Our Christmas Gift

By Jesse V Coffey

“Mom? Is it okay if I bring a friend with me? For Christmas holiday?”

Helena got a little quiet, mulling things over. It would be their first Christmas without her husband. Arthur had passed away from that damned COVID disease, barely a month before the holiday. A terrible way to go. Unable to breathe. Unable to move. Lost and wasting away. The love of her life was gone and the hospital had barred her from his room, so she hadn’t even been able to say goodbye. The house was quieter, less joyful. And at this time of year? How could such a thing have happened? Now, all she wanted to do was spend time with her only son and let the world spin as it would. Maybe it would just leave them alone for a while. So that she could get used to the big empty space in the house. In her bed. In that chair. A guest? A stranger? She wasn’t sure she could handle it.

Thirty years. Married for thirty years to the love of my life. What do I do now? What do I do? Now?

“Brendan. I don’t know—”

“Mom, please. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Mom, he needs the support. He needs friends. Please. He needs someone to give a shi— I mean, he needs someone to care about him.”

That was her son. Picking up the strays in the world because his tender heart couldn’t bear the thought of someone alone. Or in need. If it wasn’t lost kittens or puppies, or animals in the wild that might be hungry, it was always someone in his orbit. And how could she say no? And not feel like the world’s worst monster.

“All right, honey,” she said, just barely managing to hide her reluctance. “All right. What’s his name? Will he spend both weeks with us?”

“He has to, Mom,” Brendan answered. “All he has is school and…he may not have that for much longer. I’ll tell you everything when we get home. Okay? Please?”

From his tone, he knew very well what he was asking. And he knew very well what she was feeling. But it was important to him. And that was good enough for her.

“See you the day after tomorrow. I love you, honey.”

“I love you too, Mom. Thank you.”

The sound of the car pulling into the driveway brought her to her feet. She did a quick look around, hoping that she’d remembered everything. It looked clean enough, so she gave it a nod. Dinner was still cooking, a nice beef stew with mashed potatoes, freshly made cornbread, and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Satisfied, she burst out of the door just as her tall lanky son was getting out of the driver’s side of the car. She flew at him, marveling at how much he was his father made over. The long hair was shorter, his dark brown eyes that always reminded her of her husband now peered at her from the young face. His smile was just as warm as his father’s. The pang cut into her chest but she hid it from him, burying her face into his shoulder.

“Brendan! My boy! You’re home!”

He lifted her off the ground, his arms around her waist. “I’m here, Mom. We made it okay.”

We. Of course.

Helena stepped back, smiling. “Safe and sound.”

She peered over the top of the car to see the other boy. He was almost as tall as Brendan. But where her son had a brilliant and toothy smile, this young man seemed dark and angry. His forehead was creased and brows drawn together. Blond hair flopped down into his eyes, as if he wanted to hide behind it. He wouldn’t look back at her, staring at the ground. Something in the set of his mouth left him thin-lipped. There was something about the young man that said, get the hell away from me. Sullen. And in pain.

“Mom, this is Jayce. Jason.”

All she wanted was for him to look up at her. She lifted the corners of her mouth in as welcoming a smile as she could give him and stepped to his side, extending her hand toward him. “Jason, welcome. You are very welcome here. This will be your home for as long as you want to stay.”

He was reluctant to touch her, to shake her hand. He rubbed his knuckles under his nose and nodded.

“Thanks,” he muttered in a small voice that she barely heard him. “Um…I guess.”

She gave her son a quick glance but returned her attention to Jason. Nowhere to go? Why? There had to be more to this. Why is Brendan friends with this boy? She made a point of finding out.

Brendan helped the other boy settle in the spare room while Helena set the table and dished the food. There was something about that boy. Something that set her teeth on edge. Something that put her on her guard. After the first meeting, she wasn’t so sure she wanted him in her house. He had to be some kind of delinquent. Had to be.

“Mom? Oh man, that smells so good. I’m starving.”

Helena put out the butter dish for him and sat down. “Where’s Jason? Is he not hungry?”

Brendan put the butter knife back on the plate, the cornbread now forgotten. “Mom.”

