By Lorna Collins
It was a week before Christmas and the town looked like fairyland. Tiny white lights twinkled from every tree in the park, except for the big one in the center which glowed with brilliant colors reflected off shiny ornaments. The streetlights were bedecked with red bows and wreaths. Carols drifted from the doorways of all the stores. In house windows, decorations competed with those on lawns and roofs.
But Holly Noelle O’Malley was oblivious to the magic in the air. It would be the first Christmas without her mother and father. Losing both of them at the same time and so suddenly nearly ten months earlier was something she hadn’t quite come to terms with. And now the holidays loomed.
Thanksgiving had been bad enough. Several friends had invited her to spend the day with them. She’d finally agreed to go to her best friend Cheryl Howard’s house. Somehow the sight of her large loving family had made her own situation even more painful. So she had sworn off celebrating Christmas altogether.
Not only would Christmas Day be painful, but Christmas Eve was her birthday. After many years of marriage, her parents had given up the idea of having children. Then Holly had arrived. Her mother always called Holly her “Christmas Miracle.” The ache in her heart grew as she remembered her mother’s voice and all the special treats, decorations and surprises of Christmases past.
After all these months, it was time to sell the family home. Holly had her own condo a few miles away, and the big house felt too large and full of memories. She’d only been there a couple of times since the accident, and every visit had been difficult. Cheryl had encouraged her to start sorting and packing. Today she would meet the realtor her friend recommended.
Cheryl’s car was already at the curb. Holly pulled up behind her. She took a deep breath, grabbed her keys and stepped out.
“Hi. Thanks for coming today.” She gave Cheryl a hug.
“Glad to be of help. How are you doing?”
Holly shrugged. “Okay, I guess. I haven’t been inside in months.”
“Do you want to wait for Trey?”
“No, we can probably start figuring out what to do with everything.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” Cheryl put her arm around Holly as she unlocked the door.
Perhaps because the house had been closed for so long, the familiar smells of home seemed especially intense. Comforting and painful, sad and welcoming, the hints of Mother’s cologne, carpet, candles, old paint, Dad’s leather chair all blended together were overwhelming.
“It’ll be okay, Holly. You’ll see,” Cheryl assured her.
“I know. But it’s still so…”
“Maybe we can start some sorting before Trey arrives,” Cheryl suggested, hoping activity would occupy Holly enough to get through the process of letting go.
“Okay. I can probably handle the kitchen.”
Cheryl followed her friend through the formal dining room into the cozy yellow kitchen with its bright white appliances and cabinets. The oak table and chairs looked as though they were waiting for someone to sit down for a meal.
Holly opened the cabinet next to the sink. Sparkling glassware filled the shelves. “I hate to part with any of these. Mom was so proud that she had complete sets of everything. But I know I can’t fit all of it into my little condo.”
“Take you time deciding,” Cheryl advised.
“Is anyone here?” A deep voice called from the living room.
“In here,” Cheryl answered.
Holly turned from contemplating the contents of the cupboard. Her gaze collided with beautiful green eyes framed by long dark lashes and set into a handsome face. She felt as though she’d stuck her finger in a light socket.
“Hi, I’m Trey Donovan,” he said and extended his hand. His touch was firm and warm and as powerful as his eyes. Holly found it hard to let go. “You must be Holly.”
“Yes,” she managed to squeak out. Pull yourself together, she scolded herself. It’s not as though you’ve never seen a good-looking man before. Yeah, but not THIS one. I really have to stop having these conversations with myself.
“This is a wonderful house,” Trey continued, “perfect for a family. How can you bear to part with it?”
Because he seemed to genuinely want to know, Holly started to explain. “I lost both parents a few months ago. It’s been hard to come back here with all the memories…”
“I understand. But I hope you won’t regret your decision later on.”
“I thought you were supposed to sell houses,” Cheryl interrupted.
Trey chuckled. “I am and I do. This would be a great listing. But I never want to take advantage of anyone under duress. And you seem to … belong here.”
He looked so tenderly at Holly, she nearly cried. “Thank you. I appreciate your concern.” Something about his gentle smile looked familiar. Perhaps he resembled a movie star or someone on TV. “I’m sorry. I seem to be staring. You look so familiar. Have we met?”
“I don’t think so. I’m sure I’d remember you. I have a weakness for short redheads with blue eyes.”
Holly shook her head. She could have sworn she’d seen him before somewhere. “Do you want to see the rest of the house?” she offered. That’s why he was there, after all. Taking the lead, she went through each room pointing out the special features of each one.
At last they arrived at her parents’ bedroom. She had closed the door the day after the funeral, and it had remained that way ever since. Steeling herself, she opened it. Everything was in place, just the way Mom always kept it. Holly circled the room, touching each piece of furniture. Trey and Cheryl stood back watching her.
She turned to look at them and noticed something sticking out behind the big dresser. “That’s strange,” she said as she bent to retrieve it.
In her hand was a photo she recognized. It was of one of her mother’s preschool classes. Mother had been especially fond of this group. It was her last one before Holly was born. She often spoke about a little boy named Donnie. “An imp with a pure heart” was how she’d described him.
“What’s that?” Cheryl asked.
“A picture of Mom’s last preschool class,” Holly responded, holding the photo out for them to see.
“That’s Miss Mary,” said Trey. “I still remember her. She was the nicest lady. I loved school because of her.”
“You knew my mother?” Holly asked.
“Sure. That’s me, right next to her.”
Of course it was. The same bright green eyes, the same unruly lock of dark hair falling onto his forehead, the same dimples appearing when he smiled. No wonder he had looked familiar. “Mom always said that little boy was called Donnie.”
Trey laughed. “My full name is Donald Anthony Donovan III. Granddad is ‘Don’; Dad is ‘Donald’; I was nicknamed ‘Trey’ since I’m the third. Miss Mary was the only one who ever called me Donnie.” Trey looked around the room again. “So this is Miss Mary’s room ...”
“Yes. She and Dad lived here long before I was born.”
“I remember her telling all of us on the last day of school in June that she was expecting a miracle for Christmas. It sounded like one of the fairytales she told us. But I’ve always wondered what she meant.”
Holly began to cry softly.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry…”
“It’s okay. You see, I was that Christmas miracle. Mother always called me that, especially since I was born on Christmas Eve.”
“Thanks for clearing up one of the great unanswered questions of my life.”
“No wonder you looked familiar. I’ve been looking at this photo all my life. And Mom always talked about that little boy, I mean you.”
“What did she say?” Cheryl asked.
Holly smiled, “She said if she’d ever had a son, she’d want him to be just like Donny.” Of course, what she didn’t tell them was that Mother had also said she hoped Holly would find someone just like him to marry someday.
“Now that I know this is Miss Mary’s house and that you’re her special Christmas Miracle, I’m really not sure I should let you sell. Would you like to grab some lunch, and we can talk about it?”
“Well, I… a…” Holly looked at Cheryl.
“You two go ahead. I have lots of shopping to do, and it appears we won’t be doing any packing today.”
For the first time in nearly a year, Holly smiled, really smiled. She felt warm and loved just as she with her parents.
She was the last to leave the room, and just before she closed the door, she whispered, “Thanks, Mom, for another Christmas miracle.” It must have been her imagination, but she thought she glimpsed a shape that might have been a person. Of course, it was probably just a trick of the light. But then, again, it was the season of miracles.