Christmas Compilation Book

I just sent e-mails to the authors whose stories have been chosen for inclusion in the Christmas Story Compilation. If your name is listed below, check your e-mail. Let me know if you did not receive the email.

  • Angie Lofthouse

  • Brian C Ricks

  • Christine Thackerey

  • Don Carey

  • Gussie Fick

  • Janice Sperry

  • Lori Nawyn

  • LT Elliot

  • Mary Gray

  • Melanie Goldmund

  • Roger Bonner

  • Sandra Sorenson

  • Sarah M Eden

  • Tristi Pinkston

Also, if you are the author of

The Cat Who Ate the Quiche


A 13th Century Village in Wiltshire, England

contact me ASAP!


Story Contest E-mails Sent

All the Christmas story contest evaluation/critique e-mails have been sent. If you didn't get yours, check your junk box.

If it's not there, first add me to your e-mail address book or safe list. Then send me an e-mail and I'll resend your info.

Writing-Related Jobs

I'm beginning to doubt my chops as a writer. These days I'm pretty certain I'll never make it, especially as an LDS author. I'll probably never give up writing--it's too much a part of who I am--but I'm beginning to wonder if my zeal for language and for LDS literature wouldn't be better-channeled in a different direction. Why do we all want to be authors? (Oh wait, I know the answer to that one. The writing is the fun part!) Are there other writing related jobs out there in the LDS market? If so what are those jobs and do any of them actually pay? Can I work for you?

Can you work for me? Only if you work for free and give me all the credit. I'm freelance now so I don't have employees, but you can do what I do or have done in the past. Here's a quick list of some of the writing-related things I've done. Whether or not there are positions available in the LDS market is something you'll have to research.

  • Technical Writing: User manuals and corporate newsletters are often outsourced by companies. You have to be able to write in a clear, concise way—and very fast.
  • Internet: I write website/blog content for various sites, mostly anonymously. Corporations pay better than individuals but you have make the connections and have a portfolio to convince them you're worth the expense.
  • Editing or Proofreading: This requires a specific skill set. If you have it, you can usually pick up some work.
  • Fact Checking: You do research for other writers and sometimes they let you help write.
  • Marketing and PR Work: If you're good at putting a positive spin on things, this is an idea. I once had a job where I had to write blurbs for product catalogs.
  • Hobbies: If you have an interest or hobby, look around for magazines that specialize in that area.

I'm sure there are others. Be creative.

Also, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but there is a great website, Funds for Writers by C. Hope Clark. She has lots of info on writing markets and jobs and contests. She also has two newsletters: Funds for Writers and FFW Small Markets. I subscribe to both.


Update on Story Critiques

Christmas Story Contest Participants:

If you haven't received the e-mail with attached story notes and score sheet, please be patient. Apparently hotmail does not approve of me sending out a bunch of emails in a row with the same message and attachments in them. It will only let me do a few at a time.

Because I'm currently in the middle of a project with deadline looming, I can only send out a few before work, a few at lunch, a few after work. Please know I am sending them as fast as hotmail will allow me. I will let you know when all have been sent so you can notify me if yours got lost somewhere over China.

As for online critiques, be patient on that too. They're all done, just need to post them‚ which takes some time.

Sorry for the delays.


Let's Talk About E-mail

If you're submitting stories, you need a "professional" e-mail address.

I was reminded of this as I was sending out e-mails to those who submitted stories for the Christmas contest. Some of you have some really cute and funny e-mail addresses. They show a sense of fun, personality, and creativity.

What they don't show is a sense of professionalism.

While you may think that your e-mail address is a great way to show your individuality, it really isn't a great idea when dealing with a publisher/agent.

Now, it's not going to cause you to get rejected or anything like that. But when I was actively accepting submissions as a publisher, and someone sent me a query or manuscript and their e-mail address was "foxymomma@..." or "eatcheese@..." or even "savethewhales@..." it did give me pause. I'd roll my eyes and think, "Are they serious about this? Or are they going to end up being a flake?"

So, if you're serious about a career as a writer, go RIGHT NOW to hotmail or gmail or yahoo or any other free e-mail provider and get a decent e-mail address. Ideally, you want your address to be yourname@... (example: johndoe@...) but if your name is already taken, you may need to get creative, within limits.

For example, if your name is John Frederick Doe, any of the following would be fine: jdoe@..., johnd@..., johnfdoe@..., jfdoe... Get the idea? If your name is really common, add a number (but only if you have to), like johndoe57@...

If you have a longer name, say Melissa Kay Jones, you can truncate if none of the above variations are available for your name. For example, melkjones@..., or mlssjones@..., or mlsskjones...

Now, go get your name before someone else takes it!


Notes On Christmas Story Feedback

I'm pleased to say that most of you (although not all) followed the submission instructions carefully. That is a big deal. Good for you! And even better, good for me! :)

I will be adding my critiques and comments to each story. It will be in red.

If it's a common mistake throughout the story, I will usually only mark it once, and assume that you can go through and find similar places to correct.

At the end of each story, I will post an overall critique, what I liked best, and whether or not I feel it's ready for publication.

I will also e-mail you my story notes and the score sheet I used for evaluating your story. These will usually contain a little more info than what I've posted on the website.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Dealing with Rejection

Rejection happens. It happened yesterday. 29 out of 33 stories didn't win the Christmas Story contest.

Some of you authors have been writing and submitting long enough that not winning is likely only a blip in your consciousness. Others of you are brand new to this and you're likely having an entire range of feelings.

I hope none of you are crying but I have to admit that even as long as I've been writing and submitting (over 30 years), I still cry when I don't "win"—and then I eat lots of chocolate. But after I've recovered from the chocolate coma, I look at my submission and the comments made about it and I get back to work polishing that thing until it shines. Then I submit it again.

It's like getting bucked off a horse or crashing on your bike. It hurts but you have to get right back up there and go for it.

Here's what an emotionally healthy writer does when they're rejected:
  • First, they are so busy writing other projects that they don't have time to wallow (or at least, not much time).
  • After the initial sting, they think about their critique (if they're lucky enough to have one) (which all of you will). Are the points legitimate? Are they helpful?
  • They re-write the piece using the suggestions that feel right.
  • They study the winners and evaluate what is different between their writing and the writing of the winners. They find specific areas they can improve upon and consciously work on those areas.
  • They start a new story for a new contest.

If you'd like to share other coping techniques or things that help you deal with rejection, now's the time to do it. Commiseration starts now.


2009 Christmas Story Contest Winners

Thank you to everyone who submitted a story and to those who read them and commented and voted. I was really pleased with the variety and the selection this year.

As always, I will make comments on each of these stories during the week, giving you my opinion on what was done well and what needed a little more polish. If you're not a winner and you'd like to take credit for your story, you may do so in the comments section.

Drum roll, please. . .

Readers Choice Published Author Category:
Stolen Christmas by Sarah M Eden

Publisher's Choice Published Author Category:
Shepherds and Kings by Angie Lofthouse

Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category:
From Dad by LT Elliot

Publisher's Choice Unpublished Author Category:
Christmas Joy Ride by Gussie Fick

Remember, these four winners are guaranteed a spot in the Christmas book. Others will be included, as well. I will notify all those whose stories will be included in the book via e-mail by the end of the month.


Voting Instructions

Voting for LDSP's 2009 Christmas Story Contest starts NOW!

VOTE between Monday, August 17th and Saturday, August 22nd.
(Time/Date stamp on comment determines vote eligibility.)

Voting Rules:

  1. There will be four winners:
    Readers Choice (Published authors)
    Readers Choice (Unpublished authors)
    Publisher's Choice (Published authors)
    Publisher's Choice (Unpublished authors).

  2. Publisher's Choice winners will be judged on a variety of criteria, according to a point system which I will explain later. But it basically boils down to quality of writing, uniqueness of story and what I think will best sell the book.

  3. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don't make it a popularity contest.

  4. You MAY vote anonymously.

  5. You MAY vote for yourself. (In fact, you should.)

  6. You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished.
    Click HERE to read all stories by Published Authors. Vote for two.
    Click HERE to read all stories by Unpublished Authors. Vote for two.

    NOTE: There are 23 stories by Unpublished Authors entered in our contest.

    Due to the limitations of Blogger, only 19 of them show up when you click the link above.

    After you've read those, click the OLDER POSTS link at the bottom right to get to the last four stories.

    (If anyone knows how to change this, please let me know ASAP. I've tried changing the # posts to display on the main page setting, but that doesn't work.)

  7. You may only vote for a particular story once. We're on the honor system here.

  8. You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I'm voting for this one...)

  9. AUTHORS: Please tell your friends that you've submitted a story and to come read and vote, but DO NOT tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win on merit, not personal popularity.

  10. I'll announce the winners on Monday, August 24th.
It's going to take a lot of time for me to go through these stories, write feedback, and pick winners. Therefore, the regular LDSP blog posts are suspended this week.

[P.S. Voting and other comments on the stories will also enter you in the Monthly Comment Contest.]


Title and Cover

All the stories have been posted. While you're waiting for voting to start, we're having a sub-contest.

This book needs a title and a cover.

Leave suggestions for titles in the comments of this post. I'll pick the winner.

If you are a graphic artist and would like to be considered to design the cover, please send sample of your work and a brief descriptions of what you'd plan. (I know, this is hard to do before the title is chosen, but do your best.)

Both winners will receive the same prizes as the story winners—acknowledgments, brief bio, free electronic copy of the book.

Urgent Message RE Unpublished Author Stories

There are 23 stories by Unpublished Authors entered in our contest.

