A/N: Hi everyone! So, a little explanation. I don't care for holiday chapters. Don't like 'em. I mean, they've been done over and over again and there's really not much new to add. I never expected to write one. But...well, it's Wisp's first Christmas, and it felt like she deserved it. It's an outtake because it's out of sequence: this takes place maybe a few chapters ahead of where we are right now (35). So, she's out of the hospital, back home, and recovered.
A very happy belated birthday to my girls natalayx and mshavisham! Sorry I'm late!
All standard disclaimers apply.
When everyone assumed Christmas was Alice's idea, Edward didn't mind. It was a very Alice-like thing to suggest, after all. The gifts, the decorations—everything that celebrating the holiday entailed. And, in his defense, the original question had been Esme's, not his. Once she asked what he was planning for the holiday, the idea to give Wisp the most over-the-top experience for what was possibly her first Christmas took root in his head and he couldn't ignore it.
Esme and Alice, after hearing what he wanted, were enthusiastic partners in crime, and so was Emmett.
Carlisle, being the realist of the group, wanted to know what Edward planned to do about the religious part of the holiday. Wisp didn't exactly respond well to the Bible, after all.
"No religion," Edward told him. He was absolutely adamant about that. "Santa Claus, candy canes, Christmas trees, all that shit. No mangers, no angels." Nothing that might potentially upset her. "The holiday's become commercial enough that we can figure it out."
Esme and Alice agreed.
Rosalie and Esme planned two full days of rich menus: finger foods and wine (or sparkling cider, in Wisp's case) for Christmas Eve, a full spread for breakfast the next morning, and a Christmas ham dinner that Edward couldn't wait to taste. Alice, Emmett, and—surprisingly—Carlisle put themselves in charge of decorations, raiding their own collections and then heading to Port Angeles for what else they needed. Jasper brought a gorgeous, fat tree that smelled like winter and almost reached the little cabin's ceiling.
Pet immediately took to the tree, eating pine needles and then clambering up into the mass of branches. Edward and Jasper got some wire and tethered the top of the tree to the ceiling to make sure she didn't inadvertently knock it over.
Wisp was a little more unsure, staring at the invasion of her living room by something that plainly belonged outside. She gave Edward a look that clearly meant she thought he was crazy, which only made him chuckle. Yes, he supposed many traditions were a little nutty, but if there was no harm, then...well, there was no harm.
"Don't you start going all sociologist on her," Alice ordered when he tried to explain about the origins of secular Christmas traditions. "She doesn't care about stuff like that."
So Edward held his peace as Alice sat down with Wisp and a pile of picture books. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Frosty the Snowman. The Night Before Christmas. Elves, trees, poinsettias, and brightly-wrapped presents littered every page.
She loved it.
Really, Edward suspected Wisp loved attention of any kind and reading, to her, was basically time she spent one-on-one with the people she was closest to. She glowed, exclaiming over each illustration with Alice at her side. Her favorite was when Alice brought out a scratch-and-sniff book, with little swatches of holiday scents on each page. Peppermint. Fir tree. Holly. Cookies. Cinnamon. Her favorite was a bunch of oranges, which she smelled over and over again.
Every day, starting about a week before the holiday, they tried to do something special. For two days straight over one weekend, the girls took over the cabin's little kitchen and baked batch after batch of cookies. Gingerbread. Sugar cookies. Tiny little bite-sized loaves of pumpkin bread. Swirls of chocolate and peppermint. Esme had candy recipes handed down from her grandmother—divinity and fudge—but they drew the line at fruitcake, for which Edward was grateful. Carlisle actually liked the stuff if it was made well, but he was the only one.
Wisp sat on the kitchen counter, happy to both help and watch as Esme wrangled her assistants and turned raw flour, butter, and sugar into sweet little signs of the season. Wisp sprinkled flour and learned to use a rolling pin, and she delighted in the cookie cutters when Alice brought them out. When the gingerbread and sugar cookies were baked and cooled, they set her up on her cushion at the coffee table with trays of cookies and every sort of icing and decoration they could find. Once she realized what they expected from her, the combination of sugar and art made her just about as happy as Edward had ever seen. She was meticulous, creating gorgeous cookies that Edward didn't want to eat. They were too pretty.
Emmett didn't have the same reservations.
By the end of the weekend, they had tins and tins of cookies, layered with waxed paper to keep them from sticking together. They were gorgeous, but Edward suspected Wisp had more icing and decorative candies in her belly than on the treats.
