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.
NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.
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: Normally I will provide a brief summary of the previous chapter here. In this first chapter you'll meet Brian. Brian is single and lives alone in Washington, D.C. at a time when the city is changing. He works on Capitol Hill where he manages to keep himself busy, if not entirely content, by throwing himself into his work. Homosexual and rapidly approaching the cusp between youth and middle age, he has avoided the gay scene in Washington for years and is now effectively closeted. Lacking any meaningful personal life and no longer entirely satisfied with his professional life either, Brian is increasingly frustrated and depressed. He also hates Christmas with a passion.
WITH APOLOGIES MR. DICKENS
A Tale of Sin and Redemption
I was tired, no doubt about it, incredibly tired.
It was the day after Thanksgiving and I was on a hike up in the mountains with Robbie. I knew I needed to stop and take a break. The only remaining question was whether I was going to admit it to him, to finally concede what I already knew, that he was in better shape than me, much better shape.
Why should that come as a surprise, Brian? I recall thinking.
I mean, the kid was sixteen years old. He played just about every sport you could play in high school and he was good at them too. By contrast, I was about to turn thirty; and even though I tried to work out every morning to keep myself in shape, I spent too much time sitting at a desk the rest of the day.
No wonder you’re beginning to experience the ravages of time, dude.
Still, it wasn’t something I wanted to admit to him. We had been going hiking together like this for years the day after Thanksgiving. I had always been the one to force him to plead with me how tired he was before I would stop and give him a break. Now he was paying me back.
I knew it.
I just didn’t want to admit it to him.
That first hike six years ago had been my idea. I had met his father on Capitol Hill. Wade worked for the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I had taken a job the previous January as a young staffer for a freshman member of Congress.
There was really no reason someone like Wade should have taken notice of me, but he did. It was only later I figured it out. He was the Speaker’s floor general and part of his job was to know what the different Members of the House were thinking, especially the younger Members like the one I was working for. One of the best ways to do that was by getting to know young staffers like me. But it was more than a job for Wade. He was one of those people who genuinely liked people; and being that kind of person, he was always looking for new people to pull into his orbit.
I was a naïve kid back then, not long out of college and totally overwhelmed by the job. He was someone important. I remember being in awe of him at the time, but he wasn’t looking for that kind of personal validation. We had become friends and he made it a habit to keep in touch with me. It wasn’t too long before we were having lunch together at least once every week.
It was good for me professionally. Wade knew everything about the House of Representatives and wasn’t one of those people who hoarded knowledge in an effort to enhance his own power. He shared it freely and generously and I was grateful to him for doing so. Whatever I knew about the House was largely thanks to him.
It was a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving that first year I took the job that he asked me about my plans for the holiday.
Was I going home to visit my parents? Perhaps spending the day with some special young girl?
As far as going back home to Maine, I told him no, that it was too far to drive for such a short time away from Washington and that I couldn’t really afford to fly given the salary I was making; and as for that special young girl?
I remember laughing to myself about that.
I was gay.
There weren’t ever going to be any special young girls in my life.
But I didn’t tell Wade that, of course. I just told him I didn't have a girlfriend; and while it wasn’t the entire truth, it was all he needed to hear.
He had invited me over to his place for the holiday and that was how the tradition had begun. It was a ritual now. We would have lunch the week before Thanksgiving and Wade would ask whether I was planning to go home to spend time with the folks or perhaps planning on spending the day with someone special.
He didn’t specify a gender anymore so that’s how I knew that he knew.
I would tell him no and he would invite me over and I would accept; and then I would spend the day with Wade, Claire, and their brood.
Michael and James were the oldest. Michael was in law school, but could usually be counted on to come home for Thanksgiving. James was a senior in college. He would be there for dinner, but spend most of the day with friends from his high school days doing whatever it was that former classmates did when they were home from college like that.
And then there was Robbie.
He was the youngest, just ten back then. Later he would tell me he wasn’t that close to his brothers. He never explained why exactly, but I figured it had something to do with the age difference between them. I didn’t know that for sure back then. If I had, it would have made his interest in me all the more surprising since I was older than either of them.