Due to the limitations of Blogger, only 19 of them show up on the main page when you click the "09C Unpublished" link.

After you've read those, click the OLDER POSTS link at the bottom right to get to the last four stories.

Time's Up!

LDSP's 2009 Christmas Story Contest
is now CLOSED to Submissions.

I had originally stated that voting would start today, August 16th, but I am not staying up until midnight on Saturday to post any last minute submissions.

Voting will start at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, August 17th.

Official voting instructions will be posted then.


33: It Didn't Feel Like Christmas

I shifted the screaming toddler in my arms and cast my eyes at the clock against the wall of the crowded terminal. There was still another two hours before our connecting flight would be here. “It’s okay. We’re going to Grandma’s for Christmas.” I told him with a smile, but my eighteen month old was so tired that words had no meaning. He continued flailing much to the annoyance of the dozen people within five feet of me. What he needed was a nap, but there was no space on the floor and I feared that if I stood I’d lose my seat and be forced to stand the rest of time.

Beside me, my husband held our three year old who slept in his arms. The day before Brian had a slight fever but seemed fine that morning. He slept during most of the flight, and I envied him. As Marcus’s cries intensified, I reached into my large carryon and pulled out his last full bottle. He finally took it, but I knew the reprieve would be a short one.

It was my own fault. To save money I had purchased tickets with three layovers which meant we could afford to rent a car. But between the snow, fog and other delays it took us over twenty six hours before we finally arrived in Medford. Then we began the three hour drive to the ranch where my husband grew up with Marcus still crying, and Brian still sleeping, As we rolled past the vast snow-dusted pastures filled with fat cattle huddled together to stay warm, my only thoughts were of how much I couldn’t wait to flop in a soft bed and close my own eyes.

We pulled up to the door in the middle of the chilly December afternoon and were greeted by an exuberant crowd. Greg’s parents, brothers and sisters swarmed around us. Yolanda, his older sister, was perhaps the most excited. She had arrived the day before from Utah with her two sons who were just the same ages as my own. The boys had never met, and we were all looking forward to seeing the young cousins become friends. After exchanging hugs we entered the main room where the bedecked tree in the corner sat swaddled in hundreds of homemade ornaments, the result of many crafty family nights over the years. Underneath it laid a fan of brightly covered packages. One of Greg’s younger sisters ran out to the car and got the bag that added our offering to the mix. It looked to be the perfect Christmas.

I volunteered to go upstairs to try and get the children settled down for a nap, hoping I might be able to steal one at the same time. Greg deposited the sleeping Brian on the bed beside me and headed downstairs to his family. Poor Marcus, still hiccupping and blotchy from his hysterics, was covered in sweat. As I peeled off his wet clothes, there was no question the child needed a bath. I started the tub, left him on the bathroom floor playing with a bottle of soft soap and hurried back to the bedroom to wake Brian.

“Honey? Come on.”

With his eyes still half closed, he sat up, took my hand and shuffled to the bathroom where Marcus was lifting the toilet lid to play with the water inside. I yanked off his diaper and stuck him in the half-filled tub and then turned to his older brother. Brian stood before me swaying slightly.

“Hey, can you believe we are here? This is going to be so much fun.” I said, trying to get the child alert and excited. “Tomorrow we’re going to see Santa in town, and the very next day is Christmas!”

Brian let me pull his shirt over his head and begin to unbutton his trousers, when I looked in his eyes and stopped. “Brian?” I said taking him by the shoulders. “Look at me.”

I could tell he was trying to comply, but he could barely focus on my face. There were dark rings around his eyes and his lips were pale, almost white.

“Brian?” I said again.

He said nothing in reply.

An awful fear gripped me, and I screamed for my husband who rushed upstairs. “We need to take Brian to the hospital right now. Something’s wrong.”

“Are you sure? I mean,” Greg stammered.

“How many times have I ever said that? Listen, I know something is seriously wrong. Please, we need to go now.”

Clutching Brian in my arms, I grabbed a blanket and ran to the car. Greg was right behind me, pausing only to give his mother instructions on caring for Marcus. The entire twenty-minute ride I tried to get Brian to respond, but he seemed to be fading further and further away. When I lifted his arm, it fell with no resistance and his eyes looked is if they had sunken slightly back in his head. I felt as if he was struggling to cling to life and had no idea why.

With the hospital in view I was filled with relief and threw the door open while the car was still moving. Rushing through the emergency doors, I screamed, “Help, my son is dying!”

The doctor was standing right there and without triage rushed him into a room and began an IV while asking for details. Through my tears I told him of our arduous plane ride and that he hadn’t been feeling well before we left. The older physician looked in my son’s eyes with his pen light and gave a faint smile. “Little Brian here was severely dehydrated. Twelve percent of children under five who pass away do so from dehydration. Your gut was entirely accurate. Another half an hour and he might have not made it.”

“But he never said he was thirsty. I didn’t think about it.” Guilt washed over me.

“We’ll need to admit him and run some tests to see if this stress has affected his organs. If all goes well and he’s eating and alert, you’ll be home for Christmas.”

Greg left, and I stayed that night, cuddled beside my small son in the narrow hospital bed. Brian smiled at me now and then but said very little and would only take a sip or two of the bright red, yellow and blue liquids I offered. The next morning he opened his eyes but still looked so tired. He drank a bit more but would only nibble at his food. In the afternoon the family arrived, hoping for the best only to have their Christmas Eve ruined by the news that Brian would be spending Christmas in the hospital.

I hugged Marcus and patted Greg on the shoulder. “Have a great day tomorrow, and don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.” As I watched them leave, I wished things could have been different. I wondered why we couldn’t have a miracle of healing where Brian suddenly recovered and would be magically home on Christmas day. Instead, I looked down at my normally talkative three year old and sighed. He lay in bed without enough energy to even care that he was missing the day he had looked forward to the last four months. The evening hours inched by and somewhere in the night Christmas began, but not for us.

The day was lonely and uneventful. A few good Samaritans came caroling and delivered stale candy canes. Some people I never met before came by to tell me they knew Greg as a child and heard we were there, but that was usually followed by awkward silence before they left. Greg came alone and spent the afternoon reading Brian a story and bringing me a much needed change of clothes. When I bid Greg goodbye at the hospital entrance, I could tell we both felt more somber than the season should allow. Walking back into my son’s room, Brian looked at me and said, “Mom, is it really Christmas? It doesn’t feel like it.”

I smiled and brushed his blond hair from his forehead. “You know, sweetie, we can celebrate Christmas whenever we want. Christ was really born in the spring, but we remember the day in the winter to make us happy. We’ll have Christmas as soon as you get home. It will still be there waiting for you.”

He seemed comforted, but I wondered how he would feel when he saw that his brother and cousins had all opened their presents. I knew he’d miss the anticipation of being surrounded by family and the wonder of walking down the stairs to a room filled with plenty. There would be other Christmases, but in that hospital room with my arm around my frail son, I felt abandoned and alone- like Christmas had left us behind.

Still weak, Brian slept through the night again. I watched the clock on the wall tick away the last minutes of Christmas before falling asleep beside him. Any hope of my Christmas miracle ended at midnight.

The next morning I awoke to someone shaking my arm back and forth. Brian was kneeling up and smiling. “Am I going back to Grandpa’s now?”

Seeing his bright blue eyes sparkle, I nodded. “I think so.”

The doctor was impressed by his recovery and discharged him first thing that morning. By ten we were headed back to the ranch. Brian was talking away in his booster chair. “I can’t wait to see Grandpa. Justin’s my age, right? Where’s Marcus?” He looked at the empty car seat beside him.

“They are all home waiting for you.” Greg smiled over his shoulder as he turned into the driveway.

It looked like a repeat of three days earlier as the family congregated on the front porch and greeted us with hugs and cheers. But when I stepped into the living room, I had to stop. It was like Déjà vu. Under the tree the bright presents sat still unopened. Suddenly from the kitchen the sound of sleigh bells jingled through the air.

“Uh oh,” said Grandpa. “I think Santa finally found our house. You boys better hurry upstairs and jump in your beds as fast as you can so he can come or he’ll have to make his way back to the North Pole.”

Brian’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “I knew we didn’t miss Christmas. I knew it.”

All four little boys hurried up the stairs, Marcus managing each step as best he could and hid under the covers of the big guestroom bed, giggling and wrestling in anticipation. Before long it was time to line up on the stairs with all the children, Greg, his sisters and parents. We descended the steps to a room filled with wonder and spent the day celebrating the best Christmas I’ve ever had. So in the end, we really did have a miracle. Despite illness, time and common sense, that year Christmas waited for us.

32: Memoirs of a Snowflake

In the moment before my first memory, I feel a wonderful lightness, a floating sensation that isn’t truly a sensation because I don’t yet know who I am or that I am. But then I feel a coming together, a sense of going that is my becoming, my awakening. And that is my first memory.

Childlike curiosity drives me to explore myself. I can feel my lightness, an awareness that I am floating in a comforting sea of white. I can also feel my body growing. Delicate tendrils of ice grow in beautiful, unique patterns from the tiny part of me that was my beginning, and I take joy and fascination in becoming aware of myself.

I feel the presence of many brothers and sisters. We are all growing, all newly self-aware, and all around is the soothing presence of our cloud-mother. She fills the world and tells us that she is happy and proud of us. We are hers and feel at home with her.

You are growing very well, she tells us. Soon it will be time to leave for the world below.

We are afraid to leave her because she is our home, our mother. If we leave her, we will die. We don’t know how we know this, but we do.

