Winning Holiday Contest Story from December 2020 by Beth Bowser

The First Special Edition: Christmas Issue Click here for a printer friendly version of this page

“Merry Christmas, Mom! I'll see you again in a couple hours, 'kay?” I called out as the door closed behind me without me waiting for my mother's response. I needed winter break so much this year, I may have to permanently raise its standing in the ranks of the best school breaks. I normally considered winter break the third best school break, behind summer at best and spring a close second best. Right now though, winter break was the best! A glorious three weeks beginning with Christmas and then two more weeks to play and read and mess with all my presents. My musing ended abruptly and the heat of the house left me instantly as a gust of icy wind attempted to blow my coat open. I hadn't even made it all the way to sidewalk before the I felt the winter's bite. I hunched down and gathered my coat closer and wondered if I maybe should have bothered with a hat, scarf and gloves? Nah, I shook that silly thought out of my head. No, Anne is at worst a five minute walk away. Only a bare three minutes had passed before I pressed Anne's doorbell, jogging in place while waiting for someone to let me in. Her house was decorated to the nines for the season! I noticed the lights, both regular strings and icicle, dotted all over the house, trees, and bushes. I realized Anne's parents had apparently spared no expense when I took in the rest of the scene. Four inflated reindeer appeared to play on the roof with every wind breeze. The pièce de résistance of an overly large Santa was “Ho Ho Ho”ing on a motion sensor in the front lawn. I thanked my lucky stars that jogging in place didn't trigger Santa to repeat his booming “Ho”s as I waited.

“Lil! Come in, come in, you look positively frigid!” Anne's mom said as she pulled me inside and closed the door after me. I was dressed perfectly fine, I'll have you know. I wore a tight V-neck long sleeve shirt with a number of alternating stripes of dark green, light blue, and while, boot cut jeans, and black boots with 2 inch heels completing the look. Just thinking about that, yeah, it wasn't warm enough, but that's why I had the coat! My mom had gifted me a warm black leather coat a few years ago that was long enough to reach down to the back of my knees. I was warm enough if it remained closed.

Today's high of 41 made it easy to walk outside in the small city outside Boston I lived in and I told her just that. “It's only chilly when the wind blows, so I'm fine!”

She half nodded. Her head raised in the first half of a nod, but only returned to even without completing the nod of lowering. “I'm worried about your mother, what is going on in her life to allow you to leave the house how you're dressed, but then I remembered what you're like.” She blew out a lofty exhale. “Your poor mother.” She continued under her breath.

Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all already; I thought as I breezed past to take the stairs up to Anne's room. I am just trouble on legs, or I'll send my parents to an early grave. The most recent and my new favorite was 'Now you've gone and signed your mother's death warrant!' What does that even mean? Honestly. Sorry, but I'm not sorry if you are upset because you thought I should be demure or show respect to my elders by never correcting their stupid comments. Ain't happening!

I made to the 2nd floor landing and stepped inside Anne's room to see that she, Jennifer, and Taylor were sitting down on the floor, in middle of a game of Mario Party. “Hey guys! I'll join in once you finish this up, I guess?” I asked tentatively. My friends had cooled somewhat towards me after what I'd done before winter break started. I was our high school paper's editor and my dogged determination and follow through had often won me the favor of my classmates... until now. But, I had no idea how much everyone loved Mr. Baker, Physics I and II, nor how truly popular Jess is. Everyone had been generous in their praise of my investigative skills when I wrote about Mrs. Jessup, English 10 and Creative Writing, who was always taking at least half the brownies from the lunch lady before the lunch line opened to us students. Mrs. Jessup's early teacher use of the lunch line was revoked. She had to the join the line at the same time as us if she wanted to partake of the lunch meal! Of course, this ultimately meant she never did. None of us let her live down stealing our brownies! Fewer were as generous in praise, but much more thankful, when I wrote about my other investigation into Mr. Mansuer's, Algebra I and II, grading curve for the football players. All that happened was that he sent the testing information to both the newspaper's and Principal's offices, names removed from our copy, after every test he graded. I religiously double-checked every list of scores to confirm that there was no unfair curve happening. Our principal made a big deal about how upset, unhappy, and troubled she was with Mr. Mansuer, but he didn't get any punishment, besides the Principal's disappointment which is as important as a drop in the ocean. Because there was no disciplinary action, I assumed the Principal had supported or possibly even requested he institute the curve. Gotta make sure the jocks don't get held back a year! Not that I could prove or disprove my theory by filing a freedom of information act request. I wasn't an adult and my parents refused to. Instead, my parents visited my principal for a chat. I prepped them on what to say and ask, but after the visit, they instead had the audacity to tell me to stop overreaching into the 'adult space'. Like hell I would! I would just be more sneaky about everything. No more publishing exposes until after I already knew everything there was to know! But I messed up on that too.

