The following day was Christmas Eve. To keep Caleb from being underfoot, Noel took him into the city to shop, have lunch, pick up the Bûche de Noël at the bakery, and see a matinee. While they were gone, Mrs. Bell and I finished preparing all the food that we could, so she could spend the day with her family and all we had to do was pop the dishes in the oven at the right temperature and the right time. I finished wrapping presents and put them under the tree, and gave mine to Willie and Mrs. Bell for them to open on Christmas morning. Willie also planned to spend the day with his family, something I had worried Emmanuel would forbid, but apparently there was no question he would be out for the day.
Later in the afternoon, I sat at my desk and went over my list one more time. I had mailed packages to Dad, Duncan, and Mary Kate; I had presents for everyone in the Fidele household and the Christies; I had given gifts to Rene and Angelique, as well as Rene’s mother since she was always so welcoming. I had sent cards to everyone else: Archie and other teachers from Goodwin, surviving members of my unit, former colleagues from the school where I taught before the war, old college roommates and friends, my extended family. I had debated long and hard about if I should send anything to Oliver, and what it should be if I did. I finally decided on a card, addressed to his office, and I wrote inside,
May the peace of this season always be with you and those you love.
It was innocuous enough, I hoped, not to raise Elizabeth’s suspicions if she went through his mail.
As for Fidele, Santa Claus would bring Caleb a pile of presents, as well as a stocking’s worth of sweets — a chocolate bar, the cherry-flavored hard candy he seemed to prefer, Tootsie Rolls, chewing gum, an orange for the toe — enough to indulge him a bit but hopefully not so much he’d get sick to his stomach. There was also a pile of gifts for Noel, most of them “from” Caleb, purchased by me but selected with his approval. There was also a gratifying number under the tree for me.
I was ready. The house was ready. Despite his reluctance, Noel was ready. And Caleb, of course, had been ready for Christmas since the day after Thanksgiving.
Every item ticked off, I shut my notebook, and looked up with a smile when I heard Caleb running up the stairs. He burst into my room and threw himself into my lap, and had to show me the bag of goodies he and Noel had bought.
Noel followed him a moment later, and scooped Caleb up. “Those are supposed to be surprises, peanut!” Caleb squirmed, giggling, and Noel put him down again and gave him a light swat. “Put those in my room. Go on, now.” Caleb scampered out, and Noel sat on my bed with a sigh.