I was wondering if I’d get a chance to write a holiday short story this year. A few weeks ago I woke up after dreaming this story and immediately wrote it down before I forgot it. So, here it is at 2100 words.
Twelve-year-old Billy had started the day full of hope. He took the number three bus to downtown Laceyville. Barely a dot on a map, but it was where you went if you needed something. Mom was doing her last shift at the small diner down the road. Little Joey stayed with old Mrs. Trumbolt, who always had a never-ending sugar cookie and milk supply. On special occasions, she’d add some chocolate chips to the cookies.
Billy sat in the middle of the bus that only had two other passengers. Everyone minded their own business, so he enjoyed the holiday decorations out the scratched-up window. Almost every house had a tree in the front window covered in silver tinsel and colored lights. The bus jolted to a stop right in front of Harvey’s Department Store. Billy tightly clutched his old dingy sock full of change and dollar bills and followed the sour older man, who smelt of horse manure and sour milk, to the side door of the bus. The round-faced man eyed him like Billy was going to knock him down or push the man out of his way.
The glowing store covered in red and green holiday decorations was full of last-minute shoppers. His mom had brought him and his little brother here to take in the holiday cheer and visit Santa a few weeks ago. He knew Santa was just hired help in a red suit, but Joey still believed in all that magic. Billy wisely asked for new clothes and would be lucky to get that, but Joey requested a new red bike.
His mom’s eyes had filled with tears that she quickly wiped away after looking at the bike’s price tag. He knew twenty-five dollars was more than she could afford. She didn’t make that much working at the old diner, where tips were meager. At least they’d get some chocolate candies in their stocking and a warm thrift store coat.
Billy held in his sock the earnings from mowing lawns, cleaning garages, and yards over the last few months. His mom always encouraged him to take the money and open a savings account but he had been halfway to getting the stingray bike all his friends had. Not that it mattered now because Billy was the man of the house after his father died 11 months ago. He would use this money to get his little brother what he asked from Santa for Christmas and have enough left over to get Mom something nice just like his dad used to do. He could always earn enough to get what he wanted by next summer and then open that account.
Billy dodged a large woman whose arms were filled with toy trucks and dolls. Lucky kids. He headed to where the bikes were, but the red one was gone, and in its place was a blue model that was ten dollars more dollars than he had.
“Look out, kid.” The lady pushed by him. “I’ll take that bike too,” she told the smiling saleswoman, who was dressed as Mrs. Claus.
“You are very lucky! That’s our last bike.”
Billy stood in line and inquired about the display bike.
Mrs. Claus patted his head. “That has a dent on it, son. We need to fix it in Santa’s workshop before it can be sold.”
Billy shook his head. “A dent is okay. I have twenty-five dollars for it.”
The woman reached around him and grabbed a scarf from a lady holding a screaming baby. “Sorry, that’s against store policy. It would make the store look bad to sell damaged inventory. Buy something else, I have customers to wait on.”
Billy sighed loudly. Joey would be so disappointed. Still, he was determined to add a few gifts under the decorated fig tree. A turquoise scarf and gloves set that had a peacock feather design was perfect for his mom, along with pink slippers, and a cheesy romance novel. He found a firetruck, football, and new Christmas PJs and slippers for his brother. The family always used to wear matching PJs on Christmas Eve way back when life was normal, and cancer didn’t take away all its joy.
Holding his purchases, he added a package of sweet tarts. That left him with just enough change to ride the bus home. When he stepped on the number three bus, he found the change gone and a hole in his pocket.
“No money, no ride.” The man with red hair had not been gifted with the Christmas spirit.
Billy bowed his head and retreated in embarrassment from the bus where no goodwill existed.
He retraced his path to the locked store door. A young man with braces and a red Santa Hat took the dented bike out of the window display while ignoring Billy’s frantic pounding on the glass entry.
With a loud sigh, Billy stomped away. “Guess I’m walking home.”
He took the shortcut that passed the back of the store. The person who had disregarded him brought the bike out the back door. The employee tugged on the knob of the door that said do not enter.
“Great, it’s locked!” The employee dropped the bike on the ground and stomped back into the store.
The dim lights illuminated the red bike like it was on display. Billy pushed his bags full of gifts on his shoulders and did something he’d never done before. He stole the bike.
He was almost out of the dark lot when he heard. “Stop, thief!”
Billy’s stomach felt heavy, but he thought of his brother’s face on Christmas morning. His long legs kept pedaling on the small bike. Although he was a criminal now, he tried a deal he thought God might accept. “Please forgive me. If you let me keep it for Joey, I’ll promise to pay the store back more than they were charging.”
Turning onto the main road, he weaved in and out of traffic. The icy wind pounded his face, and the thin coat offered no protection from the approaching winter storm. He almost had himself convinced what he had done was okay until guilt crashed down on him.
“Sorry, Joey. This isn’t right.”
Billy spun the bike around in the intersection, right as a bus barreled around the corner with its horn blaring. Directly before everything went black, he saw a beautiful angel with long ebony hair and green wings standing over him.
That was the last thing he remembered until he smelt garlic and bread. He carefully opened his eyes, expecting to see that angel again, but instead, there was a kind-faced man at his side.
