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SUMMARY: Past, present and future are mixed together and served up in this loose retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story here. Please note that italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, please take note and consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my holiday gift to you. It’s undoubtedly been done before and better, but every generation of writers has a new take on the tale and this is mine. I hope it will haunt your house as pleasantly as the original. As Dickens noted, I have endeavored not to “put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.” Read, enjoy, and feel free to participate in the creative process, either directly below following the chapter or by sending me an e-mail. I would appreciate hearing from you even if only to let me know about any spelling or other errors you find since I would like to correct those wherever possible.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 10, Brian wakes up the day after Christmas. It’s his day off for staffing the office on Christmas Eve, but he quickly discovers the roads are passable and Washington open for business as usual. Anxious to bring Vinnie and Jimmy back to Washington, he gets up early. However, his plan to be rid of the boys is disrupted when Vinnie tells him Jimmy is sick. Brian checks and discovers the younger boy is running a temperature of 104 degrees. His own doctor’s medical practice is closed, but at the suggestion of Vinnie the three of them drive into town and end up visiting a young doctor who turns out to be gay. The doctor diagnoses Jimmy with pneumonia and challenges Brian to get involved in helping him. Since Jimmy can’t go to the hospital, Brian agrees to care for the boy for a few days. He also offers to let Vinnie come back to his place, but the older boy scorns his offer to help. After dropping Vinnie off at the Palermo, Brian brings Jimmy back to his house in Burke Center and puts him to bed.
Knowing I would be going to work the next day, I went to the grocery store on Thursday to get Jimmy’s prescriptions filled as well as to stock up on food. I even stopped by the library on the way home and checked out a couple of books I liked as a boy that I hoped Jimmy might find interesting as well.
When I finally got back to the house, I pulled together something he could have for lunch the following day and left it in the refrigerator for him to get whenever he was hungry. I wasn’t sure he would be so I also bought some munchies for him to nibble on in bed while he watched television or read, assuming he was up to doing either of those things.
Finally, I broke down his medications into the portions he would need to take and left them next to the bed along with a bottle of water. I was planning to call from work whenever he needed to take them. He also had my number at work if something came up and he needed to be in touch with me. The situation wasn’t the greatest, but all in all I felt reasonably comfortable leaving him alone on Friday.
He was totally out of it most of the rest of day on Thursday, but I checked his temperature whenever he woke up and made sure he took his medications on time. I was surprised to see Muffin spend most of the day on the bed with him. The only remaining issue was our sleeping arrangements that evening.
When I brought in the soup and crackers that would serve as his dinner that evening, I told him I planned to sleep in the guest bedroom. He didn’t want to hear it and insisted I sleep with him. I didn’t make a decision, just promised to think about it; and the truth is I didn’t think about very much else the rest of the evening.
Recalling what I had done to Eric years earlier, I remember going back and forth about whether I should do it. Finally, still undecided when it was time to go to bed, I looked in on him. He was sound asleep and Muffin was still there next to him.
Tonight, I remember telling myself; just tonight. He’s sick and he’s tired and he’s going to sleep all night. You can do this, Brian. You can leave the kid alone and not touch him.
I stripped off my clothes and slipped into bed as quietly as I could.
I looked over at him momentarily, then rolled on to my side at the edge of the bed and fell asleep.
I had set the alarm to wake me up in the middle of the night when he needed to take his medications again. He awoke, took them from me, and promptly fell back asleep. I guess I must have been tired myself because I did so as well.
I woke up early the next morning and Jimmy was still sleeping soundly. I grabbed my clothes for the day and headed down to the bathroom where I showered and shaved. Before leaving for work, I woke him up and gave him his medications. I left some food and the munchies next to the bed as well. Finally, satisfied I had done what could reasonably be expected of me, I headed off to work.
The day passed quickly enough. Some people had taken Thursday and Friday off, but those of us who were there were in a good mood. There wasn’t much to do and I remember spending a lot of time just talking to my coworkers, listening to happy tales about their holidays and how they had coped with the storm. As planned, I called Jimmy when it was time for him to take his medications.
At lunchtime I drove over to Ticketmaster and picked up the three tickets to the Capitals game Wade, Robbie and I would be attending the following Tuesday. I reminded myself I needed to call Robbie that evening to finalize our plans.
On the way home I also stopped at the mall. Recalling how much I liked them as a boy, I had decided to pick up a pair of flannel pajamas for Jimmy. He would be warmer that way. While I was there, I picked up a pair for myself.
That made me get home a little later than usual, but I was happy to see Jimmy sitting up in bed watching television when I finally got there.
“Feeling better?” I asked.
“Some,” he replied.
“Is some enough to want something for dinner?”
“Maybe a little,” he said.
“Can I ask you something, Brian?” he continued.
“Who is that?” he asked, pointing at the picture hanging above the dresser, the one showing Eric and me embracing.
“I’ve been looking at that picture a lot today. He’s a very nice looking boy. Was he your boyfriend?”
“No,” I replied, looking up at the picture. “We were just friends a long time ago and then I, um, I did something that ruined our friendship.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Jimmy responded. “You’re a terrific person, Brian. Thank you for taking care of me.”
“Thanks for saying that, Jimmy,” I replied. “Maybe I’ll tell you about him some time when you’re feeling better. But for now I have a little gift for you.”
“What?” he said, his eyes widening.
I handed him the pajamas I had bought and he smiled at me, wanly, and then rolled his eyes.
“You’ll like them,” I said. “They’ll keep you nice and toasty.”
“That’s your job, Brian,” he said, looking over at me and smiling.
“Um, well, I’m thinking maybe I should sleep in the guest bedroom this evening,” I replied.
“I sleep better having you in the bed with me,” Jimmy countered.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll think about it. But we’ll definitely need to wear these pajamas if we do. In any event, let me take your temperature and then I’ll get some soup and crackers and other stuff together for you.”
His temperature was down to 101 degrees, not great but a lot better than the previous day. Later, just before it was time to go to bed, I checked in on him. Like the previous evening, he was sleeping, only this time he was wearing his jammies. I slipped into the pajamas I had bought for myself and climbed into bed next to him.
You can do this Brian. You did it last night. You can do it again tonight.
I don’t know. Maybe it was just the pajamas, but whatever it was I felt a little more comfortable in bed with him. I did have a harder time falling asleep that evening for some reason, but eventually nodded off.
Between the penicillin shot, the medications, and all the sleep he had been getting, Jimmy started to perk up. On Saturday he felt well enough to ask whether he could get out of bed.
By now his temperature was close to normal and his spirits much better as well. While I let him get out bed, I insisted he spend his time on the couch either reading or watching television. I brought down a couple of blankets and his pillow and tried to make the couch comfortable for him. After settling in, the rest of the day passed uneventfully.
Late in the day I went out to restock the refrigerator. Jimmy’s appetite seemed to be returning and I was glad about that.
When I got home, he mentioned someone had called.
“Who was it?”
“He said his name was Robbie. He asked who I was.”
Damn, I recalled thinking. You keep forgetting to call him.
“What did you tell him?” I asked, nervous I had missed the call.
“I didn’t know who he was or what I should say so I told him I was your nephew. Was that okay?”
It wasn’t really okay because I didn’t have a nephew and I was pretty sure Robbie knew that. But I could understand why Jimmy had said it and I didn’t blame him. It was my fault. I had been so completely wrapped up taking care of him and trying to stay on top of things at work that I had totally forgotten to call Robbie. I decided to hold off returning his call until later that evening so I could think about how to approach it some more.
Because Jimmy was looking and feeling better, I decided to take him out for dinner that night. By then I could tell he was starting to go stir crazy from being confined to the house. Getting out would be good for him, I reasoned, and would spare me from having to cook dinner for the two of us.
We went to a little Italian restaurant in one of the nearby strip malls. From past experience, I knew the food there was both good and plentiful. Jimmy ordered lasagna. Having seen him naked on more than one occasion, I knew he couldn’t have weighed more than 110 or 115 pounds so I was amazed when he devoured the whole thing.
