The Eves Before Christmas Eve


December 22

The Boeing 747 glided onto the tarmac with its usual bumps and bounces. The noise of the jet engines roared in Brian Belden’s ears. He looked around the cabin, noticing that some people were staring expectantly out the window, while others gripped their armrests until their knuckles turned white. The young boy in the seat across the aisle from Brian was crying, and his mother handed him one of those small candy canes, saying, "Here. For your ears."

The boy ripped off the plastic wrap and dropped it on the already cluttered floor in front of him, then immediately tried to stick the candy cane in his ear. The mother shook her head and grabbed it from him. "Nicholas! I meant eat it. It might help the popping."

Brian chuckled to himself. Eventually the plane glided to the gate and came to a halt. He got up and stretched as much as possible in the cramped cabin, glad the six-hour flight was finally over. Moving out into the aisle where he could actually stand straight, he reached into the overhead bin and pulled out his bag.

He waited with the others to get off the plane, and was finally able to exit the walkway and enter the crowded airport. He had no baggage to claim, having traveled with only the one carry-on case, so he made his way straight to the street exit where he knew his father would be waiting for him with the reliable family station wagon. In front of one of the airport shops, a large Santa Claus stood with lights flashing and a sign in the big man's hands proclaiming that "Santa comes but once a year." Brian grimaced as he walked past it. He loved Christmas, and Christmas decorations of all sorts, but that was beyond tacky.

He shook his head and kept walking, passing a young family whose baby was dressed in a Santa suit. That made him smile. He went outside to look for his father. The honk of a car caught Brian’s attention, and he took a step off the curb to peer down the lane. The car that had honked was not the Belden station wagon, but he did catch a glimpse of the familiar vehicle as it inched along in the crowded traffic.

His smile widened, making even the weariness in his eyes momentarily disappear. He increased his pace as he walked to meet the car. "Hi, Dad," Brian said, opening the door.

"Hi there, son." Peter Belden greeted him.

Mart sat in the back seat, surprising Brian. He tossed his carry-on into the back seat next to Mart and climbed into the front, reaching back for his seatbelt. "What are you doing here?" he asked his brother.

"Dan and I drove in. We got here yesterday." Mart moved Brian's suitcase so he could stretch out more.

"Well, it's good to see you made it home after all." Brian smiled again before settling back against the chair and closing his eyes to doze off for the long ride. It was late, and he was tired, but it was good to be going home for Christmas.


 

The next morning…

"Well, that's good news!" Trixie exclaimed. She was holding the Sleepyside Sun in one hand, and a spoon full of cereal in the other.

"What's good news?" Brian asked, looking up from his own bowl of corn flakes.

"That sicko, Costner, got out on parole last week --" Trixie said. The sound of a dish falling in the sink caused her to stop mid-sentence. She looked up to see her mother's ashen face.

"How is that good news?" Brian demanded sternly.

"That's not the good news," Trixie quickly went on. "He's already violated his parole and he's back in jail. That's the good news." She got up to give her mother a hug." Sorry to frighten you, Moms."

Helen Belden smiled weakly. "You did startle me." She glanced out the window where Bobby was making snow angels in the garden while Reddy barked at the plastic reindeer and ran around them. She turned back to Trixie, looking worried. "He violated his parole -- he didn't hurt anyone, did he?"

"No, Moms," Brian answered. He had picked up the paper when Trixie had gotten up. "It says here that he got caught with some marijuana in his possession."

Helen breathed a sigh of relief, and pasted a bright smile on her face. "Well, let's not give that matter any more thought right now. It's Christmas time, and we have so many people coming to visit this year!" Her face glowed with excitement.

"Who else is coming besides Uncle Mart and Aunt Helen?" Brian asked.

"Everyone!" Trixie shouted.

Brian stared at her, slightly puzzled.

Trixie started to tick off on her fingers, "Uncle Harold and all the Idaho clan, including Gloria and the new baby; Uncle Andrew; Aunt Alicia; and then there's all the other Bob-Whites and their families, of course."

Helen smiled warmly. "It will certainly be a full house. I hope our walls are stretchy enough."

Brian smiled back at her. "We'll manage. It'll be good to have the whole family here."

"Yes," Trixie agreed. She was back at the table and picked up her bowl of cereal. She grabbed the spoon and was about to take another bite. "Moms?" she asked suddenly.

"Yes?" Helen answered.

"Why is it we've never traveled anywhere for Christmas all these years? I mean besides the time the Bob-Whites went to Arizona." Trixie looked at her mother quizzically.

Helen sighed. She headed over to the coffee pot and poured herself another cup before heading to the table to sit down with Trixie.

"My own family, Alicia and my parents and I, we always spent so much of the holidays going from house to house," Helen explained as she reached for the sugar bowl and dropped a spoonful of the white crystals in her coffee. "The day before Christmas we'd pack up our things so we could spend Christmas Eve at Uncle Mart's. Then on Christmas Day we would head to Grandma Beatrix' house. Before the day was over, we'd leave and go to see Grandma Alicia. And on Boxing Day we'd go to Uncle Robert's house. By the time we got home from all the visiting, it was December 27th, if we were lucky. Sometimes we'd spend the rest of the week and New Years' back at Grandma Beatrix' place. It seems we never had Christmas at home at all." Helen sighed again and stirred her coffee absentmindedly. "Some years, we didn't even bother to put a tree up at home because we knew we wouldn't be there to enjoy it."

"No Christmas tree?" Trixie wailed. "I can't even imagine!"

"That's awful," Brian agreed. "And that does sound like a lot of traveling around. I've always been glad we had our quiet little Christmas at home instead of visiting everywhere."

Helen smiled at her eldest son. "Yes. By the time I went to college, I decided that when I had my own house, I would never travel at Christmastime. " Helen took a sip of her coffee. "I love seeing family, don't get me wrong. But I'll gladly host the entire Belden and Johnson families any year, rather than have to go anywhere. I love having Christmas here at home."

Helen took another sip of coffee and then stood up. "Now, we have a lot to do to get ready for all our family. Trixie, I think you remember where the dusting supplies are kept?" Helen winked as Trixie made a face. "And, Brian, I need you to help arrange some furniture so we can squeeze a couple of those camping cots into a bedroom for your cousins."

"Yes, Moms!" Brian stood up, grabbing his empty bowl and coffee mug off the table and taking them to the sink.

"I also need some help in the kitchen." Helen looked pointedly at Trixie.

"Dusting," Trixie said. "And vacuuming. Sorry, Moms."

Brian laughed. "Why not ask Mart to help you? He loves to bake and cook and stuff."

"And have him taste everything until all the bowls and platters are empty?" Helen asked with another wink.

Mart had returned from his chores outside and was standing beside the kitchen door which was slightly ajar. He had heard the last bit of this exchange. He opened the kitchen door wider. "You trust me to feed the chickens, why not my cousins?" he asked as he came inside and closed the door. Snow fell off his jacket as he shrugged out of it. He had a wounded look on his face, but his blue eyes were twinkling merrily. Then, he sneezed twice.

A chorus of "Bless you" came from those at the table.

"See, he can't help in the kitchen," Helen said. "We don't all want to catch his cold, do we?"

"Then I guess I won't be able to impress everyone with some new holiday treats I learned to make." Mart stepped over to the table to grab a napkin to wipe his nose.

"Hmm, well, it would be nice to have a helper who knows their way around the kitchen," Helen acknowledged. She pulled an apron out of one of the drawers and tossed it at Mart. "Just make sure you wash your hands often!"


 

Christmas cookies lay on platters cooling; pecan, apple, and cherry pies were already in the fridge; and many of the dishes for the next day's dinner were prepared. The Idaho Beldens were expected to arrive late in the morning, and Helen had wanted as much done beforehand as possible. With the help of all four of her children, things had gone quickly and smoothly, and everything was ready by dinner time. Dinner that evening was one of Helen Belden's wonderful pot roasts. Even Reddy had managed to grab a chunk of meat off of Bobby's plate.

