We all wanted to wish you the MERRIEST Christmas ever and how better to do that than with a story and some illustrations! The art was a created by Micheline Ryckman and the story by Erin Kleveland. We hope you enjoy this and that your holiday season is full of goodness and joy!
Talia took a small step back to clear away the light fog her breath had left against the window pane, ignoring how her woolen gloves were beginning to grow considerably more damp with this ritual. Leaning forward, her nose nearly brushed against the frosty glass as she peered inside the vintage shop, affirming that there was nothing new in the displays at this time. She had been to these stores nearly every weekend since the end of October, remembering from years past how the vintage shops and antique stores always began showing off their new merchandise for the Christmas season.
She stepped away from the window with a disappointed sigh, rearranging the folds of her colorful scarf to hide her nose from the biting wind whipping through the narrow streets, small drifts of snow gathering in the alleyways and corners of the buildings. Talia knew exactly where she was, how many blocks she had to walk to reach the next shop, and who owned every one of the stores, but today had proven that there was not much in the way of novelty items to dream after. Regardless, she enjoyed spending her Saturdays this way.
Hopping from shop to shop, the girl found herself looking up at the last of them, an old two-story building that housed both a plethora of antique pieces and the shopkeeper’s family on the second floor. Talia could tell upon first glance alone that there was nothing new to be shown today, but she pushed through the heavy oak door anyway, needing the few minutes of warmth to get feeling back into her fingers and the tips of her ears before making the trek homeward.
The high-pitched chiming of a bell above her head alerted the man in the back of the shop that a customer had arrived, the proprietor putting aside what he was doing to see who the newcomer was.
“Oh, Talia! Afternoon to you.”
“Afternoon, Mr. Gamond. How goes it?”
The man shook his head with a small chuckle as he let his hands slip idly into the pockets of his working apron. “If you’re asking if I have anything new today, I’m afraid to say I don’t. Been a bit slower these past weeks.”
Talia feigned a look of disappointment, having already known that this was the case, her mouth returning to its natural smile as she quickly reassured him. “That’s okay. Though I do hope things get better for you, the closer it gets to Christmas and all.”
“Oh, I’ve no doubt of it.” The man took a moment to go back to where he had been rearranging clocks and other timepieces, returning to the front of the shop with a few gathered up to place in the window display as he spoke over his shoulder. “Your hands look rather empty there, Talia. No luck anywhere else? You know…Promise you won’t say it was me who told you so, but there’s another area you might try.”
“I already know about the new shopping mall, Mr. Gamond.”
The man gave a low laugh as he moved to hunt through the drawers of the desk he used as a register counter, finally pulling free what he was after. Carefully unfolding the many layers of the paper, the shopkeeper motioned for Talia to come closer as he pointed over the illustrated streets and roadways of a detailed map. “The mall is an exciting add-on for the younger folk, but for someone like you, I think you’ll be very interested in looking through the new antique district not but a mile farther south.”
Talia leaned over the desk to get a better idea of where this place was that the man was speaking of, nodding slowly to show that she understood as she smiled in obvious excitement. “More shops like this one?”
“Indeed. I’ve met a few of the owners and I think you’ll do well to poke around there a bit. Might find whatever it is you’ve been looking for.”
The girl fixed her scarf one more time as she hurriedly thanked the proprietor for his help, returning to brave the cold, filled with newfound determination and a sense of adventure.
Following the directions the shopkeeper had given her, Talia found herself constantly looking between street signs and her feet, trying not to get lost or wander onto a treacherous patch of ice. Nearly an hour passed before she caught sight of a sign hanging over a small shop, the mode of advertisement affirming that it was an antique store. Moving as quickly as her numb feet would allow, Talia crossed the road and smiled in relief upon realizing that the entire length of the street was littered with similar shops.
Moving from one store to the next, Talia searched carefully through the wares. The hours rolled on, yet she left each shop empty handed. Overhead, the clouded sky was growing dark. About to call it quits, Talia was prepared to turn back when a certain shop, smaller in size than the others, made her stop to take a second look. Clearing away the frost from a patch of the window, Talia’s eyes went wide in wonder upon seeing the treasure displayed within. There, sitting rather unobtrusively atop a polished tea-table, was a snow globe.
The leftover clatter of a handful of old jingle bells were all that announced her, the girl taking a moment to look around the well lit room she now found herself standing in.
Startled for a moment by the voice calling out to her, Talia was glad for the cold to disguise the blush rising to her cheeks as a young man, no more than a few years older than her, poked his head out from around a corner.
“Give me one moment and I’ll be right out.” The young man emerged from behind a grandfather clock he was tinkering with, wiping the grease and oil from his hands onto a well used apron. “The name’s Jamie, Jamie Clark. I’d shake your hand, but…”
Talia removed her soaked gloves in an attempt to warm herself as she gave a small laugh. “Talia Benson. Pleased to meet you.”
“Have you been in here before? I don’t remember seeing you, but my dad may have been running the store.”
“No, this is my first time. I was just browsing the shops when I saw the snow globe in your window.”
Following her to the display, Jamie nodded in recognition, a look resembling respect gleaming in his eyes. “We’ve had this piece for a while, well, since before we opened this place. People are usually in here for clocks and furniture, not little nicknacks like this. You can hold it, you know. I trust you not to throw it against a wall.”
Talia set her gloves and scarf aside as she took the cool glass of the dome into her hands. It was heavier than she had expected, but far more beautiful up close. The base was fashioned of simple brass, the metal delicately curling upward to hold the globe in place. Talia gave it a gentle shake, finding herself smiling in wonder as the small imitations of snow flew about the confines of the glass. All of that was beautiful, but it was the globe itself which truly made her stop to stare. Intricate details were etched into the glass which, at first glance, looked almost like cracks and flaws in the structure. Talia knew better. They were constellations.
She suddenly realized how long she had been standing there, turning to look up at the young man running the shop with a sense of surety. “How much for this?”
After searching through an old registry for the price, Talia readily agreed, taking a few minutes to count out the odds and ends of what money she had brought.
Returning Talia’s change, Jamie offered, “This is a Christmas present, am I right? Now I may not look it, but I can wrap a pretty professional looking gift. Save you the trouble at no extra charge. How about it?”
After carefully looking over the options, Talia chose a deep blue wrapping paper with small gold stripes, the young man finishing off the present with a glittery ribbon to match.
“And who should I make the card out to?”
Talia thought for a moment before giving a resolved nod. “Merry Christmas Mom, love your little star gazer.”
Her scarf and gloves donned once more, Talia left the shop with her new treasure tucked carefully beneath her arm, finally ready to make the journey back home.
Talia shivered as the cold persisted past the layers of sweaters and coats that had managed to keep her warm until now. The streets, cheery and spirited an hour ago, no longer seemed to give off that friendly glow. The girl pulled her scarf up to guard her cheeks against the biting wind, her eyes searching over the signs marking every street corner. Nothing was familiar. She could not recall being here.
Everything was fine, she would find her way back. She couldn’t be that far off, could she? Talia’s efforts to keep her thoughts collected and calm were beginning to fail her.
She continued walking, one foot in front of the other, what was left of her fragile confidence shattered upon turning the next corner. The street ended. Lost. She was most definitely lost.
Completely overwhelmed, Talia turned to lean her back against the brick wall that had cut her off, releasing a quivering breath in defeat as she clung to the wrapped box in her arms. It was late, it was dark, only a handful of dim street lamps to distinguish one shape from another as a few unwilling tears stung the corners of Talia’s eyes. She could ask for directions, but where? Every house was quiet, each shop closed for the night.
The girl nearly jumped out of her skin as something warm brushed against her leg, her nerves quickly put to right upon seeing who the culprit was. Giving a small laugh at her own surprise, Talia slowly moved to kneel on the frozen ground, her hand reaching out to the cat lazily circling her. “Hey there, little one. You lost too?”
The tabby purred softly with back arched to meet Talia’s hand, its eyes slowly opening to reveal an iridescent green.
Moving to sit against the wall, Talia ignored how cold the pavement was beneath her, gently urging the cat to sit in her lap as she tucked her package safely beneath her coat. “Good kitty,” was all she could manage to say at first, her mind growing more at ease with every pass of her hand over the small animal. Tipping her head back, the girl let the worry and confusion clouding her thoughts gradually dissipate, a smile dawning over her lips as she caught sight of the stars freckling the night sky. “I love winter. It has my favorite constellations. You see? There’s Orion, and that one is Cassiopeia, and if we could see farther Northeast, the Big Dipper would be there.”
Stars. Sitting forward to get a better view, Talia’s anxious thoughts slipped away upon realizing how she had gotten turned around. She knew every distinguishable star by name, their cycles through the seasons, and even how to tell direction by them.
“I’ve been going the wrong way. I…I’m facing East. I need to be going North.”
Carefully moving the cat back to the sidewalk, Talia forced her cold legs to support her, making certain that the gift was secured beneath her arm before setting out to find a crossroad. Talia’s relief was enough to push her onward as she slowly began to recognize the names printed on street signs and stores. The girl hardly noticed the new flurry of snow drifting from the gathering clouds, a sort of lightness finding its way into her step as home finally came into view.
Shaking the snow from her shoes and the ends of her scarf, Talia found herself smiling incredulously at the feeling of a gentle nudge against her tired legs. “You silly. Followed me home, did you? Guess we both needed the company. Thanks for getting me back.”
Warmth spread over Talia’s face as she pushed the front door open. The low sound of Christmas music from a radio and the rich smell of her mother’s gingerbread instantly met her senses.
Glancing back down at the tabby sitting contentedly by her feet, the girl leaned down to gently scratch behind its ears as she whispered, “Wait right here, okay?”
Talia let only a few minutes pass before returning, a small bowl of tuna in hand. No longer wearing her heavy coat or gloves, the girl shivered as she stepped out onto the porch. “Kitty? You still there? I have food. Kitty?”
She waited, but her calls were only answered by the whispers of wind passing over the house, no cat in sight. Disappointed, but not surprised, Talia shook her head with a small chuckle, knowing her mom would find it odd that a mystery cat had helped her home.
Leaning against the door once it had been secured behind her, the girl couldn’t help but smile upon seeing her mother’s present beneath their tree. It had been a crazy day, but worth every moment. It was a perfect gift. A perfect gift for a perfect Christmas.