The Special Gift

The restaurant was teaming with customers. White linen tablecloths with pressed linen napkins folded neatly and centered in front of each patron’s seat. The crystal wine glasses placed upturned beside crystal water glasses and perfectly placed silverware positioned carefully in front of her. Janice held her breath as Robbie pulled her chair out for her to sit down. “Robbie, you can’t afford this!, we can go somewhere else.”

“Nonsense,” he chortled, you deserve it.” He pushed her chair in slightly for her then went around and took his seat. “I wanted you to have this for your birthday, it’s my gift to you.” He sat down as the waiter approached.

“Good evening, welcome to The Carlington. We hope you will find everything to your liking.” My name is Gustavo, I’ll be your waiter and Carla will be assisting me. Here are your menus, today’s specials are trout almandine, with cream truffle sauce and roasted rack of lamb, drizzled with a sweet orange liqueur. If you would like the chocolate soufflé, which I highly recommend, please allow me to place the order now so we can reserve it, they go quite fast. “Carla walked to the table with a basket of hot yeast rolls and a wine sampler. “Now,” Gustavo continued, "I will let you have a moment to consider the menu, shall I place the order for the soufflé’s?”

“Yes that would be nice,” Robbie replied, “One for each of us.” He smiled and went back to the menu.

‘Robbie,” Janice glanced over at him, “Are you sure?”

”Janice, this is your birthday present, just sit back and enjoy it; Please allow me to do this, it’s all covered.” He gave her a reassuring smile. Then glanced back at the waiter, “Two will be fine.”

“Very well sir, I will go and reserve them for you and leave you with Carla.” He nodded his head and walked away.

“Good evening, I’m Carla, I’ve brought some hot bread for you,” she placed the basket on the table, “and there is whipped almond butter for them in front of each of you. Would you care for some wine?”

“Are we allowed to have some wine?” Janice said astonished.

“Oh, I’m sorry, you’re not of age yet?” Carla said apologetically.

“No,” Robbie replied remorsefully, “She’s sixteen and I’m only seventeen.”

“Oh, I am sorry, but I am afraid we can’t offer it to you. Might I offer you some tea or something else to drink?”

“Ice tea will be fine, thank you,” Janice smiled.

“Carla,” an older, distinguished gentleman approached their table, “This is a special occasion for them, I think we can allow some leniency in this case. Let them each have a glass of the house Chenin Blanc.”

“As you wish Mr. Carlington,” she smiled as she turned over their wine glasses and poured a small amount in Robbie’s, “Sir?”

Robbie looked at the glass, “Oh we just get a taste?”

“Robbie,” Janice whispered heavily,” I think you’re supposed to taste it.”

Oh!” He glanced up at Mr. Carlington, and then the waitress smiling sheepishly. He picked up the glass and drank the wine with one swallow and set the glass back down, “It tastes ok.”

“Mr. Carlton smiled and motioned to the waitress. She filled Janice’s glass and then went around to Robbie’s and filled his. “May you both enjoy this meal and your time with us tonight.”

“Thank you Sir, thank you very much.” Robbie said glancing up at him. Mr. Carlington smiled and turned to attend to other guests and monitor the restaurant. Robbie turned to Janice and held his glass up motioning to Janice. She lifted her glass and touched it to his, “Happy Birthday Janice, may you have all you wish for,” Robbie said smiling from ear to ear.

They each took a sip of the wine and sat their glasses back on the table. The waiter came back and took their order. Then Carla brought out the salads and tea, as the grand evening unfolded for Janice and Robbie.

How do you know him?” Janice asked somewhat taken back by Robbie’s familiarity with the owner of this wonderful restaurant.

“I made the arrangements with him personally, so you could have this tonight, otherwise it would have taken months to get in.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate all of this; thank you so much.”

Robbie smiled, ”Maybe I do.” The dining experience was all Janice had hoped it would be and she savored every minute of it. After their exquisite meal, the waiter brought out some peach sorbet and sat it in front of them. Janice looked up at Robbie and then the waiter, Robbie shrugged his shoulders and looked up at Gustavo, “I thought we were having the chocolate soufflé?”

The waiter smiled; leaned over to him and whispered, “The sorbet is to cleanse the palate to prepare you for the soufflé.”

“Oh,” Robbie smiled “it’s part of the meal Janice, it’s like a pre-dessert dessert.” He smiled warmly to her, and then looked back at Gustavo, “Thank you.”

