Shelton clutched the satchel to his chest as he walked the dismal midtown streets, the permeating stench of rancid garbage stifling his senses. Puffs of steam and smoke from the nearby factories cast somber shadows in the morning sunlight. The anxious man paused at the sight of a silhouetted figure slumped on a bench. He squinted, stepping closer with caution. “Excuse me.”
The beleaguered man turned his head.
Shelton fumbled with the bag. “Umm…” He pulled out a small, square envelope and extended it toward the stranger. “Mer-Mer-Merry Christmas.” His nervous hands trembled to the rhythm of his stammering voice.
“Huh?” The puzzled drifter grabbed the tiny packet. He shook the tattered gloves off his unwashed hands and slid a card from the envelope. Confusion sparkled in his eyes when he saw a nativity scene embossed on the gold-leafed finish.
Shelton smiled. “Everyone deserves something for Christmas. We’re serving dinner at the mission tonight…if you’re interested.”
The old man scratched his unkempt beard. “Thank you.”
A grin spread across Shelton’s face as he continued down the backstreet. “That wasn’t so bad,” he assured himself. “I can handle this.” He hesitated at the entry to an alleyway. He stared at another vagrant sitting near a dumpster, bundled against the elements. He groomed his mustache with his fingers, then proceeded into the alley, and the overwhelming odor of urine and alcohol. “Excuse me.” He pulled out another card. “We’re serving…”
“What are you saying?” The hobo’s gruff voice echoed between the buildings. He pulled a threadbare knit cap up from his face.
Shelton stared in shock. “Mr. Graves?”
“Wa’sup, Shell?” Patrick ambled down the corridor.
Shelton leaned against the lockers shaking his head. “Graves gave me a D… I can’t believe it… Less than one point away.” He pounded his fist against a metal door. “I’ll be off the team.”
“Go talk to him.” Patrick gestured toward the classroom. “Before he leaves.”
Shelton dashed down the hall. “Mr. Graves.”
The instructor turned the key in the lock. “How can I help you?”
“I need to ask you about my grade.” The boy held a score sheet out.
“And you are?” The elderly man’s stern voice resonated about the walkway.
“Shelton… In your sixth period class.”
“Oh… I see.” Mr. Graves glanced at the paper. “My grade system is self explanatory. Sixty-one to seventy earns a D… Seventy-one to eighty is a C. Your grade is what you earned.”
“But I got seventy point nine…” Shelton wiggled the document. “It’s one tenth of a point.”
“Very good.” The teacher pushed the boy’s arm away. “If you had used skills like that on the final, perhaps you would have earned a C.”
“You don’t understand… I’ll be kicked off the team.”
“We are all eventually victims of our own actions.” He turned and walked toward the parking lot. “The grade stands as is.”
Shelton stood in silent disbelief.
“I’m sorry, dude.” Patrick put his hand on his friends shoulder.
“Stupid old man.” Shelton mumbled.
Mr. Graves disappeared around the corner.
“I hate him.” Shelton crumbled the paper and threw it to the ground.
“Let’s get out of here, man.” Patrick picked up the wadded sheet.
“You here me? I hate you,” Shelton hollered. Anger surged through his narrowing eyes, his hands clenching to fists. “I hope someone reams you like this and you feel just as miserable … for you’re whole life… You here me?” His huffing barks turned to silent sobs.
“Do I know you?” Mr. Graves rose to his feet.
Shelton shifted his weight back and forth with uneasiness. “You were my math teacher… In high school… Years ago.”
The elderly man eyed the well-groomed stranger. “Hmmph… I don’t remember you.”
“I didn’t think you would.” Shelton shook his head. “What happened?”
The homeless man glared at his questioner. “You don’t care… not about me.” He grabbed a raggedy duffel bag. “Why are you here?”
“Everyone deserves something for Christmas.” Shelton held the card out to the disheveled man. He heaved a labored sigh, blotting a hint of a tear from his eyes.
Mr. Graves pushed the card aside and walked away.
“We’re serving dinner tonight.” The middle-aged man’s voice faded. “At the mission.” He flicked his foot at a small pile of debris.
Mr. Graves paused.
Shelton trotted down the alley behind him. “I’d like you to be there.” He slid the card into his former teacher’s hand. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Graves.”
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