Every year, I try to write a short story to share. These are just fun little exercises to entertain and share a little of my writing style. Please keep in mind that these stories have had very little editing done to them.
Please forgive the indentations. My computer seems to have an issue publishing the correct format. I will attempt to correct later.
The 2021 Christmas story admittedly has little to do with Christmas. I will also admit that some of the ideas were inspired by the Marvel Universe and the Agents of Shield television show in particular. If I were to continue the storyline for profit (I make nothing from this page) I would have to be very careful about copyrights.
The 2021 story is followed by the 2020 story which is more along the lines of a Hallmark movie.
The Space Beyond – Christmas 2021
Chapter 1 –
“I’ll stop putting up Christmas lights once you can see them from outer space.” Dad took the umpteenth box of lights from my arms.
“You know they make satellites that can read your license plate, right?” I was getting tired of hauling all those boxes from the basement.
“I know! We have to make the lights so bright that they’ll be blinded when they try to see in our house.” He actually winked at me.
I rolled my eyes. “Because we must keep our identities secret.”
“You know it kiddo. You never know who’s out there gunning for us.”
“Can I go now?”
Dad looked at the piles of boxes around him. “I still need the box with the silver label on it. It’s got my timers.”
“I didn’t see it.”
“Bottom shelf of the green rack. It mighta gotten shoved to the back.”
“Ok.” I headed down to the basement, again.
The box was right where he said it would be. Annoying right?
I pulled on the big plastic bin. It wouldn’t budge. I sat on the ground and pulled with both hands.
There was a loud metallic sound when the bin came loose.
“That’s weird.” I slid the bin out and looked at the back of the shelf. The bin had stuck on some sort of metal latch. It had sprung out and allowed a little gap to open on the corner of a metal plate on the wall.
Great. I broke something. I thought. Can’t let dad see. I slid the now empty shelves out from the wall so I could see what I did.
“Ashley, you bringing that box?” Dad’s voice echoed from upstairs.
“Just a sec.” I thought for a moment about sliding the shelf back. Too much noise.
I grabbed the box and headed up the stairs.
“You can just set it on the table.” Dad was getting a drink from the fridge. “I’ll let you go back to your games or whatever if you really don’t want to help.”
It was a book, but I didn’t say anything. I grabbed my Kindle from the counter and jumped onto the family room sofa.
I couldn’t read a thing while that shelf unit was pulled out. But I couldn’t go back downstairs with Dad right by the basement door in the kitchen.
Chapter 2 –
After a couple of minutes, dad went back outside. Mom’s attention was locked on some game on her phone, so I set the Kindle down and headed to the kitchen.
The basement door seemed to squeak louder than normal. Each of the steps screamed with creaks announcing my presence. The solid concrete at the bottom let my heart settle as I walked silently to the shelf unit.
As quietly as I could, I lifted the end of the shelves and slid it to the wall. As I set it back down, my shoulder brushed against a calendar that had been there since 2010, the year I was born!
The calendar fluttered to the ground in a cloud of dust.
I went to put it back when I noticed something odd about the wall. There was a crack. Not a squiggly normal looking crack but one perfectly straight and square, like a piece of the concrete wall had been perfectly cut out and replaced. I stuck a fingernail in the crack and…
“Hey Jonesy. Where you at?” Perfect timing as usual.
Everyone has to have that one friend who shows up at just the wrong time and won’t shut up. For me, that’s Carl.
I ran up the stairs in stealth mode. Carl was right there, grabbing a Dr. Pepper from the fridge. I almost hit him with the door.
I didn’t let him finish. I just grabbed his arm and pulled him down the stairs.
“Take a look at this.” I used my best covert operative voice.
When I pointed to the crack, he pulled out his multi-tool. You know. The kind that has pliers and screwdriver and a knife blade. He flipped the blade out and pried at the crack. He soon had a small square block of concrete in his hand.
He had to get on his tip toes to look in. He hasn’t had his growth spurt yet so I’m taller than him (barely) even though we’re the same age. “Nothing there.”
He set the block on a shelf and produced a tiny flashlight from the same pocket as the multi-tool. “Doesn’t even go through.” He probed it with his fingers and found nothing.
“Oh well.” I grabbed the block to put it back. “What the?” One side of the block pushed in.
The sound of a small metal object hitting the floor echoed through the room.
I picked up a small key from the floor by my feet.
“Is there a locked door down here?” Carl looked around.
“It’s not a door key. It’s round like it’s for a safe or a lock box.” Then an idea hit me. “Help me with this.”
We lifted the empty green shelf unit and set it down about a foot from the wall. The latch I had popped open earlier was at the bottom right corner of a metal plate shaped like a door. There was another latch at the top of the right side. In the middle was a recessed handle with a keyhole.
“You don’t think?” Carl grabbed the key from my hand and slid it into the lock. “It won’t turn.
“Wait.” I released the upper latch. “Try it now.”
It turned. The metal plate swung out from the wall.
“Is it a safe?”
“The door’s thick like a safe but I can’t see in yet. We gotta move the shelves more.”
We did and the door swung open on its own. As it did, a light within flickered on.
“Whoa!” Carl slid through the opening. “You’re not gonna believe this.”
Chapter 3 –
I slipped through the door next to Carl. “Whoa!” A concrete hallway stretched into the hillside behind our house.
“That’s what I said. Were your parents like, criminals before you were born?” Carl cautiously advanced.
“Of course not, dofus!” I walked beside him.
The hallway was wide enough for three to walk side by side. The walls looked modern and clean. No water stains or mold. Not even much dust.
It went straight back into the hillside for a hundred feet or so before making a sharp right turn. The angles were perfectly square and sharp.
“You could cut something with this corner.” Carl touched the edge.
“Like your finger?”
“Maybe not that sharp, but not far off.”
I walked 20 feet to a left corner. “This next one’s a little different. Like there’s a door or something tucked in here.”
In a pocket a couple of inches from the corner was what appeared to be a door that would slide out. It had a zig-zag edge.
“That edge would fit right in here.” Carl pointed at indentions in the opposite wall. “Must be some kind of blast door.”
