Friday, December 21, 2012

CFF #33: Close to the Heart by Tori L. Ridgewood

**Submissions for this contest are now CLOSED. Look for more contests in 2013!**

You better have tissues handy for this one. Tori L. Ridgewood will have you sniffling for sure, especially if you ever miss family at Christmastime. You can do it--just read on and do leave a comment!


Tori L. Ridgewood
      The silence on the other end of the phone revealed more than words would have communicated.  

     ”I’m sorry, Mom.”  She held Anthony’s eyes as she spoke, willing her voice to stay steady.  ”It’s just not going to happen.”

       ”You can’t miss any more family events, Nina.” 

       She watched her husband set the baby in the playpen.  He came around behind her to rub her shoulders, kneading the hard knot that had grown beside her spine.  ”I appreciate how you feel, but our kids have been through enough.  They’ve hardly gotten to see their dad in the last two years, I don’t feel comfortable leaving them with strangers in a strange city.  They need routine, not upheaval.”

      ”We could take turns babysitting, during the wedding.  Instead of hiring a sitter they don’t know.”

     ”That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.  We’re not going.”
     Nina wandered alone through the crowd of happy holiday revelers.  Although her husband’s encouragement and her friends’ cajoling had convinced her that coming out for the last night of the Dark Lake Festival of Trees was better than hiding out at home, somehow she felt more empty among the smiling, flushed faces than she would have if she’d stayed curled up on the couch.  Pausing to look over a tall Douglas Fir sprigged with blue silk bows and pearl swags, Nina hugged herself as waves of conversation rose and ebbed around her.  Conversations not involving Nina Bradford.
     Three months had passed since that last, tension-filled conversation with her mother.  Three months, and not another word had been spoken between them.
     Curling up under a fuzzy blanket on the couch with a cup of tea and a book would have been infinitely preferable to feeling sad and invisible at this holiday party.
     She drifted past a lovely spruce, decked out in traditional Victorian fashion, with tiny battery-operated candles, burgundy velvet bows, lace garlands and spicy scented balls of potpourri.  The hall was lined with six-foot Christmas trees decorated in styles ranging from futuristic to conventional, under swags of cedar boughs and plaid ribbons.  It was simply breathtaking, but Nina couldn’t appreciate it.  She fingered a prickly branch sprinkled with fake snow, gently touched a palm-sized pink feather wreath on the breast cancer awareness tree, trying to arouse some holiday spirit.  Even though it was nice to have a break from the children, she half wished that Anthony had come with her.  No-one else appeared to be alone.  This was an event meant for sharing with a partner, family, or friends.  
     ”The wedding, the funeral, and the reunion — it’s an opportunity for your family to meet your children.  It’s all in one weekend, so there will be less travel for everyone.  You should come and see everyone.  It’s hard for your brother, too, you know.”
     ”We just can’t do it, I’m sorry.”
     ”What if we paid for the trip?”
     “No. If it came down to an offer of money, I’d rather have help with the leaky roof and our plumbing.”

     Nina rose onto her toes, scanning the crowd for the tenth time in the hopes of sighting someone she knew.  Jenn, Debra, Allison — after all the fuss they’d made about her lack of social involvement, her friends and colleagues weren’t even there to meet her.  She was a spare wheel.  The people here already had their companions, their personal connections and special friends; the evidence was all around her.  It would have been nice to see someone she knew, though.  To have someone to talk to.  To feel like she belonged here, among the happy people.
     The brass band at the far end of the hall wrapped up their set for a five minute break.  ”Still plenty of time left in the silent auction, folks!” The master of ceremonies, a spritely little old man in a tuxedo, spoke into the microphone as the players tidied their sheet music.  ”Every tree goes for charity, don’t forget!” 
     ”I’m sorry, we got held up.” 
     Nina turned around. Deb was standing behind her, smiling. “Jenn’s taking care of our coats,  Allison’s parking the car.  I just had to get in here and bid on this gorgeous thing.”
     ”Really?” Nina couldn’t help her laugh. “Deb, that tree is made of white feathers.  It looks like a goose molted all over it!”
     Deb’s eyes gleamed mischievously. “I know, it’s absolutely darling, really haute couture.  My mother will just die when she sees it!  Aw, honey, I’m sorry.”
     Nina brushed at the wetness that had suddenly spilled from one eye.  ”No, it’s okay.  I’m just — wishing things were different right now.”  The compassion in Deb’s expression made Nina feel uncomfortable.  ”I know she would love this, you know?  I wanted to call her so many times, and tell her all about our project. But the longer she goes without calling me, the harder it is for me to call her.  And I need my mom.” Her voice failed as more tears threatened. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be so emotional.”
     Right on time, Jenn and Allison appeared, lidded containers of tea in hand.  Nina swallowed, trying to smile without much success. “Hooray for the cavalry,” she whispered, accepting a hot cup and the hugs that came with it.
     Her eyes blurring, she didn’t see who the fourth person who embraced her, but she recognized the scent of freesia immediately.   
     “Hi, sweetie.” The voice close to her ear both soothed and welcomed. 
     Nina squeezed her mother more tightly, before stepping back to see if it really was her. “What are you doing here? I’m so glad to see you, but why--”
     “Your friends called me. They said you needed me.” Her mother smiled at her with brimming eyes. “Your dad’s here, too.”
     Nina couldn’t find the words to respond.  Around her, voices were singing ‘Joy to the World’. Instead of joining in, she simply reached out and took her mother’s hand.
BioTori L. Ridgewood is a married mother of two and a teacher in Northeastern Ontario.  She enjoys reading a wide variety of classic and contemporary literature, including romances, ghost stories, horror fiction, and fairy tales. Tori began writing short stories and plays in her childhood to entertain, frighten, and gross out her friends. She loves listening to an eclectic mix of music, taking her dog on long walks, and curling up with a hot cup of tea, a good book, and a tasty doughnut during a blizzard. In addition to writing, Tori’s creative past times include needlework (quilting, cross-stitching, and embroidery), making and collecting miniature furniture, traveling, and over-thinking movies. She’s a history buff, a Trekkie, and a practicing Wiccan.

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  1. Well, Mysti, you were absolutely right. Not a dry eye in the house! Lovely story, Tori. You are such a brilliant writer
    Love Jenny

    1. Thank you so much Jenny -- I do appreciate your vote of confidence. And thanks again, Mysti, for hosting. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the stories I've read so far, and I'm going to enjoy the rest on my winter break!

    2. Tori, I enjoyed your story very much. Nothing destroys a Christmas spirit than being estranged from your mom. Glad to see a nice, happy ending.

      Merry Christmas.

    3. Thank you so much, Leona! I appreciate that you liked it, very much. Have a wonderful Christmas and a terrific New Year!

  2. Tori, this is a lovely story and I'm so glad that everyone made up in the end! Merry Christmas to you and yours and a safe and happy new year too!

    1. Thanks very much, Leila! It wouldn't have worked any other way -- we need happy endings at Christmas time. I hope you have a very merry Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year!

  3. Those are true friends who arranged for her mother to be there. How many of us have avoided calling or visiting our family until it was too late?


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