“Dang Ray you can’t give a kid like Philippe such as mouthwash and a condom from a men’s room vending machine for Christmas. I mean I’m used to it by now, we been friends for years, but Philippe’s still got dreams and so forth.”
Ray had the grace to look abashed, at least. “You’re right, Beef. We gotta do something righteous for him this year. Put on some old-school Christmas tunes, deck the halls up all proper, do a whole damn turkey sous-vide, and go overboard on toys like we’re his grandma with a pocket full of winnings from the bingo. I’ll do the food, Teodor, you’re in charge of the festive atmosphere, and Beef, you get your ass over to Toys R Us and see what you can get for... $11.52.”
Teodor frowned. “Ray, it’s 8:45 on Christmas Eve. Am I supposed to maybe crochet decorations out of furballs?”
“Damn it, Teodor, ain’t you got some creativity? Look in the storage space, there must be something you can use to jolly up the place a bit.”
Teodor went off grumbling, and Ray wandered into the kitchen to make himself a martini in celebration of having come up with a plan. Roast Beef took the change Ray had scrounged from under the couch and tried to think about what kids liked that didn’t cost very much. Having grown up in circumstances, he had some experience with last-minute gas station Christmas presents, but he wanted to do something better for Philippe.
When he got back, Teodor had finished with the decorations and was asleep on the couch, snoring. Draped around the spider plant was a string of lights shaped like chili peppers, remnants from Ray’s Cinco de Mayo party. Garlands made out of loops of toilet paper were hung from the ceiling, and some tinfoil had been torn into strips to make ghetto tinsel. The TV was set to the burning log channel.
Beef was a little scared to look in the kitchen – all he could hear from in there was Ray swearing. It didn’t sound like it was going well. “Cumin! That’s what it’s missing! Who ate all the sonofabitch cumin?”
Beef took out the gifts and sat down at the table to wrap them in the tinfoil that was left. The corner store was picked over pretty bad, but he thought he’d done okay. A soap-on-a-rope – Philippe had been worried about dropping the soap ever since Ray warned him never to do it, because he was afraid it would make some burly guy sneak up on him in the shower and scare him, and then he might slip and hurt himself. A pack of stationery so he could write to his mom. He wouldn’t care that it said “From Phyllis’s Desk” – it was the closest name Beef could find to ‘Philippe.’ A bag of marshmallows that went with the length of PVC pipe he’d found in the alley - once that was washed up, it would make a pretty sweet blowgun for shooting the marshmallows out of.
As an afterthought, he also found a booklet of Post-it notes and started writing up some ‘coupons.’ Good for one free cooking lesson with Ray. Good for three knock-knock jokes from Teodor. Good for one pretend puff on Cornelius’s pipe. Good for one free taco from the joint where Molly worked. Then he thought long and hard about what he could give the kid. Beef didn’t know much about what kids liked, but Philippe was kind of a quirky kid anyway. Finally he wrote down ‘Good for one day of playing computer games with Roast Beef.” The last few blank ones he filled in with “Good for one hug.” He was kind of proud of that one.
Ray came out of the kitchen in a cloud of cayenne-scented smoke. “It’s a bit more Cajun than I would have liked, since SOMEONE’s been messing with my spices, but damn that étouffée is going to be fine.” He had another celebratory martini, this one with three olives.
“Uh Ray, it’s midnight – this all don’t need to be ready until maybe like noon tomorrow.”
Ray looked blank for a moment. “Shiiiiiit,” he said at last.
Beef hung his head. All he’d wanted was to make a nice Christmas for Philippe, the kind the kid wouldn’t be telling his therapist about in twenty years, and they couldn’t even do that right. He wasn’t sure why he’d even tried...
Teodor stirred and rolled over on the couch. “Is it morning yet?” he asked groggily.
“Technically, yes,” Ray said.
“Great. We go wake Philippe up now and tell him it’s Christmas time – he’ll be so excited he won’t care it’s still dark out.”
“Hey, yeah!” Ray looked cheered. “Kid wakes us up early all the time, so we’ll turn the tables on him, get a head start on this whole holiday deal. Turkey dinner at two in the morning, like celebrities!”
Beef looked up. Maybe Christmas wasn’t ruined after all. “Okay,” he said with an attempt at a smile, “let’s go and wake him up.”
Teodor was right. Philippe was so excited that he ran right out into the living room. “It’s like magic!” he said, as he admired the tinsel and the lights. “Presents too!” He ripped them open (“old-school,” Ray said) and thanked them for everything, and hugged them each twice. Beef didn’t even feel like charging him coupons for those.