Author Topic: Once Upon a Christmas - Part One word count 1,700  (Read 861 times)

Offline hedinsen

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Once Upon a Christmas - Part One word count 1,700
« on: November 24, 2011, 07:46:12 PM »
            Once Upon a Christmas
                  By: H.E. Dinsen

   A pleasant yarn about two people who meet and learn the meaning of the holidays and each has to give the other in return.               
I.

Thanksgiving Day was not even a couple hours old the first Christmas songs of the season were being played on the local radio stations.  “My God!”  Raymond stormed wheeling his desk chair back to the stereo which set close by to turn the receiver off.  “It’s supposed to be Thanksgiving Day and these nimrods are playing Christmas music now? Hell it’s not even nine o’clock in the morning!”  

Silence enveloped the room with the snap of the power switch as Raymond Butler pushed his glasses up from steel gray eyes to stare at the monitor of his computer.  The computer program he had been working on faded from his thoughts.  The holidays, the so-called holidays never impressed him; rather November and December were two months that he could have cared less about.  After all, Raymond had seen parts of the world during his career in the Air Force that few tourists up to that time had ever seen, or would ever hope to see in a lifetime. Christmas was as foreign to those people as a nice house in the Broadmoor area to some of his neighbors. But the hurt of Christmases past went much deeper than he was willing to admit to himself even now.    

   “Someday, Marie… But the hurt of your loss is still there…”

Setting the glasses back over his eyes, Raymond stared out the window at his side past the curtains to the street.  Raymond watched a car full of people stop at the house across the street.  Two people, a lady of middle age got out and the driver who opened the trunk; the woman took out a large wicker basket encased in plastic wrap with a large red and gold bow.  The woman finely dressed with coffered hair carried the large basket, what he could see was filled with at least an eleven-pound turkey, canned goods, and other things to the door.  She reached out with a hand covered by a brown glove to touch the door bell.  Shortly the door opened and the face of a young woman, two little children peered out past her at the smiling lady with the basket of food.  The young woman put her hands to her face and began to cry as she gratefully accepted the basket.

Raymond snorted in disgust running a heavy hand through salt and peppered hair, turning back to his work, he muttered:  “That’s right, Liz, they drop off that stuff today, they go back to their fine homes and sumptuous dinners in a few minutes and forget you even exist.  They now have sated their souls to God and all, and they just did their good deed for the year.  And on Monday you’ll be little more than a number on their tote board.   Damned hypocrites!”

II.


November gave way to the first week of December and three weeks before Christmas.  The young woman, Elizabeth Wheeler a single widowed mother with two children sat in her old Toyota Celica tears trickling down her face as she tried to get the car to start.  Her two children, Michael and Tina sat in the back seat shivering in the cold.

“It don’t start,” said Michael in a near whisper to his sister’s puzzled look.

“I’m cold,” Tina stammered shivering as she hugged up to her older brother.

“I’m trying – really I am,” Liz cried as the engine finally failed, the battery drained from her efforts to start the car.  “Oh – why?”

Raymond stepped out of his house that Wednesday morning, his breath wafted about his haggard features.  Walking down the sidewalk to his big black Chevrolet four-wheel drive pickup parked on the street, he stopped short.  Raymond knew that Liz usually left to drop the children at school even before he left for work.  Today she was late leaving.  He looked at Liz’s car a moment.  He saw through the frost on the windows Liz sitting in the car, her head resting on the steering wheel.  It appeared as if the boy were leaning over the seat to try and rouse his mother.

“Now what?”  He muttered, stopping long enough to toss his attaché case in to the truck. He rushed across the street.  He was aware Liz had certain health problems but he avoided becoming involved in the business of his neighbors preferring to keep to himself at times.  Rapping on the window he startled the boy and Liz.  “Liz…!”

   Ray jerked the door open; the door creaked from the bad hinges and dents from a past accident.

   Liz looked up startled at Raymond through tearful eyes.  “Oh, Mr. Butler…”

   “You, okay, Liz?” he asked, shifting a quick glance back to Michael.

   Wiping at the tears, she nodded her head.  “Yes…”

   “It won’t start, Mr. Butler,” said Michael sitting back, his breath wreathed about his face.

Ray reserved his thoughts, then asked:  “Where ya going, Liz?”

Sniffing back on her sinuses, she replied:  “Work.  I - I can’t afford any more time off now.”

Ray looked back at the two kids.  “And school for you two.  Right?”

Michael muttered.  “Yeah – yes, sir.”

“Come on I got nuttin’ but time today, I’ll drive ya there.”  Ray stepped back to
help Liz out of the car and the kids out.   Within a few minutes he had deposited Michael and Tina at the school.  

Occasionally, during the drive Ray would glance across at Liz; only a few words passed between them during the drive to where she worked as a custodian at a large avionics company. Elizabeth was bundled up in an old heavy wool coat, her long tawny hair spilled out from under a wool-stocking hat. He saw a beauty in the comely young woman he had never noticed before.  Something stirred in him as he stared ahead at the traffic; Elizabeth too was lost in her own misery over the failings of her life.  Ray pulled in to the crowded parking lot of the facility arriving at the front entrance just in time for her to clock in.

Elizabeth finally stirred.  Opening her purse, she took out a five-dollar bill.  
“Here, Mr. Butler… Thank you for the ride.”

Ray glanced down at her hands red from the cold, despite the warmth of the truck
cab.  Shaking his head, he placed a hand on hers.  “No, Liz.  That’s what neighbors are for.  And besides – Continental is just two streets over.  Need a ride home this evening?”

Elizabeth reluctantly nodded her head.

Thursday and Friday Ray gave Elizabeth a ride to work to assure she arrived on time.  

Saturday morning Ray and another neighbor pushed Liz’s Toyota in to Ray’s garage where they set to work pulling the starter, the battery, which was already no good, fuel pump and filter changing everything they could think of that may be bad.

Liz sat on a shop stool at the bench watching as the men stripped the engine and replaced parts they had obtained at cost from used parts dealers.  Michael was having himself a good time passing Raymond and the other man tools, the parts, and watching as they changed out the parts.  Tina sat in the warm kitchen happily drawing on a pile of scrap paper Ray gave her to use.

“Thanks, guys…” Elizabeth said grateful for what they were doing.  “I – I’ll repay you for the parts…”

“Forget it, Liz,” said the other neighbor with a wave of the hand as he finished tightening down the battery clamps.  “Got it, Ray?”

“Fire it up, Frank…” Ray slid out from under the car as Frank reached in to turn the ignition.  The engine started on the first turn of the key.  “There ya go, Liz.”

That evening Elizabeth sat in the kitchen staring at her calloused hands, avoiding looking at the calendar and the twenty-fifth circled in red by one of the children.  They had not even gotten a Christmas tree again this year, too expensive and the money had to go for the co-pay on her medication.  She had applied to the Toys for Totes program for Michael and Tina, but still, it was not the same as though she were the one getting the gifts for them.  

Lifting her sorrowful gaze to the wall opposite her, she said in a soft pleading tone:  “Why, Jeff.  Why…?  What am I supposed to do…?”

It had been two years ago now she had lost her husband.  No insurance, he couldn’t afford it.  After rent and utilities were paid he was lucky to have insurance for the car.  After that as usual bills, some groceries and that was it; but Christmas they managed some how to get enough for a few gifts for the children.

Standing she walked from to the living room that was meagerly furnished, the
chairs and a sofa were obtained from Goodwill and Salvation Army stores in town.  Standing at the front room window, Elizabeth looked out at the lights that gaily decorated her neighbors’ houses, the colored lights reflecting from the recent snow that covered the yards and along the street.

“We always said we’d decorate the house like that someday – didn’t we, Jeff?”

However, the house of Ray Butler caught her attention.  The past several days she noticed once more, he had not decorated for the holiday season.  Then, again she knew he was single, a widower, according to another neighbor Ray Butler lost his wife several years before.  “The neighborhood Scrooge,” the woman told her.

Liz mused:  “I know he must be lonely.  I know I am at times…”

A small voice brought her back to the present.  “You okay, Mommy?”  

