EEK! Here's an early Christmas gift from me to you, a TCO3 Trilogy bonus short.
I hope you enjoy it!
The last couple of weeks, Maggie had been more over-the-top than normal and Lucas found it a bit exhausting. He couldn’t take much more holiday cheer or he might crack and go back to his villainous ways.
“You’re being a Grinch,” Maggie had told him.
“Well, I get where the guy was coming from,” he replied. “Whoville had it coming.”
Maggie did not find that amusing and proceeded to make him watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas while she gave commentary on what he could learn from Cindy Lou like it was a lecture on holiday ethics. “Now get in the Christmas Spirit you Scrooge or I’m telling Santa!”
Was he supposed to find that threatening? He didn’t and so he laughed. Maggie was still not amused and while being on Santa’s naughty list didn’t seem like that big of a deal, being on Maggie’s suddenly felt very scary, even with the bell of her Santa hat jingling as she tapped her foot on the floor. “Fine,” Lucas relented. “I’ll go along with your twelve step holiday plan. But don’t expect me to be all holly-jolly about it.” She hugged him in return for his compliance and while he would never admit it to her, Lucas was a little excited to get to celebrate his first Christmas in, well, ever. At least the first one he would really remember. But he would not give her the satisfaction of knowing that because he was also fairly certain her level of Christmas cheer might kill him.
“Okay then, let’s do this thing!” Maggie shouted and unrolled a piece of paper scribbled on with red and green ink and dripping with gold glitter. “Twelve steps to the perfect Christmas.”
Step one: Don our Christmas Apparel.
Santa’s elves looked blah next to Maggie. Seriously, how many Christmas sweaters did she even own? And socks, so many pairs of Christmas socks. She even had Lucas wearing a pair of festive socks, red and green striped with holiday garbed sharks all over them. He protested them but if you know Maggie you know that was useless. He could tell by the unflinching look on her face that she was fully willing and capable of tackling him to the ground and sitting on him while she forced the socks on his feet.
Wearing the socks seemed like the lesser humiliation. The matching elf hats she got for them was where he drew the line. “No, not gonna happen, never, no way!” Those had been his exact words. Everything that happened after he spoke them is a bit of a blur. All he knew now was the hat itched. It did keep his head warm though as they hunted for the perfect tree.
Step two: Find the perfect tree.
“This one?” Lucas pointed to the fifth tree of the day as they strolled through the Christmas Tree Lot in front of the bank.
“No, too skinny.”
“But you said the last one was too fat,” Lucas retorted.
“It was,” Maggie stopped at another tree, looked it up and down, then stuck her tongue out at it and moved on to the next one in line.
“Don’t you think that’s a little shallow, judging a tree by its waistline? Isn’t it what’s on the inside that counts?”
Maggie didn’t respond to his jest. Instead she circled the lot three times looking at every single tree. Some were too tall, others too short. Some were not the perfect cone shape. One tree just “felt too arrogant” and Lucas had no idea what that meant but he wasn’t going to ask Maggie and risk this all taking any longer than it already had.
“This must be what Charlie was warning me about in his last email,” Lucas mumbled under his breath.
“What?” Maggie turned around, glaring at him.
He wasn’t sure if she had really heard him or not. “Why didn’t Zoe and Daniel have to come again?”
“They are patrolling for pesky demon stragglers like they do every Saturday night,” Maggie answered and went back to judging trees.
“Ah yes, demon-stragglers,” Lucas replied. He would love to kill a shadow right about now. Since that wasn’t an option, unless one popped out of that fat tree, he began to devise a revenge plan against Zoe and Daniel for not helping to get him out of this.
“This one!” Maggie shouted with glee. “This is our tree.”
To Lucas it looked like every other tree but Maggie looked at the thing like it was sparkling under some heavenly spotlight. Maybe that expression was worth it. Maybe.
Step three: Decorate the tree.
They were surrounded by boxes of ornaments and tinsel and bows. Most had been Zoe and Claire’s, but Daniel had found a box of his family’s old ornaments in the back of the loft and Maggie had brought a few from home. They shared memories as they placed them on the tree. Lucas had a vague remembrance of his mother decorating their tree when he was a boy. She would hum carols as she carefully pulled glass treasures from their wrapping. It made him sad to think of her and more so to know that he would never have any childhood treasures of his own to reminisce over.
