Harper had forgotten to close the drapes the night before, so the sun spread its light and warmth across her bed earlier than she had wanted to wake. It was Christmas Eve, and her intent was to sleep in as long and as hard as possible. Some shops opened on the day to get last minute shoppers, but it had been her ritual to keep the shop closed and have a relaxing day to herself. She did not attend worship services nor go out with friends. It was a time to be still, sip tea, and read a good book.
The time of year brought it all back—sometimes dreaming, sometimes awake. Because he had died in December, the season was always colored with memory and loss. She had received once again an invitation to the church’s candlelight service, but at least now it came in the form of a postcard instead of a visit or a phone call. Postcards were easy to dispose of, and this colorful one had quickly gone through her cross-cut shredder.
The sun was shining, but there was still a nip in the air. Rain was in the forecast. She grabbed her warm, fleecy robe, set the thermostat up a bit higher, and proceeded to put the coffee on. Waffles. She needed waffles. She would create a personal Christmas tradition—vegan waffles with Canadian maple syrup and fresh brewed coffee. And, oh, coconut whipped cream on top. She was sure there was a canister in the back of the fridge. She made two waffles for herself and one for Clutch.
A knock came at the door. She added to her mental to-do list to have the doorbell fixed. Peeking through the peep hole, she saw Ava standing there holding a huge basket in front of her. Harper took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Merry Christmas! I brought you a gift basket from the Women’s Ministry. They are usually assigned to needy families, but I convinced the ladies that my old friend was very much in need of a gift this year, so . . . here it is! Fun, huh?”
“Well, you really shouldn’t have. I’m certain there are others in more need of such a gift. Are you sure you can’t think of someone who could benefit from all that sugar?” Harper faked a grin.
“Oh, Harp, don’t be a spoilsport. It’s Christmas. A little junk food never hurt anyone. And besides, I think there are some canned goods in there, as well, maybe even some vegetables.” Ava shoved the red cellophane wrapped basket into Harper’s arms. The ribbon scratched her nose. Harper noticed the salamis and cheeses through the cellophane and immediately started cataloging a list of folks who would enjoy this much more than she. “So, are you coming to the candlelight service this year,” Ava rattled on. “It is going to be awesome. The choir is doing a whole award-winning cantata this year, not just selected songs. I am slated to do a couple of the readings, and it should be really great.”
“Actually, Ava, I have other plans. I’m getting back into my photography and have decided to go on a shoot, just by myself, and enjoy the quiet.”
“The church is decorated so beautifully. And you need to hear carols!”
“I’ll sing to myself if that will make you feel any better. Really, I am not in the mood . . .”
Just then Blaise bounded up the walk, smiling and energetic. “So, are you ready, Harper? I know I said noon, but I got going early. Looks like you’re not dressed. Make sure you dress warm, and wear boots because we might get snow.”
Harper had no idea what he was talking about, but she played along, recognizing a rescue when she saw it.
“So, do you do photography, too, Blaise? Harp, I thought you said it was a quiet trek ‘alone’.”
Blaise smiled. “I don’t talk much.”
He pretended to retie his boot and glanced up at Harper with a wink. “Harper is going to take photos, and I’m going to contemplate.”
“That sounds boring to me,” Ava said. “Blaise, can you convince her to come to the church’s candlelight service. After all, it’s Christmas. Time she abandoned the hermit life.”
Blaise pushed his way past Ava, inviting himself into Harper’s place. “Go, Harper, get ready. I’ll say goodbye to Ava for you.” Harper retreated to the bedroom as if on cue, but she left the door cracked open. “She won’t be a bored hermit because I will be driving her. Then after our photo shoot, we are going to a candlelight service.”
“Fabulous! Glad you talked her into it. I will save you seats. You’re going to love it! See you then.” Ava turned and triumphantly sprinted down the driveway. When she drove off, Blaise turned into the room to find Harper staring at him.
She had enjoyed the entertaining, though somewhat confusing ruse, but she had no intention of going to that church. “I appreciate the rescue, but I am not going; so, if you are, you will be sitting with Ava—alone.”
“Actually, I kind of told an untruth. That probably isn’t good for an ex-monk church planter, right?” He smiled a crooked little smile. “Technically, it is the truth if you will allow me to accompany you, but I said ‘a’ candlelight, not ‘the’ candlelight service. And if you turn me down, then I really am in big trouble. But I was coming over to see if you would come with me to a monastery up the mountain for their candlelight service.”
Harper put her hands on her hips. “Okay. Wanna start over? You lost me.”
“Well, there is this Catholic monastery up in the hills where I like to go to sit by the reflecting pool and think and pray. I have made friends with a some of the brothers there, having gone on a couple of personal retreats, and I heard that they have a candlelight Christmas mass. I was planning on going up early to feed the ducks and walk around, then go to the mass. I knew you did not go to the church’s function, but I thought maybe you might be interested in going there with me. Nobody would know you probably, and it is very small. And you could photograph the ducks! What do you think?”
“Wow, nice save with the photography bit. Hmm, well, I was planning on a quiet day with Clutch, but in order to save your lying soul, I will come.”
“Great! And you do really need to dress warm. It is quite a bit chillier up there, and there is a possibility of snow.”
“Do I have time to charge my camera battery? My photography excuse for Ava was a spur of the minute thing, so I wasn’t exactly prepared. Okay . . . my heart seems about as wicked as yours.” She smiled.
“Absolutely! That pertains to the having the time part, as well as the wicked part. We are probably enjoying this way too much.” He smiled, too. “They are having a midnight mass, but I thought with the storm coming in, it would be wiser to do the 6 p.m. one. We don’t have to leave till about 2. Is that okay?”
“That actually sounds good. Really good. I have some extra waffle batter made up. You want one before we go?”
“I would love it. I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast. So, I think that will hit the spot.”