A homeless orphan finds a small town and someone to show him the magic of the holidays with seven red envelopes.
On the 7th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me - The Warmth of the Season.
On the 6th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me - A Fresh Start of the Season.
On the 5th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me - Rags to Riches of the Season.
On the 4th Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me - The Wonderful Scent of the Season.
On the 3rd Day of Christmas, my Safe Haven gave to me - A Christmas Season to Believe In.
On the 2nd Day of Christmas, my One Hope gave to me - Surprises of the Season!
On the 1st Day of Christmas, my One Hope gave to me - Visions of the Season!
Ever since he phased out of the foster system at eighteen, things hadn’t been going his way.
Noel Hudson did everything he was supposed to while trying to make his way in the world. He managed to get decent grades up through high school, but found it harder to maintain them while being shoved from one foster home to another, to a group home and back. He felt like he was a number on the roulette wheel when he wanted one place to say and finish school. It didn’t happen, so he barely made the grades to graduate. He couldn’t qualify for any type of scholarships or grants, not even with his foster status.
No. Instead of a chance at higher education, he was left to join the rat race with thousands of others more qualified than he was. Boston was the same as any other city. Somehow, he managed to get two minimum-wage jobs.
Rushing from one position to the other, he pulled together enough money to rent a single bedroom suite in an old building. It was no better than a flophouse, but he could lock up his basic things, get on a bicycle, and reach both jobs. While he didn’t have any extras, he had a mattress to sleep on, a bathroom, heat and lights, and food. Thanks to the state, he managed to qualify for both food assistance and medical care to receive his insulin and diabetes paraphernalia that kept his sugars regulated. With the small amount of food stamps, he could purchase a little more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the ramen noodle soup, and the cheap coffee he lived on when the allotment ran out. At times, he could bring home fresh, healthy items and tried to stretch out everything. He stored what he could in the tiny fridge, plastic cartons became his pantry, and he had a microwave and hot plate to cook everything. He learned how to stretch every dollar and kept a strict budget. No fun, no extras, and no free days kept him in his room and fed.
For three years and different minimum-wage jobs, Noel managed to keep his head above the water and his butt in the little room. It wasn’t much, but he accomplished everything on his own and made it work.
Until that last winter season, four years ago, he watched the snowstorms turned into blizzard after blizzard. The ancient heater barely kept the chill out of the room. He tried to move the mattress in front of it, but it didn’t help. He wore multiple layers and rolled in blankets, but it didn’t help him from chattering and shivering throughout the night. Since he didn’t have extra funds for public transportation, he relied on his bicycle to get to and from work, when it made it through the streets. If he couldn’t use it, he walked the miles.
The problems started with a simple cough and runny nose. He grabbed the cheapest medicine to counteract it. The cough deepened, rattling through his lungs.
During his last shift of the week, he collapsed, caught in a high fever, bone-aching chills, and a deepening phlegmy cough filled with icky mucus. Complications with his juvenile Type-1 diabetes weakened his immune system and he succumbed to bacterial pneumonia. It knocked him flat on his ass and into a hospital bed.
When he finally left, not fully recovered but able to breathe on his own and the occasional help from an inhaler, he tried to go back to his reality.
It was too late.
The managers had hired a new person at both jobs. There was nothing else for him. Since he had been in those last two jobs for only six months, neither one gave him worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits. He was on his own. He searched for another solid week, but no one was hiring in the deep winter.
A week later, he lost his electricity, heat, and his room. He used the last couple of hours to pack what precious belongings, blankets, and clothes he could into the canvas seabag. His diabetes stuff and other personal stuff remained in the messenger bag he fixed with duct tape. He managed to scrounge both of them at the thrift store along with some other clothes.
A kind nurse, Lenora, gave him a heavy pea coat, scarf, woolen hat, gloves, and boots before he left. She pressed whatever cash she had in her pocket into his hands. He had a few of those dollars left. It wasn’t enough to pay off his bills until a new job came along.
Broke, jobless, and homeless, Noel tried to figure out how to navigate life on the streets. With the bitter cold growing, good people around the city opened multiple shelters to take in those who had nowhere else to go. Noel found a bed at one of them, assisted around the shelter to keep it until it closed.
During the first year of being homeless, he struggled as he learned to survive every day in the face of not having access to the necessities for hygiene. He figured out how to move around, find food and water, and somewhere to sleep. Like all the other homeless, he became another nameless face. Condemned buildings were his favorite sleeping spots, but gangs and locals claimed many of them. Sometimes he found a clump of bushes. Another frightening time was sleeping inside a cardboard box at the end of an alley.
For the next three years, he became more adept at living on the street, maintaining the quiet status, not causing any type of trouble or pulling attention to himself. He panhandled when he could. Found the occasional odd job for a bit of money. Knew which places would give him leftovers after a shift or fed the homeless.
One of his lucky moments happened when he discovered a discarded tent next to a sports store; he pulled it out and managed to fix it. With the tent, he could keep out the elements. It collapsed into a roll attached to his seabag. He used it to hide in the small forests scattered in the various parks and camouflage his hiding spots to protect himself. In the daytime, he broke down the tent, changed what clothes he could, and used one of multiple spots to stash the seabag for the day. He kept his messenger bag and bike when he headed back into the city.