“Earth to Lucas,” Daniel chuckled while waving his hand in front of Lucas’s face.
“What?” Lucas snapped back.
“Here,” Maggie handed him a small gold box with a red bow on top. “Open it.”
“I thought we weren’t doing presents tonight?” Lucas asked as he took the box.
“This isn’t a present-present,” Zoe answered.
“Open it!” Maggie repeated, bouncing in place.
Lucas untied the silk ribbon and lifted the lid. Underneath a bit of green tissue paper was a glass ball. It was white and had a silver sword painted on one side. He turned it in his hand and on the other side, written in glittery gold and silver it said, ‘Lucas’s First Christmas.’
Step four: Decorate cookies.
“No one is allowed to eat a single cookie until they have all been decorated,” Maggie ordered.
"But what if I don’t like frosting?” Lucas argued.
“You do,” Maggie countered.
He did. She was right. He also liked sprinkles…lots of sprinkles.
Step five: Lights!
Apparently, bundling up in three layers of clothes to stay warm while walking down street after street to look at how people decorated their house with Christmas lights was a thing. Lucas didn’t understand it. Mainly, he didn’t understand why they had to walk in the cold when they could have driven around the neighborhood in a warm car. Maggie said walking felt more festive and Zoe and Daniel were all about holding hands and being lovey-dovey so they didn’t help him argue his case.
It wasn’t totally horrible though. One house had Santa and the Three Wise Men holding light sabers and fighting off a group of Storm Troopers.
Step six: Go to the parade.
Lucas hadn’t been impressed with the parade last year when Maggie had dragged them to it and he really wasn’t impressed this year either. There were no demons lining the rooftops which was nice, but four different floats played Holly Jolly Christmas and now he would never get that song out of his head. He did like that it was something of a tradition, drinking hot cocoa while surrounded by the whole town. It was really the only tradition he had. Well, so far. This year more traditions were being created for him and he liked how that felt. It felt like not being alone.
Step seven: Shopping.
When Maggie said they were going Christmas shopping, Lucas didn’t realize that meant she would shop and he would just stand around, waiting for her, while holding all the bags and boxes. He hated shopping and would have screamed and run away except Maggie promised him tacos when they were done.
Step eight: Wrap the presents.
Want to know what Lucas hated more than shopping? Wrapping the presents, that’s what. Especially the part of the experience where Maggie stuck bows on his head and snapped a photo for her Instagram. He had already gotten four paper cuts and tangled in the tape roll twice. How on earth are you supposed to pull the tape while holding the paper in place without three hands? He decided that next year he will make the case for gift bags…if Maggie allows it… she’s scary at Christmas time, scarier than usual.
Step nine: Caroling.
Lucas had learned a lot about himself over the holiday season. On top of the shopping and wrapping, he learned he also hated caroling. Not as much as he hated the shopping and the wrapping but close. Really he didn’t mind the singing, it was the standing in stranger’s yards that he had an issue with. It just felt awkward. Couldn’t they have just sung carols around the fire in their own living room? Would that have been too much to ask? Why does everything they do have to be out in the world with other people? And why oh why do they have to keep singing Holly Jolly Christmas?!
Step ten: Snowball fight!
Anytime Lucas got to throw things at Daniel and not get yelled at for it, he was happy. Snowball fights made him happy.
Step eleven: Church Candlelight Service.
Stepping foot inside a church always felt strange to Lucas. He’s only done it a handful of times since stopping an apocalypse but every time was awkward. He felt out of place, felt like people were watching him like they knew all the bad things he’d done and how he wasn’t good enough to be sitting on that wooden pew beside them, that he would never be good enough.
He hated those wooden pews, too. They made him even more uncomfortable and squirmy. And Maggie had made him dress up this time so that was especially awful. Could he sneak out to the bathroom and stay there until service was over? The thought was circling his mind over and over.
Lucas fidgeted again. Maggie reached over and took his hand. The touch of her soft skin made him calm down. He squeezed her hand as a silent thank you.
The choir finished O Holy Night and the pastor walked to the pulpit. This was always the part Lucas hated, that part where they talked and he would get angry all over again for all the years he lost to the darkness, years stolen from him without anyone coming to save him. This time, with the pastor talking about the baby Jesus coming and love and grace and freedom, this time he wasn’t angry. He knew that love this time, really knew it, and the grace and freedom had gotten more real with every day that had passed in this new life he’d been given. For the first Christmas in a really long time Lucas felt peace. It was so subtle, and so deep down, he almost missed it.
