The Sweetest Christmas Gift


There was a knock at my door. I knew who it had to be.“Hi,” she said. “I don’t want to cry myself to sleep. May I sleep with you?”I thought for a second, then pushed the door open. As she walked through, I held my trailing hand out to her. She took it, and as soon as I had the door shut, she came into my arms. “I’ve never missed a Christmas at home before,” she said. “I don’t think I would have slept at all.”I smiled, but sadly, because the same was true for me.So, I leaned down and kissed her, gently pulling her to me, and feeling the tears start in my own eyes. Me, too, Teri. I thought. Me too.****Earlier I was driving – or trying to drive – along Route 17 late on Christmas Eve afternoon, just short of Binghamton, on my way back home from Rochester. There was no point staying there – the dorms were closed for the holidays.And yet, I wasn’t sure there was much point in going home, either. My family were all abroad. Dad was a college professor, and was taking a sabbatical year at Cambridge, England. He was writing a book on his research, and everyone else in the family went with him, especially Mom.I was the only member of the family that stayed behind because it was my first year at R.I.T., and I didn’t want to lose my place. I was one of the last ones accepted for the photographic engineering program that year, and who knew what next year’s class would be like?There was no way I could afford the time or the airfare to England just for the 10 days or so of the holidays, so we all knew I was going to stay home for Christmas. For the first time ever, I’d be on my own.Yes, I was staying with family friends, and sure, I’d be included in their Christmas celebration – assuming I got there in time. But they all went to midnight mass, then came home and the kids opened all their presents right away, like at one-thirty in the morning. Then everyone fell into bed and slept late on Christmas morning.I never went to church. Dad was a militant atheist, and I never really cared, one way or another, but I knew I’d be uncomfortable in any church, let alone a Catholic one. And presents should be opened on Christmas morning, not Christmas eve. That was the way we’d always done it, with just the six of us, and no one else. I swallowed, knowing this was going to be one of the hardest bahis siteleri things I’d ever done.It was getting worse out. I was pretty sure I was going to have to stop, but the part of me I get from Dad didn’t want to quit, wanted to tough it out. And it’s hard to ignore that voice…it’s been there all my life.But the snow was swirling all around the car and making hypnotic patterns in the headlights. I was tired already after my last final this afternoon, and I was making much worse time than I had hoped because the roads were bad – and getting slippery.Already I had seen three or four cars off in the ditch, as well as one pick-up truck, and the road felt treacherous as I held the wheel of my Pontiac Sky Chief. I had TigerPaws on the wheels, and they were doing great – but that would work only up to a point. I had a sinking feeling I wasn’t going to make it for midnight mass – or anything else if I got unlucky.I switched the radio on, and found a nearby station, hoping to hear that the storm was lifting. Instead, they were reporting on how bad the roads were and suggesting that travelers get off the highways, especially as the police were starting to close them.I knew I was done. If I waited too long to get off the road, then all the motels would be full, and I didn’t know what I’d do then. I pulled off at the next exit and saw a family-run motel, just next to a Howard Johnson’s, so pulled in. I got a room for $17, which was more than I had hoped to pay, but you take what you can get in situations like these.I pulled my overnight bag into the hotel room, dropped it on the bed, went to the can to take a leak and wash my face, then came back into the room. God, what an awful place to spend Christmas eve. Not the way I normally experienced Christmas. This was one of the lowest times of my life.I zipped my jacket up again and slipped and slid across to the Howard Johnson’s. It was almost empty, just a few people there, and all of them strangely clustered together. I figured out why pretty quickly: there was only one waitress, plus the manager, at the front of the house.I wound up sitting at a table next to what looked like a coed, also on her way home from college. Her eyes were pretty when she glanced at me, and she had shoulder-length, straight, brown hair. She looked canlı bahis siteleri down again at her menu as I sat down, which I took as a signal.So, I got busy with my menu, selected whatever looked best, like I really cared, and ordered, then twisted my fork, making patterns on the napkin while I waited for the food to arrive.The waitress, Betty her tag said, brought my supper, and said, “If I can ask, would you please eat up? The manager wants to close up early so that we can all get home before the roads get any worse.” Then she left.My seatmate already had her food, but looked at the departing waitress’ back, and said, “And Merry Christmas to you, too,” then looked down again.I chuckled. She looked at me and smiled in response.“Hi,” I said, “I’m Terry,” and held out my hand.She laughed, and said, “Me too!”“I’m sorry?”“I’m Theresa – Teri to my friends, so I’m Teri, too!” She took my hand. It felt warm and oddly comforting. She held it slightly longer than she had to, then let go.I thought for a moment, then said, “Would it be okay if I joined you? I really need a friendly face right about now.”She looked at me, with a slightly smaller smile, then shrugged and said, “Yeah, me, too. Come on over.”I picked up my food and moved over to her table, and we started chatting. It was as warm and natural as if we’d be friends since we were kids. We both laughed, we both told each other things we probably would never have told a stranger, and we both told each other how awful this was.Her story was similar, but different, from mine. She was going home for the holidays from Cornell, and her family was expecting her tonight. But before she left school, her dad had made her promise to stop if the roads got too bad, and so, reluctantly, she had.And for her, just as for me, this was going to screw up her Christmas plans. Like my family, her family celebrated on Christmas morning, and now, because she’d had to stop, she was going to miss it, and was heart-broken. She had tears in her eyes when she said it, and I knew if she started crying, there’d be no way I could stop.So, I changed the subject and told her how I’d worked on a merchant ship for a year between high school and college, partly to save up money for tuition, but also because I felt burnt out after high school, canlı bahis and needed a break from studying. I was not a natural student, but had worked hard and finished in the top third of my class.I told her funny stories of the kind of shit my crewmates and I had got into when we hit port. The drinking, the sightseeing, the problems with language – all the funny stuff.I left out most of the gritty things, like the time I almost got mugged in Rio, but was saved by the streetwalker I was with. She talked the street hood out of cutting me up. I did lose my wallet, but I was grateful to her. I could have lost a lot more.But we needed fun, not truth-telling, so I kept it light. I was rewarded with a stunning smile and tinkling laughter. Finally, the waitress, who had been conspicuously hovering, came over and said, “Sorry, kids, we’re closing up.”So, we each paid our tabs and walked out together. We were both staying at the same motel. She was three doors down from me, so I held her arm, and we both slipped along the sidewalk back to the motel.I got her to her room, then we stood outside talking for a bit longer, neither of us wanting to leave. But it was cold, and snow was collecting on my collar, so we finally gave up, and she turned and unlocked her door.I thought about leaning in to kiss her, but she was a sophomore and I was a freshman, and I was intimidated. She looked as if she was thinking about it too, but the moment passed, and she said good-night, then went in and closed the door.I stood for a moment, then walked back to my room, and went in.I was toweling myself off with the thin, scratchy thing the motel had provided when I heard a knock at the door. I knew who it had to be.“Hi,” she said. “I don’t want to cry myself to sleep. Can I sleep with you?”I thought for a second, then pushed the door open. As she walked through, I held my trailing hand out to her. She took it, and as soon as I had the door shut, she came into my arms. “I’ve never missed a Christmas at home before,” she said. “I don’t think I would have slept at all.”She felt warm and soft and wonderful. But most of all, she felt like home. We clung to each other, more needing warmth than wanting to make out. Gradually, we moved over to the bed, sat together, holding hands, and started talking again.We talked for what felt like hours, and then finally ran down, and stopped. She looked at me, and smiled what looked like a secret smile, then pulled her blouse over her head, dropped it on the floor, and held out her hands.

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