Snow came down in thick wads as I drove home that evening. I'd wished for a white Christmas for so long, but now that I'd finally gotten one I couldn't really enjoy it. I'd just gotten off work and had the next three days off, but I wasn't really looking forward to my short vacation. I had no one to share this Holiday season with, and the thought of being alone and snowed in only added to my distress. One week till Christmas, and I'd yet to find the Christmas spirit, but all that was about to change.
It hadn't always been that way. Once I'd had a family, children, friends, and Christmas was my favorite time of the year. But all that had changed suddenly, and now I was alone and far from those I had loved and who had once loved me. I was an outcast now, divorced and estranged from my children and ex-wife, my mother dead, and only a few aunts and uncles in a town far away.
It didn't feel like Christmas, despite the tinsel and lights, and now the snow, it was just another day to me, and that hurt me as much as the abandonment. Not that I could really blame my wife, or my kids for that matter, but it still hurt. We'd been such a happy family until....until I ruined it all by daring to love someone younger just a little too much. He'd forgiven me, but my family could not, and so I moved far away and started over....all alone.
Despite not really feeling the spirit of the season, I had decorated as I always did, and as I turned onto my street I could see the lights reflecting off the snow, and I had to admit they were beautiful. I guess I decorated out of habit, or in the misplaced hope that I'd find the spirit I so desperately craved, but I did it for the children in the neighborhood as well.
My neighborhood was a middle class one, and there were kids in almost every house on my block, and most of the other blocks nearby. There were black kids, Hispanic kids, and white kids, and well...every kind of kid you can think of, and most of the families struggled to get by. So my house sort of became a centerpiece for the Holiday Spirit in my neighborhood.
I'd gotten all kinds of compliments from the neighbors but none of them meant as much to me as the look on the children's faces when they saw the hundreds of twinkling lights, the trees, the candy canes, and all the rest.
The snow only added to the beauty of the lights that evening, and as I pulled into the driveway I sat there for a moment just gazing at them and trying to capture some of the magic that was missing in my life. Eventually, I moved the car into the garage and closed the door behind me and went inside the house.
It was warm inside and the automatic timer had already tripped, turning on the hundreds of lights I had hung around the perimeter of the living room, dining room, and doorways. My tree was a small one, but it was festooned with lights, and ornaments, and tinsel, and beneath it were several wrapped gifts, all purchased by me...for me, because that's what my life had come down to. There was no one to care, no one to exchange gifts with, there was only me now, and I supposed it would be that way for the rest of my life.
I wasn't really hungry that night, but I hadn't eaten since around 11, so I decided to fix myself a grilled cheese and some soup just to make sure I didn't wake up with the munchies later on. I was just about to sit down to dinner when I heard the doorbell ring.
Supposing it was one of my neighbors, perhaps in need of a ride to the store or a cup of sugar, I jumped up and answered the door. Standing in my driveway along the row of candy cane lights was a group of kids from the neighborhood and they began to sing as soon as I appeared.
To say I was surprised would be an understatement. Not only was I surprised that people still went caroling, it was crazy to think anyone would be out in the snow doing so. I recognized a few of the children from the neighborhood, though I didn't know them by name, but most of the others seemed to be new. Their voices were lovely, soft soprano for the most part, with a few husky adolescent voices mixed in. It was hard to tell the girls' and boys' voices apart because before puberty sets in a boys voice is as lovely and high as any girl's voice.
They sang Silent Night then, and I actually felt tears sting my eyes. They were all beautiful kids, and to think they were here serenading me on this snowy night was very touching. From Silent Night they moved right into Jingle Bells, and finished up with We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
I applauded them and fished in my wallet for a ten dollar bill and handed it to the closest caroler, but he just shook his head and waved me away.
"We don't want no money sir. We just want to sing and wish everyone a Merry Christmas. We like your lights and wanted you to know how much they mean to all of us kids in the neighborhood."
"Well, I'm glad to do what I can. Thank you so much for the songs, you kids are really good singers."