As we were finishing up dinner, I decided to broach the subject.
“How are you feeling, Jimmy?” I asked.
“I’m feeling a lot better than I was a few days ago, that’s for sure,” he replied, smiling at me.
Then, as if realizing the implications of what he had just said, he added a footnote.
“I’m still not feeling completely better though. I think I still have a fever and it would probably be best if I rested some more when we get back to your place.”
“That’s fine,” I replied. “There isn’t a deadline for getting better. You can stay until you’re fully recovered. We may want to take you back to see the doctor in any event just to be sure you’re okay. We can talk about that later though.”
When we got back to my place, Jimmy went straight to bed. I knew he was trying to convince me he was still very sick and I was pretty certain I knew the reason why. He didn’t want to go back to the streets, at least not immediately.
Reluctantly, I picked up the phone and called Robbie.
“I hear you called earlier today, Robbie,” I said when he answered the phone.
I remember trying to sound relaxed and confident, but I was actually pretty nervous. I knew he would be suspicious.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I didn’t know you had a nephew, Brian,” he replied immediately. “I asked my Dad and he didn’t know about that either.”
“It’s a long story, Robbie,” I responded. “He’s been sick, but I think he’s on the mend and he’ll be leaving in a couple of days. In any event, why did you call?”
“My Dad mentioned you were going to pick up tickets for the three of us to the Capitals game next Tuesday night. I was wondering whether you had done that already.”
“I did,” I replied. “I went over to Ticketmaster and picked them up on Friday.”
“My Dad can’t go,” Robbie said. “The Speaker asked him to fly out to the district and he’s already left. He’ll be out there for a couple of days. There’s some kind of crisis brewing and the Speaker is having a big powwow about the whole thing. The bottom line is Dad won’t be home until late Tuesday evening so he’s going to miss the game.”
“That’s too bad,” I responded.
“Yeah, it is,” he said. “Since you already have a third ticket, I guess I could ask around to see whether anyone from school wants to join us.”
“Sure,” I responded. “That’s a good idea; there’s no sense letting the ticket go to waste.”
“Or maybe your nephew would like to join us?” Robbie continued, springing his little trap.
I remember taking a deep breath.
“Umm, well, I’m, um, I’m not really sure he’s into hockey all that much, Robbie,” I said. “I’ve never asked him, but I think I probably got all the hockey genes in the family.”
“Is that so?” Robbie responded.
I sensed he didn’t believe a word I was saying.
“Still, it would be kind of a shame not to invite him. I mean, him being your nephew and all. I’m sure he would enjoy the game if you invited him. How many times does he get to Washington after all?”
By now the skepticism in Robbie’s voice was overpowering and I wondered whether he was deliberately mocking me. He liked doing that when he had me backed into a corner and I sensed he was enjoying making me feel uncomfortable.
“I don’t know,” I said; “maybe he would like to go. He’s in bed now, but I’ll ask him and get back to you later.”
“But you might still want to check around with your friends,” I added. “I’m sure there has to be someone you know who would be happy to score a free ticket.”
“Oh, sure, I guess,” Robbie replied, “but I’ll wait until I hear back from you. I can’t believe any nephew of yours wouldn’t be interested in joining us, Brian. It would be interesting to meet him. He sounded like he was around the same age as me.”
“He is,” I responded. “But I kind of doubt he’ll be interested. In any event, like I said, I’ll get back to you; and I’ll see you Tuesday evening one way or the other.”
“See you,” Robbie replied. “And tell your nephew I’d like to meet him sometime.”
After I hung up, I walked over to the couch and slumped down.
“What now, genius?” I asked myself.
I tried my best to think through the possibilities, but I couldn’t come up with a good plan at the moment so I walked up the stairs to the bathroom and put on my pajamas. Once I had finished cleaning up, I walked down the hall to the bedroom. Jimmy was in bed watching television. I joined him and the two of us watched TV together for another hour or so.
“I think we should talk,” I finally said when the program we were watching ended.
Jimmy used the remote to turn off the television and looked over at me.
“Sure,” he said.
I could sense he was bracing himself for the news he didn’t want to hear.
