Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: The Easter Chicken

“Stop it, Henry,” I whisper while Pastor Greg gives his Palm Sunday sermon. Henry just looks up, smiles, and goes back to scribbling in the hymnal book.

“Stop it,” I repeat. This time I take the pen away from him.

This does not make Henry very happy. He starts to cry and Mr. Willow is forced to take him out of the room.

Jordan glances over at me and gives me an assuring and understanding look. I give a loud, audible sigh and try to focus on what Pastor is saying.

And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it,” Pastor Greg shouts in his booming, hearty voice. “And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'”

Rocks crying out? How is that even…impossible? This is all just so confusing. I grunt. Mrs. Willow looks at me but says nothing.

My thoughts keep me from hearing the last bit of the sermon. Mini-palm tree like things are now being handed out as the teenage choir sings an unfamiliar song to me. I make sure to smile at Amelia during the girls’ solo.

I grab one of the mini-trees when I’m handed one and try my best to join in with the song. I feel even more like an outsider when the song is over. All of a sudden I feel hot and almost like I can’t breath. I must leave this building immediately. But I can’t. We’re staying afterwards for the Palm Potluck and since its still a little chilly outside, the normally outdoors event had been moved inside.

“I remember when Levi was that bad,” Jordan says as we walk out the sanctuary together. “He would throw a fuss every week and Mom and Dad got so sick of taking him outside that they just let him cry.”

“During the sermon?”

“During the sermon. It worked…after about five weeks. I guess that’s when he realized he was stuck listening to the boring sermons along with the rest of us.”

“Pastor Greg isn’t boring,” I say.

“Well, this was before Pastor Greg. Minister Trenton was the most monotone man God has ever created. I think the reason why the congregation was willing to take a chance on a Chadwick pastor was because Minister Trenton was so tedious.”

“He couldn’t have been that bad,” I say rolling my eyes. Jordan stops walking and gives me a stare.

I laugh loudly and some people look at me with kind smiles. Maybe I wasn’t such an outsider after all.

“So unladylike,” Kitty Chadwick whispers to Rebecca Stanfield as they pass by us. I take that back. I am very much so an outsider.

“If we weren’t in church, I’d pummel her faster than Austin could drive me crazy,” Jordan growls.

“Calm down,” I say. “You’re on the edge of attack mode!”

“She’s just jealous, you know.”

“Of me? Puh-lease.”

“Believe it or not Kitty and I used to be friends back when she wasn’t such a snob,” Jordan says. “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this but back in the sixth grade she had the hugest crush on Han. It was quite obsessive actually, and Phoebe and Kitty’s friendship fell apart because of it. Amelia never cared too much for Kitty so there were no damages there. Our friendship slowly crumbled until one day her daddy became the pastor of the community church and suddenly I wasn’t good enough to be her friend. I do have to admit it though. I can’t possibly know as much about the Bible as the pastor’s daughter.”

“Stop it,” I say shoving Jordan.

“We should probably tell Pastor Greg about her actions. I mean he knows about what happened on April Fool’s and I know she got severely punished for it,” Jordan trails.

“Let’s not,” I say. “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”

We walk into the ‘Living Hall’ and spot Han, Amelia, Ben, Austin, and Phoebe right away. Han, Austin, and Amelia are still in their choir clothes, and Phoebe is wearing an apron. Amelia and Phoebe look simply sick by the discussion.

“Let’s go rescue poor Phoebe and Amelia. The boys are probably talking about muscles or something equally disgusting,” I say in a condescending voice. Jordan laughs and we skip over to them.

“Hullo,” Han says when we reach them.

“Have you been torturing Amelia and Phoebe?” I ask not even bothering to say hello.

“Of course not,” Austin says in a guilty voice. “We’ve just been…”

“Droning on about six packs,” Phoebe cuts in. Austin makes an attempt to steal her water as a desperate attempt but fails. Phoebe gives him a flirty smile and Jordan and I trade knowing looks.

“Hey, where’s Jonathan?” I ask.

“He’s having a ‘discussion’ with the choir director,” Ben says putting more interest into his voice than there really is.

“It’s probably about his big solo next week,” Amelia says playfully shoving Ben.

“Out of all the highly qualified high schoolers who tried out for the big Easter solo, Jonathan Willow the Second gets it,” Austin says shaking his head. “Life is so not fair.”

“You’re too busy directing the Easter Play and playing Jesus to sing a solo,” Jordan says.

“He really wanted that solo,” I say feeling a need to defend Jonathan. “He practiced for over an hour every day. At least my torture wasn’t all for nothing.

Han is the only one who chuckles at this.

“Hey, Nathaniel,” Kitty says walking up to our group. “I’m sorry you didn’t get the solo.”

“It’s all right,” Han shrugs. “I’ll get ’em next year.”

“I’m sure you will,” Kitty smiles brightly. Her expression changes. “There are some um things I’d like to discuss with you…later of course! You’re with your friends now…”

“Later,” Han promises. Kitty smiles and walks away content.

Phoebe and Jordan exchange a quick, careful glance. I manage to control my suddenly boiling anger.

“Vera,” Mr. Willow says walking up to our group, “Juliette just got sick. I’m going to have to take her home. If I’m not back before the potluck ends, you, Jonathan, Lizzie, Henry, and Amy will ride with one of the families on our street.”

“Ok,” I say but Mr. Willow is already gone.

“That is absolutely hopeless,” Jordan says with her gaze fixed on something. I look to find Jonathan trying to make conversation with Kitty.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Austin asks. Jordan sighs and says no more.

I’ve suddenly lost my appetite and the need to get some fresh air returns.

“You all right?” Han whispers in my ear.

“Just need some fresh air that’s all,” I say. “Too stuffy.”

“The Living Hall is a little cramped for all these people,” Phoebe says. “But seeing that it was below freezing last night, its probably not too pleasant outside.”

“True,” I say. “But I think I’ll go out there and enjoy the frigid fresh air anyway.”

I make my escape before anyone can insist on joining me. As I take deep gulps of air, tears start to splash out of my eyes.

Pull it together, VeeVee. My mother’s voice radiates through my brain. The sound of her voice only makes me want to sob.

Stop being such a wuss and pull it together, VeeVee! Stewarts’ don’t feel!

“I guess I’m not a Stewart,” I breath as I wipe the last of my tears from my eyes and walk back into the building.

**

“Can we talk?” Han asks. I nod. The potluck is just about over and Mrs. Willow is working out a way for us to get home. Apparently Juliette was puking so bad that Mr. Willow had to drive her to the hospital. Nobody on our street has a car big enough to fit The Willows, Henry and me all together so Mrs. Willow was trying to figure out who would take who with them.

My stomach turns as Han leads me out into the hallway. I suddenly get a feeling that whatever he wants to talk about has to do with what Kitty talked about with him in this very same hallway earlier.

“I’m going to be completely honest with you, Vera,” Han says after a long moment of silence. “Kitty and I had a discussion earlier and she’s…worried.”

About what? That you’ll slip from between her fingers?

“About what?” I simply say.

“She’s worried that I have feelings for you that I…shouldn’t.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, in Scripture, 2 Corinthians 6:14 to be exact, it says that Christians shouldn’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”

“So she’s saying we shouldn’t be friends?” I ask. I mentally grit my teeth.

“No…she’s warning me not to have certain feelings for you since you’re an unbeliever and reminding me not to let our relationship go beyond a simple friendship.”

“It’s not like we’re dating! For goodness’ sake, Han! So, what we like each other? It’s not like we can do anything about it. Having a crush someone is a part of growing up.”

“True, but a Christian shouldn’t be having romantic feelings for an unbeliever. What’s the point of giving your heart to someone, if you can’t marry them?”

“Who said anything about marriage and giving our hearts to each other?” I ask infuriated. “Look, if anyone else told you this, I might not be so upset. But think about it, Han. Kitty brought this to your ‘attention’. She just wants to drive a wedge between us and make me upset!”

“I know you and Kitty didn’t get off to the best of starts, but I’ve known her practically all my life. She would never use Biblical matters to upset someone unless it was for their good.”

“So you’re taking her side?”

“Vera, there are no sides in this besides God’s side, and I must side with Him.”

“Ok…so what does that mean for our friendship? That you just barely tolerate my presence like Kitty or scream that I’m going to hell every time you see me?”

“Vera,” Han sighs, “we can still be friends. We–I–just can’t like each other in the way we–I–do–did.”

“I thought Christians were supposed to be accepting and kind. Loving. Merciful. Forgiving. Not excluding, snobbish, and malicious,” I say near the point of exploding. Before I can stop them, these words pour out of my mouth, “Well if this is how Christians really act, then I certainly don’t want to be one of them.”

Han’s face suddenly goes pale and pained. He stares at the ground and gulps. I start to regret those words but then I don’t. If Kitty is a model Christian and all the kind, loving Christians I know aren’t good representations of Christ, then I don’t want to be apart of their little group. Han finally raises his head. Tears have mounted in his eyes but they quickly return to their ducts.

“Be that way, Vera,” Han says in a strained voice. “It’s your choice. No one can force you to accept Christ. But please remember that Christians aren’t perfect. That we make mistakes. We sometimes also have to do things that hurt us and others, but that we must do them because the Bible commends us to. Christians are supposed to be accepting, kind, loving, merciful, and forgiving but we also must follow God’s Word. And there are certain aspect of our personal life that we must exclude non-believers from, but we are never to be snobbish and malicious.”

“Why don’t you go tell that to Kitty,” I say. I storm back into the Living Hall barely able to contain my tears.

“Vera, what’s wrong?” Jordan asks. “Where did you and Han go?”

I don’t answer her. I spy Kitty looking and smiling at me. I clench my fists.

