Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1487554-Graces-Gift--A-Christmas-Miracle
by Ria
Rated: E · Fiction · Inspirational · #1487554
A story of hope and miracles and healing
Chapter One

Isabella Sorrento listened to the radio in her office, smiled and called her best friend on the first floor of their office building. The local weather station had just issued a blizzard advisory. Snow had begun to fall in the southern part of the state and storm trackers categorized it as a fast moving blizzard. There wouldn't be enough time to reach safety once the speed picked up. Offices were instructed to close immediately. There was a 1:30 p.m. curfew for all non-emergency personnel to be off the road and it was too be strictly enforced. Early dismissal in the corporate world….it almost felt like a school day and it was a Friday, a cherry on top of it all. Schools and privately owned businesses were shut down or near closing. Public transportation would be suspended at 2:15. Food stores were to remain opened until 3:00 p.m. There would be no exceptions. As she packed up her office, and responded to a text from her cousin, assuring her she and Tessa were on their way out, Isabella glanced out the window and shivered. The mere thought of going into the bitter cold December wind made her cringe. Just barely 11:00, outside was the picture of a dull gray December sky that offered little doubt severe weather was heading their way. At 11:15, the offices throughout out the state having closed pursuant to the directive of the Governor of New Jersey, Isabella and Tessa Monetti, along with numerous friends and co-workers ran to their cars. Having car pooled that morning with Tessa, Isabella hopped into Tessa's Saturn SUV and cranked up the heat. The girls waved and called out to friends and co-workers and wished them safe joruneys homes. Many would either text or call when they arrived home to let the girls know they were safe. They were surrounded by healthy friendships; most of them Italian or Irish. It was what the Italians and Irrish did in this part of North Jersey. Isabella and Tessa chatted non-stop and arrived at Isabella's gated community townhouse development some 10 miles from their office with little effort. On the ride home Isabella had called her sisters, with whom she lived, and advised them Tessa would be spending the weekend, possibly the week with them. A squeal from Isabella's youngest sister was evidence enough how much the girls enjoyed Tessa.

Charlie Dixon, a wonderful, gentle man, who manned the gate waited anxiously for them. He was relieved to see the now familiar SUV pulling up. He smiled and assured the girls he would be safe arriving home. His shift didn't end until 3:00; however given the weather, he was being dismissed early. The gatehouse was not properly heated for blizzard conditions. He lived no more than a mile from the gate house and his family, including his wife, two kids, their spouses and children, were waiting for him. They had come for his grandson's birthday and it looked as if they'd be there awhile. He was thrilled to have a full house. His wife and daughter-in-law had taken over the foodshopping and returned already. They had a full house, literally, and in food. He told them his son would pick him up within the hour. They smiled as they drove through and wished him a wonderful weekend with his family. Outside the two story townhouse, King, the German Shepherd, belonging to Isabella's youngest sister, who lived up to his name with his size and his heart, and Carmel, an old cocker spaniel belonging to Isabella's middle sister, romped in the cold air. Not to mention Mystic, the poor old girl who Isabella had rescued from a shelter. Mystic, the black lab, slowed down by abuse, hobbled over to Isabella who stepped out of the car first her soft velvet snout nuzzling her gloved hand. Speaking very softly to the animal, Isabella gently nudged her up the stairs and out of the cold. The gentle dog obeyed the soft voice and sat in the hallway awaiting her mistress. The other dogs howled excitedly as the girls stepped out of the car and ran up the walk to greet them. Tessa hit the button to close the drive way's front gate and bounded up the steps into the warmth of the house. The dogs followed.

A brief discussion led the girls to change into comfortable clothes and head out for a late lunch and the store. Better to head to the store early while some people were on their way home from work than later when everybody would be there. At least now the store had stocked shelves, hopefully. The news channels had been pounding the incoming weather for three days; however, they had predicted six to eight inches of snow. The blizzard warning came only as a whisper late last night. It was 11:30 by the time the girls piled into the SUV again and made their way to the diner across the street from the super market. A quick lunch at the diner, grill cheese and soup all around, the girls came up with their list of essentials for the weekend comfort food, including ingredients for a variety of Christmas cookies. Between Isabella's martial arts three times a week, yoga on her day off, Tessa's walking and running workout and her sisters' membership at New York Sports Club, when the women wanted comfort food, they never blinked or felt guilty. They enjoyed a little comfort food now and then. After stopping to say hello to a few friends they saw in the diner, who had the same idea, the girls drove to the local supermarket. The parking lot was just about full but comfortably so. The large super store would be a nightmare in about an hour, but for now, they could move along relatively stress free. Dividing the list in two, the girls split off in pairs. They could cut the time in half. A cell phone went off seemingly every minute or so asking about this, changing one item for another. The girls laughed until they were sick. Shoppers, worried about the weather, stressed about the upcoming Christmas holiday, cast them wary looks as the girls giggled and laughed their way throughout the store eventually meeting up at the cashier counter. Loaded with two carts filled to capacity they quickly loaded the car eager to escape the cold wind. Snowflakes had begun to fall steadily wetting the windows and ground. Isabella spoke to her mother who had phoned checking in with them. She was relieved to know Tessa was with the girls. Feeling content her parents and other family members, consisting of aunts, uncles and cousins and their families were home and safe or just returning from the store, Isabella sighed with relief and peace. Tessa phoned her family as well and promised to call back later to check on them.

