The promised snow had indeed come, snarling traffic for two days, but life was back to normal just in time for the last few days of Christmas shopping. I was relieved because I hadn’t had a chance to shop for Lucas or my family at all yet. It was decided that I’d spent enough money without going to Six-Ten Magnolia, so I was to take the money I had earmarked to spend there and spend it on the last presents I needed to get. And by it was decided, I mean Dee decided. I was not happy about it, but finally gave in. We had just finished our shopping and were on our way to Lucas’ house for Christmas with him before we both left for our respective family Christmases. We’d talked about it and decided that, since we were going to have to alternate between Parkersburg and Nashville in future years that we’d spend this last holiday as pseudo-single people with our own families. Another choice about which I wasn’t wild, but the alternative was to spend Christmas with her family since we’d spent Thanksgiving with mine.
“To be fair, your family was in the middle of the Caribbean over Thanksgiving,” I said, pulling up to Lucas’ house.
“This is family, honey bunch. Fair has nothing to do with it.” She got out and pulled her hat down over her ears against the cutting wind.
“Can’t you come to my folks’ for a couple days and then fly to your parents? I’ll come down and spend New Year’s in Nashville with you.” I was out and gathering presents for Lucas as well as Loretta, who had started spending a good bit of time with Lucas in the last month or so.
“I don’t have money for the ticket.”
“Ask your folks?”
“Ask them to pay for a plane ticket so I can miss Christmas with them?”
“Well, when you put it that way, it sounds unreasonable.”
“It sounds unreasonable any way you put it.”
“You win.” I rang the bell.
“Lucas’ decorations are beautiful.”
“You mean Loretta’s. Lucas’ idea of decorating for Christmas is to wear a red tie to church.”
“They really like each other, don’t they?”
I didn’t get a chance to respond because Lucas opened the door, inundating us with the lovely warmth of a fire in the fireplace, the ravishing aroma of turkey, and joyful noise of Nat King Cole wishing us a merry little Christmas now.
“Come in, you two,” said Lucas. “Merry Christmas!” He shook my hand, hugged Dee, took our gifts from us, and placed them under the tree while we took off our coats.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Sugar,” said Loretta, coming from the kitchen. She was wearing a lovely red sweater over a wool skirt and tall brown boots. The ensemble was completed with a festive apron decorated with Santa and Mrs. Claus kissing under the mistletoe. She hugged us both and took our coats. Lucas offered us drinks.
“Egg nog for me, please,” said Dee.
“Decaf for me,” I said, sitting beside Dee on the couch in the living room. Lucas’ house was older, and had never been renovated to have the great room feel. It had a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen, all in a row from front to back.
“Your tree is gorgeous!” shouted Dee. “It’s so big!”
“First time I’ve had a tree in I don’t know how long,” said Lucas, coming in from the kitchen with our drinks. He sat down in the loveseat across from us. “I guess since Claire died, so what, twenty years?”
“You’ve been widowed for twenty years?” I asked. “Why so long?”
“Never found anybody to come up to her standard. Until now.”
“What are you all talking about so quietly in here?” asked Loretta. She sat next to Lucas.
“You, if you must know.”
“Mrs. Sugar, let me see that rock on your finger.”
Dee jumped up and held out her hand to let Lucas and Loretta admire the ring. “Wait a second, Loretta, what’s that you’re wearing?”
Loretta’s skin was too dark to tell, but I think she may have blushed as she held out her left hand for Dee to inspect her ring finger.”
“Lucas, is this your doing?” I asked.
“Asked her the same night you proposed to your lovely here,” he said, taking Dee’s hand in his.
“Well, congratulations!” I said, rising to shake his hand again. “I’m so happy for you both. You guys both deserve some happiness.”
The timer went off signaling that dinner was ready, so we went to the kitchen to help bring everything in to the dining room. The dinner in place, we sat down and Lucas led us in prayer. After grace, I opened my eyes to find an envelope on my plate.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Your Christmas present,” said Lucas. “And your wedding present. Dee, sorry, but this is for both of you.”
“It’s not their wedding present, you old skinflint!” said Loretta. “Well, Sugar, open it before this food gets cold.”
I looked at Lucas, puzzled, and handed the envelope to Dee. She tried to protest, but I held my ground. She slid her slender finger under the flap of the red envelope and pulled out a Christmas card with a manger scene on the front. She was to my right, so when she opened the card, I couldn’t see what was inside. I assumed it was a gift certificate of some kind, but Dee’s eyes grew wide when she pulled the small slip of paper out and studied it.
“Is this—what is this?” She asked. Her voice was trembling. “I don’t understand.”
“What is it, honey?” I asked, holding out my hand. She stared at me a second, her face a mask of shock. She finally handed me the paper. It was a check.
“Pay to the order of Harry Shalan, One-Hundred-Thousand and 00/100 Dollars.” I read it over and over but couldn’t make sense of it. Why would they play such a joke and call it a present? But the more I read it, the more I realized it was real. This was an actual check for an actual hundred grand. I looked at Lucas and Loretta and then at Dee, my mouth moving, but no sounds coming out.
“I told you we shoulda waited until after dinner,” said Loretta. “He’s not gonna have an appetite now.”
I looked at Dee again. She just shook her head, bewildered. “What is this?” I finally asked.
“Loretta’s late husband left her rather well off,” said Lucas.
“Well off my foot,” said Loretta. “I’m stinkin’ rich.”
“Okay, but what’s that got to do with this?”
“Like I told you that day, when, well, you know.” He instinctively touched the scar on his head. “You remember what I said?”
“You said you’re getting too old for this stuff.”
“And I am, so I’m closing up shop. Loretta and I are going to see the world after we get married.”
“Good for you,” said Dee, her voice shaken by emotion. “But this is a hundred thousand dollars.”
“And it’s yours,” said Lucas. “And we won’t take no for an answer. No strings attached, but, if I might suggest, I’d seriously consider a new car as your first purchase.”
“This—this is too much,” I said.
“Like I said, Sugar, we’re rich. Hundred thousand dollars is pocket money for us now.”
“I figure the rest you could use to move home,” said Lucas, “and for seed money to start your own agency. I know how homesick you are.”
I looked at Dee, the question in my eyes. She sniffed and nodded as she wiped a tear from her face with a napkin.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said. “Thank you seems so inadequate. But thank you.”
“No need for thanks,” said Lucas, taking Loretta’s hand in his kissing it. “You two mean the world to the two of us. Harry, you came along at just the right time and brought youth and excitement to my life. And who knows if I would’ve lived if you hadn’t been there when I tangled with Yamamoto. And Dee, you might just be the angel that Harry says you are, because you have made him and us so happy since you came into our lives. So it’s we who want to thank you. Merry Christmas to you both.”
“There’s a problem, though, Lucas,” I said.
“All we got you was a membership in the cheese of the month club.”
Lucas and Loretta looked at each other and burst into raucous laughter. I was starting to feel kind of defensive when they finally calmed down to speak.
“Oh honey,” said Loretta between gasps of laughter. “I’m lactose intolerant.”
Next week, Dee re-gifts something, but Harry doesn't mind at all.