As a child, Willow Rosenberg-Maclay had spent many days, and evenings, visiting her best friend Xander Harris, and had grown familiar in the process with many Christmas-themed specials. And now, standing in her own kitchen at age 33 and some months, she smiled as she heard the unmistakable voice of Thurl Ravenscroft singing "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch" from the living room e-center. She was in the middle of assembling a special gift basket for the family of her partner's distant cousin, Glenwood "Gled" Maclay, whose wife Debbie had just returned from the Naval deployment to Bongau-Sibutu that had come up unexpectedly just before her Reserve obligations had ended. Laying aside the last few finishing touches, she went to look in on the rather large group of children watching the vid of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Her older child, Summer Maclay-Rosenberg, and her best friend and, the same-age-to-day Lexa Harris, were sitting comfortably on the couch, looking conspiratorial, as best friends are likely to do at age 7. As far on the other end of the couch as he could get, Frank Levinson, %, was acting totally engrossed in his hand-held soccer game, but sneaking enough looks at the TV to follow the action. Her younger child Autumn Rosenberg-Maclay, with her best friends Frank's brother Charles and Kharissa Potashkin, who had lived with Frank and Charles since the death of her mother, all of them 3, were seated cross-legged on the floor watching the cartoon carefully. And Nick Harris, 4, was wandering about the run looking at the decorations and so on; his and Lexa's parents were at the obstetrician's, checking up on a third one coming along.
Willow said softly to herself, remembering a song from a special she had often watched with Xander, "Fun for all, that children call, Their favorite time of year," which abruptly turned to a sharply spoken "Nicky, stop that!" as he came up behind his sister and yanked her pigtails.
"Sorry, Aunt Wil," he yodeled, followed by a "Sorry, Lexa," accompanied by a smirk which showed he didn't really mean it. Her response was a sneer and a comment to Summer "I wish they'd never invented little brothers," in answer to which Frank chimed out, "You got that right!"
Willow turned back into the kitchen with a shrug and a chuckle which continued as a full smile as her beloved Tara Maclay-Rosenberg came through the back door, accompanied by Harmony Levinson, who, like Tara was on the planning committee for the Holiday Horse Show at their country club and had given her a lift to today's meeting. Tara looked much more tired than Harmony, even though she'd been the passenger.
"Hi, baby, hi Harm. Tare, you're a bit later than I expected, and you look frazzled."
"Right now all I can say is, thank Artemis Harmony was driving, since she likes long meetings, because Id'v'e been in no shape. "
"Not turning out to be a holly, jolly, Christmas cavalcade this year I guess."
"It's the usual hitches on a committee, with us being the youngest ones on it it's hard to put our suggestions over," said Harmony, " I wouldn't have signed up but I was feeling antsy just when they asked for volunteers, it was that time of year for me, you know," Willow and Tara exchanged surreptitious glance; Harmony always got a bit restless for the two weeks before the birthrate of her third child Elisa, and for the two weeks after the anniversary of the day she died, and for the 2 weeks in between," and I am so glad Tara decided to join with me, as many second thoughts as she seems to be having now. But next year, even if they ask specifically, I'll tell them to include me out." She pointed to Tara and said, "Third BFFs stick together . . .."
Tara pointed back "And you have my word on it," she said with a tired smile.
Willow asked, "I hope you have time for a hot cup before you leave," said Willow, getting out three cups and reaching for the pot.
"Well, I'd like that, but aren't you in a hurry to get rid of my three gleeni nixnutzen by now?" she said, taking a seat.
"Your gleeni nixnutzen have been perfect angels this afternoon, so not in a hurry," Willow said, setting down cups for Tara and for their guest.
Tara said, "Okay, that sounds like German, only not. What does it mean?"
"It's Pennsylvania 'Deitsch' for 'little imps,' Harmony said. "Jared Milek's father loved to call us that when any of us were playing over at their house. Wil and I both heard it a lot, for the first couple years sometimes at the same time."
"I keep forgetting that; you two knew each other for almost three years before you became enemies for 16, right?" which brought generalized laughter at the truth of it. Willow thought to herself how interesting that this woman she'd hated for so many years would now have become so close to the greatest love of her life, over their shared interest in horses.
