Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
“Come on, Brian.”
“No, I’m not going.”
“But you need to set an example for your staff.”
“Fuck my staff!”
“You better not.”
Brian snorted. “I am not going, and that’s all there is to it.”
“Ted put a lot of effort into researching which charity would benefit the most from Kinnetik’s generosity this year. As President and CEO you should be there.”
“They got my money. That’s enough.”
Justin heaved a sigh. “Okay, I’ll go by myself.”
“Better martyr than Grinch.”
“I am not a Grinch.”
“Hmph, that’s what you say.”
“Why don’t you just go feed the homeless and leave me alone,” Brian advised.
“Where’s your Christmas spirit?” Justin asked.
“In that bottle of Beam over there,” Brian replied pointing to an unopened bottle of the amber liquid that sat proudly on the bar cart.
“Fine,” Justin said with a grimace. “I’m going.”
“Good, then I can have a little peace and quiet until Gus gets here.”
“Yes, little boy, brown hair, hazel eyes, goes by the nickname Sonny Boy.”
“I know who Gus is. You didn’t tell me he was coming over today.”
“Lindsay called a little while ago,” Brian said with a smirk.
“Maybe I should stay…”
“What happened to your good intentions, O charitable one?”
“Fuck you!” Justin shot back. “I’m going.” Justin grabbed his coat and slammed the loft door behind him.
Brian had enjoyed two or three shots of Beam and the total silence of the loft, when there was a tap on the door. Brian got up and pulled the door back.
“Daddy!” Gus yelled wrapping his arms around Brian’s legs.
“Hey, Sonny Boy,” Brian smiled as he reached down and picked up his son. “You’re getting so big. How old are you now … seventeen?”
Gus giggled. “I’m four, Daddy.”
“Oh, right,” Brian said kissing his son’s cheek. “Come on in,” he said to Lindsay as he carried Gus over to the sofa and dumped him unceremoniously on top of it. Gus giggled and righted himself, looking at his tall father with adulation.
“Where’s Justin?” Lindsay asked as she slipped out of her coat, and then helped Gus out of his.
“Feeding the homeless.”
“The homeless…” Lindsay asked with a frown.
“It’s another one of Ted’s brilliant ideas. He’s got all of Kinnetik down at the Harbor Light Mission serving dinner to the homeless, along with several thousand of my dollars.”
“That’s great, Brian, but why aren’t you with them?”
“I don’t serve anyone.”
“You are so full of shit,” Lindsay said glaring at Brian. “You should be there.”
“Mommy has a picture she drew of a homeless man,” Gus piped up. “It’s really good.”
“You do?” Brian asked, looking at his longtime friend.
“I drew it ages ago, but I finally framed it the other day.”
“It’s really good,” Gus repeated, as he stared at the flickering lights on Justin’s Christmas tree. “I miss Justin,” he added as he continued to study the tree.
“You should go down there, Brian, and show that you care.”
“I don’t care,” Brian proclaimed.
“I know that’s a crock of shit. Do it for your son.”
“What does my son have to do with this?”
“You’ll be setting a good example for Gus.”
“A good example of what – someone who is forced to do something he doesn’t want to do?”
“I’m not going down to some dive to serve food to homeless people who can’t seem to help themselves. That’s all there is to it,” Brian stated. He poured himself another drink.
“There’s a homeless man who lives near the diner. Will he be there tonight?”
“I … I don’t know.”
“His name is Jerome. Mommy lets me give him a dollar. He always says thank you.”
“Does he?’ Brian moved over close to Lindsay. “You let my son hang around homeless people.” It came out as an accusation.
“No, he doesn’t hang around homeless people. He has seen Jerome and … talked to him a few times.”
“Is he the guy in your drawing?”
“God no! I made that drawing years and years ago.”
“Can we go see if Jerome needs dinner, Daddy? I’ll serve it to him,” Gus volunteered.
“Daddy, please. Jerome is real nice, and sometimes he’s really hungry.”
Lindsay watched her son, knowing that if she said anything Brian would turn his wrath on her. That would be the perfect excuse for him to refuse to go. Instead she bided her time and held her tongue.
“Please, Daddy?” Gus repeated.
“You really want to do this?”
“Okay … I guess we can,” Brian reluctantly gave in to the pleas of his son. “I should probably check that Theodore hasn’t given away all my money.”
Lindsay held her tongue and tried not to smile too broadly. She grabbed Gus’ coat and helped him on with it. She put her own on as well and waited as Brian grudgingly got his coat and slipped it on. He grabbed his keys and phone from the counter, and couldn’t help but slam the loft door once Lindsay and Gus were safely on the elevator. How did he fucking get himself into these things?
When they arrived at the mission, the room was full of people enjoying a hot Christmas dinner of turkey with all the fixings.
“Brian,” Justin shouted when he saw his partner. Justin was behind a table scooping up some white glop that in another life might be mashed potatoes.
“Hey,” Brian replied trying to look nonchalant.
“I’m glad you decided to come,” Justin said enthusiastically. He added some gravy to the plate and handed it to a woman who was next in line.
“I didn’t have much choice.”
“I asked him to come, Jus,” Gus piped up.
Justin looked over the pots on the table and saw Gus standing next to his father. “Hey, buddy,” he said. “Thanks for talking your dad into coming to help us.”
“Is Jerome here?” Gus asked scanning the room.
“Yes, I think that’s him over in the corner there.”
Gus looked where Justin pointed. “Can I have a dollar, Daddy, for Jerome?”
