Christmas in L.A.
It was biting cold that early morning of Christmas Eve. There wasn't much to cover them during the night in that small, abandoned alleyway, but torn up blankets and newspapers. Gene tried to warm his pale, callous hands with his breath, but they were still numb from the harsh night before; another night that he was lucky to survive in.
"Gene..." Angelle whispered, "It's Christmas Eve."
A puff of smoke blew from Gene's mouth, "How are you able to keep track of what day it is?"
"Of course I'll remember when Christmas is." Angelle said excitedly.
Gene couldn't help but smile. Though the cold was harsh, Angelle felt warm when Gene looked at her the way he did. She meant the world to him, and he was the world to her. Ever since they could remember, all they had were each other. That was all they had in the slums of downtown Los Angeles.
With his freezing, lifeless hands, Gene patted his little sister's head, ruffling her hair. In the world they lived in, there was absolutely nothing to smile about, but Angelle always had a silly grin on her face. He wanted to protect that grin, if there was anything he could do.
Gene didn't know how old he was; he just knew he was probably around seventeen. He knew Angelle was eleven because he always remembered that day she was born. Their mother was a prostitute, and as for their father, not even their mother knew which one he was. She couldn't afford to take care of her unwanted children, so she abandoned her son and tried to hide her newborn daughter in the dumpster.
That day when he found her lying in the mess of garbage, he told her he would do anything he could to protect her from bearing the same fate as his mother. She didn't have a name yet, so he named her Angelle as if she was an angel that had fallen from the sky.
"You're so silly, Angelle."
Angelle wrinkled her nose, "Are you leaving already?"
"I have to go. If I go early in the morning, the police won't be there to chase away the beggars."
"When will you be back...?"
"I don't know. It's always the same, why are you asking me this all of the sudden?"
"Because it's Christmas Eve!"
Gene crouched down so he was the same height as Angelle, "Here, I'll tell you what. Today, I'll get a lot of money and I'll go buy you a present for Christmas."
Gene expected her eyes to light up, but instead she looked down with gloomy eyes, "You don't have to... We need food. We haven't eaten for the passed three days."
"Then if that's what you want, I'll get you food for your present. I'll get you your favorite; strawberries."
"Really? What about you?"
Gene straightened his legs, "Don't worry about me, I'll be okay. It's just for you, since you have this silly obsession over Christmas."
She giggled, brightening her pale face with red, "Don't be gone too long. It's boring without you."
"Don't worry, I'll be back soon. You don't get into trouble okay?"
"You always tell me that."
"Well, I have to make sure that the princess is safe."
Angelle smiled every time he called her that. She wasn't a princess, but Gene made her feel like she was one. He promised her that one day, he would make enough money and get filthy rich, so she could become a pretty princess. "I'll stay out of trouble. I'll be waiting here until you come back."
"Just wait till then, okay? I'm off now."
"Bye bye..." Angelle mumbled as she watched Gene take off. As he left, her smile quickly faded away. Unlike the other days, she couldn't wait forever for him to come back.
Quickly, Gene rushed to the commercial area, which would soon get busier. There, he might be able to get a few dollars before he was kicked out.
As the wind blew against his face, he sighed, thinking about his little sister. Slowly, he began to regret making all of those promises to her since he knew that he couldn't keep them. He knew that the two of them probably wouldn't be able to eat again that Christmas, but whenever he saw her face, he wanted to give her the world. He wanted to make everything better, even though he knew he couldn't. He always said that he could do things that he knew he couldn't.
Once he arrived at the shopping area, a loud, obnoxious Christmas song began blasting out to the entire city. Gene had detested Christmas songs since they always sang about useless and trivial matters. How could someone have a Merry Christmas if they were trying to survive each day in the dumpsters?
He found a spot by the entrance of a gift shop where he'd wait for someone to come by. The stores weren't open at that hour, but last-minute Christmas shoppers would come by to wait outside, and therefore, he could ask them for money.
Gene cursed to himself as he sat down by the two, glass doors. It was going to be another day of waiting, just like the rest of the days. He looked up at the dark and cloudy sky just like he had many times before. For the life of a beggar, there wasn't much the world had to offer; he often wondered why he was even living. As he stared into the sky, he kept thinking about the sweet, angelic face that awaited him when he returned. It was that sweet angelic face that kept him going in life.
Soon enough, people came by and Gene began his daily routine to find someone who would drop him even just a few cents. Several of the people that passed by walked around the entrance to avoid him, and the few that passed gave him angry looks. It wasn't before long that nearly all of the customers began to avoid the area he was at. If he continued, he'd be kicked out for scaring away the customers from the gift shop.
"That was quick..." Gene mocked, "Must be another record huh?"
Then, he reached into his pocket for the old, broken watch he bought from a cheap, street vendor. Wiggling his finger through his ripped, trench coat, he noticed a hole in the bottom.
Realizing what had happened, Gene cursed as loud as he could. With his nearly bare foot, covered in black and blue, he kicked the wall out of his anger. It was a cheap watch, but it cost him and Angelle a fortune to purchase. It seemed there was always a hole in his pocket; whenever something good happened, it always fell through a hole in his pocket.
The morning whisked away as Gene went from store to store, begging for practically anything they could give. By noontime, he had only collected a total of 48 cents. His stomach had hurt so much, and his body was immensely weak that the pain was nearly unbearable, but he had no choice but to ignore it. He was so tired, and so hungry that he could no longer speak, but only gesture for money.
As Gene wandered down the streets, his feet froze against the cold cement. They only lifted a few inches above the ground as he drifted from place to place. Each day was a living hell, always seeming to be worse than the last.
"What?! No present this year?!" A child yelled from across the street.
"Papa and I just don't have that much money this year. Don't worry, I'll buy you a new toy, you'll still get a present."
The child kicked the woman who Gene assumed to be his mother, "No!! You promised me that train set this year! You promised me!"
"Are you angry? I'm sorry... We'll get you that train set."
The kid folded his arms, still not satisfied.
The scene made Gene sick; he couldn't watch anymore. Life was so random. It was only a gamble what kind of person you were born into. It didn't matter if you were a good person, or how much you wanted to be born into a rich family. It was just the simple fact that some were luckier than others. Whatever life threw at you, you had no choice but to just deal with it.
"Look, the sun is coming out. I think it's going to get warmer." Angelle remarked, talking to the stuffed animal she set on top of a pile of bricks.
Through almond-shell eyes, the doll watched as Angelle hauled each of the trash bags to the side of the dirty, brick wall. She wanted to act like all of the other families that were celebrating Christmas at home. All the children would clean up the house on Christmas Eve, while they waited for their parents to come home. Then, they would gather around the giant, pine tree where they'd tear away the paper from boxes that held things that made them happy. Gene always wondered how she knew about all those things, but she could never answer him.
The girl sighed, sweeping dirt away from their empty spot in the alleyway. "I know... you want big brother back too, don't you?"
She cocked her head to the side, as if the doll was speaking back to her, "Me too... I'm going to clean this place up so when he comes back, he won't be in a bad mood anymore. I don't want him to be angry this time."
Angelle stretched her arms out into the cold, misty air before she took a seat by the piles of garbage. Her body was weak as well, and she didn't try to pretend it wasn't. Though Gene usually gave Angelle all of the food he could find, she was still hungry from starvation. She had to take frequent rests every few minutes or else her cough would take over.
With her small, trembling fingers, Angelle reached for the broken watch that she hid from Gene that morning.
"I'm turning big brother's watch earlier tonight so that Christmas will come earlier. He's getting money for me right now, so I can become a princess, but it won't happen. I'm going to die tonight, and I want to spend one more Christmas with him."
The doll looked at her with tears down its eyes.
"I don't know if I can make it till tonight, that's what Mr. Doctor said to me. I want to spend one last Christmas with him..."
As tears slowly dripped down from her face, Angelle began to cough. The doll watched her tiny body shake every time she coughed. She clutched her throat, trying to make it stop, but she kept on coughing. It was growing worse everyday; she knew that it was going to be one of her last. Every time her body shook, more tears came from her eyes; they didn't want to stop. She felt like her neck was on fire. She yelped pitifully, crying for someone to come and help her but no one would ever come.
