story, writing

A Short Story – A Most Precious Gift

There is something about sharing my stories with other people.

It might be because I get excited thinking about how the stories and characters will touch someone else, or maybe it’s because I just want to share what I’ve written with somebody.

Whatever the reason, I love sharing my stories, so tonight, I have a new one for you!  Call it a Friday Night special…or something like that.

Believe me when I say this story was tough to write.  Not because the plot is extremely intricate or because my characters gave me a hard time.  To be honest, I’m not quite sure why writing this short story was so hard.  It was a school assignment from earlier this year, and we were given the choice to write anything we wanted.  Our teacher even said we could make it as long as we wanted…a dream come true for me.

Despite the fact that I was allowed to write a longer story, I found it incredibly hard to come up with an idea that I liked.

In total honesty, I have no idea where this story came from.  Perhaps it had been floating around in my subconscious for years and only decided to say hello to me this year.  Who knows…

After some hard work, this story came together.  It isn’t anything too intense or dramatic, but I hope it touches your heart it some way!


 

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It was the week before Christmas, and Kate Riley was more down than she ever had been in her entire life.  She hated being poor.  

Kate yanked the blanket wrapped around her shoulders tight, shivering in her cold bedroom.  With a free hand, she reached forward to turn the pages of the catalog in front of her.  A wistful sigh escaped her as she flipped to the most dog eared page.

Why did everything have to cost so much?  Whoever thought a hunk of metal, ink ribbon, and alphabet keys could be priced so outrageously.

Kate ran her fingers over the picture of the shiny black, Remington Typewriter.  She had never in her life wanted something so badly.  Her secret dream of wanting to become a writer would probably never be fulfilled.  There was no way a publishing company would wait for her to scratch out a story with a pencil and paper.  She wanted a typewriter.  She needed a typewriter.

Kate heard her mother out in the hallway, humming a Christmas carol as she passed.  Guilt pinched her insides, making her uncomfortable.  Never again would she mention the typewriter to her parents.  They felt bad enough about not being able to afford their only daughter a Christmas present this year. 

Kate bit her lip, thinking back to the time she had brought up the idea of a typewriter for probably the fifth time in a week.  She had been at the kitchen table doing homework, and her mother was washing the batch of laundry Mrs. Sims, their landlord’s wife had dropped off that morning.

“Katie, girl, I’m sorry, but it just isn’t possible to get you that typewriter this year.  Your Daddy’s working double shifts at the factory, and I’m taking in extra laundry but—”

Kate felt incredibly foolish, asking for an expensive gift while her mother stood there with soap suds up to her arms and eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep.

“It’s alright, Mama,” Kate remembered trying to hold back the tears of disappointment.  “Maybe next year.”

Kate knew it wouldn’t be next year.  No matter how hard her parents worked, there never seemed to be anything extra.  Thankfully, since starting a job at Jensen’s Diner two summers ago, Kate had almost half the money saved for a typewriter.  At least she could take comfort in that.

The sound of stone pinging off her bedroom window made Kate jump and shove the magazine under her pillow as if were illegal contraband.  Holding the blanket around her like a cloak, she went to the window.  Dan Wright, her best friend from school, stood standing on the sidewalk below, waiting.  He was stamping his feet in an attempt to stay warm.

School.  Kate had nearly forgotten.  Casting the blanket aside, she raced to her closet and snatched her school dress off the hook.  She pulled the neatly ironed outfit over her shoulders, struggling to button up the back. Kate could just imagine Dan laughing his head off and teasing her about being late for school. 

On went her olive green sweater and boots.  She slipped into her coat, tying a scarf around her neck.  Kate scooped up her stack of school books and ran out of the room, nearly knocking her mother over as she raced down the stairs.

“Kathleen Eliza Riley!” Her mother put her hands on her hips.  “Don’t tell me the reason you rushing around like a mad person is because you happen to be late for school again?”

Kate smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.  I was going to get ready for school, but then I started thinking.” She looked down at the floor.  Please don’t ask me about what.

Mrs. Riley cupped her daughter’s cheek with her hand.  “You need to get your mind off certain things and start concentrating.  As happy as I would be to see you get your typewriter, I’d rather see you paying attention to your responsibilities.”

