I dragged my feet all the way from the SUV into the house and then to my bedroom. Mom started on dinner while I stashed the presents in my closet and retrieved the plastic bottle—the only real trophy from my mall-hunting. The poster of red and white danced through my head again and I bit my lip, skipping downstairs to rummage through the utensil drawer.
Gramps sat on the back porch. I tapped on the backdoor. I know he heard me, because his head jerked to the left, just a few inches. I also knew he knew it was me, because he didn’t turn around.
So I stood there like an idiot, waiting for some sappy, emotional apology to come bubbling up. In the end, I stood to the right of the porch swing and handed over the cold, plastic, bottle of Coca-Cola.
It hung, suspended by my fingers, bound by my emotions.
Then he took it.
Twisting the cap off, he tucked it in his shirt pocket.
I handed it over.
My apology cemented itself to my throat. I handed over the second straw, a neon pink to the green I’d already relinquished.
Gramps patted the space on the swing beside him.
He took a long draw from the green straw and then passed the bottle to me.
I took a tentative sip from the pink one, before passing it back.
We sat, in silence, until the bottle was empty between us.
He produced the cap to close it. I held it in my hands afterwards, to remember to put it in our recycling bin. The sweet taste in my mouth seemed to turn bitter as we sat in the approaching darkness.
The memory of the advertising poster in the mall echoed in my head.
Share the happiness. Share joy. Open happiness. Who am I kidding?
The silence between us was a memory too fresh to handle.
Stupid words that had been all my fault.
After a long moment, the porch swing began to rock and he snuck a glance at me. I bit my lip and edged closer.
“Have fun shopping?”
I snuck a glance of my own.
He sat comfortably, hands folded across his stomach, a faint hint of a smile tugging at his grizzled face. “Apology accepted.”
Share the happiness. Really?
For a moment, I stared at him.
I don’t deserve a Grandpa like this.
I’d scrounged through my fourteen-year-old brain for the most hurtful thing possible, then blurted it out with all the emotion I’d had to my name. He’d only nodded and calmly retreated, leaving me and my fury to Mom’s scatterbrained adventures through various department stores to help with last minute Christmas errands.
A trip I wished he’d experienced after all.
The silence faded between us.
I flung my arms around his neck. “I’m sorry, Gramps. I didn’t mean-” I hiccupped into his neck, the plastic bottle falling from my hands to the deck.
He chuckled and hugged me back, patting my shoulder. “That’s okay, Libby-girl.” He mumbled. “I know I can be slow. Sometimes an old man just doesn’t know these things.”
“And sometimes I can be a real brat.” I sniffled into his shoulder.
He let me.
“You sure you okay?”
“I’m fine.” I settled carefully on the swing beside him, feeling a spark of happiness, the first inkling of holiday cheer as his arm curved around my shoulders and squeezed, gently. “I’m fine, Gramps.”
The smile I’d seen on the Santa Claus mall poster was now beautifully reproduced on the handsome, wrinkled face before me.
His smile touched his eyes, a sight I could see as the porch light clicked on and Mom stuck her head through the kitchen window.
We laughed with each other and climbed off the porch swing, heading inside. I paused long enough to grab the plastic bottle and chuck it in the appropriate plastic can.
“Smart kid.” Gramps tugged my ponytail as I darted through in front of him. “You picked the right bribe.”
I grinned. “You can thank the mall for that. They had this giant poster on the wall—just like the ones you used to tell me about. I couldn’t help it.”
“Open happiness or something like that.” I stood behind him, in line to wash my hands at the kitchen sink. “Think it worked?”
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