This short story was so much better twenty-four hours ago before SCRIVENER ATE IT without having the decency to auto-save it the way it’s supposed to. I had to step away from NaNoWriMo and try to recreate it from notes and memory and well, you know who this brain works. I hope I recaptured the sentiment even if the words escaped me. (Thanks for nothing, Scrivener!)
#52weeks52stories: Week 44
Word prompt: family
Word count – 2662
Reading time – 8:37
The holiday season held no joy for Mavis Landry.
The thirty-four-year-old stood in the supermarket check-out line cringing as Christmas carols blared from the store’s sound system.
The First Noel used to be her favorite carol, now she fought off tears and a panic attack as the second verse began.
She wasn’t always like this, in danger of becoming a soulless Scrooge.
Her earliest holiday memories were happy ones. George and Carol Landry believed in living life to its fullest, and the period from Halloween through New Year’s Day was one long holiday for Mavis and her older brother, Michael, with Christmas being the focal point. Carol Landry’s love of Christmas and its magic was unmatched and she surprised them all each year with a new tradition.
But life for the Landry family changed the year Mavis completed pharmacy school.
Living and working three hours from her parent’ home, Mavis coordinated her arrival with Michael, who lived two hours away on the other side of their parents, as a surprise for George and Carol.
When she arrived just before five on the evening of the twenty-second, Mavis wasn’t concerned Michael wasn’t there yet. Despite living closer, her brother was from a more metropolitan area and had more freeways and traffic to contend with.
But worry did creep into her thoughts as each hour passed and her calls to his cell went straight to voicemail.
George talked Mavis and her mother into sitting down to dinner at eight but they hadn’t finished their salads when a knock at the door lead them to find two highway patrol officers in the doorway.
Mavis would never forget her mother’s mournful wails.
Two SUVs engaged in racing and road rage caused a multiple vehicle accident which took five lives, including twenty-eight-year old Michael Landry.
Mavis spent Christmas Day waiting for the medical examiner to release her brother’s body.
The Landrys went on because that’s what families do. George and Carol still decorated and Mavis still made the trip home but the holiday was like re-opening an old wound that would never heal.
Four years after Michael’s death, Mavis cut her holiday trip short. Instead of staying through New Year’s Day, she was going home on the 27th to ring in the new year with a new man in her life.
George went out to clear the walkway of the overnight snowfall and never returned.
Carol’s mournful wails became the center of Mavis’ nightmares.
She didn’t return home for three weeks, seeing her mother through the autopsy and funeral.
Altering her work schedules, Mavis made monthly visits to see her mom, whose depression appeared worse with each visit.
Inspired by her boss, who’d lost his wife to breast cancer, Mavis took a six-month leave of absence from work, moved in with Carol Landry and got them both into family counseling.
The slow process was cathartic for the Landry women but bought them back to the land of the living. Two years after George’s death, Mavis took her mom to Paris for Christmas. There was still tears and grief but Mavis was grateful they were together sharing new experiences instead of locked inside the family home sharing space with ghosts.
With her sixtieth birthday approaching, Carol went back to volunteering in the community and surprising the neighborhood with baked treats.
Mavis returned to work with a new outlook on life. She still felt the loss but refused to allow it to drag her down. Her father and brother wouldn’t approve.
There was humor and fun in the Landry home again when Mavis took James home with her for Thanksgiving.
Mavis knew her mom was excited over her relationship and hopeful for the future.
But futures aren’t guaranteed.
After speaking with her mother last on the twentieth, Mavis and James loaded his Range Rover the next day and made the three-hour-trip to Carol’s.
Mavis’ pulse quickened when they pulled up in front of the Landry home.
Unlike every other home on the block, the recent snowfall still covered the driveway and sidewalks.
Even after George’s death, Carol was still fastidious about keeping access areas free of snow during the winter.
Mavis trudged to the front door, dreading each step.
Using her key, Mavis entered the house, not bothering to remove her boots. Carol’s anger over wet floors was the least of her concerns.
Mavis stood in the foyer as James came inside.
“Mavis, where’s your mom?”
She didn’t respond.
She walked into the living room and her heart sank.
The Christmas tree stood in the corner…dark. Neither Santa’s Village above the fireplace nor the nativity scene on the floor next to it was lit.
She turned and raced down the hallway to her mother’s bedroom, but she froze when she reached it, resting her forehead against the door.
James’ arms slipped around her waist from behind. “Do you want me to do it?”
