This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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I could never figure it out. How could someone spend a whole day shopping in a mall? If you know what you want, it's a simple matter of going to a store where they sell it and get it.
I needed sweat pants. I went to the Mall in Burlington and got them. They had a sale. Now I was having a bite to eat in the food court before I took off. I didn't want to go out into the snow covered parking lot just yet. It was cold out. It was Canada in the winter. What did I expect?
Burlington was only 15 kilometres from Hamilton where I went to school. We got the worst of the snowstorm the night before. Hamilton got snow flurries. Lake Ontario did crazy things to snowstorms.
I ate my Tim Horton's bagel in peace. I liked it with lots of butter. I liked my large regular coffee, too. I drank too much of it when I was studying. It helped keep me awake.
I also liked watching people. I liked thinking about what their lives were like. I couldn't help but notice a young boy wandering between tables. He had brown hair and wore a fleece jacket with a Toronto Maple Leaf toque on his head. He was young, no more than 6 years old. He was also lost. Being a young kid and lost in a mall three weeks before Christmas wasn't a good thing. I watched, hoping someone older would do something. No one seemed to notice him. I didn't want to get involved. What could a twenty year old University student do? I never had any siblings. I was an only child. I wouldn't know what to do with a little kid. Then he made eye contact. He walked over to my table and stopped in front of me.
"I can't find my Nana," he said.
He was a cute little guy. He had piercing green eyes. He had curly brown hair. He had a delicate little boy face. He was also crying as a couple of tears slipped down his cheeks.
"Why don't you sit down and we'll figure out how to find her."
I thought it best that I try to find his grandmother first, rather than turning him in. Truth is I didn't know where I would take him to do that. This was a way of giving me time to think. Maybe we would be lucky and find her in a store nearby.
"My name's Chris. What's yours?"
"Ryan," he said. He sniffed. He wiped the tears off with his sleeve.
"How old are you?"
He told me he got lost when he was in a store over there. He pointed off in the distance. Over there could have been any one of ten stores around the food court. We got up and started walking. He took my hand. I hadn't held another male's hand since my father's when I was his age. I liked it. I always wanted a little brother.
"Why don't we get a couple of cookies at Horton's before we look."
He finally smiled and shook his head yes. He liked the chocolate chunk ones. I did too.
We went into two stores. The two clerks were up to their eyeballs in customers. They weren't very helpful. We still hadn't found his Nana. He didn't recognize the stores.
"I have to go pee," he said.
I knew he did. He was doing a pee dance. When we got into the washroom, the urinals were the tall ones. There weren't any short ones or stalls available. He couldn't reach. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable being in a washroom with a young boy I just found in the mall. But he had to go.
"I'll pick you up," I said. I put my hands around his waist.
He was as light as a feather. He also didn't have a great aim. There was a puddle on the floor when he was finished. I held him up again as he washed his hands at the sink.
"Use lots of soap, little buddy."
It had been over 20 minutes since I had found him. I needed to do something. This wasn't working. I asked the clerk at the lottery kiosk where I should take a lost kid.
"In the middle of the mall at the service desk," she said.
We walked to the service desk. He held my hand tightly. He kept looking up at me.
"Has anyone reported a lost kid?" I asked the lady when we got there.
"Not yet. You can leave him here. We'll make an all-call."
I said goodbye to the little guy.
"Aren't you gonna stay with me?" he said. His lower lip started to quiver.
His eyes started to get watery when I told him they'd look after him at the desk. That was dumb. I couldn't leave him like that.
"Maybe I can stay until your Nana gets here," I said. He calmed down.
I sat down on one of the chairs. I expected him to sit on the one beside me. He didn't. He sat on my lap. I talked to him. I asked him about school and his Nana. He wasn't shy.
"Ryan! I've been looking all over for you honey. You had me worried sick," his Nana said as she smothered him in hugs.
She heard the all-call. She thanked me. She was distraught but relieved. She told me he didn't usually take to strangers.
"You must have been kind to him. He doesn't like mean people. Can I buy you a coffee to say thanks?"
I don't know why, but I said yes. I guess it was Ryan's big green eyes. Or maybe that longing look he gave me. We sat down after we picked up our coffees and his hot chocolate. We got muffins too. Ryan liked the chocolate chip ones like me. He sat on my lap again.
