Christmas music beckoned merrily, the night sky full of twinkling stars, the kids running ahead towards the Painted Parrot where the music and lights were in full force. “I thought it would take me some time to get used to a warm, tropical holiday season that isn’t a war zone-but I’m liking it.” Ford said, the seasonal tunes drawing his family like a pied piper.
“It is different than where we grew up, but I feel a coming home vibe like nothing else in my life-except the day you spilled my coffee.” Katie kicked out, splashing him in the ankle-deep waves, her hand linked with his. “Since I got here, I’ve felt grounded. The sand under my feet, the pull of the tide, Amos. You coming home made it all come full circle.”
“Santa’s here! Santa’s here!” Miriam shouted from the door of the Painted Parrot, waving her arms wildly. A few feet behind her sister, Scarlett broke into a run, turning back briefly to shriek at her parents. “Hurry!”
Owen, a too-cool ten years old, shook his head, but stepped quickly to follow his sisters.
Waving to Nash and Jill just walking over the dunes, babies in arms, Ford and Katie stepped into the merriment of an island Christmas party, complete with a jolly not-so-old fake bearded elf dressed in red board shorts and a Painted Parrot tee. Santa-aka Matteo-already had the kids laughing with glee at his antics as he made balloon animals and mimed his way through slapstick fun.
Behind the bar, a red Santa hat on his own head, Gabe called out, “Give it up, Santa-they want presents!”
A jaunty green hat and a necklace of jingle bells helped Reggie pass as a devoted elf, opening Santa’s big tropical flowered bag with a flourish.
From her seat at the bar, Charlie smiled watching the the kids, Rory right in their midst-island kids and vacationing kids alike gathered around, their eyes wide, faces aglow. No matter where in the world you went, Christmas was magical.
“Merry Christmas.” With a tired but happy smile, Jill slid onto an adjoining barstool.
“Merry Christmas.” Charlie hugged her friend and took the baby from her while Nash pulled up a chair close to the kids, Zane’s arms locked around his father’s neck. The little boy wasn’t so sure about this Santa guy.
Santa Matteo and Elf Reggie regaled the children with reindeer tales and jokes while handing out the gaily wrapped presents. Within minutes, the middle of the floor was a pile of wrapping paper, the kids having all run to congregate in the kid’s corner where Jane and Sandy had set up snacks, coloring and craft stations. Snacks and drinks flowed freely for all ages.
“How’s Amos tonight?” Jill leaned forward to see Katie on the other side of Charlie.
Katie held up her phone. “He’s all tucked in says Keno. We had Christmas with him earlier today, he smiled the whole time, stole my Santa hat and put it on his head.” Her expression was a little wistful. Having been estranged from her grandfather for so long, she’d soaked up his attention and stories since they’d moved to the island. Now that Alzheimer’s had him in its grip, he rarely spoke and didn’t seem to recognize individuals anymore-he did light up smile familiarly at them all and seemed to be content. That had to be enough.
Charlie squeezed Katie’s hand. “I’m so glad you found him, found us.”
Katie hugged Charlie’s shoulders, her hand touching Jill’s shoulder, too.
“Here, have an elf.” Nash, on the other side of the bar, plopped Zane on the bar top in front of Katie.
“Cutest elf ever.” She laughed, catching the boy before he dived off the bar. They didn’t call him Flash for nothing.
From his place behind his bar, Gabe looked over the room, seeing Matteo and Reggie-sans Santa and elf gear-slip back through the door to join the crowd, followed by Luke and Tag. Rory and Miriam had Reggie by the hand, tugging her to the kids’ corner to show her Santa’s bounty. She winked at Matteo as he made his way to the bar.
Sliding a cold one to Santa Matteo, Gabe also sent Sandy with bottles to Luke and Tag, where they stood waylaid by celebrating locals.
At their raised-bottle salute, Gabe raised his lemonade glass with a nod.
“Merry Christmas, Daddy!” Rory grabbed him tightly around the waist before dashing off again. He watched her with a grin, his eye catching Charlie’s.
It was a good day to celebrate here at the Painted Parrot.
It was always a good day to celebrate at the Painted Parrot.
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