"The Christmas Prayer"


Logline: Nine-year-old Heath Barkley and his twin sister, Anna, have a special request at Christmas time

  Heath Thomson and his sister Anna stood watching as their mother, Leah, laid there, coughing. Since September Leah had been plagued with consumption and it got worse with each passing moment.

Anna sat by her mother's side and picked up a weak, limp hand. Their mother had lost a lot of weight in the last two months. Their mother's friends, Hannah James and Rachel Caulfield, tried to feed Leah nourishing stews and food to bring her weight back. The stews and other dishes were not helping Leah too much, but Heath and Anna had both gained 10 pounds each.

Leah's coughing jarred Heath's thoughts. His mother's weak state made him feel angry with his father. His father had abandoned his mother before Heath and Anna was born. Heath and Anna were snubbed by the town for not knowing their father and Leah was treated cruelly because she wasn't married when she had the twins.

Leah had once said it didn't matter what the town thought of her. To Leah what ever she did wrong was between God and herself. No one, except God, had any right to condemn her for doing the wrong thing.

As the Christmas holidays drew closer Anna and Heath both despaired of getting a Christmas gift. Christmas was a hard holiday. Some years the twins didn't get a gift. Hannah, Rachel, and Leah always cooked a good meal and they were thankful, but it wasn't the same as getting a gift as other little boys and girls did.

Heath and Anna prayed every day since Leah had gotten sick They believed that God would heal their mother. Rachel said that God answered prayers of little children that believed and loved Him. She even said that she thought that prayers to god at Christmas time counted extra. Since Anna and Heath believed everything that Rachel, Leah, and Hannah said, they prayed once in the morning and once in the evening. It was December 5th and faith was strong in the Thomson house. But they would get and answer that no one expected.


In Stockton, California the Barkley family was preparing for the holidays. While Silas, the Barkleys manservant, watched Eugene and Audra, Victoria and Jarrod, the oldest Barkley son, decorated the house with holly branches and ivy. Tom and nick were out getting a Christmas tree. Victoria wanted a full pine tree to touch the ceiling. If tom didn't find the right tree, she'd see to it that she would privately, painfully wring his neck.

Jarrod hammered a piece of green ivy into place when his mother sat down on the couch. "How does that look, Mother?" Jarrod asked, turning to look at Victoria. He laid the hammer on the mantle of the fireplace.

"It looks all right, Jarrod. Your father and nick might have a different idea, though," Victoria said, pushing a lock of black hair out of her brown eyes.

Jarrod sat next to Victoria, brushing a lock of stray black hair out of his own eyes. Jarrod loved Christmas more than any other holiday. Only at Christmas did Jarrod feel that people actually cared for others. At this time of year the Barkleys were very generous. Jarrod felt that if the Barkleys cared so could others.


Tom and Nick Barkley went around, looking for a Christmas tree. The woods were freezing cold and Nick and Tom's breath puffed out like cigar smoke. The tree had to be perfect or Victoria wouldn't be happy.

"How's this one, Father?" Nick asked, through the scarf wrapped around his neck. To thirteen-year-old Nick Barkley a perfect tree didn't matter.

He just wanted one to reach the ceiling in the house and any tree that did was perfect. Tom, on the other hand, knew Victoria's preference on trees. If he picked the wrong one his wife would make him wish he were dead.

Victoria had done that only once since they'd gotten married 19 years ago. When Tom had come back from Strawberry, feeling guilty over what he did, he told his wife. Victoria wouldn't talk to him for three months after his confession. He had never seen his wife so angry. After three months Tom and Victoria, based on the love they had for each other, decided to give their marriage another try.

Since then Tom had tried to forget Strawberry and Leah Thomson. Besides hoping that she had found a husband to love her as much as he loved Victoria, he had never thought about Strawberry or anything related to it. But that Christmas the past would come back to haunt him in a painful slap.


Anna Thomson stood in front of the general store. The beautiful porcelain doll with flaxen blonde hair and a blue silk dress was in the window. Anna gazed wistfully at the beautiful doll, wishing that she could have it. Her mama used to say that if wishes were horses then beggars would ride.

Mama told her that God would answer her Christmas wishes and prayers if she asked him. So every year Anna prayed for each gift that she wanted. Sometimes God gave her the gift, sometimes He didn't. One year she asked Aunt Rachel why she didn't get the gift. Aunt Rachel said that God doesn't give gifts on the reason that sometimes it may not be good for people.

