It's Christmas—how could I not post? ; )
Helga Pataki's Christmas
The Journal: A Holiday Entry
The Journal of Miles Shortman
December 24th, 1986
Christmas Eve in a humid jungle is something I'll never get used to. But then again, I was spoiled with white Christmases each year growing up in Hillwood. Those were some freezing days when I was a kid, and I remember every year my father would get all caught up at first with fixing the furnace and putting in the storm windows and plowing the walk. But then after a couple of days and a warm smile from mom, he'd smile too. And suddenly we'd all be having a snowball fight without a care in the world. Then we'd head inside for hot chocolate and raspberry jam cookies, watching the world turn white outside while the boarders came down and we all sang carols.
I actually started to feel cold writing that just now. Memories are powerful and beautiful—that's what mom always said. I miss her and dad. Stella and I haven't seen them since the wedding. It would be nice to go home again soon…especially since, well…. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should start at the beginning, just a couple of hours ago…
"Stella? I'm back! I got the mangoes you wanted…and the peppers and bananas you wanted to slice up with them…and the mushrooms and ginger you wanted to throw on top." Miles entered the hut, a bundle wrapped in palm leaves in his arm. "Are you sure you want me to mix all of that up for you for dinner? It's kind of an odd combination." He raised an eyebrow at his wife currently seated on the floor and playing with their new little piglet Abner in front of the fire pit.
"Yes!" Stella smiled brightly and gave the bundle Miles was holding an almost ravenous look. But then she cleared her throat and resumed a calm demeanor. "I mean, uh, I know it's a little odd but I guess I'm just having a strange… 'craving'." She cast a glance at her husband as she bit her lip, an eyebrow raised.
Miles just smiled. "Well, whatever my blushing bride wants, she gets." He sat down on the opposite side of the fire pit and turned his attention to the contents of the bundle.
Stella sighed with a small smile as she scratched Abner behind the ear. "Well, anyway, thanks for finding everything. I didn't think those ingredients would be that scarce this time of year: you were gone over two hours. Abner and I were starting to worry."
The little pig oinked.
Miles blinked then looked up at her with a sheepish smile. "Oh, well, um…you know, the jungle's an unpredictable place." He shrugged and then quickly (and 'casually') took out a knife and started chopping fruit and vegetables.
Stella tilted her head for a moment but then she just smirked. "All right, fair enough. I'm just sorry Abner and I couldn't help you so we could all start Christmas Eve together earlier. But I'm still feeling a little tired." She gave a distinct sigh.
Miles frowned slightly. "Are you sure you're not sick?"
"No." Stella smiled more and shook her head. "I saw the medicine woman in the village this afternoon while you were at the dig site, and I'm perfectly fine. Better than fine, actually…" Her eyes hazed. "You could almost say I have a 'special glow'."
"Does that mean you have a fever?" Miles raised an eyebrow.
Stella blinked. "I…no…" She almost scoffed.
"Oh, good." A relieved smile came to her husband's face.
But then as Stella opened her mouth to say something else, Miles glanced to his watch and then to the window of their hut. He turned back to Stella and suddenly stood up. "Uh, honey, can you handle the chopping for a minute?" He jerked a thumb in the direction of the door. "I just have to take care of something quick."
Stella raised an eyebrow at first but then blinked. "Oh, of course." She smiled. "I just put fresh palm leaves in the outhouse."
Miles blushed. "Oh, well, no, but, uh…I mean, yeah, sure—that's what I meant." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Be right back." And with that and a quick smile he dashed outside.
Her husband gone, Stella sighed and looked down at Abner. She lowered her voice. "Well, it looks like he's not going to take any subtle hints about your new brother or sister being on the way, Abner. I'll have to be a little more direct." Abner tilted his head to the side, and Stella smiled more. "Oh, you're right, I guess I could just tell him, but where would the fun in that be? I want to see that look of realization on his face—that happy glow that the medicine woman said I got when she told me. And you'll help me, right, Abner?"
Abner smiled and oinked.
Stella laughed softly and scratched behind his ears again.
Meanwhile, outside, Miles had a little secret of his own he was fretting over: he raced around, moving this and rearranging that and making sure certain things were rigged certain ways. Sunset had begun, and he wanted Stella to see the surprise at just the right moment of twilight—he only had one shot, so it had to be perfect.
This was their first Christmas Eve as husband and wife after all.
Miles reentered the hut a few minutes later to see Stella peeling a mango while Abner munched on one of the skin pieces. He sat back down in front of them on the opposite side of the fire pit and wiped his brow.
"Are you okay, Miles?" Stella smirked a little and raised an eyebrow.
"Uh…yeah," he nodded, pulling at his collar. "It's just hot out there. I'll never get used to sub-tropic Decembers no matter how many years I travel." He gave a sheepish shrug.
