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?
“….‘The Christmas Throwaway’ is a charming, heart warming love story about
second chances, overcoming obstacles, and the importance of a loving,
supportive family. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone in the mood
for a sweet story which will not only leave you feeling good, but will
also remind you to count your blessings….”
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MM Goodbook Reviews – 5/5 – “….I think this is one of the best Christmas stories I’ve read. Everything about this book screams PERFECT and it really made my day even if the start of the story was horribly sad….”
Bookwenches – 4.25/5 – “….Ms. Scott proves to have a deft hand with emotion, and she pulls our hearts into this story. Zach’s sense of abandonment and betrayal by his family, his fear, his moments of panic at feeling trapped lend an almost agonizing sadness. But there are also moments of warmth and joy, of lighthearted sibling rivalry and fugly Christmas sweaters that are sweetly funny. Sexual, or even romantic, tension takes a back seat throughout most of the story, because Zach is a child at the beginning and needs to both heal and grow up before he and Ben can have a relationship….”
The Hope Chest Reviews – 4.5/5 – “….From the moment I first read the synopsis and excerpt of The Christmas Throwaway, I was drawn into the story and wanted to know more. I was almost positive I would enjoy it, even though at the time I had never read a male/male romance, and I have to say it did not disappoint….”
Rainbow Book Reviews – “….The Christmas Throwaway’ is a charming, heart warming love story about second chances, overcoming obstacles, and the importance of a loving, supportive family. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a sweet story which will not only leave you feeling good, but will also remind you to count your blessings….”
GLBT Bookshelf – 4.25/5 – “….Ms. Scott’s writing style is clear and descriptive. Her characters are believable and interact in a manner that feels quite natural, and her imagery is vivid enough to pull the reader right into the setting. In fact, the scene she sets at the beginning of the story brings the cold to such chilling life that although I was warm and comfortable as I read, I was tempted to shiver along with Zach. I could almost feel the ache in his body from the extreme cold….”
Joyfully Reviewed – “….The Christmas Throwaway is the Happily Ever After tale that everyone wishes for. There is a sense of compassion and hope against overwhelming odds – a teen that’s all but given up, holding on by a thread. Told with a skilled and delicate touch, The Christmas Throwaway manages to give readers that ‘feel good’ story without falling into overkill or maudlin, unrealistic tripe. Zach is the real deal with his emotions everywhere at once, while Ben is the knight in shining armor without seeming too good to be true. The fact that there’s chemistry between them only adds to the tension and it too is tastefully handled here. The Christmas Throwaway will give you that heartwarming glow, promise. I Joyfully recommend The Christmas Throwaway!…”
Mrs Condit & Friends – 5/5 – “….The Christmas Throwaway by RJ Scott is a character driven story that highlights the all-too-common tragedy of kids being thrown out of their homes by their families for being gay. With a smooth plot flow, and a backstory that fills in the gaps, you can’t help but be pulled into this sad, yet ultimately hopeful tale. The author’s style is eloquent, insightful, and concise, and pulls back the curtain on a subject all too many people want to pretend doesn’t exist. This lovely Christmas tale has a HEA ending that I absolutely loved. So if you’re looking for a story that skillfully blends heartache and hope, then I definitely recommend this book to you….”
Boy Meets Boy Reviews – Natasha – 4.5/5 – “….The writing, in my opinion, was terrific. I felt drawn in, brought into a warm, welcoming place, and held there for the few hours I read the book. This isn’t my first R.J. Scott book, and it very likely won’t be my last either….”
The Blogger Girls – Audio Review – 4.5/5 – “….Sean Crisden is a favorite narrator of mine, and he does a nice job with this as well. There are no over-the-top voices, but everyone is nicely differentiated. Sean’s voice allows you to sink into the story, know who is who without reading along, and his “emoting” is always appropriate.
I give the narration 4.5 of 5 stars as well….”
Chapter 1: The First Christmas
“Hey! You can’t sleep here.”Zachary Weston had closed his eyes and let sleep pull him under. The simple fact was that sheer exhaustion meant he couldn’t physically 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, whilst 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, which 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, and then 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 disorientating 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 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.
“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 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.”
Zach heard every word, looked around desperately, at the small church, the graveyard, the bench, at the snow, and 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, managed 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?” Damnit! 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.
