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Light seeped in through the surpassing the curtains and falling on my eyelids. I shivered as I reached for the covers trying to pull them up and over my eyes to hide in the security of sleep, but try as I might the sheets would not budge. My hands came in contact with hot skin as I pushed against another body’s shoulder in an attempt to gain the blankets she guarded, but it failed. Giving up, I rubbed my eyes and stretched. I propped myself up on one arm and surveyed the area; my sisters lay sprawled across the bed while our clothes lay strewn across the floor and the books lay scattered across the countertop. And there, in the corner, in a jumbled pile that my eyes had almost skipped over, sat five gift wrapped boxes.

“It’s Christmas!” I whispered in jubilee shaking their shoulders.

“Hmph” snorted Sarah as Marina rolled over. I sighed and turned towards the window leaving them to their final precious moments of sleep. My toes raced over the fluffy rug bringing me to the closed curtains where I tore them back; Bright green grass and white roses hanging from the trellis guarding the garden path met my gaze. It was beautiful. I turned back after a moment and went to gather up the gifts in my arms to take them downstairs. Once I had arranged the presents on the coffee table I climbed back up the stairs. By the time I got back Sarah had gone to her own room to get ready and Marina sat upright in the bed with a glassy eyed stare. As I walked in I said, “Hey Meena, You’re up”

“nope” was all she would say until I flipped the switch by the bed basking the room in a golden glow where she instantly cried out,“Nooo-turn it off.”

“I need to wrap the gifts, can’t you get some wrapping paper from Mom?” I replied over my shoulder as I rummaged for the remaining gifts. After a few minutes of silence I added, “Marina get it-please”.

“It’s too bright” she whined remaining motionless. But then, with a great heave she pulled herself off the bed. Every movement she took was agonizingly slow, but a few moments later she returned and dumped it at my feet. I thanked her and asked if she wanted to help but she just shook her head and sat back down content to watch me wrap the final christmas presents from under the comfort of the blanket.

When I came to her gift I asked, “How am I going to wrap yours, there's barely any paper left?”

“What‘d you get me?” she asked.

“What do you think” I replied.

“An elephant” she said.

“How’d you guess? The elephant’s hiding under the bed, I was waiting for you to leave to wrap it, so go.” I said and we both giggled It was an old joke we had gotten from a picture book we used to read called Never Mail an Elephant. With that she left for Sarah's room.

When I brought the rest of the gifts down I saw Dad had pulled in a small christmas tree from outdoors and leaned it against the fireplace. I set the gifts from my hands down next to all the other gifts Dad had arranged around it and the three santa rubber duckies Mom had taken from the last hotel. I laughed under my breath at those ducks and plopped down on the couch. Dad sat on a chair, coffee steaming in hand and head upturned to the smooth jazz that radiated out of Alexa’s speaker.  Meanwhile Mom worked in the kitchen making hot chocolate and cutting up fruit. “Scott, can you make the eggs now”  Mom called as she carried out bowls of fruit.

When the eggs were ready we all sat down for Christmas breakfast. While it was not our traditional apple strudel it still tasted delicious.  The table was laden with ripe bananas and strawberries, warm bread and eggs, hot blueberry tea and orange juice in tiny glasses big enough for only one swig. But, most importantly, the thick creamy hot chocolate Sarah had brought from Paris was what really made this breakfast. The liquid heaven that sent bursts of flavor dancing down your tongue should not even have to share a name with that poor excuse for hot chocolate: the watery instant cocoa mix.

After that we rushed to the presents. There weren’t many, but more than we had expected for this year. The gifts mainly came from the christmas markets along the Thames we had visited earlier that week. One of my favorite gifts was this journal I got from Sarah.  She had gotten it from the modern art museum in paris and the cover had one of the black and white paintings from the museum on it.  But, the best part of it all is that now after a month I finally have a journal to write in again. We relished the gifts and talked and laughed about the year and the trip and what we wanted to do still. We recounted stories from home and listened to Sarah's of Paris. It was as if she had not ever left.

“Santa Baby” played in the background as conversation stilled, and eventually Mom had us get up and do the dishes we had left from breakfast. When I finished my half I went back to lay on the couch and watch the snow fall on the plants outside. An urge to get fresh air and explore overcame me, so I slipped off the couch and padded to the doors, unlocking them I slid out. The cold air hit me with a jolt, not harshly but with a little nip. My bare feet pressed against the cold dirty flagstones. It was invigorating. The white roses on the trellis reached their tendrils down for me. I stepped through and followed the path along the edges stopping to smell flowers here and there and watch an enormous black bird with white spots land on a tree and hop from branch to branch. Snow continued to drift down around me in a mesmerizing endless rhythm. I reached the opposite end of the yard, stopping across from the kitchen window where I could see Sarah and Marina washing and drying dishes. On a sudden whim I started dancing. I stretched my arms up high and spun around dropping it suddenly and jumping into the air. My eyes never left the window as I watched them, waiting for their eyes to rise and meet mine. They studiously continued scrubbing, eyes downcast as my movements became wilder and wilder. They began laughing but refused to look up. I knew they had seen me long before but now I waited to see who could hold out the longest.

I froze suddenly striking a pose, one arm reaching to the heavens my opposite leg parallel to the ground, and fancied myself a statue. My muscles began to cramp and the cold creeped in as the seconds ticked by. Finally with a burst of energy I jumped into the air spinning 360 degrees before crashing back down and running down the path. It looped back around, past the kitchen window where I stopped and crouched beneath it in one last attempt to get them to look up. I popped up waving my arms and to my surprise there came a screech followed by laughter. I ducked back inside laughing and found them in the kitchen. “Mom screamed when you jumped” Marina said.

“I know - I heard her, did you like my dancing?” I replied. With that they burst out laughing once more, “all the neighbors could see you acting crazy you know” Sarah said. I shrugged and laughed some more saying, “too bad - they don’t know me and it was fun”

“Marina didn’t even notice you for the longest time, I had to point you out to her” Sarah replied.

Conversation carried on and soon we were nestled back on the couch watching Sherlock. Lunch and dinner passed interspersed with more tv, conversation, and a couple board games. When night had crept in and yawns became a frequent visitor, we slowly returned to our rooms. Once I had gotten in my room I opened my new journal and wrote down all that had transpired on our first Christmas in London. Finally satisfied with my writing I set down the pen, closed the journal, drew the curtains in, and crept back into bed where I lay nestled between both my sisters, under the comforters warm embrace, listening to the thunderous wind lull me back to sleep.

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