With the wind blowing snow into his eyes and freezing his ears, Curtis ducked quickly into the subway station. Once down the stairs and in the lee of the wind, he sighed, releasing the tension brought on by severe cold. Stepping through the turnstile, he reached into his inner coat pocket to feel for the chocolate bar he had hidden in there earlier, hoping that the cold had kept it nice and solid. Unfortunately it was a big, melty mess, and instead of wrestling with it not to soil his fingers, he threw it into a trash can on the train platform. Sometimes you had to sacrifice pleasures for the greater pursuit of virtue. In this case, not to have filthy, sticky, chocolate-covered hands. He hated dirty hands.
Absentmindedly he patted down his pockets to make sure he had not left anything at the diner while eating dinner. Wallet: check. Keys: check. Chocolate bar shaped emptiness: check. Cell phone. Cell phone. Cell phone?
He doubled checked all his pockets, and then to be sure, checked a third time. He definitely did not have his phone with him.
He could see where he had left it on the counter. With his second bowl of soup in his stomach, he went to the bathroom to relieve himself before his long train ride home. He left his coat and phone on the counter next to the check. He didn’t want those guys to think he was skipping out on the meal, especially on Christmas Eve. Curtis was many things, but a thief and a cheapskate he was not. When he came back from the toilet, he put his coat on, dropped some cash with his customary 8.5% tip, and walked out the door. He completely forgot to grab his phone.
He could go back now. It’s only a few blocks between the subway and the diner, but the cold was nightmarish. And, besides, he had paid his 2.25 fare. Since losing his job, he no longer got the unlimited passes and each ride cost him. He did not like to pay twice.
The phone could wait. No one was going to call him. He had no family to speak of. His only friends were the guys at the diner and he had already seen them tonight. He knew he would be back there the next day for lunch. He was sure they would just put it behind the counter for him.
But that did not stop him worrying about it. A man in the station played the guitar. Down the platform, another man was bent over looking through the gaps in the wall. A pretty brunette read as obviously as she could, telling everyone to leave her alone. And there was Curtis, a pathetic, sad sack, who had managed to worry so intensely about losing a 15 dollar pay as you go phone that he had broken a sweat on the coldest, bitterest day of the whole year. And there was no one in the whole world to just give him a hug and tell him everything would be ok.
The train rolled up and he got on, feeling no closer to home.
Elsewhere, a lone cell phone, buried three feet deep in trash in a dumpster behind the only diner still open on Christmas Eve, rang. When no one picked up, it went to voice mail. She left a message, heartfelt, warm, caring, that Curtis would never hear.