"Mom...Dad...seriously! I'm going to be fine! What are you so worried about? You're only gonna be gone for, like...a day and a half. What trouble could I possibly get into in that limited amount of time?" I said, just trying to get them out of the house before they missed their plane already.
My mom said, "I just feel like I'm being a bad mother, leaving you here all alone for Christmas. It doesn't feel right."
"It's not a problem. I'm going to be ok. We've got an entire week's worth of food in the fridge. I think I'll survive."
My dad stuck up for me, thankfully. "Aric's 14 now, honey. It's not like we're leaving a baby in a hot car with the windows rolled up. I'm sure that he can take care of himself for a weekend."
It just looked like it pained my mom soooo much to give herself over to the idea that I could exist on my own without her direct help and supervision. Sometimes, I think she still sees a little toddler when she looks at me. But how am I ever going to prove myself to be responsible and worthy of her trust if she never allows herself to give me a chance?
"You guys are going to be late." I said. "Go. It's ok. Really."
Fidgeting furiously, she said, "Alright, I just...I want to make sure that you've got everything that you need visible and ready to go in case of an emergency."
"What emergency?" I snickered. "Like anything ever happens in this tiny little Cul De Sac neighborhood. Are you kidding me right now?" She didn't seem amused, so I teased, "If anybody tries to break into the house...I've seen 'Home Alone', like, a million times. I'll defend the homestead. Promise."
"Whenever we call, we expect you to answer your phone. You hear me?" She said. "If just ONE call goes to voicemail...we're coming right back home."
"Karen...come on now. Aric isn't some delinquent. He's a great kid. Leave him alone already and get your stuff ready to go. The plane isn't going to wait for us, you know?" My father told her. "Hey...you know our rule about parties, right? NO parties! Our neighbors are going to be watching you. So don't try to put one over on us, you hear me?"
"And here I thought you were on my side, Dad."
"I am. But...no parties, Aric. I mean it."
I rolled my eyes. "I'm flattered that you would even imagine that I have enough friends to throw a party. But...whatever. Deal. Just GO, already." I said.
My dad started taking suitcases out to the car, but my mom lingered for a few minutes more. "You have the credit card on the kitchen table right?"
"Yes. I have the credit card, Mom. But I really don't think that I'll need it for anything. I'm probably just going to play video games and watch TV the whole weekend. Maybe chow down on potato chips and cookies, and sleep. I doubt I'll do anything more risky than walking around the house in my boxer shorts."
"You remember the PIN number for the card though, right? Just in case?"
"Yes, Mom. I remember."
"Do you want me to attach it to the fridge or something to make it easier for you to find if you need it?"
"Do NOT put your credit card on the fridge with a magnet, Mom! C'mon..."
"You've got the neighbors numbers, right?" She asked.
"I've got everything I need." I said.
"Karen? We've got to go. Aric is fine. Let's get on the road."
She came up to give me a kiss on the forehead, caressing the sides of my face. "Turn off the lights at night. And remember to unplug the Christmas tree before you go to bed..."
"Don't COOK anything unless you're right there watching it! Ok?"
"I'm not gonna burn the house down, Mom. Please go. I've got it under control."
"Mrs. Chapley net door has the extra key if you accidentally get locked out. We'll call you as soon as we land. And again once we get to your grandparents' house."
"Cool. I'll be here." I said, noticing a bit of a sad expression on her face.
"Aric? Honey?" She said. "You know...you would be more than welcome to visit any time that you want to. I know that your grandparents can be a little...antiquated in their beliefs, but...they love you, Aric. They really do. They think the world of you."
Feeling a touch of hurtful emotion myself, I told her, "No...they think the world of the person they thought I was. And that wasn't me. Not all of me." Her eyes got a little watery with sentiment, but I wasn't going to spend an entire holiday weekend pretending not to be gay simply because my grandparents can't seem to leave the whole issue alone and let me be proud of who I am. I wasn't about to ruin my own Christmas with awkward silences followed by passive aggressive, backhanded, comments. If that's how they feel about my sexuality...then I'm just going to let that be their problem. Not mine. It's not like they're going to somehow 'shame' me out of liking other boys...so why not just accept me for who I am? You know?
"They'll come around eventually, baby. I know they will."
"Well, when they do...you let them know that I'll come and spend the holidays with them. Until then, I'm not interested. Like...at all."
It hurt my mom's heart to hear me say it, but she didn't have much of a chance to debate me on the issue. Not that it would have done her much good anyway.
