Christmas night. All the presents opened, all the company gone home, paper and ribbons cleaned away. It has been a lovely - if very warm and busy - day, and Jean finally has a moment to herself. She slips out of the house and into the back garden to catch the evening breeze. Her thoughts, as usual, turn to Lucien. And what a wonderful "first Christmas" they have had…
Actually, it had started early in November. In spite of it having been a mild Spring day, the evening air was chilly. Lucien had poured a whiskey for himself and Jean, and then set about to build a fire. Jean took a sip of the amber liquid, and sighed as it's warmth spread throughout her body. She had started to appreciate Scotch lately for that warmth, but now, watching her husband work, she began to wonder if the heat she felt was from the whiskey or her rising desire. His collar was unbuttoned, and his sleeves were rolled up, and watching the play of his muscles and the firelight on his skin had Jean mesmerized.
Never taking her eyes from the sight of her husband, Jean moved across the room to stand beside him. She picked up his glass and ran a finger down his cheek.
He looked up into her face and seeing the look in her eyes, stood without a word. She handed him his whiskey, signaling him to drink. Holding her gaze, he accepted her silent invitation and before he could form a coherent thought, she leaned in to taste the whiskey on his lips. The thought went through her mind that this was how she had developed her taste for Scotch. When he parted her lips with his tongue, she gladly deepened the kiss. Who needed Scotch? She was drunk on the taste and feel of her husband.
Things were heating up quickly, but, alas, their old nemesis was about to strike…
Jean sighed in frustration. "I'll get it." And straightening her hair, she went to answer the phone, sending him a look over her shoulder that said, 'I'm not done with you yet." But when she returned a few minutes later, she was shaking her head in disbelief.
"Darling, is everything alright? Who was on the phone?"
"It was Christopher. He has invited us to Adelaide next weekend for the Christmas parade."
Lucien patted the space beside him on the couch. "Well, that's wonderful news! Tell me what he had to say."
Jean joined him and snuggled into his shoulder. "He said Amelia is so excited about Christmas this year that they decided the parade would be just the thing. And Ruby… Ruby (!)…suggested that we might like to join the fun." She looked at Lucien and laughed. "Can you believe it?"
Jean's happiness was infectious, and Lucien gathered her closer for a kiss. "Splendid! When do we leave?"
They arrived at the Beazley house late the next Friday afternoon. After a lovely dinner Jean took Amelia upstairs to get her ready for bed. They washed up and brushed teeth and got into pajamas. Amelia had chosen a story she wanted to hear, so Jean got her into bed and snuggled down beside her to read. When Lucien tiptoed upstairs to see how they were doing, the sight that greeted him brought tears to his eyes. Jean was reading as Amelia listened with rapt attention, looking at Jean with such love that Lucien couldn't turn away. He took in the scene vowing to himself he would hold this memory forever.
The next morning, they crowded into Christopher's car and headed downtown for the parade. Amelia could hardly contain her excitement as she sat on her daddy's shoulders and took in all the bands and floats. It had been years since Lucien and Jean had been to a parade and they got caught up in the spectacle as well, but truth be told, they had the most fun watching Amelia. When Santa Clause came by she was so thrilled that Ruby, laughing, had to keep her from slapping Christopher's head in her joy.
On the way back to Ballarat Jean scooted over on the seat to be close to Lucien and sighed with contentment. "This was just the perfect way to start our first Christmas"
And now, in the fading light of this day she is thinking 'Yes, but it was only the start'. She remembers that first Friday in December when she returned home from shopping and was met at the front door by Lucien.
Before Jean could say hello, he grabbed her around the waist and brought her in for a fiery kiss. As they came up for air she said shakily, "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Lucien just pointed above their heads to the mistletoe that hung from the doorway.
"Well," she smiled mischievously, "We certainly can't let perfectly good mistletoe go to waste." And she leaned in and gave as good as she got.
Lucien finally pulled back and said, "I'm so glad you feel that way." He opened the door and stepped back to let her in the house ahead of him. Not two steps in, she stopped with a gasp and covered her mouth in surprise. Then she burst into delighted laughter. For there, in every doorway in the house, Lucien had hung a sprig of mistletoe.
And, oh, they had a lovely time kissing their way from one doorway to the next!
Then there was the morning of December 5th when the not-so-newlyweds woke up to a driving rain. As the morning progressed the weather continued to worsen and one by one each of Lucien's surgery patients, not wanting to brave the storm, called to reschedule their appointments.
Now there are those who would curse the storm and consider the day ruined. But for two people like Lucien and Jean Blake, it was a gift of time. Time for quiet conversation and private jokes. Time for endearments. And caresses. And kisses. And…
The day wasn't wasted at all.
The rain finally ended and gave way to what promised to be a beautiful sunset. "Come with me, Love. Let's take a little walk."
Hand in hand they walked out to the garden. Jean's flowers were a riot of color and the air was heavy with their fragrance. The two made their way through the flowers in comfortable silence. Jean was filled with such a tangible feeling of contentment she thought she might burst. 'I wonder if Lucien feels this way, too.' The thought had no sooner entered her mind than Lucien stopped and kissed her hand - so gently, almost reverently. He lifted his gaze to meet hers and the look of love on his face made her breath catch. He tucked her hand through his arm and they walked back to the house.
