Illustrated by Hannah Gruber
Do you believe in angels? If you’re like me, you probably haven’t given the matter much thought. But something happened yesterday at the Bag & Buy that made a believer out of me. It was the day before Christmas Eve and as I stood in the supermarket parking lot, fat snow flakes falling like frozen cotton balls, I prayed for a miracle.
Then Curtis showed up.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a couple of months, to the last week in October, the day a freak storm covered our town in a foot of snow. My name is Daisy Pratt and I’m in the fifth grade. My brother, Josh, is in grade three. That snowy morning, when Mom announced school was closed, Josh and I jumped around, feet stomping and arms waving, our version of a happy dance. We traded our textbooks for snow shovels, cleared the driveway, built a snowman, and finally went inside when the sun became an orange globe, sinking low in the sky.
We were tugging off our snow-crusted boots when I noticed Mom clutching her cell phone, her eyes clouded with fear.
“Yes. Right away,” she mumbled, then disconnected. “Car keys,” she muttered, scanning the kitchen counter.
“There,” I pointed. She scooped them up. “Mom?” I asked, an icy fear twisting inside me, “What’s happened?”
She shoved into her coat, grabbed her purse. “It’s your Dad,” she stammered. “There’s been an accident.”
“An accident?” Josh parroted. “Is he…is he okay?”
Mom’s voice was a strangled sob. “I won’t know much until I get to the hospital and speak with the doctor. Can you fix yourselves some sandwiches? I’ll phone as soon as I have news,” she promised.
Josh and I passed the time making peanut butter sandwiches and mugs of cocoa. After what felt like a zillion hours, Mom finally called. I put my phone on speaker as Mom described Dad’s accident. “He skidded off the icy highway and crashed through the guardrail.”
Dad would need an operation to fix his shattered leg, and therapy to help him walk again. Dad was a plumber, but he wouldn’t be fixing anyone’s leaky pipes anytime soon.
Mom worked as an agent, selling houses, but she hadn’t sold one in months. She called it the “winter slump”. And without Dad’s paycheck, things we’d always taken for granted soon began to disappear, like our Friday pizza nights. Some days there was no milk in the fridge, or cereal in the cupboard.
Then one evening I settled at the kitchen table to do my homework, but with Josh grumbling in the next room I couldn’t concentrate. Finally, I stomped into the family room. “What is your problem?” I snarled at him.
Josh was shaking the TV remote. “This stupid thing isn’t working!”
We turned when Mom entered, perched on the edge of the sofa. Then she announced that she’d cancelled our Internet service. “Just for a while,” she added quickly when Josh groaned. “Mom,” Josh stammered, “you’ve got to be kidding. Sheesh! Who in the world doesn’t have Internet!”
The next morning, I was pushing through the kitchen door when I suddenly hesitated; Mom was on her cell, talking to Aunt Flo. “The bills are piling up and we can’t afford our electric or our house payments,” Mom confided.
I turned around. As the kitchen door gently closed behind me, I gathered my backpack. A disturbing thought followed me all the way to the bus stop. When you didn’t make your payments, the bank took away your house.
If Mom didn’t sell a house soon, would we lose our own?
Mom began working evenings and every weekend showing houses, but on Sunday evenings, we’d visit Dad at the hospital’s rehab center. It was the first Sunday in December. The center was decorated for the holidays with a huge tree and colored lights. We were in the hospital’s lounge and Josh was glued to the TV, as we still had no Internet at home. I had my nose in a magazine when Josh nudged me. “Look, Daisy!” Josh pointed at the television. “It’s a Christmas parade! I made out my Christmas list yesterday,” Josh confided, as the TV Santa waved from his sleigh.
Glancing up from my magazine, I raised an eyebrow. “I hope it’s a really short list,” I muttered, then suddenly felt ashamed. Josh didn’t deserve my gloomy mood. I was giving the Grinch competition.
“Well, actually there’s only one thing on it,” he said. “I asked for a dog.”
“A dog?” I sputtered. “Josh, we can hardly afford to feed you!”
Josh ignored my sarcasm. “The dog isn’t just for me, Daisy. It’s mostly for Dad. When he finally comes home, it will be a long while before he can go back to work. He’ll be lonely with us in school, and Mom at work. I think a dog is a great gift, don’t you?”
Josh was a little kid with a big heart. How could I tell him that a dog just wasn’t going to happen? I blew out a weary sigh. “Josh, a dog for Christmas? That would take a miracle.”
