I'm Back! Okay, it's a day late, but I got it here. The title and story are based on a plot bunny I got from listening to the Faith Hill song of the same name. As usual, all content and characters belong to Craig B., not me. He's just awful nice to let us borrow them all the time!
Christmas was not a happy, joyous affair here, as it had been in his home when he was younger. Here, at the home of his in-laws, Christmas was a quiet, dignified affair. Fine linens, best silver, quiet murmuring of the adult voices in the dining room as the children ate in the kitchen, a little louder, yet still quieter that children should be on Christmas.
There was no running down the stairs on Christmas morning to start tearing into the presents under the tree. Instead, present opening was for after dinner, when the adults gather around the big tree and benevolently handed presents to whatever child's name they called out.
Eleanor was different from her cousins; she got the excitement of Christmas morning and the small time frame in which to be a child. Much to her mother's allowances. He had fought hard for that victory a decade ago.
Arnold sat on the couch of his in-laws, hand in his lap, watching the children quietly open their presents. Santa Claus did not exist in this family; he was a myth used by parents to bribe their children into good behavior.
When he was Eleanor's age, his Christmas' were full of joy and wonder. Maybe not so much wonder as much as fireworks and hot dogs. His grandmother always celebrated the 4th of July on Christmas, complete with fireworks, hotdogs, and red, white, and blue decorations. His Christmas may not have had a tree and lights, but they were never boring.
He covered his mouth, hiding a yawn as his wife smiled at their daughter who was opening a present, murmuring her thanks to her grandparents. Eleanor looked up at him and gave him a mysterious smile. He smiled back at her, shifting his eyes just slightly to glance at the clock.
When Arnold had met Rachel, she reminded him of a brunette Lila. She was slightly intriguing yet, he had kept his distance. She had perused him and eventually they began dating. He found her the opposite of him. Where he was always optimistic; she was pragmatic. He was adventurous; she was content to stay close to her roots. He was happy doing whatever caught his fancy; she had her life set from the time she was twelve. He felt at the time, that they could complement each other. She could give him a home, family, ties he'd never had; he could give her a sense of adventure and wonder. When they married, he quickly realized that a sense of wonder was never what she wanted, no matter what she had told him.
He had been suffocating in a normalcy ever since, slowly feeling his soul being pushed into a covered box never to return.
A small hand touched his and he looked down. Eleanor looked up at him, brown hair in a neat bun, her green eyes shining.
"Is it time for our walk?" she asked quietly. He nodded and stood up, catching the attention of his wife.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I thought I'd go for a little walk with Eleanor, take in the fresh air." he told her, silently crossing his fingers that neither she nor one of the other children would want to go with them. Rachel just nodded absently, going back to watching the kids who were still opening presents.
"Not too long." she said.
He took Eleanor's hand and the two silently slipped out of the family room.
Last year one of Eleanor's cousins has expressed an interest in going with them. Arnold and Eleanor had begrudgingly took him alone and after five minutes he was complaining it was too cold so they had to return.
Eleanor grabbed her coat quietly and was at the front door before he could get his coat zipped. He opened the door and the two slipped out into the cold, white outdoors.
Two years ago, he and Eleanor had gone for this walk. They had a secret; one that Eleanor's mother didn't know, one that nobody but the two of them knew. They were going to visit Eleanor's other relatives.
They walked down the street, Arnold watching Eleanor kick snow with her new boots Rachel had just gotten her two day before. They took a left at the light and continued walking.
When they'd gotten a considerable ways from the Dallinger's household, a transformation overcame his daughter, one he never got tired of watching. She shed her proper shell, like a snake shedding its skin for the winter, turning into a bright eyed cheerful child. Running down the sidewalk she laughed happily, picking up snow and throwing it at trees, fire hydrants, mailboxes, her father. Laughing with her, he picked up a small pile of snow and threw it at her, careful to miss her as her mother would spot if any part of her was wet.
"There it is, Daddy!" she exclaimed. Arnold looked up from his thoughts and spotted the familiar well worn iron fence with the wrought iron gate and sign.
He smiled at her. "Let's go find Grandma and Grandpa." He told her, producing two small bundles of flowers from his coat like magic. "They'll be so surprised to see how big you've gotten since the last time we visited."
Eleanor grinned, skipping down the cleared pathways towards the gravesites of the two grandparents she'd never met. Suddenly a popping sound broke the stillness and Eleanor stopped in her tracks, glancing back at her father.
Arnold frowned, hurrying to catch up with his daughter. Who would break the stillness of this Christmas afternoon?
Another popping sound was heard and for a moment Arnold could swear he saw quick burst of lights in the sky. Like...fireworks.
He froze, staring at the sky, his eyes growing cold and wet.
Eleanor peeked cautiously around the corner of the tree to where her grandparents graves were.
"Daddy?" she questioned.
He looked down at her, then towards the gravesite where she was looking.
He hurried towards the plots of land, his daughter in tow behind him.
Coming to stop in front of the two sites, his eyes began to water again. The gravesites had been covered in red, white and blue streamers. A small American flag top hat rested on the stone of his grandmother's grave. Red, white and blue flowers rested on both gravesites. In between the two sites lie the remnants of two rockets that had been let off. So, he had seen fireworks.
He stood there in shock. Who would do this? Who, other than him, would give his grandparents the real holiday they'd celebrated this time of year. A holiday that he'd missed terribly. His daughter tugged his coat sleeve.
"Daddy." she whispered, pointing in the distance. Arnold turned to where she was pointing.
Walking off in the distance was a figure wrapped in a heavy coat. The wind blew, moving the figure's hood and for a moment, he caught a flash of pink, before a gloved hand yanked the hood back into place.
Arnold smiled, watching the figure trudge out of sight. Still smiling , he looked at his daughter, patting her gently on the head, before turning back to the mess of color in front of him. A mess that most people would find appalling and odd. He found it comforting.
"Who was that Daddy?" Eleanor asked.
Arnold looked at her, smiling fondly. His thoughts briefly turned to another with the same name...according to his grandmother.
"A friend of your grandmother's." he told her.
He knelt down, brushing off some of the snow, carefully not messing with the other decorations, and set his own flowers on the sites.
For the first time in years, he felt like he truly found his Christmas.
"Merry Christmas Grandma and Grandpa. Merry Christmas."