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    Clay Turner had not been a very happy man ever since he’d been demoted to District Court Judge. But that’s implying that he had been a happy man before he’d forged those numbers on that dark night. Today, he was particularly unhappy. A man at his court had overdosed, and he’d been forced to call CPS on a woman who was physically abusing her child, which messed up his carefully though out schedule. This was why he snapped at his receptionist when she spilled his coffee all over his nice suit.
    “Gina!” he shouted as the girl’s face reddened to a startling crimson from the tips of her ears to the bottom of her chin. “I don’t pay you ten dollars an hour to throw coffee all over my pants! These cost me more than your whole house!”
    Gina stood there, a red-faced statue.
    “Well, go get me some napkins so I can clean up your mess!” Clay yelled, his usual, exasperated self. “For goodness sakes, girl.”
    She nodded and bowed her head, her bushy curls falling over her eyes. “Yes Mr. Turner.” she muttered as her black heels clacked a goodbye that was decidedly not a rueful one.
    Clay sighed and looked down down at the clock on his oakwood desk. The curving numbers read, “7:57.” He rubbed his temples and tapped his dressy oxfords against the tiled floor as he waited for the receptionist to bring back his napkins.
    Gina came, holding a mass of paper towels in her hands.
    “I hope this will be enough. Those pants do look very nice.”
    “Yes.” Clay said through gritted teeth, mopping up the coffee. “They cost almost a hundred and fifty dollars.”
    Gina nodded, not really knowing what else she could say that wouldn’t get her fired.
    Clay dropped the wet towels into the empty waste bin next to his chair and shook his hands to dry them as best he could without getting any more coffee on his suit.
    He looked up at Gina, who was standing next to his desk, looking very awkward and shifting her weight from one leg to the other.
    Clay slapped his hand onto his forehead. “Of course!” he chuckled. “You’re free to leave now.”
    Gina relaxed and said, “Thank you.” as she walked out of her boss’ office. It was Christmas Eve, and the job description had stated clearly that, “the receptionist will be working from 8:00 in the morning to 5:30 at night.” This was just another day in the life of one of Clay Turner’s employees.
    Clay looked down to the stack of papers in his desk drawer. He glanced over at the clock again. The papers would have to wait; he’d promised his son, Jason, a nice, turkey dinner at 8:00.
    Clay left his office, making sure to turn off the lights as he exited. He stood impatiently in the elevator, wishing he’d just taken the stairs, then got the shock of his life when he looked out the naked windows at the ground floor of his office building.
    There was almost a foot of snow on the ground, spread generously across the roads and the tops of buildings. Angry gusts of wind tossed the ever thickening snowfall this way and that. It seemed as though a very confused painter had brushed the windows over with a white paint.
    Clay saw himself in one of the tall mirrors that lined the front desk. He was clad in his nice, expensive suit jacket and dress slacks (which were still wet and brown where that clumsy receptionist of his had spilled coffee all over them) and his shoes were no more fit for the weather than a wet tissue.
    Clay gathered himself, then walked out the door into the cold. He tiptoed through slush as he crossed the road to the bus station. When he was but a few feet from the mob of people waiting for the city bus to come, a woman ran into him, nearly knocking him over.
    She stopped in her tracks. “Sorry, sir!” she said, tucking her short, black hair behind her ears, which were red at the tips. Then, she ran off, disappearing into the fog of snowfall.
    Clay sighed and bullied his way underneath the cover of the station roof. When the city bus came, he walked to the front of the line, and looked in his pocket for his leather wallet. This search proved futile. His wallet was gone.
    Clay slapped the palm of his hand onto his cold forehead. The woman who’d bumped into him must’ve taken it. The nerve of some people!
    “Does anyone have a dollar to spare?” he asked the crowd. “I’ve been mugged.” The passengers shook their heads and a murmur of “no’s” swam through the assembly.
    Clay threw his hands up in vexation. What was he to do now?
    “I have a three mile walk ahead of me!” Clay yelled at the people in the bus. “And a son! A twelve year old son who is currently home alone, waiting for his father to come and take him to a nice dinner! Come on, people! It’s Christmas Eve, for heavens sake!”
    “I got an eleven mile walk mister!” a bearded man yelled from the warm bus. “You think I’ma give up my seat just so you’s don’t have ta get your nice shoes all wet?” The passengers laughed as the doors closed.
    More livid than ever, Clay stormed off towards his house. None of the sidewalks were shoveled—“there are people who need to walk through this bull, for Christ’s sake!”—but there was a fresh track of footprints coming from the same direction that he was going.
    For twenty long minutes, Clay hopped from one footprint to the other, looking like a one legged chicken trying to dance the polka. It was very cold that night, and soon, his bare hands and ears were red and the snot inside his nose was frozen stiff (which, as most of us know from experience, is not a very pleasant ordeal).
    When he was about a third of the way home, Clay walked passed a car accident outside of a Walgreens. The crash had involved an old, blue Ford, a white van and a black motorcycle (it’d always been Clay’s biggest secret that he hoped to ride a motorcycle one day). It looked as though the Ford and van had T-Boned, then the motorcycle had collided with them shortly after. Shattered glass and the shriveled looking left door of the van lay on the bloody road; the people in the crash were still inside their vehicles or strewn across the hard ground.
    Clay looked down to the snow covered sidewalk and loped past the accident as swiftly as he could, but a tall woman crawled outside of the van and called to him.
    “Sir!” she said. “Excuse me sir! I don’t mean to bother you, but—but my daughter is stuck in the back of the car and I need help getting her out!”
    Clay kept on hopping his way home, completely ignoring the frantic woman. It wasn’t his problem she’d crashed the car, was it? He had plenty of issues himself; he was freezing cold, his pants were ruined from all the snow and coffee, his ears were numb, there was snow piled a mile high in his oxfords, and on top of all that, his kid had been home alone for five hours and was still waiting for him to get there so they could eat something together. The place was probably trashed by now.
    Clay walked on for another fifteen minutes, until he could no longer stand being out there in that preposterous storm. He walked into the Denny's across the street and camped out in the bathroom for ten minutes, taking a leak, warming his frozen fingers with water until a tingling warmth crawled back into his hands, and washing his numb face off in the sink.
    When he emerged from the bathroom, he was feeling refreshed, but not yet ready to go back into the Winter Wonderland that was the busy streets of Chicago. Thus, he stood by the window, watching the snow crash down to the snow laden ground. The storm was still showing no sign of stopping.
    Clay waited there, hoping beyond hope that the fat flakes would cease to fall, when a boy and his father walked into the restaurant.
    The boy was about the age of his son, but very thin and fragile looking. Neither the child nor his father wore a coat, hat, or mittens. In fact, the boy didn’t even have a jacket and on his feet were two old sneakers two or three sizes to small for him.
     And yet, the father and son laughed and smiled when the hostess showed them their table; as though they didn’t have a care in the world. Clay watched them order, then eat their burgers and fries, still not willing to leave Denny's and conquer the storm.
    When their waitress returned for the check, the father looked at the price with sadness in his green eyes, and a furrow to his brow.
    “I’m sorry m’am,” he said in a slow, careful voice, “but I just can’t afford this.”
    The waitress nodded understandingly. “It’s all right. I’ll pay for it.”
    “I can’t let you do that.” the man said.
    “It’s just my Christmas present to you and your son. It would weigh on my conscience to make you two strike a deal with the owner. Just leave, I’ll handle it all.”
    “Thank you.” the boy said, smiling wide.
    As the father and son left, they passed a beggar whom Clay had spat at the feet of when entering the restaurant. The boy took a dime out of his pocket and dropped it into the can that the mendicant was holding out.
    “Merry Christmas.” he said.
    Clay went to the bathroom one last time—this was his new favorite place—then left the Denny's.
    He did his awkward dance from footprint to footprint for another quarter mile. He’d been so focused on making sure he stepped in the imprints, that he almost didn’t see the woman using the same trail as him.
    She was walking in the opposite direction, stepping wide and slow, making about a meter a minute. She was holding a small child in her arms, who was wailing like a dying goat, beating the air with it’s tiny fists.
    Clay and the woman met up when he was still a fifteen minute walk from his house. There was a foot and a half of snow on either side of them, and no other footprints. Someone would have to step off of the track.
    They stood like this, unsure of what to do, for what could’ve been days, or just a couple seconds. Then, Clay did something that surprised even himself; he stepped off the trail, and walked past the woman and her baby, making his own footprints in the fresh snow.

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