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 11, Brian does his best to care for Jimmy, but struggles when the boy insists on having him sleep in the same bed. Recalling what he did to Eric, Brian is worried about what might happen if he sleeps with Jimmy. On Friday he returns to work, taking time off to pick up tickets to the hockey game Wade, Robbie and he will be attending New Year's Eve. He also picks up some flannel pajamas for Jimmy and himself on the drive home. With Jimmy starting to recover, Brian spends part of Saturday at the grocery story, only to learn that Robbie has called while he was away from the house. Asked who he was, Jimmy had lied that he was Brian's nephew. Brian knows Robbie will be suspicious about that. When he calls Robbie back that evening, he learns that Robbie's Dad won't be able to attend the hockey game. Robbie suggests that Brian invite Jimmy to the game instead, but Brian resists that suggestion. Later, in bed with Jimmy, he learns how the boy ended up on the streets and the two talk about what will happen when Jimmy is feeling better. Jimmy pleads with Brian to be his sugar daddy, an idea Brian rejects. Jimmy then tries to force Brian to have sex with him. Brian resists, but isn't sure what to do next. The following evening Brian invites Jimmy to join him and Robbie at the hockey game, but asks him to stick to his story that he's Brian's nephew. The three attend the game, but it's soon apparent that Brian's charade hasn't worked. After pressing Brian closely, Robbie explains that the two boys have talked already and he knows Brian is telling the truth about his relationship with Jimmy. He asks whether Brian will let Jimmy live with him. Brian indicates he isn't sure. Robbie expresses an interest in getting to know Jimmy better, a prospect Brian finds troublesome.
WITH APOLOGIES MR. DICKENS
A Tale of Sin and Redemption
When I got back to my place, Jimmy was still up, waiting for me.
“Thanks for taking me to that game, Brian,” he said. “That was fun. And thanks for introducing me to Robbie too. He’s totally hot!”
“Oh, Jesus, don’t you start on me now, Jimmy,” I replied. “I can’t deal with any more problems right now.”
Later, when we were in bed, it was Jimmy who raised the subject.
“Did you think about it anymore, Brian?” he asked. “I mean, about me coming here to live with you.”
I could tell he was holding his breath and I wasn’t sure where to begin so I just blurted things out in no particular order.
“Virginia will never let me adopt you, Jimmy, or even let me have custody of you,” I said, “at least not officially. If we try to go through the legal system, we don’t stand a chance at all. But, yes, I would consider letting you stay here with me, but only under certain conditions.”
“Like what?” Jimmy responded, and by now his attention was totally focused on me as he realized there was a chance he might be able to stay.
“For one thing, it won’t work if you plan to spend any time at the Café Palermo,” I said. “It’s just not the right place for you, Jimmy, so you would have to agree to stop hustling and to stay away from all of the gay bars in town, not just the Palermo. I know you have some friends there; but if you want to take charge of your life and turn things around, they’re not the right kind of friends. Like I said, you couldn’t go back there at all; and if you did, even once, you would have to leave my place.”
“Does that apply to you as well, Brian?” he asked. “I met you at the Palermo after all. Do you still get to go there?”
It was a question I hadn’t thought about and I wondered how to respond.
I was an adult after all. Our situations were entirely different. But I understood why he had asked and decided it wouldn’t work to have one set of rules for him and another for myself.
“Okay,” I replied. “It applies to me too. If you decide to stay here, I won’t go back to the Café Palermo either.”
“Fine,” he said; “it wouldn’t have killed the deal, but it works better for me that way. It won’t be a problem for me to stay away from the bars. I don’t much like them. The people smoke and drink too much and then they end up stinking; so that’s easy. What else?”
“You need to get back into school, Jimmy,” I replied. “I spent most of yesterday afternoon talking to a friend of mine. His name is Josh. He runs an alternative school for boys like you and he’s willing to interview you to see whether you and the school would be a good fit.”
“Are you willing to talk to him about that? And, more importantly, are you willing to commit to school if he’s willing to let you join his program?”
“Sure, I would be willing to do both of those things,” he replied. “I always liked school. I was hoping to go to college someday, at least before I ended up out on the streets. School is one of the things I’ve missed the most.”
“Okay,” I said. “And then the other big thing is absolutely no sex between us,” I continued. “In fact, we’re going to have to start sleeping in separate beds from now on.”
“Why?” he responded.
“I mean, I don’t like the no sex rule, but I can live with it I guess. But why do we have to sleep in separate beds?”
