“Anyone else want more?” she asked, looking at her parents and older brother in turn.
“I’d take some, Kiera,” Mom said. “Thank you very much, dear.”
“Any for you, Dad?”
He looked up from the Christmas cards he was writing and shook his head with a smile. Even though most mail came electronically, her family still enjoyed hand-delivering Christmas cards to their friends; and both Kiera’s parents were spending the evening signing and sealing.
She took Mom’s cup off the messy folding table and tapped her brother on the shoulder. He pulled himself out of his device screen and sermon notes to look at her.
“Do you want some more hot chocolate? We have plenty,” she offered.
“No, thanks, but do you have any of those Christmas cookies left?”
She grinned. “We might have a few.”
“Sign me up,” he said, winking.
When she returned from the kitchen with the requested treats, she sat down on the floor near the couch and stretched her legs out in front of her. “So, Thorny, how’s the sermon coming?”
“It’s all right. I’ve been thinking about Jesus as a child in Bethlehem with a stable as His shelter, and my mind turned of course to the orphanage the Tieglers are running. That’s sort of like loaning out a stable, isn’t it?” Thorne mused.
“Makes me think of the scripture in Matthew about the ‘least of these’,” Dad said.
“I’d like to see our church get behind them with prayers and funds a little more this season. At our most recent leadership meeting, Pastor Silas told me they always get an influx of residents during the cold months, so I’m sure they could use the extra support,” Thorne said and typed something out on his device.
Still thinking about his words, Kiera wandered over to the screen glass door and wiped a spot clean with her sweatshirt sleeve to peer out into the yard. Christmas lights hung like icicles from the porch cover. Snow had gathered in drifts against the corners of the block wall and blown onto the edges of the porch. She wondered how much snow the orphanage in Mexico had this time of year, and she shivered just thinking of the pictures she had seen of the slums the children came from. She longed for some way to help them, and her thoughts turned to prayer.
A sound from the family device in the kitchen interrupted signalling that a voice call was coming through. She set down her half empty cup and went to answer it.
“Hello, this is Kiera Clark.”
“Hi, girly! This is Destiny.”
“I am off the walls excited right now.”
Thorne mouthed “when is she not” to Kiera who just smiled at him and shook her head.
“We have thirty centimeters of snow over here at the farm with NO RADIATION! Seriously, it’s way under a level one.”
Thorne sat up straighter, and Dad and Mom turned to look.
“No way, that’s record breaking!” Kiera replied.
“Yup, and we’re calling a paaarty. Can you come?”
Dad set his pen down and stood up. “Thorne, check the road conditions if you will. Katie,” turning to Mom, “would you see if we still have those old snow clothes somewhere?”
“That’s a yes, then!” Kiera informed her friend over the voice call.
“Aaaah! I’m so happy!! Okay, I have to get off now to call a few more people, but I can’t wait to see you; and you don’t have to bring a snack, but you can if you want.”
“See you later!”
“Fruit loops and fist bumps. Bye.”
By the time Kiera exited the call, Dad and Mom were rummaging through the front closet, and Thorne was melting oil in a pan to make his famous popcorn.
“You don’t mind giving up your peaceful, sermoning evening, do you?” Kiera asked, taking some cookie dough out of the freezer and heating the oven.
“Nope, it’s almost done anyway, and this snow is a once in a lifetime chance.” He winked.
“I hope Jade is there. Even though I get to babysit her twice a week, it’s still been too long since I’ve seen her,” Kiera said, rolling the almond flour cookie dough into balls and placed them on a cookie sheet in the oven. “Mom, we have so much hot chocolate left, do you think we should take it?”
“I’m good with it. Just be careful pouring it into the crock,” Mom answered from the living room.
“Switch jobs with your klutzy sister?” Kiera offered, setting the crock on the counter next to the stove.
Thorne traded places with her and poured the steaming hot chocolate into the crock. Moments later Mom shooed them out of the kitchen promising to butter the popcorn and keep an eye on the cookies. It would be dark in a few hours, and they needed to be ready to go soon.
Kiera raced upstairs to her bedroom. Shutting the door behind her, she jumped into snow pants to wear underneath her skirt and changed into a warmer shirt. Pulling on her favorite stripey socks, she hurried to twist her hair into double French braids keeping an ear out for any signs that the others were ready to go. She reached for her homemade cosmetics then shook her head at herself. Between Destiny’s brothers and Thorne, she’d be lucky not to get a face full of snow. Satisfied that she was dressed warmly enough, she grabbed some extra clothes to change into later and left her room to find a coat and snow boots.
Snow clothes were perfect for wearing outdoors; but after a few minutes standing in the kitchen waiting for Mom and Dad to get ready, the two oversized siblings were sweating. They had almost resorted to going and standing on the porch, when their parents were finally ready and everyone stuffed themselves into the car. Dad started the car but made sure to keep his hands on the steering wheel just in case the self-driving system decided to malfunction from the cold.
They had launched into some of their favorite Christmas carols, and the third verse of “Silent Night” brought Kiera back to the stable and ‘the least of these’. She was praying for the orphanage as they joined a few other cars in the driveway outside of the Moore’s farmhouse. Christmas lights covered the eaves of the sprawling house and outbuildings, and a gigantic wreath sang joy from the very peak of the barn.
The fields were clipped short to a scraggly straw frozen over with a thick crust of snow. A black and gray sheepdog barked from the porch but didn’t bring himself to rise from his lazy position against the kitchen door. Kiera and Thorne opened their car doors and walked right into a snowball fight.
“Kiera! You’re here! Oof!” Destiny greeted her and was promptly hit in the stomach with a snowball. “Watch out for Kent. He is evil with the snowballs.”
Kiera ducked behind her and said, “I believe you, but Aric’s not much better, is he?”