“What for,” I wondered aloud.
“Maybe your ‘rents are aliens, and their spaceship is back here.”
“Very funny.” I gave him the look I reserve for when he says stupid things. I use it often.
“You think we should go on?” He was oblivious to the look. “If that door closes, we’ll be trapped.”
I walked forward. “Don’t be a wuss!”
The next corner looked identical to the last. Sharp left turn. Same door in the same place.
“See, this is the first blast door, and this directs the blast away from the second door.” Carl pointed to vent slits in the right-hand wall.
I was intrigued but not ready to give in to his ridiculous ideas. “Or maybe it’s just an air-conditioning duct.”
I looked down the next hallway. “It’s a dead end.”
Carl walked up to the blank concrete wall at the end of another 20-foot hall. “I don’t know. See if you can find any buttons or something.” He ran his hand along the end wall
“Ash, you’re gonna wanna see this.” He pointed to the left wall about four feet from the floor. The shape of a hand glowed blue. He put his hand over the shape. “Maybe this opens…”
I covered my ears to try to block out the loud screeching noise. The hand glowed red. The door slammed behind us.
The screeching noise continued and the vents in the wall opened to form what looked like knives.
“You try it!” Carl yelled over the loud noises.
Chapter 4 –
I placed my hand on the red shape. It turned blue. The screeching stopped but a loud beeping took its place.
“You have 2 minutes to enter code,” read blue letters that appeared on the wall below the hand.
“What code? Where?” Panic threatened me.
“What code would your parents use?” He pointed to a keyboard that had lit up under the message.
“Do you think it would give us more than one try?”
“Unless you know the right password, you better hope so!”
“I know the password she uses for our Netflix.” I entered “Birdie01o”
“Incorrect password.” The screen displayed. The timer went under 1 minute.
“Do they have any nicknames for you, especially old ones from when you were a little kid?”
I tried a couple of terms of endearment Mom used to use for me. Still incorrect.
“Maybe.” Time counted down from 15 seconds while I typed feverishly. “Mom always used to call me her Phoenix since I rose from the ashes of their lives. I think ‘Ashley’ came from that.”
The moment I hit the “x” the screen read, “Confirm bio-print.”
I slapped my hand on the wall as the timer reached “0:00”.
The beeping stopped.
The display turned off.
The end wall slid open.
Chapter 5 –
Peter Jones was on the roof putting the finishing touches on a pattern of lights. There was a large white “L” with a red circle of lights around it and slashing from the top of one side to the bottom of the other.
He adjusted a small red box at the bottom of the circle. The red circle started flashing. Not a steady on/off pattern but a random series of flashes that seemed to repeat itself every minute or so.
“Hon, have you seen Ash?” his wife Diane called from below.
“Haven’t seen her since before I climbed up here. Did you check the tree house?”
“Hey, I remember seeing that kid from down the street come by. Maybe she’s at his house.”
“They never go to Carl’s. You know that.”
“All I know is she brought the last couple of boxes of lights up from the basement to me while I was sorting them out in the driveway. Oh yeah, I was in the kitchen when she brought the timers up. I thought she went to the living room with you.”
“Okay.” Diane started to go inside. Stopping short of the door, she asked, “Were those on the green shelves?”
“Yeah.” He stilled. “You don’t think?”
As quickly as possible, he climbed down the ladder. Diane was already inside.
Chapter 6 –
“Come on!” I grabbed Carl’s wrist and pulled him through.
“Are you sure about this? I think I hear your mom calling.” Carl put up a slight resistance.
“I’ve got a feeling about this.” I spotted a blue hand on the wall past the door we just went through and slapped my hand on it.
“So do I and it’s not good.” He just cleared the door when it slid shut.
The room we entered lit up. It was concrete on three sides. The fourth, in front of us, was glass.
Our reflections stared back at us, two 6th grade kids nearly the same height. Me with my red braids dangling in front of me and a look of awe in my face. Carl, with his shaggy brown hair and a look of fear.
I pulled him forward to the glass. A blinking light at the left edge of the glass drew my attention. A touch brought a hissing sound followed by a distant hum.
“This is awesome!” The words slipped from my lips as the room beyond slowly lit up.
“It’s big.” Carl sure knows how to understate things.
The window looked out over a huge room. Like a whole football field huge. And as high as it was wide. It was empty.
We were probably 20 feet above the concrete floor. The walls were stone with steel beams every few feet. Except the end wall. It was like a giant garage door.
“That’s weird.” I found myself studying every corner to see if there was something else.
“There’s a light flashing.” Carl pointed to edge of the glass. Under the previous light, a symbol flashed between green and blue.
I touched it.
“Aaaaaah” We both screamed as the room flooded with a thick moist vapor.
Chapter 7 –
The mist blinded us. It stung our eyes. A panicked breath brought searing pain to my throat.
I couldn’t see Carl, but it was clear where he was.
“Make it stop!” The scream was right in my ear. He was grabbing my arm like his life depended on it. Maybe it did.
A sound like one of those super-fast hand dryers in public restrooms filled the room. Within about ten seconds, the air was clear again. More than clear. Crisp. Even a little minty.
“You breath smells good.”
I was about to correct him when I realized my throat didn’t sting any more. “Huh” was all I got out.
At that moment a click sounded at the door in the left wall.
I pulled the handle. “Let’s go.” I dragged him through the now open doorway.
A long flight of steps led down to the floor.
I could see now there were hoses that ran from under the room we just came from out to the middle of the room. They didn’t look like they hooked to anything. Just stopped in the middle. On the wall directly under the room was what looked like a computer screen.
“I’m gonna check out that computer.” I started toward the screen.
Carl wandered toward the middle of the room.
I reached out to touch the screen. It came to life. As it did, I heard a noise from the center of the room. When I looked, Carl was laying on the ground.
Chapter 8 –
Peter and Diane hesitated at the entrance of the tunnel.
“Ashley!” Diane called out.
There was no reply.
“You think they made it to the hangar?”
Peter stepped forward. “One way to find out.” At that moment, his watch buzzed.
Chapter 9 –
“Carl!” I ran toward him.
