A Christmas Maggie - Part 3
A Christmas Maggie - Part Three
by Tiffany Reisz
Daniel’s heart tightened in his chest at the sight that greeted him. Anya had taken the blanket off the bed and wrapped herself in it for warmth. In the corner of the bedroom she huddled on the floor next to the heating vent, a telephone pressed to her ear with her grey furball of a cat, Leonard, curled up at her feet.
“Anya.” Daniel spoke her name softly and stepped toward her. “Sweetheart, I’m so-”
“She can’t hear you, remember?” Maggie took him gently by the wrist. “We’re not really here.”
“She’s got to be cold. Of course she’d pick the coldest room in the house to hide in.”
“Crying women with breaking hearts don’t always make the best decisions, Daniel. Remember when we got into that fight on our fifth anniversary and I ended up backing the car into a duck pond?”
“That one duck is still in physical therapy because of you.”
Maggie grinned at him. “Exactly. Now shush and listen. I’ll translate if you need me to.”
Back in the old days, Maggie would have gotten The Ouch for telling him to “shush.” The Ouch had been her name for a particularly vicious stare Daniel would given her when either annoyed with her or, even better, pretending to be annoyed with her for the purposes of inflicting erotic punishments. She always called it The Ouch because whenever she saw it, she knew she’d be in pain the next day.
But now Daniel couldn’t take his eyes off Anya long enough to give Maggie The Ouch. His little girl looked miserable…the blanket pulled tight around her, and her beautiful face lined with dried tears. It killed him that he couldn’t gather her in his arms and hold her until she felt warm and safe and loved again.
“It’s okay, my Love,” Maggie whispered to him as she squeezed his arm. “Where I am, there’s no pain, no pettiness, no sorrow or jealousy. It doesn’t hurt me to see you look at her.”
Daniel smiled at Maggie and his heart swelled with his old love for her. It felt comfortable and warm like his favorite pair of jeans pulled straight from the dryer. His new love for Anya felt completely different. It scared him, exhilarated him, dug into him like fingernails in his back.
Kneeling down next to Anya, Daniel studied her face as he listened to her soft voice speaking into the phone. He’d had to learn French and learn it quickly once he and Anya had gotten together. His little spitfire Québécoise lover took a little too much pleasure in correcting his errors. She took so much pleasure in it that he started correcting any and all of her mistakes with English. The wooden ruler he kept in his office and her perfect round bottom had gotten very well acquainted.
“Did everything arrive in time?” Anya whispered. “We had a heavy snow, and I couldn’t walk to the post office for a few days.”
She paused and someone on the other end answered her.
“Who is she talking to?” Daniel asked Maggie.
“Here…” Maggie said. “This might help.”
Daniel watched as Maggie reached out and touched a large mirror hanging on the wall. The image in the glass wavered and turned into a new picture. A young man stood in the middle of a narrow hallway holding a cordless phone to his ear. He had shaggy auburn hair and pale skin, hazel eyes, and a face that would turn handsome in a year or two once he put on a little weight.
“That’s Etienne, Anya’s brother. Haven’t met him yet. Just saw a picture.”
“He’s the guardian of the family now with Anya in America. Their father is useless,” Maggie explained.
“Anya told me the same thing.” Daniel looked back at Anya on the floor. In the mirror Etienne walked down the hallway to a living room. A small tree barely three feet high with only one sad strand of white lights decorating it stood guard over a mountain of presents wrapped in elegant silver and gold paper.
“I can’t believe you were able to afford all this,” Etienne said staring at the presents. “How did you do it?”
“Daniel asked me to stay with him. With the money I saved on rent I could buy the presents.”
Etienne winced. “I would rather you hadn’t gotten the presents. I don’t trust rich men.”
“He’s a good man,” Anya protested. “Very good. The best. And he’s so kind to me. And so handsome I can’t…nevermind.” She smiled a little no doubt realizing her brother was the last person on the planet who’d want to hear about her attraction to her boyfriend.
“If he’s so kind to you then why do you keep so much from him? Hmm? Did he know you had a mountain of presents to mail when you walked them to the post office?”
Anya grimaced. “He would have driven me if I’d asked. But if he’d seen the presents he would have wanted to know where the money came from. And if I told him it was all I had, then he would have made me let him pay for them.”
