As a small child, I believed in angels. Not with a religious fervor, not quite. I never truly cared much for religion or the bible. My mother made me go to church every Sunday and I fell asleep every time.
But when it came to the angels, they captivated me more than anything. At church, I would stare at the paintings of children my age with white, feathery wings floating in paradise under sorbet-colored skies.
“Do they ever grow up?” I asked my mother once.
“I suppose so,” she would reply in a gentle voice. “One day you’ll grow up, wont you?”
I was confused. “Me?”
“Yes. When I needed a blessing, I got an angel of my own: you.”
I was elated after hearing that, spending the entire service trying to “remember” my life as an angel. I ignored the prayers, the gospel tunes and the loud moments of worship.
As the years passed, I cared less and less about the angels. I was getting bigger, experiencing new pains, becoming more aware of the world and how powerless I felt in it. My mother became meaner and stricter with each new day. She lived in a world that wanted to control her and so she decided to control me. What dresses and hairstyles to wear, what to eat, what friends to hang out with. But it made sense. Raising a black girl in the 60’s wasn’t easy, and my mother, as wise as she was, didn’t have all the answers.
Things stabilized eventually in the following decade after my mother realized I had a strong head on my shoulders. I got straight A’s in high school and mostly stayed out of trouble. I had even gotten accepted into my dream college. She was proud of me. She had always been.
I had taken up a job waiting tables at a diner not too far off from where I was going to college to study biochemistry. It was clean, the customers were friendly, and they tipped well. The food wasn’t too bad either. At the time, it was enough to help pay off most of my bills. Everything was good.
I got a call from my mother one night as I was studying. She had cancer. We didn’t cry, though. We thought. Prayed even. Treatment was possible, but paying for it would be a challenge. She wasn’t working anymore and my money was tied up between my bills, tuition, and helping her whenever I had it to spare. We needed a miracle.
On a snowy Christmas eve, I went in to work an extra shift at the diner. My boss said it would be slow, but a few lonely souls would eventually wander in for some pie or hot cocoa. She was right, of course. Through the night, old men would quietly drift inside into the warmth of the diner. A lot of them were widowers. Some didn’t have children. And some just had families that left them behind.
Fiften minutes after the clock had struck midnight, another stranger walked in. This one stood out because he was so much younger than the rest, no more than ten years older than me. He wore a black overcoat dusted with snow over a sharp blue three-piece suit. He was tall and well-built with slightly longer dark brown curls and a thick mustache that was fashionable at the time. His skin was tanned with a golden hue. He wasn’t white, but if he wanted to, he could pass.
The look on his face was… pleasant. Optimistic even, which contrasted with the lethargic expressions of the handful of other men sulking over their food. He took off his overcoat and quietly took a seat at one of the red booths. I made my way over to him as he was scanning the menu.
“Hi there. You wanna start off with something to drink?” I asked.
“Ah, yes please. Hot chocolate with a marshmallow,” he spoke. He had a strange, british-adjacent accent.
“Got it. Do you still need more time to look over the menu?”
“No, I’m ready. May I get a cheeseburger with fries please? Also a Belgian waffle with the strawberries and whipped cream. And a plate of four eggs, bacon, sausage, and three pancakes,” he replied.
“Are… you waiting for someone?” I asked, confused at his large order of food.
“Oh no, dear. I’m alone for the night.” He had an enticing smile. “I’m just very hungry.”
“Okay then. Well, I’ll have your hot chocolate soon and your food should be ready shortly.”
“Much obliged,” the stranger said.
I poured the steaming drink in a clean mug and placed a big white marshmallow on top that began to dissolve instantly. I returned to the stranger’s table.
“You might want to let it cool a bit, it’s hot,” I said, setting the mug down in front of him. He immediately picked it up and took a big gulp without flinching.
“Delicious,” he sighed. I stared at him blankly.
“Anything wrong, dear?” he asked, looking back up at me.
“Uh, no. I guess not.”
I returned to my place behind the counter, still watching the man. Everything about him seemed slightly off, like he didn’t really belong here with the rest of us. But he seemed genuinely kind enough.
“What’s your name?” the stranger asked as I returned with the large tray of food.
“You can call me Nita,” I answered while placing the plates on his table.
“Nita, would you like to join me?”
“I’m still on the clock,” I said.
“Everything seems to be moving slow enough. And what’s the difference between you sitting down and talking to me and you standing over there and staring at me?” he noted.
I rolled my eyes and took a seat across from him. “Fine. You got a name?”
“You can call me Jay,” he smiled brightly.
“Well, Jay, what do you wanna talk about?”
“You. Why aren’t you at home with your family right now?” he asked, being rather intrusive.
“I could ask you the same question,” I snapped back.
“I don’t have much family. I have a son, but he’s working. I’ll see him when the sun rises,” Jay said cryptically.
This man couldn’t have had a son that was old enough to work. He himself seemed to be too young. But I didn’t question it.
