A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

Elena and Margaret had been best friends for as long as they could remember. They were both born on August 14th, 1986 in the same hospital, lived on the same street, and liked the same things. They each had two older brothers and a younger sister. Both of them agreed that the best color in the world was blue, and both of them wanted to take up acting as a career. They both went to the same school and took the same language, and, after seeing it about a million times, decided that 'Snow in London' had to be the best movie ever made. And yet, even if they had been totally different, they would still be the best of friends. Margaret and Elena, Elena and Margaret. That's just how it was, and that was how it would always be. They were inseparable. They would always be together. Or so they thought...

"Finally!" Margaret declared with relief. She was sitting on the floor of Elena's bedroom with thick math book propped open and carefully handwritten notes scattered all over. "Mrs. Vaughn assigns way too much homework. That's the only problem with middle school. All the teachers assign so much homework that sometimes I think that THEY think that they're the only teachers in the school. If I ever have to multiply an integer again, I'm gonna scream! I swear I will!" "Good luck never multiplying an integer again." Elena said with a grin, pushing a lock of her long brown hair over her shoulders. "The test is tomorrow, remember?"

"Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" Margaret screamed in mock horror. She struck a dramatic pose, put a hand to her forehead, bent backwards, and promptly fell over. Elena burst out laughing. Then she said, "You're original, Mara! No doubt about that." Then as an afterthought: "Though, sometimes I do doubt your sanity." She was forced to duck as a pillow came hurling at her head. "Anyway, I'm almost done. I can't figure #37 out. What the heck is Y x M?" Margaret assumed a superior stance, trying hard to look like Mrs. Paughn. "The variable Y can only be discovered if the opposite integer can be disconnected. In circumstances where there is no concluding integer, the probable answer will be that there is not a substantial enough quantity of knowledge about the equation and it is therefore unable to be solved..." She cut short her speech, when she saw the hopelessly puzzled expression on Elena's face. "English translation?" Elena asked. Margaret laughed and flopped down on the bed next to her. "Pretty much, it's not solvable and you just write 'information missing'."

She got no response from Elena, who was busy writing the answer down. "Okay, done!" Elena said. "Let's go practice our skit for drama." "Do I have to be Romeo?" Margaret complained as they headed out the door.

On the way out, the girls stopped in the kitchen for a snack. On the marble countertop lay a pile of mail, and a note from Elena's mom that read:

Ellie-

I have to go to the grocery store

to pick up some things for dinner,

and then I have to pick up grandma

from the airport. After that, Thomas

and I have to go to a meeting on choosing

the right college, so I won't be home until

around 8:00. There are cookies in the oven

and some sodas in the fridge if you want

a snack. I've asked Mrs. Sentin to keep an

eye on the house, just in case you

and Margaret burn it down by accident. That

wasn't a joke! If you go outside bundle

up because you don't need to catch a cold on top of

everything else. Take care of yourself.

Margaret is welcome to stay for dinner ,

if you'd like her to. Dinner is in the fridge

and just needs to be microwaved. I love you and

I'll see you at 8:00.

-Momma

"Want me to check if you got any mail?" Margaret asked Elena, who was searching through the fridge.

"Sure." Elena answered. "What kind of soda do you want?"

"Uh, orange." Margaret said absentmindedly as she shuffled through the mail. Bills, bills, a package for Elena's mom, a magazine, an envelope whose return address was 'Little Bend Hospital'... "What's this?" Margaret asked. "Why would you guys be getting a letter from Little Bend Hospital?" Suddenly Elena appeared right next to her side and snatched the letter from Margaret's grasp. She examined it carefully. "Oh...this...this...this is probably just junk mail. You know? Those stupid ads and stuff." Margaret was relieved. "Yeah, I mean it's not like you're sick or anything. What was I thinking?" She noticed that Elena averted her eyes and suddenly became very interested in the soda can she was holding. "Yeah," she said with a weak smile, "It's not like I'm sick or anything..."

*************************

A COUPLE MONTHS LATER

December 24th, 1999

Elena had been hospitalized four times since she had told Margaret that she had been diagnosed with cancer. "At least we can spend Christmas together," Elena said with a feeble smile. The two girls had been playing in the snow for the past hour and a half. They had been sledding (until Margaret slid into a telephone pole), built snowmen (until Margaret's hastily built Frosty the Snowman collapsed onto Elena's dog), built snow forts (until Margaret became trapped inside hers because she had forgotten to build a door), and had enjoyed a snowball fight. At least, they had enjoyed it until tough-girl Margaret, who had cried a total of 3 times in her life, burst out crying. Elena, being so scared at seeing her strong friend cry, also had to cry. Now they were huddled together on the porch steps, talking.

"And plus, it's not like I'm extremely sick." Elena said quietly, as much to reassure herself as Margaret. "I mean, I've only been hospitalized four times so far. It's not THAT bad for this type of disease. I'm doing well. I'm not extremely sick and the doctor said I can make it for at least another year." She suddenly had a fit of horrible, racking coughs. Her small body bent over and was shaken uncontrollably back and forth. Silent tears poured down her face.

Margaret waited until the fits subsided, and then glared at Elena. "Yeah." she said sarcastically. "You're only dying." Then her voice changed. "I can't lose you, Elena."

The girls sat silently the cold steps and wondered what in the world they were going to do.