“Stop! There’s something here!” He raised his palm and scooted toward me.
“I’m fine. Just ran into something I couldn’t see.”
“Invisibility isn’t a real thing.”
“Don’t be so sure.” He motioned to where he fell. “And it’s not totally invisible anyway. Look carefully that way and move your head.”
I tried it. “What?” I stared at the space and moved my head again. “It’s like the air is distorted there.”
“I noticed that as I fell. There’s something there. It’s just…”
“That would be the sci-fi word for it.”
“But ‘fi’ stands for fiction.” I moved my head around some more. There was definitely something there.
“Check the computer. Maybe there’s some control for it.”
We both moved to the wall.
He touched the screen. It flashed red with the words “UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS” blazing across it. “You try it.”
I did. Blue words asked for a password. A keyboard appeared below the words. “Think it’s the same as before?”
“One way to find out.”
I typed “P-h-o-e-n-i-x” and hit enter. “So far so good.” A blue hand appeared on the wall next to the screen. I placed my hand on it.
“Good evening, Miss Jones. How may I help you?” It was a male voice with an Indian accent.
Carl whacked my arm. “Tell it to de-cloak that thing.”
“Did you mean ‘reveal’.” The tone was so very polite.
“What would you like to reveal?”
“Tell it to reveal all!” Carl’s whisper was a little too urgent.
“I detect a visitor. Protocol requires me to clear all visitors. Please have visitor stand in front of display.”
“Welcome Carl Mason. You are not cleared to be here. Miss Jones, do you wish to override protocol?”
“Okay.” The computer paused for a pregnant second. “I’m sorry, you are not authorized to override protocol. Would you like me to contact your supervisor?”
“No!” I didn’t want whoever was in charge rushing us out. “Um, computer, um do you have a name?”
“My AI interface is named Raj.”
“Raj, who is my supervisor?”
“You have two supervisors listed, Diane Jones and Peter Jones.”
“How do you contact them?” I knew that Dad would be less likely to panic, especially if Mom couldn’t overhear.
“They are set up to receive notifications through via smart watch and phone.”
“Ask Peter Jones for clearance.”
“Roger that. One moment.”
“You really think your dad will approve?”
“Raj, Reveal all.”
Chapter 10 –
“They made it to the hangar.” Peter tapped his watch.
Diane sighed. “I guess it’s a good thing you set up the intruder alert.”
“That doesn’t work for authorized entry.”
“What? You set her up for authorized entry?”
“You know we were gonna have to tell her soon.”
“Yeah but. Wait, did you say ‘they’?”
“Carl is with her. She just asked for protocol override for him.”
“We’ll, at least you can have Raj kick them out.”
“Actually…” Peter seemed to shrink a little. “I approved the request.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“You want them running into things?” he defended.
“I want them out of there!”
“Look. I don’t want Ashley to have to keep our secret from her best friend.”
“Did you think about Carl? He can’t tell anyone.”
“He can talk about it with Ashley. If he doesn’t think he can keep it in, we can wipe him.”
Diane glared at him for a second. Then took off down the hall. “Let’s go do damage control.”
Chapter 11 –
The light in the hangar shifted as a deep vibration rolled through the room. The shapes of crates and equipment showered into view like washing chalk off a driveway. Before them, the largest object, a grey and black aircraft unlike any they had seen before appeared.
Steps leading into the aircraft hung below it near the front. The craft filled almost half the space. It was almost all wing in the shape of a V. Six cylinders that I took for jet engines pointed downward, four along the front of the wing and one on each side of the short tail.
Carl strode right for the steps. “Come on!”
I thought for a second that we should wait for my dad. I was sure he’d be coming. Instead, I ran ahead of him and put my hand on the entry hatch lock.
It opened to darkness that slowly turned to grey as I walked up the steps.
It was a hallway with a glowing ceiling, light grey walls and a metal floor. The wall looked plastic and had no doors. The only markings were blue hand prints at irregular intervals.
Carl rushed ahead of me. “Maybe your parents are aliens.”
A short walk revealed that it was a loop that went around the center of the craft.
I put my hand on the blue handprint closest to the front of the craft on the inside wall. A doorway opened to a set of stairs. I climbed.
When I reached the top, I couldn’t help it. “This is cool!”
It was a large oval room, maybe 12 by 20 feet. At the center was a low oval table surrounded by plush, colorful sofas. The whole room was a burst of color in stark contrast to the hall below. Green walls, dark brown cabinets in the kitchenette at one end, bright green carpets, and patterns of flowers and birds on the sofas.
In the center of the table stood a small Christmas tree. In front of the tree sat a framed letter. It read:
December 23, 2009
Peter and Diane Jones,
Your request for retirement from SEDA is denied. Instead, you are granted reserve status for a period of twelve years or until your youngest child is old enough to understand your line of work. Arrangements have been made for your housing and employment during that time.
You will be expected to maintain the Eagle 5 and auxiliary equipment during that time and stand ready in time of global emergency.
We at SEDA understand the importance of family and will endeavor to allow you as normal of family life as possible. We also recognize the importance of global security and reserve the necessary right to hold you to your commitment when you signed on.
May you have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!
Jason R. Jonas
Director, Strategic Enigma Defense Agency
“So now you know.” Dad’s voice startled me.
Chapter 12 –
I was speechless. Part of me wanted to lash out and hit Mom and Dad. Part of me wanted to hug them. “When were you going to tell me?”
“Next month, after you turn twelve.” Dad sat next to me.
“And you decided it was okay to lie to me for twelve years?”
Mom sat on the table in front of me. “When did we lie to you?”
“You made me think we had a normal life.”
Dad chimed in, “And what have I always told you about ‘normal’?”
Uggh! Dad used this phrase all the time and now he wanted me to repeat it. “Normal is just a city in Illinois.” I rolled my eyes.
“Girl!” I hated it when Carl called me that. “What are you complaining about? Your life just got way more interesting. I’m jealous!”
“Maybe you don’t need to be jealous.” Mom said.
“Huh.” Carl looked confused. “Wait, do I get to be a secret agent? Or…” the look turned to fear. “Are you going to get rid of me. You know, make it look like an accident.”
