As the weeks passed by, the walls of the small apartment seemed to draw closer together. The tension with his mother had not subsided and Chris was starting to wonder if any part of her still loved him at all.
Melanie’s will was almost broken. She now knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that she had made the right decision in leaving all this behind nine years earlier. She had known that her father was a harsh man and that her mother was capable of being just as harsh. Some people just weren’t meant to live together and her parents fell into that category. She kept telling herself that her mother only needed time to recover; that somewhere inside of her was the magic Melanie had seen as a little girl. Even then, the magic had only shown up sporadically soon to be followed by another tantrum of one sort or another. Mel had always assumed these fits were fueled by the chaotic Briggs’ marriage. But for all of his faults, Robert Briggs wasn’t around anymore to blame for the sorry behavior of his wife.
Melanie wondered to herself “what was I thinking?” The house back in North Carolina had sold quickly, providing solution for at least some of the money problems even though there had barely been enough to cover all of the outstanding debts. Mel had wanted to get her mother into a recovery program but without insurance or enough money leftover, that option had fallen aside. If Peggy Briggs were to get better, she’d have to grind it out one day at a time like everybody else.
Chris had started taking walks around the city in the afternoons after school. There was a city park nearby featuring trees and a small stream but it failed in comparison to the setting he was used to. The steady intrusion of sidewalks and streetlights robbed so much of the natural appeal. Still, it was an open space and far better than the tight cauldron that was Melanie’s apartment.
School also provided relief. The large school had a large collection of loners and he was hardly in a spotlight. Everyone just left him alone. The school basketball team was good but Chris had no desire to try to join the team in mid-season. Besides, it wasn’t HIS team.
A cold afternoon was fading into a downright frigid twilight but he continued to sit on the park bench, wrapping himself a little tighter in his heavy jacket. He thought of Matt and the warmth of an embrace. Their phone conversations had become less frequent. Everything they now talked about provided reminder of how far they were apart and the pain in each other’s voices had become too much for either to bear on a daily basis. The conversation on the night of Matt’s fifteenth birthday three weeks ago had been the emotional breaking point for both of them and they knew they had to withdraw a little in order to survive. There was no point in pretending everything was all right. It wasn’t.
The wind shifted and tiny flakes of snow started to fall from the skies. The cutting wind was finally enough to drive Chris out of the park and back to the apartment. As he neared the door, he heard the all-too-familiar voice of his mother. She was ranting about something, again. The hallway looked like a more comfy spot and he slid down the wall and took a seat by the door.
Peggy was in rare form tonight and an extended spell of sobriety had strengthened her voice. Her supply of pain pills had been used-up well ahead of the prescribed schedule and Melanie was being uncooperative in helping get the prescription refilled.
Chris rolled his eyes as he could easily hear most of what his mother was saying. Melanie’s attempts to reply accounted for the inaudible pauses in between outbursts.
“You’ve got no idea how much hell I’ve been through! I didn’t ask to be put in this mess! Your goddamned father is to blame for all of this, NOT ME!” Chris leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. This was just a replay of his mother’s normal ramblings.
“Don’t tell me I’ve got to get on with my life! Do you think I don’t know that? How am I supposed to get on with my life with no job, no house and a son to support? And I’ve had just about enough of his shitty attitude too!! He’s lucky I didn’t let those people take him and turn him into a little queer just like their own son!” Chris’s eyes opened wide.
“Oh bullshit, Melanie! I’m not blind! I saw the way that little pervert looked at Chris. He even sat right there and HELD HANDS with him in the middle of your father’s funeral, for god’s sakes! He’s no better than that bastard Jay Henson and I will NOT have Chris turned into some faggot! And I’ll tell you another thing: I’m still not so sure that little whore’s son didn’t kill your father out of revenge! It wouldn’t surprise me one bit!”
The door to the apartment swung open. Chris stood in the doorway with tears drenching his face, his eyes fixed straight ahead onto his mother as he staggered forward in her direction with Peggy sitting up on the edge of the couch. Melanie put a hand to her own mouth but she couldn’t cover the shame on her face.
“Christopher, you best just keep quiet! I am not in the mood to get started with you!” Peggy wasn’t going to get off that easy this time and Chris slowly shook his head back and forth, his eyes still glued to his mother.