The day that Angelle first realized her condition, she tried to ignore it, thinking it was just a cough that would go away... but it kept getting worse. She told Gene about it, but he told her it wasn't serious.
"Won't you take me to the doctor? What if it's serious?"
"I'm not taking you to the doctor!" He snapped back at her, "Those places are stupid. They don't ever do anything for us."
"But they say that homeless people can go in for free."
"I don't want to hear you talk about the doctors anymore okay?! Don't ever think those bastards ever do anything for this city. All they care about is money, and if we can't give it to them, then they don't give a fuck about us."
"I don't care! I don't ever want to see you even near that place, you hear me?"
Angelle cooperated while he was there just to make him happy, but when he was gone, she had secretly gone to the doctors without telling him. They had told her exactly what Gene was trying to protect her from. They told her that she would die.
They said that she was suffering from a disease that started with mal, but Angelle couldn't remember the rest. Gene knew exactly what was happening to his precious, little sister, but he tried to ignore the fact. He didn't want to accept the reality that one day she might disappear. He told her it was just a cough that would go away, so she would keep smiling, but she seemed to always find out.
"Why does this have to happen to us...?" Angelle cried, lying on the floor, "He works so hard just for me. He's so good to me, but so many bad things happen to him. I want to live for him to make him happy, but I... I can't do that."
Once her cough had finally begun to die down, she rolled her head to the side to look at the sideways stuffed animal. She smiled, "I know... I love him too."
"What do you mean it's full?!" Gene yelled, pounding his fists onto the counter, "I've waited in line for four shelters already, and they all managed to be full once I got there!"
"I'm sorry." The woman apologized, sitting behind the counter. She was used to so many people yelling the same words at her that it just didn't affect her any more, "It's Christmas Eve sir, and it's just generally busier this time of the year. I'm sorry."
"What? So are you going to tell me to go somewhere else now?"
"There's another shelter about a mile away from here. If you take the-"
Gene left the counter before she could finish her sentence. He had no choice but to follow to another shelter. As he passed by the long line that trailed from the counter, he saw all sorts of men, women, and crying children. Not one of them had a smile on their face. Not one of them...
Sluggishly, Gene hauled himself to the next shelter, simply because he had no other choice. Once he arrived, he stood in another long line with beggars there to surround him. It was funny how he thought his problems were so horrible, yet as he stood in line, his were only just a few out of the whole city.
"I'm sorry, sir."
"Yes... the shelter is full today." Gene completed.
"I'm sorry, but we are full today."
"And it's Christmas Eve, I already got that shit okay?"
"I'm sorry sir. There's another-"
"Forget it. Save your breath for the rest of the line behind me."
It was useless. There was no point in going to another shelter where he'd be turned down again. Gene sighed, sitting down against a tiny of wall space in the small, crowded room. The room was crowded and humid with all of the homeless people coming in and out. It was close to what people called hell, but at least hell was warm.
Gene closed his eyes, trying to shut out the noise in the background.
"Are you serious?" Gene heard someone say. He couldn't tell if the person was to the left or to the right of him; it was too loud in there.
"There's a place right around the corner. They're looking for bums like us to do low-pay labor for them."
Gene's ears opened, suddenly interested in what they had to say.
"Who would want to do that?"
"Hey, it's not like we've got a choice."
"Forget it. It's probably just another scam."
"I don't know about that. It's right around the corner..."
After that, Gene rose to his feet and left the shelter.
"When do I start...?" Gene asked with a low, grumbling voice. He stood there in a dark, run down shack in the back of a building with only a small lamp to light up the room. He knew the man was just trying to cheat him into doing labor, but it was the best opportunity for him. He had to do it in order to make his dreams come true. He had to do it for Angelle.
"For how long...?"
"You'll have to work till ten tonight. We're generous enough to pay you people three dollars an hour."
It was probably around two at the time. Nine hours weren't bad, he's been out for longer before. He could probably manage to get a few dollars if he worked that long. "Is it going to be like that every day?"
