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The line was longer than usual today at the pantry. It snaked around the parking lot. Alexa shivered and pulled the collar up on her coat with one hand. In the other, she clutched Cara’s pretty blue snow boots.
“What size are those?” the woman behind her in line asked. She looked to be in her seventies and wore a ratty old overcoat and a knit cap with a hole in its top.
“Size one and a half.”
“They’d be perfect for my granddaughter.”
“I’ll tell them at check-in that you’d like them,” Alexa said softly.
“Thank you. I’d appreciate that. It’s hard raising a child alone. Especially, when you don’t have enough money even for yourself.”
She knew that only too well. As she studied the old woman, she wondered where the child’s mother was and why a grandmother was raising a little girl. However, Alexa was too polite to ask. Obviously, there were reasons for that situation that were none of her business.
The cold northeast wind blew and another shower of snow began to fall, stinging her cheeks. Thankfully, the church opened its doors and the line began to move as people worked their way inside. When she reached the check-in table, the usual two women were seated there.
“Name, please,” the one with stringy shoulder-length brown hair asked without looking up.
“Alexa Stevens,” she replied, then plunked the boots down on the table. “I’d like to donate these. They’re too small for my daughter. They’re practically brand-new. She only wore them once last year. I’m hoping to trade them for a larger size. She really needs snow boots.”
The other woman said, “I’ll go check in the back for you. What size do you need?”
“At least a two. Larger is okay.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said flatly. When she stood, she couldn’t have been more than five feet tall.
After she disappeared into another room, the other woman checked her name off the list and then handed her two paper bags. “Remember, for a family of two, it’s one bread item and two of everything else, excepts the meats. That’s one also.”
Alexa nodded as she took the bags from the woman’s hands. She knew the routine well. She hesitated before moving down an aisle, not sure as to whether she should go now or wait to see if there were boots for Cara.
As if reading her mind, the woman said, “You can go on ahead. We’ll find you if we have a pair for your daughter. If not, though, do you still want to leave yours?” She pointed at Cara’s boots.
“Yes.” She turned to the elderly woman behind her in line. “She has a child that could use them.”
The old woman smiled and placed her hand on Alexa’s shoulder. “Thank you. That’s very generous of you. I think I’ll wrap them and put them under the tree for Annie.”
Alexa smiled back. “That sounds like a wonderful idea. She’s going to love them. They were my daughter’s favorites. It’s just too bad her feet grew so fast that she wasn’t able to wear them. Merry Christmas, if I don’t see you next week.”
“Bless you. And Merry Christmas to you as well, and to your daughter.”
“Thanks.” Alexa could tell the people in line were becoming anxious because it wasn’t moving, so she hurried down the first aisle, grabbing a package of bagels as their bread item, and then selecting various canned vegetables and soups before heading down the next aisle to the fresh produce. There wasn’t much to pick from, just some lettuce and tomatoes, and next to it a bushel of apples that looked to have seen better days. She took her allowed two items of each, though, and popped them in her bag. As she rounded the bend to the last aisle, footsteps rang across the cement floor.
The short woman from check-in was hurrying toward her. “I looked everywhere. I’m sorry. Boots are hard to come by this time of year. We have nothing for children. I’ll take your name and number, though, and if any come in, I’ll give you a call.”
Her throat ached with defeat, and as she stood there trying to find her voice, from the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a man standing in the doorway of the back room. He looked out of place in his expensive gray suit. There was something about him that was familiar. Only she couldn’t recall where she’d seen him before.
Turning her attention back to the woman in front of her, she placed her bags on the floor and rummaged through her purse for a piece of scrap paper to write her phone number on. Out of frustration from not finding one and disappointment at having to go home without boots for Cara, a tear spilled from her eye. She quickly wiped it with her hand. “Sorry. I don’t have any p-paper.” She was even more embarrassed that her voice quivered. She really needed to pull herself together.
“That’s okay,” the woman said kindly. “Finish getting what you need for food, and after you’ve put your bags in your car, come back over to check-in, and I’ll take down your information.”
Before Alexa could answer, the man in the doorway walked over to them. “Excuse me. I don’t mean to interrupt, but I couldn’t help overhearing.” His voice was deep and cultured and had the undertones of being very well educated. “I have paper.” He reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a pad with the initials BC on it and a silver pen, and then handed them to her.
“Thank you.” As she scribbled down her name and number, she was fully aware that he was studying her face. When she finished writing, she ripped off the top sheet of paper and handed it to the woman, then she returned the pad and pen to the man. “That was very nice of you,” she said as she picked up her bags from the floor.
“I saw you at the grocery store yesterday. Your daughter wanted a chocolate Santa.”
She narrowed her eyes as she stared back at him. “I thought you looked familiar. You were in front of us in line.”
“I was. You handled what could have been an explosive situation very well.”
She smiled. “Thanks. Cara usually isn’t that cranky, but she’s been through a lot lately. Not that I’m making excuses for her behavior or anything. It just that’s not like her…”
“I could tell. It’s quite apparent that you’re a very good mom.”
She blinked quickly as her cheeks warmed from the compliment.
Before she could say anything, he added, “I know Doris”—he put his hand on the woman’s arm—“was looking for boots for your daughter. My Britney is ten. She must have a pair that would fit your daughter.”
Now her face really felt on fire. “Thank you so much for your kind offer, but I couldn’t take boots from your daughter.”
He chuckled, and she liked the sound of his laugh. “Believe me, she has so many, she wouldn’t even know if half of them were gone. But don’t worry, I won’t take any without her permission.”
“Okay, well, if she doesn’t mind, and if there’s a pair…”
“I’ll give you a call,” Doris said, cutting her off.
Fully aware that a line had formed behind them and that she was holding things up, Alexa said, “Great. Thanks again,” and quickly dashed down the next aisle. Her heart was pounding so fast, she felt light-headed. Maybe it was because of the man’s extreme kindness or the fact that he was so good-looking, but whatever had caused it, all she wanted was to escape to the comfort of her car. She quickly finished up at the pantry and then raced outside.
Excerpt of An Angel for Christmas: