Take Your Time

By: Leddy Harper

a Fate and Circumstance novel

For Sarah Nickles…

“It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes a lifetime to forget them.” –Anonymous

It was Christmas morning, my favorite day of the year. The house buzzed with excitement as everyone began to show up, filling the rooms with laughter and joy. The only person missing was Mom. I knew I’d find her in the kitchen, preparing for the big holiday, and I wanted nothing more than to help her like I did every year. I found her leaning against the counter with her head cradled in her hands.

“Everything all right, Mom?” I asked, walking cautiously toward her.

She straightened, holding herself up at the sink, and plastered a smile on her face. However, the dimness behind her normally bright eyes alerted me to the pain she tried to hide. I knew right away that her migraines were back. They’d plagued her for years, nearly crippling her at times. But she was on a regular Botox injection treatment plan to keep them away.

“When are you due for more shots?” I asked, grabbing a dishtowel and wetting it with cold water for her forehead.

“Not until next month.”

“That’s weird. You don’t normally get them this bad before treatment, do you?”

She took the rag from my hand, pressed it against her cheeks, and then dabbed it down her neck. “No. It came on this morning. Out of nowhere.”

“Did you take anything?”

She nodded. Clearly, the pain was too intense for her to speak.

“Go lay down, Mom. Don’t worry about lunch. I’ll take care of it for you.”

“Sarah, we have guests. I shouldn’t—”

“Mom,” I said sternly, using her motherly tone against her. “Don’t worry about them. Axel’s mom is with his sister’s little boy, the girls are entertaining each other in Ayla’s playroom, the women are chatting about weddings, and the men are discussing ways to keep their women happy. No one will mind if you go lay down for a little bit. I promise, I have everything under control.”

“I’ve trained you well, Sarah. One day, this holiday will be all yours.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She waved me off and moved out of the kitchen. “Just that one day, this family might need someone to step in and take care of the food and decorations and make sure everything is planned to perfection. And you’re the perfect person for the job. It’s the natural progression of things.”

“Stop talking like that, Mom. Go lay down.” I watched her walk back to her room as I finished with kitchen duty, reminiscing about the holidays in the past.

No matter how old I’d gotten, Christmas still made me feel like a child again. From the moment the first decoration went on sale at the local gardening store, or the first house that put up lights, I became giddy and it filled me with excitement and joy. That one day held the power to bring back memories of my childhood, growing up, and the traditions we continued every year no matter how much our lives had changed. And boy, did they change.

My real dad had passed away when I was three. My sister, Clarissa, was only one. As much as I wished I could remember him, at least I didn’t have to live with the grief of losing a parent. It’s shallow to say, sure, but nothing could be worse than being reminded of someone you loved unconditionally and realizing you’d never get those moments back. You’d never be able to apologize for hurtful words, or say thank you for things you might’ve once taken for granted. My dad got to experience the utter, complete, and honest love from his daughters before passing on. I just always felt bad for my mother. But she had a way of making things better for us.

For as long as I could remember, we had a Christmas tradition. Instead of buying gifts for each other, we’d make them, and then stick them under the tree without names on the tags. It was our own version of Secret Santa. The gifts from Clari—my sister—and me were pretty much garbage, but my mom’s eyes would light up and she’d ooh and ahh over every present she’d open. Mom loved to paint, so we always got canvases with beautiful scenes on them. We’d hang them in our rooms along with the previous years’ portraits, and make sure we always left room for new ones.

I was thirteen when my mom remarried; Clari was almost eleven. Wayne was the first guy Mom ever brought home, and we loved him from the very first time we met him. He made her happy, which made us happy. And even better, he loved our holiday tradition and insisted we kept it. Now, looking back on it, instead of loving the Secret Santa idea, the decision probably had more to do with the fact that we didn’t have much money, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter what the reasons were, I only cared about picking which wrapped gift I wanted. After a few years, Wayne had been offered a better-paying job, and Mom got the promotion she’d been after for a long time. Money was no longer an issue in our family, but it never changed the tradition of Christmas morning.

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