Friday, December 23, 2011

*The Best Christmas Eve Ever--Part Two"

The Christmas Eve house tour ended up back in the kitchen. “So every room has a fireplace and a Christmas tree?”
            “Just about.”
            “And nativities,” I said. “Do you collect them?”
            “We do.” She picked up a carved manger scene and placed it in my hand. “This one’s from Israel, like Jesus.”
            I held it up to the light and examined it this way and that. “It’s gorgeous.”
            “Sit,” she said, gesturing to a bench in front of the fireplace. “I’ll make coffee.”
            I leaned close to the fire until my cheeks burned. I pressed my palms to my face. Hot. Dry.
            “Come here,” Mom said.
            I joined her at the island in the middle of the kitchen.
            She patted the marble surface. “Put your face here.”
            The coolness instantly soothed. I turned my head to relieve the other side. Caressed the chilly counter.

            “Let me guess. Italian?”
            She smiled and nodded.
            I peered at the soaring ceiling with its tic, tac, toe beams. “I feel like I’ve been here before.”
            Her eyes followed my gaze. “Do you get Metropolitan Home magazine?”
            My mouth fell open. “Whoa!”
            She pulled a stool out from under the island and I did the same. We sat. Neither of us spoke for awhile but it was fine.
            “When I grow up, I wanna be just like you.”
            I peeked at her from under my lashes. One side of her mouth was higher.
            I bit my lip. “Did I say that out loud?”
            The other corner rose.
            I returned my face to the marble. “Sometimes I think I have Tourette's.”
             She reached across the island and rested her hand on my hair. “You’re so much like your brother.”
            I sat up when Amy, followed by John, burst into the room, in song. “Here we come a-caroling . . .”

            Amy looked at Mom, then me. “C'mon. It’s time! To the music room.”
             “You didn’t show me that one,” I said to Mom.
             She shrugged. “I knew we’d end up there eventually.”
             Suddenly the side door to the kitchen opened and a sparkly wind whooshed a man inside. The crown of his fedora brushed the doorframe as he entered. His cheeks were ruddy from the cold.
             His eyes swept the room and  came to rest on me. “John's sister, no doubt," he said. "You’ve got your brother’s eyes. Welcome. And Merry Christmas.”
             He turned to John. “The fireplaces are hungry,” he said. “We must appease them.”
            “I’ll get my coat,” my brother said.
            Amy and Mom led me down a back hall. I hung back so I could gawk to my heart’s content. You know you’re in a rich person’s house when there’s a music room. And, when just about every wall is glass and you’re not cold, even in the dead of winter.
            In the music room we gathered around the grand-not-baby piano and sang all the Christmas carols in the hymnal. Mom played beautifully. Her fingers had perfect piano playing posture, all high and curved. Amy’s voice was a sweet, clear soprano. When she hit the high note in O Holy Night, I almost wept. At some point I heard male voices behind me. I grinned at my song sheet. 

            “It’s time,” Dad said when there were no more songs to sing.
            My eyes darted from face to face. “For what?”
            No one answered. Instead they followed him into the room with the biggest fireplace of all. The tallest tree. It shimmered with silver and gold pinecones and opalescent garland. The room was furnished with Shaker pieces—elegant but not soft. I opted for a floor cushion almost the size of my car.
            When everyone was seated and quiet, Dad spoke. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” He recited the whole thing from memory—no notes, no Bible.
            The fire warmed my cheeks. The story heated my heart. After he said, “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,” he reached into one of the baskets beside the hearth. He brought out a candle and lit it from the fire. I held out my hand. He repeated the action four more times, one for each of us.
            My cheeks ached. Because I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s perfect, I thought. I didn’t think this night could get any better, but it did.
            We sat there in our little circle for the longest time, each of us mesmerized by the moment. We watched as our flames flickered and bowed. I allowed a drop of hot wax to splash onto my palm. Pressed my thumb into it to make a print. I chuckled.
            Somewhere in the house, a clock struck. I closed my eyes and counted the chimes. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. A contented sigh escaped me. I opened my eyes to see if anyone heard. Saw Amy’s lips moving around the lyrics of “Silent Night.” One by one, we joined in. I lifted my gaze to the ceiling. Steepled my fingers. Adopt me. Please.
When I got out of the Toyota back at my apartment, I noticed a basket on the back seat. They gave me presents? My eyes stung and I sniffed as I carried the basket inside and put the packages under our little tree. Tonight, or tomorrow? After a few minutes I unplugged the lights and headed back to my bedroom.
            Five minutes later, I ran back out. Lit the tree and sat cross-legged beside it in my pajamas and robe. One by one I opened the presents. They’d given me the slippers I’d worn. And a pair of  polka-dotted mittens. Nestled in a fist-sized box was the nativity from Israel. I stroked the smooth wood and shook my head in wonder.
            The shine of the aluminum foil star on top of the tree caught my eye. I spoke to it.
“Star light. Star bright.” I stopped. Picked up the little manger scene and held it against my heart. “Actually, I don’t need to make a wish. I want to say thanks. No one should be alone on Christmas Eve, and I wasn’t. And Christmas in the country? It was different . . . and better."

1 comment:

Anna Lefler said...

Oh, this is just beautiful.

Thanks for visiting my blog and Merry Christmas to you!

:-) Anna


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