Liz looked at Tina standing in the door hugging her teddy bear.  Liz didn’t realize she had been crying and that it woke her daughter.  Liz nodded her head as she wiped at her eyes with a wad of tissue.  “Yes.”  She knelt holding her arms out to the little girl.  Tina ran to her mother, Liz hugged her daughter as she tried to stop crying.  “We’ll make it, baby, we’ll make it – somehow.”

End Part One
« Last Edit: November 24, 2011, 10:59:06 PM by Alice, a Country Gal »

Offline hedinsen

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Once Upon a Christmas - Part Two Word Count 2,075
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2011, 07:52:38 PM »
   A yarn about a man who finds out by circumstances that the holidays are more than just decorations and gifts under the tree.

    Part Two of: Once Upon A Christmas
                                                      
                                                 III.

Meanwhile, across the street:

Something, a thought, a memory pulled at Ray as he stood at the window of his study staring at the houses up and down the street that were already decorated with Christmas lights, front yard figures of Santa, snowmen, reindeer, and a couple yards with the manger scenes.  

“Glad they can afford the utility bill,” he muttered sipping at the mug of hot herbal tea he referred to as his witch’s brew.

His gaze dropped to the street, light reflected off the white that covered the road surface.  “Wonderful.  Sometimes makes me wonder why I never grabbed the opportunity to move to Houston, Texas – I can deal with a hurricane or two. …”

Ray never was one to care much for winter weather.  Checking the time, he decided he’d done enough work on the project for work he could shut down for the evening.  Reaching back to the computer keyboard he logged off the program and walked back to the kitchen.  

However, the next day Monday, his day off did little to make him happy about anything:

“Dreamin’ of a White Christmas… Makes ya want to throw up!”  Raymond grumbled as he shoveled several inches of fresh fallen snow from his sidewalk that fell Sunday night, throwing the snow as far as he could almost wishing it to disappear.  “Idiot who wrote that piece of crap musta lived in California or Arizona.  A white Christmas…”

“Hello, Mr. Butler.”  The voice of the little girl startled him.  Raymond’s face turned a deeper red wondering if Tina Wheeler bundled in a second-hand heavy child’s ski parka, a wool ski cap, mismatched gloves, and no boots just a pair of children’s running shoes.  Ray wondered if she had overheard him swearing about the snow and Christmas.  

“Um, oh, hello, Tina.”  Ray stopped and rested on the handle of the shovel.  “So, enjoying an extended weekend off from school?”

The snow had caused the school district to close the schools for the day giving the children an extended weekend.

“Yes.  Michael thinks it’s just great,” she said shuffling her feet in the snow that Raymond had not shoveled off the walkway yet.  “At least at school it is warm and dry…”

Raymond started back to his work then stopped.  He looked from the little girl to the house across the street as if seeing it for the first time.  Tina lifted her dark brown eyes to regard Raymond a moment. He asked:  “Um, excuse me for asking, Tina.  But is something wrong with the house heater?”  

Tina shook her head.  “Mommy keeps the heat down to keep the cost down, she says.”

“Oh.”  The situation gave Raymond pause to think about their circumstances.  What the little girl briefly related bothered him.
Ray returned to shoveling the walk.  He paused to look back to watch as Tina walked to the next house up the block to her friend.  Up until then, Ray ignored the houses with the outdoor lighting, the plastic snowmen, Santa Claus, most buried under several inches of the new snow, wreaths that decorated doors and lampposts.  Outdoor decorations in his mind was little better than a waste of time and money – and the energy to light it all.  Looking back at the Wheeler house, he noticed it was barren of any kind of decorations, never mind the fact his own house, out of choice was just as barren.  But, he reasoned children needed that reassurance that a house decorated for the holidays was a promise of better things to come.

As he finished shoveling the sidewalk he looked around at the other houses a moment then noticed Liz’s walkway had not been shoveled.  Crossing the street he began to shovel the walk to the door and the short piece of sidewalk from driveway to driveway.

“Don’t know how she does it,” he muttered.  “Girl needs a man in her life…”

IV.

