“Hey Mom, Merry Christmas.”
After everyone left last night, Thomas not only gave me the best birthday I’ve ever had. He also made it one I will never forget. The sex was out of this fucking world. But sex with him is always out of this fucking world. The way his hands caress my body as he worships me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. We were supposed to only have sex on the couch, and then I was to call home. But sex on the couch turned into sex in the kitchen, and that turned into sex on the dining room table...ya. I think almost every surface has officially been broken in. But with all of the extra distractions, it means I didn’t call home. By the time I was able to think straight, I was exhausted and could barely function, and it was way too late to call.
“Hey sweetie, Merry Christmas. How was your birthday? I called. Did you get my message?”
Ping of guilt hits me. Hard. “Ya, sorry. Thank you for the birthday wish. I had a lot of fun. Valerie and Xayla took me out.” Oh, I hate lying to my mom, “And Thomas’s grandparents invited me over for Christmas Eve with them.”
“Wait, Xayla? As in Xayla Masterson?”
I’m not all that sure why her sounding so surprised, surprises me. She’s seen the photos from that party in Georgia. She knows Xayla was the one who was carried out, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before about hanging with Xayla. Maybe she’s concerned that I’m starting to have urgers again. Or that I’ve relapsed. Which if that is the case, I’m getting really tired of people constantly questioning my sobriety.
Sighing, “Yes, mom. I thought I’ve told you about her.”
“You have. Just didn’t know you two were that close of friends.” I can’t help but roll my eyes, “She’s not....”
“If she was, I wouldn’t be hanging with her,” I’m not really sure when Xayla pops her pills. My guess, it’s in private. I’ve never seen her take anything in front of me. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t when she’s in the bathroom. She’s great at covering up when she’s high. Unless she’s too far gone, but by then, you can tell when she yells out Tommy.
“Okay, okay,” mom says, surrendering to the conversation. “I’m glad that you didn’t spend your birthday alone. I was worried that you’d just lock yourself in your apartment or something.”
Erm...about the apartment. I’m more of living in the house with Thomas. But that’s not a topic of discussion for right now. “Nope. I was actually social yesterday.” I mused, “Plus, the people from the meetings that I’ve been going to, they threw me a little party last week.”
“Oh, that’s awesome! I’m happy that you’re finding your way out there. I can’t believe that it will be a year that you’ve been gone in March.”
I can’t help but smile as I twirl the material of the blanket between my fingers, “And I’m four years sober.” It was officially my four-year anniversary in October. Valerie and I celebrated out in Manhattan, and she insisted on footing the bill, even flirting with the waiter to get us free desserts. All she had to do was flip her hair over her shoulder and bat her baby blues. She was a trip during our stay. There was never a dull moment with her.
I can practically feel my mom smiling, “I’m so proud of you. We all are.”
Ha, that’s a lie. I know dad or Jen could care less about my sobriety.
“I was going to call Max after I got off the phone with you,” I tell her, “I feel like he’s going to be annoyed that I didn’t call him back yesterday.” Max and I may have not really spoken since our spat of words. Maybe a few text messages here and there, but he called me yesterday, and I know it was to wish me a happy birthday. And since Thomas and I left our phones on silent and in the center console of the car yesterday, I didn’t see or hear it go off.
Mom sighs into the phone, “I think he just feels the distance between the two of you. You two were practically connected at the hip, and I think he feels like he’s being replaced.”
That could be furthest from the truth, could it? There is still something I’m starting to not trust, and I’m not sure if it’s the dreams or him. Maybe both, or I’ve officially lost it. “Mom, can I tell you something?”
“Of course,” she says.
“Um, well, I’ve been having nightmares again,” I whisper into the phone as I pull my knees up to my chest. “And you remember how memories were fragmented?”
“Ya...” she says slowly.
“Well, I’ve been seeing a therapist to kind of talked through the memories, nightmares, or whatever they are. She believes they are repressed memories, and she seems to think that I need to fly back home and kind of have a sit-down talk with everyone.” I’m not sure why I’m so nervous telling her this. I know she’ll be supportive.