The girls arrived at the gate and the automatic arm allowed them access once they swiped the magnetic card. Charlie had gone home. The gate house would not be manned during the night. The community was safe guarded with cameras and well lit by street lights resembling the look of a Thomas Kinkade painting. They pulled into the driveway and closed the electronic gate from the comfort of the warm car. One by one bags were placed on the front steps. Once inside, after hanging up coats and placing hats, gloves and scarves into coat sleeves, the girls opened cabinets and stocked away some freezer goods and rearranged the fridge to accommodate 1/2 and 1/2, OJ, cranberry juice, butter, eggs, bread, milk, ginger ale, egg nog, cold cuts, cheeses, salads, lettuce, produce, and other items. Isabella turned on the small colored t.v. in the kitchen and tuned into channel 70, a local news channel which flashed a warning on the bottom of the screen. The text was in bold red. The storm was moving quickly and had already dumped three inches of snow in the southern region of the state. Road ways were thinning out as the 1:00 mark crept up on them, employees and employers heeding the warning of the State of Emergency. Connie lit the fire place in the great room off the kitchen and Carmela set the home security alarm but for one set of french doors that lead directly to a fenced in dog run with plenty of room for the animals to rest, play, find comfort in the summer under an awning and take care of business. The remainder of the back yard was fenced in and, during the warmer months, furnished and used often for family and friends weekend reunions. The furniture and grill were now safely tucked away in the garage.

Isabella, ever the mother of the group, retrieved three storm centers from the hall closet. Each storm center contained am/fm radio, flood light, flashlights, and colored t.v. Although small, the picture on the t.v. came in clear. In the event, God forbid, the girls lost power, the storm centers had a battery operated life span of 24 hours. The girls also had a battery operated coffee pot and grill. Isabella had used them when she went camping with friends the summer before. They stuck primarily with foods that wouldn't require the stove or oven if the power failed. Isabella charged the storm centers and batteries for the coffee pot and stove throughout various parts of the house and instructed the girls to charge cell phones as well. They did as they were told knowing full well, if the power went out, they would need their cell phones to keep in touch with family and friends. As the girls made themselves comfortable in the great room, Isabella took notice of the house and was glad the cleaning service had been in the day before. With Connie going to school full time for her Masters, her schedule as a personal trainer allowed for her to work on her terms. She had been able to let them in and work from the breakfast cove on the front side of the house. The dogs loved the agency ladies and often stayed out of their way when they arrived. The girls had tipped them generously for the holiday and, now, Isabella had been glad their schedule had worked out. Originally, they were scheduled to come on Saturday. In light of the weather that would not have happened, nor would Isabella have permitted it. Although grateful for their service, Isabella and her sisters had been raised to clean a house when needed and do so without a word of contempt. They were mindful to be grateful for what they had been given and it was rare they were reminded to be thankful for the blessings in their lives.

Tessa caught Isabella's eyes as she switched on the Christmas tree nestled in the corner by the bay window. The switch also activated a Christmas wreath that hung in the bay window. A handmade snowmen design was hanging on the front door. Outside white lights were placed over the bushes and lit. Decorated with the very old and new, the house was tastefully decorated for the holiday and Isabella's birthday, two days before Christmas. A manger with all the trimmings of that Christmas so long ago, sat atop the mantel. A wide plasma t.v. safely tucked away in its protective casing hung above the fire place. Isabella smiled at Tessa and Tessa, knowing not a word need be spoken, smiled back. As the girls continued to help Connie with her latest project for school, Isabella went upstairs. She stopped at the landing and looked out to see the snow coming down faster and the roads covered. Light rain was mixed in with the snow. Grounds men who lived within the community would be out to plow and use snow blowers to clean off the sidewalks. Isabella and her crew were responsible for the driveway and the steps, of which there were very few. A snow blower given to them by their parents last spring, and rock salt would make for easy clean up. The patio off the kitchen wouldn't take them to long to shovel. Rock salt was at the ready just outside the front and french doors off the the kitchen. Isabella could see Christmas lights had been turned on from her neighbors' home and lights were on as well. She signed again. The people she loved most, her neighbors among them were safe. Throughout the house she could hear cell phones ringing or text message alerts. The Christmas clock in kitchen chimed Silent Night indicating it was just 2:00 p.m.

