Tuesday, December 9, 2014

'Christmas Greetings' by Pat Simmons


Saige Carter loves everything about Christmas: the shopping, the food, the lights, and of course, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without family and friends to share in the traditions they’ve created together. Plus, Saige is extra excited about her line of Christmas greeting cards hitting store shelves, but when she gets devastating news around the holidays, she wonders if she’ll ever look at Christmas the same again.

Daniel Washington is no Scrooge, but he’d rather skip the holidays altogether than spend them with his estranged family. After one too many arguments around the dinner table one year, Daniel had enough and walked away from the drama. As one year has turned into many, no one seems willing to take the first step toward reconciliation. When Daniel reads one of Saige’s greeting cards, he’s unsure if the words inside are enough to erase the pain and bring about forgiveness.
Once God reveals to them His purpose for their lives, they will have a reason to rejoice.

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Matthew 11:28-29

Read the first two chapters:

Chapter 1

“Okay ladies, remember, we’re all going undercover,” Saige Carter reminded her accomplices, gleeful at the thought of being scandalous. From her home computer, she stared at five friends in the video chat room with her, one of themMaxi Winters, she had known since childhood and was her closest friend.
They had all pledged their allegiance to her cause—staking out their area’s stores to spy on customers. “Remember, be subtle. Whatever you do, don’t bring attention to yourself or our mission.” They were to target three citiesmore if she had more commitment, but still, Saige would take any volunteers she could get. At thirty years old, she was finally about to see her dream come true.
The covert operation would take place at three retailers within St. Louis; the other two in their respective cities of Indianapolis and Kansas City. Saige noted the time. “We better get to our locations. Let’s get our party started!” She grinned and raised her arms in the air like a cheerleader.
“Let’s not get arrested,” Maxi countered.
This was the day she hoped she’d make her mark on the art world, like Brenda Joysmith with her figurines, Annie Lee with her paintings, and Harriet Rosebud with her stylish hats on miniature mannequin heads. True, Hallmark’s Mahogany greeting card line was one of the first choices for Blacks as far as African-American cards go, but she wanted her cards to have such a personal touch that people could pick them out in a line up, or from a bin with hundreds of others.
But this was about more than her. It had been the Lord Jesus who had nudged her in this direction. Bowing her head, she whispered a quick prayer. “Thank You, for this is a talent You’ve given me, but in the end, let my work be a blessing to someone in need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Shutting down her computer, Saige stood and surveyed her attire in the bedroom mirror. She had to dress the part just right. She wanted to look like any other consumer walking in off the street, so as not to draw attention to her subtle methods of persuasion. The black turtleneck always complemented her high cheekbones and her brown sugar skin tone whenever she brushed her hair into a ball on top of her head. Saige smoothed her long denim skirt, and then slipped her stocking feet into leather boots that added a couple of inches to her five-foot-seven height.
With her car keys in hand, she put on her black jacket and wrapped a colorful scarf around her neck. “Ready.” She took a deep breath and left her second floor, two-bedroom apartment, which was twenty minutes from her parents’ spacious home in Hazelwood, Missouria suburb in St. Louis County.
Crossing Whispering Cove’s parking lot, she climbed into her Elantra. Although she loved living on her own, Saige hoped to be married one day and fill her home with children—three, to be exact. Maybe it was the wishful thinking as an only child, but the man-picking was in God’s hands. Until then, she had a mission.
