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Fawn Island, Pacific Northwest
Something drew Kiley Gray to the antique shop. It could have been the carousel horse in the window or the sight of tables and shelves beyond, crammed with cast-off treasures. Whatever was in there calling to her, she knew she had to go in. She was a big believer in that sort of thing.
Actually, Kiley was a big believer, period. She'd been sure Santa was real until she was ten and even after waking up on Christmas Eve to discover her father hanging her filled stocking on the mantel, she kept pretending for another two years. She'd believed in Prince Charming and Mr. Right clear through college. She'd even believed in happy endings until just this past October when her boyfriend Jeremy Horne dumped her at her own Halloween party (how was that for tacky?), announcing that he couldn't fight his attraction for her sister any longer.
It had been a very scary Halloween.
A bell chimed over the door as Kiley entered the shop and her nose twitched as she caught a whiff of dust.
Another shopper, a middle-aged woman in a stylish wool coat, stood at the counter, raving over the pink Depression glass pitcher she'd found. "And just in the nick of time," she added. "I'm going to have to dash to make that ferry." With hurried thanks, she took the piece the shop owner had carefully wrapped and hurried to the door, stuffing bills in her wallet as she went.
One fluttered to the floor and Kiley scooped it up. It was a fifty, maybe not a lot for this woman, who was well dressed and obviously had money to burn, but to Kiley it was a fortune. "Wait. You dropped this."
"Oh. Thanks," said the woman, barely looking at it. She stuffed it in her purse and hurried out the door.
The shopkeeper, a portly man with thinning, gray hair, smiled at Kiley. "People get in too big of a hurry."
"I can't afford to be in that big of a hurry," she said. She probably couldn't afford to be in here at all. But browsing didn't cost anything, she told herself as she drifted to where the carousel horse stood frozen in mid-prance. Who had owned this and how had it wound up languishing here? Kiley gave it a comforting pat then wandered past a table overflowing with nautical knickknacks toward an antique sideboard displaying tarnished silver and faded china, waiting for their glory days to return.
Then she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She turned and moved to the far side of the shop for a closer look. Tucked behind a clock with a brass horse and a chipped crystal vase sat an old snow globe. She might never have noticed it if it hadn't gotten caught by a stray sunbeam that managed to slip past the gray clouds outside and in through the window.
She picked it up, charmed by the scene inside the thick glass: a toyshop in the center of an Alpine village. She gave the globe a shake and watched the snow swirl around the little angel standing guard in front of the shop. It was simply too charming not to buy. Anyway, purchasing treasures was an integral part of any girls' getaway weekend so, in a way, she was almost obligated.
She took it to where the shop owner sat behind his cash register, now reading a book. "I didn't see a price tag on this. I'm just wondering what you want for it."
She gulped when he told her. Not exactly a wise purchase for a girl who had a steady job, let alone one who was now unemployed. Maybe purchasing treasures wasn't such an integral part of a girls' getaway weekend. At least not this treasure, not this weekend. Heck, at that price, never.
The man looked over his reading glasses at her and smiled. "But, I think, for the right buyer, I could come down in price."
Not enough, she was sure. Still, she couldn't resist asking, "What does the right buyer look like?" Hopefully, a skinny woman edging toward thirty with unruly brown hair, hazel eyes, a fashionably full mouth, and a nose she hated.
"It's not exactly about looks," the shop owner said. "It's more about where you are in life. You see, this little snow globe has quite a story to tell."
"I like stories," said Kiley, leaning her elbows on the counter.
"This one starts back when snow globes were first being made. Nobody knows the exact date, but the first one appeared at the Paris Exposition in 1878, and by 1879 at least five companies were producing snow globes and selling them throughout Europe. The woman who brought this to me claims it was one of them, so you can see it's very valuable."
"If it's that valuable I wonder why she didn't take it to Antiques Roadshow," Kiley mused. It seemed like the kind of thing that would go for a king's ransom at Sotheby's.
The man nodded his agreement. "She had her reasons. You see, its age isn't the only thing that makes it valuable." He removed his reading glasses and set aside his book. "Would you like to hear more?"
"I'm not in a hurry," said Kiley. "But I hope this story has a happy ending. I'm kind of in need of happy endings these days."
