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Old 12-23-2006, 10:56 PM   #1
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Of Christmas Present

U2, unfortunately, are not mine. They are real people who I have written about here in a fictional situation that never happened. I'd also like to apologize to Mr. Dickens for expanding on his theme. There will be some adult themes within this story, and offensive language. Read at your own discretion.


...Of Christmas Present

Bono muttered a string of particularly un-Christmassy oaths as he searched his pockets, juggling the bottle of Merlot he’d just stepped out to buy precariously, nearly dropping it onto the cold concrete. He searched every pocket twice and came up with his cell phone, his wallet, a handful of cash and change (much of which fell to the sidewalk and bounced away noisily) an empty cigarette pack, half a stick of bubble gum, the business cards of two politicians, four music industry colleagues and a guitar pick. What he didn’t find was a set of keys.

He balanced the bottle of wine in the crook of his arm and dialed his mobile phone with the thumb of the same hand in which he held it. He lifted it to his ear and heard nothing. He scowled and punched a button, lifted it to his ear again. He nearly tossed the phone against a nearby wall, smashing it to bits in frustration. The battery was dead. When had he last charged it? He couldn’t remember. He had been so busy lately that he was lucky if he remembered what day it was.

He had recently had a nightmare in which he got up in front of a group of stuffy politicians with his guitar, ready to sing his heart out – and realized they were expecting him to speak. The trouble was, he had no idea what he was supposed to say. Of course, he was also naked, so it really didn’t matter too much what he said. He had experienced variations on the same dream frequently in the past few weeks; in the worst of them his father was in the audience heckling him.

Now it was two nights before Christmas and he was done with public appearances for a little while and alone in New York City for the night. He’d been looking forward to spending the night in his apartment overlooking Central Park, just his stereo system, his Merlot and his own thoughts. Tomorrow he would fly home to Dublin for Christmas, and shortly after the first of the year his hectic schedule would begin all over again. He looked at his watch. It was half past midnight. So, technically it was Christmas Eve, he thought bitterly.

He pressed his face against the glass and looked around the lobby. Where the hell was the doorman? It was bloody cold out, too, and he wasn’t dressed for prolonged exposure to the cold. He wore a pair of dress slacks and one of his favorite purple shirts, which he began buttoning as an icy breeze snuck in to nip at his chest and neck.

“Tommy’s probably on the phone with his wife,” he heard a voice say from a few feet away, at the corner of the building. He squinted to focus on the figure in the darkness of the alley.

“Why can’t he do that in the lobby?” Bono asked, taking a tentative step toward the vaguely familiar figure.

“I don’t know, maybe they’re having phone sex or something,” the stranger replied with a shrug. A circle of red light flared and disappeared with a breath, the glow revealing the face of a young woman. He’d seen her around the area before; she did exquisite charcoal portraits for people in the park. From the shabby state of her clothing, she didn’t have any other source of income.

“How do you know him?” He asked, his interest piqued.

“Who, Tommy?” The girl asked, releasing a long plume of smoke from her lungs. “He lets me come inside sometimes and catch some shut eye behind the desk. When it’s really cold out.”

“You don’t have anywhere else to go?” Bono asked, abandoning his place on the step and approaching the mysterious young woman.

“I guess. It’s nicer in there than any shelter, safer too. He’s not a bad guy, you know. Please don’t get him in trouble for this; he really needs this job,” she said, suddenly afraid for her friend. Or perhaps worried that she’d lost a sleeping place.

“I won’t,” Bono told her. He turned and glanced back over his shoulder at the building. Still no sign of Tommy. “You wouldn’t happen to have another smoke, would you?” The young woman chuckled and withdrew a pack from her sleeve.

“Ironic, wouldn’t you say?” she quipped as he slid a single cigarette out of the extended pack. “You bumming smokes offa me?”

“You know who I am?” He asked, only slightly surprised. He drew in a deep breath of smoke from the cheap cigarette and letting it slip back out of his lungs with a sigh.

“Who doesn't?” the girl teased.

“So you know my name. What’s yours?” Bono asked, leaning against the corner of the building casually.

“Jamie,” she told him. In the glow from her cigarette Bono could see that she had green eyes; almost as green and mystifying as Edge’s. Her auburn hair was mostly hidden beneath the hood of her ragged, over-large sweatshirt, but a few strands dangled free and clung to her cheeks. She studied Bono closely as he rubbed his hands together, then rubbed his arms quickly in an attempt to warm himself as it began to snow lightly.

