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Saying Goodbye: The Christmas Gift

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Saying Goodbye

The Christmas Gift

Linda L Barton

Copyright 2016©Linda L Barton

DeadlyReads.com

All rights reserved by the author. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the publisher, except where permitted by law.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Dedication and Acknowledgments

I dedicate this book to my husband, Bob. You have taught me how to never give up and strive to be the best person I can be. We have shared so many happy memories, and you have given me a life full of love and laughter. I look forward to our eternity together.

Editing, formatting, and cover design by

Deadly Reads Author Services

Images courtesy of

pixabay.com

Table of Contents

Title Page[,] [_*Copyright][,*_]

Dedication and Acknowledgments

Introduction

Chapter 1[,] [_*Chapter 2][,] [Chapter 3][,*_]

Chapter 4[,] [_*Chapter 5][,] [Chapter 6][,*_]

Chapter 7[,] [_*Chapter 8][,] [Chapter 9][,*_]

Chapter 10[,] [_*Chapter 11][,] [Chapter 12][,*_]

Chapter 13[,] [_*Chapter 14][,*_] Chapter 15

A Message from the Author

Introduction

Have you ever had someone come into your life and instantly you knew everything you’ve ever believed about yourself and your life was going to change forever? Well, that happened to me. When I thought, I had my life all figured out, the unexpected happened and changed the course of my life forever.

Hello, my name is Molly. I’m going to share with you the story of my favorite Christmas when I was 23-years-old and in my third year of Med School. Now, before you wonder how that’s possible, let me clarify a few things. I was raised to believe you should push yourself and not settle for anything less than your best. So, because of that, I graduated from High School at the age of seventeen; mid-term of my senior year, and it only took me three and a half years to get my bachelor’s degree before being accepted into Med School.

Regardless of the pressure put on me to succeed, I guess you can say I’m a bit spoiled and stuck in my ways; however, growing up with the parents I had it’s no surprise. I’m an only child. I was the pride and joy of my father and the young lady in training for my overly strict and domineering mother.

Yeah, I know there are several stories out there about children growing up in homes with parents like that, but I’m not here to whine about how it screwed up my life. You see, this is a different story. This is how I learned a lesson my parents or teachers had never taught me. This is the story of how I finally learned how to say goodbye and from someone you’d least expect.

Chapter 1

“Come on, Molly, don’t leave yet. The party’s just getting started.”

“I need to get going. Shit, I’ve already had enough to drink anyway.” I knew Cheryl didn’t want me to leave, but if I stayed any longer, they’d be peeling me off the floor.

“Come on, you can’t leave. Who’s gonna save me from me? You know how I get when I’m drinking.”

“Well, it’s time for you to realize just because a gorgeous guy wants to go home with you, doesn’t mean that you have to take him. It’s time you learn how to say NO.”

I had liked Cheryl from the moment we met. She had a bright, beautiful smile, and a heart of gold. We met in high school and had become the best of friends. Cheryl had grown up in an overly religious home, so I guess she felt the need to break free of the bonds her parents had put on her in high school by sleeping with nearly every guy she met. I had tried to convince her she was better than that, but I guess those are her demons, and she’ll have to battle them on her own.

“I’m sorry, but I really need to get home. Mother’s expecting me to help put up the Christmas tree tomorrow evening, and I’d rather not do it with a massive hangover.”

Cheryl was about to protest again, but the look of disappointment on her face quickly disappeared when a tall, well-muscled guy walked up to her.

“Hello, I’ve been watching you, and I thought it was the time I introduced myself. My name is Chad.”

Oh, my, God, please don’t tell me she’s gonna fall for that line, but no sooner had the thought entered my mind, I knew better.

“Hi, Chad, I know you’ve been watching me. I’ve been watching you, too. My name is Cheryl.”

As I watched this little dance of flirtation between them play out, I realized my departure would go unnoticed, and Cheryl would have another notch to add to her bedpost. So, I grabbed my drink and chugged the rest of it down in one swallow; however, when I stood I realized that was a mistake. I guess I should have known better. Hell, it had been an exhausting day, so I had decided instead of having my usual Amaretto Sour I’d gone for something a bit stronger – a Kamikaze. The only problem was I didn’t have just one. The one I had just slammed down was my forth, and it had just knocked the world out from underneath me.

“Oh, crap.” I quickly reached for my purse and then did my best to stand upright without landing on my butt. I glanced over at Cheryl for a little help, but she was lost in the world of Chad and his dark, penetrating eyes.

“Oh, well, I guess I’m on my own.” Feeling the fool for allowing myself to get in this condition, I decided it was best to call a cab. Hell, Cheryl was my ride, and she was occupied.”

To be honest, I was glad to take a cab for the drive home. Cheryl had picked me up from the airport and had insisted on me joining her for a drink in celebration of my being home for the Christmas holiday. I, of course, had jumped at the opportunity to delay facing my Mom a little longer. Besides, I figured I could just get my luggage from Cheryl later.

My head was spinning with crazy thoughts, so it was nice just to lay my head back, close my eyes, and try to clear my mind. The problem was there was no escaping my thoughts. You see, there was a reason I had decided to go out with Cheryl. True, I must admit that I like to let my hair down as much as the next person, but what I really wanted to do was to escape from reality for a while. While it was true my Mother needed help putting up the Christmas tree, I hated the day she had chosen to do it on.

It was a beautiful, sun-filled day when my life changed forever. I was glad to be home from college for the Christmas break and out of the cold weather of the Northeast. After my father had retired from the Air Force, we had settled in Southeast Texas. I must admit that I was surprised when my father announced he had bought a house, and we were moving there, but I also should confess that I enjoyed having the remainder of my high school years living in one place. Dad had grown up in the area, so he wanted to return to a place that held special memories for him.

Having a father in the military wasn’t the best if you wanted to live in the same place for long. It seemed that I would just get settled in and would have some friends when he’d come home and announce we were moving again. I know most people would get angry at being uprooted all the time, but that’s all I had known. That is until Dad retired and we settled down in one place the summer before my sophomore year in high school.

At first, I had kept my distance from the other students, but over time, I had begun to let my guard down and open up. It felt strange to know that I wouldn’t be moving in the typical year and a half to two years. I was now in uncharted territory, but over time, I came to love it.

For the first time in my life, my dad was around every day. After years in the military, I had grown accustomed to Dad being gone for extended periods of time, leaving just me and Mom home alone. I’m not saying that I was angry at Dad for leaving like he did. I just missed him greatly, and he was often the buffer between my mother and me. Where Dad was jovial and easy going, Mom was the complete opposite.

Things were so much better with Dad around more. That is until that beautiful, sun filled day a week before Christmas day.

The day had started out normally. I was home for the Christmas break from college of my junior year. Dad had asked me if I’d like to play a round of golf with him, but I had had plans to go shopping with some friends.

“Okay, but I want you back in time to go with me to pick out our Christmas tree.”

I still remember the look of disappointment in his eyes, but he simply smiled and kissed me on the cheek before picking up his golf bag and walking out of the back door.

That was the last time I saw my father alive. I still blame myself for his death. Maybe if I had gone with him, I could have done something to save him. Everyone had told me there was nothing anyone could have done to save him. The doctor on duty at the emergency room had told me his heart attack was massive, and he was probably dead before he collapsed to the ground. I know the doctor was right, but it still doesn’t remove the guilt I have for not being there with him.

“Oh, well, Dad, at least you died doing something you loved.”

You see, my Dad died on the 16th hole of his favorite golf course. He was positioning himself above the ball and had started his backswing when the heart attack struck. Sam and Clive, who were two of Dad’s golfing buddies, were with him that day. They had told me that Dad had been in a great mood all day. They said he was joking and teasing them about how he was gonna win, and they would be buying his drinks after they finished. They both stated that he seemed fine until…

So, that’s how my life changed. My Dad died doing something he loved, and I live with the guilt of not getting to say goodbye to the man who loved me so completely and unconditionally.

“Ma’am, we’re here. That’ll be $6.85, please.”

“Oh, okay, thank you.” Brought out of my thoughts, I reached into my purse and pulled out a $10 bill.

“Here you go, and keep the change.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

I knew there was no putting it off. I had to open the cab door and prepare myself to face Mom and decorate that damn Christmas tree in the morning.

Chapter 2

I had tried to sneak into the house, but Mom’s Pomeranian, Peanut decided to greet me at the door. He was a cute little guy, but the constant yapping was something I could live without.

“Shush, Peanut; you’ll wake up Mom.”

Of course, this only made him bark even more. So, realizing that he wasn’t going to shut up, I decided to see if giving him one of his favorite treats would work. I reached down and scooped him up into my arms and carried him to the kitchen, stroking his soft hair as we went. Mom had always made sure he was well groomed. She would send him to the groomer twice a month for a bath and proper grooming, as she would say.

Once I had given him one of his favorite liver treats, I set him on the floor, and then watched him scurry off to his bed to enjoy his prize for guarding the house.

“You really are a silly, little guy.” I would never admit it to Mom, but I really did like Peanut. To be honest, he took the brunt of her over-reaching need for control. Poor little Peanut seemed to fill the void in Mom’s world while I was away at school after Dad’s death.

As I stood there and tried to decide if I wanted something to eat, or just go straight to bed, I heard the Grandfather clock chime from the living room.

“Damn, it’s already 2 o’clock. I better get some sleep before I have to face Mom and that damn Christmas tree tomorrow.” Realizing my current condition and the potential for a serious hangover when I got up in the morning, I decided to take a couple of aspirin before going to bed.

“Where does Mom keep them now?”

I knew where Mom kept them, so why I would even ask that question caused me to chuckle at myself. My mother is as predictable as the sun coming up each morning.

I opened the cabinet door above the sink and pulled out a bottle of extra-strength aspirin, shook two of them into the palm of my hand, and then returned the bottle to its place. I had to smile when I saw three other bottles sitting in the cabinet, waiting for their turn to relieve a headache.

After filling a glass with water, I swallowed the two pills, put the glass in the dishwasher, and then turned off the light as I left the room. Nothing had changed since the last time I was here. I was home, for better or worse.

As I walked down the long hallway to my bedroom, I couldn’t help but wonder how this visit would go. The last time I was home, I had noticed that Mom seemed to be getting forgetful, and she seemed so frail. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with her advanced age, but I just never thought someone like Mom would ever allow herself to get that way.

My mother had always been stubborn and set in her ways. She was not one to just go-with-the-flow. She wanted everything planned with precision. Heck, you’d think Mom was the one in the military, instead of Dad.

When I saw the door to my bedroom, a feeling of relief came over me. Now all I needed to do was sneak inside without waking Mom. I held my breath and slowly turned the doorknob. The door let out a soft groan as I opened it, and then I quickly stepped inside. I was pleased when it didn’t make a sound when I closed it behind me.

I never did understand why my mother had insisted on having my bedroom across the hall from theirs when we moved into the house. Dad had said it was because they loved me and wanted me close, but I always had another theory. I always believed it was because Mom didn’t trust me and wanted to be able to keep a close eye on me.

At first, I resented the choice of my room, but over time I had accepted it. Originally, I wanted the bedroom on the other end of the house with the sliding glass door leading out onto the patio and swimming pool, but Mother had insisted I take the room across from them. Our house was shaped like a U, so my parent’s bedroom and the room I had wanted both had doors opening onto the pool which sat in the center of the U.

I tried to argue, but Mom won out as normal. I did finally have to admit it wasn’t a bad bedroom to have after all. Besides, it was the same size as my parents, and it had a private bathroom, as well. Dad had said it was called a duel Master Suite, and that a Princess like me deserved only the best. I always liked that about my Dad. He always seemed to have a way of turning a negative into something positive.

Once inside the room, I felt relaxed and content. It surprised me how this room could stir up such happy memories for me. I decided against taking a shower. I was tired and wanted to get some sleep before facing Mom in the morning. Not needing to turn on the light, I set my purse down on the chair next to the bed, kicked off my shoes, tossed my blue jeans on the chair next to my purse, and then climbed into my bed.

I can’t begin to say how good it felt to lie in my bed. I had always loved the mattress and thick comforter Mom picked out for me, but I would never admit it to her.

As I rolled over on my side facing the center of the bed, I caught the gentle scent of men’s cologne. It seemed odd, but I quickly dismissed the thought and fell off into a wonderful, blissful dream-filled sleep.

I awoke to the smell of bacon and coffee filling my nostrils. “Oh, thank God, I can use a cup of coffee.”

When I stood up, the room seemed to move out from under my feet. I knew I couldn’t still be drunk, so maybe a cup of coffee and some breakfast would help me get back to my usual self.

I reached over and grabbed my jeans, put them on, and then I walked to the bathroom. However, what I found there caught me completely by surprise. On the sink, there was a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, and a comb. I reached up and opened the medicine cabinet door and found a can of deodorant, a razor, a can of shaving cream, and a bottle of men’s cologne.

“What the hell?”

A sudden sickening feeling came over me as I thought back to what I had believed was a dream.

As I floated off to sleep, I remember feeling warmth in the bed that wasn’t caused by me. I had ignored it because it felt good and I knew I was alone. I then remember a soothing voice whisper, “Hello, you must be Molly. It’s nice to make your acquaintance. My name is Liam.”

Liam; what a lovely name I remember thinking, I’ve never known a Liam. I knew this was a dream, so I decided to see where it would take me. It had been several months since my breakup with Randy. We had dated a little over a year, but with the pressures of Med School, we both decided to cut things off, and maybe we’d find each other again when the time was better. To be honest, I was relieved it had ended the way it did since I never liked goodbyes. Besides, it was nice to hear a man’s voice in my bed again without the obligations attached.

“I’m glad to meet you, Liam.”

I then felt the bed move and the blanket lift.

“Where are you going?” I couldn’t explain it, but I didn’t want him to leave. Heck, this was a dream, and it wasn’t supposed to end with simple hellos, and then this man with the sexy voice just get up and leave.

“I think it’s best if I sleep in the other room.”

“No, please, don’t go. I’m so tired. Please stay and hold me for a while.” I knew it was only a dream, so what harm would come by this simple request.

“Okay but only until you’re asleep.”

I then felt him lie back down and move closer to me, pulling me into his arms. It felt nice to have his arms around me, and the steady beat of his heart on my cheek as I rested my head on his chest.

“Thank you, I’m not looking forward to facing my mother in the morning, so this is nice.”

“Don’t let that bother you now. Get some sleep. Everything will work out just fine.”

As I lay there in my bed, enjoying this unsuspected dream, I suddenly felt as though he was right; everything would, in fact, work out just fine.

Chapter 3

Horror filled my body as I stared at the objects sitting before me. I suddenly had a sinking feeling come over me. Oh, my God, it wasn’t a dream.

I knew there was no escaping the obvious. I had climbed into my bed and into the arms of a strange man.

“Oh, God, what was I thinking?”

I felt a sickening knot tighten in my stomach as I walked back into the bedroom and saw the indention on the pillow on the other side of the bed and the man’s shirt tossed over the chair against the wall in the corner of the room.

“Who are you, and why were you in my bed?” Just hearing those words aloud, made me nauseous.

