© Copyright December, 2014
by Ken Barber
by Ken Barber
Michael sat watching the snow fall outside the window. He sighed it was almost midnight on Christmas eve and his relief was late. Since the Army medically discharged him after Afghanistan the best job he could get was a second shift security job at the textile plant. The Disability pay from the army help but it wasn't really enough to live on. Kind of strange the plant had a government contract to make body bags or as they called them now HRP (Human Remains Pouch). Every time Michael saw one of those plastic bags he thought of his friends still over in the hell hole.
He looked at the monitor and saw Jerry walking up to the door. Jerry was retired and worked the Night shift to help pay his wife's medical bills. Over the years her health had gotten so bad no insurance company would cover her. They had hope that the new health care laws would take at least some of the burden off her.
Michael stood and grabbed his Jacket, and absent mindedly reached to scratch his arm, his fingers touched the cold plastic and he sighed. The shrink told him he would get used to it someday but it had been 6 months and sometimes he still felt it there. Jerry came walking through the door with a big smile and handed him a box filled with food.
Jerry smiled. "Merry Christmas Michael. There is enough there for 3 Christmas dinners, with dessert of course. Helen told me to tell you she is upset you won't join us for dinner tomorrow night. All the kids will be there and Helen has been killing herself cooking."
"Tell her I am sorry Jerry, I just don't feel like I would be good company this year Jerry." Michael finished putting his jacket on and took the box. "This was really nice of you guys Jerry I really appreciate it, thank you."
"You're Welcome. Be safe Michael."
Michael headed out the door and started his walk home, carrying the box of food. It was only a couple of blocks but the box was heavy and the wind and snow were making the walk torturous. Michael thought to himself at least this will be the last time I have to make this walk. Tears started to well up and he fought to hold them back. He knew he would just be another statistic for the politicians in Washington to argue about but he had enough. He sacrificed more than anyone had the right to ask and now he was tossed to the side. He had no family to speak of, his only sister was a radical left winger and whenever they spoke they ended up fighting. The last conversation they had she told him he deserved to lose his arm. That was two months ago. The only person he ever loved was Buried in the National cemetery. Kevin was killed by the same rocket explosion that took Michaels arm. He hadn't even been able to go the funeral. Well it was time for him to join him, he was determined. He had double checked his life insurance and their wasn't a suicide clause, so all the money would be split between his ungrateful sister and Kevin's younger brother, Josh. Josh didn't know about him and Kevin, no one did but Josh had tried to stay friends. Michael couldn't handle it and slowly lost contact with him. There was no one or nothing to live for anymore.
As he trudged the snow the metal fasteners on his arm began to get cold and sting. He shrugged off the pain and looked down into the box he was carrying. This would be his last supper, the wind blew at the box and the foil covering the small paper plate lifted and underneath was a beautiful sugar cookie in the shape of an angel. He smiled and pushed the foil back in place. He was approaching his apartment when all of a sudden a gust of wind lifted the foil again, this time lifting it out of the box and carrying it a few feet away. Michael started to ignore it until he saw the shivering bundle of rags and newspapers it landed on. Assuming it was just another bag lady from the area Michael started to walk away until he looked down at the angel cooking sitting there. he sighed and smiled, set the box down on the steps to his building and walked over to the bundle with the cookie.
"Excuse me?" The Bundle shivered more but didn't respond. Michael Knelt down next to the pile of rags. "Excuse me are you hungry?"
The Bundle shift and stopped shivering almost like it was holding its breath. "Hey there are you hungry?"
A dirty hand reached out and pulled some rags away from the face. Michael gasped at the eyes that looked back at him. Stunning gray eyes that couldn't have been much older than Michael the face was streaked with dirt and grime but underneath it Michael could see a youthful face that once would have been filled with joy and wonder, now just despair and hunger.
"Listen bud, I don't mean you any harm but its freezing out here and its going to get worse. My apartment is right here in this building why don't you come in and get warm and get something to eat. I don't have a lot but I am willing to share what I have."
