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 9, Brian and his two young companions set off for his home in Virginia. The driving turns out to be hard, partly because Vinnie keeps berating Jimmy but mostly because the roads are treacherous from all the snow. Eventually the three get back to Brian's place safely. He shows the boys around the house. Then, bringing his wallet and car keys along, he retreats to his bedroom and falls asleep. Later he is awakened by a loud voice coming from the guest bedroom. Vinnie is still annoyed with Jimmy and that's reflected in how he treats the boy. Later, after they've finished having sex, Vinnie sends Jimmy over to Brian's bedroom to do whatever Brian wants with him. Brian refuses the boy's offer of sex, but Jimmy asks Brian whether he can sleep in his room that evening. Brian agrees, reluctantly. In the morning, he's surprised to find Jimmy awake before himself. They watch television together in bed until Vinnie interrupts and crudely lets Brian know what happened the previous evening in bed between him and Jimmy. Brian is disgusted, but is forced to let the two boys remain at his place Christmas Day because they're snowed in. Jimmy makes breakfast for the three of them and then helps Brian shovel his driveway. In turn, Brian helps Jimmy make a snowman and later takes him on a walk around Burke Center. An unpleasant incident after they return to the house leaves Brian feeling disgusted with Vinnie. In the evening, after feeding the boys, Brian insists on watching an inspirational Christmas movie called It's A Wonderful Life. Jimmy likes the movie, but is not feeling well and he and Vinnie go to bed early. After finishing the movie, Brian goes to bed as well. Bitterly, he wishes himself a Merry Christmas, feeling everything he's done that day turned out badly.
WITH APOLOGIES MR. DICKENS
A Tale of Sin and Redemption
When I woke up the following morning, I turned on the television to catch the news, hear what the weather was like, and find out the latest on where things stood in the wake of the storm. This was supposed to be my day off for working on Christmas Eve and, sure enough, the television stations were reporting that the roads were passable and the Federal government open for business as usual.
I was grateful I didn’t have to go into work that day, but decided to get up anyway because I knew I would be driving Vinnie and Jimmy back into town. I was going to be glad to be rid of Vinnie. He was good looking and sexy, but more trouble than he was worth. As for Jimmy, I felt sorry for the kid but it wasn’t my problem and there was nothing I could do about the situation in any event.
I made the bed and headed for the bathroom where I shaved and allowed myself the luxury of a long shower. I was on the way back to my room to get dressed when Vinnie intercepted me. Before he could say anything, I put him on notice.
“You and Jimmy should get your stuff together. The roads are passable and Washington is open so I’ll be taking the two of you back into town after we have breakfast this morning.”
“Okay,” he responded, “but I think Jimmy’s sick. I don’t know what’s wrong with him exactly, but he was coughing a lot in bed last night. He was coughing real bad. I finally had to tell him to go sleep on the couch downstairs. Could you check him out to see whether he’s okay?”
I remember being surprised. Vinnie actually seemed concerned and I recall thinking it was the first time I had ever seen a genuine human emotion from him. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a lot, especially given the fact he had kicked Jimmy out of bed in the middle of the night and banished him to the living room couch. But it was more than I had seen from him up to that point and I wondered whether there was still hope for him.
He followed me down the stairs and it was immediately apparent Jimmy wasn’t feeling well when the two of us walked into the living room. He was just lying there, coughing from time to time. He was practically naked, just one thin blanket draped over his body; and he was shivering a lot. Yet when I pressed my cheek to his forehead, he was hot; very hot.
“I think we better take your temperature,” I said, quietly.
“Oh good,” Vinnie said, giggling.
“Do you have a rectal thermometer? I’m sure Jimmy would love that and it would be fun sticking it up his ass.”
“Would you please stop being so annoying?” I said, sternly. “Go play with yourself or something.”
My question whether there was still hope for Vinnie seemingly answered, I remember thinking how glad I would be when he was finally gone. He had been working the streets too long and it had taken a toll he was never going to recover from. It was sad and a part of me felt sorry for him. But he was totally clueless about what he had become and by now he would have scorned my pity if I tried to explain it to him.
I retrieved the thermometer from the medicine cabinet and took Jimmy’s temperature. It was 104 degrees.
“Wow,” I muttered. “You really are sick. We need to get you checked out.”
Picking up the phone, I called my doctor’s office. But all I got was a recorded message that the office would be closed until the following Monday.
“Not open,” I said, looking over at Vinnie and Jimmy.
“There’s a gay doctor downtown,” Vinnie volunteered. “We use him sometimes when we, um, catch stuff and need to get fixed up. We could take him there. The dude works at that hospital over there and hangs out at his office when he isn’t on call, which is usually in the evenings. He works like, you know, all the time so he should be around. And you were going to take us back into town anyway. Maybe we could go there first, then you could drive us back to the Palermo.”
I didn’t have a better idea and knew it wouldn’t be very far out of the way.
“I guess we can try the guy,” I responded. “It’s either that or the emergency room and we could be at the emergency room forever on a day like this.”
“Are you feeling well enough to get dressed?” I asked Jimmy. “You really do need to see a doctor with a temperature like that and we should probably leave now.”
“I guess,” he responded, weakly.
“What about breakfast?” Vinnie asked. “I’m hungry.”
“Feel free to make it yourself,” I replied, annoyed. “I’m not running a maid service here.”
While Jimmy got dressed and Vinnie tried to find something to eat, I fed the cat and warmed up the car.
Then the three of us piled into the car and headed for Washington.
The roads were in better shape than I expected and traffic was light. As we started to cross the bridge into Washington, I asked Vinnie for directions.
“Where is this doctor you know located?”
“On Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street from that place they took Reagan when the dude shot him,” he replied.
I knew he was talking about the George Washington University Medical Center so I followed 14th Street up to Pennsylvania Avenue, turned left, and headed toward Georgetown. Years later, portions of the avenue would be closed to cars in front of the White House, but we passed it that morning. Surrounded by snow, it looked beautiful and I played tourist guide and pointed it out to the boys. Vinnie just grunted.
Continuing west, Vinnie directed me to a nondescript building at the corner of 2lst and Pennsylvania Avenue. Like a lot of the buildings in that part of town, it was populated with doctors and other medical facilities. This building was a lot older, however, and kind of run down. We took an elevator up to the 10th floor and eventually entered the office Vinnie had led us to.
The place was open, but the reception room was small and cramped. An old couch that had seen better days had been shoved against one of the walls and the rest of the place seemed to be overflowing with medical journals and papers. There was some guy in jeans and a t-shirt sitting at a desk reading a book. He was a little younger than me, cute but disheveled and definitely in need of a shave.
Some receptionist, I remember thinking.
I hope the doctor is more professional and knows his stuff.
“We’re looking for the doctor,” I said to the guy. “I have a sick boy here who needs to be checked out.”
“He is the doctor, dude,” Vinnie said, giggling.
I remember being surprised.
He didn’t look like any of the doctors I was used to seeing and I wondered what his credentials were and how good he could be working out of a place like this. He wasn’t going to go broke from paying the rent, that was for sure. The place was a dump, but we were already there and didn’t have anywhere else to go.
“Um, well, sorry about that,” I said to the guy. “But this boy has a temperature of 104 degrees; at least that’s what it was an hour ago. Could you examine him?”
“What’s his name?” the guy said.
“Jimmy,” I responded.
“Okay, why don’t the two of you wait here and I’ll take a look.”
“Follow me, Jimmy,” he added, leading the kid into another room and closing the door behind them.
About ten minutes later the doctor asked me to come into his office. Jimmy was finishing up getting dressed following the exam.
“He has pneumonia,” the doctor said. “I’m pretty certain of that although I’ll have to wait for the lab results to know for sure.”
“Are you his father?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Stepfather? Legal guardian?”
“No,” I replied again. “I’m not related to him at all.”
“How about his sugar daddy then; is that who you are?”
I remember being surprised by the question.
“No, of course not,” I replied. “Why would you ask something like that?”
