* A winter holiday theme
* A “bad boy” character
* A gift of some kind
Inspiration came from this photo:
Sage and Percy Go Christmas Shopping
Sage and Percy were at Macy’s on State looking for gifts for Sage’s roommate, Ross, and Percy’s friend, Richard, who were proving hard to buy for. They were getting cranky wandering around the large store. It didn’t help that they were hungry, having eaten breakfast hours ago.
“Let’s just give them gift certificates and call it a day,” Percy suggested, fingering a knitted sweater decorated with atrocious laughing reindeer.
Sage‘s energy was definitely lagging. “That’s what people with money do. Let’s pretend you’re as poor as me, okay?”
Percy had millions. Sage, owner of his own IT start-up, had almost nothing after a financial restructuring of his company.
Resigned to more shopping amidst the hordes of people looking for Christmas deals, Percy grabbed Sage’s hand and led him to the escalator. “Let’s try electronics. There has to be something in that department we can afford.”
Sage had set a cap on how much they could spend, making Percy promise he wouldn’t go over one hundred bucks for any one gift this year. “Impress them with your thoughtfulness, not your bottomless checkbook,” Sage had said with an encouraging smile.
“Would you think me a Scrooge for saying I’m really sick of Christmas music?” Percy asked as they went up and down aisles. It was playing all over the store.
Sage had tired of it sometime previous. “We’ll be finished soon and out of here.”
But it took another hour before they finally exited the store. It was snowing and cold, and Sage shivered and stopped to pull on gloves. That was when he was bumped from behind, and he distinctly felt someone grab his wallet.
“Hey!” Sage took off after a guy in a threadbare cap and ratty-looking jacket who wove through the sidewalk strollers with practiced ease. Having played football in high school, Sage followed easily. It helped that people soon got a clue and moved out of their way; who wanted to be mowed down by a couple guys?
Sage tackled the pickpocket within half a block, hearing breath whoosh out of him as Sage steamrollered him to the hard ground. The pickpocket struggled, but Sage outweighed him.
“Knock it off,” Sage huffed, seeing his breath in the frosty air. The stink of dirty clothes and unwashed body filled his lungs.
Percy caught up and leaned down. “I assume you chased this man for a reason?” He wasn’t the slightest bit out of breath; unlike Sage, who was too busy with his company to exercise much, Percy worked out almost every day.
Sage sat back, continuing to straddle the pickpocket but giving him enough room to turn over. He saw a pale, young face. “Jesus, how old are you?”
The kid stared at him defiantly. “What’s it to you?”
“I get really curious when someone tries to steal from me.” The boy couldn’t have been more than fourteen, and judging by the stench coming off him, he was homeless.
The kid reached inside his filthy jacket, pulled out Sage’s wallet, and handed it to him. “There. Can I go now?”
Sage slipped the wallet into his back pocket, continuing to stare. The boy was too thin; Sage saw it in the gauntness in his face and felt it in the skinny body under him. “How long has it been since you ate?”
The boy swallowed convulsively and looked away. “Why do you care?”
Sage got to his feet, dragging the kid up with him. “I care.” Keeping a firm hand wrapped around the boy’s wrist, he said to Percy, “Let’s skip the restaurant and visit Macy’s food court. We’re here, after all.”
Percy nodded and grabbed the kid’s other wrist. They started dragging him to the store entrance.
The boy struggled. “Let go! I didn’t do nothing.”
Percy leaned closer and stage-whispered in his ear. “Come along quietly, or I’ll call the police.”
“I gave the wallet back. You can’t prove nothing.”
Sage chuckled. “Seriously? Who are they going to believe, us or you?”
The fight went out of him, and he was docile on the express elevator up to Seven on State, though they still kept hold of him. Everyone else in the car gave them plenty of room; he really stank.
“Do you have a name?” Percy asked. “And no wiseass answers this time, okay?”
When they reached the food court, Sage said, “What do you want to eat?”
