Justine shivers. A cold wind blows by as she stands around waiting for customers. She was working the second lot of Christmas trees owned by her boss. Since they opened that morning, she had sold five Christmas trees and several wreaths that she had made by hand. She dances around, jingling the bells on her wrists and ankles, to the Christmas music playing throughout the lot.
She sings along with the music and does some acrobatics to entertain the passing customer. She was wearing her hand made elf outfit. She had the ears, the hat, the shoes and the outfit itself; and a thick pair of stockings to keep her legs warm.
By that evening, she had sold over ten Christmas trees and six more of the wreaths. When the part time person shows up to relieve her, she goes to do some Christmas shopping. Taking her list out, she looks for the items she had written down for the children at the shelter. She wanted the children and their families to have a happy Christmas. They had suffered so much during the year, that they deserved some happiness. She had already bought all the food for the Christmas dinner at the shelter.
The nuns that ran the shelter, where she did volunteered, informed her that they might not be able to give the families and children a nice Christmas this year. She knew how the Nuns were doing everything possible to keep their shelter open for the homeless. The contributions from the church just weren’t what they used to be. She kept the food stored in a locked, deep freezer that she had purchased at a yard sale, for just fifty dollars. She buys what gifts she can for now; and, when her boss pays her, she’ll come back and finish her shopping. She takes her purchases back to her work-site and wraps them.
Justine's boss wanted someone to be at the lot 24/7, so she was staying at the lot and living in a pop-up trailer she had traded work for, helping a guy clean out three buildings in exchange for it. It needed some repairs to it to keep the cold winter weather out; and you could see the patch job she had done with different color duct tape on the canvas covers. The support bars that were supposed to hold the bed section up were missing, so she used some thick metal rods to replace them. She knew a guy at a garage that was willing to drill holes in them so they could be attached to the trailer. She duct taped thick, clear plastic material over the torn screen windows, so she could heat the inside of the trailer with a small electric heater. Anything that needed to be kept refrigerated was either outside in a metal tub or in the deep freezer.
There was a portable toilet on the lot to use while she worked and stayed there. To keep busy, she made some more wreaths to replace the ones she sold and some garlands as well. Tomorrow, she was working at the shelter, and had bags full of decorations for her and the kids to decorate the shelter with.
She gets some sleep and when she gets up in the morning, heads towards Saint Mary’s shelter with the decorations. On her arrival she walks in, trailing the decorations behind her in a makeshift wagon she had built from scratch.
“Morning Sister Katherine.” Justine waves to her as she walks in.
Sister Katherine looks up from the apple pie she was making. She had flour on her cheeks and on her apron. She was a middle age woman that was bubbly and cheerful.
“Justine! Just in time. Could you help Sister Sophia with the soup, please?” Sister Katherine smiles as she watches Justine walk around dressed like a female elf.
“Sure, Sister Katherine.” Justine parks her wagon against the wall.
She walks over and takes one end of the pot and helps carry the huge soup pot, with Sister Sophia, over to the serving counter. Justine’s mouth starts to water as the aroma from the soup inside drifts up and floats under her nose.
“Thanks, Justine.” Sister Sophia smiles at Justine.
Sister Sophia could remember the first day Justine had come into the shelter. She was just a skinny little ten old that had gotten lost from her mother. She had found her crying and scared. So, she helped Justine find her mother.
She remembers that sad day as she had watched a little boy; overcome by the death of his mother. Justine had just started dressing as a girl and had gone shopping with her mother. They had stopped at their favorite convenience store to buy a soda. While they were there, three masked men came in and robbed the cashier and everyone inside.
One of the robbers fired his gun towards the cops and they returned fired. During the shootout that occurred, Justine’s mother was hit by a stray bullet. The bullet struck her mother in her neck, nicking her carotid artery. Justine had tried desperately to stop the bleeding, but her mother bled to death right in front of her. They couldn’t say if it was the robbers bullets or one of the police officer’s bullets that had killed her.
After that, Sister Sophia hadn’t seen Justine for a few years. No one knew what had happened to her; and when they went to the house where she used to live, they were informed that the house had been foreclosed on. They were also told that the man and young girl that had lived there had moved away.