"Are you? Well, you be the judge."
Chicago, December 1880
It had been one year since Otto Schwartz had lost his whole world. And he was still alive, if one could call moving through each day like a ghost living. This particular day he stood at his toyshop window, watching snow carpet the street. Delivery wagons passed, people walked by with paper-wrapped parcels, happily shopping for Christmas.
Two children, a boy and a girl bundled in heavy coats, hats, and mittens, ran ahead of their mother and stopped in front of the shop window to peer at Otto's display of porcelain dolls, tin toys, and stuffed animals. They pressed their faces to the glass and pointed excitedly. One even smiled at Otto. He tried to smile back. A ghost of a smile.
The woman caught up with them, keeping her face averted. Taking the children by the hand, she led them off down the street. He could hardly blame her for not wanting to look at him. His toys called to one and all to step inside and find fun and laughter. But once inside people found Otto and they hurriedly left, recalling more pressing errands.
He watched them walk away and sighed. Children and toys were meant to go together. Men who owned toyshops should have children. And wives.
The sigh became a sob. He turned his back on the snowy Chicago street scene, then dug a handkerchief out of the pocket of his black suit and blew his nose. At least he'd tried to smile.
But the effort was coming late. People expected a man to mourn when he lost his wife and baby--a full year in black and no social engagements (as if he had wanted any)--but they also expected a man to continue to run his business, to set aside his sorrow and take care of his customers. Otto couldn't even care for his own bleeding heart. How could he be expected to care if little Johann would like a wooden marionette or to take an interest in which porcelain doll little Ingrid would want most? At first he had been bereft. He had closed up the shop and shut himself inside his darkened house. Everyone in the city's German community had understood. But finally his sister had shoved Brötchen, sliced ham, and an egg under his nose and commanded that he eat. And that he then go and reopen his shop.
"You are not the first man to lose a wife in childbirth. You will not be the last," she'd said sternly. "Liesel and Gottlieb are in heaven."
"And I am in hell," he had growled, causing his sister to gasp.
She had recovered quickly, shaking a finger at him and retorting, "Then I suggest you crawl out. It is time. You have a business to run."
And so he had gone from bereft to morose, and his friends and neighbors tried to be patient. But when he went from morose to ill-tempered people failed to understand and he lost many a customer. Now Christmas was right around the corner and Otto was trying to remember how to smile. Except that was almost impossible with the snow coming down outside, reminding him of happier times in the village in the Bavarian alps where he had grown up, with people strolling by outside on their way to warm, happy homes.
Peter the mail carrier entered the shop, bringing with him the scent of snow. From somewhere outside the sound of a child's laugh slipped in also, grabbing at Otto's heart.
"Otto, look what I have. Something from your sister in France," Peter called cheerfully, his grin making his moustache dance. If Peter weren't so content with delivering mail he would have made a great diplomat. He was always happy. Even on Otto's grumpiest days Peter entered the shop smiling and left the same way. "Open it and let's see what it is," he suggested. A package from France was worth a five-minute delay in his deliveries.
Otto took the package, carefully unwrapping it and prying open the wooden box. Nested inside the excelsior he found something more amazing than all the toys in his shop put together.
"What is it?" asked Peter, his voice filled with awe.
"I don't know," said Otto. He picked up the delicate item. It easily fit in the palm of his large hand. A glass globe sat on an ornate ceramic base. Inside it was a nostalgic scene of a toyshop that looked like his father's toyshop on a street in what could have been his village in the Bavarian Alps. Amazing! How had the maker managed that small wonder? The mountains, the snow-capped trees--oh yes, it could have been his village! In front of the toyshop stood a beautiful angel in a white gown with golden hair and blue eyes. She looked just like Liesel. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Otto set the work of art on his counter.
"Those Frenchmen," said Peter, shaking his head in amazement. "What will they think of next?" He motioned to the note-paper still lying in the excelsior. "Read the note and see what it's called."
Otto picked up the paper with trembling fingers and read.
I know it has been more than a year and you still grieve deeply. Henri commissioned this water globe to be made especially for you in the hope that it would bring you comfort.
"A water globe? Is there water in there?" Peter picked up the globe to examine it.
Otto frowned at him, took the globe from his hand and set it back on the counter, then returned to the letter.
