My Christmas Star


"Nana's going to fuss at you."

Wonderful, just what I needed today. "Thanks, sis."

Standing up, I looked over at our grandmother who was putting the final touches on the icing of one of the aforementioned cakes. Her piping bag putting decorations on it that would be perfect for a high-dollar cake. Her years back in the early '80s working as a wedding preparer and cake decorator still showed. I grabbed a red solo cup and poured myself some grape soda and then moved over to stand beside her looked down at her handiwork.

"Beautiful. So I'm going to be fussed at?"

"Yes, you are." She lightly turned the cake with one hand while piping white ribbon with the other. "I talked to Jennifer's mother, Victoria. She says you're still angry with the town." Nana looked up at me. "And that you've been drinking. She also said you're thinking about leaving. Sailing off, like Tyler?"

"Mrs. Elliot says too much; most of it, not her business." I met my grandmother's eyes, those hazel brown eyes that were the mirror of my mother's. "I'm simply looking at options. I don't like any that I'm seeing around here." I listened to my sisters. They had retreated back to the living room. I could hear the Wizard of Oz on the TV. Another knife in the gut memory flood. "She needs to mind her own--"

Nana overrode my words. "She worries about you, Randal, that's all. Your mom and Victoria went to school together, for Lord's sake."

"Still doesn't make her my mom."

"But what she had to say still has value, Randal. Let it go. The town wasn't at fault for what happened. You have got to accept that. Bad things do happen to good people."

"Nana, I really don't want to talk about this. Today of all days. Please?"

She gave me a look, then a nod. "I'll hold my peace ... but the drinking, Randal you know my thoughts on that."

"It's just beer." I shrugged. "I have a few after dinner. It helps with the bad dreams."

That silenced her protests.

"How long till everything is ready?" I asked when the silence grew.

"We're just waiting for the dressing to finish up." Nana finished the cake with one last white frosting rose. "Maybe thirty more minutes."

Picking up a buttery roll to munch on, I kissed her cheek and wandered in to see how the movie was going. The Tin Man was singing about needing a heart. Too bad the movie is so old, I could have gladly given him mine. The pain of having one was not worth the small joys. I plopped down between the twins and listened with attention, but little real interest, to them telling me about school. Even the grade school apparently wasn't proof against the "improvement" fever going through the town since they told me about the school being painted.

Everyone was asleep in the poison poppies and it was snowing when Nana called in for us to come eat.

She had the twins say grace.

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

To say that I was full is similar to saying that it's a little breezy in a hurricane. Everything was delicious and, given that I hadn't eaten anything similar to my mom's cooking in a half a year, it could definitely be called comfort food. I was have been more than willing to nap on the couch at that point, but alas that was not to be.

My sisters wanted me to help drag out all of the generations-old Christmas stuff that grandpa had stores in the attic of the garage a few years before he passed away.

Apparently, Nana had been telling my sisters about how the house had once looked when I was a kid. In truth I have so many happy memories of that wonderful house decorated like a candy cane in thousands of red and white lights, I wanted to see it look that way again myself. Many were the times that I had been brought here to watch my family put on a massive firework display at New Years. The air had always held such a deliciously crisp chill. I couldn't even begin to put a value to those memories and, yeah sure, I wanted my little sisters to experience a taste of that happiness. Even if it was such a small taste compared to what I had lived through.

In lots of ways, I pitied them. Then again, in a way I envied them.

As I dragged out old lights and dusty plastic sheep from a museum of old memories, I felt so terribly sorry that my sisters would never get to have lived in the hands of love that had sheltered me for so much of my young life. I had seen grandparents from both sides, and even my great-grandfather for a few years before he had passed. Those people had lived through so much and, growing up among them, hearing them reminisce at holidays, I had enjoyed the times when they had sat patiently answering my hours of questions about the stories they shared. My sisters would never get to do that. True Nana would tell them about her life but compared to great grandpa Fredric Scotts, who went to Europe after World War One, she was terribly young.

Yeah, I envied them.

To Tina and Mina, these old decorations were new and delightful. To me, they were steeped in a sadness of loss. I wanted to smell grandpa's cigar -- "stinking up the place" -- as mom would have complained, as we worked to find which lights in a string had gone out. In my mind, I saw him and my dad arguing over the placement of a plastic Santa that hadn't been placed an inch different in twenty years.

