Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "In the Warm Circle of Family and Friends"

Merry Christmas! I was hoping to get farther than I did with the Christmas thread in the sale, but I managed to arrange a swap for the previous poem, and I'm posting this one as a holiday gift to you-all.

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, somewhat inspired by an idea from [personal profile] torc87. It fills the "WILD CARD: gifts" square in my 7-1-17 card for the Winterfest in July bingo. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some holiday angst and references to Shiv's wretched past, but it is mostly fluff.

"In the Warm Circle of Family and Friends"

[December 25, 2014]

The smell of coffee
tickled Shiv awake.

It took him a few minutes
to remember where he was,
the slanted walls of sunny yellow
marking his room at Tolli's place.

Shiv scrambled out of bed and
dashed through the bathroom.

He froze at the top of the stairs,
remembering what day it was,
paralyzed by the past.

Shiv had to creep down
one step at a time to make sure
that the paper Christmas tree was
still taped safely to the wall.

Tolli and Simon had moved
the mistletoe to their bedroom
after they caught him avoiding it.

Then Shiv moved into the kitchen
where Tolli, Simon, and Luci were
all seated around the work island.

"Good morning, Shiv," said Simon.
"We made Ashanti Dark Roast today."

Shiv made his way to the coffeepot.
Beside it sat his coffee cup that read,
FUCK OFF. I mean good morning.

He filled the cup and drank deeply.

The day came into focus a little more
and Shiv wandered over to the refrigerator
where the visual schedule hung on the door.

He had mentioned something about
his schedule icons, and Tolli had
offered to go get them, but Shiv
didn't want to keep people running
back and forth to his apartment.

So instead, Tolli had printed up
new icons for Shiv, including some
with a Christmas theme. Simon had
strung lengths of ribbon on the fridge,
with envelopes to hold the unused icons
and paperclips to fasten them in line.

There was even an envelope marked
The Ghost of Christmas Past that Shiv used
to store icons of triggers so they wouldn't
get in the way. He might or might not
want to talk about that with Dr. G later.

Shiv found it a lot easier to remember
what he had done this Christmas if he
could put the pictures in a row like that.
Just running his fingers along it helped.

Otherwise, every time he had a flashback,
he lost track of what he was doing here.

Humming a little to himself, Shiv
found the green ribbon with the icon
for Christmas Day. He added squares
for Get Up and Drink Coffee. Then he
clipped on Eat Breakfast as a next step.

There was breakfast, he could smell it.

Turning around, Shiv found a crockpot
half-full of ham and egg breakfast casserole,
and a platter of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.
He recognized those -- the kind that Molly
liked to bake in big batches, freeze on trays,
and send to other family and friends.

He heaped a plate with casserole,
then grabbed a cinnamon roll.

"Uh ... morning," he finally
remembered to say.

"Good morning,"
everyone chorused.

"Merry Christmas,"
Simon added. "If there's
anything we can do to make
the day less stressful or more fun
for you, please let us know."

"That goes for me too, Shiv-ya,"
said Luci. "You mean a lot to me,
and I'm not attached to this holiday."

"I'll try," Shiv said. "No promises."

"None needed," Simon assured him.
"We'll get through this together."

Just thinking about Christmas
made Shiv uneasy, and he
automatically began scanning
the room for food or weapons.

"Shiv? Is something up?" Tolli said.

"No, just ... I like to look at the food,"
Shiv muttered, looking away.

He'd gotten scolded for that
often enough, but at home he had
his favorite things sitting out on
the open shelves or counters,
and he kept the fruit bowl full.

"Go ahead," Simon said, waving
a hand at the kitchen. "If there's
one thing I can guarantee about
this holiday, it's that we are not
going to run out of food!"

That was the truth.

More comfort baking had
happened yesterday, and
Shiv really enjoyed decorating
some of the Christmas cookies.

Now there were countless dozens
of them crammed into tins, and
even more in the fridge and freezer.

He loved the fact that Tolli and Simon,
like Cook, often bought things such as
flour and sugar in 50-pound bags.

"Is it enough to see the cookie tins,
or do you need to see the food itself?
Tolli said, as if Shiv's habit of staring
at anything edible was perfectly normal.

"Tins're fine," Shiv said. "I already
know what's inside. I baked some of it."

"That's good to hear," Tolli said. "We
can always plate up some for later."

Then a cellophaned package on the counter
snagged Shiv's attention. "You have fruitcake?"
he exclaimed. "Why is it not on the table?"

"It's fruitcake," Tolli said, shaking his head.
"Nobody eats that. It's a brick with cherries in it."

"But I like it," Shiv said in a small voice.

"In that case, we're having fruitcake,"
Simon said as he rolled briskly to
the counter. He got a knife and
a platter, then brought everything
over to the breakfast table.