Gustavo smiled, “May I offer you some coffee with your dessert? It goes well the soufflé.”

“That would be very nice, thank you.” Robbie replied.

Carla brought out the coffee with two white China coffee cups, silver rimmed with “The Carlington” engraved in silver on the side. She served them the coffee, “Here is the cream and sugar," she said placing them on the table, "Gustavo is bringing your soufflé’s now.”

Gustavo approached their table with a silver covered tray and opened it in front of them, revealing the hot chocolate soufflé’s and placed them in front of each of them. He pushed in the centers of the soufflés and poured warm white chocolate into the centers, “May I present the Crème de la Resistance, your chocolate soufflé’s”

“Wow Robbie this looks so great, look at that! She placed her hand on his, thank you so much, this is all so wonderful!” she smiled warmly to him.

“It’s all for you Janice, Happy Birthday again.”

They finished their meal, Robbie left the tip and held the door for her as they left the restaurant. He drove her home, and they said their good-nights, then Robbie drove back to the restaurant and went in the back door. The head chef turned and gave him a stern look, “You’re late!”

“I’m sorry sir, but tonight was her birthday and I came back as soon as I dropped her off.”

“Oh, tonight was the birthday?”

“Yes sir, Gustavo saw us; he was our waiter, along with Carla.” She walked in just as he finished his statement.

“Is that true Carla?”

“Yes Chef Kronell, He was here with a very pretty girl.”

“Really, you were with a pretty girl, huh? You never said she was pretty. Does she know?”

“Know what Chef? That he is working here to pay for the meal?” Carla asked curiously.

“It’s not your concern,” Gustavo said entering the kitchen. “You need to see about table seven; they’re running low on refreshments and bread.”

“Yes sir,” she replied grabbing a basket of hot rolls and went back into the dining area.”

“Now,” Chef Kronell said, “you have work to do. It’s you’re last night so let’s get going.”

Robbie nodded his head, “You want me to start on the dishes?”

“Yes and if you break any, you get another night added to your schedule…”

“Yes Sir Chef,” Robbie replied then he held his hand to his head and winced.

“You alright son?”

“Yes sir, my head is just hurting.”

“You need some aspirin or something?”

“No sir, it will be ok once I get my mind off of it.”

“Very well," then he addressed the staff," Let’s get going people, we have customers waiting!”

The evening went by fast, Robbie worked hard and did his best to get the work done and done right. When he completed his work, the kitchen staff had mostly left with the exception of the head chef and Mr. Carlington. He took off his apron and placed it in the dirty linen bin and walked over to wash his hands and prepare to leave.

“You worked hard Son, I’m very impressed. You sure you don’t want a regular job here?”

‘Thanks Mr. Carlington, but I’m afraid that won’t be possible, I explained that bef…

“Yes you did,” he interjected, “but should the situation change and you are able”

“Thanks sir, I wish I could. I really like working here. “

“Well you take care, and I really hope things all work out,”

“Well part of it has. Thanks for working the evening out with me; I really wanted her to have something to remember.”

He smiled, “I’m sure she will, and you have given us all something to remember as well. Goodnight Robbie.”

“Good night Sir and thank you again.” He smiled and walked out the back. His head was hurting worse but he would go and get something for it now.

The next morning, Robbie got up and went into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of fresh orange juice, his father squeezed the night before. The taste was one thing he could never get enough of. He opened the drawer under the coffee pot and took put a bottle of pills. The bottle was close to empty, but he would get some more today. He took out two pills and washed them down with the juice, then took out a pan to make himself some breakfast.

“Would you like me to do that for you?” his mother asked walking in from her bed room.

“I can get it; you want me to make you some eggs too?”

“How about you make the toast and get the sausage going, I’ll make the eggs. I heard you up, how are you feeling?”

“It hurts a little, but it’s been a lot worse.” He smiled. She looked over to him and tried to maintain composure, but was unable to and began crying. ”Please Mom, it’s alright,” he said embracing her. “I’m gonna be fine, you don’t need to worry about me.”

“I know but it just seems all so unfair.” She said between her sobbing.

“Mom, nobody said life was fair, but that’s why we have a promise to stand on, a hope for better.”

‘I know Son, I know. Did you finish work last night at the Carlington?”

“Yes Ma-am” he chortled, think Chef Kronell wanted me to break something so he could get another nights of work out of me.”

“That was so nice of Mr. Carlington to allow you to do that; did Janice enjoy it?”

