Part 5
Nate called his grandfather. “Grandpa, Mom and Dad are hosting the family Christmas this year. I’ll come and get you on the day before, I promise not to drive too fast, and I’ll drive you back the day after.” He might also find a little time to spend with Miranda.

“I have to work at Shepherd’s on Christmas Day.” Duncan coughed once and sniffed.

Nate thought he detected hoarseness in the old man’s voice. “I’m sure they’d get by without you this year. You haven’t celebrated Christmas with the whole family since before Grandma died. We all want you to come. Please?”

Duncan paused. “Miranda and I have big plans.”

“What? To work at Shepherd’s together? I’m sure Miranda will understand.” Maybe Miranda could go home with them. He pictured her with his family, her hazel eyes dancing, her shiny brown hair falling to her shoulders. Nate shook his head. It might give his family the wrong idea if he brought a girl home with him. At twenty-five, with a job and apartment of his own, they expected him to find the right someone and get married.

“We’re supposed to attend the Christmas Eve service at church. She’s in the choir,” Duncan informed him. “Maybe you should stay for the service.”

Nate decided to bargain. “If I stay for the service, will you go home with me?” He’d like to see Miranda, if only for a few minutes. “You can sleep in the car on the way home.”

Duncan coughed again. “All right. I guess it won’t hurt. It has been a long time, and I’d like to see everyone again.”

“Grandpa, are you all right? Do you have a cold?”

“I’m all right, my boy. Don’t worry about me. How is your college class going? You must be finishing soon.”

Nate shook his head. Grandpa evaded the issue of his health, and to pursue it would be useless. Grandpa lived in assisted living. He had many good friends, including Miranda, who looked after him. So Nate updated his grandfather about work and school, and they said good night.

Miranda, too, noticed her elderly friend’s cough. The weather became colder, although only a few flakes of snow fell. “I wish I had a car so I could drive you. You shouldn’t be exposed to the cold wind with that cough. Maybe you should call a taxi.”

Duncan patted her hand. “I always bundle up. See, I’m wearing my coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. My power chair gets me where I need to go, at least until the snow piles up.”

A few days before Christmas, Miranda received a phone call. Expecting Duncan’s voice, an unfamiliar one responded to her hello.

“Is this Miranda Winters?”

She hesitated. “Yes, this is Miranda. This isn’t Duncan, is it?” Where is Duncan?

“No, I’m his oldest son. he insisted I call you.”

Miranda felt her chest tighten with worry. “Is something the matter with Duncan?”

“My father’s in the emergency room. He has bronchitis.”

“Oh, no! Will he be all right?”

“Miss Winters, Dad wanted me to tell you that he’s going home with us tomorrow, and he won’t be back until after Christmas. We feel he need to be with us so we can take care of him until he’s better. He asks that you let The Shepherd’s Kitchen know he won’t be in, and he’s sorry he won’t be there to go to the Christmas Eve service with you.”

Miranda’s heart sank, and she blinked at the tears pooling in her eyes. Her voice tight, she said, “Mr. MacAllister, please tell Duncan not to worry and to get better fast. I’ll be praying, and I’ll make sure the church knows he needs our prayers.”

“Thank you, Miss Winters. I’ll pass that on to him. He has a couple of prescriptions for medications, and he’ll have nothing to do but rest at our home.”

Miranda chuckled. “”He’ll hate that most of all. He likes to be doing.”

“You know my father well. I have to go now. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” she said without enthusiasm.

She called the pastor to start the prayer chain for Duncan, then she called the Mission director to let him know Duncan wouldn’t be available for a while.

Miranda shook her head and sighed. The Christmas lights seemed dimmer and her heart heavier. Duncan’s illness brought back memories of her father’s last months, when he experienced one physical setback after another, culminating in his death. With Christmas Eve the day after tomorrow, she wished she could stop time until life became right again.

Duncan had become family to the lonely young woman. She wanted Duncan to be there when she sang with the choir. She couldn’t imagine serving Christmas dinner at the mission without Duncan’s smiling face to encourage her.

“Please, Father God, bless his time with family, and make him well and strong again,” she prayed.

The image of a younger man with blue eyes and blonde hair replaced the old man’s face. Nate wouldn’t be coming to get his grandfather after all. He now had no reason to come to the city before Christmas.

Miranda remembered an old saying of her mother’s, a nursery rhyme: “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Wishing wouldn’t change anything. Prayer could.

She would stick to her plans for Christmas without Duncan. She would celebrate Jesus’ birthday with joy.

At the office the next day, much cheerful banter passed among the coworkers, their workload light just before Christmas. Miranda traded lunch break with another person so she could eat with Zoey.

As they ate, they discussed the company party. Then Zoey said, “I love Christmas–the decorations, the carols, the spirit. I can’t wait to go home tomorrow.”

“Does your family live far from here?” Miranda asked.

“Not at all. A two-hour bus ride and I’ll be there. How about you? Are you going home?”

Miranda shook her head. “Not this year. I don’t have enough money or time off.” she shrugged. “Maybe next year.” She stared at her plate, blinking fast.

Zoey touched her hand. “I’m sorry. I forgot you said you weren’t going home.”

“That’s okay. My dad’s not there anyway.”

“It will be awful for you to spend Christmas alone. Hey, do you want to go with me?”

Zoey’s sincere offer touched Miranda’s heart, but she shook her head. “Thanks for the offer. I have to sing in the church choir on Christmas Eve, and I’m volunteering at The Shepherd’s Kitchen on Christmas Day. I’ll be busy.”

“Oh, okay. You volunteer a lot at the food mission, don’t you? But is the choir something new? I didn’t know you sing.”

Miranda smiled. “Duncan invited me to his church, and I’m in the choir now.” She checked her watch and gathered another forkful of salad. “Duncan is ill, did I tell you?” Zoey shook her head. “He has bronchitis, and his family took him home to care for him until after Christmas. I haven’t know him very long, but I feel like he’s my grandfather. I’m trying not to worry.”

Zoey’s eyebrows went up. “How old is this Duncan? I thought he was a young friend.”

“Oh, no,” Miranda said. “He’s in his seventies at least. I wish you could meet him.” Miranda considered telling Zoey about Nate, but she didn’t want to become office gossip. She didn’t know how Nate felt about her.

“I wanted to invite you to go with me tomorrow night, but I guess you can’t. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your family.

“Thanks,Miranda. Maybe another time when you sing in the choir, I’ll go to church with you.”

They finished lunch and returned to work.