Christmas Bells

Merry Christmas, Jamie. Merry Christmas, Emily

by Auntie Beth

Ketley sat on the couch watching the lights of the tree blink on and off, the sparkling of the tinsel hypnotizing her. Well, that and the turkey stupor that held her in it's evil grasp. She surveyed the opened presents piled neatly under the tree. She smiled as she recalled all the candy and small toys that had been dumped from the kids' stockings, making it look like a pinata had exploded in the living room. She was still surprised that a few of the presents were hers. There was a fruit basket with apples, oranges, chocolates and her favourite cookies, a CD and a book that she knew came from her own store. But he'd bought it with his own money and that's what mattered.

Jamie and Emily were on their stomachs in front of the tree deeply ensconced in reading their Christmas presents. Jamie's was a copy of "Lord of the Rings" and Emily was reading a Nancy Drew mystery called "The Haunted House". Ketley smiled at their absorption and then turned her smile on the woman standing at her elbow with a mug of coffee in her hand.

"Thanks, Nikki, " she whispered.

"You're welcome," the tall, dark-haired woman whispered back.

Speaking in a normal tone of voice she said "Hey, guys. Party's over. You have about 15 more minutes and then it's bed-time."

"Aw, mom, do we have to?"

"Please Mom?"

"Kids, it's 9 o'clock." She smiled at their wide-eyed, pleading looks. "Ok. I'll tell you what. *If* you go and get into your pyjamas, wash your face, and brush your teeth, and *if* you can do that in 10 minutes, you can take your books to bed and read for another 1/2 hour. Ok?"

12 year old Jamie and 9 year old Emily jumped to their feet, books clasped firmly in hand and ran down the hall to their bedrooms. Various bangs could be heard as drawers were opened and slammed shut. Water started running and splashes could be heard in the sink.

Exactly 8 minutes later, 2 shiny-faced, fresh-breathed children stood in front of their mother awaiting inspection. Emily wore her pink "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" pyjamas and Jamie wore the skeleton costume that he'd worn two years ago for Hallowe'en.

"Kids? I'm not really sure that those embody the "Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men idea."

Nikki laughed at both of her children's hopeful expressions. "Alright. You can have half an hour and then it's lights out."

Jamie leaned in and hugged his mother. "Thanks, Mom." His bright blue eyes watched her for a long moment. "Merry Christmas, Mom."

"Merry Christmas to you, too, son."

Jamie looked at Ketley and smiled shyly. "Merry Christmas, Ketley. Thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome, Jamie. And thank you for being such an excellent employee." She smiled at him.

Jamie looked at Ketley for another long moment before he leaned in and gave her a hug as well. Nikki looked on in astonishment as her normally undemonstrative son wrapped his arms around the other woman and whispered something in her ear.

Ketley pulled back from the embrace and grinned at the boy. "Yeah?" was what she said.

"Uh huh, " the boy replied, nodding fiercely.

"Thanks for letting me know."

"Ok, you two, " Nikki said looking from the daughter snuggled on her lap to her son standing close to Ketley. "Bed time. Go. Off with you."

The bodies flew off back down the hall as their mother called after them "Half an hour! And no tricks!"

"Love you, Mom!" Emily called over her shoulder.

"Love you, too, Pumpkin. Goodnight!"

Both women settled back into the couch, picking up the mugs of coffee that they'd had to put down to hug the children. They were a study in contrasts. Nikki - dark-haired, blue-eyed and just a shade under 6 feet; Ketley, blonde, green-eyed and, while not short, she was shorter than her companion.

They sipped their coffee in silence, watching the tree sparkle and listening to the soft Christmas music coming from the stereo.

"Thank you."

Ketley looked at the other woman in surprise, shaking the sleepy cobwebs from her brain. "What for? You made dinner."

"No, I cooked dinner. You, however, made Christmas."

"Oh, I didn't do anyth...."

Nikki cut her off. "Yes, you did." She turned on the couch so that she was facing the shorter woman, tucking one long leg under her body. "You're the reason that Christmas was special this year. And I can never thank you enough for making that possible for my children."

"Nikki... " Ketley began, turning herself on the couch, unconsciously mirroring Nikki's pose.

"No," Nikki replied. "When Jamie tried to..." she paused. "When Jamie tried to steal those books from your store, you could have called the cops. You could have tossed him out on his ear. You didn't have to give him a job."

"Nikki. He's just a boy," Ketley said softly

"Yes, but there are boys his age who are doing a lot worse than that. They take bats to car windows, beat up pedestrians. You could have treated him like ... well... like he deserved to be treated, I guess."

Ketley thought for a moment. She smiled at the memory of a shame-faced boy staring at his shoes and giving monosyllabic replies to her questions. Until she finally got to the reason why he'd stuffed 3 books into his backpack and was on his way out the door of her used book store without paying for them. Then everything had come spilling out. How his mother worked hard at her job, but it didn't pay very well and how, every year for Christmas, there were a few presents for him and his sister, but never anything for his mother and how this year he wanted it to be different.

"Nikki, Jamie is a good boy. Once I talked to him.... well, he just isn't like those kids. All he wanted was to get you a present for Christmas."

Nikki raked her hand through her hair. "I know, but I thought I taught him better than that."

