“Megan Lucille!” Meg’s mom called from downstairs. Her tone told Meg that she had slept in long enough, even if it was her birthday. She could smell coffee and bacon and hot butter bubbling in the skillet. She heard the distant bustle in the kitchen as her sister and brother fought over the pancakes as soon as Dad flipped them onto the platter. Meg knew if she didn’t get down there soon, they’d take all the perfectly golden ones. Sighing, she untangled herself from the warm flannel sheets, the heavy quilt, and the fuzzy blanket that wrapped her like a burrito.
She shivered as her feet hit the floor. She quickly found her fluffy robe and pulled on a pair of thick socks. Moving closer to the window, she saw that a crust of snow—maybe an inch or two—had fallen overnight. It sparkled like glitter in the morning light.
Grinning, Meg rushed into the bathroom to brush her teeth and hair. Ever since she was a little girl, she’d been convinced that snow on her birthday was good luck. Now that she was twelve, she was old enough to know it was a silly superstition, but even so . . . it couldn’t hurt. Could it? Anticipation bubbled in her chest.
Meg caught sight of her frizzy brown bed head and sleepy face in the mirror. She took a deep breath and reminded herself not to get her hopes up. She pulled her hair into messy bun, then ran downstairs.
“Well, good morning, sleepyhead.” Dad laughed as he slid a stack of two pancakes onto Meg’s plate. “I thought maybe you were going to sleep all day.”
Meg giggled, slathered a thick layer of butter on her pancakes, then drowned them in syrup.
Her older sister, Sarah, looked at Meg’s plate and her eyes went wide. “Want some pancakes with that syrup, kiddo?”
Meg just smirked and took a huge bite. It was absolutely delicious. Just the way she liked it. “It’s my birthday. You can have as much syrup as you want on your birthday,” she mumbled through a mouthful of pancakes.
Sarah laughed. “Birthday or no birthday—we’re going to need all hands on deck.” She looked out the window. “Sunny days like this always bring the crowds.” Sarah was seventeen and the coolest, smartest person Meg knew. She wanted nothing more than to be like her big sister when she grew up.
Their brother, Ben, groaned. “Maybe if we’re lucky, it’ll start to rain.” At fifteen, Ben was slightly less cool and less smart than Sarah, especially since he was always teasing Meg and reminding her that she was the baby.
Sarah elbowed him in the ribs. “Tough luck. It said on the weather app it’s going to be sunny all day. Which means . . . Say it with me, Ben.”
Ben squeezed his eyes shut and tipped his head back. “Ugh. It means—”
“It’s going to be a great day for trees,” he and Sarah chanted in unison before bursting out laughing.
Meg watched her siblings and couldn’t help feeling a pang of jealousy. She knew that her older brother and sister loved her, but they were closer to each other than they’d ever be to her. It was almost as if they spoke a secret language only the two of them understood, and they could crack each other up with barely a glance. Meg wanted to be part of the club. She wanted them to think she was just as hilarious as they were—and just as helpful, too.
Meg’s family owned and operated a Christmas tree farm. They lived in a house on one end of their land and sold the trees from a lot at the front. Meg had been helping around the lot since she was little, but now that she was twelve, her parents were finally going to let her run one of the registers all on her own. Today was her first day, and Meg couldn’t wait to get started.
Suddenly, her mom’s hands slid over Meg’s eyes, and she kissed the top of Meg’s head. Meg could feel the rough calluses of her mother’s hard work on her hands and smell the sap on her fingers. “Happy birthday, Meggie.”
Her mom uncovered Meg’s eyes and there, in the center of the table, was a box wrapped in red and green Christmas paper. It looked big enough to hold a toaster, and it had a bright silver bow stuck to the corner.
For a split second, Meg’s stomach tightened with disappointment, then she scolded herself for being so selfish. She couldn’t deny the truth, though: there was no way that box held what she really wanted. She’d asked for the same thing every birthday and Christmas for four years, ever since her best friend, Colton, and his rowdy but friendly dogs had moved into the house down the road.
But she’d come to realize that her parents would never get her a dog.
They’d had a family dog when she was a baby. His name was Bruiser. By the time Meg was born, Bruiser was very old. Her family had to scrape and save to afford his medical bills. Her dad was always saying that they would never get another dog because they were too expensive. But Meg suspected that her dad never actually loved Bruiser—not really. And with money being tight, the chances of getting a dog went from slim to none.
“Well, go on, then,” Meg’s dad said, using tongs to put another slice of bacon on Ben’s plate. “Or are you waiting for next year to open it?” He winked at Meg.
She put down her fork, pushed her plate to the side, and tried a smile. She pulled the box toward her and ran a finger across the top of the bow. “Thank you,” she said before peeling back the first piece of tape gently.
“Meg!” Ben laughed. “You are the slowest gift unwrapper ever!”
Meg scowled at him, but it quickly turned into a grin. “You know I keep the paper for crafts!” she said, taking her own sweet time. She liked that she did something that made Ben laugh, so she did it on purpose every time she opened a gift.
Her mom sat down on a stool and sipped her coffee. “If you don’t like it, we can always return it,” she said, watching Meg carefully. “I want to make sure that it’s the one you like best.”
Gifts were rare in the Briggs family, and even more so for Meg since her birthday and Christmas fell so closely together. She thought she might not even get a present this year. Only after she’d removed the paper without tearing it and folded it gently into a square did Meg lift the lid off the box.
Her breath caught in her throat. Her gaze fell upon a crisply folded, perfect new winter coat. It was bright purple with sparkling silver fur around the hood. Lightly, te...