The call, not far away, made the girl choke back her sobs and hastily try to dry her eyes with the gloves she pulled from her pocket.
The voice was closer now, but the girl gave no answer.
“There you are. Are you alright?” The speaker was a boy slightly taller and a little older than the girl. His dark hair stuck out slightly from under a stocking cap he had pulled on crookedly. “Where is your hat? And your gloves? Do you want to catch a cold just before Christmas?” His voice was reproving but kind.
Wordlessly Lana shook her head and pulled out a stocking cap and pulled it on. Then she hesitated. Her gloves were damp already from her tears. Gene would be sure to notice that fact. Nothing seemed to escape his eyes.
“Put your gloves on too,” the boy ordered, his sharp blue eyes watching her every move.
With a sigh, Lana yanked out her gloves and pulled them on. “How did you know I was here?”
“I just followed your tracks. There is snow on the ground, you know.”
Lana didn’t reply but, turning her back on the boy, slowly began to walk around the old tractor, brushing off the snow as she went.
For some time the boy watched her. Then he said, “She didn’t mean it, you know.”
“Yes, she did. She doesn’t want me here; she hasn’t for months now. I can’t ever do anything right in her eyes, so I may as well quit trying.” She spoke dismally, yet with an undertone of fierceness in her voice that showed she was still upset.
“That would only provoke her even more. Come on, Lana, I know it’s hard, but it’s not so bad when Dad is home.” Gene ignored the remark about Lana not being wanted.
“That’s all right for you to say. You’re related. I’m not even that. I’m only the niece of your father’s first wife!”
“I’m only a step-son.”
“Yes, but she doesn’t dare do anything to you because Uncle Grant would find out.” Lana traced a design in the snow on the front of the tractor. “I wish I could find Grandma and go live with her.”
“What about me?” protested the boy in indignation. “You want to just up and leave me alone for Christmas?”
“But this is your home, Gene,” Lana said. “You belong here.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, “I don’t.”
“Yes, you do,” Gene insisted stoutly. “You know Dad wants you.”
“Maybe,” conceded the girl, pushing back a red curl that was hanging in her eye. “I wouldn’t mind living here if Aunt Sophia was just a little nicer, but I think she hates me, Gene.”
“No, she doesn’t.”
At that Lana looked up and favored her cousin with an incredulous expression. “Then why does she act like she does?”
Gene was silent. “I don’t know. But she argued to have you come live with us after . . . the accident. Maybe she’s just extra tired lately. You know Thanksgiving was rather stressful trying to do all that we did.”
“I wish I knew where Grandma was.”
“Dad’s still looking.”
A barking came from the woods and both heads turned toward the sound. In another minute two dogs burst from the trees and raced up to the cousins jumping, prancing and wagging their tails. Dropping to her knees in spite of the snow, Lana patted the wild bundles of fur and tried to avoid their wet kisses, but it was useless. When the larger one, a mix of doberman and lab, pushed against her, she tumbled over into the snow and lay laughing as both dogs covered her face with wet, slobbery kisses.
“Mistletoe! Blitz! Off!” A new voice called, and both dogs backed up, panting and quivering with delight, longing to continue their fun. “Are you alright, Lana?”
“Yes,” Lana giggled, sitting up and fishing in her pocket for something to dry her face with.
“Here. It’s not used.” And the newcomer handed a large handkerchief to her.
“Thanks.” After wiping her face, Lana accepted the offered hands of her cousin and neighbor and they pulled her to her feet. “I think they enjoyed that, Missy,” she said, looking down at the two dogs whose tails were still wagging.
“Probably. You aren’t hurt are you?”
Lana shook her head. “No. What are you doing out here? And where is Mitch?”
The girl laughed. “He headed back before I did to start on the milking. With the machines still broken we’ll have to do it all by hand.”
Gene groaned. “I guess that means I’d better head to the barn too. You two coming?”
Gene nodded and Lana watched as he started off at a trot in the direction of the newer barn which housed the milk cows and the rest of the farm animals. Lana lived with her uncle and his family in a trailer on one side of the farm owned by Missy’s father. The trailer was rented and the entire family helped with the work of the farm. Uncle Grant was the hired hand while the others helped where and when they could.
