Coming Home 4

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Cinnamon brought her coffee and a dog-eared copy of Persuasion down to the basement where her grandchildren played.

Tomas had laid claim to Thalassa’s old red Ferrari.

“Drive like this,” he said, “up hills, down the ways, over the valley, round the curve. Don’t worry. You can’t crash because Master-Supremo-Driver-of-the-Year is behind the wheel! Together, we win!”

Marshmallow found Stellar’s pony, dragon, and princess doll.

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“This is a friendly dragon,” she said. “You can tell because he’s got tiny wings and a little grin. You’re friendly, aren’t you, fella? He lives in the back with the swamp buckets, don’t you, Bug Puff?”

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Cinnamon pretended to read while the children played.

“Do you like this house, Princess Spirulina?” Marshmallow asked the doll. “It’s huge, isn’t it? And everything is clean and it smells nice and it’s very warm, isn’t it? But don’t get too attached. You never know when there might be a new assignment and you and the pony and Dragon Bug Puff will have to move. But it will be OK. Because even if you move to some place crowded and smelly, and even if there’s no water and not much food and you have to pee in a bush, and everybody is standing around looking sad, it will be OK because you will all be together. And besides. You’re strong.”

“But I don’t want to leave,” said Princess Spirulina in a very high and sweet voice. “I want to stay here forever and always.”

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Jacques stopped by to see if Cinnamon needed anything from the store on the mainland, for he was heading in to do some shopping the next day, and he ended up staying the afternoon to play with the children.

“Your house never used to be so messy,” Jacques said. “You’ve got toys laying everywhere!”

“That’s because before you were the only one playing with the action figures,” laughed Cinnamon. “Now you’ve got to share! That’s what you’re really complaining about, isn’t it?”

“We’re good at sharing, aren’t we?” said Thalassa.

“I am not so good at sharing,” said Marshmallow. “I only pretend to be when people are looking. But when I’m by myself, everything is mine, mine, mine!” She laughed and Cinnamon had to join in with her.

“Well, as long as you’re honest with yourself!” she said.

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The children talked all through the evening meal. Tomas told the entire plot of a movie he watched before supper, where a mouse went to space and founded a colony until they discovered that the planet they lived on was made of cheese, and then he ate it, and they all fell into the sea. “But it was OK for there was a friendly sea monster who only pretended to eat them, for in reality, he spit them out onto the beach, and everyone was happy for ever and never went back to space.”

“But they did look up at the stars,” said Kumar.

Marshmallow was full of ideas for a puppet show that she wanted to put on the next day with her brothers, but the show was intended to be a surprise, so she spoke in riddles that nobody understood.

“It’s for the spoon!” she said, winking at Tomas. “Which rhymes with… ”

“Tune?”

“Agh! No! The Moooo… ”

“Like a cow?” said Kumar.

Marshmallow buried her head in her hands.

After supper, the family moved into the living room. Tomas found Stellar’s modeling clay.

“What’s this for?” he asked his uncle.

“Sculptors use it,” Stellar said, “to make studies.”

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Cinnamon gazed at her two children. It was quiet. Tomas worked the clay. Kumar and Marshmallow lay on their bellies on the rug, coloring in a Santa coloring book. Thalassa had put on Bob Dylan’s Christmas CD, and she sang along under her breath.

Cinnamon had so much she wanted to talk to her children about, and so much she didn’t want to talk to them about, and most of what she wanted to say and what she didn’t want to say revolved around the same subject: Steve. Or rather, the space that Steve used to occupy, which was now glaringly empty.

“I notice that Jacques’s been around a lot,” Thalassa said.

Stellar shot a quick look at his mom, then turned his attention back to the clay that Tomas was forming into what looked like the bust of an archaic military dictator.

“Who is that?” Stellar asked his nephew. “Castelo Branco?”

“Napoleon,” said Tomas.

“Mom?” asked Thalassa. “I said Jacques seems to be by a lot.”

“Oh, yes,” said Cinnamon. “He’s been a good friend. You know, he always was a good friend, even when you and Stellar were littlies. Do you remember his wife, Edie? She was lovely. Anyway, he’s been helping around, doing things that need doing, and sometimes, I return the favor and help around his place, doing what I can do, too. He seems to find comfort, knowing that Luna has a woman she can talk with, even if it’s an old woman like me.”

“You’re not old,” said Stellar. “And I’m glad you’re not alone.”

“What’s that you made?” Thalassa asked Tomas.

