Christmas had never been Claire's favourite holiday. Even as a little kid. She'd figured out the Santa myth early on. She'd also been curious and observant, and combining that with having a much older sibling and the gifts labelled as from her parents were wrapped with the same wrapping paper as the gifts supposedly from Santa, well, that story fell apart in a hurry. It's not that she didn't like getting gifts (really, who didn't?), but the holiday always felt full of forced cheer and fake smiles. Everyone having to pretend to be happy and grateful to be spending all this time around family.
By the time she was finishing up high school and heading off to college, Karen was married and expecting Zach. Christmas during college was different. Sometimes, Karen, Scott and baby Zach would be there; other times, it was just her and her parents. It no longer felt the same. And often, the fake cheer and smiles felt even more forced.
Working at Jurassic World ended up being a bit of a godsend when it came to Christmas. It was one of the busiest times of the year, and so it was easy to claim that she was too busy to go home for the holidays. The excuse actually became less of an excuse and more of a fact as the years went by and she climbed the corporate ladder. Also, she knew a lot of her employees were fans of the holiday, and since she wasn't, she preferred to let those take the time off while she stayed.
The first Christmas she spent with Owen was almost a year post incident. Once all the depositions and court cases and lawyers were in their past, they had spent the fall and up through Christmas touring up and down the coast in his van. Owen had excitedly bought a tiny Christmas tree (barely over a foot high - but space was at a premium) a couple of weeks before the holiday. They had found a small string of lights to add on, and Owen showed off his origami skills making a paper star to stick on top.
With their limited space, they had debated over exchanging Christmas gifts. Owen insisted they had, but that they could keep them small since they really didn't have space to store anything. She had to admit, she'd been a little nervous when Owen had presented her with a small box on Christmas morning, as they were still lying snuggled under all their blankets. Instead, she'd opened it to find a Christmas tree ornament. It was handmade, a slice of a tree branch with a hole drilled through the top. He'd carved their initials and the year one one side. When she'd flipped it over, it said "first of many." He'd actually looked a little embarrassed when she opened it.
"I'm sorry - I was hoping I could find something. And when I didn't, well, I thought it'd be easier to carve then it was," he'd confessed. "I'll find a better one to replace it. It's just a temporary one for now."
"It's perfect," Claire had disagreed. "It's got more personality than anything mass produced would ever have."
By the time the following Christmas rolled around, they were no longer together, having had their falling out a few months earlier over the van, which was really just the straw that broke the camel's back. Later, a few weeks after the events at Lockwood, they'd actually had a discussion about the whole thing. Had come to an agreement to put all of that behind them, and chalk a lot of it up to their individual stubborn personalities who weren't use to having to compromise so much of their lives and were both struggling for control in a world that had fallen apart on them.
Ever since Maisie had entered their lives, it felt like everything had been on warp speed. Claire still could barely believe it'd been more than half a year since the events at Lockwood. That in that time she and Owen had been granted parental guardianship of Maisie, that they'd gotten married and bought a house, and the DPG was now running a sanctuary for the dinosaurs on the island that Lockwood had purchased prior to this death. The sanctuary was still a work in progress, but, really, pretty much everything on their list was.
When she and Owen discussed taking in Maisie more permanently, they'd talked a lot about her age. Both were greatly relieved to not be dealing with a baby or a toddler - that they would get to skip diapers, midnight feedings, and potty training. Sure, it also meant they were skipping a lot of the traditional "firsts" - first solid food, first time they rolled over, first step, and so on. But, they were quickly realizing that their life was still full of firsts. They still had a "first day of school" and first trip to the movies. They were still waiting on firsts too, like the first "I love you" and, as time went by, their hopes for a first "mom" or "dad" moment were rising too.
And now, now they were getting to celebrate another first - their first Christmas as a small family. Karen had told Claire, when she'd been bemoaning to her on the phone a couple of weeks ago about how much she still hated this holiday, that it would be different. That they had a child now, and they'd get to revisit it through the eyes of a child, still full of wonder and magic.
It wasn't really turning out that way. When they'd tried to ask Maisie about Christmas - trying to get a feel as to what she had done in previous years, without actually ripping open all the very slow and careful healing she'd been doing, as she tried to grasp that her grandfather wasn't actually her grandfather - she'd turned to them and just stated matter-of-factly: "I know that Santa isn't real. Only babies believe in that. We had a tree. I got to open one gift that was usually pajamas on Christmas eve and then we would open the rest the following morning."
They had both looked at her wide eyed, neither expecting that response and neither quite sure how to deal with it. After a few moments of gaping at her like a fish, Owen managed to ask "Did you have a stocking?"
