Sometime during the evening, the gentle Christmas Eve snowfall turned into a full-fledged blizzard. Kendall lifted the kitchen curtains and watched the riot of blowing snow obscure the Christmas lights on the pine trees. No way could the Belnaps drive home in this.
She finished drying the last of the dishes and stepped back into the big family room just in time to hear her mother say, “You’ll have to stay here tonight. It’ll blow over by tomorrow. No,” she held up her hand to ward off Sister Belnap’s protest. “It’s no trouble for us. There’s plenty of room. I couldn’t live with myself if I let you drive down the canyon in this weather.”
For the hundredth time that evening, Kendall’s eyes strayed to Patrick Belnap. He was looking at her. She quickly turned her attention to a fascinating glass ball on the Christmas tree. She couldn’t help watching him from the corner of her eye. They’d known each other for practically their entire lives. Two years ago, he’d left for a mission a short, acne-covered teenager, and now he was back a tall, handsome man with a spirit of confidence and goodness about him that made Kendall want to shy away from him like a vampire away from a cross. He had been one of her best friends, but now he looked like a stake president in the making, and she didn’t know what a sinner like herself could say to him.
She moved around to the back of the tree, away from her parents, away from the constant reproach of her sisters and brothers-in-law with their perfect temple marriages, away from Patrick’s beautiful brown eyes.
Or so she thought. But Patrick came and stood beside her behind the tree. “Hey, Kendall.”
“Looks like you’re stuck with us,” she said and inched toward the wall.
“I don’t mind.” He smiled. “Why have you been avoiding me all night?”
“I haven’t,” she said.
“Then why are you hiding back here? I know you better than that.”
Kendall fiddled with a bit of tinsel. You don’t know me at all. “I’ve changed, I guess.”
“Not that much.”
Yes, that much. She moved an ornament to a different branch. Her heart felt too heavy to hold in her chest.
“I’ve really looked forward to seeing you again.”
Oh, please don’t say that. She turned around and tried to look neutral. “I’m sorry, Patrick. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I think it’s great to see you again. You look great.” She stopped. “I just feel . . . awkward.”
“Because of what happened with your fiancé?”
“Shane.” Shame crashed like a flood through her chest. She stepped back and accidentally brushed an ornament off the tree with her shoulder. It smashed on the wood floor into half a dozen pieces. “Oh, no.” Kendall knelt on the floor and picked up the broken pieces with shaking hands. It was a figurine of a little Christmas caroler in a red hat and mittens. Her grandmother had given it to her years ago. Tears brimmed in her eyes. “It’s ruined.”
Patrick knelt beside her and helped to gather the bits of glass. Someone in the family room turned on the TV.
“They’re starting It’s A Wonderful Life,” Kendall said. “It’s tradition.”
Patrick slipped his hand beneath hers. “I’ll take care of this,” he said. “You can go sit down.”
His touch felt warm and safe, comforting somehow. She wished she could leave her hand in his forever, but she let the shards fall into his hands and stood up. “Actually, I think I’ll just go to bed.” She fled up the stairs before Patrick or anyone else could say another word.
* * *
Kendall tiptoed through the nieces and nephews asleep on the bedroom floor. She had agreed to sleep with them and keep them from waking up the house too early. Not a minute before seven, she had promised. She lay down on the bed and listened to the children breathing and tried to forget about the feel of Patrick’s hand on hers.
Last Christmas Eve, Shane had proposed to her here at the cabin. No wonder she was so off-kilter tonight. The chaos and upheaval of the past year had left permanent scars on her soul. Scars I inflicted on myself, she thought. Scars that meant no matter how long she repented— and oh, it had been so long already—she would never be worthy of someone like Patrick. No. He deserved someone pure, someone strong. Someone who had never made the stupid mistakes that she had made.
She wrapped her arms around her pillow and sent up a silent prayer out of the pain in her heart. Dear God, she prayed, why was I so stupid? Why, why, why? She would have given anything to go back in time and erase the whole past year from existence.
The blizzard outside grew in fury until it drowned out the sounds of the sleeping children, drowned out her pleadings to God, drowned out everything and left her alone in the dark with the snow stinging against her cheeks. The wind tore at her coat and she pulled it tighter around herself. How did I get out here, she wondered? Was she sleep-walking? She was dressed like the little caroler in a red hat and mittens, but they didn’t protect her from the wind.
She turned this way and that, trying to find the cabin, but she couldn’t see anything. The cold bit her fingers under the mittens and covered her exposed face with icy crystals. The wind burned in her lungs. “Somebody help me!”
