“Hey, watch it, kid!”
The object had grazed my shoulder as it whisked through the air, inches from my ear.
“You almost hit me in the head with that thing!” I scowled at the little boy.
“I’m really sorry, Ma’am.” He picked up the small, Balsa wood glider and plunked down on the bench beside me.
“I wasn’t aiming at you or anything—my airplane just took off; sorry. My name’s Jacob, what’s yours?”
“Kate.” I tightened my long coat around me and adjusted my scarf.
“Is that short for Katherine?”
Folding my arms in front of me, I jerked my head to the side to face Jacob. In a strange way, his forwardness was refreshing.
“No. If you must know, my mother used to call me Katarina.”
Jacob’s forehead wrinkled as he tugged at the flaps of his red, plaid trapper hat.
“So, why doesn’t she call you that anymore? Did she die?”
Facing forward, I released a quick breath.
“No, she’s still alive. She just . . . doesn’t.”
Jacob looked ahead and began making downward dives with his plane.
“You waiting for a bus?”
“Uh-huh.” Yep, waiting for a bus to take me back to my miniscule apartment so I could belly up to a bowl of tomato soup. Sigh. I was grateful he didn’t ask any further questions about my mother.
Jacob made swooshing noises with his plane as an overhead speaker crooned the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Hmmm. Interesting how one can remember the lyrics to a song that’s only heard once a year. I breathed in the robust smell of pine and surveyed the ornate Christmas decorations strewn about the main street of historic downtown Duncan, Oklahoma. I guess it was pretty, but I didn’t like it. I much preferred the Old West charm of the city in the spring with the Crepe Myrtles in full bloom. I used to love the magic of the Christmas season, but now, it only served as a painful reminder.
“Don’t you just love Christmas?” Jacob was now standing, gliding his plane along the back rail of the bench.
I lied. This year, Christmas would be just another day, spent alone, preempted by an onslaught of disappointments.
An avalanche of hurt, anger, bad timing, and depression–all started last Christmas. After three, rewarding years together, at least rewarding for me, he dumped me . . . on Christmas day, to replace me with a “perky” nineteen-year-old bimbo. Granted, I was only four years older than her, however, light years ahead of her maturity.
On that same Christmas day, my immediate family had a “family meeting”, as we sat around the twinkling tree lights while sipping hot cocoa. The decision was made by my millionaire, realtor brother for Mom and Dad to move to his town in Florida. Mom’s Alzheimer’s disease was worsening, and he insisted they live closer to him. What about me? I was always close to my mom, even though she could no longer remember to call me Katarina. I realized it was becoming more difficult for my dad to care for her, but . . . Florida was so far away.
Adding insult to injury, the restaurant where I worked went out of business that week and I lost my job as a hostess. I only had a little savings on account of helping Dad care for my mom and working when I could. My brother knew I couldn’t afford to travel on my waitress wages from my new job at the diner. You’d think he would help his little sister out with a plane ticket occasionally, but, no. One of the reasons we hardly speak to each other anymore. Nope, this year, there is nothing to be thankful for and certainly nothing to celebrate.
I sure miss my mom . . . even if she doesn’t remember me.
Tears stung my eyes as night began to drop on the city like a heavy curtain. Jacob had his eyes glued on the sky as stars began to hang above the backdrop of the distant mountains.
“Jacob,” I cleared my throat. “How old are you? It’s getting dark. Shouldn’t you go home?”
“I’m ten.” Jacob kept his gaze toward the night sky, intently focusing on what appeared to be one, solitary star, larger than its’ companions. “And, I’m already home—behind you. That’s where I live.”
I glanced at the buildings behind me and read the sign over the door of a building sandwiched between a thrift shop and a hardware store. The sign read, “Beacon House Supportive Living Center.” My back stiffened as I jerked my head back to Jacob.
“Are you a foster kid?” I said, tipping my head to the side.
“Sort of. I’ve been in foster homes, but they’re only temporary, and sometimes it’s hard to find a family, so I ended up here in this group home.”
“Jacob, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
Jacob squished his eyebrows together and shot me a blank look.
“Why are you sorry?” His eyes locked on mine.