I knew there was no use in putting it off any longer. I had to face whoever this man was and try to get the confusion straightened out before it got out of hand. I swallowed, trying to gather what strength I could, and then reached for the doorknob on my bedroom door.

The smell of coffee and bacon frying was strong in the hall as I walked toward the kitchen. I wondered who I would find, and I prayed that it was Maria, Mom’s housekeeper, but I had a feeling it wasn’t.

I stopped just short of the entry to the kitchen and listened. What I heard only confirmed my worst fear.

“Good morning, Molly. I hope you like your coffee strong. I always believe a good, strong cup of coffee is just what is needed after a night of too much alcohol.”

I could hear a hint of amusement in his voice, which only added to the embarrassment churning up from deep inside of me. I decided not to add to my shame by hiding, so I stepped into the doorway and found myself frozen in place.

“Do you remember me from last night?”

The playful grin on his face would have usually angered me after what had happened, but there was something in his eyes.

I cleared my throat then walked toward the cupboard to get a coffee cup. “Yes, I remember you. You’re Liam, correct?”

As I reached for the handle on the cupboard door, he reached up and opened it for me. “Here you go. You look like you can use a cup of my special coffee.”

I pulled one of the large coffee cups my mother always kept around and held it out for him to fill.

Liam lifted the pot to the rim of my cup and poured. Once it was full, he returned it to the counter without saying a word.

I wanted to respond, but the only thing I could seem to say was, “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. Why don’t you take a seat at the table, and after I take your mother her breakfast, we can eat. I think it’s time that we get to know each other properly.” He smiled at me then he picked up the tray on the counter with a covered plate, a cup of coffee, flatware with a napkin, and Mom’s crystal vase with a single white rose in it.

“I’ll be right back. I’ll let her know you’re awake and that you’ll see her after breakfast, and the Private Nurse gets her ready for the day.”

I walked over to the table and sat in the chair facing the hallway. I couldn’t understand why, but I wanted to make sure he truly was taking Mom her breakfast. Yeah, I know it sounds silly, but for some reason it made me feel better about what had happened between us the night before.

Only about five minutes had passed when I saw him step back out of Mom’s bedroom door. For a moment, I thought I had seen a look of sadness in his eyes, but once he realized I was watching, he forced the expression aside, and a broad smile appeared on his face.

“How is she doing this morning?”

“She’s alert today. She’s been looking forward to your homecoming. That’s all she’s talked about for the last couple of weeks.”

I must confess to hear she was excited to see me had caught me by surprise. Mother had always been so reserved, so excitement from her was something I was not accustomed to seeing.

“Here, let me get our breakfast, and it looks like you need a refill on your coffee.”

Liam walked over to the oven and pulled out 2 plates, piled high with bacon and scrambled eggs, and set them on the table. He then pulled out a bowl with buttermilk biscuits and another one with gravy and set them on the table, as well.

The smell emanating from my plate caused my stomach to growl. “Oh, this looks delicious.”

“Thank you, my mother was an excellent cook and believed even her sons needed to know how to cook.”

“Well, my thanks to your mother, too.”

I couldn’t understand why, but something about Liam seemed to relax me. As I watched him fill my coffee cup and then his own, I wondered what brought this amazing man to my mother’s home.

“You look like you have some questions for me?” He smiled again, letting me know I have nothing to fear from him.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I do. What is your function here? I know that mother has a Private Nurse, and a housekeeper, so what is your function here? It can’t be to make her breakfast, and sleep in her daughter’s bed.”

Oh, God, I can’t believe I said that out loud, but I did. I braced myself for the response I assumed would come next, but I was surprised. Liam simply took a sip of his coffee and smiled.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…” At that moment, I wished I could climb under the table, but the look of compassion in his eyes put me at ease.

“Well, I do have to admit that was a first for me too. Don’t worry. Nothing happened. Once you fell asleep, I went and slept in the guest room, so no harm was done.”

At hearing his words, a sudden sense of relief washed over me. I couldn’t explain it, but there was something about him, something safe and comforting.

“Good, I’d hate for you to think I’m some sort of a slut.” No sooner had those words left my mouth than I wanted to pull them back.

I guess the look of horror on my face was amusing because Liam chuckled. “No, not at all, you only wanted someone to hold you. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Thank you. This is a tough time of the year for me.” I reached for my cup of coffee and took a sip, hoping it would wash down the emotions stirring up inside of me.

Liam then reached out and rested his hand on top of mine. “I know today is the anniversary of your father’s sudden death. Losing someone we love is never easy, but you need to release the pain and remember the love and happiness you both shared. I’m sure your father wouldn’t want you to hold on to the pain you’re feeling.”

I tried to hold his gaze but was unsuccessful. Tears filled my eyes, and I felt a sudden release of deeply buried emotions.

“Oh, Liam, it’s my fault. If I would’ve gone with him, I might have been able to do something to save him.”

My body shook with agony at the memory of the disappointed look in my Dad’s eyes the last day of his life when he left to go play golf. That had been our special thing to do together, and I had let him down.

I suddenly felt a gentle tug on my hand, and then the feeling of lips, softly kissing the top of my hand. When I opened my eyes, I was met by the power gaze of two deep blue eyes.

“You need to forgive yourself. I know your father doesn’t blame you for not going with him. He understood that you were young and wanted to be with your friends. Now, wipe away those tears and let’s finish our breakfast before it gets cold.”

Liam kissed my hand again, and then handed me one of the napkins from the holder in the center of the table. “Here, wipe those tears.”

“You’re right; I know Dad would never hold it against me. He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He never judged anyone and always forgave one’s shortcomings without a second thought.”

“He sounds like he was a good man.”

“He was. Dad was the greatest man I’ve known. I miss him each and every day.”

Liam didn’t respond, he just scooped up a mouthful of scrambled eggs. As I watched him enjoy his breakfast, I was thankful to have him here at this difficult time.

After we had cleared the table and loaded the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, we heard someone knocking at the front door.

“Do you mind getting that while I get your mother’s tray? I’m sure she’s finished eating by now.” Liam waited for my response as he dried his hands on the hand towel.

“Sure; it’s probably Cheryl with my luggage anyway.”

As I left the kitchen, I felt a new feeling consume me since returning home – joy.

“Good morning, I’m surprised to see you up and about so early in the day. I figured you were still held up in bed with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.”

Cheryl lifted my suitcase and shoved it at me. “I’ll have you know, that we only spent the evening talking, and then he went to his place, and I went to mine.”

“Wow, I’m impressed.” I tried to make light of my statement, but it fell flat.

“What, you don’t think I can just spend time talking to a man without sleeping with him?”

“No; not at all, I was only teasing.” Even though I had been somewhat serious in my joking, I could see the look of betrayal on her face.

“I know I’m bad about sleeping around, but I’ve decided to stop allowing myself to use sex as a way to be accepted. I want to get to know a man and have him know me before we become intimate. You know something? It really felt good to wake up this morning and know I didn’t need to sleep with him. He called me before I came over here and said he really had a good time and wanted to know if I’d meet him for lunch today.”

The look of pride on her face told me that she meant every word. I was so happy for her, and I hoped this new guy would be the real thing for her.

“Hey, is that coffee I smell? I could really use a cup.”

“Sure, go on into the kitchen and get yourself a cup. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”

Once she had walked toward the kitchen, I picked up my suitcase, but I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure which room to put it in. Just then Liam appeared out of Mother’s bedroom, carrying the tray he had taken to her earlier.

“Oh, your friend dropped off your luggage. Go ahead and put it in your bedroom. I’ll move my stuff to the guest room in a bit.”

While I was thankful that he was willing to give me back my room, but he was next to mother’s room for a reason. “No, I’ll take the guest room. There’s no sense in moving your things. Besides, it has access to the swimming pool, so maybe I’ll sneak out and take a midnight swim while I’m here.”

“Dang, maybe I chose the wrong room when I came here.” He flashed that bright smile again then continued to the kitchen with the tray of dirty dishes.

Realizing there was nothing more to say on the subject, I carried my suitcase to the guest room on the other side of the house.

As I walked down the short hallway, I stopped briefly in front of the door to Father’s office. I rested my hand lightly on the door, as though I might disturb Dad while he worked on his latest project if I opened it.

After he had retired from the Air Force, Dad had joined the local Lions Club and work tirelessly on their fund-raising projects. He had told me the joy it brought him to be able to help a family in need or assist the local children with scholarship money for college. Dad was that type of person. He got his greatest joy by serving others.

I pulled my hand away from the door and turned around toward the other door in the hallway. When I stepped inside of the room, I had to admit that even though it was nicely decorated, it seemed smaller than I remembered.

“Oh, well, I’m only going to be here for a short time,” I laughed to myself as I walked over to the dresser and began putting my clothes away.

Once I had finished putting everything away, I decided to head back to the kitchen and see what Cheryl and Liam were doing.

Chapter 4

“There you are. Liam and I were sitting here getting to know each other.”

I could see the playful expression on Cheryl’s face, and what she was inferring. When I glanced over at Liam and saw the shy grin appear across his face, I felt my face grow warm, and my knees begin to buckle. Shoving my nervous feelings aside, I walked over to the table and sat in the chair across from Liam.

A tense silence filled the room until Cheryl was the one to finally speak.

“So, Liam tells me that he works for your mother.” She glanced at Liam then back to me before continuing. “Isn’t that nice?”

I had no idea where this line of conversation was headed, but I knew if I didn’t say something, and quickly, she’d say something that I’d regret.

“Yes, he’s helping to care for mother. He seems to be quite good at his job, too.” I glanced over at Liam, who seemed quite amused by this whole thing.

“So, Liam, is this the first time you’ve met Molly?”

I knew she was fishing for information, but I had no idea how I could stop her without looking like a damn fool? I’m sure a look of horror was clearly painted on my face, but Liam handled it like a perfect gentleman.

“As a matter of fact, I didn’t start working for her mother until last week. So, this is the first I’ve met Molly. If she is anything like her mother, I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.”

Wait a second, had I heard him correctly; if I’m anything like my mother? Oh, my God, I’ve tried to be the opposite of my mother my entire life. She was cold and judgmental, not anything I’ve ever wanted to be.

I guess the look of shock on my face was evident because Cheryl quickly spoke up.

“What a nice thing to say, Liam. I’m sure Molly appreciates the kind words about her mother. Don’t you, Molly?”

I suddenly felt both sets of eyes burrowing into me. Realizing that I needed to respond, I slowly exhaled to steady my nerves before I spoke. “Yes, thank you, Liam. I appreciate your kind words about my mother.”

Silence filled the room again until the Private Nurse entered the kitchen. “Miss Molly, your mother is requesting that you join her in her bedroom.”

I had hoped I wouldn’t have to see Mom alone before we decorated the Christmas tree, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“Okay, tell her I’ll be right there.”

I glanced over at Cheryl, hoping for a lifeline I knew wouldn’t come. “Thank you for dropping off my stuff. I really appreciate it.”

“Hey, no problem, that’s what friends are for. Call me when things calm down around here, and we’ll make plans to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.”

Cheryl grabbed her car keys off the table then stood and walked over to me. “You know that I love you, and will always be here for you, right?”

We hugged, and I must admit that knowing she would be there for me really helped.

“Thanks, once I get everything settled, I’ll give you a call.”

Cheryl turned to Liam and held out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I have a good feeling about you, and I think you’ll be a great help to Molly during this difficult time.”

Liam took her offered hand and returned the handshake. “Thank you, Cheryl. I’m glad to have met you, and I look forward to seeing you again. Maybe you’ll join us for the Christmas party Molly’s mother has planned for this Saturday.”

This statement caught me completely by surprise. “Party, what party? This is the first I’ve heard of a Christmas party.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you knew. Your mother mentioned how every Christmas your family would have a party for neighbors and friends. She said it was a favorite annual event for you and your father. She went on and on about how he would spend hours putting up the Christmas lights and how you and he would go out and pick the perfect Christmas tree.”

His words caught me by surprise. Why would mom want to revive those memories now? After Dad had died, she had stopped celebrating Christmas. When I would ask why we didn’t put up a tree, she would just say that dad wasn’t here to put it and the lights up anymore.

“Well, let me know if you need anything, okay,” Cheryl smiled then she turned and walked to the front door. Before she stepped outside, she turned to me and said in a compassionate tone, “Everything will be fine.”

Somehow, I knew she was right, but I still felt a strange feeling of foreboding churning up inside of me.

“Your mother is waiting,” Liam’s deep, but gentle voice filled my ears. I turned around, and for a moment, I had the strangest feeling come over me. To this day, I can’t explain it, but it was as though I had known Liam before.

“Huh…yeah… of course; you’re right.” I turned and started to walk out of the kitchen when I heard Liam speak up again.

“I’ll get everything ready.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I wanted to face one thing at a time. First, I had to face my mother, and I really wasn’t looking forward to it.

When I stepped through the bedroom door, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The last time I had been home, my mother was not as active as she had once been, but now she was completely bedridden with tubes everywhere and an oxygen machine pumping in the corner next to her bed. Peanut was curled up on the end of the bed, sleeping soundly.

I slowly closed the door behind me, trying to steady my nerves; however, nothing could ease the mixed feelings consuming me at the sight before me.

I took two steps toward her bed when she opened her eyes and looked directly at me. “Hello, Molly, it’s good to see you.”

Closing the distance between us, I sat in the chair next to her bed and took her frail hand in mine. “Hi, Mom, I’m glad to see you, too.”

I held my breath, waiting to see how this conversation would progress when Mom turned her head toward the Private Nurse. “Will you please leave us alone? I need to speak with my daughter in private.”

The nurse stood and placed the magazine she’d been reading on the table next to her chair. “Yes, Ma’am.”

We both waited until the nurse had left the room before I spoke, breaking the silence. “Mom, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what, my Dear?”

I couldn’t believe it; she hadn’t changed a bit. Even at death’s door, she still showed no real emotion.

“Come on, Mom, you know what I’m talking about. Why didn’t you tell me how sick you really are?”

I looked down at our hands when I felt a gentle squeeze. “What good would it have done? You are busy with your classes. There’s nothing you can do to change what is happening to me. This is just part of life. You’re in Medical School. You should know that.”

Crap, that’s one thing about my mother that always frustrated me. She could take the most critical situation and change it into an everyday occurrence.

Realizing there was no sense in arguing, I leaned back in my chair and wait to see what she wanted to say. However, nothing could have prepared me for what she said.

“This is going to be my last Christmas. I know I haven’t wanted to celebrate ever since your father passed away, but I feel it’s important to do something special this year.”

I was about to respond when Mom held up her other hand. “Please, just listen.”

I could see by her expression she wanted to say something that was difficult for her to say. This, of course, surprised me because my mother was never one to hold back her opinion on anything. I decided to sit and wait for whatever it was she had to say.

“I know you have always believed that I was harsh and didn’t show you the love your father did. It wasn’t because I didn’t love you. I just didn’t know any other way. Your father understood me and how I was raised, and for that, I’m forever grateful. I only wish I could have shown you the love you deserved.”

As I sat there dumbfounded, I heard a soft whisper in my mind, “Forgive her. She needs your forgiveness.”

