Christmas of the Heart: Part Two
Noel walked up the icy drive of Karen Mosely, her heart thudding, the box of decorations in her arms. She hadn’t known something like that happened to someone here, on Happy Valley. Her heart was twisting with sorrow. What a horrible act! No wonder she didn’t decorate. She was depressed. Just a few days before Christmas, her daughter was stolen. It was devastating.
She shifted the box and rapped on the door. A few moments passed. She wished Sarah would’ve come, but minutes later after their talk, Ashleen had come by and asked if they wanted to go to the NC Mall. Of course Noel didn’t, but Sarah gratefully accepted. Noel knew she’d have a guilty conscience every time she saw Karen Mosely, after the way she had spoke about her.
Noel gasped as the door suddenly swung open. Karen gasped too, her eyes widening.
Noel tried to find words, and they seemed just out of her reach. “H-hello.”
Karen nodded slightly. “Hi.”
Noel suddenly remembered the decorations. “Um... my mom is friends with your sister, Grace... and she had asked me to come and help you decorate... for Christmas.” She lifted the box a little. “I... I have the decorations.” She felt a little stupid, and she waited as Karen’s gaze was fixed on her, unchanging.
“Yes,” Karen said slowly. “Grace told me.” Noel thought she saw a faint smile, but she wasn’t sure. “Come in, it’s chilly outside.”
Noel stepped into the warmth, the smell of super spicy borovan immediately filling her senses. She took a deep whiff of it. “That smells delightful.” And somehow, the smell made her feel a certain way too... a way she couldn’t quite describe.
“Really?” Karen seemed a little surprised. “Well... you can... place the box over there... and... I’ll be right back.” Karen slipped into the kitchen.
Noel gazed after her, but then her attention shifted back to Karen’s living room. It was dark, a little dreary, and very lonesome. Noel’s brows furrowed, something that always happened when she was pondering real hard about something. She took a deep breath, reaching under her coat and retrieving a small jingle bell that was at the end of a necklace around her neck. It was something she had for as long as she remembered; a true treasure.
Noel jiggled it, a faint tinkle filling the room, echoing off the bare walls. Noel smiled. This would be fun.
“This is very good, Ms. Mosely,” Noel said, sipping on her spicy borovan and nibbling on her cookie.
For a few days now, Noel had stopped by Karen Mosely’s with a basket of frosted sugar cookies and a box of decorations. The place was progressing. Holly was strung everywhere, tinsel draped about the furniture, lights and flashy red-and-green colors everywhere, and Noel had even snuck a bustle of mistletoe above the door. It was a big change. It had a certain air about it too, as if Christmas belonged in this house.
Karen nodded, staring into her cup of borovan. “Thank you, dear.” Every so often her gaze would flicker up to the decorated house and she would flinch, but there seemed some contentment about her, something changed.
They chatted shortly awhile, Noel doing much of the talking and Karen listening with great interest, once in awhile her eyes flickering. Noel reminded her so much of Willow June, how clear and soft her voice was, how kind and compassionate she was, how curious she seemed.
They talked a little while longer before Karen’s head snapped in direction of the door. A neomail was coming in. “Be right back,” she said, getting up and walking to the front door and closing it behind her.
Noel sipped at her borovan again, its spicy flavor nearly burning her throat. But it was rather good. She’d never tried it before. She reached for another cookie, chewing it thoughtfully. Minutes passed, and still Karen hadn’t returned.
Noel became anxious. Perhaps she should get back to decorating. She nodded to herself, setting her cup of borovan down and walking over to the box. She retrieved a few little ornaments and realized Karen didn’t have a tree yet. She glanced at the corner near the fireplace, a perfect place for a tree to go. Noel smiled jubilantly. That would be her next mission- get Karen Mosely a tree. Noel snuck a glimpse at the clock. Where was Karen Mosely?
Noel suddenly glanced at her empty red rocking chair. Shifting her eyes, the white Xweetok got up from her seat and walked over to it, hesitantly sitting down. She rocked back and back, a sense of peace washing over her. Suddenly, she was struck with a vision...
