A/N: So I wasn't going to let a little thing like not actually finishing Crescent Island make me wait another year to post this. Or part of it, who really knows with my ability to get blocked and distracted. Anyway, I've tried to avoid any real notable spoilers from the latest chapter (Chapter 25 - Sisters) as best as we could. That was fun rewriting...
So encase the title and synopsis wasn't clear enough, I present to you a little seasonal tale set between Crescent Island and its sequel.
Anyway, please enjoy! And many seasons greetings to you!
CHAPTER ONE: Decorations
"What do you mean you've NEVER celebrated Yuletide before?"
The autumnal air that recently had a hint of the warmth lingering from the late summer days had turned bitterly cold in the last week. The leaves quickly responded, shifting from their mirage of warm yellows and reds into dead brown before falling, littering every last inch of the ground. It had been late this year due to an exceptionally long, warm summer - this usually occurred around the end of harvest which had happened weeks ago - but this stark change made it clear that winter was most definitely on the horizon.
And this is some small part as to why my smallest sister, Midnight, was stood in the middle of our living room stunned. She stood staring wide-eyed at Felix in the wake of his confession during what started as a simple conversation about the changing seasons.
He simply shrugged, clearly not delivering a similar sense of drama to the situation that she had done. "I spent a good portion of my living memory in a boarding school," he said. A hand went to the back of his neck as he carried on. "They had boys from all kind of backgrounds there so it was something they never really did."
There was a brief lull between my sister and him. I thought that maybe I should have jumped in to say something but, honestly, I wasn't sure if I could say anything to improve this situation.
Midnight loved everything about Yuletide; she was still as excitable as a child about it all. And if we, her loving family, all didn't show the appropriate levels of enthusiasm for the season, we wouldn't hear the end of it until the bluebells began to bloom. Felix pretty much counted as family eversince he decided to stay on the island so he wasn't exempt from following these 'traditions' as well. Whether he wanted to or not.
But instead of moaning or frowning, she smiled. "In that case Felix, we'll have to make your first proper Yule an extra special one." Her smile broadened. I could hear why. Her excitement doubled instantly at this opportunity she saw in front of her. Not only could she celebrate in full swing, she had the chance to show off every reason why she adored it to someone who had never seen it before. Someone she could convert him into another seasonal fanatic.
All joking from me aside though, she knew this was a big chance. Felix realised this too from the tone alone. But he could only gather that she saw this as some sort of challenge for herself. Oh, if only he knew what he was really in for...
"Thanks but you don't have to go through any extra effort just for me though," he said quickly. As if that may make her change her mind somehow. I couldn't help but chuckle from the sidelines. Instantly, his eyes were on mine, his eyebrow slightly raised as if questioning my reaction.
"It's too late for that. It's the girls' first Yuletide as well," I piped in, trying to sound all casual about it. Now, I couldn't go fueling my sister's excitable ways any further by making it so obvious how much I was looking forward to the event this year as well. It would be like having lightning and a whirlwind combine - diasterious. You could tell that by her wide grin she was giving us. Plus, she'd make me join in on everything including being a part of the choir, singing in front of everyone during the Midnight mass. No thanks. Not for me. Not now, nor in a hundred thousand years. I don't sing.
Midnight clapped her hands together, unable to contain herself.
"Meaning this year's going to be the best!" She squeaked in delight. Before anyone could bring her down from her excitement, she had skipped out of the room with various 'plans' racing around her mind.
So that left just me and Felix in our living room all alone. A sweet rarity in this house. I looked at him.
"It was always going to be made a big deal of no matter what. Don't worry though. You won't be forced into doing anything if I have a say on things."
I kept my voice low, though he was the only one left now to hear it. And though it wouldn't necessarily improve his near-perfect hearing, he leaned in closer, pressing himself against me. I leant in too, pushing against him. He smiled. It was a silly thing we did. Sometimes, he let me win quickly, other times, we'd keep doing it until someone told us to stop it. Or we broke something. To be fair, we were told to quit it very sharply after that happened one time.
"Thanks, Kensa," Felix said, giving me a quick wink and an even quicker nudge. I just rolled my eyes in response.
"If Midnight happens to hear you calling me that, she won't stop asking questions." I gave him a serious face. As serious as I could at the same time as bumping my shoulder into him. Midi would be truly bothersome if that did actually happened though. She took joy in meddling. And she would never keep such a thing to herself either.
