Liam once approved of helping others, but not anymore. He lost his mother due to a crazed street person, and he's hardened his heart. Now a successful photographer, he’s returned to set up shop in his hometown--directly across the courtyard from his sister’s best friend. Zoe runs an outreach center and encourages the homeless and needy, especially at Christmas. Nursing a soft spot for Liam that started as a girlhood crush, she sets out to help him by creating her unique brand of encouragement cards. Her hope is to reignite the fire and love for Christmas and God, which Liam once had. The cards and ornaments countdown to Christmas, but what if Liam doesn’t want to be one of Zoe’s projects? What happens when her crush grows into something more? What if they both receive more than expected?
15 years ago
Her heart did a flip-flop at the sound of his deep voice. They’d never be in the same school again. Next year he’d go to high school at the same time she and Meredith advanced to middle school.
“Let her be, Liam.” Meredith hit her brother on the shoulder. “So what if she says the word without the beginning letters? I want to always be a little girl at heart.”
Zoe reached for Meredith’s hand. “That man on the bench. He’s sad. He’s cold and alone. I want to make a Christmas card to ‘courage him.”
“OK, squirt.” Liam circled her tender earlobe, freshly pierced. “I got it. You want to encourage the man to make him feel better.”
“Right. Could you ask your mom to take us to the craft store on the way home so Meredith and I can make a card tonight? Let’s look for him next week after the movie.”
That night the girls sat at Zoe’s kitchen table, now covered with scrapbooking materials. “Meredith, since Mom works at the hospital on Saturdays, I’m glad your mom drives us. Do you think Liam will walk us girls around a couple blocks by the theater? I’ll pray first on Friday night.”
“I’ll pray too. I want to give this card I’m making to just the right person.”
Zoe worked her tongue while she cut silver paper. “Did you see the face of the man on the bench today?”
“I did. He made me think of Santa Claus.” Meredith swung her heavy, long braid over her shoulder.
“It shouldn’t be hard to find him with that white beard. I want this card to go to him. I wish I was older and had a job so I could buy him a big blanket to keep him warm.” Zoe handed the scissors to Meredith.
“You look for him. I want to look for a raggedy woman. Maybe even someone who has a place to sleep at night, but looks lonely and lost. God will show me if a sad lady needs Christmas cheer from my card all decorated like a beautiful tree.”
Three weeks later, the girls waited inside the lobby for Liam. He and his friends had met for a sci fi movie, yet to end. Meredith bopped to a tune plugged into her ear.
Outside the theater, the girls held hands, Liam walking behind so it didn’t appear as though they were together.
A homeless man pushed off the wall of the building and into their path. “You girls are angels.”
Liam’s shoes slapped on the sidewalk as he ran to catch up. He placed a hand on each of their shoulders, preventing them from getting too close to the man.
Zoe smiled at the man who wore a light jacket over a frayed, hooded sweatshirt that looked more gray than black. “We’re not angels, we’re ‘couragers.”
“I like that better. It takes courage to approach a reprobate like me. I’m not gonna hurt them, laddy. You girls encouraged me last week by that beautiful gold angel card. Prettiest thing my hands have held in a long, long time. You gave me hope, so much I’m gonna clean up and find a church Christmas Eve.” He gave a slight bow and moved aside.
The kids didn’t say a word as they walked the two blocks to the SUV.
Liam clamored into the front.
Zoe waited to open the door. “Meredith, let’s always remember each other at Christmastime.”
“Why would we forget? We’re best friends forever. How could we forget each other?”
“I don’t know.” She braved a look at Liam through the window, where he slouched in the seat, drumming his fingers on his knee. “He always keeps us safe when we walk downtown.” I’ll never forget Liam, either.
Zoe would have liked nothing more than to catch up with Liam as he strode down the street. At the moment, she was more thrilled over reconnecting with Meredith. Questions for him would have to wait. He was headed in the direction of the Haymarket. Could his studio be there? If so, he wouldn’t be too hard to find.
As far as that went, she could ask Meredith about her brother. They continued to text and finally agreed to talk later that night, since Meredith needed to get back to her office. Zoe fired off one more text message. How did your bro lose the spirit of Christmas?
When Mom died.
Maybe it was a good thing Zoe hadn’t asked Liam about his mother. As children, neither Meredith nor Liam talked about the absent Gorgeous father.
Instead of heading to Agape Wear, Zoe scurried to her car and turned southeast to the craft store. Her mind was full of Liam, as memories spun to her girlhood times with Meredith. He was in the background as they made the Christmas cards at Meredith’s home. He had fun teasing Zoe as much as his sister, never in a mean way.
Liam had obeyed his mother and escorted, rather trailed behind a few feet, as the girls sought just the right person to hand their cards to. Sometimes they later cried over the joy they’d brought to a recipient.
Zoe experienced much the same fulfillment now, helping the helpless. She’d learned not every directionless man on the streets was a drug user, lazy, or mentally ill. They were often victims who’d never connected with the right advocate and availed themselves of the aid available.
The faces of the homeless stretched far beyond the men who slept on vacant benches or under bridges. The women and children who had frequented Agape Wear shared awful stories. They were in trouble due to loss of homes because of fire or abandonment. Many dependent children of a father who was the main bread winner lost their security when the man’s job didn’t pan out. Other honest families went broke due to lack of insurance to cover medical bills. Then there were the women who had to start over because of abuse.
Help was available for everyone if they had the right advocate or avenues.
Zoe didn’t want to contemplate the effect drug users had on families. She knew what heartache addiction caused. When it came to loss of livelihood due to that affliction, she identified with many of the people she encountered on a daily basis.
Tears threatened at the way the Lord saved her from her weak self. She still worked on being deserving of her financial status. “Thank You, Abba Father, for the desire to pass on what I can, without hurting another’s sense of self.”
She arrived at the craft store, ready to spend some of that money on craft items to lift another’s spirit.
What had happened to make Liam so serious his eyes lacked luster and his face looked as if it would crack if he smiled? If anyone needed ‘couragement, it was Liam.
Let the Christmas countdown begin.
Christian romance author LoRee Peery attempts to see God’s presence every day. Often that gift comes from nature, when the call of a cardinal draws her to look for the distinctive flash of crimson. A meadowlark’s melody always transports her to the farm where she grew up. A rainbow holds special significance, since one appeared over her father’s grave the day of his funeral, assuring her of the Lord’s presence. She clings to I John 5:4 and prays her blended family and dozen grandchildren see that faith. Find LoRee at www.loreepeery.com or on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/kafhkcc
My favorite part of Christmas is the music.