Kate groaned inwardly.  How did mothers know everything?

Mrs. Riley made her way down the stairs, grabbing her daughter’s lunchbox from the kitchen table.  “Now, how about you hurry off to school and use all your thinking for that math test.”  Mrs. Riley tapped the lid of the lunchbox. “I put an extra sandwich in there for Dan.  Has he lost weight, Kate?  I saw him last week, and he didn’t seem himself.”

Kate felt guilt creeping up on her again.  Between her job at Jensen’s Diner and her daydreaming about a typewriter, Kate had spent little time with Dan in the last several weeks.  What her mother said worried her.  Dan?  Losing weight.  How was that possible?  Perhaps her mother was imagining things.

Kate gave her mother a quick hug and hurried out the door.  Dan was sitting on the bottom porch step, knees pulled up to his chest.  Light flakes of snow-covered his hair, and Kate wondered where his hat was.

“Hi, Dan!”

Dan shrugged.  “Morning, Kate.”

She glanced up at him, slightly taken aback.  That was his greeting?  Usually, it was warm and friendly, accompanied by a ridiculous joke to make her laugh.  Today, his voice sounded distant.

“I’m sorry if you were waiting long.  I lost track of time.” Kate went to slip her arm through his, but he pulled away, covering his mouth with his hand.  A cough tore through him, shaking his entire body.

Worry snaked its way through Kate. “Are you alright?” 

Dan cleared his throat. “Fine.” 

She grabbed his cold hand. “You don’t sound fine.  Maybe you shouldn’t go to school today.”

Dan ignored her and started walking.  Confused, Kate followed, wondering what on earth was wrong.  Why was Dan acting so cold toward her?  She had not left him waiting out on the street for that long.   The hurt from Dan’s uncharacteristic actions pressed against Kate’s chest, and she ran to catch up with him.  As she did, she reached into her lunchbox and pulled out the extra sandwich her mother had made for him.  Perhaps food would put him in a better mood.  

“Here.  This is for you.” She held the sandwich out to him.

He glanced at it, and Kate saw the hunger in his beautiful blue eyes.  Instead of grabbing up the sandwich and swallowing it in one bite, like she expected him to do.  Dan shook his head.

“Leave it in your box.   I’ll take it home to my family.” He shoved his hands in his pockets as if to force himself not to take the food.

Realization hit Kate.  All the food her mother had been sending with her to school didn’t get eaten by Dan, but divided up and devoured by the other six, starving Wright children.  No wonder he had lost weight.

Kate bit her lip hard.  Dan was her best friend.  He had been ever since the first day of second grade when he pushed her on the swings during recess when no one else would.  Little and often frightened by the other students, Kate had grown up in the shelter of Dan’s protection.  She could always count on him to get rid of the obnoxious bullies or help her with schoolwork.  He made her laugh.  Made her feel important.  The girls in school teased her about Dan being her beau, but she didn’t mind. 

Now, what was she to do?  As the man of the family, Dan was the one working himself to death to put food on the table.  She doubted that he even got to enjoy that food because he was always giving it away to his siblings.

“Dan!” Kate ran to catch up with him.  “Want to come over to our apartment after school?  Mama usually bakes cookies on Fridays.  She’ll give you all you want.”

Dan coughed into his hand again. “Can’t.  I have to work, Kate.”

“After work?”

“It’ll be late.  Don’t think your family would appreciate me pounding on the door at midnight.”

Kate was taken aback.  “When do you ever get time to sleep?”

Dan kicked an icy chunk of rock and snow off the sidewalk. “I get by.”

Kate didn’t know what else to say.  She could not force food down Dan’s throat.  It was pointless to keep expecting him to eat the food her mother made when she knew he would only give it away.

They walked in silence the entire way to school, the quiet only interrupted by several passing vehicles and Dan’s hacking cough.

The school bell had already started to ring by the time they arrived at school.  Both of them rushed into the building, hurrying down the hall to their first class.  They took their seats right across from each other and looked up at their teacher, Mrs. Locke.  She gave them both a reproving glance for being late.

“Good morning, students.  I hope you’ve had a wonderful week.” Mrs. Locke went to her desk and took a seat.  “Today, I have an exciting announcement.” From under her desk, Mrs. Locke pulled out a large wooden bowl.  “In here, I have slips of paper with each one of your names on them.  I’m going to pass the bowl around, and I’d like everyone to take out a name.”

