As I hung up the painting of a jülnisse Chess had worked so hard on, I smiled. I admit my opinion might be a bit biased, since she’s my kid and all, but I do know art, and she was a pretty damned talented little kid. I’d helped her some with the lay of the hat, but the rest was all her work. I made a tiny adjustment to how it was hanging and noticed that her signature was slightly misspelled. I chuckled over that — there were people who claimed I signed my work with my initial instead of my name because I couldn’t spell my name still, so it was kind of fitting for my kid — and resolved to work a bit with her on that after the holidays.
I stepped back to take in the whole effect of the room, from the bright red tablecloth with the white embroidered reindeer to the mistletoe hanging in the doorway, and suddenly found a pair of very familiar, very masculine arms around me. “Hey, hon,” I said. “Where you been all morning?”
He let go and I turned towards him. “I thought you weren’t working on your dissertation during the holidays?” I asked, seeing the pile of books he’d set on a table by the doorway.
I picked up the top book. A Treatise on Capital Ships‘ Weapon Systems was blazoned across the front. “This is your idea of recreational reading?” I asked, a bit worried that my husband was an even bigger dork than I’d realized.
“Yes,” he said. “And considering some of the things you read for pleasure, you’ve got no room to talk.”
“I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about,” I said.
“That book on Idalian painters you got when we went to Earth? The one that you had your nose stuck in for most of the next korva? The one you wouldn’t fucking shut up about for another two korvare?”
“Italian. And that’s different. That was interesting. This ain’t.”
“Says you. By the way,” he said as he took the book from me, “I like what you’ve done in here.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I figured I’d do Jül stuff in here and we can do Winter Fest stuff in the living room this year. I’m gonna run to Bil’s later and see if he still has some of this gorgeous powder blue silk ribbon I saw there last sulid. I think it’d make a really nice garland with . . .”
Walter interrupted me with a kiss. “You know I don’t care one damned bit how you decorate the place for any holiday, right? Do what you want. I’m sure it’ll look lovely.”
“You’d say that if I decided to cover the whole house in papier-mâché chihuahuas painted garish colors.”
“You know how little of that sentence I understood, right?”
“Chihuahuas are a small annoying dog. Papier-mâché is . . .”
“Vince, you’re as bad as Vik sometimes.”
“Anyway, I like the decorations. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to decorate this year.”
I shrugged. “Wasn’t as much of a priority since we weren’t havin’ a party.” I’d been a little disappointed that we hadn’t thrown our usual Winter Fest season kickoff party, but with Kanj and Markig both getting ready for high profile performances at the Faire, Walt barely having a saen where he could get his nose out of a book, and Dulzom and Maggie having their hands full with my darling little granddaughter, it would’ve all fallen on my shoulders to plan and organize and I ain’t that enthusiastic about that kind of stuff.
Like he’d read my mind, Walt squeezed my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry. I’d lost track of the date until Professor Sal’ntri basically ordered me to take a break during the holidays.”
“I’m glad he did. You been workin’ way too hard, babe.”
“I’m nearly done. Only another semester or two and I’ll be Professor Walter Franklin. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?”
I shrugged again. “Your name ain’t one of the most aesthetically pleasing things about you, hon. But I don’t care. I’d love you regardless of your name.”
“Vince, you are one weird man. But I love you too,” he said and gave me a peck on the cheek.
“You decorated without me,” Maggie said with a pathetic pout when she saw the dining room.
“Only in here. Need to run to Bil’s to get some stuff for the living room, thought you might be interested in coming with me to help choose stuff even if you can’t snag enough toddler free time to help decorate it.”
My eldest daughter’s face lit up. “Dulzom can handle Tirzah alone for a bit. I’ve got some ideas.”
I smiled at her. “Good. Then just let me know when you’re ready to go; I’d like to get this done today.”
“Sure, Lurlur,” she said, pecking me on the cheek as she ran to tell her husband she was leaving.
It was still hard for me to believe she was married, harder to believe she had a kid. Hell, I’d just barely gotten used to the idea she was a facilitator at the school instead of a student and she’d been one for a few years. Wish they didn’t have to grow up, I thought sadly. I liked the young adults my oldest two had grown up to be, but I missed the kids that they’d been.
