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Monday, December 31, 2012

Bibliography of Co-Authors

* please note that every post contains the co-author's name as a label.  by clicking 
on the label, all of that co-author's stories will be displayed together *

Anderson, Bill
Dinner for One, September 5th
A Little Kick of Spice, September 6th
The First Date, September 7th
Best Case Scenario, September 10th
Hannah's Song, October 23rd
The Circus Donkey, October 24th

For the Family, January 6th
Without a Sense of Humor, January 7th
Just Right, January 8th
Top Shelf, January 9th
Guided Hypnosis #8, January 10th

Arey, Tom
Rom-Com Hero, July 12th

Aronie, Aprill
The Liar, February 23rd

Asmussen, Erik
Vodkamelon, February 2nd
Guided Hypnosis #9, February 3rd

Aucoin, Melissa
A Father and His Daugher, November 5th
Something About Blueberry Muffins, November 7th

Barlow, Brent
Karaoke Jack, May 12th

Bartlett, Aaron
Ritual, December 22nd

Bayle, Sarah
These Boots Were Made for Walking, April 17th
A Couple of Yoginis Walked Into a Bar, May 23rd
Two Sarahs Walked Into a Bar, June 9th
Twenty Avocadoes, June 12th
Two Sarahs Walked Into a Bar (b), July 10th
A Monologue in the Dark, July 28th
To Be Perfectly Honest, September 17th

Bieschke, Jared
The Forsythia, January 23rd
The Consistent Prayer, January 24th
The First Four Months, January 25th
The Disruption, June 27th
An End, June 28th
Dust and Damp, June 29th
Second Street, August 2nd

Bosc, Jess
In the Teacher's Lounge, February 15th
An Incredible Year, August 4th
The Open Air, September 2nd
Guided Hypnosis #15, October 2nd
Changed, December 19th

Broderick, Deb
David, August 13th
Throwback, November 21st

Brenner, Shira
The Luck of the Rivals, December 21st

Brown, Sunzaray
Karma on Christmas, December 24th

Bruhns, Erin
The Allergy Attack, January 14th
For the Sake of Momentum, March 5th
Mother, March 28th

Caffrey, Patty
Entitled, June 24th
Guided Hypnosis #13, June 25th
The Best Day of Her Life, July 9th
The Resolution, December 27th

Caiazzo, Karen
Feral, May 2nd
Friends, May 3rd
Guided Hypnosis #12, May 8th
Grace Kelly, May 9th
The Haggis, May 10th
Environmental, June 11th
Symmetery, July 20th
The Chance of Rain, July 22nd
Not Like Her, July 23rd
The New Normal, September 15th

Chiasson, Paul
The Don't Ask Don't Tell Motel, July 17th

Colliard, Nicole
Party Foul, December 10th

Cormier, Darren
The Raccoon, March 23rd

Dieringer, Holland
A Humble Monologue, April 13th
Practical, May 25th
A Liar's Confession, June 1st
An Introduction, June 2nd
Double Pigeon's Tale, June 3rd
The Path of the Eagle, June 4th
Common in the Jungle, June 5th
Born Free, June 6th
I Am/Here Now, June 8th
The Earth Takes Charge, June 10th
It Only Takes One, June 13th
Margaritas in the Morning, June 14th
Triangle and Pyramid, July 3rd
Life's Great Mysteries, August 14th
Blame, October 10th
The Mountain, October 19th
Full, November 29th
The Internal Dialogue of the Hostess, December 1st
Guided Hypnosis #17, December 3rd
The Process, December 4th

DiNardo, Nate
A New Kind of Drug, March 12th
Adventureman, September 19th
Tough Night, October 3rd
Magnetic, October 9th
Roommates, October 11th
The Tom Petty Factor, November 16th
The Compleat Works, December 15th

Dodson, Bob
Being the Parent, July 13th
The Cold Night, July 14th
Into Cubes, September 30th

Drescher, Leslie
The Policy Violation, August 15th
Guided Hypnosis #14, September 14th

