Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

The Midnight Sleigh to Georgia Strait

Summary: 

On the night before Christmas, Lana Kent is aboard the last ferry of the night when the journey is stopped by ice.

(Set after Radiation Canary: Greatest Hits, so spoilers about who Lana is traveling with)

Six miles north of the Port Townsend Terminal, the last ferry of the day slowed to a stop in the icy waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was the last run on Christmas Eve, and its forty-six passengers felt it in their boots when the ship suddenly stopped moving forward. A few of the newly-stranded travelers looked at the ceiling in the hopes of an announcement to explain the situation, while others moved toward the window to peer outside. Someone made a Titanic reference, and there was a weak smattering of anxious laughter.

Near the back of the passenger deck, a woman in a puffy blue coat was stretched across several seats. Her scarf was draped across her face like a blindfold. Her fiancé was sitting on the next row of seats poking at her phone hoping it would provide some sort of update. She was equally bundled up in a North Face jacket and a hat with ear flaps. This couple had kept to themselves since boarding, but everyone else was too focused on their own trips to pay much attention to anyone else.

A crewmember came down from the bridge to explain what had happened: ice floes in the Strait were preventing them from moving forward. The Coast Guard was breaking it up but their arrival in Port Townsend would be delayed by at least two hours. Passengers groaned. The delay meant they would be on the ship until well after midnight, and wouldn’t get to a nice warm bed until much later than that. The crewmember quickly retreated back to the safety of the crew-only deck while the passengers began murmuring angrily amongst themselves.

The woman in the North Face jacket, Officer Avery Hollenbeck with the Seattle Police Department, got up and went to the window. She used her glove to wipe the condensation away from the glass and tried to see out through the gloom. The fog was so thick she couldn’t even see lights from the mainland. She sighed and went back to the row of chairs in defeat. She sat next to her partner’s head.

“I’m sorry.”

Lana Kent pulled the scarf off her face and looked at Avery over the top of her head. “Huh? For what?”

“If we’d flown up here with Codie yesterday, we could have been at Naomi’s before this storm blew in. We wouldn’t be stranded here on a freezing ship in the middle of a storm with icebergs forming all around us.”

Lana sat up and let her feet drop onto the floor. “But then we wouldn’t have had an extra day with your family.” She put her arm around Avery and pulled her close. “I’m happy we stayed. Even if we do eventually run out of food and have to trek out across the ice floes like polar explorers.”

Avery pressed her face against the shoulder of Lana’s coat. “You really were fantastic.”

“I was, wasn’t I?” Lana said.

Avery had told her mother about Lana not long after they started dating. She explained that Lana was a musician, that she was very good and popular, but her mother never seemed to understand just how famous her daughter’s new partner was. Every email and phone call usually included the question “Is she still playing her music?” and not-so-subtle suggestions of “real” jobs Lana could take up if the music thing didn’t work out. “The local city hall is hiring! Your new lady would love that, it’s a very inclusive administration. Our mayor is married to a woman!” Ruth Hollenbeck was lovely and supportive of the relationship, and didn’t press about Avery dating an artist “as long as you’re happy, dear.”

They decided to have their first face-to-face meeting a few days before Christmas at the Hollenbeck homestead on Squire’s Isle. Lana suggested bringing some CDs, maybe a DVD of a concert, just to prove she was a suitable partner, but Avery argued against it. “If she hasn’t figured it out by now, she’s never going to. Just let it go.” Lana agreed, because it was actually nice to think about spending a few days with someone who treated her like any other person rather than a celebrity.

Ruth immediately tried to squeeze the life out of Lana as soon as they arrived (“Oh, you’re tall! I love a tall girl! Unless you’re… no, boots, you’re actually tall, I love that!”) and then led her into the kitchen to help with setting everything up. Avery took the presents into the living room, then went back out to the car to retrieve their suitcases. Lana offered to help, but Ruth kept a firm grip on her arm. “She can handle it, stay here, we need to get to know each other, future daughter-in-law.”

Lana’s holiday from celebrity was short-lived, however. Avery’s cousin Mark arrived an hour later with his brood. He hugged his mother, looked at the stranger at the stove, and blinked in surprise.

“Holy shit why is Lana Kent making biscuits in my aunt’s kitchen.”

Ruth snapped, “Language!” and then, “Do you two know each other?”

Mark took out his phone and played ‘Say a Prayer,’ and finally managed to make Ruth understand Lana was a little more than just a musician.

“She’s been on TV?” Ruth said. Later on, she playfully smacked Avery on the shoulder. “Why didn’t you just tell me she’s been on TV!”

“I did, Mom. Several times.”

Even with the cat out of the bag, Lana was able to enjoy a normal holiday with the extended Hollenbeck clan. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and a man referred to as Avery’s big brother who Lana still wasn’t sure was blood-related. Now, on the ferry, Avery cuddled up closer to Lana’s side for warmth.

“Are you sure it was worth it?”

“Without question,” Lana assured her. “I never had those big family gatherings. I saw them on TV all the time. I thought they were fake. It was really cool to actually be part of one.” She kissed Avery’s hair. “It’s worth a little discomfort.”

Avery said, “What did you do for Christmas? I can’t imagine it without a house full of family and Mom slaving away over the stove.”

Lana said, “It was just me and Mom. We weren’t very religious, so we didn’t do the church thing. But it was pretty great. I got two presents: one from her and one from Santa.” She chuckled. “One year, I felt bad that Santa never brought Mom anything, so I snuck an extra present under the tree ‘from Santa.’ Mom was very, very confused when she saw that.”

Avery laughed.

“The presents weren’t as important as actually having Mom around for a couple of days. She was usually working two jobs so part of the present was just having her home. We would bake cookies, and drink hot cocoa, and we’d watch all the specials on TV. And on Christmas day, we would usually go down to a restaurant that served a big turkey feast every year for people who didn’t have anywhere else to go or just didn’t want to cook. It was never really about gifts or Santa for me. It was about having Mom there, doing kids stuff. Making cookies. Staying up late in our pajamas and playing with toys. That’s what I liked the best.”

Avery said, “That’s beautiful.”

“It was,” Lana said. “The first year without Mom… Christmas was… hard.” She furrowed her brow and looked down at her boots. Avery reached up and brushed the back of her hand over Lana’s cheek. “Like I said, it wasn’t about the presents or anything. It was about Mom. And suddenly Mom wasn’t there, and… even though the rest of the world was telling me it was Christmas, I couldn’t feel it.”

She looked toward the other passengers. There were at least half a dozen kids, all looking exhausted and worried. Their parents looked equally frazzled. Lana had originally dismissed their fellow stranded travelers as poor planners, but maybe they had other obligations. Got the only ticket they could afford, had to work extra days to afford that one special present. These were kids who expected to be home and tucked into their beds hours ago, and now the ice was threatening to keep Santa from finding them. The adults seemed to be doing their best, but Lana knew there was only so much they could promise.

“Do you think I’m allowed to go down to the car deck?”

“Um…”

“Don’t tell me no. I’m just going to assume I can, then plead ignorance if I get caught.” She kissed Avery’s cheek and stood up. “I’ll be right back.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

“Car.”

“We established that. Why?”

Lana winked as she went to the stairs. The deck had been pretty cold, but it was nothing compared to the bone-chilling freeze down below. Lana immediately regretted going down, but their car was near the door and she knew she could get what she was after without much work. She unlocked the car, crawled onto the driver’s seat, and stretched into the backseat. The guitar case was strapped in like a forgotten passenger. She managed to unlatch the belt and hauled it forward. She locked the car again and hurried back upstairs to what now felt like a warm and toasty deck. Avery hadn’t moved, and she raised her eyebrows at the appearance of the instrument.

“Music,” Lana said.

“Oh, is that what that thing’s for? I wasn’t entirely clear.”

“No, I mean… the first year after Mom died. I took my guitar downtown to that restaurant I told you about. I sat on the curb and I just started playing for the people waiting in line.” She flashed back to shivering in the cold and crying as she sang ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ to the happier families. “Music helped me through back then. It helped me through everything. So…”

Avery smiled. “I love that. What are you going to play?”

“I have an idea for a song. It just came to me. Hopefully I don’t make an idiot of myself. I’ve never been very good at improv…” She had the guitar in her lap now, and she tested it to make sure the cold hadn’t affected it. “Okay. Wish me luck.”

