A ChristmasSmile,Non-returnable.

By V. Cavazos

Chapter One
Sally rushed out of her car, she fumbled with her keys, juggling with her bag of muffins, and large double Latte.

"Will you hurry," George mumbled, stamping his feet, as he tried to warm them up, "I’m freezing!"

It was a cold Christmas morning. Sally Miller was about to open her small department store. She hoped to cash in on late gift givers, her store would be the only one open on Christmas day.

"I’m trying, hold on." She grumbled as she tried to find the right key.

"Excuse me," Sally saw a young man coming up to her."Do you think you can spare a few bucks, it’s Christmas," His eyes gazed at her in a pleading way, his hand stuck out in hopes of getting a few coins.

"Don’t remind me," George moaned.

"Go away or I’ll call the police!" Sally yelled at him, she finally found the right key. "Please miss, I need some money bad."

"Damn it! I told you no!" She shouted, as she began to unlock the door.

She was spun around as the man grabbed her purse, her bag of muffins, and coffee flew in the air. Catching her breath, she saw the young man, running down the sidewalk.

"Go get him George!" She screamed.

"You get him, I don’t get paid enough to run after purse snatchers." George folded his arms in anger, leaning on the store window, he turned his head away.

"Chivalry is dead!" She cursed, as she pursued the young man herself. Turning the corner, she saw him trying to climb up a high fence. She heard him yipe with pain, as he touched the razor wire coiled at the top of the fence.

"Give me my purse back," She snarled, as she boldly walked down the ally.

"Ssstay away!" The young man mumbled, fumbling in his pocked, he pulled out a very large gun. Sally stopped in her tracks, her face flushed white, as she saw the gun shaking in the frightened mans hands.

"I d.d..don’t want to hurt you," He stuttered, "But I can’t afford to get caught again. Not today," He mumbled under his breath. Sally swallowed hard, she saw his finger begin to squeeze the trigger.

"Do you really want to do this?" Sally heard a melodic voice say from behind. From the corner of her eye, she saw a tall thin man striding past her. The first thing that struck her was how handsome he was. His hair was a dark brown, it grew just to his shoulders. A neat goatee lay on his chin, his smiling brown eyes were trained on the young man that held the gun.

"I..I..I’ll kill the both of you if I have to." He stammered. The gun shaking dangerously in his hand. The stranger took another step forward.

"My name is Charles, what’s yours?" He gently asked.

He smiled so warmly at the young man, he found himself answering him, "It’s David."

"Well David," Charles said, "What would your wife think about what your doing, or your children?"

A faraway look came across the frightened man’s eyes, "My wife?" He whispered.

"Yes, what good would it do her if you ended up a wanted man?" Giving David a warm smile, he added, "How would your children feel?"

David found himself smiling back at the handsome stranger. His dark eyes were so warm, so inviting. It made him feel good inside when he smiled at him. Slowly the gun trigger was being released.

"God knows I don’t want to hurt my wife or my children," The desperate man said. Sally saw her savior walking up to the thief, his hand reaching out to him.

"Then give me that Dave," He gently said, the young man found he could not possibly refuse him. He handed the gun to him, his smile grew wider, as he felt a peace inside, as he released the gun to him.

"There you go, now give me the purse." Charles asked.

David relinquished the purse to him. Tears began to flow from his eyes, "I’m sorry," He sobbed, "But I lost my job, and my family has nothing for Christmas."

Charles stepped up to the young man, gently placing his hand on his shoulder he said, "I think the best Christmas present of all for them, is for you to be home." Giving him a dimpled grin, David realized that he was right. What good would it do them if he was in jail?

"Don’t worry David, I have a feeling that things will turn out all right." He walked him down the alley, handing Sally her purse back as he strolled by her. Passing by an open sewer, he dropped the gun in it.

"Take this," Charles handed him a card. "If you go there on Monday, I feel sure you’ll find a job."

David looked down at the card Charles handed him, looking up, he wiped the tears from his eyes. "Thanks," He sighed, "You stopped me from doing something terrible." He glanced back at the still frightened Sally, "Sorry miss." He said. Sally was still shaking, before she answered him, she was interrupted by Charles. "Don’t mention it David," he said, with a slap on his back, "Now go home to your wife and kids, they need their father more today, than any other day."

As he shook his hand, David felt Charles pressing something in his palm. He found a Fifty-dollar bill placed in it.

"My Christmas present to you," Charles explained, pushing him away before he began to protest, "Now get on home!"

"Merry Christmas!" David yelled out, as he ran down the empty street.

"How did you know he had a wife and kids?" Sally asked David.

He turned around, his smile was so pleasant to her, "He looked to be the family type," He explained.

"I want to thank you for getting my purse back, and saving my life," She mumbled.

"You’re very welcome" Charles Laughed.