“There’s an idea.” Dad said.
I wasn’t sure he was kidding until Mom spoke.
“The Agency doesn’t work that way. But we do need to figure out what to do with you.”
“Please take me with you!” He folded his hands in front of him and leaned toward Mom. “Please, please, please, please.”
“The normal…” Dad glanced my way. “Um, usual way to take care of this is to simply erase your memories of today. Despite what you may have seen in movies, that’s not an exact science and I don’t like the idea.”
“Do we have to move soon?” I hated the idea, but I saw a possible way out.
“Is there a school where we’re going? ‘Cause, we could tell his parents that he has a scholarship at an exclusive boarding school.”
“We can’t lie to his parents and take him.” Dad explained. “That would be the same as kidnapping.”
“Couldn’t we tell them the truth and then zap their memories after they give permission?”
Mom looked Carl in the eye. “Do you love your parents?”
Chapter 13 –
Carl was silent for a moment.
Mom and Dad looked at each other.
Mom answered for him. “Carl is a foster child. His parents abandoned him six years ago and haven’t been heard from since. He’s been with the Jackson’s since then but…”
Carl finished for her. “They’re only in it for the money. They don’t care about what happens to me. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t abuse us or nothing. But they don’t really care what I do as long as I look good for social services on inspection day and don’t cause trouble.”
I looked at Mom. “How’d you know all that?”
“It’s part of my job to know everything about our neighbors. There’s enough surprises in the world without being blindsided by those around you.”
“Why don’t you two check out the cockpit.” Dad waved toward the stairs. “Down the stairs, turn left and it’s the first door on the right.”
“Cool, next star pilot comin’ up.” Carl practically leapt toward the stairs.
“Don’t touch anything.” Mom said. “Besides, the Eagle 5 can’t go higher than 60,000 feet.”
Chapter 14 –
Carl was already waiting by the cockpit door by the time I got down the stairs.
“You’re not worried that they wanted to get us out of there.” I asked him.
“Let them have their pow-wow. Now open the door.”
I slapped my hand on the sensor and the door immediately opened. Inside was an array of screens, switches, dials and gauges. I had no clue what anything did. There were six seats in three rows of two. I sat in the front right seat and grabbed the yoke. The screens and dials lit up.
The ultra-polite voice of Raj came over the speakers. “Sorry Miss Jones, you are not authorized to operate this vessel.”
“Raj, did you used to fly with my parents?”
“Why, yes Miss Jones.”
“Where did you go with them?”
“All over the world.”
“What kind of missions did you go with them on.”
“Sorry Miss Jones, that information is classified.”
“Let me try,” Carl said. “Raj, what is the purpose of SEDA?”
“To protect the global community from enigmas or unexplained phenomenon.”
“And how does it achieve those goals.”
“By any available means so long as those means do not harm any part of the global community.”
“And what are those means?”
“Don’t answer that, Raj.” Dad walked into the cockpit.
“Good evening Mr. Jones. I was about to inform Mr. Mason that I was not authorized to answer his question.”
Mom walked around Dad and leaned over the front seats. “Carl, what would you feel about being adopted?”
So that is how Carl, and I became trainees for the Strategic Enigma Defense Agency. With the help of SEDA, Carl will officially become my brother next week.
It’s been a month since we found out about Mom and Dad’s real career. I’m getting things set up in my new quarters on the Eagle 5. Tomorrow’s Christmas Day. Dad promised to take us for a ride as a Christmas present.
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t still a little freaked out about it all. My life is totally changed.
We officially leave on January 1st. Another SEDA family will be using the house soon.
Carl and I will be attending SEDA’s remote middle school by computer in a couple of weeks. We’ll be living in the Eagle 5 at SEDA’s secret headquarters when we’re not on assignment.
When something comes up, we could go anywhere in the world. Maybe I’ll tell you about my adventures. But you gotta keep it secret.
Below is the Christmas story from 2020
Beth’s Christmas Blessing – Christmas 2020
Mom says, I’m amazing. I doubt it. But, If I am, it’s because of her. I mean, she’s like super amazing. Off the charts, to the moon and back amazing. Like, Spiderman amazing, if Spiderman was a lady with two jobs, one child, and no husband.
I’m the one child. I’m Elizabeth Ann Wilson. People call me Beth. Mom brought me into the world almost 10 years ago. She says I’m her miracle baby. Yeah, she talks like that a lot.
Don’t tell anyone, but Mom used to leave me at home a lot. She worked all day at the Lazy Day Motel cleaning rooms. Then she came home, fed me, helped me with my homework, and hung out with me.
She tucked me in every night at 7:30 and rushed off to work a late shift at the Hometown Diner.
I know, crazy, right.
That all changed the Sunday before Thanksgiving. That’s where my story begins.
“Hi Sweetums!” (Mom says I have to include how she really calls me. Silly, I know.)
“You’re home early!” I was surprised to see her come in the door.
“Whatcha working on?”
“I’m writing a story.” I did that a lot. I love words, not numbers. I couldn’t get an ‘A’ on a math test even if all the questions were 2 + 2.
“Can I see?”
“Not till it’s done.” I hid my paper from her. “So why are you home early?”
“So, I can spend more time with you.” She gave me a fake smile and mussed my hair.
I hated getting my hair mussed. “So, they fired you?” I thought I was joking.
“They fired everyone. They’re tearing the motel down to build a big store.”
Mom says one of my talents is knowing how to make her feel better. Like right then, I knew I had to hug her. I did. For a long time.
“I need to make you some dinner.” She let go of me and slid into our little kitchen.
“It’s early, Mom. I just had SpaghettiOs for lunch.”
“Oh. Okay.” She just stood there. “I think I’ll run down to the diner to see if they can give me a lunch shift.”
She smiled at me. “Maybe we’ll get to spend more time together.
To say I was stressed would be the understatement of the century. I barely kept the bills paid as it was. There’s no way we could find a cheaper apartment. They don’t come any cheaper than this one-bedroom rat hole.