Stella nodded. "Yes, it's not exactly a typical December night." She brought her eyes to his. "It's making the animals restless. While you were gone earlier, I went outside to fill the water jug and heard some parrots squawking in their nest—a male, a female…and a little one that had just hatched." Her gaze warmed. "This place has a knack for bringing new life, don't you think?" She rested her hand on her stomach.
"Hmm?" Miles wasn't even looking at her—he was checking his watch again as he went back to chopping food. Then he blinked and glanced up. "Oh, uh…yeah, the animals—they're always doing something. Isn't that right, Abner?" He gave the little pig a warm smile.
Abner oinked and raised an eyebrow, then looked from Miles to Stella.
Miles looked to Stella again (who still had her hand on her stomach). "Do you want the peppers diced or sliced?" he asked.
Stella gave him a second to absorb her look and the position of her hand (coupled with her words about the family of parrots), but then, seeing him still looking sweet and clueless as ever, she sighed and took her hand away with a shrug. "Oh, sliced is fine." She considered again, then her eyes brightened once more. "And you'd better make it a double portion for me—enough for at lest two people." She leaned close to him.
Miles grabbed a few peppers to cut and started quickly slicing. "Feeling hungry tonight?"
"Yes." Stella gave a big nod. "I wonder why?"
"Hmm…" Miles looked down with an eyebrow raised as he finished the peppers and moved on to the mushrooms, but then he looked up with a warm smile. "Oh, I know—it's probably just relief now that the wedding's over."
"Relief, huh?" Stella instantly leaned back and crossed her arms, giving him a slight scowl as she tilted her head. "Was it really so difficult marrying me?" She smirked.
Miles blinked then held up his hands. "No, no, Er…I just meant it was stressful getting the wedding all together—I barely ate anything for a week beforehand. But now that everything went okay and we're finally married, it's a relief that we can just enjoy being together. Like tonight—just a quiet dinner for two. Our first Christmas Eve as husband and wife." His gaze warmed even more.
Stella's gaze became warm again as well. "Hmm…okay, you got yourself out of that one, buster. I guess I see what you mean. Still though—a dinner for two is nice but…if a third someone came along to join us, it wouldn't be too much of a problem, right?" She looked right into his eyes.
Miles chuckled. "Well, of course not—" and then he gestured down to the piglet playing at Stella's side, "Abner's a part of the family now—he's our always welcome third guest."
Stella blinked, then she let out a deep sigh while Abner let out a sigh-like oink. She finally picked up her knife again and went back to peeling her mango.
"Here, let me help." Miles grabbed a couple more large pieces of fruit and vegetables, and made short work peeling, slicing, and dicing them before getting them into the pan. He even grabbed the half of her mango that she hadn't gotten to yet and quickly peeled and chopped that up too.
Stella's eyes widened. "Miles, slow down—it's Christmas Eve and it's not like we have anywhere to be, and I'm not that hungry."
He smiled sheepishly as he wiped off the knife and set it aside. "Sorry, I just…well, I just want to get to our first holiday dinner together and to have everything be perfect."
Stella's smile returned. "Well, you're making me dinner—I suppose I can't complain too much." She cleared her throat, a glint in her eye again. "I really do appreciate you getting me all of this fresh, healthy food, Miles. When I came to San Lorenzo, I never realized how it would change my life…but this place brought me to a whole new world of people…and it brought me to you…and now we're married, husband and wife…we even have a pet…" She took a deep breath. "Our family's almost complete…but that could change soon…"
"I know." Miles smile was tender. "It would be nice to visit home soon so we could be one big family again. I miss our parents too, especially on a day like today. The holidays just aren't the same without everyone together."
Such a dry look came to Stella's face. "There's a lot to 'expect' for our future. We're not 'children' anymore. We've been through the 'mother' and 'father' of some pretty big adventures."
Miles smiled and nodded…but then glanced at his watch once again and then glanced over his shoulder and craned his head up to look out of the window. He looked back to Stella. "Yeah, our lives have been a great adventure ever since we met."
At this point, Stella, her look still dry, just picked up little Abner and held him to her chest in a cradling motion.
"Aw," Miles grinned, "Isn't that cute? Abner looks just like a little baby."
Stella wasn't sure whether to smack her palm to her forehead or laugh. She settled on sighing and shaking her head with a smile. "You know, Miles, there's still some daylight left—while you're finishing cooking, maybe I'll take Abner out for his last walk of the day, and then you and I can really focus on spending time together tonight. And we can have a nice, long talk." She gave him a warm smile…and expected one in return.
"No! I mean yes! I mean…" Instantly Miles was standing up and holding out his arms to block the way, "I, uh…"
Stella raised an eyebrow. "Miles?" She stood up too. "Miles, is something going on?"
