Prodigal Christmas

lightstock_104801_medium_peripheral_imagesDoug made his way through the crowded corridors of O’Hare. His bag hung over his shoulder and the pain in his back letting him know that his body didn’t appreciate the long flight. He wasn’t so young anymore, but the sleepless nights had taken their toll and left him feeling far older than his sixty-two years. He trudged outside through the doors and a rush of cold air blasted him in the face. He pulled the collar of his coat tighter and glanced around. The sun had long-since set and the city was lit by street lamps and neon signs. Cold flakes of snow were just beginning to fall from the black night sky.

Doug waited for a cab, trying several times unsuccessfully to get one to stop. When he finally he got one, he slipped into the backseat and set his bag down beside him.

The young driver glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “Hey, where you goin’, pops?”

“Cook County Prison.”

The driver nodded and pulled out into the street.

Doug watched out the window as people, vehicles, lights, and buildings passed by and intermingled with the falling snow. The sounds of the city rushed by outside as the cab hummed down the crowded streets. The inside of the vehicle smelled like leather, smoke, French fries, and something else entirely unidentifiable.

Doug sighed and leaned back against the cool, dark leather of the seat.

Not exactly how he’d planned on spending Christmas Eve, but he’d known he had to come after getting that phone call from Chris’s girlfriend.

The cab pulled up to a stop outside the prison and Doug told the driver to wait for him.

He went into the austere building, hard dark brick walls on the outside, glaring white fluorescent lights on the inside.

He went inside and the uniformed officer behind the counter glanced up at him. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“I, uh…I’m here to…post bail for someone.”

The officer nodded. “What’s his name?”

“Christian Connelly.”

The officer typed in the name on his computer. “That’ll be twelve-hundred.”

Doug’s eyes widened for a moment. He hadn’t really thought it would be that much, but thankfully he had enough to cover it.

He went through the process and paid the bail.

Then the officer said, “Alright, he’ll be released shortly.”

Doug nodded and reached into his coat pocket. “Thank you, but I won’t be staying. I would appreciate if you could give this to him, though…if you don’t mind.”

The officer glanced at the small box curiously, but nodded. “Sure.”

“Thank you. Merry Christmas.”

“And Merry Christmas to you, sir.”

Doug turned and walked out into the cold once again.

____________________

 

“Christian Connelly, you’re free to go.”

Chris glanced up in confusion as the officer opened the cell door with a screech and a clang.

“What?”

“I said you’re free to go.”

“But…how?”

“Somebody paid your bail.”

Chris stared in astonishment.

It couldn’t have been Claire. She had no way of getting that kind of money.

Chris followed the officer out of the cell block and had his personal effects returned to him.

On his way out, the officer behind the counter handed him a small box.

“What’s this?” Chris asked in confusion.

“The guy who bailed you out told me to give it to you.”

Chris opened the lid and found a folded piece of paper.

He unfolded it and read the handwritten words in that old familiar script.

Chris, your mother and I love you. We always have and we always will. Our doors are always open to you if you ever decide to come home. I want you to know that no matter what happens, Chris, you’re still my son and I still love you. I also want you to know that I forgive you and the one thing that I want most in this world is for you to come home. Please, son, come home.

Tears trickled down Chris’s cheeks and he swallowed hard.

Then he looked up and strained to see through his blurred vision and the glass door.

He bolted forward and pushed it out of the way. The cold air bit at him, but he didn’t care. He scanned the parking lot and then saw his father just about to get in a cab.

“Dad!” Chris yelled.

Doug turned around and their eyes locked.

Chris stood rooted in place for a moment and then ran through the dark parking lot, icy snowflakes melting on his face and bare arms.

Doug opened his arms wide and embraced his son.

Chris sobbed on his shoulder and Doug cried along with him.

Finally Doug held him at arm’s length and said, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Chris answered tearfully. “And I want to come home.”

Doug smiled and nodded. “You already have.”

 

 

© Whitney L. Schwartz

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