The boy who had spoken was Hispanic, and I'd seen him riding his bike a few times, and I knew he lived near the end of the block. I didn't know his name, but I'd always thought he was cute, and the few times we'd made eye contact he always smiled. He was a good kid from what I'd seen, and he had a younger brother and sister and seemed to be very patient with them.
"Thank you sir, Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," I called to them all, and as a group they wished me the same.
I watched them as they moved on to the next house and knocked on the door, but apparently my neighbors weren't home and the kids wandered on down to the next house and I went back inside.
My soup was cold and my sandwich was stale, but I wasn't hungry anyway. I put the soup in a container and stuck it in the fridge and ate a few bites of the sandwich and threw the rest away. I washed up what few dishes I'd dirtied up, took a hot bubble bath, and slipped on a pair of sweats and a tee shirt, then decided to watch some Christmas movies in an attempt to lift my spirits.
I watched White Christmas first. It was one of my all time favorites, and then followed it with Scrooge, the 1970 musical version, but about halfway through it the doorbell rang again.
Curious as to who might be out this late, I crept to the door and peeked through the small fan window at the top and saw a young boy standing there shivering in the cold. I opened the door, and only then realized it was the Hispanic boy from earlier.
"Hi, what's up buddy?"
"Please mister can I come in?"
I wasn't used to having children in my home, but something about the look on this boy's face wouldn't allow me to turn him away. Stepping back, I allowed him to enter, instructing him to shake the snow off in the tiled entryway. He not only shook the snow off but he pulled off his boots and left them there before following me inside in his sock feet.
"What's wrong buddy?"
"Someone was chasing me. I got scared and you were the closest house, and well....I knew you were home, and I thought I could hide here till he was gone."
"Who was chasing you?" I asked peering out the window and trying to see if anyone suspicious was lurking about.
"I don't know...a guy...an older guy. He had a black hoodie on and he yelled at me. He said, get over here kid if you know what's good for you, or something like that, and I took off running. Then I saw your lights and I ran up to your door."
"Okay, well...I doubt he followed you here, but we'll wait a while, then I'll take you home, how's that sound?"
"Okay, sure...but see no one's at home cause my folks well...they gotta work, and my brother and sister are at my aunt's house. I was supposed to stay at this one kid's house, but me and him got into a fight...you know?... and I was gonna go home, and then I forgot no one's home."
I wasn't sure I believed half of what he was telling me, but one thing was for sure...he was nervous and scared about something.
"What time do your folks get home?"
"Not till late, maybe 12. They gotta go pick up my brother and sister and stuff."
"So...what do you want to do? Do you want me to take you back to your friend's house?"
He made a face, "Not really. We got into this big fight and I don't wanna see him right now."
"Could I just stay here till my folks get home maybe?"
I glanced at the clock, it was nine thirty. Two and a half hours. Well, it wasn't like I'd go to bed early anyway. I was a bit of a night owl and usually stayed up till 2, and fortunately I was off the next day.
"Okay, sure." I said hoping I didn't regret my decision later, "By the way...I don't even know your name. I'm Rob."
"I'm Manny, glad to meet ya."
"Yeah, at long last," I chuckled, "I've seen you around the neighborhood a few times. You live in the white house near the end of the block...right?"
"Yeah, that's me. I seen you around too," he said, then blushed, "I like your lights and stuff....and I like your car."
"Thanks Manny, are you hungry? I was just about to fix myself a snack."
"Oh, well...if it's no trouble I could eat something."
I fixed sandwiches and served them with chips, and amazingly this time I actually had an appetite. I think it was because I had someone to talk to while I ate, but for whatever reason, the food tasted extra good this time. I had some home baked cookies and Manny ate three of them, praising my baking as he snarfed them down.
"I was watching a Christmas movie when you knocked. Would you like to watch it with me?"
"Sure, yeah...which one is it?"
"It's called Scrooge, only it's a different version. This one is a musical."
Manny seemed doubtful at first, but soon he seemed to be getting into the spirit of the movie and enjoying it. His eyes were fixed on the large screen TV now and I took the opportunity to look him over. He had stripped off his jacket and now he sat there in just a pair of worn jeans and black t-shirt with some band logo on it. He was slender, but not skinny, and I could see some definite muscle definition in his arms and chest. I guessed his age to be 13 or 14 and found out later I was very close. He had just turned 15 the previous week.
