A CHRISTMAS GIFT
By Richard Norway
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la lalala, la la, la, la. Tis the season to be jolly.Fa la lalala, la la, la, la
The music droned on and on…and on as Mark walked through the mall looking at the window displays, thinking that the music was only there to get him to buy more.
‘What a commercial joke, he thought. He knew what he was there for, to buy his mom and dad something for Christmas, but he had no idea what to buy. He only knew that this was what was expected of him. Mark was a good son; he followed his mom and dad's rules and tried to do what they wanted of him.
Mark stopped abruptly, seeing the long line of kids waiting with their moms and dads to sit on Santa’s lap and to spill their childish fantasies of toys, candy and the tricycle painted red under their Christmas trees to the man in his fake beard.
‘What a hoax.’ he thought. ‘They’re using “Santa” to get their parents to buy, buy, buy and buy more to please their little darlings.’
The fake Santa looked up at Mark for a moment, his eyes narrowing, holding Mark’s gaze for a few moments.
Mark shook his head and continued his sojourn down the aisle, looking at the sun glasses and cheap trinkets on display on the mall vendor’s stations between the legitimate stores.
‘It really doesn’t matter what I get them,’ he thought. ‘Dad doesn’t wear ties, but he could use a belt. He’s getting bigger, you know. Mom would probably want a hat, but no one wears hats anymore, so I won’t force that on her. Maybe something for the kitchen.’
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a boy walking into a men’s clothing store. The boy was about his age. His hair was blond and his frame was thin, and definitely not athletic. Mark didn’t know why he was so interested in this boy. He slowly turned toward the clothing store as if mesmerized, and began walking. Mark couldn’t help how he felt. This boy attracted him and he felt that he had to follow him, to see more of him.
Mark kept his eyes on the boy as he entered the clothing store, keeping his distance, but not too far behind so he could still watch him. As they walked down the main aisle, twenty feet apart from one another, the leading boy stopped at the adult men’s accessories section. Mark watched the boy walk to a rack of new belts and start to feel the leather of a black one.
Mark remembered what he was thinking of getting his dad for Christmas, and thought that if he walked over and also started looking at the belts, the boy might talk to him.
Mark’s heart started to race as he approached the rack full of belts, and just as he was within five feet of this boy, the boy looked up at Mark.
“Ah, hi,” the boy said to Mark.
“Hey,” Mark replied.
Mark turned his interest in the boy back to the leather belts and reached for a brown one, checking the size.
“Looking for a belt? I’m trying to find one for my granddad for Christmas.”
“Yeah, me too, for my dad,” Mark replied, not looking at the boy.
The other boy kept staring at Mark, while Mark started to feel that he shouldn’t have followed him into the clothing store.
“Do I know you? I think I’ve seen you before. You don’t go to Mira Costa High, do you? Or maybe I’ve seen you at the beach. Do you surf?”
Mark finally turned to face the boy.
“Yeah, I do go to Costa, but no, I don’t surf. I like the beach though. I usually go around Longfellow Avenue beach. The Manhattan Beach pier’s too crowded.”
“I’m kinda new here. I’m sure I’ve seen you around school though. I just started at Costa last month. Oh, and I usually go to 25th Street beach.”
Mark looked away, wondering why the boy was being so friendly. Then he wondered what he was doing talking to him. He wasn’t going to be gay. He wasn’t going to be attracted to this boy. He wasn’t going to like him.
“My name’s Robby Townsend.”
Mark stared at the belts, fingering a size 38, hoping for this conversation to end.
“I gotta go. See you later,” Mark said as he dropped the belt, turned and practically ran from the store.
Mark finally slowed his pace as he approached his new 2009 red Mustang convertible in the parking lot. The top was up because the nights had started their winter chill with the approach of Christmas. But before he opened the driver’s side door, he hesitated and raised his eyes to look at the entrance to the Mall. ‘What was I doing?’ he thought. ‘That was a guy that I was following!’ Mark shook his head, slid behind the wheel, and drove home.
“Hey Mark. Come in here a minute.”
Mark looked up from the pages of his calculus homework spread over the kitchen table.
“Just a second dad,” he yelled across the room to him.
Mark wrote one more equation on the paper, got up from the table and walked into the living room where his father and mother were doing their nightly vigil in front of the television.
“What’s up?” Mark asked while stopping to see a news program on the screen.
“Playoffs start next week, and I was wondering if the team is going to be ready to beat Redondo this year.”
“Well, I think so. We’ve gotten a lot better this year, and we even tied them during the season.”
“You’ll do it. I just know it. You been riding your team hard enough?”
“Yeah. Team Captain and all that, you know? Doing my job.”
“Your backs big enough? Don’t want our favorite quarterback to not get his passes off, you know?” Mark’s dad chided.
“Well, not as big as I’d like, but they’re doing their job.”
“You’re a good boy. I just know…Hey! Look at that.” Mark’s father pointing toward the television.
“What?” asked Mark.
“Some faggot wants to take another guy to the homecoming dance at your school.”
Mark studied the image on the television screen…and froze.
There on the screen was a picture of the boy that he had just met in the clothing store…Robby.
“Christ, I hope the school board’s got enough guts to stop that from ever happening,” Mark’s father said.
Mark’s eyes were glued to the image on the screen. ‘Geez’ he thought. ‘I was following a fag.’
“Okay if I sit here?”
Mark looked up from the half eaten dried pizza on his plate and his mouth stopped chewing. He gaped for a minute without speaking. In front of him, tray in hand, stood Robby.
Mark turned and looked around to see if anyone had noticed who was standing in front of him and wondered if they had seen the news program last night. His football friends had just left, leaving plenty of empty seats at the table.
No one was looking his way, so he thought that no one had seen the news report and that he might be safe.
“If you’d like,” Mark said, looking back at the boy.
“Thanks,” Robby said and placed his tray on the table in front of Mark.
After sitting down, opening his milk carton and taking a bite of his hamburger, Robby looked up at Mark, still chewing. When he had finished his first mouthful, he put the hamburger down.
“Why’d you run away yesterday?”
Mark looked up at the boy in front of him, “I didn’t run away. I just had to go.”
“No, you practically ran away.”
Mark was feeling attacked and didn’t like it. He didn’t know this boy and why he was getting so personal with him right off. “Well, actually that’s none of your business.”
“Sorry,” Robby said, looking down at his plate.
Robby picked up his hamburger, looked up at Mark and then took another bite, chewing slowly, not taking his eyes off Mark. When finished with the second intake, he put the hamburger down and looked directly at Mark.
“Sorry man, I just thought that we’re going to the same school and that we might be able to talk. I don’t really know anybody here yet. So when you came up to me at the store yesterday, I guess I just thought that you were friendly.”
Robby got up from the table and started to reach for his tray. Mark looked up at the rebuke.
“Oh, just sit down. Don’t be a jerk.”
Mark wanted him to go, but didn’t want this blond boy to leave either.
Robby hesitated for a moment, tray in hand, looking at Mark, “You sure?”
“Yeah, just sit down.”
Robby placed his tray back on the table and sat down. The boys didn’t speak to each other for some time, trying to eat their lunch, trying to avoid another confrontation.
“I’m sorry…I don’t even know your name,” Robby finally said.
Mark looked up at the boy across the table from him. He wondered if he should even tell him his name. This was a gay boy, someone that he was not supposed to be talking to, let alone be friendly with. His father and church had made that clear.
“Sorry I asked. I’ll leave you alone.” Robby started to get up.
“Mark. Mark Lindstrom.” ‘Now why in the hell did I just tell him that?’ Mark thought.
Robby formed a slight smile on his lips and sat down. “Okay Mr. Mark Lindstrom, I’m Mr. Robert Townsend. They call me Robby for short.”
“And you’re gay, right?”
Robby bolted back in his chair, looking straight at Mark.
“Yeah. I am. So what does that have to do with the price of milk?”
Mark wouldn’t answer, but stared at Robby thinking, ‘so he admits it.’ Seconds went buy, neither of the boys speaking.
“I saw you on television last night,” Mark finally spoke up.
“Oh, that. Sorry, but I didn’t know that was going to happen. Someone asked me a few questions yesterday morning, and I just tried to explain that I wanted to take someone to Homecoming that I felt would express who I am and not what was expected of me.”
“It’s our Homecoming, you know? That won’t happen around here.”
Robby looked at Mark for a while without answering him.
“I’m serious. It’s not going to happen here.” Mark said again.
“Maybe. Maybe not. But I’ve got to try.”
“Why? You’re new here and you’re just going to get your ass kicked.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Robby grinned.
“So, you’re a senior?”
“Yeah,” Robby said and then picked up his hamburger and took another bite.
Mark watched him as he chewed on his lunch, noticing the way his lips moved as they tried to stay together while Robby was eating. Then he noticed the slightest dimple forming as he chewed.
Robby put his hamburger down again.
“You a senior too?” Robby asked.
Mark didn’t answer right away, thinking that this was getting way too personal. After all, this was a gay boy that he wasn’t supposed to be talking to in the first place.
“Sorry I asked,” Robby said after the pause.
Mark looked back at Robby and slightly shook his head from side to side.
“It’s okay. Yes, I’m a senior too.”
“So, we’re about the same age then. I’m seventeen.”
“But I won’t be eighteen until after graduation though.” Robby added.
“Oh. What month?”
“July. July 23rd.”
“Um. So that makes you a kid. Mine’s July 20th. I’ve got you by three days.” Mark had to laugh.
“Old man!” Robby retorted.
Both boys looked at each other and began to laugh together, and then Mark stopped and looked down at his tray, the pizza gone.
“I gotta go, Robby.”
Robby too stopped laughing and stared at Mark.
“Running away from me again?”
Mark looked straight at Robby.
“No. I’m not running away from you. I’ve got to meet a guy from my team and give him his calculus book before our next class. I borrowed it yesterday.”
“Oh. Okay. See you around then.”
“Maybe.” Mark answered.
As Mark walked away, Robby’s face took on a disappointed look.
“Hey! Wait up Mark.”
