HE GAVE ME COAL • by Alice M. Roelke

It was Christmas Eve, and we closed late. We’d had a few late customers wanting something special and fresh for tomorrow’s meal. Every sale helped; it had been a hard year for our bread store.

We were barely making it, my business partner and I. Jack, who’s more than my business partner now.

With the economy so poor, I didn’t know if we would make it another month, much less till next Christmas. These days, people had less to spend on artisan breads, handmade whole wheat rolls, and gluten-free feta-and-spinach loaves.

I turned the sign around. Jack hung up his apron. Then he turned to me, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a lump of coal. His hands still looked clown-white with flour dust. The coal left black streaks.

“This is for you.” He smiled at me.

My heart thumped, the way it always does at that dimpled smile, so unexpected, so pure in a face I had once thought ordinary.

“Coal?” I picked it up, making my own hand dusty, but no darker. I looked up at him with a questioning smile. I wasn’t offended yet, but I felt confused. Was he teasing, or what?

“Coal,” he repeated, smiling into my eyes with his blue ones. “Diamonds are made from coal, and pressure, and time — all the time in the world.”

I closed my fingers over it. For a second, I couldn’t breathe.

He enveloped my hand in both his own. Jack had such warm hands, always had. The coal was a dry lump, pressure against my palm. I stared at him.

“I don’t have a diamond for you yet, Moni. But I love you, and I have all the time in the world, the rest of my life — for you. We can make something beautiful with our lives. We’ll make it through all the pressure, together. So will you — ?”

He couldn’t finish. I’d already flung my arms around him and said yes.

He gave me coal.

It was the best present ever.

Alice M. Roelke has been writing since the age of eight. Her SF/mystery e-novella “The Space Station Murders” is currently available for sale from MuseItUp Publications or on Amazon.com. Her novel, “Watch Over Me,” will be available from the same publisher in 2012. She’s also had things published by Young Salvationist, GateWay S-F, Ray Gun Revival, Tower of Light Fantasy, Wayfarer’s Journal, Haruah: Breath of Heaven, Residential Aliens, Stories That Lift, Ethereal Tales, Digital Dragon, the Christmas in Outer Space anthology from Whortleberry Press, and the Of Fur and Fire Anthology from DreamZion Publishing, and Daily Science Fiction. Writing blog: thewritinglifeforme.blogspot.com Writing credits: sites.google.com/site/aliceroelke Facebook: http://on.fb.me/avHvJ0

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