Last Dance


In normal high school culture, the only thing that is worse than being dumped by a wonderful person is having to break up with a wonderful person. That was me during my junior year. She was a great girl—pretty, smart, clean, classy, but we just had different callings in life. I felt I had a different mission than she did, so during my junior year, I had to decide to do one of the most difficult things ever in high school. I had to leave someone who loved me dearly. I dropped her off after school one day and told her the hard news. She fell to the ground crying in her front yard, and I drove off alone—very alone. 

Don’t worry. She’s fine now. She has a beautiful family and a good career. 

But back to the past—it was towards the end of my junior year, and the prom was approaching. This would be the first high school dance I would attend without my ex-girlfriend. She had a date. He was a decent guy. He was actually one of our school’s better football players. 

It hurt in a way. I understood everything. It all made sense. But it still hurt. 

I knew what I had to do. It’s what any teenage guy would do in high school. I would ask the hottest girl I knew to be my date. Someone who would be the type of girl to wear a blazing red, tight-fitting, short dress. Someone who would latch onto my arm long enough, so I could walk through those huge, double doors of the prom’s entrance to have my ex see me for just a moment and miss me. 

Now I thought, Where would I find such a girl? 

Church youth group, of course. 

I asked her with a folded, hand-written note during a Wednesday night service, back before text messaging. She happily accepted. I’m still not sure if it was because of me or because she went to another school and wanted to be allowed to attend my school’s prom. At the time, my high school was one of the more popular schools in town. 

Bringing this girl to prom wasn’t purely selfish. I was hoping I would find something special about her and that she would win me over, like one of those 80’s movies or something like that. I knew she was pretty, and maybe there was something about her personality or character that I was missing and would discover on this magical night. 

Prom night finally came, and with the financial help of my generous grandparents, we arrived in a limo with friends. She wore a short, red dress and had taken on the essence of stereotypical, high school hotness. We walked in through those double doors, and she was latched onto my arm. The music vibrated through the souls of our shoes as our eyes looked up to the flashing strobes. My school’s ASB had once again transformed a regular building hall into a different dimension. 

My date and I quickly found my group of friendly peers as the young men lit up in surprise as they set their eyes upon my mysterious date. Then something happened that I’ll probably always be unsure about. My ex-girlfriend walked up to my date and said something before walking angrily away. My date’s mouth dropped in awe. 

“What?” I asked. 

“She just called me a skank!” my date said in her high voice while her mouth stayed hung open. 

“She did?” 

“Yes, she did!” 

Now that was very out of character for my ex, but honestly, I laughed a little in my mind, and maybe a small smirk broke through onto my face. The night was going just as planned. 

Just then a popular song came on, and over a hundred students rushed closer to the center of the dance floor. 

My date innocently said, “I told one of my friends that I would dance with him for one dance since I’m at his school. Can I go find him to dance with him, so I can get that over with, and then we can be together for the rest of the night?” 

“Of course, that’s fine,” I sent her off into the dark, teenage abyss of moving bodies. 

I wasn’t really bothered by her request because I honestly just wanted to dance with my own friends. Most of them only brought friends as dates, so they could just have fun dancing with everyone. 

Half an hour went by. Then a full hour. Two. Three. Still no sign of my prom date. Someone asked if I knew where she was. I didn’t.  

Maybe she was nearby, camouflaged with the other countless short, red dresses that moved around, near, and on sweaty guys. Someone else asked if she was okay. I answered confused, “I’m sure she’s fine.” 

I continued to dance with my friends and tried to pretend that I was having a good time as I did at every other school dance.  

But I wasn’t. 

I wasn’t second guessing my decision of breaking up with my ex, but I was sad. Maybe mourning in a way. And I was alone. The familiarity of the environment made me remember the first dance with her my freshmen year, and how I felt like the king of the world back then, when everything was still brand new. But I gave her up, and now she was dancing with someone else, looking happy and pretty as ever. Maybe I was second guessing my decision. 

As the DJ played a slow song, all my peers coupled up with each other under the moving white lights of the magical environment. I awkwardly stood there by myself. I watched time fade by like the last two years of my high school life. I felt like a fool. People started noticing that I was alone, and it was awkward, so I had to go. 

But I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t just leave my date, although she left me. I looked for a hideout, some place unnoticed and safe—the restroom. 

