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16 x December 21, 2017 -

16 x December 21, 2017 - January 3, 2018 x www.SouthwestOrlandoBulletin.com 26 th annual of the Stories of the Season The entries submitted for Southwest Orlando Bulletin’s 26th annual Stories of the Season contest told tales of special visits from Santa, mystical holiday creatures and the joy of spending time with family and friends. Whether they recreate holiday memories or take readers to imaginary places filled with elves, reindeer and their ilk, they are sure to add holiday spirit to all this year. Congratulations to first-place winner Cassidy Eaton of Tildens Grove, runner-up Megan Ramsey of Hickory Hammock, and child winner Brooke Larweth of Lake Davis Reserve, all of whom received cash prizes. Also included are submissions selected as honorable mentions. The staff of the Southwest Orlando Bulletin extends thank-yous to everyone who entered the contest and wishes a happy holiday season to all. Winner A Holiday Surprise by Cassidy Eaton Tildens Grove As I walked through the hallways at school, I kept my head down. My dad had taught me to keep my head high, but that was before I turned 14. I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, and had never told another person about my dad — about the months he spent away; about the wars he fought in; or about the times he would come home, barely able to walk, and then he would leave a month later. The only thing that helped me function while my hero was away was knowing that he would always come back, especially for Christmas, that he was able to come home and see us for the one holiday that we asked him to. But like all good things, it had to come to an end. The beginning of the end was when my mom came into the house with our mail one Friday. Her face lit up. It was a note from Dad! In barely a second, I was standing next to Mom, prepared for the update. She carefully opened the letter and pulled out a white piece of paper. “Dear family,” she began. “I know you were planning on having me all to yourselves this Christmas, but unfort- …” Mom stopped there. As she continued reading, her face grew pale. “What is it?” I asked. Mom gave me the letter, and I found where she had stopped, continuing from there. “I cannot make it home this Christmas. We’ve made advances, and I have been given the order to stay put. I am so sorry, Firefly, but I can’t come home until the battle is over. Love, Dad.” When I was done reading the letter, my mind kept going to the name he had called me — Firefly. He had given it to me the very first Christmas I can remember. For the rest of the week, I kept my head down. On Christmas Eve, it began to snow. I hated that the rest of the town would be joyful at home with their white Christmases and happy families, while I would be stuck fearing what could be happening to my dad. As sunset arrived, I remembered what my dad would say every Christmas Eve, “The day we celebrate would never have been important if Jesus hadn’t been strong and stood up for the right things in life, Firefly. So you need to do the same.” I fell asleep that night remembering all of the Christmases before that one. Before I turned 14. I awoke on Christmas morning to shouts coming from the living room. I rushed out and saw a big box on the floor. Tears spilled down my face as I realized what was inside. And when my dad came out, my tears turned into sobs. For the rest of the day, we heard stories of his adventures. And I went to sleep that night knowing that my prayers had been answered. Runner-Up Wedding Surprise by Megan Ramsey Hickory Hammock “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house ...” “Mom, I’ve heard that story so many times,” Jessie, my 8-year-old daughter, said with a whine. “Tell me a new one?” she asked, looking up at me with hazel eyes full of curiosity. I let out a small laugh and closed the book, pushing it aside as I thought of the perfect story to tell. “There was once a girl just like you. She loved Christmas, and her biggest concern in life was that she couldn’t get every toy in the store,” I said with a laugh. Jessie laughed, too, and looked away shyly, knowing she was guilty of doing the same. “Well, years later, when this girl was in her 20s, the holidays were a bit different and so were her life problems. Around this time of year, she opened her mailbox and received an invitation from her cousin, Bailey, saying, ‘‘Tis the season. You are formally invited to Mark and Bailey’s wedding on Dec. 23.’ This was something the girl was definitely not looking forward to.” “Why?” Jessie interrupted. “Weddings are exciting!” “Yes, they are,” I said. “However, this was a bit different. She knew all of her family would be there. Every time they got together, they hassled her about getting married and tried to set her up with guys she had no interest in!” “That’s no fun,” Jessie said, shaking her head. “Not at all. But Bailey was her cousin, and she had to go to her wedding to support her. At least there was food involved and plenty of dessert!” At this point, Jessie became more interested. “During the wedding reception, she spent most of her time near the buffet. Luckily, she met someone who she could talk to instead of her overly inquisitive family. This someone was one of the waiters. He was super-easy to talk to, and they shared many similar interests. During their conversation, she saw some of her family walking toward her and gave the waiter a panicked look. He grabbed her hand and was able to get her out of the reception to escape! She realized she wanted more time away, and he took her to his favorite spot, on the roof of the hotel where there were lights and a beautiful garden.” “That sounds so nice!” Jessie said. “It really was. They spent hours talking, and she knew she was really interested in him. However, her family always pressured her to be with someone successful like a doctor, but she didn’t care about that. Then, one thing crossed her mind. ‘How are you allowed up here?’ she asked him. He scratched his neck awkwardly, admitting that he was not a waiter. He was the owner of the hotel and wanted someone to like him for who he was, but it didn’t make a difference to her; she liked him all the same. His name was Matt, and her name was Brooke.” “That’s you and Dad!” Jessie exclaimed. Child Winner Count Your Blessings by Brooke Larweth Lake Davis Reserve I’ve seen snow before — the pearly white glimmer of a fresh layer on the lawn; the wet, gray slush it eventually morphs into. The best type of snow though is Christmas snow. Just one single snowflake on the tip of your nose, sets you into a trance of wonder and awe. But there’s no Christmas snow in Haiti. It was a long, rickety, dust-covered drive from the airport to our destination: a small, rural town called Capotille. All CONTINUED ON PAGE 18

www.SouthwestOrlandoBulletin.com x December 21, 2017 - January 3, 2018 x 17