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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

A to Z - 38. Chapter 38: Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

No special warnings for this chapter.

Questions and issues raised in this chapter or any other chapter can be discussed at the A to Z story thread here: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/40860-a-to-z/

Entry for Christmas Eve, continued.

 

The next morning, I woke up and it was full daylight. I fought to recall where I was, and then I remembered. The barn. Zander’s house. I put aside the painful thought of being homeless for a second and concentrated on the idea that Zander and I were friends again. I turned over and stretched, enjoying the luxury of the warm bed.

The house seemed silent, but a delicious sweet smell had drifted into the room while I slept. I’d slumbered long and hard. I glanced at my watch. Just past ten o’clock! How long had I been asleep? I rose, and stood, experimentally trying out my feet. The pain was there, but much less than the day before.

I gingerly explored the bathroom and figured out how the shower worked.

In the space of a half hour, I’d taken a hot shower, cleaned up my mess in the bathroom, and dressed. I still couldn’t find my boots. I wandered downstairs, and found the source of the wonderful odors upstairs: Zander’s mom was making cookies.

“Well, good morning, sunshine,” she called out brightly as I entered the kitchen.

“Hi,” I returned, hanging in the doorway. I suddenly felt embarrassed.

“Zander and his dad are out. The plow came by in the night, so they went into town. They’ll be back soon, I think.”

I nodded.

“Would you like some breakfast, Andy?” I could see where Zander got his grin from.

“I don’t want to put you to any trouble, ma’am. I’m OK.”

“Trouble? No trouble for me – I’m going to let you get it, while I get the next batch out of the oven.”

She pointed me in the direction of some cereal – with milk to go with it! – and some juice. I poured what I hoped wasn't too much cereal into a bowl and added a little milk. While I was eating, Monica suddenly slipped a couple of warm cookies onto the table in front of me.

“Just test those for me to see if they’re edible, OK?”

I looked at them, then back at her.

“Are you sure? Don’t you want them for the rest of your family?”

Zander’s mom sighed and smiled. “I’m sure. They’re for you. Eat up.”

I wasn’t going to make her work any harder at it. I ate.

When I was finished, I took my dishes to the sink and put them down next to another pile of bowls and utensils used in making cookies. Instinctively, I ran the hot water, found some soap, and got ready to wash up.

I’d just started in on cleaning my juice glass when I heard Zander’s mom clear her throat.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

I turned, suddenly scared I’d done something wrong.

“I – I just thought I’d clean up. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”

“You realize you’re a guest in this house, don’t you?”

Oh God. I felt myself going pale. Was she going to turn me out? I nodded.

“Well, guests don’t do dishes. You’re supposed to lounge around on the furniture, making unreasonable demands, don’t you know that?”

I slowly relaxed. She was joking with me.

I shook my head and tried to smile. “I guess I don’t know any better.” And I turned back to the sink.

“Oooooh, stubborn boys,” I heard her laugh. “There’s a dishtowel hanging next to the stove.”

As I was finishing the last bowl, I heard stamping outside, and the door open.

“Hey, Mom! Whew! Man, it’s cold!” Zander was back. I smiled across the room at him, but I don’t think he’d seen me yet.

“Morning.” Geez. Was that all I could come up with?

“Andy! You’re up!” Well, that was obvious. He crossed the kitchen toward me. “Don’t tell me you let mom put you to work,” he laughed.

The door opened again, and Zander’s dad came in out of the cold. He smiled at me right away.

“Good morning, Andy. How are you feeling?”

“A lot better. It's much easier to move around.”

“Good, good. You get anything to eat?”

“Of course he did,” Zander’s mom put in, “you think I’d let him starve?”

“How many cookies did you get?” Zander whispered to me.

“A couple.”

“That’s it? Watch a pro.”

As Andy’s parents bantered away, Zander stealthily removed four cookies from the cooling rack.

“Zander? The more you eat now, the less you have later.” His mother informed him sternly over her shoulder.

“A real pro, huh?” I smirked.

“I still have them, don’t I?”

“And don’t forget to share,” his mother remarked over her shoulder.

“Well, some of them, anyway,” said Zander, handing me two.

“So where’d you go?”

“Dad and I had to do a couple of chores in town.” He was grinning, now.

“Chores?” I was puzzled.

“I had to go down to my office to check on something and grab some work,” Zander’s dad spoke up. “What he’s not telling you is that he drafted me into helping him shovel out Mrs. McDowell’s place, and your friends, the Abbotts.”

I looked at Zander. My eyes narrowed. That was my job. I could have done it.

“Hey, hey,” protested Zander, putting his hands up, “I just thought it would be good to cover for you, right? I mean, I didn’t think you were ready to get frozen again.”

Suddenly, I realized just how much of a favor they’d done for me, and my annoyance vanished.

“Thanks. You guys didn’t have to do that. In fact, I want to thank all of you. You all saved my life, when I made such a stupid mistake. I’ve barged right in and messed up your vacation, and…"

“Oh, stop it,” cut in Zander’s mom. “I understand you got locked out and lost in the snowstorm. I’m only sorry that you don’t feel you have any neighbors or friends you could have gone to. And I’m not a bit sorry that you fetched up in our barn. Next time, knock on the door, all right?”

I choked up and could only nod at that.

Zander and I spent the rest of the day working on getting the house ready for Christmas, usually under his mother’s direction. There were rooms to clean, decorations to put up, beds to make. And while we worked, we talked.

As much as I could, I tried to direct the conversation back to Zander. Not just for my own protection, but because I wanted to know about this wonderful boy whose family had taken me in and made me feel welcome. I discovered what kind of music he liked (indie – whatever that means), what he liked to eat (just about everything) and what he liked to do in his free time (draw, swim, run, hang out). I heard about how he had started swimming, how he had grown up knowing Kaz and Terry, and what he wanted to do with his life. He wants to become an architect, and I admire that. He wants to build things. I also learned that Zander was the youngest one in his family; he had two older sisters and an older brother, and that two of the three would be coming for at least part of the holiday. On Christmas Eve.

Zander didn't press me for any information, but I wound up telling him more about me, too. I tried to keep to the strict truth without giving anything away. No way was anyone going to get the real story; I was too ashamed of that. I didn't want to lose Zander again. No way was I going to take a chance of messing up this friendship a second time. By sundown, he knew I could cook, that I had no idea what music I liked, that I had actually enjoyed running with Kaz – all true. He knew my dad was a truck driver, that he was really strict, and that I was often left alone (mostly true).

I felt comfortable with Zander, and his family had been nothing but kind to me.