Don’t be afraid, she tells us. Every end is a beginning. You lived before you came to me and you will return here after your time below is through. You have lived from eternity before and will live for eternity after. Every death gives way to a new rebirth.

The words of our mother-cloud comfort us and help us forget our fears.
The time comes. We begin our gradual descent together, millions and millions of brothers and sisters. Staying close together helps us not to be afraid. Soon, our mother is far above us, still bidding us farewell.

When she is gone, we are alone in a sea of white, not knowing whether we are going up or down. It is silent all around us. To lift the silence some of us begin to sing silent songs of thoughts, songs that we can all hear together in our minds. We sing of our mother and our brothers and sisters, of our anticipation for the world awaiting us below. What will we find? Though we all share the same fears and anxieties, our individual thoughts and feelings are as unique as our crystalline bodies, and each of us adds something different to the thought-song to make it rich and beautiful.
We float together like this for a very long time. Soon, we feel confident and happy in ourselves. We miss our mother, but we are ready and excited to begin our lives in the world below.

After a little more time, we begin to see shapes in the whiteness: outlines that gradually become clearer and more distinct as we continue our descent. We see lights and shadows, shades of reddish-grey, and great lumbering shapes moving across the whitewashed surface of the world.

We sense the additional presence of millions and millions more of our brothers and sisters. They are the ones who came before us. We greet them and ask how they are doing.

Some of them return our greetings and welcome us with great joy. They say that they are quite comfortable and have a marvelous view of the world around them. They describe it to us, a world of trees and streets, cars and people, things we have never known while living and growing with our cloud-mother. Their words fill us with wonder, and we look about for the things they described, though in the gray darkness it is difficult to see anything clearly. The noises, too, are muffled and sound very unfamiliar.

Others reply that we shouldn’t think too much on the strange new things of this world.
After all, they say, when we arrived we had a good view for a short time, but soon we were covered by others until we couldn’t see anything. But there is nothing to worry. It is quite cozy and comfortable, and you will never feel alone.

Others, though, give us dire warnings.

Watch out! they say. Take care! These humans are not harmless creatures. They can cause pain! When one of them steps on you, it presses you so hard that it crushes your beautiful bodies into oblivion. And heaven help you if you land in the street! Instead of the unique and beautiful patterns you were born with, you will die embedded with dirt and oil and grime.

Their words frighten us and remind us of the death that awaits us. Some of us wish they had never come, and long to return to our cloud-mother where such pain was unknown.

Others look at us as if we are mere children.

Just wait, they say. You will see what it is truly like down here. When the cloud-mother stops sending her children and the sun rises bright and terrible in the sky, you will hear the slow sounds of death and the feel the pain of losing your beautiful individuality in a sea of unpleasant, warm monotony. If you don’t die, you will each merge together until your bodies become one sheet of transparent glass, your uniqueness lost except in memory. In this way, your days will drag out until you melt into death, utterly forgotten.

Many of us don’t know what to think of these words. I don’t know what to make of them. The fear I had before of leaving my cloud-mother comes back, making me feel helpless, and for a brief moment I panic, wishing I had never come down.
But then I remember her words. Every end is a beginning. You have no memories of any time before or after, but you have lived from eternity before and will live for eternity after.

In this world below the whiteness I can see pain, and loss, and even death, horrible things that I cannot comprehend. But I know that pain, too, comes to an end. Just as my birth, the comfort of floating with our cloud-mother, or the joy of the symphony of thoughts came to an end. But I will not end. I have not ended.

I have lived before and will live again—all else flows past me, touches me, but doesn’t erase or eradicate me. Even if there is pain, there will be joy again. Even if I forget this life, there will be others. Even if I lose my individuality, in my rebirth I will again rise unique.

I look down and see a figure below me: a human, smaller than the others. She sticks out her tongue and I drift lazily towards it. But as I descend gradually towards her open mouth, I am not afraid.

31: The Christmas Defense

Sometimes, there is a fine line between brilliant and stupid. This was not one of those times. The plan Trevor’s attorney came up with was stupid, and they both knew it. However, it was the best they could do under the circumstances. There may or not be a Santa Claus, but there is certainly no such thing as the Christmas Defense.

Trevor was in trouble. The kind of trouble that ends with a cell mate and a lot of extra time to read. It had started, as most teenage pranks do, with a germ of a bad idea nourished by boredom and hormones. And, of course, a girl. There is always a girl. As Trevor’s friend Eric explained, it would be both "hilarious" and "epic." But Eric didn’t get caught. Trevor was the one the police found at the scene, desperately trying to put out the fire.

In a way, it was impressive. One late November evening, they decided to steal every Christmas tree they could find. Real, fake, large or small, it didn’t matter. They were going to take it all to Melanie’s house and make a display on her front lawn.

Melanie. She was beautiful. Beautiful like art in a museum. Untouchable. Unfortunately for the boys in town, she was not one of those girls who did not realize how beautiful she was. She knew it and used that to get her way. Often. She didn’t speak much, at least not to Trevor and Eric. She was way out of their league and they knew it.

Their plan, if it could be called that, was to take Trevor’s dad’s pickup truck and drive around town looking for easy pickings. They were spectacularly successful. Working in the early morning hours between midnight and 4 a.m., they assembled a variety of trees. At first, they just sort of threw them on the lawn. Then, as sleep deprivation kicked in, a grander vision took hold. They built a pyramid.

On the bottom was the display Christmas trees they took from the Main Street shopping district. These were old and big and made of steel. They made a good base. In the middle, they placed all the trees they had found stacked behind a Christmas tree lot. Unfortunately, those trees were cut down six weeks ago and trucked in from Canada. They were being thrown out because they were too dry. On the top, they put random trees they had found on people’s lawns.

After the pyramid was assembled, Trevor and Eric sat back to survey their handiwork. While it was an impressive display of field engineering, rising almost two stories next to Melanie’s house, they both agreed that it lacked a certain something. Many of the trees had lights on them, begging to be plugged in.

If they had been questioned as to what they hoped to accomplish with their pyramid of Christmas trees, they would have been stumped. More specifically, if someone had sat them down and asked them, "What are you thinking?," things may have ended differently. However, no one intervened. And, as everyone knows, when you combine infatuation, hormones, boredom, a very late night, and a pickup truck, it usually ends in tears.

The boys strung some lights together and plugged them in. It was windy, but they didn’t think about that. The cords they used were frayed and old, but they didn’t think about that. The trees were dry, but they didn’t think about that. About thirty seconds after they lit up the trees, they saw the fire. Eric ran. Trevor decided to try to put the fire out.

He didn’t yell for help or call 911 on his cell phone. Instead, he grabbed a garden hose and tried to stop the flames. By the time he got the water going, the fire was out of control. The metal base got the fire up off the ground, where more oxygen could feed it. The wind fanned the flames and started to blow embers onto Melanie’s roof.

Eventually, Trevor started yelling. Neighbors poured out of their homes. Fire trucks came, then police cars. The rest of the night was a blur of handcuffs, confessions, tearful calls to parents and the smell of smoke.

Nobody was hurt, but Melanie’s house had been seriously damaged. At the first court hearing, the prosecutor told the Judge that Melanie’s family was going to have to replace their roof at a cost of $40,000. The Judge let Trevor out on bail, but it didn’t look good.

Trevor’s parents hired an attorney for him. Trevor liked him. He was charismatic and funny, but also brutally honest. He explained that the prosecutor wanted a year in jail and full restitution. Trevor felt bad about what he had done, but not so bad that he wanted to spend a year in jail. He wanted to finish his senior year of high school and go to college.

Trevor’s attorney went through the evidence with him. First, there was the neighbors who ran out of their houses to find Trevor with a garden hose in his hands. Although Trevor didn’t remember it, apparently he kept saying things like "it was just a prank" and "I didn’t mean to start a fire" and "what have I done?" Additionally, there was a painful to watch video taken at the police station. In the video, Trevor explained in great detail how he had built the combustible tree pyramid and accidentally set it ablaze. Finally, there was some grainy surveillance camera footage from a Main Street store which showed Trevor laughing as he ripped down a big fake Christmas tree.

Trevor’s attorney called him down to his office one afternoon to talk strategy. He explained that the evidence was not favorable and that there was not much he could do. Trevor could take the offer of one year in jail or plead guilty and try to convince the Judge to give him a lower sentence. Unfortunately, the Judge assigned to the case was a notoriously tough sentencer. The only other option was a trial.

"Trevor," he said, "I have an idea. I am not sure it is a very good idea, but it may be worth a shot. In fact, it may be the only shot you have. It also has a big chance of backfiring. But here it is: You have a right to a speedy trial and Christmas is coming."

He called it the Christmas Defense. He explained that he wanted to go to trial on the very week of Christmas. Christmas was on a Saturday that year and he wanted to time it so the case would get in the jury’s hands on Christmas Eve. His theory was that a jury would not convict an 18 year old kid on Christmas Eve. Trevor decided to give it a try.

On one hand, the plan worked beautifully. The trial started four days before Christmas. On the other hand, it was an endless string of humiliations for Trevor. Witness after witness explained in excruciating detail what Trevor had done. The jury saw pictures of the fire. They saw the confession video. They even heard Melanie describe, perhaps a little too dramatically, the smell of smoke and her desperate race to flee her house before she perished. In any event, the jury seemed to be taking the whole thing very seriously.

Eventually, the prosecution rested its case and Trevor had a chance to talk with his attorney. What had seemed like a bold, audacious plan, now seemed foolish and hopelessly naive. His attorney gave him one last piece of advice. "Trevor", he said, "you should testify." "Your only hope that this will ever work is if the jury likes you. They don’t know you. All they know is what you did that night. I am going to put you on the stand. I don’t want you to lie or minimize what you did. Tell it straight. Speak from the heart. Either that, or sit back and wait for the jury to do what you know they are going to do."

The next day, he told his story to the jury. He explained candidly and directly what he had done and what was going through his mind. He did not minimize his guilt, nor did he ask the jury for mercy. The prosecutor smirked his way through a blistering cross-examination. The Judge, possibly warming to Trevor, intervened a little as the questioning got rough. The jury remained stone-faced.

One final piece of the plan worked. Trevor was on the witness stand all day. By the time 5:00 p.m. rolled around, the evidence had concluded. All that remained was closing arguments, all to be heard on Christmas Eve.

The next day was surreal, to say the least. Melanie sat on the front row, dressed in some kind of sexy elf outfit, as if she was headed to a Christmas party. During one point of the proceedings, Christmas Carolers could be heard singing as they walked down the courthouse hallway. Most of the female jurors wore holiday sweaters. The stern and beefy courtroom bailiff wore a Santa hat. Even the Judge got into the act, wearing a red and white robe.

The prosecutor began his closing arguments, describing all of the evidence in great detail. He explained how lucky Trevor was that no one was killed. He compared the case to a domestic act of terrorism that ruined a family’s holiday.

Trevor’s attorney spoke briefly. He did not appeal to the jurors’ Christmas spirit. He agreed that there was a significant amount of evidence presented and remarked that the person most responsible had explained his actions. He closed by stating, almost as an aside, that the reason we have juries, is that we rely on the community’s collective common sense in deciding what actions should be punished.

The prosecutor, who always gets the last word, finished with a flourish. He argued that Trevor was the Grinch that stole Christmas. As he put it: "The difference is that this Grinch didn’t return the roast beast to Cindy Who. He tried to burn her house down."

The jury showed no emotion as they retired to the deliberation room. It was 3:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Travis sat outside the courthouse, resigned to his fate. He wondered if he would be taken directly into custody, or if he would be allowed to spend Christmas with his family before going to jail.

At 4:30, the jury was ready with their verdict. Court watchers say that time distorts during a jury trial. The time that always stretches out the longest, however, is the time between when the jury hands their verdict form to the clerk and when the clerk reads it out loud. For Trevor, time absolutely stopped. After an eternity, over the rushing blood in his ears, he barely heard the clerk as she said "Not guilty."

The next few minutes were a blur of tears, laughter, hugs and disbelief. As Trevor walked stunned out of the courtroom, the jury foreman, a middle-aged man, pulled him aside. With a twinkle in his eye he said, "Son, go and sin no more. Also, Merry Christmas."

30: Turtle Doves

It was time to trim the poor excuse for a Christmas tree, and for the first time in eighty-five years, Genevieve Taylor dreaded the task. Her aged body ached as much as her lonely heart. The thirteen years since Lloyd’s passing had been a slow decline in health, happiness, finances, and appearance. She no longer lived in the family home, but in a senior assisted living community.

Genevieve made her way over to the window. “Clear skies, and bare grounds,” she thought in a huff. “I guess there won’t be a white Christmas this year, Lloyd.” This thought only increased the heaviness in her heart. All year long, she has anticipated the holiday season, because somehow Lloyd had always found a way to spend it with her. However, this year was different for her; she couldn’t feel Lloyd’s presence.

When she entered the apartment, Anabelle saw Ginny hunched by the window. Anabelle noticed the usual holiday cheer was not only missing in the elder lady’s countenance but also in the apartment’s decor. This was unlike the Taylor Christmases she remembered.

Anabelle had known both of the Taylors since her birth and loved them as if they were her grandparents. She had spent her summers in their greenhouse watching the couple work side by side. As a little girl, she would beg her mother to sit with the Taylors at church. Ginny would bring her candies, and Lloyd would tease her that she reserved her brightest smiles for him. When his battle with cancer ended, his absence was felt heavily in her life.

“Good morning, Ginny. Would it be okay if I help you hang the ornaments again this year?” asked Anabelle, hoping to cheer her.

After a moments hesitation and a sigh, “Oh sure, honey. I guess it is now or never.” A look on her face suggested that maybe never would be preferable; however, her expression quickly changed to one of determination. “Well, let’s get that old tree to sparkle with some Christmas cheer. We wouldn’t want to disappoint Lloyd.”

“No we wouldn’t,” Anabelle said. She turned on some holiday tunes, and then she retrieved the boxes of garland, beads, flowers, and trinkets. Each ornament held a memory of the years the couple had spent together. Each Christmas they had selected something new to add to their tree. It was beautiful that their tree was not only a celebration of their Savior but also a celebration of their lives.

Familiar with the process, Anabelle opened the box and waited for Ginny to indicate where to begin. With unsteady hands, Ginny lifted the turtle doves by their green ribbon and perched them in her palm. After running the ribbon through her fingers, her hand rose to her hair. She seemed to dismiss a notion, and passed the crystal birds to Anabelle to place on the tree.

“Aren’t you going to tell me the story?”

“I can’t remember it,” Ginny said, glancing away.

“Liar,” Anabelle thought. Then she decided that she knew the stories well enough that she would tell them herself. “You were seventeen when you met Lloyd at the Christmas dinner. You were wearing the red dress your mom had sewn and a green ribbon in your hair.” She paused to see the silencing glare from Ginny, but then she continued as if she hadn’t noticed. “All the girls were jealous when he asked you to sit by him. You asked him what he was getting for Christmas. ‘A kiss from you, if I’m lucky,’ he said with his dimpled smile. You told him he was very charming, but you were all out of kisses. Instead, you took the green ribbon out of your hair and tied it in a promise knot around his wrist. What was it you said to him?” Anabelle urged.

With her eyes closed in remembrance, she said, “I promise if you stick around for a year, I’ll have some kisses for you then.”

Anabelle laughed. “He held you to that.”

“He sure did. And after a year of dating, he still had my green ribbon.” There was love in her voice as she spoke of his sentimental gesture. On the wave of emotion, she continued the memory aloud, “I can still remember the nervous look on his face as he fumbled with the gift under the tree.” Ginny looked toward the bare tree and then to the empty space in front of her as if Lloyd were there now.

“He knelt in front of me, waiting for me to open the box. The doves were sparkling so much that I didn’t see the ring at first. But when I did, he said he no longer wanted just the promised kiss; he wanted eternity.” Ginny smiled and looked directly at Anabelle. “And when a guy like Lloyd Taylor wants eternity; you promise him eternity.”

The room was silent; both women were overcome. No matter how many times Anabelle heard the story; she was always amazed at how their love touched her. She recalled the love notes, caresses, and looks of admiration she had seen pass between the two. Their expressions of affection never dwindled even in the years that Lloyd had fallen ill.

“I can’t believe you two dated a whole year, and never kissed,” Anabelle said.

“Times were different then. Love was different. Don’t even get me started on how all you whippersnappers wouldn’t know romance from a fly on your nose.” She laughed, and her smile erased some of the years from her face.

“Whippersnapper? Ginny, I’m near 30.”

“And that’s plenty young sweetheart. Now let’s get to trimming this tree. It is going to take all day if you make this old lady tell you all her stories.” She was right, but Anabelle didn’t mind.

The two ladies spent the majority of the day hanging ornaments, lights, garland, and beads, as Ginny told the stories related to each trinket.

Anabelle was completing the final task of positioning the star on top of the tree, when Ginny said, “That was always his job, you know. Even if he wasn’t able to be home to hang the other ornaments, I always saved the star for him. I told him no one could light up my life the way he did.”

The young woman hugged her friend.

“He hasn’t come this year,” Ginny confided. “I’ve been waiting, and waiting. But—”

“He will. He always comes. He couldn’t miss Christmas with you,” Anabelle said. She was already familiar with Ginny’s belief that Lloyd had spent every Christmas with her since the year they met—even the ones after his death. With the detail of the conversations Ginny had related, Anabelle was inclined to believe her. “Now don’t you worry yourself sick over this! You get some rest, and I will be back in the morning for our Christmas breakfast.”

“You are right dear. He will come,” she agreed, but there was doubt in her voice. “You shouldn’t worry about being here for breakfast; you should be with your family.”

“I will see them for lunch. Besides you are family, and you are welcome to join us for lunch.” Before Ginny could protest further, Anabelle said, “See you at eight o’clock. If you are good maybe Santa will leave you something nice.” With a kiss on the cheek and a hug, Anabelle bid her farewell.

After her friend’s departure, Genevieve turned off the overhead light and allowed the glow from the tree to fill the room. She stared at the tree full of memories, but she still felt empty. She should be thankful that her mind was clear enough to recall those memories, but somehow it only emphasizes the void she now felt. Why hadn’t Lloyd come to be with her this Christmas? She knew it was selfish—some would say crazy—to believe he could be there with her, but she never doubted that the comforting voice she had heard year after year was his.

Before closing the blinds, she took one more glance out the window. “Still no snow. Still no Lloyd,” she thought. She settled into the rocking chair. From the radio she heard the King belting out the lyrics of Blue Christmas, and for the first time, she felt like a widow. The pain was not only in her heart but her body. She closed her eyes and massaged her arthritic hands.

The disc jockey announced something about Santa being spotted in the Tri-state area and cheered that in a few short hours it would be Christmas. Then, Bing Crosby began singing White Christmas. Genevieve opened her eyes wishing for white flakes to create a blanket outside, but she was certain nothing was there. She shut her eyes again.