As far as facial looks go, how can I describe the face of an angel? Thick dark hair crowned his cute face stopping just short of his bushy eyebrows. Below, two warm soft eyes, with the thickest lashes I'd ever seen, accented his good looks. His nose was small and broad, but very cute, and his lips looked soft and very kissable, not that I had any desire to do so.
"Hey," he said, suddenly turning his head to look at me. For one moment I thought he had caught me looking at him and he might be offended, then he said, "That's that one guy from Star Wars, right? Obi Wan Kanobe."
"Yes, good eye," I said smiling with relief, "his name is Sir Alec Guinness, and he was quite a famous actor back then."
"I like this movie, I like the singing. I like to sing, in case you didn't notice," he said, smiling at me and revealing near perfect white teeth, well except for a missing molar on the right side.
"Do you sing at school? I mean are you in the choir or anything...or maybe at church?"
"Nah, my papa says singing is stupid, and anyway...he says I sound like a girl when I sing. He said my voice should have changed by now, I'm 15 by the way, but it's still high like a girl's."
"And what's wrong with that?" I asked trying to show how sincere I was, "What I heard tonight when you kids came caroling was amazingly beautiful. Have you ever heard of Libre?"
"Actually...yeah, I seen them on YouTube. They sing really high like that."
"They sound like angels, and so did you kids tonight. I'm sorry that your father doesn't see it that way, but what you have is a rare gift. I'd have given anything to have a voice like that when I was a boy."
He turned back to the movie then, but I could tell he was thinking about what I'd said and trying to decide how to reply. Somewhere around the half way point of the movie he asked to use the bathroom and I paused the movie while he took care of business.
While he was gone, I microwaved some popcorn and poured us glasses of soda, and when he returned he took one look and burst into a big smile. God how I loved that smile. It was sort of like in the movies when you hear music playing and fireworks going off. His smile was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
"I was thinkin'...about what you said...about my voice, do you really think it's special?"
"Absolutely, a gift from God. Can I be honest with you, I think the sweetest sound in the whole world is a boy's voice."
"Singing you mean?"
"Singing, laughing, talking, screaming..." I chuckled.
"You like boys then?" he asked simply, with no condemnation in his voice at all, only curiosity.
"I do, but you don't have to worry about me trying to molest you or anything," I said quickly, "It's not like that. I just enjoy being around them and helping them to grow up to be good people...you know, sort of like a mentor."
"A mentor is someone who helps another person, sort of like a parent does, but it could be a minister, or a coach, or just a friend...a big brother maybe. That sort of thing."
"OH! Oh yeah...I got that. Jose has a big brother, he signed up with this place and this guy comes out sometimes and they hang out and stuff. See, Jose's papa is in jail."
"Exactly like that," I said, hoping I hadn't screwed things up by being too honest with this boy.
"I could sure use one of those...mentors," he said grinning at me, "where do I find one?"
I smiled and sat back on the couch, "Well, I might know someone who is available, but first I need to ask you a question, and I hope you can be honest with me."
"Sure, okay..." he said looking a little worried.
"There wasn't really anyone chasing you earlier, was there?"
He lowered his head and thought about how to reply. I think he was torn between telling me the truth and keeping up the false pretenses, but in the end I think he realized the truth was the safest route.
"Nah, I was just...well, I didn't want to go home, and I knew you didn't have nobody, and well...I just wanted to hang out, that's all."
I smiled, "You could have just asked, but at least you told me the truth, that's important if we are going to be friends."
"Friends, we're gonna be friends?" he asked grinning.
"Well, yeah...I can't mentor you unless we like each other, so yeah...we need to be friends."
"This is great," he said looking at me with a sparkle in his eyes. In just the right light they turned amber and just sort of sucked you into them.
"One thing though, how will your parents feel about this? They might not understand why a grown man would want to hang around with a 15 year old."
