include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Christmas Stories by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Christmas Stories

Copyright 2019 JT Evergreen


Published by JT Evergreen

at Smashwords


This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents


Acknowledgements


The Twelve Days of Christmas sort of

The Last Christmas Tree

The Christmas Card


Sleigh Bells

Christmas Dinner 1973

The Christmas Carousel


About JT Evergreen

Other books by JT Evergreen

Connect with JT Evergreen


Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Khris Lawrentz for his tireless proofreading.


The Twelve Days of Christmas sort of

As told by Catherine Anne Smithson


A few night-time freezes and before I knew it the leaves were turning their vibrant fall colors, decorating the Chicago landscape into a beautiful panorama for the coming holidays. I was so looking forward to being with my family after a very busy summer . . . when disaster struck on Thanksgiving day – the consequences of which would change my life forever.


Thanksgiving this year was a total disaster. Bob, my boyfriend of three years, my soul mate, the man of my dreams, the sperm donor for my unborn children, dumped me an hour before we were to leave for the holiday celebration at my parents’ home. To add insult to grievous injury, he didn’t do it in person like a real man would do it, the black-hearted infantile varmint sent a one-line text ending with ‘sorry’. Sorry? I was crushed, mortified beyond chagrin.


When I think about it, I was probably angrier at myself for being duped. Why didn’t I see this coming was the question that rang in my head like a giant unforgiving bell? The other bell ringing in my head was the question – did I really love him? Suddenly I didn’t know. The whole idea of love burst like a confetti piñata and disappeared. I was out in left field alone, without a ball, let alone a game in which to play it.


With all those bells ringing and confetti floating about in my brain … to go or not to go to my parents’ for Thanksgiving dinner was the most pressing question. I finally gave up and sent a text to Mary Louise, my sister, telling her I was going to kill myself so they should not expect me for dinner.


When cars began rolling into the driveway, I realized she must have taken my text seriously. Mom and Dad, Max, Harrison, Monty, and Toby, my four brothers, and Mary Louise came bounding into the house with all the food for the feast – yelling and screaming HAPPY THANKSGIVING.


Mom closed in on me, “Are you all right?”


“Of course, I’m all right … Monty, put that butcher knife down. I don’t want any of you killing, Bob.” My brothers had always been protective but this sent them over the top. Toby was the only one who didn’t seem upset which I thought odd. But he was older and corralled the other three.


“Do you need some Valium?


“No, Mother, I don’t need any Valium.” I hadn’t thought of that before they arrived. But now it seemed like a good idea.


“I hope you’re not pregnant.”


“Mother!”


“Who’s pregnant?” my father heard the word and almost choked on his cigar.


Toby turned around and moved in with that ‘you better not be pregnant’ look on his face.


“NO, I'M NOT PREGNANT! God! You people.”


“Well, you said you were going to kill yourself.”


“Shut up, Harrison. I was kidding.” When I glanced out the front window, I almost yelled, “Who are all these people coming up the sidewalk?” More people began showing up who had not been invited. Mary Louise admitted later she had mistakenly sent a message about my status to my friend, Miranda, who was part of a ten-person email group on her computer.


The rest of the day and evening were awash with food, wine, and laughter. Someone, probably Max, hung a sprig of mistletoe in the foyer archway. By the time the wine had disappeared, everyone was kissing everyone else, especially me. They kept dragging me into the hallway and wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving even after all the berries had been plucked from the mistletoe. I was grateful because I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself.


The days that followed, however, went from feeling empty and unhappy to thoroughly miserable – as the reality set in that I was back to square one. I was alone and the possibility of a family of my own dimmed in the rubble of my shattered emotions.


Then the prospect of celebrating Christmas loomed ominously before me. I couldn’t very well ignore my family, which would have been impossible. Even though their recent loving kindness was of some comfort, it wasn’t enough to help me look forward to this next celebration let alone that of the New Year. Gee willikers, what was I going to do?


Little did I realize someone was making plans for me in the days that were to follow. On December First, a funny thing happened. Well, maybe not funny but it struck me that way for some reason. I found a small package in my mailbox. It was not postmarked so I assumed someone had hand-delivered it.


Inside the package, I found one of those silly well-intention secret pal cards along with a beautiful koa wood letter opener in its matching sheath. The note on the card simply said, To be used on what is to come. That sounded intriguing. Was it to be used to open letters or stab my sonofabitchin’ ex-boyfriend through his black heart – provided he had one? But the gift buoyed my spirits. Obviously, someone other than my loving family cared about me which made it even more interesting.


The note was written in beautiful cursive script which I did not recognize. It wasn’t flowery, just strong and steady so, I assumed it was written by a man – certainly not Bob. His handwriting was so bad I had a terrible time deciphering his notes which were few and far between. So, whoever it was, had to be as old as or older than me since cursive handwriting was being phased out when I was in school. I carefully placed the letter opener and the card on my desk and stared at them, wondering who it might be who was doing this and the reason for which they were doing it.


Two days later I found an envelope in my mailbox, no postmark, another hand-delivery. It was the Third of December. I dutifully used my gift to open the envelope and extract another secret pal card. The gift that came with this card was a thumbprint on the inside of the card which had a distinctive scar across the ridges of the print. I laughed at the thought of having to subtly examine the thumbs of everyone I knew or met. But if I found it, I’d know. The print was large, substantiating my conclusion that a man was definitely involved. Was this man more than a secret pal … possibly an admirer I had overlooked? This was getting interesting.


On the Fifth of December, I found another hand-delivered envelope in my mailbox. This card also had a thumbprint – obviously from the other hand; free of any scars.


The next envelope arrived on the Seventh of December. Inside I found a short poem written in the same cursive script as the first gift. This one took my breath away.


