Christmas and the Dollar Store (by Grant Bentley)

Christmas and the Dollar Store

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental

Christmas is such a weird time of year. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be celebrating the ‘virgin birth of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ’? Yet, as far as I can see, Christmas has nothing to do with Christ. Okay, His name makes up the first part of the word. Well, unless you decide to call it Xmas. I don’t even think Christ was born on December 25th. Someone, somewhere, just decided it would be a good time to have it. And what idiot decided we needed a white Christmas?

My grandma always says, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas unless we have snow.”

Right, tell that to the people in Australia or New Zealand. And, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s a lot of snow in Bethlehem on December 25th either.

That’s not the most confusing part though. How did Christmas end up being this huge gift-giving thing? Like, the stores start Christmas advertising in October for crying out loud. It’s become nothing but a huge, money-grabbing, gift-buying, I-want, get-me, buy-me, give-me event. It’s in no way a celebration of birth. Well, maybe if you were born on December 25th. It’s a celebration of wealth. It’s a joke and I think they should start calling it Giftmas. It would be way more appropriate.

Anyway, so much for my philosophical view of Christmas. Now I had better finish the list of things I want…starting with the impossible and working my way down to the possible…Jeep Wrangler, Honda Shadow, Dell Inspiron 17R, LG 50” plasma TV, 64G iPod touch, iPhone 4S, leather jacket, jeans, shirts, socks, and underwear. A boyfriend would be nice, but I don’t think they have them on sale anywhere my mom shops, like at The Bay, Sears, Walmart, or The Dollar Store. And, yes, I’m embarrassed to say, my mom actually shops at Walmart and The Dollar Store.

Speaking of shopping with my mom, I had managed to avoid going Christmas shopping with her right up until December 11th. Then my luck ran out. Christmas shopping with Mom didn’t mean shopping, buying, or even looking. It meant carrying. Carrying big bags, little bags, heavy bags, awkward bags, and torn bags. Of course none of the bags had anything for me in them. And, God forbid I take them and put them in the Pathfinder; somebody might see them, break into it and steal them.

Now you need to know that carrying all this crap was only part of my problem. The other part involved the fact that my mom is totally deaf. Now I realize not a lot of you have tried to carry ten bags of crap and converse with someone in ASL at the same time…while walking through a crowded mall. I don’t know how many times someone ran into me because I stopped to put down the bags and talk to my mom. And yes, she can lip read but she hates it. She claims I talk too fast and don’t form my words properly. So, ASL it is.

So three and a half hours of mall trolling and I’m standing near the entrance to The Dollar Store. Mom told me to be patient, she would only be a few minutes and left me standing there in front of the store. There was no way I was going inside. I made that mistake at Walmart and spent fifteen minutes as one of their wonderful greeters went through every bag to make sure I wasn’t stealing any of their cheap crap.

As I was standing there thinking terrible thoughts about my dear sweet mother, I was suddenly blessed by an image from God. Thankfully I was completely surrounded and covered by bags, big bags, little bags, heavy bags, awkward bags, and torn bags. I know my heart rate increased by at least fifty beats per minute, my pupils dilated to double size, and if I hadn’t started to swallow every two seconds, I would have been drooling down the front of my shirt. I now had a visual of the true definition of the term drop dead gorgeous. Five ten, a slim maybe hundred and forty pounds, black hair, dark, dark brown eyes, flawless tanned skin, and a smile that could melt both polar ice caps. ‘Oh My God, I’m in love,’ I thought.

I nearly passed out when he walked over, grinned and signed, “Don’t you just love these shopping trips with Mom?”

“You have no idea,” I signed back once I regained some of my composure.

“Oh yes I do,” he signed laughing, “you today are me yesterday.”

“I think this is our last stop,” I signed. “At least I sure hope it is. Mom’s down to looking for Christmas decorations and napkins.”

“I’m on my lunch break in ten minutes,” he signed. “If it is, and you can get away, you should join me. I hate eating alone.”

“Yeah, I’d like that,” I signed. “Mom put me to work but she hasn’t fed me yet and I’m starving.”

“Great, see you in ten,” he signed, and he quickly disappeared back into the store.

Five minutes later, Mom was at the checkout with a basket full of decorations and napkins and stuff. Five minutes after that and she was ready to go. And, I had another bag to carry.

“Ready to go?” she signed.

“Not yet,” I signed, “I’m meeting someone in a minute and once we get this stuff in the Pathfinder we’re going for lunch. If that’s okay.”