They kind of assumed that I would be with them for another night. My dad was supposed to be on his way back to Blackburn, now that the roads were clear. I figured I had less than a day of warmth before I’d have to get out. No way was I going to ruin this family’s Christmas. They’d been amazingly nice, but now it was time to get out of their hair. I was a guest, but an intruder, nevertheless.

At supper, I sat between Zander’s mom and dad. We sat all together around a dining table, with real candles and plates and cloth napkins and silverware – like I was part of a family in some movie. I wanted to cry, it felt so good to be welcome here, if only for one more evening. I was allowed to eat as much as I wanted, again. I tried not to take too much, but it was hard not to. Dessert was cookies, of course.

“Now then, Andy,” said Zander’s dad, leaning back in his chair, “It’s been great having you with us, but there’s one thing that’s been bugging me about you.”

Oh, shit. What does this mean? I couldn’t help it - I tensed up.

“What the heck is your last name, son?” he asked.

There was an awkward pause. Funny, I didn’t know theirs, either.

“Stevenson.”

His father stared for a long moment, and then exploded with a great shout of laughter, as if I’d told the funniest joke in the world. Shit, all summer, I’d been regarded with suspicion for being an ‘Anderson.’ What was so funny about being a Stevenson?

“Stevenson? Really?” he asked, his laughter subsiding.

I nodded. “Andrew Stevenson,” I stated a little more confidently.

“Wait. Wait,” he said, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. He exploded again a moment later. “YOU!” he shouted, laughing.

He raised his hand to clap me on the shoulder, and I flinched. I actually ducked. I couldn’t help it. He was laughing hard again, so I don’t think he noticed.

“It was YOU!” he couldn’t stop laughing.

I looked around and saw there was laughter on everyone’s face. I didn’t get the joke.

“You, you’re Andrew Stevenson, oh, that’s good,” he said wiping his eyes with his napkin.

“What’s so funny?” I finally managed to get out.

“Garrett Alexander Stevenson, at your service,” he replied. “You’re one of us!”

“And, across the table, meet his son, Garrett Alexander Stevenson, Jr. – though he prefers Zander, I think,” his mother smiled.

"You have no idea, do you?" Zander's father asked. “I got this report card mailed to my office this fall. It was a real poser. Who the heck is this son of mine who got straight A’s?”

“Hey! I did pretty well this quarter,” protested Zander.

“And then, right before Thanksgiving, the school called my office again, saying that ‘A. Stevenson’ was missing from school that day, and they were checking up. We had quite an investigation going on there for a day or two.”

Zander was smiling at me across the table now, but I bet he’d gotten into trouble. Over me. Shit. Mr. Stevenson was shaking his head, grinning still.

“So that’s the mistake the school made. Someone must have screwed up the database in their computer. Well, all I can say is I’m glad that mystery is cleared up.”

I can’t believe that of all the people whose names and addresses I could have stolen this fall, I had to swipe theirs. I’d given the school the address and phone number for Mr. Stevenson’s law office as my own this fall. I was a Stevenson, and so were they. How could I have missed it for all this time? I never guessed it would come back at me like this.

I insisted on doing the dishes after supper, though I think Zander would have preferred for us to steal away upstairs to his room. But after all the trouble I put them through over everything over those two days – let alone my stupid report card and everything – well, I felt like I had to.

We found our way into Zander’s room eventually, anyhow. I couldn’t believe I was actually in his room. His was a mirror image of the one I’d been staying in, but much more comfortably lived in. There was a bookshelf. By the window, a computer lay on little drawing table with a gold ring lying on the surface, and several papers scattered across it. Several posters hung on the wall – a craggy mountain scene, a city skyline view – and a really hot Olympic swimmer. The picture I’d given him hung over his bed.

“Go sit on the bed for a second,” Zander directed.

“I’m OK,” I protested, but he insisted.

“I know you’re all better, but I want to show you something.”

I moved some pillows and sat up with my back against the headboard. Zander ducked down, and fetched something out from under his bed. He held a large roll of paper in his hand.

“Here, hold this end.”

I did, and he unrolled it over my legs. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was me. There I was, sitting, curled up on the chair, chin on my knees, staring off into the distance. It was a stunning picture. My eyes looked intelligent and focused and interested; my hair looked natural and clean; he’d actually made me look like somebody worth knowing. I stared at it.

“Say something, Andy. Do you like it?”

I suddenly realized I’d been holding my breath.

“It’s incredible, Zander. It’s – it’s – awesome. I can’t believe you drew that. You’re amazing.”

He blushed at that. I actually made him blush. “It’s OK, then?”

“OK? What do you mean OK? Zander, this is genius work. This is real artist work. The only trouble is that you actually make me look way better than I do in real life. I’ve never looked like that.”

He looked up at me, very serious.

“No, Andy. That’s really what you look like.”

I just looked back at that picture and shook my head. I wasn’t going to argue. He was the artist, but I knew better. There was something else I wanted to see. I wanted to see what he had started with.

“Can I see your sketchbook?”

Zander sat very still for a moment.

“Okay, sure,” he said very softly.

He got up, took it off his drawing table by the window, and handed it to me. The dark blue cover looked pretty worn. ‘Zander S. VII’ was inked in black marker at the bottom.

“This is number seven?”

He nodded.

I turned to the first page. Immediately, I was transported to a world of fantastic houses, towering trees, bounding animals, and peaceful landscapes. There were some pretty faces, disembodied hands, and free floating feet. I got a glimpse into what Zander saw when he looked at the world. Sheet after sheet of interest, fantasy and enchantment.

And then I turned a page and alongside several animal drawings, a rough sketch of a shaggy haired boy appeared – head down, concentrating on something. And then another couple of pages later, the same boy. The face was clearer now – wary, frightened. Me. Is that what I look like? A few pages later, and I saw myself again. There was the first pose – smudged, and noted, but recognizable. Then another of the same on the next page. And then another pose, the one against the wall. And then another.

I moved on more quickly. Llamas. Distant figures. More houses. Snowflakes. And a couple of others that looked like me again but drawn from a distance. When had he done those? I didn’t linger over the sketches he’d done of me. Somehow, I didn’t feel worthy to be part of Zander’s sketchbook – part of his beautiful universe. How could I belong here? What could he possibly see that I didn’t?

I closed the book.

“I’ve never let anyone see that before. Except Mr. Karpus – but no one else.”

“Not even Kaz?”

“No. Not even him.”

“Why me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because I don’t think you’ll laugh at it. You’ll take it seriously, like I do. Or maybe it’s because you let me do those drawings, I at least owe you. That and I got to read your story for Mr. Warfield, so maybe we’re even.”

I froze. My story? The story for Mr. Warfield’s contest was only in my head; stillborn. What had Zander seen? My journal?

