Ten year old Stella scrunched her eyes together, shutting out the beautiful picture in front of her. Outside the window she had been looking out of, snow lay think upon the ground. The moon and stars were out already and cast their light on the snow, causing it to sparkle softly.
“Star in heaven, star so bright, you’re the first star I saw tonight. I wish on you, I wish it might, the wish come true tomorrow night.” Stella chanted. Her eyes popped open after a few minutes of silence.
Just then, the door to her room flew open and her younger brother charged in. His eyes were shining with excitement and his hair looked as though it had just passed through a wind storm.
Slightly cross at being interrupted, Stella said severely, “I thought you were supposed to knock before entering a girl’s bedroom.”
Henry shrugged. “I didn’t have time. I just had to tell you about…”
“You can tell me later.” Stella interrupted, “I’m busy right now.”
A look of disappointment clouded her brother’s face and he turned slowly back towards the door. Stella was a warm hearted girl, and when she saw the look on his face, she almost called him back…but her pride kept her from doing it and she merely went back to looking out the window.
A few hours passed while Stella kept herself “busy” in her room. Even when her brother waited an hour and knocked softly on the door before asking if he could come in and tell her about whatever he had in mind, Stella firmly resolved to not hear it until after their evening meal.
By the time her mother called her down to supper, Stella had completely forgotten that her brother wanted to talk to her, and hardly noticed how quiet he was during the meal. She cheerfully prattled on and on about what she was planning to buy her friends for Christmas which was coming up in just two days.
She didn’t see Henry slip out of his chair and disappear into his own room while she talked, nor did she see him place a carefully wrapped present under their tree with a tag that said:
You’re the best sister ever and I love you.
After dinner she forgot to listen to his story and when she went to bed, she fell asleep immediately. She didn’t know that after she had gone to sleep her brother tiptoed into her room and kissed her gently on her cheek, but in her dreams she had smiled, because she had felt it.
The next morning, Stella woke up bright and early, ready for the day to begin. She was in a hurry today because it was Christmas Eve and she had presents to wrap for all her friends. There was going to be a party tonight and she had been one of the first invited because her best friend was hosting it at her home.
Of course, she had been very excited and begged her parents to let her go. They had consented, so during the last few weeks Stella was a very excited little girl. She fluttered to and from different stores, wanting to find just the right thing for each of her friends. Now she was lovingly wrapping each in brightly colored paper. Yes, this party was going to be the highlight of her year.
Henry was also excited, but for a completely different reason. He too had a time with friends to look forward to, but he wasn’t going to a party. Instead, the boys of the town were spending the evening of Christmas Eve skating on a new lake that was located in the woods of their neighbor. His father had approved and all the boys were excited to try it out.
Slowly, at least it seemed slow to both Stella and Henry, the day dragged by. They spent some time around their fire, toasting nuts and listening to Christmas music broadcasting over the radio.
Finally it was time for them to bundle up into their winter coats and put on knitted mittens and hats. Once both siblings were warm enough to their mother’s satisfaction, they separated and went their own way. Stella’s mother took her by the hand, bringing her to the party while their father brought Henry down to the lake and helped him strap on his skates.
The radio in the living room had been left on, and as the door closed the music was stopped. A voice crackled. “We’re sorry to have to interrupt the program this evening, but folks, it looks as if there’s a warm spell coming up through this area. Make sure you’re careful about iced over ponds, lakes and rivers. The ice will be thinner and may be dangerous. Be careful to find out just how think it is before you skate.” The voice stopped crackling and the music continued.
Stella had a wonderful time at the party. All her friends were there and her gifts had been loved at first sight. Stella had been given gifts that she loved. The brightly colored dresses and delicious food added to the festivities and all too soon the clock struck eleven and her mother insisted that they had to go home.
Sadly, Stella said goodbye to her friends, not forgetting to wish them a merry Christmas. Leaning against her mother to escape the wind, Stella closed her eyes briefly. For a moment, she felt as if all was right in the world and that nothing could possibly go wrong.
But as you should know well by now, it’s always when things seem most right that something usually has to go wrong next and upsets your happiness. So it was for Stella.
As they walked into their house, they were met by her father. His grave, pale face making both Stella and her mother realize that something was terribly wrong.
“What is it Charles?” the mother asked, her own face blanching in fear.