Within the day, both my other sisters would know too; along with half of the kingdom. I may be the messenger but she could certainly share her own messages around when she put her mind to it. Robin would quickly find out as well, even if he wasn't told by her directly. Now, that was troublesome in its own way.
Robin's relationship with Felix was still rocky. Pun intended. It had got generally better with time but he clearly hadn't quite accepted having him around yet. But this was my big brother we were talking about. He possibly may never do that.
Clearly though, Felix wasn't thinking about any of that. He just stood there with a half-smile on his face, staring at me.
"Then I'll tell her it means 'first' where I'm from."
"And that would only be the first of many questions she'll have." I huffed, blowing stray hairs around my face wildly.
"Aren't I allowed to give you a nickname?" He asked.
"You are allowed. But you know what my sister's like."
"That I do know."
He took my hand between his. Another thing my sister would misconstrue as something different. Something much less innocent than two people sharing a unique kind of contact with each other. One that speaks without saying a word. A tangible conversation that could be understood through even when the rest of the world was at its noisiest. I found it comforting. Felix seemed to like it too.
Sometimes, I wish we could stay like this.
"Serene! Serene!" The brief quiet is broken by calling from upstairs. It was nice while it lasted. Felix chuckled.
"I think you're being called."
"I can hear just as well as you," I dropped his hand and slid towards the door closest to the stairs. I put both hands in the frame as I leant on it, shouting back up. "I'm coming, 'Nix. Give me a moment."
It came again, Phoenix's voice, slightly closer than before. "Quickly! You and Felix," I looked back. Felix had stepped closer, curiously perhaps, but his raised eyebrow said something closer to confusion.
"Whatever it is, it appears you have to come too." I grasped him by the hand again and headed out the door to the stairs, pulling him behind me. He didn't seem to mind as he was wearing a wide grin.
We climbed the stairs to reach the landing we found Rhea and Phoenix. They had a box held between them, one positioned at each short end, sharing the weight. "What's going on here then?" Felix asked.
Phoenix dropped her side of the box down with a thud. I winced a little, internally thankful that someone had thought sensibly enough to not give them one with breakables inside. She opened up the cardboard box's bent and battered flaps and pulled out a long shiny paper chain in green and gold. "Decorations!" She announced, holding it up for him to see.
Felix took a step closer and bent down, observing it as if it was a foreign artefact of ancient wonder - complete with all the appropriate 'Oohs' and 'Aahs' necessary. Rhea giggled at his awestruck ways, leaving Phoenix to explain what it was in great detail for him.
It was hard to believe that up until a few weeks ago she was still struggling with her Meridian tongue. Her understanding was all there, she knew what the words meant and she could follow instructions perfectly. The difficulties rose when she tried getting the words out; that's when she would get all flustered and muddled.
Luna and Rhea did their best to help support her oral abilities. She was less concerned about going wrong with them - they understood both languages well enough. Other people were a completely different story. On the island, no one else knew Dargassi or even enough Latin to get by. If she switched partway through, she'd get strange looks and confused responses. She really didn't like that. Even though we've explained numerous times it's simply because they don't understand what she's saying and it wasn't a bad thing, she still felt awful whenever it happened. After the first few times it occurred she avoided interactions as much as she could. On a really bad day, she could go as far as refusing to talk to anyone, us included.
Things with Felix were a little bit different though. She seemed to like Felix a whole lot. I think he liked a lot too. I'd even go as far as saying little Phoenix was the reason he couldn't bear to leave here. Or at least a big part.
In all this time since this became her home, he never stopped giving her chances to talk to him. He asked questions and played silly games, even when he knew he would probably wouldn't get an answer. Yet he never got offended by it, not in the slightest. He would just smile and try again later. The patience he had was boundless. Honestly, it is incredible.
Finally, when she did start talking back, he'd listen. Not just listen but really listen with all his focus clearly on her alone, like she was the only one around to hear for miles. Yes, to be the other person trying to get his attention at that time could be irritating, but you couldn't fault his heart being in the right place for her. Even if, or when, she did fall back into Dargassi, he let her carry on anyway, smiling away as if he could still understand every word. With him, you could literally see her confidence build more and more. It was a real sight to behold.
