Monday, December 21, 2015

Dial M for Christmas

   “Hello Bedford Falls…Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building and Loan,” George Bailey shouted after he got to see what the world would be like without him.  I rolled my eyes and sucked back another beer.  The movies always made miracles look so easy and humans always seemed understand their own need for redemption.  But that was the movies - in my experience you could save someone’s ass any number of times and they still won’t get it.  Sure, they’d be grateful at first but then the further away they got from their miracle the more likely they were to revert back to their old ways.

     So there I was in Martini’s, an actual bar on the edge of Dawsonville - a small town in Georgia feeling like my own exile would never end.  It had been decades since I had been banished and my task seemed just as impossible as it had been on day one. Sure - I had captured hundreds of misguided souls and sent them back to where they needed to go - but there were still hundreds if not thousands that needed to be captured and no end in sight. 

    “Look Jack, it’s not the end of the world — besides we don’t know if they have turned us down completely - they just needed a few days to look at our audition video -“ I heard a guy next to me talk to his friend - trying to cheer him up.  
    “It’s just that we have worked so hard to be para-normal investigators and now they’re thinking we need a medium to make the show work,” replied his friend who looked deeply depressed. 

   Their conversation caught my attention.  Para-normal investigators usually meant ghost hunters - something that might actually be of use to me. 
    “Dave, I just feel like I’m at the end of my rope.  If this doesn’t pan out - I don’t know what I’ll do.”  Jack sucked back the rest of his drink and just looked down.  “I’ve never really been good at anything else - I mean all my life I’ve wanted to do this and now we’re so close and they want to throw some new angle in - we should be able to stand on our own.” 

    I looked at this guy Jack and wondered at his despair.  My cross to bare was having to a Herculean task of finding the ghosts I had accidentally let out over 60 years ago and sending them back to either heaven or hell. Once all those spirits were back where they needed to be - I would be allowed back into heaven.  At this rate - it would be another 60 years before I could go back and frankly I was tired of humans and their willful ignorance. Their need to show they were smarter than God and then failing miserably made me laugh and extremely pissed at the same time.  But maybe these guys might be able to speed up the process and the idea that they’d have a medium to help would make things a little easier on me and my charge Keith. 

    Keith was unfortunately a victim of circumstance that fateful day when all hell literally broke loose and died basically for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I was his guardian angel and I let him down because I got distracted by a she-devil piece of ass named Lilith. So God decided that he would be my motivation to make things right so neither one of us would be allowed back into heaven until all the ghosts and demons that had escaped were no longer able to wreak havoc on the earth plane.  

     I regarded these two guys and wondered if an unsaid partnership could be created.  I might be able to point them in the right direction metaphysically and they could banish the spirits I needed to get rid of.  For some reason - humans can do it faster and easier than those of use on the ethereal side of the equation.  Just as pondered my next step - I heard the familiar ping of a text message hit one of their cell phones.   Dave read the text and his face looked serious. 
    “What is it?” asked Jack.  “They got turned down by both John Edward and Theresa Cupato - the Long Island Medium - so they might have to shelve the project altogether.” 
     “That is f*cking bullsh*t man - I’m outta here.”  Jack stormed out of Martini’s with Dave trying to get past the Christmas Eve party that had just arrived. He got into his old Toyota pick-up truck and spun out of the parking lot.   Dave got outside just in time to see Jack peel out.
     “Sh*t, did they have do to this on Christmas Eve?” Dave said under his breath. 

     I could see a soul in crisis and headed after him.  My boss was pretty explicit about preventing folks from offing themselves on his son’s birthday.  Jack was distraught and driving really fast.  Just then Keith appeared next to me.  
      “What the hell are you doing?” he asked.  
      “I’m trying to prevent this guy from f*cking his life up beyond repair,” I responded.  There was a big sign up front that said - “Dead End.” 
     Jack sped up to hit the sign since he felt that he had hit a dead end.  I jumped up in front of the sign. Jack saw me just in time to swerve into the ditch.   He split his lip and his truck was dented but other than that he was unhurt.  He got out of the passenger side of the truck and started to yell at me as a little trickle of blood started down the front of his mouth. 
   “What the hell was that dude?  I almost killed you.”      “Better that than killing yourself over a stupid ghost hunting show - now that is f*cked up,” I responded.  Jack jumped back.  “Wait, you’re the guy at the bar- how did you get out here and how did you know about -“  I smiled and waited to see if it would dawn on him who I was.  