“Well, umm, I was kind of wondering what your plans are when you’re feeling better,” I continued. “It’s none of my business, of course, but I’m not sure Vinnie really cares about you very much. I mean, you’re a terrific kid, Jimmy, quiet, polite, and well mannered. How did someone like you end up on the streets?”
“It’s a long story, Brian,” he replied. “I mean, the thing is, I grew up in a small town and my family was very religious. When I first started to think I might be gay, it was kind of hard not having anyone to talk to about the whole thing. Finally I told my best friend at school that I thought I might be gay. He just told me being gay was wrong, that it went against God’s plan for things.”
“Later on he went home and told his parents what I had said. They told my parents and, well, when my parents heard that, they weren’t very happy. Being born again Christians, they think homosexuality is a sin. They asked me why I thought I was gay and I really couldn’t explain it to them. I mean, hell, I didn’t know why I was gay. I just knew I was.”
“In any event they told me I needed to talk to our minister so I did that to please them. He explained how there was this group he knew that could heal me from being homosexual and asked whether I wanted to join it. I asked him how they would cure me and he said they would pray over me a lot. I thought about it; I mean, I wanted my parents to be proud of me and at first I thought maybe I should try to let people cure me just to make everyone happy.”
“But I just was never comfortable with the whole thing. I mean, I had been praying to God myself for a long time to cure me, but it hadn’t made any difference at all and by then I was pretty certain that more praying wasn’t going to help. The truth is I knew there wasn’t really a cure for being gay so finally I told our minister I didn’t want to try the cure.”
“He was mad when I said that. He told my parents I was being stubborn and willful, that I didn’t really love God or I would have agreed to his plan for curing me. It was right about then my parents gave me an ultimatum. I could either enroll in the program our minister had told me about or I would have to leave home.”
“I thought about it a lot the next couple of days. And then I just picked up and left and took the bus to Washington. I had explained the whole thing to one of my favorite teachers at school and she told me about this halfway house I could go to once I got here. But when I finally located the place, they were already filled up and didn’t have any room for me.”
“I didn’t know what to do at that point, but one of the kids at the halfway house took me aside and told me about the Café Palermo. I found it later that evening and I’m sure you can figure out the rest of it pretty much without me telling you.”
“I’ve been working the streets for about four months now. I did have a couple of daddies during that time so it wasn’t like I was out there selling myself every night. But most of the daddies seem to get bored with their sons after a while and then you have to find yourself another one. About the only constant the whole time has been Vinnie. I know he’s not the best friend in the world, but he’s been about all I’ve had since I got here.”
He stopped and looked over at me.
“I mean, the thing is, I don’t want to leave, Brian. I want to stay here and live with you and have you be my daddy.”
It came as a shock hearing that.
“But, um,” I stammered, trying to get the words out. “But . . .”
“And before you say anything else, just listen to me,” Jimmy continued, cutting me off. “I would be so good for you, Brian. I can see you’re lonely living here by yourself and I could be your best friend; I really could. And I’m really terrific in bed, everyone says I’m terrific. I would do anything you want, Brian, anything. And I’m not just saying that. I’ve done a lot more than you would believe already and I would do anything you ask. You have to believe me. I would be so good for you.”
“No, absolutely not,” I finally blurted out, interrupting him.
“Please don’t say that, Brian,” Jimmy interjected. “I love you so much. I would do anything. I would bareback for you Brian, anything you want. You can do it to me bareback. I’ve never let anyone do that to me, not even Vinnie, but I would let you do it if you would just be my daddy.”
By now he was pleading with me and then he started to cry.
The whole thing was troubling and by then I was upset myself. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to hurt Jimmy, but what he was proposing was wrong and I knew it was wrong and all I could think about was what I had done to Eric.
I didn’t want to be Jimmy’s daddy, but I didn’t want to put him back out on the streets either. And yet if I let Jimmy stay at my place, I would be tempted and I didn’t think I could go through something like that again.
“Um, well, let me think about it,” I finally said. “I mean, I’m thinking maybe I could help get you into one of those group homes in Washington. I have a friend who runs an alternative school for boys who’ve run away from home like you. Maybe he can help us come up with a better solution for you.”
