The bitter wind had stopped, but the snow kept piling itself on the tarps tacked to the trees like old papers on a bulletin board. Snow piled on Doug, too, as he sat huddled on a log near a malnourished fire.
What an unlucky day.
Doug crossed his arms and let a sigh escape between his teeth as snow fell down his jacket. Shivering, he coughed.
Well, summer would come eventually, though it was only January now. But after summer, winter would come again. And so on, and on, and on … Then again, maybe by the end of summer he’d be in a better place. If only the liquor stores wouldn’t keep calling his name …
“Hey, Dougie. You call that a fire?”
Jason’s voice jumped over the crackling sticks, and the flames dimmed even further. The words collapsed Doug’s thoughts.
“Nah,” he said. “I just got to thinking.” Throwing a chunk of wood on the embers, he looked up. Jason was stroking his scraggly beard.
“Now I can see you’re more than a bump on a log. Want to come to town?”
“You’re heading now? It’s eight-thirty.”
“I don’t want to sleep without food in my stomach. I heard the soup kitchen’s open late this month.”
Doug shifted his legs and sighed again. More snow melted and trickled his neck. “Long walk for a bowl of soup.”
“And a chance to escape the snow?” Jason held out a hand to allow the flakes a place to settle. “Thought I would try the mall after, maybe.”
“We got thrown out of there last time.”
“If you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
“No one has money after Christmas.”
Jason scowled. “Okay, grouchy. Stay put and get buried alive.” He stumped off, his bulky form vanishing in the floating snow.
With a grimace, Doug struggled to his feet. His leg was acting up again, now that it was cold. Well, at least his cardboard sign wasn’t entirely a fib then, and he could prove it.
He might as well follow Jason and see if there was anything to eat.
The snow was deepening. A foot of it already coated the ground, making it impossible to walk without pain.
“Knew you’d come,” Jason said when Doug caught up.
Doug didn’t answer. What kind of life was this, anyway? It was a wonder the city hadn’t found them and evicted them from the park. A wonder Jason still didn’t mind his company. But being homeless didn’t automatically make you a recluse.
They left the copse of trees and trudged down the trampled path. The lights of the city hung foggily in the dim sky, winking behind snowflakes. Suddenly Doug’s foot slipped on a patch of ice, and he gritted his teeth as his leg wrenched.
“Your leg bugging you?”
“Always,” Doug muttered. It had broken a year ago—he was pretty sure it had, anyway. Toughest time of his life, lying for a week in that alley.
“You’re a quiet sufferer. You trying to become a saint or something?”
“Quit it, Jason.”
“We’re a long way from saints, I should say. Saints miss out on a lot. No stealing, no drugs, no drink …”
“You’re making me sick.” Doug stopped and turned around. “Go have your fun, then. I’m finding shelter.”
Jason shook his head, his face creased. “What’s got into you? You’re crazy! We’re almost there.”
“Almost to the stores that take all our money—and mind, too.” Doug was sure he had never seen Jason’s mouth so far open. “I don’t have anything to spend, is all. And if I want to get anything tomorrow I’m better off being sober.”
“You’re just trying to make me look bad,” Jason growled. “Good riddance, Saint Doug.” He shoved Doug and huffed toward the glowing street.
Doug’s leg had wrenched again and he wanted to call Jason five hundred awful names, but he couldn’t. It would only make him more miserable.
Tomorrow was another day. If he could just fall asleep and not wake until morning, things would be better.
He trudged back down the path toward his tarp house, occasionally wiping the snow from his face. What a winter for snow. He should have found a coat in the donation bin, not this thin jacket. Unlucky day, as usual.
And he hadn’t put out the fire, had he? He had been too angry. Someone else would take it if he didn’t hurry. But it was hard to hurry, even with gritted teeth and thoughts tramping through his head.
There was someone at his fire; he could tell from a distance it was built up. The man sat hunched with snow piled on his shoulders, on the log Doug always used for a bench.
“Get outta here,” Doug snarled as he limped up.