“Genevieve?” It was a whisper—a sweet melody to her ears.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said. The tears of pain and relief could be heard in her voice, and a few escaped from the corners of her closed eyes.

“I know, my love. I am so sorry it has taken so long.”

“You’re here now. How long can you stay?”

“I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Oh, please Lloyd, don’t leave me here. I can’t bear it.” Ginny was so afraid of being separated again. Each year the burden of separation was harder, and she was too old to do it again.

“Has this year been so bad?” His voice seemed remorseful. “I should have come sooner.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I had preparations to make.”


“I recall a certain girl promised me eternity. It is getting pretty lonely up here alone.”

“You mean—” she was unable to finish as the realization of his implication filled her heart.

“It’s time for us to be together dear. Eternity has been mighty lonely without you.”

“Take me home.”


Anabelle had entered the apartment quietly when no one answered the door. After setting the cinnamon rolls on the counter, she had opened the blinds so Ginny could see the snow when she woke. Ginny was reclined in her rocker with her quilt tucked under her arms. Anabelle set the table for two; the noise had not disturbed Ginny’s slumber.

As she crossed to wake the sleeping women, she noticed Ginny’s pale face. There was no rise and fall in her chest. When Anabelle lifted a lifeless hand to check for a pulse, an envelope slid to the floor. Struggling not to cry, she replaced the hand to Ginny’s lap in reverence, and bent to retrieve the fallen envelope.

She gazed in wonder—it was addressed to her. She removed the letter. It read:

Dearest Anabelle,

He came. My Lloyd made it.

We are together for Christmas.

We love you.

Merry Christmas!


The simple note said it all. Anabelle wiped her eyes. She pressed a gentle kiss to Ginny’s brow and whispered, “Merry Christmas. I love you too. Go enjoy eternity.”

29: R Edwin Dugert

Bob Dugert jogged up the path the front door, looked at hisnwatch, and for the thousandth time got ready to explain that it wasn’t his fault the bus was late. Brushing the snow off his construction helmet and overalls he pushed open the front door.

The front room was empty—his son’s books were strewn across the floor, but he wasn’t there and neither was Alice. The light wasn’t even on. Bob slipped off his boots and helmet and listened for sounds of life. Around the corner he heard soft music—the music from one of Alice’s Yoga videos. He took a deep breath and stepped around the

The TV was on showing dozens of women in the same strange contortion. Alice’s yoga mat was there, but there was no Alice. He took another few steps forward and then saw her curled up on a chair staring—somewhere.

“Hi,” Bob offered.


Bob kneeled down next to her chair. “Darling, I’m really sorry I’m late, I know you needed me home early but the bus was really late…”

Alice remained silent.

Bob looked at her eyes, but she did not stop her nowhere stare. He sighed. “I really told me boss that I needed to get off early because we had Christmas shopping to do and. . .”

“No, it's not that.”

“Are you worried about your parents this Christmas? Maybe we should look at the tickets again—maybe they’ve gone down in price since we looked and we could . . .”

Alice looked up. “Your son won’t talk to me anymore.”

Bob paused. “Our son won’t talk to you?”

“He’s not supposed to learn the silent treatment until he’s a teenager. He won’t forgive me and it’s your fault.”

“Me? What did I do?” Bob said. “What’s he upset about?”

Alice took a deep breath. “His class started singing Christmas carols today and they sang that special song and everyone is making fun of him—again.”

“He’s letting that get to him?” Bob asked. “He went through this last year.”

“And he thinks he’s going to have to go through this every year for the rest of his life—every time it’s Christmas everyone will make fun of him.”

“Oh, they’ll grow out of it—did he tell you all this while he was giving you the silent treatment?”

Alice ran her hand through her hair. “He told me why he was upset and then declared that he will not speak to me until he is eighteen, when he legally changes his name.”

Bob stood up. “Change his name? He should be proud of his name! I’ve told him time and time again how important his name—that name—is. Why, that’d be ludicrous.” He pulled over a swivel chair and sat down. “Did you ask him what he wanted to change his name to?”

“Tom or David.”

“Oh, then people would just call him Tom Thumb or David…” Bob paused, “or David and Goliath or something like that. All names can be made fun of—”

Alice cut him off. “He says that the kids named Tom or David don’t get persecuted every December.”

“I bet he didn’t say persecuted.”

“Made fun of.”

Bob looked at the TV screen for a minute. “Did you tell him they’d stop teasing him if he’d just stopped responding?”

Alice nodded. “And that he should be proud of having a unique name, and that he would learn to grow proud of it, and that his grandfather turned out just fine with the same name, and everything else we’ve ever told him when this happens.”

Bob didn’t answer for a minute. “Well, what did he say to all that?”

“That he won’t talk to me until he gets his name changed in ten and a half years.”

“Oh, he doesn’t mean that, he’ll probably bound down the stairs tomorrow as if nothing happened.”

Alice shook her head. “That’s not the point, Bob.”

Bob frowned at her. “Then what exactly is the point?”

“The point is that our son is being made fun of all the time, and I think it’s beginning to wear on him. He’s not doing well on his homework, and he’s not even going out to play with his friends anymore. It’s not healthy, Bob.”

Bob threw up his hands. “Well in that case I guess we should just go find a judge and change his name to Thomas right now and solve all his educational and social distresses permanently. It will probably only cost a hundred dollars. And when he’s tired of Thomas we’ll pay another hundred so he can change his name to David. And next Halloween when a song comes out about a pumpkin named David we’ll be
the first ones in line to change it again.”


Bob pointed at her. “You agreed to this you know. You said it was okay to keep the name in the family.”

“I wanted it to be his middle name, not his first name.”

“That’s not what I remember.”

“I told you from the very beginning it would be a bad idea!”

“Well you didn’t tell me well enough because we did it!”

They both fell silent. Alice looked at her knees. Bob let out a sigh. He glanced up at her but she didn’t move. He sighed again. She still didn’t move.

Finally he said “I’m sorry, honey, I’m sorry.”

She put her hand on his shoulder.

He put his hand on top of hers. “I really didn’t mean that, it was really all my idea, I just didn’t realize . . .”

“I know you didn’t mean it—I didn’t realize what it would be like either.”

They stayed there for a minute, his hand on top of hers, silently sitting.

“Maybe he should start going by his middle name,” Bob said, “I guess Edwin would be better than Rudolph.”

28: Christmas Joy Ride

Tyler sat on his grandfather’s golf cart, sucking on a peppermint candy cane. He looked out the open carport at miles of desert rimmed by jagged, treeless mountains. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, big deal. He could hardly wait for it to be over so he could go back home. His snowbird grandparents lived in Idaho six months of the year and flew south as soon as the weather cooled in October. “It’ll be fun!” Tyler’s mom told him, when his parents decided to spend Christmas in Arizona with Grandma and Grandpa. “You can bring your skateboard.” Bad idea. Every time he rode his skateboard the old fogies in his grandparents’ trailer park complained. There was nothing for a twelve-year-old boy to do here. He had no friends, no video games, and since his Ipod had lost its charge, no tunes either. Tyler was bored.

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” The merry jingle came through the open kitchen window. Grandma and his older sister were baking Christmas cookies, singing along. Tyler frowned. He wished it would snow. It wasn’t Christmas without snow. He needed only a sweatshirt to keep warm in Arizona. If he were home in Utah, he’d be snowboarding right now. Dang. Winter wasn’t even winter in Arizona.

Tyler grabbed the handlebars and pretended he was on his four-wheeler at home. That’s when he noticed the key. Without a second thought, Tyler started the engine and drove out of the carport. Grandpa wouldn’t mind; he was watching the afternoon news. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be back for hours. They’d gone to Phoenix to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. The golf cart was quiet. No one heard him drive down the street, not even the old fogies next door.

In minutes he was in the desert. Spindly creosote bushes and clumps of prickly pear cactus grew on both sides of the dirt trail. Black lava bombs lay where they’d fallen thousands of years ago when the volcanic mountains erupted. Grandpa had said there was an old mine up in the hills. Tyler wondered how far.

The road suddenly dipped into a wash and he slowed the engine. A scraggly mesquite tree grew on the bank and hidden in its low branches, an old car lay half-buried in the sand. Tyler stopped the golf cart and went to explore. The sedan had been black once, maybe sixty years ago. Now the metal was rusted and corroded. All the windows were broken out. Tyler looked inside at the smashed dashboard, trying to figure out if it was a Chevy or Ford. Someone had taken the steering wheel. There were no seats either--nothing but rocks and dirt and dried weeds. Maybe there were more old cars junked in the desert. Sweet, he thought. Arizona wasn’t so boring after all.

He climbed back in the golf cart and drove up the sandy wash. Each time it forked, he chose the less rocky path. He met a family of saguaros standing on the hillside holding up the sky. The old-timers had six or seven arms. The babies had none. Their shadows stretched out behind them like giant sun dials. Tyler looked over his shoulder and saw the sun, smoldering red-orange above the horizon. How did it get so late? He turned the golf cart and started back. The motor bogged down in the sand, and he pressed the gas pedal to the floor. Then without warning, the golf cart stopped.

“Come on, come on!” Turning the key again and again, Tyler tried to coax the engine awake. No luck. He’d run out of gas.

It was going to be a long walk back to Grandpa’s house. Tyler felt a nervous knot in his stomach. He had no cell phone, no flashlight, not even a bottle of water.

Stay calm, he thought. Keep your head. Tyler remembered what he’d learned in scouts: Hug a tree till somebody hugs you. He almost laughed, thinking of the saguaros. He had to get back to the road and follow it to Grandpa’s trailer park.

