Excerpt for The Other Santa by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Other Santa

A Christmas Miracle

Anna del C. Dye




This is a work of fiction. The events and characters de­scribed here are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher.


The Other Santa


All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2017 Anna del C. Dye

Version 1.0



This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, elec­tronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA




Other books by Anna del C. Dye:


The Silent Warrior Trilogy:

The Elf and the Princess

Trouble in the Elf City

Elfs in a Conquered Realm

Curse of the Elfs

A Royal Elf of Abalon

Shahira & the Flying Elfs

The Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain


Once Upon Two Kingdoms

Kingdom by the Sea

A Golden Princess


And available only as an e-book:

Emerine’s Nightmare

The Chancellor from Connier

Chapter One

A New Assignment

“I hope we will find something for our purpose here and soon,” Mario Tuzzini exclaimed. He sat across from his ward, Angieline Tuzzini, a cup of coffee in his hand.

“My eyes and ears haven’t picked up anything yet.” Angie shrugged her shoulders from the side of the table where she enjoyed scrambled eggs.

“The longer we stay, the longer people will have to recognize us. That will make it easier to find us in the future,” Mario told her.

Angie was enjoying a hot chocolate on this cold morning, in the bed and breakfast where they rented a room. “What do you expect? Everywhere we pull one of our schemes it is bound to make people think of us. It’s not like we keep low profiles during our ‘work’.”

“I would prefer that they didn’t get so close to us,” he insisted. “We will be hunted if people get into our business, and we won’t be able to do any of this anymore.”

“I’ve been with you for twelve years and you still think of me as a little girl.” She frowned.

“I suppose that at twenty, you are a grown woman,” Mario conceded.

For a girl of twenty, she was uncommonly wise, perhaps losing her mother when she was quite young had shaped her into what she was now, a quiet, caring, intelligent young woman. But, the presence of Mario in her early life could also be a reason.

“And I would have to say that you are right. Now let me do my job and quit treating me like a baby.”

“All right…I get it. What are you planning for us today?” Mario queried with a glance into her green eyes.

“I will look into our project,” Angie answered with her hot chocolate midway to her red lips.

“Have you given thought to what it is that you would like to do this time?” he asked.

“It’s December, I’m sure something will come up,” she responded. “People are more giving at this time of year, and we’re good at helping them put it to good use.”

“It does look like it will be a bitter Christmas,” Mario looked outside the window at the big crop of snowflakes drifting down to join the pile of white snow on the ground. “Angie, we’ve been here two days, what do you think about Canopy City?”

He turned on the radio next to the green sofa where he sat and waited for her answer while the radio warmed up.

“This town is suffering from the recession like many small towns we have seen before,” Angie answered.

“Nothing new though. We have pulled through before with less. I’m confident that we’ll be successful here too.”

At that moment, the radio came on and the voice of a young man stated, “The problem is aggravated for the orphanage as many families can’t afford their own means, let alone to take other children in. There are many families that have abandoned their children in lieu of facing the hunger situation rampant among the more destitute in this land. Now we will go to our sponsors and then return with the weather.”

“Mario…, did you hear that?” Angie questioned.

“I did.”

“I’m on my way.” She pulled on her brown winter coat, her black gloves and the purple scarf over her head. Then out the door she disappeared.

Mario watched the young replica of the woman he had loved so deeply some twenty years before leave the room, her light brown hair trailing behind.

Every time he looked at the grass-colored eyes and the snowy countenance of Angie, his heart bled a little. How could he not when Tanya, Angie’s mother, haunted his dreams every night? Still Angie had given him his only reason to live after Tanya died of tuberculosis and left her little girl alone in the world.



Chapter Two

Sad Memories

He closed his eyes as his dark mass of wavy hair sunk into the back of the sofa he sat on. He knew what came next, it was a familiar scene in his mind by now. However, it gave him comfort in his lonely nights when he missed Tanya the most.

“Mr. Tuzzini we understand your association with Tanya Moore. You were to be married, but you didn’t,” Mrs. Stockton’s heartless voice returned from the past.

“We didn’t marry because she was kidnapped four weeks before our wedding. A horrible man took her and violated her. I was able to rescue her after a week of her ordeal. But, by the time the doctors put her head together, she could not remember anything, not even me.”

“I am sorry, Mr. Tuzzini, but that doesn’t have anything to do with Angieline,” she insisted.

“A month later, the doctors had discovered that Tanya was pregnant with Angieline. Fathered by that monster and too traumatized to deal with her past, though the baby in her womb gave her a grip on her future. When the social workers suggested to Tanya that she kill the baby, she left to hide from them all. However, I never left her alone. She didn’t recognize me, which made it easier to stay in the apartment next to her for some six years. She never knew it, yet I helped her quietly to take care of herself and the baby.”

Mrs. Stockton’s black eyes did not show any sympathy when she commented, “Miss Moore received money from the Victim Association, a hefty sum every month…”

“No, Mrs. Stockton, even after all her suffering, she didn’t qualify for it…. I sent her that money in their name. She wouldn’t have taken it from me and I could have caused more damage if I’d forced it on her.”

“Mr. Tuzzini, that still doesn’t make you next of kin,” the obnoxious woman replied.

“We were in love; don’t you get it? Angieline should have been our baby. I have always loved her as if she were mine own child. She is only five years old. How could you prefer to place her with a stranger instead of me?”

“The child has a hard life already, Mr. Tuzzini. She should have two parents, not just a man in her life.”

“Listen, I could not save her mother, but I have a chance to help Angie and I will do so even if I have to close you down.”

“Are you threatening me, Mr. Tuzzini?” The woman stood to her full height of four feet eight inches and stared at him.

“No, of course not. But I’m desperate, and I will get Angie with or without your help.”