I’ve never been one to believe in ghosts or the hereafter, but I will swear until my last breath that I heard my father’s voice whispering those words to me.

I glanced over at my mother lying there, and a feeling of pure love washed over me. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I had a real mother. One who loved me and wanted to be a part of my life.

“I know you love me, and I want you to know that I don’t hold anything against you. Mom, we have spent too much time pushing each other away. I don’t want to lose what little time we have left. I love you, Mom. I always have.”

As I looked into her eyes, I saw an expression of tranquility appear on her face. She then smiled and gently squeezed my hand again, as tears flowed down her cheeks.

“Good, now that we have that behind us let’s get some plans done for our party. You have a lot of work ahead of you.”

Chapter 5

Mom and I had spent nearly an hour deciding the menu and guest list for the party. I was surprised at how sharp her mind was in her advanced stage. When the doctors had diagnosed the cancer, they had wanted to begin treatments immediately. They had suggested that she enter the hospital, but Mom had her own idea about how she wanted to handle her illness. Mom had said that she had asked the doctors what her chances of survival were, and when they said she had less than a 10% chance, she told them they could keep their treatments. Mom told me she wanted to die in her own home; in her own bed.

As I closed the bedroom door behind me, I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer she had. I knew she was stubborn, but I also know there are some things in life even she couldn’t control.

“Is she resting?” The Private Nurse asked me when I walked down the hall and back into the kitchen.

“Yes, she fell asleep once I had gathered the notes for the party.”

The nurse stood and walked over to me and rested her hand on my shoulder. “She loves you, you know.”

I know this may sound silly, but for the first time in my life, I could say that I knew my mother loved me. I will never forget that moment of recognition. It’s one of those special moments in your life that you keep safely tucked away in your heart.

“Thank you,” were the only words I could muster through tears of joy as she left the room.

“There you are. Did you two finish with all of the plans for the party?” Liam walked over to the table and sat in the chair across from me with that broad smile again on his face.

“Ah, yes, I have a list of things she wants to be done.” I put the pages of notes on the table.

“Well, I guess we had better get started. Saturday will be here before we realize it. But the first thing we need to do is go get a tree. Go grab a sweater. The air is a little crisp out there today.”

“Go get a tree? I thought we’d just put up the artificial one Mom bought years ago.”

“Put up a fake tree? No way. We need to make this Christmas special, and a fake tree will never do. Now, go get your sweater, and I’ll meet you outside.”

Liam got up and walked around the table. Once he was standing in front of me, he held out his hand. “Come on, silly. We have lots to get done.”

Before I knew what had happened, he had grabbed my hand and pulled me out of my chair.

“Okay, okay, I’ll meet you outside.”

I decided it was best to play along; besides, it might be fun to go pick out a tree again. It was something I had always enjoyed doing with my dad each Christmas, so to pick out the perfect tree, decorate it with all the beautiful decorations, and enjoy the smell of pine filling the room was a welcome distraction.

I rushed to my room and grabbed a sweater from the closet then hurried outside to the driveway. However, what was waiting for me caught me completely by surprise. There sitting in the driveway was my Dad’s 1956 Ford pickup with Liam holding the passenger door open.

“Your carriage, Milady,” he then flashed that broad grin again, as he bowed slightly.

I was speechless. I didn’t even know that Mom had kept Dad’s truck, let alone allowed Liam to drive it. Without saying a word, I walked over to the truck and climbed inside. Mom had said that she wanted to recreate those special memories from all those years ago, and I guess she had meant it.

“Don’t forget to put on your seatbelt,” Liam teased as he buckled his, and then put the keys in the ignition.

The sound of the motor firing up brought back such a feeling of joy from the Christmas’s of my youth. I buckled my seat belt, and then rested my arm on the armrest on the door like I did all those years ago. “Come on, Liam. Let’s go pick out the perfect tree.”

The classic country music playing on the original AM radio brought back happy memories for me. I remember the day Dad came home with that old beat up truck. Mom had just rolled her eyes when she saw it, but Dad told me that he was going to fix it up and make it better than brand new.

I remember the hours he spent in the garage and the endless phone calls, trying to track down the parts he needed to restore that truck. It had taken him nearly a year, but he had managed to get it done in time to carry my cheerleading squad in the local Christmas parade. He said he had decided to paint it a bright red to match our school colors, which had thrilled the girls in my squad. My dad was that type of man; his greatest joy was seeing the smiles on the faces of others.

I was lost in the hum of the motor and the music when I felt the truck stop.

“We’re here, sleepyhead.”

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was just enjoying the ride.” I still don’t know why I protested because the only response was another of those broad smiles.

I set up and looked out of the side window. “I remember coming here with Dad each year to pick out our tree. In fact, we had plans to come here again, but…”

“That’s why I felt it was important to get your special tree here.” Liam turned off the ignition, pulled out the key, and then reached for the door handle. “Come on, we’re burning daylight.”

We had spent the next half hour looking over the selection of trees. There were tall ones, short ones, fat ones and skinny ones. Some had long needles, and others had short needles. I couldn’t decide on which one until Liam took me by the hand and led me over to the most stunning tree I’d ever seen.

“Oh, it’s beautiful, Liam. This is the perfect tree. Thank you for bringing me here and giving me this wonderful gift.” I was so overtaken with joy that before I realized what I had done, I had wrapped my arms around his neck and held on to him tightly.

“I’m glad this makes you happy, Molly. You deserve it,” he whispered into my ear.

I don’t know why, but I suddenly was overcome with emotion and began to cry. I hadn’t cried since my Dad’s funeral, but these were not tears of sorrow. These were tears of joy. For the first time in years, I could honestly say that I was happy.

I don’t know how long we stood there, but I didn’t care. I felt joy feel my entire being, and I didn’t want to let it go.

“Come on, we need to get back to the house. Your mother is waiting to help with the decorations.” Liam pulled free from my embrace, and then kissed me tenderly on the forehead.

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to overstep my bounds…”

“You did nothing wrong. I know this has been an emotional day for you. I’m just glad to get to be here for you.”

I was about to speak when Liam pressed his fingertip to my lips. “There’s nothing more to say. Let’s get this beautiful tree home. I know your mother will love it as much as you do.”

Chapter 6

When we pulled up into the driveway, I was surprised to see the Christmas lights twinkling on the house.

“When did you put those up?” I glanced over at Liam only to see that same grin appear on his face.

“I got up early this morning while you were sleeping. I knew your father used to have them up before you all decorated the tree, so I wanted everything to be as it used to be.”

Damn, he’s absolutely amazing. Liam is a constant surprise, and I must admit that I was curious what other surprises he had planned.

“They look beautiful, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, but they’ll look even better when the Christmas tree is sitting by that big picture window with its lights adding to the beautiful image. Come on, it will be dark soon, and we have lots to do.”

I was surprised to see the boxes with the decorations and a brand-new tree stand were waiting in the living room.

“When did you do this?”

Liam flashed that smile again and just winked.

I hated to admit it, but I liked that about him. You never knew what to expect. After we had the tree standing in front of the picture window, Liam told me to go let the nurse know we were ready for Mom.

“I’ll stay here and get the decorations out of the boxes and move that chair out of the way for her wheelchair.” He pointed over to the large, overstuffed chair sitting to the right of the tree.

“Okay, I’ll be right back with Mom.”

As I walked down the hall to Mom’s room I heard Patsy Cline singing Rocking Around, the Christmas tree coming from the living room. Of course, this brought a smile to my face as I remembered dancing with my father to it every Christmas when I was young.

When I opened the door to Mom’s room, I was surprised to see her up, dressed in one of her favorite dresses, and waiting in her wheelchair.

“Mom, you look beautiful. I never thought…” The words had escaped my mouth before I realized what I had said.

“Thank you, my Dear. Your mother can still dress up and look pretty damn good.” Her eyes twinkled with amusement at the shocked look on my face.

Not wanting to ruin the moment by challenging her use of mild profanity, I decided to just go with it. “Yes, you can, Mom. You’re still a beautiful woman.”

“As are you, my Dear. I just wish that you believed it more.” Mom’s expression changed to one with a hint of sorrow. I’m not sure, but I believe that she had thought it was because of her that I didn’t have more faith in myself. I wish I would have told her that it wasn’t her fault, but at that moment, I just wanted to enjoy our time and create some happy memories I’d have to carry me on when she was gone.

“Come on, Liam is waiting for us. I can’t wait for you to see the tree. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

I held the door open for the nurse to push the wheelchair through. Once out in the hallway, I stepped up beside the wheelchair and let the nurse know that I wanted to be the one to take Mom from there.

“Very well, I’ll straighten up her room while she’s gone. Enjoy yourselves.” Without another word the nurse turned and disappeared into the room, closing the door behind her.

“Okay, let’s get you to the living room. We have a great time planned.”

I reached down and kissed Mom on the cheek when I felt the moistness of tears on my lips. “Mom, are you crying?”

“Can’t you hear it? That has always been my favorite.”

I paused a moment to hear the silky voice of Bing Crosby singing Silver Bells filling the hallway.

“Yeah, that’s always been one of my favorites too.”

As I pushed Mom’s wheelchair down the long hallway, I had to smile when I heard her humming along to the song. It was nice to see her happy, and I hoped that we could create some wonderful new memories to add to the ones from our Christmas’s all those years ago.

“Ah, there you two are. I was wondering when you’d join me.” I don’t know how Liam had done it, but he had lights already on the tree, Mom’s large silver platter with our favorite Christmas treats was sitting on the coffee table, and the punch bowl, filled with Sangria sat next to the platter.

“Oh, Liam, thank you. You’ve outdone yourself.” Mom clapped her hands together with glee. “Please give me one of those Cherry Cordials. It’s not Christmas until we have one of those.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he walked over to the table, picked up the platter, and then held it out for her.

The look of sheer joy on Mom’s face, as she picked one of the candies and took a bite, made Liam and me both laugh.

“Oh, my, I forgot how yummy those are. I think I’ll take another one.”

Liam lowered the platter again and waited as Mom chose another of the candies and place it on her lap. She then put the remainder of the first one in her mouth, this causing a smile of contentment come to her lips.

“I think after that candy you need a small cup of Sangria to help wash it down. What do you think?” Liam set the platter back down on the table then he picked up one of the cups sitting by the punch bowl.

“Are you sure that Mom should be drinking?” As soon as the question left my lips, I knew I had said the wrong thing.

“Molly, I’m old enough to have a drink if I want one. Besides, this is my last Christmas, and I want to enjoy everything I can.”

I stood in place, feeling conflicted. The rational side of me wanted to protest, but the daughter side of me wanted Mom to enjoy this time. Surely, a small cup wouldn’t do any harm.

“You’re right, I’m sorry. Liam, I’ll take one of those too.” The smile that appeared on Mom’s face at that moment will stay with me for the rest of my life. She was happy. I was happy, and it was far overdue.

When Liam handed me my cup, I waited for him to fill one for himself. As the three of us shared this moment, I knew my life would never be the same.

I wish I could go back and relive that wonderful evening again. Liam had somehow found the time to not only get things ready for the tree decorating, but he had also prepared a dinner of homemade Cheddar Broccoli soup in sourdough bread bowls. I don’t know how he managed it, but everything was perfect.

Once we had finished our dinner and had put the last of the decorations on the tree, Liam suggested that we all go outside and look at the lights.

Of course, I was worried about taking Mom outside in the night air, but she would have nothing to do with it.

“I’m fine. Just get my shawl out of the hall closet. There is no way I’m going to miss seeing our Christmas lights.”

“Oh, aren’t they beautiful?” The expression on Mom’s face was one of pure delight. She looked like a little girl on Christmas morning.

“Yes, they are, Mom. I’m glad we’re here together.”

I looked over at Liam, who seemed lost in his thoughts. I guess he must have sensed me looking at him because he turned and gave me one of his beautiful smiles. I was surprised to see a tear running down his cheek. I was about to say something, but he quickly turned back toward the lights, letting me know this was not the time for conversation.

I don’t know how long we all stayed outside looking at those lights, but it’s one of my favorite memories to this day.

I went to bed that night with a whole new perspective on life. I learned not to hold on to the painful memories of our past, and to just live in the moment. To me, that was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received.

Chapter 7

“Good morning, how did you sleep last night?”

“Like a baby.” I knew the moment I woke up and smelled coffee brewing that I would find Liam in the kitchen cooking another delicious meal.

“I already set you a cup of coffee on the table.”

Damn, he’s good. How did he know I was up? Oh, well, I should have been aware by then not to question how and why Liam did what he did.

“Thank you. What smells so good?”

“Your mother requested waffles, with strawberry topping and whipped cream.” He chuckled when he saw the look of surprise on my face.

“I’ve never seen Mom eat that before.” I searched my memories, but Mom had always been one to say we needed to eat a healthy breakfast each morning.

“She said it was her favorite as a child. She said her father used to fix it for her on Christmas morning, and it was something special to her.”

Wow, I can’t remember my mother ever talking about her father. I remember Dad telling me how her mother had died when she was a baby, and her father had raised her. Then when she was eight years old, he had died from cancer, and she was sent to live with her mother’s sister. Dad said that Mom’s aunt had never married, and she was very strict. She would not allow any “foolishness” in her home, so Mom had spent the rest of her childhood living in a home without laughter. I had never understood how anyone could be that way, but now that I’m older I understand why my Mom was the way she was.

“I see by your expression that you like waffles as well?” Liam poured some more batter into the grill and then closed the lid.

“Yes, I love waffles. Is there anything I can help with?”

“As a matter of fact, there is. Your mother’s tray is ready. Would you mind taking it to her? I have a cup of juice for her in the fridge.”

“Sure, I’d love to.” I got the juice from the refrigerator and set it on the tray next to the crystal vase with a single white rose.

“It’s nice how you have a rose for Mom with every meal.” I leaned down and smelled the sweet aroma before picking up the tray.

“Those are her favorite. Your father used to bring her one each morning when they’d sit in the bedroom each morning and drink coffee together.

His words caught me by surprise. I never knew that Dad did that each morning. I had always thought they just slept in late. I hate to admit, but I was starting to wonder just how much I really knew about my parents and the love they had shared.

I was surprised to see Mom sitting in her overstuffed chair with Peanut squeezed in next to her when I entered her room.

“Good morning, isn’t it a beautiful day?” Mom’s eyes seemed to shimmer in the morning light, and a healthy tint of color glowed on her cheeks as she waved me over to her.

“My, you look fantastic this morning, Mom.” I had to laugh when she fluttered her eyes like a playful child. It was good to see her happy and so full of life.

“Oh, my, that smells wonderful. I’ve been waiting for this all morning.”

I walked over to the portable table and set the tray down in front of Mom. When I lifted the lid off her plate, Mom squealed with delight.

“Oh, that is almost too beautiful to eat…almost.” She then picked up her fork and took a bite. “This tastes just like my Daddy used to make me.”

As I stood there watching my mother enjoy her breakfast, I wondered what other surprises were in store for me this Christmas. When I had booked my flight, I had tried to think of every excuse of why I shouldn’t come home. I had thought of telling Mom that I couldn’t come, but I knew she would see right through my lie. However, now I’m thankful I’m here.

