“Is there anything more I can get you?” the server asks after placing the large plate in the middle of our table.
“No thanks,” we say simultaneously.
“Your main dishes should be ready soon.”
We wait for the server to leave before we begin dividing appetizers between the six of us. Eating keeps us silent for several minutes.
“So,” Amber finally speaks. “Who’s hosting the Christmas party this year?”
A few shrugs are the only response as we continue eating.
“I think we should do something different this year,” I speak up.
The idea came to me when he walked past me at Jolley’s Drug Store a week ago. He looked at me momentarily before directing his familiar green eyes to his shabby boots. I knew I recognized that red hair pulled back into a single, long braid and the freckles, but I wasn’t sure why. His name finally came when I found his single portrait in my senior yearbook.
“What if we give somebody Christmas this year instead of having a party?”
“Have somebody in mind?” Luke asks. He nibbles on a chicken wing and then licks hot sauce from his lips.
“Stevie Barker,” I say between bites of mozzarella sticks.
I wait for conversation. Instead, my friends help themselves to more appetizers.
“Stevie Barker,” I repeat. “He went to Valley View, but he’s a year younger than us.”
“I know him,” Luke says before slurping soda through a straw. He looks around the room, holding his glass above his shoulders. “Server’s never around when you need a refill.”
“Stevie Barker,” Crystal says. “That loner kid? The one who stayed at school all day? Until the janitors kicked him out each night?”
“One and the same,” Luke says.
Attention returns to food instead of us discussing my proposal.
“I remember him,” Brian speaks up. “Didn’t his younger brother–”
“Shoot himself,” Luke says. “Um, Yeah.”
“Oh,” Amber sounds surprised. She munches on her appetizer then clears her throat and says “this artichoke dip is amazing.”
“Stevie found him,” Luke says. “The body. After…”
I look around the table, and eyes avert to plates or random corners of the restaurant.
“I saw him the other day,” I say. “I think he rents a room in the old Harper House.”
“The halfway house?” Crystal asks.
“For the underemployed.” I nod my head.
“And druggies,” Luke says.
“Why should we give him Christmas?” Luke asks.
“I don’t know. Just felt bad when I saw him. He looked so alone.”
“He has family,” Luke says. “His parents are still alive. They live down the street from mine.”
“I know. It’s just–I don’t know–he looked like he could use some help.”
“So what?” Luke says. “He has family. Less than five miles away. Family first, I always say.”
“He’s practically homeless,” John joins the conversation. “Maybe we should–“
“By choice,” Luke starts getting annoyed. “If he wants help, he should go to his parents. We didn’t pay attention to him when we were in high school. He wouldn’t know us from Adam. I think he would be embarrassed if we gave him Christmas.”
The six of us look at each other.
“You can do what you want, but my charity will go somewhere else.” Luke rattles the ice in his glass. “Where is our server?”
Two servers come with trays of sizzling fajitas, prime rib, steaming baked potatoes, and seafood pasta. They refill our glasses as our conversations switch to work and family holiday plans. We more than we should but leave room for overly-sweet desserts.
“Okay, okay,” Crystal says. “I’ll host a party. What night’s good for everyone?”
February 14, 20…
I settle into my annual single’s awareness night of salty snack, soda, and television. My cell phone lights up.
You should read today’s Obituaries. So sad. – Crystal
I scroll through the website until I find the name:
Steven James Barker
I clickand read the pithy tribute.
Steven James Barker left us on February 9.
His parents and sisters loved him completely.
We wish he believed us.
We miss him.