This story is by William Daye and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“Could you spare some change?” the boy asked, standing outside the entrance of Planet Fitness shivering. “Please? I need it to ride the bus.”
Shane Candiotti, who had just finished his workout, abruptly halted his race to his car because, as if out of nowhere, a boy, of twelve years of age, appeared in front of him – and he was in terrible shape! It was the second of December, the first Friday of the season of Advent, and a stiff, unrelenting wind caused the trees lining the street to sway violently and made the 39-degree temperature of that late, autumn evening feel 15 to 20 degrees colder. In stark contrast to the expensive, black-on-black sweat suit that Shane wore. A t-shirt which appeared to be two sizes’ too-large, that used to be white but was now dark gray covered the youth’s torso. It showed his thin arms beginning to harden, and an equally oversized pair of navy blue elastic-waist shorts sagging down his bony legs. Shane’s heart broke, and he prayed that, at the very least, this kid had somewhere warm to sleep that night.
Always longing for opportunities to do good deeds during Advent, Shane looked at the boy, whose sad, large, brown eyes were beginning to fill with tears of disappointment, and said, “Sure thing, man.” He didn’t like seeing the numerous homeless people that congregated on street corners as he drove to school, to work, or to the gym, especially since he came from a family that was wealthy.
“You’ll bless me for this work of mercy, won’t you, God?” he asked silently. “Living in your image until you come again is what Advent is all about isn’t it?”
Shane felt even better about his decision to help when he remembered that his parents always practiced what they preached by helping the deprived. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Blessed be the Lord,” was also one of Shane’s favorite hymns during Saturday evening or Sunday morning Mass. Opening his wallet, he pulled out a crisp, $20.00 bill, then stopped. Owing it to himself and the boy, he decided to find out the name of the person to whom he was giving the money.
“My name is Shane Candiotti,” he said, opening his hand.
“I’m Jackson!” the boy blurted out. “Jackson Morgan! But you can call me ‘Jack,’ or J– or whatever you want, Shane!”
Shane’s heart pounded as he stuffed the $20.00 bill into Jack’s hand. It registered with him that Jack probably would not have much of a food selection wherever he lived. He was uncertain about asking Jack anything. He didn’t trust panhandlers, as they were called just as a rule. Monsignor Beneventi, the pastor of Shane’s church, had always preached to give Urban Ministries instead of giving cash directly to the people if you were uncertain about their motives.
“Is this enough for the bus, and, possibly, something to eat?” Shane asked as he trotted toward his shiny SUV in the middle of the near-empty parking lot.
“Y-yes, Shane,” Jack stuttered, eyeing the large city bus muffling close by “S-should be. T-thank you!”
Dozens of scenarios popped into his mind as he watched Jack step onto the bus from his rearview mirror. He often carried the burdens of his teammates, classmates, and those whom he encountered and had a soft spot. Shane decided to put the thoughts into the back of his mind when he saw the bus pull away. He caught sight of the expression on Jack’s face which pressed against the window. It was a silent scream for help – and it left Shane unable to move.
The next morning, he was sitting at the front of the table typically reserved for his father. He observed as their large, flat screen in the living room displayed images of Fox News headlines all over the sixty-five inches. He captured the pictures of kids and their families living in Aleppo, and the horrifying conditions they lived. And this, of course, made Shane even more compelled to act on his meeting with Jack.
“How was your evening?” his mother Diane asked, strolling into the room with a large cup of Starbucks coffee.
“Fantastic,” Shane reacted. “I did a corporal act of mercy.”
“Was it serving at the homeless shelter?” Diane asked, sitting in the seat to the right.
He stared at his mom with a look which hinted sarcasm. He pushed around the pieces of eggs and bacon on his plate. Images of Jack scrambled throughout his mind and fought to escape his lips. He heard a voice in subconscious saying, “Mom, please help Jack.” He knew she installed a device which tracked his location and speed when he got his license.
“Not exactly,” Shane said numbly, gathering numerous pieces of egg onto his large fork “This kid needed money for the bus. He looked homeless, was in terrible shape. I wanted to take him somewhere. Shelter. Somewhere. Anywhere.”
“You didn’t help him, did you?” Diane asked, almost regretting the words as soon as she spoke them. “Don’t give those panhandlers more than a dollar, if you don’t know their intentions.”
Diane leaned in further on the table, her long blonde hair pushed behind her neck. Her designer pajamas fit around her petite frame perfectly. Her serious look appeared as if she was more worried than angry.
“Mom, he wasn’t a panhandler,” Shane argued. “He was dressed like it was July or August. He looked like one of those kids in Aleppo. Certainly, he didn’t look like he had somewhere warm to go.”
He was shocked. His mom normally was very welcoming to his friends and open to helping others. His philosophy of “never leaving someone in need behind,” that he took to another level seemed to be in full gear this morning.
“He had to have had a family,” Diane spoke with more concern. “Someone has to love him or at least be caring for him.”
“I sincerely doubt it,” Shane said with almost absolute certainty. “First impressions told a lot about him. With it being the second week of Advent, I think it’d be super cool if we could take him in at least until we find out where he lives.”
“Definitely not!” Diane said with more fear than anything in her voice. “What about Danielle or your father? What are they going to think? And where would he sleep?”
“C’mon mom,” Shane pleaded, trying his hardest to convince his mom. “We are called to help others in need, and the least we can do is give him a chance. Just one night. He can have my bed or at least set up a blow-up mattress in my bedroom. Mom, Please!”
Shane pondered if he could do anything to plead his case with his mom. A kid should have a chance to make something of himself. Without the necessities or even someone to give him encouragement, where would he end up? Every kid should have a loving home and a warm place to sleep at night, why should Jack without these necessities?
“Why didn’t you tell this last night, Shane?” Diane asked him with a softer tone. “Did you find out more about his situation? And why he truly needed the money?”
“I saw him get off at an apartment complex,” Shane admitted. “He saw my car and told me there was an eviction notice on the door. It was locked. I checked myself. His mom was gone. I got him something to eat and took him to a shelter.”
Fifteen days later, “Little Drummer Boy” by Perry Como echoed through the speakers in the Candiotti’s SUV. Shane, Danielle, and Jack sat comfortably in the backseat, while Stephen, at the wheel, and Diane, in the front passenger seat, enjoyed the relief from the bitter temperatures that came along with Christmas Morning. The snow-covered yards seemed as if pulled from Norman Rockwell portraits, and the Christmas decorations rang out invitingly. It was the end of the Advent season, indeed. The large parking lot of St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church was nearly full as the Candiotti’s SUV pulled into a narrow space next to Monsignor Beneventi’s coupe.
“So, Jack,” began, rubbing his sweaty hands together. “You will be rooming with me for a few more days before mom sets up a place for you, is that still cool with you?” He wore a teal blue zipper-up sweater with a matching button-down dress shirt underneath, a pair of pleated, midnight black suit pants, and black Oxford dress shoes.
Unlike the waif that Shane had first encountered, Jack wore a burgundy cardigan sweater with a white dress shirt underneath, a pair of charcoal gray trousers, and cordovan Oxford dress shoes.
“Definitely, man!” Jack answered as he studied his face in the rearview mirror. His light brown hair, once unkempt, was now neatly trimmed and parted to one side, and joy beamed from his eyes. “I am very thankful you all let me stay.”