Many years ago, Patrick and I put together a website called “December Lights” and published one story a day all through the month of December. Each story was donated by a different fabulous author, and each had just one thing in common: every story had a happy ending.
We need lights in the darkness in December – even in years that aren’t like this one.
I may not have the energy to organize that kind of big multi-author, monthlong event every year, but for the last couple of years, I’ve posted my own December Lights story at the beginning of each December, as a gift to my readers and a thank-you for keeping me company here. I appreciate you guys so much!
This year, it’s a Kat, Incorrigible story, and I wrote it by special request. This spring, as part of the Con-or-Bust auction, I offered to write a short-short story about any of the characters from my novels. The winner, Melita Kennedy, asked for a story about Kat all grown up, with children of her own – and it was so much fun to write!
You can read the full story below, and if you want to keep it on your e-reader, you can find the free ebook on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes or Kobo. (You can also find it on Amazon, but unfortunately, they haven’t price-matched yet, so they’re still charging 99 cents/pence for it. I’m sorry! I hope they’ll make it free SOON – and in the meantime, you can download the Kindle version from this link.)
I hope you guys enjoy this story! I’ve been really looking forward to sharing it with you.
by Stephanie Burgis
For Melita Kennedy, with thanks.
There was nothing more delightful in the world than completing a successful magical mission and returning to the bosom of my family…
…At least, until I landed in my own bedroom.
“What?” I demanded, as I looked wildly around the room. “What?”
My darling husband, who should have been there at that time of night to greet me and ask all about my mission…was not.
My darling but dangerous children, who should have been sleeping adorably in their own beds for hours, were here instead. And not only that…
“What are you all doing?”
“Oh, really, Mama.” My oldest daughter, Clarissa, rolled her eyes at me with incomparable fifteen-year-old disdain from her perch, cross-legged on my side of the bed, with all of my private journals of magic spread around her. “Isn’t it rather obvious?”
“Wheeeeeeeee!” Archibald, the baby of the family, shrieked with delight as he flew past me, his chubby arms spread wide and his nightgown flapping in the magical breeze.
“Olivia Angeline Ravenscroft!” I was already pointing my finger accusingly as I spun around to where I knew I would find her: my impossible, maddening, beloved middle child, her arms held out, sitting in the chair in the corner of the room and directing her brother in his flight. “Stop that immediately!”
“Mo-ther!” Heaving a heavy sigh, Olivia cast her eyes up to Heaven. It was the same gesture I’d been forced to make a thousand times in the last eight years, each time I faced a new catastrophe of her creation. “Fine,” she said, and crossed her arms. “If that’s what you really want!”
“Argh!” I lunged forward just in time to catch Archibald as he plummeted. He was giggling madly, and his round little form felt particularly delicious in my arms after nearly two days of separation, but my heart pounded in my chest as I clutched him against me and glowered down at his sister. “To your room!” I said. “At once, young lady! And you need to apologize to your brother.”
“I knew you’d catch him,” she muttered. “I would never have let him be hurt. You should know that.” She stuck out her jaw and shifted further back in her seat, digging herself in. “Anyway, I’m not leaving till the others do. Otherwise, it isn’t fair. And you can’t make me!”
It would be wrong to cast a magic working on my own child, I told myself. It really would. Worse than that, it would be undignified.
I was a grown woman and the Head of the ancient Order of the Guardians. Tonight, I’d foiled an entire band of rogue witches in Northumberland, and I hadn’t lost my composure for an instant.
Surely I could face down my own eight-year-old daughter just as calmly.
Dignity, I told myself, breathing deeply. Simple dignity.
Glaring at me, Olivia snapped, “You never let me do anything. You’re the cruelest mother in the entire world!”
“You — ! Oh, thank goodness.” I let out my breath in a whoosh of relief as the dressing room door opened and my husband walked in, rubbing his head with a towel. Alexander’s brown, curling hair was sopping wet, and he was wearing his oldest dressing gown, which I hadn’t seen in months.
“Kat!” His lean cheeks creased with his sudden smile, his serious hazel eyes lit up with unmistakable delight, and warmth filled every inch of me, easing the tension in my shoulders, at the sight of him. “You’re back!” he said. “So you’ve solved the latest crisis?”
“In Northumberland, yes,” I told him. “But have you seen what’s been happening here while I was gone?” I gestured with my free hand at the room around us as I balanced a happily babbling Archibald on my hip.
Elephants had been involved in tonight’s exciting adventures, apparently…or possibly lamps. Or lampreys. It was a little hard to tell, sometimes, with Archibald.
