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Hannah gets a surprising invitation

Editor’s note: This is part two of a 12-day fictional tale that will run through Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read aloud to their children.

Charlotte stirred the sauce simmering on the stove, then checked on the chicken in the oven. As she tore up lettuce for the salad, her eyes kept flickering to the envelope on the table.

It got harder every year, which always surprised her. She thought that with enough time and distance, memories would fade and the ache in her heart would disappear. But that hadn’t happened, and with each red envelope she received, the ache grew stronger.

Hannah was probably old enough now to know the truth; for a 10-year-old, she was remarkably wise and understanding. But Charlotte had no idea how to even start that conversation.

She finished the salad and turned off the stove, then grabbed the peppermint-scented envelope and tore it open. Her eyes widened as she read the note written inside the card, and she wordlessly folded it back up and shoved it back in the envelope.

A thump came from upstairs, and she called up to Hannah. When she got no response, she headed upstairs. The light was on in the spare room, and she frowned when she saw the closet door was open.

“Hannah?” she called. She climbed the stairs and found her daughter sitting in the corner, staring down at a pile of photographs. Hannah looked up at her with tears in her eyes.

“Why did you hide this from me?” she asked, and Charlotte’s stomach ached when she realized what box of photos Hannah had opened.

“Oh, Hannie,” she sighed, sitting down next to her. “I’m sorry. I was just downstairs thinking that you were old enough to understand…”

“To understand what?” Hannah interrupted, holding up a picture of 5-year-old Charlotte smiling as she touched a reindeer’s glowing red nose. “That you grew up in the North Pole?!” Her voice got louder with every word.

“It’s complicated,” Charlotte said, putting an arm around Hannah’s shoulder that was immediately shrugged off.

“The North Pole!” Hannah repeated, waving the photo in her hand accusingly. “Rudolph! Elves!” She swallowed, looking down at the box of pictures. “Santa.”

Charlotte rummaged through the pile of pictures, and picked up one that her mother had taken, one of Charlotte sitting on her father’s lap at his desk, helping him double check his naughty and nice list. She’d enjoyed helping him, but it wasn’t because she liked the work. It was because the only time she got to spend quality time with her dad was when she helped him with his job. She hadn’t minded at first, but the older she got, the more she resented that so much of his attention was spent on other children, not her. As magical and wonderful as Christmas was in the North Pole, she’d hated the fact that he was too busy to spend it with her.

“It was complicated,” she said again.

“Mom.” Hannah looked at her, her wide blue eyes shining. “These pictures…does this mean that…Santa is…”

Charlotte nodded. “He’s your grandfather.”

“But I don’t believe in Santa,” Hannah whispered, more to herself than to Charlotte.

“Come here,” Charlotte said, motioning for Hannah to follow her across the attic to a door half-covered by boxes. “I need to show you something.”

She shoved the boxes aside and opened the door, revealing a closet stacked full of brightly-wrapped gifts.

“I was always planning to give these to you,” she said, picking one up and handing it to Hannah. “I just…didn’t know how.”

“To Hannah, with love from Santa Claus,” Hannah read the tag out loud. She looked at her mother. “This isn’t some kind of weird joke, is it? Are you pranking me?”

“Oh, no sweetie.” Charlotte kissed her head. “I would never do that. I know this is a lot, and it might be hard to believe.”

Hannah was quiet for a moment, looking at all the presents. “Does Dad know?”

“He does.”

“You shouldn’t have kept this from me.” Hannah folded her arms across her chest. “You always tell me not to keep secrets, but you kept the biggest secret in the world!”

“We have a lot to talk about,” Charlotte said, and looked at the red envelope she was still holding. “You should read this.”

Frowning, Hannah pulled out the card and read the inscription, her eyebrows raising higher with each word, and when she was finished, she looked at her mother with eyes brimming with excitement. “They want me to visit! Can I Mom? Oh please, can I go visit the North Pole?”

Read part 3 of the Christmas story in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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