The stranger jerked, looking up. His eyes were startled above the ragged edge of his green coat. But his face, though red with cold, wasn’t hard and pinched like Jason’s or those of the other homeless people Doug knew.
The stranger shuffled off the log, sinking knee-deep in a drift of snow. “Sorry.”
Sorry? Who said that to him anymore? “Take your own sorry.” He sank onto the log, rubbing his leg as he stretched it toward the flames.
Biting his lip, the stranger floundered away and tripped over the string of Doug’s makeshift tent. Something snapped in the tree above, and the tarp collapsed over him where he lay face first in the snow.
Doug got up, growling threats, and yanked the squirming tarp. A sharp tearing sound left it in two pieces. He gave a savage kick at what was left on the ground.
With one last effort the stranger extracted himself from the tarp and stood. His face was now red from more than cold. “Sorry,” he said. “I mean …” He sloughed his way to the fire and picked up a bundle. “You can have my tarp. I’ll help you put it up.”
Doug pursed his lips. “For what?”
“Oh, for nothing. I wrecked yours, didn’t I?” The stranger unfolded the bundle. “I want to make things right.”
Doug frowned, then shrugged. This stranger was an odd person. Who would offer his own ‘home’—let alone on a night like this? Jason certainly wouldn’t, and neither would he. The friendly words made his coarseness seem foul, and frustration swelled in his rib cage. “Let’s do it then,” he grunted, pulling the ripped tarp out of the way. “Hurry, the snow’s taking over the grass.”
Together they tied the tarp to a tree branch with the bit of frayed rope that was left. The sticks Doug had used to pin the sides were buried deep in a drift, so he had to resign himself to staking it in the snow.
“Is that good?” the stranger asked.
“Good enough.” Doug glanced over it once more and then turned toward the fire. It needed more wood. Unless he just went to bed now, which is what he’d been planning all along.
The stranger turned away. Doug looked at his tent, ready to crawl inside. But where would the man go? He had just given up his shelter, and his ragged green coat wouldn’t hold up to much more cold.
Least Doug could do was take the bite out of the chill.
The stranger turned around.
“You’d better warm up first.” Doug nodded toward the coals. “Get yourself some wood and the fire’s yours.” Then he crawled into his tent and curled up. Cold shivered through him and his fingers felt like rubber erasers, but the new tarp was a good one—it actually did look brand new.
That stranger must have nerve!
Well, Doug had done good by him, so Doug could sleep in peace. Jason had helped him when he first arrived in that park. That was a long time ago. Jason had been growing worse, lately. Ever since Doug broke his leg and stopped pooling their money for drugs. Jason spent way too much of his time in the gambling house, getting more debt piled on his broad shoulders.
But how could Doug say that it was too much time? What did it really matter? His thoughts jumbled for a moment, and he woke when he realised he was falling asleep. It was too much time when you wanted to try to become a somebody after being a nobody for so long.
Doug remembered better times. And one day, he would find better times again. Somehow.
Doug awoke with snow drifted up his back and flakes melting on his face as they fell. It was wonderfully warm, though, with snow as a blanket. One of the tent corners must have undone. He reluctantly squirmed out of his snow covering to the flapping tarp corner and squinted up. A million snowflakes were like stars falling to earth from an endless, dark sky.
Definitely not morning.
He was shivering again as the cold seeped past his damp jacket, and his leg ached all the way through. No use going back to bed; he’d probably freeze. But he could warm up by the fire if the stranger had kept it going and hadn’t frozen to death himself.
Gritting his teeth, he dragged himself out and sighed in relief as the fire danced before him. A huge drift was piled over his log with the stranger’s face peeking from it.
“Still alive?” Doug asked as he held his numb fingers toward the flames.
“Alive and well.” The stranger shifted, and the drift began falling away around him. “My, this cold makes me hungry, though.”
The cheerfulness grated against Doug’s pain. Who was being a saint? “Who are you?” he asked brusquely.
“Charles. And you?”
“Doug. Where’d you come from?”
“The bridge by South Street. You?”
