The day of the Christmas Barbecue finally arrived. Jamie had been watching Graham working hard in the kitchen for the last couple of days and helping out where he could. The oven had been on most of the time filling the house with wonderful aromas and out of it had been coming several different varieties of cookies and squares, pound cakes, and now Jamie was watching Graham put the finishing touches on a gingerbread house that he had made. Jamie observed closely as Graham piped icing along the sides of the house's foundation and then along the edges of the roof to decorate it. Jamie could not help feeling a bit sad at the thought that eventually the house would be broken up and eaten but in the meantime it was going to be a beautiful centrepiece for one of the tables at the Tomlinson's house.
The quantity of food was staggering to Jamie as he contemplated the fact that he was only seeing the dessert portion taking shape in front of him. What would the main courses be like? Graham had assured him that he would get to taste many different kinds of food but that the main event was going to be the meat that Frank would be cooking. Jamie remembered the restaurant that Graham had taken him to for ribs on their first night together and his mouth watered at the prospect of what the day would bring.
Jamie's initial suspicions that Graham was likely no different than the other men he had known had now started to recede and he was beginning to feel quite comfortable around the man he had met only a half dozen days ago. It was a strange feeling - safety - but Jamie was slowly starting to consider that perhaps Graham was not going to make advances as the rest had always done in the past. In the entire time that Jamie had been with Graham he had not once been on the receiving end of a leering look or even a veiled suggestion. From time to time Jamie still attempted to flirt with Graham to test what kind of reaction he would get but Graham either did not notice or chose not to. Regardless of the reason for the lack of reaction on Graham's part Jamie was now beginning to let down his guard and was starting to feel more relaxed than he had been in a long time. Nevertheless Jamie simultaneously knew that all was not well within him. He still had horrible dreams about the past and sometimes he would awake suddenly in the middle of the night terrified and in a cold sweat. He hoped that eventually the night terrors would leave him in peace but for now while Jamie might have control during the day, his nightmares still ruled while he slept.
"So what do you think?" asked Graham as he finally stepped back from the counter on which the completed gingerbread house was sitting. "Do you think it sort of looks like the Tomlinson's place?"
"It's beautiful," said Jamie with amazement. "I've never seen anyone do something like that before."
"The funny part of it is that I can make something like this but I wouldn't have a clue on how to put a real house together," laughed Graham. "If I ever tried to build a real one it'd probably fall down on top of me the second I opened the front door. Now that everything is finished we need to get out some plastic tubs and put all the things we've made into them so we can take it all with us to the barbecue. Can you help me with that?"
"Sure," said Jamie happily as he opened up the kitchen cupboards and started hunting for containers while Graham worked to fill them up as quickly as Jamie found them.
In short order everything was made ready for the trip and all that remained was the gingerbread house itself. Jamie watched as Graham brought out a medium-sized Styrofoam cooler. Graham put a layer of crushed tissue paper in the bottom of it for a cushion and then gently picked up and laid the gingerbread house in the cooler on top of it. He then carefully secured the house by encircling it with a number of thin wooden skewers that he pressed down into the bottom of the Styrofoam cooler to ensure that it could not shift position during the trip over to the Tomlinson's.
"Just in case we have an accident I'll also take some extra icing along with me so I can make repairs if I need to after we arrive," said Graham once he was satisfied. "Normally I'd head over in the middle of the afternoon but Jason said we should come right after lunch today because he has something he wants to show you."
"What is it?" asked Jamie.
"I don't know," replied Graham. "I guess you'll just have to wait and see."
Jamie helped Graham carry the plastic containers of cookies and cakes out to the jeep and stacked them up on the rear jump seat. After they had put on their coats and shoes Graham then slowly walked the cooler out that held the gingerbread house. Jamie got into the passenger seat of the jeep and Graham placed the cooler carefully onto his lap. Closing the passenger door beside Jamie, Graham then walked around to the driver's side of the jeep and held the door open so Cindy who had been patiently waiting could jump up into the back of the jeep. Once she was sitting down next to the plastic containers that were also in the back Graham got in and closed the door.