They walked in silence for little more than ten minutes on the cold empty streets, past a town square and a clock built into the wall of a small library. It told him the time was eleven-thirty. The cop stopped at the small convenience store with the Closed sign in the door, checking the door and peering into the emptiness inside. Zach just watched, scuffing his sneaker against a ridge of ice on the sidewalk. Then the cop led Zach towards a house at the end of a row of similar houses. The drapes had been left open and Zach could see the tree standing in the window, its Christmas lights welcoming them as they tramped up the cleared pathway. Officer Hamilton let himself in, stamping snow off his boots by the front door and gestured for Zach to follow.
Zach hesitated. He could feel the warmth inside, see the soft lights, the homeliness of a Christmas-trimmed home. Still, this cop was asking him to enter a house. No one would know Zach had gone into the house. With the cop. With a stranger.
“Ben?” The voice was soft, and a woman appeared from somewhere inside the brightly lit hall, stopping at the cop’s side. She was small and neat and wore a concerned looked on her face. She reminded him of his own mom, without the whipped, exhausted look she always seemed to carry. “What’s wrong?” The cop stripped off his jacket and hung it on a peg, taking off gloves and pulling off heavy boots.
“We have a guest for Christmas, Mom,” he replied softly, beckoning Zach through the front door and, as if in a dream, lulled in part by the woman’s voice, Zach stepped over the threshold. The warmth against his frozen skin was prickle-hot and painful, and he blinked at the sudden change in his body as the door shut behind them. A momentary twist of fear made his stomach ache. He hadn’t been shut inside by doors for a week and being there felt like a prison as quick as you could say cozy interior.
The cop, Ben, guided him into a side room where a fire hissed in the grate, the tree stood near the window, and presents lay in casual disarray at the foot of it. Zach got his first real look at the man who had pulled him in from the churchyard. He was a slight bit shorter than Zach, solid and muscled with dark hair and hazel eyes. His uniform looked good on him, fitted him close and neat. Zach hated uniforms. The cop didn’t look official like the security in the city parks or the shadowed doorways he had been sleeping in. He didn’t look harried or suspicious or hard. It unnerved Zach to be faced with this contradiction in his mind.
“This is Zach. He needs some clothes and somewhere to sleep tonight.” Ben’s voice was deep and certain. He didn’t make excuses for bringing a stranger to his momma’s house, and in return, she didn’t seem all that angry. What kind of Stepford soap-opera house was this?
“Hello, Zach.” He winced at the soft words from the cop’s mom. “Go and clean up and I’ll warm up some soup.” She didn’t wait for his yes or no, but at that point, the thought of a clean bathroom, an actual toilet, and maybe a shower was enough to make Zach weep. “Ben, show Zach to the bathroom, get him a razor and some towels, and maybe dig out some of your sweatpants, dear.” She smiled at him then, but Zach was disorientated, exhausted, and in pain. It was all he could do just to stay on his feet, let alone form words or even return the smile.
The next hour was a daze of heat and water in the shower, the door locked against anyone who might attempt to push their way in. The razor scraped away the thin straggly stubble on his face. He hadn’t used a toothbrush in a week, and the new toothpaste and brush cleaned up his teeth as he stared into the small fogged mirror over the sink. Zach finally felt sanitary for the first time in at least seven days.
The last time he had managed to clean himself up was two days ago in the bus station waiting room, and the water in the basin had been suspiciously brown. He’d had a ticket out of the city in his pocket, as far as his eighteen dollars and twenty cents would take him. For his own safety, he had needed to get out of Harrisonburg. God knows where the road would take him, but as he had traced a finger along the I81 on the large map on the wall, he had hoped that he could maybe get as far as Winchester. That is where his second cousins lived, and maybe they would take him in until after New Year’s.
The assistant behind the glass hadn’t actually laughed at him, but she made it clear he would be lucky to get halfway in that casual way only adults selling tickets could manage. He had taken what he could get. Ended up here in God-knows-where, Virginia, halfway to safety.
He stared at himself dispassionately in the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. His body always verged on too skinny, as he grew tall so quickly, but now his frame was just gaunt. His tired eyes and gray-tinged skin made the thinness even more noticeable. At least his hair was clean, the blond dark with water and combed back away from his face. His blue eyes seemed to be popping out of his face. They were bloodshot and smudged underneath with gray, and the purpling bruises along the edge of the sockets didn’t help matters. He looked pathetic. He felt pathetic.