Doug grunted. “What do you mean? Here. Been here for years. Heard tell there’s some rich folks up by South Street. Think the owner of the mansion is Bailey. He’s a millionaire.”
“I’ve walked by it a lot.” Charles grinned and moved closer to the fire. “Do you think we could get that far one day?”
In surprise, Doug turned to look at Charles. He had never told anyone of his slim hopes of what the future might hold, though he was sure some of the others had similar thoughts. And it had definitely never occurred to him that he could become a millionaire.
“I don’t need a million dollars,” he said, his voice tight with the pain in his leg. “All I need is a reason to live.”
The surprise of having said the words equalled his earlier surprise, but this time he didn’t turn or start or look at Charles as if he was crazy. He just leaned forward and angrily adjusted the logs in the fire with a stick. The flames rippled higher, beating back the darkness that cloaked him. The misery of a few hours before slunk through the light, though, coming to rest on him.
“What kind of home did you come from, Douglas?”
“My name’s Doug, you fool,” Doug spat. Why did this stranger have to use his father’s pet name for him? With the name, he remembered walking through the door after school, heaving his backpack onto the kitchen table, and hearing his dad say, “Hey, Douglas! Did you get your doctor’s certificate today?”
He ran a hand down his throbbing leg. So much for becoming a doctor. “Never had a home,” he continued in a rough voice. “Been on the streets all my life. Don’t even know what a home is, but being homeless …? You always want to get rid of the ‘less’ at the end of words.” He chuckled, but it was a hollow, crackly sound that disappeared in the falling snow.
“I had a home once,” Charles said, putting his chin in his hands. “And it wasn’t just a house with a dad and mom—there were seven siblings waiting for me.”
Doug said nothing. Let the poor guy talk himself out. That’s what Jason had done when Doug first came.
“I always got good grades in school, and I wanted to go on to be a doctor or a lawyer—something big and grand. And then before I started university, some unexpected obstacles came up, and here I am now.” Charles sighed.
Either he was fibbing, or he was a lot younger than he looked, because there was no way he could have been out of high school recently. And there was no way he was a twenty-year-homeless guy like Jason. He was too cheerful for that.
Suddenly Jason appeared in the circle of light, anger glinting in his eyes. “Who’s this?” he demanded as he towered over Charles.
“Someone who needed a fire for the night,” Doug retorted. “Where have you been?”
Jason crouched down, his eyes roving over the stranger, and seemingly satisfied at last, he looked at his friend. “Our favourite place.” A smile flickered across his face. “I won me a big one tonight, Saint Dougie.”
Before Doug really had time to think, he found himself on top of Jason, holding his shocked face in the snow. “You’ll be sorry if you ever call me that again! Why wouldn’t I give a man some warmth if he needed it? It’s what you did for me when I came.” He felt Jason’s hand grab his coat and knew he couldn’t do much more. Jason was too strong for him. He threw a last handful of snow in Jason’s face before he was heaved into a snow bank against a tree.
The sudden pain that streaked through his side made his stomach curl. He took a deep breath, and after a moment it calmed, allowing him to get up and stagger to the fire. Jason had vanished.
“Are you all right?” Charles asked. He was on his feet, his brow turned up in the middle.
A gasp hitched Doug’s breath as he sank to the ground. Like the dull throbbing that was spreading through him, fear coursed and made him shaky.
Jason could’ve killed him, easy.
“Fine,” he answered. If only the stranger had never come. If only Jason had not shown up while Charles was there. If only … everything about his life was different. Would Jason come back? Would he just forget about this little episode and stick by him still? And stop calling him a saint?
“That was my friend Jason.” He ran a hand down his side.
Charles cleared his throat and sat down again. “Some … friendship.”
“Winter’s rough, okay? Especially winters like this.” When Doug thought about it, every season was rough in its own way. But winter had to be the worst—and the worst of the worst was right after Christmas.
“How did you meet Jason?” asked Charles.
Doug looked into the fire gloomily, watching the snowflakes melt in its presence. “We were both thrown out of the mall on a night like this. I must’ve looked lost, because Jason came up and asked me if I needed a place to stay, which I did. So he took me here.”
