Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Christmas Tree part 2

Here's the second part...... please leave comments, dear Invisible Friends! I really want to know if you like it or not!

Over the next few weeks, Joe and Jadie spent a lot of time together. He took her sledding in a fake snow park, since they were too far south for real snow. They walked in the country and decorated some real trees, placing stars at their top and giggling when birds tried to fly away with them. They volunteered at the animal shelter, helping convince people to adopt Christmas puppies and walking dozens of dogs. The last night before Jadie was to return home, Joe took her on a carriage ride downtown and bought her a cup of hot chocolate. She was so happy, she felt her toes lift off the sidewalk and float down the street.

Christmas had suddenly become very important to her. In a whirlwind, she decorated her dorm room, much to the amazement of her roommate, Maureen.

“But you’re leaving tomorrow,” Maureen sputtered. “What’s the point?”

“The point is Christmas!” Jadie had said, spinning around happily. “Isn’t this just the most wonderful time of the year?” Maureen had just laughed and called in some other girls to see how cheerful Jadie was.

Later that night, Jadie bundled up and went out on a walk through campus. The air had chilled considerably, and she walked with a spring in her step. Everywhere she looked she saw signs of Christmas, and it filled her heart with joy. She couldn’t wait to thank Joe for helping her see how wonderful Christmas could be again.

She walked to the enormous tree, and waited under it’s sweeping branches. When she heard footsteps behind her, she turned around with a huge smile on her face, then stopped.

A boy she didn’t know was walking toward her, holding a white envelope. “Are you Jadie?” he asked. “Yes,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “This is for you,” he said, holding it out to her. “Where’s Joe?” she asked as she took the envelope. “I don’t know who Joe is,” the boy said. “I work at the front desk of the dorms, and there was a note to take this to a girl named Jadie. So, here you go.” The boy walked away.

Jadie walked to a bench under a street light and opened the envelope. She opened up an envelope that had been written in thick black ink.

“Dear Jadie,” the letter began. “I’m sorry I couldn’t see you before you go home for Christmas. I know that you must be disappointed. However, I want you to remember the joy of Christmas. I want you to remember the look on that little girl’s face when you gave her a teddy bear. I want you to remember the laughter of your friends when you decorated your dorm. When you’re feeling down, I want you to think of our carriage ride through the city, and how your cheeks glowed when you drank the hot chocolate. When you think of Christmas, remember the joy you felt as you looked at our tree.” Jadie stopped to wipe tears from her eyes, sniffled, and kept reading.

“Under the tree, there’s a gift for you,” the letter continued. “Have a Merry Christmas. Love, Joe.”

Jadie wiped her eyes on her gloves and reached under the tree. She pulled out a thin silver box that was tied with a thin white ribbon. She opened it and slid off the box top. “Oh,” she breathed. She pulled out a delicate silver necklace with a snowflake charm hanging off the thin chain. Clutching the necklace in her hand, she looked up the tree with tears in her eyes. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered. Then, holding her necklace carefully, she walked back to her dorm slowly.

The next day, Jadie drove to her parents home a few hours away. As soon as she walked in the door, she was swept into a whirlwind of hugs, kisses, presents and sit down dinners. Throughout the holiday, she touched her necklace several times. She couldn’t get Joe out of her mind.

On Christmas Eve, after all the younger children had been put to bed so her parents could play Santa, Jadie walked outside. She walked to the main street of her small town, to the main plaza where a tall tree stood in front of the courthouse. Staring at the tree, she sat on a bench and fingered her necklace. Suddenly, she heard footsteps behind her and whirled around.

Joe stood behind her in the light of a street lamp. “Joe!”she exclaimed, running over to him. “How did you know I was here? How did you know where I lived? How did you find me? Why weren’t you there the last day of school?”

“You’re wearing the necklace,” Joe grinned broadly. Jadie looked down. “Oh yes,” she breathed, “It’s lovely. Thank you so much! But where were you? You just left me there!”

Joe laughed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It was unavoidable. Tell me, how are you enjoying Christmas?”

“I love it!” she gushed. “It seems so much more real. Everywhere I go, I’m beginning to see signs. I’m beginning to see tiny gestures—a grandmother knitting a present for her grandchild, people caroling in the streets, shopkeepers giving treats to children. Everything seems so much brighter, so much kinder.”

“I’m glad,” Joe said, smiling softly. “I’m glad for you. I’m glad you believe in Christmas again.”

“But you’re not answering any of my questions!” she exclaimed. “How did you find me?”

Joe looked down and when his eyes rose, they looked sad. “I have something to tell you,” Joe said, looking in Jadie’s eyes. “I won’t be back next semester.”

“Why?” Jadie asked. “Did you flunk out?”

“No, nothing like that,” Joe said. “I’m not exactly a student.”

“So you lied?” Jadie said in disbelief. “You’re just pretending to take classes? For fun? I don’t understand.”

“I’m not exactly a person,” Joe said, smiling slightly at her. At her look of shock, he explained, “I’m a ghost.”

“But I can see you,” Jadie said. “I can touch you. You drank hot chocolate.”

“Kind of,” Joe said. “A lot of that was illusions, for your benefit. You see Jadie, I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present.”

Jadie felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. Not only had this guy stood her up, but he was lying to her. And a really stupid lie too.

“Oh God,” she said. “Couldn’t you have come up with something better than that? You have a girlfriend don’t you? Or you’re really old. You’re like 25, and a townie that hits on desperate college kids. That’s pathetic. That’s really pathetic.” Tears coming to her eyes, she began to walk away.

“My job is to make sure that people don’t lose their Christmas spirit,” Joe said, hurrying up next to her. “You were dangerously low on Christmas spirit. You needed my help. I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”

“Yea, whatever,” Jadie dismissed him. She began to walk quicker, the could stinging her cheeks.

“I can prove it,” Joe said, running up next to her. He held out his hand, and looked at her pleadingly. “Touch my hand.”

“No,” she said, walking quicker. “Go away. Just get away from me.” Joe sighed and walked up to her quickly, grabbing her by the shoulders and whirling her around. Before she could say a word, he grabbed her cheeks. She gasped.

In an instant, she saw hundreds of families celebrating Christmas. She saw lonely women crying, and an old man staring wistfully into the fire. She saw children throwing temper tantrums over not getting enough presents, and one child receiving a battered bear as a gift and clutching it tightly to their chest. When he released her, she stared at him in shock.

“Why me?” she asked. “I’m just some bratty girl at college. Why not the old women, the sad old man, or that poor child with the teddy bear? Why not help them?”

“You needed it,” he said simply. “And now that you know, you can spread the cheer for others. You already have in some ways.” He smiled at her, and reached towards her snowflake.

“Remember all the fun we had,” he said, as he began to fade into the glow of the streetlight. “Remember our tree. And Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Jadie said softly. She turned and walked back slowly to her house, thinking about what she had seen. When she reached the front door, she stopped and lifted her necklace to look at it. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered. “And a happy New Year.” As she stepped through the door, a single snowflake fell and touched her hair with a whisper.