Billy blurted out his story while the man gently shook his head and rubbed his chin but withheld comment.
Billy finished with. “I’ve got to get the bike back to them, Sir. It doesn’t belong to me.”
The man smiled. “That bike is a bit dinged up now, but it’s yours.”
Billy wondered if he was dreaming. “It’s what?”
“My friend, Officer Doyle told me you took it. I figured you had your reasons, so I offered to pay for it. The store manager gladly accepted. Although, you aren’t allowed in the store anymore unless an adult accompanies you.” His smile was as gentle as his eyes.
Billy’s eyes widened. “Why would you do that, mister?”
The man, who had to be as old as his mom, patted his arm softly. “Everyone deserves a second chance, and a young man like yourself should be with his family on Christmas Eve, not in jail. And please call me Mr. Jones.”
“My name is Billy, Mr. Jones. But I spent all my money on these presents that are probably ruined.” Billy pointed to the two bags on the table next to the red bench he was lying on.
Mr. Jones had crinkles around his eyes just like his dad had when he grinned. “Your gifts are fine, not even a scratch on the firetruck.
Billy held back tears. “How can I pay you back?”
“Well, Billy. I could use help around here on Saturdays and maybe sometimes after school. You could work off your bike. If everything goes well, I’ll hire you permanently.”
“Really! Gee, that would be great!” Billy sat up and winced as his head throbbed more. He was sore, but everything else worked on him.
Mr. Jones pointed to his head. “That bump on your head is going to hurt you for a while, but the doctor said you’d be just fine.”
Billy looked around. “A doctor was here?”
“Yes, picking up a pizza to take home. Very lucky he was here, so you don’t have to go to the hospital.”
“Very lucky. Thank you.”
“You are very welcome. Now get up slowly and gather your things. I’ll take you and that bike home.”
Billy stood up on a sticky red tile floor. “You don’t have to do more, Mr. Jones. I can ride my bike home, and you can be with your family.”
A sad look crossed over the man’s face. “I lost my wife last year in a car accident. We were never blessed with kids, so it would be a favor to me if you allowed me this holiday cheer of being able to return you to your family.”
“Sorry, Mr. Jones. My dad died too.” Billy inspected the man. He wasn’t horrible looking and a widower, too, maybe…
They pulled in front of his house, where his mom was talking to a police officer.
Billy stepped out of the truck with a loud gulp. “You should meet my mom, Mr. Jones. I know she’d like to thank you for all your help.”
“Billy!” His mom engulfed Billy in a tight hug. “Are you okay? What were you thinking? You are grounded for two weeks….” She stopped when Mr. Jones walked up next to them. “Officer Doyle told me what you did for him, Mr.….”
“Jones, but call me Mike. It was my pleasure to help.” His new friend’s brown eyes twinkled, and Mom’s cheeks took on an odd shade of pink.
“My name is Maria. Nice to meet you, Mike.” She held out her hand, which Mr. Jones engulfed in his large hands. The handshake seemed to go on for a while.
“Nice to meet you, Maria. You raised him well. He was going to make things right after doing something so stupid. With your permission, he’s agreed to help at my restaurant to pay off his debt. Although the road wasn’t as kind, the bus missed him. He was a very lucky young man.”
“We were very lucky tonight, thank you. And of course, you have my permission. I just made a fresh pot of coffee. Would you like a cup?” Mom smoothed her wavy dark brown shoulder-length hair and smiled.
Mr. Jones finally let go of his mom’s hand as Officer Doyle walked by and waved. “Don’t do that again, young man. You won’t get so lucky next time with Mr. Jones being around to help you. Merry Christmas.”
“I won’t, Sir. Merry Christmas.” Billy confirmed.
Officer Doyle shook his head and winked at Mr. Jones before getting into his car.
“Good advice, Billy. I don’t want to impose on your family celebration, Maria. Maybe another…”
Billy interrupted him before he could decline, much to his mom’s obvious horror. “Mr. Jones will be alone tonight. Can’t we invite him to our Christmas Eve dinner?”
His mom’s face relaxed. “It would be an honor if you joined us. Our way of paying back your kindness.”
Joey raced out of Mrs. Trumbold’s house and threw himself into Billy’s aching arms. Mr. Jones retrieved the blanket-wrapped bike and followed Mom into the garage.
That dent and scratches went unnoticed Christmas morning, and the day turned out to be a good Christmas even though Dad was missed. Mr. Jones stayed for dinner and many more dinners after that.
Money worries were a thing of the past when Mom took over the paperwork in Mr. Jones’s busy restaurant. It took them a few years, but Mr. Jones became a part of the family.
Mom cut back from working full-time to part-time after she announced she was expecting a baby who was due on Christmas Day. The baby arrived on the night when miracles happened, Christmas Eve. Billy knew no one would believe him, but there was the same beautiful angel standing next to his baby sister’s crib that he’d seen the night the bus narrowly missed him. The angel smiled and waved at him, then disappeared.
NOTE: There will be no blog on December 5th, I’ll be on vacation. I’ll be quiet that week on social media and visiting blogs, although I might post a picture or two on Instagram. I’ll be back on December 12th with book reviews.
Embrace your inner child by reading a good book! D. L. Finn