Grace A. Johnson
Short Story Saturday: A Christmas to Remember
This Saturday's short story is one that I wrote for Held Captive, what you could call a "missing" scene that almost made it in to either HC or Prisoner at Heart as an extra--Rina's first Christmas with her new family. It was on Christmas Day that she and her father bonded over their struggles with unforgiveness and that Rina made a move that will go on to impact the outcome of Prisoner at Heart. (Note: If you haven't read Held Captive yet, there will be spoilers!)
So, without further ado, A Christmas to Remember!
The English Channel
December 25th 1683
Rina Blackstone Bennet
Winter was rarely beautiful on the sea. The waters were murkier, the sky much more grey. The chill was endless, despite the fact that snow was a lot less common and the winds were no more harsh than usual. When the bite of winter’s first frost hit the ocean, every sailor’s dream of sunshine and palm trees and perpetual revelry diminished, replaced by the hunger for a blazing fire at the hearth and fruitcake and warm apple cider in hand. The sea lost her allure and it seemed every soul longed instead for the arrival of the holidays, for with it came a moment of peace and respite in the place they called home.
Normally, winter was my least favorite of seasons. My crew grew more restless, grumbling and griping over nothing save their lack of family and home. My ship seemed to groan with the pains of discontent, creaking with the ache for more. The sun abandoned me while storm pursued me, and all I wanted—had wanted for the past decade—was my father and brother.
This year I stood, tricorn in hand, at the fore of my ship, gazing out at the dark blue expanse before me. My Rina did not groan this year; my crew were all subdued with the aforementioned fruitcake and cider; the sun winked at me from behind snowy clouds. I wanted, for I lacked, absolutely nothing.
I had a home—no, make that homes. I had a father—well, three, counting my Uncle Maverick and father-in-law Collin. I had a brother—somewhere. Kit would probably know exactly. I had a family larger than I could have ever imagined, full of brothers and sisters and cousins galore. I had a husband—who would’ve ever guessed!—who loved me and whom I loved in return. I had, if my mother and mother-in-law’s estimations had been correct, a precious child growing in my womb.
What more could I ask for?
Not necessarily an external kind, which I definitely had now that my life was in, well, nearly perfect order. But, I supposed, more of an internal kind, the sort that was the calm even in the midst of chaos, the eye of the storm. The kind of peace that came with the signing of a treaty, the ending of a long-waged war. The kind of peace that erased all feelings of pain and hurt and anger and hate and replaced them with kindness and love.
It didn’t bother me—not as much as it had. The sharp pain had ebbed and the hurt lessened. I could ignore it at times, had barely felt it since Christ had found me. But it still remained. And I didn’t like it. My hate was no longer a comfort to me, and for that I was grateful. But the bitter taste of unforgiveness remained. The fact had not changed, not even after nearly three months of living free from everything else I had struggled with. After nearly eleven years that I’d had to deal with my loss and need for revenge.
I hated Timothy Wilde. I wanted him dead. And three months ago, I would have done anything within my power to achieve that.
But my life was no longer—nay, it never had been—mine to dictate, and neither was Wilde’s mine to take.
Which was why the once easing sense of loathing was anything but comfortable and in all ways disorienting.
Why could I not put these feelings aside? I had done so for years with my guilt and regrets—with my conscious and my hunger. This feeling, however, would not be put to rest. It continued to creep back up to me, to rear its ugly head and snap at me. It rose up like a flame in the night when I least excepted it, wound ‘round me like a boa constricting her prey. And I remained helpless against it. I always had been.
Drink I could refuse—when I was at my strongest, of course. Lust I’d never battled—thank God. The violent urge to clobber Elliot when he acted out would eventually die down—before I clobbered him, that was. Lying was a sin I’d only needed to practice when in the abominable presence of the navy. Killing and stealing had been my livelihood, but since my change of heart I was not filled with bloodlust and greed as I once had been. My pulse still thrummed to life at the sight of gold and my heart would skip beats when a ship sailed into view, but I preferred not to dwell on my flesh’s reactions.
What mattered was my heart. My still decidedly wicked heart. Would I ever have the light, the purity, that Xavier had? That his parents and mine possessed? Even after years of struggling with it, Xavier never once had to fight the urge to drink. It never arose. Mother and Father were angels in every sense of the word—well, aside from the wings, of course. Collin and Jess did not long for piracy and immorality as they once had. In fact, I found it hard to believe they were the very same people my uncle had told me stories of.