Eagerly Shiv sawed off
several slices. "I love
this stuff," he said. "Since
nobody else likes it, I always
can have as much as I want."

"No argument here," Tolli said.

"I've seen those around, but I've
never tasted one -- my family doesn't
really do Christmas," said Luci.
"What does it taste like?"

"Cardboard and rum," Tolli said.
"The proportions vary, though."

Simon laughed. "Don't forget
carbon, if they cooked it too long."

"Here, try a bite," Shiv said,
breaking off a corner of his.
"But they're right, most folks
don't care for fruitcake."

Luci nibbled at it, then
wrinkled her nose.
"I can see why."

"More for me,"
Shiv said, shrugging.

Even though everyone else
had started eating before him,
they all dawdled in the kitchen
like they didn't mind waiting
for him to finish breakfast.

It was tasty, too, savory
ham and egg, sweet rolls.

The fruitcake was pretty good,
although Shiv had tasted better.

Only when he put his dishes
beside the sink did Simon say,
"Are you ready to open presents, or
would you rather to do something else?"

Shiv flinched automatically, because
most of his Christmas morning memories
really sucked, especially about presents.

He peeked at the Christmas tree again,
but it wasn't buried under a mountain of
boxes that could fall on him. There were
only a couple more now than last night.

"What are the extras?" he said, frowning.

"For Luci, of course," said Tolli. "We had
to wait until both of you were safely out of
the way before we could wrap them, though."

"When did you have time to shop for her?"
Shiv wondered. "You haven't even
left here since Luci arrived!"

"We didn't need to," Tolli said.
"We just pulled a few things from
our box of gifts for unexpected guests.
There's actually one from each of us,
but only one is under the tree -- the other
is stashed elsewhere to save the surprise,
for reasons that will become clear
as soon as she opens it."

Luci gave a little squeal of glee.
"I can hardly wait to find out!"

"Well, don't wait on my account,"
Shiv said with a shrug. "Let's go."

"By the way, the other one is
what I found for you," Luci said.
"The one I got you earlier is
still back at my dorm room."

"It's fine," Shiv said hastily.

He hurried into the family room,
but then he hesitated, unsure
what he should do next.

Tolli came to the rescue,
striding past him to the gifts.

Luci flopped on the floor beside
the Christmas tree, boneless as a cat.

Tolli reached down to pick up a gift.
"Let's see, it looks like Simon goes
first," he said, passing it along.

The box was big and flat, wrapped
in bronze paper with a red-and-green bow
that glimmered as Simon opened it.

"A lap desk!" Simon crowed. "Oh boy,
can I ever use this. My old one is about
to give up the ghost." It was made of
sleek mahogany, with a padded bottom
and two storage compartments. There was
also a silicone pad for laptop insulation that
had a row of hollows to hold small items
pressed around the top and one side.

"That's really neat," Shiv said. "I like
the little pad thingy with spaces for
fidgets or paperclips or whatnot."

"Yeah, me too," Simon said. "I hate
when I drop things, because sometimes
they get lost in my everyday hardware." He
patted his wheelchair. "Here, try the pad."

He passed it to Shiv, who rubbed his fingers
along the hollows and the thin stretchy walls
that divided the trough into compartments.

"Nice to have," he said, handing it back.

Tolli picked up another package.
"I'm next," he said, and unwrapped it.
Then he grinned. "Did you get this thing
all the way from Italy?" he asked Simon.

"Yep," Simon said. "I figure, when we've got
Italian friends, why buy American? Obviously
the Italians build the best pasta makers."

Tolli unpacked the thing right there,
all gleaming stainless steel. "This
looks like so much fun," he said.
"I can hardly wait to try it out!"

"If you decide that you like it,
that model comes with all kinds of
accessories, including a motor and
cutters to make other pastas such as
spaghetti and ravioli," Simon said.
"Let me know, and those could
appear on future occasions."

Tolli produced a pen from
somewhere and actually wrote
that down on the top of the box.

Then he went back to reading the manual.

"Aaaand he's gone," Simon said, leaning
down to pick up a gift. "Shiv, it's your turn."

Shiv froze for an instant, because he had
a lot of bad memories of Christmas gifts and
not very many good ones ... or safe ones ...
then he noticed what was in the box.

"You got me metal?" he yelped happily,
scrabbling at the blue-and-white paper.

"Well, we tried to keep it a secret,"
Tolli said with a chuckle. "I guess that
may have been a hopeless cause."

"What is it, what is it?" Shiv said
as he pawed the lid off the box.
Inside lay rows of samples in
a hand-cut foam organizer,
some grayish, others rainbow.

"They're some less-common metals
not often used in my line of work,"
Tolli said. "They do appear in
jewelry-making, so I thought you
might enjoy playing with them."