“Don’t let her get to you,” Jordan says catching my gaze’s direction. “Whatever she talked to Han about is of no consequence.”

“Too late,” I heave. “I don’t know what I was thinking anyway. Han hangs on to every word Kitty says. He has no idea the sheer horror she can cause and he’d never believe it if I told him.”

“Vera, what happened?” Jordan says. “What did she say?”

“It’s of no consequence,” I say swallowing tears.

**

Jonathan, Henry, and I went home with the Richardson’s while Mrs. Willow and Lizzie went home with the Nelson’s. Jordan attempted to grill me while the boys talked about sports, but I refused to satisfy her gossip crave.

Mr. Willow didn’t return until late after Mrs. Willow had ordered out pizza. Juliette had been admitted into the hospital and Mr. Willow had to track down her husband, Jacques, who was on a special errand to find some top secret ingredient for Easter dinner. The nurses had refused to tell Mr. Willow anything since he wasn’t family and simply told him that it was up to Juliette to share her condition.

Juliette had sent home a list of things Mrs. Willow had to purchase for Easter dinner though which assured us all that she wasn’t in too bad of a condition. Still it was unnerving not to know what was wrong with her.

Monday morning came and there was no way I was going to school. So I stayed home with Henry while Mrs. Willow went shopping. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I realized I was letting Kitty win and mustered up the strength to go to school.

To my surprise, Kitty sported several small bruises on her arms and face and Jordan was absent. It didn’t take long for me to put two and two together. I caught myself thanking God for Jordan and sent her a thank you text when Mrs. Lee wasn’t looking.

“So what happened yesterday?” I ask Amelia as we eat lunch. “Where’s Jordan?”

“Jordan and Kitty got into a fight,” Amelia says in an exasperated voice. “For some weird reason, Jordan came to school yesterday really mad at Kitty and during recess she confronted her. And with Jordan being Jordan, it was only a matter of time before it turned into a cat fight–no pun intended.”

Phoebe and I exchange glances. Amelia still didn’t know about the messages the cheerleaders exchanged in their ‘private’ area of the school blog. I wonder if Jordan read something on there that caused her to attack.

“Todd and Han broke up the altercation and dragged the girls down to the office. Jordan wouldn’t say why she attacked Kitty and Kitty kept screaming that Jordan was jealous or something like that,” Amelia continues. “Kitty was sentenced to a week of detention and Jordan was suspended for the day and is going to be in detention for the next two weeks.”

I nod and change the subject to the Easter Festival and play on Saturday. Phoebe, who’s playing Mary Magdalene, helped paint the set and write the script, starts to pour out her worries to us. Between Kitty, who was playing Mary the Mother of Jesus, not knowing her lines and the still unfinished Crucifixion set, Phoebe had plenty of reason to vent and Amelia and I encouraged her by listening.

After lunch, recess came and all the high schoolers and eight graders were set loose in the yard. I place myself in my usual swing spot minus Han. Instead of blabbing about homework problems and troublesome Henry, I watch Amelia and Ben play chess, Phoebe, Austin and some tenth graders play kickball, and Todd and Han participate in a Frisbee game.

“Hey,” Han says sitting on the swing next to me while I watch Phoebe run back to home base.

“Ahh!” I jump. “You startled me.”

Han manages a smile.

“What do you want?” I grumble.

“To talk,” Han says. “About what happened on Sunday.”

“What is there to talk about?” I ask. “You’ve made your choice and I’ve made mine.”

Han sighs. “But we’re still friends, right?”

“That is up to you.”

I met Han’s eye. My look challenging him to say something. He turns away and sharply brings his head back.

Before I can react, Han kisses me. Cold guilty chills run through my body. I quickly remember the punishment for getting caught in a romantic entanglement with another student. I hastily pull away.

“I’m sorry to have led you so far astray,” I stifle. Tears are sliding down my cheeks. I stand up from the swing with so much force that it swings back and hits me on the backside. I run into the building ignoring Amelia and Phoebe’s calls.

I dig my phone out of my purse and call Mrs. Willow to come pick me up, but then I remember she went to go see Juliette. I call Mr. Willow instead since Tuesdays are his day off. He doesn’t ask why I’m sobbing.

When he picks me up, he still says nothing. Probably saving my emotions for Mrs. Willow to deal with.

“Vera, darling, what happened?” Mr. Willow asks. “Are you being bullied? Did a teacher say something to you?”

I shake my head even though I’m not sure if what’s happening can qualify as bullying.

Mr. Willow comes to a stop light and drums his fingers on the steering wheel. When the light turns green, Mr. Willow puts his foot on the gas but I scream. A car speeds through its red light and slams into the passenger side–myside– of the car. My head jerks painful as another car slams into backside of ours. Air bags deploy as I slam into the dashboard. Instant pain radiates in my chest. I try to move my legs, but they’re crushed. I try to breath but panic arises. So much pain floods through my body that I feel consciousness slowly fade away.

“Jesus help me,” I whimper as pain wins the fight.

**

Nothing feels right.

My neck hurts. My chest hurt. My legs ache. My whole body hurts.

I had been in a car accident once before, but it had been minor. My mother had slammed into a pool and damaged the bumper of the car. This accident was major. I suspected I had whiplash, possibly some cracked ribs, and a leg injury. I wondered if I’d even be out of here by Easter.

“Good evening, Miss Fleming,” A voice says. The sound of a book closing causes me to jump. I regret it as pain comes running back.

“You’ve been asleep for about five hours,” A nurse says appearing in the light. “We told your mother to go home since the doctors didn’t think you’d wake up until morning since you were unconscious when you arrived and with all the pain medication and anesthesia we gave you. I better go call her.”

“My mother was here?” I ask extremely confused.

“Yes along with your brother and sister,” The nurse says. “Don’t worry, your dad is doing fine.”

“Ma’am, I don’t think you understand,” I start but she’s already left to call Mrs. Willow.

I sigh and place my head on my pillow. My mind starts to wonder. Was the car accident truly an accident? In drunken states, my mother had told me all sorts of disturbing things about her family–including their method of getting rid of people using car accidents. I laugh at myself. Half of the Stewart family didn’t even know who I was and probably didn’t give two peas about me. But what if they have something against Mr. Willow? I laugh at myself again. All this medicine must be making me loopy.

“Your mother is on the way and is bringing some of your friends,” The nurse says when she returns.

“Mrs. Willow isn’t my mother,” I correct. The nurse looks surprised.

“Well, you fooled me,” The nurse says. “You two look much a like.”

“Thanks…,” I trail. “What happened to me?”

“You have three cracked ribs, a moderate case of whiplash, and a crushed but thankfully not broken leg. You don’t have any nerve damage, thank God, but you had some serious cuts and bleeding. You’re going to have some bad bruises also and its not going to be fun to walk on either.”

I sigh. “When will I be out of here?”

“The Doctor has set your release on Good Friday, but it really depends on how you recover,” The nurse says.

I nod. Mrs. Willow, Jonathan, Lizzie, Jordan, and Phoebe show up ten minutes later.

“Vera,” Jordan starts, “you look terrible.”

I roll my eyes. Leave it to Jordan to be frank.

“Thanks. Where’s Amelia?”

“At home,” Phoebe says. “She and Han both said they didn’t want to come.”

I didn’t expect Han to show up, but surely Amelia would come and see me.

“I’m sure its out of shock,” Phoebe says quickly, noticing the change in my features. “Han locked himself in his room and Amelia is watching mindless TV.”

I nod and force a smile.

“How are you feeling?” Mrs. Willow asks.

“Terrible,” I groan.

“Understandable,” Mrs. Willow says. “Are you in any pain?”

“Yes,” I say through clenched teeth. For some reason the mention of pain reminded me it was there.

The nurse rushes off to get some medicine.

“Everyone at school was shocked when they heard,” Jonathan says. “We were just coming inside when we heard screeching and a crashing noise followed by another one. No one could see the accident, but just hearing the noises was scary. When we found out it was you and Dad, we started…praying for you.”

“I appreciate it,” I smile. I truly do. Jonathan smiles back.

The nurse returns with a bag of fluid and connects me to it. After a few minutes, I feel extremely tired and can barely understand what Jordan is prattling about.

“The medicine makes her tired and slightly loopy,” The nurse speaks. “She might fall back asleep on us.”

And I do.

**

“Are you sure you want to come to the service?” Mrs. Willow asks. It’s two days later and Good Friday. I was released from the hospital early this morning. The pain in my neck is slowly subsiding, but the pain in my legs is only intensifying. I spent most of the morning lying on the couch flipping between talk shows and soap operas.

“I’m interested to see what Pastor Greg has to say,” I answer truthfully.

“Juliette and Jacques don’t mind watching you,” Mrs. Willow says. “Juliette is staying home any way. I think it’d be best if you did too.”

Even five days after Juliette went to the hospital, I still didn’t know what she had. Jacques had assured me that it was not contagious and that Juliette would determine when she would tell what happened. I just hope she decides to tell soon.

“I’m feeling much better, Mrs. Willow,” I say. “Why put Juliette through that trouble when I’m perfectly fine to go.”

“I wouldn’t say your perfectly fine,” Mrs. Willow says. “But if you feel up to it, I guess you can go.”

“Thank you!” I squeal. I give Mrs. Willow a hug.

“I want to see that enthusiasm to go to church every week,” Mrs. Willow shouts as I bolt upstairs.

I collapse on my bed and wait for the pain to go away before I get properly dressed. My stomach starts to churn at the thought of seeing Han and Kitty again. I swallow bile and manage to gain control of my emotions.

“Your dinner, Mademoiselle Vera,” Juliette says walking through my open door.

