Okay, here it is! Finally! My Christmas EE story which is a day
or two late so forgive me. Oh well, better late than
never I suppose. :-) Here is Part One and Two for now. I will post the others later. Enjoy!!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was extremely cold that morning as Gary stirred about in his kitchen. He had risen early, turned on the heat, and now, wearing thick cotton socks, and his heaviest bathrobe, he sat going over the paper he had retrieved earlier that morning.
"Silver bell...silver bells...." the orchestra on the radio played softly as Gary flipped through the pages, hoping that the paper would be kind and not have much for him to do today.
Around his neck was draped a woolen scarf Lois had painstakingly knitted for him, during one of her in-between projects time and had presented it to him last Christmas. He detested the scarf which was multicolored, woven in bright yellow checks, pink hearts, orange squares and every other color and pattern Lois could think of putting into it. But now in the privacy of his home, it hung, draped securely around his neck that frosty morning as he reveled over a steaming cup of coffee.
Cat seemed a bit apprehensive ever since Gary opened the door that morning, slinking around, watching, his eyes fixed intently upon the eye sore that hung around Gary's neck. He didn't seem to care for the new apparel his master wore but, nevertheless, leaping gracefully onto the counter he sat perched in front of Gary.
It had taken the cat some time just getting use to the tiny Christmas tree Marisa had lovingly put up and decorated much to Gary's protest. But there it sat in front of the large window, all trimmed and garnished, twinkling cheerfully with silver icicles dangling from the sparse pine branches, red and silver bulbs hanging heavily on some of the limbs, and an oversized golden star toppling the top. Underneath the tree sat three presents the larger of the three, a gift from his parents.
Santa Arrives Today, glared from the front page. "Ho-ho-ho" Gary grumbled, running a hand through his hair. It wasn't that he hated Christmas, he just never seemed to have the time for all of the folly and arrgghhh!, just thinking about the office parties Pritchard forced him and Chuck to attend made him simply want to stay away from any party or gathering ever, and besides, Lois and Bernie had given him enough Christmas cheer through out his childhood to last him a life time!
"Macy's having their annual winter sale, he read aloud as he flipped through
the pages. Nothing of urgency seemed to be going on in the paper just yet.
Chuck had been bugging him about taking off to go skiing, but with the weather
being bad and then there was the duties of the paper to deal with. If
given the slightest break to day with the paper, staying in was beginning
to sound like a good idea.
"Meow!" Cat purred as he brushed against the paper. Annoyed Gary turned his dark eyes toward his furry companion. He reached over and picked him up, then placed him on the floor beside his chair. How many times has he told that cat to stay off the counter!
"Meow!" Cat purred again brushing against Gary's pajama clad leg before leaping up onto the counter again.
"What?" Gary hissed as if cat could understand. Ignoring his master's grumpy retort, once again Cat brushed against the paper, this time knocking it to the floor.
"What are you doing?!" Gary snapped, bending to pick up the scattered pages. "What's the matter with..."
His irritated scolding was interrupted by the unexpected headline staring up from the floor at him.
The body of an 3 year old child was rushed to Chicago Children Hospital today after a 6 story fall to the cold concrete below. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The accident happened sometime between 8:00 and 8:30AM. The name of the child is being withheld until further notice.
Lowering the paper, Gary's eyes shot towards the alarm clock he kept beside his bed. It was 7:00 AM. So much for staying in, he muttered slipping into a pair of jeans and a sweater. He grabbed his shoes and headed for the door, throwing on a coat on his way out.
Madison St. was usually a busy street, and as expected, there were lots of holiday shoppers out that frosty morning. The weather wasn't as bad as Gary had expected, but he caught a cab to Randolph Street hoping to avoid most of the crowd which was not far from his destiny. He hadn't noticed the strange look the cab driver shot him as he climbed into the cab, nor the curious stares received from passerby's when he exited the cab to walk the rest of the way to Adams St.
The stop light decorated in Christmas holiday decor, changed and he hurried across trying carefully not to step on anyone's heel. At the other side of the large intersection, he paused at the edge of the curb to take another look at the paper. The headline hadn't changed. He read the paragraph again making sure he hadn't missed anything.
The child had been playing around the window, that had been left slightly ajar by his mother to air out the room. She had taken the child to work with her that morning apparently planning on spending just a few hours catching up on some work. The child managed to crawl over to the opened window when the mother wasn't looking, and somehow was able to slipped through the crack, falling 6 stories to the hard wet concrete sidewalk below. He was pronounced dead upon arrival, a hospital spokesperson said.
Gary glance up from the paper and scanned the streets. His heart was pounding fiercely in his chest and knowing that Adams St. was just ahead, he knew that time was of essence. He past a straggly looking Santa who tossed him a weird look and pulling the collar of his coat up around his neck Gary soon realized that he was still wearing that God-awful -multicolored scarf.
"Nice scarf" A smartly dressed woman who had been eyeing him, commented giving him a wink before she hurried on. Surprise by the compliment Gary self consciously yanked his collar up higher around his neck, and trudged on.
He had taken a taxi only as far as the light knowing that it would be even more difficult trying to search the building in a cab rather than on foot. The buildings were tall, and some of them were at least twenty to thirty years old. The addresses were hard to read, some of them having been worn away years ago from the sweltering summer heat, and the below zero temperatures of winter.
