My Christmas Angel

By: Debra Salonen

Chapter One

"Read me your story, Mommy. Please. Before you go. Plee...ase."

Abby had popped into Ben's room to kiss him good-bye before dashing across town to her ex-sister-in-law's annual Christmas Eve Eve party. Janine would give her a hard time if Abby told her why she was late. Janine claimed divorced parents overcompensated by giving into their kid's every wish. But Janine was "childless by choice," and she wasn't looking into the sweetest, most heart-tugging brown eyes on the planet.

"Laying it on a little thick, aren't you, cutie?"

Her son scrambled upright, positioning himself with shoulders against the single bed's headboard. Shaggy blond hair framed his thin face as he tried to look angelic--hands folded prayerfully in his lap, flannel pajamas mis-buttoned.

He's me thirty years ago, she realized.

She'd been a worldly eight when she met Dickie--her Christmas angel and the subject of the story Ben wanted to hear.

"I know we usually read it on Christmas Eve," Ben said gravely. "But that's--" He looked at the digital clock on his beside table. "--just four hours away."

Her son paid attention to time. And schedules. A bi-product of shared custody, she was certain.

"Oh, what the heck," Abby said, shrugging off her coat. "Let's live dangerously and read it early. Aunt Janine will forgive me this once." Maybe. Her ex-sister-in-law liked to tell people that when Abby and Drake divorced, Janine got custody of Abby. But that was two years ago, and since Drake's recent wedding to a lovely woman Janine liked, Janine's loyalty had started to shift. She'd even invited the newlyweds to her party. Another reason Abby was dragging her feet.

She draped her coat across the foot of her son's bed and squeezed into the tiny space he'd made. Ben was getting so big. It seemed like only yesterday when she held him in her arms on Christmas Eve and told him the story of the little boy who made such a big impact on her. The storytelling became a family ritual until two years ago--their first holiday as a broken family--when Ben asked, "Why isn't your story a book, Mommy? It sounds like a book."

Out of the mouth of babes, as her mother often said. Abby spent her remainder of her vacation writing and editing the story. At her small, boutique publishing house's January editorial meeting, she introduced her proposal. Her boss loved it and exclaimed, "I know the perfect illustrator." He'd been right. Over the next few months, Dickie's story morphed into a book. Its beautiful cover was an immediate draw and the story garnered enough buzz to sell out. My Christmas Angel recently celebrated its ninth printing.

"Where's the book?" she asked, playing into their long-standing game.

"Right here." He whipped it out from under the covers and presented the large, well-loved copy to her with a flourish.

Abby lightly ran her fingers over the raised imprint of her name on the book jacket. She still felt like a fraud when people referred to her as an author. She'd gone to college to study literature because books had been her refuge after her parents divorced. She'd planned on becoming a librarian until she met Ben's father and moved to New York. Somehow, her adopted city seemed to require her to think bigger so she'd shopped her degree from publisher to publisher until she found an assistant editor spot at a small, erudite press. She loved her job and harbored no illusion that she was a thwarted author. Not for a minute. But Dickie's story was different. Telling it was only natural...since she'd lived it.

Did that mean she believed the reviewer who claimed the story "...addressed that moment of awakening in a child's life when he or she realizes they are part of a bigger world?" Not for a minute, but she was glad for the book's success, even if secretly she felt a tiny bit disappointed. Ever since its publication, a part of her had hoped that the living, breathing Dickie Daniels would see the book, buy it, start reading it to his children and suddenly realize, "Hey, this is me."

She'd received a steady flow of email from fans of the book, but not a single inquiry asked, "Are you that Abigail? From Pittsburg? Was your mother our family caseworker? Did she bring me to your house on Christmas Eve?"

"Mommy," Ben said, drawing her back to the present. He opened the book to the first page. "Start right here where it says, 'Little Dickie Daniels is a Christmas angel.'"

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