“I’m really really mad at you, you know that?” I said to Caroline when I visited her at the hospital the day after she collapsed on her birthday party.
“Sorry,” she said quietly and I could tell she meant it but I wasn’t ready to let her off so easily.
“You scared us all so much, what were you thinking?”
“I scared myself too, trust me.”
“I really hope this opened your eyes.”
As it turns out, Caroline wasn’t eating since the beginning of summer, when we celebrated 4th of July in my family’s cabin. She’s lost so much weight in such a short time that her body couldn’t handle it anymore and just gave up. Now she will spend weeks in the hospital until she gets her strength back and then she will go through months and possibly years of therapy. I will be here for her to help her get through all the struggle she will most definitely have.
I really hope she recovers soon. Right now she is looking very pale. The dark circles under her eyes make her look tired and unhealthy. It’s sad that girls these days are forced to look a certain way and are willing to go to the extreme to achieve it.
I spend at least four afternoons a week with Caroline in her hospital room. Her parents are with her all day and usually give us some alone time which also gives them a chance to go home, take a shower and change their clothes.
Caleb usually picks me up after the visiting hours and we do something together. Like today.
“Hey you,” he said as I walked out of Caroline’s room.
“Hi,” I wrapped a red scarf around my neck and kissed him on the lips. I’m so happy we figured things out and are together now.
“She will be ok. She’s already looking better. The doctors are saying she could be going home next week.”
“Oh good, she will be home for Christmas.”
I nodded, “can you imagine spending Christmas in a hospital?”
“No I can’t. It’s bad enough that I’ll have to spend it without you.”
“I know. I’m sorry, it’s a tradition.” I looked at him sadly, “I’d love to spend Christmas with you.”
My family always spends Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the cabin. There is no getting out of it. Caleb was really sad when I told him. I wish I could invite him but I knew my dad wouldn’t allow it.
“Well maybe next year then,” Caleb kissed my forehead gently and we walked out of the hospital.
Since I couldn’t be with my girlfriend on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, I decided to plan a little surprise for the day before she left with her family to spend the holidays in their cabin.
I bought a small tree, put it in my room and decorated it.
Then I invited her over. It was the first time since we’ve known each other when she was in my house. I begged my mother to not interrogate her but of course she couldn’t help it and had a million questions for her.
Emmalee didn’t seem to mind one bit though.
When we finally, after twenty minutes long conversation, made our way upstairs, I slowly opened the door, making sure she can’t see inside of the room.
“Ok, come on in, but don’t look yet,” I lead her inside, covering her eyes with my hands.
“What is it?” she chuckled, “you’re making me nervous.”
“No need to be nervous,” I assured her and turned off all the the lights in the room to make the lights on the tree pop, “you can look now.”
I uncovered her eyes and she stood there speechless for a few seconds, “wow.”
“Since we can’t be together tomorrow, I thought we could have a little Christmas today. Just you and me.”
Emmalee turned around to face me, “that is so…sweet. I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, just open your gift and be here with me.”
“You got me a gift? I don’t have anything for you. That’s not fair!”
“Yes you do. It’s right here,” I tapped on her pretty lips and kissed them.
“Still not fair.”
We sat down in front of the Christmas tree and I handed her a small red box. She took it and looked at me with a wide smile.
Suddenly I felt nervous. What if she doesn’t like it? What if it’s too much, too soon?
I watched her fight with the bow for a little while and then she finally managed to open it.
She took it out and held it in her hand, staring at the silver bracelet with two connected hearts. One representing hers and the other mine.
“It’s beautiful,” she gasped.
“Really? You like it?”
“Are you serious?” Emmalee said without taking her eyes off of it, “I love it!”
I felt so much better after seeing her reaction, so much more confident to tell her what I wanted to tell her for a long time.
“I’m glad.” I smiled, “I…I know that what I’m gonna say might feel like it’s too soon…..and….you don’t have to say back, but…..”
“I love you too.”