That was until a few months ago, when Justine had come in, all covered up, and asked if she could help. It was like a hundred degrees outside and Justine was wearing a thick turtle neck sweater with long sleeves and faded blue jeans. Her shoes were old and worn looking. When she looked at Justine’s face, she noticed that her make-up was rather heavy. She could only guess what happened to Justine, but she had said yes.
Since then, Justine always came around and helped at the shelter. She would mend clothes, fix and serve the food, read stories to the children and tend to the sick. She would do anything that needed to be done around the shelter.
Justine got some rolls from the oven and dumped them onto a tray to set out. A smile appeared on Sister Sophia's face as she watched
Justine get everything ready to serve for today's lunch. Sister Sophia carried over a stack of bowls and plates; and set them down on the serving counter.
“Alright, we’re ready to serve Justine. Why don’t you go and let everyone know?”
Justine glanced towards the door.
“I think they already know.” Justine walks over to the door and opens it.
The people start coming in and Justine heads back to the counter to start serving people. Most of the people she knew, passing in front of her after having their bowl filled with soup. There were a few new faces that she hadn’t seen before. To the newcomers she greeted, “Welcome to Saint Mary’s shelter. If you would like seconds, feel free to come up after everyone has gone through once.” She smiles at them as she watches them move down the line.
Once the people were served. Justine helps clean the kitchen. She gets her makeshift wagon and any volunteers that wanted to help her decorate the shelter for Christmas. She shows the kids how to make paper chains. They will use them to decorate the Christmas tree she had already chosen for the shelter. She had found a church member that was willing to pick up and deliver it to the shelter.
When the Christmas tree shows up. Justine helps the kids and some of the adults decorate the tree. When the tree is decorated and its time for the Angel to be put on top of the tree, she picks the smallest child and lifts her up, so she could put the Angel on the tree.
“Who’s ready to turn the lights on?” Justine looks at all the children gathered around the tree, along with the adults that helped. They all raised their hands.
She turns the lights on and ducks out of the way so the children can enjoy the blinking lights. It’s been years since she has seen a Christmas tree all lit up. It stirs up good memories from when her family use to do this before her mother died. After her mother’s death, everything changed. Her father started drinking and became abusive; no matter what she did to try and help him. He would abuse her and apologize afterwards, saying how sorry he was. Finally, tired of the abuse, she left.
“Do you think Santa will know where we are now?” asks a little girl of six, with short dark brown hair, looking at Justine.
Justine kneels to her level “Santa always knows where you are. Trust me, when you wake-up on Christmas day. There will be a lot of gifts for you and everyone else.”
Justine hugs the little girl and lets her go afterwards. She stands up and heads to the kitchen to help the sisters. She helps them set out the dinner course and the dishes. She sticks around and helps clean-up afterwards. When everything was finally put away, she fixed herself a plate from the left overs to take with her. As she is about to leave, Sister Carol motions for her to join her. Justine follows Sister Carol to her office.
“Please have a seat Justine.” Sister Carol motions to the chair in front of her desk.
“Thank you, Sister.” Justine sits down in the chair. “Have I done something wrong, Sister Carol?” Justine was nervous.
“No, you haven’t Justine. It’s just I overheard your conversation with young Selena. I know you mean well, but I don’t want to get her hopes up and then see them not come true.”
Justine just smiles “Sister Carol, can you keep this between me and you please?”
“Of course, Justine. What is it?"
“I know the shelter doesn’t have a lot of money to buy gifts for everyone. So, I have taken it upon myself to buy the gifts for everyone. I want the children and families here to have a nice Christmas. I want them to enjoy the holiday and forget about their worries for a while.” Justine looks at Sister Carol with a serious look on her face.
“Justine, you don’t have to do that.” Sister Carol was worried about Justine keeping her promise.
“Don’t worry about me Sister Carol. I tend to keep my promises. I don’t want to disappoint the kids and families.” Justine meant what she said.
“Alright, let me know what we can do to help you.” Sister Carol knew Justine had supplied the tree, the decorations, and the food for Christmas dinner. She was worried about how Justine would be able to care for herself, if she kept this promise, too.
