Miracle at Laurel Falls by Muffy – Chapter 4

Republisher’s Note: Mannifield Players continue Miracle on 34th Street.

Miracle at Laurel Falls by Muffy – Chapter 4

She entered the kitchen as the phone was ringing. Thinking it was Danny, she put forth her best seductress imitation. “Hellloo.”

“Hi baby…did I wake you up.”

“No, Daddy…don’t be silly…You know me…early riser and all.”

Catch your breath, Michelle, she told herself. “So, how is everyone.”

“We’re doing great…but really missing you….SO, I’ve got a plan.”

“Dad…this connection is really terrible.”

“OK, I’ll make this short…I’ve booked the chateau you love so much…the one outside of Paris.. for the holidays… We want you over here within two weeks, honey.”

———————
As Michelle hung up the phone, Nick entered the kitchen with a thoughtful look on his face. “Come here, Michelle. Sit with me for a minute.”

She poured them each a cup of coffee took a seat at the table across from him.

“You love him, don’t you?”

Michelle’s hands went to her face as she laughed. “Does it show?”

Nick replied with a twinkle in his voice, “My dear, I may be old…But there is no mistaking that look.”

“Oh Nick,” she said as she reached for his hands across the table, ” I love him so much I feel my heart will break in two. Danny and I were destined to be together….forever….. I just KNOW it.”

Nick’s voice took a more ominous tone. “You know, destiny and fate are funny fellows…. One depends on the other but they rarely compare notes.”

Michelle smiled at her friend, walked around the table, and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Everything will be perfect, Nick….. you’ll see.”

“Now! I’m going to start getting the Christmas stuff down from the attic…you have a WONDERFUL day at the store.”

As she hurried out the room and up the stairs, taking two at a time, Nick let out a sigh and rose to leave. Looking after her he softly said, “Be careful with your heart, my dear child…..Be careful with your heart.”

Searching through the dusty boxes she came upon the one that contained her Dad’s favorite ornaments. From preschool through the third grade, Michelle had made a new ornament for the tree each year. As she picked up the one from ten years ago, she remembered…..

*** Flashback #3****

The annual lighting of the Christmas Tree at Laurel Falls was an event that all Springfield residents looked forward to with great anticipation. December 23, the day before Christmas Eve, the day before Santa Claus would start his yearly trek making Christmas wishes come true, everyone would come together…friends and families alike….to enjoy each other’s company and to witness the beautiful display of lights.

Nick and Michelle sat by the window, sharing their last cup of hot chocolate. It was time to say goodbye.

“Michelle,” he began tentatively, “about your Christmas wish.”

“It’s okay, Nick,” She was looking at him with a smile on her face…one that did not shine through her eyes. “I know my wish can’t come true….. I know I’ll never see Mom again.”

“Isn’t there something else ……?”

She looked down into her hands. “No… it’s okay… really.” The silence between their interchange was deafening.

“You know”….he searched her face as he continued. This was the tiny lost girl he had met three weeks earlier…she was retreating back into her shell. ” I’ll be leaving today.”

Michelle looked up at him for any hint of indecision and there was none. “Why…why can’t you stay.” her voice was barely audible.

He shook his head very gently from side to side. “Come here, my dear…” Michelle walked around the table and placed her small arm around his neck.

“Tomorrow is my busy day of the year. You wouldn’t want me to disappoint all of the children, would you?” The tears that had been threatening just moments before, began to trickle down her face.

“I don’t want to say goodbye.” Her voice was barely a whisper.

He looked into her sad brown eyes and gently wiped the tears. “Michelle, listen to me. You have a family that loves you. You had the love of your Mom-and she loved you more than her own life. She taught you so much about giving and loving and sharing…you have to keep those memories and remember what she gave you……”

…..”Right here,” he gently pointed to her heart.

“Michelle, how can I make you understand? You have such a great capacity for love and giving and sharing…and that’s what your Mom wanted for you….” He continued as she buried her head into his beard, sobbing uncontrollably. “I know you don’t understand why these things happen, and maybe none of us will ever understand…but.. Michelle….You Must Believe.”

*************

Even after all this time, Michelle felt the tugging at her heart as she recalled that day. Having to say goodbye to Nick had been one of the hardest things she had ever done.

Lifting the box of Christmas ornaments and making her way down the rickety ladder and felt a brush against her leg.

“Nick, I’m glad you’re still here….Can you take this….” As she was turning to hand him the box she lost her footing and two strong arms broke her fall. Before she knew what was happening, she and Danny were sprawled on the floor.

They laughed as she practically laid on top of him, the contents of the box surrounding them.

“Good morning, beautiful.” He kissed her laughter away.

“Hi you…” she returned the favor.

“A note on *your* pillow was not exactly what I was looking forward to first thing this morning.”

He pulled himself to a sitting position, leaning against the wall, cradling her in his arms.

She smiled and snuggled down on his chest. “Oh…believe me…it wasn’t exactly my first choice either…but Nick was here and I didn’t want him to worry…”

Danny picked up her hand, kissing it. “Speaking of Nick, what’s the deal with him?”

Michelle continued to rest her head on his chest…loving the feel of his heart beating. “Nick….well, Nick is a nice old man who loves Christmas…and tries to keep the Holiday spirit alive. He loves playing Santa….he loves children….I don’t know how to explain it…He’s just a really good person, ya know?”

“Yeah, but don’t you think it’s a little strange…I mean… it’s not normal to think you’re Santa Claus, Michelle.”

She smiled widely as she looked into his face…”So what if he likes wearing a red felt suit and black boots. He’s a nice old man who loves giving of himself and helping others… that’s all.”

Danny reached out and picked up an ornament laying beside him. He smiled at what he saw. “What’s this”….showing the ornament to Michelle.

“Oh…no..” she laughed. “I’d forgotten all about that one.” The ornament was handmade, contained a grammar school picture of a toothless Michelle, and read, “Michelle Bauer has been a good girl this year.”

She went on to explain that they had made those ornaments in school…and her Dad had refused to “recycle” them. “Didn’t you ever make this kind of thing in school, to take home, and put on your Christmas tree?”

He didn’t even hesitate before shaking his head “Nope.”

He took the ornament back into his hand, examining it. “Hmmm, that reminds me…there’s something I need to talk to you about.”

Michelle detected a serious note to his voice and looked up, “Oh?…. what?”

“Well about this…” looking down at the ornament.

“What about it, Danny?” Michelle was totally baffled.

“Well…you know….what’s written on it…” his eyes would not meet hers.

Totally confused now, she took the ornament in her hand and reexamined it. “Help me out here will ya….. what are you talking about??” Then, understanding his train of thought, she giggled, “Mr. Santos, are you saying I haven’t been a ‘good girl’ this year.” She snuggled down against him again.

“No…….”

Michelle lifted up and looked into his eyes. “Danny…what’s…I don’t understand…”

Danny took her hands in his own. “I’m talking about the other part, Michelle……the part that says …….Michelle Bauer” Her confusion was still evident.

“…. ummm….how does ….Michelle Santos sound?”

The look on her face was total shock. His hands came up to hold either side of her face as he continued, ” I KNOW in my heart, we were meant to be together…nothing else makes any sense. I KNOW…THIS has been fast and crazy and out of control…but I also KNOW when I woke up alone this morning…well… I’ve never felt SO alone…and I never want to feel that way again. This IS right, Michelle..nothing in my life has ever been SO right…. WE’RE right.”

Reaching in his coat pocket he pulled out the most beautiful diamond she had ever seen as he took her left hand in his. “Take this ring, Michelle….you already have my heart.”

________________________________________________

“Okay…..Santos…show me what you’ve got… Oh-My-God, Danny, …..It’s…. it’s….. SO BIG…….It’s HUGE…….Exactly what to do plan on doing with that…hmmm???”

Their snowball fight was in full force now. Carlos, who over the past two weeks had come to adore Michelle, had helped her build her “fort” and had shown her how to make the perfect snowballs that she now had stacked up beside her. She knelt down behind her protective wall of snow and braced herself for Danny’s attack but was unprepared for his strong arm coming around to lift her off of the ground.

“Do you surrender…?” Holding her up with one arm and the snowball in the other.

“NEVER, ” Throwing her head back her voice rang out with laughter through the deserted park.

“Last chance.” Danny’s attempt at a menacing voice.

“Now, darling…let’s think about this… Do you really want to….” her eyes growing wider as the snowball drew nearer to her face.

“Say it.” He demanded again…with laughter in his voice.

Her hair was curly mass escaping from her red wool hat…Her cheeks and nose were bright pink from the cold and with her eyes meeting his challenge she said,

“I love you, Daniel Santos.”

The giant snowball was quickly dropped and forgotten as he gathered her his arms and brought her lips up to his. As was the case any time they touched or were even near each other…the moment had taken a passionate turn.

Losing his balance…they both tumbled down…landing on Michelle’s prize-winning fort, but never breaking their kiss. Laying together in the snow he watched her watch him and began seductively licking the snow from her face.

“Oooooooo, that tickles”…she giggled between breaths.

“Do you want me to stop?” he murmured as he continued.

“Not in this lifetime,” she replied as she brought his roving mouth back to hers.

The past few days had been too wonderful for words. Michelle had not even hesitated a second with her response to his proposal…she too, knew they were meant to be together…Forever. They spent their days learning all of those things about each other that couples *normally* do prior to an engagement.

When he told her of their home in the beautiful Napa Valley, she again didn’t hesitate. Even though she loved Springfield…her home would be with her husband. Danny never explained about the tension between himself and his mother…and she really didn’t care….She was in love.

She, in turn, had introduced him to the joys of Laurel Falls…a place that meant so much to her. They built snowmen, sledded down the sloping hills, and frolicked in the winter wonderland…as they made their plans for the future.