The trip to the Tomlinson's would only take a couple of minutes given their place was so close but rather than trying to walk the gingerbread house along the path through the forest between their homes Graham felt that driving was the best way to ensure that it would arrive safely. As Graham slowly drove the jeep back through the trees and onto the road Jamie observed him closely. Over the past week as Jamie grew more and more comfortable with Graham he was learning to enjoy the company of a man that he did not fear. It was still a sensation that was new to Jamie but he now found himself wondering what it might be like to live in a home like this all the time. Jamie had always shied away from thinking along these lines in the past because it had inevitably led to disappointment. Nevertheless, the thoughts kept swirling around in his mind.
They went just under half a mile down the road and then Graham turned the jeep off onto a gravel driveway that disappeared into a stand of fir trees. Graham pulled the jeep up tight behind a red pickup truck that had the name of Frank's gas station written on the side of it and shut off the engine. While Jamie waited Graham quickly got out of the jeep, went around to Jamie's side, opened the door, took the cooler off of his lap, and stepped back so Jamie could get out. Jamie then ran to the front door of the Tomlinson's house and knocked.
"It's so good to see you Jamie. Merry Christmas," said Kathy as she opened the door.
"Merry Christmas," replied Jamie happily. "Graham's got something he needs to bring in right away and put on a table."
"Certainly," said Kathy holding the door open wide for Graham to walk through. "Just go right in and don't worry about your shoes."
Graham walked up to a coffee table that was covered with a Christmas tablecloth on the far side of the Tomlinson's living room and gently placed the cooler down on it. Meanwhile Jason and Frank had appeared and were watching closely.
"What do you have in the cooler?" asked Jason.
"I need something to use as a base before I take it out so you can see it," said Graham taking the top off of the cooler. "Do you have a serving plate that I can borrow?"
"I'll get one for you," said Frank who returned a few moments later from the kitchen and handed a rectangular glass serving dish to Graham.
Graham positioned the dish in the centre of the table and then reached into the cooler and lifted out the gingerbread house and put it on the plate. The careful packing and transportation had been successful. The house had arrived in perfect condition. The Tomlinson's all watched with surprise as they saw Graham's creation for the first time.
"It looks just like our house," said Kathy with a smile. "That's amazing. I didn't know you could make something like that."
"Neither did I actually," admitted Graham. "But with Jamie's help I got everything else done sooner than I expected so I thought I would experiment with the extra time I had. It turned out pretty good I think. We'll go and get the rest of the things out of the jeep now."
Jamie and Graham went back outside and let Cindy out of the back of the jeep whereupon she promptly went inside the house to greet Jason. They then started to carry in the filled dessert containers while Jason helped by getting some more plates from the kitchen. While Jamie and Graham were taking off their coats and shoes Jason began opening up the containers, filling up the plates, and laying them out on the table around the gingerbread house centrepiece.
"That's sure a lot of desserts," said Jamie as he looked over the table which was soon covered in goodies.
"If you think that's a lot of food you should go into the kitchen and see what's happening in there," said Jason with a laugh. "Mom and Dad have been going crazy cooking for the last couple of days."
After giving Jamie a quick peek into the kitchen Jason took him up to his room. No longer nervous around Jason's parents, Jamie had emerged from the kitchen with a sandwich in one hand that Frank had just made for him. Jamie was smiling as he bit into the thick sandwich of sliced roast pork that had been the Tomlinson's main course for dinner the previous evening.
"Before everyone gets here there's something that I want to give you," said Jason holding a small box out to Jamie that was wrapped in Christmas paper.
"You didn't have to get me anything," said Jamie surprised by Jason's unexpected generosity. "I don't have anything to give you."
"That's OK," said Jason. "You only just arrived on the island."
Jamie popped the last of the sandwich into his mouth and then sat down on Jason's bed to open up the present that Jason had given him. He removed the paper around it carefully, lifted the lid off the box, and looked inside.
"Oh wow," said Jamie as he looked down on the beaded friendship bracelet that sat curled up inside the box. "You made this yourself?"
"I've been working on it every night for the last few days," said Jason. "Do you like it? The big beads along the middle of it are called Pony beads, the alternating medium-sized ones are called Crow beads, and the little ones that are along the edges are called Seed beads. I picked the orange ones to represent you and the blue ones are me."
"I think it's wonderful," said Jamie with sincerity looking at the intertwining zigzag pattern the two colours made with each other and understood what Jason was saying with the bracelet. "No one ever gave me anything like this before. Last Christmas my father threw a pack of cigarettes on my bed when he was walking out of my room."