“What were you doing out in the woods?” queried Lana as the two girls started slowly across the snowy ground while the dogs raced here and there, stopping to sniff now and then, or to chase each other.
“Mitch and I thought we’d go out and see if we could locate the perfect Christmas tree.”
“You already have a tree.”
“It’s for next year.”
“Did you find one?”
“Maybe. But we have to wait and see what it looks like next year. I just hope Mitch can find it again. We did mark it, but I know I never could find it again.” Missy laughed lightly. “What were you and Gene doing out? You don’t look like you are dressed for being outdoors?”
Looking down, Lana saw her skirt was soaked from the snow and realized why she was feeling so cold. “I was in a hurry to get out of the house and didn’t stop to bundle up.”
“Things difficult again?”
The sympathy in her friend’s voice brought another sudden rush of tears to Lana’s green eyes. She nodded. The memory of her aunt’s harsh words returned and with them the pain they had caused. “She doesn’t want me, Missy,” she whispered. “She said I wasn’t good for anything except to cause trouble. We can’t even clean up the kitchen together without her yelling at me about something. And I lose my temper and yell back.” She sniffed. “I just wish I could please her, but she never says I do a good job of anything. She finds fault with every single thing I do. I think if she would just praise me once, I could stand it, but--”
“Are you praying for her still?”
Lana nodded. “Yeah, but it’s not doing any good. If anything she’s become even more irritable. The last few days she’s even snapped at Gene. I wish we could find my grandmother and I could go live with her.”
“I’d really miss you if you left, Lana.” Missy’s words were sincere. “But don’t you think you should go change? You don’t want to get sick before Christmas.”
Smiling slightly over Missy using almost the exact words Gene had, Lana shrugged. “I guess I should. I’ll hurry back to the barn to help as soon as I can.” She turned to go but paused as Missy spoke.
“Keep praying, Lana. I know it can make a difference. I’ll keep praying too.”
Nodding, Lana ran as quickly as she could in her heavy boots toward the trailer she called home. When she neared it, her heart sent up a silent prayer. “Please, Lord, don’t let Aunt Sophia scold me again right now.”
Quietly stepping in to the small screened porch her uncle had built onto the trailer in the summer, Lana stepped out of her boots. Pulling off her gloves and hat, she stuffed them into the pockets of her coat before she opened the door where a wreath hung, its red bow crooked, and felt the warmth of the trailer.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was playing on the radio and a delicious smell wafted from the small kitchen. It was soothing and Lana felt her stomach rumble.
Not hearing her aunt, Lana glanced toward the kitchen. “Aunt Sophia!” The cry escaped her lips as she half rushed, half slid across the floor to where her aunt lay with white face and closed eyes on the floor, half out of the kitchen doorway. “Aunt Sophia, wake up!” She tried to shake the woman’s shoulder, but received no response. Frantically she looked around. Her first thought was to run for Uncle Grant. But she didn’t know where he was.
“I could call him,” she thought, rising quickly and reaching for the phone. It wasn’t on the stand. Where was it? Almost franticlaly she looked around. It had to be somewhere! At last, spying it on the floor almost under the couch, she picked it up.
“No, I can’t call Uncle Grant yet. Aunt Sophia needs medical help. I have to call for help first.” Quickly, with shaking hands, she dialed 9-1-1.
“9-1-1 What is your emergency?” A calm voice answered at only the second ring.
“It’s my aunt. She’s on the floor unconscious. She won’t wake up!”
“Is she breathing?”
“Yes.” Lana tried to keep the panic out of her voice. “But not really well.” She listened to the calm voice on the other end of the line, and tried to reply to the questions and do what she was told.
Finally the woman on the other end asked, “Is there anyone else in the house with you, Lana?”
“No. Uncle Grant is on the farm somewhere and Gene is milking. But someone has to help Aunt Sophia!”
“Someone will, Lana. Just stay calm for me, all right? Help is already on the way. They should be there in a very short time. Lana, how old are you?”
“You are doing a good job right now. Is your aunt still breathing?”
Lana looked at the still form before her on the floor. Was she still breathing?”
