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The Boys Upstairs
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Author: Jane Lebak
Genre: Seasonal Christmas
Editor: Nancy Bell
Line Editor: Lea Schizas
Cover Artist: Delilah K. Stephans
Word count: 29,000
Warning: Limited violence, sexual content, or language
Jay Farrell, a crippled priest, has begun housing homeless boys in his rectory. Once a street kid himself, he was riding the rocket-train to a lifetime in prison until the day he drove over a land mine in Iraq. Today he works at an inner-city parish, running a soup kitchen and struggling to manage an impoverished church.
With temperatures below zero and falling a few nights before Christmas, Jay's estranged brother Kevin dumps three more children on his front porch. Kevin, a cop who can't believe in God after all the evil he's seen, hasn't spoken to Jay in years, but he knows Jay will at least give the kids a place to stay. It isn't over yet, though. As they work together to meet the children's needs, they must confront the long-buried emotions that have divided them so long.
The Boys Upstairs examines the real gift of the holiday season and how hope can transform the ones society condemns as not worth saving.
Kevin pulled his duffle bag from his locker. The belt weighted down his waist, but he didn't remove it. He took off his shirt, removed his bullet-proof vest, replaced his shirt, and then grabbed his jacket.
Christmas songs. Christmas lights. Christmas trees. Only a little longer until the gifts were exchanged (both with one another and at the stores) and the trees went to the curbside. The songs would play for a few more days, and then it would be over. Red and pink would go up for Valentine's Day, and the world would go back to normal. Christmas was only one day, but it had expanded to fill an entire sixth of the year.
Two years ago, Kevin had been joking with his then-partner in the patrol car when they'd gotten a call for a domestic. Routine for Christmas Eve—unfortunately, domestic violence rocketed around town like Santa on his sleigh at Christmas time. Always disgusting, but the character of the holiday threw the violence into sharper relief. Men beating their wives because they'd cooked the turkey wrong: joy to the world.
Kevin and his partner were just finishing up when they got a call about a car accident. They responded with sirens screaming, racing down the centerline of the boulevard as cars dived to the curbs. He arrived to find two cars mangled together like lovers shot by a jealous husband. A Ford Taurus on its back, the side caved in, and a Camry impacted so hard on the driver's side it was bent like an L. A third sedan, make and model unidentifiable, had its engine in the front seat, smashed head-on into a wall.
Running through the glass shards that crunched like ice beneath his steel-toed shoes, Kevin went to the Camry and shone his flashlight through the shatter-frosted window to see there was no way to help this woman. His partner checked the flipped Taurus, and again, nothing.
Kevin would have bet the house drugs were involved. Instead, the autopsy results came back clean. Just a driver racing to the mall.
Jobs that should never be done: calling the coroner on Christmas Eve. More than that: being the one to contact a dead driver's family the night before Christmas. He'd managed to secure the contents of one car for the family so they'd have at least this final Christmas gift.
Such a senseless crash, an act of stupid haste and three lives snuffed like a smoldering candle. Kevin would remember forever crunching up two icy steps on a wooden porch entwined with blinking white lights, a push of the doorbell, and the terror flashing across a middle-aged woman's face as she opened the door to a police officer. "Are you Mrs. Sherry Daniels?"
What more do you say after that? How do you make the unbearable able to be borne?
Next November, Kevin recoiled the first time he saw porches adorned with blinking white lights. It took two weeks to figure out why. He went to the Daniels family's house on Christmas Eve that year—no blinking lights, not then—carrying a plant and a sympathy card. They weren't home, so Kevin left them on the steps. This year he wouldn't go at all. He'd mentally kicked himself over and over for not considering the mother's reaction if she'd been there, if she'd seen him on a second Christmas Eve.
He never came bringing tidings of great joy, that's for sure. That was why everyone in the city either hated the cops or feared them. Kevin looked at himself in the mirror some mornings and thought, That's me. Someone to be hated and feared.
As he put his cap back into his locker, Kevin caught sight of the metal inside the brim, or rather the medal. Jay had given it to him when he'd entered the police academy, insisted he pin it somewhere on the uniform, and a lot of cops had the same one. A medal of Saint Michael. Kevin knew from the wings that Michael was an angel, not why he would be the patron of police officers. Do you ever manage to do any good, he thought to the angel figure, or does everyone hate and fear you too?
That was something Jay maybe understood, if Kevin ever felt like asking. Although Kevin couldn't say for certain, he figured priests too must be hated and feared. Feared as if they were judges or magicians, hated because they represented the Church and everything it stood for in the minds of everyone on Earth. Like the police, priests were meant to be trusted, access to a law higher than the citizenry, and so often unable to enforce a damned thing. Jay couldn't stop a man from sinning, and Kevin couldn't stop a young woman from dying on Christmas Eve.
He slammed his locker and sighed.
One of the other guys looked up. "Long night?"
"I hate Christmas."
"Ho ho ho. Merry paperwork." The guy laughed, but Kevin only left the locker room to head for home.
Thirty minutes later, Kevin walked into his apartment. Half an hour driving, listening to talk radio in his car, and watching the digital clock during light cycles. He locked away his gun and set aside his uniform. In front of the TV he flipped channels until he found a movie with lots of explosions, then left it running in the background as he changed into flannel pajama pants and grabbed a bag of chips. The recliner creaked as he settled himself. He checked his voicemail, one message.
Dad's scratchy voice: "I didn’t want to call later, in case you're sleeping."
Kevin rolled his eyes. I'm on a night tour, Dad—figure it out.
"I wasn't sure what your off days would be for the rest of the week. They've got a full schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I may not be able to catch you over the holiday. If I don't get a chance to talk to you, have a merry Christmas."
"You too," Kevin said to the voicemail. "You and five hundred other retirees in a gated Florida community." He leaned back in front of the TV set. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
The movie was boring, loud, and predictable. Kevin woke up an hour later to find it had already ended. He shut off the set and dragged himself to bed. Two more days until Christmas.
If you're looking for a great Christmas story (or a great story anytime) with a happy ending, this is it. It is well-written, tugs on the heart strings, and makes you think all at once. Rev. Steve Wilson...FULL REVIEW
This is a feel-good Christmas story that challenges and inspires. As usual, Jane’s writing sparkles. Wouldn’t you like to smile a little this year?
This is a wonderfully captivating and entertaining Christmas story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Boys Upstairs is filled with believable, well-defined characters, extraordinary writing and good morals. READ FULL REVIEW - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Plot Line and SInker Review
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Customer Reviews:EParzefall (Wednesday, 23 November 2011)
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