He pointed to one set. "Those
are niobium, those are titanium,
the ziggurat crystals are bismuth --"

"They're beautiful," Shiv said, prying out
one of the strange crystals for a closer look.

As soon as he picked it up, though,
it collapsed in his hand, rainbows
flaring over it like an oil slick.

"Shit! I think I broke it!"
he exclaimed. "Or is it
supposed to do that?"

"Not that I've seen, but
maybe it likes your talent,"
Tolli said. "Give it a little nudge
and see what else happens."

Cautiously, Shiv tapped it
with his superpower.

The surface rippled,
like sequins turning over
to show different colors.

"Ooo," Luci said softly.

"Okay, that's kinda cool,"
Shiv said, moving his fingers.

Suddenly he could feel the crystals
inside the metal, the way they could
stack and unstack like stairs, or blocks.

Laughing, he flicked his hand and
watched the crystals stack into
a big prism like they were before.

"Got it," he said smugly. "It's like
one of those travel cups that can
expand or collapse in rings."

"Well done," Tolli said.
"You figured it right out."

"Mmmhmm," Shiv said,
staring at the metal in his hand.
The rainbow colors were mesmerizing.

Then he realized that he had gotten
distracted by the thing and was
holding up the show for everyone.

"Sorry," he muttered, putting it down.

"Don't worry about it," Tolli said.
"Everyone does that. Halley and
Edison fall into the first toy they love,
Aida gets sucked into the first fish book,
and so on. It just means that you like
the gift, which makes me very happy."

Shiv rolled that idea around in his mind
and came up with, "So does this mean
you'll try out the pasta maker tonight?"

"We are absolutely making pasta
for supper," Tolli said with a grin.

Simon winked at Shiv. "See,
self-serving Christmas shopping
is a fine form of art," he said.

Hesitantly, Shiv picked up
the bismuth crystal again
and fluttered his superpower
through it. This was quickly
becoming his new favorite fidget.

"Luci, you're up," Tolli said,
handing her a small package.

"Thank you," she said, bowing.

Shiv realized that he hadn't heard
the usual obsession over saying that.
Instead, people were just talking about
how much they liked the things or
getting lost in playing with them.

Apparently that counted here.
He really liked that idea.

Luci pulled off the felt topper
that was actually holly leaves
with red bells for berries,
instead of a regular bow.

Then she unwrapped her box
to find a small black case.
"Oh, a gift card wallet, that's
usef--eeek, it's already full!"

"We always put at least one card
in those things, but since we don't
know you well yet, we did our best
to cover the range," Tolli said. "We
couldn't tell if you used a car or a bus,
though, so there's no transportation."

"Walk, bike, or bus," Luci said as she
looked through the cards. "Happy Teen,
Mapuche Mail, Greenbucks, a phone card,
Darden Restaurants, and ... Old Market?"

"Wow, you hit the jackpot," Shiv said. "That's
good at dozens of stores. The Old Market lies
just south of Gene Leahy Mall. If you're coming
from North Omaha, you want the Purple 34 Bus.
From the university, grab the Black 98 for express
or the Red 2 to the Downtown Transit Center. Then
walk, or just catch another bus if the weather sucks."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Tolli said.
"It sounded like a good deal, but we're not locals."

Shiv laughed. "If you haven't hit the Old Market yet,
go do it. You can shop your feet off in that place.
Little one-off stores, mostly, not that national crap,
and some of them have been there forever."

"Anyway, Luci, if you like the phone card
and want to keep in touch with us, then
we can refill it with a certain number
of minutes every month," Tolli offered.

"Yes, please," Luci said, smiling.

Tolli pulled another present from
the shrinking pile. "Simon again."

Shiv held his breath, because
this one was from him.

In the past, that hadn't
always gone so well,
but he was still sure
Simon wouldn't flip out
even if it was awful.

Well, pretty sure.

Shiv flicked his hand,
opening and closing
the bismuth crystal.

Simon peeled off
the red paper and
opened the gold box.

"Oh," he breathed, his eyes
shining with unshed tears.

Shiv got ready to run for it.

"This is beautiful," Simon said.
"Did you ... this is your work, isn't it?"

"Uh, yeah," Shiv said. "It's just glass
and that funny dichroic foil stuff."

"Look, everyone," Simon said,
tipping it into his cupped hands.

Against his dark skin, the pendant
gleamed like amber, although it was
made from many pieces of broken glass.

Gold foil made dots and swirls across
the smooth oblong dome. There were
green squiggles from one bit of glass, and
in places the fusion had left internal facets
that captured rainbows beneath the surface.

"It's not, you know, actually a flash badge,"
Shiv said. "But it kinda looks that way, how
one makes the pretty lights when I hold it."

"I love it," Simon said. His hands were
shaking a little as he put it on. Shiv hoped
everything was okay. "Thank you very much."

Shiv peeled his tongue off the dry roof
of his mouth. "Uh, you're welcome."

