BY: Janet Fears !
Copyright © 2013 by:Janet Fears. All rights reserved
Emily tighten her long winter coat around her. It was her last night at the diner. Tomorrow would be Christmas . She shivered at the feel of the cold wind against her cheeks, as she entered the diner, but still even with the cold she love the season...especially Christmas. Some how people hearts were more open and friendly . Even old Otto was smiling that evening as she served him his usual plate of eggs, sausage, hash browns and coffee. When she asked him why the smile, he just smiled again and said that was his "little secret". She dearly hoped it was, maybe his long absent daughter Carolyn was really coming this time for the holidays. Some how she felt the smile said she was. She remembered another Christmas when she and Tommy anxiously waited for someone to come...but he never did. Her husband Jason. They had just talked the week before about the Christmas train set he was sending home to Tommy, so they could put it together like he and his father did when he was a boy. Then he went missing in action in Afghanistan. Sadness filled her heart as she remembered the car pulling up to the curb, and the army officials walking slowly to the door....then the news of his death. It was hard to accept. She and Jason had been together since high school, and then college , and married right after graduation. Tommy was born the next year. How happy they were...now....
"Emily........ a voice from behind her called. Instantly she was back to the real world of serving coffee , and pumpkin pie with whipped cream to all the customers who came by the diner the night before Christmas.
You have a customer." It was Mr. Weeks the manager. He was a jolly old man...almost like Santa himself. Always giving Tommy gifts and watching out for her.
"Be right there," she answered, wiping away the tears that had begun to fall down her cheeks.
She gave her hair a quick brush with her hands as she walked out into the dining area. All she saw was one man...he was a soldier, seated at a table in the corner all alone. She studied him as she walked carrying the free coffee and pumpkin pie in her hands. The uniform looked very familiar. Like the one Jason use to wear. He was a Army officer, and if she read the stripes onhis shoulder right he was a Lieutenant just like her late husband was. She sat the pie down and poured him a steaming cup of coffee.
"I didn't order any thing yet Ma'am."
Oh!, it's the compliments of the manager. Everyone gets free pie and coffee on Christmas eve."
He smiled. She knew he was definitely from the south.
" Where are you from," she tried not to sound nosy as she asked.
"Savanna Georgia Ma'am."
Well at least he had manners,she had to admit, as she filled his cup a bit more. Not like some of the truckers that she met on the night shift.
"Family here, wife, girlfriend? She wanted to kick herself for asking...that was being nosy.
"No, he smiled again, as his brown eyes met hers.......no family here, no anyone...anywhere."
How awful that must be to have no one...she couldn't even fathom that. When Jason died, if it had not been for her father and mother being there, there was no way she and Tommy would have survived. They even let her move back home for as long as she wished to help her.
"I'm so sorry, she said looking at him. He was a very handsome man. Even seated she could see his tall frame, . A well fit physique, and tan face.
"So your spending Christmas here in Chicago with friends then?"
He shook his head,as he scooped a piece of pie in his mouth.
"No, just me. Most of my unit went home to be with family. Thought I'd just look around Chicago instead of stay in a hotel all day...but even that didn't work out. he looked up at her again. I guess everything all booked up Ma'am."
With no one in the diner except him, she sat down at the table across from him.
"Where will you go then...I mean you can't sleep on the streets."
""Thats just about like sleeping in the dirt...I 've done that before with my men when we're on patrol. But no...I'll just stay at the train station...lots of benches there ma'am."
"What would you like to order, she asked getting up slowly...her mind still digesting all he had just said.
"I don't know you name."
"Captain Cletis Derek Butler ma'am... but my guys usually call me Captain Cletis." He stood upand extended his hand to her, and then sat back down.
"Nice to meet you Emily."
Oddly enough his hands were soft like her dead husbands were..she wondered what type of job he had, but didn't ask.
So what would you like to eat?"
He chuckled softly. "This may sound strange ma'am, but I would really like some grits, ham, and biscuits. Use to have that for breakfast every morning until I was shipped out. My mama died while I was deployed...didn't make it back in time. He looked away ....I've e missed her, and those grits ever since. I'd really like that if it's no bother ma'am ?"