He had risen to leave to talk with a lawyer when she stopped him with a hand on the door.

“Your papers prove that you are well off, Mr. Tuzzini…”

“The child will never go without, I assure you,” he turned with renewed hope.

“In that case, why don’t we help each other? This orphanage is in need of many repairs, as you can see. A new water tank and heaters for the winter, a new roof and a stove are only some of many things we desperately need. Perhaps you could help us a little?”

“Will twenty-five thousand be enough for the children, Mrs. Stockton?”

“Twenty-five… thousand? Oh my… I, I… Well, we, we should have all the paperwork … ready tomorrow, Mr. Tuzzini.”

“And the girl?” he asked.

“She will be ready to go with you, after you sign the adoption papers,” she assured him.

“I will be back at three tomorrow afternoon, with the money. One more thing, Mrs. Stockton, the donor will be anonymous, no one should ever know who gave it to you.”

“I got it. Look in the newspaper,” Angie’s voice broke into his reverie.

With a start, he sat straight up, once again back in the room where Angie pushed a folded newspaper under his nose.

“Where?” He glanced at her as she sat by his side on the couch.

“On the last page,” she pointed.

“The house which houses the orphanage in this town will have to close their doors, according to the communique received from the management,” he read. “It is believed that the children are in danger while housed there. The place has been condemned as a hazard to the community by the city. According to our source, the children will have to be moved to other places in the hopes of better chances for adoption.

“Mr. Hill, the superintendent of the children’s home said that all the children’s homes are functioning at more than full capacity and, with the economy the way it is, more folks are worried about how to keep food in their own family’s mouths and can’t take other children in. Another solution would be to find another building to move the children into before the year is over. But there is not much hope for that, since neither the orphanage nor the city hall has the money it would require to do so.”

“I will make an appointment with Mr. Hill and get all the information we need to plan our actions.” Angie headed for the phone, while he left to his room.

“Hello. Yes, may I speak to Mr. Hill please?” Angie asked. “I am the secretary of a freelance reporter who would like to do a big column about the children. Why good afternoon, Mrs. Hill. Mr. Hill is not available right now? When could we find him? Tomorrow will be okay, at 11:00 a.m. you say? The name? Oh yes, it’s Mario Grant. Yes, we will see you tomorrow, Mrs. Hill.”



Chapter Three

The Orphanage

The next day before noon, in an old house in the poorest part of town, Mario said, “Mrs. Hill, I presume.”

“Yes, I am Mrs. Hill…. Are you Mr. Grant?”

“Mr. Grant? Of course. It is a pleasure,” he answered and sent a questioning look at his companion.

“Oops, I forgot to tell you,” she whispered as Mrs. Hill showed them the way to a room that smelled like damp, freshly-turned dirt. In one of the walls, the cracks ran from the ceiling to the floor.

“Alfred, this is the reporter I talked to you about, and his secretary, Miss Heartfelt,” Mrs. Hill introduced them.

A man with spectacles sat at the opposite side of an old desk, buried by stacks of papers threatening to fall over him.

“You are an answer to our prayers, Mr. Grant. We have been most concerned about the children’s future.” He didn’t stop talking as he stood and motioned them to sit in two white, wooden chairs in front of the old brown desk. “As you know, we are the only children’s home that is still considered a home.”

“That is why we are here, Mr. Hill. Tell us more about this home.”

“We consider the children as our own,” Mrs. Hill added quietly. “They honor us by calling us Mom and Dad,” she continued from the worn-out mustard-colored settee, where she had settled herself.

“You can see why we are so upset,” Mr. Hill continued as he combed his hand over the clump of thick red hair on top of his head. For a man in his late forties, he surprisingly had all his hair intact, and his wife, a pleasantly plump woman, wore a creased forehead under a pile of neatly kept brown hair.

“They are forcing us to send the children to places where they will become numbers and lose all their uniqueness,” Mrs. Hill wiped away a tear that had escaped her sweet brown eyes. “I can’t bear it,” she added as her shoulders vibrated with her quite sobs. “They will get lost in the shuffle of things…”

“There, there, Julia. Let’s not give up, for as long as we have people like Mr. Grant who can bring us some light at the end of our tunnel.”

“We will certainly do our best,” Mario said, and turned to find Angie busily writing down all the details. The room looked dark, but when he looked at the window, there hung a set of washed-out curtains, although they were clean and pressed.

“We can’t adopt them all.” The older woman looked at Mario and he turned to her.

“Hmm, how many children are in your care?” he asked in his most businesslike voice.

Julia replied, “Twelve, four girls and eight boys.”

“And their ages are?”

Alfred answered, “Five years old to fourteen.”

He glanced at Angie. She seemed busy with the details of the room. Her eyes were on the three old oil lamps that sat about the office, observing how they didn’t match.

“Could you give me a list of the children?” Mario queried.

“Why will you need a list, Mr. Grant?” Julia asked guardedly.

“We need their names, a list of their ages and if it is a girl or boy marked by each one,” Angie said.

“Perhaps we can get people to donate something for them,” Mario added.

“That would be most helpful indeed.” Julia’s eyes lightened. “We have been so busy with this problem that we have done nothing to get gifts for the children.”

“At this point, the children don’t have a lot of hope for their future, let alone for a merry Christmas,” Alfred commented.

“Perhaps you need to have more hope yourselves, and then the children will feel the same,” Mario offered. “I believe we can get the community involved in this project and pull together help for the children.”

“With only four weeks left, what can you do in such a short time?” Alfred wondered aloud.

“I know people who know people,” Mario responded mysteriously.

“If you accomplish this, it would be a miracle,” Julia dried her eyes once again.

“Leave it to us,” Mario told them.