“If you were his father or sugar daddy, I’d charge you for the visit, the shot I gave him, and the initial supply of medications I’m going to give him,” the guy responded. “But since you’re not, I can’t very well ask you to pay for those things. I’ll have to eat the cost of them myself.”
“Are you willing to help out by paying for the refills he’ll need or do I need to give him some extra supplies of those as well?” he added.
Jimmy was just sitting there quietly, listening to the two of us, and I didn’t want to argue the point in front of him.
“Um, well, sure,” I replied. “I guess. I mean, will they be expensive?”
“Does it matter?” he asked. “He needs them.”
I didn’t know why the guy seemed to be challenging me like this. I remember feeling a little embarrassed for asking, but also a little annoyed.
“No, I guess not,” I replied.
“Good,” he said, handing me a couple of prescriptions. “And they’re generics so you can rest easy. They won’t be that expensive.”
I guess I must have been feeling defensive about the whole situation by then, wondering what the doctor thought about me. He seemed to dislike me for some reason and I didn’t know why exactly.
“Look, just so you know, I’m not his sugar daddy,” I said again. “I’m not lying about that. You must have a pretty low opinion of me if you think I’m keeping a 16 year kid as some kind of boy toy. Why would you think I was his sugar daddy in the first place?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the doctor replied, looking over at me; “an older man hanging around with two younger boys, both of whom are obviously hustlers. Says he’s not related to the one boy, but obviously has some connection to him. If you were me, what would you think, dude?”
“Look, you’re wrong about all of this,” I protested. “It’s not what you think. I’m not his sugar daddy and I’m not some dirty old man either. I met these boys on Christmas Eve when they didn’t have any place to stay. I let them come back to my place. I was trying to do a good deed. I didn’t have sex with either of them. The younger one, Jimmy, got sick while he was at my place. My doctor’s office wasn’t open. The older boy, Vinnie, mentioned you so I brought Jimmy over here to be checked out. And this is the thanks I get for everything I’ve done?”
“Is that right?” the doctor asked, turning his attention to Jimmy. “Is the dude telling me the truth?”
“He is,” Jimmy responded. “He never touched me; or Vinnie either for that matter.”
“Where did you meet them?” the doctor asked, turning his attention back to me.
“I met them at a, um, well, why does it matter where I met them?”
“My guess is that you met them at a gay bar. Are you gay?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” I responded, annoyed at being interrogated by the guy like I was some kind of criminal.
“It only matters because I’m trying to find out whether you’re willing to help some more. Congratulations for being a Good Samaritan on Christmas Eve, but I hate to tell you this. The job isn’t done.”
“Oh, fuck, never mind,” he added abruptly. “Why do I even bother? Look, why don’t you send in the other boy now. I need to check him out as well to make sure he isn’t showing any symptoms and to get a blood sample. I’ve already gotten one from Jimmy.”
“A blood sample,” I responded, curious. “Why?”
“Kids like these two don’t see a doctor that often,” he responded. “When they’re here, I like to take advantage of the opportunity to see what else they might have; sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, things like that.”
“HIV; you mean AIDS?” I asked, suddenly concerned. “Is that a possibility?”
“What do you think?” he asked. “They make their living hustling. Knowing that, anything’s possible.”
Shaken, I retreated from the office and sent Vinnie in.
They were in the room alone with the doctor a long time. Later, after they emerged, the doctor asked me to step back in.
“The older boy is fine. The penicillin and prescriptions will help with the pneumonia the younger boy has, but he really should be in the hospital to be perfectly honest. Of course, no hospital will admit him, including the one I work for across the street. He doesn’t have any insurance.”
“But he still needs a place where he can rest quietly for the next week to ten days; and he needs someone to monitor his condition and take care of him as well. If he doesn’t start to get better within the next few days, he’ll need to go to an emergency room. He’s a very sick boy. I hope you realize that.”
“Even if he was willing, I don’t think the older boy can do any of that,” the doctor continued. “And, to be honest, I don’t think he’s willing to help very much either. That leaves you or me.”