Josh just shrugged. “But Daisy, Christmas is all about miracles!”
I was about to argue that we’d need a miracle just to keep our house, but I swallowed my words, flipped the page in my magazine instead.
We finally brought Dad home the week before Christmas. But when he hobbled though our front door, I wished he’d stayed in the rehab hospital. No tree here. No colored lights. No sparkly gold garland draped across the mantle. I wondered if we should start looking for the body. Our house had about as much holiday spirit as a funeral parlor.
The week passed quickly and finally school let out for the holiday break. It was the day before Christmas Eve. I was in my pajamas, nibbling a slice of toast, when Mom burst into the kitchen, her robe flapping around her ankles. “Daisy, get dressed. We are going shopping!”
I paused the toast halfway to my mouth. “Shopping?” I repeated, as if she were speaking a foreign language.
She waved an envelope. “I sold a house and earned a very nice commission.”
I stared at the envelope. “There’s money in there?”
“Uh-huh,” she stuffed the envelope in her purse, grabbed a paper and pen. “Enough to make our house payments, and do some holiday shopping, too! She tapped the pen on her pad. “Let’s see, we’ll start at the Bag & Buy, pick up a fat turkey and a ham,” she scribbled. “We need a Christmas tree, too.” Mom glanced up at me. “Well, don’t just stand there! Get dressed. We need to hurry before the turkeys fly the coop, and all the best trees are gone!”
The Bag & Buy Supermarket was just what you’d expect the day before Christmas Eve; littered with more shoppers than paper in a ticker tape parade. Mom had to circle the parking lot several times before finding a parking place. An icy wind attacked as I grabbed the only shopping cart in the lot. It moved like a rickety old man as I pushed it across the slushy lot.
We hurried past the Salvation Army Santa, his bell clanking over the chatter of noisy shoppers. Once inside, Mom was a woman on a mission, driving our cart like a NASCAR racer. She tossed in turkey fixings, pumpkin pie supplies, and enough ingredients to bake dozens of Christmas cookies. As she steered our overflowing cart into the checkout line, I began to believe that it was going to be a happy Christmas in the Pratt house, after all!
Minutes later, I was praying for a miracle.
Fat snowflakes swirled as we hurried through the parking lot. We loaded the groceries in the trunk, then scurried into the car just ahead of an icy blast of December wind.
“Tree time!” Mom exclaimed, steering toward the Christmas tree lot just round the next corner. She was turning into a parking space when I suddenly yelled out. “Mom! Lookout! Don’t hit him!”
Mom slammed on her breaks as a dog darted in front of our car. “Where did he go? Did I hit him?” Mom was frantic.
“No,” I shook my head. “He ran into the tree lot.”
“That dog should be on a leash.” Mom declared.
Stepping out of the car, she began scanning the lot. I stuffed my cold hands into my pockets as scents of juniper berries and fresh pine saturated the air. Mom pointed a gloved finger. “That must be the tree lot owner over there.” I followed as she marched across the lot. “Excuse me, sir?” she said.
Lot tree man smiled. “So what kind of tree are you looking for?” he asked.
Mom frowned. “Sir, did you know your dog is running loose in your parking lot? I almost hit him.”
“Not my dog,” lot man sighed. “His owner used to live across the street, but the old man passed away last week. I’ve been trying to catch that dog to take him to a shelter. He’s a sweet dog, but he’s terrified. Runs away from everybody.” Tree lot man gave his head a dismissive shake. “So,” he gestured at his lot full of trees,” can I sell you a Christmas tree?”
“How much for this one?” Mom pointed at a Balsam Fir.
“How’s fifty dollars sound?” Lot man began to bargain. When Mom frowned, he quickly added, “I’ll tie it to your car and throw in a Christmas wreath for your front door!”
“Deal!” Mom agreed.
Mom chose a wreath while tree lot man secured the tree to our roof. I was waiting in the car when Mom tapped. I rolled down the window. “Daisy, grab my purse, will you?”
I glanced around. “Ah…where is it?”
“It should be on the front seat.”
“Ah, no,” I muttered. Then I checked the floor, then under the seats, yanking out old receipts and an ancient water bottle. Twisting around, I stared at the empty back seat. Panic began rolling in my stomach like waves on a stormy sea.
Mom stuck her head though the window. “Daisy, the man is waiting. Can you please hand me my purse?”
