And now onto the story...
San Francisco, Christmas 2009
The presents had all been opened. Mom was wearing the chunky amber necklace and earrings that Deanna had given her, and Tripod, Dee's three-legged cat, was batting at a big red bow that had fallen on the floor. Deanna was at the kitchen counter, with Jeremiah the Corgi and Pinball the mutt at her feet, waiting for food to drop. Mom and I were perched on the barstools on the other side of the island, discussing what movie to go to for our traditional Christmas Day outing.
"How about The Hurt Locker?" Deanna asked.
"For Christmas?" Mom looked up from her laptop, where she was perusing movie times.
Deanna shrugged. "I hear it's really good."
"Yeah, but a bomb disposal unit in Iraq? For Christmas?"
"Well, what would you like?"
"Avatar might be nice."
"Blue people with tails? Now there's the true meaning of Christmas," Deanna snarked. She turned to me. "What about you, Graham? What do you want to see?"
I held up my hands in surrender. "Hey, there's no way I'm getting into this. I learned my lesson three years ago with your Steven Speilberg/David Lynch argument. I'm fine with whatever."
"I guess going to a movie isn't much of a holiday tradition, is it?" Mom propped her chin on her hand.
"You been talking to Gran?" I guessed.
"Yes." Mom sighed.
"You know they say you marry a person like your mother," I said.
"You think I'm like Mrs. Edmonds?" Deanna looked at me with horror.
I laughed. "No, not you. My dad."
"Oh, God." Mom made a face. "Talk about traditional."
"Besides, we have plenty of other holiday traditions. There's going to see the lights at the Wharf. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair." I ticked them off on my fingers. "The Annual Celebration of Craftswomen fair."
"That's where I got Saundra's necklace. And it's almost as beautiful as the woman wearing it."
Dee flashed Mom a grin before she turned back to me. "But I'm sorry you missed all of them this year."
"Of course, there's always your favorite Christmas tradition---" Mom gave me a wicked grin, "Tofurkey."
"Yes, we all know how much I love the Tofurkey."
My mom's cell phone rang and she hopped off her stool with a sigh. "The clinic, of course."
She answered it with a short "What's wrong?" as she headed upstairs to take the call.
"Hopefully the plumbing hasn't stopped up like it did last year." Dee poured herself a cup of coffee and held out the pot toward me questioningly.
"How's it going with your dad?" Dee asked carefully as she refilled my cup and added a small splash of milk.
"Like always, I guess." I took the coffee she held out for me.
"I hope…" Deanna set down her cup on the counter and shoved one hand back through her short gray hair, then started over. "Sometimes I worry that you might feel that Saundra chose me over you by sending you to Devenish Prep." She raised her eyes to mine. "It wasn't like that. It was hard for her, taking care of me when I had that relapse and after the chemo and everything the first time, she knew what a struggle it was going to be. But Saundra would never choose anyone over you, honey."
"I remember. I was here for it the first time, too."
Deanna reached out and covered my hand with hers. "Which was all the more reason why Saundra didn't want you to have to deal with it again. It was too hard, and she felt guilty at putting you through it. And I hated you seeing me so sick. Even then we talked about whether you should go stay with Darren, but Saundra just felt you were too young to spend that much time away from her. But we knew that by sending you to Devenish, you wouldn't have to live with your dad full-time, and you'd be getting a great education."
"I know all of this, Dee." My voice came out kind of hoarse, and I cleared my throat.
"I hope so." She patted my hand again. "'Cause Saundra wouldn't put anyone else before you, ever. And neither would I."
I raised my head and looked at Dee. She was frowning, her eyes uncertain.
"You're my kid, too, Graham. You know that, don't you?"
I smiled. "Sure." I gestured toward my coffee cup. "That thing with the coffee? The way you put the milk in it without having to ask. I lived with my dad all last summer, but he wouldn't have known that I put a little bit of milk in my coffee. And I knew---I know---that you wanted what was best for me. And I wanted Mom to be there for you. I never thought she was choosing you over me. I really didn't." I stopped, then admitted, "But I did kind of feel---well, I felt bad that you didn't want my help."
Deanna raised a hand to her mouth. "Oh, Graham…no, honey. I never dreamed you'd think that. It isn't true at all. You helped me so much! Obviously more than you know. Every time you called or e-mailed me about what you were doing at school, it made me feel better. It made me more determined to get well and see what you're going to do with the rest of your life. You helped me beat the cancer all over again. I don't want you to ever, ever think I don't need you."
She came around the island and gave me a fierce hug.
"Turns out it was nothing important." My mom walked back into the room. "Just Janice feeling insecure about---" She stopped and her eyes filled with concern. "What's going on? Dee, are you crying?"
Deanna shook her head, wiping the tears from cheeks. "Don't worry. I'm fine. I was just telling Graham how much I missed him. You know how I get sometimes."
Mom looked from Dee to me.
"And I told her how I missed her but not quite as much as I missed tofurkey." I rubbed my stomach. "Can't get any of that at Devenish Prep, I'll tell you."
"I'll just bet you can't." Mom gave me a one-armed hug, then slipped her other arm around Deanna. "Merry Christmas, Graham."
"Merry Christmas, Mom." I put my arms around each of them, too. "Moms."