“Thank you,” I say. “Is no one else eating.”

“Everyone else is fasting tonight,” Juliette says.

“Oh,” I say. I suddenly feel awkward. “I pray you feel better.”

Where did that come from?

“I am very much better,” Juliette smiles. “Merci, for asking.” I smile and Juliette leaves. I devour my dinner of leftover pot roast and find myself praying before eating.

What’s happening to you, VeeVee?

“I don’t know,” I think aloud. The accident. The accident shook me up more than I’d like to admit. In a way I feel almost as if some divine power had been protecting me, making sure my injuries weren’t much worse. I breath. Was it possible to me a Christian and not be a snob? Mr. and Mrs. Willow weren’t condescending people. Neither were Jordan, Amelia, Phoebe, and Jonathan–now. Why were Christians such jerks at times? Of all people on the planet, they should know better than to scheme and be nefarious. And just because everybody including Christians make mistakes doesn’t excuse their actions.

“Vera, are you ready?” Mr. Willow asks.

“Oh, yes!” I say jumping out of my thought. Mr. Willow takes my plate and helps me down the stairs.

I’m anxious the entire car ride. Wondering what its going to be like to see Han and Kitty again. I can just imagine the look on Kitty’s face when she sees how battered I truly am. She’d probably smirk and make a shrewd comment about my appearance. I groan. I don’t even think I can look Han in the eye after that kiss.

“Are you ok?” Jonathan asks.

“Yup,” I lie. Mr. Willow parks the car which allows me to avoid answering any other questions.

Church is crowded. Kitty is handing out programs at the door along with Rebecca. They aren’t paying much attention and chat about only God knows what. But when I reach them, they suddenly take notice.

“Vera,” Kitty says with laughter in her voice, “how are you doing.”

“Fine,” I squeeze out.

“We didn’t think you’d show up since you look so horrible and all,” Kitty says.

“Well, your father does preach some mighty good sermons and I’d be hard pressed to miss what he has to say about Good Friday.”

“Those are surprising words coming from a non-Christian,” Kitty says. A flash of fear goes through her eyes.

“Well, I’m thirsty,” I say hopping Kitty will get the message. She does. She shoves a program into my hands and moves her attention to Jonathan who’s behind me.

“What was that about?” Jonathan whispers as we sit down. “Kitty wasn’t all that friendly to you. She seemed almost upset that you wanted to come and learn more about Jesus.”

“Teenage hormones I guess,” I blurt. Jonathan looks at me strangely but then starts to flip through his program.

“Hey, Vera,” Todd says walking up to our pew.

“Hey,” I smile back. “What are you doing here?”

“Jordan brought me,” Todd says. “Jordan somehow managed to convince my parents to let me come to church with them on holidays and every other Sunday. Hopefully, my parents are warming up to Christianity a little bit.”

I smile and nod. Jordan comes over and gives me a hug. Phoebe too comes over to say hi, but Amelia just watches on. Han doesn’t even turn his head in my direction.

At eight o’clock, the doors are closed and Pastor Greg gets up and speaks about the significance and the horrors Jesus went through. Then the women’s choir sings a sad song about thanking Jesus for dying on the cross. As they sing, some adults go around lighting the candles that are placed all around the sanctuary. The lights are dimmed and Pastor Greg steps up to the pulpit.

“Please turn your Bibles to John 17 and read along as some of our youth read aloud,” Pastor Greg says. Pastor Greg’s son and Kitty’s younger brother, Jeffrey ‘Jeff’ steps up to a microphone and starts reading.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.'”

Another boy, who’s name I do not know, took the microphone from Jeff and continued reading.

“‘I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.'”

Jeff took the microphone again.

“‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.‘”

Pastor Greg then went on to explain the situation. It was Passover and the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Jesus knew what was to come and after speaking these words left to go to a garden to pray. While Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done, his disciples slept (something I found to be quite rude). Eventually Judas showed up with a band of soldiers ready to arrest Jesus. One of the disciples, Peter, cut off the high priests servant’s ear. I was shocked to hear that Jesus actually healed the man. Here Jesus was about to be arrested knowing that a terrible death was to come and he healed one of his captors! It took everything within me not to look at Kitty.

Pastor Greg read from the Bible about Jesus’ bogus trails and Pilate’s vain attempts to save Jesus. In my heart I felt sorry for Pilate. Pilate did not wish to sentence Jesus to death, but Jesus’ death was necessary. His motivations for sentencing Jesus to death were not very admirable, but God used whatever means necessary to bring his plan to fruition. I feel guilty for not disliking Pilate for his role in Jesus’ death and deice to keep this feeling to myself.

Pastor Greg goes on to describe in graphic detail the extent of Jesus’ suffering and when he’s finished, he mutters through tears that the suffering Jesus went through is indescribable.

I tried not to suffocate as I realize I own the only pair of dry eyes in the house. How can I possibly be Christian material if I can’t even get emotional hearing about Jesus’ pain?

After reading the direction depictions of the Crucifixion from the different Gospels, Pastor Greg takes a moment to cry and then addresses the crowd.

“Jesus died on the cross for you. He died to save everybody. Sadly not everybody is elected to receive Salvation. Not everyone will accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and it pains me to think about the millions of people out there living without Christ. But that is there decision. I can’t make it for them nor can their mamma nor can their daddy nor can their sister or their brother nor can their friend make it for them. You must chose and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that He died for your sins. I’ll be the first one to admit that Christians can be a trip. We get this complex where we believe we’re better than everybody else because we got Christ. We rip into people and do things without a care because Jesus will forgive us and we’re going to heaven and we’re always right. That is not how Christians should act. And if there are any non-believers in the crowd who are hesitant to accept Christ because of some Christians’ behavior, please don’t let the actions of a few scar your picture of many. Jesus loves you so much that he died the worst death imaginable on the cross for you. He knew you before you were even in your mother’s womb. He created you in His imagine and likeness. He loves you and wants you to become His child today. He’s standing at your heart’s door knocking. The question is will you let him in?”

The choir starts to sing Just as I Am and some people start to walk up to the alter. My heart aches to walk up there, but I don’t wish to make a show.

Then all of a sudden Pastor Greg says, “One does not need to walk down this aisle to become saved. Jesus will take you just as you are in your seat. The Bible says all you have to do is believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved. Something that can be very easily done from your seat.”

“Jesus, You are Lord,” I breath.

“Huh?” Jonathan whispers.

“Nothing,” I smile. I add my voice to the multitude of people singing. Tears flow from my eyes as I realize the rest of my life has started. I can’t help but laugh.

As we leave the church, Pastor Greg, who’s standing at the door, whispers, “Welcome to the Kingdom.” in my ear.

I give him the biggest grin I’ve ever smiled.

**

“Oh, my goodness, Vera!” Jordan cries. “I’m so happy for you!”

Its the next day and Jordan and I are walking the grounds of the Easter Festival. I felt it was the right time to tell her the news. I told Mr. and Mrs. Willow after we got home. They were so ecstatic and gave me so many hugs I worry I may have organ damage.

“Have you told anyone else?” Jordan asks.

“No one besides Mr. and Mrs. Willow.”

“Everyone is going to be so excited!” Jordan jumps. “Life isn’t magically going to become better, but with Jesus on your side who could ever be against you?”

“Amen, sister,” I say. Jordan squeals and hugs me again.

“I heard quite a bit of squealing,” Jordan’s older brother, Tyler, says walking out.

“I’m just so happy!” Jordan cries. She gives me another squeeze.

“Enough with the hugging,” I laugh.

“My sister’s a nut,” Tyler mutters as he walks away.

“We’ve got to find the Nelson’s and tell them,” Jordan says.

“I don’t know about that,” I trail. “Not that I’m ashamed or anything…”

“But because of what happened between Han and you?” Jordan asks.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“Cheerleaders,” Jordan spits. I nod.

“Kitty deserved every punch and hair pull I gave her.”

“But what a way to turn the other cheek.”

Jordan rolls her eyes.

“I fear Amelia might know,” I say. “And maybe that’s why she’s been avoiding me.”

“But that’s not Amelia’s way. She always tries to play peacekeeper. I’ve never seen her run from an altercation.”

“Well, the altercations don’t usually involve her twin brother.”

Jordan shrugs. “I could get Ben to talk to her about it.”

“Oh, no,” I say shaking my head. “No way.”

“Suite yourself,” Jordan sighs. “But you’re going to have to work it out soon. And now that you’re a Christian everything can go back to normal.”

A thought occurs to me. I can feel the color leave my cheeks.

“What’s the matter now, Vera?” Jordan asks.

“What if Han thinks I’m only claiming to become a Christian?”

Jordan gives me a confused look.

“What if he thinks I’m simply saying I’m a Christian so everything can ‘go back’ to ‘normal’? And I wouldn’t put it past Kitty to put that thought in his head.”

“But he has to see that its genuine,” Jordan says. “Somethings changed about you and its not just that your scars are fading.”

“People see what they want to see,” I say. “And Kitty is capable of twisting this the way she wants it. And the way she wants it is Han away from me.”

“We need to tell an adult about her,” Jordan says. “Show them the website and posts. Maybe if someone knows this whole mess can be ended–“

“No,” I say sternly. “That would only make the situation worse. Kitty is probably doing this to get back at me for getting her in trouble for April Fools. Imagine what she’d do if I told.”

“I fear God, not man and especially not Kitty–not anymore,” Jordan says.

“Let’s pray about it,” I say.

“That is a fantastic idea,” Jordan says. “The Lord will show us what to do.”

I nod. “Now let’s go blow our money on some games.”

Jordan and I play everything from fishing to ring toss. I wind-up winning a stuffed bunny and Jordan wins a wooden cross.

