“Eddie, I’m needed at the office at once,” Joel called up. His young son came to the top of the stairs at the sound of his voice. “Bring me my coat, will you? I left it over the chair in my room.”
Eddie let his hand rub the banister as he walked to his father’s room. He mechanically reached for the heavy overcoat, while he let his eyes rest on the one token remaining of his deceased mother. It was a small figurine of a delicate young woman bedecked in white, with a single poinsettia in her hair. How she had loved that little figure. Eddie was on the point of touching the porcelain hem of the dress, when his father called again.
Eddie descended the stairs, his quiet manner and deliberate stride making him look older that his ten years. As he handed the coat to Joel, he reached for his own coat and hat.
“May I walk with you, Father?” he asked.
“There’s nothing to see,” Joel hesitated, “but I’ve no objection.”
Eddie placed the dusty-gray cap over his tousled hair. Joel happened to glance his way as he did, and a strange look passed over the man’s face.
“Where did you find that cap?” he asked.
Eddie paused a moment. “I didn’t find it, Father,” he said. “Mr. Furlong gave it to me. Arthur’s too big for it now.”
Joel still eyed the cap oddly, a peculiar confusion on his face, before he dismissed the subject with a wordless gesture of his hand. Eddie bit his lip, then found the courage to ask, “Did I make you think of him again?”
“No, no, his cap was blacker,” Joel said curtly, as he opened the front door. “I had forgotten.”
Eddie snatched his scarf and just managed to catch the closing door before it shut in his face. As he fell into step beside his father, he dug his hands into his pockets to protect them from the fierce winter wind. They were not an odd sight, but were certainly unique in their own right. Joel, with his strong shoulders and clear-cut features, made long strides along the walk. Much smaller against his father’s figure, Eddie’s round face boasted softer features and burnished flaxen hair. His shorter steps were more frequent so he could keep up.
Neither of them spoke. Eddie was so glad to be walking with his father, he did not want to vex him with annoying questions. He contented himself with listening to the surrounding passersby.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Bridges,” he heard the baker say to an elderly woman. “How’s the family?”
“Just fine,” she answered with a contented sigh. “A Merry Christmas to you.”
“Oh, I’ll never have done with all this merry-making,” a student said to his companion.
“Aye, and it’s only Christmas Eve,” his friend answered.
“Do let us go skating tonight!” a young lady begged her lover.
“Where? Under the mistletoe?” he smiled.
Passing so many cheerful faces, Eddie could not help feeling a little sad. Christmas was never a particularly merry time for him, especially after his mother’s death a few years ago. She could always talk Joel into doing something memorable on Christmas. Eddie wished he could have the same effect on Joel. The only means he could think of to achieve this end was just coming out and asking his father to do something unforgettable together. Eddie grunted in displeasure. It sounded so silly when put to words. He was sure his father would think so. Then Christmas would be uncomfortable as well as unhappy.
Eddie let a voiceless sigh escape him. “I wish I was braver,” he mumbled.
“What’s that?” Joel asked unexpectedly.
Eddie’s heart skipped a beat as he looked up at his father. “I—I wish we’d do something jolly together this Christmas.”
The words flew out of his mouth before his mind could catch up to them. He had been on the point of asking so many times, his desire got the better of his reasoning. He anxiously watched his father’s face. Joel raised an indifferent eyebrow, clearly unaware of the turmoil raging in his son’s emotions.
" ‘Something jolly,’ ” he echoed, “What does that mean?”
Eddie swallowed hard. “It means something that’ll make Christmas cheerful,” he said.
“You can’t make Christmas cheerful,” Joel said with a chuckle. “It’s an event, not a person, Eddie.”
“I know, Father, but we’re never cheerful on Christmas,” Eddie continued, nearly pleading. “And I just thought—”
“Well, I’ve never felt particularly glum on Christmas, either,” Joel said.
“But you’re supposed to be merry on Christmas,” Eddie said. “That’s why they say ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”
The traffic was thickening. Joel grasped Eddie’s hand to guide the boy through the hubbub of pedestrians and carriages.
“Was there anything in particular you were looking for?” Joel asked. “A new cap, perhaps?”
“No, Father, I just—I just wanted us to be together.”
“We’re together now,” Joel answered, “Cherish the moments—the office is two streets away.”
Eddie gave up with a sigh. Adults could be so impossible to reach sometimes, particularly fathers who were unexpectedly summoned to work odd hours on Christmas Eve. One could never get their grown-up minds anywhere near to what one was trying to tell them.
Disheartened by his failed attempt, Eddie lapsed into silence, comforted only by the fact that Joel had forgotten to release his hand.
When they came to the front steps of the building where Joel worked, Joel pulled out a small key and fitted it into the lock.
“When will you be back, Father?” Eddie asked at the bottom of the steps.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Joel replied, struggling with the key. “I would suppose near tea time, but Lockhart is so incompetent with filing, poor devil—come on now, turn!—perhaps earlier in the evening?”
“Can I watch the trains before I go home?” Eddie said.
Joel looked back. “The trains...Farnham Station? If you know your way back. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself.”
“Thank you, Fa—”
The door opened just then. A heavy-set face grinned broadly at Joel, whose key was still stuck in the lock.
“Ahh, so you’ve trouble with the key, Trilby?” he bellowed. “And I was beginning to think we had a burglar in the broad daylight.”
“Yes, Lockhart, most amusing,” Joel said. He disengaged his key with equal difficulty, while Lockhart began to speak of their business matters.
Eddie watched his father enter and turn to remind him, “Be back home before evening.”
Then the door closed and the voices behind it faded away.