The Heart of Christmas

By Christine Duncan

It was ten days before Christmas and Jenny Lindley had already settled back at her desk after lunch at Worldwide Bank when her cube mate, Rita Howard came in laden with Christmas packages.

"Look, at all the neat bargains I got," Rita bubbled, her bobbed dark hair tousled, and her eyes crinkled from her wide smile. "I'm going to be the Santa with the mostest."

Jenny smiled at her friend's enthusiasm, although the smile didn't quite reach her blue eyes. She leaned her blonde head on her hand. "You do look like you bought out the stores."

Rita set the packages down and shrugged off her coat. "You should have come with me, Jenny. I found the best sales."

That went without saying. Rita, was a veteran sales prowler, her generous heart kept her searching for presents not only for her own grown children and family, but for all her friends.

"And guess what? I saw that Baby Bubbles doll that Emma wants."

Jenny's smile faltered. Her daughter Emma, who was only three, had been happily chattering about the doll since the ads started on all the cartoon shows months ago. But first Jenny couldn't find the doll anywhere. And now, when it looked like the doll might be going to be available, Jenny had spent all her Christmas money on emergenc repairs for her aging Honda, and medicine for baby Justin's croup.

Christmas this year was going to be tight for the single mother. She'd bought a few stocking stuffers months ago, just after Michael left, as a way of trying to concentrate on a better future. Now she had just enough left to think about a small present for each child. But there was nowhere near enough money for "Baby Bubbles." As a matter of fact, she wasn't sure there would be enough money left over to even think about Holiday baking.

"That's nice," Jenny mumbled.

Rita dark eyes watched Jenny more carefully than Jenny wanted right now. "Are you going to your parents?" Rita asked.

Jenny shook her head. Her parents were five hundred miles away from Jenny's home in Wyoming. Her car was better, but there was no point in straining it. Besides her dad was recovering from surgery after an auto accident and her mother was stressed from the bills and the worry about her dad. "We're just staying here, this year." Jenny tried to maintain her smile.

"Why don't you come over to my house then? We're going to early service and then having lots of people over for brunch. It will be fun."

Jenny was tempted. But she couldn't even offer to contribute anything toward the brunch. And if she were there for Christmas, wouldn't she need to bring presents for her hosts? No. She couldn't, though Rita was a dear to ask. Jenny turned toward her desk, hoping her friend would take the hint and get on with work, dropping the subject. "That's sweet, Rita. But I can't."

Out of the corner of her eye, Jenny saw the older woman turn away, her brow furrowed in confusion. But Jenny's eyes were silently dripping tears and she couldn't--wouldn't explain why.

The evening before Christmas Eve, Jenny walked from the apartment's car port to the house, Justin in her arms, Emma tugging on Jenny's worn black wool coat. It was already getting dark, and the wind whipped cruelly at her face. She'd been late to pick the kids up from daycare again and the center had had to wait for her to come before they closed, causing a scolding from the center's director. She'd been working frantically, hoping that by putting in some overtime she could get more money for Christmas. But this week one of the tires on the car had gone flat, and the doctor told Jenny that Justin's frequent respiratory infectons were caused by asthma and asked her to buy a nebulizer. That was over two hundred dollars, and it didn't look like her insurance would cover it. She was farther behind than ever.

"Sarah is getting a Baby Bubbles, too." Emma informed her mother, with a smile on her small pink cheeked face.

A lump gathered in Jenny's throat and she reached down to smooth her daughter's tangled golden curls. "Maybe Santa won't be able to bring you Baby Bubbles, Emma," she cautioned.

"My daddy will then," said Emma, confidently.

But Michael hadn't even sent child support since the divorce, and the last time Jenny had tried to call him the number had been disconnected. She shifted Justin on her hip and looked down at Emma, making her eyes big so her daughter would know she was serious. "Emma, honey, sometimes we can't get all that we want for Christmas."

"But all I want is a tea set for my babies and Baby Bubbles," Emma pointed out reasonably.