Mrs. Locke handed the bowl to one student who passed it back to Dan. When it came her way, Kate plucked one of the neatly folded pieces of paper out.

“Now, I want you to listen closely.  With Christmas only a week away, I wanted to do something different this year.  I thought a gift exchange would be fun.”

There was an excited murmur of voices throughout the classroom.

A gift exchange?  That meant spending money.  Money Kate was saving for her typewriter.

“Now, I know you all aren’t Vanderbilts or Rockefellers,” The room erupted with laughter.  “But, a present doesn’t always have to cost money.  Think of something you could do for someone else.  Be creative.” Mrs. Locke smiled out at her students.  “Remember, this is a secret gift exchange.  No one will know who gave them what gift.”

Kate unfolded her piece of paper.  She had drawn Dan’s name.

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Kate had a hard time concentrating on schoolwork for the rest of the day.  She didn’t mind getting Dan a gift, but she certainly did not want it to be some cheap trinket or homemade thing.  He was sixteen.  Most boys didn’t go for cards or crocheted doilies. The problem was, if she spent her money on something store-bought, it would take even longer to get her typewriter.  

The nagging voice of conscience told her she was being selfish.  Look how much Dan has sacrificed for his family.  Surely you can sacrifice something important for him.

Kate physically shook her head.  She quieted her guilt by the thought that Dan probably would not want a store-bought gift anyhow.  It would embarrass him.

She glanced over at Dan and caught him watching her.  He turned away quickly, trying to stifle a cough.  Kate blushed.  How mortified she would be if he could read her thoughts right now.  Turning back to her History book, she moaned inwardly.  Was it really that bad to save her money and make him something homemade?

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For the remainder of the day, Kate could hear Dan’s cough slowly worsening.  Mrs. Locke notices as well because she kept sending him worried glances.  

Kate didn’t know how, but she was determined to try and convince him to go home and rest.   Would one day without work hurt the Wright family that much?

The moment school let out, Kate collected her books and hurried over to where Dan sat slumped in his chair.  

“Daniel,” Mrs. Locke said, coming to stand beside him. “I want you to wait here.  I’m going to have the principal call your mother.”

Dan shook his head. “I’ll be fine.  I have to get to work.”

“Dan,” Mrs. Locke gently gripped his arm.  “Your in no condition to—”

“I’m fine!” He jerked his arm away from the teacher’s grasp.  “I wish everyone would stop getting in my face about everything!” The moment he said it, he blushed.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean—”

Mrs. Locke nodded.  “It’s alright, Dan.  You’re not well.  Please let me call someone to take your home.”

He shook his head and turned towards the door. “I’ll be fine.”

Mrs. Locke and Kate exchanged worried glances.  Why was Dan acting so disagreeable? He was always kind and respectful.  The one most likely to be a teacher’s pet.

“I’ll walk with him,” Kate reassured.  “And try to convince him to go home.”

Mrs. Locke shook her head.  “That boy is working himself to death.  I wish there was something someone could do for their family.”

Kate nodded.  “I know.”

Dan was already halfway down Cherry street by the time Kate caught up.  Instead of interrogating him about his outburst, she stayed quiet.  Kate wanted to give him a minute to calm down.  As they passed Mr. Hartwell’s five-and-dime on the corner, Kate came to a screeching halt.

Dan nearly knocked her over. “What is it?” 

“In the window, look.” Kate pointed, hardly believing her eyes.  A typewriter?  Sitting in the five-and-dime?  She got closer, pressing her face against the glass.  A beautiful sleek Remington just like the one in the magazine?  The small price card beside it made her gasp.  If she worked hard at Jensen’s Diner, she’d have that much money in only a few weeks! 

“Stop it, Kate.” 

Turning, she saw Dan glaring at her.  

Kate’s joy was shattered by the look on his face. “What?”

“You really want to spend all your money on some hunk of junk?” Dan folded his arms across his chest. “When there are things that your family needs, are you going to waste money on something so stupid?”

Kate jerked back as if slapped.  