I, on the other hand, still lived up to my name. I was a Blackstone—hateful, spiteful, and murderous. Those were the three words Wilde had spat at Julius, Uncle, and me on that day. Would I ever forget them? And would I ever be free of the hold they had on me?
“How does a pence for every thought sound?”
I started at the voice, so familiar and yet in a way not. I craned my head to see behind me, where Father came into view, his stride smooth despite the rock of the ship, his smile easy due to the happy day we celebrated. His eyes, greener than a Christmas tree, warmed like butter over a fire as he neared me, heat radiating from his large frame and chasing away my chill. He sidled up to me, leaned a hip against the railing and wrapped an arm around my waist.
“My thoughts are yours without cost, dearest Father.” I bent in to kiss his smooth cheek, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. There was still a twinge of nervousness, a sense of—Je ne savais pas—perhaps unfamiliarity, when I was around Father. With Mother, it was easy to slip into my role as daughter. In fact, it didn’t feel the slightest bit like a role and I loved every minute I was around her. I felt as though I meant the entire world to her and nothing I could do or say would change that, which I knew to be true. It was freeing, being with Mother.
But Father...I still worried that I would mess up. That I would say something and his eyes would darken. That I didn’t live up to his aspirations for me. That somewhere, something held either one of us back from fully understanding and fully loving each other. When I had first ran into his arms, I’d thought all would change and everything would be perfect. But now I still marveled that he was my father and I still missed my uncle and I still stood on proverbial pins and needles around him.
At times, some wall—mine or his, I didn’t know—would lower and it would seem as though we had known each other since the very beginning of time. But mostly, I always felt like tucking the most important part of me away and pretending I was the marchioness I was born as.
It was wrong, I knew. But something stood between us. I might never know what.
Father cocked his head, raking his gaze over my face in that way of his, seeing everything but not letting on about what he found. “What worries you, my lovely one?”
Oh, how I loved it when he called me that! Forget Mother’s “dear Catherina” and Uncle’s “bright eyes” and even Xavier’s “lady.” I was my father’s lovely one and that was all I cared about. For just as my earthly father saw me in a way I never had, so did my Heavenly Father. I was lovely—all of my scars, all of my bruises, all of my confusing feelings and curious blunders—to God.
I drew in a deep breath, letting the frigid winter air wind through the cracks and cervices of uncertainty in my heart and fill my emptiness. What worried me, in good sooth, was that I would lose the father I’d had for only mere months to the one I’d called Dad for twenty-eight years. What worried me was that, in a matter of days, I might lose my life to the man who still caused my blood to boil.
What worried me was that instead that man might lose his life to me.
But how was I to tell Father that?
Father tucked me into his side, laced his fingers through mine then lifted our tangled hands to his mouth. Against my knuckles, a smile formed on his lips. “I sense that her ladyship worries far too much. Let me see...” He flashed me that charming grin, deepening the dimple in his chin. “You worry that your husband has eaten all the fruitcake, don’t you?”
I felt a chuckle rise up in the place of frustration, and I let loose a smile. “You know how ravenous he is.”
Father nodded contemplatively. “You worry also that your mother has forgotten to get you a Christmas present.”
“Yes, indeed. You know how forgetful she can be.”
“And that the Lord shall open up the heavens and flood your ship not with rain but with snow. Tonnes of it! Then, slowly, the weight of all that fluffy white ice will drag you down, down, down into the depths of Davy Jones’ locker.” He shook his head, tsking, while wisps of greying brown hair brushed against his ears.
“You know how the Lord loves His blizzards,” I replied, leaning back against his chest and laying my head upon his broad shoulder.
After a soft laugh, Father released a breath, settled in gently, with a kiss to my cheek. The moment passed with silence. Not the silence of reprimand Uncle had practiced for punishment. Not the silence of irritation that followed Xavier’s uncharact-eristic glare.
Just silence. Pleasant, slightly thoughtful, perhaps even nervous silence.
Was it wrong to revel in it and pray that it was never broken?
Up go the sails. I hope we float.
“How do you feel toward your brother?” Or, as my mind fairly yelled at me with a frown, “Do you hate my uncle?”
If Father grunted, I couldn’t hear. If he shifted, I couldn’t feel. If, in fact, his peaceful state altered in any way possible, I couldn’t have know. He remained as relaxed as he had been a moment ago.
If only I could say the same for my frantically pulsating, deadly rigid self.