Euchus, Justine
Opposites, November 8th

Fearon, Amber
In Flight, April 3rd
The Present Life, April 4th
Tough Love, April 5th
Morning Song, April 6th
The Hot Jeans, April 7th
Affordable, April 9th
Losers, April 10th

Fertig, Dave
The Three Whiskey Ritual, December 18th
Like a Rainbow in the Dark, December 25th

Finger, Shelby
Whistle, Arpil 16th 
The Sake, June 15th
(Sub)Text, September 29th
Balance, October 1st
A Two Decade Long Truth, November 28th
The Last Word, December 2nd

Flagg, Nicole
A Dollar, September 25th

Freeman, Kim
The Housewife, October 4th

Gauqueta, Camilo
The Crawl, July 26th

George, Camille
In the Terminal, March 6th
Better Off Alone, July 19th
The Tea Fortune, August 30th
The Cold Cup of Tea, September 13th
The Sign, December 23rd

Geraghty, Brian
For the Kids, November 3rd

Good, Erin
Scarlet, April 19th
Gwen Says, April 20th
The Old Lady, September 21st

Graves, Ben
The Dream Theme, August 17th

Gray, Chris
The Ugly Lights, August 9th

Guckenberger, Erika
It's Normal, May 24th
Not the Same Starbucks, August 24th

Gunn, Steph
The Ubiquitous Workplace Catchphrase, December 15th

Hafer, Rene
The Kind, March 1st
The Haunting, December 6th

Hauser, Jody
The Right Thing, February 29th

Hostetler-Ellet, Christine
The Slow Arrival, March 8th

Hunsche, Bob
The Ring, February 9th
The Alarm, April 11th

Hunt, Erika
What This Means, February 28th
That Song About Boston, June 30th
The Heat, The Heat!, July 25th
Gloria Dazed, August 23rd
The Peanut Butter, November 19th

Hurd, Josh "Ja-key"
The Death March, January 1st
More Easily Broken, January 11th
The Angel Story, March 30th
Animal, April 2nd
Bert's, July 11th

Jacobson, Carl
The Future is Now, September 20th
The Bird, October 17th
A Long, Cold Winter, November 30th
The Mix Tape, December 11th

Joos, Katie
The Vision, January 19th
By the Grace of God, January 20th
The Writing's on the Bottle, January 21st
Another Saturday at The Tin Roof, January 22nd

Joyce, Brian
A New Shape, February 5th

Kay, Joe
The Goat Shirt, January 31st
The Prodigal Daughter, August 1st

Kearney, Java
The Supply of Letters, July 4th
The Regular, July 27th
You Don't Know Jack, November 12th
Family Legacy, November 13th

Kim, Eugene
Revenger of the Nerds, August 22nd

Kouri, Dan
The Blog Post, December 26th

Kovalcsik, Aaron
Evolution, December 16th

Kugler, Mehron
Alien, December 14th

Lada, Tom
The Best Revenge, January 28th
The Broken Engagement, March 13th
To the Sun, March 29th
Eye on the Sky, May 22nd
The Tiny Black Heart, July 1st
Everyone's a Critic, July 2nd
Music for Tuesday Night, July 30th
Hilarious, September 28th
Keys Open Doors, November 14th
Ghosts, November 15th
Guided Hypnosis #16, November 24th
12-12-12, December 12th

Lally, Shane
The Regular, July 27th

Langan, Tim
The Note, February 17th
A Message from Mama, February 21st
I'll Tell You Why, August 6th
Distracted, August 7th

Linehan, Liz
Elaine's Song, January 27th
Half of His Heart, November 2nd

Lower, Kyle
Thanksgiving, November 22nd
The Little Girl, December 28th

Makemson, Nick
Banana!, January 15th

McGivern, Hollie
Special Assignment, August 10th

Meditz, Jamie
We Fell in Love, September 12th

Miller, Tina
A New Soft Light, January 16th
Sobriety, May 1st
A Matter of Economics, October 12th

