Jingle Bells For Easter

by Pat D.

Call me a hard-bitten, cynical soul but something just didn't seem right about this slip of a girl. Maybe it was the eyes, green and sparkling but at the same time ancient in their depths. When I first spied her, she seemed barely five feet tall, if that. Young and naïve in the big city for the first time, her clothes were something I imagined you'd see among inhabitants of more northerly and far less sophisticated places than this metropolis. For God sakes didn't she realize it was early, April, almost Easter and spring. And then there was the fact that she was haggling with the guy over the price of a hot dog. Or I guess I should say attempting to haggle - he'd have none of it. She seemed perplexed but undaunted. It crossed my mind that she was ripe for the picking from the multitude of low life scum that sought such innocents, fresh to the city and full of big plans and expectations. What did it matter, you can't save the world I told my self. She 's just one of hundreds that will be lost to the city. Maybe she'll get smart and go back home before there's any permanent damage to her soul. Kids should be home. Didn't she realize what running away did to the parents, especially around the holidays, and here it was practically Easter. Didn't she have any consideration for her family, she looked smarter and nicer than that.

I hurried on to my appointment to interview the bishop. Some interview I thought, here we had a nation wide media frenzy going on the sex scandals in the church and my editor insists I do some fluff piece on the upcoming Easter celebrations and activities. Sadly, these assignments will be my lot in life for a while. There are still a few editors with principles and I seem to have one. One little mistake in reporting back at Christmas. So what if the brightly decorated tree with red lights and ornaments at city hall wasn't really donated by a madam rumored to supply other favors to city council members... He decided my degree in journalism was a sham and I needed to learn from the ground up. Personally, I think it bugs his 5'7"male shortness that I'm a smidge under 6'0 female in his employ. And all his bluster about ethics and professionalism and objectivity is to cover that short man thing. Could have been worse, I guess he could of just thrown me out in the snow.

It occurs to me after a very boring interview with the bishop where I kept biting my tongue to keep from asking all the questions that I thought I should ask about sex scandals and priests, and stuck to what my editor had informed me would keep me employed, that it was time I seize my destiny. What the hell does that dinosaur of an editor know. If I work it right I'll have a series of articles that I can take to a bigger paper and land my own byline, more money and report "real" news. That kid this morning did me a real favor. See, I couldn't keep her out of my head the whole boring time I was with the bishop. I'll do a story on these young innocents that come to the big city and meet the seedy side of life for the first time. The raw ugly side and yes, I know this type of thing has been done before, but I'm going to find a kid on day one and chronicle their spiraling downfall up close and personal. Watch and record as their fresh faced optimism is eroded. Note for the public their slide into degradation. Too bad I didn't think of this when I saw that kid, she'd have been perfect. Somehow that thought bothered me, thinking of her being taken advantage of by scum and by me. She was so, I don't know, there was just something... oh well forget her. Time to get to work. Now where to find a kid on day one in the city. Of course - the bus station. Question is do I approach one and explain I want to follow them through their "adjustment" to big city living or do I just "stalk" them and record it. I'm musing over this on my way cross-town to the bus station when I spot her again. I decide to do research. It'll be easier, I tell myself, when I pick a kid later. I'll just try following her for a bit and test the stalker thing, see if I'm any good at it. Besides, this time of day, if she spots me and calls a cop I can claim any of a dozen destinations for research or interviews and be believable to the law.

She seems to just be taking in the sights and sounds and smiling. Funny, as I look at her now she's taller than I thought originally. I was sure she was at least a foot shorter than I, maybe a bit more. Now she looks a bit over 5'2". I try to see if she's put on heels since I saw her last, although I didn't really notice her shoes earlier - but that's got to be it, right - high heels. As I stroll by I glance down at her feet. No heels, in fact, some sort of soft boots with curled up toes if you can believe it. Like something elves or sprites might wear. She's engrossed in the toys displayed in the store window and I'm sure she doesn't notice me.

