The Christmas Gift

Submitted into Contest #9 in response to: Write a story about unrequited love.... view prompt

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Romance

    Ethan pressed his back against the cold café window, sheltering his face from the persistent drizzle. He fingered the small velvet box in his pocket while he waited for Hannah. He was sure she’d love it. The last two years had been wonderful, and now he wanted to secure the relationship. Despite the weather he was content, happy, confident. Nothing would faze his plans for the future, especially today.

 In a moment she would arrive for a pre-working day coffee, something they did on a regular basis. He loved their shared moments before heading off to their busy schedules. However, in the last few days she had seemed different, even a little distant. There was more time spent alone in her home office. Ethan shrugged his shoulders and pondered the situation. Maybe she’s under stress, too many work pressures. This’ll give her a boost. His heart lifted as she rounded the corner but dropped a little when he noticed the expression on her face. She frowned and angrily pushed back strands of red-blonde hair from her forehead. Her voice was as crisp as the air.

    “Damn rain. My hair is ruined.”

    Ethan smiled, assuming she was simply cranky with the weather. “You still look beautiful to me.” There was no response to his smile. He offered his hand, which she ignored, and he followed her into the café, to take up their usual position inside the window.

    He slid into the booth seat opposite Hannah. Her manner was still short, as she glanced at her watch.

    “I can’t stay long. Darren has a multi-million-dollar client arriving in forty-five minutes, and I need to preview his investment account before he gets there. And now I have try to do something with my hair before that. You sounded different on the phone. What’s up?”

     Ethan smiled a second time. “Not a thing. It’s Christmas Eve and it’s all good. You know how impatient I can be, and I just couldn’t wait until tomorrow to give you your present.” He placed the purple box onto the table and slid it across. “Merry Christmas. May it be the start of Christmases forever.” He leaned forward, level with her pale blue eyes. “Will you marry me?”

    Hannah opened the lid and gasped. The multi-faceted, three carat diamond sparkled under the café lights. The tiny emeralds on each shoulder appeared to be winking.

  “Oh Ethan, it’s gorgeous. Truly. It must have cost a bomb.” She pushed the box back toward him. “But it’s not what I want. Not now. Or in the future, really.”

    Ethan’s stomach plummeted. This wasn’t supposed to happen. “What do you mean? I thought we were a solid item. I’ve never been surer of anything.”

    Hannah’s words were carefully measured. “It’s not you, it’s me. I haven’t been steady for a while, and honestly, I want to move on. Settling down isn’t for me right now, maybe not ever. There’s a promotion in the wind, and there could be a move to another city. Keep it for someone else.” She rose and abruptly left without another word.

    Ethan reeled. He watched Hannah’s receding figure disappear into the drizzle, his stomach descending even further. How have I made such a gross miscalculation about our relationship? Is it only because I wanted it so badly? What now?

    Tania the waitress arrived with the coffees. “Is Hannah coming back?”

   Ethan tried to act normally. “I don’t think so. She’s got an early appointment. Guess I’ll just have to drink both.” He glanced across the room, and saw an older man seated by the café entrance, running his hands backward and forwards along his receding hairline. He was visibly upset, completely drenched and bent forward, head in hands.

   “Who’s that?” he asked.

   “That’s John Harris. He and his wife Sharon lost everything in the Black Friday bushfires last year, including all of her jewellery. Her grandmother’s heirloom diamond engagement ring, along with several other pieces. She sustained some burns and has been in intensive care for several months. He comes to the hospital regularly to be by her side. She’s coming home today, after making a pretty good recovery.”

   “Isn’t he glad that she’s coming home?”

   “Well, yes and no. Tomorrow is their thirtieth wedding anniversary. He’s struggling to pay the bills and he hasn’t got anything to give her. He comes in every time he’s here and I give him a free coffee.”

    Ethan became introspective, a sharp pang of guilt tugging at his conscience. Here he was, the young man with everything, except the woman he wanted. He saw a man who still had the love of his life and had lost everything else. His mind wandered to his days at church youth group twenty years before, where they had learned about selfless giving. He had long since stopped attending church, but the phrase “more blessed to give than receive” crossed his mind and stirred his heart. He remembered something about giving quietly and not blowing your own trumpet. Caring for others, despite your own situation. What have I got to be sorry about? I can’t imagine the pain and suffering that bloke’s gone through. Or his wife. Isn’t this the season of giving and goodwill? Peace? He doesn’t have any peace. What would I do in his situation?

   As John Harris raised his head, Ethan could see the red-rimmed eyes, the downcast look of desperation on his face. He glanced from John to the mini Christmas tree on a corner shelf, its bright lights winking. As his gaze returned to John, Ethan took an envelope from his briefcase and slipped ten new one-hundred-dollar bills inside before sealing it. He gently placed his hand on Tania’s forearm as she started to walk away.

“Wait. Please give John this coffee and some food, then come back.

Tania returned, note pad in hand, assuming Ethan wanted to order something else. He waved it away, and placed the purple velvet box into her palm, along with the envelope.

   “After I leave, please give this to John. Just tell him it was a surprise gift that was left for him from an unknown benefactor. At least his anniversary and Christmas will be a little brighter.”

    The drizzle had stopped and warm rays of sunshine broke through the clouds as Ethan exited the cafe. A brilliant rainbow appeared, more intense than he had ever seen. Slowly he turned and looked through the glass, at a man who had just discovered a three-carat diamond ring shimmering in a velvet box on the table. There was a brown envelope open in front of him. He was shaking his head in disbelief, and eventually the trace of smile brightened his face. Smiling himself, Ethan strode towards his office, confident that John Harris’ future would begin to get back on track. He raised his eyes to the rainbow and suddenly his own future didn’t seem so bleak.

   The rain disappeared, and he strode with a new confidence to his office. As he pondered the situation, an old line about it being better to have loved and lost than never having loved at all went through his head. Well, I guess that one man’s loss is another’s gain. She said she wants to move on. So can I. Time to go forward. There’ll be someone else along the track. Someone who really wants me. And he smiled to himself as he whistled his way to work, warmed by the sun’s rays.

October 03, 2019 22:34

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