“Mommy, how is snow formed?” Little Willow June peered curiously up at her mother as they walked hand-in-hand down Happy Valley, little snowflakes coating them.
Karen glanced up at the sky. “Well, when rain evaporates it goes up into the clouds. And then it condenses, and when the cloud gets too heavy, the rain falls. Only when it’s really, really cold, the rain freezes to snow.”
All that seemed as crazy as Meepits taking over the world to Willow June. “But Mommy, I don’t understand... how does the rain go away into the sky? And how does it change to snow?” Her brows furrowed.
Karen’s blue eyes sparkled. “Magic, Willow June.”
Willow June’s red eyes widened. The red Xweetok blinked. “Really?” It seemed true enough. “That’s really cool, Mommy.”
Suddenly Noel jumped. She shook her head. Her mind was spinning. She blinked several times, trying to make the image go away. Willow June? Confusion whirled around in Noel’s mind. But she was...
Noel’s eyes suddenly found the small dark hallway. Something pulled her closer to it. It lured her with memories. Noel’s brows furrowed. She heard... music; a young girl singing. Or so she thought. The sweet, haunting sound came from the depths of her mind... the depths she had forgotten all about. Before she could think, she was walking down the hall. There were two bedrooms. One door was open, which Noel guessed was Karen’s room. And the other door was closed. Noel reached out and turned the handle. To her surprise, it opened.
Noel stepped inside.
With full force, memories upon memories were thrown upon her. Noel’s world spun. A bed... a chair... a small table... a open window... drawings upon drawings, familiar drawings... a plushie...
Noel walked over to the bed, her heart beating like a million drums. Her heart was swirling and she picked up the plushie. “Stuffy,” she whispered, although she didn’t know why.
This must’ve been Karen Mosely’s daughter’s room, the daughter she had lost eight years ago.
Noel gasped as another dream ripped across her mind...
It was three days before Christmas.
“Willow June,” Karen cautioned. “Don’t go too far, okay?” They were in the Wintery Petpets shop. Karen turned back to the shopkeeper, a Bruce, and asked him which petpet would be the best for her daughter. They were so engaged in conversation, they didn’t see four-year-old Willow June walk away.
Curious young Willow June walked over to the petpet cages, peering inside. A Snuffly blinked curiously at her through the bars. Willow June laughed and stuck her fingers through. She liked this petpet. She then reached over and grabbed the small jingle tied around her neck as a necklace. She jingled it twice, the Snuffly grinning and clapping its tiny paws. Willow June giggled with pleasure, and the something shiny caught her eye. It was a present, over in the dark corner of the shop. Willow June leaped over to it and pounced on it, only it moved. “Huh?” Brows furrowed, Willow June jumped after it again. It moved once more. Willow June cried out softly and ran over to it, and just as she held the present, huge claws grabbed and pulled her away, clamping a claw over her screaming mouth and suddenly disappearing.
“Okay, sweetheart, which one do you like?” Karen turned around. Her gaze fell. Panic took over her. “Willow June?” But Willow June was gone, lured with a present on a string, and snatched away by a shadow Usul. “Willow June, sweetie, where are you?” Karen’s voice arose to terror and soon the whole Happy Valley was looking for Willow June; a red Xweetok, four years old, created on Christmas day by Karen Mosely, and missing, kidnapped just three days before Christmas.
Noel was suddenly brought back into the present. “No,” she whispered, her voice teary in disbelief. “No... it... it can’t be true! It can’t be true!” She shook her head, tears threatening to fall. “No... no!” Her mind was swirling. “No, it can’t be true! Because I’m...”
Noel fled. She ran out of Willow June’s room and down the hall, nearly knocking over Karen Mosely.
“Noel! What were you...” She gazed down the hall at the open door. “What were you doing-“
Noel barged past her, running out the door.
“Noel! Noel, come back!”
No! No! NO!
The horrible words kept repeating over and over in Noel’s head.
