tagMatureMy Christmas Star

My Christmas Star

byMSTarot©

If I was going to write a novel of my life, 2017 would be the chapters were everything I knew and counted on to be a certain way in my life went all to hell.

And Christmas was when I managed to claw my way back up out of there.

The year before -- a bad year in its own right -- my hometown here on the ill-defined border between Florida's Treasure and Gold Coast learned that a tourist hotel chain was looking to expand by building one of its thirty-story, three hundred suite-sized roomed, hotel monstrosities here. Now, my family, we wouldn't have cared about this in the least except we found out that they wanted to build it right where my family's home sat. Our house had been overlooking the sandy beaches here since the early 1920s.

Now the Scotts family had what they call strong local ties to the community. We had been here for a century after all. So when we discussed refusing to sell with our local city official, we expected some support.

Nope.

The Mayor and Town Council basically begged Mom and Dad to take the offered money and get the hell out of the hotel's way. In fact, they wanted us to do it as quickly as we could possibly pack.

Now, this house was built by my great-grandfather and his son, my grandfather, had rebuilt the house at least twice. (Apparently, various hurricanes have tried to relocate it -- a Scotts family tradition, by the way) -- so, given all that family history here, we were not partial to selling.

So the hotel threw offers of larger and larger sums of money our way.

Which Dad refused.

I was in my last year of high school at the time and, let me tell you, I began to feel an incredible amount of peer pressure from people that had been friends to me for a decade. Hell, in one case particular even longer. My family was suddenly the town pariahs. Seems we were standing in the way of hundreds of new jobs for the locals and we were keeping tons of money, that would be in-flowing from the thousands of tourists, from flooding into this historically poor-ish area.

My girlfriend of three years, Jennifer Elliot, even broke up with me over this crap! Right before the fucking prom, if you can believe that.

Yeah.

So, the town was pushing, the hotel was pushing, old friends were pushing and, if anything, all of this pressure made Dad dig in his heels even more.

Mom might have caved in, she had not been born in and raised in this house after all, but she had raised my brother, two sisters, and me in it, so she didn't particularly want to move out herself. Her resistance, however, was nothing to my dad's. Dad was adamant and vocal about never selling.

Never.

I would like to think the fire was a coincidence.

But I can't.

Upon graduation, I had received an incredible gift. A fifty-foot sailing yacht called The Caribbean Star. It had been left to me by my grandfather in his will -- held in abeyance upon me finishing high school -- and the family's lawyer had turned it over to me with a ton of paperwork I had to sign. My older brother Tyler had received my boat's somewhat older sister ship The Midnight Star five years before and he was ... well, somewhere off on the other side of the world. He wanted to be the first person in our family to circumnavigate the world. Or maybe it was to sail on every ocean and sea.

Tyler's weird that way.

Now I had no such long distance sailing ambitions. Nope, I simply loved the fact I now had my own place. Privacy had been hard to come by in my teen years. Even a place that floated was a divine blessing. The family home was wonderful but had been built in a different age. It was, truthfully, way too small for a family as large as ours.

That single bathroom alone had caused many an angry exchange.

So I packed up most of my stuff, bid my two younger sisters, Tina and Mani, goodbye and fled to my new water-surrounded abode. The day I left, Tina instantly began repainting my old room day-glow pink. You would figure twin sisters would delight in the fact that they had gotten to live in the same room for thirteen years together. Nope. They're weird too, I guess.

Anyway, the fire.

It started after midnight in the attached garage. It spread in a way that was terribly suspicion to me, but apparently not to the local fire inspectors. By the time my mom and Dad had awakened, the whole house was engulfed. As luck would have it my sisters had been staying over at our grandmother's house. Keeping our Nana company and baking cookies. The town's Fire Chief and the county Sheriff -- both once old friends of my Dad's but estranged at the time of the fire -- said neither of our parents had stood a chance of getting clear once the blaze started. Just the way that old houses like ours were built. Fire traps. Shoddy construction. Old, faulty wiring systems.

Death traps, really.

Good thing they're being torn down left and right to build new hotels, huh?