He wasn't about to complain.
Sunday night he helped her scrub red and green stains off her fingers in her bath, left there by colored icing. She stuck her tongue out at herself in the mirror when she brushed her teeth, giggling at the colors.
"I hope you're having fun," he said as she spat pale-green toothpaste foam into the sink. "I have no idea how much you understand about why we're doing all this, but I'm not sure it matters so much. I think the experience is more important."
"Edward," she said happily. He smiled. Yeah, that was the important thing.
There were no neighbors to see any outdoor decorations, so they didn't put any up. Alice thought Wisp might like taking a drive around town to see the lights on other houses, though Edward wasn't so sure. Leaving the house was not something she enjoyed at all.
"She has to learn sometime that going out the door isn't scary," Alice said. "You took her to Emmett's house once, right? Taking her out for something other than the doctor is good for her."
Which is how Edward found himself in the back of his car, hoping no police could see Wisp on his lap through the dark, tinted windows, as Alice and Jasper sat up front.
"Home, Edward," she pleaded, clutching him tightly. Her big, frightened eyes were black in the darkness of the car.
"Shh, little Wisp, it's okay," he soothed, while wishing Alice never suggested the idea. "We're not going anywhere bad."
They drove through a coffee stand at Alice's insistence, and Wisp unwound herself from Edward's grasp enough to first sniff, then sip, at the peppermint hot chocolate offered to her.
"Do you like that?" Edward watched as she rolled the flavor around in her mouth. "See? Going out isn't always so bad, huh?" Alice was right, and he could accept that. But he didn't want Christmas to be a struggle for Wisp, just happiness. They had plenty of time later to push her boundaries.
There was a small neighborhood in town known for its impressive light display, and Jasper turned the car toward those streets. The minute she saw the glow of colored lights through her window, Wisp perked up. "Edward!" she said, pointing as they approached the decorations.
"Yeah. Pretty, huh?"
"Pretty," she agreed.
All through the drive, she sat with her face close to the window, watching as they passed house after house. She especially liked one house with electric candles in the windows, and another with a big inflated snow globe on the lawn. They did pass several houses with nativity scenes, but if Wisp recognized the tableau she gave no indication.
Jasper drove exceedingly slowly, even turning down each street twice so Wisp could see the decorations on both sides without getting distracted. Alice turned on some Christmas music, and the warm smell of coffee and Wisp's hot chocolate surrounded them.
When they returned home, Edward had to admit to Alice that her idea was a success. Once she calmed down, Wisp loved looking at all the lights.
The little trip brought up questions for him, though, that he would rather not think about.
How familiar was she with how the world looked outside the confines of a house, or the enclosed back of a pickup truck? She knew the outside of the cabin well enough from their infrequent trips—to the doctor, to Rose's house, to the hospital. He knew she recognized the little green door and the warm brown shingles, the big picture window and small front step. But what about actual neighborhoods? Places where houses sat side by side along quiet streets, kids or flowers or dogs in the yards, cars in the garages or driveways? Was this a concept she was familiar with? How much of the outside world did she know? Had she any concept of a city? A farm? How much did she understand about the way people lived—life beyond the confines of wherever she might have been kept? Surely not much. If she'd been in close contact with the outside world, someone would have found out about her long before this. Someone would have noticed a girl who crawled, a girl unfamiliar with clothes and human food. Wouldn't they? Surely someone would have called the police or social services.
The thought was sobering, reminding him once again of just how much he didn't know about this girl who had become such a huge part of his life in such a short amount of time. Even the things he did know were difficult to put into perspective sometimes. How many people had she ever seen together at one time? Did she have any concept of just how many humans there were in the world? Different ethnicities? Different cultures, ways of doing things? He stood in his kitchen with the light off, staring for a long minute at Wisp and Alice sprawled on the living room floor. Alice was helping her make a red and green chain of paper links to count down to Christmas. Jasper stood by the tree, adjusting the wire that kept Pet from knocking it over. It all looked so...so normal. But he had to acknowledge that he had no idea what Wisp thought was "normal." What did she think? What did she expect from him? Had it changed in the months she'd been here? He hoped so.
Edward continued to brood as he got out one of Pet's dishes and a can of cat food. He ran the water in the sink for the moment it took to pop the top of the can—Wisp still flinched when she heard that sound. The rushing water did nothing to dampen Pet's superior hearing, though, and he instantly had a little black ball of fur crying at his feet. Wrinkling his nose a little at the strong odor of the cat food, he took a spoon and began scooping the brown mush into the dish. Pet stood on her back legs and reached up as high as she could with her front paws, stretching toward the counter with plaintive meows. She was getting big—almost like a real cat instead of just a little ball of black fluff.
