If you want to help the needy, Christmas is the absolute worst day you can choose. Why? Because that’s when every single other person wants to help the needy. Well, okay, not everyone, but if you’re going to choose just one day to put in the effort, there's a good chance Christmas is going to be it.
You’re going to have to get creative if you want there to actually be room for you to be useful. A Christmas party at a church was about as uncreative as you could get.
I was there because my parents had told me it would be a good thing to do since we weren’t really doing much anyway. Everyone else was there because… religion, maybe? Probably.
I hadn’t really objected to the idea. I wasn’t really surprised it hadn’t ended up being a great one, but, well, whatever. At least I had lemon sponge cake.
In theory it was fine, but because of the aforementioned fuckton of people — most of who were way more invested in this shit than I could ever hope to be — all I’d actually done here was carry a couple of things and then lurk awkwardly and eat their cake.
Probably our real purpose was talking to the vulnerable members of the community who had come here for Christmas dinner because they had nowhere else to go. That’s what my parents were in there doing. But fuck that shit.
Not that I didn’t care or… whatever. I just couldn’t do it. And didn’t want to. But mostly couldn’t. I couldn’t even go inside the room they’d set up for dining longer than was required to grab more cake and watery cordial. I didn’t know how other people’s brains could work when they were surrounded by so much activity.
So I was just sitting outside, back against the church as I ate my cake, pretending this wasn’t painfully awkward. They had a nice fountain.
When I noticed someone approaching, I was very careful not to look at them. It was a great way to encourage people to leave you alone without technically being rude, because they can’t be sure you just didn’t notice them. A lot of manners was just plausible deniability, really. You can’t just straight up tell someone to leave you alone, on Christmas of all days, but hinting it in a way that might have been accidental? Yeah, that’s fine.
Unfortunately, this person had now crossed out of the plausible deniability zone. I might have been able to extend it a little further if I’d thought to bring my iPod, but, well, here we were. I looked up.
It was a guy probably around my age — sixteen — and he was upsettingly handsome. He had blond hair down to his chin that was combed in a kind of a sweep over the top of his head that had definitely taken work and hair product to achieve. I wanted to mess it up. Then maybe we could get on the same level. My own short brown hair always looked like someone had messed it up.
Anyway, I definitely didn’t want to talk to this guy’s handsome face. I didn’t want to talk to anyone but, like, an ugly person or maybe an old person who I definitely wouldn’t have been sexually attracted to would have been preferable. Social interaction was hard enough without having to pretend you didn’t want to touch some dude’s nice hair.
“Hey,” the guy said, and his smile revealed he had nice teeth, too. Fuck. “You sitting alone?”
And, again, I wasn’t allowed to be honest here. Like gee yes I sure am, despite ample opportunity to not being doing that. Weird, huh? Wonder why. Mysteries. But I couldn’t just say that. Not even without the snark.
“Mind if I sit with you?”
It was slowly, horrifyingly dawning upon me that I had become this guy’s needy person to be kind to on Christmas. That poor guy, sitting all on his own. Well if that was his game plan he should have brought more cake, because I was almost out.
But I couldn’t say no. Or, like, I technically could, but come on. I was antisocial, not mean.
“Thanks!” The guy sat down just a tiny bit not close enough for our knees to touch. Maybe this would have all been worth it if there’d been knee touching, but alas. “My name’s Jethro, by the way.”
I almost forgot to bother to file that under information I should remember, and then also forgot to say my own name. My two most frequent name related blunders. By the time I remembered how all this was supposed to go, the silence had stretched much too long. “Casper.”
“Like the ghost?”
“Sorry. I guess you get that a lot, huh?”
“I don’t mind.”
Which was true. Kids at school had tried to use that to tease me at various points, but like, who cares? References to Casper the Friendly Ghost just aren’t any kind of a biting insult. It was almost funny how upsetting it wasn’t at all. Like, come on guys, there’s no shortage of things I’m actually insecure about and they’re pretty fucking obvious. Was it so much to ask for a jab at me being weird and having no friends? A joke or two about my sexuality?
