A Surprising Christmas Gift

by Jobe

I couldn't believe that I was driving to my parent's home in this weather. The rain was coming down so hard it was difficult to see the road and to make matters worse, it was a freezing rain. The road had a light slick coat of ice that required driving extremely slow. My eyes were becoming tired from concentrating on the road. The swish of the windshield wipers were becoming hypnotic as they tried to keep them clear of the freezing rain.

Traffic seemed to become less dense as I left the city and drove toward the country side where my parents lived. I guess country folk have more sense than to be out driving on a night like this. As I drove around a curve in the road, I couldn't believe what I saw. There along side of the road was a young man hitch hiking. He had on a rather light coat and there was no question he was cold and wet. I generally wouldn't have stopped, but he looked so miserable, I felt sorry for him.

He quickly got into the car, "Thanks, mister. I really appreciate you stopping for me. I have been out there trying to get a ride for 5 hours. I was almost ready to give up hope when I saw your car and decided to give it one more go."

"My name is Chet, what's yours and why where you hitch hiking in this weather?"

"I was trying to get to my grandparents place before the rain started. I had a ride part way but then I walked to where you picked me up."

"You didn't tell me your name."

"It's Josh."

Something wasn't right. He seemed to hesitate about telling me his name and I figured that wasn't his real name. I was also sure he wasn't going to visit his grandparents. All he had with him was a shoulder bag and that didn't look like it would hold much. No, I'm convinced there is more to his story.

I needed gas, so at the next gas station I pulled up to gas pump. "I'm going to go in and pay for my gas; do you want to come along? You probably could use the men's room to change out of those wet clothes."

As I was filling my gas tank, Josh took his bag and went into the men's room to change. When he came out, I was still inside paying for my gas and deciding if I wanted something to eat. The station wasn't large but they had pre-packaged sandwiches and coffee. Seeing Josh standing outside, I asked him if he wanted something to eat and a coffee. He said he was ok, but I felt that he was lying. So I bought several sandwiches and a cup of coffee and a cup of hot chocolate. After paying and getting back into the car, I gave the hot chocolate to Josh. "Here this will warm you up. I also got carried away with the variety of sandwiches they had so I think I may have bought too many. Help yourself to the sandwiches."

I took a sip of my coffee as I watched Josh out of the corner of my eye sipping his hot chocolate. He kept glancing at the bag containing the sandwiches. I took the bag and took out two sandwiches and gave him one. At first he said no, but when I unwrapped mine and set one on his lap; he unwrapped his. I never saw a sandwich disappear so fast. I took another one for me and set it aside, giving the rest of the sandwiches to Josh.

"Josh, here, 2 sandwiches are enough for me and I really don't want to throw these away. Do me a favor and eat them."

"Thanks, they are good. By the way my name isn't Josh, its Tony.'

"You're not going to your grandparents either, right."

I saw some tears beginning to form in his eyes. "It's alright, Tony. I'm not going to put you out of the car but since I have another 6 hours of driving, why don't you tell me the truth. Maybe I can help you."

"I'm not going to see my grandparents; I don't even have any grandparents. I lived with my parents till they told me I had to leave. They belong to one of those Christian groups that preach hate more than love. When they found out that I wasn't going to be what they expected, they told me to leave. So I packed what I could. I tried to stay at my friend's house but his parents were friends with mine, so they also told me to leave. I started to hitchhike out of town and made it to where you picked me. I got a ride at the city limits, but the guy wanted me to do things and when I wouldn't he put me out."

"How old are you Tony?"

"I'll be 18 in one week. I was hoping to finish my senior year and then go to college. That would have gotten me away from my parents and their negativity."

"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" Tony shrugged his shoulders which I took as an ok. "Are you gay?"

"Tony started to cry again. Please Chet, don't put me out. There is no place for me to go and it's raining and dark. "

"You needn't worry, Tony. I've no intentions of putting you out in this weather. And, you don't have to be afraid of being gay. I'm also gay and fortunately, my parents have accepted that and still love me. You're going to stay with us and we'll straighten everything out. This is the season of miracles and maybe one will happen for you."