“It’s fucking cold out,” he muttered, turning his face up to look at the sky as the snow drifted down lazily.

“It’s not so bad, tonight,” Jamie told him, tossing the butt of her cigarette to the sidewalk and squashing it with the toe of her ratty sneaker. “You could sleep out here without freezing to death, if you had enough clothes on, a night like this.”

“How long have you been…?”

“Homeless? You can say it, it’s not a dirty word,” she teased. She had a lovely smile, Bono thought. It alone would be enough to keep him warm. “I was in and out of foster care situations from when I was fifteen until I turned eighteen. I had a tiny little shit-hole in the Bronx for awhile, but every time I got a job it seemed like the boss wanted me to earn my money under the table. And I don’t mean without paying taxes. I just wanted something honest to do, something where maybe I could take some art classes – maybe even go to college, with the right scholarships or something. I couldn’t make rent, though. Once I lost the apartment I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have an address. I couldn’t get a place to live without a job.”

“You don’t have any family at all?” Bono asked, barely noticing the chill in the air now as he lost himself in her story.

“No, my mom – mom’s dead, dad’s in prison, no brothers or sisters. Even if I had, they’d probably be in the same place as me. Foster care is a shitty place to grow up, I’m glad I didn’t have any family to worry about being in the system,” she replied as she stepped out on the sidewalk and lifted her face to the sky. Snowflakes clung to her eyelashes and melted on her cheeks and lips. She smiled softly to herself, held her arms out and spun in slow circles.

“This is the closest thing to Peace on Earth you’ll find in Manhattan,” she told him. She stuck her tongue out and caught a snowflake on it. “I'm always afraid some pigeon is going to poop right when I do that!" she told him with a playful wink and a grin. He let out a burst of surprised laughter and stepped out onto the sidewalk beside her as she started humming a familiar Christmas carol.

Bono sang ‘Silent Night’ picking up on the tune and Jamie danced under the streetlight.

“It’s not all bad, you know,” she announced, still spinning merrily. “Not many people can say one of the most famous people in the world gave them a private concert.”

“Most of the people who can would’ve told me to shut my yap by now,” Bono replied cheerily. He looked at the girl, who he suspected was not more than twenty one, and felt a protective urge toward her. She was about the same height and weight as Jo-jo, though that was where any resemblance ended.

Life had not given any luxury to Jamie, and while he had done his best to teach Jordan and all of his kids the importance of humility and charity, they had never gone without anything, either. Not really.

He thought about the cash in his pockets; a couple of hundred dollars at least. He wondered if she would take it if he offered it. As if reading his thoughts, Jamie spoke.

“Tommy’s back in the lobby,” she said, nodding toward the door, through which they could see the young doorman sitting at the main desk, reading a paperback novel. “Congratulations, you survived a half an hour living on the streets of New York.”

“I guess so,” he replied distractedly. He didn’t want to just leave her here, even if it was more her home to be on the streets than anywhere else. “It’s technically Christmas Eve, and I hate being alone, especially on a holiday. You want to come upstairs with me? Have a chat, a cup of cocoa or something?”

Jamie’s face grew serious and she studied him quietly for a moment. Bono had the strongest suspicion that she was going to tell him to piss off, but finally she nodded in agreement.

“Make yourself at home,” he told her once Tommy had let him into his apartment (since he still didn’t have his keys); “I’m going to put on the kettle.”

“Decide against the wine?” She asked, gesturing to the bottle which had been his entire reason for going out.

“I need something hot,” he replied, smiling sheepishly. “How about you?”

“Tea, cocoa, whatever,” she told him as she started to wander and examine the richly furnished apartment. When he returned, she was standing in front of the window, studying the city.

“Kettle’s on, it’ll just be a minute,” he told her, settling down onto an overstuffed sofa which was so soft it nearly swallowed him. She turned and smiled, having already shed two layers of coats and sweaters, as she stripped off her last sweatshirt. She wore a simple cotton tank top and no bra, her small breasts curving upwards, her nipples tight from the cold.

Bono nearly swallowed his tongue as she climbed onto the couch beside him and leaned in close. She didn’t meet his eyes with her own anymore, he noticed, and her hands trembled a bit as she reached out to try and slip the top button loose on his shirt.

