Chapter Seven

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Eric sat in thewindow seat with Julia, sharing hot cocoa with whipped cream on topand sugar cookies. It was three days from Christmas. Snow was fallingoutside and had completely covered the ground. It had begun to pileup on the shrubs and porch steps. This would be Eric's first whiteChristmas. He had worried his grandparents would delay their tripbecause of the snow or not come at all. Mr. Benton had assured himthey would be there as promised. They had chosen to fly and would bearriving the next day.

"What do you wantfor Christmas, Eric?" Julia asked. She took a sip of her cocoa andgot some cream on her nose.

Eric smiled andwiped her nose with his finger. "Got some cream on your nose." Helicked his finger. "I don't know. Haven't asked for anything."

"But what do youreally want Santa to bring you?"

He didn't believe inSanta Claus anymore, but he wasn't going to spoil it for Julia. Hehad even sat on the Mall Santa's lap with her. There was a picture onthe mantle over the fireplace to authenticate the occasion. It hadmade her happy. "I don't want anything. Maybe to have my Nana andPapa here is enough."

"I'm scared Santawon't come if we sleep in here again."

"Daniel and Jacobare going to sleep in my room on the floor. I might let Daniel sleepin my bed."

Julia nodded andsilently sipped from her cup.

"I've never seenthis much snow."

"You'll play in ittomorrow with Daniel and Jacob." She bowed her head. "I'll playtoo, but Daniel will think I am a pest and Jacob will pick on me."

"I won't letthem." A deep frown darkened his face.

"What's thematter, Eric?"

"I miss my mom."He tried to smile, but it didn't come out just right. "Julia, wantto know a secret?"

She leaned incloser. "What?"

"I'm thinking ofrunning away."

"No, Eric."

"I'm thinkingafter Christmas of hiding in Papa's car and going home with them."

"You can't."

"Why not?"

She pouted andlowered her head. "Because I love you."

"I love you too,but I miss home."

"This is home."Julia smiled at him. "Don't you love Mama's cocoa?"

He really wantedto do it. He really wanted to go home with his Nana. Deep downinside, he knew he wouldn't. He knew he would stay here and beJulia's best friend.

Ten years later.

Eric had lost hisNana and Papa. His Nana had died when he was twelve and Papa had diedtwo years later. It had been hard for him, but he was a lot strongerthan everyone expected him to be.

Daniel had finishedcollege and held a management job at a local retail store. He hadmarried and was living in the city. Jacob was still in college withplans of going into law. He was engaged. He and his fiancee hadagreed to wait another year before marrying.

It was nearing theend of July. Eric had just turned twenty.  He had just finished his Sophomore year in college. He had chosen to take summer courses toadvance his studies. Like Jacob, Eric still lived at home. He had nosteady girlfriend. To him, dating would get in the way of the goalshe had set for his life. Eric intended to accomplish each one.

Eric was going intomedicine. To become a doctor would take too long. He didn't think itwas really right for him. He was leaning toward nursing. There was agrowing desire in his heart as well to teach the gospel. Discussionswere often shared between Eric and Mr. Benton, who he now called Dad.Eric liked to talk about the life of Christ and his disciples. Hespoke a few times of missionary work. Mr. Benton thought ithonorable, but often reminded Eric of the struggles Missionariessuffered.

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