Edward paused, staring at the smelly food. If they were reading the signs right, this is what Wisp had eaten for...who knows how long. This was what she survived on. He thought about the girl in the next room, listening to her soft giggle at something Alice did. She loved food—loved it with a kind of reverence he'd never seen even from people with obvious food addictions. She adored sweets the most—Esme's chocolate cake topped the list of her very favorite things, not that he could blame her. It was impossible, maybe, to know the route of causation: did her love of food come about because it had been denied to her for so long? Or was it merely part of her, an intrinsic piece of who she was? She did enjoy very physical, tactile pleasures—hot baths, warm clothes, soft things—and food was, perhaps, just another instance of that. It was really, at this point, impossible to know.
It wasn't impossible, however, to imagine how much she must have hated living on pet food. Even if she didn't know there was another way, that better food existed, this stuff wasn't made for humans and he couldn't imagine it being at all palatable. The utter bleakness of her past life before he found her seemed horrible to Edward, and yet, it was difficult to really know how it had felt to her. Were awful things still awful if she didn't know the difference? Edward didn't know. He could only imagine that her comforts and pleasures must have been much smaller than they were now.
Pet meowed louder, turning her attention from the too-high counter to Edward's leg, and he felt sharp claws sink into his jeans and prick at his skin. "Ow!" he said, shaking her off. "Yeah, I get it. You and Wisp both get pretty single-minded where food is concerned." He set her dish down and went to rinse the spoon and empty can, but as he turned the water on, he paused. This stuff really did smell awful, but he realized that he had no idea what it tasted like.
Without giving himself time to reconsider, he stuck the dirty spoon in his mouth.
And immediately gagged.
Edward spat and spat into the sink, grabbed a cup and rinsed his mouth with water, then immediately went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and gargle. That stuff was absolutely vile. He didn't think he had a weak stomach, but the taste of Pet's food made him gag. How had Wisp managed to live on that stuff?
Maybe she hadn't? He spat spearmint mouthwash into the sink and sucked in a breath of air, testing the taste of his mouth. Deciding to be on the safe side, he took another mouthful and began to swish again. Maybe it had been...like a punishment? If she misbehaved, she was fed pet food?
It was a more comforting thought than his Wisp actually being forced to live on that stuff, but even as he thought it, Edward knew it wasn't true. She was too fascinated with food, too unfamiliar with it, especially when he'd first found her. No. Maybe she'd known human food at some point in her past, but if so, she hadn't been allowed to eat it in a very, very long time.
Returning to the living room with newfound respect for Wisp and her will to survive even under deplorable conditions, Edward settled on the couch and watched her interact with Alice. They'd finished their countdown chain and tacked it to the wall near the Christmas tree, and now they were making snowflakes out of white and silver paper.
"I hope Rose and Emmett have a girl," Alice was saying as she cut into the folded paper. "Then I can dress her in all sorts of pretty, ruffly things! Rose and I are going shopping for Christmas dresses tomorrow. She's getting too big to fit into her regular clothes, and we need something for you, too." She smiled at the girl currently applying silver glitter and glue to a snowflake of her own. There was a picture book open to a page with falling flakes—without it, Edward doubted Wisp would have any idea what she was supposed to be making. Or would she? He didn't know. When they finally got her walking, he'd take her up to the mountains to see some snow.
What she'd come from...where she was now...Edward could be nothing but proud of his Wisp. She had accepted his family and closest friends as her own, though at first she had been utterly terrified of everyone and didn't know what to make of the women. She was slowly gaining a little weight and learning to do more and more things on her own. She washed her own face and brushed her own teeth, and helped with her baths. She brushed Pet every day, the kitten collapsing into a purring heap at the gentle attention. Most importantly to Edward, she was trying to talk. Her vocabulary was still limited and her syntax smaller still, but she was trying.
"Edward!" she said, holding up her snowflake for him to see. It was definitely more sophisticated than he remembered making in grade school. The extra-fine glitter helped, as did her innate artistic skill.
"Leave it flat for now, honey," Alice said, pushing Wisp's arm back down. "Let it dry first, okay?"
"You cutie." Alice laughed and squeezed her hand. "No sorries. Not here."