The guy on the ground pulled back a little further obviously not sure of Michael's intentions. Michael leaned back for a second. He couldn't leave the guy here like this not tonight of all nights. the temperatures were going to continue to drop and this guy would die out here. He could only imagine how such a young man ended up freezing on the streets. He looked at the heavy coat he was wearing and started to take it off.
"At least take this and I will bring some food down to you."
As he took the coat off he felt the freezing air bit into the exposed skin below his short sleeve uniform shirt. The Plastic and metal of his arm stung even more and Michael absentmindedly adjusted it. The young man laying in the snow stared at his arm and pointed.
Michael looked at the man and then down at his arm, for a moment he was insulted by question until he looked into the eyes of the young man, something in those eyes gave Michael pause. "The battle of Wanat, Afghanistan".
The bundle of rags sat up and pulled the pile back showing a dirty ragged pair jeans with one leg pinned out of the way of the missing leg. "Kabul, Afghanistan."
Michael just stared and tears started streaming down his face. "They have really abandoned us haven't they?"
"Yup, thrown out like yesterdays trash."
Michael looked at him again. "Michael Frost, Staff Sergeant , 2nd Platoon Charlie Company, 2nd BAT 503 Infantry."
The man held out his hand "Jeremy Decosta, Sergeant, 3rd Ranger BAT."
"Well Ranger let's get something to eat. My co-worker's wife cooked enough to feed an army." Michael stopped and chuckled at that part. Jeremy just smiled and reached in and grabbed some crutches. Michael reached out to help him and Jeremy just smiled as he let him.
After Jeremy got up and got the crutches underneath his arms Michael picked up the box of food and led the way into the building. He stopped at the stairs and turned and looked back at Jeremy. "The elevator has been broken for months. I am on the third floor."
Jeremy looked at the stairs and shrugged and started to slowly begin the climb. Michael watch for a second. "Let me get ahead of you and then I can set this box down and give you a hand."
Jeremy just slide to one side and let Michael bound past. Michael set the box down in front of his door and raced back down the stairs, Jeremy was about half way up the first flight. He waited for him to reach the landing. "Ok this is going to take forever and I am starving and so are you. " He laughed. "Come one Ranger time for a piggy back."
Jeremy laughed. "Really it's ok you go ahead and I will meet you there."
"Either you hop on my back or I attempt to carry you and I can tell you this fake arm is not only cold its hard as hell."
Jeremy sighed. "Ok fine, but this is pretty undignified."
Michael actually laughed. "Did you really just say undignified? As undignified as a combat veteran living on the streets or another with no family or friends thinking about ending it all?" Michael paused for a minute and then starting sobbing. Jeremy reached over and pulled him into an embrace.
"I am right there with you buddy. But we never leave a brother behind in battle."
Michael took a deep breath and looked into Jeremy's eyes. Behind the grim, pain, hurt and despair was hope and care. Actual care, This man he found on the street just moments before cared about him. No one else did but this fellow disfigured and discarded warrior did. Michael pulled himself together and Jeremy jumped on his back. The closeness of another person, something neither had felt for a long time was not lost on either. Jeremy was not light but Michael was determined to make it to up to the third floor. By the time got there he was out of breath, Jeremy slid off his back and took his crutches. They both looked at each other and began laughing. Both of them slightly shocked they remembered how to laugh. Michael unlocked his apartment and showed Jeremy in. The door opened to a small kitchen with a small two person table in the center, across the from that was the living room. The furniture was shabby but comfortable looking, the curtains missed match and the carpet threadbare. It was all Michael could afford and he had made it as comfortable as possible. The windows on the far wall of the living room showed the snow glowing in the neon lights of the strip club across the street. The wind had picked up and could be heard howling as it grabbed the snow and threw it at everything that got in its way.
"Would you like a hot shower first. I can grab some sweats for you while I wash your clothes."
"Are you sure?" Jeremy replied with a shy smile.
Michael smiled. "I kind of insist, You need a shower Ranger."
