A Christmas to Remember

A little while back I attempted to write a story, unedited, in  15minutes. Well, this one, written and edited, was my 30 minute challenge….A Christmas To Remember

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James Smart always knew he was born to do something great. Even as a child he would sit in his dad’s shop watching him tinker away, and James would talk about flying to the moon. Building his own car shop. Or loving mommy and daddy with ALL his heart for his WHOLE life. To a 7 year old, that was big.

What did James choose to do? He chose to go to culinary school in Italy and then return home to Canada to start up his own Italian restaurant – or as the locals would’ve called it – well, an Italian restaurant. Al Dente.He felt that the four years he spent in Tuscany warranted him a new ancestry to share with his own country. Even if it was through pasta and fresh spices.

Situated on Parkdale Street, James was able to catch the core of culture in his favourite city. He had a successful restaurant. Friends who loved him. Loving parents that visited often. To many, he seemed to have a great life. He had rugged good looks, even in his apron. Kind eyes and strong hands.

And here it was the Christmas season again and James felt that gnawing sense creep up on him again that he wanted something different this year. He didn’t know what. He just knew he wanted it to look differently. Maybe I need to ask Mindy out or, or, shave my hair. I just need this season to look different from all the rest.

As he closed Al Dente one Saturday night in late November, one light at a time, James saw a figure standing outside, leaning against the window. It was a woman. That he was sure of. And she was smoking, looking from side to side. Puffs of white vapour escaped her red mouth as though beckoning some distant stranger. James found it odd, and went out the front door this time to see what was going on.

As he did, a black Mercedes pulled up to the sidewalk outside his restaurant. Heart beating faster, James saw the young woman head towards the passenger window and lean in. He saw the hesitation in this woman’s face as she realized who was driving the car. An arm reached out from inside and as she wrestled to escape its grip, James realized he needed to act. Dropping his bag of leftovers, he ran to the black Mercedes and fought the hand that tried to hold the girl tight.

Finally, James and the woman won and the car sped off in a fury into the dark night. Leaving them in the exhaust.

James finally took a good look at the fragile, scared woman. She couldn’t have been more than 20. Her black leather jacket was probably the most expensive thing she owned and the dress she had on left little to the imagination. Her red curls had been pinned half back to reveal a beautiful, and innocent, face. Yet this innocent face appeared to have seen far too much for her age.

She afraid to speak.

“I’m, I’m James. I own Al Dente. Did he…did you know him?”

“I….I’m Julie. I started to work this street last night ‘cause I thought he wouldn’t be able to find me. I guess I was wrong.”

Julie was shaking.

“How long… how long have you…”

“How long have I been a prostitute? Three months. My mom needs the money for treatment and I ain’t got the education. I’m about half way there.”

Julie looked away to hide the tear that escaped her dark eyes.

“Umm. I know this might sound presumptuous or meddling. But…I need another waitress in my restaurant. Christmas is my busiest time of year. You’d make some great tips and, and….be safe,” James offered.

Julie looked up. Hope offered.

“I don’t need your charity. This has been working just fine.”

“You call this ‘just fine’ Julie? Please. Please let me help you. You can work full time. And if you just do it for the Christmas season, you’d be helping me out a lot.”

Julie hesitated, looking James up and down. Was he really honest? I didn’t have to sleep with anymore strangers?

“Okay. Thank you. I …I don’t know what to say.”

“How about ‘I can start Monday.’” James smiled.

Julie reached out her hand as though doing a business transaction with James, said good night, and they went their separate ways.

Julie did show up Monday. And Tuesday. And the rest of the holiday season. James watched her slowly come alive around the customers and saw a real personality start to blossom. She became the top “tip taking home waitress” of the whole restaurant. He even learned she could play guitar, so she would play a few nights on her break. She, quite frankly, surprised James in every way.

When December 24th rolled around and James was closing up shop, he found a note by the till, signed “To James, from Julie”.

Dear James. You may not know it, but you saved my life. By giving me this job you not only helped me pay for my mom’s treatment, but you showed me that I have more to offer than I realized. I forgot how much I loved playing my guitar. I’ve started saving money for music school. And would like to know if you need a waitress in January, I’ll be available. You are a great man James. Thank you. ~ Julie.

James, a man who rarely cried, let one wet tear drop to the note he held in his shaking hands.

Well James, you wanted something different. You wanted to do something great. And all along, it wasn’t about you anyway.The snowflakes were falling outside Al Dente that night as James looked at the very spot where Julie’s life changed forever.

I guess you never know what’s waiting outside your own front door.

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