When Beth came along, I was barely 18. Her father never knew about her. Neither did my parents. I just couldn’t tell them. Nor could I give her up.
So, I ran away. I took the money I had saved from working as a waitress my last two years of high school and moved to Panama City, Florida. I couldn’t afford to drive far from my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, but I figured it was far enough away that I wouldn’t run into my parents.
That was over ten years ago. Beth turns ten in January. She’s a prom baby. My fanciest day in high school resulted in the most beautiful addition to my life. Just a little early.
Mom started working the lunch rush at the diner every weekday. I didn’t have school that week, but I told her I wanted to stay home and write. The diner woulda bored me to tears. That Thursday was Thanksgiving. Mom said she would be lonely and insisted on me coming to her work that day. That was a mistake. I had to hang out on a stool at the lunch counter since the tables were full. She worked all day.
The cook and the other servers there are really nice. Cookie (that’s my name for him since I can never remember his real name) made the best Thanksgiving dinner for me. No wonder that place was so full.
When we got home, Mom grabbed a paper from the clip by our apartment door. We both ate at the diner so all we had to do was relax. We just sat and watched the parade that we had recorded on the DVR.
Mom was asleep before the second balloon floated by. I watched it. I like the balloons and the singing, but I don’t like the bands. A big marching band was on when I noticed the piece of paper on the coffee table. The word “Gifts” stood out.
If you’re having trouble getting gifts for your kids this Christmas, we can help.
It was from some kinda place called the Bridge. It had a website to sign-up. I was all over that.
“Mom!” I shook her a little.
“Can I sign us up for free gifts?”
“Sure Sweetums.” She might not have really woken up, but it was good enough for me. I grabbed her phone and signed me up. It was easy. I just had to give them Mom’s name (Rose Wilson, if you were wondering), my name and age, our address and apartment number, and Mom’s phone number.
Beth told me about that flyer when I woke up. I should have thrown it out when I grabbed it from the notice clip at our front door.
It’s not that I hate churches. Well, maybe I do. I mean, they’re fine for some people. I just got too much of them growing up. So many self-righteous people telling me what I should and shouldn’t do.
My parents fit right in. They loved all that “do good” stuff.
Yeah, I missed them. Badly. But they would freak out if they knew I was a single mom. I left them a note the night I left. I’ve thought about writing them a bunch of times. I just couldn’t do it. Besides, I’ve made a good life for Beth and me. At least most of the time.
They dropped the presents off 3 days before Christmas. There were so many boxes! I was in AWE! I picked one up.
“Not until Christmas morning!” She warned.
“I was just shaking it.”
“Save the surprise for Christmas.”
“Then why are you looking in that envelope?”
“It says open now.” Her eyes got wide. “Yes! No diner food for us Christmas Eve!”
“Huh?” I set down the gift and looked at the card she was holding. There was a $100 Winn Dixie gift card! “Cool. Wait, aren’t you working at the diner Christmas Eve?”
“Only till 4, Frank decided to close the diner early on Christmas Eve and all day, Christmas Day.”
“Yeah, well, I was wondering how we would afford Christmas dinner with no tips, but this’ll take care of that. Let’s go get groceries.
“Who gave us all this stuff?”
She looked at the note from the envelope. “A church called the Bridge.”
I looked at the paper over her shoulder. “That’s a weird name for a church.”
“And you’re suddenly a church name expert?”
“I look out the window when we go places. Seems like every church is saint something, or first something. Bridge is a weird name.”
“THE Bridge, and I don’t care what they call it. They gave us a good Christmas dinner. Now let’s go.”
I had to steer the conversation away from church. I didn’t want her growing up like me.
Still, I was thrilled to have the extra grocery money. What kind of church does that? Didn’t matter. I was grateful for the gifts, but I’ll go my own way now, thank you. I was good at that.
While we drove to the store, I kept reading the paper in my head. When I see something, the words stick like a computer screen in my head. I was trying to figure out why someone would be so generous to us.
“Yeah?” She looked at me in the mirror with that face that said she was on the edge of getting irritated.
“That church has a play on Christmas Eve at 6. Can we go?”
Her look hardened. “Sweetums, I spent enough time in church for the both of us when I was little. They don’t have anything you want.”
“But I bet you went to one of those saints or first churches.”
I heard her mumble “First Baptist.”
“I bet The Bridge is different. I bet they even have Santa there.”
“Santa’s not a church thing.”
“Is giving gifts to strangers a church thing?”
She was quiet for a minute.
“Can’t say I ever saw that growing up, except for little shoeboxes with cheap gifts for poor kids overseas.”
“I wanna go see if Santa goes there!” I blurted it out a little too loud.
Mom stared at me in the mirror while she waited for light to change. She was quiet until we got to the grocery store.
If she only knew the debate that went on in my head just then. I wanted to protect her from the judgement that I lived through, but I wanted her to have a broad life experience. I decided that one play wouldn’t hurt.
“Tell you what Sweetums, we’ll get a big ham and put it in the slow cooker before service. We can get the side dishes ready to put in the oven before and then we’ll go check out this Christmas play. But I warn you, you’ll probably be bored to tears.”
“If I’m bored, we can leave early. We’ll sit in back, so no one notices us leave.”
“Deal!” We did a fancy handshake that she taught me years ago. “Now let’s get some food!”
I don’t know how Mom does it, but she found coupons on her phone and special deals to the point where we left the store with enough to “feed an army” (her words) for what she usually spends on food (plus the gift card).
Over the next couple of days, while Mom was at work, I cleaned and decorated the house. We didn’t have much – a scrawny, worn out fake tree, a bunch of dollar store ornaments, and a few strands of lights. I made a bunch of snowflakes from paper I found in Mom’s desk.
It was amazing how Beth transformed our tiny apartment into a Winter Wonderland. That girl’s got talent. I cleaned and prepared as much as I could between work shifts and exhaustion.
Come Christmas Eve, I prepared green bean, and sweet potato casseroles before I left for work and stuck them in the fridge next to the rolls I had baked the day before. I was excited about our big Christmas Eve dinner!
“Why do we have the big dinner the day before Christmas?” Beth came up with the best questions.