Murillo, Angelique
Her Sister's Secret, January 5th
Even Free Pizza Has Its Price, February 6th
A Dead Thing, February 8th
Guided Hypnosis #10, February 14th
Ready, February 27th
Aunt Caroline, March 26th
City Girl, Small Town, March 27th
The Mind Reader, September 1st

Nair, Maya
The Two Hour Adventure, October 5th
By the Grace, December 9th

Nies-Brigham, Kate
The Hive, April 12th
Siren, June 19th
Vinyasa, October 18th
The Cat, December 5th
Namaste, December 7th

Nolan, Anne
Unity of the Space, December 30th

OhEigeartaigh, Sean
The True Story, January 17th
The Island, January 26th
Into the Mirror, January 29th
The Kicker, February 4th
After the Poker Game, February 10th
Under Pressure, March 7th
There Are Days, May 14th
Limitless Time, May 20th
The Dragon, May 21st
One Love, June 18th
The Light, June 22nd
A Wish, June 23rd
A Candid Dialogue About Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, July 24th
Heart of Darkness, October 22nd
Raining Again, November 1st
Election, November 6th
'Niner, November 27th
The Brothers, December 8th
They Grow Up So Fast, December 13th
Enough, December 20th

Phaneuf, Jenn
The Don't Ask Don't Tell Motel, July 17th
Franny at the Farm Stand, July 18th

Pomponi, Katherine
Guided Hypnosis #15, October 21st

Ramus, Julia
Wanda Leonard Fell in Love, January 3rd
The So-Right Babysitter, January 12th
The Meditation Code, January 13th
Wheels Like Karma, February 7th
A Scene from Vegas, February 22nd

Regennitter, Molly
Help and Safety, November 11th

Righter, Marinda Snow
The Dancers, June 26th
The Don't Ask Don't Tell Motel, July 17th
Vehicle, December 29th

Robinson, Shannon
The Way You Looked At Me, April 23rd
The Woods, May 11th
Gypsy Woman, August 8th
The Big Spoon, August 11th
The Cat Lady, August 27th
Lost!, August 28th
The Initiation, August 29th
Oh, the Places You'll Go!, August 31st
Neutral and Abnormal, September 26th
The Stranger of Love, September 27th
Collide, October 6th
The Pirate Game, November 17th
Overheard, November 18th

Rogers, Nam
So Familiar a Gleam, January 4th

Rogers, Rob
You Can Take the Girl Out of Ohio, but..., March 9th
To Himself, May 31st
It's Probably a Hoax, August 25th

Schiffer, Lauren
Tall, February 11th

Schmidt-Guran, Allison
Megatron, January 2nd
Great Minds, February 24th

Siegel, Jennie
The Company Picnic, March 14th
The Ides of March, March 15th
The Un-Manly Pickup, March 16th
Guided Hypnosis #11, March 19th
Muddy, March 20th
The Yoga of Chocolate Cake, April 24th
Today, April 25th
The Evolution of Lucy, April 26th
The Opening, April 29th
Meringue, April 30th
Bogged Down in Bugs, July 29th
The Fairy Princess, September 4th
Marauder's, October 25th

Seigel, Vinny
Sesame Street, August 3rd
The Gold Star, September 18th
The Wife of the Alcoholic, October 7th
Darkest Before the Dawn, October 8th

Sisson, Rebecca
The Kind, May 26th
Cope, May 27th
New, May 28th
May the Fork Be With You, May 29th
Real, May 30th

Terrell, Adam
Angel Dust, March 2nd
The Attunement, November 20th

Tredway, Brian
Ruined, February 13th

Verghese, Anjali
The Wedding Crasher, August 5th

Weintraub, Jared
Family Double Dare, November 23rd

Wesolowski, Lee
OK, January 30th
Rabbit, Rabbit, February 1st
A Scene from the Kitchen, February 25th
Punchline, March 21st
A Creative Mind, March 22nd
This Child, June 20th
The Vision, July 16th
Nothing to Do, July 30th
The Resolution, August 16th
The Roadtrip, Septemer 3rd