There was a pink apartment building that seemed out of place among the rest of the business type office buildings which stretched about a half-mile long, and Gary was finding it difficult to read the addresses without bumping into someone, or without someone bumping into him.
Breathlessly he repeated the apartment building number as he trotted along. Light flakes of snow began to fall and shielding his eyes he hurried on scanning each number of the buildings as he was able to read them.
"453, 455" He whispered pausing to inspect the paper again, his chest heaving and his breath fogging the air before him.
Desperately he searched each window of the building looking for a movement of any type. His face was a frozen popsicle now, and without a second thought of the hideous scarf, wrapped it around his face to block the stinging wind.
Suddenly through one of the snow frosted windows on the 6th floor he got a glimpse of what appeared to be the image of a small face. Shielding his eyes against the light snow that now began to falling, Gary moved closer to get a better look. The face was more visible now as the child moved closer to the opened part of the window. It wasn't a large opening, but large enough for a small flexible body to slip through.
Gary looked around frantically for a police officer or anyone who might be able to help. There wasn't time to call and he was afraid to take his eyes off of the window even for a second. He could see no one. Hoping for a change he stole a quick look at the paper, the headline was still there. Gary knew that this child would surely die if he didn't do something, and fast. He decided to try the entrance, and much to his dismay, it was locked!
The woman had reportedly told police, that since it was a weekend, and that no one would be in the building but her, she had locked it for safety reasons. Desperately looking around he spotted an iron railing that looped, and extended up a couple of floors. Gary knew that his only chance of getting to the child was to climb the building. He could still see the child's face in the window more plainly now, and knew that he had only minutes before the child slipped to certain death.
Looking for a place to step, Gary carefully placed his foot in the loop at the bottom of the railing and began a slow slippery climb. The slush was making the climb difficult and he lost his footing a couple of times. The climb was slow, and torturous, as he worked his way to a ledge on the third floor of the building. The lite crystals of snow, was distorting his vision, but he could see that a crowd had began gathering and they watched with curiosity as Gary struggled to keep his balance on the slippery ledge.
Another iron railing was in sight and Gary grasped hold of it pulling himself up to the fourth floor. He didn't like heights, and he fought the urge to look down at the ice drenched concrete five stories below. Grasping the frosty iron, he pulled with all of his might until he was steadily on the hard concrete fire escape of the fifth floor.
Remembering the scarf, Gary quickly unwrapped it from around his neck, allowing the icy wind to rush in biting the edges of his ears and sting his cheeks. He then tied himself securely with the scarf to the railing which gave him a chance to steady himself. The concrete wall was cold against his back, but he pressed back as far as he could trying to keep his balance on the small ledge. His chest was heaving as he fought to catch his breath, and his nerve.
From around the corner he could hear the faint sound Christmas music being played on a radio, but it was what he heard beyond that, that perked his ears. A gentle stirring, a rustling sound and cooing, the sound that a small child would make, and Gary knew that he was close.
It had stopped snowing and he untied himself and inched his way along the side of the building his back pressing hard against the wall. He was glad that he had chosen to wear tennishoes instead of his boots today, and he was able get a better grip on the concrete ledge of the building.
As he inched his way slowly around the corner of the building, Gary could see the small body wiggling through the opening of the window feet first, and knew that it would be a matter of minutes before the child plunged to his death.
The child was almost completely out of the window, and Gary was only inches
away from him. He was glad that the child had chosen to come out feet first,
as he didn't want to frighten him. Reaching over, Gary was able to grasp hold
of the baby's shirt just as he slipped through and was now trying to balance
as he pulled with everything that he had to lift the wiggling child safely
into his arms.
Got him! Gary whispered, relieved and clutching the child tightly. After about a second, Gary was able to regain his balance and now composed, he carefully removed the scarf and tied it around the crying child then to himself securing the baby to his body.
"I knew this thing would come in handy for something" he muttered holding on tight to the crying infant
"It's okay-buddy" He whispered trying to console the child as he then removed his coat and draped it around his small body, shielding him from some of the icy snow and wind. The baby's little cheeks were red from the stinging wind, and Gary smiled relieved that he was okay.
"It's okay" He whispered.
The gathering below had grown to a large crowd, and a couple of police cars had joined the group, along with a fire engine.
Gary could see the mother busy at her computer typing. On the radio "White Christmas' was softly being played. The woman was simply oblivious to what was happening outside of the window and getting a secure hold onto the child, Gary was able to inch closer to the window and tap on it, startling the young woman inside. She gasped when she saw the stranger holding her baby. Gary motioned for her to lift the window, and she screamed as she rush to the window, pushing it up as far as it would go.
The woman was hysterical, as a soaking wet Gary, clambered in with the crying child. Quickly grabbing her baby from him, the woman was like a frightened animal as Gary fumbled nervously with the scarf trying to untie it as the woman backed away, clutching her child to her breast.
Gary, seeing that the woman was near hysteria tried to put the her at ease, by holding up his hands to show that he wasn't carrying a weapon, and that he meant her no harm.
"How did you get my baby!?" She cried. "Who are you, and what are you doing out on this ledge!?"