Surrounded by the cold, tall, echoing walls of the men’s restroom, I could still hear the song vibrating through the floor in muffled words of bass. The bottoms of my feet were now sore from my dress shoes. I looked into the scratched mirror and examined myself. Sharp dressed in a pressed shirt. A red tie to match a missing date. Hair still perfectly styled. But alone. 

Was this going to be my future now? Were the best days of high school already behind me? 

I second guessed my decision of breaking up with her. I felt wholeheartedly that it was the right thing to do at the time. I had prayed through it. I felt confirmation. 

I looked back into the mirror. 

“What’s up with this, God? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” 

I felt the bass massage the souls of my shoes as a new song began—Lady in Red, the 90’s slow song that became the signature last dance at all my school’s dances. I gave a wry smile and thought about how pathetic I was to be hiding out during my high school prom. I remembered who I was. 

A child of God. 

Someone bought with a great price. 

Someone loved unconditionally. 

A believer. 

I straightened up my posture and walked out of that cold restroom with a confident smile to see my world turning together in slow motion to the magical mood of the music. 

I stood there hoping for a miracle. Waiting. Even enjoying the happiness of others. 

Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder. 

I turned to see Britney, a friend of mine. Not anyone I ever flirted with. Not anyone I ever considered dating but just a friend. She said, “I thought you might be feeling alone there, stranger. Want to dance?” 


We slow-danced together at a friendly distance for the rest of that song, and I wasn’t alone. 

Although we are friends on social media, Britney and I don’t talk much. We don’t comment on each other’s posts really or even “like” each other’s photos, but there will always be an element of gratitude connected to any thought of her. Although there have been many forgotten dances with many different girls, that one dance will never be forgotten. 

After the lights came on and people rushed to find their purses and jackets, I finally found my date. She told me some dramatic story about searching all over for me. I didn’t believe her, but I wasn’t upset. I knew she wasn’t the girl for me. 

I really didn’t give her much thought after that night, but I did think about Britney. I recalled how she was involved at her church. I remember visiting her youth group from time to time, and she was always there and involved helping with something. I can never remember hearing her say anything bad about anyone, not even once. She was never the center of attention. She mostly just blended in. 

I believe the Holy Spirit gave her discernment to see what I was feeling that night. I can imagine her noticing my out of character prom date. I can picture her watching me glance through the crowd at my ex-girlfriend every now and then. I can see her searching for me during the last dance of the night and feeling a bit of relief when she found me. 

The Spirit leads us to notice the lonely and seek after them. To have empathy even when their pain is from their own decisions. To be there so people don’t have to be alone during the last dance. 

The Cold Christmas Present


His fitted jeans and striped hoodie were not nearly enough against the crisp bite of wintry air that came against him the moment he stepped out of the rustic bookstore and began to crunch his way through the fresh powder on the sidewalk. Cold. Converse made horrible snow boots, and he was a city boy, not too familiar with the snow in his adult years, but he liked it nonetheless. He liked how the Christmas lights hung loosely on Main Street and reflected against the piled up snow. They were mostly the large colored bulb lights that in some way had survived from the early 80s, creating some mysterious form of nostalgia. On the corner of the street, a short snowman stood appearing ready to direct traffic with his branch arms sticking out.

The bookstore was peaceful, mostly full of the common classics. He could tell that the owner was not up-to-date with the newest trend of pop novels. No teen wizards or sparkling vampires for people to romance about, and after trying to warm up inside, there was nothing more to really interest him in there for the moment.

The entire town seemed out of vogue by a good 20 or maybe 30 years. There were no signs of smart phones or tablets. No Starbucks or energy efficient hatchbacks. Just locally owned mom and pop store fronts—some even still had wooden hand painted signs hanging outside near the snowy streets. These streets were lined with a few worn down, parked trucks that made his own stand out as something new. And oddly, he liked it all. All except the cold.

A vibration buzzed in his left pocket. He pulled out his phone, quickly swiping open the screen to a new text: Did you find what you’re looking for yet?

He hesitated to text her back for a moment and then responded: Not yet, but I think I’m glad I came.

Then I’m glad too, I wish I didn’t have to work tonight.

And he wished the same although there had been a distraction in their relationship. Things had been off and on again for a while now. She was a sweet and patient girl, but before he could move on to make the relationship something serious, he had to take care of something first. He didn’t drive alone for over three hours from home just to see the snow. He had a purpose in mind, even though he wasn’t exactly sure what it was yet.