Danny was getting to know Nick, too. Michelle’s older friend had, on two occasions, made dinner for them…. which was always a “different” kind of experience. Once it had been a goulash that Nick maintained that Rudolph particularly enjoyed. Danny had simply smiled widely and raised his eyebrow toward Michelle at that remark…but he knew Nick was a kindly old man who seemed to care a great deal about the woman he loved more than his own life.

Their kiss was interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the crunching snow.

“There’s a phone call you need to take,” Carlos informed Danny.

Danny extricated himself from Michelle’s arms and getting to his feet, he pulled her to a standing position. He placed a kiss on her lips and promised to be back in a minute.

Michelle brushed off the snow and started walking. She knew where her steps would take her…to the most special place she had ever known…..

****Flashback*****

Driving out of town toward the annual gathering at Laurel Falls, Holly turned to watch Michelle. She was gazing out the window but not focused on any of the passing landscape. Almost silently Michelle repeated her mantra, “I believe…I believe…I believe.”

The whole town had turned out…friends and neighbors taking the time to celebrate this special time of year together. The lighting of the tree was only moments away as Ed and Holly spoke with some people they hadn’t seen in a while.

Michelle walked slowly to an isolated area she and her Mom used to frequent. It was dark and more than a little slippery….her feet flew out from under her as her head….

“Hello? Who’s there?” She knew someone was there…and there was that light ahead, she thought, squinting her eyes to see……

As her eyes began to make out the form in the light, she screamed…. “MOM!”

Maureen walked toward her precious daughter. “Hi baby.”

“Mom”…you’re back….you’ve come BACK.” Her words were breathless as she felt the greatest joy she had ever known.

“Michelle,” she spoke softly… “I never left.”

“Bu…but….You..You..died..” she whispered.

Maureen pointed to nearby rock for Michelle to sit on as she continued. “My darling little girl… it has broken my heart to see you so unhappy….but Michelle…I’ve been with you the whole time…I told you once I’d never leave you…and I never will.”

With eyes as wide as saucers, Michelle continued to listen as her Mom spoke.

“Michelle, put your hand on your heart.” Michelle lifted her hand while never taking her eyes from Maureen. As she placed her hand on her heart…the cold air was replaced with an overwhelming warmth. “What do you feel, Michelle?”

“It’s ….warm….it’s……it’s ….Mom….It’s YOU.”

“Yes, my darling I’ve been with you all along,” Maureen’s voice was filled with love for her daughter. “And I’m always going to be with you, Michelle. I’ve seen your life, sweetheart, and you’re going to be blessed with a Love so Strong and so Amazing…..And I’ll be with you….You’re going to have a wonderfully blessed life….And every step of the way…I’ll be with you.”

Holding her hand to her heart, with a wondrous smile lighting up her face, Michelle realized her Mom was retreating and the light was growing dimmer. “I love you, Mom.” she called after her.

“I love you, too” she smiled. “And remember…I’m always with you, Michelle.”

“Mom…”

“Yes baby?” Her voice was growing dimmer.

“Who’s that?”

Maureen turned slightly but knew exactly who Michelle was referring to.

“He’s a nice man who just got here a few days ago..I’ve been showing him around…He misses his children…”

“Mom?” Not wanting to say goodbye just yet.

“Hmmm?” Maureen’s voice sounded very far away now…

“I love you.” She said as she clutched her little hand to her heart to once again feel her Mom’s presence.

“Michelle……baby…. Michelle…can you hear me?” Michelle heard her Dad’s voice as she slowly opened her eyes.

“Dad” Her voice sounded strong…not at all like someone who had been rendered unconscious from hitting her head on a rock. “Mom was here…”

Holly was leaning over Ed’s shoulder, making sure she was alright.

“Michelle…sweetie…you hit your head.”

“No…no….she was here…..really….Oh Daddy….she’s with me….right here.” She excitedly clutched her heart with her hand and immediately felt its warmth.

“I love you, Daddy.” She flung her arms around her Dad’s neck and squeezed for dear life.

Picking her up in his arms, they started for the car…the Laurel Falls Christmas tree shining brightly behind them. Ed looked at Holly with a question in his eyes and she returned the same. But none of it mattered….Michelle was happier than he had seen her since……

Just then, something brushed against his leg and he reached down to push the limb to one side. Instead of a stray limb, he felt a smooth piece of wood. Lifting it, he was able to make out its shape…..It was a cane….a wooden cane…just like the one…

With Michelle’s face still buried in his neck he lifted the walkig stick to show it to Holly. Her look was incredulous… Shaking her head she mouthed… “You don’t think..?”

He considered the finely crafted cane for a moment…..”Naaaaaahh” he said shaking his head…. as the threesome went off to celebrate a wonderful Christmas together….

Carlos had followed behind Michelle, watching her as he witnessed what seemed to be a very private moment. When Danny returned from his phone call, a distant and veiled look was on his face. He told Michelle that some things had come up that needed his attention.

They drove back to her house in silence. She desperately wanted to ask him what was wrong, but knew he needed to keep his thoughts to himself. He kissed her goodbye and he was gone. She watched as they drove away and somehow knew that things would never be the same.

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