Standing there, snow soaked and shivering, Gary knew that he must have look like a madman. Breathing heavily he stammered to catch his breath. "L-Look..lady..." He said his chest heaving, "Y-Your baby slipped through the window there, and would have fallen..."
"And you just happen to be passing by on the roof....in the snow-I'm calling the cops!" The woman declared rushing towards the phone.
"Don't bother....they're already here" he said drawing his lungs full of air. He was exhausted and relieved at the same time. He didn't like heights, and the long torturous climb had left him weak in the knees.
His wet hair was dark and shining as he smooth it back with both hands, the ring finger on his left hand stung and he quickly examined it. There was a large cut on the finger, and blood was starting to run from it. He lifted the wounded finger to his teeth and sucked gently trying to halt some of the bleeding.
There was a commotion outside of the door, and Gary still shivering shrugged his shoulders and motioned to the door.
"See" He said, wrapping the soaked scarf as best he could around the wounded finger.
Just then the door bolted opened and the woman quickly stepped aside as two officers and the owner of the building hurried in along with a couple of paramedics brandishing medical bags. Clutching her baby, the woman rushed to the nearest officer.
Officer...arrest that man...he..." The woman stammered pointing to Gary "He..he was trying to steal my baby!"
"That man just saved your baby's life" One burley officer cut in." We watched the whole thing from below. You are a lucky lady. This man just risked his life to save that of your baby's"
"Is the child OK?" The other officer asked looking at the shivering child.
The woman taken aback, slowly removed Gary's coat, and surveyed her baby before relinquishing the child to a paramedic. Her eyes softened as she stared in bewilderment at the handsome snowsoaked stranger standing nervously before her. Looking confused she handed Gary his coat.
"How did you know?" She asked him softly "I mean....I only looked away for a sec...."
"Ma'am, sometimes, that's all it takes" a paramedic cut in. "Baby's fine..a bit chilled and scared, but OK." He said smiling at the child.
Taking his jacket, Gary mumbled a thanks while trying to figure out a way to slip out quietly without having to answer too many questions. Why was he out on that ledge? He'd have to think of something fast.
"Sir, are you OK?" Another paramedic asked throwing him a towel, and eyeing the cut on his finger.
"Yeah....I'm fine...it's just a little scratch thetas all?" Gary muttered, graciously accepting the towel and dabbing his face and neck with it. "Thanks"
"I think I should check it out anyway"
"If it hadn't been for you that child would have been dead" The officer said searching around the window. "Can I get your name?" He asked taking out his pad.
"Gary...Gary Hobson" Gary answered restlessly glancing around the room as the paramedic removed the scarf.
"Nice scarf" He said making a face at the scarf before tossing it to Gary. The paramedic cleaned and applied medicine to the wounded finger and Gary flinched when the ointment stung, making him aware that the wound was much deeper that he had thought.
"A centimeter deeper, and you would have needed stitches" The paramedic informed him while bandaging the bloody wound.
"Humm...ahh, Hobson....why does that name sound so familiar " The officer inquired looking up from his note pad. "Do you know Zeke?" He asked
Gary's stomach churned, and he looked over at the officer "Crumb?" he inquired,
"Yeah" The officer said. He stopped writing to look up from his note pad. "He's mentioned you quite a few times"
"Yeah, well lets just say that we've crossed paths more than I would have liked" Gary muttered. The paramedic finished bandaging the wound, and Gary murmured a thanks, as he inspected the job.
"That was quite some climb you did?" The officer continued, eyeing Gary up and down. "How did you know about the baby?" Just then the officer's cell phone beeped, and holding up a hand for silence, he paused to answer it.
The officer now preoccupied, Gary looked around the room for a spot away from the else to take a quick look at the paper. He could see the woman still clutching her baby as she spoke with the landlord and several officers across the room. Her expression had softened and she was now looking at him more sympathetically, and thankful as she kissed and snuggled her baby.
Gabbing the soaked paper from his back pocket Gary carefully unrolled it, some of it tearing in places.
Woman Dies of Asphyxiation. Oh boy! Gary muttered silently, some holiday this is turning out to be!
Gary's eyes focused on the woman with the baby. She had turned to finish answering questions from the police officers and with everyone in the room preoccupied, Gary was able to inch closer to the door and silently make his way out into the hallway. Still clutching the wet scarf, he pushed the button to the elevator, and it dinged open and he quickly stepped inside. As he turned he caught a glimpse of the woman still inside of the room. She had witnessed him slipping out, and silently mouthed a thank-you to him just as the elevator door close.
"Mrs. Crandon!" Gary shouted through the apartment door. "Mrs. Crandon, can you hear me?"
It had taken Gary a while to find the apartment building located on Lake Shore Drive, where the paper had said, a woman would die. It was hard catching a cab through the crowded city, with all of the holiday shoppers, and bumper to bumper traffic but after much searching, Gary located the building, and was now standing in front of the door, trying desperately to get in.
He could hear muffled sounds coming from the other side of the door, over the sound of Christmas music playing softly in the background. Suddenly, there was fumbling of the doorknob and the door opened slightly, and stopped abruptly by the security chain. Gary pushed his face to the small opening of the door way trying to get a peek inside. He couldn't see anything, but could hear struggling, and movement the other side of the door.
