How can a person not want to go home for Christmas?
I knew it was a nearly impossible dream. When I first got to rehab, the thought of Florida at Christmastime was the only thing that kept me going.
Well it was December 16, and not a word about being released from rehab had been uttered. I guess I’d be spending another holiday in rehab. First my birthday, then Thanksgiving, and now Christmas.
“Why the long face?” Daddy asked when he, Momma, and Yule walked into my room. They were trying their hardest to hide their smiles and smirks. Something was up.
“Was I wearing a long face?” I asked knowing I was.
“You were looking nostalgic,” Momma said.
“Well with Christmas coming up and all,” I said.
“You want to go home,” Daddy stated.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, I’m sorry,” Momma said, “but December 20th was the best we could get.”
“That’s ok,” I said turning around. “Wait…what!”
“You’re being released!” Momma, Daddy, and Yule shouted. Noel walked into the room with a noisemaker in her mouth.
“Natalie’s going home for Christmas!” Noel shouted.
“I’ll be home for Christmas?” I asked. This just seemed so unreal.
“Yup,” Momma said. She pulled a suitcase from behind her back.
The next four days were torture.
I had a bunch of doctor’s visits just make sure that I was breathing ok and my spine wasn’t swelling. Momma and Jaci had to pack for me since couldn’t leave rehab. I had to do a test on December 19th to make sure that I really knew everything I needed to know. Then at ten A.M. December 20th I was free.
“How does it fell to be in a car again, kid?” Yule asked me as we got on the highway.
“Nauseating,” I said. I hadn’t been in a car since early October.
Momma seemed to agree with me. She looked sick. She had her head in her hands.
“Stop the car,” Momma groaned.
“Riley, are you all right?” Daddy asked.
“Stop the car!” Momma shouted. Daddy pulled over on the side of the road, and Momma ran out the door. She started to vomit on the side of the road.
“Yuck!” Megan screamed. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit.
Momma got back in the car without saying anything. She fell asleep right away, and ten minutes later she woke up and started yelling about how she had to use the bathroom.
And that’s how our trip went. Momma would fall and asleep and less than thirty minutes later she would have to pee.
At one o’clock, the time we were supposed to be arriving in Florida, we still had another hour to go, and everyone was starving.
“I want Wendy’s!” Megan screamed at the top of her lungs when Daddy asked what did we want to eat.
“No, McDonald’s!” Noel screamed. She started to scream “I’m lovin’ it®” over and over again.
“Please stop, honey,” Momma said. She sounded like she was dizzy, and she looked like she could vomit again.
Noel stopped and then started pointing at a sign that had a picture of McDonald’s one it. She kept pointing in the direction of the sign even when it was out of sight. After about two minutes though she stopped and started staring at her hand.
“Natalie, honey bear, what do you want to eat?” Daddy asked.
“I want some greasy fries,” I said in a desirous voice. Rehab food is not much better than hospital food. It’s all healthy too, which isn’t a bad thing but eating that food for two months makes you want some McDonald’s fries real bad.
“McDonald’s it is,” Daddy said.
“Good,” Momma said. “I have got to use the restroom.”
We got off, used the bathroom, and ate lunch. We got stuck in traffic once we hit Berkshire County, and didn’t arrive in Florida until three P.M.
“The sign with the snowman!” Megan screamed when the sign appeared. Momma and Daddy let out a well held sign. Yule, who had been here before, started to amaze me by telling me what was coming up next and the names of trees. Noel didn’t really seem to care and just sucked her finger. Jaci looked excited, and I just couldn’t stop smiling.
“I’m home. I’m finally home,” I said as we pulled up into the B&B driveway.
I saw that someone had put up a wheelchair ramp. Virginia, Emily, and Regina ran out of the house and to the car.
“You’re here!” Virginia cried as I got out of the car. “There’s so much to tell. First I think I should tell you that Darcy didn’t take anyone to Homecoming in October. Second, Ms. O’Donnell has a BOYFRIEND! He’s her next door neighbor, and yours truly got the two of them together! Mrs. Stewart became a Christian. Jessie-Maria is on her way. Ms. Donna is calling her now. We thought you’d guys never show up. Oh, um, who’s this dude?”
