The Second of Three Christmas Tales
So here is another longshot.
Black and White.
A negative this time, in dazzle-dark,
Smudge and pallor where we make out you and me,
The selves we've struggled with and struggled out of,
Two shades who have consumed each other's fire,
Two flames in sunlight that can sear and singe,
But seem like wisps of enervated air,
After-wavers, feathery ether-shifts . . .
Yet apt to rekindle suddenly
If we find along the way charred grass and sticks
And an old fire-fragrance lingering on,
Erotic woodsmoke, witchery, intrigue,
Leaving us none the wiser, just better primed
To speed the plough again and feed the flame
~ Stanza Two of 'The Walk', by Seamus Heaney
Christmas day arrived in a burst of carols. Perennial favorites
played from the radio, as crisp and fresh as untrammeled snow,
despite their age. Joy to the World . Peace to all mankind.
Jean Grey, otherwise known as Phoenix, sat up in bed, stretching
like a lazy cat. They had returned to Westchester for Christmas;
wanting to spend the festive season with their team-mates
and friends. A time to be together, she had always felt, a
time unlike any other.
The smell of Christmas was in the air. Of frosty, tart pine.
Of presents wrapped in secrecy and given in love. Why did
it fail to uplift her spirits? It never had in the past; however
this year, a vague, troubling malaise hung over her, spoiling
her perfect happiness.
She sighed, glancing over at her snoring husband. Scott's
hand rested over the pillow, hugging it to his chest. He was
so pragmatic, dependable, predictable.
'I wonder what practical gift he got me this year,' she thought,
'A Hoover? A dishwasher? A hair drier? A Weed Whacker?'
Jean paused, momentarily horrified by her disloyalty. Was
Scott's lack of romance the cause of her discontentment? Impossible.
Her train of thought was interrupted by a soft knock on the
bedroom door. Pulling on her bathrobe - another birthday gift
from Scott - she opened it. She still was not accustomed to
living in the mansion, after months of near solitude in Alaska.
"My apologies, Jean," Colossus smiled at her, "But
I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and to inform you that
breakfast is served."
"A Merry Christmas to you as well," Jean hugged
her friend, "I'll wake up Scott."
"Indeed," Piotr nodded, "We would not want
him to be like the Bear who slept through Christmas. He would
never forgive us."
Jean laughed, but it sounded fake to her ears. As brittle
as a snow crystal. As ephemeral as the morning frost. What
was happening to them? To their love?
Christmas breakfast was a lavish affair of pancakes with
maple syrup and blueberry muffins. When the food had been
eaten and the plates had been cleared away, Jean looked around
the table. Neat piles of gifts were beside each place, wrapped
in variegated paper and bound with shiny, curled ribbon. Everyone
seemed in the best of spirits, joking and teasing each other
about their gifts. Enjoying the bonds of friendship and love
which tied them together, like a Christmas ribbon.
Her eyes rested briefly on Rogue, who caught her gaze and
smiled back at her. An exquisite emerald necklace lay in the
hollow of the Southerner's throat. A gift from Gambit. It
was, Jean reflected, amazing how three small words could change
She felt for her own parcel to Scott - a slender package
that contained a watch that he had admired on one of their
shopping trips. Would he get her something similar, or would
it be yet another serviceable gift? To her surprise, Scott
pushed out his chair and stood, clearing his throat.
"Great," Marrow jeered, "Yet another feel-good
Cyclops ignored her and continued: "I have been through
a lot this year both as the leader of this team and as a person.
I have questioned everything in which I have ever believed,
and found it lacking. I have been to the brink of death and
back. I do not think I could have survived if it was not for
the love and support of my wife. . . ." he paused to
look at Jean, "They say that there is a better woman
behind every good man and I want to thank her today for .
. . for everything. I love you, Jean, and do not know what
I would do without you."
Suddenly, Phoenix understood the truth. There was more to
love than passion. Something that remained after the flames
had died away to ashes; something that endured through the
good as well as the bad; something that, like gold, could
not disappear into mist.
Unexpectedly, like a present from a stranger, joy welled
up in Phoenix and she smiled. And, even when her present from
Cyclops turned out to be a washing machine, she knew that
everything would be all right.
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