On Christmas evening, after all the friends and neighbors left, when it was just the family in the big house again, Cinnamon found her daughter looking thoughtful at the dining room table.
Before she had a chance to join her, Stellar came in.
“Big day, huh, Sis?” he said, pulling up a chair, and as Cinnamon went into the kitchen to fetch a cookie, she felt her heart warm to see her two children together again, on Christmas night.
When she returned, Marshmallow had joined them, and Stellar was telling her about a sculpture he was planning to start the next day.
“The idea comes from a rose,” he said, “but it will be massive, so it will be more like what a rose would look like to a bee.”
“Or to a butterfly?” she asked.
Cinnamon smiled to think that Stellar would be here every night, talking about the next day’s sculpting or about finding the perfect stump on Jacques’ beach.
This had been a nearly perfect Christmas day. There had been only one melt-down, when poor Marshmallow, who’d barely slept a wink all night, collapsed in tears when Jacques’ son Max threatened to toss her new doll into the fire.
But Kumar and Tomas descended so quickly on Max, one rescuing the doll, the other pinning Max’s arms behind him, that, surprisingly, peace was restored before any of the adults had a chance to intervene.
Jacques called Max to him, and Stellar then engaged the boy in a chess game, and by the time Cinnamon dished up the Christmas supper, Marshmallow was sound asleep in the big chair by the fire, hugging her doll to her, while everyone else was joking and laughing again.
Cinnamon remembered the year when Steve made Stellar the doll house. Thalassa was still a toddler back then, and while Cinnamon was fixing dinner, Thalassa had crawled into the doll house. She got stuck, and Steve had to remove the roof and half of the wall to get her out.
“It’s OK,” Stellar had said, as he handed his little sister scraps of dinner rolls dipped in soup. “You can live in here, and I will come every day to feed you.”
She hadn’t cried once, but had made these funny little cooing sounds, as if she were a tiny dove.
“Are you all right, Ma?” Stellar asked, when it was just the two of them in the dining room.
“I am, indeed,” she replied.
“I bet you’re not used to this much commotion anymore,” he said.
“Not hardly,” she answered.
“Better get used to it, huh?” he said.
“Did your sister talk to you?”
“Yeah,” Stellar said. “I don’t think she’s made up her mind yet about the job. But I bet we both know what she’ll decide.”
“Yes, we know our Thalsy, don’t we, Stel?”
Tomas walked into the room, wearing a huge grin.
“I decided I will teach you my song,” he said to Cinnamon.
“For real,” he said.
And slowly, syllable by syllable, word by word, he taught her the song about the tiny butterfly who came out of the rose garden to see so much beauty on Christmas eve.
“It’s a lovely song,” she said. “And do you know, this very afternoon, when the sun came out for a spell, I saw a monarch butterfly visit the milkweed. It must have been inspired by your song!”
“I never thought I’d see a butterfly over here,” Tomas said. “Do you have lots?”
“We do,” said Cinnamon. “In the summertime, especially.”
“I hope I’m here to see them,” said Tomas.
And Cinnamon realized that she hoped he would be there to see them, too.
To think: Just a few years ago, she’d assumed family Christmases were a thing of the past, unless she was adopted by neighbors and friends. But now her home was full to bursting with her own grandchildren, and with Thalassa and Stellar, too.
She would have days of solitude again, this she knew, for if there was a constant in life, it was one’s own solitary presence. And yet! And yet it seemed that she might have to seek out her solitude, for now it seemed that the presence of others–young and precious others–might be her greatest present of this year!