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A Winter's Tale

by Sara Little 5 months ago in Short Story
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“Honey, did you remember the cookies for the twins’ class party?”

Claire shuffled through the utility drawer in the kitchen for the roll of scotch tape to mend the torn construction paper card Charlie had made for her teacher. When no reply came, she hollered up the stairs a second time.

“Babe! Cookies. Did you pick them up from the market?”

“Mama! Mi-ter Beaswey’s card is all bwoken,” came the wailing sob from beside the counter.

Charlie stood there looking at Claire, her lanky legs poking out of the ends of her too short pajama pants, red curls scraggling around her tear-streaked freckled cheeks, her bottom lip quivering on the brink of a meltdown. Claire snatched the tape from the drawer and turned to hoist the three-year-old onto the countertop so she could watch the repairs to the precious card. Huffing in irritation, Claire shouted once more up the stairs.

“Nora! Babe! Did you pick up the cookies for Charlie and Jack’s class party?”

The banshee shriek that answered let her know that her wife was presently embroiled in a life and death battle with Charlie’s twin brother, Jack, who was most likely refusing to relinquish his iPad and take his bath. Claire just shook her head and held up the patched card to Charlie’s squeals of delight. She set her daughter back on the floor.

“Go put that in your school bag, missie. It’s just about bedtime.” She nudged the three-year old toward the stairs.

“Tank you, Mama!” came the chirpy reply as the little girl clambered up the carpeted stairs.

As Charlie’s footsteps faded down the hall, Claire slumped against the cold marble of the countertop with an agitated sigh.

“When did Christmas become so exhausting?” she wondered to herself. She thought back to the days when she and Nora spent the Christmas holidays traveling to exciting places, taking the time to enjoy the different cultures and their holiday celebrations. She smiled as the sounds of the Marrakech market echoed in her memory. Morocco had been the last venture abroad. Claire was well into her pregnancy with the twins, but she had convinced Nora to make the trip as it would be their last before their number doubled. It was a carefree time for the two women. They didn’t have to contend with multiple family dinners and preschool parties, but since the twins had been born, it seemed that the holiday season flashed by like a streak of twinkle lightning. It was already December 22 and Claire was winded.

Another shrill scream from the upstairs bathroom buffeted her ears. Jesus, that child sounded possessed at times! She wondered if the neighbors ever heard any of these tantrums. With a sigh, she shoved off the countertop and began to pack the twins’ lunches. As she placed the lunch boxes in the fridge, Nora came down the stairs, arms full with a towel-wrapped Jack, his damp, red curls peeking out from the folds of the towel. Charlie toddled close behind clutching a book.

“I promised he could dry out by the fireplace,” said Nora, giving her wife a bone-weary glance over Jack’s head. “And yes, I got the cookies. They’re in the Publix bag on the dining table.”

She continued into the living room where she deposited the bundle of her son onto the floor beside the stone hearth. She stoked the flames that had dwindled to embers and placed two more thick logs on the grate. It crackled and hissed as the flames licked greedily at the fuel, and soon a roaring fire blazed in the fireplace. Nora scooped Jack into his little rocking chair beside the hearth and then plopped herself down onto the plush rug. Charlie situated herself against her mother.

“Mommy! Mommy! Pwease wead!” the little girl waved the book at Nora.

“Whoa, easy there, kiddo!” Nora chuckled as she dodged the flapping pages, “Let’s see what we got here.” She plucked The Polar Express from Charlie’s chubby hands, “This one is my favorite! Did you pick it out just for me?”

Charlie giggled and snuggled closer, and Jack rocked contentedly, the flames sparking on his fiery hair.

“Who wants cocoa?” Claire’s call from the kitchen preceded her entrance to the living room by only a few seconds.

She came shuffling in bearing a tray with two steaming mugs, two small lidded cups, and a small bowl teeming with mini marshmallows. As Claire doled out the treats, Nora flipped to the first page of the book and began to read. Shiloh, the scruffy wolfhound, had lumbered into the room and flopped down between Charlie and Jack to enjoy the cozy fire. The twins patted his head as they sipped their cocoa quietly entranced, and soon the big dog snored softly, lulled by the affection. Claire had curled against Nora’s other side, her arm draped across her wife’s middle and her head resting on her shoulder. As she neared the end of the story, Nora noticed tiny eyelids drooping with sleep, matching rings of sticky cocoa around their pink bow mouths. She recited the last few lines from memory and gently closed the book. She dropped a soft kiss on Claire’s forehead and nudged her wife awake.

“C’mon mama, let’s get these kiddos up to bed.”

Holding out her hand to Claire, Nora shifted to her feet, sliding Charlie to the rug as she moved. She then bent and scooped her daughter into her arms. Claire followed suit and picked up Jack, still wrapped in his Superman bath towel. His little arms encircled her neck and he nuzzled his now fuzzy head under her chin. The two women made their way carefully up the stairs, depositing their miniature burdens in the twins’ room. Nora had to pry the sticky cup from Charlie’s fingers, and Claire, deciding that it was not worth the tantrum to wake Jack just to put him into his pjs, tucked her son under the covers still wrapped like a red-headed burrito in his Superman towel. The women paused a moment at the door to watch for signs of waking, but the twins were completely ensconced in a sugar coma. Nora and Claire slowly backed out of the room and softly drew the door closed.

Christmas Eve dawned cold, and fresh, and quivering with anticipation under a blanket of fresh snow. Claire woke to the joyful chirping of cardinals and the particularly raucous song of the resident mockingbird, a fluffy and indignant creature who was, at present, perched in the cedar tree right outside her window. She yawned as she stretched her sleep-addled limbs, breathing deeply the fragrance of the season that wafted through the little cottage: fir and evergreen mingled with the warm spice of hot cinnamon rolls baking in the oven and dark coffee percolating on the stove. Her eyes adjusted to the intrusion of the morning light filtering through the lacy frost patterns on the window. From the cozy shelter of covers, she could hear the crackle and snap of the fire that blazed on the stone hearth in the living room, and she watched the dancing rays of a young, golden sun glistening on the soft powdery snow. The crimson-vested cardinals had taken refuge in the bare branches of the elm and birch trees in the front yard, living ornaments to decorate the exterior of the little stone cottage.

Claire loved the winter season; the bare trees contrasting their spindly silhouettes against a white countryside cheered her heart in a way she could not quite put into words. She loved the echo of distant sounds in the cold air. She loved the clean freshness of the snow that fell in the silence of night and how the full moon reflecting on the surface gave the impression that it was midday. She loved the anticipation of Christmas morning, and while most would say that winter was the dying season when the earth became one enormous grave, Claire saw nothing but the teeming life that lay just beneath the snowy surface of the land. The very air buzzed with electricity, and she wanted to breathe it all in, to feel the spark of life burn in her lungs like a fire on the hearth. As she lay enveloped by the warm covers of the bed, she felt her skin prickle and the hair on her arms stand on end. The excitement she knew as a child had not faded with the years, and this Christmas would be no different.

She lay unmoving for some time, not wanting to disturb the softly snoring form beside her. No longer able to contain her excitement for the day ahead, Claire carefully turned herself around until she faced her wife’s sleeping form. She marveled, as she always did, at the exquisite curve of the rosy lips and the curling soft lashes of those hazel eyes that enchanted her soul. She leaned down, pulled by an invisible force, to place a chaste kiss on that plump mouth. A sleepy smile melted the delicate features, and Nora returned the kiss with equal tenderness, hugging Claire tighter into her warm body, whispering a muffled “Merry Christmas” in her ear. Electricity buzzed through Claire with Nora’s hot breath, and she deepened the kiss, tongues probing warm and slick. Nora’s hands roamed up and down the expanse of Claire’s back, snaking under the flannel shirt she wore to bed. As though they moved of their own accord, Claire’s long legs twined themselves between Nora’s, and she brought her arms up to wrap around her wife’s long elegant neck, fingers finding purchase in fiery curls. Skin grew heated and flushed; chests heaved, breathless, and Nora bent her mouth to Claire’s neck, tasting every inch of skin her lips came to. Claire fought to maintain her composure, but the ripples that raced through her body made it difficult for her to focus. Nora’s lips caressed Claire’s clavicle before traveling back up to finish the kiss on her reddened lips. Claire dropped her head back, gasping for air.

“And a happy new year to me!” she laughed, realizing just how long it had been since the two had shared such an intimate moment.

Nora merely shook her head in amusement, her face flushed crimson. For a fleeting moment, both women were tempted to linger in their soft nest of bliss, but the looming chaos of the twins awakening and their own incessant tug of anticipation lured them from their brief fantasy. Claire flung back the covers, and recalling the days of her childhood, when she and her sister would race to their parents’ room on Christmas morning, she nudged her wife with playful innocence.

“You know, the kids will be awake soon,” Claire grinned. Nora rolled over, feigning sleep.

“Mmphfghlmspgh” she mumbled into her pillow and Claire burst with laughter, pushing her wife’s side.

“Geeeeeet UP! Getupgetupgetup!” and she flopped across Nora’s back, giggling at the writhing form beneath her.

“How in God’s name am I supposed to even move with you laying on top of me? Oh God! NO! ha-ha-ha No tickling! That’s—heh-ha-ha—not fair!” And Nora dissolved into a fit of laughter as Claire’s fingers sought out her most ticklish places.

They tumbled out of the big bed. Nora, still shaking with laughter, shrugged on a tattered college sweatshirt, her favorite lazy day apparel, and Claire adjusted the disheveled oversized flannel shirt, a red and green plaid. It smelled like Nora, spice and sandalwood, and the fabric was soft from years of wear. Claire glanced over to where Nora stood by the bed, and she caught the smirk that flashed across her face.

“And just what are you grinning at, Mrs. Murray?” she demanded, finishing the trail of buttons on the flannel.

“Well, Mrs. Murray, if you must know,” her wife began sheepishly, “My lips may have been a little too enthusiastic when they found your neck.” Nora’s eyes flashed downward to the area in question, and Claire turned to the mirror in mock scandalization.

“Babe! I look like a leper!” Claire gawked at the patchwork of small red splotches flowering on her creamy skin.

