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SUMMARY: What if you were homosexual but refused to admit it to anyone, especially yourself? The year is 1971 and fourteen year old Jimmy Barnes has discovered growing up in a small town can be boring in a way not even the solitary masturbation sessions he enjoys so much can relieve. When his best friend takes a job at the local newspaper, Jimmy finds himself on his own for the summer. What follows is a decade long saga with numerous twists and turns, a tale that’ll reveal the best and the worst of the nineteen-seventies and beyond.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Unless otherwise noted, all of the characters in the story are fictional; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While some of the places described or mentioned in the story are fictional as well, others may be real. However, some liberties may have been taken with the truth to enhance the story. Please note that 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 For approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting 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 or fictional places 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.
NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so.
The weather turned unusually cold for Washington that December. With Christmas approaching rapidly, Congressman Bresnahan had been encouraging me to work from home all month and only come in when necessary. I was grateful for that because it allowed me to spend more time with Jimmy.
By now I was having to help him get cleaned up and dressed every morning and could see him deteriorating rapidly. His hair was beginning to fall out, his cheeks were sunken, his shoulders bent in pain, and he was growing thinner and thinner with each passing week.
When we were finished upstairs, I would carry him down to the living room and place him on the couch with a blanket to cover him. Then, after starting a fire to keep him warm, I made breakfast and brought it to him.
It was a thin gruel indeed, mostly soup, and after taking a spoonful or two at my pleading he would say he was filled and needed to rest. Holding his hand, I would sit next to him and the two of us would talk for hours about different things.
We would talk about how kind Father Damien was whenever he visited and by now he was visiting daily. We would exchange memories of our childhood in North Adams and what it had been like to grow up there.
Jimmy became most animated talking about his childhood adventures with Tommy. He never said it, but I sensed he had fallen in love with Tommy the first moment they met and that a part of him still loved Tommy more than anyone in the world. For some reason knowing that made me happy.
We would talk about Leo and Mark and what a cute couple they were; talk about things we had shared in the interviews and wonder how Tommy’s story was coming along. We would talk about anything except what both of us knew was approaching. Soon enough I recognized I was the one doing most of the talking, Jimmy most of the listening.
Mark and Leo were a godsend for me in all of this, taking my place and spending hours with Jimmy whenever I needed to leave the house.
Knowing how sick Jimmy was, I wanted Christmas to be special for him and had been spending some of my time buying Christmas lights and festive decorations to brighten the house and turn it into the real home I had always wanted for us.
While Leo kept Jimmy company, Mark and I had driven out to Virginia around the eighteenth and bought the largest Christmas tree we could find that would fit into our home. Along with Mark and Leo, I had invited Tommy over to help trim the tree the next day and the four of us did that while Jimmy sat in his favorite chair watching.
“Isn’t that the best tree you ever saw, Tommy?” Jimmy asked when we were finally finished, his eyes sparkling. “We never had a tree as pretty as that in my house when I was growing up. Did you?”
“No, Jimmy,” Tommy replied. “We never did either. And you’re right; that’s the finest tree I’ve ever seen. I just hope all the lights we hung on it won’t blow out the electrical circuits in this house.”
“Oh, they won’t, Tommy,” Jimmy replied. “Jeff is smart, just like you. He’s too smart to do something like that, isn’t he Leo?”
“He is,” Leo chimed in.
A moment later the lights on the tree flickered briefly.
“Uh, well, maybe we should take off a set,” I said, looking at Tommy.
“No; it’s perfect, Jeff,” Jimmy interjected. “Those lights won’t go out; believe me.”
After that the five of us had dinner and then sat around the living room staring at the tree and talking about nothing much.
“We should sing some Christmas carols,” Leo finally suggested.
And so that’s what we did. While Jimmy sat in his chair, Leo, Mark, Tommy and I sat around the tree and sang Christmas carols. Not all that well to be honest about it because none of us could remember all the words except Leo.
We didn’t have the best singing voices in the world in any event. But what we lacked in polish and style we made up for in volume; and Jimmy seemed to enjoy our efforts.
It was one of those evenings you hoped would never end. But I realized Jimmy was tired at some point so I finally spoke up.
“Would you guys stay with Jimmy while I take Tommy back to his place?” I asked Leo and Mark.
“Sure,” they replied without hesitation.
“You don’t have to take me back to the apartment,” Tommy said. “I can call a cab. It’s pretty cold out tonight. There’s no reason for both of us to be out at this hour in weather like this, Jeff.”
“And there’s also no way I’m letting you take a cab home,” I countered. “Don’t even think about that.”
It was a sentiment Jimmy quickly seconded and soon enough we were on our way.
“That was fun,” I said to Tommy as I navigated the road across town toward Rock Creek Parkway.
“It was,” he replied. “And I think it made Jimmy happy. I know it made me happy to watch Jimmy and you holding hands. I’m constantly astonished at just how much the two of you love one another.”
“Thanks for saying that, Tommy,” I replied. “I just wish . . .”
And then my voice trailed off and the car remained silent for the rest of the trip up to Friendship Heights.
When we finally got to his place, I parked the car and looked over at Tommy. I had reminded myself repeatedly not to pester him about it, but for some reason I felt compelled to ask that evening.
“Uh, well, I know I should apologize for asking, Tommy, but I was wondering how the article is coming along?”
“It’s done,” he responded. “It’s been done for a couple of days and could have been published anytime this week to tell you the truth, but my boss wants to publish it on Christmas Day.”
“Really,” I said, trying to conceal my disappointment. “Christmas Day? I mean, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand anything about the newspaper business, but I honestly can’t think of a worse time to publish it.”
“Why do you say that?” Tommy asked. “I mean, I’ll admit I was confused about that myself when the boss told me at first, but I’m curious to hear why you’re disappointed.”
“Well, you know, I haven’t read the article,” I replied. “I have no idea how you approached it or how well it turned out. But all along I’ve been hoping it would lend a human face to AIDS and affect the hearts of the people who read it.”
“It’s probably been a mistake for me to count on that so much,” I continued, “but that’s the way I’ve looked at it from the beginning; as a chance to let people know just how horrible this disease is and make them stand up and demand action from their government.”
“I think it’s pretty good,” Tommy replied. “I hope you won’t be disappointed with it. My boss says it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. He actually said it’s the best thing he’s seen in years; that it made him cry.”
“That’s good,” I said, happy to hear that. “That’s all I can ask. I hope he’s right. But if he likes it so much, why the hell is he burying it on Christmas Day when nobody’s going to be reading the paper?”
“That was my concern, too,” Tommy said. “But he assures me that won’t be the case. He says a lot of papers across the country are looking to pick up human interest stories around Christmas; stories that remind people just how lucky they are and how grateful they should be.”
“And he thinks my story is going to appeal to a lot of editors across the country looking for something like that. I didn’t think so at first, but he’s a lot more experienced than me and he could be right.”
“I hope so,” I said, then sighed.
“But even if gets picked up by more papers, no one will be reading it.”
“That’s the other thing he told me,” Tommy replied. “You’re right. No one reads the paper on Christmas morning, especially with Christmas landing on Saturday this year. But then later in the day or by Sunday at the latest people start to get bored once all the presents are open and they’ve had the big meal.”
“There’s not a lot on television and nothing much to do so people pick up the paper and start reading; and once someone reads something they like it gets passed around to everyone else. At least that’s what my boss says.”
“I guess only time will tell,” he added. “Whether he’s right or wrong, I figured the story would be my Christmas gift to Jimmy.”
“It will be, Tommy,” I said. “Jimmy will love it. I’m jealous actually. I’ve been wracking my head trying to think what I could get Jimmy for Christmas. I was hoping getting some money for AIDS in the continuing resolution would be my Christmas gift, but I failed at that just like I’ve failed at everything else in my life.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself, Jeff,” Tommy replied. “You did everything you could. Jimmy knows that.”
“But it wasn’t good enough, was it, Tommy?” I shot back, still angry with myself for failing. “The point is I wanted this Christmas to be special for Jimmy because, you know, he may not, uh . . . I mean, it’s hard to know how much longer he can hold out. He’s fighting so hard, but it seems as if he’s getting weaker and weaker with every passing day.”