"Another one for you, Shiv," said Tolli,
handing him something soft which
crinkled as Shiv took it from him.

Shiv frowned. "This better not
be socks," he grumbled.

"It is not socks!" Luci said.
"Also, it goes in your kitchen."

As the winter forest paper
peeled away, Shiv could see
why she had warned him:
the small towel was blue
with snowflakes on it.

He opened it, glaring at her
a little bit, and a card fell out.

"What the -- oh!" Shiv said.
"A subscription to Edible Health.
I love that magazine. But why
the hell did you wrap it in a towel?"

"I didn't think to grab my gift to you
when I came here," Luci said. "So I
did a little extra shopping online."

"For a towel?" Shiv asked her.

"No, for the magazine!" Luci said. "When
I was looking for it, I found an article with
ideas on how to wrap a subscription so it's not
just a card. Then Tolli and Simon let me raid
their anyone box, and that's what I found."

"Okay, that's ... a good explanation,"
Shiv said. He didn't need to go into
detail about the shitty 'gifts' that he
had gotten from some people before.
"It actually matches my fridge."

"That's why I picked this one
over the snowman," Luci said.

"Can I give her my gift now?"
Shiv asked Tolli. "Or does it
have to go random all the time?"

"Of course you can give Luci
her gift," said Tolli. "We just
do the random grab because
it's fun, quick, and easy."

Shiv picked up the package.
He hoped it was okay, because
he didn't have any wrapping paper
or a proper box for that one, so he'd
used an empty tea box and wrapped it
in a sheet of green-and-red marble paper
that he found in an arts and crafts store.

"Here," he said, pushing it at Luci
before he could panic and flee the room.

"Thank you, Shiv-ya," she said, then
began carefully peeling off the tape
instead of tearing the paper.

Next she smoothed it with
her hands. "This is so pretty,"
Luci said. "I'm sure I can use it
in some kind of craft later."

"People save wrapping paper?"
Shiv whispered, wondering if he
was doing everything all wrong.

He'd seen other foster kids doing that,
but he always thought it was weird.

"Some do, some don't," Simon said.
"We gather ours in a bag and take it
to the community center for crafts --
there are lots that you can make
with used wrapping paper."

"We save the bows, though,
if they're intact," Tolli said.
"See that cloth bow made
from red-and-green plaid on
your next gift? My brother and
I made those for our mam when
we were teens, and we have
kept them going ever since."

"Then why give it to me?"
Shiv squeaked, eyes widening.

"So you can give it to someone else
next year, of course," Tolli said.
"I think Graham has the other one
this year -- or maybe that was
last year and Molly has it."

"But Luci hasn't even finished
opening hers yet," Shiv said.

"Oh! So sorry, Shiv-ya, I got
distracted by the pretty paper,"
Luci said, bowing over her knees.

She finally opened the tea box and
poured out several plastic packets.
"Aiya! These are beautiful," she said.

In her hands, the dichroic glass glittered,
small beads rolling inside their bags.

"I only made about half of them,"
Shiv admitted. "The blue ones with
snowflakes are mine, the balls that
look like lighter blue ice, and
the rainbow donut ones."

"I love them all," Luci said.
"Where did you find the others?"

"Creative Beadcraft in the Old Market,"
he said with a wink. "I can show you
where, let you use that gift card
that you just got from Tolli?"

"Yes, please!" Luci said,
clapping her hands.

"Anyway, the aqua ones
came from the closeout bin, and
the swirly beads with metal cores are
seconds," Shiv said. "I can see why --
I tried duplicating the cores and
couldn't get it to work at all."

"It's hard to merge materials
as different as metal and glass,"
Tolli said. "Keep experimenting,
and you'll get the hang of it."

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said, then
turned back to Luci. "I thought,
you know, for your costumes?"

"They're perfect for that," Luci said.
"You pay such close attention!"

"Well yeah, you make shiny stuff,"
Shiv said. "Just because I don't
want to wear it, doesn't mean I
can't tell that it's fuckin' awesome."

"I'd enjoy seeing those," Tolli said.

"Sure," Luci said, giving him
a quick hug. As she moved,
the holly bells jingled. "Is this
a memento from your family too?"

"No, that one's mine," Simon said.
"I made it the first Christmas after
this happened." He patted his legs.
"I did a lot of crafts in therapy, trying
to get my dexterity back in shape --
I'd broken both of my arms too."

"Are you sure you want to give
this to me?" Lucy squeaked

"I'm sure," Simon said.
"You keep it and use it
next year. That's the fun
of craft bows, they keep
going around and around."

"Okay, I will," Luci said, and
slipped the band around her wrist.

Looking at the reusable toppers,
Shiv got it into his head that he
could just crochet a set, and not
have to keep buying flimsy ones.

