Sometimes all you'll have at Christmas will be memories. Will they be enough?
It was the Saturday before Christmas. I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling. This was not going to be a merry Christmas, at least for me. The trouble was I’d have to put up a ‘happy face’ so my folks wouldn’t catch on.
What I had to — was forced to — hide from them wasn’t that my best friend Terry had died in a traffic accident the week before Thanksgiving. They knew how sad that I’d been about his death. You know, best friend and all that. Thing is, even with him being my best friend I should be over being sad and depressed about his death by now. By now I should be looking forward to Christmas with my folks and brother and sister and my grandparents.
But I wasn’t. Maybe I would have been if Terry had just been my best friend. He wasn’t. He was the boy I’d been in love with since we met in the sixth grade, at the start of middle school. I dreamed about our being boyfriends instead of best friends. Of course, he never knew that I loved him that way. Should I have told him? Probably not. He was straight, and if my telling him I was gay freaked him he might have decided that we couldn’t be best friends anymore. Maybe I should have told him because now he was gone and it was too late.
I heard the doorbell. My folks were out finishing their Christmas shopping. I thought about ignoring it, but maybe it was UPS or FedEx trying to deliver a package. So I rushed downstairs and opened the door. It was about the last person I expected, Mrs. Lawrence, Terry’s mom.
“Uh… hi, Mrs. Lawrence.”
“Hello, Brad. Could I come in for a minute? I have something for you.”
“Oh, okay, come on in.”
I led her into the living room. “Please have a seat.”
“Thank you.” I sat across from her. She reached into her purse and pulled out an envelope. “We finally started to clean out Terry’s room. I found a sealed envelope in his desk. There wasn’t anything written on the outside, so I opened it. It contained something that he’d written. I want to give it to you, Brad. You should read it, but wait until I’ve left. You two were such great friends, best friends, and…. Well, just read what he wrote. It’s very important.”
She stood, then so did I. She handed me a birthday card size envelope, but when I took it she continued to hold it. “Remember, don’t open the envelope and read what’s there until I’ve left. Alright?”
“Yeah… I guess. You’ve made it seem like… like it’s some sort of mystery.”
“That’s an interesting way to describe it, Brad. Keep that in mind later when you start to read.”
Then she totally surprised me by walking up to me and hugging me. When she pulled back she said something that was as surprising, “If you feel like you’d like to talk to me about what Terry wrote, please give me a call. Any time, night or day.”
I stared at her for a few seconds. “Thanks. I will.”
“Brad, I’m going to leave now. I’ll let myself out. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and remember all of the happy Christmases past.” Mrs. Lawrence turned and walked out the front door, closing it behind her.
I looked at the envelope. I was eager to see what it contained, but for some reason I decided it would be better to open it when I was in my own room.
I sat down at my desk. The envelope had been opened, then partially reclosed with a small piece of tape. I peeled it off and opened the envelope. There were several pages of the kind of lined paper that’s in the booklets we use for writing essays at school. Mom called them ‘Blue Books’ even though they had black printing on the outside. The lines on the pages were printed in a light blue color. I guess that’s where they got the name.
Each page had Terry’s handwriting on both sides. His handwriting was really printing, very neat printing, because he didn’t connect most of the letters together. I knew it as well as my own. I started to read.
That's dumb. Maybe someday I'll change it to "Hi, Brad" so it's addressed correctly, but that's either a long way in the future or maybe even never. But here we are, you and me, Brad and Terry, freshmen in high school. I thought it would be different than middle school, and it is. Lots different. The biggest difference for me is that there's a lot of gay kids here that are out. Most of the kids here don't seem to care whether someone's gay or straight. Or I suppose even bi. There's a GSA and they have meetings. I don't go to them. I don't do anything that might make you think I'm anything but straight. I'm keeping it that way because you're straight as an arrow. I wish it could be different and that I could tell you I'm gay and — oops, mom just called me. More later. News at 11. Whatever.
Ok, I'm back.
Brad, if I'm ever going to tell you that I'm gay I know you'll ask lots of questions.
Like "how you know?" Shit, Brad, what a dumb question! How do you know you're straight? You just know, right? Same for me, I just know I'm gay.
"When did you decide to be gay?" That's a question I got off of lots of sites for gay kids. My answer is I didn't freakin decide. Being gay is my normal. Being gay is in my dna.
"When did you know you were gay?" That's a lot better question and it's one that I can answer. I guess I was in the fifth grade. Yeah, in elementary school. I liked looking at the boys in my class. That summer my mom took me to the swim center and oh my god lots of the boys were wearing skinny swimsuits and I could see all those lumps in the front. Yeah, little lumps. But they made me drool, wondering what was inside those swimsuits. Then we're in middle school and we had to take gym class and take showers. Ok, Ok, you get the idea. I like to look at boys. Girls, not so much. Yeah, I like seeing pictures of naked girls but its naked guys that I dream about.
"What, you like looking at me when we're naked in the showers at school?" you ask. Duh. You're a boy, or I guess now that we're in high school it should be you're a guy. So of course I like looking at you. Especially you. Does that freak you out? I hope not. I really hope that you'll say you like me liking to look at you when you're naked.
Gotta go. Lots of homework tonight. More later.
Terry here. I'm back. Again.
Okay, its been a while since I've written anything. This pair of sophomores in our PE class, Milt Lawson and Fred Emrys, two bullies who pick on freshmen, start calling you queer, then both start poking you in the chest. So Lane Powers and I look at each other and decide to step in and shut it down. Lane tells them to fuck off and stop acting like asswipes. Then Milt starts calling me and Lane queer too. Just then Coach Reynolds comes into the locker room and sees them but they don't see him because they're facing me and Lane and you, and he's standing in back of them.
