I've had so many emails asking me to please repost this story. So to all of you who loved it, here you go. Thanks so much for the emails and the wonderful comments.
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"Please God, can my mommy come home and visit for Christmas?"
The words, uttered in the sweetest voice of the curly haired blonde little girl, tore at her father's heart. Nathan could feel a thickness in the back of his throat and tears mist in his eyes as he stared at his youngest daughter kneeling beside her bed staring through the window at one of the brightest star in the heavens, the North Star.
His wife, Kendra, had passed away from breast cancer just a little before Christmas the year before, leaving him a widower with three children all under the age of ten. Michael, the oldest, was eight, his carbon copy, and had stood stoic and silent, his hand holding his sister's tightly as he watched his mother's casket being slowly lowered into the ground. Katie was six, the image of her mother, with red hair and green eyes and a scattering of freckles across her tip tilted nose. She had cried for days, not understanding why her mother had been taken, why she couldn't be there Christmas morning as she had been for every year of her young life.
And little Meghan, his tiny angel, was four. With her big blue eyes and curly tow head, she reminded him of the glass Christmas angel his grandmother had brought with her from Germany, carefully wrapped in layers of shawls against the rough sea crossing. That same Angel that would grace the tree that he and the kids would trim in the next couple of days.
"Okay, Meggie my love. In to bed you go," his voice was a little husky but his smile was wide and genuine. He scooped up the precious package in his arms, listening to her tiny voice giggle as he swung her up and around in a circle before scooting her under the covers of the pretty pink bed in her pretty pink room. He sat down next to her, buzzing the side of her neck with his lips to make her giggle.
"Brush your teeth?" he asked, suddenly all serious.
"Yes, Daddy," his precious angel smiled widely, showing off tiny white teeth.
Nathan made a production of checking them, his face serious as he moved to see at all angles. "Okay. Looks good. No bedbugs?"
Meghan scooted under the covers, lifting them high and giggling as she wiggled her toes. "Right there, Daddy. Right there."
Nathan grabbed her two small feet and tickled her ten toes for a second, finishing the routine that they had established after months of tears and sorrow. When Katie and Michael's grades started slipping and Meghan started having bad dreams, he knew he had to snap out of his own misery and see to his children. He'd done so with a sense of wonder that he'd never thought to feel, watching his children, getting to know them and to get involved in their lives. And even with his ever increasing work load and the importance of the job that he held as Chief of Staff at the Meriden General Hospital, he always managed to make it home for these important times.
He kissed Meggie good night and turned off her bedside light, closing the door all but a few inches so that she could still have a bit of light from the tiny one he'd put in the hallway and turned to go to Katie's room.
She was sitting on the bed, brushing the long golden hair of her favorite doll. "Now, Amber, when we get up on Christmas morning, you gotta be quiet cuz daddy can hear everything. We wanna surprise him and.."
Before he could wreck their surprise by hearing it, he tapped at the paneled door.
"Ready for bed, Katie girl?"
Katie dropped both the brush and Amber and jumped up to race to her handsome daddy. She jumped into his arms, and wrapped her own around his neck tightly as he swung her around.
"I was worried, daddy. I thought you wouldn't make it home tonight. The weather man said we're gonna have a big snowstorm all night and all day tomorrow."
Nathan couldn't help but smile down at his little worrier. She made it her job to find out the weather, the road conditions, even traffic conditions on days when he was late leaving because of some major family catastrophe, such as Michael's lost homework. She reminded him so much of his late wife. Right after Kendra's funeral he'd had trouble looking at her, seeing his wife in every move, every facial expression, each nuance of Katie's being. When he'd realized what he had done, he'd been horrified that he had hurt the fragile little girl.
He carried her into the pastel colored room that was slowly being weaned from dolls and carriages, and turned into a horse crazed young girl's room. She had a new poster, a picture of what she'd recently decided she wanted to be when she grew up. She wanted to ride horses, to jump them and go to the Olympics. And he planned to help her dream, starting with the pony that he had gotten her for Christmas.
He pulled back the covers before gently dropping her into them, retrieving Amber and setting the brush on the dresser. Amber went under the covers next to Katie.