“Anne, did you invite Lillian?” Jennifer spat out, vitriol dripping off her words.

“It's Wario's turn, Jennifer!” Taylor refused to acknowledge my presence as she jostled Jennifer to start her turn in Mario Party.

“Hold on guys, while I take out the trash.” Anne said. The others laughed in response as Anne got up, her head bowed, showing me at least the misery she felt being placed in this situation.

I waited to halfway down the stairs before asking quietly, “Does everyone hate me now?”

“Um... maybe not hate, but I don't think anyone likes you. Jess has already had her cell taken and her parents won't let anyone see her.” Anne said woodenly. “Before you came, Taylor was saying that Jess's family might end up moving!”

“But, I never knew this would happen. All of the stories I've written about teachers and students only turned them into the butt of jokes at worst. That's all I thought would happen... Jess should have been able to survive some jokes. Please, you have to believe me, I didn't write my story to hurt anyone!” I begged.

“Sometimes, Lil, you're really stupid. You never thought that writing about a teacher and student's.. what word did you use? Oh yeah, 'clandestine' meetings was never going to lead to people wondering what they were doing? Seriously, are you an idiot?” Anne turned to face me fully, her hands on her hips, her eyebrows raised.

“Yes, I'm an idiot. I know now how stupid that was, but I truly never considered Mr. Baker and Jess would be doing... that. I figured it was tutoring, ya know? But I left it open to the readers because of journalism 101! Report the facts, don't interpret them, and especially don't lead the readers to a single takeaway! I know now, I should have spoken to both of them before publishing, but neither had time to speak with me and I needed to have something before the printing deadline!”

“You should have just filled the pages with silly Christmas stuff, like the best hot cocoa, or the best cookies, or expanded the article of good things to write in your cards. I liked that article...” She added and trailed off. “Have to get back, though, who knows what they did to Peach while I've been here.” She added, referring to Anne's required Mario Party character. It was her game and game system so she demanded she always got to be Peach.

“Yeah, that's cool. Thanks for still being my friend, Anne! I won't just show up again, but hope I can be invited soon,” I said as I walked down and left her house to return to mine. I know I should write a new article. A retraction of the story, one that had all the facts, and included many apologies. As hard as it is for me to apologize to people for their own mistakes, I'd have too. It's not my fault they were so stupid as to create a scandal in what I wrote, adding their own facts on something I never even mentioned! I'd have to be the better person and take on the blame. Not how I wanted to spend winter break, but being that I couldn't hang out with my friends anyway, at least I had something to do.

“Lillian, you're back already?” my mom asked when she heard the front door open and close.

“Yeah, I spoke with Anne and I have to write another article. It's of vital importance, Mom.” I said.

“Sounds great, sweetie.” Mom said. I didn't bother to look at her, but I knew she'd have a huge grin from ear to ear if I had. Her father, my grandfather, was a big deal in the world of newspapers. He worked at The New York Times as a correspondent and he was supposed to visit and stay with us for a week over Christmas. I couldn't wait for him to come back! I had copies of all the school papers since I was named Editor to show him!