"Well, we want to get people working as soon as possible. The shifts are from seven in the morning to ten in the evening."
Gene's eyes shot open. "What?! That's fucking crazy!" He exploded, "How do you expect us to work for 15 fucking hours?!"
"Listen. I know you people don't have much to offer in this life. This is the best deal you'll ever get. You'd be a fool if you turned it down."
"I have a little sister at home. She's 11 years old! How am I supposed to take care of her?!"
"How are you supposed to take care of her if you're not making any money off the streets? Trust me, it would be of your best interest to take this job."
Trying to keep his anger in, Gene span around and left. It wasn't worth it.
"I'm telling you, this is the best opportunity you'll ever get! It doesn't get much better than this!" The man yelled as Gene stormed out the door.
"Hark the herald angels sing... glory to the newborn king." Angelle sang as she walked down the streets. She was specifically instructed by Gene not to leave the alleyway, but she never did. It was way too boring to sit there all day. "Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled..."
Angelle continued to hum along the song, which she had no idea what the meaning behind it was. She had her blanket slung over her shoulders to keep her warm as she walked down alongside the giant skyscrapers, too high for her to fathom. On the streets were large, expensive cars zooming by, never stopping to care about the city they were passing. She's never gone that fast before in her life.
"Say... If Papa is a king, then does that make me a princess...?" Angelle muttered, holding onto the stuffed animal in her arms. "And big brother too. He can be a prince..."
As she walked down the road, she began to cry again, "What about Mommy...? Did she really love us...? Why did she leave? Now there's no one to take care of me, but big brother. There isn't even anyone to take care of him."
Every time Angelle walked through the shopping area, she peered into the windows and sometimes, she could catch a glimpse of those large, black boxes with people moving around inside them. As she looked into one of them, she saw a family rushing to their tree with smiles from ear to ear. There was a big, fat man in a giant red suit, laughing and smiling as he took each of the children into his arms. It made Angelle smile, just watching them.
She envied the children inside the giant black box. They had a nice, loving mother to care for them, hug them, and tuck them into bed at night. She would read them stories, cook them yummy meals for dinner, and bake cookies on early Saturday mornings. A tear streaked down Angelle's pale face as she watched how a rich family celebrated Christmas time.
"Mommy... when are you coming back? When are you coming back for us? I miss you Mommy..."
"Excuse me, are you lost?" A woman asked.
Immediately, Angelle turned around looked at the woman who had spoken to her. "Mommy?"
"Er.. no, I'm not your mother. You seem a bit lost, did your mother leave you here?"
Angelle stared down at her calloused feet. "I don't have a mommy..."
The look on the woman's face sagged as she frowned. "Here, have a cookie." She said, handing Angelle a fresh baked, chocolate chip cookie from her basket. "Have a Merry Christmas."
"No! I can't have a cookie!"
The woman was confused. She figured she must have been allergic to it of some sort, "Hmm? Why not?"
"I can't eat it without big brother."
"Oh, that's alright. I'm sure he won't mind."
"Can we wait for him? He'll be back soon, I promise. Just let me go get him."
The woman didn't know what to do. The little girl in front of her stared at her with large, innocent eyes. Her 'big brother' was probably one of those hobos out on the street, trying to mob people for money. It was best if she didn't get mixed up with them. "Heh, he doesn't have to know. It'll be our secret." She said.
"No, but I want him to be here... Are you going to be here later tonight?"
"I'm not going to be working that long."
"Oh... Okay then. Goodbye." Gene always taught her to be polite, and bow every time she said goodbye to someone.
"Here... take a cookie." The woman said, handing the cookie to Angelle one more time. This time, she took it.
As the woman left, Angelle took a bite out of the cookie, but she began to cough again. She held her breath, trying not to make a scene in the middle of the shopping center. She didn't want to attract too much attention, or someone might find out where they were living and loot them; that's what Gene told her. Slowly, the cookie slipped from Angelle's fingers; she couldn't eat it anymore.