And as I sat it into its permanent spot, I looked up and found Nana's eyes sparkling. She was seeing the same ghost memories as I was today. She gave me a smile and then moved to help my sisters untangle a Gordian knotted ball of wires and lights.

Getting a ladder, I began the quasi-hazards job of string C7 lights off a gutter ... a good twelve feet off the ground. I smiled remembering how high up that had seemed just a few years ago.

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

Driving back to the marina, I felt completely disconnected from the town I was driving through. Like the scenes you see in movies or TV shows where the person is walking alone down Broadway in New York. With everyone celebrating Thanksgiving, the streets were empty of anything like traffic.

Which would be why, when I saw blue and red lights appear behind me, I was puzzled. Where the hell had he come from?

Pulling over, I took the tag registration from the sun visor and was pulling out my wallet when I saw who it was getting out the black and white squad car behind me. I sighed as Sheriff Tillman walked up to my window with his slow -- trying to look like Buford Pusser -- saunter.

"Hi, there, Randal. Could you shut off the truck? Thank you." He moved to stand with his arm half against my side mirror. The town Sheriff took off his cliche mirror lenses sunglasses. His puffy face held an old familiar grin. "Been eating your grandma's good cooking?"

"Sheriff." Nodding, I placed a hand on my bulging belly and then moved it to the canvas tote full of Tupperware bowls next to me. "All I could and then some."

"That's good. That's good. I just wanted to stop and ask you a question or two ... if you have the time?"

"Well, you have me pulled over, with lights running, so I guess I have the time."

He gave a low chuckle to show he didn't think what I had said was very funny. "Been meaning to speak to you for a few weeks now. There have been some ... well, let's just call them accident over at the construction site. Small piddling stuff mostly, cut hydraulic lines, flat tires on a backhoe, that sort of thing. Was wondering if you might have been over that way, given that your family lived there for so long?"

For a moment I so badly wanted to tell him where he could stick such a question, here on Thanksgiving day no less. But then I realized, getting angry might be just what he was after. After the fire, I had all but accused him of knowing my parents were going to be killed.

"Sheriff, if someone turned your family home into a bonfire, and your parents died screaming there, would you want to go anywhere near the place?" I gave him my best, you're a fool, look. "The last time I was on that side of town was two days after the fire. You stood beside me for that, and I've not been back. Hell, I've hardly left my boat except to get groceries.'

"Yeah, about that boat." He adjusted the hang of his mirrored glasses from his shirt collar. "I have had a complaint from the marina about you having loud parties?"

Oh, of all the...

"Well, if Mr. Tennesy had an issue with me he should have stopped by." I kept my hands on the steering wheel, no need to give Dad's old friend any easy excuses. "All he had to do is bring my dock lease agreement, and the three months rent I've paid in advance, with him and I'll pull up anchor. I'm sure the marina down at North Palm Beach would love to rent me dock space."

"That's not exactly the point I was trying to make, Randal. You need to-- "

"How is Ms. Spocks these days?" At his startled look, I hid my smile. "My Nana said she sees your patrol car parked behind Ms. Spock's house at least twice a week, these days." I gave my head a tilt. "Late library book fees or what?" I pantomimed looking at my watch. I wasn't wearing a watch, but he got the point. "Why aren't you at home today having a home cooked meal yourself? You're wife's honey cooked ham is legendary all over town, after all."

His mouth was moving, but there was no sound. Moving my hand down to the ignition, I paused.

"Was there anything else, Sheriff? It's been a long day after all, and some of us would like to get home and sleep off our ... greed." At his slight nod, I cranked the old Silverado. "You have a nice Thanksgiving now. And please, tell your wife I asked about her for me, will ya?"

Leaving him watching my taillights, I pulled away and headed home.

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

I wasn't terribly surprised to see Victoria Elliot's car at the marina. It was parked by the end of the pier my sailboat is docked at. No, to be clear, that she was there was a given, considering the afternoon I was having so far.

She was sitting on a nearby bench watching the first blazing red stages of the approaching sunset. As I pulled in, Victoria rose to her feet and walked over to stand in such a way that she would block my way to my boat.