"Karen, let's go. We're really cutting it close here." Both of my parents gave me a tight hug and wished me a Merry Christmas before hurrying out into the snow to brush the car off and pull out of the driveway so they could get to the airport on time. Security checkpoints can be sort of brutal at O'Hare airport, and they don't want to mix it up with airport security on any level that will get them tackled and beaten down at the gate. The last thing I need is to see them getting knuckled up on some viral Youtube video tomorrow morning. Hehehe!
"Be careful, honey! Ok?" My mom said, kissing me again, almost not wanting to let go of me as my father dragged her out to the car. I made sure to go out and wave them off, the sun setting over the city in the background as they finally drove out of sight.
Are they gone? I think they're gone. Sweet!
One would think that I'd be all psyched to have the house to myself for a couple of days, just to kick back and relax. Really enjoy the silence, you know? But the truth is...I sort of had something else in mind. Nothing sinister, mind you. Just...I don't know...something that I had been thinking about for a few weeks now. It was one of the reasons that I couldn't get them out of the house fast enough. Because...if dreams really can come true...then this one will be a doozy!
I put on a skullcap and my wrap-around ear muffs. A heavy jacket and a pair of gloves. It was cold and snowy outside...but I didn't want to be marching around in clunky boots the whole way to the store. No scarf needed...I don't think. Whatever. I'm fine. Ok...let's go. I triple checked to make sure that I had my house keys and my wallet, and then I locked up and ventured out into the snow to go to the little mini strip mall about six blocks away from my house. It wasn't anything big or special. A few convenience stores, a restaurant or two, and maybe a couple of junk places to fill up enough room to warrant the size of the parking lot. But...none of that mattered. That wasn't what I was looking for.
See...this outdoor strip mall was a place that I always walked by on my way home from school. I usually stop by one of the places over there to grab a few candy bars and sodas every now and then...and occasionally thumb through some of the entertainment magazines, and some of the tabloids too. Hehehe, I have a bit of a fetish for some of the super ridiculous stories that they put in those things. It really baffles me that the people who make that stuff don't just get into the business of writing pure science fiction instead of trying to make up garbage stories and passing them off as real news. Like...I'm pretty sure that nun wasn't raped by a bigfoot and had a baby that was half human and half bat! Hahaha! What the hell? But I do buy them sometimes to keep me entertained. Call it a guilty pleasure of mine.
BUT...that wasn't what I was looking for either. Not today.
See...there's this...this boy, ok?
I don't want to come off as some kind of boy chasing sissy or anything. That's SO cliche. But...he's really cute. I mean, like...unnecessarily cute. To a degree where you have to wonder what he's even doing just walking around in real life instead of being a digital effect in a movie or a TV show somewhere. It's just not normal.
As breathtakingly gorgeous as he is as a whole...it was always his eyes that I noticed first. I mean, they kind of steal one hundred percent of your attention from everything else in the room. A bright and dreamy shade of bright blue that blazed like smooth orbs of sapphire. They were so piercing that you found yourself frozen in place whenever he blessed you with even the quickest of glances. And when he smiled? They seemed glow with a fury that my poor little heart couldn't handle for more than a second or two without looking away from him. My breath was getting so short that I was worried that I was afraid of feeling faint.
Up next was his flopped over mop of hair...bright blond. Only the Sun itself could boast a more stunning shade of gold. Even with him wearing a Winter hat to keep his head warm, there was always just enough blond poking out in front and on the sides yo let me know just how amazing it was. Just long enough to cover the tips of his ears, but a little longer in front. To the point where the gold would touch the blue, and it gave me all the beauty of a midday Summer's sky.
I'm telling you...he looks the way you'd expect angels to look. And I couldn't feel more blessed to bear witness to the sight of him, firsthand.
But there was something slightly...odd about me seeing him as often as I did. The first two or three times, I don't think that I really noticed it...but it became clear to me later on that he was always there. And always in the same spot. Not only that, but he seemed to always be wearing the same hoodie sweatshirt and black jeans every time that I saw him. Like...he didn't have a closet filled with a variety of clothes for him to put on. I, legit, saw him wearing the exact same thing four days in a row last week. It still looked good on him, because I can't imagine a stretch of fabric that wouldn't look good on him. But what really got my wheels spinning was the fact that he was always right there outside the door whenever I walked by. Like...always. Morning, noon, or night. Wearing those same clothes. And maybe I was a little bit slow on the uptake there, or perhaps just distracted by how incredibly HOT he was...but I was beginning to think that he was actually living on the streets at the time. Possibly for weeks now. And I know that it might seem like he'd be a threat or some sort of heartless grifter that would take me for everything that I've got if I wasn't careful enough to stay away from him. But he's never done much more than smile at me, or stand next to me in the store to peek over at me a few times to say hello. He seems really cool. But he's never asked me for help. No spare change or anything. He just exists in the same space as me, and I've kind of been happy about that. Because he so cute that I often find myself swooning with infatuation. And there's no better feeling in the world than the giddy tingles and electric sparks that young love brings to your life. You know?