“Dan, I—”

He took a step towards her. “I don’t understand you, Kate!  You have food, clothes, a warm place to live.  Your parents are healthy and happy, you have everything you could possibly want, but you’re still dissatisfied!  You have no idea what it is like to hear your younger siblings cry because their hungry, or go to bed every night wondering if you’ll freeze to death while you sleep.  You don’t know what it’s like to lose so much weight that your clothes don’t fit you anymore, and you know inside that you’re slowly starving to death.” Dan took a shaky breath. “Stop looking at the stupid typethingy.  There is no place in life for dreaming about what you can’t have.” 

The tears trickled down Kate’s face. “Dan.” Her voice was hoarse.

Before either of them could say anything else, Dan suddenly swayed back and forth and collapsed on the sidewalk.

“Dan!”  Kate dropped down next to him, pressing a hand to his forehead. He was burning up.  

She helped him crawl over to the brick wall of the five-and-dime, and he slumped against it, sounding as if he was trying to cough out his lungs.  Kate knelt next to him, offering her handkerchief.  He nodded his thanks, pressing it to his mouth.  When he removed it to take a breathe, Kate saw blood.  Dan caught her looking and quickly tried to fold the handkerchief in half.

“Dan,” She said quietly.  “How long have you been coughing up blood?”

His lower lip trembled, and his eyes filled.  “A few weeks.”

“Have you seen the doctor?”

Dan pulled away from her. “We can’t afford a doctor, Kate.  I can barely keep food on the table as it is.” Dan coughed into the handkerchief a second time, pain in his eyes.

Trying to hide the hurt from Dan’s stinging words, Kate squeezed his hand. “You need to go home and rest.”

“I can’t rest.  I need to go to work.” Dan pulled away from her and tried to get up.  Instead, he fell back against the brick wall, tears filling his eyes. “We’re in trouble, Kate.  Mama had to use the grocery money for the rent, so none of us have eaten for two days.   They fired me from my job because I kept coughing up blood.  I’ve been searching for a place to work, but no one wants a half-starved, hacking boy.” He paused to cough, then looked up at her.  “I drew your name from the bowl during class.”  Tears trickled down his face.  “I can’t buy you anything.”

Gently, Kate wiped her thumbs under his eyes, brushing away the tears.  “Don’t worry about that.”

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Kate had to get her mother to help Dan home.  When Mrs. Riley heard about the Wright’s predicament, her eyes filled with tears.  Their family did not have much to offer.  Struggling financially themselves, the best Mrs. Riley could do was bake bread, bring over a can of beef broth, and find a blanket or two to share.  There was no way they had money to pay for a doctor to come look at Dan.  

When Kate got home from the Wright’s apartment, she climbed the stairs to her bedroom.  The moment she shut the door, she burst into tears.  No one had to tell her.  Dan would die without a doctor’s aid.  What could she do to save him?

You have your typewriter money.  All $75.00 worth.  You know that that would be more than enough to cover the doctor’s bill and any medicine Dan might need.  

Kate sat down on the edge of her bed, covering her ears to block out the voice of conscience.  Wasn’t there some other way she could help Dan?

She sat there for several minutes, searching her mind for alternative options.  There were none.  It was up to her to save her best friend.

No matter how much his words had hurt her, Kate knew he was right about her obsession.  With so many people suffering, why did she keep insisting on daydreaming about her typewriter?  Her family, as well as the Wrights, needed her help.  So did many other people in town.  What if, instead of hoarding all her money and neglecting her work to daydream about her typewriter, she opened her eyes and attended to the needs of others?  

Drying her tears, Kate leaped up from her bed and went to her closet.  She started pulling things out.  Dresses she no longer wore, an old pair of boots, extra scarves, hats, and mittens.  She didn’t need all this stuff.  Why hadn’t she ever thought about giving it away before?  Simple.  She had been selfish.  But not anymore!

She might have only pulled Dan’s name from the bowl, but there were dozens of other students who would not be getting many if any Christmas presents this year.  Looking around her room, Kate saw numerous things she could give away. 

First things first.  Will slow, purposeful steps, Kate walked to her desk by the window.  Opening the top drawer, she pulled out her small leather wallet.  She peeked inside and smiled at the crisp dollar bills.  Imagine Dan’s shock when he found out she had sacrificed her typewriter for him!  No.  This had to be a secret.  Kate knew Dan too well.  Even if he thought she was crazy for wanting to spend her money so frivolously, he, in all his stubbornness, would refuse the money and insist on dying instead.  Not happening. Kate giggled to herself, feeling surprisingly free.