“Can he stay at your place? Are you willing to take care of him for the next week or so or do you feel like you’ve done your good deed for the day?”
“Oh, jeez, I don’t know, Doctor,” I replied. “I mean, yeah, sure, I want to help if I can, but I’m not a doctor. How do I know what to do or whether he’s getting better or worse? I’m also kind of worried about that blood sample you mentioned. What if he has AIDS? I mean, isn’t that contagious? Am I putting myself at risk by letting him stay at my place? How would I protect myself?”
“As for Jimmy getting better or worse, these instructions should help,” the doctor responded, handing me two pieces of paper. “Mostly it’s just a question of taking his temperature regularly, making sure he takes his medications and eats properly, which is probably one of the reasons why he’s sick right now, and listening to what he tells you about how he’s feeling.”
I looked down at the paper, then back at the doctor.
“As for the rest of it,” he continued, “I’ve talked to the two of them and both of them insist they use condoms so I’m not expecting them to be HIV-positive. Even so, they need to be tested on a regular basis.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation about HIV and AIDS going around,” he continued, “so I understand your concern. To answer your questions, no, you’re not putting yourself at risk by letting him stay with you even if he is infected. AIDS is not transmitted through sneezing, coughing, eating or drinking from common utensils, or merely being around someone who’s infected. It’s not transmitted through food, water, or the air, or by touching something handled, touched, or breathed on by a person with an HIV/AIDS infection.”
“We still don’t know as much as we would like to know about this disease, but the bottom line is that casual contact with people infected with HIV won’t place you at risk. Having sex with them could. If the three of you are lying to me and you’re having sex with either of those kids, you should definitely be using condoms at the very least. If you’re worried about that, you may want to get yourself tested.”
“I’m not lying,” I replied, annoyed once again. “I’m not having sex with either of them. I’m just a guy who let them stay at my place for a couple of nights.”
“That’s nice,” he said. “You did something good and you can be proud of that. But you need to do more, dude. If you care about them, I mean. Street kids like those two don’t have much of a shelf life. It may have already expired for the older one. The younger one is still salvageable but only if someone cares. Do you?”
“Look, why the hell are you picking on me?” I finally asked, no longer able to contain my resentment.
“What did I do to be treated like I’m some kind of dirty old man? I gave the two of them a place to stay on Christmas Eve when they didn’t have a place to stay. I fed them. And I brought the kid over here to be checked out by you because I knew he was sick and needed help.”
“Precisely,” he responded. “You wanted to help and that’s commendable and no one’s saying you’re a dirty old man unless you’re saying it about yourself. Do you think you’re a dirty old man? I don’t. From everything I’ve heard from those boys and what you’ve shown me today, I think you’re probably a pretty decent dude.”
“But like I said, those kids need more than a ride somewhere, a lot more. So now the question is whether you still care and are willing to keep helping or feel like you’ve done enough. You don’t have to care. Most people don’t. Probably the only reason I care myself is because I’m gay and I have the skills to help with patching up their bodies. But a lot of their problems aren’t physical. They’re emotional and psychological. It’s their souls at risk as much as their bodies.”
By then my annoyance with the doctor was beginning to dissipate as I sensed he wasn’t judging me; that he thought I had done the right thing.
“With all due respect, it’s not as simple as you make it out to be, Doc,” I replied.
“Look, I understand what you’re saying. But sometimes things aren’t as simple or easy as they seem. Not everyone wants to be helped or can be helped. It isn’t always easy to know how to help; and sometime trying to help can backfire. It can backfire real badly. Did you ever think of that, Doc? That trying to help could backfire?”
“It’s just not that simple,” I added, recalling what had happened when I tried to help Eric.
“Understood,” he responded. “It seems like nothing in life is ever simple. It would be nice if every diagnosis I made was correct, if every medication I prescribed was the right one. They aren’t and I go to bed every night realizing how risky any mistake I make could be. If I had to be perfect to practice medicine, I wouldn’t be here this morning and you and that kid would be in an emergency room somewhere still waiting for someone to help.”