“Let’s go satisfy our sweet-teeth,” I say.

“Vera?”

“Han,” I say recognizing the voice.

Jesus, help me.

“I heard about your accident,” Han says. “I hope your feeling better.”

“Much. I still have pain in my leg and some pain when I breath but I’ll live,” I ramble.

Han nods.

“Nathaniel!” Kitty shouts. “Come help me dunk Josh Richardson!”

“I better go,” Han says looking at the ground. “See you around, Vera. Jordan.”

“Bye,” Jordan says stiffly. “Jerk.”

I want to argue, but can think of no points.

“Vera! Jordan!” Phoebe yells. “I need your help…like NOW!”

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“The play is a disaster!” Phoebe shouts. Tears run rogue down her cheeks. “Kitty suddenly quit this morning and manged to convince Rebecca, her understudy, to quit also. I know all of Mary the Mother of Jesus’ lines, but the ‘Director’ didn’t cast a Mary Magdalene understudy for ‘reasons’! Now I need to find someone else to play Mary Magdalene or the entire play is ruined!”

“How many lines does Mary Magdalene have?” I ask.

“Only a few,” Phoebe says. “She’s at the Crucifixion and only cries and then at the end when she finds out that Jesus has risen.”

“I can’t act,” Jordan shrugs.

“Maybe I could do it,” I say.

“I don’t know,” Phoebe says. “I’d have to ask Pastor Greg if its all right with him.”

“I’m willing to do it if he says ok,” I say. Phoebe nods and runs off to find him.

“She’s only hesitant because she doesn’t know you’re a Christian now,” Jordan says. “If she knew, she’d let you do it in a heartbeat.”

“That’s the thing that bothers me,” I say more to myself that to Jordan.

“He said it was all right,” Phoebe says. “Oh, I hope the costume will fit you!”

**

The costume was a little large, but in her frantic state, Phoebe didn’t care. She had me learn my lines and before I knew it, it was time for the play.

The play was short. It just depicted Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet somehow, Phoebe had managed to drag the play out as long as she could. My first appearance was an hour after the show had started. I was weeping at the cross and I don’t think anyone paid any attention to my attempt to cry. When the curtain closed, Phoebe told me I had done great and rushed me to wardrobe change.

After the scene with the boulder being rolled away and the Roman guards running for their lives, it was my turn to take the stage. A different kind of suffocating feeling hit me.

“Jesus is gone!” I cry in the best distress voice I could muster.

“They have taken Him!” The girl who was playing Mary the mother of James shouts. I drop my bag of ‘spices’ and rush off the stage.

The next scene is set and I tell the disciples that Jesus was missing. My next scene was after they had inspected the tomb. It’s the last scene of the play and I know Phoebe will never forgive me if I mess this up. I walked into the tomb weeping and carrying on and tried to look shocked at the sight of the two boys playing angels.

Woman, why are you weeping?” One of the angels asks me.

They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” I say with emotion. I turn around and try not to laugh at the sight of Austin. 

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Austin asks. By God alone, do I manage to maintain my sad emotion.

Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away,” I whimper.

“Mary,” Austin says in a loving voice I thought incapable to be used besides to say the name ‘Phoebe’.

Rabboni!” I cry out in anguish and joy. 

Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” Austin says.

I have seen the Lord!” I cry as I run off the stage. The curtains draw and the crowd claps. 

Pastor Greg walks up to the stage and announces the casts’ names one at a time.

“I would like to say a special thanks to our Mary Magdalene, Miss Vera Fleming, our new sister in Christ, for stepping in to play when Mary Magdalene when our previous Magdalene was called to play Mary the mother of Jesus. Please give her a special hand for stepping in and learning her lines so quickly!” Pastor Greg says after everyone else’s names have been called.

The crowd goes wild as I step onto the stage. I smile and wave as blush creeps up my throat. The only person in the crowd who doesn’t cheer is Kitty. She claps but looks at me with a smug look on her face.

“You saved my backside,” Phoebe says when we’re back behind the curtain. “I owe a lot to you.”

“It’s nothing,” I say. “We’re family now and family helps each other.”

Phoebe smiles and hugs me. I groan.

**

“Vera, wait!” Amelia calls. I stop in my tracks with a apple cupcake hanging out of my mouth.

“Did Pastor Greg mean what I think he meant when he said you’re our new sister in Christ?” Amelia asks.

“What else could it mean?” I ask, swallowing my bite of apple cupcake.

Amelia smiles and hugs me.

“Stop with all the hugging!” I shout playfully.

“I need to ask for your forgiveness, Vera,” Amelia says. “I’ve been avoiding you because I saw Han…kiss you and I felt awkward about it. I’ve been a terrible friend.”

“I totally get that,” I say. “I’d feel awkward if I saw Jonny kiss some girl and then have to go talk to her!” We laugh and hug.

“I thought you were avoiding me for another reason,” I say.

“I don’t quite know what went on between you and Han,” Amelia says. “But if you could please fix it, that would be great.”

I smile and laugh. “We’ll see. We’ll see.”

“Hey, you’re a Christian now. You’ve got to suck it up and ask for forgiveness,” Amelia says.

I groan because I know she’s right.

“I really am sorry for what I said…now,” I say. “Just how does one say ‘Hey, I was a total jerk and didn’t mean what I said the other day’?”

“You say it like that. You say you did something wrong and ask for forgiveness. If they chose not to forgive you, at least your right with God.”

I nod. “You are so right.”

“Of course I am,” Amelia says flipping her hair.

“That is disturbing never do that again,” I say in a serious tone.

“I promise,” Amelia giggles.

“Vera, can I talk to you?” Han asks walking up.

“Of course,” I say ignoring the fact that the last time he wanted to talk it ended in disaster.

“I hear congratulations are in order,” Han says. “Welcome to the Kingdom.”

“It’s great to be here,” I say like a fool. Han smiles.

“I’m sorry,” Han and I say at the same time. We laugh.

“So, we good?” Han asks.

“Very much so,” I say in my best Amelia impression.

“Don’t do that.”

I laugh and smile. “Let’s go and enjoy the rest of the night.”

We spend the rest of the evening eating sugary confections and hunting for Easter eggs.

**

C’est une catastrophe!!!”

I don’t know any French but by Juliette’s tone, I know it can not be good. I groaned as I got out of bed. We had been home from Easter sunrise service for only about an hour, but I had gone back to sleep the meant my body hit the bed. My legs screamed as I along with the rest of the house minus Henry rush down the kitchen. Juliette lies on the floor sobbing as Jacques tries to sooth her tears.

“What’s the matter?” Mrs. Willow asks.

Qu’est-ce que c’est?” Juliette asks Mrs. Willow in an angry tone. She points towards the turkey sitting on the counter.

“Turkey…,” Mrs. Willow says.

Non, ce n’est pas la dinde. C’est le poulet!” Juliette screams.

“What’s the matter?” I ask Jonathan.

“Apparently, Mom bought a chicken instead of a turkey for Easter dinner,” Jonathan says. “This truly is a catastrophe!”

“I…I don’t know how this happen! I bought a turkey. The sign said it was a turkey.”

Eh bien le signe qui n’allait pas!” Juliette screeches.

“Are you sure it’s not a turkey?” Mrs. Willow tries one last time.

“Je suis sûr!” Juliette yells.

Amoureux, calm down,” Jacques says. “I’m sure Mrs. Willow just made a erreur.

Comment peut-on confondre une dinde avec un pouletComment suis-je censé faire un dîner Turquie Pâques sans la dinde?”

“We shall find a way,” Jacques says. He doesn’t sound like he has much confidence or hope.

Je n’ai pas les épices pour faire un dîner de pouletSans les ingrédients nécessaires, je ne peux pas cuisiner ce repas.”

Juliette turns to Mrs. Willow. “I am sorry, Mrs. Amy Willow, but I cannot cook your Easter dinner with that.” She scrunches her nose and points to the chicken.

“I’ll run out and get a turkey right now,” Mrs. Willow says.

“But the dinde won’t be defrosted. I won’t have it ready in time,” Juliette says. “I am sorry, but I simply cannot do it.”

“What if I helped you?” I inquire.

De quelle manière?”

“Umm…I could cook the chicken and you could supervise me,” I say hoping she said in what way or something close to that.

Juliette stares.

“I don’t really know my way around a kitchen, but cooking a chicken can’t be that hard, can it?”

**

Oh, yes, it can.

The chicken was barely four pounds and even though I was technically cooking the chicken, Juliette had a lot of advice in how to do it…and she mostly gave it in French.

C’est épices ne va pas sur le poulet!”

Vous faites mal!”

“No! No! No!”

Around noon, the turkey was ready. Just by looking at it, I knew my hard was worth it. The golden crispy look of the chicken and scrumptious smell guaranteed a successful dinner.

“I guess we can be old fashioned and call lunch dinner,” Mrs. Willow says as we sit down to eat. We laugh at this. Mr. Willow prays over the food and thanks Jesus for dying on the cross. For the first time, I say “Amen!” with glee and happiness.

“Now, let’s eat!” Jonathan shouts.

The chicken is better than delicious. It falls right off the bone and melts in my mouth.

“You know,” I say after we’re finished eating, “in a way this chicken reminds me of Jesus.”

“Please, do explain,” Mr. Willow says trying to keep laughter out of his voice.

“We weren’t expecting to eat a chicken tonight. The Jews weren’t expecting Jesus. They thought their savior would be some great king and come and strike down the Romans when Jesus truly came to save their hearts. Jesus was way better than what they were expecting but some people”-I risk a look a Juliette-“didn’t want the Salvation Jesus offered. They wanted a warrior king. We all wanted turkey, but this chicken turned out to be way better than we expected.”