“What are you…?” Bono asked, bewildered by her strange change of behavior. She had reminded him of his little girl a few minutes ago, and now she was trying to seduce him? He caught her wrist and held it to keep her from trying to undo another button.

“I – I’ve never done this, before, ok? If you want something weird, I’d just as soon go back out in the cold,” she told him, trying to pull away. When her eyes met his again, he could tell that she was terrified.

He let go of her wrist and she shrank back against the far end of the couch, pulling her knees up against her chest and hugging them to herself.

“I don’t want – you think I brought you up here for – Jesus!” Bono exclaimed, jumping up from his seat and beginning to pace. “I didn’t mean anything but to keep talking to you!”

Jamie hid her face by resting her forehead against her knees, but Bono could see her shoulders shaking as she began to cry. When she looked up at him again, tears stained her cheeks. She rubbed them off with the heels of her palms, leaving her skin red and swollen.

“I’m sorry,” she said meekly, standing and gathering the clothes she had shed. “I stopped accepting help from people a long time ago because they always expected me to – to do that or something like it, to earn a warm place to sleep.”

“You don’t have to go!” Bono said, moving between his guest and the door. They stood there, toe-to-toe for a long moment, staring at one another and waiting. Waiting for the other to give up, waiting for the kettle to whistle, just waiting for something, anything to break the awkward silence.

It was Jamie’s unpredictable laughter which finally did it; as the absurdity of the situation sank in. Bono smiled crookedly and then chuckled, as well. It was hard to tell who was more embarrassed.

The kettle whistled urgently in the kitchen.

“I’ll get that, and then – if you’re tired, you can sleep in the guest room. My oldest daughter is about your size, you can shower and wear some of her clothes. She’s probably never even worn half of the stuff in her closet here,” Bono told her, and he glanced back over his shoulder at her several times as if afraid she was going to sneak away.

She slipped on her sweatshirt and zipped it up, leaving her coat and second sweatshirt on the table by the door and following him into the kitchen. They sat at the table and talked, losing track of time as they drank tea and ate frozen cheesecake, only realizing that they’d spent their entire night their when the first rays of the sun glistened on the frosty windows.

When he went to shower and pack a quick bag, Jamie waited in the living room to say goodbye. When he was ready to go, he found her sleeping soundly on the sofa. Here again was the little girl side of her, vulnerable and alone. Bono wrote her a quick note and slipped out of the apartment as quietly as he could manage. Downstairs, he found Tommy waiting to change shifts with the daytime doorman, who was running late.

“Hey, Tommy – I just wanted to let you know, your friend, Jamie is upstairs. I told her she could stay for awhile, I just wanted to make sure you knew it was ok that she’s here. Tell the housekeepers and the other doorman, will you?” He said, using his most authoritative voice so the young man wouldn’t ask too many questions.

“Um… Sir?” Tommy asked, looking as if he had just told him he was hosting an intergalactic party for the ambassador to Mars and asked would he supply the party favors. Bono looked at the young man and waited for him to ask whatever he was wondering.

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I understood you,” he said, the skin on his face unusually pale and his brown eyes round with wonder. “Did you say Jamie?”

“Yes, Jamie. Young woman who draws portraits in the park sometimes, she told me she knew you.”

“I – I knew Jamie, but – they found her body in the alley here, two weeks ago, sir,” Tommy finally blurted. Bono felt his heart stumble in it’s rhythm, felt his blood pressure drop and make him feel as if the floor had just rocked back and forth beneath him.

“No, you must be thinking of someone else. She’s maybe twenty, twenty-one with dark red hair, about as tall as me, slender build?” Bono hated the note of doubt in his voice, as if by believing what Tommy said would make it true, but if he could just hold on to doubt, Jamie would be safe in his home.

“That’s her,” Tommy confirmed. “She wanted to go to art school,” he added, withdrawing a stack of papers from a drawer and showing them to Bono. They were just like the drawings he had seen the night before, in the sketchbook Jamie kept tucked under her coat. There were several of the building, and one of Bono and Ali in front of the building, getting into or out of a limo.

Page after page of life-like renderings of life in New York, as seen from the eyes of his new found friend.

“Where did you get this?” Bono demanded, his confusion and doubt turning to anger and fear.

“It was in the alley, after they took her away. I thought – I thought if she couldn’t be buried with it, someone should keep it,” Tommy explained.