Almost from the moment I walked through the door he had showered attention on me. I remember being a little nervous about that at first, but I think he sensed I was nervous and he went out of his way to put me at ease. Soon enough the two of us were fooling around and having a good time together.
I had only been there a couple of hours when Robbie made the announcement in front of the entire family that I was his special best friend. At the time I assumed it was because I paid attention to him when nobody else did or because I went outside and tossed the football around with him when he asked; or maybe it was something else entirely that I didn’t pick up on, something he wasn’t ready to share with me back then. Whatever the reason, Robbie had decided I was his special best friend.
I found the whole thing kind of amusing, as if I had just been appointed some kind of special assistant to the President.
“And just what does being your special best friend require of me, Sir Robbie?” I asked.
We had just finished playing this game he loved called Knights of the Round Table.
“It will require much of you, Sir Brian,” he replied, “only some of which can now be revealed. Everything will be made known to you in time. But for now, most importantly, it requires you above everything else to be trustworthy; because being my special best friend means I can tell you all of my secrets and be certain you’ll keep them secret and that you’ll protect me and love me.”
“That sounds like a job for someone even more special than me, Robbie,” I responded, amused by both what he had said and the elaborate way in which he had said it. “That sounds like a job for someone like your Dad.”
“My Dad is very special,” he replied, “and I love him and my Mom very much. But I love them in a different way than I love you, Brian.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that last statement at the time. It seemed kind of strange coming from a ten year old, but then I remember thinking I was making too much of the whole thing.
And don’t get me wrong. I liked Robbie. He was definitely a very cute kid and he had a personality that would charm and engage just about anyone. On top of that, he was bright, incredibly bright.
Every once in a while during the course of the day Wade and I would forget and start talking shop. Sometimes we talked public policy, sometimes just politics. Robbie would just sit there listening to the two of us; and then before you knew it, he was offering his opinion on whatever it was we were discussing.
Even more surprising, he knew what he was talking about.
He wasn’t as knowledgeable as his Dad, of course, but he was at least as smart as I was when it came to what was going on in Washington. That surprised the hell out of me. I mean, the kid was ten years old after all!
By the end of the day he had me completely captivated. He had a kind of magical charm that drew people to him; and after we had sealed the deal and become special best friends and spit on it, I remember thinking that would be the end of the whole thing and it was sad in way. And yet, given the intense interest he had taken in me and the kind of person I knew that I was, I was kind of glad about that as well.
But that wasn’t the end of it for Robbie. He wanted us to spend more time together for some reason and usually he found a way to get whatever it was he wanted.
It began simply enough when he asked his Dad to invite me over to his upcoming hockey game. Wade had tried to brush him off by telling him I wouldn’t be interested. But Robbie already knew from talking to me I was a fan of the Washington Capitals so he persisted until his father, embarrassed, had finally conveyed his invitation to me, along with a disclaimer that I was under no obligation to accept of course.
By then my social life was virtually non-existent and I didn’t have very much else to do so I agreed. Later, after the game was over, Robbie would insist it was part of my duties as his special best friend to attend all of his games. The surprising thing is that I did, at least most of them. I don’t know why, but by then the kid had me completely wrapped around his little finger.
Early on I learned a few important lessons about Robbie. The first was not to try bullshitting him. He had been having a bad day on the ice for some reason one afternoon; and then toward the end of the day he been caught out of position and been responsible for the breakaway goal that defeated his team.
Being ten, he took it hard and I tried to console him. I told him he had played well except for that one mistake and that everyone makes mistakes; that the point of the game was to have fun.
Wade had tried to console him as well.
Later, when we got back to their place, Robbie took me aside.
“You know, being my special best friend means being totally honest, Brian,” he said. “I sucked out there today. I know it. You know it. It’s okay for my Dad to lie to try to make me feel good. But you need to be honest with me.”
That was the end of our conversation, but there was a lot more I had learned over the years. Whatever else he was, Robbie was definitely an unusual kid.