The cop had left him sweats that were a little short for his long thin frame, but they were warm, dry, and felt wash-worn and soft on his clean skin. He pulled on a t-shirt, then a sweatshirt over his towel-dried hair and finally looked back again at the mirror in the bathroom, tears unbidden in his eyes. For the first time in days, Zach was really seeing himself in something other than a shop window. He knew he had lost a lot of weight, could feel it in jeans that refused to sit right, but in the mirror he saw a shadow of himself, beaten, exhausted, and so damn skinny.
He looked like a stereotypical street kid, and it scared him that in such a short time he had gone from normal teenager struggling with studying to this broken image in front of him.
He knew he had to go and face the cop and the cop’s mom because he sure as hell couldn’t stay in the bathroom forever. Cautiously he opened the bathroom door, some small part of him expecting the cop to be standing outside waiting with cuffs. He wasn’t there, but it didn’t make Zach feel any less nervous. He picked his way down the hall, following the voices in the kitchen. Apparently they had been talking about him, because when he walked into the room, the silence was immediate and somewhat uncomfortable. The cop was sitting at the table, a mug in his hands, looking impossibly young for a cop in the bright light of the kitchen. His —Ben’s— mom stood at the stove stirring something in a pan. Her clear hazel eyes warmed as she looked over at him, her lips curving in a smile. He would have to be careful here, measure his words, not give too much of himself away.
“Chicken soup okay with you, honey?” she asked him gently, carefully.
“God yes,” Zach said quickly, wincing at his loss of control and then realizing what he’d said. He may have turned away from God for leaving him to be beaten and rejected by his father, but it didn’t mean that others didn’t have belief. He should watch his mouth. “‘M sorry, ma’am,” he blurted quickly, “I mean, yes, I would like some soup.”
The cop snorted his amusement, and his mom smacked at her son’s shoulder with her hand, admonishing him for his inappropriate sniggering. She poured what smelled like heaven into a bowl, telling Zach to sit and then proceeding to watch him like a hawk as he ate. He couldn’t bring himself to care that she watched him or that the cop hadn’t moved from his seat and still looked at him. In fact they were probably both sitting and judging him for how he looked and where the cop had found him.
“Ben, dear, are you off shift now?”
“Go change out of your uniform. There are still some of your clothes upstairs from last weekend. Maybe you can give me and young Zach here time to talk.” Zach lifted his head at this, bread halfway to his mouth. The talk. Shit. He was so screwed.
“Back in ten,” Ben said clear and firm, and Zach looked at him, at the warning in the cop’s face — Don’t mess with my momma. He nodded slightly to let Ben know he got the message, watching as the broad-shouldered man left the kitchen.
“So, Zach, I’m guessing you aren’t here by choice?” She started innocently enough, pouring another helping of soup in his bowl and passing him more bread. She watched him intently. He wondered what she saw when she looked at him and he was ashamed. The old and new bruises on his face, half covered by still damp blond hair he had pulled down to hide them. He knew he looked younger than his near eighteen and could be easily mistaken for much younger. Zach was aware of every little sensation in his body, the warmth, the peace, the quiet, the acceptance, but it was all so wrong at the moment. He didn’t deserve this, and he didn’t know quite how to handle it.
“No, ma’am,” he finally said, biting into bread so crusty that crumbs sprinkled his soup as he ate. If he had a mouthful of food, maybe he could get away with not saying anything at all. He had listened to enough lectures in his life to be able to tune them out.
“Ben tells me you’re nearly eighteen, but that he knows nothing except your first name.”
Damn. His surname, she wanted to know his surname. He guessed it didn’t matter much now, as there was no way he was going home. There were only two more days until he turned eighteen. It was too late for the cop’s mom to track down his family. He swallowed the mouthful of bread and soup and wiped at his face with the back of his hand, caught up in the reassurance in the woman’s eyes.
“Zachary Weston, ma’am,” he finally offered. “I’m eighteen on the twenty-seventh of December.” She nodded thoughtfully, and he quickly scooped up another spoonful of soup, the heat of it sliding down his throat velvety warm. She didn’t speak straight away, just looked at the mug between her hands before asking the next question.
