"I don't want to do this." Lila caught her father's stare in the rearview mirror. "Let's go home."
Dad didn't answer, but turned into the entryway of the community center and stopped. "I thought you signed up for this."
"I needed a mission project for this month." Lila whined. "And Julia was
supposed to come."
Dad turned around to look Lila full in the face. "We don't do mission projects for points; we don't do them for friends. We do them to serve Jesus."
"I know, but—"
Dad shook his head. "There is no 'but' this time, Lila. People are
counting on you."
"But, I don't—"
"I'll be back in three hours. I love you."
Dad didn't say 'now get out', Lila thought as she watched him drive away, but he might as well have. She turned slowly to the big double doors
walking into the center uncertainly.
There were children everywhere, and excited noise coming from every corner.
Lila looked past the crowds of kids for someone she knew. This event had been
sponsored by several churches in the community, and all the volunteers were
church members. Lila saw several teenagers she knew and waved, but they were involved in helping the kids around them make gifts. None noticed her.
Why had she signed up for this? It sounded fun when she and Julia were
talking about it two weeks ago. They'd come to the center, don their little elf
hats and help some poor kids make gifts. But now, with Julia missing and kids
everywhere, it didn't seem so great. Lila walked around the big room, staying away from kids, glue and glitter, skirting the edges of the activities.
That's how she met the little girl.
She nearly tripped over the girl's feet, pink sneaker-clad, and sticking out
from under a table against the wall. The table was covered with spare materials. No one else was around it. Lila bent low to look underneath.
Jet black eyes gazed back.
Lila looked around for someone in charge, someone who’d know what to do...someone else.
She sighed and looked back under the table. "Whatcha doing under there?"
"Are you hiding?"
The little girl nodded.
"Can I hide, too?"
The girl hesitated, her dark face solemn. She studied Lila and then nodded.
Lila scooted under the table, leaning her back against the wall. She folded
her long legs so they wouldn't stick out too far and trip someone.
"So what are we going to do now?" she asked the silent child.
The girl shrugged.
"I'm Lila. What's your name?"
The girl frowned, thought for a minute and evidently decided there was no
harm in telling Lila her name. "Julia."
Lila grinned. "No way! That's my best friend's name. She’s supposed to
be here, but she got sick..."
Little Julia nodded. "My brother got sick, too. He was gonna come watch over
"You're scared, huh?"
Julia turned her big eyes to Lila, nodding again. "I don' know nobody."
"Not real good. They're all bigger than me. They don't like hanging out
with little kids like me."
Lila frowned. "That's bad," she agreed.
Little Julia sniffed. "I didn't wanna come."
"My momma made me."
"My dad did."
Julia was quiet for a minute. "I like your elf hat," she said after a
"I like your shoes." Lila smiled. "If you want, I'll look out for you."
Julia arched her eyebrows, casting a sidelong glance at Lila.
"I mean...I'm missing my Julia, and you're a Julia; you're missing your
brother and I'm a sister. You don't really know anyone here, and me, neither."
She felt little fingers push onto her hand and gently tightened her grip.
"You do that for me?" the girl whispered.
"Sure. What were you gonna make?"
"Card for my Nana..."
"I saw the card center when I came in. We'll do that first."
"An' a potholder for Momma."
Lila nodded. "What color?"
"Blue’s her favorite."
"Blue's my mom's favorite, too!"
"I was gonna paint a tee shirt for my brother." Julia sounded excited now.
"The sick one?"
She nodded. "An' for my sisters I wanted to make them yarn dolls."
Lila sighed. "There's just one thing..."
Lila smiled across at Julia. "We can't do all that under this table."
Julia smiled shyly and squeezed Lila's hand. She crawled out from under her hiding spot, Lila right behind. Together, the pair nearly ran, giggling,
to the first center.
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