Now, with so much practice under her belt, she seemed to have gotten the hang of it. She babbled away constantly and to everyone, giving multilingual jaybird Rhea some fierce competition. Felix clearly was still one of her favourites though. She always enjoyed a good chat with him whenever she could, even when in the middle of something else.
Meanwhile, her light-haired sister looked on but she didn't interrupt her. She was far too polite and supportive of her sister's confidence to do that, though her own restlessness showed that she was keen to keep going with their task and see it to completion. It's strange how sisters, even twins, can be so different in their ways. She caught my eye, her smile instantly brightening.
"Robin said everyone had to help out. There are more boxes upstairs."
"We'll get on it so you two can start the fun bit," I said. "Now, be careful on the stairs. We don't want any accidents happening."
"We will!" Rhea chimed.
She tucked the flaps in, drawing Phoenix's attention from her conversation. Rhea went back to her side of the box, positioning herself to lift again. Phoenix must have understood her intention as she promptly copied her action, telling Felix they had to finish the moving first before they carried on. He nodded as the twins picked up the box up in unison.
"She was just getting to the good bit too," he said to me as they started making their way carefully down the stairs.
We carried on towards the attic stairs at the end of the corridor that usually stayed hidden behind the closed door. Once upon a time, it was just a humble storage cupboard and the attic hatch was elsewhere. Uncle Renzo and Robin saw to that one summer though before I was born, converting the attic into a usable storage space and making up safe stairs to get up there. Apparently, that's where he found he had a talent for building stuff.
Boxes were piled up at the bottom of the stairs, almost enough to block the door. Seems like we had a lot of work to do here. Robin, armed with another large box, stepped down. He turned his head, spotting us both there.
"So they did get your attention in the end." He chuckled, putting the box down at his feet. It was big enough to fit both the girls inside, not that I think they would be keen to be boxed up like our ornaments. "At first they were pretty sure they could do it all themselves."
"We do have a lot of seasonal joy tucked up there."
I noticed Felix had taken to having a closer look at things, glancing between the crowded corridor and the door. He had only been up the attic once before when I took him up on the roof. He never saw all this lot up there. He thinks he would have remembered all these boxes stacked up.
However, when it came to organising, Luna and Midnight had an unnatural affinity. I'm not quite sure how they did it but between them but they made all this stuff take up half the space it should have done. And, of course, labelled and placed in a logical order that even a half-wit could follow. It was no real surprise he found it confusing. Even after sixteen previous seasons, I couldn't quite explain it myself.
"Why don't you two take the larger ones down first - leave the small ones for them?" Robin said.
"Sounds like a plan."
I had my eye on the largest box around. Once that was gone, the rest of the job would feel like nothing. Robin eyed me up sceptically.
"That one might need you both on it."
I frowned. "You don't think I can handle a box on my own?" A quest that took me away from our island home, he was proud of me and initially thought I could handle that by myself. No problem there. A harmless box though, now suddenly he thought I needed assistance.
"If you break anything, I'm not defending you."
"Fine." I sighed. He did, however, have a point and I didn't want to get on any one of my sisters' bad side for something so avoidable. I turned. "Me on this side, you on the other, Felix?"
Of course, he flashed a smile to me. "Why not?"
On the count of three, we both lifted the box with ease. Its weight was manageable, especially between the two of us, but it was still bulky and awkward to hold. I dug my fingers into the side of the card, forming two small hand holes before we started carefully pacing down the hallway. There wasn't much space either side as the box started coming down, my knuckles grazed the wall a couple of time. It wasn't difficult. Not until we hit the staircase.
"Uh oh," I heard him say, coming to a halt. We had just got to the part where space thinned near the bottom half of the stairs, where they did a quarter turn.
"Don't tell me you've gotten us stuck," I called so he'd hear from the other side of the box.
"It's not stuck. You just need to give it a real big push!"
There wasn't a need to hide the eye roll and head shake I gave him. I shifted my position so my hand could go flat against the box. I rocked back on my heels, on the little space of the step offered, then pushed as hard as I could. The box groaned under the pressure but it didn't go very far. I tried once more. Hands flat, rocking back, I pushed again with even much gusto. The box moved this time, straight out of the small space, which caught me by surprise.
I stumbled over the edge of the step. Fortunately, I caught the railing before landing into Felix and the box. Now that could have been disastrous.