“And yet, even knowing I’m not perfect, I decided to come here this morning rather than going home and getting some sleep. I didn’t expect anyone to come here today, but I wanted to be available if someone did; and I’m glad I did because that boy is seriously sick and needed help.”
“Helping is a choice. It’s risky and I understand I’m not perfect and I’ll make my share of mistakes. But never making the effort to help is a choice too and it has consequences as well.”
“You don’t have to be perfect, dude. You just have to care and understand your own strengths and weaknesses.”
“But if you don’t want to do it, I’ll take the kid in. It just means I’ll have less time to spend here and visiting the places where those kids hang out.”
We talked a little longer after that and I learned more about his efforts to bring medical care to kids like Vinnie and Jimmy. Given everything he was already doing for street kids, it quickly became apparent I was the better choice to take care of Jimmy. By the time we finished talking, I had changed my opinion of him, had even come to admire him.
I mean, yeah, sure, it wasn't my job. I had done a lot. I had given Vinnie and Jimmy a place to stay when they didn’t have one. I had taken them to the doctor. I was going to buy the refills he had prescribed for Jimmy. And yet, as much as I would have liked to avoid it, I knew he was right, that someone needed to help Vinnie and Jimmy.
The three of us took the elevator down to the street and walked back to my car. Looking around, I wondered exactly how to begin. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try reinforcing what the doctor had already told the boys.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said, turning to face the two of them. “First off, I hope the two of you are using condoms when you have sex like you told the doctor you were. It’s really important and I know the doctor spoke to you about that and I just want to reinforce his message. As you know, he took a blood sample and he’s going to test you for HIV. I hope we’re only dealing with pneumonia, not something more. I guess we’ll know soon enough one way or the other when we get the results, but it’s important for you to use condoms. Do you understand?”
It was only later I would realize that helping is more about deeds than words and that I was preaching down to them in any event.
“We’re not idiots, dude,” Vinnie replied, staring coldly at me. “Who died and made you our guardian angel? You’re not a doctor. It’s bad enough listening to all of that shit from a doctor. We don’t need to listen to some stupid lecture from you.”
“Maybe you don’t,” I replied, taken aback. “But it’s free and I’m giving it to you anyway. Jimmy needs rest so he’ll need to stay at my place the next few days, at least until he’s feeling better. But you’re welcome to stay there as well, Vinnie. I don’t know how exactly, but I want to help if I can and you’re welcome to come back to my place and we can try to figure out how I can help together.”
“Forget about it, dude,” Vinnie replied, scorn dripping from his voice. “If I needed help, I sure as hell could find someone better than you to give it. The only help I need is a ride back to the Palermo.”
“Okay,” I responded, discouraged. “I can do that; and I’ll give you my telephone number if you ever decide to change your mind.”
You’re a fool, Brian, I remember thinking. Even if you knew how to help and you don’t, kids like this don’t want to be helped. Save your help for Robbie or someone else who is open to being helped.
I drove over to the Palermo, handed Vinnie the card with my number, and dropped him off.
“Now remember not to fuck the little bitch too often,” Vinnie said, as he jumped out of the car. “At least not until that pneumonia clears up. And as for you, Miss Jimmy, get yourself well quickly because I’m going to miss having you around to abuse,” he added, grinning.
With that he disappeared into the Palermo and I never saw or heard from him again.
I turned the car around and headed back to Burke. When we got there, I took Jimmy’s temperature like the doctor had told me. It was still very high so I put him to bed. Although I had planned to have him stay in the guest room, Jimmy begged to sleep in my room. I didn’t want to get into a fight with him about that at the moment so I just let him do it.
Why not, I thought? I can sleep in the guest room tonight if I have to.
“I need to get these prescriptions filled and some food for the two of us,” I said after he had stripped down and climbed into bed. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, Jimmy.”
“Okay,” he responded, weakly.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said.
“Sure,” he responded.
“Why do you let Vinnie abuse you like that?” I blurted out.
Jimmy just stared off into the distance.
“Because having someone is better than having no one,” he responded.
Then he rolled over on to his side and quickly fell asleep.
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