Anna looked at the doll, longingly. Anna had never had a doll growing up. Mama said they were too expensive. Right now it was just enough to look at it.

Anna felt-and heard-a small rock hit the back of her neck. She turned slightly. Johnny Darrow, the biggest bully in Strawberry, stood there, a slingshot in his hand. Anna turned back to the window, trying to ignore him.

Another rock hit Anna's neck; Anna turned around quickly, a slightly annoyed look on her young face. "What ya want?" Anna asked, her blue eyes like icicles.

"Why don't ya ask your Pa for that sissy doll? Oh right, ya ain't got a Pa," Johnny sneered.

"Neither do you. You live with your brothers. I live with my brother and mother. So why don't you ask your Pa for a horse? Oh that's right ya don't have one," Anna said, using his words against.

Anna walked away, feeling proud. She had won one battle. It was then that she noticed her brother. Heath came walking down the street, covered in coal dust and holding back the urge to yawn.

"How was the mine, Heath?" Anna asked, walking in step with her twin.

'Ya hafta ask?" Heath asked. Heath's blue eyes were red-rimmed with tiredness and an allergic reaction to the coal in the mine. Heath had set charges in the mine for two years. Anna would have liked to help Heath, but little girls could only sew or do housecleaning.

Anna cleaned the hotel windows for Uncle Matt and Aunt Martha Simmons twice a week for 10 cents a window, but hated it. Uncle Matt was her mother's brother and Uncle Matt and Aunt Martha were against Heath, Leah, and Anna. They wasted no time in slamming the small family. They also led the rest of the town in the remarks against Leah and her children; that included the minister and the sheriff.

"Yes I do. The mine ain't killed ya yet, has it?" Anna asked, an impish grin lighting her eyes.

"Ha ha ha," Heath said, not the least amused.

The freezing, cold wind made the twins' woolen scarves whip around their necks and drove hard bits around on the air. The cold air blew the twins home as the streets grew dark and people said "Merry Christmas." The most depressing scene of all was the fathers coming home to their children. One day I'm going to find our Pa, Anna thought, knowing Heath thought the same thing.


Leah's rattling cough echoed through the house as Rachel, Hannah, and Leah waited for the twins to come home. This was one of those days that's Leah's condition was worse than ever. Rachel and Hannah tried to be there for Leah, but they could see that Leah was dying slowly each day.

Leah's dying was even more terrible because the sheriff said that Matt and Martha Simmons would have to raise the twins if something happened to Leah. Matt was a hopeless drunk and Martha was believed to be slightly deranged. Leah's children would not have a loving home if the Simmons took them in.

"May I have some water?" Leah gasped from the bed, breaking Rachel's train of thought.

Hannah poured some water into a cup and put the cup to Leah's mouth, putting her arm under Leah's thin shoulder blades. With that support holding her up, Leah was able to drink as much as she wanted without it spilling.

"There now, Miz Leah. Be there anythin' else you'd like?" Hannah asked, patting her friend's dark head.

"No. Thank you," Leah said, faintly.

Rachel put an extra quilt on Leah as Hannah walked into the kitchen. Rachel behaved like a mother to her friend and a grandmother to Heath and Anna. It pained her to mention the fact that Heath and Anna would have to live with the Simmons, but Leah needed to hear it and do something about it.

"Leah?" Rachel asked, pushing a lock of hair out of Leah's eyes.

"Yes?" Leah asked, a concerned look in her glassy eyes.

"It's about Heath and Anna, Leah," Rachel said, coming to the point.

"What about them?" Leah asked, a motherly tone in her voice.

"The sheriff came by the other day. He said that if you die that Heath and Anna have to live with your brother Matthew and his wife," Rachel said in a sad tone.

"What?! But I don't want Matt to raise them! I wouldn't give my brother a dog, let alone children, to raise. Didn't you tell the sheriff that I wanted you to raise the children?" Leah asked, a look of panic in her eyes.

"I tried, Leah, but the sheriff said Hannah and myself are too old and not family. I know you don't like to hear about him, but what about the children's father?" Rachel asked, desperation in her tone.

"Tom? But I said I'd never bother him or his family. I've done enough harm already," Leah said, coughing briefly.

Rachel sat on the bed next to her friend. "Leah, you have to write him. You have no other choice. Would you rather Matthew raise the children or Thomas?" Rachel threw the painful choice at Leah.

