Marcus moved closer to the edge of the window to get a better look at the red-headed woman under the black Fedora sitting in the back of the small cafe. There was something about the red-headed lady's smile that caught Marcus's attention as he passed the cafe window of the train station. The painted Christmas decorations and frost across the front window hinder his viewpoint. The possibility of the woman being Anya seemed beyond his dreams. He last saw her the night he boarded the train to be sent overseas one snowy night just like this back at the beginning of WW2.
He observed the lady as she poured the tea into the blue China teacup. She daintily dropped three sugar cubes into her tea, adding one at a time, stirring and tasting the tea after each cube. He cautiously viewed the teacup ceremony from a distance as his heart began to beat in anticipation. He realized no two women would prepare tea in the same manner.
"It has to be Anya, It must be Anya," he said to himself as he pulled his red plaid scarf tighter about his neck still standing outside in the temperatures that made frost gather on his gray beard.
After adjusting his black trench coat tighter around his slender waist, he opened the door to the cafe and limped in with his cane. A soft chime rang out above his head that summoned the other diners to look in his direction. A blast of wind and snow followed in behind him as he opened the door only to leave a wet trail about his black boots.
"Please, take a seat. I'll take your order in a minute," said the waitress from behind the counter.
Marcus limped to the lunch counter by the back door, looking for a seat. He dusted the snowflakes from his shoulders on to the floor as he removed his coat and scarf. Off from his right side of the wall, a soft voice said, "Excuse, me sir. You are welcome to sit with me in my booth. I notice there are no more tables, please join me."
Turning to face the direction of the familiar woman's voice behind him, "My dear madam, I will be delighted. My name is-My name is Fa-, Franklin Marcus Cagney, at your service." His voice hesitated when he looked directly into her big brown eyes as he removed his hat, bowing his head to her.
"I am Mrs. Anya Cervantes-Estrada. Please sit. Would you care for some hot tea?" Her smile was unmistakable, down to the delicate dimples in her cheeks. Along with red and gray ringlets about her face that laid intertwined along the bottom edge of her Fedora.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cervantes-Estrada."
"Please call me Anya, my mother always use to say,
'Anya, there are no strangers in this world only friendships waiting to be made.'"
"Then you must call me Marcus. I see you have two cups, are you waiting for anyone?"
"I always order a second cup, for destiny may bring a friend when one least expects it. A new friend like you this evening. However, I am waiting for my grandson, Alexander Marcus, and his family to pick me up. I always spend the holidays with them at Christmas. I am looking forward to having a white Christmas. Will you be spending the holidays with your family here too?"
"No, there is just me. I came here to give a testimony for a friend at his church. He is a pastor in a small town outside of Salem. His name is Arthur March; we were in the army together. He was the one who told me about being saved. I'd have to say he is the closest person I have to a family. He will be picking me up at about 8."
"You look cold, take a sip of your tea. Would you care for some cream or sugar?"
"Can I get you anything else, sir," the waitress interrupted.
"Just this tea thank you." He said before taking a long sip of tea, he looked into Anya's eyes and said, "It must be wonderful to have a family where you can spend your holidays together."
"My dear, in my eighty-seven years, I have learned one valuable lesson about family; That is, you have to work at making a family. Marcus, for many people, a family will be blood relatives. Yet for others, a family is made of good friends you must collect and nurture. Much like tending a garden."
"My grandmother Lupe always told me that too. She raised me after my parents were killed in a car accident when I was about thirteen. I have to say that is when I stopped believing in God. I was in and out of reform schools for a few years until I joined the army. I never did anything to hurt anyone, but I did enough to be put in reform school."
"It must have been hard on you Marcus losing your parents like that, so suddenly at such a young age. Did you have any girlfriends?"
"Well, to tell you the truth, you reminded me of a girl I once knew when I was about nineteen. Her name was Anya Maria Cervantes, that's whom you reminded me of when I saw you earlier from the outside window. She wore a black Fedora just like yours. I gave it to her on her sixteenth birthday before I was shipped overseas. She had the most beautiful red hair I have ever seen in my whole life. Her eyes were big and brown like yours too. Before I came in, I thought you were her."
"What happened to her?"Anya leaned forward to listen as Marcus' voice dropped to a whisper.
"Are you sure I'm not bothering too much with my tale?"
"Please, Marcus tell me what happened to your Anya?" At that moment, she reached over and took Marcus by the hand as his tears welt up in his eyes. He was thankful that their booth was in the back of the cafe, it was in the dark no one could see his face cringe in despair except for her.
"I did a terrible thing to her. I told her we were going to be married before I left. However, I left for overseas before we could get married. Being eighteen, I felt relieved about not having the burden of a new wife. About that time, Arthur March came into my life, and he shared his faith with me, and I realized I loved Anya.
A month later, I received a letter from her telling me she was pregnant. I wrote her back telling her I loved her, and we would marry as soon as I could return. She never responded after that first letter, even though I kept writing once a week. By the time I came back, six months later, due to a leg injury, she had moved away. No one would tell me where she went. I looked for her for years, and I still don't know what happened to her or our baby." He put his head down on the table to keep from crying in front of her.
"Marcus, my boy, it was the war years. In life, we all do things that hurt other people. Sometimes we do things with the best intentions, not knowing how much we will hurt the ones we love. I have my regrets too, son." She strokes his hair in a motherly fashion to comfort him.
Sitting back up and wiping his eyes with a napkin, he says, "My mother and grandmother use to do that. It's been a long time since I have felt so loved. The funny thing is I feel like I know you. Like I said before, you remind me of my beloved Anya."
"You said you were here to give a testimonial. Can you share the topic?" Again, she reached over to take his hand; he gave no rebuttal to the friendly gesture.
"Who would have thought, that my topic would be How God Changed my Life. He brought Anya into my life. She was such a good person and I pray that someday I will find her again. I believe I will find them both someday."
"Marcus, I need you to listen to me. Today we are both blessed with faith beyond our dreams. I need to tell you something. I am Anya's grandmother. I am the one who never gave her your letters. Her father made me promise; it was the only way he would support us. It is because of that promise Anya did not have to give her baby away for adoption. I beg you to forgive me, my son.
This hat I am wearing is the same one you gave Anya. She made me promise before she died a few years ago that I must come here every Christmas with this hat and wait for you to return. You see, she never gave up on you returning, but her father sent her away to live with me when he found out about her pregnancy. We had a good life, I will tell you more someday."
Marcus' eyes glazed over as he looked at the red-headed woman sitting across from him. He took both of her hands in his as he said, "There is nothing to forgive. You took care of my family all these years. Also, you are telling me she never gave up on me. She always loved me? Our baby, what happened to our baby?"
At that moment, the chime above the door rang, a man about thirty walked in with a woman and two young twin girls with red hair and two sets of big dimples. They waved to Anya and headed over to her usual table.