“Slow down,” I laughed. “This is my big brother Yule.”
“You have a brother?” Emily, Regina, and Virginia said at the same time.
“Long story,” I said. “Where’s Darcy?”
“Who knows,” Virginia said running up the B&B steps.
“Nice of ya to mention me,” Yule joked as I rolled up the wheelchair ramp.
“You know I love you,” I said. Yule laughed.
Nothing about the B&B had changed. It was the same was when we left. Darcy was standing in the arch looking unsure of what to do.
“Darcy!” I shouted. I rolled as fast as I could and gave Darcy a huge hug.
“Can’t…breathe…,” Darcy said.
“Sorry,” I said letting go.
“Somebody’s excited,” Darcy said. He looked the same except he was taller. His voice had changed.
“Put me down!” I shouted as Darcy picked me up out of my wheelchair.
“You’re strong,” I said. “Put me down.”
“You’re heavy,” Darcy laughed. “Nope.” I smiled. Darcy looked at Yule.
“Darcy, this is my big brother, Yule,” I said. Darcy’s face was priceless. He almost dropped me.
“Haven’t I seen you before?” Darcy asked.
“Um, yeah, I’m a relative of Fowler Stewart,” Yule said. He hurried towards the restaurant.
Darcy put me back into my wheelchair and pushed me into the resturant.
Jessie-Maria came running into the restaurant and fainted.
“Sean? Sean, are you all right?” Yule asked walking up to Jessie-Maria’s limp body. He ran his fingers through her newly highlighted hair. He gave one of those memorable laughs. He picked Jessie-Maria’s body up and set her down in a booth.
Jessie-Maria came too soon after that. She looked at Yule in disbelief.
“Hey, Blondie,” Yule laughed.
“My hair is not blonde!” Jessie-Maria argued. “I got it highlighted. My dad wouldn’t in a million years let me dye my hair.”
“I bet he fainted when he saw your hair,” Yule smiled. Jessie-Maria shook her head and laughed.
“Wait, you two know each other?” I asked. A sweet smile came to Jessie-Maria’s face. She took a necklace off of her neck. On it instead of a pendant there was a class ring on the chain.
“You actually wear it? I thought you would just stash it away in your underwear drawer,” Yule said.
“Actually,” Jessie-Maria said with embarrassment in her voice, “This was the first time I’ve taken it off in two years.”
Yule put the necklace back on Jessie-Maria’s neck; Jessie-Maria’s face lit up more than the New York City night skyline.
“I’m lost,” Virginia said. She was pouting, and I laughed.
“Let’s see,” Jessie-Maria said. “I met Yule two years ago. I was volunteering at a hospital/rehabilitation center. Yule had been shot in the hip and was acting like a snake” Yule laughed. “Nobody who was paid to work there wanted to work with him so they had me, a ten to eleven year old girl, take care of him. I had to do everything for him, even feed and dress him which made no sense because he had a hip injury. For some reason I was the only person he didn’t shun. After a while I started to love this grump, and it turns out the feeling was mutual. I convinced the Johnson’s to let me stay long enough to help Yule out. When he got better, the Johnson’s called Mr. Bill, and I was gone. But before I left Yule gave me his freshman class ring. It was way too big for my fingers so I put it on a chain and wore it around my neck…everywhere.”
“How romantic!” Virginia squealed.
“I’m outta here,” Yule said getting up and walking up the steps. Jessie-Maria laughed and smiled.
“Yule never said anything about a girl,” I said shaking my head.
“How did you meet him anyway?” Virginia asked. “And how in the world is he your brother? Are your parents adopting him or something?”
“It’s a long story,” I said shaking my head.
“Well promise us that you’ll tell us all these long stories at the sleepover we’ve planned for you,” Emily blurted.
“Emily!” Jessie-Maria, Virginia, and Regina cried. “It was supposed to be a surprise!”
“Ooops…,” Emily said blushing.
“Come here!” I cried opening my arm. The girls gave me a hug that hurt my ribs so badly, but the hug was worth it.
For dinner just about everyone in Florida crammed into the restaurant to come see me. I received lots more flowers and candy…and a lot of hugs.
