Chapter 37: “Merry Christmas, Graziano.”

CHRISTMAS DAY, 2009

“Our top story on this Christmas Day continues to be the incredible events surrounding a Christmas Eve kidnapping. Graziano Buonfiglio, a 28-year-old from Toronto, had been kidnapped outside the Metro supermarket on College Street. Five hours later, he was found in High Park alive. In a bizarre twist, his parents and sister had planned and financed the kidnapping. But that’s only part of an even wilder story. For more, we go to 680 News’ Anna Townsend outside the Toronto Jail. Good morning, Anna.”

“Good morning and Merry Christmas, Shane. Joseph and Nadine Buonfiglio, along with their daughter Charlotte, had been out on bail after they were arrested on attempted murder charges. The intended victims were all friends of Graziano Buonfiglio, estranged from the family for months. During a tense standoff at High Park, they, Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. Buonfiglio respectively, admitted not only to staging the kidnapping, but they also admitted to the murders of four family members and Graziano’s fiancé.”

“Anna, where is Graziano now?”

“He is currently at home with friends. He was released from Toronto General Hospital late last night and, miraculously, suffered only a few bruises. Graziano is a former Canadian junior bodybuilding champion who is still in good physical condition. According to his boyfriend, Mykhaylo Karbanenko, Graziano has elected not to speak to the media on this matter until tomorrow.”

“Who did his family claim to murdering?”

“According to Mr. Karbanenko, Joseph murdered his wife’s parents, Raymond and Mary Grace degli Angeli. Nadine confessed to murdering her parents-in-law, Peter and Nancy Buonfiglio. Charlotte said that she orchestrated the murder of Graziano’s fiancé Evan Smart while she was living in New York. Those cases have yet to be re-opened, but it is likely that they will. Shane, this is a very complicated story, but at least Graziano is home safe.”

“I understand that several other people have been charged in connection with this crime.”

“Yes. Earlier this morning, Nicholas and Denise Buonfiglio were arrested for supplying the van that was used in the kidnapping. Nicholas, a car salesman, is Joseph’s brother and Denise, who works for Service Canada, his sister-in-law. Also, Sissy Vandenbroucke, a preacher in Oakville and a family friend, was arrested this morning as an accessory to kidnapping. She was also out on bail, and was awaiting trial for fraud.”

“All right. 680 News’ Anna Townsend. Thank you and Merry Christmas.”

I heard that on the radio as I drove all the way up to Prospect Cemetery. It was not what I had expected to hear on Christmas Day, but then I didn’t expect everything to happen like they did.

When I arrived at the cemetery, everything was covered in a light blanket of holiday snow. The tombstones looked like bases on which to build Frosty the Snowman clones. When I walked up the slushy path to my grandparents’ graves, holding four bouquets in my hand and a small foldable chair in another, I noticed that there was virtually no one around. Not one person. Not even someone to tend the lawns.

I wiped off the snow from each of the graves and laid flowers at each. The pictures on the graves had dulled somewhat with the passage of time, but I could still see their faces. Finally, I sat on the chair, facing them.

Buon Natale,” I said. “I guess you heard the news. I hope you’re not mad at me.”

It was eerily quiet in the cemetery. I couldn’t even hear birds chirping, or even the wind. And then, I heard some twinkling sounds, like a harp or a bell or something. Suddenly, I saw Evan, and only Evan. He was in a white suit, of course, because he was coming from heaven, after all. He was standing right next to me. My heart began racing like hell. He never looked more beautiful.

“Evan!” I exclaimed.

“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas. Where are my grandparents?”

“Princess Diana is throwing a Christmas bash, and they got tickets. They told me to wish you a Merry Christmas for them, and that they’ll never be mad at you. And also, they want justice.”

“Thanks. I intend to get it for you and them.”

He took my hand. An angel taking my hand. It felt as if he was still on this earth. “I miss touching you,” he said. “I didn’t know what it felt to be loved until I met you.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

“Hey, about Mykhaylo: I like him. He seems like a great guy, and I hope you two make it work.”

“Yeah, Mykhaylo’s been good to me. What about you?”

“Well, I’ve had my share of offers. But I wanted to see you happy before I could get some, you know.”

“Can angels have sex?” I asked. What a weird question that was.

“I haven’t seen anyone’s wings fall off. It’s not an orgy kind of place, but romance is alive up there.”

He looked at his watch, which was gold, of course. “I should be going. Vasiliy Nidzhinskiy is having a party, too.”

“Evan?” I asked, grabbing him gently. “Can you do me a favour? Actually, two.”

“Yeah.”

“First, tell my grandparents that I finally got the money. And second, keep being there for me.”