Tuesday morning Raymond managed to find a place to park his truck in the company parking lot even though the snow plowing company had plowed the parking lot, he still had a hard time finding some place to park.  “If it weren’t for hurricanes, I’d move to Houston, Texas next week…” Gathering up his attaché case and a folder Ray crossed the parking lot to the main entrance of Continental Tech-Ware where he was a software engineer.  Entering through the security checkpoint, he stopped at the reception desk where the receptionist, humming a merry Christmas tune finished festooning her workstation with decorations. Ray looked over the shiny ornaments with obvious dislike.  She stopped as she met Ray’s look of disgust.   He said in a droll tone:

   “Yer, kidding, Bonnie?”

   The receptionist met his annoyed expression with unveiled displeasure.  “Oh, hi Ray.  What’s it this year?  Scrooge, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, or the Evil Snowman?”

Ray returned the other’s frown with a frustrated look.  Shaking his head he merely said under his breath:  “Why bother?  Don’t do no good around here – the feelie fuzzy crowd… What a waste of time.”  

 “Yup, it’s Scrooge again this year.”  Bonnie sniffed as she continued humming the tune and securing a string of colored twinkle-lights to the counter.  “He ain’t spoilin’ my Christmas…”

In the evenings, especially late December Raymond hated the drive home across the city.  The residential areas were alight with the colored lights of Christmas.  At the shopping centers commercial businesses were decorated with lights and ornaments, everything seemed to shout “Christmas” to Ray as he attempted to ignore the flashing lights, tinsel, and colorful banners.

The sun setting by late afternoon cast a cool orange and blue glow against scudding clouds laden with moisture carrying hint of more snow.  The low clouds reflected the false ruddiness of pre-twilight shedding a lonely after-glow over the city.  It was that orange glow just before darkness that Ray disliked the most – it seemed to deepen the loneliness of his life this time of year.

It was nearly dark by the time Ray reached the south end of town and his street.  
Parking the truck in the driveway, he got out and started his routine.  Check the mailbox:  Bills, junk mail, mailbox stuffers and reminders of the season and ‘twas the night before Christmas advertisements.  Everything but two bills went in the garbage can beside the garage as he entered through the side door.  Taking his boots off in the garage, he entered through the kitchen, stopping long enough to set up the teapot for a mug of herbal tea. Shedding his heavy leather Air Force officer’s flight jacket, he went to his study in the front room of the house.

Standing beside the window, Ray watched as the streetlights turned on shedding a
watery yellow glow over the snow packed street.  Christmas lights in windows and the yards were turned on outlining displays in blues, reds, green and yellow, and some in clear white.  Soon the tea water and tea was ready for him to relax before deciding on something to eat as he continued his work at home. Raymond sipped at the mug of hot herbal tea as he stared out the window of his study at the neighborhood.  Shifting his gaze from one house within his range of view to the next, he compared it to the next and finally to Liz Wheeler’s house that appeared stark and foreboding against the others on the block.

“Two more weeks to the big C-Day,” he called Christmas.  “Wonder what she’s doing for the kids?  If she can hardly afford to heat the house, probably nothing.”

However, the image of Elizabeth seemed to hang before him as he wondered what she was doing that evening. Probably helping the children with their homework, he mused.  More than likely wondering what she was going to do as another Christmas loomed upon them and once more, another Christmas barren of the joys that other families enjoyed this time of the year.

Sitting at his workstation glasses propped on his forehead, Raymond leaned on his elbows on the edge of the desk pondering the situation with Elizabeth and her children.  As he thought about her, he had to ask himself: what was in it for him?  The only reason he and Frank next door fixed her car was she didn’t have the money for a mechanic – not at $50.00 an hour and it took the two of them nearly two and a half hours to fix it, never mind chasing after the starter and other parts which were needed. Yet, something else continued to trouble him:  Elizabeth.

“Nah,” he muttered.  “She’s at least in her mid twenty-something. I’m just – what forty-something?  She’d want a man her own age…”

Raymond struggled to put the thought of Elizabeth out of his mind as he took out an engineer’s note pad to look over the notes and specks from the day’s meeting with the client and consultant.

V.

