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Have You Ever Spent Christmas Eve in Jail?

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Back in high school, a few of my friends suggested we chip in and go skiing for Christmas instead of spending it at home. It would be great being on our own for the first time, not having adults tell us what to do. I thought about it for days, not sure if I wanted to be away for the holiday, but in the end I decided to go. I got permission from my grandparents and my friends received the okay from their parents. Two days before Christmas we were off to a ski lodge in the mountains.

We had two large rooms, one for the guys and one for the girls with a connecting door. There were two queen size beds and three cots in each room. We unpacked and decided to go check out the lodge and ski area. The snow was starting to come down pretty hard, big fluffy flakes blanketing everything.

"Maybe we'll be snowed in," someone said. "Awesome," everyone chimed in. "Maybe we won't make it back to school until spring. Wahoo!"

The place was beautiful. The multi-colored Christmas lights blinked everywhere and a huge decorated tree sat majestically in the lobby. It was like something out of a picture postcard.

I looked over at Cynch and smiled. Her name was Cynthia but I called her Cynch. We grew up together and had become inseparable. I took her hand and we walked outside. The air was so crisp and the scent of pine was intoxicating. We looked out over the mountains and I put my arm around her. She kissed my cheek and giggled and I gave her a hug.

Cynch smiled, dusted the snow off my shoulders and looked into my eyes. "I'm glad you came. I was afraid you wouldn't."

"Me too." I pulled her closer and kissed her and sparks tingled up my spine.

The rest of the day was filled with skiing, laughter and a few spills. I love skiing, but I've never been good at it. My friends find that quite entertaining! By evening we were all completely spent and ready to crash. The next day was Christmas Eve, so we turned in a little early and I fell right to sleep.

I thought it was a dream. The ringing sound was so far away, echoing in my head and then grew louder. Was it my alarm clock? After pounding the snooze button the ringing continued. It was the phone. I looked at the clock and it was 3am. I heard one of the other guys pick it up, and then I heard my name. No one calls at 3am unless something is wrong. My heart was pounding as I answered.

The line had static and was difficult to hear. It was my Grandmother. "Peter, Grandpa had to go to the hospital. They think it was a heart attack." I felt frozen in place. "Can you hear me, Peter?"

"Yeah, I heard you." A thousand screams ripped through my head. "I'm coming home right now."

"No, Peter. The man at the front desk told me the roads were closed because of the storm. Stay there. I promise I will call as soon as I know anything more. I love you."

"I love you too, Grandma." I didn't know if she heard me because the static on the phone was louder. I hung up the phone and all my friends were now in the room. I told them the news.

Cynch pulled me aside and told me she was sorry and asked if there was anything she could do. I grabbed her hands and squeezed gently. "I need to go home now... Can you think of anything? If something happens to my Grandfather and I'm not there I'll never forgive myself." I was having a tough time keeping it together.

She put her hand on the back of my neck and then hugged me close. She always knew how to calm me down. I could almost feel her thinking, and then she said, "Let's go down and talk to the man at the desk. Maybe you can use a snowmobile to get into town and hitch a ride from there."

We got dressed and went down to talk to the desk clerk, but he wasn't any help. He said he couldn't let me use a snowmobile under any circumstances.

We walked over and sat on a bench near the window. "Damn! I feel so cut off here. My Grandfather might be dying." And then I remembered the trail horses and got my not-so brilliant idea. "Cynch, I'm going to take one of those trail horses down the mountain into town. I can ask someone for a ride the rest of the way."

Cynch jumped up and said, "Alright then. Let's go."

I got my stuff together and sneaked out to the stables and chose a horse. He was a friendly beauty and I still remember his name. It was Jock. I led him outside.

Cynch was waiting. "Can you help me up?"

"No. I can't take you with. I don't want to get you into trouble. Besides, when they notice the horse missing, you can tell them why I took him and where I went." I could tell she was upset with me.

"I knew you were going to do this. I want to come with... But fine. You call me right away when you get to town. Promise? Please don't let me sit here and worry."

"I promise." I put my arms around her and hugged her tight. I didn't want to let go. "I love you, Cynch."

