“Was that… was that an elf?” she asked. He chuckled.
“I believe not, my dear. The pointy ears or height do not define them as elves. They are workers. They wear fashionable ear pieces to communicate one another,” he explained. Her eyes and ears perked with interest.
“You mean to say they use Bluetooth?” she wondered. He nodded. “Fascinating!”
“Now Miss Matthews, are you still not interested in visiting your perfect Christmas once more?” he asked. She sighed and shook her head.
“I don’t know.” She paused. “I’m nervous to see if it has changed or not.”
“You never know until you look,” he said with a smile. Rebecca looked at the burning fire in Santa’s fireplace. She somehow felt ashamed. She didn’t understand why.
What should I be ashamed of? It doesn’t make sense, she thought. Perhaps he is right… but I’m not ready.
“Thank you, for wanting to save my life,” she said after faintly smiling at him. Santa began to smile. “But I think I should go. My unpleasant manner doesn’t deserve being in the Christmas dimension.” His lips frowned for a moment, but then he observed her.
I see now, he thought. I do believe being here is making her more… thoughtful.
“Very well, Miss Matthews,” he said. He gave the coat and scarf back to her. “I will guide you to where you can leave.” After putting them on, she cocked her head with what looked like a gentle smile. He smiled back. He knew very well the only way out was to go through the mortal’s perfect Christmas. For him, it happened to be something completely different.
He guided Rebecca to an area she saw before - a big, empty plot of snow. She glanced around, recognizing other parts of the Christmas dimension. Rebecca grew nervous.
“Wait, this is where I was last time. I saw what my ideal Christmas was.”
“Yes, it is,” he said. She shook her head.
“I don’t want to go there. There has to be another way to leave,” she pleaded.
“There are very few ways to leave the Christmas dimension. The other one is something only I can access,” Santa explained. Rebecca sighed.
“I have to go this way?” She looked at him. He cocked his head, while he wondered why she seemed scared all of a sudden.
“Your perfect Christmas frightens you that bad?” he asked.
“It’s – it’s not that,” she stuttered. She paused to think. “The last time I visited it… my family looked at me as if I were crazy.” Rebecca shivered. “I never thought my family would ever give me that look. It’s different when other people do, but when I saw them…” She stopped in mid-sentence. She didn’t want to finish it.
The pain felt a thousand times worse, she thought.
“Perhaps seeing your perfect Christmas once more will answer some questions.”
Rebecca glanced at Santa. He raised his brows. She shivered as she stepped forward. Rebecca turned her head toward Santa Claus, while she kept moving; she hoped he was right, saying through her perfect Christmas was the only way out.
Rebecca glanced forward. She was inside her house as before: no lights turned on; no ornaments; no bright colors in sight. She saw her family sitting on the living room floor.
“Now can we open presents?” Heather asked nimbly. Rebecca looked at her.
“Yes, let’s do,” she said. She stayed where she stood. Though she wanted to join them on the floor, she somehow knew they would give her the same daft look. One by one, her brother, sister, and nieces and nephews opened their presents from her. They all received the same thing: coal. Nicole began crying. She leaned against her Uncle Gregory.
“Why must it be the same thing?” she mumbled. He hushed her.
“What was that?” Rebecca asked. Her brows narrowed.
“Aunt Rebecca, this is the second year we’ve gotten coal from you,” Brian said. “Is there any chance we could get something nice?”
“Second year? I thought I had been hosting this for five years,” she said. No one bothered bopping Brian on his head’s backside. They were nervous to do so. She scoffed. “Someone tell me where Tammy is,” she commanded with annoyance.
Her family stayed quiet. They eyed each other, but none gave her that look. She was glad they didn’t. Rebecca became anxious, though; no one would tell her. After a few more moments of silence, her brother spoke up.
“Rebecca, she died five years ago. You know this,” he said gently. “You were at the funeral.” He observed her as she absorbed his response. She grew pale.
“Dear Jehoshaphat…” she whispered. She closed her eyes. She tried to stop the memories of her and Tammy, before she went blind, flooding Rebecca’s mind. After taking a deep breath, she let it out. Rebecca opened her eyes. Surprised, she found herself back in her hometown. She glanced around; the snow-covered trees, buildings, and lamp posts surrounded her several feet away. Rebecca scoffed. “What a nightmare,” she whispered. “How could that be my perfect Christmas? Another sister dead? I can’t take this anymore.” She shook her head, clearing her mind of what happened.
She trudged through the snow to get back to that door with her red wreath. Walking inside, she placed her coat and scarf on their hooks. Rebecca groaned as she walked to her bedroom. She looked around in the process.
“Becky!” Gregory called out. She scoffed, turning toward him.
“What is it?” she asked gruffly.
“I wanna apologize. I…” He sighed. “I didn’t mean to set you off like that.”
“Then you shouldn’t have said anything.” She became cross.
“Obviously,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“What?” she asked hotly.
“I mean–” He paused before scoffing. “I just don’t understand why mentioning the inheritance got you so infuriating.”
“It’s because you don’t know the first thing about it!” she snapped. Gregory widened his eyes when he saw her face turning red with anger. “You have no idea what I’ve had to go through those years of college! And you never will!” She stomped back to her room. He stood there, frozen.
“Geez… what a grouch,” he whispered.
