A few months ago I challenged Caroline to write a story that was both angst and h/c free. A harder task than I thought.
So here is my contribution.
Johnny Lancer awoke to the sounds of silence. Complete, peaceful, silence. The last two days had been filed with raucous laughter and tittering giggles throughout the day and well into the night. It had been Lancer’s turn to host the yearly Christmas party and since many of the guests had to travel great distances for the day, they were invited early. That meant that all the guests rooms were occupied and the house was overflowing with bodies of every age. The last guest left well after dark last night, trying to finagle another night’s stay with the Lancer’s, but thankfully Murdoch put his foot down and waved goodbye to Old Man Clemmons, assuring him he would be happier spending Christmas Eve with his own six boys rather than Murdoch’s two.
Johnny turned over and snuggled deeper into the warmth of the blankets. It had turned cold during the night and he had padded, barefoot, over to the dresser and pulled out the extra blanket Teresa set in the drawer for the raw winter nights. He sighed deeply and squeezed his eyes shut against the glare that streamed in from his bedroom window.
And then he remembered…it was Christmas morning. He bolted up, jumping out of bed and hitching his pants on as quickly as he could. There were presents under the tree that needed opening. Not just the mysterious ones that had his named printed carefully on name tags, but the ones he had bought for his family. It had taken him most of the last three months to buy just the right gift for each family member. Money had been no object…in fact, most of the presents hadn’t cost much monetarily…but they were worth a fortune in love and pride.
He quickly shaved, noting the twinkle in his eyes as he tried, without success, to wipe the smile off his face. He wondered if anyone else was as happy as he was right now. Hard to believe the world could hold that much happiness all at once.
Pulling his salmon colored shirt out of the drawer, he let his hand gently brush the soft blue shirt Teresa had bought him last year. He wore it on only the most special occasions. He would be wearing it tonight at dinner.
Tucking the tails of his shirt into his pants, Johnny found himself drawn to the window. There was something about the glow of the light that spilled in through the frosted glass, a shimmering essence unlike anything he had ever seen.
Rubbing the moisture from the window with his sleeve he created a porthole to look out of. And he felt his breath catch in his throat.
The ground, the tress and buildings were covered in a soft blanket of pure white snow. Snowflakes drifted past his window, gently falling to the ground.
Johnny sighed deeply with contentment. Scott was going to have the white Christmas he had hoped for but never thought possible. Perhaps wishes did come true.
As he opened his door, the smell of breakfast wafted down the hallway enticing him down the stairs. As he passed through the Great Room on his way to the kitchen he had to pass the Christmas tree with its brightly colored baubles and red bows hanging from each branch. And beneath it were the presents, all wrapped in holiday paper waiting to be opened. There was one extra present sitting toward the back of the tree that he had not counted when he went to bed last night. He took a step closer to read the name on the card but a hand weaved its way around his arm and he was gently guided toward the kitchen.
“Breakfast first, young man.” Murdoch grinned as he steered Johnny toward his seat at the table. “Then presents. Isn’t that right, Teresa?”
Teresa nodded as Murdoch took his seat.
Scott was already pilling his plate high with eggs and bacon, and smothering a biscuit with butter and honey.
“Did ya see outside yet?” Johnny asked his brother as he supplied his own plate with more food than two men could eat.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? I never thought I’d see a white Christmas here.”
“It doesn’t happen very often,” Murdoch observed. “And it looks like it may stay on the ground for a few days.”
Scott nodded and pointed his fork at Johnny. “Plenty of time to teach Johnny here how to make the perfect snowman.”
Johnny snorted. “No thanks brother, I think I’ll stay inside where it’s warm.”
“And miss all the fun? No, I won’t hear of it. Teresa, we’ll need a few things; like a scarf and mittens.”
“And you’ll need a carrot for his nose,” Murdoch added, “and coal for his eyes.”
“Yes,” Teresa laughed. “We can use that old corncob pipe Jelly keeps around just for emergences.”
“And you can use my old escoba (broom),” Maria offered as she poured steaming hot coffee into their cups. “It is better that hombre de la nieve uses it on Christmas day, no?”
