A Home for the Heart (a holiday story) by Beth Westcott

Part 6 (conclusion)

Miranda walked to church on Christmas Eve. She shivered in the nippy air. Last-minute shoppers scurried in and out of shops on Main Street. Greetings of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” passed from person to person.

If only the spirit of joy and friendliness could happen every day, she thought. Miranda had loved Christmas as a child, but she hadn’t experienced this kind of joy for a long time.

She wore a forest green velour dress with a cranberry-colored belt and a string of cranberry-colored beads. Her choir robe covered the dress, but she wanted the occasion to feel festive. She sang from the depths of her heart, praying that someone might find God’s love and joy through tonight’s beautiful Christmas music and tomorrow at The Shepherd’s Kitchen.

Several people asked her about Duncan and wished her a Merry Christmas. The choir director and pastor thanked her for singing. She pulled her coat from the hanger, debating whether she would ask a couple she knew for a ride back to her apartment. As she began to slip one arm into a sleeve, someone’s hands took the coat from her.

“Grandpa said a young woman shouldn’t walk home by herself after dark,” said a low voice close to her ear.

“Nate?” Miranda whirled around. “You’re here!” She threw her arms around him. She backed away, blushing. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Nate smiled and shook his head. “I’m not,” he said softly. “You look lovely tonight.”

“I-I thought–I didn’t expect to see you. I thought you….”

“I went home, but Grandpa was so worried about you and the fact they had to do Christmas dinner at Shepherd’s without him, he convinced me to come.”

He held her coat so she could put it on. As he settled the coat on her shoulders, he let his hands rest there briefly. “I wanted to come. And, by the way, the choir sounded good.”

“Thank you. I love to sing. ” Breathlessly she asked, “Your parents let you come?”

“They were disappointed when I decided to leave.” He chuckled. “My dad thought you were Grandpa’s elderly friend. He thought you had a very young voice for someone so old.”

Miranda might have laughed at his words, but they didn’t fully register to her muddled brain.

The pastor turned off the lights and stood by the door. Miranda buttoned her coat and put on her gloves.

“I think the pastor wants to leave. We’d better go.” They said good night and Merry Christmas to him as they went out.

The cold blast of air made them both shiver

“I have my car, so I’ll drive you home, if that’s okay with you,” Nate said.

She nodded. “Are you going back tonight?”

He tucked her hand under his arm. “No, I got permission to stay in Grandpa’s apartment for a couple of days. And I have orders to bring you home with me over the weekend. Mom and Dad are quite interested in meeting you, especially since they learned you were a young woman. And Grandpa would like you to come.”

Duncan was a safer subject than the meaning of an invitation from his family. “How is your grandfather?”

“He still has a cough, although he’s much better. He’s going crazy because he’s hardly allowed to move from the lounge chair in the living room. But he loves seeing everyone again. And I’m sure he’ll finagle a way to help with Christmas dinner tomorrow.”

He helped her into the car, then he got in the driver’s seat and rubbed his gloved hands together. “Brrr, cold!” He started the engine. Miranda shivered as cold air blasted through the vents. “Sorry about that,” he said, turning the knob to a lower fan setting. “It will get warm in a minute.”

Miranda nodded. Their eyes met and held.  He took her gloved hand. “I’ve wanted so much to see you again. I almost called you, but….”

She sighed. “I wish you had.”

“Grandpa’s neighbors at his apartment house have invited us for breakfast in the community room tomorrow. Will you go with me?”

Her heart beat faster. Nate came and wanted to spend time with her. She nodded. “Yes, I’d be glad to go with you.”

“Will it be all right if I pick you up at seven-thirty?”

Miranda’s heart sang. “Yes, I’ll be ready. I have to be at The Shepherd’s Kitchen by ten to help with set-up.”

“Me, too,” he said.”

#

“Miranda.” Her name sounded like music. “I’d love to spend more time with you tonight. But there’s not a deli or coffee shop open, at least not one where I’d take you. We could take a walk, but as cold as it is, I think it would be better to wait until tomorrow.” She nodded. He shifted a little closer to her. “You haven’t given me an answer yet.”

She tipped her head as she searched his face. “Did you ask me something?”

“Remember I said Mom and Dad wanted me to bring you home for the weekend. So…? He looked into her eyes, hoping.

She looked down, rubbing one gloved hand against the other. “I…Do you want me to go home with you?”