“How will you get home?” she signed.

“I’ll just take the C-train,” I signed back as my vision reappeared.

“Mom, this is…” I hesitated as I realized I didn’t even know his name.

“Teyo,” he signed, “Teyo Garcia.”

“Hello Teyo, I’m Julie Copps,” Mom signed before she reached out to shake his hand.

“And I’m her devoted son, Marshall Copps,” I signed with a grin.

A few minutes later, we had all the bags in the Pathfinder, Mom was on her way home, and Teyo and I were on our way to the food court. As we were walking through the mall, I bumped into a lady and immediately apologized to her and we had a little conversation about how crowded the mall was.

As we were walking away, he looked at me, grinned, and said, “You’re not deaf.”

“No I’m not,” I replied with a chuckle. “My mom is.”

“I just assumed you were,” he said laughing.

“I thought you were too,” I said. “I think it’s cool you know ASL. More people in retail should know it. It would make it so much easier for people like my mom.”

“Actually, I didn’t learn it for work,” he said as we entered the food court. “My brother’s deaf.”

We both went over to Subway and ordered a sub. Once we found a place to sit, we chatted about his brother and ourselves as we got to know each other a bit. We found out that we both live on 12th Avenue downtown in high-rises that are like three blocks apart. As we were eating and chatting, Teyo paused and was looking at me like he was trying to think of how to say something. Finally, he said, “Please don’t take offence and take this the wrong way, but I couldn’t help but notice your “Give a Damn” t-shirt. It wouldn’t happen to mean that you’re gay would it?”

“No offence taken,” I replied hopefully, “and yes, I’m gay.”

“I’m not by the way,” he said, dashing all my hopes and dreams, “but I have friends who are.”

“So do I,” I responded grinning, trying not to let my disappointment show.

“No, really?” he questioned grinning.

“Yep,” I replied. “Unfortunately, no one special yet though.”

“Oh, good,” he said, looking a little nervous. “Whoa, sorry, that didn’t sound right did it?”

“Well you could have at least tried to sound disappointed,” I replied.

“Sorry, but I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he said. “I know someone special.”

“I bet you do,” I said laughing.

“Not that way,” he said with a chuckle, “Well, yeah, that way, but I’m not referring to my girlfriend. I’m referring to my brother. Marco hasn’t had things easy the last year or so. Mom and Dad decided to integrate him into a regular high school. It’s been tough for him meeting new people. He’s even been bullied because he’s deaf and mute. Mom and Dad have even gone to the school a few times to raise hell. The administration swear they are watching out for him but I don’t believe they are. He’s at the point now, where he goes to school, comes home, and sits in his room alone, except when Mom makes him come to the table for dinner. It’s starting to scare me.”

“That’s not a good sign,” I said, “but why would you think he would be interested in me? You don’t even know me.”

“Well…God I don’t believe I’m going to do this either,” he said looking almost embarrassed. “If I was gay, I would find you seriously hot and you seem like a genuinely nice guy. I mean, I got this vibe watching you with your mom. Most guys, after lugging bags around a crowded mall for hours, would at least be looking all bitchy and pissed off, if not actually being bitchy and pissed off. You were smiling and courteous to your mom like you actually enjoyed packing all her stuff around.”

“I learned when I was twelve being bitchy with my mom wasn’t healthy for my social life,” I said laughing. “And you think I’m hot?”

“I wasn’t that smart. With my mom, it took me until I was fourteen to figure it out. And yeah, I think you’re hot,” he said blushing.

Unfortunately, his lunch half hour break was over at that point and he had to go back to work. We quickly exchanged cell numbers and, as we were getting up to leave, he asked me what I was doing later and if was I curious enough to meet him and his brother at Starbucks on 12th and 8th.

I thought about it for a few seconds before telling him, “Yeah, I’m curious enough.”

“Cool,” he said with a huge smile, “we’ll see you at Starbucks at 7:00. If that’s not too early.”

“Nope,” I replied, “7:00 works for me.”

Hmmm, so, now I had something to think about on my ride home. Not that it really mattered, but I wondered if Marco was going to be as hot as Teyo. Was he going to be as sweet and caring as Teyo seemed? Would he like me? Would I like him? If he liked me and I didn’t like him would it make his seemingly depressed state even worse? If he figured out Teyo was trying to set him up, would he even show up?

