Tuesday, December 18
It was almost ten o'clock before Jeff woke up. In the wake of the power outage, he had postponed practice for today until the afternoon to give the power company time to fix the problem. It might have just been his slightly pessimistic mood carrying over from the previous day, but he didn't have a lot of confidence that they would get t he job done in time for practice. Nevertheless, he would be there well ahead of time to get everything ready if the electricity was fixed and to cancel if it was not. He owed that to his cast and crew. But practice wasn't until two o'clock; he could lay in bed for another hour or so, but he wasn't tired anymore and probably wouldn't be able to sleep. Not to mention that his sleep last night had been filled with nightmares that he didn't even want to think about revisiting.
With a sigh he slid out of bead and headed for the bathroom. He could hear the rest of his family already moving around downstairs as he began to rummage around the cabinets and drawers for his toothbrush and toothpaste. One look in the mirror told him that it was time to shave, so after he was finished with his teeth, he attacked the stubble on his face with a razor. Next it was time for a shower which he realized that he had forgotten yesterday. Oh well, better late than never.
After drying off and putting on new clothes, Jeff felt much better and headed down for breakfast. He met Seth in the kitchen, washing the morning dishes.
"What's up, Seth?" he asked as he raided the fridge for anything that looked edible.
"Um, washing dishes," Seth answered. He had always been a sarcastic one.
"Yeah, I see that," Jeff responded. "What about after that? Do you have any plans for today?"
"Not at the moment," Seth answered, then added warily, "Why do you ask?"
"Well, with the power issue at the church we had to push play practice back to this afternoon, so I'm free now," Jeff said. "Want to play basketball or something?"
"I'm not sure basketball is the best option considering that it's like 2 degrees outside. Literally."
"Or something then," Jeff said. "What's the next best option to b-ball?"
"Let's go with anything that doesn't involve going outside," Seth answered.
"I guess streaking across town is out," Jeff said with a grin. "That's too bad; I was kind of looking forward to that..."
"You are such an idiot," Seth said with a smile. It was good to finally see his brother making jokes again. "I think mom and Nat are around. You could ask them if they wanted to play cards."
"I'll do that," Jeff said. He motioned to the dishes. "How much longer is that going to take?"
"Five minutes tops," Seth answered.
"Cool. I'll get mom and Nat."
Jeff rounded up his mother and sister and corralled them into the den. Even with just the two of them, it was a bit like herding cats to get them to the same place at the same time. He had just succeeded in doing so and acquiring a deck of cards when Seth entered, wiping his hands on his shirt. There was nothing like the good ole' shirt to serve as a hand towel, on that the two brothers agreed.
"So, girls against guys?" Seth asked.
"That's not fair," Natalie complained. "You know that you and Jeff will butcher me and mom."
"Exactly! That's why I suggested it."
"How about me and Jeff against you and mom," Natalie suggested.
"Well, it won't be as fun but it'll probably be a bit more fair," Jeff agreed. "Who's dealing first?"
In no time, the cards were dealt and the family was playing.
"So mom, I kind of expected you to be at work," Jeff said.
"Well, things have been fast-paced all year, and I haven't had any time to use my vacation days," Mrs. Byron said. "I have to use them before the end of the year, so I'm taking the end of the year off."
"What about you?" Natalie asked. "I thought that you would be at play practice by now."
"Oh, I can answer this one," Seth interrupted his brother as he threw a card onto the table. "He postponed practice until the afternoon because of the power issue."
"In all honesty, I don't know if it's going to be fixed by then," Jeff added. "I might have to cancel it altogether."
"That would be too bad," Mrs. Byron commented. "How is the play coming along?"
"It could be worse," Jeff admitted. "The cast and crew seem to have everything down, but I don't really know because problems keep popping up. What I need is one good practice where nothing goes wrong."
"Maybe you'll get it today," Natalie said as she dealt the cards for the second round of the game.
"If the power comes back on," Jeff said. "Fingers crossed on that one."
The conversation moved onto other things and for the first time in a while, Jeff's brain was empty of the problems that he was currently facing.
Jeff buried his hands in his coat pockets as he trudged towards the church. Despite his hat pulled down securely over his ears, the cold still penetrated every inch of his body. By the time he arrived, all of his extremities were numb and it felt like the cold was trying to freeze his heart solid. He fumbled with his keys, trying to get them out of his pocket with gloved fingers that had no feeling with them and was so preoccupied with the task that he didn't notice the man standing by the door until he was almost on top of him. He jumped back, shouting an exclamation following it quickly with an apology.
"Kind of cold to be standing outside, isn't it?" Jeff asked as he wrestled the key into the lock and opened the door.
"It isn't pleasant, but I've experienced worse," the man answered.
"That's true," Jeff agreed as he stepped through the door and held it for the other man. "Remember last year? Ten days in a row where it didn't get above zero. Now that was bone chilling if I've ever experienced it."
He shut the door before turning around and offering the man his hand to shake.