"Careful," Felix chuckled, peering around. "Wouldn't want to have any accidents." I stuck out my tongue and took my side of the box again.
I dropped down the last step and followed behind all the way to the living room. The girls shot past us, racing back up the stairs. In the middle of the room, Midnight had procured a clipboard from somewhere - because, of course, she would - and seemed to be micromanaging the whole affair.
"Ah, that's got to be the lantern for outside," she said, spotting us with the large box. She placed a finger to her chin in thought. "Pop it over that side."
We did as we were told, placing the box to the side of the room closest to the front door. She scribbled something down on her paper whilst I brushed the dust off my shirt. "So, are you actually going to be doing any of the heavy lifting then?"
Midnight looked up, pulling a face. "No, but why would I when you two are clearly so good at it?"
"We are good at it," Felix added. I mean, he was right.
The girls bounded into the room with another box. Midi pointed them to a spot in front of our fireplace. They dropped the box down, immediately opening it up to look inside. On the top were lots of scrunched up coloured paper. Rhea dug her hand in. She pulled out a single round ball, painted in gold, with a ribbon loop hung from the top. She peered at it curiously as Phoenix came to her side also trying to have a good look at the ornament.
They didn't seem to know it was a decoration that hung on the tree. Did angels have another need for glass baubles? Some holiday they celebrate that we didn't? It was something I had never really considered before. I suppose you never would if you've spent a lifetime with people who share all the same occasions as you. You don't think about the other ones that could be out there. At least, not until you meet and speak with new people or take the time to see the world for yourself and experience it.
Nonetheless, the girls were definitely having more fun peeking in the boxes and discovering the contents inside. Midi was trying to keep them on task. And failing. I mean I could have helped her but I had more boxes to get.
I looked over to Felix, dusty but still looking chipper.
"Right then, you ready for the next one?"
Before too long, our living room was filled with boxes as it started getting dark outside. The kitchen area had some too as there weren't quite enough room for us to sit comfortably without feeling cramped and claustrophobic.
Midnight had found a good way to utilise the twins' curiosity and natural desire to play with the various decorations by making it into a decorating game. They cleared a number of boxes in the short time the rest of us - me, Felix and Robin - had stopped to take a short break.
Felix and I sat on one side of the sofa as a box was taking up the other side. We were pretty close, cosy even, our arms brushing every time one of us gestured whilst talking. Robin hadn't said anything about it; this time. But I did catch him giving us a funny look.
Right now though, he wasn't as worried about that than he was about rubbing his side with his hand.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Sure, just aching."
On occasion, though not for some time now, my brother had aches. Apparently, not all injuries heal, especially with something as complex as the back. It had so many different parts to it; bones, muscle, nerve. And when you do something as severe as fall from a high roof, you do can potentially damage all of them, ruining your spine for good. Robin was lucky to have recovered from such a bad accident at all some years back. Unfortunately, nothing much could be done about these small episodes of pain he had every so often. All the box moving must have done it.
"Happens when start getting you to get old." I chuckled, waiting for his reaction. He creased up his brow, giving himself more lines than he already had, making our almost two-decade difference all the more evident.
"Very funny, milk pup. You'll catch up to me soon enough and we'll see who's laughing then?"
Midnight walked back into the room. The twins trailed along behind, faces beaming.
"Fallena and Lu should be back with the tree shortly. They're going to need some room for it," Robin said.
"That's why I was guiding." She smiled. "They'll have enough space, trust me."
Rhea's keen ears must have picked up some of the conversation because she turned away from her sister with a quizzical expression.
"Tree? As in the big plant things that live outside in the forest?"
"Exactly right," I answered. She cocked her head to one side. Beside her, Phoenix blinked. She appeared confused too. I suppose it did sound strange - trees indoors. I patted the arm of the sofa and they sat down on the floor in front of me.
"It's part of seasonal tradition here. We cut down some of the older firs down by the west coast of the island to make space for the young, fertile saplings that get planted in the spring. We bring them inside our homes and we decorate them. It's a sort of an endless cycle of life kind of event these days. Before, people used to bring in the livestock and smaller plants that couldn't survive through the harshest part of winter. That's how the tradition all started."
The girls gaped in awe as I talked. I could see Rhea itching to ask more when there was a noise from outside and the front door burst opened. The twins leapt to their feet to go check what was going on.
The familiar voice of my eldest sister rang out confirming what I happened to know already. "We're home!"
