It was Christmas Eve, and Milikah and I were talking with our parents through the computer. They apologized profusely as they explained that they wouldn't be able to be home for the holiday itself, but would be home again two days later because of a stupid conference and party in Hawaii. And they didn't want us to come to them because the hotel room they were using was boring and unsuitable to children.
I took that to mean that they were in a freaking casino and planned to get drunk.
Milikah took it much harder than I did, running into her room to hide as I finished off the video conference with our parents. She had hoped that, for once, our parents would be home for Christmas, and it broke her heart that they wouldn't be there.
I was angry at Mum and Da for doing that to Milikah. I didn't mind if it was just me at home, but since it was the two of us… I couldn't forgive them for destroying her dream.
Heaving a sigh, I knocked on her door, listening to her dying sobs as she tried to make herself presentable. "Come in," she rasped.
"Hey, Mil," I smiled grimly.
She returned mine with a watery smile of her own. "Guess Santa didn't get my letter. All I asked for was to have Mommy and Daddy here at home, for Christmas."
I sat down on the bed, next to her, and she curled up in my lap. "No, Mil. I'm sure Santa got your letter. It's just that Mum and Da are too stubborn for his magic to work properly. They're just being selfish. But it's alright! I'll make sure this will be the best Christmas, ever!"
She nestled herself into my arms, accepting the warmth of my embrace. "Really? Are you gonna try and make a real Christmas dinner?"
I laughed, "Of course! I planned to, all this time! There'll be a real turkey on the table, and stuffing and cranberry sauce and cheesy potatoes, just how you like them!"
Milikah grinned up at me, her tears becoming forgotten memories as she envisioned the feast I was going to prepare the following day. "Will there be real Christmas pie?"
"Yes, Mil," I smiled warmly, letting her hope infect my own down mood. "But I'll need your help for all of that. Think you can do that?"
My little sister squeezed me tight as she exclaimed, "YES!"
I giggled, "That's my girl! Now go to sleep. Santa won't come till we're both sleeping, you know!"
Milikah crawled under the covers, her happy smile lighting up the room brighter than the lamp next to her bed. "G'night, Tisha," she whispered, her eyelids drooping closed.
"Good night, Mil," I breathed. "I'll come wake you in the morning."
She sighed contently as I tucked her in and kissed her forehead. I stood there, watching my angel for a while, tucking a stray brown curl behind her ear.
She deserved more than what our parents did to us. She deserved parents that were always there for her, willing to play with her, would listen to her. Our parents were nothing of the sort.
As I started walking out the door to her room, she called softly, "I love you, sissy."
"I love you too, munchkin," I replied, gazing fondly at my little sister, proud of her in so many ways. "I'll see you in the morning."
I closed the door behind me as gently as possible, willing the door to NOT creak. Sighing, I made my way downstairs to the Christmas tree, gazing up at it in awe of the odd and often ethereal quality in which the lights reflected on the ornaments and sent rainbows of lights all around the living room. I banked the fire in the huge fireplace and turned up the thermostat, praying that the house would remain warm enough for an early rising and then quick action in the kitchen. I glanced up at the clock. An hour till midnight and "Santa Claus" to appear and give us presents.
I half smiled as I remembered the last Christmas Milikah and I had. She nearly caught me putting the presents I'd spent hours agonizing over in choosing under the tree. I told her off the next morning by hinting that Santa might be upset if she didn't stay asleep the entire night, and found him putting presents under the tree. I explained further that the Saint was a bit shy, but was glad to hear all of the happy children's laughter on Christmas morning at the gifts they received. She promised me that she would never get up to check on Santa Claus, again. And she was more than happy to find things to smile and laugh about on Christmas if it made him happy.
I told her that it certainly would, and went back to being the silent helper of the old elf.
I glanced up the clock once more: a quarter past eleven. I gave Milikah's stairway a cursory look before sighing and sitting on the sofa, smiling up at the star at the top of the gargantuan tree. I closed my eyes and hummed to myself Silent Night.
On the last verse, I sang, "Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love's pure light… radiant beams from thy holy face, with the Dawn of Redeeming Grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth; Jesus, Lord, at thy birth…"
When I opened my eyes again, it was midnight, and time I got to work. I placed the presents artistically around the tree and stuffed our stockings to the brim with goodies that we both enjoyed. My job finished as "Santa's Little Helper", I climbed the stairs to my own room, and fell asleep.
The next morning, I was up at seven-sharp. I crept quietly to Milikah's room and sat on the edge of her bed. "Good morning, Sunshine," I giggled, poking her sides to wake her up.
"Merry Christmas, Tisha," Mil sleepily greeted.
"Come on, Mil! Santa came last night, and the presents are waiting for you under the tree!" I exclaimed, pulling my sister into a quick hug before hopping off the bed.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," she sighed affably.
I exited her room to allow her some privacy as I skipped down the stairs to stick the camera in my pocket and begin making breakfast. I set some bacon to fry as I whipped up some eggs. I grinned to myself as I heard Milikah's cry of joy when she saw the magical quality of both tree and presents. "Hey, Mil?" I called.
"Yeah?" she replied.
"Can you poke the fire? I almost have breakfast ready and can't get there to start it AND make sure the bacon doesn't burn."
"You got it, Tisha!"
I put our food on our separate special plates (mine had ivy leaves and holly berries all around the edges while Mil's had snowflakes and stars) and brought them out to the coffee table for us to eat and unwrap presents. We sat in silence until I grabbed the remote control and turned the radio on to a Christmas channel. We ate and sang along with the various carols, enjoying our companionship together. I made Milikah wait until
after I'd rinsed off the dishes before she could open her tantalizing presents.
She whooped for joy as she dived into the mound, sending wrapping paper every which way in her haste. I took pictures and made recordings as she opened each individual present, capturing the happiness she radiated onto film.
When she pulled a small box from far under the tree and read my name off of the labeling, I was surprised. The presents I'd chosen for myself as "Santa" were all larger and wrapped with a different kind of paper. Where had that present come from?
I pulled the green ribbon away from the blue paper and opened the paper carefully. Inside the sandy tan box was a silver locket with gold embellishing in the shape of a heart. I glanced up at Mil and saw her beam of joy at my surprise. "Go on, see what's inside," she prompted.
Surprised, I opened the locket to hear the lullaby I used to sing to Mil when she was younger with a picture of the two of us when she was a baby and I was six years old, proud to be a big sister and happy to have my little sister in my arms. I couldn't stop the tears that began to flow from my eyes.
"Thank you, Mil," I sobbed gratefully. "I love it."
She wrapped her arms around my stomach and whispered, "Merry Christmas, sissy."
"Merry Christmas, munchkin."