Tiana made the chocolate pralines all by herself. Her mama offered to help, but Tiana shook her head stubbornly … until she needed some assistance getting the brown sugar, cocoa powder, and pecans down from the top cupboard. And when it was time to light the burner on the stove. But that was the easy stuff. Tiana did the hard parts - stirring the chocolate gently and not letting it splatter the sides of the pot, just like her daddy had taught her, then spooning the hot, gooey pralines onto the waxed paper before they had time to harden - all by herself.
Once the work was done, pleased and proud, she sat back in her chair by the kitchen table, and waited for her creations to cool. In the tiny living room, her mama put a record on the phonograph and soon “Joy To The World” filled the air. Tiana pretended she couldn’t hear the scratches. Someday, she thought, they’d have a brand new phonograph, just like Lottie had. Okay, maybe not as fancy as Lottie’s - who needed something that big or ornate? - but a nice one. Someday when Tiana was old enough to work and could help her parents out. Then maybe her daddy wouldn’t have to work so late all the time. He could be home with them in the evenings, and they could listen to music together.
Tiana tried to wait up for her daddy that night, like she tried every Christmas Eve, despite her mama’s gentle insistence that Christmas would come sooner if she got into bed and went to sleep like a good girl. But Tiana wasn’t waiting for Christmas, she was waiting for her daddy, and after a few minutes of pointless cajoling, her mama gave up, kissed her cheek, and went to get into her nightgown.
Tiana curled up on the living room rug, next to their Christmas tree. She had the plate of chocolate pralines on the floor beside her, and her copy of The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit in her lap. The book had been a present from Lottie, along with the glittery pink glass bauble that hung from one of the branches of the tree. It looked woefully out of place amid the paper garlands and popcorn chains, but Tiana secretly liked it, if only because it had come from Lottie.
She lay there and read, and the minutes ticked by, and then the hours. By the time her daddy finally got home, it was close to midnight, and Tiana felt sluggish as molasses, her eyelids almost too heavy to lift. Still, she managed a smile when her daddy scooped her up into his arms and carried her in the direction of her bedroom.
“Did you see the chocolate pralines I made?” she murmured, her head lolling against his chest.
“I did, baby girl. Those for Santa?”
“Nope, for you.”
She didn’t believe in Santa, she wanted to tell him. Lottie still did, but Tiana knew better. If there were a Santa, it didn’t make sense that she got second-hand things every year, while Lottie’s books and toys were always new; Tiana was much better-behaved than Lottie, after all. But she was too sleepy to say all that. And anyway, it didn’t matter. She had her mama and her daddy now, and in the morning there would be crab cake eggs benedict and gingerbread muffins and peppermint hot cocoa, which she would help make … and music and laughter. Everything she needed. For the moment. As for the rest…
She was still smiling and thinking about Christmas morning when her daddy laid her down gently on her bed and kissed her forehead. “Sleep well, baby girl,” he said, his voice soft and low. “Dream big dreams.”
She always did.