“I think so, she never stopped smiling.”

“Did you tell her?”

“No mom, I didn’t want to, it might have taken away from the evening for her.”

“I suppose your right, but you have to tell her.”

“I will, there’s still plenty of time. Besides, something may change. Doc Pritchard said he has seen things happen before.” Then he felt the sharp stabbing pain in his head and sat down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table; holding his hands up to it.

“It’s started again hasn’t it?”

“Yea, but its ok," he winced and took a deep breath, "it doesn’t last long. I’ll be ok in a sec.”

“Are you going back to the hospital again today?”

“Yes Ma-am, the kids look forward to it, and I enjoy it too.”

“I just don’t get to see you that much and now…,” she began sobbing again softly.

“I understand mom, but we’ll have forever, I may be the only one those kids will ever know that can offer them a chance.”

She smiled half heartily and wiped the tears from her eyes. “You do what you feel God has led you to do. I know his plans for you don’t agree with mine, but he and I will have a quite a few things to talk about.”

“Well, how about we get some breakfast now, or you and I may have a lot to discus too, I’m hungry!” he gave her a grin, “

A smile finally shown on her face, “Ok buster, get the eggs and sausage out and I’ll get things started, if you want grits, you need to get them out of the freezer.”

“That sounds good; I’ll get the container out and an extra pan.”

“Get the larger one, your Dad will be out soon and I’m sure he will want some too.”

“Yes Ma-am,” I need to call the doctor’s office today, my pills are running low and the prescription is out.”

“Well they don’t open for another couple of hours; I’ll call them and se if they can send in a new one for you.” She shook her head, “Those things are so expensive, and the insurance won’t pay for them anymore. We’ll make sure you keep getting them though, somehow…”

“Don’t worry about it mom, I can call later. I could ask Mr. Carlington if I can work there on a regular part time basis for a bit, then I could help with the cost.”

“We’ll be ok Robbie; we just need to switch some things around is all.” She thought a moment, “You know, you don’t have to go to school Monday if you don’t want too.”

“I thought about that mom; but I like school, and I get to see my friends.”

“Have you told any of them?”

“No way! I don’t see the point, and I don’t want them to start feeling sorry for me, it would make things harder. I’ll just keep things the way they are.”

“What about the headaches, won’t they start to wonder?”

“Na," he laughed, “They’re not that smart, I just told them I have migraines, so they don’t ask anymore.”

She broke some eggs in the pan, “You are something else son, you really make me proud with the way your handling all this.”

“We don’t get to pick that hands we’re dealt mom, we just have to play them the best way we can.” He smiled pouring water from the tap into the pan and setting it on the stove.

“It just doesn’t seem fair, why God would let you get sick like this. There are lots of other people in this world, some really bad ones, why can’t this have happened to them?”

“Mom,” he glanced over at her, “you think God caused this to happen? This is as much a part of life as breathing. I don’t blame God, things happen. You think its Gods fault car accidents happen or planes crash. What about hurricanes, or earthquakes?”

“No I guess not, it’s just because it’s happening to you, you do so much for others even though you’re going through what you are.”

“I’ve thought a lot about that mom, but I figure it’s like this, God gave us free choice, if he started controlling what happens to whom and when, then we wouldn’t have free choice anymore. No,” he shook his head, “Things happen because they do. I believe God answers prayers, and he can intervene if we ask him too, but it also has to stay within his plan. If what happens to me might bring someone else a closer understanding and knowledge of him, then I am doing what God wants me too. Sure, I want to get married and finish college. I want to have kids, and there are so many things I want to enjoy still, but it doesn’t seem like that’s all going to work out for me. Who knows what he has planned for me. I know that he loves us and wants the best for us, my best may be yet to come, and maybe he has plans for me there. I’m kind a scared but kind of excited too.”

Robbie’s mothers eyes began to tear, she tried hard to hold back her pain, her heart being torn from the thoughts of losing her son, but also, from the knowledge that her son’s faith was so much better than hers. She felt it swell with pride at the character and sure mindedness Robbie displayed; her words were at a loss. She reached out and grabbed him pulling him close and buried her face in his chest embracing him tightly and threw her sobs, “I love you Son.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Robbie drove to the hospital, his mind lost deep in thought. He thought about Janice, how happy she looked. He smiled reflecting back on it. It was really great of Mr. Carlington to let him do that for her, and he didn’t mind the work. It was kind of fun too even though it was hard work. He laughed to himself thinking about Chef Kronell, he was so anal but he was good. His food was out of this world. It was worth it working there those two weeks to pay for the meal. He learned so mu….he paused, and shook his head; maybe God will let him finish that part when he gets there.

