‘What are you wishing for as a Christmas present?’ James Dixon asked the latest little girl on his knee. She seemed such a forlorn little thing that he wondered if she would be too shy to speak, but then two big blue eyes stared up at him, and she said, ‘Can you find my mommy, please, Father Christmas?’
As a director and benefactor of the orphanage he knew something of the histories of all the children, and he remembered that little Chloe’s parents had been killed in a motor accident. ‘But your mommy went to heaven,’ he said gently.
The child shook her head. ‘No, that wasn’t my real mommy – but she always told me my real mommy is a Nangel.’ Completely confused by this, James steered her attention in other directions before getting his ‘fairy’ to make a note of her next choice – a Little Love doll – which she duly received at the orphanage on Christmas Day as one of the extra gifts personally financed by him.
Later, though, he checked her record again, and found that the couple who had died in the accident were adoptive parents. He tapped the file with a finger. ‘Did you trace the biological mother or father?’ he asked the orphanage Matron.
‘We tried, but apparently she was adopted through an unregistered agency which no longer exists and has left no records. Everything just led to a dead end. Chloe is a problem, actually’ she went on. ‘She doesn’t really fit in here, but everyone who has fostered her with hopes of adoption has given up. She simply doesn’t respond.’
When nearly a full year had elapsed, James had all but forgotten the incident. Then he found himself seated next to Rob Stott, the surprisingly young manager of one of his customer companies, watching what had become a really boring game of cricket. Rob turned to him and said, ‘I believe you know quite a lot about fostering and adoption?’
James explained to him about his connection with the orphanage, and Rob said, ‘The thing is that my wife and I are thinking about trying to adopt. She can’t have children.’
‘I can steer you in the right direction,’ James nodded, and jotted down some names and numbers for him. ‘If it isn’t too personal a question, what is the problem with your wife?’
Rob glanced at the others nearby in the box, but they were all preoccupied with their own conversations. ‘It was caused by a botched delivery with an underage pregnancy. I … I was the father,’ he confessed in a low voice. ‘The baby was fine, but she very nearly died. Then her parents said we were far too young to marry and forced her to give the child up for adoption, but they used a dodgy agency and we haven’t been able to get the slightest clue as to what happened to the baby.’
It was at that point that James remembered little Chloe and her touching request. Could it possibly be? No, of course not – far too long a shot. Still, something made him ask, ‘What did you name the child?’
‘Mariette,’ Rob responded.
‘Oh,’ said James; deflated.
‘They probably changed it, though,’ Rob said.
Another thought struck James. ‘What is your wife’s name?’ he asked urgently.
‘Angelique,’ Rob responded, ‘but why …?’
James controlled his breathing with difficulty. ‘I don’t want to get any hopes up,’ he said, ‘but there seems to be an outside chance that I know where to find your child.’
They left the game to drag out to its inevitable draw, and started a frantic period of working through tests and red tape with increasing excitement. Dates and circumstances, as far as they could be determined, all seemed to tally. There was also a marked family resemblance. Rob and Angelique both agreed, however, that no hint should be given to Chloe until they were completely certain. Although hampered by the number of people away on holiday, they were able to get the paperwork through subject to successful DNA tests – and the test results, completely positive, came though the day before the next orphanage Christmas Tree.
Rob and Angelique wanted to race to the orphanage right away to claim their daughter, but James shook his head. ‘Trust me,’ he said, ‘if you want to speed up her acceptance of you, let Father Christmas make the announcement.’
The next day James could hardly contain his impatience and maintain his jovial Father Christmas role until it was Chloe’s turn to come onto his lap. She seemed very subdued, and made no mention of her request of a year before.
Finally he seized the bull by the horns. ‘Do you remember you wanted me to find your mommy last year?’
She looked up at him pathetically. ‘Yes, but after that I knew you wouldn’t be able to,’ she said.
‘But I have!’ James beamed at her. ‘And your daddy, too!’ Chloe stared wide-eyed at him for a long instant, and he nodded. Then she smiled radiantly, hugged him, and burst into tears all in the same instant. James suddenly needed a handkerchief.
By the time James spent Christmas Day with the Stotts, they were already an extremely happy family. Chloe said, after regarding him for a while, ‘I like you, ‘cos you’re just like Father Christmas.’
Angelique smiled. ‘More like a Christmas fairy, because he has done so much to help with our own marvellous Christmas miracle.’