“Boss, your Christmas tree is looking at me.”
Pastor Henry Tompkins, “Boss” to the church secretary, looked up from his desk.
Fern gestured toward the tree in the corner of the office. “It’s looking at me… with beady little eyes.”
Pastor Henry rose from his chair and stood looking at the tree alongside Fern. A small pair of glowing eyes blinked at them from deep among the pine’s branches.
“Well, I’ll be.”
The Pastor and his secretary stared at the tree. The tree stared right back.
“What do you suppose it is? You don’t think it’s something nasty, like a rat, do you?”
“Those eyes would have to belong to an awfully big rat.” The tree blinked again. Whatever it was, it had no intention of leaving its hiding place.
“I’ve been telling you for days to take some of this stuff home.” Fern waved her arm toward the mound of holiday treats piled up around the office. There were fruit cakes, brownies and countless homemade cookies, all brought by well-meaning parishioners. “Now look what’s happened. We have vermin.”
“Let’s just leave it alone and hope it goes away. I’m not sure I want to stick my arm in there.”
“Is that so? Where’s your faith, Boss?” Fern smirked at Pastor Henry.
“Hey, I don’t see you sticking your arm in there.”
“Okay, let’s leave it be. See you tomorrow.” Fern waved over her shoulder as she strode out of the office.
The Pastor looked back at his silent companion. He supposed it probably had come in search of food, as Fern had suggested. There certainly was plenty of it to be found in his office. Since Pastor Henry’s wife had passed away earlier in the year, his parishioners were making an extra effort this holiday season to shower him with attention. And the attention mainly came in the form of food. He couldn’t bring himself to take any of it home. Although his office bore numerous signs of the Christmas season, his home was strikingly absent of any décor. Pastor Henry didn’t think he could stomach seeing the house all dressed up in holiday finery without his wife there to enjoy it. At home, he was pretending it was just any other time of year.
As the days of Advent passed, the eyes continued to peer at Pastor Henry from the boughs of the Christmas tree. They watched him as he prepared his Sunday sermons, attended to church business and bickered with Fern. They saw all the parishioners who came by to invite Pastor Henry to their family holiday gatherings. Of course, he politely declined each one, having no intention of being a burden to anyone. After the candlelight service on Christmas Eve, he planned to go home and fall asleep in front of the television like he did on any ordinary night.
When the actual time came, however, he found himself strangely incapable of going back to his empty house. He paced around his office trying to look busy.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay tonight, Boss? You can always come home with me.” Fern stood standing in his doorway with her coat buttoned up tightly.
“Thank you, but I’m fine.”
“Okay. Merry Christmas, Boss.”
In the silence of the church office, Pastor Henry sat on the edge of the sofa with his head in his hands. The Christmas tree watched as the tears finally came and the Pastor sat sobbing, alone on Christmas Eve.
“Lord, I know you’re here with me. But I feel so alone. Please help.” Pastor Henry’s cries grew quieter and, exhausted, he stretched out on the sofa and fell asleep.
Emotionally spent, the Pastor slept soundly and he didn’t hear the tinkling of the ornaments on the Christmas tree or the padding of approaching feet in the darkness. He thought he was still all alone as he dreamt of Christmases past.
But, when the church bells announced Christmas morning, Pastor Henry opened sleepy eyes and felt the steady beat of another heart against his own. He looked down at the sleeping kitten curled up in a tight ball on his chest. Its coat was as pure white as the blanket of snow covering the sidewalks. The kitty nestled so close to him he could see its fur move gently in a steady rhythm with his breath.
“Thank you, Lord.” A subtle smile danced on the Pastor’s lips and he fell back asleep. This time dreaming of Christmas future.
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