"Very well. Go get the paper and pen. I have to write Tom. I hope that he wasn't lying when he said that he loved children," Leah said, closing her eyes.

Rachel ran to get the items Leah had asked for. Rachel now felt satisfied. Now she knew that the children she loved so much would be safe. Only one question now remained; Was Thomas Barkley up to the task of raising the twins?


Tom and Nick brought the tree into the house. Victoria looked at the tree with approval. Tom's neck was safe for now. Tom and the boys were laughing joyfully as they put the tree in the corner of the parlor.

Since Tom's affair, he had become a better father. Tom believed that he had taken his family for granted and that it had taken one moment of weakness to show him that no one was more important than his wife and children.

Victoria's mind came back to the present as Jarrod called her name. "Mother, what do you think? Does the tree look straight?" Jarrod asked, his vibrant blue eyes shining with happiness.

Victoria inspected the tree. Tom, Jarrod, and nick stood to one side, holding their breaths. If Victoria approved then all three could breathe a sigh of relief.

"It looks nice," Victoria finally said. The sigh of relief from all three Barkley men was so loud that Victoria had to laugh.

Silas came in at that moment carrying a letter. "Mistuh Barkley, a lettuh has just arrived fo' you," Silas said, handing the letter to Tom.

"Thank you, Silas," Tom said. Tom looked down at the return address. The name Leah Thomson caused all the blood to drain from his face.

"Tom, what is it?" Victoria asked, touching her husband's arm lightly with her small hand.

Tom looked at Nick and Jarrod, who looked confused. "Boys, why don't you go check on the horses? I need to talk to your mother," Tom said in a low voice.

"Is something wrong, Father?" Nick asked, his brow crinkled in confusion.

"I'll tell you later, Nicholas," Tom said, shooing both boys out of the room.

As soon as the boys were gone; Tom handed the letter to Victoria. Her eyes turned sad as she saw the return address. "What could she want, Tom?" Victoria asked, pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes.

"I think we should open the letter and find out," Tom suggested, his stomach nervously twisting into knots.

Victoria opened the letter with a hairpin and the two started to read. At the end of the letter all Tom could say was, "Oh Victoria, I am so sorry!"

Victoria sat numbly. The letter said that Leah was dying and that Tom had two children; twins that needed a home. Victoria wasn't upset about the twins. She was wondering where to put them and how to tell Jarrod, Nick, and Stockton about them.


Nick and Jarrod sat in stunned silence in the parlor after dinner that night. When Tom said that Jarrod and Nick had two siblings that he didn't know until today, it hadn't taken the boys long to put the pieces of the puzzle into place.

Both boys had had different reactions to Tom's news. Nick was upset that Tom Barkley, his idol, could make a mistake and Jarrod was actually thinking of another little brother and sister.

"So how old are the twins?" Jarrod asked, drinking his tea quickly.

"Heath and Anna are both nine. Their mother Leah wrote me and said that she's gravely ill and that when she dies her brother and his wife will raise the children," Tom said smiling. Trust Jarrod to feel concern for the twins, Tom thought.

"What's wrong with letting them live with their uncle?" Nick asked meanly.

"I hope you don't mean that Nicholas Jonathan Barkley! Matt Simmons and his wife are a mean pair. Matt drinks and both will hit your brother and sister. I will not let my children be raised by those people," Tom said, his voice stern.

"And Nicholas, we had better not hear those words out of your mouth again," Victoria added in a warning tone.

Nick shut his mouth at Victoria's words. "When does Miss Thomson want the twins to be picked up?" Jarrod asked, breaking the tension.

"Leah said that her death could be at any time. Your mother and I are going to start out tomorrow," Tom said, his voice determined.

"Can I come with you?" Jarrod asked.

"I don't see any reason why not. You can take the twins out for walks while we get their things together," Tom said, squeezing his eldest son's knee gently with his large hand.

"Dear, go upstairs and pack your things. We'll leave early tomorrow morning," Victoria said, smiling warmly at her son.

"Yes Mother. I'm actually looking forward to another brother and sister," Jarrod said just before he ran upstairs to his room.


The following afternoon Tom, Jarrod, and Victoria entered the mining town of Strawberry. The rundown condition of the town caused Tom's insides to quake. When he had been to Strawberry 9 years ago, it was relatively new and business at the mine was bustling.

The thought of his children living in this awful place made him feel sick. The streets were empty as everyone must either be at the mine, home, or school.

Victoria wondered if the twins even went to school. Judging by the tone in Leah's letter they couldn't afford to go to school. The twins probably had to work like adults did.