With a sigh, I picked up my tote bag of food. Would this day never fucking end, already? Locking up the truck, I walked towards her a tired expression clear on my face.

"Mrs. Elliot. How can I help you?"

"Vicky, or even Victoria, if you must." She placed her hands on her hips. "I made you an offer for a meal today. You no-showed. I was in the area, thought I would find out why. So why?"

"I went to my grandmother's and had Thanksgiving dinner with my family." I held up the bag with my leftovers as proof. "As I said I was going to do."

"That takes care of lunch. What about dinner?"

What the fuck did this woman want with me already, blood? A kidney? My first fucking born? Maybe Jennifer breaking up with me was actually a good thing if this was the kind of influences shaping her life.

"Victoria ... it's been a long day." I sighed. "You have a daughter. She has a boyfriend ... who isn't me. What do you want?"

"This has nothing to do with my daughter. She gets to make her own mistakes." Victoria brushed her red hair back out of her eyes. "I've been making one, and I need to make it right."

"What mistake?" I asked, puzzled.

She gave me a sad shake of her head. "Thinking that you were okay."

With a roll of my eyes, I went to go past her but her hand caught my elbow.

"You're not, Randal. You're not even close to being alright." She bit the corner of her bottom lip. "I'm sorry I haven't been there to notice. My only excuse is I've been running on automatic; this has been such a terrible year all around. You may not believe me, but I've been grieving myself sick ever since your mother died. She and I were best friends for so many years."

I wanted to yank my arm out of her hand but didn't for the moment. "Yeah, odd thing that ... I don't remember you coming round very often before Jennifer and I started dating? And you certainly didn't after she and I broke up."

"Your mom and I had issues. Past issues. Things that aren't any of your business, Randal." Victoria released me then, hugging her arms under her breasts. "But she and I kept talking, by phone or on Facebook. Often on a daily basis. We just ... well, thought it was best if I wasn't always over there. Anyway, that aside ... I'm here for you now and I intend to do my best by you. And, well, I'm sorry I haven't realized till now just how badly this ... all of this, has damaged you."

"Damaged? Damaged?" With a low chuckle, I set my tote bag by my feet and looked at her square on. "I've had my whole life torn to pieces. The town I once loved to live in, now is trying to run me out. The fucking Sheriff stopped me, to hassle me, on the way home! On fucking Thanksgiving, for god sake." I pointed at her. "The girl I was in love with dumped me over the fact my family didn't want to give into that spoon-fed crap load of lies... " My hand moved to point at the rising high-rise hotel in the distance. "... those fuckers were selling. Like the rest of this fucking town did!"

I moved till I was almost nose to nose with her.

"My parents were murdered, in our home, with fire, by those fuckers ... and no one will believe it because all they all want to see rainbows and unicorns."

"The fire was a terrible accident--"

"It. Was. Not!" If she had been a man I would have shoved her, hit her, made her see with my fists if I couldn't make it happen any other way. "The fire wouldn't go out! It spread through the whole house in seconds. Our house was half concrete for fuck sake, and it burned to the ground. Dad welding table in the garage melted into a puddle. That was a steel table, Victoria. Steel! And it melted like wax." I turned and stalked away a few feet before I couldn't stop myself from wiping that look of pity off her face. "If that fire had happened in any other town, in any other place, it would have been a criminal investigation from moment one. But not here." I pointed back towards the hotel. "Not because of them. We can't accuse them, can we? they might take away their hotel, right?"

Victoria started to say something but I overrode her.

"The town gets its new tourist trap. It gets all its new jobs. The hotel will get its tens of millions." Pausing, I looked down at the canvas tote bag lying half collapsed over itself. "Me? I just get dead parents. A town that hates me. A girlfriend -- which I loved by the way -- who is now with another guy." I chuckled and threw my arms out to encompass the marina. "All I can say is, thank god Grandpa left me enough money to look after myself. Lord knows I couldn't get a job in this town sweeping the fucking streets."