“I can’t argue with that logic,” Mr. Willow laughs.

“We shall forever remember this Easter as the Easter of the Chicken!” Juliette laughs.

“The Easter Chicken!” Lizzie giggles.

“And to that we shall toast,” Mr. Willow says still laughing. “To the Easter Chicken!”

“To the Easter Chicken!” We toast.

I will never forget this Easter.

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 5

Morning comes too soon. Before I know it, its Christmas and everyone is gathering around the tree. As everyone gets situated, I try to prepare myself to get much less presents than the rest. I spy a couple of presents with my name on it–more presents than I would have ever received at the foster home for sure. A smile floats to my face. It’s probably just clothes but unlike when I was five, clothes are a much appreciated gift.

“Shall I read?” Mr. Willow asks holding up a Bible. No one objects.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

“And that,” Mr. Willow says with reverence, “is the true meaning of Christmas.”

Julie, the youngest Willow child, raises her hand. Mr. Willow looks at her, waiting for her answer.

“May we open presents now?” Julie asks. Mr. Willow laughs and gives permission to open the gifts.

All the kids make a mad dash for the tree but I linger behind. By the time I get to my first present, most of the group has already opened most of theirs.

“Let me get a picture,” Mrs. Willow says as I unwrap the flat package.

“A catalog?” I ask perplexed as I hold it up for the camera. My gift is a French furniture catalog. I flip through the pages wondering if possibly my gift was hidden inside. Nothing. Not what I had expected, but…whatever…?

I open my next gift. A bunch of pain swatches fall into my lap. I give an awkward laugh as I hold up the blue, purple, and pink swatches for the camera.

“No, open this one next,” Mrs. Willow says as I reach for Great-Aunt Birdie’s gift. I take the gift Mrs. Willow hands to me and tear it open.

Its another catalog, but this time its for lamps, sheets, comforters, and other bedroom things. I look oddly at the Willows wondering if its all a joke.

Mr.and Mrs. Willow give me a goofy grin and then hug me.

“We had a feeling you’d be pleased,” Mrs. Willow says.

“Um…,” I say startled.

“Pleased with a bunch of catalogs?” Lizzie asks. “I know taking Vera in for the holiday was last minute and all but they didn’t have any gifts for her age group at the store?”

“Lizzie, think,” Mr. Willow says. “You’re not getting the big picture.”

Well, neither am I.

“I also do not understand,” Jonathan says. “Why give Vera these ‘gifts’ unless…” A look of terror crosses Jonathan’s face.

“I thought you were kidding!” Jonathan shouts. “You’re seriously going to go through with it?”

“Go through with what? I am so confused here,” I say.

“All of these things,” Mr. Willow says pointing to the gifts scattered across the floor, “are things needed to plan a room.”

“Yes…”

“But not just any room. A teenage girl’s room.”

“Yes…OH!”

Everyone laughs as realization comes to my face. I feel slightly embarrassed and stupid for not catching it before.

“We’ve decided to prolong your stay with us, Vera,” Mrs. Willow says. “You are staying with us permanently at least until next Christmas.”

“Welcome to the family, Vera Fleming,” Aunt Sicily says. “Get ready for a bumpy ride.”

Her words startle me. What did she mean by ‘bumpy’ ride?

I guess I was about to find out.

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 4

I wake up before the sun comes up the next morning. The girls spent the rest of the night blabbing about their homework. As it turns out, The Willow family owns a private high school within the community’s premises. The girls described the school as more of a CO/OP since they don’t have to wear uniforms (something that had just been implemented this year), have short classes, do most of their work at home, and only have to be physically present one day a week if they get all their work done. Both Amelia and Phoebe had been homeschooled before and Jordan and her older siblings had gone to public school up until high school. Jordan explained to me that both Austin and Ben wanted to continue public school education, and that they’re parents had allowed it.

“I think they’re mad,” Jordan had said. “But they didn’t get bullied in middle school like I did. I’m rather eccentric as you probably have figured out by now and that made me an easy target. It didn’t help I come from a ‘wealthy’ neighborhood although we’re pretty far from rich. My friendship with Todd didn’t help much either. He was extremely popular and every girl wanted to be with him despite his hearing problems. They saw me as a threat and I got labeled. I think the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d be able to opt out of this in high school. And for some strange reason Todd suddenly wanted to go to Willow High too. I’m glad about it though since I’ve known Todd as long as I can remember. But wouldn’t you know the very year I start Willow High they open the school to eighth graders? But now Austin wants to transfer and so does Ben. Some altercation with a Stewart. So starting in January, I’ll be sharing a classroom with my twin. Can my life get any more worse and complicated?”

As I tip-toe down the stairs, it hits me. It’s Christmas Eve.

And that meant tomorrow would be Christmas.

“How did that happened?” I accidentally whispered out loud.

“I’m sorry. Where you talking to me?”

I scream and scan the area for the speaker.

“I’m terribly sorry,” Han says. He was sitting in the Richardson’s toy covered living room and sipping a cup of coffee. A Bible lay opened to Matthew on his lap.

“I didn’t know anyone else was up,” I say all of a sudden feeling shy.

“Would you like a cup?” Han asks motioning towards his coffee cup. “Mr. Richardson makes the best coffee. He was a barista in college. He can look at you and just now what kind of coffee you’d like. I think that’s how he and Mrs. Richardson met. He made a coffee she loved so much she ended up falling in love with the creator.”

I try not to stare at Han as he rambles on. When he finishes, it takes me a moment to find my voice.

“I’ve never had coffee before,” I stammer.

“Than we MUST have Mr. Richardson make you a cup!” Han shouts. He places his cup and Bible down. He grabs my arm and drags me into the kitchen where a man sits at the table pouring over some blue prints.

“Want another cup?” Mr. Richardson asks. He notices me and clams up.

“Mr. Richardson, this is Vera Fleming. She’s spending Christmas with the Willows,” Hans introduces. Mr. Richardson nods.

“And she’s never had coffee,” Han says.

“Then we must remedy that,” Mr. Richardson says. He takes a quick glance at me and gets up to make his concoction.

I hope he doesn’t base the taste solely on my look. I’m wearing a pair of Jordan’s old pajamas since I usually wore a T-shirt way too large for me to bed. The pajamas had a Christmas theme to me. The shirt was pink and had a picture of monkeys sitting around a Christmas three opening presents while the pants were green and had monkeys randomly place on them. Maybe he’d give me a Christmas themed sort of coffee.

“Here you go,” Mr. Richardson says handing me a cup of light colored coffee. “Tell me what you think.”

I sip the coffee and a blend of flavors delight my taste buds. I gulp down a swallow.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Mr. Richardson reluctantly smiles.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Hazel Peppermint Chestnut,” Mr. Richardson says. “It sounds gross, but its actually quite tasty.”

“I’ll say,” I gulp. “Thank you.”

All Mr. Richardson does is smile.

Han escorts me out the room and we return to the living room where we sip our coffee in silence.

“Do you have any siblings–besides Amelia and Phoebe?” I ask all of a sudden.

“Nope,” Han says. “How bout you?”

“I’m really not sure,” I say. “I have a little half-brother, Henry. He’s around three. We entered foster care together. My dad remarried after he divorced my mom but I haven’t spoken to him since I was ten. Back then he didn’t have any children but I don’t know about now.”

“I’m sorry,” Han says suddenly.

“Sorry about what?”

“That you’re parents are divorced,” Han says. “This is so rude, but may I inquire why?”

“My mom was cheating on my dad with my dad’s also married brother.”

“That’s…deep.”

“Crazy is the more appropriate word. My mom and my uncle divorced their spouses and got married to each other. But my uncle left us not long after Henry was conceived, which was about two years into their marriage. We had been living in Boston, as you can probably tell by my lingering accent. My mother was a Stewart so she moved us back to Berkshire County. We wound up living with my mother’s parents when she was eight months pregnant. But then my grandparents kicked us out of their home two months after Henry was born and we ended up living in our car–when we weren’t staying with one of my mother’s various boyfriends. By this point, my mother had resorted to stealing and it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with her.”

Han looks at me with pity. I slowly feel regret for telling him my story.

“I guess since you told me your story, I should tell mine,” Han says taking a deep breath. “My sisters and I were born in England. Amelia is the oldest–she’s also my twin sister. I’m the middle child and Phoebe’s the baby. My parents were rowers. Strange, I know. But they were both professors and rowers. They had moved to England just to have a better rowing experience. One day while they were practicing, the weather turned bad before they could make it back to shore. Their bodies were never found. Our parents had named our Godparents back in America as our guardians. So when Amelia and I were four and Phoebe was three, we moved to America. We had been born in England, but America’s all we know of now.”

“I guess we can kind of relate to each other,” I say. “We both know what its like not to have our biological parents in our life.”

“Vera, do you believe in Jesus?” Han blurts.

“I’m not exactly sure of what I believe,” I hesitate. “My father was a theologian, my mother was more on the side of new agey, and my uncle was an atheist.”

Han doesn’t say anything. I scoff on the inside. He probably thinks little of me now that he knows I’m not a Christian and I don’t come from a Christian home.

“Read this,” Han says. “I know its changed my life.”

I stare at the Bible he’s just thrust into my hands. He gets up and leaves with his empty coffee cup. I involuntarily sigh and start on the top of the page.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

**

I spent the rest of my morning immersed in the book of Matthew. Jonathan was annoyed and kept telling me that we had a Bible at home, but I was too interested to succumb to him. I read a little bit faster than I would have liked to so when we returned to the Willow Estate I asked Mrs. Willow where I could find a Bible.