He walked down Main Street until the cold became overbearing again. He looked into a window that was half fogged over, and envying the warmth, he opened the heavy door as sleigh bells jingled from the handle. Unlike the franchised coffee shops that he was used to in the city, this coffee shop appeared full of warm and hospitable life. It was obvious that people weren’t there to quietly read a novel or to do web searches on their laptops; they were there for each other, laughing loudly and sharing stories.

Classic Christmas music could still be heard over the gregarious groups of people. He noticed there were even more people in the back of the coffee shop. It almost appeared to be a Christmas party as people hugged and patted each other on the back. They greeted him too—an unknown stranger—with a joyful “Merry Christmas!” although Christmas was still a few days away.

He ordered a cup of hot apple cider and sat down listening to the loquacious townspeople interact with each other. Then he noticed a man stand up from a table in the corner. He was an older, heavier man, about in his 60s, wearing a Santa Claus costume with a fake white beard hanging loosely below his double chin.

“Hello there, welcome to Bells Town. I reckon you’re not from these parts,” the man said as his fake white beard bounced with every word.

“I actually used to come up here every Christmas. My grandma lived just down the street—Maple to be exact.”

“Ah, Maple Street. Yes, just two blocks down and take a right and then your second left.”

“That sounds just about right. Honestly, I haven’t been in the area since I was 10.”

“That seems like a long time to stay away. Most people visit Bells Town a lot more than that.”

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t really look that way,” he thought of the open streets outside. “Honestly, my grandma died when I was 10, and then my parents separated. I guess she was the glue that held everyone together. We didn’t live here with her, but we came up a lot to visit. And every year, we spent our Christmas here, and it always snowed.”

“There’s something about the Christmas season that brings back the past, isn’t there?”

“Yeah, it kind of makes things difficult.”

“The past does?” the man asked.

“No, the present does.”

The man rubbed his heavy face a little, “Haven’t you ever heard that the present is a present?”

“Of course.”

The man pulled his beard up over his lower face, fitting him well, and asked, “So what do you want for Christmas this year? Maybe I have a present for you?”

He smiled a little and responded, “You know what, you’re alright. I’m Scott, what’s your name?”

“Santa Claus.”

“Of course, how didn’t I know that?”

“Don’t tell me that you don’t believe?”

“Maybe I could believe in God or angels, but definitely not Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. Oh, and definitely not the tooth fairy either,” Scott rolled his eyes.

“What if Santa Claus is really just an angel sent here to help people?”

“Then he’s an angel that has a problem with the sin of gluttony.” Scott looked down to Santa’s large stomach hanging over his wide, black belt. “No offense, Santa.”

“None taken at all, and if you ever had the cookies in Ms. Mary Smith’s bakery, you would have a problem with gluttony too,” he smiled joyfully through his fake beard. “So what do you want for Christmas this year?”

Scott thought about it for a moment, wanting to answer honestly. “I really just want to go back and see my grandma’s old house and see a little bit of life the way it used to be.”

“Well then, let me take you there; trips into the past can be difficult to go on alone.”

“Thanks, Santa. I could probably use some company tonight,” Scott said sincerely. He took a deep sip of hot apple cider, which already seemed to have gone cold.

The two walked out of the vibrant coffee shop, and as the door closed, a serene silence came over the street, only broken by the crunching snow and sporadic gusts of wind.

Scott couldn’t help his obvious curiosity of the town and finally said, “I just can’t get over it. The same decorations are still being hung in the same places. Like that house right there, the same decorations were hanging up when I was a kid. And that pizza shop is exactly how I remember it; my grandma took me there a few times with just me and her. But it’s just so damn cold here.”

Santa said, “I feel fine.”

“Oh, yeah. You’re Santa Claus—North Pole and all.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

As they continued walking, bright yellow lights and muffled sounds came from a building up ahead. It was actually a small country-style church with a tall steeple.

“Looks like a Christmas party,” Santa said with delight.

“I remember this church. It’s the only time my family ever went to church. Everyone was really nice here.”

Santa opened the large door to a bright sound of happy laughter. “It sounds like they still are. After you, Scott.”

People were mostly sitting at different tables stacking together gingerbread houses with large piles of assorted candies.

Santa said, “Oh, one of my favorites, the annual gingerbread house competition!”