“Oh, okay. Can I ask what for?”
What do I tell her? That I don’t think Max is as innocent as he perceives? That I think he was helping Jamie now? I want to know why he lied to me over and over again for all these years. Telling me he wasn’t at parties that I’m a thousand percent positive he was. “I’m still not really sure. I’m working on that part.”
“Okay, well, we’ll be here when you’re ready to talk. Ry, hold on.” I can hear the phone being shuffled and the sound of my sister’s voice on the other end. I’m not sure why I didn’t think this through. But she must be at Jen’s and Max’s, or they’re over at our parents’ house. “Be nice.” I hear my mom warn.
The phone shuffles from one person to the next, “RyRy?” I hear my sister’s voice question with a nickname I haven’t heard in years from her.
I’m kinda afraid to answer because I don’t know what she has to say. But I’m really not in the mood to deal with her venom either. I just wanted a peaceful phone call, “Hey, Jen. Merry Christmas. Did you guys get the gifts I sent?”
“Ya, thank you. I love LUSH and Max loved the vintage photos of New York and Indianapolis. When were you in New York? I saw the postage.” She asks. It feels like I’m talking with my sister. Like when we were kids. I want to ask what she wants or what she’s up to, but I don’t want to ruin this moment either.
“Thomas had a thing for work, and I had a free day. Did some sightseeing and stumbled upon a guy who drew skylines, and the LUSH store just made me think of you. Figured what I liked; you would like. Did mom and dad get their gifts?”
When I got back to Cali, I sent mom a painting that Valerie painted of the ocean and the beach. I’m not sure how she could transform a view from real life and turn it into a magnificent painting. Rolling waves crashing onto the shore as the sunset. She captured the sunset how she saw it. With hues of oranges, reds, pinks, and soft grey clouds dot the sky with a subtle hint of blue. When Valerie showed me the painting, I swear I could smell the sea-salt air.
Dad, I never know what to get, dad. Most of the time, it’s something safe like a gift card or something for the farming equipment. But this year, I sent him some coffee from a locally owned coffee shop, VanillaBlack. Easily the best coffee that I’ve ever had. Between my dad and me, I’m not sure who loves coffee more.
Jen lets out a laugh, “I’m pretty sure the coffee is almost gone, and mom loved the painting...”
I hear mom cut Jen off, yelling in the background, “Ask her where she got that painting.”
“Mom wants to know...”
“My friend Valerie painted it,” I tell her.
“Oh, she’s really talented. How do you know her?” Jen asks.
And I can feel my defenses coming up. Waiting for the snarky comments, “She works for Thomas too.”
“So, you really do work for him?” I can tell that she’s poking fun at herself, but the comment still hits someplace low. Probably because she’s accused me of whoring it up for half the year.
“I know you’ve seen the photos,” I tell her evenly, “Yes, I really work for him.”
There is an awkward silence on the phone before I hear her sigh, “I only watch Allison Drake now. She doesn’t really cover anything that isn’t legit. And those photos of you from that party in Georgia, she only aired it once. She’s covered the news coverage but refused to show the photos after that. Then she was talking about Ralph Martin and his arrest and the amount of drugs he had on him. She’s also talking about possible new charges coming against him in California. I guess there is a group of women that are pressing charges for sexual assault or harassment. And I think there is a stalking charge in there too.”
I’m not sure what to say. I had no idea. Allison hasn’t sought me out since the interview, and I haven’t reached out to her. I have her number programmed into my phone, but I don’t want to be part of any court case. I don’t want to give a deposition. I don’t want to give my statement. I’ve done that before, and all it did was cause shaming as leaked details from the statement were released.
“Oh, I didn’t know,” I tell her. “I don’t follow unless it has to deal with Thomas.” Now I need to ask him. I know that he’s been locked in his office more. I can hear him talking from the other side of the door, but when I ask him what he’s up to, all he tells me is a project he’s working on.
