General Fiction posted January 6, 2020 Chapters: 3 4 -5- 6... 


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2,570 words. Lew, and his friends fill a desperate need.

A chapter in the book A Shadow On The Street

Christmastime

by papa55mike




Background
Lewis Bradley is a man forced into hiding by his unique gift. He has the ability to see inside the minds of the people he passes.
The digital clock on my computer flips over to midnight. It is now December Twenty-Third, or has my grandpa would say, "Christmas Eve, Eve." What a cantankerous old soul he was, but he loved people in a big way. Grandpa never met a stranger. For me, I avoid people like the plague.

The facts Kathy introduced me to the other day were staggering. A hundred people or more are living on the streets in downtown Memphis. I wonder how many are women and children? How do they protect themselves in the cold, snow, and rain? What keeps them from becoming hopeless? No wonder the pain is so extreme in Caleb and Terrel. Both of them feel like failures. I'd call them survivers.

There must be something I can do for these people. Any small step could change their lives. Even if it's just showing them someone cares.

I slide out of my office chair and get on my knees. "Father, Your majesty fills my life. Please show me a way to help these deserving souls. Let me show Your undying love for them in some way. In Jesus' name. Amen."

~

The coffee pot always starts perking at three-thirty every morning. I'm channel surfing my way to TBN; the nighttime commercials are always entertaining, but I see why they're not on after five o'clock.

I stop at a Food Giant commercial advertising a complete turkey dinner for ten people, and it's under forty dollars. A ham dinner is only thirty dollars. The dinner includes large pans of sweet potato casserole, green beans, dressing, rolls, and two pies for dessert. So, I can feed a hundred people for around four-hundred dollars.

I fall back to my knees. "Thank you, Father. Your guidance is astonishing. In Jesus' name. Amen!"

~

I pour my third cup of coffee at five-thirty when Kathy comes out of their bedroom. "Do you ever sleep, Lew? I heard you up at midnight."

"Since I received my so-called gift, I don't sleep much. Maybe three hours a night."

"Wow," Kathy sips her freshly poured coffee. "When did you acquire your gift?" She sits down across the table from me.

"I don't remember a specific moment that something happened. One Sunday, I was praying with a man who came to the Altar to receive the Lord, and suddenly I saw he was lying. He did it to get his wife off his back. I prayed with him, though."

"What happened next?"

"Well, I was greeting the congregation after service and began to see what people thought about me. Including my ex-wife, Sandra."

"Was there any good in their thoughts, Lew?"

"A few."

"I see why your gift is such a burden."

"The Lord gave it to me for a reason, Kathy. Maybe it was to save you and Caleb?"

Kathy's eyes begin to tear up. "Well, you certainly did that."

"Let's talk about you for a minute," I drink my last bit of coffee for the day. "Tell me about your felony conviction."

"According to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Fed's, I hacked the Region's bank computer to steal money. But I didn't. I wanted to check the balances of my friends to find out who I could borrow money from; they said I caused twelve thousand dollars worth damage. I got off with a five-thousand-dollar fine and two-years probation. It could have been much worse."

"We can get that charge reduced. I'll start looking for a way after the first of the year. How long ago was it?"

"Three years ago. We paid every dollar, Lew. Caleb worked, and I was a babysitter at home while pregnant with Amy."

"That was right before you became homeless?"

"Yeah, Caleb lost his job, and the downward spiral started." Kathy has a puzzled look on her face. "Why didn't you remarry, Lew?"

"How could I do that to another woman. The pressure would be enormous. Do you have any secrets hidden from Caleb?"

"A couple," Kathy shakes her head. "I see your point."

"Kathy," I get up and pour me an extra half a cup. "Is what you said about the Homeless Network true? A hundred homeless people live all around downtown?"

"The number 103 sticks in my mind, but I'd have to check my phone."

"Does that include the children?"

"No, I'd add at least thirty children. Why are you asking?"

"Because the Lord has put it on my heart to help them in some way. I was thinking about having a Christmas dinner for all of them here. We have plenty of room."

"You're going to cook that much food?"

"No," I chuckle. "Food Giant has a great deal on a meal that serves ten people. I was planning on ordering twelve of those meals if you, Caleb, and Terrel will help me. I'm so glad Terrel and Earl stayed with us."

"Me, too," Kathy wipes her eyes again. "You have the biggest heart, Lew. Of course, we'll help you."

"Great, let's talk about it when everybody gets up."

~

It's becoming a familiar scene at the kitchen table with all of us gathered around. Caleb, Kathy, Terrel and I are drinking coffee or water discussing the day's events, or sharing the dreams we all have. It's the closest I've been to a family in many years. The only difference is, they're at one end of the table, I'm at the other.

Terrel scoots his chair a little closer. "I can't believe you want to feed all of those people, Lew."

"Let me ask you a question, Terrel. If somebody would have done this for you and Earl last Christmas, would it have given you hope for the coming year?"

"Yes," Terrel wipes his face with his hands. "I remember last Christmas, so well. Earl and I were wandering the streets. I knew we would have to struggle to find a meal, and there was no present from Santa for Earl. You're right, Lew, I was utterly hopeless."

"That's why I want to do this, Terrel. If this meal gives a few people the hope to continue their struggle, then it's worth doing."

"Well," Kathy sets her bottled water down. "We're going to need more than just the food. There's plates, spoons, forks, glasses, and drinks to buy. What about tables and chairs?"

"I'm going to Tony's tomorrow morning, and I'll pick up all of that there. Besides, I think Tony will want to donate something. I think there are enough tables to serve everybody, but we'll have to sit on the floor to eat. A Christmas picnic."

"Believe me," Caleb nods. "That won't bother anybody."

"Great. So, Caleb and Terrel will pick up the food at noon, Christmas Eve. Kathy and I will set up the tables outside the office. The dinner will be at five. To avoid the majority of people, I'll work the kitchen warming the food up, and you guys will get to serve everybody. I want to pray with all of them before we start."

"You better!" Kathy laughs.

"I have a surprise for the kids. Caleb, in the back of that closet in your bedroom, is a long box with a big tote beside it. Can you bring them here?"

"Sure." Caleb sets off on his journey.

Kathy leans over to me. "What are you up to, Lew?"

"You'll see."

Caleb walks out with a face full of joy. "It's a Christmas tree!"

Earl jumps up from the television. "Did you say we have a Christmas tree?"

"Yes, Earl. I think we have two deserving families yearning to decorate this forgotten tree. I'll boil some water for hot chocolate."

The spirit of Christmas begins to fill the room.

~

The walk to Tony's is a little brisk this Christmas Eve morning. The wind is channeling down the streets. I have my overcoat pulled close, and there's nobody out at six o'clock. The cold wind follows me in the front door and blows newspapers around. "Merry Christmas, Tony."

"Well, Merry Christmas, Lew. Somebody is full of the spirit this morning."

"For some unknown reason, I bought Christmas presents for a few people. One of them happens to be yours. I didn't wrap it because I don't know-how." I give Tony a watch box. "I heard you say you broke your watch."

Tony slides off the top of the box. "What a beautiful pocket watch. Thank you, Lew. I didn't get you a thing, and feel ashamed."

"Well, I can use your help. I have a few people coming for Christmas dinner this evening. I need plates, forks, spoons, cups, and drinks for a hundred and forty people."

"A hundred and forty people! Boy, have you changed, Lew. What brought this on?"

"Christmas, I guess."

"Let me guess; you're doing this for the homeless?"

"How did you know, Tony?"

"I read your mind. You have already taken in two families from off the street. How are they doing?"

"Well, Caleb has been working for a week. Terrel starts on his crew the day after Christmas. What a blessing that is!"

"How do you plan to carry all of this home? I'm thinking fifteen two liters, five gallons of tea, and a couple of gallons of milk."

"I have a hundred bill for it all if it can be delivered. I'll carry all of the utensils and cups. You better add some napkins. I hope you have some coffee and breakfast ready. I'm hungry!"

"I always close at noon on Christmas Eve, and it will be a pleasure to deliver the stuff. Let me make you a biscuit, and I'll start gathering all of this up."

"Why, thank you, Tony. I'll pour us both some coffee."

~

Quietly, I close the door to the old shoe factory, then try to imagine this massive room full of needy souls in fellowship. Let's take this evening to build a heavenly hope in each person. Maybe I see too much in this, but I serve a powerful God. I hope we sing some Christmas Carols.

I stop at the office door to enjoy the tree everybody decorated yesterday. The silver and blue glass spheres glisten in the flashing lights. Kathy mentioned that Amy has never smiled that much. She cherished every ornament put on the tree.

"I hope Amy's joy spreads to all of us."

Slowly, I make my way through the office door with all of the packages from Tony's. Sitting all of the bags on the table, I begin to feel the warmth of family in this room. I don't remember feeling this happiness in my life.

~

It's two o'clock in the afternoon. Caleb and Terrel left at eleven-thirty to pick up the food. "I wonder what's taking so long, Kathy?"

"Caleb texted me; they just left. It took them forever to load it all up!"

Ten minutes later, we hear the overhead door open, and Caleb pulls next to the office and gets out. "Lew, do you realize how much food you bought. They rolled all of it out on big moving dollies. I have a trunk full of turkeys and hams. In the back are thirty-six oven pans full of dressing, sweet potatoes, and green beans. That doesn't count the twenty-four pies and twelve boxes of rolls. I hope everybody shows up, or we'll be eating Christmas dinner for a month."

Kathy laughs. "We're talking free food. They'll be here."

"How many have you heard from?" Terrel asks.

"Eighty-five, so far."

"Well," I pick up two pans marked sweet potatoes. "Let's get it all in the kitchen."

Both families pitch in. Earl and Amy, start carrying the rolls and pies.

~

The first of our guests for the evening begin to arrive at four o'clock. They're thankful to be out of the cold rain that started to fall. It's incredible how many of them Caleb and Kathy know personally. There's not one person that hasn't hugged them both.

It's been a steady stream of people through the door. Families have spread blankets out everywhere. It reminds me of a concert in the park.

Caleb has everyone singing Jingle Bells in four-part harmony. What a beautiful voice he has.

Kathy and I begin to bring out the first hams and turkeys to thunderous applause. Kathy puts her hand to her ear while begging for more praise. We continue to fill the tables with food.

We're finally ready to start. Kathy holds up her hand; it becomes instantly quiet. I see the leader insider of her. "Our friend, Lew, wants to lead us in grace."

All eyes turn to me. I've never seen a room full of joy like this before. There's a beautiful smile on every face. "Let us all pray. Father in heaven, thank you for Your Son, who was born on this night. He came into this world to love us back to redemption and bring us all into a joyous, overflowing life in His grace. May we all have homes next Christmas. In Jesus' name. Amen."

Caleb holds up his hand this time. "We want the kids first, then the wives. All of the men will have to wait, including me."

The children quickly line up at the tables.

We're on the last of the turkeys and ham, but there's still plenty of vegetables. I start bringing out the pies already sliced. The first in line for pie is a young pregnant woman who might be eighteen. She looks ready to deliver at any moment. When she passes me, I see inside her mind. Her water broke this morning, and the contractions are increasing. Eight minutes apart and growing closer. Now, I see her squatting beside a dumpster with her boyfriend delivering a stillborn child. The young woman wraps the child in her sweater and places the baby in the trash. I drop the pan I'm holding with the link breaks.

Kathy runs over to me. "Are you all right, Lew?"

"Yeah, I need to talk to you in the kitchen." She follows me. "The pregnant girl that walked by me. Do you know her?"

"Yeah, her name is Cindy."

"Well, she's in labor right now. Cindy will deliver her baby on the street tonight, but it won't survive unless we get her to a hospital."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Go talk to her, and I'll call an ambulance."

It took ten minutes to talk Cindy and Jimmy into going to the hospital. Kathy had to tell them what I saw before they decided to go. All of this worry about the hospital bill could have killed their baby.

~

The rain stops before the guests start to leave. I'm standing in the door of the office watching Caleb, Kathy, and Terrel hug our last guests before they headed to where they were staying. I wish we could do more. They deserve it.

Kathy walks up to me, grabs my hands, and smiles.

I see the love inside of her, thanking me for the joy we shared tonight.

"You're welcome, sweetie."

Caleb, Terrel, and Kathy wrap their arms around me.

~

My digital clock on my computer flips to midnight again. It's Christmas Day. I take the two presents I've kept hidden and slowly put them under the tree. It's not much - a doll for Amy and a truck for Earl.

"Santa didn't forget you this Christmas."



I don't know why I have a Christmas story in most of my books? But I do.

Many thanks for stopping by to read!
Have a great day, and God bless.
mike
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