I am always thinking of you


I miss your smile, your words


I treasure every moment we are together


I imagine I am always by your side


sharing my love with you


I am closer than you think.


I was so freaked out that the sender was more than a secret pal, I had to call Mary Louise and read the poem. She was as surprised as I was, and suggested it might be Bob trying to come back. I discouraged that thought immediately since romance was never his thing. In a way, I was grateful he was out of my life. He loved to eat in bed which annoyed the hell out of me. I lost count of how many times I had to brush cracker, and bread crumbs out of my bed before I could retire. I once found an apple core and part of a baloney sandwich tucked away at the foot of the bed which sent me over the edge. He slept alone that night.


The possibilities of who it might be, now seemed endless. Mary Louise was as excited as I was in discovering who this mystery man might be. If nothing else, my sadness was gone. For that, I was eternally grateful and I would thank whoever it was with all my heart.


On the Ninth of December, there was another envelope in my mailbox. Along with a secret pal card, there was a key which looked like one of those keys you might find at a bus station, one of those lockers you can use to temporarily store luggage. Or it could be a train station locker. This was beginning to look more like a treasure hunt. If nothing else, this guy, at least, had a sense of adventure and fun which I appreciated.


A week later I located the locker at the train station, and almost fell over when I opened the door. In it was the peacock hair clip I had lost over a decade earlier. It belonged to my grandmother, and I mourned its loss for the longest time.


And there it was as if I had misplaced it only moments ago. Now I wondered if it might not have been stolen and not lost. It was in perfect condition, so I generously decided it had been found by someone who knew me. Wait a minute – someone who knew me in high school, when the clip went missing. That was a long time ago. And they kept it until now? Obviously, I knew whoever it was, but who was it? I went through my yearbook and found no likely suspect.


The next two envelopes arrived on the Eleventh and Thirteenth of December – each card had the remaining four fingerprints of the left hand on one card and the four fingerprints of the right hand on the other card. Now, I had a complete set of this man’s fingerprints. It was a silly thing for him to do but I found it very endearing.


One of the cards, however, contained a strand of red hair which was either intentionally or unintentionally enclosed. Who did I know who had longish red hair? The only person I could think of was Karl Klum, but he was gay so that didn’t fit. But, he did have an outrageous sense of humor. He owned a nursery on the edge of town so, I paid him a visit on the pretext of buying an apple tree.


“Cat, it’s winter. There are no apple trees until spring. How about an evergreen?”


“Yeah, that sounds good.”


“We’re all out of the cut ones but we’ll be getting more next week.”


“How about a living one?”


“Follow me.” As we walked through his greenhouses, he casually said, “I hear you got dumped – tough luck.”


“Your sympathy is touching, Karl.” I decided not to wait. “Karl?”


“What?”


“Let me see your hands.”


“What for?”


“Just let me see them, please.”


He reluctantly put his hands forward. I quickly checked his thumbs. It wasn’t him.


“What was that all about?”


“Nothing. You have nice looking hands.”


That flummoxed him. I bought a small evergreen which he placed in the trunk of my car. As I drove away, I thought, ‘Two thumbs down, how many more thousands to go?’


The next card, dated the Fifteenth of December, smelled of cologne. It was an obvious man’s cologne but I knew of no one who wore cologne. Now, what was I supposed to do – sniff every man I could get close to? But, interestingly enough, there was a familiarity with the scent which I could not place. And there was a note at the bottom of the card, ‘Four days to go.’ Some comfort in knowing the mystery would soon be solved.


On the Seventeenth of December, I found a small package in the mailbox containing a card and a candle. The inscription read: If skies are dull and gray, light this candle in your window to guide me on my way.


I felt kind of silly, but as the day faded and twilight lingered, I did as instructed. Within minutes, a car drove in the driveway. My heart leapt at the possibilities as the back door opened. “Hi, pumpkin.”


“Hi, Toby.” I could not have sounded less interested.


He stood still and stared at me, “What?”


“Nothing. Why are you here?”


“The garbage disposal. You asked me to fix it . . . unless you fixed it . . . which isn’t likely.”


“Very funny. I’m sorry. Thanks for coming over.”


He walked over, flung his arms around me and lifted me off the ground as he hugged me. “Why so sad?”


I told him the story of the candle. He kissed my forehead and went to work under the sink. Of all my brothers, he was the most attentive. He was ten years older than me. I often wondered why he wasn’t married. He was handsome and smart and would make some lucky girl an excellent husband. But he didn’t seem to be interested. I wondered if he might be gay.


He fixed the disposal thingy, after which I asked him if he’d like to stay for a bite to eat. He thought that was a good idea. He has a wonderful sense of humor and we always had a good time together. You could not stay sad or angry around him for very long.


Since he was the only blonde in the family, I used to kid him that he was either adopted or Mother had been fooling around. He’d laugh and often suggested we ask her, which produced even more laughter. We never did ask her, but I did wonder.


On the Nineteenth of December, another envelope appeared. The card simply said, ‘Sorry – couldn’t find Ten Lord’s a Leaping.’ I laughed out loud when I read that. I held the card to my breast and was surprised at the fleeting thought that I might be falling in love with this mysterious character.


The Twenty-First of December arrived and with it, a package in my mailbox. In the box was a sock filled with twelve candy kisses … no note. It was probably one of his socks. I held the sock close to my heart as I ate the kisses and prayed he wouldn’t be a frog. I had certainly kissed enough of those in my day. But why a sock and candy kisses? The kisses were the kind with the almond inside … my favorite. Sock … kisses … sock … kisses? If this was a clue … I didn’t get it.


The Twenty-Fifth of December dawned bright and beautiful. This was the day the mystery would be revealed. Everyone who knew of these cards and gifts had run out of ideas as to who it might be – this very secret pal of mine.


