Brian, Dylan and the crowd of counselors and campers watched by the wall of stockings as the Weirs, Moseleys and Bradshaws reunited, hugging...

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Brian, Dylan and the crowd of counselors and campers watched by the wall of stockings as the Weirs, Moseleys and Bradshaws reunited, hugging each other. Then Brian assumed his counselor mode.

“Welcome to Elf Camp,” he said, shaking hands with the adults. “Your timing was perfect.”

“I thought Elf Camp was just for kids,” Dylan said.

“It is, but let’s not forget, besides elves, parents have always been Santa’s biggest helpers. They trim the tree, hang stockings and set out cookies and milk for the big guy. Given their contribution, I think an exception is in order.”

Whoops and shouts erupted from the counselors and campers as the stockings went up.

Brian held up his hand. “Now, let’s live our motto: Time is toys. And we’re running low on both. Everyone who doesn’t have a parent here, get back to work.”

The crowd scattered, leaving the small group clustered under the stocking wall.

“I think a tour is in order,” Brian said.

The parents looked as excited as children opening presents on Christmas morning.

“Are you going to join us, Dylan?” Brian asked.

“You’d let me come back after all I did?”

“Are you kidding?” Brian laughed. “You’re the poster boy for Elf Camp! But there are consequences for hacking.”

Pacing by the wall of stockings, Brian ticked off Dylan’s wrongdoings. “You hacked into the North Pole Network, sabotaged the RoboElves, crashed through a window, disrupted the assembly lines, set off the sleighs and so much more. Terrible offenses.”

Brian paused. “But worst of all is what you did to the reindeer. They’re helpless creatures. You scared them silly by messing with their noses.”

The parents looked confused, so Brian explained the reindeers’ color-coded Global Positioning Systems in their noses. “Dylan implemented rapid color changes. Tell them what that does, Dylan.”

“The deer get confused and frightened.”

“What else?” Brian prompted.

“They stampede,” Dylan said, looking down at the ground.

“That’s not all they do,” Brian said, pinching his nose.

Jack wrinkled his nose. “You should see the barn and the corrals.”

“If you want to come back, Dylan, you’re responsible for cleaning up the mess,” Brian said.

“That punishment stinks,” he said. “But I deserve it.”

Turning to the parents, Brian said. “Everybody ready to hang up their stockings?”

“It’s an Elf Camp tradition,” their kids said.

The kids walked their parents to the wall. One by one, they hung up their stockings.

A year later, on a cold winter morning, a white dove circled the sky over Tennyson. It passed over a pale yellow cottage with green shutters. The bird hovered briefly overhead as Meghan stepped out the door wearing a new coat. Her mother, dressed in scrubs, grabbed her jacket and closed the door behind her.

The dove lighted on a new bird feeder in the Moseleys’ backyard. Inside, Jack and his father placed their breakfast dishes in the sink. Mr. Mosley tossed an empty milk jug into the recycling bin. It clunked on top of soda cans.

The dove soared to the hilltop home where Nicole’s mother shared some good news with her over breakfast. “Daddy’s coming over for Christmas dinner.”

On the school bus, the three friends shared the rear seat, keeping an eye on the white dove gliding alongside.

Meghan’s junior year was turning out to be the greatest ever. She, Nicole and Jack were inseparable. They were Elf Camp counselors-in-training along with Dylan, Courtney and Gary.

The bus braked in front of Blake High. The first bell rang. Jack and Nicole hurried inside, but Meghan stayed back. She wanted to know who the dove was following.

Erin Hobbs was the last one off the bus. Her unrelenting nastiness had driven all of her friends away. Alone and lonely, she kept her head down. The whoosh of a close-flying bird made her look up. The dove hovered in the air at eye level. It dropped an envelope at her feet. Warily, she picked it up and stashed it in her purse.

“Erin, c’mon. You don’t want to be late.” Meghan held the door open. She wondered whether she should tell Erin that she was about to have the adventure of her life. Or should she let it be a surprise?

Erin hurried eagerly toward Meghan’s welcoming voice.

Meghan smiled at her as she passed through the door. Everyone loves a surprise.

The End