"No, grits , ham and biscuits coming up."
As she prepared the food she couldn't help but feel sorry for him. The diner always closed at eight on Christmas eve...it was now seven fifteen. Where would he go. No one should be alone on Christmas, and he wouldn't be if she had any say about it. She picked up the phone and called home. What would her parents reaction be when she asked them if she could bring home a lonely soldier for the holidays.
"'Mom," she cleared he throat, then blurted out the whole sad situation. It was no surprise when she agreed that he shouldn't be alone on Christmas. Even her father thought it was a good idea. They would show him a great Christmas, one would not forget."
She smiled to herself, it was all settled...all she had to do now was get him to come home with her.. She was putting the cart before the horse, as her father had said on the telephone. She should of asked him first. As she walk out carrying the plate with his order, she was running over in her mind how to do it. It was now seven thirty...only half an hour till closing time.
'"There you go, she said sitting the plate before him...it's probably not like your mom's but it'sthe best I could do on short notice. We'll be closing soon...at eight."
He looked up at the clock. "Then I'd better eat in a hurry right?" That smile was quickly becoming familiar to her.
She returned to the kitchen, and started to clean and put things away until Monday. It would be nice to have four days off. Mr. Weeks was like a kid when it came to Christmas, and always closed for four days so he and his family could celebrate together and have fun. And he always gave his waitresses a big bonus. She scrubbed harder on the stove, and stainless tables , then emptied the trash. All the while talking to herself. What was she thinking. A Black woman asking a white man to come share Christmas with her and her family...and especially a southern boy from Savannah. Georgia. Her friends were right, she sometimes let her heart rule over her head. He would probably say no anyway...so why was she troubling herself with such thoughts. As she snapped the lights off in the kitchen, and grabbed her hat and coat, she could see that he was finished and talking with Mr. Weeks who was standing by the door. She was surprised when he looked back...tipped his hat to her and walked out into the cold night.
"Well here's you pay check and Christmas bonus. Oh! that soldier told me to wish you a Merry Christmas."
"She took both checks quickly, planted a kiss on Mr. Weeks cheek and ran after him.
He hadn't gotten to far when she caught up to him. He was standing looking at one of the store windows where animated figures were dressed like carolers singing. He was surprised when she walked up to him out of breath.
" Did I forget to pay the right amount, he asked , as he patted her on the back. Take slow deep breaths."
"I'm afraid I'm not in good shape like you. Well once I did attend yoga class."
He laughed .
She took a deep breath. "I'd like you to spend Christmas with me and my family, well I mean me, my mom, my dad, and my son Tommy...I know we're different...I mean race wise, but I just can't stand the thought of anyone being alone on Christams...and I won't take no for an answer....there I said it all."
" That's the nicest invitation anyone's ever offered me."
"Then you'll come?"
He nodded. "Can't think of anything else I'd rather do."
"I thought you would refuse, I mean because of race difference."
He turned away from the window and looked directly at her. "My mama taught me a long time ago, Miss Emily that there was only one race, that's mankind .......mankind."
Emily looked at him. She was beginning to see that there were more good families like hers,that taught love for others, and didn't focus on race, but on a person's heart. Captain Cletis Derek Butler had been blessed to be a part of such a family .
"So where are we going,," he asked , his hand supporting her arm, as they crossed a patch of ice.
"My cars parked over here...not to far." As they walked together, Emily felt that tonight would not be the last time she would spend with Captain Derek Butler. He needed a family, and she didn't mind sharing hers, tonight, or for how ever many more nights would come. She couldn't wait to see her son Tommy's face. It was almost like a miracle. Last night Tommy was crying because he dropped and broke the toy soldier his father had given him. The one he always put under the Christmas tree each year. He was so upset that he wouldn't be able to put it next to the train set his father had sent him. Now she was bringing home a gift he would really be surprised about. A real soldier...one Tommy could talk to, like he would have done with his father. She felt in her heart that Captain Butler wouldn't mind at all spending time with Tommy and maybe even helping him put the train together like his father would have. Tommy was getting his wish come true.......he was getting a real Christmas soldier for Christmas !
