Bills threaten to close bakery at Christmas

Editor’s note: This is the first chapter of a 12-part continuing, fictional holiday tale that is running daily through Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read it aloud to their children.

Angelica Sweet pushed open the bakery door and dropped her backpack behind the counter.

“Mom?” she called out, wandering through the empty kitchen. She opened the door to the office, where her mom was pacing as she talked on the phone.

“Yes, Faith Sweet,” she was saying, frowning down at the piece of paper in her hand. “Calling about Sweet Treat Bakery? I was hoping we could get an extension …”

Her frown deepened as the person on the other end cut her off, and Angelica sighed, leaving her mom to argue with whichever bill collector she’d decided to plead with today. She headed back into the kitchen to begin decorating the assortment of sugar cookies lining the counters.

“Mrs. Blake will be here for these in a few hours,” her mother said, emerging from the office. She gave Angelica a kiss on the top of her head. “How was school?”

Angelica shrugged dismissively. “Fine. Who was on the phone?”

Faith gave a tired smile that didn’t meet her eyes and picked up a frosting bag, beginning to trace the outline of Santa. Her decorating skills were impeccable and one of the reasons they’d been so successful. But after a few ill-timed and extremely expensive building repairs, the beloved bake shop Faith had put all of her hopes and dreams — and money — into was close to shutting its doors. Even though the holidays were always their busiest season, it might not be enough this year.

“I don’t want you to worry about that, my angel,” Faith said, squinting as she concentrated on her work. “You’re 12 years old, all you need to worry about is doing good in school and having fun.”

Angelica couldn’t help worrying. She hated seeing the lines on her mom’s face, lines that had shown up after Angelica’s father died and had gotten deeper with every dollar they owed.

She glanced over at the small poster taped to the wall, one she’d read so many times she had it memorized:

“Bakers and decorators, show off your talents at the 17th annual Gingerbread Festival. One grand-prize winner takes home cash and prizes worth $10,000.”

That money could change everything. It would be enough to satisfy their debts and keep the bakery running. And with her mom’s talent, they had a real shot at winning.

With a renewed sense of optimism, Angelica decorated the cookies, pretending each one was going to be judged with thousands of dollars on the line.

By the time the bell above the door chimed and Mrs. Blake entered the bakery, dozens of beautiful cookies were boxed up.

“Emily!” Faith smiled, embracing Mrs. Blake in a warm hug. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m just fine.” She smiled sympathetically. “I was so sorry to hear you may have to close the bakery. We’re struggling over at the shelter, too. Lately, there just doesn’t seem to be enough food for all the hungry people.”

“We aren’t giving up hope yet, and neither should you,” Faith said as Angelica carried the stacks of cookie boxes to Mrs. Blake. Angelica set them on the counter and Faith grabbed the receipt off the top and crumpled it.

“There’s no charge today, Emily. Merry Christmas. Go feed those hungry people.”

Angelica looked at her mom in surprise but didn’t say anything. Mrs. Blake gave them each a warm hug as she thanked them.

Once the door closed behind her, Angelica turned to her mom with confusion.

“Mom, we’ll never save the bakery if we give things away for free. This is important!”

Faith smiled. “The bakery is just a place. We have each other, we’ll always be OK. Happiness doesn’t result from what we get in life, it’s from what we give. That is what’s important.”

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