Without another word, Sally walked back to her store, George was still leaning on the window.

"I see you got your purse back." He said, as he handed her keys back.

"No thanks to you!" She snarled, as she snatched them from his hands.

"Who’s your friend?" George asked, as he pointed behind her. Sally whirled around, to see Charles standing behind her, a pleasant grin on his face.

"He saved my life," Sally said manner of factly.

"The names Charles, I’m from the Minute Men," he explained, as he strongly shook George’s hand. He soon found this Charles smile was infectious. "I was told to come here, to help you with the store for the day."

"I was told no one was available," Sally countered.

"I came in at the last minute, I was the only one there willing to work on Christmas day."

"Great!" Sally said, "I’m going to need all the help I can get, I know today will be my best day of the year." She enthused, as she opened the door. She told Charles to wait with George, while she turned the lights on to the store.

As he waited, George was suspiciously eyeing him, "What do you know about retail?" He asked.

Charles shrugged his shoulders, "What’s to know? The customers see something they like, and I take their money."

"Keep that in mind and you’ll do good." Sally called out from the darkness. With a click of the fuse box, the store was awash in light. Charles walked into the large specialty store. He gazed around, his eyes frowning at the sight.

"What’s wrong?" Sally asked him, as she walked from the back.

"Where are the Christmas decorations?" Charles asked her. The store was barren of any holiday decorations.

"Sally is a yuppie true and blue," George declared. "Her god is the green stuff."

"If I didn’t need you so much today George, I’d send you home for that." Sally cursed.

"If you weren’t paying me triple time, I’d be home with my family right now!" He countered. "Hey," George said, "Where the heck did he go?" Sally spun around, Charles was no where to be found.

She whirled around when she heard a shout come from behind. "I found some," Charles was heard to say from the back of the store.

Charles walked out from a door in the back, a large smile on his face, his hands full of Christmas decorations. "I found them out back, it will only take me a minute to put them up before the store opens," Charles laughed. Sally was about to protest, until he smiled that warm smile to her. She found she could not possibly refuse him.

"If you don’t have them up before the store opens, then forget it!" She warned him.

"Don’t worry, I’ll hurry," Charles rushed through the store, hanging up the decorations he found, George now began to eye Sally.

"Hey, he saved my life, it’s the least I can do. Just get things ready." She shoed him away. Slowly walking to her office, she heard Charles softly singing something that she hadn’t heard in a long time. Carol of the Bells, when she was a small girl, it was her favorite carol. Noticing her staring, Charles ever-present smile grew wider. Sally jerked her head around, avoiding his look.

True to his word, he had the decorations up before the store opened. Sally was in her office, just turning the radio on. Charles stepped in, slapping his hands clean, he declared, "All done." He frowned when he heard the radio was tuned into a talk show. "Think you can find some Christmas music?" He jovialy asked, "To cheer up your customers."

"Fine!" Sally relinquished, she found a station that was playing Christmas carols. George was letting in three ladies who worked the registers. Susanna, Gretche and Sonia, the three were sisters. Each one needed the money desperately. All four were shocked to hear Christmas music playing over the store radio.

"Sally’s not here?" Susanna asked.

"She’s here," George told her, "There’s a guy with her that saved her life, some kid tried to rob her this morning."

"To bad he didn’t succeed," Gretche whispered under her breath. The three sisters giggled loudly, as they prepared their registers for the day. They let out a chorused sigh when Charles walked up to them.

"Who’s the hunk?" Sonia asked, as she poked George in the ribs.

"That’s the guy that saved our boss’ life, his name is Charles."

"He has a nice smile," All three sisters sighed.

"Good Morning ladies," Charles gave them a courteous bow. The three sisters curtseyed in unison. "Good morning to you," They all said.

"It’s almost time to open up," A voice boomed over the intercom.

"The wicked witch of the East lives," Sonia giggled.

"Let’s go ladies," George said with a clap of his hands, as he headed to the door. Already people were beginning to stand outside of the store. Sally grinned widely as she walked down the aisles. She saw Charles standing by the registers.

"Your job is to make sure things run smoothly at the registers," Sally informed him. "Bag where needed, help the people with large packages to their cars." She allowed a small smile, as she said, "I guess I don’t have to tell you to always have a smile when speaking to customers."

"No Ma’am," Charles said with a salute. Sally heard her cashiers sigh as a large dimpled grin graced his face. "Get ready girls," She warned them.

George opened the doors, the late shoppers rushed in. Sally grinned widely to herself. Last night she made sure that all prices were doubled, she knew that today’s customers would gladly pay triple the price for the late gifts.

The morning went well, Sally drifted through the store. George handled the floor. She noticed that Charles was very good at keeping the line moving. She would have to tell the minutemen thanks for giving her such a well-versed worker.