     Keith appeared next to me.  “Nice work with the sign Em.”   He looked a little closer and his eyes got big. 

       “Hey I know this guy -“ Keith started to move closer to Jack who could see Keith clearly and started to back away. 
       “Okay, a**hole - you might have wrecked my truck and you’ve haunted my dreams but this is where it stops,” Jack said defiantly.  
     I looked at Keith.  “You’ve been haunting this guy?  I thought we talked about that.” I admonished. 
       “It was once when he was a little kid and acting like a total ass wipe.  I tried to set him straight - but not sure it did much good,” he replied. 
      “Wait, was he the little piss ant in the theater trying to find ghosts after his mother died?” I asked as Keith winced. 
     “Not one of my proudest moments.  As for the dreams - that’s on him. I haven’t been around in a long time. Since his Nana - “ Jack just looked at us - his eyes trying to take it all in.  
      “How do you know all this - about my mother, Nana, the theater?” 

       "Jack - who do think I am?  Just in your professional experience - who on earth could I be?” I asked. 
      “A medium?” he asked hopefully thinking I might be someone he could work with. 
     “Sweet suffering Jesus, do you believe this guy?” asked Keith. 
     “No, Jack - I’m an angel-“ Jack took a second to look at the both of us.  He shook his head and then looked up hopefully. 
     “Dude, is your name Clarence?” he asked hopefully with visions of Jimmy Stewart dancing in his head. 
     “No, it’s Em,” I replied.  
     “Uh, okay, I guess that’s okay. But if you’re an angel – did you pick up on the fact that this guy is f*cking evil?” He pointed to Keith who was starting to get extremely annoyed. 
     “I am not f*cking evil you little sh*thead-“ Keith shouted back. “Let me show you how misinformed you are.”  Keith touched both our hands and I saw Jack as he was in middle school in the 1990's

- still cocky but more like a child than a man.  He still had his steely determination but as a more nerdy, gangly teenage body.  He looked frustrated that none of the ghosts were responding to him so he could prove to his friends that he was a ghostbuster. 
   “Hey, ghosts, I’m not afraid and I demand that you show yourself or make some noise!”  But there was nothing.  “Do you hear me?  I demand you show yourself!”  
     Just then, Keith appeared ready to scare the sh*t out of this little a**hole.  
“Young man, if you are going to come in here trying to wake the dead, you are going to do it with some manners.  You do not come in here cussing like a sailor and screaming like a banshee –because we the undead will teach you the manners your mother has taught you and that you have obviously forgotten.  Now, get your skinny white ass out of my sight until you can come back resembling some kind of gentleman.”  What pre-teen Jack did not see was that there was a demon crouched behind some theater seats - a gargoyle type of devil that could drag him to hell.  Keith let go of our hands and we were back at the side of the road - the ghostly illusion was over.

     "What?  Wait?  There was a demon there?”   

     “Yeah, I’m not a total dick," Keith replied. "I was trying to save you from being damned.  Em and I cornered that demon and sent it hell that night.  We saved you.  If your mother thought for one moment that I would allow any harm to come to you –“  
     Jack’s eyes started to soften. “You mentioned my mother like you knew her.  Have you seen my mother? I mean since she died. She was already gone when that happened -” Jack asked hopefully. 

     Keith then backed off quickly which was uncharacteristic of him.  I wondered what was up.  Despite what you might think - being an angel does not make me all knowing.  There was something going on that Keith was not telling me.  

