A Christmas Presence
© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved
It was well after midnight before Ted, our two young children, and I returned home from my parents’ Christmas Eve dinner. Outside, a gentle snow drifted to the ground, the air was calm and the night was as peaceful as any greeting card promised this night should be.
Inside our century-old home, Sara and Jimmy, ages five and three, were wound up tighter than a timekeeper’s watch with the prospect of Santa’s impending arrival. I placed the near empty green bean casserole dish I had taken on the counter and tossed my purse onto one of the overstuffed chairs. It landed as gracefully as my husband had when he dropped into his recliner.
“Time for bed, kids,” he said, draping an arm over his eyes.
“Five more minutes.” The plea on Sara’s face was perfectly mirrored in Jimmy’s eyes.
“No, silly,” I said, as I hung their coats in the closet then shut the door. “You know Santa won’t come until we’re all sound asleep. Come on, straight to bed, you two.” They knew the drill, yet I wasn’t surprised at their repeated resistance. After all, Christmas was a once-a-year special event. It was about presents and bright colored lights, laughter and songs and a multiple of things that sent ripples of excitement through the evening air.
By the time Ted made his way into the kids’ bedroom, they had slipped on their pajamas but were still giggling and squealing with excitement. I kissed them goodnight and watched as he futilely tucked them in knowing they were nowhere near ready to sleep.
“S-h-h-h,” he said as he kissed them goodnight too then left the room.
“Come on,” he whispered and motioned with a nod for me to follow, “let’s get these under the tree.”
I leaned an ear toward the children’s room a final time. Certain they had fallen asleep, I picked up the pace, followed Ted down the stairs and into the living room. He had arranged his gift boxes beneath the tree and let out a sigh by the time I arrived with a load of presents that filled my outstretched arms clear up to my chin. The largest box in my hands was the miniature china tea set Sara had seen in a store the month before. Several smaller boxes contained shirts and sweaters that Jimmy would toss on the couch the minute he opened them. A quick tally of gifts encircling the tree assured me we hadn’t left any behind. I drew in a cleansing breath. With it came a sudden sense of tranquility—a peace I hadn’t felt since the shopping madness took over my life five weeks before.
“If this old house could talk,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a hundred years old. Don’t you ever wonder about the families who lived here before us—who they were, what they did for a living?”
“Not really.” Ted stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes.
“Do you suppose their children were anything like Sara and Jimmy?”
“Can’t you just imagine what Christmas must have been like in this house at the turn of the century?”
“Yeah, bitter cold and no modern conveniences.”
“Bet they were quaint.”
“You’re romanticizing it, my sweet. Come, on. It’s almost two.” He wrapped an arm around my waist and nudged me upstairs. “Let’s get to bed. We’re not going to get much sleep as it is and we’re in for a long day tomorrow.”
Unsure why that bit of nostalgia hit me just then, I surrendered to my husband’s urging. Christmas or not, my body ached for a few hours of sleep so I raced him into the bedroom, slipped on my night clothes and just as quickly slid under the covers and closed my eyes.
Ted did likewise and for a minute or two a wonderful silence engulfed us. That is, until we heard the pitter patter of footsteps going down the stairs.
“Darn those two! They’re up,” I said. “Ted … the kids.”
He sounded off a few unpleasant grunts, swung his feet out from under the covers and dashed down the hallway. I heard him thunder downstairs first, then followed the sounds of his steps as he returned to the second floor landing and into Sara’s and Jimmy’s room. I sat up expecting to hear another round of giggles, instead, Ted shuffled into our room and got back in bed.
“Well?” I asked. “What are they doing?”
“They’re sound asleep.”
“But I heard their steps—I mean, so did you, didn’t you?”
“Thought I did. It’s this house, could have been the furnace.” With that he turned on his side and pulled the covers up over his head again. “Good night.”
The first glimmer of dawn came much faster than I would have liked, but adrenalin kicked in to make up for sleep deprivation. Still in my robe and without bothering to put on my slippers, I began to get things in motion for our annual family Christmas luncheon. Soon, the smell of freshly brewed coffee permeated my kitchen as did the smell of finely chopped onions and celery intended to flavor the dressing. I basted the turkey with a wonderful cranberry glaze and shoved it into the oven where it would need to roast for several hours.
About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.
THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
Personal site: http://www.martastephens-author.com/
Character Blog: http://www.samharpercrimescene.blogspot.com/