Chapter One – Part One
By Joan Campbell
“Sign on the dotted line,” the Fedex man said in a bored voice as he handed me the box.
I scribbled my signature where his finger pointed and then turned my attention to the package. It was one of those flat-rate boxes, and very light, almost empty, but not quite. Definitely not the book I had ordered from Amazon, I thought with a measure of disappointment.
My name and address were written on its front in a flourished cursive that seemed strangely familiar. Where had I seen that handwriting before? Turning over the package to check the sender’s name provided no clues; there was no return address.
I hurried inside and rustled through a drawer for a sharp knife. Still studying the white package in my hands, I flopped into the chair that caught the last of the day’s sun and slid the knife into the tape covering the joints of the box. A surge of child-like excitement made me smile. Here I was, a twenty-one-year-old woman, as excited as a five year old opening a present from under the Christmas tree!
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but this definitely was not it. Nine large manila envelopes were in the box, each labeled with a number from one to nine. What was this—a practical joke from a friend? Maybe it was one of those silly presents you had to unwrap layer after layer, only to discover nothing more than an Oreo cookie.
I tipped the envelopes onto the coffee table and was about to reach for the first one, when I saw the corner of a cream sheet of paper peeping out between two of the envelopes. My hand trembled slightly as I reached for the letter and unfolded it. As my eyes took in the Dear Gracie at the top, shockwaves rippled through my body. A searing pain crept into my chest. Breathe. My mind had to tell me what my body seemed to have forgotten.
Gracie. Only one person called me that, and she had died five months ago.
My eyes travelled to the bottom of the page: All my love, Grammie.
I dropped the letter as if it was on fire.
Who? Who would do something this cruel? I could think of only one person who might want to hurt me this badly and that was Lauren. But I hadn’t seen her for three years. She hadn’t even had the decency to come to Grammie’s funeral. Would Lauren go to such great lengths to hurt me? Again?
My shaky hands managed to pour a glass of water, and for the next ten minutes, I sat on the sofa, as far as possible from the letter and envelopes as I could be.
My mind was awash with memories of the past. The day Lauren disappeared without a trace, leaving only a small note telling Grammie not to worry. The day the rumours started at school – Lauren had left because she was pregnant, and the father of the child was Steve. Finding Steve, crying behind the rafters, and hearing it from his own lips: he didn’t love me anymore. It was Lauren he loved; perhaps it always had been.
Three years later and I could still feel the twisted knot of their betrayal deep inside me. The last words I spoke to her were also crystal clear in my mind. A few days after high school graduation, I’d walked in to find her, heavy with child, weeping in Grammie’s arms. The prodigal had returned. As our eyes met, she let out a startled cry and stretched out an arm toward me.
“Grace. Can you ever forgive me?”
I remember well the icy cold feeling that gripped me then and infused every word I spoke.
“No, Lauren. Never. In fact, I never want to see you again.”
I fled the house, and when I returned that night, she was gone. Over these last years, Grammie had tried, of course, to change my mind. Once she had even held out a picture of a smiling baby wearing a pink bonnet. “Look Gracie, it’s …” But I had pushed away Grammie’s hand. “Don’t! Don’t show me that.”
Yes, Lauren had broken my world apart once before; I wouldn’t put it past her to do it again.
When my heartbeat and breathing had returned to normal and my thoughts stopped their furious racing, I made a decision. My first instinct had been to burn the letter, the envelopes, even the box they arrived in. That way I wouldn’t allow Lauren the pleasure of upsetting me any more than she already had. Yet, after I calmed down, I realized that I wanted to understand the game she was playing. I would read the letter, open the envelopes, and then decide how to proceed from there.
I picked up the letter and started to read.
Continue Reading Part 2 of The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt.
The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt
Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.
Learn more about this fun project at Write Integrity Press.