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Monday, December 1, 2014

Homeless For The Holidays - Flash Fiction Holiday Blog Hop

The moment I spotted the photo below it captivated me.  The peaceful sadness on the bearded boy's face reached right out and grabbed my soul and my inner angst-whore immediately knew his story.  Turns out this photo was to be used as inspiration for a Flash Fiction Holiday Blog Hop being hosted by Thorny Sterling, Kris Bethke and LC Chase.  I signed up.  I had to.  Because while Shane and Tommy may live only in my imagination, there are real, live kids out there, just like them.  If you're kind enough to read to the end of my story, I'll share a way to help them.


Jaycee Edward

Shane fingered the crystal ornament and resisted the urge to slip it in his pocket.  The camera behind him was fake.  Tiny gift shops like this didn't spend money on security.  They posted lots of signs instead, warning you that you were being watched, but you really weren't.  Unless you looked like him: dirty and out of place amongst all the pretty, shiny things. 
He traced the intertwining necks of the two giraffes with a dirty fingernail.  He liked how their bodies were pressed together, but their necks arched out to form a heart before joining again at the top where their heads met.  Tommy would like this.  Tommy loved giraffes.  He told Shane once that giraffes exhibited natural homosexual tendencies.  Shane had never felt like any part of being gay was natural, so he kind of liked giraffes now too.  Tommy was smart like that.  He said the young males like to tongue-kiss and nuzzle.  Shane smiled.  He liked that stuff too - especially when Tommy did it to him.
As if the ornament in his hand was some sort of talisman, Tommy came up behind Shane and wrapped one arm around him while pressing his cold nose into Shane's neck, making him jump.  "Are you warm enough now?  We've been in this store too long.  We can't stay here."
Shane liked this store because the old lady who owned it kept it warmer than all the others and everything in here sparkled like it was cleaner than clean.  It smelled good too.  Like cinnamon.  His stomach growled and Tommy must've heard it.
"Hey! You know what, Shane?  I think it's Christmas Eve!  I have a couple of bucks left from the plasma place.  Let's go to Mickey-D's and have a real, hot, meal.  Just this once.  Wanna?"
Shane nodded and took one last look at the shimmering giraffes before hanging the ornament back on the wall.  It swung on the little wooden peg, catching the light just right, sending multi-colored prisms dancing against the walls and shelves.
"Are you ready?" Tommy asked.
Shane nodded again and followed him to the front of the store.
"If I'm right, and it is Christmas Eve, the library will close early tonight.  Every public place will.  We may not have anywhere to go to get out of the cold.  We'd better go to the library first, while we still can, and hang out for awhile.  Then we'll eat, okay?"
Shane didn't answer.  He didn't have to.  Tommy understood him without words.  Tommy was family.  Or the closest thing to family Shane ever had, anyway.  Shuffled from one foster-home to another since he was a toddler, Shane became emancipated on his eighteenth birthday, but unlike most kids his age, he'd dreaded the 'freedom' that day brought.  No longer "in the system", he was suddenly on his own to find food, clothing and shelter.  Scared and alone, he'd wandered the streets that night, wondering where he was going to sleep.  Then he'd met Tommy.
Tommy didn't grow up in foster care like Shane.  He had a real family - one with a warm house and food in the cupboards and clean clothes.  (That's what Shane missed the most.  The smell of a clean shirt when you pull it over your head.)  It surprised Shane to find out real families threw their kids away sometimes.  Even smart ones like Tommy.  He said he told his parents he was gay and his dad made him leave right then and there and that's how he came to be living deep in the woods, behind the shopping center, in a tent and some furniture boxes covered with a plastic tarp.
   Shane figured if a real family, like Tommy's, didn't want him just because he was gay, then Shane had never stood a chance.  He was gay and dumb.  Not just stupid-dumb, although he was that too.  He was mute-dumb... well, kind of...  Shane stuttered so much it made everyone, not just him, feel awkward and embarrassed, so it was easier to just let people think he was non-verbal.  None of his faults mattered to Tommy, though. He'd taken Shane in that first night and shared his dinner with him, if you could call it that - it was really someone's half-eaten sandwich from the sub shop.  That was the beauty of the trashcans and dumpsters at the shopping center.  They provided a multitude of treasures.  You never knew what you might find or what "dinner" might be on any given day.
