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Hadley’s mind reeled with disbelief as her foster mom shoved her clothes into an old suitcase. “But…but I’m innocent.”
“Maybe.” Dianna gave a half-hearted nod. “I hope so. It’d be an awful thing to squander the opportunities we’ve offered you.”
“I…I am. The investigation will prove it. I promise. You’ve got to believe me. Please.”
“Like I said, maybe you are innocent…of this incident. You had seemed to be making great strides since you went to anger-management classes. I’ll give you that, Hads.”
“Then don’t send me back. Please. My friends are here. Monroe is—”
“Decision’s made. You made it when you broke curfew for the third time.”
“But I was only a little late and for good reasons. You said so—”
“I’m aware.” Dianna didn’t pause her movements as she packed Hadley’s toothbrush.
Hadley bit back tears, hating any sign of being vulnerable. “Then why?”
“They’ve found two witnesses who place you in the Reeds’ yard.”
“What?” Hadley’s knee-jerk gasp was the totally wrong response. Stay cool. Remain calm.
“Yeah, apparently you were there.” Dianna released a slow sigh. “Imagine that.”
Regret twisted through Hadley. She never should’ve set foot on the Reeds’ property. “Okay, I was at their place, but I never—”
“Interesting.” Dianna stood up straight, the top of her head now even with Hadley’s nose. She yanked a beautiful red sweater off a hanger, a Christmas gift from Scott and her to Hadley a mere three weeks ago. “You’ve denied being anywhere near there until right now. They said they saw you start a fire using leaves, sticks, and what appeared to be some kind of accelerant.” She shoved the sweater into the suitcase with the other clothes as if it and Hadley no longer mattered.
Should she explain her actions? The moment the question came to her she knew the answer. No matter the subject or the situation, adults couldn’t be trusted. Anything Hadley said would be passed along to the authorities, distorted, and used against her.
Dianna jammed two pairs of wool socks into the suitcase. “Anyway, Scott and I think it’s in everyone’s best interest if you don’t live here anymore.”
“Please”—Hadley clasped her hands together—“don’t do this. I’m controlling my temper better. Ask Monroe’s parents. My few nights with them over Christmas break were good. They got to know me, and their word matters in this town and state.”
None of this mess was on the horizon then. Hadley and Monroe had enjoyed the most amazing Christmas, the very best in her entire seventeen years. They’d fallen even more in love if that was possible. She’d joined the Birch family—Monroe, his parents, and his college-age big sister, Nicole—for the Christmas Eve feast and unwrapping gifts covered in gorgeous paper and adorned with bright ribbons. It was an evening straight out of a fairy tale with the large family gathering she had always longed to have. His parents had finally seemed to accept her and her wayward past, and she’d stayed a few nights in their guest room.
Dianna plucked two keepsakes off the dresser—a pair of handblown-glass hummingbirds and a glass rainbow with Monroe’s and her initials inside a little heart. Monroe had it made for her, and he had given it to her for Christmas as a symbol of the covenant between the Creator and her and a symbol of the love between Monroe and her and his promise to always take care of her.
The hummingbirds were from her birth mother, given to her more than twelve years ago. Although she’d only been five years old, she remembered clearly the day. A social worker was at their house to take Hadley into foster care. Mom had packed Hadley’s suitcase and had knelt in front of her. She placed the hummingbird figurines in her hand, saying one was her and one was Hadley. Hadley was to hold on to them as a reminder that she and her mom would be together again one day, that it was a temporary separation. Mom promised she would get off the bad stuff and the courts would grant her custody again.
But that never happened. Despite years of her mom sporadically coming for supervised visits and occasionally getting close to being clean, she never managed to do so long enough to satisfy the courts. She also never signed over her parental rights, which would have allowed Hadley to be adopted.
Dianna stuffed the keepsakes in the suitcase.
Hadley jolted. “Hey, those will break.”
Dianna nodded, took them out, and gently placed them on top of the sweater. “We’ve tried to be fair, Hadley, but you’re just too much for us, and we have other foster kids to think about.”
“I was there, but I didn’t burn down their house!” Hadley pounded a fist into her palm. “I…I’m not an arsonist. I was trying to do something nice for them. I…” Hadley grabbed fistfuls of her thick curls. “I swear it! You’ve got to—”
“You’ll calm down.” Dianna pointed at her. “Now.”
Hadley released her hair, grew still, and nodded. Dianna had earned Hadley’s respect. Besides, as bad as going to the state-licensed group home would be, juvenile lockup would be much worse. Tears stung. She had a fierce temper and often impulsively lashed out against the unfairness of life. Dianna and Scott had dealt with her recklessness for years, helping her learn to cope with her emotions in a less destructive way. They’d even stayed by her when she had to go before a judge on a vandalism charge. She’d been reprimanded and sent to court-ordered anger-management therapy. But because of her past behavior, they were sure she was guilty, apparently convinced before seeing any proof.
Hadley’s heart seemed to weigh a hundred pounds. “But if I go there, it’ll mean a new school for the rest of my senior year. I’ll be separated from Monroe, and…”
Dianna barely glanced at her, and Dianna’s lack of reaction made it clear that Hadley’s boyfriend and what school she attended were not Dianna’s concern. But these things were everything to Hadley. She didn’t want to leave.
Dianna paused in jamming personal items into the side pockets of the suitcase just long enough to point at a framed picture on the wall. “Is that yours or Elliott’s?”
And I thought
A wonderful Christmas story of hope and healing. And romance!
The story begins in 2003 filling us in with the backstory.
Then we are brought up to date and the present and right into Hadley's kitchen.
With real adult problems and obstacles from her past Hadley's character grows as she overcomes.
The information about speech therapy was interesting and very informative.
This was a fast read as the story develops quickly and keeps the readers interest.
I enjoyed the The Gift Of Christmas Past. I liked trying the recipes that were included in the end.
I received a complimentary copy from Litfuse.
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