Angie wrote down the list of children as Julia dictated it, while Mario inquired about the history of the orphanage and looked in amazement at the broken-down house they were forced to live in.

Later, back at their apartment, Angie and Mario entered their sitting room. Soon a woman with a couple of plates of sandwiches and hot soup knocked at their door. After she placed it on the small table, she nodded to them and left.

“What do you think now?”

Angie’s serious tone took him aback for a moment. He thought, She must remember the time she spent a month in that orphanage. These children need her. It is hard to keep ourselves unnoticed if she gets too close to them.

“I think we are in business,” he answered, rubbing his hands together as his lips drew an evil smile.

“We need to use our best charms on all the most important people in town and see where it takes us,” she told him. “I have a list of possible prospects in this town.”

“How did you get it so fast?” She never ceased amazing him.

“Yesterday in the newspaper. In the Sunday edition, they talk mostly about the socialites in the community.”

*****

After lunch, in the biggest workshop of seamstresses in town, a peculiar scene unfolded.

“The times are very hard, Miss Heartfelt, and many in the community suffer.”

“We all know that, Mr. Jackson, Yet, it is for a good cause. These are orphan children and they need your help.”

After a long sigh, he asked, “What is it that you expect me to do, Miss. Heartfelt?”

“Could they have all the remains of cloth you don’t need? They would also appreciate your leftover thread, for the next years.” Angie smiled secretly.

“Is that all, Miss Heartfelt?” Jackson stared.

“For starters.” She grinned.

“Why, we pay to have that thrown away,” he told her. “We could save money by giving it to your children.”

“Is that a yes, then?” Angie’s eyes fluttered.

“If you want to take our garbage for free, that is a yes. It’s all yours for as long as you want it.”

“Another thing, Mr. Jackson, would you have a sewing machine we could borrow?”

“Sure, I have three that are not very good. They aren’t in use any longer and in my way. They’ll need a good cleaning and oil and they may work okay.”

“When should we come for the machines and the cloth?” she asked.

“At the end of each week will be perfect,” Mr. Jackson answered.

“That is what we’ll do then. Thank you so much.”

*****

In a different part of town at the same time, Mario sat in a silk chair at the home of a well-to-do woman he had just met. “Mrs. Bandervan, we are talking about children here. They are not responsible for the wrong choices their parents make.”

“Those children will grow up to be hooligans, I tell you,” Mrs. Bandervan’s high pitched voice vibrated in Mario’s ears.

“Only if we don’t help them now,” he insisted. “That is why your help is so needed.”

“You win, what do you want from me?”

“We need anything you don’t use anymore.” He heard himself say this, yet his sincere hope was for lots of money.

“Seymour, what can we give these children?”

“We have a set of long velvet curtains we don’t need any longer,” he answered. “A piano in need of repairs…”

“Yes, my … husband played it, but he is gone now…”

“I am so sorry, Mrs. Bandervan.” Mario stared at the woman.

“I am not. He too was an orphan and married me for my father’s money,” her bitter words carried in the room. “I am glad I sent him on his way,” she scoffed with a tear in her eye.

“I see.” Mario lowered his blue eyes.

“There is a double bed with trimmings in the guest room,” she added, pointing at the second floor. “It makes an awful noise, like ghosts, when you sit on it. I don’t want it anymore.”

“What about the side tables Mr. Bandervan gave you on your first anniversary, Mrs. Bandervan?” asked Seymour. He stood by her with a platter of hot drinks in his hand.

“You may have those too,” she picked up a cup and handed it to Mario. “The living room chairs from his study and the desk I gave him for our wedding must go too.”

“I just set his clothes and his tools in the shed out back,” Seymour added.

“I don’t want any of them in my sight,” she moved her hand like a floating butterfly.

“You are most generous, Mrs. Bandervan. Though, shouldn’t Mr. Bandervan be asked if he wants them first?”

“That won’t be necessary,” the butler answered, while the lady of the house blew her nose.

“Seymour, my butler, will deliver all of it at the end of the week,” the lady said dismissingly. “Leave the address with him.”

“We are still looking for a new home for the children, Mrs. Bandervan. Perhaps you could help us with that?”

The woman eyes flooded with tears as she stared past Mario into a space beyond. Mario chose to leave before she could take back her gifts.

“Goodbye, Lady Bandervan, you have a heart of gold.” Mario bowed to the woman and she looked taken aback, finally focusing on him.

When he was at the door of the nicely decorated mansion, she found her voice again, “Mr. Grant…”

“Yes, Mrs. Bandervan?”

“My … husband bought a three-story building on Central Street a few years back. It is not huge, but he will need money now that he won’t receive anything from me…. Times are hard and not many people have money to buy it from him. He may want to make a deal with someone to get money fast.”

“Once again, I thank you, Mrs. Bandervan, you are a lady through and through.”

“Seymour will give you the details of where you can find him,” she said.



Chapter Four

Finding Help

Angie, meanwhile, had gone to see one of the bigger grocers in town.

“I understand what you are saying, Miss Heartfelt…. But we have to adjust to the needs of our customers. We have less demand so we buy less products.”

“I am not asking you to share with the children your best. Mr. Nelson. What I mean is if you could give us all the products that you don’t sell in a timely manner.”

“Well, we usually throw them away…,” he sighed. “But it’s too risky… I don’t want my store to be held responsible if someone gets sick from them.”

“These children are in great need, Mr. Nelson, but I know that the people who take care of them will make sure that your products are safe and use only that which is good.”

If she could convince him to give the children their leftovers, half of the battle would be won. The other smaller stores would see it as if they were given permission to share their goods freely.

“Look, if I can have a document signed by the director of the orphanage that he will not hold my store responsible for anything, they are free to have all I can’t sell,” he finally agreed.