“What are you thinking, my Dear?”

“Nothing, really, I’m just so happy to be here with you. Mom, I’m so glad we’ve had this time together. I love you.”

Mom set down her fork and held out her arms to me. “Come here.”

Before I realized it, I was kneeling in front of her with her frail arms wrapped around me, crying as she sang the lullaby she used to sing to me when I frightened as a small child.

“Mom, I’m so sorry I haven’t been here for you. I’m also sorry that I believed that you didn’t love me. I was foolish. I never really understood, and then after Dad died I think deep inside I resented…” Oh, crap, I can’t believe what I almost said.

“What, you resented that it wasn’t me instead of your father. Honey, don’t feel guilty for feeling that way. I always understood. I lost my father too, and nothing ever takes that pain away. I never felt bad. I always knew how important he was to you.” She reached out and gently wiped the tear flowing down my cheek with her shaky finger.

“I was wrong to feel that way, though. I understand now that you were grieving too, but I was caught up in my own grief to notice. Mom, we’ve wasted so much valuable time. I’m so glad we have this time together.”

“As am I. Why don’t you let me finish eating this delicious meal, and then I have some more plans for us?”

I laughed when I saw the mischievous expression appear on her face. “Okay, Liam has some waffles waiting for me anyway. Enjoy your breakfast.”

As I turned to leave the room I heard the click of the cassette player on the table next to Mom’s chair, and then the sweet sound of Nat King Cole singing Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, filling the room.

My heart filled with such joy at seeing the smile on Mom’s face as she closed her eyes and listened to that Christmas favorite. I closed the door behind me and walked down the hall with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart.

“Well, there you are. I thought I was going to have to eat your waffles along with mine.” Liam teased as he carried our plates to the table. I hope you don’t mind, but I added a small splash of brandy to our strawberry topping. I figured since it’s such a festive time of the year and all.

Typically, I would have thought it was a horrible idea, but today, nothing could go wrong. Today was a starting out to be a perfect day.

I can’t remember the last time I had such an enjoyable meal. I don’t know if it was the delicious food, lively conversation, of the splash of brandy in the strawberry topping, but I must say it will go down as a meal to remember.

“Thank you, Liam.”

“Thank you for what?”

“Thank you for making this the perfect Christmas.”

The expression on his face was hard to read, but I think I saw a mixture of happiness and sorrow play out across his face. “I haven’t done anything. This is because of you and your mother. It was time for you two to reconnect. I’m just glad to have played a small part in it.”

A small part? Heck, if it hadn’t been for Liam I don’t believe that Mom and I would have ever gotten passed all the sad memories that kept us apart.

“Well, you may feel you’ve only played a small part, but I will forever be grateful to you for everything you’ve done.”

I could sense that I was making him uncomfortable. I can’t explain it, but it seemed like he has something he wanted to say, but couldn’t bring himself to say it. He cleared his throat, and then stood, grabbing the dirty dishes from the table.

“What if you go get your mother’s tray, and I’ll load these into the dishwasher. We have something important to do today before we run out of time.

Run out of time? What do you have up your sleeve now? I wanted to ask him, but he have me a “you need to hurry” look, so I decided to do as asked.

“Okay, I’ll be right back.” I walked down the hall, wondering what had caused that reaction.

When I opened the door to Mom’s room, I stopped a moment to watch my mother singing to Alvin and the Chipmunks, All I Want for Christmas. She was caught up in the song, laughing and giggling as she changed the words to, “All I want for Christmas are all of my teeth.” I had never seen this side of my mother, and I’m glad did. It made me appreciate her more and gave me permission to cut loose and have fun myself. It was an excellent lesson. It’s a shame that more people don’t know it for themselves.

“I’m here to get your tray.”

I had to snicker at the surprised and embarrassed expression on Mom’s face when she realized she wasn’t alone.

“Oh… yes… thank you.” She quickly took the last swallow of her juice then returned the cover to the plate.

“Mom, you look good this morning.” I don’t know why, but today she didn’t look like a woman in the final stages of cancer. There was a sparkle in her eyes and a glow to her complexion.

“Why, thank you. I do feel good today. I hope you’re ready because I have a fun project for us today.” There was that mischievous grin again.

“I’m ready for whatever it is you want to do.”

“Good. So, why don’t you get this tray out of here and let me get dressed.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the silly expression on Mom’s face. She seemed so excited. It was nice to see her feeling positive about life.

“Yes, ma’am.” Before I picked up the tray, I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you, Mom. I’m so glad I came home.”

She reached out and placed her hand atop mine and gently patted it. “I’m glad you did, too.”

Realizing we were both about to cry, I decided it was best to make a hasty retreat.

“Okay, I’ll see you in a bit.” I picked up the tray and walked to the door, but before I could open it, the nurse had opened it and came in.

“Perfect timing, as normal,” Mom looked at me and winked. “My daughter is leaving, so I’d like to get dressed and ready for the day. We have lots to do today.”

The nurse and I exchanged amused expressions before she nodded her head and walked over to Mom. “Well, then we had better get you ready.”

As I left the room, I couldn’t help but wonder what adventure Mom had planned for the day. But no matter what it was, I knew I would forever treasure the memory of the image of her singing to that silly Christmas song.

Chapter 8

By the time, I had returned to the kitchen, Liam had already finished cleaning up the kitchen and was sitting at the table drinking a cup of his special coffee. When I walked toward the sink, he stood and took the tray from me.

“Oh, I’m sorry for taking so long. Let me do that.” I reached for the door on the dishwasher, but he gently pushed my hand away.

“I’ll take care of this. You need to go get ready for the day. I hate to mention it, but your hair is a mess.” He winked then flashed me another one of those gorgeous smiles. Damn, I could get lost in that smile.

“Oh, okay.” I pulled my hand away. Suddenly, his word struck me. Oh, my God, he said my hair is a mess!

I’m sure my need for a hasty escape was amusing for him. I wanted to crawl under the table and disappear, but I gathered all the composure I could muster, and walked out of the room, holding my head high. Now that I look back on it, I’m sure I appeared like a damn fool.

When I stepped out of my bedroom after a quick shower and making sure my makeup and hair was perfect, I heard Christmas music and laughter coming from the kitchen. Wondering what was going on, I quickened my pace but stopped dead in my tracks when I saw my mother sitting at the table covered in wrapping ribbon and bows.

“Well, there you are. Get over here. We have lots to do.” The smile on Mom’s face seemed to light up the entire room, and the image of her at that moment is one of the best memories I have of her.

“Here’s everything for the baskets.” Liam walked through the back door from the garage, carrying a huge cardboard box filled to overflowing with toys and miscellaneous personal items.

“Oh, good, set it next to the table. Molly, will you go to the hall closet and get the box with the baskets?” Mom reached into the box and pulled out a baby doll wrapped in a pink blanket. She brought it to her breast and snuggled it tightly.

“Mom, what are we doing today?”

“Go get the baskets, and then I’ll tell you.” Mom waved a dismissive hand then giggled playfully.

When I got back with the box of baskets, Mom had Liam sorting the toys and other items by categories, as she read from a list.

“This family has two children, a 2-year-old girl, and a 5-year-old-boy. I think this sweet little baby doll would be perfect for the little girl and that fire truck for the little boy, don’t you?”

Liam took the doll and set it next to the fire truck. “Yes, ma’am, these will be perfect.”

“I have the baskets, where do you want them?”

“Oh, thank you. Take them out of the box and put them on the table. Then get that bag of shiny ribbon and put a bed of it in each of them.” She pointed to the large bag sitting on the counter. “This is going to be perfect.”

I did as instructed, and once each of the baskets was ready, Liam and I carefully filled them with toys and the other items as per Mom’s instructions. I marveled how there were not only the toys, but there were toothbrushes for children and adults, toothpaste, hair brushes, dental floss, body soap, and shampoo. There was even twelve bottles of Mom’s favorite perfume and several packages of Christmas candy. She had thought of everything a woman and her children would need to help them have a Merry Christmas at this difficult time of their lives.

I must admit that sitting there and filling those Christmas baskets was more fun than I had expected. As each song began to play on the radio, Mom would tell us to sing with her, and then she would sing so loud it nearly drown out the song. Once we had finished, we had a dozen baskets filled to overflowing and decorated with ribbons and bows.

“Lovely, absolutely lovely,’ Mom cried out. The look of joy on her face was infectious, and I found myself grinning with her.

“Liam, go get the car ready. Molly, I need you to call the shelter and let them know you’re bringing the baskets.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper with a phone number scribbled on it.

I took the paper and looked at it, taken aback by what I saw. “Mom, this is Dad’s handwriting,” the words caught in my throat.

“I know. This is the shelter your father used to take gift baskets to every year. I thought it would be nice to do it in his honor this year.” She reached into her other pocket and pulled out a small stack of Christmas cards.

She then held them out to me. I took the cards and looked at the one on the top.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas

and may you have a Blessed New Year

Col Tom McClansy (Ret)

I suddenly felt as though someone had kicked me in the stomach as I stared at the card.

“Mom, these are the cards Dad had made up, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are. I thought it was the time they were used as intended. Your father loved to give baskets to the battered women’s shelter each year. So, I thought it only fitting that we carried that tradition on in his name.”

I was speechless. I searched my mind for how to respond, but I wasn’t successful. I guess Mom realized my dilemma because she reached out and touched my hand.

“Sweetheart, these last few years have been hard on both of us since your father’s death. He was the foundation of this family, and without him, we both seemed to have lost our way. I’m so sorry that I haven’t been the mother you’ve needed. I’ve been selfish in my grief, and for that, I apologize.”

As I stood there and gazing into her tear-filled eyes, all the anger I had felt for her the last few years vanished. Before I realized it, I had my arms wrapped around her neck, and crying myself.

“Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry. I haven’t been a good daughter to you either. I’ve been so eaten up with guilt that I didn’t see the pain you were feeling too.”

As I held on to my mother and we cried together, a familiar feeling of peace came over me. It was at that moment that I realized that Dad really wasn’t gone. He was still with us in our hearts and memories.

“Oh, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Liam stood by the back door with another of those smiles on his face.

I pulled away from Mom, and when our eyes met, we both broke out laughing.

“You haven’t interrupted anything. Mom and I were just mending some fences.”

“I’m glad to hear you’ve put the hurt behind you. Okay, I’ll take the baskets out to the car.” He grabbed two of the baskets off the table and walked back out to the garage.

“You like him, don’t you?” Mom looked at me with a playful grin.

“Yes, I do.” I couldn’t explain it, but there was something safe and comforting about Liam. It was as though I had known him before, but I knew that was impossible.

Pulling myself out of my musings, I walked over to the old telephone hanging on the wall by the back door I dialed the number and informed the woman who answered the phone that we’d be dropping of the dozen Christmas gift baskets. The woman thanked me repeatedly for our kindness and said the gifts would be greatly appreciated by the women and their children currently at the shelter. She then went on to say how thankful the shelter was for the generous donation made in my father’s name.

As I stood there and listened to the woman go on and on about how special my father had been and how sad they were when he passed, I realized how our actions and choices can affect people in ways we never realize. Even though my Dad has been gone for several years now, he is still remembered by those whose lives he touched.

I choked out my goodbye and stood there holding the receiver to my ear feeling a sense of pride burning in my heart. I had always known my Dad was a special man, but he was more than that. He was an example of how more people should live their lives. He gave of himself and never once wanted personal gain. That’s the type of person I’ve tried to be all these years since that day.

“Thank you, Mom.”

“For what, my Dear?”

“For keeping Dad’s memory alive. That woman was so grateful to know we would be bringing the gift baskets, and then she thanked me for the generous donation.”

“Oh, my, I was hoping she wouldn’t mention that.”

“Why, why wouldn’t you want me to know that you donated in Dad’s name?”

Mom sat there a moment, as though she was trying to gather her words. I watched as she struggled to choose the perfect ones before she finally spoke.

“Sit for a moment.”

Unsure of why she wanted me to sit, I decided to comply.

“A month ago, when the doctor told me that I was in the final stage of my cancer, I made the decision to forgo the suggested medical treatment and come home and await my death. I didn’t want to spend the last days of my life in a hospital, away from everything I hold dear. It happened a few days later…”

“What happened?” I held my breath and waited.

“I was going through some boxes in your father’s office trying to find where I had put my will after his death. I knew that I had to make sure everything was in order so that you wouldn’t have any problems after I was gone.”

I started to speak, but Mom held up her hand, stopping me.

“I don’t understand why I hadn’t seen it before, but there it was…”

Oh, my God, my mind was screaming, What, what was there?

“Nestled there under a stack of paperwork was one of those large yellow envelopes with writing on it. I pulled it out and nearly fell out of the chair when I read what was written there.”

I should tell you that my heart was pounding in my chest as I listened to Mom share this story with me. However, nothing could have prepared me for what she said next.

“For my dearest, Bonnie, should something ever happen to me, please see this is taken care of.”

Tears ran down Mom’s cheeks as she looked at me. I could see she was conflicted, but she continued with her story.

“My hands trembled as I opened the envelope and poured its contents out on his desk. I was surprised to see the Christmas cards, but what stood out the most was a note asking that I continue to give $5,000 each Christmas to the Women’s Shelter, along with however many gift baskets they needed that year.”

Mom’s voiced cracked as she struggled to speak. “Molly, I felt horrible. I had let him down.”

“Mom, you can’t blame yourself, you didn’t know.” I knew my words didn’t make her feel any better, but what does one say at a time such as that?

“What’s going on in here? I leave for a few minutes and come back to find you two crying,” Liam took two more baskets from the table. “This is not the time for tears. This is a time for joy and love.”

Mom and I exchanged glances, and then we both began to laugh. He was right. No more tears. Mom and I had found each other for the first time in our lives, and we needed to enjoy every moment we had left together.

“Okay, you’re right. Here let me help.” I grabbed two of the baskets and followed him out to the car.

Chapter 9

On the drive to the Women’s Shelter, I tried to understand how the gap between my Mom and me had grown so large. I closed my eyes and replayed the events from earlier, and I realized that everything always seems to happen at its proper time.

I had been so full of guilt and grief after Dad’s death, that there wasn’t any room to let Mom in, and apparently, Mom has been dealing with issues of her own.

“A penny for your thoughts,” the sound of Liam’s voice brought me back to the present.

“Huh…what?”

“You seem to have a lot on your mind. I’m here if you’d like to unload.”

I turned my head to look over at him and was met with that bright smile of his. I never have understood it, but he seemed to have a way of making all the bad stuff disappear without even trying.

“Nothing’s wrong, I was just thinking how thankful I am that I decided to come home. I had almost told Mom that I had other plans and couldn’t come, but there was something in her voice…”

“She’s been looking forward to your arrival all week. All she’s talked about was getting to have a Christmas together again. She’s really missed that, you know?”

Up until that moment, I would have thought otherwise, but now, I understood how important this Christmas was to Mom.

“I know; I’ve missed her as well.”

Several more minutes had passed before I spoke again.

“Liam?”

“Yes.” I could tell he was wondering what I had to say.

“Why do you do what you do? Isn’t it hard to watch people die?”