Technically, on the Twelfth day of Christmas, Twelve Drummers Drumming would be delivered. We all agreed that was unlikely to happen.


I planned to be with my family at my parents’ home on the Twenty-Fifth. I wondered if my secret pal knew this. I packed up Christmas gifts and goodies and departed early, checking the mailbox one last time as I drove out. It was empty. Oh, well.


The morning and early afternoon passed quickly as preparations for the feast began to fill the air with delicious aromas. Thankfully, no one brought up the subject of my secret pal as we hustled about the kitchen. It would have been awkward if he just showed up unannounced. I hoped that wouldn’t happen. Mary Louise was still living with my parents as was Max, the youngest of my four brothers. Harrison and Monty drifted in around two-thirty followed by Toby, a half hour later.


As the grandfather clock in the living room chimed four o’clock, we settled around the dining room table in anticipation of the delicious food waiting for us. Mother and Dad were in heaven, having all their kids in one place for a change. I felt a twinge of melancholy, realizing my secret friend was not among us. I thought of adding another place setting to the table arrangement but decided against it at the last minute.


Mother brought in the platter with the dressed turkey and set it in front of Dad for carving. Mary Louise said grace and we began passing platters of food around as the laughter and voices of my loving family filled the air once again.


My loneliness didn’t seem quite so acute in the midst of these loving and mischievous people. One of the boys brought up the fact that my secret pal was a no-show, followed by the usual wisecracks from the other ones.


Mary Louise spoke up, “Come on guys. Leave her alone. How about being a little more supportive.


Monty agreed, “Ok, ok, but we’d still like to know who this guy is.”


“Me too,” I half-heartedly agreed, and then I caught a glimpse of it. I stood up so fast I knocked over the chair I had been sitting on. Conversations stopped, everyone stared at me. “Let me see your left hand.” I heard a few gasps as some realized what was happening. “Come on. Let me see it.”


Toby blushed as he slowly put out his right hand, palm down.


I almost yelled. “The other one.”


He withdrew his right hand and extended his left. I leaned across the table, grabbed it, and turned it palm up. His left thumb was scarred. I let go of his hand and stared in disbelief at my brother. He looked me straight in the eyes; his loving smile told me everything I needed to know as I burst into tears and rushed from the room and into the bathroom, closing and locking the door. My sobbing was a mixture of joy, shock, and confusion I never imagined possible. I could not control myself as I slid down onto the floor next to the bathtub.


I could hear yelling and screaming coming from the dining room as the mystery unraveled. Toby’s voice rose above the rest. My take-charge sister was probably headed toward the bathroom when he yelled, “Mary Louise, sit down or I’ll set you down. I’ll handle this myself.”


Everyone calmed down and then there was a soft knock on the door, “Catherine Anne?”


My sobs increased when I heard him. He never ever addressed me as Catherine Anne before – never.


He knocked again. “Open the door or I’ll break it down.”


Now I was laughing and sobbing as I struggled to the door and unlocked it while remaining on the floor. I looked away as he opened and shut the door. Then he was on his knees holding me from behind as he whispered, “I didn’t mean it to happen like this, I’m so sorry.” He laid his head on the back of my neck and held me tight while he slowly rocked me back and forth. My sobs finally subsided and I gave out a great sigh.


“I don’t understand. You’re my brother. How could you do this to me?”


“Listen to me, Catherine.” He took a breath, “I’m not your brother.”


That hit me like a ton of bricks. I straightened up and yelled, “WHAT?” and turned around to face this man I thought I knew. “What the hell are you saying?”


“Mom and Dad adopted me before any of you were born. They thought they couldn’t have children.”


My sense of humor clicked in, “Well, that didn’t work out very well. But why the secret?”


Toby sat back on his haunches, “They told me when I was fifteen and left it up to me to tell the rest of you. I was afraid it might make a difference. I wanted to belong and decided not to tell.”


“Toby, I’m so confused right now, I can’t think straight.” I looked into his beautiful face and saw tears running down his cheeks. I reached up and brushed them away, “How long?”


“I fell in love with you the day Mom brought you home from the hospital.”


“The peacock clip?”


“I found it in the backyard and hid it. I knew how much you loved it. I wanted something of yours I could hold in secret. When you met Bob, I thought I’d lost you. When he dumped you, I almost jumped with joy and figured I better do something before someone else came along.”


“And the candle?”


“I waited almost an hour until I saw you put it in the window. I thought you might catch on.”


“And I didn’t. I’m so sorry, Toby. I just never imagined.


“Can I have my sock back?” he grinned that crooked grin of his.


I sat up and threw my arms around his neck and laughed as I pulled him close, “Yes, you can have your old sock back, but not the kisses. I ate them.” And there it was, the low key scent of the cologne in one of the cards. No, it wasn’t cologne, it was just aftershave.


“Are we still friends?” he whispered.


I sat back and looked into those adoring eyes of his, “Oh, my God, yes. We’ll always be friends no matter what.”


He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black box, “Here, this is for you.”


Before I could open it he added. “Wear it in friendship. If someday you decide you want to be my wife, switch it to the correct finger.”


I sat back, opened the box and the tears began again, “Oh, Toby. It’s so beautiful.” I stopped him as he began to get up, “I’m sure you already know, since nothing can be kept a secret in this family, well, almost nothing,” I smiled for a second and then added, “I’m not a virgin anymore.”


He kissed my hand, “I know … but I am, so you’ll have to show me the way.” He got up and pulled me to my feet.


“I have a little secret.”


“Which is?”


“I thought you might be gay.”


He smiled, took my face into his big hands, kissed my cheek, “Not to worry, not to worry.” He stepped back. “We better get back in there before they come looking for us." He chuckled, "Wash your face, you look terrible. I’ll go ahead."


I looked in the mirror and laughed. I did look terrible. My mind was in a whirl as I washed my face and put my hair into some semblance of order. I took the ring out of the little black box, kissed it and thought about which finger to put it on.


Everyone was seated at the table smiling their asses off as I walked in and sat at the table. I looked at Mother and Dad, “Does everyone know about him?” They both smiled. “Well, let’s eat before it gets cold.”


I looked across the table and suddenly saw Toby in a different light. I reached out with my left hand. He took it and his jaw dropped when he saw which finger held his ring.


“Catherine?”


“Why wait. You know me better than anyone. I’ve loved you as my brother all these years, learning to love you as my husband should be easy. Thank you.” We just smiled at one another as everyone else went crazy again.


He grinned, “At least you won’t have to change your name.”


I hadn’t thought of that and laughed at the idea.


I took my hand back and asked, “I hope you don’t eat crackers in bed.”


“Not a chance.” The devilish smile on his face told me he had something else in mind.


I took my plate and handed it to Dad, “I’ll have some white and dark, please.”


Everyone laughed and cheered with toasts for a Merry Christmas as we got down to the business of celebrating the holiday, and my engagement to a pretty wonderful guy who had taken his shoes off and was playing footsie with me under the table.


As we enjoyed a homemade dessert and coffee, I caught Toby staring at me. I smiled and mouthed, “What?”


He mouthed, “When?”


“When?”


“Yeah, when?”


It took me a few seconds, “Oh … when.”


He laughed as everyone at the table quieted down to figure out what we were mouthing back and forth.


I thought about it for a few seconds, wiped my mouth with a napkin and responded out loud, “Whenever you like.”


“How about New Year’s Eve?”


I sat up in my chair as the idea hit me, “This New Year’s Eve?”


“Why not?”


I began to laugh, “Okay.”


Someone hollered, “What are you two talking about?”


I leaned forward and gazed into Toby’s beaming face, “We’re going to get married on New Year’s Eve.”


Among all the voices that jumped into the conversation, someone shouted, “But that’s in six days.”


The more I thought about it, the better I liked the idea. After all, a long engagement wasn’t necessary since we knew each other so well.


As everyone threw in their objections to such a crazy idea, I saw Harrison quietly get up and leave the room. Minutes later he returned and stood in the doorway looking like the cat who just swallowed a very big, fat canary.


I sat up, “Harrison?” Everyone stopped talking and turned to Harrison.


“The ballroom at the Palmer House is available.”


Toby stood up, “What? That’s impossible.”


“They got a cancellation yesterday.” Harrison had worked at the Palmer House for over five years and knew everyone that worked there.


Dad shouted, “But there isn’t time.”


Harrison smiled, “Yes, there is … if we work fast. I just talked with Hilda Geffert the event planner. She wants you to come by in the morning. If anyone can make it work, she can.


I looked at Toby and we began to laugh. He raised his glass of wine and reached across the table. I met him halfway with my glass, “Let’s do it.” We clinked our glasses together and toasted the possibility.


The rest of the evening was spent listening to Harrison while we made notes of what we should do in preparation for the morning meeting. It was midnight when we decided to get some rest.


Toby and I lingered in the driveway. He bumped up against me. “Are you still for the idea?”


“Are you kidding? It’s a perfect idea.” I fell into his embrace and kissed him. I didn’t realize how strong he was until that moment. Then the thought of a family of our own flashed into my brain. I pulled back slightly and gazed into his beautiful blue eyes. “Children?”


“What?”


“Children?”


“How many?”


I nodded.


He pulled me back into his embrace. “As many as you want.”


“A dozen?”


“Well, let’s not overdo it.”


“Okay. How about four?”


He hesitated.


“Toby?”


He didn’t answer.


I pulled away from his embrace, “What is it?”


He took my hand, squeezed it, placed it over his mouth … kissed it, then whispered, “How about we adopt the first one.” The pained expression on his face told me what he was thinking.


I gave a sigh and smiled. “Yes, of course. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s a beautiful idea.”


We lingered so long, Mother came out on the porch. “Go home you two.” And then added as only an honorable mother like mine would add, “To your own homes. There’ll be plenty of time for that other stuff later.”


We laughed, broke our embrace and got into our own cars.


We all met for an early breakfast the next morning and decided to tell the family of our decision about children. We were somewhat shocked at their initial reaction which was dead silence. Toby and I looked at one another with dismayed expressions. It was my father of all people who stood up and declared, “An excellent idea. I like it.” Mother joined him and soon everyone joined in acceptance of the idea once they realized why we were doing it.


With a mountain of questions, we headed for the Palmer House in downtown Chicago to meet with the Event Planner, Hilda Geffert.


“Harrison tells me you want to be married moments before midnight.”


I liked Hilda the moment I met her and felt sure she would be able to accommodate us. “Yes, but is that possible?”


“I believe it is … if we reverse the traditions a little.”


Toby asked, “How?”


“Have the reception dinner first … about 7 pm. Then dancing, and ending the year with the ceremony.”


Toby was concerned, “But time is so short?”


Hilda anticipated our concern and was ready. “You’ll have to forget about sending out invitations.” She saw the dismayed expressions on our faces and continued, “If you can give me a list of the folks you want to attend, my staff will do the telephoning immediately. Can you provide me with such a list?”


Mary Louise opened her bag and pulled out a folder. “Harrison said we might need this. It’s not complete but it will give you a start. I think we can have the rest by the end of the day.”


“That’s wonderful, Mary Louise. Excuse me a moment while I get this into the works.” She left the room while the rest of us posed other questions we needed her to answer.


Upon Hilda’s return, we spent the rest of the morning discussing other details including the musicians who were at loose ends because of the cancellation. We were to meet with them that evening to discuss their participation in the event. We wrapped up the meeting with Hilda by eleven and headed home for lunch.


By mid-afternoon, we began receiving calls from friends who had been contacted by the hotel staff, expressing their joy and excitement at the invitation. Our concerns that the fast-tracking of our wedding might not work, since folks probably had already made other plans for New Year’s Eve, were unnecessary. We were amazed that everyone thought it a grand idea. They were happy to cancel their own plans and accept ours.


Within forty-eight hours, Hilda called and reported that all but two people on our list had accepted the invitation. The guest list now included one hundred and forty-four of our friends.


Tux for the men became a problem because of the approaching holiday – none were available so they decided on a suit and tie with a red vest which we were able to find at a men’s boutique. We designed a boutonniere with long streamers they would wear to identify them as part of the wedding party.


Mother and I discussed a wedding dress until I decided against it. I wanted something I could wear again rather than packing it away. Mom, my three bridesmaids, Mary Louise, and I went to Macy’s. I let the girls select whatever they wanted while Mom and I looked at evening dresses for the two of us. When I selected a white silk gown that would be perfect for the event, Mother paused.


“What is it? Don’t you like this one? Mother?”


“It’s not that.”


“Well, what in the world is it? This is perfect.”


“Just an old-fashioned idea I suppose.”


I thought about it until I realized what she meant. I talked with the saleswoman who disappeared and returned with a beautiful silk gown in lavender.


“Mom?”


“Oh, Catherine. It’s perfect.”


And so the pieces of this very unlikely puzzle began to fall into place. Before I knew it, New Year’s Eve arrived.


Toby and I were placed at dinner tables as far away from each other as possible and were told that we could not dance with one another before the ceremony. I thought that silly so I got up and walked toward Toby’s table. I got halfway there before I was suddenly picked up by Harrison and carted back to my table. The guests thought it hilarious and applauded Harrison. When I saw Mary Louise dancing with Toby, I asked Monty for a dance. But that didn’t work either. They kept steering us away from each other on the dance floor.


At 11:30 the band stopped. The hotel staff had assembled chairs on the other end of the dance floor with an aisle leading to the stage. When the wedding march began, the three bride’s maids, followed by Mary Louise, then Dad and I moved up the aisle toward the stage where Toby, the boys and the Justice of the Peace were assembled


When the justice asked, “Who gives this woman to be wed,” Dad, who was near tears, said, “I do.” He moved quietly away and seated himself next to Mother.


After we recited our vows, Toby was the first to speak after the Justice posed the eternal question, and surprised us with, “You bet I do.”


And then it was my turn. Suddenly the last few weeks flashed through my mind and here I was standing with the man I had known all my life. I smiled and said, “I do.”


Rings were exchanged and the Justice announced that we were now man and wife just as the clock began to toll the midnight hour. The audience was silent until the last stroke sounded and then the applause and cheering erupted as they surged forward, surrounding us with best wishes as the New Year and our married life began.


The guests pulled back as the musicians struck up a waltz we had chosen, and Toby and I began to dance together as man and wife. For a moment everyone seemed to disappear as we moved to the lilting music.


At 12:30 a.m., Toby and I thanked everyone for attending and wished them a Happy New Year as everyone made their departure.


The following June, we found a young teenager who had to give up her child for adoption. She gave birth on May First to a beautiful girl we named Mary Ann, and thus began our family.


Biologically … our twin boys, Michael and Charles appeared two years later, followed a year later by a beautiful baby girl we named Lydia, thus completing our family.


How often I remember the day Bob dumped me and I thought it was the end of the world. Little did I suspect the Gods had something else in mind. They had just neglected to tell me about it.


Fini


The Last Christmas Tree

FADE IN: Christmas Tree Sales Yard - Afternoon


HARRY - What is it?


CINDY - It’s a Christmas tree.


HARRY - No, it’s not.


CINDY - Dad, this is your fault.


HARRY - It’s not my fault ... why is it my fault?


CINDY - Because you procrastinate.


HARRY - You’re not old enough to know what that word means.


CINDY - You don’t even know how old I am ... do you?


HARRY - Ah ... ten ... eleven?


CINDY - I’m fourteen and I know what procrastinate means.


HARRY - Are you suggesting...?


CINDY - No, I’m telling you. We would have had a better choice of trees if you hadn’t...


HARRY - ... procrastinated.


SALESMAN - Good evening, folks, this is the last one. Isn’t she a beauty?


HARRY - Are you kidding? You’re right about it being the last one. And I’m not wondering why.


SALESMAN - It’s a magic Christmas tree and will bring the owner much luck.


HARRY - Much luck, my Aunt Fanny. How much is it?


SALESMAN - Twenty...


HARRY - …DOLLARS? Have you been nipping at the eggnog?


SALESMAN - As a matter of...


HARRY - I’ll give you a dollar. No, on second thought, you give me a dollar and I’ll take this twig off of your hands.


SALESMAN - Fifty cents. I have a family to feed.


HARRY - A family of what?


SALESMAN - That isn’t funny, mister.


HARRY - Okay. Here’s your blood money.


SALESMAN - Thank you, kind sir. And blessings of the season on you and yours.


HARRY - Oh, please ... spare me. Cindy ... carry.


CINDY - Dad … it’s too heavy. I’m not that strong.


HARRY - You were strong enough to beat the crap out of Dale Clausing.


CINDY - I never...


HARRY - Cindy!


CINDY - Okay. But that was different.


HARRY - I see how you look at him. I’m not as inept as you think I am.


CINDY - Oh, Dad. What am I going to do?


HARRY - Try being nice to him for a change. Give him something for Christmas.


CINDY - That will probably freak him out.


HARRY - No, it won’t. Trust me. I can just imagine what your mother will say about this thing.


CINDY - She’ll love it.


CUT TO HARRY’S GARAGE


HARRY - Okay, here she comes.


MARGE - What the hell is that?


