As Cassandra’s belly grew increasingly fuller, her mood worsened. For one brief moment her cares and worries had drifted away with the joyful chatter surrounding her and the temptation of plentiful, delicious food, but even Simon being more solicitous than ever before couldn’t keep her mind off the big question in her head; Where could her mother be at that very moment and could she ever find her?
Sensing the subtle change in Cassandra, Simon asked, “Is there anything I can do to make you happy again?”
Startled, Cassandra quickly forced a smile. “I am happy. I’m smiling…see?” she said.
He shook his head and pointed at her lips. “You’re only smiling here,” he said, then pointed at her heart. “But you’re not smiling here where it counts.”
She made a face. “I keep forgetting how perceptive you are,” she grumbled.
He chuckled. “Are you done eating? I’d like to give you your Christmas presents,” he said.
She nodded and followed him.
“If you’ll excuse us, Dad,” Simon began. “I’d like to give Cassandra her Christmas gifts.”
“I’ll get’em!” Julian said jumping out of his seat and half way to the family room before Simon could stop him.
“Dad, you gotta do something about Julian. He’s trying to steal my girlfriend!” Simon said.
Victor laughed. “Well, it’s up to Cassandra,” he said. “She needs to decide which one of you she prefers and then break the news to you.”
“You’re no help,” Simon mumbled guiding Cassandra out of the dining room.
She giggled. “I guess I should tell Julian he’s too young for me, huh?”
“There’s an idea,” Simon replied. They found his rival kneeling before the Christmas tree sifting through the remaining gift boxes.
“Here they are, Cassie,” Julian said. “This one’s from me. Open that one first.”
“Oh, Julian, I didn’t get a chance to get you anything,” Cassandra said, guiltily accepting his gift.
“That’s okay. Dad says it’s better to give than to receive…but I kinda like receiving more,” Julian half whispered.
“Everybody does,” Simon said. “We just gotta pretend we don’t.”
“Oh, Julian, it’s beautiful! Did you make this all by yourself?” Cassandra said, placing the bracelet on her wrist, shaking it so the Christmas charms jingled.
“Georgiana helped, but just a little bit,” he said. “Do you like it?”
“I love it!” she said holding her arms out to him. She hugged him and kissed his cheek. “Thank you so much. I’ll get you a present as soon as I can, okay?”
Julian, wearing a sly expression, briefly glanced up at Simon and shrugged. “A hug and a kiss is good enough,” he said.
She giggled then gave him another cuddle and tickled his belly which pleased him no end and rather annoyed his older brother.
“Open the others now. That one’s from Dad, this one’s from Ronnie, that one’s from Violet and this one’s from Georgiana and Peter,” Julian said, one by one piling them all on her lap. “Oh, yeah, and this one’s from Sophie.”
“Are you sure all these presents are for me?” she said, needlessly because each gift was unmistakably labeled with her name.
“Yup, all of ‘em,” Julian said, sitting beside her and helping her unwrap each one.
It took remarkably little time with his help and Cassandra was even more overwhelmed opening all the gifts than Violet had been just an hour before. She didn’t ooh and ahh as much, but that was because Julian didn’t give her time to fuss over any one present for very long—except for his own.
“Well, now that that’s done, can you leave us alone now, Jules?” Simon asked as nicely as he could. “Cassandra has one more present to unwrap.”
“Where is it?” he asked.
“In my room and no, you can’t come,” Simon added.
“But I wanna show Cassie all my presents, too,” Julian whined.
“You can show them to me later, okay? I have something very important to talk over with your brother,” she said, giving Simon a significant look. “Really, Julian, thank you so much for all my presents, but especially the Christmas bracelet. I love it!”
It took another hug before Julian was appeased enough to leave them alone.
“Wow,” Cassandra said, looking over her loot. “I can’t believe all of this os for me. I mean everything is awesome…. exactly what I wanted.”
“Ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Honey,” Simon said.
“This dress your dad got me is…well…I saw it at the store and fell in love with it, but it was so expensive and…it’s beautiful! How in the world did he guess my size and what I’d like?”
“Choosing woman’s fashions is his super power…don’t ask me how he does it. It may have been the only reason my mother stayed married to him for as long as she did,” Simon said, stacking the torn wrapping paper, boxes and ribbons behind the Christmas tree.
Cassandra burst out laughing. “I hope you’re not serious!” she said.
Simon shrugged. “Yes and no,” he said. “So, are you ready for a really good gift?”
She stood up with her arms full and said, “Better than all of this? Impossible.”
“We’ll see about that. Do you trust me enough to come up to my room to open them? I promise I won’t attack you,” he joked, although he looked rather serious.
She made a face as if contemplating his question. “I wanna tell you what happened today at my house.”
