Christmas was… different here than it had been back home.
Of course, Vishnal, ever a romantic, was sure that it must be nice, very nice, to spend time with a loved one on Christmas night. It must be wonderful to whisper sweet nothings in their ear, alone together in some scenic part of this beautiful town.
But, as Vishnal had no special someone, as he had only been in Selphia for less than a year, he expected that he would be very lonely tonight indeed.
“So, it’s a romantic thing, is it?” Vishnal looked up from the floor, washcloth in his hand. “I must say, that’s different from the way that I used to celebrate it at home.”
“Oh?” Kiel stared downwards, carrying that incredulous look in his eyes that Vishnal couldn’t help but shrink from (his scholarly young friend obviously thought of him as an idiot for not knowing about Selphia’s Christmas customs). “That’s funny. I thought that all of this part of Norad celebrated this way. I’ll need to make a note of that.” He pulled out his notebook. “In rural areas, Christmas is celebrated differently than in urban ones,” he said, scribbling along the pad. “Tell me more,” he said, glancing back down at the floor.
“Ah.” Vishnal scrubbed more vigorously at the floor, hoping that the back-and-forth movement would trigger his memory. “Well… it was mostly just a time for family. I’m the oldest, you know, and so I would help my mother and father decorate the home, and I’d make presents for all of my siblings.” He smiled, thinking of the many Christmases that he’d spent with his family. Playing outside with Erica, and burying her in the snow. Letting Chase sit on his shoulders to put the star on the top of the Christmas tree. And last year, holding new baby sister Izabel by the fire, watching his siblings tear open the presents, hearing them squeal in glee at the little toys that he’d made, the simple doll clothes he’d sewn and the wooden toys he’d carved. Aira had loved her rocking horse so much…
But somehow, those very personal memories seemed a little silly. After all, Kiel was so intelligent. These sorts of simple things seemed unlikely to impress him. Putting them into words risked Kiel’s bewilderment at what could possibly be of value to these traditions. After all, he was a scholar, brother of the Dragon Knight, and would be unimpressed with a country boy’s family memories.
“Interesting,” said Kiel. “Well, we do things like that here, but the main focus of the event is taking somebody that you love out for a nice evening. We do give out presents, though, but the big part of the night is going out.”
“Oh, really?” Vishnal dipped the washcloth into the bucket, squeezing the cloth and letting the water drip onto the tile floor. “Who are you going with, Kiel?”
Kiel blinked. “Who, me? Oh, I never go out. I’ve got too much studying to do, anyway. Forte and I will just have a nice night together at home and give each other presents.” He grinned. “A lot of the other homebodies will be hanging out with their families as well.”
“Oh.” It was an innocent question, but Vishnal somehow felt as though he’d made a mistake asking such a thing. Kiel was close to being his friend, but the two of them weren’t yet to the point where they could say just anything to each other. “Well, I hope you have fun with that,” he said, smiling. “I’ll be staying in as well, doing cleaning and such.”
“Thanks!” said Kiel, smiling. “Have fun with your cleaning, I guess.” He closed up his notebook, turning towards the door. “See you tomorrow.”
Vishnal raised a hand, and watched his friend disappear through the door. He returned to his scrubbing, but was unable to keep his thoughts on the cleaning.
He had no family here in Selphia, and while everybody here was very friendly, there was nobody that he felt comfortable asking to spend Christmas with. He had no special someone to ask out, and his family was--
He suddenly remembered the letter in his pocket.
Vishnal clumsily scrubbed the floor as fast as possible. Of course he wouldn’t leave the job undone--Mr. Volkanon would have him horsewhipped--but he couldn’t wait any longer to read the letter.
As soon as every spot on the floor had vanished, and as soon as he had put all of the equipment into its proper place, Vishnal dashed into his room, throwing himself onto his bed and yanking the letter out of his pocket. Erica’s familiar handwriting was scrawled across the envelope in its familiar beautiful, illegible fashion, and Vishnal hastily ripped open the envelope, scanning his eyes across the paper.
Hope your butler training is going well. It’s really different without you around. I have to do almost everything around here now! Now I understand how much you actually did at home. At least you were better about not complaining than me. I guess all of that must be helpful for your butler training.
Everybody’s doing pretty well; we’re having a lot of fun getting ready for Christmas. Yesterday, we went out to get the tree. It was hard getting it without you though; Onur thinks that he’s as tall and strong as you but he’s really not. Mummy made your favourite cookies today too. It’s too bad that we can’t send them to you, but they’d be bad by the time they got to Selphia…
Vishnal’s eyes were blurry. Drat it all; the lamp must be going dim. But somehow he didn’t have the energy to get up and relight it. He could only sit there on the bed, holding the letter tight, staring blankly into space with teary eyes.
