One more story…I had this one ready for New Year’s Day—and then forgot to post it. I found it now as I’m working on my next book.
This is a kind of afterword for FALLING IN LOVE WHILE WORKING FROM HOME. I just missed Jessica, Dan, Lori and Hanna—and Rex.
Happy New Year!!
LORI’S NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION
“I’ll be happy to kick 2020 to the curb.” Jessica stepped around the board game her daughter Lori had left scattered under the Christmas tree before handing her friend Hanna a glass of sparkling water.
Hanna accepted the drink and took a sip. “It’s been difficult, that’s for sure.” Then she rested her hand on her baby bump. “But it hasn’t been all bad.”
Jessica smiled at her daughter, snuggled against her Tia Hanna on the living room sofa, struggling to keep her eyes open. Then she sat in the adjacent chair with her own glass of wine and nodded.
Even though the coronavirus pandemic had made life difficult for the past nine months—and wasn’t yet going away—the recent news of several successful vaccines made 2021 look promising.
Hanna’s wedding ring, still shiny and new, glittered on the hand that rested on another sign of even more good news to come.
“True. In some ways, it’s been a remarkable year.”
“You and Dan.”
Jessica nodded with a hint of a smile. “Me and Dan. I hated him the first time I met him and now look.”
“Where is Dan, by the way? Shouldn’t he be here?”
“He’s been in self-quarantine for the past two weeks. Now that he’s able to see people again—he didn’t get it, thank God, he promised to stop by later.”
“I thought he already had the virus…”
“He did. Earlier in the fall. But you know Dan. He’s overly cautious after all the stories he’s written about covid-19 patients and treatments and statistics. Earlier this month, he went to see his family. He was going to go for Christmas—They live in New Jersey and he hadn’t seen them since last Christmas. But he drove up early. When his grandmother was hospitalized right after Thanksgiving, he was afraid it might be the last time he saw her.”
Hanna’s brow furrowed. “Oh, no. Covid?”
Jessica shook her head. “No, heart attack. She had to have a double bypass but now she seems to be doing OK.”
“So why is Dan in quarantine?”
“Because New Jersey has been a hot spot, he didn’t want to take a chance and give it to anybody.” Jessica smiled at her daughter, sleeping soundly against Hanna’s shoulder. “Especially Lori.”
“He’s really taken with her, isn’t he?” Hanna gave the child a gentle squeeze.
Jessica couldn’t keep the smile off her lips. “I think he likes her more than me. They’ve become really good pals.” A wide smile creased Lori’s face. Yes, she was taken with him, too.
Dan was one highlight of a miserable year. So was Hanna’s wedding and news of a baby coming in early 2021.
The lockdown dragged on, was still dragging on, longer than Jessica—or anybody else for that matter—thought it would.
“It’s been a nice holiday, in spite of everything,” Hanna said.
“It has,” Jessica nodded. “My brother didn’t come home and my sister decided it was best to celebrate with her own little family—but I finally got to see Mom and Dad on Christmas Day.”
“How’s your mother doing?”
For months, Jessica’s mom had refused all visitors while she underwent treatments for cancer. Now that they were finally done, her doctor gave her permission for a quick visit as long as distances were maintained and everyone wore a mask. It had been hard for Lori to understand she couldn’t hug her grandparents.
“She looks good. She lost a lot of weight but, thank goodness, the doctor said the cancer is gone.”
The two friends, close since they wore braces and agonized over zits on their noses, sat in companionable silence, while Lori snored softly at Hanna’s side. Finally, Hanna spoke, pointing with her water glass at the Christmas tree, full of twinkling lights set up in the front window. “Pretty tree.”
“Thanks.” Jessica leaned into the worn cushions, admiring the glow of colorful LED lights. They were all that illuminated the room, at her seven-year-old daughter’s request. “I don’t usually put up the tree until mid-December, but this year, we were ready for it a lot earlier. We started playing the Spotify Christmas carol list on Thanksgiving. Then we decorated the tree that weekend.”
Now, on December 28, the Christmas tree had already been up and decorated for a month. It was missing half its tinsel. Three glass ornaments crashed to the floor when the kitten climbed the tree. Lori had already eaten most of the candy canes.
“We put ours up early too. Not that early, but it was up the first weekend in December. I don’t like to rush the holidays but this year has been so odd.”
“Next year will be better.” Hanna raised her glass. “At least I hope so.”
