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IN SEARCH OF CHRISTMAS PAST
BY LEEANN BETTS
Grace Bellows, a senior in college, receives a Christmas card one month after her grandmother’s death, where her beloved Grammie challenges her to an old-fashioned scavenger hunt. Raised by her grandmother after her parents’ death in a car accident when she was eight, Grace has lived a jetsetter lifestyle with her wealthy grandmother. Now all she wants is to settle down and have a normal life.
Luke Fisher manages his family’s Christmas tree farm out of a sense of loyalty to his deceased mother because she gave up her dreams of being an attorney. He doesn’t want to live with any regrets, and longs to escape the confines of loyalty to live a life of adventure in the real world.
Can Grace and Luke solve the clues in her grandmother’s scavenger hunt and uncover the truth about their real feelings, or will the tension and their differences in goals and faith drive them apart?
Grace Bellows jammed the single sheet of paper back into its envelope for the umpteenth time in the past hour. Did she really want to go any further with this project? No siree. She wanted a quiet life, a family, stability. Not some bizarre scavenger hunt directed by her quirky grandmother.
And for sure not a week in freezing cold Colorado over Christmas break.
Not for Grace Bellows.
She wanted a beach, sand and surf, cute guys. A chance to strut her stuff.
The linen notepaper called to her once more. Grace pictured her grandmother sitting at her antique roll top desk, scribbling out the poem. Sunlight filtered through the window, kissing her head of white hair, creating the impression of a halo.
But Grammie was no angel.
Grace sighed. At first read, the poem made little sense. Yet the older woman took the trouble to pen the note and ditty three days before she died. Three weeks ago yesterday, to be exact. Grace dropped the paper onto the sofa cushion. Had Grammie known her days were so few? She hadn’t said anything. She didn’t suggest Grace visit. She seemed satisfied with the weekly phone calls from college. No premonitions about the afterlife, whatever that was.
As much as she wanted to ignore the poem and focus on her studies, something gnawed at Grace until she unfolded the paper. The scrawling cursive brought to mind birthday cards and gift tags from years past.
Take this trip and you will see,
How much fun this hunt can be.
A garden full of Christmas trees
One special bough, think of the seas.
What at first may seem lost,
Can be found, but it will cost.
Collect your prize and you will find
A precious gift of a different kind.
What the— Grammie was serious about this being a scavenger hunt, just like when Grace was a kid. Didn’t matter where they were, Grammie hid notes and clues and presents for Grace to find.
“Gracie,” she’d say, “the best gifts are hidden until we’re ready to go looking for them. Just like Jesus.”
Grace picked up the second slip—a one-way plane ticket to Denver, Colorado. Her hands shook. Great. Of all the places Grammie would ask her to go, Denver wasn’t on Grace’s list of preferred locations. That’s where they spent Christmases following her parents’ deaths—and where Grace swore she’d never return once she went to college, once she had a choice. And now Grammie was trying to force her back to the past, to remind her of all she’d lost. Grace tossed the paper aside. No. She wouldn’t go. She couldn’t.
A memory flickered across her mind, the last time she saw her grandmother. Thanksgiving in Miami. They sat together in the living room of Grammie’s home while the old woman read aloud from her Bible and Grace tried to block out the words, told her she was wasting her time, but her grandmother wouldn’t listen. She rarely did. She read the story about the woman who lost a coin. When she found the money, she called all her friends and threw a party.
Her grandmother explained that everybody was like the lost coin. And God was looking for every single person.
Well, no matter how hard God looked, He wasn’t going to find Grace. She wasn’t lost. She and God simply had a difference of opinion regarding what love was. Letting her parents die in an accident when she was eight wasn’t her idea of love. Fourteen years of no parents hadn’t been a picnic.
Her roommate Jenna flounced into the room and tossed a backpack onto the floor before curling up in the oversized beanbag chair, her blue eyes framed in dark makeup. She glanced at the letter in Grace’s hand then peered at Grace over the tops of her cat’s-eye glasses. “This is almost like her last will and testament. You know you’re going.”
Grace shook her head. “Not. Got too much to do.”
Jenna crossed her pudgy arms, showing off the flower tattoos encircling both wrists. “Semester break’s in two days. You can go and be back before school starts again.”
“Can’t. Got a term paper due.”
“You never wait until the last minute. You’ve already done that paper. Besides, I saw you ogling those cruise brochures. If you don’t go to Colorado, you’re going to Florida.” She picked up the poem and the ticket. “If you don’t go, I will.”
Jenna might be Goth and dark, but she was always up to a challenge. And tempting as her friend’s offer might have been, that was not the answer. Grace could never say “No” to her grandmother. She stood. “Fine. I’ll go. I won’t have any fun, and I’m definitely not going anywhere but this one trip. I don’t care if there are a dozen more envelopes hidden somewhere.” She waggled a finger at Jenna. “And just so you know, I’m only doing this to get you off my back.”
Two days later, Grace arrived at Denver International Airport. The facility hadn’t changed much since her previous visit three years earlier. Some of the stores were different, but the hurrying and scurrying of passengers was the same. She caught a shuttle to a hotel nearby, checked in, and unpacked. Lounging in her jammies, she logged on to the internet, searching for the special bough mentioned in the poem.
A half-hour later, and Grace knew where her grandmother was leading her: a tree nursery. Her grandparents owned a house they liked to call a cabin in Evergreen, and the tree farm was about three miles down the road. Every Christmas, she and her grandparents spent hours at the nursery selecting the perfect tree. And every year, her grandfather threatened to pack a lunch, saying a man could starve to death while his two girls argued over which one to bring home.
Her eyes misted at the memory of the dear old man, dead now these six years. If he’d lived, maybe things would have been different between her and her grandmother.
At the time, the perfect tree served as the only subject of any disagreement between her and her grandmother, but that was before Steve. As protective as a she-bear, Grammie insisted Steve was not the right man for her. That he couldn’t offer her the life her Grace was accustomed to. That he was never going to be more than an enlisted man.
What difference did all that make if they had love? And Grace had more money than she knew what to do with. Money wasn’t everything. In fact, money only made life comfortable. All her bank accounts couldn’t fill the empty spot in her heart, or give her a husband to love and children to raise.
Grace shook off bad memories and decided to hit the sack. According to the front desk clerk, her grandmother arranged not only her travel and accommodations, but also a car which would be delivered to the hotel the next morning.
Despite her luxurious surroundings, sleep didn’t come immediately. Memories of the years with her grandmother swirled through her head as Grace tried to unravel her Grammie’s motive in sending her on this hunt. Because despite the wackiness of the mission, she was certain her grandmother had a reason. She always did.
Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense, and has released six titles in her cozy mystery series, By the Numbers, with Petty Cash releasing in December. In addition, Leeann has written a devotional for accountants, bookkeepers, and financial folk, Counting the Days, and with her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, has published a book on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold, a compilation of essays, articles, and exercises on the craft.
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