A Christmas Wish

Chapter One

Roy Gibbons stirred the pot of oatmeal on the woodstove while doing his best to ignore the state of his kitchen.

“Papa, it shouldn’t look like that.” Eight-year-old Elisbet glared at him. “I can’t wait until our Christmas mama gets here.”

If Janie were here, everything would be in the cupboards where it belonged, not shoved into nooks and crannies. He never thought he’d be making breakfast for his daughters, much less trying to keep their frocks clean and pressed. He missed his wife more and more every day. Roy didn’t know how she’d made his home run so smoothly. Not once had he needed to worry about how to get tomato stains off his shirt or when to cut his hair. She’d say in her musical voice, “It’s time, sit down and let me trim that head, Roy.”

When Elisbet asked him for a mother for Christmas, he’d said yes, thinking it couldn’t be that hard to find one.

“Papa, do you think Becky will have sugar cookies at her party?” Frances, his youngest and his shadow, tugged his pant leg.

“Franny, she’s going to have cake. That’s what you have at a birthday party, right, Papa?” Elisbet never had trouble correcting her younger sister.

“But I like sugar cookies.” Frances tugged again. “Can we make cookies when we come home? Mama makes the best kind.”

“Mama made not makes. She’s in heaven. Remember?” Elisbet patted her sister’s shoulder. “When our Christmas mama comes, she’ll make cookies with us.”

“Stop telling her that, ElisbetIt’s not that easy to get a mother. You can’t wish for a mother and I can’t order one from the catalog.“ He slid the pot from the burner, his little shadow still clinging to his leg as he moved. “Sit down, girls, and I’ll fill your bowls.” Roy was still stinging from Widow Percy’s rejection. She’d have been a perfect fill-in for his deceased wife. Seemed logical—she didn’t have a father for her boys, and his girls didn’t have a mother. When he suggested they marry for the common good of their families, she’d done all but slap his face.

Trouble was, he hadn’t lived here long enough to know people. Maybe he’d made a mistake moving here after Janie died. If he’d stayed in Collinsville, he’d have a mother for the girls by now. The whole reason he’d left was because too many young hopefuls were knocking on the door with some treat and mooning over him and the girls. At the time, he didn’t want another wife. No one could fill Janie’s shoes, and these women would be expecting to have children of their own. He couldn’t face that, not after losing Janie and the baby. No, he didn’t need a companion. Just someone to take care of his house and his family.

He scooped up the oatmeal and plopped a lump in each girl’s bowl.

He sat at the head of the table, a daughter on either side of him, and pushed back the hurt that came from seeing Janie’s chair at the other end. The house was different, but the spot across the table was as empty as if he hadn’t left Collinsville. “Grace, then food.” He watched until little hands were folded and heads bowed, then said the prayer followed by an “Amen.”

Frances stuck her fingers on the inside of her bowl to pull it closer. “Hot!” The bowl went spinning from the table to her lap and then crashed to the floor. She wailed.

“Are you all right? Are your fingers burned?“ Roy sprung from his chair and pulled his daughter from hers. He grabbed her hands and flipped them palm up. They weren’t red. Relieved to avoid a crisis, he planted a kiss on her fingertips the way he’d seen Janie do so many times.

“My dress,” Frances whimpered. “It’s dirty. I don’t have another one for the party.”

“Shh, Frances, stop crying. Your fingers look fine, and no one will notice your dress.” Kneeling, he reached under the table for the offending bowl and spoon that had spoiled Frances’s morning.

“If we had a mama, this wouldn’t have happened, Papa.” Elisbet already held a wet rag in her hand. She dabbed at her sister’s dress. “It’s only a little bit of oatmeal. Look, Franny. See? I got it off.”

It bothered him that Elisbet tried to be like Janie, and he had no idea how to prevent it.

“But it’s my favorite and it’s. . .“ Frances hiccupped. “Wet!”