The air was cold and crisp, the scent of pine and roasted chestnuts lingering in the air as Sari stumbled down the sidewalk, her shopping bags piled precariously high in her arms. Somehow every year Sari's To-Do List grew longer and the weeks leading up to Christmas disappeared like melted snow.
The Christmas Calendar in Dreamer's Square indicated only 7 days left until Christmas. People from all over Wisconsin flocked to Dreamer's Haven for the week long Christmas festival and the International Birds Show. It was bright, colorful, noisy and crowded. Everything Sari hated, including the festival's crowning jewel-birds.
Thousands of birds! Sari could not stand birds. The way they pooped on everything in site, the molting feathers, the constant chirping and crowing...Even her favorite Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was tainted by birds.
A partridge eating pears, birds squawking at each other, french hens about to be Christmas dinner, and the symbol of a couple's love:turtle doves.
Sari sighed all through her short drive home. Who needs birds to show love? Give me a bottle of wine and some dark chocolate. Way more sophisticated than birds. But maybe finding true love should be the first step...
Sari was so loaded down from her shopping trip that she nearly tripped on the bronzed bird cage sitting a top her snowflake doormat, blocking entrance into her small cottage.
What in the world?
Unceremoniously dumping the groceries and Christmas gifts into a pile on the wooden porch swing, Sari crouched down to take a better look.
Was that a BIRD underneath that giant puff ball of green?
As if sensing Sari's stare of disbelief, a small red-orange head with a pointy beak popped out of the green mess, letting out a pitiful noise of what seemed to indicate disappointment. The head dropped back down, the tiny bird squeezing itself into a tight ball not much bigger than Sari's hand.
A gold ribbon attached to a small card hung from the carrying hook on the cage. Gingerly grabbing for the card, Sari's stomach gurgled with an uncomfortable feeling akin to spiders crawling across her skin.
I know how much you enjoy The Twelve Days of Christmas yet here you are, spending the holiday alone. My gift to you is Holly Heart. She is a young Lovebird to keep you company this Christmas. May your heart find true love and joy this Christmas season.
Merry and Bright
The drums pounding at Sari's temples increased in frequency, forcing her to drop the note and bend forward, attempting to massage away this new-found stress. Sari squeezed her eyes shut, counting to 50 before reopening them.
Nothing! The feathery monstrosity was still there, staring at Sari with eyes too large for the size of its head.
"Not my idea pal." Sari stood up as she spoke, shaking her head at the bird and wondering who in the world would play such a prank on her. Was it her brother Al? He liked to pretend he was the life of every party. Or maybe Sasha, her favorite cousin/best-friend. Ever since she met Dallas, Sasha had walked around town as if floating on a cloud made of hearts and marshmallows. Sasha was always on the prowl for someone to match with Sari.
Having lived in Dreamer's Haven all her life, Sari knew all her neighbors and even most of the townspeople. A tiny town just East of sprawling Whitesville, Dreamer's Haven was home. Apparently someone she knew well was mistaken in believing she needed to build an aviary in her cottage.
A brisk winter wind blew Sari's scarf, whipping the ends against her exposed neck where the wool coat lay unbuttoned. Unsure if the puff ball could stand the colder temperatures, Sari reluctantly brought it inside, setting the rectangular cage in the middle of the kitchen island.
"O-K" Sari spoke out loud, shooting the bird the evil eye. The feathery creature mirrored her expression, squawking quietly with a whistle sound. It flew off its wooden perch and poke its head at the bars, peering up at Sari. Do birds poop when not taking flight? Sari, not wanting to take any chances, took two steps backwards, banging an elbow into the fridge door.
Errr. Why me? Why a bird? Sari's questions played ping pong around her head while she tried to figure out a game plan. There was a small water trough filled with water and some seeds and miniature fruit slices in a tiny plastic crate. Feeding appeared to be taken care of for the moment but tomorrow would appear sooner rather than later.
Deciding a Google search was necessary, Sari was surprised to find out that Holly Heart was a Lovebird, in the family of African parrots. Someone must really be laughing at my expense Sari thought, reading through the long list of stats and care tips the article described.
"There's been some mistake Miss Heart," Sari spoke gently as the Lovebird began to bounce around the cage. "You belong to someone who loves birds, maybe someone who has a partner for you."
Sari was convinced that she could go at life alone, with a few close friends and her family. No need for affection and attachment-human or bird type.
Holly Heart didn't seem reassured. Instead, she fluttered her minuscule wings ferociously, banging against the side of the cage as she flew from end to end. Two bright plumes fell from her back and Sari began to feel something akin to fear for the bird.
Would it try to wedge its way out or hurt itself in the process? Sari blinked back the sudden wave of emotion she was feeling for the bird's safety. It was too much.
Racking her brain for who to call, a name materialized in her brain-Grayson Billings., local vet and and co-coordinator of the International Bird show. Sari's heart twisted at the thought of having to call the handsome vet she once crushed on throughout high school.
The same man who instead as a teen, had lived and breathed soccer, just like her brother. Grayson may have spent many nights swimming and hanging out as he was Al's buddy, but never once had he noticed Sari as an attractive girl.
Unfortunately Sari had no idea what to do and Holly Heart was becoming more and more insistent in her efforts to escape her cage. Sari called the Vet Clinic and was patched through to Grayson's cell.
"Hello," this is Grayson Billings." The deep voice sent shivers down her spine, almost making her wish they were 16 again, a time when pining after boys and passing AP English were her only concerns.
"Dr. Billings, this is Sari, Al's sister."
There was a brief moment's pause then a small chuckle leaped through the connect. "Chestnut, I'm surprised you remembered me." Grayson's teasing lilt and use of her silly childhood nickname cause Sari's brain to short-circuit. Why did Grayson have to make everything sound like he was flirting?
