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Chapter 7: Olivia and Gia pair up for new task

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part seven of a continuing, fictional holiday tale that is running daily through Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read along with their children.

Olivia woke up the next morning in a great mood. She didn’t consider herself a morning person and had always been that kid that grumbled and fought when it was time to wake up for school. And since her dad had been gone, she’d gotten even worse at it.

She hated waking up and not smelling her dad’s coffee in the morning or hearing him laugh with her mom in the kitchen. And the holidays were the hardest for her because her dad loved everything about Christmas. She didn’t like heading to the table for breakfast and not hearing her dad humming Christmas songs while he read the paper and stirred his coffee with a candy cane.

But today, for the first time in a long time, she woke up excited about the day ahead.

Last night’s sledding challenge was so much fun. She grinned just thinking about all the slippery, twisting tracks they soared through. And during the epic snowball fight that broke out afterwards between them and the elves, they all seemed to bond so well that Olivia was sad Gia missed it.

And as it happened, for that day’s assignment, Olivia was paired with Gia, so she was hopeful she could maybe spark some sort of friendship. She wasn’t even sure why she felt so determined and hopeful inside about it, or even why she cared. But it felt good, and it felt right, so she wasn’t going to question it.

The real excitement she felt was from what they would be doing today. She and Gia, along with an elf named Simon, were heading back toward their hometowns to work at an animal shelter for the day.

It turned out that Olivia and Gia only lived 40 miles apart, and there was a shelter halfway between their towns where they’d be spending their day together.

Even better, she would get to see her mom when she drove out to the shelter to meet her for a visit. Olivia missed her family and home more than imagined she would, even after just a couple days, and she couldn’t wait to see her mom.

Simon led Olivia and Gia into a large igloo behind the reindeer barns. Once inside, he pressed a button on his watch and an electrical panel rose up from the snow in front of them. Simon pressed his finger to the touch screen, then tapped out a few letters and numbers. Suddenly the back wall was opening up before them to reveal a long path that had every color of the rainbow circling it like some type of time warp.

Olivia looked wide-eyed over at Gia, who was staring into the glowing tunnel with a smile on her lips and a mixture of fear and wonder in her eyes.

“Go ahead through,” Simon said reassuringly. “I promise you’ll be okay. I’ll be coming myself in a few hours to speak with the shelter manager, and that’s when I’ll collect you for return. They’re expecting you, just ring the bell when you get there.”

Olivia swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded at Simon. She took one step forward and then felt something sweaty in her palm. She looked down to find Gia’s hand softly holding hers.

Squeezing Gia’s hand slightly, Olivia led them through the tunnel and into the unknown.

Speechless, they both looked around and continued on as the colorful lights spiraled around them faster than they could comprehend. It should have made them dizzy, but somehow it didn’t bother them.

Eventually they came to an ordinary looking brown door with a bell attached to it.

Gia reached up and jingled the bell once. It immediately swung open so fast that the girls jumped back a few steps, startled. Standing in the doorway was a young woman with long curly brown hair and green glasses. She smiled at them and stepped aside, ushering them in.

“Welcome, welcome. Kris sent word to be expecting you. I have everything ready. Busy day. Every day, busy busy. Glad you’re here to help. I’m Elaine, the manager of Bepaws We Love Them.”

She shut the door behind them and started to walk away, gesturing for the girls to follow.

As soon as Elaine and Gia turned the corner, Olivia quietly opened the door they had just come through, still marveling at what she’d just seen. But there was no dark tunnel with rainbow light and swirling prisms any longer.

Instead, what Olivia found behind the door she just arrived through was nothing but a cleaning closet.

Read chapter eight in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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