Jeremy returned the smile. "I guess you're right"
Michael showed him the shower and got him towels. "I will be right back with some clothes, we look about the same size so they should fit without a problem. "
Jeremy thank him profusely as Michael crossed the hall to his bedroom. He paused and looked around, the full size bed with faded comforter he found at thrift store made him feel uncomfortably inadequate.
He quickly went through the drawers and found a pair of sweats pants and sweatshirt, the best ones he had. He wasn't sure why he was trying to impress Jeremy, after all he did just find the guy near freezing to death on the streets. He paused and grabbed some socks and looked down in the underwear drawer. He wasn't sure how Jeremy would feel about wearing his underwear. he grabbed a pair of black boxer briefs stuck them on the top. If Jeremy didn't want them that was his call. He got back to the bathroom and heard the shower running. The Door was cracked slightly so he knocked and called out. "Jeremy, you decent? I have some clothes for you."
The response was almost a whisper. "I still have my pants on if that is want you mean."
Michael opened the door and saw Jeremy standing there completely bare, waist up. The Man was beautiful and it took Michaels breath away. Jeremy actually smiled. "Those for me."
"Oh yes they should fit ok."
"Michael thank you so much. You are a great person and I can never repay you for the kindness you have shown."
Michael smiled a sad smile. "You already are. it's kind of nice to spend the holiday with someone."
Jeremy just looked at him and then laughed. "Unless you want even more of a peep show you can set those down so I can get undressed."
"Oh shit sorry." Michael set the clothes on edge of the vanity and retreated to the kitchen. He began getting out pots and pans to reheat the food. Once he got all the food going he set the table, he looked down at the chipped cups and missed match plates and sighed, it was the best he could do and besides both he and Jeremy where better off just having someone to eat Christmas eve dinner with. He heard the shower shut off and he got a mental image of this gorgeous man in his bathroom surrounded by steam, he quickly forced the image out of his head so he could concentrate on the food. He heard a loud thump and then a yell.
He raced down the hall and without even thinking he opened the door. Jeremy was laying on the floor facedown, sobbing. Michael quickly kneeled down.
Jeremy was crying uncontrollably. "I....Fell."
Michael grabbed a towel and covered his bare waist with it and then reached down and pulled Jeremy onto his lap and wrapped his arms around him pulling him into a tight embrace. Jeremy just began sobbing into Michael's chest. Michael couldn't hold it back and began crying as well. The emotions they had carried bottled up for so long pouring out in and uncontrollable rush like a tidal wave over taking both of them. The irony of two battled hardened warriors crying their eyes out over the injustices heaped on them was not lost on them . They sat there for a few minutes holding onto each other crying letting everything the world had piled on them wash away, relishing in the embrace of another person. Michael finally whispered in Jeremy's ear. "I need to check dinner or we have to go hungry too."
Jeremy looked up into his eyes. "Okay, angel." he lifted his head and kissed Michael and both of them lost themselves in the kiss and held on until they heard the smoke alarm in the kitchen. Michael detached himself from Jeremy and ran to the kitchen. "Just the rolls everything else is fine".
Jeremy shouted back. "I think I found something to sustain me for a long time to come anyway." Michael just stood there staring down the hall for a minute. When he turned around his heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Kevin stood in front of the stove staring at Michael . Michael could feel the pound of his heart like it was about to burst from his chest. Kevin wearing his dress blues floated across the room towards him. He leaned in and whispered in Michael's ear. "You need each other. Be happy my love, it's all I ever wanted for you" and disappeared.
Michael sunk to the floor crying. A few moments later Jeremy slid to the floor beside him and pulled him into an embrace, holding on tight letting Michael have his moment to become overwhelmed by emotion. "I have a feeling we are going to do this a lot."
Michael looked at Jeremy, finally taking him in, gorgeous was an understatement. His sandy blonde hair was the perfect contrast to Michael's dark hair. Jeremy's now clean jaw still held a couple days stubble on it but it was a strong jaw. His eyes were the most intense Michael had ever seen and knew he could lose himself in those eyes. He looked away for a second and caught a glimpse of the Angel Cookie sitting on the table "Not anymore my snow angel, not anymore."