He lifted her chin with his fingers. “More than anything.” he reached for her hand. “Grandpa said a girl like you is a treasure that shouldn’t be lost.” He held his breath, willing her to say yes.

She pushed her hair back from her face. “I’ll go with you, as long as I won’t be intruding.”

He breathed again. “My parents want you to come. You’re highly recommended by Grandpa, you know.”

Miranda relaxed and a smile lit her face. “I like you, Nate MacAllister, a whole lot. You and your grandfather are two of a kind.”

He touched her cheek. “I consider that a compliment, Miranda Winters.” He smiled. “I’d better get you home. We’ll spend tomorrow together.”

“Yes, tomorrow,” she whispered.

THE END

 

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A Home for the Heart (a holiday story) by Beth Westcott

Part 5
Nate called his grandfather. “Grandpa, Mom and Dad are hosting the family Christmas this year. I’ll come and get you on the day before, I promise not to drive too fast, and I’ll drive you back the day after.” He might also find a little time to spend with Miranda.

“I have to work at Shepherd’s on Christmas Day.” Duncan coughed once and sniffed.

Nate thought he detected hoarseness in the old man’s voice. “I’m sure they’d get by without you this year. You haven’t celebrated Christmas with the whole family since before Grandma died. We all want you to come. Please?”

Duncan paused. “Miranda and I have big plans.”

“What? To work at Shepherd’s together? I’m sure Miranda will understand.” Maybe Miranda could go home with them. He pictured her with his family, her hazel eyes dancing, her shiny brown hair falling to her shoulders. Nate shook his head. It might give his family the wrong idea if he brought a girl home with him. At twenty-five, with a job and apartment of his own, they expected him to find the right someone and get married.

“We’re supposed to attend the Christmas Eve service at church. She’s in the choir,” Duncan informed him. “Maybe you should stay for the service.”

Nate decided to bargain. “If I stay for the service, will you go home with me?” He’d like to see Miranda, if only for a few minutes. “You can sleep in the car on the way home.”

Duncan coughed again. “All right. I guess it won’t hurt. It has been a long time, and I’d like to see everyone again.”

“Grandpa, are you all right? Do you have a cold?”

“I’m all right, my boy. Don’t worry about me. How is your college class going? You must be finishing soon.”

Nate shook his head. Grandpa evaded the issue of his health, and to pursue it would be useless. Grandpa lived in assisted living. He had many good friends, including Miranda, who looked after him. So Nate updated his grandfather about work and school, and they said good night.


Miranda, too, noticed her elderly friend’s cough. The weather became colder, although only a few flakes of snow fell. “I wish I had a car so I could drive you. You shouldn’t be exposed to the cold wind with that cough. Maybe you should call a taxi.”

Duncan patted her hand. “I always bundle up. See, I’m wearing my coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. My power chair gets me where I need to go, at least until the snow piles up.”

A few days before Christmas, Miranda received a phone call. Expecting Duncan’s voice, an unfamiliar one responded to her hello.

“Is this Miranda Winters?”

She hesitated. “Yes, this is Miranda. This isn’t Duncan, is it?” Where is Duncan?

“No, I’m his oldest son. he insisted I call you.”

Miranda felt her chest tighten with worry. “Is something the matter with Duncan?”

“My father’s in the emergency room. He has bronchitis.”

“Oh, no! Will he be all right?”

“Miss Winters, Dad wanted me to tell you that he’s going home with us tomorrow, and he won’t be back until after Christmas. We feel he need to be with us so we can take care of him until he’s better. He asks that you let The Shepherd’s Kitchen know he won’t be in, and he’s sorry he won’t be there to go to the Christmas Eve service with you.”

Miranda’s heart sank, and she blinked at the tears pooling in her eyes. Her voice tight, she said, “Mr. MacAllister, please tell Duncan not to worry and to get better fast. I’ll be praying, and I’ll make sure the church knows he needs our prayers.”

“Thank you, Miss Winters. I’ll pass that on to him. He has a couple of prescriptions for medications, and he’ll have nothing to do but rest at our home.”

Miranda chuckled. “”He’ll hate that most of all. He likes to be doing.”

“You know my father well. I have to go now. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” she said without enthusiasm.

She called the pastor to start the prayer chain for Duncan, then she called the Mission director to let him know Duncan wouldn’t be available for a while.