Soon Maggie was back and dressed up far more than I’d ever dream of for something as simple as trip to a store. She gets that from her mom.
“So, Bil’s for decorating stuff, then I want to go to this little boutique I found in Dayvlis for some stuff.”
“What sort of stuff?”
“The surprise sort of stuff,” she said with an impish grin.
“Alright. Maybe stop at Zaka for lunch?”
“Hmmm . . . there’s a bistro in Dayvlis that has much better crisnot.”
I made a face. “Yeah, but only people with no taste eat crisnot.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at me.
I smirked and shrugged.
“You know, I don’t have to give you anything for Jül, Tollur.”
I chuckled. “How’s the bistro’s garbanik?”
“Dulzom says it’s good; I’ve never tried it.”
I shrugged. “Works for me then. C’mon.”
Bil was flamboyant, even by Ruvellian standards, so it was hard not to smile when you saw him. His outfits made my brother Vik’s seem tame, and Vik wears silk ruffled shirts to play in a bar band. “Vincent! Magdeline!” he exclaimed as we came in. “I haven’t seen you in a while. What brings you here today?”
“I’d like to get some of that powder blue ribbon you had the last time I was in here,” I said.
“And I’m going to help him decorate for Winter Fest tastefully,” Maggie said with that impish grin making another appearance.
That kinda hurt, even though I knew she was joking. “My decorating is always tasteful, little girl.”
“Yes, says me. You know that threat you made earlier about Jül presents works both ways.”
“You wouldn’t not get me anything; I’m your sweet little girl.”
“You’re only sweet compared to your sister.”
“I’m sweet compared to a lot of people.”
“Lyndsey. You. Bobby.”
I made a gesture of defeat. “Fair enough. Now, behave.” Turning to Bil, who seemed quite amused, I said, “Sorry about that. Now, the powder blue silk ribbon you had last time is what I’m wanting.”
“Hmmm . . . I believe I’m out of that, let me check.” He looked where it would’ve been if he’d had any, then just to make sure, checked his computer. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be getting any more of it in until after the holidays. I do have this lovely baby blue though.”
“Whatcha think, Mags? This with some fir boughs . . . yeah, I know they’re not traditional, but I think they’d look good . . . and those fake pearls that are left over from decorating for Summer Fest?”
“How about,” she said, going over to a display that had some silver ribbon, “this, and some boughs from that dark blue tree near the back door of your parents house, along with those pearls?”
I shut my eyes for a piclano, picturing it. “Brilliant! That’d look really nice, I think. Darker than I’d planned, but the shininess of the silver makes up for that some.”
“And we can hang those solani carvings you made a few years ago from it.”
I nodded with a huge smile, getting enthusiastic about her idea. “That would look awesome. I was going to put them on the mantle, but your idea’s better. You tell Bil how much of the ribbon we need while I look around for some other stuff.”
We got the other things we needed from Bil’s, working out together what we needed and occasionally talking over each other in our enthusiasm. Using those tree branches had given us both a focus for the overall effect we wanted. They were much darker blue than usual Winter Fest colors, but the effect was going to be so wonderful that that didn’t matter. We talked and planned through the trip to Dayvlis, but when we got to the little boutique she’d wanted to go in there, she told me to stay outside.
“Funny, doesn’t look like that kind of boutique,” I said with a wink.
“You have a filthy mind. Besides, my favorite boutique that carries that kind of stuff is in New Junil.”
She looked at me, aghast. “You’re sick, Lurlur. Kalazor’s Pleasure Emporium. It’s a lot nicer than the name would make you think.”
“I’m not sick, just adventurous. Anyway, go on. I’m sure I can find some way to keep myself occupied.”
“Don’t draw on the walls.”
“Get, brat,” I said, giving her a playful push. I hadn’t drawn on non-family member’s walls when bored since long before she was born.
She came back very shortly with a grin. “Okay, that’s done. Now I’m ready for lunch.”
“What did ya order me for Jül?” I asked, noticing that she wasn’t carrying anything.
“What makes you think I got you anything? I could’ve been shopping for anybody. I could’ve been shopping for myself, even.”
“Anybody else, or you, you wouldn’t’ve made me wait outside.”
“Lunchtime, Tollur,” she commanded, grabbing my arm and pulling me gently in the direction of the bistro.