Anthony crouched next to the telephone booth behind the Rescue Mission. He pushed back a strand of dirty hair and wiped a ragged sleeve across his nose. He was sick of hot dogs and beans at the Rescue Mission and their phony Christmas spirit. He hated the sight of plastic Christmas trees, fake Santa’s and the city’s hollow Christmas cheer.
Last Christmas, his family had hiked through snow to cut down a Christmas tree. He and Mom watched holiday movies, sipping hot chocolate. His name was on most of the presents under the tree. He was always the tallest Wise Man in the Christmas Eve Nativity play. Life was good, but not good enough. He had brindled under Dad’s strict rules. ‘Be home by eleven. Clean up your room. No girl friends in your bedroom.’
Feeling that his life was unbearable and the rules unfair, and dreaming of being his own boss, he left home. He’s show them. He would find a job, rent an apartment, and buy a nice car. Such wonderful plans at the time…
Several months had passed and none of his plans had worked out. Without a high school diploma, he couldn’t find a job. Without a job, he couldn’t even rent a room, and the car he wanted? A pipe dream.
He shivered in the cold and pulled a wallet and ring box from his pocket. Now, look at me; a common thief, homeless and hungry. What a fool I am. I want to go home.
Anthony counted the money in the wallet$267. The glow of the light pole glinted off the diamond in the platinum engagement ring. Was it enough? Maybe with the stolen money and if he pawned the ring, it would be enough for a bus ticket home…All the way across country. But, what if Mom and Dad turned him away? What if…? Anthony stepped into the phone booth and dialed the familiar number. The phone rang three times.
“Hello?” His mom’s voice... So warm, so reassuring. Would she…?
“Hi, Mom. It’s me, Anthony.” Tears stung his eyes. “Umm…Mom? Can I come home?”
Mark slumped onto his fiancé’s sofa. “What am I going to do? He took everything, all my money and…even Mom’s ring.”
Martha sat beside Mark and took his hand. “Why did you have your mom’s ring with you?”
“I was taking it to have it cleaned after work, but the jeweler’s was closed when I got there.” Mark kicked the side of the coffee table, knocking over a cup. Coffee wicked into the doily, turning the edges brown. He put his hand over his eyes and lowered his head. “It was supposed to be your Christmas present.”
“Oh!” Martha’s face flushed. “Tell me what happened.”
“The kid stepped out of the shadows. It looked like he had a gun in his pocket. He demanded money. I gave him my wallet and then he said, ‘Empty your pockets,’ almost like he knew I had something more. I didn’t want to give up the ring, but he kept jerking his hand, like he was gonna shoot. I took out the ring box and he snatched it and ran. I just stood there like an idiot. I thought I was going to die.” Mark knuckled his eyes.
“Oh, Mark. You could have been killed!”
“Your ring is gone and a weeks’ pay,” Mark groaned. “How can I even make my car payment? Why do these things happen?”
“We don’t always understand why bad stuff happened, but we have to trust that God has a plan. Even when bad things happen, there’s usually some good come out of it.”
“What good can come from this? Mom’s never going to forgive me for losing her ring, and I can’t afford to buy you another one.”
Martha put Mark’s arm around her shoulder. “Give me a hug. I’d marry you, even with a paper cigar band around my finger.”
Mark pulled her into an embrace. It’s my own fault. I shouldn’t have gone into that neighborhood after dark.
The bell over the shop door tinkled when a portly man entered the neighborhood pawn shop the next afternoon. He glanced around the shop and walked straight to a glass case filled with rings and watches.
An elderly man stepped through the curtain in the doorway into the back room. “Afternoon.” His head dipped in greeting. “Help ya? In the market for somethin’ shiny?” His eyes danced in expectation as he ran a hand over his week-old bearded chin.
George peered at the rows of diamond rings in the glass case. “Interested in your diamond rings.” He glanced up at the clerk. “And, don’t think you can pull a fast one. I know a real diamond from a chip a’ glass.”
The clerk threw up his hands. “You can trust me. I’m an honest man.” He unlocked the cabinet. “Which one ya’ fancy?”
George pointed. “Third from the left, second row.”
“Nice choice. Bought it off a kid just this morning. His grandma’s ring, he said. Nice platinum mounting, quarter carat diamond. It’s yours for two hundred bucks.”
“Sounds like a lot. Let me see it.”
“So yer’ getting hitched?”
“Nah! Puttin’ a ring on her finger to shut her up. Insurance!” He chuckled. “So she don’t leave me. You know how it is. Women!”
The elderly clerk nodded. “Sure. All alike.”
George held the ring up to the light. “I’ll take it.” He pulled a bundle of bills from his Warehouse for Stout-Men’s breast pocket, counted out nine twenties and laid them on the counter. “$180 cash. That enough?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Bein’ as its cash, it’ll do.” The old man stuffed the bills into his pocket. He produced a silver ring box from under the counter, inserted the ring and handed it to George. “Need a bag?”
“Nah!” George tucked the ring inside his suit jacket. “Got a receipt?”