"You won't ever have to have a Christmas like that again now that you're here," said Jason saddened at the example of casual abuse and disregard that Jamie had endured at the hands of his father. "You're supposed to make a wish when you first put it on and then wear it until it falls off on its own - that's when the wish comes true."
"Can you help me put it on?" asked Jamie holding out his wrist.
Jason took the bracelet out of the box and went over to his desk and picked up one of the needles that he had used to help thread the beads for the bracelet. Jason then put the bracelet around Jamie's wrist and began to sew using the two loose ends until they were completely woven together.
"I know what I'm going to wish for," said Jamie hopefully.
"If it's what I think it is maybe I shouldn't have sewn the ends together so well," replied Jason with a smile. "I don't want you to have to wait that long for it to fall off so the wish will come true."
"Thank you very much," said Jamie holding his arms out towards Jason. "It's the nicest present I ever received from anyone."
A few moments later a breathless Jason replied, "You're not as shy now as you were on that day when we first went fishing together."
"I never used to know anyone that made me feel this way either", said Jamie. "Before we go back downstairs I think I'd like to say thank you one more time if that's OK with you."
"You can say that to me any time you want," said Jason with a big grin. "I asked my mom if you could stay over tonight after the barbecue and she said 'yes'."
"That's great," said Jamie as he put his arms around Jason again. "This is going to be my best Christmas ever."
While the boys were upstairs Frank was in the kitchen getting ready to give the brisket in the smoker outside its first basting with sauce. Frank did not believe in using bottled sauces from the grocery store and instead made his own. He took the same approach when it came to the spice rub that he had put on the meat earlier in the day before it went into the smoker. Certainly store-bought items were a part of Frank's recipe, but supplementing that were herbs from the garden outside, homemade tomato sauce, and other things that he added to make a creation that was well- known all over the island and uniquely Frank's. He was stirring together the various ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl when Jamie and Jason came back into the kitchen.
"How much do you know about cooking brisket Jamie?" asked Frank while testing the sauce's flavour using a teaspoon.
"I've never had it before but I bet it tastes good," said Jamie with a giggle. "I only had barbecue once when Graham took me out to a restaurant before we came over to the island."
"In that case it's time for you to learn how it's done," said Frank picking up the now ready bowl of sauce off the counter and a small cooking brush. "You can't live on the island here and not know how to cook outdoors. I'll show you how to do steak later in the day but the key to doing brisket right is long slow cooking. You start it really early in the day, give it a good rub with fresh spices before you put it in the smoker, and then baste it with sauce all day long to make sure it never dries out. People try to cook it too fast and that's when it ends up tough. Long and slow is the secret. The other important thing is to make sure that you use your own home-made sauce and never touch anything that comes out of a bottle."
Frank continued explaining the secrets of outdoor cooking as Jamie followed him out the back door of the Tomlinson's house and in the direction of the smoker which was set up on the deck outside at the back of the house. Graham watched from inside the Tomlinson's house out the kitchen window as Frank raised the top on the smoker and Jamie was partially obscured for a moment by a cloud of steam that formed around him as the heat from the smoker met the cool outdoor air.
"You'd better watch out," said Kathy with a laugh. "Frank is going to turn Jamie into a chef in addition to an auto mechanic."
"It's amazing how much he's come out of his shell in just the little time that he's been here," said Graham watching Jamie observing carefully how Frank was applying the sauce to the meat. "He was almost afraid to say anything when I first found him. This environment seems to be just what Jamie's needed but I think a lot of the credit has to go to you, Frank, and especially Jason. Jamie's never seen how a normal family operates and you guys have to be the best example there is for that."
"Don't forget to put yourself on that list too," cautioned Kathy. "If you'd not found Jamie and then shown him that not all men are like his father none of this would have been possible."
"Maybe you're right," admitted Graham. "Mostly I just think I've done what anyone else would do."
"Except they didn't," pointed out Kathy. "I've seen how Jamie looks at you when he thinks no one else is watching. Believe me, he doesn't think you're just like everyone else."
"Mom's right," said Jason who had been standing nearby listening. "You've become very important to Jamie very quickly. I don't think even he realizes how much."
"I'm not very observant about things like that," said Graham now feeling very self-conscious. "I've never tried to help anyone like this before. This is all completely new to me. I don't even know what to do most of the time."
"It may be new to you but I think you're doing a great job," said Kathy giving Graham a quick hug.
