Soft, pale snowflakes gently fell from the sky surrounding the Rowley family’s house. It was December 24th, and the Rowleys were throwing their annual Christmas party. Inside the house, they waited for family members and friends to arrive. The house was decorated with red and green tinsel, and the smell of pine from the Christmas tree in the corner, mixed with the scent of vanilla candles, filled the air. A ham cooked in the oven, and on the table was an assortment of oranges, pfeffernüsses (spiced cookies covered in powdered sugar) and peppermint hot chocolate.
Penelope Rowley, the eldest of her siblings, Daniel and Elisabeth, stood by the front door, waiting to greet the guests that were soon to arrive. As she waited, she watched her mother put the finishing touches on everything. Her siblings ran around the house in anticipation, and every time Daniel, who was nine, came near the table to try and sneak some food, their father would scold him, and Daniel would scurry away.
Soon, though, people started to arrive: aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends. Soon, the house was full of conversation and giddy laughter. As they stepped in the house, they'd remark things like:
“Penelope, you're looking more like your mother each year” and “You've grown so much since I last saw you”.
Penelope, at nearly fifteen, was used to these remarks, because she was told them every year. As people flooded in, Penelope started to wonder when her best friend, Lauren, would arrive. When she finally did, Penelope decided to step away from the door and participate in the festivities.
“I have to tell you something after dinner,” Lauren told Penelope first thing.
“You can't tell me now?” Penelope wondered.
“No,” she answered. “It’s something important.”
Penelope was the type of person who was too curious for her own good. When you said you had to tell her something later, she grew very impatient. However, tonight she'd just have to wait. Fortunately, though, the party was just enough to distract her for some time, and when dinner was ready, everyone quickly gathered around the table.
“You've really outdone yourself this year, Annelise,”Aunt Sylvia told Mrs. Rowley. She nudged her husband. “Don't you think so, Oliver?”
“Huh?” he replied, too occupied by the food in front of him. “Oh, yes. Splendid.”
The food was superb, but Penelope rushed through it. She knew she shouldn't, but she couldn't help it. When she had finished her meal, she remained seated, waiting to be excused. Across the table, she watched Elisabeth and Daniel fight over who deserved the last pfeffernüsse.
“I had it first!” cried Elisabeth.
“But it was on my plate!” retorted Daniel.
“Stop it, you two,” Mr. Rowley ordered them. He gave them a look, and at that, the children stopped their nonsensical quarreling.
Once dinner had ended and Penelope, along with Lauren, had been excused, the two best friends went upstairs to Penelope’s room.
“Okay, now what is it?” Penelope asked as soon as they got into her room.
“This is going to be hard for you to believe,” Lauren said, “but do you remember that old token I told you about a while back? The one I found inside a tree?”
“Well,” she said, “I was looking at it the other day, thinking about the day before, and all of a sudden, I was back to that day.”
“So...what are you saying?” Penelope questioned. “That the token brought you back in time?”
“Yes,” Lauren said. “That's exactly what I’m saying.”
“How did you get back?”
“It brought me back not long after,” she answered.
After a brief pause of consideration on this claim, Penelope shook her head. “No way.”
“I knew you might say that,” Lauren answered. “But you have to believe me. It's true.”
“But that's just impossible,” Penelope stated matter-of-factly.
“Okay, listen. I'm telling you, it's true. And the reason I'm telling you this is because I'm going back to see my birth parents and I want you to come with me.”
When Lauren was barely a year old, her biological parents had given her up for adoption in Manhattan, New York. Lauren was five years old before she was adopted and moved to Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Lauren was never told why her parents had given her up.
“No,” Penelope said. “You can't.”
“Because,” Penelope answered, choosing her words carefully so as not to be offensive, “they don't deserve you.”
“This isn't about what they deserve. I need to see them. You don't know what it's like to wake up every day and wonder why your parents abandoned you,” said Lauren.
“I'm sorry,” Penelope replied. “I don't want to see you hurt when you hear what they have to say.”
“I need closure,” Lauren explained. “You don't have to come if you want. But I'm going.”