Henri has a friend who makes these in his factory. They are becoming quite popular. They are sometimes called snow globes, a term I much prefer. If you shake it you will see why. Perhaps one day you would like to sell snow globes in your shop. But for now, we want you to have this special one to keep, in memory of your dear Liesel and the baby. Of course, this cannot bring them back, but perhaps it can bring you hope. I have prayed that it will.
Your loving sister, Berthe
"Shake it," urged Peter.
Otto picked up the snow globe and gave it a tentative jiggle.
"Will you look at that!" Peter exclaimed. "I've never seen such a thing in all my life."
Neither had Otto. He stared in amazement as a tiny blizzard swirled around the angel. The snow settled and he shook the globe again, starting a fresh flurry. He wanted to cry. Or laugh. Instead, he smiled.
Peter spread the news of Otto's unusual present throughout the community and soon people were venturing into the store to see the amazing snow globe and ooh and ah over the little scene inside.
"It's lovely," said Mrs. Schmidt. "And the angel reminds me of your wife."
Otto sighed. "Yes, she does." And later that day, after the customers had all left, he couldn't resist holding the thing and gazing inside at the little angel, wishing she could speak to him.
But what was this? The angel's hair, somehow, appeared darker. Was he imagining it? He shook the globe and started the tiny flakes spinning. Once more they settled at the angel's feet. Her hair still looked darker. Perhaps it had always been dark. Perhaps it had only seemed lighter because of wishful thinking on his part.
Disappointed, he set the snow globe down, wishing it would show him what he wanted to see.
Christmas was two weeks away when a man and woman entered the store. Strangers. Except with her dark hair and sweet smile the woman wasn't a stranger. Otto realized he had seen her before, inside the snow globe. He tried not to stare, but it was almost impossible.
The man spoke. "My sister and I are looking for a present for our little sister. We thought, perhaps, you could help us."
"Of course," said Otto, straightening his coat. "I will be happy to. Are you visiting?"
"No," said the woman. "Our family has moved here recently. From Garmisch-Partenkirchen."
She had the softest voice, like an angel, thought Otto, and smiled.
Fawn Island, The Pacific Northwest
Kiley smiled at the shop owner after he'd finished his story. "I take it she was the angel Otto saw in the snow globe."
He grinned. "So the story goes. Two Christmases later Otto had both a new wife and a new baby." He motioned to the lovely antique sitting on the counter. "That was passed down through Otto's family from generation to generation, always bringing hope when someone needed it most. At least that's what Mrs. Ackerman says."
"The woman you got it from," said Kiley and he nodded. "But why would she let it go?"
"She's Otto's last descendant, and she has no children. She felt it was time for it to pass on to fresh hands. But not necessarily to a collector." He gave a little shrug. "So she sent it off with a hope and a prayer that the snow globe will work a holiday miracle for someone new." He cocked an eyebrow. "Would you say you qualify?"
No boyfriend, no job? "I'd say I'm overqualified." Kiley looked at the little globe sitting on its ornate base. Costly as it was, she was sure it was underpriced. Even if it had gone for a small fortune at some fancy auction house it probably would have been underpriced. It symbolized hope, and how did you put a price tag on hope? She chewed her lip, trying to figure out how she could possibly afford it. Of course, she couldn't. But, darn, she needed it!
The shop owner smiled. "Tell you what. I'll take fifty percent off."
Fifty percent off--it was a sign. How could she refuse? She had just swallowed the last of her doubts and handed over her charge card when the bell over the shop door jingled. "We came to save you from yourself," said a familiar voice. Suz.
She turned to see her friends Suzanne Stowe and Allison Wright entering the shop. Suzanne was small; Allison was taller and about three sizes bigger. Both were blondes. A gust of wind whipped in with them, bringing the smell of Northwest rain into the stuffy little shop.
Suzanne looked at the assortment of china, knickknacks, and mysterious kitchen tools from another era, and wrinkled her perfect nose, hunching inside her North Face jacket like a turtle pulling into its shell. She didn't like the smell of anything old. Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel were more her style.
But Allison looked eagerly around like a kid on a treasure hunt. She joined Kiley at the counter, holding out a disposable cup and sending the aroma of coffee dancing around Kiley's nose. "For energy."