“I think--yes, she’s breathing, but it’s really slow. Oh, please tell them to hurry!”
“They are, Lana. You should be able to hear the sirens about now.”
Lana listened. Yes, she could hear the wail of an emergency vehicle. “We’re in the trailer, not the big house! They have to go past the house! Tell them not to stop there.” She could hear the growing panic in her own voice.
“All right, Lana. Calm down. They are coming to you. Can you go open the front door for me, please?”
“Yes.” Rising to her feet, Lana cast another quick look at her aunt, glanced out the window to see a firetruck turning into their lane and hurried to the door.
Moments later the men were inside and around her aunt. She told the dispatcher good bye and then stood, gripping the phone in her hands, feeling unable to move. Its harsh ring startled her, and she glanced at the number displayed. “Uncle Grant!”
“Lana! What is happening?” Her uncle’s voice was quick.
“Aunt Sophia. I found her on the floor. She wouldn’t talk to me. I called for help. The ambulance is coming. Hurry, Uncle Grant.”
“I’m almost there.” The phone went dead.
Noticing a smell, Lana mechanically squeezed around the firemen and over to the stove. Lifting the lid off the pot, she stirred the soup and turned down the heat. The back door burst open and Uncle Grant rushed in followed by Mr. Weber. The paramedics from the ambulance came in next, and Lana wondered absently if there had ever been that many people in their small trailer before.
As though she was only a spectator and wasn’t involved, she watched as her aunt, with an oxygen mask over her face, was lifted onto a gurney, covered with a blanket and taken out of the house. Uncle Grant went out too, while Mr. Weber talked for a few minutes with one of the firemen. She wasn’t sure just when Gene, Missy and Mitch arrived, but there they were, tracking snow and mud across the floor. Of course the paramedics and firemen had tracked some in too. She would have to clean it up. Turning back, she stirred the soup once more, wondering absently if she and Gene would be the only ones to eat it.
“Lana, Dad’s going with her.” Gene had never been comfortable calling his father’s new wife “Mom.”
Lana nodded. “Of course. Will you stir the soup for me a minute?”
“Why?” Gene asked as he began to stir.
“I have to clean up the floor. It’s a mess. Aunt Sophia would never approve.” As she spoke, Lana had opened the cabinet door under the sink and pulled out a large rag. With it she began to wipe up the melted snow and mud. “I’ll have to vacuum too once the stuff on the carpet has dried.”
Mr. Weber and his children returned to the house as the wailing of the ambulance disappeared in the distance. “Gene, Lana, you two are going to come over to our house until we hear some news.”
Lana continued to clean the floor. How many times she had longed to go to the Weber's and stay there for hours. But tonight she didn’t want to. “I can’t go,” she heard herself saying. “The soup needs stirring and I have to clean up the house.”
For a moment Mr. Weber was silent. Then he said, “Missy, I’m going to leave you and Lana here to finish cooking the soup and clean up the house. Put the soup in the fridge or something because it might be needed tomorrow. I’ll come get you girls once we’ve finished milking. You ready, boys?”
Lana stood by the door in silence, watching as Mr. Weber, Gene and Mitch squeezed into the enclosed cab of the tractor. The huge wheels churned up the snow and left ugly tracks where it had once been smooth and clean snow.
“Lana, do you want me to watch the soup or help clean?”
“Can you take care of the soup? I’m not very good at cooking yet.” Numbly Lana returned to the dirty floors, and for some time both girls worked with only the Christmas tunes playing on a radio. It wasn’t until the floors were spotless, the carpet vacuumed, and the soup sitting in a container in the fridge that Missy spoke.
“What happened, Lana?”
“I don’t know.” Lana dropped to the couch and tucked her feet up under her. “I came inside and she was lying on the floor and wouldn’t answer me. I called 9-1-1 and the lady kept me on the phone until the firemen arrived.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what happened.” She shivered.
“Lana! You never changed, did you? Your clothes are still damp. Goodness! Go change before you get sick. I’m going to text Dad so he’ll know we’re done.” And the older girl waved Lana away.
