Cinnamon Gran put on a CD of a Mozart string quartet, grabbed a collection of Cory Doctorow short stories, and sat to enjoy a quiet evening. This might be her last taste of solitude for a while. Her son was coming tomorrow and her daughter and three grandchildren the day after.
“I don’t know how long I’ll stay,” her son, Stellar, said. Her daughter, Thalassa, had been just as vague.
Feast or famine. Stellar and Thalassa had separately stopped by a few times in the years since Steve’s death, but, aside from the funeral, never at the same time, and never longer than a day or two.
Cinnamon hadn’t seen her granddaughter, Marshmallow, since Christmas four years ago, the last Christmas they’d had with Steve. She’d never even met her two grandsons.
Her daughter served with Doctors Without Borders, and she’d picked up two sons along the way, Tomas from an orphanage in Rio, and Kumar in Calcutta. How a single doctor managed to care for three young children, Cinnamon had no idea.
Her children had grown up here, in Steve’s family home. A painter, who worked mostly for commissions, she’d been lucky to stay home while the children were young. Steve was a professor at the university in town, and he, too, was home all the summer days and holidays.
Every Christmas, Steve took Stellar and Thalassa into the woods to select the Christmas tree. One year, they returned with armfuls of branches.
Stellar had decided they couldn’t chop down a tree.
“We’ll just top it off,” Steve said, “and then the next lowest branch will take off as the leader and grow towards the sunlight.”
But Stellar refused. “It’s not fair to the tree!” he insisted. So Steve drilled holes into an old shovel handle, and they inserted the branches. It was a beautiful tree.
Another year, they celebrated Christmas in summer. Thalassa had been ill the previous winter, and so on Christmas Day, they managed not much more than veggie soup and the quiet opening of presents. By summer, Thalassa was healthy again, and one summer afternoon, Steve came into the house with the top of a pine.
“We need Christmas,” he said. They set up the tree outside, stringing it with garlands of birdseed and tiny apples. Cinnamon roasted chanterelles, potatoes, onions, and carrots. They took the feast outside, and while they ate, finches and towhees flocked to the tree.
Steve taught her that every Christmas was different. After his passing, she couldn’t bear to think of the holiday for a few years. Then one year, she went to her friend and neighbor Jacques’ on Christmas Day, and last year, she pulled out the decorations once again, and now this year, it would be Christmas with family once again.
On the morning of the day when Stellar was expected, Jacques and three other neighbors came by to help string the lights.
“I’m a natural on a ladder,” said Joaquin.
“And I’m naturally strung out,” joked Sergio.
“Then I guess we’ve got our light-stringing team!” said Cinnamon.
While the younger men hung the lights, Jacques walked back to his house and returned with a plate of fresh fruitcake, just as Bjorn and Cinnamon finished setting out the last of the outdoor decorations.
“All this work builds up an appetite,” Jacques said.
Cinnamon invited her neighbors inside.
“Let me dish up the treats,” she said, “your rewards for your hard work!”
Lovely neighbors, she thought. And if they are so lovely, then why does her heart ache so to hear the men’s laughter roll in from the dining room? Shouldn’t it make her miss him less to have the others around?
“Would you like cookies?” she called to them.
“No,” called Jacques from the dining room table. “We just want you! Come get your fruitcake, ma cherie!”
“Speak for yourself, Jacques!” yelled Joaquin. “Yes! We want cookies!”
“It takes no time at all to bake them,” said Cinnamon. “Amuse yourselves. I’ll be right there.”
She felt grateful for the excuse of baking to let her steal a few more moments alone. This was all it took to shake the sudden onset of grief. By the time she pulled the tray out of the oven, she was smiling again. Her son would be arriving soon, and she had such kind neighbors to help!
Joaquin and Bjorn had left. “There is a futbol match on tele,” Sergio explained. “They are at Bjorn’s to watch it.”
“Don’t you want to watch it, Sergio?”
“No. It’s not my team,” he replied.
“It is my team,” said Jacques. “But why would I watch the game when I could be in this lovely home eating freshly baked cookies with charming friends?”
When evening came, Sergio had to leave to catch the ferry to town, and Jacques had supper to prepare for his own children.
Cinnamon went to her easel where she could settle her excitement with every stroke of the satin brush. The next ferry would bring her son!
Author’s note: This story is inspired by a beautiful build, Joyeux Noel, by ShannonSimsFan. When I saw the home open house on Shannon’s blog, I knew I wanted to write a story about a family finding Christmas, and each other, in this home. The house is available for download on the The Gallery!