Ketley smiled at Nikki. "You did. You didn't see his face when I stopped him. He thought the wrath of God was about to descend on his head."

"I hope you scared the pants off of him. He sure as hell got it from me when he confessed."

The two women smiled at each other.

Nikki leaned towards Ketley and touched her arm. "You never did tell me why you did it. Why you let him off."

Ketley sighed. "My sister and I were raised by my mother after my father walked out. That first Christmas.... I remember the look on my mother's face when my sister would burble on and on about what Santa was going to bring that year. I was old enough to know how parents help Santa out" Ketley smiled at Nikki, "but my sister wasn't. I remember the sadness and the worry on my mother's face. And I remember wanting to help and not knowing how."

Nikki nodded. "Ok. I understand that. But... why Jamie?"

"Repaying an old debt, I guess. When I was 12 I did something equally stupid. And the owner of the store let me go. I saw myself in him." She shrugged. "And then, when I got to know him and Emily and...," she paused, "you, well, I just wanted you to have a good Christmas. With no worries."

"And it was so important to him to get you and Emily something himself. The only way he could see to do that was to take it. I just gave him an alternative."

She remembered the first time that she'd bought something for her mother with her own money. It was a ceramic figurine of an angel. She'd been so excited Christmas morning that she'd made her mother open that gift first. She smiled as she remembered the smile on her mother's face; the quiet pride that her daughter had given her something that she'd earned; the sweet hug of thanks that seemed to go on forever. God, she missed her mother. She'd been to the graveyard Christmas Eve to leave a boquet of roses. Yellow roses had been her favourites.

"Ketley?" Nikki asked.

"Sorry," Ketley replied. "Ghost of Christmas Past."

The women slid into silence, sipping at the coffee cooling in their mugs.

"And I have to thank you."

Nikki looked puzzled. "What for? I didn't do anything."

Ketley smiled. "You invited me to be a part of your family's Christmas. It's been a while since I've spent Christmas with anyone other than my cat."

Her sister had invited her to come for Christmas, again, but getting out to Illinois when she had to work until 6 o'clock on Christmas Eve was well nigh impossible. Besides which, as much as she loved her sister, her brother-in-law was not entirely - comfortable - with her. He wasn't mean or nasty. He just didn't know what to say or how to act. So, she'd sent presents for her nieces and called before she came over to the Johnson's.

Nikki laughed. "Actually, you have Jamie to thank for that. He wouldn't let up until I'd invited you. " She hastily added, "Not that I didn't want you here."

Ketley laughed with her. "I knew what you meant."

"In fact, I think my son has a slight crush on you."

Ketley smiled. "Well, I have a crush, too, so I think we're even."

Nikki looked at the blonde woman inquiringly. "I thought ... I mean... Jamie told me that you had a girlfriend."

Ketley sputtered and choked, clamping her lips shut so that her mouthful of coffee wouldn't go spewing all over the floor.

"Jeeze, " she choked out when she'd swallowed the coffee down. "Do you two talk about everything?"

Nikki, assured that Ketley could breathe, started laughing. "I guess so. So, you are gay, right?"

Ketley blushed. "Yes," she answered, "but there's no girlfriend."

"Oh. Jamie said that you were talking to your assistant about your date."

Ketley started giggling and then howling with laughter. She put her coffee down for fear of dropping it, and waiting until the laughter passed before retrieving it.

"Gillian," she began, "is my assistant. She's A) 20 years old, B) dating a waitress from the cafe that she works at during the week and C) is far too impulsive and flighty for me. Don't get me wrong, she's adorable and I love her to pieces, but dating her? No thank you!"

Nikki laughed along with Ketley. "So, my little spy got things turned around did he?"

Ketley raised her eyebrows. "Spy?"

Nikki shifted along the couch until her knee was touching Ketley's.

"Uh huh."

"Oh... ummm... no... I mean... " she stuttered, "yeah... I mean yes. He got it wrong."

"Ok, " Nikki agreed, "he got it wrong. In that case, could I give you another present?" She smiled.

Ketley stared at the taller woman for a moment and then smiled back. "I think that I would like that very much."

Nikki leaned in and pressed her lips to Ketley's. Moving together, soft lips questioning, testing, Ketley moved her right hand to the back of Nikki's head to curl her fingers in the dark tresses she had longed for weeks to touch. Eyes closed she gave herself up to the sensations coursing through her body.

Breaking the kiss and pulling apart, the two women stared into each other's eyes, deep blue searching emerald green. Ketley caressed the dark hair still imprisoned in her fingers as Nikki stroked her cheek.

Seemingly finding what she was looking for, Nikki smiled at the shorter woman and then moved in for another kiss. Stopping short, however, she asked "What did my son whisper in your ear?"

Ketley grinned.

"He said 'I think my mom likes you.'"

"The hell he did!" Nikki chuckled. "I think he's smarter than I gave him credit for."

Ketley murmured agreement and then closed the distance between them again, gently capturing Nikki's full lips with her own.

Just around the corner of the hall, two heads were watching the women on the couch. Tilting their heads to catch each other's eyes, they grinned at each other.

"Merry Christmas, Jamie."

"Merry Christmas, Emily."


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