***Author's note*** This story can be read as a stand alone story; however, two of the characters also appear in my Falling series.
Fresh, white snow blanketed the ground. It may have looked pretty, but there was at least a foot, and Tina was stuck shoveling her driveway again. Her fingers were popsicles even with gloves, and she could no longer feel her toes. By the time she had cleared a path for her car, her arms ached. I need to go to the gym, she thought to herself. The day was just beginning, but she could have crawled back into bed. Ever since Jake left, life had not been the same. Tina could go to work and socialize, but when the day ended, nobody was home to greet her. It has been said that those who talk to themselves are intelligent, but Tina was pretty sure she exceeded the intelligence limit and was certifiable as the only companion she had was herself. Jake’s father had never taken responsibility and had left the picture before Jake was born. Through the years, Jake had attempted to get Tina to find “Mr. Right,” but to no avail. All of Tina’s time, energy, and attention had been spent on raising Jake, and now she was at a loss.
On the day Jake told Tina he was enlisting, Tina had collapsed into a chair. Serving one’s country is certainly admirable, but why did it have to be her little boy?
“You’re still young,” she had told him. “You’re too smart. Go to college first, and then the army.”
“I don’t want to go to college, mom. Well, not right now at least.” He responded.
“Mom, I’m eighteen. I’m an adult, and it’s my decision.”
Tina cried when Jake left for Basic Training, and there were even more tears when he was deployed to Iraq; a piece of her heart had gone with him. Communication between them was limited, which did not help Tina’s anxiety. Now, with the holidays around the corner, Tina couldn’t help but feel a little like Scrooge. Christmas just wasn’t the same without her son although she has survived last year, barely. She tried to be cheery, and hoped that everyone would believe her façade especially today because today was her Christmas party at work. The holiday party included food and a white elephant gift exchange. Tina’s gift was a basket with a variety of hot chocolate. The mini marshmallows and the candy canes added a nice touch she thought. She may have gone a little overboard, but it was a nice distraction.
As soon as Tina arrived at the clinic, she barely had time to put her gift on the designated table before being summoned to take care of the first patient. It was a fifteen year old girl, Lizzie, who looked thrilled to be there. Her face was glued to her phone. Tina had a hard time asking Lizzie any questions because she was barley paying attention. Lizzie’s mom, on the other hand, was Chatty Cathy and a helicopter mom. Tina, somewhat forcefully, told her to stay in the waiting room. Tina brought Lizzie to an exam room, took her vitals, and told her the doctor would be in shortly. Then, it was on to the next patient. This time, it was a man about Tina’s age who had sliced his finger chopping an onion. Blood was soaking through the towel he had used to cover his wound. Tina immediately sought the doctor who stitched up the man. Then, it was on to the next patient. In order to ensure patient satisfaction, management wanted Tina to work ungodly fast; however, Tina laughed to herself when she thought that the only thing they need is patients with patience. She did not have superhuman speed, and could only go as fast as it took to tend to each patient.
When the work day finally came to a close, Tina was exhausted. She almost decided against staying for the party, but the other choice was to go home to an empty house.
The lobby of the clinic had been decorated in advance of the party. There was a small faux tree in the corner of the waiting room. It was adorned with snowflake ornaments and strings of white lights. More lights had been hung around the lobby giving the place a magical ambience. Even the exam room doors had wreaths on them. The hallway leading to the exam rooms had red and green stockings hanging from it. Each staff member had a stocking with their name elegantly written on it by Dr. Brenan. Dr. Brenan did not have the stereotypical doctor’s hand writing, so she had been nominated for the job.
When the party started, everyone was milling about the break room chatting and eating the potluck meal. Christmas music played in the background adding to the spirit of the night.
After a short time, Dr. Wheeler addressed the staff. “May I have everyone’s attention please? “We are going to start the white elephant. I will come around with the stocking, so everyone can draw a number.”
Chairs had been spread out in a circle with the gifts in the center and everyone sat around. Out of the twelve participants, Tina was the last one to receive her number. Surprisingly, she received number one. That was the best position because at the end of the game number one got to decide whether to keep the gift they had or whether to steal a gift from someone else. Tina picked the big blue gift bag that had snowmen on it. She opened it to find a basket with coffee, chocolate, warm and fuzzy socks, and a cute mug that had more snowmen. Everyone oohed and aahed at her gift as she displayed it for them to see. The game continued, and Tina was enjoying herself. She was laughing along with the shenanigans of the exchange. By the end of the game, Tina’s original gift had been stolen, and now she held a light up snow globe complete with Santa and his reindeer.
Dr. Wheeler took center stage again and said, “Ok Tina, since you were number one, you get to decide whether you want to keep the snow globe or whether you want to exchange it for another gift. Before you make your decision, there is one gift left to show you.”
Dr. Wheeler grabbed Tina’s hand, pulled her up from her chair, and led her toward the doorway. “Stand right here.” He said.
At that moment, a man in uniform walked through the door. Stunned, it took Tina about a second for her mind to catch up before she ran to her son. He embraced her as she squeezed him tight and cried happy tears. There wasn’t a dry eye in the clinic. Tina wanted to hold Jake forever. Her heart was full, and this was the greatest gift she could ever receive.