Wisp put her snowflake down and shifted to her knees, crawling into Edward's lap. "Hi," he said as he lifted her. She smelled like the sugar cookie lotion Alice had given her. "How are you?"
Wisp smiled and pushed her hair out of her face. Her soft, open expression was beautiful to him. She was guileless, defenseless as a child. Someone in her past—perhaps several someones—had taken advantage of that. Edward vowed he never would. She'd been through so much, things he couldn't wrap his head around, and she trusted him. Edward vowed to do everything he could to keep that trust.
"Edward." Her voice was content as she snuggled against him and, on her own, reached for the throw blanket on the back of the couch. Edward helped her wrap up in it—the house was plenty warm already, but she loved the heat and the comforting weight of blankets.
"Rose said she'd watch her tomorrow so you can do your Christmas shopping." Alice put her snowflake down. "Do you want some company? Esme and I were thinking about going into Seattle."
Edward shook his head. He'd done his shopping online; it was much easier that way. No lines, no crowds, and he didn't have to leave his Wisp.
"I was thinking." Jasper leaned back in his chair. "What about her presents?"
"What about them?" Alice asked. "I'm getting her—oh, I guess I shouldn't say, huh? We don't know how much she understands. Wouldn't want to ruin the surprise." She smiled at the girl in Edward's arms.
"I don't mean for her. I mean from her. I'm not a psychologist or anything, but I wonder if she'll feel left out, or inadequate in some way, if she sees the rest of us exchanging gifts and she doesn't have anything to give."
Edward had thought about this, too, but had yet to think of a creative way to solve the problem. Wisp had an extremely loving and generous spirit. He'd seen it countless times—the way she offered food from her own plate to him or the cat, the way she'd done her best to take care of them when he was sick. It was beautiful to see, and more than a little astonishing considering how she'd lived before he found her. Edward wouldn't have been surprised if she guarded her things jealously like a dog with food aggression, wanting to keep hold of everything given to her. But she wasn't like that—not at all. She had a heart as lovely as the rest of her, and it made her happy when she saw that the people around her were happy.
So, yes, he suspected she probably would feel bad if she had nothing to give on Christmas Day. But how to address the problem? She had no concept of money, and he couldn't take her to the store anyway. That was asking too much of her right now. If he or Alice picked things out for her to give, he was willing to bet that wouldn't help how she felt.
"She could make things," Jasper suggested. "Arts or crafts or something."
"Yeah!" Alice looked excited. "Rose can help her tomorrow."
Edward wasn't entirely sure. It was a good idea in theory—she'd given him drawings before, and it seemed to make her happy. But how would they explain to her that she was making something specifically to give to someone else?
But Alice told him not to worry, that Rosalie was good at figuring things out, and Edward had to trust that she was right. He didn't have any better ideas, after all. Wisp fell asleep on his lap, as he and Jasper wondered when the last time the cabin's chimney had been cleaned, and whether it was safe to light a fire.
When he explained the problem of gifts to Rose the next day, she promptly shooed him away and told him to leave it to her. Edward retreated upstairs with wrapping paper, scissors, and tape, opening the boxes that had come in the mail and wrapping things accordingly. He was glad Alice simplified the gift-giving process by passing around online suggestion lists; he might be an enlightened man, but he wasn't that enlightened.
Rosalie settled in the living room with Wisp and a selection of her art supplies. Honestly, she didn't have any clear idea how to explain the concept of gift-giving, but damn if she was going to let that stop her.
"Okay," she said, spreading out the supplies. "Let's just jump in and see what we can do." She pulled out her phone and flipped through photos until she found one of Edward. "This is probably the easiest one to start with. He's your world right now, isn't he, honey?"
"Edward." Wisp smiled at the picture. "Pretty Edward."
"Yeah, that's what all the ladies say. Personally, I prefer my police officer, but to each her own, right?" She tapped the piles of supplies. "Try to keep up with me, and I'll try to explain. I want you to make something. Something to give Edward."
"Give?" This was a word she knew. She picked up the phone and offered it to Rose.
"Hoo boy. This may take a while. No, honey. I want you to make something for Edward." Rose showed her the picture again.
Wisp's brow furrowed, and she sucked her lower lip into her mouth. "Give? Give...Edward?"
"Yes." Rose gave an exaggerated nod of her head. "Yes, good girl. I knew you were smart." She smiled. "What would you like to give Edward?"
"Kiss," Wisp said firmly.