"Mrs. Crandon....ar..are you all right?" He called through the crack. Still no answer. He grabbed the paper from his back pocket, and checked to see if the article was still there.
** Victoria Crandon 55, died last night when she became trapped in a girdle
that was apparently two sizes too small for her. Her body was found in her
livingroom near the front door, where sources believe she tried to crawl for
help, but made it only as far as her front door. Police say that she was
able to unlock the door, but could not get it opened apparently because of
safety chain. Coroners lists cause of death as asphyxiation. **
Frantically, Gary scanned the hallway for someone who might be of help even tapping on a few doors but got no response. He knew that he didn't have a lot of time and that the only way in now, was through the door.
"Mrs. Crandon!" He called through the opening of the door "Move away from the door. I'm going to try and break it down....or..or something" he mutteredrealizing his task.
Stuffing the paper down into his back pocket and Gary stood back to size up the door, not completely sure how strong it would be. Taking a deep breath he ran towards his target, but stopped suddenly when he remembered the scarf he had tucked into his pocket.
He removed the scarf, and stuffed it into the shoulder of his coat, hoping to cushion some of the impact when he hit. He stepped back and again, pushed against the door with all of his weight. The door shook violently but the chain was still intact. He grimaced messaging his sore shoulder and removed the scarf, opting to use his foot for the next assault.
After a couple of hard blows to the door with the flat of his foot, Gary gave the door one last blow and this time the door cracked sending splinters of wood and wood pieces flying about the hallway. He had made a hole made large enough to wedge through.
Gary struggled to wedge himself through the jagged hole tearing his coat in the process and almost stumbled over the woman, who was still on the floor behind the door.
She was huge, and still scantily clad in her bathrobe and bra clawing frantically at the infamous girdle. Gary looked away blushing slightly at her predicament. He knew that she was in serious trouble because her eyes were big and her face was the color of pomegranates, she had carefully displayed in a fruit bowl on her coffee table.
The woman not able to speak, motioned towards a room down the hall, and immediately, Gary dashed into one of the bedrooms.
"Here comes Santa Claus! Here comes Santa Claus...!" The radio on
the perfumed cluttered dresser sang gleefully. Beside it, lay a pair of scissors,
and Gary spotted them right away. Grabbing the scissors he dashed back into
the livingroom where the woman was, still struggling on the floor. She was
much too heavy for Gary to try to hold still, so he did what he thought best
for the situation at hand.
"Excuse me" He mumbled blushing, before plopping down on her in a sitting position. She was a big woman, and he knew that his weight wouldn't harm her and he had to try and hold her still. He tried to lifting the material so that he could slip the scissors underneath it, but the woman was struggling so hard, that Gary was afraid he might cut her.
"M-Mrs. Crandon?" He stuttered looking back at her "I-I need you to try and be still for me for just one moment....please Mrs. Crandon"
The woman's tearful eyes widened, and she nodded her head frantically trying to obey as best as she could. She held still long enough to give Gary a chance to wedge a thumb beneath the tightly fitting girdle and to pull it away from her soft pudgy flesh.
It was hard for him with the bandage he already had on his finger, but
somehow he was able to carefully slip the scissors beneath the material
which was stretched way beyond it's capacity and to cut. The sound of material
tearing pierced the air as the sharp blade of the scissors ripped through
the spandex, splitting it almost instantly. Gary flew forward as the woman
out her arms, letting out a gasp and a cry, and she was able to draw in a long await breath of sweet life sustaining air.
"You okay?" Gary inquired breathlessly scrambling to sit up. He watched as woman struggled to draw in deep breaths of air. More concerned about her state, he completely ignored the white flesh that spilled out over the torn material and the woman flushed now, quickly pulled her robe closed.
"Thank "cough" you!" She said crying and coughing, "I-I don't know what I would have done, if you hadn't shown up."
"Yeah" was all Gary could muster as he slumped down with his back against
the wall exhausted and relieved at the same time. He looked down at the
wide shredded pieces of what was left of the girdle and shook his head, wondering
about the vanity of some women.
"I was getting dressed for a party" The plump woman gasped, "And...well....I will sue the company who made that wretched thing!" She sputtered still coughing.
Gary glanced over to the woman, who's eyes were tightly closed and was still breathing heavily. Her makeup was streaked, her hair was tousled and she hadn't moved from her spot. Gary was concerned.
"Mrs. Crandon?" He called, crawling towards the woman. Her eyes opened slowly, and she smiled her chest was heaving deeply.
"Would you like for me to call an ambulance?"
"I'm okay, really" She smiled, "I'm just enjoying breathing"
Gary smiled with relief and slumped back against the wall. He leaned over and pulled the paper from his back pocket. The headline had been replaced.
* Light Snow Expected For Christmas Day *
"Would you like a glass of water?" he asked cheerfully, stuffing the paper back into his pocket.
"Yes, young man, I would like that" She coughed. "I would like that very much"
The kitchen was warm and smelled of freshly baked goodies and Gary inhaled deeply. It reminding him of his own home back in Indiana, and at that moment he imagined his Mom removing freshly baked cookies from the oven, and he smiled.
Taking a glass from the cupboard, he filled it with cool water from the large water cooler in the corner of the kitchen and brought it to the woman. Helping her into a soft chair, he watched as she drank her eyes now surveying the gapping hole, and what was left of her front door.