“When did you read that?” I asked cautiously.

Zander smiled sheepishly.

“While you were sleeping. When we brought you inside, we took everything into your room. I watched you sleep pretty much all morning. Hell, Andy, I was so scared you weren’t going to wake up. Mom called the hospital, but they said the best thing we could do was bury you in a pile of blankets and let you warm up slowly. Nobody was going to bring out an ambulance or a helicopter in that kind of weather. Anyway, I got curious. My parents wanted to know your last name so they could look you up in the phone book, you know? Nothing you have has your last name in it, man – it was frustrating. Anyway, in your pack, I only found your art sketchbook, math stuff and that composition book you always have. I couldn’t help looking at it. And then I was hooked. You’re a good writer, Andy, way better than me. It’s going to be a great story. I gotta say, that was pretty harsh, that poor kid getting beaten up like that by his own dad.”

I shuddered. These were things I didn’t want Zander to know about. Ever. These were things I didn’t really want to remember myself. But I was relieved that Zander didn’t realize it was me. Of course he didn't think it could be real, that any of that could actually happen to someone, so it had to be a story, right? He thought it was fiction. I only wish.

“So how far did you get?” I murmured.

“Only as far as the part when he wakes up with the old lady poking him with her cane. I liked that.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“It's a great story. When it’s finished, can I read it to see how it turns out?”

I tried to smile. Another nod. “When it’s all finished.”

Zander fingered the larger drawing, still partly rolled up and lying on the bed.

“I want you to have this,” said, softly. “Not right now, because I have to give it to Karpus to grade, but later…”

What could I say? What a wonderful gift. But I couldn’t take it. I just didn’t see myself the way he saw me. How could I ever measure up to that? Besides, it wasn’t as if I could hang it up in my cubby in the Library closet. But I did want it because Zander had done it.

“Thanks, I’d like that. A lot.” I smiled, and shrugged. That would do for now.

Later, we watched another movie on Zander’s computer, huddled together on his bed. This one about a team of thieves stealing a truckload of gold from a palace in someplace in Europe. There was double crossing, explosions and car chases. I’m not sure I followed how it all worked out, but there was revenge in the end. It was nearly as much fun watching Zander out of the corner of my eye as it was watching the movie. At least I stayed awake the whole time.

In the morning, this morning, I got up and dressed quietly. I had a mission I wanted to accomplish. I’d watched Monica – Mrs. Stevenson – carefully yesterday and learned the layout of the kitchen. By washing the dishes a couple of times, I knew where most of the utensils were. I tiptoed down the hall, creeping past Zander’s shut door, and down the steps to the kitchen. Everyone was still asleep. I swung the door closed.

Time to execute my plan.

I eased the biggest pan I could find out of the cabinet. Several plates were extracted soundlessly from the cupboard. I silently assembled ingredients – milk, flour, eggs, baking powder, butter, salt, sugar. I'd done this for Dad any number of times, with him ranting every minute I worked. This was easier. Mentally, I refigured the proportions for the four of us.

I was going to make breakfast for everyone. I’d had lots of practice, and I still had the recipe for pancakes memorized. When Dad demanded something, you produced it quick – no time to rummage around in a cookbook.

I used a whisk and not a mixer to keep the noise down. In no time, I was pouring batter into the hot pan.

I had a couple of platefuls of finished, golden pancakes warming in the oven by the time Mrs. Stevenson pushed the kitchen door open. The astonished look on her face was a wonderful reward. Her eyes were wide, and her face struggled not to look severe.

“Andy, what in the world are you doing?”

“Breakfast,” I shrugged modestly, returning to watching the current batch in the pan.

“But – but – you shouldn’t…”

“I didn’t know about coffee or anything else. How do you want me to fix it?”

“I don’t!” she sputtered. “I mean, coffee would be nice, but why are you up making pancakes?”

I turned to face her. “Because I wanted to do something nice for all of you, after everything you all have done for me.”

It seemed simple enough.

“Oooooh, stubborn boys,” she said, but there was a smile there. She stepped over to the counter beside me and started getting coffee ready.

“I suppose you drink coffee, too?” she asked.

“No, ma’am. I’m not…" I stopped myself. I wasn’t going to talk about it.

At home, I wasn’t allowed anything but a hurried bowl of cereal and some water. With Eustace, I breakfasted on road rations and spring water from the hose. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what’s so great about coffee. Or tea. Or any of that stuff.

Mrs. Stevenson put juice and a jug of maple syrup on the table as Mr. Stevenson wandered into the kitchen in his bathrobe and pajamas, yawning.

“Smells good in here. What’re you up to, Monica?”

“Sit down, Garrett. Andy’s got something for you.”

“You sit down, too ma’am,” I suggested and pulled two plates out of the oven.

I enjoyed the surprised look I got from Mr. Stevenson as I set them down before my hosts. He poured some syrup over the stack of pancakes and tried a bite experimentally. His eyebrows shot up.

“Now these are the real thing,” he said, finishing his mouthful. “Monica, you’ve outdone yourself.”

Now Mrs. Stevenson was chuckling.

“These are Andy’s creation, dear. He snuck down early and made these all on his own before I could get into the kitchen.”

“You did what?” Mr. Stevenson looked in my direction, his voice rising in surprise.

I cringed. For a moment, I thought he was angry with me. But then a big smile spread across his face. “Are you serious?”

We both nodded. He took another, larger, mouthful.

“Wow.”

I relaxed. Mr. Stevenson pointed his fork at me.

“You. You’re hired. Full – time.”

Mrs. Stevenson chuckled, and I finally smiled.

“Aren’t you having some too, Andy?” she asked.

“I was going to wait for Zander.”

“Oh, dear, well, you might wait a while then, Zander likes to…"

Just then, Zander skidded into the kitchen.

“Mom, where’s Andy? He’s …”

His mom pointed to me at the stove.

“Sit down, Zander. Andy’s got something for you, too.”

I pulled out another plate of pancakes and set it in front of him. I put mine down across from him and sat. I couldn’t help watching him try them.

“You made these?” he said through his mouthful.

I nodded.

“No way.”

“Yup, Zander. They’re his, not mine,” affirmed his mother.

“Awesome. Better than awesome.”

Something inside me felt really good. We ate in contented quiet for a little while.

“So what’s the plan for today?” asked Mr. Stevenson.

“Well, I’ve got to get a start on the cooking for tomorrow once the dishes are done,” his wife chimed in.

I cleared my throat.

“Um, I'm going to have to head into town today.”

I hated to leave, but I figured I’d better do it soon. Before the rest of the family descended, and I was just in the way.

“I mean, I bet my Dad is probably home by now, seeing as the roads are open. He’ll want me home,” I concluded my invention lamely.