Rosalie blinked. Well, that was...unexpected. "I'm not so sure he'd like that, to be honest. He's kind of weird about that stuff where you're concerned."
"Kiss," Wisp repeated. She shifted to her knees and crawled to Edward's bookshelf. The lowest shelf held her books, and she pulled out the first book she'd ever been given—the illustrated copy of Peter Pan. Flipping through the well-known pages, she found the illustration of Wendy offering Peter a thimble. "Kiss." She pointed to the picture.
Rose couldn't help it. She laughed loudly. "Okay," she said, still chuckling. "Okay, you win. You can give Edward a kiss. But where are you going to get one?"
The question didn't seem to trouble Wisp. She grabbed for a thick piece of paper and put it on her easel as she'd been shown. Rose leaned back and let her work. It looked like the concept, at least, had gotten through to her.
"Give Edward," Wisp said proudly as she unscrewed the cap on a tube of paint.
Christmas morning dawned dark and drizzly, which wasn't unusual for Forks. Edward kept the drapes closed and turned on the lights instead. Wisp was still asleep on her air mattress upstairs as he let Carlisle and Esme into the cabin. He and Carlisle arranged presents under the tree as Esme popped a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls into the oven.
Edward didn't know when he'd last looked forward to a holiday this much. They sort of lost some of that special meaning as childhood waned, and now that he was an adult, it wasn't really the same. He enjoyed being together with his family—since he technically lived in Seattle, coming back to Forks to visit over Christmas was always an enjoyable break. But this year was different. He thought he could almost imagine what it felt like to be a parent during the holidays, to want to give the warmth and happiness of his memories to someone else. Wisp wasn't a child, but in some ways she had the innocence of one. He was determined to give her the best first Christmas possible.
As Carlisle lit a fire in the grate, Edward went upstairs to wake his ward. She wasn't used to being awoken, and she didn't particularly like it. He chuckled as she buried her head in her pillow and curled into a little ball under her blankets.
"Come on, pretty girl," he urged, rubbing her back. "It's Christmas morning."
"No, no more sleep." He tickled her ear, then tugged the blankets out of her grasp. "Time to wake up. I promise, you'll like it."
Still groggy, she let him pick her up and carry her into the other bedroom, where she changed out of her pajamas and into the clothes he held out for her. Her hands were awkward, but she was trying, and that's all that mattered to Edward. She'd made huge strides forward, as far as he was concerned. The fact that she was willing to try at all meant more than her relative success at the tasks.
Her hair was still unbrushed, face unwashed, but she caught sight of the lit Christmas tree as Edward carried her down the stairs, and her mouth dropped into a little o of surprise. "Edward!"
"Yes, silly girl. I told you, it's Christmas." She'd seen the lights before, but not the presents now tucked under the tree or the fire crackling in the fireplace.
She was impatient to use the bathroom and get back to the new things, and Edward had to hide a chuckle as she splashed water vigorously while washing her face. He didn't think he'd ever seen her this excited. She didn't wait for him to pick her up, instead crawling out the door and back to the living room under her own power.
"Merry Christmas, sweetheart," Esme said, exiting the kitchen with a big smile. Carlisle sat on the couch with a cup of coffee in his hand.
"Mother." Wisp raised her arms, and Esme bent to give her a hug. She kissed the top of her freshly-brushed hair before straightening again.
"Come on, let's get you settled. Everyone else should be here soon."
Wisp raised her nose, sniffing the warm cinnamon smell coming from the kitchen with interest.
"Yes, there will be breakfast, too."
Wisp sat obediently enough on her cushion on the ground near the tree, staring at the presents tucked under it. "Pretty," she breathed, reaching out to touch a curl of shiny ribbon.
"Isn't it? Merry Christmas," Carlisle offered. Wisp looked at him shyly, but didn't move away.
"Here, honey." Esme offered Wisp a mug of hot chocolate, which was accepted with an excited intake of breath.
The door opened, and Alice and Jasper hustled in under a big umbrella. Her arms were loaded with more wrapped gifts, and she squealed when she saw Wisp.
"Merry Christmas!" She gave Jasper the packages to put under the tree, and knelt to kiss Wisp's cheek. "Edward, why isn't she in the dress we bought her?"
"If you want to put her in a dress, you do it. I don't know anything about dressing up a girl."
Alice released an aggrieved sigh. "Come on, little Wisp. Let's go change you into Christmas clothes."
When Rose arrived she went upstairs with Alice and Wisp. Edward rolled his eyes but didn't say anything. She'd never had much chance to be a girl and if Alice and Rose wanted to teach her how, he wasn't going to argue.