"Randal, you've blown everything out of proportion. No one in town hates you. No one." She started to move towards me and I gave her a look that stopped her in her tracks. "Your parents were loved by everyone. No one would look the other way if they had been murdered. It was an accident! Nothing more than that. A terrible, terrible accident." She did move forward then, evil look or not. "Randal, please listen to me. As much as I loved your mom and dad, and I did I loved them. I loved them both. But they were wrong, to put their desires before those of a whole town! This town needs that hotel. It will be the future for of generations of people that live here."

"Get the fuck out of my face," I growled.


Her calm voice was a metal file on sheet steel.

My hands tightened until the knuckles shown white. "If you were a man I would punch the fuck out of you."

She gave a soft snorted chuckle. "If you think you're man enough, take a swing. I had three older brothers; I'll put you on your ass so fast your head will spin."

The willingness of this fiery, middle-aged, redhead to fight brought me up quick, and also showed me just how much bluff there was in my anger. I didn't want to hit her. I wanted to make her eat her words, sure. Hell, I wanted to make the whole town eat those particular words. I wanted them all to choke on those lies, but....

"I loved your mom. I loved her." Victoria took my backing down as an excuse to have her say." And, believe it or not, I love you. I hated it when Jennifer broke up with you. I told her so, but she was so mad at you that she wouldn't listen to me and then she was dating Thomas."

"I was glad she broke it off."

"Oh, bullshit, Randal."

"No, really, I was glad." The huff was less than a chuckle. "She was telling me how great her new job was going to be when my Dad finally caved in and sold. I told her he wasn't going to ever sell. She told me he would have to. Then she said they told her she could even be the manager of the hotel. If Jennifer was such a Kool-Aid drinker to swallow that--"

"Let it fucking go!" Victoria's half-scream echoed across the marina.

"No. No, Victoria, I won't. Because no one else will."

Picking up my leftovers, I walked past her without another word. Well, from me at least.

"I'll come back over tomorrow. We'll talk some more then."

I waved that away. Whatever.

It was a long night for me before sleep finally chased me to bed. Too many emotions, too many thoughts, too many acidic comments I wish I had thought of that now screamed at me. Needing to be heard. Needed to be said. Why was I the only one in this damn town that seemed to see what a mistake was being made? Why?

So I thought dark thoughts and I drank cold beer, and then I drank and I thought some more. Over and over till I couldn't think anymore. Till, finally, I couldn't even drink anymore.

The soft waves from a sea of beer lulled me to sleep.

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

The next morning began on a sour note.

To be specific I belched myself awake. A terrible mixture of Thanksgiving food and soured beer, mixed with some odd nacho-notes that I had to puzzle my way through, given that I hadn't eaten nachos in a few days.

Sitting up, feeling wretched, I was contemplating whether I might feel better if I downed myself in the marina's salty brine when my cell phone rang. It was my sister Mina.

"Randal, Nana is crying."

"What? Why?"

"I don't know, she keeps saying she's going to have to redo her monthly budget, then she starts crying again." I could hear Tina in the background trying to console our grandmother. An offer of shared lemonade stand money shot my eyebrows heavenward.

"Can you give Nana the phone, please?"

"Okay." Mina took the phone away from her mouth and I heard her cross the room. "Nana, it's Randal. He's on the phone."


"Good morning, Nana." Sitting back on the bed, I rubbed my pounding temples. "Now, what's the problem?"

"Mina! Did you call your brother?" I smiled hearing my grandmother's aggravated huff. "Nothing is wrong. It's just a small setback, I'll manage it with no problem. It just came at me sideways and took me by surprise."

"What is the problem?" I asked again.

"The property taxes. The bill arrived in the mail this morning. It was more than I expected it to be, is all."


She hesitated to answer me."Well, the property value went up a great deal."

Nodding to someone that couldn't see me, I finally understood. It was a nice vindication to see something Dad had spoken out about in a town meeting coming to pass.

"Okay, I understand now. I'll be by later today, I hope. We'll sit down together and work it out."

"I've got it handled, Randal. It just was the surprise that got me upset." She paused. "Come by if you want to, if you're out this way, but don't make a special trip just over this ... nonsense."

"I'll see you soon. Love you."

"Love you."

Shutting off my phone, I scratched at my bare chest then rubbed at the stubble on my jaw. Time for a shave. Standing up, looking out over the marina.

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