from the Material Witness Mysteries
by Diane Vallere
The Victorian apartment where I lived, upstairs from the fabric shop I’d inherited, felt different from the Christmases that I’d spent when my great aunt and uncle lived here. Back then, I was a kid playing with the train set that ran across the base of the Christmas tree, eating home baked sugar cookies fresh from Aunt Millie’s oven while counting down the hours until Santa arrived. The tree was draped in homemade garlands made from strewn empty wooden spools of thread collected over the year. Pine needles dropped onto ivory crushed velvet that pooled under the lowest level of branches. A videotape of It’s A Wonderful Life played on Uncle Marius’s old TV set, and mugs of hot chocolate were served before bed.
I did what I could to replicate my memories with the tree and the movie, but without the company of family, the place felt lonely. Even the antics of my adopted kittens, Pins and Needles, didn’t help. I’d tied fluffy red grosgrain bows onto each of their collars, but Pins was trying to bite at his. He bent his head and tried, unsuccessfully, to catch the bow in his mouth. Needles was far more interested in the trains that circled the tree.The doorbell rang. I ran down the stairs and found my new friend Genevieve Girard on the porch with my parents. Voices of merriment mingled with hugs and kisses. Charlie, the auto mechanic from across the street rolled a tire up the sidewalk toward me.
“I brought you a wreath,” she said.“You brought me a tire,” I countered.
“Tomato, tomahto. Here.” She thrust it at me. Colorful satin bows, the kind with the adhesive back that you stick on a package, had been stuffed inside. “I was going to wrap it in lights, but they broke when I rolled it across the floor.” I took the tire and scanned the sidewalk for anyone else who might be joining us. “Vaughn is at the Waverly House. It’s their annual tree lighting tonight.”“Sure. I knew that,” I said. I hated that Charlie knew I’d been wondering if her brother was going to show. I followed the group upstairs. My dad was in the living room, holding Needles over one shoulder while fussing with an assortment of cables by a dusty VCR.
“Dad, I have It’s A Wonderful Life on DVD this year,” I said.“I’ll have the VCR hooked up in a second. It’s tradition.”
Before I could argue the point of technology vs. tradition, the doorbell rang again. I glanced around the room. Everybody I expected was already here.I ran downstairs and opened the door to an ivory box tied with a thick satin ribbon. A flutter of warmth came over me. This wasn’t my first experience with an ivory box left by my doorframe. It was from Vaughn. I stepped backward and closed the door. Chitchat and music tumbled out of the upstairs, but I remained in the darkness below. I carried the package to the fabric cutting table and pulled the notched end of the ribbon until it fell open. The sweet, seductive scent of roses escaped the box. I lifted the lid and exposed an interior packed with petals. Nestled on top was a piece of sheer vellum with a VM embossed on top in gold.
It wouldn’t be a wonderful life without Zuzu’s petals (or without you). Sorry I had to miss your party this year.
VaughnI slipped the vellum back into the box and replaced the lid. After all that had happened since moving to San Ladrón, one thing was certain. It was turning into a wonderful life, indeed.
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