For today's teaser we're revisiting The Christmas Throwaway.
The Christmas Throwaway is available to buy now – http://rjscott.co.uk/Read-ChristmasThrowaway
The First Christmas
“Hey! You can't sleep here.”
Zachary Weston had closed his eyes and let sleep pull him under. His sheer exhaustion meant he physically couldn't stay awake any longer. Sleep came quickly, the sleep of the desperate man, despite the furious aching pain in his lower back. He had pushed on through the pain for the last week. Ironically, the ice and frigid temperatures, while freezing his extremities, helped ease the aching.
Behind his eyes he saw a crackling fire in an iron grate, the red and gold flames casting a beautiful light throughout a room decorated for Christmas. A tree stood tall in the far corner, its sparkling fairy lights, colored tinsel, and baubles catching and glinting random colors.
“You can't sleep here.”
Presents were scattered and piled, haphazard and thoughtless in their arrangement, for there were so many. Books and songs and warm clothes sat in wrapped paper festooned with silver and gold bows, his name scrawled in gold on a fair share of them.
“Hey, you can't sleep here.”
Outside the window it was snowing—not a blizzard, but soft fat flakes that fell in a mesmerizing dance to join the soft shapes already hiding the mature garden from view. The cold meant the outside of the windows were frosted with creeping white tendrils that drew random patterns on the icy glass and reflected the colored lights from the tree.
Zach bent down, picking up the first present, looking back at his mom. She was smiling and happy to see her son so excited, sharing nods of understanding with his dad. They both had so much love in their eyes.
Someone was speaking to him from outside the room, but he couldn't see who. That didn't matter, because if he concentrated hard, he could focus on the gifts. He shivered, cold seeping into him, and unconsciously he moved himself closer to the fire, frowning when, if anything, the heat near him diminished. Stupid fire. He took his next gift, pulled at red and silver paper and uncovered the softest of sweatshirts, thick and warm and smooth, in a startling blue that his momma said matched his eyes. Despite the fire, he was still so damn cold, and quickly he pulled it over his head, the heat of the soft material on his frost-chilled skin comforting and warm. He smiled as he was as wrapped with affection and love and the sparks of a family Christmas as he was with the sweater.
“You can't sleep here.”
Zach started. The voice from outside the room was suddenly right in his ear and the last vestiges of his dream nothing more than suggestions in his head. Abruptly, his eyes snapped wide open and, after a second, focused on the source of the words. Zach actually saw very little beyond the sudden blur of a silver badge and the navy blue uniform, but then he focused on the speaker's eyes. They were flinty hard in the streetlight, and there were small puffs of white hanging in the air created by the man's breath. Shit! Somehow someone had seen him and reported him, or the cop had spotted him. He was being moved on again. He pulled at the thin jacket that covered him, a memory of soft blue material flashing into his head and disorienting him momentarily.
Zach had so hoped to avoid the law, cautiously optimistic that the churchyard might be a place of sanctuary on Christmas Eve.
“Sorry,” he said quickly, scrambling to his feet as fast as he could manage, which wasn't entirely that fast considering the aching cold that seemed to split his very bones in two. He cursed as his blanket fell from his numb hands and landed in the snow at his feet. That was the only warmth he had, a threadbare piece of material he had stolen from Goodwill when the woman in charge turned her back. And now the damn thing was going to be wet.
Still, there was no time to worry about that; the cop wanted him moved on. He leaned down to pick it up, only to see the ground spinning up to his face at an alarming speed. Strong arms stopped him from face-planting in the snow, but he twisted out of them quickly. The man might be a cop, might wear a badge, but no one touched him. Zach knew what men could want from the child he still was. He wasn't stupid, and he had dodged enough of it in the city.
“How old are you?” the cop asked, looking concerned and very much in charge.
“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.
“How old are you really?” the cop persisted, his expression calm, his voice low and curious.
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 about 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 to 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 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 that 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 gotten 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 by your own choice, or I can make it official and arrest you, then force you to go.”
Zach heard every word. He looked around desperately, at the small church, the graveyard, the bench, the snow, and then back at the really young-looking cop in front of him. He was so screwed. The ice beneath his feet had climbed his long limbs, bringing with it insistent pain. The strength in his legs was failing. He had run for so many days, managing to keep ahead of everything and everyone, and he only had two more days until he could stop running. Why was it that his body was choosing now to give up?
“So,” the cop continued, “I haven't got all night. I really don't want to spend my Christmas Eve standing over your frozen body and explaining your death to the medical examiner. So your choice is…?”
He didn't have a choice. This was a no-choice situation. He knew it, and the cop knew it. He straightened as best he could, the pain in his lower back burning back to its usual level despite the cold of the bench that had started to numb the tenderness slightly.
“Okay,” Zach said quietly. After all, this was a cop. How could it be wrong to want to be warm for just one night? “Not a cell?” he asked cautiously.
Officer Hamilton turned on his heel to start walking away from the bench.
“Nope, not a cell.”
“You promise?” Dammit! Could he sound more like a kid? Way to come off as a responsible adult who had control of his life. Not.
The cop stopped and looked back at him, pushing his hands into the pockets of his thick jacket. Zach found himself looking at it enviously.
“I promise.” He turned, clearly expecting Zach to follow, which he did. He stumbled on the icy path, in the same thin sneakers he had been thrown out with only one week ago. He cursed under his breath that the cop's boots afforded him a grip on the snow and that he had to scrabble to keep up. It was humiliating to stumble-trip his way like a pathetic lost puppy behind the cop. At the same time, Zach admitted to himself that he couldn't outrun the cop if he decided to act on the impulse to just get the hell away from the man in uniform. So he followed as best he could.
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?More info →