Tyler took off in a race with the setting sun. The sand slowed his pace and he breathed through his mouth, gasping for air. Twenty minutes later the cart tracks were no longer visible in the dark. Pain jabbed his side and Tyler stopped to catch his breath. Had he gone the right way? A coyote barked in the hills, and a moment later, another answered. It sounded close, too close. Their eerie howls left him feeling more alone, and he shivered in his sweatshirt. By now Grandpa must have discovered that the golf cart was missing and Tyler along with it. Would he be angry? Tyler was sure Grandma would be worried and the thought saddened him. He didn’t want to upset his grandparents.

Gazing up at the night sky, he searched for the Big Dipper. It wasn’t easy to find among the millions of tiny points of light that spilled across the heavens. Tyler stood in awe, wondering if the stars shone as brightly on the night Christ was born. He wished he was back at the trailer park singing Christmas carols with Grandma.

Running blindly in the dark, he crashed into something solid and shouted in pain. It was a barrel cactus, prickly all over with fish-hook spines that had stabbed him right through his jeans. Limping now, he covered ground at a slower pace.

Out of the darkness two lights appeared and Tyler heard the rumble of an old truck. “Grandpa! Grandpa!” he yelled, running toward the lights. He tripped and fell, got back on his feet and scrambled through the brush. Just as quickly as they appeared, the lights vanished. “Grandpa! Come back!” His hands stung where he’d scraped them, and he tasted blood on his lips. “Grandpa, I’m over here!”

Tears filled Tyler’s eyes as he dropped to his knees in the sand. “Dear Father in Heaven,” he prayed aloud, “I’m sorry I took Grandpa’s golf cart. I’m sorry I left and didn’t tell them where I was going. I promise I won’t do it again. Please help me get back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” He ended his prayer in Jesus’ name and kept his eyes closed, listening for an answer.

For a while there was no sound except the wind whistling though the bare branches of a mesquite tree. Then the coyotes yipped and an owl hooted mournfully in the distance. Tyler didn’t hear a still, small voice. He didn’t hear the sound of his grandfather’s truck either. Heavenly Father hadn’t answered his prayer.

Disappointed, he opened his eyes and watched the moon rise above the mountains. It was almost full, bright enough to reveal the outline of a low rise not too far away. He hoped he could find the road from up there.

Tyler was half-way up the hill when he heard the truck motor again. He turned and saw the headlights. The road was visible too, a dark line winding through the foothills. He hobbled toward it, shouting for his grandfather to stop.

By the time Tyler reached the road his voice was hoarse. The truck slowly advanced toward him, horn blaring, and Tyler waved his arms for his grandfather to stop. Moments later he fell into his grandfather’s arms. “I’m sorry, Grandpa. I shouldn’t have gone off like that.”

“Thank God, you’re safe.” Grandpa put his arm around Tyler’s shoulders as they walked back to the truck.

Tyler explained that he’d run out of gas. “We’ll go get it tomorrow,” Grandpa said.

“Could you hear me way out there?” Tyler asked. “I saw you drive up into the mountains. How did you know I was here?”

“I didn’t hear you, but I had a strong feeling that I should turn around.” Grandpa’s voice cracked with emotion. “It had to be the Holy Spirit, because I thought you’d gone up to the old mine. That’s where I was going to look first. I’m thankful I obeyed the prompting.”

Tyler was thinking about what his grandfather said as he climbed up into the truck. “Heavenly Father did answer my prayer,” he said.

“He answered my prayers too. Let’s get back to the house. Grandma has some Christmas cookies for us.”

27: The Choir

Hannah hurried to the stage. It was time for the choir to warm up. Her new white dress, long and flowing, made quiet whispers as her silver slippered feet took her down the hall. Her long red hair was a beautiful contrast to the white silk. Her hair and the twinkle of happiness in her deep blue eyes were the first thing others noticed about her.

There was a buzz in the air. Everyone was busy rushing here and there. White robed orchestra members, their trumpets gleaming with recent polishing made their way quickly down the hall . The gold of the french horns gleamed in the light. Timpaniis and cymbals also made their way to the gathering place. Excited chattering filled the hall as the orchestra hastened to their assigned places. This would be the best performance ever. Hannah turned when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Thank you for being here.”

It was Kathryn, the choir director and one of Hannah’s best friends. The smile on Kathryn’s face was reflected in her deep brown eyes. Yes, tonight’s performance would be the best yet.

“My stomach is dancing in anticipation. But I am so glad you talked me into joining the choir.” Hannah replied. “I know that I am not the most talented singer in the choir and my notes are off key more often than not, but I do so love the music you chose for this program.”

“You’ll do just fine.” Kathryn gave Hannah’s hand a final squeeze of reassurance and then turned to put her music in order.

Kathryn stood. Her brown hair made a halo around her shining face. Hannah looked around the room. It was so full that she could not see the beginning nor the end of the audience. There was no time for Hannah to feel nervous. Gabriel began his narration.

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”The curtain opened on the stage and the lights were brighter than Hannah remembered them being in rehearsal. In fact it seemed that one light shone almost as a spotlight, making itself brighter than all the others.

The strains of music began in the brass section with the trumpets. That beginning of the music always brought a quickness to Hannah’s heart. She looked at Kathryn in anticipation. Kathryn’s face was beaming. That beaming seemed to be reflected in everyone . In fact, it seems as if the whole heavens were filled with this light, a light that spilled to the earth and bathed the shepherds in glory.
Kathryn raised her arms. The choir stood a little taller.

“Glory to God. Gloria in excelsis Deo..”

Hannah was overwhelmed with feelings of love and gratitude. It was time to sing the first noel- the proclamation of a royal birth- and the strains were glorious and beautiful and filled her entire being. It was here, the birth onto earth of her beloved elder brother, and she got to tell the world.

26: A Christmas Without Music

It was a week before Christmas. I sang along with the carols on the CD player as I washed my mixing bowls and scrubbed down the counters. The scent of pine from our tree mingling with the cookies baking in the oven brought a smile to my face, and I reveled in the Christmas spirit.

“Give that back, it’s mine!”

“I had it first.”

“Did not, baby.”

I sighed as another bout of squabbling broke out between two of my five children. I thought Christmas was supposed to be about love and miracles.

I became increasingly frustrated as the fighting rose in pitch, drowning out the carols. I tossed my oven mitts on the floor and turned to storm out of the kitchen, determined to put an end to the fighting once and for all.

Beep. Beep. Beep. The timer sounded signaling the cookies were ready to be plucked from the oven. I threw up my hands, turned and yanked it open. The children’s voices had settled some, but my frustrations hadn’t. My mind was running over the lecture they would receive when a sharp pain coursed through my hand.

I yelped and yanked my hand back, staring at it dumbfoundedly. Idiot. I cursed myself as I spotted the mitts I had thrown on the floor. I dashed to the sink and cranked the water on cold. Stupid. Stupid.

“Mom are you okay?”


“What did you do?”

“Mommy, mommy ‘kay?”

I looked at the faces of my five young children clustered around the counter vying for the best spot to see what was going on. Irritation seeped into my voice. “I grabbed the blasted pan with my bare hand.”

Concern flooded my oldest daughter’s face. “Mom! Will you be okay?”

“I’ll be fine. It wouldn’t have happen—” I cut myself off. I wouldn’t bring the spirit of Christmas back into the home by tossing off petty accusations. “It was an accident.”

I shut off the water and gently towel-dried my hand. The burning sensation seared my fingertips and angry red blisters were beginning to appear. “Get me the burn cream and band-aids.”

I couldn’t help but sigh as my three oldest raced each other down the hall to the bathroom, and was amazed when no one fought or complained about being shoved out of the way. I applied the cream and band-aids and examined my three burnt fingers. My second youngest boy toddled around the corner.

“Kiss?” He smacked his lips together, and I lowered my throbbing fingers to him.

“It’ll be fine now that Jacob kissed it,” Emily, the third, announced.

I smiled at her and tried not to cringe as I scooped a crying James, the youngest, into my arms.

“Yeah, Mom,” Elizabeth said, “they’ll be ready to play the piano in the Christmas program, no sweat.”

I stared at her in horror. I had completely forgotten about the program. I looked blankly at my fingers. I thought of the complicated passages I had worked on and practiced and knew the possibility of obtaining a sub who would be ready to play in two days was impossible. Tears pricked my eyes as another horrible thought washed through my mind. It would be a Christmas without music. There would be no more evenings of us gathered around the piano singing carols at the top of our lungs. It was one of the rare moments when the kids never fought because their mouths were to busy doing something else. Somehow I knew this was going to be the worst Christmas ever, and the new outburst of squabbling in the next room confirmed it. What I really need is a Christmas miracle.

“Hello all you lucky people, I’m home!” my husband called as he opened the door.

A spontaneous smile found its way to my face as my husband made his entrance amidst cheers and flying tackles. I tried to plaster that smile in place, and hung back waiting when he turned to me.

“Don’t I get my hug?”

I nodded and stepped forward. He read my face immediately.

“What’s wrong?”

I mutely held up my fingers as tears began spilling down my cheeks. Between my garbled mumblings and the children’s excited additions he finally managed to discover what happened. “What do I do?”

He wrapped his arms around me and a squeaky whisper worked its way out of my throat. “Do you think you could give me a blessing? To most people three fingers wouldn’t be a big deal, but—” I broke off, fighting the wave of intense emotion sweeping through me. “But, I’m a pianist, and music means so much to me and our family, especially now. Besides, the ward Christmas program is the day after tomorrow.”