The night, Gene had returned to begging. It was the end of the day, and he had made only three dollars. Whenever his stomach growled, he began to regret turning down the job offer, but it was too late to go back. Like a small, lost boy, Gene drifted around the city like smoke. He watched as the stores put up Christmas lights, decorating their storefronts with giant, sparkling letters that flashed, "Merry Christmas!" Talks of gifts, salvation, and angels were blasting out on the radio. He heard it every year, even though they said each year would be more special than the first. It was always the same thing over and over again.
Gene cursed himself as he walked back to the alleyway where Angelle was waiting for him. He held in his hands the three dollars he had earned that day; he didn't even have enough to buy her strawberries like he promised her.
"I'm so tired... and I'm so hungry..." Gene grumbled, stumbling in the darkness. "That's all I can ever do, complain... I can't even buy my little sister strawberries for Christmas... what's wrong with me? I can never do anything..."
As the darkness cloaked his face, Gene though he felt a bead of sweat trickle down his cheek. No, it was coming from his eye, but that was impossible, Gene didn't know how to cry. Trying to find his way through the night, all he thought of was Angelle.
"How does she have the strength to smile...?" He murmured, "There's nothing to smile about... If anyone saw her, they'd see her dark eyes, her pale, snow-white face, and her purple lips. They wouldn't believe that a girl like her could smile..."
Gene couldn't tell what time it was, or if it was already Christmas or not. It was hard to think about the present when the past was always dragging him down. All that awaited him in his dreams were nightmares. Some nights, he wouldn't go to sleep just so he wouldn't have to suffer in his dreams. He was afraid that if he fell asleep, he wouldn't be able to wake up the next morning. He had to stay alive for his princess.
That night before, he had a dream about a day that he had nearly forgotten about. It was the day that he had come back, finding Angelle more depressed than usual. Though she didn't tell him, she had just gotten back from the hospital where they had told her she wouldn't be able to live much longer.
"Angelle... I'm back." Gene whispered, that day as he returned to her. In his hand was a torn up stuffed animal that he found in the garbage, but he knew that Angelle would like it.
"Welcome back..." She replied lethargically.
"Aww, what's wrong with my princess?" Gene asked, taking the matter rather casually.
"Don't call me princess... I'm not a princess."
"Of course you are. You're my precious princess that waits for me everyday when I get back."
"I'm sorry... that's all I ever do isn't it? I never do anything else."
"That's all I need you to do." Then, Gene reached for the stuffed animal he had hidden behind his back, "Here, I have a gift for you."
"I don't want it."
Gene didn't reply to her.
"You should spend the money on yourself and feed yourself. You shouldn't worry about me so much, I'm not even going to..." She paused herself before she finished her sentence.
Immediately, in that frozen, dark night, he grabbed her. He was weak, but with all his strength in him, held her body closer to his. "Angelle, I don't ever want to hear you talk like that again okay?"
"Why? It's only the truth. Not everyone gets a happy ending like you say. Sometimes, people just die without ever seeing that happy ending."
Gene closed his eyes shut, knowing what she said was true. Her soft, quivering voice made him feel so weak. He couldn't even protect her from the crying and sadness in the world. "I said I don't want to hear you talk like that."
Angelle cried, pouring her tears out into her brother's chest. "But... it's hopeless... Ever since Mommy left us, we've been hopeless."
"I'm sorry Angelle, I know I haven't been making that much money, but just give me time. I know mother didn't leave us anything when she left, but we can still build back up. As long as you're with me, we can work our way up again."
All Angelle could do was cry.
"I promise you, one day we'll be rich. We won't have to suffer here in the slums anymore. Give me time, and I'll make money for us. We'll be so rich and we'll eat so much that our tummies will burst open. We'll have so much money that we won't have to worry about anything again in our lives. Then, you can be a princess with all those pretty dresses and fancy headdresses. Don't worry, one day it will come true."
For a moment, Angelle almost believed him. "Really...? Could it really happen?"
"I promise you, it will. You know why I named you Angelle? I named you that because when I found you, it was like an angel had fallen from the sky. Every time I see you, you light up my day. You keep me going when I feel like giving up."
Though she was crying, Angelle managed to smile in her brother's warm embrace.
"This is the city of angels isn't it?"
