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Story listed as: Fiction For Teens | Theme: Inspirational | Subject: Seasonal / Holidays | Published here : 08/07/2010
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That Missing Something 
 
By Christine James
Born 1990, F, from Pennsylvania, United States
That Missing Something
(Note that the author was 15 years old when she wrote this story.)


Faer had stared at the Great Pyramids of Giza and admired the architecture. He’d captured pictures of the Coliseum standing tall in Rome as testament to the bloody battles once fought there. He’d marveled at the sheer size of the Great Wall of China. He’d stood in the center of Stonehenge, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, and on the ground where the Berlin Wall once stood. Still, he couldn’t find what he sought.

He didn’t know exactly what he was looking for; he felt sure he’d know it when he saw it. It was something that nagged him and kept him up for hours after he’d turned out the bedroom light. It was something that pushed him and drove him to pursue it. It was something that clutched at him and dragged him deeper into its puzzling riddles. It was something that no matter where he went he couldn’t get rid of.

Staring into the hotel mirror, Faer appraised himself harshly. He pushed, pulled, and prodded at his slightly wrinkled skin and sighed in disgust. If only I was as young as I was when I started this whole mess, he thought. Maybe then I could finish it.

He saw his search as a failure. He had no more answers than when he’d left the comforts of his home years ago. If anything, he had more questions.

Realizing that his graying hair wasn’t going to turn back to brown by staring at it, he grabbed his hair-coloring kit and headed off to the bathroom in a vain attempt to return to his youth. There was nothing he could do to reverse his wrinkles and even less to slow the ever-drooping bags under his eyes. Had he really left his home for this? A rundown hotel room and crappy TV dinners?

He finished rinsing out his hair and walked back out to the phone with a towel around his shoulders to fend off the droplets of water. He looked at the phone for a long time, as if debating whether or not to trust it not to bite him. Deciding that it was best not to risk it, he plopped himself down on the edge of his bed and resumed staring at his reflection.

“Why did I do this?” he asked his twin. “Why did I ever leave home?”

His reflection didn’t answer him, but stared at him with the same exasperated, exhausted expression. His old eyes, once young and shimmering with the eagerness of adventure, had dulled to a dark blue. His thin, pale lips would never hold the vivid red and fullness of youth again. He was old. He had one foot in the grave and still, he’d done nothing with his life.

Leaving his towel to dry on the floor in a heap, Faer turned out the lights and closed his eyes against the darkness. Would he never be able to get rid of his troubled thoughts?

***

The next morning dawned bright and cool; the combination Faer hated the most. Why couldn’t every day be just like his mood; dank and hopeless? Then maybe he wouldn’t feel so alone with everyone else suffering right along with him. Sighing, he pushed himself from the bed and dressed in whatever he found first.

“Good morning, sir,” a hotel employee greeted cheerfully as Faer exited his room, if only to get breakfast.

“Morning,” he grumbled.

“It’s a lovely day,” she continued. “The parks are always nice to walk through in the morning, especially now, since it’s Christmas Eve.”

“I think I’ll pass.”

The employee didn’t give up. “But, sir, how can you stand to stay inside on a day like this? It’s the first day it’s been sunny in a week.”

“I don’t like the sun.”

“Suit yourself, sir, but if it were me, I’d be outside,” she replied and continued on her way. “Merry Christmas.”

Frowning, Faer stomped down the hall to the elevator. He roughly punched in the number of the floor and waited impatiently for the doors to close. How dare some girl try to tell him what to do? No woman should have the nerve to order him around! She was just trying to be friendly, the logical half of his brain tried to reason. But the other half wasn’t listening. In fact, Faer didn’t even hear the elevator bell ring over his muddled thoughts and nearly jumped as the doors opened.

Sunlight was streaming into the hotel lobby and Faer glared at it. How could these people stand so much joy and light? He sure couldn’t. It just worsened his mood. A thick layer of snow had blanketed the city and now it was reflecting the sunlight. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he had to get it from above him, but the light had to come from underneath him, too! He just couldn’t win today.

A quick look at a breakfast menu surrounded by Christmas garland and lights told him that he didn’t want anything to eat from there and grudgingly accepted that he would have to go find some fast food place or something in this English town to get breakfast. Maybe a nice diner, he mused. Then he felt around for his wallet and decided against it. He didn’t have the money. He would never have the money anymore. He’d spent all of his father’s fortune on his stupid hunt for something he couldn’t even name. Now, with no job, no one to turn to, and his old age, he had lost hope for fulfilling anything in his life.

