Captain’s Christmas: Chapter Six

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Gran’s laughter echoed across the straight, calling to Sarah. She flew over the dark water, looking for her.

“I’m here, Sarah Two-Pockets! I always will be!”

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They flew up to the sky, twirling, laughing, until Gran said, “It’s time for you to go now. I will always be…”

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Sarah opened her eyes. She felt warm and happy. What was it that Gran would always be?

Never mind, Sarah thought. The dream must be a good sign.

In the kitchen, she discovered that it really was Christmas–Jacob had hung wreaths and lights, and a stack of brightly wrapped presents waited beside the breakfast table.

She felt too jolly to notice Jacob’s somber mood as he gazed into his tea.

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He dished up special Christmas breakfast French toast. It smelled sweet like vanilla and nutmeg.

“Can I have extra butter?” she asked.

He added an extra pat.

“Your mom is coming in a week,” he said, when they sat at the table. “She’ll be here for New Year’s.”

“Is Gran well, then?” Sarah asked.

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“No,” he said. “She passed on early this morning.”

“But she was in my dream,” Sarah said.

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Jacob listened as she told about the laughter, the soaring over the water, the feeling that Gran was there, with her, though she couldn’t see her.

“She said she would always be,” said Sarah, “but I don’t know what. Why would I dream of her, Great Uncle Jacob? And what will she always be?”

He sat quietly for a good few moments.

“It happens, sometimes,” he said at last, “that when someone passes, their spirit pays a visit to all those they love the best. Your grandmother loved you dearly, Sarah, and I have a feeling that what she will always be will be beside you, with you. She will always be.”

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Sarah wondered if that meant that she was not really gone. If she closed her eyes, she could feel her grandmother’s hand in hers. When she opened her eyes, she heard Gran’s voice.

“Gran loves Christmas,” Sarah said.

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She wasn’t sure how to feel. Mostly, she felt that this was a different day, a special day, somehow. It had a texture to it, like someone held a blanket over the sun, and all the busy noise of life quieted down somehow.

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After she washed the dishes, she heard tiny mewing. Two kittens crawled out from behind the pile of pillows on the floor.

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“Look, Jacob!” she said. “It’s kittens! Where’d they come from?”

“Those are Pippa’s kittens,” Jacob said. “Walley’s the father.”

“Were they just born?”

“No,” he said. “They were born before you came.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She thought it would have been more fun to play with kittens all those days leading up to Christmas.

“Twasn’t my secret to tell!” he replied. “It’s up to the mama cat to decide when she will share her babies with us.”

“Maybe that’s why Pippa was so grumpy with me!” Sarah said.

“Could be,” said Jacob. “A mama will do anything to protect her young.”

“But they’re old enough now, aren’t they, Pippa?” Sarah pet the panther on the head, and she didn’t even growl. She purred, and her ears stayed up, and her tail hardly twitched.

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“They haven’t names yet,” said Jacob. “What would you like to call them?”

“Sweetie and Cubby,” said Sarah, “because they are sweet panther cubs!”

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She followed Cubby into the parlor.

“Do you think I could have one, Uncle Jacob?” she asked. It was Christmas, after all, and she had just lost her Gran.

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“The kittens belong here,” he said, “where they have a big conservatory to roam and lots of skylights to let in the sunshine.”

She grew very quiet.

“But I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “you choose one to belong to, and then every time you come to visit, we will all know that you are that cat’s girl.”

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She chose Cubby. Cubby seemed to trust her already.

“I do have good news for you, though,” said Jacob. “Your mom says you can take Senator Jones with you.”

The senator howled when he heard his name.

“Hear that, Big Dog?” Sarah asked. “We belong to each other now!”

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“Presents now, or presents later?” Jacob asked.

Later. The morning still had that hushed feeling to it, and Sarah didn’t think she would find excitement in unwrapping the shiny red paper. Maybe when night pressed against the windows, and the lights and candles shone, she would feel the joy Christmas usually brings.

“Let me give you this one, now,” said Jacob, handing her an unwrapped volume of Little Men.

While she read, he played carols, sometimes singing along in his gruff baritone.

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It was a different kind of Christmas, without Mom and Gran, with so many cats and kittens and Senator Jones, with Great Uncle Jacob who talked to her as if she were capable of understanding everything and as if she didn’t have a timid heart that might break at the slightest sorrow.

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She supposed that captains had to be strong, for out on the straight, sometimes the wind kicked up, and the frightened hearts jumped under deck. But captains steered onward, even when they were the only ones left, and the waves crashed over the bow.

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Jacob made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and he played more of that concert-style music while she ate.

“What’s that music called?” she shouted in to the parlor.

“Beethoven!” he shouted back.

It sounded like captain’s music, brave and bold and sometimes saucy and sometimes sorrowful and often stormy and then calm. It sounded like she felt in her heart right then, over-packed with everything: happiness, sleepiness, gratitude, even a creeping touch of excitement, sadness, homesickness, loneliness, and even joy.

How could so many feelings fit inside her heart?

She didn’t know–but the music knew, and it said to her that everything was all right, for this was life.

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In the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun, Senator Jones raced the captain through the meadows behind the conservatory.

She ran after him, hearing again her grandmother’s laughter.

“I’m coming, Big Dog!” she shouted. “I’ll be with you always! I’ll always be!”

We all have one Christmas we always remember. For Sarah, this was it. Throughout her life, whether she sat near the tree, surrounded by her children, or her children’s children, or whether she sat alone with a cup of tea, she remembered this morning, her grandmother’s laughter, her great uncle’s piano, and the boundless friendship of a good dog. With this magic, even a little girl could be brave, and bravery like this can last us through life.

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A Box of Christmas Books

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In the winters of my childhood, the holiday season began when my mother carried down the box of Christmas stories. We had scores of picture books, hardbound anthologies, and magazine clippings. It’s funny–I don’t recall our ever having purchased any new Christmas books. As the youngest child, I grew into a holiday library already established. The hours after school or on a rainy Saturday afternoon in December were spent with these books, who became close seasonal friends. December evenings, I snuggled beside my dad on the couch as he read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. When I read the novel to myself now, I still hear it in my dad’s voice, though he left this earth 16 years ago this month.

This year, I thought it might be fun to share seasonal stories from this anthology. Maybe you’ve read them before; maybe they’re new to you! At any rate, I hope you enjoy a few yuletide stories from the past few years! And when you’re ready for more, please take a look at the index on the EA Sims Forums, where you can find past December entries from the Short Story Contest and submissions by other SimLit writers!

Happy reading! Solstice Greetings! And peace and love and the warmth of a good story to you!

Holiday Stories from CT’s SimLit Anthology

From December 2016

Coming Home

Something for Dr. J from Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook

From December 2015

One Night, from Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook

From December 2014

Plum Day Celebration – From A Houseful Of Hippies
Let’s Celebrate… What?
Don’t Know Much
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Plum!
Gnome Kickers and Home Wreckers
What Does Plum Stand For?
Fangirl
Black and White and Boring All Over
Departures/Arrivals
IncogNunley
Touching Ground and Scaling Heights
Friends Become Family
Another Day, Another Plum
Can you add plum to garden salad?
Sentimentality
Sweet Plums Roasting on an Open Fire
Green Plums and Plum Blossoms
That’s Plum, You Genius!
Dr. Jasmine’s Guest Book
Reflections on a Bowl of Plum

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Coming Home 10

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“Yes, we know our Thalsy, don’t we, Stel?”

Tomas walked into the room, wearing a huge grin.

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“I decided I will teach you my song,” he said to Cinnamon.

“Really?”

“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.

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“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!”

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“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.

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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.

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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!

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