eslie sat on the couch wrapped in an old crochet shawl, her feet tucked up beneath her. Her father sat next to her and held her hand. The remnants of a fire sputtered in the apartment's tiny fireplace. Shirley sat nearby. No one spoke. The Christmas tree blinked on and off, the presents languishing, unattended, beneath. Shirley leaned forward and said, "Leslie, are you sure you wouldn't like to open your presents? It is Christmas Eve."
Glumly, the little girl shook her head "no."
"No, thank you." She clutched the green book she and her father had found in the attic. "Daddy, would you read this to me?"
"I like it."
He opened the book and stopped on the book's inscription. He hadn't seen it before. He read it quickly to himself. Tears rolled freely down his cheeks. Leslie looked up and began to cry herself. "It's okay, Daddy, you don't have to read it if you don't wa nt to."
The phone rang. Shirley jumped up to answer it. Leslie and her father sat up, tense and expectant. With a hesitation, Shirley said,"hello?"
"Yes." "I understand. Right. Yes. Fine. Thank you."
The pair on the couch looked expectantly at her.
"Sorry. That was Malcolm at the bureau. Still no word. He says Merry Christmas."
"Hey, little one, it's getting pretty late. Maybe you should go to bed."
"Oh, Daddy, I can't sleep. Can I just lay here on the couch for now?"
"I guess that's all right. Come over here." He sat and held her until she fell asleep. He could not imagine his heart sinking any lower until a knock sounded on the door below. Shirley looked ominously at him and slowly headed down to answer it. His heart was in his throat and he began to perspire despite the chill in the room (they had never rebuilt the fire) and the warmth of the little girl he held. When he heard Shirley gasp, "Oh my God!" he knew his worst fears were about to be confirmed. He steeled himself for the bad news. It was nice of them to send someone rather than just doing it over the phone. He tried to get up without waking Leslie, but she stirred as he lifted her off his lap.
"What's happening, Daddy?"
"Nothing, sweetie, you go back to sleep now." He would tell her in the morning.
"What are you doing?! Don't tell that child to go back to sleep! It's time to get up and celebrate Christmas with her mother!"
The lights were flicked on and the two of them, both father and daughter, wore identical expressions of shock and joy. Jeanette kissed them and hugged them until there was no room for doubt: she had made it home in time for Christmas.
©1995 Hyperbole Studios Inc.