"I...I think it will be okay," he said frowning a little, "My papa works a lot and my mama, she don't care what I do as long as I don't get into no trouble."
"Maybe I should meet your folks and talk to them, let them know you're safe with me and that I'm not a pervert or something," I suggested.
"I dunno, maybe...but what if they say no?"
"Then it's no, because they are your parents and they have the final say."
"But couldn't I just come down here sometimes like now when no one is home and we could hang out?"
"Sneaking around is never a good idea and I think you know it. If they found out we could both be in trouble, and I don't want that for either of us. So, do you trust me enough to let me talk to your folks?"
He nodded and we finished watching the movie. Around 11:30 he said he should probably go home, and though I offered to drive him the short distance, he insisted on walking. As we said goodbye at the door I had the most powerful urge to hug him, but I was afraid it was too much too soon, and instead I just patted him on the back.
He gave me a big smile, thanked me, and headed off down the street. I watched him till he was out of sight, then went back inside, cleaned up our mess, and went to bed.
I was off the next day, but I had some things I needed to take care of so I was gone most of the day. I had just parked the car in the garage and was stepping into the kitchen when I heard the doorbell ring. I hung my coat up and walked to the front door, expecting to see Manny there but when I opened the door he was not alone.
Standing just outside my door was Manny, his mother, and Manny's little brother and sister. I quickly opened the door and invited them in and offered them a seat. Manny's mom and the two little kids settled on the sofa while Manny plopped down in my recliner, leaving me to pull up a chair from the dining room.
"Hello, I'm Rob," I said offering my hand to Manny's mother.
She shook it gently then blushed, "I am Maria, this is Julio and Sofia, thank you for inviting us in," she said, looking more distressed by the minute. Since she didn't introduce Manny I assumed she must already know we knew each other.
"You are very welcome," I said trying to be as gracious as I could without being too intrusive, "Can I get you something to drink? I have soda, ice tea, or I can make some hot cocoa."
"No thank you," she said smiling, but I could see the look of disappointment on the little kids' faces and I persisted until she allowed them to have a soda. I got one for Manny as well and fixed two glasses of iced tea and offered Maria one and she took it, blushing and thanking me.
"This is nice," I said after we sipped our drinks, "I've been wanting to meet some of my neighbors, of course I've already met Manny," I said smiling at him, "and a few of his friends who came caroling at my door last night. Those kids are amazing singers."
Her eyes flicked to Manny and she looked confused, "Manny says you want to be his...what is the word?...men..tor," she said seeming to struggle with words.
"Well, yes. I had hoped to talk to you and your husband about that before he did, but this is fine. If you have any questions or fears about my intentions, this is a good time to talk about them. Of course it is totally up to you whether you will allow this or not. I understand if it's not comfortable for you."
She frowned, "Manny's papa...he is a good man, but he is stubborn. He does not understand Manny and he tries to change him, but Manny is...well, Manny is a good boy, and just because he is different his papa is hard on him."
"I see, and what is so different about Manny?" I said, then realizing I was talking as if Manny wasn't even there, I backtracked a little, "I'm sorry, I guess I should be asking you, Manny, what does your papa find so different in you...is it your voice?"
Manny dropped his head and then looked at his mother, "Why do you say these things momma? He will hate me now too." He said sounding ready to cry.
"No, Manny...amigo, I will not hate you...ever. There is nothing that could make me hate you. I just met you, but I already feel like we have a lot in common, and I sense that you are a good person...a good friend."
He still couldn't meet my eyes, but he did seem more hopeful when he spoke, "Julio and Sofia should not be here," he said softly, "they do not need to hear these things."
"Your brother and sister love you Manny, and they hurt when you hurt. They may not understand everything you are feeling, but they deserve to know what it is that causes you so much pain and your father so much anger."
"Then tell him!" Manny cried standing up suddenly and bolting for the door, "I will just run away and no one will have to worry about me again."
Fortunately, he had only half-heartedly ran for the door and he was still fumbling with the lock when I reached him. I didn't try to manhandle him, I just laid my arm around his shoulder and spoke softly to him.
