It was exactly 47 steps from the first floor of the St. Thomas Home for Boys to the loft high above. They used it for storage and no one was supposed to go up there, but it was Samuel’s secret place. From the window facing west you could watch the sun set over Arlington Manor, a gated community with the most expensive homes in town. Samuel wondered what it was like to live some place like that—perfect homes, families, lives.
The kids from Arlington rode the same school bus as Samuel but they had no idea he was an orphan because he deliberately walked six blocks away to catch the bus, hiding his reality. Father Mills, who ran the home for boys, told Samuel to be proud of who he was, to carry it like a shield, but Samuel didn’t want kids feeling sorry for him. Especially Piper.
She was 13, same as Samuel. They not only shared the ride to school but also had many of the same classes. Long blonde hair with the greenest eyes you’ve ever seen. She also had a big heart. That was Piper. More than once, Samuel would see her staring at St. Thomas as the bus rolled by. If they caught the red light, she’d lean against the glass and take on this serious look as if she was searching for something in the windows there. Every time she asked Samuel about his own home he would change the subject quickly, making her wonder.
One day on the bus ride home, Samuel wished her a nice weekend and hopped off at his usual stop. It wasn’t until the bus pulled away that Piper saw his history book on the floor, having fallen out of his backpack. She knew they had a test on Monday and he’d be dead without it so she screamed for the driver to stop. By the time Piper got out, Samuel was already around the corner so she gave chase. A few moments later she stopped in her tracks when she saw him race up the steps to the home for boys. She backed away into the shadows, unsure of what to do, but knowing he’d be embarrassed if she knew.
The next week and every week after, Piper kept her secret and the two of them carried on as normal. When the holidays drew near, Piper noticed the windows of St. Thomas were not decorated like most of the town. There was a wreath on the door but nothing else to tell you Christmas was coming.
That Sunday as her family left church, Piper saw Father Mills. They had exchanged “hellos” before but had never really talked. She asked him about St. Thomas Home and why they didn’t do more to celebrate the holidays. “Money, child,” he told her. “Pretty things cost money and every dime is spoken for.”
That night she went to the attic of her home on Arlington Hill to see if they had any extra decorations. She didn’t realize, until that moment, that if you looked east you could see the top of St. Thomas. Piper’s father asked her what she was doing and she told him she wanted to help those boys in some small way. “You know, Piper,” he told her, “most people are happy to help; you need only ask them.” Piper smiled like a girl with a plan.
The next day, she rode her bike to Main Street with a list. She asked the florist if he would donate some poinsettias to St. Thomas. Then the baker, asking for a big cake. She went to the man who sold Christmas trees to see if he could spare a few. This went on all day. Business after business, unable to say no to those big green eyes.
Soon there were trucks showing up at St. Thomas and deliveries of all sorts of wonderful things. But the best gift was the one she purchased with her own money. It was a snow globe with a boy standing on top of a mountain, his arms outstretched like the king of the world. When you shook it, silver snowflakes fell at his feet.
Piper wrapped it and gave it to Samuel the next day as they sat on the swings in the schoolyard. He shook the globe and as he watched the snow fall he said, “It was you. All that stuff that came to the home. You know don’t you?” Piper tried to explain but he quickly turned away.
That night, Samuel climbed the 47 steps to the loft of St. Thomas and stared sadly out the window. He hated it when people felt sorry for him. Just then a knock on the door and in came Father Mills. “She doesn’t pity you, Samuel. She is you.” He didn’t understand. “She’s adopted,” the priest continued. “She lived in a home just like this until she was seven.” Samuel lifted his eyes toward the west and the house he could see off in the distance was hers. They weren’t so different after all. As he shook the globe and looked at the little boy on top of the mountain, outside it began to snow.
We are all connected. We can all make a difference. Happy holidays!