“Henry…” he managed, motioning towards Henry’s bedroom.
Her mother gasped and dashed into the room. Stella stood as if rooted to the ground.
“What happened?” She whispered in a scared voice.
Her father knelt down, looking into her eyes while his own filled with tears. “They were skating across the lake when it happened.” He began. “All had been going wonderfully until someone suggested a race across the lake. You know Henry…he would never be left out, so I let him go and participate. Suddenly, when the boys were almost to the middle of the lake, we heard a terrible crack and the ice broke. Henry fell through.”
Stella began to understand and the shock left her speechless in horror.
Her father continued. “We managed to get him out within ten minutes, but the cold had already done its work. The doctor says he might not even make it through the night!” His voice failed him and for the first time in her life that she could remember, Stella saw her father cry.
She was too shocked to cry and finally hung her coat up numbly. As quietly as she could, she crept in to Henry’s room and stood silently by the door.
Her brother laid on his bed, his eyes closed and his face almost the same color as the white pillow it lay on. Her mother was kneeling by the bed, holding Henry’s hand and crying softly. The doctor was putting his medical instruments back inside a big, black bag.
Henry’s eyes opened and he looked around him in obvious confusion. “Where am I?” He asked weakly.
“You’re at home in your very own bed my poor, poor child.” Their mother answered, kissing him tenderly.
“Right here son.” His voice sounded husky, but he stood next to Stella making a valiant effort to smile.
“And Stella? Where’s Stella?”
Stella came up to the bed and laid her own warm hand over his cold one. “Here I am.” She replied. “I’m right here beside you, and I’m not going to leave you either.”
He looked up at her and smiled. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” Stella choked and fought back the tears which now began welling up in her eyes, making her vision blur.
As if it had been waiting for someone to say that, the old grandfather clock in their living room solemnly rang twelve times. Just like that it was Christmas day.
Henry looked around at his family members. His father, smiling bravely, his mother, tears running freely down her cheeks as she held his hand and kissed him again and again, and Stella. His eyes stopped at Stella.
“I’m sorry.” Stella whispered suddenly.
A look of confusion came across his face. “Sorry?” He asked. “Why? What for?”
“For not listening to you yesterday.”
He smiled and shrugged weakly. “It wasn’t that important.”
“It doesn’t matter how important it was.” Stella replied seriously. “I still should have taken time to listen to you.”
“I forgive you.” Henry said quietly, and then he shut his eyes.
After a moment, his breathing became slower and slower before finally stopping altogether. Stella felt his hand that she was holding go limp and gently, reverently, she placed it back on the bed. With a dry sob, Stella fled to her own room, slamming the door behind her.
Her father made a move to go after her, but her mother put out a hand pleadingly. “No Charles, please? She needs time alone.”
With a nod, her father turned away from the door and went over to talk to the doctor.
Tears had come at last but now they wouldn’t stop. Stella’s body shook with sobs as she lay face down on her bed.
Henry was gone. Her only sibling and, she realized now, her best friend. Why hadn’t she spent more time with him? Why hadn’t she loved him more? Why hadn’t she realized how precious her time with him had been? Why did he have to die on Christmas? Why? Why? Why?
Stella punched her pillow as every new question rolled through her mind. Her pillow would be in bad shape, but her feelings were slightly relieved.
Try as she might, no sleep came to Stella that night and she tossed and turned in her bed while memories of her brother’s life flashed by. At six o’ clock she gave up on falling back asleep and went downstairs.
All was silent and she tiptoed into their living room. In it sat their family’s Christmas tree, decorated lavishly for the holiday including presents around the base that the family had purchased for each other.
Absentmindedly, Stella glanced over the tags. One in particular caught her attention and she looked at it more closely. It read:
You’re the best sister ever and I love you.
Tears spilled out onto the wrapping paper, making the ink run together, but Stella didn’t care. Gently, she unwrapped the gift and looked at it.
The box held a delicate gold necklace on which hung a heart-shaped locket. On the inside of the locket was a picture of Henry on one side, and a picture of Stella on the other. Engraved on the front were the words:
Siblings Are Lifelong Best Friends
Though tears blurred her sight and her fingers trembled, Stella put the necklace on. “That was a precious gift Henry,” She whispered. “I will treasure it always.”