As she pulled on dry clothes, Lana wondered how it was that Missy, who was two years older than her, was her best friend next to Gene. “I used to think that best friends had to be your age.”
When she returned to the living room, Missy stood up. “Dad said that we can walk over to the house if we want to. He said to lock the door and turn out the lights.”
As she stepped into the Weber’s warm, bright kitchen, having left her boots and coat in the mud room with all the others, Lana felt herself pulled into a hug by Mrs. Weber.
“Oh, Lana, I would have come over, but the twins were napping and I couldn’t leave them, you know.”
Lana nodded and gave a half smile. She enjoyed the Weber’s adopted twins who were only three. “Has Uncle Grant called?”
Mrs. Weber shook her head. “Not that I’ve heard. But don’t worry, Honey, I’m sure he will as soon as he can. Now, why don’t you go see what the twins are up to. I know they would love some stories read. Missy, set the table for me, please.”
Normally Lana would have been delighted at the prospect of reading to the twins, but right then she wondered if she could. The sounds of a gentle Christmas tune was playing in the kitchen, but the twins’ excited chatter nearly downed it out. Lana had no idea how many books she read with a twin snuggled up on either side of her, one ear listening for the ringing of a phone, her mind replaying the afternoon and wondering if the spat she and her aunt had gotten into had been the cause of the trouble.
By the time Missy came into the beautifully decorated living room to tell them it was time to eat, Lana wasn’t hungry. She was worried. Had not the twins tugged her along with them to the table, she might have remained behind. “Have you heard anything?” she asked as soon as she caught sight of Mr. Weber.
He shook his head with an apologetic smile. “No, but don’t fret, he’ll call or text.”
There was a bit of commotion just then for both twins wanted to sit beside Lana. A few chairs were scooted around, and once everyone was sitting, with Lana between Missy and Gene and the twins across the table, every head bowed and Mr. Weber thanked the Lord for the food and prayed for Aunt Sophia and the doctors.
It was a quiet meal. No one seemed inclined to talk much, and Lana was relieved to discover that Gene wasn’t very hungry either. Mrs. Weber tried to get them to eat more, but Gene shook his head.
“It’s really good, but I guess we’re just not hungry right now, ma’am.”
At last, after the twins had been put to bed, a phone call came. Aunt Sophia was resting. She had regained consciousness, but the doctor didn’t want her to talk. No one was quite sure just what had happened. It seemed to be an attack of some sort, but the doctors didn’t know what. It hadn’t been a stroke, but they weren’t ruling out a heart attack. They were going to be running more tests tomorrow.
It was decided to have Lana and Gene sleep at the Weber's house that night, and Mr. Weber drove them back to the trailer to get their pajamas and pillows.
As Lana entered her own room, her chin began to quiver and pushing the door shut behind her, she flung herself down on her bed, wrapped her arms around her teddy bear, buried her face in her pillow and cried. This was her second Christmas without her parents, who had been killed in an accident almost three years ago, but she still missed them. And what if it was her fault that her aunt was now in the hospital? What if Uncle Grant didn’t want her any longer? They didn’t know where Grandma was . . . Where would she live? Life was certainly a mess. It wasn’t anything like she had read in storybooks. Christmas was supposed to be a happy time of year, wasn’t it? The tears came faster, soaking her pillow and causing her head to start throbbing again. All she wanted was a happy Christmas once again. She wanted laughter and smiles. And Christmas was only a few days away.
She didn’t hear the gentle knock on her door or notice the light which spilled into the room from the narrow hallway.
“Lana?” Someone sat down beside her on the bed and a hand pushed back her hair. “It’s going to be all right.”
“No, it’s not!” she sobbed, her whole body quivering. “It’s my fault. I--I shouldn’t have run out like that. A--and I couldn’t find the phone at first. I--”
“No, Lana,” Mr. Weber interrupted firmly. “It wasn’t your fault. Stop blaming yourself.”
“It is. E--everything is my fault. I can’t do anything r--right.” She hiccuped and drew a shaky breath.
“Listen to me, Lana.” The farmer waited a moment and Lana lay still, her face still turned to the wall and almost hidden by her teddy bear. “You are telling yourself a lie. No one is perfect, but everything is not your fault either. And you can do things right. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You did the right thing and called for help when you found your aunt.”
