It was either going to be the best Christmas morning ever, or the absolute worst.
As the alarm chirped, Glen rolled over and stared into his wife’s sunken eyes. “It’s going to be okay, Bev. They’re teenage boys; they’ll understand…”
With a submissive tear adding to the pool on her pillowcase, she nodded and smiled, “Merry Christmas, Glen.”
“You, too, Sweetheart. God can bring good out of any tragedy; this is no exception.”
Bev laid her head on her husband’s chest, and was lulled back to sleep by the cadence of his heartbeat. In seven fleeting minutes, the persistent snooze alarm roused them to their feet.
As Bev passed the living room on her way to the kitchen, she paused as she eyed the tree. In all their years, it had never looked so barren underneath. There were several gift baskets and brightly wrapped gift for the extended family that they would see later that evening, but the packages of red and gold that were usually spread to the walls were not there. Instead, one red and one gold envelope rested in the branches. In the years past, she and Glen would rise hours before sunrise to arrange their sons’ presents under the tree. When Jeremy, their oldest was born, they started the tradition of wrapping all his “Santa” presents in red foil paper. Two years later, they assigned baby Jacob gold paper. Those gifts never had name tags; each child knew which was theirs and who it was from.
They all loved this tradition, but for Glen and Bev, this year it imploded and devoured itself.
She sighed and moved on to the kitchen, where Glen was starting a morning fire in the sitting nook. Bev poured two cups of coffee and preheated the Viking oven for the cranberry scones she has waiting in the fridge. As the sun rose above the tree line, she could hear movement upstairs.
Within ten minutes, the scones were filling the open kitchen with their aroma, and the boys descended down the kitchen staircase with bed-head and smiles. “Mornin’! Merry Christmas, Kiddos.” Glen gave them both hugs and mussed their already mussed hair.
“Smells awesome, Mom,” said Jeremy.
Jacob just put his arm around her waist and gave her a sheepish look as she pulled the baking sheet from the over. Bev glanced at Glen, who took the lead. “Sure, boys, go on in the living room.”
Glen and Bev followed them into the formal living room, where the perfectly decorated tree loomed twenty feet high in front of the towering windows. The boys froze in shock. The absence of red and gold looked uncharacteristic under their familiar tree.
The envelopes still lent a glimmer of hope to Jeremy and Jacob, who slowed knelt at the edge of the skirt.
Both boys opened their envelopes and absorbed the front. They were handmade from construction papers; Jacob’s had a childlike drawing of Christmas tree, and Jeremy’s portrayed a stick figure nativity scene in red crayon. As they opened them, several photographs fell into their laps. Mostly were pictures of kids they didn’t know. Just as Jemremy appeared to be forming the question on his lips, he saw the last picture. It was a plump tree covered in paper ornaments and garland, and underneath were at least fifty red and gold packages. In silence, Jeremy and Jacob glanced back and forth from the photo of the gifts to the card. The inside of each was inscribed with dozens of children’s signatures, and also in crayon, “Thank You, and Merry Christmas from the Evangelical Children’s Home!”
Jeremy looked up at his parents, who were tearfully anticipating their sons’ reactions. “I feel like such a tool.”
“Oh, Sweetie,” Bev sighed, “We have so much. Our home, our family. We didn’t tell you this, but Dad and I were at the mall during the stampede that killed that man. The crowd surged forward when the doors opened and we were violently forced through. I was so scared, but then I felt the softness of that man under my feet as I was pushed over him. Dad and I pleaded for his life, but no one listened. They were blinded by their greed. When we finally got out to the car, we cried, prayed, and asked for forgiveness for our own greed. We don’t want to perpetuate that in you two…anymore.”
“This is pretty cool and all, but I was wondering…will I still get birthday presents?”
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