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Girls get visit from their parents at camp

“I think this floor is as clean as it’s gonna get,” Gia said, leaning against her broom.

Chewbacca was sitting patiently by the registers, obediently waiting where Olivia told him to stay so he wouldn’t run through their piles of dirt.

“I think you’re right. Why don’t we head back to — “

The outside door to the store jingled its bells as someone opened it to come inside.

“Mom!” Olivia ran to her mother and plowed into her, wrapping her arms tightly around her mom’s waist.

“Well, hello you. You seem happy.”

“I am!” Olivia smiled up at her mom then gestured behind her. “Mom, this is Gia.”

Gia hung back, but smiled back at Olivia’s mom. “Nice to meet you,” she said shyly, which surprised Olivia; she didn’t think Gia had a shy bone in her body.

“It’s nice to meet you, Gia. I’m so glad you’re making new friends, Livy.”

“And Mom, this is Chewbacca! Here boy.” She patted her leg and Chewy ran to her excitedly, his whole body wagging along with his tail. “He lives here because he’s an adult and nobody has wanted him. But they’re missing out, because he’s the most wonderful dog in the whole world.”

Her mom raised her eyebrows as she petted Chewy, but before she could respond, the door opened again. A tall man with dark hair and dark eyes walked in, surveying the scene around him. When his eyes landed on Gia, he grinned, and that’s when Olivia realized how much he looked like her new friend.

Gia didn’t run over to him like Olivia had; in fact she seemed to hesitate. “Hi Dad.”

“Gia. How are you, sweetheart? Come here.”

She walked to her dad and he scooped her into his arms, and Gia relaxed into his hug. Gia almost seemed relieved, and Olivia wondered if she was afraid he was mad at her.

“Ready to get some pizza? I’m told I get you for an hour and a half.” He grinned down at Gia. “You’re on a tight schedule.”

“Yes, let’s get going too, Livy,” her mom said. “Might as well make the most of our time.”

“You two are welcome to join us,” Gia’s father offered. “We’re just going to Italian Pies down the street.”

Olivia’s mom looked at Gia’s father and back to Olivia. “Oh, that’s very nice of you. Well … Olivia, it’s up to you honey.”

“Yes!” Olivia said, louder than necessary out of excitement.

“Ok then.” Her mom laughed, looking back to Gia’s dad. She held out her hand.

“Elizabeth.”

He shook her hand and smiled. “Carter. It’s nice to meet you both.”

One hour later the four of them were laughing at their table at Italian Pies Pizzeria. The girls were sharing stories of their time so far at Secret Santa Camp, and their respective parents were smiling and listening, asking questions.

“I told you that you’d have a good time and make friends. Your dear dad is always right, you know?”

Gia rolled her eyes and smiled at her dad while munching on a breadstick. “I might not have been so friendly at first.”

“Not you?” her dad said teasingly, and although his tone was light, Olivia saw a flicker of sadness in his eyes.

“She’s been great. I liked her from the start,” Olivia blurted out, and everyone looked at her. Gia stared at her for a long moment before smiling at her, silently thanking her.

“Well Livy, are you excited to be home soon?” Elizabeth asked. “I know Sam is missing you.”

“I’m excited, but I’m also excited for the rest of camp. I really want to get to know some reindeer! I just can’t believe it’s all real, I still have doubts.”

Her mom took her hand. “Even a small drop of belief is enough to start a river of it. Piper used to tell me that,” she said wistfully.

“Piper the elf?!” Olivia and Gia asked simultaneously.

“How … how do you know Piper, Mom?”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened for the briefest of moments. “Oh. Well, you know.” She was waving her hands around and started talking really fast. “Elf? No, no, Piper from the church we used to go to, remember? She and I used to talk over coffee. She said that. A lot. So full of great sayings, that one.”

Olivia and Gia shared a look with each other but didn’t say aloud what they were both thinking, which was that Olivia’s mom wasn’t telling the truth. Gia’s dad was watching her curiously.

“So what do you all do for Christmas? Big gathering?” he asked while signaling the server for their checks.

“My parents moved down to Florida a few years back,” Elizabeth said. “We go there for the holidays every other year. And they come home here for Thanksgiving. My husband’s family are all in Maine. So it’s a cozy Christmas for us this year. Just me, Livy and my son Sam.”

Olivia felt sadness start to wash over her, but she remembered how much her dad loved Christmas and loved seeing the family together and happy, and she pushed the sadness away.

“Even when it’s just us, Mom does the works,” Olivia said. “Turkey and stuffing and all the sides. And gingerbread houses and so many cookies and pie. It’s all so good.”

Elizabeth was watching her with glistening eyes and grabbed her napkin to dab at them. “Sorry, everyone. ‘Tis the season to make me emotional.”

“Does your mom bake a lot, too?” Olivia asked Gia to give her mother a moment. But Gia just looked down at her plate and didn’t acknowledge Olivia’s question.

Carter cleared his throat. “Gia’s mom is in heaven. We lost her three years ago to cancer.”

“I’m so sorry,” Elizabeth said, her voice full of empathy.

“I’m sorry, too,” murmured Olivia, wishing she could take the question back.

Gia’s dad smiled at them and ruffled his daughter’s hair. “We’re doing pretty well, Gia and me. We’ve had our moments, but we’re lucky to have each other. Right G?”

Gia nodded, still not making eye contact with anyone.

“So we have to get you girls back.” Olivia’s mom said. “I know it’s last minute, Carter, but you and Gia are very welcome to join us for Christmas dinner. If you want, I mean. And if it’s OK with Olivia.”

Olivia was bouncing on her seat with excitement. And the smile on Carter’s face said that maybe their Christmas was going to be a little more crowded this year.

Olivia looked at Gia and to her relief, she was smiling wide as she shrugged into her coat.

“Now. The real important question …” Olivia asked the group as they headed to their cars.

“How do I convince Elaine to let me bring Chewbacca back to camp with me?”

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