It was near midmorning, when Sally spotted a possible problem. Two men were arguing with George about a gift. She began to rush over to quell the argument, until she saw Charles step in between them.

"Gentlemen, it’s Christmas," Charles declared, he grinned at both men. His deep brown eyes were sparkling in joy at the two men. She saw the anger in the men wash away with Charles smile.

"I wanted to buy that!" One man complained. "It was the last one."

"No it wasn’t," Charles said, "I happen to have the last one right here." He rushed over to a stack of records, his hand plunging in them, he pulled out the special shaver that the other man held.

"Someone placed it there by mistake," Charles laughed out, the angered man’s face flushed in thanks "You’re a lifesaver." He said, as he went to the registers.

"Problem solved boss," Charles informed Sally. She was beginning to like this man. As she turned away, she heard him again singing the Carol of the Bells. She heard her cashiers humming along with him. A flash of a Christmas - when she was a small girl came to her. She saw her father sitting by the tree, his smile stretching the limits of his face, as he handed her a gift. She tore it open, to find the doll she pleaded with him for. He always gave her the very present she wanted.

Walking through the aisles of the store he helped build. She thought he would have been very proud of her, to see how well she managed it.

It was lunchtime, Sally was sitting in her office, chewing on an old sandwich, when she heard Charles singing again. Placing the sandwich on her desk, she followed the sound of his beautiful voice.

She saw him sitting on a box in one of the storerooms, he was trying to unravel a string of lights from an old sign that lit up to read Happy Holidays.

"Howdy boss, how’s it going." Charles cheerfully said, without even gazing up. She guessed he smelled her perfume.

"Where did you find that?" She asked, "I haven’t seen that in years."

"Found it in a old box," he replied, as he was able to get the old string of lights off it. Moving over to an outlet, he began to plug the sign in.

"That thing hasn’t been on in years," Sally warned him, "I’m sorry to say, I don’t think it will wor…" She choked back her words, as with a flash and sparkle, the lights illuminated the room.

"There you go, it’s beautiful," Charles said in a hushed voice.

Sally had to admit, it was. She hadn’t seen it lit in a long time, since before her father died.

"What are you doing in here?" Sally asked Charles, as he pulled the plug out.

"I’m on my lunch break," He explained, as he worked on screwing the old bulbs tighter in their sockets. "This is beautiful, why did you hide it?" He asked her as he continued to clean off dust that had accumulated on it.

Sally leaned on the doorframe, letting out a sigh she said, "It was my fathers favorite, after he died, I just didn’t have the heart to take it out."

"I’m sorry to hear about your father," Charles said, he took a handkerchief out, wiping away the years of dust. "My father died before I was born." He sadly said.

"Sorry to hear that." Sally truthfully said.

"The only time I miss him is Christmas," Charles sighed. "He loved Christmas!" he said, with a warm chuckle.

"So did my father," Sally quietly mumbled.

Charles held the sign in front of him. "This is beautiful, I bet when it is lit, it gives joy to all that see it. I think it should be out every year."

Sally agreed, "Why don’t you put it out." She told him.

"Is that an order?" He asked, with a wink.

"No, It’s a request," She gently said, his smile was so infectious. She found herself wanting to please him, just to bask in its warmth.

He rushed past her, humming her song. "Why do you sing that?" Sally asked him.
Spinning around Charles sung out, "Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas." His eyes curved to a smile, "It’s always been my favorite."

"Mine too," Sally admitted.

"Why don’t you join me in singing it, or are you one of those that have a hard time singing the song? It is a difficult song to sing." Charles raised his eyebrow in challenge.

"Oh yeah!" Sally joyfully said, "Watch me!" Charles started, Sally joined in with him. She never noticed him slowly backing up. She instinctively followed him, singing the song with him.

George froze where he stood, if he had a camera, he would have been taking a thousand shots. There was the original Ice Queen, singing with the hired help! Not only was she singing, she was smiling!

Sally sang loud and strong. She recalled the times she walked the neighborhoods as a child, with her father and cousins singing Carols to all the neighbors. She loved Carol of the Bells so much, she wanted to sing it at every house. All the words came back to her, she sang each lyric true, until she came to the end, leaving the last sound of the bell to Charles.

"Dong!" he said in a deep voice. She fell in his arms, laughing loudly. Until she noticed, she was standing in the middle of the store. People were clapping and smiling at her.

Charles took her hand, she found herself bowing before the appreciative crowd. As she stood up, the looks she received from her employees brought tears to her eyes. They were smiling at her. She was surprised to find, it actually felt good!

Trying to compose herself, she looked for Charles, she found him at the registers. Glancing behind him, she was shocked to see he already had the sign up. It was hanging above the exit door. Already plugged in, and flashing Happy Holidays to the exiting customers.

End of Chapter One

Chapter One
 Chapter Two

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