“Yeah, I remember my grandma won one year. She was so excited that she talked about it for weeks.”

Santa said, “Maybe you can reclaim her title. There’s an open table right there with all the materials ready to go.”

“Come on, Santa, let’s build a gingerbread house. I mean, how could I not win with Santa Claus on my team?”

In the midst of a combination of a boisterous crowd and classic Christmas music being played on an old wooden record player in the corner, the two worked diligently as Santa stealthily bit off a piece of gingerbread every now and then for himself. But the two were disrupted suddenly when a chair was pulled out from the table and a young woman, appearing about Scott’s age, asked, “Okay, so my team is being totally lame, can I join you two?”

She looked oddly familiar to Scott, and there was something about her inviting eyes that locked onto his when she spoke. She was charming to say the least, and her voice was one that mesmerized his soul with every word. It was like she had never experienced the things of this world that make one calloused—so innocent and trusting.

“Sure, if you don’t mind being on the winning team,” Scott smiled. “I’m Scott, and this is, ah, Santa.”

Santa said with glee, “Merry Christmas!”

“Wow, Santa Claus? Well, I don’t think we’ve seen each other since I was six.” She turned to Scott, “And you aren’t Scott Simons, are you?”

“Yes, I am. Don’t tell me you’re Melanie Harper?”

“I am!”

“No way! Santa, Mel and I used to play together as kids when I would come up.”

Melanie added, “I remember looking forward to Christmas break every year because I knew I would always have a friend to go sledding with. And then, when my parents told me that our neighbor, your grandmother, passed away, I was sure that I would never see you again. I felt like a part of my childhood ended then, but now here you are right in front of me.”

“It feels like nothing has changed here. Even you look just like I would have imagined you to look all grown up.”

“So I look like a little girl still? Is that what you’re saying?” she teased.

“No, you actually look beautiful.”

She smiled and then noticed him rubbing his hands together. “Are you cold?”

“I’m fine. I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to get warm here, which is odd because I’m hardly ever cold.”

“Well, it’s supposed to snow again tonight.”

Santa looked at Scott’s cold hands and his red nose but didn’t say anything at all.

The group continued to work on their gingerbread house as Scott and Melanie reminisced about their childhood adventures of sledding, snowball fights, building snowmen, and venturing through the town together for hot coco and last minute Christmas gifts. But neither of them bought up the time when they kissed softly on the lips the night of Christmas Eve outside his grandmother’s house in the fresh snow—their first kiss. That story was left out of conversation although it was on both of their minds.

Their playful laughter and long private stares took precedence over the competition as Santa gladly partook in other interactions with people he knew. Hours went by, and people slowly began leaving the church. Eventually, Santa came back to Scott and said, “Miss Harper, would you mind being this young man’s guide around town tonight? It’s getting a little late for this old man.”

“I wouldn’t mind one bit. Tis the season.”

Santa replied, “Tis the season indeed, and Merry Christmas!”

As Scott and Melanie stepped out onto the snowy street, Melanie stated, “I know we’re older now and all but that doesn’t mean we can’t still hold hands, does it?”

Scott, living completely in Bells Town now, reached for her tiny hand, and the two walked down Main Street together as icicles hung off of buildings, and the icy road reflected the large bulb lights back into their eyes as they gazed at each other. Her hand fit so perfectly within his—so soft. And for a moment, Scott started to think that he had finally found what he was a looking for. He had found home, his good memories come back to life.

“Look, it’s snowing!” she pointed eagerly.

“I love it. It’s like a real life snow globe.”

“Yes, and we’re the tiny, little couple holding hands in it,” she leaned her head on his shoulder as they turned down towards Maple Street. The snow started to fall a little heavier now in large flakes.

Melanie whispered, “I wish you hadn’t stayed away for so long.”

“I don’t know if I did.”

She faced him, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’ve always been here in my heart. This place and even with you. In this season and this snow. I don’t think I ever really left.”

The two slowed to a stop, and she put her arms around his neck and finally asked, “Remember that one time we were together in the snow?”

“Like I said, I never really left.”

Her eyes sparkled as she stared deep into him, and she was now more than a dream as two cold lips once again touched in the falling of the white sky that freshly painted another layer on the winter wonderland, visible even in the dark of night. For the following lost moments, they held each other close, and when he opened his eyes again, he saw lights on in his grandmother’s old house down the street.