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and found myself struggling not to cry. Looking over at me, Tommy placed his hand on my shoulder.
“You don’t need to worry about getting him a gift, Jeff,” he said. “Jimmy doesn’t care about getting a gift. He just wants to share the day with you. That’s the only thing he wants; to be able to share the day with the person he loves and his friends. Thanks for inviting me to join the four of you. I’m assuming Mark and Leo will be spending the day at your place as well.”
“They will be,” I responded.
“Is Father Damien going to get over?” he asked.
“Maybe really late in the day,” I said, struggling to regain my composure. “Christmas is a pretty busy day if you’re a priest so I wasn’t sure he would have the time to stop by. That’s why we’re having dinner and opening the presents Christmas Eve. Father Damien said he could join the five of us then.”
“I’m going all out on that,” I continued; “dinner, I mean. I’m going to make all of Jimmy’s favorite dishes even though I realize he probably won’t eat very much. He just doesn’t have any appetite anymore, Tommy; he says food makes him nauseous so I don’t pester him to eat as much as I used to.”
“It’ll be fine,” Tommy responded. “You’ve really decorated the house very nicely. Jimmy was telling me that earlier today while you were cleaning up. He said it was decorated a lot nicer than his own house ever was for Christmas when he was a kid. And he said he liked that because it made you so happy; that you seemed like a little boy again and he liked seeing you happy like that.”
“The point is, don’t worry about a gift, Jeff,” he added. “You’re Jimmy’s gift, the person he wants to spend time with. It’ll be the best Christmas ever for both of you. Just wait and see.”
Tommy was wrong about that. It wasn’t the best Christmas ever. It was the worst.
Sometime around 2:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning I was awakened by the sound of Jimmy struggling to breathe.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, but Jimmy didn’t respond. He couldn’t say anything and was fading in and out of consciousness.
Grabbing the phone, I called Mark and begged him to join me. After we spoke, I thought about calling an ambulance, but decided I needed to take Jimmy to the emergency room myself instead.
I had read about how a lot of emergency technicians spent more time putting on special clothing to protect themselves against AIDS than attending to those they were supposed to be helping. There was no way I was going to put up with that for Jimmy.
Somehow Mark and I got Jimmy out of bed and into a bathrobe. Then I wrapped him in a blanket while Mark put on his shoes and socks. While Mark warmed up the car, I carried Jimmy down the stairs and out to it. By that time Leo had made an appearance as well.
“I want to go with you guys,” he begged.
“You and Mark need to stay here,” I responded. “I need the two of you to get things ready for Christmas Eve dinner just like we planned.”
“But, uh,” Mark said. “I mean, do you really think . . .”
“We’re going to have the Christmas Eve we planned all along, Mark,” I insisted, cutting him off and glaring at him. “Jimmy is going to be okay and he’s going to spend Christmas Eve here with us. We’re going to have the dinner we planned and then we’re going to open our presents just like we already decided.”
Mark still looked skeptical.
“Help me out here, please, Mark,” I pleaded. “I need you and Leo to help by staying here and getting things ready for when Jimmy gets home.”
“Come on, Leo,” Mark said. “Let’s go inside and get things ready.”
With that decided, I drove across town to the Georgetown Medical Center.
“He’s having trouble breathing,” I shouted at the lady behind the desk that greeted me as Jimmy and I staggered into the emergency room. “He needs help immediately.”
I deliberately chose not to mention he had AIDS, at least not at that moment. I would tell them once they taken Jimmy into a treatment room and they would shoot dirty looks at me for concealing that fact. But I didn’t care what they thought. The only thing I cared about was getting Jimmy the help he needed.
Somehow they seemed to stabilize him. His breathing became a bit more normal, but it was still too shallow and irregular for me. They transferred him into a room by himself and I spent the rest of the night by his bed holding his hand and talking softly to him.
Sometime early the next morning I made my way to a phone in the lobby and called Father Damien. I hadn’t expected to reach him, but by some miracle he actually picked up the phone.