The following evening Ray stood at the window in his living room gazing across the street again, again comparing the houses of the neighborhood to Elizabeth’s, especially the houses where he knew there were children the same age as the Wheeler children.

“Nothing I suppose.  But the kids – Helluva life they have now.  Frank said she
lost her husband a couple years back and still hasn’t gotten over it.  It’s against my better judgment – but I got all those old decorations from years ago that haven’t been used.  Still in good shape… Lights, and other stuff…”

Ray went down to the basement.  Within a few minutes he found the boxes of old Christmas decorations.

“Hell, Liz and the kids might as well get some use out of them, cause I sure ain’t
getting’ no use from `em. Waste of money…”  

Carrying the boxes of decorations and lights up stairs to the garage, Ray looked through them for a moment.  Sitting on a plastic milk box, he thought for a minute:

“A tree.  Need a tree I suppose.  Where…?”

Ray recalled the shopping center nearby had a big tree sales yard.  

A short time later he pulled in to the parking lot.  There were a few last minute
shoppers for trees.  Ray had not picked out a Christmas tree in nearly eight years.  He looked the selection over.  There were less than a few dozen left; the best had been bought shortly after Thanksgiving: the selection was down to the best of the worse.  

His breath wreathed about his face in a white haze, as he looked over the few good trees in the white glare of the lights that were running off an old generator mounted in the back of the owner’s pickup truck.  

“Find one?” the young man, appearing like an Eskimo asked trying to smile despite the fridge cold night.

“Yeah, I suppose.”  Raymond looked at the price tag.  Ray choked back his shock at the price for the tree that stood little better than six foot tall.  “It’ll do.  I suppose it’ll have to…”

Ray dug a twenty and five from his pocket handing it to the owner who stuffed the bills in to a worn carpenter’s apron tied about his waist.  Ray carried the tree to his truck, carefully laying it in the back among the boxes of decorations.  “And I don’t want to hear nuttin’ about Scrooge and whoever the kid was…”

Ray pulled up near the house on the street, parking just ahead of Liz’s car.  Getting out he carried the boxes of decorations to the door setting them just to the left as it opened but where they would be most noticed.  Next he carried the tree over setting it beside the boxes.  Looking around to assure none of the usual nosey neighbors were peering out their windows to spoil his treat, he rang the doorbell twice and darted through the snow toward the garage.  After a short moment the door opened.  
Peering around the side of the garage, Ray saw Elizabeth look out then gasp.  “Oh my…!”

“What is it, Mommy?”  Tina looked out past her mother’s side at the tree.  “A tree!  A Christmas tree!”

End Part - Two
« Last Edit: November 24, 2011, 11:02:20 PM by Alice, a Country Gal »

Offline hedinsen

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Once Upon a Christmas - Part Three Continued word count 2,501
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2011, 06:23:49 AM »
This is the last part of the Christmas Story.  I hope everyone is enjoyed this story.    

Part Three -- Continued
______________________________________________________________

“Who would… ? Oh, who would leave a tree and … What are these boxes here?”

Elizabeth set the tree inside then looked in one of the boxes:  “Decorations…!”

Ray watched with a sense of satisfaction as Liz and the children took the boxes inside.  He hoped she would not see the tracks in the snow.  Once the door was closed he walked back to his truck driving it across the street to his house.  Making himself a mug of herbal tea with honey Ray returned to his work.  He sat in the study watching out the window, he could see Elizabeth and the children through the front window set up the tree and begin decorating it with the lights and ornaments.

An hour and a half later, well past bedtime for the children, Liz sat on the sofa holding Michael and Tina, the room’s lights were off as they stared at the brightly lighted tree that shone out the picture window that was framed with tiny colored lights, tinsel and other decorations.  It was all Liz could do not to want to start crying again as she recalled the early years she and her late husband enjoyed Christmas with the children gathered around a small Christmas tree on Christmas morning, the children tearing in to the wrappings to see what the colored paper and ribbons hid from view for so many days before.  

Ray finished another mug of tea.  Setting the mug on the side of the desk, he watched as the lights were finally turned off across the street.  He supposed that Liz was finally putting Michael and Tina to bed.  Returning to his work, he said in a droll tone:  “Well that was my good deed for the year – I suppose.”