"Manny, buddy...calm down. I'm on your side, and your mom is on your side, and your brother and sister are on your side. I only want to help you, but I can't help if I don't know what is wrong. Come on...sit down and let's talk some more."
He seemed to just give up then, sinking back down in the recliner and pulling into himself, his arms crossed and his head buried in his chest.
"He is a good boy," Maria repeated, "the best...but in our country and in our culture...being different this way is not an easy thing. Many families will send their children away for this, but I will not let that happen to my Manny," she said looking sad.
"I'm confused," I said for show, but I was pretty sure how Manny was different, since I was different that way too, "when you say different, are you saying that Manny might be gay?"
I heard a little groan from Manny and he pulled tighter into himself and Maria just nodded.
"Oh, well...thank God. I thought it was something awful, something catching maybe," I chuckled, then to Manny I said, "Manny, buddy...is that all it is? That's not a problem at all. I don't care whether you like boys or girls, or both...that's not my business. I just want us to be friends and I want to help you be who you are."
Maria was wiping a few tears from her eyes. Up to this point the two little ones had been quiet, but suddenly Julio stood up and walked over to where Manny sat and laid his hand on his leg. Manny looked up and managed a weak smile, then the six-year-old climbed up into Manny's lap and made himself comfortable.
It's hard to be sad or scared when you have a six-year-old loving on you, and soon Manny seemed to open up like a beautiful flower. He smiled as he kissed Julio's cheek causing the little boy to giggle and the rest of us to smile.
"Thank you Mr. Rob," Maria said, "I have been so worried about Manny, and now that he has someone to talk to who understands him I don't worry so much."
"What about his father, how do you think he will feel about Manny and me hanging out?"
"I think he will not care. I think he will be happy to not have to deal with him on this thing."
"Okay, I will trust you to tell him whatever you need to make him understand that my intentions are strictly honorable, and that I'm not taking advantage of Manny in any way."
"Oh yes, I understand."
"Still, I wonder if you and I could maybe chat alone for a few minutes? Manny, why don't you take your brother and sister into my bedroom and watch TV in there? The remote is by the bed on the night stand."
Once I had them settled in my bedroom and the door closed, I came back in and sat down in the recliner which was closer to the couch.
"I want you to know that you can trust me with your son. I am not looking to take advantage of him or seduce him, or molest, or mistreat him in any way. However, I will talk honestly with him about what it means to be gay and to teach him the importance of safe sex. And by safe sex, I'm not just talking about condoms or that sort of thing," I paused to let that soak in. She was blushing profusely and nodding her pretty head like a bobble-head doll, "but about taking time to get to know someone, and making sure no one gets their feelings hurt. It's just as important to respect your partner as it is to please them. Personally, I think 15 is a little young for sex, but in a year there will be no stopping him, so...it's best that he learn a few things about self control and what it means to be gay while he is still thinking properly."
"I trust you," she said simply, "I don't know why you care so much, but I can see that you do. I love my Manny with all my heart and I want him to be happy. I think you can help him be happy. That is all I care about."
"Okay, well...I want you to know that you and your family are welcome in my home anytime. You can check up on us anytime you want," I chuckled, "and you have final say on how much time we spend together, and when."
She nodded, "He's a good boy," she said again, "do not hurt him," she said with tears in her eyes.
"I promise you...I will never hurt him," and I think the tears in my own eyes is what really sealed the deal.
The next day, Manny showed up around ten o'clock but I wasn't aware he was there until I peeked out my living room window. There was Manny, all bundled up shoveling my walk and drive. I shook my head and smiled, then went in to fix us some breakfast.
By the time breakfast was ready, Manny was ringing the doorbell and I directed him to the garage and opened the big roll up door. He stomped as much snow off his boots as possible, then left them at the door leading into the kitchen and followed me inside.
"Breakfast, I hope you're hungry."
"Yeah, starved. Shoveling snow is hard work," he said grinning.
"What do I owe you for that?" I said grinning back.
"Breakfast is fine," he said happily, "I don't want no pay...us bein' friends and all."