“How long ago?”
Doug had to think for a moment. He had been twenty-two when he lost his apartment, and twenty-three when the family he stayed with told him to leave. “Six years, I guess.”
The night was waning; a tinge of gold unfurled through the trees, turning the snowflakes to gleaming crystals. Doug got onto his knees and threw snow on the fire. With morning came the early walkers, and it was better if it didn’t look like anyone had been around at night. He glanced at the new tarp in concern, but the snow had it nearly covered.
“What will you do now?”
Doug looked up. Charles had gotten to his feet and had his arms crossed for warmth. And his face, clearer now in the morning light, was curious. It was a strange question; unless, of course, Charles was new to the area.
With a shrug, Doug stood. “Find some breakfast, hopefully.” He couldn’t let Charles know where the best begging spots were, especially because he was completely out of money. He had spent the last of it a few nights ago at the bar. The thought of it—his hollow laughter with the other men, his drunken stories, his stupefied walk to the park—made the emptiness inside him burn with anger.
“Thank you for sharing your fire,” Charles said, pulling back his hood. “I—I might walk with you … just to the edge of town.”
“Suit yourself,” Doug mumbled, and realised he sounded like Jason. He jammed his hands into his pockets as he limped off.
Charles floundered toward him. “Did Jason hurt you?”
“What does it matter to you?” His leg was worse than ever with the drifted snow pulling at it, and his bruised ribs made breathing an unpleasant chore. “You’d better not speak to Jason about it, or I’ll make you wish you’d never come to the park.”
“Oh, I do wish it,” Charles said. Then disappointment clouded his eyes. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Doug ignored him.
They parted when they reached the end of the park. Charles went toward South Street, but Doug knew chances would be slim there. He went the opposite way, toward the market. Market customers were more likely to have cash. And maybe Jason would be there.
He wasn’t really sure he wanted to see Jason yet, as long as Jason returned at some point. They had had fights before, and usually a few hours’ time erased them.
Pulling his crudely written sign from under his jacket, he leaned back against a tree by the market building’s entrance. People walked by; some didn’t notice him at all, some glanced his way and winced in sympathy or nervously hurried their children past.
“I’m not gonna eat them,” he said to one anxious mother. She only gripped their hands tighter and pulled them away.
Suddenly a man stepped up to him, slapping his hands together for warmth. “Another one, eh? Hard day to stand out in the cold. What do you say I take you to Tim Hortons® for breakfast?”
Doug looked at the man’s smiling face, and then the people coming toward him. Warm breakfast would be awfully good—but it would mean he wouldn’t make any money for …
He shook his head. “Nah. I already had breakfast. But if you have any change so I can get lunch later—”
The man’s smile faded. “That’s what the other guy said, exactly. I don’t understand you beggars.” And he huffed off.
Well, that was true. No one could really understand being homeless unless they experienced it. And that must be Jason who the man had talked to. Doug had learned from his teacher well.
It was a long, fruitless morning, and by the time it was over Doug was sick with the pain and the emptiness of his stomach. He stumbled to the sidewalk corner looking for Jason, but no one was there. Oh, well. Maybe later he’d find him.
Heavy hearted, he tried several other places. A few coins were his only earnings. Disgusted with himself, angry at the world, and fearful of Jason, he let his feet lead him to the closest liquor store. At least there was one place he could find relief.
Until tomorrow. He’d find something more to live for tomorrow.
“Douglas! I mean, Doug! Doug, wake up!”
The words were fuzzy, almost beyond recognition. And Doug was shaking, but not out of cold. He actually felt quite good. Except his mind was working at a nearly-asleep pace, which made it difficult to hear all the words. Why was someone trying to wake him? It was such a comfortable night—a good one for sleeping deep, especially after drinking too much.
“Doug! If you don’t wake up—”
Suddenly he was sitting up—at least it sort of felt like he was. But something must’ve been supporting him, because his arms were hanging at his sides. Why wouldn’t Charles let him go back to sleep?