"Tom, what if the children don't go to school?" Victoria worried.

"That does seem probable. But where would they work, Mother?" Jarrod asked, the question puzzling him.

"Most boys around here work at the mine," Tom said, his voice dripping with contempt.

"Is that all the work options?" Victoria asked, knowing her husband's opinion about boy's that worked in the mine.

"There is also the livery stable if Heath likes horses," Tom said.

"What about Anna, Father? Where would she work?" Jarrod asked, his concern for his sister obvious.

"Girls can't work at the mine. Anna would have to sew or do housework," Tom said, pulling up in front of the Strawberry hotel.

Jarrod helped his mother out of the wagon. Tom drove the horses to the stable as Jarrod and Victoria went into the hotel.

The hotel was covered in cobwebs and dust. A little girl of about 9 or 10 was washing windows. A woman with tangled blonde hair was at the front desk. Her eyes lit up as she saw Jarrod and Victoria.

"May I help ya?" She asked, smoothing back a lock of her hair.

"Yes. I need two rooms, please," Victoria said, her tone business-like.

"Of course, Ma'am. That'll be five dollars a night," Martha Simmons said, sounding cordial.

Tom came into the hotel, taking off his hat. His blond hair glinted in the light of the afternoon sun shining through the windows.

"This is my husband, Tom," Victoria said, introducing him to Victoria.

"Howdy do, Sir. I'm Martha Simmons. Would you sign the register, Please?" Martha asked, turning the registration book to Tom.

Anna, over in the corner, was so intent watching the strangers that she accidentally knocked her bucket over. The water from the bucket seeped into the dirty rug, causing Anna to blush with shame.

"I'm sorry. It was an accident," Anna mumbled.

"I bet it was, you miserable, LITTLE BRAT!" Martha said, her voice getting higher with each word.

Martha came around the front counter and slapped Anna hard across the face and mouth. The three Barkleys watched in shock as Anna's mouth started to bleed. Anna touched her mouth with her hand and started to cry softly.

"Was that necessary? She's only a child," Victoria asked, her hazel eyes blazing with righteous anger.

Martha had come back to the counter. "Don't tell me how to discipline my employees, Lady," Martha snapped angrily.

Jarrod crouched in front of the crying child and took out his handkerchief. "Are you all right, Honey?" Jarrod asked, his blue eyes filling with sympathy.

“Yes Sir. I didn't mean to spill water! It was an accident!" Anna sobbed, as she looked at Jarrod.

"I believe you. My name is Jarrod Barkley. what's your name?" Jarrod asked, handing her the handkerchief.

Anna sniffled before giving Jarrod her answer. "Anna Thomson, Sir," Anna said.

Jarrod's blue eyes lit up. This was his sister! She looked like Tom, only her hair was a darker shade of blonde.

Anna blew her nose and tried to give Jarrod back the handkerchief. "You keep it. Who knows when you'll need it again," Jarrod said, pushing a lock of her hair out of her bright blue eyes.

Anna smiled at Jarrod and went to pick up the metal bucket by the window. Now she couldn't wait to get home and tell Heath and Leah about the new guests at the hotel.

Jarrod shut the door behind them quietly. After waiting a few minutes to see if Martha would go downstairs, Jarrod finally broke his news.

"Father, that girl cleaning the windows was Anna!" Jarrod said, his eyes tearing slightly.

"Are you sure Jarrod?" Victoria asked, laying a small hand on Jarrod's shoulder.

"Positive, Mother. I asked her name. She said it was Anna Thomson," Jarrod said, sitting down in his chair.

"I wonder what possessed Leah to let Anna work in this place," Tom mused, stroking his beard.

A timid knock at the door brought all three Barkleys to the present. Victoria opened the door to reveal Anna standing there. "Aunt Martha says that I need to change your sheets, Ma'am," Anna said, looking at the frayed carpet in the hall.

"Of course. Come in, Anna," Victoria said, giving a warm smile to the child.

Anna looked up in confusion. "How'd you know my name?" Anna asked, her blue eyes wide.

"Our son Jarrod told us," Victoria said, opening the door wider.

Anna entered the room and started to pull the quilts on the bed. Tom Barkley looked at his daughter. She had apparently recovered from Martha's abuse earlier.

"How old are you?" Tom asked, hoping that Anna wouldn't mind talking while she worked.

