Christmas Eve #bookexcerpt

It’s Christmas Eve in 2020, and well, this year is a bit of an unprecedented one for many of us. A number of you may be spending Christmas alone or far away from family members this year for the first time in a long time. It’s not exactly the Christmas we hoped for, but here it is.

I realize that a number of family sagas portray heartwarming scenes at Christmas, like something out of a Hallmark movie. But whether it’s 2020 or not, Christmas for a number of people is anything but a Hallmark movie. Many face grief and sadness, and a sense of loss at a time that’s supposed to be so joyful.

One of my favorite Christmas programs is A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the reason I think I love it so much is because it deals with that subject head on. Charlie Brown is depressed because he’s supposed to feel good at Christmas, but he doesn’t. He is looking for meaning or something to bring him joy. He learns that Christmas can be found in the smallest of things.

So in spirit of that, and in of 2020, my present to you in this unprecedented year is an excerpt from my latest novel, Out of Night. It’s Christmas Eve 1968, and Lydie is waiting for a visit from her family whilst being a patient in a psychiatric hospital. I won’t give any spoilers, but perhaps Lydie and her family will find enough light to make it through a difficult situation.

From my house to yours, I wish you peace and hope this holiday season and a brighter year to come next year.

Excerpt from Out of Night by Kellie Butler. Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

On Christmas Eve, Lydie took out a new frock from her wardrobe. She’d found the long-sleeve red wool sheath dress in a shop in downtown Topeka right after Thanksgiving. She’d seen it a couple of times as she had passed the brightly lit window whilst on her way to her regular pilgrimages to the yarn shop to buy wool.

Normally, Lydie didn’t get so dolled up since she’d arrived at the hospital.  No one really cared what you wore. But today was special because Henry and the kids were coming.

Lydie’s fingers glided along the jewel neckline of the garment, encrusted with large green stones sewn on like a necklace. She hadn’t brought any jewelry except for her wedding band. Henry had her emerald and diamond engagement ring at home. To help with her recovery, he had sent a couple of photo albums with pictures dating back to their engagement on New Year’s Eve of 1948. Edward and Velma had taken a photograph of a smiling Lydie and Henry on that night as they rang in the new year to ‘Auld Lang Syne.’

It would only be a few more hours until visiting time. She told Henry she would meet them in the visitor’s lounge located just outside of her ward, where they could sit comfortably in chairs. She hoped he would like her dress. The kids probably wouldn’t care. She went to the hair salon yesterday and had her hair set for today. She wanted Henry to see she looked well. Not because she wanted him to take her home, but to show him she had made great progress so far.

Back at that other place, they had helped her put on a shapeless cotton shirtdress and a wool coat. She imagined that she had appeared frumpy. The kids hadn’t been there, and she had been glad they hadn’t seen her in such a state. Lydie had always tried to keep up her appearance until she just couldn’t anymore. Something had died within her after Cole went to his school.

As she lay the frock on the back of her desk chair, someone tapped on her door. A nurse came in and set her breakfast tray and medication on the desk.  Lydie sat down at her desk, and picked up the cover off her breakfast tray. Today it was eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast with a cup of fruit and orange juice. She picked up her little paper cup with meds.

Lydie normally didn’t have meds in the morning, but this week she was nervous about Henry’s visit, and had requested something to help calm her nerves today. Dr. Sletter was the one who usually ordered her medications, and after some persuading, he had obliged.  Lydie had taken a sleeping aid Thanksgiving night, although why, she wasn’t sure. The turkey and stuffing at dinner that evening had done the job.

She finished her breakfast and then dressed. This one had a zippered back, and Lydie lowered the zipper with ease. She wondered if it would zip up as easily. She didn’t have Henry’s long limbs, and sometimes she cursed when her short arms couldn’t reach her neck. Someone needed to do something about that. Ladies like her mother or grandmother never had that problem because they had a maid waiting on them. Lydie hadn’t had someone dressing her since she was twelve. One day, they need to make zippers that were a little larger or something so women with short arms won’t have to ask someone to do it, or else contort their bodies trying to zip it themselves.