“And I have some last minute Christmas shopping to do,” added Zander.

I stood up. “I’ll get started on the dishes.”

“Oh, no, you don’t buster,” Mrs. Stevenson laughed. “Not this time. Garrett can handle the dishes this morning.”

So instead, I got a shower and cleaned myself up as best I could. I didn’t have a change of clothes. Another reason to make a graceful exit before that became a problem. I checked my pack: I still had my work money hidden in an envelope at the bottom. I'd survive. I gathered my things into my bag and searched for my boots. There was a knock on the door from the bathroom.

“Come in.”

“Andy? I have something of yours.”

I looked over at Zander. He held out my hat. My blue ‘Ford’ hat I thought I’d lost in the movie theater parking lot.

“Where’d you find this?”

“I picked it up that night…that night your dad…” he trailed off.

I took it from him and fiddled with it. There was a silence between us.

“I wanted to give it back to you earlier, but I was scared to.”

“I know. You told me. Don’t worry about it, OK, Zander? You gave it back to me now.” I smiled up at him. “Thanks for saving it for me. It’s cold out. I’m gonna need it.”

“I’m gonna get a shower, now. I thought maybe, after, we could go downtown together?” he asked hopefully.

I nodded vigorously. The more time I spent with Zander before I had to disappear, the better.

The bathroom door shut. After a second, I could hear the water running. Zander was on the other side of that door. Naked. Water running down his body. His incredibly hot body. I shivered. I imagined myself, hurrying to strip, and sneaking through the door and into the steamy bathroom. I daydreamed about pulling the shower curtain aside and surprising Zander with a kiss, our bodies sliding together in an embrace. His hard cock would press up against my abdomen, and mine would be trapped between us. I’d kiss and suck on his neck, pulling him unbearably close. He would lose himself in the embrace, pushing, thrusting up against me, insisting on kissing me again, our skin sliding together. And then I’d feel him stiffen, and he’d come, shooting all over the two of us, as we kissed and caressed.

Suddenly, my eyes flew open as I realized what I was doing. My breath was ragged. My hand was in my pants, stroking myself to my fantasy. I was rock hard-- and leaking. Shit. At least I hadn’t made too much of a mess, but there’d be wet spot in my underwear for a while. Hell, anyone could have just walked in. Zander could have walked in.

The shower was shut off. Reality. In reality, Zander would have taken one look at me, shouted something like “what the fuck!” and of any kind of friendship between us would have ended right there. Got to get hold of myself. No more daydreams. Zander likes girls. He had a girlfriend until recently. He’ll have another one, soon.

I went downstairs with my things.

Mrs. Stevenson was getting more food ready for the big family dinner on Christmas Day. Mr. Stevenson was working through some reading. A file folder lay next to him on the table. He paused and looked up at me.

“I thought I’d go into town with you and Zander. I forgot a couple of things at my office, and besides, it’s a good opportunity for Zander to do some practice driving.”

I must have looked puzzled, because he added, “He’s hoping to get his license next month. That reminds me, Zander’s got to schedule the road test next week, or he’ll never get an appointment.”

I finally asked a question that had been burning in the back of my mind since I’d woken up in the guest bedroom two days before.

“Um, I’m sorry to ask, but…where are my boots and my jacket?”

Mrs. Stevenson put down her mixing bowl and spoon. “Oh, I completely forgot! We dried them out by the heater, and then I put them in the front closet with everyone else’s coats and winter things. Come with me.”

She led me to the hall closet. There, amidst a thick hedge of coats, was my trusty denim jacket. A little worse for wear, but better than nothing. On the floor of the closet lay my boots.

“Are you going out shopping, Andy?” She eyed me critically.

“Yes ma’am,” I nodded.

“I couldn’t find any gloves in your pockets. Did we leave them in the barn?”

I shook my head.

“Hmmm. And that coat. That’s not going to work at all. You’ll freeze.”

“It’s all right…” I began, but she cut right in.

“No. Sorry, but I am not seeing you get hypothermia again. Let me see,” she mused.

She reached in and brought out a winter coat, red with black shoulders and trim. Like my denim jacket, it had clearly been worn, but it was easily in better shape than mine.

“Here. Try this.” She thrust the coat into my hands.

“I can’t take this.” I shook my head.

“Of course you can. It used to be Zander’s until he outgrew it. It might be a little snug on you, but not too much. Oh, and let me find you some gloves…”

I stood there holding the coat. I had no idea what to do. I didn't want to hang onto the coat; it wasn't mine. Still, I couldn't just give it up either. Mrs. Stevenson wouldn’t let me do that. I decided to hold onto it as a loan. For now.

Soon, Zander was downstairs, and we were all ready to go into town.

“Geez, Andy, you look good in my stuff. Did mom want you to go through my closet, too?”

I made a face and shrugged, and Zander laughed. I’d missed that sound.

Before we left, I made a point of thanking Mrs. Stevenson for putting up with me and my stupidity for the past few days.

“Don’t be silly, Andy,” she said, putting her hands on my shoulders. I instinctively started a little – I’ve been hit too many times, I guess. “We all loved having you here. Have a Merry Christmas, and stay warm, OK?”

And then, she hugged me. For an instant, I forgot to hug her back. I’m not used to hugs. That may have been the second one - I think – I’ve had this year. Then I remembered to put my arms around her and tried my best to return hers. I have no idea if I did it right.

Zander is a pretty good driver, from what I could tell. At least as good as Toby. I was grateful for not having to walk into town; it was freezing cold out. He seemed to know where to go, and in a few minutes, we pulled into a snowy parking lot on a side street off Main.

Zander handed over the keys to his Dad, who also wished me a Merry Christmas as he bade us farewell, and headed into the brick building at hand.

“So, I guess this is ‘goodbye’ until vacation’s over?” I asked.

“No, it isn’t.” Zander smiled. I must have looked confused. “We have places to go, buddy boy. Come on.”

We turned down Main Street and walked a couple of blocks downtown. The snowy sidewalks were crowded with people bustling about doing last minute shopping.

“I still need to get a present for my sister Carol,” Zander said, pointing to a store I’d never been inside before. Zander saw me looking at the window.

“You’ve lived in Blackburn for what, four months, and you’ve never been inside Herschel’s Variety before?” he asked me in disbelief.

I shrugged, embarrassed this time.

“Well, come on, it’s time now,” Zander smiled and led the way in.

The store was packed with people, all intent on their own personal quests. Herschel’s Variety Store is a big mixed up kind of place. It has loose candy, cheap toys, school supplies, garden tools, candles, cleaning supplies, kitchen ware and God knows what else all jumbled up together. Nothing there was too expensive, but there was a huge range of products there. Why had I gone to the plaza for stuff?

And I got an idea standing in front of a bin full of cute stuffed animals.

“Look, can I meet you back here in a little while?” I asked Zander. “I need to go find something.”

“Sure,” he said, practically having to shout to be heard. “Don’t get lost,” he told me with a parting grin.

I knew I couldn’t afford them – not at all – but I was going to buy presents for people. Maybe not something very nice or fancy, but a present all the same. I was determined. I'd manage. Mentally, I made a list. Zander, of course. Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson. Kaz. Terry. Mrs. Marjorie and the Abbotts. I hoped that Mrs. Marjorie would be home by now, so I could deliver her present in time.

I took my time exploring the store. I spotted Zander from a distance several times. We waved to each other across the aisles once or twice. I couldn’t spend much at all, but I tried to get something nice for each person.

Little boxes of chocolates for the Abbots and Mrs. Marjorie. An orange knit hat for Kaz. A pair of bright rainbow socks for Terry. A little clip-on book light for Mr. Stevenson – I got the idea he reads a lot. For Mrs. Stevenson, I chose a red plaid scarf. And for Zander, I found a small black blank sketchbook that could fit in his pocket. I knew I needed something else for him, and I knew exactly where to go for it.

I went to a register and waited in line to pay for everything.

“Hey, you find everything you need?”

Zander had found me. That was good.

“Yeah. Just need to pay.”

Zander showed me his purchases for his sister and her husband. He went to a different register that was moving faster, and I breathed easier. I didn’t want him to see what I was doing.

Outside, we met up again.

“So I have one more stop to make,” I told him.

“Good.” He nodded. “There’s another place I need to go, too.”

“Are we going to meet up again?”

“Yeah,” he said, musing, “let’s meet over there, in about half an hour. That cool?” He pointed across the street to a place calling itself Axel’s Family Diner. I’d passed the place many times this fall, but never gone in.

“Sure.” I wondered what he had in mind.

Quickly, I walked over to the same little antique shop that had sold me the picture over Zander’s bed. I knew there was another painting like it when I had been there a month earlier. I hoped it was still there.

The musty little shop was much quieter than Herschel’s when I walked in. I waved to the grey-haired lady behind the counter and made a quick march to the back to look for the other painting. Still there, sure enough.

Carefully, I lifted it off the wall and took it forward.

“Oh, hello again.” The woman smiled at me from her chair. “Let’s see…oh! You want the other one this time. You have good taste. Do you want me to gift wrap this one, too?”

“Actually, ma’am, can I ask you a huge favor? I have a bunch of things I need to wrap, and, well, I don’t have any paper…could I…”

“You want me to wrap all your stuff for you, huh?” she narrowed her eyes.

“Well, I was going to…I was going to ask to trade you… I can get a shovel and take care of the walk outside your store, if you could wrap my things for me. Would that be a fair trade?”

She broke into a smile.

“Yes. Yes, that’s a fair trade. Tell you what. Give me that bag. The shovel’s over there by the door. I hate shoveling, so I’ll be glad to let you do that. By the time you’re done, I’ll have everything wrapped up.”

And that’s how it worked out. She got a clean walk, and I got my gifts wrapped. I paid her when I was all done and walked away with a bag full of presents. I was just about flat broke, but I was satisfied.

Zander was waiting for me by the diner. He held the door open for me.

“After you, good sir,” he bowed. Zander was in a mood, I thought.

And then I spied Kaz and Terry in a booth toward the back. Terry waved. Shit. This had been a setup.

Zander stood behind me in the aisle between tables. “Go ahead, Andy. You’re blocking the way.”

Nothing else to do but sit down.

I let Zander slide into the booth first.

“Hi,” I greeted them briefly. I was really embarrassed.

Terry and Kaz started talking at once. “I’m sorry…It’s good to see you again…Where have you been…”

Zander wasn’t going to get a word in on those two, so he just grinned. I could see that Zander hadn’t told them anything. I was grateful for that. I held up my hands and tried to shield my head against the torrent of words.

“Whoa. Stop. Just stop.”

Terry and Kaz fell silent. Taking a deep breath, I spoke, rapidly, before I lost my nerve.

“Terry. I’m sorry I stopped coming to lunch. I was just so embarrassed by what happened at the movies that I thought all of you wouldn’t want me around anymore. And, Kaz, I’m really sorry I left you hanging every morning in the cold. I shouldn’t have done that.”

I got that out. I exhaled and tried to look at their faces.

“Please. Can we start over again and be friends?”

“You thought we’d, what, exile you or something? That you wouldn’t be welcome anymore?” Terry asked softly.

“You thought I wouldn’t want you as a running buddy?” Kaz echoed.

I nodded, looking down at the table.

“Well, I thought – no, we all thought – that you hated us for letting your dad drag you off like that. For just standing there and doing nothing. That you wouldn’t want us for friends,” explained Terry.

I shook my head. I didn’t really trust my voice at this point.

“So, I vote that we take Andy’s advice and we all start over,” prompted Zander.

“That OK with you Andy?” asked Kaz.

I looked up and smiled at the big man. I nodded.

“Friends, then?” from Terry.

“Yeah,” I managed to get out. Finally. I looked over at Zander and smiled. “Yeah.”

We relaxed, then. A waitress came and asked for our lunch order. Lunch? I'd forgotten it was lunchtime. I hesitated. I think I had maybe thirty cents left in my pocket.

Zander sensed my reluctance. "Hey, I'm getting this, it's my treat," he said to the table.

Was he covering for me? I had no time to think about it, because Kaz and Terry ordered quickly, and I was on the spot. I asked for something inexpensive. Over grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate, we talked. We restarted being friends. I heard how Kaz and Terry had weathered the big storm. We joked about how Kaz had gone out running every day, despite the snow. I got to see more pictures on his phone. When it came to be my turn, I looked over at Zander.

“I, uh…I stayed over at Zander’s house. My dad was out of town.”

“And, did you know that Andy can cook? He made breakfast for everyone this morning. I couldn’t believe it,” enthused Zander.

I saw Terry looking in Zander’s direction, eyebrow raised. What did that mean? But at least I didn’t get pressed for more.

Suddenly, Terry looked down and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She had a message which made her roll her eyes.

“We have to go. I have to go, anyways. My mom just texted that I need to do some housecleaning before the big dinner and mass tonight.”

Mass? What does that mean? Sounds like physics.

“Are you going to mass, too, Andy?” This from Kaz, who was looking at me quite earnestly.

Bewildered, I shrugged at him, hoping someone would bail me out. Zander came to my rescue.