He pushed Katie's curly burnished tresses from her small face. "Katie, I'd always make it home to you." He tickled her a little to get her to smile. "Now, did you say your prayers?"
Katie nodded solemnly, taking this nightly ritual seriously. "Yes, daddy, and I blessed everyone, including Michael." She squinched up her face in disgust as she said his name, Nathan bit back a smile.
"That just proves what a big person you are inside, darling. Teeth brushed?" He did grin when she pulled her mouth open wide with two fingers, showing him every one of her white teeth. "Very nice, Katie. Now what would happen if you froze like that, you'd scare people silly for years and years." She giggled as he'd hoped she would. "Any homework?"
"Daddy, we don't have school til next year. You know that."
"No school?" he managed to look properly horrified. "All you little rug rats loose on the world? Oh no."
She giggled again and sat up, hugging Nathan and buzzing a sweet kiss on his cheek. "I love you, Daddy."
He held her close, experiencing that warm bubble feeling he'd had earlier with Meghan, a gladness that he hadn't let his own sorrow hurt his little ones. "I love you too, Katie bug." He squeezed once more and tucked her in, turning off the night table light and turning away. He paused when she called his name sleepily. "Daddy?"
"Did you remember that Maria is leaving to go home for Christmas tomorrow?"
His little worrier, he thought again with a small smile. "Yes, baby. I took time off work, remember. I'm staying home with you guys until she comes back."
He heard her roll over and sigh as he turned to close the door. "Good."
The light was on under Michael's door and he knocked, waiting until he heard a reply before coming in. Michael was his image, just as Katie was her mother's. He hadn't hit a growth spurt, but was tall for his age, with dark hair that just teased at being black but in the light shown with red highlights. He had a long face, with big blue eyes that lit up when anything having to do with cars or baseball was mentioned in a conversation. He was still at the cute stage, not old enough to have yet developed into the handsome man he would become.
Michael turned from his computer, the game that he had been playing still making noises behind him.
"Bedtime, Michael." Nathan said, his head just poking through the door. He believed in giving his children privacy and wouldn't intrude unless invited in.
"Just a few more minutes, dad? Jimmy just got online and he just started his game. I'm helping him through some of it." Jimmy was Michael's best friend and a constant addition to Nathan's family.
"Okay, don't forget your teeth?" He saw Michael smile and wave before he closed the door again.
Nathan walked down the hallway and took the curved stairs that lead down to the formal entryway. The entryway opened up in two directions, one went to the living room, the other curved around and lead back to the kitchen. There were three doorways in this section and Nathan turned into his home office. He'd brought home work to do while he was gone, different propositions and scheduling problems that would start in the new year to deal with.
None of that held his attention tonight. He thought of the paperback he'd picked up on his way home, the newest offering from his favorite author, but even that didn't seem to tempt him. Instead, he sat in the silence of his office and picked up the picture he kept on his desk of Kendra and himself, taken when they were on their honeymoon. They'd taken a backpacking trip up through Yellowstone National Park, camping out under the stars and making love in a single person sleeping bag.
He could remember laughter and love during that trip, the funny positions they'd managed to get into in that sleeping bag as they'd tried to pleasure each other. Kendra's laughter had rung clear and beautiful in the cool mountain air.
He stared at the picture, seeing her sweet smile, her laughing green eyes, the glow of good health on her skin. And his mind superimposed the last time he had seen her, her eyes listless in pain and sorrow, her cheeks pale and hollow from all the weight she had lost. She'd been laying in a hospital bed, too weak to even pick up her head as he'd ushered the children out to take them home. Before he could make it back to the hospital, his cell phone had rung and he had known. It was like a punch in the gut or maybe lower, a good kick in the balls, that hollowed out feeling of loss and grief.
He shook his head, clearing his mind of that image that was almost a year old now but seemed like yesterday. Nathan still missed her, still thought about her daily, the things he wanted to tell her, the way she made him feel. They'd had the perfect marriage, love and sex wrapped up by their three kids. If only she'd gone to the doctor when she'd first found the lump. If only she'd told him, instead of waiting until she started feeling sick. If only...
