It was December and Lulu was feeling sorry for herself. Of all the places her parents could have picked to move to at Christmas, Florida had to be the worst.
No ice skating. No hurtling down hills on a toboggan. No hot chocolate hayrides through a frozen cranberry bog, or cross-country skiing. No snowshoeing through the fluffy white. No snowmen or snowball fights.
Just dismal green everywhere. It was as if someone had forgotten to tell Mother Nature what time of year it was.
The carpet smelled acrid in the new house. The layout of the furniture and their few unpacked possessions was sparse. And far too neat, for a home with children.
But her family had only lived here four days. Hardly enough time to create the cozy, warm, familiar atmosphere she longed for, the kind the old house had. Let alone enough time to decorate for Christmas, which was tomorrow.
The doorbell rang. It, too, was unfamiliar. But Lulu went to the door and opened it to the moist, room-temperature air outside. This was what passed for “cold” in Florida.
There was a girl on the porch about Lulu’s age. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, her hair, a mass of curls. She was smiling awkwardly.
“You’re the new girl, right?”
“Lulu,” she replied.
“Amy. Wanna play?”
Out of the corner of her eye, Lulu could see a group gathered. Mostly elementary school kids, all with their eyes pinned on her doorway.
“Sure, I guess,” she said, turning back into the house to grab her coat, and then realizing she didn’t need it.
“Where are we going?” she asked, as they moved along through the suburban cul-de-sacs and toward a rickety fence.
“To the grove!” Amy shrieked, jubilantly. The kids around her twittered.
Lulu sighed. Big deal. What could they possibly do in a bunch of trees?
“It’s abandoned”, whispered Amy, as they jostled along. “The big house is too much trouble for anyone to take care of, so it just lies empty. And no one tends to the grove. But the trees know what time of year it is!”
Lulu slipped through the hole in the fence, following the others. On the other side were rows of scraggly, short, compact trees, as far as the eye could see in all directions. And on each of these trees were at least twenty ripe, succulent oranges, hanging within arm’s reach.
The children scattered, each claiming a tree. All turned toward a small, centrally located tree. At its base, the oldest in the group, a tall, strapping boy named Jacob, raised his hand slowly, solemnly, while his face contorted with glee.
“Three, two, one…GO!”
Suddenly, everywhere, through the air, on the ground, on the front of Lulu’s holiday shirt, a thousand hurtling oranges crashed and smashed. They whizzed by in a fragrant orange blur and burst on juicy impact with the ground and the other kids’ bodies. In the frenzy, you could hear the ecstatic voices of the children, dodging and aiming, careening as they slipped on a pulpy patch, hiding behind trees, rubbing sore spots or blubbering through stinging eyes. And in two minutes, it was over.
Lulu had heard that sound before. It was the sound of a snowball fight, five hundred miles south of any snow. It was the sound of Christmas.
For the first time, she felt at home.
Suddenly, off to her left, she heard a rustling. Then a flutter of enthusiastic flapping. And as they all stared, a flock of white ibis rose, as one, out of the grove, and drifted off into the Florida sunset.
It was the next best thing to snow.
Copyright Andrea LeDew 2017