Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Thankful for Fiction

One of the things I’m grateful for is that I have a tradition of writing fiction for the end of the year blog posts. Fiction is more fun than straining my brain to come up with mildly entertaining ways to say I can’t think of anything to say. This year, I’m bringing back a few characters who will be familiar to those who have read the Love in Andauk series. My next series will have the subtitle More Love in Andauk, which means this story won’t be the last place these characters appear. Here is part 1 of my Christmasy short story.


    Joseph watched his wife point her right foot and tap her toe on the floor as she counted. The four and five-year-olds she was leading were cute as they tried to follow her. Two of them were on the wrong foot and only one was on the beat.
    Emily wobbled as she switched to point her left foot. She wasn’t the most coordinated person, yet her movements were backed by a confident grace. She smiled and turned the little wobble into an exaggerated wiggle for the kids to copy. They wiggled with so much enthusiasm that one of the girls in the back nearly fell over. Emily had them tapping toes again quickly, though three were now on the wrong foot.
    A contented sigh rippled through Joseph as he took in the whole scene. The class was nearly over and parents were lining the side wall for pickup. One was staring at a phone, but the others were happily watching their kids. Except for the woman he realized was trying to catch his eye. She waved him over as she succeeded. Joseph tried to remember her name as he crossed the gym. He knew she was Sofia’s mom, whose last name was Miller. Mrs. Miller had asked to be called by her first name. Anna? That sounded right.
    “Anna, right?” he confirmed as he reached her.
    She nodded. “First, I have to tell you again how much Sophia loves this class. Emily is amazing. Do you know how long she’s going to take off when the baby comes?”
    “Two weeks for sure. Then she’ll see how she feels,” Joseph said. “She’s already working with Jessica to take over her classes, and she’s encouraging her to take more time. I’ll let them work it out.” He didn’t mention that Emily would be returning the favor a few months later. Jessica was early enough in her pregnancy that she hadn’t told many people yet.
    “Oh, she’ll definitely need more than two weeks,” Anna said.
    “She’ll have the time if she needs it.” Joseph stuck with the noncommittal answer. He’d probably be pushing Emily for a longer rest himself if it was a full-time job. She only taught five one-hour classes each week.
    “Okay, so the other reason I needed to talk to you is this picture.” Anna turned and held her hands up to either side of one of the pictures on the wall.
    The high school art teacher brought a new batch of artwork each month to fill the display space. Since it was December, her students had painted winter scenes, most with wreaths or colorful lights here and there. Anna was pointing to Joseph’s favorite. It depicted a snowman family having a snowball fight with a brightly lit house in the background.
    “That’s a wonderful painting,” he agreed.
    “It’s my daughter’s.” She beamed with pride. “I know it.”
    He glanced at Sophia, even though he knew that couldn’t be the daughter she meant.
    “My oldest, Claire, is in 10th grade. I know it says anonymous, but I’d know her work anywhere. It’s definitely my Claire’s.”
    “Wow. You can tell her it’s the one I like best this month.”
    She nodded and kept talking eagerly. “I want to take it with me today so I can have it framed for her before Christmas.”
    “Oh… Uh…” He didn’t immediately know how to respond. The picture wasn’t really his to give away. “Maybe Natalie has a free period right now. I’ll see what she thinks.” He pulled out his phone to text the art teacher.
    They both turned to watch the class as Emily instructed the kids to start skipping in a circle. She asked them to throw their hands up and yell random words like “aardvark” and “carnation” once or twice each lap. It did look like fun. Joseph’s brain was scrambling for how he’d answer if Natalie didn’t respond. He knew the art was graded before it came to the gym and would be handed back to the students as soon as it was collected. Handing it to one student’s mom might just cut out a middle step. Unless she was wrong about recognizing the artist.
    Emily sent the kids back to their dots on the floor to practice curtsies. That was how she ended each class. And still no response from Natalie.
    “You are sure this is your daughter’s painting?” he asked.
    “Absolutely. And this is the frame I know she’ll love on it.” Anna held up her phone to show the frame she’d been shopping. “I need the painting right now or it won’t be ready by Christmas.”
    This was Sofia’s last class of December. The gym would still be open one more day, but the day after that was Christmas Eve. Anna <i>was</i> running out of time to make it a gift. Joseph checked his messages one more time under the weight of the pleading look he was getting. If she wanted to have it framed, it stood to reason she’d handle it carefully. “All right,” he said. “You’ll bring it back quickly if it’s not hers?”
    She sighed dramatically. “That would be so embarrassing. But I’m absolutely positive it’s hers.”
    Joseph took the snowman painting down gently and handed it to her. “I do hope she loves the frame. Merry Christmas.”
    “Thank you. Thank you.” Anna took it with a squeal. She rushed over to Sophia, who was getting a small candy cane from Emily. There were shouts of Merry Christmas all around as the kids and parents filed out of the gym. Joseph glanced back at the now empty space on the wall. He knew he’d made someone’s day, but he still wished he had confirmation it was the right decision.