Because I intend to publish the novel from which this excerpt comes, Symphony Christmas will not be placed in Backfile.
They left together in Carmen’s car because they had a date to do some Christmas shopping at the mall. Neil had to get gifts for his mother and grandfather because this year school was running all the way to the twenty-third. He would have a day to drive to Oregon and no time to shop once he got there.
While they were walking through J. C. Penney’s, Neil said, “You know Rosa Alvarez?”
“If you had to, could you pick out clothes that would fit her?”
“I guess so. Why?”
“She’s kind of chubby.”
“I know what she looks like. Why did you ask if I could pick out clothes for her?”
“Do you think her parents would mind if I bought her a jacket? She has been coming to school without one and it is really getting cold in the mornings.”
“I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, Neil. I could let them know so they won’t buy her one for Christmas, if they had planned to. When did you decide to do this?”
Neil shrugged, feeling embarrassed for no good reason. “I don’t know, she just looks so miserable every morning. She always heads for my room to warm up.”
Carmen smiled. “She doesn’t come there just to warm up. You have a fan club.”
That embarrassed Neil even more and Carmen laughed again.
She bought the jacket for him. It was nothing Neil would have chosen, but she assured him it was stylish as well as warm. He bought lesser presents for a dozen of his other students whose parents were poor. Carmen said, “Can you afford all this?”
“The only other people I have to buy for are my mother and grandfather.”
“Well, that goes without saying.”
“Say it anyway.”
He faced her suddenly and drew her back between some racks of clothing. His face was serious as he said, “Carmen, you are very precious to me. If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now.”
“Wow!” She put her hand on his chest and kissed him quickly. Then she pulled away and said, “People are looking. I don’t want the kids to catch us necking behind the lingerie.”
Neil was a little hurt by her response, until he saw moments later that she was wiping a tear from her eye. Sometimes – often – he didn’t know what to make of her.
“Carmen, I don’t want to give these presents at school. I don’t like to have the other kids feel that I’ve singled some of them out. Can you help me see that they get them?”
“Do you want to take them to their homes?”
“I’d rather stay behind the scenes. Could you see to it that they get them? Or I could take care of the little ones, but would you see to it that Rosa gets the jacket?”
“Why don’t you do it yourself?”
“I don’t want to intrude.”
She looked closely at him and said, “Are you sure that’s the reason?” continued