Finally she moves on down the street. Her next stop is a bakery. She inquires if they have fruitcake. Now I'm wondering doesn't this kid realize it'll be Easter in a few days. Fruitcake, maybe she's one and boy did I pick the wrong person to tail. Slightly disappointed in a lack of fruitcake she settles on some nut bread. Nut bread in hand, she wanders on. A couple of blocks and we hit a park. Not the safest one in the city but what does she know. She wanders in munching her nut bread and gazing at trees and bushes. She almost seems to be looking for something. Something familiar, maybe, maybe she's starting to rethink this adventure. She can still be home for Easter. I find myself hoping she'll go home where its safe but I'll miss her. Strange that I know I'll miss her when I don't even know her. She suddenly stops and plops down by a holly bush. Smiling at the bush, she takes out the rest of the nut bread and contentedly starts nibbling. Okay, what do I do now? Do I hide in the bushes and wait, do I give up this stalking gig and re-think how I'll actually do my brilliant story. My thoughts are interrupted when some low life comes along and demands her money. She pulls out the pouch she had at the bakery and opens it for this scum to see. It's empty. He figures she must have the cash on her body. Out comes his knife. I'm about to yell for the cops and jump from behind my bush, when she smiles at him and offers him some of the nut bread. This definitely throws him for a loop. I seize the opportunity and tackle the guy taking him to the ground. I yell for her to run. He's trying to get up but I knocked the wind out of him and I'm on top. I jump up and kick his knife away. She's still standing there, staring. I grab her hand and begin running for the nearest exit to a busy street.

On the street I stop to catch my breath. She looks at me with adoring but puzzled eyes. I'm about to launch into a tirade about naïve young women and how they should be home with their families, not wandering in the big bad city where anything can happen. She stops me cold with a big smile that makes my heart melt. She opens her pouch and takes out a tiny gold jingle bell, like the bells they used to sew on the fancy Christmas stockings that the big department store back home used to sell. She holds out the bell for me to take and now I'm the one wearing the adoring but puzzled look. Wasn't that pouch empty just a couple of minutes ago.

Still smiling she introduces herself as Gabrielle Elfington, "Ellie for short, although at home" she says "I'm considered rather tall." And she laughs. Her laughter is like music. "I was wondering when you'd introduce yourself. I finally decided to sit down and wait." Okay, definitely not the stalking tact when I start my expose. I splutter a bit and finally get my name out. Lucia O'Neall but everyone calls me Lucy. "Well I shall call you Lucia because I'm not everyone and it suits you." What I didn't say was I hated it until I heard her say it.

More puzzling still, she doesn't demand to know why I was following her or to be concerned that she was nearly mugged in the park. I finally recover enough to tell her, she should get herself back home to her family. Young innocents shouldn't be alone in the city. She merely smiles and says, "I'm not alone" My heart starts to drop when she adds, "I'm with you." She then goes on to say she's on a mission and can't go home till it's finished. "So what's this mission?" I ask.

"It's for San" she trails off as if suddenly remembering something. She glances around to see if anyone is looking or listening. Then she starts again, "My Uncle Kris sent me to do some research, he's not really my uncle but we all call him Uncle Kris."

I'm thinking okay, she's not as young as I thought, she's got a job and she's here to do research. Secretly, I'm pleased that she won't fit for my "big story". But she still seems too naïve to be sent here by herself. I begin to question what kind of a guy this Uncle Kris is? What kind of research is she doing? What kind of business is she involved with? Those reporter genes just started kicking and my cynical self began to wonder if I could be on to a drug dealer using innocent looking young things as mules to carry drugs and money. "Research", hah, she probably doesn't even know she's involved in major crime. I took a deep breath and was about to launch into my reporter mode and interrogate, er, I mean interview her when a little niggling voice at the back of mind began to shout at me "Wait, remember that Christmas tree fiasco!" I had successfully ignored that little voice at the time of said "Christmas tree fiasco" when it tried to tell me to remember I was prone to bouts of overactive imagination around the holidays. Here we are a few days before Easter, if the Easter bunny followed Santa's lead I'd have coal in my basket instead of chocolate eggs. I listen to the little voice this time. Instead of interrogation tactics my mouth snaps shut. I think a bit as we walk. The silence is comfortable between us, like old friends that don't need a running dialogue to be at ease with each other. I finally notice it's getting late. The first evening star is visible.

"So where are you staying?" She looks puzzled again, like it was a really odd question. "Do you have a hotel reservation or are you staying with friends?" I'm worried she won't be able to get a decent hotel room at a reasonable price if she doesn't have a reservation. Lots of people seem to think its great to spend a long Easter weekend in the city. They come on Thursday and stay till Sunday or Monday. They take their kids to the big Easter egg hunt in the park. The kind of stuff that families do.