“Gregory?” Tammy said, using her wooden cane to enter the living room. He helped her in. “Thank you, brother.” They sat on the couch.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
“Why must you and Brenda be so harsh on her?”
“Because she’s been acting like this since that incident in high school. You know that,” he said. She heard the tone he used; it was the same annoyed and tired voice.
“Then you should be trying to get her old self back, not push her in. What do you think I’ve been doing all these years?” she said.
“It just drives me nuts to do that, though. You know no matter what we give to her, she replies with that snooty and snarky attitude.”
“She needs encouragement to do good things, Greg. It’s not going to help by doing the opposite. It’s like fuel to keep her in that attitude,” she explained. Gregory sighed with frustration. “Greg, please. I know you’re just as tired as I am about it.”At that moment, Brenda came in. She saw her brother facing Tammy.
“What are you two talking about?” she asked.
“Just trying to think of what’s eating Becky,” he sighed.
“Everything bothers her,” Brenda said. She rolled her eyes as Tammy sighed.
“I think I will check on our sister,” she said. She placed a hand on an armrest and pushed to stand. Tammy used her wooden cane to guide herself down the hall. She walked to a brown door before knocking.
“Who is it?” Rebecca grumbled.
“It’s Tammy. I want to talk with you,” she said.
“Fine; come in then,” she said reluctantly. The matter of fact was she liked being around Tammy. Even if she made mean remarks to her, her sister would try to understand and think of something to turn around the remark. She admitted then she couldn’t imagine her life without Tammy. There’s hope for her yet! Rebecca opened the door and walked in.
“Please, Becky. Could you help me to your bed?” she asked. “I’m not familiar with your room. You rarely let us enter it.” Rebecca sighed and stood to help her.
“What do you want, Tammy?”
“Don’t be annoyed now. I just want to talk.” she said.
“What is it then?” She rolled her eyes.
“You gotta stop doing this,” she tried to say.
“Hup, no; not again! No!” Rebecca whispered. “You are not going there. You three have already tried to do this. No way do you think you’re gonna transform me to a miss-goody-two-shoes!”
“Honestly, Becky, we’re not,” Tammy said. “We only miss who used to be friendly and easy to talk to. We want that Becky back.”
“Ugh, must I go through with this again?” She rubbed her forehead as she groaned. “I’m getting a headache.”
“Is it behind the eyes or the forehead?” her sister asked.
“Ugh… it’s in the cheeks and the forehead,” she muttered.
Tammy moved closer and tried to reach for her. Rebecca sighed as her sister grabbed her wrist. For a moment, she did want her to check the headache. It then grew worse; pain shot through her forehead down her face. She groaned.
“What’s wrong?” Tammy’s brows narrowed.
“I… I don’t feel so well, Tammy,” she whispered. Her sister touched her arm. “This is the worst headache yet.”
“You’re so warm, Becky,” she said. Her hand rubbed up Rebecca’s arm, to her chin, and around her face. She felt the cheeks and forehead. “Leaping Joseph, you’re burning. This is more than a sinus headache.” Perhaps Santa didn’t cure all of the hypothermia. Rebecca roughly moved her sister’s hands off her face.
“I can’t do this. I… I… I can’t think. Please, Tammy. Just leave.”
Tammy sighed. As Rebecca lied down, she stood off the bed and stumbled to the door with her wooden cane. Before leaving the bedroom, she couldn’t help turning her head toward her sister. She listened to Rebecca turning and groaning. Tammy walked into the living room and could hear laughter, papers rustling, and plastic snapping into place.
“What’s going on?” she asked. Her seven nieces and nephews turned their heads toward her.
“Oh, Dylan broke his phone again,” Brenda spoke up. She looked at Tammy.
“What’s wrong? You look worried,” Gregory wondered.
“I need to talk to you and Josh.” She headed to the kitchen. Brenda and their nephew followed her. “And no eavesdropping, Andrea,” she said, knowing full well what would happen before Andrea could move. With her kind commands, everyone knew something was suspicious.
They wanted to get up, but after hearing her say that to Andrea, they stayed in their places. In the kitchen, Josh leaned against a counter as Aunt Brenda placed her hands high on her hips. They grew curious and worried.
“What happened?” Brenda asked.
“Becky is sick. I think it’s those walks she took, especially the one in the blizzard.”
“That’s terrible,” Josh said. “What are her symptoms?”
“It’s one of those sinus headaches she used to have, but it’s much worse. I was able to feel her face before she kicked me out. She’s tense from her forehead to the bottom of her nose, and she’s burning up too.”
“That can’t be good,” Brenda said.
“No, I don’t think it is. I’m gonna check on her,” he said. “If she’s asleep, I will probably use my med kit to check her vitals. I’m actually nervous she might have a serious condition. In that case, we might have to take her to the hospital.”
“I know how careful you are, Josh, but try not to wake her,” Tammy said. “We don’t want her knowing any form of doctor is making notes of her.” She never did like going to doctors or hospitals; especially when she needed it.
“I know.” He nodded and left the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Rebecca kept tossing, turning, and groaning. Her pain grew worse by the minute. She couldn’t handle it. Finally, she went to her vanity desk and picked up a bottle. She poured out two pills of a basic painkiller before swallowing them. Lying back down on her bed, she groaned again; her head rested on her pillow. Rebecca closed her eyes, breathed heavily, and whimpered.
I don’t understand, she thought. How could my headache hurt so much?