A sad little boy snuggled next to me on the spare bed in the guest room. Heat radiated from Erik’s body and a wet whistling sound came from his stuffy nose. “Mama Kiki, I doh-ne feel too good,” he whimpered. “My troat hurts. My dose hurts.”
“I know, honey. I know. Try to get some sleep.” I hugged him close. Because I am his adopted mother, he calls me “Mama Kiki” when he is tired or when he doesn’t feel his best. I don’t mind. He will always miss his birth mother, Gina, who died in a tragic accident. More and more he turns to me when he needs a cuddle, but once in a while, he’ll cry for no apparent reason as her memory surfaces and breaks his heart all over again.
“Oh-tay, Mama Kiki,” he said, as he rolled on one side so he could breathe. I rubbed his back gently. Soon he snored and snuffled his way to dreamland.
In hopes that Erik’s head cold would not get passed around, we’d kept him isolated from the other kids. My oldest, Anya, was spending the weekend at her best friend’s house. Ty, the baby, was staying at my in-laws’ house in Illinois. My husband was working a double-shift so he’d have time off for Christmas.
Although I hate missing any days of work at my scrapbook and crafts store—especially in the run up to the holidays–I love spending time with Erik. Even when he doesn’t feel good. When he woke up, I brought him a bowl of chicken noodle soup. A hand on his forehead proved his temp was normal. His eyes were bright and mischievous. Like most kids do, he had bounced back quickly from his malady.
“I is bored,” he announced, after drinking the broth from his second helping. “What can we do? Can we make things? For gifts? For Anya and Ty?”
I pride myself on being crafty, turning trash into treasures. Therefore, I could not possibly tell him no. Instead, I reviewed the supplies I had and brainstormed what sorts of gifts we could conjure from those raw materials. In a flash, the answer came to me—personalized tree ornaments! And I knew just what to use as the basis for our creations: wooden clothespins. Brawny, our Scottish nanny, had recently purchased a new package.
After retrieving a half-dozen of the pegs, I taped waxed paper over the kitchen table. Erik helped and the job went quickly. Next I dragged out all my acrylic paints, lightweight cardboard, markers, tape, pipe cleaners, scrapbook paper, tacky glue, and scissors. Finally I retrieved the bag of fabric scraps we save for projects like this one. Opening my iPad, I suggested that Erik think about what each family member might like. For my husband, Detective Chad Detweiler, Erik chose a cop. I found an image online. Using that as a guide, Erik painted the clothespin’s face and added navy fabric trimmed with gold to copy the uniform. It was cute as all get-out. For his sister Anya, he chose a girl soccer player with a ponytail made of yellow embroidery floss. For Ty, he fashioned a baby with a big blue diaper and a pacifier made of paper. For Brawny, there was a figure in a kilt.
“Go away,” he told me. “You has to be surprised.”
Heeding his instructions, I turned my attention to loading the dishwasher and folding laundry. “You can look,” he said at last while waving his arms over four small packages and one larger one wrapped in tissue paper.
The size of the big present didn’t make sense to me, but rather than question Erik, I said, “How about we put your gifts under the tree? Did you label them? Good. Okay, let’s get you back to bed.”
Christmas morning dawned cold and rainy, but inside the house we were toasty warm. Detweiler and I had gotten up early to put the last touches on the kids’ gifts. Brawny had joined us to slide a breakfast casserole into the oven. The delectable aroma of sausage, cheddar cheese, and onions mingled with coffee as it brewed. In our great room, the fireplace glowed as real logs snapped and crackled. We could hear Erik’s slippers slap the floor as he ran into Anya’s bedroom and woke her up. Their collective squeals echoed down the stairway. Footsteps pounded their way down the staircase. Baby Ty woke up with a wail, and Brawny raced upstairs to fetch him from his crib.
As the kids danced around the kitchen table, they shouted, “Merry Christmas!” Detweiler grabbed up Erik and added a few baritone “ho-ho-ho’s” for good measure. Anya threw her arms around my neck and hugged me tightly. Rather than force the kids to sit through breakfast, we adjourned to the family room. As soon as Brawny appeared with Ty on one hip, Anya and Erik were given permission to open their gifts. In the blink of an eye, colorful paper was ripped off boxes. There followed cries of delight and shouts of joy.
“For you,” said Erik, as he handed out his wrapped parcels. Brawny’s eyes filled with tears as she marveled at her tiny Scotswoman before hanging it on the tree. Anya was delighted with her soccer girl and found an empty spot for the player between two branches. Detweiler laughed and praised his son for the uniformed cop before perching the ornament on a limb near the tree top. Brawny opened Ty’s gift and then hung it up before the baby chewed on it.
“Dis is for you.” Erik waved the big parcel at me.
Resting it in my lap, I slowly untied the gold ribbon and peeled away the blue tissue paper. Inside were two figures. Their pipe cleaner arms were entwined, and they held each other tightly. One had red embroidery floss for hair and the other had dark golden yellow. One had green eyes and the other blue. To the back of their white fabric dresses, Erik had glued wings cut from cardboard and painted gold. These were trimmed in gold pipe cleaners.
“Twin angels?” I held the figures up and everyone looked them over.
“Can’t you see?” Erik pointed to the clothespin with red floss and green eyes, “Dis is Mama Gina.” Next he pointed at the figure with golden yellow floss and blue eyes. “Dis is Mama Kiki. They is angels. My angels. Put them at the top of the tree so they can watch over us.”
Love, Die, Neighbor is the 13th book in the Kiki Lowenstein mystery series, published by Spot On Publishing, December 2016.
A Prequel to the Mystery Series that has won the hearts of fans all over the world!
As the mother of an active toddler and the wife of an often-absent husband, Kiki Lowenstein already has both hands full. But when the Lowensteins move into their new house on the same day the construction crew leaves, Kiki must learn to juggle boxes, baby, and big expectations. Her determination to be a good neighbor hits a serious roadblock when she angers the Nordstroms, the couple who live next door. Then Sven Nordstrom dies under mysterious circumstances, and Kiki is forced into the one role she never planned on playing: amateur sleuth.
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About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan’s most recent book is Love, Die, Neighbor: A Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series Prequel. The first book in this series—Paper, Scissors, Death–was a finalist for the Agatha Award. There are now thirteen books and nearly 30 short stories detailing Kiki’s life. Learn more at joannacampbellslan.com
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Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a Kindle edition of Love, Die, Neighbor. The giveaway ends January 2, 2017. Good luck everyone!