Miranda shook her head and sighed. The Christmas lights seemed dimmer and her heart heavier. Duncan’s illness brought back memories of her father’s last months, when he experienced one physical setback after another, culminating in his death. With Christmas Eve the day after tomorrow, she wished she could stop time until life became right again.

Duncan had become family to the lonely young woman. She wanted Duncan to be there when she sang with the choir. She couldn’t imagine serving Christmas dinner at the mission without Duncan’s smiling face to encourage her.

“Please, Father God, bless his time with family, and make him well and strong again,” she prayed.

The image of a younger man with blue eyes and blonde hair replaced the old man’s face. Nate wouldn’t be coming to get his grandfather after all. He now had no reason to come to the city before Christmas.

Miranda remembered an old saying of her mother’s, a nursery rhyme: “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Wishing wouldn’t change anything. Prayer could.

She would stick to her plans for Christmas without Duncan. She would celebrate Jesus’ birthday with joy.

At the office the next day, much cheerful banter passed among the coworkers, their workload light just before Christmas. Miranda traded lunch break with another person so she could eat with Zoey.

As they ate, they discussed the company party. Then Zoey said, “I love Christmas–the decorations, the carols, the spirit. I can’t wait to go home tomorrow.”

“Does your family live far from here?” Miranda asked.

“Not at all. A two-hour bus ride and I’ll be there. How about you? Are you going home?”

Miranda shook her head. “Not this year. I don’t have enough money or time off.” she shrugged. “Maybe next year.” She stared at her plate, blinking fast.

Zoey touched her hand. “I’m sorry. I forgot you said you weren’t going home.”

“That’s okay. My dad’s not there anyway.”

“It will be awful for you to spend Christmas alone. Hey, do you want to go with me?”

Zoey’s sincere offer touched Miranda’s heart, but she shook her head. “Thanks for the offer. I have to sing in the church choir on Christmas Eve, and I’m volunteering at The Shepherd’s Kitchen on Christmas Day. I’ll be busy.”

“Oh, okay. You volunteer a lot at the food mission, don’t you? But is the choir something new? I didn’t know you sing.”

Miranda smiled. “Duncan invited me to his church, and I’m in the choir now.” She checked her watch and gathered another forkful of salad. “Duncan is ill, did I tell you?” Zoey shook her head. “He has bronchitis, and his family took him home to care for him until after Christmas. I haven’t know him very long, but I feel like he’s my grandfather. I’m trying not to worry.”

Zoey’s eyebrows went up. “How old is this Duncan? I thought he was a young friend.”

“Oh, no,” Miranda said. “He’s in his seventies at least. I wish you could meet him.” Miranda considered telling Zoey about Nate, but she didn’t want to become office gossip. She didn’t know how Nate felt about her.

“I wanted to invite you to go with me tomorrow night, but I guess you can’t. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your family.

“Thanks,Miranda. Maybe another time when you sing in the choir, I’ll go to church with you.”

They finished lunch and returned to work.

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A Home for the Heart (a holiday story) by Beth Westcott

Part 4

Zoey leaned against Miranda’s desk after break. “So, are you going?”

Surprised by Zoey’s friendliness, Miranda raised her eyebrows. “Going where?”

“You, know, to the party. It will be fun.”

Miranda straightened a pile of papers and shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Aw, come on Miranda. Everyone will be there. You’ll be able to rub shoulders with the bosses. And you’ll get a free dinner.”

Miranda leaned on her elbows and played with her pen. “I suppose that’s true.”

Zoey leaned closer and whispered, “There are people here who call you the ‘Lone Ranger’ because you keep to yourself so much.”

Miranda opened her mouth to defend herself, then snapped it closed. Being alone had become a habit while she cared for her father. She loved him dearly, and she wouldn’t hesitate to be his caregiver over again. But her social life had become almost non-existent during those two years.

“I’ll think about it,” she promised. “I’ll have to go home and check my social calendar first.” She smiled at Zoey.

“Social calendar?” Zoey frowned, then laughed when she saw Miranda’s smile. “Right.” She pointed her index finger at her co-worker. “Okay, I have to get back to work.”

Miranda nodded. “Thanks, Zoey.” A lighter heart accompanied her the rest of the day.

That evening she carried home a couple of Christmas gifts she had purchased for family members. She had just place her turkey TV dinner in the microwave when her phone rang. She checked the screen. D MacAllister.

