Do you believe in miracles? In a few weeks, the Authors of Main Street’s latest Christmas box set will hit the world. In many ways, this will be a layering of miracles. Miracle heaped on miracle. How crazy is it that the Authors of Main Street–a gaggle of writing women from all over the world–found each other and decided to collaborate?
Our first box set, back in those heady days when indie-publishing was new and no one had even considered lumping books together for a box set, truly was a marketing miracle that sky-rocketed all of us here on Main Street into Amazon bestseller status. But even better than numbers, we forged friendships. And to be able to call people I’ve never actually met (in person) a good friend is, I think, a miracle.
As a child dreaming of my writing career, I never could have imagined the internet–let alone the possibility of publishing and selling books on my own and sidestepping publishing house. Technology is a modern day miracle.
Everyday, we’re blessed by the miracles of others, big ones like Thomas Edison’s electric light blubs or Madam Curie’s penicillin, and small ones like a loved one sensing your need and sending you a loving text, or a child drawing a picture of you that makes you feel beautiful, not because their drawing was stupendous, but because they drew it out of love.
My latest contribution to the Authors of Main Street Christmas box set is The Christmas Coins, a miracle story built around the parable of the lost coin. I hope the story will touch your heart the way it touched mine.
Zoe grabbed her purse off the shelf and slid her feet into her ugly but comfortable Sketchers. “Let’s go, Lori!”
Laurel snatched up her backpack, checked her reflection in the hall mirror, and tidied up her pristine ponytail. Laurel’s posing reminded Zoe so much of her sister Courtney that Zoe’s heart twisted just a little.
But since she didn’t have time for sentimentality, Zoe bustled her niece down the stairs. Together, they rushed out of the house, passing the door that led to Ethan and Hannah’s apartment.
Zoe wrinkled her nose at the odor of bacon and the sound of the Beatles floating through the window.
“Meat eaters,” Laurel said in the same tone she’d use to say dog poop.
Zoe didn’t comment, but placed her hand on Laurel’s small, bony shoulder and guided her to the Bonny Baker van standing in the driveway behind Ethan’s old Thunderbird convertible.
The van still carried the scents of yesterday’s deliveries—yeasty loaves of bread, cinnamon cookies, and pies. Zoe placed her purse in the center console where she always kept it, slid on her sunglasses, and snapped into her seatbelt. Once she was sure Laurel’s seatbelt was also secure, Zoe checked the rearview mirror and spotted Ethan and Hannah climbing into the T-bird.
Their open car doors blocked the driveway. Zoe blew a breath out of her nose and tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Zoe lived her life according to what she called her cookbook rules—everything at the proper moment, in the proper order, and baked at the proper temperature. Not only had Laurel interrupted her morning routine by sleeping over, but Ethan raised her temperature. He had this power over her and she didn’t like it.
Laurel lowered her window and waved. “Hi, Hannah! Hi, Ethan!”
Secretly, Zoe hated that Laurel called Ethan by his first name. She didn’t think adults and children should be on a first-name basis, but since Ethan insisted, there was little she could do. She tried not to flinch every time Hannah addressed her as Zoe.
Hannah, a smaller, female version of her dad with thick auburn hair, large eyes, and full red lips, returned Laurel’s wave and smile.
Zoe tamped down her impatience and stuck her head out the window. “Good morning! Would Hannah like to ride to school with us today?”
“You’re going to Canterbury?” A wrinkle appeared between Ethan’s brows.
“Ancestor Day,” Zoe told him.
Ethan barked out a laugh and climbed into his car. “You don’t look old enough to be a grandparent,” he said through the open window.
Zoe bristled. “I’m not, but I can talk about our ancestors.”
“Well, I guess I’ll see you there.”
She was trying to be nice—and punctual. “There’s no need for us both to go.”
Ethan’s back straightened. “I work there, you know.”
“Oh! I didn’t know. When did that happen?” Not that she had time for this conversation. If he worked there, neither of them had time.
“At the beginning of the school year.”
A dangerously handsome man. He was probably driving all of the Canterbury girls—and a few of the teachers—mad and man-hungry. That could happen at an all-girls school. Zoe knew this, because she’d attended Canterbury herself.