Looking out the window and seeing that Jamie and Frank were on their way back into the house Kathy and Jason smiled at Graham's embarrassment and busied themselves with the final preparations for the party. The first guests would be arriving soon and there was still a lot to do.
The Tomlinson's house was starting to fill up with guests and some of them were spilling out onto the deck in the rear on lawn chairs that were scattered about so people could enjoy the warmth of the sun on the mild winter day. There was a giant cooler filled with ice off to the side of the deck stocked with bottles and cans of soda pop and other drinks. Next to that was a long table covered with appetizers of all types that various guests had brought with them to the party. People were milling about chatting, catching up on the happenings in each other's families, talking about the year past and the year to come, and Jamie who was still quite shy around strangers was helping by monitoring the plates of food and bringing more from the kitchen whenever anything started to look like it was running low. While Jamie did his best to keep a very low profile the presence of anyone new on the island was always cause for notice. It did not take long for word to discretely get around that Jamie was staying with Graham due to unspecified unfortunate reasons.
Jason came up to Jamie and said, "There's someone in the house that I want you to meet."
"Who's that?" asked Jamie as he followed Jason back in the house and into the living room.
"Jamie, this is my friend Pony Twofeathers," said Jason stopping in front of one of the guests. "Pony, I want you to meet my new friend Jamie. He came over from the city last week and is staying with Mr. M."
Pony was a large powerfully built man with long dark hair that was beginning to turn grey. He stood as Jason introduced Jamie and was clearly the tallest man in the room.
"I am very honoured to meet you Jamie," said Pony formally with a slight bow of his head.
"It's nice to meet you too sir," replied Jamie apprehensively but nevertheless meeting Pony's gaze directly.
Sensing almost immediately Jamie's nervousness Pony avoided offering his hand but simultaneously noted Jamie's courage in standing his ground and looking straight up at him. Pony then also noticed the friendship bracelet on Jamie's wrist and the glow that was on Jason's face.
"I have heard many good things being spoken of Jason's new friend and the great help he is being to our hosts," said Pony. "I can see that their compliments are justified. I have also heard it said that certain of the cookies on the dessert table are particularly good."
"Graham did most of the work I only helped a little bit," said Jamie with a shy smile.
"You have made a contribution," said Pony kindly. "Everyone gives and therefore everyone receives. That is the essence of this occasion."
"We should go back and help Mom in the kitchen now," said Jason tapping Jamie on the shoulder.
"I look forward to when we next meet Jamie," said Pony still quite formally. "Anyone that Jason picks as his friend is someone worth knowing."
"Thank you very much sir," replied Jamie as he followed Jason back to the kitchen.
Sitting back down Pony watched the two boys leave the room. Pony had felt an undercurrent of wariness in Jamie but at the same time he also was left with a distinct impression of hidden inner strength. Despite their relatively short introduction Pony knew that Jason's new friend was going to be someone that he would want to know more about. The friendship bracelet around Jamie's wrist clearly attested to Jason's feelings about his new friend and this only confirmed Pony's opinion.
Frank came into the kitchen from welcoming more guests that had arrived at the front door and said, "Has anyone seen where my bowl of basting sauce went? I forgot about the brisket and I need to go out and put some more on it."
"I think you should take a look outside," said Kathy. "It looks to me like things are well in hand."
"Well I'll be darned," said Frank looking out the window onto the deck only to see Jamie standing in front of the smoker carefully using the brush to paint the meat with sauce exactly as Frank had shown him when he had first arrived.
"You've been busy talking with the guests but Jamie hasn't missed a beat all afternoon," said Kathy. I don't think that meat's ever been basted better or more consistently and the appetizer plates are being restocked as soon as they even start looking empty. When it's summer and he's helping you at the gas station I think you're going to be pretty impressed."
"I'm already impressed," admitted Frank. "It's pretty hard not to be where that little guy is concerned. He's never been anything but polite, friendly, and helpful. I just don't understand how anyone could have ever wanted to hurt him."
"Why don't you show Jamie how to do the prawns?" suggested Kathy handing a heavily stacked plate to Frank. "The guests always like them and it'll give you a chance to show Jamie how to use the barbecue."
Frank took the plate from Kathy, headed out the door, and met Jamie on the deck. Once Jamie lowered the cover on the smoker Frank steered him over to the barbecue that was set up on the opposite side. Putting down the large plate of prawns that Kathy had been marinating Frank lifted the lid on the barbecue and then removed the grill inside it. Picking up the sack of chunk charcoal that was leaning up against the side of the house Frank then poured a layer into the base of the barbecue.
