[My response for today’s NaBloPoMo Prompt — a favorite holiday memory. Once again, I’m using the prompt to further develop my novel’s background story.]
The brake lights on Coach Dan’s hatchback blared redness onto the black pavement of the Bark Bay High School parking lot, the light quickly vanishing as the car accelerated into the street, leaving Annie and Rex alone at the curb. The unusually warm January evening had made their coach more willing to accept Annie’s argument that he should go, they’d be fine waiting for her mother to pick them up, she always picked her up after fencing practice, and yes Rex’s home was on their way, no problem dropping him off.
As coach’s car disappeared, Annie looked up at the tall teen, his angular face seeming thinner than usual when framed against the winter night sky. She was about to ask him about the captain’s position on the team, why he’d turned it down, offered it to her —
“Did your family have a good Christmas?” She didn’t see his lips move in the darkness, but the low rumbling tone of his voice was distinctly his.
“Oh!” She licked her lips. “Uh — yeah. It was . . . we had fun. Yes.”
She saw Rex nod, and the shadow of a smile creep over his face. “Really appreciated that party your family threw for the team.”
“Thanks.” It had been the party where she’d been offered, and eagerly accepted, the captain’s job. “My family loves having holiday parties. We had another one, week after the one you all were at, only it was bigger.”
“Huh.” Annie heard something in Rex’s voice, a tone she hadn’t detected when he spoke earlier. It didn’t sound like a conversation filler, a barely articulate command for her to continue speaking; it almost sounded dismissive, like she’d just upset him. And her eyes widened as, you doofus, the memory came to her of the dilapidated trailer where Rex lived with his invalid mother and three younger sisters.
She wanted to apologize, but he preempted her again. “Me and my family, we just had a quiet time at home.” It wasn’t like him to lead conversations like this; he was more of a listener than a talker. But that upset tone in his voice was gone. “My uncle, he borrowed us a tree his family didn’t want no more.” Loaned — ANY more. She forced herself to remain silent. “Had some gifts, most ’em from my uncle, course. My mom, she said she’d saved some money — ”
“How is she?” The memory of her sliver-haired father giving Rex his doctor’s business card flashed in her mind.
“Sick.” His voice sounded distance. “She couldn’t get up, we had to open the presents in the bedroom.” He snorted a laugh. “Not like last year.”
Annie wasn’t sure she liked where the flow of this conversation was heading, but she felt unable to fight against its current. “What happened last year?”
BEEEP! It suddenly came to Annie that she’d heard the distinctive sound of her mother’s Cadillac coming down the street, but had ignored it until the horn sounded. She turned to her right, waved in the direction of the two powerful headlights, which quickly swerved in their direction.
She looked up at Rex again, and this time his face was washed in brilliant luminescence, the headlights beaming onto him like a spotlight on a movie star, and he was smiling with an unabashed happiness he had never seen from him.
“She walked.” He looked down at her in wonder, as the beams of the headlights left his face. “It was Christmas morning, the girls had gotten me up before dawn to look at the presents in our stockings, and we heard this voice behind us, like an angel’s, Good morning!” The Cadillac pulled up to the curb, and Annie heard the driver’s window pull down. “And we turned around and it was her, mother, her face full of color and hair combed straight, looking like she’d never been sick a day in her life.”
“Is she OK?” Annie waved a quick hand at her mother, but Rex didn’t seem to notice her question.
“It was — ” Rex looked up into the dark night sky, as if he could find the words he was looking for in the stars — “a miracle.” He looked back down at Annie, who saw his eyes welling. “It was — the best Christmas. Ever.”