Our very first hike had come the day after that first Thanksgiving we spent together. Claire was a terrific cook and had prepared one of those traditional Thanksgiving feasts that featured way too much food. My own cooking skills were limited. Mostly I ate out a lot. Not having had a good home cooked meal in a long time, I had indulged myself. By the end of the day I was feeling bloated, completely and totally bloated.
“That was a terrific meal, Claire,” I said as I prepared to leave. “Thank you for inviting me over. I had a terrific time, but ate way too much. I’m going to have to take a long hike up in the mountains tomorrow to work off all those extra calories.”
“Can I come?” Robbie asked immediately, interjecting himself into the conversation as he so often did.
“May I come?” his mother replied, admonishing him. “How many times have I explained that to you?”
“I don’t know,” he responded, turning his attention to her.
“Wouldn’t you know better than me how many times you’ve explained it?”
He was smiling at her while he said it and it was hard for anyone to be mad at Robbie whenever he smiled. He had one of those smiles that totally disarmed everyone; and, like I said, he also had a way of twisting everyone around his little finger and making them do whatever he wanted.
“You are one very sassy boy, Robbie, that’s for sure,” Claire had responded. “But the answer is no. I’m sure Brian has a lot better things to do than to be dragging some sassy young boy around in the mountains with him.”
“How can you be sure of that without asking him?” he responded. “And what am I going to do tomorrow if I don’t go hiking with him? You and Dad have to work. Michael and James have their own plans. Are you planning to lock me up in the basement like you usually do?”
“Good Lord, Robert,” she replied, touching her hand to her mouth and addressing him formally. “I don’t believe you just said something like that in front of our guest. You know perfectly well your father is going to bring you to work with him tomorrow.”
“Boring!” Robbie responded. “I want to go hiking with Brian and Brian wants me to go hiking with him because we’re special best friends.”
“Are you, young man?” Wade interjected. “If you were really his special best friend, you wouldn’t be asking him to babysit you.”
“He wouldn’t be babysitting me, Dad, because I’m not a baby,” Robbie responded. “And, besides, he wants me to go. Don’t you, Brian?”
“Um, well, sure,” I responded, reluctant to be drawn into a family matter; “but only as long as it’s okay with your Mom and Dad.”
“Oh, good grief, no; we couldn’t possibly impose on you like that,” Claire replied.
Wade just nodded his agreement.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but I felt like I owed them a favor for having me over; or if not a favor, perhaps one final small gesture of thanks.
“It wouldn’t really be an imposition,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like I’m going up there with anyone else. Having some company would be fine; at least as long as Robbie understands it’s going to be a very long hike and might tire him out a lot.”
And so, after a little more back and forth, the matter was settled and Robbie and I had gone on our very first hike together.
I had chosen one of the easier routes to the top of the mountain and Robbie had been pretty good about keeping up. It was only when we got within sight of the rock at the top that he said he was tired and had insisted I carry him the rest of the way. I had hoisted him up to my shoulders and he had pretended I was his noble steed. When we got to the rock, I let him down gently and the two of us scrambled up to the top.
After that our friendship was sealed and we ended up spending a lot of time together. In a way, Robbie had been right all along.
We were special best friends.
He was sixteen now, no longer the little boy I had to pick up and carry the last half mile up to the rock.
He was taller and much better defined from all of the sports he played. Good looking and popular with both the boys and the girls at his school, he had sandy brown hair and unblemished skin, perfect teeth framed by a tight, small, mouth, and eyes that seemed to twinkle perpetually.
And all of it was enhanced and made perfect by that impish smile of his; Lord, what a smile!
But to me he was still just the extraordinarily impressive kid I had been friends with forever.
If that first hike had been my idea, the route we were following today had been his. He was no longer satisfied with the easier routes I chose when we went hiking. He wanted something more challenging and I had been foolish enough to agree. Not only was the route much longer than usual, the approach to the rock was a lot steeper as well.
And now here I was trying not to gasp, trying not to reveal just how badly my body was hurting or how much I needed a rest.
But I couldn’t conceal it any longer. He had beaten me into submission; and if it was time to confess, I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t reveal just how tired I was.