When I got home, Mom was all over me about Teyo. She wanted to know everything about him. When I told her he was straight and then explained the situation with his brother, she was quick to warn me to be careful. Kids our age can be very sensitive to rejection, particularly if they already feel down on themselves. I assured her I would be careful. I would be friendly and sociable. But I would keep it casual so I wouldn’t do anything to make him think I was coming on to him, or rejecting him either.

As soon as we were finished dinner, I made my way over to Starbucks. I was ten minutes early, so I ordered a salted caramel mocha grande and an apple fritter, found a table and watched and waited for Teyo and Marco. About five minutes after I sat down, I saw Teyo and an unbelievably cute, slightly smaller version of him walking slowly down 12th towards Starbucks. The beauty of ASL is that you can follow a conversation between two people at a distance, long before you could ever hear them if they were simply talking. They were carrying on a very animated conversation. It appeared that Marco was not at all thrilled about Teyo trying to set him up, and Teyo was trying his hardest to convince Marco that just meeting me couldn’t hurt.

They came in and Teyo gave me a little smile and a wave as they went to the front to place their orders. A few minutes later, they were sitting with me. Teyo apologized if Marco seemed a little put off. He then introduced us. Marco gave me a little smile as he signed a simple ‘hello’. I gave him a bigger smile as I replied ‘hello, it’s nice to meet you’.

It took a few minutes, but Marco did slowly begin to open up and join in our conversation, although he remained distant with me. We soon became the centre of attention as none of us spoke, but only signed to each other. It also quickly became obvious that the attention bothered Marco.

“I feel like a monkey in a zoo when people stare at me all the time,” he signed. “It’s like they’ve never seen anyone sign before.”

“They’re more likely just impressed with our ability to sign than anything else,” I replied.

“Yeah, we’re carrying on a conversation in silence and it’s driving some of them crazy. They can’t understand a thing we’re saying,” Teyo said. “We could have some fun if we put our minds to it. We could smile and tell them to fuck off and they’ll just smile back. We could tell them how ugly they are, how fat they are, how bad they smell, and as long as we smile, they’ll smile.”

Marco really wasn’t buying any of it though. He just felt like they were staring at us because we were an oddity…freaks.

Then an older gentleman stood up, walked over, and sat next to us. He grinned and signed, “You better make sure they can’t sign before you tell them to fuck off though. You might get the universal sign everyone understands,” which caused all three of us to laugh, even Marco.

Then he looked directly at Marco, smiled and signed, “Young man, you remind me of myself when I was your age. I was way too sensitive. Everything pissed me off. I was deaf. I was angry. I felt everyone either felt sorry for me or thought I was a freak. I hid myself away as much as I could so I wouldn’t attract attention. Then, one day, I met someone very special, someone who taught me to stop feeling sorry for myself and to stop focusing on what I thought others thought. He taught me to focus on myself, on my abilities, on my strengths, on the fact that I am a unique valuable human being. He taught me I was a special and a gifted individual.” He glanced at me and back to Marco, as he smiled thoughtfully, and said, “I lost him to cancer last year, but he gave me fifty two wonderful years. Years I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Marco sat for several seconds without responding. Then he actually smiled, stood up, and gave him a hug. As he sat back down, he signed, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the gentleman signed. “Now I’ll leave you boys alone to chat.”

After he left, Marco looked noticeably more relaxed and our conversation became far more comfortable. He even included me in his conversation rather than simply focusing on Teyo. We had been chatting for close to an hour before we finally decided maybe we should go home. As we were leaving, I asked Marco what he was doing after school tomorrow. When he said nothing except homework, I asked him if he wanted to meet for coffee again.

He looked at Teyo, who just gave him a grin, and after thinking about it for a several seconds, signed, “I’d like that, same time?”

I replied, “Yes, same time.”

I watched them walk off toward home and noticed that Marco looked back at me a few times. The last time, he smiled and waved.

Mom, of course, was all curious when I got home. I told her pretty much everything, including the visit from the older gentleman. She again warned me to be careful and I promised I would. About an hour after I got home, the phone rang. It was Teyo and he sounded excited. He said Marco hadn’t stopped talking about me since they got home. He also warned me to be careful as Marco definitely seemed taken with me and was very vulnerable and easily hurt. I promised him I would.