"Always use chunk charcoal Jamie," advised Frank. "Those round briquette things give off a chemical smell and it always makes the food taste funny. The other thing that's important is to never use starter fluid because that also puts a funny taste in the air that the food picks up."
"How do you get it going then?" asked Jamie. "I thought everyone always uses fluid."
"Most people do but I've got a better way and it's faster too," said Frank picking up the small propane torch that was sitting on the floor of the deck next to the barbecue. "This doesn't leave any odours and it's much quicker."
Frank used the striker and then adjusted the flame on the torch until it was an almost invisible blue. He then laid the torch in the bottom of the barbecue with the flame pointed directly on the left half of the bed of charcoal. In only a minute or two the coals were already starting to turn red and before long were turning white in spots. Frank then quickly picked up the torch and pointed it at a different section of the bed of charcoal. Once most of the coals on the left side were turning colour Frank picked up the torch and played it over the right side of the charcoal bed that he had laid down. Less than ten minutes after starting the entire bed of coals was a characteristic off-white colour and they were emitting a significant amount of heat. Frank then turned off the torch and put it back down next to the barbecue.
"That was fast," said an impressed Jamie. "I thought it was supposed to take a long time to get a barbecue ready."
"It does if you do it with starter fluid or by using paper and wood chips to make a small fire under the charcoal," said Frank. "I learnt this method a long time ago from a friend and I've used it ever since. Once it gets hot like this don't put the grill back on with your hands or you'll get burnt badly. Always be sure to use a pair of pliers to protect yourself."
Demonstrating for Jamie, Frank then picked up an old pair of pliers that were sitting on the tray underneath the barbecue and used them to reinsert the grill over the now hot bed of coals. Frank then lowered the lid over the barbecue to allow it to heat thoroughly.
"It'll be ready in no time at all now," said Frank. "Prawns don't take very long to cook because they're fairly small. See if you can spot Jason and ask him to find us a plate to put the cooked ones on and then we can begin."
A couple of minutes later Jamie reappeared with a large serving plate and a small egg cup that was filled with toothpicks. Jamie put the plate down on the table next to the barbecue and positioned the egg cup in the centre of the plate.
"What are the toothpicks for?" asked a puzzled Frank.
"I thought it would help so people wouldn't get their fingers sticky when they're picking up the prawns," said Jamie.
"Jamie, I've done a barbecue here every Christmas for ten years now and I never thought of doing that even once," laughed Frank. "I've always put out stacks of serviettes for people to use. I think we'll have to promote you."
Jamie watched as Frank lifted the lid on the now hot barbecue and started to lay the prawns out all over the grill. Jamie could feel the heat from the coals on his face as he smelled the prawns starting to cook. By the time Frank had the grill covered the prawns that he had first laid out were almost ready to turn over.
"You have to watch prawns carefully because they cook fast," explained Frank. "You also don't want them to get overcooked or they're tough. All you have to do is watch for them to turn colour and then flip them so both sides get done evenly. Then once they're nice and pink all over they're ready to come off the grill and you can put more on. Can you look after these for me? I should go back inside and see what Kathy and Graham are up to in the kitchen."
"You can trust me," said Jamie with a smile holding out his hand for the tongs.
Walking back into the kitchen Frank found Kathy laying out a large plate of fresh fruit while Graham was putting together another plate with vegetables and dip. Jason was standing nearby and as soon as Kathy was finished he took the completed plate from his mother into the living room for the guests that were in there. Returning almost immediately Jason then picked up the plate that Graham had completed and headed to the deck outside for the guests that were out there.
"I thought you were going outside to barbecue the prawns," said Kathy.
"I was but they're now in the hands of an expert," explained Frank. "Have a look for yourself."
Graham looked outside and saw Jamie expertly laying the cooked prawns on the serving plate in a circular pattern around the cup of toothpicks he had put in the centre. As the cooked prawns came off the grill Jamie added more of the fresh ones always keeping the grill fully covered. A few people were already trying out the prawns and from their enthusiastic reactions Graham could tell that Jamie was doing an excellent job.