Some days he spent in the library after a quick wash in an open restroom and change of shirts to remove most of the stink. Oh, how he loved spending days in the library, tons of books at hand and he could disappear for hours. He had a bathroom and water fountain to use when he needed.
After the first few weeks, the head librarian, Sarah, came to recognize him and often brought him a bagged lunch or some extra money. She got him on the computer where he could search for possible jobs or another location to sleep. They became friends over the years, with Sarah often giving him a bag of clothes, necessities, or a supply of food to keep him going. Those packages were the best kind of presents and he treasured all of them.
When he left the library and walked outside to unlock his bike for the trip, he made the mistake of crossing in front of one of the local gangs that controlled the area. They saw him and crowded him back into the closest alleyway.
“Little homeless fag. What are you doing all alone? Hmm? No daddy to keep you in his bed? No fuck buddy,” the leader said as he shoved Noel back into the wall.
Noel kept his eyes on the ground so as not to confront the bastard. He knew never to argue with one of the gangs. He had learned the hard way. One night several gang members beat him to the ground when he let his words fly out without a filter. “Please, let me leave.”
“Not this time, little homo. You cross our streets way too much. You act like you’re better than the other homeless. Homeless are shit. Worse than our druggies. You’re shit on the ground, li’l homo,” the leader said, punching Noel’s shoulder. He dug his fingers into Noel’s chest. “This is our turf.”
“I’m not interested in your turf. I only pass through here to visit the library.”
“What do you want in that sissy place?”
“It’s somewhere to stay. It’s all I want.”
“I don’t like your presence on my street. Having shit on the sidewalk scares away my customers. You owe me. You need to pay up.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything about clients not finding your spot,” Noel said, knowing he didn’t do anything to scare drug addicts from scoring a fix.
“Do you want a hit? I can give you a hit of something pure.” The leader snapped his fingers and one of his boys shoved a packet in his hand. He rolled the packet between his thick fingers.
Noel didn’t even look at the packet. He wouldn’t go near that stuff. “No, thank you. I don’t use drugs.”
“Too good to take a hit? It’s so sweet the first time.”
“No money to pay for them if I did use them.”
“You can afford them. Get on your knees.”
Noel felt his heart thump harder. He’d tried this once when he was desperate for food. It didn’t end well. He’d barfed.
“Did ya hear me? Get on your knees, sissy. I want your mouth.”
Noel shook his head.
“Get on your knees!” the punk roared.
Noel didn’t see what hit him across the head. It knocked everything out of him, so he collapsed on the ground at the mercy of their boots. He rolled as best he could until it was over. He had no memory of what happened until Sarah found him and dialed 911.
His former nurse, Lenora, found him in the ER. Diagnosed with bruised ribs, pissing blood, and a concussion, he was a mess. That had nothing to do with his unkempt appearance.
Lenora asked the doctor to run some diagnostic testing on his diabetes and he grimaced. Sure enough, the doctor admitted him after he discovered his dangerous insulin levels. He wasn’t eating enough to counteract the medication and the damage continued to work his system.
Under her careful watch, she made sure he ate the nutritious meals he needed as a diabetic, tested his sugars, and administered the insulin. He could rest, take a shower when he could move, and recover.
Both Lenora and Sarah collected donated clothes, sustainable food that didn’t rot or interfere with the insulin, and funds. Before the hospital released him, Lenora and Sarah visited him. He knew it wasn’t to wish him well. He saw it in their gazes.
“Look, baby, autumn is almost over. Winter will be upon us soon. You can’t survive another harsh winter on the streets. If you develop pneumonia again, it could kill you,” Lenora said.
“There’s no other choice,” Noel said as he fiddled with the blanket. “The last time I was in here, I lost everything I managed to scrape together. A pitiful room, food, and power were all I had and they’re gone. I worked eighteen-hour days between two different places. I don’t have the education or skills.”
“You can’t return to the streets, certainly not by the library. If that gang sees you again, they’ll kill you,” Sarah said.
“Can I go to another branch to hide?”
“I only work at that one and I spoke with the other two branches. Neither were in safe territory.”
“I’ll find somewhere else to go,” he said. “I managed to survive four years on the streets, I’ll continue to make the best of it.”
“We believe you need to go somewhere else. Out of Boston and the northeast. You can’t survive here.”
“I can’t survive anywhere. Not since I was left as a newborn in a hospital. I shouldn’t have lived back then.” Noel closed his eyes and swallowed several times.
“I have a friend who lives in Baltimore. He can give you a place to stay,” Sarah said. “It gets knocked with storms, but you can survive there. You can find a job and start over.”
“How would I get there? I can’t ride my bike.”
“Oh no, I thought you knew,” Lenora said.
Sarah sighed as she looked to Lenora and then Noel. “When I got to you, your bike was gone, even the chain and lock. They stole it.”
Noel groaned. “Great. My one mode of transportation is gone.”
“Noel, take this chance. Please.”
There was no other choice. He nodded.