Robin got up to help. I craned my neck. It didn't help me see much more from my personal vantage point, only a little bit of green beside where the girls stood. Robin stepped by them and stooped low by the door.
The twins came running inside, almost leaping into my lap to make space for the large tree being carefully guided in through the narrow walkway between boxes. It was just enough space. Midnight had paid attention and done well.
Luna seemed halfway through a conversation with Robin as they came on through steadily that I must have missed partially when they were outside.
"-Perry was kind enough to give us some sent their way from the Ackermans' own patch. Plus a copy of Mela's special soup recipe. You remembered how much they loved it last time."
"You saw him today then?" He asked her as they pivoted it upright, placing its trunk into the large flower pot base. Once it seemed secure, they both stepped back rather proud of their efforts.
"Of course we did," she said, still smiling. "Who do you think helped me get this back here intact?" Robin raised an eyebrow as if she had posed him some sort of trick question. His gaze flickered towards the empty doorway.
"Fallena maybe? That's why she went with you." Then, with an undeniable sense of dramatic timing, Fallena stepped into the room.
Hugged in her puffy-sleeved arms was a large paper bag. It was filled but its contents were hidden deep inside.
"I was holding the parsnips." Robin didn't say anything as she walked on through towards the kitchen area. He shook his head once she was out of sight, turning back towards the girls.
"As it sounds like we have everything for Mela's parsnip soup, shall we have a go at making that tonight?" Robin asked. A wide grin filled both their little faces quicker than a flash.
"Soup, soup! Bootiful soup!" they sang in jaunty unison. Something they had gained from stays with Mela at the Harpy when we all had been busy at the same time - the song and the love of foodstuff that is. She made it for them not too long ago, at the start of harvests. Mela said they were at their best during the coldest time of year; I just had to take her word on it.
The girls certainly liked them. She gave them soup, not thin like a broth but still a consistency of a drink rather than food food. Yet one bowl was filling enough for the whole night like a proper meal. It mistified the girls how something could be neither one item or the other but still function like both. It was orange in colour and it smelt warming, like an autumnal hug, rather than the fresh earthy smell of them raw. If I could taste anything of regular food, I wouldn't mind giving that a go. Even if it was just to see what the fuss was all about.
Regardless, Robin had headed out to the kitchen to start preparing and the girls joined him to admire the veggies, still singing their shanty tunes.
"The decorating is certainly coming along," Luna commented, looking around the place with a smile.
"It was," Midnight said proudly. "But my two current assistants have done all they can around the house. So now we have to finish off."
Luna smile fell a little. She didn't respond but she already had a box in her hands. She caught my gaze and rolled her eyes. She realised too late that she shouldn't have said anything at all. She was the bright one of us all but even she could make errors. Meanwhile, I realise Midnight had been trying to catch Felix's eye line. He did know better but she had already decided she wasn't playing by the same rules of subtly if he wasn't going to slip up himself.
"Felix you're not doing anything, right?"
He sighed, shaking his head. "What do you need doing, Midi?"
"You're taller. You'll make hanging things so much easier." He couldn't deny it. Whilst everyone was tall to Midi, he was the tallest around beside Robin. Even then, there wasn't that much between them. Robin dominated in broadness though.
"And what's Serene going to be doing?" Felix asked innocently. The rat.
"Thanks Felix," I whispered under my breath so only he was likely to catch it.
"The girls are going to need help decorating the tree," Midi said.
Felix pulled a face, looking between Midi then me, Midi then me, Midi then me before he settled back to Midi. "Is it really sensible to leave her in charge of such an important task?"
"Hey!" I jabbed him in the side. He laughed, poking me in the leg as payback.
"It's fine, Fallena won't let it look terrible." She replied, ignoring our own messing around. She clapped her hands together, bringing us to attention. "Come on, the sooner we start, the sooner we finish." She grabbed his hand and tugged him off the sofa and onto his feet. She didn't let go as she paced away, tugging poor Felix the whole way. Well, at least he was experiencing the entirety of the fun and frivolity that is Yuletide in this household.
The girls, already briefed, we're stuck in their task to decorate the tree. They had observed the content of the boxes and had decided the best way to put it all on. They started off with the 'shiny metal fur string' as they called it. Though a nice name, I think everyone else will still be saying 'tinsel' for short.