“You’re the better solution, Brian,” Jimmy said, renewing his plea. “You’re the only solution I’m interested in.”
“Fuck me, Brian, please. I want you to fuck me right now.”
He started to pull off his pajamas, but I stopped him from doing that.
“It’s late, Jimmy,” I said, looking over at the clock. “Not tonight. I can’t do that tonight, but I’ll think about it. Honestly, I will.”
“And we can talk about it again tomorrow night,” I added, hastily switching off the lights and rolling over on to my side.
It only took a moment, but Jimmy was on top of me in a flash, pressing his lips against my face, running his hands up and down my body. I could feel myself going hard; just being touched like that after so many years alone felt good, incredibly good.
“No,” I shouted, pushing him away. “I like you, Jimmy, just not that way.”
And with that I crawled out of bed.
“I’m going to sleep in the other room,” I said.
“Oh, God, please, no, don’t do that, Brian,” Jimmy pleaded. “Please don’t leave me here alone by myself. I won’t touch you again. I promise. Just stay here with me tonight. Please.”
I wasn’t sure what to do, but Jimmy looked totally forlorn. He had always been honest with me and deep down inside I knew I liked being in the same bed with him even if we never touched.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll stay. But I’m counting on you to keep your word. It’s important to me.”
“I will,” he promised again.
And you need to be sure you keep your hands off of him, Brian.
True to his word, Jimmy never touched me; in fact, he fell asleep quickly. I had a lot more trouble falling asleep. I had thought that maybe the temptation had faded with age, but I was wrong. It was still there lurking inside me; and while I managed to restrain myself that evening, I realized it would only get worse the longer Jimmy remained at my place.
The following evening I took Jimmy out to dinner again. After we had ordered, I broached my other problem with him. By now time was rapidly running out and I needed to get back to Robbie.
“Do you remember that boy who called Saturday, the one you told you were my nephew?” I asked.
“Yeah, I remember.”
“The thing is, he’s the son of a friend of mine. We work together and I’ve known both of them for a very long time. His name is Robbie and we share an interest in hockey so we often take in hockey games together; and that’s what we’re scheduled to do tomorrow evening. I had bought a ticket for his Dad as well, but he’s out of town. Robbie suggested I bring you along. Is that something you think you would like to do?”
“Sure,” he replied; “why not? It sounds like fun.”
I remember sighing.
“Well, the thing is, Robbie thinks you’re my nephew and, well, it’s kind of complicated, but I was wondering if you would be willing to play along with that?”
“Sure,” Jimmy replied. “Does he know you’re gay?”
“Yes, he does,” I responded. “I found that out last month when he came out to me. But he doesn’t know you’re gay and I would like to keep it that way. I mean, I feel like I’m in a very difficult position. I don’t want him to know you’re gay or that we’re sleeping in the same bed. He might think we’re having sex. Both of us know we’re not, but I’m worried he might think that.”
“If that’s what you want, I’m fine with it,” Jimmy replied. “I won’t tell him I’m gay or that we’re sleeping in the same bed together.”
The two of us picked Robbie up around six o’clock the next evening and drove into town. I tried to keep Robbie preoccupied with questions about what he had gotten for Christmas, but he knew what I was doing and decided to make things even more difficult for me.
“And what did you get your nephew for Christmas, Brian?” he asked at one point, and by now I was certain he knew the truth and was mocking me.
I didn’t know how to respond, but Jimmy came to my rescue.
“He didn’t get me anything because he’s spent a lot of money on my bus ticket to get here and then I got sick and he’s had to buy me a lot of medicine and stuff. And he’s taking me to this game, of course, and doing other stuff too. So that’s more than enough of a Christmas present for me.”
I remember being relieved, at least temporarily.
The game that evening turned out to be an exciting one and managed to keep the three of us preoccupied; at the very least, it helped me avoid having to deal with any more awkward questions about my nephew. Conversation about the game continued on the drive home as well. Jimmy had picked up the basics pretty easily and he and Robbie exchanged observations on some of the key plays in the game.
