Chapter 27

Caitlin woke me up early, eager to spend the day at her grandparents and open her gifts. We still honored the tradition of unwrapping gifts after the Christmas evening service. Looking out the window, I wished I had my camera to capture the picture of snow and crystallized tree branches. We worked together in the morning putting the final touches on our gifts and packing them into the Jeep. Caitlin could hardly contain her excitement on the drive to my parents.

“Merry Christmas!” Mom and Dad greeted us from their front door. I could hear Elvis belting out “Blue Christmas” in the living room as I shook the snow off my boots. The house smelled like pine tree and cinnamon.

“Dad, you outdid yourself this year,” I said in admiration of the fresh cut Christmas tree that stood nearly seven feet tall.

Dad beamed. “Only the best for my girls.”

“Eggnog?” Mom brought each of us a mug of our favorite seasonal drink. Caitlin was already under the tree looking for tags with her name on them.

“Love some, thanks. When’s Janice getting here?”

Mom exchanged looks with Dad. “Janice and Andy can’t make it. They just called to tell us that the ice storm has knocked down hydro lines and the police are cautioning anyone against leaving their homes.”

“Oh, I was looking forward to spending time with them.”

Mom nodded. “I know. Us too. But they promised to make a trip in the springtime.”

I sulked and flopped down on the Lazy-Boy. “Spring is too far away.”

Caitlin popped up from behind the tree, “Grandma, can I open this one now?” She held a rectangular box in her arms.

“Not until after church,” Grandpa said.

“P-please,” Caitlin begged.

“Caitlin!” I scolded.

“No, it’s okay, Heather.” Mom put her hand on my shoulder. “Harold, why don’t we break tradition and open the gifts before church?” She nodded toward the window.

I looked outside and saw the ominous black clouds, threatening freezing rain.

“That might be a good idea, Mom. Then Caitlin and I could return home right after the service. Just this once. What do you say, Dad?”

Not one to easily break with tradition, Dad stood up and walked toward the window. What he saw convinced him. “Well, maybe just this once.”

Caitlin squealed with delight and started to tear the wrapping from the gifts. Her pleasure was joy enough for all of us. We exchanged our gifts and Dad loved his new tackle box while Mom admired the Murano glass crystal. My parents bought me a gorgeous hand-woven rug for my living room floor.

Once we peeled the paper off the last gifts, we all packed up the Jeep and followed my parents to their church. It was a fine service.

I held my dad’s hand as we stepped outside. “Oh, my goodness!” While we were in church for the last hour, freezing rain drenched the world outside. Tree branches drooped with the weight of the ice. A half-inch of frozen water coated the windshield of all the vehicles in the parking lot. The lot itself was more like an ice rink.

“Dear, why don’t you come home with us?” Mom asked.

“It’s the same distance to my place as it is to yours. We’ll be fine.” I loaded Caitlin in the Jeep, cranked the heat, and started to scrape the windows.

“Are you sure? You could stay in the spare room now that Janice isn’t coming.”

“No, that’s fine, Mom. We’ll be okay. It’s only a short drive.”

Mom gave me a warm hug and then crawled in beside Caitlin to give her kisses. Dad helped me finish scraping the Jeep and came over for a hug. “Merry Christmas. You drive safely. The roads are slick.”

I waved goodbye and pulled onto the road. Dad was right, the roads were treacherous. Happy to drive behind the sand truck, I was in no hurry to get home. Nearing our apartment, I noticed that the streetlights and stoplights were out. A full power outage. The freezing rain pounded the Jeep. I spotted a couple of cars spilled into the ditches. My knuckles grew white on the steering wheel. Pulling into my parking lot, a man was waving his arms frantically for us to stop.
I pulled up beside him and rolled the window down an inch.

“Heather, thank goodness you’re alright!”

“Bill? What are you doing here?”

“The power’s been out for awhile and they don’t know when it’ll be back on again. I was just going home and wondered if you were okay.”

“We’re fine, thanks. We were at my mom and dad’s.” Bill ran to the other side of the Jeep and jumped in the passenger side.

“Do you have any source of heat in your apartment?”

“Yeah. We have heating.”

“No, I mean, do you have a wood stove or gas fireplace?”

“Oh, no. I hadn’t thought about the hydro affecting our heat.” I looked in the back seat and watched Caitlin breathe noisily as she slept.

“Would you like to come to my place? I have gas heating. You could stay until the hydro comes back on. I don’t live too far from here.” Looking at my stressed face, Bill added, “I can drive.”

We switched positions and I settled in to the passenger seat as Bill navigated through the winding side streets to his apartment. The streets were eerily abandoned. The sky was dark as soot. Bill turned at a corner condominium and entered the dry parking lot. Bill parked in his spot and then carried Caitlin into the building. Emergency lighting lit the halls. We took the stairs to his second-floor apartment. Bill took Caitlin into the spare room and I pulled down the futon couch and placed an old Mexican blanket over her as she stirred in her sleep. Leaving the door open a crack, we returned to the living room. Bill turned on the gas fireplace and it filled the room with a warm light.

“Can I offer you anything?”

“I’d love a hot chocolate,” I said with a snicker. “But a bottle of water would be fine under the circumstances.”