As she put on her slip, Lydie realized it fit a little tighter than it had when she had arrived. She had gained weight. Not that she was overweight, but she was squishier than she had been before. She hoped the frock would fit, otherwise, she’d have to wear an everyday one.

Lydie slid into the dress as it grazed the curves of her hips and hugged her body. It wasn’t form-fitting, but it wasn’t as loose as she’d like for it to be. On the mannequin in the shop, it was supposed to be a bit looser than this. She took a deep breath and zipped up the back. Well, at least she didn’t feel like a stuffed sausage. Lydie could breathe in it. It would do.

After slipping into her shoes, she glanced down at her gold wedding band. Maybe Henry would bring her engagement ring so she could wear it during the visit. She put on her robe to protect her clothes as she took out her makeup case. Since she’d arrived, Lydie hardly ever wore makeup. Today was a special occasion, though. She applied just rouge on her cheeks to give her porcelain skin some color.

Taking a comb off her desk, she glided it through her straightened shoulder-length hair before combing the fringe. On a whim, she told the hairdresser yesterday to flatten her usually wavy hair. Staring at her stick-straight tresses, Lydie scrunched her nose and bit her lip. She’d never had straight hair before. What was the word for it? Mod. Yes, definitely mod. Maybe too mod for her family. Sighing, she pulled it back into an updo.

She set her comb down and made herself smile.

At three, she gathered her courage and headed downstairs into the lobby to head for the Christmas Eve reception over in the Hopkins building. She caught up with Imogene and Nola Faye as they headed out the door with a throng of other patients.

“Is your family coming to visit, Lydie?” Imogene asked. “Are they able to make the trip?”

Lydie nodded. “Yes, they’ll be in sometime today. I’m afraid they’re only staying a couple of days because Henry has to get back to work.”

“It’s supposed to snow tomorrow,” Nola Faye said. “The kids might like that. At least one of us getting to see family. Mine don’t care about me anymore.”

“We’re your family, honey,” Imogene said. Lydie nodded.

Nola Faye’s eyes misted as she reached over and squeezed their hands. “I see neither of you ladies joined the patient choir. They are performing today.”

Lydie shook her head. “I can play the piano, but I cannot sing. As my kids say, I make a joyful noise. How joyful that is to other people, well, that’s another story.”

Imogene giggled. “That’s exactly how I feel. Caterwauling sounds better than what comes out of my mouth. At least we’ll have refreshments”

“Christmas cookies and punch.” Nola Faye nodded. “I bet that’s what they’ll have. Is your husband bringing you dinner, Lydie?”

“I don’t know. He’s arriving after five. Maybe he will, or maybe we’ll head down to the cafeteria for dinner.”

“Blech. I hope he brings something,” Nola Faye said. “You’d better not load up on those refreshments.”

“What about you, Imogene?” Lydie asked. “Do you have anyone coming this weekend?”

Imogene waited until they passed through the front door before she answered. “Well, I have a sister in St. Louis, but they hardly ever come to visit. I imagine with them having Christmas Eve mass tonight, they’ll wait until tomorrow to drive over, if they do at all. There’s always something going on with her.”

“How far is it to St. Louis?” Lydie asked.

“Oh, a few hours.”

“I hope they come and see you, Imogene,” Lydie said.

“Well, with this flu stuff going around, I don’t know. At least they’re allowing visitors,” Imogene said. “You know, I don’t understand something. Back in the old days, when you had things like this, your family took care of you. You had to be seriously ill to go to a hospital. It seems like some of these places are more like babysitters for families who don’t want to have to take care of their loved ones. I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone. Take you and your memory loss from that other place, Lydie. That needs special care. But people like me and Nola Faye, well, at one time, our families would have taken care of us instead of paying all this money to have people look after us.”

“I hear they’re moving to where places like this won’t be long term anymore,” Nola Faye said. “I don’t know what my family will do with me. I’m too young for an old folks’ home, and I’m too old for anything else. I guess they’ll find somewhere they can put me and not have to lift a finger,” she said as they walked down the drive together. “No, it’s not like how it used to be. Be glad you girls at least have families that pretend to care. Mine stopped, and I know it.”