                                                  VI.

The next morning Ray sat at his workstation on the second floor of Continental Tech-Ware staring out the window across the isle from his cubicle.  He stared with intense concentration at an open field that was still covered by deep snow despite two days of mild weather; ice clung to the adjacent buildings in the complex where snow had melted in the late noon and froze in the evening.

A hand was waved in front of his face.  Raymond looked up with a frown at the person waving his hand in front of his face.  

“I was about to go get a mirror to see if you were still alive,” said the other.

“Oh, yeah, hi, Mark.”  Ray turned the chair back around to face the display screen.

“Problem?”  Mark asked, gesturing to the display screen, a screen saver swirling around on the screen.

“Yeah, do you know anything about any of the toys for tot’s gift charities?”  Ray asked looking up at Mark, meeting the other’s incredulous look.

“Excuse me?”  said Mark straightening up a skeptical smile tugging at the
corners of his mouth.  “The company’s resident Scrooge – toys for kids no-less?”

   “Skip the paradox, Mark, I’m serious.  Couple kids down the street – single Mom, widowed, just barely eking out a living for herself and the kids – She’s lucky to keep the lights on and heat in the house, let alone gas in her car; and at the current extortionist prices for gas no-less.”

   Mark drummed his fingers on the top edge of the partition a moment.  “Boy – girl?  How old?”

   Mark Drummond, his non-de-plume, the “Company Miracle Worker”, an hour later came up with some information for Raymond.  Raymond was on the phone that afternoon making arrangements with the organization to deliver the toys to his house a couple days before Christmas Eve evening.

The next two days Raymond was as much in anticipation of Christmas as the
children in the neighborhood.

   Raymond parked on the street and got in the house just ahead of the van arriving from the agency.  Ray opened the garage door and had the driver back the van in to the garage.   A few minutes later the driver pulled the big box stuffed with wrapped presents out of the van to a hand-truck Ray had.  
  
            “So playing Santa Claus, huh?”  The driver, a retired executive and agency volunteer chuckled as they wheeled the heavy box to the back of the garage.
 
    Raymond tried not to frown at the comment.  “No.  Just a couple kids down the street need something in their lives this Christmas beside misery.”  

   White wreathes of breath veiled their faces as Ray signed for the box of gifts.  

   The driver looked in the direction that Ray indicated.  “Oh, single Mom, huh?”

   “Yeah, widow.  Barely keeping it together for them.”

            Closing the garage door, he carefully laid an old blanket over the box.  Staring down at the box a moment, he mused:  What satisfaction am I getting from all this drama?  Damned if I even understand why I’m doing this in the first place.

                                                    VII.

The week of Christmas Eve Ray left work early; on a whim, he made a not-so-quick stop at a specialty shop to buy two small but special items. He decided he wanted to do something special, especially since Elizabeth had been on his mind much of the past couple weeks; he stopped at the shopping center where he bought the tree; there was a small gift and jewelry store.  

The lady behind the counter in the shop was all smiles prattling on about the types of necklaces, bracelets and other things that women like as gifts for Christmas.  Ray ignored the chatter as he finally made his selection and had the gifts wrapped and headed home.

It was the next afternoon he managed to get two gift labels from one of the women in the team who was wrapping last minute gifts during lunch for her husband.

“Don’t ask, Marcy – you don’t want to know.”

“My God, Scrooge?  Since when did you get feelie-fuzzy all of a sudden?”  Looking over the top of her cubicle Marcy turned to another co-worker, she pointed at Ray with a smirk.  

That evening Ray included the two small gifts for Liz that set on top of the pile with her name on tags that were done on a typewriter.

“Count down to the big C-Day,” he mused staring out the window of his study at Elizabeth’s house wondering what she was doing.  The tree was light up brightening the front of the house.  “A small token of what I suppose can be called joy or happiness.”

 Christmas Eve night Ray nervously paced the living room as he waited for Mid-Night and his chance to take the box of presents across the street.  A short time before that, just after he got home, by way of the supermarket Ray bought one of the last turkeys.