“The way I figger,” the old man said, “With no need for counting the money so exact, there’s no need for a receipt.”
“Sure great doin’ business with an honest man.” The doorbell tinkled overhead as the cold air struck George’s face. He stooped into the wind and walked away.
That evening, George and Lisa strolled along the snowy sidewalk outside Macy’s Department Store. Lisa stopped beside the display window. She grabbed George’s arm. “Oh, look Georgie. Will you buy me that pretty dress for Christmas? Will ya, Georgie?”
He shook his head. “I’m not gonna buy some dumb dress. I bought you something nice this afternoon.” He reached into his pocket and drew out the silver ring box.
“Oh, Georgie, for me?” Lisa’s eyes glittered as bright as the diamond inside the box. She slipped the ring on her finger. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Now we can get married. Let’s drive to Reno tomorrow! Can we, Georgie?” She touched his cheek and drew his face down for a kiss.
He jerked his head back. His cheeks warmed. “Knock it off, Lisa.” He scowled. “You know I hate it when you get all smoochie in public. For once, will you pretend you’re a lady?”
Her face crumpled. George put his hands on her shoulders. “Hey! I’m sorry. You know I love ya’, Baby. Give me a kiss. Aren’t you my fi-ance’ now?” Lisa wrapped her arms around his stout middle and tilted her head for a kiss. George’s lips barely grazed her forehead. He looked around to see if anyone was watching. The shoppers on the sidewalk scurried past without a glance.
“You call that a kiss?” Lisa waved her ring in front of George’s face. “We’re engaged, right? Well? What do you say? Are we going to Reno tomorrow, or not?”
“Listen, Baby. I got too much going on right now. I hadn’t exactly thought about getting married so soon. Can’t you be my fi-ance’ for a year or two–?
“A year or two? I don’t want to wait that long. Pretty soon, I’ll be too old to have babies, and–”
“Babies? What babies? First you’re talking marriage and now you’re talking babies? I didn’t plan on havin’ no…”
Lisa’s face paled. She pulled off the ring and shrieked, “Just as I thought. The only reason you bought me a ring was you figured it would keep me quiet. Well, it won’t work, George. I’m not waiting a year or two, or a month or two! We’re through!” Lisa pitched the ring into the street where it disappeared under two inches of snow. She whirled and ran down the street, waving. “Taxi!” Lisa jumped into a passing cab and before George had time to catch his breath, the cab turned the corner and disappeared.
George plunged into the street in search of the ring. As he dodged between cars, kicking at the snow, cursing, a cab driver called 911. “Better come quick. There’s going to be an accident. Some crazy man is running in front of cars in front of Macy’s Department Store.”
Within minutes, two policemen had George handcuffed and headed for the station, under arrest for disturbing the peace.
“But, you don’t understand,” George whined. “I wasn’t trying to cause a wreck. There’s a diamond ring out there under the snow!”
“Uh huh... It’s Christmas Eve,” the officer said. “Maybe Santa will tuck one in your stocking, tonight. In jail!”
Christmas morning, George was released after a thorough psychiatric consultation determined that he was no risk to himself or society.
In the next cell block, the pawn shop owner was being booked for selling stolen property, the result of an undercover sting operation….
Across town, Lisa sat red-eyed and sniffling, wondering if a George in the bush was better than no George at all...
Martha and Mark attended Christmas morning church services with Mark’s mother…
Outside of town, a flock of crows huddled in a tree near a hill where children swooshed through the snow in new, bright-re Christmas sleds. Roused by the children’s laughter, a crow rose up and swooped over the treetops, across the town square and landed on the warm metal roof of Macy’s Department Store.
As the sun melted the snow, the crow spotted something glittering in the street. He swooped down and picked up the bright object, flew over the park and past the church parking lot where Mark and Martha were walking with other parishioners after the service. Attracted by the crowd, the crow circled back. Now, his attention was caught by a shiny gum wrapper tossed out a car window.
The crow dropped the ring and dove for the silvery paper, picked it up and flew away. The ring plummeted down and landed at Mark’s feet. He leaned down. “What on earth?” Chill bumps raced up the back of his neck. “Why, it’s Mom’s engagement ring…! How on earth…?” Mark turned and looked up.
The sky was empty except for a crow, flying away with a shiny gum wrapper in its beak. “It’s like it fell from Heaven. It’s a miracle!” Mark slid the ring on Martha’s finger and pulled her into his arms.
Eighteen hours later, Anthony peered wearily from the window as the bus pulled into an Omaha bus terminal. Will they forgive me? Will they let me stay and go back to school? Maybe I could work in Dad’s store and earn my room and board.
An hour later, Anthony’s mother opened the front door and Anthony stepped into his living room. His dog rushed out, body squirming, tail a-wag. A Welcome Home banner stretched across the fireplace. A Christmas tree sparkled with lights. The aroma of turkey and stuffing wafted from the kitchen. Tears flooded Anthony’s eyes. “Mom. I–”
“Welcome home, son. Dinner will be ready as soon as your Dad gets home.”