“Hello Duncan.”

He chuckled. “I always forget about caller ID. It takes me back when someone answers with my name. How are you,my dear?”

“I’m fine. I had a good day. And you?”

“I’m well, thank you. Miranda, I would like to make dinner for you on Sunday. Will you come?”

“I’d like that.”

“Good. What do you like to eat?”

Remembering her conversation with Nate, Miranda leaned back on her futon and curled her legs up. “Your cooking comes highly recommended, especially the lasagna, the baked chicken, and the pot roast.”

He chuckled again. “Nate’s been telling on me. My wife was a good teacher. I gave her a break from time to time by cooking a meal for her.”

“She must have felt treasured. You choose, Duncan. I promise to eat whatever you fix.”

“That’s a dangerous promise, young lady. What if I have a senior moment and burn dinner?”

She chuckled. “Oh, I’ll take my chances. Can I bring anything?”

“No, just yourself. This will be entirely my treat–this time.” He paused. Miranda didn’t say anything, sensing he wanted to say more. “Miranda, I’d like to ask you something else, if I may.”

His tone indicated this was important to him. “Yes, Duncan, go ahead.”

“I don’t know if you attend church, but if you don’t go anywhere else, will you come with me Sunday morning?”

She hesitated. Her family had been faithful and active church goers during her growing-up years. At college, away from her family, her faith had become unimportant, church crowded out by other activities. By the time she became a caregiver, God had already been tucked away into a corner of her heart. Although she believed her father to be in heaven now, she kept God in the background of her life.

Miranda held the phone to her cheek and thought. Her father would be pleased for her to go. “I’d be glad to go with you on Sunday,” she told Duncan.

“Thank you, Miranda.” He named the time of the service and the address of the church. “I’ll put roast beef in the crock pot, and it will be ready when we get back from the service. I’ve invited two of my neighbors for dinner as well.”

This man had a big heart. “I’ll look forward to meeting them. And to the roast beef dinner. Thank you, Duncan.” She had eaten a lot of  lonely TV dinners since moving to Center City.

“Good night, Miranda. I’ll see you Sunday.”

She resisted the urge to ask him about Nate. “‘Bye, Duncan.”

#

During the next three weeks Miranda volunteered several times at Shepherd’s, helped with their annual children’s Christmas party, practiced with the church choir for the church’s Christmas Eve service, and attended her company party with Zoey. She finished Christmas shopping and mailed the gifts to her family. Each Sunday she met Duncan at church, and he fixed dinner for them afterwards. He always invited one or two neighbors as well. Miranda cleaned up afterwards.

She never asked about Nate, but she listened eagerly to anything Duncan had to say about his grandson. Often, especially alone at night, she thought about him. She wished he lived in the city, and she wondered if he ever thought about her.

#

Miles away, Nate wished for time to get back to the city. He day dreamed about his grandfather’s pretty young friend during evening college classes. Her sparkling eyes and sweet smile invaded his thoughts at work and at home.

He pulled the paper with her telephone number out of his wallet several times a day. Would she welcome his call? He put his phone down and returned the slip of paper to his wallet.

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A Home for the Heart (a holiday story) by Beth Westcott

Part 3

Nate shook his head. “No, I pop in from time to time to check on Grandpa. He lives in an assisted living facility a few blocks from Shepherd’s. He likes his family to visit, but he doesn’t want us to hover. He enjoys his independence.”

They looked at some of the Christmas displays in store windows. Under her direction, they arrived in front of her apartment building too soon.

“We’re here,” she said, stopping on the sidewalk. She turned to face him. “Thank you for walking me home, Nate. I appreciated your company.”

He looked directly into her eyes and smiled. “It was my pleasure, Miranda. I hope we’ll meet again.” He patted his pockets. “Oh, Grandpa asked me to get your telephone number. He wants to invite you to dinner.”

“That’s nice,” she said, “I’d like that.” She found a wrinkled store receipt in her pocket. Smoothing it against the door of the building, she took the pen Nate offered and wrote down her cell phone number. She handed it to Nate, feeling a shock when their fingers touched. Did he feel it too? Their gazes met.

Clearing his throat, he took a moment to read the number, then stuffed the paper into his coat pocket. She wondered if he would call her, but he didn’t say so.