“Mom, it isn’t here,” my voice was an anxious whisper.
Scanning the seat, her eyes grew wide with alarm. “But it must be!”
Then I did a mental head slap. “The trunk!” I stammered, climbing out of the car. “You probably dropped it in the trunk when we were loading the groceries!”
We yanked open the trunk, rummaged through, shoving bags aside. As Mom frantically searched, I concentrated. Her purse was hanging from her shoulder when we left the store.
It kept slipping off her arm as she loaded the trunk; until she finally yanked it off and…
“Mom, you left your purse in the shopping cart!”
“Oh Daisy, I think you’re right!” she sputtered. “Hurry! Get in the car.” she ordered. The engine roared to life and Mom sped away. As tree lot man chased after us, shouting and waving his arms, I wondered what the penalty was for stealing a Christmas tree.
Minutes later, Mom pulled into the Bag & Buy parking lot. Today, the store had more people coming and going than commuters on a rush hour train. What were the odds we’d find that same shopping cart where we’d left it? As Mom circled the lot, I pointed. “Over there, Mom. We were parked next to that van.” Mom pulled up to the van. Another car filled the space.
The shopping cart was gone.
I glanced at the iron gray sky, prayed for a miracle. Nothing short of a miracle could help us now. Please! Mom’s purse, I prayed. All our money. Please help us find it!
The sound of crashing metal got my attention. Across the parking lot, someone was pushing carts together. “Look Mom,” I pointed. “That kid is collecting shopping carts.”
Snowflakes created a dot-to-dot maze on his gray skullcap as Mom steered toward him, a kid maybe sixteen or seventeen, wearing a black hoodie and baggy jeans.
“Excuse me,” Mom rolled down the window. “I left my purse in a shopping cart,” Mom began to explain.
“A little black job with a long strap?” He smiled, revealing a gold tooth.
“You found it?” Mom blurted.
“Sure did.” His gold tooth glinted. “Took it inside to customer service. Ask for Sue. She’ll hook you up.”
Mom blew out a grateful breath. “I can’t thank you enough…?”
“Curtis, ma’am. Name’s Curtis,” he supplied, tapping his Bag & Buy name tag.
Mom circled the lot and finally found an empty spot. Rushing past Santa, we raced to the customer service desk.
“Are you Sue?” Mom asked the woman behind the counter.
“Sure am,” she smiled easily.
“Curtis just turned in my purse,” Mom rushed to explain. “I left it in a shopping cart.”
Sue frowned, shook her head. “Sorry. I’ve been here all morning. No one turned in a purse.”
“But Curtis said he turned it in a few minutes ago,” Mom insisted.
“I have a cell phone and a leather glove under my counter,” Sue said. “But no purse. Sorry.”
Frustrated, Mom raked her fingers through her hair. “Could you take a look? Please?”
Sue did a shoulder roll. “Fine. I’ll look. But I’m telling you, there is no purse.” Sue’s expression was a mixture of confusion and disbelief as she lifted the small black purse. “Well, I’ll be darned!” she exclaimed, handing it to Mom.
My breath caught in my throat as Mom unzipped the purse. Would the money still be there? When she pulled out the envelope, her face lit up. “Daisy, I think it’s all here.” Mom thumbed through the cash, then paused. “But I only see one fifty dollar bill. I could have sworn there were two fifty dollar bills in here,” she muttered.
“Whom did you say turned it in?” Sue asked, clearly baffled.
“Curtis,” Mom answered. “The boy collecting shopping carts.”
“Well,” a frown creased Sue’s brow, “I know everyone who works here and there isn’t anybody named Curtis,” she argued.
“But he was wearing a Merry Christmas Bag & Buy name tag, just like yours,” Mom said.
Sue shrugged, turned her attention on the line of impatient coughs and groans coming from behind us. “I don’t know what to tell you, lady. Maybe your Curtis is an angel,” she joked. “Anyway, I’m glad you got your purse back. Merry Christmas.”
As Mom and I trudged back across the slushy lot, I looked for the gray skullcap as shoppers rushed past, but Curtis was not among them.
“Mom, this makes no sense. If he doesn’t work here, why was he wearing a Merry Christmas Bag & Buy name tag? Why was he collecting shopping carts?”
Mom shrugged. “Well, maybe Sue was right. Maybe Curtis is an angel,” she suggested.
I gave the sky an eye roll as we reached the car. “You mean like from Heaven?” I shot her my get-serious look.
