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Beautiful Star of Bethlehem: A Christmas Novella

Chapter 1
December 1, 2014, 7:12 p.m.
Burlington, Vermont


I forgot my pantyhose.

The thought hits me when our car pulls through the private terminal airport gate ablaze with Christmas lights. I knew I’d forgotten something.

After thirty-two years of marriage, Jack and I are finally grandparents of a beautiful baby girl weighing in at five pounds two ounces, and I packed a dress and forgot to throw in pantyhose.

In a little over three hours, I will be holding my darling Ella Parker Santana in my arms, cooing and taking on like any typical, love-struck new grandparent, praying her mother doesn’t notice the missing hose. I’m aware nylons went out with dinosaurs, but consider me vain. I need them.

Extending my hand backward, I shove an oversized teddy bear with a bright red ribbon tied around its neck into Jack’s arms.

Staring at the monstrous toy, he says calmly, “How old is she now?”

Straining to reach a smaller box that has slipped into the tire well, I return, “Four weeks—she’s a month early, remember? Don’t worry, she’ll grow into the toy.”

His clear blue gaze fixates on the gift’s size. “Is the kid a Philistine?”

“Jack!” I pause to give him a good humorless look. Gruff by nature, but custard on the inside, he can say the most outlandish things. “What a way to talk about your first grandbaby! Of course she isn’t a giant. She’ll grow into the bear.”

“The thing will scar her for life.” With a final scrutiny, he stacks the toy on his already burgeoning armload.

Gathering the last few items, I push the button to close the SUV hatch, and we set off for the small private airport terminal covered in winking blue-and-white Christmas lights. Cold wind whips the collar of my leather jacket, and I wish that I had worn my new plaid scarf. Executing a mental check, I try to recall everything that I forgot to pack for the short visit; there is always a drugstore available. I glance at Jack and snicker when I see that the top of his checkered golf hat is the only thing showingabove the stacked presents.

Thank You, God, for the hundredth time. I am so blessed.

Jack’s recent heart scare turned out to be a matter of having two stents inserted. But at the time that chaos was happening, Ella was making her unexpected appearance into the world, and I thought I would tear my hair out with all the uncertainties. I feared Jack’s prognosis would be much worse, but an overnight stay in the hospital and he was home again, a brand new grandfather with a clean bill of health.

I hurry to catch up and playfully pinch his ribs through his flight jacket as he walks along. Packages wobble, and he crow hops. “Arlene! Cut it out!”

He hates when I do that.

Crowding him now, I lean in for a kiss, and he complies. Honestly, I love this man more today than the day I married him. I assumed that as time passed our love would dim, but the flame only glows brighter. Not the passionate, can’t-get-enough-of-you fire of youth, but a wonderful, cozy blaze lodged deep in my heart. I know without a doubt I have been one of the few who found my soul mate.

His lips taste pleasantly of cold air and the hint of the porterhouse we’d earlier devoured at Stormy’s—one of Jack’s favorite haunts near the terminal. “Jack, remind me to take a basket of fruit to the Graysons next week. They’re such good people.”

He nods. “Stick in a general gift card. I’m sure there’s something they can use.” Like most businessmen, Jack leaves those types of details up to me, and I am happy to comply. The restaurant owners are like family, these days. I scan the magnificent sky as we approach the company plane—one of Jack’s rare extravagances. He can be tighter than a new shoe, but when it comes to planes, he throws financial caution to the wind. The beautiful Swiss-made aircraft sits waiting on the tarmac, an owner’s dream. Overhead, twinkling stars welcome the impinging darkness, slight breeze—perfect night for flying.

My gaze seeks the evening star—Star of David, star of Bethlehem. I take a moment to reflect on its radiant significance. The Christ child, the most important element of Christmas.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Santana.” A terminal employee walks out to shake Jack’s hand and relieve him of a few packages. “You behind the controls tonight?”

“Never miss a chance to fly, Nicky. How’s that family of yours?”

“Doing great! The youngest is due any day now.”

“That right? What you got this time?”


“Twins.” Jack shakes his head.

Nicky grins. “I know. Just what I need. I already have three under the age of five.”

The men stack the presents in the rear of the eight-seater and I climb aboard. I love sitting up front with Jack. That way I can make certain he doesn’t doze off. I know the autopilot is usually on, but I’m more comfortable with four eyes up front.