My grandmother was as devastated as all of us, but she took charge. Nana sold the land to the Hotel's restate developer. The money from the sale covered the double funeral cost and put enough aside for my sisters and me to go to college, with a good bit left over.

The idea of attending the local college was not even a thought for me. I wasn't going to look at the faces of people I had gone to high school with anymore. Faces that now looked so happy to see the construction being done upon the gray, wet ashes of my parent's pyre. Hell, even doing what my bother had done now held appeal.

Just pull up the Star's anchor and sail off? Yeah, that would be a solution.

As the summer passed into fall, and Halloween vanished into November, the idea of a long vacation from the world I had grown up in was becoming more and more dominant, I had a surprise visitor on the good ship Caribbean Star.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

"Randell?"

Looking up from my contemplation of the open throat of a beer bottle, I was surprised to see Victoria Elliot -- my ex-girlfriend Jennifer's mother -- walking down the pier towards me. Sitting the beer aside, least she chastises me about my underage drinking, I stepped up to the gangplank and caught a nylon line to stabilize my balance. I had already killed off a few of that beer's friends, not that I was drunk mind you.

"Hey, Ms. Elliot. How have you been?"

She shook her head a bit and gave me a disparaging look. "Vicky! Call me Vicky, I've told you that a dozen times." She smiled at my embarrassed shrug. "I've been good, how about you? How are you getting along out here alone?" Jennifer's Mom stopped at the end of the plank then grinned. "Permission to come aboard, captain?"

Laughing, I stepped out of her way. "Granted."

Reaching out a hand, I steadied her as Victoria walked across the six-foot fiberglass plank bridging the gap between the boat and the pier. Releasing her hand with some reluctance, she stepped down into the open deck, and I gestured her towards one of the padded bench-like deck chairs. I really wanted to return to my own seat given that her light steps had added an odd swaying motion to the normal rhythmic rocking of the large sailing vessel.

Taking a seat her eyes went to the half-empty bottle by my chair. I saw a moment's disapproval purse her lips, but then she seemed to dismiss it. Biting her bottom lip, she looked around as I eased myself back into my padded captain's chair. The fact that I did at least keep a clean ship was a plus on my side today. One of those life lessons my dad had instilled before he died.

"You didn't answer my question."

"Humm?" Looking up, I had to puzzle that out for a second. "Oh, well I guess I'm getting along well enough. I have pretty much everything I need and I can keep the bills paid easily enough."

"From the insurance money?" she asked. "Sorry, being nosy, but I promised your mom one I would try to look after you."

That was a surprise. But then I guess it shouldn't be, given that she and mom had been friends for years before I dated her daughter. "No, that money is still set aside for college. Mostly my trust fund that my grandpa set up is paying the day-to-day bills. Unless I have some major repairs to make to the Star here, I can basically live on the interest from it." I shrugged. "My needs are few."

"Most single men feel like that." Victoria instantly seemed to regret saying that. "Sorry. Have you talked to your brother?'

"Not since that phone call before the funeral." I shook my head. "Tyler's still in Malaysia or some such place. When we talked last, he said it could be a year before he can get back here. He might as well be off in Narnia for all that I can easily get in touch with him." I smirked. "Which is exactly how Tyler wanted his life to be, so I guess he's happy. Well, as happy as any of us can be, given ... well, just given."

She nodded "Yeah, I remember your mom telling me that. June was always so afraid he would get killed off on some foreign adventure and she would never hear about it. How ironic, the reverse happened." When Victoria looked up she saw my eyes. "Oh, sorry."

"Everything reminds me of it, Victoria. It's not your fault. Well, no more so than that of everyone else in this town."

She tisked. "Now Randal, you know that no one in this town set that fire. Your parents were loved by everyone. It was just a terrible accident." After a second, seeing my expression harden, she waved it away. "Anyway, that's not what I came by for. I wanted to see what you're planning for the holidays."

No longer caring what she thought, I reached down and picked up my beer. "Not really in a Christmassy mood this year. Will probably have Thanksgiving at Nana's with her and the twins. Christmas too, I guess. If I'm still here," I mumbled under my breath.

Apparently too loudly.

"You're thinking of leaving?" she asked sitting up a bit.