“Well,” I hesitated. “I don’t know. I mean, I feel bad you’re from a broken family.” Crossing my arms, I dropped my head, realizing I wasn’t even with my family anymore.
“It’s no biggie. I figure we’re all broken, right?”
No kidding. Jacob was quite the astute ten-year-old.
He tugged at my arm, demanding my attention. “I’ve been in foster care since I was born. I’ve never known my parents, so . . . this here is my family.”
His soft eyes filled with an inner glow as he continued.
“I have food, I have a bed, I have friends, and they care about me. I’m good with that!” He imparted a crisp nod and folded his hands, directing his gaze back up to the sky.
With a sudden heat rising to my cheeks, I sat with slumped shoulders in shame. Who was I to claim exemption? Following his line of vision, I too, focused on that one, solitary star as we sat in silence for a long moment.
“’When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.’” Jacob’s voice sounded like a narrator from a Christmas movie.
“Do you know that verse from the Bible?” Jacob said, turning his face toward mine.
“Um, no. I’m not much acquainted with the ‘Good Book’, although that verse does sound familiar.”
“It’s from the book of Matthew—how the wise men reacted after they were shown the location of the baby Jesus by the Star of Bethlehem.”
Yeah, whatever. I kept silent, so as not to squelch Jacob’s apparent enthusiasm.
“You see that big star up there?” Jacob asked. “That’s my star. Mine for the taking.”
“Is that so?” I released a slight chuckle at the whimsy of this young man.
“Yep. That star reminds me I’m special and that I have purpose.”
Shifting my posture toward Jacob, I raised my eyebrows. “So, what do you think your purpose in life is Jacob?”
A wide grin filled his young face as blue eyes penetrated my soul.
“I just wanna make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Speechless, I held his gaze until the rattle of the “EL” averted my attention. Ppssss. The bus came to an abrupt halt. Pulling my purse around my shoulder, I stood to face Jacob as the bus door opened.
“Jacob, you are a fine young man. I enjoyed our visit. Take care now.” Climbing the narrow steps, I found a seat by the window and glanced out at Jacob and smiled, adding a mild wave.
“Bye Katarina!” Jacob shouted.
The black, night sky was as thick as velvet when I arrived at my apartment after my long day. I made myself a cup of hot tea and sat in my rocking chair, unable to shake off my recent encounter with the young man named Jacob.
My cat, Winston, jumped onto my lap as I began to survey my surroundings. I noted my meager, but warm furnishings, including the antique rocker from my grandmother. I smiled at my few, cute wall hangings. My eyes caught glimpse of the delicate, blue and white patchwork quilt my mom made for me. I examined framed photos throughout the room of significant people in my life, which even included my brother. I even had fluffy Winston in my life. Rocking back and forth, Jacobs’ words echoed in my mind. We’re all broken, aren’t we?
A gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach signaled my desire for some dinner. Stepping into my kitchenette, I took inventory of my food selections. Typically, I’d grumble at what I don’t have, but somehow, I was more aware than ever before how much I did have. I had bread, peanut butter, crackers, cereal, some chicken, milk, and even a tiny carton of ice cream. Oh, and soup. I had lots of tomato soup, which happened to be my favorite.
I continued to think about Jacob. As I reflected on Jacob’s confident determination to pursue joy in his life, the phone on the kitchen counter seemed to glare at me, beckoning my attention. After staring at the phone, motionless, for several minutes, I finally reached for the receiver and dialed a number.
“Hey bro, it’s me. We haven’t talked in quite a while, and well, I . . . just thought maybe we could catch up.”
We talked for one hour.
After putting my pajamas on, I pulled open the curtain from my bedroom window. Looking out at the dark sky, I swallowed a small lump in my throat and smiled, knowing I wouldn’t be alone this Christmas after all. There was a certain young man I’d definitely be visiting. As I focused on that big, lone star, it seemed to be dancing in place. Maybe that was my star, too. Mine for the taking. Jacob’s gentle words came to recollection.
“I just wanna make a difference in other people’s lives.” I repeated his phrase as I winked at my star.
Well, Jacob, I think you already have.
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