He continued to drive for several moments then he exhaled slowly. “I thought you knew. Isn’t that why you want to be a doctor?”

His words caught me off guard. How was trying to save lives the same as taking care of the dying? “I don’t understand.”

“Yes, you do, just take a moment and think.”

I hate to admit that I had no idea what he was talking about. Medicine was different than Hospice Care. Besides, Mom had a Private Nurse, so it wasn’t like he did the day-to-day medical care Mom needed.

“I’m sorry; I just don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Liam turned the car into the parking lot of the shelter and pulled into the parking space by the front door. After he had turned off the ignition, he turned to face me.

“It saddens me that you don’t understand. I know it’s inside of you; you just need to release it. Come on, let’s get these baskets inside. I’m sure the residents will be excited to get them.”

Without saying another word, Liam opened the door and got out of the car. He leaned down and looked through the opened door, directly at me.

“Are you coming? We’re burning daylight.” He pushed the button on the inside of the door to open the trunk, and then closed the door and walked around to the back of the car.

“Damn, you, so much for my good mood.” I then folded my arms across my chest and jutted out my lower lip like a small child.

After sitting there for a few moments, enjoying my little pity-party, I heard a tap on my window. I didn’t want to, but I turned my head and saw Liam standing there with a shopping cart, loaded with the baskets

“How the hell did he do that?”

Heck, I didn’t think he’d been out of the car long enough to find a cart and get all twelve baskets loaded in it.

Feeling the fool, I nodded and reached for the door handle. Liam then pushed the cart forward, allowing me to open the door.

“I thought maybe you had fallen asleep or something.” The playful tone of his voice only added to my embarrassment.

“No, I was just taking a moment to gather my thoughts before going inside.”

I knew it was a lie and I’m sure Liam did too, but I wasn’t about to admit that he had upset me with his statement earlier.

“Good afternoon, Miss McClansy, it’s good to see you again.”

“Oh, hello…it’s good to see you, Mrs. ….” Crap, no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t remember her name. I had gone several times with Dad to the shelter to drop off the Christmas baskets, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember this woman’s name.

“Oh, what am I thinking? I’m sure you don’t remember me. My name is Ellen.”

Ellen, Ellen…. who the heck is Ellen? I didn’t remember her working here the last time I came with Dad.

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

Realizing there was no escape from this uncomfortable situation, I just shrugged my shoulders and stood there with what I’m sure was a stupid expression on my face.

“I was here the last time you and your father came in. I was staying here with my children. I can’t begin to say how thankful I was for your kindness. Those were the only toys my children received that year.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. “Oh, I’m so sorry; I didn’t realize…”

Standing there looking into the face of that woman made me realize how small my problems really were. This woman had to flee from an abusive husband with her children and ended up living in this shelter. Then to have the only Christmas gifts her children got that year were the little ones in the gift basket, put such things into perspective.

“How are you doing now, Ellen? Are you still living here?”

“Oh, no, I was able to move out in the February after we met. I was able to get a job, and I took night classes to get my GED. I want to let you know because of your father’s generosity, I then went on to get my degree as a paralegal. I have a good job now, and I’m able to care for my children. For the first time in my life, I’m able to give back, which is why I volunteer here twice a week.”

I couldn’t deny the pride shining in her eyes, and honestly, I didn’t blame her. She had taken a negative, where most people would have given up, and through hard work, she had turned it around. I have always appreciated the lesson she taught me that day.

“I’m so happy for you. Are your children here?” I glanced around, hoping to see them.

“Yes, they are. My son is helping the maintenance man repair the water heater, and my daughters are watching some of the younger children while their mothers attend class.”

Ellen glanced over to Liam and smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Liam. I see you have the baskets ready.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m sure the children will love the toys. Mrs. McClansy wanted to make sure the children had some special gifts for Christmas.”

“I’m sure they’ll love them. It’s so nice of your mother to send these beautiful baskets. I have to say that we’ve missed your father dropping by, it was a great loss when he passed.” Ellen reached up and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. I never realized how important my Dad was to the people here at the shelter, but after today, I would never forget.

“Liam, would you mind taking the cart with the baskets to the storage room? I’d hate for the children to see them before the Christmas party.”

“Sure, not a problem.” As he left, he acted like he was sneaking away, causing both of us to laugh.

“He really is a special soul, isn’t he?” Ellen shook her head as Liam disappeared around the corner.

“Yes, he seems to be. Actually, I’ve only recently met him.”

“Really? I thought he was an old family friend the way he’s spoken of you and your mother.”

He’s talked about Mom and me? How is that even possible? Heck, he just met Mom a week ago, and me just a couple of days ago. “I know that Mother thinks the world of him.”

“Well, he’s a favorite around here. The children just love him. Oh, yes, before I forget, would you mind coming to the office with me for a moment. There’s some paperwork that needs to be signed. When your mother mailed a donation to the shelter, she forgot to fill out some legal paperwork.”

“I glanced in the direction where Liam had disappeared but didn’t see him. “Sure, no problem.”

When we walked into the small office, I was surprised to see pictures of my Dad with smiling kids in a cap and gown, proudly holding a diploma on the wall behind the desk. I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off them, as I carefully examined each and every one.

“Those are pictures of some of the children your father helped to graduate from college. He would not only help them financially, but he would also tutor them if they were having any problems with a class.”

Ellen walked up to the pictures and gently touched the frame of one of them. “I only wish he could have been here when I graduated.”

I had never realized how important the shelter was to Dad. I knew he would bring the gift baskets each Christmas, but I didn’t know about all the other time he gave of himself.

Pulling herself away from the picture, Ellen sat at the desk and pulled an envelope out of the metal basket next to a stack of folders.

“Ah, here it is. Typically, we don’t need this paperwork signed, but with the amount of this donation, we needed this form signed.” Ellen pulled a piece of paper out of the envelope and set it on the desk with a pen.

“Just initial here and then sign there,” she pointed to the page letting me know where she wanted me to sign.

As I looked over the form, I paused for a moment. Oh, my God, the check was made out for $25,000. I guess the expression on my face must have shown my surprise because Ellen looked at me and chuckled.

“I felt the same way when I opened the envelope. In the past, your father had given the shelter a check for $5,000 at Christmas, but this caught us all by surprise. This couldn’t have come at a better time, though. Our roof is in dire need of repair, and we didn’t know how we were going to find the money to do it. This check was an answer to our prayers.”

As I sat there looking at the form with the check paper-clipped to the top corner of it, I couldn’t help to remember Mom’s words. She had known that Dad would do everything he could to help, and she wanted to carry on his good work.

Tears formed in my eyes as I wrote my initials and then signed my name on the form. I know this may sound silly, but as I set the pen down on the desk, I believe I heard my Dad’s voice whisper in my ear, “I’m proud of you, Princess.”

I closed my eyes and the image of my Dad, smiling at me appeared in my mind. For that brief moment, I felt love in its purest form, and I finally understood why Dad lived his life the way he did.

A gentle tap on the office door brought me out of my musing. When I opened my eyes, I saw Liam standing in the doorway.

“The gift baskets are hidden. I had a little scare when Cami came skipping around the corner while I was still in the storage room. I’m glad she was listening to her music because she never saw me.”

“Oh, my, that’s a good thing. She can’t keep a secret at all,” Ellen rolled her eyes and chortled. “I remember when we were planning a surprise Birthday party for David last month. She couldn’t wait to tell him about it and the gifts everyone had made for him.”

“I remember how disappointed everyone was when the surprise party was no longer a surprise,” Liam added.

“Oh, I know. I’m just glad the party turned out good, anyway. I think everyone had a good time, and they loved the cake you baked, Liam. I even heard David say he wants you to bake his Birthday cake again next year for his birthday. Let me see if I remember what he said correctly, “Liam is the bestest baker in the world.”

As I watched the two of them talking, I was surprised to learn that Liam was no stranger to the shelter and its residents. I then realized there was much more to Liam than I had first assumed.

Chapter 10

The next couple of days were hectic as we prepared for the Christmas party. Mom was in great spirits, and even Peanut seemed to be in a good mood.

Liam had spent hours in the kitchen preparing the goodies for the party, and I was impressed with the ease in which he prepared everything that Mom had on the menu.

We had laughed and sang Christmas songs while decorating Christmas cookies, and I even learned the secret to making perfect divinity. Then he surprised me when he baked a cake and decorated it with the most beautiful designs that I hated the idea of eating it. The cake was a multi-tier cake covered with white frosting, and it looked as though it was something from heaven.

When he topped the cake with a single candle, I had asked him why, and he said this was a birthday cake for Jesus since Christmas was in celebration of his birthday. I can’t remember the last time I had had such a good time. Liam had made spending those hours in the kitchen a memory I have always treasured.

After putting the last of the banana bread in the oven, we both sat at the table to enjoy a cup of his special coffee.

“I cannot believe we’ve finished everything in time for the party tomorrow. When I first saw the list of what Mom had wanted to be done, I thought there was no way we could do it all, but you’ve surprised me, Liam.”

“It’s always easy when you have someone special to share it with.”

There was that smile again, and this time, I know I returned one myself.

“Why don’t you go get some rest? I’ll finish up here. It’s late and tomorrow is going to be a busy day.”

I was about to protest but realized he was right. I was tired, and I wanted to be fresh when everyone showed up for the party.

“You know, you’re right; I think I’ll take you up on the offer. Goodnight, Liam, and thank you.”

“It’s was my honor.” He reached over and gently touched my cheek. “Sweet dreams.”

I awoke the following morning to the wonderful aroma of baking ham. I can’t explain it, but I felt rested, truly rested for the first time in years. I quickly jumped out of bed and grabbed my robe. After looking in the mirror to be sure I didn’t look a fright, I hurried to the kitchen. I couldn’t explain it, but I wanted, no, I needed to see Liam this morning.

“Good morning, you look rested this morning.” Liam flashed me one of those gorgeous smiles and even added a playful wink.

“I am. Actually, I feel great.”

Before I had a chance to sit at the table, he had already set a cup of coffee and what looked like a fresh-baked muffin down on the table by my chair. “Here, a little something to start your day.”

I looked at the muffin and was thrilled to see it was my favorite: Lemon Poppy Seed. “How did you know this is my favorite?”

To be honest, I don’t know why I asked because Liam always seemed to know more about me than I knew about myself.

He didn’t respond, he just grinned then walked over to the dishwasher and started putting the clean dishes away.

After I had finished my muffin and two cups of coffee, Liam announced that we needed to start putting the goodies we’d made on platters and setting them out in the living room.

“Our guests will start arriving before we realize,” Liam chuckled as he grabbed the container with the cookies and handed it to me.

Once I had the cookies properly displayed on the large silver platter, I carried it to the living room and was pleasantly surprised to see Mom sitting by the Christmas tree.

“Oh, there you are, Dear. Can you come here and help me a moment?”

I set the platter on the decorated serving table along the wall and walked over to see what Mom was doing.

“It’s the strangest thing, but when I woke up this morning, I found this.” She held up a Christmas ornament. It was a tiny crystal Angel with white feathery wings.

“Oh, that’s beautiful; I don’t remember seeing that before.” I looked closely at the intricate detail and marveled how it seemed to catch the lights from the tree, causing it to shimmer like a diamond.

“The reason you don’t remember it is because I thought it was lost years ago. Your father had bought this for me our first Christmas together. He had brought it home with him from one of his deployments. He had told me that he wanted me to have it because I was an angel in his eyes.”

I watched Mom speak of that ornament, and I finally realized the depth of the love my parents had shared. I had never noticed it when I was growing up, but now looking back it had been there in plain sight the entire time.

“How did it get lost?”

“It was before you were born. We were moving again, and somehow the box with this got misplaced. The movers had searched everywhere for it, but never could find it. Of course, I was heartbroken, but your father had said things that are truly important will always find their way back to us.”

I can’t explain it, but I realized there was more than just a tiny Angel ornament that had found its way back this Christmas. I had found my way back home too. I was lost just like that Angel, but somehow, I’d managed to find my way back home.

“Where do you want it, Mom?” I took the precious ornament from her shaky hand and attached a hook to the thread loop coming from under the delicate wings.

“Put it in the center front of the tree. I want to see it from my chair.”

With tears in my eyes, I hung the beautiful Crystal Angel on our Christmas tree. Instantly, the lights seemed to bring it to life, bringing a smile to Mom’s lips.

Mom reached up and took my hand in hers. “I feel like we’re all together again.”

I glanced down at Mom, and then back to the Angel, hanging on the tree. “Yeah, we are.”

The guests began to arrive around 3 o’clock. I was surprised at the list of guests Mom had invited. She had invited all the ladies from my cheerleading squad in high school, several other high school friends, and she even invited Cheryl. I couldn’t believe that Cheryl hadn’t said anything about the party when I came home, but she had said that Mom swore her to secrecy.

Mom didn’t stop with my school friends, though. She invited the staff from the Women’s Shelter, several of the couples they had known when Dad was a member of the local Lions Club, as well as a few of my closest friends from college. I don’t know how she did it, but Mom managed to put together the perfect list of guests for the party.

Liam, of course, was the highlight of the party for most of the female guests. You could hear comments such as, “Can I hire him to cater my next party” or “Where did she find him? He’s gorgeous.”

It didn’t matter how much attention, the ladies showed him, his primary focus was on Mom. He had made sure she was comfortable, she had something to drink at all times, and he kept her plate filled with her favorite treats. As I think back on it now, he didn’t just make sure she had what she needed. He made sure that she felt wanted.

When Liam announced the dinner was ready, I laughed at the cheers from the guests when they saw the serving table set up against the far wall in the dining room. We had decided to serve the meal buffet-style, but Liam had somehow managed to make it look like a grand affair.

The ham was placed in the center of the table with candles put in Mom’s candelabra glowing behind it. The decorations on the table with the platters and bowls of food made for quite the image of perfection. There were pine cones and sprigs of pine and holly placed on the table with precision. Then to finish it all off, glitter was sprinkled on the decorations for an added touch of elegance.

“Everything is absolutely beautiful,” Cheryl said as she piled her plate with ham and candied yams. “Molly, he’s amazing.”

“He is, isn’t he?” Everything was done just how Mom and Dad had done it over the years. As I watched everyone enjoying themselves, for the first time since Dad’s death, it felt good to celebrate Christmas.

After everyone had finished eating dinner, Liam announced it was time to sing Christmas carols. Normally, it would be difficult to get a large crowd of people to willingly join in on something like that, but not this time. Mrs. Andrews, who played the piano at the church Mom and Dad used to attend, sat at Mom’s baby grand piano and played nearly every Christmas carol ever written, while everyone lifted their voices in joyous song. The mood in the house that night was magical, and I know everyone there felt the same way.

Once the sun had finally set, and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkled brightly; Liam suddenly appeared in the room, carrying the Christmas cake. A collective gasp filled the room as he walked over to Mom and set the cake down on the end table next to her.

He then kneeled beside her and said in a near whisper, “Bonnie, I feel it’s only fitting that you are the one to blow out the candle for our Lord, Jesus on his birthday.”

I’ll never forget the expressions on the faces of everyone in the room when we sang Happy Birthday.