I decided to drop Jimmy off at my place first and then drive Robbie home. I was anxious to see if our little charade had worked. But as I backed the car out of the driveway and pointed it in the direction of Robbie’s home, it was immediately apparent it hadn’t.
“Are you fucking him, Brian?” Robbie asked, softly.
There was a hint of disappointment in his voice and I remember sighing.
“No, I’m not fucking him, Robbie,” I replied, as calmly as I could. “I can’t believe you would think something like that. I’m disappointed to say the least.”
“You’re disappointed? What about me, Brian? I’ve looked up to you for years. I thought you were my special best friend. And then I find out about this.”
“It’s not what you think,” I responded.
“You don’t have to explain it to me,” he replied, dismissively. “It doesn’t matter to me if you are fucking him, you know.”
And yet it was clear enough to me from the sound of his voice that it mattered.
It mattered a great deal to Robbie.
“If I had known you were into boys, I would have tried seducing you a lot sooner, Brian,” he added. “You know I like you a lot.”
“And I like you, too, Robbie,” I replied. “I like you in so many ways I don’t think I could list them all. But I don’t like you sexually.”
“So now you’re telling me I’m a dog. Is that it, Brian?” he asked, smiling at me. “You don’t find me attractive. Just looking at me makes you want to puke. Is that it?”
“No, of course not, Robbie,” I responded, looking over at him and returning his smile. “You’re definitely not a dog. But I can see why you’re the captain of the debating team at school so I guess I have no choice but to fess up. Before I do that, however, let me just say that you’re definitely one very cute dude, Robbie, and you’ll make some young man very proud of you some day. It’s just that, well, I suppose it sounds crazy and I don’t mean this as an insult to you or your father in any way, but I’ve always thought of you as the son I could never have because I was gay.”
“As for Jimmy, it’s a long story. But basically I met him and a friend of his in a bar on Christmas Eve. They needed a place to stay. I brought them back to my place. It wasn’t a sexual thing, just a desire to be helpful. And then Jimmy got sick and he’s been staying with me until he recovers. Once he recovers, I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen next. Like a lot of gay kids these days, he’s homeless. His parents kicked him out when they found out he was gay.”
“I mean, not all parents are as great as yours, Robbie. I hope you know that. In any event, I’m going to try to see what I can do to help him out once he’s well. But I haven’t touched him and I’m not planning to touch him either. You’ll have to trust me on that,” I added, even as I continued to wonder whether I could trust myself to keep my hands off of Jimmy.
“I knew all of that, Brian,” Robbie replied. “I was just jerking your chain. I don’t know why, but I seem to be doing a lot of that these days with people I love.”
“I mean, you must be totally clueless because both of us knew the other one was gay within five seconds of meeting. When we went out to get some food at the end of the first period, I confronted him. I guess I put him on the spot, unfairly, but he was honest with me. He told me what happened and your stories match up. But he definitely likes you, Brian, and he’s hoping he can live with you. Will you let him?”
“I don’t know the answer to that, Robbie,” I replied. “I’ve thought about it. To be honest, I haven’t thought about much else for the last twenty four hours. But it’s complicated and I’m still not certain. In Virginia, they would never let him come live with me legally if we tried to play by their rules. The people who run this state are bigots. They hate gay people and there’s not a chance in hell they would ever place him with me. They would assume I was some kind of predator and maybe they’re right to worry about that when it comes to placing kids. Whatever the case may be, I honestly don’t know what to do.”
By that time we had finally reached Robbie’s home and he hopped out of the car.
“Thanks for taking me to the game, Brian,” he said.
“And thanks for introducing me to your nephew,” he added, grinning. “He’s just like you, Brian. Cute! I can definitely see the family resemblance.”
“Oh God, please don’t add to my problems, Robbie,” I said looking over at him. “This is a big enough mess without you making things more difficult for me.”
“I make no promises,” Robbie replied, and by now he was smirking at me again. “A man has to do what a man has to do.”
“Great,” I remember thinking as I drove off, “just great; as if I didn’t have enough problems on my hands already.”