AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Sunday Scribblings. It is a prequel to the novel and contains no spoilers. Be sure to drop by Sunday Scribblings for more fun!
The decision was a difficult one. With all their loved ones dead, Cassie didn't have the heart for Christmas, but it felt wrong not to mark the occasion in some way.
"It would be like giving up," Cassie told her friend Leila.
"But what exactly are we supposed to do?" Leila pulled her wool wrap tighter around her body. Without gas or electricity to run the furnace, it wasn't much warmer indoors than out. "It's not like we can roast a turkey and bake a pie. We can't buy presents and there's no point in hanging Christmas lights."
Cassie acknowledged this was true. The pandemic that killed the adults also robbed them of food and gasoline deliveries, electricity, and even water, other than what they gathered themselves from rain or the river. "We could still put up decorations," she offered. "It's just a matter of getting them down from the attic. As for food, we've still got freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini and cheesecake."
Leila rolled her eyes. "Camp food. How festive."
"Okay, you come up with an idea."
She shook her head. "There's no point in celebrating Christmas. Why pretend?"
Cassie knew better to argue when Leila was in this sort of mood, and to be honest, she didn't really feel like celebrating either. What was the point of Christmas when you had no family to share it with?
Later that night though, she found herself lying awake in her cold room. Was it right to give in to such a joyless season? Christmas was supposed to be about giving, not wishing for what was gone. And as for spending the holiday with family, weren't friends just as important? Cassie slipped from under the covers, found her flashlight and slippers in the dark, and crept out of the room.
Cassie worked through the night as silently as she was able. She worried over the creaking of the attic door and the rustle of wrapping paper, but Leila was a sound sleeper and by the time the first early rays of sunlight filtered around the edges of the blankets they had hung over the windows for insulation, all was ready. She heated some water over her soda can stove for the hot chocolate she had found, and she lit the bayberry candles. Then she went back into the bedroom she shared with Leila.
"Wake up." She shook Leila's shoulder.
Leila rolled over and frowned. "Why?"
"Just come on." Cassie pestered until Leila got out of bed and followed her down the hall. At the doorway to the living room, Cassie stepped out of the way so Leila could take it all in; the garland and ornaments, the flickering candles, and cups of hot chocolate. The bulging stockings hanging from the mantle of the gas fireplace contained only practical items they already owned, such as batteries and vitamins, but at least it looked festive. Perhaps for just one day they could remember to be grateful for what they had instead of pining for what was lost.
Leila turned to Cassie with a puzzled smile. "You did all this just to surprise me?"
Cassie grinned, a little light of mischief in her eyes. "No," she said. "Santa came."
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