“Well, I guess they have enough evidence to press charges. Allison seems pretty passionate about taking him down. She’s hired lawyers to represent those coming forward. It’s pretty cool of her. Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas. Here’s Max.”
Telling Jen bye, I’m left baffled by what the hell just happen. Like, is this a Christmas miracle that people talk about?
“Hey, short stuff. Happy belated birthday and Merry Christmas.” Max cheers into the phone. It’s like our fight never happened. “How is Mr. Hollywood treating you? Hopefully, gave you your birthday off and Christmas.”
Again, I kinda feel bad for lying to my best friend. Until he called Thomas Mr. Hollywood, but I don’t feel like fighting today, so I’m not going to bring the issue up again. “Merry Christmas to you too. And yes, Valerie and Xayla took me out last night. And I have today off too.”
“Wait, are you spending the holidays alone?” He asks sounding slightly, worried.
Biting my lip, “No. Valerie is coming over later.”
“Good. Lord knows you don’t need to deal with Mr. Hollywood on Christmas.”
My fight mode is automatically activated with Max’s judgmental call, once again. “Thomas,” I say his name trying to make a point, “isn’t Mr. Hollywood. He’s Thomas Copeland. And I don’t like what you’re insinuating.”
“Whoa,” I can picture Max holding his hands up in surrender, “Sorry. Didn’t know I was striking a nerve. The last I knew, you couldn’t stand the guy.”
You did know you were striking a nerve. You’re just choosing to be a dick right now.
Rolling my eyes, “Ya, well, things have changed.”
“Clearly,” He says dryly, “So, you two are fucking then.” It’s not a question but a fucking statement.
Now I’m fuming at the accusation in his tone, “No.” I state evenly. Finding the lie easier to say.
“Are you sure?” He questions, “I’ve been shown the photos by co-workers.”
I hear the bedroom door open as Thomas comes in with a tray of food that smells absole-fucking delicious. My scowl turns into an adoring smile at the sight of him. He looks so carefree. So relaxed. His hair is tousled to the side, and he looks sexy as hell.
“Listen, Max, I need to go. But Merry Christmas. Tell everyone I love them.” I start to hear Max protest on the line before I end the call. I’m not interested in continuing our phone call. Not when the conversation was beginning to turn into a disagreement, and I’m sure low blows were primed and ready to fire if needed. I’m not dealing with it, not today.
Thomas sets the tray on the bed as he climbs in next to me, “Good morning, beautiful.” He says as he places a soft kiss to my lips, “How was the phone call with your family?”
“Confusing,” I admit. Thomas arches a questioning brow, “Jen was really nice to me.”
Biting my lip, “Nice, like a sister nice. Like how we used to be. And Max, I think he’s jealous.”
“You told him?”
Shaking my head, “No. Not about us, but I think he’s jealous of my life out here. I felt like he was judgey on the phone, and the conversation was going south quickly.”
Thomas cocks his head to the side, “Judging you?” I shake my head no, “Ah, judging me.”
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, “I know you’re used to it, but it pisses me off. Especially coming from him. Him of all people.”
Thomas urges me to look at him, “Babydoll, does he know?” I nod my head softly, “Does he know that I’ve been sober?”
No, because I’m not even sure how to approach the whole me and Thomas subject with Max. I can’t be like, ohh and by the way, I am actually dating my boss. Some old habits die hard, I guess. “I was going to, but I don’t feel it’s any of his business or my place to tell.”
“I see,” he tells me, “I’m not mad that you told Max about my drinking, but why did you?”
Panic rises up in my chest as my finger starts to spin my ring. I know I have to tell Thomas, but not today. Let me have just one more day of ignorant bliss. And instead of being a grown-up and just coming out with the truth, I settle for the BS version of the half-truth. “He was concerned about the parties and if they’d bring back flashback or send me into some sort of PTSD moment or something.”
Thomas nods his head in understanding, but I can tell that he’s not buying my bullshit. Verifying what I already know, I’m going to have to tell him sooner rather than later.
“Are you hungry?” Thomas asks, changing the subject.
Smiling, I look at the tray in front of us, “Okay, did you go to Maeve’s to get the sausage and gravy and biscuits?”
He lets out a soft chuckle, “If my grandma knew that I made this, she’d be here in a flash. This was always hers and mom’s favorite breakfast dish.”
Grinning, I take the plate from the tray. Cutting into the sausage and gravy-covered biscuit, I take a bite and moan around my food. “Oh my god, this is delicious. You seriously made this?” I’m not sure why I’m having such a hard time believing Thomas is a good cook. He’s cooked several meals for me, and each time, my taste buds feel like they’re floating. Thomas lets out a soft laugh as he joins me, “Did you always have this for breakfast on Christmas?”
“Ya, mom made it every year. Grandma did too after Mom passed. She wanted to keep some sort of normalcy during the holidays. The first year she did it, I just stared at my plate. Can I tell you something?” He asks suddenly.
“Of course,” I say as I swallow a mouth full of food.
He sets his plate back down on the tray, “The holidays were awful after my mom died. I hated this time of year for a long, long time. It was like a constant reminder. Everywhere I looked, something reminded me of my mom. And it made me hate this month so much, from the car crash to her birthday. It was almost too much to handle. Until you came along.” My heart swells, and I can feel my eyes starting to prickle with the threat of tears, “This was the first year that I looked forward to December to celebrate the holidays. And I have something for you.”
I watch him lean over the edge of the bed and pull up a metallic purple gift bag with white and pink and teal tissue paper puffing out the top. He hands me the bag, and I can tell that he’s slightly nervous, “Thomas, you didn’t have to get me anything. You’ve already done more than enough for me.”
“Open it, please.”
With anxious, trembling hands, I slowly take the tissue paper out of the bag, and I see a smaller white box sitting in the center of the bag. Taking the box out, I can tell whatever is in the cardboard box is slightly heavy. I open the lid, and once I realize what’s lying inside, I immediately burst into tears. It’s my grandmother’s jewelry box. With shaky hands, I remove the round golden jewelry box from the container. My fingers tracing along the intricate weaving vines and leaves, only to come to a stop at the top of the delicate lid. Where a small swarm of Monarch Butterflies rests on the leaves of the vines. It looks brand new. Like it was just bought from the store. But I know that’s impossible. My grandpa made this for Grandma for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
“I thought....I thought it was gone. Valerie went out to the apartment the next day to look for it. I went out a few days later to look for it. I thought...” My tears fall as I try and quickly wipe them away, “How?”
“I found it under the mattress when I was cleaning up your apartment. The top was broken, and I wanted to get it fixed.” He tells me. “I had no clue it was hand-made until the repair shop owner contacted me. He said it was going to take longer to try and replicate everything.” I look up at him in total disbelieve. I accepted the idea of never seeing my grandma’s jewelry box ever again, and now I have it in my hands. “I’m really sorry, Ryann. For that night. For everything that happened that night.”
“I’m not,” I blurt and cause a confused look to grace Thomas’s eyes, “That night, I think, I feel like it was the catalyst for you to see there was a problem. I think that night made you see what you couldn’t.”
He gives me a tight smile, “But at what cost? I saw the horror in Xayla’s eyes with your words. I heard the pain, the fear, the devastation, and the rage in your voice. That night switched something on for you that wasn’t supposed to be.”
Shaking my head, “No, it forced me to face a past that I was hiding from. It forced me to face memories that were and still are unclear. I know you think that night was an awful nightmare that I was forced to face, but in a way, it helped me face what I couldn’t.”
With his hand at the nape of my neck, he pulls me closer, his lips pressed delicately to my forehead. This is where I want to be. No persuasion could ever change my mind.
“There is another gift for you,” he says, pointing to the top of the jewelry box.
“No, there isn’t. Seriously Thom....”
Interrupting me, “Please, open it.” I can tell by his words that he’s more nervous now than he was five minutes ago.
As I open the box, I gasp out in shock. I know what this is because I’ve seen this gorgeous piece of jewelry in photos of Thomas and his mom. This belonged to Helena.