“Bryan’s Gift,” Friend, Dec. 1987, 6
It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. I sat at the window in the living room and looked out. The snow had piled up almost every day for a week, but now the skies were clear and the air was icy. I could hear Mom, Tara, and Laurie in the kitchen, making treats for the neighbors. Next to me the Christmas tree twinkled, and there were piles of presents stacked beneath it. Usually on Christmas Eve I would feel each package and shake and smell it. I didn’t care about the packages this year.
Christmas had always been fun before. As soon as all the presents were exchanged, I would call Bryan, and we would spend the rest of the morning together until it was time to visit our cousins.
I couldn’t ever remember a time when Bryan and I hadn’t been best friends. We did everything together. We studied together, weeded our gardens together, had a paper route together, joined Cub Scouts together.
Bryan and I were both planning to play football in the pros. He was going to be the quarterback, and I was going to be the end. What a team we’d make! But now I wasn’t sure if we would ever play football together again.
Ever since Bryan had told me about the cancer in his left leg, I had prayed for him. I had even fasted two different Sundays. But the doctors still took his leg off, just above his knee. They said that they thought that they had caught the cancer in time and that it hadn’t spread, but his leg was still gone, and right now he lay in a hospital bed with nothing but a TV and a stack of books and magazines to keep him company.
“Randy,” Mom said, coming into the living room, “you sure look glum for a Christmas Eve.”
“I keep thinking about Bryan,” I mumbled.
“He’ll be fine,” Mom declared. “His mother told me that his whole family is going to celebrate Christmas Eve in his hospital room tonight.”
“But it’s not the same thing. Besides, I wanted to give him something … something super.”
“You already sent a present over.”
I nodded sadly. “A book. But that’s nothing, even if he does have to stay in bed and reading is all that he can do. I wanted to give him something extra special, something that he’d never forget.” I stopped for a moment, then blurted out, “What he really wanted was a football, an official leather football so that we could practice to play in the pros.”
Mother smiled understandingly. “That’s what you’ve both wanted for years, I know.”
“Bryan really did want a football, Mom. But you know how much they cost.”
Mom smiled again and just said, “Yes, I know how much they cost.”
I glanced in toward the tree and stared at the package wrapped in gold foil paper that was nestled under the far side of the tree. Yes, I thought, Mom knows how much footballs cost.
Then she asked gently, “Are you forgetting Bryan’s leg?”
“Bryan won’t always have a stump for a leg,” I told her. “They make legs. Good ones. There was a guy that had his leg cut off because of cancer, and he walked clear across Canada. If he could do something like that, Bryan will be able to play football. And if he had a football now, he’d have something to look forward to, something to work for. We’re still going to play in the pros!”
Mom went back to the kitchen, and I looked out the window again. Christmas would soon be here. If I was going to do anything for Bryan, I would have to do it soon. Then an idea came so quickly that for a moment I could hardly breathe.
Hurrying to my room, I pulled on my sweatshirt, wiggled into my heavy coat, pulled the hood over my head, stomped my feet into my snow boots, grabbed my gloves, and raced back to the living room. I reached for the gold-wrapped package under the tree, called to Mom that I’d be back in a while, then slipped out of the house.
The snow squeaked and crunched under my boots, and my breath puffed out of my mouth and nose in steamy clouds as I sped down the street. Finally I reached the hospital. I pulled open the huge glass doors, walked rapidly down the long hall, and got on the elevator and pushed the third floor button.
Bryan didn’t see me slip into his room, so I whispered, “Hi, Bryan.”
His head turned toward me, and his face and eyes brightened. “Randy!” he cried. “I knew you’d come.”
“How do you feel?” I asked, setting the package on the floor by the bed.
“Oh, OK I guess.”
“You’ll be out of here before you know it,” I said, patting him on the shoulder.
“I’m glad you came, Randy.”
“I knew you couldn’t have much of a Christmas here,” I told him. “A hospital is no place for Christmas. And I knew I could never have Christmas without seeing you. I just had to come—and I brought you something.” I bent over, picked up the package, and handed it to Bryan.
“But you already gave me a present. It’s over there, under the tree.”
I glanced at the small silver tree in the corner. My book, wrapped in Santa Claus paper, lay with several other packages. I shook my head. “That’s not my real present,” I told him. “This one is. Open it now, while I’m here.” I pushed the package across the covers to where Bryan could reach it.
He tugged at the gold wrapping paper, pulled the lid off the box, and caught his breath. Then he reached in and lifted out the football. “But, Randy, this was supposed to be yours, wasn’t it?”
“But I want you to have it,” I faltered. “It’s the only thing I could think of that was super special enough for you. It’s one just like we’ve always talked about. Now we’ll play in the pros for sure!”
For a long time Bryan stared at the ball. Then tears came to his eyes.
“Don’t you like it?” I asked hoarsely. “It’s a real one, just like they use in the pros. I just knew you’d have to have one because—” The words caught in my throat. I looked down at the flat place on the bed where Bryan’s left leg should have been.
Bryan was staring at the flat place too. “I can’t take your ball, Randy,” he whispered. “I don’t know if I can even play any more.”
“Yes you can—we’ll still play together!” I burst out. “It’s just like I was telling Mom. They make artificial legs, Bryan. Good ones. And the quarterback doesn’t have to run much. You can still play. We’ll still be a team.”
Bryan smiled weakly. “Maybe I ought to be the coach,” he said. “The coach doesn’t have to run at all. All he has to do is yell and blow his whistle, and I can at least do that.”
Bryan stared again at the flat place. I caught my breath, starting to feel sick.
Suddenly Bryan grinned up at me and declared, “It’s a super ball, just what I’ve always wanted. I’m glad that you brought it. Real glad.” Then his smile faded. “But I don’t have anything for you.”
I shook my head. “I don’t need anything. There’s only one thing I really want, and that’s for you to get well and leave here.” There was a terrible, hurting lump in my throat. I tried to swallow it away, but it was stuck. I bit down on my lip. “Every night I pray for you. And every Sunday in Primary we pray for you too. We never forget you, Bryan.”
“I know, and it means a lot to me. But I still want to give you something. I want to give you a super gift too.” He held his new ball tightly. “You know I’ve always wanted a football just like this, and to play in the pros,” he said, rubbing his cheek against the ball. He looked up at me. “You’ll have to play for both of us.” He stopped, then holding the ball out, added, “You’ll need a good ball. The very best. Take this one and play for both of us. It won’t hurt so much if I know I’m helping you out, that you’re playing with my ball.”
“But if I take your ball, that will mean I didn’t give you anything good.”
“Oh, but you did, Randy. You gave me the best gift of all, just by coming.” Bryan smiled. “I waited all day. I didn’t even sleep. I just lay here and looked out the window. I knew you’d come because you’re my friend, the best friend in the world, and having a friend like you is the very best Christmas present of all.”
I could feel a tear trickle down my cheek. I reached out, took the ball from Bryan, and tucked it under my arm. “I’ll come and see you tomorrow too.”
As I trudged back home through the snow, I knew that now I could enjoy Christmas.