Are you in the mood to start reading Christmas stories? If so, I hope you’ve preordered your copy of Amish Christmas Miracles from Barnes & Noble or Amazon for only 99 cents. It’ll be out on November 10.
While you’re waiting, why not try this anthology that includes two of the authors from Amish Christmas Miracles, Loree Lough and Rachel Good, along with Shelley Shepard Gray? Enjoy three Christmas stories about Christmas blessings involving twins.
Here’s a sneak peek at my story, “New Beginnings,” in Amish Christmas Twins to get you into the holiday spirit:
“Jingle bells, jingle bells,” the shop owner sang at the top of her lungs as Elizabeth Yoder leaned against the door of Yolanda’s Christmas Year ’Round Shop to push it open.
Speakers around her blasted, “Jingle all the way,” and the string of sleigh bells on the knob jangled along. Cinnamon potpourri simmered in a pot near the register, and the aroma of pine garlands perfumed the air.
“Wait, let me get that for you.” Yolanda dashed over. She yanked the second glass door wide enough so Elizabeth could maneuver through the opening with a large box.
“This was outside the door.” Swirling snow flurries trailed Elizabeth into the store.
“Merry Christmas,” Yolanda trilled. With her Santa hat tilted at a rakish angle and her round face and red cheeks, she resembled the Santa figurines scattered around the store.
Fake Christmas trees adorned every corner, their lights blinking. They pulsed off and on the way Elizabeth’s head did from the loud Christmas carols. A tight band inside her temples tightened and throbbed, and her eyes stung. The closer the calendar inched to December 25, the harder it became to feign Christmas cheer.
“I’m so glad you’re here early.” Yolanda bounced back to the cash register. “In addition to that box, we have several new shipments and more coming later. You’re going to love our new manger sets.”
Yolanda’s enthusiasm should have been contagious. Elizabeth did prefer the nativity scenes to all the Santa kitsch, but anything Christmas-related reminded her of all she’d lost.
“Can you unpack that box and the others in the stockroom? You’ll need to price the items. I have all the costs listed on the clipboard,” Yolanda called. “I’ll let you know if I get too busy out here.”
Elizabeth set the box in the back room, hung her coat on a peg, and smoothed her black dress and apron. Then she grabbed the box-cutters and slit open the carton she’d carried in. Pure white tree ornaments sparkling with glitter nestled in layers of cardboard dividers. She carried the box and a price gun to one of the undecorated fake evergreens.
After each methodical click of the gun, she dangled another ornament from an empty branch. She stood back, searching for bare spots, and squinted to be sure she’d dotted them artistically around the tree. Then she lifted the packing cardboard, exposing the final layer of ornaments.
A tiny house, a reindeer, a sleigh, an angel. She reached into the box for one of the last three ornaments and pulled out . . . a sleeping baby.
Neh. Squeezing her eyes shut, she traced the indented lines of the miniature toes and fingers, the rounded bottom sticking up in the air, the soft curve of the back, the curls on the baby’s head. Elizabeth stopped before she stroked the tiny eyelashes spread on the cheek.
Why did this time of year have to be so cruel?
Luke Bontrager whistled as he tied his buggy outside the Christmas Year ’Round Shop. He’d promised Yolanda he’d drop off these nativity sets before she opened today. He’d hoped to get here sooner, but patches of black ice made the roads treacherous. Grateful for his horse’s steadiness, he’d skirted two fender-benders, whose owners chattered on—or screamed into—their cell phones.
Grateful he’d made it safely, he secured his horse to the hitching post. He lifted the first box from the front seat and strode toward the door. His boots slid in the light dusting of snow on the sidewalk. He caught himself before he and the nativity set ended up on the pavement. Yolanda needed to clear that icy spot before they opened. Maybe he could do it for her before he headed down the street to his woodworking shop.
He tapped at the door with a corner of the heavy box. Yolanda stood at the cash register, singing her heart out.
The words penetrated the glass. “Hark, the herald angels sing . . .”
Nice to see someone so joyous on this overcast day. She caught sight of him through the glass and hurried over to open the door. He stomped his boots on the large green mat before stepping onto the polished wooden floors.
“I brought the nativity sets you requested. Where would you like me to put them?”
“If you take them back to the stockroom”—Yolanda waved vaguely toward the back of the store—“Elizabeth can price them.”
Elizabeth. Luke’s pulse picked up its pace. He’d hoped she’d be working. In fact, during his whole trip to town, he’d daydreamed about seeing her.
Despite his eagerness to spend time with her, his steps slowed when he reached the stockroom entrance. The door had been propped open with a box. He edged around it, but Elizabeth’s bowed head arrested his attention. His heart went out to her. The Christmas season had to be painful.
Her eyes were closed as her fingers smoothed over all the curves and crevices of a small ornament.
Luke didn’t want to startle her, but he needed to get to work. He stepped back from the doorway as silently as he could and retreated partway down the hall. Then he clomped toward the stockroom door, making sure each footfall resounded.
This time, when he got to the threshold, Elizabeth was staring in his direction. Her eyes sparkled with tears. She reminded him of an angel, one who had borne a heavy weight of sorrow.
Her voice, soft and breathy, grabbed him in the gut and twisted his insides hard. All the old pain of desiring her from afar, but watching her marry someone else, came flooding back.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve brought the nativity sets Yolanda ordered.” He carried the carton over to the work bench. “Where do you want me to put them? I have five more sets in the buggy.”
His heart thundered as she moved closer. She stopped a moment, and sadness shuttered her eyes. Luke wished he could comfort her.
She gazed down at the glittering ornament she’d clutched so tightly in her hand that it left red ridges. The one she’d been caressing when he’d peeked in the door. Something about it must have touched her.