As she walked up the stairs Isabella's cell phone rang. Her cousin had called to check in with them and once assured everyone was safe and home announced she had other phone calls to make. The cousins alone would take up to an hour. Isabella smiled through watery eyes. Her cousins were not only family but friends. She came from a typical North Jersey Italian Catholic family and combining her mother’s family and her fathers, there were over 90 people that mattered to her. That didn't include great aunts and uncles and their families. Isabella and her sisters grew up with them all on one level or another. Her mother's side of the family and her father's middle brother had produced children Isabella and her sisters were very close with. They were all close in age and had similar interests. Isabella was the oldest grandchild on her mother's family, approaching her 37th birthday in just a few weeks. The others were born in succession and the youngest was 30. They maintained weekly, sometimes daily contact through email, texts and phone calls. Once a month the cousins held a dinner at someone's house or in the city or local establishment for dinner. Tessa was now included. They loved her like family.

Isabella stepped into the bathroom off her bedroom, a large, airy room, made comfortable with a king size bed of light brown wood, dresser, night stands and entertainment center cabinets, decorated in calming colors of blues, yellows, burnt oranges, and smiled in the mirror. She thought about turning on the t.v. now hidden in the entertainment style dresser on the far wall but decided against it and if the girls needed her they could find her. Glancing in the mirror, Isabella smiled five times with her mouth closed. She repeated the process again, only this time, she smiled showing teeth. It was a routine she had begun just after Danny, the man who had abused her for six years, had left her life. He had been gone just about a year now she remembered. Her stomach clenched when she remembered how he had called her last year for her birthday. The conversation had ended when Isabella, stronger than she had been in years, told him she no longer wished to have anything to do with him and hung up the phone. Only one other time did he attempt to call her but he had hung up when she answered. He had always been a coward. Isabella noticed her eyes, hazel with gold flecks, showed life in them once again. Her skin tone was healthy and clear. Her figure was well toned and maintained from her martial arts three times a week and her home yoga routine done once a week. Her diet was based on eating six small meals throughout the day and drinking plenty of water. She smiled as she complimented herself out loud in the bathroom. A practice she now did every day, seven days a week. Mirror work it was called. Affirmations, journaling, stepping out the comfort zone, reaching out to people, trusting herself and others once again. A soft knocking on the door stopped her from going down the long sad road to how she had let Danny into her life in the first place. She opened the door and saw Tessa standing on the other side. She looked worried. Isabella assured her she was fine and reminded her she was doing her mirror work. Tessa nodded and tapped her hand to head. She had forgotten. Isabella told her she was done for now and could pick up later. She had done the most difficult part of it. Isabella walked into the bedroom and sat down on the love seat near the windows. She laid back and shook her head. It was hard to believe the difference in her life over the last, what, eight or nine months now. She thought back to her birthday a year ago. It had been a wonderful birthday, Danny was gone, she was free, she was happy and healing, but Tessa hadn't been there. They hadn't met each other yet. She reached over to Tessa and took her hand. She squeezed it and kissed Tessa's cheek. Without a word she thanked her. Tessa smiled and pulled her off the love seat and lead her back downstairs.

Connie and Carmela were coming in from the first round of salting and snow blower duty. It had taken them a mere 1/2 hour to do the front and back of the house. They would have to go out at least every two or three hours so that it wouldn't be overwhelming later on. Tessa and Isabella offered to join in later. The other girls were more interested in dinner and cookies. Two movies sat on the counter in the kitchen and they intended to watch at least one of them later. The other could wait until tomorrow. While Connie and Carmela tended to the dogs, fixing them dinner, Isabella and Tessa began the first batch of chocolate chip cookies. The girls playfully argued over whether or not they should have nuts. Isabella wasn't big on nuts in cookies, the others were. In end they compromised. One batch with nuts, one without. Outside the snow continued to fall steadily. Within an hour the house smelled of fresh baked cookies, Christmas snow candles and garlic and oil. While Isabella continued with the baking, Tessa made dinner. Shrimp and angel air with fresh Italian bread. The house smelled wonderful. Connie set the table in the kitchen cove and Carmela helped Tessa finish off the preparation for dinner. The girls ate a delicious meal and praised Tessa's cooking throughout the duration. It melted in your mouth; that's what Connie proclaimed. Everything was perfect. Isabella took a break from baking to allow the two batches of chocolate chip cookies to cool so that she could store them in the Christmas tupperware and helped clean up from dinner. Not long after dinner the girls headed outside again, Mystic staying close to her momma. Mystic didn't like the cold and sat near the patio watching the goings on. She had been found wondering alone one cold night about a year ago, just after Isabella was free from Danny's abuse. It seemed so perfect that the two found each other. Starved and injured from God knows who or why, Isabella found her in the shelter one day having gone with a friend who was looking for a dog. One look in the animals gentle brown eyes ripped Isabella's heart in two. She grabbed her cell and immediately called her sisters. They didn't hesitate. An hour later, Isabella left with Mystic. The family vet, a man, the family had known throughout most of the girls' lives, estimated Mystic was about 3. He refrained, out of respect for Isabella, telling her the extent he believed the animal had been abused. Isabella had been grateful. Mystic loved Carmel and King and they in turn respected her. When around other dogs Mystic was playful and happy but if either Carmel or King felt another animal was being rough they immediately came to her defense. Mystic was cautious around strangers but loved Isabella's family and had come a long way since finding her home with the girls and their fur babies.