“Leave me alone,” he tried to say, but his jaw wouldn’t form the words.
So this is what it was to freeze to death. Jason had warned him about it once. Well, it wasn’t so bad. If Charles would just scramble and let him go to his end in peace …
A roar split through his haze again. “You fool, Doug! Sleeping in minus twenty-seven as if you didn’t need a thing to keep you warm …”
When Doug managed to crack open his eyes, he saw flames leaping into the dark night, and felt Jason’s rough hands angrily rubbing his arms. Comfort had fled, leaving an awful pricking pain in its place. Jason was muttering incomprehensible words. When he began rubbing the injured leg, Doug couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Stop,” he croaked, trying to push Jason away. His arms weren’t working properly, and it was a feeble attempt.
“Well. At least you’re talking now.” Jason rubbed harder. “You were almost—”
Charles’ voice broke the sentence. “Goodness, Jason, you’re going to make him pass out.”
The harsh rubbing stopped, and as the pain eased a little, the fire turned right side up and went back to orange from its strange blue-grey. Doug gulped. “I’m okay.”
Jason snorted. “You’re okay. Nine-tenths frozen to death, but okay. Dougie …”
“Can you feel your feet?” asked Charles. “Your hands?”
Doug could see Charles now, across the fire, his brow crumpled. “I can feel ‘em. They hurt like crazy.” He tried shifting his legs from their uncomfortable position. Everything hurt like crazy, especially his bruised side. Why did Charles have to wake him into the pain and cold again, into a world where he had to try to find a reason to live?
“We should get him something to eat.” Charles got up and came around the fire.
“It’s the middle of the night,” Jason said brusquely.
“Then we go some place that’s open in the middle of the night. Don’t you have money on you?”
“I don’t need food,” Doug interjected weakly, despite the fact that the word food contracted his stomach. Jason was in a dangerous mood. “If I just go back to sleep I’ll be—”
“And freeze again!” Jason grabbed Doug’s shoulder and shook him. “You’re staying right here and he’ll keep you awake while I’m gone. You hear me?”
Doug gave a weary nod. “Yeah.”
Jason straightened and turned to Charles. “Get more wood on the fire and see he doesn’t fall asleep.” Then he hurried off through the crusty snow.
Lifting a heavy, half-numbed hand, Doug rubbed his eyes. If only his leg didn’t hurt so much.
Charles brought more sticks and tossed them on the blaze, then sat down next to Doug, holding his hands toward the heat. Neither said anything for a long time. It felt like a long time, anyway. Doug’s eyes tried closing, but fear of Jason kept his mind from allowing sleep.
Suddenly Charles glanced at him and shifted position. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Doug rubbed his eyes again. He had to stay awake. “How’d you find me?”
“I was trying to sleep myself, and it was so cold I finally gave up and came here looking for your fire. Then when it wasn’t existent, I assumed you were somewhere else—in town, maybe. But for some reason I decided to check your tent, and if I hadn’t …” Charles looked at the fire and shuddered.
Why would it have mattered if he froze? Doug tried to reason it out, but his mind was too tired. “You could’ve had your tarp back, then.”
Charles opened his mouth and then shut it again, his hands fidgeting in his lap, as if he didn’t know what to say.
Silence again. Then Charles’ voice.
“Are you awake?”
Doug opened his eyes and shifted his sore leg. “Yeah.”
“Doug, what happens to people when they die?”
The anxiety in the question made Doug remember when he was first driven out of the place he was staying, and all the questions he’d asked Jason. He’d never asked about dying. Though he’d wondered about it a lot. There was something about dying that was frightening, no matter how much you tried to reason it out.
He shrugged. “Most go to hell, I guess.”
“How can I stay out of hell?”
Doug met Charles’ eyes, and realised his answer hadn’t been very sympathetic. Well, it was the truth. “How? Well …”
How could someone avoid hell? He had been baptised as a baby and gone through confirmation, which should have been enough. But it didn’t really seem like enough anymore. How could what he had done back then make up for everything he did now? “Everyone wants a reason to even live. If you have something to live for, going to hell probably doesn’t matter. But I guess you could try to become a saint somehow?”