She looks at me and casually says, "I thought I'd stay with you." I find myself dumb-struck. A thousand thoughts stampede through my mind faster than I can process them.

Finally my racing mind slows and I begin to focus and analyze possibilities. One by one they are examined and discarded. She's a nut, she's a psycho, I'm taking my mortality too lightly by associating with her. She's not new in town at all, she just escaped from the local looney bin. Her naïve appearance is just what it seems because she has the mental capability of a ten-year old and shouldn't be alone in the city. Or she is, in fact, a somewhat unworldly individual, ignorant of the evils of day to day life in the big city, friendlier than a new puppy and twice as likely to get in trouble. I toy with the idea of finding her a safe respectable hotel room, God only knows what that will cost. I look down into those green eyes and hear myself say "Okay, if you don't mind the couch, let's go." I hail a cab and as she's climbing in it occurs to me she is really about 5'4, cute and trim and my youthful curmudgeon status is being blown to hell by the events of the day.

I seriously begin to wonder if I'm becoming delusional. I look at her in the taxi and wonder how I could have thought she was so young or so short when I first saw her. Granted neither one of us is exactly old but I truly thought she was probably a young teen and definitely just under 5' in height this morning. Then there's the fact that I'm taking a stranger into my home. Perhaps I shouldn't have wondered if she was the nut. It's looking more and more like that title might belong to me.

She seems fascinated by the inside of the cab. She rolls the window up and down, plays with the buckle of the seat belt, and watches the meter click over as if she has never seen one before. I begin to wonder how small a burg she comes from if she's never ridden in a cab before. Then it dawns on me it's more like she's never ridden in a car before.

I tell the driver to drop us at the Chinese restaurant a couple of blocks from my apartment. I figure we'll get a couple of containers of take out and head home. I hand her the menu and tell her to get whatever looks good. Big Mistake! Ellie thinks the whole menu looks good. We settle for the Chinese version of smorgasbord. One of those combo things for two or more that have more food than two people should attempt to eat. We arrive at my place with two large bags of take out containers and I figure "Oh well I won't have to worry about cooking the rest of the week". Boy was I ever wrong. With an appetite like that maybe she really did grow 4" today. After dinner by candlelight, (she spotted the big fat red and green candles I bought last Christmas and never got around to lighting) it dawned on me, as I glanced around the apartment, that I never got around to putting away the Christmas wreath; which, with the candles, was the extent of my Christmas decorating. Ellie didn't seem to notice or was to polite to point out that Sunday was Easter and my decorations were out of season. If anything she seemed even more comfortable, as if a wreath and Christmas candles were year round fare.

She gazed about my living room with a thoughtful look. I decided to give her the nickel tour and then get to bed. I showed her the kitchen, bathroom and my bedroom. She eyed my big old, fashioned sleigh bed. It was the one thing I brought from home when I moved to the city to become a famous, or maybe that should be infamous, journalist. The bed is huge and I love it because it fits my long frame and it reminds of a simpler happier time in my life.

I hastened to the closet to pull out spare pillows and blankets for Ellie to use on the couch. I was being nice to her but not nice enough to give up my comfy bed. I told her the couch, and the couch was what she was going to get. These thoughts kept me from realizing until it was too late that a box I kept on the shelf was dislodged when the blankets were pulled out. The box came tumbling down dumping a shower of old Christmas ribbons, bows and cards on my head. Would this Christmas humiliation never end. Okay, I admit it I'm secretly sentimental about Christmas and I stuffed away the cards, ribbons and bows from the presents I received growing up. I peek at them now and again to remind myself what it was like back when I had family and friends to celebrate with. There are some small pieces of wrapping paper, scraps really, from packages that were favorites or special to me, for one reason or another. The ones my mother wrapped in special paper and put under the tree after I had gone to bed. They'd be there in the morning and no other wrapped like them and they'd have a card from Santa. Ah, to be that accepting and filled with the wonder of Christmas. Kids are unaware how lucky they are, I thought once again as I scurried to right the box and starting dumping my secret stash back in it.

