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"You went without a stocking cap," Abby sighed, dusting his hair from a heavy coating of snow. "You'd better get out of those clothes and into a warm bath, before you catch a cold. Jake, what happens if you come down with something? With your broken ribs, sneezing and coughing are going to hurt beyond words."

"I haven't caught a cold, yet," he replied. "I'll just take a quick hot shower, Abby. I don't have time for a bath."

"Whatever is so important for you to wrap, can wait," she asserted, firmly. Just then, Jake sneezed. Wincing in pain, he gently touched his hurt side and saw the look of dread on his wife's face. "Please," she begged, "go take a long, hot bath. I'll fix you some tea with lemon, and then you're going straight to bed."

"I'll go to bed after I've wrapped your present," insisted Jake, sitting down on the couch to take off his shoes.

"Let me do that," sighed Abby, seeing the pained look as he tried to bend over. Abby knelt on the carpet and fumbled with the knots in his shoe laces. "Jake, sometimes you scare me," she breathed quietly. As a single tear slid down her cheek, Jake gently brushed it away with his hand. Abby leaned her forehead against her husband's knee while he softly stroked her hair.

"I'll be all right," he tried to comfort her. "I'll take a Xantol, and then relax with a long soak in the bathtub, okay?"

"Thank you," said Abby, gratefully.

Jake went to the kitchen and swallowed a painkiller, but as he started to make his way to the bathroom, he paused and looked at Abby.

"Come with me," he said, clasping her hand in his and pulling her along. Before Abby could protest, Jake kissed her lips and closed the bathroom door, shutting themselves in from the rest of the world.

The next few days passed, until Christmas Eve finally arrived with all its excitement and expectations. It was time to put up the tree, and Terry was more than ready for the enjoyable task. Since Jake had never done this before, Terry brought him along to the Christmas tree lot in Chaumont, and bestowed his knowledge of how to pick just the right tree to his adopted nephew.

"Next year, when you and Abby are away at college," Terry explained, as the two men stood in the tree lot, gazing at row after row of tall evergreens, "you'll know how to pick out a tree of your own. Now, look at this sorry specimen-- it wouldn't support a single candy cane, let alone all the ornaments we're going to drown it with. Over here," Terry's mouth parted in satisfaction, "now, this is more like it! This is a Christmas tree!"

Jake watched with interest, eager to learn the traditions of Abby's family and adopt them as his own. He had seen others celebrate Christmas, but like a child looking through a window at what others had and he lacked, Jake had never felt the joy of knowing that precious sense of belonging. This first Christmas with his new family meant a lot to the young man. As Terry and Jake drove home with their "perfect tree" in the back of the red truck, Jake wondered at the new life God had given him.

Deep in the garage back at the Johanneses' house, John was moving box after box, in search of what had been placed on top of everything else, just the year before.

"We gotta stop buying all this junk," he sighed, lifting another container out of the way. "How could all this be accumulated in only one year?"

"It's not all new, Dad," Abby reminded him, wading through the mess to where her father was standing. "Jake was in here a few months back, looking for the tents and camping stuff, remember? I think he must have mixed up where everything went."

"Oh, yeah," muttered John. "Feels like a lifetime ago, but it has only been just a few months, hasn't it." John looked at his daughter and smiled. "Seems to me," he remarked, "that you and Jake have gotten much closer to each other since then. Why, I remember a day when you actually got mad at him for trying to have a romantic night out on the beach."
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