"Just calm down," fifteen-year-old Samantha Adams said, laying a gentle hand on her twin's shoulder. "Looks like we'll be snowed in for Christmas." She took a nervous glance outside. The white powder already covered the sidewalk, the street and the rosebush outside the church. She sighed. It could be worse… we could have Mr. Sharpe here, Sam shuddered as she thought of their chemistry teacher and was thankful that, wherever he was, he wasn't at the church. He could – and would – make life miserable for them. She frowned towards Michael and Michael raised both of his eyebrows slightly, a quiet signal he'd understood what she had been thinking.
"I'll go get the flashlight from my dad's office," Ellie Johnson volunteered. At only thirteen years of age, she was the youngest teenager in the youth group at their church. She left quickly to go find the way to her father's office. Mr. Johnson was the head pastor at their small church in Riverdale, California, which is not too far from San Jose.
"What'dya s'ppose we do now?" Scott asked, glancing over at his twin. No one answered immediately; everyone was in the same glum mood, the likely possibility of being snowed in at the church for Christmas looming overhead. And none of this would have happened if they had not been rehearsing for the Christmas play.
Michael shrugged. "There really is nothing we can do to change the weather," he replied. He was fourteen-years-old and a close friend of both of the twins. "Since we are in this situation, we should probably just accept the fact that we are stuck here, probably for Christmas."
"Shut up! No one asked you, Spock!" Scott snapped, using Michael's nickname that he'd been given. Scott's eyebrows were angled downwards and he crossed his arms; it was obvious he was annoyed. Michael only glared at him, but did not retort with a nasty comment.
"Come on, Scott, it's really not worth it," Samantha said gently, but then became really quiet. She eyed Danny Turner and the Feliz brothers, Roberto and Pedro, playing a game of Twenty Questions in the opposite corner of the MPR, where the youth group had their service. Stacey went over to join them.
Scott shrugged and took Michael aside. Samantha walked over to Stacey and they started talking. The two boys went out into the hall and just stood there for a moment. As Michael glanced out at the snow, even he couldn't help himself from acknowledging that it was beautiful outside. Without the streetlights – or any lights – working the only source of light came from the sky above. He smiled slightly, even though he was sad that his family was not with him right now. They were safe at home. His ears quirked slightly and he thought he heard a noise coming from outside.
"Did you hear that?" Michael asked, turning to Scott. Scott shook his head and looked around.
"Nah, but it could've been my sis," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. There was a large crash that came from outside. Scott jumped and one of Michael's ears quirked again.
"I am going to investigate," he said, grabbing his coat and putting it on. Unlike most everyone else, Michael was the only one who was not cold – or if he was, he would not admit it.
"Be careful," Scott warned, emphasizing the second word. Upon Michael's promise that he would, Scott nodded. As Michael opened the door and powdered flakes flew inside, Scott shivered. It was cold outside, much colder than the weather people had forecasted.
Michael forced a weak smile towards Scott as he ventured out into the cold to investigate. He only walked a few steps when he saw a man, huddling over near Ellie Johnson's rosebush just outside the main entrance to the church. He stepped over, carefully avoiding the places where there would likely be patches of slippery ice beneath the snow. The last thing he needed right now was to slip and fall and hurt himself on the ice. He knelt down near the stranger.
"Sir, are you alright?" Michael asked. The man looked up towards him and Michael blinked a couple of times, obviously taken aback. The face looked familiar to him and the lips of the fairly dark-skinned man had already begun to turn bluish-purple. Michael rushed over to the man and laid a hand on his shoulder. Despite the fact that he did not wear gloves, heat radiated from his hands. "Come with me. We have got to get you inside and defrosted." He raised both of his eyebrows and helped the man to stand. It was difficult for Michael to assist the man – who was six feet tall – inside. Once they were inside and the door was shut, he left to get the man a blanket.
"What on earth happened to you?" Ellie Johnson asked, noticing that Michael's hair had snow in it. Michael rolled his eyes, but proceeded to tell her about the man outside in the snow. "The only clean blanket is the one we're using for the Christmas play tomorrow."
Michael nodded. "If the weather does not improve, there will be no Christmas play," he snapped. He made a quick acknowledging nod towards Ellie and went to grab the blanket. He sighed to himself as he returned to the man.
"Here you go, Mr. Sharpe," he carefully wrapped the blanket around the man. The man held the blanket close to him and shivered. Michael stood up and walked to where Scott was standing near the window.
