Little by little, Frank Pyburn has learned the child’s name is Jasper and that he has no parents. And, it seems the child is determined to keep with family tradition and bring a tree home on Christmas Eve. He needs the luck. And he’s invited Frank to Christmas dinner.
“Well, now that you mention it, I just might.” Frank finished the coffee and leaned forward. “It gets a mite lonely here from time to time. But, I’d have to ask Aunt Nellie first.”
“Oh, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. She’s nice.”
“That’s good to hear, Jasper. I’m glad she treats you well.” Frank pushed to his feet. “Let’s get you bundled up and we’ll go get the truck.”
He gruffly buttoned the top button on the kid’s worn coat and pulled the wool cap down over his small ears. A lump caught in his throat. He grabbed his coat and opened the door.
He choked back tears that threatened to fall. He’d make sure that Jasper Doolin and Aunt Nellie got their Christmas luck. He could use a big dose of it himself, and a good deed on Christmas never hurt anyone.
They traipsed across the yard to the 1921 GMC pickup parked under a shed.
Young Jasper let out a whistle. “This is a beauty, Mr. Frank.”
“It serves the purpose. My daughter insisted I get it after Emma died.”
Jasper scrunched up his nose. “I’m sorry you lost your Miss Emma.”
“Me too,” Frank growled. “Me too. Now, let’s get you a tree. I know exactly where to find the perfect one, and I’ve got an ax behind the seat.”
Frank cranked the engine. It protested before it finally sprang to life.
The headlights reflected off the snow as Frank eased down a country lane. After a few minutes, he stopped and pulled on the brake. He left the headlights on and they cast a warm glow that allowed Jasper to choose a small tree. Then, with the sharp ax, Frank cut it down and tossed it into the bed of the truck.
They hopped inside, and Frank turned back toward the house. Halfway home, he glanced over at the boy to see him sound asleep with his head laying on the door.
His heart melted. This boy reminded him of himself when he was his age. But, it was evident that life had tossed Jasper Doolin a hard road to walk.
Visions of Emma in the lavender dress he loved so much swam before his eyes. Oh, how he missed her bustling around their small house baking pies and stringing garland. Painful loneliness gnawed at his gut. Emma would want him to help Jasper.
When they reached the ranch house, he gently woke Jasper. “We’re back at my house, Jasper. But, we need to get you on home.”
Jasper sat up, yawned big, and rubbed his eyes. “Okay, Mister Frank. I sure do appreciate you helping me.”
“It’s nothing. But, I’ve got another idea. How about you run inside and get your stuff, and I’ll drive you back to Aunt Nellie’s. Then tomorrow, we can get Magic.”
“Okay.” Jasper opened the door, dashed inside and returned with his saddlebags.
Frank drove while Jasper told him what road Aunt Nellie lived on. He was surprised at how far Jasper had ridden on Magic. No wonder he fell asleep on the horse.
Thirty minutes later, he pulled up in front of a small wood-framed house. Candlelight flickered through the windows and Frank could only guess that Aunt Nellie was worried sick about young Jasper. He didn’t miss small eyes peeking around the edge of a curtain when they walked up to the door dragging the tree.
Jasper knocked. “Aunt Nellie, it’s me, Jasper. Unlock the door.”
A bolt slid across, and a scrawny woman flung the door wide. “Jasper!” She hugged the boy. “You had me worried sick.”
Frank removed his hat. “I found him over by my place. He’d fallen off Magic and hit his head.”
“But, I’m okay now, Aunt Nellie. And look, Mister Frank helped me get us a tree. We can have good luck now and maybe you won’t have to cry so much.”
The woman eyed Frank. “Well, the both of you come on in out of the cold.” She shooed the children back and stepped aside.
Frank lifted the tree over the threshold and followed Jasper. Once inside, he faced the woman and stuck out his hand. “I’m Frank Pyburn, ma’am. I live over on the other side of the creek.”
She shook his hand. “I can’t thank you enough for helping Jasper. He didn’t tell me where he was going, and I just knew something had happened to him.”
Jasper stood beside her and three smaller children huddled close, never taking their eyes off the tree resting against the wall. “I told you, Aunt Nellie, I had to get us a tree, so we would have good luck like Pa always said.”
Her eyes misted. “Can I offer you something hot to drink, Mr. Pyburn?”
“No. I’ve gotta be getting back. But, if it’s okay with you, tomorrow I’ll pick up Jasper and take him to get Magic and see them both home safely.”
“Of course, it’s okay. But, only on one condition. If you don’t have any other plans, I’d be pleased to have you join us for Christmas dinner. It’s the least I can do to repay you for looking out after Jasper.”
Frank’s gaze swept the simple dwelling. While the furnishings were sparse, the floors sparkled, clean, and there wasn’t a speck of dust anywhere. He’d be back tomorrow. But, when he came, he’d have his arms full.
He couldn’t stop a grin that spread across his face. Just like Santa Claus.
The idea that he could bring Christmas cheer to this kind woman and children brought him great joy.
Already, he was thinking about the venison in his freezer and the canned vegetables that Emma had left behind. Maybe he could even scrounge up some gifts for the children.
He’d found a purpose for enjoying Christmas again.
With a light heart, he said his goodbyes and drove the faithful old truck back to his empty home. But, somehow, it didn’t seem nearly as lonely or empty as it had a few hours ago.
When he parked under the shed and headed inside, he could almost smell Emma’s wonderful cherry pies and hear her sweet laughter drifting across the snow-covered ground.
He looked up at the black velvet star-filled sky. “You’re one lucky man, Frank Pyburn,” he said.
A whinny from the barn confirmed Magic agreed with him and that was one smart horse. “Christmas Magic,” thought Frank. That should be the horse’s new name for that is what he’d brought…A boy and his pony on one starry Christmas Eve.