“He’s asking you if you’re going to church tonight – Terry and Kaz go to Queen of Peace Catholic church over the bridge.”

“Oh. No.” Dad was never very big on church.

Kaz smiled anyhow and slid out, followed by Terry. He stuck out his hand, and I took it. “We’re gonna hit the pavement again, right? Soon.”

I laughed. Kaz has a one-track mind.

He looked me in the eye, and his smile softened. “I’m glad you’re back, Andy. And Merry Christmas.”

“You, too.” So I was lame.

That left Zander and me. He looked thoughtful about something but snapped out of it quickly.

“Hey, Andy, I’ve gotta get going, too. Dad will be waiting for me.”

Suddenly, it was like the sun had gone under a cloud. I couldn’t expect Zander to want to spend the break with me. It had to end at some point. After all, his family was coming.

“OK,” I said, getting up.

Zander left some money on the table and made our way out to the street. We stood there, awkwardly. I had to say something.

“Thanks, Zander. For everything you did. For what your family did.”

“It’s no problem, Andy. We’d have done it for anyone. But I’m glad it was you.”

I looked up at him at that.

“You going home now?” Zander asked.

“Maybe. I got a couple more places to stop.”

“Will you be around this vacation?”

“Yeah. I’m not going anywhere.”

I didn’t want to move from that spot. There wasn’t anything more to say. Finally, he held up his fist and broke the silence between us.

“See you around. Stay warm, OK?”

I nodded. Very cautiously, I returned the fist bump he offered.

And then Zander turned, and I watched him walk back up the street towards his father’s office. I had to turn away, to keep myself from running after him. If I didn’t, I might have hugged him and never let go. Not a good way to keep my secret. I started walking in the opposite direction.

I figured I had several critical tasks. First, find a warm place to stay until school starts up again. Two, deliver presents to the people I bought them for. I hadn’t wanted to just hand things over to Kaz and Terry at the diner – I thought that would have been kind of awkward. Besides, I had an idea. I decided to go for a walk around town, looking for possibilities.

It wasn’t long before Kaz’s question about church came back to me. I’ve stayed in churches before, why couldn’t I sneak into one tonight? I know where most of the churches in town are, so it didn’t take long for me to start finding the ones that had signs up advertising when they would be open for Christmas. I was looking for one that was open tonight.

The Baptists and the Brethren wouldn’t be open until tomorrow, Christmas Day. Those were no good. Off of Main Street, across a bit of park was a big stone church, St. James’. The sign by the big friendly-looking red door advertised carol singing and ‘midnight service’ – starting at 11:00 PM. I figured I could slip in for the late service and stay all week.

With that taken care of, I proceeded onto the next part of my mission.

I walked over to the Abbott’s and rang the bell. I tried to apologize for my illness when I gave them their little box, but old Mr. Abbott wouldn’t hear of it. They were just happy I was better and glad I’d gotten substitutes to help clear away the snow. I really owe Zander and his dad big time.

From there, I walked over to Mrs. Marjorie’s house. I could tell from the lights outside that she was back. I reached into my bag and rang the doorbell.

“Well, my goodness, if it isn’t Andrew the elf!” At least the old lady wasn’t angry.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Marjorie,” I said, holding out her package.

“Come in, come in for a minute. Don’t let all the heat out of the house,” she scolded.

I smiled. That was more like it.

“Now Andrew. I think I owe you for digging me out.”

I stopped her right there.

“No, ma’am. You really don’t. I got sick the day of the storm, and I had to ask some friends to dig you out for me. That’s another reason why I stopped by. I just wanted to let you know about that.”

“Well, then I guess I owe your friends.”

“I don’t know about that, Mrs. Marjorie. I think they did it just to help out.”

“In that case, you must have really, really good friends.”

Maybe I did. It felt good to think about that.

“So who were these good friends, anyways?”

“Zander Stevenson and his dad. Do you know them?”

“Lawyer Stevenson? Of course I know him, and his wife Monica Constanza, too. I had them both in my office a dozen times. I knew nearly all of their kids, for that matter. There were four of them, I think. Now, let me see, Zander would be the last boy, wouldn’t he? He’s really Garret Alexander, Jr., if I recall correctly.”

I nodded. God, did she remember everything? She continued, “Well, if Garrett Stevenson did me a good turn, then I guess we can call it even. I helped him get into that fancy college all those years ago.”

I decided to change the subject.

“Is there anything you need done, Mrs. Marjorie?”

“Is there? Just step this way, young man.”

There in the living room lay an artificial tree in pieces and several large boxes of decorations. She didn’t need to say a word. I knew what she would need. I took off my warm parka and my denim jacket, rolled up my sleeves and got to work setting things up.

It didn’t take too long to get the tree set up, though Mrs. M was fussy about how straight the tree looked. Then came the lights, and she directed me from the couch. Last, we opened the boxes of decorations, and together, we loaded the tree down with ornaments of every type and kind. Over the years, she’d gotten a ton of ornaments as presents from students or graduates, from family, and on her own. I needed a ladder to put the angel up on the top.

Finally, she stood back and admired our work.

“Now that’s what I call a Christmas tree,” she said with a genuine smile.

I put the ladder away. Time to go. But I asked a favor, first.

“Ma’am, can I borrow a marker?”

“Of course, Andrew, why?”

“I bought some presents, but I forgot to mark on them who they’re for.”

She nodded, as if this was a normal kind of request.

“Look in the drawer there," she said, pointing to a desk at the wall.

Soon I had everything in my bag marked. I was ready for the rest of my plan.

“Thanks, Mrs. Marjorie. And Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Andrew. I’ll look for you if it snows.”

The afternoon was aging fast. My next stop was back on Main Street. I had to find the shoe store, the one Kaz’s father owned. ‘Blackburn Footwear and Sport.’ I pushed my way in. At the back, I found an older gentleman, wearing glasses, tall, balding – had to be Kaz’d father.

He looked up at me. “Can I help you?”

“Sir, I’m a friend of Kaz’s, and…"

“I assume you mean my son, Walter?”

Walter? Who was Walter?

“Really tall guy? Runs a lot?”

He sighed. “Yes. Walter.”

I noticed he spoke with a slight accent.

“I’m sorry. Mr. …?”

“Kasimierski. Nicola Kasimierksi. And you must be someone from the school, yes?”

I nodded.

“Walter is probably at home, or out with his friends.”

“Oh. I just wanted to deliver a Christmas present to Kaz, I mean, Walter, sir. And to his girlfriend, Terry.”

“I can take them for you, if you want. And I’ll tell them you were here. You are?”

I held on to them.

“I just hoped to make it a kind of surprise for them, you know? I didn’t want them to know who it was.”