"The jungle's dangerous!" he finally (lamely) came up with.
Stella rolled her eyes. "I know, I've been living in it for the last five years. Try again."
"You haven't been feeling well and you shouldn't go outside. I mean, you should, but just…not yet…?" He shrugged.
"It's adorable how bad you are at lying." She smiled a little again. "Care to try a third time though?"
She came closer as Miles backed himself himself in front of the door, his eyes wide. "I, uh…it's Christmas Eve, and we should all stay together like a family?"
Stella smirked, practically nose-to-nose with him. "What's out there Miles?"
Stella frowned. "Miles, I'm serious."
Miles tried to frown a little in return. "I'm serious too. There's…it'll…you have to wait until…"
She scowled. "Miles you've been acting weird all day, even before you got back here after it took you two hours just to pick fruit!"
"Well…you've been acting weird too." He scowled a little as well. "What exactly did the medicine woman say is wrong with you that it's okay for you to eat mangoes and peppers even though you've been nauseous, and that it's okay for you to go walking with Abner even though you've been so tired?"
Stella blinked and then dramatically rolled her eyes. "Miles Shortman, sometimes you are the densest guy on the planet. I love you for it, but really…" A determined smile came to her features. "Now, Abner and I are heading out there and you can't stop us." She made a quick dive or the door, Abner still in her arms. But then… "Whoa!"
Suddenly Stella found herself scooped up and being cradled in Miles' arms while she cradled Abner.
He sighed, smiling down at her. "Okay, look…it's pretty clear I've got something going on and you've got something going on—you only call me dense when you're hiding a secret in plain sight and I just don't see it. So how about we compromise and I'll tell you what I'm up to since the time is just about right now, and then you can tell me what you're up to? Deal?"
Stella smiled again and nodded. "Deal."
The two leaned in and shared a kiss.
As they pulled back, Stella added, "But you have to carry me out there—and Abner too." The pig oinked with a little smile. "Now that we're in this position, we're quite cozy." She settled more against her husband's chest.
Miles grinned at his wife and nodded. "You've got it. But you have to close your eyes, Stella."
She nodded in return. "Fair enough." Stella closed her eyes and felt him move forward and pass through their door and down the dirt path. He paused soon. "Okay, Stella…open your eyes. And Merry Christmas. And the same goes for you too, Abner."
Stella opened her eyes, and they went wide.
In a small clearing near their hut, Miles had strung up glowing paper lanterns in all different colors on some short palm trees, he had set some red and green woven blankets over a few large rocks, he had formed some mud into the shape of snowmen, he had made and strung up a banner bearing the message, 'Happy First Christmas Eve, Mrs. Shortman!', and at the center of everything was a small pile of what looked like pale slush.
And now, as the sun fell below the horizon and the pale glow of twilight just started to break upon the world, the lanterns glowed their brightest, casting lovely colors over all the decorations while the stars twinkling overhead added an unmistakable sense of Christmas magic to the air.
"Surprise, and Merry Christmas, Stella." Miles smiled. "I got a lot of the supplies in town, Eduardo helped me set it up, and I wanted to time it just right so that you'd see it in the best light and just as Christmas Eve was fading into night. I also got the trader with the icebox on his barge to let me scrape out all of the frost I could today so we could have a little snow. It looks like it's already almost water though but still…ta da." He glanced to his wife. "So, what do you think?"
Stella just remained in a stunned silence for another moment. And then…
She brought a hand to her mouth, turned faintly green, and threw up on the ground beside Miles.
Miles blinked and frowned. "Stella?! Stella, are you okay?"
She sat up and nodded, her eyes looking hazed in tiredness though she still smiled. "Yes, yes, I really am. I'm not sick, I promise."
"Stella, either you're sick or I really did a horrible job at putting together this Christmas thing for you." It was Miles turn to give her a dry look now.
Stella chuckled softly. "I'm not sick, and you did a beautiful job. There's just one thing…it might be better for that banner to say, 'Happy First Christmas, Mrs. Shortman…and child.'"
"Oh." Miles smiled. "Yeah, I see what you…" And then he paused and his eyes went wide.
Stella smirked and looked down at the piglet in her arms. "Should we just tell him, Abner? I feel like he's not going to believe it until we outright say the words." Abner oinked. Stella looked to Miles again and lowered her voice to a whisper, her gaze warm. "I'm pregnant. I guess it makes me nauseous…and it also makes me crave mangoes and peppers and bananas and mushrooms and ginger. Who knew?"
Miles blinked a couple of times. His voice was a whisper now too. "You mean I'm going to be a…and you're going to be a…and we're going to be…"
"I've been trying to drop hints ever since you got back. But I guess you were too distracted by doing this, and I was too distracted with the news to realize that maybe you were planning a first Christmas surprise." She put an arm around his neck and hugged close to him. "I love you Miles Shortman. Oh!"