Jack slips the boy a bill—probably a hundred, if I know my husband—and steps aboard. The dazzling array of lighted instruments and switches gleam like diamonds in newly fallen snow. Jack once gave me a brief “Flying for Dummies” course from the new manual—things like how I would get the craft down if anything happened to him. I could land it, but it wouldn’t be pretty.

Or pleasant.

Flipping a switch, he says, “Send Nicky’s kids a huge box of toys for Christmas. They got twins on the way.”

“I heard.” Twins! I cringe at the thought. I adore children, but five scampering under my feet, younger than my undies? I shudder. “I’ll make sure it’s a big box.”

Leaning sideways, my husband gives me a long, sweet kiss. When he pulls back, I stare at him, confused by the indiscreet passion in his embrace. “What’s this about?”

“Ceremonial kiss for your first flight on the new craft. Plus, you might like to know that I’m crazy in love with you, that you’re still the prettiest woman in the world, grandma and wife extraordinaire, and if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t change one single minute of my life.” He draws back. “Correction, maybe one—”

I know the reference. A black time in our marriage where precious time was wasted trying to convince ourselves that the grass was greener on the other side—which it wasn’t—but it took six miserable months for us to correct the mistake.

“My, aren’t we frisky tonight?” I kiss him back, caring not the least that the employee is gawking as he waits with flashlight in hand to assist our departure. Right now, I am the most blessed woman on earth and I intend to enjoy every moment of this wonderful life.


There is something about night flights that’s enchanting, purely whimsical. Like being on a carnival Ferris wheel, looking far down at the array of fascinating colored lights. Tonight, the twinkling golds and reds below thin, and soon the colors become more scattered. Then there is nothing but darkness. We’ve been in the air a little over an hour when I notice the low bank of clouds to the west. This time of year, flying always concerns me.

“Are we in for some weather?” I’d easily forgo a bumpy ride. I’m not afraid to fly—like Jack, I’ve been around aviation most of my life. My dad was a Navy pilot; Jack, air force; and both men flew during wars, so flying came as natural to me as swallowing. But I hate turbulence.

He focuses on the radar, now lit with several bright green patches. “There looks to be a small system building in the west, nothing serious.”

“Good. Not that I’d mind a little snow for the season, but I can wait.” Leaning back, I close my eyes, aiming to catch a little nap. This past week has been hectic, to say the least. With the holidays in full swing—shopping, wrapping gifts, scurrying from store to store—I’ve barely taken time to breathe.

My mind drifts to the business. Jack and I have built Santana Toys from the ground up. Three warehouses and block-long offices have grown beyond our wildest expectations, but Jack’s dream to have our sons step in when we retire isn’t going to happen. Our two sons instead have chosen to join their wives’ family businesses. One is an electrician and the other a lawyer, and we couldn’t be prouder. Both boys are happy and healthy and love what they’re doing.

Jack’s initial disappointment that Jack Jr. and Steven wouldn’t continue his empire still hovers close to the surface, but in time, he found trusted employees who helped him grow the company into one of the largest in the United States. All said, the Santanas have a good life, and hopefully when little Ella grows up and marries, her husband will fulfill her grandfather’s dream, clearly stated on our business cards: Santana Toys, Family Owned and Operated.

“We’re picking up a little ice,” Jack murmurs.

“Ice?” My eyes open.

“Nothing to worry about. This baby is capable of handling large amounts of ice.” He chuckles. “Dale says the plane has a reputation for being bulletproof.”

“Dale—your friend from the air force?” Jack has so many friends and acquaintances it’s hard to keep up.

“Yeah, Dale. Everything’s fine. Relax.”

That’s hard to do. I can see the airspeed is slowly bleeding off. Jack counteracts by adding more power.

“Everything’s fine,” he repeats.

The boulder-sized lump in my chest grows more pronounced, and I push the emotion aside. Closing my eyes again, I think positive. Jack is the most capable pilot I have ever flown with, and the plane is state of the art. Nothing to be concerned about, Arlene. I focus on the moment when I can hold baby Ella for the first time, gaze into her round, questioning eyes. Jack and I have waited five long years for our boys to start a family, and Steven and Julee finally broke the impasse.

Now the craft is rapidly gaining airspeed. My eyes fly open, and I see Jack gripping the control.


“Don’t be alarmed, Arlene. We’re picking up a lot of ice, and it’s going to stall. Hold on. It’s going to be a little rocky for a few minutes.”