Tony smiled and snuggled into the seat and soon was asleep. His face was calm and he appeared to be relaxed. How anyone could turn their child adrift is something I could never understand. I was more than thankful for my family; they accepted me and still show their love for me.

We were about 2 miles from my home and the sun was breaking the night. The rain had stopped and everything was coated in ice. It looked like something from a fairy tale. The ice sparkled as the sun light was reflected. There was a diner where I always stopped when I was coming home. I nudged Tony awake, "Ready for some breakfast?"

"You don't have to buy me breakfast. Those sandwiches filled me up."

"Well, I need breakfast so why don't you join me and you can have coffee or something to drink."

When I entered the diner, Stella a waitress I knew came over and threw her arms around me for a big hug. "Who's the cutie pie?"

'This is a friend of mine. Tony, meet Stella but don't believe a thing she says about me"

Of course I knew Tony was in for a hug as well. Stella has owned the diner for years and she always greeted people she knew with a hug. There aren't enough hugs in this world, and I'm going to set the record; that was the motto that Stella lived by.

Stella showed us to a booth and walked away. She came back with a coffee for me and a hot chocolate for Tony. Then she left again. I could see Tony was perplexed as why she didn't take my order. Five minutes later, Stella came back with two plates of eggs, ham, fried potatoes and a basket of hot biscuits.

"I didn't order this."

"Tony, you have to eat it or you'll hurt Stella's feelings. As long as I have been coming here, she does this. I never order, and she brings me the same breakfast each time. So eat up and enjoy a country breakfast. Try the biscuits; they will melt in your mouth."

About 15 minutes later, Stella came back to refill my coffee and had another cup of hot chocolate for Tony. I think I had one biscuits and Tony had the rest.

"Those were really good. Thanks for the breakfast, the food was great."

"If you think that was great, wait till you taste my mom's cooking. You'll not want to leave the kitchen."

Tony looked at me like he didn't comprehend what I just said and then it dawned on him what I just said. "I can't stay at your parent's house. Look at me, I'm a mess."

"Don't think that way. You'll be welcomed as a friend of mine. My parents will understand and show you another side of being a Christian. Trust me, please."

I paid Stella, "we'll see you again. We plan on spending the next two weeks with my folks before heading back home."

"Tony, is there anything you need like a toothbrush, deodorant, body splash? We could stop at the mall and can get some things you'll need for the next two weeks until we get back to where I live."

Again I saw the tears beginning to pool in his eyes, and I knew what I was going to do. On the way to my parent's home, I stopped at the mall. Going into a drug store, I picked up a tooth brush, small tube of toothpaste and told Tony to get what else he needed. Of course I threatened him and told him if he didn't do it I would and he may not like my choices. Reluctantly he went and got what he needed. I paid for them and gave the bag to Tony to carry.

"Well we are here, is there anything you need. I'll buy it for you as a Christmas present. Come on, there is no need to cry or feel bad, let me do this for you. I don't have anyone to enjoy Christmas shopping, let it be your Christmas present to me to allow me to spend some money on you."

So without waiting for an answer, I took him into a clothing store that catered to young men. We picked out a couple pair of jeans, some pull over shirts and T shirts, underwear and socks. His shoes were in fairly decent shape but he would need socks. I saw a winter coat that looked like he would like. When all was done, I suggested that he might want to change into his new clothes while I paid. The sales clerk removed the price tags and Tony went to change. He came back looking like a new person.

"So are you ready to meet my folks?"

"I'm a little nervous"

"There is nothing to be nervous about, but I understand. You'll do just fine."

When I pulled into the driveway, I heard my father yell, "He's here."

Mom and Dad rushed to the car to greet me. After my dad hugged me he introduced himself to Tony. Mom hugged me and said, "Is he your boyfriend?"

"No, but I'll tell you later. Right now he needs a mother's hug."

Mom, true to form, went over to him and drew him into a tight mother's hug. "We're glad that Chet brought you home with him. Are you hungry?"

As we entered the house, I could smell the pies in the oven. Our home always had wonderful smells around the holidays and today was no different.

