“To our first Christmas in Austin.” Jim raised his glass of wine to Pam who was curled up next to him on their couch.
“Cheers to that,” she smiled back at him as she clinked her glass to his.
They both raised their glasses and drank their toast. Their new house had a wood burning fireplace in the living room, in which a fire was dying down. On the other side of the room, their Christmas tree was shining with multi-colored lights. Wrapped presents had been set carefully beneath the tree waiting to be unwrapped the next morning. Pam leaned her head on Jim’s shoulder as he curled his fingers in her hair and gently stroked her head. They’d successfully put both Cece and Phillip to bed and had decided to reward themselves with a few glasses of wine before they too headed to bed.
The warmth from both fire and wine had them both feeling relaxed and content. Jim felt Pam’s head turn towards his and he looked over at his wife. She was smiling gently at him, firelight dancing in her eyes. He grinned back at her before he leaned down to gently kiss her. She responded in kind and started to deepen the kiss. Moving from her position next to Jim she set her wine glass on an end table and crawled onto Jim’s lap while cupping his cheeks in both hands. Jim placed his own glass down and wrapped his arms around Pam’s waist. He’d just started sliding his hands under the back of her shirt when the sound of a door opening upstairs and a small voice caught their ears.
They stopped kissing at once and froze. “Maybe she’ll go back to sleep,” Pam whispered.
The voice grew closer. “Mama? Daddy?”
Jim let out a sigh of resignation. “Every time,” he said under his breath.
Pam giggled and lightly swatted his arm as she climbed off his lap. “Oh hush! Go look after our daughter.”
Giving Pam a quick peck on the lips he smirked at her. “If I must.”
Rising from his seat on the couch he quickly walked up the stairs. At the top he was met by Cece holding a stuffed rabbit, fully alert. He scooped her up and started walking back to her room. “You gotta go to bed Cece.” He gently told the little girl and tickled her tummy.
“’Mm not tired Daddy,” Cece said while giggling at the tickles.
“Santa’s not going to show up till you’re all tucked in,” he warned as he turned into Cece’s bedroom.
“Wanna story!” She squeaked as Jim set her back down in her bed.
“What’s the magic word?” Jim coaxed.
“Wanna story pweese!” Cece said excitedly.
“Okay, little miss.” Jim bent down to look through the storybooks on a shelf near her bed.
“No! Wanna Daddy story pweese!” Cece called out from her bed while blinking her eyes several times at her father.
Just like her Mom, Jim thought as he put the books back and walked over to Cece’s bedside. “A Daddy story? Well, I think I can do that.” Despite his height and the shortness of Cece’s bed, he managed to curl into the bed with Cece resting up against his side. “Comfy?”
Cece nodded enthusiastically at Jim and looked at him with wide eyes. At first, he was unsure of what story would placate his daughter. Looking around her room for an instant his eye fell on a toy castle with a small princess figure perched on one of the towers. He grinned as an idea came to him. Jim put an arm around her small shoulders as he started his tale.
“Once upon a time, in the far away land of Scran, lived the beautiful Princess Morgan.” He looked down at Cece and saw she was staring up at him with rapt attention. Smiling he continued. “Now Princess Morgan was a very nice princess. Every day she would stand at the drawbridge of the castle and hand out candy to anyone she saw. Everyone loved Princess Morgan for her kindness. Princess Morgan’s best friend in the whole wide world was the brave and handsome knight, Sir Jamie. Each day Princess Morgan and Sir Jamie would run and laugh through the halls of the castle. Every evening for dinner they would go to the highest tower of the castle and eat dinner together while looking out over the kingdom. Do you know what their favorite food was?” He tapped Cece’s nose.
Cece smiled, snuggled under blankets a little, and shook her head. Jim gave his daughter a little squeeze. “I’ll give you a hint, it’s one of your favorite foods.”
Cece’s eyebrows scrunched up as she tried to think. Her face then lit up as she solved the puzzle. “Gilled cheese!”
“Great job! That’s exactly what their favorite food was and they ate it all the time. Princess Morgan and Sir Jamie’s favorite thing to do was to play fun tricks on the old troll, named Schrutey, who guarded the dungeon. Schrutey was very serious about his job, but since Scran was a nice kingdom, there were never any prisoners so he never had anyone to guard.
“Schrutey had a biiiig stick that he used to keep people out of the dungeon. One time, Princess Morgan and Sir Jamie switched out his big stick for a little branch. Another time Sir Jamie dressed up, just like Schrutey and did everything Schrutey did. Schrutey would get confused, but then would laugh with Princess Morgan and Sir Jamie.”
“Did Princess Morgan ‘nd Sir Jamie love each other?” Cece asked from under her blanket.
“They did!” Jim told his daughter. “They loved each other very much and everyone knew they would get married soon.” Jim’s voice then deepened with dramatic tension. “Until a dark day.”
Cece held the covers up to her eyes that had grown wide at Jim’s tone.
