This story is a sequel for one of the characters in the story I released last year.
Feel free to read that story by clicking here.
William Howard sits in his lush office working on his computer the night before Christmas Eve. He’s finishing his end-of-year paperwork before calling it a night. As he types up a report, his cell phone buzzes at the end of his desk. He picks it up to read a message from his son, who is away in the military, ‘Couldn’t get the time off to come home for Christmas. Sorry love you.’ He sits back in his chair as his heart sinks. This makes the second holiday season in a row that he will be without his family. He has seen his son, Little William, only a couple of times this year since he has deployed to hostile locations.
He looks over to a picture on his desk of his family and focuses on his wife. She had gotten tired of never getting to see her husband due to his extensive work schedule, and that he only had a negative attitude when she did get to see him. So she has stayed with her parents while the two have been separated for the past few months. What had he done to deserve this? How had he become so miserable? The thoughts make him unable to finish his work, so he powers down his computer and throws on his coat. Looks like I’ll be working on Christmas Eve again this year. He thinks. He pats his coat pockets as he begins to look around his office for his keys. I thought I put them in my coat when I got here. The recent realization of another lonely Christmas prolongs the search by making it hard for him to focus. Finally he opens a drawer on his desk to find his keys sitting inside. He picks them up to reveal a Christmas card underneath that causes him to pause. It is the one he received last year from the girl who bought his dinner in the drive-through. As he takes a second to pick it up, all of those feelings that made his lonely Christmas last year so joyous come rushing back.
The card has a night scene, a bright star, and a manger and it reads, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. When he was younger, he went to church every Sunday with his parents and learned about what Christians believed, but that knowledge had become unimportant during his college years, so he eventually stopped going. Before he can think about what he is doing, he closes his eyes and lowers his head. God, if you are real and you really love me, don’t let me be lonely this Christmas. I just need one more chance to make things right. I just want to be a family again. He quickly opens his eyes and feels childish for praying. With a shake of his head, he throws the card in the drawer before shutting it, locking the office up, and getting in his black luxury car to head home.
On the drive home, though he feels dumb, he can’t help but feel more open and refreshed somehow. Whatever, he thinks as he turns up his radio to help cover the thoughts. When he does though, the same joyful Christmas song that was playing on his drive home last year is playing again. As all of the same thoughts and feelings from last year come rushing back again, he can’t help but wonder why he isn’t filled with joy. He remembers getting the card and how happy it made him. He remembers the delight he felt when he passed that generosity along. All he can seem to think about is how alone he felt Christmas day and that he would be alone again this Christmas. Infuriated he thinks, I’m going to need a drink.
His tires screech as he jerks the car into a supermarket parking lot. Patrons of the store watch as he barrels through the lot into a spot near the door. He slams the car door before pushing the lock button on his key fob as he walks through the automatic doors to the store.
“Happy holidays.” The store greeter exclaims. William glares at him and grunts as he walks hastily by toward the liquor section. The store seems to stretch out in front of him as he makes his way to the back.
Has it always taken this long to get back here? I just want to get home and have a drink, sheesh. When he gets into the aisle, he walks directly to the scotch section and grabs the first bottle he sees with three digits behind the dollar sign before heading back toward the registers. As he rounds the corner to the front of the store, he sees three people in the only-open checkout line. One register? Are you kidding me? Just as he finishes his thought though, another clerk comes out from the back and opens another line. He hustles into the line before anyone notices that it is open and slings his bottle up on the counter. The clerk scans the bottle, looks up at William, and lights up when he recognizes him.
“Hi, sir! How are you doing this evening?” The clerk asks. William churns inside at the thought of conversing with someone, but when their eyes meet, he remembers the clerk. The businessman looks around and realizes for the first time that he is in the same supermarket he was in a year ago when he taped that card with $100 to the end of the checkout. He suppresses any feelings before they have the chance to arise though and looks back at his wallet.
“Fine.” He responds as he shuffles through his cash to find a couple of the $100 bills he remembered putting in there this morning.
“Someone got your gift last year.” William is shocked when he realizes the boy remembers him but he hides the emotion with his unchanged expression.
“Did they? That’s good.”
“Do you want to know what happened?” The clerk asks, unable to hide his excitement.
“That’s not necessary. My total please.” The worker is taken back that William didn’t want to know how much it meant to the man that received his gift. He follows the customer’s instructions though and scans the scotch.
“$124.53” He says disheartened. William hands him two $100 bills without changing expression. He begins to wonder what happened with his gift though. It had to be a good story if the clerk was so excited to tell it. As the clerk finishes counting his change, William’s curiosity gets the best of him.
“Were they, ahem, happy with the gift?” The customer’s question causes the clerk’s excitement to instantly return.
“Happy? He about passed out! He walked up here with almost nothing to eat and when he opened your card, he ran back into the store and spent it all on Christmas presents and dinner for his family!” William’s change crinkles in the cashier’s hand as he points at his customer. “You made that man’s, no, his family’s Christmas like a thousand times better!” Suddenly memories from last Christmas come flooding back to him again. This time though he doesn’t remember the solitude, but happiness instead. He begins to remember what made last Christmas so joyous to him when he could have felt so sad and alone. William’s face begins to visibly show the happiness saturating him on the inside as it begins to light up with a smile. He clutches the clerk’s hand with both of his hands.
