"Sort of." Mikey shrugged. "The center's holding a thing, party. Eggnog and cookies and music, that sort of thing. Ryan organized it, so I'm sure it'll be pretty..." Mikey tried to think of a word for Ryan's style. "Pretty."
"Sounds nice," Matt said.
"Linda's going to come with me. So we're not, y'know, sitting around the house moping after we go to visit Gee and Frank."
"Yeah," Matt nodded. "Definitely, you should get out."
"You have any plans?" Mikey asked.
"Haven't really decided. My family's all back in Texas, mostly. El Paso, right along the border. I might go to Church. That makes my mom happy. We'll see."
Mikey shifted in his chair. "Matt, look-- I don't know what the etiquette is on our, um-- I don't know if I should be asking, but you've been really decent and all and if you wanted to come to the center, well. I'd be happy to see you there."
There was a moment of silence before Matt said, "That's, um. That's really nice."
Mikey stood. "Okay, well, maybe we'll see you." He left before Matt could either confirm or deny.
"Merry Christmas," Mikey said into the phone.
Gerard grinned. "What'd you get me?"
Mikey rolled his eyes. Gerard was shit at waiting to open his presents. Gerard said, "Bob helped me get yours. I think you'll like it. It's really sort of for when we can get our own place. I mean, I know that's kind of counting my chickens, or whatever that expression is, something about horses and carts? Whatever, it's stupid, but I don't know, Mikey, I've been feeling like..." Gerard trailed off and gave Mikey a helpless expression.
"Not stupid," was all Mikey could say. Unlike Gerard, he was terrified of hope. "I bet the present is cool."
"Why are you always so patient?" Gerard asked. "Don't you want to know what it is?"
Mikey smiled. "Because it drives you crazy."
Gerard flicked the glass with his finger. Mikey laughed. Gerard said, "You'll see. Next Christmas I'll make you get up at five to open your fucking present."
If Gerard was around, he could force Mikey stay up all night if he wanted.
Linda and Mikey came early to help the others decorate. There were plenty of garlands and wreathes and electrical candles to be placed in Just The Right Spot On Pain of Death By Ross. When they had put the last ribbon in its place, Brian broke out the eggnog--the adult version--and passed it around. Mikey said, "Have any of the stuff for the kids?" and Brian handed that right over.
They drank a toast to getting through another year and the center's rising numbers and the fall in crime in the neighborhood since the opening of it and the church. Linda whispered, "Here's to me getting another son," and Mikey could hardly swallow past the heaviness in his chest. He found her hand and squeezed it as hard as he could.
Ryan disappeared for a bit after that, and kids began arriving. Brian hid the adults-only eggnog, but Jon clearly knew where it was. Mikey was busily engaged in a cutthroat game of Chinese checkers with a couple of the center's younger kids when someone came up to the table. Mikey looked up to see Matt standing there with a tin in his hands. Mikey smiled. "Hi."
Matt said, "My mom sends me cinnamon twists every year, I thought--"
Mikey said, "Wow, okay, gimme a second." He called in a third kid to take over his spot and got up to tell Matt, "You should hide those in the back. According to Brian there's a post party party for the workers, and believe me when I say you're totally invited."
Matt laughed a little. "Sounds like a plan."
They hid the cookies, where they met up with Brian and Jon taking another hit off the eggnog. Mikey introduced them all and Jon asked, "You want some?"
Matt said, "If you don't mind."
Jon said, "Any friend of Mikey's," and poured Matt a drink. Mikey took him back to the party then, so that he could say hi to Linda and meet Spencer, who was busy schooling the high schoolers in an intense, winner-take-all game of DDR.
Mikey asked, "You know where Ryan is?"
Spencer said, "Check the mistletoe," and rolled his eyes. Mikey didn't ask, just went to go see if he could find the mistletoe. He really hadn't been paying attention when they'd hung it. He found it on the doorway between the gym area and the arts area. Sure enough, Ryan was standing patiently under it holding a Nestle Crunch bar wrapped in a red satin ribbon. Mikey said, "Um, hi."
Ryan said, "No offense, but don't come any closer, 'kay?"
"Sure," Mikey said, and, "Ryan Ross, this is Matt Cortez, my friend."
From the side, he could feel Matt blink at him, but all Matt said was, "Hi, Ryan."
"Hi Matt, nice to meet you. I'm not usually this crazy."
Mikey neither confirmed nor denied the claim and Ryan frowned at him. "This is all your fault anyway."
Mikey asked, "How?"
"I gave Brendon a Snickers Almond, which I happen to know is his favorite, because Spencer told me and Spencer always knows weird, mercenary shit about people, and okay, that's not really that weird, nor likely to be used in any sort of mercenary scenario, but still, Spencer knows these things. So I gave Brendon one and he said thank you and smiled but I don't think he got it, so I tried something else, a regular Snickers and it was the same. I've tried pretty much every candy bar I can think of and he still doesn't seem to be catching on so tonight I left him a trail of varied ones from the church to here. If he doesn't get a clue at this I'm going to have to assume that he's playing stupid to save my feelings, which, really, is what I suspect in the first place, but it's fucking Christmas, so I've got to try, right?" Ryan managed to look exasperated, terrified and miserable all at once.