She watched so many things play out on Brendan’s face. Sadness. Anger. And something else that she’d never seen. An emotion that had to be new for her son.

“Go on, honey. Tell me.”

“Mom, his parents threw him out. I couldn’t leave him behind. He needs someone.”

The lead weight settled in her belly. “What happened? Why?”

Brendan shook his head, saying nothing. Steepling his hands over the bowl. That didn’t bode well. In fact, that made this worse.

“Honey. I mean, what do you really know about this kid? Why would they throw him out? Unless… there’s something you don’t know about him?”

“Mom, you don’t get it.”

“No, you’re right,” Helena admitted. “For all I know this kid is a…a…criminal of some kind.”

“Mom!” Brendan chastised. “That’s bullshit.”

“Watch your mouth, young man.” She could chastise too. “I want to know. Why would they throw him out? If he’s not a delinquent?”

Her son may have gotten his father’s good looks, but Brendan certainly got her temper. “It doesn’t matter, Mom. Jason… he….”

A cold voice came from the other side of the dining room. A voice that broke as he spoke. When she turned to look at him, she felt the anger in Jason’s voice. “Because I’m gay, okay? They kicked me out because I’m in love with a guy and I won’t change just because that makes them look bad in the church. So, they threw me out and I’m disowned. I don’t have a fucking family anymore. And you know what? I don’t care.”

The young man’s hands were shaking. In fact, his whole body seemed to be vibrating. A single tear slipped down his cheek. Was it embarrassment? Was it fury? Did he care a little more than he wanted to let on?

“Okay? Is that what you wanted to know? The fucking criminal you let in your house is gay. Queer. A goddamn homo. Happy?”

“Jason—” she started but was cut off.

“Fuck this. I should have stayed behind. I don’t care. I don’t belong here!” Jason turned on his heel and disappeared back down the hallway.

Brendan sat back, his head shaking at the force of what happened. “Mom. How could you do that?”

Helena sat back down. She was the one who was mortified now. Arthur, you’d be so proud of me, wouldn’t you. I wasn’t thinking, didn’t know what I was talking about, and I hurt that boy. What the hell was I thinking?

“You should have trusted me, Mom.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Her gaze met Brendan’s and now she saw it. She saw his face and knew. “The guy he’s in love with. It’s you, isn’t it.”

“I love him back, Mom. I have since the moment I met him. I guess you’ll want me to leave too.”

Helena caught his hand. “Why would I do that? Bren, I already knew you were gay. This is no big surprise. And I have loved you since the moment I found out I was pregnant with you. Since the day I felt you growing inside of me. Your father pointed it out to me when you were twelve. And we loved you and didn’t care. Your happiness was the only thing we ever cared about. Or ever could care about. I just didn’t know about this.”

“You mad?” His head ducked down, tears on his cheeks.

“Not one little bit, honey. Or if I am, I’m mad at myself. For being rude to a guest in my house.” She rose, standing beside her son. Hugging him in her arms. “I’m glad you’ve found someone, Bren.”

Brendan hugged her tight around her middle, his face buried in her middle. “Thanks, Mom.” They remained like that for a few seconds before Brendan raised up. “I guess I better talk to him.”

“No,” she said. “Let me do this. I’m the one that screwed this up and I need to be the one to fix it.”

She kissed her son’s cheek and made her way back to the room. She stopped only for a second to pick up a small package from under the tree and continued back. She heard the angry sobbing from behind the closed door. Before she had come to it. She knocked, giving the young man a few seconds to pull himself together. Then opened the door to come in.

Jason was furiously throwing things back in his suitcase. Not caring that the clothing was a jumble of wrinkles and mess. His eyes were puffy from the crying; his voice was still breaking, still filled with anger. “What do you want?”

“I wanted to apologize for my rudeness. Jason, you didn’t deserve that.” She sat down on the bed, making him see her.

“Yeah, well. Don’t worry about it.” He threw more things in the bag and then fought with it to close it. “Forget about it. Forget about me.”

“I’d rather not. You know, Brendan invited you here for a reason. You really are welcome here.”

“No, I’m not,” he blurted out. “It’s okay. Don’t fucking sweat it.”

