“Come along, GG.” Maddison bubbles with teenage effervescence as she twirls through sheets of lacy snow. “Mom and Gran are waiting in the car.”
I slide into the back seat and smiles and squeezes are exchanged all round.
“So where’re we going?” I ask.
“It’s a couple of hour’s drive.” Sheryl says, “So sit back and relax.”
“You tell me, Maddison.” I can see she’s bursting with excitement.
“Let’s just say it concerns the most awesome Christmas tree for miles around.”
“Is it big?”
“Close your eyes and rest, Mom.” Sheryl twists from the driver’s seat for a moment. “It’s Christmas Eve. You deserve a break after all the baking.”
Obediently, I close my eyes and try and take a nap. Instead, memories of past Christmas Eves seep into my mind. The year I turned ten, Daddy bought a Christmas tree to plant in the front garden. It was the same size as me and I ran my fingers through its cool green needles. “It’s beautiful!” I exclaimed. Each year, Daddy would measure both of us and of course the tree always won. By the time I was sixteen, it was twice my height.
I was sixteen the last time I saw Jack. He lived next door to us and we were best mates, spending hours boating, fishing and swimming together. He and I always decorated the tree together. He would stand on the ladder and I would pass up silver baubles and strings of gold and red tinsel and then Daddy would come out and help us with the coloured lights.
A familiar pain tweaks my heart. How had we let things go so terribly wrong? My parents were devastated to hear I was pregnant and after weeks of agony and tears, decided to send me to a home for unwed mothers.
I said goodbye to Jack on Christmas Eve, tears streaming as we stood locked in a desperate embrace. Above us, the Christmas tree swayed in the wind and flurries of snow swept against us, numbing our hands and faces. Jack pulled me even closer. “I’ll find you,” he promised. “I’ll find you and the baby and we’ll make a life together. I’ll get a job and look after you.”
I never saw him again although I searched for years. Both sets of parents had moved away, ensuring the break was final and complete. My one blessing was that I got to keep my baby although with harsh conditions attached. My daughter was raised as my sister.
“GG.” Madison is shaking me and I’m surprised to see it’s dark outside. “Come and look.” She helps me out of the car and turns me round to see a towering Christmas tree.
“Oh!” I bring my hands up to my mouth. “It’s beautiful.” The tree is wrapped with strings of gold and red tinsel and silver baubles reflect winking coloured lights. “But it’s in someone’s garden.” A house sits like a grey smudge and windows spill yellow squares of light across snowy lawns. It has a hint of familiarity and I step closer before looking back at the tree.
“I’m home!” I turn to Sheryl. “You brought me home! And look at my tree...how big it’s grown.”
She smiles. “I called the owner of the house. He says you’re welcome to go inside.”
“I can’t do that. It’s Christmas Eve.”
“Yes you can.”
We’re still arguing when the front door opens. “I’m sorry.” I say as a man approaches. “I used to live here but I don’t want to intrude...” My words lose momentum as he stops and looks intently into my face.
There’s something familiar about him. His voice, the dimple in his chin and the way his mouth turns up at the corners. Surely not?
We move forward at the same time. “Your great granddaughter traced me using the internet. I bought this house twenty years ago in the hope that you might come back for old time’s sake.”
Twenty years? Waiting for me? The pain of fifty Christmas Eves slips away like a ghost of Christmas past. I reach out a hand to him. “Do you remember the last time we stood under this tree?”
“I think we need to make a new memory.”
We stand under the shelter of the branches, coloured lights winking silver, red and yellow as he wraps his arms around me. “To new beginnings.” he whispers, as I lay my head on his shoulder.
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