"I don't need a latte, really," insisted Kiley, feeling guilty that her friends were picking up the tab for all her treats.
"Sure you do," said Suzanne. She started a fast stroll down an aisle, a petite vision in Northwest casual, her jeans showing off perfect thighs, her blond ponytail swinging.
Allison pointed to the bubble-wrapped snow globe the shop owner was slipping into a bag. "Did you get something cool?"
Kiley could feel a blush race across her face. She'd almost backed out of this weekend with her two best friends, claiming to be too broke, and now here she was spending a fortune on something her common sense insisted she didn't need. "He gave me a deal," she explained.
Allison smiled at her. "It's okay, Kiles. After all you've been through you deserve a treat."
"It's more than a treat," insisted Kiley. It was...well, she wasn't sure. She only knew it was somehow meant for her.
Suzanne had finished her quick tour of the store and now she joined them at the counter. "I'm hungry. Anybody ready for lunch?"
Allison nodded and followed Suzanne to the door and Kiley thanked the shop owner and hurried after them.
"I can't believe you found something in that musty old place," said Suzanne as they started for their favorite restaurant.
"Wait till you see it," said Kiley.
"Okay, I'm dying of curiosity," said Allison after they were seated inside the Chanterelle and had ordered the soup of the day and some of the restaurant's herbed bread. "Let's see your bargain."
Kiley pulled out her purchase and told them its legend.
The waiter arrived with a basket of warm bread. Allison started to reach for it, but then, true to her resolve to not get carried away with the carbs, picked up the snow globe instead and jiggled it. All three women watched the tiny snowflakes drift around the little angel. "It is lovely," Allison murmured as she set it on the table.
"But what a bunch of bull," Suzanne said. Her cell phone rang and she reached into her purse.
Allison frowned. "I thought you turned that off."
"I had to make a call," Suzanne said defensively. Suzanne always had to make a call. If not to check in on her five-year-old daughter, Bryn, then to see how things were going with her latest real estate deal.
Like Kiley, Suzanne had come close to canceling on their weekend. Money wasn't a problem for her, but her busy schedule was the sworn enemy of girlfriend time. It happened a lot lately and Allison had finally put her foot down, insisting they all go so they could recharge and reconnect.
Allison's frown grew deeper when she realized Suzanne was talking to the agent she partnered with at Dreamscape Realty.
Getting the message, Suzanne finished her business quickly. "There. Done," she announced.
"Prove it and turn off your cell," Allison commanded.
Suzanne practically paled. "I can't. What if there's an emergency?"
"At home? Guy can handle it," Allison said.
"I know. I meant at work."
"That's why you have Julie," Kiley reminded her.
Suz turned off her phone with a frown.
Allison smiled, happy to have won the battle. "We need this, and it's not a getaway if you're not getting away."
"Fine," said Suzanne, "but tonight I'm checking my messages." She picked up Kiley's snow globe and examined it. "This is kind of cool," she admitted.
"And who knows," added Allison, "maybe it will bring something great into your life this holiday season."
Kiley sighed. "I almost wish I could climb into it and stay. At least until after Thanksgiving." Then she wouldn't have to face her unfaithful boyfriend and her sister the traitor.
"I'd join you in a heartbeat," Allison said with a sigh. "I'd put my grandma in there, too. Gosh, I hate to face the holidays without her."
"You'll get through them," Suzanne assured her.
Kiley took the snow globe back and studied it. "What is it about these things that makes you wish you could live in one?"
"Escape," said Suzanne. The waiter set steaming bowls of mushroom soup in front of them and she inhaled deeply and smiled. "Everyone has times when they don't like their life."
"Like every time I have to hang out with my family," Allison said with a shake of her head.
Kiley could understand Allison wanting to escape. She had seen just enough of her friend's family to know she didn't want to see any more. Well, except for Allison's grandma. But Suz? That seemed hard to believe.
"Maybe that's why we love things like this," Allison mused. "They give us hope that our lives can be different, better."
The little snow globe would have to work pretty hard to get Kiley to that point. But, hey, she still believed in miracles.
THE SNOW GLOBE. Copyright © 2010 by Sheila Rabe. All rights reserved._ For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.