555. - Lucien
When Eschieve turned twelve years old, our father gifted her a hairpin. It was a family heirloom from her side, having been in the Reyes family for nearly a century. Over the decades it had gotten dirty and damaged, and that was exactly how Madeleine had worn it on her wedding day. Now Jacques had had it cleaned and restored, missing stones and prongs replaced, to give it to Madeleine's daughter. When she got it, she just held it in her hands and stared at it in utter awe with an array of emotions swimming behind her eyes.
She wears the same expression now, staring at the bracelet. Not a word, not a sound comes over her lips.
"Give me that," Beth interjects to break the tension. She takes the bracelet from Eschieveís hold and fastens it around her wrist. Then, picking up perfectly on my sister's needs, she gives a stern look around the crowd. "Time to stop staring! She says thank you. It just got lost in translation. I'm learning French now, so that's how I know that 'stunned silence' roughly translates to 'thank you all for being amazing but it's getting awkward now'."
Eschieve lets out a choked laugh. The tightness in her shoulders visibly lessens. "That sounds about right." Then her gaze finds Emma's, an honest smile on her lips. Emma returns it. Neiter of them says a word, but the love is palpable. The moment is broken by Phoebe, loudly announcing that her mother is next to give gifts. Everybody laughs, tension now definitely lifted, and I watch how Eschieve hugs Beth tightly, whispering something I can't hear. Emma watches the same scene, her head falling against my shoulder. I rest mine against it, hands finding each other. "Thank you," I whisper as Nancy makes a spectacle of pretending she's forgotten to buy Phoebe a present.
"But I didn't give you anything." Emma smiles, though I bet she knows.
Eschieveís fingers brush over the silver chain on her wrist while she laughs along with the rest of the Middleton-family. She fits the image so perfectly. This picture of a family - a real one, a functioning one, despite all the hardships they've been through. This is everything she deserves. My heart gives a painful throb for reasons unknown to me. "I'll have to disagree."
Phoebe, under fierce protest, has gone to bed. Charles and Selene have gone home now that the roads are still somewhat driveable. The remainder of the family has taken to the living room. Reginald has taken to his lazy chair and is happily smoking one of the cigars Emma gifted him. Like him, almost everyone is engulfed in their presents in one way or another. It's not too late yet, but there's a tiredness in me that seems to extend all the way into my bones. I can't really focus on the book I got from Nancy, letters swimming off the page. Emma, nestled up against me, seems fully taken up by hers. It's one of my favourite sights: seeing her eyes scan the page, lips twitching in emotion not quite distinguishable whenever something noteworthy happens, soft gasps of air when the chapter ends unexpectedly and she hurries on to the next. I could watch for hours, and I would have - had my watch not notified me of a call.
Of course. The man is like clockwork. "Sorry, babe." I kiss Emma's temple as I move away from my position as her upper-body support. "Have to take this one, it's Christmas after all. I'll be outside."
I'm not sure if she catches on to who is calling, though i bet she can make an educated guess. Especially since Eschieve, as I get up and head to the hall to grab my coat, glances at the clock and rolls her eyes.
Having counted, I know he's about to hang up when I finally pick up. "Lucien."
Two seconds of silence tick away. Is he regretting the decision of calling me? Did he not expect me to pick up, even though I do every year against knowing better? "Joyeux Noël, Lucien."
"Merry Christmas to you, too, father." I dig a pack of cigarettes out of my pocket, a much needed addition to this rarely fruitful conversation. "How's life at the office? Lots of groundbreaking work I bet, this Christmas day?"
"There is no honour in making fun of a strong work ethic, son. But yes, things have been rather slow."
"Mhm, who could've guessed." Iíve walked to the back of the yard, not wanting to be annoyingly pacing in front of the window. The orange flame of my lighter gets swallowed by the darkness. The snow has finally stopped falling and had I still been wearing my loafers, they would have been quickly soaked. Lucky for me, Daniel told me I could use his old boots. "At least remembered to have a proper dinner this time? It's Christmas only once a year, you know. You can treat yourself."
He grunts. "Are you just going to be difficult the entire call?"
"You called me, you tell me."
"It is the holidays, Lucien."
"Exactly, yet here I am celebrating with a different family without hearing from you until eleven at night. Just like every year. I haven't even seen you since Callum's trial. Tell me, father, did you call me because you wanted to, or because you feel obliged to because of the holidays?" No answer comes, and I scoff. "Thought so. It's been real nice talking to you, then."
The house is a very welcoming temperature when I step back in. My coat is not quite suited for the Scottisch winters, just like I am not. I find Nancy in the kitchen, busy with a family's worth of mugs full of chocolate milk. "Lucien! About this afternoon - I'm sorry, I don't mean to be so pushy! It's just exciting to think about, see? My Linie pregnant, and of course I'd be around to help -"
"Nancy, please." I interrupt with a chuckle. "All is forgiven, but nothing has changed since this afternoon. There are currently no babies in our future."
"I know,! I'm just saying. Could you be a dear and help me with these? Saves me a trip, gets it to everyone just a bit quicker!"
I do so with a smile, both Emma and Eschieve looking up at me when I re-enter the living room.
"Father says Merry Christmas." My sister grins, just lowering her phone. "Short-lived call though, even for his standards."
"I think I used up all of this year's holiday patience." I reply as I take my place next to Emma again. I wrap an arm around her shoulders. My words make her frown. "Nothing to worry about." I promise. "A conversation like any other. This one just happened to be on Christmas."
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