“Now, don’t you be down like this on Christmas Eve, Nola Faye. We’re here for you,” Lydie said.

Nola Faye sniffled, and her voice caught as she took Imogene and Lydie’s hands, “Thank you, kindly. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

For the last bit, the trio walked in silence until they reached the reception building. They eyed the tables full of food, and Nola Faye’s eyes lit up like a kid in a sweets shop. Lydie and Imogene nodded their heads, and took their positions near one of the Christmas decorations so they could hear the choir, and keep a good eye on Nola Faye. Just a couple more hours, and Henry and the kids would be with her. Please don’t let them miss that flight.

At four-thirty, Lydie made her way back to her room. Touching up her lipstick and powder, she grabbed the bag of gifts she’d place on her neatly made bed and headed for the visitors’ lounge. She hoped upon hope that she got there before Henry so she could scout out the best table.  She knew from chatting with some other patients it would be packed. Selecting a table away from the blaring noise of the television sets, she placed her shopping bag full of gifts down to mark her spot.

Smoothing her frock, she inspected the surrounding area again, making sure it was perfect. Waving at a few patients she recognized, Lydie grabbed a deck of cards from a nearby table, sat down, and started dealing her first game of solitaire to calm her nerves. She hoped her kids wanted to see her.

Patty spotted her from across the room and came over. “So, you’re getting visitors today, huh?” She leaned over and said, “Well, don’t get your hopes up. Don’t you know that the ones who come to visit on holidays are the ones who don’t really care? They show up because they have to. They’d rather be at home, not spending time with crazy people in a hospital.”

“Patty, that’s an unkind thing for you to say,” Lydie said.

Patty scoffed. “Look at you in that number like you are hot stuff. I bet you hope you can get your husband away in a corner somewhere for a little action, huh? You’re so desperate, it’s flashing from you like a neon sign. Look at those gifts. Hah! You brought them your little paintings and your knitting. They’ll toss it into the garbage can the moment they leave. You just watch.”

“Patty, stop it! Stop it right now!”  She would not let the girl ruin today for her.

“Oh, are we angry? I’m sorry to have spoiled your little  holiday.”

Patty cackled so loud that a nurse and an attendant came over. “That’s enough, Patty. Just because you don’t receive visitors doesn’t mean others can’t. Now come on. You’re headed back to your room if you can’t get along.”

Patty stuck out her arms and put her wrists together. “Lock me up! Go ahead! Put me in the cold wrap today! That’s what you want to do! Better yet, put me in the hydrotherapy room!”

Not giving in to Patty’s behavior, they escorted her away. The girl turned around and flashed a wicked grin. “They’re visiting because they pity you! What a bunch of losers!”

When Patty was gone, peace gradually came over the room again. Eventually, everyone returned to playing cards, watching television, or reading their books. Lydie reshuffled her deck and started a fresh game of solitaire. She had to reframe her mind so her family wouldn’t see her upset.

She had played three hands of solitaire, and she began to wonder if they were coming at all. What if he had been called back in to work? Patty would never let her hear the end of it. She started on her fourth hand when out of the corner of her eye, she spotted them:  a group of three kids teenagers followed by a tall, lanky man with golden brown hair at the door. He was holding a bouquet of white and red roses, and a large green box tied with twine she knew well. The kids were holding presents, too. They made their way through the crowd towards Lydie, who wanted to wrap her arms around them, but was afraid she might frighten them. She held her arms wide open when they reached her.

“Hi, Mom.” Suzy was the first to approach. Her long, silky black hair hung in a ponytail that came just below her shoulders, and her frame was as slender as it had always been.

Lydie threw her arms around her and enveloped her in a hug. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, Mom,” Suzy nodded and squeezed her tight.

Lydie let go briefly and took Nora into her arms next. “Goodness, Nora! You’ve grown so much. How are you, darling?”

“I’m okay, Mom. You look, well, you look great.” Nora said. “You look more like yourself.”

Lydie knew what Nora meant by that. She had seen how apprehensive they had been as they entered the room. She exchanged glances with Henry, who shrugged his shoulders.

She released Nora and was preparing to wrap her arms around Bobby when she took a step back, her eyes wide open in amazement. “Bobby, you are nearly as tall as your father!”

