The Wrong Side of the River
Come, Montague; for thou art early up,
When Mom came back to find me, she waited a few houses away for Julian and I to say goodbye. I grinned, thinking about how different her reaction to us hanging out would have been even a few hours earlier.
“Merry Christmas,” I said, grinning.
“Merry Christmas,” Julian said.
We stood there all awkward for a second or two before he gave me a quick hug, turned an even brighter shade of red, and ran off. He stopped after a few seconds and spun round to wave at me, then carried on. I giggled. What a goofball. But a very nice goofball.
Things couldn’t really be more perfect. Montague would get two amazing parks instead of one, everyone could be friends again, and I could have Julian.
Except, I still had to go home.
Mom and I couldn’t find Dad or Sage. His car was not at the hall when we got back there, shivering and quiet. Mom unlocked her car and we climbed inside. The trip home was too quick for the heater to warm up, and I was too cold to even shiver by the time we walked into the house.
The air inside felt superheated and smelled of hot chocolate, marshmallows, pizza, and garlic bread. My stomach let out a super loud gurgle after just one whiff of it.
Christmas Eve.
I thought everyone had forgotten this was Christmas Eve.
Every year we did the exact same thing on Christmas Eve. Dad made his famous hot chocolate with giant marshmallows and ordered in pizza. Then once we were so full we could barely keep our eyes open, we hung our stockings and Mom would read us The Night Before Christmas before bed.
Mom stopped dead in the entrance way, her hands on her coat buttons as the scent hit her. “Oh,” she said, her eyes filling up with tears.
All things considered, it had been a pretty emotional kind of day for Mom.
I ripped off my coat and threw it at the hook, and left Mom behind, running into the living room.
Dad wore his goofy Christmas sweater that Mom knitted him back when they were first married, and Sage stood beside him in her way-too-tight Christmas elf costume from when she was four. They had decorated the coffee table in the living room with tinsel and holly sprigs and covered it with Christmas cookies, pizza, giant mugs of hot chocolate and a bag of super-sized marshmallows. Stuck to the front of the table, trimmed in green tinsel, was a hand-written sign.
“Reunion Feast.”
“Woohoo!” I ran over to Dad and threw my arms around his middle. “A real Christmas eve!”
“Sure is honey,” he said, squeezing me tight.
“Dad and me left the meeting and came home to decorate,” Sage said, a proud grin all over her face. “Isn’t it great?”
“It is very great,” Mom said from behind me.
I turned around to look at her, and saw her swiping at her eyes with the heel of her hands.
Dad bent down and plonked a giant marshmallow into one of the mugs and handed it to Mom. “Merry Christmas, Miss M,” he said. He had not called her that for a very long time. “Tonight is a night of settling things, I think.” He smiled at me, then back at Mom. “It seems to me that it was this whole park nonsense that broke us up, and now it’s over, and I think things have to change. Either we try and put this family back where it used to be, or I find some place to go live on my own. But whatever happens, I am not living in a garage, or a tent, anymore. You let me know when you’re ready, Miss M.”
Sage and I glanced from one parent to the other and back again, but Mom showed no signs of answering.
I tried to enjoy the pizza and hot chocolate, and it was good, but all night, all I could think of was whether my dad would be sleeping in the house with us or leaving for a hotel after he tucked us in. My tummy was full and my eyes were heavy when Sage and I sat on either side of Mom as she opened The Night Before Christmas. She read the way she always did, clear and professional sounding, not at all like someone with some huge decisions to make. Dad sat on the opposite sofa alone, looking very relaxed as he watched us all.
I closed my eyes while I listened to Mom and prayed that Dad would be our Christmas present.
“...and to all, a goodnight,” Mom said, and closed the book. “Time for bed, quick smart, before Santa arrives.”
Sage bounced up from the sofa and hugged Mom and then ran over and jumped on to Dad’s lap.
“What’s going to—“ I started, but Mom cut me off.
“You two go and get into bed, while your father and I talk,” she said.
I searched both of their faces for an answer, but there wasn’t anything there at all. Dragging my feet, I followed Sage upstairs. If she was worried, she kept it real well hidden, bouncing around like a little flea.
“Goodnight, Ro,” she said. “Merry Christmas!” She gave me a quick and brutal hug. “Don’t worry. Everything is good on Christmas.” And she was gone.
I almost went into my room, but I couldn’t. I stood there with my hand on the doorknob, straining my ears to make out what the voices downstairs were saying. The few words I managed to catch made no sense at all, so I gave up and went into my room.
Ten minutes later and no one came upstairs to tuck us in.
Twenty minutes later, and it was quiet downstairs.
Thirty minutes later, and I heard the front door click shut.
My heart sank to my toes, and I wanted to cry.
I tiptoed to the top of the stairs, leaning forward, hoping a few extra inches would mean I could hear something. And I did. Crying. Mom was crying.
Biting my lip, I eased my way down the stairs. Did she need me?
Halfway down, I could see straight into the living room and the back of the sofa.
But it wasn’t just Mom. It was Mom and Dad, together, kissing.
I did a silent little dance on the stairs, wiggling my bottom and shaking my arms around over my head. Once I had it out of my system, I turned to creep up the stairs.
“Oh, Romy,” Dad called, and I froze in place. Darn, they caught me. “I was just locking the door. See you in the morning. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Daddy,” I said. Then, I added. “Merry Christmas, Mama.”
I could not wait to tell Julian.
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
...or not.
Author’s note:
Thank you all so much for sticking with Romy and Julian ‘til the end!
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