“You better get in the mood then because you’ve already started it. That ‘little queer’ you’re talking about is the boy I love.” Peggy’s mouth dropped open. “Yeah! That’s right! THE BOY I LOVE!”
“Just shut up right now! You don’t know what you’re talking about. You are just confused!” Peggy couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“Oh, I’m confused all right! I’m confused about why I’m living in this hell hole. I’m confused about why my father hated me so much he tried to kill me. I’m confused about why my mother didn’t love me enough to stand up for me. But I AM NOT confused about Matt Jordan! That’s just about the only thing I’m not confused about! I love him now and I will ALWAYS love him!”
“Chris, you do not love that boy! You are not a queer!”
“And you’re not a drunk! I don’t care what you call me or what you don’t call me, but don’t you sit there and tell me who I do and don’t love. You can drag my ass all over creation, but you won’t decide who I am and who I love!”
”I won’t have this!” Anger and disgust mixed on Peggy’s face.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that I will not have a queer in my...” Peggy cut herself off.
“In your WHAT? In your HOUSE that you don’t have anymore because you were too out of it to keep a job and insurance? Is that what you were trying to say? Look around, mother. You don’t have a HOUSE! Or maybe you meant ‘in your FAMILY’? What family! We don’t have a family anymore either. And you have the audacity to sit there and defend dad? Trying to make him into some sort of victim? I WAS THERE! He was going to kill Matt and I think he might have killed me next! And you can call Jay a bastard and his mom a whore but he’s my brother just as much as you’re my mother!”
Peggy wasn’t flinching. “I will NOT have a queer for my son! So you can just get over it! The thought of it makes me sick to my stomach.”
Chris let out a deep breath and paused. His mother still wouldn’t look at him and he cast a stare over at Melanie, who was standing in a puddle of her own tears and sending back a faint look of “I’m sorry” in reply.
He continued. “What were you talking about when you said I was lucky you didn’t let those people take me?”
Peggy wouldn’t respond. “What were you talking about?” Chris turned up the volume, but still no response from Peggy. Chris looked at Melanie again and finally she spoke.
“Matt’s parents came over…”
“Shut your mouth!!” Peggy spun around and shot an intimidating stare at Melanie, bringing her to a pause.
“Somebody better tell me, and it better be soon!” Chris’s eyes alternated between his mom and Melanie.
Melanie tried again, this time speaking over the repeated objections of her mother. “While you were over at Matt’s house one day, his parents came over and offered to let you stay with them for the rest of the school year so you wouldn’t have to leave in the middle of the year.”
Chris knew the day and he remembered the hurt look on Joanna Jordan’s face when she and John had returned early from their “errands.” “What did you say to them, mother? I know you said no, but what else did you say?”
Peggy still wasn’t talking. Chris screamed to her face, “WHAT DID YOU SAY?!”
He finally had riled Peggy into an honest response. “I told them we didn’t need their goddamned charity and I didn’t want you around their little degenerate son! Your father would still be alive if it wasn’t for that troublemaker and there they sat trying to come in and ‘help’ us out? What kind of gall is that?” Peggy spat with outrage.
Chris turned his back to her. The fresh tears of shame on his face were the closest thing he could offer as an apology to the Jordans. The apartment was silent for a few minutes and no one moved. Finally, Chris turned back to his mother.
“What happened to you, mom? Where’d you go?” A sobbing Chris fell forward onto his knees in front of his mother. “I know you’re still in there somewhere. You just have to be. I need for you to come back.” His plea brought only silent stiffening from Peggy and no eye contact. There was a mother somewhere inside her but her rehabilitation needs stretched well beyond alcoholism.
“Mom, you’re going to have to accept me for who I am – just like I’ve had to accept you for who you are.”
“I don’t have to accept anything.” She stood up and walked to her bedroom, shutting the door and leaving Chris behind, in disbelief.
“Wait!” He went to the door and tried to open it only to find it locked. “Mom?” Chris crumbled to the floor. “Mom?”
Melanie didn’t move. She had watched the drama unfold and had only played a bit part. Chris leaned against the locked door mourning his rejection. He started to mutter soft regrets into the dull wood. But his hurt was slowly brewing into outrage.