Evan smiled, and kissed me on the lips. “You know I will, Graziano. Always.”

We hugged each other hard, as hard as an angel and a mortal can hug together. And then I heard the twinkling sound again, and I was again all alone in the cemetery. But I was no longer disappointed. I looked up to the sky and gave it a quick air kiss. I’m sure that Evan got it.

I drove back to the apartment building, listening to Christmas carols on the radio. As I parked my car, I saw Brandon standing at the entrance. He waved to me, and I waved back. I got out, and walked up to him.

“How are your grandparents?” he asked.

“Let’s just say that everyone’s fine up there,” I replied. “Can I show you something?”

“Sure.”

We crossed the street onto Waterfront Trail and stopped along the railing, next to the City School. “After Evan was cremated, I spread his ashes here,” I said. “He liked coming to this place. Often, after a hard day of dancing, he’d come here and feed the pigeons and seagulls. Every year, after he died, I’d come here on his birthday and Christmas and throw a bottle cap in the water. He liked bottle caps.”

I took out a cap from my pocket. It came from a bottle of Stella Artois. I flipped it into the water, and it made a soft plop sound and floated away. I then looked at 600 Queens Quay West. “It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized where I had been going to all this time. I didn’t even pay attention to my surroundings. I was just so zoned in on honouring him that the surroundings didn’t matter.”

After I turned back, Brandon asked, “So, how does it feel to be the last person standing in your family?”

I shook my head. “Honestly, Brandon, I’m scared. Now that the ordeals for the most part are done, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“At least you now have a home. And you have Mykhaylo, you have Claire, you have Britney, you even have Aparecida… and you have me. We’ll be your family, Graziano.”

I looked at him and said, “That is the corniest thing anyone could say. But I’m glad you said it.”

Brandon chuckled. “Thanks. I didn’t tell you this, but a few nights ago, I called my family in Regina. It was the first time in almost twenty years that I was in contact with them.”

“How did it go?”

“Better than I expected. We had a nice conversation, and they want to reconcile with me.”

“Do you want to reconcile with them?”

Brandon nodded. “I’ve always wanted to. Would you ever reconcile with your parents?”

“No.” I said it rather quickly. “They never were my parents, Brandon. They never were my family, because I was never made to feel like I was part of theirs. My grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins who still talk to me, Evan, Claire, Mykhaylo, Aparecida, Britney, and you… you and them made me feel like family. For that, I’ll be forever thankful.”

Brandon smiled, and then we hugged for the next minute. It was bitterly cold, and snow was falling gently, but it was such a beautiful feeling to be hugged in such an Arctic atmosphere. After we let go, Brandon said, “We should get started on Christmas lunch, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. I’m in the mood for a delayed Feast of the Seven Bitches.”

“Don’t you mean Seven Fishes?”

“I brought down my father, my mother, my sister, my paternal aunt, my paternal uncle, and two Albanian thugs.”

“Don’t forget Sissy Vandenbroucke.”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “Okay. It’s the Feast of the EIGHT Bitches.”

We both laughed, and walked back to our apartment. There was no fish to be had at our Christmas lunch, but there was a plethora of food nonetheless: Christmas turkey with sausage and apple stuffing, panettone, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and parsnips, and pumpkin pie, among others that we made and that our guests brought. And let’s not forget the platter of fine meats and cheeses, along with the pastéis de nata.

And our guests came fast and furiously: Mykhaylo, Claire, Aparecida, Deirdre from the 519 Centre, Marie-Lourdes, Carolina, some of Brandon’s colleagues, even Niamh showed up. It felt great to see my friends and my new family come together, especially after all that we had been through in the past few months. Britney was especially welcoming to everyone, and that’s not something you see in cats.

Just before we were ready to tuck into our buffet, however, amid all the chatting and the clinking of glasses of sparkling non-alcoholic apple juice, the doorbell rang. I volunteered to get it. I looked through the peephole, and it was a blonde guy who appeared to be in his early 30s. I asked, “Who is it?”

“Graziano, it’s me. Ryan.”

WHAT. THE. FUCK? I hadn’t heard that voice in over a decade. I thought that he had vanished off the face of the Earth. I thought that my mind was jerking around with me. So, I slowly opened the door to make sure that I was hearing and seeing what I exactly thought that I was hearing and seeing. Sure enough, it was my older brother, Ryan James Buonfiglio.

I closed the door behind me, and it was just the two of us in the hallway. Ryan was thinner than I had expected, especially compared to me, but he looked like a hybrid of Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds. “Oh my God,” I said, tears welling up in my eyes. Only this time, they were joyful tears, but even still I took out a hanky and wiped them away. “I’m sorry, Ryan.”