“What are you teaching?”
“Oh, of course.”
Ethan’s convertible roared to life and he gave her a dismissive smile. “I’ll see you there,” he repeated.
Zoe mentally ticked off her daily agenda as she followed Ethan down the driveway. She’d been up since 4:00 a.m. making bread, cookies, and pies. Her assistant, Claire, was now manning the bakery, but Zoe needed to return in time for the lunch rush.
At the stop sign leading to Main, Ethan surprised her by turning right while she and Laurel took a left on Elm Street.
This seemed symbolic of their relationship.
Ethan took note of his daughter’s mismatched socks. One was a crisp white and matched the school’s navy and red tartan uniform while the other had a pink tinge to it—like it had gone through the wash with a red sweater. Which it probably had. Ethan thought about saying something, knowing the stringent adherence some of the teachers liked to pay to the school’s uniform policy.
He glanced at his daughter with her sweet rosebud lips, pink cheeks, and clear blue eyes—a surprise gift from his wife. She clutched the family Bible in her hands and stared straight ahead.
“Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry Gram or Gramps couldn’t be here today.”
“It’s okay,” she said in a tight voice without looking at him, letting him know that it was definitely not okay. “I understand.”
Ethan blew out a breath. “It’s so far for them to come.”
Hannah nodded. “I know. And they have so many grandkids that live in Rose Arbor, they probably have to go to Ancestor Day once a week.”
A ripple of guilt traveled down Ethan’s spine. If he lived closer to his family, Hannah would be surrounded by cousins, aunts, and uncles, not to mention his parents. He could have just as easily gotten a teaching job in Washington.
His phone buzzed and he tapped the icon igniting the blue-tooth.
“Ethan!” Desmond’s voice floated into the car. The fussy gallery owner always sounded on the verge of a breakdown, but today the panic sounded real.
“Good morning, Desmond. What can I do for you?”
“Hi, Dezi!” Hannah called out.
“Ah. Pumpkin. What are you doing in the car with your father?”
“We’re going to school, Dezi,” Hannah told him.
“Oh! Are you still doing that?” His voice carried equal helpings of scorn and surprise.
Hannah giggled. “Of course.”
“I think he was talking to me, button.” Ethan cleared his throat. “I like teaching.” And he needed the money if he was ever going to get his own gallery, but he couldn’t tell that to Desmond.
“We had a break-in,” Desmond told him.
Ethan braked too hard at the stoplight, sending Hannah forward in a lurch. Instinctively, he shot out his hand to keep his daughter from bonking against the dashboard. “Was anything taken?”
“Small stuff, cash from the till.”
Ethan glanced at Hannah, bit back a curse, and pulled into the intersection. “Do you need me to come by?”
“Your paintings are all insured, of course,” Desmond said, trying to sound calm.
“I thought you said small stuff…” It took at least two burly men to carry most of his paintings. But then his heart sank. “Harold?”
“I’m sorry,” Desmond said in a strangled voice.
“Daddy?” Hannah asked.
“I’ll be there in a second,” Ethan said, searching for the next place to make a U-turn.
“But Daddy…” Hannah whined.
“I’m sorry, button. This should only take a minute,” he lied.
Hannah tightened her lips and glanced out the window at the town flashing past. A thick marine layer had settled during the night and had yet to burn away under the Southern California sun, leaving the town in a shadowy gray mist. Ethan pulled the car along the curb beside the Oak Hollow Gallery.
Desmond, one of his first fans, had started showcasing Ethan’s work even before his graduation from Pasadena’s Art Institute. Ethan’s early career had begun at Warner Brother Studios, where he’d worked in set design. That was where he’d met Allison. At first, their friendship had been about sharing paints and brushes—Ethan tended to lose pencils and Allie had always carried extra. He’d soon learned to depend on her for not only his drawing instruments but for everything. She’d been his world.
He shut down the painful memories and slammed out of the car. Hannah trotted after him.
Inside the gallery, Desmond fluttered like a small trapped bird not knowing where to land. A tiny man, he spoke with a slight French accent, despite being originally from Oxnard. He wore a meticulously trimmed goatee and a matching set of plucked, highly arched eyebrows.