It was Bobby who flung his arms around his mother. “Hey, Mom. Yeah, I’m going to be as tall as him and Baba one day.”

“But you’re only fourteen, my little boy. What are you eating back at home?”

“Just the stuff the other ballplayers eat.”

Lydie released Bobby, but had her hands around his arms. “Ballplayer? When did you start playing sports?”

“I got on the junior varsity baseball team last year, Mom. Next year I’m trying out for varsity.”

“What position do you play?”

“Oh, I’m third base. I’m a good hitter, too. Ask Dad.”

“My little boy is growing up.” Her eyes welled up with tears.  Bobby moved over so his father could step forward.

“Henry!” Lydie flung her arms around him, and he enveloped her in his arms, pecking her softly on the temple. She pecked him on the cheek. “I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to come with you working so hard and the flu going around. Thank goodness you’re here.”

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from seeing you, Lydie.”

Turning to her kids, she said, “Why don’t we all sit down? I got a good table for us.”

Her kids sat down awkwardly in the chairs, while Henry took his place beside her. “We brought you a few things, sweetheart.”

“Thank you, darlings. I’m so grateful just to see you! I have some things for you, too. Granted, they’re things that I made. I wasn’t sure what you might like this year.”

“Your dress is pretty, Mom,” Suzy said.

“Thank you, sweetheart. I bought at a shop downtown, close to the yarn shop where I purchase my wool. I usually do that on days I’m going to adjunctive therapy.”

“What’s that, Mom?” Bobby asked.

“Oh, it’s a posh word for doing things that help you heal, things that bolster your spirits. There’s a nice building not far from here where we paint, draw, sculpt, make ceramics, knit, design floral arrangements, and all sorts of things. Your mommy has been painting and knitting up a storm these past few months.”

“I like it, Mom,” Nora said. “Your dress, I mean.  How long are you staying here this time?”

“Nora, remember what we talked about?” Henry sent her a reproachful glance.

“Oh, sorry, Mom.” Nora looked down at the table.

“It’s all right, darling. I’m going to be here for a few more months, probably until the end of summer. At least that is what the doctors say. I’m getting much better, though. It’s peaceful here, and it’s helping me heal greater than that other place I went to. I’ll be back with you before you know it. Enough about me, though, I want to hear about you.”

Suzy took out a memory book and passed it to her. “Dad said you can have photographs in your room, so we made you this album of stuff we’ve done over the last year or so. That way you can look at it.”

“You did this for me? And I can keep it?” Lydie gasped and put her hand over her mouth.

“Yes, Mom.” Suzy nodded her head.

Lydie caressed the dark blue album gingerly. “Thank you so much, darling. That is one of the best presents you could give me, other than being here.” She opened it up and started devouring the pages.

“There’s Bobby’s ballgames and trophies, Nora’s art things, and my piano recitals. We took a lot of pictures around the house, so you can even see we’re taking care of things at home for you.”

“Thank you,” Lydie whispered. “Oh, thank you so much.”

Nora pushed over a scrapbook. “Here, Mom, I put a lot of my drawings and a couple of watercolors into a scrapbook, like Dad did of all the drawings you sent him from Paris.”

Lydie opened the scrapbook and marveled at the abstract drawings and watercolors. “You’re even more talented than I was at your age, Nora. I will cherish these. You will probably be a better artist than I am.”

“Oh, no, Mom. These are my best ones. I threw a lot of them away.”

“I’ll have them on my desk with pride,” Lydie said. “I would like to hang all of them up in my room to see every day. Don’t lose your gift, Nora. You have it.”

“Thank you, Mom. One day I’m going to study in Paris, just like you.”

“Did you know that one of Mommy’s doctors worked in Paris for a while? He worked with the Public Health Service. Your father worked with them during the war.”

“Did Dad work in Paris?” Nora grew wide-eyed.

Lydie laughed. “No, he didn’t. My doctor worked for the Health Service here in the US too, though.” She winked at Henry.

“Really, Lydie?” Henry asked. “You haven’t told me that.”

“Well, I see him to sort out my medication. He’s on-call occasionally, too. Nice young man.”

Bobby took out a bag. “I have nothing to give you as far as that kind of stuff, Mom.  I told teammates you were sick, and we all signed a baseball for you.” He passed it over. “That way you can look at it and know we’re all rooting for you.”

“I thought you might be angry with me for not remembering when I was home.”

“We’re not angry, Mom. Dad explained about your memory, and that you’re here to get better. So, we’re trying to help you.”

“Thank you, darlings.” Lydie leaned over and kissed each one. “I can’t thank you enough.”

They held onto her for a while until finally their legs grew restless and they sat down at the table.

“Well, it’s going to be hard for me to top that,” Henry said. “But I brought you flowers and a cake from Edinger’s.”

Lydie’s nose crinkled up in delight as she opened the green box tied with string.  A Brooklyn blackout cake, her favorite. “I thought I recognized that box. Norma used to bring some to the dorm back at Barnard when she came back from visiting her parents.”

“Speaking of Barnard, I can see you’re eating well here, Lydie. You have the figure you used to have in college.”

“Henry Bainbridge, are you saying that I’ve put on weight?” Lydie raised her eyebrow and put her hands on her hips.

“You have, but it looks beautiful on you.” He winked. “Kids, when I met your mother in college, I found out she was a magnificent cook. I was smitten the moment I ate her roast chicken. I’m going to see if the nurse can give me a hand in slicing this cake. Maybe they’ll have some napkins.”

As Henry left, an uneasy silence fell over the table.

“I suppose it’s not what you expected, is it?” Lydie asked.

“Well, Dad said it would be different,” Nora said weakly. “Why are these people just getting up and not saying anything before they leave?”

“Well, people do odd things. Best to not judge them.”

Bobby nodded, and Lydie opened the book that Suzy gave her. “I know this must be awkward for you. I just want to thank you for coming. That’s the best present you can give me.”

“Dad gave us a big lecture last week,” Nora said.

“Did he? What about?”

“Nora,” Suzy warned. “You know not to start anything. You were the one who really got in trouble last week.”

Lydie turned from Suzy to Nora. “I take it that it was the boy trouble you were in?”

“Gee, thanks, Suzy. You’re such a tattletale.” Nora rolled her eyes. “Great, you just ruined it. You know we’re not to upset Mom.”

“Well, given that I saw that look your father gave you earlier, something happened last week.” Nora remained silent. “Mhm. I may have lost some of my memory, Nora, but I haven’t lost my senses completely.”

“Then you wouldn’t be in here,” she muttered.

“What was that?” Lydie sat straight up.

“Nothing,” she mumbled.

Henry returned with napkins and cake on paper plates. He saw Lydie’s tense posture and how Nora’s attention was turned towards the television sets. Bobby and Suzy shifted in their chairs. “What’s going on here?”

“Ask Nora,” Suzy pouted. “She has ruined everything.”

Henry set the plates down and sighed as he sat down beside Lydie. “Sweetheart, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, darling. Thank you for bringing the cake. Now, why don’t we all enjoy it, hmm?” Lydie shot Henry a warning glance.

He leaned over and whispered, “What is it?”

“I’ll tell you later,” she murmured, and dived into the decadent slice of chocolate cake with chocolate filling and even more chocolate icing with a crumb coating. “Norma gave this to me for my twenty-first birthday. I remember that because I was so full of cake that I could hardly eat a thing when Henry and my friends surprised me by taking me to the Hawaiian Room that night for dinner. I hardly ate a thing off that Pupu platter.”

Lydie finished her cake, and the kids were done with theirs.

“Mom, can we go watch television?” Bobby asked.

“Sure, darlings. Just mind that other people are watching it, too. Don’t ask them to change the channel.”

“Okay, Mom,” Suzy said. All three kids rose from the table. “See you in a bit.”

Lydie’s gaze followed them until they sat down in front of one of the televisions. Assured they could speak privately, she turned to Henry. “What happened last week?”

Henry groaned. “This was not supposed to come up during our visit.”

“Maybe it’s just too much for them.”

“Which is why they were supposed to keep this pleasant so we could all get adjusted.” He frowned. “We can’t even get through Christmas Eve without something.”

