Chris set up the real tree right away, and got out the box of old ornaments. “Some of these ornaments are older than I am,” he admitted. “Grandma enjoyed decorating every year.”
“I don’t remember,” Lilly admitted, sadly.
“You were very young.” He blew the dust off one ornament, and saw how old and stained they really were. “But the amazing thing is, she put so much love into the tree, I swear it shined like the stars at night.” Lilly wanted to put the angel on the top. Chris had to lift her.
Mary knocked, and came in with macaroni and cheese, a big jug of milk, and a whole plate of red and green iced Christmas cookies; the homemade, melt-in-your-mouth kind. They had more fun and happy laughter. Then Lilly got tired, so she got ready for bed without having to be told.
“But Uncle Chris, what are we going to do with the artificial tree?”
Chris smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “I guess we will have to be a two-tree family.” Lilly liked that idea, and curled up under her covers. Chris left the door open a crack, and found Mary in the kitchen, ready to leave. He found her crying again. He asked what was wrong. He wanted to hold her, but did not dare. She left the milk and leftover macaroni and cheese in the refrigerator, and left the cookies on the counter. Then she did something that utterly surprised Chris. She got on her toes, kissed his cheek, and left quickly without looking back.
Chris sat by the window for a long time. He thought about the court taking Lilly away and sticking her in some horrid foster home. He imagined Courtney laughing at him for getting him fired and arranging for Lilly to be taken from him. Chris had nothing left. His parents were gone. His brother died. He thought he had some cousins in the east somewhere, but he never talked to them, and could not rightly remember their names other than Aunt Linda. He loved Lilly like she was his own. He did not want to lose her. She was the only one he had left. He touched his cheek where Mary kissed him, but went to bed feeling broken.
One hour later, while Chris slept, his apartment door opened slowly and quietly, and a dozen Christmas elves and one fairy came in. The elves immediately set about decorating the whole apartment for Christmas, and filled every corner with Christmas cheer.
Cue: Deck the Halls
A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Don Jackson. Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001
The fairy went to wake Lilly, quietly. Of course, Lilly shouted. “Fairy.”
“Hush,” the fairy said, and surprised Lilly by coming close and hugging the girl, her little fairy arms around Lilly’s cheeks.
“Sorry,” Lilly said, softly. “But…fairy,” Lilly added. Lilly reached up and gently touched the Fairy’s pointed ears, but her attention stayed on the fairy’s face, which brought out her smile. She watched carefully as the fairy fluttered back to the foot of her bed.
“Lilly,” the fairy said, in a voice that surprisingly sounded like a full-grown woman. “My name is Miss Serissa. That is the Christmas rose, and I am your mother.”
“My mother?” Lilly tried to keep her voice down.
Serissa fluttered to the bed and got big, which is to say, her wings disappeared, and she took the form of a full-grown woman, though honestly, one too beautiful to be an ordinary human. Lilly gasped when Serissa spoke again.
“My baby. I have spent these last six years worried about you. You were born human sized. I thought you would live best as a human, in the mortal world. I knew your father would take you to where you could be safe—away from the war. I cried when Ricky, your father, died; and I grieved for you, but I never gave up hope that you would have a good life. But then some of the Christmas elves found you and watched for a time. If you were mostly human, you were where you should be. But it seems you are more like me than like your father.”
“But I am not like you. You are a fairy.”
“And so are you,” Serissa said. She wanted to smile, but looked hesitant.
“Seriss…” Lilly could not remember.
“You can call me Mother,” Serissa said, and Lilly jumped forward, threw her arms around the woman, and cried. Serissa wept with her.
“Come,” Serissa said, after a good cry. “We have to take you home, where you can get well.”
“But what about Uncle Chris?” Lilly asked, and she and Serissa both looked toward Chris’ room, though the wall blocked their view.
“First, we get little, which for us is our normal size.” Serissa took Lilly’s hand and instantly, two fairies, one being a little, naked fairy child, hovered over the bed, their bumble-bee-like wings pumping away. “Now, keep hold of my hand. You have not practiced with those wings yet.”
“Yes, Mother,” Lilly said, in her regular voice, and Serissa cried again for the sheer joy Lilly expressed; but those were happy tears.
The fairies followed an elf sneaking into Chris’ room.
“Plum,” Serissa whispered sharply. “You were told to stay out of his room.”
“Got to,” Plum said, and he went to the window where he pulled on a string. Something lit up on the outside of the building, but the fairies could not see what it was.
Serissa frowned at Plum and tapped her foot in mid-air. “You and Roy are the worst. You don’t listen, and you don’t follow instructions.” She might have said more, but she got distracted when she got a good look at Chris. “He looks so much like his brother. But he will be all right. I have a feeling that Merry will be there for him.” Lilly looked up at her mother and nodded. Serissa gave Lily another small kiss before she brought them again into the hall, gently closing the door with her wand and a touch of magic sparkles.
Lilly saw the main room then, and loved all the beautiful decorations and knick-knacks of Christmas that were everywhere. “I feel better already,” Lilly said, not that she ever really knew what ailed her. Serissa still held her wand and sent a small stream of sparkling lights at the window, and the window opened. The elves escaped that way, and Serissa and Lilly only paused to speak, though it seemed to Lilly that no one remained to speak to.
“Come, our work is done,” Serissa said, and Lilly thought of Mary.
“Take care of Uncle Chris,” Lilly expressed her own thought.
“My work is not done yet,” a thought returned to them both, and Serissa smiled, knowingly, though without elf eyes, it would have been too hard for an ordinary human to see the knowing smile on her little fairy face. Serissa and Lilly flew out the window, still holding hands, and disappeared into the night. Mary, in her own room, cried some more.