Hopes and Fears...

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O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.


Police Department parking lot, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania….Christmas Eve

A figure sat shivering in the back of the police car, despite the full-on force of the heater as well as two very cozy blankets; cozy for a police cruiser, that is. Outside, the snow had let up, and the cop behind wheel turned off the windshield wipers. Under the covers, the girl’s hands held a cup of cocoa tenuously, since her wrists were bound together with a plastic zip tie.

“If you promise to behave, I’ll take the tie off you, but I can’t have you running down the street when I open the door, okay?” The large man smiled; put upon wasn’t exactly a term anyone might use, but his partner looked over at him and spoke.

“Jeez, Jackie boy…. Give the girl a break. She’s not gonna run. You didn’t need to arrest her.”

“Fuck, Aldo….She kicked me and ran down the alley when we found her.” Jack attempted a whisper, but the girl heard and turned her face and leaned against the cold window.

“I’d bet she was just afraid and cold, Jack. Give her a break. It’s Christmas Eve, for Christ’s sake!” Jack winced at the profanity, but he smiled.

“Okay, Wise Man…. You let her out of the car.”

He shook his head and turned his attention to the radio; it was silent, but the green glow of the display lit up the interior like a…. Christmas tree? Aldo nodded and got out and opened the door. The face of the child lit up until she saw Jack standing behind the man. She put her head down and began to cry, eliciting an ‘Oh, fer Christ’s sake’ from Jack, which evoked another wince; this from his own profane use of the name of his ‘personal Lord and Savior.’

“Don’t mind him, kid,” Aldo said, using the turn of his head as a gesture to his partner behind him.

“He means well, trust me. He’s got a girl at home just like you. He just got a bit….zealous.” The girl looked up and saw the welcoming smile on Jack’s face and nodded nervously. Aldo pulled out a nail clipper.

“Normally they don’t take these off until you get into the station, but I know you’re not going to run, right? We’ll call your parents when we get you inside, okay?” Another nod, this time with eyes downcast. Tears began to drip off the girl’s nose and chin.

“Hey…it’s okay, kid. It’s going to be alright.” Aldo said as he ushered the girl through the side door leading into the police station.

A moment later the girl was sitting on a long metal bench nestled between brick and cement walls; her feet dangled slightly off the floor. The blankets had fallen off her shoulders, revealing a gray hoodie over a light blue tee-shirt and torn jeans. Her feet were bare as she had stepped out of her slippers in her run down the alleyway where she had been discovered. Her toes were decorated with a dark purple polish covered with sparkles.

“Here, kid,” Jack said. “We found these at the front of the alley. I cleaned them as much as I could.”

He handed her the slippers, which were reasonably clean considering they were faux pink bunny fur. They looked entirely too big for her feet, but she grabbed them eagerly if silently. Putting them on, she went back to swinging her feet. She looked past Jack and saw the several men and women in the large squad room. Most were clad in blue uniforms, but a few wore shirts and jackets, including a very friendly looking woman sitting at a desk on the far side of the room. The woman smiled at the girl before returning to the paperwork strewn across the desk.

“Jackie?” A woman’s voice called from the doorway to her left, and she looked up to see her mother and father standing anxiously as Aldo pointed in her direction. She put her head down and closed her eyes tight.

“Oh, Damn it, Donna….what the…” Her father resisted the urge to complete the sentence and just scowled, which would have been painful enough. She looked at her mother and saw that she, too, had been crying. The woman’s face was streaked and her eyes were red. She shook her head in apology mostly, but also as a silent but emphatic prayer that this time would be different. Her parents walked slowly up to the bench and stood quietly. Aldo turned to his partner.

“Hey, Jack…the kid has the same name as you.” He began to laugh until he turned back to the family and saw that the girl was still sitting with her head down. The parents had made no effort to embrace the girl even though she had begun to shiver again.

“Oh, fuck…this can’t be good.” Jack looked back at his partner and Aldo nodded reluctantly. But the scene changed. The father knelt down on one knee and lifted the girl’s chin, revealing a very sad face; a scared face….a face that displayed an almost hopeless countenance. She went to cast her vision down again, but the man’s hand remained firm. He spoke.

“Your mom and I….” He began, but faltered a bit as he struggled for the next few words. His wife put her hand on his shoulder.

“Go ahead, John…”

Her encouragement seemed to come from a place of knowing how difficult it was; not only for the daughter but for the father as well. The man’s face seemed to reflect the girl’s feeling of hopelessness, but his kind smile and gentle rub of the girl’s chin with his thumb indicated an unfamiliar acceptance.

“Tell Jackie what you told me…. Jackie needs to know why you were upset, okay, honey?” He looked up at his wife and she put her hand to her mouth to stifle a sob; unnecessary since her cry was born of relief, at the tears streaming from her husband’s eyes.

“Jack….Jackie? I’m so sorry. I thought…. You know….” Jackie, of course, didn’t know, but the look on her father’s face gave her all the understanding she needed. The look that said ‘I’m so sorry,’ even if he couldn’t speak the many reasons why at that moment. He bit his lip.

“Daddy wants to…” Donna went to continue, but he squeezed her hand as if to say, ‘I can do this.’

“Listen, Jack….Jackie? “

He repeated the verbal misstep. At the second mention of her name, the girl seemed to perk up and she looked into her father’s eyes, seeing the love he had likely wanted to express all along but failed so miserably in the attempt. She bit her lip, mirroring her father’s expression; one of the few ‘traits’ he had passed along to his youngest child. Baseball and hockey had gone by the wayside; a sad disappointment or maybe a supreme failure on his part, but really just the same as if he had brown hair and she had blonde. She loved music just like her father, even if some of it was a bit old-fashioned for him. And she loved dogs; so much so that she wanted to be a veterinarian just like him. But not everything passed from father to child; which is as it should be.

“I don’t know what to say other than that I love you, okay?” Of course it was okay; at least it would be, and soon at that. He put his own head down until he felt the gentle tug against his chin.

“I love you, too, Daddy.”

The girl smiled through her own tears. So much distance traversed in mere moments as sad fears and frustrated hope gave way to acceptance and finally... unconditional love. The man looked at his youngest child. His third child…his only son, in fact, which was ironic, poetic, and wonderfully appropriate as the father let go and embraced his son for the last time while acknowledging, welcoming and rejoicing in the girl that John Allan Porter, Jr. had become. Rather the daughter that Jackie Alyn Porter had always been.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Traditional Christmas Carol
Words by Philip Brooks
Music by Lewis Redner
Performed by Rebecca St. James

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This story is 1481 words long.