“Is Daddy coming home for Christmas?” Sarah stared out the living room window at a single snowflake. Fluffy as a down feather, it danced and bobbed in the air.
“He wants to, baby, but Afghanistan is thousands of miles from Rhodes End.” When her Mom gave her a quick hug her tummy was a warm mound under Sarah’s cheek. Yesterday she’d felt her baby brother kick. Sarah swallowed a hiccup and turned her head so Mom didn’t see her tears. Mom cried sometimes, too, but thought Sarah didn’t know. She was a strong soldier like her Dad.
“What if we make a wish? Will that help?” She bounced on her toes. If she could catch the first snowflake, her wish would come true.
“A wish can’t hurt.” Mom ruffled her hair and patted her lightly on the shoulder.
“Then I’d better hurry. Tonight is Christmas Eve.” Sarah raced to put on her red winter coat, knit mittens and boots.
The door slammed behind her as she searched the yard. The feathery flake hung near the edge of the woods. Sarah laughed as she ran after it.
The thick grey clouds promised another white Christmas. The holiday was always special here. Tonight the townspeople would sing carols on the Green and there would be a living manger with cows and a burro. Mr. Dickens dressed as one of the Magi and paraded three Llamas to greet the baby Jesus.
The snowflake waited for her. Sarah cupped her hands under the delicate shape. A sunbeam glittered blindingly and she blinked. The snowflake was gone. On her palm sat a winged fairy.
“Oh no,” Sarah wailed. “I must make a wish on the first snowflake. Who are you?”
“My name is Noel, and I’m a Christmas fairy. What do you wish for?” She tilted her head to study Sarah’s face. Gossamer wings fluttered as she crossed her legs.
“My Dad promised to come home for Christmas, but he’s at the other side of the world. Mom said it’s too far, but that a wish might help.”
“Your Mom sounds nice. Does she believe in magic?”
“I don’t think so. She said if wishes were horses then beggars would ride, but I don’t know what that means. Should I ask her?”
“Grown-ups don’t understand magic. Instead, you can take me inside and I’ll watch her.”
“But what about my wish?” Sarah wailed.
Noel didn’t answer. Shimmering, she changed before Sarah’s eyes into a lovely winged doll dressed in white lace.
“Mom! Mom! Look! I found her in the yard.” Sarah shouted. The front door slammed again. “Her name is Noel.”
Mom lifted the doll from Sarah’s grasp. “She’s beautiful. And you already named her? I hope she’d not lost. Someone must miss her very much. She looks like one of those angels used as a Christmas tree topper.”
“I don’t think she’s lost, Mom. Can we take her with us to the carol sing?”
Mom crouched in front of Sarah, Noel between them. “Don’t be surprised if she is lost and someone recognizes her. The whole town will be there.”
Sarah pouted. “Not everyone. Daddy won’t.”
“Oh, Sarah, You know how much he misses us and wants to be home.” Mom stood and pressed her hands to her lower back. Noel’s dress fluttered as if a breeze caught her skirts. Mom turned and stared outside. While they talked an inch of snow had covered the yard. “I wish he could see this.”
“If we wish hard enough, he will.” Sarah took her Mom’s hand and tugged her toward the kitchen. She cradled Noel to her chest with her free arm. “I’ll help pack the cookies for the church social.”
Mom laughed. “I’m already done. All we need to do is dress warmly. By the way its mounting that snow will have the roads closed for Christmas morning.”
Sarah wrapped Noel in a thick baby blanket she kept for her other dolls. She whispered, “Are you cold?” Noel’s blue eyes twinkled and Sarah accepted that as an answer she was okay.
Her Mom slid the driver’s seat all the way back after helping Sarah buckle in. She arranged the cookie containers on the floor so they wouldn’t tip if she had to stop fast.
“Tell me again about the new baby, Mom. Will he come tonight?”
“I hope not,” Mom said and laughed as she backed the car onto the road and turned toward the church. Sarah pressed her nose to the cold glass, her breathe clouding the surface. A kazillion bright lights decorated every house, changing Rhodes End into a glittering fairyland.
“Look, look, there’s the stable,” Sarah pointed at the clumsy structure the CCD class had erected to house the cow and burro during tonight’s Christmas play. The manger and straw bales were dimly lit by an old kerosene lantern. One of the robe-garbed wise men led a harnessed llama past.
A number of cars crowded the streets and parking lots between the Catholic Church and the Congregational Church bracketing the town Green. Hundreds of villagers crowded the Green. Laughter rang like bells and children shrieked with excitement as they scrambled to hit each other with snowballs.
The church elders had arranged a bonfire. A table manned by white-haired old ladies dispensed hot cider. At exactly six o’clock both churches rang their bells and everyone cheered. They gathered in front of the Congregational church steps as the choir director handed out music copies to anyone who didn’t already know the words.
Mom rejoined Sarah after taking the cookies inside. Her hands were cold and she rubbed her back as if it hurt. Everyone sang the old Carols and a few seasonal hymns. Mr. Schmidt led a Hanukkah song. Like every year, the youth group performed the Christmas Story with live animals.
“I wish Daddy could see this,” Sarah whispered as she hugged Noel tight.
“Maybe he will,” Noel’s voice tinkled in her ear.
Mom groaned. Her hand squeezed too tightly and Sarah glanced up at her pale face.
“Looks like your brother might be a Christmas baby after all.” Mom glanced around. “Could you bring Dr. White over here? Tell him my water broke.”
Sarah knew better than to ask questions when Mom sounded like that.
A few minutes later Doc bent close to ask a question, but Mom sank to her knees.
“Too fast,” she cried. “He’s coming too fast.”
Doc called directions and people swirled in a whirlwind of activity around Mom. Sarah couldn’t see. Then Mom laughed. The crowd parted and Sarah saw her naked baby brother cuddled to Mom’s chest. She dropped Noel to hand Mom the fluffy blanket as a gust of snow blew across the Green.
A state plow slowed to a halt and a soldier leaped down.
“Daddy?” Sarah whispered.
“I can’t explain why my squad all got leave.” He explained. “And then a military transport flew right into Harford. It was like my wishes came true.” He gathered them into his arms and Sarah looked for Noel, but saw only a new angel atop the tree.