“After everything, this is how it’s going to be? The times I put myself between you and dad, so YOU wouldn’t have to take his beatings. All of the times I cried thinking it was my fault you were drinking again. All the times I just hoped and even prayed that you would get better. The nights I spent with you in the hospital.” Chris thumped the door with his forehead as he spoke. “I still love you mom, but I’m not going to do this anymore. I can’t. I just can’t.” There was still no response from the other side. Chris rose up and gathered two bags full of clothes plus he grabbed another bag that had never been unpacked since there was no place to put the items it held.
“Chris, what are you doing?” Melanie walked over to him.
His jaw was clinched tight and he had said all he intended to say. He did give her a parting look of regret. “Chris! Where are you going?” No reply and he was out the door. By the time she recovered from her panic, he was nowhere to be seen. She stood in the street below and called for him but there was no sight or sound in reply.
During his afternoon walks, Chris had seen a bus depot nearby. He headed in that direction and wondered how far he could get with the ten dollars he had in his pocket. The bags were getting heavy and the light snow was still falling. He arrived at the bus depot and looked at the schedules. The next bus for Charlotte left at 7am the next day. Seriously concerned, he sought out the kindest face he could find. It belonged to a bus driver just getting off a return trip. Raymond Jeffords was a black man, sixty years of age and working his way toward a retirement having driven Greyhound buses for thirty years.
“Excuse me sir, is there another bus leaving for Charlotte tonight?” Chris asked.
“No, I’m afraid not. The next one leaves with me tomorrow morning at 7am and there will be another one at 10am and 3pm” The man watched Chris’s face fall in response.
“I don’t guess there are any other bus services around here?”
“None that go out this late.”
“OK, thanks for the info.” Chris looked around, very much lost as to what to do now.
“Do you have someplace you can stay tonight?”
“Oh, yes sir. I’ll be fine. Thank you.”
“All right then, I guess I’ll see you in the morning.” The friendly face smiled and made his way home.
Chris looked around again trying to decide which way to go next. One thing was for sure: He wasn’t going back to the apartment.
Behind the bus depot was a small clump of trees growing their way up a hill that was eventually topped by an overpass leading to the freeway. Trees always looked inviting to Chris so he hauled his bags through an opening in the brush and finally found the only spot in Richmond he believed to be void of any light at all. He kicked away a fallen limb or two and made a small clearing at the base of one of the trees. With his bags on each side to tuck him in, he sat down and leaned against the oak. The cars passing overhead broke the softer sounds of the light snow hitting the bare limbs. But the weather didn’t chill him as badly as the realizations of what had happened earlier in the evening. He drew warmth from better thoughts and a hope that he would still be welcome.
Back at the apartment, Peggy had come out of her hole.
“He’s not back yet?”
“I told you he’s not coming back.” Melanie replied, finally getting pissed.
“Well, you need to get out and find him then!”
“Why? So I can bring him back here? If I had it to do over, I would have driven him back to North Carolina tonight rather than have him stay one more night in this apartment with you!” Melanie stood and started pacing.
“It’s always my fault, isn’t it?”
“It is YOUR fault, mother! You are a hateful woman! I used to think it was just the way you and dad related to each other, but I’ve finally figured out it’s just the way you are.”
“You’ve got no business talking to me like that.”
“I’ve got every business talking to you like that. You’re standing in MY apartment and you’ve tried to take over my life. And I’m sick of it mother! Absolutely sick of it! Let me tell you what I’ve decided.”
Peggy was taken aback. Melanie had never talked to her quite this way before.
Melanie continued. “First of all, your parenting days are over! You aren’t fit to be a parent and if you push me on this, I’ll take steps to have you officially declared unfit.” Peggy sat down and looked prepared to protest. “Don’t say a word, mother! If you want to argue with me, you’re going to do it from the other side of my front door because you won’t be doing it inside this apartment anymore! Do you understand that?” Peggy’s startled silence was confirmation enough and Mel continued. “I’m sure that Chris is trying to find his way back to North Carolina. If something happens to him along the way, everything else I’m about to do for you is off the table, so you better hope he makes it safe. And if the Jordans are still willing to have him, and I’m sure they are, he’s going to stay with them as long as he wants to, hopefully until he’s an adult and can take care of himself.” Peggy had that look again. “Shut up mother! I swear to god I’ll put you on the street tonight if you open your mouth! You’re going to let him go. It’s the very least you can still do for him. You should never have had him in the first place and don’t think I don’t know why you did. You did it out of spite to dad and to keep him from leaving you. You found out he had gotten Susan Henson pregnant and you were afraid he was going to leave you. Why you just didn’t let him go, I’ll never understand. So you made sure you got yourself pregnant too and then you shamed him into staying. Great plan, mom! It really worked out well for everyone didn’t it? Which brings us back to where we go from here. You’re going to get into A.A. and you’re going to do it this coming week. You’re going to start looking for a job, also this week. If you stay in A.A. and you get a job, I’ll let you stay here for three more months, with rent, and then you’re on your own. If you stay sober and get yourself together, maybe we can even find a way to be friends but I don’t really expect that anymore. If you don’t do these things I’ve asked or if you continue to give me a hard time, you’re out. You can go to a shelter, or you can sleep on the streets, but you won’t stay here. That’s the deal, take it or leave now.”
