General Fiction posted December 16, 2017


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
A woman's world is changed by a single act of kindness.

The Real Deal

by davisr (Rhonda)


Suzette struggled against depression, and wasn't even sure why. She lived an average life with average problems. Happiness, or at the very least contentment, should have been hers. Still, Suzette felt something was missing.

Sure, there was the love and affection of her Kindergarten students, and occasional interaction with colleagues, but a pointed lack of purpose and direction in life plagued her. 

To make matters worse, her cell phone had died that morning, for no apparent reason, adding a sense of loss to her dismal mood.

Suzette shrugged strong shoulders she inherited from her father, shook bouncy curls she had gotten from the same place, and set her face in determination.

Depression was as much a part of her life as the medication that kept her going. She knew she would shrug this melancholy off like always. She had to; her minature silver poodle, Buffy, depended on her.

Still, she reminded herself, it was just a week before Christmas and there was no one besides the dog to share the holidays with.

Why did she always eclipse good feelings with negativity? Pleasant thoughts, pleasant thoughts... She could do this.

Suzette turned her musings to her students and how they would enjoy the Christmas party that day. She thought of the inspiring carolers in her apartment complex, and of the fun of walking around a Christmas bedecked mall. Her heart began to warm, and the pangs of anxiety abated.

She continued by picturing her father sitting beside the Christmas tree, strumming his guitar and singing Christmas carols with her and her elder sister, Paula.

Salt and pepper curls framed a face etched by time and hard work. In stark contrast to his powerful build, he caressed the strings with tenderness.

Paul was dressed, as always, in farmer's overalls, lending a sense of authenticity to his Bluegrass twang. He was the strength of their small family, and she missed him so.

Suzette wished for her mother's support, but Alzheimer's had turned that relationship into a living nightmare.

There went the warm feelings she had been forcing on herself. Maybe she should take another pill. Her prescription allowed for up to two a day.

As she reached for her purse, Suzette noticed a man sprawled out on the ground beside a bench. He had on a red Santa suit that seemed, even at a distance, to be crumpled and torn.

Instinctively, Suzette pulled her Chevy Impala onto the shoulder of the road and got out. She grabbed her purse, as everyone knows not to leave such a valuable item unguarded in a car.

Slipping and sliding on rare ice-capped snow - it was Texas after all, she made her way to the groaning man.

"Oh, dear." Suzette dropped to her knees on the freezing sidewalk and stroked the man's bruised face. "What happened to you?"

"Violence, hatred, and an ungenerous spirit," the man replied. His voice came out strong and clear in spite of obvious physical distress.

"Here, let me call an ambulance." Suzette dug in her purse and pulled out an unresponsive cellular device. "Oops, sorry this phone won't work. Do you have one?"

"Don't use them."

"Oh, okay." Suzette hesitated just a moment weighing options and consequences. "Can you stand up?"

"Maybe."

"Let me help. We'll get you into my car and take you to the hospital. I can call work from there to tell them I'll be late."

Suzette reached down to help the older, and much larger, man to his feet. He seemed surprisingly light for a man his size. As apposed to the stench she expected, a comforting aroma radiated from his body.

"Who are you, and why do you smell of Christmas trees and sugar cookies?"

"Do I?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Hmm, well, that happens sometimes. Who do I look like to you?"

Suzette touched the cloth of his suit, torn and battered by abuse. She stroked the fur at his collar and knew it to be genuine.

"You're him. You're Santa Claus."

"Close enough. I'm the Spirit of Christmas, Dear One."

"You don't look much like a spirit to me."

"Do you know what one looks like?"

"No, but I would expect it to be less, uh... substantial."

"Ho, ho, ho. Are you calling me fat?"

"No... well... maybe. But, who has hurt you?"

"Violence, hatred, and an ungenerous spirit," he repeated. "But, I've been revived. Sometimes all it takes is one act of kindness to counteract many offenses of hurt."

The old man kissed Suzette on the forehead and held her close in his arms. She melted into the warmth only love could provide.

Visions of past Christmases with her family mixed with a brilliant glimpse of the future. She saw herself at a children's home sitting in a rocking chair and facing a group of eager children. The scent of hot apple cider, laced with cinnamon, wafted through the air.

On a small table beside her, sat sugar cookies and a glass of milk. Next to the plate, perched a letter scrawled in crayon and signed by other children. She was reading a Christmas book and watching bright eyes gazing at her in wonder.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, she quoted, and closed the book.

The vision faded all too soon, and Suzette found herself back on a cold street corner enveloped in the comforting arms of a legend.

The man slowly stepped back from Suzette and pointed to her car.

"You'll be late to work if you don't hurry."

"I can't just leave you here. You're injured."

"Look again," he said, uttering another righteously vibrant, ho, ho, ho.

Suzette was surprised to find his earlier injuries replaced with health, and torn clothes mended by unseen hands. A brilliant smile replaced the earlier distortion.

"What happened to you?"

"My faith has been restored."

"So has mine. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now go and help others. You might just find yourself healed in the process. Such is the way of the world. Such is the Spirit of Christmas."

Suzette nodded and walked back to the silver Impala. She was torn between a desire to stay and visit with the stranger, and her need to go to work.

Finally, she opened the door and sat down. She took a moment to process the events of the morning. She was somewhere between total disbelief, and a childlike desire for all the experiences to be real, when there was a tap on the passenger window.

The figure in red, his visage completely restored to a jolly fat man, pointed to the seat beside her. There she saw a wrapped gift perched beside her purse. She reached out a hand and stroked a smooth golden surface.

"What's this?" Suzette's head jerked back up as she looked toward the window. There was no one there. What had just happened?

Nearing the school that employed her, Suzette's eyes fell on a building she had observed many times. Buckner Children's Home stood tall and austere. It had placed many a child with a caring family, but others still waited for their forever homes. Maybe they could use a volunteer. After work today, she would pay them a visit.

Filled with unusual warmth, Suzette pulled into her parking spot and turned off the car. She took a moment to reflect on the morning, and then reached for the wrapped gift.

She gently peeled back gold paper, afraid of messing up anything Father Christmas had given her. The paper, as well as the contents, would be forever treasured.

Suzette reached inside the paper and pulled out a small, nondescript box. She turned it over and over in her hand, as though its contents would reveal themselves by this action. They did not.

As carefully as she had unwrapped the paper, she pulled off the tape that held the lid of the box together. She peeled back red tissue paper and held her breath.

Reaching inside the box, she felt a cool metal object. Could it be? Really, could it?

Merry Christmas, from the Spirit, a card said on the surface of a new cell-phone.

Suzette squealed with joy as she turned on the phone to find a snow globe sparkling on the screen. Inside the virtual orb, was an image of the Buckner Children's home.

"Okay, I get it, Santa. I'll go see the kids, but I'm taking Buffy with me. She doesn't get out much, either. Oh, and thanks for the phone."

A tuft of snow blew past her window, carrying with it the distinct aroma of Christmas trees and sugar cookies.


Christmas Story contest entry

Recognized


A special thanks for the brilliant artwork, "Santa's Comin' !" by bd shutterspeed
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by bd shutterspeed at FanArtReview.com

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