She recalled the schedule she had memorized as she headed to her first destination: Walgreens. Next was Target, then CVS. According to Sunshine Greetings, her company, those stores should have received their batches of new Christmas greeting cards that morning, which should have included hers.
In less than thirty minutes, Saige arrived at her first location. “Yes.” She smirked as she circled the crowded parking lot of the Walgreens in North County. Hopefully the greeting card aisle would be swamped. Getting out of her car, she strolled through the automatic doors. She took a couple glances down various aisles before making a beeline for her destination.
Walgreens should have twelve of her cards in various categories, whether they were sympathy, anniversary or Christmas—Saige had done them all. However, the Lord had led her in an unusual direction for a couple of the cards.
If her cards sold well, she would have a freelance career commitment at Sunshine Greetings, a small company in comparison to Hallmark Cards and American Greetings, which dominated the market.
Despite the store teeming with customers, no one was milling around in the greeting card aisle. Her shoulders slumped and her steps slowed. Now what? She couldn’t possibly go and drag people from the pharmacy or cosmetic section to the greeting card aisle.
Okay, regroup, Saige Adele Carter, she coaxed herself. Quickly shaking off her disappointment, Saige recovered and began to browse through the cards for hers. Her eyes misted as she reached out and fingered the 3-D image on her card that served a dual purpose as a Christmas/birthday celebration. The artwork of a snow scene inside a snow globe seemed so real. Opening it, Saige stared at the words she had penned.
The world rejoiced when Jesus was born. God gave us a King on your birthday, so walk in royalty as the prince or princess you are. She turned the card over and stared at her name. Saige Carter. She patted her chest in awe and mumbled a soft, “Thank You, Jesus.” However, what she really wanted to do was commandeer the store’s PA system, like in a Kmart commercial, and direct everyone to her aisle as if there was a red tag sale on greeting cards.
Caught up in the moment, Saige didn’t realize that a woman was nearby and reaching for a card in the birthday category. Yes! She counted to three, and then put her plan into action. Saige lifted another card out the bin and inched closer to the potential customer. “Excuse me, I need a second opinion. I think this is nice, what do you think?” She shared it with the lady.
The woman was slow to respond. Saige gnawed on her lips. Hmm. That bad? She needed the feedback, so she prompted her, “I mean, do you think the spiritual message hides the birthday greeting?”
“Huh-uh. The customer shook her head. “No, I get it. Who wouldn’t want to be born into royalty?” She read the card again. “Where did you find it? Are there any more? I need a couple.” She gently nudged Saige aside to reach over her shoulder. She grabbed two and went on her merry way without a goodbye, thank you for the tip, or any other word. Rudeness never felt so good. Barely containing her excitement, Saige turned around and grinned. She refrained from dancing in place as she mouthed, “Yes!”
With that boost of confidence, Saige waited for the next target. It wasn’t long before another woman—older—wobbled down the aisle with a cane. A couple strolled along right behind her.
Saige discreetly spied the customers’ choices, and then went to work. She was smooth with her spiels, which resulted in another sale. She was about to go after another customer when a tall man wearing a Fedora on the other aisle caught her eye. It was the quality of the hat and its gray color that caught her attention.
She couldn’t help herself from following his movement. Saige loved hats, whether on babies, ladies, or men. She always felt they added character and class.
“Is there anything I can help you with, ma’am?” a store associate asked, coming up from behind Saige, startling her.