CINDY - (to Harry) I thought you said she’d love it?


(to Marge) Mother ... it will be beautiful.


MARGE - Harry, this is your fault.


HARRY - What did I do?


MARGE - (points to Cindy) Her ... that’s what you did. You can sleep in the guest room tonight. Come on, dinner is ready.


CINDY - She’s kidding ... right?


HARRY - No, she’s not kidding.


CINDY - She’s punishing you with no sex?


MARGE - I heard that. Mind you manners, young lady. Now, both of you … get in here before it gets cold. Where’s your brother?


CINDY - Hiding ... from you?


HARRY – Shhhh, don’t aggravate her. (to Marge) He’s upstairs, dear, studying like a good boy. (to Cindy) Go on, get him. Oh, here he comes. Dinner, Charlie.


CHARLIE - What’s all the yelling about?


CINDY - Because of that.


CHARLIE - What is it?


CINDY - A Christmas tree ... keep laughing and I’ll kick your butt.


HARRY - Be careful, Charlie. She can do it.


CINDY - Dad!


HARRY - Come on you two. The mistress of the house awaiteth us.


CHARLIE - Smells good.


HARRY - Be sure to tell her that. She’s in a mood.


CINDY - She cut Dad off again.


HARRY - Will you two stop? She’ll box both your ears if she hears you.


CINDY - Sorry.


CHARLIE - Mom, it smells de-lish.


MARGE - Thank you, Charles.


CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING


HARRY – Morning, Marge. I made coffee.


MARGE - (looks at Christmas tree) Morning, Harry. Where’d that angel come from?


HARRY - I was wondering the same thing. You didn’t…?


MARGE - No, I didn’t. Cindy maybe?


CINDY - I didn’t do it ... what didn’t I do?


HARRY - Morning, Cindy. The angel. Was that your idea?


CINDY - Oh, my God, no. She is so beautiful ... Mom?


MARGE - No. Do you think Charlie did it?


CINDY - Not very likely.


CHARLIE - Morning. What’s with the angel?


HARRY - Morning, Charlie. We’re all wondering the same thing.


CHARLIE - I know who did it.


MARGE - You do?


CHARLIE - Grandma Rose.


HARRY - You’re kidding?


CHARLIE - She’s been helping me with my homework.


MARGE - What? That’s impossible.


CHARLIE - No, it’s not. She’s always helped me.


HARRY - You’ve never mentioned that before.


CHARLIE - Didn’t think it was important.


MARGE - Your grandmother is dead and buried. Now, I want you to stop this nonsense.


Everyone looks at Charlie.


MARGE - (stares at tree) Harry?


HARRY - Yes, dear.


MARGE - (points at tree) That bell. Where did it come from? It wasn’t there last night.


HARRY - I have no idea.


MARGE - It looks like real gold.


HARRY - By golly, it sure does. And that angel is just the thing my mother would do for a funky old Christmas tree like this one.


MARGE - I agree.


CINDY - Maybe Santa Claus came early and placed it there.


MARGE - Harry?


HARRY - Yes, dear.


MARGE - I know you did it ... always with your tricks.


HARRY - But, I didn’t. I swear on your mother’s grave.


MARGE - That’s not funny.


CHARIE - I vote for Grandma doing it.


CINDY - I second that. Hey, if she’s actually responsible for the angel and the bell, I guess we can call it our Christmas miracle. Besides, the tree man said it was a magic tree.


HARRY - I don’t think he meant it.


MARGE - Okay, enough of this nonsense. Let’s have breakfast and then … to work on dressing the tree. (Marge moves toward the kitchen) Harry?


HARRY - I’ll be there in a minute, dear. (when everyone is gone) Thanks, Mom. And a Merry Christmas to you.


Harry turns to leave and stops in his tracks when he hears the bell ring. He smiles and continues into the kitchen.


CUT TO THE KITCHEN


MARGE - (holds up an open box)


Where’d this come from?


CINDY - (closes refrigerator) What is it?


MARGE - A fruitcake.


EVERYONE (shouts) GRANDMA!


Fini


The Christmas Card

As told by Peter Worthington


As a child, I remember the stacks of Christmas cards my mother would prepare each year. In those days it cost three cents to mail a sealed envelope. If you left it unsealed and tucked the flap inside, it was a penny. Postage has since gone up dramatically, and the number of cards sent and received has likewise dropped. So, you can imagine my surprise when this large envelope arrived in my mailbox.


I assumed it was a Christmas card, even though it was July, not only because of its size but also because of its Christmas red – color. Then I noticed what was pasted in the upper right-hand corner – a six-cent canceled stamp. The cancellation date read 1970. I wondered where in the world this envelope had been for the last forty-six years. There was no return address but the cancellation stamp contained the name of the city from which it was mailed – Chicago, Illinois. Apparently, it had slipped down behind something somewhere along the line on its way to San Francisco.


I was thirty-two years old at the time the envelope was mailed and had recently moved from Chicago to San Francisco. The lack of a return address on the envelope prompted several names of people I had known at that time but, unfortunately, I had lost contact with everyone over the years so my curiosity was piqued as to who this card might be from.


I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down at my desk to unveil the mystery. I pulled out a rosewood letter opener given to me as a gift some years ago and had never used it until this moment.


My suspicions of a Christmas card were confirmed as I opened the envelope and pulled out its contents. There was nothing written on the card bearing Holiday Greetings, but there was a folded piece of paper inside. As I opened it, I saw the name ‘Russ’ at the bottom of the page. Memories of my friend, Russell De Luca, flooded back instantly as well as my regret in not having kept in touch with him after I moved away.


The letter was brief but packed an unexpected wallop. I was stunned at what he had written.