So I went into the store where I usually see him, and sure enough...he was there. Still wearing the same hoodie that I was used to seeing him in. It was clean, but...I mean, it was clear that he didn't have a whole lot of options to choose from when it came to his public wardrobe. Not that he needed it. Everything that he wore looked like an eight hundred dollar tux on his slim, sexy, body. Hehehe! The less clothes he had on, the better, as far as I was concerned.
Jesus...he was almost too cute to look at. You know? It was hard to keep my balance when I was around him, being so weak in the knees and all. But I tried to be cool about it all when I went to the magazine rack and I saw him stealthily move closer and closer to me until he was standing right by me. Omigod...I mean, this is exactly what I wanted to happen today, but I wasn't ready for the reality of it all. My strategy of getting close enough to talk to him wasn't planned out well enough to truly prepare my emotions for the moment that we finally got to say more to one another than just a simple hello or some surface small talk that we learn for when we talk to strangers. I felt a bit clumsy at first, but when those bright blue eyes met mine, I nearly fell all to pieces all over again, and pushed myself to talk to him again.
"Blake...right?" I asked.
"Yep. That's me. What's up Aric?" He replied.
My breath got so short that I could barely inhale enough oxygen to get my voice to raise itself above a whisper. "Ummm...hehehe...not much. I'm just...I mean...well, it's like...Christmas break, so..."
"Cool." He smiled.
"Yeah. Cool." I replied. And I peeked over at him to see his blue eyes again. They could be so addictive sometimes. "Ummm...how about you?" What? It was the most intelligent thing that I could come up with on such short notice. If you had any idea how friggin' GORGEOUS he was...you'd be a little bit nervous too!
"I'm living my best life. Hehehe! It's all we can do, you know?" He said. "It's getting pretty cold out there. I love the snow, but the cold is seriously killing me right now. Geez! Chicago Winter, am I right?"
"Yeah. They can be pretty brutal..." I said. But as I noticed his overstuffed backpack, with clothes and other stuff crammed in there...I couldn't get rid of the idea that he was out here on the streets all by himself. He didn't go to my school. I would have noticed him right away if he had. And I haven't seen him around the neighborhood or at the park or in the Rec Center off of Main Street. I only see him out here at the strip mall. All by himself. Either outside or in one of the stores that would allow him to linger and loiter for a while without giving him any trouble. I thought that it was kind of sad...but he never lost his smile. Every time that I saw him, he made sure to nod and greet me with a mischievous grin...and I kind of liked that. It was, you know...cute.
"You back for more tabloid weirdness?" Blake asked me.
"Heh...yeah. I was curious to see what they might come up with this week."
"I beat you to it this time." He grinned. "This one says that Obama is a shape shifting lizard alien from another dimension who harvests baby penises to feed a growing civilization of lobster people to rise up and eventually claim the planet for their own."
I laughed out loud at the idea at first, but he showed me the tabloid cover...and JESUS!!! He wasn't joking! Hahaha! People will believe fucking anything these days!
"What the hell???" I said. "I DEFINITELY need to buy this one and add it to my collection of nonsensical bullshit."
"Wait until you see some of the other stuff in there. It's crazy! But it's kinda cool to see what people will fall for. It's like, this measurement for insanity that let's the rest of us know what to look for and avoid at all costs." He said, and I found myself lost in an overwhelming moment of infatuation all over again. It's hard not to. He's so damn cute to me!
"Do you think that crazy people know that they're crazy?" I asked. "Like...do they ever have a single sobering moment where they're like, 'Fuck it! I'm totally bat shit insane! But it's too late to turn back now, so I'll just go with it.'?"
"I wish I knew." Blake said. "I'd like to think that they were completely oblivious to the madness that they believe in, and are truly in need of professional help. But, to be honest...I think it's all some form of psychotic 'cosplay' that a lot of people play for the sake of getting the love and attention that they never got as a child. Like...seriously...these people need a hug. That would solve soooo much of the world's problems. Hehehe!"