"Here you go, Shiv," said Simon,
handing him a gift. "This one's from me."

It was a cylinder, wrapped in white paper
with red ribbon like a candy cane.

"Metal tubes?" Shiv said, curious.
He unwrapped it, and a holstered hilt
slid into his waiting hand. "Ohhh ...
an extendable baton, like yours!"

Shiv really, really wanted
to whip it out and give it a try.

That was probably a terrible idea
in a house with windows in the walls.

"That comes with an offer of lessons,"
Simon said. "If you just want to wing it,
that's fine, but please do so outdoors
or else in a proper practice arena."

Shiv ran his fingers over the hilt, which
was padded with some grippy stuff
cut into diamond patterns. "Thanks."

"I'm glad you like it," Simon said.

"Last one's yours," Shiv said,
pushing the box toward Tolli.

It was just a white bakery box
that Shiv had begged off of Cook,
but he'd used a gold paint marker
to draw swirls over the top and make
a hanging tag with Tolli's name on it.

Tolli lifted off the lid and shifted
the butcher paper to reveal
a blacksmith's apron.

The body was light brown,
the large pockets darker brown,
with loops to hold a pencil and
other tools beside the pockets.

"What a fine piece of work this --
wait, is this krevel?" he exclaimed.
"Did you make this yourself?"

"Yep," Shiv said. "I found
the pattern online, so I hope
it doesn't suck. It took me
for-fuckin'-ever to do all
them teeny staples. I kept
havin' to pick 'em out and
redo it when they bent."

Tolli poked at them.
"They feel rigid now,"
he said. "Are they brass?"

"All brass, and so are
the rivets," Shiv said.
"I just zapped 'em with
my superpower after I
finally got 'em set right."

Tolli smoothed his hand
over the apron again, then
grinned and put it on.

It fit him perfectly.

It damn well better,
because Shiv had snuck
the measurements from
Tolli's old leather one.

"This is splendid, Shiv,"
said Tolli. "You worked
so hard on it! I love it."

Shiv wiggled a little in place,
not sure what to do with
the warm tickly feeling
that filled him inside.

"One last gift," Simon said.
"Luci, I'll have to go get yours."

She scooted out of the way so he
could roll toward the bedroom.

A minute later, Simon came back
carrying a big long box on his lap.

"Oooh, it's something silk,"
Luci said. "But I can't tell what
it is yet! I'm so excited now!"
She bounced on her knees.

"Here you go," Simon said
as he set the box on her lap.
"Merry Christmas, Luci."

It was wrapped in layers
of transparent green plastic.

Shiv wondered if they had
done that because plastic
blocked some superpowers.

"I can't get it open," Luci grumbled,
picking at the stuff with her fingernails.

"Want a hand?" Shiv asked her,
snapping his fingers with a flourish.

"Yes, please," she said, offering the box.

Shiv sharpened the fleck of metal
that he kept under his fingernail, then
carefully slit the film around the edges.

Luci opened the box and gasped.
It was full of silk scraps in many colors,
packed into separate sections. That last two
held balls of silk yarn -- mostly green, mostly red,
yellows-and-oranges, and some multicolor.

"This is gorgeous," Luci said, picking up
a handful of scraps and letting them
spill over her body. The next moment,
her power chimed against Shiv's, and
the scraps swirled around her before
she tucked them back into the box.
"Where did you find all of this?"

"I raided our craft stash," Simon said.
"We keep all kinds of supplies on hand
for therapy work as well as fun. I thought
you'd enjoy playing with this stuff."

Luci laughed. "You are so right!
Once I start sewing, sometimes
I don't come up for hours."

Shiv's fingers itched, looking
at the bright colors of the yarn.

He wondered what it would feel like
and whether it would crochet well.
He stuffed his hands under his butt.
That was Luci's present and he
wasn't going to mess with it.

"Hey, little brother," she said,
and hit him in the chest with a ball.

Shiv squawked and lost his balance.

"Luci," Simon scolded gently. "I don't
think Shiv was quite ready for that."

"I'm fine," Shiv said, scrambling
to get his feet under him. The ball
of yarn had rolled away, trailing
a thread of emerald flecked with
scarlet over the hardwood floor.

Finally he pounced and caught it
just before it could disappear under
a couch. Carefully he rolled it up,
reveling in the tickle of fine threads
over his fingertips. Awesome stuff.

"Here's your yarn back," Shiv said,
handing it to Luci. "Try to hold onto it."

She laughed. "I will," Luci said.
"I'm sorry I startled you. I was
just trying to invite you to play."

"Yeah, well ... I'm not always
thinking of that," Shiv said.

"I should have remembered,"
Luci said. "I thought you might
like to try crocheting some of this."

Shiv shook his head vehemently.
"No, this is your present."

"Okay," Luci said. "Maybe
we could find more of it
somewhere else?"

"Yeah, maybe,"
Shiv said, already
wondering if it came
in blues or mostly white.

"Okay, we've opened all of
the presents under the tree,"
Tolli said. "Shiv, Luci, how
are you feeling now?"

"Happy!" Luci said.
"I like your Christmas."

"I'm okay," Shiv said.
"This one didn't suck."

"Would you be up for
a little more?" Tolli asked.
"No is a fair answer, but I know
you've got a gift coming from
the rest of the family, and
Graham didn't get a chance
to deliver it as intended."

"Yeah, I didn't either," Shiv said.
"I've still got his in my box, plus
some tidbits for other people."

"Shall we send them a few pictures
of our Christmas, and see if they
have someone who can exchange
packages for us?" Tolli asked.

Because of course the Finn house
would be swarming with teleporters, who
could give Santa a run for his money.

Shiv flipped his bismuth crystal
through his fingers, stairsteps
flashing rainbows as they went.

"Worth a try," he decided.

"Ooo, can I send them a picture
of my silk?" Luci asked. "And
the beads that Shiv made for me?"

"Of course," Tolli said. "I think
I'll just pile mine together and shoot."

"I need someone else to snap one
of my pendant," Simon said,
cupping it in his hands.

"Can do," Tolli said,
and took the picture.

Shiv watched them for
a minute, then said, "Could
someone make a video of me
doing the bismuth trick?"

"No problem," Tolli said.
"I'm sure they'll love it."

"Best tag these snapshots
for family use only," Simon said.
Then he explained to Shiv and Luci,
"We often trade with other folks."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I don't --
this is hard enough already."

"Understood," Tolli said, pushing
the appropriate buttons on his phone.
"Okay, ready for your video?"

Shiv nodded, then held out his hand
and made the bismuth crystal collapse and
expand into different rainbow shapes.

"Sent," Tolli said, and the phone chimed.

"Oh, do me next!" Luci said, throwing
bits of silk around herself. Then the yarn
got caught up in the swirl of her power
and tangled itself in her hair. "Eeek!"

Shiv laughed and helped her
to untangle it, rolling it back
into its frizzy ball. Again.

Tolli chuckled. "Hey,
look at this," he said.

There on the screen was
a picture of Edison peeking out
from under a pile of wrapping paper.

In the next one, Dairinne had been
stuffed into a baby sleep sack that
made her look like a snowman.

Shiv snickered a little.

"This one is a swap," Tolli said,
and showed him the picture.

Three half-grown cats climbed
over a decorated evergreen,
with a red caption that said,
Telepathic Cats vs. Christmas.

Shiv laughed out loud. "Looks
like someone should know better
than to mix cats and Christmas."

Tolli's phone chimed again.
He glanced at it and said, "Okay,
folks, Santa's coming. Clear
the middle of the floor."

They all scrambled
toward the walls.

Junket appeared in
a peacock Santa hat and
teal elf shoes with bells,
loaded with packages.

"First one for you," he said,
handing Shiv something
wrapped in cellophane.

Shiv sniffed. "Fruitcake?"

"I might possibly have texted
about your love of fruitcake,"
Toll confessed, smiling.

"Wait, why's it got metal
inside it?" Shiv said.

"That's barmbrack,
the Irish kind of fruitcake,"
Tolli explained. "It has
dried fruit soaked in tea."

"Caffeinated fruitcake,"
Shiv breathed, and then
ripped into his package.

The cake itself was pale,
crammed with dark raisins,
candied orange peel, and
bright red crystal cherries.

"Oh, this is so much better,"
Shiv moaned around a mouthful.
"Here, Luci, you gotta try some."

He pulled off another piece for her.

Luci nibbled cautiously, then
gobbled the rest of it. "Yes!
I like this Irish one much more."

"We can bake some if you want,"
Tolli agreed. "Any other requests?"

"Peacock Santa wants cookies,"
Junket said, bouncing hopefully
on his toes. The bells jingled.

"Oh, teleporters," Luci said
with a merry laugh. "You're all
the same, you never stop eating!"

"Cooookies," said Peacock Santa.

"Coming right up," Simon said.
He went into the kitchen and
came back out with one of
the big popcorn tins.

Shiv remembered packing
that yesterday -- it had little trays
divided into sections, with flat circles
between them. Each layer held
two dozen cookies, and there were
ten layers. Because teleporters.

Sure enough, Junket popped off
the top and wolfed down the first layer.

To him, that was a normal-sized tin.

"Anything outbound?" Junket asked,
looking around at all of them.

"I'll go get the bag for homeless kids,"
Tolli said, heading for the bedroom.

"I left mine upstairs," Shiv said,
then galloped up the steps to grab
his box. Tolli had just brought
the whole thing with him.