"He'll be okay?" Scott asked, more of a question that a statement. Michael nodded, his eyes still wide from the shock of finding their atheistic chemistry teacher at the church. "Of course he'll be okay. We'll all be okay, Michael." Scott gave Michael a hard pat on the shoulder and Michael winced.
Michael nodded. "For once, I hope that you are right and I am wrong," he replied quietly, shifting his weight and twisting his shoulder so that Scott's hand fell. This was a frequent occurrence between these two friends.
"You're worried, aren't you, Michael," Scott asked, kneeling down next to Michael, who had dropped down to his knees. Michael only stared hard out the window, trying not to let any tears come to his eyes. More than anything else, he wanted to go home and be with his family. "I'm worried, too."
"Really, Scott," Michael said, swallowing hard. "I am trying to figure out if and how we can get home." His voice was shaky, as he was choking on the tears that threatened. Michael felt a second hand on his shoulder after a minute. It was Samantha.
"Mr. Sharpe should be fine," she smiled slightly, "and I can tell he's thankful for what you did, Michael." There was a long pause before any of them spoke again. "And I thought you didn't even like him!" She let out a light chuckle.
Michael shrugged slightly. After the long day of rehearsing for the upcoming Christmas play, he was in now mood for spending time with other people – or for being emotional. He was really quiet.
"Ya know, that was pretty brave of you… going out in the blizzard to help Sharpe like that," Scott said. "You didn't hafta do that, 'specially for him." Samantha giggled slightly and then left the two boys. Scott turned to Michael. "Why'dya go after him?" Michael didn't answer; he was too lost in his own thoughts for the time being.
"Just like your Christmas story." Both boys heard a third, much deeper voice behind them. Scott immediately spun around, nearly hitting Michael as he turned. Michael's ears quirked slightly; he knew exactly who it was. He turned slowly to see Mr. Sharpe behind him, wrapped in the blanket they were going to use for the Christmas play… the same old Christmas play they performed every year.
Michael raised an eyebrow slightly at Sharpe. "Please explain," he said quietly.
"You heard me, Michael," was Mr. Sharpe's reply. "Make whatever conclusion seems fit, but you – of all people – heard me."
"I heard him, but I simply did not believe my ears," Michael muttered, half under his breath and mostly to Scott. Scott hid a chuckle behind his hand. There was a long moment of awkwardness, as Michael was busy thinking.
"Hey Michael," a girl's voice said behind them. Michael looked up, blinked a couple of times and then turned around to find Ellie Johnson not too far away. "We're running through the play again… since there isn't much else to do." Michael glanced over at Scott before acknowledging Ellie Johnson with a nod. To Michael, Scott's big grin almost looked silly, but it was comforting. It was something that reminded him of his home, his home that was not far away from their place of refuge at the church.
At least we have a place to stay, he thought to himself. We have food, clean water, blankets… He heard Natalia playing Christmas carols on the piano at the front of the church and some of the other kids in the youth group singing the familiar words. … music, and each other, very much unlike-
Michael's thought process stopped abruptly, and he simply stood there, his dark brown eyes, wide and unblinking. He swallowed hard and thought even harder than that. He was thinking about the Christmas story and what Sharpe had said. But he would have to push these thoughts away until later; they had a play to rehearse. Not that doing much more rehearsing would help any, especially if they were still snowed in, he thought bitterly to himself.
'Now, that's no way to think; you ought to be ashamed of yourself,' the little voice inside his head – his conscience, as he often called it – scolded, trying to keep the teenager from becoming too pessimistic.
'Well, that is the way things are, and we aren't going to get anywhere if we choose not to accept the things the way they are, now are we?' Michael retorted back sharply. He took a deep breath and walked towards the front of the church area, taking his familiar place for the church Christmas play. It was the same play every year and he was always the same part, year after year. He always had been; nothing ever changed.
He took his spot on the podium and opened the Bible to the familiar passage of Luke, chapter two. Although he'd memorized this particular passage years ago, it still comforted him that Natalia had insisted on him having the Bible open, just in case he forgot.
'Now, we wouldn't want the wisemen coming in before the shepherds and angels do, would we?' he remembered her teasing voice commenting one year long ago, the first year they had done the Christmas play. He brought his memory and concentration back to the present, focusing on Stacey and Roberto, who were playing Mary and Joseph, respectively.