“Ah. Well.” Alexander’s lips quirked. “The children have been missing you, you see. So they all wanted to wait up in case you returned tonight.”
“And you let them?” I frowned. “But…” My eyes narrowed as I saw my husband trade a sidelong look with our oldest daughter, who was suddenly sitting absolutely still on the bed…and looking extremely guilty. “Oh, Lord,” I said. “What did they do to their poor nursemaid this time?”
“Ah…” Alexander cleared his throat.
I looked again at his frayed old dressing gown. “Is that why your hair is wet? And what happened to your usual dressing gown?”
“Children,” said Alexander, “it’s very late. Why don’t you say goodnight to your mother now, so that we can all get some sleep?”
Clarissa shot up from the bed with visible relief. “Goodnight, darling Mama!” she said sweetly. “I’ll put the little ones to bed myself, if you like.”
“Mmm,” I said warily.
Oh, Lord. Had we just lost another nursemaid?
I looked at the implausibly saintly expression on Clarissa’s face, and I sighed.
Oh, yes. We had definitely lost this latest nursemaid, too.
But because my oldest daughter was on her very best behavior, she actually let me catch her close for a hug, which was a rare and precious gift nowadays. I buried my face in her soft hair for one long, sweet moment.
How could our first baby already be so big? Clarissa would be taller than me within just a few months. Not only that, she’d be coming out in Society only a few years later, and then…
Smiling angelically, she slipped out of my arms and reached for Archibald. “Time for bed now, silly.”
“No! No bed!” Archibald glowered fiercely at her, clinging to my neck. “Want Mama! Want elephants! Want fly!”
“Go to bed now, little elephant,” I said briskly, and I gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. “No more flying.”
And speaking of that…
Bracing myself, I turned back to where Olivia was still sitting in the corner with her arms tightly crossed.
I knew that stubborn tilt to her chin. How many times had I held myself in that position as I’d waited for one of Stepmama’s lectures?
If there was one thing even more aggravating than rogue witches, it was the suspicion that possibly — just possibly — my own stepmother might actually have been correct about a few things…or at least, that her reactions to some of my own past antics might have been understandable.
I sighed and let all the rest of my tension flood out of me. What was the point of feeling outraged, after all? It had been a very long night, to say the least, but some things were still crystal clear.
Olivia had inherited every bit of my stubbornness. She had inherited Alexander’s beautiful hazel eyes. She had the combined Guardian powers that she had inherited from both of us, filling her slight frame to overflowing, and she’d woken to them far earlier than either of us had. She filled me with terror for her safety every day…
And as I looked down now at her skinny, stubborn figure and glimpsed the fragile vulnerability in her face, I felt as if my chest might just explode with the love that swelled irrepressibly through it.
“Just send Olivia down to me once she’s apologized for what she did,” Clarissa caroled back, and closed the door behind herself with a thunk.
Olivia’s shoulders hunched even more. I winced.
Some parts of sisterhood were, unfortunately, universal.
Alexander tilted his head, looking pained. “Kat, perhaps — ”
“Shh.” I waved him back and sank to my knees in front of our most challenging child. Meeting her fierce gaze, I wrapped my arms tightly around her.
“No more flying your brother,” I told her. “Not ever. Not even if he pleads for it! But if you tell him tomorrow morning that you’re sorry, and if you’re very, very good with your new nursemaid once we find one…”
“Yes?” Her voice was small, and her own arms didn’t budge from their defensive position, but she nestled forward into my chest just as she had when she was a baby…a baby who couldn’t help sending silverware magically flying through the room and frightening herself with every infant tantrum.
I met Alexander’s worried gaze over her head and slid him a mischievous wink. “Then perhaps we can have a flying expedition of our own one night,” I whispered. “What would you think of that?”
“Really?” Olivia’s head jerked up. Her face shone with wonder and excitement. “You would fly with me, Mama? You wouldn’t be too busy to come with me? Or tell me I’m not allowed to do any magic of my own?”
Alexander sighed and shook his head, but he couldn’t hold back his smile. “Will you at least try not to be witnessed doing it?”
“Of course we won’t let anyone see us,” I said. “We can do some invisibility practice at the same time. And…” I looked back at Olivia and touched her cheek gently. “How could I ever be too busy to train the newest member of our Order?”
“Oh, Mama!” Olivia breathed.
Parenthood might be the most challenging mission I had ever undertaken.
But at this particular moment, as my magical heir threw her arms around me, it was also by far the most satisfying.