"Nine years old, Sir. I also have a twin brother. He works at the mine," Anna said, smoothing the comforter.

'What do you do here at the hotel?" Victoria asked, helping the child fix the bed.

"I mostly wash windows. Aunt Martha pays me teen cents for each window I wash. I washed 10 windows today. She owes me a dollar," Anna said, putting the pillows on the bed.

''Do you work here every day?" Jarrod inquired.

"No Sir. I also clean houses for some of the richer people in town and take some sewing and washing on the side. My family needs the money," Anna said, meeting Jarrod's eyes.

"When do you have time to go to school?" Tom asked, finally finding his voice.

"I don't have time to go. My mama's friend, Rachel Caulfield teaches me and Heath every night. She was a schoolteacher once," Anna said, looking at Tom.

Jarrod was right. She was a Barkley. Her blonde hair wasn't as blonde as his or even Audra's. It was a darker shade of blonde. Her blue eyes were his though; the same shade of bright blue that Jarrod had also.

Tom found himself wondering if Heath looked like him also. Then the worry of Heath working in that mine clouded everything else. Tom Barkley knew that now he hated children working in a mine more than ever. When he took Heath and Anna home with him, Heath would never have to work in a mine ever again!

Anna put the rest of the clean sheets on a chair and went out the door. "I have to go. I can't spend all day talking to you. I have to scrub the back stairs and I walk home with Heath usually," Anna said, pushing back a lock of her stringy blonde hair.

"All right. We'll see you later," Victoria said, smiling at her.

When the door shut behind Anna, Tom sank onto the window seat in the room.

"You were right, Jarrod. That girl IS Anna. She looks like Audra, and myself" Tom said, his voice sounding flat.

"Tom, what should we do next?" Victoria asked, her hazel eyes concerned.

"Victoria, you talk to Leah, Rachel, and Hannah. Jarrod and myself will go to the mine and get Heath. Anna would probably wait out front if the children walk home together. If Heath doesn't come that way, she'll come home on her own. Then we can tell the children the truth," Tom said, making the plans very quickly.

"All right, Tom. That plan sounds good to me. Where does Leah live?" Victoria asked, before going out the door.

"In a small white house on the edge of town. The house has green shutters," Tom said.

Victoria kissed her husband quickly and walked out the door. Tom looked at Jarrod. 'Well, should we go get your brother?" Tom asked.

"Yes Father," Jarrod stood up and both men put on their coats. Tom and Jarrod went out into the bitter cold; not noticing that Anna was following them to the mine.


Heath Thomson went down into the cold darkness of the mine, his eyes tearing up and itching. The doctor in another town had told his mother that because of the affects of coal dust Heath shouldn't work in the mines.

Heath hadn't listened because the Thomson's needed the money. Anna did well bringing in her own share of money, but it wouldn't be anything if Heath didn't do his share either.

Only until he was eight did he set charges in the mine. He worked so well at the mine that the owner gave him a slightly better job that paid a little more.

Heath was given a pick and was set to work taking coal out of the walls. Heath liked this job, but on days like today he wished he didn't have to work there.

Tom and Jarrod braved the cold as they made their way to the coal mine. Tom was worried. His son was working in a mine that Tom remembered to be unstable. Tom had bought into this mine when he came to Strawberry the first time, but he had sold his share five years later when he said that he didn't approve of children working in mines.

Tom felt a sense of relief that Anna didn't work in that mine. It would have been too much if he had found out that both children worked there. He would have sued the mine for all it was worth if the mining company had hired Anna when they hired Heath.

Tom's thoughts were so deep that he didn't notice when Jarrod had stopped. "Father?" Jarrod asked.

"Yes, Son?" Tom asked, puzzled at what Jarrod could want.

"Why don't I get Heath? He might come with me. We don't have any idea how he'll respond to knowing that you're his father," Jarrod said, making a whole lot of sense. Too much sense.

"Maybe you're right. The twins are going to find out eventually. Maybe if Heath knows that he has a big brother that cares about him, he'll accept me faster," Tom said, stroking his beard thoughtfully.

Jarrod went ahead; hoping that Heath was at the mine. The overseer of the mine was standing there giving orders to a group of men.

Jarrod waited quietly for the group to go back to their jobs. It was cold out and hard bits of snow were being blown in flurries around the wind. This weather was perfect for Christmas, but not perfect for his brother to work in.

The overseer, Mr. Moore, looked up at Jarrod as soon as his employees went back to the mine. Mr. Moore was a rotund man with a bowler hat. He tried to be fair to his employees, but his one weakness was hiring children to work in the mines.