"Green is a good color on you," Rose decided, standing back and tapping a finger on her chin.
Wisp stroked the satin skirt of her dress with awe, her fingers gentle as they danced over the material. Alice was behind her, gathering her long hair into an elegant chignon at the back of her head.
"Your skin is so fine, you don't need makeup." Rose seated herself in front of Wisp and tipped her chin up with a hand. "But I think you might like it—the attention, anyway." She opened the case Alice had brought and searched through it for a light mineral-based foundation. "Just a little. Just enough to bring out what's already there."
Alice curled loose strands of hair softly around Wisp's face as Rose worked. "I wish I had long, pretty hair like yours. I just get too impatient trying to grow it out."
"Yours wouldn't look like hers anyway."
"Yeah." Alice sighed. "Mine's not as fine, and it doesn't have this natural curl to it. You know what you need, Wisp?" She dug in her bag and extracted a little velvet jewelry box. "Here. An early present."
Inside was a gold cuff bracelet adorned with a delicate heart. Alice helped affix it to her wrist as Rose grumbled about keeping still.
"I wanted to get the matching necklace too, but I was afraid you might not like it. You know, with the collar stuff." She herself was not wearing a necklace, either.
"Good call, Alice." Rose smiled as she dropped her hand and examined her work. "What do you think?"
"Perfect." Alice grinned. "You're beautiful, Wisp. I don't know if you know that."
They slipped a pair of patent leather ballet flats on Wisp's feet—the first shoes she'd worn since they'd known her. She wiggled her toes experimentally, then wrinkled her nose at the constricted feeling.
"Yeah, I know. Being barefoot is more comfortable, but you can't go around in a fancy dress and big fuzzy socks."
"She can if she really wants. I mean, really, why the hell not?"
"Don't even suggest it," Alice scolded. "Come on, let's take her down to the mirror so she can see herself."
Rose wasn't supposed to carry Wisp anymore, but Alice helped settle her on Rose's back, and Wisp giggled as they made their way down the stairs, clutching at Rosalie's shoulders. Alice flipped on the light in the downstairs hall and opened the closet door so they could use the big, full-length mirror rather than the little one in the bathroom.
"Look, sweetheart," Alice said as Rosalie put her down. "Look how pretty you are."
Her satin dress was dark, iridescent green, and it emphasized the soft cream of her skin and the glints of color in her hair. Rose had kept the makeup fairly light, with the exception of smoky shadow that made her eyes look even bigger than they actually were. She raised her hand slowly, passing over the berry-colored stain on her lips, dropping to trail along her exposed collarbone. The wide straps of her dress left the soft curve of her shoulders exposed, and she examined the length of her arms in the mirror, turning to peer at herself sideways, then shifting to her knees and getting as close to the mirror as she could without actually touching it.
"What do you think, honey?" Rose's voice was soft.
"Pretty," she whispered. Her eyes were huge with astonishment.
"Yeah, you are."
Wisp looked up at the women standing on either side of her. They were both also in dresses, Rosalie in red and Alice in champagne. Her brows drew together in concentration, and she reached up with one hand to finger the hem of Alice's skirt, then her own. She touched the back of Rosalie's calf, stuck out her foot and aligned her flat shoe next to Alice's heel.
"What are you thinking, hon?" Rose reached down and placed her palm on the top of Wisp's head.
The face in the mirror was a mask of concentration. She gnawed on her lower lip, and Rose touched Alice's shoulder to stop her from complaining about marring the makeup. Wisp reached up and took the hand on her head, grasping palm to palm, then offered her other hand to Alice.
"What is it you want?" Alice willingly gave her her hand.
Wisp pulled at their hands, tugging downward.
"D'you want us to sit with you?" Alice made to kneel, but Rose stopped her.
"I don't think that's what she wants, Alice." She raised her voice slightly. "Edward, would you come here, please?"
He was off the couch and in the hallway in an instant. "What's wrong?"
"Shut up. Nothing's wrong. Just...wait a sec."
Wisp tugged again at the hands still clasped in hers, her eyes trained on her reflection in the mirror. Her feet slipped a little, treadless shoes on carpet.
"Alice, help her." Rose shifted her grip, grasping Wisp's arm near the shoulder, Alice following her example with wide eyes. They steadied her, one on each side.
And she fought her way to her feet.
Edward made a choking sound behind them, but none of the girls were paying attention to him. Wisp stared at herself in the mirror, propped up between Rosalie and Alice. She wasn't standing on her own.
But she was standing.
"You beautiful girl," Rose murmured. Her voice was tight with a fierce sort of pride. "I knew you could do it."
"I didn't think I believed in Christmas miracles." Alice's eyes were shining brightly.
Wisp and Alice were very close to the same height with one of them in flats and the other in heels. Alice squeezed her arm and squealed.
"What do you think, honey?" Rose found Wisp's dark eyes in the mirror. "How does it feel to be on your own feet?"
There was no verbal answer, but the pride that shone in Wisp's eyes told them everything they needed to know.
Edward stepped up behind her, watching carefully. Her knees trembled slightly, but he trusted that Rose and Alice wouldn't let her fall. "I'm so proud of you, little Wisp." Proud didn't describe it. He couldn't accurately catalog what he was feeling, what he had felt when he rounded the corner and saw Wisp holding onto the girls' hands, trying to pull herself to her feet. "You treasure. Nobody had to ask you to stand. You did it when you were ready." He had no idea what had prompted her decision, but at the moment he didn't care, either. She was standing. Standing.
Wisp appraised herself in the mirror once more. "Tall," she said with a smile.
"Yeah." Edward felt a suspicious prickle behind his eyes. "In some ways, you're the tallest of us all."
"Do you want to try walking out to the others?" Rosalie asked. She nodded her head toward the living room, and Wisp sucked her lip into her mouth, her face drawing back into a frown of concentration. Edward had to jam his hands deep into his pockets to keep from reaching out for her. This was her moment. She'd chosen Alice and Rose to help her, and he had to step back and let her try. He backed slowly around the edge of the door, feeling the curious eyes of everyone else on his back, watching as Wisp's little hands balled into tight fists and she reached out with one foot to take her first shuffling step forward.
"Oh!" Esme raised her hand to her mouth as she saw them step into the living room. Wisp was slow and almost lurching, shifting her weight with each step, clearly off balance and uncomfortable, but she was walking. She put one foot in front of the other, one step, then another, the girls keeping pace, holding her up, not letting her fall.
Jasper was the first to reach for his phone, Carlisle a beat behind. The three young women made their way slowly across most of the small living room, pausing before Wisp's cushion next to the Christmas tree.
"Stay still," Esme pleaded, raising her phone to snap several still photos with the tree in the background. Wisp's grin of triumph was beautiful to behold.
She couldn't stay on her feet very long, even with help, and Wisp allowed herself to be lowered to her cushion after a minute. Alice and Rose joined her, and Esme dropped to her knees to hug her fiercely. "No one could ask for a better Christmas gift than that."
Presents felt anticlimactic after that, but Wisp didn't seem to think so. She watched with huge eyes as Emmett passed out packages, then tugged at Rose's skirt. "Give," she said urgently. "Rose, give!"
"I know, hon. It's okay. Your gifts are upstairs; I'll go get them." She patted the girl's hand, then went to fetch the presents Wisp had crafted earlier in the week.
"You are going to love Christmas, little Wispy," Emmett said, a sugar cookie in one hand and his coffee in the other.
"Quit eating," Rose scolded as she came back downstairs. Wisp had wrapped her gifts herself once Rose showed her how, and she'd maybe gone a little overboard with the ribbon. "There's breakfast after presents."
"Some of us need breakfast before, too." Emmett snitched another cookie from the platter on the coffee table, and handed one to Wisp, too. She grinned and bit into the treat. "See? She's eating cookies, too, so you can't get mad at me."
They decided to open presents youngest to oldest, one at a time, which meant Wisp got to go first. Alice pressed a box into her hands and motioned for her to open it.
Before she tore into it, Wisp turned the package over in her hands. She tweaked a curl of ribbon, marveled at the shiny silver paper, and finally lifted a corner, carefully deconstructing the wrap without tearing it. Inside was a big wicker basket full of girly, smelly stuff—lotions, bath salts, body spray, foot scrubs, exfoliators. Edward doubted Wisp really knew what any of it was, but she opened each container to happily sniff its contents.
Rose, predictably, gave her a stack of new books. Emmett gave her a big box full of colorful socks, and on the top was a tiny set of stuffed antlers. He caught Pet, who was trying to climb the tree again, and put the antlers on her.
She promptly bit his hand.
Edward had to hide a chuckle as Wisp kicked off the shiny black shoes Alice had put on her and replaced them with a pair of green and black striped socks.