"Sorry about the door" Gary apologized
"Don't be silly " She scoffed leaning back in her chair "You were my Christmas gift this year...thank you"
"You're welcome" Gary smiled
"Tell me..." The woman continued eyeing the scarf around Gary's neck "How do you know my name...and where did you get that hideous looking scarf!"
The answer that Gary really didn't have was interrupted by the sound of a scream and then frantic pounding on the door. Through the hole, Gary could see the coat and dress of a woman. He had completely forgotten about the chain on the door, and he moved quickly towards the door to unlatch it.
What he saw mortified him. It was the woman who's baby he'd just saved and her eyes were as wide as his, even wider as she caught a glimpse of her mother still clad in her bathrobe, leaning back in her chair breathing heavily.
"Mother!" She exclaimed, rushing past Gary still clutching her baby. "Mother...what's going on!"
"I'm okay honey" The woman reassured her, patting her daughter's hand "This young man just saved my life"
The young woman's eyes caught Gary's and then fell to the scarf around his neck. "You...you're the guy that was out on my ledge this morning...the man who saved Nicholas!" She exclaimed. Her eyes then shifted to the floor and seeing the tattered girdle, knife and wood pieces scattered about the floor, she looked up quickly, her eyes harboring a zillion questions.
"What?" Mrs. Crandon asked sitting up her eyes harboring a zillion questions of their own. "You ... saved my grandchild too! ...Alison...what happened?".
"Mother, I think you have a lot of explaining to do yourself" Alison replied her eyes surveying her mother disclothed state.
Gary looked about sheepishly, knowing that now was the time to make his exit. He didn't want to do a lot of explaining, and besides the woman was fine, and there was someone here with her so he didn't feel bad for leaving now. Nicholas, the baby seemed to recognize Gary and the scarf and grabbed hold of the scarf as Gary made his way towards the shattered door.
"Bye bye" the baby waved, his little fingers still clutching the scarf that had slipped from around Gary's neck as he disappeared quickly as the two women conversed in conversation.
Several minutes later, Gary was seated in the back of a warm cab heading
quietly towards Illinois. He was exhausted and leaned back in his seat mulling
over his ordeal of that day. The woman most certainly would have died, had
he not been there to 'free' her, he thought. And the baby? Gary shuddered,
he didn't even want to think about what was supposed to have been
with that child had he been only minutes late.
The cut on his finger throbbed, his shoulder ached and Gary closed his eyes trying to ignore the pain. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was playing softly on the cab radio and he closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth of the cab, and trying to enjoy the music.
The cab jerked slightly, and Gary, not wanting to open his eyes, through heavy lids, peered out into the misty streets. Late afternoon was quickly fading into dusk and he watched quietly as the city bustled with last minute holiday shoppers. He had completely forgotten about buying a gift for his parents and closed his eyes again, grimacing at the very thought of hitting the department stores. Maybe he could talk Chuck into going out and picking something up for him real quick.
The cab came to an abrupt stop, and Gary opened his eyes. He was home. He got out of the cab, paid the driver and pulling his collar up around his neck, walked briskly across the street, and into the dimly lit bar of Mcginty's.
Chapter Four *
"Merry Christmas honey!" Lois Hobson cried excitedly, as she rushed towards her son to lovingly cup his handsome face in her hands.
"Merry Christmas son!" Bernie Hobson chortled loudly, giving his only son a loving slap on the back "Bout time you made it home! We thought we were gonna hav'ta party without cha!"
Surprised, Gary stood frozen in his doorway. After having dodged, sneaked and crept pass the holiday crowd downstairs with all of the holiday well wishing and glee, he was caught red-handed and was suddenly thrushed into a party of his own. For a second his thoughts were stalled as he struggled to rustle up a response.
"Mom! Dad! Wh-what ar....!"
"Ahem!" Marisa said, clearing her throat and Gary paused for a moment, his eyes focusing on her across the room.
She was dipping eggnog from a large punch bowl and filling several cup that were on the table. Chuck was standing beside her adding extra splashes of brandy to each cup as she finished filling them. She had sensed Gary's mood from the tone of his voice and had stopped to quickly interrupt.
"I-I mean...what a nice surprise" Gary said sheepishly and taking her cue, changed his greeting from one that would have inquired what they were doing there. It wasn't that he wasn't happy to see them, they just always seemed to show up unexpectly, and tonight, although it was Christmas Eve, he had wanted to rest and avoid any party of any kind.
"Thanks for my present honey!" Lois sang, squeezing Gary's cheeks and kissing him roughly on both sides of his face "I love it!" She cooed stepping back to model a short, white mink parker, mingled with flecks of gray. On her head she wore a matching mink headwrap, which looked quite stunning on her.
"Yeah!" Bernie said, grinning broadly and holding up a brand new hunting rifle he had just spit polished and shined.
"Big bucks huh? You must have had a wind fall son!" He chuckled loudly, giving Gary another loving slap on the back while ushering him inside and kicking the door shut behind them.
"Yeah..windfall" Gary murmured under his breath, craning his neck to get a better look at the expensive looking coat his Mom modeled, and the rifle his Dad clutched. "Sa-Santa was VERY generous his year"
Sensing trouble, Marisa quickly took a gulp from her cup of eggnog which had been doubled spiked, knowing that she was definitely going to need the extra 'nog' after Gary found out that they had charge the gifts to his credit card.