“She can’t be dead, because she is upstairs, right now, sleeping on my bloody couch!” Bono snapped. Tommy winced and looked as if he would start to cry soon. He looked nervously at the door and saw the day doorman arriving.

“I’m sorry, I’m late, I know!” the older man announced, shaking the snow off himself and stomping his boots as he entered. “Go on home, Tommy, and you can come in an hour late tonight, ok?”

Tommy agreed and wished his co-worker a good day, stepping around the desk to speak to Bono in hushed tones.

“I don’t know what to tell you, sir. The girl you’re describing froze to death last week,” he explained with all the patience he could muster.

“You saw us come in together last night!” Bono argued, but Tommy shook his head. He’d only seen Bono. The boy wished him a Merry Christmas and hurried out into the day, or hurried away from Bono. A little of both, he suspected. Bono stood there, stunned into silence for a moment. He wanted to go upstairs and check, but somehow he knew that Tommy was right.

John asked if there was anything he could do for him, and Bono saw the sketches sitting on top of the desk, forgotten.

“No, thanks, I just have to catch a flight. I should be gone already,” he said lightly. He gathered up the drawings and shoved them in his bag before wishing the man a Merry Christmas and hurrying out to hail a cab and get to the airport in time to make his flight.

On the flight home, he called a trusted friend in the city and had them check his apartment, but they said there was no sign of anyone having been there but him. If someone had been, they were long gone by then. Bono hung up, frustrated and baffled.

There was a car waiting for him at the airport in Dublin, and as they made the short drive to his home and family he withdrew the drawings from his bag and flipped through them. Suddenly his heart ricocheted against his ribs and his mouth went dry. He blinked his eyes repeatedly but the drawing was no trick of the light or mind.

So realistic he could practically feel the snow drifting down from the sky, the frigid air on his skin. Under a bright street lamp, a young woman stood in the snow, her head back and her arms stretched wide open. An angel stood nearby and watched over her; an angel that looked a lot like Bono.

He had wanted to help her; he had already been planning on helping her by paying for her tuition to art school. If only he had been there to reach out to her sooner… As he reached his house he brushed away those thoughts, knowing to well that ‘what if?’ would do no good.

As he was welcomed home by his family, he hugged his children a little longer, studied them a little closer and loved them so much that his chest ached with all of it. That night, after the young ones were in bed, as he and Ali placed the brightly wrapped gifts beneath the tree, he told her about Jamie.

When he was finished, Ali wrapped her arms around him and kissed him softly.

“I don’t think you were her angel,” she told him, and Bono frowned at her as she smiled at him. “I think that she was yours. To remind you what’s important.”

Bono thought about it for a moment and Ali added,

“Maybe it was both. Maybe she needed to be shown kindness, to leave behind a sense of injustice or bitterness before she could move on. Either way.”

“Either way,” Bono murmured, kissing her hair. “I’m glad to be home, glad to be with you. I want to do that more often; be with you and the kids.”

The hands on the clock lined up on the twelve, and it chimed twelve times, denoting midnight.

“Merry Christmas,” Ali said with a contented sigh.

“Merry Christmas,” Bono replied.


****************************************

Merry Christmas, Pleba
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Old 12-23-2006, 11:26 PM   #2
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Wonderful story, SG. Merry Christmas to you.
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Old 12-24-2006, 12:55 AM   #3
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Thank you, Sad Girl, for a beautifully written and captivating story for Christmas.

Wishing you the happiest holidays and all good things for 2007
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Old 12-24-2006, 03:28 AM   #4
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Sad Girl - that was beautiful.

Well done... very touching, articulate and well rounded.

You go girl!
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Old 12-24-2006, 04:59 AM   #5
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this I really like.. it reminds me of my little stoem thing i did and put in every poet it a theif months back..
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Old 12-24-2006, 08:12 AM   #6
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That's beautiful SG, really moving, A verry merry christmas to you
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Old 12-24-2006, 11:16 AM   #7
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Wow. That was stunning. And it certainly wasn't predictable, the whole Jamie being dead thing... I just didn't see it coming. Bloody brilliant. Thumbs up from me.
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Old 12-27-2006, 01:50 PM   #8
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SG, it was simply beautiful. Thank you.
" The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them."
...I hope this will happen to you as well, whenever you need it ...
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Old 12-31-2006, 02:50 PM   #9
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SG that was so beautiful i nearly started crying.
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