     Jack started to look down and sighed heavily.  “Yeah my Mom, she’d still be alive today if it wasn’t for me.  She came back in that snow storm to get me from my father and died in a car crash on the way.  1996 was the last Christmas I spent with her - I was 14 years old.  My father was tough to live with because of Vietnam.  They had been high school sweethearts.  She stayed in a bad marriage and sacrificed everything for me. I can never repay her or talk to her. I’ve tried to contact her. I have.  Maybe if I hadn’t been born she would still be here - maybe married to Ben Jensen where she could be happy and alive rather than tied down to a miserable drunk like my dad because of me.” 

       “Hey, that’s bullsh*t - you don’t know that -“I responded and then some divine intervention took place – Frank Capra style.  “Okay, let’s take a stroll down memory lane. I’ll let you see your past as it really was and then I’ll grant your wish and you can see what things would be like if you had never been born.”   
     Keith just rolled his eyes and quipped, “Why don’t you just offer him a Red Rider BB gun so he can shoot his eye out or just leave him Home Alone?  Those movies I like!”  I got his drift but sometimes films can move people faster than scripture.

I touched Jack's shoulder and he was transported to when his father was 17 in 1973. Tom Bronson was getting ready to go off to Vietnam.  Jack saw his father going off to war with a buzz cut and a sad expression. The teen version of his mother kissed her boyfriend passionately and tried not to make a scene.  She petrified that this would be the last time she would see Tom alive.  Nana was there too - hugging her son and telling him how proud his father would be of him.  As Nana and his mother watched the plane goes off - they hugged each other.   Angela whispered a prayer that Tom would come back and they would have a child who would be the best parts of both of them. Keith looked down - touched by that moment and the feeling like it was too personal for all of us to watch. 

     I touched Jack’s hand and he got to see the day he was born.  We went into a small hospital room.  His mother looked radiant if exhausted holding her newborn son.  His dad beamed with pride and Nana was in the room - just bursting with joy.  Jack had never seen any of them so happy.  His mother was kissing the top of his head and his father asked to hold him.  He took his son in his arms as the most amazing being he had ever seen.  His hair was long and tied back in a pony tail and he had a beard. It was 1982 and at that point Ted Bronson was a bit of a hippie. Jack had no idea his father ever looked like that.  Baby Jack grabbed his father’s finger and Tom laughed in a way that Jack had never seen.  He gently danced around the room with his infant son - rocking, swaying and grinning from ear to ear.  He then broke out in a loud and awesome rendition of the Beatles Birthday to the delight of his wife, mother, medical staff and the new baby.  After about 10 minutes - Nana asked to hold him and she rocked him slowly and sang a more traditional Rock-a-bye Baby.  His father kissed his mother as she nursed her son.  Jack looked at me and took it all in.  His birth was a glorious moment in all their lives. 

    The scene shifted to Nana and Angela at the park with Jack as two years old - running around and laughing.  Angela and Nana seemed to be close - having a picnic.  They took turns pushing Jack on a swing.   Each time the swing curved towards the clouds - the toddler squealed with delight. 

    Later, Angela, toddler Jack and Nana went to at the firehouse with a turkey dinner for Tom and his co-workers. It was Thanksgiving and the crew hosted their families with the hope that the fire alarm would not ring.  Tom saw his family and smiled but his eyes were different - they looked older than his 28 years and certainly not like the eyes of the man in the delivery room. Angela handed Jack to Nana and ran to hug her husband.  He hugged her back but more out of desperation than love. He had abandoned his hopes of becoming a writer who spoke out about the war and it's impact on those that survived the horrors.  He decided to become a fire fighter because it paid well and had benefits.  He was making good money to support the family but too often battling fires flashed him back ten years earlier when he was putting out fires in Saigon before it fell in 1975.  Tom could put on a game face with his colleagues but at home he would drink and barely engage with the people around him including his son. So when he took the boy into his arms, Jack started to squirm sensing his father's unease.  
      Angela took him into her arms - “Just give him time." Tom looked more defeated as they looked at families that having a great time together.  Angela and Nana put on a smile as did Tom but it was forced and not natural.  Toddler Jack ran to a group of children who were playing Twister. 

