In his peripheral vision, Oliver could tell that it was morning. Pale grayish white light leaked in through the small window above the shower. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but knew it was still early.
He rolled over, then sat up slowly. He was slightly sore, his arms, legs, and joints protesting at the motion, but no more so than usual given the recent long flight. He stood up and looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was disheveled and his cheek bore the marks of laying flat against the tile floor, and he definitely needed to shave.
Was that all a dream? he thought to himself. It didn’t feel like a dream. It was so real.
At that moment, he heard his phone chirp from the bedside table. He walked from the bathroom to the bed, sat on it, and grabbed the phone. It was a text message from Dottie. It read:
“Happy Christmas, Ollie! I hope you and your family have a wonderful day. I know you’ve probably got loads of stuff to do today, but if you find yourself with a free moment this evening, I’m planning to have Christmas dinner out, maybe at Simpson’s Tavern.”
He re-read the message, then made a quick reply.
“Happy Christmas to you too, Dottie! Would I be imposing too much if I called you in a hour or so?”
A minute later, he got the reply. “Not at all! If I don’t answer, just call again. This phone is a bit wonky with international calls sometimes… <wink>”
He smiled, then slipped the phone into his pocket and made his way out of the bedroom. The common room was as it had always been, although the bedroom door opposite him was cracked slightly.
He headed downstairs. The twins’ rooms on the second floor were already vacant, and he could hear faint conversation echoing up from the kitchen area. Entering the kitchen, he was greeted with warm wishes of Happy Christmas from his mother and father and sisters. He saw them in a new light this morning, recognizing subtle signs that he hadn’t noticed before last night. Victoria gave him some good-natured ribbing about looking like he fell out of the bed and slept on the floor. He retorted with a quip that said Victoria looked almost, but not quite, as lovely as Daphne in the morning. This elicited an immediate laugh from everyone except Victoria, but she quickly licked her finger and drew it in a a vertical line in the air, as if awarding Oliver a point, and then hugged him tightly.
“I’m very glad you’re here, Ollie. I know I don’t always say it or show it, but I want you to know I’m always glad to see you.”
“I know, Vickie,” he replied, hugging her back. “And I don’t always say it or show it, but I’m always glad to be here.”
Victoria released him, reseating herself at the kitchen table while wiping her eyes dry. Oliver pretended not to notice as he said, “And that goes for the rest of you. I know I’ve been distant physically and emotionally, but I’m working to change that. I want you all to know that I am very happy to be able to spend Christmas here, with all of you.”
“I do have a request, however,” he said, sitting at the end of the table opposite his father. “Several, actually. First, regarding Christmas dinner. Would you all be alright going out instead of eating at home this evening?”
They said they would, especially his mother.
“And would you be very opposed to me inviting Dottie? I think she might be spending Christmas alone, and… well, I don’t think anyone should be alone on Christmas if they don’t want to be.”
They were all pleasantly surprised to hear that he was interested in having her around. Victoria and Daphne spent several minutes recalling fond memories of her from Oliver’s secondary school days, how she had been almost a big sister to them. His mother and father added to the color of the conversation, which ultimately ended in them saying that she should definitely join them if she wanted to.
Oliver continued. “Secondly, Mom and Dad, I know you wanted to have Christmas here because you’re thinking about selling this house. Can I convince you not to sell it? The house has always been in our family, and I would like to keep it that way if we possibly can.”
“Oliver,” his father replied, “I’d like to, but with none of us living in it, it just doesn’t make any sense to keep it.”
“What if… I… were to move into it?”
The stunned silence in the kitchen was finally broken by Daphne. “You mean, you want to move back here? From America?”
“I think I might,” said Oliver.
“But I haven’t had a chance to visit you there yet…” Daphne whimpered.
“Daphne, I formally invite both you and Victoria to visit me in America. My lodging is modest, but there are some great places to stay in New York. Plus,” he continued, winking at them, “you can help me pack. Mom and Dad, I would really like for you to consider joining them.”
“Um, well, that sounds lovely, and, um…” Oliver’s father began, sounding slightly confounded, “if you really want to move back, and back here particularly, then of course we won’t sell it. But Oliver, this seems… well, rather sudden. Are you sure about this? Are you feeling alright, son?”