“Are you going to tell me what happened? It’s something, because Nora is still cross.”

Henry shook his head and groaned. “Very well, Nora cut class with a boy named Cal and ended up in Staten Island. A ferry worker thought they looked out of place and called the police. I called Doris, who had Norma with her. I went and got her. By the way, Norma and Doris send their regards, and Doris gave me a pan of lasagna.”

“You’d better send her some cake, along with her pan.”

“She won’t take anything. Nora is having an attitude lately. She’s probably doing this today to get back at me.”

“I don’t know. I think she’s upset I left her alone there. To think I used to get mad at Alistair because he wouldn’t let me go to dancing lessons.”

“You never snuck off with a boy, though,” Henry said, and took a bite of his cake.

“No, there was no chance of that. Not even when I was in Blackpool. Too many people around. I’m glad the girls stepped in.”

“Yeah. The kids hate me right now, Lydie. I didn’t want today to be like this. I wanted this visit to be wonderful for you. For all of us.”

“Well, we’ve spent several years bottling things up to where everything would be smooth and look where it got us. Maybe by tomorrow things will have settled down.  I could tell they were shocked when they walked in.”

“Yes, I tried to prepare them, you know.”

Lydie reached over. “Well, I know what I looked like at the other place. I wanted you to see I’ve made progress. After they get over this hurdle, maybe things will be easier. Fourteen was a rotten age for me.”

Henry cleared his throat and changed the subject. “You look well, Lydie. Much better than I had hoped.”

“Good.” Lydie smiled. “You look pretty well, yourself. I see JoAnn takes good care of you.”

“Sort of. I get by,” he said. “Aidan and Amy said hi, too, by the way. So did Francine.”

“Tell them hi for me.”

“Since it’s just us, how’s your memory, sweetheart?”

“Getting better every day. I still have months of treatment left, but we’re going to work on that come January. You know, the real work. We’ve already started on some of it, but my doctors have an idea of how to help me.”

“Mhm. Have they mentioned what those might be?”

“Well, things that will help me be able to stay well after I leave here, whenever that will be.” She glanced around the cheerful room. “I like it here, much more than I thought I would. I fought tooth and nail the last time, you know. I did what I had to so I could get back home to you.  Granted, I didn’t want it to be in the shape that I was. Losing my memory wasn’t my idea of a release. This time, though, it’s different.”

Henry cocked his head. “How so?”

“Because I need to be here. Not for you or the kids, although I love you dearly, but I need to sort things out for myself. I had become a shell of myself, depleted of anything left to give. I was growing bitter and afraid. Afraid I’d be put away like Cole. I suppose I had so many feelings that surged up from my parents leaving me money to take care of me for life. I realized they probably knew I was sick in some way, and they wanted me to be taken care of. I got scared. I took it out on you, and I was thinking more of myself than what you wanted. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have thrown things at you. You were going through just as much as me, but I focused inward because I was so frightened.”

“We don’t have to discuss that now, Lydie.” His gaze left hers and traveled around the room as he shifted in his chair. “Let’s just spend time together, huh?”

She smiled. “Okay.”

“Your dress is beautiful.”

Lydie blushed. “I splurged a little on it. I wanted something special for your visit. You look pretty good yourself. I have presents for you and the kids.”

“You don’t need to give us anything.”

“You haven’t even seen it.” She picked up a tube out of the shopping bag and gave it to him. “That one is yours.”

Henry eyed it and unfastened the lid off the cardboard tube.  “Where did you get this tube?”

“A place in town.”

“Mhm.” He pulled out a large roll of watercolor paper tied with twine. Rolling the twine down, he unrolled the paper and placed it in front of him on the table and gasped.

“It’s a replica of the painting I entered the art exhibition the foundation hosted recently. It garnered a lot of attention. Mary loves it.”

He studied the ball painted with many colors. “This differs from your earlier work, Lydie. More abstract.”

“Yes. I just paint what flows out. No understudies or drawings. Just pure expression. It’s proving to be a fruitful period, like nothing I’ve never painted before.”

“Well, I wish I could have the original, but I’m going to take this and get it framed. It’s going in my study or near my workbench at the hospital. What did you make the kids?”