      Jack looked at  me.  “Don’t tell me - I never really get close to him, do I?"
      “No, but then he didn’t really have it in him to engage you.  He spent his time    off sitting on the couch and looking at the TV.  He was drinking heavily - regretting his service in Vietnam and the things he’d seen.  But did you know he was a 
hero?  He saved 10 men including his sergeant who later became Mayor 
Jenkins. Your dad was given a purple heart for bravery.  He sacrificed his youth and 
optimism in that war –many men did and they were never the same.  I’m not 
making excuses for him because I know he made you feel like sh*t as a kid but maybe understanding that he saw people blown to bits. Friends alive one minute 
and gone in an instant. It takes   a toll.  And then when the soldiers came back – unlike the WWII vets – they were social pariahs no one wanted to be reminded 
that these guys were in an unwinnable war.  They didn’t get the help they needed – called Baby killers – spit on.  Nana and Angela tried to get him help but he was 
too proud to accept it. He was able to block so much of it out but when he started 
as a Fire Fighter, so much if it came flooding back.  For him and so many of the young men who left their youth and idealism in that faraway land, the music and the poetry stopped."
      “Jesus Christ - I never thought of it like that – my poor Dad.” 
       “But your Mom's prayer was answered: you do have the best parts of both 
of them in you. There were times you were brave for others,” Keith said.  He 
touched our hands took us to a middle school hallway between classes.  A couple 
of boys were teasing another boy and pushing him around. 
       “Hey that’s Dave, the day I met him,” Jack responded.  
       “C’mon, you gonna cry – why you crying you little faggot?” taunted Bruce Dane.  
        “Hey – why don’t you just leave him alone Bruce,” said a teenage Jack.  
Bruce turned around and towered over Jack.
         “Well speaking of faggots – why don’t you get the hell out of here Jack or 
do you want to ask him out on a date?” 
         “Knock it off Bruce- his MeMa died today – he’s had enough.” 
         “MeMa – what is he – a baby?  I’ll decide when he’s had enough,” Bruce said. 
          A circle of kids had gathered around watching and not doing anything to intervene.
        “Bruce – I’m not going to ask you again – leave him alone,” Jack said with a steely determination in his eye. 
         “Or what – what can you possibly do about it faggot?”  Bruce raised his fist ready to strike.  Teen Jack just looked down and started to turn away.  
        Bruce chuckled and said “Figures – some people just don’t –“ He was 
stopped mid-sentence when Jack whirled back around and cold cocked him in the face. 

      Bruce went back but kept his footing and tried to punch back. He missed and Jack landed another punch in the stomach.  At this point, Bruce was bleeding from his nose and doubled over.  Just then Mr. Albury, the Vice Principle broke up the fight. 
    “Okay – Bruce you need to let these two alon-“,  he stopped suddenly when he saw it was Bruce who was bruised and hurting and not the other way around.  
     “Okay kids – get to your classes!“ the VP barked but the crowd was murmuring “Cool- Bruce finally got his a** kicked!” 
     “You two" he said pointed to Jack and Dave, "My office and Bruce, you go the clinic – NOW!!”  
      Dave leaned into Jack, “Thanks for having my back – my name is Dave by the way.” 
       “I know – I’m Jack and I’m sorry about your grandmother – it sucks. I lost mine six months ago.  My mom a year before that,”  Teen Jack was trying to keep a brave front but these deaths were starting to suck the life out of him.             Dave looked at him – “I’m so sorry about your losses.”  He paused and added – “I’ve never had anyone stand up for me like that – thanks!” 