Mark turned around in the crowed hall and tried to find the boy behind the voice. Out of the sea of people, a red haired, pale faced boy appeared, walking toward him.
“Hey, Mike. I’ve got your book.”
“Thanks,” Mike said, taking the book from Mark’s hand, “What were you doing talking to that faggot?”
“You know. The guy you were eating your lunch with.”
Mark froze. ‘This is not good,’ he thought to himself. ‘I shouldn’t have let him sit down.’
“I don’t even know him. He’s a faggot?” Mark lied.
“Yeah, big time. You should have seen him on the news last night. He wants to take another guy to our Homecoming dance.”
“You got to be kidding. He can’t do that.” Mark had decided that the best course was to play dumb.
“So why’d you have lunch with him?”
Mark had to backpeddle. He knew that he had made a big mistake.
“He just came up to me and asked if he could sit there. I don’t even know him, but saying no would have been rude. I didn’t know he was a fag.”
“Well, you’d better watch yourself. The word’s out all over school about him. Don’t do that again man. Your reps on the line here.”
Mark looked away, watching the other kids getting their next class books from their lockers on the walls. After a moment, he looked back at his teammate.
“Thanks for the word, Mike.”
Mike started to turn, but turned back toward Mark.
“Just watch yourself, man.”
Mark nodded his head in agreement, turned away and walked down the hall toward his next class.
Mark sat on his bed, head against his pillow, watching his television as the Eagles moved down the field toward another touchdown, but his mind wasn’t on the game. The pass was complete to the right end for 35 yards and a TD was eminent, but Mark didn’t see the score coming.
‘What is wrong with me?’ kept circling in his mind. ‘I don’t even know him,’ he thought, but something about this boy kept Mark unnerved.
‘All he wanted to do was be friendly, but I turned away from him. Why? What am I afraid of, huh? He’s just another guy, right? I had lunch with him today, that’s all. That doesn’t make me gay, right?’
Mark jumped from his bed and started pacing around his room. He grabbed the pants that he was wearing tightly at the full extension of his arms at the sides of his thighs as he stopped in front of the open window.
Looking up, he screamed, “Why do I like this GUY?”
That stopped Mark cold. He stood motionless in front of the window, looking at the afternoon clouds, unable to speak.
Mark relaxed and looked down towards the carpet for a moment and then put his hands on the back of his head. “It’s because I’m attracted to him,” he said out loud to the open window.
Mark closed his eyes, the words that he had just said running rampant through his brain. Tears started to fall; he bit his lower lip.
He slowly opened his mouth slightly as his lips started to tremble at the truth that he had just seen in himself. His quick back and forth panting through his open mouth belied the trust in the certainty of his future that he had felt before.
Mark looked up from his empty lunch table as Robby entered the school cafeteria strolling over to the food service line. He saw Robby pick up a tray and place it on the bars of the food line in front of the salads.
As if in slow motion, as Robby waited for his food, Robby turned to look around the room, and their eyes met…and locked for the briefest of moments.
Robby looked away as quickly as Mark looked down at his own tray. When Mark looked back up, Robby’s eyes had returned to gaze into Mark’s.
Mark held his attention on Robby and now knew that Robby had feelings for him. He instantly saw it in Robby’s eyes.
Robby’s smile was intense. He quickly grabbed a salad, bypassed the entrée section, and headed straight for the cash register.
Mark took the opportunity to watch Robby, how he moved, how he held his head high, how attractive he was. He watched him as Robby dug deep into his jeans front pocket, felt around for a few seconds and then pulled out the change he needed to buy his lunch.
Mark’s eyes glazed for a few moments as the image of Robby walking toward him frightened him. He turned his head downward not wanting to look at the boy that he couldn’t get out of his mind.
“Hi. Okay to sit down?” Robby asked, standing directly in front of Mark from across the table.
Mark felt like bolting and running away, but knew that he couldn’t, that he didn’t want to.
“Yeah. Have a seat,” Mark said, looking directly into Robby’s eyes.
Robby placed his tray on the table opposite Mark’s and sat down, fidgeting with his napkin. He then turned to look directly at Mark.
“I tried to call you yesterday,” Robby said.
“Oh. I was…kinda busy yesterday afternoon.”
“Oh,” Robby said as he looked down at his tray.
“What did you want?”
Robby looked back toward Mark and saw something different in Mark’s eyes. It confused him for a moment, but then, he saw it. Mark had changed. There was something soft about the way Mark was looking into his eyes.
“Nothing. Just to talk.”
Mark looked away.
“I was just wondering if you wanted to do something. You know, hang out for a while this weekend.”
The two boys were silent for a while, pretending to be eating lunch together.
Suddenly, they both looked straight at each other.
“Mark?” Robby blurted out.
“Robby?” Mark asked at the same time.
Both boys stopped.
“Go ahead, Robby. You first.”
“No, that’s alright. What did you want?”
Mark couldn’t get the words out.
“What is it?” Robby asked.
Mark looked around the room at his classmates, and after touring the cafeteria, lowered his head.
Then he looked up again at Robby.
“Robby? Can we get out of here? Just go somewhere and talk?”