I showed him where to hang his coat, and sat him down at the table and dished up the food. He ate like a typical 15 year-old, consuming every scrap, every crumb on his plate, then washing it all down with a big glass of ice cold milk.
I laughed when I saw his milk mustache and he grinned as he wiped it off with his napkin. Suddenly, I realized I hadn't been this happy for a long time. Since way before my move here, when I had family and friends, people who cared, and that I cared about, and it was all because of this young teen sitting across from me.
"Are you free today?"
"Yeah, what you wanna do?" he asked, sounding a bit excited.
"I need to go shopping, want to come with me?"
"Yeah, sure...where are we going?"
"To the mall, then Walmart, maybe Target. Is there some place special you'd like to go?"
"No, Walmart is fine. I gotta buy some presents for my family...you know? I made some money shoveling walks and stuff."
Great, well...if you'll help me clear the table and load the dishwasher I'll go get dressed and we can get started. But I will need to clear it with your mother first.
"Oh, no problem, momma loves you now," he giggled, causing me to raise an eyebrow.
He was a big help cleaning up, and in no time I was dressed and we were in the car and on our way. First stop was the mall, I always bought a gift to leave under the Angel Tree there, and this year I'd chosen the name tag of a 10 year old boy who wanted a remote control car for Christmas. I'd seen the perfect one at the Radio Shack there in the mall and that was where I was headed.
Even though Manny was 15, he found the RC car pretty cool and played around with the display model while I paid for one I'd chosen. We carried the car over to the Angel tree desk and I handed it to the volunteer there and they thanked me and we were on our way once again.
I saw from the way Manny was gawking at everything that he probably didn't get to the mall much, if at all, so we took our time and even stopped in the food court for a drink. As we sat at a table he suddenly looked across at me and smiled, his dark eyes suddenly looking wet, and when he spoke his voice sounded a little hoarse.
"Thanks for bringing me here, and for...well, for everything."
"You're welcome. Thank you...for coming into my life when I needed it most, and giving me a new reason to go on living."
"You...you're not gonna die are you?" he asked sounding concerned.
"No, well...someday. I just meant since I moved here I've been pretty lonely and I wasn't really looking forward to spending the Holidays alone. I mean, I understand you have your family and all, but I was thinking maybe you could come down for a while Christmas Eve or Christmas day. I want to give you a gift..."
He looked up and smiled and my heart melted, "I can come whenever you want. I got a gift for you too."
"Well, not yet...but I will have when we're done shopping today," he said grinning.
"You don't have to..." but he cut me off before I could finish.
"I know I don't have to, but I want to...it's what friends do...right?"
I smiled, he had me there. "Yeah, friends," I said offering my fist to bump.
We wound up at a toy store in the mall, and Manny seemed to be looking for something in particular. When he finally found it he looked frustrated though. I guessed it was more expensive than he'd hoped, but I wasn't about to let that ruin his mood.
"Is that what you wanted to get Sofia?" I asked looking at the cute little doll.
"Yeah, but it's too much. Maybe Walmart will have some cheaper ones."
"Is this the one she wanted?"
He nodded, "She been talkin' about it forever."
"Then we are going to get it for her," I said grabbing it up.
"But...that's too much..."
"No, it's not too much. I was going to get the kids something anyway. You can give it to her if you want and I'll give her something else."
He frowned, but for now I had won. He wanted her to have that doll, and if he had to compromise he would. We found a cool truck for Julio, and Manny proudly paid for it with his own money while I bought the doll.
"What about you?" I asked as we headed out into the mall again, "What do you want for Christmas?"
"A boyfriend," Manny teased.
"Oh, well...won't fit in a stocking, but Santa might shove him down the chimney, only I don't have a chimney, do you?"
"Nah, no chimney. I guess I don't get a boyfriend for Christmas."
"Anyone in particular you'd like to have under your tree?" I chuckled.
"Oh...you know?" he said blushing.
"So, there is someone special? What's his name?"
"Jason, but he don't hardly know I exist," he said sounding frustrated.
"Maybe, maybe not. You're an awfully cute boy, it would be hard not to notice you."