I took a seat at my desktop computer, the most expensive thing I've bought out of my own money yet, and pulled up a blank document. I have to start with the facts, then to the supporting and smaller facts and finally end with the least important information, the apologies. I lost the passage of time as I wrote, going with the fact that the two aggrieved parties were never involved in a scandal, but instead were in a simple above board tutor/tutoree relationship. I should speak with them before I published, but I figured even if the new fact wasn't true, they would be more than happy with the updated story and retractions anyway. So I made the executive decision of pretending I had already had spoken to both Mr. Baker and Jess and wrote as such. They'd like anything that removed the scandal attached to them. I decided to work on more articles to print a whole new weekly paper rather than a single article. It can't be a special edition with only one article so I'd also write articles using Anne's suggestions, but I needed more. Racking my brain, I ticked off ideas for my special edition... extend the suggested messages to write inside your cards, add the best hot cocoa mixes and the best Christmas cookie doughs, including recipes. Hmm, maybe include some templates using normal sized paper for snowflake patterns for would go over well? If I need more pages to make sense bothering to print a special edition, I could include lists of gift ideas for your family and friends, but that one is not one of my best ideas. I can't imagine anyone would need a Christmas gift idea the week before the event. I guess, it doesn't matter. A last minute gift could help a single person or no one, but regardless, since I needed more content, providing last minute Christmas gift ideas would do the job! But the last problem still remained. Hopefully I'd be able to speak with one of school administrators to allow me inside the school. As the paper editor, I had the free use my school's Ryobi printing press. Technically, I wasn't supposed to use it except once a week for each edition. However, that means my special edition printing with the correction is not really an extra print, because I wouldn't have printed a paper this week anyway due to winter break!

“Lil, I'm sorry, but I must require your presence at dinner... Now!” My mother yelled.

“Coming!” I replied, writing the final touches on my lovely, wonderful, perfect, first ever Christmas special edition of the Asland High School Clockers News. Our mascot is a 'cool' clock face, you can tell how cool he is cause he's always wearing shades no matter the time of day, running around a large capital A. He makes no sense but whatever. I saved, connected my flash drive to the computer, saved there as well and joined the family for dinner.

“Sorry, I was like a ghost all day, Mom, but I'm starving for your dinner now!”

“I noticed you never even came down for lunch, or had you come down and I missed you?” Mom asked as she was putting dishes of the sides down around the main dish of a beef brisket, that Dad was cutting into slices.

“No, I didn't eat anything. You know what I'm like when I have an article I need to write! Hey, have you heard from grandpa? When is he going to show?” I asked while my eyes tried to eat up the mounds of buttered mashed potatoes, the fruit medley of blueberries and sliced strawberries and the baby carrots and fresh green beans soaking in their own cream glaze.

“Eat,” Mom said once the spread was ready! “Your grandfather said he is due to arrive late tomorrow. Did you want to join me in picking him up from the airport, like normal?” she asked me.

“Um, uh, yes! Wait, no, not this time,” I answered without really having heard the question as I focused more on the food in front of me. I voraciously selected slices of the beef, heaped mashed potatoes, fruit, and veggies. I looked over my plate, which appeared to be much too small with all the food piled on it, and let the view and scent wave over my senses. “Sorry, I just gotta finish the first Christmas edition of the paper!” I said, gulping down extraneous saliva pooling in my mouth. “I'm sure grandpa would understand.” I added. He would absolutely understand the importance of getting a good paper out!

“My daughter, the future award-winning journalist.” My father said.

Others may have blushed and replied with bashful comments like 'No, I'm not' or 'Oh, stop!' did I? Of course not! “You got it, Dad!” I said, pausing my shoveling of food to stand up proudly with my proclamation. “Mom, everything was so freaking good, thank you!” I said as I sat back down. There is a moment for grandstanding but there are many more moments for showing gratitude and selfishly partaking of other's works of art.

I didn't say anymore more than noises of agreement or disagreement for the rest of the dinner, until after dessert. Once we had our pie slices loaded with whipped topping or ice cream, I brought up a request. “Mother dearest, can I ask you something?”

“What's that?” She asked, her left eyebrow raising at the same time.

“Could you find me a phone number for one of the administrators from the school?” I asked sweetly, leaning forward to touch a hand.

“Why? I think you've done quite enough, Lillian. Leave them alone.” She said, no smile to be found.

“I'm trying to fix my mistake. I need someone from the school for two reasons. First, I need to be let inside the school to use the printing press and second, I need an administrator to send out an email to all the parents about this new, first ever, Christmas special edition newspaper!” I said and gave my parents the whole plan, including all the work I completed with my special Christmas edition. We talked over everything multiple times, including the two of them acting as devil's advocates over every little piece of what could go wrong. My mom finally agreed to find out what she could and she went into the other room.