I stood up, about to offer up my vertical advantage to help them wrap the tinsel around the tree but they both insisted they could manage. Rhea then scrambled underneath the trees lowest branches, the end the tinsel in hand. I peered below curiously. She was wrapping the stuff around the flower pot base. I threw a hand to my face before the little laugh escaped. Pheonix fed the tinsel through to her so she could keep wrapping. They were quite the organised little team between them. I stood up straight. It was unusual, yes, but if that's how they wanted to decorate then that's how it was going to be decorated.
At the other side of the room, Fallena had opened up one of the boxes while she sat on another. Her gloves folded neatly to the side. Her fingers were wrapped protectively around something small. Possibly clear.
I threw a quick glance to the girls. Rhea was out from under the tree, a few sprigs of green caught in her light hair. Pheonix was passing her baubles and pointing to the tree where one was already hanging.
"Definitely don't need my help with those?" I asked
"We can do it!"
I chuckled, I could tell I wasn't wanted. "Alright, just let me know if you get stuck."I looked back to Fallena again.
Fallena had mixed feelings when it came to Yuletide. She loved the celebration almost as much as Midnight did. She loved parties and socialising it brought and she embraced the cooler weather happily and the chance to wrap her warmly in coats and hats and scarves. She also loved the family aspect of it, even if during the rest of the year she would do anything to get away from all us. But family was also the reason she felt more… vulnerable during the season.
She wore her gloves most of the time. It usually stopped her gift from working when she didn't want it to. But white gloves get dirty quick and despite her efforts, she couldn't wear them all of the time. Generally, it wasn't much of a big deal. The objects she would touch would have a little history for her to see or, even if they did, they would be rather plain, mundane events. Nothing to get funny over. Yuletide was different though.
Our decorations were ancient. Our grandparents and their grandparents and their grandparents all had the same stuff. We didn't get rid of things if they were still good. We passed it on down through the generations just like our name and title. It meant it all had history. A lot of it. And I could tell from the teary look in her eyes, that clear round item had a very particular history behind it that moved her.
Now, I know she hated me reading her mind without her consent; something about an invasion of privacy but she would never talk to me about it. So I was going see now, apologise later, and if she was mad I'd take it because she wouldn't stay mad forever.
But I had to know this...
At first, everything's black. There's a sound in the air, crunching before whiteness cuts through the image. The sound gets louder, almost rumbling and the white consumes and grows until there's only blinding light.
After a moment, details start fading in, and it's clear this 'memory' takes place in a living room. This very living room. I recognise the shape of the room, the light colour on the wall and many items are the same. Like the dark flooring, maybe a little less knocked it places, and the chair that sits one-two if you squeeze - and the homemade bookshelf tucked in the corner.
Though it looks distorted somewhat. The angle is strange to view, it's not quite as low as the floor but it's not a sitting one either; it feels like it's somewhere in between.
A girl gasps. I can see her above. I-we-the snowglobe must be in her lap as she sits on the long sofa. She's young, maybe my age, possibly a little bit older, and very pretty. She wears an easy smile, not too dissimilar from the one Fallena had perfected. Her brown eyes sparkled behind ridiculously long lashes that could rival Midnight's.
"It's beautiful," she says. Her voice is so soft, it may as well be a whisper.
She pours over the globe more, moving it around it her hands. The view spins around. I imagine she's watching the white flakes slowly settle on top of the miniatures roofs inside. She took her left hand and ran it through her hair a few times, orange beside the firelight's glow, tucking some behind her ear.
Another shifted in closer. I catch sight of wild locks - curly like Luna's and dark like Robin's - at the corner of my field of view. He was rather handsome, though he too was young as well. The fine layer of stubble that ran down his strong jawline made me think that some years separated the two of them though.
He takes her hands between his own as he leans forward, his lips a mere breath away from her ear.
"Not half as much as you." She pulled back slightly, taking in his features. There was something about the way she looked at him, no, gazed. The way an artist might study and gaze over their muse for long hours before even taking hold of a pencil to sketch. Getting to know every curve, every mark, every stroke they would have to make in their mind to capture their essence.
She glances quickly over her shoulder before she pressed her mouth to his cheek. He smiled, turning his face to meet her again. They steal a kiss, a brief moment of electric intimacy, the snow globe pressed between them.
