“Jack wake up, it’s Christmas morning.”
The words slip through Jack’s sleep filled mind. His shoulder moved. Pushed by something. Poking him over and over.
“Jack wake up.”
He swatted at the thing and connected with it. He opened his eyes, letting the light slowly come through the lids. Little by little an image came into focus.
“Mom. Five more minutes.”
“No it’s Christmas morning. Get up sleepy head.” Then she left.
Jack dragged himself out and down the stairs where he found his mom, Nick, and Kim waiting. He dropped into a chair, rubbed his eyes, turned his body this way and that to get comfy. It was too early.
“Good morning sleepy head.” Nick said. “You ready to help me kill that goose of yours?”
“Kill it? Me?” A panic sliced through his gut. He didn’t want to kill it.
“Ya. Then we’ll have to figure out how to pluck it and clean the guts out of the thing. I’ll be fun.”
“Here you go sweety.” His mom handed him a bag that said Happy Birthday Teenager. She must have saved it from his last birthday. Excitement pushed away the apprehension and the goose was forgotten. He had a gift. “It’s from Nick, Kim and I.”
Opening the bag he found the bag filled with different items. Candy. Candy? Where did they find candy? A book. Some new socks. A few pens and a notebook.
“I thought you could start keeping a journal. You know your thoughts about what is going on. This isn’t going to be like this forever.” His mom smiled and hope that she was right encircled him like a blanket.
“I got you something too.” Jumping up he retrieved the books and gave them to her.
“So many books. Thank you. Where did you find them?”
“Friends.” He shrugged and she didn’t push any further.
“I love them thank you.” He let him hug her and felt warm. He was really lucky to have her as a mom.
Nick gave his mom her gift and her face lit up. Then she gave him a big long kiss, right there in front of him. How rude.
“Get a room.” Jack said and they broke the kiss, his mom’s face blushed red.
“I have one more gift for you Jack. This one is from me and your dad.”
“You saw dad?”
“Well. No. Sweety. It’s just. Well once you open it you’ll see. It belonged to your dad it’s the only thing I have of his and I was keeping it to give it to you when you were a man.”
He took the box and opened it. Inside was a small round golden circle with a silver pattern embedded in it. He picked it up, it felt heavier than he’d have thought, it felt solid, it’s strength grounding him. A thin gold chain came up along with it.
“It was his wedding ring. He left it here when he left. I know he’d like you to have it. This way maybe he’ll be with you until he we can find him and he can be here for real.”
A heat burned up from deep inside him. It set his face a blaze and burned his eyes. Tears filled the orbs before falling down his cheeks in a cool stream.
“Thank you so much.”
He hugged her and didn’t want to let go. The tears started coming faster and sobs bubbled up from his guts, scrapping along his throat. His dad was the only thing missing this morning. She held him until he felt uncomfortable. He was too old for cuddles with his mom. Too old to need her like this. He pulled back and made his way back to the chair.
He played with his dad’s ring, slipping it from one finger to the next to his thumb. The gold chain necklace hanging off its edge. He looked around the room. There were no decorations, the gifts were mostly used items, and the day would not be filled with the usual Christmas cheer.
He glanced over at his mom snuggled into Nick on the couch, a smile so big on her face it transformed it. She looked younger, prettier, and happier than he’d seen in a long time. Kim was talking, a small smile on her face seemed to light up her eyes that had only been weighed down with sadness since he’d met her. Nick’s laugh filled the room a strong presence that grounded them all.
Things for this moment felt right. Felt like they would be alright. Hope filled the room.
Shannon Peel is the author of THIRTEEN and is currently working on Book 2 in the series about a boy, his mom, a cop, and an invading army. She has brought war to a North American town to answer the question, what if it happened here?