“Luck!”

Lana stood and moved closer to the other passengers. A few of them saw the guitar and looked away, probably assuming she was a busker looking to take advantage of the situation. Then someone looked past the guitar and recognized her. “Oh, wow, honey, do you know who that is…?”

She sat down close to the group, on the fringes, and closed her eyes as she mentally searched for the right chord to begin the song. She strummed a note. The hushed conversations stopped and she felt the attention shifting toward her.

“Mm-mm,” she hummed, and then she began to sing.

“North Pole… proved too much for the man. Too much for the man. He couldn’t make it. So he’s leaving the life of toys and snow. He said he’s going… He said he’s going back to find. Oo-oo-oo, the kids he left behind, oh don’t you know, he’s leaving… leaving… on a midnight sleigh to Georgia Strait. Leaving on that midnight sleigh. Mm… yeah… Said he’s going back…”

Two men nearby, in surprising harmony, sang, “Going back to find…”

Lana grinned. “To the kids he couldn’t find. And I’ll be with him…”

The two men sang, “I know you will,” and the women with them laughed. Phones were out now, filming from multiple angles.

“Leaving on that midnight sleigh to Georgia Strait.”

“Leaving on the midnight sleigh to Georgia, whoo-whoo!”

“He’s gonna deliver all your toys even if you’re hard to find.”

She let the song end because she had no idea how to rewrite all the other lyrics. She was frankly surprised she’d managed to fake her way through that much of it. A few of the parents applauded and she bobbed her head in acknowledgement as she focused on the kids.

“That’s true, by the way. It’s not entirely accurate, you know, since the Georgia Strait is a little north of us. But he’ll cover down here, too. Even if you’re not in your beds and fast asleep by midnight, he always swings back around to catch the ones he missed. So even if it takes a little longer to get home than your parents said, he’s still going to find you. Don’t you worry.”

The kids thanked her and clapped, and the parents gave her looks of pure gratitude. She had a feeling she’d defused more than one potential tantrum with her song.

“Play another one, lady!” one kid said.

“We shouldn’t bother her,” the kid’s mother said.

Avery said, “Nah, go on, lady! Play another one!” She clapped her hands. “Another one! Another one!”

The kids picked up the chant. Lana glared at her. Avery stuck her tongue out.

“All right, you chipmunks,” Lana said, “but you all have to sing along with me or else I’ll get nervous and forget the words. Deal?”

She was answered with applause, and she started playing the first Christmas song she could think of. The kids sang along as instructed and the two men who had provided backup for her first song joined in as her harmony. One by one, the kids started to drop and were carried away by their parents. When the last holdout was rocked to sleep, Lana was finally free. The looks of relief from the parents was reward enough for her aching fingers and sore throat. Luckily Avery was there to help with the latter, as she handed over a thermos of her tea.

“Bless you.”

“Hey, it’s the least I could do. I’ve never seen anyone pull a Pied Piper in real life. It was pretty impressive.”

Lana shrugged. “Well, it’s not a thousand screaming fans in a theater, but it’ll do in a pinch.” She sat down in the seat she’d abandoned earlier. She put the guitar back in its case and glanced back at the to see how the small crowd had dispersed. Some of the parents were sitting on the floor near their now-sleeping kids, and everyone seemed much more relaxed than they’d been after the initial announcement. There was a calmness among the passengers, even though they were still stranded with no idea of when they would get moving again. With just a few songs, she had eased their anxiety.

“Hey,” Avery whispered. Lana looked at her, and Avery kissed her. “I love you.”

“I love you, too. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.”

In a few minutes, maybe a lot of minutes, the ice would be cleared and they’d be under way again. They would get to Naomi’s house at an ungodly hour and try not to wake the entire house when they came in. And in the morning, they would join the rest of the Canary family in the living room, groggy and sleep-deprived, exchanging presents while drinking as much coffee as Naomi was willing to make. Lana put her arm around Avery and pulled her close, leaning against her and resting her eyes. It didn’t matter how long it took for the icebreakers to do their job.

Christmas would be waiting for them whenever they showed up.

Your email is never shared.
Required fields are marked *