I didn’t want to tell him the main reason, that I was tempted by him and wasn’t sure how long I would be able to keep my hands off of him if we slept together in the same bed. So I gave him another reason, one I considered a convenient lie at the time.
“Look, it’s a long story Jimmy and I’m going to tell you all of it soon enough,” I replied. “For now I’ll just say this. As much as I would like to be, I’m never going to be your father, but I would like it if we could pretend that I was. Not your sugar daddy, Jimmy; your father. I want to be someone you can look up to and respect, not just another daddy like the ones you’ve had before. And, well, the thing is, fathers and sons don’t sleep in the same bed so we can’t do that either. I know it sounds crazy, but I need you to humor me about this.”
Jimmy had been looking at me intently while I said all of that. I had expected him to protest, but to my surprise he didn’t.
“Okay, that’s fine,” he said; “on one condition.”
“What?” I asked.
“That rule needs to take effect tomorrow night, not tonight. Tonight is New Year’s Eve and I would like us to celebrate the arrival of the New Year here in bed together.”
It was just about then that I heard the grandfather clock starting to toll midnight, welcoming in still another new year.
“Happy New Year, Jimmy,” I said. “I guess you’ll get your wish.”
“For me it really is a happy new year, Brian, and all of it thanks to you.”
He reached over and hugged me and I remember being pleased and surprised that feeling him touching me like that didn’t arouse me sexually.
Later, after we had finished watching the celebration on television, I turned off the light.
“Good night, Dad,” he said, breaking the silence.
Then he giggled.
I could tell he was only kidding me, but it made me smile nonetheless and for some reason I was able to fall asleep more easily that evening.
The following Monday I brought Jimmy into Washington with me. The plan was for him to interview with Josh and then to spend the rest of the day sitting in on different classes and meeting with some of the other boys who attended the school in order to get their perspective on what it was like.
I remember being nervous, wondering whether he would like the place and whether they would admit him if he did. I didn’t get very much done at work that day. Instead, I spent most of it pacing the corridors of the Rayburn building.
At the end of the day I walked over to the converted townhouse where the school was located to see how everything had gone. The first thing I did was to meet with Josh to see whether he was willing to let Jimmy into the program. I knew he didn’t accept everyone, only those boys he was convinced were serious about turning their lives around.
“Afternoon, Brian,” he greeted me. “How’s everything with you?”
“Everything’s fine,” I responded. “How’s Nolan?”
“He’s doing fine. He didn’t like practicing law all that much, but he loves working for the Senate Judiciary Committee. He just got appointed General Counsel. I’m happy one of us is finally making the big bucks.”
“That’s great to hear,” I replied. “Be sure to give him my best.”
“I will. You need to have dinner with us soon. It’s been forever.”
“Sure,” I said. “I would like that. But I guess the real question is how things went with Jimmy?”
“They went fine,” Josh replied. “But as with most things in life, there’s good news and bad news. Which do you want first?”
I remember taking a deep breath. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
“Um, well, why don’t you just tell me however you think best?”
“Jimmy’s a really sharp boy, Brian,” Josh replied, “and highly motivated too. He’ll do well here and I can already tell he likes the place so he can start immediately. Thanks for calling him to my attention. You can never be sure exactly how long you have before helping someone becomes impossible, but you definitely found Jimmy in time. You can be proud of that.”
“Thanks,” I responded.
“And what’s the bad news?” I asked.
“The bad news is that you’re not Jimmy’s legal guardian so I can’t get any money out of Virginia to help pay for the cost of his education,” Josh replied. “Not that Virginia would be all that happy to pay even if you were his legal guardian, but I’ve tangled with them in cases like this before and beaten them in the courts. But that won’t work with Jimmy so I’m going to need your help.”
I remember thinking Jimmy was still a stranger to me in so many ways, but by now I was invested in helping the kid however I could. I knew it was making me feel better about myself and I liked having him around the house, keeping me on my toes. I also knew I was earning enough at my job to help out financially.
“How much is it going to cost me?” I asked.
“Nothing, actually,” Josh replied. “That’s why we have a scholarship program here and I’m willing to provide Jimmy with a full scholarship. But what I am going to ask you to do is to teach social studies at our night program this coming semester and maybe next year as well if things work out. I won’t be able to pay you anything, of course. You’ll have to do it pro bono.”
The suggestion surprised me.
“Hold on a second, Josh,” I protested. “I’m willing to help financially, but I’ve never taught at the high school level or at an alternative school for that matter. I wouldn’t have a clue how to teach your kids social studies. It would be a disaster, a complete disaster.”