Walking outside, he pulled his coat a little closer to his body in a futile attempt to fend off the cold wind and hunched his back. Why did it have to be so cold in the winter? Everyone around him was in similar attire, hunched over and bundled up to the point that they all looked like multicolored marshmallows.

“Mommy, I want them for Christmas!” a little boy squealed, pointing vigorously into the window.

Faer looked up and located the boy. He was dressed in dirty, holey jeans and a shirt with wrinkles not even the world’s biggest iron could eliminate. There was hardly anything to the small jacket he’d somehow managed to force himself into and the shoes looked ready to fall apart without the duct tape extensively wrapped around them. Faer watched as a woman, dressed in an equally ruined trench coat, smiled down at the boy sadly.

“I’m sorry,” Faer overheard her saying, “Mommy doesn’t have the money for that. How about I treat you to the parade tomorrow morning?”

The boy’s shoulders sagged noticeably. He stared longing into the shop window. Then he turned around and smiled the widest smile Faer had ever seen. “That’s okay, Mommy! I’m just glad you’re here with me!”

As the woman and her child walked away, Faer took up their post in front of the shop window. It was a shoe store. The boy had been pointing to a pair of second-hand, Superman light-up shoes. Not a toy. Not a brand new something. He wanted a pair of shoes. That astounded Faer as he remembered his own Christmas when he was the same age as the boy. He’d kicked and screamed and hollered at the top of his lungs until his parents bought him that brand new, color TV. He didn’t care, at that time, that it was expensive, or that his parents didn’t need another TV. It didn’t matter to him that he’d gotten everything else on his list. All that he could think about was that TV he hadn’t gotten.

He didn’t know what made him do it, but Faer decided that he could go without breakfast and pulled out nearly the last of his cash to buy those shoes for the little boy. They were old, and worn, but still sturdy and in pretty good condition. He hoped that the boy would be able to get a lot of use out of them, but now he had to find them again.

So he started off, walking up and down both sides of the street until he saw the boy running through the park with a bunch of his friends. They were throwing an old rag back and forth that they’d tied into a ball with some twine they’d stolen from a paperboy. Sometimes, one would get hit or run into a tree, snow falling on top of them, but they didn’t care; they were having fun.

The boy’s mother wasn’t that far off and Faer quickened his step as he strode to her. “Excuse me, ma’am?” he said, suddenly uncertain as to how he should talk to her.

“Uh, yes? I paid my bills a week ago. I swear,” she rambled out, her tired eyes taking everything about him from his solid gold belt buckle to his prim and wrinkle-free trench coat.

“No,” Faer almost laughed, “I’m not here on behalf of the government. I just saw your son asking you for a pair of shoes. Here, I got them for him. You can give them to him on Christmas.”

Joy filled Faer’s old heart as he saw the surprise and gratitude on the woman’s face. She held the shoes as if they were made of gold. “Thank you,” she said breathlessly.

“No problem.”

The woman went to say something else, but a round of serious coughing bent her over double. When the coughing passed, she smiled apologetically at Faer, and then he saw it. Blood. She’d coughed up blood.

“How long have you been coughing up blood?”

“It’s nothing.”

Faer wouldn’t let it go. “It could be tuberculosis. That can kill you.”

Coughing wracked the woman’s frail body again. “Just-just forget about it.”

“But—”

“Look,” the woman’s eyes suddenly turned as cold as the snow around them, “I don’t have the money for the hospital bills. I’ll…I’ll…be…fi—”

The screech of the little boy’s voice yelling “Mommy!” accompanied Faer’s cry of surprise. She’d passed out before Faer scrambled to catch her and he immediately shouted for someone to call 911. Why, oh why, had he sold his cell phone the other day?

The ambulance arrived only minutes later and whisked the mother away, leaving Faer to deal with the distraught boy. Scooping the sobbing boy into his arms, he tried to soothe him by cooing, “Shhh…it’ll be alright. Everything is going to be alright.” He tucked the pair of shoes under his opposite arm and started off down the sidewalk toward the hospital at a fast walk. He dared not jog and risk dropping the boy.