Cletis & Emily
Part 2- "Furlough"
Mail call wasn't a foreign word for soldiers, but it was for Captain Cletis Butler. He never received mail, at least not personal mail . Any mail he did receive was usually of the military kind with orders. But since his stay in Chicago with Emily Emerson and her family for Christmas, things were different. They promised not to forget him, and to write at least once a month. But that wasn't the case. Evey two weeks he got mail, if not from her parents, but from Emily and her seven year old son Tommy too!
It got to the point that his men waited to here the latest episode in the life of Emily and Tommy. They all rejoiced with him when Tommy made the churches children's basketball team as a stand in for another boy who was ill. And they laughed with him when Emily told him about her father and mother taking ballroom dancing lessons, since her father hated to dance. And they smiled when she spoke of her prayers for all of their safety. But they marveled at the photo of her and Tommy that she sent him on Valentines day. They all thought she was pretty. ...no! the exact words they used was "Beautiful", yes, that's the exact word they used, and he had to admit they were right. Emily Emerson was definitely a sight his old tired eyes enjoyed looking at when he closed his eyes to sleep. He pinned the picture on the wall in his small quarters so she was the last thing he would see at night, and the first thing he saw when he woke up..
"Captain, Cletis..... casualities coming in."
"On my way," he answered without even looking up, as he folded the letter and shoved it in his pocket. He would read it later when time permitted and stress was a little lighter than it was now. The letters were always a comfort to him. He grabbed his medical bag and headed for the helicopter that was about to land bringing in the wounded. It was time to get to work, saving lives. That's what he trained for as a Doctor in Savannah Georgia, and why now he was a part of the Army Medevac Unit in Afganhistian..
Emily Emerson sat clued to the television as the report talked about the Army Medevac helicopter that was shot down trying to evacuate a soldier that was wounded. All aboard were lost in the crash. Including emt, nurse, and doctors who were aboard. She felt here heart skip a beat as she thought about Captain Butler. She hated that he had ever told them that he was a army doctor with the Medivac unit. It was a dangerous job, especially over there. She
tried hard to concentrate on the correspondence course she was taking, studying to become a Physical Therapist. She was now in her fourth month. Her grades were good, and if she really applied herself she could finish by January of next year, then perhaps she could get a good job at a established hospital somewhere in the city. It was almost time to go to the diner and work. She had decided to keep her waitress job until she finished the course. It would be sad to leave, but she had to do better wage wise so her and Tommy could get a place of their own and let her parents enjoy their life without them under foot all the time.
"Now you be good Tommy, she said giving him a kiss on the cheek, as she grabbed her coat and headed for the door. I'll be home by dinner time tonight then we'll write Captain Butler that letter, okay?"
Tommy smiled. Okay!" Then off he went upstairs in a rush. Emily knew right where he was going, it was to play with the train set he and Captain Butler put together on Christmas Eve.
"Honey, a voice said from behind her. Don't worry, God will take care of Cletis."
Emily turned. "I'm not worrying Mom, I'm sure he can take care of himself."
Her mother walked over and gave her a big hug. "I know how much he 's come to mean to you and Tommy...and us too. He's like a son to us now."
Emily smiled. "I know Mom...he's become a good friend to me too."
Her mother brushed her face gently. "Just a friend honey, are you sure that's all he is ?
"Of course that's all he is, why would you ask me that?"
She rushed out the door before she could hear her mother's reply.
The air was crisp, but there was the hope of a soon coming Spring in the air, like the hope in her heart of seeing Captain Cletis Butler again!