"How did you know that I needed a new hunting rifle!" His dad exclaimed squinting one eye to peer through the scope, while aiming the gun at the Christmas tree.
"I-I have my sources" Gary said, glaring at Chuck who was pretending to be more interested in the ingredients listed on the Brandy bottle, than the conversation going on in the room.
"Bernie...b-be careful!" Lois exclaimed cringing back at the sight of her husband aiming the rifle.
"Dad!" Gary snapped, "Would'ja not point that thing in my apartment!"
"Hold your cranberries!" Bernie scowled lowering the gun "The thing isn't even loaded! Relax will ya! It's Christmas! Put down your paper and loosen up a bit!"
"Yeah Gare!" Chuck agreed helping him out of his coat. He snatched the paper from Gary's back pocket while handing him a cup of eggnog. "Relax buddy!"
Gary shrugged out of his coat and snatched the paper back, eyeing Chuck and the cup of eggnog suspiciously. He knew Chuck was famous for his double spiking of the holiday drinks, especially 'his'. He took a sniff of the cup.
"Did you double spike this?" He asked suspiciously, peering down into the cup, to which the others in the room in unison, chastised him for being such a prude.
"Oh, come on Gary!" Marisa sulked, getting up to turn up the radio "Have a little fun!"
"Honey, it's Christmas!" Lois pleaded, smoothing back a wisp of hair from his forehead. "Have some fun...all of your friends are here!"
"Yeah, all two of us" Chuck smirked, tossing a cookie into his mouth
Gary paused to look around his cheerfully decorated loft. He had been so caught up in the surprise of his parents sudden appearance, and the all the flurry, he hadn't even noticed the small dinner that had been carefully prepared.
On the kitchen table was a feast fit for a king. A the holiday meal, consisting of a roasted turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes, buttered rolls, cranberry sauce, gravy, greenbean casserole, and a plate of Lois's freshly baked cookies.
Gary had completely forgotten that he hadn't eaten all day and was
famished. A warmth filled him, and he suddenly felt foolish for not noticing
at first, the care that had gone into making this Christmas Eve special for
him. From the carefully decorated Christmas tree, to the gifts that he didn't
have to run out to buy....to the mouthwatering feast set before him. And how
forget his loving parents, and friends who made this all possible!
Feeling guilty, Gary turned abruptly to face everyone, but stopped suddenly at the presence of his dad standing close behind him.
"Merry Christmas son" Bernie said solemnly, handing him one of the gaily wrapped boxes that had been under his tree. "You don't have to say anything "
"We love you son" Lois said reaching up to kiss him gently on the forehead.
"Yeah big guy....you know how we feel about ya!" Chuck joined in rufflingGary's hair. "Now, can we eat please"
"Oh Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant........" The radio played softly as everyone gathered into the small kitchen to feast.
A couple of hours later everyone was stuffed and Chuck felt that he would burst if he took another bite. Everyone was happy and laughing exchanging presents and sharing stories.
Bernie related one of his fishing stories, telling again, for the hundredth time as Chuck put it, about the one that got away. Chuck had scoffed at Bernie, complaining about how wide the space between his hands got every time Bernie told that fish story describing the size of the monster fish to which everyone in the room roared with laughter.
Gary normally didn't discuss his saves, but with the spirits flowing, due to the spiked eggnog, for once he seemed relaxed, every now and then leaning down to take a look at the paper, which he kept on his lap.
He told them about his climb up the tall building that morning, to rescue a little baby. Lois, although thankful that Gary was able to save the child, cringed at the thought of her own 'baby' risking his life in that climb. No more building climbing! She had ordered. The story about Mrs. Crandon and the girdle..well Gary kept to himself. Mrs. Crandon, he felt, had been humiliated enough.
It had been a tiring evening and it wasn't long before Bernie and Lois had fallen asleep. They were in a sitting position, with Lois's head resting comfortably on Bernie's shoulder, and Bernie's head was thrown back against the back of the sofa. Both their legs were propped up on the coffee table and torn wrapping paper and ribbon was strewn everywhere. On the coffee table lay the rifle and mink coat.
From Marisa Gary had received a sweater she felt he needed, replacing at least one of the many she had given away last year to Earl for the homeless shelter.
Chuck had presented him with a year's membership to a health club, and a Sports Illustrated Swim calendar featuring scantily clad swim suit models, one for each month of the year. "If you find the month of Febuary missing" He had warned Gary, "Just ignore it"
The largest box under the tree had been presented to Gary last. It was from his parents, and had been overly wrapped with gold and red wrapping paper and hords of ribbon. Smiling Gary hurriedly removed the last bits of paper and ribbons, and slowly removed the top. Inside were two round trip plane ticket to Hawaii.
"I can't go to Hawaii" He groused later to Chuck and Marisa when his parents were sound asleep
"Why not buddy?"
"Oh yeah" Chuck sighed, getting up to put on his jacket, "The paperl" He grabbing Marisa's coat and nudged her gently with it "Guess you'll just have to give them to me, I know someone who would love to spend a couple of days in Hawaii with me"
Slipping into her coat Chuck was holding open for her, Marisa sighed "Gary, I don't think the paper would mind if you took a few days off-look what happened tonight? It was quiet...wasn't it?"