Wordlessly I pointed with the bottle toward the distant tower crane hovering over the spindly skeletal frame of the new hotel. I wanted to spit in its direction. "I want a change of view," I said, finally.

"Oh, that construction will be finished in no time and then it will be just a pretty building."

"That will never be a pretty building." I killed the last warm sip and wished for another one. "The Town Hall, all that white marble, now that is a pretty building. The old library, or Muller's restaurant up the coast. Those are pretty buildings. That over there is a glass and stucco shame to even look upon. And that it sits on my family's land is a damn crime."

"Randal ... please, let it go. Please?" Her face was awash in sympathy. "I watched this eat your father apart. Wendel knew he needed to sell to them, but that silly Scotts family pride made him such a bitter man for the last months of his life."

I'm not sure if it was the beer that made the next words so easily said or if it was simply the pure hatred of what she had just said to me made my anger boil out.

"Victoria, there was never a moment that my father wanted to sell our home! Not a single second did it even cross his mind." I was all but spitting. I pointed at the distant construction site. "They could have offered billions and my dad would have never even once have considered selling."

"Exactly. Wendel's pride in that ridiculously small house." Again she tisked. "Hell, I sold mine to them so quickly the ink on the check was hardly dry before they were tearing it down. I was happy to see that old heap torn down. And if your parents had taken a seriously honest look at what they were being offered, and put aside all of the nonsense, they would have gotten clear of that old place before it burned. Your parents would still be alive, if not for that house."

For a moment I couldn't even speak.

"My parents would still be alive if not for that fucking building going up over there. All those bastards had to do was move a mile down the coast and build, but no they had to have our home. Fewer regulations for them to go through buying old land than virgin coastline!" I looked down into my empty beer bottle and got to my feet to go get me another. Fuck her, my boat, my rules. "My sisters and I are orphans due to that hotel's corporate greed. And this town's lack of a fucking spine and desire for easy jobs."

"Randal, you can't blame the town for an accident!"

"The fuck I can't" I popped the top on the bottle on an ancient metal opener nailed by my grandfather to the wall beside the fridge. The bright blue and silver cap dropped into the trash can under it, where it came to rest atop dozens of similar caps from days and days of drinking. As I was about to sit back down I saw her eyes on the bottle. "You want one? I have plenty."

"You're underage. Who bought you the alcohol?"

"Dad." Sitting down hard, I took a sip. "It was part of my graduation gift. He said he got to drink at eighteen and the government was a collection of hypocritical old frauds forever changing that law." I chewed the next cold sip enjoying the sharp hoppy taste. "He and I were planning a two-month cruise down to the Virgin Islands when the fire ... when he died. He had already stocked the hold for the trip." I gave a sad chuckle. "Can't let it go bad, now can I. It would be terribly disrespectful of his memory."

"It's disrespectful of your parent's memory to sit around drinking yourself bitter."

"Oh, no, I'm bitter from a lot more than beer."

Victoria sighed. "I came by to ask you if you would like to come and have Thanksgiving dinner at my new place. Jennifer said she wouldn't mind seeing you."

Oh, the fucking nerve. "She still dating Thomas Billings?"

"Yes. He will be there as well, of course. But honestly, there aren't any hard feelings in him about the fight." She shook her head. "You've got to learn to let go of the past."

I took a long slow sip. "Mrs. Elliot ... thank you for the offer. From my mother's memory, thank you for looking after her children. I hope you will keep an eye on my sisters till they graduate." I set the bottle down carefully. "As far as dinner goes, no thank you. See, I have already learned to let go of the past. And I have to say that, for me, Jennifer and everything to do with her, and pretty much everyone in the whole fucking town, is the past. Now, if you will excuse me, I have several more cases of beer I need to get through."

Victoria looked at me sadly for a long moment, then she stood up as if weighted down by anchors. "I really hate to see you like this, Randal. It's a waste to live a life like this." She gestured to the ship. "There are people in this town that would help you in a second to get back on your feet in this community. There are so many opportunities about to open up around here."

