Disclaimer: The Sentinel is the property of Pet Fly.




Christmas is just another day. A children's holiday, one he outgrew long ago, and there are no children in his life. Sometimes he wonders, if Carolyn had stayed, if some sense of holiday wonder would have returned to him in following traditions for bright unjaded eyes. The scent of pine and hot chocolate, reading 'Twas The Night Before, innocently greedy lists and construction paper snowflakes, cookies and carrots set out in ritual sacrifice, and morning's wonder at the beauty of the tree and the promise of brightly wrapped packages. But he is, above all else, a pragmatic man, and this does not occupy his thoughts, only drifts across them in moments of wistfulness.

He is at the mall. It's crowded, noisy, and he's tired, has the beginning of a headache pounding behind his eyes. His shopping is done, a few trinkets exchanged with those close to him, and now he has to get cards. He picks up a box of the general kind, for the list of old army buddies scattered around the world, with who he only communicates by Christmas card. Then moves to the racks.

Passing Mother without a second glance, he stops at Friends. A Victorian hearth and tree, inside a cheerful sentiment of good wishes and times past. Carolyn's card acquired. A quick side trip to the Shoebox display and suitably sarcastic cards for Sandburg and Simon. He reluctantly returns to the racks. Father. Brother. Considers the Shoebox cards again, but his relationship with his family is too formal, he doesn't know them well enough to share a joke. Painful truth.

He immediately discounts the cards that are obviously meant to be given by children. And the ones with glitter or sleeping puppies in stockings. He searches, reading overly sappy sentiments with a growing dismay.

All of them drip with seasonal smarm, referring to happy memories, to an idyllic shared past. Not his past, not quite. Wishing they could be together? They avoided each other in the same city, were uncomfortable when meeting. Yet there are good memories, and he was never abused, never wanted for anything. Except approval. And he's seen enough horror stories on the force to know just how whiny and self-indulgent that is.

He remembers the corporate Christmas parties, and how he hated the dressing up and being driven to a downtown hotel, where he would have to sit on the lap of an actor playing Santa to receive a cheap toy and told to play with children who hated him (rich boy) or feared him (Dammit David, be nice, that's the boss's kid.)

And the grown-up parties, the house full of strangers and the smell of scotch and tobacco, and how Sally always saved a selection of hors d'ouvres and canapes for their snack as a treat. The parties his parents went out to, Mother an angel in satin and velvet, diamonds glittering like starlight. Cozy evenings with Sally reading stories. The argument that once woke him, about Mistletoe and Carstairs from Accounting, and come the new year Mother didn't live there any more. He remembers skiing trips and snowball fights, and piles of presents in wish-list fulfillment.

But there are too many years of resentment clouding the bright moments. The cheerful messages in the cards ring hollow, false and empty. He returns to the less personal cards and picks up another box. A deer drinking from a snowy stream, the message a simple Happy Holidays.

On his way out he stuffs a handful of bills and coins, the change of his purchase, into the bellringer's kettle, unconsciously aping his father in years past.

At home, he gets the boxes out of the basement, and starts taking down the tree. Left to his own devices, he never would have bothered, but Sandburg likes the decorating, and it made him feel a little better about setting out his own menorah, so Jim indulges him. The artificial tree has taken on a musty odor from storage, however, and since Sandburg will not be back, he sees no reason to suffer. He puts the tinsel back in the old shoebox he keeps it in, and carefully nestles glass balls in their egg-crates. The lights are left on, and the tree itself is wrapped in trash-bags. He'll check the sales, and pick up a newer model if they're cheap.

He makes a solitary dinner. Sandburg has another holiday party tonight, and then he'll leave for the airport and a visit with his mother. He'd invited Jim along, but he'd begged off gracefully, and said his goodbyes, glad to escape two hours of ear-splitting music, packed with strangers half his age, the stench of smoke and perfume and cacophony of voices. He watches Miracle On 34th Street while he eats, the old black and white version, on cable.

After he does the dishes, he heads out for groceries, driving out to the new chain supermarket in the suburbs, which has the freshest vegetables. He takes the long way, admiring the decorations and lights. At the grocery store he fills his cart methodically from his list, but doubles back to add a large platter of cookies from the bakery section and a carton of eggnog.

The next day at work he drops the cookies off at the break room and fights off the ravening horde to secure a slice of Cassie's banana nut loaf, homemade proof the maddening woman could do some things right. Someone had strung golden garland rope tinsel around his desk. He ignores it, and the subtle crinkling crackle it makes with stray air currents, all day.

After work, they have the Major Crimes office party. Secret Santa exchange. Rhonda seems to like the bath salts assortment he chose for her, based on her perfume. He finds himself the proud owner of the new Tom Clancy hardcover. He drops off the box of cigars he got Simon before the captain leaves to meet his son at the airport, and heads to the loft, though the others are meeting at Riley's for the kind of holiday 'spirit' regulations won't allow in the building.

At home, he builds a fire in the fireplace and mixes up the eggnog, bourbon, brandy and rum. Fixes his dinner and eats, then puts on a CD of old favorite carols and hymns that was Sandburg's present, and pours himself a glass with a dash of nutmeg, before opening his new book. He scents Rafe on the dustjacket, and smiles indulgently at the thought of the younger detective's search for something he'd like, then settles down to read, reminding himself to comment on the book in the kid's hearing.

He keeps Christmas, in his own fashion.

~ End ~

Author's Additional Notes: >And a Bah Humbug to all, and to all a good night. <g>

E-Mail Besterette at Besterette@aol.com
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Page last updated 8/15/03.