Mikey asked, "How do you know the kids won't eat them?"
"Oh, I threatened them. They're all scared of me anyway."
It was true, they sort of were. Matt said, "Good luck with all that," clearly still confused. Mikey felt for him. It wasn't his fault he had stumbled into a den of counter-culture, prison-inspired mating rituals.
Mikey said, "He'll figure it out."
From behind them, Brendon asked, "Who'll figure what out? Oh, Merry Christmas Mikey, Ryan, guy whose name I don't know yet."
"Matt," Matt supplied.
"I'm Brendon, nice to meet you," Brendon said.
"Oh, huh, Brendon," Matt said. "We should be going."
"Merry Christmas," Mikey said and the two of them left Ryan there with Brendon, his hopes and his neatly wrapped Crunch.
The eggnog came back out during clean up, and both Spencer and Linda--who hadn't had any since the first toast of the evening--enjoyed another. Ryan, Brendon and Mikey shared a bottle of apple cider. Matt, Brian and Jon went right on ahead getting fuzzy on the eggnog. Brian wasn't really all that much more than relaxed, really, but Jon was full out giggly, wrapping himself over the other guys. Spencer seemed pretty intent on keeping an eye on him, which Mikey couldn't figure out, since Jon didn't seem likely to cause trouble, just a little less inhibited than he normally was. Not that Jon was a guy who made Mikey think of the term "inhibited" in the first place. Matt, as far as Mikey could tell, mostly just got sleepy on it.
Ryan ended up taking Jon home to his and Spencer's place, but not before dragging Brendon back under the mistletoe. Brendon said, "I would kiss you without the aid of greenery," and Ryan asked, "It's Christmas, where's your Christmas spirit?"
"Waiting for mass," Brendon told him. "Which I expect you to be at."
Ryan just smiled.
Brendon made sure that Brian got home safely, and Mikey took Matt back to Linda's place. Linda made them all hot chocolate while Mikey put sheets on the couch. Linda kissed him good night and Mikey went to sleep. His alarm went off at five and he made himself reach over to the nightstand where he'd put Gerard's present. Slowly, carefully, he unwrapped it, revealing a Christmas star, the kind you put at the top of the tree. Inside the star was a drawing of the two of them together, the two of them laughing. It was on tracing paper--or something--that had somehow been inserted right inside the glass so that you could see the picture from every angle. Gerard had written on the card, "Bob found a kit to make these. I made him one, too. Maybe... Maybe someday we'll have to figure out a way to put two on a tree. Or get two trees. Or something. I don't know. I shouldn't write that. Tempting fate. Merry Christmas Mikey. Love, Gee."
Mikey set the star gently on the nightstand and went back to sleep.
Linda made them all coffee and eggs in the morning. Matt said, "I don't think I've had that much eggnog since I was eight and it was the hard stuff."
Linda laughed. Mikey sipped at his coffee. He rustled through the refrigerator until he found the box he was looking for and handed it to Matt. "Sorry it's not wrapped. It took a while to find them and I was going to give them to you at our next meeting, but, you know, Merry Christmas. Thanks for all the help."
Matt took the box of gourmet dark chocolate orange peels and said, "Oh, hey, no fair. I didn't get you anything."
Mikey said, "You really don't wanna know how many of your mom's cinnamon things I ate last night."
Matt snickered. Mikey went to grab the presents they had under the tree. He handed Linda the one from Frank (he happened to know it was her favorite coffee, he'd gone and gotten it for him) and the one from himself (a print by her favorite artist, at the behest of Frank.)
He waited until she had opened them and then got to opening his. They were both in envelopes. Linda said, "Open Frank's first, Mikey."
It was a letter, just like all the other letters, which was just fine by Mikey.
You can, at times, be a hard person to buy for. You're not high maintenance in any of the usual, useful ways. But my mom and I have been talking, and we both agree that you should try some kind of school. Vocational, or community college, or whatever you want, but something. It doesn't have to be now, and you don't have to choose right the first time. You haven't exhausted your right to make mistakes, even if I think sometimes you're scared you have.
I shouldn't say this, because it's unfair, but I think you sound really happy with what you do, with the kids and all. So maybe you should talk to Brian about what kinds of educational opportunities would help you out in that field. Brian, all of them, they sound like they care, like they would want to help you.
Our present is just a start, not even enough to really get you in, but enough to open a bank account just for this. Matt can probably help you with getting loans and other programs.
Mikey. I believe you can do it. At the very least, I believe you should probably try. It would be something for you.
Mikey took a deep breath and opened up Linda's envelope to find a check. It wasn't huge, but Frank was right, it was a start. On the purpose line, she had written "The Mikey Way Education Fund."