“Grandpa’s a great cook. He fixes a mean lasagna. His baked chicken is exceptional, and his pot roast melts in your mouth. He likes cooking,” Nate said.

“A man of many talents.” Wishing for an excuse to extend their time together, Miranda pulled her key from her pocket. “Thanks again, Nate.” She reached for the building’s main door.

“Allow me,” he said, opening the door and stepping back. “Good night Miranda. I have to go back. Grandpa’s waiting for me to take him home.” He held the door open longer than necessary.

“Good night, Nate.” She waved as he let the door shut behind her. She felt bereft as he walked out of sight. She climbed the stairs and unlocked her apartment door. A street light shining in her windows illuminated her few furnishings–a futon, a small table with two chairs,  and a dresser. One medium-sized closet held her hanging clothes and some boxes. The kitchenette cupboards and drawers held her few pots and pans and dishes.

She looked out, imagining where Nate might be walking at the moment. Was he thinking about her?

Miranda showered, put on her pajamas and robe, and pulled the box of Christmas decorations from the closet. A tiny table tree for the center of her table, two strings of lights around her windows. a ceramic angel that had been her mother’s, and a stuffed snowman completed her decorations. Tomorrow after work she would begin Christmas shopping for her family. She hoped to find a few Black Friday bargains. She sighed. She missed the Christmas shopping trips with her mom and sisters, a tradition until her mother’s death five years ago.

On the way to work in the morning, Miranda breathed in the cool, fresh air before it became heavy with exhaust fumes from passing vehicles. House sparrows chirped and flitted from sidewalk to  window ledge. Today a staff of single employees ran the public relations office where she worked so employees with families could have the day off. She didn’t mind. As a receptionist with entry-level pay, the promised bonus pay and one less day spent alone attracted her.

The quiet of the break room at break time surprised her. She filled a paper cup with water from the water cooler and sat at the table. Several co-workers joined her there.

“So, did you get stuffed yesterday, Mirandy?” said a young man with red hair and freckles.

Startled, Miranda looked at him. His green eyes smiled, and his lips twitched. Ronnie Clayton, known as the office clown and official tease, had never voluntarily spoken to her before.

She shrugged. “I did something new yesterday, as a matter of fact, Ronnie.”

“Oh, is that so?” He leaned forward. “What new thing did you do?”

Miranda supposed that his condescending tone was better than being a non-person in the office. She said, “I volunteered at The Shepherd’s Kitchen on State Street.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of that. I’m glad there’s a place for street people to get food, especially on the holidays,” said Zoey Canner, who sat a computer with her back to Miranda most of the time. They spoke to each other, but Miranda had never had a real conversation with her.

“So you didn’t get stuffed. You helped stuff a lot of turkeys,” Ronnie quipped. He laughed at his joke.

Zoey and Miranda frowned.

Ronnie’s smile faded. “I think my coffee needs more sugar.” He got up.

“News! News!” called out another co-worker from advertising as he entered the break room.

Grateful for a change of topics the women turned to the newcomer.

“What news?” said Ronnie.

The other man poured his coffee and turned to lean against the counter. “News of the company Christmas party. The date’s been announced.”

As the others discussed the details of the annual event, Miranda decided not to go. The thought of partying with a group of almost strangers, including company executives, gave her butterflies in her stomach.

Zoey leaned against Miranda’s desk after break. “So, are you going?”

 

 

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A Home for the Heart (a holiday story) by Beth Westcott

                                 Part 2

Miranda studied Duncan’s map and directions as she ate breakfast the next morning. She searched through her wardrobe for the right clothes to wear. Her family dressed up for Thanksgiving dinner. She chose a midi-length brown cotton skirt and a cream-colored blouse. She brushed her brown hair into a pony tail and fastened it with a gold clasp. A pair of low-heeled shoes completed her outfit. Casual, but nice. She twirled, then put on her coat. Slightly out of breath and with rosy cheeks, she arrived at The Shepherd’s Kitchen at eleven.

“Miranda, you’re here!” Duncan shouted from across the dining room.

Miranda waved, the heat rising in her face when she realized the room had quieted, and people stared at her. Duncan maneuvered his power chair between tables and chairs and arrived in front of her with a big grin.

