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I shook my head, eyes cast down on the pup. I didn’t want her to see the tears welling up. I knew if she called my mama, she’d give Mrs. Davidson all the reasons we couldn’t have a dog. I needed to plead my case with my mother first.

“No, thank you, ma’am. I’ll talk to her tonight.” I looked up and met her gaze. “I promise.”

She reached out to pat my head. It made me feel like one of the puppies.

“I hope she says yes. I know that puppy loves you.”

I rode my bike home as fast as I could. A cold front was setting in, and my fingers felt frozen on my handlebars. The air was moist and chilled, like snow. Not that I’ve ever seen snow. But the thought of snow gave me hope. My mama told me about the snow that fell on Christmas after Hurricane Hugo. She said it seemed to McClellanville as though God was sending them his blessing after the devastation of the storm.

Daylight was dimming by the time I got home. My house is not as fancy as the Victorian houses on Pinckney Street, nor as big as Dill’s house, but it’s a right pretty house with a broad front porch and gabled windows. They look like a smile when I come home. Best of all, the house sits right on Jeremy Creek, a stone’s throw from the shrimp boat docks. Like a lot of houses, it could use some TLC. “Fixing houses takes money,” my mother always says with a sorry shake of her head when she studies the peeling paint or steps on a wobbly stair. But its home and we don’t ever plan to leave.

Inside the house it was warm and smelled of baking bread. I followed my nose to the kitchen, with its row of windows overlooking the creek. Mama was bent over the long wood-block table putting the top doughy crust onto a potpie. Beside it was the carcass of the old Thanksgiving turkey, cleaned practically to the bone. Mama doesn’t believe in serving a puny turkey on Thanksgiving. As much as I love turkey, and while it makes a nice break from shrimp, we’ve been eating leftovers ever since. I’m hoping this is her last-ditch effort to strip every lick of meat from the bones into her potpie. I sigh, knowing she’ll use the bones for soup.

Mama’s a lean, tidy woman. She’s real pretty. Especially her hair. It’s long and dark brown, though she’s not happy about the white that winds through it now. Daddy calls them silver threads, and she always smiles when he does. She’s got it pulled back now, though some strands are falling down along her neck. Her white baker’s apron is dusty with flour. She’s lost some weight in the past few months. She’s a substitute teacher but since Daddy stopped shrimping she’s started cleaning houses for extra money. Her dress hangs shapelessly from her shoulders, and her face looks tired. But when she looked up to see me, her green eyes sparkled with pleasure and her smile changed her face to look young again.

“You’re back!” Automatically she glanced up at the clock. “I was beginning to worry.”

I went to the table and slid into a chair. I was tired after the long bike ride. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Did you get your homework done at Dill’s?”

I shook my head. I thought about lying, but the one thing Mama hates more than anything is lying. “Family doesn’t lie to one another,” she’s told me every time she’s found me out. I didn’t want to get on her bad side today. “No.”

She stilled and glanced at me. “How much homework do you have?”

To my relief she didn’t scold. I slipped off my backpack and dug into it, pulling out a book. I laid it on the table with resignation. “Not much. We have to start reading this for a book report.”

Mama wiped her hands on her apron and reached for the book. Her eyes lit up with pleasure. “Oh, A Christmas Carol! I love this book. It’s great.”

“I seen the movie already.” I groaned softly.

“Saw,” she corrected. “The movie is good, but the book is better. No one can describe people better than Charles Dickens. Have you read any of it?”

I shook my head. “I just got it today.”

“You’ve heard of Scrooge, haven’t you? The grouchy old skinflint who hated Christmas? He said, ‘Bah, humbug,’ whenever anyone wished him joy of the season.”

“What’s a humbug?”

Mama laughed, a light cheery sound. “You’re a humbug,” she said jokingly, tousling my hair. “No, it means ‘nonsense.’ Or ‘deception.’ ”

I smirked and moved my head from under her hand. “The high school is doing the play and we all have to go see it.”

“Really? Oh, wonderful!” Her smile widened. “We’ll make it a special night.”

I shrugged, uncaring. I didn’t want to go.

“Don’t be an old Scrooge.” Mama laughed again and went back to her potpie. She added jovially, “It’s Christmastime!”

I brightened at hearing this. That was her rallying call, and it being December 1, she was right on schedule. I don’t know anyone who loves Christmas more than my mama. Or any holiday, for that matter. Daddy says she’s a fool for holidays, but he always smiles when he says it. If Mama is thinking about Christmas, I figure it’s a good time to ask about the puppy.

“You remember I told you about Dill’s dog, Daisy, having puppies?”

Mama’s hand stilled a moment on the pie. “Uh-huh.”

“They’re real cute. Mrs. Davidson says they’re Daisy’s best litter ever. And healthy!” I was laying it on thick. “She already took them to the vet and got them shots. They don’t have worms, neither,” I added for good measure.

“That’s good.” Mama shifted her gaze and returned to working on her pie.

“Yeah.” I nodded. My mind was spinning. How should I ask? Should I be direct or clever? Kind of weave it into a conversation? I went for the latter. “A lot of the guys are asking for Xboxes or PlayStations this Christmas.”

“That’s a pretty big ask.”

“Yeah, but I think they’ll get one.”

“Really?” She looked up, finished with her pie. She wiped her hands again on her apron. I noticed how red they’ve become. “Is that what you want for Christmas?”

I tried to act casual. I lifted a shoulder. “I wouldn’t mind one.” I glanced her way. “But it’s not what I want.”

Mama turned and checked the oven. She was efficient in the kitchen, moving from place to place with the sure-footedness of an NBA player. She paused, then looked up at me, giving me her full attention. “What do you want for Christmas?”