"I love you, Peter, but I don't like you right now." She had a pouty lip thing going on.

I got up on the horse and looked back at Cynch. "I'll just have to work extra hard to get you to like me again then." She giggled and it made my stomach tickle. "I'll see you soon."

I heard her whisper loudly as I rode away, "Be careful, and don't forget to call."

It was light out by the time I got to town. I miscalculated about how long it would take before they noticed a missing horse, because a police officer was waiting for me. "Get down from there and come with me. What the hell do you think you were doing?" I knew the officer. I'll call him Officer Mike. He was a friend of my Uncle John's.

"Mike, Grandpa is in the hospital. I was desperate and had no other way."

"I'm sorry to hear it, but you can't just take a horse like that. Who do you think you are?"

"Mike, you don't have to call Uncle John, do you?" The last person I wanted to know about what I'd done was Uncle John. The man did not like me and I wasn't too fond of him either. He was imposing and ornery and if I'm being honest, scared the shit out of me.

Mike smiled out of the corner of his mouth as he led me to the station. "He's already on his way."

I wanted to puke.

Once inside, he led me to one of the cells and shut the door. "Your Uncle doesn't want you wandering off now. The owner of the horse isn't pressing any charges, but he wants to have a talk with you in a few days."

"How long do I have to stay in here? I need to call my girlfriend at the lodge. She'll be worried."

"Until your Uncle gets here. Sit tight. Your girlfriend knows where you are and why you haven't called." He walked back out to the office. After a while I heard the phone ring, and then footsteps. "Peter, that was your Uncle. He won't be able to pick you up until morning. He asked me to tell you your Grandfather is better and it was a mild heart attack. He should recover fine. John wants you to stay here tonight."

"I thought I wasn't arrested. I have to stay in here all night? Come on, Mike. Let me out of here, please. I want to see my Grandpa."

"Can't do it. You'll be safe here. I'll bring you some dinner. There will be an officer here all night if you need something and I'll look in on you later too." He was about to leave, but turned back and looked at me with concern. "You should think about what you did. It was wrong. What if you would have hurt the horse, or worse? What if you froze to death out there? Would your Grandfather need something like that right now?"

"No, he wouldn't. I am sorry, Mike." He turned and walked out, leaving me with my thoughts and worries. I wished I could talk to Cynch.

After dinner the day's events caught up with me and I felt exhausted. The bed looked rickety so I sat down on the floor and went to sleep. I had awful nightmares. The night seemed endless. Morning finally came and Uncle John picked me up.

We didn't talk much during the drive. I was still a bit miffed about being locked up in jail all night. He broke the silence first. "What are you going to tell that man? The owner of the horse."

"I don't know. The truth, I guess. I'll just tell him the truth and hope he understands."

"Good man. The truth is always best. Most of the time anyway. What will you tell your Grandpa?"

I sighed and squirmed in my seat. "I don't know. He's going to be disappointed. He'll probably think it's because he didn't raise me right or something. I'm not a thief. I just panicked and didn't think it through."

Once at the hospital, I ran up the stairs and hightailed it to his room. He looked great for having just had a heart attack. I was relieved. "Merry Christmas, Grandpa! I gave him a gentle hug."

"Peter! Merry Christmas. What are you doing here? I thought you were skiing."

"Grandma called and told me what happened. I just had to come and see if you were alright."

"But how did you get here? I heard the storm was pretty bad."

I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it from him forever, so I took a deep breath, "I need to tell you something Grandpa. I did somethi..."

Uncle John interrupted, "The kid was with me. I would have gotten him here sooner, but I had a work thing crop up yesterday so Pete stayed with a friend. I picked him up this morning and here we are." He looked over and gave me a wink.

Grandpa eyed us suspiciously and laughed. "You two have a secret and that's okay with me. I think I'm getting out of here today and I'm just glad you're here."

I glanced at Uncle John and smiled. Sometimes, just when you think you have someone figured out they surprise you. Most folks have things buried deep within them that you can uncover if you search for it. I uncovered some kindness Uncle John had hidden there all this time. We got along much better after that.

© 2014 Peter Noah Thomas ~ All Rights Reserved

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