“Can you tell me why you’re not at home with your family?” She hesitated, tilting her head to one side. “I guess I shouldn’t be assuming you have a family.”
“No, ma’am, I have a family. A mom, dad, and a sister. They —my dad— didn’t want me in the house any more.”
“What did you do to deserve that? Was it the wrong crowd? Drugs? Drink?”
Pain shot through him at the options she was giving him. The reasons why young people were generally homeless. She thought he was an addict? He had never even touched a cigarette, let alone drugs, and as for drink… He closed his eyes briefly. Why wouldn’t she think he was at fault? He knew he looked ill enough for people to suppose he was on something that was harming him. He averted his gaze, as if fascinated by his soup, his hair falling again to hide from her far too perceptive gaze. Should he tell her the whole story? Would she want to hear all the real details? Other people had asked but they didn’t really want to hear.
Should he give her the details of the strict ex-army father who felt lessons were learnt through corporal punishment? Or of the home schooling and the fact he had no friends? Maybe he should just go for the easy option, the truth at the base of what had happened to him. He didn’t want to lie to her. It wasn’t in him to lie. He looked up and directly at her, the soup unsteady on his stomach.
“It happened because I’m gay,” he said simply and so softly she had to lean forward to hear, then she frowned as he pushed the chair back from the table.
“And you ran away?” she asked simply.
“No!” Zach’s reaction was instant. “They tried to fix me, but it didn’t work. I didn’t want it to work. They told me to go.”
“I see,” was all she said. He didn’t hear disgust in her voice, but it wasn’t like she immediately jumped up and gathered the gay throwaway in a hug.
“Thank you for the soup, ma’am. I appreciate your help, and your son’s.” He stumbled to stand, pins and needles in his legs, and moved into the hall, only stopping because the officer was blocking his way. The man was fresh from the shower with his dark hair spiky and his hazel eyes focused intently, looking less like a cop and more like a normal guy.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked, his head tilted in question. Zach saw the puzzled look in the guy’s eyes then looked deeper, to a compassion such as he hadn’t seen in a long time.
“I’m leaving, Mr… Officer. Look, thanks for your help. I’m sorry.” Zach’s words were shaky, but he made sure his intent was obvious. He was determined to leave. They wouldn’t want him under their roof either now. At least he’d gotten a hot meal in his belly, and he was damned if he was going to give back the warm clothes. He only had to find his shoes, and he would be gone. He could probably outrun the cop if he had a good enough head start since the other man was standing in the hallway with bare feet. Zach lowered his gaze and shuffled to move past, but he was stopped by a strong grip on his arm.
“Momma? Did he do something? Are you okay?” Ben ignored Zach, who was nearly hopping from foot to foot trying to loosen Ben’s grasp, anxiety and panic building inside him. He hadn’t done anything to the cop’s momma; he wouldn’t. Weakly he pulled his arm, but the damn cop had a grip of freaking steel.
“It seems Zach’s parents threw him out because he’s gay,” she offered simply. Zach yanked away to gain maneuvering room. Ben’s face suddenly twisted in anger. Shit, Zach thought immediately, here it comes, and as the cop brought up a hand, Zach found himself cowering from the imminent hit. Instead, the cop laid his hand gently on Zach’s shoulder and appeared to choose to ignore the fact that Zach had slunk back in fear.
“That happens a lot,” the cop said simply, his face clear of any kind of telling expression, “but in this house, it isn’t a problem. Momma has a straight son, married with two kids, and a daughter with two boyfriends at any one time.” He paused, clearly letting the first part sink in. “Then she has me, her gay cop son.”
“Oh,” was all Zach could say, rubbing the arm Ben had grabbed to relieve the pain.
“You being gay isn’t going to be one of the things that might affect your stay with us. Okay?”
Zach twisted to look at Ben’s momma, still sitting at the table. She was nodding in agreement. It felt odd. It was some kind of surreal afternoon chick flick with exceptionally pretty people being nice to extremely lonely young throwaways. He blinked, eyes then widening as it all sank in, too good to be true, but somehow very real.
“I’m going to go to bed, Ben. Why not sit a while with Zach, and then maybe show him to Jamie’s old room. There’s fresh linen in the closet.” She rose gracefully, placing bowls in the sink and crossing to pull her son into a hug, “Ellie will be in by two. She promised. So keep an eye out for her for me.”