"Jo?" I peek into to the attic where my sister scribbles, penning worlds that only exist her mind. "Are you coming to bed?"
"Not yet, Beth." Jo whispers. "I'm right at the climax."
I slide onto the floor near the chests that line Jo's writing room and trace the names carved into them.
I don't wish to disturb her while she is writing - especially during the climax -nor do I wish to go back downstairs. Meg needs sleep to be cheerful with the children tomorrow, and Amy will be cranky in the morning if she stays up too late. I won't even think of waking poor Marmee.
It's silly, I know, because I am fifteen years old, but I fear the dark. At night, when everything is quiet, I begin to think about Father and wonder if he is cold or hungry. Then I worry all the others out there. Every night, men are wounded. Father writes about them in his letters. Just thinking of a man, lying alone with no one to comfort him and nothing to ease his pain, makes me cry. I feel so spoiled wrapped in my blankets with all my sisters and mother nearby.
Jo continues to scribble, and I open her chest, smiling as I ruffle through the things. There is our newspaper from our last literary meeting. Jo wants me to compose another article for our next paper, but I can't think of anything to write.
Jo throws down her pencil, then growls. "I don't believe this! I'm at the most important part of the story, and I have no idea what to write."
"You'll come up with something," I answer, closing the lid. "You always do, Jo."
She removes her writer's cap with a sigh. "Well, not tonight. Marmee won't want us to stay up late on Christmas Eve."
I shake my head. "And we must be awake to act in our play tomorrow! I hope Marmee likes it!"
"Of course, she'll like it!" Jo settles the fact, shoving her chair beneath her desk. "I wrote it."
I smile, but I can't help wondering. We have never done a play quite this exciting. It has three murders and a kidnapped princess, along with an evil man who triumphs and I worry if Marmee will entirely approve.
I follow Jo downstairs to our room, and rescue Susan from under the dark covers as I climb into bed next to Jo.
"It's Christmas Eve, Beth," she whispers. "What are your wishes?"
She asks the question every year. We are allowed five wishes that will come true over the next five years.
I snuggle deep into the blankets. "I wish that the war will end, and the men will come home safely.
"Don't we all?" Jo replies.
I bite my lip, trying again. "I wish that Marmee didn't need to work so hard."
"That's Marmee's wish," Jo argues. "You have to wish for something for Bethy and only Bethy."
"Well…" I let my mind wander over everything that I want, but I can't think of very much that doesn't involve someone else. "I would like some new music."
"That's a good one. And is your next wish a better piano?"
I giggled. Our piano sounds terrible. It's out of tune, and the D and G key don't work anymore, so I must sing along to make the melody whole. But I still love my piano, though it is covered with scratches and gives out funny little songs. I feel like that piano sometimes, hiding in the corner, and wanting to come out, but just not quite brave enough to open up and sing.
"What else?" Jo asks.
I shake my head. "If you take other people out of it, there isn't much else I want, Jo." I shift onto my side to look at her. "What about you?"
"Oh, there's ever so many. I want to be a soldier, but I said that one last year, and it'll never happen, so I'll skip it. I want to be a world-famous writer." She pulls her index finger back, numbering off her requests. "I want to go to New York, and become an actress. I want to learn to control my temper - though that one is more impossible than becoming a soldier. I want to make a great discovery, and I want to conquer the world."
I laugh again. "You will conquer the world, Jo. You can do anything."
"I know one thing I'm going to do," Jo says. "I'm going to get a job and save up my money until we are like we were before Father lost his fortune. I'll get you the best piano ever made, and myself a whole library of books, and Meg all the dresses she could ask for, and Amy…" She hesitates. "Well, I don't suppose Amy needs much else. She's already getting too vain. Oh, but I'd make us rich, Beth, really rich."
I smile at my older sister. So brave. So funny. So beautiful. "We are rich, Jo."
She nods. "Yes. I suppose you're right. Good night, Beth. I love you."
"I love you, too."
Just like last Christmas, she rolls over and falls asleep. And like last Christmas, I recompose my list with those things that I cannot say - even to my Jo.
I wish I could be brave like Jo.
I wish I could be graceful like Meg.
And I wish - someday far away - that I could - could…
I blush, and press my face to my pillow. I know what my heart longs for, but I can never admit it - even to myself.