A burly policeman stood between a gleaming bust of a bald head and a glass sculpture. He looked as out of place as a Michelangelo painting in the Musée d’Orsay.
While Desmond talked with the officer, Ethan patrolled the gallery, looking for missing objects. Hannah stared up at the policeman, entranced and awed by the man’s size. She clearly found him more interesting than The Darling Detective shows she liked to watch.
“Who are you?” The policeman pointed his pencil in Ethan’s direction.
Ethan stepped forward. “Ethan Lawrence.”
“He’s my dad,” Hannah piped in. “He’s an artist. A very famous one.”
Ethan rubbed the back of his neck.
“I’m Officer Mack.” The policeman gave Hannah’s uniform and Ethan’s matching tie a sharp look and shook Ethan’s hand.
Ethan wondered if Mack was the officer’s first or last name, but didn’t have time to question him. Mack, though, had questions enough for both of them.
“Looks like you two belong at that fancy school up the hill,” Officer Mack said.
“I attend Canterbury Academy,” Hannah said. “My mom used to teach domestic arts there, and now my dad teaches just plain old art.” She froze and her hand flew to her mouth as if she could recapture her words. “Sorry, Daddy! Your art isn’t plain or old…although you haven’t made anything new in a really long time.”
Ethan stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He loved his daughter, but sometimes he found her eleven-year-old honesty brutal. He wasn’t going to admit to anyone, let alone himself, that the smell of paints reminded him of a happier time and set his stomach rolling.
Officer Mack glanced at his watch. “You’re not supposed to be at school now?”
“Are you a truant officer?” Desmond asked with a sneer.
Ethan shot the gallery owner a quick glance, hoping to convince him to play nice with the police. They would need the cops’ help if they wanted to recover Harold as well as the other missing work.
“One of my statues was stolen. It’s—” His voice cracked.
“Priceless!” Desmond interjected.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ethan said, “but it was an original.”
Officer Mack scribbled something on his notepad. “We’ll need to get an appraiser out here as well as an insurance adjuster. Any idea how the perps might have gotten in?”
While Desmond led Officer Mack to the back office, Ethan motioned for Hannah to follow him to the car. Rage and frustration thrummed through him. If he owned the gallery, something he desperately wanted to do, beefing up the security system would be high on his to-do list. This never would have happened if Desmond had taken the needed precautions.
Outside, the marine layer hung in the air, and the cold and damp did nothing to lighten his mood.
“So, when is Desmond going to sell you the gallery?” Hannah asked him, echoing his thoughts.
“I don’t know, sweetie.” Ethan hoped Desmond hadn’t heard her and pulled open the convertible’s passenger door so she could climb in.
After slamming inside, he ruminated over her question.
“He should let you buy it since everything he sells in there is yours,” Hannah said after he’d settled behind the wheel.
A sad smile lifted his lips. “Not everything, button.” He turned the key and the convertible roared to life.
Hannah huffed and folded her arms across her chest. “Most everything. I mean, who else is going to buy the place? That Misty lady?”
“Maybe. She’s a good artist.” Ethan steered the car onto Oak Hollow’s main drag.
“Her name sounds like fog.”
Ethan shot his daughter a glance.
“How much is Tomato Face worth?” Hannah asked.
Hannah considered this, and Ethan could practically see the thoughts churning in her head. Had she guessed the real reason Ethan had taken the teaching position at the school? He could, of course, go back to Warner Brothers, but the thought made him ill. They’d have to leave Oak Hollow. He’d need to hire a new nanny—one who could cover the long hours the studio would demand.
Or he could go back to Rose Arbor. Live in his parents’ basement. Find a job teaching at a public school. Churn out hotel room art in the evenings and on the weekends. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the wheel.
He didn’t want to leave Hannah with a babysitter for sixty hours a week, nor did he relish the thought of living in his parents’ basement in dreary Washington. “You want to stay here, right?” Ethan asked. “With Mrs. Hancock and all your friends?”
“Hmmhmm,” Hannah murmured. “That’s why I’m going to say a prayer that you’ll get enough money to buy the gallery!” Last week, she’d heard a sermon about answered prayers, and since then she’d started praying over nearly everything.
“That’s sweet, button, and noble, but not very useful.”