“Okay, we can do that too. We won’t be disturbed there and nobody else will hear us if you don’t want,” he said, leading the way to the festively festooned stairs.
“Um…would you mind if Sophie and Ronnie came with us?” she asked, a pleading sort of look on her face. “I’d like to tell them too cuz…well, they are my best friends and I’d like them to know what’s going on.”
Hiding his annoyance he nodded. “I’ll ask them to join us as soon as they’re done eating, but I warn you, that could take a while. They usually don’t leave the table until every last bit of food is gone,” he said. “Go on up to my room, first door on the left as you come up the stairs. I’ll be there soon.”
“Do you trust me not to snoop around your stuff?” she asked with a giggle.
“I want you to…so you can decide if I’m good enough for you,” he said over his shoulder.
A bit stunned, Cassandra watched him enter the dining room as others were leaving it. She swiftly went up the stairs, all the while wondering if that meant what she thought it meant.
Simon stepped to the side to allow room for everyone leaving the dining room, but as he suspected his brother and Sophie were nowhere near done. They both still had a ton of food on their plates…their third helping each he suspected. He moved behind their chairs and waited for most of the others to leave before speaking.
“Cassandra requests your presence whenever you finish up here,” he said in a low voice. “She has something very important to tell us.”
Both of them turned to look up at him, their cheeks bulging with food. Simon raised a hand as if to prevent them from speaking—as if they could. “No rush. Just come when you’re done. We’ll find something to do to occupy the time.”
As Simon left they stared after him then exchanged startled looks. Chewing furiously, Sophie gave him a curious look and Ronnie shrugged and swallowed.
“Must be whatever’s bothering her,” he said.
“So, you noticed it too,” she said, wiping her mouth with a cloth napkin.
“That she’d been crying? Not blind,” he said, putting a whole sausage into his mouth.
“She musta had a fight with her father about coming over, dotcha think?” she said biting into a buttered biscuit.
Ronnie shrugged. “Only way to find out is to hear it from her so finish up quick,” he said.
Cassandra placed her gifts on Simon’s neatly made bed and instantly felt guilty about messing it. She looked critically around his room and was stunned. The rest of it was just as spotless and orderly…like something out of a Better Homes and Garden magazine. Surely that was only because he lived most of the year elsewhere. No one except an OCD person could be this perfect, right? Of course, nothing’s saying Simon wasn’t OCD. After all, Cassandra had not known him for very long so…but she somehow didn’t think so.
“Not that it matters,” she said to herself.
“Of course it matters,” Simon said, startling her. “Sorry about that. Ronnie and Sophie are forever saying I should wear a bell around my neck so they can hear me coming. That or I should join the CIA…to teach the art of stealth I suppose.”
She laughed. “They may be right…about the bell around your neck, I mean. The CIA scares me.”
He smiled and pulled the small box out of his pocket handing it to her along with the large envelope. “Merry Christmas, Cassandra. I hope you like this half as much as you liked Julian’s bracelet.”
“I have a present for you too,” she said rummaging through her pocketbook. She handed him a long, thin box wrapped in silver. “I didn’t think I’d get a chance to give it to you after what my father…”
“I love it,” he said and he kissed her.
“But… you didn’t even open it yet.”
“Well, that way I can kiss you before and after I see what it is,” he said.
“Now I see where Julian gets it,” she said.
“What…his charm?" Simon said with a smirk as he opened his gift to see an exquisite silk tie the exact color of his eyes.
“Yeah, let’s call it that,” she muttered. "Like it?"
He kissed her again. "Love it. Thank you," he said.
She opened the box, her lips tingling, and gasped. “Oh, Simon, it’s beautiful!”
He took the gold chain and pendant out of the box and fastened it around her neck. “I wasn’t sure you would like it, but in a roundabout way I got Sophie to put the okay on butterflies. It clashes with Julian’s bracelet, of course, but such is the essence of Christmas.”
She giggled and gave him a quick kiss. “I love butterflies. She musta told you I especially like rubies.”
He shook his head. “I guessed that,” he said handing her the envelope. “Now, brace yourself. You are either going to love it or hate it.”
Her eyes grew wide as she looked at the tag and the name of the giver. “From Morris Kramer? Why on Earth would he give me a gift at all? He barely knows me!”
“What can I say? He fancies himself a modern day Santa Claus,” Simon said, hiding his anxiety with difficulty. “Go on and open it.”
“I have a feeling you put him up to this…whatever this is,” she said slowly opening up the end flap and slipping the thick stack of papers out. She read the cover letter once, then twice, then looked up at Simon’s nervous expression and read it through a third time before she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly.
Simon got the distinct impression she liked it…perhaps as much as Julian’s Christmas charm bracelet.
©2017 Glory Lennon All Rights Reserved