Ellie dashed to help me, much to my embarrassment. She sensed my mood and stilled my frantic hands from their task. "Why do think it is wrong to keep your memories, why do you store them away, why do you feel silly or embarrassed that someone else might realize you're not as hard and tough as you try to pretend to be?" We gazed at each other for what seemed to be an eternity to me. Then, I broke the stare and looked down. I couldn't face those eyes that seemed to see into me, into my very soul. She released my trembling hands and together we put my treasures back in their box. Silently she took her pillows and blankets and as she closed the door softly called "Goodnight, my Lucia."

I prepared for bed, my thoughts a jumbled mess. I no longer feared that my visitor would clean me out while I slept. There was no dread that I would awaken and find my stereo, TV and computer gone. No, my fear now was that my heart and soul had been breached by this young woman, who walked in and took possession of my most intimate thoughts and feelings as if she had every right to them.

After tossing and turning most of the night, finally a fitful sleep came. I awoke early and was determined to find out the who, what, where, why, when and how of this Gabrielle (Ellie) Elfington. I emerged from the bedroom to find blankets and pillows folded and stacked neatly on the couch with yet another gold jingle bell resting atop the pile. A brightly colored Christmas note card read "Many thanks for dinner and the couch. If it is our destiny we'll meet again, my Lucia. Love Gabrielle"

I felt myself falling and couldn't understand why the floor seemed to be rising up to meet me. I felt utterly desolate. How could she be gone? How could I feel this way when I only met her yesterday? Sure, I had heard those stories about people meeting during WWII and knowing they were meant to be together and marrying just like that but not me. No, I was too sensible, too non-emotional to get caught like that in a matter of a few hours. I have goals and a career to pursue. I don't need complications like this. Where could she have gone? Where would she go? Research - she said she was here to do research. I don't even know what kind of research. I don't know what company she works for, I don' t know anything. I have to find her!

My thoughts were interrupted by the insistent ringing of the phone. The machine finally picked up. "Lucy, I know you're there because you're sure as hell not here." The gruff voice of my editor roared over the speaker. "O'Neall, if you're not dead or seriously injured and want to keep working pick up the God damned phone." How could I tell him yes, I was seriously injured - you just couldn't see it because the wounds were all inside, so I crawled to the phone on the end table and answered it. "Where the hell is your interview with the bishop?" "Oops, I forgot all about your fluff piece.", didn't seem like a good answer so I muttered something about becoming dizzy and coming home after the chat with the bishop. "Lucky for you it's filler and I didn't have to have it before yesterday's edition was put to bed or you'd be pounding the pavement looking for another job. Get it done and get it to me by noon or you're done." With a loud click he was gone.

"Okay, I can do this." I thought as I struggled to my feet. I'll just chalk yesterday up to a momentary breakdown, okay, more like an eighteen hour breakdown, but temporary, definitely temporary, no permanent harm done. We'll just pretend the whole thing never happened. Great, now I'm talking to my self in the plural. Well, we'll just pretend the whole day and night didn't happen except the interview with bishop. Yeah, I can work with that! With an only slightly brighter outlook I headed to the shower. Things were looking better as I dressed. I thought about the bishop and the interview and had my piece pretty well written in my head. I fired up my computer and pounded it out in fairly short order. Popped the disk out, slid it into my pocket and was out the door to head uptown to the paper. So far so good I thought. Maybe yesterday was really some wacked out dream last night. Then I noticed I was purposely avoiding the routes that Ellie and I had walked together. Since when do dreams affect my travel cross-town? Never happened before but hey, it was a VIVID wacked out dream. Just pretend it never happened.

My editor, though still irritated by my irresponsible behavior, actually liked my fluff piece. I could tell by his comment that I might actually make a reporter in another 15 or 20 years with a lot of hard work. For this guy it was a supreme compliment. It was a slow news day and I actually had his blessing when I called it a day earlier than usual.

This time as I headed home I found myself re-tracing my steps from yesterday looking every where for Ellie. I got home and began to lean back toward my "It was only a dream" scenario and was half convinced when my eyes fell on the jingle bells and the card. She must have felt something too, she signed the card "Love".

"If it is our destiny" God how I hated that old destiny - fate thing. Okay, I have to find her, but how? I don't know the who, what, where, when, why or even the how. Some reporter I am. What do I know? She works for a guy, "We all call him Uncle Kris"; her name is Gabrielle Elfington, Ellie for short although back home they consider her tall. She loves fruit cake. She leaves Chistmas card notes and jingle bells even though its Easter season and she wears elf boots. Okay, I'm cracking up.

