Jeremy’s bedroom was beside the kitchen, and he heard someone in there, rattling around, opening and closing the fridge, running the tap, getting dishes and cutlery. It wasn’t as if they were trying to be noisy, but Jeremy looked at the clock: it was 6:30 in the morning. This was one of the rare days when he didn’t have to be at work until four that afternoon, so he was a bit peeved. But not a lot peeved, because he knew that the person in the kitchen was Xavier, and that he was getting breakfast for Jeremy’s father.
It had only been a week since Xavier had been sleeping on their couch, but everyone’s routine had changed, and the rhythms of the household were disrupted, for better or worse. Xavier wanted to help, and did. Jeremy’s dad liked to get up early in the morning, but was slow and sullen and usually waited until he heard Jeremy was up, before arising and joining him and settling in with his list of discomforts and displeasures. But Xavier rose early and made his father eggs, toast, and cut-up fruit every morning. It was aromatic and irresistible, and ready when Jeremy’s father emerged in his dressing gown.
Jeremy’s father didn’t exactly thank Xavier, in fact he was perfunctory in pointing out his preferences. Runny yolk. Dark toast. No citrus fruit. But he ate it all, seated at the kitchen table, then put his dish in the sink and went into the living room, where he sat in his chair and turned on the television.
A little later on Xavier would fetch the newspaper from the hall, and set it on the side table beside his chair. No thank you’s, but no searing, vitriolic, unprovoked take-downs, either. Those were still reserved for Jeremy.
It was Xavier who now prepared Jeremy’s father’s dinner, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to be microwaved later, when both Xavier and Jeremy were at work. Xavier did the laundry on Monday, and ironed and folded the shirts, including Jeremy’s white airline shirts.
Jeremy had to boot Xavier out— just for the day— on Tuesday, because he was working too much. He looked pale. He’d become too quiet. He hadn’t seen any of his friends. Jeremy ordered him to go out and have some fun. Xavier seemed reluctant. “The couch will be here when you get back,” Jeremy said. He gave Xavier twenty dollars, which he tried to refuse.
On this morning, Jeremy sighed, dragged himself out of bed and padded into the kitchen. Xavier was scrambling eggs in a cast iron pan. “Plain,” Jeremy said. “He doesn’t like cheese or tomato in it.”
“Ok,” said Xavier.
His father appeared in the doorway, in his plaid flannel dressing gown, his thinning hair uncombed. He glanced at Jeremy, who wore only cotton pajama bottoms and no slippers. “Put some goddamn clothes on,” he said.
“Some apple juice, Mr Connor?” asked Xavier. “Jeremy, you are wanting some juice and breakfast?”
“No, thanks,” said Jeremy. “I’m going back to bed in a minute.”
“Oh! Sorry!” said Xavier. “I forgot.”
“No problem, just remember next Thursday.”
Xavier blinked, slightly smiled, and said nothing, but Jeremy could read his mind as if his thoughts appears on sign above his head. Next Thursday? I will still be here next Thursday! Thank you God! And Jeremy! Where was a very young, illegal immigrant going to live, on the wages Xavier earned as a busboy?
“I was wondering,” said Jeremy, “what you–” he turned to his father– “and Xavier would think about having him stay here full-time.”
“Wow,” said Xavier.
“What for?” said his father.
“To partly take care of you, and this place,” said Jeremy.
“Impossible,” said his father. “I can’t pay him, you certainly can’t, and there is no room. Forget it. Go back to bed.”
“I could clean out the den. We don’t use it, it’s just full of boxes that haven’t been opened in years.”
“It’s too small,” snarled Mr Connor.
“It’s fine,” said Jeremy. “Xavier, it’s true I couldn’t afford to pay you much, but you would have room and board, and lots of free time.”
His father poked at the plate of scrambled eggs Xavier had just placed before him, and said, “Salt.”
“Of course a lot depends on if you can abide my father’s rudeness, bad manners, bigotry, and evil temper,” said Jeremy.
“Watch your disgusting mouth,” said his father.
“Sorry,” said Jeremy, and smiled secretly at Xavier, who smiled back. There was something about sharing the pain of his relationship with his father that somehow made it more bearable.
“I would say, yes,” said Xavier. “To the question. I can do more. I can take your father out.”
“I am sitting right here,” Mr Connor said. “And I’m not a dog. And who says I want to be seen with a wetback in public anyway?”
“Nice try, dad, but that’s only about a 4 on a scale of 10.”
“Are you sure, Xavier?”
“I am sure.”
“I have no say, do what you want, don’t expect me to pay for it,” said his father. “Or like it.”
“It would be nice if you gave your notice at the restaurant in person,” said Jeremy. “They may want you to work a week or so yet, but maybe not. It would be better if you don’t, since those freaks know where to find you.”
“What freaks?” said Mr Connor.
“Your favourite kind,” said Jeremy. “Religious bigots.”
Mr Connor pushed his chair back from the kitchen table and stood up. “Better a religious bigot than a hypocrite faggot,” he said. He shuffled into the living room and turned on the television.
Xavier and Jeremy high-fived, in silence, then Jeremy went back to bed.
- Original Prompt: Clock, July 24, 2016.