He must have been a heart-throb when he was young, with that smile and those blue eyes, she thought. “Hi, Duncan, I made it.” She shrugged out of her coat.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

She shook her head. “Me, either.” She crouched down so she looked directly into his eyes. “Duncan, this means a lot to me. I can’t be with my family, but, because of you, I don’t have to be alone today.” She stood and wiped a stray tear with her fingers. She smiled. “Okay, I’m ready to celebrate. Where am I needed?”

He chuckled. “Celebrate, eh? We’ll put your right to work. You may hang your coat over there.” He pointed to an alcove near the kitchen. “We’ll get you an apron, and I’ll introduce you to the other volunteers.”

The faces of the men, women, and children who came through the food line swam in her mind. What were their stories, what had brought them here for Thanksgiving? Illness? Unemployment? Broken relationships? Death of a loved one? Homelessness? She didn’t know, but she tried her best to treat them with a smile and respect.

By six o’clock the food ran out. Miranda, tired but happy, helped wash up the pots and pans, then struggled through the back door with bags of garbage for the dumpster.

She went to get her coat. Duncan smiled at her from across the dining room as he talked with a young man. Duncan had introduced him earlier, but she couldn’t remember his name. As she lifted her coat from the hook, she dropped it. She bent to pick it up.

A hand reached down. “Allow me,” said a masculine voice.

Miranda straightened and looked into a warm smile and blue eyes, like a younger Duncan. His slightly tousled blonde hair gave him a boyish look.

“Th-thank you,” she said. Warmth spread throughout her body.

He held out her quilted purple coat, and she put her arms in the sleeves. A shiver passed through her as his hands settled the coat on her shoulders. She tried to swallow a yawn and giggled. “I guess I’m tired.”
*
He nodded. “Aren’t we all? Nate MacAllister.” he held out his hand.

“Oh,” she said,shaking hands with him, “are you related to Duncan?”

“He’s my grandpa.” Nate noticed her sparkling hazel eyes, a sprinkling of nearly invisible freckles across the bridge of her nose, and the blush on her cheeks. Grandpa had given him the perfect opportunity to become better acquainted with her.

Her eyes examined his features. “You look like him.”

“A good thing, I hope.”

“Very.” Miranda bit her lip, her face red. She fumbled with the zipper on her coat.

Nate grinned. He got the compliment he was fishing for. “Grandpa said I should walk you home. He said a young lady shouldn’t be out after dark without an escort.” Not that Nate minded walking her home.

Miranda gazed at Duncan, who smiled and winked. “Hmm,” she said softly and waved. She looked back at Nate. “I’m not usually out late, and I walk where there are people. But it would be nice to have company. Let me say goodnight to Duncan first.”

They crossed the room to where Duncan talked with a couple of the volunteers. They returned to the kitchen, and Duncan turned his chair to face Miranda and Nate.

“Thank you for inviting me to help, Duncan. This has been a special day for me. I thought I’d be spending Thanksgiving alone.”

“Miranda.” He looked very pleased. “I hope you’re not tired out. Thought you might need a escort home. I owe you one for helping me shop yesterday.” He grinned at Nate.

Grandpa is playing matchmaker, Nate thought. I wonder if Miranda has figured it out.

Miranda hid a yawn with her hand. “It’s a good tired. I’d like to do it again.”

“Come back next week,” Duncan said, “and talk to the director.” He looked at Nate. “I’ll wait here for you and finish cleaning up.”

“Okay, Grandpa,” said Nate, patting the old man’s shoulder.

Miranda kissed Duncan’s cheek. He squeezed her hand.
*
The chilly outdoor air made her shiver and pull her coat closer. Her breath and Nate’s came out in foggy puffs. Nate walked beside her, his hands in his pockets. A few cars passed by, and other couples and families strolled along Main Street. Christmas lights twinkled like stars.

“I miss the stars,” she said. “I can’t see them because of the city lights.” she looked up at the sky. A pale sliver of moon shone overhead.

Nate smiled at her. “Have you been living here long?”

“Three months.”

“How did you meet Grandpa?”

“He asked me to get something for him from the top shelf at Greene’s Grocery yesterday.”

He nodded. “You didn’t go home for the holiday?”

She bit her lip and shook her head. “No, my father died six months ago, and my sisters went away with their families.”

“I’m sorry. Thanksgiving and Christmas are times to be with family.”

She shrugged. “Going home would have been fun, but I don’t regret helping at the food mission. And meeting your grandfather.” She stopped before adding, “And you, Nate.”

