Note: “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.
Betty arched her arm up over her head toward the top of the mural. Ruby looked. She took a step forward. She noticed the three lights in the sky. They seemed to explode with energy that drew her attention. Each one unique. Each one leading Ruby’s eyes somewhere. Leading her somewhere in the mural to something that she needed, something she couldn’t yet grasp.
“What do you see?” said Betty.
Ruby said, “I don’t know. They all look the same.” She stared. “Except that one, the one in the center. It looks like a bird. An eagle. Like on Grampa’s jacket and it looks like it’s stomping out a fire.”
“And…” said Betty.
“Oh, that one.” Ruby pointed to the one on the right. “That one looks like it has, has…” She giggled. “A coffee pot? Yes, a pot like in the diner’s sign in the window… and, in the picture of that guy over there.”
“And…” said Betty. “What about that one, my favorite one?” She winked at Thomas.
“That one…?” Ruby paused and studied the radiant blob. “Spots! Spots of rainbow colors poked in the light. Blended together, but I can still see each one!”
“Yessiree, hon. You are getting closer,” Betty said. “What else?”
Ruby’s eyes ranged over Betty’s art work, oblivious to the handful of customers now watching as Ruby continued unwrapping the gift in front of her. Then, there it was. Ruby squinted, then looked away, then looked again at the lights in the sky. She stepped back. Looked. “Oh!” she said. Her lips went from circle to upward curve, a smile. She bounced back to the mural immersed in the growing crescendo of discovery. She reached for the stars. Her fingers traced the radiance from each one, separate, coming from different directions, converging into one, subtle, yet definite beam of light. Her hands followed it, journeying down the mural to something, something she had seen but really hadn’t noticed before.
Thomas and Betty watched. They knew Ruby was almost there. They watched as Ruby’s eyes, led by the light, gazed at the baby, wrapped in an old work jacket with the name ‘Harry’ sewn on it.
“What’s that?” Ruby said, startled by her own voice. On the mural, with one hand, she touched the baby’s face and then traced the baseball cap covering the baby’s feet. “A Red Sox hat,” she whispered. With the other hand she reached up and felt the smooth red splotch on her own hat. “Just like mine,” she whispered, awe in her voice.
As dawn’s morning light filtered through the low gray clouds and crept through the diner’s windows one more source of light in the mural manifested itself. Now Ruby saw it. Light coming from the baby in the manger, mingling with the other streams of light, yet now being the dominant light, drew Ruby’s eye once again to the baby, wrapped in Harry’s coat, with a Red Sox hat just like hers and … “Just like mine!” Ruby said. “The baby has red hair just like mine!’
The morning drizzle turned into pelting raindrops crashing into the front window. The sidewalk puddles reflected the neon glow of “Harry’s Diner” outside. The jingle bells on the front door announced the morning’s next visitor.
”Meira!” said Thomas, grinning ear to ear.
Meira smiled, squeezed Ruby like she would hang on to her always and forever. Then she leaned back, looked at her daughter and said, “You’re wearing my favorite hat!” She laughed and knew that her story had been told.
“Mom!” Ruby rushed across the room and threw herself at her mom. Meira flipped down her rain soaked hood exposing a cascade of red. “Mom! Red hair! That’s you in the picture! That’s you, isn’t it?!
As they headed to the door, granddaughter, daughter and father, Thomas turned back to Betty with a look that said everything. A tear escaped from the corner of his eye as he touched his hand to his heart and silently said, “Thank you,” to his best friend.
Monday, once again in science class, Ruby leaned forward, her chin resting on her hands. Since the weekend with her grandfather, Ruby’s outlook on life had taken a turn for the better. Even her interest in astronomy increased in spite of her misgivings about her teacher. With her vocabulary quiz behind her, she now tried to squeeze everything she could from Mr. King’s astronomy lecture.
He droned on, “… which is what some scholars believe to be the best explanation for the ‘star’ the magi followed.” He peeked over the half-glasses perched on the end of his nose at a now-interested Ruby Jensen. “Planets, or wanderers if you will, joining together, leading magi to the Messiah….”
“Yep,” Ruby thought. “That’s right. That’s right.” And then for perhaps the first time ever, in that class, Ruby smiled.