“Perhaps,” Josh said, smiling at me. “But fortunately you still have three weeks before the semester begins and you can spend that time monitoring our afternoon social studies class to begin getting a clue about how to teach the subject. Paul Emerson is a terrific social studies teacher and really knows just the right way to convey the subject to these kids. I’ve already told him you’ll be monitoring his class for the next three weeks and asked him to help get you ready.”
I had to laugh. It was the same old Josh I knew and respected so much. The guy was never willing to take no for an answer and I could see he wasn’t about to take no from me either.
“Um, well, I don’t know what to say, Josh,” I finally replied. “I just think you’re making a big mistake.”
“We’ll see,” Josh responded. “I wouldn’t be the first time I made one. But that’s the price of admission for Jimmy. Take it or leave it.”
In the weeks and months that followed, things went better than I had expected. Jimmy and the school seemed to be a perfect fit. He was an excellent student and made friends quickly enough. On the other hand, three weeks was hardly enough time to get me prepared for teaching. But it was interesting watching Paul Emerson at work in the classroom and I enjoyed the time we spent together going over everything I needed to learn.
Paul was younger than me, but sharp as a whip. He was able to relate to the kids really well while also maintaining the discipline needed to get through all of the material. He had an easy rapport with his students and they liked him a lot. He was an impressive guy and I learned a lot from him.
Jimmy and Robbie became good friends as well, something I welcomed because I worried about Jimmy not having anyone his own age to relate to out in Virginia. Everything seemed to be going smoothly so it came as a shock when Jimmy finally broached the subject with me.
“Um, well, the thing is, Robbie and I were wondering if we could have a sleepover this weekend, Brian. I mean, we’ve become pretty close friends and friends have sleepovers so we were thinking maybe we should have one. I told him I would ask you.”
It caught me totally by surprise. I mean, I had watched as the two of them grew closer and it was something I welcomed. I liked the fact they were gay and could talk to one another honestly about that. I liked seeing them help each other work through whatever issues they were having, whether at school or elsewhere.
But I sensed this was different and it worried me.
“Um, well, are you going to invite anyone else over?” I asked, hoping the answer would be the one I was looking for. “I mean, other guys from your schools or whatever?”
“We were thinking of maybe doing that the next time,” Jimmy replied, smiling at me. “But we were kind of interested in this first one just being between the two of us.”
“I see,” I responded, taking a deep breath.
“Um, well, I don’t know, Jimmy. I guess I don’t have a problem with it, at least I don’t think I do. But, ah, the thing is, I work with Robbie’s Dad. We’re pretty close friends and I wouldn’t want to do anything he wasn’t comfortable with. Has Robbie talked to his Dad about this?”
“Not yet,” Jimmy replied. “We agreed I should talk to you first. But Robbie said that would be the first thing you would raise. He said he would talk to his Dad if you were open to the idea. Are you, Brian? Are you open to the two of us having a sleepover here?”
“I don’t really know, Jimmy,” I responded, finally being totally honest with him. “Well, I mean, I probably shouldn’t be asking, but is this just going to be the ordinary kind of sleepover? Or are we talking about more than just a sleepover?”
I think I already suspected the answer at some level, but I was desperately hoping I was wrong about that.
“Would it bother you if we were talking about more, Brian?” Jimmy asked. “Not that I’m saying we are; but would it?”
“I don’t know, Jimmy. I mean, I suppose it depends on how the two of you think about one another. Both of you are still pretty young. I mean, look, I know kids your age are a lot smarter than kids were when I was growing up. I don’t know what I feel exactly. I guess I feel conflicted.”
“Do you trust us, Brian?” Jimmy asked, pressing his case.
It was a good question; and when he put it that way, I felt more comfortable about the whole thing. It seemed to me both Robbie and Jimmy were smart kids and mature for their age as well. From what I could tell, they had been building their friendship carefully, on the basis of shared interests and mutual respect. They liked each other. That much had been obvious to me for some time.
And I did trust them.
At the same time, emotions are such a tricky business. I didn’t want either one of them to get hurt, but I also realized I was the last one to be giving advice and couldn’t be their protector in any event. They were at an age when they had to make decisions like this for themselves. They might make mistakes, but who was I to preach? I had made more than my fair share of mistakes in life. Everyone did.
Making mistakes was part of the process of growing up.
It was how you learned.