"No ... Vicky ... what's a waste is a small town so stupid as to think that a billion-dollar corporation like that hotel chain... " I pointed toward the horizon. " ...is doing anything to help a place like this to grow. They will use this town like toilet paper before it's over." I gave her a nasty smile. "Enjoy being flushed."

Victoria stood up and placed her hands on her hips. A fire in her eyes, but not in her next words.

"Well, the offer was made, and I'll leave it open. I do wish you would stop by. Please tell your grandmother I'm keeping her and your sisters in my prayers if you see her before I do. And you too, for that matter."

Resting the bottle on my chest, I let the wet cold seep into my skin. "Pray for yourself and this whole stinking town. I'm not the one who made a deal with the devil."

Without saying anything else she left my ship and, beyond watching the curves of Victoria's ass as she walked away, I put her out of my mind as best as I could.

The beer helped.

The next two helped even more.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

Driving my grandfather's old Silverado truck around town was an odd experience. Like playing make-believe. Grandfather bought this thing new and kept it hound's tooth clean his whole life. Now, with him gone, and me driving it around people would look up and see it go past and I could tell that -- for just a moment -- they thought I was him.

I hope I spooked a few.

The view of the town as I drove through was certainly a bit off to me, in a similar way. Almost as if I was seeing the ghost of a town I once knew ... but after a second glance knew it to be something different. Something fake and not as real as the original. Not a ghost ... a wraith. An evil wraith that would distort all things living here, given long enough.

It had already begun.

The local travel motel was jammed packed with the trucks of out of town construction workers. The collection of tags was impressive. Some of these guys had come halfway across the country to built this town a tourist trap mega-hotel. Oddly enough, some of them had arrived even before my parent's house had burned.

I wonder if the motel owner here knows that he's going to be run out of business as soon as these out-of-town workers get finished building his competition? He's probably not even given it a thought.

The football field where I had played half-back for two years as junior varsity, was now being used as a material storage area for the duration of the build. The Hotel chain has promised to re-sod the field when they are done. Hell, they are going to make it just like a field in a college stadium. Of course, there is the fact that two years worth of this town's seniors won't have home field advantage to display their ball skills to any college recruiters.

But hey, that's a small price to pay, right?

All around the town I drove past similar, seemingly small, but important changes. Buildings that hadn't been changed in decades were being "modernized' with a new garish look. There were places where it almost looked like it had snowed from all the Styrofoam being sanded down for the pre-dryvit, stuccoing. Drifts of white foam blew in the light morning breezes. It littered every gutter, but no one seemed in any hurry to clean it up.

The old truck took the corners toward my Nana's house with almost a muscle-memory style ease. This truck knew where it should be parked. It seemed to tolerate me behind the wheel, but only grudgingly. When I pulled it into the driveway the green Silverado settled into park with a feeling like a relaxed sigh. Clearly, happy to be home again.

I envied it.

Seeing my grandmother standing at the back screen door was the best moment of the day so far. She had her steel gray hair up in her normal Aqua-net tease. She had on an apron, her hands were clutching a dishtowel, and I could see her wiping what looked like flour from her fingers. Nana gave me a smile.

"Morning!"

"Good morning, Nana." Reaching into the back of the truck I grabbed the Walmart bags with the French bread and soda. "Tell me you've not spent the whole morning cooking?"

"Been teaching your sisters my recipes." She held open the screen for me. "They have done most of the cooking, I'm just making sure they don't poison us all."

I chuckled. The smells coming out the kitchen door to greet me were agonizingly familiar. Family favorites, meals my mom had fixed my whole life, greeted me like the old friends they were. I smiled seeing twin heads turn towards me from the living room and the rush of pigtails and blonde hair. Setting the bags down on one of the only clear places, I opened my arms to my sisters. Tina hit me seconds before my only slightly small sister Mina crashed into my other side.

"Randal!"

I nodded. "Last time I checked. So who's made what?"

"I cooked the dressing and the potatoes," Mina insisted before her sisters could speak.

Tina had to set me straight just as quickly. "And I fixed the green beans and help Nana with the turkey."

"And we both made cakes."

Used to twin speak after nine years listening to them echo, I nodded and tried to stand up but Tina pulled me back down. Her whisper in my ear was loud enough to be heard across the room.

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