Angela woke up early. She sometimes liked to moan about the fact they started early every morning. But when she could sleep, she didn’t. Either her body or her mind had become too accustomed to “bright and early” for anything else.
Jackson always woke up when she woke up, which made her sorry this morning. Occasionally she wound up out in the field working on a case. Jackson wound up doing double-duty in the office and in the field far more often; he needed sleep.
“Where are you going?” he whispered.
She eased from his hold. “Up. And you’re going to stay and go back to sleep.”
He made a murmuring sound and for a minute, she wanted to swat him. He did have the ability to go back to sleep. She just didn’t. Then she smiled, watching him curl his arms around a pillow—instead of her. She rose, slipped into the bathroom, showered, and dressed for the day. It was going to be a bit different from what they had planned; they had a child with them now. She realized she didn’t know what tenyear-old boys liked to do. They didn’t need to decorate for Christmas—the Newtons had left the house beautifully decorated.
She peeked in on Corby; he was still sleeping. She thought he slept with a smile. That was nice. She slipped back out of his room, closing the door softly. She hurried on downstairs and headed into the kitchen, starting coffee. She knew they didn’t have clothing for Corby. He would need a shower.
She did know all ten-year-old boys needed showers!
But, of course, it was way too early to slip out and find a store. Even at Christmas.
She heard the soft churning sound indicating the coffee had brewed. One cup, she thought. And it was then she remembered her very special gift for Jackson that year. She still had to figure out the way to give him the gift,
but . . .
She turned to see that Corby was awake. He was watching her tentatively. He hugged the wall, as if he had found a place from which he could make a quick retreat if he was unwanted.
“Hi! Good morning,” Angela said. “Are you hungry?”
“Let me see what we’ve got,” Angela said. She made a mental note to thank the Newton family; they hadn’t had to do a thing. There were groceries, clean sheets on all beds, decorations . . . the house itself was a charming Christmas present.
Digging in a cabinet, she found a waffle maker. It was in the shape of a cartoon character.
“Oh, wow,” she murmured. She looked at Corby. “You like waffles?”
“I love waffles,” he said enthusiastically.
“I do, too,” she assured him. “Especially character-shaped waffles. Let’s see, yes, they left everything!”
“They’re very nice people. Did you meet them?”
“I did. Last year we were visiting friends who were married right here in this house,” she said as she bent down toward the cabinets.
“Well, they are very nice.” He was quiet for a minute. “They might have adopted me. Except they had to move.”
“I know they are wonderful people,” Angela said. Digging in the cabinets, she’d found everything she needed except for milk, eggs, and butter—and found easily in the refrigerator. As she mixed ingredients, she asked him, “Okay, Corby. Tell me, what did you ask Santa for this Christmas?”
“Santa isn’t real. Kids my age know that,” he told her.
“Ah, not willing to suspend disbelief.” she said.
Angela stirred her tannish mixture and carefully poured a portion into the waffle maker. “But you see President Jefferson and speak with him and that . . . did it scare you?”
“Santa’s not real. President Jefferson is.”
Angela smiled, making sure she’d covered all the little squares in the appliance. “You know, there are many people who wouldn’t believe you saw President Jefferson.”
“Sure. I know some people do, and most people don’t. He helped me understand that.”
“Were you—frightened when you first met him?”
He shook his head and his voice was soft when he said, “I saw my mom and dad. I felt them at their funeral. I was by the graveside and most people had left. The sun was so strange that day. Mom came and knelt by me and begged me to be strong. And she told me she’d love me forever because love was something that never died. Dad told me to remember I could be anything I wanted to be in this world, I just had to know I was loved, and no matter what the world threw at me, to stand tall. I wasn’t afraid of them; they were my parents. So, when I saw Thomas Jefferson, I was kind of like you—just thinking it was awesome!”
“I bet your parents were wonderful,” Angela said.
He nodded. His face crinkled into a look that held a certain amount of pain. “Dad told me, too, that he never thought they’d be leaving me so soon; that they’d be around to get me through life. They knew it was going to be hard for me because I’m mixed race.”
“Well, lots of people are mixed race. In fact, if we went back, I’m willing to bet we’re all more mixed than we know. But, let’s see, incredible cool people who are mixed race . . . first off, in my mind, the Rock!”
“The Rock. Dwayne Johnson. He’s charming and gorgeous and—”
“Do you know him?”
“Sadly, no. Then there’s Shemar Moore, the actor. He’s well-spoken, charming—gorgeous.”
“Do you know him?”
“Sadly, again, no.”
“Hey, great, what’s going on here?”
Angela swung around to see Jackson had come down. He was dressed for a casual day in the country, wearing jeans, black T-shirt, and an overlying plaid flannel shirt.