With a sigh, Charles slouched down. “I’d never be able to. That’s what Jason calls you, isn’t it?”
“Only to irritate me.” Doug tensed. Another childhood memory rose to the surface of his flooded mind. He could see the statues in the church, each one a man of God. Very few earned God’s favour, it seemed, otherwise there would be hundreds.
Footsteps crunched in the still air, and Jason appeared. He dropped a lidded paper bowl into Doug’s lap. “Nearly burned through to my bones,” he spat. “Could’ve let you freeze instead.”
Doug tried to take off the lid, but his fingers wouldn’t work, so Charles did it for him. steam trailed from the soup toward the stars. “Is there a spoon?”
“Oh.” Jason thrust a hand into his frayed coat pocket, pulled out a plastic spoon, and threw it at Doug.
By the time Doug got the first bite in his mouth it had cooled significantly, but it was food all the same. He felt better afterward.
“Let’s go into town,” said Jason, who had been walking around the fire while Doug ate.
“Why?” Doug yawned.
Jason sprang to him. “Because you’re falling asleep, that’s why. Get up.”
“Gently, Jason,” Charles said, standing.
“Why should you care?”
Doug choked on the agony as Jason hauled him to his feet. For several seconds he was sure he was about to lose the soup he’d just eaten.
“Are you okay?” Charles asked, reaching toward him.
“Yeah,” Doug answered, wondering how many times he’d already said that. The ache was spreading from his leg into his lower back. He held himself on his left foot with Charles as a support.
Jason kicked snow onto the fire, and it sizzled out slowly. “Come on.”
Doug gritted his teeth, stepped forward, and felt Charles’ hand keep him from falling.
“Jason—” said Charles.
“Can’t walk,” Doug forced out. “My leg—”
Light was stealing through the trees, and in it Jason’s face softened a little. Through his pained haze, Doug heard Charles suck in a surprised breath. Jason’s arm clamped around his shoulders.
“Keep your foot clear of the snow, Dougie.”
He tried his best, but the snow was too deep. Again and again it wrenched his leg. Once he cried out. Several times he would have fainted if Jason and Charles hadn’t stopped.
At last they reached the street. The lamps seemed to bob in the grey dawn above Doug. If only he could just curl up on the sidewalk and stay there. He couldn’t really feel his hands or feet anymore.
As they stood waiting for the signal light to change, huddled and shivering, a car pulled up beside them. The radio was droning out the news.
“… seven found frozen to death in the east side …”
The car roared away. Doug’s thoughts, vast and mixed together in bewildering ways, zoned in on the words. That’s what happened when homeless people died. They became statistics for bored people to listen to on the way to work. And yet, if their families heard … His family wouldn’t know he was homeless, though. He hadn’t contacted them once since his landlord evicted him …
“Where are we going?” Charles asked. He was panting, though Jason was bearing most of Doug’s weight. They were across the street now, leaning against a variety store.
“Somewhere warm.” Jason bent to look in Doug’s face. “You okay?”
Doug heaved a breath, trying to assess himself. His leg was almost unbearable, but that was the only pain. “Can’t really feel much anymore.”
“I know where we can go,” Charles said haltingly, as if he wasn’t sure he should voice the idea. “On South Street—”
“It’s too far,” Jason snapped.
Desperation piled into Charles’ voice. “We could get a taxi. We—”
Cold crept from Doug’s hands into his arms, and he couldn’t make sense of the conversation anymore. He felt himself moving again, and at some point he heard Jason say, “Wake up, Doug.” He managed to open his eyes, but they must’ve not been working right, because the building he saw was the Bailey mansion. He heard Charles’ question again. “Did you think we could get this far one day?”
Pain woke him, streaking and throbbing into his back. He groaned and tried to move, but the snow was laying heavy on him.
“Get me the aspirin,” he heard Charles say.