“Let me just move this box.” Elizabeth motioned to the carton beside her with one hand. “Then you can put your nativity set here.”
She nestled the ornament back in the box with such tenderness, Luke’s heart ached. Curious to see what she’d lavished so much care on, he leaned over. A tiny glittery baby.
She lifted the almost-empty cardboard box to make room for his carton.
Luke cast about for something to say. Something to distract his mind from thoughts of holding her. “That tree looks nice.”
“Danke,” she said without much enthusiasm. “Once all the ornaments are on, I’ll have to carry it out to the store. I’m not sure where we’ll find room for one more tree. We have so many already.”
“Maybe you won’t have room for another nativity set either.”
“Neh, that’s not a problem. Yolanda told me to clear a space for it.” She attempted a smile. “Besides, it’ll be great to move some Santa stuff to make a place for the real meaning of Christmas.”
“True. I’m guessing many of your customers don’t even know or care that we’re celebrating the Savior’s birth.”
Elizabeth didn’t answer. Instead, she stared into the box, her eyes open with wonder. She reached in and pulled out Mary.
Luke loved how her face glowed as she studied the carving.
She set the figure down and pulled out a camel and a wise man. “These are beautiful. I love the roughness of the wood.”
She ran her hands over what Yolanda had assured Luke was a primitive style sure to attract the eye of some of their upscale customers. It seemed they also appealed to Elizabeth.
“They’re rugged, yet each one captures real emotion. Did someone in your shop carve them?” She glanced up at him expectantly.
Luke shuffled his feet. “Jah. I did.”
He didn’t like taking credit for this work. He sold cabinets and furniture in his shop, but he’d always kept this other talent hidden.
He’d started carving to alleviate his sorrow when his best friend, Owen, started courting Elizabeth. The roughness, the primitiveness of each figure he’d chiseled revealed his raw emotions.
If Yolanda hadn’t surprised him in the back of his shop last spring, none of his carvings would ever have been public. She’d begged him to make nativity sets for her store. Luke had demurred, but she’d insisted. To be honest, the only reason he’d agreed was because he might see Elizabeth when he delivered them.
She pulled out an angel and drew in a long, slow breath. “I never knew you did this. How long have you been carving?”
Since I lost you. Luke stopped himself from blurting out that answer, the first one that sprang to his lips. He waved a hand, trying to be vague. “Since we were teenagers.”
Her eyes widened. “And you kept it a secret?”
He shrugged. He certainly couldn’t tell her the truth. “They were so rough I didn’t think they were good enough to sell.” Even if he had believed they were, he’d never have wanted to put his deepest feelings on display.
“Did Owen know?”
Luke tried not to wince when she said his best friend’s name. Owen would have been the last person Luke could have shown his work to. Owen had been the cause of Luke’s carving frenzy.
Elizabeth was staring at him, waiting for an answer.
“Neh, Owen never knew.” Not about the carving. And definitely not about the love—and jealousy—in Luke’s heart.
“Oh.” She breathed out the word reverently as she pulled a shepherd. “You should have been selling these all along.” Her fingers traced the contours of the tiny lamb in the man’s arms.
“This—this baby is so precious. And the shepherd looks so tender, so protective.”
Exactly what Luke wished he could do for Elizabeth. Protect her from grief, from loss. “I, um, originally carved that to represent Jesus and the lost sheep, but Yolanda wanted me to include it in the nativity.”
“It’s perfect.” Elizabeth sounded as if she were holding back tears.
He hadn’t meant to increase her sadness, especially not so close to Christmas.
In silence, she unpacked every figure, exclaiming over each one. In the shop, the bells jangled and jangled. Business must be brisk this morning. Luke should be opening his own shop soon.
“Elizabeth,” Yolanda called. “I need help.”
That was Luke’s cue to leave. “I need to go, but where should I put the other boxes?”
“We’ll put out only one sample set, so could you put them over there?” She indicated a set of empty shelves in the back corner.
“Sure.” He let her precede him out of the stockroom and followed her into the shop. “I’ll bring in the rest,” he told Yolanda. “But first, do you have any salt? I could sprinkle some on the ice out there.”
Yolanda, who was ringing up the first customer in a long line, glanced up at him with gratitude in her eyes. “I meant to do that earlier, but I forgot. You’d be a godsend.”
She gestured toward the back hallway. “Just before you reach the stockroom door, there’s a small broom closet. Salt’s in there next to the cleaning supplies.”
Taking care of Yolanda’s front walk would make Luke late opening his woodworking shop, but he couldn’t leave the ice. If someone slipped when he could have prevented it, he’d never forgive himself.
He found the salt and a shovel, and headed out the door. After scraping the newly fallen layer of snow from the front sidewalk, he chopped the ice and tossed salt to prevent the dampness from freezing.
Once he finished, he carried in his other cartons, his heart lightening each time he went by Elizabeth at the cash register. As he passed the glittery ornaments in the stockroom, he couldn’t resist picking up the tiny baby. He cupped it in his palm, envisioning Elizabeth’s fingers stroking it, her reluctance to release it. What had drawn her to this sleeping child?
She’d shown a similar delight in his carvings. Something had touched her about this baby and about his nativity figures.
Luke shook his head and replaced the tiny tree decoration in its box. He had to hurry in case he had customers waiting. After one quick glance at Elizabeth, who was too busy working to notice his exit, he strode down the street to his store. But all morning, his thoughts stayed behind in Yolanda’s shop. He pictured Elizabeth’s fingers running over his figures whose every line had been gouged out to assuage his loss of her. Had she sensed the emotions he’d carved into each one—his longing and his heartbreak?