“Of course.” He walked to the phone and dialed Brother Johnson’s number. After a brief explanation he hung up. “He’ll be down in just a few minutes.”

I nodded my head and gathered the children together.

That evening was strangely quiet as we put the kids to bed without our traditional singing first. As I came out from the last hugs and kisses, my eyes landed on the piano. I remembered briefly the promise I was made in the blessing. “Though you’re fingers will hurt, you will feel no pain when you play the piano.” I glanced down at my band-aid clad hand. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t ignore the burning pulse in my fingers, and I shook my head. I’ll try it in the morning.

Saturday dawned with four excited children bouncing on our bed, and the fifth watching with wide expectant eyes from his nearby crib.

“Wake up Mom and Dad, it’s snowing!” Dorothy called.

I grinned as white snow-light filtered through our window. Snow in the Northwest just before Christmas was extremely rare. We piled into the kitchen and stood around the sliding glass door watching the flurries descend.

“How about some hot chocolate? I’ll get it ready while you practice. The music will make the mood complete.” My husband grinned at the cheering children as he put water on the stove and looked at me expectantly.

I made my way to the piano and pulled out the Christmas music for the program. I laid out the sheets of music and let my fingers hover a moment above the keys. The intense burning had increased, if anything, over night and I tried to mentally prepare myself for the pain I knew would come. My fingers became a yo-yo lowering slightly and then bouncing back up as I chickened out.

“The cocoa is ready,” Paul called from the kitchen.

I sighed in relief and bolted from the bench, joining my children as they swarmed around the table.

The day was full of snowmen and snowball fights and with all the excitement the kids weren’t fighting. The world looked white and pure, but nothing had changed in my fingers— they still throbbed, and I was still afraid to play in the Christmas program the next day.

Sunday morning I jolted awake as my fingers brushed against my pillow causing waves of pain to surge through me. Light was just beginning to creep around the edges of the curtains and I realized no one else was up. I tiptoed out to the main room and stood staring at the piano. The promise I had received pounded in time to the throbbing in my fingers. Well, do you have faith or don’t you? I scolded myself and forced my body onto the bench. The music hadn’t moved since the day before and I tentatively began stroking the keys, picking up speed as the pain eased from my fingers. I ran through each song, saving the hardest for last.

“You’re playing!” My husband stood at the entrance to the room with the baby in his arms.

My fingers came to an abrupt halt as I smiled back at his grinning face. “Yes. I—” I sucked in my breath as the burning pain returned once more. I cringed and chuckled slightly. “I think I had better keep playing.”

I promptly turned back to the piano midst my husband’s laughter. Once again, the minute I began to play the pain fled from my fingers. The difficult fast passages flew by like they were nothing. I knew Heavenly Father was keeping his promise. I smiled and thought of my desire for a Christmas miracle. Today I would play the music for the choir and musical numbers in the Christmas program during Sacrament meeting. The hearts of the congregation would be touched, and I wouldn’t let anyone down.

My playing was interrupted by a blinding light as Elizabeth opened the curtains. “Guys, come look! There is so much snow!”

We crowded around the window in amazement. The snow was over a foot deep and as we shoveled a way out we found a thick layer of ice beneath it. The children were in awe. They had never experienced snow this deep, let alone just before Christmas.

Paul and I exchanged meaningful looks. “You don’t suppose they would c—” The ringing phone cut me off and I watched as he answered it. After a short exchange he turned to me and confirmed my thoughts.

“Church is canceled. The roads are really bad.”

“But, the Christmas program,” I protested.

“They will have it next week.”

“But that can’t happen. I mean, my fingers— my fingers were healed because I needed to play in the Christmas program.” I hesitated. “If not for the Christmas program, then why?”

“Maybe Heavenly Father wanted to try your faith,” my husband suggested. I nodded my head and proceeded to mull over the many thoughts and questions surging through my mind. He interrupted my thoughts. “Let’s have a homemade Sunday school class since we can’t attend church.”

Later that afternoon, I looked at my family gathered around me and began my lesson. “Let’s start with reading in Mosiah about what King Benjamin taught about service.” My eye was drawn to Dorothy as her older sister read. I watched as she made faces at the baby and fiddled with the lint on the carpet. Pushing down the feelings of frustration I continued. “What does service have to do with Jesus Christ?”

Emily raised her hand eagerly, but while she answered I once again found my eyes drifting back to my second oldest as she rolled on the floor and poked her brother, making him squeal. Please, I thought desperately, I don’t want to get angry today? How can I reach her? I waited a moment, trying to push the rising heat back down into the pit of my stomach.

Music. Teach her with music.

I rose and went to the piano and opened the children’s songbook to “He sent His Son.” The spirit swelled as I listened to my family gathered around singing as loud as they could. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Dorothy. Her eyes were bright with joy, her mouth, though opened wide in song, sported a beautiful smile. We finished that song and launched into “Away in a Manger”. While I listened to Dorothy’s voice rising above and carrying the others, tears came to my eyes as the Holy Ghost spoke to my heart.

Suddenly it all made sense. It wasn’t about Christmas programs and fancy piano passages, or even nightly singing around the piano. It was about bringing the spirit into our home when it was most needed. It was about the quiet Christmas miracle that crept in on a still and silent night.

Last Day to Submit to the Christmas Story Contest

LDSP's 2009 Christmas Story Contest

Today is the last day to submit!

Prize: Publication in a Christmas collection that will be published and ready for sale in October.

Submission deadline: August 15th at midnight.
(Date/time stamp on e-mail determines deadline.)

Details HERE.


25: Jaina's Christmas Magic

Jaina's eyes popped open, her red hair sprawled out around her head like a crown for a goddess. She sat up in her bed, leaning on the wall behind her. Her green eyes scanned the room for the clock, attempting to read the numbers. It gave off a faint blue glow, assisting the night light in its job of filling shadows of the night up with light. It read 5:42, but she decided to get up anyway, against her parent's wishes.

She flung her blankets aside. Jaina put her bare toes on the carpeted floor, her white night gown falling down past her knees and gracefully flowing around her legs. She bent down, reaching under her bed and grabbed the red flash light she treasured so much. She carefully felt her way to the door, bare feet thumping on the cool carpet. She silently opened it, slipping out into the hallway. Jaina edged down the little passage way between the wall and the banister, where five brightly colored Christmas stocking hung on a garland covered in bright red and green lights. She froze, and reached out to touch her own. It was last in the row, a small black dog with a bright, festive collar poking out of the top. Jaina giggled quietly, and attempted to grab it. Then she pulled her had back.

"If you touch something, the magic will fade," The words of her mother whispered out of Jania's mouth. She didn't really believe it, but it all looked so beautiful... and magical.

Jaina continued on, reaching the end of the hallway. She looked to her left, seeing the front door, the street lights shining through the cracks. She looked straight ahead, scanning the two pianos and a tiny Christmas tree covered in different colored lights. She spotted a glittering snowman head from where she stood from almost 10 feet away. Although she couldn't see them she knew that, hidden in the tree, there where many other figures. Some made of plastic, others made of wood. She remembered back to the night before, when her parents had helped Jaina fulfill the task of placing the small characters on the tree. That little tree was her job to decorate, and... She turned her head to the right, her feet slowly following. ....the other one was her parent's job to decorate. Jaina walked up to it, it's gorgeous statue even more magnificent in the dark.

It stood, towering over her. The tip of the glowing yellow star missed the ceiling by only a few short inches, making Jaina feel like a baby kitten beside a full grown adult. It was alive with little white lights, shining on the green branches that reached out to her. Some of the branches had red or green glass balls clinging on them, making the tree look simple, yet beautiful. Jaina let her eyes go out of focus, the lights turning into little dots of white beside other fainter green and red dots. How long had she been waiting for Christmas? When had she and her mother put together the count down chain that now stood bare on the wall behind her? It had all seemed to crawl by so slowly. But now that she looked back, all she remembered was rushing through every week, hurriedly wrapping her gifts and not looking back. Maybe Christmas was meant to be taken slower, and to be enjoyed with family. Jaina now felt a sight bit guilty, and she promised herself that she would take Christmas day slower so that she wouldn't miss a thing.

Jaina broke out of the trance, and turned her flash light on. She slowly led the beam over rows of presents, all wrapped in colorful paper and balancing small bows on top. Some had Santa's face printed on them, while others were covered with ornaments like the ones on the tree. Jaina glanced behind the tree, finding an oddly shaped package wrapped in golden paper. She leaned over it, checking to see the name tag.

"To Jaina, from Kate," Jaina read out loud. "I can't wait until I get to open Kate's gift! She always knows just what to get." Kate was Jaina's older sister. Kate looked a lot like Jaina, only with darker hair. She always gave Jaina the best gifts, and was one of the sweetest people Jaina had ever met.

Jaina spun around and looked back at the banister where the stockings hung, and then to the stairs descending beside it. Kate slept down those stairs.

Jaina turned off her flash light and hobbled over to the kitchen table. The wood flooring was cold beneath her bare feet, but she ignored it. Jaina looked at the table top, finding both the plate with Santa's Cookies printed on it and the cup beside it empty.

"Santa's always hungry," Jaina said to herself, grinning. She walked back into the living room, and then lay down on the soft carpet. She would just sleep out here until her parents woke up. They wouldn't mind. Jaina closed her eyes, the soft glow of the Christmas lights soothing her back to sleep like the glow of a small fire.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Jaina looked at the mess of paper and bows scattered around her, and the pile of gifts that sat in the corner of the room. The board game from her father, a new stuffed dog from her mom, the baby doll from her grandparents, and the giant stuffed bee from her uncle. In the center of the mess was her treasured gift from Kate. It stood on four legs, the polished wood glinting in the light. It was her very own wooden horse, carved and painted by Kate and her friends.