“Probably the biggest meal those kids have had since Thanksgiving…”

Ray emptied the box out of all the gifts and placed the sizable turkey, canned
foods and other things in the bottom, then repacked the box.

   Finally, it was quarter to mid-night, Ray turned out the lights in the living room pulled on his heavy leather Air Force jacket, hat, and pilot’s gloves then went out to the garage.  Opening the garage door, a blast of frigid air filled the garage. Ray looked at the house across the street.  Only the Christmas tree lights, the lights in the windows and around the door shone reflecting softly off the snow in the front yard.  

   “Feel like I’m about to start some major operation here,” he said letting go of the door letting it slid up on the rails.  Finding the two-wheeler, he took the blanket off the box, slipped the tongue of the hand truck under box and started out of the garage past the pickup and down the driveway watching for any of his neighbors who just might be outside at that hour for whatever reason: the neighborhood was darkened except for a few Christmas lawn decorations still illuminated.  

   The wheels crunching on ice and frozen slush, he pushed the hand truck across the street and up to the sidewalk.  He reached the walkway to the front door.  Drawing in a breath of cold air, Ray pushed the hand truck up to the door.  Trying to keep from making too much commotion, Ray tried to get the hand truck up on to the small stoop.  In doing so, he backed in to the doorbell.  The doorbell chimed, the series of chimes sounded loud and clear.

   “Oh no…!” he groaned knowing what was about to happen next.

   In his panic and haste to pull the hand truck out from the box, Ray tripped and fell with the hand truck in to the snow beside the door.  

Ray cutting a sharp exclamation short he tumbled in to a juniper and into the snow.  Scrambling to his feet just as the door opened, Ray stood up, covered with snow; he met the shocked look of Elizabeth as she threw her hands to her face.  

   “Oh!”  She slowly turned her stunned gaze from Raymond covered in snow, standing ankle deep in it still holding on to the hand truck, to the box by front of the door.  “Mr. Butler…!”

   “Um, yeah hi, Liz – Merry Christmas…” It was the first time in eight years that he had not said Merry Christmas and anything else in the same breath without a sarcastic comment added.  

   Elizabeth looked down at the box, then again at Raymond.  “It was you … Mr. Butler.”

   “Um, yeah … busted, I suppose, eh?”  Ray allowed a half way smile as he stepped back to the walkway dragging the hand truck behind him.

   Elizabeth nodded her head as she pushed the door open.  “Come on in before you catch your death of cold or worse…”

   She held the door open as Ray dusted the snow off himself.  Stepping up on to the stoop he boosted the heavy box through the door in to the living room.  It was the first time he had been in the house.  Hers was one of the older homes on the block.  His gaze went to the floor.  It was bare hardwood, no carpet or large rugs – then, he surmised that was normal interior decor for this area in the late sixties.  He wiped the steam off his glasses then shoved the box toward the Christmas tree.

Elizabeth closed the door behind him and walked around to the box, curious as to what Raymond had carried over in the box.  She’d heard from a couple neighbors he was the annual neighborhood “Scrooge” and not very hospitable this time of year.

“Christmas to Raymond Butler,” said Liz’s neighbor after Thanksgiving, “I tell you, Elizabeth Christmas to Ray Butler is the same as a nasty word.  The man has nothing nice to say about the holidays this time of year.”

Elizabeth stared at the box a moment wondering what Ray had in it.  Toys for the children was one thing, but what else would there be?

Ray made a quick survey of the living room.  There was little that was evident that a woman displays to make a house a home:  a threadbare sofa, a couple chairs, an end table, lamp and a single old television on an inexpensive metal stand.  A few pictures hung on the living room wall near the door to the kitchen. The wall was covered with a poorly laid out dark maple shaded wall paneling that appeared to be pulling away from the wall.  Then he glanced at the woman a minute, their eyes met again taking each other in in a sweep of the eyes.
   
Ray averted his gaze from Elizabeth as he pulled the gloves off and pulled the heavy zipper down from the jacket.  He stood beside the box watching Liz’s reaction as she stared at the box full of gifts.  

