I don’t own any of the characters. Eoin Colfer does. I submit to his authority, etc. etc. etc.
A young boy’s voice wakes you up.
“Yes?” you ask.
“It’s Christmas, and Vinyaya and I were wondering if” he pauses, “…if we could open presents now.”
You pretend to consider it, then say gravely, “Yes. You may.”
“Thank you, father. I’ll go wake Vinyaya up and tell her.”
He turns, walks out of the room, and as soon as your door is closed, you hear feet patter quickly down the hall, and knocking on the door. “Vin! Father says we can open presents now!”
You sigh, then ask Minerva, “Was I always that formal around my father?”
“Yes,” she replies frankly.
Now you understand why Angeline never liked “Mother”. You thought it was more professional, just another barrier to protect you. All it did was distance you from your family.
You get out of bed, to join your children downstairs. You look at Minerva, still comfortably nestled in bed, and give her a are-you-going-to-get-up-now look.
“I’ll come in five minutes. Go on without me.”
“If I left you here, I could come back at noon and you would still be asleep. Get up.”
After five minutes, she deigns to descend the stairs with you, and as you go to join your children, you remember that Christmas 23 years ago, when your mother descended these very stairs, sane for the first time in years, to tell you it was Christmas. You miss her.
Artemis III (how strange it feels, to share your name with your child) and Vinyaya (Holly absolutely refused to have the child named after her) are lying on the floor underneath the tree, all dignity cast aside, searching for presents addressed to them. After a while, their grandfather takes pity on them and finds the presents from him at the back of the tree, handing them each one.
The doorbell rings; Minerva answers it. A man in his young twenties, his black hair dusted with snow, grins down at her. The children leave their half-opened presents, and run to him, crying “Uncle Beckett!” Vinyaya asks, “Where is Uncle Miles?”
“He’s coming tomorrow – his flight was delayed.”
Vinyaya and Artemis III sigh in unison, then realize that Uncle Beckett has a box of presents behind him, carried by Juliet, who had taken on the position of his bodyguard. She drops that box by the door, and nearly tackles her brother. Butler allows it for a few moments, then gently removes her and takes the box.
After all the presents under the tree have been opened, you and your father lead the rest of the family into the main hall, where more presents lie on the hearth. Artemis and Vin dash towards the presents, as if each year it is a new surprise that “Santa” visited. You think wryly of the faries and, as if reading your thoughts, young Artemis holds out a present.
“It’s for you, Father,” he tells you. “It’s from a girl named Holly. Who’s she?”
You take the present from him and, deciding that Christmas has no need of formalities, sit down cross-legged on the floor. “She’s a woman I knew many years ago, before I knew your mother even.”
As your children struggle to understand a time when Father was not married to Mother, you carefully unwrap the present. A box emerges, and in the box…
You laugh. It starts out as a chuckle, and escalates until you are laughing as you have not in years. No one in the room understands why, but in the box are two large, swirly, rainbow lollipops. When you finish laughing, you wipe the tears from the edge of your eyes, and read the note tucked underneath.
“Dear Mud Man (you aren’t a Mud Boy anymore, are you?), Merry Christmas! I’m glad that Minerva was able to make you stay home this year. I’ll be visiting about the time you open this present. Merry Christmas, Holly. P.S. The lollipops are for Arty and Vin. Unless you want them, of course.”
You hold out both lollipops, and the children’s eyes grow wide. “Holly sent you these.”
They each take one reverently, and sit down to finish opening Santa’s presents, with the candy in a place where they can always see it.
The doorbell rings once more, and this time you rise to answer it. No one is there, but you see a shimmer in the air. You step outside, and shut the door. “Hello, Holly.”
“Hey, Artemis,” she replies, shimmering into sight.
There is a moment of silence. Holly does not appear to have aged a bit, while you – well, 20 and 35 are distinctly different. And what do you say, when you haven’t seen your friend for years?
“Thank you for the lollipops. Vin and Arty just love them.”
“Merry Christmas, Artemis,” she tells you. You nod back, and she smiles.
Holly shimmers out of sight as she flies away.