Oh my goodness, this is such an exciting piece of news! Thanks to the wonderful Beatrice who put this book forward for the vote…
I am totally blown away that the story of Zachary and Ben has been chosen…
Christmas is a time for giving – what do you do when no one gives a damn?
For Zachary Weston Christmas means sleeping on a churchyard bench in the freezing snow with nothing better in his future. Thrown out of his home for being gay, he is left without money or, it seems, anywhere to go.
Until a stranger shows him that some people do give a lot more than a damn.
Ben Hamilton is a rookie cop in his small home town. He finds a young throwaway, fresh from the city, sleeping on a bench in the churchyard on a snowy Christmas Eve. Can he be the one to give Zachary his own Christmas miracle?
“How old are you?” the cop asked, looking concerned and very much in authority.
“Eighteen,” Zach lied quickly. He took a step back until his thighs hit the back of the bench he had been resting on. The cop stepped with him, looming large despite being a few inches shorter than Zach, his face creased in a frown.
Zach bit his lower lip, feeling the hot blood against his tongue, the shivering inside him starting to manifest in shakes he knew even the cop would see. Carefully Zach lifted the blanket, damp and ice cold, trying to create a barrier between himself and the police officer with the intense gaze.
“Seventeen,” Zach finally said, willing his teeth to stop chattering, “but I'll be eighteen in a few days.” He added the last bit, giving the cop an out. He wanted to add just leave me alone, I won't hurt anyone.
“Ben Hamilton,” the cop said softly, holding his hand out as if he wanted to shake Zach's. Zach was confused, waiting for the glint of cuffs, uncertain, and he dug his hands deeper in the wet blanket he was holding. The cop, this Hamilton, didn't move his hand, just held it firm and steady. Finally Zach thrust his cold hand out, the texture of the officer's leather gloves soft and strange beneath his touch.
“Zach,” he introduced himself softly, remembering not to mention his surname. The cop didn't push him on it, just nodded and pulled his hand away.
“So, Zach, what's happened to you? Why are you lying on the bench at the Church of St. Margaret on Christmas Eve?”
The officer wasn't shouting; he was asking quietly, but Zach immediately started to go on the defensive. There was a concerned twist to the cop's mouth, and he had narrowed his eyes as he asked.
“I…” Zach stopped, assessing the lies he could spin, thinking of the stories he had used to persuade people to leave him alone. Nothing crystallized as right for this moment in time. There was something to this cop, a man who seemed not much older than he was, an officer who wasn't a city cop, but a small town cop. He wouldn't be part of the system the same way as the cops in the city who said he should go home. I don't have a home. Maybe… maybe he should tell him the truth?
“I can't be at home right now,” he said finally, wincing as the cop's gloved hand traced the bruises over his left eye and down his jaw line.
“Who did this to you, Zach? Did this happen here in this town?” The officer's words spun a safe haven for sharing secrets, soft, insistent and not very cop-like. Zach shied away instantly from the gentle touch, an icy blade of uncertainty pinching his skin as he contemplated being in the dark church grounds on his own with this man. He seemed friendly enough, but what if it was just another act? Cautiously, and trying not reveal his intentions, he looked to his left and then to his right. If he was going to run, he needed a head start and being held or cornered would take that head start away. To the right, dense foliage blocked an exit, to the left was the gate to the churchyard and the shadowy grave stones. That was his best bet. He shifted his weight to his right foot, ready in a moment to push himself away and to vault the gate. His leg shook with the added pressure, and he knew he would probably fall at the first hurdle. Still, any plan offered more hope than no plan.
“I fell,” he said firmly, the same line he had used for most of his life, the same line that earned him looks that ranged from pity to doubt. When he had said those words to people from organizers at the soup kitchen, to cops on the corner, to the owner of the homeless hostel, he had been sworn at, propositioned, cried at, or pushed away in disgust. He wasn't expecting much from another man in authority.
“Uh huh.” The officer didn't push for any more information, just nodded at the simple statement and took a step back and away. He spoke directly into his radio. “I'm heading home now. It was nothing to worry about at the church.” Static broke the calm of the snow-deadened air, and a tinny voice acknowledged the radio message with a series of codes and a single name, Ben. The cop looked back at Zach, and Zach gauged that now the cop was two steps away from him, heading for the gate would be easier. “You can't sleep here. I'll find you a room for tonight, and we'll deal with the rest in the morning.”
Zach's eyes widened. He wasn't going anywhere with any stranger, not unless he was under arrest. This cop was going to find him a room? Probably some out of the way no-tell motel. Shit. No way this side of never was that happening. He had barely got away with his life two nights before from a proposal far more wrapped in the suggestion of hope than what the cop was giving him. Zach was so past being gullible.
Pulling himself to his full height, he thinned his lips in determination. He was not swapping one hell for another, not a chance.
“No. Thank you, but, no, I have to… go to the station for the train.” He tried not to let hopelessness into his voice, attempted to sound self-assured around the chattering of his teeth. He sounded out the words in his head, and he knew exactly what he was saying. He clearly had some sort of purpose for being on the bench in the snow on Christmas Eve and the cop should respect that. It was a free country.
“Okay, Zach,” the cop sighed, “we can do this one of two ways. It's late, and it is the night before Christmas. I really want to go home to be with my family and you are kind of making this all very difficult. Now you can come with me, get a decent meal, a shower and maybe some warmer clothes and then you can sleep for the night in a warm bed. This can be all your own choice, or I can make it official and arrest you, then force you to go.”