We shared a few laughs about it, and I did take the tabloid to buy it at the front counter...but I asked him, "Say, I was going to buy a couple of snacks to take home. Do you want something?" I won't lie...I felt a bit awkward saying it out loud. I didn't want Blake to think that I was assuming that he was...'poor' or anything. But I didn't want to just walk away and not offer him some help like I have been for the past few weeks. There was no mistaking the fact that he was a runaway teen at this point. I could be wrong...but I don't think that I was.
He hesitated a bit, but after fidgeting a little, he said, "Well...I mean, if you've got some extra chips to spare, that would be cool. But it's not like you have to or anything. I'll be fine, either way."
I started feeling all nervous and jittery inside, knowing that I could give him a little something to make him smile. I mean...it's Christmas, right? I might as well give a little something to someone in need. Even if it's not a whole lot. At least I made an effort. If nothing else...it could be a big thank you for letting me look into those big blue eyes and experiencing feelings that make me feel whole and complete inside. What better gift can I give than the gift of appreciation for everything that he is, and the impact that he's made on my life by simply being visible?
"K...what do you like?" I asked.
"Whatever you like. I'm not picky." He said, and my heart reached out to him all over again. Oh wow...he really didn't have anything, did he? I suspected it before, but now I could clearly see that he had nothing to offer and nowhere to stay. Which broke my heart in two, because he was way too cool to be homeless on Christmas and wandering around in a snowy Chicago Winter with no place to go.
"What about Jay's potato chips? Do you like those?" I asked.
"Jay's rock! Hell yeah! Hehehe!" He answered, and I swear that I heard his empty stomach rumbling at the mere mention of having something in his belly to sustain him for a little bit longer.
I kind of felt bad. Because I didn't want to pity him, you know? He wasn't a total charity case. At least, not that I knew of. But the more he tried to hide his situation from me, the more it became clear that he had definitely fallen on some hard times. And even though I was literally shaking with fear when I spoke the words out loud, I said, "You know...ummmm...I don't live far from here. We can just grab some snacks and then....h-h-hang out at my house for a little while. If...if you want." I had been thinking of this moment for at least two weeks now, always too scared to really approach him in any way that went beyond some small talk and a few giggles. But now I felt like a total creep for even asking him to come over to my house. And I don't know...maybe I had some ulterior motives in play, but...omigod you guys...he was sooooo CUTE! He really was!
I didn't know what to do with myself, and I was trembling violently as I waited for an answer from him. Was he blushing? Maybe just a little bit, I couldn't tell. It was super cold outside, so it might have been the weather that made his cheeks so red. All I knew was that I had a two story house with heat, and lights, and an internet connection, and video games...and Blake was out here with nothing more than two outfits to wear and a backpack full of whatever belongings that he could carry around with him without weighing him down too much. I mean, what would it really cost me to give him a little bit of help? Even if he didn't come begging for it?
"Aric...it's ok. I don't need any chips. K?" He said. "Merry Christmas, ok? I'll see you later."
Blake started to walk away from me, but it was still cold outside, and now it was snowing again, and I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I had to think about him being all alone and shivering in the frigid weather when I could have offered him a better option.
"Blake...dude..." I said. "I've got a big house all to myself for the holidays. I've got no plans, nobody to hang out with...it would be cool to have you come over for a while. At least I'd have somebody to watch movies and play video games with. What do you say?" He didn't say anything at first, looking down at his feet as though he felt ashamed to accept the offer.
"Aric...I...I don't know if..."
"It's totally cool." I said. "Really. I could actually use the company tonight." He seemed to be struggling within himself, but I took the tabloid from his hand, and I said, "I'm gonna buy this right now. You can come over and we'll laugh at it together. K? I'm, like...six blocks away. We can watch a movie or something afterward. I've got microwave popcorn." I smiled at him, and he smiled back at me, making me feel faint from the overdose of genuine beauty.
"Ummm...I mean...ok. For a little while, maybe." He said, and he reached out to shake my hand. His fingers were ICE cold! Jesus! I'm surprised that they weren't completely numb to him at this point. He still looked like he was ashamed to be admitting that he needed a bit of help to keep him going, but I wasn't about to let that stop me from giving a brief glimpse of hope in his life. Whatever his current situation may be, he deserved better. And it made me feel good to be a part of that, if only for a little while.
"Come on...let's have some fun." I grinned, and he grinned back at me. It would be awesome if I could spend the entire holiday making out with one of the cutest boys on Earth...but for now...I just wanted to help him out. You know? Give a little something to inspire my karma to give something back at some point in my life. I had so much to be grateful and thankful for...why not share it with Blake when it barely cost me anything, you know?
Just give me that heart bursting smile of yours...and I'll be good.
What else could I possibly ask for?