Marco, however, wasn’t the only one taken. I couldn’t wait for the next day to end. Even dinner seemed to go on forever. Eventually, it was time to head for Starbucks and meet up with Marco. I was a little surprised that he was already there when I arrived. He even had my salted caramel mocha grande and an apple fritter waiting for me. He had a big smile and signed ‘hi or hello,’ which I returned as I sat down. We talked about our day and both remarked that the day seemed to go on forever. Then we got into talking about our lives. What we liked. What we didn’t like. How things were going for us and whatever.

He actually opened up a bit about how, in the last year and a half, he found it particularly difficult. Although he didn’t agree with them, and had fought with them for months, his parents felt it would be beneficial for him to integrate into a regular high school rather than to remain at the school for the deaf. Their idea was that if he was to manage in the regular world, he would have to learn to deal with hearing people. People who did not understand ASL.

He wasn’t sure exactly how attending a regular school was supposed to help him though. He had a teaching assistant who translated what the teacher was saying, which was not something he would have in ‘real life’. He said it also led to him feeling alienated because they were positioned at the back of the room away from everyone to avoid distracting the other kids. He felt, if anything, it drew more attention to him and the fact that he was different. Combined with his obvious insecurity, it gave the lowlifes an excuse to tease and bully him, which just made him feel even less secure.

Besides, she was only with him during classes. That didn’t help him before and after school or at lunch. He said that when he was on his own, all he could think of was, how do you go up to someone and say ‘hi’ when you can’t say ‘hi’? How do you start a conversation with someone when they don’t know ASL, and you can’t hear what they’re saying? Since he could lip read, he did have a notepad so he could respond in case someone spoke to him—that is, if they were facing him.

One nice thing though, a few people he had met last year would always smile and wave to him. Some kids did sit with him occasionally at lunch and try to communicate, with Marco jotting down notes and them making sure he could see their faces so he could lip read. He didn’t form any great friendships, but he at least had someone around once in a while who cared enough to put in the effort to include him.

He had also met a couple of kids in his English class, Kelly and Carla, who were assigned to work with him. His aid started translating for him but he asked her not to. If he was going to do this, he wanted to do it on his own. He would jot quick notes to them and they would be careful to face him so he could lip read what they were saying. He said it actually worked quite well and a few times they invited him to have lunch with them. One of the girls was actually learning ASL. The problem with that was that he felt she liked him in a way he couldn’t return.

Why it hadn’t come up before, I have no idea, but the most significant thing that came up was that we both attended the same high school, Western Canada. We were both in grade 11, juniors. Unfortunately, we had never noticed each other. He never signed to anyone between classes and neither did I, so it was not unthinkable that we had never noticed each other in the packed hallways. We compared where our lockers were, we compared classes and teachers, and we compared lunch times. His locker was around the corner from mine, so that explained not seeing each other at our lockers. However, many of our classes were in adjacent classrooms and we both had the same lunch hour. I may not have noticed him before, but I was particularly surprised that I hadn’t noticed him today, since he was all I could think about all day.

Now that we knew we were both in WC, had classes close together, and had the same lunch break, that was going to change. We soon had a plan laid out to meet up at his locker before classes and at lunch time, and to meet up between classes so we could walk to our next class together. It was interesting to watch him as the more we talked and the more we planned to get together, the more excited he became. We were both on our third drink when we looked at the time. We had been there more than two hours. It was almost 9:30 and we still had our homework to do, so we decided we had better both get home and get to work. We were both all smiles as we got up to leave. I decided to walk him home and say hi to Teyo and then head home afterwards.

As we walked down 12th, two kids who looked like they might be freshmen were walking towards us. One of them poked the other as they approached us, laughed and said, “Faggots.”

Marco obviously read his lips because he poked me and signed, “Asshole.”

“Just because we both sign doesn’t mean we’re both deaf,” I said to the kid. “And what the fuck does being deaf or signing have to do with being gay?”

“Uh, nothing,” he said.

“So why say it?” I asked.

“I was just foolin’,” he replied.

“So making ignorant hurtful remarks about people is your way of foolin’?” I asked him.

“Sorry,” he replied, “I didn’t think you could hear me and I really didn’t mean it. I swear.”

“If you didn’t mean it, then maybe you shouldn’t have said it,” I told him.

“I was just being a smart ass. I’m sorry,” he said.

“You should tell him you’re sorry too.” I said, indicating Marco who was just standing there grinning and watching us. He was trying to lip read what we were saying, but we weren’t facing him half the time. He still had no doubt they were catching supreme shit though.

The kid looked at me for a few seconds and asked, “How?”