“Finally at peace, my lovely Rina. At perfect peace,” Father told me, a sigh in his voice. One of relief, contentment...regret. “If only it had been so much earlier.”
“Tell me.” Oh, how I wanted to know!
“You know that saying, ‘robbed the cradle,’ or what have you? Well, that was what your uncle did. We were fast asleep, the entire household. You had to be, oh, four—maybe five—months old. Then, when we awoke, the door to our bedchamber was wide open and you were gone. Your bassinet was still rocking back and forth.
“I could feel the anger rising up in me. Oh, you don’t want to know. There are still dents in the walls, and I’m pretty sure Ana scolded me for nearly three years for my language. I had never met Maverick—hadn’t even known he’d existed until I lifted the small piece of paper lying where your head had. ‘Your brother,’ it was signed. ‘Thank you for your heir.’ Something like that. I could have killed him right then and there. And I didn’t even know him!
“It only got worse over time. I don’t know how many people were sent, how many trips they made. How many times your mother and I went out looking ourselves. As the years went by, every time your birthday passed, everyday it grew worse. I took to drinking for a while then, but Ana never knew. It just...the bitterness became to much for me to handle.
“Then Xavier walked into our lives. We had known him, yes. Through his father and the church. He seemed a fine young man—twenty-two at the time. He was waving a letter at me, bouncing on his toes, smile so wide I thought his face would be stuck like that. ‘She’s been found!’ he cried. ‘She’s out there! She’s alive!’ For seven years, we followed every lead we could get on that letter. Nothing.
“But Xavier was a bigger help than we had expected. Sometime after the mutiny—after his...accident—we sat down and had a long talk. One we both needed to have. I struggled with forgiving, and he struggling with being forgiven. It still took years for it all to sink in. It wasn’t until you came home, Rina, that I finally realized it.
“God was in control. He is in control. Like Joseph sold into slavery, my brother had taken you and given you away to the devil—but was it Maverick I ought to blame? Nay. It was Satan and this sinful world that had worked against us. But what had been intended for evil, God used for good. You see, Rina, it takes the hard times, the storms, to make a way for the good things. You cannot have a rainbow without rain. Neither can you have peace without chaos and love without first hating. God uses all of our failures, our brokenness, and our trials for His good—like manure in soil to make it perfect for planting. And out of us, like a tilled and fertilized field, spring up beautiful flowers.”
I swallowed back the lump of emotion in my throat, waiting as tears coursed down my cheeks for Father to speak again. When he didn’t, I turned to face him.
His eyes were hidden by thick lashes, his gaze focused on the horizon before him. Drops of salty water stained his face, dripped down to dampen his shirt. But, there, playing on his lips, was a smile.
I could not bite back my own.
The storm of my bitterness still raged. Yet when it passed, when my heart was made ready, forgiveness would blossom.
But would it be hard? Would it take all of my strength to forgive? To set aside all of the anger and hurt and hate, and love without condition?
“Don’t struggle with it, my daughter. Let it go. Cast it onto Jesus and let Him carry it with Him to the cross, bury it in His grave, and watch it drift away, as far as the east is from the west. Then together you shall rise, breathing in new life.” Father reached up, brushed his thumb against my cheek, and chased away my tears.
Father, I give to You my spirit. I give to You my heart. I give to You my hurt, my fear, my worry. I thank You for gifting me with Your Spirit and with Your strength. Help me daily, Lord. You know I need it.
I don’t wanna hate him anymore. I forgive him. Because of him...we’ll all be all right. We’ll be fine. Because You work all things to Your will.
Help me to love, Father.
"You have my love, Catherina. Go and give it away. Share it. Use it. Believe it. Give it wings that it may fly. Let nothing hold you back, my child. Love wholly, fully, and unconditionally.”
Tears anew sprang to my eyes as the low and gentle sound of my Lord’s Voice filled my spirit. I looked back to the water, where the waves softly rocked, and reached for the patch secured around my eye. I would take it off now. At night and when things were calm—when I actually took the time to notice its absence. I had another, somewhere in the depths of my bureau. Uncle’s old one.
But this one...this one I had strapped around my head the moment I had uttered those four ugly words—I hate Timothy Wilde.
I slipped it off, held it in my hands. Then I reached out and released it, watched as it fluttered to the ocean and drifted off. “I forgive you, Timothy.”
Copyright © 2019 Grace Ann Johnson