“What do you mean? Pastor Lynn said we should pray over everything, including our flocks and pastures. Your paintings are like flocks, but they smell better, and a gallery is like a pasture without ticks.”
Despite his worry, a small chuckle escaped.
“It’s not funny. It’s true. Pastor Lynn would want you to pray.” She jutted out her chin. “I bet God wants to find the bad guys who stole Harold. And if He wants to punish them, we should let Him.”
“Sweetie, let’s not bug God. I bet he has a lot of really important things to do.”
“What could be more important than bringing Tomato Face home?” She gasped and her eyes went wide. “I bet he’s scared!”
Ethan thought about pointing out that Harold was a one-foot-high sculpture incapable of having feelings.
Hannah folded her hands in her lap and refused to look at him. After closing her eyes, she began a simple yet sincere prayer that Desmond would sell the gallery to Ethan and that the police would find Harold and bring him safely home.
Zoe stood in front of the classroom. A dozen little girls dressed in tartan uniforms stared back at her expectantly. They looked sweet, but Zoe knew better. At this age, she had attended Canterbury herself, so she knew sweetness might only be on the surface, like ganache on an eclair. Something ugly could lurk behind the pigtails and shiny lip gloss. But still, because she loved Laurel, she held out one of her prized possessions for the girls to see.
“This small wooden box holds something very precious to me,” Zoe told the girls. She unlatched the leather strap to open the lid and extract the small gold coins. “These were collected by my ancestors. When John Lewis first came to this country from Wales in 1849, he was a poor man. He’d been a miner in Great Britain, but somehow, he’d managed to put together enough funds to travel to the United States and take the train as far west as it would take him, which in those days was to Iowa City. From there, he hitched up with a wagon train that would take him to California, where he hoped to strike it rich in the Gold Rush.”
“Are those coins from the Gold Rush?” a little girl in the front row asked.
“Sadly, no.” Zoe closed her hands around the coins for just a second. “He didn’t find gold, but I think he found something better.”
Another girl wrinkled her nose. “What was that?”
“He found my great-great-grandmother! And together they started a farm in Twain.”
“Where they found gold?” a redhead quipped.
“No. They never found gold,” Zoe told them.
“Then where did the coins come from?” another girl asked.
“When John was still a young man, he placed a gold coin in this box and he wrote a note.” She pulled out a piece of paper. Of course, the ink on John’s original note had long ago faded and the paper crumbled, but one of John’s descendants had transcribed the note. She didn’t think she needed to tell the girls this. “John wrote: To my children and my children’s children, I leave you this coin as a remembrance of me. May it bless your lives.” Zoe picked out the oldest coin and handed it to Laurel, who held it in the palm of her hand and paraded it past all the girls seated at their desks.
“The really cool thing is,” Zoe continued, “ever since John, all of my ancestors have purchased a gold coin and left it in this box for their children and their children’s children.” She poured the other gold coins into her hand for the girls to see. “These probably aren’t worth a whole lot of money, but they are definitely worth something, and when I think of my ancestors—many of them poor and facing economic hardships, especially during the Great Depression and the world wars—they didn’t spend the coins. Instead, they followed John’s example and kept them safe. They held them sacred.”
Maybe sacred was too strong a word, but it came to her lips and she went with it.
“Who will you give the coins to?” a girl asked.
Zoe opened her mouth, but for a moment, no words came. Finally, “My child, of course.”
“Does that mean you’ll have to have a boy?” a girl asked.
“No,” Zoe said. But it did mean she’d have to have a child, and that was looking as unlikely as John himself personally handing her a coin from the grave. “I’m not a boy and the coins came to me.”
“I bet it does mean you’ll need to have a boyfriend,” another girl quipped.
“Not necessarily,” Zoe hedged. She started to feel warm.
“Maybe they’ll be mine someday,” Laurel said.
“Probably,” Zoe said. “Here, do you want to show the girls the rest of the coins?”
Laurel skipped to the front to gather the other nine coins.
Mrs. Lacombe, a retired history professor, bought her clothes from a local consignment shop. Today, she wore a sailor suit—minus the hat—and she strode around the classroom like she had a deck to swab. “Let’s all give Ms. Hart a big Canterbury thank you.” She clapped her hands and all the girls joined in.
