Mommy lets you bring your teddy bear, because she knows you wanted to stay home. Wanted to play with your kid toys. Wanted to not have to hear your baby brother crying the whole way to Granny’s house. Granny’s house is by the river, not very far, but you drive anyway because it’s cold and dark outside. But now you’re just outside Granny’s purple front door, between pretty tinkling lights hung on the snow-covered bushes. Mommy, holding your baby brother, says you can ring the bell, so you stand on your tippee- toes, reaching your finger high. Pressing the shiny red button, you hear a DEE-dee coming from somewhere inside Granny’s house, and hold your teddy tightly.
Footsteps from inside.
The purple door swings open.
You see Granny’s legs.
Granny bends down, and for a moment, you see her bright green eyes, but then all you see is her pale blue sweater with the snowflakes on it, as she wraps her warm arms around you and pulls you close. Welcome, she says, her voice cheery as always. Are you ready to see the pretty ships? She asks. You nod. Mommy told you about the ships. You take Granny’s outstretched hand and follow her inside.
Your cousin is here.
And your uncle is here too.
Oh. You don’t know her.
You didn’t know there would be strangers at this party. Everybody looks like they’re having fun, but you’ve never seen some of these people before. You clutch Teddy tighter. One of the strangers comes up to you, and you have to look way up to see their face. They ask you what your name is, but you just bury your head in Granny’s leg. Too shy. Granny answers for you, and then brings you to the cookies. Oh good. You love cookies. Granny shows you
a big plate of them and says you can pick two. Two whole cookies. Better choose the best two you can. Peering down at the options, you bite your lip, furrow your brow in deep concentration, and let go of Teddy with one hand, letting it hover over the cookie tray. First cookie: a white one covered in green frosting and silver sprinkles. Granny says you can pick the other one later, so you take a big bite of the yummy green one.
The stranger comes back.
She gives you a bell and smiles.
And this time you smile back.
Do you want to come see the ships with the lights on them? She asks. You look up at Granny, and she tells you that you should go with the stranger. You nod at the stranger—she’s
kind of nice—and go with her to the living room, but make sure to hold on to Teddy and your cookie very tightly, keeping them safe. The living room has lots of decorations, like your house, because Mommy says that Santa really likes decorations. Granny’s tree is even bigger than your tree back home, but it doesn’t have as many presents under it. There are lots of grown-ups in the room, chattering and all holding drinks with little tiny bubbles in them. All of them are tall, and they make you feel kind of shy again, so you take another bite of cookie. The nice stranger leads you over to the window, where some of your cousins are, and you stand with them, staring outside. You stand, waiting for… the stranger points at something.
And yes, there they are.
There are the ships you came for.
The ones with the stars.
Mommy’s been telling you about the Holiday Ships for a week, reminding you of how you saw them last year when you were little. And here they are, passing by on the river behind Granny’s house. The stranger bends down and tells you about them. She says they’re normal ships, but the people that they belong to like to make them look pretty during the holidays. They get together with other people who own ships and sail them down the river once a year before Santa comes. All of the ships have bright, colorful lights on them. The lights are purple like the door outside, red like the shiny bell, blue like Granny’s sweater, and green like the very tasty cookie. Each ship looks like a sparkling rainbow floating gently down the night water.
But one ship is gold.
This one is the very best.
All gold, like the stars.
The stars are where Daddy is now, and the ship with the stars—your ship with the stars— reminds you of him. Looking at your ship with the tiny golden stars, he’s not so far away. You can’t take your eyes off of them, and for a moment you even forget your cookie. You forget you’re shy of all the tall grown-ups, and you feel happy. Happy looking at the stars. So you look up at her.
She gave you the stars.
The stranger gave you a gift.
The stars on your ships.