"Kim..." she started to say.
"Mom, I don't want to talk about it, okay?" I interrupted, not wanting to hear how obsessive it seemed to have a sketchpad half-full of drawings of some guy who didn't want me. I knew it bordered on crazy, but I couldn't help the urge I kept getting to draw him over and over again. "I'm kind of tired from the drive. I think I'm going to take a nap. I'll eat when I get up if that's okay?"
She nodded, biting her lip. I knew it was killing her not to say anything, so I made it easier by turning my back and facing the wall. She left without a word.
Over the next few days, she looked on the verge of mentioning it, but I cut her off each time she tried until she grudgingly let it go. I tried to make up my silence on the subject by throwing myself into helping her decorate the house for Christmas. The prospect of having company spurred us to deck out the house inside and out. Christmas lights twinkled on every tree outside and lighted garland adorned the fireplace and arched doorways. Mom baked every cookie imaginable while I strung popcorn and cranberries for the tree. Spicy cinnamon candles burned in every room tantalizing you with their scent.
"Well, what do you think?" Mom asked as she stacked the last present under the tree.
"It looks like Santa's Workshop threw up in here," I teased. "Kidding," I said when she shot me a dirty look. "It looks amazing."
"I think so too," she said, sinking down on the couch next to me with her cup of coffee.
"Thanks for letting Dad spend the holidays with us," I said, laying my head on her shoulder like I used to when I was little.
"I think it's the least I can do," she said.
"Well, I appreciate it," I said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
She patted my knee while we watched the Christmas lights on the tree twinkle off and on.
"This is nice," I said after awhile.
"Yes, it is," she said, sounding sad.
"I'll visit, Mom, and you can come visit me. The mountain air will do you some good," I teased, expecting her to scoff at my suggestion.
"Maybe it would," she said thoughtfully.
Seriously? Where's my beach-loving mom, and what have you done with her?"
She chuckled. "I'm just thinking, instead of hanging out at the beach on my summer vacation, I'll head up to camp Unlikely Allies and see if I can be of some help."
"Mom, that's so cool," I said, giving her a tight hug.
"Well, you've been singing its praises for months. I figured it's something I should be a part of."
"That's so awesome. Does Dad know?"
"Yes, we've chatted about it quite a lot on the phone," she admitted, sheepishly.
"Really?" I asked, taking in the pinkish tint that was creeping up her cheeks. "Is there something going on I should know about?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but was cut off when the doorbell rang. "Saved by the bell," she muttered as she hurried to the door with a definite bounce in her step.
"I wouldn't count on it," I warned.
She rolled her eyes uncharacteristically, making me laugh. "Rick, it's nice to see you," she said, opening the door for him.
"Kate, merry Christmas," he said, pulling her in for a warm hug that lasted longer than the traditional hug. I watched their exchange from across the room. I was definitely missing something. After a moment, they reluctantly parted and Rick turned to me.
"Merry Christmas, kiddo," he said, pulling me in for a hug.
"Merry Christmas, Dad," I said, fighting the sudden tears that sprang to my eyes. I was so glad to see him, but at the same time, my heart twisted painfully inside me. He represented a part of something I could no longer have. I needed to learn to separate him from the category that I grouped both him and Mason in. Mason was part of my old life and held no place in my new life, but Rick would forever be a part of me.