“There’re people still living in it—my grandmother’s house!”

“Of course.”

He started moving quickly to his destination and said without looking back to her, “I always heard that it was left vacant.”

“No, not at all,” she hurried up to him.

“As he arrived in front yard of the house, he saw the same classic Christmas lights faithfully hanging from the rafters. The windows lit up in bright yellow as black silhouettes moved back and forth inside. The front door burst open, and a little boy came running down the steps with a scarf flowing behind him as he struggled to put on his second mitten with the hood of his bulky coat falling over his face.”

“A little boy lives there, like me. I’m so glad.”

Melanie responded, “Yeah, he finally came back.”

“Who? The little boy?”

She replied stoically, “Yeah. You.”

The front door opened again, and a familiar voice yelled out, “Scotty, only a few minutes now. I don’t want you catching a cold before Christmas,” and as Scott’s eyes focused in through the night, it was her—Grandma.

Then a younger version of his father ran out after the boy yelling with a wide smile on his face, “Watch out, Scotty! I’m going to get you back,” and the boy threw a snowball at him. It was all clear now.

Scott couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t smile. He could only watch this historic scene of his family play out in front of him. Soon his mother came out too and swung a snowball at his father, and he playfully wrestled her onto the snow with tickles. He then hollered out to his son, “Scottie, come make a snow angel with us.”

His grandmother peaked through the window and then hurried to the front door, “Did I raise a bunch of crazies? I don’t want my entire family sick on Christmas. You all get in here right now. The pies are about ready now. Come now, hurry on!”

The wind blew violently, making a deafening sound. Instantly, all the figures froze as the scene of his past now stood still in front of him like life-size sculptures. The wind brushed painfully against his ears, and the frozen figures began to disintegrate into nothing more than snow, being taken away with the unforgiving wind. Soon all that remained was a dark, lonely, weathered house standing half open and damaged by years of neglect—only barely visible now in the dark.

“Mel, what’s going on? Tell me you know. What’s really going on here?” He reached for her hand, taking it in his.

A sad and gloomy look came over her face, “Scott, you’re so cold.”

Her hand in his began to feel like sharp pieces of ice, and then the perfect flesh on her face flew off in ash-like snowflakes with the wind. Layer after layer blew away as her eyes sank deeply into empty voids, exposing her skull and bones throughout her body until they too drifted away into the cold snow. Standing completely alone now, the lights down the street switched off into darkness.

He didn’t know what to do, but he knew he was cold and had been for a while. It was a dangerous kind of cold that was beginning to steal the life out of his body.

So he ran. Sliding on roads of frozen ice and falling every which way into fresh snow, he continued to get up over and over again running.

Turning back onto Main Street, a ghost town now silently awaited him, lit only by the pale moonlight that managed to break through clouds and shine off the white ground. Doors hung halfway off abandoned buildings. Signs were worn off and faded, weathered by the seasons. Windows were cracked and broken. Roofs were sunken in. No vehicles were visible on the street. No merry sounds came from the church. No bright light shown from the coffee shop’s window. Nothing.

Just cold.

A cold that ate through his Converse and fitted jeans. A cold that devoured his striped hoodie. A cold that had moved through his skin and was now starting to wear inside his heart, slowing his blood. He didn’t know how long he had been in this cold, but he knew he didn’t have too much time left to find some sort of warmth as his body was slowing down altogether. Spotting his truck far down the street half covered in snow, he moved lethargically towards it.

As he treaded down the street, he felt bewildered and mouthed out with a breath of fog, “How is any of this happening?”

He felt the presence of another. Maybe it was so cold that any nearby body heat could be felt. Or maybe it was because there was some sort of sound other than the snowy wind. But whatever it was, Scott’s senses told him to turn around, and he saw him standing only a few steps behind.

“Merry Christmas, Scotty.” He stood in that same red and white suit unaffected by the cold. Although serious, his face was still jolly somehow.

“What’s going on? Please just tell me who you really are, and what’s going on?”

“You seem upset, Scotty. I’m sorry that you don’t like your present.”

“I don’t understand. You let me go back, but why didn’t you let me stay?”

“Because you would freeze to death.”


“Because there’s nothing in the past except for the cold. The warmth is always in the present. Look around you. There’s nothing here except cold.”

“How about Mel?”