They'd talked long into the night, or, rather, Tommy had talked to Shane, telling him about his past and asking Shane questions he could answer with a nod or shake of his head.  Tommy had held him close that night, and every night since, keeping him warm, keeping him safe.
 The elderly store owner hovered near her cash register and gave them a weak smile, obviously relieved they were leaving and no doubt hoping they hadn't stolen anything.  Tommy held the door and Shane stepped outside.  The cold, December wind bit his cheeks and, little by little, stole the warmth from under his clothes.  He wore several layers but December, January and February were greedy bastards; they knew all the ways to steal your heat.
Winter was hard.  Everything had to be planned.  They couldn't just go into any, old store and hang out to get warm, and they didn't dare frequent the same places again and again.  They had to rotate.  The key was to become invisible, which was easy when they were outside.  People went out of their way to not look at them on the street.  But, inside, everyone eyeballed them suspiciously.  It's amazing what a difference four walls made.
The library was their favorite place.  Not only were there several levels and lots of nooks and crannies in which to disappear, but there were big, clean, restrooms where they could clean up and those toasty, warm electric hand dryers on the wall.  Shane tried to get as much of himself as possible under the curved, silver chute as it blew hotter and hotter air.
What Shane loved most about the library was that they actually got to sit - not just on some hard, old bench either - but in big, soft, comfy chairs that threatened to swallow you whole.  His favorite thing in the whole world was to sink into one of those chairs in the audio section and listen to music through headphones.  He'd close his eyes and let the music take him wherever he wanted to go.
Tommy had a library card from before, so he borrowed books every time they went; that way no one got suspicious.  The library was the only place they could legitimately stay for hours, so they saved it for the coldest nights and special occasions.
"You gonna' listen to music awhile?"
Shane smiled and nodded.
"I'm gonna' go find some books.  Anything in particular you want?"  Shane shook his head.  He didn't enjoy reading much.  He wasn't good at it.  He loved when Tommy read to him, though.  "I'll find a good mystery to read to you.  I know you like those.  Meet me at circulation at five o'clock."
Shane looked at the clock on the wall.  That gave him just under two hours.  He settled further into the overstuffed chair and closed his eyes, letting the music transport his mind while his body relaxed into the cushions.
At 4:45, he removed his headphones and returned the CDs to their proper locations before making his way downstairs to meet Tommy.  They left the library and hurried down the street to the nearest McDonalds.  The aroma of coffee and hot grease made his stomach growl again, much louder this time.  "I'll order, okay?  You go grab us a table," Tommy instructed.
Shane liked this McDonalds.  It had a big, gas fireplace in the center with tables all around it.  Well versed on how to pick the warmest seat, he chose the table farthest from the entrance.  It was also the one table that, because of the fireplace, couldn't be seen by the employees at the counter, so, hopefully, they could stay awhile without being noticed.  Shane took off his heavy, outer coat and his hooded sweatshirt.  The coat was a heavy Carhartt Tommy had given him right after they met.  It had a year of hard wear but was still in decent shape.  He'd asked Tommy with his eyes, but Tommy wouldn't say where he'd gotten it.  With only his flannel shirt on now, he was a bit chilly, but the fireplace would warm him soon.  He didn't want to get too warm inside because it only made the outside seem colder.
Tommy rounded the fireplace carrying a red tray and waggling his eyebrows.  "I got you hot chocolate!"  Shane grinned at him.  He loved Tommy.  No matter what, Tommy made everything better.  People might look at Shane and feel sorry for him, but Shane had never been happier and had never felt more loved.  Tommy set the tray on the table and Shane looked at the single serving.  He scrunched his face in confusion at Tommy, who shrugged.  "I'm not that hungry."  He plopped down in the chair across from Shane and shoved the tray toward him.  "Eat.  While it's hot."
Shane unwrapped the cheeseburger and tore it in half, holding the larger piece out to Tommy, who shook his head.  "No, Shane.  You eat it."  He pried the lid off the foam cup and steam escaped.  "You need to let this cool or you'll burn your tongue."
Shane didn't want to eat if Tommy wasn't eating.  He had to be just as hungry as he was.  He picked up the big half again and shoved it forcefully at Tommy with a frown.  Tommy chuckled and leaned forward, taking a bite. "Mmmm.  Thanks.  That's all I want, though."  Tommy sat back and rested his chin in his hands and smiled softly at Shane.  Shane knew better than to waste hot food.  They hardly ever got hot food unless they walked all the way to the other side of town where there was a church that served free dinners once a month. They didn't usually know what day it was, though, and often missed it.  He hung his head and ate.  It was good.  His stomach rejoiced at the treat.  When the hot chocolate cooled enough to drink, he took a sip and moaned.  Tommy laughed.  "Good?"  Shane nodded with exaggerated, wide eyes and held the cup out.  Tommy took it and sipped.  "Mmmmm.  Oh, my god, yeah."
He gave it back to Shane.  "Drink it.  Get your core temp up.  There's not a cloud in the sky out there.  It's gonna' be a long, cold night."
Shane took another drink of the creamy, sweet, chocolate and shivered as the heat travelled the entire length of his insides.  Foam from the melted whipped cream stuck to his upper lip and before he could lick it away, Tommy looked back and forth quickly and leaned over the table, grabbing Shane's head in his warm hands.  He grinned wickedly at Shane and licked the foam from his lip before planting a kiss on Shane's surprised mouth.
"Damn good!"  Tommy winked at him and Shane laughed.
They shared the rest, carefully trying to make it last.  When the last drop was gone and the girl cleaning the dining room started side-eyeing them, they knew it was time to leave.  With nothing else open, they headed for home.
To anyone passing through the woods, if they even managed to spot their "house", it would look like a bunch of junk someone had dumped there.  No one frequented the dense patch of woods surrounded by retail on all four sides, though.  No one but them.
Once inside the tent, they sealed up all the openings and fired up a small camp stove that ran on propane.  It gave off enough heat to chase away the chill.  That's all they used it for and they used it sparingly.  They spooned together in bed, which consisted of two sleeping bags zipped together.  Again, Tommy wouldn't tell Shane where, or how, he'd gotten them.  He was pretty sure Tommy stole things sometimes and he was terrified he'd get arrested.  Shane didn't know what would happen to him if Tommy wasn't there.
Tommy's warm breath against Shane's ear made him shiver.
"Merry Christmas, Shane."
He felt Tommy's arm lift away from him and saw something in front of his eyes in the dark.  He put his hand on Tommy's arm and followed it to his hand, then to his fingers.  Something cool hit his skin.  It felt like glass.  He traced the shape with his fingers, following the two gentle curves and recognition dawned.
"Th-th-th-th-th..." Shane huffed in frustration. "Gi-gi-gi..."
"Yeah. The giraffes." Tommy pressed his lips to Shane's neck.  "I saw you looking at it.  You like it?"
Shane nodded vigorously so Tommy would feel it.  Tears pricked at the back of his eyes and rolled earthward to plop on Tommy's arm beneath his head.
"Aw, Shane, don't cry."
"I went back for it while you were at the library."
Shane flipped over and put a hand against Tommy's face.  He shook his head vehemently.
"Do-do-do-do-do-don't st-st-st-st-st-st..."
"I didn't steal it.  I bought it.  I told you I had some money left from donating plasma."
Shane relaxed, but only momentarily. That's why Tommy didn't buy himself anything to eat.  Guilt washed over Shane and he put his hand against Tommy's flat, empty, belly and another tear fell to the sleeping bag below.
"I wanted to do it, Shane.  It's Christmas and I want you to have one gift - one nice thing that's from me, okay?"
"B-b-b-b-b-b-but... I-I-I-I-I..."
Tommy put his finger over Shane's lips.  "You... are my gift, Shane."
For the first time in his life, Shane wished he had the ability to speak like a normal person - to tell Tommy what was in his heart right now.  He pulled Tommy's hand away from his lips and kissed him, long and deep.  Tommy broke the kiss and leaned back to look into Shane's eyes and nodded.
"I love you too, Shane."


*If you would like to help teens who have been emancipated from the foster care system in the Akron, OH area, please contact Chair-ity (Chairity.Summit at gmail-dot-com) a local 501c3 non-profit organization founded and run by an amazing teenage friend of mine.  She collects furniture and household goods to distribute to recently emancipated teens as they start over on their own.  She just received her 501c3 status and had her kick-off fundraiser a few weeks ago.  Any and all donations will be greatly appreciated by Maria and the kids she helps.


My story is just one of many on the blog hop.  Stories will be posted between 12/1 - 12/7.  Click the link above to check out the other entries.  I'm sure there will not be a single disappointing one in the mix and it will be fun to see how different people interpret a single photo.
Thank you to all who made this possible and thank you for reading!
I'd love to hear your comments below!  :)