If only she hadn't died.
He sighed deeply and sat the picture down just as Maria, the housekeeper-nanny he'd hired after Kendra's death came to the door.
"I'm leaving now, sir. I'm going to stay at my friend's house in town tonight just in case this storm does come through. Is there anything I can get you before I go?" The tiny woman was wrapped warmly in a long woolen coat and muffler. She'd been a God send, taking over care of the kids when he'd been too wrapped in his own misery to see them. She'd managed them, the house, and him, he thought with a wry grin, the way a good general did his troops. No nonsense attitude tempered with praise and affection.
"No, Maria. I'm set, thank you. Enjoy your trip." He stood and handed her the envelope he'd prepared earlier, a very nice Christmas bonus along with a pay raise. "Merry Christmas, Maria."
She goggled at the amount on the check and stammered her thanks and a swift Merry Christmas before hurrying out to where the cab was waiting impatiently beeping its horn. He watched for a second from the front door as the cab turned onto the narrow, twisting road that lead down to the city then closed and locked the door and went back to his office.
Alone now, except for the sleeping children, he turned off the desk lamp and stared out the big picture window behind his desk. The house was built upon a hillside that overlooked a lake and just beyond the lake, his city. He loved watching the lights at night, especially at this time of year, when the city just seemed to sparkle with color. He stared blindly out that window, not noting the passage of time as his thoughts ranged into the past.
When it started snowing, he didn't know. He did know when the wind picked up and started to howl, slashing icy snow across the window and blocking the view of the lights of the city. He looked at the clock, he'd been sitting in the dark for close to three hours. Nathan stood and stretched, clicked off the gas jets on the fireplace and headed upstairs. He checked each child, cautiously peeking in the doors to see their sleeping forms.
Finally he ended in his room. The master suite was big, something that he had wanted from the time when he and Kendra had shared their first tiny apartment sized bedroom with Michael's crib. He had quickly gotten tired of stubbing his toes and vowed that one day they would have this huge bedroom. Now he used it alone.
He took a quick shower in the adjoining bath room and walked naked back to the bed, only throwing on a pair of boxers in case any of the kids decided to crawl in with him in the middle of the night.
He could hear the wind howling around the eaves outside his window and the occasional slashing of the icy snow that drifted and blew. The muffled thump of the furnace turning on and the whoosh of the fan blowing heat into the rooms was comforting. He climbed into his side of the queen size bed, pulling the silky sheet and heavy comforter over himself and turned toward the empty side. Saying a sleepy goodnight to his wife, he touched his fingers to his lips with a kiss and placed it upon her pillow. He fell asleep with his hand still there, remembering what it was like to hold her in his arms.
The next morning started earlier than he expected with an insistent tugging upon his arm. His eyes opened slowly and blinked, staring into blue ones that were closer than he expected.
"Ahhh!" His hand came up and rubbed his chest as he let heaved a big breath. "Meggie, baby. Don't scare daddy like that."
Meghan giggled and then climbed onto the bed. "Daddy, it's all white outside. Michael can't get the door opened cuz something's stuck against it."
"What's stuck? Snow?" He squirmed over under her weight, until he was on his back looking up.
"No, Michael says it's a lady. He thinks she's dead."
Nathan sat up and stared in confusion at his daughter. "Would you run that by me again, baby?"
"Michael went to go outside and the door won't open, he says he can see long hair in the snow." She cocked her head at her father, a frown crossing her face. "Do you think it's an angel, daddy? Maybe one got lost in the snow last night and crashed against our house like the birds do sometimes?"
Nathan got out of his bed and grabbed a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt, pulling them on while Meghan kept talking. He slid his feet into his slippers and hurried down the stairs with Meghan following along behind keeping up a continual running chatter.
Michael and Katie were standing at the front door looking outside the side panels at the lump of white that was in front of the door. Nathan took a quick look as well, seeing the huge drifts of snow, the ice hanging off the trees in glistening white fangs in the dim light. The bundle of white in front of the door moved slightly and Nathan saw long blonde hair flowing along the snow.