Once we had all finished singing, Mom leaned forward to blow out the candle and said in the sweetest voice, “I’m ready, Lord. I’m ready to come home and be with my dearest love, again.”

I know I saw tears of joy mixed with sadness in the eyes of everyone gathered around Mom.

Chapter 11

The next couple of days, Mom had slept quite a bit. I knew the excitement of the Christmas party had worn her out, but there was something different about her. I had tried to get her to come out of her room and join Liam and me as we wrapped Christmas gifts, but she would just say she was tired and wanted to be rested up for Christmas.

I will always be thankful for Liam during that time. He had made the time between the Christmas party and Christmas Eve fly by so quickly. We had spent time in the kitchen putting together boxes with food and clothes for the homeless shelter. We had spent the afternoon gathering donations from our neighbors. It surprised me how quickly our neighbors had jumped at the opportunity to help when Liam had explained what we were doing.

Then we went to the Women’s Shelter and picked up several of the children and took them caroling at the Senior Center. I will never forget the smiles on the faces of the children and the residents when Liam brought out the large tray of Christmas cookies we had baked the day before and the jug of fruit punch.

To watch those children who had seen such violence in their tender years discover love and acceptance from those elderly patients is something I will never forget. All the presents wrapped in shiny paper and decorated with fancy ribbon and bows could never replace the feeling those children and elders experienced that day.

An unusual cold front moved in early Christmas Eve day. The temperature had dropped nearly 30 degrees overnight, causing a dusting of frost on the ground. Liam and I had stayed up late the night before, sitting out by the swimming pool and talk about our lives. The only problem was the conversation seemed to stay focused on my life. I had discovered that Liam didn’t seem to want to talk about himself. I had tried several times to steer the conversation back to him, but he always managed to turn it back on me.

I don’t know why, but I found myself telling him some of my deepest, most personal feelings. I told him about my relationship with Randy and how I loved him, but for some reason, I seemed to keep him at arm’s length. I told him how I believed that Randy was my perfect mate, but something kept me from allowing him completely into my heart.

I had talked for over an hour without realizing the time. Yet, he never once acted like he wasn’t interested in what I had to say. I finally stopped and looked at him, and realized that he had answered my questions without saying a single word.

“I’ve been pushing Randy away because of my fear of losing him. I’ve had to say goodbye to so many people in my life that I didn’t want to take the chance of doing that with him.”

“I was wondering how long it would take you to realize the truth. You’re a beautiful, intelligent, and loving woman. Don’t let fear keep you from knowing true happiness.”

“You’re right, thank you.” I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out my cell phone. I glanced over at Liam, who gave me one of his smiles. Feeling the strength, I needed, I dialed and waited for Randy to answer as I walked to my bedroom.

Liam had helped me to purge myself of my deepest fear, and for that, I will always be grateful.

“Good morning, there’s a chill in the air today just in time for Christmas.” Liam handed me a cup of coffee as I walked toward the table and sat in my chair.

“How did your phone call go last night?”

I took a swallow of coffee before answering, trying to wake up. “He’s going to get a flight in sometime tomorrow. He said he’ll call me and let me know what time his flight will be landing.”

Liam grabbed his coffee cup off the counter and sat at the table. “I’m glad to hear that you two are working things out. I know your mother will be relieved.”

I was too tired to pick up on the meaning of his statement, and Liam didn’t elaborate at the time.

“Your mother looks better today. When I took in her breakfast, she was up and sitting in her chair putting a Christmas bow in Peanut’s hair. She said she wanted him to look pretty for Christmas.”

I was glad to hear Mom was feeling better. I had worried she would be too weak to celebrate Christmas, so to hear she was dressing up Peanut was a sign that we’d have a wonderful family Christmas together.

“I think after I have some more coffee I’ll go to her room and check on her.” I was hoping a little more coffee would clear the sleepy haze from my mind. I wanted to let Mom know that Randy would be here for Christmas day, and how I finally realized that I was just letting fear keep me from making our relationship work.

Before I had a chance to finish my first cup of coffee, Liam set a plate of Eggs Benedict down in front of me. “How did you know this is my favorite?”

“I have my ways,” he said in a playful tone as he filled my cup again then sat in the chair across from me.

“If you keep doing everything for me like this, I’m going to get spoiled.” I then shoved a mouthful of the Eggs Benedict into my mouth and chewed it slowly, savoring its delicate flavor. “This is delicious.”

Liam took a sip of his coffee. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I believe he had something he wanted to say. However, we were interrupted when my cell phone rang.

I was excited to see it was Randy calling. “Hello.”

He wanted to let me know that he got a flight, and would be landing in Houston at 2:45 that afternoon. I looked down at my wristwatch. “Oh, that’s wonderful. I’ll pick you up.”

He went on to tell me not to worry about picking him up. He said he had already scheduled a car rental so that I wouldn’t have to leave Mom.

After we had hung up, I jumped up out of my chair. “He’s going to be here today. Oh, my God, I need to get ready.”

As I ran out of the kitchen like a crazed fool, I could hear Liam laughing.

It was nearly 5 o’clock by the time Randy pulled up into the driveway. I had thought to play it cool and wait for him to come to the door, but I couldn’t stand it. He hadn’t even turned off the ignition before I was outside and opening this car door.

“Thank you, thank you so much for coming.” I reached into the car and wrapped my arms around his neck, holding him tightly.

He pulled me into the car and wrapped his arms around me. I don’t know how long we stayed in the driveway, but all the pain I had felt since the day Randy and I had parted, evaporated and was never to return.

“Molly, why don’t we go inside? It’s cold out here, and I’m getting a kink in my back.” He tried shifting in the seat, but couldn’t because I was pinned between him and the steering wheel.

“Yeah, we would probably be more comfortable inside.” I didn’t want to move, but I could see he was really uncomfortable. I begrudgingly slid out of the car and waited.

After he had got his suitcase from the trunk, we walked into the house.

“Hello, Randy, it’s good to see you again.” I was surprised to see Mom was sitting in the living room by the Christmas tree, holding Peanut on her lap.

“Hello, Mrs. McClansy, it’s good to see you too. I want to thank you for letting me come here and spend Christmas with you.”

“First of all, I want you to call me Mom. Next, you’re welcome here anytime because you’re family.” She held out her arms to him.

Randy looked over at me and smiled. He then set his suitcase down on the floor and walked over to Mom’s waiting arms. I know this may sound silly, but I think I even saw a tear in his eye. It was from that moment that I knew my life was coming together.

“Okay, you two. Randy, let’s get your things put in the bedroom. I have a feeling that Liam will be calling us for dinner soon.”

Randy pulled from Mom’s embrace and then kissed her on the cheek, “Thank you, Mom. This is going to be a special Christmas, I’m sure of it.”

Mom gazed into his eyes, and without saying a word, she let him know that he was correct. This Christmas would be one that none of us would ever forget.

We had just finished putting Randy’s things away in my room when we heard Liam announce that our dinner was ready. I looked at Randy and licked my lips. “This is going to be a treat. Liam’s been cooking most of the afternoon.”

“Well, I didn’t want to say anything, but the wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen has been driving me crazy,” Randy laughed as he grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the bedroom door.

The image of Mom sitting in the chair next to Dad’s old chair at the head of the table made me smile. The glow on her face and the twinkle in her eyes reminded me just how beautiful she was, and why Dad had loved her so much. She had changed into her favorite blouse with the tiny roses, intricately embroidered on the collar that Dad had brought back from one of his deployments, and she had added the diamond pendant Dad had given her the Christmas before he passed. Seeing her there reminded me of all the happy Christmases we had spent together as a family.

Liam had set the table with Mom’s fine china, crystal goblets and silver flatware. Then in the center of the table, he had placed a beautiful Christmas centerpiece, all of this creating the setting for a perfect Christmas Eve meal.

Randy walked over to the chair across from Mom and held it out for me to sit. After I had taken my place, Randy sat beside me.

When I had first walked in the room, I had noticed a plate, goblet, and flatware sitting at the head of the table, as though they were waiting for Dad to take his place. I had felt a rush of excitement at the thought of Dad taking his place at the head of the table. Unfortunately, reality stepped in, and I realized it was where Liam had planned to sit; however, I was wrong on my assumption.

Once I had settled into my chair, I glanced over to the place setting in front of Dad’s chair and was surprised to see the large picture of Dad in his uniform that Mom had hanging in her room, sitting on the chair. It was as though; Dad had been waiting for us to join him. A gasp escaped my lips as I looked at his smiling face, and I instantly knew this was going to be one of those perfect moments I would remember the rest of my life.

Liam walked into the dining room carrying a basket of fresh baked rolls. After he had set it on the table, he took his place next to Mom.

“Liam, everything looks beautiful.” I fought back the tears forming in my eyes, but the joy I felt at that moment was overwhelming, so they ended up flowing freely down my cheeks.

“Thank you. Your mother wanted today to be special. After all, tonight we’re celebrating the birth of our Lord. Tonight is a night of miracles and should be treated accordingly.”

As we enjoyed our meal, I kept hearing Liam’s words replaying in my mind. When I looked across the table at Mom, my heart overflowed with love and joy. We had wasted so much time caught up in grief and anger, that we had forgotten how to enjoy life. Peanut had jumped up in Dad’s chair and was now curled up and sleeping peacefully. As I watched him sleeping, I found myself remembering how Dad would let Peanut hang out with him while he was working in his office. Dad had made the mistake of letting Peanut join him in his shop once when he was restoring the pickup. I still remember the look of disgust when Mom saw the grease on his paws and belly from lying on the floor watching Dad. That was the first and last time Peanut got to help work on the truck. Even though Peanut was Mom’s dog, he loved Dad too, and Dad loved him.

I don’t remember how long we all sat at that dining room table, but it didn’t matter. After we had finished eating our dinner, we had enjoyed sharing past Christmas memories while we ate the delicious pecan pie Liam had made earlier that day.

“Molly, I think we need to steal Liam away from your mother. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten such delicious food in my entire life,” Randy laughed as he shoved the last of his pie into his mouth.

“I was thinking the same thing. I’m sure Mom wouldn’t mind sharing him.”

Mom’s face lit up at our playful conversation. She reached over and rested her hand atop Liam’s. “Liam has far more important work to do.”

I can’t explain it, but as I watched the way my mother gazed into Liam’s deep blue eyes, I suddenly understood what she meant. Liam wasn’t someone to cook and take care of your home. No, he was much more.

Liam leaned over and kissed Mom on the cheek. “It has been my honor to spend this time with you and your lovely daughter.”

The love we all felt at that moment was undeniable. Mom and I had found each other again, and I had pushed my fears aside and opened my heart to Randy. Liam was right; Christmas is a time for miracles.

A knock at the front door pulled me from my thoughts. “I wonder who that could be?”

“Maybe it’s Santa?” Randy looked at me with a playful grin.

“I don’t think Santa would knock at the front door, silly.”

I stood and started to walk to the door when Liam stood.

“Wait, Molly, I think we should all go.” He left the room for a moment then returned carrying Mom’s Christmas cap, her red gloves, and her favorite coat. Once he helped her put everything on, he helped Mom into her wheelchair. “Okay, let’s go see who’s waiting for us.”

When I opened the door, I gasped with surprise. Standing on the doorstep were the children from the Women’s Shelter. They were dressed in new clothes and had the brightest smiles on their faces that I couldn’t contain my joy at seeing them.

“Good evening, Mrs. McClansy, Miss Molly, we’re here to sing Christmas carols for you.”

“Hi, Liam, look at my new shoes,” little David lifted his foot to show his new high top athletic shoes.

“Wow, those are some great looking shoes, David. I wish I had shoes like those.” Liam leaned down to have a closer look at the prized shoes.

David’s face lit up with pride. “I got these at the Christmas party yesterday. I got a fire truck too, and my sister got a baby doll. Mommy got some perfume. I like it because it makes her smell pretty.”

“It sounds like you’ve had a great Christmas so far.” Liam patted David on the head, causing him to giggle.

“I have. Mommy is happy too. She had cried because I needed new shoes but she didn’t have the money to buy them, but when I woke up this morning they were sitting by my bed. I was so excited, and when I showed them to Mommy, she said an Angel must have brought them to me.”

“I think your mommy is right. I’m glad you have your new shoes,” Liam glanced over at me and smiled.

The sound of those children’s beautiful voices is something I have held dear over the years. Mom had joined in with them, and I felt as though she was reliving a memory from long ago. Once they had finished singing, Liam gave them all a cookie and some hot cocoa to warm them up a bit, and when they left, they had left behind a feeling of Christmas joy and spirit.

“Hold on, before we go back inside I have a surprise for Bonnie,” Liam grinned mischievously.

Randy and I exchanged confused glances, wondering what else he could possibly add to this already perfect evening.

Liam disappeared inside the house, and when he returned, he was carrying one of Mom’s large crystal bowls filled will bright, shiny confetti.

“Here, Bonnie. I know how much you enjoyed those Christmas Eve’s with your father playing in the snow.” He kneeled beside the wheelchair and held the bowl in place.

Mom’s eyes lit up as she scooped both of her hands into the bowl and pulled out a mound of the confetti in her cupped hands. She then brought her hands close to her face and said in a whisper, “This is for you, Daddy and Tom. I’ll be joining you both soon.”

With that, she blew into her hands, causing the confetti to scatter into the air, floating around her like snowflakes. Watching Mom, made me realize how the simplest of things can have the most profound meanings in our lives. We all seem to get caught in our everyday routines that we forget to appreciate the little things that give life meaning.

The crisp air had caused Mom’s cheeks to take on the softest shade of red, but that didn’t matter. She was caught up in the joyous moment, and nothing else mattered.

“Oh, look, it’s snowing.” I couldn’t believe it, but as Mom sat there blowing the remainder of the confetti into the night air, the heavens had decided to give Mom a special gift. Small snowflakes floated down from heaven making for a perfect Christmas Eve.

Once the bowl was empty, Mom turned to Liam. “Thank you.”

I will never forget the expression of pure joy shining in Mom’s eyes at that moment. She was happy, genuinely happy and for that, I will always be grateful.

Liam never said a word. He only leaned close to her and kissed her gently on the cheek.

“Liam, I’m cold, I’m ready to go inside now.” Mom touched her cheek where he had just moments before kissed her with loving tenderness.

“I think that’s a good idea. Let’s go have some cocoa and warm up.” Liam stood and stepped around behind the wheelchair. I watched him as he pushed Mom back inside of the house then Randy and I followed.

Chapter 12

“That was the best cocoa I’ve ever had, and the cookies were amazing. If I stay around here much longer, I’m gonna need to go buy larger pants,” Randy grinned, before shoving the last of his cookie into his mouth.

“Well, I hate to tell you, but you’re in trouble. Liam taught me how to make those cookies.”

I still laugh when I think back to the excited expression on Randy’s face at the thought of those delicious cookies being a new Christmas tradition.

“I want to go open our gifts,” Mom announced.

“I thought we’d do that in the morning?” This request was a surprise because Mom had always been a stickler about how Christmas gifts were meant to be opened on Christmas morning.

“I know we normally wait, but I have a special gift for you to open tonight. Liam, please take me closer to the tree.”

I watched Liam stand and then push Mom over by the tree, right under the crystal Angel with the feathery wings. The lights from the tree seemed to make the Angel look as though it was dancing, and I found myself smiling as I watched Mom reach up and touch it.

“Liam, please hand that large package to Molly.” Mom pointed to a large, beautifully wrapped package that was sitting under the tree near the window.

“Oh, my, it’s almost too pretty to open.” Liam chuckled as he set the package on the coffee table in front of me.

Mom’s eyes beamed with joy as she watched me unwrap the package and open the box. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw inside.

“Mom, are these what I think they are?”

Safely tucked inside the box were dozens of envelopes. Each one had been carefully addressed and contained a treasured letter. I reached inside of the box and pulled out one of the envelopes and immediately recognized the handwriting was Dad’s. Tears filled my eyes as I opened the envelope and read the faded handwritten words on the aging page.

My dearest Bonnie,

It has been so long since we have been together. Each day that passes seems like an eternity without seeing your beautiful smile and feeling your gentle touch. I was so excited to get your letter about Molly taking her first steps. I’m so sorry I was not there to share in that special moment. I know how much falls on your shoulders, my Love, and for that, I am truly sorry. I look forward to seeing my two beautiful ladies when I return next month. It’s been far too long. All my love, Tom.

I glanced over to Mom and saw tears forming in her eyes. Without saying a word, I reached down and picked up another envelope and pulled out the letter.

My darling Tom,

Today, Molly came home from school crying. Her best friend, Brenda was pulled out of class today after her mother received the horrible news of her father’s death. The teacher had tried to console the students, but how do you tell young children not to worry when most of them have fathers over fighting in the war. I tried to tell her that you were okay, but she said she wouldn’t believe it until she heard your voice. I was talking to Jacqueline the other day at the commissary. She said that since their daughter was taking piano lessons, she and James have been sending a tape recording back and forth so he can hear their daughter playing the piano, and she can hear her daddy’s voice. I think that’s something we need to do. I hope this letter finds you well, my love. I miss you terribly and await your return. My love eternally, Bonnie.”

I looked over at Mom and then back inside the box. After gently moving the envelopes aside, I saw several reel-to-reel tapes, neatly tucked into the bottom of the box with the old tape player sitting next to them. My body began to quiver, as the emotions now surging through my body consumed me. I could no longer contain them. I jumped to my feet and rushed into my mother’s waiting arms.

“Thank you, Mom. Thank you for giving me this perfect gift.” As I cried on her shoulder, Mom gently stroked my hair and sang the song I remember she used to sing to me when I was sad or scared as a child.

Clap your hands till Daddy comes,

up the wagon way.

With his pocket, full of money

and a wagon load of hay.

The cart is painted green and yellow,

The horse is dapple grey.

Clap your hands till Daddy comes,

up the wagon way.

Over the years, I had forgotten how Mom was always there for me when Dad was away. I had filled myself so full of yearning for my Dad when he was away, that I had left little room in my heart for Mom.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d love to listen to some of the tapes.” I was glad that Randy had made the suggestion. I looked over at Mom, who nodded her agreement.

I reached inside of the box and carefully pulled out the recorder and handed it to Randy. “Would you mind plugging it in, while I find a good tape to listen to?”

The memories of those days when Dad was serving in Vietnam came flooding back into my mind. To hear his voice again on those old reel-to-reel tapes made a lump form in my throat.

The mood in the room as we listened to the tapes was a mixture of sadness and joy. So many things had happened since that time, but one thing was certain, the love we all shared had never died.

“It’s getting late. I’m tired; I’d like to go lie down in my bed.”

I could see that Mom was tired, but I hated for this evening to end. “I’ll take you, Mom.”

With the Private Nurse being off for the evening, I thought I’d help Mom get ready for bed. Liam had started to protest, but I gave him a look, letting him know this was something I wanted to do.

“Why don’t I help you get things cleaned up, Liam?” Randy stood and started to gather up the cups and plates sitting on the end tables, but Liam stopped him.

“Thank you, Randy, I appreciate the help, but why don’t you let me get the dirty dishes. You can take the box to Molly’s room.” Liam stood and picked up the dishes then walked to the kitchen with Randy following closely behind.

“Come on, Mom; let’s get you ready for bed. Tomorrow is another big day.”

Mom didn’t say a word as I pushed her down the long hallway to her bedroom. When I opened the door, Peanut jumped up, barking, as though we were intruders coming into his domain.

“Oh, hush, Peanut, it’s just me,” Mom had told the little dog, who now realized it wasn’t an intruder coming through the door.

I pushed Mom over to the bed and helped her out of the wheelchair. It surprised me how frail she was, and it was at that moment that it finally struck me that our time together was coming to an end.

I know this may sound strange, but helping Mom get ready for bed that night was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. She had wanted to wear her favorite powder-pink silk gown because she said it was Dad’s favorite. She then asked me to fix her hair after we took off the Christmas cap she’d been wearing since we went outside. I remember asking her why it mattered, but she had said she wanted to look her best for Christmas morning.

I remember when I was growing up how my mother had always taken extra care to ensure her hair and makeup was always perfect. Dad used to tease her when they were getting ready to go out that she was already beautiful and didn’t need to fuss so much. But Mom would just say it was important to always look her best for her husband. Even after all these years, Mom had never changed.

Once we finished, I helped Mom get into bed. “Please sit with me for a while.”

I could see a look of sadness in Mom’s eyes, as she searched for the right words. “I want you to know how proud I am to be your Mother. You have given me so much joy over the years; I only wish I could be around to watch you walk down the aisle.”

I tried to interrupt, but Mom waved a dismissive hand. “I want you to make me a promise.”

I tried to speak but was only able to nod my head as I fought back the tears.

“I want you to finish college and go on to help people. I want you to marry Randy and have lots of beautiful children. I want you to live a long and happy life, and then someday I want you to be the grandmother I never got to be. Will you promise to do those things?” Tears filled her eyes as she forced a smile.

I sat and stared into Mom’s eyes for several moments before I was finally able to respond. “Yes, I promise. I promise to do everything you ask.”

“Good; why don’t you go join Randy, I’m tired.” She laid back and patted the bed next to her. Peanut jumped in place and snuggled in next to her. That silly little dog had been at Mom’s side for years, but for the first time, I realized just how old he was getting.

“Okay, Mom, get some sleep, and I’ll see you in the morning. I love you,” I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek then I patted Peanut on the head.

I walked toward the bedroom door, but something stopped me. I turned around and looked back at Mom, and she was already sleeping peacefully with Peanut by her side.

I don’t know why, but I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and snapped a couple of pictures of Mom. She looked so beautiful, lying there in her bed with her curls of silken, white hair flowing onto the pillow.

“Goodnight,” I whispered as I softly closed the door behind me.

I will never forget what I found when I walked into the kitchen. Liam had Randy washing the rest of the pots and pans, but what was so amusing, Randy was wearing Mom’s Christmas apron.

“Oh, my, don’t you look lovely.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on his face when he turned around and saw me standing there.

“Hey, I figured since it’s Christmas, I might as well dress the part.” Randy strutted and spun around like a model on a Paris runway.

“Well, I think you’ve accomplished your goal.”

The grin on his face was infectious, and I found myself laughing so hard that I had to hold onto the doorway to keep from falling to the floor. Before I knew what had happened, Randy had taken me in his arms and kissed me with such passion that my knees buckled beneath me. You know, I’ve watched the old movies where the sexy man takes the woman in his arms and lays her back while kissing her passionately, causing her to go weak in his arms. Well, this was one of those kisses.

Once he had brought me upright, Randy looked me in the eyes and grinned. “I plan on kissing you like that every day for the rest of our lives.”

I guess the expression on my face was amusing because he and Liam both burst out laughing. “Oh, baby, I should have done that a long time ago.”

Chapter 13

After the dishes were done and put away, Liam excused himself and went to his room. Neither of us was ready to go to bed, so Randy and I decided to sit by the Christmas tree and talk awhile and catch up on things.

The soft, silky voice of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas played in the background as we sipped on eggnog with a splash of spiced rum. It felt good to be with Randy again. He had always been someone I could confide in without worry of judgment or condemnation.

“Molly, I’d like to give you your Christmas present early.” I couldn’t explain it, but the look in his eyes made me shiver with anticipation.

“Are you sure? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until in the morning?” I couldn’t believe that I had said that. I didn’t want to wait; I wanted to see what he had for me now.

His expression took on seriousness as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. My heart skipped a beat when I realized it was a box for a ring. I immediately knew it was an engagement ring?

“Molly, my life has been miserable without you. I know we said that it was best to focus on Med School, but I can’t keep my mind on my studies.”

I watched him pour out his heart to me in a way I had never seen before. It was at that moment I realized Randy loved me; he truly loved me. I also realized at that moment I loved Randy and didn’t want to spend another day without him.

As we gazed into each other’s eyes, I realized this is what my parents had shared all those years. I felt so bad that I had misjudged Mom. She wasn’t overly strict and domineering. She only wanted me to be the best I could be. While Dad had shown me how to love, my mother had taught me how to be strong. She had to be strong all those years when Dad was gone. She was the one who had held the family together, but until that moment, I had never understood.

Randy raised the small box and then slowly opened the lid, exposing the most beautiful diamond engagement ring I’d ever seen. “Molly McClansy, will you do me the honor of being my wife?”

“Yes, oh, yes,” the words flew out of my mouth before I realized what I had said.

The look of joy on Randy face lit up the room as he took the ring out of the box and placed it on my finger. It was a perfect fit, and I cried when I looked out of the large window by the Christmas tree and realized it was snowing again. “This has been the best Christmas ever.”

A knock on the bedroom door brought me out of a sound sleep. I rolled over and turned on the lamp sitting on the bedside table, “Hold on a second.”

“Who is it?” Randy covered his eyes to block out the light.

“I think it’s Liam.” I heard another tap on the door, but this time, it seemed more urgent.

When I opened the door, the expression of concern on Liam’s face caught me by surprise. “Your mother is asking for you.”

Hearing those words was something I had dreaded.

“Honey, Mom is asking for me.”

“I’ll come with you.” Randy quickly got out of bed and followed me down the hall.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I opened Mom’s bedroom door.

The small bedside lamp lit up the room just enough to see the color had vanished from Mom’s face, and she seemed to be struggling for each breath. I hurried to her side and sat in the chair beside the bed.

“Oh, Mom, let me call for an ambulance. You should be in the hospital.”

My heart was breaking because I knew she would never go. She had said that she wanted to die in her home and in her bed.

“Molly, let me see your hand.” She reached for my hand and brought it up so she could see it. A smile spread across her lips as the light danced on the diamond ring sitting on my finger.

“Your father told me that you and Randy were getting married.” Her words were strained as she struggled for each breath.

“I don’t understand. How could Dad tell you that, Mom?”

“Sweetheart, your father talks to me all the time. He has for several days now. He was with us at the Christmas party the other night. He was with us tonight when we were outside, and it started to snow.” The sweetest smile appeared on her face as she took my hand and brought it to her lips, kissing it ever so softly.

“He said the look on your face when Randy asked you for your hand in marriage earlier this evening made him so happy. He said that he didn’t have to worry about you being alone anymore.”

I started to speak, but Mom held up a finger letting me know there was nothing I needed to say.

“It’s time for me to leave you, my Dear. I wanted you to know how much I love you and that I don’t want you to cry. I’m not afraid. I’m ready to go.” Mom grasped my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Now, I’m not going to say that I’ve ever really been one to believe in ghosts or even the afterlife, but what I saw next changed how I think of this mysterious thing we call life.

“Hello, Molly.”

“Dad, is that you?” I know you may think I’m crazy, but there on the other side of the bed, holding Mom’s other hand was my Father.

“Yes, Princess, it’s me.”

I felt my body go numb as I stared into the eyes of the man I had loved above all others. “I don’t know what to say…”

“Well, now, that’s a first. Can you believe it, Bonnie? Our headstrong, opinionated daughter is speechless.”

“Oh, my God, it is you; it’s really you.”

“Of course, it’s me. Who else would your mother allow in her room at this time of the night?”

I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t stop myself. Dad always had a way of taking an uncomfortable situation and making light of it.

“So, Randy, I hope you plan to make my little Princess happy?” Dad glared at Randy, but I could see he was trying not to laugh at the shocked express on Randy’s face.

“Uh…yes…I promise, Sir,” Randy stumbled over his words as he sought to compose himself.

“Good; I would hate to have to come back and haunt you.”

“Oh, Tom, quit tormenting him,” Mom scolded Dad playfully.

“Dad, why are you here?” I knew the answer even before asking the question.

The playful expression vanished from Dad’s face to be replaced with one of unconditional love and compassion.

Randy rested his hand on my shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “He’s here to say goodbye and to be here for your mother as she passes on.”

“You have a very wise young man there, Princess,” Dad winked and then nodded his head toward Randy.

“I’m leaving Molly in your hands. I know she tries to act like she’s in control at all times, but she needs someone to lean on when life gets to be too much for her to handle on her own.”

“Yes, Sir,” were the only words Randy managed to say.

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t sad. I knew my mother was leaving me, but seeing the joy in her eyes as Dad held her hand, erased any sorrow I should have felt.

“Are you ready, my Love?” Dad looked down at Mom and smiled.

“Yes, I’ve been ready for quite some time, but I had to wait until I knew Molly was going to be alright.”

“Mom?” I looked down at her hand when I felt the release of her grip on mine. It was at that moment I realized she was gone.

I will never understand what happened next, but a soft glow began to form around her. I sat there in awe, as I watched the old, withered woman lying on the bed transform into the beautiful woman I remember from my youth.

Mom sat up on the edge of the bed, leaving the motionless body of the elderly woman she had been behind. She then held out her hand to my father. Only now, he was no longer the man I remember at the time of his death. He was the young, handsome man I remember from my childhood.

Dad took Mom into his arms and kissed her tenderly. “My dearest Love, we have been apart for far too long. Now we will be together on our next journey.”

So, this is eternal love. I have read about it in classic novels and watched movies trying to portray it, but none of them even came close to what I witnessed that Christmas Eve.

The glow in the room now increased, and now I heard something truly amazing. I know some will say I was imaging this, but I believe I heard Angels singing a joyous song of welcome for my mother.

“Sweetheart, never fear to say goodbye. Life has many doors, and if we are too frightened to close one door behind us, we will never be given the opportunity of opening the next. Live your life without fear. Love without fear. Open your heart to the one meant to fill the void we are born with. We are eternal souls and are bound together for all time. If we live our lives in fear, we will never know the joy of bonding with the soul destined to spend eternity with us. In the past, you have used fear as a buffer to protect your heart. I’m so glad you have realized it’s time to allow love into your heart.”

“Be good to each other, my Dear. The last few days have been wonderful. I’m so thankful to know you two are together. I know you will have a long and happy life.”

Mom turned toward Peanut who was sleeping soundly next to her physical body in the bed, “Come on, sweetie. It’s time to go.”