Whirling around, Saige displayed a smile. “Oh, no. I’m just looking at your great selection.” How ironic. Usually when she wanted customer service, a sales clerk couldn’t be found for a mile.
By this time, the dark-gray-hat-wearing man had wandered toward her. His trench coat, of the same gray shade, was open and exposed a black turtleneck, like hers. His slacks were black, too, which gave him a mysterious, fearless, handsome, and confident presence. But she couldn’t let his looks distract her. She was there to sell him on her greeting cards.
The associate asked him the same question, to which the man responded in a deep, commanding, voice that could melt chocolate, “Thanks. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I’ll know once I see it.”
Uncertainty—perfect! So what if he had a crack in his confidence? Didn’t all men when it came to buying a card?
Saige tried not to draw attention to herself as she watched him zigzag from display bins on one side of the aisle to those on the other. He would definitely be there for a while, so she gave him some breathing space and detoured to the candy section for peppermint sticks—her favorite holiday treats. When she returned, he was still roaming the aisle. She strolled within a few feet from him, but turned her back. If she could only know what was in his heart, then maybe she could help him.
She was definitely over-thinking things. Maybe this was her cue to move on to the next location. Besides, she had overspent her allotted time in one store anyway. Her mission was done here. Saige turned to leave.
Daniel Washington huffed and rubbed the back of his neck. He had no idea what had drawn him to the greeting cards. He definitely needed help. Daniel glanced over his shoulder. Where was a store worker when he needed one? “Excuse me, Miss… Miss…” He called after the retreating figure as he fought away the distraction of her beautiful backside.
When she turned to him, Daniel’s jaw fell at the sight of her. She was pretty. He blinked as he tried to remember why he had gotten her attention. “Ah, excuse me. I know you don’t work here, but I guess I need a woman’s opinion. I’m looking for a card for my mother—” he paused “—and for my sister, too … and brother.” Why didn’t I just say my whole family? Well, technically he had, she just didn’t know that.
Instead of giving him an annoyed look at his uneasiness, the sparkle in her beautiful brown eyes indicated that she was more than happy to help him. As she walked closer, the woman gave him the warmest smile, revealing slight dimples. “That sounds like an adventure. Let’s see.”
Her perfume made him want to ask for a sample just so he could have it on hand to capture her essence. While standing behind her, he noted the small mole behind her left ear that he wouldn’t have seen if her hair was down instead of swept up in a thick ball on the top of her head. Nice. Instead of big hoop earrings, she had the tiniest of studs in her earlobes.
While he was checking her out, she was asking him a series of questions as if she were a professional spokeswoman. He snapped out of his ogling. “Are they for a birthday, holiday…?
“Reconciliation,” he softly admitted, embarrassed that he had revealed his flaw and woes to a stranger. “Holidays are strained for my family—for me.”
Nodding, she didn’t say anything, but her blank expression seemed to scold him for being in such a predicament. Or maybe he was projecting his own insecurities. The ‘holiday spirit’ that surrounded him at work, in stores, and even in his neighborhood made him feel like an outcast at this time of year.
Daniel followed her as she crossed the aisle. He peeped over her shoulder as she began to select cards from a bin as if she knew what they were without looking at them.
“Okay. What about this one for your mother?” She handed him a card that was colorful and had a picture of a treasure chest on the cover.
It was pretty and dainty, just like his mother. He didn’t know what was inside, but he was sure she would like it. When Daniel looked closer, he saw the faint scene of a young woman in a bed, her children cuddled next to her as she opened the box. Immediately, he remembered the closeness his family shared when he was younger and his father was still alive. Childhood was truly like a fairytale. Once children grew up, reality set in.
He opened the card: Mom, I miss our special moments… I’m sorry for staying away too long. Your loving son. Daniel choked. All the words he couldn’t say were written right there. He swallowed and nodded. “Perfect. I’ll take it.”
“Great.” She seemed pleased, as if she had just earned commission on a luxury car he had just purchased. “For your sister…” She tilted her head and gnawed on her full lips, removing a hint of lipstick. Nice lips. “If she’s anything like me, she’ll understand that people who apologize are a special breed. Hint—special.”
Daniel needed to be special in his family’s eyes right now. If this woman only knew about him, then maybe she would have some compassion. However, he wasn’t the problem. He wasn’t the one who had done something wrong, yet his family had made him out to be the bad guy – all because he refused to give—not loan—his married sister money to pay her house note when she had a husband who hadn’t been able to pay rent for three months. Since he refused to be any woman’s sugar daddy, he sure wasn’t going to be a brother-in-law sugar daddy.
Without looking at it, Daniel was about to pass on a card for his sister, but then the woman began to read in a soft, melodious voice. He was mesmerized.
God gave me you. He must have known, despite our disagreements, our love would always be there, even when we’re too stubborn to be the first one to say I’m sorry. We should talk.” Glancing up, she searched his eyes, as if looking for confirmation that the card had hit home.
Bingo. It had. Like a reluctant child, Daniel gritted his teeth. “Okay, I’ll take this one too.”