When they got to the kitchen they realized how muddy their shoes had gotten. "Let's just leave them here outside the door - we don't want to track up your floor. We'll clean them tomorrow."
The next morning Jean went to bring her shoes in, but when she opened the door to get them she found a surprise instead. "Lucien! Can you come here, please?"
He came to the kitchen looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. "Yes, dear?" He was fighting hard to keep his grin under control.
"Can you explain this?" Jean asked with mock anger as she pointed to her shoes. There they sat - each one full of little gifts and treats.
"Um, well, it is St. Nicholas Day, Jean. But I can see why you might be surprised. I thought he only visited houses in France!"
"Oh, you!" She slapped his arm playfully.
They brought the shoes in and opened all the gifts. Jean popped a sweet into his mouth and then enjoyed the sugar on his lips. She couldn't stop giggling and Lucien was enjoying it almost more than she.
After all was put away, Jean smiled to herself. Lucien's little escapade had given her an idea of her own.
Oh, and the night they decorated the tree. It was so lovely, and, after all it was their 'first', so they put Ella Fitzgerald on the record player, and danced. Then they made love by the light of that tree.
And last night - Christmas Eve. Lucien once again moved her by his thoughtfulness when he suggested they attend Midnight Mass. The thought of going made Jean very nervous, but Lucien was so earnest in wanting to please her that she said yes.
They slipped in the back and sat down. Jean reached for Lucien's hand, took a deep breath, and let the silence settle over her. The familiar words and music wrapped around her like a comfortable old sweater. She was glad she had said yes.
The ride back home was quiet. "Are you alright, Love?"
"Oh, my, Lucien. I am more than alright. I'm with you."
When they got home, Lucien went to pour them both a night cap. Jean smiled and said, "Stay there, I'll be right back."
She came in a moment later with something on a plate. "What have you there?" Lucien asked, intrigued.
"La Buche de Noel" she said laughing. "I know I didn't say that right" She looked at Lucien's face as his smile disappeared and tears came to his eyes. Jean put the plate down and went to him, taking his face in her hands. "Oh, what have I done? Luicien?" I'm so sorry!"
He caught her hand. "No, Jean, it's perfect. It's just… I haven't had one since my mother died. She made one every year - just for me. It was my favorite part of Christmas. And now, you…." He gathered her in his arms. "God, I love you. Thank you, my darling."
And they fed each other the rich cake, kissing away the crumbs and cream.
What a wonderful time it has been. Sitting here in the fading light of this first Christmas, she's a little sad for it to come to an end, but it's late and she must go back inside. As she passes the study, Lucien calls out softly, "Jean, can you come in for a moment?"
He's by his desk holding an old journal. Why does it look so familiar? She looks at his face and wonders why he seems suddenly shy. "I…um…I have one more gift for you. I'm afraid it isn't wrapped. Do you mind?"
'Do you mind.' With those words the memory comes flooding back. She is the one holding that journal…and his sketches…my God! Those terrible images.
"Jeannie?" His voice brings her back to the present and away from that awful day. As she finally focuses on her husband's face, she can see that he's holding out the journal to her. "I…well…these are for you."
With trembling hands she takes the journal from him and turns to sit. 'What is he thinking?' She closes her eyes and wills her hands to open her 'gift'. With dread she opens her eyes to see what he has drawn. It's…it's…her! And Amelia. It's the night she was reading the story, and Lucien has caught the expression on Amelia's face perfectly.
She looks up. "When?" she breathes.
Lucien smiles. "Do you like it?
But she can't wrap her mind around this. Again - "When?"
"There are more," he says.
She lifts that first sketch, and sure enough, there she is at the sink. And at the clothes line, beating a rug. And in the sunroom with a dirty apron and a smudged nose.
Sewing a button.
Holding a test tube.
Holding a patient's hand.
Sleeping - tangled in the sheets with her hair loose and glorious.
"My sweet Jean. I have seen so much pain. And for so long it consumed me. I had to let it out somehow, and when drinking wasn't enough, I put it on paper. The pain was all I knew. It was where I lived and what I breathed. I carried it with me as surely as I carried those sketches. And even when I felt the stirrings of a new life here, I couldn't take that first step into an unknown future. The past was a terrible place to be, but at least I knew where I was.
"But as time went by, I began to realize that you were becoming my past. And my present. And now you are my future, too. I want my journal, my home, my life to be full of you."
Lucien opens his arms and Jean goes to him. For a moment they just stand and breathe each other in. The Jean leans back and looks deeply into her beloved's eyes.
Lucien throws his head back and laughs. "Oh no, my love. A husband has to have some secrets!"
And with that, Jean is ready to let this first Christmas go. They will never have a first Christmas again, but there will be a second Christmas, and a tenth, and a twenty-fifth. They will each be the other's past and future.
And each day a present.