This is another in the Inspired Series. This time Bob Carlyle's Christmas Shoes. I took a different approach and made this from Booth's POV. But I have a dilemma. You'll see at the end. Enjoy.
December 24, 2008...
I tapped my foot impatiently as I gazed at the never-moving line. My arms were laden with last minute gifts (who honestly goes out after nine on Christmas Eve to buy presents?). The answer was apparently everyone in the DC area as the line shuffled a few feet forward. There were still several people ahead of me in line, and I took the opportunity to indulge in a little people watching.
The couple standing at the counter was what I would call "entitled." They stood rigidly, as if afraid to touch anything nearby. The woman grasped her designer handbag tightly lest some urchin run by and snatch it from her while the man was busy arguing over the condition of the products he'd selected.
An elderly woman was next, holding one item and smiling. I thought I could hear her humming a carol softly to herself, oblivious to the calamity in front of her. There seemed to be a space between me and the old lady, but my senses told me something was occupying that space. I shifted Parker's Tonka truck and Bones' slinky (because how could she never have owned a Slinky? And it was science-y right?) so I could peer over them.
A boy, no older than ten, stood there clutching a shoebox and shifting anxiously from foot to foot. His eyes darted around to those nearby, then out the window, then to the shoe box. His shirt looked three sizes too big, so the sleeves of the once T-shirt fit him past the elbows. It was covered in grime and ripped in a few places, and though I couldn't smell it, looked as if it hadn't been washed in a while. It was tucked into to a pair of ratty jeans, complete with holes in both knees. One back pocket had been ripped away, and the seat was worn and dusty. There were mud stains around the cuffs, which fell a couple of inches above the top of a pair of holy sneakers. Not the religious kind, I amended quickly, but literally holy. The sole of the left shoe flopped as the boy lifted it up and then set it down again. The sides were worn and I could see dirty socks beyond them. Moving beyond the clothes, I glanced back up to the boy's face. That, too, looked as if it hadn't been washed in some time, and the boy's unkempt brown mop hung down in his eyes. But despite his bedraggled appearance, I saw a glimmer of happiness in the boy's green eyes as he clutched the shoes tighter.
Mr. and Mrs. Entitled had paid for their purchases and scooted out of the store as fast as their expensive shoes could carry them. The Carol Lady had stepped up and was now fishing her debit card from a small pouch. I turned my attention from the boy to wish the lady a merry Christmas as she passed me with a smile. I stepped up to my place as next in line and watched the boy set the shoes on the counter within arms' reach. The clerk looked at the boy doubtfully, but would never deny a customer the right to buy something. As politely as he could muster, he asked the boy if he could help.
"Sir, I wanna buy these shoes for my momma," he said in a shy but determined tone. When the man smiled and began carefully searching the shoes for paper and tags, the boy furrowed his brow and bounced worriedly. "Could you please hurry sir?" he asked as politely as he could.
"What's the hurry, son?" the man asked, oblivious to the boy's desperate tone. But I had picked up on it and tuned my full attention to the boy's answer.
"Momma's sick, sir," the boy answered dutifully. "And these shoes are just her size. And I want her to look beautiful when she meets Jesus." At that moment, I had forgotten how to breathe. By the gasp from the woman behind me, I realized I wasn't the only one interested in the scene before me. The clerk had stilled his movement completely, but scanned the shoes quickly when the boy finished.
"Twelve thirty-six." The boy reached a grimy hand into the right pocket of his jeans and pulled out a wad of a few bills and a ton of coins – mostly pennies. He began carefully counting it out, shoving some of it at the clerk. When all was said and done, the boy had produced five dollars and twelve cents. With a sad face the clerk shook his head.
"Son, I'm sorry, there's not enough here." I felt my ire rise at the indecency of the man before me. Where was his Christmas spirit? To hell with that (sorry God) where was his humanity? The boy was searching his pockets frantically, trying to find anything to supplement his total. When I took a discreet step forward, however, the boy noticed and whirled around. Seeing that I was not a threat, his face immediately morphed into one of pleading.
