The song All I Want For Christmas blast through the foster home. Today is the day that the Berkshire County Christmas Committee comes by and asks every child what they want for Christmas. I’ve known what I’ve wanted for Christmas for months now but asking for it is a risk. I could get it but chances are that I probably won’t. I don’t want to be the only child without a present to open on Christmas morning.
I quickly dress. I only have one outfit. A black, knit-like shirt, black leggings, and an clear umbrella skirt is what I’ve warn everyday for the past year. The foster home has a closet full of new and used clothes, but almost none of them fit me. I’m much smaller than the rest of my peers. I’m the size of a ten year old at the age of fourteen.
“Morning, Vera,” Mother Jane says without looking my way.
“Morning, Mother Jane,” I say taking my place at the table.
Mother Jane is not my mother nor is she Catholic. I don’t know why everyone at the foster home calls her that and I’m too afraid to ask why. I do know that Mother Jane is also a social worker to some of the kids here so that could be the reason why she gets the title of mother.
“Do you know what you’re going to ask for?” Mother Jane asks as she flips pancakes.
“Yes…maybe…I don’t know.”
“That’s a very interesting answer,” Mother Jane chuckles. She places a plate of bacon and blueberry pancakes in front of me.
“I just don’t want to ask for too much and not get a present on Christmas,” I say.
“How big is it?” Mother Jane’s brow furies.
“Not big in cost, hypothetically, but big in meaning and size,” I say.
“Knowing you, Vera Fleming, I’m sure you’ll get whatever it is,” Mother Jane says. “BREAKFAST IS READY! IF YOU SNOOZE YOU LOSE!”
I say my prayers before anyone can make it downstairs and gobble my breakfast before anyone can try to steal a piece of bacon from my plate.
The bus ride back to the foster home is a long one. The foster home is the bus’s last stop. The bus goes through the historical and vast neighborhood of Willowfield Falls for the majority of the trip. On most days, and especially during the holiday season, I don’t mind spending almost an hour of my life looking at all the beautiful, old houses but today I just want to hurry up and get back to the foster home so I can put in my wish.
As we get deeper and deeper into the community, the houses get more festive but no house in the neighborhood could ever top the Willow Estate. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some kind of law against any house being more covered in lights and merry than the house of the founder of Willowfield Falls descendants. The house has everything from a manger scene to Santa’s sleigh on top of their house. I would take a picture of it if I had such a device.
The bus stops one house behind the Willow Estate. Two boys, one tall with curly, floppy hair and the other short with straight, floppy hair, always get off here. A boy with blonde hair and a black lab is usually waiting for them at the stop but the boy is absent today. I’ve always wondered who that blonde boy was. He didn’t look like their brother and he looked old enough to be in high school. Did he go to a different high school? Was he homeschooled? A lot of Willowfield Falls families taught their children at home. Did he live in the Willow Estate house?
I shook my head at my thoughts. I would never know who that boy was, where he went to school, and where he lived. It would be a miracle alone if I ever found out what his friends names were.
I try to focus on the less spectacular houses but I can’t get that blonde boy or his friends out of my mind. Maybe one day I’ll manage to muster the courage to talk to the two boys…when I’m ninety-five. I sigh. I’m short and shy, and I’ll probably stay that way until I die.
The bus turns out of Willowfield Falls and keeps going for a few blocks before it pulls into the driveway of the foster home. All the remaining kids stand up and get ready to dismount. I stay put in my seat because I just now if I stand I’ll get trampled. After everyone else exits the bus, I stand and slowly walk down the aisle.
“Today’s the day,” My bus driver, Sam, says.
“Yes, sir,” I say stopping in front of his seat.
“I pray you get everything you want for Christmas–even if it’s a million dollars!” Sam smiles.
“A million dollars wouldn’t be so bad to have,” I mutter as I walk down the steps. I decide to watch the bus leave today instead of running inside like an impatient child. Sam closes his doors, looks towards the sky, and starts to drive out of the driveway.
“God bless Sam,” I pray under my breath. I reach to open the door of the foster home, but someone on the inside beats me to it. Our eyes meet and I gasp. The boy that stares back at me is none other than the blonde boy with the black lab.
“Sorry,” He mutters. He brushes past me hastily and knocks me down.
“Rude!” I shout. That gets his attention. He turns around on his heals and looks at me with a look of distaste.
“I said sorry, little girl,” He grumbles.
“I will have you know that I am fourteen and in the ninth grade,” I said.
“Congratulations.” The boy rolled his eyes.
“I know where you live,” I say. That wasn’t exactly the whole truth. I speculated that he lived in Willowfield Falls. I just didn’t know the address.
“How do you know anything about me? I’ve never seen or met you in my entire life!” The boy shouts.
“I ride the bus with your friends, Curly and Floppy,” I say.
“Austin and Ben?” The boy asked. I only nod.
The boy stares at me for a second and then starks off to where ever he was going.
“Jerk,” I mumble as I walk through the front door.
“There you are Vera!” Mother Jane shouts. “No one saw you come in or recalled seeing you on the bus!”
“Sorry,” I say. “I just had an encounter with one of the rudest boys I’ve ever met.”