Mavis clasped his hands and squeezed. “I have to.”
She opened the door, surprised to find both bedside lamps on, but not surprised by anything else.
Surrounded by books, magazines, and with a notepad on her lap, Carol Landry appeared to have fallen asleep while making holiday plans.
Mavis crawled onto the bed and pulled her mother’s stiff, cold body into her arms… and her mother’s mournful wails from the past became her own.
James sat on the bed behind Mavis and held her as she cried.
He knew he should call someone, but he also knew they would separate mother and daughter. Mavis needed this time with the last member of her family.
Losing Carol broke Mavis, but she didn’t sink back into depression. Mavis’s anger boiled over and she lashed out.
When the medical examiner told her that like her father, Carol, too, had died from a sudden, massive coronary, Mavis flew into a rage and railed about how two people living a healthy lifestyle didn’t just die because of bad hearts.
She screamed about the inability of two people to share a road made for everyone taking her brother from her.
Exhausted, she’d fallen into James’ arms and it was only because of him, Mavis got through it all.
But as the newness and rebirth of spring arrived, Mavis was still angry and pushing James away.
Having lost his own mother, and only family member, while in high school, James knew what Mavis was going through and stuck by her side, enduring her hurtful comments and apathy. He also hung onto the engagement ring he’d planned to give her right after dinner with her mother.
Guided by fear, Mavis refused James’ offer to spend Christmas together. Saying she needed the time alone, Mavis made the solemn journey to the family home she refused to part with.
“Merry Christmas! How are you this afternoon?”
Pulled from her thoughts, Mavis realized it was her turn in line and stepped forward.
“All set for Christmas?”
Mavis considered the woman, close to her own age, in her red sweater and matching Santa-hat. Her name badge read, “Patty”, and Mavis also didn’t miss the wedding rings on Patty’s left hand. Patty, no doubt had a perky husband and 2.3 perky children waiting for her at home.
“Yes, thank you.”
After swiping her debit card, Mavis took her bag from Patty, anxious to flee her cheery presence.
“Have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year!”
Mavis didn’t turn around or respond, but guilt and shame hit her in the face along with the frigid temps as she left the store.
“Would you care to make a donation to We’re Rollin’?”
Glancing to her right, Mavis saw a young woman bundled against the cold seated at a table. She was in a wheelchair, as was the older man next to her.
“Excuse me? We’re Rollin’? What’s that?”
“We’re a local nonprofit organization that provides free rides to medical appointments for seniors and the disabled.”
“Yes, ma’am. Not everyone can afford the fee-based transport services. They’re income-based and there are forms and a process applicants must go through. Many get denied because their monthly income is over the required limit, but full fares are still out of their reach.”
Mavis approached the table.
“Sounds like a good program but I’m sure you get taken advantage of.”
The old man laughed. “There’s always someone who going to game the system, young lady, but we know they’re outnumbered by good folks who need a service like this one. Even though they can’t afford fee-based rides, most folks always make a donation. They’re glad we’re here, so we never turn down anyone.”
The sincerity in his eyes brought a smile to Mavis’ face. “I’m sure your dedication is appreciated.” She pulled out her wallet.
“Thanks, young lady, but I owe this program to my wife, Marianne. She was a retired nurse and a doer—always lending a hand to someone somewhere—providing rides to doctor’s appointments and taking up collections to help someone meet their prescription copays.”
Mavis had lost count over the years of the prescriptions she put back on shelves because customers couldn’t afford them.
“Even after I lost my legs to diabetes, Marianne took care of me, our home, and half the neighborhood. She was something else. When I lost her five years ago, I didn’t think I could go on. I just sat in my house waiting to die. This story came on the news about the increase in local 911 calls because people didn’t have any other way to get medical help, and most of those folks were seniors and the disabled. I heard Marianne in my head saying, “So? What are you waiting for?” He laughed again. “In a month’s time, I had a van and a volunteer driver. After one year, we were a registered 501(c)(3) with three vans and more volunteers than we can use.”
Excited, the young woman finished the story. “Now we have eight vans and sponsorship from local businesses that take care of insurance and vehicle maintenance, but we still fund-raise to cover fuel expenses so rides are always available when needed.”
“And the name, We’re Rollin’, how did you come up with that?”
“It’s what Marianne said every time she got behind the wheel.”
The chains of grief eased their grip on Mavis’ heart. Ignoring the loose bills in her wallet, Mavis pulled out the two bills hidden behind her driver’s license. Unfolding them, she handed the bills to the young woman, whose eyes widened.