“Ooooh,” I said, aching. I stooped like an old woman, complete with groans, because I had been getting grilled a couple hours? They must be in lots more pain than I am. 'Maybe they only agreed with my scheme so they could leave', I chuckled at the thought. But, I smiled thinking of when Dad told me how proud he was for me not only taking ownership of my mistake but working to correcting it.

“I just got off the phone with a Mrs. Blackwell, the school secretary. She's agreed to unlock the school for your use. This is only if one of us come with you and lock up after you leave. So, are you ready?” My mother asked, walking up to the kitchen table, as I had been reading today's Boston Globe.

“Of course! Let me just get dressed and grab my flash drive!” I stood and threw the paper back to the table, letting it lie on the crease where I had been reading, the comics section. I came back in no more than five minutes properly dressed with a Christmas sweater, one given to me by my grandmother, and reached for my coat. I knew I couldn't get by as easily as yesterday and so had I dressed with bundling in mind. I wrapped a scarf around my neck to finish the appropriate dressed look but waved off the need of a hat. I wouldn't be outside much at all. “Ready!” I called out to see Dad had taken my seat and was reading the same section I had been and chuckling.

“That Dilbert, he really is something!” Dad said as he folded the paper section, stood and grabbed his keys to the car. “Your mother doesn't have the time to go to the school with you, so you got me instead.”

The school was only a 12 to 15 minute drive depending on traffic and we made it there quickly. We spoke of our favorite comic strips, then switched to news. He pointed out what he thought was the most important article in today's paper, possibly this year, was that of an OP ED talking about the Russian election that happened this June. This author believed that our President, Mr. Bill Clinton, gave Boris Yeltsin assistance to win a second term as Russia's president.

“Thank goodness America will never have the same problems the Russian residents have, but still, it wasn't right of us to interfere. We don't know now, and may never know, if Clinton's actions had any impact on Russia's election, but I think it's a great article for you to read! Even if you care nothing about Russia or politics or anything about the content from the article, it's an almost perfect article as an example of quality journalism!” Dad said as he parked.

“Oh, cool! It's on the front page?” I asked and received a nod in return. “I will definitely read that!” I said, making no plan at all to read the article. What does a stupid election in Russia matter to me? Whatever.

“Now, your mother said Mrs. Blackwell unlocked the back door to the lunch room area. Do you know where that is?” Dad asked as he got out of the car.

“I think so, yeah.” I said as I led us towards the cafeteria. The back door was not really the back, it was just a side door that didn't even appear to be a door. It thankfully wasn't locked and we walked in. I did a light jog to the journalism room, and the Ryobi press. The sooner the paper is printed, the sooner I can complete the rest of the tasks on my list! I heard him enter the room after me as I ran around a bit, making sure every pin and roller was still in working order as the Ryobi was warming up for a run. “Dad, this'll take about an hour to be finished. Sorry, I should have told you to bring the paper or your book.” I called out sheepishly.

“I wasn't born yesterday, Lil, I brought my book.” My dad said, smacking a paperback book.

Finally, happy that the printing press was in good shape, and the pages all looked correct from the LCD, I started the job and stepped back. I watched as a full paper printed out correctly. Then, I looked to Dad to see him fully engrossed in his novel, so I left the room to start the next phase of my plan. I needed to get Mr. Baker's address. Where else would his address be, besides on the principal's computer, but in a filling cabinet in that same office? Thankfully, they didn't bother to lock any rooms in the administration offices, likely because they expected to be the first people back in the school when break was over. They definitely wouldn't expect I might be sneaking around! There were five filing cabinets in a room next to the Principal's office. I knew his office well, too well perhaps, being called there too often. I understood the room next to his office was his executive secretary's office, with all the documents needed for the school. I checked every file cabinet and all of them were locked. I next checked the secretary's desk for a key, but came up empty. Chewing my bottom lip, I had one last thought, maybe I should check the mail room! Maybe, Mr. Baker had mail, that was addressed to him at both the school and his house that he hadn't picked up yet? Oh, please, world, if what I'm doing is right and good, please, please, please give me what I need!