Kate tucked the money in an envelope and wrote Dan’s name on the back.  She would simply slip it under their apartment door and vanish into thin air.  Excited at the prospect of her secret mission, Kate skipped down the stairs and practically danced her way into the kitchen. 

Mrs. Riley looked up from her ironing, utter surprise on her face.  “Why is that my daughter, Kate?  I don’t remember the last time I saw her smiling.”

Kate laughed.  “I’m going to be smiling from now on!  No more moping!”

Mrs. Riley raised an eyebrow.  “Is that so?  I thought you would be awful cantankerous after today.”

“Nope.” Kate slipped her boots on and grabbed a handful of cookies from the plate on the table.  “I’ll be back later!”

Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 2.49.22 PM  – Epilogue – 

The sparkling Christmas lights lit the darkened room with their brilliant rainbow colors, adding even more brilliance to the fresh smelling spruce tree. Tapered candles burned brightly in each window, casting illuminated shadows on the snowy ground outside.  

Christmas Eve.  One of the most beautiful times of the year.  

Wearing her simple green holiday outfit with the red velvet waistband, Kate watched out the living room window.  Where was he?  Why was he late?  Disappointment filled her insides.  Should she keep waiting up for him? 

Turning back toward the table, Mrs. Kate Wright began clearing the table of the holiday spread she had spent hours preparing.  No sense in letting the food go to waste.

Kate heard booted footsteps hurrying up the sidewalk outside.  She didn’t bother to look out the window.  She knew those steps.

The front door opened, and Dan, covered in snowy flakes, stumbled in.  

“Where have you been?”

Guilt all over his face, Dan looked up, meeting his wife’s teary gaze.  “I’m sorry, Kate.”

“It’s our first Christmas together, Dan.  How could you be late?” 

Dan pulled off his coat, revealing the beautifully wrapped box he was hiding underneath.  “I had to pick this up.”

Kate tilted her head back and groaned. “Dan—I thought we agreed not to get gifts this year.  We can’t afford them.”

“I’ve been saving up.” With a sheepish grin, Dan set the package down and pulled his wife into an embrace.

“Saving up, huh?” Kate nestled against him, letting go of the anger inside.  “You big goof, you had me worried.”

Dan kissed her hair. “I do that a lot, don’t I?”

Kate giggled. “I wish you would break the habit.”

“Glad to see that me being late didn’t make you cantankerous.” 

Kate pushed him away.  “Digging yourself deeper, bud.  Better stop before I pour the gravy into your boots.” 

Dan led his wife to the sofa.  “Sit down.”

Dan, supper—” 

“Forget the turkey.” Dan knelt in front of her, taking her hand.  “Kate, I know what you did.”

Confusion wrinkled Kate’s forehead. “What?”

“I saw you through a crack in the door.”

“Dan, I don’t—”

“You gave us your money.  All the money you had been saving.” Dan had tears in his eyes. “To others, it might seem silly, but to me, no one has ever done anything so sacrificial.” Dan squeezed his wife’s hand.  “You sacrificed your typewriter all those years ago.”

Kate giggled. “The typewriter!  I haven’t thought about that for a long time.”

Dan’s face didn’t change.  “I know no one told you, but I was dying that fall.  Kate, you saved my life.  You helped my family.”

Kate squeezed his hand. “Dan—

He went to the table near the door and retrieved the brightly colored package he had been hiding under his coat.  He placed it on his wife’s lap pressing a kiss to her forehead.  “Your gift has come back to you.”

With trembling fingers, Kate tore the wrapping.  The moment the paper fell away, she clapped a hand over her mouth.  A Remington.  A brand new Remington typewriter.

Purple Laura Name - Shutterstock 3:4:20

8 thoughts on “A Short Story – A Most Precious Gift”

  1. I truly loved your beautiful story. Its the best I ever read! Keep up the goo work. xo

  2. Wow! Great story, Laura! I like the message and or moral about selfless love and sacrificial giving. It’s a good read all around. Well Done and keep up the good work : )
    -Noah

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