“Don’t be,” he said. “You don’t have to be sorry for anything ever again.”

We just stood there, looking at each other for a moment. I can’t imagine what he must have been thinking. And then, we just exploded into a warm hug. Ryan, the only person in my immediate family who had my back no matter what, whom I thought had vanished forever, was back in my life.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“You want the Cliff Notes version or the Wikipedia version?” he replied.

“Cliff Notes. I’m already overwhelmed.”

He released me from his embrace. “I didn’t go to Notre Dame. I never got accepted into Notre Dame, anyway. I went backpacking around Europe for a year, and then went to Oxford. Afterwards, I came back to Canada and I’ve been living with my boyfriend here in Toronto.”

“You’ve been living here? Why didn’t you find me?”

“I didn’t know where you were. I haven’t spoken to Mom and Dad in years. And then Aunt Kendra called me and told everything, and I heard about what happened last night, and I decided to look for you.”

“Do you hate me for putting them away?”

Ryan shook his head. “I just wish that they had been put away sooner.”

“I’ve missed you so much!”

“I’ve missed you too. Goddess on a wheel, you’re so big and buff now. You’re no longer my little brother.”

I chuckled. The door opened, and Mykhaylo emerged. “Graz, is everything all right?” he asked, touching my shoulder.

“Yeah, everything’s great,” I said. “Mykhaylo, this is my brother, Ryan Buonfiglio. Ryan, I’d like you to meet Mykhaylo Karbanenko, my boyfriend.”

They shook hands. And then Mykhaylo said to him, “So, you’re the guy who fucked my boyfriend.”

I nearly froze in fear. Ryan had a puzzled look on his face. It was an awkward silence between us three. But then, Ryan said, “I never fucked my brother. I just made love to him, that’s all.”

“Oh. Okay,” Mykhaylo said.

“Ryan, would you like to come in and have Christmas lunch with us?” I asked.

“I’d like that.”

Ryan came in with us, and the party continued. We tucked in to the buffet, and soon presents were being opened. I gave Mykhaylo an Italian-English dictionary, which only seemed fair as I had learned a bit of Ukrainian. I gave Claire a box of artisanal chocolates. I wasn’t sure what to give Brandon, especially since he had been so good to me, so I got him a Chia-Pet. The funny thing was, Brandon always WANTED a Chia-Pet. He was so happy to get it.

What did they give me? Mykhaylo gave me a DVD of Céline sur les Plaines, that concert Céline Dion did up in Quebec City in 2008. Claire gave me $200 worth of iTunes Gift Cards. Ryan gave me a framed picture of me and him eleven years earlier, back when he graduated from secondary school. He had found it in a box after moving back to Canada. I was initially reluctant to accept some of these gifts, as I spent considerably less on presents for others. But everyone assured me that it was alright.

And then Brandon pulled me into the room. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Brandon simply smiled and took out a small, folded piece of paper from his desk. “Do you remember when I told you that I won the lottery?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, unsure about what was to happen.

He took the paper and placed it in my hand. “Merry Christmas, Graziano,” he said, kissing me on the cheek. He walked toward the door, and said, “I know that you have more than a bit of money already, but some more couldn’t hurt. I’d keep this between us for the time being. And don’t worry; it won’t bounce.” He left to join the other partiers.

I looked at the piece of paper, and opened it. It was a cheque… for $1 million. The amount shocked me, but then in the memo, Brandon had written this: “because you’re a saint among men”.

A saint among men. I never thought that I was a saint to begin with. Still, I was deeply touched by Brandon’s more-than-generous gesture. He never asked for any financial help from me. He never asked anything from me, other than to be happy. And for the first time in my life, I was. Nadine, Joseph, Charlotte, Aunt Denise, Uncle Nicholas, Sissy… they were all in jail and facing multiple charges. They could no longer hurt me. Nonna Annunziata, Nonno Pietro, Nonna Maria Grazia, Nonno Raimondo, and Evan were looking after me from their celestial abodes. Ryan was back in my life, and I was looking forward to strengthening my relationships with everyone else in the family.

I still had a lot of therapy to get through, but Claire assured me that the people at CAMH would take good care of me. Even if Brandon hadn’t given me the money, the fact that he gave me a home and love was more than enough. And Mykhaylo… he had been with me every step of the way, and I was beginning to envision a future with him. Marriage, adopting children, growing mature together, being active in our communities, the whole shebang. I was finally happy.

Britney walked in and nuzzled at my feet. I put the cheque in my pocket and picked her up, cuddling her. She smelled so clean and fresh. Her fur was soft as snow. As she licked my face, we left the bedroom and rejoined the party. It was a Merry Christmas, and I looked forward to a Happy New Year.

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