When she had torn the gold wrapping away, she had frozen and turned to Kate who had a large smile on her face. Jaina tore off the rest of the paper faster then even she could believe, and then turned and ran at Kate with all her might, knocking her down backwards on the brown carpet. Jania had hugged, kissed, and thanked Kate for the wonderful gift, and then gone over every little line of paint with her finger admiring the quality.

Jaina snapped back into the present, and started picking up the mess around her. As she did so, she thought back to earlier that morning. Jaina had promised herself that she would go slower. Had she done so? Yes. Jaina had slowly opened each gift (With the exception of Kate's, of course.) and then, instead of rushing to the next package, had looked the gift over and thanked the person who had given it to her. (If they where in the room.) Then she had placed it with her other gifts before moving on.

Jaina felt very good with herself as she sat down to eat her breakfast of special Christmas tree shaped toast. But when she turned around and saw the Christmas tree in all it's glory stripped presents, she felt a bit sad. She hadn't believed her mother's words about the magic fading just a few short hours ago. But now, as Jaina starred at the tree, she agreed.

"I have my gifts, but the magic is gone," Then she looked around the table at the smiling faces of her family. "Well, not all of it..." She reached over underneath the table, and slipped her hand into Kate's. Kate turned, surprised!

Jaina just smiled at her, and then said to herself, "The magic of family is mine forever."

24: The Christmas Stocking

Andrea had pretty much given up on Christmas. Sure, she liked all the trappings that came with the season – the trees, the ornaments, the lights. But it was all so...commercial, fake. No one really meant any of the things they said when they wished you a Merry Christmas. It was just like someone saying hello or goodbye. It didn’t mean anything.

She’d felt this way since she could remember. Or rather, since her father had gone away two days before Christmas leaving her family to fend for themselves. That had been the worse year in memory, and she often partied and worked and shopped as hard as possible during the Christmas season just so she would be too tired to remember it.

But this year was going to be better.

Tonight was her company party, the last of a string of parties she’d been to for the week. It was Friday, and Christmas was Sunday. She looked forward to the party – lots of noise, music, food and the yearly bonus the boss handed out. She needed the bonus to finish paying for her trip, booked for Christmas Eve, a trip she’d been saving for and dreamt about for months. It made things cramped for time, but she’d already packed most of what she’d need.

It seemed the perfect solution to the yearly angst. Her brother was going to be out of town, and she didn’t want to spend it with any of her married-with-children friends who’s happy holidays brought nagging and painful memories.

This year she was going to be gone on a cruise ship known for it’s partying atmosphere. The only worry was that despite having saved all year for it, her bank account was still on the red side – needing that bonus money to cover everything. This cruise was her present to herself. The only catch was she’d hoped to have a friend going with her and had booked a room to herself. That had caused the redness in her bank account – the friend part had fallen through. Regardless, the bonus would make up the difference and this meant that she wouldn’t have to share with anyone.

Andrea looked around the apartment, satisfied with it’s clean condition. She hated going on vacation to come home and have to clean – nothing like reality biting really hard. Glancing in the mirror by the door, she appraised her appearance. The red satin dress with the slit up the side, fit her almost like a glove, set off her light skin and showed her greatest asset – her legs. The shiny black stilettos added to the effect, and she smoothed her hair as it lay in dark curls around her shoulders, knowing the stylist had been worth every penny. She wouldn’t have to do anything to it during the cruise.

Satisfied, she grabbed her wrap and clutch, stepped out and locked the door. Passing the apartment next door, a twinge of guilt invaded her satisfaction, but she firmly pushed aside. Everyone at work would be bringing a friend – but she hadn’t invited anyone. She hadn’t been on a date for weeks and her last relationship had ended very badly. Her neighbor, Jared, was the only male she talked to regularly, but he wasn’t exactly someone she wanted to take to a social function – he seemed so laid back. What if he didn’t have a suit?

She shrugged away the idea that it shouldn’t matter and stepped outside. The clouds were heavy and hung low in the sky, a sure sigh snow was on it’s way. She flagged down a taxi and told him the address where the party was being held. This was going to be the kick off night – she could hardly wait.


Packages were mis-delivered to his apartment all the time. Jared was used to telling people that he had their stuff. In fact, the postman regularly left them with him now, figuring it was sure to get to the right people that way. When the package came for his neighbor, his heart skipped a beat.

Not one to push his company on anyone, he hadn’t seen her much in the past week, exchanging even fewer words. His neighbor was gorgeous and he definitely wanted to get to know her better. It didn’t help that he day dreamed about her all the time.

But he hardly ever saw her, and they had been neighbors for almost five years. Perhaps now...now she would have to see him, and he wondered if it would make any difference.


At two in the morning Andrea stumbled up the stairs, so tired she couldn’t see straight as she fumbled with the door key. The party had been even better than last year, the bonus had been exactly as expected, and she could hardly wait for Christmas Eve. Stopping in front of her door, she wobbled on the stilettos and tried to focus on the post-it note stuck there, frowning her confusion. A package? Who would be sending a package?

Squinting at the note, she spotted Jared’s name and shrugged. It would have to wait till tomorrow – there was no way she was going to knock on his door this time of night.


Jared thought if he waited till late in the morning, she might be up. When he knocked and got no answer he realized, with a sinking stomach, that she wasn’t up yet. He was debating on the wisdom of knocking again when she suddenly flung open the door.

Seeing her disheveled state and the thick robe wrapped haphazardly around her shoulders, he became embarrassed. At least she was wearing pajamas, not something more revealing. Cute teddy bear ones too, he noted, quickly trying to shift his gaze to her face.

“Yes?” she mumbled, eyeing him warily.

“Um, you got this package,” he said, feeling like a fool. What was he thinking? This was the stupidest thing he’d ever done...

“Oh yeah.” She stared at it and then at him blankly, before opening the door. “Come on in.”

He gulped and entered before she changed her mind. “Uh, did you get the note?”

“Yeah, but I got in real late,” she said, sitting down on the couch and tucking her feet under her robe.

She didn’t reach for the package, so he placed it on the low coffee table.

“Does it say who it’s from?” she asked, eyeing him wearily.

Surprised, he looked at the return address. “It says Morgan Waterson.”

“That’s funny, he already sent me a present.” Andrea glanced up at him. “Morgan’s my brother, I don’t think you’ve met him.”

Jared shook his head as she reached out and picked it up. She tried pulling the tape off, but couldn’t get it to pull off enough to open it.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pocket knife. “Need this?”

She flashed him a grin, taking the knife and cutting open the tape. She pushed back the paper packaging to pull out a thin felt stocking, the kind kids used to hang for Christmas years ago.

There was no sound – she stared at it, her mouth hanging open as she held it from her fingertips as if afraid it would bite.

“That’s...um, that’s cool,” Jared said, feeling awkward. “Is it yours?”

She nodded, her eyes looking suspiciously moist. “I - I didn’t know it was still around.” There was a small note tucked in the top, and she pulled it out, wiping at her face.

“Mom found these before she died,” she read out loud. “I forgot to send it on to you. Merry Christmas, Morgan.”

Sighing, it seemed as if she deflated, the air leaving her body and the stocking falling to her lap from her limp hand. She looked so forlorn, Jared wanted to pull her into his arms.

“I haven’t seen this stocking since I was a girl,” she said, absently stroking the faded felt and tracing her name with it’s glittered outline. “Not since my dad left us.” As she rubbed her fingers over the fabric, there was a crinkle of paper. She looked up at him startled before feeling inside to discover an envelope, yellowed a little with time, her name written on it.

“What in the world...” she slipped a finger under the flap and ripped it open to read it through before looking up at Jared, her face draining of color. “It’s – my dad – I,”

He reached over and gently pulled the paper from her fingers, since she wasn’t going to be able to get anything else out and read it for himself.

“Dear Andrea: Never doubt that I love you. Leaving you this Christmas was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m going away to battle, and it’s likely I won’t come home, so I didn’t want you to have to deal with that. Its probably the coward way out, but I wanted you to remember me here, and not think of me wounded or dying half the world away. Take care of your mother, she needs you, and remember your brother loves you too. You will always be my little sprite, Love, Dad.”

Tears were running down her cheeks when he looked back up, feeling a catch in his throat and an ache in his heart. “I –,”

She shook her head, wiping now at the tears. “You see, I thought he’d just left us. Mom never explained why, only that he was gone. We never knew...or at least I didn’t.” She took the letter back and pressed it flat on her knees with shaking fingers. “I always hoped he come walking back someday.”

Jared wished now he’d never come. What a terrible thing to have during the Christmas season! It was like getting a telegram from the past that someone had died.

“I’m glad you’re here, Jared,” she said softly, still looking down at the paper and touching it softly.

He stared at her in surprise. “Why?”

Andrea smiled through her tears, as if her heart wasn’t breaking. “You understand. I’ve watched you. You know everything that goes on in the apartments. Everyone knows they can count on you, even the mailman.” She tilted her head to one side and regarded him with curiosity. “I’ve never seen you date or with a girl though. So, why haven’t you ever asked me out?”

He gulped, feeling his palms start to sweat. This was a little more than he’d expected. “I – I was afraid you would say no – you are always, um, busy.”

Her giggle surprised him, her face still wet with tears, her eyes sparkling with a light that captivated him. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to ask you. How do you feel about cruising?”