Pondering these few pieces over and over was getting me no where fast. I felt emotionally and physically exhausted. Sitting on the couch, my mind fought desperately to find any fragment I might have forgotten that might help me and all the while I fretted about my innocent, naïve Gabrielle alone in the city. The decent hotels, I knew, would be full now for the Easter weekend. Where was she? Was she safe? "God protect her." I prayed. My silent prayers offered, I dozed off. I awoke early, some what refreshed considering that I had slept sitting up. With the dawn came more thoughts that I must be overlooking something that would help me in my quest. I decided to shower in hopes of eradicating the lingering cobwebs of sleep.

The water pounded my body and stimulated my senses. I began again to turn things over in my mind. Suddenly it hit me, I had accepted the bells as a cute token of thanks, but maybe they could be a clue. I hurried from the shower wrapping my body in a bath sheet as I made for the living room and the bells. With the anticipation of a kid looking in their Easter basket I lifted the bells and started to study them. Anticipation led to disbelief and then despair as I examined them. They were a touch heavier than the kind I remembered as a kid, but other than that - nothing, nada, zip, zilch! No clues, I was heart broken. As I started to lay them on the desk, I felt rather than saw a slight, oh so slight indentation on the shank of one bell. I peered at it closely, then at the other one in the same spot. Aha! A slight indentation in the same area, but to the naked eye nothing more than that. I groped in my desk drawer for a magnifying glass.

With the glass I could barely make out what might be some kind of marking. I tore out the door and down the hall to the apartment of the med. student. Not that I'm the neighborly sort to know that the guy was a med. student, but he asked had asked me out last Halloween, not long after he moved into the building. Pounding on his door, I prayed he had a microscope. He started to yell "Keep your shirt on, I'm c" The words died on his lips as the door swung open and he took in my bath sheet clad visage. I pushed past him through the door, my gaze sweeping his somewhat cluttered living room. "Do you have a microscope?" I asked. His stunned expression evolved into a lecherous smile. "Oh baby, you want to play Dr." I heard him gurgle as he started to salivate. I glared at him and practically shouting I answered "No! I just want to borrow a microscope." He began to mutter under his breath, but went to the desk and reached down behind the overflowing trash can and brought forth a microscope from the floor. A momentary thought drifted through my brain about doctors and cleanliness but it seemed imprudent to voice it since I really needed to borrow the microscope. Microscope in hand, I started to leave, he immediately offered his services to help me focus and aim it. I hurriedly declined and made for my apartment, shutting the door in his solicitous face.

Immediately, I set the scope on the desk and thought back to that college biology class with the pass/fail test on how to set up and focus a scope properly. Soon I had an image under the lens. I thought of the old novelty catalogues that sold The Lord's Prayer engraved on the head of a pin. This had to be that tiny. After carefully adjusting the focus I could make out Jingle & Co. Bells and to my wondering eyes they were located right here in the city just across town.

I dressed quickly, ran a comb through my still damp hair and was on my way to what I hoped would be a solid lead.

It was a non-descript exterior and looked more like some half forgotten antique store should be housed within. Surely not a manufacturer of any sort, but looks can be deceptive. I thought of Ellie's height and I pushed the door open. It was barren on the inside and I began to doubt my lead would be anything more than a waste of time. A little man appeared through some bright colored curtains from a back room. Funny, I didn't notice those when I came through the door. He smiled, it looked a bit quizzical but friendly. "May I help you?" His tone implying he doubted it. "Do you need directions to one of the neighboring businesses?"

Funny attitude for a company that had to have a limited customer base. You'd think he'd be eager to get new customers. Puzzling over this, I reached in my pocket and pulled out the bells. Before I opened my hand, I smiled and switching to reporter mode said I hoped he could help me. I needed some information. With that said, I opened my hand. His gaze was drawn to the balls and he reached for them. Instinct flared and I quickly closed my palm. His eyes revealed concern but otherwise his expression remained neutral.

"Where did you get them?" he asked trying to sound casual. Reporter mode made me ignore his question and pose my own to him. "Did your company manufacture them?"

"Yes" he replied hesitantly. "Please, where did you get them?"

