No one in the Stewart household noticed the dark car that pulled up in their driveway; then again, no one had time to notice anything outside the house—they were up to their ears in Christmas Eve chaos.
While the kids dashed around, screaming as they frantically tried to find their Mass outfits, their mother was up to her elbows in dirty dishes from cookie baking and frustrated that she still had to make dinner. Mr. Stewart was nowhere to be seen since he was hidden away, steadily wrapping up yet another Christmas gift. Every responsible person was occupied. Every irresponsible person was getting in the way.
So, when the doorbell rang, it was up to Zeke, the youngest, to answer it. For the last hour, Zeke had been bothering his mother, bothering his father, and actually managing to get every single one of his three siblings at home mad at him. He had a real knack for getting underfoot at the exactly wrong time.
“Who are you?” he demanded, holding the door open a crack, ready to slam it in the man’s face any moment now.
The man outside was at least a foot taller than Zeke, but he stood up straight and tall where the younger boy often slouched around, challenging the boy to straighten up. The man had chestnut dark hair, sprouting out from under a brown ball cap that was flaked white with the lightly falling snow. With a dark brown button-up jacket and a camera-sized box in his hand, he gently met the boy’s curious gaze with a nervous smile, and his face glowed, redder than the Christmas lights beaming down from above him, though the shadow of his cap hide his eyes from view.
“I’m from Special Delivery,” the man said, pulling the cap lower down his face. “I’m here with a package for Mrs. Janet Stewart. Is she home?”
“Yeah, but Mom’s busy,” Zeke replied, his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Give me the package; I’ll give it to her.”
“Can’t do that, kid,” the man sighed, shifting nervously on the porch. “I’ve got to give it to her myself, put it right in her hands. Besides that, I need a reply.”
“Who’s at the door, Zeke?” Mrs. Stewart called out from the kitchen, finally noticing that cold draft drifting into the kitchen. Wiping her hands on a dish towel, she came out to the front door and saw the stranger there.
“He says that he’s ‘Special Delivery’,” Zeke drawled, “but I think he’s lying.”
“Shush, Zeke,” she reprimanded, pulling him out of the doorway. “That’s not a nice thing to say about someone, especially on Christmas Eve. Now, young man, you’re delivering something?”
“Yes,” the delivery man said, shaking anxiously as he held the box out, not meeting the woman’s eyes. “This is for you, Mrs. Stewart. I’m told to wait until you open it, and I’ve been…paid to deliver any reply you might have. If you want to reply, that is.”
“Where’s your truck?” Zeke demanded, pointing out the door and past the strange man. “Since when does a delivery man not drive a truck? And where’s your uniform? Are you sure that you’re a delivery guy?”
“Yes,” the delivery man insisted, glaring slightly at Zeke. Turning back to Mrs. Stewart, he held out the package again with shaking hands. Taking cue from his mother’s narrowing eyes, Zeke spoke up again.
“Is that a bomb?”
“Zeke!” Mrs. Stewart scolded, turning to her son. “Whatever put these ideas into your head? Oh, darn it; I’ll never get dinner started now. Zeke, go tell your father to order pizza. It’s the only way we’ll get to Mass on time. I’m sorry, sir. Now, about that package…”
The delivery man thrust it out for the third, his hands shaking like mad, even though it could not be that cold outside. Mrs. Stewart took her eyes off of the box and looked up at the young man, and an eerie feeling came over her, like she had seen this man before. Shaking her head, she tried to dismiss it, but she couldn’t shake the feeling, no matter how hard she tried. There was something about him she couldn’t ignore, but it was too dark outside to see his face clearly, especially since he wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“You look cold,” she said finally, trying to ignore her apprehension. “Won’t you come in for a moment? I’ve got to go find a knife to open the package anyway, so you might as well be warm.”
As Mrs. Stewart went to fetch the knife, she couldn’t stop thinking about the delivery man. Zeke did have a point: there was no truck, and no uniform, yet this man was delivering a package. She did not like to indulge her son’s conspiracy theories, but she had a suspicion that something wasn’t right here.
“Here it is,” she said aloud, as she returned to the mysterious man. “Now I can get to the box.”
Ignoring how the man’s hands shook as she took it from him, Mrs. Stewart cut through the tape, after noting how there was no return address. How was she supposed to send a reply?
Opening the box, she nearly dropped it when she saw what was inside. That wallet, with that unique design of interwoven roses burned into the brown leather, brought back so many painful memories that she couldn’t contain. It had been years, so many years, since that wallet had taken away one of the most precious things in her life.
The snap of the clasp, the smell of the leather, and the delicate groves of the imprints all reminded her of the last day she saw it. How she had put it away in her purse, just as she always had, only to find it gone merely a few hours later, stolen. Money was pulled out of the bank account, money that they had desperately needed at the time, and with that money, the thief had vanished.
The thief. Her son.
Her vision was swimming when she looked up at the delivery man, and when it cleared, she knew where she had seen him before. The thief, her son, was standing right in front of her.
“Titus,” Mrs. Stewart whispered, meeting the eyes of the delivery man. Then, before he could react, she threw her arms around him, dropping the box to the ground, spilling everything out of it: the wallet, the cash, the long-cancelled credit cards, and those accursed gambling receipts. Tears streaming from her eyes, she forgot all about dinner, all about the chaos and everything around her, and she only saw that her son had returned.
And there wasn’t a chance in the world that she was going to let him go again.
Zeke stared in wonder at his older brother, the one he couldn’t even remember, but had heard all about from the gossip whispered by the neighbors. His father walked in, his arms full of wrapped presents, just as the other kids thundered down the stairs in their church clothes. They all froze in silence, watching the delivery man hugging their mother.
Finally, Zeke took a big breath and shouted.
“Titus is home!"