In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
December 24, 2005
He had no memory of Kelly’s Diner before the last four months but he imagined that it had always looked the way it did now, with its slightly weathered bricks, the faded sign hanging over the double doors and the desolate courtyard empty of the tables and chair put away for the winter season.
Jason Morgan had just left the warehouse, having promised Sonny he’d go over their accounting books. He wasn’t familiar with a lot of things in his life–with the people, with the places–but numbers were comforting. Numbers always added up the same way, divided the same way and no matter how many times you did the equation, two plus two would always equal four. There was some solace in knowing that at least that would never change.
Two weeks had passed since his surgery. The aneurysm threatening his life was gone and the doctor had told him that while it could always reoccur, he didn’t think it was likely. He was out of the hospital and on his way to his old life–or so Sam told him. She told him that he liked to work on the books, that he liked to take his bike out, that he liked to walk outside when it was either really cold or hot because he couldn’t feel the temperature unless it was one of the two extremes. She told him he went to church every Sunday.
Sam told him a lot of things but there were a few things he’d rather figure out for himself. He was content to do his old job for Sonny. It had bothered him before but something was different inside him now–he knew the reasons he did the job and he had come to terms with the actions. You did what was necessary to protect the people important to you. You sacrificed to keep them safe.
Sam was away now–had left after his surgery was complete and declared a success. Her brother had fallen ill in Hawaii and had been asking for her. She had barely hesitated and Jason understood–family was family and he would have gone to Sonny.
But she wouldn’t be back in time for Christmas and he couldn’t convince her that he wasn’t disappointed. Instead, he was talking to her yet again about how it really was okay that she was going to be in Hawaii for the next few weeks.
“I’m sorry, Jason. I wanted to be there, you know I wanted to be there.”
Jason exhaled slowly and leaned against the brick wall of the diner. “Its okay, Sam. Christmas is your thing. It’s just another day to me–”
“But it’s our first Christmas,” Sam sighed. “It’s important to me. But Danny wants me here and I just–I don’t want to disappoint him either–“
“You’re not disappointing me,” Jason cut in. “You stay with your brother, he needs you more.” Not wanting to hear any more arguing, he closed the phone and sighed. He didn’t understand the obsession with Christmas, with holidays in general. He understood the religious basis for the day, but he wasn’t sure where the trees, the decorations and the guy in the red suit came from. As for gifts, why would you wait until one day a year to give in bulk when you could just give all year long?
He slid the phone in his jeans pocket and went inside the diner. It was empty, nearly time for the closing and other than Mike behind the counter, a young woman with a baby sat at one of the tables. He frowned–something about her profile felt familiar but he couldn’t place her.
“Can I have a coffee?” he asked Sonny’s father.
Mike grinned. “Coming right up. How do you take it?”
“Black,” the young woman murmured absently as she wiped some applesauce from her son’s face. She looked up and blushed. “Sorry, it’s from years of serving him,” she told Mike.
Jason’s frown deepened. “We know each other?”
She turned to him, her long brunette hair sweeping across her shoulder. Tilting her face to the side, she smiled. “Sure. Or we used to. Emily and I have been like sisters since high school.” She extended her hand. “Elizabeth Spencer.”‘
He shook it. “I remember Emily planning your wedding. I was invited but I was…” he trailed off, trying to think of how to explain his recent memories–from Manny Ruiz to his surgery which had saved his life but still left him without memory.
“I was glad to hear that you were doing better,” Elizabeth said, with a smile. She gestured towards the seat across from her. “Would you like to sit?”
He shrugged and took the offered seat. Mike set a mug of coffee in front of him and disappeared back into the kitchen. “So we knew each other through Emily?”
Elizabeth bit her lip and bought herself some time by handing her son a French fry from her plate. “Yeah, but I like to think we were friends on our own at one time.” When the boy reached for more fries, she caught his hand. “No, no, Cam. You have to save some room for cookies, remember?”
“Cookie!” he clapped his small chubby hands together and grinned at the strange man across the way. “Want cookie!”
“When we get home, Cam,” Elizabeth promised. She wiped the grease from his fingers. “He’s been into everything lately since he learned how to both talk and walk.”
Jason nodded. “How old is he?”
“Nearly twenty months old,” Elizabeth said. Her eyes sparkled. “This is his first real Christmas, where he’s going to be big enough to open his own presents and play with them.” A shadow crossed her face and she squeezed Cameron close. “I just wish…” she shook her head. “It’s not the presents that matter anyway,” she murmured.
