I got a 26.5 out of 38. I feel really good about it.
U16: A Real Tree
“What does he think he’s doing?” I asked my twin sister, Ellie. Outside the front window, my father wrestled with a gigantic pine tree. I sat at the kitchen table, my homework piled in front of me. Christmas break started yesterday, and I had work to do if I wasn’t going to be behind when school started again. My twin pulled a sheet of sugar cookies out of the oven and placed another sheet in. “Couldn’t we just have a hologram tree like everyone else?”
“Kai, you forget. Dad lived on Earth. He likes to do things traditionally,” Ellie said as large mechanical hands washed the dishes in the sink, and placed them in the dishwasher. An old scratched record belted out a choir singing Christmas tunes. My mother was upstairs wrapping presents. The house was stocked to bursting with holiday food. The family was arriving like a steady trickle of water.
“It’s stupid,” I said. “Doesn’t he know what he looks like fighting with a tree that is bigger than him?” I leaned back and pulled at the blond hair that kept falling in my face. While I looked like my dad, down to the green eyes, my twin was a striking image of my mother, dark red hair and blue eyes. Her pale skin rivaled my mothers in whiteness.
“You hate everything lately, little brother. What’s gotten under your skin?” she said as she opened a large can of white frosting. The Christmas colored sprinkles were all ready lined up on the counter. I really hated that she can read me like a book.
“Nothing,” I replied, but I knew part of it was that my friends thought my dad was old fashioned, and I heard about it all the time. Noble Standing, the Head Elder of Caledonia, and object of jokes among my friends. Ellie dipped her knife in the can and pulled out a gob of sweet white goo.
“I’m frosting cookies, want to help?” she asked as she smeared the blob onto a bell shaped cookie.
Where in the world did they find cookie cutters in Christmas shapes any way? I thought.
“Nah, I’ve go to get this stupid homework done if I want to go flying with Ash and Doran over the break,” I answered. I turned back to my electric reader where my Astro-Physics book was loaded, and pulled my writing pad and stylus toward me. “Ash said he’d teach me to fly his glider if I aced my Astro-Physics class.”
“Well then, you better start studying.” Ellie turned back to the cookies. There were three more trays of unbaked cookies on the counter. I touched the button that turned the page and began to read.
“Some help here?” I heard my father ask. Outside the door a storm blew in, rain pelted the windows and I could hear thunder. There was no such thing as snow here in Hollis.
“Let me help you, Dad,” I heard Ash’s voice and I restrained myself from getting up and going to see my brother. I needed to pass the quiz when I got back to school to pull an A in the class. Physics bored me to death, but it was required if I was going to be a Star Captain like my brother Doran, Ash’s twin. After being gone for years, Doran and Sarah his wife and their kids, would arrive early Christmas morning.
I finished my studying and gathered my school books in my arms while Ellie arranged cookies on platters. In the living room, I heard my father and brother working on the tree. Last week, much to my friends’ amusement, my father had wrapped everything in the yard and the eaves of the house in colored lights. I didn’t live that one down all day.
“It looks beautiful, Noble.” I heard my mother’s voice as she descended the stairs. I looked up and watched her step onto the black marble of the foyer. She wore her long red hair up; I remember playing with it as she rocked me to sleep.
“I’m glad you like it, Lyris, It took me hours to find the perfect tree.” I turned to look in the living room on my way up the stars to my room. My dad was somewhere in the middle of putting lights on the tree. He had the strings laid on the floor and wrapped around his arms. I had to admit, the smell of real pine was much more convincing than the scented plug-in things that came with the holograms. Dumping my school bag on my desk, I shut my door only to be startled by the ring of a million jingle bells. I opened the door to find a wreath of red bells now hung in the place I used to have my keep out sign.
“Ellie,” I groaned. She hated that sign. She took it as a personal offense that I, her twin, wanted her to knock before she invaded my personal space. I saw that across the hall, she had adorned her door with a matching wreath. Sometimes, I think she wished that I were a girl like my oldest sisters Madi and Meri. I shut the door again and lay on my bed.
Why did my family have to be so weird? I asked my self. I breathed out hard and listened to the rain as I let my eyes fall closed. I rested as I went over the equations that were most likely to be on the quiz in three weeks.
I woke to the sound of rumbling. Opening my eyes, I saw my book bag teeter on the edge of my desk and then fall to the ground. Thankfully my reader and note pad were still on the desk. Leaping out of bed, I made it to the window as a large space ship flew over our house. It was so close to the ground that I could see the large black letters IPX 100 stenciled on the bottom.
