It was raining on a dark, dreary night in mid-December when Nell was awakened at 1:30 by the doorbell in a familiar ringing pattern. She wasn't upset though as there was only one person who always used that particular pattern of ringing, her son, Jim. Nell knew this meant Jim had come home for the holidays!
Before she could jump out of bed to let Jim in though, her husband Charles told her to stop. "Hold on a second and let me check first," he said. After putting on his robe, he left the room headed toward the front door.
Charles was Jim's stepfather, not his real father. His real father had been killed while saving a wounded comrade in Vietnam when Jim was still young. Charles never took to Jim and Jim never seemed to accept Charles. It's hard raising another man's son, especially when that man died an almost mythical-sized hero in the son's eyes. The two had argued often and as soon as he graduated high school, Jim had left their home in that small Texas town for a college in a big northern city over 900 miles away.
Nell lay there in bed waiting for the angry voices to start. Charles would be upset at being awakened in the middle of the night and Jim would be tired and short-tempered after driving such a long distance only to be harshly greeted. For several minutes though, there was only the sound of the rain. When Charles finally returned, he said, "There was nobody there," as he got back into bed. Nell was sure her husband was lying. She couldn't understand how he could be so cruel as to turn away her son in the middle of the night in such a rain storm. She lay there fuming until the sun peeked over the horizon.
That morning, the rain had stopped and the clouds had gone away, but Nell was still furious with her husband. She burnt his breakfast toast, but he just left it untouched on his plate and didn't say a word before leaving for work. As soon as he was gone, she went to the front porch looking for proof that Jim had been there last night. She saw no muddy footprints on the clean boards around the door, but that didn't change her mind. Jim was the only person who ever rang the doorbell in such a rhythmic pattern so she knew he must have been there. She prayed he would not be so mad at the way Charles had treated him that he wouldn't return again later that day.
She had begun to clean the house when the phone rang. She hoped it was Jim calling from wherever he had spent the night to let her know he was on his way to visit. When she answered the phone however, she was stunned to discover it wasn't Jim on the line, but a police officer from the large city 50 miles away. He was sorry to tell her, Jim had been killed in an auto accident there and she was needed to come identify the body.
Nell's knee's went weak and she sank to the floor. Shakily she asked, "What time did this happen?"
"At 1:30 this morning, Ma'am," the officer replied.
It was the exact time the door bell had rang with Jim's special rhythm. And Nell knew for sure, it had been Jim after all, home for one last visit.