Jenny swallowed, and inserted her key in the lock of the small apartment. She had gotten Emma a small plastic tea set. The tiny tea pot had roses on it and the cups were sized just right for small hands. Jenny had been thrilled to find it and had done without lunch the last few days to help afford it. She'd gotten Justin a small plastic police car with lights and a loud siren. It came with two small police figures. Both presents were already wrapped.

That was it. All she could do. Jenny stared blankly into the darkened apartment, her eyes not focusing on the blue plaid sofa or the silent hum of the heater.

They would do all right, she reassured herself. She'd finally accepted Rita's coaxing to come to brunch on Christmas, so she wouldn't feel so alone that day. If she could only bring just a small gift. Something she'd baked or something. She'd feel better.

"I'm hungry, Mommy. And it's cold. I want to go in,"Emma whined.

Jenny swallowed again and smiled. "What was I thinking of? Of course, let's make dinner."

But that night, after she'd made dinner, read the kids a story, bathed them and settled them in bed, Jenny couldn't sleep. There had to be some way. Something she could sell. Some way to get more money for Christmas.

Her eyes searched the apartment desperately. But the TV was a hand me down, as were most of the furnishings. Really, there wasn't anything.

She looked down at her own threadbare slipper socks. She should have taken on a second job. She'd thought about it, but didn't want to take the time from the children. And then there was always the problem of after hours day care. Any job that she got would have to pay pretty well to cover that. As it was, day care was her second largest expense. Really it was almost as bad as rent. So what was she supposed to do?

There was nothing she could do now, she realized. And she cried herself to sleep.

Christmas Eve was a Saturday, and Jenny slept in, only to be awakened by Emma chattering. "Mama, Santa's at the door. He left us a package. Come see."

Jenny stumbled out of bed, gathering her old robe around her. "What on earth?"

She peeked out the front door's small window, sure that her daughter was just caught up in the excitement of its being Christmas eve.

Snow was falling in fitful starts, driven by the wind. But sure enough, out on the front step stood a box, with Jenny's name on it in large print letters.

She opened the door and looked both ways down the walk, but no one was in sight. Not enough snow had fallen for there to be footprints. If it hadn't been for Emma seeing "Santa," the package might as well have fallen from the sky.

She stooped over to pick it up. The box was heavy. What could it be? She examined the label once more. To Jenny.

Pushing aside thoughts of bombs and pranks, she heaved the box up and took it in, depositing it carefully on her coffee table. It was sealed firmly, with tape. She nodded at it thoughtfully.

Not sure what she would find, she set the kids to drawing at the kitchen table. Justin was hardly able to grasp the thick crayons yet, his little tongue touching the corner of his mouth. Emma was busy coloring a tree she'd made when Jenny tiptoed out of the kitchen.

Quickly she attacked to the box with scissors opening it carefully. Inside was a bag of baking supplies: nuts and chocolate, flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, powdered sugar and cream. Jenny's heart lifted.

She poked around the box some more. Next to the grocery bag were green and red gaily wrapped packages, which she was careful to conceal from the children in the next room. The packages were marked in the same lettering as the box was. To Emma, read two big boxes. To Justin. To Jenny?

They know us, she thought. Whoever did this knows us.

Open me first, said an envelope which she found slipped toward the bottom of the box. So she did.

Dear Jenny,

Rest easy, my dear, it said. Emma will get her Baby Bubbles. And there are a few things here for you and Justin to make Christmas Merry.

In love,


The Christ Child

Jenny's tears rose from a lump in her throat so that she choked, crying.

Emma ran in at the sound, small face twisted in concern. "What's wrong, Mama?"

"Oh honey," she said, putting her arm around Emma and drawing her close. "I'm just so happy that Santa came early. Look at these gifts! Let's put them under the tree."

"Justin, too, Mom." Emma said.

Jenny moved out to the kitchen to get Justin from his high chair. "Of course, Justin too. And when we get the presents under the tree, we'll make some fudge and some cookies to take to Aunt Rita's tomorrow."

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