"I'm Jeff, by the way. I'm not sure that we've met before."
"We haven't," the man agreed as he shook the hand. "My name is Samuel."
"What can I help you with, Samuel?" Jeff asked. He flipped a light switch and nothing happened. Evidently the power company hadn't fixed the problem yet.
"I'm here to help you," Samuel explained. "I was told that you were having some trouble with the play practices and thought that I might be able to help."
"Who told you that?" Jeff asked sharply. The play problems were still a sensitive topic for him.
"Oh, I think I heard from your family, if I'm not mistaken, "Samuel answered.
"You know my family?" Samuel asked in surprise. "I've never heard them mentioned you."
"I know who they are, though I don't know that they would recognize me," Samuel answered.
"So like you see them in church and stuff?" Samuel asked.
"Exactly," Samuel said.
"Well, I'm happy for the offer of help, though I'm not really sure what you can do right now," Jeff said. "The play is pretty much under control. The only issues that we've really been having is things that we can't control like the electricity going out."
"So when the power comes back on, you'll be good to go?" Samuel asked.
"Well, we've also had a few issues with the sound and lighting equipment, but that's probably going to take someone who knows what they are doing to fix."
"I know someone who is a whiz with electronics," Samuel said and glanced at his watch. "I can give her a call and get her up here in an hour or so to look at the boards and lights."
"That would only help if the power was back on," Jeff said. As if on cue, the foyer lights flickered to life. Jeff looked up at them for a moment.
"Well, I guess that problem is taken care of. If you don't think that your friend would mind, go ahead and give her a call."
"I'll take care of the technical issues, Jeff," Samuel said. "You just focus on the play. We're going to make this the best that it can possibly be."
"The problem was in the internal wiring," Samuel's friend Michel explained. She held a toolbox in one hand and a roll of electrical wire in the other. "The wires had deteriorated over time and..."
"That's fine, Michel," Samuel said. "Honestly, neither me nor Jeff will understand it if you explain it."
Jeff waved to the last of the crew as they left the church. Now it was just the three of them remaining.
"Basically the wires had too much wear and tear on them," Michel explained as simply as she could. It was evident that it killed her to dumb things down this much. "It was causing issues so I pulled them out and replaced them. I had to rewire a lot of the board's innards, but you shouldn't have an issue with the feedback anymore. I also fixed a few other problems while I had it torn apart."
"How long will it hold together?" Jeff asked. "Are we going to have to replace it in the near future?"
"Oh boy," Samuel muttered. "You just doubted her ability. You shouldn't have done that."
"The board is as good as when it was new, probably better," Michel said in an irritated voice. "I used," she proceeded to say something very long and technical that Jeff didn't understand "wire. The stuff is top grade and my work is close to impeccable. That board should be good for another five to ten years if not longer."
"She's cocky and a bit annoying, but it's true," Samuel admitted. "I've seen her take completely destroyed electronics and completely rework them so that they last twice as long as they were every supposed to. No doubt about it: she's good."
"Well, thank you very much, Michel," Jeff said. "I appreciate the work that you've done. Can I invite you to the performance on Sunday?"
"Samuel seems to have gone and gotten me invested in something else that wasn't my problem before," Michel said. "I'll be here unless something comes up."
"Thanks again," Jeff called after the woman as she walked to her truck. He shut the door and began to finish straightening up. Soon he had moved onto folding the programs for Sunday's performance.
"Can I talk to you about something?" Samuel asked.
"As long as you help while you talk," Jeff answered.
"This play is very important to you, isn't it?" Samuel asked as he picked up a program and deftly folded it in half.
"I like to do a good job at whatever I do," Jeff said, evading the question.
"I think there's more to it than that, but I won't push you," Samuel said. "What I will say is that it seems like you're stressing about it an awful lot."
"That's true," Jeff admitted. "What with all of the problems that we've been having, I have been worrying."
"Can I suggest that you don't come to practice tomorrow?" Samuel asked. "Just for one day."
"Why would I do that?" Jeff asked, giving Samuel a strange look.
"To give yourself time to refocus on what's important," Samuel explained. "You seem so wrapped up in this play. Have you even thought about the true meaning of Christmas in the past couple days?"
"No," Jeff admitted slowly.
"Then do yourself a favor and don't come to practice tomorrow," Samuel said. "I'll cover it, don't worry."
"And what should I do instead?" Jeff asked only partially seriously.
"Think about Christmas," Samuel said. "Read the Christmas story. Or go help other people. Service is a good way to get in the Christmas spirit."
"I suppose that you have some suggestions for me," Jeff said.
"Of course I do," Samuel smiled. "You could go to the nursing home and visit the elderly. Many of them get lonely around the holidays. Or there's a place that I know of that serves meals to the homeless. I would recommend going there; the reward from serving there is more than I can say."
"I'll think about it," Jeff said as he went back to folding programs. He had every intention of ignoring Samuel's suggestion, but sometimes things happen to change a person's mind.