After 12 hours of surgery Captain Butler was exhausted. He flopped down on his cot and pulled out the letter he had stuffed in his pocket eariler. After losing 2 soldiers in surgery, he was not feeling very positive although he had successfully save three others. War and death was something one never got use to. He opened the letter and began to read. He could tell by the handwriting it was from Tommy. He smiled as he relaxed a bit and began to read. Tommy was a great kid, a really great kid, like he hope his son would have been, if he had one, but medical school took up so much of his time , and by the time he was finished with all the studying and internship....well it just seemed all the girls he knew were taken. He knew it was his own fault. He remembered one nurse in particular who asked him out numerous times, but he never accepted. When he finally did ask her to go out, it was to late. She was married and he didn't even know it...that's how pre-occupied he was with his career. Now at thirty five, here he was single, with no prospects. He shook his head to rid the memories that were creeping in. Tommy was excited about his mother studying to be a phiacal theeapist..he knew he meant Physical Therapist, and laughed...a laugh he needed. Why hadn't Emily mentioned it in her letters, he wondered. School was fine, he won the spelling bee, and was playground captain. He was so happy about being a Captain just like he was. He smiled again, remembering how Tommy constantly called him " My Soldier........My Christmas Soldier" that Christmas Eve was one he would never forget It was the best day of his life...having a real Christmas with a real family. And they showed him real love, just like he belonged to them. It was nice having a feeling of belonging to someone...real nice! His second tour would be ending in four months. He had a decision to make. The Army had become his life....but now he wanted more. A Home, Wife, children. And when he thought of having all these things, only one person came to mind that he wanted to build these dreams with....Emily !
He wasn't sure he should have written the letter he wrote as the mail went out that day. What had possessed him to say some of the things he said. He didn't want to lose Emily's friendship, but he had learned from the past that he always acted to late in the area of relationships, and he didn't want to lose her. He got up from his cot and walked around the small area of his quarters. Either way he might lose her!
"Is something wrong Clete ?"
He had shared his quarters with Captain Reese Ritter for the past year. He was a great surgeon, but a really light sleeper. He should have known to be more quiet by now.
"No Reese , just thinking, that's all."
"Thinking about her right?"
He had told Reese about his Christmas with Emily and her family, and of his growing feelings for her and Tommy. The whole unit of medical officers there with him knew about her.
"So what's got you so worried that you can't sleep...and won't let me sleep either."...he smiled. Come on, spit it out."
He sat down next to him on his cot, head looking down at the floor.
"I told Emily now I felt about her and Tommy, and that I wanted t build a life with them when my tour ends in four months."
"Wow...thats a mouth full." Reese said surprised, as he got up and paced around a bit. Then turned and looked directly at him.
"I was wondering how long it was going to take you to realize your in love."
Cletis looked up at him in surprise. "What ? How could you know I was in love, when even I didn't know until I wrote that letter....now I might lose her friendship even if I don't have her love." For the first time other than seeing a patient die he felt tears filling up in his eyes. I think she hads a problem with us being different. He looked at his friend...I mean the race difference......I"
"Woe...stop right there friend, your the one man I know who doesn't have a prejudice bone in his body. Look at me Clete...what am I ?"
Cletis looked at his friend. "
"Your a great surgeon...some times a pain in the butt, but a great surgeon...and the clown of the unit...and my friend."
"See, never once said I was a handsome Black surgeon, which of course I am," He laughed and Cletis couldn't help but laugh too. "
"That's just you Clete , you see people, not color.
"But what if I lose her by moving to fast, not giving her time to think, I mean...."
"Then she doesn't deserve you man, she's passing up a goldmine in you. Now let me get some sleep...early surgery tomorrow." He patted Cletis shoulder. "Now go sleep in your own bed, this one's mine."
He walked back and stretched out once again. It was a bit to late to change things now. The Letter was in the mail. Now it was all in the hands of God, and Emily !
Emily love having time off, and spending that time with her three best friends , Sassy, Albany, and Tiffany. Every fourth Friday of the month, they got together over lunch and caught up on each others lives. Lately though all they seemed to talk about was her writing Captain Butler. They thought a single black woman should be spending her time looking for eligible black husband and a father for herself and Tommy. and not writing letters to a man not of her race. O they thought it was the Christian thing to do for the holidays.... but the holidays were over now and she needed to grab hold to her senses and quit all this writing letters, sending care packages. It was giving him the wrong idea. He might begin to think she really cared for him.