"Ryan, let Chris eat his food in peace. Sit over here beside Nana."
He didn't budge. I told her it was OK. I didn't want him to cry again.
Nana was in her late 50's and a nice grandmotherly type. She was a retired nurse. She told me she was raising him alone. Her husband had died 2 years ago. Her daughter didn't much want him. His father took off shortly after his birth.
"My daughter's out in Calgary finding her way," she said sarcastically.
I told them about me. My parents died in a car crash 5 years ago. I told them I was in my second year of University. I was in Engineering. My Uncle and Aunt were my guardians. I was just a big kid myself. I didn't tell them that. I wasn't very responsible. I never really had to be. I had a trust fund. I just had to worry about getting my stingy Uncle to give me money out of it when I wanted it.
"Ryan's got no male role models. I never raised a little boy and I find it very hard sometimes."
She told me about him. He was a bright little boy. He did fairly well at school. He had friends. He had a big smile on his face as she talked about him. He didn't have a dad or granddad at home to guide him though. I got ready to say goodbye.
"Can you come home with us?" he asked. He batted his green eyes at me.
I don't know why but I ended up at his house. It was a modest house, clean and neat. Nana was a good housekeeper. She did her best. He had toys. He had an old Nintendo. We played with it. I stayed for dinner. Then we watched the Leaf game on Hockey Night in Canada. Ryan had to go to bed after the first period, but I told him I'd call tomorrow. I don't know why I did that but I did.
I got home and my Aunt and Uncle were pissed. They expected me for dinner. I had turned off my cell phone. They tried to call me. I told them I had something else I had to do. They told me my girlfriend Marcy called. She was expecting me. She wasn't my girlfriend. She was a girl who I went out with. I didn't want to be bugged anymore so I went to my room.
The next day my Uncle and Aunt wanted to know where I was going. I told them I was going out. It was Sunday. I told them I might not be home for dinner. I went to Ryan's.
We played on his Nintendo. We played road hockey in his driveway. He had a hockey net and I had brought a stick. He liked to play goalie, and stop the 'fast shots', as he called them. He had a friend come over. We played for a long time. They laughed. They giggled. They had fun. I had fun.
His Nana asked me to stay for dinner. I said yes. We had a roast, potatoes and vegetables. It was good, but the best part was dessert. Ryan liked that the best too.
"I put his name in to Big Brothers, but the waiting list is really long. We might have to wait over a year," she said.
She told me she hadn't seen him have as much fun for a long time as he had had that afternoon.
The next Saturday was cold. My neck was really warm because Ryan was on my shoulders so he could see the Santa Claus parade. He had fun. So did his Nana and I. We went to Horton's after. I paid this time. I insisted. Ryan liked his hot chocolate. He had a hot chocolate moustache afterwards.
"You need a shave, buddy," I said.
He giggled. He was cute when he giggled. My parents used to say I giggled a lot when I was a kid.
"Ryan wanted to play hockey, but I was too late trying to register him. He has skates, but he's only been on them a couple of times," his Nana said.
Apparently he loved to skate. Nana's brother from Winnipeg took him when he and his family had visited last year. I played hockey. I played on rep teams until I quit competitive hockey when I was 16. I just played in fun leagues now. I was a goalie.
Sunday afternoon I came over. I took Ryan and his friend to the outdoor rink at the park near his home. I had to put their skates on. I remember when my dad had to put my skates on. They held on to my arms as we stepped onto the ice.
"You've got funny skates on," Ryan said.
"They're goalie skates. I play hockey. I'm a goalie."
"Can I come to your game?" he asked.
They did a lot of falling for a while. They got better. They liked when they used their sticks and I brought out a puck. Their sticks helped them stand up.
"He shoots, he scores!" Ryan yelled.
He shot it between the two boots we put down on the ice. We went to Horton's afterwards. They had hot chocolate and a cookie. I took them home. His Nana asked me to stay again. I couldn't. I had to study for an exam the next day. It was my last one before Christmas break. Ryan said goodbye. He gave me a hug. That was cool. His head pressed into my stomach. I didn't hug much. Just my girlfriends, but that didn't usually last long. We got on to other things quickly.
