I couldn't resist doing something for the season so here is how Siah and the boys "celebrate" Christmas.
This is actually much later in the story than what I have published so far and if you read through you'll see a very big spoiler.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Siah had been keeping track of the days and now was Christmas Eve night. Siah wasn’t sure if the boys knew what night it was or if they would even care- but she cared. After all the kids were asleep, Siah looked up at the sky, of course it was cloudy, but oh, she remembered a time when there were stars out.
Would she live long enough to see stars again?
She would surprise the boys in the morning, but for now, she would take some time to just worship. She missed going to church, but this night in particular really brought the longing home.
Somehow the moment felt right. She banked the fire and bundled Sharlie in the sleeping bag. Once she had her settled in her lap, she rested her hands on both boys’ heads.
“O Come, O Come Immanuel,” she sang softly. She didn’t care to wake the boys; they had worked and played hard all day.
“And ransom captive Israel- that mourns in lowly exile here.”
She thought she felt Nathan stir a bit and she lowered her volume a bit.
“Until the Son of God appears. Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.”
Then she felt the spirit come. Then nothing could have stopped her.
“O come thou Dayspring come and cheer, our spirits by thine advent here, Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and deaths dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.”
She finished the line slowly, as if it were the end of the song. But it wasn’t. She waited a pulse. The moment felt sacred. She sang the last words slowly, softly.
“Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel.”
“Rejoice,” she whispered the words without tune. “Rejoice, for Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”
The still wind suddenly kicked up through the tent flap and blew her loose hair back. She felt a feathery touch across her cheeks. Her Father was proud of her. Out here, in this chilly forest, in front of this fire, in a strange tent, with these three children on and around her-was exactly were God wanted her to be. She still hadn’t taken her hands off the boys’ heads.
She looked at them each in turn, praying silently.
“Merry Christmas.” She whispered to each of them as she curled her arms around Sharlie and snuggled back under the covers.
She was asleep in a minute.
The boys were awake for hours.
When she’d gotten back under the covers and he heard her breathing go into the rhythm of sleep, Eric propped himself up. He eyes met Nathans as he did the same.
They looked at her all snuggled up with Sharlie. They’d barely made a space in their brains for her praying over them as they slept; now she was singing?!
Siah was so weird.
Nathan shrugged at him and tried to go back to sleep. Eventually Eric did the same.
Weird wasn’t so bad.
He was just drifting off when it dawned on him what she had been singing. He bolted up at the same time Nathan did, locking gazes with his brother.
It had been a Christmas song! She had said Merry Christmas to them!
It was Christmas day and they had done nothing for Siah!
They still had the cash Siah had given them from the reward money; surely they could get something nice at that town they'd passed through on the way here. She had done so much for them.They didn't know what to do but they both wanted to do something.
Not wanting to bring any more attention to themselves than they already would, they decided to leave the truck with Siah and walk into town. Leaving a note by Siah’s head, they silently headed into town while it was still darker out.
This was the protocol she had said for them to do if the situation ever arose for it, but they were still nervous. This was the first time they have intentionally left Siah since, well, since they’d met her.
Besides the cash, and their weapons, they took only an empty canvas backpack with them. Like Siah had taught them, they kept their hoods up, but approached openly, walking at an even pace, trying not to look suspicious.
As they reached the outskirts of the small town, they saw that many of the homes had been abandoned or at least they looked that way. The more inhabited streets were close to the center of the small town.
This could be dangerous and they both knew it, but Siah had taught them social skills.
They could put them to use.
They passed a house that had a handmade sign in the front window, “Clothes for Sale” with little drawn pictures of pants, shirts and dresses all around the words.
This house was off by itself in a neighborhood that looked abandoned, but the house itself seemed relatively well maintained. They had thought to head into the center of town where they could see several shops from the top of the ridge but, why not try here first? A home based business was less likely to be picky with who they sold to.
Nathan looked up at Eric and they both headed towards the door.
Nathan told himself over and over that this was for Siah. One look at Eric and he could tell he was doing the same. He swallowed. Siah had been teaching them social skills. They could use them. They could.
Eric knocked twice and tried to calm himself. A movement in the window with the sign caught their eye and a moment later an old woman answered the door.
They waited for the requisite startling at their looks. When she had stopped gawking she looked a little scared.
They both bowed with their hands over their hearts like Siah had taught them.
“Ma’am,” Eric began, speaking in his gentlest tone, the soft voice and the title something else that Siah had taught them.
“Do you have children’s clothing for sale? We are looking for a Christmas present.”
The woman seemed as surprised by his voice as much as what he was asking for.
“Why yes, yes I do. Oh please forgive me, come inside.”
And just like that, they were invited into the woman’s home. Nathan looked at his brother; just asking had actually worked.
The wrinkled woman showed them to two closets in the front hallway that were filled with clothing. One was all boys, the other all girls. She told them she also had a back bedroom filled with adults clothing.
