An older girl, jiggling a baby on her hip, smiled and said, “Thanks, Cori!”
Chuckling, one guy asked no one in particular, “Remember that Sunday when Pastor forgot his sermon notes and had to preach from scratch?”
“Yeehaw!” cried another.
“Hey, guys, Jack is leaving,” Cori Anderson reported. The group moved over to a 15 passenger van stuffed with children and car seats to bid “Jack” goodbye. Cori wasn’t sure which little kids belonged there and which were just visiting with the others.
Once they had driven off it seemed as though all the parents woke up and saw that it was already past 6:00 pm and scores of families left at once, leaving just the three Anderson sisters and few friends chatting by the girls’ car.
“Bye, Cori, Anne, Becca!” a girl with glasses hugged each before walking back to her family.
“Girls, here comes Mom. You’d better strap in,” their Dad called over his shoulder from where he sat in the driver’s seat.
“K,” Cori called back, and opened the door, allowing Becca to scoot past and sit in the middle.
Dad glanced towards the church building and grinned, saying, “Go ahead and roll down your window…she stopped by the front door.”
“Hey, Cori!” a blonde haired girl bent down to the window to make herself heard over a pickup that had started its engine, “You guys get your Christmas tree yet?” Both girls waved at the retreating truck before turning back to their conversation.
Cori shook her head. “We usually get it closer to Christmas so it’ll stay fresh and then leave it up a while longer after Christmas day. I’ll send you pictures when we have it up, though,” she explained.
“Cool! You should see ours; I love all the pearls Eric put on it,” replied her friend.
The girl’s older brother wandered over to listen. “Oh hi, Eric,” Anne smiled at him from the other end of the seat, “How’re you?”
He raised a hand in greeting and stuffed it back into his coat pocket. “Good; just a little sick,” he answered over the others’ heads.
A little boy ran over with another close on his heels. “Time to go!” they announced loudly. Eric caught him and proceeded to spin him around. When he let him loose the two ran, shrieking, to a van parked nearby.
“Welp, we’d better go,” he said, nudging his sister.
“Bye Katie!” Cori said. Katie gave her a funny one-arm hug through the window, and they both giggled.
Eric was walking around the back of the car, drumming on the trunk as he went. He opened the side door and stuck his head in, “Bye Andersons! See ya next Sunday!”
Cori watched them walk to their van, and returned Katie’s wave when she turned and walked backwards, calling, “Don’t forget caroling on Christmas Eve!”
Cori cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled back, “I won’t!”
Mom slowly came towards them, walking with a few ladies and finishing up their conversation. After a few words and a hug, she climbed in, moving a gift box from her seat. Dad pulled out and bipped the horn in farewell to the many friends who waved.
Once on the quiet streets, Mom looked at the gift box on her lap. “Any ideas where this came from?” she asked, passing it back.
Anne took the box and shook it, then passed it to Becca who ran a finger over the bright, Christmas colored wrapping. Studying the hand written tag for a moment, Cori spoke for them, “Nope. Not an idea.”
“Well, go ahead and open it,” Dad said.
“Before Christmas?!” Becca’s eyes widened.
Dad smiled into the rear view mirror, “Yup, I’ve got a hunch they want us to.” Cori looked suspiciously at Dad’s face, but she couldn’t tell if he knew anything. Turning her attention back to the mysterious package, she carefully peeled off the scotch-tape, trying not to tear the paper much.
“Oh, come on!” Anne bounced impatiently in her seat and strained to see the square box beneath the folds of paper. Cori pulled it out and “oooh!”s erupted from the row. Dad and Mom chuckled.
“What is it?” she asked.
“A board game,” Cori replied absently. Mom looked back only to see three heads bent over the instructions, one curly, one straight, and one in between.
“An angel?!” The exclamation made Cori look up from where she was pulling off her shoes.
“What do you mean, Becca?” she asked her littlest sister.
“I was carrying the box inside-the gift box Mom found in the car on the way home- and this rolled out,” Becca unwrapped an angel figurine that was pillowed in a bed of tissue paper and held it up.
Cori tilted her head, saying, “Just an angel? Hmmm… that’s weird!”
“May I see, dear?” Mom asked, locking the front door behind her and setting her purse down on the coffee table. Becca brought it to Mom, and she examined it. “It’s very pretty; I’m just not sure what we could use him for…” Mom mused.
Cori stared at the miniature man in her Mom’s hands. He had wings that came right out of his long white robes that really looked like real cloth. “Mom, why would someone give us a lone angel?”
Rain pounded on the roof competing with the sound of Christmas music overdriving speakers. A curly haired girl waltzed down the hall singing, with a tray of cookies in one hand. With a dramatic pause in the doorway to the kitchen she whispered, “O come let us adore Him,” and exploded in an operatic voice, “O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!!!!” Anne twirled dangerously across to the counter to poke at the cookies on a cooling rack and quieted into a sort of half humming, half singing of the second verse due to not being able to remember the words.