“Sir Jamie was a brave knight and he was given really important tasks in the kingdom. One day the Chief Message Proclaimer, whose name was Scarn gave Sir Jamie a really big mission. The kingdom’s Multiple Message Proclaiming machine had broken. Without it, there was no way the people would know when dances, and parties would be held at the castle. So, Sir Jamie was given the task of getting a new Multiple Message Proclaimer from the next-door kingdom of Stanconn.
“Princess Morgan didn’t want Sir Jamie to go. She rushed up to where Sir Jamie was getting on his horse and grabbed his leg.
Jim raised his voice to mimic a woman’s. “’I don’t want you to go! Stay here and help me hand out candy‘
“But Sir Jamie was a brave and loyal knight. Jim deepened his voice. ‘I know Princess Morgan. Fear not! I’ll be back tomorrow and we can hand out candy and eat grilled cheese again!‘
“With that Sir Jamie set off with his loyal but simple friend Drummer Kev to fetch a new Multiple Message Proclaimer.
“Now, in the forests surrounding the castle there lived an evil sorcerer named Anders. Anders saw how beautiful Princess Morgan was and wanted her to be his wife. But he knew Princess Morgan’s heart belonged to Sir Jamie so he made an evil plan. Sneaking into the castle he raised his magic staff and cast a spell on one of Princess Morgan’s rings. The moment Princess Morgan put it on her finger she fell under the spell. The curse made it so she couldn’t remember being in love with Sir Jamie. It also made her think she was going to marry Sorcerer Anders instead of Sir Jamie. The wedding was set for the next day, before Sir Jamie could get back with the new Multiple Message Proclaimer.”
“Oh no!” Cece squecked!
Jim nodded gravely at her. “It was a not nice time. But Princess Morgan still had a friend. Can you guess who it was?”
Cece shook her head and shrugged her little shoulders.
“It was Schrutey,” Jim told her as he lightly booped her nose. “Schrutey had seen Sorcerer Anders cast the spell. Sadly, Schrutey had no magic of his own, but he knew someone who did. The Main Money Counter was a troll like him, but a lady troll named Angeltin. Angeltin’s job kept her inside most days so she didn’t have much time to run and play like Princess Morgan or Sir Jamie. This made her very grumpy. Schrutey came rushing into the coin counting room.
“’Angeltin!‘” Jim dropped his voice to imitate a slow troll. “’Princess Morgan is under a spell and is going to marry an evil sorcerer! You know some magic! We need to break the spell!”
“Angeltin looked up at Schrutey from behind her stacks of coins. ‘I don’t have time!’ Jim’s voice raised to a slight cackle. ‘These coins won’t count themselves and my cats are sick again! Why should I help Princess Morgan?’
Jim shifted back to his deep troll voice. ‘Because Princess Morgan is my friend. If you help me break the spell, I’ll help you count all these coins and help make your cats get all better.’
“Angeltin let out a big sigh, but agreed to help Schrutey. She opened a spellbook and found the spell that had been cast on Princess Morgan.
‘The only way the spell can be broken is by True Love’s Kiss’ Angeltin finally said.”
“But Sir Jamie’s was way way away!” Cece was defiantly concerned.
Jim nodded wisely at Cece. “That’s very true. But Sorcerer Anders didn’t know about the secret messenger sparrow, Kel-Kel, who lived in the castle. Schrutey climbed the stairs to where Kel-Kel had her nest and told her to find Sir Jamie as fast as she could fly. Kel-Kely was a magic talking sparrow. But since she was the only sparrow who could talk, she tended to talk a lot. But she was still a good friend to both Princess Morgan and Sir Jamie.
“Kel-Kel flew as fast as she could. Soon she saw Sir Jamie and Drummer Kev in the distance. She folded her wings tight and zoomed down to land on Sir Jaime’s shoulder.
‘Sir Jamie! Sir Jamie!’ Jim raised his voice to a high squeak. ‘You need to get back to the castle right away! This really big ugly troll came up to me and said I had to give you a message! It was a really important message! So, I flew and I flew and I flew and I flew and I flew until I found you! Good thing you were really easy to find! I just had to listen to Drummer Kev drumming his drum and I zoomed in on that!’”
Jim adopted his heroic sounding Sir Jamie voice. “’What is the message Kel-Kel?’ With a lot of prodding Sir Jamie was told of the evil spell Princess Morgan was under. At once he and Drummer Kev turned their horses around and started galloping back to the castle. They rode all night long until the sun was starting to come up. When Sir Jamie rode into the castle courtyard he was met with disturbing sight. Usually people would be all over the place. This time it was empty. He could hear faint music coming from the great hall of the castle. He got off his horse and started running to the castle. Schrutey rushed out of the castle as Sir Jamie was reaching the doors.
“’Sir Jamie! Thank goodness you’re here. Hurry we don’t have much time! I have a special beet pepper bomb I’m going to throw at Sorcerer Anders. It should distract him. You’ll need to break his staff before you can lift the spell!’
“’Thank you Schrutey!’ Sir Jamie said. ‘You’re a good and loyal friend.’
“Sir Jamie drew his sword and put his shield on his arm. Together with Schrutey, he ran inside the castle. People were lined up everywhere but they were all sad because Princess Morgan was about to marry the evil sorcerer instead of her true love. Princess Morgan was walking towards Sorcerer Anders. She had on a white dress and was carrying flowers.
“’STOP!!’ Sir Jamie yelled. All the people cheered as Sir Jamie and Schrutey appeared. Sorcerer Anders just grew angry. He rushed towards Sir Jamie. Before he could get there two things happened at the same time. Schrutey threw his beet pepper bomb at Sorcerer Anders. Sorcerer Anders waved his magic staff and, WHOOOSH!!”
Cece jumped a little as Jim quickly raised his hands and started wiggling his fingers quickly.
“A big curtain of fire was suddenly burning between Sir Jamie and Princess Morgan. Just then the beet pepper bomb exploded right in front of Sorcerer Anders face, BOOM!!” Jim clapped his hands, provoking another small jump from Cece.
“The bomb made Sorcerer Anders very dizzy and confused. Sir Jamie knew what he had to do. He reached back with his mighty sword and with a Swish! And a Crack! He chopped Sorcerer Ander’s magic staff into tiny bitty bits!”
“Yay!” Cece squealed with a big toothy grin.
“’Grab him Schrutey!’ Sir Jamie called out. Schrutey lumbered up and grabbed the powerless sorcerer and held him tight. The big fire was still burning though and Sir Jamie couldn’t get to Princess Morgan to break the spell.”
“Oh no!” Cece squeaked again as her covers started coming back over her face.
“I know,” Jim nodded. “The curse wasn’t broken, but it was weakened. Princess Morgan looked around and saw the fire and felt how hot it was. She heard Sir Jamie calling to her from the other side but there was no way through. Suddenly a big shield crashed down in the middle of the fire. It smothered some of the flames so that Princess Morgan could get to the other side. Sir Jamie was on the other side getting ready to run across the shield. Princess Morgan was faster though. Then she did a very brave thing for not just a princess, but for anybody. As quick as she could she walked across the shield and through the fire. Sir Jamie was stunned that even though she was still under the spell she could be so brave. He quickly remembered what he had been told to break the spell. He walked up to Princess Morgan and kissed her.”
Jim leaned down and planted a kiss on Cece’s head. The little girl giggled at the sensation. Jim sat back up to finish the story. “The curse was broken! Princess Morgan blinked and saw Sir Jamie standing in front of her. They both smiled at each other before they reached out to hug each other super tight. Sorcerer Ander’s power was gone forever. The king banished him from the castle and he spent the rest of his days kicking rocks around. Schrutey and Angeltin ended up getting married and had many many little troll babies.”
“But what about Sir Jamie and Princess Morgan?” Cece asked. “Did they live happily ever after?”
Jim was about to answer when a small noise in the doorway caught his ear. Pam was leaning against the doorjamb. She had a hand in front of her face, covering a smile. Despite the fact the only light source in the room was Cece’s nightlight, Jim saw the Pam’s eyes were shining. Feeling the corners of his own mouth turn up in a grin he looked back down at his daughter. He kissed the top of her head again. “They did. They got married right away and had two wonderful children. A sweet beautiful girl they named, Dede, and a handsome little boy they named, Philburt.”
Jim’s grin only grew wider at the snort of laughter from the door at the sound of the boy name he’d come up with. Looking back up at Pam he winked at her before looking back at Cece. “Was that a good Daddy story?”
Cece nodded her head and let out a yawn. “It was a good story Daddy.”
“Okay,” Jim told her as he unfolded himself from her bed. “Now are you going to be a big girl and go to sleep so Santa can come?”
Cece was fading fast. She nodded slowly before she closed her eyes. Jim tucked the covers in tight and gave her one last kiss before he stood up to leave her room.
Pam was waiting for him on the other side of the hallway as Jim closed the bedroom door behind him and turned to her. “Cute story Sir Jamie,” she gently teased as his arms snaked around her waist.
“Why thank you Princess Morgan,” he replied. He tilted his head down to kiss her. His hands started rubbing her back. He only paused when he felt something sticking out of the back of the waistband of her sweatpants. He swiftly plucked it out and leaned back to see what it was. “What’s this?”
Pam only grinned at him as the realization of what he’d grabbed dawned on his face. “A little Christmas Eve tradition of mine,” she said. “I dig it out and read it on Christmas Eve. I was reading it when I heard you telling Cece your story.”
Jim turned the teapot note over in his hands a few times. He opened it to skim what he’d written so many years ago. Closing the card, he handed it back to her. He could only stare into her eyes, unsure of what to say. He brushed a stray lock of hair back behind her ear before he gently cupped her cheek and leaned down to tenderly kiss her once more. “I love you Pam,” he whispered in her ear when they broke apart.
“I love you too Jim,” she whispered back.Rather than heading to their bedroom, Pam led her husband back downstairs to the couch. The fire had died down to coals but the heat still lingered. Together they snuggled up on the couch. After they finished their wine, Pam threw a blanket over them. The last of the fire and the warmth of the blanket, combined with their closeness soon proved too much for the both of them. They fell asleep on the couch that Christmas Eve wrapped in each other’s arms.