“Well, I don’t have much family either outside of my mom. I’m working to pay off my bills and tuition,” I said.
“What are you in school for?” Jay asked.
His eyes opened much wider than before. “That’s a surprise.”
“Why would it be a surprise?” I asked. “I can’t like science?”
“No, no, dear. That’s not what I meant. I’m a scientist myself, actually. I haven’t seen many women like you in my days.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said. “They’ve been trying to keep us out.”
“They have,” Jay said, taking a bite into his burger. “Perhaps I can offer you a job in the field?”
“Working for you? Doing what exactly?” I asked.
“I’ve spent years recruiting scientists trying to move the world forward. Maybe you have a place with us?” Jay said. “I pay well.”
I looked at him suspisciously. “I don’t know about that.”
“Fair enough, I just thought I would ask,” he shrugged.
“Well, what would be the catch?”
“The catch would simply be keeping a big secret,” Jay said with his mouth full of fries. “Don’t worry, there’s no rush for you to make a decision.”
I thought about his offer for a moment. If he really did pay well, it had to be more money than I was making at the diner. Maybe he could help me with my mom’s medical bills.
“Tell me more about your mother, Nita,” Jay said, as if he had read my mind.
“Well…” I hesitated. Maybe if I told him about my mother’s cancer, he would try to help me out. “She’s sick. Cancer. We can’t really afford her medical bills right now.”
“Ah, I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, still stuffing his face with food without slowing down.
Jay reached into his pocket and pulled out a large stack of one hundred dollar bills and placed it on the table.
“That should be enough to cover the food and to help out your mother,” he said in a casual manner.
My eyes were wide. I didn’t think he would react so quickly with such a huge tip.
“I… don’t know what to say. Thank you!” I said.
“Don’t worry about it, Nita. Tell me, what’s your full name?”
“Well, Juanita. My offer for you to come work with me still stands, however, if you don’t want to right now, that’s fine too. But give me about… one week. I’ll call in some favors to get you an internship at a reputable lab. They’ll pay you well and you’ll have more than enough to keep paying for your mother’s treatment and school.”
“Slow down. What’s the catch to all this? Why are you helping me?”
“There is no catch. I want to help. Consider it a Christmas present,” Jay winked.
“Well, don’t you need more of my information?” I asked.
“Nope. All I need is your name. Next week, you’ll be contacted for an interview and everything will move forward from there. Don’t worry, you wont be working for me.”
Jay finished his food and stood, putting his overcoat on his shoulders. “It was nice meeting you Nita. Merry Christmas.”
“Is there a way for me to contact you?” I asked.
“Don’t worry. We’ll probably see each other again one day.”
And he was gone. Out the door and into the cold snow. I counted the money he had given me and screamed, ignoring the few old men staring at me strangely.
A week later, I received a call with an offer for a paid internship at a lab. The interview went well and they offered me the position immediately. I was able to pay off my tuition and my mother’s medical bills. I graduated. They hired me full-time, and my mother made a full recovery. Jay revitalized my belief in angels.
I worked with the lab for forty years before retiring, doing research and making breakthroughs. I even had a daughter who was expecting a child of her own. My mother was still alive, approaching her ninties, but still strong and stern.
It was Christmas Eve and I decided to visit the old diner for the first time since I had left forty years ago. The ownership and staff had changed; many of the other waitresses had found better careers. Some of the other staff, like the cooks, were either dead or close to it. The vintage décor remained the same. The current owner kept everything clean.
I sat at the old red booth where Jay and I first met and ordered a mug of the hot cocoa. I quietly looked out of the window, sipping my drink and watching the snow fall.
“Hello Nita,” I heard a vaguely familiar voice.
I looked up to see Jay, this time in a more casual outfit. Jeans, a flannel blue shirt and a leather jacket. He had shaved off his mustache and cut his curls slightly shorter to keep up with the times, but he hadn’t aged at all. Maybe one silver strand of hair on his temple was visible. But he looked exactly the same. Time didn’t change him.
“You look good Nita!” Jay said, sitting down across from me.
He was an angel. He had to be. He appeared in my life and changed it for the better. And here he was again, forty years later, looking just as youthful as when I first saw him.
“Are you here to kill me?” I asked. “Is it my time to go?”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Jay asked.
“You’re an angel. I know you are,” I said sternly. “You haven’t aged since I last saw you.”
“Oh, that,” Jay chuckled. “Trust me, I’m no angel.”
“Then explain,” I demanded.
Jay stared at me for a moment. “Remember that big secret I said you would have to keep?”
“How would you feel about coming out of retirement and taking up my offer to come work for me?”
Here's a fun little Chirstmas story about miracles and the unknown. The editing in this piece is a little rough, as I was working with some tight time constraints (which is also why there's no artwork to accompany it). But in any case, I hope you all enjoy it. Please note that all stories marked with a star (⍟) is special and connected to something much larger. Bookmark this and keep it in mind for the future.