“Do you not have one of your own?” Mrs. Willow asked.

“No,” I shook my head.

“Despicable the system today,” Mrs. Willow grumbled as she went in search for a Bible. “They won’t even let a girl have a Bible.”

“I’m not a Christian,” I spoke up. “Han just suggested I read it and I speed read through Matthew this morning but I’d like to read it in more detail.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Willow says. She hands me a Bible. “Maybe you should talk to Mr. Willow about this stuff. He recently went back to school to study Divinity.”

“My dad was a theologian,” I say. “He didn’t necessarily believe in any one thing, but he found it all very interesting.”

“Do you believe in any of it?” Mrs. Willow asked.

“Well, after reading Matthew, I think I believe there is a god. I’m not entirely sure. I never really thought about it before.”

“You’ve never thought about your beliefs even though your father was a theologian?”

“My mother was very persistent in that my father didn’t try to ‘poison’ my mind. My parents wanted me to figure things out for myself. I’m not even sure my dad was sure of what he believed.”

Mrs. Willow says no more. I went to my room and careful re-read Matthew.

**

In the late afternoon, a several cars pull up into the driveway. I am halfway through Mark by now and more confused than ever. So Jesus was supposed to be the Son of God and the promised Savoir. Yet the way He saved was by dying on a cross? That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If He was God, why didn’t He strike down those stupid Pharisees? Why didn’t He stop the Roman’s oppression? Why didn’t He save Himself from such a horrible and cruel death?

“Come meet aunts and uncles!” Lizzie shouts bursting through my door. I place the Bible on my bed and walk down the hall with her.

“Just pray about it, ok?” Mrs. Willow’s voice says.

“It sounds like God is telling you to–,” Mr. Willow starts. But he stops when Lizzie and I appear in the foyer.

“They’re here!” Lizzie shouts. “JONNY! GET DOWN HERE! THEY’VE FINALLY COME!”

“Jonathan took Queen for a walk,” Mrs. Willow says.

“Who’s Queen?” I ask.

“Jonathan’s black lab,” Lizzie sighs. “She’s supposed to be the family pet but I wanted a cat and Jonny keeps her in his room most of the time so I never get to see her.”

Mr. Willow chuckles and Mrs. Willow rolls her eyes.

“I better go help the relatives,” Mrs. Willow says putting on her coat. Mr. Willow follows her.

“Oh, you’ll love everybody and everybody will love you,” Lizzie squeals. “Usually we all get along but sometimes Aunt Martha is cold to Aunt Brenda because Aunt Brenda married Aunt Martha’s high school boyfriend, Uncle Robert. And Aunt Gwen and Uncle Rhys have a bit of a sibling rivalry even though they’re in their forties. But things really get crazy when Great-Aunt Agatha and Great-Aunt Birdie are together, but Great-Aunt Agatha is spending Christmas with her son’s wife’s family. Great-Aunt Birdie is really nice and always brings the best presents. Although I wonder if Mom and Dad told her that you were going to be here. Never mind. Even if she hasn’t got a present for you, she’ll run out and buy the biggest and the bestest thing she can find. Beware of Great-Uncle Rory though. He always drinks just  little bit too much wine, and Uncle Rory, his son, takes after him. Aunt Sicily can be mean after a meal and a glass of wine. She’s normally bossy but something about alcohol makes her unbearable.”

I was in for a long Christmas weekend.

**

As it turns out Great-Aunt Birdie had a present for me and the uncle Rorys were kept from getting tipsy. Aunt Sicily was forced into solitude after being extremely snappish after a glass of wine. Most of the family was nice to me, but I found myself having to keep repeat my story to those that didn’t here it the first fifty times and I could barely take their looks of pity. Great-Uncle Rory gave me a twenty when I finished telling my story to him.

Then I had to explain everything to Aunt Sicily (the story of her name was rather interesting. Her parents went to Italy on vacationing and she was born in Sicily three weeks early. Sadly, she also named her eldest daughter Sicily much to her parents distress) when she got out of confinement. She commanded Mrs. Willow to give me some champagne (Mrs. Willow didn’t give me any of course). I withdrew to the empty family room when Great-Great-Aunt Mary, who was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, asked me what happened to my parents for the third time.

“Hey,” Jonathan says walking into the family room.

“What do you want?” I ask.

“I guess to say I’m sorry,” Jonathan says. “I judged you before I knew anything about you and I’m sorry.”

“Are you for real?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Jonathan says a little hurt. “I’m sincerely asking for your forgiveness.”

“People don’t just say sorry like that in real life,” I say.

“Well, I’m not just a person. I’m a Christian and apologizing is a very Christian thing to do.”

“Apology accepted,” I say after a few moments.

“You know what Vera Fleming?”

“What?”

“You just might be good for this family.”

“Just might be?” I tease. Jonathan hesitates and when he sees the twinkle in my eyes breaks out into a huge grin.

There is no score this Christmas Eve.

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 3

“STOP! AH!”

“Don’t aim that thing at me! OOFF!”

I stare longingly out the window. Some of the neighborhood kids are having a snowball fight in the middle of the street. A light sprinkling of snow fell last night temporarily hiding the dirty snow. Jonathan rushed through his breakfast this morning, and I had a feeling he didn’t want me out there playing with his friends.

One of the girls notices me standing in the window. She smiles to me and uses her hand to beckon me outside. I quickly pull the curtain in front of the window and run away from the window. Moments later I hear the doorbell ring.

“Hello, Phoebe,” I hear Mrs. Willow say when she opens the door, “what can I do for you?”

“I would like to ask that girl if she’d like to join our snowball fight.”

“Vera?”

“I don’t know her name. All I know is she sure wants to be out here with us and not cooped up inside.”

I hear Mrs. Willow laugh.

“You’re probably right. VERA!”

I take my sweet time walking to the door. The girl, Phoebe, smiles at me and pushes away a snow covered strand of her Chestnut colored hair.

“Hi, you must be Vera,” She smiles. She offers her hand. “I’m Phoebe Nelson. I was wondering if you’d like to join us? The boys would love to have another target to hit.”

I manage to chuckle at her joke. She smiles at me.

“So what do you say?” Phoebe asks. “Will you join us?”

I can practically feel Mrs. Willow nudge me to go outside.

“For a few mintues,” I answer.

“Awesome!” Phoebe smiles. “I’ll tell the rest you’re coming out. Everyone is curious about you. Jonny refuses to tell us anything about you.”

I feel a like I’m on display as I walk out of the house. All snowball throwing stops and everyone stares at me except Jonathan. He glowers at me.

A tall girl with wild red and green hair is the first to approach me.

“You must be Vera. We’ve heard nothing about you,” The girl says. She shots an angry look in Jonathan’s direction. “I’m Jordan Richardson.”

“SHE’S CRAZY!” All the boys shout.

Jordan sends a glare in the boys direction before turning her attention back to me. She holds her hand out for me to shake.

“Vera Fleming,” I smile as she gives me a strong handshake. I nearly fall into her.

“Sorry,” Jordan laughs. “I have seven brothers. Forgive me.”

Seven?” I blurt.

“Three older, three younger, and a fraternal twin, Austin,–nobody knows who’s older,” Jordan groans.

“How is that possible?”

“I’ve been asking that question for fourteen years,” One of the bus boys, Austin–I guess, says.

“You’re siblings?” I see Jonathan roll his eyes out of the corner of my eyes.

“Sadly,” Jordan and Austin say at the same time. They roll their eyes at each other.

“Ben is also my brother,” Jordan says pointing to the tallest boy in the group. “He’s crazy, too.”

Ben says nothing but smiles.

“How rude of me!” Phoebe shouts. “Vera, this is my older brother, Han, and my older sister, Amelia.”

Phoebe points to a tall boy with a snowball ready in his hands. Some blonde hair sticks out from under his cap. He smiles and nods at me. I nod back. Phoebe also wants to a girl with long, flowy blonde hair. She smiles and walks toward me.

“Hi,” Amelia says. “Welcome to the neighborhood.” I smile unsure what to say.

“HEY TODD!” Jordan screams all of a sudden. Austin shakes his head. I look to where Jordan is screaming. Jordan is screaming at the window of the only house on the street that’s not decorated. A boy stands in the window looking intensely at Jordan.

“COME ON OUT! WE’RE ABOUT TO HAVE A SNOWBALL FIGHT!” Jordan screams. The boy nods and disappears from the window.

“What’d you do that for?” Jonathan asks. Jordan smacks him.

“Todd’s nice. Not all Stewart’s are murders,” Jordan says.

“Jordan and Todd sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Austin teases.

“Oh, grow up,” Jordan says rolling her eyes. Todd emerges from his house and stares at me strangely.

“TODD, THIS IS VERA! SHE’S STAYING WITH THE WILLOW’S FOR CHRISTMAS!” Jordan yells. Todd nods. Only as he comes closer do I see a hearing aid popping out from his ear.

“Hello, Vera,” Todd says offering his hand. “I’m Todd–Stewart.”

I shake his hand and smile. Todd is surprised by this response.

“MILKSOP!” Jordan shouts throwing a snowball at Todd’s back. Todd is taken aback but quickly recovers by getting snow all over Jordan’s crazy hair.

Within seconds, the snowball fight is on. I get hit more times than I throw, and most of the balls come from Jordan trying to get Todd. Phoebe gets hit the least, but throws little. Jonathan vainly tries to hit me, but I miss him every time.

“I’VE PREPARED HOT CHOCOLATE!” A woman calls from the Richardson’s house. Everyone rushes over to their house and I follow.

“Hello,” Mrs. Richardson says when I sit down at her table. “I don’t believe you’ve met.”

“I’m Vera,” I say.

