"Russian fudge," Bob said. "Best shit ever."
Gerard sat next to him and said, "Did you open your Christmas present? You suck at Christmas."
"Christmas in my neighborhood doesn't happen for another thirteen days, and this shit goes bad." Bob seemed wholly unbothered by Gerard's pronouncement. He said, "Open."
Gerard opened his mouth without comment and Bob placed some of the candy on his tongue. He told Gerard, "No chewing."
Gerard obeyed. When he had swallowed he said, "You still suck at Christmas."
There had been an incident with the Homeboys concerning Tommy shortly after Thanksgiving, and Frank, who had mostly only pressed the issue of lipstick and rouge and half-measures that had worked for Mikey so long as Frank made it clear who was in charge, had to get a little more aggressive in his tactics. He pierced Tommy's ears in the common area and, when that didn't work, his tongue.
He forced the issue of Tommy shaving, and then wearing skirts. Tommy hated him for it, Frank could feel it every time he walked into the cell, but he could handle Tommy's hatred. His blood was another thing altogether. Frank knew the difference. Tommy seemed to as well, which kept him cooperative, at least in his silence.
When Frank came back from hanging out with Gerard and Bob, Tommy was already in the cell, curled up under his blankets. Frank knew he wasn't asleep--his breathing wasn't even enough--but he let him be. Frank brushed his teeth and changed into his pajamas and climbed up to his bunk. Tommy still wasn't sleeping. Frank bit back a sigh, aware that he wasn't going to be able to sleep with Tommy that upset below him. Frank slipped down to the gift bag that held his mother's gift and--more covertly--Mikey's. There were old-fashioned candy canes littered throughout the box, as well as some cinnamon ones, and a chocolate mint or two. Frank rifled through, trying to see which ones were which in the dark. When he had managed to find one of each he sat at the foot of Tommy's bed and whispered, "Tommy."
Tommy pretended he was sleeping. Frank said, "C'mon, I have candy."
Still nothing. Frank considered giving up, only Tommy had looked tiny, much tinier than he actually was, under the blankets. He tried, "Talk to me and you can wear jeans tomorrow. I'll tell people it's a Christmas present."
He felt sort of shitty when Tommy sat up at that, because he had been planning on letting Tommy do that anyway. In the end it was probably best that Tommy thought he'd won the right for himself, but Frank still wished he could have just given it to him. Tommy asked, "What do you want?"
Frank held the candy canes out to him wordlessly. Tommy considered them for a few seconds but then gave in, taking the traditional one and peeling it open, popping it gingerly in his mouth. Frank got the feeling the piercing was still tender. He asked, "You get any visitors today?"
Tommy shook his head. Frank winced. "You not have anyone on the outside?"
Tommy shrugged and said, "Evidently not."
"Okay," Frank said.
Things were silent for a bit, the only sounds being the two of them working away at their candy canes. To Frank's surprise, Tommy spilled open into the silence whispering, "It was stupid to expect him to come, you know? Stupid."
Frank asked, "Him?"
"My dad. Stupid, stupid, fucking--"
Frank said, "He should have come."
Tommy made a noise that sounded amused, but Frank knew it wasn't. Tommy said, "He's not even a bad father. Not where I come from. He didn't beat me and there was food on the table."
Fathers, Frank--of all people--knew, really needed to be more than that. Tommy continued, "Just-- My mom, she died when I was a kid. She was giving birth and something went wrong, I don't even-- Something, and it was all fucked. The baby was stillborn, she was dead by the time it left her body. After that, well. He just kind of fucked off in his head. He probably doesn't even know it's Christmas. Couldn't really be sure he knows where I am. He hasn't, um, I haven't heard anything and I just figured he-- It's easier, if I think maybe he doesn't know. Because then at least it's not because he's ashamed or he's given up, you know?"
Frank did. All too well.
"With Erin, she just doesn't want some no good thief. Like she's so much better herself." Tommy shook his head.
"My girlfriend. Or, I guess ex, since she hasn't so much as written a fucking letter. Probably for the best. She'd've had to see me like this, and then what would I have said, right? Oh, yeah, it's a phase." Tommy laughed softly, brokenly.
"If she would have needed you to say something, Tommy, she wasn't worth your while." Mikey had asked a million things of Frank in one way or another, but he had never asked Frank to change the things that couldn't be changed, never judged him for having to play by other people's rules on occasion.
"Easy for you to--"
"No, Tommy, no. You don't know shit about it, okay?"
There was silence for a second before Tommy took the leap that Frank could have predicted but was hoping to avoid. He said, "So tell me."
Frank swallowed. "Just. Tommy, love is not when you forgive another person his fuck ups. It's when you acknowledge that there was a reason for those fuck ups in the first place without him even having to say. Really."
"That shit doesn't exist."
"It does. Tommy. It does."
Tommy was peering at him doubtfully in the dark. He looked down at Frank's hands. "Can I, um. Can I have the other candy cane?"
"You not eat dinner?" Frank asked.
Frank shook his head. "You gotta eat." He got off the bed and rustled through the bag for the caramel popcorn he knew his mom would have brought. He found it and opened it up, setting it between Tommy and him.
Tommy took a piece and crunched on it softly. He said, "Thanks."
Frank said, "Tommy, I--"
When it was pretty clear that Frank couldn't figure out a way to finish the sentence, Tommy sighed. "Yeah. Yeah. Me too."
In the early morning, before Tommy awoke, Frank rifled through his presents. There was a magazine on Harleys from Bob. Bob insisted that he start with the classics, despite the fact that Frank was roughly positive he would get eaten by a Harley. Gerard had drawn him a picture of Mikey as a kid. He was folded up on a couch, limbs tucked every which way. They were too still too large for his body. He was engrossed in a comic, and Frank could see, even in the picture that his lips were moving along with the story. He had on bottle-thick glasses and his hair was getting behind the lenses, in his eyes, but he didn't seem to notice. The corners of his mouth were turned up, as though he were just about to smile.
Along with the goodies, his mom had gotten him a new pair of fingerless gloves, because he was always telling her how his hands were cold. They had skeleton drawings on them. Frank grinned.
He opened the note from Mikey first.
You said On the Road made you feel claustrophobic. I wanted to try and give you back some space.
Frank ripped neatly along one edge of the paper wrapping Mikey's gift. He peeled it back to reveal Leonard Peltier's Prison Writings. Frank rolled onto his stomach and carefully creased the front few pages back to where there was an epitaph. He began reading. "Doing time creates a demented darkness of my own imagination..."
Christmas morning, Gerard sat down in the seat next to Frank. Frank looked away from the chaplain, who was getting ready to begin, to Gerard. "Didn't know this was your sort of thing."
"It's not," Gerard said. "Just thought the idea of you attending church alone on Christmas was kinda sad."
"I'm not alone." Frank didn't motion to Tommy. He was clearly sitting on Frank's other side. He wasn't here by coercion, either. Tommy confessed and took Communion every bit as often as Frank did.
Gerard said softly. "He's not family." Then he shrugged. "Tell me what to do so I don't fuck up, right?"
Tommy laughed into his hands.