Afterwards, Gene let go of her small body. As he looked at her in the face, he saw that sweet smile once again. He took out the bear from behind him and handed it to her. "Take this as a gift from me. When I can't be there, just pretend that it's me that's still with you okay?"
"Now don't cry anymore."
A sigh escaped from Gene's mouth as he remembered that painful memory. He was such a coward, always trying to avoid the truth. He just didn't want Angelle to turn out like he did. He couldn't bear to see her turn out like another prostitute on the streets. He would do anything to save her from that cruel fate.
As he neared the alleyway where Angelle was waiting, he wiped away the water from his face. It began to rain slightly so Gene didn't notice it at first, but then it began to grow harder. Trying to cover his head from the rain, he rushed back to the alley.
"It's raining..." Angelle murmured, staring up at the sky. Her eyes scanned the alleyway, marveling at how well she cleaned the place up. She had a pile of bricks in the center, positioning it so it was like a table for a Christmas dinner. The trash bags were set off to the side so he wouldn't have to stumble over them as he walked towards her.
"I'm home..." Gene said as he walked into the alleyway.
Though it was dark, Angelle's eyes brightened up. "Welcome home!"
Gene paused, getting only halfway to her, "What's all of this?"
"I cleaned it up for our Christmas dinner!"
Gene smiled, though he was crying inside. "I'm sorry Angelle... I couldn't get the strawberries you wanted."
"We can play pretend. Let's just pretend this is a really big house, and we have a giant tree in the back as tall as the skyscrapers."
Gene was really confused at how she got exposed to so much media, "With pretend food?"
"You're so pessimistic... Here, I saved you a cookie." Angelle waddled towards Gene, giving him the half-bitten cookie she received from the kind woman at the shopping center.
"Where'd you get this?"
"A woman gave it to me."
"What about you? You should eat this."
"I already ate half of it, don't worry. It's equal now."
Gene hugged her one last time, "You're so silly Angelle. Worry about yourself once in a while."
Angelle chuckled. Then, she led him to the table like a real Christmas dinner where she served him plates and plates of food. Gene tried to light the pile of newspapers he had kept in a trash can, but it was already soaking wet, so they were forced to play pretend with the lighting too.
"How was work today?" Angelle asked, pretending as if he had just come back from a long day at the office.
"Not much luck... It'll be better tomorrow, don't worry."
Her eyes began to water, knowing there wouldn't be a tomorrow, but she held her tears in.
"It's hard... but we'll make it, won't we? Just stick with me till the end."
There was a long silence between them as they listened to the rain. Angelle leaned her head against Gene's shoulder, watching sky pour down with stars and sparkles.
Gene could feel his heart beating loudly inside his chest. The two of them had absolutely nothing, yet they could still enjoy moments like those. She reminded him of all the things he wanted to protect, all the things he stayed alive for.
Angelle was filled with happiness and sadness at the same time. Her feet were hurting, her face was numb, and her body was so weak she felt like dying, but she never felt more content in her life. It was moments like those when she felt like she was a princess.
"Look..." Angelle spoke weakly, pointing to Gene's watch, "It's... it's Christmas."
Gene glanced at the watch as he saw the two hands of the clock pointing towards the 12. He looked at her and she smiled back at him. It was the last time that he would ever see her smile the same way again.
She began to sing silly Christmas songs, forcing Gene to sing along with her. They sang about angels, big men in red suits, Christmas trees, and stars. It seemed like the night would never end. It was just the two of them, sitting side by side under a rainy sky.
As Angelle's eyes slowly lowered, Gene whispered her goodnight. He told her that he'd get her strawberries the next day, and they could celebrate another year together. He slept that night while holding her tightly in his arms to keep her warm. As she fell asleep, he hummed her a silly Christmas Song, singing "Have a Merry Little Christmas".
A/N – Hope you liked it. It was just a little something I typed up Christmas morning. Well, it was pretty... fresh off the stove, so there are still probably some errors in there. Give me your feedback if you have any, k? I'm gonna fix it later on. Well okay, everyone have a Merry Christmas (regardless if ur reading this during Christmastime or not).