They were all celebrating without him.
Of course, of course, he was happy that they were having a good time, but he… missed them. He’d never spent Christmas away from home before, and now, here he was, alone, with no one to spend the holiday with. But it was fine; there was so much for him to do instead… he could study his butler manual that Mr. Volkanon gave him, or he could go out and dust the spare room, or he could--
“Are you alright, Vishnal?”
Vishnal jumped. “What… Clorica?”
Vishnal’s fellow butler-in-training peered curiously at him with sleepy eyes. “What’s wrong?” she asked, talking through a yawn. “Did you get bad news?”
“No, no,” Vishnal stuttered, hiding the letter behind his back. “No. Everything’s fine, Clorica; don’t worry.”
“You look sad.” Clorica sat down on the bed beside him. “You can tell me, if you want to,” she said, shrugging. “It might help.”
A butler must be cheerful at all times, ready to help his or her master at any moment. Melancholy had no place in a butler’s life, and to admit such to Clorica, who was already a very talented butler-in-training, would be admitting that Vishnal had a chink in his armor, that he was a sub-par butler’s apprentice that had no hope in becoming a successful--
“You miss your family, don’t you?” Clorica laid a hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright. You must have been very close to them.”
Vishnal blinked, staring down at his clenched hands. “Y...yes. I mean… my father and I weren’t very similar, but… he’d always encourage me and he taught me how to do some crafting, and my siblings and I would always do everything together, like decorating the house, and playing in the snow, and Mum always tried to help me cook Christmas things…” he laughed nervously. “Of course, you know how successful that must have been, but it was always fun, and…”
He suddenly realized how much he had rambled on, and stopped, staring at the floor once again.
“That must be hard,” said Clorica sleepily. “I missed my family too, although not as much as you. I was happy to get away from their nagging. But I was lonely on Christmas last year too. But then Mr. Volkanon and I had a wonderful time with tea and presents and talking, and you’ll have a wonderful time too.”
“Here he comes now,” said Clorica, smiling.
“Merry Christmas, my dears!” Mr. Volkanon’s familiar bellow echoed through the room first, and then came Mr. Volkanon himself, carrying a tray loaded with teacups, pastries, and a thousand other wonderful things. “My apologies for the delay,” the formidable butler said, placing the tray on the table. “Only at the last minute did I realize that I didn’t have the curry powder to make your favourite curry rice, my boy! Thankfully, Blossom was kind enough to open her general store long enough for me to buy some from her.”
Vishnal stared, bewildered. What was… why were they…?
“Why, what’s wrong, Vishnal?” asked Mr. Volkanon. “Is everything alright?”
“Why, I…” Vishnal stuttered. “I just didn’t expect that… that anybody would be celebrating with me this year. I don’t have any family here, or a romantic interest, so I had assumed that I would be… alone, tonight.”
“My boy, by coming under my training, you have entered into the brotherhood of butlers!” roared Mr. Volkanon, clapping a hand onto Vishnal’s shoulder so heavily that it almost knocked the wind out of him. “You, Clorica and I… we are a family. Of course we are! United by the principles of loyalty, obedience, respect, and hard work, our bond can never be broken!”
“To put it in a more calming way,” said Clorica, sleepily smiling, “if you live here, you’re part of a different sort of family. Even if you weren’t born into it. We’re all together in our hard work. And you’ve worked hard this year, Vishnal, so we know that you’re definitely a part of our family.”
“Now, eat, my boy!” boomed Mr. Volkanon, shoving a steaming bowl of curry rice into Vishnal’s unprepared hands. “I didn’t labor over a boiling oven for hours only for this to go to waste!”
Curry rice… for Christmas. His favourite dish, and Mr. Volkanon remembered. And they were here with him and… he had somebody to spend time with. He wasn’t going to be alone after all.
“Thank you,” he said, restraining himself and eating one bite at a time of the wonderful curry rice. “I’m… very grateful.”
He’d have to write Erica back, and tell her about his Christmas tonight, about how curry rice and Relax Tea with Mr. Volkanon and Clorica had become his new tradition away from home. The booming laughter of Mr. Volkanon and the quiet, satisfied yawns of Clorica seemed almost as comforting as the sounds of his mother’s laughter back home. He was grateful to have this unexpected family away from home here on this Christmas night, hoping that this atmosphere and these rituals would stay a part of every Christmas in Selphia for the rest of his life.