Arthur, what do I do? How do I fix this?

“Jason,” she finally said. “It’s not okay. I really do want you to stay. You know, Brendan told me he loves you. I mean, I know who ‘the guy’ is. And my son wants you to stay too.”

That stopped him from stuffing the other bag. He looked confused for a moment. “He said that?”

Helena chuckled, crossing one leg demurely over the other. “He said it. Not like I couldn’t tell. I mean, he is my son.”

“And you’re not pissed off about that?”

“No,” she confessed. “I’m thrilled. You know, before I met my husband, I’d had a bout of what they now call adult onset mumps. I just didn’t know about it until I’d been sick for a few days. They were afraid I’d never be able to have children because of it.”

Jason seemed to be listening in spite of himself. “But you had… I mean…”

“I did.” She smiled up at him. “I met Arthur and we fell in love. And it took us a few years but we found out I was pregnant. Our little miracle baby. I had to be so careful, it being a high risk pregnancy after all. But he was born and I held him in my arms and cried. Because I had what I always wanted. A family of my own. We couldn’t have any more, but…well…. It didn’t really matter. We had Bren.”

Jason sat down, listening to her.

“When he told me he was in love, just now, I remember thinking—might even have said it out loud—that I would never have to worry about him again. He found his angel.”

“I’m not an angel. My parents said I’m a demon.”

Helena leaned toward him slightly. “Then, forgive me for saying so, but your parents are idiots. And religious zealots like that make me want to be an atheist.”

Jason relaxed a bit, a small smile beginning to light up his face. “Don’t let them hear you say that. We’ll both be looking at hell for eternity.”

“I’ll go with you willingly then, Jason.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Caine.”

Helena patted his arm. “You’re welcome. And, if you don’t mind, I’d like to give you something. A small token of my affection. For Christmas.” She held out the small box. “Knowing how Bren feels, I’m glad I found this.”

Jason looked shocked at that. “No. No, ma’am. I can’t.”

“You haven’t even opened it yet. And yes you can. When you see it.”

The young man took the box and, with trembling fingers, opened it. “Holy…”

“That was a small charm that my husband gave me to celebrate Bren’s first birthday. I had it on a bracelet for the longest time, but when the bracelet broke…well, I kept meaning to get it fixed and never did. So, I put that charm on a chain and thought I could give it to you. I didn’t know the two of you were a couple when I thought of it. I was going to give it to you…you know, as a reminder of your friendship with my son.” She took it from the box and put it over Jason’s head. “Now that I know the real feelings you two have, it’s a reminder that you have a family. And you have someone to love you.”

“But Mrs. Caine….”

“You love each other. So, you’re part of us now. You’ll always have some place to go. Some place to call home. And people who love you.”

Jason stared back up at her. “You sure? I mean…really?”

“I’m sure, Jason. I hope you can forgive me for being a fool earlier. But I would really love it if you’d see your way to staying for the holiday.”

“Okay.” He couldn’t stop holding the charm in his hand. “I will. And I forgive you. Thanks.”

“How are you doing for school? Do you need help?”

“Uh. I didn’t tell Brendan but I have a scholarship for as long as I keep up with my tennis. And keep my grades up.”

She patted his arm again. “Well, if you have trouble, you let me know, okay? I can swing it. Enough to keep both of my boys in school.”

Jason’s face was wet again. “I can’t ask that.”

“You didn’t,” she told him. “Now, we’ll get your clothes put away again after dinner. For now? Are you hungry?”

The shy smile was more than enough of an answer. But he answered it anyway. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Good. Brendan is probably worried right now and I’d like you to put his mind at ease. Let’s go eat. And watch a few Christmas movies. I have popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, and hot cocoa to enjoy.”

Jason jumped up, looking as if he felt tons lighter. Helena put her arm around his waist. “All right then. And Jason?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Welcome home.”

the end and the beginning

About Jesse

Jesse V Coffey lives and writes in Lexington, KY. She currently has three books available for sale – A Wager of Blood, Illusions & Reality, and The Savior. She can be found on Facebook at (20+) Jesse’s Coffeyhouse | Facebook and on her blog at http://www.jessevcoffey.com