex with Vinnie and knew I should be getting home. And yet it was hard to know whether the two of them would be able to find a place to stay for the evening and that bothered me.
It was Christmas Eve after all. No one should have to spend the night in a bus station or wandering the streets in weather like this.
I don’t know why exactly, but I decided to relent for some reason.
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” I said. “You can stay at my place, at least for tonight, no strings attached; and then I’ll bring you back to Washington tomorrow, Vinnie. Does that work for you?”
“Great, man, you’re a sweetheart,” he responded, relieved. “Let’s get going right now.”
“But what are we going to do about Jimmy here?” I said, looking over at the kid.
He was just sitting there, taking everything in. By now he was looking kind of forlorn, as if he expected to be abandoned.
“He knows how to fend for himself,” Vinnie responded. “It suits him right for getting us tossed out of the place where we were staying and for not making any money earlier today. He’s usually in high demand and we could have gotten a room above this place if he had gotten a customer. We could be there now with me fucking his tight little ass as his reward if he had made any money.”
“Miss Jimmy loves to be fucked, don’t you?” he added, derisively, sticking his tongue out at the kid.
“I’m sorry Vinnie,” Jimmy responded. “I did my best.”
“Umm, well, forget it,” I interjected. “I’m not going to leave him alone to fend for himself. He can come along as well.”
“Jeez, thanks Mister,” Jimmy replied, smiling at me.
“You’re welcome,” I responded. “Consider it my little Christmas gift to the two of you.”
“But it’s just for tonight.”