Caleb bounded down the hallway, giggling as his ball rolled to the top of the staircase. It teetered for a moment, then slipped over the edge and bounced away. The boy charged after the stray toy and scooped it up, narrowly avoiding a collision with the wall and another orphan boy.
Breathing hard, Caleb sat down on the staircase. From here, he could peek out through a window at the street. Men and women bustled by, wearing everything from stained factory clothes to spotless evening attire. Fathers ran errands for their wives and mothers guided sons and daughters through the crowds, pulling them away from charming window displays. A group of pupils celebrated their school break by marching towards the park. Adults of all ages rushed in and out of stores, carrying mysterious bundles that fulfilled Christmas wishes. Between the busy people, carts rattled behind plodding horses, while occasionally one of those strange new devices—what did Katie say they were? “automobiles”?—would scream past. The air was filled with honking, neighing, talking, and many, joyous calls of, “Merry Christmas!”
Caleb watched the business for a few moments, and his smile changed into a thoughtful frown. A moment later, a girl approached the boy and plopped down beside him. “Whatcha thinking about, Caleb?”
“Christmas,” the six-year-old answered.
“And what about it?”
“What’s it for?”
“What’s Christmas for?”
“Christmas is Jesus’s birthday. It’s when we celebrate that God sent Jesus to save us. Don’t you remember the preacher saying that?”
“Yes, but why do people give presents and eat food and decorate trees?”
“Hmm…” Katie’s brow wrinkled. “Well, I think they give presents because God gave Jesus to us. I suppose they eat food and decorate trees just because they want to.”
“Oh.” Caleb scooted closer to his sister and leaned against her. She was so smart, the boy thought. Someday, he wanted to be like her.
A silence fell over the two. Then— “Katie?”
“Are all those people happy?” He pointed out the window.
“Well, I suppose so. They do seem happy; everyone seems happy at Christmastime.”
“Then why,” he looked up, “why doesn’t Christmas make you happy like it makes other people happy?”
Katie was silent for a moment. When she spoke, her voice quivered. “Because we don’t have a family like other people.”
“Why don’t we?”
“Because Mommy and Daddy died a long time ago.”
“I don’t know.”
“Will we get a new Mommy and Daddy someday?”
“I don’t know.”
“I hope we do.” Caleb snuggled closer. “John says having a family makes you happy.”
“Yes. He says that at Christmas, they decorate a tree and give each other lots of presents and eat food and their grandparents come to visit.”
“It is.” Caleb sighed. “Someday, we’ll have that to. And you’ll be happy again, and I’ll be happy, and we’ll have a mommy and daddy to love us. That will be a real merry Christmas.”
Katie didn’t answer. She blinked rapidly to hold back tears and pulled her brother into a hug.
She couldn’t bear to tell him that she didn’t think his wish would ever come true. After all, who would take two small, cold, lonely children into their family? Who would want them as their children?
Caleb watched Katie cradle the crying baby. She swayed from side to side, whispering words the boy could not catch, as the baby wriggled and let out a sharp sob. “Shhh,” Katie soothed the child.
A week had passed since their conversation, and it was Christmas Eve. In that time, a baby boy had been brought to the orphanage. He cried every night, and every night Katie held him until he drifted off to sleep. Each time she did, Caleb noticed a strange look cover her face. He couldn’t identify it, but it made her look as if she, too, was going to cry.
In reality, it was a deep longing. Katie felt as if she were the baby, reaching forward with open hands for something that eluded her, begging with wordless pleas for help.
The boy’s cries began to dwindle, and he let out a few hiccups before resting his hand against Katie’s chest, his tiny fist wrapped around a strand of her hair.
“That’s better,” Katie murmured as Caleb began to catch her words. “That’s better. Shh; it’s okay. I know how you feel. I don’t know why there’s no one to love you and Caleb and me. It seems so wrong that there are so many happy people in the world, so many people with plenty of family to celebrate Christmas with, and we have none. It isn’t fair, and I can’t fix it.”
Tears gathered in Katie’s eyes, but she didn’t let them fall. “Someday, maybe, the world will pay more attention to children like us, and someone will come for you. Then you’ll have a real merry Christmas.”
That night, after everyone else had fallen asleep, Katie lay awake. The full moon poured light into the bedroom, illuminating sleeping children. A few rays fell onto Katie, lighting up the tears on her cheeks and the damp places on her pillow.
A moment later, she threw her covers off. A pair of bare feet tiptoed across the floor, out of the room and into the next, where little boys were scattered in little beds. Caleb lay in a corner, hidden by shadows. He slept scrunched in a ball, his knees brought against his chest. One hand rested beneath his head, while the other had fallen beside the bed.
Katie crept to his bedside. She gently picked up his hand and tucked it beneath the covers. Shivering in the dark, she gazed at her brother before closing her eyes.
Mommy and Daddy had died when she was five and Caleb a baby. Her brother couldn’t remember them at all, while Katie had a few, vague memories: sitting on Mommy’s lap while they read a book; Daddy swinging her up in the air when she ran to greet him; her parents tucking her into bed and whispering goodnight.
Christmas, too, had a few shrouds of memory surrounding it: a small but bright tree decorated with candles and ornaments of all shapes and sizes; a few presents resting beneath; Mommy singing Christmas carols while she worked; standing in the drifting snow, her gloved hand tucked inside Daddy’s warm one. Each memory was so thin, though. It was like smoke drifting from a fire that had died: it pointed to the warmth and joy that had been but was no more. And Katie could not wake the fire again. Someone else had to do it for her. Someone else had to be willing to tend the fire of family, to bring warmth back into Katie’s heart and joy into her life.
Katie wiped at the tears that would not stop as memories flitted through her mind. Then she whispered in a choked voice, “Dear God, I know you love Caleb and me. That’s why you sent Jesus; to show your love. Please, God, oh please, won’t you give us a family? I’m so tired of spending Christmas without any parents. Please, won’t you find a family for us?”
Emotion overcame Katie, and she laid her head on the bed, muffling her sobs in the blankets.
Caleb awoke. He felt something by his leg, and someone was crying nearby. Sitting up, he saw his sister. She was leaning over, shaking.
The little boy pulled his feet up and slipped out of bed. Then he knelt beside Katie, placing his hand on her shoulder. When she did not look up, Caleb wrapped his arms around his sister and hugged her. “What’s wrong, Katie?” he whispered.
“Oh, Caleb,” Katie gasped, lifting up her head, “I just want a mommy and a daddy and a home again.”
Caleb laid his head against her arm. “It’s okay, Katie,” he whispered. “Jesus still loves us, and someday the world will pay more attention to us. Then you’ll be happy again. Just wait and see. It’ll happen someday.”