Jan 07
Chickengirl's picture

Blueberry House Chapter Two

     When Jessie woke up the next morning, an electric thrill of Christmasyness went through her body. When she was little, she used to think there was an excitement faerie who visited people the night before things like holidays, birthdays, and other special days. The way that you felt excited before you even remembered why you were excited practically begged for a supernatural backstory.

Growing up, the parents of the February sisters had never tried to convince them of the existence of Santa or the Easter Bunny, as they didn't want them to have to have these beliefs spoiled for them one day. However, this didn't stop Jessie from making up all sorts of fantastical characters, some of which she still half believed in. 

    Jessie sat up in bed, and immediately regretted it. She missed the days when she could sit up on the top bunk of the bunk beds she and Ella shared without banging her head. In fact, she still wouldn't completely admit that she wasn't still nine. 

    Below her, Ella rolled over in her sleep and muttered something that sounded like “Ghost Light,” pulling Jessie out of her reverie. Jessie giggled softly to herself, and silently scolded herself for being grumpy on Christmas. Another wave of excitement coursed through her. Not wanting to bother with the ladder, she jumped down from the top bunk, landed wrong, and ended up sitting on the floor rubbing a sore ankle. 

“Jessie?” asked Ella sleepily “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” replied Jessie, getting up from the floor. “I really need to stop jumping down from the top bunk, though. Did I wake you?” 

“What do you think?” replied Ella sarcastically.

“Sorry. I’ll go knock things over somewhere else. You can go back to sleep.” 

“No, I’m up now. Should we go see if Lucy and Maya are up yet?” 


So they crept across the hallway, trying not to wake those who weren't awake. Jessie did a kind of skip-hop. Not only was it Christmas morning, but she and Ella seemed to be working as a team again, which was awesome. Jessie had felt her sister grow more distant over the past couple of years, and was relieved any time she felt natural with her sister again. Unfortunately, in the process of the skip-hop, she knocked a box of hair bands off the top of the hall bookshelf, and she had to stop to pick them up, as her sister continued her quest to find out if the younger two sisters were awake. 

As it turned out, both were awake, but neither knew that the other one was. Maya was on the top bunk, quietly texting “Merry Christmas” gifs to her friends. Lucy, meanwhile, was lying perfectly still below her, happily imagining the looks of happiness on the faces of her family members when they opened her gifts. Each was being quiet and still to avoid waking the other, quite unaware of the fact that the other was doing the same. 

As Ella opened the door, both looked up to see who was there. 

“You guys are awake!” she observed. 

“Oh!” both of them said simultaneously, looking at the other. 

“Merry Christmas” said Lucy, springing out of bed. 

“Merry Christmas!” responded Jessie, who had just appeared in the doorway, enthusiastically. Meanwhile, Maya clambered safely down from the top bunk. 

“Shall we go downstairs?” suggested Jessie.

Both Ella and Maya rolled their eyes at their sister's old-fashioned language, but all agreed, and soon they were setting out doughnuts on the table and adding their own additions to the presents under the tree. Jessie came very close to knocking over the entire tree in the process, but luckily only knocked some ornaments off, which she put back on. 

As all of this was just coming to a close, their mom appeared. However, she didn't appear at all as they expected her to. All of them had expected her to appear from her bedroom, having just woken up. Instead, she appeared at the front door, shaking snow off her boots. Also, she looked uncharacteristically serious, especially for Christmas. 

“Girls,” she began, taking off her coat,“so, you know how the Sunset Motor Inn has been turned into a homeless shelter because covid was spreading in the original one because there just wasn't enough space. Well, I woke up this morning just worrying about them, wondering if they were having a merry Christmas, so I went over to say Merry Christmas, and ask if they needed anything. And, oh, girls, it was terrible. It’s so cold there, they have no insulation, and they don’t even have enough food. Oh, girls,” she paused here long enough for all of the sisters to start privately worrying, “could you give them your doughnuts?” 

The room fell silent. Each of the girls privately considered this. Doughnuts were a Christmas tradition that everyone looked forward to. It was the one time a year that they were allowed doughnuts for breakfast. They had been having doughnuts for breakfast on Christmas morning for as long as any of them could remember. Christmas was messed up enough already, what with the lack of presents, the lack of their grandparents, and, of course, the lack of their dad. This would mess it up more. However, none of them could say no to this request. For one thing, it would seem incredibly selfish to keep them when other people were freezing and starving. For another, all of them had been touched by their mother’s description, as well as by the look on her face. Lucy had even cried a bit. And she was the one to say, “Of course we will,” not betraying the fact that she had been tempted as sorely as the others to keep the doughnut. 