He felt warm again, and knew he must be freezing to death. So Jason and Charles hadn’t been fast enough. But how could his leg hurt so much if he was numb everywhere else? And his arm moved when he tried it.
So he was really, truly warm.
A hand helped him as he tried to sit up. A blanket covered him, not snow. Charles was standing beside the couch with a glass of water.
“Can you swallow these?” Charles asked, holding out several tablets.
Doug did his best, though his hand shook and made some of the water spill. Random thoughts came to him, disconnected and strange. When was the last time he had sat on a couch? Held a glass of water? Could he even talk with the ache in his leg?
Charles took the glass. “Do you want more?”
Doug shook his head and put it in his hands. Oh, if the pain would ease, even a little! Nausea rolled around in his stomach. A clock ticked loudly, and he listened to its rhythm. Anything to settle his insides.
The moment of unbearableness passed. He slowly looked up, into a huge living room painted cheerful blue. Two chandeliers hung like clusters of diamonds. A giant window, all one pane, looked over a white lawn.
His reflection looked back at him from the window. He hadn’t realised how thin he’d become. And he had never seen a face so white and bewildered and sad.
He was sad? He didn’t feel sad. Just … detached.
Charles came in again at a brisk walk, putting his phone in his pocket. “Okay?”
“Where’s Jason?” Doug rasped.
“He wouldn’t come in. He said he’ll be back to check on you.”
Suddenly anger welled up in Doug. So Charles was a fraud—a curiosity seeker. And Jason knew it now. Jason wouldn’t come back to the Bailey mansion.
“You fooled us,” he said, leaning forward and pointing into Charles’ face. “How would you like someone to copy the way you live just so they can see what it’s like?”
Charles stepped back, blinking. “That’s not why I did it.”
“Why, then?” Doug hadn’t felt this mad in a long time. If he had held the glass still, he would’ve thrown it.
“Because … because I wanted you to be more than statistics to me. I wanted to understand your way of life so I could help as many people out of it as possible.” Suddenly Charles’ phone began ringing, and he drew it out of his pocket to shut it off. “You said sometimes you wish you had something to live for. Well, I do, and I wanted you to know.”
Doug’s pain was subsiding, and Charles’ calm voice helped his anger subside too. “It wouldn’t help.”
But he knew it maybe would. People wanted to get rid of the ‘less’ at the end of words. ‘Meaningless’ would be a good word to change.
“I live for Jesus,” said Charles.
“Oh.” Disappointment brought back Doug’s weariness. “I tried that. I grew up Catholic.”
“I don’t mean trying to please Jesus by works. I mean giving Him my life so He can work in me and through me.” Charles pulled up an easy chair and sat down. “God created you, Doug, and He has a purpose for your life. You’ve just run from it. You’ve seen how friends can turn on you, but God never turns on His children. He wants to save you from sin and be your friend—your reason to live.”
Meaning. Doug remembered his father talking about a life that had meaning. “But if God created me, why did He let me get in such a mess?”
“Why don’t you try seeking Him and see what you find?”
Sunlight was sparkling on the frosted window. The doorbell rang.
“That might be Jason.” Charles stood.
Doug shook his head. “Jason won’t come.”
Charles smiled. “I think he’ll come. Everyone wants something to live for. I think you’re the reason Jason lives, Doug. That’s why he’s watched over you.”
That was something to chew on. If Doug had frozen, would Jason have ended his own life?
“If Jason can love you, how much more do you think God, Who made you in His own image, loves you?” The doorbell rang again. “Love Him back and you’ll have something to live for.”
Doug didn’t answer, doubtful. But there must be some reason he was alive—had survived six years of horrific living. Some way to live a life of meaning and be more than a statistic. God couldn’t create people just to be statistics.
He closed his eyes. God, Who are You? Who am I? But, I guess if You want to take me and love me, go ahead. I’ve tried finding fulfilment in other ways, and nothing works. You’re my last resort.
He knew it was crude; it wasn’t an elegant prayer like the ones he’d heard in his childhood. Well, if God really cared, it wouldn’t matter what the words were like. He would find out if there was a reason to live.