Penelope still wasn't sure that Lauren had really found a way to travel back in time. And even if she could, how would she ask her parents without seeming suspicious? Yet something told Penelope that going back to that day with Lauren was the right thing to do.
“I'll go,” Penelope said. “It's important, and I'm not just going to let you go alone.”
As Penelope said this, Lauren’s face lit up. “Really? You'd do that?”
“Of course. You are my best friend, after all.”
Lauren smiled. “Well, okay then.” At that, she reached in her pocket and withdrew a shiny silver token. Engraved on one side of the token was a delicate rose. The other side had a star engraved into it. Penelope wondered what the symbols meant.
Lauren enclosed her hand over the token. Next, she instructed Penelope to place her hand atop hers. This, she said, was the only way they could both travel to the same place and time.
“Okay,” Lauren began, “I know this isn't your memory, but I think it will still work. Just keep your mind focused on the past, and I'll do the rest.”
Penelope did as she was told, and tried to direct her energy towards the past. It was a slightly difficult task, because Penelope wasn't sure what aspect of the past she was supposed to be focused on. Yet, soon enough, the familiarity of Penelope’s home had disappeared, and had been replaced with the city.
The sky was dark, and there were no stars. Buildings were clustered together and parked cars lined the streets. Street lights glowed overhead. Even though it was night, people still were out walking and driving in their cars. The air was warm, but a little breezy.
Before Penelope and Lauren loomed a tall, brick building. It seemed to be closed down for the night. The sign at the front of it read: Burlington’s Orphanage.
“We're here,” Lauren said. “We're actually here!”
As soon as Lauren said this, a woman walked up towards the front door. In her arms was a bundled up, sleeping baby.
“Hide,” Lauren whispered to Penelope, and they both hurried to hide behind a parked car. Together, they watched as the woman placed the baby on the doorstep. The sight was odd to Penelope, as she had only seen things like this happen in movies. She could not believe people did such things in real life.
“That's your mother, right? You're the one on the doorstep,” Penelope whispered to Lauren, who only nodded. They both waited until the woman turned away from her child and started walking slowly away, and then they approached her.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Lauren called to her. Her mother turned to face her. She had the same honey colored hair as her daughter, and they were both around the same height of 5’5”. She was unmistakably Lauren’s mother. As the girls got closer, they noticed that her face was streaked with tears, and she looked like she was about to make a run for it.
“Are you sure you want to leave your baby there?” Lauren asked her,as if she had no idea who her mother was.
“Who are you? What do you want from me?” she asked, her voice shaky.
“We volunteer at the orphanage,” Penelope lied quickly.
“So you're here to judge me,” she said, her voice faint.
“No,” Lauren said. “We just wanted to make sure you didn't make a mistake.”
“Look, I wish I didn't have to do this,” she said. Her tone seemed to be pleading for some type of understanding. “My husband and I just divorced. I lost my job and my house. I have nothing. I just want my daughter to have a better life.”
The two friends looked at each other. This poor woman would have to go back out in the world and struggle. Everything had already happened, but there had to be something they could do.
“She will,” Lauren reassured her mother. “I'm sorry this had to happen.”
Lauren’s mother nodded. She started to turn around again, but Lauren stopped her.
“Wait,” she said. She unlatched a golden watch from around her wrist and handed it to her mother. “It was my grandfather's. You can sell it. It's worth quite a bit. You can buy food or something.”
“Are you sure?” her mother asked tentatively. Lauren nodded. Her mother's expression brightened slightly. She took the watch.
“Thank you,” she said. And at that, she turned away.
Faster than wind, quicker than the click of a pen, Penelope and Lauren returned to the present. When Penelope looked at Lauren, she saw that a few tears were escaping down her face.
“You did the right thing, Lauren,” Penelope told her. “You helped your mother.”
Lauren nodded. “We should get back to the party.”
The two friends exited the room and returned to the cheer of the party. They decided to forget about the past, at least for the next couple of days, and enjoy the happiness that comes with Christmas.