“Melanie moved away with her parents when the town began to go under many years ago. She’s divorced now with two kids and is nothing like how you imagined her. It’s always interesting how the imagination plays up the past. And sorry to tell you this, but she doesn’t remember you at all. Not even that first childhood kiss you two shared.”

Scott looked away for a moment, flexing his jaw. “It was so wonderful here for a few hours. So perfect.”

“This was all created by your own wistful memories, and although pleasant to visit from time to time, if you live in your memories, you’ll have nothing but the cold.” Santa walked closer to Scott. “You’ll only find death in the cold, but in the present, you see, in the present, you’ll find warm life. It won’t be perfect, but it will be warm.”

Scott looked back to the snowy desolation of darkness of what used to be such a wonderful wonderland. He then looked to Santa, desperate for some sort of help. Anything. Santa took Scott in his large red suited arms and embraced him wholeheartedly until Scott’s entire body was healed by a deep, inner Christmas warmth.

‘Thank you, Santa.” He felt truly content.

“Now go home and enjoy your present. It’s still warm there, although someday it too will be cold, so enjoy it while you can, taking in all the joyful warmth that it has to offer.”

Scott got in his truck and waited a moment for it to defrost as his wipers pushed the fresh powder off his windshield from left to right. He took out his phone and texted her back: I found exactly what I was looking for. I had it the entire time.

As he drove off, the snow continued to fall heavily behind him, and Santa stood waving goodbye in his large, white gloves. Then, within a blink, Santa was gone, and the town behind him seemed even a little darker.

Whether he was the real Santa Claus bringing a young man a very special gift or a Christmas angel in disguise, Scott was now ready to truly embrace the warmth of life that would be his greatest Christmas present ever.

Fire at the Lighthouse


It was a coastal town, affluent in nature but cool to the touch. It was a place where the young fell in love again and again every summer and spent the school year in a fine balance between academic readings and sandy beaches. It was a place where the elderly reclined back in retirement, listening to the consistent rush of ending waves as each held a memory that broke into a thousand others as they crashed. Between the elderly and the young, there was a vast array of people who spent their Saturday evenings glancing through bordered windows of specialty shops searching for their most beloved apparel. They rode their beach cruisers on scenic routes of mystic evenings and spent the nights in local restaurants receiving the most hospitable catering to meet their custom appetites.

North of the neighborhoods and shopping district featured the town’s most historical monument. It stood 127 feet high—a lighthouse, pure of any color. Its old purpose was to guide in desperate sailors from long journeys through the blinding fog, but now it just stood as a reminder of a forgotten history. The great wonder had been retired for a good 50 years and only mentioned from time to time in long, fabricated stories told by wistful grandparents.

During this particular summer, the lighthouse wasn’t a symbol of the town’s nostalgic past but now served to warn the town if a fire was close by. For several years, distant field fires had threatened the town, spreading ominously by a dry summer wind. The highway divided the town from foothills covered with fire hazards, but if a fire did cross the highway, the first thing in its path would be the lighthouse. From there, it could take an easy stroll to the town.

In the middle of downtown, there was a barbershop untouched since the 1950s. The spiral red and white cone was still on the outside display, and the inside contained four large workstations with scissors, black combs, blow dryers, hair gels, etc.

Sarah Keys, one of the hair stylists, had decided that she simply wanted to cut hair for a living, despite her parents’ desire to see their daughter go to college. Everyday was routine. She would often bicker and complain about her inconvenient work schedule that separated her from weekend activities, but her friends had all grown up and had families. Now, weekends were spent visiting her elderly parents and hanging out with a cat who faithfully waited for her from the perch on the windowsill everyday. And he would fall asleep shortly after her arrival.

The day before when she came home from work, the mixture of the marine cloud and ash that was blown from the northern fires had turned the summer day into a premature evening. From her second floor apartment, she could see the orange-red lights in the distance, and she saw them as something beautiful… maybe it was just the bright contrasting colors in the darkness, or maybe it was because they made a difference in the world—not a good difference, but more of a difference than a simple hair stylist. Her cat meowed and soon lay down to sleep.

At work the following day, she had her usual clientele: Mrs. Washington, who wanted her roots dyed from gray to her youthful black; Mr. Hernandez, who would talk about his son’s little league victories until he left the shop; Tommy Teagarden, who was in for his seasonal buzz cut; and many more of the town’s idiosyncratic characters. Today, however, every customer had one conversation in common. They all mentioned the fire and gave their own self-assured input on whether or not the fire would cross the highway. It had never happened before, but there were summers when it came close. If the lighthouse caught fire, the whole town would know that it was time to quickly grab their belongings and leave.