Nodding, I sit back, panic crowding my throat as the plane descends. Apparently the weather front that had looked innocent has caught Jack off guard. What had looked to be small and nonthreatening now fills the radar screen with bright green, but the plane is new and the pilot is one of the best. Just relax. We’ll be out of this shortly.

My heart lodges in my throat when I hear the ding and the wing caution device illuminates. I’ve been around planes long enough to know what that means: the aircraft’s ice-protection system has failed.

I automatically reach for Jack’s arm but can’t bring myself to look at him. I feel tension straining his muscles. I can read my husband like a map, and if there is the slightest concern, I’ll know by the way his brows narrow and deep lines score his forehead.

Seconds later, he speaks into his headset, talking to the closest tower. Static overrides part of the contact. “ACT, this is Pi. . .271SMM. . .requesting. . .emergency landing. . .taking. . .heavy ice.” He touches switches and sets up an emergency approach while he waits for instructions.

“It’s serious, isn’t it?” My voice sounds very minute and helpless, exactly like I feel. “I thought this craft was bulletproof to icing.”

“Sorry—a little overstated. No plane is bulletproof to weather, but in my opinion, we’re in the best craft on the market.”

“Where’s the nearest airstrip?”

“Not far.”

My gaze traces his, and I focus on the ice flaking off the leading edges of the right wing.

“We’ll be down in twenty minutes.”

Jack sits back, and I note the slight slump in his posture. He can’t fool me. We’re in trouble. He glances over and then leans to tickle my ribs.

“Jack.” I push away, aware that he is trying to ease the tension. “You know I don’t like these situations.”

“Who does? But we’re fine.”

I look out the window and see nothing but darkness below. Deep, impenetrable black. I glance at the control panels. “Am I reading this right?”

“Seems the system is building.”

One glance at the radar confirms his speculation. Bright green starts to fill in the screen. “Exactly where are we?”

“In our plane, silly girl.”

I give him a no-nonsense look. “If we go down, will anyone be able to locate us?”

Solemn now, he studies the gauges. “We’re about to cross the North Carolina and Virginia border.”

Which means we haven’t made much progress.

An intermittent voice crackles over the box, and I am barely able to make out the controller’s instructions. “Pi. . .271SM turn right heading zero-seven-zero, maintain four thousand, five hundred. . .established. You’re cleared. . .ILS runway one-zero right.”

“Cleared for approach contact tower 118.1—have a good one and thanks for the help.” My husband turns and winks at me. “Cleared for approach, Milady. You can stop gripping my arm and let some blood back in my veins.”

Releasing a pent-up sigh, I manage a weak smile. “I trust you.”

“Sure you do—when we’re not in a plane with a little ice bugging us.” He puts the gear down, followed by the flaps. “I guess this means we have to spend the night in a hotel.”

“I’ll call the children and tell them we won’t be there until morning.” I put aside my immense disappointment and concentrate on the oversized teddy bear with the red ribbon around its neck sitting in the backseat. What would one night matter? Ella will be waiting when we get there.

The noise level increases, and my heart hammers. I trust my husband—if we were in real danger he would say so—

The craft lurches, and Jack shouts something—I can’t catch his words, but I recognize panic in his tone.

“Jack!” We’re going down. The craft is acting crazy, dropping then steadying as Jack fights the control. I start to pray, to bargain.Dear God, no. We’re still fairly young. We have a new grandchild. I speak for Jack, but I know his thoughts. Let us survive to see our baby Ella—she’s our only grandchild. She should be allowed to know us—

“Arlene!” My husband’s grim tone shatters my thoughts. “Are you strapped in tight?”

I am strapped so tightly I can barely breathe. The noise level in the plane is paralyzing me.

“Arlene?” He turns to meet my eyes, and I have never seen such gravity in their depths. Our gazes hold. He shouts over the engine noise. “I love you.”


The aircraft control rips free of Jack’s hands, and the plane goes into a nosedive. I can’t think. I can’t pray.

I am petrified.

The plane plunges, random patches of lights streak by the windshield, black sky. Lights, black sky.

Spiraling downward in a dizzying, heart-pounding plunge, I throw my arms over my head to protect my ears from a woman’s terrified screams.

Beautiful Star of Bethlehem: A Christmas Novella
by by Lori Copeland