“So, great. My wife wants to meet Dwayne Johnson and Shemar Moore.”
“Hey, you’d like to meet them, too.” Angela protested.
“I would—both come off as intelligent and cool in interviews. But what’s going on?”
“Waffles—and cool people who are mixed race,” Angela explained.
“Well, there’s me,” Jackson said.
“Right,” Angela said, making a cringing face for Corby. “There’s Jackson.”
Corby laughed, his eyes lighting up as Angela placed a waffle before him.
“And,” Angela said, “a favorite among the ladies in the office, there’s Jason Momoa!”
“Okay, that is one impressive looking human being,” Jackson agreed. “I wonder just what his mix is?”
Angela laughed. “Who cares?”
“Ouch!” Jackson said. He looked at Corby. “Okay, buddy, hm. This can be played two ways! Zoe Kravitz and Rashida Jones. Vanessa Williams, Halle Berry, Lisa Bonet, Alicia Keyes—and maybe super-cool and really out there—Meaghan Markle.”
“Where’s my waffle?” Jackson asked. “Oh, yeah, wait, sorry, that was rude. I can make my own waffle.
Really, I can,” he said, looking at Corby.
Corby laughed. Angela sighed deeply.
“Yes, you are capable of pouring batter into a waffle maker. I’m happy to do it. Get yourself some coffee, if you’d like, and hey, Corby, would you like juice or milk?”
“Milk with waffles, please.”
“Indeed,” Jackson said gravely. “Milk is best with waffles.”
Angela made waffles for herself and Jackson—and another for Corby. Talking about celebrities led into
talking about movies and music. They were still at it when the doorbell rang.
Jackson headed to answer the door, returning with an older man who was pleased to meet Angela and happy to see Corby. He was Deputy Marlin O’Boyle, and he had brought clothing for Corby and papers to sign that cleared them of being kidnappers and made it perfectly legal for Corby to spend the next days with them.
Angela made him a waffle, too.
“I was wondering about things to do in this area,” Angela told Marlin O’Boyle.
“Oh, wow! There are several parks in the area—some with old Colonial homes, some that honor the
Victorian period . . . and there are other parks, too. Amusement parks,” he said, grinning at Corby.
Angela felt Jackson’s eyes on her. He was waiting to hear what she wanted.
She smiled. “I think we can explore a few, if you’d like, Corby.”
“A—real amusement park?” Corby asked. “I mean, I love the places that have all the old houses and show you what life was like in the old days, too.”
Angela glanced at the clock on the microwave oven. It was just after 8:00 A.M.
She smiled. “One of each. We have friends coming, but not until tomorrow afternoon. We have hours and hours. We can get a bunch in.”
“If you still have the energy, St. Anthony’s has a midnight service that’s breathtaking,” O’Boyle told them. “I’ll be there. My wife and I went every year; I still go. I get to feel her a little bit closer that way, I think.”
“Midnight service it is,” Angela said, looking at Jackson then.
It was going to be a full day.
They could have spent days—not a half a day—at the “Trenton Village,” a place not as grand or renowned as the historic area of Williamsburg, but fascinating, nonetheless. Decked out for the holidays, the place was filled with old-fashioned ornaments and offered cocoa and cookies, a visit with Santa, ball-toss games, and other period pursuits.
Jackson was impressed to see Corby was an avid listener when their guide talked about those who had come through various houses—they had been moved to this location to create the village—and their importance in American history. He’d been fascinated by the old smokehouses they kept.
But he was a ten-year-old. He had more fun playing the games out in the field.
“Hey, did you want to see Santa?” Jackson asked him, glancing at his watch after Corby had taken part in a beanbag throwing game.
“Santa isn’t real,” Corby told him.
“He already let me know that,” Angela said, making a face.
“Ah, well, if he were real, what would you ask for?” Jackson asked.
Corby shrugged. “I don’t know. I can’t have what I want.”
“And that is?” Angela said softly.
“My folks back, of course,” Corby said. “Hey, it’s okay. I know they can’t come back. It’s all right; I’m going to be okay.”
“Amusement park?” Angela asked.
“You’re spoiling me, you know,” Corby told her.
“You deserve a day of spoiling,” she told him.
They drove on to the amusement park which was also decked out for Christmas. There were trees and decorations, elves and sprites and reindeer, special performances, and, of course, the rides.
Corby loved roller coasters. Angela seemed happy enough for him to ride them—with Jackson. “I’ll watch and take pictures,” she told him and Corby. “They’re two-seaters, mostly. You guys have fun!” she told them.
“But you like roller coasters,” Jackson said. “We can take turns.”
