“Helen, please try. Christmas is the perfect time to make things right.” She loved her husband but the idea of spending Christmas with her in-laws made her sick to her stomach. How could she share an amiable holiday meal with a woman who thought she wasn’t good enough for her son?
“I’ll think about it – now stop bugging me!” Ten deep breaths but still her stomach churned and heart thumped. This flu bug she was getting just made her feel worse.
Helen had tried to make peace with her mother-in-law. She treated her to high tea at the Hotel Victoria on her birthday. It should have been lovely, but it wasn’t. The beautiful ocean view was obscured by streaming rain. The waitress brought the wrong kind of tea, twice, and the scones were a bit dry. Her mother-in-law did not utter one word of complaint, but Helen felt the waves of acrimony rolling off the plump, coiffed and perfumed woman who had done only one thing perfectly: gave birth to Jim.
Why had her in-laws decided to spend Christmas at home this year instead of going to Florida? Probably just to torment me, Helen thought gloomily. Pity party, invitation for one. Oh stop it! she chided herself. It’s one day – you can do this. For Jim.
* * *
Miles away, Jim’s parents were preparing for the Christmas celebration with their son and his wife. His mother was feeling guilty for the way she had frozen Helen out. ‘It’s not Helen’s fault she’s the spitting image of my sister Ellie, God rest her soul. But every time I look at Helen, my heart breaks at how Ellie’s life was cut painfully short, how much I miss her.’
“Bob, do you think they’ll come for Christmas?” Her tone drew his eyes from the newspaper; wistfulness was not in his wife’s emotional repertoire.
“I’m sure Jim will convince Helen to come. We haven’t had Christmas together in 5 years.” Rustling his way back to the sports scores, Bob left his wife to calm herself.
“I hope so. I pray so…” As she went to the pantry, Ann put on her favourite Christmas CD, soothed by Bing Crosby’s voice.
* * *
Jim understood his wife’s anxiety, the pain his mother’s rebuff had caused her. He should have told her about Aunt Ellie, but his mother warned him, even pleaded with him, not to. She had hidden all the photos and never mentioned her name, but once, he’d seen a group photo that included Ellie – the resemblance to Helen was remarkable. Coward that he was, he bent to his mother’s will and said nothing to his wife. Surely Mom would come around. Maybe this Christmas was her peace offering? The thought cheered him.
* * *
Christmas Day was ushered in by plump white flakes that drifted lazily and settled picturesquely on the pines surrounding the Drake’s modest house in its park-like setting. Jim had loved growing up in this home. Helen was pleased to see the beautiful wreath she had sent taking pride of place in the center of the gleaming front door. Her heart was warmed and her butterflies calmed.
Dinner was delicious and everyone was cordial and pleasant. Bing Crosby worked his magic here too; even the weather agreed by offering them the perfect white Christmas.
After dinner, they took their brandy and coffee into the living room and gathered around the fragrant spruce dripping with red and gold decorations amid twinkling white lights. Helen stood up, walked over to the fireplace and took a deep breath.
“Before we open the gifts, there’s something I’d like to say. To give, actually. A gift, for all of you. Us. It’s, well – Jim, I’m sorry I should have… I didn’t…
She froze, heart pounding, cheeks flushing, blinking away tears.
“We’re going to have a baby!”
NOTE: This was my story for Week 27 of Themed Writing Contest: Resolution. Not a winner but got the vote from the group’s top writer – I’m pleased and honoured!