Sad girl struggles through Christmas

Editor’s note: This is the first of a 12-chapter holiday tale running daily until Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read aloud to their children.

Joy Noelle sat on the worn sofa, pretending to read the book open in her lap while she watched the other kids giggle and chatter as they placed ornaments on the tree.

“Are you sure you don’t want to help?” Mrs. Duncan asked, pausing to peer around the tree at Joy. She held up a red bulb decorated with glitter and sequins. “You made a lot of these ornaments, you should have the honor of putting them on the tree.”

Joy shook her head, glaring at the box on the floor filled with an assortment of holiday decorations. Many were made by her, back when Christmas had still been fun and magical. But now, she didn’t think she could stand to help arrange the small reminders of how happy and hopeful she used to be.

“No,” she replied, hopping off the couch. “That ornament is ugly, anyway. I just want to go read in my room.”

“She’s way too grumpy to be named Joy,” she heard one of the girls whisper, and they all giggled. Joy ignored them, walking out of the room as Mrs. Duncan admonished them.

A single tear fell when she was alone in the hallway, and she wiped it away. Tears were pointless; crying never fixed anything. She’d learned that years ago in one of the first foster homes she’d ever been in. Crying only seemed to make things worse, and she’d become an expert at keeping her emotions hidden.

Joy slowed down as she passed Mrs. Duncan’s open office. Every time she went this way, she couldn’t help remembering that night, years ago, when everyone was supposed to be asleep. Joy had been creeping through the halls to get a late-night snack when she’d heard her name. Crouching down around the corner from the office, she’d listened while Mrs. Duncan vented to Miss Shepherd about how every foster home Joy had been in always sent her back with no explanations.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Mrs. Duncan had said. “By all accounts, Joy is a perfect foster child, and she’s such a pleasure to have around. I simply can’t understand why she hasn’t been adopted by now.”

They’d shut the door then, and Joy hadn’t been able to eavesdrop any further. But what she’d heard had been enough, and it had stuck with her ever since. At first, it had comforted her to know that Mrs. Duncan liked her, and it validated her own thoughts that she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

But that had been a long time ago, and nothing had changed. She’d been in and out of foster homes, almost more than she could count, yet always ended up back at the Sunnybrook Children’s Home. Despite what Mrs. Duncan said, it seemed pretty clear that something was, in fact, wrong with her. No matter how good she was, or how helpful she was, or how sweet she was, nobody wanted her.

So she’d stopped all that. She didn’t act out or misbehave, but she’d long since given up on being a perfect angel in hopes that she’d find a family to love her. As far as she was concerned, Mrs. Duncan was close enough to family and she didn’t expect anything else.

With a sigh, Joy curled up on the scuffed wooden window ledge in her room. The window was freezing, but Joy leaned against it, letting her forehead rest against the glass as she stared out into the wintery night.

A blanket of snow covered the ground, and thick, fluffy snowflakes lazily fell down from the sky. A flicker in the sky caught Joy’s eye, and she sat up, rubbing her eyes as she stared out at the falling snow.

It flickered again, and Joy’s eyes widened as she realized the flicker came from a large snowflake drifting in front of her window. She tilted her head, staring in amazement as the snowflake glowed an eerie blue. Mesmerized, she watched as a vision appeared in front of her, one of her running into the arms of a man who twirled her around, while a woman smiled next to them. She blinked, sure she must be imagining it, and the vision disappeared, but the flickering blue glow remained. Quickly, she opened the window, shivering at the rush of frigid air, and reached out toward the glowing snowflake.

The instant the snowflake landed on her finger, a blast of light surrounded her, and the sounds of jingling bells and Christmas music filled her ears. The light was so bright that she had to squeeze her eyes shut, and a cold wind that smelled like fresh-baked cookies swirled around her.

A moment later, the sounds and light stopped, and when she opened her eyes again, she almost fell over at the sight before her.

Read the next installment on Page 1B of Friday’s Tribune Chronicle.