He and Eric just looked at each other sideways. They were both completely out of their depth and they knew it.
Still they began carefully scooting the clothes aside, searching for something that would suit for Sharlie. The clothing was all arranged according to size and had price labels tied to each item. Nathan was squatting down, going through one of the lower racks when he saw it. It was just like in his dream. It was perfect. He pulled it out and showed it to Eric. He nodded. They would take it.
“So who are you shopping for?” the woman asked.
While he hadn’t been directly looking at her, Nathan had been fully aware of the woman’s movements the entire time. He had the impression she was either nervous around them or this lady didn’t get to talk very often. Too bad all she had was them.
“We are shopping…” Eric looked at Nathan, seemingly at a loss.
“We are shopping for our little sister.” He finally finished. Nathan understood Eric’s hesitancy. He felt the same way. Neither of them had ever actually acknowledged Sharlie as their little sister. Not with words.
The woman didn’t seem to notice Eric’s hesitation because her tired face suddenly lit up. The smile changed her face. Nathan thought she might’ve been pretty when she was young.
“Oh how old is she?”
“She’s four ma’am, but small for her age. We’ll take these items."
He handed her the two shirts and three pairs of pants that they thought would either fit, or that Sharlie would grow into.
"How much will the total be?” Nathan knew Eric was only asking to gauge the woman’s honesty. They both made a point of adding up their own sums in their heads whenever they were doing a deal. She took each item and wrote it out on a piece of paper and added it up.
“Ok.” She seemed to hesitate. “That will be four dollars and fifty cents.” In the current economy that was a reasonable price for five pieces of clothing and it was equal to what he had calculated. Eric gave him a questioning look and when he nodded Eric took the bills and coins out of his pocket and counted them out into the woman’s hand.
Nathan watched the woman’s face turn into something close to wonder as she held the money. Was this old woman that desperate for cash?
He found himself speaking for the first time.
“Ma’am, did you say you had women’s clothing?”
Eric looked at him surprised, but said nothing as the woman’s face lit up again and she excitedly led them down a short hallway to a bedroom empty of anything but several racks of clothes.
Their eyes fell across the coats and this time it was Eric who picked one out. Like theirs, it was made of wool, but this one was a beautiful deep red with no hint of orange in it. It might be too big for Siah but they both knew she could alter it. It was perfect. Nathan checked the price tag. It was reasonable.
“Well take this one ma’am.” Eric handed her the two one dollar bills. This time the woman looked on the verge of tears.
Man, he hoped she didn’t cry, at least not while they were there. She seemed to pull herself together.
“May I, would you like me to wrap these up for you?”
Eric held the clothes he’d had slung over his arm out to her.
“Yes, please ma’am.”
She took them and nearly ran out of the room. Eric looked at him; he hadn’t missed the tears either.
They followed her out slowly and watched, fascinated as the woman took two thin white boxes from underneath the kitchen counter, pulled some kind of thin paper off a roller, cutting it to size and individually wrapped the coats for Siah and Sharlie. The other little items they’d gotten for Sharlie were wrapped together and placed in the same box as her coat.
When she put the lid on both boxes they thought that was it, but then the woman brought out more. Nathan had seen the strange roll of something hanging from a dowel on the wall but only when the woman picked up the boxes and used it as a measure to cut the paper did he realize what it was; it was wrapping paper. She wrapped the boxes quickly and efficiently, using some kind of thin transparent strip to hold the loose ends together. He’d only heard of the stuff before, he was pretty sure it was called “tape”. Then she pulled two bows made of some kind of shiny paper ribbon out of somewhere and placed them on the top. They must have had some kind of glue on the back because she didn’t need to tie them on.
The woman did it all with such a sense of grace that Nathan knew he was looking at a master craftswoman.
One look at Eric and he knew he felt the same.
“Thank you ma’am.” Eric said as he carefully put both packages into his backpack.
“Our mother will love this.”
“This is for your mama?” she asked with a tone of wonder in her voice.
“Yes ma’am, for our mother and little sister.”
“Here, take this to your mama too.” She held out a package of herbs.
“It’s chocolate mint tea. Tell her merry Christmas from me.”
“Uh, thank you ma’am.” Eric took the package awkwardly.
The woman’s eyes shone as she showed them to the door.
“It gives me heart to see that there are still decent, kind young men out in the world.”
Decent? Kind? Them? They’d been called a lot of things but no one had ever accused them of those before.
As she opened the door, they both put their hoods up. Once they were out on the porch, they placed their hands on their hearts and bowed their heads to her. This time Nathan decided to be the one to speak.
“Thank you ma’am.”
The young men left as silently as they had arrived. Marsha didn’t know what had caused such horrible scars on those poor boys but those quiet young men would be in her prayers for a long time to come. They'd clearly had some terrible experiences in their lives, but that they were coming out to shop for their mother and little sister on Christmas day said a lot for them. Yes, those were two first class young men walking down the street.
