“Daddy, what’s that?” Gus asked. He pointed to a barrel that stood at the end of the checkout line in the supermarket.
“You can read that, can’t you?” Brian asked pointing to the sign.
Six year old Gus nodded. “It says ‘Food Bank’. What’s a food bank?”
For a split second Brian was happy that his son didn’t know what a food bank was. Then he decided that Gus needed to understand that there were people far less fortunate than he was. “It’s a place where people donate food, and then other people who can’t afford to buy food can go there and get some, so they won’t be hungry.”
Gus frowned as he studied the huge pile of groceries they had just placed on the checkout counter of the supermarket. Justin had sent them out with a very long list of food to buy, while he was decorating Britin. Brian had taken what he considered to be the lesser of two evils – grocery shopping over decorating for Christmas. Gus was visiting from Toronto and had wanted to go with his daddy. So here they were with this mountain of food.
“People are hungry?” Gus asked looking back and forth between his father and all their groceries. He was not sure what his father meant about people being hungry.
“Yes, some people are,” Brian admitted gently.
“But why don’t they go to the fridge and get a yogurt?”
Brian snorted slightly. Trust the cwazy lesbians to teach his son that yogurt was the go-to food when you were hungry. “They don’t have yogurt in the fridge, Gus. They may not have anything in their fridge … or in their home.”
“But how…” Gus started to ask.
“It’s hard to explain, Gus. Some people have lost their jobs and they have to pay rent or a mortgage, or they’ll get kicked out of their home. They don’t have money for food.”
Gus thought about that for a minute. Brian had to be thankful that his son wasn’t one of those people who went hungry. Brian would never allow that to happen.
“Can we put some food in the barrel for people who need it?” Gus asked.
“We only have what Justin said we needed,” Brian began. He knew it was an important lesson for Gus that he be charitable to those less fortunate than he was. “We don’t have any extras to put in the barrel,” Brian explained, studying the pile of food hoping to find something they could donate. He didn’t want to upset Justin by coming home with only part of what he had written on the list.
“Maybe when we come to the store another time, we can pick up some extras for the food bank. Okay?”
“Okay,” Gus said slowly as Brian paid for what they had bought. As they walked out of the store, Gus’ head swiveled around so that he could see the Food Bank barrel one more time.
Brian turned onto his street as he headed for Britin. He had taken Gus home from grocery shopping just in time to be called into Kinnetik for a crisis that should have been handled without him. Ted and Cynthia had been suitably chastised when Brian solved the problem in ten minutes. Brian’s few days off to spend with Gus had been rudely interrupted, and Brian intended to remedy that as soon as he got back to Britin, where he had left Gus and Justin trimming the tree.
“What the fuck…?”
Brian slowed as he neared the driveway of his house. A small gathering of people were standing in his driveway. Brian wondered if it was some kind of protest about fags moving into the neighborhood. He and Justin had lived there for almost a year now, ever since Justin came back from New York. Nobody had made a fuss about them before. In fact they had barely seen any of their neighbors, and nobody had ever come up the driveway to their house.
Brian honked the horn to get the people to move out of his way so that he could get his Corvette into the driveway. Several people turned and smiled at him as they moved aside. When Brian pulled into the end of the drive, he saw Justin and Gus sitting at a table. Brian stopped the car after he pulled up past the group of people. He got out and walked back to the table.
“What the fuck is going on?” Brian demanded of Justin.
“We’re having hot chocolate and collecting food for the Food Bank.”
“You’re what?” Brian asked with a frown.
“I told Justin about the people who are hungry and he helped me,” Gus piped up. “We made a sign and asked people to…”
“Donate,” Justin supplied with a touch of his hand to Gus’ cheek.
“How long have you two been out here?” Brian asked.
“Ever since we made the sign,” Justin said. “About an hour,” he added looking at his watch. “We’ve been selling hot chocolate too.”
“Look at all the money people gave us for the hot chocklit,” Gus said proudly, showing his father the jar they were using to hold the money. It was stuffed with bills. Gus was bundled up in his snowsuit with mittens and a toque. His cheeks were rosy from the cold and from the pride glowing from within. He liked helping people. “See at all the food people brought, Daddy,” Gus said with a big smile.
