Meeting Ella (Part 3)

Charlie

MeetingElla

This is the third installment in this season’s Christmas story. Hope you are enjoying it!

      Morning came far too quickly after my restless night. Dragging myself out of bed, I got ready for the day and then made myself some toast. Last night’s events played through my mind as I ate my breakfast and, thankfully, my fears were considerably diminished in the bright morning sunshine. Of course, houses make strange noises—especially hundred year old farm houses. I would just have to get used to it.
      Perhaps a dog would help. It was so disconcerting being in this house completely alone—especially at night. I put my dishes in the sink and grabbed my coat, excited for today’s adventure.
      The first stop was the local Walmart to buy some pet supplies. The brightly colored collars and leashes drew my eye. I picked out a medium-sized, green polka-dotted collar, with a leash to match. That seemed to be the safest selection, as it could be used for a male or female medium-sized dog. My cart was soon loaded with dog food, dog treats, bowls, pet shampoo, and a big, over-sized dog bed. I walked by the crates and realized that this was probably going to be a necessity, as well. Who knew how well-behaved this dog would be? And so a medium-sized crate went in on top of everything else. I carefully wheeled my cart to the front and through the checkout. I watched as the the items began to add up to an exorbitant amount. Shopping sprees like this would have to be extremely rare these next few months.
      A half hour later, I was walking through the concrete hallways of the local shelter. There was certainly no dearth of dogs from which to choose. There were big ones and small ones, ferocious ones and friendly ones. How would I ever choose just one? And then I saw him. He sat calmly in the corner of his cage but as I approached his tail started wagging fiercely. He greeted me like a perfect gentleman—happily but without that over-the-top excitement that some dogs have. Short brown hair with a small white patch on his chest and medium-sized, I knew he was just right for me. His name was Charlie and it suited him perfectly. Charlie it was.
      Soon all of the paperwork was signed, the small fee was paid, and we were on our way home. Charlie was amazing right from the start. He sat quietly in the car looking out the window.
      As the car pulled into the driveway, Charlie’s tail started wagging as if to say “What an adventure!” He hopped out and excitedly started to explore his new home. He followed me into the house and happily continued his exploration. Finally, he flopped down beside me in the kitchen to watch me prepare my lunch. His brown, soulful eyes silently asked me to share.
      “Oh, alright!” I laughed as I threw a bit of cheese down to him.
      After lunch, I decided to decorate for Christmas. Sure, only Charlie and I would really appreciate it, but somehow it just felt like the right thing to do. And so, turning the switch on at the bottom of the steps, up to the attic I went. Charlie followed me up the narrow stairway, sniffing all the way. It was clear that he was overjoyed with his newfound freedom. I found the Christmas decorations in the back right corner of the attic, just where I had put them last year and the year before that and, well, for forever. There were boxes upon boxes. Gram sure had loved Christmas.
      I opened the first box and found the tree decorations. I pushed that box towards the staircase. The second held Christmas-themed linens and tablecloths. Deeming them unnecessary, at least for this Christmas season, I pushed that one to the side. Continuing on in this manner for another thirty minutes, six boxes were soon waiting at the top of the stairs.
      One by one, I lifted them and carried them downstairs to the dining room, almost tripping over Charlie a few times as he followed on my heels. But he was such a welcome addition to the house that I just couldn’t grow angry with him so I just laughed and gently scolded him.
      After all of the boxes were down, I made myself a cup of coffee and decided to sit down for a few minutes. My rough night soon caught up with me and I found myself dozing off. At least, until Charlie started barking at the sound of the doorbell. Who could that be? I peeked out the front window. Mrs. Miller stood there smiling, holding a candy-cane striped tin. Beside her stood a young woman with brown hair wearing a navy pea coat.
      Opening the door, I welcomed them inside.
      “Hello, dear! I hope we aren’t bothering you. I just couldn’t wait for you to meet my granddaughter. Katie, this is Libby. Libby, Kate. I am just sure you two will get along fabulously,” She gestured from one to the other as we gave each other tentative—and rather awkward—smiles.
      And then she continued, “And I just happened to do some baking this morning, so we brought some cookies along. They are the peanut butter kind with the Hershey Kisses on top. They are Jim’s favorite,” She winked as she handed me the tin and then started to look around, “Oh, so many memories here. We used to come and play games with your Grandma. I sure do miss her.”
      And then she spotted the boxes of decorations in the dining room, “Oh! Did we interrupt you?”
      “Well, I actually didn’t get very far yet,” I glanced at my watch and saw that it was already 3:30pm, “I will do what I can today and then finish tomorrow. There’s really no big hurry. Can I get you some coffee?”
      I saw Mrs. Miller turn to Katie and ask her a question before she turned back to me with a surprising question, “Libby, darling, could Katie and I help you decorate? We’d love to help and, besides, decorating by yourself is really not near as much fun as decorating with friends!” (She had such a warm and rather loud enthusiasm as she said this), “Kate assured me that she has a few spare hours. So why don’t you go make coffee and put on some Christmas music and we will have ourselves a wonderful time. What do you say?”
