By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
STORY RECAP: The Dickens family’s Christmas joy is cut short by Dad’s sudden job loss and the hospitalization of the girls’ grandmother. The Flores family is drawn into the Dickens’ lives by an unbelievable encounter. This is the fourth installment of a 10-chapter holiday serial, which concludes Christmas Eve.
By Sheena Barnett
Paz, the three-legged Labrador, seemed to smile up at the little boy in the wheelchair.
“I like her bandanna,” said Will, patting Paz’s head.
“So does she,” Jaime Flores said, adjusting the pup’s red and green bandanna tied around her neck. “She’s ready for Christmas.”
Jaime eyed Will as the boy scratched Paz’s ears. Will had been in bad spirits since the car accident that crushed his right leg several weeks earlier. The only time he seemed to open up was when Jaime brought Paz in to help Will with his physical therapy.
“You know,” Jaime started, slowly, “Paz lost her leg in an accident. It took her a few days to learn how to walk and play and fetch with just three legs, but she did it. Give these doctors a little time and they’ll have you up and running soon.”
Will didn’t take his eyes off Paz. “Psh. I guess,” he mumbled.
Before Jaime could respond, Rima, Will’s nurse, came over and put her arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“All right, buddy, that’s enough therapy for today,” she said. “Tell Paz you’ll see her next week.”
“See you later, Paz,” Will said glumly.
Jaime watched as Rima wheeled Will back to his room, then looked at Paz.
“I just don’t know what we’re going to do with him,” Jaime said to his pup. “Come on, girl, let’s go.”
Jaime and Paz strolled out of the therapy room and into the hallway, just in time to bump right into Jaime’s father, Esteban.
The man’s large brown eyes lit up when he saw his son.
“Jaime! There you are,” he said, and Jaime chuckled.
“Ah, well, it’s therapy day, Papa. Where else would I be?” Jaime said.
Esteban’s eyes darted across the empty therapy room, and he grabbed his son by an arm.
“Come on, I’ve got something to tell you,” he said, leading Jaime and Paz back into the room.
The pair took a seat at the round table in the back, and Paz lay down beside Jaime’s feet.
“OK, Papa. Whattaya got?”
Esteban expected to struggle with words, but they flowed from him.
“Jill called me in to interpret for a patient. This lady is in a coma, but she’s speaking,” he said, and Jaime’s eyes narrowed. “She speaks perfect Spanish, but her daughter swears she doesn’t know a word of it.”
Jaime chuckled nervously, and Esteban continued.
“I know this sounds crazy, but son … she talked like she knew me. Knew us,” he said, the words just above a whisper.
Esteban let that sink in. Jaime stared at his father. “That’s loco, Papa,” he said, his face expressionless.
“I know. But she said – in perfect Spanish – ‘Esteban, keep to the left. To the left.’ And then she said, ‘Take care of Paz, Jaime. Paz is important.’”
Jaime’s face was still unreadable for a second, and then he burst out laughing.
“Okay, Dad, good one,” he said, shaking his head. “You had me going there for a while. Very funny.”
Jaime stood up, smoothing his red jacket and tugging gently on Paz’s leash.
“I’m not making a joke. This is serious,” his father said, rising from his seat. “I wouldn’t joke about this.”
“Si, si, Padre,” Jaime said. “Your sense of humor is getting weird in your old age. Listen, Paz is hungry, I need to take her home for supper. See you back at the hacienda.”
Esteban watched in silence as Jaime led Paz out of the room.
Ginny Dickens was tired of the scolding tone she was using with Sophie all too often, but she was using it again. This time, Sophie was punished for yelling at her sister at the table.
“Sophie, how many times do I need to tell you to be nicer to your sister?” Ginny said, following Sophie into her room.
“But Mom, Claire asks question after question. When can we see Santa? What kind of cookies does he like? I’m tired of hearing about Santa,” she whined.
“You’re tired of hearing about Santa? Sophie, it’s Christmas. Aren’t you excited about it?”
“What Christmas?” Sophie shot back. “Dad’s lost his job. Grummy’s in the hospital. She doesn’t even know it’s Christmas.”
Ginny was stunned. She knew she and Paul were no longer feeling the Christmas spirit, but she didn’t think they had passed along their bad mood to the girls.
“Listen,” she said, kneeling to look right into Sophie’s green eyes. “Let me and Daddy worry about a job. It’ll all work out. As for Grummy,” Ginny started, but stopped when she remembered that afternoon. The chocolate chips. Claire’s location. Above all else, the Spanish. Had that all really happened?
“Grummy knows it’s Christmas. Go to bed. You girls are going to see her tomorrow.”