from The Christmas Daughter
The house was completely quiet when Boone opened his eyes and looked at the clock. It was only seven o'clock—still dark outside—but large, fat snowflakes drifted past the window. “Lazy snow,” Kit had called it when they were kids. He was the one who couldn't wait for the snow to be deep enough for them to haul a toboggan to the top of Sugar Hill and fly down it over and over.
“Come on,” he'd say impatiently as he looked out the window. “This lazy snow will take all day to get deep enough.”
Throughout their childhood Boone and Kit shared the room he slept in now. Emily was across the hall and Cody had his own room, a smaller one, next to their parents' bedroom. Both Minnie and Big Zach commented on how proud they were of Boone and Kit for sharing, getting along, rarely fighting. Boone folded his hands behind his head, still watching the snow, and wondered again if they had shut Cody out—Minnie and Big Zach always had each other, he and Kit were each others' best friend, and Emily had God. Boone knew he'd never know that answer.
He lay back remembering the Christmas mornings of his boyhood, the fragrance of turkey roasting in the kitchen, and the scent of cinnamon and apple cider and the piney perfume of the Christmas tree lingering in the air. Minnie and Big Zach always told them that they weren't allowed to leave their room until it was bright enough outside to see without turning lights on, a restriction that seemed almost too great to bear. He remembered Emily sneaking across the hall and curling up at the foot of his bed as the three of them shared quiet speculation about what wonderful things awaited downstairs. Now he wondered what his daughter's Christmas mornings had been like. Was it any wonder that she didn't know how to respond to people whose lives had been filled with love and shared affection? Last night at his aunt and uncle's house he'd watched her and, while she was happy and enthusiastic about everything, he noticed she seemed painfully shy in the presence of the natural, unabashed affection of family members. It will take time, he reminded himself. It will take time.
He was just drifting back to sleep when he heard a sound so familiar it immediately brought a smile to his face—the slow squeak of the metal drawer under the stove where Minnie kept her roasting pan. She pulled it open carefully, trying not to wake anyone, so she could start her turkey. Minutes later he smelled the distinctive holiday scent of onions simmering in butter with marjoram and sage. He heard the door across the hall open and soft footsteps scurried toward the stairs. He stretched, got up, pulled on jeans and a flannel shirt, and began his Christmas Day.
Charity watched them walk down the path to the tavern, talking and laughing as they went.
“That was quite a dinner, wasn't it?” Boone said as he pulled aside the fireplace screen to add another log. “Grandma said she couldn't have done it without you.”
Charity gave a tentative little half smile. “I like cooking with her. I made the green bean casserole and the cranberry sauce all by myself.” She stood silently for a moment, then said. “So what do we do now?”
Boone raised his eyebrows. “I don't know. What would you like to do?”
“We never did much for Christmas—mostly just watched television. Maybe I could do something with my sewing machine?”
“Are you happy with your sewing machine?” He looked at her and noticed for the first time how much like an elf she looked in bright red leggings and a green sweater with a pattern of holly on it.
“I love it.” She sighed. “I love everything.”
“You know what.” He hunched his shoulders and thought for a minute. “I have an idea.” He crossed to the bookcases covering the walls around the fireplace. He examined the books until he found the one he wanted and, with a smile and no small amount of nostalgia, took it down. He turned to his daughter, who stood in the middle of the room watching him.
“When I was a boy,” he said, “my pop always drank beer and watched football until he fell asleep but my mom...” He held up the book. “Mom always read to us.”
“Read to you?” She wrinkled her forehead as though she'd never heard of such a thing.
“Yeah. Didn't anybody ever read to you?”
Boone stared at her. “Nobody ever read to you? Even when you were little?”
She shook her head. “Maybe sometimes in school. The Sisters read Bible stories.”
“Well, we're going to fix that.” He pushed a leather hassock close to the end of the sofa nearest the fireplace, sat down and put his feet up, then held his hand out to her. “Come here.” She gave a slight uncertain smile. He patted the space beside him. “Come on. I won't bite.”
She grinned, sat down close, and he put his arm around her. Boone took his reading glasses from his pocket, adjusted them on his nose, and opened the book.
“Don't turn the pages too fast,” she said. “I can't read as fast as you.”
“You don't have to read.” He placed his hand lightly on her head and guided it to his shoulder. “Just close your eyes and listen.”
“Now,” he said, “are you comfortable?”
“Yes.” She was smiling the soft, bashful little smile that always tugged at his heart.
“Okay.” He opened the book and turned to the first page. “Marley was dead,” he read, “to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”1
She giggled and repeated, “'Dead as a door-nail.'” Then she snuggled into him. He caught his breath, kissed her forehead, and continued to read.