“Jimmy’s in the Georgetown Medical Center,” I said. “I’m really worried, Father. I don’t feel good about this. Could you come by and see him?”
“Of course,” he responded.
“And, uh, Father; I think maybe you should bring whatever you need to give him last rites,” I added.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he said.
Hanging up the phone, I burst into tears. Then I got mad at myself.
You’re giving up too easily, Jeff. You’re being a wuss.
Jimmy’s not going to die!
It’s just a passing incident. He’ll feel better in the morning and you’ll take him home and we’ll have Christmas Eve dinner together and open our presents just like we planned.
Stop crying, Jeff. You don’t want him to know you’ve been crying. You need to get back to the room and be there for Jimmy.
Having composed myself, I returned to the room. Within the half hour Father Damien was at Jimmy’s bedside. Although I had been sitting there most of the evening holding his hand, Father Damien suggested I take a break while he talked to Jimmy and heard his confession.
I let go of Jimmy’s hand reluctantly and only because I knew the last rites were important to him. While I sat there overwhelmed by what was happening, Father Damien talked quietly to Jimmy for a few moments and then quickly applied the ointment.
“Is he going to make it, Father?” I asked, looking at Father Damien in despair.
“It’s hard to know, Jeff,” he said, softly, “but I think the Lord may have decided to call Jimmy home. I talked to the doctors on my way in and I’ve talked to Jimmy and I think Jimmy’s ready to go see the good Lord.”
“He can’t do that,” I sobbed and by now the tears were rolling down my face in wave after wave. “He needs to stay. We were going to have Christmas Eve dinner together and then open our presents.”
“I know this is hard, Jeff,” Father Damien replied gently, “but you need to let go now and help Jimmy get to the other side if that’s what he wants.”
Then, standing up, he walked over to where I was standing and hugged me.
“I have some other patients I need to see this morning, but I’ll be back once I’ve made my rounds. Is there anyone you want me to call in the meantime; anything more I can do?”
“Call Tommy,” I said. “He doesn’t know yet; and call Mark and Leo and let them know as well.”
Grabbing a piece of paper and a pen, I scribbled the numbers on it for him.
“That’s the first thing I’ll do,” Father Damien said. “Be brave, Jeff. It’s important to let Jimmy know you’re fine with whatever he wants to do.”
With that I resumed my place by the bedside and took Jimmy’s hand into mine.
“I love you, Jimmy,” I whispered. “I love you so much.”
I’m not sure how long I sat there next to the bed, but then Jimmy opened his eyes momentarily and looked at me.
“I’m going to go now, Jeff,” he said. “Is that okay with you?”
I wanted to tell him no, that it wasn’t okay. That he shouldn’t leave because I loved him so much and needed him to stay; that I would be devastated if he left me alone. But I was surprised when I heard what I actually said.
“It’s okay, Jimmy. You can rest now if you want. I’ll be along soon enough.”
The death certificate they eventually sent me says Jimmy died at 7:38 a.m. on December 24, 1982; Christmas Eve. I don’t recall very much what happened after I said my final good-bye to him. The next thing I knew Tommy, Mark and Leo were leading me out of the room and then out of the building to my car.
I handed the keys to Tommy and he drove us back across town to my place. Mark, Leo and he sat with me for a while. Then Tommy told he needed to go into his office to make some final edits to the story that was scheduled to run the next day.
Eventually he came back and spent the rest of the day with me, Leo and Mark. From what I gather, Mark and Leo made the dinner we had planned. But none of us ate very much. We weren’t hungry.
Later I suggested we open the presents under the tree. Mark, Leo and Tommy wanted to wait until later, but I insisted so that’s what we did.
After that the three of us shared some of our favorite memories of Jimmy. As comforting as they were, even surprising at times, I had a hard time staying focused. My mind was elsewhere. And then suddenly something occurred to me and I became obsessed.
“I need to do something,” I said. “I need to do it right now.”
“What?” Tommy asked.
“I need to call Jimmy’s mother,” I replied. “I need to tell her what’s happened.”
“Oh, jeez, that can wait until tomorrow,” Tommy said. “It’s getting late, Jeff. Tomorrow will be soon enough to let her know.”
