“I won’t. But I’ll be thinking it.”

He groaned again, softer this time, and put his arm over his eyes. I rose and went to the window to draw the curtains. The room slipped into a comforting gray light.

“Better?”

Another groan came as the response.

I went to his side of the bed and sat down closer to him. His eyes were closed but he wasn’t yet asleep.

“Alistair, you’ll have to apologize to the boys.”

“I will.” His voice was gravelly.

“And you’ll have to go out with Miller and get a tree. I don’t care if you cut one down, but don’t come home without a tree. And a nice-looking one, too, for all the trouble you’ve caused.”

Alistair pried open one eye. “Anything else?”

“Yes.” I leaned closer to him. I waited until he opened his other eye and I had his full attention. “Talk to Taylor.” I felt Alistair stiffen beside me. I reached out to lay my hand on his chest. “Don’t shut him out with your cold silences and disdain. You shame him. He’s still your son. Someone to be proud of. Help him, don’t hinder him. Love him. Be his father. He’s never needed you more.”

“You’re right. I’m not mad at him. Or ashamed. I just don’t know how to deal with his pain, and I’m afraid of losing him all over again.”

“You can learn.”

Alistair patted my hand on his chest. “You’re right. I’ll do better. I have to.”

“You’ll talk with him? Tell him you love him?”

He nodded slightly against the pillow.

I bent to kiss him. “Now go back to sleep. You’re no good to anyone in this state.”

I rose and dressed quickly, donning my old jeans, a long-sleeved red knit top that was getting threadbare at the elbows, thick green socks with candy canes on them—my fashion nod to Christmas—and my slippers, then left the room, closing the bedroom door behind me. Morning light filled the hall. I felt a renewed sense of purpose. The anger and angst I’d felt the night before had faded like an unwelcome ghost. In the light of day and Alistair’s apology, I felt compassion for his disappointment, and though getting drunk was never the answer to a problem, I could forgive him. I was too old to hold on to a grudge. Too wise to let indignation spoil my day. Especially not on Christmas Eve.

The kitchen was empty and gray when I entered. A chill was in the air, and looking out the window, I saw that the sun only peeked out from behind massive, billowy clouds. I wasn’t going out today. It could rain for all I cared.

I flicked on the overhead lights and headed for the coffeepot. First things first. I made a big pot of coffee, knowing we’d all need a few extra cups of caffeine today. After a few bracing sips, I went to the cupboards and began pulling out my mixing bowls, spoons, and ingredients for my traditional cinnamon buns and scones. There may not be fancy presents this year, but by God there will be good food, I thought with satisfaction. I’d spent a good portion of my extra money buying an especially choice cut of beef for my Christmas roast. I’d handpicked each big baking potato and would twice-bake them with lots of butter and cheese. I even bought two pretty persimmons to decorate my salad. I glanced over to the bouquet of brilliant white lilies arranged in my best crystal vase. That was an extravagant purchase for my table, but if not for Christmas, when? I smiled at the prospect of a glorious day baking in my own kitchen and not cleaning someone else’s!

Bacon was grilling, cinnamon buns were in the oven, and the scent of freshly perked coffee was in the air when Taylor emerged. I was dismayed, even disappointed, to see him unshaved and undressed. Yes, it had been a bad night, but it was time to rally. He squinted at me as though he was still half-asleep.

“Merry Christmas!” I called out cheerily.

He grimaced and brought his hand up to rub his temple. “Have you seen Thor?”

“No. Maybe he’s in Miller’s room.” I stilled my hand in the dough and leaned to better scrutinize Taylor’s face. “You don’t look well. Are your headaches back?”

“They never really go away.”

“Your father feels very bad about what he said last night.”

“Yeah, well, that excuse is getting old. He’s not the only one having a hard time.”

“I know.” I returned to my dough. “But he’s sorry this morning. And I think he’ll say so himself.” I straightened. “Want some coffee?”

He shook his head, then grimaced as though even that slight movement brought him pain.

“Does your new medicine help?”

He walked to the cabinet to grab a glass and filled it with water. He popped two pills into his mouth and took a swallow of the water. “We’ll see.” He turned to face me, perplexed. “Thor’s not in Miller’s room. I checked.”

I made a face. “Well, he’s not down here. Miller probably took him for a walk. I suspect he’s making himself scarce.”

“Can you blame him?” Taylor guzzled down the glass. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve, a habit I wasn’t happy to see he’d acquired.

“Go back to bed.” I returned to my scones.

He looked miserable and just waved his hand at me as he walked out. “Okay, then. I’m going back up. Send Thor to my room when they get back.”

“I will. I hope your headache gets better.”

I looked out the back windows. The sky was growing ominously dark, but the clouds were fat and white, not storm clouds. Perhaps there wouldn’t be rain after all. Still, I hoped Miller wouldn’t get caught in bad weather.

The cinnamon buns were iced and cooling on racks and I’d just pulled my scones out from the oven when I slowed down enough to realize I still hadn’t seen Miller. The bacon was sitting on the plate already cold, with the fat congealed. Where was everybody? I wondered. Usually I had to chase the boys out of the kitchen. I washed the flour off my hands, and drying them on a towel, I walked to my bedroom. The morning was gone, yet Alistair was still sleeping. I quietly left and closed the door behind me. This was the first day he’d had off in I couldn’t remember how long. Plus he needed to sleep it off.

I walked upstairs to fetch Miller. I didn’t want him sulking and playing Xbox games in his room all day long. I knew he was still angry but didn’t want him to dwell. He could help me with some of my fun shopping errands.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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