Rylan hugged everyone with a brief squeeze, moving swift to the fire with numb fingers. He gave a pleasant albeit awkward smile, disappointed in Eliza’s distant nature, Rylan hoped they were improving, but as Emilie reminded him, it takes a long time to heal. Eliza was thawing, wishing the train had been on time and regretting the decision to spend Winterfest Eve alone, returning the smile with an apology for her absence. Patrick and Charlotte launched themselves at the eldest sister; the trio piled into the floor with a thud knocking Rylan, laughter erupted.
As Vicky’s family joined the gathering, a feast spread across the table, turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, the mushy green balls Ziva knew no one would eat, tossed aside. The bread sauce at the previous Winterfest dinners abandoned in the microwave at Emilie’s gatherings made its debut at the table. Emilie rolled her eyes at the teasing, helping herself to a huge dollop, reminding Ziva they were missing the cranberry sauce. Beneath the tree, presents multiplied, the children itching to see what was inside. They gobbled food faster than a turkey running, ignoring parents and calls for dessert; they sorted the gift into piles, diving in with the adults having to perch on the sofa’s eating.
Ziva and Rylan rested their weary eyes; the dining table, covered with the remanent of pulled crackers and uneaten dinners. Her face relaxed, pleased Rylan and Eliza were talking, he managed a lazy “hm” a curl to his lip; this had been the best Winterfest, and the New Year would continue to bring him and Eliza closer. The children were dancing, waiting for the promised visit of Father Winter, knowing he would visit those happy and good. Patrick jabbed Charlotte asking if Vampires were good enough for this visit; she shrugged; if Father Winter forgot her, she would hunt him down.
The room warmed, the fire glowed brighter, and magic filled the air; Father Winter appeared in a flurry of snow, a rich belly laugh. He replenished the gifts beneath the tree, and the teens were eager to see what were for them. Shy, Milly bit her lips together, her stomach fluttered, looking to Vicky for encouragement. Father Winter bent down to hear her, smiling as Milly presented him with a gift, a handcrafted gift, a decoration for his wall, a string of reindeer and snow pals. Letting another jolly laugh rip, the family, intoxicated by the joy his presence brought, opened their extra gifts. Milly tore off the paper; inside was a doctor playset, her eyes alight, able to practice taking care of her dolls. Hugging Father Winter, he disappeared.
Another visitor to their home was unwelcome, the long, black hooded cloak, his scythe in hand; it was a Winterfest gift they wished to return. Sleeping peaceful, Ziva had breathed her last; Vicky nudged her, bound she would feel disappointed to miss Milly opening presents. Unresponsive, Vicky felt the pressure build in her eyes, telling her brother to watch Milly; she tried to wake Ziva, ignoring the solemn presence. Dreams echoed a life of friendship, numerical codes of 1s and 0s, the love she missed and the one she found. Ziva reached the stars with Vicky and loved her daughter with all her heart. She had nothing to regret as Grim embraced her sole with a swipe of his scythe. Alexis squeezed Vicky, stifling a wail, the grief rushing through like a steam train; her knees buckled as the sisters knelt on the floor.
Emilie checked Rylan; the twins had been quiet for a while, and people were getting restless waiting for the Winter Berry Cake, the honour of cutting this was Rylan’s as head of the Grace family. Grim hated these occasions, the pleas of a family; this day was his worse as he came to take two. She saw the gloomy figure moving toward them; shaking her head Emilie kept squeezing his hand, begging him to stay. Despite the years they shared. Emilie felt her breath snatched as the grief lodged in her throat. Money made his world spin; Emilie was the wonder that kept him grounded gave him a family. As Grim raised his scythe a second time, memories of his blessings, his three children and the niece he helped create; were his legacy and the best thing he had done with his life. Released to the ether, Rylan wished he could have told them what they meant to him and how proud he had been, in particular Eliza, her bravery and foolishness that made him realise in death all that he squandered.