I can’t remember where I met Russ, probably at a bar, but we ended up at my apartment, apparently for sex which I can’t remember either. The only thing I do remember is when he was about to leave, he hesitated. I said, “What?” He said nothing, just smiled. Then it dawned on me. I said, “Again?” He smiled and nodded. It was a long weekend; he didn’t leave until Monday morning.


We became good friends, but we never did the deed again though I often thought about it. I wish now I had suggested it, especially when I’d cut his hair. He was so close I could smell him and the temptation was so strong to put the scissors down and put my arms around him from behind and bury my face in his neck and bite his trapezius muscle in hopes of arousing him.


I tried to convince him to stop doing the comb-over he insisted upon. “You’re a very handsome man, Russ. Balding men are more virile in appearance.” He’d laugh and ignore my suggestion.


He was devastated when he contracted a venereal disease and came to me for help. He didn’t know who to go to. I gave him the name of my doctor, who happened to be gay, and then berated him, “If you’re that horny, you dumb bastard, why the fuck didn’t you call me? I happen to know what you like in case you’ve forgotten.” I hugged him so tight he gasped, then sent him off to the doctor. As he departed, he turned to me, “You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?”


It broke my heart he even had that thought but I assured him I would never mention to anyone and, indeed, I never have. Our friendship grew and continued but he never asked for intimacy.


He was a beautiful Italian lad; I believe he would be called a stud muffin nowadays. I swore there wasn’t an ounce of fat on his frame – well, maybe an ounce or two. We’d spend summer weekends at ‘the Rocks’ as they were called – a gay gathering place on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was the man-made barrier against storm tides.


Lying next to him I often would run my fingers along his naked body and tease him to tell me what he would like to have done to him. He’d laugh when I suggested tying him up and playing with him, but I think he liked the idea. He’d turn over when he got an erection and looked away from me. Russ was the consummate gentleman and very shy – two of the attributes that endeared him to me.


The letter he wrote was the most beautiful declaration of love I could have imagined, along with an apology for not having said so sooner. I sat there slack-jawed in disbelief. His final sentence was, ‘Call me and let me know what you think.’ I never called because I never got the card until now. I’m certain he was heartbroken and thought I didn’t care. But I did care and still do care in spite of the years gone by.


I dug out my old address book and wondered if he still lived on West Wellington. I dialed the number written next to his name.


“Hello.”


“I’m calling for Russell De Luca. Is he there?”


“No, I’m sorry. There’s no one here by that name.”


“Sorry to disturb; thank you.” Now, what do I do? I searched the Internet for every possibility with no luck. He was probably retired from his job at the Merchandise Mart and could be living almost anywhere – that is if he hadn’t passed away. I penned a note explaining the late arrival of his Christmas card and wrote what I would have done and said if I had received his card forty-six years earlier. I included my e-mail address just in case.


I had to go to the Post Office and buy a bloody stamp. I never use them what with the convenience of the Internet. I took a last look at the envelope as melancholy flooded my consciousness, then dropped it in the mailbox with no hope of a response.


I forgot about the incident until one Saturday afternoon a month or two later when my doorbell rang. I was expecting my friend, Marge Claybourne, for lunch and an afternoon in Golden Gate Park. I buzzed her in, left the door ajar, and went back to the kitchen to finish preparing lunch. When a soft knock on the front door came from the foyer, I hollered, “Come on in,” and continued what I was doing until I saw a shadow come into the kitchen doorway and stop. I looked up into the smiling face of my friend. “Marge? You look like you just won the prize turkey.”


She smiled, then quietly whispered, “There’s someone here to see you.”


“What are you talking about? Who's here to…?”


She stepped back and looked to her left as an elderly man moved into the doorway, “Hello, Peter.”


“Oh, my God. Russ.” I dropped my towel and grabbed him, embracing him so hard he gasped. I looked at Marge, “Where did you find him?”


“He was standing at the entrance. I came up behind him as he pressed your doorbell. He told me everything on the way up. Perhaps I should come back another time.”


“No, you won’t. Get in here.”


Russell was alive and well and had just arrived from Chicago after receiving my card which had been forwarded twice to his latest residence. His hair was gray, and he had gotten rid of the comb-over which left him looking as handsome as ever. I didn’t hesitate in telling him so.


After lunch, the three of us went to the Park and spent a delightful visit catching up while exploring some of the attractions the park had to offer.


As afternoon shadows lengthened, we went to the Embarcadero and had dinner at Boudin’s Bistro. Russ had never tasted Boudin’s sourdough bread. It was a delight to watch his reaction. After our meal, Marge announced it was time for her to go home. So, we walked her to the cable car turn-around at Aquatic Park and waited until a cable car arrived. The three of us helped the conductor, along with other waiting riders, turn the car around for the return trip. After helping Marge on board, we waved our farewells as the car moved away and out of our sight.


It was still twilight as Russ and I walked along the Bayfront, reminiscing about Chicago and the times we spent together. I finally got around to asking him where he was staying. He said, “The Fairmont.”


I said, “No, you’re not. You can stay with me, I have plenty of room.”


He smiled that all too familiar smile of his, “No, I don’t want to impose on you. Why don’t you stay with me tonight?”


I hadn’t thought of that possibility and just stared at him.


“Not a good idea?” His smile faded.


“No, no. It’s a wonderful idea.” I took his arm, “But I never do anything on my first date.”


He laughed, “We’ve already had our first date, remember?”


“So we did.” I laughed and drew him closer to my side.


He knowingly added, “I’m not in my 30’s any longer, Pete.”


“Neither am I, my friend. It doesn’t matter. You’re here, and that does matter.”


Then I cautiously asked, “Has there been anyone for you since I moved?”


He was eager to answer, “Yes, there was. I met him about ten years after you left. We had just celebrated our 30th when he passed.”


“Russ, I’m so sorry. But I am happy you had that much time together.”


“How about you?”