“You should have let him if he has that kind of money.”
“I have some pride, Etienne.”
“Too much pride, Anya.”
“I have to agree with Etienne,” Daniel said, wanting to badly to touch Anya. He was here, alive, unlike Maggie. Why couldn’t she see him? Why couldn’t he hold her? “The girl is 90% pride and 10% spite.”
“And 100% in love with you.” Maggie grinned at him.
“I like that kind of math.” Daniel turned his attention back to Anya. Of course the girl took every last cent she had and spent it on her six younger siblings. He should have known, should have helped. He’d been so caught up in finding the perfect engagement ring, creating the perfect Christmas for the two of them that he’d forgotten she had her family back in Quebec that she worried constantly about. What else was she keeping from him?
“Are the little ones asleep?” Anya asked, tucking the blanket tighter around her.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Etienne said with a roguish grin. Oh yeah, Daniel realized. That kid was going to be a heartbreaker. Better keep Kingsley away from him. “Of course they aren’t sleeping.”
“Can I talk to them?”
“They’d never forgive you if you didn’t. They’re all in Camille’s room trying to get her to sleep.”
Etienne carried the phone back down the hallway. Daniel winced at the sight of the house. House? It looked more like a two, maybe three bedroom apartment. Small, cramped, dark and dismal. Old carpet, stained walls. The place looked clean but only the presents under the tree gave any hint that love lived in the home.
Inside the mirror, Etienne opened a door to a tiny room that held twin beds. Children aged between eight and fourteen piled on top of or around the bed. The smallest girl, Camille, clung to a pink elephant stuffed toy and whispered to one of her sisters.
“Beautiful family,” Maggie said and Daniel saw his late wife smiling at the children. “I do love kids. Other people’s kids. Just never wanted any of my own.”
“I did,” Daniel said with a sigh. “So much. I loved the thought of taking care of these little people who couldn’t take care of themselves.”
“You always took such good care of me. You’ll make a wonderful father someday. I’m sure of it.”
“If that day ever comes…” Daniel watched the scene in the mirror. Etienne entered and told them Anya was on the phone. Smiles crossed all the faces, but Camille lunged for the phone and ripped it from Etienne’s hand.
“Hello, my little monkey,” Anya said and Camille giggled. “Are you ready for Santa Claus?”
Camille’s small, sweet face clouded over. “Papa said he wasn’t coming this year.”
“Don’t listen to Papa,” Anya said. “He’s on the Naughty List. You listen to me. Santa’s coming for all of you. He told me so.”
“Yes. Santa spends a lot of time Christmas shopping in New York City.”
“That’s where you live.”
“I did live there. Now I’m in a big house out in the country. It’s so pretty.” Anya wiped a tear off her face. Daniel could hear the pain in her voice beneath the forced levity.
“Can I come visit you?”
Anya’s eyes seemed to flinch at the question.
“I’ll come visit you first. I miss you. All of you.”
Camille sighed heavily and sadly, far too sadly for a child so small. Daniel wanted to pick the little girl up and hold her in his arms and tell her silly stories until she smiled again.
“I miss you too. Nobody’s here to sing to me.”
Anya gasped loudly in feigned shock.
“Not even Etienne? He won’t sing to you?”
Camille shook her head. “He says he can’t sing or it’ll ruin Christmas for everybody.”
“He’s right about that actually,” Anya said and Daniel chuckled. “But I can sing to you if you’ll get into bed and turn out the lights. Promise?”
“Promise, promise,” Camille pledged, solemn as a judge. She told Etienne that Anya was going to sing to her. Etienne took the phone from her hand and pushed a button to turn the speakerphone on. All the kids gathered even closer to the bed. Camille laid her head down on the pillow and pulled her pink elephant in close, holding him by his fuzzy foot.
Anya cleared her throat and closed her eyes. Quietly in a voice both melodic and tremulous, she began to sing an ancient carol in her native language.
“The first Noel, the angels did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay…”
Daniel’s throat tightened at the sweet sound of Anya’s singing voice. Rarely had he heard her singing before and never like this, never to soothe a child on Christmas Eve.
All of Anya’s brothers and sisters listened intently to the words. Until the chorus when the two older girls, Aimee and Nicole, began to sing along.
“Noel…Noel…Noel…Noel… born is the King of Israel…”
“She has a beautiful voice,” Maggie said, her voice nearly a whisper.
“And a beautiful heart…” Daniel stood up. It physically hurt not being able to touch Anya and comfort her. Her grumpy grey cat Leonard slept at her feet but couldn’t do much for her other than help keep her toes warm.
“She does have a beautiful heart. And soul. And face and body,” Maggie teased. “You’re lucky. She’s a catch. But then again, so are you.”
“I don’t feel like much of one right now.” In fact, Daniel felt horrible. He’d made Anya question his love for her and on Christmas Eve of all days.
“Come here. I want to show you one more thing.” Maggie tugged on his arm and Daniel reluctantly let her lead him away. He didn’t want to leave Anya. Not now. Not ever. But since he couldn’t help her, couldn’t talk to her, it was best to just leave until he could again.
Maggie took him from the guest bedroom and down to the living room, back to the Christmas tree.
“Beautiful tree. She did a good job decorating it.” Maggie nodded her approval.
“She’s a designer. You should see the clothes she makes for herself.”
“She made an all new wardrobe for her sisters for Christmas.”
Daniel stared at Maggie.
“What?” Maggie asked. “I peeked.”
“That girl amazes me sometimes. Who am I kidding? She amazes me all the time.”
Maggie only smiled into the tree. She reached up and lightly touched the little sock monkey ornament.
“A young woman named Eleanor gave that to me,” Daniel said. “She’s an-”
“Oh, I know exactly who Eleanor is.” Maggie’s eyes widened. “I know who she is even better than you do. You just thank your lucky stars you didn’t end up with that one.”
“Well, I know she doesn’t want kids either.”
“Least of your worries, I promise. Her future…” Maggie whistled through her teeth. “Let’s just say it gets…interesting. But I won’t say any more. I’d hate to ruin the surprise for you. I’m almost out of time anyway. And there’s something else you need to see.”
Daniel’s heart clenched at her words “out of time.” He wasn’t ready to let her go again. Not now. Not ever.
“What is it?”
“Nothing much,” she said with a sly smile. “Only this.”
Maggie waved her hand and the living room exploded with light and sound once more. Daniel heard laughter and music. Voices everywhere speaking French and English. Spinning around he saw a room full of children and teenagers wrapping and unwrapping gifts. And in the middle of it stood Anya looking beautiful and flushed and frazzled.
“Where are we?” Daniel asked before realizing the absurdity of the question. “I mean…when are we?”
“One possible future. You’ve invited Anya’s siblings to come for Christmas. Anya’s never been happier.”
Daniel watched as another version of him came into the living room, Camille slung over his shoulder.
“Did anyone ask for a Camille for Christmas?” Daniel bellowed to the room. “Santa left her on the front porch. Anyone?”
“I did!” Anya came and to him and took a squealing, giggling Camille from his arms. “I wanted a Camille to do my dishes for me. And cook. And clean. And brush Leonard and scoop his poop.”
“No! No! No! Not poop!” Camille cried out in giggles. “Give me back to Santa!”
Daniel couldn’t stop staring at the other version of himself, the future version. He looked like an idiot, grinning from ear to ear like that as he gazed at the room full of children and Anya beaming like a new bride. New bride? Daniel glanced at future Anya’s hand and saw his engagement ring shining on it. In this version of the future, he’d asked her to marry him and she’d said yes. He liked this version of the future. Whatever it took, he’d make it happen.
“I’ve never seen you look happier either,” Maggie said. “Not even on our wedding day.”
“I was terrified on our wedding day.”
“Thought you were making a mistake?” Maggie asked with a wink.
“Thought you were.”
“Marrying you was the smartest thing I ever did.” Maggie waved her hand and the lights dimmed, the laughter died, and the future faded away. Once more they stood in the quiet, Christmas tree-lit present.
“We were good together, you and I.” Daniel took her into his arms and held her close. He felt her fading on him already and refused to let her go. Not just yet anyway.
“Better than good.” Maggie relaxed into his arms and slowly swayed. “I can sing too, if you recall.” Softly she hummed an old favorite Christmas song of his.