Jessica clinked her wine glass with Hanna’s. “It has to. At least we know a vaccine is coming. Things will get better after that.”
“But will they go back to normal?”
“What’s normal?” Jessica didn’t remember. She had gotten used to Zoom meetings, FaceTime interviews, long debates with Lori about school. Online studies weren’t going too well. Her second grader was behind in her reading, still struggling to understand her assignments. Jessica went over lessons every night with Lori, even during the holidays. It was helping make her a better reader but the mother-daughter relationship was strained.
The Christmas tree helped.
Hanna sipped her water and sighed. “I, for one, am looking forward to 2021. Have you made your new year’s resolution yet?”
“Me? I don’t do those anymore. By January 2, I’ve usually broken whatever I resolved on December 31. I have cake when I resolved to lose weight. I swear when I decided to clean up my potty mouth. I yell at Lori when I vowed to be a better mother. What’s the point?”
“I don’t know but I like them. It helps me see the new year as a clean slate. A chance for something different. Of course, this year won’t be like any other year, will it?”
Jessica leaned over and patted her friend’s hand. “You have no idea. But, I know you’ll be a great mother.”
“That’s my resolution—because I’m so afraid I’ll be horrible at it. I have resolved to be patient and loving, caring and wise where it concerns this little one.”
Lori stretched and yawned. “I fell asleep.”
“Yes, you did.” Hanna helped the girl sit upright.
Lori rubbed her eyes with her little fist. “What’s a reva-rezi-what were you talking about?”
“New Year’s re-so-lu-tions,” Jessica answered. “It’s when you make a promise to yourself to change something you don’t like.”
“Do you have a New Year’s resolution, Mommy?”
Jessica shook her head. “I like everything. There’s not a thing I want to change.”
With a serious gaze, Lori asked, “What about you, Tia Hanna?”
“Me? I want to be a good mommy, just like your mommy is.”
Lori beamed at her mother with an enormous grin, then turned to Hanna and patted her baby bump. “Oooooh. I forgot you are going to get a baby soon.”
Putting an arm around Lori’s thin shoulders, Hanna asked, “What about you, Lori? Do you want to make a New Year’s resolution?”
“I don’t know.” She put a finger to her chin and looked up at the ceiling.
Before the conversation could go any further, someone knocked at the door. A gruff bark followed.
Lori leapt from the sofa, flew across the room, then grabbed the doorknob. “Can I open it, Mommy? It’s Rex.”
“And maybe Dan?” Hanna added.
“Yes, Lori.” Jessica turned to Hanna. “I hope the dog didn’t come alone.”
Lori threw open the door and Rex bounded in, his tail wagging furiously. “Hi Rex.” Lori wrapped her arms around the dog and buried her nose into the soft fur of his head.
“Now I know who’s the important one here.” Dan, wearing a candy-cane printed mask, skirted the child-canine love fest to walk into Jessica’s waiting arms.
“Depends who you’re talking to,” Jessica responded before kissing him.
“Belated Merry Christmas,” he whispered in her ear and then returned the mask to his face.
“Hi Dan.” Hanna began to struggle to her feet until Dan put a hand up.
“Hanna, you’re looking ravishing.” Dan took Jessica’s vacated chair. “I better maintain my social distance.”
Lori climbed into Dan’s lap before anyone could tell her not to. “Hi, Mister Dan. You didn’t come over on Christmas.”
“I couldn’t because of the covid germ. Your mommy told you, didn’t she?”
As she hugged him, Lori nodded. “I missed you.”
Then she shot up. “I know my New Year’s resta-reva-whatever it’s called. I’m tired of this germ. I haven’t been able to hug my Nana and Pop. Or my friends. Or anybody but my mommy, most of the time.”
“That’s true.” Jessica pushed a long strand of hair out of Lori’s eyes. “But we’ll all get the vaccine and then the germ will be gone.”
“Good.” Lori thought for a moment and then snuggled back in Dan’s lap. “Then when it’s all gone, I’m going to hug somebody every day. I miss hugs.”
“That’s a good idea.” Dan patted her arm. “I’m going to make the same resolution.” He shot a glance at Jessica. “I’m going to hug your mommy every day.”
Lori sat up and frowned at him. “What about me?”
He nodded. “And you.”
“I agree, Lori. It’s a good resolution.” Jessica leaned in to kiss the top of her daughter’s head.
Lori nodded. “Everybody needs a hug.”
(c)2021 Mary K. Tilghman