THE SEVEN DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

By Sharon D. Tweet

CHAPTER 1

She’d slept in that morning. Snuggled under a pile of blankets, she stayed warm and cozy while quiet Christmas jazz music played on her iPod docking station; the smooth soulful rhythm had become a soothing balm to her tender emotions. As the sleepy fog cleared from her mind and her eyes began to focus, she pushed back the thick layer of covers, let her legs fall off the side of the bed and lifted her tired and weary body, coaxing it into following suit.

It was the week before Christmas. The snow outside was more than two feet deep covering the houses and yards and trees in a shimmering coverlet. Everything shone brightly in the late morning winter sun looking clean and refreshed. Christmas lights and festive decorations adorned most of the houses up and down the block. Every year, her home had been lit up and decorated, filling her home and her heart with all the joy and cheer of the holiday season. Every year, that is, except that one.

Traditionally the yard nativity her father built years ago claimed a large portion of the front lawn. Claiming the spot that year, tucked beneath a blue tarp, skids were piled with lumber, boxes of tile and other construction supplies. The spacious corner in the living room that usually displayed a beautifully decorated Christmas tree lighting up the room with cheer, instead contained stacks of boxes and a make-shift temporary kitchen. In lieu of hanging swags of garland and cinnamon pine cones and bows, plastic tarps and extension cords were strung from scattered hooks. The fragrances of Christmas that had always tantalized and permeated her home – sugar cookies cooling on the counter, apple cider simmering in the crock pot, and pumpkin nut bread baking in the oven –were replaced by the powerful scent of fresh cut wood, paint and stain.

She and her brother had undertaken the monumental task of remodeling their home’s kitchen over the summer. Summer, however, quickly transitioned into autumn which had eventually become winter. As a result of all the construction and the displaced kitchen, there really was not space to decorate for Christmas. Much of their free time had been spent working on the project. And, of course, each had a career that required time and attention leaving little time or focus to think about or add anything else. Or, maybe those were just excuses to cover over the pain of sadness and loss they felt that holiday season. Consequently, the ability to summon the Christmas Spirit had been elusive. And there it was, a week before Christmas.

She had just finished brushing her teeth when she heard her brother greet someone at the front door. From the sound of the greeting, it could only be one person. A smile spread across her face. He’s here, she thought, filled with an unexpected flutter. She shook off the feeling as she exited the bathroom to descend the stairs. As she neared the bottom she could see two men engulfed in a brotherly embrace. The front door was wide open, allowing the cold winter air to pour in. Someone stood slightly back hovering in the doorway. Her eyes, however, focused solely on him, never registering the other person at the door or what he carried in his hands.

“Ah, there she is. Good morning, Sunshine.” Looking up over Jackson’s shoulder, Rick smiled. Both men parted and released from their greeting before Rick stepped to the side to envelope Caroline in a full bear hug.

“Good morning, Ricky. I didn’t think we’d see you until tonight.” Caroline wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight. She was so glad to see him.

Jackson and Rick met their junior year of college when Rick filled the need for a fourth roommate at Jackson’s apartment. The two hit it off and had been best friends since. After Rick came home with Jackson for Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks that year, he seemed to fit so perfectly within the family that he became just that – a new member of the family. Caroline was sixteen years old and affectionately dubbed him ‘Ricky’; that was fourteen years ago.

Rick pulled back from their embrace. He looked directly at Caroline with a hint of a smile. “Oh, I just wanted to bring a little something by for you guys. I decided the house could use a little Christmas cheer.” Resting his index finger under her chin, tenderly he added, “And I thought maybe you could, too.” He stepped back and swept his hand in the direction of the young man who’d entered behind him.

Jackson had already let him in the house, closed the door and was leading him toward the living room. Rick explained, “That’s Caleb Puchansky, the new intern I was telling you about.”

Caroline followed Rick’s gaze toward Jackson and Caleb as they wound their way through the maze of furniture and boxes in the living room. They chatted amiably. Jackson always had an easy time putting new people at ease and making anyone feel like an old friend. Although Caroline also knew that they had already met. Caleb carried a small table top Christmas tree, complete with burlap root ball, tiny lights and cute little package and bow ornaments. Jackson cleared off a space on one of the TV trays. Caleb placed the little tree on the stand while Jackson fumbled around with an extension cord. Once he found an empty space, he plugged in the festive little tree.

While Caroline stood and stared, Rick watched her reaction. Caroline’s eyes began to well with tears.

“Oh, come on, Sunshine, it was supposed to make you smile, not cry.” Rick bridged the small gap between them and wrapped her in a playful embrace. “Looks like I’ll just have to wrestle you into some laughter.”

Caroline held on tight so as not to fall over. Just as quickly as the tears threatened to fall, they faded away and she giggled into his chest. “Please, no, Ricky! I’m not dressed for wrestling!”

With his arms securely around her waist, he leaned out just far enough to look down and notice her shorts and tank top pajama set underneath her bulky fleece robe. Her fuzzy purple slippers skated along the floor. Rick took in a breath and he felt a peace wash over him as he realized, This is it, this is my moment.

With a glint in his eye Rick asked her, “Are you dressed for hugging?”

She closed her eyes and held him tight; her arms wrapped around his head. She whispered in his ear, “Yes, I think I’m dressed for hugging. Thank you, Ricky.”

*******

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