        As Jack and Dave sat in Mr. Albury’s office, they could hear Bruce whimpering in the clinic every time the nurse tried to stop his nose from bleeding.  
       “I want these two expelled for attack on my child – Albury!”  shouted Bruce’s dad who was on the city council. His face with pudgy like his son's with angry red blotches all over his face right up to his receding hairline.
      “Serves him right – with all the bloody noses he’s given,” retorted Mr. A.            “Besides – I have witnesses that say that it all started with Bruce teasing Dave here and accusing him of being a homosexual.  The poor kid found out this morning that his grandmother died and started to cry at his locker-“ 
       “This is stupid,” teen Jack blurted out.  “Bruce is a liar, a cheat and a bully – I gave him what he had coming.” 
       "Fine words coming from the son of the town drunk!” Ben Dane shot back.         “Enough from the both of you!” declared Mr. A. 
      “Jack you should not have punched him.  You are not getting expelled but you both get three days of detention starting tomorrow.” 
      “That’s not fair! Dave didn’t do anything. He’d be beaten up if I hadn’t stepped in,” Jack said defending his action.  Mr. Dane at least got some satisfaction that they were being punished. The group caught sight of Bruce who had Q-Tips coming out of his nose and tears running down his face.
      “Get your ass in the car – you look ridiculous –“ said Mr. Dane who pulled the tips out of Bruce’s nose as they walked down the hallway.

       “Now boys, your detention will be in the Media center – helping to catalog video and how to work the equipment,” he winked at Dave and Jack who smiled back. 

      “That afternoon was the beginning of your friendship with Dave- a guy who brought you into his family and gave you a place to belong after all the upheaval in your life,” said Keith.  

      “So far it looks like a pretty good life – you have your work, a best friend whose is more than a brother.  Sure your childhood was tough and you had losses but you had people who loved you even if they didn’t stay in your life forever,” I explained as I tried to put it all in perspective. 
       “Yeah, but at this point in my life – would anyone miss me?  I have no wife, no kids, no job that really means anything other than some camera work from time to time.  Nothing would change whether I was here or not. I just don’t matter.”
      "You matter – everyone does – we just lose sight of it from time to time.  We let bullsh*t bring us down – but if you could just see all that you’ve done – the people you’ve helped,” I replied honestly because he was just too down on himself to get it.  

       I touched his hand and we saw his mother in 1985 walking out of their house with a suitcase crying. 
      “What’s wrong with my Mom?” asked Jack. 
       "Your father died a few days ago from a drug overdose – heroin"  I replied sadly
        “Wait – what?!  But my father is still alive!” 
        “No,” I continued, “You see without you – he didn’t feel the responsibility have to support his family.  He and your mother fought constantly.  He developed a bad drug habit and it finally killed him leaving your mother heartbroken.” 

       Keith watched this play out and didn’t say anything.  As Angela was closing the door to her house, Ben Dane, Bruce’s dad drove up. He was a younger version of himself, not balding and had a convertible.  He got out and slowly walked up to the front stoop. 
      “Hey Angela – so sorry about Ted – I just don’t know what to say.”  Angela just stared blankly – her life seemed to be in ruins. 
      “You can stay with me and Jennie until you get on your feet.” 
       “Are you sure she doesn’t mind?  I know I won’t be good company and you all with little Bruce-" Angela protested but Ben took her bag and they got in the car and drove off. 

     The scene shifted to ten years later, Ben had left his wife Jennie and had married Angela who was tasked with bringing up Bruce.  They saw her cleaning up the kitchen when 12 year old Bruce arrived home from school.             “Hey Bruce – I made you some cookies – how was your day?” Angela asked innocently enough trying to make conversation but you could feel the tension in the room. 
     “Jesus Christ, Angela, stop trying to play the happy homemaker okay?!  You’re not my mother!”  Bruce stormed up to his room and took a few cookies.       With his mouth full he yelled down the stairs," Jesus woman – next time use more vanilla!” 
     “What an ungrateful little a**hole!” Jack responded wishing he could be there to talk to his mother who was now crying at the sink.  His mom had a beautiful house, nice clothes and there were pictures of European vacations but the smiles were forced.  
     She started the chicken casserole when Ben called and said he would be working late at the office which Angela knew was code for "I'm banging my secretary, don't wait up."  She put down the phone and began to sob. She didn’t have the vigor or sense of fun that Jack had known, even with his Dad’s drinking she always would make it a point of making jokes or saving some money so that they could go to the movies. 