I showed him and he turned to Marco, smiled shyly and signed, “I’m sorry.”

Marco signed back, “Thank you.”

He looked at me and I told him Marco had said, “Thank you.”

He looked back to Marco and said, “You’re welcome.” I signed it for him and he grinned and signed it too.

They both waved goodbye at that point and they were off.

As they walked away, Marco poked me and with a big grin, signed, “They’re cute.”

I just grinned back and told him they weren’t the only ones, which got me an even bigger grin.

We only had a week and a half of school left before Christmas break. We met at his locker every morning and walked to class together. As I said, some of our classes were close together, so we met up when we could between classes and walked together. We also started to eat together in the cafeteria. My friends made a point of making him feel welcome. I spent a lot of time translating the first day, but the next day, he started carrying a notepad and would quickly jot down what he wanted to say. It wasn’t long before his shyness disappeared and everyone discovered he was very knowledgeable and had a keen sense of humour. Also, as soon as everyone realized he was no longer alone, the bullying stopped and his life at school quickly became far more bearable. We also ran into our ‘faggots’ boys in the hallway a few times.

The first time, we got big smiles and they signed “Hello, how are you?”

When Marco signed “Fine, thank you,” he got even bigger smiles and a wave before they moved on.

That left us both with big smiles too.

Each time we saw them, they were anxious to show us new things they had learned. Obviously we had impressed them enough to learn some basic ASL. It left us with a good feeling every time. They even spelled out their names one day and it appeared we had two new friends, Ricky and Ian. They also started to sit with us for lunch quite often and would get Marco to show them more ASL.

Another thing that excited and surprised us was that, soon after we were seen signing in the hallway or the cafeteria, at least thirty kids began signing to us as they passed in the hallway or would join us and start a conversation in the cafeteria in ASL. We warned them that not all the guys at our table were fluent in ASL, so they would speak as they signed. They all had a parent, grandparent, brother, sister, or someone else in their family who was deaf, but never signed at school because they didn’t need to…till they saw us signing and met Marco.

Not unexpectedly, Marco was significantly happier, much to Teyo and his parents’ delight. He had become a totally new kid. He stopped hiding in his room, was always ready to go out shopping, to Starbucks, or to a restaurant. He was no longer self-conscious about being in public and signing. Teyo and his parents no longer felt concerned for him or his safety. Well, except for the fact that he asked for a skateboard for Christmas. He was already very skilled at rollerblading but he wanted to be able to go skateboarding with me in the summer too. His mom was really not thrilled, but the three of us did finally convince her that he would be safe.

During the Christmas break, we made a point of meeting at Starbucks regularly and visited the downtown mall at least twice. I was invited to Marco’s a couple of times and met his mom and dad. They were the nicest people and made me feel more than welcome. I also had him over to my place a few times and Mom and Dad fell in love with him in no time. I discovered that he was a master at every video game I owned. He had an advantage though, because he made me play them with the sound off. Before Christmas, we went snowboarding with Teyo, once at COP (Canada Olympic Park), and once at Sunshine in Banff. We were having the time of our lives together.

Since my family makes a big deal of Christmas eve and we do our gift opening then, Marco was invited over for dinner and our gift exchange. I bought him this amazing purple sweater I had seen him looking at in the mall. He bought me a wicked matching shirt and tie combination he had seen me looking at. Mom and Dad gave him this really cool black wideband Nixon watch from West 49 that Mom and I had looked at. I think she originally bought it for me, but when she decided to invite Marco over, the name tag got changed. I didn’t mind though because the look on his face, and the tear in his eye, was worth it. After he put it on, Mom, Dad, and I got the biggest hugs ever. Then, when I opened my gift from Mom and Dad, it was an iPhone 4S which, of course, got hugs all around as well. Mom and Dad’s gift from us was a weekend at Fairmount Hot Springs, their favourite getaway to relax….more hugs.