Jasper's present was a little more meaningful.
She opened the little box to find a silver chain bracelet with an ID tag. On it was the address of the little cabin. "So you never get lost again," he said.
Carlisle and Esme glanced at each other with little smiles when their turn came. "Our gift is for both of you," Esme told Edward. "Rose told us how much Wisp enjoyed using her hot tub. There's one waiting up at our house, ready to come down here and be installed after the holiday."
Edward smiled as he showed Wisp the brochure Carlisle held out. "Look, sweetheart. You're going to get a big tub like Rose has. I bet you'll love that."
Though Edward wasn't sure she really understood the idea of a present to be delivered in the future, Wisp was happy to hug Esme. She looked at Carlisle with her huge eyes and offered him a hesitant smile.
"Merry Christmas," he told her. "You're part of our family now. I hope you know that."
So did Edward.
He didn't expect Wisp to acknowledge Carlisle with more than that small smile, but apparently she was full of surprises this morning. She moved to her knees and slowly extended her hand, the light glinting off the gold bracelet from Alice. Her arm trembled but she held still, hand outstretched.
Carlisle's eyebrows lifted in surprise before he moved his hand to take hers gently. He held it with a light, sure touch, and his blue eyes were compassionate. "I know you're not so sure about me still. Thank you." He gave her hand a little squeeze, then released her before she had a chance to get anxious.
Edward's gift was last. He was a little unsure as he watched her unwrap it. The others had gone with safe things, things they knew she liked—socks, books—and part of him wished he'd also played it safe. Another part of him wished he'd been able to choose something really meaningful, something heartfelt. Something that expressed to her how much she meant to him, and his vow to take care of her. But no brilliant ideas had come to him, and he'd finally gone with the next best thing: something he hoped she would like. Something new to wrap her head around; she did seem to enjoy learning new things.
Once the wrapping paper was off the oddly-shaped gift, Edward helped her open the black case, revealing a violin.
She was enchanted by music every time he turned some on, and the thought of giving her an instrument of her own had been percolating in the back of his mind for a while. He'd toyed with other instruments—a keyboard or a guitar—but when he'd gone into the music store in Port Angeles (the only non-cyber shopping he'd done this holiday) the racks of violins and violas stuck out to him. Maybe it was the beauty of the little instruments, their delicate nature. They had to be handled just right to create beautiful music rather than awful noise. He couldn't explain logically why he'd settled on this choice, but it had seemed right at the time.
It was a used violin—Edward didn't know much about these particular instruments, but he knew enough not to buy a brand-new one. A violin's sound mellowed as it aged, modulating from sharp to sweet. The woman at the music store had given him everything he needed: rosin, a tuning fork, some introductory books—and a quick lesson in maintenance. Edward honestly didn't really care if she learned to read music or not. He just hoped she liked playing with the instrument.
Wisp let him maneuver the violin into place, tucking her chin against the chin rest, holding the delicate neck as he showed her. He placed her fingers on the bow as the woman in the store had showed him, then brought one to the other. Bow met strings, and Wisp jumped at the sound. She stared at the violin with wide eyes before trying again, drawing the bow across the strings lightly. The sound was not pleasant. It sent shivers up Edward's spine, and Pet shot out from under the tree, her reindeer antlers askew as she streaked upstairs.
"Are you really prepared to listen to that from now on?" Jasper laughed.
Edward shrugged as he helped Wisp put the violin back in its case. "I think she'll get the hang of it."
Edward knew Rose had helped Wisp make gifts for everyone—or at least facilitated the process—but he was unprepared for what he saw when they opened them.
It was an illustrated chronicle of her time with them, one picture for each person. Carlisle taking care of her in the hospital. Rose reading to her, sprawled on the floor of the cabin. Jasper offering her candy in his office. Emmett sneaking her food. Alice playing with her hair. Esme sitting with her in the little fort Rosalie made under the kitchen table. Edward holding her, his arms wrapped around her tightly, her head tucked sweetly against his shoulder. Personally, he thought his painting was by far the best.
When put together, the paintings told the story of Wisp's time with them. While the paintings were capable of standing alone, they also fit together in a cohesive unit.
"That's what a family is," Esme murmured, her eyes watery as she looked at her painting. "Individuals who come together to make a whole." She smiled brightly. "I think you're starting to understand, sweetheart. I really think you are."
A/N: Wishing you a very happy and/or merry holiday season! Thank you all for being such wonderful people!