Robby knew that something was up with Mark and he hoped it was what he had wanted ever since he first saw him on his first day at the new school.
“Okay, sure. Where do you want to go?”
“Just out of here. I have a car. We can just…go for a drive…if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure. Let’s go.”
Robby and Mark stood together, picked up their trays and together walked to the window to deposit their leftovers.
Robby wanted to ask where they were going, but knew that this was Mark’s play. He saw something in Mark’s eyes that he had wanted, but now was not the time to ask. He was going to let Mark play this one out.
When the boys arrived at Mark’s Mustang, Mark opened the driver’s side door and climbed in behind the wheel. He waited for Robby to get into the passenger seat and then started to put the key in the ignition, but stopped. He turned toward Robby seated next to him.
“Hm, I’m not sure where to go,” Mark stated.
“Mark, I think you have something important to say, so why don’t we just go over to Pollywog Park. It’s quiet there now and we can talk.”
Mark nodded his head and started the car.
The park was deserted at this time of the day except for a mother with her young child playing on the grass across a small lake at the other end of the park. The boys walked silently toward a stand of trees that would provide shade, allowing the small lake in the center of the park to separate them from others using the park. Robby sat on the grass beneath a large tree and looked up at Mark.
“Wanna sit?” he asked Mark.
Mark couldn’t remove his eyes from Robby, lost in what he wanted to say, what he wanted to know, what he had to say, what he had to know.
Mark sat next to Robby and put his arms around his knees, clutching them to his chest, looking out over the rippling water of the small lake.
Mark sat quietly for a moment.
“What is it?”
Mark shook his head, looking down at his knees. Then he looked directly at Robby.
“Robby, when did you know that you were gay?”
This didn’t take Robby by surprise. He knew that the question was coming after seeing Mark’s eyes in the cafeteria.
“Mark, I knew that I was gay when I was 14. At least, I admitted it to myself when I was 14. I guess I had thoughts about it for a couple of years before that. Why do you ask?”
Mark turned from Robby and gazed out over the lake.
“But how did you know?”
“How did I know? I guess I really don’t know ‘how’ I knew. I know that I was more comfortable being around boys that I was with being around girls. But I don’t think that that’s what was important.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that being gay is not a big deal. It’s just who you are. It’s a small part of you.”
Mark’s eyes flooded as he sat quietly watching the small ripples on the water in front of him.
Robby was quiet for a moment as he held his urge to put his arms around Mark.
“You know Robby? Those small ripples over there in the water…they look alike, don’t they?”
Robby sat looking at Mark, knowing exactly what was going through Mark’s mind and then turned his eyes on the lake.
“But they’re not really, are they?” Mark continued, his eyes still fixed on the lake.
Robby turned to look at Mark.
“No, they’re not.” Robby said.
“Each one has a small difference. And you know why?” Mark asked.
Robby didn’t answer.
“It’s because after they’re formed, the wind and water takes over…outside of their origin…and pushes them in different directions, ever so slightly.”
Robby remained silent. Mark had to get this out.
“Robby, I think I’m like that small ripple. I’m a little bit different then my friends around me.”
Robby now knew.
Mark looked into Robby’s eyes and saw that Robby knew what he was talking about.
“Robby? Did you feel the same way?”
“That I was a little bit different? No, Mark…that’s not what it’s about. You’re just like everyone else. You’re as normal as they come. And being normal also means that you’re not like everyone else either.”
“So, I am different? I’m a freak, huh?”
Robby gently put his hand forward and laid it on Mark’s shoulder.
“No, Mark. Everyone is different. Everyone has something about them that makes them unique, something special.”
Mark suddenly stood up and walked away from Robby, but stopped after a few paces, his back to Robby.
“I can’t be this way, Robby.”
Robby understood where Mark’s life had taken him and felt his pain because he too had been there. Robby let Mark stand alone for a moment.
“Mark, why do you think you’re gay?” Robby asked.
Mark emotionally froze at that question. He wanted to tell Robby everything, but now he couldn’t. Robby had just forced the word out and Mark couldn’t face it…and the word was ‘gay’.
“Mark, can I tell you something?”
Mark wouldn’t answer.
Robby closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them.
“Mark, I want to get to know you, the real you.”
Mark would not look at Robby and continued to look out over the lake.
“It’s because of what you did right now. Mark, it’s because of you showing me what a caring person you are.”
“Caring?” Mark breathed out slowly to himself.
“Yeah, you are, but you don’t even know it yet.”
Mark half turned to look at his friend.
“I think I care about you Robby.” Mark said with tears on his cheeks.
Robby smiled as he watched Mark finally saying what he had wanted him to say. It wasn’t that Mark said he cared about him, but that Mark was taking his first step toward being who he is. He sensed, no…knew that Mark had courage. The kind of courage that it takes to look inside yourself and admit the truth.
“I care about you too Mark.”
Mark completed his turn and stood facing Robby, who was a short five feet in front of him.
Robby stood and took one step forward.
Mark stood still as Robby took a second step forward, facing Mark now a mere foot away.
Mark suddenly turned away from Robby.
“Robby, I can’t do this.”
“You can be who you want to be, Mark.”
“No, you don’t understand. My family would disown me. I would be nothing without them.”
“But Mark, you have to be you.”
“That’s right Robby. I have to be me. And that ‘me’ is the Captain of Mira Costa High School’s football team. Let’s go back to school.”
Mark turned and started walking back toward his car as Robby stood still, watching him leave.
The boys did not speak to each other on the ride back to school.
Friday had finally arrived, and Mark was excited about the homecoming football game against Redondo Beach High that evening. He knew his team was ready, and the feeling put him in a good mood all day at school. He hadn’t seen Robby at lunchtime today and wondered where he had been.
As he turned the corner to walk down the hall to his locker after his last class, a slamming noise came from behind him. Mark turned around quickly to find out what that was.
“Stop right where you are, you fucking faggot.”
Kevin, one of his teammates, had just thrown another boy up against the wall of lockers, the boy’s books littering the floor. Mark eased around the corner so as not to be seen, but kept his eyes on the trouble thirty feet away.
The boy screamed, “Stop! I didn’t do anything to you.”
Kevin pulled back his right arm, and with his whole body moving forward, swung his closed fist and hit the other boy in the face. Blood instantly erupted from the boy’s nose, flowing over his lips.
Kevin didn’t stop. He hit him again with his left this time, and the boy stumbled to the floor, landing on all fours.
The boy looked up and his eyes made contact with Mark’s and held his gaze.
‘Oh my God! It’s Robby,’ flashed through Mark’s mind. Mark stared at him, not moving while Robby pleaded through his eyes for help.
“Don’t even think about going to our homecoming dance, you little faggot,” Kevin shouted as he then kicked the helpless boy in the side causing Robby to slam against the lockers.
Robby screamed and then collapsed.
Mark turned his head from the hurt Robby and started walking down the hall. The rest of the students were now rushing past him to see what the commotion was, but Mark didn’t look back. He started to walk faster, and when he reached the double doors to the outside, he began to run.
Faster and faster he ran to get to the cover of his car. Mark didn’t put the keys in the ignition switch once he was inside of the Mustang. He opened his hand and the keys slid through his fingers, dropping to the floor. He looked back toward the school. Mark raised his hands to his face and turned his head to look at them, and they started to shake. The shaking was uncontrollable.
Mark opened his mouth and the first tear slid down his cheek.
“What have I done?”
He put his hands on the top of the steering wheel, gripping hard to stop his hands and body from shaking.
“What have I done?” he repeated to himself.
Mark turned his head again toward the school, tears streaming down his face.
“What is wrong with me? Why didn’t I go help Robby? He didn’t do anything.”
Mark buried his face in his forearms while still gripping the steering wheel. He couldn’t look at the world outside anymore for the world outside knew his shame. Mark sat like this for another five minutes, afraid to raise his eyes.
“Hey. Are you alright?” came with knocking on the closed car window.
Mark looked up and stared at the boy outside.
“Are you alright, man?” the boy outside repeated.
Mark continued to stare and then slowly opened his mouth and moved his head from side to side.
“No. I’m not alright,” Mark said to the window.
Mark did not go to the game that evening. When he arrived home, he went to his room, locked the door and sat on the edge of his bed. He looked around the room and when his eyes saw himself strring back at him from the mirror on his closet door, he stopped. He stared at himself for a long time, the figure in the mirror mocking him.
“I hate you. I hate you more than anything I have ever hated in my life.”
Mark continued to look at himself as his tears returned.
“You have no right to be here,” he said to the boy in the mirror.
“You should have been the one lying on the hallway floor, not Robby. Robby had courage and you don’t even know what the word means, you fucking coward.”
Mark continued to look at himself in the mirror. He then grabbed the lamp from the bedside table, yanked the cord, pulling the plug out of the wall and threw the lamp at himself. The mirror exploded.
“I can’t even look at you anymore.”
A knock came from the closed bedroom door, but Mark didn’t answer. He had been asleep on top of his bed, still fully clothed, for the past two hours.
“Mark, are you in there?” his mother asked from behind the door.
“No. Go away”
“Mark, what’s wrong?” his mother asked while trying to open the door. The door handle moved, but the door would not open.
“Why’s your door locked? Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not alright. Just go away, please.”
“I’m getting your father.” Hurried steps could be heard from the hallway outside his door.
A few moments later another knock came from his door, this time much louder and more aggressive.
“Mark, open this door. Now!” his father yelled from the hallway.
Mark stared at the door for a few moments, and then slowly got off the bed and started toward the locked door.
“Mark! Open this door right now!” the banging on the door now nonstop.
“Okay, okay,” Mark answered.
When Mark unlocked the door, it flew inward, knocking Mark backwards a few steps, and his dad flew into the room.
“What’s going on here? And why aren’t you at the game?” his father yelled.
“I’m not going.”
“What do you mean, you’re not going?”
“I’m not going. That’s all.”
Marks mother entered the room, looking at the broken glass shards on the floor.
“What happened to your mirror, Mark…and the lamp?” his mother asked, bending down to pick up the broken lamp.
Mark would not answer her.
“Get your stuff Mark. I’ll take you to the game. It’s not over yet,” his father demanded.
“I told you I’m not going, dad.”
“Would you mind telling me why you’re not going then?”
“Yes. I do mind. I’m just not going.”
“Fine. Throw it all away then. See if I care,” his father said and then stormed out of the room.
“Stay in your room and pick up that glass,” was the last thing that his father said as he went downstairs.
The streets were wet from the drizzling rain as Mark guided his Mustang down the lonely streets. After his parents had gone, he looked around his surroundings. Something was missing. Something was missing from his life. Mark gathered his jacket and left the house. He had no idea where he was going. He had no idea why he felt such an urge to be alone, to think, to remember Robby. Mark turned left at the stop sign…for no reason.
The sparse residential street lights gave way to brightly lit commercial billboards. Mark turned right at the next stop light…for no reason. As the entrance to the parking lot came into view, Mark slowed, looking at the five story building behind the parking lot.
After parking his car in the only empty parking space in the lot, Mark turned off the engine and placed his forehead on the back of his hands on the steering wheel and closed his eyes.
A few minutes later, Mark raised his head, opened his eyes and stared straight ahead for a moment and then got out of the car. As he approached the double glass doors, he saw the sign above the door announcing the entrance to AMI SOUTH BAY HOSPITAL. Mark walked over to the receptionist’s counter, and as he approached, the receptionist looked up at him.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
Mark stood in front of her for a moment, trying to get the words out.
“Can I help you?” she asked again.
“I…” Mark stammered.
“I…” Mark looked down at his hands on the counter, and then looked up at the receptionist again.
“I’d like to see a patient here.”
“What’s the patient’s name?”
“Does the patient have a last name?”
“Ah, I’m sorry. Townsend. Robby Townsend.”
The receptionist looked away from Mark toward a computer monitor and began typing at the keyboard. After a few moments, she looked back up at Mark.
“Are you family?” she asked.
“Ah, no. He’s a friend of mine.”
“I’m sorry, but Mr. Townsend is in intensive care and only family is allowed at this time.”
The dread in Mark was overwhelming.
Mark turned away. The tears started and he didn’t know why. ‘Why was this boy so important to him?’ he thought. There was something about Robby that held his emotions at bay. Mark couldn’t understand what he was feeling, but he knew that Robby was now important to him. He still didn’t understand why Robby consumed his thoughts, but realized that he cared about him.
Mark walked away from the counter without saying anything more to the receptionist. She looked at him, questioningly, wondering about him.
Mark drove his car around the streets of Redondo Beach. He saw a deserted park as he passed and pulled into a parking place and sat in his car for a while.
‘What is wrong with me? Why’s he so important to me? I don’t even know him,’ he thought.
Out of the darkness and the rain, a car slammed into the left side of Mark’s car. He felt the crushing of his door against his left shoulder and soon felt nothing as he was thrown down against the center console and the passenger’s seat.
Mark heard the word, but had no idea where it came from as he blinked his eyes.
“Glad you’re awake.”
‘Who’s talking to me?’ Mark thought.
“You feeling any better?”
‘I feel like shit and someone wants to play 20 questions?’
Mark slowly turned his head to see who was talking to him, but he couldn’t focus his eyes, the figure a blur, as well as the bed next to him.
“Who are you?” Mark finally asked.
“It’s me, Robby.”
Mark blinked his eyes again, trying to focus.
“Where am I?” Mark finally asked.
“Well, for one, you’re in a hospital, and for two, you’re in my room.”
“Hospital? What am I doing here?”
Then that night rushed back to him. “Oh man! What’s happened to me?”
“I’m not too sure, but they brought you in while I was still in ICU. You were there too, for a while, but I didn’t know that then. You must have been up there almost as long as I was. I got this room a few days ago, and then they moved you in here yesterday.”
Mark thought back to the receptionist at the hospital, remembering that Robby was in the Intensive Care Unit when he tried to see him.
“How long have I been here? Mark asked.
Robby became quiet for a moment and then turned to look out the window.
“What’s the matter Robby?”
Mark looked at Robby, not saying anything for a few seconds.
“Robby, how long have I been here?”
Robby turned to look back at Mark.
“Mark, you’ve been here for almost thirty days.”
Mark’s eyes shoot open.
“What? 30 days?”
Mark tried to grasp that, but the emotion was too much. He started to feel exhausted and turned his head from Robby, trying to understand the month that he had lost from his life.
Mark turned his head and forcibly focused his eyes on the bed next to him, but Robby wasn’t there. He looked up at the ceiling for a moment and then turned his head toward the window on the other side of the bed, the sunlight streamed into his eyes, forcing him to close them.
“Are you here?” Mark asked.
“Yeah. Right beside you.”
Mark opened his eyes, but the continuing sunlight made him close them. As he tried to open his eyes again, he saw a figure beside his bed.
“That you Robby?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“What are you doing over on this side?”
“They let me walk around a little now. I can even go to the bathroom by myself.”
Mark turned away from Robby as he started to remember what had happened to him…and what he had done to Robby.
“Mark? You okay?”