Her older sister dreamily walked in and settled on a bar stool with her Kindle in hand and a vacant look on her face. “Hello Cori, whatcha reading? Want to try a cookie? I burned a few for privileged tasters,” the girl stopped her chatter for a second to take care of some frosting that had found its way onto her finger tip.
Cori yawned and looked up. “Maybe if there’s no frosting on it,” she teased.
Anne made a face and flounced her wild head of brown curls. “I declare, Cori Anderson, you’ve got another pair of eyes behind your bangs or something,” she said.
The beginning of a pleasant argument was interrupted by the announcement that Dad was home and everyone set to work running around. You might have called it chaos since it looked much like such a thing but it was really rather organized. “Becca, you’re lookout this time,” Cori called, “Anne, you’d better hide those cookies. I’ve got dinner on the table but, oh, somebody grab the salt!”
The third sister dashed to the front window and pressed her nose against the cold glass. Her breath clouded it up, and she scrubbed at it with her sleeve, calling out in a singsong voice, “He’s coming up the walk.”
The music was extinguished to a peaceful volume, and Anne dashed out into the garage to turn on the Christmas lights because it was already dusk. She was back in nearly a second and in time to greet “Papa” (as she fondly titled him).
The father of the happy Anderson family stepped in, laden with curiously shaped parcels, and the door was slammed shut on the cold wind that came in with him. Pleasant smells of cinnamon, pine needles, and Christmas cheer greeted the tired man, and he grinned at his daughters. Cori stole his coat right off him and insisted that he go find Mama, and as he left the room Anne stood on tiptoe to take his hat, causing his thick hair to stand wildly on end.
Once he was out of sight, Cori turned on her sisters. “Now, Anne, light the candles on the table. No, I’ll do that; you go flatten down your hair a little. The wrapping paper is still on the living room floor, Becca, you can stuff it under my bed for now only don’t crush the gift,” she gave Becca a conspiratorial wink and flew off after the matches.
Anne frowned into the mirror above the bathroom sink and ran her hand through the tangled, curly brown mass that framed her face. She tied it into a red ribbon at the back of her head and pulled a wet comb through the ends. That would have to do.
Dashing back into the hall, she almost collided with Becca who whispered something too quietly and disappeared.
Mom and Dad were already at the table and were busy exclaiming over its appearance. “The girls wanted to make dinner entirely themselves tonight,” praised Mom, “I didn’t know they would do it so nicely! They’ve even decorated!” And they had. Cori had spent seemingly hours trying to press out the wrinkles in a red table cloth from having been stored so long, while Anne and Becca had arranged a center piece of greens and short, nice smelling candles. Underneath each plate lay a delicate, white snowflake the girls had cut from printer paper.
Cori came trooping down the hall, finishing off her braid, and sat between Dad and Becca. Chatter and the clinking of dishes started the moment Dad had prayed. Biscuits, green beans, and chicken were all served and eaten in the matter of thirty minutes.
Anne eyed a suspicious gift box at Dad’s elbow as she pushed back her plate. A break in conversation soon came, and he cleared his throat. He said, “I found this on our porch, addressed to the family. How about we open it, huh?” Becca cheered in answer, and he handed it to her. She ripped into the paper, and Cori helped get the ribbon to come loose so the lid could be removed. She kept the gift tag to tape into her journal.
“Yum!” the girls said in unison. Inside mounds of caramel, cheesy, (and some strangely colored stuff that looked good,) flavored popcorn stared up at them. A delightfully thick book was found in a zip-lock bag with a penciled note that read, “To read aloud. Merry Christmas!”
Everyone looked at Dad. He smiled, “Looks like someone who wishes to remain anonymous thought of us this Christmas!”
Mom checked her watch, and began stacking plates. “Let’s wash up these dishes real quick then have some cozy family time,” she said. They jumped to help and soon the last plate had been dried and the last fork put in its place with no further event than a nearly shattered drinking glass.
Cori was the only one who noticed a bearded shepherd figurine the same height as yesterday’s angel snuggled among the popcorn. She carried it to the living room and left it standing beside the angel on the piano when she trooped off to bed with her siblings.
The next day, Cori’s alarm clock went off nice and early, and the three sisters immediately busied themselves with getting ready for the day. (At least some people thought it was nice how early it went off and others denied that they had said they wanted to get up that early the night before… I won’t give names.) Breakfast was eaten hurriedly and without much talking for they were going Christmas shopping today and wanted to start out as soon as possible. “Cori, would you braid my hair?” Becca asked, coming into the girls’ bedroom.
“Hang on; right after I find my boots,” came Cori’s muffled voice from the closet. She burst from the closet and shut the door on everything that wanted to follow.
Pulling on her boots, she paused and a smile crept across her features. “What?” Becca began to ask, but Cori put a finger to her lips.
“Listen,” she whispered. Becca frowned and was about to say something when her sister shouted and began to dance around with one shoe halfway on. “It’s hail! Oh, I knew it would hail!” she exclaimed, “Let’s go find Anne!”