“I ate popcorn when we came in. It’s not sitting well.”
“You have an iron tank for a stomach,” he said, surprised.
She whispered to him, “You want to know what I want for Christmas? I want you to take Corby on every ride here you possibly can.”
She was serious and intense. Jackson nodded, still confused. Angela was never sick, but . . .
This was what she wanted. He would oblige.
She seemed fine, however, when they stopped at the dinosaur-themed restaurant the park offered before leaving. She ordered a plate of “Jurassic bones and bits,” or ribs with fries and coleslaw.
Feeling better, he presumed.
They left the park at ten, in time to get to St. Anthony’s and find seats for the service. They ran into Marlin O’Boyle who introduced them to friends of his, but they all sat quickly because the choir sang as parishioners came in to find their seating for the service.
They sang beautifully, as O’Boyle had said.
Angela smiled and whispered over Corby’s head to Jackson, “Anyone not in a Christmas spirit after listening to these guys . . . ah, no one could listen to them and not feel uplifted!”
Oh, Holy Night, Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, The Little Drummer Boy, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World . . .
When it was over, it was very late, of course. They chatted with O’Boyle for just a few minutes, met a few more people, and started out. But as they headed to the car, they passed the old graveyard.
Corby, who had been holding Angela’s hand, pulled back suddenly, looking at the two of them. “I know it’s late. I know I’m ten. And that . . . well, I’ve never seen anyone hanging around this graveyard—I mean, anyone dead—I’d like to stop. Please. Just to tell my mom and dad Merry Christmas. Maybe they can hear me.”
“Of course,” Angela said.
Only a tiny wall of old stone separated the graveyard from the walkway. They stepped over it. Corby led the way. Jackson and Angela followed, glancing quickly at each other. His parents had been buried in an old plot that apparently belonged to Corby’s dad’s family; a large obelisk offered the name “Latimer.”
Corby found the two, comparatively new stones that offered the names of his parents with their dates of birth and death. Mom had been Shelley. Dad had been David.
“I love you. I miss you so much!” Corby said. He fell to his knees and said softly, “Just a little Christmas prayer. I know you are there, somewhere, watching over me.”
Angela tugged at Jackson’s hand.
They knelt, too. “Merry Christmas, and may you know what a wonderful child you left behind, keeping all that was you here on this earth,” Angela said.
“Merry Christmas, Shelley, David,” Jackson said.
They stayed another minute. Jackson wished fervently this was one of those times when the dead might appear, when Corby’s mother might touch his face gently. They didn’t appear. But a soft breeze, not cold, but rather like a gentle stir of the air did seem to touch them all.
“They’re telling us Merry Christmas, too!” Jackson said.
Corby turned to him and smiled.
“Thank you!” he said.
Angela stood. “And now, Shelley and David, we’re going to do the right thing and get his great kid of yours to bed for the night.”
Corby laughed. “Yes, Sure.” He stood. Angela offered her hand. He took it. They started out of the graveyard together, Jackson following.
“Hey,” he said, when they were in the car, buckled up. “It’s long after midnight now—Christmas Day! Merry Christmas to you both. And Corby, we can’t shop on Christmas day, but after . . . well, we think you need a pair of really cool new sneakers.”
“That would be great,” Corby said. “But . . .”
“But?” Jackson asked.
“You’ve already given me the best Christmas ever!”
Back at the house, Corby went right up to bed. They tucked him in together.
Jackson watched Angela with the boy, noting the natural affection the two seemed to share so easily, and so quickly. Yeah. They had always talked about children, waited for it to happen . . .
They had to remain close with this child somehow. Of course, they’d be back here. They were going to buy the house. But he’d escaped from the orphanage to come here, and he was probably still going to take some heat for having done so this year—even if they’d asked to have him stay.
Corby was just a great kid. A beautiful kid. He’d seemed to accept with both resignation and a sense of reality that the world was a hard place. He was going to make it in the world anyway.
There had to be something that they could do.
Angela looked at him and grinned. Corby had accepted her kiss on his forehead and then risen to give her a tight hug. Then he closed his eyes and curled to his side to fall asleep.
Angela looked at him, smiling. “Cool, cool kid,” she murmured, then she rose from Corby’s bedside and hurried out into the hallway.
In their own room at last, Jackson turned to Angela. “Okay. Not exactly what I promised,” he said.
“But . . .”
“Best Christmas ever!” she said.
He smiled. In a way, despite the time, it was still Christmas Eve.
“We really can sleep in a bit,” he said.
“Hm,” she murmured. And kissed him. Curled into bed, she said, “We still have time for the romantic part.”
He laughed. “Not much energy left, but . . .”
“I’ll help you find some,” she promised.