I ran to the mail cubbies and found 'Baker', at the top of the the teacher's mail slots. I reached up top and happily felt an envelope! Pulling it down, I saw the envelope was only addressed to his school address, my face falling. The other side was blank and I let out a sigh. Flipping it back, my eyes tracked over the return address to read Catherine Baker and address. Wait. Did his wife send a card to his work address? I checked the postage date to read the card was sent four days ago. She may not have known that he was put on suspension. If they separated, which seems likely based on this evidence, who was living in the house? It was her return address label, but that doesn't mean she's still living there. Regarless, one of them should be present at that address. I decided to take the card and return to the journalism room. Maybe I could get Dad to drive me to the Baker's house, with a freshly printed paper! I ran back to him and the printing press to see if the print job had finished. Dad was still there and now folding and counting the papers.

“Thanks Dad, but it doesn't look like enough papers printed?” I asked, my eyes quickly roaming over the folded and yet to be folded papers to estimate about only fifty papers.

“Oh, I think there's plenty. This is my third trip from the car. I don't know what you were thinking printing so many.” My dad said, turning and frowning at me. “Done with your errand?”

“Oh, yeah, that makes sense. I printed enough papers, plus a few extra, for the 158 students in the junior year class,” I said as I bent down to help fold papers. “Sorry, I didn't think that you couldn't carry them all out in one go. Um... we only had to take them to the cafeteria and we took like 10 at a time, as they finished printing. And, yes, my errand is done,” I said as I lifted the envelope from Mr. Baker's mail slot.

“Thank you so much Mom, Dad for being willing to be my paper boys!” I said to my parents. They eventually agreed to my newly updated and much more amazing plan! When we returned home, I spent at least an hour plotting out all the addresses of my classmates' homes on a map and determined the most direct route to reach each home from the next closest home. I was only able to make this map because Mom shared her directory of parent addresses with me. She told me she also had all the parents' email addresses! Then, we left separately. Mom took the homes closest together, which ended up as more than half, and Dad and I took the rest. My Dad and I also had Jess's home and Mr. Baker's home, by the return address from the card I took. I hoped they would both be willing to answer their doors. The best part of this whole plan was the invitation I had tucked into the fold of each paper. I begged, prayed, pleaded on my knees, promising to get my own paper route or something else to pay them back for the party I wanted to throw and invite everyone to. It was scheduled for Christmas eve eve, tomorrow. We figured most people would already have plans for Christmas eve and Christmas day, but hopefully many would have the evening of Christmas eve eve open and available and would want to come! Because, honestly, who would prefer to buy or make their own dinner rather than take a short drive for a warm cooked dinner I picked out? Mom suggested that I include a line similar to that in the invitation.

My Dad and I were standing on the front porch of the last home, Mr. Baker's home. He didn't want to open the door as he glared daggers at me through the window of the front door, but Dad insisted he give me a chance. He took the card I brought and left us standing on his front proch as he read the card. It wasn't too long before he opened the door again and invited us inside.

“Thank you for bringing this to me, Lillian. I'm not sure I would have been let back inside the school and I may not have been able to re-connect with Darlene.” He said to me. Then he turned to Dad and said, “Darlene believed that I didn't cheat on her, it's in this card, but she had to get out as her friends and church group were constantly offering advice and consoling words and she couldn't take it anymore. She wants us to try therapy and I'll be happy to if she just comes back home.”

“Mr. Baker, don't forget about the paper! Or the invitation!” I said as I lifted the paper I was still holding. “I really hope you can also reach your wife and invite her too.” I pulled out the invitation from the fold as I said that.

“Thank you for hearing out us Mr. Baker and being willing to forgive my overzealous daughter. Tonight has been a very long night for us, however, so we need to take our leave now. I'm so happy your relationship is healthy enough to withstand my daughter's mistake. Goodbye.” My Dad soloquied as he pushed me out.

“I can finally go home and eat now!” Dad said as we made it back in the car. His stomach growled loudly as if to punctuate how badly he needed to eat. I blankly noticed the lively Christmas decorations and lights on the houses we passed on our way home.

“How did it go, Lillian? Were you able to speak to Jess and her parents, and the teacher too?” Mom asked as we trudged inside our home. Dad ignored her and immediately raided the fridge for some cold cuts and bread. I blinked hard before my vision solidified to see Mom relaxing on the couch. I had lost track of time. I noticed the sun had set but I never checked the time as we left Mr Baker's house.