“She’s just here for Christmas,” Jonathan quickly adds.

“Oh, yes. That sure was nice of your parents to take Vera in. I would have done it, but I got eight of my own,” Mrs. Richardson says.

“It would have been cruel to put Vera through this rowdy bunch,” Jordan says. Just after she finishes, two boys run into the kitchen wearing nothing but their underwear.

“JOEY! SHAUN!” Mrs. Richardson shouts. She looks embarrassed at her sons lack of clothing.

“We wanted some hot chocolate,” A boy with red hair says. “But we weren’t cold. So we TOOK OFF OUR CLOTHING!”

I try to hide a snicker, but I can’t. The enter table burst out laughing.

“What?” The little boy asks–not getting that he’s what’s so funny.

“Baby, go put on some clothes,” Mrs. Richardson says. “Then you can have some coca. Ok?”

“All right,” The boy says sadly. He runs out of the kitchen with his brother not far behind.

“Please, excuse them,” Mrs. Richardson says shaking her head.

“We’re used to it,” Han laughs. These are the first words I’ve heard him say. His voice has a hint of British accent in it. He catches me looking at him and smiles.

“Well you SHOULDN’T,” Mrs. Richardson shouts.

“Now we know were Jordan gets her noise from,” Todd says under his breath.

“HEY!” Jordan shouts. She splashes some hot chocolate in his face. Todd smiles and licks his lips. Mrs. Richardson looks at the two of them for a couple seconds longer than the show before going back to preparing coca for the other boys.

“MOMMY!” A little red haired boy runs into the kitchen. I’m shocked he actually has clothes on.

“Yes, Levi?” Mrs. Richardson asks.

“Joey just told me that you made coca and that you weren’t going to give me any!” Levi cries.

“Oh, baby, Joey was just being a brother,” Mrs. Richardson says hugging Levi. “Brothers play lie with each other some time.”

“He shouldn’t get any hot chowote!” Levi shouts.

“Chocolate,” Mrs. Richardson corrects before going on. “He really shouldn’t. But neither do you. None of us deserve coca, but Mommy gives mercy and lets you have some any way. Give your brother some grace. Sit down.”

Levi sits down next to me smiles.

“Hi! I’m Levi!” He shouts. “Jordan says I’m the baby. I don’t know what that means, but I’m three and can brush my teeth by myself!”

“Hi, Levi,” I smile. “I’m Vera. And being the baby just means you’re the youngest.”

“Oh,” Levi says. “THANK YOU!” He shouts as Mrs. Richardson places a small cup of coca in front of him.

“BOYS!” Mrs. Richardson shouts as two tall boys run into the kitchen passing a basketball between them. “NO PLAYING BASKETBALL IN THE KITCHEN!”

“I must have learned to yell in the womb,” Jordan mumbles.

“We’re going to play Snow Ball,” The oldest looking says.

“Oh, no,” Mrs. Richardson says. “Not wearing that.” Both boys aren’t wearing coats.

“Mom, We;re in college now. We can take care of myself,” The boy says.

“You guys weren’t going to play ball without us?” Austin asks slurping his coca.

“Ya,” The other boy says. Austin steals the ball from his hand and runs out the door.

“COATS! BOYS! COATS!” Mrs. Richardson shouts running after them–without her coat.

The rest of the boys join them outside leaving us girls to stare at each other.

“SO….,” Jordan shouts. We burst out laughing.

“Vera, I’m having a sleepover tonight,” Jordan says. “Austin’s having the boys over just to drive me crazier, but whatever. What I’m trying to say is would you like to come?”

“I’d have to ask Mr. Willow,” I say cautiously, “but if he says, yes. Yes.”

“Just let me ask him,” Jordan says. “He can’t stand me. So every time he sees me he just says ‘YES’.”

This gets a laugh out of us and we giggle through the rest of our hot chocolates.

**

“Should I do my nails SILVER or RED and GREEN?” Jordan asks.

“SHOULD WE GO THROUGH WATER BALLOONS ALL OVER THE GIRLS!?” The boys shout from the room next door.

“NO!” We shout back.

“Is your life goal to annoy your brothers?” Amelia laughs.

“Tell the truth. You like to make Han go mad,” Jordan says.

“She actually doesn’t,” Phoebe says. “And that’s what drives me CRAZY!”

“YES, PHOEBE, YOU ARE CRAZY!” Han shouts back.

“LOOK WHO’S TALKING!” Phoebe shouts. Her voice slips into a strange short of British accent.

“AHA!” Han shouts bursting into the room.

“Get out!” Phoebe shouts. She starts throwing popcorn at him. We all pick up an object in Jordan’s room and throw it at him.

“Not you too, Vera!” Han shouts with fake hurt as he retreats back to the boys’ room.

“We need to play a prank on them,” Jordan says after she’s closed the door.

“What kind of prank?” Amelia asks. Jordan puts her finger over her mouth and leaves the room. Moments later she returns with silly string cans.

“Surprise attack,” She smiles. She hands one can to everybody and keeps two for herself.

“Let’s roll,” Jordan says like we’re in a movie.

We burst into the boys room and surprise them with string.

“AH!” Austin shouts as Jordan covers him in string.

“SERIOUSLY!” Ben shouts as Amelia makes a swirl on his hair.

I make Jonathan my target. He tries not to scream like a little girl, but he fails.

“MEN!” One of the older Richardson boys, Tyler–as I have learned, shouts. He throws whipped cream cans to each guy.

“STOP!” I scream as Han attacks me. I start to laugh as we just stand there repealing power at each other..

“WHAT IS GOING ON IN HERE?” Mrs. Richardson shouts. Everyone stops.

“It’s not what it looks like,” The other older Richardson boy, Josh, says.

“Wait…what does it look like?” Austin asks.

Mrs. Richardson shakes her head.

**

“So what should we talk about?” Jordan asks after we’ve cleaned up and Mrs. Richardson has turned off the lights.

“Boys,” Phoebe tries to whisper.

“Nah, we should play a game,” Amelia says.

“Destroy a Wish?” Phoebe asks.

“No, we should play Truth!” Jordan asks.

“Don’t you mean Truth or Date?” I interrupt.

“We’re not allowed to play Truth or Dare anymore,” Jordan says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Let’s just say we were all grounded for a month,” Amelia says.

“All but you,” Phoebe huffs.

“What do you think we should play, Vera?” Jordan asks.

I’ve never played Destroy a Wish before so I opted to play Truth.

“All right,” Jordan says with mischief in her voice. “I get to ask the first question. Phoebe, who do you have a crush on?”

“No one,” Phoebe answers.

“Come on!” Jordan shouts. “None of my brothers impress you? Jonathan Willow doesn’t suite you’re fancy?”

The room is silent for a moment, before everyone, even me, is laughing.

“Phoebe doesn’t do ‘jerk’,” Amelia giggles.

“GO TO SLEEP!” One of the boys shouts.

“YOU GO TO SLEEP!” Jordan shouts back.

“WHY DON’T YOU ALL GO TO SLEEP?” Mrs. Richardson shouts.

“I’m not sure if I want to meet your dad,” I blurt. Jordan was the only one that went downstairs to greet him when he arrived him.

“Oh, my dad is really quiet,” Jordan says. “Seriously.”

I feel like headed.

“Now, I get to ask a question,” Phoebe says. “Jordan, do you like Todd Stewart?”

“Oh, not you too!”

“I think your mother thinks you like him,” Amelia says.

“Well, I don’t. Not like that anyway,” Jordan lies.

“Jordan?” I ask.

“Ya?”

“Are your pants on fire?”

“Why do you–HEY!”

We all burst out laughing.

“Just spill, girl,” Amelia says. “You like a Stewart.”

“I refuse to admit something that I haven’t done.”

“Face it,” Phoebe says. “She’s impossible.” I can just see her shake her head. “I’m pretty sure he likes you too.”

“And I’m pretty sure Austin likes you,” Jordan says. I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic or not.

“You better be joking,” Phoebe says.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Jordan says mysteriously. “Since you countered by question, I get to ask a question. Amelia, do you like any of my brothers?

“Somebody’s determined to play matchmaker with her brothers,” Amelia says.

“Well?”

“If you must know,” Amelia sighs, “I like Tyler.”

“WHAT!” Jordan shouts.

“WHAT!” Someone from the other side mimics.

“BE QUIET!” Jordan screams.

“IF YOU KIDS DON’T GO TO SLEEP, YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO HAVE ANOTHER SLEEPOVER AGAIN!”

“What!” Jordan whispers.

“What’s wrong with that?” Amelia asks. “He’s only nineteen.”

“Still! Nobody’s ever liked Tyler before!” Jordan shouts.

“YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?” Tyler shouts.

“MAYBE!” Jordan shouts back.

“STRIKE ONE!”

“It’s just…Tyler’s a genius. He started college at sixteen,” Jordan says.

“So I’m not smart enough for him?” Amelia asks.

“NO!” Jordan shouts. “It’s just…I like you better with Ben.”

“EW!” Amelia shouts.

“STRIKE TWO!”

“Ok, now its my turn to ask a question,” Amelia says. “Vera, what do you think of my brother?”

“I…I…don’t know,” I say. “I just met him like twelve hours ago!”

“Do you find him handsome?”

“Sure….”

“Stop teasing her!” Jordan laughs.

“Look, who’s TALKING!” Phoebe shouts.

“STRIKE TWO AND A HALF!”

“Look, what you’ve girls done!” Jordan whisper shouts. “We’re half a strike away from never ever having sleepovers again! Why are you guys so loud?”

This causes us to burst into laughter.

“STRIKE TWO AND THREE FOURTHS!”

“We better put duck tape on Jordan’s mouth,” Phoebe whispers.