His family exchanges gifts on Christmas morning, so at 8:30 Christmas morning, I was walking down 12th avenue on my way to Marco’s. After an amazing breakfast, we were all sitting around the tree as his mom handed out the gifts. We weren’t allowed to open anything until we all had all our gifts piled in front of us. The first gifts that Teyo, Marco, and I got to open were in envelopes. They were receipts in our names for $200.00 donated to the Kids Wish Foundation, an organization the grants wishes to terminally ill kids in the Children’s Hospital. Looking at it and the smiles on his parents’ faces definitely brought a tear to my eye. Next were our gifts from Teyo which were matching Erase Hate pendants from the Matthew Shepard Foundation, for which he got two very big hugs. Then came a second gift from his mom and dad. Marco’s was a wide band embossed silver ring with the Greek letter lambda on it. Mine was a black choker with a circular lambda pendant. Again, big hugs were in order. Everyone received several other smaller gifts. The last gift to be opened was their Mom and Dad’s from us. Marco, Teyo, and I had got together and bought them an original Zen painting by Lisa Heinricks, an amazing local artist. Guess what, even more hugs. Oh, and Marco did get a skateboard from his Mom and Dad and Teyo.

We also had Christmas dinner at noon with my family, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Then we had Christmas dinner at six-thirty with Marco’s extended family. This two Christmases thing was really starting to look good. Between Christmas and New Year’s, we made three more trips to COP, went skating at Olympic Plaza, and spent a lot of quality one-on-one time together either at my place or his. We even spent New Year’s Eve together. His mom and dad invited my mom and dad and me over to their place and we had a great time. I know, New Year’s Eve with your parents doesn’t sound like fun, but it actually was. The fact that their building has a games room with three pool tables, several arcade games and two foosball tables didn’t hurt. Also, the fact that there were several other young guys down there to challenge and play against made it even more fun.

We were back at school far too soon though. Meeting at his locker everyday soon changed to meeting at Starbucks, getting a coffee, and walking to school together. We took advantage of every minute we had to be together and the more time we spent together, the closer we became. If he wasn’t at my place, I was at his place. We did our homework together, studied together, spent weekends together. We snowboarded regularly at COP, we went skating, ganged up on Teyo during snowball fights and, most often, just hung out. It wasn’t long before there was little doubt we were a couple. The best part was that no one in school gave us crap about it, although we did have to put up with some good-hearted teasing from Ricky and Ian.

Once the weather warmed up, we went camping with Teyo a couple of times, and fishing with our dads one weekend. We rafted down the river. We went rollerblading almost daily and Marco spent countless hours mastering the skateboard. We even went to a couple of dances. It was interesting to watch him. He couldn’t hear the music but he could feel the beat. He didn’t move his feet much, but God did he know how to move his body. We didn’t go to the movies, but we did watch them on TV since we would turn on the closed caption option. He would laugh at me when I would jump at a loud bang or something because for him it just said ‘sound of explosion’ or ‘loud scream’.

At school, we continued to meet up between classes. We had lunch together every day. Leslie, Oren, and Freddie always sat with us. I think Ricky and Ian may have inspired them because the three of them had taken it upon themselves to learn some ASL. It was limited, but they could talk to Marco a bit and understand some of what he was signing. That they would do that really excited Marco, and once he knew they were interested, he taught them more everyday, including some things that are not ‘officially’ ASL. It was kind of funny because it wasn’t long before Marco was almost teaching an ASL class during his lunch break. I think that may have been part of the reason that the school announced they would be offering a course in ASL next semester. The other, probably more significant reason, was the large group of kids led by Ricky and Ian who were demanding it. Learning ASL had become ‘the thing to do’.

Also, for whatever reason, we had kind of become an example for some of the other gay kids. Maybe because we were gay, we were a couple, and we were highly visible, I don’t know. Our group quickly became the biggest group in the cafeteria. We had some of the kids who could sign, several of the other gay kids, often Ricky and Ian or Kelly and Carla. We were never sure from one day to the next how many we would have. Guys would just push tables together until there was enough room for everyone. Of course, we kept our little core table of Leslie, Oren, Freddie, Marco and me together.

By the end of the semester, Marco had gone from being the lonely, isolated, picked on deaf kid to being one of the more respected popular kids and he was loving it. Once he felt comfortable and accepted, he just opened up and blossomed and was no longer this shy, timid, anxious kid trying in vain to be invisible. And…he was madly in love with the second-cutest guy in school: me. Well, the second-cutest part might be up for debate. I was madly in love with the cutest guy in school: him; and, in his case, the cutest part was not up for debate.

Marco was a dream come true. He was this gentle, caring, thoughtful, outgoing kid with a wicked sense of humour. Not to mention he loved to get all cuddly. We were falling more deeply in love with each other with each passing day. It wasn’t long before I honestly couldn’t imagine my life without him.

Who would have thought that Christmas shopping with Mom at the Dollar Store would have led to me finding the most priceless gift of all…Marco.