The noise sends a chill down Allison’s back, stopping her mid-stride. She puts a finger to her lips, then pulls Molly, her Raggedy Ann doll, up close.
“Shhhhh... ‘member, we have to be extra quiet.”
With the doll seeming to understand, giving that one gray button-eyed look that only Molly knows how to give, Allison continues to tip-toe down the stairs. When she reaches the bottom, she leans against the wall and carefully peers around the corner into the parlor.
The last of the crackling embers in the fireplace have cast their spell upon the room, and everything, including the Christmas tree with its ancient lights and reused tinsel, seems to dance in the red/orange glow.
She takes in a deep breath, then wearily makes her way to the sofa, sliding in under Mrs. Quigley’s thick quilt. With Molly to her side, she pulls the crumpled letter from her pocket and reads the crayon-written words one more time.
“I’ve tried real hard to be good this year, Santa. Could I please have a mommy and daddy? Please!”
Setting the letter aside, she leans back, tucking her head against Molly’s.
This year she’s going to see him. For sure. Give him the letter herself. Then, maybe like Kaylee, who just got her forever mommy and daddy yesterday, right here in this very room, she can have a family, too.
Mrs. Quigley has been real nice. And it’s been real swell living here at the orphans’ house the last two years since Grammy passed away. But...
The embers begin to dim, the magic in their glow slowly slipping away. She fights and fights to keep her eyelids from closing – gotta watch for Santa – but – YAWN – it’s so very hard...
Soooo very hard...
The voice sounds a thousand miles away, but when Allison opens her eyes, Mrs. Quigley, wearing her biggest smile, is sitting right next to her.
“Is it morning?”
“Oh, no... I missed him.” Panic swells within Allison and she begins digging into the quilt.
But Mrs. Quigley’s words are lost.
Because the letter is gone.
With her hopes, much like the fireplace’s embers, now dark and cold, little tears begin to roll down her cheek. They must call out to Mrs. Quigley, because she slides closer, wrapping Allison’s face in her soft warm hands.
“It’s gonna be okay, Sweetie. You see, I just got off the phone with the county. And guess what? Mr. and Mrs. Larson are coming. Today. Christmas! You remember them, right?”
“Well, they want YOU to be part of their family.”
With her heart feeling as though it might burst at any moment, Allison jumps up and gives Mrs. Quigley the biggest hug ever. “Oh, thank you, thank you!”
Mrs. Quigley taps Allison’s nose, but then a surprised look crosses her face. “When did you fix little Molly?”
Not quite understanding, Allison turns to Molly, who’s lovingly gazing back with her two green button eyes.