Throughout the entire afternoon Cindy had been keeping a watchful eye on Jamie. Initially she had been following Jamie as he moved around the house helping monitor the plates of food but now that Jamie was mostly helping with the cooking outdoors she had settled down there to observe. Whenever Jamie would go back inside the house for something she would sit up and if Jamie remained inside for more than a minute or two she would go in herself to check on him. While Jamie was cooking the prawns on the barbecue one guest accidentally backed up into him. Initially perceiving this as an attack Cindy's usual friendly disposition suddenly vanished, she jumped to her feet, her lips pulled back baring her teeth, and she prepared to defend Jamie. Profuse apologies were given to Jamie immediately for the accidental collision whereupon Cindy relaxed but she stayed on her feet and watched the situation closely. None of the other guests had noticed Cindy's rapid change in demeanour but Pony who had wandered out to the deck a few minutes earlier noticed instantly and smiled. Pony had first met Cindy when he had been supervising the renovations being done to the house that Graham had bought. He had seen how Graham had worked long and hard to calm Cindy's fears from the abuse that she had suffered at the hands of her previous owners and now Cindy's reaction to the momentary collision combined with Jamie's earlier guardedness started Pony thinking.
It shortly became clear that Jamie had not missed noticing Cindy's reaction either. Jamie picked up two prawns off the barbecue that were finished cooking and blew on them carefully to help cool them down. He then went over to Cindy and knelt down next to her. Breaking off the tail section from each of the prawns Jamie fed them to her while speaking in a quiet voice that only she could hear. After getting a big hug Cindy gave Jamie a lick on the face and then laid back down again while Jamie went back to the barbecue to continue grilling the rest of the prawns. Once back in position Jamie took a quick look around at the guests on the deck to see if any of them had been watching and he noticed Pony smiling. Jamie returned the smile shyly and Pony nodded back in recognition of their shared knowledge of Cindy's protectiveness.
By late afternoon the sun was starting to disappear and it was getting cold outside. Frank had turned on the outside lights and lit a warm fire in the brazier that was in the middle of the deck to provide heat but most of the guests had already migrated back into the Tomlinson's house. Jamie had long since finished grilling the prawns to rave reviews from everyone at the party and had quietly accepted the praise with a very shy smile. While Jamie had been enjoying the party the strain of meeting so many new people in such a short period of time had finally taken its toll. Jamie had curled up by himself in a chair off to the side of the deck and was shivering even though the heat from the fire in the brazier was keeping him physically warm. Cindy who had been watching Jamie finally got up, went over, and nudged him several times with her head but after getting no response she realized that he needed help and went into the house to locate Jason. Finding Jason in the kitchen Cindy began pawing at him repeatedly until he followed her outside once he understood that she was trying to alert him to a problem.
Seeing Jamie curled up alone outside Jason quickly realized that he needed to have a break from the excitement of the party. He took Jamie's hand, pulled him to his feet, and led him into the house telling his mother on the way past the kitchen that Jamie needed a rest and to call them when it was time for dinner. With Cindy following close behind Jason immediately took Jamie upstairs to his bedroom. Jamie did not speak or react while Jason took him into the house and up the stairs but simply went along quietly wherever Jason guided him. Once inside the bedroom Jason sat Jamie down on the bed, took off his shoes for him, pulled the blankets to one side, and helped Jamie to lie down on the bed. Cindy who had been watching closely went up and sat next to the head of the bed and looked at Jamie carefully as he laid unmoving in the bed. Jason then turned off the lights, got into the bed next to Jamie, and pulled the blankets over them both. Putting his arms around Jamie to comfort him Jason gradually felt Jamie's body stop shivering and begin to relax. A few minutes later as the dark quiet atmosphere began to relieve Jamie's tension Jason felt him start to breathe more regularly. Finally less than five minutes after being put to bed Jamie was sound asleep. Seeing that Jamie was now safe and comfortable Cindy laid down on the floor next to the bed. Holding Jamie close Jason laid his head on the pillow next to Jamie's and joined him in a late afternoon nap.
Back downstairs Graham who had been looking for Jamie without success went into the kitchen and found Kathy putting a load of dishes into the dishwasher. Graham helped by collecting and rinsing the plates and then handing them to Kathy who put them into the bottom section of the dishwasher. Once it was full Kathy shook some soap into the soap dispenser and then closed the door and switched it on.
"Have you seen Jamie?" asked Graham while drying his hands off. "I've looked around the house a couple of times but can't spot him anywhere. Jason seems to have disappeared too."
