This is the second section of my chapter. If you have missed any of The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt, by all means use the links at the right column to catch up! You don’t want to skip a word of this!
Read Chapter Five Part One by Marji Laine here.
Chapter Five Part Two
By Marji Laine
Her word-choice made sense after a moment. The children literally pulled me along, speaking as though I understood. The anxiety I’d felt during the journey lifted with the bright faces and uninhibited joy. A little boy with one of his front teeth missing spread out a wide smile and dropped a soccer ball in front of me.
Surely they didn’t mean for me to play? I glanced down at the low-heeled shoes I’d chosen for traveling. Oh well, the band across the middle would keep them on my feet. I settled my mouth in a determined smile and shoved the cuffs of my blouse over my elbows.
The kids cheered as I dug the toe of my pump into the ball and sent it flying across their makeshift field. The fact that I had no idea who played on which team didn’t matter.
My kick sent several of the fastest runners after the ball, some trying to advance but more working on the return. A large group of girls jogged with me, watching and grinning. The attention delighted me, making me forget for a moment my missing Grammie, the loss of my parents, even my bitterness toward Lauren.
The play came back after a few moments. I hoped to give the ball another good poke, but a speedy fellow got to it first. I kicked air, lost my balance, and toppled to my behind. The girls around me fell as well, erupting in fits of giggles. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed so hard about nothing.
Adriana and a shorter man came running across the field. The man reached me first. “Señorita, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, just playing Charlie Brown.” I giggled again and the kids joined me, though I knew none of them understood the joke.
Adriana introduced the man as Maxwell, the teacher at Andorre. He helped me up, but looked nothing like a teacher, sporting long, shaggy hair, a gray shirt, and khaki shorts that had seen better decades. Was he even out of his teens?
“If you would accompany us.” He spoke with the accent that I recognized from the phone conversation. “The students have something special that they would like to share with you.”
“Yes, of course.” I fell into step with Adriana and followed her inside the smallest building. “This is the section your grandparents built. Their team laid the foundation and braces to frame the walls.”
Though wishing I’d been able to visit here with Grammie, I felt grateful that I could see the difference that her and Grandpa’s actions had made in the lives of these children. Desire to somehow make an impact ignited in my chest. Maybe not here, but somewhere.
The teacher arranged the children into rows. A tall girl, probably one of the oldest, explained in hesitating English, “By Robert Frost.”
Together they recited a poem I’d known all my life. Despite the mispronunciations, Grammie’s own voice rang through the words, as they had at her kitchen table years ago.
Two road diverged in a wood, and I … I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference. When they finished I clapped long and hard, warmth growing in my heart over the preparation these precious children had put into giving me such a special gift.
A little girl stepped out of the front row, her chin tilted downward, making her huge dark eyes look even larger. I grinned at her, and with a slight smile, she held out a piece of folded card stock.
The words Your Quest printed on the outside in Grammie’s unmistakable script stirred excitement. I opened the card expecting instructions. Instead I found a photo of Grammie and Grandpa, much younger, standing next to a beautiful waterfall.
I turned the photo around and showed the kids. “Do you know where this place is?”
They started giggling and several ran from the room. Did they even understand me, or did they want another soccer game?
One glance at Adriana’s stoic face proved she didn’t plan on explaining.
Maxwell finally broke the silence, nodding. “I do, though I’m not sure how much I should help.” He left with another group of students in his shadow. I had no choice but to follow him.
We crossed the playing field, and he paused at a treed area on the downslope. I stepped closer and viewed a well-worn trail leading down the mountainside.
“Here you are, Dorothy.” Maxwell laughed. “May you find your Emerald City.”
“Very funny.” I took the lead and tried not to stumble in my heels. “I guess you all walk this way often?”
“Often.” The boy-man smiled again, offering nothing else.
“How long have you been at Andorre?” Might as well make conversation along the way. Maybe I could learn a little more about the place I sought.
The smile dropped off his face. “I have been here for a very long time.”
So he’d been an orphan here. I didn’t miss his guarded expression and chose a different, less upsetting topic. “How long have you been a teacher?”
“I took classes over the Internet last year, but I have been teaching here since Señor Sebastian died two years ago. Señora couldn’t do the teaching and everything else required so I stayed behind to help her.”
“Stayed behind?” I wondered how he’d lost his family but didn’t ask.
“Usually when the students come of age, they get jobs in the village. There are many there grateful to Señora and willing to find work for us.”
Adriana obviously did a fine job with the children.
Passing a small glade with high grasses on both sides of the trail, we reentered the forest, and a thin path veered off to the left. The loud echo of crashing water drew me along the main walkway. After a short downhill trek, I came out of the forest to a magnificent view. The mountain stretched almost straight upward from where I stood. A cascade of fierce water fell from the sheer cliff above, landing in the blue-green pool just below me.
Pulling out the picture, I tried to match the place where my grandparents stood. Far closer than my view at the bottom, they seemed to be near the middle or the top. I gazed upward and recognized the spot right away. About halfway up the cliff, a thick ledge held a large tree. Rushes of the waterfall sprayed the tree and occasionally cut through its branches. I checked the photo again and could see just where my grandparents had stood.
Grammie’s words from the note came back for further confirmation. Both nurtured and distressed. The tree stood, pounded by the very thing that kept it alive and made it strong. I’d found my treasure.
Pointing to the tree, I turned to Maxwell. “How do I get up there?”
He shrugged. “You took the wrong road.”
Of course! The poem had a purpose, too. I’d barely glanced at the little path when I came into the woods, but I dashed back up the trail puffing hard. Alone this time, I took the narrow fork that led steeply upward.
I broke through the forest cover, sharing the cliff with the wounded tree. A light mist wet my cheeks and hair as I glanced over the side. Fear gnawed at my belly from the unprotected height, but a sparkle drew my attention to a low-hanging limb on the tree.
Ignoring the spray and the distant land below, I inched closer and collected the ornament, a hand-carved cross, rough-cut, with a gold crown about the size of a ring looped around the middle. Grammie’s message came through. The tree stood lifted between heaven and earth just like the cross.
I held the treasure up. “I found it.”
The group below cheered.
Moments later, I joined Adriana on the return trek to the orphanage. “It’s hard to believe the children here have had such trouble. They seem so happy.”
“They are happy. The depth of their pain makes them enjoy the good times. It’s like that tree.”
“Made strong and nourished by the beating of the water.” I pushed out of the brush onto the playing field. Wide lines of sunlight crossed the expanse, announcing the coming sunset.
“Your grandmother told me you were smart. She also told me that your history holds experience much like my children.”
I nodded in silence. I’d always thought I’d lost everything the day my parents died. But not like these kids. I’d always had Grammie and Grandpa. And Lauren. Had my tragedy made me strong, too?
That topic needed more thought.
The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt
Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.
Learn more about this fun project at Write Integrity Press.
Sheryl Holmes is the Featured Author today at WIP, so drop by to read her Favorite Christmas Memory and Recipe.
Come on over and join all the fun at Magnificent Hope’s Christmas Party!