"Oh yeah, like the paper has a heart!" Chuck groused sarcastically "Look buddy, Marisa and I can handle the paper for a few days while you run off for a little R and R, I mean....how hard can it be?"
Gary closed his eyes and sighed deeply. After a day like to day, he didn't even want to think about it. He glanced over at his parents sleeping peacefully and smiled. He was thankful for them and their effort in trying to make his life normal, but the responsibility of the paper wasn't something that he took lightly. He'd have to think about what to do with the tickets.
The bar was closed early that evening because of the holiday. Marisa and Chuck had family waiting at home for them, so while his parents slept, the three of them had crept downstairs to finish locking up the bar and to say their last minute farewells to each other for the evening.
"What a wonderful evening " Marisa sighed dropping a coin in the jukebox. "Did you enjoy yourself Gary?" She asked settling on a bar stool.
"I...I did" Gary answered earnestly popping the cap from a cold botte of beer and taking a seat beside her. "A-And I really appreciate everything you two did for me-in buying those gifts for my parents too."
"Don't mention it pal, what are friends for?" Chuck said his voice dripping with sweetness, and immediately Gary's expression changed when he considered the probable value of the gifts and he lowered the bottle of beer eyeing them both suspiciously.
"Speaking of gifts, how did you two purchase the...you-you didn't use my credit card-did you?"
"Well Gary..what did you want us to do?" Marisa said defending their good deed "We thought we were doing you a favor"
"B-But.. my credit card!?"
"Everybody knows...a TURKEY and some mistletoe!" Chuck sang along gleefully with the music.
"All right, all right, all right!" Gary snapped rubbing his face, resolved to the fact that what was done, was done. At least now, he didn't have to go out and try to buy something this late. After all, his parents were happy, and they were well worth any amount of money.
"Don't worry Gary, it's not real mink" Marisa said smiling, "You know Lois, she's not the type that would wear real fur. She's too....nature concious"
"Not real mink?" Gary asked, with raised eyebrows, hoping Marisa wasn't pulling his leg.
"Oh....well g-good...I-I mean thanks." Gary smiled, relief softening his handsome face "And thank you for my presents too." He added, "I-I'm sorry that I wasn't able to get you two anything"
"Gary" Marisa sighed propping one elbow up on the counter, and resting her chin in the palm of her hand, "This may sound corny, but just the fact that we three are friends, is good enough gift for us...right Chuck?"
"Speak for yourself Mother Teresa!" Chuck finally scoffed.
Gary pause to look glare at his friend. "What's the matter with you?!" He snapped
"Do you know how long I had to stand in line just to purchase that rifle!" Chuck snapped "One hour my friend, one whole lousy hour! And it's gonna cost ya! Two tickets to the Cubs game, and you're going with me!"
Gary opened his mouth to protest, but their friendly bantering was suddenly interrupted by a gentle knock on the bar door. Chuck stopped to look over at Gary, and Marisa sat up on her barstool. "Wonder who that could be?"
"I don't know" Chuck answered, rising from his seat.
"C-Can you help m-me?" A raspy voice pleaded.
Chuck was befogged, and frowned at the dark figure standing outside of the entrance door. Distorted by the twinkling Christmas lights which strung along the windows, and the neon Mcginty's sign, it Chuck took a minute before his brain could register that the straggly figure quivering before him, was an old man. His clothes were dirty and torn, and the coat that he wore was ripped at the shoulder. The grimy woolen cap on his head bore a dark stain. Chuck guessed it to be blood.
A gust of cold wind blew in, and Chuck quickly ushered the man inside of the warm couloir, and closed the door quickly behind him.
"Who is it Gary?" Marisa asked rising from her chair.
Concerned, Gary placed his beer on the bar and rose to join Chuck in the entrance hall of the bar.
"Can we help you?" Gary asked stopping suddenly when he saw that their visitor, was an old man. Eyebrows drawn, he was just as perplexed as Chuck, about the man's appearance on his door stop, on a night like tonight, and they glanced at each other suspiciously.
"I-I seem to be lost, c-can you help me?" The old man stuttered.
"Where, do you live?" Gary asked helping the man to a chair at one of the tables, carefully removing a bright pointsettia plant to make room. His eyes surveyed the spot on the old man's cap, and then settled on the scarf wrapped snuggly around his neck.
"Cross town at the Cathedral Shelter" The old man answered, shivering and rubbing his hands together to warm them.
You're ahh-quite a ways from there aren't you?" Chuck asked noticing that the man was missing a front tooth.
"Some young punkth's knocked me out and stole my cart." The man said rubbing his head "When I woke up...well...here I be. Everything I had was in that cart" He added wearily shaking his head.
Chuck and Gary looked at each other and was bothered by the man's state.
"I'll get the first aid kit" Chuck said disappearing into Gary's office.
"Listen ahhh, Mr--?"
"Nick" The old man said quietly "It's just Nick"
"Nick." Gary said looking over towards Marisa "Would you like something to eat ?" It was obvious that the old man was hungry and probably hadn't eatened much, if anything at all. He kept wiping his mouth, and looking around the bar, the aroma of holiday cooking still lingered in the air.
Marisa, who had been listening had already disappeared into the kitchen of the bar and it wasn't long before she returned with a plate heaping with food.
Chuck returned with the first aid kit, and they watched silently while the old man scoffed down his meal. Gary's eyes were fixed on the scarf, that hung around the old man's neck and was certain that it was his scarf. It wasn't that he liked the hideous looking thing, he just didn't think it possible that there could be two like it...in the world....ever, and he wanted to know how this man came about wearing it. Where did he get it?
"I-I didn't steal it-!" The old man said defensively, looking up from his plate, his mouth dribbling with gravy.
"I know...it-it's okay" Gary said quickly, sliding his fingers nervously, through his hair. He had asked the man where he had gotten the scarf and hadn't expected a such a defensive response. He certainly hadn't meant to upset the already distressed man.
"I use to own one like it" Gary said softly scratching his head
"You did?" Chuck snorkled, and Gary shot him an irritated look.
Amused, Marisa smiled. Gary had told her about the scarf and she knew how much he detested it and she would giggle every time Lois asked about it, even prayed for a moment of sight, just to see the look on Gary's face when he tried to come up with an excuse as to why he wasn't wearing it.
The old man stopped gorging and looked up wearily from his plate.
"A young woman give it to me." He finally answered, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "When I came to..s-she was kneeling beside me. Wanted to know if I needed help....I told her no"
"Why would you tell her that? She wanted to help you" Chuck groaned, surprised.
For a moment, the old man looked thoughtful "I guess I didn't want to be a bother" He said, feeling embarrassed at the hypocrisy of the statement.
Gary and Chuck exchanged looks.
"Before she left, she give me this scarf" The old man continued fingering
the scarf thoughtfully, "said the man who it belonged to, was an angel..a-and
that since she would probably never see him again, she thought maybe it
would be a blessing to me. I-I don't know. I don't really believed in that
sort of thing" He said shaking his head slowly, but the gleem in his eye
maybe he truly wanted to believe. Shrugging, he shoveled another spoon full of stuffing into his mouth.
Alison, Gary thought to himself. It had to be Alison.
"Angel huh? Marisa whispered teasingly to Gary, hopping down from the bar stool "I knew that there was something special about you"
"Listen aahhh...Nick" Gary said quickly rising from his chair "Would you like for Chuck, and Marisa to drive you home.. it's on their way"
"I-I have people wait'en for me there....thank you" The man said rising wearily from his seat. He was now full, warm and rested and Gary could see the color coming back into his unshaven face.
"Wait a minute Chuck" Marisa said disappearing through the office door.
Gary helped Chuck tend the old man's wound and then packed him a bag stuffed with food. Chuck tucked a hundred dollar bill into his coat pocket as Marisa emerged from the office holding the new sweater she had given to Gary as a Christmas gift.
"Nick" She said smiling, her sightless eyes staring past him, "will you accept a gift from us?"
The old man's straggly brows crinkled into a frowned. It was hard for him to except gifts, and he shook his head.
"I-I couldn't...you three have done enough for me already"
"Please...take it" Marisa said softly "It's not much, but it will help keep you warm until you get home"
They helped the man out of his tattered coat and slipped the heavy sweater over his head. Right away the man seemed to brighten up, the new sweater giving him a feeling of dignity and grace, and he smiled.
"The young lady said that the scarf might be a blessing to me...I-I think she might have been right" the old man said grinning, the gap between his teeth was more evident now.
Gary felt his heart warm and smiled "It's possible" He said softly "Merry Christmas Nick"
Gary watched as the three of them made their way out to Chuck's car. He was happy that the old man had found refuge at the bar, and was now safe.
As he locked the door, Gary thought back on what the old man had said about the young woman who had given him the scarf. Taking his time, he walked around the counter, clicking off lights as he made his way slowly towards the office. There was no question about it, it had to have been Alison, how ironic!
'Meow!" Cat purred softly, and Gary glanced towards the sound. Cat was
purched on top of the counter where Gary's paper lay and Gary lifted him
gently into his arms. Cat's body was warm and felt good in his arms and Gary
scratched him under his chin. He had been so caught up everything, the baby,
Mrs Crandon, his parents, the party, the old man, Gary had completely
forgotten about Cat and the paper. Lifting the paper, he unfolded it slowly to take a look, praying that it would continue to relieve him from his task, at least for the rest of the night, after all, it was Christmas Eve.
*Christmas Blessing as Homeless Man Returns*
The headline read. Smiling Gary foot touched something soft, and looking down, he was surprised to find the scarf laying crumpled on the floor. It must have slipped from around the old man's neck when he put on the sweater.
Cat seemed peturbed as Gary bent to pick up the scarf.
"Yeah..looks like we're stuck with it buddy" Gary sighed in agreement as he opened the door to his office, clicking off more lights as he made his way slowly towards his loft.
"Hungry?" he asked, gently scratching Cat behind the ears, "By the way...did I wish you a Merry Christmas?"
Out in the darkness of the bar, twinking Christmas lights from outside the windows, flickered colorfully on the jukebox as the finishing notes of a Christmas song echoed throughout the bar.
"Although it's been said, many times many ways......" the jukebox played softly,
"Merry Christmas to you"
Email the author: Candi30938@aol.com