Tom’s Gift

“Hey, Chris, wait up.”

Chris stopped and turned, waiting for his friend to catch him up.

“Hey, Tom. What’s up?”

“Off to the pub?”

“Of course. You?”

“Yeah. Well, Tracey is away at her mum’s till tomorrow. She’s left me instructions on how to cook my dinner, as if I would actually do that.”

The two resumed their brisk walk through the crisp evening air.

“Are you honestly telling me heating up a pizza is beyond you?”

“No, it’s just, I hate eating alone, you know? Sitting on my own in front of the TV, with only a can of lager for company. The Bell’s a much happier place to eat, and you can’t fault their beef and ale pie. You eating there?”

“Me? No, I’m on a diet.” Chris patted his stomach. There was a pause, then both men burst out laughing. “I thought I’d have a diet lemonade and a stick of celery, and then maybe go for a jog.” He laughed again, great guffaws filling the night air.

“You see, women never get that,” said Tom. “With them it’s all angst and wailing if they put on half a pound, but look at you, happy as a pig in, erm…”

“Clover?”

“Yeah, if you want. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you last five minutes without laughing. You’re happy in yourself, aren’t you?”

“I’m as happy as – wait! Are you calling me fat?”

“Well, I was, erm, it’s just -.”

“Because you’re right, I’m huge.” He laughed again at Tom’s look of relief. “Terribly unhealthy, apparently. Couldn’t recommend it to anyone else, but you’re right, I don’t care. In fact, I rather think it suits me. Mary always said she liked something to hold onto.” He jiggled his belly in two huge hands.

“Your wife? I didn’t know you were married.”

“Long time ago. Now I’m single, just like you, at least for tonight, eh? Two lads out on the town?”

Tom smiled at the old man. He’d never teamed up with more unlikely Lethario, not that anything other than a pie and a pint beckoned this evening.

“I’ll be happy if all I pull is a pint,” said Tom.

“Of course, of course. Tracey is a lovely woman. And she’ll love that necklace, too. Sapphire will bring out the green in her eyes.”

“How did you know?”

“Oh, it’s a small town, Tom, and Mrs Hawkins is a terrible gossip. But don’t worry, she won’t have told Tracey, and I certainly won’t. Good plan though, leaving it until two days before Christmas.”

“Well, I didn’t want her to see it on the bank statement, or ‘accidentally’ finding it before Christmas Day.”

“That’s nice. Waiting, I mean. So many people can’t wait to exchange presents, or they’ll wait until the January sales. No, exchanging presents on the day itself, that’s the way it should be.”

“Do you have family, Chris? I mean, are you going anywhere?”

“No, no family. I’m sure Mary wanted children, but it’s something that just never happened. Not that we ever discussed it.”

“I’m sorry,” said Tom, suddenly embarrassed to be trampling over the old man’s private life.

“No, no, don’t be. We may not have had kids of our own, but ours was an open house to every kid in the neighbourhood. We had a hundred unofficial children, and we could always give them back again when they got messy. Different times then, of course.”

“Look, I’ll have to clear it with Tracey, of course, but if you’re on your own Christmas Day, well, you could always come over.”

Chris guffawed and gave Tom a slap on his back that nearly sent him sprawling.

“Ha! Spend the day with you? An old man playing gooseberry, and Tracey the proud possessor of an emerald necklace? No. Bless you, Tom, that’s a generous thought, and I appreciate it, but no. Besides, I’m going to meet a few old friends tomorrow night, and I don’t suppose we’ll get to bed until Christmas morning. And when I hit my bed, I have every intention of sleeping through till the new year. Best way to avoid waking up with a hangover is to sleep through it.”

“Well, okay, if you’re sure. I wouldn’t want you sat all alone in a cold room, not on Christmas Day. Well, not on any day, really.”

“Don’t you worry about me. Can you see me being sad and lonely? No, I’ll stay up all night with my pals Christmas Eve, have more than my share of port, then when I’m finally sober enough to venture out, I expect I’ll meet up with someone in the pub. You’re not going to find me frozen like a turkey on Boxing Day.”

“Okay. The offer’s still there, though. Mind you, it is a bit chilly. Make sure you wrap up warm when you’re out carousing. You think it might snow?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Why?”

Tom smiled shyly. “It’s stupid, really. I mean, any other time, and the snow is a real pain, but at Christmas…. You know the last time it snowed at Christmas? I was a kid. Fourteen, maybe. Old enough to know better, obsessed with looking cool and everything. But that Christmas Day, it was magical. I might as well have been four, not fourteen. I woke up and the world had been turned into a Christmas card. Everyone was out on the street, snowballing, laughing, even the adults. It was like a scene out of It’s A Wonderful Life, you know? And not a white Christmas since. I just wish we could have at least one more white Christmas. Here we are. Come on, I’ll buy the first round.”

Chris stopped and looked up at the pub, the frontage bedecked with brightly-coloured lights. The windows were misted up, but the vague figures inside looked to be enjoying themselves. Above the murmur a Christmas carol could be heard on the jukebox.

“That’s very kind of you, Tom. I’ll have a pint of my usual. You go ahead. I just have to see a man about a dog.”

After Tom went inside Chris looked up at the sky. The stars hid behind thick dark clouds. Well, it could snow. Who was to say it wouldn’t snow naturally? He looked around and satisfied himself he was unobserved. He closed his eyes and shook himself, then threw his hands up in the air. A sparkle of light seemed to leap into the sky. Chris opened his eyes and looked up at the sky, a smile creasing his face. A large snowflake skittered down in the breeze and landed on his beard. He laughed and shook his head.

Well, Tom had been such a good boy this year.

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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