“Have yourself a Merry little Christmas…” Maggie sang into his ear in a voice lower and huskier than Anya’s, but no less beautiful.
“Not this one,” Daniel begged, spinning Maggie as she sang. “This one’s so depressing.”
“No it isn’t. It’s just honest,” she protested. “Through the years we all will be together…if the fates allow…”
“The fates didn’t allow,” Daniel said as he pulled her tight to him. “I wish they had sometimes.”
“I know, my Love. I know you do. And I did too once upon a time. But the fates had other plans for us. And in time you’ll be standing where I am and the whole course of your life will stretch out before you like an open scroll…and you’ll see and understand. And then you will be grateful things happened as they did. I promise.”
“I believe you. I do. Only it’s hard…hard to believe.” He closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of vanilla on Maggie’s hair.
“I know it is. It’s like trying to see in the dark. But someday you’ll stand in the light.”
“And we’ll be back together?” he asked, hoping in some way he would be reunited with Maggie, with everyone he’d ever loved and lost.
Maggie smiled once more at him. One more smile. One more wink. One more soft kiss on his lips.
“If the fates allow,” she whispered.
And then she was gone.
Daniel started, stunned by her sudden departure. “Maggie?” he called out and heard no answer.
A mantle of sadness settled over him. Gone…once more she had left him before he was ready. He sat back down onto the chair. The box of Tiffany blue rested on the arm of the chair. In his hand he held the little box tight and knew what he would do. But not yet. Not quite yet. Not until morning.
Sleep came for him as he relaxed into the chair. Visions of Christmases future danced in his head. He and Anya…they would get married and they would be happy together. And all her brothers and sisters would come live with them and he would finally have the house full of children he’d always wanted. And it wouldn’t matter once bit they weren’t his own children. He would make them his children by loving and treating them like the father they deserved. They would sit at his feet and listen to stories he would read them. Even now he could feel Camille’s chin on his knee.
“Monsieur…you’ll hurt you neck if you sleep like that.”
Daniel slowly opened his eyes. Sunlight and snowlight filled the room. And Anya, his beautiful Anya sat at his feet.
“You’re right. I shouldn’t sleep in this chair. I’ll get a permanent crick in my neck if I do.”
He reached down and pulled Anya off the floor and into her arms.
“What are you doing?” she demanded as she wiggled on his lap.
“Playing Santa. Tell me what you want for Christmas.”
“It’s Christmas morning,” she reminded him. “Shouldn’t we have had this talk weeks ago?”
“Just tell me. We’ll see what Christmas miracles I have in my pocket.”
Anya sighed as she rested against him. Nothing felt better than Anya’s head on his shoulder.
She raised her hand and touched his face, his lips.
“I have you. There’s nothing more I want or need.”
Daniel’s chest tightened. He knew he should be on his knee for this but it felt so much more natural to have Anya on his.
“Not even this?” He held up the Tiffany box and laid it in the center of her palm. Her eyes went wide as the sky when she opened the box.
“But…” she started to protest and Daniel stopped her mouth with a kiss.
“But nothing. Marry me, Anya. That’s an order.”
He took the ring from the box and slipped it on her finger. Tears flooded her face as she threw her arms around him.
“Yes, Sir,” she breathed in his ear.
“Good girl.” Those two words were all he could push past his throat. He’d never been so relieved in his life.
For a few minutes they merely held each other and cried and laughed and kissed. But finally Daniel came to himself enough to start teasing her again. He couldn’t go five minutes without teasing her.
“Now that ring cost a fortune. So I expect something equally valuable right now in return as my Christmas gift. Pay up.”
Anya blushed from ear to ear.
“I have a present for you. I do.”
“Good. Go get it. I want it. If it’s not at least twelve pairs of new socks, you will be roundly punished until next Christmas.”
“I can’t go get it,” she said, nervously turning the new ring on her finger. “It’ll be late.”
“Shipping problems are unacceptable. No excuses. How late are we talking?”
Anya took his hand and kissed it before she slowly settled it flat onto her stomach.
“A little less than nine months.”
Merry Christmas, Everyone. All my readers and friends are presents to me every single day. I have all I need or want in the people I know and love. I hope we're all together for years to come. If the fates allow...