I got this truly amazing letter last night. The sender had just finished Operation: Christmas Hearts and loved it. It makes my heart absolutely sing to know that something I wrote touched someone. So, since Christmas is fast approaching, I thought I would share an excerpt from that book.
They reached the table. Bella handed Ashley a crispy treat. “Can you—get me
Ashley plucked up a plastic cup filled with grape juice and handed it to Bella,
and then chose one for herself. When she turned around, Mrs. Eastman had moved off
to talk to Mr. Kellogg. With a chuckle and a gentle shake of her head, Ashley sipped her
“Do you think—everyone will—like their presents?” Bella pushed up her glasses.
The door to the gym was opened from the outside.
“I’m very cer— Oh, look, Bella!”
Trish stepped into the room in obvious seeking mode, probably looking for her
daughter, who was at the moment, racing toward her. Trish’s eyes scanned the crowd,
landing on Ashley just as Bella ran into her at top speed. But Trish absently smoothed
Bella’s hair and kept her gaze locked with Ashley’s as she crossed the room.
“No,” whispered Ashley, denying her heart’s request to push itself into her
throat. She shook her head as Trish drew closer. Ashley’s fingers slackened and her
drink tumbled to the floor. It landed with a plop, splashing cold liquid over Ashley’s
ankles, then bounced a couple of times. “Don’t, please,” she begged her friend.
Trish’s voice was kind but firm. “Ash, let’s go outside.”
“Mama? Is—Daddy okay?” asked Bella, clinging to her mother’s arm with both
“Daddy’s fine, baby. He’ll be home later.” As Trish spoke, her eyes never left
Tears formed a gushing river that coursed over Ashley’s face and no amount of
lip biting would stop the flow. “Please no,” she said over and over as Trish took her by
the hand and led her out.
“Bella, come sit at the table with your class,” suggested Estelle Eastman. She held
out her hand and amazingly, the little girl accepted it. As numb as Ashley was, part of
her had the sense to be grateful Bella wouldn’t be subjected to Trish’s news.
By the time they stepped through the heavy double doors into the nearly
deserted hallway beyond, Ashley was trembling so hard she could barely stand. Trish
led her to the teachers’ lounge directly next door to the gymnasium and pushed her
down onto a well-‐‑worn green vinyl sofa.
“Okay, I’ve been talking to Dan all afternoon. He’s trying to find out more—“
“Is Nick dead?” blurted Ashley, unable to stand any further delay. Her heart
already thumped in a broken rhythm and she knew waiting any longer for the news
would only shred her nerves along with her soul.
“They don’t know,” said Trish in a crisp tone. At least she’d switched into direct
speaking mode. “I can’t tell you the details because I don’t know much. I can tell you
what Dan was allowed to tell me. They were on a mission, embedded with another unit.
Command got a radio message that they were taking heavy fire, and then contact was
“They’re going to look for them, right?” Ashley demanded. “They won’t be just
left out—out there!”
Trish closed her eyes, as though to center her focus. When she opened them
again, she was calm and firm. “I don’t know any details. I only know enough to be
“Dan?” Trish must have gotten the information from him.
But Trish held out empty hands and shook her head. “If he knows anything
more than what I’ve just told you, he can’t say. He would have told me if the situation
Which of course meant her old friend could know something because of his
position as an intelligence analyst…or he could know nothing at all except that Nick’s
unit might be in trouble.
Helplessness wasn’t something Ashley was used to feeling. Someone had to
know something. Oh, why did Nick have to be on the other side of the world? Why did
she have to fall in love with the man? It should have been a three-‐‑date blitz of fun and
then friendship. “But why—how could Danny tell you if it’s secret?” she pressed.
Trish leveled a long, silent stare at Ashley, which said it all. Dan probably knew
more, a lot more, but he’d taken a huge risk and somehow conveyed the knowledge to
his wife that their friend was in trouble.
“Oh, Trish…” Ashley’s voice broke as she dropped her shaky façade of bravado
and buried her face in her hands. “What am I going to do? I love him.”
The sobs took on their own power. Gently, Trish touched Ashley’s shoulder then
pulled Ashley against her and stroked her hair, murmuring soft words that she barely
“I feel like I waited my whole life for someone like Nick. I can’t lose him now.”