"Sir," he asked, his tone completely humble. "Please could you help me? Momma used to make good Christmases for me. I got something even if she didn't, and sometimes she worked extra hard. Then she got sick and had to stop working, then we had to leave our house. I just gotta get her these shoes." I had already made my choice and I laid my items next to the shoes.
"Put them together," I told the clerk, laying down enough money for my purchases and his. The clerk changed out the boy's many pennies for cash equivalent and handed it back to him. I grabbed my bag and gave the boy his shoe box, which he snatched and held tightly against him. When he looked up at me my heart skipped a beat. I don't think I'll ever forget that look as long as I live. It was like being engulfed in heaven's light.
"Thank you sir!" his enthusiasm was apparently catching because when I chanced a glance, everyone in line was smiling. "Momma's gonna look so great!" he smiled at me once more and darted out the door. A few people thanked me as I walked by, but everyone was smiling. As the doors parted for me to exit, I saw the same boy pause on his way by the customary Salvation Army bell-ringer. I was mesmerized as the boy proceeded to pull out every dollar bill he'd been handed and stuff them in the bowl. The Santa ringing the bell took in the boy's appearance and frowned at the generous donation. He gave the boy two candy canes which he promptly shoved into the left pocket of his ratty jeans as he took off at a run.
I knew I should just go home. I'd done a good deed, and I felt great about it. It was Christmas Eve and Parker would be coming over tomorrow afternoon to open presents and hang out. If we were lucky, we could finagle Bones into joining us at Denny's for dinner. I had placed my bag in my SUV and almost climbed into the driver's seat when my curiosity overtook me. I slammed my door and began running in the direction the boy had gone.
After asking a few people, I had finally caught up with him. It was amazing he hadn't been stopped by a police man. Unfortunately, a boy with his appearance seen running away from a store carrying a shoe box looked suspicious despite his innocence. I caught a glimpse of the boy's dirty brown mop disappearing into an alley and I slowed my steps. Being quiet was a side product of my time in the Rangers and it came in handy now. I peered around the corner and held my breath.
The boy was kneeling next to a prone form huddled under a paper-thin blanket and newspaper. He set the shoes down next to the woman and shook her shoulder. But I had seen too many dead bodies not to recognize one when I saw it. The woman had passed on while her son was away getting her Christmas present.
The boy, however, seemed keen on waking her and shook her more forcefully. His voice had risen, too, and I could now make out his words.
"Momma wake up," he said fervently. "I've got your Christmas present Momma. You can't go see Jesus without them!" Again his voice rose, and I hoped he didn't draw the attention of anyone still out Christmas shopping. "Please wake up Momma!" He shook her violently this time, and a sob escaped his throat. That was the last straw for me. I made my presence known and stepped forward. This time, out in the alley, the boy's survival instincts were in full gear and in one motion he grabbed a nearby pipe and jumped in front of the body.
"Stay back! Don't come any closer or I'll clock you one good!" His eyes were wild and filled with tears, I wondered if he could even see me clearly. I held my hands up non-threateningly and took one tentative step closer.
"Easy," I soothed. "Remember me? From the store?" I kept my tone as soft as possible, partly for the boy's easiness, partly out of respect for the recently deceased lying nearby. For a moment the boy's posture softened, but when my eyes darted to the woman's prone form he tensed and reared the pipe back.
"She's asleep!" he yelled. "Now go away before you wake her up!"
"What's your name?" I tried. After a beat, the boy took a breath.
"Alan, I'm Seeley. I followed you here to make sure you were okay. I know your mother isn't sleeping." I tried to break it to him gently, wondering if his young mind could comprehend what had happened. "Where's your other family."
"Don't have any," the boy whispered, dropping the pipe to his side. "Dad died when I was a baby. It's just me and Momma." I took another step closer, encouraged when the boy didn't immediately respond violently. My heart broke for the boy as realization crossed his face; he was completely alone. My eyes darted over his form, wondering how long he'd been out on the street. I was vaguely aware of him talking, so I focused my attention back on him.
"Momma said that when she died I was going to a home. Said they'd take care of me. But I don't want to go!" he yelled suddenly. "I want to stay with Momma!" The tears spilled down his cheeks now and we were standing only feet apart.
