Joe and Chrissy walked out of class at Ashton School and headed to lunch Just before they got to the lunchroom, Ms. Geddes, the principal, came over to them.
“Joe, go get your coat. Your mother is on her way to pick you up.”
Joe looked at Chrissy then back at Ms. Geddes. “Why?”
“She’ll explain everything when she gets here, now hurry along. Chrissy, you go eat. You can talk to Joe later.”
“Call me and let me know what’s going on, okay Joe?” she said, and disappeared into the lunch room.
When the car pulled up, and Joe saw his mom and dad, he knew something was wrong. In his heart he knew what it was, but he pushed away the thoughts. But the look in his mother’s eyes said it all.
“What’s going on?” he said, as he climbed in the back seat and buckled his seat belt.
His parents glanced at each other. His father nodded as his mother turned in her seat to face him.
“Grandpa is very sick, Joe. He wanted to talk to you one last time…” The words caught in her throat.
His father took over. “Remember how he explained about hospice and spending his last few days at home? Well, the time has come. We need you to be brave about this. Can you do that?”
Through the tears in eyes he looked at his father. “I can do this, Dad. Grandpa explained it all.” He turned and stared out the window as the car headed home. He wondered if he believed his own words.
Following his parents into the room, he peeked from behind them. His grandfather lay on the bed, a slow breath moving his chest. One eye opened, and then the other. A smile crossed his face.
“No need to thank me for getting you out of school early.” He laughed, coughed, then smiled again. “Now come here a moment. I have one last secret for you.”
Joe came around from behind his parents, looked at his mother as she smiled through her own tears, then ran to the bed.
“Now there’ll be none of the sadness nonsense. This is all part of the deal. If you want to live, understand you will someday die. But look at my life.
“I had a wonderful woman that I married, Even though she left us before you came along. I had a special daughter who grew to be an amazing woman, met your father, and brought you into this world.
“And now I have you. I never could have had any of it if I wasn’t willing to see it to the end. I wouldn’t change a thing. Now come here.” He motioned with his hand for Joe to come closer as he sat up in bed.
Whispering so only Joe could here, he said. “Joe, I won’t be here to help you from now on. There’s still much to do before Christmas. Everyone is counting on you to see this through.
“Remember these things. Be brave, be honest, and be willing to listen. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything. If you doubt yourself, you will fail. Never let doubt make your decisions for you, let them come from your heart.”
The old man lay back on his pillow. Catching his breath, the smile still wide on his face, he closed his eyes for a moment.
Turning once more to look at Joe, his eyes twinkling with magic, the smile broad and bright, he seemed full of life. “And hold fast to your memories, for in those memories everyone you love will always be with you.”
The old’s man head slumped to the side. His mother and father moved closer. Joe held the old man’s hand.
“Gotcha’,” the old man said, eyes now wide open. “I believe I have time for one last hot chocolate.”
“Dad,” Joe’s mom said. “That’s not funny.” But Joe and his father were both laughing along with the old man.
“C’mon, you two,” Joe’s mom said. “Help me make the hot chocolate.”
As they left the room, Joe’s grandfather smiled. He knew it was always meant to be this way. He never doubted it for one moment. Happy with the thought of passing on the tradition, he faced the final path in life with a joyful heart.
“I’m so sorry about your grandpa, Joe. He was a really nice man.” Chrissy stood with Joe in his living room as people milled about. His parents sat on the couch as everyone told stories, remembering things about his grandpa.
Joe looked around, motioned for Chrissy to follow him into the other room, then took two large envelopes out of his pocket. He handed one to Chrissy.
“What’s this?” she asked, seeing her name emblazoned in red letters on the gold envelope.
“My grandfather left them in my room for me. Look on the back, it says you’re supposed to open yours tomorrow and I open mine on Christmas Eve.”
“What do you think is in them, Joe?”
He shrugged. “No idea, but they must be important. Let’s meet first thing in the morning and we’ll open yours. It’s Saturday, so we’ll have the whole day to do whatever it says.”
“Okay,” Chrissy said, “See you then.”
Outside the window, two figures appeared. Listening and watching. “He’s given them the final instructions. But they’re new at this calling. This is our best time to stop this once and for all.”
“Yeeessss, iiiiiitt isssss tiiiiiiime tooooo eeeeeeend Chiiiiiistmaaaas.”
If you’ve enjoyed the story so far, please share it in the spirit of Christmas and the celebration of life with others. And come back tomorrow, and each day, until the exciting final chapter on Christmas Eve.
And remember, hold fast to your memories.