Anne turned out to be nowhere in the house and the girls rushed outside to find her prancing around barefoot in the front yard. “Anne!” Cori screamed over the noise of uncontrollable laughter and water rushing from the gutters, “Isn’t it wonderful?!”
Anne bobbed her head and ran under the porch. Her sisters followed, and they stood there shivering and giggling. Anne’s hair was flattened against her neck and a drop trickled down her forehead. “Come on, let’s change,” Cori took Anne’s hand and led her through the house. Five minutes later Anne emerged in a dry dress and with only slightly damp hair.
The female Andersons sloshed to the curb where they climbed into the car, turned up the heater, and were soon comfortably warm. “Where are we going first, Mama?” Anne asked, peering out the windshield to try to guess.
“I figured we should go to the grocery store to pick up some meals for the week, and then we can vote on where next,” she replied.
“Cool!” came the enthusiastic reply.
When they got out at the grocery store, Cori whispered something to Mom who nodded, typed something into her phone, and whispered back. Everything was making Anne and Becca awfully curious and they smiled at their own secrets. Many mysterious shopping bags were smuggled home that day and some in the most creative styles. Becca carried a mini bag of M & Ms for Anne by sticking it in her hat, and Mom zipped up a flat, oblong bag in her coat and acted like she was cold as they unloaded groceries into the house.
A craft store was voted the next stop and there a couple blissful hours were spent. It was already past noon when they loaded into the car again. Mom started the engine and backed out, easing the car around the maze of vehicles outside the store. “Want to lunch at a tea shop or a pizza place?” Mom offered, a little smile playing around her pretty lips.
More than one excited voice replied, “Really?!!”
“Hey, it’s girls’ day out!” she pointed out playfully.
Becca screwed up her face in thought. “PIZZA!” she exploded passionately.
“All right,” Mom laughed, “Pizza it is!”
It was an adorable little diner complete with tall stools, black and white checkered floors, blonde waitresses on skates, and peppy music playing in the background. The sisters were enchanted by the juke box, and almost drove the employees nuts with the Bing Crosby they set it to play over and over again.
A girl with a big poodle skirt and a blonde bun on the top of her head rolled over on her skates. “Hi! Thanks for coming to “Old 70’s Diner”! I’m your server, Jess; what can I get for you today?” she recited in a chipper voice.
“Mmm… how about pizza?” Becca offered quite seriously. Jess smiled, and wrote it on her pad. “I think I can do that for you; what kind would you like?” she asked.
Their pepperoni pizza soon sat as a delicious, steaming centerpiece on their table, and the girls sipped tall glasses of root beer along with it. “Did you see our waitress balanced the pizza in one hand, the tray of cups in the other, WHILE keeping her balance on those skates?!” Anne exclaimed over the meal.
“Yeah,” Cori agreed, “that looked HARD! I DEFINITELY couldn’t balance all of that!” Anne waved her arms in the air and made-believe she was Cori slipping around on roller blades, and they broke into fits of laughter.
Becca had been pretty quiet. She chewed her food, and gazed out the window. Mom turned to her and asked, “So what’s my nine-year-old thinking about?”
“The Elves,” she stated. The others, of course, made her explain this strange answer. “I was just thinking about how in funny stories people have made up about a guy named Santa Clause, he has elves, all dressed up cute, that help him deliver gifts to kids,” she ran a hand thoughtfully down one of her braids, “The people who keep giving us things for Christmas are our elves.”
“Hey, I like that!” Anne agreed wholeheartedly. “I hereby christen our secret benefactors “The Elves”!” she announced seriously.
Cori and Anne raised their glasses with Becca following their lead, and the three sisters tapped the edges together, and each swallowed a big gulp. Anne’s eyes watered, and she sputtered. “Woa! That stings!” she croaked. Cori clapped her helpfully on the back, and so the lunch ended.
More errands followed and once home, four very tired girls collapsed on the couches as soon as they had trudged through the door. Not more than two seconds passed before the doorbell rang, and they sprung to their feet. Anne flung open the door and was surprised to see nothing but the porch and yard. “Hmm…that’s weird,” Cori found herself saying, and remembered that she had uttered the same exact words only days earlier. She stepped onto the walk and looked around the dark yard. No one was in sight. Turning to the lighted porch where Mom, Anne, and Becca now stood she shrugged, “Nobody’s out here.”
She trotted up the steps and looked over Anne’s shoulder at what she held in her hands. “Mm! Chocolate!” she breathed, “How did they know what tired shoppers need!” Five mega-sized chocolate bars were tied together with festive ribbon and a tag that read, “To make your mouth water. Or to eat. Merry Christmas!”
The sound of a car slowing down and stopping on the wet road caused everyone to look up with surprise. It was Dad, who stepped from his dusty, blue pickup and waved. “Hey, beautifuls! What’s the meeting?”
Anne beckoned him over, calling, “The Elves have visited again!”
To be continued…