“Ah. I see,” Mr. Kasimierski nodded, and smiled. “I think I can do that. Give them to me. I can make sure that neither of them will know where these came from.”

I handed the little gift wrapped packages over.

“Thanks, Mr. Kasimierski. I really appreciate it.”

“You’re most welcome. Merry Christmas, young man.”

I beat a quick retreat. I didn’t want him to ask my name.

Darkness had fallen by the time I got back out onto Main Street. I had a fair bit of walking to do still. I zipped up the coat, shouldered my pack, and grabbed my shopping bag.

It was cold, but clear as I walked again out to the house with the red barn – Zander’s house. I walked down the swiftly emptying streets, past quiet, brightly colored houses. I looked at the school, as I went by, thinking about my own place in the closet, and all the locked doors. How lucky I’d been. The snowy woods and fields were silent as I made my way out of town. Down the road to Zander’s house.

The snow scrunched under my feet as I paused in the driveway. There were several cars parked up near the house. The rest of the family had arrived. The place was lit up – every room had a light on, it seemed. I could see into the living room window. Christmas tree, lights, people standing around, laughing. I didn’t see Zander. I knew what to do. I stalked quietly around to the back, by the kitchen door. I kept going, out past the cars to the barn door. Silently, I opened the door to the barn. If I could sprint, this was going to be good. Time for action. Small steps.

First, I crept up the back steps to the kitchen. Next, I peeked in the window. Nobody there. Good. I set down the bag of presents where they would be found. Located the doorbell. Now. I rang once, long and hard, then sprinted down off the stairs. Sprinted like Roger the Green Hat was after me. Into the barn. Shut the door. Through into the animal pen. The llamas looked at me indignantly in the near darkness, but they didn't bother me as I scrambled out the back window. I shut this gently, now that I was out of sight of the house.

If they came out to look, the Stevensons might have seen my tracks in the snow, out through the back gate and into the woods. I got plenty of snow down my boots, but for some reason, it felt worth it.

I eventually located the road again in the dark, and soon I was on the long walk back into town. I was thoroughly cold by the time I got to St. James’ Church. The warmth inside was lovely. Though it was very, very early for the carols, nobody there looked at me strangely when I picked a seat far in the back, close to a heating grate, my pack tucked under the bench.

By the time the carols started, the church was absolutely crammed. I was squashed up against the wall in my bench with five or six other people. Looked like someone’s family. They didn’t seem to mind, though. There were people standing in the back, on the sides, sitting in folding chairs in the aisles. I hadn’t expected anything like this.

I didn’t really know what to expect. The organ bellowed, and everyone sang the songs right out loud. I liked that. It sounded like they meant it. I knew most of them. There were readings from scripture – stories about shepherds and angels. There was a sermon which I thought was really pretty good. It was about how Jesus was born in the most unexpected places. He could have been born anywhere. Even in people you see every day. Jesus born in that little boy in Houghton who played catch with me. The little girl I read to in the library in Marshall. In Eustace Whitley, maybe? In Zander?

For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy. This day, in the city of Blackburn, there is born Jesus in Zander Stevenson. He’s certainly beautiful enough. He’s the kind of Jesus I could believe in.

At the end, there was something in which the priest told us that we were all welcome at the Lord’s Table. And then everyone went up in a long, slow line to get a little wafer and some wine. I think it was real wine, too.

I didn’t really understand that.

Once all the singing and praying were over, everyone went home. Except me. I hung around, hidden in my corner. Nobody noticed. The lights were left on low, and the only sound in the church was the wheezing of the furnace. In the front of the church, by the altar, there was a little scene of Mary and Joseph watching over Jesus in the manger. I was drawn to it. I knelt down in front of it, and I prayed.

I prayed, thanking God – if there is a God, he ought to be thanked – for saving my life. For leading me back to that red barn that turned out to be Zander’s house. I thanked God for Zander, and for his parents. I thanked God for Kaz and Terry. I thanked God for Mrs. Marjorie, and for Eustace Whitley. I thanked God for the sunny days I had this summer, and for the chance to go to school again and earn good grades. I thanked God that I was still alive, for being able to outrun Roger Green Hat, for outlasting starvation and for survival. I prayed that if I could hang on through the winter, I could find work and make it through the summer again, somehow. And I prayed that this time, I could keep the friends I’d made. That this time, I could keep Zander.

I am deeply grateful to Craftingmom for her generous and helpful editing and commentary for this and every chapter.

Please leave a review. Remarks and reflections of all kinds are most welcome.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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A lovely chapter Parker!

 

I never wanted it to end. Long? It should have been at least twice as long so Andy could have been happy twice as long!

 

It ended with his beautiful prayer. Thanks so much for sharing!

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What can I say Parker? That chapter made me slightly teary-eyed at the end. I love seeing Andy happy and yet my heart still breaks for that kid constantly, he's so alone and yet he still finds all these things to be happy about. Oh and Zander reading the journal, how long till he realizes that it's not a story? Anyway awesome chapter and thanks for all your efforts and sharing your talent with us.

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On 12/12/2015 05:42 AM, skinnydragon said:

A lovely chapter Parker!

 

I never wanted it to end. Long? It should have been at least twice as long so Andy could have been happy twice as long!

 

It ended with his beautiful prayer. Thanks so much for sharing!

Thanks for reading this one; it's so long, but it really all held together, so I hated to split it up. I had to read it about a zillion times just making sure it worked. I'm glad you felt good about it, because in the end, I did too. And even though Andy finally felt he had to leave the Stevensons' house, he and Zander have cemented their friendship. Thank you again for your kindness, and for staying with the story.

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On 12/12/2015 05:50 AM, spikey582 said:

What can I say Parker? That chapter made me slightly teary-eyed at the end. I love seeing Andy happy and yet my heart still breaks for that kid constantly, he's so alone and yet he still finds all these things to be happy about. Oh and Zander reading the journal, how long till he realizes that it's not a story? Anyway awesome chapter and thanks for all your efforts and sharing your talent with us.

Andy is both world weary and innocent at the same time, a really odd combination. And maybe he yearns to be happy, even if he can't articulate that. He can find even pretty simple things to be cheerful or happy about. Zander will probably ponder the part of the journal he got to read and wonder about it; but I doubt he'll say anything, anymore than Andy will say anything to Zander about his sketchbooks. But it was cool that they each got a look inside one another...Many thanks to you for your comments and for continuing to read this story.

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Great chapter. One question: If Zander read the journal, wouldn't he know that Andy is gay? I know he thinks it is fiction, but it's not the sort of thing straight teens typically write about.