The other three girls nodded, and soon they were in frenzy-of-activity mode again. They gathered blankets and old warm clothes, searched the basement for the old space heater and packed the doughnuts back up in their box. Soon, they were headed out, bundled up in all of their warm clothes, for it was a cold, windy Christmas morning, carrying boxes and bags of useful items. 

When they arrived at the motel, they saw that their mom had not been exaggerating. The motel was old and creepy, with peeling paint and a faded sign, and the sound of a baby crying came from inside. The door opened before they even got to it to reveal a tired looking, but smiling woman, holding a screaming baby. Behind her stood four other children, the oldest about Maya’s age, the youngest hardly older than a baby. Ms. February had told them on the way over that the residents of this particular motel were all one family, a mom and her five kids. All of them were dressed in old, faded clothes, and looked tired, but all (except for the baby) were smiling. 

“You came back!” cried the woman, with a faint, unplaceable accent. 

Ms. February brandished her armload of stuff. “I have blankets, warm clothes, a space heater and…” she paused as if for dramatic effect, and looked at the kids, “doughnuts!” The kids began to cheer and jump up and down. 

“Oh my god, I don’t know how I can ever thank you! Please come in,” replied the woman. “I’m Ava, by the way,” she added as the girls piled into the motel door. 

Soon the February sisters were back in frenzy-of-activity mode. Lucy, who loved babies, bounced and sang to the baby, trying to calm her, while Ella set out the doughnuts on the table for the kids, Jessie and Maya distributed warm clothes, and Ms.Febuary searched for an outlet to plug in the heater. The kids happily devoured the doughnuts, and Ava kept thanking them until they felt quite saintly. The baby stopped crying when Lucy sang Say Hey for her, so Lucy, deciding the baby must like it, started a sing-along. Later, Jessie decided that all these kids would be the perfect test audience for a story she made up, and told them all about what happened when everyone in the world moved to Canada. One of the kids, a seven-year-old named Adrien, missed the part about it being fiction, and wondered aloud why they weren't in Canada too, much to everyone else's amusement. 

By the time the February sisters headed home, they were all feeling on top of the world, if a bit hungry. 

“I think we have oatmeal at home,” suggested their mom, “although I don’t know if we have anything to put on top of it.”

When they got home, though, there was a mysterious package on the front porch.

“Did anyone order something?” asked Jessie, who was the first to reach the door. The rest shook their heads. “Huh. I know I didn't order something.”

“Open it!” cried Maya, who was trying not to jump up and down with excitement at the mystery. In her mind, seventh grade was much too old for jumping up and down on any occasion. Jessie ran to the kitchen and came back with a pair of scissors. All the sisters gasped when they saw what lay inside the box. It was a giant doughnut! Jessie, who had vowed years ago never to get too old for jumping up and down, did just that, and then began to dance badly in her excitement, knocking things off shelves as she did. Lucy began to sing a song from Godspell, and even calm and collected Ella squealed from excitement. 

“Who sent this, though?” she asked when she had stopped squealing.

“Did mom do it to surprise us?” suggested Maya.

“No, I promise I didn't, I’m just as surprised as you are,” replied their mom. 

“Was it mean old Aunt February?” asked Jessie.

“Jessie!” chastised her mother. 

Aunt February was their father’s older sister. It was Jessie's job to call her and read aloud to her, as she had eyesight so bad that even glasses couldn't help, and hated the way audio books sounded. She refused to call her niece “Jessie” and instead insisted on calling her “Jessica,” which Jessie hated because she thought it sounded too grown up. She criticized everything about Jessie, from her manners to her clothes, and was especially fond of criticizing Jessie’s constantly tangled hair. As a result, Jessie hated her, and found it slightly hard to believe that she would do anything as nice as sending them a giant doughnut. 

“Guys?” interjected Lucy in her quiet way. “I found a tag on the box. It says, I saw you all heading into the homeless shelter with a box of doughnuts. When I texted your mother about it, she said that they were your doughnuts that you were giving away. I thought you deserved a reward for that, and that you might like some doughnuts for yourselves. Merry Christmas-- Mr. Chestnut.

“Mr.Chestnut? That grumpy old rich guy from down the road?” asked Maya, incredulously.

“Maya! Be nice. The man just sent you a gift,” Ms. February chastised again. 

“A giant doughnut!” added Jessie, her eyes full of wonder. 

Soon, they were all eating slices of the doughnut as they opened presents. Maya, as the youngest, got to open one of hers first. 

“It’s from Lucy,” she read. This was promising. Lucy was known as the best present giver in the family. 