Ignoring his question again, I asked, "Who do you sell them to?"

He looked uncomfortable. If he had been wearing a tie he would have been sticking his fingers in his collar and doing that tugging thing you see guys do on TV when they're nervous. But he wasn't wearing a tie so he started shifting back and forth from one foot to the other. "Uh, er, well."

Getting impatient, I grabbed his shirt and pulled him toward me. Slowly I enunciated my question again, my voice raising in volume with each word. "Who do you sell them to?"

He looked up at me and his eyes now held sheer terror. Suddenly I thought "Maybe I am losing it, maybe I am delusional. Funny farm here I come if this guy doesn't call the cops and have me hauled off to jail first."

I took a deep breath, loosened my grip on his shirt and apologized, hoping he would hear me out before he grabbed the phone and dialed 911. He looked only slightly relieved to be out of my clutches, but still fearful. And why not I thought. He was barely 5'0 tall, looked to be on the far side of sixty and could easily of had gainful employment as a department store elf helping a toy land Santa, if it were Christmas instead of Easter. He's minding his own business when some crazed women storms in acting like one of those Amazons--Eponin, no; Solari, no; Velasca, um; Varia?-- from that TV show; and starts interrogating him about some stupid jingle bells.

"Look, I'm truly sorry" I tried again "You and I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot." It was then that I glanced down and noticed he was wearing the same curly toed style of boots that Ellie was wearing. Another deep breath and I decided to lay my cards on the table. "Okay," I started, "my name is Lucia O'Neall," Funny, I thought, I didn't say Lucy O'Neall, and with that my story poured out, ending with the fact that I knew the bells where from his company. "So, please" I practically begged "who do you sell them to? Do you have a customer by the first name of Kris?"

He looked at me long and hard as if gauging the veracity of my tale. Finally he turned and headed for the curtained doorway. Glancing over his shoulder he said "Well come along but watch your head, you're a tall one."

Ducking through the doorway, my eyes were alight with Christmas bows, wrapping paper, cards and beyond that a room full of toys and off to one side a counter of jingle bells of all sizes and colors. We settled by a funny old pot bellied stove, thankfully it wasn't lit and I wondered how the fire marshal allowed it in this day and age. He pulled out cups and the most fragrant hot chocolate simmering in a happy little teakettle on a hot plate by his chair. He poured the chocolate for us. He was nodding to him self, as if thinking about what he wanted to say before he began to speak. Finally, he took out a pipe, lit it and enjoyed his tobacco for another minute. He exhaled a small plume of smoke before he finally began to speak.

"The two bells you have are very special. They are not sold to any business. They are a special order for a special client. They can never be sold or bought. They very rarely leave the possession of my client or his designated employees. It has only happened a handful of times in the history of our business dealings. Once by theft, once by carelessness of an unworldly employee, once for repayment of kindness, once for love, once by the accidental injury of an employee. The bells are to be used by the employees as a grounding device, to remember their mission and origins while out in the world; as an identifier to other employees, much as companies here use business or ID cards; or, in the case of an emergency, to summon help.

While I found it reassuring that he was talking to me and hadn't called the police, I found my thoughts wandering again to questions about delusions, sanity, nightmares, and weird fantasies involving Jolly old Saint Nick being real. This place was just too much like a southern branch of a North Pole workshop if you could believe the descriptions in the kids stories. On the other hand maybe he put something in my cocoa. Oh great, now I can also worry about drug induced hallucinations. Oh wait, that won't explain anything - this all started way before this guy and the cocoa. Well, that's good for a sigh of relief, no drug induced hallucinations. Hooray! I'm only going crazy not becoming a junkie.

I notice him eyeing me almost as if he's reading my thoughts. He smiles kindly. "You're wondering why you're trapped in some wacky Christmas fantasy when if you were really going crazy it should at least be in conjunction with the current holiday. You should perhaps be experiencing 6 feet tall Easter bunnies and possibly talking Easter eggs." He laughs now. "My friend, you are as sane as any human on the planet. Over time they are more or less sane; some more, some less." He chuckles. "What most people do is grow old - in cynicism, in doubt, in fear. They lose their child like wonder, their generosity of spirit, the love inherent in all God's creatures.