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On 12/12/2015 06:28 AM, impunity said:

Great chapter. One question: If Zander read the journal, wouldn't he know that Andy is gay? I know he thinks it is fiction, but it's not the sort of thing straight teens typically write about.

That's a possibility; Zander may certainly wonder about it. But it's also possible that harsher parts caught his attention more. Or maybe Zander was distracted in his reading by the sleeping boy in the bed in front of him. At any rate, you have a really good point. Thanks for this review, and for reading the story!

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On 12/12/2015 06:55 AM, Ozymandias said:

Wonderful, heartwarming story with characters I've come to care about greatly. And beautifully written!. Thanks.

Thank you for your very kind words. This chapter and the last were fun to conceive, though very difficult to write and comb over. Andy, Zander, Kaz and Terry all kind of get under your skin, don't they? :) Thank you so much for reading so far through the story.

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On 12/12/2015 07:01 AM, ninecila said:

Thanks a lot for a really enjoyable chapter :)

You are most welcome. This was a fun chapter to think over, and write, though hard to finally put together. I am so glad you liked it. And really, even though it's so very long, it's even harder to stop reading part way through. Of course, you can always re-read it! Thanks very much for your review, and for reading the story so far.

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It is good to see Andy on the road to recovery! The lawyer Mr. Stevenson, has me baffled. You would think he would have more questions for Andy since his report card was sent to him and that Andy was using his family name as well. I still feel there is a lot waiting for Andy real soon. It is nice he has found a warm church to hang out in and had a chance to say a prayer of thanks, being that it is Christmas. Fantastic chapter, good to see Andy coming out of his shell! :worship:

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I have read all the previous chapters with great interest but the last two have been outstanding! I am glad to see a little bit of good has come into Andy's life. I also agree his prayer at the ending added much to the story and was well worth adding.
You've commented about this one being so long but I must disagree. You would have done a real disservice to this chapter but splitting it in two. I have read much longer chapters of other stories that didn't have nearly the impact this one did. JOB WELL DONE!
I get the feeling (and I hope I'm right) that this is a turning point in Andy's life and Mr. Stevenson will be his 'champion'.
Keep up the good work!

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This was a wonderful chapter. I know I said it last time, but I'll say it again...your writing is really growing. You've produced a very special, remarkable story. Andy is an amazing young man. The part about him in church brought tears to my eyes. His innate goodness and joy in things that most people take for granted is a breath of fresh air. No wonder Zander is so smitten with him. Well done, my friend. :hug:

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On 12/12/2015 12:24 PM, slapshot said:

It is good to see Andy on the road to recovery! The lawyer Mr. Stevenson, has me baffled. You would think he would have more questions for Andy since his report card was sent to him and that Andy was using his family name as well. I still feel there is a lot waiting for Andy real soon. It is nice he has found a warm church to hang out in and had a chance to say a prayer of thanks, being that it is Christmas. Fantastic chapter, good to see Andy coming out of his shell! :worship:

Lawyer Stevenson must have gotten confused between his own son, also "A. Stevenson" and the odd thing showing up at his office. Something he might ask his secretary to look into, but from his point of view, a clerical error for the school. Andy is just he proof of that error, and something to laugh about.

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On 12/12/2015 12:48 PM, ljs 48 said:

I have read all the previous chapters with great interest but the last two have been outstanding! I am glad to see a little bit of good has come into Andy's life. I also agree his prayer at the ending added much to the story and was well worth adding.

You've commented about this one being so long but I must disagree. You would have done a real disservice to this chapter but splitting it in two. I have read much longer chapters of other stories that didn't have nearly the impact this one did. JOB WELL DONE!

I get the feeling (and I hope I'm right) that this is a turning point in Andy's life and Mr. Stevenson will be his 'champion'.

Keep up the good work!

Thank you so much for your kind words and for your review. I really do appreciate your thoughts, and I am glad I didn't split this chapter in two. Andy still has a long road ahead of him, but this chapter surely marks a place where goodness reasserted itself in his life. Thanks for sticking with the story to this point.

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As much as I'm enjoying this adventure, it's also wearing me down. I'm sure that you don't want to give anything away, but would you please give some indication of when Andy might get some relief from his torment, be able to tell someone his story and find redemption in his life?

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On 12/12/2015 12:59 PM, Valkyrie said:

This was a wonderful chapter. I know I said it last time, but I'll say it again...your writing is really growing. You've produced a very special, remarkable story. Andy is an amazing young man. The part about him in church brought tears to my eyes. His innate goodness and joy in things that most people take for granted is a breath of fresh air. No wonder Zander is so smitten with him. Well done, my friend. :hug:

Thank you for your encouraging words. This was a chapter worth writing for. If you sniffled, well, so did I when the words made it to the page. Andy is rediscovering happiness, perhaps, and that was a real joy to write about. And the heck of it is, such episodes as homeless kids hiding in churches are quite real and true. One such instance happened a few years ago in my town. Anyway, thank you so much for continuing to read this, and for your kind review.

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On 12/12/2015 04:12 PM, Nahrung said:

As much as I'm enjoying this adventure, it's also wearing me down. I'm sure that you don't want to give anything away, but would you please give some indication of when Andy might get some relief from his torment, be able to tell someone his story and find redemption in his life?

A to Z will be complete before winter (at least here where I live) is over, my friend. No, I cannot give anything away, but I do not wish you to be saddened either. I can only pray your further indulgence, and beg you to continue reading. For Andy, this moment must surely mark a milestone where goodness and joy reassertion themselves in his life. But nothing happens quickly, not really. Thanks for your review, and for your continued reading of this story.

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From the start, even when it was so, so dark, there was always something that made you want to stick with Andy until he found a little sunshine. Now that things are starting to look brighter I hope things work out for him and Zander and he finds the courage to stand his ground when the truth starts to come out, as it must. I can't wait to see Andy in a better place, but I know that will also mean we're coming to the end of the story...
This is the one story that I check constantly for updates, and once every two or three days, you make my commute fly by. Thank you!

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On 12/13/2015 01:41 AM, Escapist said:

From the start, even when it was so, so dark, there was always something that made you want to stick with Andy until he found a little sunshine. Now that things are starting to look brighter I hope things work out for him and Zander and he finds the courage to stand his ground when the truth starts to come out, as it must. I can't wait to see Andy in a better place, but I know that will also mean we're coming to the end of the story...

This is the one story that I check constantly for updates, and once every two or three days, you make my commute fly by. Thank you!

You are very kind in your remarks. Andy has had a moment in his life - a few days - when goodness and kindness has reasserted itself. We see him looking beyond his own survival. The story has to end, but I confess that Andy and the other characters have come to inhabit me, too. Anyway, thank you so much for your review, and for reading so far into the story.

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