Raina stood by the wishing well. Would this help at all? Everything she tried so far had failed. Should she even try?
She cried as she took a penny from her purse and threw it in the water. Of course there was one thing she hadn’t done. She hadn’t prayed. She had never witnessed any answered prayers and decided God wasn’t listening. She knew all the stories from church and all those inspirational magazines mom read, but they were just words, things for other people. Where was her miracle, the answer to her prayers? It seemed as if her problems just kept coming, like a rainstorm. Now Christmas was tomorrow and she saw no reason to celebrate. She turned and trudged through the mud puddles. Wishing wells don’t work either.
She looked up and saw the church steeple with the cross, a shadow in the light of the full moon. As she reached the church, a small manger stood outside. What a silly idea, to put all your faith in an infant. What could he do to help, but then what would it hurt? She reached into her torn denim bag, searching for another penny. All she found was an old Kleenex and a pack of gum, and then there it was, a shiny copper penny, probably her last one until she got paid after the first of the year. She dropped it in the plastic sundae bowl that sat on the ground in front of the manger. Maybe, God would actually hear her this time.
She picked up her small bag of groceries and the teddy bear for Amanda and walked toward home. A very light snow started to fall and she shivered, still a mile to walk and all she had was this worn woolen sweater and old suede boots with holes developing in the sole. How she wished her aged Volkswagen hadn’t died, it would have made this last minute shopping trip easier.
She looked up from her walking. The children’s park stood beside her. Her mind flashed back to warmer days when Amanda and Brad had played there. Now Brad was in Iraq and who knew when he would play with Amanda again. Stars and moonlight lit up the playset. Underneath the tree house sat two figures. How odd, what were they doing there on this cold night, Christmas Eve no less. She cautiously walked over to them. There had been some muggings here recently, her being one of them and she didn’t want to take any chances.
She tensed as she spoke, “Hello, who are you and what are you doing under there?”
The figures moved quickly as if frightened. She peered closer; it was a woman and a little girl. “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you. Come on out of there.” The girl crawled out first and the woman right behind her.
The girl spoke through her shivering blue lips. “Please don’t hurt us. We were just getting out of the snow and the rain. Daddy was mean again and the church was locked, we had no place to go.” She looked up at Raina with large, round, hazel eyes. Her long, brown hair fell in wet ringlets to her shoulders, so much like Amanda. I looked at the woman. She was just a teenager. Scraggly, blonde hair hung down to her waist and her blue eyes looked feverish. Raina lifted her hand to feel the teen’s forehead. The girl pulled away then stopped. Raina felt her head. She was burning up. Raina took off her sweater and gave it to her.
“Here put this on. Come with me. I’m on my way home and you can spend the night there.”
Silently, I thought, just what I need two more people with barely enough room for Amanda and I. Oh, well we would make due, besides it would be drier in the room and with four of us so close, warmer. Especially since Mrs. Simmons didn’t heat the attic space to well.
Raina wrapped the teen in her sweater and they started walking. Just as they passed the toy store, with its shelves overflowing with every toy that fired a child’s imagination, she saw a tear run down the girls face. Raina bent over and looked her in the eye. “What’s wrong honey?”
“Daddy said I was a bad girl and bad girls don’t get Christmas presents.”
“What could you possibly have done wrong?”
The teen stepped forward and pulled her away. “Patty’s not bad; Dad thinks everything is bad, especially when he’s drunk.”
Raina reached out and brushed the tears from the girls face. “You’re not a bad girl Patty and I’m sure you will get some Christmas presents.” I pulled the teddy bear out of the bag. “Here, Santa left this at my house and I don’t need a teddy bear.” Silently I thought I’m sure Amanda will understand. Patty reached out and grabbed the bear and hugged it tightly to her chest. The teen pulled Patty closer to her and we moved on.
Beside the toy store was a dark alley and as we walked by an old, bent over woman stepped out of the shadows.