When Shiv got back down
he said, "Okay, this one is for
Dr. G. Some of the smaller stuff
has names on it and some is just
for everyone. I couldn't find one for
each person, I'm no good at this yet."

"Don't sweat it," Junket said. "You
could giftwrap a brick and they'd love it."

Shiv glared at him. "Don't tease me."

"Dude, I know better than that,"
Junket said. "Tolli, tell him
the story about the brick."

Packages in hand,
he jumped away.

"Years ago, someone
gave Graham a brick,"
Tolli said. "We think it was
meant as an insult of some sort,
but it wasn't labeled. So we painted
Welcome on it and made it a doorstop."

"Wait, you mean that's where
the front door brick came from?"
Shiv said. "I thought they bought it!"

"Nope," Tolli said. "We make
a lot of things ourselves. It's fun."

"Yeah, I get that," Shiv said.

"Besides, Graham said that
a successful man is one who can
lay a firm foundation with the bricks
others have thrown at him," Tolli added.

Shiv laughed. "Win," he said. And now
he wanted to go home and paint a brick.

"So, are you going to open your last gift?"
Simon said, pointing to the flat white box
with a red-and-green plaid bow on it,
like a mirror of the one from Tolli.

"Sure," Shiv said. He lifted the top off
and found folds of white fabric. When
he picked it up, it opened into a shirt.

"A swordsman's shirt," Tolli said.
"Oh, how utterly perfect for you!"

"What?" Shiv said, bemused.

"Look at the cuffs," Tolli said.
"See how they cover your forearms?
The laces tie at the elbows, so that
the bows won't get in your way. Molly
wears hers in the same style when
she works as a chirurgeon."

Shiv looked, and sure enough,
rows of silver grommets marched
up the sleeves from wrist to elbow.

They were laced in black, but there
were also white strings and silver ones
inside the box, so he could change them.

The fabric seemed to be sturdy cotton,
but when he moved it, light caught and
shimmered along some glossy fiber.

"This is beautiful," he breathed. "It's
way fancier than what I wear, though."

"Even for dancing?" Tolli challenged.

Shiv remembered the rush of excitement
he'd felt while learning the old dances,
and okay, he had been a bit out of place
in his deliberately drab peasant clothes
among ladies with skirts a yard wide.

This would work. He could get a pair
of pants in blue or black, and maybe
a particolor hat like he'd seen, just
for the dancing part of events.

"Yeah, okay," Shiv said.
"It'll work great for dancing,
and the sleeves won't tangle."

He'd seen a couple of people
get hooked together by their frills,
and didn't want it happening to him.

Shiv wriggled into the shirt.
It had the slim fit that he liked,
but with enough room that he
wasn't likely to outgrow it.

"What do you think?" he said.

"It suits you very well," Tolli said.
"Want to see? I can take a picture."

"Yeah, okay," Shiv said, then waited
for Tolli to snap it and show him.

The shirt did look good on him,
although his hair was a total mess
because he hadn't got any shea here.

Self-consciously he raked a hand
through it, but no way would it
stay down without some help.

"What's wrong?" Simon asked.

"Ah, I left my hair stuff at home,"
Shiv grumbled. "I usually use
a little shea butter so it don't
stand up like a dandelion puff."

"No problem," Simon said,
and rolled out of the family room.

Shiv shucked off his new shirt
folded it up, and then put it
carefully back into the box.

Tolli's phone chimed again.
He looked at it and laughed.
"Hey Shiv, check this out."

Shiv looked at it, then grinned.

Dr. G was wearing the sweater.
It was mostly deep blue, with bands
of black down both sleeves, and
a bright red robot on the chest.

Shiv had carefully added lines
sewn with tinsel thread to make it
a Fifty-Foot Robot with Laser Eyes,
and as Dr. G rotated slowly in the video,
light caught and sparkled on the thread.

"You sure know his taste," Tolli said,
then turned to show Luci too.

Simon came back with his hands
full of little metal pucks. "Here,
Shiv, take your pick," he said.
"I keep these for guests."

When Shiv looked closer,
he saw they were tiny tins of
shea butter. "It comes in
flavors?" he exclaimed.

"Yep," Simon said. "I
have unscented, lavender,
verbena, or vanilla."

Shiv sorted through them.
He'd only ever used the plain kind
before, and he liked the nutty smell
even though not everyone did.
But he liked all these too.

"Can't make up your mind?"
Simon said. "Just take all
of them, then. Consider these
your not-a-stocking stuffers."

"Gee, thanks!" Shiv said.

He scampered into the bathroom,
where he opened all the tins and
smelled them. They were great.

After some more dithering,
he settled on lavender because
it smelled like soothing hand soap
and he could use the relaxation today.

He dipped a fingertip in the stuff,
rubbed his hands together, and then
raked them through his hair until it
lay down like it was supposed to.

Another pass with his fingers
opened the windows in his fringe.