“That way we can be lazy all Christmas Day and play with your new toys.”
“Why can’t we invite Grandma and Grandpa for dinner?”
“Honey, I told you they live a long way away. Now I need to get to work.”
I got to work 15 minutes early and felt guilty all day. A girl should know her grandparents but, I just couldn’t face them.
I was all done with my decorations, so I spent most of Christmas Eve watching Christmas movies on TV and looking out the window. Neighbors were leaving with cars packed for trips home. I admit, I felt lonely. I wondered what it would be like to have more of a family.
That’s when I decided to be sneaky. I noticed an address book on top of the paper I got from Mom’s desk. I wondered.
I looked up Wilson in the book. No entries. I started flipping through the book. Not many entries. Mostly friends around here. Then I got to the M’s. There it was. “Mom and Dad. The address was in Montgomery, AL. And there was a phone number.
Mom kept a cheap prepaid phone around. “It’s only for emergencies!” She always reminds me of this.
It’s Christmas Eve. I’m lonely. That’s an emergency, right?
I kept messing up the number, I was shaking so badly. I finally got it entered. All I had to do was press the green button. I couldn’t. I hit the red button.
No! I had to go through it it. I put the number in again. It took three tries. This time I pushed the green button right away so I couldn’t chicken out.
“This number is no longer in service.”
“Merry Christmas!” I called to Beth when I got home.
“What’d ya do today?”
“Nothin’. Just watched Christmas movies all day. How far away is Montgomery?”
“3 and a half hours. Why?”
She put my address book on the counter in front of me, opened to Mom and Dad’s address. “Why can’t we see Grandma and Grandpa?”
I was so busted. How could I get out of this?
I got down face to face with her. I couldn’t call them bad people. That would be so wrong. “When I left home, it wasn’t on good terms.”
“What’s that mean.”
“We didn’t get along.”
“Well maybe I would get along with them!”
How did I let this go this long? “Tell you what Sweetums, Let’s get through our celebration tonight and tomorrow we’ll try to call them.”
“I tried calling. The number was disconnected.”
I didn’t know whether to be relieved, angry, or sad. “Okay. Maybe we can try to find them.” I didn’t really mean it. Well, maybe I did, but just a little.
“Right now, let’s get ready to go.” I tickle attacked her to lighten the mood.
I was so excited on the way there, I couldn’t hold it in. “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…” We sang most of the way there. I’ve never been to a church before, much less, a play!
When we reached the address, I was confused. It was some sort of business park. “You sure you have the right place. This doesn’t look like a church.”
“I know, but there’s the sign.” She pointed. Sure enough, On the third building in, there was a sign shaped like a bridge that said The Bridge Church.
“Hey look, an arrow spinner.” I’ve always liked how people on corners can twirl and spin cardboard arrows to point the way to sales. This girl spun a sign that said “visitors.”
We ended up parking close to the entrance which was lucky since the parking lot was packed.
I felt kinda funny walking in with my best dress. Most people were dressed in jeans or shorts (this is Florida, after all). Then I spotted another girl just a little older than me. She had a nicer dress than mine and was holding her daddy’s hand. I grabbed Mom’s.
It warmed my heart when Beth grabbed my hand. She hadn’t done that in a while.
There was a big canopy out front with a place for visitors to check in. I knew better than to sign in. Their free gifts were sure to come with intrusive phone calls or visits. We ducked into the flow of people going in.
An older man at the door handed me a program and we found a spot in the second to last row off to the side. The room looked like a warehouse that had been converted to a church. There was a big stage up front and a wide audience area with padded chairs, not pews.
As we were sitting down, I noticed a group of kids to the left of the stage being corralled by a couple of ladies. I thought my eyes must be tricking me because one of the ladies looked just like my Mom.
My best and worst fears were confirmed when a man who looked just like my Dad walked up to her. Surely, I was just imagining it because of what we had talked about. But no. They clasped hands and gave each other a quick kiss just like my parents always did. They were my parents!
My vision collapsed. I don’t remember a thing about the service. I just watched them. I couldn’t deal with it. I had to get out without them noticing me.
The opportunity came during the singing of Silent Night. Everyone lit candles and the lights went down. I knew from my upbringing that this would be the last song, so I grabbed Beth’s hand and headed for the door.
“Why are we leaving early?” Beth asked.
“To beat the traffic. Once people come out, it’ll take forever to get out of the parking lot.”
Something was up with Mom. She wanted to get out of the church like it was on fire. I didn’t mind, though. We had a really yummy dinner waiting for us at home.
On the ride home, I looked at all the lights on the houses. I imagined myself living in one of those houses. I knew we could never afford it. We couldn’t even afford a good car. It was riding all wobbly.
“Oh no.” Mom pulled over into the turn lane of a shopping center.
“Flat tire.” She looked like she was ready to cry. She put her head on the steering wheel and closed her eyes.
I didn’t know what to say. We just sat like that for what seemed like forever.
After a few minutes, the inside of the car lit up. It wasn’t the lights. There was a car that pulled into the parking lot next to us and its headlights shined our way. A man got out of the car and walked up to the passenger window.
I jumped so hard I hit the horn. There was a man at the passenger side window trying to talk but I couldn’t hear him through the glass with the traffic noise. I lowered it a crack.
“You need some help?”
All I could do was nod. I must have been a sight, eyes red, makeup running from tears.
“Pull into the parking lot where it’s safer.”
I did. It wasn’t easy since it was a front tire that blew. I managed to get into a space one over from his car.
I cracked open my window. “Thank you.”
“No problem. There’s no way I could have left a mom and child stranded on Christmas Eve. Just pop your trunk and I’ll get the spare and the jack out.”
I had a feeling that he couldn’t have left a mom and child stranded at any time. I watched in the mirror as he got the spare out.
“Mom! That’s the girl from church! The one with the nice dress.”
Before I could say anything, Beth was out the door and standing at the other car.
I jumped out. “Beth! Leave the girl alone.”
The other girl got out of their car. “Dad, is it okay that we sit on the curb.”
The man had stepped up next to me. “Sure, just be careful with your dress.”
He turned to me. “I’m Curt and that’s Bella.”
“I, I’m Rose and that’s Beth, Elizabeth.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’d shake but I already have dirty hands.”
“I’m sorry to be a bother.”
“It’s no bother. We’re heading to the Hometown Diner and I’m sure I can wash up there.”
“Actually, you can’t. They’re closed for Christmas, that’s why we were able to go to the play. I work there.”
“Oh, you were at The Bridge?” He already had the tire raised.
“Yeah, Beth recognized your daughter from there.”
Bella and I sat at the parking lot curb between the cars. “Your dad is handsome.”
She laughed. “I never really thought of that, but I guess he is in an old guy kinda way.”
“Did you like the play?”
“Yeah, I just wish I coulda been in it. I could have only made it to half the rehearsals cause I’m only with Dad every other weekend.”
“At least you have a dad.”
“At least you have a mom that goes to church.”
“That was the first time we’ve ever been in a church. She doesn’t like ‘em.”
“Oh, neither does my mom.”
“So, are you going home to a big dinner with your dad?”
“Hah, Dad said they cook a lot better at the Hometown Diner than he does.”
“Cookie is really good, but they’re closed for Christmas.”
“No way! Dad! The diner’s closed.”
I suddenly got a great idea! “Mom, we could invite them to our house!”
“No.” Both adults said at the same time. Only they used different tones of voice. Mom sounded like she was scolding me. Bella’s dad sounded, I don’t know, sad.
I couldn’t believe Beth could invite them. “Sorry Beth, you don’t invite people that you don’t know over.”
“Your mother’s right.” Curt was already tightening the tire.
“Dad, I told you we should have gone to the Wilson’s when they invited us.”
Beth seemed determined to share our dinner. “There’s a picnic table in the courtyard of our apartments, we could eat there.”
“No, really, we couldn’t impose. Denny’s is open and it’s not far.”
“Bella hates Denny’s.” Beth had already found that out in their short conversation.
“There you go, you can wash up at the bathroom by the pool and join us for a Wilson Christmas feast.” I can’t believe I let that slip. Maybe it was a different Wilson that invited them. Oh well. What’s done is done.
Curt thought for a moment. “Is there anything we can pick up at a convenience store to make the meal stretch?”
“Oh, there’s no need to stretch it. We have tons.”
I put a plastic tablecloth over the old ugly picnic table. Bella helped me stretch it just right. Mom put the casseroles in the oven right away.
“What can I help with?” Curt met us at the table.
“I’ll get the plates and silverware and you can put those out.” I ran back to the apartment.
“Mom, Curt’s really nice, you sure you don’t just want to eat in here?”
“If Curt is a gentleman, he would refuse to come in anyway.” She pointed to a pile on the table. “Now take those out and set the table.”
It took a while, but we finally got everything cooked and set out. It really was a feast. Curt sliced the ham. My green bean and sweet potato casseroles came out just right. It was a warm day, so the food was still warm when we finally sat down to eat.
“Do you mind if we say grace?” Curt asked.
“Go ahead.” I never bothered but I figured it couldn’t hurt.
“Lord, thank you for this meal, for new friends, and for coming to save us. Amen!”
“Short but sweet.” I commented.
“Good food should never be put off by long prayers.”
“Amen to that.” I liked the way he thought.
“So, Rose and Beth Wilson, are you any relation to Gladys and Nathan Wilson.” He didn’t waste any time.
I almost dropped the dish I was passing. “Is that the couple that invited you to dinner?”
“Yes. They just retired here 10 months ago. I moved here about the same time and we met at the new members class at the Bridge.” He paused. I think he wanted me to answer his first question, but I held my tongue.
“They said they had a grand-daughter a little younger than Bella and had heard that she lived around here.”
They knew! My thoughts raced. They’ve been looking for us? Why? To shame me? To convert me back?
“I think that’s why they liked to hang out with me and Bella.” He took a bite and gave a charming smile that tugged. “Delicious!”
The table fell silent except for the eating. Beth and Bella sat at the other end of the table whispering.
Bella leaned in and whispered, “Are the Wilson’s your grandparents?”
“I don’t know, Mom’s address book didn’t list first names. But they’re from Montgomery.”
“No way. I bet it’s them. What did your grandparents look like?”
“I’ve never seen them.”
“There’s no pictures around your apartment?”
“Just of me and Mom.”
“I bet she has some hidden.”
“Finish up your food and we can go look.” We grinned at each other like we could read each other’s thoughts.
“Where are you going?” I shouted after the girls as they ran from the table.
“I wanna show Bella something.” Beth yelled back.
I was left alone with Curt. I was going to have to face his question. My food stuck like a rock in my throat. When I managed to swallow, I spoke. “That’s their names, my parents that is. Did they say where they moved from?”
Unwanted tears welled in my eyes. This is not how I envisioned this day going.
“Would you like to see them?” Curt’s voice was low, calming. It did me no good.
“I couldn’t possibly face them after what I did.” The tears leaked despite my best efforts. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
“What could you have possibly done that they wouldn’t forgive?”
I looked at him incredulously. “I disgraced them. I had a baby out of wedlock. I intentionally messed around after prom and got knocked up.”
“Did you know that your mom volunteers at a clinic that helps girls who are becoming single moms? I’ve seen her deal with these young women with love and empathy.”
“But those women aren’t her daughter.”
“You’re right. The love she and you dad have for you is far greater. They know about your situation. They’ve known for a couple years.”
“Then why haven’t they contacted me?”
“They’ve tried. Your number isn’t listed. They told me they thought about hiring a private eye but thought you might resent the intrusion.”
“Did they send you to follow me?”
“No, but I think God might have. We were going to go to a restaurant by the beach when one of my friends suggested the Diner. I’m not big on diner food but for some reason, it sounded good tonight.”
“Check her underwear drawer.” Bella suggested as we looked around the bedroom Mom and I shared.
I opened the drawer and dug. “Here it is!” I pulled the photo out from under a pile of socks. “Is this the Wilsons you know?”
Bellas face lit up. “That’s them!” She gave me a big hug. “We need to tell them!”