“I will bring it tomorrow, Mr. Nelson. In the meantime, could you please have your employees set apart what you would throw today for me to pick up tomorrow?”

He nodded.

“Thank you, on behalf of the children, Mr. Nelson.”

That evening as she ate supper, Mario finally cleared the threshold. “There you are,” Angie called out. “I won­dered if you were in trouble.”

“No, I just had a tough woman to deal with,” Mario answered her. “Another that was supposed to be well off … her house has nothing but bare walls. The other one’s husband will only give to the soldiers’ guild and I had to tell him all my war stories before he gave me a check for five thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand? Wow, you did great. What war stories did you tell him?”

“My father wanted me to be in the navy and I was for four years. There, I heard many stories about the war and I added stories my father’s friends told us when they had supper with us. It doesn’t count as a lie.”

“I guess not. Any other good news?”

“Yes, I have been with a Mr. Bandervan, and he is eager to sell us his building at a great price.”

“Did you see the place and does it serve our purpose?”

“Yes, to both questions. However, he has a couple of propositions with the sale.”

“Oh, what kind of proposition?”

“He occupies a room on the third floor and he wants to stay there forever.”

“You mean he will sell the other floors, but not that one to the children?”

“Exactly.”

“What are the other demands?”

“That he will share the orphanage’s meals for free.”

“He would be leaving a child without food if we let him.” She stared. “Do you want to tell me more about this person?”

“In a nutshell, he is a sucker and just lost everything through a misunderstanding with his wealthy wife,” Mario explained. “And once he too was an orphan.”

“That would make him a great mark, if anyone is looking,” she observed.

“For our purposes…he is perfect,” he smiled sinisterly.

“When does he want the money?”

“I negotiated a monthly payment of two hundred,” he answered. “Except, the first installment will be of five hundred and we have it thanks to mister soldier man.”

“When will you let Mr. and Mrs. Hill know the news and the conditions?”

“Make me an appointment for tomorrow, my secretary,” he half embraced her.

*****

“The building is sound,” Mr. Bandervan told them as he let the Hills and Mario in. “I had plans to turn it into a music store someday, but that is in the past.”

“It looks abandoned,” Julia observed.

“No one has used it for a few years, and as you can see, it needs a good cleaning. I can’t pay someone to do it, especially when I can keep it up.”

“We can organize the people without work and have it cleaned from top to bottom in a few days,” Mario said. “It will give them something to do and we will give them a warm place for them and their families and two hot meals. They will jump at the opportunity.”

“That will help many people in the community and us at the same time,” Alfred nodded.

“About meals, Mr. Bandervan, will you be eating with us and the children?” Julia asked.

“I would prefer to eat in my apartment and leave the children to you, Mrs. Hill. Would that be a problem?”

“Not at all,” Julia answered.

“Most accommodating,” Alfred added. “The children are adjusted to us and I don’t know how they would they act with a stranger at our table.”

“Are the children noisy or disruptive?” Mr. Bandervan asked.

“They are well behaved, but they are still children,” Julia responded.

“If the children’s rooms are kept on the second floor and their classrooms on the first floor, you shouldn’t have to hear them at all, Mr. Bandervan,” Mario stated.

“What would you have on the third floor with me, then?” the man queried.

The couple look at Mario for a suggestion.

“Why the headmistress and her husband, of course. That will ensure your peace of mind, Mr. Bandervan.”

“That sounds good. I worried for a moment that this arrangement may not work after all.”

“We are most thankful to you, Mr. Bandervan,” Alfred shook his hand vigorously. “The children don’t have any­thing else to fall back on. You have given us a miracle and we are most appreciative. And you, Mr. Grant, … we could have lost everything if it weren’t for you and your ideas.”

“We’ll keep the children out of your hair, Mr. Bandervan.” Julia moved closer to her husband, who hugged her.

*****

“I need work, Mister. Do you have anything for me?” A middle-aged man had walked slowly to the entrance of the new building the day after the Hills had signed the papers.

“What can you do?” Mario asked. His eyes traveled up and down the man that stood with purple lips in front of him. His thin jacket had seen many winters and he doubted it gave him much warmth.

“Anything you need me to do.” The man kept his hands under his armpits for warmth. “I have a family and we need food.”

“Come in out of the cold wind,” Mario moved to let him in. The empty building kept most of the cold wind out and that was the best Mario could offer, since no heat was available inside either. “The pay is not much, two meals is about all we can afford.”

“With a wife and three kids, Mister, anything is better than nothing.”

“Does your wife know how to sew?”

“She is the best there is.” The man grinned.

“Does she have any friends who may also know how to sew?”

“Yes, at least two of them.”

“Do they need jobs too?”

“Yes, they are in the same situation as we are. Kids and family to feed with no work to be had.”

“What about others that may help with painting and cleaning and some other household repairs?”

“This is a small town. Most know how to do all that,” the man explained.

“Then get me all the help you can find,” Mario told him. “We need to have this building in living conditions by Christmas Eve.”

“Yes, Mister.”

“Just one thing, make sure that their wives and kids are here with them on Monday morning at 8:00 a.m.”

“Sure, thing and thankee.” He left so fast that he almost knocked down a couple that was just passing by.

“He needs workers,” he cried at them, with a big smile.

The young couple looked at each other, and then at Mario, who came nearer.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, we are fine,” answered the clean young man as he surveyed his wife, who clutched her big handbag. She looked as frozen as he was, yet their clothes, though mod­est, looked clean and businesslike.

“He said … you need workers?” she asked timidly.

“I am sure there is nothing for us here, Janet,” the man dismissed her question.

“Maybe,” Mario interrupted them. “I am freezing and could use a hot chocolate. Would you like to accompany me and we will talk about it?”