“Grandpa is special. I come every year to help him at Shepherd’s. My family wants him to spend Thanksgiving with them, but he says he’s just continuing a tradition he and Grandma started years ago. My dad and aunts and uncles all helped out when they lived here.”

“Oh,” she said. “So you don’t live in the city.” She couldn’t explain the deep disappointment she felt. Although she had just met him, Nate already filled a previously empty spot labeled “friend.” And maybe the hope for something more.

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A Home for the Heart (a holiday story) by Beth Westcott

DSCN0720Part 1

Miranda Winters stopped to look at the Christmas display in a department store window on Main Street. The smiling elves helped the smiling Santa make wooden toys, wielding hammers and saws. A smiling Mrs. Santa held a tray of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate. Miranda’s neighbors back home always decorated for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. But here, where the stores  competed for consumers’ Christmas money, the business district already glowed with Christmas cheer.

Miranda sighed as she walked around the corner to Greene’s Grocery Market. Families bustled in and came out of the store, their bags bulging with goodies for the next day’s festivities. Inside, shopping carts overflowed with turkeys or hams and all the fixings for family celebrations.

Absently she waited for a little boy to get a shopping cart for his mother. She opted for a small hand basket. She knew exactly where to find what she wanted–a bottle of cranberry juice, a small apple pie from the bakery, and a turkey TV dinner. She would be alone this Thanksgiving.

Miranda began to stroll up and down the aisles, avoiding dodging children, dreaming about what she would buy if she had a family of her own.

“Uff!” A small body charged into her. She backed away and bumped into a shopping cart. “Excuse me,” she said to the young mother with three children.

“Davey, get back here,” the mother called to her son. She turned to Miranda. “I’m sorry about that.” She smiled. “It’s like Grand Central Station in here today.”

Miranda smiled back. “Yes, it is.”

The bustle in the store shouted, “Family!” Her heart moaned, “Lonely!”

Last year her family had been together, celebrating Thanksgiving with Dad. As the only sibling without family and job responsibilities, Miranda had set aside her own dreams and plans for two years after college graduation to be her father’s caregiver. After Dad’s death, she had left Oak Ridge and moved to Center City. She had no one in Oak Ridge now. Her sisters were both married with families of their own. They had other plans for Thanksgiving this year.

“Excuse me, miss.” Miranda looked around and found the source of the voice. “Can you reach that sugar substitute on the top shelf for me?”

The man’s blue eyes twinkled as he smiled at her. His thin gray hair lay neatly combed over his head. She bit her lip when she noticed he sat in a power chair like the one her father had used.

She nodded and reached up on tippy-toes. “This one?” she asked as she touched the package.

“That’s the one. ” She handed it to him. “Thank you so much. Top shelves are one of my shopping challenges.” He chuckled.

“You’re welcome,” she said. “My father felt the same way.”

“Going home for Thanksgiving?” he asked as they continued down the baking aisle together.

“No, not this year. My sisters are going to their in-laws with their families.”

“Won’t your father miss you?”

She shook her head. “No, He’s gone.” Tears pooled in her eyes. “I miss him.”

He reached out and gently touched her arm. “I’m sorry. It was thoughtless of me.”

“No, that’s all right.” Alone in the city, Miranda didn’t tell anyone much about herself. Maybe her loneliness made her more trusting of this man than she should be. “I took care of my dad for two years. He had cancer. He fought a good fight, but the cancer finally won.” She sighed. “I know he’s in a better place, but….” She shook her head.

“If I were going to be home tomorrow, I’d invite you to dinner. I cook a mean turkey.”

Miranda giggled. “So you’ll be with family tomorrow?”

“Well, in a way. Not my family, but a family of sorts.”

He stopped to get a box of cereal off the shelf in the next aisle, leaving Miranda to puzzle over his words. They moved to a less congested spot near the bakery. He turned his chair to face her.

“Our family has a tradition of helping out at the local food mission, The Shepherd’s Kitchen, on Thanksgiving. It’s our way of thanking God for our many blessings, by helping the less fortunate. My wife and I used to go the day before and help prepare the food, but this body doesn’t cooperate as well as it used to. Now I go on Thanksgiving Day and help serve and clean up.”

Miranda nodded. “That’s nice.”

They got into a long check-out line. “They can always use more help at The Shepherd’s Kitchen if you want to help. We start serving at noon and go until the food gives out.”