Bella took off with the pic and ran to the courtyard. I tried to keep up with her, but she was fast!
“Dad! Rose! It’s them!”
Bella stopped next to her dad and exclaimed between breaths, “The Wilsons are Beth’s grandparents! You have to call them!”
“That’s not up to me, honey.” He looked at me.
“Do I really have a choice?” To call me nervous would be like calling the sun hot. But it was obvious that it was going to happen so might as well get to it.
The final nail in the coffin of my independent life was driven by Beth when she hugged me and said in my ear, “I want to meet my grandparents.”
I held her for a long minute.
Curt busied himself with cleaning up the table and sending Bella to the apartment with dishes. He stopped short. “I have an idea.”
“Okay.” I looked up while Beth went to help Bella.
“I could call your parents and ask if I could come over with a surprise.”
“The surprise being me and Beth.”
“Yep! That way they don’t have time to plan a big embarrassing homecoming for you.”
I had to admit, the idea made sense. “Do it.”
We rode there in Curt and Bella’s car. Mom was way too nervous to drive. I was nervous too, but more excited than nervous. Nervocited?
We went over the bridge we use when we go to the beach and then turned into a nice neighborhood. The house was a pretty light tan color with palm trees out front. He parked in the driveway where they wouldn’t be able to see us get out of the car.
“If you want you can wait by the edge of the garage until I call for you.”
Mom’s voice was shaky. “That might be good.”
I met her at the front passenger door. And helped her get out of the car.
Curt went straight to the front door. Mom and I hurried to hiding spot right at the corner of the garage. Bella stayed beside me. We got there just as the doorbell rang.
“Merry Christmas Curtis, won’t you come in.” That must have been my grandma’s voice.
“Actually, my special surprise is out here.” Louder he said, “Come on!”
Mom hesitated. I grabbed one of her arms and Bella grabbed the other and we stepped out.
I can’t even come close to describing Grandma’s reaction here. Her eyes got big as saucers. She let out a squeal and ran. I didn’t know a grandma could move that fast. She plowed into Mom, almost knocking her over, and gave her a hug only a mom can give.
“What the matter, hon?” Grandpa appeared at the door. His eyes got big too. “Oh, my Lord!”
He ran and joined the now 4-way hug. “Thank you, Jesus!”
We had just about suffocated each other when Grandpa broke free and knelt in front of me. “I’m your Grandpa Nate.” He reached out a hand to me.
I returned his handshake and introduced myself. “I’m Elizabeth Ann Wilson. But you can call me Beth.”
My mom pulled back and looked me in the eye. “I’ve missed you more than you can imagine. I’m so glad you’re here.”
Dad stood up from in front of Beth. “Come on inside, all of you.”
Curt was holding Bella’s hand and standing to the side. “We shouldn’t intrude any further.”
“Nonsense.” Mom waved them in. “You’re our miracle worker. We need to hear the whole story.”
With that, we all ended up in my parents new living room. Well, almost all.
“They have a pool, Mom!” It was visible out the back window. “Can me and Bella go sit on the edge? Please!”
“Go ahead, just be careful. That’s your best dress.” I have to admit, I liked the idea of her having a place like this to visit.
Mom set a platter with sweet tea and glasses of ice on the coffee table. Then she sat next to me. “Honey.” She looked away for a moment.
When she turned back, her eyes were wet again. “I’ve rehearsed this moment in my head a thousand times and now it’s all fuddled up in there.”
Her hand gestures and manner of speaking were the same as I remembered. She took a deep breath. “What I really want to say is I’m so sorry that I made you think that you had to hide from us.”
“What? Mom, I’m the one who should be sorry. And I am sorry I caused you such shame. I imagine all your church friends would have disowned you if they knew I was having a baby before I was married.”
“A few people did, but that was their own twisted up thinking that caused that – not anything you did.”
Dad leaned over and took my hands. “My beautiful Rose, I was in the room when you came into this world.” He looked me straight in the eyes. “The moment I saw your eyes, I understood the love of God. In that moment, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was nothing I wouldn’t do to protect you and there was nothing that you could do that could quench the fire of love that I have for you. That’s still true today both of my love for you and God’s love for you.”
I couldn’t look in his wet eyes anymore. I wept. In that weeping, I found healing. I found restoration. I let go of a thousand hurts I had been treasuring. I found my family again. I began to find my faith again.”
Bella got up and looked through the glass door. “You’re lucky.”
I stood next to her and saw Mom crying and Grandma and Grandpa comforting her. “Why do you say that?”
“Even though you only have a mom, she really loves you.”
“Yeah she does.”
This is the point where I’m supposed to tell you that we lived happily ever after. But that only happens in fairy tales. Still, life is better. Instead of hanging out at home when Mom works, I get to hang out at Grandma Glad and Grandpa Nate’s house. Bella hangs out with me sometimes, and her dad, well, he tends to hang out when my Mom’s around. They claim to just be friends, but we’ll see.
Well, I need to wrap this story up. I can’t believe I wrote so much! (Mom helped some) I told my teacher about it and she’s going to give me extra credit for it! Thanks for reading!
Oh, and if there’s someone you need to reunite with, don’t wait. They might be praying that you’ll call or visit.
I hope you enjoyed this little Christmas story. It is an extreme departure from my normal writing style. In case you are wondering, Rose and Beth are fictional though I have known people in similar situations.
It is very easy to get caught up in the dos and don’ts of the Christian life. We tend to forget the depths of God’s love and forgiveness that is available to any who would ask. Please believe me that there is no wrong doing that cannot be forgiven.
The commands given in Scripture are there to guide us in the best way to live. We strive to follow them because we love God and we believe that he knows the best way for us. But know this, we all mess up. For the times that we do, God has made a way to restore us through the sacrifice of Jesus.
If you are feeling like Rose in this story, you are not alone. Find a good local church or counseling organization. If you don’t know where to start, email me and I will help you find help.
This story is available here free of charge. Feel free to share it as much as you like by sharing the link to this page. If you would like to print it or distribute it in any alternate form, please contact me.
Copyright 2020 – Richard D Solano