I stepped back. It was strange for me to see something like that. I knew of those two. I could even tell you their names without hesitation, Juri and Casimir Crescent. But unlike me, who only had other people's memories and stories to cite, Fallena actually knew them once upon a time. However, she had called them by different names way back then.
To her, they are 'Mother' and 'Father'.
Bringing me home as a newborn babe was the last time anyone saw or heard from them. So I neither Midi, barely walking at the time, or I have any real memories of our parents. Fallena was eight years old though. She remembered them. And, stronger than that, she remembered the pain of realising that they weren't likely to ever come home again.
I didn't realise how much of a likeness I had to our mother until recently after Fallena herself had made the comparison between us. Until then, I only thought I had her red hair. As a family, we didn't really think about it a whole lot. Too painful, I'm starting to see.
I don't think she ever made peace with the fact they were gone like Robin and Luna did, or rather possibly had to. But maybe that was far too much to ask of a hopeful little girl at the time. It was even harder to ask for it now, all these years later, during a time that was meant to be all about family. Sure, we were all here, and more, yet nothing could stop unwanted memories hitting her like this though. I actually pitied her a bit for that.
So, I stepped over, trying to make it less obvious I'd been 'listening in'. I put on a haughty laugh like I was already making a joke though my hands were a little clammy to be honest. She was probably going to see straight through the ruse.
"Don't drop it, Fallena." She jumped a little at my words. She shook her head, knocking away the doldrums.
"Of course I wouldn't do something that," she snapped, clearly feeling more like usual herself again. The feeling gave me a prickling itch across my skin but I tried not to lose my smile. Getting irked at her, however justifiable, wouldn't help at all.
"'Of course not. 'Cause it's a pretty special one, right?" I spoke quietly and calmly but in hindsight not as rationally as I hoped. I realised I had all but confessed I had done that exact thing she complains at me for doing when she looked at me. Strings of lights reflected in her teary eyes. She kept unusually quiet and just kept on looking at me. Sometimes stirred inside, telling me that she knew I had been looking at the snow globe's memory as well. With bated breath, I waited for her reaction. Nothing came though. Maybe she didn't know after all.
"Yeah, it is." A moment passed between us two like a long breath in the snow. It was almost heavy, magical even in the way it lingered, making its presence known and not uncomfortable at first. But, like in the snow, the cold air's less pleasant effects grew more with time. The silence was steadily increasing into something less comfortable.
I swallowed hard, trying to think of something to break the silence. Preferably something that distracted from the snowglobe but I was willing to go for anything. Then it came to me.
"Hey, have you see Uncle Renzo's latest letter yet?" I said quickly. "It arrived yesterday morning whilst you were at the Castle." Fallena shook her head.
"No, I haven't. What did it say?" Her tone was soft but not distracted, she did seem genuinely interested to know. I took hold of that, taking a seat next to her before I continued.
"Something along the lines of 'Yuletide greetings, Crescent Island. Spring can't come soon enough for me to see my favourite nephew and nieces again.'" Fallena creased up her nose.
"We're Renzo's only nephew and nieces so that automatically makes us his favourites. He knows that."
"Okay, maybe he didn't add that part exactly word for word…" I laughed a little awkwardly. Though I had spotted Fallena was in fact smiling lightly too. The strange feeling lifted a little, making this whole exchange easier to continue, like something had stopped holding me back. "You know what, I could just get it and read it to you if you want."
Fallena seemed to ponder this briefly. She glanced at the tree, the girls were content and getting on well. Even if there was only decorations on the lowest branches. It was different but it still looked nice - minimalistic I think is the word. Midnight was right though, Fallena wouldn't let it look terrible. Not because she had an interest or joy for taking part in the tradition, only it would annoy her immensely otherwise.
She looked back at me.
"That would be nice actually. Thanks Serene."
"I'll be back in a second then." I jumped up, knowing exactly where Luna had put it for safekeeping. I stepped out of the living room.
When I was alone in the corridor, I realised how much I had been smiling after that conversation with Fallena. Some time ago, I would have seen it as a seasonal miracle; a strange occurrence that wouldn't repeat itself. Now, I knew a little better. My older sister was complicated at times, this was definitely true and would remain so until the end of time. But she wasn't as half as complicated as I once thought. Simply appreciating that was a few steps further along to building a better relationship between the two of us.
And that was the real miracle here.