Wilson-Hill, Devon
Truth, November 25th
Snake, November 26th

Wolf, Josh
The Seven Inside, January 18th

Wysocki-Barsotti, Erin
The Same Tune, April 20th


Wolf, Sarah
Winter Hands, June 7th
Always Remember and Never Forget, September 11th
Thank You for Breaking My Heart, October 15th
With a Little Help from My Friends, December 31st

One Sentence Story:  February 12th, Feburary 18th->February 20th, February 26th, March 3rd,  March 4th, March 10th, March 11th, March 17th, March 18th, March 24th, March 25th, March 31st, April 1st, April 8th, April 14th, April 15th, April 21st, April 22nd, April 27th, April 28th, May 4th-May 7th, May 15th-May 19th, June 16th, June 17th, June 21st, July 5th-July 8th, July 15th, July 21st, August 12th, August 18th-August 21st, August 26th, September 8th, September 9th, September 16th, September 22nd-September 24th, October 13th, October 14th, October 16th, October 20th, October 26th-October 31st, November 4th, November 9th, November 10th

December 31st: With a Little Help from My Friends

One of my favorite stories of all time took place on a rainy tropical beach in January.  There were a whole bunch of us there, paddling around in the ocean, easily ignoring the pale grey of the sky and having the time of our lives because the alternative was to be in snow bundled New England.  This, this was better, rain or not.  At some point, Kathryn, Marinda, and I found ourselves back on sandy ground and the most spontaneous of things happened -- we stood in a line and started doing Sun Salutations.  Tom and Nate quickly joined us and we all kept flowing through the motions -- sweep hands up, plant them on the ground, step back to plank, lower through push up to updog, draw hips back for downdog, and then return to standing with hands sweeping up and pressing at heart center.  We moved through some warrior sequences, too, just whatever came to us, but always back to Sun A.  At the end of fifteen minutes, there were two very noticeable things:  one, the entire beach had stopped moving to watch us, entranced; and two, the sun had come out.

The sun had come out!

It was miraculous, yes, but a miracle where we immediately took the credit.  We had made the sun come out.  It was one of those life moments that I will simply never forget.  It was one of those life moments that reminds me of how interconnected we all are -- nature, human, spirit.  Somebody fetch me my dream catcher, please.  But of course the real reason this story sticks out as one of my favorite life moments is because I was there with people I love tremendously and we experienced it together.  

We get by with a little help from our friends, right?  I know I do.

Monday, December 24, 2012

December 30th: Unity of the Space

As she settled into savasana, the feeling only grew stronger and she instinctively wrapped her fingers around the stranger's hand next to her.  It was peace.  It was love.  It was an intense swirl of calm and knowing.  The stranger seemed to feel it, too -- he squeezed her fingers and she felt something overwhelming fill her gut.  Around them, their teacher, trailed by the scent of mint, moved administering final grounding adjustments.  The practice had been fluid and strong, empowering.  She had never practiced at this studio before, but something had drawn her in this evening, to this teacher, to this spot on the floor beside a stranger whose practice was both humble and admirable.  It was a new style for her, but he seemed at home in this heated space, flowing through Sun Salutations and Warrior variations.  He seemed accustomed to this teacher and the commanding voice projected from her tiny body which moved with grace around the room, demonstrating almost nothing physically, allowing her verbal cues to set the pace and the tone.  As a new student, she had let this stranger beside her serve as the role model for what the teacher's voice instructed.  And now as their practice symbolically died in this final resting posture, she knew her fingers intertwined with his was the most appropriate form of thank you she could administer.  This was a practice that taught stillness of mind, humbleness of purpose, and gratitude for the present moment, all things that she valued but hadn't quite understood how to enact until she rolled out her mat and pressed her bare feet into the soft rubber -- and hadn't understood until she'd found herself beside such a kindred spirit of kindness who housed intoxicating levels of grace that she could breath them in and exhale them as recycled goodness bound with her own.  This was her ideal moment.  This was her ideal space.  This was a time to replay forever.  Soon the teacher would rouse them from their rest, call for their hands and feet to regain motion, to push out a final cleansing breath before curling up and rocking over to press their foreheads against the floor as a means of sealing in this new energy they'd cultivated before sitting quietly, upright, for a final few moments before bowing out a heartfelt namaste.  By then, she and the stranger would have let go of each other -- but that time had not come yet.  With their fingers curled together, she felt his heartbeat through her own veins and it warmed her and it made the unity of the space wrap around her in such a way that she knew, finally, what true happiness was, and it was a feeling she'd carry with her forever, no matter what happened next.