Two big cardboard boxes were crammed full of various cans and boxes of food. Brian couldn’t help smiling warmly at his son.
“You have a great kid there, Mr. Kinney,” one of the men sipping hot chocolate said. “I’m Mark Sandridge. I live across the street.” He extended his hand to Brian.
“Brian Kinney, and call me Brian,” Brian responded shaking the proffered hand.
That started a round of introductions from all the other neighbors who were milling around. Brian knew he wouldn’t remember any of their names, but Justin probably would.
“I’m going to collect food at my office for the next few days. I’ll credit your son with whatever I collect,” Mark said.
“Me too,” a woman agreed. “My employees are very generous.”
“So are mine,” another man said. “I’m doing the same.”
Brian looked at his son who had started all this. Gus happily swung his feet as he sat on the lawn chair behind the card table Justin had set up for them. He beamed proudly at all the adults. Then a shiver ran through his body.
“Are you cold, Gus?” Brian asked.
“A little,” Gus admitted.
“I think you’ve been sitting out here long enough.”
“That’s true,” Mark responded. “Take your son in where it’s warm. Joe and I will bring the food up to your garage.”
“Thanks,” Brian said as Justin started gathering up his thermos of hot chocolate and the money jar.
Several of the neighbors started folding up the chairs and the table, ready to carry them back to the house.
After everything was stowed away, the neighbors thanked for their generosity and Gus ensconced in front of the fireplace, Brian pulled Justin aside.
“What the fuck happened here?” Brian asked.
“After you left for Kinnetik, Gus told me about seeing the barrel of food for the food bank. I helped him with this little project,” Justin said innocently. “He didn’t like the idea of people being hungry, so we brainstormed some ideas of how to collect food, and we came up with the old lemonade stand idea.”
“Where did all those people come from?”
“The neighbors saw us and started coming over to introduce themselves. Then they’d go home and bring back a bag of food. I made some cocoa and we started selling it.”
“Quite the little entrepreneur, aren’t you?”
“I try,” Justin said with a grin. “But it was really all Gus.”
Brian looked over at Gus who was wrapped in a blanket and dozing on the sofa. “He’s quite a kid.”
“He’s the best … just like his daddy.”
Brian snorted, but Justin could see that he was pleased with the comparison.
After dinner and a final check of the tree, it was time to put Gus to bed. Brian and Justin tucked him into his bed after his bath.
“You sleepy, buddy?” Justin asked. Gus nodded. “All that fresh air will do it.”
“Daddy, do you think the neighbors will collect a lot of food?” Gus asked.
“It sounded like they would,” Brian said.
“That’s good. I don’t want anybody to be hungry for Christmas.”
“Neither do we,” Justin said gently with a look at Brian for his agreement.
“Can you collect at your office too, Daddy?” Gus asked as his eyes started to close.
“I … I guess I could, Gus. How would you like to go into work with me tomorrow and we’ll tell all the people at Kinnetik what you want to do?”
Gus nodded again, just before his eyes closed for the night.
“You going to take Gus to work tomorrow?” Justin asked as they closed the door to Gus’ room most of the way, leaving just a crack so that they would hear Gus if he called out in the night.
“That’s what I said, so that’s what I’ll do.”
“You’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” Justin said standing on tiptoe to kiss Brian’s cheek.
“I expect a better reward than that,” Brian told him.
Justin grinned. “Feeling a little hunger of your own?” he asked wickedly.
“You might say that,” Brian agreed. He pulled Justin against him and kissed him hard. “Are you going to satisfy that hunger?”
“I’m sure going to try,” Justin replied. He took Brian’s hand and led him down the hall to their bedroom.
Melanie, Lindsay and JR arrived a few days before Christmas to stay at Britin for the holidays, until they all would go back to Toronto with Gus. Brian had been dreading their arrival, wondering how they could all be in the same house together without killing each other, especially Melanie. Justin kept reminding Brian that it was a big house, and the girls would have friends and family to visit. Things started off smoothly, smoother than Brian could have imagined.
They all got settled in quickly. Brian had agreed to host Christmas at Britin, since Debbie’s house was getting to be too small for the large group that got together on Christmas Day. Everyone seemed to be looking forward to a happy Christmas. All Justin’s decorations at the house were greatly admired. He had made the house look festive and welcoming. Debbie and Emmett were coming early on Christmas Day to help with the cooking. Justin would put the turkey in the oven at the crack of dawn so that it would have all day to cook.