“I can’t believe you’re being so cruel.” Peggy actually tried to tear up.
“Well, believe it mother - it runs in the family. So are you staying or leaving?”
“I don’t guess I have any choice.”
“You do have a choice and if you give me a bullshit answer one more time, you’re going out that door tonight! Are you staying with my rules or are you leaving?”
Melanie needed a break and she wanted to check on Chris again. She got in her car and drove around town, making the same circle she had driven earlier. But there was still no sight of him.
When she got back around 10pm, she made a phone call.
“Hello. John, this is Melanie Briggs. I’m really sorry to call so late and I don’t know where to begin. Let me start by apologizing to you and Joanna. The things my mother said were horrible enough but I’m sorry I didn’t correct them when I had the chance in person. But the important thing for now is that I wanted you to know that Chris has run away. I haven’t been able to find him but I’m sure he’s headed in your direction.”
“When did this happen?” John’s question also drew a nervous look from Joanna standing nearby. Matt was in his room.
“He left around 8pm. He had a terrible fight with our mother – it wasn’t his fault – and he left shortly after. I haven’t seen him or heard from him since. He knows that you and your wife offered to let him stay there for the rest of the school year. He hadn’t known until today.”
“I see. But you don’t know for sure he’s coming here?”
“I could be making too many assumptions, but I’m positive he is going there. This is a terrible time to ask this, but I don’t know another way to do it. I’d like for you and your wife to consider being his legal guardians. I know that’s a lot and I’d be willing to do all I could to help support him financially. It’s just…” Melanie finally cracked. She didn’t know the Jordans very well and there was no way they’d be willing to take this on.
“Melanie, I can understand what you’ve been going through. But just know that we’d be honored to have Chris in our family, officially. He already is in our family as far as we’re concerned. And you don’t have to worry with supporting him. We’d take care of his needs, whatever they might be. But Melanie, is your mother OK with this?”
“She is now, and thank you. I can’t tell you how much this means to me personally. Chris deserves this, he deserves a real home finally.”
“He’s a great young man, Melanie. We’ve talked quite a lot and I know how tough it is to have alcoholism in your family. My dad was, uh, very similar to your mom. If you hear from him, please let us know and we’ll do the same for you. What numbers can I reach you at?”
John blinked hard to clear the mist from his eyes so he could see the numbers he was writing down. Joanna had gathered more than enough to realize what was happening but she was far too concerned to be happy about it yet.
John and Joanna huddled together and talked about what to do next. They decided not to tell Matt anything until they knew more about what was happening. It would only worry him or get his hopes up; either of which might be unnecessary. Chris could still show up back at Melanie’s for all they knew.
The big question was now: Where is Chris?
Saturday morning came and Chris didn’t need a wake up call. He hadn’t slept all night, mostly out of fear for missing the bus. Temperatures around thirty degrees hadn’t made the night any more comfortable but he had bundled up with several layers of shirts and sweaters and worn his basketball warm-ups as an outer shell. All in all, he fared pretty well.
Raymond Jeffords pulled his truck into the rear parking lot at 6am, just like he always did. He was a morning person by nature and liked to get in a little early to have a cup of coffee and give the bus plenty of time to warm up before the trip. He detected some movement in the brush out behind the depot and wondered if he had startled another deer. Looking closer, he realized he had only startled a boy instead. Raymond wasn’t one to go sticking his nose too far into other people’s business, so he went inside and got his cup of coffee from the vending machine the way he always did, and then he came back out and leaned against the side of his truck to watch a ragged looking runaway emerge from the brush.