Tara continued, "How's the gift basket coming, sweetie? Looks good from here."
"Basically done, I've still got to find a corner for that three-bar of scented soap, those gold, frankincense, and myrrh like Jared gave us last year, I know Debbie's not the scented soap kind but I figure after 5 months on a ship, even though she's used to that she'll want to pamper herself a bit, plus being evangelicals they'll like the Gospel theme. Then I'll top it off with that stuffed armadillo for little Rebecca, since you said she's so into those old Dean Dillon videos and he uses that as a signature."
"Yes, she's like my mom in more than just the name," said Tara with a sad smile; it always pleased her that her favorite relative and his wife had named their daughter after Tara's mother.
Harmony was looking a bit puzzled, "Umm, gold doesn't smell, well, not to humans anyway, vampires yes but not humans," she said, from memories of her own time as one of the undead.
"Yeah," said Tara, "it's got a scent of amber resin with a touch of saffron, not sure why but it's the one of the three I liked the best."
All three women noticed the sound form the living room had changed. Willow said, "that sounds a bit like the music for the closing credits with the kids singing along. But not quite, there's extra instruments . . . a lot of them."
They stood up rather quickly and walked just as quickly to the doorway. The children were singing the "Welcome Christmas" song, Lexa standing and waving two lighted rods with Summer holding her belt, the others sitting. and the various ornaments which held musical instruments were moving, and playing them, a very realistic sound coming from them, trumpets, harps, guitars, violins, drums, horns, and others, and others were dancing.
"Lexa, what are you doing?" asked Willow.
Summer answered for her, "She can't stop singing Mother, it'll throw off the timing of the magick, she's doing something Aunt Anya did for her with those rods, she found them and brought them over."
"And what exactly are you doing, Summer, besides singing along, and why?" Tara demanded.
"I'm her anchor, Maman, like I've seen you guys doing."
The women also heard, but didn't completely register, that another voice was coming form behind them, this one speaking the words to the song. However, Harmony, who had retained not only her enhanced vampiric vision but also her seventh sense of the supernatural after she regained her humanity, felt a tingle, and looked back across her shoulder. She didn't say anything, just tapped Tara on the shoulder, who also turned and nudged Willow, whose head followed.
None of them were frightened, or even all that startled, albeit surprised; anyone who has seen what these women had seen over the years can take a the sudden appearance in a corner of the living room of a tall, distinguished-looking older gentleman with white hair, a mustache, and a friendly expression, who is also transparent, with substantial aplomb, and even some exasperation.
Willow sighed and said, "Mr. Karloff, if these little imps have disturbed your eternal rest, please accept our apologies," as the music from both the TV and the enchanted ornaments subsided.
"Oh, don't be too upset with them, my dear. This time for year, the barriers between worlds can be very thin, and I and some others, Bing, Jackie, Guy, it's quite a list of us, tend to be drawn back towards earth. And at times, in places where the magic of the season is very strong, we can even become visible and audible again for a bit."
Relieved, Willow and Tara turned to their family, both legal and unofficial. Tara went over to Lexa, knelt down in front of her, and said, "Haven't your parents talked to you about playing with their things?"
"Yes, Aunt Tare, I'm sorry, I just liked it so much when my Mommy did it and wanted to show Summer and Autumn."
"I know you're sorry, but your Mommy and Daddy have to know about this. Will you tell them or do I have to?"
"I'll tell them."
Meanwhile, Willow was talking to Summer the same way," Honey, what we've told you about not playing with magick without permission goes for your friends too. This can be serious, you shouldn't do it, it's not tattling if someone else is going to do something and you tell us."
Harmony, of course, had to corral her tribe and remind them, "And this is another one of those things you never discuss with your friends, unless you know they already know about things like this," to which they all nodded.
From his place in the corner, Boris Karloff's shade said, "I can see the magic here, and it's of two kinds, the spectacular kind, yes, but more importantly, also the best kind. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have other errands to run. Happy Holidays!" and he faded away.
Everyone looked at each other, and Tara said, "Yes, sometimes this is the most wonderful time for the year."