Gathering her confidence, Sari responded firmly, "of course I remember the gangly teenager who ate all of my Lucky Charms and tossed me into the pool in my cutest dress." The words were out before she had a chance to moderate them. Sari was extremely grateful Grayson couldn't see the awful shade of red flushing her face.
"But wet was a great look on you," Grayson continues, not missing a beat. "Besides, Tommy was a loser, why you would want to waste your time going out with him made no sense."
Sari bristled at the fatherly tone. She had enough manageing men in her life, she didn't need another. "That was my lesson to learn" she retorted hotly. Closing her eyes, Sari took three deep breaths to slow down her thoughts and words.
"Look Grayson, I have a problem and I need your help."
All the sudden Grayson was businesslike, a tinge of worry dripping from his words. "What's wrong Chestnut?"
"When I got home from Christmas shopping, a bird was on my doorstep. You know how I can't stand your feathered friends." Sari's breaths became quicker and her pace sped up. "I don't know what to do with Holly Heart and she's banging against her cage and she might hurt herself and-"
"Sari, breathe." Grayson's kind tone pushed through the frantic mess of thoughts and jumbled words. "I'll be right over. What's your address?"
Sari gave it to him, not surprised when Grayson arrived a mere ten minutes later. "You shouldn't speed Sari admonished, leading the way to the kitchen.
Grayson shot her a mega-watt grin, flipping her heart like a hamburger patty on the grill. "Wow, she's a beauty." At the sound of his voice, Holly Heart stopped fluttering franticly, settling on her perch and mooning at Grayson.
"Seriously Gray? You give her one compliment and she's all mush." Sari shook her head in amazement. "You always did captivate the girls."
Grayson slid a sly sideways glance in Sari's direction. "Just not the girl I wanted to notice me."
Sari wasn't sure what that meant and there wasn't time to process it. "What do we do? How do we find her owner?" Sari wrung her hands together, a nervous habit she had picked up when she was six years old. Lost for half an hour in a large shopping mall, it had taken months for Sari to feel safe again.
"It shouldn't be too hard. Andrew and I own the only veterinarian clinic for 50 miles. Her owner must have brought her in at some point, perhaps Tammy or Quinn examined her."
Sari handed over the note which had been delivered with the cage. Grayson read it, his lips tugging upwards in mirth. "Someone sure knows how to push your buttons."
Sari snatched the card back, her fingers brushing against his. A tiny electric shock swept up her hand and zinged straight to her fragile heart.
"I, they, I'm fine. I don't need anyone or anything." Her protests only caused Grayson's smile to spread wider. He began to whistle softly at Holly Heart. The little traitor cooed back before tucking her head into her chest and going to sleep.
Grayson Billings, heart breaker of humans and birds.
"Well, I am mildly impressed with your skills. Much better than your effort on the soccer field." Sari flung the words with no heat, her teasing seeming to reinvigorate her handsome guest.
"It was kind of hard to concentrate when you kept yelling directions at us from behind the bench." Grayson stepped closer to Sari, stopping just shy of touching.
Gulping noisily, Sari gazed up into the melted chocolate gaze she had fantasized about for almost a decade. "You never noticed me." Her voice was light and breathy, nothing like her normal 'in-control' tone.
Leaning his head down, Grayson reached out to brush a stray chestnut lock behind Sari's ear. "I always noticed you,. You just never seemed to care."
"Wh-wh-what?" Sari's voice trembled. This was foreign territory and she was drowning.
"We may be older and wiser now but I'm still just as crazy about you as I was a decade ago." The words slipped out in a whisper, Grayson's breath tingling her right ear and making it hard to think about anything but Christmas miracles.
"Grayson, I-" Sari's whisper was cut off by a piercing whistle. Holly Heart was awake and active, not appearing happy that Grayson was giving attention to a different female.
"Our little lady needs some exercise. I assume you aren't comfortable with letting her loose in your house."
Sari shook her head, unsure of everything just now.
"If you can get her cage in my truck, I'll call Susan and ask her to look up in the records Holly Heart's owner." Grayson picked up his cell and walked out the front door.
Sari gathered the cage and loaded herself and the Lovebird into the black pickup Grayson had bought graduation night. Grayson hopped up into the cab, rumbling the engine.
"You'll be happy to know we have a winner." Grayson drove across town, parking in front of a beautiful Victorian mansion.
"Mrs. Wellington was behind this." Sari smiled as she climbed the porch steps. Her favorite music teacher and mentor sat in a white whicker chair, sipping sweet tea, awaiting their approach.
"I see you found my heart."
Grayson set the cage at Mrs. Wellington's feet. She reached down and freed Holly Heart. In a flurry of feathers and colors, the lovebird flew circles around the porch, finally settling down on the back of a wooden rocker.
"Why?" Sari posed the question with wonder. A warm hand grabbed hers, fingers tangling together. Sari shot Grayson a shy look, blushing a deep rose as Mrs. Wellington settled a knowing glance on the pair.
"Because it is Christmas. A time for love and miracles."
"But, how did you know?" Grayson asked.
"Grayson Thomas, any fool can see the way to mope after Sari anytime she passes your clinic window. Or sits near you at the City Council meetings. Or-"
Grayson made a choking sound, holding up his free hand in surrender. "Ok, I don't think Sari wants to hear anymore."
Tugging Grayson down onto the loveseat, Sari settled into the cushions, feeling a bit the cat who caught the canary. "I have all the time in the world. Please continue."
Chirping in satisfaction, Holly Heart flittered onto the armrest next to Sari.
"The first time I noticed Grayson making eyes at you Sari, it was at...."
And so, a Lovebird Christmas miracle brought together two lonely hearts and paved the way for many more to come.