Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Christmas Stranger - Part Four

“And the winner is...Ethel Hathaway. Ethel, if you’re listening, head on down to the station to pick up your winnings.”
            She had to have heard that wrong. It couldn’t be her. There must be another Ethel Hathaway, one who’d entered the contest.
“Well, they say everyone has a double, but I never thought it would happen to me,” said Ethel. Then she saw the look on Lucy’s face and knew. Ethel never thought it could happen in her lifetime but Lucy was so excited she couldn’t speak.
“Lucy?” Drawing her name out slowly didn’t produce the effect Ethel had hoped for.
“Well,” she laughed, “you weren’t going to enter. So I did it for you.”
Lucy knew five thousand dollars wouldn’t go very far in these times, but winning it certainly could ease the tension Ethel was feeling as Christmas approached. She saw the struggle Ethel went through each day, the stress that never seemed to be far away and wanted to make life a little easier for her and her beautiful little boy.
“Why would you do such a thing? There are people out there that need that money more than I do, Lucy. I have a job, I can provide for Jonathon,” she said angrily.
The tension Lucy had intended to ease mounted higher. She was crestfallen that Ethel wasn’t happier, indeed not happy at all by the look of things, about this.
The hurt and bewildered look on Lucy’s face was enough to make Ethel feel she should have changed her name to Scrooge but before she could attempt to smooth things over with her friend she needed to get her panic under control.
In reality, she knew there was no way for anyone who heard the broadcast to know she wasn’t who she said she was...with the exception of one...and hoped that ‘he’ hadn’t been tuned in to hear her name called. And it would be enough money to get her and Jonathon safely away, and, money that couldn’t be traced.
            “Thank you,” she said through the forced smile she was far from feeling. “It just caught me off guard. Thank you for being such a generous spirit.” And with that, and the hug she gave Lucy, her friend was back to being herself again.
            “So, what will you do with it?” Lucy asked.
            “I don’t have a clue. I suppose I should figure out when I can make it in to pick up the cheque before I try to decide what to do with it.”
Ethel was never sure when someone would come along who’d be able to out her for a fraud. If they wanted proof she was Ethel Hathaway, she had it, but she hoped they didn’t scrutinize hers too closely. The friend of a friend who’d doctored the new cards for her assured her he was the best not in the business. Maybe that’s what worried her...
            Lucy broke into her thoughts once again. “You have to pick it up by seven o’clock tonight...or you forfeit it. That was in the contest rules.”
            “I have to pick Jonathon up from the sitter. I can’t possibly make it into the city by seven.” Well, maybe it was just as well. Maybe that was a roadblock put in front of her by God so the money could be passed on to someone more deserving.
            “Why don’t I go pick Jonathon up and take him back to my place? You can come and get him whenever you get back. No rush.”
“No. I can’t let you. You don’t have a car seat for him.”
“Then I’ll take your car, and you can take mine. I just filled mine this morning, so you have enough gas to get there and back,” Lucy said as she watched the wheels of doubt turning in Ethel’s head. “You’re just looking for excuses. Now, quit over-thinking and just go before you run out of time!”
“Are you sure? Being around an infant can be very trying when you’re not used to it. What if he runs out of diapers? Or formula?”
 “I’ve seen you pack his diaper bag. I’d stake my life that you have enough diapers, formula and anything else he might need for a week packed in there,” said a now exasperated Lucy, “Am I right?” How could one person have so much stress over winning?
“Okay,” she laughed, getting into the spirit of things, “You’re right. And I know he’ll be in good hands with you. I’ll just give Maggie a call to let her know you’ll be picking Jonathon up, and then I’ll be on my way.”
Lucy had said they're goodbyes to their boss, Eddie, and was dressed and ready to leave before Ethel had even hung up from her phone call to Maggie.
“Give my little guy a hug and kiss for me. Tell him Mommy’ll be home as soon as I can,” she said as they switched car keys and headed off on their evening’s journeys. “And Lucy?” she said from across the parking lot, “I don’t know if I can ever thank you enough for being the friend you are to me.” She would miss this town, but she was going to miss Lucy most of all.

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