She held on tight as Miles suddenly spun her around once, laughing, and then put her down and hugged her and Abner close. "Oh Stella…" He sighed and pulled back to gaze at her. "This is…" he wiped a tear from his eye, "…this is the most wonderful Christmas ever."
Her eyes hazed. "And I'm sure there'll only be even more wonderful ones to come now."
"Though there is one more thing we need to make it really complete—I'm mean besides the new baby." He smirked.
She smirked in return, blushing, and raised an eyebrow. "What did you have in mind?"
He shrugged with a sheepish grin. "A quick snowball fight before all the slush melts?"
Stella blinked. But then with a grin she took off toward the pile of melting slush, Miles chasing after her.
Pretty soon, the two of them (with Abner dashing back and forth in glee) were having a mini snowball fight while the decorations glowed around them. What an unusual and yet perfect first Christmas Eve together.
Yes, it was quite a holiday—one I'll never forget. I gave Stella a little bit of classic Hillwood Christmas, and she gave me the news that we're going to have a baby. I'm so excited. I never thought much about being a dad, but as soon as she told me, I knew it felt right. And who could be a better mother than her? I just hope that no matter what happens, our kid always realizes just how loved they are by everyone, including us. I already can't wait to celebrate our first Christmas as a family next year. The baby should be coming by October—just in time for all of us to be together for the holidays.
Miles Shortman's journal entry ended there, and his ten-year-old son Arnold, sitting upon his bed in his attic room, smiled to himself as he finished reading it (and wiped a tear from his own eye, much as his father had done eleven years ago upon finding out he was expecting a son). Reading this journal was so different than just being told about his parents lives; he felt like he could actually see the stories, experience the emotions, go through everything that had happened. It was like he had been there with them—and in this story, for the first time, he actually sort of had been.
And now here he was, a decade later, thousands of miles away from the place his parents had lived and worked back then…but not for long.
"Arnold? Arnold, are you up there?"
Arnold looked up at the sound of his grandfather's voice calling him from the hallway. "Yeah, Grandpa! I was just doing some last minute packing." Arnold closed the journal (the precious book containing a potential map to his parents) and stuffed it into a backpack. Then he put on the backpack and picked up a suitcase from the floor.
"Okay, Shortman!" Phil replied. "We'll be in the Packard! But hurry—you've gotta be at the airport extra early for international flights! And I want time to hit the airport commode before we get on the plane—your grandma's raspberry scones for breakfast this morning really packed a wallop on me. Never eat raspberries!" The sound of Phil's stomach grumbling could even be heard in the attic. "Ooo…And remember, all your little friends are going to be waiting for us too—Gerald and all the others…including the girl with the pink bow and the one eyebrow, heh, heh. Ooo…" There was another stomach grumble and then the sound of Phil heading down the hall.
Arnold smiled and shook his head…and blushed a little. After all, speaking of his 'little friend with the pink bow and the one eyebrow' he hadn't spent a lot of personal time with Helga ever since saving the neighborhood (and especially ever since the April Fools Dance). Yet on this trip he knew he might have to spend quite a bit of time with her.
And the fact that he felt both nervous and yet strangely okay with that possibility made him blush more. Maybe he had been avoiding Helga a little, but Helga had been avoiding him a lot, and if they couldn't avoid each other then…what would happen?
Arnold let out a deep breath and put the thought aside for now; whatever happened, with his parents or with Helga, he would face it with all of his natural bravery and optimism.
The sound of the Packard horn beeping outside caught his attention.
His grandpa called out from the car. "Arnold, you ready? Let's get going!"
Arnold took a deep breath and whispered to himself. "Yes. I'm ready. I'm coming."
And then with a smile of hope he dashed downstairs through the boarding house and out to the waiting car.
He didn't know just how big of an adventure lay before him. But he did know that it was an adventure he could handle as long as he had family and friends. And even though the month right now wasn't even close to December, after reading his father's Christmas Eve story, he had to hope that at the end of everything everyone would be able to spend that special day together this year—the whole Shortman family, finally complete after far too long. Even if they had missed a lot of holidays together, there could be so many beautiful ones to look forward to.
The journal was going to be the start of something wonderful; Arnold could feel that truth in his heart.
And so Arnold's journey to the jungle will come,
All questions answered, the story finally done.
And perhaps a certain kiss to lighten our hearts
And then, who knows—this may be just the start.
What a wonderful group of friends I've come to know
In this fandom of kindness and caring, and so
I just want to thank you all for annually reading
This fic that I've spent year by year gently creating.
This is the final Christmas til HA! returns in full glory,
And so this will be the final chapter of my holiday story.
A long time has passed, but now finishing feels right.
So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Thank you all, and have a lovely day 3
~Azure129 aka Jenna