The First Noel
"I don't want to go see a baby!" twelve-year-old Jake declared scornfully.
He glared defiantly at his mother. "I want to go to the oval and play footy with the big boys. I just wish I had a proper football like everyone else does."
Blythe Knightley smiled patiently at her older son. He could be so tempestuous sometimes. He was nothing like the obedient ten-year-old John who never gave her any trouble.
And yet, she thought fondly as she looked into Jake's green eyes, so like his father's, she wouldn't change one hair on his head for all the obedience in the world.
"Just come for a little while, Jake," she coaxed gently. "I'm sure Mrs Woodhouse would like to see you. She might even have a Christmas present for you. I'll drop you off at the oval after our visit, OK?"
"OK," Jake said with a sullen sigh, as though he was doing his mother a very big favour. And he reluctantly followed his mother next door, although the scowl on his face showed that he didn't want to be there.
"Oh, Elizabeth, she's beautiful!" Blythe said tenderly as she admired her neighbour's new baby girl. She had wisps of fine blonde hair and wide blue eyes. Dressed snugly in a white fleecy sleeper, she looked just like a little angel.
"She is, isn't she?" Elizabeth Woodhouse said proudly as she looked at her three-day-old daughter. "I was hoping she'd come on New Year's Day, but she surprised us by coming a couple of weeks early."
"And are you coping OK?" Blythe asked gently. She remembered all too clearly what being a mother of two very young children was like, especially when they were so close in age. At least Isabella was already eight and would be able to help look after her younger sister.
"I think so. Thanks for asking," Elizabeth replied gratefully. "To be honest, Henry seems to be far more worried! If he'd had his way, I'd still be in the hospital and this little one would be in an incubator. You know how protective he can get. All he wants to do is fuss, fuss, fuss."
"Oh, I know how that feels, alright," Blythe said dryly, remembering the solicitous actions of her own doting husband. And the two women giggled together, enjoying the feeling of shared camaraderie.
"So how are the boys?" Elizabeth asked suddenly.
Blythe spun around in surprise. She'd assumed that the boys were with her, but now they were nowhere in sight.
She noticed the open back door and groaned quietly.
"I'm sorry, Liz," she said apologetically. "Looks like they snuck into the backyard when I wasn't looking."
"Oh, that's no problem," Elizabeth replied easily. "Izzy's in the back – she'll keep them in line."
Blythe smiled. It was true – eight-year-old Isabella did seem to have a talent for getting her boys to behave, even though they were technically older than her. There was something about the power of feminine influence...
She rose from her seat and walked to the open back door.
"Jake! John! Aren't you going to come in and see the new baby?" she called.
A few seconds later, her two sons came running in.
"Aw, do we have to, Mum? We were in the middle of climbing the apple tree!" Jake protested.
"Just come see the baby and then you can go," Blythe said firmly. It wasn't that she was trying to keep her boys from their fun – but she knew it was important to instil manners in them from an early age too.
Elizabeth turned so that both boys could see the baby.
"Jake, John, this is Isabella's new baby sister. Her name is Emma."
John looked at the baby briefly, but soon lost interest.
"I want to go back outside," he whined.
His mother sighed and nodded her approval and he quickly ran back outside to join Isabella.
"Do you want to go outside too?" she started to ask her older son and then realised that he was standing completely still, his green eyes fixed earnestly on the baby.
Elizabeth noticed Jake's fascination and smiled knowingly at Blythe.
"Would you like to hold her, Jake?"
He gaped and looked at Blythe for approval. "Can I? I mean, may I?"
His voice was full of awe – so completely different from the scornful tone he had used towards her earlier.
"You may," Blythe assented. "Just be careful."
"But I don't know how to hold a baby," Jake muttered, looking nervous. "She's so little. What if I drop her?"
Elizabeth laughed. "Then you, young man, will have to explain yourself to Mr Woodhouse. Nobody's allowed to drop a pin around this baby as far as he's concerned."
Seeing the very alarmed expression on Jake's face, she added kindly, "But if you think it'll be easier, why don't you sit down?"
Once Jake was seated comfortably on the Woodhouses' couch, Elizabeth leaned down and gently placed baby Emma in his arms.
"She's so little," he whispered, awestruck. "Look at her tiny fingernails. And oh, she's trying to grab my finger!"
Indeed, the baby had made a grab for Jake's finger and she now held him firmly in her little fist.
"She's got him wrapped around her little finger already," Blythe murmured in amusement.
She was quite surprised by the affection that Jake was showing to this child. She was sure his own brother had never received this attention as a baby.
Elizabeth left the room briefly and came back with a small pile of neatly wrapped packages.
"The top one is for you, Jake," she said warmly, holding out the oval package that looked suspiciously like a football.
Jake glanced at the package and then again at the baby in his arms. Then back at the package... and then back at the baby.
He glanced sheepishly at his mother. "Is it OK if I just open it later?"
"Of course," Blythe said with an understanding smile.
It was another five hours before Jake finally managed to tear himself away from the baby. By that time, the football game at the oval was long over.
Years later, Jake Knightley had forgotten all about the football he received from the Woodhouse family that Christmas. But for some reason, he would always remember it as being the Christmas that brought the most special gift ever.
Author's Note: I told a few of you that I was thinking about writing a Christmas story for Emma and Jake... well, here it is! As you've probably figured out from the title A Christmas Medley, I have plans for several other Christmas chapters which will all centre around Emma and Jake's friendship and will be named after various Christmas songs.
Would you like to see more of these? If so, all you need to do is subscribe to this story and leave a review!