“The trees are here! The Christmas trees are here!”
Katie stepped out of her bakery into the circle of prancing, shouting kids-two of which were her own. Laughing, she let them pull her across the road and down to the beach.
The morning rain had given way to brilliant sunshine that glinted on the waves like diamonds, the tropical climate unlike any Christmas season Katie had ever known. It had surprised her to learn the island out in the South Pacific seas did indeed celebrate the holiday and ex-pats could easily get Christmas decorations, for the most part. Today’s arrival of the trees was the official holiday kickoff the resident ex-pat kids had all been counting down to for weeks now.
“Hey, Katie, did you hear the trees are here?” The man in a baseball cap and aviator sunglasses called out to her, crossing the sand from the Painted Parrot Bar & Grill, two of the kids running to pull him along just like Katie was being tugged along.
Tongue in cheek, Katie made a face. “The trees are here, Nash? Really?”
“Somebody better tell the Captain!” Nash bellowed, sending the kids into shrieks and giggles, as said captain strolled up behind him.
“Oh, I think he knows.” Gabe said wryly, knocking his friend and business partner’s ball cap off with a flick of his hand.
“Rude.” Nash caught the cap and replaced it in one swift move, Gabe neatly sidestepping the elbow thrown out in return.
“Mommy, you think Daddy knows yet?” Five year old Scarlett tugged on Katie’s hand, her brown eyes wide and excited.
Gabe reached down and swung the little girl high, settling her onto his shoulders. “I suspect if he doesn’t, he will before you can say supercalifragilisticxpialidocious.”
As if he’d pushed a button, Scarlett sang out “Supercalifragilisticxpialidocious!” repeatedly, echoed by the other kids before she’d hardly finished the first shout.
“It worked!” The little girl laughed delightedly, wriggling to tumble off Gabe’s shoulders, seeing her father pop over the dune from town. With familiar ease, Gabe caught her, dropping her down lightly so she could dash across the sand. He waved a hand to Ford as the other man swept the girl up onto his own shoulders.
By the time Nash and Gabe had helped unload the trees from the boat, most of the island’s regulars and a good many tourists had gathered.
“Before Gabe bought this place, I could count on one hand the number of Christmas trees that were shipped in. Now, every other person on this island wants one. It takes me at least two shipments to get ’em all in!” Keno complained good-naturedly, throwing his hands in the air. As the island’s General Store shopkeeper, Keno was tagging the trees for those claiming them and hauling the remaining few to his storefront.
“Before Gabe bought this place, your shop was a hole in the wall. So, y’know.” Gabe grinned, each hand wrapped around the trunk of an evergreen tree.
Keno’s resounding guffaw rang out as he gave an exaggerated bow, turning to swing another tree into waiting hands.
“Okay, Owen, all set.” Ford loaded the last of Katie’s trees into the wagon attached to a four wheeler with his ten year old son at the wheel.
With a thumbs-up reply, the boy pulled away and drove up the dunes towards town.
“You’re late to the party, Charlie!” Gabe called out from half way back to the Painted Parrot-a tree slung on each shoulder.
Just joining the group gathered by Keno’s pile of trees, his wife waved. “It’s no party until I arrive, Gabe Montgomery.”
“Yeah, well, somebody has to work around here.” Gabe’s laughing reply floated down the beach as he continued to the bar.
“Can you save me two of the smaller ones, Keno?” Charlie asked the shopkeeper, laying a hand on his arm.
Keno gave her a one-armed hug as he loaded the last of the trees into the wagon attached to his dune buggy. “Of course, milady.” He climbed into the driver’s seat. “You two wanna ride?”
“No, thanks.” Charlie and Katie waved him on, both breathing deeply of the evergreen smell that should seem more out of place on the beach in the middle of the South Pacific sea than it did.
“How’s Jill this morning, Nash?” Katie looped her arm through Charlie’s, watching Nash juggle two trees.
“Twilight zone, you know how it goes.” Nash grinned, shouldering a tree and giving them all a wave as he headed up the dunes. “She’ll be thrilled with these, though.”
Katie made a mental note to take a box of bakery goodness by Jill’s cottage today.
Eyeballing the group of kids Reggie was gathering, she ensured her own were accounted for as she and Charlie walked back up the dunes. “It’s Reggie’s shift with Amos. They’re going to take a tree and decorate it with him.” She smiled at the thought of her grandfather’s delight in the kids.
In the late middle stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, Amos was content to sit and watch the world around him most of the time and kids milling about always kept him smiling. The close-knit permanent resident community had come together and organized round the clock care for the old islander, allowing him to stay in his out of the way mountain home for as long as possible.
“This place is hopping.” Katie watched Tag leading a group of parasailing hopefuls to edge of the water.
“Destination wedding group that does not want to be unscheduled for five minutes all week.” Charlie inclined her head in the group’s direction. “Add another destination wedding group-albeit a calmer one-to the already in full swing holiday celebrations, and the fact that it’s simply paradise out here, we’re beyond full capacity.” Charlie squeezed Katie’s hand as they parted ways-Katie to her bakery, Charlie to fetch her golf cart so she could get the trees from Keno.
“It’s good to be us, huh? See you at sunset.”
Sunset was an event on the island. No matter how busy life got, come every evening, most residents gathered at the sea’s edge. What was the point of living in paradise if one didn’t appreciate the magic?
As the sunset drew near, Gabe left The Painted Parrot and strolled down the beach to join those gathering near the water’s edge.
He watched the last of the parasailing tourists glide in, their guide, Tag, whooping and high fiving the teenager on his smooth landing. He smiled at a man chasing two toddlers hell-bent on getting in that water, both nearly falling over with giggles as he chased them ankle-deep then scooped both up to raspberry his lips on little bellies.
His smile grew wider as a girl ran down the beach, her dark hair in long braids flying, black dog running in circles around her.
“Hey,Daddy!” She threw herself into his open arms, shrieking when he spun her about and waded into the waves. “Don’t drop me! Don’t you dare drop me!”
“Dare? Did you just dare me to drop you?” Gabe swung the girl out once, twice, and chuckling at her shrieks, he let go and she flew into the water. She came up sputtering and threw herself at him, soaking his clothes and sending him down.
Laughing, they both flopped back onto the sand, Rory curling into her dad’s shoulder. Gabe wrapped his arm around her, a chuckle still rumbling in his chest.
Realizing she’d gone quiet and still, Gabe looked down to see tears in her eyes. “What is it, Poppet?”
“I think I wished my Mommy away.” Her voice was barely audible over the waves.
Gabe’s brows jerked together, he sat up. His response was swift. “No way.”
“Maybe-maybe like Ariel gave away her voice, I gave away my Mommy because I-I wanted a daddy so bad. I wished and wished.” She crawled into the circle made by Gabe’s arms resting on his bent knees.
“Rory, it doesn’t work like that. You couldn’t have wished your Mommy away, I promise you that. Just like you can’t wish me away. Remember what Charlie said? How you just keep breathing until it gets better?” Having come to the island a grieving widow, his wife knew grief and had soothed this child over and over with her simple, consistent reassurances.
He rocked his girl, her sobs fading into hiccups.
They watched the twilight fade, the brilliant purple and orange slipping into indigo blue as the sun sank into the sea, a mystical green flash lighting the horizon as the day slid away.
“I love you, Daddy.”
“Love you more, Poppet.”
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