“Doran!” I said and opened the window. The rain still fell, not a surprise in month ten, and I was soaked in seconds. The IPX flew away from the house toward the station flanked by two smaller ships as escort. Lights flashed in the distance until they disappeared behind the buildings of Hollis. I wanted to be in one of those ships at the helm. I wanted it so bad, that I suffered through all of the classes I hated in order to get into the academy next year.
“Doran’s home!” Ellie shouted downstairs. Making my way to the living room, I heard the commotion as my mother directed the family members in last minute preparations. I could smell the salty sweet aroma of baked ham and cheesy potatoes. It smelled so good. Much better than the instant food that seemed to be so popular lately.
“He said he wasn’t going to be here until tomorrow morning,” my mom said as she added two more plates to the adult table. “I hope I have enough food.” She turned. “Ashby, do me a favor. Go get two more chairs from the downstairs storage.”
“Lyris,” my dad said as she whirled to shout more orders. “Lyris,” he took her shoulders turning her to face him. I saw their eyes meet and something passed in between them that I had witnessed before but didn’t understand. “Relax, it’s Christmas Eve. Don’t stress about it.” She closed her eyes and sighed.
Ashby came up the stairs with two chairs under his arms. He wore his scrubs, his long black hair tied back in a braid like my dads. Although my dad kept his blond hair cut at around the middle of his back, Ash’s was to his knees.
“Hey, squirt,” he said. I winced. He had called me that since I was a kid. He rubbed my head after setting the chairs down.
“I’m almost as tall as you,” I reminded him.
He laughed, “Your height has no bearing on your nickname.”
“Are you going to work?” I asked, hoping he was not going to miss another Christmas.
“Nah. I stopped at the clinic this afternoon. Everything’s calm for now. I thought I’d come early to see if Mom needed help.” His wife, Kira, some of my fourteen siblings, mostly twins like Ellie and I, were talking in the living room where the now encrusted tree stood. It looked so gaudy—I liked the more simple looking trees my friends had. One of my friends had decided that they weren’t going to have a tree this year. They said Christmas was an old Earth holiday and wasn’t relevant to us Caledonians.
“You’re still going to take me gliding right?” I asked. I couldn’t help myself. The thought of it made my fingers tingle in anticipation. “I’m getting an A– in physics.”
“A deal is a deal. I’ll talk with Doran and we’ll find a day that is best for both of us.”
“Smashing!” I said.
Ash raised an eyebrow. “Go help Mom and I’ll see what Dad needs.”
Ellie rushed past me, her long red curls bouncing as she stepped. “Mom wants you to make up the bed in Doran’s old room. They should be here any minute,” she said, dumping a load of clean sheets in my arms. I was happy to oblige.
It was noisy in here with all the gathering family.
“Anyone home?” Doran’s voice boomed through the house. “Merry Christmas!” I turned from placing the pitcher of water on the table to see my brother step in the door. He was pale from living in space and his stride looked fluid from the lesser gravity in the ship. Behind him a pale woman with brown hair and eyes stood. She held a baby in blankets. My mom was the first at the door and while my dad took their coats, she took the little bundle in her arms and started cooing. Behind them, four kids looked around timidly. I have to admit I don’t remember which one is which, they spend most of the year in space and I don’t think Doran even got time off last year to visit the family.
“Merry Christmas, Mom,” he said as he kissed her forehead. “Are we going to eat?” Doran asked. “I’m starving for something that isn’t space rations.”
“Well then son, let’s have you lead us in a word of thanks before we sit,” my dad said and everyone bowed their heads.
I lay on the floor of the living room, among my nephews and nieces. The lights twinkled on the tree in between the plethora of ornaments. My stomach was full and I was feeling pretty sleepy in spite of my late afternoon nap. Ellie lay next to me, braiding my hair as the adults settled the youngest ones. I let her do it. It made her happy for some reason. I guess it’s the wishing for a girl twin thing again.
The scent of pine mixed with the smell of sugar cookies and hot chocolate. It had stopped raining and the night was still. Doran had spent dinnertime telling us his adventures of the last few years. Now, with dinner done, the family found places to sit or lay with the tree as our only light. My father returned from his office with a large picture book. He sat on the piano bench next to my mom and opened to the first page.
“T’was the night before Christmas,” he began.
I closed my eyes. Dinner was delicious. I think I ate too much. I was excited that my brothers, Ash and Doran, were here.
“And all through the house.”
I was going gliding in a few days. I finished my homework. Ellie’s cookies were really good this year.
“Not a creature was stirring,”
Maybe my friends were wrong. It was great to have a traditional Christmas.
“Not even a mouse.”