Zoe dipped her head and took her place at the back of the classroom with the other visiting ancestors, while Dr. Edwards, an elderly man wearing physicians’ scrubs and carrying a stethoscope, took center stage beside Mrs. Lacombe.
During Dr. Edwards’ talk on his family’s role in medical research, Zoe collected the coins and placed them back into the box. She carefully placed them on the table with all the other items the students had chosen to display. One girl had brought in a picture of her movie mogul grandfather posing beside his Hollywood Star, another had brought in a World War 2 bomber jacket, and someone had brought a handcrafted cuckoo clock. Her box looked humble and shabby amongst the other collectibles. Someday, they’d need a bigger box. Who would make that decision, and what would the world be like then?
She only lived a few hundred miles from where John and Emily had settled in Twain all those years ago, but her life was radically different from theirs. She didn’t depend on a garden or livestock for food. But the one thing she’d be sure to do, like John and the others, was to purchase a gold coin and add it to this collection.
It felt wrong to leave the box of coins for display, but she trusted Mrs. Lacombe and knew most of the girls were from extremely wealthy families and wouldn’t be tempted by her collection of gold coins.
When Ethan picked up Hannah from Mrs. Hancock’s after school, she glowed with happiness. “Daddy,” she said, rocking onto her toes to hug him. “Today God answered my prayer!”
“He did?” He gave her a tight squeeze and inhaled her fresh scent of apple essence shampoo.
“Don’t you want to know what he gave me?” Hannah asked. “Gave us!” she corrected herself. “It’s for both of us!”
His gaze met Mrs. Hancock’s over the top of Hannah’s head. Mrs. Hancock, a seventy-something little old lady who dressed in purple or pink jogging suits, liked to take strolls around the park and feed the ducks in the lake, in spite of the “no feeding the birds” signs clearly posted along the shore. She answered with a shrug.
Hannah dug into her backpack and pulled out a handful of coins. “Look!”
The gold glistened in her small palm. They couldn’t be real, could they? “Hannah, where did you find those?” Ethan asked.
She cocked her head and folded her fingers around the coins. “I told you. God answered my prayer.”
Ethan swallowed and held out his hand. “May I please see them?”
Hannah pursed her lips. “You won’t try and put them in the bank, will you?”
Hannah had been suspicious of banks ever since the one time his ATM card had failed and their evening plans to go to the movies had been thwarted. He motioned for her to hand him the coins, which she did, although with hesitation.
He fingered them and read the stamped dates. “They look like they’re real.”
Mrs. Hancock, a tiny woman with frizzy gray hair, drew closer to get a better look. “Goodness,” she breathed. “Those look like they’re worth a pretty penny.”
“Not pennies, Mrs. Hancock!” Hannah said. “They’re dollars. Made of gold.”
“Hannah, where did these come from?” Ethan asked again.
“I told you. God heard my prayer, and He gave them to me so we can buy the gallery.”
“Sweetie.” Ethan tried to temper his voice and mask his frustration. Squatting to her eye level, he met her gaze. “I told you, as much as I’d like to buy the gallery, it’s not for sale.”
“You said not yet.”
“And maybe not ever,” he said gently.
“Then you should get another one.”
If only it were that simple. Oak Hollow wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a metropolis, but it was the closest town to Canterbury Academy. Allie had taken a job at the school because she was friends with the owner. Ethan had gone along because he’d fallen in love with the area’s gently rolling foothills.
“Let’s go and look for one right now!” Hannah suggested.
Ethan nodded, knowing that a stroll down Oak Hollow’s Main Street would take less time than trying to change his daughter’s mind.
“Did you feel the earthquake today?” Hannah asked later as they strolled down Main Street.
“I did.” He cast her a glance. “I didn’t see you in the auditorium with the rest of your class.”
“I didn’t know they had gone there,” she told him. “You know we got there late. The earthquake happened right before I went to class, so when I got to homeroom, everyone had been evacuated. It was so weird to be in there all by myself. But then I saw the coins, and I knew God had put them there for me to find.”
Ethan didn’t know how to argue with this logic, so he didn’t try.