‘Maybe I will.” Miranda quivered inside to think of meeting a lot of strangers. Her other option of spending the day alone seemed the less attractive o the two. “Can you give me directions?”

“Let’s get through this line first. If you have paper, I’ll write them out for you. It’s over on State Street, next to the big red brick church.”

Outside the store, Miranda found a small pad of paper and a pen in her purse. Her new friend wrote out the address and made a simple map.

She said, “Thank you,” and tried to take back the pen and paper. He didn’t release them.

“We’ve known each other for all of thirty minutes, but I don’t know your name, and you don’t know mine. Duncan Mac Allister.”

She hesitated. She didn’t really know this man. Although he seemed harmless, she didn’t know anyone in Center City that she could turn to for help. Except the police, of course.

“Miranda Winters.”

He released the pad and pen, which she returned to her purse.

“I’m glad to meet you, Miranda Winters. Thanksgiving at The Shepherd’s Kitchen is one of the highlights of my year. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

She nodded. “Me, too.” If she decided to go.

With a small wave to each other, they said goodbye. She watched as he steered his power chair confidently through the crowd and up the sidewalk.

“Thank you, Duncan MacAllister,” she whispered.

She hummed “Over the River and Through the Woods” as she walked home with a lighter heart. What harm could come from helping to serve dinner at a food mission?

(Part 2 coming soon)

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Bittersweet

Today, November 15, is Rylen’s birthday. In earth years he is six. Such sweet memories of him mingled with the sadness (for me) of his Home-going last March. This is written from a grandmother’s heart.

BITTERSWEET

Little One–
When you arrived, we expected hello and goodbye the same day.
We wanted a miracle, we prayed for a miracle,
And God gave us a miracle–you.
On the day you were born, you came crying out of your mother’s womb.
You breathed for one minute, five minutes, sixty minutes…
An underdeveloped brain would shorten your life, they said.
In NICU we visited you, talked to you, touched you.
Your eyes followed us when we spoke to you,
You jumped at loud noises.
You cried, you drank milk from a tiny bottle.

Mommy and Daddy took you home to love and to care for.
We expected death; God gave you life.
We expected a funeral; God gave you a future.
Good hands, the best hands, God’s hands, held you close.
We waited and grieved, praying for a miracle, wishing for a miracle,
Reminding ourselves that God’s way is always best.
Isn’t it strange we grieved, even though we knew you’d be in a better place?
Your mommy and daddy, joyful, sad, and tired all at once,
Grateful for a short time with you, to have you,
To love you, to hold you.

Your body so tiny and fragile, your head so big and heavy,
We just wanted to hold you, to see you smile, to keep you here with us.
You struggled with pain, you couldn’t tell us where it hurt,
And we waited as each day passed–two weeks, four weeks, two months, four months, then seven.
You smiled, wiggled, babbled, and sang, watching the world with your eyes.
It took you a little longer to sit up, to crawl, to stand, and to walk.
But from the beginning, love poured out from you, for everyone you met.
“No strangers,” your dad said, “he knew only friends.”
And that million-dollar smile lit up the world around you.

Two years, four years, five years–you learned names, colors, the alphabet,
You explored the world, loving anything with wheels to turn or buttons to push.
The birth of your baby sister, your special treasure from the very beginning,
Your life as big brother took on new meaning,
Someone to hug and to tease, to play with and to fight with.
Your eyes told the story, your laughter causing us to smile.

Over five years we waited, to see where you could go.
You learned about Jesus and “Jesus Loves Me,”
Delighted each time you entered God’s House.
A new home, and school, and life to explore,
And we didn’t want to say goodbye.
We wanted a healing miracle, to see you grow up.
But that wasn’t to be. God wanted you Home.
We prayed for miracle, but God answered no.
We are grieving for you–no, grieving for us.
We miss you, Little One, our Rylen.

You are with Jesus, whole and happy,
No more pain, no more hydrocephalus.
Are you playing ball or riding a golf cart with Jesus?
Are you running, and jumping, and talking?
We remain on this earth,missing you,
Joyful, yet sad, remembering when you were with us,
Your sweet voice saying, “Hi,” your smile, your hugs,
Grateful we had you to love and to hold for a little while,
Awaiting the day we meet you in Heaven.

Happy birthday, Rylen.

Love, Grandma

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