He pulled his car into the parking lot, the springs squeaking and complaining as it went over the bumps. It wasn’t much of a car but for two hundred bucks, it got him where he needed to go, and besides, he thought to himself, I won’t need it that long.”

When Robbie walked onto the pediatric oncology ward it was like a breath of fresh air. The nurse smiled upon seeing his face walking down the hall. “Good morning Robbie, how are you today?”

“Doing pretty good Nurse Marci, thanks for asking.”

“How are your head aches?”

“A little more frequent, had some bad ones last night and one this morning, but I can deal with it. I need to get a hold of Doc Pritchard’s office, my meds are running out.”

“Don’t you worry your head about it, I’ll call them as soon as I’m finished with the morning rounds. You go on in, the kids have been asking about you all day!”

“Thanks Ma-am that’s nice of you, I really appreciate it.” He smiled and went through the double doors to the common area. The children were all playing somberly until they saw him enter, then almost as in unison they’re faces brightened up. Some of them stood and ran to him to hug him, others sat in wheel chairs grinning waiting their turn. Robbie greeted them each personally and offered each one a hug.

“We missed you Robbie, it’s different when you’re not here.” One of the children said and the others all joined her in agreement.

“Well I have to go to school during the week, and soon you will have to too.” He rubbed her on the back of her smooth head, absent of hair from the treatments she was receiving.

“Not me,” replied one somber one in a wheel chair, “I’m terminal, the doctors said they can’t do anything more for me.”

He smiled; walked over to her and keeled beside her, “You know Mary, we don’t know what tomorrow has in store for us. That’s all in God’s hands, but I know this, if God wants’ you with him he’s got better things planned for you.”

“Why would he, I’m all crippled up in a wheel chair, who’s gonna want to take care of me like this?”

He smiled, “In heaven, there won’t be any wheel chairs, no pain no sickness, our feet may never touch the ground. I know it seems difficult to believe, but Faith is the evidence of things unseen. You should do your best to make others here feel happy. If the Doctors are right; you will have the opportunity to get rid of this chair, and see God before any of the rest of them does. And if they’re wrong, then you will have to suffer with the rest of us for a while longer.” She smiled and nodded her head.

‘Now how about a story?” he asked enthusiastically. The children gathered around him for the much awaited rendering Robbie brought to them. He finished the book to applause and cheers from the children. Robbie stayed and played with the children all day, it was always special for him and brought him joy just to be with them, encourage them and maybe lift their spirits.

The parents would watch Robbie with the kids, and felt the joy that seemed to emanate from him; watching him work with the children brought them hope and inspiration as well. Twice during the day he had bad headaches, but he maintained his composure in front of the children and excused himself to the nurse’s station until they passed. He didn’t want them to know he was sick and terminal. Robbie believed they needed to only know hope and positive aspects. He knew one day he would not be there for them, but he would do what he could, as long as God allowed.

Robbie continued with his school as long as he could, until the headaches became to much for even him to withstand. He made a valiant effort, the doctors and the specialist exhausted every possibility to help him. Towards the end they did their best to ease the pain of his headaches. God looked down on Robbie and the inspiration and hope he showed others; he smiled and lovingly called him home.

The children missed him; the y believed he had found something else to occupy his time with. His funeral was well attended by so many people from the community. His mother and father along with all his relatives filled one side of the church. The rest of the seats were taken by members of the community; spilling out into the alcove and in front of the sanctuary.

The Pastor gave a brief message about Robbie and how he lived his life. His Mother and father both stood and spoke of their pride in Robbie and his bravery. Mr. Carlington even went forward and said a few words about his honor in knowing Robbie be it only briefly. Chef Kronell wiped tears from his eyes, thinking back on Robbie and how he had touched every life he came in contact with, fully complemented in attendance from the restaurant, Gustavo and Carla seated next to the Chef. Robbie would be missed greatly by the community, but what his life stood for would be remembered in the hearts of all that knew him for a life time.

The children all entered the common room solemnly, Today was Saturday and it would have been a day Robbie had always come to see them. They gathered around the chair centered in the room where a story book waited. “Before I begin,” she said smiling, “My name is Janice, and I want to tell you a story," she smiled as a tear started down her cheek. ©

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