“No; you don’t understand,” I insisted. “Tommy told me once he called his mother on Christmas Eve every year to tell her he was okay. It was the only time during the year he ever spoke to her from what I gather. She’ll be worried if she doesn’t hear from him, Tommy.”
“Uh, well, maybe you’re right,” he said, nodding his head.
“I am,” I replied. “I need to call her. But I don’t even have her number. How am I going to do that without her number?”
“I have it,” Tommy said. “I still have it memorized after all these years. I mean, I used to call Jimmy a lot when we were young.”
Standing up, the two of us walked over to the phone. Then I turned and looked at Tommy.
“What should I tell her?” I pleaded. “How do you tell a mother her son has died? She doesn’t know me from a hole in the head. She’ll have a ton of questions I won’t know how to answer.”
“Why don’t you let me call her, Jeff,” Tommy suggested. “Unlike you, she knows me and she knows what good friends the two of us were. I think it would help if she heard it from a friend. I can answer any immediate questions she has and tell her I’ll send her the story I’ve written about Jimmy to help answer some of the rest.”
As much as I wanted to do it, I realized Tommy was right. He would be able to comfort Jimmy’s mother in a way I never could; be able to deal with Jimmy’s father if he got on the line and demanded to know more.
“Thank you, Tommy,” I finally replied. “You’re right. It makes more sense for you to talk to her. I just don’t want her worrying when Jimmy doesn’t call.”
Later I realized how foolish I must have sounded, but at the time I felt like it was one of the last and most important things I could do for Jimmy. He had never been any good sharing bad news with others, but he would have wanted his mother to know and Tommy to be the one to tell her.
Mark and Leo left after Tommy finished speaking to her. The thought of being alone in the house without Jimmy was terrifying so I asked Tommy if he would stay that evening and he quickly agreed.
Leading him up the stairs I stopped at Jimmy’s room, the one he hardly ever used except for the bathroom and he hadn’t even been doing that for months.
“You can sleep here tonight, Tommy,” I said. “Jimmy never used the bed and Leo told me he changed the sheets and cleaned up the bathroom while he was waiting to hear from me.”
“Thanks,” Tommy responded.
Then the two of us embraced momentarily before I turned and made my way up the stairs to the bedroom Jimmy and I had shared.
Soon enough the darkness engulfed me.
It was Christmas morning; December 25, 1982.
Climbing out of bed, I made my way down the stairs, opened the door and found the Washington Post waiting for me on the front stoop. Picking it up, I went back inside and sat down in Jimmy’s favorite chair.
Opening the paper, I glanced at the front page. There was a headline in the center of the page above the fold. I began reading.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL FOR AMERICA
by Thomas Williams
Note to the Reader
Early Christmas Eve morning the best friend I ever had in the world died at the Georgetown Medical Center. He was twenty-six years old and he died because he was different.
That is not what they will list as the cause of death on the certificate they issue. They will say he died of something else, perhaps pneumonia or one of the many other opportunistic infections caused by the disease they have started to call Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
But the death certificate will be wrong if that’s what it says. My friend died because he was different and because of the indifference of America’s government, a government that knows all too well that most Americans despise people who are different and are only too happy to see them die.
My friend would have died alone except there was one person who loved him there in his hospital room at the moment he passed away. Like my friend, he is different as well and he is also my friend. It was their shared difference that brought them together initially and formed the basis for their love; a love that was more important to them than the hatred of almost everyone else and the indifference of their own government.
This is a story about their love, not your hate; indeed, if their love overpowers the hate of just one of you, Jimmy will be smiling down on us from Heaven this Christmas Day. He will have discovered what some of us never will; that there is nothing wrong in God’s eyes with being different.
Continued in Section C
I remember bursting into tears and setting the paper aside. I would read it later when the pain began to subside, but for now I just sat there staring at the Christmas tree Jimmy so admired. We had left the lights on all evening and soon enough Tommy, Mark and Leo would join me.
And that’s how we would spend the rest of our day; talking about our shared love for Jimmy and the gift of being brought together on Christmas Day he had given us.