[Originally published in Reader's Digest]
Pete's grandfather had owned the shop until his death. Then the shop became Pete's. The front window was full of beautiful old things: jewelry of a hundred years ago, gold and silver boxes, carved figures from China and Japan and other nations.
On this winter afternoon, a child stood there, her face close to the window. With large and serious eyes, she studied each piece in the window. Then, looking pleased, she stepped back from the shop.
There was not much light inside the shop, but the little girl could see that the place was full of things: old guns and boxes and figures, and a hundred other things for which she didn't even know the names.
Pete himself stood behind the counter. He was only 30 years old, but already his hair was turning gray. His eyes were cold as he looked at the small girl.
"Please", she began, "would you let me look at the pretty string of blue beads in the window?"
Pete took the string of blue beads from the window. The beads were beautiful against his hand as he held the necklace up for her to see.
"They are just right", said the child as though she were alone with the beads. "Will you wrap them up in pretty paper for me, please?"
Pete studied her with his cold eyes. "Are you buying these for someone?" he asked.
"They are for my big sister. She takes care of me. You see, this will be the first Christmas since our mother died. I've been looking for a really wonderful Christmas present for my sister."
"How much money do you have?" asked Pete.
From the pocket of her coat, she took a handful of pennies and put them on the counter. "This is all I have", she explained simply. "I've been saving the money for my sister's present."
Pete looked at her, his eyes thoughtful. Then he carefully closed his hand over the price mark on the necklace so that she could not see it. How could he tell her the price. The happy look in her big blue eyes struck him like the pain of an old wound.
"Just a minute", he said, and went to the back of the shop. "What's your name?" he called out. He was very busy about something.
"Jean Grace", answered the child.
When Pete returned to the front of the shop, he held a package in his hand. It was wrapped in pretty Christmas paper and tied with green ribbon.
"There you are", he said. "Don't lose it on the way home."
She smiled happily at him as she ran out the door. Through the window he watched her go. He felt more alone than ever.
Something about Jean Grace and her string of beads had made him feel once more the pain of his old grief. The child's hair was yellow as the sunlight; her eyes were blue as the sea. Once upon a time, Pete had loved a girl with hair of that same yellow and with eyes just as blue. And the necklace of blue stones had been meant for her.
But one rainy night, a car had bone off the road and struck the girl whom Pete loved. After she died, Pete felt that he had nothing left in the world except his grief.
Since then, Pete Richards had lived too much alone. He talked with the people who came to his shop, but after business hours he remained alone with his grief. At last the grief for his lost love became grief for himself. In self-pity he almost succeeded in forgetting the girl.
The blue eyes of Jean Grace brought him out of that world of self-pity and made him remember again all that he had lost. The pain of remembering was so great that Pete wanted to run away from the happy Christmas shoppers who came to look at his beautiful old things during the next ten days.
When the last shoppers had gone, late on Christmas Eve, Pete was glad. It was all over for another year.
But for Pete Richards, the night was not quite over. The door opened and a young woman came in. Pete coud not understand it, but he felt that he had seen her before. Her hair was sunlight yellow and her eyes were sea-blue.
Without speaking, she put on the counter a package wrapped in pretty Christmas paper. From her pocket she took some green ribbon and put it with the package. When Pete opened the package, the string of blue beads lay again before him.
"Did this come from your shop?" she asked.
Pete looked at her with eyes no longer cold. "Yes, it did", he said.
"Are the stones real?"
"Yes. They aren't the best turquoise in the world - but they are real."
"Can you remember to whom you sold them?"
"She was a small girl. Her name was Jean. She wanted them for her sister's Christmas present."
"How much were they?"
"I can't tell you that", he said. "The seller never tells anyone else what a buyer pays."
"But Jean has never had more than a few pennies. How could she pay for them?"
Pete was putting the Christmas paper around the necklace and tying the green ribbon just as carefully as he had done for Jean Grace ten days earlier.
"She paid the biggest price one can ever pay", he said. "She gave all she had."
For a moment there was no sound in the little shop. Then somewhere in the city, church bells began to ring. It was midnight and the beginning of another Christmas Day.
"But why did you do it?" the girl asked.
Pete put the package into her hands.
"There is no one else to whom I can give a Christmas present", he said. "It is already Christmas morning. Will you let me take you to your home? I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas at your door."
And so, to the sound of many bells, Pete Richards and a girl whose name he had not yet learned walked out into the hope and happiness of a new Christmas Day.