“No, sorry to say. Too busy…”


“…with your career?”


“Yes, too busy.”


Russ was still the consummate gentleman. His shyness clung to him like a mantle of goodness. He paused and then struggled, “How about now. Did you mean what you wrote?”


“Yes, I did.” I looked at him questioningly.


“Well, I’m at loose ends now. If I considered relocating…”


“…here?”


He smiled and nodded.


“I think that is a wonderful idea. You can stay with me until we figure things out.”


“And if it doesn’t work out…”


“Don’t even think it, Russ. It will work. I promise. I’ll certainly do my best to make it work.”


“As will I. I hate to admit it, but I’ve always been afraid of growing old alone.”


I agreed with him and told him to forget it. “Contentment and love will be ours if we grab it and make it ours.” We continued walking until an idea struck me. “Let’s go to Boudin’s Bar and have a drink to celebrate.”


Russ laughed and agreed with me. So, we turned around and walked back to the bar for our celebration. I’ve often wondered if the Gods unveiled that lost Christmas card at that particular moment thereby assisting in bringing us together at long last. Maybe it was Kismet or maybe nothing more than chance. I refuse to believe it was just chance.


Fini


Sleigh Bells

As told by Frederick Thornton


I was on my way to the train station and home to Arlington Heights when I noticed The Olde Book Shoppe up ahead on Jackson Boulevard. I’d walked this way many times on my visits to Chicago’s Loop, but for the life of me, I could not remember ever having seen this bookstore before.


I saw the “Christmas Sale” sign in the display window, so I stopped and smiled when I saw a dog-eared copy of The Poky Little Puppy on display along with other familiar children’s books of a bygone day, many of which I had in my collection when I was a kid. Then I noticed a beautiful Tiffany style shade hanging over a round table inside the shop, illuminating an assortment of books displayed on the table.


It was cold and windy standing outside looking in on this warm cozy scene, so I looked at my watch and decided to go in until it was time to leave for my train.


I did not want to miss this train as I was meeting my parents and we were going out to the farm to see Grandma Thornton. She had been ailing and we wanted to make sure she had a great Christmas. Her doctors didn’t think she would last long so we planned on celebrating early. My Aunt Rita had moved in and was caring for her.


A tiny bell jingled as I opened and closed the shop door, and then I saw him … an elderly man behind a counter arranging more books. “Ah, good afternoon to you, young man.”


“Hi.” I smiled at this old fellow and felt as if I knew him, he seemed so familiar.


“You look chilled to the bone. Help yourself to a cup of tea over on that table. A nice hot cup will warm your fingers.”


I was taken in by his friendly demeanor, “Thank you. I think I will.”


“Are you looking for anything in particular?”


“Oh, no. I was on my way to the train station. Thought I’d browse a little if that’s all right.”


“Browsing is good. I’m sure you’ll find a treasure hidden away amongst all these books. And there’s a loft filled with even more books.” He pointed upward.


For some reason, I felt I had already found a treasure in this time-worn man. His unkempt white hair which needed a good brushing, the wrinkled white shirt under a leather apron bespoke of another time, another place. But it was his crystal blue eyes, peering at me over those gold-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose that caught me. He seemed to radiate a love for life I seldom sensed in others except for my Grandpa.


“My name is Morris. I’ll be in the back if you require assistance. Please, make yourself at home.”


“Thank you, Morris.” I poured a cup of tea and sat at the round table in the center of the room, warming my chilled fingers on the steaming cup.


As I enjoyed the comfort of the moment, I thought I heard sleigh bells. It was muffled but there was no question what it was. As a child, I spent long winter weekends on my grandparent’s farm in central Illinois, and had ridden in their horse-drawn sleigh many times. Grandpa always had old Bess decorated with many sleigh bells which added to the joy of the journey.


The cheerful sound of the bells continued but I could not figure out where it was coming from. Was it one of the books on the table? That seemed unlikely. But still … there was no other place this sound could be coming from. I moved some of the smaller books out of the way until I came to a large leather-bound volume with pages edged in gold leaf. The title, The Magic of Fairy Tales, brought back more childhood memories.


I pulled the book forward and noticed a pair of white cotton gloves wedged under the cover. I pulled them out and put them on. This was obviously an old and valuable book. I placed the book on its spine and let it open to a page of its own choosing. The sound of the sleigh bells was less muffled now but it was definitely coming from this book.


The story on the left-hand page was of Jack and the Beanstalk, and a beautiful rendering of Jack, himself, climbing the beanstalk on the right-hand page. For an instant, I thought I saw Jack’s eyes blink but dismissed the idea as ridiculous as I turned the page.


Cinderella was next with a beautiful illustration. I thought I saw tiny birds flitting on the edge of the page as I turned it. Next came Sleeping Beauty, and then Little Red Riding Hood. But when I turned that page over, something different was going on. The sound of the sleigh bells was very clear as if they were right next to me. The illustration was kind of a blur, but on closer inspection, it appeared to be an illustration of falling snow.


Then I saw the title on the left-hand page and gasped. It read GRANDPA THORNTON. Before I could begin reading the text beneath the title, the illustration began to take on movement. I was startled at first, but the snow was falling so gently, it quieted my anxiety.


Somewhere in the shop, a clock began to slowly chime the hour. I had plenty of time to finish my adventure with this book. As I continued to watch the snowfall, the illustration took on all the qualities of a motion picture and the bells sounded as if they were coming closer. I drew back slightly when a beautiful prancing horse, drawing an old sleigh, came into view.


I could not believe my eyes. It looked just like Grandpa’s sleigh. I looked closely at the driver and, without thinking, yelled, “GRANDPA!”


The driver pulled on the reins, “Whoa, Bess whoa, old girl.” The driver turned and looked directly at me, “Hey. Is that you, Little Haystack?”



Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-46 show above.)