      Truth be told, I really wanted to decorate alone. I wanted to take my time going through the old, familiar things and I wanted to be able to cry if I felt like crying. But Mrs. Miller was a force to be reckoned with and so, hiding my disappointment, I pasted on a smile and told her I’d love to have their help. I put on some Christmas music and then went to the kitchen and made three cups of hot coffee and put a few of the cookies from the tin on a plate. Charlie quietly stared at me and rubbed his nose on my legs as if to tell me he understood and was sorry for how things had turned out.
      But, surprisingly, the next three hours flew by in a flurry of activity and merriment. First, we set up and decorated Gram’s three artificial trees–The old-fashioned one in the living room; the formal one, bedecked with gold and silver, in the dining room; and the smallest one, decorated with simple bows and silk poinsettias, in the foyer. Next, we filled the banisters and mantel with green garland, white lights, gold stars, and tiny crocheted angels. I pulled Gram’s collection of porcelain angels from their careful wrapping and set them around on every possible surface. Finally, we worked outside to put the garland and lights around the door. Kate had even helped me pull Uncle Gus’s manger scene out of the old shed. I stood back with a great sense of satisfaction. Mrs. Miller was right—it had been so much more fun to accomplish this with friends.
      Throughout the whole afternoon, Mrs. Miller was so wonderful—both sharing snippets about Gram and also letting me reflect in silence at times. And she was right about Kate and me. We hit it off immediately—like we had been friends our whole lives.
      As I waved good-bye to them, I smiled, so thankful for them. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad here, after all. Kate and I had already made plans to go Christmas shopping together. It was as I stood with my back against the door, thanking the Lord for His kind mercies to me, that I spotted it.
      I squinted to be sure I saw it correctly. Under the dining room table was a small red mitten.
      Where had that come from?  It had definitely not been there when I vacuumed yesterday.
      Picking it up and turning it over, I saw that it was a little girl’s left mitten.
      Startled, I began to suspect that the owner of the mitten and the owner of the purple sweater upstairs were probably the same little girl. And now I was beginning to wonder if the little owner might be in this house. That feeling of not being alone yesterday came to my mind. And, too, the odd open window last night. On a sudden hunch, I ran up the stairs to Gram’s sewing room.
      I was right. The purple sweater was gone and the rumpled covers on the bed were pulled up towards the pillow as if someone had tried to make it in a hurry. It became clear that I was not alone in this house.
      As I stood there for a few moments wondering what to do, Charlie was wildly sniffing around the room, as if to confirm my suspicions.
      My tummy growled, reminding me that it was long past dinnertime. I prepared a ham and cheese sandwich and put it on a plate with a handful of potato chips, all the while my ears listening for any possible sound. She had to be around here somewhere.
      After dinner, I decided to go on an all-out hunt for this little person. I checked in closets, under beds, and behind dressers. Overcoming my fear, I looked in both the cellar and the attic, moving boxes and crates. I couldn’t find anything. I didn’t even see any more clues that would verify her existence. Perhaps I was just dreaming this all up. I remembered Mrs. Miller saying she taught Sunday School. Perhaps she had had the mitten in her coat pocket for some reason, I rationalized.
      Feeling rather silly, I sat back down into the comfortable blue chair and turned on the TV. Soon I was engrossed in Christmas in Connecticut and forgot about my musings and speculations.
      That is until Charlie started barking like crazy.
      “Charlie! Stop!” Maybe a dog wasn’t such a good idea, after all. It was a little frightening to have a dog madly barking in an old house and having no idea why. I grabbed his collar and looked him the eye, “Stop!”
      He didn’t listen to me. In fact, he wriggled out of my grasp and ran to the cellar steps, growling and barking all the way.
      I opened the door and he rushed past me, down into the darkness. Flipping the switch, I saw that the basement window was open once again. How had that happened?
      And then I saw her. Standing at the bottom of the steps. She looked to be around nine. Soft, wheat-colored hair and pale skin. She had on a red wool coat that was stained and ripped at the hem and one red mitten. Tears welled up in her startlingly blue eyes as Charlie rushed at her.
      “Aw, honey, don’t cry,” I shushed Charlie away and then sat down on the steps, helplessly uncertain as to what to do. A million questions danced through my mind, begging to be answered all at once.
      I grabbed the girl’s cold, mittenless left hand and gave it a warm squeeze, before softly asking, “What’s your name?”
      She took her mittened hand and rubbed it across her face to remove the tears that had started a quiet trail down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and then said faintly, “I’m Ella.”
      Ella. So this was who I had been sharing my house with for the past couple of days.

Find Part 4 of this story here.

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