When they arrived at the emergency room, Faer gently placed the boy in a chair and went to the nurse. “There was a woman who was just rushed in by ambulance, probably suffering from tuberculosis, dressed in a ratty scarf and coat. Can you tell me any news about her?”

“What relation are you, sir?”

“None. I’m watching over her son. He’s her only family.”

The nurse nodded, jotted down his name and said, “As soon as the doctor knows something, you’ll know.”

Faer thanked the nurse and returned to the silently sobbing boy. “What’s your name, boy?”

“B-Brian.”

Faer smiled and hid the shoes under his chair. He’d give them to Brian after midnight, once it was truly Christmas. Taking the boy under his arm, he gave silent comfort. Brian was too young to understand the concept of boys crying as being taboo and Faer was too old to care about manly pride. That was fine by them.

“It’ll be okay, Brian. Everything will be just fine.”

Seven hours later, Brian had long since fallen asleep and Faer wasn’t far behind him. He was dozing when a doctor extracted himself from the mayhem in the emergency room to stand in front of Faer. Immediately, Faer came back to full alertness, worry gripping his stomach even tighter. “How is she, doctor?”

“As you suspected, Ms. Trainley has tuberculosis. With treatment, and an excellent response to the medicine, she can live a normal life. But…” the doctor looked away.

“Don’t worry, she’ll have the money.”

“Then we’ll start treatment for her right away.”

The doctor was about to leave when Faer called him back quietly. “May we see her?”

The doctor nodded. “I’ll show you the way, but she’s very weak. Don’t let her speak and don’t make contact with her right now.”

Gently, Faer roused Brian from his sleep and tucked the pair of shoes into his jacket. He didn’t want the surprise to be ruined.

An hour or so later, Ms. Margaret Trainley was awake and smiling as Brian pranced around in his new Superman shoes. He was beside himself with joy, but Christmas hadn’t just smiled down upon him. Faer looked at Margaret.

“Here,” he said, taking off his coat. “People would die to own this. Sell it at a high price, or keep it. It’s warmer than your coat.

“And this,” he took off his belt. “It’s a solid gold buckle and that’s a real diamond there. Any jeweler will give you thousands for this.”

Faer paused, looking at the astounded face of the hospitalized woman. He knew he’d be dying soon, he could feel it in his body, and now he knew he’d done something with his life. He’d searched the world and here it was, lying in that hospital bed.

“And this is my last gift to you.” He pulled out his wallet, handing her the entire thing. “There’s not much left in it, but it’ll at least help a little.”

Margaret shook her head, refusing everything Faer had given her. “Thank you,” she coughed out, “but no.”

Faer smiled sadly. “I’m an old man. I wasted my life searching for something I didn’t understand. But, now, I know what that missing something was. It was greed that drove me to the ends of the earth. It’s charity that will take me home. I’ve finally learned that the missing part of me was the part that couldn’t give to others. Accept what little I have to offer you as a dying man’s last wish.”

Both Margaret and Brian stared at the old man in awe. Almost dumbly, Margaret managed to nod her thanks and, satisfied, Faer turned around to leave. Then he stopped.

“One last thing. Get the boy a decent education.”

Without another word, Faer walked out of the hospital and toward the hotel, finally at peace with himself. Even the cold weather, now eating at his thin shirt, didn’t bother him as he greeted everyone on the street with a cheery “Merry Christmas!”. Even the hotel employee he’d previously spoke to was shocked at the change in his mood.

That night, when Faer laid his head down on his pillow, sleep came readily and quickly overtook him. Penniless and with no one to turn to, Faer was finally content. He’d realized what life really meant. It didn’t mean always coming out on top. It didn’t mean having the most money or the biggest car. It meant giving to those who really deserved it. It meant that people were more than his competition and that life was the most precious thing of all.

Faer never woke up the next morning.

***

It was late morning on Christmas Eve as a young man, dressed in a three-piece-suit and tattered trench coat walked in and fell into the chair he’d sat in as a boy. He smiled over at the vacant seat next to him and placed two items on it before pushing himself back up and leaving. Everyone watched with mild intrigue as the man pulled his tattered trench coat over his pristine suit again and waited until he’d exited the building to inspect what he’d left behind.

On the chair was a pair of worn Superman sneakers and a card that simply read: Thanks for everything, Faer. I’m glad you found your missing something.
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