The three of them crossed the street to a deli where Mario ordered three hot chocolates and pastries. After Mario decided that they were warm enough, he started his conversation.

“I am Mr. Grant, and I am looking for help at the moment. Two meals are all I can provide for payment for now. Later, who knows?”

“I am Sean Lookboy and this is my wife, Janet.”

“So, nice to meet you,” Mario nodded to them. “What is it that you do?”

“I am an accountant … but I can do manual things too,” he hurried to add. “Especially in times like this when there is so little money to be accounted for.”

“I am, was a secretary,” Janet added.

“We could use your talents,” Mario responded. “We have little money, but we need to keep good track of it and the donations. Mr. and Mrs. Hill need help with their home school, and I am sure they would love to have your secretarial skills, Mrs. Lookboy.”

“Two meals a day is more than we have now,” Sean glanced at his wife.

“Would we be free to go if another job were to be availa­ble for us?” Janet queried.

“Absolutely…. Why don’t you think about it and come back next Monday if you want to join us? I am sure that if something better comes along, we will be most grateful for your help and wish you the best.”

“Mr. Grant, are you helping those orphan children then?” Janet wondered.

“We are trying to help them, yes,” Mario responded. “We have found this place for them.” He motioned across the street to the building they had come from. “Now we need to clean it and get it ready to move the children here. It hasn’t been used for quite a long time and the inside shows it as much as the outside.”

“We heard they need to be out of the old place at the end of the year,” Sean said.

“That is correct. Although we would like to have the children situated by Christmas Eve,” Mario announced.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Janet smiled for the first time. “We were beside ourselves that we couldn’t help them…. You see … we can’t have children of our own, but we have nothing to offer to a little one right now.”

“We would love to have your help,” Mario’s throat con­stricted, and he had to clear it before he got his voice back.

“Tell me, Mr. Grant, what do the children eat?” Janet queried.

“I am not sure now, though we have enlisted some grocery stores to help a little,” he responded.

“How did you enlist their help?” Sean questioned.

“When people know the needs of others, they feel more compelled to help. And the children, as you have said, can’t fend for themselves. They need the community’s help.”

“I am so thankful that they are willing to do something for them,” Janet said. “What about Christmas for the children?”

“We would like to find a Christmas tree to add to the house before they move in, but there are other more im­portant things they need first,” Mario explained.

“We know where to get a tree in the forest,” Sean offered. “It would be free.”

“That would be most appreciated,” Mario patted his shoulder.

“I could make some decorations from newspapers or magazines,” added Janet.

“Why don’t we see who shows up on Monday? Perhaps we can get the older children to help with decorations,” suggested Mario.

“They will be easy to make,” agreed Janet. “They should be able to get the hang of it easily.”

“Well, I’ll leave you now, and we hope to see you Monday.” Mario stood, shook their hands and left them in the warmth of the deli.

That night in the bed and breakfast Mario and Angie shared, a knock came at their door. She answered it.

“Miss Flanagan?” the voice of a young men drifted into the room and Mario closed his eyes in recognition. “I thought they told me that a Miss Heartfelt and Mr. Grant occupied this room.”

This didn’t look good, James, the man at the door, had met them on the previous project, and had shown a great attraction to Angie. Yes, she was old enough to make her own future, still he didn’t look forward to working alone.

“As you can see, we do,” she answered.

“Is Mr. Lexington here too?”

Good, he was Mr. Lexington and Angie, Miss Flanagan. He didn’t remember what name they used last and it would have been too awkward if they used a different one. No, that would have been disastrous for their scheme to work right.

“We always travel together,” she responded.

“Let Mr. Coldwell come in,” Mario called from the room.

She moved and James entered, his eyes followed Angie until she closed the door behind him. What had it been, two months since they last saw each other?

“Please call me James,” the young man said. “It’s good to see you again Miss Flanagan and you, Mr. Lexington. We didn’t have a chance to say goodbye last time.” He stared openly at her and his lips wore a smile.

“How is your work doing at the station?” Mario asked.

He’d better keep Romeo focused and save Angie … from what? She seemed to have enjoyed his attentions before, though he had never broached the subject with her after they left their last project.

“Quite well. Though, I heard that things are better if I move from the smaller towns into a bigger city,” the young man replied.

“I understand that too.” Mario pointed at the chair next to him.

“So, are you considering that option?” Angie questioned.

“Yes, I am.”

“Would you like something hot to drink?” she asked.

Angie’s unusual quietness spoke volumes to Mario. She tried too hard to sound businesslike and it would have worked if it weren’t for the glow in her face.

“If it isn’t an inconvenience,” the young man nodded. “It is a bitter night.”

“We have seen nothing but snow since we came,” Angie commented.

“Where are you staying, James?” Mario queried.

“I just arrived in town and came straight here. I called Mr. and Mrs. Hill this morning and they told me about the people who are helping the children. I wanted to write about them.”

“That is why you are in town?” Mario glanced at Angie.

“Yes, it’s an assignment. Though, I’m most happy to have run unto you, Miss Flanagan. I wonder if I could see you perhaps tomorrow. Lunch?”

Angie glanced at Mario who nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Where should I meet you?” She looked back at James.

“I don’t know much about this town,” he apologized.

“There is a deli just a few blocks from here,” Mario suggested.

“It sounds good to me, if it’s all right with you?” He waited for her answer.

At that moment, a knock came and Mario attended the door. “Mrs. Abby, thank you.”

He moved aside and a lady in her mid-forties entered with a tray and two bowls of soup. Also apparent were freshly baked corn bread and two pieces of apple pie.

“Oh, I am sorry, I didn’t know you had company,” she noticed James with a cup of chocolate in his hand.

“I must be going if I want to find a place to stay before midnight,” he guzzled the hot beverage.

“I have a room if that is what you need,” their hostess offered.

“That would be great,” James cried. “I hope you don’t mind.” He glanced at Angie when his answer appeared to startle her.

“Not at all,” Mario hurried to answer. “Our affairs will keep us too busy for social calls, but we will enjoy seeing you around.”

Angie seemed to have relaxed with his answer, though he noticed a tint of disappointment in her eyes.

“Then I will count myself lucky to see you tomorrow afternoon,” James approached Angie and shook her hand.

“I hope to see more of you too, Mr. Lexington.”

“I am sure you will,” Mario patted his shoulder when he passed out the door with their hostess.

For a moment, neither of them moved until Angie said, “Do you think he is following us?”

“He seemed genuinely surprised to see us or should I say, you?”

“Not funny,” she threw herself on the couch. “Do you think he will cause us trouble and ruin everything?”

“That depends on him and on you,” he answered.

“Me? What do you mean?”

“Do you have feelings for him and do you want to see where they lead? Or do you want to get rid of him once and for all?”

“I see.”

“Whatever you do, I want you to promise me that you’ll be true to yourself. Consider your feelings, not mine. This is your time, Angieline, and you need to make the decision of where you want to go and with whom through this life.”

“I know nothing but what you have taught me…how could you ask me to leave you?”

“My time is over, so to speak. Yours, however, has just begun. What is it that you want from life and what are you willing to do to obtain it? That is a decision only you can make.” After a long silence Mario said, “Angie, I love you like my own daughter and I want nothing but your happiness, with or without me. Whatever you choose, I will support you in every way possible, I promise.”




Chapter Five

Making the Rounds

The next morning was Saturday, and as promised, Mario and Angie made the rounds about town right after their breakfast.

“You there, my good man,” Mario called across the street. “Is your handcart for hire?”

“You can have me and her for the same price,” the man answered.

“Good, then follow us. We have many places to go today. I hope your feet don’t get tired.”

“It will keep me warm and a body needs to work in this cold weather,” the man answered.

“Our first stop is at the sewing factory,” Angie told the man.

“Not too far,” the man turned toward the left at the corner and they followed.

“Mr. Jackson, I am here to collect for the children’s project,” Angie greeted the man.

“Just in time, Miss Heartfelt. Good, you brought help. The machines are in the back room, follow me. You can have those in the back there,” he pointed.

“We are so thankful for your donations, Mr. Jackson,” Mario offered as he took one side of one of the tables and the man with them the other. “It will mean a lot to many people in your town.”

“Glad to do my part,” he answered and took one side of another table to help Angie with a smaller model.

The two sewing machines occupied the whole cart they had hired.

“The other doesn’t have a table,” he told them, when they returned inside.

“It will fit nicely under the others,” the man with them nodded and grabbed it to hand it over to Mario.

“These two shoe boxes have some thread and a couple of scissors that lost their nuts. Hopefully, you can find replacements for them.”

“You are most generous, Mr. Jackson.” Angie hugged the surprised man and handed the boxes to the man helping them.

“By the way, you don’t need a table do you?” Mr. Jackson pointed at a four-by-six foot table by the other wall of the room. We had it build especially for us some twenty years ago, but now, we have no use for it.”

“I am sure we can put it to good use,” Angie answered. “Can we come and get it after we empty the cart?”

“I will be here for another hour,” Jackson told her.

“Thank you so much.”

They walked back to the new children’s building and unloaded their cargo in one of the rooms on the first floor.

“You know, Miss,” the man who helped them ap­proached Angie. “If you need help in this here place, I know four men who are looking.”

“Are you sure they would like to help for just food?” she countered.

“They will be thankful for anything you offer,” he responded. “They are on the next corner, and are friends of mine … they too have families to feed.”

“Have them come on Monday. That is when we start.”

They again left and went back to the sewing place to be met by Mr. Jackson.

“Those sacks in the corner have leftover material as promised, Miss Heartfelt. They are small pieces … I don’t know what you can do with them to help the children?”

“Don’t worry about us, Mr. Jackson. Need is the mother of inspiration and we have a lot of need.”

“Then you are more than welcome to them.”

“Please put the table upside-down and the bag of cloth on top,” Mario instructed his helper.

“I would love to see what you do with them if that is all right?” Mr. Jackson gushed.

“Most certainly,” Angie answered. “I probably will intro­duce you to the ladies who are helping us and they will collect everything from you from next week on.”

“Oh, you mean you won’t come any longer?”

“I’ll be too busy with the rest of the preparations for the children. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come and see to the progress yourself.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” he grinned.

“Don’t forget to bring your wife,” she added as a goodbye.

Once at the children’s new building, the material was arranged in the same room as the sewing machines.

*****

“Mr. Bandervan, do you have a moment?” Mario ascended the stairs to the third floor where the man had his quarters.

“I have nothing but time on my hands,” he retorted.

“What you have done for the children is noteworthy and we are thankful for your generosity.”

“I too was an orphan and they are close to my heart. I have known of the Hills and their home from before, but never did much to help them. My own childhood lacked much education and love. When I met Mrs. Bandervan, she helped me with my learning. It was how we fell in love and married after two years of knowing each other.”

“I would have never taken you for an illiterate,” Mario complimented him.

“She did a great job with me and I thought I had found my better half until…”

A silence came between them as thick as mud.

“You seem like a truthful man to me. Is that what got you in trouble with your wife?”

“A woman showed up at our house and told her that she was my daughter. Before I could reply, she had thrown me out of our home.”

“I assume you had never seen this woman before?” Mario queried.

“No, I have never been with another woman in my life, so I couldn’t have had a child with anyone.”

“That is what hurts the most, isn’t it?” Mario commiserated.