When Chris made eye contact with him, he figured the game was up and he’d be hauled off soon to wherever they collect boys who sleep in the woods behind bus depots. Raymond took a sip of his coffee and eyed Chris over.
“Now, when you told me you had someplace to stay. I assumed you meant someplace with a roof and some heat.”
“It wasn’t so bad. I’ve camped out plenty of times before.”
“Son, that weren’t no camping trip going on back there. How old are you?”
“I’m almost sixteen.”
“So, you are fifteen years old and sleeping in the freezing cold out behind a bus depot. I’d say that has to make you a runaway or an orphan. Which one is it?”
Chris was giving the question serious thought. He felt more like an orphan.
Raymond had his answer. “If you have to think about it that hard, then you must not be an orphan. An orphan knows he ain’t got no mama or daddy, he don’t have to stop and think about it. So that makes you a runaway. Now, which direction are you headed?”
Chris was confused or maybe the old man didn’t remember where he told him he was going. “I’m heading to Charlotte.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. Which direction are you headed? Back home or away from home?”
“I’m trying to get back home.”
“Are you sure about that now?”
“Yes sir, I’m 100% sure about that.”
“You been taking drugs?”
“You ain’t carrying a gun?”
“No sir.” Chris grinned. Raymond had personality.
“And I bet you ain’t got no money.”
“I’ve got ten dollars.”
“Boy, that AIN’T no money. It costs forty-nine dollars to get to Charlotte.”
Chris dropped his bags and sat down on top of them. Being poor-ass broke sucked once again.
“Come on then.” Raymond motioned with his hand as he spoke.
“I’m about to fire up the bus and turn on the heat. I don’t like a cold bus not one bit. We’ll go ahead and load your bags in, then I’ll get you a warm cup of coffee. I know you got to be cold.”
“You’re going to let me ride for free?”
“Hell no, I’m gonna take your ten dollars! There ain’t nothing free in this world, boy. But the way I figure it, you ain’t high on drugs, you ain’t drunk, you said you ain’t carrying a gun, and you just trying to get back home. This bus ain’t never full on a Saturday morning no how and if you don’t mind sitting up front right behind me where I can keep a close eye on you, I’ll let you ride. Now where’s my ten dollars?”
Chris fumbled into the pocket of his bluejeans and pulled out a ten dollar bill. Raymond gave it a look and said, “Put it back in your pocket son. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t lying to me about it. A man that lies about ten dollars might also lie about carrying a gun. Now come on and let’s get you loaded up. And brush some of that dirt off your pants. I don’t want nobody thinking it’s free-pass day for the hobos.”
Soon, Raymond had Chris sitting in the first passenger seat right behind the driver, sipping on a warm cup of coffee and a candy bar in hand for good measure. The big bus had a strong heater and the warm air felt wonderful after such a cold night.
They pulled out right on schedule at 7am and Raymond said they’d make it to Charlotte by 5pm with all the stops along the way. Being a bus driver made for a long day and it also made plenty of time for conversation. By 9am, Chris had figured out that Raymond rather enjoyed having someone to talk to and he was a great storyteller. Bus drivers, evidently, shared all of their best stories amongst each other.
By 10am, the steady motion of the bus combined with the warm air and a sleepless night before had conspired to put Chris into a deep sleep. Raymond kept talking just in case he woke up and needed to hear something interesting.
The bus came to a grinding halt at 12:30pm somewhere around Raleigh and Raymond offered Chris a sandwich during his lunch break. Raymond mentioned the Atlanta Braves and Chris instantly reached for his bag, pulling out the team jacket given as a Christmas present from John Jordan. “Chipper Jones wore that one. See this scuff mark right here,” and Chris pointed out the scuff mark.
“My, my, my. Chipper wore this one? Let me try it on.” Raymond was a tall man and the jacket fit him very well around the shoulders though it was a little tight around the waist.
When the bus hit the road again, Chris’s mind started to look ahead. He didn’t know all that had transpired behind him and he didn’t know if the Jordans would be willing to still take him. His mother was still legally his mother and he had no idea what would be waiting on him when he got there. Melanie had come through for him after all but he wouldn’t know about it for another few hours. He couldn’t help but see the look of disgust on his mother’s face as she stood and walked away from him. He still hadn’t given up on loving her but he had decided he might never like her again. In her short time of sobriety, she had wounded him more deeply than she ever had as a drunk.
Raymond cast a few glances in the mirror and caught the unsteady looks on Chris’s face.
“You starting to get a little nervous about it, ain’t you? That’s just normal. When people hadn’t seen each other in a while, it’s just natural. But family is still family. I’m sure yours will be glad to see you.”
“I hope they’ll let me stay.”
“Oh, your family ain’t gonna turn you away. They’ll let you stay.”
Chris rested his arms and chin on the rail in front of him and looked down the open road. He hoped it wasn’t a journey he found himself repeating in the opposite direction anytime soon.
Another two hours went by and butterflies started bouncing around his belly. On top of everything else, he hadn’t seen Matt in almost a month. He couldn’t wait to hold him. No matter if they sent him right back to Virginia, it would be worth the trip just to touch him again.
“All right son, we must got one last stop to make in Concord and then we’ll be on our way to Charlotte.”
“Concord? You stop in Concord?” Chris didn’t think the small town merited a bus stop.
“Oh yeah, we always stop there. You know somebody there?”
“I live just outside of Concord. That’s really my hometown. I just figured I’d have to go to Charlotte first.”
“Then son, you are home.” Raymond pulled off the Interstate and toward the same bus stop he’d navigated to thousands of times before. “Now, do you have somebody to come and get you? Be truthful with me.”
“Yes sir, I can call my brother Jay. He’ll be around.”
The bus pulled to a stop and Raymond swung open the doors. He swung around in his seat to look Chris straight on.
“Son, I don’t know what all has happened to you and I don’t want to know. It’s your business, not mine. But running away don’t never solve nothing. Even if you have to fight sometimes, it’s better to stay. You have to find a way to work things out with people. Now that’s all the advice this old bus driver is gonna give you. Get on out of here and go see your people. And don’t let me catch you sleeping out behind no more bus depots.” Raymond gave Chris a wink and a smile.
“Thank you. Sir, do you have children?”
“No, no. My lady died when we were both young. I never did remarry and we never did have no children together.” It was the most serious look Chris had seen on Raymond’s face.
“I’m sorry about your wife and it’s a real shame you didn’t have any kids. It seems like some of the best dads never get to have kids.” Chris reached out his hand and Raymond took it and gave him a warm grin.
“You take care of yourself, son.” With those words, Raymond closed the doors on the bus and pulled away.
Chris breathed in the air and tears came screaming to his eyes. He was home, almost. He dug out the number he was looking for and called Jay. If Jay wasn’t home, he’d call John but he didn’t want to try to explain things over the phone. He’d rather see them in person.
“Hello,” answered Jay with no enthusiasm.
“Jay, it’s Chris. I need a favor. Heck, when don’t I need a favor? Can you come and get me at the Greyhound bus stop.
“Well, yeah. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you on the way back. Can you come?”
“Sure. Give me about twenty minutes.”
While he waited for Jay, a steady cold rain started to fall. The bus stop had inside seating and restrooms. Chris went in to wash up a bit. Looking in the bathroom mirror, he didn’t think he had ever looked more ragged. “I look like a runaway” he mumbled to himself.
Jay pulled in about 6pm and Chris tossed his bags in the truck, took a seat and started telling the latest Briggs’ family drama.
Things at the Jordan house were tense. John and Joanna were starting to assume the worst and they could no longer hide their concerns. Where was Chris? John made another call to Melanie just to make sure he hadn’t shown back up there. No one had heard from him and Melanie had filed a missing persons report with the Richmond Police. The incident had even triggered some guilt and reflection on the part of Peggy, as had her earlier confrontation with Melanie.
Matt was still in the dark. “What’s wrong with you two? Mom missed work today and you’ve both been on pins and needles all night.”
They knew they couldn’t keep it from him any longer. And if harm had found Chris, Matt would want to know.
John spoke. “Matt, I need for you to stay calm and listen to me. We got a call from Melanie last night around 10pm. She thought Chris had run away from home and she thought he was coming here.”
“What do you mean ‘thought’ – what’s happened?” Matt wasn’t staying calm.
“We don’t know that anything has happened. He could still be in Richmond for all we know. No one has heard from him.”
“He has to be all right! He just has to be. If they took him up there and let him…If something’s happened…” Matt couldn’t hold back the tears. He had learned to take the abuse at school. But if life abused him this way, he didn’t want anything to do with it anymore.