“It's done. I think it went well. A bunch of people didn't come to the door, but we left the paper at the porch. And those who weren't home will have gotten my email, so they'll know to check. The people who opened their doors, were friendly at least. The Andrade's, Jess's parents, refused to the open the door until I went back to the car, but Mr. Baker let me inside. Ask Dad if you want to know what's going on with Jess. He didn't tell me anything. I hope they and everyone will come to the party,” I said as I sat down heavily on the living room floor.

“Oh Lillian, I'm sure your party will be a rousing success! Now, can you get up?” Mom asked as she stood from the couch to crouch near me. “I'll get a late dinner for you. And, tomorrow, we can discuss the part time job you'll be taking.”

“Okay.” I pulled myself upright and just went through the motions of lifting a spoon of soup to my mouth, swallow, and repeat. I think my parents were talking about the Christmas lights and decorations they passed, but I didn't have the energy to really listen. Eventually, my soup bowl was empty and I was helped to bed.

I woke up with bright sun on my face this... afternoon as I noticed I slept long past breakfast on Christmas eve eve. My party! My party was not going to be as spectacular an affair as I had first wished. Considering the time limit, Mom's disinclination to cook a spread for 200 people, and my lack of cooking expertise to do that myself, I had come up with a decent option. As part of the deliberations yesterday for my newly updated and much more amazing plan, I called or emailed the nearby churches and asked for prices to rent their halls and provide dinners for 200 people. I settled on St Lawrence's offer for dinner and the use of their social hall for eight hundred dollars. They would provide a basic dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables. I had to provide my own dessert and allow for a donation box in a prominent place. Besides that, I just needed to clean the hall once everyone left. My parents approved the cost, and told me I'd have to pay them back, every cent! I decided to ignore that part while I ate a large lunch to make up for my missed breakfast. Then, I cooked up all the cookie dough and box brownies we had. Mom could add the cost of the boxes and cookies to my tab.

Once it was early evening, I had been dropped off at the Church, which was decorated with angels all over and a huge evergreen decked with beautiful ornaments, lights and tinsel. Thier PA system was playing religious Christmas music on a low hum. All the dishes were placed a large banquet table on heated plates or under heat lamps and I slid my brownies under one of the lamps and placed the cookies nearby. People began to trickle in and partook of the food happily. Many parents, most I had never met, stopped to thank me for the meal. So many stopped to thank me that I couldn't really keep track of names with faces, but at least everyone appeared happy! And then... it happened! I had previously welcomed Mr. Baker and his wife inside, they were both grinning ear to ear, Mrs. Baker thanked me specifically for taking her card to her husband. The next family I welcomed inside were Jess and the Andrades!

“Thank you for this lovely meal, Lillian,” Mrs. Andrade said as her husband scowled at me.

“Thank you so much for coming! I am so very sorry for the horrible mess my article caused you and your family! I never meant the trouble it caused, I swear!” I said.

“Hmph. So have you learned now to limit your sensational news?” Mr. Andrade asked.

“Oh have I ever!” I said, bowing a little. I hated so much to lower myself to him when it was his fault too for sensationalizing it at all! But, it's Christmas eve eve, after all, and I can take on some scorn if it means Jess doesn't have to change schools, Mr. Baker doesn't need a new job, and the Baker's don't need to start couples couseling, I suppose.

I stood watching the laughter and joy shared at the dinner, smiling myself but so very tired. I noticed even when the Andrades and Bakers met and talked and appeared friendly with each other. Once my parents and friends, Anne, Taylor and Jennifer, all got together, I sat at their table to eat and talk.

“Lillian!” my grandfather exclaimed as he walked into the social hall. “I heard what you've been up to by your mother! Now, tell me everything from your point of view.”

“Grandpa!” I yelled as I stood to hug him. “I'm so glad you're back! I made a huge mistake, but I'll be happy to tell you all about it. Please, tell me everything you would have done if you were in the same situation.”

This was the best, and most expensive Christmas I've had. I hoped it was just as enjoyable for all my guests as I called out “Merry Christmas” to everyone as they left.