When closing time approached, Adriana, the only other hair stylist still working, went to flip the sun bleached sign over and lock the door. As she turned the lock, the door sprung open, knocking her back some.

“Hello, I sure hope there’s time for one more. Oh, good mercy, there is, there is!” a wide, black woman said as she entered with a line of people behind her.

Adriana rolled her eyes and said, “Sorry, we’re already closed. There’s no way we can cut all their hair.”

The group entered in almost a circus-like manner. One man wore a helmet and half-skipped as he walked. A woman was wearing an oversized faded cartoon t-shirt with sweatpants that were hiked high, showing her naked ankles. Another man moaned, and another shouted out his words as he spoke incoherently to the others. Then there was one in the middle who stood nervously as the caretaker spoke to the hair stylist.

“Oh no, honey. They’re all getting an ice cream next door, only Ethan needs a haircut.”

“Adriana, I can take him,” Sarah said forcing a smile.

“Oh goodness! Ethan, go ahead and get over there in that seat. She’s gonna do you up well,” the caretaker directed.

Adriana rolled her eyes and began the redundant process of closing down the store while Ethan made his way to the seat, shuffling his feet through the temporary mosaic mess of multi-colored hair on the ground. At that moment, a middle-aged, acne scarred woman entered halfway in the door from outside and hollered, “Fay, you got him taken care of?” She was the other caretaker.

“Yeah, all good, honey,” Fay replied.

The acne scarred woman called out to the others in a singsong, “Come on guys, let’s go get your ice cream. It’s ice cream time. Ice cream time.”

Smiles took over their faces, as one clapped his hands in a robot manner. Another yelled, “Ice cream! Ice cream!” in a low voice heavy on vowels. Adriana went into the back, and Sarah, Ethan, and Fay were the only ones left in the shop.

Sarah noticed Ethan’s sharp red hair. She had seen this type of thick, red hair before but normally accompanied by freckles but not with Ethan. Ethan’s face was clear—pale and clean except for the tired shadows under his eyes. His hair came over his ears and had been parted the best he could to keep it from falling in his eyes. He wore a pair of khaki pants and a plaid shirt tucked in.

“So what are we doing here today?” Sarah asked in her cordial tone.

Ethan looked to Fay for guidance. “Go ahead, honey. Tell her how you want it.”

Ethan turned nervously to Sarah. His unbalanced hand pointed to his hair, “I want it cut short in the back but not too short in the front.”

Sarah responded, “That won’t be too hard. Short in the back, not so short in the front.”

She began to comb through his heavy, thick red hair. The comb strokes waved through his fiery flames.

“No! Stop!” Ethan voiced in a panic.

Sarah jumped back, startled.

“What’s a matter, honey?” Fay asked.

“I want it cut short…” he froze searching for his words that were once so easy to find but now a challenge. “Short on the sides. I want it cut short on the sides too.”

“That will be no problem,” Sarah went back to the comb and pulled out the scissors.

Thick chunks of red flickered far from his head onto the black wrapped around him. Ethan absorbed her every cut with great concern.

After a few minutes, he broke out, “Short on the sides too!”

“I know, I haven’t gotten to the sides yet, but I will. Don’t worry.” Sarah was very tense, not knowing when another unpredictable outburst would take place. Fay saw this too.

“Ethan, calm down there. The young lady gonna make your hair look real nice.” Fay then turned to Sarah. “He’s a little nervous; he gets to see his family tonight.”

Sarah responded, “How wonderful! You’re going to see your parents or brother and sister?”

Ethan didn’t say anything but just sat there in another world.

Fay finally responded for him, “No, his wife and children. He gets to see them about every six months.”

“Oh, what does your wife do?” she asked more to Fay this time.

“She’s some manager for some oil company. He has two babies too. Well, not so much babies anymore. I think, if I’m right, they’re in high school now. A boy and girl.” She turned to Ethan, “Am I right?”

Ethan nodded cautiously, not wanting to interfere with the haircut.

At this time, Sarah noticed a scar on the left side of his head, hidden deep underneath thick hair. “You got a pretty deep scar here under this beautiful hair.”