Not that I was insecure about my sexuality. Not unless I was around a hot guy who might realise I was checking him out, Jared. Wait, no. Jethro. Fuck, I was bad at names. I didn’t know why I was bothering to retain this one at all. I didn’t plan to ever use it.
Anyway, I guess teasing me about my sexuality would have required people to know anything about me at all. Generally they did not.
“So, are you here alone?” Jethro asked. It was very hard not to look at his hair.
“No. With my family.”
“Oh. Are you still in high school?”
What the fuck did he think? If anything, people usually thought I looked younger than I was. Probably because I had the body language of a five year old.
But I supposed I could have dropped out or something, so… okay, fine. Acceptable question.
“Yup!” Jethro said. “Grade eleven.”
I carefully gathered crumbs off my plastic plate with my plastic spoon. Was getting more cake an acceptable reason to ditch this guy? Probably not to like… anyone other than me. I was almost out of shitty cordial, too.
“My parents are here too. My mum was part of the set up crew,” Jethro said. “Do you go to church here?”
“No.” I didn’t go to church anywhere, ever, but that wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have outside a church at Christmas. Or like also anywhere ever, actually.
“Yeah, me either. My grandma used to take me when I was little, but as a rule I prefer to avoid anywhere with a dress code.”
He was abiding by one now, though, and probably better than I was with his perfectly ironed white collared shirt. Jethro combed his hair back away from his eyes and it slid through his fingers like a silky dream.
And now I was looking at him and I’d been looking at him for too long. Fuck, shit, oops. Abort. I desperately searched for an excuse. “I like your necklace.”
And that wasn’t even a lie because I actually fucking did. Though maybe that didn’t make me look any less gay because it had purple beads — some with a swirly pattern and some that seemed to glow in the light — with silver beads to space them. But you’re fucking wearing it, buddy, so there.
“Thanks!” Jethro lifted it up so that he could look at it, as though he didn’t know what his own necklace looked like. “Hey, it matches your shirt!”
I looked down at my shirt, not because I’d forgotten what it looked like but because my eyes needed someplace else to be. Yup. My shirt was purple. “I guess so.”
“Do you want it?” He was already undoing the clasp.
“No, that’s okay. I don’t want to take your necklace.”
“Nah, it’s cool, come on. I made it myself so I can just make another. Consider it a Christmas gift.”
I don’t want to take your lovingly crafted handmade necklace, fucking hell. But… I also didn’t want to decline it. Which one of those was ruder?
But fuck it, I really did want that necklace.
“Thanks,” I said as I took it.
And then I couldn’t get the tiny, fiddly clasp done up with my stupid, uncoordinated hands. This was why I didn’t do sports. This was exactly why.
“Here, let me help.”
And then Jethro was touching me which was good and so bad. It was the most action I’d ever had and would probably ever get. It was a Christmas miracle and/or a blessing from Jesus that my penis was behaving itself. Mostly behaving itself.
Jethro leant back to look at me and nodded in satisfaction. “Looks better on you than it did on me.”
Which was a fucking lie and he knew it. Nothing looked better on me than it would on Jethro, except maybe a bag over my head. And my body. Not that I was ugly, I just didn’t look like that. I didn’t even look as good as I potentially could have because I wasn’t a fucking hair wizard like this guy. Or like… particularly made any effort at all. Or got haircuts as often as I should have.
“Anyway, I guess I’d better go see if my parents need any help,” Jethro said. “Can I get you anything?”
More cake. “No.”
Jethro pushed himself up. “Cool, well, it was nice to meet you, Casper. Maybe I’ll see you around?”
Fuck, I hoped not. “Yeah, maybe. Nice meeting you too.”
I stared at his back as he headed inside and let out a long sigh. How long was it going to take me to get over this one?