He handed her Napoleon.

“The ruler of the free world,” said Tomas. “Napoleon Bustanut.”

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Soon it was time to tuck in the children. When Cinnamon finished brushing her teeth, she heard Kumar and Stellar on the landing.

“Where do you live?” Kumar asked his uncle.

“I used to live high in the mountains,” he said, “where the wolves sing and the pines moan.”

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“That sounds interesting,” said Kumar. “And where do you live now?”

“Now I live here,” replied Stellar.

“I think you are very lucky,” said Kumar.

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Coming Home 1

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“And I’m naturally strung out,” joked Sergio.

“Then I guess we’ve got our light-stringing team!” said Cinnamon.

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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.

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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?

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“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.”

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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!

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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?”

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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!

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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!

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Shift 6: Squatter

I been hanging out with Yuki. I like her style.

She told me she likes my style. I’m not surprised. I was wearing one of my new vests and the scarf I got from the free box. Like I said: Swanky.

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When I talk with Yuki, I forget everything. She gets me laughing so hard, and next thing I know, I feel like I’m a regular kid and we’re out after curfew on a school night.

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She always says something goofy when she leaves, like, “Toodles.” Or once she said, “Jaa mata,” like they say in anime.

God, I wish there was a TV and DVR in the lounge. It would be so awesome to watch anime with her on a Saturday afternoon.

As it is, we catch pieces of stuff on her phone or on my tablet. That’s fun, too, because we get to lean in together and watch the video like we’re both in the same tiny world.

And maybe we are both in the same tiny world. It’s just that sometimes she leaves it to go back to her big world, and then I leave to go to mine…

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My world feels both tiny and vast. It’s tiny because it only extends as far as I walk or run: The visitor’s center, my camp, the trails all around, that district nearby with Deon’s spa and the tapas bar. That’s the extent of it.

It’s vast because it’s nowhere. I live nowhere. I don’t really live here–I’m just staying here before I shift on. I live nowhere and everywhere. That’s how vast it is.

I got a scare the other day that it was time for me to shift.

I got back to camp from hanging out late with Yuki, and there was an old guy sleeping in my cot.

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I freaked. I thought it must be that guy whose camp this is who returns every winter. It’s getting on towards winter, late fall, anyway. I guess I’ve been halfway expecting him to return anytime. I don’t think this park’s big enough for two homeless people to camp here. So I always figured when he returned from up north, I’d head on. I don’t know where. Somewhere. It’s his camp, after all.

I slept in the lounge that night.

Next morning, I told Deon that the old guy had come back. He said he didn’t think so. Usually the guy came back a lot earlier, like in the middle of October. He was so late, Deon had started thinking he might not make it this year. He asked me to describe the guy to him. Tall. Skinny. Long gray hair.

Wasn’t him. Deon’s old guy is short, stocky, Asian, crew cut.

That afternoon, I saw the guy who’d slept in my cot. I got to talking with him.

Turns out he’s a rich guy who lives on an island. But now and then, he runs away from home, just goes roaming for a while, until he gets the vagabond out of his system, and then he calls up his kids and asks them to come pick him up or wire him money for the train ride back.

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His daughter was on he way to pick him up now.

And that meant, if it wasn’t him, then I’d get to stay here a little longer.

I found myself feeling grateful that the old guy hadn’t come back. And then I realized I was feeling grateful for what might be somebody else’s misfortune. That won’t do.

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Just take it for today. Just be thankful for today. I let it go, all those thanks. I’m not making plans. That old guy comes back to his camp, and I’m outta here, thankful for the time I got to stay, and no begrudging. Just gratitude.

That old guy doesn’t come back, and it’s grace. It’s a gift.

How do you accept a gift? For just what it is and nothing more.

That’s life. Just what it is. Nothing more. Which means it’s everything.

I ran into one of Deon’s friends from the tapas bar. He was fishing.

“Catch anything?” I asked him.

“Nope,” he said. “Never do.”

He looked like he was having the time of his life.

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I slept in the camp that night, and it felt as good as a dream.

When I woke up–OK, I woke up late. I can sleep in. It’s not like I got to do anything during the day–when I woke up, I found a note on my cooler.

“There’s a treat inside for you, Jazzie Joo!” It was signed by Deon.

I opened up the cooler. There under a bag of ice was a carton of yogurt and a basket of strawberries. Deon had even left me a clean bowl and spoon.

Man, breakfast that morning was the sweetest thing.

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