“I’m feeling better than I have in ages, Dad. I… came to some realizations last night, and one of them is that home is where the heart is. My heart is still here, with you lot,” he replied, sharing a half-smile with Victoria. “And I want to keep that feeling alive in me all the time, not just around Christmas. This place helps with that. There’s something… magical about it.” He looked around the room, but his gaze encompassed the entire house, then came to rest on the family again.
“And finally, before we get into the full festivities of the day, I need to take a short walk. Can we wait an hour or so to start opening presents?”
They gave him questioning looks, with Daphne offering to go with him on his walk. He insisted that it was silly errand and that he would be back quickly, but that he wanted to do it alone. Victoria said it would take her at least that long to get ready for the Christmas photo session, and as much as some things had changed, Oliver knew better than to question Victoria on the subject. Ten minutes later, Oliver was out the door, Timothy’s journal and pen in hand.
He retraced his steps from his adventure, taking him first to the garden. It wasn’t quite like it had been in his visions, as snow had fallen overnight and still clung to the highest branches of the trees there, but it was very well cared for. From the sidewalk, he peeked into the bay window with the seat in it, and saw a wall mostly unadorned, but there was an elderly couple slow dancing in the room. Neither of them had the silvery hair of the Ghost of Christmas Past, and they looked thoroughly happy in each other’s company.
Oliver opened the journal to a blank page beyond the family tree and made a few notes. He then walked on, deciding to skip trying to get up to Simpson’s. They were going to be there later that day, which was soon enough. Instead, he wound through the streets until he arrived at Angel Gate. Walking through and to the right, he entered the lobby of the Silver Oak Care Center. A similarly dressed but different attendant was there, and looked up at his entrance, smiling a tired smile.
“Happy Christmas, sir! How can I help you?”
“I’m… uh, looking for Mr. Footuray. I think he’s a resident on the second floor…?”
The attendant looked confused as he said, “That name doesn’t sound familiar, but let me check. Maybe he’s a new resident that I haven’t met yet…” he trailed off as he tapped on the computer. A moment later, he shook his head. “No, I’m sorry sir, there’s no Footuray here. Perhaps he’s in another residence? There are several in this part of London…”
“Yes, probably so. I’ll check with his family… probably just got the address wrong. Thank you, and Happy Christmas to you,” Oliver said, opening the door to leave, then turning back to the attendant. “Excuse me, but do you have a volunteer program here? I’d be interested in getting involved, if so.”
The attendant’s face lit up. “Oh, absolutely sir! We rely on volunteers for lots of resident interactions. It requires the normal qualification process, but here’s an application.” He came out from behind the desk and handed a form to Oliver. Oliver accepted it gratefully, folding it and tucking it into the journal, making a few more notes on the page he’d started earlier as he left.
He continued walking, making his way back towards the Torrington house, flipping through the pages of the journal. As he did, a loose one fell out, threatening to blow away on a playful breeze. Oliver caught it just before it escaped fully, and noticed that the script on this page was different from the others used in the journal. The entry was actually made out to him.
I must apologize for our abrupt departure. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come released you, it marked my release as well. I no longer carry any mantle of Spirit of Christmas, and am going on to my final rest. I hope you, if not enjoyed, at least learned something during our short adventure together. As I said, I was never very good at actually being the Spirits of Christmas, but I always tried, and sometimes succeeded. My hope is that you will be counted among those successes. Always remember to do your part to keep the Spirits of Christmas alive! Farewell, my friend!
Oliver smiled, tucking the page back into the journal, and the journal into his coat. He then pulled out his phone and made the call he’d been waiting for what seemed like his entire life to make.
“Dottie? Yeah hi, it’s Oliver… Yes, Oliver Thompson… Ah, yeah of course I knew you were teasing. So was I… uh… listen…” he fumbled the phone as he transferred it to the other ear. “You asked about me having a free moment, and… well… what do you think about joining me and my family for Christmas dinner?… No, no imposition at all. We were already planning on going to Simpson’s… Great! What’s easiest for you? We can meet at the restaurant or you can come by the house and we can ride together, or I can pick you up… although I don’t have a car… Heh, yeah, that would be difficult then. See you at our house at… six or so? Fantastic!… Happy Christmas to you too! Oh, and Dottie…” he paused, gathered his resolve, then continued, “at some point, I’ve got a crazy-sounding story to tell you…”