Isabella kept a close eye on Mystic while shoveling the patio. She wanted to be sure she wasn't cowering at the sound of the snow blower. She was fine. They watched King chasing the snow flakes, burying his head in the snow, amusing himself. Carmel joined in by standing next to Mystic as he was not amused either. Tessa shouted out they looked like they couldn't understand why the hell they were outside in the freezing cold and how could anyone possibly be having a good time in this vile weather. They laughed hysterically when King grabbed Tessa's shovel and ran around the backyard with the shovel in his mouth. Carmel and Mystic, having grown bored with the massive beast stood by watching him. Both appeared to be disgusted with him. Of the three, he was the youngest at 18 months. Mystic was old for her age at 3 because of life before finding her home with the girls, and Carmel, he topped the scale at 9. They finished up the newest round of snow removal and headed indoors again. The wind was battering the house and rattled the windows. As the howling continued, Mystic ran and hid under the kitchen table. Tessa got down on her hands and knees trying too coax the shaking dog to come out but she refused. Eventually, King stuck his nose, literally, into Tessa's business and offered his opinion by making low noises that sounded like something out of Star Wars. Chewbacca to be precise. Tessa answered him each time he spoke and the others stood around the kitchen smiling. It was as if King actually understood Tessa. Finally, King took his nose and butted Mystic's snout. She whimpered but slowly he nudged her out from under the table. The girls were amazed and watched in awe as he and Carmel walked on either side of her out into the living room. When she lay down in front of the fire place, they flanked her on either side. Once they realized she was Ok, they laid their heads down and rested. A three way contented sigh escaped each one of them like Christmas bells. There wasn't a dry eye in the kitchen.

Phone calls began to filter in more frequently as news of power failures began throughout the state. So far no one in either Isabella's family or Tessa's had been hit. Isabella checked the storm centers and cell phones remained charging. They continued to keep tabs on the weather by leaving the small t.v. on in the kitchen. Right now, while Isabella resumed her knitting and the other girls were editing a paper for Connie, a FRIENDS re-run kept the girls laughing. Isabella glanced down at the floor and saw the heartbeats in her life. Her sisters and Tessa had surely been sent to save her and lift her up when she fell from Danny's web. A light fluttering went through her and she smiled. The Angels must be there. They came often now. She could sense them. She had been having a dream of late and this dream, although not clear as of now, was helping her. She felt safe in the dream. A man came to her. Someone she knew but didn't know well. She was confused because men were, well, she was still afraid of them, if the truth be told. Danny had crippled that part of her for now anyway. Slowly, she was making strides, friends, male friends, anything beyond that was so far removed from her interest it didn't even register. Each night she was excited to go to sleep, to see if the dream came to her. Again and again for the last week, maybe 10 days, the dream came. The man appeared. She thought about it now when she felt the Angels flutter by her and wondered if she should discuss it with Tessa. She hadn't yet and not that Tessa would have laughed or scoffed at her but she had wanted to figure things out on her own first. She sighed and resumed her knitting. She would wait and see how tonight went. If the dream came again, tomorrow, she would discuss it with Tessa.

Their last run at the snow clean up ended at 8:45. They had spent the better part of an hour outside and determined the movies would wait. They decided instead to have a FRIENDS marathon and Carmela opened up the dvd set and began with season 1. The girls continued with helping Connie on her report and Isabella continued knitting the baby blanket she was making for their next door neighbor. Angela and Frankie O'Brady were expecting their first baby in February and the girls and the couple had become very good friends. Angela had phoned an hour ago and advised they were home and had everything they needed. Her parents were there, having come for the weekend, and yet it seemed their visit would be extended because of the weather. How badly Isabella wanted to tell her about the blanket. She loved watching the yarn form the beautiful colored pattern that would keep the newest angel on earth warm and comforted. Angela promised to call tomorrow and they said good bye. Connie announced at 11:00 she was heading off to bed. Carmela followed. Isabella and Tessa checked the doors and the alarm system and headed upstairs. Although Tessa had a beautiful guest room, complete with a small, but very cozy bathroom, t.v. and long windows overlooking the golf course, she rarely slept in the room. The two girls, along with Mystic, would pile into Isabella's bed and talk for hours after Carmela and Connie fell asleep. Tessa rarely, if ever, made it to the guest room. Keeping the tradition of late night conversation Isabella and Tessa snuggled into bed, Mystic in the middle. She curled up and laid her head on Isabella's leg. Isabella gently stroked the dog's soft fur and spoke softly to her. The girls listened to the quiet of the house and the distant sound of snow plows cleaning up through the development. Far off in the distance they could hear the sounds of sirens. Isabella offered up a silent prayer of thanks her loved ones were safe and sheltered and yet another for those who were working. She was also mindful of those who were alone and cold, including the animals. Tessa followed up with the local news channel update on the weather and the girls sighed. The snow would continue through Saturday and most of Sunday. Already offices were closed until Wednesday, including Isabella's and Tessa's. Carmela's boss had phoned around 9:00 to let her know they closed for Monday. There was no choice really considering the state of emergency had yet to be lifted. More snow clean up tomorrow and through the weekend. Well, there was a price to pay for being on a free mini vacation thought the women. They spoke for a bit more about life, about their families, holiday plans and Isabella's birthday. Tessa still refused to give Isabella any details about the special event they had planned. Isabella flicked off the t.v. and pulled the quilts up close to their chins. Mystic had her own quilt and with loving hands, Tessa swaddled the beautiful girl in her own cozy web. The dog licked Tessa's hand in gratitude. Isabella laid her hand on the dog's back to let her know she was still there and turned to face Tessa. Within minutes, the girls were sound asleep, aside from the Angels walking softly over the outlay of the house, honoring their Masters wishes to watch over their charges, not a creature was stirring.