I know people like to say that dogs don’t have a soul, but that’s not true. Little Peanut jumped to his feet, wagging his tail wildly. His eyes were clear of the fogginess, and the white hairs on his chin were gone and now replaced with the reddish-blonde he had as a pup. “Come to mommy.”

I had to laugh when he jumped up into her arms like he had done so many times before. He reached up and licked Mom’s cheek, causing her to chuckle. “No, licking; you know better than that.”

Mom then turned to face Dad, “I’m ready.”

I wish I had a better way to explain what happened next, but it happened so quickly. Randy was standing behind me with his hands on my shoulders watching everything transpire. I had wanted to go to my parents, but something told me to stay in place. The voices singing off in the distance grew louder and louder until in a flash of sparkling light, Mom, Dad, and Peanut vanished.

You would think I would have been crying tears of sorrow, but that’s not what happened. Yes, I was crying, but they were tears of joy. My parents were happy, and they had shown me that I can know that kind of happiness too. I just have to trust in the love Randy, and I have shared all along.

“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Randy leaned down and pressed his cheek against mine.

“Yes, I’m fine. As a matter of fact, I’m perfect.”

I stood then leaned over and kissed Mom on the cheek. “Goodbye, Mom, I love you.” I then stroked Peanut’s hair before I pulled the floral comforter over their lifeless bodies, and lastly, over Mom’s face.

“I’ll call it in,” Randy said as he reached for his cell phone.

I could see by the expression on his face that Randy was having a difficult time processing everything we had just witnessed, but I knew over time, we’d both get it all figured out.

“I’ll go let Liam know that Mom has passed.” I walked toward the door, but before I left the room, I turned around and looked back at Mom lying under the blanket. A little voice whispered in the back of my mind reminding me not to grieve, and I knew it was my parents still looking after me. Even though they were dead, they were never actually gone.

I walked down the hall to the kitchen. I figured he was probably there making some of his special coffee, but I was wrong.

“Huh, maybe he’s in his room.”

I walked down the hall and knocked on the door to his room… silence. I knocked again, this time, a little louder… still nothing.

“Wow, you must be a sound sleeper.” I decided to open the door to wake him up. I figured he would want to know about Mom so no real harm would be done.

“Liam, Liam…” Silence.

I finally decided to turn on the light, but what I saw caught me completely by surprise. He wasn’t there. In fact, it looked as though he had never been there. I walked over to the closet and opened the door, only to find nothing but the wire hangers I had left there from the last time I was home.

I then went to the bathroom and turned on the light. His toothbrush, toothpaste, and comb were gone, and the items in the medicine cabinet were gone too. I walked over to the bed and sat on the edge, and I noticed even the slight hint of cologne was gone.

“I don’t understand. Where are you, Liam?”

My heart was pounding in my chest. None of this made any sense. Why would he leave like this and at this time?

I heard footsteps coming down the hall toward Mom’s room. I jumped to my feet and rushed out into the hall.

“Oh, it’s you.” I know the sound of disappointment in my voice caught Randy by surprise.

“Wow, you’re tired of me already?”

“No, I’m sorry; I thought you were Liam.” I don’t know why, but I glanced around Randy and down the hall with the hope Liam was there.

“He’s not in his room?”

“No, and all of his stuff is gone too. It’s like he was never here.” I desperately fought the tears now stinging the corners of my eyes, but my attempt was in vain.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“No, it doesn’t. I don’t understand why he would leave like that.”

We both stood in that hallway trying to decide what to do next when we heard a knock at the front door.

That must be the ambulance. Randy gave me one of his special smiles that let me know everything was going to be fine, turned, and walked toward the front door. A couple of moments later, Randy, followed by two EMT’s pushing a gurney, appeared at the end of the hall. For some reason seeing the solemn expression on the two young men’s faces had hit me harder than I would have thought. Tears began to flow down my cheeks as I watched them walk toward me and the door to Mom’s room. I guess it was because I knew they were here to take Mom away.

“Sweetheart, you need to move out of the way.” Randy gently took me by the arm and pushed me out of the way.

Randy then opened the door to Mom’s room, and for a moment, I caught a glimpse of the bed with the lifeless form lying under the floral comforter.

“She’s there,” Randy pointed toward the bed. “Her dog is with her too.”

“What are we supposed to do with the dog?”

Randy was about to answer, but I spoke up instead. “Mom made arrangements for Peanut to be buried with her.”

Randy turned and looked at me with a shocked expression on his face. “But how would she know…”

We’ve often spoken about this very subject over the years. Just how did Mom know that Peanut would die the same night she did? I knew he was old, and his health was in decline, but to pass the same night as Mom is one of those mysteries life tosses at us to either accept as a wondrous miracle or merely dismiss as a strange coincidence. I’ve chosen to think of it as a miracle.

“Please wait here a moment, I have something for you.” I knew what they needed to see before taking Mom. I rushed down the hall to Dad’s office and went to the wall safe hidden behind the picture we had taken on our trip to Hawaii after my high school graduation. I reached inside and pulled out the top envelope then hurried back to Mom’s room.

“Here are her instructions. As you can see, they are approved by the funeral home where you are to deliver her body.”

The young man closest to me took the paper and looked it over. “Okay, we’re to take the dog as well.”

I stepped back out of the way and watched as they lifted Mom’s body from her bed and gently place her on the gurney. I was impressed with how they were careful to keep her gown from moving and exposing her. Mom would have appreciated being treated with such dignity.

Once they had Mom securely in place, the second young man lifted Peanut and put him next to Mom. I had to smile because he was placed just how Peanut would have laid there himself. I will always remember how that made me feel; even in death Peanut was by Mom’s side.

Chapter 14

The house seemed so quiet.

I had tried to get some sleep after they had left with Mom’s body, but my mind wouldn’t allow it. Randy had fallen asleep on the sofa, but I had found sleep impossible. So, I just sat in the large over-stuffed chair and stared at the Christmas tree.

The twinkling lights on the tree had filled the room with shadows of what appeared to be tiny, dancing Angels, celebrating the birth of our Lord. As I watched the celebration, I found myself lost in the happy memories of Christmases long past, where I felt joy and at peace.

I must have finally fallen asleep because I was awakened by a gentle touch on my cheek.

“Hello, Molly.”

“Liam, Liam is that you?” I struggled to focus my eyes.

“Yes, I just wanted to give you time to relax and calm down a bit.” He then flashed me one those beautiful smiles I’d grown to love.

“Where were you earlier? You just vanished without so much as a word.” I wanted to be angry with him, but I just couldn’t. His deep blue eyes now seemed filled with sorrow, which caught me by surprise.

“I knew that you and Randy needed this time without someone else involved. I had done my job here, so it was time to move on.”

“I don’t understand. Why do you have to go? You’ve become so important to me.”

“You will always mean the world to me, Molly; just as your mother did. But you now must begin the rest of your life with a wonderful man who loves you the way you deserve to be loved.”

I can’t explain this, but something changed inside of me at that moment as I gazed into his deep blue eyes.

“I know you, don’t I? I mean, I knew you before you came here, didn’t I?”

Liam didn’t say a word; he only smiled that bright, beautiful smile.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. A memory suddenly filled my entire being of Mom and me sitting on the sofa, going through her old picture album. She had paused and pointed to a picture of a handsome man with deep blue eyes and a bright, beautiful smile. “This is my father. He was such a wonderful man. I miss him greatly, and I look forward to being reunited with him in heaven.”

“Grandpa?”

I never knew a spirit could cry, but I swear that I saw tears fill his eyes.

“I’m so glad we got this time together. I had always wanted to have a beautiful granddaughter, and I’m so happy to have you.”

“I don’t understand. Why didn’t Mom recognize you?”

“Because she didn’t see me as you saw me. She had tucked the memory of me far too deep in her mind because of her pain and loneliness, so when I came to her, she didn’t recognize me.”

“I don’t understand, though. Other people know you. There are the people at the shelter, and even some of Mom’s friends.”

He shook his head and chuckled. “I have been busy, haven’t I?”

I couldn’t help but join in on the jovial moment. “Yes, you have.”

Now I understood why Mom had fallen in love with Dad. Not only was he a kind and loving man, but he was a lot like grandpa. “I have a question. Is Liam your real name?”

“Yes. It’s an old family name. I was named after my father, and he after his.”

“I like that name. It fits you.”

I don’t know how long we spoke, but I will always treasure the time I had with my grandfather. He told me of my Mom when she was a child and how much she would laugh. He said she had been the light of his world, and he hated that he had to leave her at such a young age.

“It’s time for me to go.” He tried to smile, but sadness filled his face.

“So soon? We’ve just gotten to really know each other.” I knew he couldn’t stay, but I wasn’t ready to let him go.

“Silly, girl, haven’t you learned anything? I will never really be gone. I will always be here inside of you,” he reached out and gently touched his fingertip on my chest above my heart. “You will have all of us with you every time you look into the eyes of your children and grandchildren.”

For the first time, I understood. Saying goodbye wasn’t a bad thing. Sometimes we need to move on to a difference phase in our lives, so we need to close that door behind us and move on. It’s the same with relationships. Sometimes they end, and we move on. For every relationship, that ends there are always numerous ones soon to be discovered. As to losing those we love to death, I learned that Christmas we never actually lose them. They are always with us, looking over us, and sometimes they even return to help us.

He then leaned down and kissed me on the forehead. “I love you, sweetheart. Now, I want you to keep your promise to your mother. I want you and Randy to live a long and happy life together, and I want you to give me lots of great grandchildren.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the expression of pride on his face.

“I just hope at least one of them has your beautiful blue eyes and smile.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll have a son who is as handsome as me,” he winked playfully.

From the other side of the room, we both heard Randy stir on the sofa.

“You really have to go, don’t you?” I knew he did, but I didn’t want to accept it.

“Yes, but promise me that you won’t be sad. You have a wonderful life ahead of you, and I want you to enjoy every precious moment.”

I knew he was right, and for the first time in years, I was excited about what the future held for me. “Thank you, Grandpa. Thank you for teaching me what’s really important.”

The glow of the morning sun now shone through the window, causing a mystical feeling to come over the room. It was as if the sun was announcing the beginning of a new life; one full of love and laughter.

As our gazes met, I suddenly felt a warm sensation consume my soul. It was as though all the hopes and dreams I had hidden deep inside of me now rushed forward and wrapped around me like a favorite blanket. Tears stung the corners of my eyes, as I realized my life would be everything I had always wanted.

Grandpa reached out and touched my cheek, and then he slowly faded into the rays of the morning sun filtering through the branches of the Christmas tree.

The day of Mom’s funeral was unusually cold for Southeast Texas. The small church was filled to capacity with old friends and family from all parts of the country, and so many flowers surrounded the casket that you’d almost think it was springtime.

When the pianist played Amazing Grace, which was Mom’s favorite hymn, everyone sang out with such emotion that I’m sure even the Angels in heaven cried a few tears.

I had dressed Mom in her favorite Sunday dress. It was a soft pastel pink with tiny white roses embroidered on the collar and cuffs of the sleeves. Mom looked quite lovely, lying there in her white satin-lined casket. She looked like she was merely sleeping, like Sleeping Beauty in the fairytale with Peanut by her side.

“Oh, my, look,” Aunt Josephine squealed, as she pointed to the single white rose, Mom was now holding across her breast. It wasn’t there before, was it?”

Gasps escaped the group of people gathered around the casket who wanted to show their respect before the trip to the cemetery.

“Don’t be silly; of course, it was there. It’s not like she took the rose from some unseen person and is now holding it,” Uncle George groaned.

Murmuring filled the small church as everyone tried to solve the mystery of the white rose. However, it was no mystery to me. I knew exactly who had brought the rose, just as he had each morning for the last days of Mom’s life.

Chapter 15

“Come on, Grandma, what’s taking you so long?”

“I’m coming, Grandma doesn’t move as fast as you little ones. Besides, I needed to put on my magical coat and cap.”

The sounds of giggling filled the air, as our precious grandchildren gathered in the front yard, awaiting the start of our Christmas Eve Family Tradition.

“Tell us the story again, Grandma,” little Abigail asked with a bright, beautiful smile on her precious face.

“She’s already told us the story of how Great-great grandpa gave our great-grandma the gift of Christmas snow.

“I know she did, Liam, but I love hearing it,” Abigail crossed her hands over her chest and glared at her brother.

“Liam Jr., stop picking on your sister.”

I had to laugh as I watched the interaction between some of the most important people in my life. My daughter, Bonnie had Mom’s same way of looking at you and letting you know that she’d had enough of your foolishness.

“Leave my favorite nephew alone, Sis.” My son, Tom then chuckled when he saw little Liam’s eyes light up with pride.

“You just wait until little Molly gets old enough to drive you crazy,” Bonnie winked.

“Grandma, next Christmas I want a pretty coat and cap like yours. Mommy already got me matching red gloves… look,” Abigail giggled as she held up her hands to show me her new bright red gloves.

“Those are beautiful, sweetheart. I think since you have those pretty new gloves, that you should be the first one to make it snow.” I held out the same large crystal bowl filled with shiny confetti that Grandpa had held for Mom on that special Christmas Eve all those years ago.

She started to scoop up a handful but suddenly stopped. “No Grandma, you’re supposed to do it first. Remember, you said it was your way of saying goodbye to all the sadness and opening your heart up to the love Grandpa had to share.”

I glanced over at Randy, who smiled. We had spent so many happy Christmases together since that special night. We had married the following Christmas. Then we both had graduated from Med School where Randy went on to be an Obstetrician. He had delivered countless beautiful children over the years, and he even kept a photo album filled with pictures of each baby and their proud parents.

I had always thought I’d be a surgeon, but I found that my heart took me in a different direction. I decided to help people as my mother had requested. I decided to go into the field of mental health and over the years I have primarily worked in Grief Counseling.

As I looked down at Abigail, I realized that she was right. This was something I had done every Christmas since Mom joined Dad. In her mind, this was how we celebrated Christmas, so to change it was wrong.

I looked down into the bowl of shimmering confetti, and a feeling of joy washed over me. “This is for you, Mom.”

I then scooped up some of the confetti in my cupped hands and brought them up to my lips. Everyone waited until I blew, releasing the shimmering confetti into the air like falling snowflakes.

Cheers erupted from the children as they jumped up and down.

“Grandma, Grandma, look!” Little Liam tugged on my sleeve, pointing up into the evening sky. “Great-great Grandpa made it snow, just like he did for your mommy.”

I can’t explain it because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when we had come outside just a short time ago, but he was right. It was snowing just as it did on that Christmas Eve, all those years ago, when I received the most valuable gift of all. I learned how to say goodbye.

I’m not going to say, The End.

For nothing in life ever ends.

We just need to open our hearts to see it.

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A Message from the Author

I wish to thank you for reading Saying Goodbye. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this story. I laughed, I cried, as I poured my soul into it. Then I decided to make the audio version, and I had so much fun making it as well. I hope enjoyed this story as much as I did writing it.


Saying Goodbye: The Christmas Gift

  • Author: Linda L Barton
  • Published: 2017-03-31 23:35:20
  • Words: 28246
Saying Goodbye: The Christmas Gift Saying Goodbye: The Christmas Gift