She took a deep breath as she sat down at the table, forced a smile from her lips, and said hello to them all. She was beginning to feel like she was on trial, and they were the jury deciding her fate every time they got together.
"Well have you come to your senses yet," Sassy Williams asked, glaring at her. Emily loved all her friends, but Sassy since grade school always got on her nerves at times...like now!
"Lay off Sassy, Albany said quickly, coming to her defense. It's her life, stop trying to run it for her...she can love whoever she chooses !"
"Well listen to "Dear Miss Abby" when did I ask your advice."
"You didn't, but I'm giving it to you anyway. Leave Emily alone...she can think for herself, she doesn't need you to tell her what to do Sassy...no one does."
"okay, Tiffany broke in. Emily could always count on her top keep the peace, and hold their friendship together. "
" Look, none of us have done to well in the area of relationships, three divorces................... so I agree with Albanay. We need to quit and apologize for badgering her every time we meet for lunch. If Emily has a chance at happiness, then she should take it, and...she glanced in Sassy direction...and with whomever steals her heart."
Emily hadn't even had a chance to speak. She just sat silently looking at them all.
"I'm sorry, Sassy blurted out, tears streaming down her cheeks. I really do want you to be happy...really Emily. We all do."
They all smiled, then got up and gave her a group hug. As they ate lunch, Emily sat wondering about all they had said about her and Captain Butler. She had never said she loved him...it had never crossed her mind. But they all assumed it. She was beginning to wonder. She thought about him constantly, wrote him almost every week, but that was for Tommy's sake...or was it just an excuse . She had gotten the mail from the mail box as she left and shoved the letter from Captain Butler into her purse for her and Tommy to read later . But this time it wasn't addressed to her and Tommy. It was addressed to her only, and the word 'private 'was written in huge letters on the bottom of the envelope. Why addressed to her only, she wondered as she turned a deaf ear to her friends conversation going on around her. She just couldn't be in love. She thought silently to herself. She had loved only one man in her life...Jason, since grade school......she just couldn't be in love......she just couldn't be !
Secret Love !
The Phone call !
"Great job in surgery today, Captain Butler"
Cletis smiled .
"Had a lot of help from the master surgeon," he pointed up towards the sky." They all gave him a thumbs up,as they walked from the surgery unit back to their quarters . There was another helicopter arriving soon, but for now they could all rest a bit before then. Lunch was waiting. He was happy with God's guidance he was able to save both Private Carsons legs instead of amputating them as he first thought. He would need months of therapy to get the full functions of his legs, but it would be worth it in the long run .
"So......... that patient is taken care of, now, how about the second one?"
Cletis looked at his friend. He didn't have another patient.
"What other patient," he asked looking at his friend and roommate.
"You...your sick with love my friend ! "
Reese Ritter moved swiftly pass him taking a seat at the lunch table.
"Still worrying about that letter hu!"
Cletis sat down beside him. "She hasn't answered back yet, he looked down at the table..maybe she won't. its been a week now."
Reese shook his head. "You got her cell phone number right?"
Cletis nodded. "Yea, but I never used it ."
"Well, maybe it's time you did. Look man, you love this woman, you've told her, why worry about it now...just go after her, don't lose this one Clete." He looked away and started eating. Cletis knew he was right.
"I'm just going ask you one thing Clete. He looked back at him....his eyes looking intently into his. Do you want to wake up every morning for the rest of your life without her?"
Cletis looked at him. "No, I don't. Can't imagine my life without her now."
"Then call her." Those were the last words he said.
Cletis pulled the cell phone from his pocket and dial the number that was stored for Emily. He felt his mouth become dry, and his knees were shaking as it rang. Then the voice mail answered . Emily wasn't there. It instructed him to leave a message. "Call me Emily...we need to talk, he said in a shaky voice as he left his cell number....... please!." Then he hung up.