“Ma’am? All of this?”
Mavis winked at the old man. “Yes, for Marianne.”
She dropped the two one-hundred-dollar bills into a money pouch, then reached for candy canes to show their thanks. But the old man stilled her hand, and instead handed Mavis a red envelope.
“Merry Christmas to you, young lady, and thank you.”
She accepted the envelope. “You’re welcome and Merry Christmas to you both.”
Mavis headed to her car, her steps a little lighter, her mind not as weary.
She wasted no time starting the SUV and turning the heat up to high. As she waited for warmth, Mavis opened the red envelope and pulled out a Christmas card.
The photo on the front showed a group of smiling people posed around a Christmas tree. In the center of the group was the old man in the wheelchair.
“Merry Christmas from Mitchell Pierce and the dedicated volunteers of We’re Rollin’!”
She opened the card and one side read, “May the joy and warmth of this holiday season be with you now and always”, and the opposite side had three linked candy canes and above them were the words, “Peace, Love, Joy.”
Tears erupted from Mavis Landry… and she leaned her head back and let them flow.
Clutching the card to her chest, Mavis didn’t cry for her brother and parents, but she cried for what she’d allowed her loss to steal from her. She cried because she’d forgotten the joy and peace of mind that came from love of family. She cried because she’d allowed her grief to blind her to all the good around… and inside her.
Wiping her eyes, Mavis knew she had to do better… try harder, and she headed home, grateful for meeting an old man who’d found strength in his grief to help others.
She glanced at her watch.
It was getting late and traffic would be heavy in all directions. She had no right to call James and ask him to make the trip down, but she could go to him. All he’d ever done was love her and stand by her side and she’d pushed him away. James had proven the kind of man he was and what Mavis meant to him, now she had to step up and do the same… and pray she hadn’t lost him.
Pulling into the Landry driveway, Mavis felt joy for the first time in months.
James stepped out of his Range Rover and walked to her car as she jumped out.
“I know you said you needed to be alone, but I needed to be with you more.”
He didn’t have time to say anymore. Mavis launched her body at him and they fell over into a snowbank.
She covered his face in kisses, all the while apologizing for blocking him out and not considering his feelings.
He kissed her then stroked her cheek. “Mavis, why are we laying in the snow?”
She giggled as he stood and pulled her up, but realization dawned on her when she glanced at her watch.
Grabbing James hand, she dragged him toward her SUV. “C’mon! We have forty-six minutes before stores close and there’s nothing in the house for Christmas dinner.”
James laughed, stopping Mavis in her tracks.
Leading her to the back of the Range Rover, he opened the hatch and she was floored by the bags of food. He even brought firewood.
“I kind of figured you’d try to get through the holidays on pizza rolls and coffee.”
Mavis bit her lip, remembering the two bags of pizza rolls she’d just bought.
He shook his head laughing. “Let’s get this stuff inside. We’ve got a tree to decorate.”
James pointed toward the front door and she saw a large, bound Douglas Fir leaning against the door. When she glanced back, he was already filling his hands with bags and Mavis joined him.
After everything was inside—including the pizza rolls—James went to work building a fire.
In the kitchen, Mavis emptied shopping bags, in awe of James’ attention to detail. There were even bottles of champagne for New Year’s.
She hadn’t lost her chance and she wasn’t alone.
Mavis had a sudden need to be close to James. Abandoning the groceries, she headed for the living room.
Her steps slowed in the hallway. She’d almost trapped herself in a dark place, consumed with all she’d lost. She caused herself pain by hanging onto nonexistent ghosts instead of letting go and reaching for what was right in front of her.
Michael and their parents loved her and that’s what she needed to show. People needed to see them live on in her and through her.
James had a fire going and was opening boxes of decorations when Mavis entered the room.
Kneeling at his side, Mavis opened a tote. Her chest tightened but a smile graced her lips as she pulled out the mahogany box. It contained one of Carol Landry’s most treasured decorations, a gift from her mother-in-law, Granny Helen when Mavis was still in her teens.
Opening the box, Mavis ran her fingers over the inscription on the mirrored candle tray’s edges and knew she would be okay.
James looked over at what she was holding. “What’s that?”
“Wise words I’d forgotten.” She held it up for him to read the words that held so much meaning for her this year.
“Christmas is about family; family is about love. Rejoice in Love.”