“Yes, after twenty years of marriage, you’d think she would know me better than that.”

“Do you know the name of the woman?”

“Not really. It all happened so fast I didn’t know what hit me. She had a child with her and she wanted me to help her … I guess. I would have done so, but why did she lie…? She destroyed my marriage, why? Why?”

“Lies do have a way of getting back at the liar,” Mario told him. “Sit tight, Mrs. Bandervan is an intelligent woman and she will realize that it doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t know… it hurts to be thrown away like garbage.”

“It’s the winter blues that make you talk like that,” Mario patted his shoulder. “If you think about it from her side, she felt the same as you…. To her, you lied and betrayed her. It isn’t true of course, but she doesn’t know that.”

“I am afraid to have hope. It would hurt too much to be dismissed by her again. I know nothing of my parents nor the circumstances why they abandoned me.”

“You held on to being married for quite a few years, didn’t you?”

“All my childhood and adolescent years. I felt that no one ever wanted me and stayed away from others for that reason. It was Harriet who extracted me from my cocoon and I became free of that weight. I wanted her to be sure that she wouldn’t change her mind. That’s why we waited two years before we got married. And now this…”

“You know, Christmas is a wonderful time to get closer to those we love. Love, goodwill and miracles do abound during this season. Hopefully your situation will change soon for you.”

“You are not just saying that so I’ll give this floor to the children too?”

Mario laughed and patted his shoulder again. “Now that is the spirit you need, Mr. Bandervan. Have no fear, the contract is binding.”

After Angie left Mario at the new children’s building, she sent the cart-man to lunch with a bit of money and asked him to come back in an hour. Then, she walked to the deli across from the new children’s home.

“Miss Flanagan.” James stood from a small table in the back of the room as soon as she entered the place. The smell of warm bread filled her senses and her tummy agreed with a loud growl.

“Hello, James,” she greeted him. He helped her to her chair and a small woman came to their table.

“What can I bring you, Miss?” the woman asked.

“A melted cheese sandwich and a hot chocolate, please,” she answered.

James’ posture seemed pleased, though nervous. What to do with him she knew not. However, she didn’t need to ask her heart, for that answer she already knew.

“And you, Sir?”

“Bring me the same, thank you.”

Their waitress left and James’ eyes once again became glued to her. Her heart quickened, just one of the reasons she needed to get away from him.

“Did you follow us here?” she asked before she could melt at his feet.

“No, but if I’d known you were here, nothing would have gotten in my way to come to see you. You left so suddenly, I, I thought I did something wrong.”

“No, you didn’t. We were taken away on another assignment and didn’t have time to say good-bye,” she lied.

“You have mentioned your assignments to me before, though you have never told me who the assignments are from.”

“I am not in liberty to give you that information,” she replied.

“Who is?” he asked.

“Yesterday, you mentioned that you may move to the city? Have you made up your mind yet?”

James sighed in resignation.

“No…. Much depends on a certain lady, and she doesn’t like to make things easy for me.”

Darn cheeks, why do they betray me this way? she thought, then said, “You need to make a future for yourself, why put it on hold for a lady?”

“Because she means the world to me. Though, I don’t think she cares enough to matter.”

“I’m so sorry, James. You have a wonderful future, why waste it on uncertainty?”

“Miss Flanagan…, may I call you by your first name?”

I, I… I would love to James, but what name do I give you? she pondered.

“Miss Flanagan it is then.”

Darn, I waited too long and he noticed.

At that moment, the waitress returned with their order and her mouth watered while her tummy growled again in anticipation.

“Come, don’t just look at it,” James teased. “It is better warm.”

The sandwich melted in her mouth with a burst of cheesy goodness and finally her tummy felt content. James had watched her savor every little morsel, with a small twinge on his lips. Those lips that invited hers to so much more.

“Thank you, for inviting me to share lunch with you,” she managed between bites.

“It’s my pleasure.”

Her thoughts flew, Yes, he feels pleased to be with me, but right now is the wrong time. I couldn’t leave Mario, how could I? He has opened his heart to me and taken me in. For sixteen years, he has shared everything he has with me. My turn to sigh. Why does life bring me love at this time in my life?

“Miss Flanagan, may I please see more of you while I’m here?”

“Our assignment is time sensitive, and I need to keep focused if I am going to meet the deadline,” she blurted out. All true, though I only used it as an excuse.

“I too have work to do, though I’d gladly give it up if you have time for me.”

Oh James, why do you make my life so hard? I would love to be with you … no my heart, don’t go there. “I can’t leave Mr. Lexington alone on this project. It needs both of us to get it done in time.”

“I understand. Though, somehow, I feel that you use it more as an excuse.”

She closed her eyes to avoid betraying her growing feelings for him. He was connected to her a bit too well. “Please forgive me, I didn’t mean it to sound like that.”

“Would you have lunch with me again then?”

Her mind raced, He looks so handsome, pleading … I need to leave now and not see him ever again. “Let’s play it by ear,” she said unexpectedly.

“Why I don’t have lunch here every day at 1:00 p.m.,” he suggested, and you can join me when you can.

“That’s a great idea. Thank you for a wonderful time,” she answered and left him at the deli.

*****

Angie made sure to enter through the rear of the children’s new building to avoid attracting James’ eyes to her or to why she was in this town. Her helper and his cart waited for her there.

“You are early,” she greeted him.

“I didn’t want you to find someone else.” The man smiled.

She stopped with the key by the door and turned to face him.

“Why don’t we complete the rest of the errands then,” she queried.

“Where are we going now?” he asked.

“To the grocery stores,” she answered.

“Miss Heartfelt, here are a few products for the children,” the owner of the biggest grocery store in town greeted her. “We heard you have the abandoned building on Fifth Street for their new home.”

