At least most of her stuff was already packed and stored in the garage from her move back home earlier in the year. Now, they just had to make room for her brothers, Dale and Hunter, and Hunter’s wife. Six adults in a three-bedroom house; things were going to be cramped until their economic situation improved.
She took the baseball and gloves from on top of the dresser and placed them in a box along with the rest of her brother’s toys that Mom had kept around in anticipation of visits from grandchildren. Of course, that hadn’t happened yet. The room had remained relatively unchanged since Dale and Hunter had both moved out as adults.
This Christmas season should feel like old times with everyone reunited in the family home, but it didn’t. Hunter was sleeping on the couch and shared a dresser with Sierra. Both of those facts of life were continuing reminders that all was not well with the world. It was even worse when Sierra went to work. Her coworkers and the customers seldom smiled and none of them sang or whistled Christmas tunes. The war in Europe, the assassination of the President, and even the horrible weather all conspired to make this a Christmas to file away under bad memories, like the blind date she had with Cory Keats in tenth-grade.
The last of her brother’s childhood toys were boxed in preparation of Dale and Stacy’s arrival later in the week. If Sierra could only figure out what to do with them. The garage was nearly full and still had to hold the stuff Dale and Stacy planned to. Maybe she could find out where the nearest Goodwill store was located and drop off all the boxes the family had sorted into the can-do-without category.
The phone rang in the kitchen. As soon as she heard the ring she had the feeling that the call was for her. It was weird how that happened—you sensed a call was for you and then it turned out that it was. Sierra couldn’t image who might be calling since she didn’t really know anyone in the area. She raced out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, snagging the phone just as her mother reached for the receiver.
“Hello,” she said, giving her mother a big you’re-too-slow smile.
“Could I speak with Sierra, please?”
“Robert?” It sounded like Robert. Sierra hoped that she wasn’t imagining it sounded like Robert because she missed him so much. It’d been weeks since his last letter. She cried at night, worried he died during the big battle in Italy. Voice trembling and unable to breathe, she asked, “Is that you, Robert?”
“Wow,” said Robert. “It feels great to hear your voice.”
Tears flowed down Sierra’s cheeks. Robert was alive. Between sobs of joy she said, “I’m . . . so . . . . glad . . . you called.”
“Are you kidding? I had to wish my girl a Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” Sierra wiped tears from her face. She had dozens of questions for him and hung on his every answer, trying to picture herself with Robert as he described what had happened to him in Europe. A short ten-minutes later Robert announced that he needed to end the call. Visiting hours were over and Gil, whose phone Robert was using, had to leave. They told each other goodbye and the line went dead.
“Sweetie, can you help me move some of the boxes around in the garage?” Sierra’s mother asked.
It took over an hour for her mother to decided which boxes she wanted stacked on top of what other boxes, but Sierra didn’t mind. She hummed Christmas carols as she worked. Then as she carried the box of toys from her brother’s old room an idea popped into her head.
After making sure her mother didn’t need anything else reorganized, Sierra grabbed the items the family planned to discard and drove to the post office. She labeled the boxes and used the last of the available money in her checking account to pay the postage to ship them to Camp Valiant.
As the postal workers prepared to seal the boxes with packaging tape, Sierra scribbled a quick letter to Robert’s father. Boxes sealed and postage paid, the woman behind the counter used a handcart to roll the packages to the back of the post office. A sense of peace washed over Sierra as she watched the packages start their journey.
Sierra didn’t know how the children at Camp Valiant would react to receiving used toys, but at least she knew how it made her feel to send them. It felt like Christmas.