Brian shook his head, but he fished a dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to his son. He watched Gus run across the room and climb onto the chair next to the grubby looking man. Gus seemed happy and the man seemed harmless. “How do you know who Jerome is?” Brian asked.
“Come around here and dish up the gravy, and I’ll tell you,” Justin replied with one of those smiles that told Brian he would earn big points if he did.
Brian walked around the end of the table and picked up the ladle in the pot of gravy. Justin added some mashed potatoes to a plate and handed it to Brian who spooned on some gravy.
“Could I have a bit more?” the woman next in line asked Brian. “I just love gravy.”
“Say when,” Brian advised as he almost had the plate swimming in gravy.
“That’s lovely,” the woman said. “Thanks, handsome.” She gave Brian a wink as she took the plate and headed over to an empty chair.
“I think you made a conquest,” Justin laughed scooping up the last bit of potato in his tray.
“It was the gravy.”
Justin laughed and called to Ted. Ted hustled over and grabbed the empty mashed potato tray. “Hi, Bri, glad you could make it. I’ll be right back with some more mashed.”
“Thanks, Ted,” Justin said. The line was held up for a few minutes until Ted could bring in the replacement pan of mashed potatoes.
“So, how do you know Jerome?” Brian asked. He hadn’t forgotten Justin being able to point out the man to Gus.
“He’s outside the Liberty Diner every now and then. He sits on the grate to keep warm.”
“I don’t remember seeing him,” Brian replied. He studied his son who was still sitting with the old man. Gus was talking animatedly.
“A lot of homeless people are invisible to others,” Justin told Brian.
Brian knew that was true, but he found it hard to believe that his son and his lover both knew this Jerome person, and he couldn’t remember ever seeing him.
“Here,” Justin said handing Brian another plate now containing mashed potatoes.
Brian added gravy. This person didn’t want extra. Brian looked at the old man, only to discover that the man was probably not much older than him. Life on the street had weathered his skin and his ragged clothes made him appear much older than he actually was. Brian watched the man walk over to an empty chair and sit down heavily. Brian could hardly imagine what it must be like to sleep on a grate in the street and wander around without heavy winter clothes. This was not what he had expected to be thinking when he came to the mission on Gus’ request.
They spent the next hour dishing out food, and then the line began to dwindle. A few of the people came over to say thank you to the Kinnetik people who were serving the food. Many hustled out of the mission without a word.
“Where are they going?” Brian asked.
“Probably trying to get a bed in one of the shelters. It’s supposed to be brutally cold tonight,” Justin explained.
Brian shook his head. He didn’t like being brought face to face with the fact that people were actually living like this.
“I’m going to get a dinner,” Justin said. “There’s some food left. Should I fix one for you?”
“A bun with some turkey would be good,” Brian said.
“Coming right up,” Justin joked.
Brian walked across the room to his son. “Hey, Gus, how are you doing?” Brian asked.
“Good, Daddy, just talking to Jerome.”
“So you’re Gus’ father?” Jerome asked. “I think I’ve seen you at the Liberty Diner.”
“I often go there,” Brian replied.
“Daddy, Jerome used to be a soldier.”
“Once long ago,” Jerome replied.
“Shouldn’t you have veteran’s benefits then?” Brian asked with a frown.
“Such as they are,” Jerome said softly. “You have a fine boy here.” He smiled at Gus.
“I know,” Brian replied. “Do you have a last name?” Brian asked Jerome.
“Could you tell me what it is?”
Jerome frowned. “It’s Harkness. Why?”
“No reason, I was just going to say that it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Harkness.”
Jerome looked surprised. “Your father has very good manners, Gus.”
“I know,” Gus replied sounding very much like his father.
“May I sit down?” Brian asked.
Jerome nodded. Brian sat down with Jerome and Gus. Justin joined them with his dinner and a sandwich for Brian. He brought extra pieces of pumpkin pie for Gus and Jerome. They ate together talking about the weather and whatever else came up as a topic. Lindsay and Ted joined them. Ted had a dinner just like the one Jerome had enjoyed earlier, and Lindsay had found a piece of mincemeat pie. When they finished eating, Jerome stood and wished them a Merry Christmas before heading out into the cold night. Brian watched him go.
“Ted,” Brian said. “See what you can find out about Jerome Harkness, U.S. soldier.”
“Sure, Bri, why?”
“Just do it.”
“And Ted, however much we donated to this mission, double it.”
“Um … sure, Boss.”
“I think we should make this our Christmas tradition at Kinnetik to do this every year,” Brian stated.
Justin beamed at his partner. “That’s great, Brian,” Justin whispered, proud of his man.
“I think maybe we should look into monthly contributions to the mission as well. They must need money all year long, not just at Christmas.”
“True,” Ted replied.
“That’s wonderful, Brian,” Lindsay said.
“I love you,” Justin whispered squeezing Brian’s arm.
“Look what Jerome gave me,” Gus said opening his hand. In it was a Purple Heart.
“He gave you that?” Lindsay asked in awe.
Gus nodded his head. “He said I should have it. He didn’t need it anymore,” Gus informed them.
“Schmidt, that U.S. soldier is recipient of the Purple Heart. I want to know what happened to him, and the sooner the better.”
“Right,” Ted said, knowing he would do his research all night if necessary and have the answer for Brian the following day.
“You ready to go home?” Brian asked Justin. “Tomorrow’s Christmas.”
“Yay, Santa’s coming!” Gus said.
“And I have a feeling Santa is going to be very generous this year,” Ted said as Brian and his family walked out of the mission.
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