“Look, Jimmy, like I said, I don’t know exactly how I feel about this, but I do trust you and Robbie. So, yes, if Robbie talks to his Dad and his Dad is okay with it, you can have the sleepover.”
“Thanks, Brian,” Jimmy replied, throwing his arms around me and hugging me tightly.
The next day I got a call at work from Wade first thing in the morning. It didn’t exactly come as a surprise. I had been expecting it from the moment I had told Jimmy it was okay with me if Robbie’s Dad approved.
“Could we have lunch?” he asked. “There’s something we need to talk about.”
“Sure,” I responded.
Around noon Wade stopped by the office and the two of us headed over to Bullfeathers. We ordered quickly and discussed a few business items until Wade finally got to the point I knew he was going to raise.
“I don’t know how I feel about this sleepover business, Brian,” he finally blurted out. “I mean, Robbie talked to me about it last night and I told him I needed some time to think about it. You know, neither Claire nor I were that surprised when Robbie came out to us last December. I think both of us had known he was gay for some time. But this is different, a lot different. What am I supposed to think about this, Brian? It’s very confusing for me as a Dad.”
“I understand,” I replied. “I had the exact same reaction when Jimmy raised it with me.”
“The thing is, you’re a Dad, Wade,” I continued. “All your life you’ve been making decisions for Robbie and I know you’ve made the right decisions for him. Then one day you wake up and your son wants to start making decisions for himself. You knew all along that would happen one day, but you managed to persuade yourself that day would be some time in the far distant future. But it isn’t, Wade. It’s here. It’s now. And I know dealing with that isn’t easy.”
“It sure isn’t,” he responded. “Honestly, I don’t know what to think, let alone what I should do.”
“The thing is, the decision isn’t really about a sleepover, is it, Wade?” I asked. “It’s about whether you’re comfortable letting Robbie make his own decisions at this point in his life.”
“What would you do if you were me, Brian?” Wade asked. “Robbie says you’re fine with it.”
“Well, like with most things teens say, “fine with it” may be a bit of an exaggeration, Wade. The whole thing scares me, probably a lot more than it scares either of them. It caught me by surprise. Like you, I didn’t know what to say at first. But the more I thought about it, the more comfortable I became with letting the two of them make the decision themselves.”
“I mean, I’ve known Robbie for years, Wade. He has terrific values. You can be proud of him. Will he make mistakes in life? Of course; you and I have made a few mistakes I imagine. But you have a good son, Wade, and you can trust him.”
“And what about this kid Jimmy, Brian?” Wade asked. “I’ve met him a few times. He seems very nice. I know you think highly of him and that Robbie likes him a lot, but I also know what he was doing before you took him in, Brian.”
“I mean, I try not to be judgmental. I’ve always tried to be compassionate and understanding. But what do I know about Jimmy after all? Honestly, not very much. I mean, what if he has AIDS, Brian?”
There it was at last, out in the open, and I didn’t blame him for being concerned. It was his job as a Dad to be concerned and I could understand just how worried he was.
“I’ve been having Jimmy tested for months now, Wade,” I replied. “He’s HIV-negative. But I can understand your concern. If you say no, I’m sure both of the boys will be disappointed. But I’m also certain Jimmy will accept your decision no matter what.”
“He has good values too, Wade,” I added. “He came by them differently than Robbie. He grew up in a family that talked about right and wrong a lot, but wrapped right and wrong in a religious upbringing that was based on bigotry and hate more than love. So Jimmy has had to work a lot harder than most of us do to make sense of that. And I think he’s done a pretty terrific job all in all.”
“Look, Wade, I love Robbie almost as much as you do. If I thought becoming better friends with Jimmy was a mistake, I would tell you that. But both of them are good boys, Wade, and they like each other. Maybe I’m wrong. I would never challenge your decision. But something inside tells me this will be good for both of them. I just feel like they’re right for each other.”
“Okay, Brian,” Wade finally responded, sighing.
“I suppose you’re right. I need to begin letting go; and I do trust Robbie and Robbie likes Jimmy. I know that. Like you said, maybe it’s a mistake but it would be a bigger one not to let Robbie make the decision for himself. Both of us know the two of them don’t really need our permission in any event if they want to have sex. They could sneak around behind our backs and neither of us would ever know. So I’m actually pretty pleased they asked.”
“I’ll tell Robbie that it’s okay this evening. Do you think I should talk about safe sex with him?”
I remember chuckling to myself when he asked that.
