Chapter 10: The Christmas Oracle of Room 316

Story recap: Thanks to some new friends, Paul Dickens has a job that has saved the family’s Christmas. But there’s still ill will among the two Dickens girls. This is the final installment of a 10-chapter holiday serial. The complete serial is available at www.NEMS360.com.

By M. Scott Morris
Daily Journal
Jaime felt guilty for moving Paz so soon after surgery, but it couldn’t be helped. Except for the cone over her head that kept her from licking her stitches, she seemed comfortable in her crate in the back seat.
“Don’t worry,” Jaime’s father said. “This plan is a good one.”
“Si, but …”
“Do you want me to go by myself?”
“No, Papa.”
Jaime hated to leave Paz, but he couldn’t miss this opportunity his father had so generously provided.
After Esteban’s truck accident, the other driver had offered a sizable chunk of money to make him forget how close he’d come to getting crushed by a Crosstown train. Esteban cashed the check before the man had a chance to change his mind. First, he bought an SUV to replace the pickup that had been shredded by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
Next, Esteban bought plane tickets to Monterrey, Mexico, so the two of them could spend Christmas with Jaime’s wife and sons for the first time in three years. After the holiday, the pair planned to help the family move to Tupelo.
It was all too much to ask for, and Jaime had Helen St. Cloud, the amazing woman from Room 316, to thank. Actually, he also owed thanks to Jesus, Mother Mary, God the Father and all of the Saints. Maybe they would bless his plan for Paz, too.
Jaime and Esteban pulled to a stop at the home of Paul and Ginny Dickens, and carried Paz in her crate to the front door. Helen opened the door before they rang the bell, and the two men exchanged a look.
“I saw you through the window,” she explained.
“Si. Yes, of course,” Jaime said.
“Paul and Ginny are out Christmas shopping, thanks to you, Mr. Flores,” she said.
“Por nada. It is Paul who is helping me,” Esteban said. “And, please, call me Esteban, senora.”
“OK, Esteban,” she said, “and do call me Helen.”
“Helen, you look so much better than when I saw you at the hospital.”
“Thank you, Mr. Flor – I mean – Esteban,” she said, then giggled ever so slightly.
“Are the girls here?” Jaime said.
“They’re here,” she said, “but I had to send them to their opposite corners for the second time today. Santa Claus’ naughty and nice list doesn’t mean what it used to.”
“Paz can help,” Jaime said.
“I’ll leave them in time-out until you get her settled,” she said.
Jaime set up Paz’s crate near a sliding glass door that led to the backyard. He coaxed the dog out of the crate, while Esteban fetched fresh bandages, medicine bottles and chew toys from the SUV. Paz’s fur had been shaved on her belly, which had a big white bandage. She rested her head on a paw, as best she could manage with the cone. Her tail wagged when Esteban returned with a small rawhide bone.
“I think we are ready,” Jaime said.
“I’ll release the prisoners. I hope that dog can work miracles,” Helen said, then walked toward the girls’ rooms.
“Look who’s talking about miracles,” Esteban said.
Jaime nodded and scratched Paz behind the ears.
When Claire and Sophie saw Paz, they let out a collective “Awwwwww,” and the dog rewarded them with more tail-wagging.
Jaime was afraid they’d rush up to Paz, but the girls took it slow and easy.
“Who’s going to take care of Paz when I’m gone?” he said.
“I am,” Claire said, shooting up her hand.
“No, me,” Sophie said. “I’m the oldest.”
“That’s not fair, Mr. Jaime,” Claire said. “She’s always the oldest.”
“Get used to it,” Sophie said.
“Wait. Wait. Wait,” Jaime said. “I’m afraid we have to put Paz back in her crate and take her home.”
“What?” Sophie said.
“Why?” Claire said.
“Because Santa Claus told me Paz needed both of you to help her. She has to be petted and fed, and she needs her medicine, and somebody needs to sing Christmas carols to her.”
“I can sing ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Feliz Navidad,’” Claire said, “but you didn’t really talk to Santa Claus.”
“This is very important,” he said, taking Sophie and Claire’s hands. “Sophie, do you believe in Santa Claus?”
She looked at her sister, who was biting her lip, then looked at Paz, who was trying to stretch her snout out of the cone to lick her wound.
“If Santa says we have to work together,” Sophie said, “then we have to do it.”
“Yeah, we have to do what Santa says,” Claire said gravely.
“Bueno. It’s settled. Paz will have a Merry Christmas here with you, while my father and I get to celebrate with my wife and sons in Mexico.”
Helen closed her eyes for a few seconds, then smiled.
“Oh, wonderful,” she said. “I have a strong feeling this will be a Christmas that we all remember for a long, long time.”

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal