I saw my little brother’s face fall, crushed in bewilderment.

“I’ll buy the tree,” I shouted at my father.

My father swung his head to look at me. I don’t think he knew I’d been in the room until that moment. I saw shame flicker in his eyes, replaced too soon by a red-blooded fury fueled by alcohol. “No one gets a tree for my house except me,” he shouted, taking two steps toward me in a threatening move.

I bowed up, springing to defense mode. I felt Thor licking my hand, whining softly. Looking down, I could see him watching me with a worried look. He wouldn’t take his eyes off me. I loosened my fist and began stroking his head nonstop.

“This is my house,” Daddy shouted. “What I say goes. Got it? And I say we’re not getting any damn tree!” He tottered on his feet, then swung his arm out in emphasis. “Christmas is a sham anyway. No one really gives a damn about anyone!” He scanned the room, going from face to face, his eyes glowering. He reared up and said with belligerence, “You can all forget Christmas.” His eyes bulged as he dared us to argue. “We can’t afford Christmas!”

“You’re worse than Scrooge!” Miller shouted back at him, his hands in fists and his eyes glaring. “I hate you!” He turned on his heel and ran up the stairs.

Daddy ran after him, bumping my shoulder hard as he passed.

I felt a knee-jerk reaction, fight or flight, and I was gearing up for a fight. My head began to throb and buzz. I closed my eyes. I heard my father shouting . . . I heard men shouting . . . crying out. “The Carol of the Bells” was playing, mocking me as the pace went faster and faster. Anxiety . . . anger . . . danger . . . threat. I staggered forward.

Thor moved his big black body to block my path.

I felt my mother’s hand on my arm. She caught my eye and shook her head firmly. “Stay out of it,” she said in a low voice.

I blinked several times, focusing on her and where I was. I nodded yes, then took a deep breath. I looked down at Thor. He was watching me, assessing my anxiety. It was flight, I decided, and I grabbed Thor’s leash. I retreated, following my brother up the stairs. Once again, the sound of doors slamming reverberated in our home.

Inside my room I felt the comfort of the cloaking darkness. With explosions going on in my head, light pierced like glass through my eyes. I slumped back against the door and took several more long breaths, letting my hand stroke Thor, finding comfort there, as I tried to stall the pressure building up in my head. In time I opened my eyes a slit and saw in the dim shadows the shapes of the Christmas packages I’d set on the floor by my desk. Among them I recognized the large rectangular shape of the painting I’d purchased for my father. I released a short laugh, thinking how many Christmas trees I could have bought for the price of that one small painting.

My skull felt as if it were splitting in two. I’d done too much. Tried too hard. I lay down on the carpet and covered my eyes with my arm. Thor came to lie beside me. I felt the power of his muscular body and the rhythm of his breathing. It soothed me, and as I wrapped my arm around him, I couldn’t help but think of Miller and the night he slept here and also found comfort in Thor’s presence.

We lay on the floor as I tried to gauge the power of this onslaught of pain as any surfer would an oncoming wave. This was a big one, I realized. It could last for two days. Right through Christmas.

I somehow managed to remove my shoes and belt and then crawl to the bed. As I lay in the darkness, I knew that somewhere in the room Thor watched and waited, listening for my cues. Knowing that, the knots of tension slowly released. Hours passed like this, and in time the pain lessened enough that I could process thought. I remembered my father’s shameful drunkenness. I knew in the morning he’d be ashamed of his anger, his pettiness, but he’d never be able to take his words back. What he said came back to me now: “Christmas is a sham. No one cares about anyone.”

For all my bitterness, I knew that wasn’t true. I recalled my experiences in the shops. How many people had said, “Thank you for your service.” I saw again the light in Miller’s eyes when he said, “I think Mama will like this!” I felt again my pleasure buying my father that painting. And even more, the delight of stepping into the house and inhaling the scents of rosemary and garlic, feeling it was a home. And Mama’s joy at receiving the simple ornaments.

Christmas was not a sham. My spiraling emotions were not triggered by anything that was done to me. Quite the opposite. I hurt because my brother hurt. I felt Miller’s disillusionment. His disappointment. The loss of his innocence. I ached because I couldn’t protect him from growing up.

Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like heaven! . . . I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said “Yes, you should.”

—Fan, Scrooge’s sister, A Christmas Carol

Chapter 19

Miller

I opened my eyes and knew immediately today was different. It was Christmas Eve. A day I looked forward to almost more than Christmas. I think it’s because I liked the anticipation of Christmas as much as the day itself. I lay tangled up in my blanket. Usually I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to see what treats my mama was cooking up. She liked to start her baking early. There would be cinnamon buns, my favorite. And scones, her favorite. She’d make bacon, too. I sniffed the air. I didn’t smell anything at all coming from the kitchen, even though the sun was coming in through the window. That was odd. Then I had a terrible thought. What if she was doing what Daddy said and there would be no Christmas?

I felt a wave of cold wash over me. One that felt like fear. Could there really be no Christmas?

I already knew it wasn’t going to be a great Christmas. I knew that the day I found out I wasn’t getting my dog. But in the past few days things had started looking up. Taylor was beginning to be a bit more like his old self. Mama was cheering up, too. And then there was Thor. He was making everyone feel a bit happier. It was like he was some sort of Christmas angel.

Then Daddy had to go and ruin everything. He was worse than Scrooge. He was mean! I wished he would’ve just stayed away all Christmas. We were better off when he wasn’t here. It made me mad to remember what he’d said last night. Telling us there was not going to be a tree. And no Christmas! Who said he was the boss of Christmas?

I could feel my blood boil just thinking about it. By saying we weren’t going to have Christmas, Daddy made today feel worse than any ordinary day. It was like something was missing or taken away. Something important.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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