“Hold on, Robbie,” I shouted. “I need to get a stone out of my shoe.”
And with that I collapsed to the ground and tossed my backpack aside.
It felt good to be sitting there resting at last. But soon enough Robbie worked his way back down to where I was sitting and just stood there, towering over me and smiling.
“A likely story indeed,” he said, bemused by my plight. “So, come on, show me; take off that shoe and show me that mean nasty stone that’s hurting your delicate little foot.”
“I will in a minute,” I lied. “I just need to rest for a second.”
“I bet you do, Brian,” he replied. “You’ve been falling further and further behind all day. I know this route is probably too much for an old man like you.”
“Do I need to carry you the rest of the way to the top?” he asked, smirking at me.
He was mocking me now.
Both of us knew it and I tried to give as good as he gave.
“Very funny,” I responded; “as if you could. As best I recollect, the only person who’s ever done any carrying up here is me. I seem to recall having to carry you to the top that very first time we hiked up to the rock.”
“I could have made it that day,” he replied. “The truth is I wasn’t tired at all. I just wanted to see if you would carry me, at least that was one of the reasons I asked; and you were dumb enough to do it.”
“I’m not that dumb myself, Brian,” he added. “If you can’t make it any further, I’ll have to abandon you to the critters up here.”
“A fine friend you are,” I said, looking up at him and smiling.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry,” he said. “I’ll leave my water bottle for you and tell the rangers where to find your sorry carcass; or, alternatively, you can get off that cute little ass of yours and follow me up to the top.”
I was a little surprised by his choice of words and not nearly as rested as I wanted to be, but I wasn’t about to give him the pleasure of knowing how exhausted I was either. I picked up my backpack and pulled it over my shoulders.
“Lead on, master,” I joked.
“It’s good you recognize who’s in charge here,” he replied, grinning.
Another twenty minutes of hard climbing brought us to the top at last. Robbie tossed his backpack aside and scrambled to the top of the rock in a flash. I took more time, but eventually I was sitting there next to him, staring out at the picturesque vista it provided.
As usual, most of the leaves from the trees were down by then and you could see for miles in every direction. The view was beautiful. It was the kind of view that never got old for me. The two of us just sat there in silence, quietly taking it in.
“So when were you going to tell me?” Robbie finally asked, casually breaking the silence. “Or were you never going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?” I responded.
“That you’re gay.”
I remember being stunned at first, then taking a very deep breath. Coming out of the blue like that, it caught me totally by surprise.
“What makes you think I’m gay, Robbie?” I responded, parrying his question.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied, chuckling. “Let me see. Not married. Never dates women, but keeps several pictures of a cute young boy scattered around his place. Spends an enormous amount of time keeping himself in shape. Has fastidious grooming habits and even a cat.”
“My gaydar went off a long time ago, Brian,” he added. “It went off that very first Thanksgiving you had dinner with us.”
“Would it make a difference if I was gay?” I asked. “And by the way, Robbie, just so you know, you have to be gay to have gaydar.”
“Would it make a difference?” he said, repeating my question. “No, I can’t say it would, not after all these years. And by the way, Brian, my gaydar works just fine. I’ve known you were gay since I’ve known I was gay, which was when I was 10 year old.”
“For a long time I figured you would tell me when you thought I was old enough to understand and then the two of us would finally have sex. I was looking forward to that. I really was. But this past year I finally realized you were never going to tell me and that bothered me; it bothered me so much I finally decided I would tell you instead. I just thought it was time to get it out in the open between us.”
“It’s the main reason I made you my special best friend in the first place after all.”
I was stunned to hear all of this; totally clueless that he knew about me and had known from the very first time we had met. I had never had any inkling he might be gay or had ever entertained the notion of having sex with me.
None of it seemed to make sense.
“Well look Robbie, I don’t know what to say exactly,” I replied. “You’ve totally floored me with this little revelation. But one thing I know is you’re only sixteen years old. Boys your age go through lots of changes around then. It’s normal to have some feelings for other guys at sixteen. It wouldn’t bother me if you’re gay. There’s nothing wrong with it and it wouldn’t change how I feel about you. But you don’t have to make a decision when you’re sixteen, Robbie. Give it a little time. Things will sort themselves out in time.”