They were down the block; both feeling dazed from the interaction with the old lady. It was surreal.
“I can’t believe that worked!”
Nathan nodded. He understood. Those bizarre social skills had actually worked!
As they walked down the street back towards camp, Nathan felt a strange pull, like they should go back, further, deeper into town. He stopped in his tracks.
Eric gave him a quizzical look.
“Do you think the coat is enough?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I just feel like, like there should be something more, personal for Siah; something that we’re missing.”
“What else would we get her?”
“I don’t know. Just…” he didn’t know how to describe what he was feeling. It was a strange pull, like they should go more towards the center of town to continue looking for more gifts.
It occurred to him just how little they really knew about Siah.
“Come on. I want to check out what else is in this town.”
It was mid-day when they finally came back into camp. Siah and Sharlie both ran up to them, Sharlie just happy they were back and Siah both glad to see them and mad at them for leaving.
“I was getting worried about you two, what took you so long?”
“We went into town.”
Siah put her hands on her hips. She’d gathered that much from their note. They had driven through the small town on the way here. It had reminded her of Tinplate before Holsun had gotten a hold of it. She was mid-scowl when she saw the stuff sticking out of the boys’ backpacks.
“What is that?”
Both looking a bit sheepish, they pulled out two beautifully wrapped packages and handed one to her.
“Oh, boys…” her voice quavered as she melted. they had spent their own money on Christmas Presents?
Nathan squatted in front of Sharlie. “Sharlie, this one’s for you.”
“This for me?” Sharlie took the beautifully wrapped present in her hands almost reverently, awestruck, then sputtering with excitement as she had no idea how to react.
The boys didn’t seem to know how to react either.
She brushed her tears away.
“C’mon boys, I have food ready. Let’s eat, then I’ll give you your presents and well open ours together.”
Eric and Nathan were both shocked at the delicious meal Siah had ready for them, she had snared a wild duck and made some kind of concoction with the freeze dried hash browns, onions, spices and some wild rice she had been saving that was amazing.
Siah had to convince Sharlie to set her present down so she could eat, she pouted until she took her first bite and then no one spoke.
Neither of the boys had ever had duck before, but decided right then that it was their favorite food. Every scrap and grain eaten, they all sat back and enjoyed the fires warmth.
It was so strange here; the air a mixture of the hot springs steam and heat mingled with the cold air. Combined with the dry warmth of the fire, it was a perfect moment.
It was Siah who finally broke the quiet by going into the tent, "Okay boys, now you two wait here for your gifts."
She came out of the tent a minute later with two packages wrapped in brown paper.
Both boys looked at each other as they took the packages. Nathan really hoped this wasn't what it was shaped like.
They opened the packages slowly, Nathan breathing a big sigh of relief when he saw that it was not a Bible. Siah had never pushed her religion on them and was glad she still wasn't.
Still, fully unwrapping it, he was surprised at what it was; a journal.
He was holding in his hands a leather-bound journal, with thick unlined pages. It reminded him of the one he saw Siah write in, except this one had a loopy thing that held a pen attached.
"Journaling has helped me through a lot over the years. I want you boys to know that same joy."
He didn't know what to say so he just nodded.
Sharlie was at first hesitant to open hers, (she had thought the beautifully wrapped thing was the gift) and was thrilled with the little coat and clothes.
Siah opened hers and was awestruck. She pulled out the huge coat, in awe that God had used the boys to get the red wool of her dreams.
Now she was really having to work to hold the tears back. She looked up to see the boys pulling something out of their backpacks, two something’s actually.
Even after they had them out of their cases and in hand, Siah still could not believe what she was seeing.
Nathan and Eric both had a violin in hand. They didn’t so much as look at her or say a word as together they played and sang, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”
Only as they both finished the last lingering note did they both tentatively look up at her, clearly nervous.
“Merry Christmas Siah.”
Nathan had such a look of open vulnerability; Eric looked like he was a desperately hungry little boy.
Siah had her hands over her heart and she wasn’t bothering to stop the tears. She walked around and hugged them both.
“Best Christmas present ever!” she declared.
When she was finally able to composed herself she sat in front of the boys.
“Now how long have you two known how to play the violin?”
When had that happened?
“We had the guy in the music store in town show us the basics, then we just practiced until we had it down.”
“So you’ve never used these instruments before?”
“No.” They said in unison.
Siah just looked at them and blinked.
“Is this the first time either of you have ever held a violin?”
Again they seemed mystified by her questions.
“Boys, did the store owner who sold you the instruments seem, surprised, that you caught onto them so quickly?”
Surprisingly it was Nathan who answered.
“Actually, yeah, he did act kind of weird about it. He kept asking us where we had taken lessons.”
Siah hid her shock.
Could both boys be prodigies?
Did you catch it? ;-)