“Thank you.” He says as he accepts his change before heading back into the store. His shoes make a short sliding sound as he comes to a stop in the card aisle. He rifles through the Christmas section looking for the perfect one. He pulls one out, Too sad. He thinks as he puts it back in place before pulling out another. Not specific enough. He spends another few minutes looking before he finally stops on one. This is it, he thinks, this is the one. The card has a beautiful scene with people around a baby in a manger. It reads ‘For unto us a child is born , unto us a son is given : and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor ,The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.’ He starts to make his way back to the checkout, but something makes him stop to think. Why stop at one? I can make more than one person happy. He looks in his wallet to find five $100 bills. Before another thought can cross his mind, he grabs up four more cards with envelopes and hurries back up to the checkout.
The supermarket employee is eagerly waiting when William gets back up to his counter with the gifts. They are too excited for words as the cards get rung up and paid for. William puts one with a $100 bill in the envelope, pulls a $20 bill from his wallet, and hands them to the clerk. “Give this to someone who has little to make their Christmas merry and you keep the twenty.” The store employee smiles uncontrollably back at the generous man across the counter.
“Bless you sir, and merry Christmas!” He says as the businessman makes his way back to the exit.
“Merry Christmas!” William shouts back. The clerk looks down to notice the liquor bottle that is still on his counter.
“Sir, your scotch!”
“Put it back on the shelf, I won’t be needing it anymore!” The yell carries from the front of the store. He gets out of the door before stopping suddenly. With a quick turn he is back in the door and approaching the greeter. He shakes the man’s hand and says, “Merry Christmas, sir.” The greeter looks stunned as he mutters back,
“M, merry Christmas.” William smiles wider and heads back into the parking lot. He jumps into his car and heads to the next store. The radio blares as he sings a merry tune along with it and delivers the next four cards to stores in the same fashion as he did the first. Each clerk is handed an extra $20 for their trouble.
At the end of the night he pulls into his driveway and sits in his car for a moment after turning it off. He finally comes to the realization that though he won’t be spending Christmas with his family this year, he will be able to be happy nonetheless. The snow crunches as he steps out of his car and makes his way into the house to call it a night.
The next workday drags by while he finishes his end-of-year paperwork as the only person in the building. The happy Christmas tunes on his laptop, fortunately, help to fill the empty feeling of the office while he works though. He smiles as he locks up the office to head home after finishing his last report. The whirling thoughts in his head of yesterday’s events make the drive home feel unusually short. Exhausted from the long day at work and roller coaster of emotions over the last 42 hours, he unlocks his door, steps inside, and closes the door behind him. The click of the light echoes in his quiet, large house as the foyer chandelier comes to life with luminescence.
“Surprise!” The shout startles the near-delirious businessman causing him to stumble back against the door. “Working on Christmas Eve eh, pops? I’m not surprised.” William looks on in disbelief as he sees his son standing in his foyer wearing his military uniform and smiling back. He musters the thought to speak as he looks at Little William,
“Y, you said,”
“Yeah, I know. By some miracle one of the other men in my squad that got the time off gave that time up. I was the next soldier on the list, so here I am!” The father’s body tingles as he hugs his soldier and fights back tears.
Miracle. He thinks as he recalls his little prayer in his office. Indeed. William stands back and puts his hands on Little William’s shoulders. He looks his son in the eyes for a moment before saying, “Welcome home, my boy.”
“Thanks, dad.” The happy dad puts his arm around Little William as they start to head into the living room.
“Have you made arrangements with your mother to see her while you are in? I know she will want you to stop by so she can see you.”
“Well, I did and I am going to see her. But she had a different idea in mind.” The two round the corner as Little William finishes his sentence to see another surprise standing in the living room. William can’t believe his eyes.
“Patricia?” His wife stands in the middle of the room wearing the red turtleneck sweater that William had told her he loved so much. She tucks her hair behind her ear and looks up at him. The warm light of the room makes her glow like an angel in William’s eyes.
“William.” A few moments of deafening silence pass as they both try to find words. A tear leaves a streak as it runs down the man’s cheek. His voice quivers as one word escapes his lips,
“Well, we have had our hard times. We have both said things we didn’t mean.” She pauses and holds her finger above her lip as she tries to keep from crying. “I signed the papers, I put them in an envelope.” She wipes her eyes to stop the watering. “But then I saw you. I was buying Christmas cards when I saw you put money in the card envelope and hand it to the cashier. When I heard you tell him to give it to someone in need, I thought my God. He has changed. Then I thought if I could have my old William back for Christmas, I would be the happiest woman on earth.”
The statement is all that William needs to hear to make him rush over and embrace the love of his life so he can whisper in her ear. “You’ve got him.” As the two weep together, their son comes and wraps his arms around them. With joy and love in his heart, William thinks, thank you, Lord. Thank you.
May you enjoy this holiday season, spend time with the ones you love, and spread holiday cheer