Robby’s eyes turned from their usual happy sparkle to concern. He watched his friend for moment, as his concern turned to sadness. He knew why Mark had turned his face.
Robby walked around the foot of Mark’s bed to his own bed and sat down facing Mark. He sat there watching Mark, without speaking.
Mark looked into Robby’s eyes and knew right then that his life as he knew it had thundered to a stop.
Robby continued to look at Mark for a silent moment, and then eventually looked down at his trembling hands in his lap. Robby blinked his eyes repeatedly, forcing the thoughts from his mind, then looked back up to see Mark turn away and face the window.
Mark remained motionless.
“Mark? Please look at me.”
The sunlight's glare from the window forced Mark’s eyes to close. His lashes were soaked.
“Because I need to talk to you.”
Mark completely shut his eyes forcibly, squeezing them shut, the tears leaking out. He didn’t want this conversation.
“Go away Robby!” Mark said opening his eyes to the sunlight, forcing his gaze on the outside world. He opened his mouth as if ready to scream, but held it inside of himself.
Robby waited for a moment, still looking at his friend.
“I can’t go away. And neither can you.”
Mark stood his ground.
“Then just leave me alone, will you?” Mark screamed back.
Robby lowered his head, his eyes giving away what he felt.
Mark was asleep when his mom and dad entered the room. They entered quietly knowing that he was asleep, not wanting to disturb him, but they felt that they had to be there for him whenever he woke up.
Mark’s mother moved to the side of the bed to watch her sleeping son. Mark’s dad sat in the chair along the side wall.
“The doctors said that he might be coming home tomorrow,” Mark’s mother said.
Mark’s father stood and moved to stand by his wife. He put his arm around her narrow waist as he too watched his son.
“Do you know who he is, the donor I mean?” his father asked, not looking at his wife.
“No. They couldn’t tell us. They said it was anonymous.”
“I only wish I could find out who he is. We owe him more than he realizes. He gave us Mark back.”
Mark’s mother turned toward her husband and wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Whoever he is, he’s given us the most sacred gift for Christmas that I can imagine,” she said into his shoulder.
“I know…I know. Tomorrow will be the most wonderful Christmas Day that we have ever had.”
The wheelchair squeaked and rolled out the double doors from the hospital as the sunlight bathed Mark’s face for the first time in almost three months. He looked up at the sky…and smiled.
“You ready to go home son?” his dad asked.
“More than you know dad. Just get me out of this chair.”
His dad smiled as he helped Mark stand and get into the passenger seat of the car, helped Mark’s mom into the back seat, climbed into the driver’s seat, and started Mark’s journey home.
Mark’s mom scooted forward in the back seat to be close to her son.
“I am so glad that you’re finally coming home, Mark.”
Mark turned his head to speak to his mother.
“Mom, it didn’t seem that long to me. I was out for most of it.”
Mark thought for a moment.
“But I guess it was a long time for you and Dad.”
“I’m just glad that you’re coming home son. We're all looking forward to this Christmas Day”
Mark turned around and smiled as he watched the city go past his window. He felt safe, wanted.
“Dad, what happened to Robby? You know, the other guy in my room?”
Mark’s dad turned to him for a moment and then returned his eyes to the road.
“He was released this morning to go home. He must have left before you woke up,” his dad said.
Mark sat back in his seat, thinking about Robby.
When the car pulled into the driveway, Mark looked at his home. It looked the same, it hadn’t changed, and he was glad to be there.
Mark sat in his favorite reclining chair as his mother went into the kitchen to get a snack ready to tide them over before the Christmas dinner.
Mark turned to his dad. His father was sitting on the couch across from him as his mother returned.
“Dad, Mom, I think I need to talk to you. It’s kind of important.”
His dad moved forward on the couch, looking directly at his son.
“What is it, Mark?”
Mark briefly looked at his hands as they shook, knowing that this was going to be the hardest thing that he had ever done in his short life. Mark regained his resolve and looked back up at his mom and dad..
“Mom, Dad, I think I’ve fallen for somebody,” Mark looked back down toward his trembling hands. He then looked up for his parent’s reaction.
“Oh Mark, that’s wonderful. Is it anyone that we know?” his mom asked.
“Yeah, I think so.” Mark could hardly get the words out.
Just then the doorbell sounded. Mark and his father looked at each other for a moment. Then Mark’s father nodded his head and got up to answer the door.
“We’ll talk about this later,” he said as he left the living room.
A white haired middle aged man with a white beard was at the door, with a teen behind him.
“Yes? Can I help you?” Mark’s father asked.
The man turned and looked back at his grandson briefly, but then returned his attention to the man who had answered the door.
“My name is Robert Townsend. And this is my grandson, Robby.”
Mark’s dad instantly recognized Robby.
“Oh, Hi Robby,” Mark’s dad said.
“Robby really wanted to see your son, Mark, to see how he was doing. And I did too. I’m really sorry about the intrusion on Christmas Day, but he was kind of insistent.”
“No intrusion at all. I’m Mark’s father, Richard. Please come in.”
Robert Townsend walked into the foyer followed by Robby.
“Who’s there?” Mark’s mom asked from the living room.