“An afghan for Cole, and some jumpers for Bobby, Nora, and Suzy, if they will wear them. I just got the latest pattern to make frocks for the girls, but I don’t know if they will want them.”

“Will you have time for that?”

“Darling, you have plenty of time in a hospital.”

“True, sounds like you might be busy coming up, though.”

“I will have time to knit and paint. I just don’t want to waste a lot of yarn on something the girls won’t wear.”

“Nora is more fashion-conscious. Suzy won’t care,” Henry said rather matter-of-factly.

“Nora has a bit too much of her mother in her,” Lydie conceded and winked. “What have we created?”

“I don’t know, but they are giving me a run for my money right now.”

She leaned over and caressed his cheek. “I love you, darling.”

“I love you, sweetheart.” He took her hand and grazed his lips on her soft skin. “Hey, can you leave the hospital tomorrow?”

“I don’t see why not. Check with the nurse about it. It’s supposed to be frightfully cold tomorrow, with snow possible.”

“I was thinking we could spend some time together after breakfast. We could look at Christmas decorations or something.”

“I love that idea. If it’s too cold, we could always visit here. I don’t want you or the kids getting sick.”

“Well, we have had very little of the Christmas spirit back home, although I see the hospital is all decorated. Look at the snowmen on the tables and the greenery. Who all did that?”

“Oh, some patients got together in the greenhouse and made them, including the big display out on Sixth. I had a nasty cold the day they’d organized it, otherwise I would have helped out. Well, we’ll make the best of it tomorrow, whatever it’ll be.”

“Agreed, sweetheart.” He raised her hand to his lips again and brushed it softly. When a nurse walked by, he sheepishly released it.

Oh, Henry. You and your sheepish grin. At least he had said nothing bad about her hair.

Henry and the kids stayed for dinner, and then they strolled over to the chapel as a family for Christmas Eve. Henry left Lydie at the entrance to the hospital, and he and the kids returned to their rental car. Visitor hours were over, and they needed to get back to the hotel.

That night as Lydie returned to her ward, she heard the crew of the Apollo 8 mission broadcast live from space as they orbited the moon. They read from scripture. Lydie hoped Henry and the kids had heard it. Bobby would be heartbroken not to hear a live broadcast from space.

Lydie floated on air as she returned to her room. She carefully set her presents and the vase of flowers on her desk before she undressed. Today had gone better than she had ever planned.  Just across town, she imagined her family was nestling into their hotel beds. Well, if Bobby could sleep.

She imagined Henry had turned over on his side to block the glare of the television set. Bobby probably would stay up until they played the anthem at midnight, unless Henry made him turn it off.

Lydie would love to be there with them, but she had a lot of work ahead of her.

Pulling her nightgown from behind her pillow, she slipped it on, and grabbed the photo album from her desk. Glancing at the clock next to her bed, she reasoned she had half an hour before lights out. As she slowly flipped through the pages, Lydie marveled just how fast her kids were growing up, and regretted just how much she’d missed out. It broke her heart to have been absent for some of these memories.

Yet today she’d said something true to Henry: she had bottomed out. In retrospect, she wished things could have gone differently.

Maybe tomorrow things would be better. Lydie couldn’t ask much from the kids. She hoped they would understand.

As she continued to commit each page to memory, the night nurse knocked on her door and entered. “Good evening, Lydie. I’ve got your evening meds.” She brought it around to her. “What’s that you got?”

“My kids made a memory book for me, so I’m looking at the pictures. They made a scrapbook, too.”

“Well, lights out in a few minutes.” She handed Lydie the small cup with a tablet and a glass of water. “Now, take this. Want me to put that up for you on your desk?”

Lydie downed the pill and water quickly. “Thanks, but I’ll do it. I can see from the moonlight.”

“Don’t harm your eyes. Those are some beautiful flowers on your desk. I love roses.”

“Henry gave them to me.” Lydie beamed.

“Well, that was sweet of him. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

Lydie would sleep with that photo album if she could. It was the closest thing to having her babies tight with her. She opened once more and committed each photograph to memory, trying to replace the ones she had missed.

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