“Breathe deep, Matt. Just breathe.” His mother was trying to fend off a fainting spell.
“I’m sure he’s all right, Matt. I’m sure he is.” John tried to reassure him but the uncertainty wouldn’t allow it.
Matt sat down at the bottom of the staircase and tried to gather himself.
The steady rain had turned into a downpour, drowning out the sound of the truck as it eased into the drive.
The dull thump of a closing truck door pierced the dreary night and all three Jordan heads snapped to attention at the same time. Matt lunged for the door and opened it just as Chris stepped under the canopy.
Their eyes met and they stood for a moment as if unsure what to do next. Chris was the first to break. He still had no idea how long he would be staying or if he would even be welcome. He just wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
When he saw Matt smile, it pulled all of the negative emotions out of him, straining his eyes to keep up with the flow. They collapsed into each other, both openly sobbing and unashamed of it, standing in a warm embrace of tears and joy. Emotion overwhelmed the spoken word. Hope melted all regret, and Love had finally won again.
“Come on inside, boys.” Joanna couldn’t keep her emotions in check either. Not this time. Matt surrendered Chris to Joanna’s arms. Chris was now a wreck. Everything had been turned upside down. If just for a moment, all that had been broken was fixed. But it wouldn’t be for just a moment.
He pulled back and held Joanna’s eyes. He had to ask the question. “Will you still take me, please?”
“Oh, Chris.” Joanna could finally let go of regret too. Maybe this was the way it was meant to be after all. “Come on in and let’s sit down and talk.” The Jordans were passing Chris around and John finally got in a strong hug.
Chris sat on the couch and Matt took his position beside him. Chris needed to get out the full story. He turned to John and Joanna. “I need to tell you something and I hope you won’t be mad at me for this. I ran away. My mom and I…”
John and Joanna looked at each other. There was no point in letting him suffer through this.
John spoke up. “Chris. Melanie called us last night. We know you ran away and we know you had a big fight with your mother. We’re just glad you’re safe and we’re glad you’re here.”
Relief filled Chris’s face and his expression said “thank you.”
“But my mom. I’m so sorry for what she said to you when you came over. I heard them talking about it. That’s what led to the fight.” Chris’s words brought a suspicious glance at the Jordan parents from Matt.
Chris continued. “I told her I loved Matt. Well, I guess I just told you too. But I think you knew already. She didn’t know and she didn’t take it well. She said it made her sick to her stomach. That I made her sick to her stomach. She wouldn’t even look at me. My own mom. She wouldn’t look at me.” Matt slipped his hand into Chris’s and Chris squeezed it tight in return. “With what my mom said, I guess they already want me to go back. But I want to stay here. I’m not going back there. I just can’t. I’ll understand if you won’t let me stay here but I still can’t go back there.”
“Chris.” John leaned forward. “Matt too, since neither of you know this. Melanie told us she wants us to become your legal guardians. She didn’t exactly have to ask twice, Chris. We already consider you part of our family. But, uh, if you still want to be, you’re going to be under our care. For all legal purposes, we’ll be your parents. If you still want us to be. I’m gathering that you DO want us to be.”
Two mouths fell open simultaneously, both losing the power of speech for a minute.
“You mean for the rest of the school year? That’s what you originally talked to mom and Melanie about, right?” Chris couldn’t believe anymore than that.
“No, we mean for as long as you want to stay here. Once you’re eighteen, you’re legally an adult anyway. But we’ll always treat you like a son. We always would anyway. It’s the way we look at you now.”
“I can’t believe you would do that for me. Why? I mean, why would you do that for me?”
Joanna joined in. “Because we love you, Chris. We love you and we want you to be happy.”
John added. “Melanie said something that might help you. She said you deserved a real family, son. I don’t mean to put down your ‘real’ family, but you do deserve that. We all deserve that. I didn’t have it at your age either, but it’s something you can find. I found it with Joanna and Matt and it’s something I never want to be without again. I don’t want you to ever be without it again either.”
It was all too much for Chris to hear. A part of him feared accepting it because it meant he might lose it. But a bigger part of him needed it no matter what the risk. He folded over and hid his face in his hands, sobbing again. A family - a real family with real Christmases and real love. Matt wrapped his arms around him and held him tight, Chris shaking underneath. Chris didn’t hold back the emotion. He needed to let it out and he didn’t have to hold back anymore. After all, he was with family now.