“I don’t think you have to, Wade,” I replied. “I’m pretty certain both of those boys know a lot more about sex than we think; and I’ve talked with Jimmy about it a lot and he understands the importance. If they decide to have sex, you can be pretty certain it’ll be safe sex. And who knows? Maybe they won’t have sex at all. Maybe we’re reading too much into this.”
I’m not really sure I believed it, but I think it made it easier for both of us.
I tried to make myself as scare as I could that Friday evening. Fortunately, the boys made that easier for me by going out to a movie, then stopping to eat something afterward. I had given them a curfew, one that Wade said was appropriate for their age, then left the lights on and retired to my bedroom.
I heard them come in; then, later, I heard them come up the stairs. I pretended to be asleep, but I was on pins and needles. Finally, after cleaning up, they retired to Jimmy’s bedroom. I didn’t really want to eavesdrop on them, but it was hard not to; and yet as much as I tried, I didn’t really hear a peep out of them once they had settled down for the night.
It was hard getting to sleep, but I must have succeeded eventually. The next morning I was the first one up. I showered, shaved, and went downstairs. I had made sure to get some food in for breakfast the previous day.
It was an hour later when the two of them finally joined me.
As they entered the kitchen I looked at each of them in turn, but they both reacted exactly the same. They smiled at me momentarily, then turned away without providing the clue I was looking for. I couldn’t be sure exactly what had happened, but they told me they planned to spend the day together and were off soon enough after breakfast. Later, they came back to the place and made their own dinner that evening.
That was the end of the whole thing. We never talked about it again after that. The two of them ended up having more and more sleepovers as the year progressed; and it wasn’t very long before some of them were at Wade’s house as well.
My work teaching the night social studies class turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would be. The kids were both sharp and a handful. I had asked Paul Emerson to sit on the first month of my classes and to give me any ideas or suggestions he had. Once the class was over, the two of us would adjourn to some place nearby for a cup of coffee and some talk about what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.
The last of those sessions took an interesting turn.
“So, um, well, I’ve been trying to think of something to say about how you did tonight, but I can’t,” Paul said. “You’ve got the hang of it, Brian. I was just wondering if maybe we could have dinner together after work some evening next week; or perhaps on the weekend if a week night is inconvenient for you.”
It surprised me. Paul was very good looking and I knew I would be attracted to him if I let myself be. More than his looks, I admired Paul. He could have been making a lot more money doing something else, but he loved working with those kids and was making a real difference in their lives.
I agreed to his suggestion and soon enough we started doing it every week. And then one evening things took still another turn.
“So, Brian, it seems like you’re never going to invite me back to your place so I was wondering whether you would like to come over to mine tonight,” Paul asked. “I live over in DuPont Circle. It isn’t very big, but it’s comfortable.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked, incredulous. “I mean, I’m older than you, Paul.”
“What has age got to do with anything, Brian?” he replied. “Besides, maybe I like older men.”
“Well, that would be encouraging,” I said, laughing. “But I’m not sure I’m comfortable leaving Jimmy alone by himself.”
Paul just laughed when I said it.
“I wasn’t expecting you to spend the night; although if that’s what you want to do and you invited me over to your place, I would say yes.”
It shocked me, but I knew immediately I wanted the same thing as him. There was just one problem.
“This is going to sound stupid, Paul,” I replied, “but I feel like I need to ask Jimmy’s permission.”
“Okay,” he responded. “Fair enough; I’ll be interested to hear what he says.”
“But be sure to tell him his grade depends on his response,” he added, grinning at me.
Looking back on it now, I realize Jimmy only gave me such a hard time about the whole thing just to jerk my chain. Under Robbie’s expert tutelage, he was becoming better and better at that. But finally he agreed Paul and I could have a sleepover. He even agreed to a sleepover with Robbie at Wade’s house the same evening to give the two of us more privacy.
After that, it wasn’t long before the four of us were spending a lot more time together.
I guess it was right after Thanksgiving that year when Jimmy blurted it out.
“So when are we going to get the Christmas tree?” he asked. “Robbie was just asking me about that and mentioning we needed to get some decorations for the tree as well.”
The question surprised me. I hadn’t given it any thought up until then, but I knew what the answer would be.
“I already have a lot of decorations,” I responded. “Mostly they’re from when I was growing up. My parents gave them to me a few years back, but they’ve been stored away in the attic for a long time and I’ve never put them up. I imagine they still work though. Maybe you, Robbie, Paul and I could get a tree this weekend and then spend Sunday afternoon decorating it.”
“Awesome,” Jimmy replied.
And with that he threw his arms around me and gave me a hug.
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