A castle, emerald green grass, mid evil wear, swords. Isabella smiled in her sleep. The dream was back. Isabella stood by a stable, smelling the fresh scent of hay and horses. She stroked a beautiful mare's nose and spoke to her. There were others surrounding Isabella, some she knew, some she didn't. They were all smiling at her. She knew she was speaking pleasantly and with confidence to those around her. There was a gentle figure just to the left of her and she turned to see who it was. Still, he remained out of her sight. He was soft spoken and shy and stared at Isabella, almost in awe. Isabella knew from the flutter of conversation he was someone important, someone many flocked to touch, to see, to get to know. Some even sacrificed their self respect to get his attention. Isabella smiled at the figure and spoke her first words to him. Slowly he began to walk towards her. Isabella remained standing by the mare. She felt no fear, there was no shame. She stood bravely as he made his way to her. A burst of white light filtered through the slits of the barn roof and Isabella felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It was as if she was being given a gift. Suddenly, Isabella was jerked awake by the blaring sounds of sirens just outisde the bay window off the landing that split the first and second floors. She swore loudly in her head and begrudgingly opened her eyes to her reality. She reminded herself her reality was wonderful and to be grateful for every minute. Tessa had already leaped from the bed and was racing to the landing. Out of the bay window, the girls could see police cars, EMT rigs and fire trucks making their way to what looked like a serious incident. Isabella rubbed her eyes, slipped her feet in her slippers, and gently placed her hands to heart. The Angels were back. She felt them. She smiled to herself and knew deep in her heart, the man in the dream, he was coming to her. He was helping her heal. He had a purpose. She knew she didn't know him personally, at least not yet, but she knew in time, she would. The hows, the who's, and why's, didn't matter. The Angels would help her make the dream a reality. She just wasn't ready yet. She had healing to do, work to be done, but that was OK because in the meantime, she had this beautiful gift each night. Later in the day, Isabella would tell Tessa. She could explain everything to her and get her opinion.

Joining the others on the landing, the girls watched in awe as the shopping center across the highway burst into flames. Fire ball explosions cast an eerie blood red light into the sky. Connie turned on the t.v. and sure enough the local newscaster reported the explosion had come from a boiler in one of the stores. Store by store became engulfed in flames and other rigs appeared on the scene. The girls continued to watch the incident, offering comfort to Mystic who cowered due to the sounds of the fire sparks and sirens. She shivered in the corner. Tessa picked her up and placed her on the window bench and held her tight. The dog laid peacefully on Tessa's chest feeling the safe sound of Tessa's heartbeat. Isabella went to the kitchen and put hot water on for hot chocolate. It was just after 3:00. At this point, with the lights coming from the rigs and the loud voices of the men and women on the scene, the girls didn't think sleep would come again. Their bedrooms faced the front of the house. Carmela suggested grabbing the quilts and comforters from the beds and laying them in the living room. They could sleep on the floor and be warm. The girls agreed to the idea and Tessa and Carmela took care of making up the makeshift beds. The girls and dogs found their way into the living room and found their spots on the comforters. Before long the girls were sipping hot chocolate and eating Christmas cookies. They listened to the news for a bit more and eventually, much to their surprise, still hearing the grinding of the fire hoses, the yells of the emergency personnel, drifted off to sleep. Isabella prayed for one more dream. Was there a time line she wondered? Technically, she had dreamt last night, which meant she should be due for one today. Or was it tonight? She wasn't sure. Pleading with the angels she asked to be taken back to the barn, the man and the light.