“A spare dollar, so I can get a warm meal.” She reached out her arm and held an empty can in her wrinkled hand.
Raina tried to keep on walking but Patty grabbed her arm. “Stop, we have to help her.”
“But I can’t, I don’t have any extra money.” She looked from the woman to Patty and then back. In her arm was the one small bag of groceries she just bought. “Come with me, I don’t have much but you can share it with us.”
“Thank you so much, but I couldn’t, if you could just spare a dollar, I’ll be on my way.”
Raina shook her head. “I’m sorry, all I have is these groceries, please come with us and we’ll share what we have.”
“All right child, bless you.” She gathered up some shopping bags with clothes. “It’s all I have and I wouldn’t want some bum to take it.” She shuffled along behind them.
The group reached a large old Victorian house and went up the steps on the side of the house.
Raina dug out her key as they climbed the steps. She unlocked the door and went into the single attic room. Mrs. Simmons and Amber sat on the lone sofa playing cards. In the corner across from the sofa was a small, spindly tree. In fact you could hardly call it a tree; it was no more than a stick.
Amanda ran over and threw her arms around Raina. “Mama you’re home.”
Raina disentangled herself. “Yes sweetie, I’m home. Were you a good girl for Mrs. Simmons?”
Mrs. Simmons picked up the skinny little girl and rubbed noses with her. “Of course she was, always a good little one. And who are these stragglers who have wandered through your door tonight?”
Raina looked back at the motley group. “Just a group of people who needed a warm place for the night. Here I got the groceries and your medicine. I don’t have enough money to pay you for watching Amanda though.”
Mrs. Simmons set Amanda back on the couch. “Don’t worry about it dear, as long as you got the medicine. And did you get Amanda’s too?”
“OH yes, I almost forgot. Here it is.” She shuffled through the bag and pulled out a small bottle then handed the groceries to Mrs. Simmons. “Here you go, what you need to finish that Christmas dinner. Oh and if you don’t mind, there will be a few extra guests for dinner.”
“That’s fine dear. I’ll show them downstairs and get them warmed up. You make sure that little one gets her medicine.” She nodded and ushered the three guests downstairs.
“One more thing, did you hear any news?”
Mrs. Simmons shook her head. “No, nothing my dear. These things usually don’t work out anyway, only in the movies.”
Raina walked over to the couch and sat down beside Amanda. She picked up a teaspoon on the end table. Next to the spoon sat a photo of the three of them, Brad, Raina and Amanda on a Christmas Eve three years ago, before he had been sent away and the house had burned down and Amanda had gotten sick. Her only wish was to have that day back and give Amanda an awesome Christmas. However it was not meant to be. Brad wouldn’t be back for another year and with her job she barely kept their heads above water. A tear slid down her cheek as she gave Amanda her medicine.
“Let’s go downstairs honey. Mrs. Simmons should have dinner just about ready.” They wrapped up in a holey blanket and walked down.
The dining room was lit up and everyone was clean and warm and it suddenly struck Raina that she wasn’t alone and that maybe God had answered her prayers after all. Brad might not be there, but she had given of herself and had made Christmas special for three other people who otherwise would have had a miserable Christmas.
There was a knock at the door and Mrs. Simmons rose to answer it.
“Don’t bother, I’ll get it, your legs must be sore from standing in the kitchen.”
Mrs. Simmons sat back down. “Thank you dear.”
Who would be bothering them tonight? All she could make out was a shadow in the frosted glass of the door. She unlocked the heavy wooden door and swung it open. A large teddy bear with a big red bow around his neck stood in the arms of… she couldn’t see his face. “Excuse me, who are you and what is the meaning of this?”
The teddy bear slowly dropped to the ground revealing, “Daddy!” Amanda ran past her and threw her arms around Brad. Raina pushed the bear out of the way and embraced Brad. She raised her eyes to heaven and whispered, “Thank you God.”