Kev’s gaze ricocheted from store to store. The tantalizing smell of cooking food filled the air. “Anything. I don’t care.”
Sage chose Takashi Noodles because it had the shortest line. When it was their turn, they ordered and took their food to an empty table.
Before Kev could dig in, Sage cautioned him. “If it’s been a while, eat slowly. You don’t want it coming right back up.”
Kev nodded and spooned miso ramen with pork and corn into his mouth. His hand shook. Sage glanced at Percy, who looked back in concern.
“What are you doing on the street, Kev?” Sage asked, digging into his bowl of noodles.
“Picking pockets. What were you doing there?” He didn’t look up; he kept spooning soup into his mouth.
“We’re popping for lunch,” Sage said, exasperated. “You could at least be straight with us.”
Kev sighed. “Sorry.” He finished his soup. “Can I have something else?”
“What do you want?” Percy asked, already standing.
“Burger?” The yearning look on his face when he said that made Sage’s heart hurt.
Percy went to stand in line at Marc Burger. Sage slid his noodle bowl toward Kev, who started in on it immediately.
“You were going to tell me about being on the street,” Sage urged.
“Nothing much to say. Parents kicked me out, and here I am.”
“Why would they do that?”
Kev’s expression hardened. “You’re kind of stupid for an adult, aren’t you? I told ’em I was gay. They pointed at the door.”
Sage was so tired of hearing this. So tired of parents who stopped loving their kids for something they couldn’t help. “How long has it been?”
He pushed away the empty noodle bowl and gazed across the space to where Percy was still a few people away from ordering, biting his lip. Kev was clearly starving, and Sage felt a terrible anger sweep through him, focused on the parents he’d likely never meet.
“When we’re finished here, you’re coming home with me,” Sage said impulsively.
Kev’s lip curled. “You and the boyfriend?” When Sage’s eyebrows went up in surprise, he laughed harshly. “You weren’t hiding it. I knew right off you were together. I followed you around the store, and you never knew I was there.” He turned away, gazing out the windows at a white sky full of snow.
So they’d been targeted, and Kev had waited until they were outside to lift his wallet. And he’d stayed well back, because if Kev had been close enough to hear their conversation, Sage would have smelled him.
“This is what I want,” Kev said. “A bath, something clean to wear, and a couch for the night.” He was still looking out the window. “In return, I’ll do whatever you guys want.” His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Deal?”
Kev’s matter-of-fact offer floored Sage. Should he agree in order to get him safely back to the townhouse where he could get Kev some actual help? Or deny Kev’s assumption and chance losing him between Macy’s and home?
“Uh, let me have a word with my, uh, boyfriend, okay?” Sage stood and crossed to Percy, who was now three people back from the order station. Sage had no worries about Kev disappearing; he wouldn’t go anywhere until he got that burger. Sage tapped Percy on the shoulder.
Percy looked around in surprise. “What’s up?”
Sage filled him in quickly and was gratified when Percy agreed something must be done. “New clothes, for sure,” Sage said, full of ideas to help Kev. “Find him a safe place to stay until he turns eighteen. If we don’t know anyone, he can stay with me and Ross. Get him back to school—”
Percy kissed him on the cheek. “This is one time you will let me use my wealth, right? No hundred dollar limit?”
Sage grinned. “I was hoping you’d say that.” He hugged Percy, then hurried back to Kev, who hadn’t moved a muscle.
Regaining his seat, Sage said, “Deal.”
A resigned shadow crossed Kev’s face. “Okay, then.” His depression was palpable. “I get to stay all night. No kicking me out… after.”
Sage nodded. “Agreed.” He couldn’t wait to tell Kev they had no plans to use him, sexually or otherwise. Kev would probably be greatly relieved if his poorly-hidden expressions were anything to go by. How many times had he traded his body for a place to sleep? The thought made him shudder.
This Christmas, Sage was going to do something special. Percy was going to help him, and together, they’d get this boy off the streets and hopefully set him on a solid path to adulthood.
He couldn’t wait to get started.
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