“It’s from the accident,” Fay answered.


“Ethan was hit by a car when he was crossing the street some seven years ago.”

Sarah looked to Fay for details.

“It was the day before Valentines. He was out shopping for his wife. I guess the driver didn’t even see him because the fog was so thick that evening. Oh, dear, bless his heart. He used to be a schoolteacher, before the accident. Pretty good one too. At least the kids sure loved him. He used to get so many letters from them, but most of them all grown up now.”

Ethan continued to sit still as the clipping of scissors was intensified by the silence. Sarah looked at him now as she cut more of the thick red. She could see a different man inside that body. One who could have been attractive once and even charming. One who encourage and taught young children. One with a passionate fire that burned so bright that it consumed all, even himself.

The door suddenly burst open with a man shouting out of breath, “Fire at the lighthouse! The fire’s at the lighthouse! You have about half an hour to clear this area.” Then he was gone.

Adriana came rushing out from the back. “Sarah, you have to get out of here!” And she was gone.

Sarah began to put down her comb and scissors when Ethan’s eyes grew in size, “You got to cut the back short. The front, not so short, but the back, cut the back short.”

“Ethan, honey, we have to leave, the fire crossed the highway,” Fay attempted to reason.

“No, the back should be short, like the sides. The front, not so short!”

“Sorry, Ethan, but we gotta go now.” Fay said to Sarah more quietly, “He gets this way before he sees his wife and kids. He wants to look like he did before the accident. Poor child… he knows.”

Sarah looked at Ethan sitting there in the chair. She looked outside and thought about her apartment. Most of her valuables were already packed due to the warning on the radio a few days before. She would still have enough time to grab her things and cat and drive to safety. So she said, “We can finish; there’s enough time.”

Ethan looked up at her with a thankful smile from that different world he was in. That smile did something to Sarah. It made her realize that she had finally made a difference in the world—and it was a good one.

The next seven or so minutes were filled with joyous exchanges from the three people in that little barbershop as the precise chops of scissors and the strokes of the black comb made Ethan look about seven years younger.

He left the barbershop with Fay and traveled away to safety where he would be reunited with his wife and children once again, a little more like himself.

Sarah quickly locked up the shop and looked into the distance for the fire. She saw lights but thought there should be sufficient time to go to her apartment before the fire arrived, if it even would arrive. As she got in her car, she jammed the key into the ignition of the old junker but was met with the notorious repetition of clicks. She turned again. More clicks. She thought about her cat, and said, “Come on now!” as she gave it one more turn… off she went.

As she approached her apartment, she was frightened to see the fire was already upon the evacuated homes of her surrounding neighbors. With the push of the rising wind, sporadic bushes around the empty complex now glowed red in the approaching night. She reminded herself, “Now, don’t turn off the engine. You’ll be fine, just don’t turn off the engine.” She put the car in park and saw her cat in the dimness of the towering window. The electricity was off. As she considered her escape plan for her cat and her packed bag of sentimental belongings, she could hear the cat’s frightened meows.

“I’m coming, Kitty, I’m right here!” she hollered as she trampled up the stairs. But with a paralyzing realization, she looked down to find the car below her turned off. The heavy wind of the night brought an ominous warmth.

With one hand, she grabbed the packed duffle back, and in the other, she squeezed the disoriented feline. She slid down the stairs to her car and turned the key. The clicks continued. She turned the key again. There were less this time. She kept on turning and turning, denying defeat until there was just one single click and no hope that the car would ever start again.

Night had finally settled and the fire flourished.

She would have to run on foot, she thought, so she hurried back up the stairs to see the direction that the fire was heading. With the claustrophobic view, she saw that it had fully surrounded her tiny apartment complex and was filling in.

She froze for a moment until being warmed by a gust of heat and her most trusted companion rubbing against her leg. She picked up the cat and calmly walked into her apartment, where she sat back in her homely recliner and watched the fire battle against the losing darkness. In the distance, she could see a warming glow. She said softly, “That must be the lighthouse, still burning.” She then remembered Ethan and how she cut his hair to make him look more like he once did.

It was nice, she thought. It sure was nice doing something important in life. Still staring out the glass-sliding door of the small balcony, Sarah held her cat in her lap as it gave out a questionable meow seeing the flames rise.

“It’s okay, Kitty. It’s okay now. I finally made a difference in this world.”