 I smile. For the first time coming to Willowfield Falls, I’m happy. But it won’t last. Cause I can’t stay.

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 2

I have dreamed of this moment for years, and now that it’s finally here, I feel like puking.

The entire drive from the foster home to the Willow Estate, no one spoke a word. Jonathan did a lot of talking to me with his eyes, though. I knew his icy stares all too well. I’d heard it all before. I was unwanted. A pest. An intruder that didn’t deserve to even breathe the same air as him. Jerk. If I had known I’d have to spend two weeks with him (The Willow’s were keeping me until New Years), that stupid wish would have never even entered my mind.

Lizzie looked at me with interest the entire time, but she said nothing. I saw the words on her lips, but she swallowed them out of fear of something. Perhaps her brother’s wrath.

“Welcome to your home for the next two weeks,” Mrs. Willow breathes when her husband pulled into the garage. I smile at her before getting out of the car. The garage is huge and filled from several cars. I avoid looking at the car’s makers so I don’t feel even more out of place.

It doesn’t fully hit me that I’ve just entered the world of the ‘honest’ rich (The Stewart’s are considered the ‘dishonest’ rich’, at least that’s what I’ve heard people say) until I get my first glimpse inside the Willow Estate. It’s only the laundry room, but its even more covered in Christmas decorations than the outside of the house. The Elf on the Shelf sits on top of the washing room. His creepy smile sends involuntarily shivers down my spin. My grandmother had an Elf on the Shelf one year–every year until I threw it away when I woke up to find it sitting at the foot of my bed.

“As you will soon discover, Mom’s a little bit of a holiday decorating Nazi,” Jonathan smirks. His eyes tack more onto his criticism of his mother’s hobby. “Not that you’ll around long enough to see the house covered in red for Valentine’s Day or green for Saint Patrick’s Day.”

“I think it’s lovely,” I say just to be contrary.

“Wait until you see the Family Room,” Jonathan mumbles.

I follow Mrs. Willow through the house. I take a glimpse in the several rooms I pass. Even the kitchen is covered in Christmas decorations. I think I might have even saw some mistletoe in there.

“You might want to take note of where all the mistletoe is hung,” Mrs. Willow says as we climb the tinsel covered stairs. “It might be…awkward to be caught under it.”

I wonder if I should take offense in this, but it’s the truth. I’ve never been kissed (well on the cheek, but like twice), and that was defiantly not a gift I wanted to receive that gift from a Willow.

“I hope your room suites you,” Mrs. Willow says. “We’re expecting some company closer to Christmas, and this room was already prepared for my sister’s daughter. She’s half your age. We couldn’t completely get ride of the childish theme in so little time, but that can and will be fixed.”

You know how in every movie, TV show, and book when a character is suddenly thrust into a world much more wealthier than theirs and every time someone says their room is terrible, it turns out to be spectacular?

This time was no exception.

The room was covered in purple and pink, little girl colors that this little girl still loves. A white bookcase filled with everything from Nancy Drew to Jane Austen sat in the corner of the room. A 45” (I’m guessing) flat screen TV was mounted on the wall. A footstool to reach the side of the TV unintentionally poked fun at my small size. A shelf with several familiar movies was right underneath the television. There was one lonely stuffed animal, a Santa teddy bear, sitting on the King sized bed. The comforter had flowers on it, but that was ok. The room was huge and all mine.

Mrs. Willow shuffles to the bed and snatches the bear off it. She tries to hide it behind her back and puts an embarrassed grin on her face.

“He can stay,” I smile. Mrs. Willow looks shocked. She quickly recovers and holds him out to me. I take him and smile. I’ve never had a teddy bear before or even a real stuffed animal. I hug him to my chest.

“Dinner is at six o’clock sharp. You are free to explore the house, but if you encounter a closed door–knock.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I nod.

“Manners,” Mrs. Willow smiles. “I like that.”‘

And with that Mrs. Willow left me to squeal.

**

I decide to go exploring after not finding anything I wanted to watch on TV. Quite a few movies on the shelf had caught my eye, but so did several ares of the house we rushed past.

I start downstairs in the Family Room. It’s abandoned.  A TV that’s got to be larger than me is the room’s centerpiece. Modern furniture is covered in red and green stripes. A small Christmas tree with few decorations hides in the corner. The sight pulls at my heart-strings. Even the family room at the foster home is full of life.

I poke my head in the kitchen yet. A lady, who’s shouting in French at a young man that’s shouting French back at her, is furiously whisking away. My eyes float to where the young man is standing. His body is just shy of being under the mistletoe.

“NON!” The lady screams. She speaks rapidly in French. I have no idea what she said, but it sure rills the boy. He screams at her in French–calling her name in English I don’t feel comfortable repeating. The lady gasps after the word leaves his lips. He takes a step forward–putting his body right under the mistletoe.

“You despicable boy!” The woman screams in English. She walks to the young boy. “Vous êtes viré!”

Regardez!” The boy shouts. He points to the mistletoe above the two of them. The lady, quickly blushes while the boy smirks. The woman starts to give the boy a quick peck on the lips, but they end up kissing. I duck my head out–disgusted.

I walk into the foyer and crane my neck to look at the Christmas tree that’s about four–no seven–times my sizes.Every limb is covered with an ornament and my head hurts just looking at it. I feel an urge to take several of the ornaments and put them on the lonely tree in the family room. I shuffle into the next room before I can grab a handful of them.

I nearly faint when I enter a hallway that is not completely covered in Christmas decorations. You can’t even tell what season it is. Only a little sunlight lights the dark, dingy walkway.

“Can I help you?”

I scream. Mr. Willow stares at me strangely.

“Sorry,” I stutter.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Mr. Willow says. He looks at me with squinted eyes.

“Did Mrs. Willow overlook this hallway?” I stutter.

“This is what the kids and I call a holiday free zone,” Mr. Willow says with a laugh in his throat. “It’s taken three years to get this place of safety, but a man’s got to have some time away from green, red, and decorations.”

I nod. Mr. Willow nods back and walks towards the end of the hallway. I stand in the hallway like a dork for several minutes before I move on.

I walk out of the holiday free zone and back into the Christmas madness. I explore all the rooms on the first floor to discover a spa, an indoor pool, and another family room like room.

I was just about to explore the top floor when the clock rung six o’clock. I ran towards the dinning room and fall flat on my face. I slam onto the floor and watch stars.

“Are you all right?” Mr. Willow asks as he helps me up.

“I’m all right now.The stars have stopped,” I say.

“Should we take her to the hospital?” Mrs. Willow asks.

“The food is getting cold,” Jonathan mutters,

“Jonny!” Mrs. Willow shouts. “Go to your room!”

“What! Why?” Jonathan–Jonny–yells.

“I will not tolerate that tone, young man,” Mr. Willow loudly says sternly. “Apologize to your mother.”

“But–” Jonathan protests.

“Jonathan Robert Willow the Second, apologize to your mother and do as she says,” Mr. Willow says raising voice even louder.

Jonathan looks at me. His eyes have turn from icy to deadly. He looks like he would like to make me see stars again–or worse.

“Sorry,” Jonathan sneers.

“Go upstairs,” Mr. Willow says. “We’ll talk later.”

Jonathan stomps up the stairs and slams the door.

Even though Lizzie and Mr. and Mrs. Willow were still standing by me, I broke down crying.

**

“Mademoiselle Vera?”

I groan as I wake up to someone knocking on my door.

“Mademoiselle?” The door opens and the French cooking lady peeks her head in.

“Mademoiselle,” The lady says walking closer to my bed. “I’ve brought you your dinner.”

I stare at the lady as she places the tray on my quilt covered lap.

“I can eat up here?” I ask.

Bien sûr!” The lady shouts. She walks towards the door.

“Excuse me,” I say. The lady stops.

“May I ask you a question?”

Je suppose,” The lady says with reluctance.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

Mon nom? Juliette Lefebvre.”

“I saw you in the kitchen this afternoon arguing with a young man. Is he your assistant?”

“That’s deux questions.”

“Sorry.”

Mais je vais répondre à la question,” Juliette says. “Jacques is my husband.”

“Do you fight like that all the time?”

Vous posez trop de questions,” Juliette says shaking her head. “You ask too many questions.”

“I guess. I do have another one.”

Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

“Could you maybe speak a little bit more in English? I can’t really understand you.”

Oui. Yes.”

By the time Juliette left me with many questions unsaid, my food was cold. I tried not to choke at the taste of stone cold meatloaf.

“Listen, brat.”

I look up and half expect to see Juliette standing there, but the voice is male and the speaker is Jonathan.

“What do you want?”

“I heard you put on quite a show this evening,” Jonathan says.

“And you had quite a performance also,” I snaps.

“At least I didn’t cry,” Jonathan says.

“At least I didn’t snap at my mother,” I say with a sad voice. “I’d take that over crying any day.”

“You think that you can just shed some tears and that you can fool everyone into think you’re some kind of broken angel, don’t ya?”

“Get out of my room,” I sneer.

“This isn’t your room. This is my house therefore my room,” Jonathan says. I snicker at the thought of this room being Jonathan’s room.

“It’s my room for two weeks so get out,” I say in a low voice.

“This isn’t over, Vera,” Jonathan says in a low, dangerous voice. “You will be out of here by Christmas.”

“How much do you want to bet?” I spit.

“I’m no Stewart,” Jonathan sneers.

“You fooled me.”

Jonathan let out a frustrated breath and stormed out of my room.

Score-Vera: 1, Jonny: -1

Posted in Willowfield Falls

Willowfield Falls: All I Want For Christmas Part 1

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.

**

“CHRISTMAS BREAK!”

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.