My Aunt said a little boy called Ryan phoned shortly after 4 pm. It was 6 pm. I had just got in from my exam. It was OK, I guessed. I never knew how I did on exams, until I got them back.
She asked who Ryan was. I asked what he wanted. She said he had homework he couldn't do. I told her he was a little buddy that I had helped find his Nana at the mall. She wanted to know more so I told her. She was impressed that I was thinking about someone else besides myself. She said there was hope for me after all. She smiled at me.
"My homework's too hard. Can you come over and help me," he said on the phone.
"You're a smart boy. Besides, you're in grade 1 and it's near Christmas. I'll bet you don't really have homework," I said.
He giggled. I went over to help him. His Nana had made shortbread. She wouldn't let him have any until I got there. They were good. Ryan liked the cherry balls. They were the round ones with the sugar on the outside and the cherry in the middle. I liked all the cookies she made.
I read to him. He liked 'The Wimpy Kid'. He laughed. We talked about the story after I finished. He read to me. He liked 'Clifford's Christmas'. He didn't know some of the words so I helped him. He liked reading.
"Can you come to my Christmas concert at school tomorrow night? I'm a shepherd."
"Do you get to say something?"
"No. I get to dress up in my pyjamas," he said. He giggled. He did that a lot.
He was a great Shepherd. He had his Maple Leafs dressing gown on and a towel around his head. I took a picture. So did his Nana.
His Nana brought him to my hockey game. It was an intramural league game at the University. It was at 4 pm. We were going to go to Swiss Chalet afterwards for dinner. He liked the game. He came over as I came off the ice. He liked my equipment, especially my goalie mask. I had it custom painted. I designed it. He was barely taller than my pads. He laughed and punched my blocking glove.
"You stopped lots of the fast shots."
I went to church that evening with Nana and Ryan. It was the christmas pageant. It was a United Church. I was Presbyterian. I didn't go to church much after my parents died. My Aunt and Uncle said I should. They said it would make me feel better. They said I needed to keep my faith. I asked them why. It didn't seem to do any good.
Ryan was in the Junior Choir. He looked like a little angel in his white gown. It had red trim on the collar. His Nana said he was definitely not an angel. They sang 'Silent Night'. He was very animated. He sang with his mouth open wide. He kept looking over at us and smiled. He liked singing.
Christmas was in three days. I told his Nana I had some things for him. I wanted one of them to be from Santa. I would come over on Christmas Eve and drop it off. She said I shouldn't have gone out and bought him something. I bought her something too. I had something else they both would like. That was from me. She asked if I could have Christmas dinner with them. It was just the two of them. She said she could have it at noon so it wouldn't interfere with my family's dinner. I said I'd love to come to dinner. I told her the late afternoon was fine.
"We'll miss you at dinner," my Uncle said.
They understood. They were pleased I was 'growing up' as they put it. I guess they weren't too bad after all.
I dropped by on Christmas Eve. I had Marcy with me. We were going to church with my Aunt and Uncle and my cousins later. I had my gifts. I brought them all in except the one from Santa.
"You're pretty," Ryan said to Marcy.
She liked him. He liked her. She wanted to be a teacher. She talked to him about school. His Nana shooed him off to bed at 8 pm. I brought in Santa's gift.
"I'll be over at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning. Is that too early?"
She laughed. She said she'd have to keep him in bed until seven. He'd probably be awake by six.
He had opened some presents and his stocking when I got there on Christmas morning. His Nana liked the gift certificate to the spa. Marcy helped me with that.
"Did Santa leave you another gift?" I asked him.
His Nana brought out the big present. He opened it. Paper was flying all over the room. His eyes bugged out.
Then he opened the smaller present.
He didn't need to read to know what it was. He'd seen it on TV. I was going to have to hook it up for him. He wanted me to do it right away, but I needed him to open something first.
"Here's a gift from me, buddy. You'll need your Nana to help you read it."
I handed him the envelope. He opened it. His Nana watched. She started to read to him what I wrote in the card. She stopped. She couldn't finish reading it. She looked at me, came over and gave me a big hug and kiss.
She whispered, "Thank You," in my ear.
"What does it say, Nana?" he asked.
"It says I'm going to be your Big Brother, Ryan."
I finally felt like a man. A man with a little buddy to look out for. A man with a little buddy that needed me. It felt good.