Nora chuckled smugly and dodged the pair of bedroom shoes Claire had playfully flung at her. Then she rounded the corner of the bed where Claire was pulling on her own slippers, and she swept her in for a bruising kiss before shuffling her down the hallway into the living room. A small Christmas tree, bedecked in a modest collection of fanciful ornaments and twinkling white lights, illuminated the dark brown of the exposed beams on the low ceiling, and the sweet, clean fragrance of fir drifted through the room, mingling with the pungent spice of smoke that drifted from the blazing fireplace. The mantle above the stone hearth boasted its evergreen garland and ribbon with pride, and four handmade stockings dangled from hidden hooks. Nora guided Claire to the overstuffed sofa by the fireplace.

“You wait right here, baby. I’ve got a Christmas surprise for you.”

Her eyes twinkled with delighted mischief as she skipped off to the kitchen and busied herself preparing breakfast. Claire gazed around the little room in awe of the sights and sounds that buzzed throughout the house. Nora had clearly risen in the wee hours of the morning to prepare the house for the festivities of the day. Claire’s face glowed with gratitude, touched by the loving gesture. At that moment, Shiloh meandered into the living room. He plodded over to the couch where Claire sat wrapped in a blanket, and greeted her with a few loyal licks on her outstretched hand before curling up in front of the fireplace. Every now and then, a satisfied huff could be heard from the rug where he lay.

Nora’s face peeped into view as she entered the living room carrying a tray laden with breakfast goodies.

“I hope you’re hungry!” She smiled brightly.

She had indeed prepared a splendid treat for this peaceful morning: Cinnamon rolls, crispy bacon, fresh orange and pineapple slices, and hot coffee. Claire eyed the food hungrily as Nora placed the tray on the small oak table by the couch and darted back into the kitchen to emerge with two champagne glasses filled with her special Christmas punch. She passed a glass to Claire as she settled into her side on the couch, and Claire spread out the handmade quilt, a gift from her mother, across both of their bodies, and once situated comfortably together, they enjoyed the happy little feast.

After they had finished the last morsels of breakfast and cleared the dishes into the sink, Claire playfully took Nora’s hand and danced her back into the living room and over to the little tree, bedecked with humble ornaments, some collected from their travels abroad and others inherited from their families. It was nothing frilly or extravagant, but it felt like them, like home. Nora’s fingers brushed over the stiff fragrant branches, and the bouncing lights splashed silhouettes of stars against the walls. While she tended to the tree, Claire turned on the old, wooden record player, selecting a vinyl album of classic Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra Christmas music. She turned to see her wife sprawled on the couch with devilish excitement in her hazel eyes. Nora curled her index finger tauntingly at her wife.

“Why, Mrs. Murray, I do believe you’re trying to seduce me,” Claire sauntered over, swaying her hips to the rhythm of the music.

“I am indeed, Mrs. Murray. Is that a problem?” Nora smirked and pulled her down into a fierce embrace, hands sliding beneath the hem of the flannel.

“Not a problem at all,” she winked, “just as long as you don’t mind a little seduction on my part as well.”

Claire straddled her wife’s hips, allowing the long lithe fingers to trace over her soft flesh, up ticklish sides and over the pebbled skin at her breasts. She bent to envelop Nora’s lips with her own, moaning into the soft, warm mouth as every nerve ending came alive all at once. She reached for the waistband of the sweatshirt and in a swift movement had swept it over Nora’s head, leaving her freckled skin glowing in the firelight of the hearth. Before Nora knew what was happening, Claire had torn her mouth away to wrap her lips around pert, dusky nipples, lavishing each one with the most succulent of ministrations. So rapt she was at the suckling mouth that Nora cried out in surprise when long, sly fingers pushed their way between rolling hips and teased over the damp fabric of her panties, lifting the edge to slide through the growing slickness between her thighs. She clutched her arms around Claire’s waist, and the thrum of her pulse grew with each pass of those deft fingers.

Claire, excitedly determined with her work, wasted no time in drawing out her wife’s pleasure, mostly because she knew the twins would soon be waking and racing downstairs for breakfast. But there was also something otherworldly about watching her wife come undone. Those auburn curls danced like living fire as her back arched and her head fell back with completion. Nora finally slumped in her embrace, sweating and spent, and Claire kissed her forehead and wrapped the quilt around them both. Nora reclined into her soft, warm chest, and Claire rested her chin on the top of the other woman’s red curls. She smiled as she breathed deep her wife’s perfume laced with the smells of the season, and a sigh of satisfaction escaped her lips. The sun had risen above the trees and the golden light of the morning reflected off the fuzzy white blanket of fresh snow, sending beams of pale light through the frosty panes of the large bay window in the living room. The soft glow of the lights, the smell of the tree, the warmth of the crackling fire, the weight of the significance of this day. All swirled together into an unobtrusive, scintillating haze of joy. And for the moment, nothing could interrupt the tranquility of the morning as they two sat, entwined as one, listening to the quiet sounds of Christmas Eve.

Short Story

About the author

Sara Little

Writer and high school English teacher seeking to empower and inspire young creatives, especially of the LGBTQIA+ community

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