"Jason took Jamie upstairs to his room for a rest," said Kathy. "He looked like he'd had a bit too much excitement from being around all the people at the party."
"I should have been keeping a better eye on him," said Graham now feeling guilty. "I didn't realize. Maybe I shouldn't have brought him."
"No, you did the right thing," said Kathy. "I've been watching out the window periodically and Jamie's been enjoying himself. It's just been a bit too much for him I think. This is probably the first time he's been in a situation like this and he's not used to it. Jason took him upstairs for a little nap to help him get refreshed. He'll be OK after he's had a rest. Also the crowd is starting to thin a bit and once we start serving dinner things will get a lot quieter when people start eating. Jamie will be fine, you'll see."
A couple of hours after Jason took Jamie upstairs to nap Frank went outside, opened the lid on the smoker one last time, used a knife to cut off a small portion, blew on it to cool it, and then popped it into his mouth. It was cooked to total perfection - tender, moist, and delicious. The periodic basting with sauce that Jamie had been doing throughout the afternoon had paid off handsomely. Frank cut off a second small piece to sample the meat again and could not remember a time when the brisket had turned out better. Lowering the lid on the smoker Frank went back into the house and got the steaks out of the refrigerator so he could start preparing them for grilling on the barbecue.
Frank had selected both strip loin and rib eye cuts when he had picked up the steaks at the butcher the previous day. After many years of barbequing he had found that they gave the best results over other types of steak. Frank prepared them by sprinkling salt and pepper on both sides of each piece of meat as well as giving them a small dash of olive oil to prevent them from sticking to the grill. After each steak was ready he added it to the growing stack on the platter next to him that he would use to take them outside.
"I think you'd better tell Graham to go and wake the boys up," said Frank. "It won't be much longer before these will need to go on the grill and then it'll be time to eat."
"I'll go up and let them know," said Kathy. "Graham is busy in the living room right now refilling coffee cups."
Kathy walked out of the kitchen, went up the stairs, stopped just outside Jason's bedroom, and gently tapped on the door. From inside the bedroom Kathy could hear the sound of paws on the floor and when she pushed the door open gently she saw Cindy on the other side of the door standing protectively between her and the boys who were fast asleep on the bed.
Kathy smiled as she looked at the boys in the bed together. The bedclothes had moved around as they had slept and Kathy could see Jamie's arm draped over Jason as their heads laid side by side together on the pillow. Although Kathy knew that Jamie had had a difficult life in the past, at this moment with his eyes closed and breathing softly, he now looked the picture of peaceful happy innocence.
"It will be dinner time soon," said Kathy very softly from the doorway.
Almost immediately Kathy saw Jason's eyelids flutter and Jamie twitch whereupon she chuckled. There were certain things guaranteed to always catch the attention of a growing boy and mentioning food was one of the most effective. Kathy also noticed that Cindy had not missed the topic of her wake-up call. Cindy looked up at Kathy licking her lips and then went up to the bed and started to lick Jamie on the face to help him wake up.
"Mom!" said Jason suddenly coming totally awake and realizing that she was watching Jamie and him laying next to each other on the bed. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing at all Jason," said Kathy with a gentle smile. "I just wanted to let you know that your father is going to be starting the steaks in a few minutes."
"Jamie was tired and needed to rest," said Jason attempting to explain. "He was worn out from seeing all the people at the party."
"Hi," said Jamie now fully awake and feeling self-conscious at being found in bed next to Jason. "I'm sorry I don't remember coming up here. I hope you're not angry."
"Everything is just fine Jamie," said Kathy softly. "Jason brought you up here so you could have a break from all the excitement. When you're both ready come downstairs, it's almost time for dinner."
Kathy closed the door to Jason's bedroom and headed back towards the kitchen. As she went down the stairs she had a big smile on her face. While it was too soon to know for certain, the way the two boys were snuggled up together it seemed to Kathy that Jason might have found more than just a new friend to go fishing and hiking with. Given what she had seen of Jamie's personality so far the prospect did not disappoint her at all.
A few minutes later a refreshed Jamie walked into the kitchen along with Jason. He was acting quite reserved and Kathy realized that he was feeling embarrassed at her having found him in bed with Jason. Knowing that quick action was called for Kathy picked up a small appetizer off a serving tray next to her and offered it to Jamie.