Reaching out I laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, and that was all it took for him to fold into me and hang on for dear life. I knelt down, heedless of the murk now gathering on my pants as I wrapped my arms around the broken child. After what seemed like years, the boy stilled and I realized he'd cried himself to sleep. I lifted him into my arms, noting that he weighed almost as much as Parker and was probably a foot taller.
It only took a split second for me to make my decision, and I prayed for the patience and determination I would need. I stooped down quickly and grabbed the shoes the boy had purchased before heading back toward the store and my SUV. I used my trench coat to cover the boy, holding him close and sharing my body heat. His arm tightened around my neck and for a split second I thought about calling social services. But I remembered the look on the boy's face when I'd paid for the shoes, then how he'd given all his money to the bell ringer, how his face was full of eagerness as he knelt down next to his mother, and the despair that blanketed him when he realized he was alone. God had put this boy in my path for a reason.
I carefully buckled him into Parker's booster seat, though at ten years old he didn't really need it. I turned off the radio and drove in silence as the boy slumbered in the backseat. As I pulled up to my place I took in a deep breath and sent another prayer upward, hoping I was doing the right thing.
I lifted him from the car with little trouble and walked inside quickly. No need for nosy neighbors to be poking around just yet. The boy was stirring so I set him down, keeping my hands firmly on his shoulders. His eyes shot open and he looked around in a panic, his eyes unfocused. He thrashed against my grip for a moment before my voice broke through his fear-induced tantrum.
"You're safe," I whispered, brushing his mangy hair back from his eyes.
"Where are we?"
"My house," I told him simply. "Let's get you cleaned up. If I run a bath, can you get yourself clean?" He nodded jerkily, and I left him standing outside the bathroom as I ran a warm bath. "Alright, soap and rag there, shampoo there, and towels there," I directed him. "When you're finished wrap up in that towel and go across the hall there. I'll get some clean clothes for you to wear." I pulled the door to, but I didn't shut it completely. I listened outside until I heard the sloshing that indicated he was doing as he was told. I then walked across to Parker's room and rooted around for clothes that would fit a ten- year old. I thanked my mother silently for being thrifty as I pulled an old box down from the top shelf of the closet. Boys' Room C adorned all sides of the box and I ripped it open. A lot of my childhood clothes were stashed away in here. I fished through until I found a pair of pajama pants and a long sleeved shirt that looked like it would fit. I pulled a pack of new underwear from Parker's drawer and opened it, hoping the boy wouldn't be too uncomfortable in Scooby-doo briefs.
I laid the clothes on Parker's bed and listened at the door once more. He was still sloshing about, so I went to the kitchen and heated up some soup from my cupboard.
"Done," I heard Alan call, and I moved back down the hall to find him standing in the hall way wrapped up in a large towel. Not getting too close for fear of scaring him, I ushered him into Parker's room.
"This is my son's room," I told him as he looked around. "He's seven."
"Where is he?" Alan asked curiously, his eyes roaming over the numerous toys and gadgets around the room.
"He stays with his mom most of the time. But he comes over now and again. Here are some clothes for you. The underwear's new, but the pants and shirt are my old ones from when I was about your age. I hope they fit." I needn't worry, however, as he fingered the material reverently. It had apparently been a long time since he'd had "new" clothes and I could see his eyes welling up again. I stood and moved to the door, keeping my tone as light as possible.
"I'll let you get dressed. Soup's heating up in the kitchen, so come on out when you're done." He nodded and I shut the door, taking a deep breath. Pulling out my cell, I dialed the police non-emergency number and reported the body in the alley; Alan's mother needed to be taken care of. Dispatch said they would take care of it and wished me a merry Christmas. I returned it and hung up, letting out a deep breath. My thoughts turned back to the boy.
The rational part of my brain (that sounded suspiciously like a forensic anthropologist I knew) said I should call social services. I was in no position to care for him full time. But my heart and my gut were pulling me in the other direction, and I prayed for God to give me the guidance I needed to make the right decision. The hard questions would be left for tomorrow. For now, I would feed him and make sure he had a good night's sleep. And maybe Santa would bring the boy a new Tonka truck for Christmas tonight.
I could totally expand this if people want to. Or I could leave it. Now it's up to you guys. Continue? Or leave it.