“Well, I’ve never actually met one,” Mom confessed, but many people claim that angels do indeed exist.”
“But Mom,” I argued, “even if angels are real, Curtis doesn’t fit the profile. Angels have shiny blond curls, wings, and halos. Curtis had a skull cap, a gold tooth, and jeans so baggy I could make out the Calvin Klein band on his underwear.”
Mom nodded, opening her door. “You’re right. Curtis doesn’t look anything like an angel is supposed to look. But hey, I’m just so grateful I have my purse back. C’mon!” she added as I clicked my seat belt. “We need to stop back at the tree lot before our faces wind up on the evening news!”
I switched on the radio as we made the short trip back to the tree lot. “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was playing when Mom suddenly sneezed. Then a strange sound came from her throat. “Mom, are you okay?” I asked.
She offered a sidelong glance. “I’m fine, but you sound like you might be getting a cold.”
As Mom turned into the tree lot, I frowned. “Me? But you’re the one who sneezed.”
“I didn’t sneeze,” Mom said, scanning the lot. “There he is,” she pointed, spotting lot tree man.
Lot man was tying a tree to a car when Mom tapped his shoulder. She held out a fifty-dollar bill. “I’m so sorry about running off without paying, but we had an emergency.”
Tree lot man waved a dismissive hand. “No worries. Some kid paid your bill.”
Mom frowned. “Who?” She scanned the lot. “What kid?”
Tree lot man shrugged. “Dunno. He paid with a fifty-dollar bill, then left.” Then lot tree man smiled wide and pointed. “I see you made a new friend!”
Mom gave lot man a blank stare. “New friend?”
Lot man scratched his head. “That dog doesn’t trust anyone. How did you coax him into your car?”
“Dog?” Mom and I spoke in unison, then both turned.
“Oh!” Mom’s mouth dropped open, then she planted her hand on her hip and glared at me. “Daisy Pratt! How did that dog get in our car?” She accused.
“You’re asking me!” I stared into the backseat at our stowaway sneezer and shrugged. “He must have jumped in before, when we were here searching the trunk for your purse.”
Mom opened the car door and raised an eyebrow at the dog. “All right you.” She turned to lot man. “What’s his name?”
Lot man shrugged. “Beats me. I’ve just been calling ‘Here doggy.’ But I’m so glad is has finally found himself a forever home. With such a fine family, too,” he beamed at Mom.
Ignoring lot man, Mom leaned into the car, used her parent voice. “Listen doggy. I need you to come out this very minute.”
When the dog just stared up at her, she pointed her finger like a Samurai sword. “Out!”
Dog gave Mom’s hand a sloppy lick, let out a short “Woof” then stretched out across the back seat.
Tree lot man chuckled. “Guess you’ll have one more for dinner this Christmas. What are you gonna name your new doggie?”
“Name him?” Mom glared. “That is not our dog!”
Tree lot man raised a bushy eyebrow, leveled a stare at Mom. “Your car. Your tree. Your child.” He pointed at the back seat. “Your dog.” Then he walked over to greet another customer.
“What are we gonna do, Mom? Are we gonna keep him?” I asked.
Mom blew out a weary sigh, then chuckled. “Daisy, I think it’s the other way around. It looks like he’s decided to keep us.”
Climbing into the car, Mom brushed her fingers through her hair. “I’m still trying to figure out who paid for our tree,” she mused aloud.
As I reached for the door handle, my boot crunched on the slushy ground. I bent down, brushed off the snow and stared at my hand.
“What is it?” Mom asked.
I got in the car, pulled the door closed and opened my fist. Mom leaned forward for a closer look, then gasped at the name tag clutched in my hand.
“It was just lying in the snow!” I stammered. “But how did it get here?”
Mom studied the tag. “Obviously Curtis left it,” she said, matter-of-factly.
I stared at her, baffled. “So your saying Curtis, the kid who found your purse, was here today. And while shopping for a tree, lost his name tag in the snow?”
Mom shook her head. “Curtis wasn’t shopping for a tree; he was paying for one. And he didn’t lose his name tag, Daisy. He left it. For us to find.”
“But Mom, why would he do that?”
Mom started the car. “I believe Curtis is sending us a message.”
“A message?” I stared at the tag.
A slow smile tugged at Mom’s mouth as she drove out of the Christmas tree lot. “I think Curtis wants us to know that in 2019, angels just don’t look the way they used to!”