First line by Anne Nolan

December 29th: Vehicle

She was on the verge of something big but had no idea what it was. Her intuition was strong though. After hitting rock bottom, she had found a new appreciation for life. The drive to follow her heart was obvious to all who took time to chat with her. Passion and love was her fuel and there was an endless supply.

She took a seat on the Greyhound bus and shoved her bag beneath the seat in front of her as her eyes followed out the window. The terminal was dark and cold and she watched the driver load bags into the undercarriage of the bus. From the looks of it, the ride would be full, packed, even. She blinked and wondered which of these lucky travelers would be her companion. Her heart pinched a bit thinking of those who would not fill that seat but she left the bright smile on her face. This was a time of transition. She repeated this phrase frequently in her mind.

It wasn't long before a older man took the seat beside her. As he dabbed at his nose with a cloth handkerchief, he slid a small duffle bag under the seat in front of him, leaving a hard covered red notebook in his lap.

"Hi, I'm Alice," she said before he had a chance to ignore her.

He glanced sideways at her and offered a courteous smile. "Nice to meet you, Alice," he said in a gravely voice.

"And you are...?" she asked.

"Paul Ganderson," he said, reaching out his hand as if they were about to strike up a business deal.

"Nice to meet you, Paul Ganderson," Alice said, giving his hand a firm shake. "Where are you headed?"

The Greyhound Express they'd boarded was bound for Cleveland, Ohio with stops in New York and Pennsylvania along the way.

"Buffalo," he said, his customer service smile waning the brighter hers became.

"I'm headed to Cleveland," she said, even though he hadn't asked. "That's where I'm from."

"That's nice," Paul said, losing eye contact with her.

She shrugged. "It's not terrible," she agreed. "Where are you from?"

"Here," Paul said.

"Boston born and raised?" she said in a teasing voice.

"Well, South Shore," Paul said, dabbing at his nose again.

"You don't have much of an accent," Alice said.

"Well, I..." Paul said, his eyes drifting to the fabric on the seats.

"Some people say I have an accent -- the old Midwestern accent, if there is such a thing," Alice went on. "I've lived in Boston for awhile now, though, so it's kinda blended together -- my accent, that is."

"That's nice," Paul said.

Just then the bus driver came on the loudspeaker and he began to make announcements about their travel times and destinations and the Rules of Cellphone Use That Were Not to Be Disobeyed Under Penalty of Martial Bus Law.

"I will make a citizen's arrest if it becomes necessary," the driver droned in a voice that was pretty convincing.

Once the announcements were over, Alice leaned her head against the cool glass of the window and watched Boston twirl out of sight. She was tired and in desperate need of some sleep, but her mind was wired and she was certain her eyes would not stay closed very long, even if she tried. Taking her phone out of her pocket, she checked to see if there were any new messages. There weren't. Sighing, she turned her phone off completely and slid it into her bag. She'd check it again when she got off the bus in Cleveland; she needed this time to be disconnected from the life she knew too well.

Glancing over at Paul, she saw him carefully open his notebook and withdraw a silver pen from his coat pocket. He hunched over a bit as he pressed that pen to the paper and wrote in what appeared to be precise and careful cursive penmanship. It made her smile, this man beside her. She wanted to know everything about him and in time, she probably would -- they had many inescapable hours ahead of them -- but for the time being, she imagined his life and what brought him on this journey, what brought his path to intertwine with her own. She forced her gaze back out the window so she wouldn't be caught staring at him. The profound nature of their meeting didn't seem to invoke as much passion in him as it stirred in her.  

And if he were to ask her what brought her onto this bus on this December day between Christmas and New Years, she would say love. Love is what brought her everywhere. Love is what moved her every limb.

Just a few short weeks ago, the bounds of her capacity to love were stretched beyond anything she'd thought humanly possible when she and her best friend Maisie were high and strolling recklessly through the city long after the street lights had replaced the fading sun and as they pontificated about the universality of all human beings, Alice had given her friend a playful shove and she'd stumbled into the street and been hit by a passing car. Maisie had slipped into a coma and died three days later and there was nothing, nothing, but remorse flowing through Alice's body after that. She didn't know if it was her fault or an accident or a cruel joke played by the universe. She didn't know if Maisie's friends and family, if her own friends and family, blamed her or not and she didn't know how to exist as an ambassador of hope after that. Accident or not, Maisie was gone and Alice had been the last one to laugh beside her and that became a crippling thought.

If the man beside her were to ask, she would say she was on this bus as a pilgrimage, a way to return to her own roots, to refuel her inner light, to charge her soul with something irreversible like unconditional love. She was going to a place where arms would wrap around her without any doubts and she would breath that renewal in deeply through her lungs and into her bloodstream.

"Why are you going to Buffalo?" she asked after an hour of silence between them.

He seemed surprised to hear her voice. Glancing sideways, he said, "My daughter lives there with her husband and their children."

"You've got grandchildren? How wonderful. How old are they?" she asked.

"Well, now, Miles is seven and the twins Molly and Mary are four and then Malcolm is just six months," he said.

"She's got a thing for M-names," Alice said with a grin.

"Yes, I suppose she does," Paul said, dabbing at his nose.

"Is this counting as your Christmas trip to see them?" Alice asked.

"Yes," Paul said.

"What did you do for Christmas, then?" Alice asked.

"Well, my son Harry and his wife live in Arlington," Paul said, almost defensively. "So we worked it out."

"Your son and daughter don't get along?" Alice asked.

"They get along just fine," Paul said, still defensive.

"So why isn't Harry with you on this trip?" Alice asked.

"Well," Paul blinked. "He's just not."

"Sorry if that was pushy," Alice said, almost sheepishly. "Family dynamics are interesting to me. I'm a social worker."

"Are you now," Paul deadpanned.

"Yes," Alice chirped. "So I'm just curious about this sort of thing. I don't mean to pry."

"Well," Paul grumbled.

"Might I ask you what you're writing?" she asked.

Paul closed his notebook and folded his hands on top of it. "Just jotting notes," he said evasively.

"Like a journal?" she asked.

"I'm writing little stories," he said, almost despite himself. "I'm writing some little things to tell my grandkids when I see them."

Alice bit her lip to stop herself from asking to be allowed to read them. "That's awesome," she said.

"Thanks," Paul said, smiling a little. "I don't see them often, so I like to make my time with them memorable."

