Celia Worthington sat in a big, overstuffed chair in the library of the Worthington mansion staring absently at the pages of the book in her lap. Even though it was Christmas Eve, she was, as usual, alone.
Her son, Evan, was still in Europe trying to "find himself" – so he said - and unless he needed her to wire him more money, she doubted she would hear from him. Then there was Thomas, her husband. He called an hour ago to say he'd be home late. Christmas Eve, and even now he wouldn't be home on time.
"It's business, dear. You know how it is," he said, using the same excuse he'd used so frequently for the last six months. Ironically, Celia knew exactly how it was. This current "business" was named Karen. The time before that it was Linda. She didn't want to make the effort to recall all the others; the bitter thought interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in," she called out, assuming it was her butler, Charles, since the rest of the household staff had been released early for Christmas. When she looked up and saw Sophia, her downstairs maid, Celia frowned.
"Sophia, what are you still doing here? I thought I gave you the evening off," she said, noting the tattered, woolen coat Sophia wore over her maid's uniform.
"Oh, yes ma'am, you did and I'm very grateful," Sophia said quickly. "But there is something I wanted to give you…you know, for Christmas."
A work-roughened hand reached into the coat's side pocket and pulled out a tiny oval shaped object. It was cheaply, but carefully wrapped in white tissue and tied with a red ribbon. She held it out to Celia.
"I've had this for years but it's something very special I wanted to share with you."
Celia noted the happy twinkle in Sophia's dark eyes and wondered at it. The woman was poor as a church mouse, yet something or someone had put the sparkle there, but what? Celia felt a stab of envy, and then chided herself for being so ridiculous. It was crazy to be jealous of a woman who had nothing.
"It's just my way of saying thank you for giving me a job when I desperately needed one," Sophia said.
Celia remembered that day. Sophia had just lost her husband to pneumonia and needed a job. Celia happened to need a downstairs maid; it was as simple as that.
"Oh, Sophia, there's no need," Celia protested, feeling somewhat embarrassed by the fact that the hiring had not been as charitable a gesture as Sophia imagined.
But Sophia was insistent, and placed the gift into Celia's soft, perfectly manicured hand, closing it over the gift.
"Oh, there is a need, ma'am," Sophia countered softly, and then smiled.
"It's what Christmas is all about."
"But I can't—" Celia tried to protest, but Sophia deliberately cut her off.
"—Now I'm off to the soup kitchen," Sophia announced cheerily, her eyes twinkling again.
"Soup kitchen?" Celia was appalled. Sophia was even worse off than she thought.
"Yes, I go quite often." Sophia replied matter-of-factly, and then laughed when she saw Celia's expression.
"Oh, I'm not going there to eat, Mrs. Worthington, but to serve. You know, give back for everything that God's given to me."
Before Celia could respond, Sophia was walking toward the door, and then paused. "Have a merry Christmas, Mrs. Worthington." Then she was gone.
For a few moments, Celia just stared at the gift in her hand. Finally, she pulled the red string and pushed back the tissue.
Inside was a ceramic figure of the baby Jesus so aged and worn that some of the color had faded. Memories from another time—happier, simpler times—came flooding back for Celia, and then she remembered Sophia's words.
"It's what Christmas is all about."
Closing her eyes, Celia clasped the tiny Savior to her chest, feeling a sense of peace wash over her.
From the doorway came a male voice.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Madam, I was checking to see if you have everything you need?"
Celia looked up and smiled at Charles, unaware of the twinkle in her eyes.
"I do now, Charles…I do now."
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