Mother Jane looks at me and then shakes her head.
“You’re up next to make a wish,” Mother Jane says.
My heart starts to pound. Can I do this? Can I ask for what I truly want for Christmas?
“Vera Fleming!” A young girl, who couldn’t have been more than twelve, shouts. I give her a quick stare before I walk into the main office where the head of the Berkshire County Christmas Committee awaits.
Make that heads. A man and a wife sat down behind the desk Mother Jane usually spent her days. They gave me one of those fake, practiced smiles that everyone who has to deal with foster children learns. In the two years, I’ve lived here I’ve learned to spot the smile well and every time I see it something inside of me cries.
“Hello, Vera,” The woman fake smiles. “My name is Mrs. Amy Willow. My husband and I are the co-heads of the Berkshire County Christmas Committee and every year we try our best to make children’s Christmas wishes come true. We can’t make any promises, but we do promise to try to help make your Christmas special.”
I had heard this speech this last year. I had been so scared that I blurted out that I wanted a Barbie doll. I got it too. I shutter at the thought of last years flub.
“Are you cold?” Mrs. Willow asks. “Do you need a blanket? A coat?”
“I’m fine.” My voice squeaks a little.
“So what would you like for Christmas?” The man, who I guess is Mr. Willow, asks. His voice is impatient and his eyes are focused on the clock.
“A family,” I blurt in one of the firmest tones that has ever been spoken.
They both look at me with shock, surprise, and disbelief.
“Let me rephrase that,” I say. “All I want for Christmas is to be able to spend the season with a family. Even spending it with a dysfunctional Stewart family would be better than spending it here at the home. I spent last Christmas curled up in a corner wishing for Christmas to end–and never come back again.”
Mr. and Mrs. Willow’s eyes stay glued on me. I’m surprised myself at my little speech.
“I..I…,” I stutter. Drat, I’m back to old, short, shy self.
“We’ll see what we can do,” Mrs. Willow says. I bolt from the chair and burst out of the room. I run into the bathroom, lock the door, and burst into tears.
I’ve ruined my one wish.
I’ve lost my one chance to actually have a good Christmas.
I’ve just done the bravest, dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I push my way through the crowd of teens celebrating the start of Christmas break. I of course get shoved and pushed, but I don’t say anything. I take my punishment for being short and get on the bus.
“Excited about Christmas?” Sam asks as I get on the bus.
“Yes,” I lie. The truth is, I can’t wait for Christmas to be over. All week, presents have been mounting under the tree…and none of them had my name on it. That was understandable considering I didn’t even ask for something that could be wrapped and placed under the tree. I shake my head at my foolishness. Even wishing for a Barbie doll would be better than wishing for a ‘family’ for Christmas.
The bus pulls out of the school and soon starts its journey of dropping off the Willowfield Falls kids. I try to focus on the houses and gulp to keep tears from running down my face. I can feel people’s eyes staring at me, but I chose to ignore them.
It takes everything within me not to look and see if the boy with the black lab is waiting for his friends to dismount from the bus. The enjoyment I once experienced looking for him is now all gone. He’s a weird, ignorant jerk that not’s worth my eye time.
I do sneak a look at the Willow Estate. Nothing’s changed. It’s still as beautiful, magnificent, and festive as ever. I sigh at it’s beauty and reluctantly look at the other mediocre houses.
The bus pulled out of Willowfield Falls and within minutes pulled into the foster home’s driveway. Once again, I wait for everyone else to leave before I decide to make my exit.
“Merry Christmas, Vera,” Sam says. He hands me a clear, plastic bag filled with gummy bears.
“Thank you,” I smile. “Merry Christmas.”
“And a Happy New Year,” Sam says as I walk off the bus. I turn around and start to give him a smile. I soon find myself with my arms around Sam.
“You’re a good girl, Vera. Quiet but good,” Sam says.
That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me.
I run off the bus and burst through the door with one thing on my mind. Eating the gummy bears.
“Vera!” Mother Jane shouts. I stop, sure I’ve left skid marks on the floor.
“Vera, you’re Christmas present has arrived,” Mother Jane smiles.
“What?” I ask.
“Your Christmas break family awaits in the office,” Mother Jane says.
I run into the office and stop myself just before I burst through the door. I take a moment to pat down my hair and
“You!” The blonde boy shouts.
All I can do is stare at him. Mr. and Mrs. Willow and the girl who shouted my name stare back at me. Lord, this CAN’T be my temporary family!
“You’re Vera Fleming?!” The boy shouts.
“You’re the blonde with the black lab who’s friends are Austin and Ben!” I shout.
“I see you two have already met,” Mrs. Willow says.
“Barely,” The blonde boy. “This girl stalks me.”
“I do not!” I shout. “Noticing someone who waits for his friends every day is hardly stalking! I don’t even know your name!”
“Jonathan Willow the Second,” The blonde boy grumbles.
“And this is my daughter Lizzie,” Mrs. Willow says. “And you’re coming home with us for Christmas!”
I don’t know what’s worse. No presents under the tree or spending Christmas with Jonathan Willow the Second.