"Yeah, if he was that way, but I don't know if he is or not."
"Well, only one way to find out."
"What? I can't just ask him...can I?"
"No, but there are other ways to find out if a boy likes you."
"Let's go sit down over there," I said pointing to a bench in the middle, away from the mall traffic.
"Well, for instance, when you talk to him you see where his eyes are. Now he might just look straight at your face, because well...you're so cute, but after a while his eyes might move down to your lips next, and then your chest. He might check out your flat tummy, then....if he's really interested, his eyes might drop even lower as he checks out your junk," I said grinning.
"Stop it, you're making me hard," he laughed, "Do you look at me that way Rob?"
"Well, that's a hard question...sorry, I mean difficult question to answer. You see because of our age differences I can look at you in a different way, than say a boy around your age might. I can look at you and see your beauty and your strength, and yes...your sexiness, but it's more like looking at a beautiful painting and enjoying it than looking at someone and lusting after them. Do you understand what I mean?"
"You mean, you think I'm a stud, but I'm too young for you, so you only want to look but not touch."
I nodded, "Well, that's pretty close. So while I can appreciate your beauty and sexiness, I don't have the pressing need to do anything else."
"This guy...Jason, what if he is like me...or he looks in the right places, how can I be sure he likes me?"
"Oh, you'll know, trust me. Too bad you only see him at school."
"Uh, well...not exactly. He lives across the street from me."
"Perfect. Does he join in the soccer games you guys play in the street and at the park?"
"Sometimes, but not all the time. He has a younger brother that hangs out a lot with the other kids though."
"Well, next time you see him at one of your games, chat him up. See where his eyes go, and just talk to him about sports, or movies, or something, and see how he responds. If he's interested in being friends you'll know pretty quick."
"But what if he only wants to be friends and not boyfriends?"
"Well, it's a start. If he's not gay then that's probably not going to happen, but you have made a friend and that's important too. He might be the friend you can confide in like you do with me."
"I guess. Can we go to Walmart now?"
"Sure, let's go buddy, but you still haven't given me any gift ideas."
"Oh, you know. I don't need anything, just anything is fine," he sighed.
"Okay, a box of rocks it is," I teased.
"I'll throw em at ya," he said shoving me gently.
"Ouch, I'll cry."
"Nah, I wouldn't really," he said sincerely.
"I know. So...want to drive?" I teased, holding the keys just out of reach.
"Yeah, let me," he giggled, trying to snatch the keys out of the air, but I pulled them away just in time.
"Someday, when you get your permit. I would be happy to teach you how to drive, and you could even use my car to get your license when the time comes."
"Really, oh man that is so cool. Thanks Rob."
"You're welcome buddy."
We drove to Walmart next, and there Manny found gifts for his mother and father and apparently me, because he told me he needed privacy and that he'd meet me up front. I used the time to shop for him, and though I wasn't quite sure what to get him, I figured he was the typical 15 year-old in most ways, so I bought him a tablet.
I didn't know if they had internet at his house, but if not he could use the wi-fi at my house, and it might even reach to his. It was a nice tablet, but they were on sale at a really good price, and I decided to get him something else to go with it, something more personal from me.
What do you get a 15 year old gay boy that's personal, yet not intimate? I pondered. Then it struck me, a new soccer ball. I knew the one he and his bunch used was sort of tattered, and he'd be the hit of the group if he had a new one to offer them for play.
I found a nice one for around ten bucks and added it to my basket and headed off to the toy department to find a gift for the two little ones. Little ones like that are easy to buy for, and I wound up getting Sofia a My Little Pony, and Julio a play set with trucks and such.
I decided on a joint gift for the parents and wound up with one of those food gifts sets with matching coffee cups and an assortment of finger food. In addition to the presents, I bought a small turkey and the trimmings for Christmas dinner. Since I was pretty sure Manny would be visiting me at some point, I wanted to have plenty of food on hand. I added Holiday cookies and candy, and piled in some more junk food just in case, and headed to the checkouts.