“Excellent!” She said it with so much restrained excitement, Daniel wanted to laugh. “Now, for your brother… I don’t have any, but I know men are such hot heads.”
Folding his arms to look intimidating, Daniel smirked. “Is that so?”
“Yep.” She was teasing him. “And most times, pride gets in the way, so I chose three for you to decide.” She handed them to him, and then gave him a mock salute.
She was funny and her warm personality was relaxing. Taking her selections, Daniel stared at the images. One card had two boys playing with marbles. Daniel and his brother, Thomas, had once been inseparable and had each other’s back, but things had changed as they grew into manhood.
His brother always blamed others for his not being able to keep a job, even one at a fast food joint. Showing up late, or not at all, was typical of his brother. Daniel had learned of his brother’s immature ways while in his last year in college. Since Michigan Technical University was more than eight hours away, it wasn’t like he had been around to enforce the rules their father had instituted when he was alive.
Daniel went home as often as he could, and when he did, Thomas resented the authority Daniel tried to administer as a father figure. The divide only widened over the years. The front of one card was simply an image of a handshake—an agreement, a coming to terms of sorts. The hands seemed to expand out of the card, making it real. He opened it. Although we can agree to disagree, let’s agree to agree on what we have – each other. Two is better than one. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
A Scripture. Daniel had been too stubborn to pray about the situation with his brother. This feisty woman was right, but was this enough to close their divide? Neither he nor his brother really attended church regularly anymore, so Daniel doubted the Word would really have an effect on their situation. Daniel huffed. There had been so much left unsaid between them.
“What’s the matter? I don’t have another—I mean I… ah…”
Daniel shook his head. “I guess I have to start somewhere, right?” he said, more to himself, but she agreed. “Well, I better get this one too. You definitely know more about cards than me.”
Then it dawned on him, his manners. “How rude of me to take up your time without being on the payroll and not introduce myself.” He extended his hand and engulfed her long, slender fingers in his. They were a bit chilled. “Daniel Washington.”
“Saige Carter.”
“Saige Carter,” he repeated. “A pretty name and a beautiful face that I’ll never forget. Thank you, Saige.” Shifting the shaving cream that he had stopped to pick up in the last aisle, he clutched the greeting cards that had not been on his shopping list.
With Saige supposedly solving his problem, he had no reason to detain her further—bummer. Tipping his head, Daniel headed to the checkout line, wondering if a simple card with words he couldn’t say was enough to open a door that had been closed and sealed with duct tape for years.
Once Daniel was behind the wheel of his Benz, he didn’t start his ignition. He just sat there, worrying the hairs on his goatee. He slipped the greeting cards out of the bag and reread them again.
Fumbling with one card, he noted the name of the artist on the back: Saige Carter.
What? He had been speaking with the artist, poet, or whatever they called themselves? “Saige Carter?” Daniel repeated. So, that was the reason for her passion with each card. Tossing them aside, Daniel hurried out of the car and rushed back inside. He knew exactly where to find her. When he veered left to the greeting card aisle, Saige was back in action with another patron.
Daniel observed her. She had a natural, easygoing manner with the customer, just as she had shown with him. When the woman walked away, supposedly with another Saige Carter creation, Saige glanced at her watch and spun around to leave. She froze when she saw Daniel.
He walked slowly to her and stopped close, but not in a threatening way, so others couldn’t hear. “Why didn’t you tell me you penned those beautiful thoughts?”
Tilting her head, Saige twisted her mouth. “Because it’s easy to buy Girl Scout cookies from a girl scout, but would you purchase them otherwise? I didn’t want you to get the cards because I was hand selling them.” She lowered her voice and glanced around them. “Plus, if the manager knew I was inside pedaling my wares, they probably would have put me out and banned any further cards by me. You don’t want to return them, do you?” Her warm, inviting smile was replaced with a panic-stricken expression.
“Oh, no.” As fine as Saige Carter was, Daniel would buy anything out of her hand: trash bags, baby food, even Bengay.
She sighed and relaxed. “Great.”
He liked Saige Carter. He found her intriguing. “How about taking a break and letting me treat you to dinner, a burger, or a chicken leg… a steakhouse or McDonald's? I’m available.” Daniel couldn’t believe he was hitting on a woman in a store; usually the women hit on him. His friend, Jason, would rib him for this.
“Sorry, I’m not—” she looked over her shoulder again and whispered “—I’m working. As a matter of fact, I should be leaving for the next location to monitor my cards’ sales.”
Daniel teased her, “You mean peddle them.”
“Yeah, guilty.” She blushed.
“Where’s your next stakeout?”
She giggled. “Target, up the street. It was so nice meeting you, Daniel. I hope the words bring you and your family back together again.” She was about to walk off, then laughed. “Oops. I guess I better buy something, huh?” She randomly slipped two cards out the bin.
“I’ll buy more of your cards, so you don’t have to,” he offered.
“Oh, these aren’t mine.” She scrutinized the cover and back. “I collect cards. I always have, as far back as I can remember. It’s a hobby of sorts.”
This conversation was getting stranger by the minute. Daniel frowned. “Aren’t you defeating the purpose by supporting the competition?”
“My cards are for others to enjoy.” Waving, Saige walked away to the register, never looking back.