When he came back out, Simon
gave him a thumbs-up. "You look
more like yourself now," he said.

"Thanks," Shiv said. "I feel
more like myself, too." He looked
around the room. "This has been ...
kind of a nice morning, though.
It's new, but I think I like it."

"Are there things we missed doing
this year that you'd like to try in
the future?" Simon asked.

"Bring my damn schedule boards,"
Shiv said. "Actually pack before leaving."

"We could build on that if you like,"
Simon said. "Make it something
like an advent calendar. It might
help space out the holiday activities
so that you don't get overwhelmed."

Shiv thought about how Dr. G had
shown him ways to make schedules
at different scales, and how Shiv used
the month pages in his daybook.

Having a visual version of
a holiday calendar might work.

"Yeah, that's a good idea," he said.

"I'd like to try making a Christmas wreath,"
said Luci. "I never got to do that before, and
I enjoy crafts." She flicked a glance at Shiv.
"If that's okay ... I don't want to make trouble."

"We don't have to do everything together,"
Tolli pointed out. "With a big family, or
any other large group like a church, you
have to spread out or it turns into a mob."

"I don't mind wreaths," Shiv said quietly.
"They're not big like Christmas trees."
He liked touching the prickly branches,
in fact. "We could try it, maybe? But
I don't know how to make them."

"I'm sure there must be classes
at craft stores, or we could look
online for instructions," Tolli said.

"Oh! Videos!" Shiv said. "There's
gotta be something for that on V'you, I
just been avoiding their Christmas channel."

"Then we'll make a note of wreathbuilding
as something we can try next year," Simon said.

"Stockings?" Tolli offered. "We have fun
hunting for cool stocking stuffers."

Shiv shook his head, fringe flying.
"Fuck no," he said. "People put
coal in those, and that makes
a mess, and I get blamed."

Simon's chair creaked where
he was gripping the wheels.

He looked down, carefully
pried his hands loose, and
then put them in the lap.

"No stockings," Simon said.

"Well, what else do people do?"
Luci said. "Or is it just stockings?"

"I've heard of people using boots,
or hats, or baskets," Tolli said.
"It doesn't have to be a sock.
Then again, some folks prefer
getting one big gift over a lot of
little ones. It might take time
to figure out which you like more."

"Don't think I'd want to put all of
my eggs in one basket," Shiv said.
"Sometimes little stuff is ... easier, too."

"My grandparents used to do
a treasure hunt for us," Simon said.
"We'd run all over the house looking
for stuff they hid. Granddad used
to give us batteries, for all the toys
we'd get. Drove my parents nuts."

"That sounds kinda cool," Shiv said.

"Then we can try it out to see if we
want to add it to our family traditions,"
Tolli said. "It sounds like fun to me."

"Traditions?" Shiv said, leaning back.
He hadn't exactly had good experiences
with that sort of thing in the past.

"Yes," Tolli said. "Christmas is a day
of meaning and traditions, a special day
spent in the warm circle of family and friends.
We would like to share that with you."

Shiv hesitated. Okay, the holidays
usually sucked for him, but once he'd
gotten here, it went a lot better.

"I dunno, maybe?" he said.
He flicked his fingers, moving
the bismuth crystal like an escalator.

"Was there anything that you enjoyed
this Christmas, Shiv?" asked Tolli.
"Something that you might like
to make a tradition in the future?"

"I don't really ... have traditions,"
Shiv said, looking down at his toes.
"On account of, you know, hardly seeing
the same people from one year to another."

Then he realized Tolli had that look again,
the one that meant he wanted to belt
someone from Shiv's childhood.

"Well, we hope to see you on
many Christmases to come,"
Simon said. "Can you think of
one thing that you liked?"

"Making cookies," Shiv said.
"I like cooking all kinds of things,
and decorating them was really fun."

"I liked drinking hot chocolate by
the fireplace, snuggled in blankets,"
said Luci. "My family doesn't do
Christmas, so that was new."

"We make Christmas ornaments,
and we have some from all the kids,"
Tolli said. "That's on my side of the family."

The pain was sudden and unexpected,
twisting Shiv's heart with a memory of being
invited to do that at the Wright house. He
had refused, quite rudely, too miserable
to take part in the holiday even when
people tried to help him feel welcome.

Now he felt like a real shit for it.

Shiv shook himself a little,
trying to look normal, and
listened to Simon's tradition.

"I grew up playing board games
after Christmas dinner," Simon said.
"We usually had a new one that
everyone wanted to break in."

"That sounds kinda cool," Shiv said.
He hadn't gotten much chance to do that
when he was little, but more recently, he
had found better games ... and better people.

"Then we can revisit those ideas next year,
if you would like to," Simon suggested.

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said, a smile
tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Maybe traditions were something
that he could have after all.

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, holiday, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing

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