Noel raced down Happy Valley, the freezing air whipping across her cheeks like ice. Her sides and lungs began aching. Tears stung her eyes, along with the icy wind. Finally she reached home.
Noel threw open the door and ran up the stairs and into her room. She threw herself onto her bed, catching her breath, panting hard. Tears brimmed in her eyes. Her head was spinning.
“Noel, sweetheart, what was that all about?” Eve walked into her bedroom, a worried look plastered on her face. Noel didn’t speak. “Noel?”
“Tell me the truth,” Noel spat quietly, her voice cold and threatened with tears.
Eve’s brows knotted. Her voice was coated in concern. “Noel, what-”
“Tell me the truth!” Noel said again, standing up and looking at her mother with hot tears filled in her eyes.
Eve took a step closer to her daughter, concern and hurt and confusion washed over her eyes. “Sweetie... Noel... what’s the matter?”
Noel swallowed. “Why do you call me Noel?” she said.
Eve seemed off guard. She didn’t speak a few moments, and then, “Because that’s the day you were created, sweetie; Christmas day. I thought you knew that...”
“By you?” Noel’s voice was barely a whisper. “Created by you?” Any moment, the tears would fall... Noel knew it...
Eve’s voice became soft, gentle... “No, sweetheart.” Her voice cracked with pain. “Not by me...”
Noel’s heart slammed against her chest.“So... I was adopted?” A few tears slipped their way down her cheeks. “Is that right, Mom? Was I adopted?”
Eve took a deep breath. Pain and sorrow eased its way into her fragile heart. “Oh, honey... I didn’t know how to tell you...”
Noel’s eyes widened, tears continually escaping them. “So... you weren’t going to tell me? You were just going to... let me find out for myself? That the life I had been living so proudly was... was a lie?”
Eve’s eyes filled with tears. She reached out to touch her adopted-daughter’s arm. “No, sweetheart... don’t think that. This isn’t how I wanted you to find out...” Guilt and loss lay heavy in Eve’s heart. She was losing her daughter...
Noel jumped away from her mom’s gentle hand, crystal-blue eyes blazing hatred. “So... that’s it? Is that the whole truth? ...I was adopted... or... was I stolen?”
Eve’s eyes flickered something. “Stolen?” she asked, not understanding. “Noel...”
Noel began sobbing. “Was I stolen or not?!”
Eve spoke softly, calmly. She hesitated a few moments, wondering where her daughter had gotten that obscure idea... “No, Noel... I adopted you from the Neopia Central pound. Someone had found you abandoned... you were found deep in the woods behind the Toy Shop. You were a dirty red Xweetok, and they searched days and days for your owner, but never found her. So then... I adopted you...”
Noel’s mind came to halt. So... her own mother had given up? Her real mother... had quit looking for her? Noel ran the back of her paw across her face to wipe away her tears. “Why do you call me Noel? Why don’t you call me my real name? Noel isn't my real name."
Eve frowned, her heart aching. How had she let things come this far? “You were created on Christmas, sweetie... I told you that... and as for your real name... I never called you it because...”
“Because you were scared?” Noel spoke coldly, tears continuing to slip down her face. Eve looked up at her daughter, hurt covering her happy eyes. “You covered up my real identity because... you were afraid? Is that it, Mom? Were you afraid... afraid that if... one day, my real Mom should come and ask who I was... she wouldn’t know because I go by Noel?”
Eve couldn’t speak. Her daughter Noel had spoken the truth...
Noel sniffled. “Why don’t you call me my real name?” She paused. “Why don’t you call me Willow June?”
Sarah Star sat at the table, enjoying the peace, sipping cocoa with extra marshmallows. Noel and her mother were upstairs, and Danny and Joel were outside sledding with their friends. Sarah tilted her head back and forth in rhythm to the faraway sound of carolers’ songs when suddenly there was a knock at the door. Sarah stopped tilting her head and glanced at the door. Maybe it was Ashleen!