Liz reached down to the two small packages setting on top.  She looked at the labels then the labels on the other packages.  The others were simply marked – boy or girl, the two small ones had her name typed on them.  Picking up the packages she stared in quiet disbelief at the delicate bows, the colored paper and slight weight of each.  Lifting her questioning gaze back to Raymond standing in front of her quietly watching her mixed reaction to the gifts he pulled the gloves back on his hands.   After a moment he turned to leave.
“Ray…?”  She began, stopping him.  It was the first time that she had used his
first name.  It was always “Mr. Butler.”  He glanced back at Elizabeth for a moment as they met brief silent gazes. Elizabeth clutched the two packages to her chest said in a half whisper:  “Thank you … Ray.”

Nodding his head Ray started for the door.  Liz softly called out to him an edge of pleading to her voice.  In that brief moment Ray saw the pleading eyes of a lonely woman desperate for something more to her life:  “Ray…” He stopped with one hand grasping the doorknob.  She said, a catch in her throat: “You … you don’t have to go.  Please stay a moment.”

Ray met the calm shy smile of Liz as she turned to walk to the kitchen clutching the two small packages.  Shrugging the gloves, and hat, and heavy leather jacket off he lay them on a chair beside the door.  He followed her to the kitchen to sit at the kitchen table in one of the four mismatched kitchen chairs at the small old style enamel top table.    

Elizabeth sat opposite him clutching the two small packages. They were quiet for a moment then she said:  “I only have tea. Would you like a cup?”

   Ray smiled.  “Yes, thank you.”

   He watched as she stood, not letting go of the two small boxes to fill a heavily tarnished copper teapot with water.  She took two large cups from the cupboard.  Ray did not look at the cupboard, he could see that Elizabeth lacked those things in her life that a woman enjoys and gives her pleasure.  

   Finally he said standing:  “Tell ya what, Liz, while the water is boiling I’ll unload the box.”

   She followed him to the living room.  She sat in the old chair that faced the television to watch as Ray unpacked the box carefully laying the gifts under the tree.  When he reached the bottom and the food, he stopped.  The food was to be a surprise for her too.  Lifting the thawing turkey from the box, he turned to her and said:  “Merry Christmas, Liz.”

   Elizabeth looked up at him with tears in her eyes as he leaned down to kiss her.   Their lips met in a passionate kiss.  They exchanged soft “I love you…” the first words that melted away the agonies of Christmases past and Christmases lost from their lives.

   The squealing voices of Michael and Tina startled them:  “Look, stuff under the tree!”
   At that moment too the teapot whistled that the water was boiling.  

   “Merry Christmas…!”
                                                        # # #
« Last Edit: November 26, 2011, 11:04:54 AM by Alice, a Country Gal »

Offline 510bhan

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Re: Once Upon a Christmas - Part Three Continued
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2011, 12:03:11 PM »
Always good to have a little heart-warming schmaltz at Xmas. I enjoyed the read. :D :D :D
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Offline hedinsen

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Re: Once Upon a Christmas - Part Three Continued
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2011, 04:37:13 PM »
Thank you for the compliment -- Actually I wrote this during the summer and being part of MWC and the suggestions for reworks on other material and such helped hone this a good degree from what I had originally.  I forget how many times I read it and made small changes to smooth out most of the bumps.  Glad you and all the readers enjoyed the story.  # # #

Offline bowmore bill

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Re: Once Upon a Christmas - Part One word count 1,700
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2011, 05:41:00 PM »
Hi hedinson, what a great little read, definately a twist on scrooge, or a confirmed santa hater.
Turns out he was not the hardman he thought he was, and not at all like my character {flintheart.}
Nice one.

Offline hedinsen

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Re: Once Upon a Christmas - Part One word count 1,700
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2011, 07:09:20 PM »
Hi, Bowmore -- glad you liked the story and its out come.  For all who have read the story, the key to the story actually lies in the beginning.  First, his service time in the Air Force, and the loss of his wife.  I tried to stay away from the fact he had been a cargo plane pilot -- those guys travel.  I wanted to focus on his relationship with Elizabeth and her children and the out come of that.  # # #