      I touched Jack’s hand and there was the familiar rush of middle school kids running to make it to their next class.  He saw Dave standing at his locker trying not to be noticed and getting his science book. Bruce kicked him as he walked 
      “Hey faggot – I told you to stay away from here– you can’t follow directions can you sh*thead?!”  Dave just looked down and didn’t say anything. 
“What was that you loser?  Are you threatening me?”  
      Dave mumbled, “No-“ but it didn’t matter – Bruce started to beat the crap out of him.  The kids getting to their class pretended like they couldn’t see it and Mr. Albury just turned a blind eye. 
      “Why isn’t anyone helping him?” Jack asked helplessly. 
       “There was no one to stop to Bruce or stand-up for Dave so he’d routinely get the crapped kicked out of him until he decided to become one of Bruce’s minyans,” said Keith sadly. 
      “Wait, what?  said Jack.  “Dave was the only boy in a family with sisters and never really developed a bond like he had with you.  Bruce was the closest he had to a friend and over the years it warped him.  This is what he’s like now –" and with that I touched Jack’s hand and saw Dave in an alleyway pushing  another man up against a wall. 
       "Look – my boss doesn’t take to being lied to so you need to get the money together by tomorrow or you have a choice: either we break your knee caps or we break your hands. Merry Christmas.”  Dave shoved the man harder against the wall and he began to whimper. Jack instinctively jumped into the alley and tried to help free the man. 
      “Hey Dave – let up on the guy.  Why are you like this - what the hell happened to you?”  
      “This doesn’t concern you - just move along – and you won’t get hurt.”
      “Please help me – my wife is pregnant and our toddler is sick – “ the man begged. 
      “You should have thought of that before you borrowed the money –,” 
       Dave looked at Jack – “I don’t know who you are or how you know my name but you need to get the hell out of here – before I kick your ass as well.“
      “Make me –“ Jack replied like they were in middle school.  When Dave turned to Jack, the man saw his chance and ran away. 
    “Sh*t – that will cost you”  Dave started to come at Jack who could not believe his friend would try to hurt him, but then this was not his friend – it was a mutation from another time.  Jack ducked and landed a right hook on Dave’s jaw and knocked him out cold. 
   Jack started to run through the streets of his town but they were cold and dark, not the family homes with big lawns that Jack was used to seeing. There was no Art in the Park, there was no park, nice condos – only apartments that looked more like slums. 

“Where the hell am I?” Jack asked as he looked for a familiar landmark.  His town seemed dark and seedy.  There was not optimism.  
       "Bruce Dane took over his father's business because you were not there to challenge him to bring him down," I explained.  "He became mayor and this is the result: a town full of slums and crime."  Jack looked around shaking his head. “Would you like to see what your mother would be like today in this reality if she had lived?”  
      “Yes,” Jack said with uncertainty.  

      I touched his hand and we landed in a nursing home.  There was a group of older people sitting in a large room just looking into space.  He recognized his mother’s face – which was now lined and her skin looked sallow.  Her eyes were sunken with deep circles that looked like she had spent so much time alone and crying.  Jack ran to her and put his arms around her.
       “Mom – I’m so sorry about this – about everything!”  
       Angela looked up and said, “Bruce is that you?  Did you and your father decide to let me out of here. I promise to stop crying. I’ll be better. I won’t embarrass you.”  Jack hugged her tighter.

     “No it’s me, your real son, Jack. Remember Ted? You had me with him. He tried to love us. He just didn’t always know how.  I love you Mom and I miss you every day – please say you know me.” Jack and Angela were both crying but as much as he looked her into her eyes, she just didn’t know who he was.   A nurse entered the great room and saw him holding the old woman.
      “Hey you, get away from the Mayor Dane’s mother!”  She called for security on the intercom and Jack found himself being chased down a hall way with two very overweight security guards barely able to keep up.  He ran out of a backdoor only to have a police car start to follow him and demand that he stop. His heart beating faster than ever, he ran as fast as he could to the place where his car had skidded into the ditch.  
    “Em, please – let me get my life back – please I can’t take another minute of this – please God – let me live again.” 

