The Gift

By Keith Kincaid

The Old 41 truck stop hadn’t changed much over the years, especially since the interstate highway ended up being built further east, closer to the center of the state.

Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl, except for the prices of fuel and things everything else seemed timeless.

That was the reason that Trav usually stopped here, but today was different. On the coldest day of December, a pesky airline on his tractor had sprung a leak.  Here he was standing out in the wind, gloves off and trying to repair the damage.

Well about half way thru the repair job, the pocket knife that Travis was using slipped in his cold fingers and sliced right thru the skin. “Ouch,” he muttered as the knife fell on the ground out of reach.

“That figures,” he said.

About that time, Trav noticed the young man who seemed to be taking shelter from the wind ,over by the garbage dumpster.

He looked to be just about ready to become a teenager, and it seemed like he hadn’t seen too many good meals lately either. This was easy to see, thanks to the windbreaker the kid was wearing. It was thin and a little small and the zipper seemed to be broken.

These kinda things bothered Trav really bad, due in part to the fact that his wife and he had been unable to have a child so far, no matter what they tried. It didnt seem fair somehow. But right now he was busy bleeding in the parking lot, and when he finally stopped the blood, he still had to finish the repair.

About that time a skinny hand picked up the knife and handed it to him.

“Thanks, kid,” Trav said, and the kid did what he could to help, handing wrenches to Trav, and holding the flashlight, as it was now getting dark. Finally they finished the repair, and by now it was really cold.

Old Butch had been cooking at the 41 as long as Trav could remember, and that was possibly why they were still in business, when so many other places had closed or sold out to the big chains.

Butch had a deal worked out with the butcher in town and he only used fresh meat in everything, from his burgers to his infamous spaghetti sauce, and right now, a ButchBurger sure did sound good to Trav.

“Hey kid, let me buy you some dinner for helping me,” Trav said.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I should just go….” the kid said as he began to walk away.

Trav wasnt having any of that, and he called him again, “Hey come on, kid, I couldnt’ have finished my repairs without your help, and I feel like I owe you.”
The smell of warm food and coffee filled the air in the diner. For a moment, Trav could have sworn the kid looked like he was gonna faint.

“Two Butch Burgers with fries, coffee and a hot chocolate, Brenda,”called Trav to the smiling waitress as they entered and sat down.

Brenda was Butch’s better half, as she liked to tell everyone as often as she could, but it was always in fun as they were still deeply in love even after all the years.

The kid demolished his burger and fries and was on his second cup, when he finally started to loosen up and talk about himself. His name was Chris,and his mom and dad were divorced. His Mom had custody of him, and she managed to keep his father away. Chris couldnt remember the last time he had even saw his Dad, although he knew he drove a truck too. He didnt know much else except that the truck had a picture of a covered wagon, “like the pioneers used”painted on the side.

Trav left Chris in the television room and went to make a phone call. After several calls,Trav hit paydirt. He knew a girl who worked in the office of the only company Trav knew that had trucks decorated like that, and after some fast talking, Trav recieved a call from a man who identified himself as Chris’s Dad.

At first Trav was having a hard time controlling his temper ,but as they talked and the story unfolded and Trav began to understand.

The mother had gained custody of her son and quickly did a hasty retreat, keeping one step ahead of the dad’s efforts to find them.

It wasnt very long until Chris’s mom became involved with a man who sold drugs, and then it seemed just as quickly, she was hooked and taking pills all the time. The money that came from welfare, food stamps and the child support was mostly spent on chasing the next days supply of pills, with hardly anything left over for the boy.

That’s when Chris had decided to leave, and no one seemed to be looking for him, so he had been taking care of himself as best as a young man could.

So as he hung up the phone, Trav motioned to Brenda to come over, and the two hatched out a plan where Chris could stay with her and Butch until tommorrow when the boy’s dad could pick him up. They also checked with the local sheriff, who was a good old boy. He assured them that everything would be OK, and that he would be there to supervise the reunion of father and son.

Trav took the time to explain all of this to Chris over a last cup of coffee, before Trav himself had to get back on the road.  Chris sat and listened to it all, and fidgeted with a little paper angel that was the centerpiece on all the tables, as Christmas was only a couple of weeks away.

When they stood and shook hands, Trav was almost sure the boy had tears welling up, so he gave him a quick hug and out the door he went.

The last couple hundred miles seemed to take forever and Trav was sure glad to wheel the truck into the driveway, and back around to the shop.

As he climbed down with his briefcase in hand, his wife Nancy nearly bowled him over, and there was no mistaking the tears in her eyes.

“Hey, hey what’s this? Aren’t you happy to see me?”Trav joked.

“Of course! I’m crying tears of joy.” His darling wife had been at the doctor just that afternoon, where tests confirmed it– they were finally going to have a baby!

Trav was so overjoyed he couldnt believe his ears, and even after dinner he was having a hard time believing it was finally happening.

It was much later that night, after his wife had went to bed, that Trav took out his briefcae to put his trip reports in order and double check his paperwork.

When he opened the locked case, to his surprise was a paper bag inside. It was tied with ribbon that Trav had never seen it before. When he opened the bag , be got a bigger shock.  Inside was a paper angel, just like the one in the diner. A rattle, and a little stuffed teddy bear were also inside, as was a note that read, MERRY CHRISTMAS from one Angel to Another, your friend Chris.

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