“Yes,” Teresa giggled, looking surreptitiously at Johnny. “Maybe we should make the snowman before opening the presents this morning.”
Murdoch caught on to Teresa’s ploy and followed. “Yes, honey, I think that is an excellent idea. Scott?”
By this time Johnny’s mouth was hanging open and Scott couldn’t keep a straight face. “Yes,” he said, bringing the napkin, resting on his lap, up to cover his smile. “I think the snow would be just about the right consistency for a perfect snowman.”
No one could keep up the pretense any longer and laughter rained down on the table.
“The snowman can wait,” Murdoch laughed. “Finish your breakfast and we can open presents.”
Johnny grinned, satisfied. There was plenty of time to play in the snow after the presents were opened. It was not surprising that Johnny’s plate was empty first, despite the fact that he had eaten more then anyone else at the table.
Johnny sat amid a pile of Christmas wrapping on the floor. Scott sat next to him, also sitting in a mound of brightly colored paper. Teresa sat between them, her eyes aglow with excitement. But as much as Johnny loved his gifts, they could not compare to the feeling of joy he had as his family opened each gift he had so painstakingly selected for each one of them. Their faces were his most treasured gifts.
After all the presents Johnny had kept close count on in the past week were opened there still remained the newest one…large and carefully wrapped in yards of bright red paper.
“We have one more present to open,” Murdoch stated, getting up to walk around behind the tree and lugginh out the heavy item. He went out of his way to scrutinize the package, poking it with his finger and hefting its weight.
“Who is it for, Murdoch?” Teresa asked excitedly.
Murdoch found the name tag and looked around at everyone in the room. “It’s for Johnny.”
There was no doubt on the faces around the tree that no one knew anything about the gift.
“Who sent it?” Scott asked.
Murdoch shrugged. “It only says…To Johnny…”
Setting the large package in front of Johnny everyone looked from one to the other wondering where the gift had come from.
“Well, open it,” Teresa urged, her eyes wide with excitement.
Johnny opened the present slowly, peeling the paper back to reveal the gift within. Johnny studied the finely crafted chest sitting in front of him.
“Who is it from?” Murdoch asked in a hushed voice.
Scott pulled the name tag off the paper. “It doesn’t say.”
“It’s beautiful,” Teresa whispered in awe.
Scott touched the delicate scrolling on the lid of the finely crafted chest. “It is beautiful. Open it.”
With hands trembling, Johnny unlatched the chest and opened the lid.
“It’s empty,” Teresa said, disappointed.
Johnny smiled, knowingly. “It only looks that way.”
“Glad yer smart enough to know the way of it,” Jelly said from behind them.
“Thank you, Jelly.”
Jelly beamed with pride, pulling out his suspenders and letting them flap back against his chest. “I bought it from a traveling salesman before last Christmas…he told me I would know who to give it to when the time was right.”
“I don’t understand,” Teresa said.
“Neither do I,” Scott said.
“Make that three,” added Murdoch.
“It is a ‘Caja de esperanzas y de deseos’…Box of hopes and wishes.”
“I have heard of it,” Murdoch said, leaning closer to the box to touch it. “It is said that when a man first receives a ‘caja de dsperanzas y de deseso,’ it is heavy with the hopes and wishes for the future. A truly lucky man is a man whose box is as light as a feather when he is old and ready to move on.”
“That is a beautiful tradition.” Teresa smiled, laying her head on Johnny’s shoulder.
“It is a wonderful gift, Johnny. Use it wisely.” Murdoch patted Johnny on the shoulder and looked out the window at the falling snow. “And now, I think we have a snowman to build.”
“Yes!” Teresa cried. “And look, it is snowing even harder.”
Johnny nodded. His Caja de dsperanzas y de deseso was just a little lighter already. His wish for a white Christmas for Scott had been answered.
As he followed his family out the door, tugging his coat tightly around himself, he could not think of a better day in his life.
“Merry Christmas!” he yelled and threw the first snowball.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL