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Chapter 3 Christmas Crackers
Leena took one last look at the dinner table and smiled. It was perfect. She straightened a napkin and then left the room.
"Mina, be good," she said over her shoulder.
The little girl giggled and ran out in the hall.
Helena almost tripped over Mina when she came down the stairs. She smiled and scooped her up. "and what are you up to young lady?"
Mina giggled and kissed her on the cheek. "Merry Christmas Helena."
Helena kissed her soft cheek. "Merry Christmas to you too sweetheart."
Mina put her arm around Helena's neck, playing with her hair. Helena held her a little tighter, enjoying holding her. "Let's go and see what the others are up to," she said to her.
Myka looked up from her book as Helena entered. She smiled at the endearing sight of her holding Mina. The little girl rested her head on Helena's shoulder while she absentmindedly played with a lock of Helena's hair. Myka waived them over and made room on the couch. Helena sat down with Mina on her lap.
"Hello darling," she whispered to Myka.
Myka caressed her cheek. "Hi," she said softly. She was lost in Helena's dark eyes until a small insistent hand tugged on her sleeve. She smiled at the little girl on Helena's lap.
"Myka," she said. "Read a story?"
Myka smiled at her. "Of course sweetie, but I have a better idea. Why don't we ask Helena if she can read you a story? She's really, really good at it."
Mina looked up at Helena. "Will you read me a story?" she asked hopefully.
Helena smiled at her and nodded. "Of course sweetheart."
Leena folded her arms and looked at her daughter and the two women she had wrapped around her little finger. "Baby girl, dinner is almost ready. Why don't you ask Helena nicely after dinner?"
Mina nodded happily and slipped off Helena's lap. She skipped over to her mother and took her hand.
"Are we eating today?" Pete said as he staggered into the room with a lot of drama. "I'm starving!"
They just laughed at him.
"You three have no compassion for a starving man," he muttered. "It's Christmas. You should be nice."
"I'm here," Claudia said slightly out of breath as she rushed into the room. "I'm not late," she concluded with a grin.
Leena smiled at her. "Right on time Claudia."
"Sweet," Claudia said and grinned. "I am so ready for some turkey," she said and rubbed her hands together.
The front door opened and they could hear the sound of stomping feet. A moment later Artie and Joshua entered the room making a beeline to the fireplace.
"So what have you two lovebirds been up to?" Pete teased.
Artie glared at him over his shoulder. "None of your darn business," he muttered and stepped closer to the fireplace holding his hands up in front of him to warm up.
Joshua just laughed and shook his head. "Just dropping something off in town."
"Well, now when everyone's here, let's eat," Leena said.
Helena just stopped and stared at the beautifully decorated table. It brought back so many memories it almost hurt. A large floral centerpiece adorned the middle of the table. Additional branches, pine cones, ornaments and garlands added to the decorative touch. Tall tapered white candles burned slowly in silver candleholders, their soft light reflecting in the Waterford crystal wine glasses. Leena had used her best china and silver and on top of each plate rested a folded linen napkin and a Christmas cracker.
"Helena?" Myka asked softly when she noticed Helena stopping.
Helena looked at her with shining eyes. She held out her hand and Myka instantly took it in hers. "Memories," she whispered.
Myka put her arms around her and hugged her. "Your new family wants to create new memories with you," she whispered to her.
Helena nodded and took her hand again. Together they took their seats. Helena gently moved the cracker aside and picked up her napkin. She shook it out and placed it on her lap. Glancing around the table she took in all their smiling faces. She shivered when she realized how close she had come to losing all of this. Her eyes returned to the candles. It was one of the things that reminded her the most of the old days. Realizing that there was something familiar with them she looked closer. Her eyebrows shot up and she covered her mouth when she recognized the candleholders.
"I had exactly the same candleholders in my house back in London," she said amazed. She looked at Leena who just smiled at her and glanced at Artie.
Artie looked a little uncomfortable being the center of everyone's attention. "Merry Christmas Helena. They came from London day before yesterday. They are yours."
Helena teared up again. "Thank you. You have no idea how much this means to me."
Silence spread around the table as each of them took in the depth of meaning of the gesture. Helena had lost so much; every little thing she got back was a cherished treasure.
"So HG, what did you use to eat for Christmas?" Claudia asked from across the table, breaking the somber mood.
Helena smiled gratefully at her. "More than little children you mean?"
Claudia laughed out loud.
"I used to serve turkey, but growing up we always had Swan for Christmas dinner," she said with a smile.
"Swan?!" Claudia exclaimed and made a face.
Helena chuckled. "It's quite good to tell you the truth. Sadly enough you aren't allowed to eat them anymore, unless you're royalty of course."
Claudia was not convinced. "If you say so. What else?"
"We had Christmas pudding with brandy butter and all sorts of sweets and fruit. Some of it you would not find especially exotic nowadays, but it was back then. Things like oranges, dates, and figs for examples. And then there would of course be mulled wine to warm you up."
Leena grinned and looked down.
"I used to order a lot of things from Fortnum & Mason," Helena said and smiled, lost in memories again. She absentmindedly played with the cracker. "And of course we had these. It was always so much fun."
"What's Fortnum & Mason?" Claudia asked.
"It's a gourmet food store in London. It's in Piccadilly, not far from Piccadilly Circus. They have the most delightful things," Helena said and smiled.
"What about Harrod's?" Myka asked.
"Harrod's is nice too. I was there recently. It's a lot better now. It burned down when I was still young and it took a while for them to reopen."
They chatted amicably as Leena and Pete disappeared out in the kitchen. Soon one dish after the other filled the last empty spaces on the table. Finally Pete brought in the turkey to much cheering and clapping.
Helena smiled at Myka and took her hand under the table. "This is wonderful," she said softly. When Pete and Leena finally sat down she held up her cracker to Myka. "Merry Christmas," she said and grinned. Myka grabbed the other end and pulled. The cracker opened with a loud pop and the charm fell out on the table. Helena shook out the red hat inside. She put it on her head and grinned at Myka.
"Beautiful honey," Myka said and laughed.
Helena smirked. "Now yours."
There was popping and cheering around the table until all of them had their hats on and jokes were read. Helena gave her little charm to Myka. "For you, as a memory of our first Christmas," she whispered.
Myka looked at the little silver star in her hand. She smiled at Helena and closed her hand around it.
Dinner was a loud and cheerful affair. Plates were passed around, their contents shrinking by each passing person. Pete carved the turkey. Each plate quickly filling to the brim in front of each of them. Wine glowed like garnets in crystal glasses as they were raised in a toast.
Plates finally empty, the conversation still flowing around the table Leena looked at Helena and smiled at her. "Helena would you mind helping clear the plates?"
Helena smiled surprised. She bit back the comment that this was the first time ever that she had been asked to do that. She quickly grabbed the dinner plates and followed Leena out in the kitchen.
"Thank you," Leena said and smiled at her. "I really needed your help with something else," she said mysteriously.
Helena raised an eyebrow, intrigued. She watched Leena over by the stove when she suddenly realized that she recognized some of the smells. It smelled like Christmas, like Christmas should smell. Like how it used to smell back home. Her eyes started to tear up again. She took a deep breath and tried to shake the feeling. "What can I do for you?" she said cheerfully.
Leena turned and held up the platter for her to see. "You can help me with this," she said and grinned.
"Christmas pudding?" Helena whispered.
Leena nodded. "Ordered it from England. Hope you'll like it."
Helena beamed at her. "Thank you so much."
"You're most welcome," Leena said with a smile. "Would you be so kind to help me light it, and serve it? I'm not quite sure about that part."
Helena nodded enthusiastically. "Even though I have never actually done it, I sure know how it's done and how to serve it."
Leena looked surprised at her.
Helena looked just a tiny bit embarrassed. "I had servants," she explained.
Leena nodded in understanding. "Well, you're still more qualified than I am."
Helena put the plate down and grabbed the brandy bottle. Soon she had the pudding lit and with Leena in tow with the brandy butter she left the kitchen.
Myka gaped when Helena returned, carrying the Christmas pudding proudly in front of her. The tissue paper crown slightly askew on her head, making her look more mortal than usual.
"Happy Christmas from the old country," she said and smiled at her.
Mina clapped her hands and laughed. They all chimed in and Helena put the pudding on the table.
Myka looked suspiciously at the dark substance on her plate. It didn't look that appetizing but she was determined to try it for Helena's sake. She took a small bite and was surprised at the sweet taste.
Helena smiled at her. "It is quite tasty, isn't it?"
Myka nodded and took another bite.
They had retreated to the library after dinner. Myka was leaning against Helena who was quietly sipping her cognac. She now and then swirled the amber liquid inside the snifter before bringing the glass to her lips.
Leena had disappeared to put Mina to bed after double kisses from everyone and a story from Helena. The little girl had been fighting to keep her eyes open as Helena spun the Tale of Peter Rabbit.
"A penny for your thoughts," Myka whispered softly.
Helena chuckled and looked at her. "I was thinking about how exhausting Christmas gatherings used to be. Charles and I always hosted at least a couple during the holiday season. It was a lot of fun, but quite draining and oftentimes very rowdy."
"Tell me about it. What did you do?"
"Well, there would be drinks and a seven course dinner and afterwards we would of course play some parlor games, mostly ones focused on tricking each other into some form of romantic or prankster act," she said and grinned. "I would play the piano, unless there was someone present who was far better at it, and then there would be singing and dancing naturally."
Myka smiled. "Would you play something for us now, or are you too tired?"
Helena kissed her softly. "For you I'm never too tired."
Myka sat up and watched Helena take a seat by the piano. She skimmed across the keys before she started playing. Myka smiled when she recognized the tune, O Holy Night. She stretched out on the couch watching Helena play. At one point she started when someone sat down at the other end. She smiled at Claudia and pulled her legs closer, giving the girl more space.
Helena smiled at Myka and continued on with O Come all ye faithful and then Silent Night. Finally she stopped, her hands resting on the keys for a moment before she picked up her cognac snifter again.
"That was awesome," Claudia said quietly and looked at Helena with sleepy eyes. Helena gently caressed her cheek as she passed her.
"Thank you darling."
Myka raised her head enough for Helena to sit down before she put her head in Helena's lap. "Thanks honey."
Helena caressed her hair enjoying the quietness of the moment. She gazed at the dancing flames in the fireplace, losing herself for a moment in memories of the past. She took a last sip and put the empty snifter down on the table next to her. She caressed Myka's cheek.
"Ready for bed darling?"
Myka stirred and smiled up at her. "I guess."
Helena disentangled herself from Myka and got up. She held out her hand to Myka and helped her up.
Helena snuggled deeper under the comforter enjoying the warm bed. The electric mattress pad was indeed a fabulous invention. She sighed happily.
"Are you sleeping honey?" Myka whispered as she slipped into bed next to her warm and snuggly girlfriend.
"Not yet," Helena mumbled against her neck as she snuggled closer.
Myka chuckled and wrapped her arm around Helena pulling her closer. "Want to unwrap your last present?" she teased seductively.
Helena laughed and slipped her hand under Myka's shirt gently caressing a soft breast. "What a delightful idea," she mumbled and nipped the soft skin under her lips.
Myka shivered. "Hmm, baby."
Helena's hand moved over tight abs and coarse curly hair to land in hot evidence of Myka's arousal.
"God Helena," Myka groaned.
Helena chuckled and shifted on the bed, determined to make her girlfriend see stars.
Outside snow was falling in the dark, cold night. The two women inside paid no attention to the serene winter landscape as Helena really did make Myka see stars when her fingers and lips found all the right places on Myka's body. Eventually they both lied spent in each other's arms; tired bodies tangled under the cold moon light.
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