You met Gabrielle and she met you when you were both approaching a crossroads in your lives. For you a time of decision looms. Do you continue this path of self serving, career-building decision-making; with ever growing cynicism towards all around you, the continued erosion of your spirit, the loss of all generosity and potential for love, never again to experience the wonder of life and love. I gasped in horror and in shame as those words struck me to the very core of my being. I sadly recognized a truth in what he was saying. My thoughts drifted, was I too far down that road already. Could I still get the wonder and joy back? Could I still be some one worthy of love?

I realized he was still speaking. "Don't get me wrong here" he was saying "ambition is not a bad thing, a little doubt and cynicism can keep you safe from those who would take advantage. The problem today is people lose balance. They let it get out of hand, they get distracted or they focus too much on one thing like their career and let it edge everything else out. What's the old saying - Moderation is all things. Well its just finding a balance in all parts that make up day to day living, then you can handle a grand passion or burning desire in stride."

He finished his cocoa, put away his pipe and rose from his chair. I was being dismissed. I had much to ponder but he couldn't send me away now. He had to tell me how I could find Ellie.

Again he looked me in the eye and as if he had read my thoughts, he said "I can't help you find her. If it is your destiny, you will meet again."

"Please," I begged, "can't you tell me more about her even if you can't help me find her. What was her cross roads, her decision to make?"

He looked at me thoughtfully. "Not all who live at the Pole or work for Kris are elves. Didn't you notice she was to tall to be an elf?" I looked at him, his eyes were twinkling like twin stars.

I swear she was barely 5'0 when I first saw her, just like you. He waited for me to continue. It was like she grew four inches over the day and evening.

"Away from the Pole she would revert to her natural height" he stated matter of factly.

Next you'll tell me she's really sixty-five and came here to check out retirement apartments, I said half laughing to keep from crying.

"No her age is as it appears, just a few years younger than you. She was sent because it was time for her to see the world, to help her decide if she wanted to rejoin it as an adult. Some who are raised at the Pole find it too difficult a transition and choose to remain there. Others find love or seek the adventure of living here. They may choose to re-locate and stay in the world as an employee monitoring current trends around the world in toys, wrapping paper, cards, ribbons, candy, candles and decorations. They even monitor the other holidays like Easter to keep data fresh for the workshops. Or they can seek their own way in the world. The bells are their connection to Uncle Kris. They are never given to a Worlder by a Polite lightly and to receive two - I've never heard of that happening before. There is nothing more I can add. You must choose your path." With those words I found myself outside.

On Easter, I found myself at the park watching the big egg hunt. Maybe it was my conversation with Jingle Bill the bell maker or maybe it was a renewed desire to be around fellow "worlders" or maybe I just didn't want to face the four walls of my apartment on another holiday but I knew I had to be there. I was making a choice not to allow cynicism and career to consume my life. I only hoped it wasn't too late to recapture the wonder. So here I was in this vast park on Easter morning watching tots scamper about excitedly. Shouts of "I found one! I found one!" trickled into my thoughts and I felt my mouth turn upward into a smile. Not one of those fake things I used from time to time when I thought a subject I was interviewing needed one. No this was an honest to goodness, natural, unplanned, spontaneous smile.

Maybe there's still hope for me yet...

Well it's been nearly seven months since Easter, I've really tried to lose that hard bitten bitch I was becoming. My editor says I may actually become a "good" reporter and it should only take another eight to ten years. I guess he's noticed a change in me. The med. student down the hall and I are building a friendship, we talk about current events and life in general. I think that's a good start especially after what he says I did to him showing up at his door in that towel. It took him a couple of days to wrap his head back around his studies and he almost blew an exam. I was sorry about that, but it was kinda nice to know I was attractive enough to have the effect on him.

Hey Santa, I'm trying really hard here. Maybe you could give me a little sign if I'm heading in the right direction here...

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I'm heading down to the homeless shelter to help serve dinner. It's a first for me to do the volunteer thing but I'm finding bits of joy floating in and out of my life with these new experiences and new friends in unexpected places.

I still wonder about Ellie and wonder what she's doing. Especially with the beginning of the "official" Christmas season but I now realize it isn't just a time of year. Bill the bell maker was right about finding the balance in our lives. The joy and wonder do exist year round if we balance life desires and goals with love and generosity and step out of the fear, doubt and cynicism.