Natalia played "O Little Town of Bethlehem", while waiting for an imaginary angel choir to enter and take their places on the risers. Michael was thankful that none of the so-called "supporting cast" – also called the younger children – were needed for this particular rehearsal. Since it was late at night – it had started at nine in the evening – all the younger children were in bed, including those who had lead roles. Michael honestly couldn't blame the parents for wanting their children to stay home, especially in this weather.
"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world and everyone went to their hometown to be taxed. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child," Michael was careful to keep his words steady and clear as he read aloud. Stacey and Roberto made their way up the aisle and to the center of the stage and Stacey carefully set the doll in the wooden manger they were using.
"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn." After Michael finished the large amount of text, he let out a small sigh as Natalia played "Away in a Manger". Michael knew very well that the members of the angel choir, all the shepherds and the girl who was playing the angel would be there for the actual performance, but now they would just have to make do with what they had… older members of the youth group standing in for those who couldn't make it to the last rehearsal because of the odd timing or the bad weather.
"I'll stand in for the mom," Samantha volunteered. Although they were just rehearsing the very last part of the play – and not the entire thing, which would have been a nightmare, considering that most of the cast was absent – the mother and director of the play had considerable lines towards the end. "And Scott can stand in as the father."
"You already have an important part, Sam," this was Natalia talking in a whisper to Samantha. "Her part isn't that important right now…" She gave Samantha a gentle, but firm look that seemed to say 'get-to-your-proper-spot-or-else-I'll-have-to-take-you-up-on-your-offer'. Sam nodded and rushed over to her place next to Ellie Johnson. She and Ellie delivered their lines, pretending to be two of the church kids who were talking to each other during the pageant.
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared among them…" There was a long pause in Michael's reading. "An angel of the Lord appeared among them and the glory of the Lord shone around them…" This had been a planned moment in the script; the girl playing the angel wasn't supposed to come out on the first – or even the second – time through the line. Michael took a deep, exaggerated breath and sighed. "An angel of the Lord appeared among them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified!" He was deliberately frustrated at this point and could imagine his sister running out onto the stage in her messy angel costume, shoving the shepherds over to see the manger and then taking her place with the angel choir, just as planned.
Natalia started the music for "Angels We Have Heard on High" and, this time, Ellie and Samantha actually sang the song. So far, everything was going as planned. As Michael returned his concentration, this time to the second chapter of Matthew, the telephone rang, distracting his attention. Ellie Johnson jumped up and ran over to answer it. Everyone else waited until Ellie came back. The self-righteous smile of her stage character that she'd so carefully put on was gone and a frown replaced it.
"That was Mandie Alton," Ellie said, mostly to Natalia, but everyone else could hear. "Her dad slipped and broke his leg, so he won't be able to be in the play this year." She was obviously disappointed, as was everyone else. Most of the teenagers were silent: everyone at the church loved the Alton family and Mr. Alton always played the Reverend in their annual Christmas play.
"Who're we gonna
get to play Reverend Hopkins then?" Scott asked, breaking the
silence that had built up among the kids. "He's the only one who
knows the part." It was true. Anyone else who could have
potentially played the reverend was already busy: Mr. Johnson was the
father in the play and Michael's and Danny's fathers both ran the
sound and did
technical work for the play.
Natalia shrugged. "Unless someone has another idea, we can't do the play without the reverend… so I guess the play will have to be cancelled, after all," she sighed softly, letting her hands fall from the keys on the piano and into her lap.
Michael shot Samantha a quick glance, but it was a loud one. They made eye contact for a brief second, but then she dropped her eyes, unable to hold contact for more than a few seconds. She sighed hard, but didn't say anything aloud.
So now you want me to be the one to 'save Christmas'? she signed furiously in ASL. Since her father was deaf, their family spoke in sign language at home most of the time. Michael had picked much of the language up after spending hours and hours at the twins' house over his many years of knowing them. I'm not going to ask him… it was your idea.
Michael glared harshly at her. He knew Scott was likely eavesdropping on their conversation, but he didn't care. There was nothing going on that Scott shouldn't know about. I cannot ask him! I have already injured my pride once by letting him inside after the snow storm, but again… that is unquestionably out of my idea of sane. His retort was sharp, but he didn't care.
Fine then, let the play be ruined… after all we've gone through together and now your pride is going to ruin it and Christmas! If that's the way you want it to be, then I'm never going to speak to you again! She tugged on one of her ears, pulling it to a point, the sign she made when she meant Michael.