“I’m here, Kendall.” It was Patrick, but she couldn’t see him.
“I can’t see you! Where are you?”
The wind roared in her ears, and buffeted her from every direction. It beat against her so hard she felt as if she were shattering into pieces. I’m broken, she thought. She dropped to her knees and tried to scoop up the pieces, but the wind whipped them out of her hands and into the darkness. I’ll never be whole again, she thought in despair. I’ll be stuck in this storm forever until not even one shard of me is left.
“That’s not the way it works,” Patrick said. He sounded closer but she still couldn’t see him.
“What did you say?”
“I said that’s not the way it works. You aren’t Humpty-Dumpty. You can be put back together again.”
“I was pregnant.”
“I lost the baby.” Even now, the pain of it all was too much to hold.
“You don’t have to hold it,” Patrick said.
Kendall covered her face with her hands. Silence settled over her. It took her a moment to realize that the storm had ceased and she was no longer wearing mittens. A pleasant warmth wrapped around her and soft, white light filtered through her fingers. She stood up. The world had turned to pure light. She looked around for Patrick, but she didn’t see him, only the brilliant whiteness of the light.
Somewhere, a baby cried. Her heart lurched. “I lost the baby,” she whispered. “I lost Shane. I lost everything.”
The baby cried again. She turned toward the sound. Something moved toward her through the light. Or maybe she moved toward it; she couldn’t tell. The indistinct object grew clearer until it resolved itself into a small wooden manger.
Shaking, she stepped forward and looked inside. There lay a beautiful, perfect little baby. The light gathered all around him. When she reached down to touch his tiny head, his eyes caught hers and pierced her soul.
She knelt beside the manger and, holding her breath, reached down and gently picked the baby up. Peace enfolded her and washed away the bitter hurt. She cradled the baby in her arms and ran a finger down his soft cheek. She did not bother to wipe away the tears sliding down her own cheeks.
Something was attached to his swaddling clothes, a little note. She smoothed it between her fingers. It said: To Kendall, With Love. He can make you whole.
She dropped her head. Her tears fell on the baby and smudged the words. I don’t deserve this. Someone put a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up. It was Patrick.
“It’s Christmas, Kendall,” he said quietly. “Just accept the gift.”
* * *
Kendall blinked open her eyes, and found her niece Chantel leaning into her face. “It’s Christmas,” she said again. Kendall glanced at the clock on the nightstand. 8:02. She sat up and swept Chantel into a bear hug. “It certainly is.”
Chantel wiggled out of her grasp and ran to join the other children tumbling loudly down the stairs. Kendall drew up her knees and wrapped her arms around them. Some of the peace and love from the dream still lingered. Just accept the gift, she thought. Could it really be that simple?
She drew back the curtains. Outside, the dawn revealed a world washed in unbroken white. She guessed at least a foot of new snow had fallen. The Belnaps wouldn’t be out of here for hours.
Something at the end of the bed caught her eye -– a gift-wrapped in red with a gold bow. Where did that come from? Curious, she picked it up. The tag said: To Kendall, With Love.
Her heart began to hammer. She pulled off the wrapping paper and opened the lid of the box. Inside, nestled in some crumpled newspaper, was her caroler ornament. “Oh, my,” she whispered. She picked it up and held it by the satin ribbon. It was as whole as if it had never been broken.
Someone knocked on the door of the bedroom and Patrick poked in his head. “Hey, Kendall, everybody’s downstairs. Are you coming?”
She held the ornament out for him to see. “Do you know anything about this?”
A warm smile spread across his face as he stepped into the room. “Well. Looks like it wasn’t as broken as you thought.” He sat down beside her on the bed and took the caroler from her. He turned it over, examining it. “Good as new,” he pronounced and handed it back to her.
“It’s a miracle,” she said softly.
“It certainly is.”
Kendall was suddenly acutely aware that she was wearing frayed flannel pajamas and had bed head and morning breath. But from the way Patrick looked at her, he didn’t mind. Maybe he hadn’t even noticed. He stood up and held out his hand. “So, are you coming?
She wrapped her hand around the caroler and glanced back out the window at the unblemished whiteness of the snow. She took a deep, steadying breath. It was Christmas, and Patrick was right. It was time to accept the gift.
She took Patrick’s hand. He helped her up, but he didn’t let go. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Merry Christmas,” he said.
She flushed. “Merry Christmas.” Then hand in hand, they walked down the stairs.