They'd let the topic drop for a week, before approaching it again at dinner one evening. But instead of asking her what she had done, they decided to approach it as what should the three of them do? What traditions did they want to start? Maisie had looked a little uncomfortable when traditions got mentioned, and they'd pulled back from making it sound long term, knowing she was still trying to sort everything out in her mind and still hadn't quite grasped just how much her life had forever changed.
In the end, they had agreed upon putting up lights, building gingerbread houses, getting a tree, stockings and presents. They had decided to keep Maisie's memory of opening a gift on Christmas eve, although both Claire and Owen had agreed (away from Maisie) that there would be no pajamas under the tree. They wanted the memories this year, for all of them, to be focused on fun and not tied to old memories.
As Christmas drew near, Maisie's eyes had widened, seeing the pile of gifts under the tree grow. She had figured there would be six gifts in total - two from her to Claire and Owen, two from Claire to Owen and her, and two from Owen to Claire and her. Instead, packages arrived in the mail bearing gifts from Karen and Zach and Gray. From Claire's parents and Owen's parents. From Owen's brother. She had been surprised to find that each package had a gift for her, not just Claire and Owen.
Claire and Owen, for their part, hadn't even put all their own gifts under the tree. Maisie may not believe in Santa, but they still wanted her to experience the delight of coming down the following morning to find the pile had grown even larger.
On Christmas eve, after they had cleaned up from dinner, Owen announced that it was time for one gift each, and he'd already picked them out.
"I thought we were going to choose?" Claire had ribbed him gently, knowing that Maisie had been spending part of the last few days trying to decide which one she was going to pick first.
"Yeah, well…" Owen shrugged. "You can choose what one I open, I got something specific for each of you, for tonight."
He'd pulled out two small boxes, both similarly sized, and handed them over. Claire had made a show of gently shaking hers and throwing out wild guesses as to what might be inside, slowly chipping away at Owen's patience.
"Just open it, will ya?" he finally growled, and Claire had just smiled, before doing so. Maisie had been too busy watching the antics to open her own, and she held off, waiting to see what Claire got first.
"Oh." Claire said softly, lifting the lid off the box. Nestled on a bed of tissue paper, was the ornament Owen had given her a couple of Christmas' ago. She had looked for it, when they had been decorating the tree, but hadn't seen it, and hadn't wanted to ask - afraid she'd hear a story about how it made excellent kindling one evening. She raised her eyes to Owen, who was looking at her nervously. "You kept it."
"Of course I did," Owen looked insulted.
"I looked for it," Claire admitted, biting her lip. "When we were decorating the tree. When I didn't see it, I assumed you'd thrown it out or burned it in a campfire."
"Never," Owen shook his head.
"Can I see it?" Maisie had asked, not sure what was the big deal. Claire handed it over and Maisie had looked at it carefully, before flipping it over and reading the other side. Her eyebrows furrowed, she had looked up at the two. "I don't get it? What's so special about it? It doesn't look very good."
"Owen made it. And it's just a good memory," Claire had laughed softly, taking it back before hanging it on the tree. After she'd put it up, she'd moved over to Owen's side, wrapping an arm around him and pressing her lips gently to his. She'd show her full appreciation later. Turning her eyes back to Maisie, she noticed she was still holding her gift. "Aren't you going to open yours?"
Maisie had nodded, and then had carefully untied the bow, before pulling the lid off her box. Inside, she also found a wooden ornament, similar to Claire's. Pulling it from the box, she read the inscription on the first side that said "The start of something new." Flipping it over, she found her initials, along with Claire and Owen's and the date.
When the silence started to stretch, Owen nervously asked, "Do you like it?"
"Did you make it?" Maisie asked, turning her gaze from the ornament to his.
"Yeah," Owen coughed softly, looking away.
"You've gotten a lot better," Maisie replied, looking back at her ornament then over to the tree where Claire had hung hers.
It broke the nervous tension that had been settling over them, as Claire snickered. She tried to bury her face in Owen's shoulder to muffle the sound, but once she started, she couldn't stop, a full belly laugh erupting from her. "Let me see," Claire had held out her hand to Maisie, who handed the ornament over. Claire looked it over, before nodding in agreement. "Yeah, that's definitely a step up. No longer looks like something made in elementary school."
"Hey!" Owen tried to sound indignant, but he was well aware of his own improvement.
"It's good to know that you do know how to use all those tools you keep out there," Claire had patted him on the shoulder, giggles still escaping her. Maisie and Owen both got drawn in by her laugh, and were soon laughing along.
Maisie had taken the ornament back from Claire before finding a spot to hang it on the tree. She returned to their sides, giving Owen a hug. "Thank you," she told him.
"Just wait until you see what I'll be able to create next year," Owen told them both. "I'm thinking this will be a new tradition."
"I can get behind that," Claire said.
"Me too," Maisie nodded.