"Okay, kids, get back. Let me get the door opened. Michael, you take your sisters into the other room for right now, okay?" He pulled on the door, feeling it give as the ice that had froze in the cracks creaked under his strength. He made sure the kids were back and tugged harder until it suddenly gave and the door swung wide.
Across the snowy front porch was a lump of white. Nathan leaned down carefully, shivering a little in the icy wind and touched the mound of snow. It moaned and moved and suddenly he could see blue tinged skin under long blonde hair. The lump was a girl.
"Oh, my God," he breathed, hurrying to bend down and pick the girl up. "Michael, Katie!" He lifted her in his arms, expecting heaviness. She seemed so light and frail, almost ethereal under the wet clothes that covered her.
Michael and Katie came running from the living room, excitement in their faces. "Who is she, daddy?" Katie asked.
"I don't know but she's very cold. I need you to go get the spare blankets out of the closet, okay?" He took her toward his office and the long leather couch in there. The fireplace would put out a lot of heat and it was important to get her warm. "Bring them into the den, okay kids?" Michael took off with his sister following along as fast her shorter legs would take her. They returned by the time Nathan had placed his frozen bundle on the sofa and flipped the switch that started the gas jet in the fireplace. The fire roared to life, sending out instant heat.
Nathan took one of the blankets Michael handed him, spreading it out along the back of the couch. He told Michael to dump the rest over by the fireplace. He had to get the frozen clothes off of her.
"Uh, kids? Why don't you three go in and see what we have that we can make this lady to eat when she wakes up. Check in the pantry or the freezer and see if Maria has any soup." Meghan watched as her brother and sister hurried past her, following at a slower pace, constantly looking back over her shoulder.
Nathan pulled at the frozen buttons on her thin coat, finally managing to get them undone and lift her enough to pull it out from under her. He unwrapped the woolen muffler that had been wrapped over her mouth and chin, pulling the ice encrusted fabric away from her blue skin. She wasn't shivering, a very bad sign. Her hair was frozen and he carefully spread that behind her starting, to pull on the buttons on the sweater she wore under her coat.
The skin that he exposed reminded him of a story that he had read when he was a kid. This is what he thought the Ice Queen from CS Lewis' Narnia would look like. Her skin was smooth and sleek, cold to the touch and tinged just a hint of blue under her paleness. Her breasts were full and round under a plain white cotton bra. Her stomach was flat with a toned look that made him think that whoever she was, she took care of herself.
He pulled the sweater off of her arms, leaving the bra while he wrapped her upper half in one of the blankets Michael had put near the fire to warm. Then he started on her feet.
Her shoes were cheap, generic brand tennis shoes. They were no match for the weather outside, providing absolutely no protection against the cold and wet. The socks he pulled off her feet were frozen and clung to her skin. He dropped them on top of the pile of wet clothes he'd already taken off of her.
He hesitated before starting on her pants, feeling a little strange about stripping the woman. He didn't even know her and he had already seen more skin from her than he had any other woman in the almost 18 months since his wife's illness had made it impossible for them to make love anymore.
Nathan scolded himself mentally. The woman was frozen solid. She could become very ill. He had to get her warm. He pulled at the button at the top of the slacks and pulled the zipper down then gently tugged the slacks down her long legs. He left her in the tiny scrap of lace women called underwear and wrapped her in a blanket, using the last one by the fire to wrap firmly around her feet, then pulled the one from the back of the couch to spread over all the others. He'd just finished and had turned to pick up her wet clothes when Meghan touched his jean clad leg.
"Daddy, Michael found some soup."
He kissed his little girl on the top of her head, picking up the tennis shoes in one hand and the rest of her clothing in the other. "Thanks, baby. Tell him to leave it on the counter." She hurried out of the room and Nathan yelled after her, "And have him grab me a bath towel too, please."
He took the clothing, shaking them out. The pants had two pockets and he checked them carefully, searching for a clue as to her identity. Nothing. A search of her sweater showed no pockets. He went through her coat, finding a roll of antacids and a wad of Kleenex in one pocket and a handful of crumpled one dollar bills in the other. She had no gloves, no keys, no identification. Where had she come from and how had she ended up on his door?