Well, it's almost Christmas, just three days away. Easter seems so long ago probably because I miss Ellie so much. I hope she's happy wherever she is. Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been all sweetness and light and good sportsmanship since my conversation with Bill the bell maker. Far from it, I've had my cursing bouts of why did I ever meet her if I was never going to see her again. Why the hell did she drop into my life. You can probably guess the usual and possibly some of the more creative rants and raves. But all in all I wouldn't change the last few months and I'm glad I met her. My life is on a different path and I think it's going to be a better path. I don't know if it could have happened if I hadn't met her. The focus of my reporting is different. I no longer try to make a big name for myself by trying to match the sensationalism of the other reporters. I find I'm content to try and write the stories so they touch the reader and hopefully make them want to help change something for the better. Before you raise your eyebrows and say "Hey, whatever happened to objective reporting." Let me just point out I wasn't interested in being objective before and truth be told no reporter can ever be totally objective. Our stories are always colored by the choice of this word over that; a phrase, worded pro or con to the subject of the story. Facing that fact, I have tried to be objective, fair and balanced in my reporting but since I am only human, I hope my stories do touch readers and affect them in a way that improves life, rather than feeding further sensationalism, negativity and cynicism.

I'm on my way to interview the bishop again. It's another fluff piece but I don't mind this time. It's been a rough year for the church and I figure they've been bludgeoned enough by reporters. Not that I'm defending them, far from it but I'm trying to be balanced and I figure there's a whole lot getting hit with mud that belongs to a select few. Anyway, I hope it's a small percentage in such a large organization. Probably one of the reasons I've never had much use for organized religion when it gets that big, too many places to hide the problems.

Anyway back to the fluff. It's about Christmas celebrations but maybe I can throw in a point or two about all the good their charities do. After all it's easy to lose sight of the good when all the focus is on the bad. To be a bit more cliché - Lets not throw the baby out with the bath water in our zeal to clean things up.

I'm strolling down the street enjoying the Christmas lights. My story is rolling around taking form in my head. I slip my hand into my pocket and probably for the ten thousandth time since Easter, I roll my jingle bells between my fingers. A smile comes to my face as a vision of Ellie dances in my mind's eye. I'm almost to the little bakery where she tried to buy fruitcake at Easter. Maybe I'll stop and see if they have any since it's practically Christmas. As I swing round the door frame of the bakery I crash into someone knocking parcels to the floor. I'm apologizing as I bend to retrieve what I knocked to the ground. Our heads bump as she reaches at the same time. I look into green eyes.

Ellie! My mind is flooded with thoughts. "How long has she been here? Is she staying? If so why hasn't she contacted me?" Doubt begins to creep in and with it fear. "She didn't really mean it, she hasn't contacted me because she didn't want to. What a smuck I've been, these last months carrying a torch for someone that doesn't want to see me." I'm on the verge of escaping out the door and she can see it in my eyes. She grabs my hand and says "Wait, please." Fear wars with love and I almost bolt but I have to know where I stand with her. She gathers her things, takes my hand and leads me outside.

"Are you on your way home?" she asks. "Yes" - I manage to get out. From the number of parcels she has I guess she's been shopping for a while. I muster my courage and ask "What about you, are you on your way home too?" She gazes at me and whispers "Yes, I hope so." Obviously eight months is not enough time to completely eradicate doubt and control fear. What does that mean, I want to ask but instead I say "Do you have a nice place?"

"Well I hope to" she says "but you know home isn't necessarily a place, to me its being with those you love and those who love you." "Oh" is my brilliant reply, amazing how a person who earns their livelihood from the usage of an extensive vocabulary can be so pathetically non-communicative.

It crosses my mind that she could still be a Polite just down getting a few things before the big day up north. I may have jumped the gun thinking she was living in the city. I'm even more confused about my feelings. Do Polites have last minute Christmas shopping trips? What do they give Uncle Kris for Christmas? Do they even exchange gifts? Oh God, it's happening again, I'm losing my ability to think clearly, my mind is scattering in a dozen directions. Deep breath. Deep breath. Okay, that's better.

"Um, Ellie where exactly do you live these days?" Earnest green eyes look up into mine and she whispers "I thought I'd stay with you, my Lucia."

"Home is with those you love," she had said.

Welcome home, my love, my Gabrielle.


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