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Ahhh…. It was great to be back! To breathe the warm air of North Carolina in the late evening was like stepping in and out of heaven for Grace. She and her family lived in Michigan and her grandparents lived here in the tiny retirement community of Lake Lure along with the rest of the Goldwin family. Grace and her three sisters, Rachel, Jane, and Kate, shared a room in the lower level of their grandparents house every summer when they came to visit. Now, it wasn’t that she didn’t love her sisters, but after 12 hours of straight driving they got to be very annoying. So after all of the hugs and kisses she sneaked away to her favorite spot, a little clearing south of the road by her grandparent’s house from which you could see whole little town of Lake Lure.
She whispered a little rhyme that she had made up in the car.
No more Rachel,
No more Jane,
No more Kate,
Who is such a pain!
Well, it wasn’t perfect but she was just happy that she could move again! “Tomorrow,” she promised herself, “I will come down here to see the deer in the morning.”
She loved to just sit in her spot and watch the deer come get their morning drink in the nearby creek. Once, she saw two little newborn does, with spots all over their backs come to get a drink with their mom. They were sooo cute!
The next morning while she was watching the deer she noticed a little house made of pine cones and tree bark by the creek. As she bent down to look at the quaint little house she saw a message inscribed in the tree next to it. It read,
“Leave a gift where the elves play and something wonderful will happen in your day.” Amazed, Grace made a little hammock from some nearby ferns and crept away quietly.
When she reached the house her hated cousins Joey and Mark came over. They lived on the south side of the mountain. (Grace’s grandparents lived on the north.) Joey was 14, like Grace and Mark was 10, a year younger than Jane. Joey and Grace had been enemies ever since they were two, when they put peanut butter in each other’s hair.
Normally though their parents would just drop them off so they could all “play”. So it came as a surprise to her when Uncle John parked the car and got out with Aunt Julie. Apparently, Grandma wasn’t expecting it either because she said, “What a pleasant surprise!” But when Grace looked into her cousin’s eyes she could tell that it most definitely was not. Grandma recognized that haunted look too, so she said, “How about you kids go and play outside while we catch up.” As she said it she had ushered Aunt Julie and Uncle John into the kitchen.
With bamboozlement on their faces Grace and Jane followed their cousins outside. After a long silence, Joey spoke,
“ You know that old oak outside my bedroom window?”
“Yeah”, Grace answered.
“Well, last night it fell down on my room and Mark’s so we are going to have to move in here until it’s fixed.” He said this all in one long rushed breath as if Grace heard it faster it would make the news less unpleasant.
“Wait, hold on, back up, and reverse. You are living here?” Grace asked incredulously.
“Yup”, he answered.
Grace felt like passing out. “Her archenemy living here!” She quickly regained her dignity.
“ Where here exactly?” she said in a hushed tone.
“ I don’t know.” He replied. “Normally, when we stay here we sleep in your room, but you are their soooo…” He trailed off.
Their eyes followed Grandma as she walked outside and by the time she reached them she had their attention 100%.
“Well,” she said. “ By the looks on your faces Joey and Mark have told you what has happened and our problem. Now I know Grace and Joey don’t get along so I am willing to let Joey and Mark sleep on the roll out couch in the family room but they will have to keep their stuff in the girl’s room.”
“Whew!” Grace thought, “at least they aren’t sleeping in our room. Whew!”
“Well,” Joey said, “ We’ll go get our stuff then.”
And with that he started to walk to his parent’s car with Mark trailing not far behind.
Then Grandma said, “ Why don’t you girls go help them?”
Knowing she didn’t have a choice Grace followed them.
After all of the boy’s stuff was inside and put away Grace had slipped away to the clearing. But, when she got there she could see that something else had been added to the elf house. It was a little pool complete with 3 beach chairs on the side made out of twigs. Grace guessed that someone else had been there and she added a mini garden of moss and flower petals. Satisfied that she had done a good job Grace walked away quickly not wanting the other gift giver to find out who she was.
As she walked in her grandparent’s house she felt like she was walking to her doom. For the next several days Joey tormented her in every way possible. He would pull pranks like putting her suitcase out on the swing out side so she would have to go out in her pajama’s in the cold to go get it. He would put water in the cup where her toothbrush was and freeze it with her toothbrush inside. He was awful! But she could get him back just as easily. Grace sneaked up stairs and rewound his alarm clock so that it rang at 2:00 in the morning instead of 8:00. When she made homemade ice cream she put too much salt in Joey’s batch. Yes, she was a good prankster but it was tiring and she wished she could have some peace and quiet. Joey was relentless though. His pranks never stopped. So her only refuge was the clearing and the mysterious gift giver. Every day when she came there would be some new addition to the house and every time she went she would add something to that. Grace got more and more curios of about who the gift giver was. It got so bad that she would stay up nights wondering whom it could be. At the same time though it was fun keeping the secret from Joey.
Finally, the day came for Joey and Mark to go home. Grace had crept out of the house while the boys were packing to the clearing. When she got there she looked for a new gift among the old. But she was disappointed to find none.
“Well,” she thought,” Maybe they didn’t have time to make a gift this morning.” With that she set to making a wreath for the door with a sprig off a nearby bush and some loose threads from her jeans.
When she got back up to the house she discovered Grandma making blue berry pancakes for the occasion and everyone else but Joey sitting down at the table eating.
“Grace, honey” Grandma said,” could you please go and find Joey for me and tell him his pancakes are ready.”
“Sure, Grandma” Grace replied as she walked out the door.
“Joey!” called Grace. “Joey, your pancakes are ready!”
When she got no answer she searched the house. But she could not find him. She went outside frustrated.
She called again, “Joey! JJJoooeeeyyy! Where are you?”
Suddenly she saw a glimpse of his blue parka south of the road by the house. She raced toward it saying his name, “Joey! Joey!”
When she got to him she found him in the clearing hunched over the little elf house. She was stunned.
“You?” she sputtered. “You were the one leaving the gifts?”
“You were the gift giver?” Joey questioned back with disbelief.
They both nodded and stared at each other.
Then Grace said, “ I came here nearly three times a day.”
“I did too.” he replied. “It was so much fun thinking you didn’t know and now I feel really stupid â€˜cause you knew the whole time!”
“ I know” Grace replied. “I felt the same way.”
Grace then smiled and said, “You know we do think awfully alike. Maybe we should try to get along, you know just for fun.”
He smiled back and said, “Yeah that’s a good idea. Only lets not tell anyone else. O.K.?”
“O.K.” Grace said. Then with a mischievous grin on her face said, “Last one to the kitchen a rotten egg!”
And with that they ran into the house leaving the little elf house with 2 foot prints side by side and that was the best gift of all.