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“Merry Christmas, Darling ….”
Mikayla brushed the snow from the headstone and bent to kiss it tenderly. She lay a fresh wreath at its foot and then carefully brushed clear the front which read:
Jason Anderson Mason
April 5, 1962 – January 9, 2002
Loving son, Devoted husband – You will be missed and loved always
Although for the last three years, Jason’s illness had prevented them from truly being the same happy-go-lucky couple of their earlier marriage, they were still very much devoted to one another. He truly was her best friend. Watching your best friend die slowly is agonizing. Well meaning friends tried to soothe her with words of comfort:
“He’s in a better place” “Now you can begin living again” “He will always be with you …”
Hollow words. ‘Yes,’ Mikayla thought, ‘Jason will always be with me …. just not the way I need and want for him to be!’ But she knew those thoughts were selfish. Cancer is such an insidious creature, sapping energy, draining life. The treatments are even worse: just as Jason would begin to feel human again, it was time for another round. How she hated the doctors, blamed God. And how she felt guilty for being so angry when she knew deep down that it was no one’s fault.
Christmas had always been their favorite time of year. It was a time of blessings, of festivities and of laughter. She and Jason always had a massive tree-trimming party, gathering all their friends together to help trim their always-too-big tree. The men strung the lights, the women brought food to share, and they all put ornaments on the tree. It was such a happy time. This Christmas was rapidly proving to be especially hard for Mikayla. This year, no tree stood in the bay window. No lights adorned the house. No sounds of laughter or happy chatter echoed through the hall. Just dark, cold silence greeted her each day.
“Jason, I don’t know if I can do this without you!” Mikayla broke down and cried. Rivers of tears had flowed from her eyes in the past months. Jason’s cancer ate away at him, but the knowledge that he wouldn’t be there forever ate away at her. She grieved for the children they would never have. She grieved for his parents having to lose a son so young. She grieved for herself in the loss of her soulmate. Mikayla did everything in her power not to be bitter, not to be angry at Jason. Instead, she held it all in until it was all over. Now, utter dispair rolled over her like a fog, preventing Mikayla from seeing the beauty or joy of the season.
How she hated Christmas this year! She hated the bliss she saw on television. She hated the awe reflected in the children’s eyes. She hated trying to feign happiness everytime she saw her friends or family. She hated buying useless, meaningless gifts that would be put in the back room a week after they were recieved. But most of all, she hated being alone. She hated the fact that Christmas had lost its magic when she lost Jason. He was her reason for believing in miracles, and now, that light was gone.
Mikayla rocked and cried over Jason’s grave, “Baby … I miss you so much! I’m so lonely and I miss being held. I miss laughing and loving someone. If you can hear me … help me.”
Finally, the tears wouldn’t come anymore, and she slowly got to her feet. The snow began to fall softly as she kissed the headstone once again. It was Christmas Eve. Normally, Mikayla would have been going to church, then home for a warm cup of cocoa followed by some gentle lovemaking. Tonight, she would be going home to a dark house, filled with those memories and with reminders of what would never be.
Mikayla got into her car and started slowly up the drive of the cemetery. As she turned onto the main road, lights were suddenly in the window to her left …. a loud screech of tires … then blackness.
“Ma’am? Ma’am are you alright?” Mikayla came to, a bright light shining in her face. She raised her head off of the steering wheel, carefully assessing the damage as she did so. Her hand went to her forehead, which throbbed mightily.
“Yes, I think I’m …….” she said, then realized she was touching blood. “No …. I’m … I seem to be bleeding!”
The car door opened, and a fellow in a EMT uniform reached over, gently cradling her neck and leaned her back in the seat.
“Don’t move too much, ma’am, ” he said in a soft voice, “let me take a look.”
“And you are?” Mikayla queried, wondering where he came from. She saw no rig, no ambulance …. not even another car around them.
“I’m Jack,” the pleasant young man said. “I was just going off duty at the firehouse and was walking home when I saw you here. Looks like you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run. Happens a lot this time of year, although for the life of me I don’t know how these people live with themselves. Especially during Christmas” He continued to evaluate Mikayla, watching for signs of hemmorhage or concussion, and continued to talk softly to her. “I called the boys at the station, they’re on their way, but have a major wreck on the I-45 they’re working, too. Might be a few minutes. Are you warm?”
Mikayla bursa escort suddenly felt the chill from the open door and murmured “Uh-uh. Not really”
“Okay. Let me slide in the other side. I can watch you there … keep you awake. We don’t want you falling asleep just in case your head injury is worse than I think it is.”
Jack got up from his kneeling position, closed the driver door, then walked around and got into the passenger side of the car.
“You still with me, Ma’am?”
“Yes. But please, my name is Mikayla.”
“Okay, Mikayla …. tell me why you were at the cemetery so late on Christmas Eve.” Jack knew that if she could remember such details, then she was probably going to be fine, and this was as good an ice-breaker as any.
“My husband, Jason …. well … he passed away last January. I guess I’m having a little bit of trouble being festive this Christmas, so I came here to be with him instead.” Mikayla went on to tell this virtual stranger how Jason was diagnosed with cancer, how he wanted to be home with her, how she cared for him during his illness and how, now that he was gone, she was struggling to find her way again. Jack listened intently, watching her pretty face cloud over with emotions that she had long-ago buried, watched as she poured her heart out to the one person who didn’t offer those hollow words of comfort.
When Mikayla finally finished her tale of woe, Jack looked at her. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mikayla,” was all he said. It was all he needed to say. Then he reached out and carefully cleaned away the blood that had dried on the side of her face. That act of kindness alone was the first time that Mickayla had felt anything within her for lo these many months.
“Ah! Here we go, now,” Jack smiled as the flashing red and blue lights reflected inside the car. “I think your carriage has arrived!” Mikayla laughed a bit at that …. and Jack squeezed her hand, saying, “You’re gonna be just fine now, Mikayla. You’re gonna be fine.”
Jack helped the other EMT’s extract Mikayla from the car and place her carefully on a gurney. As they wheeled her to the ambulance, Mikayla’s eyes became wide with terror. “Jack? Jack, could you ride with me? I don’t have anyone to go with me!” Her hand reached desperately, groping the frosty air for some sort of anchor. Suddenly, it touched his hand, and his strong fingers wrapped hers in a blanket of warmth.
“Yes, ma’am, I will go with you.” He turned to one of the other guys and asked that they call his house and tell his family where he was so they wouldn’t worry. Then he stepped into the back of the ambulance with Mikayla. He sat near her head where she could see him, trying to reassure her that everything was fine.
Mikayla suddenly felt really self-conscious at hearing him talk about his family. “I don’t want to keep you from your family, your home, on Christmas. Your wife and kids will be missing you!”
Jack laughed. “No, Mikayla, it’s not like that. I live with my parents and my younger brother. No wife, no kids … not yet anyway. But they do have a police scanner and do monitor things at the station rather closely. We’ve had a couple of bad calls tonight, and I didn’t want them to worry that I was injured on the job. They worry enough about that anyway!”
He reached down and took her hand in his. The electricity of his touch soothed Mikayla, and she found herself smiling despite the throbbing pain in her head. As they arrived at the hospital, Jack got out of the back of the ambulance and made way for the gaggle of medical personnel that flocked around Mikayla. They poked and prodded and x-rayed her until she was sure she was either ready now for the Jeopardy challenge or was going to glow in the dark. Or both. The doctor escorted Jack back into the area where Mikayla was lying, and Jack leaned over her.
“How ya doin’, Ma’am?!” he grinned a impish grin and winked at her.
“I want to go home. I’m tired of all this fuss.” Mikayla didn’t like hospitals. Too many memories just in the smells and sounds here. Her heart was aching, but seeing Jack’s face made it not so much so.
The doctor brushed aside the curtain once again, coming into the room in a harried brusqueness. “Are you with her?” he said to Jack, not really looking up from the chart.
“Um … sort of. I was first on scene and she asked me to accompany her here …..” Jack studied the doctor’s face, looking for signs of concern. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, this young lady has suffered a mild concussion. In your line of work, you should know that the first 24 hours of a head injury are critical. She’s going to need some monitoring …. but if you’re not really with her, I guess we can admi ….”
“NO!” Mikayla almost screamed, sitting up on the gurney, “I will NOT stay here! I can’t stay here!! PLEASE!”
Jack took her gently but firmly by the shoulders. “MIKAYLA!” he said sternly, “get hold of yourself! Calm down.” Then turning to the doctor, said, “What do you propose?”
“I need to be assured that she will be monitored. Especially overnight. She can’t be left alone tonight.” The doctor turned bursa escort bayan to Mikayla, “Is there someone who can stay with you?”
“No …. all my family live a bit away and with it being Christmas Eve, they all will be too busy to stay with me. But I will be fine. I really will ……” And with that, Mikayla swung her legs over the side of the gurney and stood to reach for her clothing, but her legs went weak under her. Jack caught her before she hit the ground.
“Ms. Mason, we’ve given you some rather high-powered drugs. You need rest and quiet and you need someone there should you begin to have difficulty such as a severe headache or nausea. Such things can indicate that there is an on-going injury that needs immediate attention. Do you understand?”
Jack eased her back onto the gurney, and said, “Yes, Doctor, we understand. I will go home with her and stay the night. I’m trained in emergency medicine, so at least if something DID happen, I’d know what to do to get her here.”
“Jack,” Mikayla whispered, “It’s Christmas Eve. I can’t ask you to spend that time away from your family! You don’t even know me! It’s too much!”
“Shhhh, little girl,” Jack smoothed the hair back from her bandaged forehead, “who better to stay with you than your very own rescuer? My family will understand. They are good about that, and we will have time together later in the day … or maybe another time. It’s okay … really. I want to do this. For you, AND for me.”
Mikayla felt a tear slip down the side of her face. Someone wanted to take care of HER for a change. For three years, she was the strong one, the caretaker. She was the one that wiped the face, fed the body, cleaned the messes, and now …. now … when she thought she couldn’t take one more step, here was a man willing to just take care of her. She felt her body wilt in surrender as Jack began to carefully dress her, mindful of her bruising and sore muscles. Jack signed the discharge papers as her guardian, and called a cab to come get them, then he bundled Mikayla up for the ride home.
When the cab arrived, Jack helped Mikayla into the back seat and slid in carefully next to her. She gave the cabbie her address, then nestled into Jack’s body, the drugs that the hospital gave to her had lowered her blood pressure enough that she was freezing despite the heavy clothing and coat. She shivered next to Jack, and he wrapped a protective arm around her. Jack talked to her on the ride back to her house, trying to find out more about her. She brought out the protective nature of him and he liked that feeling. So many women he met were so independent and didn’t need or want a strong man; but this woman was part child, and that child needed to be cared for.
The cab pulled onto Mikayla’s street, and Jack noticed that every house was lit up with beautiful Christmas lights. All but one. It was in that driveway that they pulled up to a large porch, and it was into that darkened house that he led Mikayla. She turned on a light as they entered the foyer, and Jack immediately noticed there was not a trace of Christmas anywhere to be seen. She had told him on the way home about how much Christmas hurt and why, about her late husband’s love for the season and now her utter despair over it. It was if Christmas didn’t exist for this woman, and Jack suddenly had a deep-seated urge to change all that, as if something was tugging at his heart.
He eased her across the house, finding her bedroom and perching her on the side of the bed. He rummaged through her dresser and found a nightgown, then opened a walk-in closet, looking for her robe. What caught his eye in the corner of that closet was several containers marked “Christmas Decorations”. At that moment, he had an idea, but he had to get Mikayla comfortably asleep first. Jack stepped out of the room while Mikayla put on the nightgown, then he stepped back into the room to make sure she negotiated the bedcovers alright. That medicine had made her pretty loopy, and he didn’t want her to get too tangled up. He carefully tucked her in, then eased out of the room and back down the hallway.
It took him a couple of minutes, but he finally located the telephone. He phoned his parents and told them the situation. As he suspected, they were totally understanding and even told him to bring her with him tomorrow for Christmas Dinner. He said he’d see how she felt, wished them Merry Christmas, and hung up. His next call was to his best buddy, Rick, on the squad. They usually partnered, but had drawn separate shifts for this holiday. He asked Rick if he would run to the local market and bring a fresh Christmas tree to this address, then he explained the situation. Rick was more than happy to help out his buddy.
Next, Jack carefully snuck back into Mikayla’s room. One by one, he silently carried the decoration boxes from their hiding place into the front living room, to the bay window. He opened each carefully, and when he found the lights, he inspected them and waited for Rick to arrive with the tree.
Jack saw the firehouse rig pull into the driveway, and he ran out to get the tree from escort bursa Rick. “How much do I owe you, bud?” Jack asked, pulling his wallet from his back pocket.
“Not a cent. The market was closing and they were about to ditch all these trees. I picked the best one of the lot, but it’s not perfect. I talked ’em out of a stand, too. Hope you have a Merry Christmas, Jack. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you light up over a girl like this!”
Jack took a good-natured swipe at his friend, “Yeah, I know. She’s great …. and very wounded, and I don’t mean just from the wreck. Maybe this will put her on the road to recovery in a whole lot of ways. Thanks, Rick. Don’t know what I’d do without ya! Be safe …”
Jack watched Rick drive the rig back in the direction of the firehouse, and then he set about moving furniture and setting the tree up in the bay window. All night long, Jack listened for Mikayla and decorated the tree. He heard her whimper a time or two, and went in to watch her. Her sleep was fitful, obviously full of old dreams and memories. Occasionally, she would call out to her dead husband, and Jack’s heart would ache for her. How she must hurt!
As daybreak approached, Jack placed the angel on top of the tree and plugged the lights in. He had already found all the presents she had wrapped for her family and had arranged them carefully under the tree. As the soft light of the Christmas tree filled the room, a gasp behind him made him straighten up quickly. He turned around to see Mikayla standing there, her mouth opened wide and tears streaming down her face.
“Merry Christmas, Mikayla …” Jack said with a sweeping motion to his ‘masterpiece’. “I hope you don’t mind … I found your decorations in the closet and I couldn’t bear the fact that you were missing ……”
“Shhhh! It’s absolutely the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time …” She said, wiping the tears from her cheeks. She stepped further into the room, watching the tree branches dancing with the weight of the ornaments, each one glinting from the twinkle lights. She reached and touched first one then another, her face awash with emotions that each ornament brought.
“This one ..” she touched a beautiful orb that had a cherub dangling inside, “is what Jason gave me the first Christmas after his diagnosis. He told me if this thing beat him, that he wanted me to have something to remind me of him until he could send me someone to take care of me. I brushed him off … thinking he was being a crepe hanger or something. I think I said something smug about him outliving me ….” Mikayla choked back a sob as the memory flooded back. Jack stepped behind her, close enough to smell the sweetness of her hair. Mikayla cleared her throat and continued, “you know, now that I look at it, though …. it kinda looks like what I would imagine YOU would’ve looked like as a child …”
“My parents invited you to Christmas Dinner … i f you don’t have anywhere else to be.” His breath on the back of her neck sent shivers up her spine, and involuntarily, she leaned back so that she was nestled against him.
“No, I have no where to be. My family isn’t all that close, and Jason’s family …. well … that’s a bit overwhelming for me today so I told them I would come over the weekend to celebrate. They understood. I was going to hide for the day, but I guess you’re going to prevent me from that, aren’t you, sir?”
“Yes, ma’am … if I can at all …. and I’d consider it an honor if you would be my date to my family’s celebration. It’s not fancy, but we have a lot of fun and I think you could use a laugh or two, huh??”
She nodded, and he turned her to face him, drawing her body in close. “I hope I’m not overstepping here,” he whispered into her ear, “but I have been dying to hug you since I saw you.”
Mikayla felt Jack’s arms wrap around her, pulling her closer still. She turned and laid her head on his chest, feeling the beat of his heart against her cheek. She succumbed to the hug …. she hadn’t had a really good hug in months. Jason was the best hugger she’d ever been around, until now, that is. Mikayla’s arms went around Jack’s middle, and she flattened her hands against his back, running them up and down, evaluating his body. ‘God, this feels good!’ she thought as he began to sway gently with her. Soon, to no music whatsoever, she realized they were dancing together and it felt like she had just come home after a long, long journey.
“Thank you, Jay,” she whispered, and smiled.
“Did you say something, babe?” Jack looked down at her quizzically.
“Oh … um … sort of. I was thanking Jason for putting me in your path last night.”
“It’s funny you should say that,” Jack pushed Mikayla back away from him gently, taking her hands in his, “I was debating about telling you this. I never walk home that way …. the cemetery is so solumn and there is always someone there grieving. I deal with tragedy every day, and having to walk that way is … well, frankly … depressing. But last night, something down deep told me to go that way at that time. I was in the middle of a chess game with one of the guys, but decided to let it ride until my next shift and so I left about twenty minutes before I normally would have. All that put me right where I needed to be to find you. It was as if a little voice …..”
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