“So you’re another Christmas fan,” Jason observed. Somehow it didn’t surprise him–she struck him as the sort of person that might want a large family Christmas. Someone who’d want to buy a huge tree and decorate it just right, who’d want to buy out stores for presents for her family and friends.
“I love Christmas.” Elizabeth handed Cameron. “We’re going to start all sorts of traditions this year, aren’t we, sweetie?” Her blue eyes were practically glowing. “We’re going to start A Christmas Carol and we’re going to leave the cookies out for Santa and maybe if you’re really good, you can open a present tonight.”
“Cookie!” Cameron repeated, clapping his hands together again.
“He won’t really be able to understand the book,” Elizabeth told Jason, “but he loves to be read to. I read to him all the time–I got the idea from you actually.”
Jason shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“You told me how you used to read to Michael when he was a baby,” Elizabeth explained. “You said Michael seemed to enjoy it and I liked the idea of reading to Cam about places we might see or about history and culture. So I think A Christmas Carol is right up his alley.”
“What’s A Christmas Carol?” Jason asked. “Is it a children’s book?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “It’s an book about someone who hated Christmas, who was really cheap and mean and how he was visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. The ghosts showed him his past, his present and then his future if he didn’t change his ways. He wakes up and decides to change his life. It’s a classic Christmas story–my father used to read it to us every Christmas Eve and I can’t wait to start it with Cam.” She checked her watch. “We’d better get home, baby. Daddy will be home when we get there.” She pulled out her wallet and frowned at the check in front of her before glancing back at her wallet. “I could have sworn I had a ten in here.”
Jason frowned and a few things became clear about Elizabeth then. Her wallet was nearly bare, her face was thin and there were deep shadows under her eyes.
“Damn it,” Elizabeth muttered. She rifled through her purse, her fingers become slightly frantic in her search for the ten. “Maybe I left it in the lady’s room.” She stood, took Cameron in her arms and moved quickly into the back room.
Jason stood and took his wallet out. First, he slid two twenties into the pocket of her black coat and then went to the counter. “Mike? Here’s a ten for Elizabeth’s check.” He slid it across the counter. “Keep the change.”
Mike shook his head. “She hates charity.”
Jason hesitated. “Tell her that I insisted.” He heard footsteps coming from the direction of the rest rooms and quickly left Kelly’s.
Outside, it was beginning to snow. Jason shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his leather coat and started out for Harborview Towers. He wondered what it would be like to go home to a family. To be happy whether you had money or not–though he never really thought about what life must be like when you couldn’t buy what you needed. He hadn’t had to worry about it and he didn’t think he’d had to worry about it before he lost his memory.
He wondered if he’d ever enjoyed Christmas and the surrounding holiday season or if he’d always felt this empty inside during this time of year.
Penthouse: Living Room
Jason propped his feet up on the couch and leaned against the armrest to read one of the travel books he’d found on a shelf in the dining room. He was just beginning a section about the exports of Greece when his cell phone rang.
He fished it out of his back jeans pocket and answered it without checking the caller id screen. He didn’t need do that to know it was Sam calling.
“Hey,” Sam sighed. “I just wanted to check in with you, I know it’s dark out there. I was just sitting here, thinking about the lights on the tree and how beautiful they must look all lit up.”
Jason glanced over at the tree in the corner of the penthouse by the window. It nearly blended in with the shadows of the room–he hadn’t remembered to light it. “How’s your brother?”
“A little better.” Sam sighed again. “I bet the star looks the prettiest. It was my favorite ornament. I wish I could be there to see it lit up.”
“The tree isn’t lit,” Jason finally admitted. “I forgot to do it.”
There was some silence on her end of the line. Finally, she said, “Oh.”
“I just didn’t see the point,” Jason continued. “I’m sorry,” he told her even though he really wasn’t. He’d told her that he wasn’t really interested in celebrating the holiday, especially when he had no memory of past holidays.
“I don’t know why you can’t just…” Sam huffed. “I mean, it’s important to me. I want a tradition we can carry on with our children and if we don’t start them now, then when are we? And I’m not at all happy that what’s important to me isn’t important to you.”
“I just don’t understand the point of it all,” Jason replied, a little irritated. The second his health had returned, something had shifted in their relationship and he wasn’t sure what it might be. His lack of memories hadn’t bothered her before but now that there was no medical reason for their absence, she was short-tempered more often than not.
“I didn’t ask you to understand it, I just asked you to humor me. Never mind, obviously it’s too much to ask.” There was a click and Jason’s phone was silent. He shook his head, closed it and put it back into his pocket.
He didn’t understand Christmas and he was beginning to think he didn’t understand anyone in his life either.