Playing Cards, Ch.13 - Saint Nicholas

Who knew that so many people could fit into the McFarlow’s tiny stone cottage living room? There were ten of us; and a Yorkshire terrier, bouncing around the minimal space in an attempt to draw everyone’s attention from the little boy sat on my lap.

    “He’s a gorgeous wee laddie,” Georgina, Teresa’s second youngest child, cooed, playing ‘peek-a-boo’ with him and ‘ah’ing as his infectious laugh filled the room. He was nine months old and everyone loved him, except for one.

   “Marc, come and have a look at him,” Anna-Marie, the second eldest McFarlow child, told him, “I can assure you that he will set a spell on you and force you to love him.”

   “I don’t want to.” He simply muttered sourly. He slouched in the armchair by the brightly decorated Christmas tree, folded his arms and frowned in my direction. He was the youngest out of the McFarlow brewed.

    I wasn’t intimidated or scared by Marc… more intrigued, actually. He was nineteen-years-old, had messy, mousey hair, dark emeralds for eyes and was, in all fairness, actually, somewhat, attractive. He was studying medicine at the University of Glasgow and, from what I’d gathered, wasn’t a big fan of kids… James in particular… or me, for that matter, either.

    “Ignore him,” Anna-Marie mentioned, noting the expression on my face, “he’s always been the grumpy guts at any gathering, especially Christmas. Did you know that James – our youngest brother – would have been seventeen today, if he was still with us?” the sparkle in her eyes vanished and her smile weakened… talking of their brother was their weak spots, understandably.

    “Seventeen?” I asked. Gosh, he was the same age as me, give or take a couple of weeks, “how long ago was it?”

    “He didn’t make it past his first birthday,” she murmured, lowering her head and forcing back the tears. I’d wished I hadn’t asked, but it – in some way – fascinated me. But he was too young… too young to die.

    I resisted asking what the cause had been and placed my hand on her shoulder to let her know of my apologies and sympathy. She smiled weakly and looked back over to Marc.

    “He’s always like this at Christmas. He feels guilty for being too young to even remember him. He was only two and a half, you see.”

    “I feel sorry for him. Mum’s pretty much the same when she knows it’s my father’s birthday.” I stated, registering the feeling of knowing something that you’d rather forget.

    “Did he pass?”

    “No, he left. Mum tries to hide it, so that I don’t get upset, but I can, I always tell… July 19th… that’s his birthday. I couldn’t give a damn though. He’s a prat and crazy to have left mum in the first place.”

    “Benedict’s the same,” Georgina interrupted, over hearing mine and Anna-Marie’s conversation, “he’s never really known his father either. He says he went off with the nanny, isn’t that right, Ben?”… Ben. What is it with this family and the name Ben? First there’s Benjamin, the eldest McFarlow child, and then there’s Benedict, Georgina’s fiancé, and even Anna-Marie’s dog is called Benny.

    I hadn’t been listening to what Benedict had been saying and was shocked when Teresa was suddenly taking James out of my arms, covered in vomit. It was all over me too. Yuck! Everyone backed away from me, offering to get me a towel, clean clothes, anything. Marc just sat in the armchair, looking smug, before coming out with:

    “Just stick her outside in the rain and she’ll be washed in no time.”

    “Very funny, Marc,” Jerry warned his son. He turned to face me again, “I suggest you take a shower and wash the vomit from your hair. Teresa’s sorting out wee Jamie out.” Jamie!? Since when had they started calling him Jamie? I could tolerate Ben calling him it, he was his father, but I didn’t want it to be permanent. My son’s name was James.

    However, I didn’t argue back to him and nodded my head, pushing myself up to my feet, trying my hardest not to get any vomit anywhere other than on myself. I made my way up the stairs easily and put the dirty clothes in the empty hamper in the bathroom, spraying it with air freshener to try and mask the smell.

    The McFarlow’s didn’t own a power shower, but the water was hot and refreshing. I could have stood under that trickling waterfall for hours… or until the hot water ran out anyway.

    It was James’ first Christmas with the ‘family’ and, of course I was happy but, it just didn’t feel… complete. That was because half of his family weren’t there.

    Teresa and Jerry suggested that I invite my friend to stay with them over Christmas too, meaning Ben. I would have loved him to join us, but decided not to invite him due to my own selfishness. Yes, he was amazing and he was James’ dad, but that was the problem.

    He still didn’t know that he was his dad and I didn’t want to have to lie to him, myself, James, mum, and the whole McFarlow family over Christmas. I just wanted to be able to spend this Christmas with my son and enjoy it.

    However, when Ben had heard that we were going away over the holidays – mum and I – he gave his Christmas presents to mum before we left. He’s gotten one for all of us; mum, me, James, and even Teresa and Jerry. He’s given the adults a bottle of rosé wine each – quite expensive stuff at that – and I’d got a silver heart-shaped locket that could hold two pictures. It had my name engraved onto the back in a fancy, joined together Script and was breathtakingly beautiful… and rather expensive looking. It must have cost him a pretty penny or two…

    I loved what he’d given James thought. He’d bought a small, caramel coloured bear wearing a sleep suit and night cap. The sleep suit had ‘James’ written across the front – James, not Jamie, thank goodness – in the same Script as on my locket. On the back, a message had been embroidered onto the sleep suit reading: ‘James, What a handsome young lad you are. You’re one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever known and I feel attached to you somehow. You’re going to do fine, I know it, with the set of parents you have. Love Ben x’

    I’d cried when I’d read the message both because it was beautiful and because he was unable to know the truth. Although he loved James, he still believed that Teresa and Jerry really were his parents and that he was just this adorable kid that the two of us were crazy about during his visits.

    I would have to tell Ben soon… I owed it to him. I just had to figure out when… and how.

The End

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