Chapter 2

I’m being stalked. Saige couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Daniel heading toward the greeting card aisle in Target. The man couldn’t be missed. She guessed he had to be about six-foot one, two, or three. She was never good at guessing heights.
With rich, brown, African skin, Daniel resembled actor Lamman Rucker, with a dash of something extra. His walk was an attention grabber, turning heads, including hers, with every step.
Didn’t he say he was going to get something to eat anyway? In contrast to Walgreens, the aisle at Target was starting to become congested with potential customers. More than she could handle. That was the good news; the bad news was nobody had purchased any of her cards. They were hidden, though, which could be the reason that none had been sold.
Dismissing Daniel, Saige did a little stalking of her own—potential customers.
“How many have you sold?” his deep voice whispered close to her ear, sending goose bumps down her arm.
It was at that moment Saige knew she regretted singling him out in the first place. “None—yet.” She gritted her teeth in sudden aggravation. “But I’m about to try.”
“Need any help?” His childish expression reminded her of a little boy pleading to do a chore to earn extra allowance money.
So, the brother had charm, did he? Saige released the annoyance that was building and smiled. The two of them working in cahoots would only look suspicious. She could only imagine security suspecting them of being shoplifters or worse. “That’s sweet, but no thank
“C’mon, you’ve made my day,” he insisted as more customers wandered into the aisle.

“If you want to help, then tweet or post about the cards on Facebook.” Why did she feel that Daniel was infringing in her territory? This was getting crazy.
“Already done. I sent it out on the way over here. Well, actually, while I was still in the parking lot. You know we’re not supposed to drive and text.” He snickered, and that was the first time she noticed his goatee was trimmed with precision around his full lips, as if serviced by a sculptor. “It was a worthy cause. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Mr. Washington, you’ll only be a distraction.” She pivoted to walk away, but stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “To other women,” she added, scrutinizing him from the rim of his hat to his polished shoes—or boots.
“Right.” Daniel released a hearty laugh, and then disappeared into the next aisle. Was she relieved or disappointed? Saige didn’t have time to give it much thought as she cozied up to a mother holding a baby. As she was about to pitch her rehearsed speech, Saige could feel a presence behind her. Lord, please don’t let it be security.
Finally, with curiosity that would kill any cat, she turned to find Daniel behind her, engrossed in one of her cards, as if it contained a book of words instead of a few sentences. Then, all of a sudden, he began to ask women for their advice on whether they would buy it for themselves. Glancing her way, he winked.
Maybe Saige was the one being played. Daniel was a natural interacting with people. Surely his relationship with his family wasn’t as bad as he was making it out to be? A few minutes later, Saige admitted defeat in her well-thought-out covert operation. While Daniel was distracted with some flirty females, Saige made her escape to her final pit stop.