Gus had told his mothers about all the food he had collected for the food bank. They were very proud of what their son had done.
Brian had taken Gus to Kinnetik, called a staff meeting and Gus had explained that he wanted to collect food because he didn’t want anybody to be hungry. Brian’s staff had come through big time. Ted had looked after the boxes of food collected, as well as the generous cash donations many of the staff had made, including a major one from Brian.
It was the day before Christmas Eve and they had all enjoyed a lovely meal. They were sitting in the living room with the fire burning in the fireplace and the Christmas tree twinkling brightly. Presents filled the space under the tree.
“This is lovely, Brian,” Lindsay said.
“All credit to Justin. I merely did the shopping,” Brian stated.
“Do you think the hungry people got enough food?” Gus asked out of the blue.
“What?” Melanie asked. “What hungry people?”
“The ones that go to the food bank,” Gus patiently reminded his mother.
“We took lots of food from Kinnetik over to the food bank,” Brian informed them, “thanks to Gus.”
“I’m so proud of you doing all that, lambskin,” Lindsay said.
“Thanks, Mommy,” Gus said with a big smile.
The doorbell rang at that moment.
“I wonder which of the Liberty Avenue gang is having a crisis this time,” Brian said with a sigh.
“I’ll get it,” Justin offered shaking his head as he left the room. He disappeared out into the foyer. They could hear him talking to someone. “Um, Brian, it’s Mr. Sandridge from across the street,” Justin announced as he ushered the man into the room.
“Mark, please,” the man reminded Justin.
“Hello, Mark,” Brian said shaking the man’s hand. “What can we do for you?”
“I didn’t mean to interrupt when you have company,” Mark apologized as he spotted the women sitting on the sofa.
“This is Lindsay Peterson and Melanie Marcus, Gus’ mothers. They’re staying with us for a few days,” Brian explained.
“Oh, nice to meet you all.”
Brian was surprised that Mark didn’t skip a beat when he heard about Gus’ two mothers. “So what brings you across the vast wastelands of our street?” Brian asked facetiously.
Mark chuckled at Brian’s choice of words then he explained, “I just delivered the last of the food from my office to the food bank. They’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of food they’ve received since Gus started everyone thinking about the true meaning of Christmas.”
Gus’ mothers beamed proudly and Gus sat up straight. “Is there enough food so nobody will be hungry for Christmas?” Gus asked with a hopeful look on his face.
“The lady who runs the food bank wanted to thank you for all your efforts, but I didn’t know your phone number off hand, so I said I would come over and personally thank you, Gus. The food bank has enough food to make a generous hamper for each needy family, and stock their shelves as well. The food bank is in good shape for the new year. And it’s all due to you, young man.”
“That’s good,” Gus simply replied.
“I wanted to recognize the fact that Gus has made this the most meaningful Christmas I’ve had in years,” Mark added. “I made a cash donation to the food bank in your name, Gus. I hope that was all right. And I brought a bottle of scotch for your fathers,” Mark added holding up the Christmas bag he was carrying.
Melanie did a double take at the mention of Gus’ fathers. The plural of that word made her wince, but she didn’t say anything as Gus proudly heard about Mark’s generosity on his behalf.
“I think the food bank would like to give you some sort of recognition after Christmas,” Mark told them.
“That’s not necessary,” Brian replied quickly. “Is it, Gus?”
“Nope, I just want people to have food,” Gus stated.
“You are a very generous little boy.”
“What do you say we crack open this bottle of scotch and toast my son?” Brian said.
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Mark agreed.
“Sit yourself down, Mark. It’s about time we got to know our neighbors,” Brian said magnanimously.
“I’ll get some glasses,” Justin happily concurred as everyone found a seat.
“So, what did you ask Santa for?” Mark asked Gus.
“I asked him to feed all the hungry people, and he did,” Gus replied proudly.
Everyone smiled and nodded in approval as Brian twisted the top off the bottle of scotch. Christmas cheer would taste a little sweeter this year thanks to a little boy’s generosity and efforts.
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