Ashley slid from Trish’s embrace. It wasn’t the touch she craved, the touch she was
certain she’d die without, and rather than providing comfort, it only served to frustrate.
“I never told him, you know. The only time I said the words, he probably didn’t hear
me. How hard is it to tell someone you love him?”
“He’s okay,” said Trish, her voice stronger now and unusually vehement, as
though she was trying to convince herself.
“You just said you didn’t know anything,” whispered Ashley. She hated it when
people tried to bolster morale with empty platitudes and promises they had no right to
“I said they don’t know,” corrected Trish, standing and pacing. Her next words
were much quieter. “I believe he’s going to come home. You’ll see. He’ll come home
“Don’t!” snapped Ashley. She continued in a whisper. “Don’t say the word.”
Trish frowned in confusion. “What word?”
“When,” Ashley forced the utterance past the constriction in her throat. “We
don’t use that word.”
“That’s just superstition and you know it, Ash.” Trish stopped her back-‐‑and-‐‑
forth strides, and parked her arms across her chest. “When he comes home, you two’ll
sort everything out and it’ll all be okay.”
“You married Dan after he got stationed here.” Ashley blinked back the tears,
trying to hold back the resentment that bubbled in a cauldron of her emotions. “You
didn’t have to wait for him, not knowing if he was okay, or where he was. Not knowing
if he would come home, but knowing every moment he’s away from you, his life is in
“Maybe not like you’re having to do,” said Trish more quietly now. “But I
understand about knowing someone you love is in danger. I know a little girl can be
lost in a hurricane and a blind man can find her. Miracles do happen, Ashley.” Tears
streamed down Trish’s face. “They happen every day. But if you don’t believe in them,
they’ll happen right in front of your eyes and you’ll never see them.”
Ashley’s mouth fell open and she stared at her friend, catching a rare glimpse of
the pain Trish seldom allowed anyone else to see.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Ashley. “I wasn’t thinking.”
At the soft knock on the door, they both looked up to see Mrs. Minton making
her way in, with Bella directly behind her.
“I’m sorry,” murmured Bella’s teacher. “The rest of the children have all left and
I need to get going myself.”
Ashley looked up at the clock on the wall. Had they really been sitting in the
lounge for over an hour? Quickly, she dried her face. Nothing could be done about eyes
that were undoubtedly red and swollen but Bella didn’t need to see the tears.
In a move that was purely Bella, though, the little girl pushed into Ashley’s arms
and gave her a big hug. “Nick will be—okay,” she whispered, as though imparting a
Ashley jerked and glanced up at Trish and Mrs. Minton. Had they told Bella
what was going on? But the teacher was staring in disbelief, and Trish only offered a
nearly imperceptible shrug.
“I think he will be, too, Bellie-‐‑Sea-‐‑Shellie.” Ashley gave the little girl a hard hug,
wishing she believed her own words.
Bella eased out of the hug and placed her chubby hands on Ashley’s cheeks,
gazing directly into her eyes. “He has a—angel with him.”
“Not now, Bella.” Trish’s voice was a little sharp.
Ashley glanced at her friend and sent her a smile. “It’s okay, Trish. I kind of like
the idea that Nick has a guardian angel.”
Bella glared at her mother. “Angels—are here.”
Mrs. Minton gave a nervous laugh and turned to Trish. “She’s been talking about
angels for a couple of weeks now. I thought it was something she heard at home.”
Trish shook her head. “I don’t know where she picked it up, but she’s certainly
been full of angels.” She laid her hand on Bella’s shoulder. “Let’s take Aunt Ashley
home with us.”
In the process of crossing the lounge to the door, Ashley balked. She just wasn’t
up to doing the happy family thing. “Actually, Trish, I just want to go to my place. If
you—if Danny hears—” She couldn’t finish, had to rely on her friend’s understanding
of her unspoken words.
Fortunately, Trish did understand. She touched Ashley on the shoulder. “You
just have to keep believing. I promise you miracles happen and you’re going to get
one…you and Nick.” She continued in a whisper. “If you don’t have faith for Nick, who
Ashley said nothing. What was left to say when her friend had said it all? But
what if her faith wasn’t enough?
From a fan (connection like this is a reason I write):
Hi Ms. Springsteen,
BTW, my grandmother who raised me and who left 15 years ago was an angel. Her name was Estelle also.