Bill poured the water into a fancy glass and lit scented candles around the room. He stretched out on the floor in front of the fireplace with a bag of potato chips. I joined him and rested my back against the couch.

“Christmas is my favorite time of year,” I said.

“Yeah, I love it, too. But what’s not to love? Eggnog, Christmas cake, candy canes and holly.”

“And don’t forget, little baby Jesus.”

Bill frowned. “I’m not a fan of that.”

“Not a fan of what? Jesus?”

“No. Little baby Jesus.”

“Really? Why?” I took a sip of water.

“Years ago, I visited a relative over the Christmas holiday season. Her house was decorated to rival Martha Stewart. Walking into her home was like walking onto the pages of some magazine like Better Homes and Gardens.”

“Ooh, sounds like my kind of girl,” I joked.

Bill smiled all dimples. “Over to the side, on a little wooden table, sat an antique nativity set. When I bent to look closer, my relative’s young daughter came over and picked up the straw basket. She beamed, ‘This is the baby Jesus’ and turned the piece for me to better see in the basket.”

“Nothing wrong with that.”

“Well, her mother came over then and picked up her daughter. She said, ‘Yes Dear, that’s the baby Jesus. Just like you’re a baby.’ The young girl protested, ‘I’m not a baby!’”

“Caitlin would do the same. So what’s the problem?”

“Well, later that night, that scene returned to me like a bad stomach ache. Did my cousin really believe that Jesus was merely a baby? True, Christmas time celebrates the birth of Christ, but did she believe that it stopped there?”

I sat silently, not sure where Bill was going with this.

“We need to realize that God reduced Himself to being born into this world as a baby.”

“What are you talking about?”

“As the Christ-Child, He still had to cry for attention – to be fed or be changed.”

I murmured, “Who’d you think got up in the middle of the night, Mary or Joseph?”

Bill ignored me. “But I wonder how many people leave Him there, not fully accepting that this baby grew into a man. A Man who lived to die.”

I sat up, took a sip of water, and stared at Bill. Is Bill Christian?

“Pretty radical, eh. Jesus gave Himself to be killed so we could live forever. He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice.” Bill reached down and rustled my hand in the potato-chip bag.

“It’s wonderful to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but people need to grow in faith and remember the whole story of His life and His resurrection.”

My shoulder brushed against Bill’s. “I really like Christmas.”

“Truthfully, my most favorite time of year is Easter.”

Bill’s passion amazed me. “Yeah, I like Easter eggs, too,” I joked and punched him in the arm. “But honestly, I’m amazed.”

“Why?” Bill’s eyes crinkled in a smile.

“Well, where’s this coming from?”

“Am I scaring you?” Bill sat up.

“Scaring me? I can’t believe this. I just joined a Bible study.”

Bill gave out a deep bark of a laugh and leaned into me, toppling me over. We lay side by side in the warmth of the fluttering fire. Bill pulled me close and combed my hair with his fingers. All my muscles relaxed. I hadn’t even realized I was so tense. Little tingles ran up my spine at the feel of Bill’s fingers through my hair. I leaned my head back soaking up the heat of the fire. I felt his fingers on the back of my neck, tracing around my earlobe. I could feel his breath hot on my neck. I turned to meet his eyes and Bill bent his mouth down to mine. I could feel his heart beating like a deep, comforting clock as we kissed.


“Mommy?” Caitlin turned toward me.

I opened my eyes and stared up at the ceiling fan. Where was I? I lifted the Mexican blanket and remembered the ice storm. Memories of lounging in front of the fire talking and cuddling with Bill into the late hours before joining Caitlin in bed made me feel warm inside. “Good morning, Caity-Cat. Merry Christmas.” I smiled.

“Where are we?”

“Dr. Mott took us home last night when you were asleep. We had no heat at our apartment.”

“Did Santa come?”

I sat up. “Um. No, not here. He went to our apartment. We’d better get home and see.”

Bill knocked lightly on the door. “Are you two sleepy-heads awake yet?”

“Good morning, Bill.”

“The heat and hydro are back on. Would you like me to make you some breakfast?”

I looked at Caitlin but she shook her head No. “Mommy, I want to go home.”

“Before you go, I’d better check just in case Santa left something here.” Bill walked into his bedroom to return only seconds later with two gifts in his hands.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Santa came!” Caitlin squealed.

“Well, I guess he did.” Bill grinned and gave each of us a gift.

Caitlin tore into her gift. She pulled out an orange sequinned purse with a packet of gum inside. She strung the purse over her shoulder, “Look, Mommy! Isn’t it beautiful? My very own purse!”

“Yes, it’s lovely.”

“Open yours,” Bill said eagerly. He stood with his thumbs in his pockets.

I wasted no time and tore into my package in the same manner as my daughter. I opened the little box and to my delight I found a stunning silver locket. “Oh, Bill. It’s gorgeous.”

“Lemme see!” Caitlin skipped over to look at my locket. “It’s pretty. Put it on, Mommy.”

“Here, let me.” Bill took my necklace off, added the locket and clasped it around my neck. He then took hold of my shoulders and turned me to face him. “Yes, very pretty.” He pulled me in close for a warm hug. I buried my face into the crook of his neck and breathed in his scent.

“Thank you, Bill. For everything.”

“Merry Christmas, Heather.”