**Cody’s story, part three!**
Jake’s mother was at the door. That, in and of itself, wasn’t strange. She’d taken it upon herself to stop in on a semi-regular basis since Jake had been deployed, so we could miss and worry about him together. We’d always gotten along great anyway, and when she found out I didn’t have a mother of my own, she’d adopted me as one of her boys. She loved me even more once I married her son.
What was strange, however, was the huge box she held in her arms.
I opened he door, kissed her cheek, and tried to take the box from her. She made a noise of disgust, and I simply stepped back and allowed her to enter, a fond smile on my face.
“Whatcha got there, Cindy?”
She clomped into the house, winter boots loud on the hardwood floors, and set the box on the table before turning to me with a wide grin and a waggle of her eyebrows.
“I was feeling crafty.” She gave me a conspiratorial wink and started removing her outerwear. “And since my house is bursting at the seems, and Jim would murder me and hide the body if I made anything else holiday related, you get the spoils of my work.”
I laughed, because her husband was the gentlest soul on the planet. Papa Jim wouldn’t murder a fly, let alone his beloved wife and the mother of his children. I took her coat from her and when I returned from hanging it on the hook by the door, Cindy was already busying herself with making a pot of coffee. It was going to be a lengthy visit then. That was fine. I could do with the company.
“May I look?” I was already peeling the flaps of the box back, knowing she wouldn’t deny me. Cindy had outdone herself. The piece was full of poinsettias, evergreen boughs, and pine cones. Two red pillar candles graced the center, and baby’s breath and a dusting of fake snow and glitter gave it a shine. The wide red glass dish gave it extra elegance, and I knew each piece had been set into florist’s foam so that it could be kept watered. The woman did nothing by halves.
“It’ll look great on the table at the party on Sunday, don’t you think?”
“What party?” I asked absently, running my finger along the velvety soft leaves of one poinsettia. Then her words hit me, and I jerked back, my gaze snapping to hers. “Cindy, I–”
“You weren’t thinking of not having the party, now were you.” It should have been a question, but Cindy purposefully made it a statement. When I didn’t respond, she gave me a half smile. “The holiday party you throw for the family, and your friends, is tradition, Cody. Just because Jake isn’t home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it.”
“I know,” I whispered, dropping my gaze.
Cindy appeared at my side, two mugs of steaming coffee in her hands. She set them on the table, then gently took my arm and turned me to face her. I couldn’t quite meet her eyes, but she cupped my face in her hands.
“This is your favorite time of year. This party you throw? We all look forward to it every year. And you should have it, and enjoy it, because even if you do? That doesn’t mean you miss Jake any less.” Her voice grew soft, and I heard the threat of tears in the slight waver. “It doesn’t mean you’re not worried and scared for him. It doesn’t mean you don’t love him. All it means is that you’re doing your best to keep yourself together until he comes home.”
Until she said it, I hadn’t even realized that’s what I’d been doing. I missed Jake so much it was a constant ache, and it sucked celebrating without him. But more than that, I feared that if I some how didn’t spend all my time worrying about him, if I actually let myself enjoy something, it would somehow negate his absence. Or worse, make people think I didn’t love him as hard as I did, considering he was risking his life in a war zone.
I hugged Cindy tight, because she put voice to the things no one else would say. And just her reassurance made me feel better. I could love and miss Jake, worry and fret for him, and still do things that brought me joy. Cindy petted my hair and hummed tunelessly and just let me soak up her love.
Several hours and a pot of coffee later, Cindy was gone and I was sitting at the table, admiring her handy work. It was then that I noticed the spot of white that didn’t belong. And that definitely hadn’t been there before.
My hands shook as I freed the envelope and I almost couldn’t get the damn thing open.
Mom is working her special brand of magic for me. I asked her to put this together, and to give you this note, so you remember that the holidays are about togetherness and joy, family and friends, even if your husband is half a world away. Take plenty of pictures and spam my inbox with them. If Dad gets into the eggnog again, make sure you get video. He’s the most affectionate drunk I’ve ever seen. Party hard, sweetheart. Celebrate the season. Go all out. This is harder on you than it is on me. I miss you like crazy, but at least I have my platoon and the structure of the Corp to keep me from going insane. I’ll be home as soon as I can.
I love you,
I cried, but there was some happy mixed in. Jake never failed to make me smile, even from thousands of miles away. He’d be home eventually. And until then, I’d have to muddle through some how.
I laughed at myself, turned on the carols, and started making a list. I had a party to plan