Christmas fiction

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A story I wrote for an advent calendar. 🙂

Messengers

Janice stood in her doorway. The humid air and 80 degree temperatures did nothing to encourage her to exit her air conditioned condo. Only her stuttering will power, and a stern internal dialog, kept her from turning around and staying cloistered inside.

Christmas in Florida was not the wintery wonderland of Hallmark movies and holiday songs.  The grass was green. Flowers gleamed on the shrubbery. The lawn crews came every week, right through the holidays. Across the road, mangroves swayed in the sea breeze. The smell of low tide and salty muck wasn’t very festive either.  The sky was turning orange and pink with the fading sun. She glanced at her phone. It was time. She forced her feet forward onto the mat.

She startled at her neighbor’s voice.

“Merry Christmas, Janice.” The 30-something man smiled and waved.

Janice was not able to remember his name. The last time they had spoken was a similar Halloween greeting.

“Merry Christmas to you as well.”

Thankfully, he strode toward the parking lot, not expecting any further interaction. Janice closed the door slowly, giving the man plenty of time to make it to his car before she headed onto the common walkway.  She preferred to avoid the awkward, mid-sidewalk, pleasantries that social norms dictated in communal living. She made it to her car without incident.

Ten minutes later, she pulled up outside the church.  Her palms were sweating. She took a few deep breaths. She could do this.  She would do this. It would all be alright.  She closed her eyes and thought about the moment, nearly a month ago, when the music minister (who hadn’t ever spoken to her before) approached and asked if she would be willing to ‘help with the Christmas Eve service’.  Janice had nodded and quietly added, “of course, whatever you need.” Before turning to bolt for the door.

Now, here she was, practicing calming breaths before she walked into an auditorium and sang.  Not on stage. That would never happen. But from tucked away in the AV loft. That was the only way she could reconcile her anxiety with the minister’s ‘help’ request. He had asked her to sing the part of the herald angel. Her. An angel. A singing angel.

Janice felt her heart race. If she didn’t go right now, she may just turn and speed away home.  Home!  It would be nice to be home, with her cat and a cup of mint cocoa. Not sweating in her car fighting the rising fear of failure that loomed over her like a tsunami.

What if, what if, what if? The nagging voice of strangling self-doubt grew louder with every pounding beat of her heart.

Janice forced her eyes open and out of the car. She crossed the white, shell strewn parking lot and focused on the stained glass of the towering sanctuary windows. They were her favorite. Blue water, trees, ibis and herons lifting wings toward the heavens.  They reminded her of peaceful times. Of kayaking on the gulf waters, of warm sunshine and quiet waves.

She grabbed the door handle. Her mind screamed, “It’s not too late! You don’t have to do this! No one will blame you. They know you aren’t that good after all…”

Whispering a prayer for strength, Janice opened the door and stepped into the church.

Waiting was the worst. Waiting for the others to arrive. Waiting for the service to start. Waiting for the music, the cue, the first note. Standing in the darkness, hidden above the gathered worshipers, Janice whispered another prayer. “Please, God, please help me through this. Please don’t let me mess this up.”

From somewhere a quiet voice answered. “Just close your eyes and sing.”

Janice took a deep breath, the first note sounded, she closed her eyes and sang:

Angels from the realms of glory,

Wing your flight o’er all the earth;

Ye who sang creation’s story

Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

The music minister signaled the congregation and they joined the chorus. Voices rang through the candlelit sanctuary. Janice opened her eyes and watched as the music filled the room. She smiled as the joyous song overflowed.

After the service, Janice meant to slip away quickly. She was happy to be far from the press of the milling and hugging crowd.  A familiar voice followed her exit. “You sang really well. It was beautiful.” Janice turned and found a young girl, age no more than ten. 

“Oh, hi. Er, thank you.” Janice looked at the girl curiously. “Were you up here the whole time?”

“My name’s Alice. My dad runs the AV. I like to sit up here with him.”

Janice laughed softly. “So you were the one who told me to close my eyes. I thought God was answering my prayer.”

The brown eyed girl considered her for a moment. “God sends messages through lots of people. Maybe I was your messenger. Like the Herald angel was to the shepherds. Like you were to the whole church tonight.”

Janice smiled, tears wetting her eyes. “You are quite the wise little angel, Alice. Thank you.”

Alice smiled and skipped back to her dad’s side. Janice waved to the pair then headed down the stairs to the ground floor.

The music minister caught her at the last step. “Janice! You did wonderfully tonight. Great job.”

Janice felt her face flush. “Thanks. I had some helpful advice.”

“Not that you needed it, you have a beautiful voice. We could certainly use your help with the New Year’s Eve service…” The minister spread his hands and left the question unspoken. The negative narrative in her mind was stunned into silence.

Janice nodded. “Of course, whatever you need.”

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