I didn't see Manny around, so I decided he either wasn't through yet, or he'd checked out and was waiting out front. I paid for my purchases and had the clerk double bag the ones for Manny, except the soccer ball which was too large to bag. Instead I hit it underneath all the other stuff and hoped he wouldn't notice.
As luck would have it, I'd beaten him to the checkouts and I had time to stow my stuff in the trunk and away from prying eyes. By the time I made it back to the front doors, Manny was coming out looking like the cat that ate the canary. He held two shopping bags against his chest almost desperately, trying to keep them closed.
"Well, I see you found some goodies."
"Yep, got all my shopping done now, how bout you?"
"Pretty much, unless I think of some last minute things," You can put those in the back floorboard, mine are in the trunk."
It was pushing three thirty by then, and though too early for dinner, a snack seemed in order, so I headed to a nearby Braums and we went inside and had some ice cream. Manny had a Butterfinger Mix and I had a twist yogurt waffle cone, and we talked as we ate our snack.
"This is like the best Christmas ever."
"It's pretty nice for me too," I said smiling, "But...we still need to find that boyfriend for you."
He smiled, "Thanks to you I can start looking for real now. If it's not Jason, then maybe I can find someone else."
"See, that's the spirit. The most important thing is to believe in yourself and feel good about who you are."
"I just wish....you know? that my papa understood."
"Well, maybe he'll come around. You know, some dads think it's their fault when a son turns out different, but the truth is, we're born that way."
"Well, most of the scientific and medical community feel that way, and I know I do."
"But you said we..."
"Yes, I said we, because in case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm gay too."
"Well, I sort of knew since you said you liked boys, but I was sort of confused cause you were married and all."
"I was as confused as you at one time in my life, but I fell in love with a woman and then we had kids, and I fell in love all over again with them, and well...to make a long story short...I messed up. I fell in love with someone else, someone younger than me, and when my family found out...well, they didn't take it very well. My wife divorced me, and my kids turned their backs on me. So...I moved here and I haven't seen them since."
"Wait, someone younger...like how young, my age or what?"
"No, a bit older, 17 actually, almost 18. In fact he turned 18 during all the fury with my wife and kids."
"What happened to him?"
"Well, it got to be too much for him. He was living at home and his folks wanted me hung up by the cojones, but he talked them into forgetting the whole thing if we stopped seeing each other."
"Wow, and I thought I had it bad? So before you got married, were you gay?"
"I was always gay, I was just living another kind of life while I was married. Don't get me wrong, it was a good life and I enjoyed it, but then I met Kevin, and one thing led to another and the rest is history."
"So...be honest Rob, do you like me like you liked that other boy...Kevin?
"Not like that..no, but I can appreciate just how special you are without needing to get that close."
"I just wish my papa could see how special I am," he said grinning, "and accept me that way."
"Oh, I think your father still loves you, he just doesn't understand what you're feeling. Maybe someday he will, and things will be different."
"I doubt it, but I hope so. Maybe before I find a boyfriend," he grinned as he added the last part, and I smiled.
"Yeah, I can see it now. Papa, this is Jason, my new boyfriend," I teased.
"I wish it was that easy, but at least I could say that to you."
"Yes, you can always be honest with me," I said patting his leg gently, "I'm on your side, no matter what."
"I'm on your side too, and...I think your kids are wrong to not talk to you. I know sort of how you feel, being different and all. I promise I won't ever stop talking to you," he said looking at me with his big brown eyes.
"Thanks," I said trying not to choke up, "That means a lot to me."
By the time we got back to my house it was getting dark, and Manny said he needed to get home. He grabbed his packages and just stood there for a minute, then he smiled, "Thanks for today, it was fun."
"Yeah, it was," I said draping my arm around him, "What are your plans for tomorrow?"
"I got a soccer game to go to," he said grinning, "but I'll be down later to tell you how things went."
"All right my man!" I said, giving him a high five and almost causing him to lose his packages, "See you tomorrow then."
"Bye Rob," he said starting off, "And thanks for trusting me...that means a lot to me."
I nodded and waved, and watched him till he was out of sight. I went back inside and wrapped the gifts I'd bought, had a light dinner, and turned in early.
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