That night, as Margaret was preparing for bed, she caught sight of an old poem that her mother always put out at Christmastime. It was posted on the wall outside her bedroom, and as she passed it to go to bed, she took a second look at it. It was her unspoken ritual. She always had to read the poem before bed. She stood in the darkened hallway, reading the poem that always made her mother cry. Outside, in the cold street, carolers sang cheerfully, intent on spreading happiness. She tried to ignore them and read the poem. They were so happy, but how could she be happy? Her best friend was sick, and on the verge of dying. Scowling, she reached over, turned on the hall light, closed her ears against the happy singing in the streets, and decided that she would read the poem quickly so that she could go to sleep. Then Margaret began to read.

The Christmas Miracle

Once there was a little boy

Who became severely ill

he couldn't play, he couldn't do

naught but take his pills.

He looked outside on Christmas Eve

At children in the snow.

Their eyes were wide, their cheeks were flushed,

Their faces all aglow.

"If one of them would pray for me,"

"I know that I'd get better soon,

the one thing I want badly."

He went to sleep, the little boy,

His face lit all aglow.

Dreaming of one little prayer

And playing in the snow.

Then late that night, the Christmas Spirits

Were awakened by a prayer

A prayer prayed by a little boy

With shining golden hair.

"Dear God," the healthy child prayed

"I played this afternoon.

And the saddest thing that I did see

Was a boy watching from his room.

I know he's sick and he may die

But spare his life, I pray

So his one wish may well come true

And he may go and play."

The prayer was heard and touched the heart

Of the immortal who listened

And on his cheek

A tear drop fell,

It laid there, and it glistened.

"This boy must be a gentle soul

to have another pray

to spare his life and have him live

to see another day.

So, very well, I'll grant his wish.

And make him strong again

So he may go and spread the word

Of the boy who prayed for him.

The next day when the ill boy awoke

He was no longer ill.

And he could see a fresh layer of snow

Glistening on the window sill.

From that day on,

The boy told all who listened

Of the miracle that saved his life

And of the snow that glistened.

When others are in trouble

Be they friends or not,

Pray for them with all your heart

And give them all you've got.

Whenever this type of kindness

Is the type you won't bestow.

Remember the ill little boy

Eyes glistening and face aglow.

Margaret had never fully understood the poem's message. Now as she read it again, she cried silently to herself. Maybe the Miracle would work again.

Margaret glanced over at the poem, which she had brought into her room. "Oh, yeah! And...Amen!"

Would the Christmas miracle work?

The next day, as soon as Margaret had woken up and dressed, she ran downstairs. The Christmas tree was immaculate, with large wrapped presents overflowing from under its branches. The presents were huge! Margaret didn't see a single flat one, or a small one, in the whole bunch. They were all large, square, and bulky. But Margaret passed this all over. She had come downstairs with the full intention of going over to Elena's. As she was hurriedly putting her coat on, her mother walked downstairs.

"Merry Christmas, sweetie!" she said with a cheerful smile. Then she noticed that Margaret was putting on her jacket. "Margaret, where are you going?"

"Elena's."

"But it's Christmas morning! Don't you even want to open your presents?"

"Later."

By that time, Margaret had finished putting her jacket on. She gave her mother a kiss, and then, with one last glance at the presents, she headed out the door, leaving her mother standing openmouthed, in the doorway.

Elena was sitting in a large Comfy Chair when Margaret came bursting through the kitchen. Elena's mom didn't even reprimand her; she was used to this kind of behavior, Margaret was family. Elena turned to face her. "Hey, Mara! What did you get for Christmas?"

"I haven't checked yet. What did you get?"

As Elena and Margaret were exclaiming over Elena's presents, the phone rang. Elena's mom went to get it.

"Hello? Yes, this is she. WHAT??????????????"

The last exclamation was so loud that both girls turned to look at Elena's mom. "This isn't a joke? Yes, yes, but you really think that...What? Oh, yes, she is. I'm sure she'd be happy to! No, I'm positive she would. Thank you so much! I can't believe it! Oh, yes, yes, here she is. Thank you again! Thank you! Thank you..."

And with that, she handed the phone to Elena who looked at it questioningly before putting it to her ear.

"Hello?"

"Hello. Is this Elena?"

"Yes..." Elena responded hesitantly.

"Elena, this is Dr. Linsatres..."

"Yes?"

"Elena, do you remember those blood tests you took about two weeks ago?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Well, we just got the results back yesterday, and the results were negative. That means that the chemotherapy worked. It's not definite yet, but we are almost positive that the cancer has gone away. You're cured."

He got no response. Elena stood there as still as stone. The phone slowly slid out of her hands and toppled to the floor. Margaret reached down picked it up.

"Hello?" she said questioningly.

"Hello? Is this Elena?"

"No, this is her best friend, Margaret."

"Did you hear the news, Margaret?"

"No. What happened? Is it bad?"

"No, not at all! Elena's been cured!"

"Oh my gosh! No way!"

"Yes. I'll leave you to congratulate her. Merry Christmas!"

He hung up. As soon as Margaret was sure he was not on the phone any longer, she screamed with joy, and then joined Elena and her mother in dancing around the living room. After a few minutes of celebrating, they all went over to Margaret's house to inform Margaret's mother of the good news. After they had told her, and the two mothers were happily talking, Elena suggested that they open Margaret's presents.

Two hours later, they had opened all of the presents and were lying contentedly under the Christmas tree, staring up at the evergreen branches and sparkling lights. Elena stretched her hands behind her head and then rolled over.

"Hey, Mara! You have another present!"

This present was nothing like the other presents that Margaret had opened. It was small and rectangular and only an inch thick. Excitedly, Margaret tore off the wrapping paper. Inside was a folded piece of paper. Curiously, Margaret unfolded it and read the careful handwriting inside. It read:

Thanks for believing.