Morning came with light freezing rain. King woke them up at 8:15. He needed to be somewhere and sleep time was officially over according to him. Carmel and Mystic followed his lead to head outside. Connie opened the french doors and gasped. The snow was piled high on the patio, the surface slippery and frozen. The dogs were careful in the pen and yet they slipped and sunk into the deep snow. King's legs were covered with snow mocking his height, Mystic's upper half was all that could be seen and Carmel all but disappeared. The dogs quickly did their business and headed inside. Refusing to rush their snowy Saturday morning, the girls made coffee, hazel nut, and breakfast. Turkey bacon, eggs, and toast. They needed their strength to tackle the job ahead of them. After a wonderful breakfast, the girls cleaned up the kitchen, brushed their teeth, donned their warmest clothes and bundled up. They headed outside and waved to their neighbors. Everyone was out and about. Some spoke over their fences about the fire, speculating what might have caused the boiler to blow, others spoke how sad it was to have their businesses destroyed so close to Christmas. For just over an hour, neighbors, and Isabella's crew tackled the snow blowers, shoveled steps, threw rock salt, and started their cars so the engines wouldn't freeze. Once inside the girls settled down for the next wave. Thank God a lull in the action had caused the snow to stop Light freezing drizzle continued to fall. Conditions were hazardous on every level. Even the emergency personnel were having great difficulty arriving where they were needed. Phone calls were made to families and friends. All was well with everyone. Isabella continued to feel the fluttering of the Angels nearby and found herself smiling more often. She moved with more of a lightness in her step and hummed softly making cookies. The others noticed her light hearted mood and asked her what had made her so happy. She just smiled and said nothing in particular, and everything all at once.

While Connie and Carmela napped, Tessa looked at Isabella who sat knitting the baby's blanket. Feeling as if someone were watching her, Isabella looked up and smiled. Asked why Tessa was staring at her, Tessa responded that Isabella seemed different. More relaxed. Isabella wasn't ready to divulge her explanation just yet and shrugged her shoulders and said she didn't notice anything that different about her demeanor. Tessa resumed reading her book comfortable in the knowledge Isabella would share her secret with her later, out of ear shot of her sisters. Both Tessa and Isabella were, well, gifted. Metaphysically speaking, Tessa had been born with a veil able to sense things and Isabella was considered clairvoyant and clairaudient. She had allowed those gifts to be silenced during the time Danny was pounding her into the pavement with one insult after another. She found, once he was gone, those gifts and the powers behind it, were determined to voice themselves again. At times, although overwhelming, Isabella found comfort in them. Using them for good, and only good, she was able to help herself much more than most. Her friends and family joked with her to give them the winning lottery numbers, but her gifts didn't work like that. Isabella went to the kitchen and put a fresh pot of coffee to brew. The others woke from their naps and the girls headed out again to chip at the ice, start the cars, and shovel out the rest the patio and driveway. An update to the weather report indicated New Jersey's state of emergency ban would not be lifted until Wednesday. Businesses were to remained closed. A new wave of snow was headed their way and would dump an additional 2 feet of snow by the time it ended on Monday afternoon. Road workers were doing their best to allow the state highways to be passable for emergency personnel but they were running out of sand and salt. Using the shoveling and chipping as a workout the girls put in just over an hour and went inside for lunch.

Over sandwiches of fried eggplant drizzled with balsamic vinegar and fresh mozzarella cheese on fresh Italian bread, the girls discussed some ideas for Isabella's birthday. Isabella asked if they could invite some friends and their cousins to the house, but the girls thought perhaps she'd enjoy going out to their favorite Italian place on Park Avenue. Tuscany's was a moderately priced, always jam packed restaurant, with the best food this side of the boot. Hailing from Naples, Joey Graziano, cooked like he did in the old country. The girls' families having all come from Naples told him it was like eating in their grandmothers' kitchens. Isabella smiled and agreed to the plan. She promised to leave the rest up to the girls as to who they would invite.

Isabella, having come farther than anyone would have expected in a short span of time, still went with the knee jerk reaction to stay where she felt safe. She had found herself isolated for a number of years while she was with Danny and chose to remain away from people, even now, to avoid feeling shame and inadequate. Having met Tessa, who worked with her every weekend, she began to branch out and develop social contacts again. She ventured out slowly, testing the waters by accepting social invitations when she felt comfortable. Most of the time Tessa was there with her offering her added strength and encouragement. The true tests came when Isabella was on her own. Some she aced, some, well, time would heal her fears. She remembered to celebrate every victory no matter how small and continue on in her journey. Danny had crippled her once while he had been a physical part of her life, he held no power over her now. She had to make certain of that or she would die. Her soul wanted to live, her body waned to live, every part of her wanted to live. She knew how it felt to feel dead inside, useless, worthless, unloved, ashamed, guilty, fearful, beaten down, unattractive, insulted and abused. Day by day she was learning about life, love, personal power, confidence, joy, laughter, trust, loyalty and grace. Sometimes even the simple things were her greatest victories.

