Travis used the corner of his camouflage apron as a potholder to pull the pan of cinnamon rolls from the oven. They were from one of those frozen packs. He knew that Key-Key’s cooking was much better, but he wanted to let her sleep in this morning.
Well, for as long as she could anyway. It was Christmas morning, after all. He looked at the old grandfather clock down the hall. It was just a bit after five. He had no idea what time Bree usually woke up on Christmas morning. If he remembered correctly, his boys would have been up by now.
He set the pan on the top of the stove and leaned against the counter. His chest tightened as the memories flooded him. That other Christmas morning. Was it just three years ago? It seemed a lifetime. He would have been sitting at that bus stop crying, or maybe on the phone with his dad. How had he dared to call at such an ungodly hour? But he was eternally glad he had. Those last few weeks with his mother had been so precious to him. And it was all because of them. His girls…
His girls? When had he begun to think of them that way? There was no denying that this past month had been remarkable, different from anything he had ever known. Bree had settled right in to her new home. Though Grace was a couple of years older and Chad’s foster daughter older still, the young women had become good friends. The laughter of those video calls filled the house with joy that he could not remember in a very long time.
And Key-Key? The woman was… Unbelievable? She had just stepped up, taking over not only the cooking and cleaning but caring for his father as well as Bree. Her experience caring for her daughter and working for a doctor meant she knew exactly the right questions to ask the home health nurses that came to check in on them. Heck, she was even learning the home dialysis process as a backup to give him a break from the responsibility.
The rolls needed to cool a bit before icing. It gave him a chance to check the presents one more time. He knew that Bree was going to love the iPad he had gotten her. Chad had advised him, well, more like Grace had through her father. But it was the big box at the back that made him most nervous. He knew that they had all agreed not to give one another presents this year, but he could not resist. He knew that Key-Key had wanted one.
“Mom, wake up,” he smiled at the overly cheery voice coming down the hall. Over the next couple of minutes, the chatter rose in volume as he snuck back into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee and ice the cinnamon buns.
When he carried the tray of coffee cups and rolls back into the living room, he was surprised to see his father in his favorite rickety recliner by the fireplace. Key-Key was in some fuzzy red robe and barely managing to keep Breeanne from attacking the pile of wrapped gifts under the tree. He passed a cup of coffee to Keisha and a glass of juice to Bree. “Want me to get you some water, Dad?” He turned to go back into the kitchen.
“That can wait, son, but I don’t think the girl can.”
He nodded as he reached under the tree for a box that he knew contained the new coat Key-Key had brought online for Bree. New pajamas, jeans, and a couple of sweaters soon joined the growing pile around the child. There were only two left for her under the tree. A tiny bag that he had no idea what it contained and the iPad. He passed the bag to her first.
Bree pulled a small black velvet box from the bag and lifted the hinged lid. Her eyes lit with delight as she pulled a thin gold chain with an angel from the box. “I love it, Mom.”
Key-Key shook her head, “That wasn’t from me, sweetheart. Must have been Santa.”
Travis noticed the sparkle in his father’s eyes, “He must have heard that was your nickname.”
Bree held it out towards him, “Would you put it on me, Travis?”
“I’ll try, Angel, but I’m all thumbs with these things.” But after a moment of struggle, he finally managed to hook it around her neck. It glistened against her skin and twinkled in the colored lights of the tree.
“Okay, it looks like just one more present is left, young lady.” Keisha smiled at her daughter.
“No, Mommy, look. There’s a huge box at the back.”
Key-Key frowned and looked at him as he cleared his throat. “I’m afraid that one is not yours, Bree.”
“Who’s is it, Uncle Travis?”
He knew he was blushing and could almost feel the heat spreading to his ears as he stammered. “I think Santa left that one for your mama.”
The child’s squeal could have been used as a weapon of mass destruction, except it might have broken a couple of U.N. regulations about cruel and unusual torture. “Mommy, open it. You never get anything for Christmas.”
When he turned to look at Key-Key, he feared that he had made some horrible mistake. She was crying so hard that she trembled. But when their eyes met, she forced a weak smile. It was all the encouragement that he needed as he pulled the box wrapped in old newspapers from the back of the tree.
“Sorry, I think Santa might have been going for the environmentally friendly option.”
Keisha shook her head as she ran her hand across the yellowing paper, “Travis, you shouldn’t have.”
“It was Santa, Mommy.”
Key-Key chuckled and wiped the tears away, “I’m sure he had a bit of help, Angel.”
“Aren’t you going to open it?”
“Don’t you want to open yours first, sweetie?”
“No, I have loads of presents already. I want to see what Santa brought you.”
Keisha nodded and began to peel away the paper gently. “No, Mommy, not like that. Tear it away. That’s half the fun of it.”
Fresh tears and another nod greeted the child’s pronouncement, but Key-Key complied with the request. Her eyes met his over the little girl’s head, “It’s just what I wanted.”
He was reaching for the final gift when the doorbell rang. It was just six in the morning, and he had no idea who it could be as he passed the bag to Bree.
When he opened the door, though, he felt the miracle of that other Christmas. On the porch sat a special saddle with a giant red bow, but what it sat upon was just as much a miracle. A shiny pink and purple wheelchair with frilly cushions and side-pockets. He could see hoof prints in the dust. The card attached brought tears to his eyes.
We noticed that Bree was outgrowing her wheelchair. My grandmother’s was just taking up space and collecting dust in the attic. I know it isn’t one of those fancy things, but we figured it might be more comfortable for her until all this passes, and you could make an appointment to get her a new one.
Chad, Rose & the gang
P.S. Jaycee and the other Angel wanted her to have this saddle as a reminder that one day all this will be over and her dream of riding will come true.
On the front of the card was a sketch of Bree riding a horse. He held the card out a bit to keep his tears from ruining it. Then he felt the hand on his shoulder and turned to see the light in her eyes. And he knew.
He had done the unthinkable. The one thing he promised himself he would not do. He had fallen in love with his wife.