As darkness swallowed the city, the lights at the house across the street came on. Lisa drew the drapes against their glare. Christmas had become too commercialized. The old coot had Santa and his reindeer on his roof, a huge plastic globe with an air blown snowstorm in his front yard, and lights everywhere. What did any of those things have to do with Christmas? To make it worse, the old man had captured the interest of both her boys with all his dazzle. They had been spending hours after school with him. He was a bad influence on them.
She sighed as she sank to the couch. It wasn't the old man that had her worried. It was finances. Since the divorce, she had been struggling to pay the mortgage and utilities. There was barely enough left to buy groceries, let alone buy Christmas gifts for the boys. All she had managed to purchase so far was some cheap toys - not cheap as in inexpensive, but cheap as in quality.
The old man was a bad influence, but their father was worse. His drug habit had ruined their marriage and landed him in jail. Not that it mattered; he hadn't been paying child support for over a year anyway. He didn't care about his children, or anyone else. All he cared about was his next fix.
The oven timer interrupted her pity party. She pushed up from the couch and headed for the kitchen. Laying all the blame on Mark wasn't going to put food on the table. She pulled the macaroni and cheese casserole from the oven and set it on the stove top to cool while she set the table. When everything was ready, she called the boys to eat supper.
The boys looked disappointed as they sat down to the table, but they were wise enough not to say anything. Finding new and exciting ways to fix pasta was getting difficult.
"Are you going to be working on Christmas, Mom?" Shawn asked.
"She'll be home Christmas Eve and Christmas morning," John answered.
Lisa spooned food into their plates, remembering the day they brought their twin boys home - over nine years ago. They were becoming young men now.
"My schedule has changed," she corrected gently. "I'll be working Christmas Eve, but I'll be here Christmas day. That second job didn't pan out." She gave them a level look. "I hope you understand that I simply cannot buy the gifts that you hoped for."
"We understand," Shawn said, and winked at John.
"I'm not joking," Lisa insisted.
John turned a solemn gaze on Lisa. "We know, Mom."
"I bought a chicken," Lisa said. "That will be enough for the three of us."
"Mr. Keebler said that you can get free food at the church," John supplied.
"No," Lisa said. "That's for people who can't feed themselves. We can."
Mr. Keebler was putting all sorts of things in their heads. It wasn't that she was too proud to accept charity. She wanted the boys to become responsible adults, and teaching them that if they didn't provide for themselves, someone else would wasn't going to make them responsible. Bright lights and expensive toys wasn't what Christmas was about. If Mr. Keebler didn't understand that, he was the one who needed help. She had picked up a can of pumpkin and some cranberries at the value store when she bought the chicken. Christmas dinner would be a better meal than they were used to having.
The boys said nothing more about the subject, but when she came home from work on Christmas Eve, she found a surprise waiting. A box containing a turkey and everything needed for a nice Christmas dinner sat on the kitchen table. John and Shawn stood beside it, grinning from ear to ear.
"I told you…" Lisa began in a firm tone, but John interrupted her.
"Surprise, Mom. We've been working for Mr. Keebler and made enough to buy all this at the grocery store."
Lisa stared at them. "Working?"
They both nodded. "We've been helping him clean out his basement."
"Can we have a visitor for Christmas dinner now?" Shawn asked.
Lisa nodded, still dazed. "I suppose so. Who did you want to invite?"
"Mr. Keebler, " Shawn said. "He's going to be alone on Christmas."
Unshed tears of joy and shame blinded Lisa as she nodded. The boys dashed off to invite their visitor. She stared at the box of food. The boys were growing up responsible and Mr. Keebler was not only a decidedly good influence, but he was an old man alone. He needed those boys as much as they needed him. She didn't need to teach them what Christmas was about. They were teaching her.