“But I couldn’t find the phone.”
“What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t on the base.”
A slight pause made Lana wonder if Mr. Weber had heard her.
“Where did you find it?”
“Almost under the couch.”
“Well, you did find it and made the call. And things are going to be okay. Now suppose you get your things together and we’ll head back. I think Gene is waiting, and I know Missy is eager to have a room mate.”
Lana didn’t want to get up. She didn’t want to go sleep in the main house. She didn’t want to go out in the cold again. A shiver raced up her spine and she closed her eyes to shut out the bright light which made her head hurt worse.
The next thing she knew, someone was shaking her shoulder. “Lana.” The voice was persistent. “Lana, wake up. Mr. Weber is waiting for us.”
How she wanted to tell Gene to go away and let her finish sleeping. What did he mean Mr. Weber was waiting? Then it came back. Drearily she forced herself to sit up. “Okay,” she mumbled, still clutching her bear.
“I got your toothbrush and your pajamas from the clean laundry, but I didn’t know what you wanted for tomorrow.”
Rubbing her eyes, which she knew were swollen, Lana tried to smile. Shakily she stood up and, with one hand, pulled open her dresser drawer. After collecting the rest of her clothes, she dumped them in a bag and, still hugging her bear, shuffled down the hall. She knew she didn’t need to take her pillow. Besides, it was still wet from her tears.
Mr. Weber looked up from the farm magazine which lay on the counter. “Are you ready?”
Gene answered for both of them and they put on their coats.
“Now don’t stay up all night talking, girls,” Mrs. Weber admonished with a hug and kiss for each one.
“We won’t,” Missy assured her while Lana tried to smile in spite of the pounding of her head.
Alone after Mrs. Weber shut the door behind her, Missy said, “Are you all right, Lana?”
“I’m just tired. And I have a headache,” she admitted, shivering and sitting down on the side of the twin bed that was to be hers for the night.
“Then why don’t you get ready for bed first.”
Lana felt like she was moving in slow motion as she got into her flannel pajamas, brushed her teeth, and washed her face. After two failed attempts to brush her red curls, she gave up, crawled into bed and hugged her bear close. Closing her eyes, she lay still, trying not to think, as gradually the pounding eased and the warmth of the blankets wrapped her in a feeling of calm and comfort.
* * *
The next day dragged by for Lana. Mrs. Weber and the twins tried to keep her busy with things about the house or reading and playing with the twins. Missy urged her to help out in the barn with some of the chores, but still the day crept by. It was hard not knowing what was happening with Aunt Sophia.
Finding her cousin alone by a window that afternoon, staring out over the snowy landscape as he watched Mitch clear the lanes with the snow plow on the tractor, Lana moved to stand beside him and asked in low tones, “When are they coming home?”
Gene shook his head. “I don’t know. Dad hasn’t even texted since this morning and that was only to say the doctors were going to run some tests.”
“I could have run lots of test by now,” Lana muttered. This waiting was almost worse than yesterday when she was waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
“Gene, Lana.” Mrs. Weber entered the living room. “Your dad just called, and Mr. Weber is going to go pick him up at the hospital.”
Gene turned quickly. “Can we go with him?”
Mrs. Weber shook her head. “No, sorry. There isn’t room for more than three people in his truck. With all the snow we had this afternoon, he didn’t want to take the van.”
Gene nodded, but Lana could sense his disappointment. When they were alone again, Lana whispered, “Do you think he’s going to stay home until Aunt Sophia gets out? Or is she coming home now too?”
“I don’t know.”
They were not far from the window an hour later when the Webers’ truck turned into the driveway and came to a stop before the porch.
“Dad’s here!” And Gene jumped up, shaking the card table and causing the marbles on the Chinese Checkers board to roll in every direction. Missy and Mitch grabbed it and managed to keep the marbles from disappearing off the table.
Lana got up more carefully and hurried after him out onto the porch and then held back. Would her uncle blame her for Aunt Sophia’s trouble? Mr. Weber had said it wasn’t her fault, but Lana couldn’t help feeling that it was, somehow, her fault.
Uncle Grant was out of the truck and had pulled his son into a hug.
Lana blinked. Gene had never used that name for his step-mother. At least not that she had ever heard.
“She’ll be alright.” Uncle Grant looked up and reached out an arm for Lana.
Almost timidly, biting her lower lip, she descended the steps and found herself caught in a tight hug. “Thanks to Lana, she’ll be all right.”
Lana couldn’t speak, for the air was almost squeezed out of her. Had she really saved her aunt’s life?
“Grant, we’ll expect you for supper at six,” Mr. Weber remarked before climbing the steps to the porch.
“Thanks. Hop in the truck, Kids. We’re going home for a while.”
Lana was thankful the truck was warm, for neither she nor Gene had thought to grab their coats, and there was a light snow still falling.
No one talked on the short drive down the road to the next driveway. It wasn’t until the three of them were seated in their own living room, Uncle Grant on one side of the couch, Gene in an easy chair he had dragged over, and Lana curled on the other side of the couch, that anyone spoke.
“Dad, is something going on?” Gene’s voice was somewhat anxious.
“Yes, Son, there is.” He drew a deep breath and then went on. “When we were at the hospital last night, the doctors were sure that something had caused the attack Mom had suffered. She wasn’t well enough to talk, and I didn’t know what it could have been. I told Mr. Weber about it and asked him to pray. Lana, after you mentioned to him where you had found the phone, it made him wonder why the phone was there and if perhaps your aunt had dropped it. So he checked the list of calls and found a strange number of someone who had called right before Lana would have gotten home. Well, to make a long story short, I called the number and found out some things. Today I had a long talk with Mom, and well--” He rubbed his hand over his neck as though it were a bit stiff. “She asked me to tell you the story. And Lana, she wanted me to thank you for calling for help.”
His smile gave Lana a warm feeling inside. Perhaps she had done something right after all.
“What story, Dad?”
“About seven years ago, before I met her, Mom got pregnant. She didn’t want an abortion, but she didn’t think she could care for a child. She tried it, however, for a few months before realizing that it wasn’t working. Her aunt agreed to take the child and raise her, and Sophia moved on with her life.”
Lana, watching her uncle’s face, saw a distant expression cross it and she wondered if he was picturing the past.
“Almost two years later, Sophia--Mom, found Christ and her life changed. But she wasn’t able to provide a home for her daughter. When we met about four years ago, she never mentioned her daughter. She told me today that she didn’t feel it right to take the child from the only home she had ever known, and . . .” Uncle Grant swallowed hard and cleared his throat a few times before going on. “She didn’t know what I would say if I found out. We got married and then Lana, you came to live with us. Your aunt thought that having you here would help her forget about her own child. It didn’t work. Every time she saw you, she remembered. She was carrying a heavy burden this whole time with her secret, and I never knew!”
The muscles along Uncle Grant’s jaw twitched and he hid his face in his hands a few minutes.
A little girl? Was that why Aunt Sophia had been so hard to please? Lana stole a glance at Gene. He was staring at the floor. The ticking of the clock on the wall seemed to fill the trailer for several minutes. But what about now? Were things going to change? What if she had to leave to make room for the other girl? Where would she go? Even if they found her grandmother, Lana wasn’t sure she really wanted to go live with her.
“Dad? That phone call. What was it?”
Uncle Grant let out a long breath and, after swiping his arm over his eyes, he gave a small smile. “That was a social worker. It seems that the aunt has dementia and isn’t able to care for Sadie any more. Since Mom had never signed away her rights to Sadie, well--” He looked first at one face and then at another. “She’s going to come live with us.”
Gene sat up quickly. “When?”
“On the twenty-third.”
Gasping, Lana stared at her uncle. The twenty-third was only the day after tomorrow! What was going to happen to her? She had told Gene that she wanted to leave, but she didn’t. Not really. Since her parents had died, this was the only home she had known. Would she get to stay for Christmas?
Standing up, she ran down the short hall to her room and flung herself onto her bed to cry. Her teddy bear wasn’t there so she clutched her pillow.
“Lana.” Strong arms picked her up and held her close. “I didn’t know the story would be this hard for you,” Uncle Grant said. “I know it’s going to be different, but this little girl needs a home.”
“I--I know,” hiccuped Lana, her face buried.
“She needs a Mommy and Daddy, a brother and sister.”
At that Lana’s head came up so quickly that it narrowly missed connecting with her uncle’s jaw. “A sister?”
“Of course. Unless you want to just be a cousin.”
“You mean I can stay here?”
“Where else would you go?” Gene’s voice broke in. “I know you said you wanted to live with your grandmother, but--”
“I don’t!” interrupted Lana hastily. “I want to stay here.”
Uncle Grant shook his head. “I don’t know what that was about, but of course you are staying here. Sadie is only six and has lived in an apartment building in a city all her life, so someone is going to have to help her learn to be a farm girl, and do things like drive tractors and milk cows, gather eggs, clean out the barn. You know, things like that.”
Lana laughed. It was good to laugh again. “When is Aunt Sophia coming home?”
“Tomorrow, I hope.”
“Dad, where is--what’s her name?”
“Yeah, Sadie--going to sleep?”
“Well, your bed and Lana’s are really a bunk-bed. If you didn’t mind sleeping on an inflatable mattress until after Christmas when we can get another bed for you . . .”
That started the planning and talking. Lana, feeling like a load had been lifted from her now that she knew she was staying, jumped in eagerly with suggestions and plans. By the time six o’clock rolled around, both Lana and Gene were eager for the next day when they could begin preparing for their new addition to the family.
“I’m going to spend the night at the hospital again,” Uncle Grant told them on the chilly drive to the main house. “I’ll take our suburban this time, so I can bring Mom home when they release her.”
Christmas music was filling the small trailer when the dark suburban pulled up the following day and Uncle Grant hurried around to help his wife out. Lana and Gene, who had been waiting eagerly all morning, rushed to hold open the door. Aunt Sophia’s smile was warm, though her eyes filled with tears as she caught sight of the children.
When she was seated on the couch, she hugged them both. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I tried to stifle my conscience and took my frustration out on you when it wouldn’t be quiet. Will you forgive me?”
“Yes,” Gene replied, and then quickly rose to go help his dad.
Blinking back tears, Lana nodded. “I thought you just didn’t like me,” she whispered.
“Oh, Lana!” Aunt Sophia’s arms went around her and pulled her close. “I love you! You are so sweet and bright. You may not be the best cook in the world yet, but you try. We’ll work together from now on, shall we? Instead of against each other?”
“I wanted to thank you, Lana. If you hadn’t been so quick to call for help . . . Well, thank you.”
Lana only smiled. She was wanted. She could do the right thing.
* * *
The entire family was waiting near the door when a black car pulled up and stopped. A woman stepped from the driver’s side and opened the back door. A moment later, a small girl in a pink coat came around the car. Her hood was up, but reddish curls poked out on either side of her face. For a moment she stared up at the family, then she marched up the steps and said, “Where’m I going’ to sleep? Do you have a Christmas tree? And can I ride on a tractor?”
That was the start of Sadie’s life in the trailer. Lana loved her the moment she set eyes on her. Not only did they both have reddish curls, but Sadie attached herself to Lana right from the start. On Christmas Eve day they helped make cookies with Missy who had come over.
“Aunt Sophia has to rest, Lana,” Uncle Grant had told her. “Call Missy if you need any kitchen help.”
In the evening, after a delicious meal made by the girls and Missy, the family sat around their lit Christmas tree together. The tree wasn’t as large as the one in the Weber’s house, but neither was their ceiling as tall.
“I’m going’ to stay up all night,” Sadie yawned, curling up with her head on Lana’s lap.
“Don’t you think you’ll be tired in the morning when we open presents?” her new dad asked.
“Huh uh,” the little child murmured, her eyes closing. “If we sing, I won’t go to sleep.”
Lana smiled. Christmas was going to be just wonderful after all. Aunt Sophia was going to be fine, she just had to rest more. Sadie would add a sparkle to everyone’s day. And perhaps, she would be the glue needed to draw the family closer together. There would be laughter instead of tears on Christmas after all.