Step twelve: The big day!
Maggie made them all wear matching Holiday pajamas. Lucas didn’t even try to argue with her on those. He didn’t have the energy and they were comfortable so he ignored the dancing reindeer printed on them and chowed down on his carton of lo mein.
“Another pic to print and frame,” Maggie laughed.
Lucas looked up from eating in time to see Daniel holding mistletoe over Zoe’s head. “You’re totally hopeless,” he jibed.
“Hopelessly romantic,” Daniel smiled and kissed Zoe again.
“Or just hopelessly goofy,” Lucas retorted.
“I like his goofy,” Zoe said, her cheeks still a little blushed.
Lucas liked his goofy too, and liked that it made Zoe happy. He’d deny it of course and threaten to kill you for even saying it, but it was true. When did he start getting so sappy? It must have something to do with all the holiday cheer. Maybe he was a little bit of a Grinch and all of Maggie’s twelves steps had grown his heart a size or two.
“Time to hang the star,” Maggie shouted out with glee while waving a gold, glittery star in the air.
“Lucas you do the honors,” Zoe said.
“Why does he get to hang the star?” Daniel protested.
“Because we said so, that’s why,” Maggie ended any further argument and handed the star to Lucas.
He stepped onto a short stool and reached up to place the metal star at the tip top of Maggie’s perfect tree. Lucas could feel it then, warmth stirring inside and whispered to him that he really had a family again and they weren’t going anywhere. Warmth that whispered he had a home and a foundation. Warmth that swirled and soothed bits of residual pain and fear. Lucas wiped a tear from his cheek before stepping off the stool.
“Let’s sing!” Maggie turned up the volume on Daniel’s playlist.
“No,” Lucas objected, “Not this song, not ever again.”
“Come on,” Maggie batted her eyelashes, “For me.”
“Nope, sorry, can’t do it.” Lucas stuffed an entire cookie in his mouth to buy him time for the moment to pass.
“Did you just meet me? Do I ever take no for an answer?” Maggie grabbed his hand and started bopping around the living room dragging a reluctant Lucas along.
Zoe and Daniel joined in the awful dancing and more awful singing at the top of their lungs.
“You’re missing out by being stubborn,” Maggie twirled around and once again the smile that lit her face pushed him over the edge.
“Fine,” Lucas said, cookie crumbs spitting from his still full mouth. “Holly, Jolly Christmas…”
After Maggie made them watch 6 hours of her favorite Christmas movies, Lucas fell asleep on the sofa surrounded by piles of ripped wrapping paper and discarded bows. He didn’t dream, didn’t toss and turn, didn’t shiver from the cold. He was warm and safe and his heart was so full.
The next morning he was up with the sunrise. He made his way to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. When it was done brewing he poured a fresh, hot cup for himself and padded bare feet back to the living room. He sipped the coffee while staring at the tree and thinking about Maggie’s twelve step plan and how much of it he hated but he wouldn’t trade a minute of it. For too long his life had been devoid of any real joy and this season, more than any other, had proven to him that it didn’t have to be that way…not ever again.
“You okay?” Zoe asked in between yawns.
Lucas wiped another pesky tear from his cheek. “Yeah,” he replied. “And I made coffee.”
“Yay. Coffee.” Zoe smiled. She put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s good to see you so happy,” she whispered to him then kissed his cheek before turning toward the kitchen. “But you better be ready to buckle down,” she called back to him, “because you do realize this was all just early Christmas, or first Christmas, whatever Maggie has been calling it. Our flight to South America leaves in five hours and Mags is gonna make you do it all again with Claire and Michael. Well, everything but the snowball fight.”
“But that was my favorite part,” Lucas grumbled to Zoe then returned to sipping his coffee, staring at the tree, and smiling at the feeling of it all. Then he made a mental note to delete Holly Jolly Christmas from everyone's playlists before they go to the airport.
Merry Christmas, to you and your family, whether they are blood relatives or the kind that comes through doing life together. May you find joy and peace this Holiday season. Remember, you are chosen, powerful, loved and never alone.
Your TCO3 Family and Tab.