"May help you, Young fella?" Mr. Moore asked, in his deep, jolly voice.

"Yes. My name is Jarrod Barkley. I'm looking for a nine-year-old boy named Heath Thomson," Jarrod said, wrapping his scarf tighter around his neck.

"He's in the mine right now. Is it something important?" Mr. Moore asked, his voice no longer jolly.

"Yes it is. I want Heath sent out right now. His mother wrote my father a letter and he is not working in your mine any longer," Jarrod said, his face gravely serious.

"Barkley? Wait a minute. You ain't one of Tom Barkley's boys, are you?" Mr. Moore asked.

"Yes I am. Now are you going to go get Heath or do I get him myself?" Jarrod asked, his eyes turning icy.

"All right, All right. Evan, go get Heath Thomson," Mr. Moore barked an order to a thirty-year-old man.

"Yes Sir, Mr. Moore," Evan said, as he ran off to the mine.

Heath picked out a piece of coal when he heard Evan Sanderson calling out his name. "Heath! Hey Heath!"

"I'm over here, Mr. Sanderson!" Heath called out.

Evan came over to the boy. "Heath, the boss wants to see ya," Evan said, out of breath.

"Did he say what for?" Heath asked, laying his pickax against the wall.

"Nope. He just told me to go get ya," Evan said, already walking toward the exit.

Heath ran to catch up with Evan. The cold air brushed against his face turning his lips blue. Mr. Moore was standing a few yards away talking to a young man with black hair.

Jarrod Barkley looked down as a young boy with blond hair stepped up. Heath looked just like Tom Barkley, except the beard!

"My name is Jarrod Barkley and my father wants to talk to you and your sister at your mother's house," Jarrod said, putting a hand on Heath's shoulder.

"Is something wrong? Did Mama die?" Heath asked, his large blue eyes turning frightened.

"No. Just trust me, Heath. It's an early Christmas gift for both you and Anna," Jarrod said. Heath followed Jarrod up the road, away from the mine. This early Christmas gift was puzzling and Heath was curious, but he was willing to wait.

Tom stood in the freezing cold as he watched his oldest son bring Heath to him. From far away Tom could see that Heath looked just like him.

Even without Tom's beard, he had Tom's mouth and hair color. Even his eyes were the same shade of bright blue.

Tom's heart melted as he looked at his son advancing toward him. A feeling of compassion for the skinny little boy with long blond hair filled his very being.

Tom felt sorry that his son had to look like he was a bag of bones. Apparently he didn't get enough food to fatten him up on. It doesn't matter. Silas and Victoria will fatten up my children as soon as we get to Stockton, Tom thought.

A huge smile graced Tom's face as soon as Heath came close enough for Tom to hug him. Of course Tom didn't hug him. He didn't know how his nine-year-old son would respond to being hugged by a stranger.

The smile was wiped from Tom's face as he stooped down to look at his son. Heath needed a haircut, his face was smudged with coal dust, and his blue eyes were rimmed with red. Tom knew about people working in mines that were allergic to the coal. His son had to be one of those people.

"Hello Heath. My name is Tom Barkley," Tom said gently, putting his hands on Heath's shoulders.

"Hello Sir. Mr. Jarrod said that I don't have to work in the mine anymore," Heath said in a small voice.

Tom rejoiced at the sound of this young voice. Heath had a slight southern drawl that he had to have picked up from Leah. "That's right. Your mother wrote me and I am here to take you and Anna back to Strawberry with me," Tom said, swinging Heath up and settling him on his left shoulder.

"Why?" Heath asked puzzled. No man had ever treated him like this before. Something about this man made Heath want to like him, but he didn't know what.

"We are going to your mother's house. I have some news for both you and Anna that has to wait until Anna gets home from the hotel," Tom said, ruffling his son's blond hair with his hand.

"Aunt Martha won't let her go until she does the back stairs. That woman always finds something wrong with those steps of hers," Heath lamented.

"Not today!" A bright voice said. Anna came running up the road, her blonde hair flying out as she ran to her father and Jarrod.

"I thought you worked until nine tonight," Heath said, confusion entering his eyes.

"I did. I just left. I ain't washing another thing for Aunt Martha as long as I live," Anna said, looking up at Heath on Tom's shoulder. The joy of Christmas was in her bright blue eyes and a sunny grin matched her blonde hair.