“Is there anything more I can get you?” the server asked while placing the large plate in the middle of our table.
“No thanks,” we say almost simultaneously.
“Your main dishes should be ready soon.”
We waited for the server to leave before we began dividing the appetizer sampler between the six of us. Eating kept us silent for several minutes.
“So,” Amber finally said. “Should we do a Christmas party this year. If so, who will host?”
A few of us shrugged while others continued eating.
“What if we did something different this year?” I said.
I had been developing the idea for about a week. It began when I saw him walk past me in the Jolley’s Drug Store parking lot. His green eyes looked at me momentarily before they dropped. The long braided read hair and freckles were familiar, but I wasn’t sure why. His name didn’t come to me until I found the single photo of him in my senior yearbook.
“What if we use the money we would spend for a party on somebody instead? We could give them Christmas.”
“Have somebody in mind?” Luke asked. He took a bite of his chicken wing and then licked the extra sauce from his lips.
“Stevie Barker,” I said before taking a bite of a deep fried mozzarella stick.
I expected some conversation. Instead, my friends helped themselves to more appetizers.
“Stevie Barker,” I repeated. “He went to Valley View, but he was a year younger than us.”
“I know who he is,” Luke said before slurping his soda through a straw. He looked around the room. “Our server’s never around when you need a refill.”
“Wait a minute,” Crystal said. “Stevie Barker. Wasn’t he that loner kid? The one who stayed at school all day? Until the janitors kicked him out each night?”
“That’s the one,” Luke said.
Once again, our attention turned to our food instead of my proposal.
“I remember him,” Brian spoke up. “Didn’t his younger brother–”
“Shoot himself,” Luke said. “Yeah.”
“Oh,” Amber sounded surprised. She took a bite of her appetizer and then said “this artichoke dip is amazing.”
“Stevie was the one who found his body,” Luke said.
I looked around the table, and eyes averted to plates or dark corners of the restaurant.
“I saw him the other day,” I said. “He walked past me at Jolley’s Drug. I think he lives in the Harper House.”
“Isn’t that a halfway house?” Crystal asked.
“For the underemployed,” I said.
“Why should we give him Christmas?” Luke asked.
“I don’t know. I just felt bad when I saw him. He looked so alone.”
“He has family,” Luke said. “His parents live down the street from mine.”
“I know. It’s just–I don’t know–he looked like he could use some help.”
“So?” Luke said. “He has family less than five miles away. Help should come from family first.”
“He’s practically homeless,” John joined the conversation.
“By choice,” Luke said. “If he wanted help, he would go to his parents. We didn’t pay much attention to him in high school. He wouldn’t know us from Adam. I think it would be embarrassing for him to accept Christmas from us.”
The six of us looked at each other.
“You can do what you want, but my charity will go somewhere else.”
The servers came with overloaded trays of sizzling fajitas, prime rib, steaming baked potatoes, and seafood pasta. They refilled our glasses as our conversations switched to work and family holiday plans. We ate well and made room for overly-sweet desserts, but we didn’t mention Stevie Barker again.
<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I saw Stevie a few more times that winter–always in the safety of my warm car. He was always walking in the wet winter roads with his eyes pointed to the ground. He carried what looked like a rolled blanket tied to a backpack. Each time I thought I should offer him a ride. Each time I talked myself out of it. Each time I told myself I didn’t want to embarrass him with unwanted charity. But each time I also regretted not giving him Christmas.I saw Stevie a few more times that winter–always in the safety of my warm car. He was always walking in the wet winter roads with his eyes pointed to the ground. He carried what looked like a rolled blanket tied to a backpack. Each time I thought I should offer him a ride. Each time I talked myself out of it. Each time I told myself I didn’t want to embarrass him with unwanted charity. But each time I also regretted not giving him Christmas.
February 14, I settled in for my annual single’s awareness night of television. My cell phone lit up to alert me of a text message from Crystal.
You should read today’s Obituaries. So sad.
I scrolled through the website until I found it: Steven James Barker. I clicked on the name and 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.
Categories: short story