“Oh my gosh! These are so cute!” she exclaimed as she examined the earrings, strings of tiny beads, each with a tiny art supply painted on them, a paintbrush on one, a pallet on another and so on. “Thank you! Did you make these yourself?” 

Lucy made an affirmative noise. “Do you like them?” she asked. She looked extremely proud of herself, which was not a normal emotion for Lucy.

“I love them!” squealed Maya. 

The rest of the gift-giving went equally well. As well as the earrings, Maya received a story from Jessie about a group of artists and their romantic drama, and a box of homemade sour straws from Ella that she had seen on tick-tock. 

Lucy got a story about a shy pianist who was revealed to be the secret do-gooder of a small coastal town in Maine, a tiny, fully decorated cake from Ella for her dolls, and, from Maya, a pencil portrait of her playing piano, framed in a trendy metal picture frame. 

Jessie received a box of pumpkin pastries from Ella, a set of tiny dolls made to look like the characters from The Problim Children (another one of her favorite books) and a portrait of her reading upside down on the couch from Maya, framed in another trendy metal frame.

Ella got a romance story about a couple who fell in love while putting on Hamilton from Jessie, a tee-shirt with the words Alice in Wonderland painted on it, along with appropriate graphics, from Lucy, and a portrait of her as Alice from Maya. 

Ms. February thought that she was the luckiest of all. She received a story about a superhero-psychologist from Jessie, a whole set of hand-knitted sweaters for her cactuses from Lucy, a box of her favorite lemon squares from Ella, and the most detailed portrait of all from Maya, of her sitting on the window seat, as the snow fell behind her. 

This just left the gifts from Ms. February. Maya unwrapped hers first.

“Fish in a Tree, a novel” she read. She read the inside cover, and it didn't seem that good to her. No drama, just a girl who couldn't read and made some friends. Still, she thanked her mom, because she loved her, and did trust her gift giving. She would give it a chance. 

Lucy received her gift with a bit more enthusiasm. “A Hundred Days of Sunlight” she read. As she read the back cover, she became more interested. It was more grown up than the stories she normally read, but it looked good, and it seemed to be about finding new meaning in life, which was something Lucy knew she needed to learn, now that piano was no longer a part of her life. 

No one’s enthusiasm could match Jessie’s, though. “Music for Tigers,” she read, in the reverent voice that she reserved for new books. When she read the inside flap, her enthusiasm grew. “Awesome! An eccentric relative, a secret, and a quirky boy! Perfection!” Then she began reading immediately. 

    Ella opened hers last. “Sense and Sensibility,” she read quietly, almost to herself. From the cover, it looked old, like one of the books she would get assigned in English class. However, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, she thought. Of the required classes, English was her favorite, especially when they read plays or romance books, or best of all, romance plays. She decided that she would indeed like this book when she read the back cover. For one thing, it was a romance, her favorite genre, and it was also about the relationship of a pair of very different sisters. Maybe, she thought, she could find the solution to her confusion with Jessie in the sisters in this book.

“I have one more surprise for you, girls!” announced their mom, grabbing her computer off of the side table. 

“An email from Daddy?” asked Jessie hopefully, looking up from her book. 

Her mom's smile answered her question for her. All of the girls scrambled into email-reading position. This meant Maya on her mother’s lap, forgetting about her wish to be older for once, Ella and Lucy next to her on the couch, and Jessie sitting on the back of the couch, reading over her shoulder. 

The email was a happy one, or as happy as an email from a doctor during a pandemic can be. Anything scary or sad was left out, and instead there were descriptions of the patients who had recovered, the occasional funny things that had happened, and many Christmas wishes. At the end there was a bit about how lonely he was without his daughters, which did make Lucy cry, but they were bitter-sweet tears, not devastated ones. 

After the reading of the email, they were all silent for a while, basking in the moment. Eventually, though, Christmas moved on, with lots of present-admiring, reading, and an approximation of a Christmas dinner that Ella and her mother managed to rustle up. As she lay in her bed that night, Jessie realized that it had been a perfect Christmas. She had done a good deed, eaten a giant doughnut, and started a new book, which she was now halfway through. Best of all, all of her sisters had given her gifts personal enough to show that they really did care about her, however distant some of them might sometimes seem. Harry Potter food from Ella, Problim Children dolls from Lucy, and a portrait of her reading oddly from Maya. It had, she decided, been a perfect Christmas. It wasn't until she was almost asleep, drifting off into the world of her book as she often did, that another thought occurred to her, one that would follow her around for weeks before she finally sorted it out. For now, however, she was too tired to think about it too much, so she put it in the back of her mind and fell asleep.