After dinner, the Beldens gathered in the family room in front of the fireplace. One of Helen's homemade mulberry candles burned gently on the mantle, spreading its mellow scent around the room. Mart walked over to the TV to turn off "White Christmas" and then settled into a spot close to the roaring fire where Reddy had retired to nap. Trixie sat on the other side of him, close to the sparkling Christmas tree. The tree was decorated with filigree gold ornaments intermingled with homemade ornaments from all of the Belden children and some cousins. Multi-colored lights and strands of tinsel completed the decorations.

Helen came in to the room carrying a tray with hot cocoa for the children, and two greenish colored drinks for herself and Peter.

"What's this?" Peter asked.

"Chrismintis," Helen replied. "It's vodka and Creme de Menthe, and a little Creme de Cacao for good measure."

Peter raised an eyebrow."I think I'd prefer my usual martini, but I'll try it," he commented as he grabbed one of the glasses.

Meanwhile, Bobby pulled out the Game of Life from the credenza. Trixie and Brian both groaned instinctively, but Mart grinned and got up to help Bobby set the game up on the round table in front of Helen's place on the sofa. Peter pulled the ottoman from his chair over and sat on it. Brian and Trixie resettled themselves on the floor around the game. In spite of the initial groans of protest, everyone enjoyed themselves as they drove their little cars across the board, getting married, having children, and going broke. It was a relaxing evening.

When the game ended, Peter Belden stepped out of the room and returned with his ukulele in hand. "How about some Christmas carols?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he started strumming the tune of Christmas Island. "Let's get away from sleigh bells, let's get away from snow. Let's make a break some Christmas, Dear, I know the place to go," he sang.

The rest of the Beldens joined in heartily.

"How'djya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'djya like to spend the holiday away across the sea?
How'djya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'djya like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree?

"How'd you like to stay up late like the islanders do?
Wait for Santa to sail in with your presents in a canoe.
If you ever spend Christmas on Christmas Island
You will never stray for everyday your Christmas dreams come true…"

The younger Beldens and Peter stopped singing and let Helen finish out the song alone. "On Christmas Island, your dreams come true!"

"Thanks, Peter," Helen murmured."You know I adore that song."

The Beldens all gathered together around Helen. Even Reddy got up and then sat on his haunches next to her.

"'Twas the night before the night before Christmas," Mart stated poetically.

"And all through the house," Bobby added.

"All the Beldens are stirring," Trixie continued.

Reddy barked.

"Yes, even Reddy," Brian acknowledged before adding, "The stocking are hung by the chimney with care."

"In hopes that our relatives will all soon be here," Peter finished off. "Merry Christmas, Helen! Merry Christmas, children!"

Reddy barked again.

"And Merry Christmas, Reddy," Peter added, scooping down to scratch Reddy behind the ears.

"Merry Christmas, Moms! Merry Christmas, Dad!" everyone exclaimed. "Merry Christmas!"

"I'm so glad we always spend Christmas Eve eve together," Helen stated. "Now children, it's time to nestle all snug in your beds. Tomorrow will be a fun but busy day. I can't wait to meet the newest little Belden, Elizabeth Gloria."


THE END


 

Word Count: 2,260

This story was written for Kaye KL as part of the 2008 Christmas Gift-Fic Exchange

Kaye, I hope you enjoyed this short little tale. Hopefully you recognize the two elements I added in for you, and yes, Elizabeth is named for your friend Liz. (((hugs))) I enjoyed writing this short story for you. Merry Christmas! May you spend it at home surrounded with love.

A HUGE THANK YOU to my wonderful editors, Steph and Mary N, for the last minute rush editing job. You ladies rock!

Picture courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art. The tree background made me think of Crabapple Farm at Christmas time, but I took the color out of the picture in attribution to Kaye's Therefore Must Be Lov'd Universe.

As some of you may have recognized, this is also a Circle Writing Project, Version 1.0, CWP #9. The rules and elements are:

This story should take place, at least in part, during ANY holiday from January 1 through December 31 and include the following elements:

I chose Pecan Pie from CWP 1.5 for my carryover item.