A shout of laughter caused her to stand up with a snowball in each hand. Thorne and another young man were wrestling and trying to rub snow in each other’s faces. Destiny’s brothers Kent and Aric stood nearby with Jessica laughing and cheering for both of them.
“What happened to you, Brennan?” Destiny called.
“Football tackle, courtesy of the pastor,” he grunted.
“If that’s how best friends act…” Kiera nailed Destiny with a snowball and was rewarded with one in return. Shrieking as icy snow slipped down the back of her collar, she turned to splash snow into Kent’s face.
“I’m so glad I asked my mom to watch Jade so Brennan could play,” Destiny yelled to Thorne as she defended herself from Aric and Jessica.
“That was very thoughtful of you,” Thorne threw back as he ran from Brennan. He nearly collided with Aric who was trying to sneak up on Kent and draw some fire away from Kiera.
“Wow, the Clark family is popular today, aren’t we, bro?” Kiera said, as she shielded herself with one arm and tried to roll some more snowballs.
“Here you go, this should last for a while.” Jessica helpfully dropped a pile of snowballs next to her and took off after Aric again.
It took wet socks and a sinking sun to finally convince them that the battle was over, but not until Kiera had received the face full of snow she was expecting. They gathered on the porch and shivered for the two seconds it took Mrs. Moore to open the front door.
“We thought you all were never coming in! Leave your boots on the porch, and I’ll take your coats to the laundry room to dry. If you need to change into dry clothes, there are two bathrooms upstairs and of course the guest one down here.”
Kiera found herself even colder indoors as she followed Jessica and Destiny upstairs.
“Dad is turning up the heater, so it should be warmer downstairs when we get there,” Destiny said as she toweled her thick black hair. “I should not have let this get wet, it’s gonna get really kinky.”
“Aw, sorry. I think it looks nice that way too, though,” Jessica comforted.
“Yeah, I like it curly,” Kiera offered, pulling on a pair of dry socks.
“You are girls are too sweet to me. Come on, let’s go downstairs. I know where there’s some hot chocolate.”
They dropped their wet clothes in the laundry room and made straight for the kitchen. Aric and Thorne had already beat them to the snacks, and a conversation about airplane engines and the processing of chocolate was already well underway. Kent soon followed them, and moments later Brennan appeared carrying his two-year-old daughter Jade.
“Hi, Jade! Have any preferences about what she eats, Brennan?” Kiera asked as she took the little girl from him.
“Anything’s fine, just not too much of it,” he answered, leaning against the counter next to her. “Don’t think you are on babysitting duty just because you see Jade.”
“I won’t,” she smiled and squeezed the little girl. “I just like spending time with all of my friends.”
Jade reached towards the cookies and asked for one in gibberish, looking up at her with adorable big eyes. Kiera grabbed one for the little girl and one for herself then leaned back against the counter.
She didn’t know Brennan very well since he was closer in age to her oldest brother; but since everyone else seemed busy competing over who could hold the most marshmallows in their mouths or discussing the history of gingerbread, she decided to make conversation. “So do you all have plans for Christmas?”
“Yes, actually.” Brennan ran his fingers through his hair. “Jade and I are gonna visit my grandma. She helped us out a lot early on, so I thought it would be nice for her to see how Jade’s doing.”
“That sounds nice. We are hoping to have my brothers and their families over. They are coming to church too.”
“Too bad we won’t be back by then. Speaking of which, I almost forgot to give you your Christmas card.”
“Christmas card?” She hadn’t thought anyone else still liked to give out Christmas cards, and to her personally?
“I know you don’t want to be paid for your babysitting services; but it’s been a really big blessing, so I wanted to do something to thank you. Merry Christmas,” he said, holding out an envelope.
“Thank you. Merry Christmas to you as well,” she replied shyly.
Jade asked for another cookie.
Mrs. Moore interrupted another marshmallow contest to call them into the living room for carols. They flooded through the kitchen door to the living room, snacks in hand, and found places to sit around the room. Pastor Silas smiled at his daughter Jessica as she sat down next to him. Kiera sat down in the corner between the two couches, and Kent sat next to her dangling his arm over the side to play with Jade. Destiny sat down at the piano bench and the discussion of what to sing first began.
Jade discovered the envelope Kiera had put on her lap and ripped it open. Kiera gently took the envelope from her so she wouldn’t eat it and decided to read the card while she waited for the singing to start.
“I once overheard you talking about your heart for motherless children, and I thought this would be the best way to thank you for caring for mine. Merry Christmas.” It was signed by Brennan with a scribble from Jade, but the scrap of paper that dropped out of it made her jaw drop and happy tears come to her eyes.
She wiped her eyes and read it again, “Merry Christmas from the Tiegler family and the children of Living Hope Orphanage in Mexico! Thank you for donating your wages for babysitting Jade Quaith to the orphanage. Many children will be cared for because of your generosity. Merry Christmas!”
She smiled her thanks across the room to Brennan and looked at the card once more. This gift was more than she could have expected. In caring for one motherless child, she had helped so many others.
“Thank you, Lord. What a beautiful gift. Please bless everyone tonight as we worship You and share our joy as we sing together,” she prayed silently and looked around the room at the people blending their voices in beautiful song.
Kent reached over the side of the couch and handed her a hymnbook open to “Silent Night”.
“Thanks,” she whispered and took it from him. Stroking Jade’s curls, she joined in to sing, “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. ‘round yon virgin, mother and Child, Holy Infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”
”And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NKJV)
These characters are part of a near novel length story in progress (https://onceuponanordinary.wordpress.com/projects/). You can find project updates and excerpts on my blog (https://onceuponanordinary.wordpress.com/tag/kiera/ ).