Mr. Stewart and Timmy came late. When Timmy showed up, Jaci practically flew into Timmy’s arms. Timmy carried Jaci to the least crowded part of the restaurant, and they started talking about a mile a minute.
I noticed Momma made herself absent when Mr. Stewart showed up. When he spotted Yule and Noel, I thought he was going to drop down dead.
“Grandpa! You won’t believe it! Cousin Yule and Cousin Noel are Natalie’s brother and sister!” Emily shouted when Mr. Stewart walked towards the table she was sitting at with Jessie-Maria, Yule, Noel, Virginia, Darcy, and me on the end.
Oh, he better believe it.
“Hello, sir,” Yule said offering his hand. There was sadness and pain in his eyes. Mr. Stewart’s eyes were as cold as stone.
“Hello, son,” Mr. Stewart said shaking his hand. The words seemed to stab Yule’s heart. It was like Mr. Stewart was talking of code. He was recognizing Yule as his son, but nobody would give a second thought about it.
“And hello, Noel,” Mr. Stewart said to Noel sweetly. She looked at Mr. Stewart’s forehead for a second and then went back to stealing food off of Yule’s and my plate.
“I wonder what’s up with him,” Emily mumbled as Mr. Stewart walked away. “He’s never changed moods like that.”
Yule just put a big mouth full of macaroni and cheese in his mouth.
“So how do you like the new menu?” Ms. Donna asked walking up to the table.
“I really like the mac and cheese,” I said rubbing my belly. Ms. Donna smiled.
“I decided that two choices were just too plain,” Ms. Donna said. “So I added macaroni and cheese, baked and fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids, and hamburgers. I’m thinking about adding pizza!”
“That would be so good,” Virginia said. “Pizza is the one thing I haven’t master yet.”
Ms. Donna laughed and walked away.
Everyone looked to the door where Mrs. Stewart was standing. She was mad and looked ready to throw the book in her hand at Mr. Stewart.
“Lori,” Mr. Stewart said looking at the book in Mrs. Stewart’s hand and not her eyes, “not here.”
“Yes, here!” Mrs. Stewart screamed. “The whole world deserves to know the snake of a husband I have!”
“Lori,” Mr. Stewart said with a shaky voice. “What are you talking about?”
“This!” Mrs. Stewart yelled opening the book. “Explain yourself!”
Even from afar I could see that the book was a photo album. I couldn’t really see the pictures but I was sure they were baby pictures of some sort.
“And this!” Mrs. Stewart screamed flipping the page. The entire room gasped.
Mrs. Stewart started to walk around the room showing just about everyone the picture. It was a picture of my mom. She was holding either Yule or Noel in her arms. She looked young and scared; she had several scares on face. Mr. Stewart was in the corner looking at the baby in Momma’s arms. His expression was downright scary.
“And this!” Mrs. Stewart screamed. She looked around for Momma, and when she didn’t see her, she handed Daddy two pieces of paper.
“Read it! Read them both!” Mrs. Stewart cried. Daddy hesitated for a second, but he didn’t dare deify Mrs. Stewart in this mood.
“Name: Yule Nicholas Walters-Stewart. Date of birth: August 1st. Place of birth: Berkshire Pittsfield Hospital. Parents: Fowler Stewart and Riley Anne Walters,” Daddy read.
“That’s enough of that one,” Mrs. Stewart said. “Read the other one.”
“Name: Noel Joy Baldwin-Stewart. Date of birth: December 25th. Place of birth: The Hospital of Tampa, Florida. Parents: Fowler Stewart and Riley Anne Baldwin,” Daddy read.
“That’s quite enough,” Mrs. Stewart said.
Everyone was staring at Mr. Stewart. Mr. Stewart was looking around for Momma, but she still hadn’t come back. Mr. Stewart looked mad.
“Lori, I can explain everything,” Mr. Stewart said.
“Then explain!” Mrs. Stewart screamed.
“Not here,” Mr. Stewart said. “Let’s go home and talk about it.”
Mrs. Stewart looked reluctant.
“Fine,” Mrs. Stewart said gritting her teeth. She marched out of the restaurant, and Mr. Stewart followed.
Momma walked into the restaurant looking sick. Everyone stared at her with sad and companionate looks.
“What did I miss?” Momma asked.