She sighed and poured coffee into four deep mugs and carefully carried them to the table. The girls added their choice of 1/2 and 1/2 and sweetener and resumed talking. The dogs remained by the fire, sleeping soundly. While Connie, Carmela and Tessa talked, Isabella felt the butterflies in her stomach again. An angel had come and sat down beside her. She could hear the whisper of wings and the gentle voice. Outside was a cold, dank and messy display of brown snow turned up by snow plows, snow blowers and shovels, but inside the house, there was perfect bliss and peace. The girls each had their projects to work on, lap tops, knitting, reading, Christmas shopping on-line, phone calls to make, text messages to answer, and although they weren't free to move far from home, no one seemd to be that bothered. Being able to just sit and be with each other and with themselves, if one went to their room to sleep, or work, was comforting.

Isabella recalled the years she had with her family but once Danny put his claws into her and began to punch at her soft under belly, Isabella had taken a nose dive down to hell very quickly. He had gone from charming to sinister in just under a month after they began seeing each other. Because of his personality and his career choice, Danny was considered a great guy. Fun to be with, funny, entertaining, typical Lifetime personality traits. Behind closed doors he was cruel and calculating. Isabella, having been in her mid 30's and alone at the time was vulnerable when she met Danny. When she met Danny, she was thrilled at the attention he showed her. In the beginning, the relationship was filled with charm and positive feedback. They enjoyed each other. In a span of six months Isabella stopped looking people in the eye, stopped trusting friends who sat on the fence betraying her, unable to focus on work, herself or her joys in life. Because they worked for the same company, avoiding him was useless. He'd threaten to have her fired, lied to superiors and co-workers. He had created a scam and sadly many people, smart, intelligent people, had fallen for his forked tongue. After the relationship ended, and although Isabella tried to move on, Danny would appear again and again. Loving one minute, berating her the next minute, insulting her looks, her family, her life, her faith. He'd drunk dial and feed her all the hope she prayed for and then figuratively back handed her when she believed he would change. Danny had never physically abused Isabella, his abuse was mind games, verbal and emotional. Her superiors were swift enough to ignore his attempts to have her terminated. She was living on her own with her sisters and needed her pay check. She lived every day in constant fear, stomach pains and anxiety her job would be taken from her. Her nights were filled with emptiness as her friends went to happy hour without her, left her sitting alone at her desk when lunch came. On the rare occasion she would go out with someone both Danny and Isabella knew but time proved it was only when they had nothing else to do or if they wanted information to use as leverage or gossip sometime later. Isabella must have begun to cry because Carmela was calling her name and gently laid a hand on her shoulder to bring her back into the present. Isabella wiped her eyes and said shakily she was remembering Danny. She explained to the girls sometimes the memories came back and left her confused and afraid. They nodded and reminded her that Danny was gone; that he no longer was a part of her life. Isabella continued with therapy and God knew martial arts had been a saving grace for her. She took to martial arts, specifically karate, like a fish to water. She had developed strong friendships from the school she attended and once a week went to dinner with two of the women she had become particularly close with. Her weekends were full of plans and down time, comfort, love, loyalty. She was healing and yet the demons reminded her she had work to do and threatened her courage.

The girls rested for a time and then headed out to resume their snow removal duties. Once inside, they opted to do their own thing. Napping was the key to keep up with the physical demands of being outside. Isabella lay at one end of the comfortable, overstuffed couch, Tessa at the other end. Connie sacked out on the loveseat, while Carmela settled down with her book on the big chair and ottoman. The girls fell asleep before long, the dogs resting throughout the living room. Isabella lay awake for a time. Her heart was heavy. Silently she berated herself for having let Danny into her life. She berated herself for not having the tools to walk away from him the minute it began to turn ugly. She confided these feelings to Tessa who reminded her men like Danny knew how to play on feelings and heart strings. They were master manipulators. Logically, Isabella knew Tessa was right...emotionally Isabella felt stupid and foolish. She had left the company they both worked for when Danny was fired for misconduct and ended up in a firm well known throughout the state. She felt comfortable among her co-workers, found wonderful, healthy friends, some of who knew of her background. She had never believed herself smart enough to work for a firm such as she was but that was Danny's rant about how stupid he thought she was and of course so many others felt the same way. Turns out, people never believed she was stupid at all. Danny had even tried to have her fired from her new job, becoming angry when he appeared at her office one morning for a meeting, and given the brush off when Isabella refused to acknowledge him. Her employer didn't bite. They knew of his shady reputation, his rants, his classless jokes and high school antics.

Tears spilled from Isabella's eyes onto her pillow. She smiled through them when she remembered the day she met Tessa. One of the most beautiful days of her life she often said. They had met outside the office building during a smoke break. It was March. Nippy but spring was in the air. They began with a nod and smile a week or two before and waved when they saw each other in the building. On the 18th of March 2004 they engaged in conversation and simple as that they had found each other. Email addresses were exchanged and phone numbers followed soon after. Isabella remembered the first time she heard from Tessa after they exchanged numbers. They spent two hours on the phone talking about so many topics and soon Isabella's home and cell phone rang with hope, plans and sincere friendship. Isabella opened up to her little by little about her life and her path and Tessa listened and offered to help her in any way she could. Isabella laughed softly when she remembered the push and pull she did with Tessa. Terrified to let her in, terrified to keep her out. After months of back and forth, up and down, sideways, Isabella finally relented and welcomed Tessa into her life and her heart. They were connected at the hip pretty much ever since, each finding their own balance and groove. They endured rumors about their friendship. Jealousy overwhelmed some of the new people in Isabella's life and when Tessa became a constant, trouble brewed. Barely anyone could understand how two women, who had just met, could have such a connection in such a short amount of time, unless there were more complicated feelings between them. Hence the rumor they were gay began to spill out. Isabella, finding strength she didn't know she possesed, broke away from those who were loathe to sincerely embrace Tessa, and treasured the friendships that supported the union. They fought with their families over how quickly they became friends and to watch out for being used and taken for granted. The list went on and on for months. Eventually everyone settled down and accepted the positive changes coming from both women because they had met. Life became a joy for Isabella. Balancing alone time, time with family, time with friends from work, karate, and time with Tessa. The month of March, once a painful reminder of Danny's wrath, had become a beautiful month for Isabella. She had become the butterfly.

Tessa stirred having heard sniffles from the other end of the couch. Lifting her head she saw Isabella wiping tears from her eyes and sprang up on the couch. She reached over and grabbed Isabella who rested her head on her shoulder and wept. Sometimes, even the best of things were overwhelming to Isabella. Peace, security, love, friendship, sometimes, it just became too much for her to accept. She wept for a few minutes, her sisters remaining close by, and then eventually the girls did a group hug. King, always needing to be the center of attention, howled his discontent when he felt he was being left out. The girls pulled apart and cooed to him. He sank his head into their legs and nuzzled their hands as they comforted him. Connie scolded him for being a big baby to which he replied in a ramble of Chewbacca sounds, he found her to be harsh. Carmel raised his head, investigated the situation by sniffing the air, and having determined there was no great emergency, laid his head back down and went back to sleep. Mystic, however, remained close to Isabella who sat on the couch, her knees tucked underneath her. Tessa had wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and left her to make some soothing tea. Mystic tried to jump up on the couch but was unable to do so because of her prior injuries. Gently, Connie lifted the animal on the couch and hugged her before putting her next to her momma. Connie smothered kisses on the dog's head and told her how much she loved her. Mystic slobbered kisses over Connie's face and held her face with her paws to do so. Connie and Isabella laughed. When Connie went to answer the phone, Mystic crawled on top of Isabella and nestled near her heart. Isabella wept some more stroking the dog's soft fur and kissed her head in between hiccups. The dog remained silent, giving her momma kisses when she heard her name. Being able to pet Mystic had a calming energy for Isabella and by the time Tessa returned a few minutes later with four cups of tea her tears had dried. The girls turned up the volume on the t.v. and listened intently to the weather update. When Connie had answered the phone their mother had called to tell them the next weather wave was an additional 1 foot of snow. As of right now they had received 5 feet of snow total. Temperatures below freezing for the remainder of the weekend and Monday meant the roads would be dangerous. Power had been cut in the southern and central part of the state. They finished watching the update and then went about their business checking on the storm centers, leaving unopened packs of batteries in all sizes, and candles on the counter in the kitchen. Connie pulled out the coolers from the garage and placed them in the laundry room off the kitchen and if needed they could store food outside or in the garage. It was doubtful it would sour with the weather below freezing. Carmela and Tessa found extra fleece blankets in the event the heat went off. They would sleep downstairs on the floor again. Between the fireplace and the plus carpet and heavy comforters they would have a cozy nights rest. Once again dusk began its journey over the state and over the house on Journey Point Way and the girls glanced outside. Snow continued to fall. They bundled up in their snow gear and headed outside to plow and shovel. There would be one more cleaning before the night was through. Tomorrow, hopefully, they could rest a bit. The girls caught up with Frank, their neighbor to the left and spoke for awhile. Aside from the 1993 winter, none could remember a time when the snow had hit with such force and anger. Although grateful for the time with families, they were growing weary of the potential for loss of power. They promised to keep in touch the following day and the girls headed inside to prepare dinner. The menu consisted of cold cuts, rolls, and pasta salad. They decided to open a bottle of wine and chatted light heartedly over a million different subjects. Text messages began to alert them someone was looking for them and it turned out Isabella's cousin, Maria, and her family were without power. Maria's sister and her family had hunkered down with Maria and they were now sitting by candle light. There had been no mention of when the power would be restored. Because they lived further west, the weather was more severe. Maria assured them they were fine. Cell phones were charged to capacity, storm centers were charged, the kids were fine, finding it fun, and they had plenty of food. The girls commented how lucky there were to have power in spite of the shortages going on throughout the state. After dinner the girls cleaned up the kitchen and sat quietly in the living room. They watched the news from the various New York and New Jersey stations and one by one decided to begin to write out Christmas cards.
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