“I’ll get it!” she called to no one in particular. She opened the front, her face falling. Expecting to see her best friend standing there, Sarah Star was disappointed. It wasn’t Ashleen. It was Karen Mosely.
Sarah stared a few moments. It was obvious Karen recognized her. She mustered a half-smile. “Hello,” Sarah said. “How may I help you, Ms. Mosely?”
Karen blinked, feeling a little awkward. “I was wondering... if your sister was here... Noel. She left so quickly earlier... and she seemed troubled.”
Sarah nodded. “Sure, come in,” she said, leading Karen inside. Karen hesitated as she stepped inside. The place was a Christmas wonderland.
“Sit down,” Sarah said kindly, beckoning to the sofa. “I’ll be back.”
Karen sat down, just as she heard Sarah’s voice ringing up the stairs. “Noel! Come down! Someone’s here to see you! It’s Ms. Mosely.” She waited a few moments, and then walked back into the living room, shrugging. “She’ll be down. Would you like some cocoa? I had just made some.”
“No... no thanks,” Karen said, shaking her head.
“Okay.” Sarah walked quickly into the kitchen and grabbed her cocoa mug, and then sat down on the seat across from Karen. “How about some more sugar cookies? Or candy canes?” She gestured to the bowl of peppermint candy canes in the center of the living room table.
Karen held up a hand. “No, thank you. I’m fine.”
Sarah nodded, feeling herself flush. She tried to act cool, but there was something about Karen Mosely, something different then she had ever seen before. And she felt terrible about how she had thought about her when she first saw her...
“So... Noel really loves Christmas, huh?” Karen asked, not looking at Sarah. She remembered how jubilant and alive Noel was when she spoke about Christmas.
Sarah looked up from her cocoa, surprised Karen was speaking to her. She nodded. “Yeah, Noel’s Christmas-crazy... maybe it’s because she was first created on Christmas day.”
Karen’s head shot up. Noel... created on Christmas Day? But... her Willow June was created on Christmas day as well... “Really?”
Sarah nodded. “Yup, she’s a Christmas child. Although, my Mom couldn’t have been in charge of that... whoever created Noel must’ve been Christmas-crazy too.” She uttered a quick laugh.
Karen’s brows knotted. “What do you mean? Didn’t Eve create Noel?” She was puzzled.
Sarah realized she had spoken too much. But... she couldn’t stop now. Something about the way Karen Mosely was listening to everything made her continue. And plus... she hadn’t really had the chance to tell anyone about it. It was balled up inside of her for years. She hadn’t even spoken of it with Noel. For all she knew, Noel had no idea... Sarah sighed, nodding softly. “No... Mom didn’t create Noel. When we lived back in Neopia Central, Mom thought it would be sweet to visit the pound and adopt another Neopet.” She took a deep breath, lowering the cocoa mug away from her face. “I... I don’t think Noel knows...”
Karen’s chest tightened. Noel didn’t know? Surely that was unfair, right? To be living with a family who wasn’t your real family? Karen thought it sounded cruel.
Sarah bit her lip. “I remember the first day we adopted her. She was a dirty little red Xweetok, with the biggest red eyes you’ve ever seen. She was so curious too, that little thing.” She laughed softly. “But we loved her, and soon Mom bought her a white paint brush. She thought it matched her name better.” A quick breath escaped Sarah’s mouth. “Although... Noel isn’t her real name.”
Karen blinked. The pieces of her life were beginning to come together, she could feel it... “What... Noel isn’t her real name?”
Sarah shook her head, taking a deep breath. “No... Mom only called her that because she was created on Christmas. Well, that’s what Mom says anyway.” She shrugged. “She hasn’t been called her true name in so long. I doubt she remembers it. We dropped it years and years ago.”
Karen struggled to find herself. “What... what was her real name...?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
Sarah’s eyes widened. “Hm...” For a moment, her brows creased, but then they let up. “Willow June, I believe. Yes, it was that.”
Karen gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. She felt the color drain from her face. Her heart was pounding, a mix of joy and sadness coursing through her. She found her hands were trembling.
All these years...
“What is it? Karen... is something wrong?” Sarah asked, a little concerned. "Are you okay?"
Suddenly a huge grin spread across Karen’s face. “Yes... Oh, yes...” Her voice was a happy whisper. “Everything’s great...”
Sarah raised her eyebrows, something soft budding in her heart.
Karen felt the magic. And Sarah felt it too. Sarah drew in her breath. Karen had lost a daughter... and they had found her... Noel was Karen’s missing daughter...
Suddenly Noel came rushing into the room, stopping abruptly as she saw Karen. Karen was smiling. Glimmering tears were lighting up her eyes.
Noel stood there, blinking, tears slipping down her cheeks. Another light-filled memory crept into her mind...
Willow June was running across a flower-patched field. Suddenly she saw Karen. “Mommy!” Willow June’s sweet young voice rang in the air. She ran to her mother, a handful of sweet flowers in her paw. “Mommy, look! I picked you some flowers!” And then Karen swooped down and scooped up her daughter, holding her close.
“Is that so?” Karen sniffed the flowers. “They’re sweet, my dear daughter. Just like you.”
Willow June giggled and threw her arms around her mother’s neck. “I love you, Mommy.”
Karen planted a kiss on her cheek. “I love you too, Willow June.”
In the present, Noel knew now. The look in Karen’s eyes, she remembered. Her mother always looked at her like that. She reached into her chest and took hold of her jingle bell, ringing it twice, making the room filled with something blissful. Eve was in the doorway now. She was shocked at first, but then she smiled softly. Yes, she knew too. She felt the magic of the moment, tears brimming in her eyes.
Noel took a few steps to Karen, before Karen let her tears fall and opened her arms. “Come here, Willow June.”
Noel ran now, into Karen’s arms. It felt so safe... like when she used to do it as a child. Noel sobbed into Karen’s sweater, Karen crying softly and smiling and murmuring, “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”
When she had finished crying, Noel looked up at Karen. “Mommy?” She swallowed, reaching her paw to her mother’s face. It really was her... “Oh, Mother!” She hugged her mom close again, sobbing in happiness.
Karen smoothed out her hair, their tears mingling together. “Oh, Willow June. I thought... I thought I lost you...” She pulled Noel closer to her and placed her head on hers. “All those years passed... I thought I’d never see you again...”
“I thought you gave up,” sniffled Noel, her voice muffled against Karen’s sweater. “I thought you quit looking for me.”
Karen sighed. “Oh, dear, nothing like that. I had tried my hardest to find you... but everyone had assured me you were gone...” She sniffled. “Oh, honey... if only I knew...”
Noel pulled away and got a good look at her mother, a genuine smile blossomed on her face. “Mother... I love you.”
Karen snuggled her close, wiping away Noel’s tears. “I love you too.”
It was Christmas morning.
Willow June’s eyes snapped open, a happy yawn escaping her mouth. She peered around her room again, her room, ribbons of light waving in from the window. Willow June scurried out of bed and into the living room, the sight of the glorious Christmas tree making her heart soar with excitement. Immediately the smell of super spicy borovan filled the air. Willow June took a deep whiff of it. Her mother was in the kitchen, and Willow June joyfully scampered in there.
“Mother... are we going to open presents now?” Willow June asked, her eyes lighting up with such joy, Karen had to laugh.
“Of course, dear.” Karen quickly grabbed two cups of hot borovan and walked into the living room. Willow June followed her and crouched on the floor beside the tree, kneeling before the stacks and stacks and pretty-wrapped presents. She looked up at it, her eyes sparking wonder and magic. It was the greatest Christmas ever.
Karen placed the two cups of borovan down and kneeled down next to her daughter, putting her hand on her back. “It’s a pretty nice tree, isn’t it?”
Willow June nodded, still smiling radiantly. She looked up at Karen. “Merry Christmas, Mother.”
Karen pulled her daughter close and kissed her forehead. “Merry Christmas, Willow June.”