“Thank you, sister. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to be at work.” Justine gets up and heads towards the door. She had volunteered to work the night shift tonight and her shift in the morning.
When Justine gets back to the Christmas tree lot, she goes out and help the customers and to entertain them while selling Christmas trees. She takes a few pictures with the children and sell twelve trees and six wreaths. Morning comes, and it’s cold outside, but Justine wasn’t going to let that stop her. She does her normal routine of dancing and singing along with the music. She manages to sell fourteen Christmas trees and six more wreaths, plus several garlands she had constructed.
By the time her shift is over, the part-time worker that was hired couldn’t make it in. She ends up working that shift as well, and sells about twenty trees. Her boss comes by to check on sales and is impressed by how many trees and wreaths she sold. He takes over, giving her the rest of the night off so she can get some sleep.
He hands her, her paycheck and she take it and cashes it. She uses the money to buy more gifts for the children and adults at the shelter. She uses all her money for them, saving just enough to recharge her bus pass; then spends a few hours wrapping all the gifts, making sure the proper person’s name were on them.
For the next three weeks leading up to Christmas, she 'busts her butt' selling trees, garlands and wreaths. Some days, she works twenty-four hours straight without taking a break. She only had a few more families to buy gifts for, before Christmas. The only thing that kept her going, was the desire to see those families and children happy.
On Christmas Eve, she planned with Sister Carol to let her in, dressed as Santa Clause. This way the children could see Santa placing their gifts under the tree. She knew the Nun’s didn’t approve of it, but it would make the children happy.
On Christmas Eve, she shows up for Christmas dinner dressed in her elf outfit and helps the sisters serve everyone. She had already stashed a few gifts under the tree. She performs for the children and adults doing aerobatic stunts and sings along with the sisters as they sung Christmas carols and hymns.
At midnight she comes in as she planned, with Sister Carol's help, and sets out all the gifts she had gotten for everyone. She put everyone’s pile in different locations with a card saying who they were for. She nestles the gifts she got for the sisters under the tree. She was tired by the time she noticed a child wake-up and spot her. She waggles her fingers, Santa-like, at the little girl that had seen her and disappears.
From a hidden place she watches as the little girl wakes everyone in the shelter. The little girl leads them into the cafeteria where all the gifts are setup. The other kids couldn’t believe it when they saw all the gifts. Even the parents couldn't believe it.
Justine sneaks into the kitchen to a quiet spot where she could change clothes. Once she has changed, she goes out to watch everyone enjoy their gifts. Tears leak from her eyes as the smiles and cheerful expressions are shown by everyone.
Sister Carol walks over and hugs her, “You brought joy to a lot of people today Justine.”
“I didn’t do anything, Sister Carol. This was Santa’s doing.”
A smile appears on Sister Carol's face, “Okay, Santa did it.” Sister Carol hugs her again.
“Santa left gifts under the tree for all of you, Sister Carol.” Justine returns the hug.
“Thank you.” Sister Carol releases her.
“Your very welcome. There’s one more place I need to go. Merry Christmas Sister Carol.”
“Merry Christmas to you as well, Justine.” She watches as Justine leaves the shelter.
Justine takes a cab to her old address to see if her father was still living there. She pays her cab fare and asks the driver to wait for her. Justine takes the gift she has for her father and goes to the apartment she used to live in, before walking out after the beating he had given her that day. She notices the door to the apartment standing partially open; and peeking inside, Justine spots her father, passed out on the broken sofa, with a bottle still in his hand. Still, she walks inside and sets the gift she had gotten for her father, along with the card, on the table. That way, when he woke-up, he would see it. She leans down and places a kiss on his cheek.
“Merry Christmas, daddy,” she murmurs, then turns around and walks back down to her waiting cab.
“Take me home please.” She asked the cab driver, as tears streamed down her cheeks.
She sits back and closes her eyes, thinking about the children and their happy families; that's what mattered most to her. The cab driver drops her off at her trailer. She goes inside and crawls wearily into bed, feeling the warmth from the happiness she had brought them.
She looks over at her mother’s picture. “Merry Christmas, mommy,” and falls asleep.
Edited by: Snarfles
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