“Oh, God, this is almost as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Robbie responded, smirking at me. “The kind, benevolent, adult counseling the confused, immature, adolescent, helping him work through all the difficult issues. It’s funny, Brian; it really is. But I love you anyway so here’s the deal.”
“I’m gay. I’ve known that for a long time. I was very attracted to you back then, mostly because I was certain you and me were alike sexually and I wanted to have sex with a guy really bad. Like I said, there were times when I fantasized about the two of us doing it, but the thing is I could never get you to take off your clothes in my fantasies. It took me a long time to figure out why.”
“I guess it comes down to this. I genuinely like and admire you because I finally realized it wouldn’t matter to you whether I was gay or straight; that your feelings for me would be exactly the same; and that you liked me not because I was cute or gay but because we shared so many things in common.”
“Both of us like touring Civil War battlefields. Both of us love hockey and hiking and more. We’re like two peas in a pod and there’s nothing sexual about it, at least not for you. There was for me for a while because you were the first gay person I knew besides myself. But I’m over that now.”
“All I want is for us to remain special best friends and I think it would help if we were totally honest with each other about this.”
“Have you told your parents?” I asked. “Have you told any of your friends?”
“Not yet,” he replied. “I wanted to talk to you about that. I mean, I’m pretty certain my parents will be fine with it. I think my Dad may even suspect. He’s been telling me to get together with you more lately and I’m pretty certain that’s because he knows you’re gay and thinks maybe you can help me figure things out.”
“But, the thing is, I don’t really need a lot of help with this. I guess it’s not as bad as it was when you were growing up. Being gay is part of who I am and I like who I am. But it’s good to have someone to talk to as well. It’s good for me and I think it would be good for you too.”
“I worry about you, Brian,” he continued. “Did you know that? That I worry about you; a lot actually.”
“Why?” I asked, surprised. “Why would you worry about me? I’m fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Let me ask you something, Brian,” he replied. “How old are you?”
“I’m about to turn thirty in January. You know that Robbie,” I responded.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, I don’t,” I replied.
“Do you have any gay friends?” he continued.
“I know people who are gay.”
“Are they close friends?” he persisted. “Do you do stuff with them like going to the movies or a show or whatever?”
“No,” I responded. “They’re just people I know, mostly from work, who happen to be gay like me.”
“So you really don’t have any gay friends at all, do you?” he asked.
“What’s the big deal?” I responded, a little annoyed with his relentless pressure.
“I have friends. Your Dad and I are friends. Your Mom is a friend. You’re a friend. I have lots of friends at work.”
“Brian, you’re gay,” he interjected. “And you’re almost 30 years old and you don’t have a boyfriend or any close gay friends; and I’m pretty certain you’re not getting any ass either,” he added, chuckling. “Something about that just doesn’t add up. It seems like you’re drifting through life without much direction or purpose.”
I didn’t want to admit it to him, but he was right about that. I knew it and, as always, it surprised me just how insightful the kid was. But I didn’t really want to go there with him right then.
“It’s complicated, Robbie,” I said. “And really, you know, it’s none of your business. I’ve told you I’m fine. Let’s just leave it at that.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t plan to leave it at that. We’re special best friends. Remember? We have been for years. Do you remember how I told you we had to share all of our secrets? Well, the thing is, we do. But if you don’t want to talk about it right now, fine. I’ll let it be for right now.”
“But you need to think about it, Brian. Whatever happened in the past is over. What the future will bring remains to be seen. But right now, here in the present, I see someone who isn’t very happy; and that someone is my very best friend and I want to help if he’ll let me.”
“I appreciate that, Robbie,” I replied. “I really do. We can talk about it again some other time. But for now all of this comes as a big surprise, especially hearing you’re gay. It’s more than just a surprise. It’s a shock; and like most shocks, it’s going to take some time getting used to it.”