Her friend, Maxi, would never believe how her evening played out. She hoped her other friends didn’t have any distractions like Daniel Washington.
Saige didn’t return home until after ten that night. She was exhausted and came to the realization that she could never be a sales rep. The rejection—she took it personally. However, the customers who did take her cards lifted her spirit. Then there was Daniel, who fascinated her, but confused her at the same time. Although she didn’t see a ring, Saige wondered if he really had nothing better to do with his time than tag along beside her.
After making half a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich for a snack and pouring a glass of Eggnog, she said her grace, and then called her best friend after the first bite. She wanted to find out how it went on the other side of town.
“Hey, girl,” Maxi answered. “Are you just now getting in? What did you do, police the card sections until every one of yours was sold?”
“You’re never going to believe what happened to me.”
“Whatever it is, I bet it didn’t involve possible bond money. Girl, can you believe that the supervisor at CVS in Bridgeton told me I had to leave, even after I offered to buy something? Can you believe customers were complaining that I was trying to strong arm them into buying your cards?” She sighed and tsked. “And here I thought I was a people person.”
Saige couldn’t help but smile, and then laugh. Her friend was an inside sales rep by day, at a major shipping company. Off the clock, Maxi had a natural easygoing personality, which was hard to resist. Well, except for tonight, apparently. Usually that was when her natural beauty kicked in. Saige guessed that hadn’t worked either.

“You’re losing your charm, Maxima Winters, but I can top that. I picked up a groupie, if there is such a thing with greeting cards. First, he offered to buy me dinner—like I would go somewhere with a random stranger.” Saige rolled her eyes. She might be single, but she wasn’t desperate—yet. Maybe she would be if she wasn’t married by fifty-five. “Do you know he followed me to Target and offered to help? The women were hanging on his every word.”
“Hmm. That cute, huh? I wished you would’ve called me. I would’ve had no problem trading places.”
“Knowing you, you’d have flirted right back. No, I was working, despite trying to look as if I wasn’t.”
“Stalking and flirting? Tell me more,” Maxi demanded.
“He appeared to be the complete package—complete—from his clothes, demeanor, and looks, but something wasn’t right with him. He purchased the holiday reconciliation cards. Can you believe that?” Saige’s heart ached for him. As an only child, she couldn’t imagine being separated from her loved ones, especially during the holidays.
“I felt the Lord leading me to write those cards. I couldn’t believe the company even bought them, considering they commissioned me to write humorous, festive, and upbeat material.” What was his story, she wondered.
“That just goes to show you those words were meant for that brother.”
“Maybe,” Saige guessed. Finished with her snack, she dabbed her mouth, and then it was as if God was whispering in her ear.
Once My word goes forth out of my mouth, it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

While Maxi was chatting away with one hypothesis after another about Daniel, Saige quietly meditated on the Scripture in Isaiah 55. Daniel was God’s purpose, whatever that was.
“So what is this mysterious Saige Carter crusader’s name?” Maxi pressed. A romantic at heart, her friend expected wedding bells anytime a man held more than a one-minute conversation with a woman, except her. Maxi may flirt, but she didn’t settle.
“Daniel Washington.” Saige thought his name fit him.
“So, did you give him your number? You haven’t gone out on a date since New Year’s Eve when I threatened you to go on a double date with me. I can’t remember that guy’s name.” She snapped her fingers.
Unfortunately, Saige did remember Greg Bowers. He was too stuck on himself, so that was the first and last date she had with him. She wasn’t as picky as Maxi, but she was selective. “Nope. No number.”
That sounds like you. Okay, did he give you his?”
“No. I didn’t ask for it.” Just like Greg from last New Year’s Eve, she didn’t expect to see Daniel Washington again. And she definitely wasn’t going back to those store locations. “It was one of those odd occurrences, but I will be praying for his family.”
Maxi yawned. “Me too. Well, girl, let me get off this phone. Working for free is exhausting.” They laughed and disconnected.

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About the author:

Pat Simmons is the bestselling author of ten Christian novels and several novellas. She is a two-time recipient of the Romance Slam Jam Emma Rodgers Award for Best Inspirational Romance. Her popular series include the Guilty Parties, Love at The Crossroads and Love for the Holidays.

As a self-proclaimed genealogy sleuth, Pat is passionate about researching her ancestors, then casting them in starring roles in her novels. She believes God is the author who advances the stories she writes, and describes the evidence of the gift of the Holy Ghost as an amazing, unforgettable, and life-altering experience.

Pat has a B.S. in mass communications from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. Currently, she oversees the media publicity for the annual RT Booklovers Conventions.

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