"Please Samantha! I have had enough!" This time, Michael's reply was in spoken English and he was almost shouting. Everyone turned to look at him and he could feel nine pairs of eyes glaring at him. Despite the howling winds outside, the room turned quiet. Michael was sure he could hear the heartbeats of almost everyone in the room. "I apologize," he said after a moment, his voice hardly above a whisper. He lowered his head slightly and he fixed his eyes on the floor below him. Could this day get any worse? he wondered to himself. Upon glancing at the clock and realizing that it was after eleven-thirty PM, he decided that the answer was no. In precisely twenty-three minutes, it would be Christmas Eve morning… and they were still stranded at the church… this time without someone to play the reverend in the play.
For what everything is worth right now, there might as well not be a Christmas play, he thought to himself. He lost himself in his typical, glum thoughts as he closed his eyes and rested his head on his arms on the podium. He stood in this position for about three minutes, unaware that the other teenagers around him were arguing with one another, obviously sparked into some sort of debate by what he'd said. Samantha and Scott were arguing the loudest of all; both of them knew what Michael had been saying, but it didn't take long for everyone else to realize the general idea of the silent conversation earlier. Michael felt a hand on his shoulder and this pulled him abruptly out of his thoughts.
"Mr. Liu." Immediately Michael knew who this voice belonged to. "A word with you in private." Michael nodded and followed Mr. Sharpe out of earshot from everyone else in the area. Once they were out in the hallway, Sharpe turned to Michael. "If you're desperate, I suppose I can play the reverend." His voice was nearly a whisper – a harsh one, but still definitely a whisper – and he looked heavily into Michael's eyes.
For once, Michael was completely speechless. After he'd regained composure, he managed to mouth only one word: why?
Sharpe understood what Michael meant and responded. "Without the reverend character, the play cannot be performed," he said simply. "Since there is no one else who is able to perform it and I can learn parts quickly, I am your most logical choice as a replacement." He raised both of his dark eyebrows slightly, as if daring Michael to contradict him. His voice dropped back into a whisper. "Besides, I think I owe you something for helping me."
Michael's eyes widened and he tried to find a flaw in Sharpe's reasoning, but he couldn't seem to. He simply nodded and led the way back inside, where people had apparently begun to calm down. Calmly, he explained the idea to Natalia, who nodded and sighed.
"Since there's no other option," she said, the corners of her lips lifting up in a forced smile. She handed Sharpe a copy of the script, complete with the part highlighted and notes on stage directions in the margins. Sharpe scanned it quickly and nodded.
This, he thought to himself, though as ironic as it may seem, may actually be a more enjoyable part to play than freaking out high school chemistry students all day long… But this comment was kept strictly to himself and he would not tell another living soul for quite some time.
"Places everyone!" Natalia called out. "We'll rehearse the scenes with the revered. Could I have stand-ins for …" She read off a list of names that she needed people to read parts for and the practice got started again. Michael and Samantha grinned at each other as Samantha dashed off to read one of the parts Natalia had asked her to read.
"That was a mighty fine play you had there!" Mr. Alton grinned as he hobbled down the aisle on his crutches. The snow had cleared up enough for the teenagers to go home and for the Christmas play to happen. "And, best of all, I was able to watch it this year." He smiled as he gave Cassandra Liu, Michael's eight-year-old sister, a pat on the head. The other adults who'd come to watch the play were agreeing that this had been a much better Christmas play than last year, though no one could figure out why, until…
"Hey, where'd Mr. Sharpe go?" Scott asked Samantha and Michael, his mouth full of a cookie. Michael arched both of his eyebrows and looked around. The entire cast – both lead roles and not – had been waiting by the cookies and hot chocolate to sign autographs for family members, a tradition that had started with the early days of doing the Christmas play.
Michael simply shrugged. "Home, I suppose," he sighed. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Sharpe." His voice was hardly a whisper as he practically mouthed these words. Even Samantha had to strain her ears to hear. Michael turned back to the twins. "I guess this will be a Christmas to remember…"
He was met with a big grin on Scott's face. "You betcha it'll be!" he exclaimed, placing a hand on Michael's shoulder. And, for once, Michael did not wince, though he did raise his eyebrows slightly, which caused both of the twins to start laughing. It would be a Christmas to remember.