Alice thought about Maisie, who crafted the most brilliant stories she'd ever experienced, and decided to tell this man one of hers. "Here's one," she said, rubbing her hands together as a warm up. "So once there was a princess who lived in a castle that was guarded by alligators -- alligators with big, snapping jaws trained to attack anyone who dared come near who didn't know the secret way past them. The princess, you see, had a sorcerer who put a spell on the alligators so anyone who sang a specific tune could go across the drawbridge. If you didn't know the tune, you were alligator dinner food. Now, the princess lived alone in the castle because her mother had died and her father was leading his soldiers in a war far across the land, so the alligators were especially necessary to protect the lineage of the kingdom -- should her father fall in battle, she would instantly become the queen, of course. The only person she saw was the sorcerer who also secretly loved the princess and hoped to one day win her love in return. You might ask why he didn't just put a spell on her like he did on the alligators -- the answer was he wanted their love to be something real. Anyway, the day finally came when news traveled back to the castle that the king had fallen in battle and now the princess ruled the land. But the sorcerer didn't tell the girl for weeks because he was afraid of how she'd react to becoming an orphan and a monarch all in the same foul swoop. But one day, a page who knew the song to pass him across the drawbridge came to pay his condolences to his fallen leader and when it was obvious that the princess had no knowledge of what had happened, the page cried out, 'Long live you, my queen. Rise up and lead as your great father would have intended.' So the princess ran out on the drawbridge for the first time in ages and stood there, shocked through with grief, and willed the alligators to attack her since she did not offer up the tune. 'I cannot live if I am the only one left,' she yelled towards the heavens. Just then the sorcerer appeared at her side and led her off the drawbridge and onto solid ground, away from the castle, and he said to her, 'Even outside this protected ring, you are sovereign, my queen. And with that, you must know you will never be alone.' She looked at him with a single tear streaming down her cheek and said, 'Sir, we should teach this world to sing a tune that will save us all,' and they did, never returning to the castle, but, instead, trekking from place to place infusing every life they encountered with a pleasant tune of peace."

Alice's voice had drifted and grown drowsy as she finished the tale and when she refocused her sight, she was pleased to see Paul's face slack with an understanding awe.

"That's wonderful," he said, clearing his throat.

"My friend Maisie created it," Alice said with a shrug. "I'm just the vehicle."

"That's all we can ever hope to be," Paul said, a gentleness now in his voice. "A vehicle."

Alice drew in a deep breath and let it fade slowly through her lips. "Yes," she said softly, her eyes tracing back out the window as the interstate rolled by.

First paragraph by Marinda Snow Righter

December 28th: The Little Girl

"Do you build robots?"

The child's voice was small and almost inaudible, but the man dressed as Santa Clause could hear her perfectly.

"Why, that's something my elves do," the man said in a jolly voice he practiced at home before putting on his costume and taking a seat in the big, red chair.

"Could you build a special robot?" the child asked, as she chewed nervously on the tips of her fingers.

"What sort of special robot?" the man asked.

"The sort that would be able to do things," the child said, venturing a peek up at the man's face.

"Well, certainly," the man said, adding in a little ho ho ho.  "Whisper what you'd like the robot to do."

The little girl perched up a little higher on his lap as she cupped her hands together and pressed them into the man's ear.  "I'd like the robot to love me," she said in an even smaller voice.

The man blinked as he craned his gaze down at her.  "What?" he asked, his eyes immediately searching the crowd to make sure she was here with an adult.  "Where's your mommy and daddy?" he added after a moment.

The little girl pointed to a woman in a tan trench coat talking on her phone and not looking at them.  "That's my stepmom," she said.  "My dad's working today."

The man looked at the little girl with great empathy.  "I'm sure your parents love you," he said without a lot of certainty.

The little girl's eyes drifted towards the ground.  "They're pretty busy," she said.  "And I've got a new baby brother so he takes a lot of their time."

"Well, where's your baby brother today?" the man asked.

"With the nanny," the girl said vaguely.

The man blinked again as the woman dressed like an elf cleared her throat and tapped her watch.

"Well, I'll see about that robot," the man said, offering another ho ho ho.

"Thanks, Santa," the little girl said, wrapping her arms around his neck as she sighed.  "I'll see you next year," she added as she hopped off his lap and went to stand patiently beside the woman in the trench coat.

"Santa, Santa, I want a new truck and a basketball hoop!" cried the next child, a little boy with wild red curls.

But even as this child hoisted himself up and chattered away, the man in the costume stared after that little girl with the faraway gaze as she was lead away by the woman in the tan trench coat.

First line by Kyle Lower