“We did purchase the building,” she answered.

“I added a box of suds, old cloths and vinegar, to help with the cleaning.”

“Most thankful, Mr. Jackson. Did you receive the letter from Mr. Hill then?” she queried.

“Yes, it came yesterday. He was very nice to my store. I am sorry that I never thought of helping the children before. I assure you that I will do my best to help all I can from now on.”

“The children appreciate all you do.” She smiled.

The man with her added the four full boxes to his cart. Some wilted celery, potatoes, carrots and onions were in one. Open bags of macaroni and stale bread could be seen on top of another. A carton of slightly cracked eggs, two bottles of milk and smashed cans of veggies in another. Finally, the manager brought a sack of flour that he handed to her helper to add to his cart.

“We will see you next week and thank you, so much.” She said and departed to another store.

“Here is some yeast, powdered milk and salt.” Another store manager gave her another box with some more cans and fresh veggies. “I added a box of suds for cleaning,” he told her.

Out-of-date preserves, canned fruit and peanut butter she collected from yet another store with the now ever-present suds box and two old brooms. When the cart was full, they took it back to the new building. Angie selected some of the food and left it by the sewing machines.

“You managed to bring enough food for a few days,” Mario complimented her.

“At least we are ready for Monday. We’ll get more with the money you collected, if necessary.” She handed him some bread to store in the makeshift bread box.

“I am on my way to see some more of this town’s elect people,” he said. “I’ll meet you in our rooms.”

“Best of luck,” she waved.

“I will take our cart helper.” He smiled back at her.

*****

“This is Mr. Grant to see…” Mario started.

“Mr. and Mrs. Wall,” the servant finished and moved aside to let him in. “Follow me,” she said and led the way to a large room that was cozy, not fancy. The furniture, clean and old-fashioned, gave it a warm personality. The fire in the hearth looked inviting, especially since more snow had begun to fall outside.

Thankful that the servant had volunteered the names of the owners of the home, Mario had discovered that he could enter most homes with the right questions or, in this case, answers from those who worked therein.

The servant introduced him and Mr. Wall came to shake his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Grant.” He showed him a chair next to the fire. “Are you looking to lay down roots in our town?”

“Though a charming town, I am a businessman and have to go where I find business,” Mario answered.

“At this time, we are lucky to count ourselves among the more fortunate,” the man nodded.

“My husband invested in oil, you see,” Mrs. Wall added. “So, we didn’t lose all our money when the banks broke.”

“A fortunate foresight,” Mario agreed. “That is the reason I am here. Have you heard of the problem facing the little orphanage in your town?”

“I’m afraid not,” the man answered. “What has hap­pened to Mr. and Mrs. Hill?”

“Nothing. Though they and the children are to lose their home at the end of the year,” Mario explained.

“Oh no. That is devastating,” the man looked shocked.

“How are Julia and Alfred taking it?” Mrs. Wall’s hand went to her neck.

“Who?” Mario queried.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hill?” her husband explained.

“Oh, they too are devastated,” he responded.

“The children mean so much to them,” Mrs. Wall stared at the fire as if in a trance.

“My job is to ensure that the children have a future with the Hills,” Mario stated. “For that purpose, I am here. Is there anything you can help them with to achieve their dream to keep the children?”

“Goodness gracious … I never thought of helping them,” her husband cried. “I have known them for many years and have heard of their struggles, yet I never offered to do any­thing for them. I feel ashamed.”

“We need to be more conscious of our fellow men, dear,” Mrs. Wall patted her husband’s hand.

“These are hard times and many people suffer,” agreed Mario.

“What can we do?” he asked. “They are so many of them.”

“Right now, it is winter and food is hard to come by,” Mario suggested. “Do you have leftover food, clothes, blan­kets? They are most needed.”

Mrs. Wall rang a bell and the same servant that intro­duced Mario came into the room.

“Mary, can you bring the old blankets and the clothes I have grown out of, please.”

“That is a great start, darling,” her husband approved. “What about those sweaters we bought that time in South America?”

“We visited a place there,” Mrs. Wall started a tale. “Our friends love to travel, you see, and they took us with them. They convinced us that these sweaters were the most in thing that year and we bought ten of them. Five for each of us.”

“The problem is that they itch like crazy,” her husband took over the tale. “They make my eyes red and my nose run. Perhaps they’ll do the same to others.”

“We’ll tell them and make sure they are all right when we give them out,” Mario promised. “Do you have anything for cleaning and such?”

“Some rags and a box of suds, I am sure,” she offered.

“What about those two old brooms and the tired brushes housed in my kitchen?” Mary queried.

“Do you remember that long table that is in the attic?” her husband offered.

“That is right, and it has two benches that go with it,” she snapped her fingers.

“That will be wonderful, Mr. and Mrs. Wall. You see, the Hills can’t take many furnishing with them from the other place. Some were built into the walls and many are too old to be moved. Their table is already too small for them. There is a man outside and he can help you,” Mario offered to the servant.

“He is actually in the kitchen,” she said. “It’s freezing outside and he doesn’t have warm clothes to be worth a darn,” Mary explained. “I invited him in.”

“Thank you for looking out for him,” Mario nodded.

“I’ll get him and Sam to carry the table down. What about the old blankets in the attic?”

“They are too faded to pass along,” she dismissed the suggestion.

“But they are still warm,” Mary insisted.

“We have ways to make them work, Mrs. Wall,” Mario told her. “Please, if you don’t need them, let the kids have them.”

“All right, have them ready to go, Mary.”

“Immediately, Mrs. Wall.”

When the cart couldn’t hold anything else, Mario helped the man push it all the way to the children’s new home. The Wall’s sent their wagon with the table and benches and the rest of things that didn’t fit in the small handcart.


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