"You both looked so happy when you were sleeping upstairs", said Kathy quietly so only Jamie could hear. "I'm glad that you and Jason have become such good friends so quickly."
Kathy was pleased when she saw Jamie give a shy but now more confident smile in reply. Jamie then helped Kathy get out the plates and cutlery that would be needed shortly when dinner was served.
It was late in the evening when the last of the guests had left the Tomlinson's home. It had been the best party that anyone could remember in years and the compliments on the food had been flowing constantly. Jamie's attentive helpfulness had been noted by many of the guests despite his shyness. His quiet friendliness had caught the attention of several of the guests who, having heard vague comments to the effect that there were difficulties in his past, had discretely mentioned to Kathy to let them know if any help was needed.
For having just hosted a party the size and length of the Christmas Barbecue the house looked remarkably clean. Graham wandered through the house picking up the few remaining cups and other dishes and took them back into the kitchen. In the kitchen an efficient assembly line was in full operation with Kathy at the sink, Jamie and Jason unloading the dishwasher and putting cups, plates, and cutlery away, along with Frank wrapping up the leftover food so it could be put into the refrigerator.
Finally the few remaining dirty serving trays had been washed, the final load of pots and pans went into the dishwasher, and the last of the food had been put away. Everyone paused a moment to take a breath and then they all sat down on the chairs around the kitchen table. Cindy who had been sitting off to the side moved to lay down in front of the chair that Jamie was sitting in whereupon he began to slowly run a sock-covered foot along her side in a gentle massage-like motion.
"I think a round of applause is in order for everyone here," said Frank. "You all helped out incredibly today and I want to thank you for everything you did. But I think extra thanks needs to go to the newest member of our extended family, Jamie. I've never seen anyone work as hard as you did today."
"I just tried to help out a little bit," said Jamie embarrassed by the compliment.
"Oh you did more than just a little," added Graham. "I noticed and so did everybody else. You made a wonderful impression on everyone at the party. Everyone was talking about how great the meat was this year."
"I just did it the way you showed me," said Jamie clearly trying to diminish his role.
"You made it extra special this year by being here with us," said Kathy with a smile. "We hope that from now on you will always be able to come to our Christmas Barbecue."
"I think it's time for us to go to bed now," announced Jason standing up. "I'm tired out and so is Jamie."
"Sounds like a good idea," said Graham seeing Jamie looking towards him for permission. "I'm just going to finish this cup of tea and then I'm heading back to my place. You guys go ahead and I'll see you in the morning."
Jamie stood and then hesitated for a moment. Suddenly he came up to Graham and gave him a quick hug. Graham was taken by surprise as Jamie had never been this forward before but he put his arms around the boy and gently returned the hug.
"Thanks for letting me come with you today Graham," said Jamie. "It was really nice being allowed to see everything."
"I'm glad you were able to come too Jamie," replied Graham. "You made it extra nice for me just by being here."
"And thanks for all the wonderful things to eat," said Jamie turning towards Frank and Kathy. "I've never been to a party before and never saw so many different kinds of things out on the tables."
"I'm going to put you in charge of the meat next year," said Frank. "You did a wonderful job and it really helped me out a lot."
"You're part of the family now Jamie," said Kathy. "We want you to know that you're always welcome here. Just to visit, or come for breakfast, or stay over with Jason whenever you'd like."
"Thanks very much," said Jamie now starting to accept the comments a bit more easily. "I'd like that a lot."
Jason rescued Jamie from having to deal with any more compliments by taking his hand and leading him out of the kitchen. Cindy got up and followed the boys who then headed upstairs to Jason's bedroom. The day had been a long and tiring one for Jamie but at the same time it had given him another chance to observe Graham and the Tomlinson's in action. The contrast between what Jamie had grown up experiencing at home and what he was now seeing on the island could not have been more different. As the two boys got ready for bed Jamie once again wondered what it would be like if he could stay here far away from the city and his troubles.
The two boys got into bed and Jason snuggled up behind Jamie and put his arms around him.
"I'm really glad you're here with me tonight," said Jason.
"I'm glad too," said Jamie. "Being with all of you is almost like a dream. I keep wondering if I'm going to wake up somewhere else and none of this has actually happened."
"You're a dream for me," said Jason sleepily giving Jamie a final hug.
Jamie reached out and turned the light off next to the bed. The two boys snuggled close together and only a few minutes later both of them were fast asleep.
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