Just as Robby rounded to corner of the opening leading to the living room, Mark’s eyes met Robby’s. Robby stopped for a moment as he too stared into Mark’s eyes.
Richard saw his son’s eyes light up; the sparkle returning. Richard tilted his head slightly, a quizzical look on his face. Then it hit him. A smile formed on his face as he turned toward his wife and nodded slightly.
Mark’s mom smiled back at Richard and she too nodded slightly.
“Hey, Robby. How’re you doing?” Mark asked as he watched Robby.
“I’m doing good. They let me out this morning, but I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to you before I left. You were still asleep, and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“You should have.”
Mark looked at Robby’s grandfather and suddenly recognized him.
“Aren’t you the man that plays Santa Clause at the mall?”
Mr. Townsend smiled, “Yes. I do that every year. Robby comes and helps me with the line of kids sometimes. He was there that night you came to the mall, but I think he was off shopping that night.”
Mark’s eye’s bulged, “You saw me?”
“Yes. I recognized you as you walked by.”
“But…how do you know me?”
“Granddad!” Robby shouted.
Everyone turned to look at the source of the panicked sound.
Robby looked at Mark, “I told my granddad that we go to school together.”
Mark’s expression showed his questions to everyone.
“But we hadn’t met until that night. I didn’t know you before.”
Robby looked down at the carpet and then looked directly at Mark.
“But I knew you. I’ve seen you around school before the night I met you.”
“But how did your granddad know what I looked like?”
Robby’s grandfather spoke up to help save his grandson from an embarrassing moment. “Robby showed me a picture of you in last year’s school yearbook. It was one of you during a football game where you passed the winning touchdown.”
“Oh!” was Mark’s reply.
Mark’s eyes hadn’t left Robby’s.
Robert Townsend turned toward Richard. “I hope everything worked out for Mark with the transplant.”
“You know about that?” Richard asked.
“Well, yes. Robby told me all about it. It was a pretty hard decision to make, but maybe not,” he said as he turned to look at his grandson with a smile.
“When Mark was thrown against the console of his car, his right kidney ruptured. When he was in a coma, his left one failed too,” Richard said as he moved over to his wife and put his arm around her shoulders.
“We almost lost him. We don’t even know who gave Mark their kidney. It wasn’t from someone that had died, that much we know. It was from a living donor, someone that was willing to give up a part of himself to save a life.”
Robert Townsend turned and looked at his grandson, who had moved across the room to stand next to Mark seated on the couch.
“You don’t know who gave his kidney to save Mark?” Robby’s granddad asked.
“No. It was given anonymously and the doctors said that they didn't want to be identified.”
Robby’s grandfather again looked at his grandson. Robby stood motionless, but then slowly nodded.
“Well,” Mr. Townsend announced, “The donor is standing right next to your son.”
“Why’d you do it Robby?”
“What, give you something that I didn’t need?”
Mark turned from Robby for a moment, standing stalwart, but eventually turned back.
“Robby, you didn’t have to, you know?”
Mark stood silent, staring at Robby.
“Mark, why do you hate me?”
Mark put his hands into the pockets of his jeans and pushed them to the bottom while he turned his back to Robby and looked out the window of his room to the empty street below. After the revelation below in the living room, the boys had gone up to Mark’s room to talk. He remained silent for a moment while Robby continued to look at him.
“I don’t hate you, Robby,” Mark said to the empty glass in front of him.
“Robby...” Mark turned abruptly to face his friend, “it’s just that…it’s just that…it’s not you, man. It’s me. I’m…” The tears began to bleed from Mark’s eyes…”I just don’t know what to think anymore.”
Mark stood facing his friend, unable to get the words out, bleeding his heart over every word that he had said so far, while Robby continued to look at him.
“Robby, don’t you understand why I’ve been a shit to you.”
“Yeah, I think I know.”
“No, you don’t!” screamed Mark, “You don’t know shit, Robby. You don’t know what I’m thinking. You don’t even know what I’m even talking about.”
Mark turned around to hide the tears now streaming down his cheeks.
“Just fuck you, Robby.”
Robby got off the bed and walked toward his friend. He stood silently behind him for a moment and slowly put his arms around Mark.
Mark opened his mouth and gasped, bit his lips and panted. He couldn’t speak, but the tears flooded. He slowly turned around in Robby’s arms and looked at him.
"Don’t you understand, Robby? Don’t you understand? I’m in love with you.”
Mark turned from Robby, but not allowing Robby’s hold on him to let go.
“Robby, don’t you know it can’t be? I can’t be in love with you.”
“Yes, you can. You can be you.”
“Me? Who the hell IS 'me'?”
“You? Well for starters you’re the man that I’m in love with.”
Mark turned and looked directly into Robby’s eyes, a smile on his lips.
"Yes?" Robby said softly as he looked into Mark's soft eyes.
"We both missed the Homecoming dance, didn't we?"
"Yes, we did."
Mark paused for a moment.
"Can I go to the Senior Prom with you?" Mark barely whispered.
“You want to double date?”
“No. I want to go as your date.”
The End…or…Just the beginning.