So Coach stands there listening to the shit they keep saying to the three of us. Lane keeps telling Milt to shut the fuck up. Then Milt takes a swing at Lane. You know no one in their right mind would ever do that. Lane's a junior and he's about 6 foot 4 and all muscle. Lane just sticks out his palm to stop Milt's fist that's coming at him. And that's what happened. Milt's fist hits Lane's palm and stops, hard, and Milt breaks two of his fingers. He starts screaming and crying and Fred's all like "Lane broke Milt's hand on purpose." Then Coach Reynolds walks up and says "I saw the whole thing and you two come with me now" and practically drags them to his office. We don't know what happened to them. So you, Lane, and I laugh about it and get dressed and go to our sixth period classes.
Ok, its exactly one week later.
Turns out that Milt and Fred, the Asswipe Brothers, had been on warning status from Vice Principal Verdugo, and because they broke school rules for fighting and gay slurs they were suspended for the rest of their sophomore year. They gotta go to County Continuation High School and can't come back until the next school year. Like my grandma says, "Good riddance for bad rubbish."
This is stupid. I keep writing this stuff and it doesn't do me any good at all. I need to get some balls and tell you, Brad. Yeah, sure. I might have the balls to do it, but I don't have the guts. Its too risky. If I tell you and you write me off and won't ever talk to me again, then. . . I don't even know how to describe. . . Yeah, I do know how to describe what it'd do to me. I'd be destroyed. That's a good word, destroyed.
Well, fuck it.
Brad, I decided to tell you. All I have to do is figure out exactly how to tell you. I could phone. "Hey, Brad, Terry here. Just wanted to mention that I'm gay." Yeah, like that would go over like a ton of bricks. Writing you is such a bad idea too. So I have to do it face to face. "Ya know, Brad, I've been thinking about telling you something about me that you don't know. I'm gay and I'm in love with you." Shit, that's bad. Kill the 'and I'm in love with you' part. It's true, but do you want to hear that when I tell you that I'm gay? No.
So I tell you I'm gay. What're you going to say back to me?
Worst scenario you say: "I'm not gay and I don't want to be around any guy who's gay."
Not too horrible a scenario: "I'm not gay, but its okay if you are, Terry."
A little better scenario: "I'm not gay, so let's try to find you a boyfriend."
Best scenario: "Oh my god, I'm gay too and I love you, Terry!"
Yeah! Like no freakin' way!
It's been a while. . .
Yeah, it's been a while since I've written anything here. I can't stand holding this in anymore. I'm going to your house right now and tell you that I'm gay. I'll leave the 'I love you' part out for the time being. I don't think you'll freak or anything. I think you'll be Ok with me being gay and you being straight. I'll see how it goes. Whatever happens at least I'll know.
I read and reread Terry’s notes at least a dozen times. It took that long because it’s hard to read through tears. So the accident happened when he was coming to tell me he was gay. Riding his bike down Commonwealth Avenue. He was killed when a car ran a stop sign and smashed into him. One of those new self-driving cars. They said he was killed instantly, didn’t feel a thing.
I’ve never been so sad. It’s much worse than before Thanksgiving when I found out Terry had been killed in the accident. I haven’t stopped crying. I don’t know where all my tears are coming from. The phone’s been ringing, then the doorbell. I think it’s Terry’s mom. I don’t want to talk to anyone.
Mom and Dad just got home. As usual, Mom called out, “Brad, I’m home,” when she walked in. I didn’t reply. I couldn’t. She called out again, “Brad, are you home? Brad, honey?” Then the phone rang and she answered it. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I heard her drop the phone on the floor and open the door to the garage and shout for my dad to come in. He did, and they talked for a few seconds and then ran upstairs to my room.
Mom and Dad read Terry’s notes. Each of them read it several times, just like I had to. Mom’s been crying and holding me and Dad’s teared up too and is having a hard time holding it in and talking to me.
Kevin’s home now. He’s my older brother, 17 years old and a junior. Mom and Dad went downstairs when Kevin got here. He read Terry’s notes, a few times because he’s crying too. Then he climbed on my bed and has been holding me. He hasn’t said a word. There’s nothing to say. Nothing comforting. I’m glad he’s holding me like this. I’m less likely to do something stupid. He just said he’s going to stay with me all night, but he’s gotta take a leak first.
Kevin’s back, and he’s holding me again. My crying hasn’t stopped but the tears have. There’s nothing left to make tears. It’s all dry sobs now. Will I ever stop crying? I suppose I will. Someday.
This is not going to be a good Christmas for me. Or my folks, either. I’ve been thinking. Did they know that I’m gay? I’ll have to ask them sometime. I know Kevin knows. He started talking to me, telling me that it’s okay that I’m gay. Telling me that he’s there to support me through this. That I have to remember that I’m his favorite brother. I poke him and remind him that I’m his only brother. That’s the first time I’ve said anything since Mrs. Lawrence came over with Terry’s notes. Kevin says he’ll always be here for me.
It’s been a week. Christmas wasn’t happy or jolly or merry for me. I’m afraid that it hasn’t been happy or jolly or merry for my folks either, or for Kevin and my sister Denise. But I’m better now.
Kevin told me something just before we sat down for Christmas dinner. He can be pretty profound sometimes.
“Terry may be gone, but your memories of him will never fade. You two loved each other too much for you to ever forget. Every Christmas you’ll remember him, and those will be good memories.”
As usual, he’s right.
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