CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Gifts to Make:

Victorian Room Spray for Mermie

Sailboat Paperclip Bookmark for Daddy

Bible Bookmark for Grandma

Ice Cream Cone Hair Barrette for Sarah

 

 

"Hey, Babycakes. Are you busy?"

 

Elm Sunday practically jumped out of her skin when she heard the sleigh bells jangle, causing her to spill some of the snow glitter on her desk. She didn’t want anyone to see her secret Christmas project, so she wrapped it in a pink and turquoise mermaid scarf and hid it behind her aquarium. 

When she felt certain the item was securely hidden, Elm plopped on her bed, flushed and breathless, trying not to look suspicious.

 

"Come on in, Daddy."

 

Big Dave stood in his daughter’s doorway, dressed in a red and white Santa suit, black boots, and his white Sunday’s Marina cap. 

 

"Well, what do you think?" he asked, shaking his bells and twirling around so she could get the full view. "Will I make a good Santa’s helper?"

 

Elm giggled. "You’re not very fat, Daddy. But you do look nice with a beard."

 

"Well, thank you, Miss North Pole Fashion Critic," he said, adjusting his padded belly.

 

"But why are you dressed like Santa now?" Elm asked. "It’s only November."

 

"Is that so?" he asked, observing the winter wonderland his daughter had created. Elm had already decorated her bedroom in twinkling fairy lights to reflect the forthcoming season. In her eight-year-old world, Christmas brought the promise of magic and mermaids, which was why she had a driftwood tree draped with purple lights and seashells. "Apparently, it’s never too early to get a head start on Christmas," he chuckled. 

 

And then he winked. He winked as if he knew.

 

Elm’s eyes darted over to the aquarium, then back to her grinning father. Big Dave had the largest grin she had ever seen on a human being, probably larger than the real Santa Claus himself. It was infectious, like a beacon, which is why she had dubbed him "Daddy Lighthouse" when she was four. After wandering away from her parents at the annual seafood festival, she had stood where she was and cried, not sure what to do next. She didn’t have to wait long. Like a fairytale, her father’s near-blinding grin shone through the crowd, his blond head taller than the rest as he came forth to rescue her. 

 

"Daddy Lighthouse!" she had blurted, wrapping her arms around her father as he lifted her up and carried her away on his shoulders.

 

As much as Elm adored her father, she soon realized that almost everybody in Little Blessing had a high opinion of Big Dave, especially children and dogs. 

 

And Grandmother Ruth, of course. 

 

Elm cringed a little when she thought of the scary old lady who lived in the old captain’s house on the highest hill in Little Blessing.

 

But me and Mermie, we love Daddy most of all.

 

"Oh, I have something for you. It was in today’s mail." 

 

Elm frowned. Was her letter to Santa returned? 

 

Her father’s large bear-paw hands produced a small package from within his Santa suit.

 

"What is it, Daddy?"

 

She took the package, reading her name and address aloud. Yes, it was for her alright. And then she noticed the company label. It showed a name but no address.

 

"Mystery Color Glass. What is that?"

 

Big Dave shrugged his shoulders as she ripped open the packaging. She found nothing but a blank card with the words Find me. 

 

Elm was perplexed. What did the words mean? And then she felt an object taped to the underside of the card. It was a pretty violet shard of seaglass.

 

"Violet?" said Big Dave. "Isn’t that one of the rarest colors of seaglass?"

 

Elm detached the glass from the card, holding it up to the light. "Yes, Daddy. They call it 'amethyst.' And I’ve never found one in Little Blessing before. But who sent it to me?"

 

Big Dave smiled. "Santa?"

 

Elm laughed. "Santa doesn’t bring seaglass, Silly. He only brings toys and books. And sometimes clothes." She wrinkled her nose at the last word because Santa wasn’t always fashion forward.

 

Her father smiled. "Sounds like a mystery to me. Maybe a new case for Steffi Sleuth?"

 

He nodded towards her bookcase, where Elm’s dog-eared collection of Steffi Sleuth mystery books were framed in festive silver garland.

 

"Maybe," she said.  She certainly hoped so because there wasn’t an awful lot to do in Little Blessing in the wintertime. "And maybe it’s someone who knows I have a seaglass collection. Like maybe you, Daddy?"

 

Big Dave shook his head. "Not me. I’ve got my hands pretty full being Santa Claus. So how much seaglass do you think you have now? A thousand?" 

 

He pointed at the five glass containers on the floor, all bursting with seaglass. There were amber, clear, green, cobalt blue, sky blue—even a few red, and black shards. But no violet. Like many serious seaglass collectors, it was the amethyst glass Elm coveted most of all. And thanks to Mystery Color Glass, she now was the proud owner of one piece. But one violet shard was hardly enough.

 

"So now that I’ve delivered your mystery mail, can I see your Christmas wreath?" 

 

Big Dave was referring to the special wreath Elm was creating for the Christmas Wreath Auction to support the Little Blessing Animal Shelter. 

 

She removed a plain driftwood wreath from her closet and set it on her desk. Except for a strand of white lights and a powder blue ribbon, the wreath was unfinished.

 

"I’ve still got a lot to do," she admitted. "I want to glue some seashells and seaglass and put a starfish up there. And then I’ll put a miniature Sea Angel in the center." Sea Angel was the family’s forty-foot sloop.

 

"Well, I know it’s going to be very pretty because you’re very artistic," her father assured her. "By the way, I really like what you’ve done with your room." He patted her sparkly cheek. "Especially the glitter!"

 

After he left, Elm walked to her window seat and kneeled. She was still holding her mystery color glass, turning it over in her hand, and pondering. What would good ol’ Steffi Sleuth, do?

 

She quickly recalled the seven Steffi Sleuth Smart Tools for Smart Detectives:

 

1.    persistence

2.    curiosity

3.    patience

4.    resourcefulness

5.    awareness

6.    interrogation

7.    carefulness

 

Find me.

 

Elm gazed up at the stars in the night sky, twinkling above the harbor. She picked a star to wish upon, closed her eyes, and received her answer: write a letter to Miss Vi. 

 

Miss Vi was the pine tree Big Dave had introduced her to at Purity Park that summer. To most people, there was nothing special about her, just one of the many evergreens standing in whispering contemplation.  But Big Dave and his best friend, Jason Moontree Smith, were sensitives, which meant that they could see the energy around objects, people, even ghosts. And what they saw around Miss Vi was a lovely violet energy. 

 

When they were boys, they had built a crude observation deck from a few boards retrieved from a construction site and Miss Vi remained their secret hideout for the rest of their youth. But that year they had renovated the space into a beautiful treehouse for their daughters, Elm and Snow, with the idea the girls should be friends.    

 

Unfortunately, it was hate at first sight.

 

As she sat at her writing desk that evening, Elm smiled, confident that if Daddy Lighthouse couldn’t help her solve the hue-dunnit mystery, Miss Vi would surely come through. 

 

"Good idea," she told herself. "I’ll bet Steffi Sleuth never wrote to a tree!"

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