After having a glass of milk with Moms' homemade ginger cookies, we went to get our luggage. I took mine to my old bedroom and showed Tony the guest room. Once I was unpacked, I went and checked on Tony. He was sitting on the bed with all of the packages around him crying.

"Why couldn't my parents be as loving as yours? I feel the love here which I never felt at my home."

"I can't answer that question for you, Tony. All I know is to accept that which reflects love and disregard that which doesn't. Why people behave as they do is a mystery that only someone higher can fathom. For me, if you don't like me that's their problem not mine. I'll not shoulder that burden. There are too many good people in this world for me to worry about those who aren't."

Tony thought a while and then, wiping his tears gave me a hug. "Thanks."

Going downstairs we heard the TV before seeing it, Dad was watching a ball game and so we joined him. After a while, Tony went into the kitchen and asked my mom if there is anything he could do to help. It wasn't long when I heard him laughing for the first time. This I had to see. Peeking into the kitchen, there he was chopping vegetables and Mom was telling him all about me.

"Hey, no fair telling him those stories."

"Oh they are good stories and fun to share. You should know we would never tell about the bad things you did as a boy."

"What bad things? I was always a good boy."

"Don't go there, son. I may have to show Tony the etchings on the back porch."

"Ok, you win. How's is your new cook doing, Mom?

"Oh he's doing just fine. Reminds me of you when you were living here. I think you spent more time in the kitchen than your bedroom. "

"That's because the kitchen is always full of love and good things." That got me a kiss on the cheek and a hug. Tony just smiled and that was a good thing as well. Maybe kitchens are magical; there's a lot of love there.

Christmas and New Years came and soon it was time to leave. Mom and Dad gave Tony an option of going back with me or staying there. He could finish school and since he was now 18 he is independent of his parents.

"Chet, what should I do?

"Tony only you can answer that question. I can see that my parents have taken to you and have feelings for you. But you have a home no matter what you want to do. Think about it tonight, pray about it and let me know in the morning. We'll go to the diner for breakfast whether you stay or come with me."

Leaving Tony in his room, I went downstairs to chat with my folks. I had already told them about what happened and how I met him. They asked me what I thought about him staying with them. "Truthfully, I want him to come with me. It would be nice to have someone around; sometimes it gets lonely. But the decision is what is best for Tony. He can finish school with me and there is a large university close by that he could attend. I can even get him a part time job where I work."

We chatted some more, and then it was time to hit the hay. The next morning, I woke to a knock at my door. When I yelled a yes, the door open and Tony was there. I padded the side of my bed for him to sit. "I have given it a lot of thought and I think I would like to go back with you, if that's ok."

"Yes it's fine with me. May I ask what you made you decide to go back with me?"

"I only have a half of a semester to finish my senior year. The university where I wanted to go is closer to you than Mom and Dad. I could help out at your place, like clean and cook. So I wouldn't be in your way. Maybe I could get a part time job and help out with the food. How do you think Mom and Dad will take this?"

"They understand and I think they will be happy with whatever your choice would be."

That morning as we packed the car, dad came out and pulled me aside. "I like the boy; he has had some rough stuff thrown at him. He'll always be welcomed here and if you need anything, and I mean anything, you let me know."

"Thanks Dad. I love you. Why don't you and Mom come with us to the diner? We'll get Stella to fix us one of their special breakfasts."

Dad and Mom followed us to the diner. Of course we all got a hug from Stella and Tony hugged back. I think that's the first time Stella was hugged back. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and a big smile.

True to form, the same breakfast that we had when we arrived we had again. We enjoyed it as a family. Saying goodbye to Mom and Dad was always hard. I love my parents and wish I could have stayed close by, but we go with the jobs.

On the drive back to the city and home, I had a chance to reflect on all that happened in the last two weeks. As I passed the spot where I first saw Tony, I noticed for the first time a bus shelter existed at that spot in the highway. Why hadn't I seen that then? Was it raining too hard or were my eyes too tired. Or was it that I was destined to help this young man. Maybe he was a surprised Christmas gift.

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