The last couple of weeks I have felt more like a book marketer than a book writer as all the shiny new gadgets and offers turn on in the days before the release of EVER AFTER. It’s about par for the course, and don’t think I’m complaining because I’ve grown to love it and I’ve found the correlation between promotion and the honor to have the chance to touch lives positively is a close one.
But I’d like to take a day and remember why I do this. So a little gift from me to you, written long before I found publication and I was raw with the need to reach and connect, and short on literary grace. You may have seen this last year, but it still makes me cry.
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright. . . .
Humming, Kaylin held her coat close against the cold, more from habit than anything else as she dodged through the unseeing, evening shoppers. She was anxious to get home. Her work had seemed to stretch forever today, but finally The Boss had let her go. She couldn’t wait to see her daughter–it had been too long since the entire family had been together.
Slipping at the bus stop, she grasped the door to the bus, just making it on behind two tired women as the doors closed. The sound of their money jingling into the box chimed like bells, and the bus jerked into motion. Kaylin stood where she was, gripping the ceiling support as the gears shifted. Her gaze rove over the heads, looking for acknowledgment she existed. There, at the back where the heat didn’t reach, was a smiling face and a beckoning hand.
Though she didn’t recognize him, Kaylin went to sit with the old man. She smiled shyly, the anticipation of her coming evening prompting her to be more bold than usual. “I’m going home for Christmas,” she said by way of greeting as she jammed her gloves into a pocket.
“First time?” the old man murmured, his brown eyes going sad in memory.
She nodded. “Since my accident. I can hardly wait to see everyone together.” Kaylin put her hands in her lap, glad she couldn’t feel the cold anymore.
The man met her eyes. “See that boy up there?” he said, pointing with his chin. “I’m spending Christmas with him. He’s a college student on his way home. He needs all the help he can get, and my family doesn’t miss me anymore.”
Kaylin bit her lip and fussed with the hem of her coat’s sleeve, uncomfortable with the idea she would eventually be forgotten. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Make the most of the time they remember you. As it’s said, it came to pass.”
She didn’t know what to say. “This is my stop,” she said, glancing out the window to the colored lights.
“Best hurry. The door won’t wait for you.”
Giving him a hesitant smile, she hastened to the front, edging to the sidewalk past the three girls giggling about the presents they had gotten for their boyfriends.
Kaylin’s mood went soft as she took in the familiar street gray with twilight. The curb was jammed with cars. A noisy, joyful reunion on her front steps had the dogs barking. Excitement tingling to her toes, Kaylin waited on the walk, following the last of the children inside.
Her shoulders eased as she stood in the entryway, basking in the cheerful clutter and the too-noisy greetings. She waved as she spotted her grandmother in a corner, deep in the thick of it. The old woman’s eyes sparkled as they met hers. Her fingertips again had a rosy glow, and the blue tint Kaylin remembered was gone.
“Jasmine is in the kitchen!” her grandmother called over the noise. “Go on. We’ll talk later.”
Relieved her grandmother understood, Kaylin followed the smell of heated punch into the kitchen. She stopped in the open doorway as her heart clenched.
Jasmine stood on a chair before the counter, stirring a cup of green frosting. “I can’t do it, Daddy,” she complained, her high voice clear over the excited babble of relatives. “It’s too hard.”
Kaylin’s hands reached out, but she stood unmoving, forcing back the unexpected tears as her husband set aside his dishcloth and went to their daughter.
“Mommy always helped me, Daddy,” the child said around a sniff as his hand covered hers atop the spoon and they stirred together. “I want Mommy. I miss her.”
“Hush,” he said, the pain in his voice causing Kaylin’s throat to tighten. “I miss her too, sweetheart, but look. She’s everywhere, especially tonight.” Eyes bright, the man pointed to the dusty Christmas candles Kaylin had refused to burn, sitting on the kitchen windowsill. “There are her candles, right where she always put them. And the mistletoe above the doorway? She made that just last year. And the bow? Remember her spending an hour on that to get it to look just like the one in the store window? And you can smell her touch in the gingerbread men and taste it in the fruit punch. She’s everywhere.”
“No, Daddy,” the small girl protested. “It’s not the same. I can’t see her at all.”
“But I can,” he said, giving her a hug. “I can see her in you when you cut out your star cookies, I watched her hand move yours when you hung the ornaments on the tree, and I can see her eyes when I look at you. So, Jasmine, she is here.”
“I can’t see her,” Jasmine said, sniffing as she licked the frosting from a finger.
Kaylin ached. The Boss had warned her it would be hard, and she thought she could handle it. But this? This tore at her. Kaylin came close to stand behind her daughter and nudged a cookie, as if she could make the star any less lopsided. Perhaps . . . . Perhaps she could pretend.
And so she was a silent participant, each moment harder than the previous, a bittersweet mix of memories. She hovered in the kitchen while dinner was prepared, blowing on the gravy to keep it from boiling over until someone remembered it. She watched the rolls brown through the oven window with Jasmine, admonishing the child they weren’t done yet when Jasmine pronounced them finished. She stood in the archway to the living room and worried about the carpet as paper plates overflowing with food were balanced on knees. She sat at the kitchen table while the dishes were washed, catching up on the women’s gossip with her fingers curved around a forgotten cup until it was whisked away.
And then it was done. Kaylin knew the signs: the last swallows of coffee, the slowing conversation, the children collapsing in their mother’s arms. Kaylin sighed. She didn’t want it to be over.
Jasmine was slumped in her frills and white stockings in her father’s arms, too sleepy to be anything but content. Kaylin sat on the arm of the couch beside them, running her fingers unfelt over her daughter’s hair. There was one final tradition as yet undone, her most cherished part of the evening, and Kaylin’s heart fell when the first of the coats appeared. They had forgotten.
“Wait, Daddy.” Jasmine stirred as her father rose to say his good-byes. “We didn’t sing yet. Mommy always sings. Please?”
Kaylin waited, hoping.
“Of course, Jasmine,” her father said, giving her a hug. “You’re such a clever girl for remembering.”
Coats were dropped to the couch in the sliding sound of nylon. Her grandmother beckoned, and Kaylin joyfully edged closer to the piano. Jasmine wiggled down to sit on the long bench before the battered keys, her father standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. Kaylin could see a glimmer of tears in her mother’s eyes as she took Kaylin’s usual spot before the piano and began to play.
“Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Tears pricked at Kaylin’s eyes. Her favorite. Voice quavering, she joined her voice to her family’s.
“Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild.”
“Daddy,” Jasmine whispered, her face upturned as she pulled on his sleeve. “I can hear Mommy singing.”
Kaylin’s throat nearly closed, and tears slipped down her cheeks. Angels could sing. And on Christmas Eve, they could be heard by those who listened.
Her husband knelt and gave Jasmine a tight, fierce hug. “So can I, sweetheart,” he whispered, rocking her. “So can I.”
“Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.”