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Mia and Brandon work hard at animal sanctuary

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

“Do either of you have any questions?” Mr. Cameron asked.

He sat across from Mia and Brandon at the kitchen table. Mrs. Cameron had given them chocolate chip pancakes and hot cocoa, and they ate every delicious bite while listening to the list of things Mr. Cameron had for them to do.

It turned out the normal volunteers for the season were out of town for the holidays, and Mrs. Cameron’s arthritis made it so she could no longer help tend to the animals like she used to. They’d been thrilled when Mia and Brandon showed up, ready to help.

“I think we’ve got it. First we’ll milk the goats, and then we need to clean the alpaca stalls. After that we’ll head to the stables to brush and feed the horses and reindeer,” Mia listed off confidently.

“That’s right,” Mr. Cameron said with a smile. “I’ll be right over in the pig and cow barn. We have several boards that need replaced. You know where everything is, Mia, but if you need anything or have questions you come get me.”

“If you kids get too cold, you come in for a warmup and cocoa,” Mrs. Cameron added.

It didn’t take long to realize the rhyme inside the ornament was right; cleaning the alpaca enclosures was very hard work. But even though Mia and Brandon were dirty and their arms hurt from shoveling and raking, they both wore big smiles. The alpacas were cute and soft, and a baby sand-colored one kept following Brandon around and watching every move he made. He acted annoyed at first, but it wasn’t long until his heart was melting for his new furry friend.

“So, what are you supposed to save?” he asked, petting the alpaca’s neck. “These guys seem great.”

Mia shrugged. “I know as much as you do. Maybe it’s something as simple as just saving the Camerons from not being able to get all the work done this week. Maybe it’s not always going to be something surprising or magical.”

“Well, I think we’re done here,” Brandon said, giving the baby alpaca a final rub. “Should we head to the stables?”

Mia glanced at her phone; they’d been at it for two-and-a-half hours already. She followed Brandon into the stables where the horses whinnied in greeting.

“Hi, guys,” Mia said, rubbing the noses of those who were at their gates. She walked past them to the room of the barn where she heard hooves shuffling and the distinct sound of air snorted through nostrils. Mia hurried to the stalls, grinning at the sight of the eight big reindeer.

She spent the next hour grooming and feeding them, talking to them the entire time. It hardly felt like any time at all had passed before Brandon came and found her.

“I’m just about done with the horses,” he said. He was covered head to toe in dirt and who knew what else, and she felt so thankful to have him as a friend at that moment.

“I’m done, too,” she said with a sigh. “I’m so tired. And I know there’s more to do, but I feel like something should have happened by now.”

“Like you said, maybe us being here is the task. The Camerons seem like they really need the help. You can tell neither of them are able to do what they used to around here.”

“Yeah, maybe. Want to go to the house for cocoa before we start the next job?”

“Definitely.”

On their way to the house, they passed the largest of the property’s barns, which held the cows and pigs. Mia hoped Mr. Cameron would let her milk a cow; it was one of her favorite things to do here.

“So, are you having fun?” Brandon asked, and Mia nodded.

“I really am. I know it’s hard work. But I think I’d like to work at a place like this when I grow up. I just love all the animals so much.”

She looked back at the barn and felt a twinge of something, a feeling she couldn’t quite explain. For a second, she was almost overwhelmed by the feeling that she was supposed to be in this exact place at this exact time.

Maybe helping out with the animals all day wasn’t the main reason for the ornament sending her here today, after all.

Read the next chapter of “The Golden Ornament” in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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