* ONE YEAR LATER *
Another year passed and another holiday season arrived. My family and I are spending it in New Lakeshire like every year. We, as usually, attended the annual Christmas tree lighting in the Lake View Park. Pretty much everyone who lives, or owns a cabin here, is in this park on Christmas Eve.
I was standing in front of the dark tree, waiting for it to finally light up. Even though I’m a high school senior now, almost an adult, it still brings me so much joy, when I see hundreds of those tiny lights go off.
As we were waiting, my eyes started to wonder through the crowd on the other side of the tree, when I noticed a familiar face. He looked older, taller and more matured then how I remembered him. It was Kevin.
I haven’t seen him since he caught me kissing Caleb. I can’t believe it happened more than a year ago. This was my chance to apologize. He never gave me a chance to explain myself.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to my parents and started to walk towards him and his friends.
“Kevin, hi,” I touched his shoulder gently to get his attention.
He turned to me abruptly and his mouth slightly opened when he realized who’s standing in front of him. He obviously wasn’t expecting to see me. Probably didn’t want to see me ever again.
“Uhm…hi,” he finally greeted me, “how…what…you got a haircut.”
I chuckled at his awkward reaction. I was about to reply with a joke but then I heard his friend Leah cough out the word ‘slut’.
I hated that girl since the day I met her. She was a bully and it’s clear to me she hasn’t changed a bit. I made a few quick steps and pointed my finger at her.
“You don’t talk to me. You and your mean remarks are one of the reasons my best friend spent most of this year in and out of a hospital and is still dealing with eating disorder. Maybe you should think twice before you say something to someone because words can hurt. Now, I came here to talk to Kevin, so please, stay out of this conversation.”
She stared at me, not saying a single word. I knew it was a waste of energy and she’s probably never gonna change, but I had to get it out.
Caroline is, thankfully, doing much better but she is repeating her senior year because she missed too much school. On one hand, it’s great, because we will have our senior prom together and we will graduate together but on the other hand, she should have been in college now and she isn’t. She’s lost a year of her life because of people like Leah.
“Sorry about Caroline,” Kevin said when I was standing in front of him again.
“Thanks, she..she is doing much better,” I smiled, “so…where do I start.”
“You don’t have to….it’s ok.”
“No,” I shook my head, “it’s not. I hurt you and I feel awful. What you saw that night was the first time Caleb kissed me. I don’t want you to think that I was cheating on you the whole time.”
“Oh. Talk about timing, huh?”
I chuckled, “yea. I wish I handled it differently back then. I didn’t know how to tell you or if there was anything to tell.”
“Like I said. It’s water under the bridge. I actually have a girlfriend now. She even lives in the same town as me.”
“Oh good,” I laughed at his joke, “believe it or not, it seems to be important.”
“So are you still with…Caleb, was it?”
“Ya. We are still together,” I nodded.
Kevin stayed quiet, I’m not sure what was he thinking about but I did what I came here to do.
“I should probably go back to my family,” I pointed towards them.
“You probably should,” he smiled, “it was nice to see you.”
“You too, Kev,” I stood there, looking at my ex boyfriend.
Finally, he opened his arms and I hugged him.
Maybe one day, we will be friends.
I joined my family and my mom gave me a supportive look. She knew I needed to do that, I needed closure.
The lights on the tree finally lit up, putting a smile on my face.
I love Christmas Day. As usually, we all wake up early, put on ugly sweaters and gather in the living room to open presents.
I always make sure I take a lot of pictures of the family.
To the point they all get annoyed and eventually make me stop.
After breakfast we all go to a pond and ice skate.
Dad just stands on the side of the pond and watches.
“I’m too old for this,” he always says, “I don’t want to break a hip.”
Emmalee always makes sure she shows off her ballet moves on the ice.
When we are all frozen to the bone, we go home, sit in front of the fire place, drink hot cocoa with marshmallows and enjoy the rest of the holiday together.