      A set of headlights caught Jack and nearly blinded him.  A male figure started to run toward him. 
      “Get the hell out of here Dave before I cold-cock you again – I don’t give a sh*t who you work for - “  
     “What the hell are you talking about Jack? I came to see if you were okay.  What happened to your truck?”  Jack looked at Dave.  His face looked concerned but was still the face of the man he had grown up with, the face of his best friend.  
    Jack started to yell, “Dave it’s really you – I’m back – I’m back where I belong!” He grabbed Dave and started to hug him. 
   “Jesus – Jack how much did you have to drink? Hey, why don’t we call AAA and get your car towed okay?”  As they waited beside the ditch for Jack’s the towing service, Dave took a phone call.  Jack noticed me standing by his truck and motioned for me to come over. 
     “I’m glad you decided to remain in this world – a world that obviously needs you – but don’t let it go to your head.” 
      Jack laughed, “I’ll try not to,” and then he got quiet – “But my Mom – she was so sad.“ I took a breath and chose my words carefully.  
      “Jack without you – your parents would not have known true happiness – even if those moments were fleeting.  Even when bad things happen - those happy times are still there and can never be taken away.  You’ve seen your mother living into her sixties – but was she ever really happy?  Would you prefer you mother to be a vibrant woman who got to experience true love and then die at 34 trying to get back to the person she loved the most or to never have experienced that at all and live an empty existence?  Her life in the alternate world may have been longer – but it was not happier.  Please take some comfort in that and let yourself off the hook for her death.  You’ve blamed yourself for far too long.” 
      Jack nodded and felt a huge weight taken off his shoulders.  I continued,  “And for the record – don’t give up five minutes before the miracle happens.” 
     “Wow, that’s profound – is that in the bible?” asked Jack. 
      “No, I think it’s Oprah.” I smiled and faded out. 

      Dave got off the phone and walked up with a huge grin on his face. 
     “Hey buddy – guess what – that was The Supernatural Channel – they think they might have located another medium that might be worth contacting. So for right now the project is green lighted!” 
      “Holy crap – really?! – That’s great news!” Jack said realizing that he might finally have a shot at finding the success he’s always craved.  
      As he and Dave entered Martini’s they noticed Ted Bronson waiting for a place to sit at the bar.  Jack could now understand his father in a way he never had before and all the resentment he had towards him started to dissipate.  He walked over to his father who he had not talked to in months. 
      “Hey Dad, Merry Christmas.  Uh, Dave and I were going to the Silver Skillet for something to eat, can I buy you a late dinner?”  Ted looked at his son cautiously; it had been years since they had dinner together.  He came very close to refusing and spending another lonely Christmas at the bar but decided to take his son up on his offer. 

    “Sure son, I’d love to.” 
They sat down in a well-worn booth and ordered some coffee.  Dave excused himself and said that he was meeting his girlfriend for midnight Mass and offered to drive them home. 
     “No thanks, Dave – I think we can take Uber home – have a good one dude!”  Dave left the diner feeling especially optimistic about his friend.      “Did I ever tell you about the time your mother was pregnant with you and we sat in this very booth listening to Stevie Wonder on the radio and singing along – very off key I might add?” 
     “No, dad, I’d love to hear about it,” Jack replied.  Mayor Jenkins happened to spot the pair at the booth just as he was leaving with his family. 
     “Their bill is on me,” he said quietly to the waiter as he left. 

      In the back corner, I sipped on coffee as both me and Keith watched father and son share some stories and connect in a way they had done only a few times in their lives. 
     “You did good tonight Em – but if I recall correctly – aren’t there bells and you're supposed to get your wings?” asked Keith. 
      “That’s in Jimmy Stewart’s universe – not in ours.  Still we kept a guy from throwing away his life and that’s worth something.” 
      Just then Jack and his dad broke out in a chorus of “Joy to the World,” in which the entire café joined in.  Jack looked over at me and smiled. 
      “I hope your boss is watching – as birthday presents go – this one is pretty good,” said Keith. 
      “You’re right Keith, this is pretty good. Merry Christmas.” 
       “Merry Christmas, Em.”  And with that we faded out into the night as the combined voices in the café finished with “And heaven and angels sing, and heaven and angels sing, and heaven and heaven and angels sing!”