“Thank you so much for taking the kids to see Santa. It was so kind of you and Louis. The kids were really looking forward to it,” I said to Thelma Detweiler, mother of my fiancé, Detective Chad Detweiler.
“You’re entirely welcome. Could we talk in private?” Thelma motioned me into my kitchen, where the children couldn’t overhear our conversation. In the other room, her son and husband were watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with thirteen-year-old Anya and five-year-old Erik.
“They behaved themselves? Thelma, don’t hold back. If they didn’t, I want to know about it. I’ll cut them some slack because it’s the holidays, but they need to treat you and Louis with respect.”
“Of course I’d tell you.” She reached out and patted me on the shoulder. “Kiki, you worry too much. It isn’t good for you or the baby.”
Although I wasn’t her daughter-in-law yet, Thelma treated me like family. Seeing as how I was carrying her son’s baby—a child due in less than three weeks—she safely assumed we would be taking our vows. But even before we announced my pregnancy, the elder Detweilers had been kind and accepting of me. More importantly, they’d always been loving to Anya, my daughter by my late husband, and to Erik, who’d recently come to live with us after the death of his mother, Gina, Detweiler’s first wife.
“The kids behaved themselves, but something happened, and you need to know about it. You and my son both. You need to be prepared.” Her smile flickered on and off, but it was her eyes that warned me bad news was coming. “Erik asked Santa if he could bring back his mother for Christmas. He wanted to know if Santa could fly his sled to heaven and go get Gina for him.”
“Crud.” My heart sank. Honestly, it had been too much to expect Erik to cruise blissfully through his first holiday season without his mother. The Santa hype train promised miracles. Why wouldn’t a little boy believe that the Jolly Old Elf could bring his mother back from the dead?
“Hon, there’s nothing you can do about it. I debated whether to say anything to you, but Louis thought you two should know. I guess he’s right.”
* * * * * * * * *
Later that night, after everyone was in bed, I snuggled as close to my fiancé as my burgeoning belly would allow me. In a low whisper I told him what I’d learned from his mother. Detweiler hugged me tightly. “We can’t fix everything for Erik. I know you would, if you could. I would, too. But Gina’s not coming back. He’ll have to accept that.”
Detweiler was right, but I hated to hear it. Okay, I admit: I’m a fixer. I like seeing people happy. Whether it’s the customers who come into my scrapbooking and crafts store or my friends or my family, I want to be surrounded by smiling faces. In fact, I’ll knock myself out to “make everything okay.” But try as I might, I couldn’t conjure up a way to help Erik.
In the end, I decided to make a scrapbook for him. Thelma found old photos of Chad and Gina from their high school days and their marriage. I reached out to Lorraine Lauber, the sister of Gina’s second husband. Lorraine came up with a couple dozen photos of Gina. Then I went to the Internet and searched. Since Gina and Van Lauber had run with a fancy crowd in Los Angeles, I stumbled over six nice pictures of her in social settings. Although more candid pictures would have been nice, I made do with what I had and managed to create a nice eight-by-eight-inch album.
On Christmas Day, Erik came charging down the stairs with the sort of expectant look that promised disappointment. As he ripped open packages, he kept glancing at the front door. Even my gift, the album, served only as a brief distraction. Neither Detweiler nor I were surprised when the little guy had a meltdown shortly after lunch. I rocked him in my arms, feeling his hot tears running down my neck. Eventually he tired himself out and fell asleep.
* * * * * * * * *
In the weeks that followed, I put the incident out of my mind. There was nothing more that I could do. Erik’s loss would never be forgotten. Nor should it be. Gina would always have her place in his life, even if she wasn’t around to claim it in person.
Then one night, I heard murmurs coming from Anya’s bedroom. The door was open, slightly. Rather than rush in, something told me to stop and eavesdrop. Anya was talking in a whisper.
“See the moon? That’s where they are. My dad and your mom. We can’t see them, but they look down on us every night.”
“Mama? Your Daddy?” Erik sounded hopeful.
“Uh-huh. Your mama and my daddy. We miss them, because they’re dead, but they aren’t far away. Not really.”
“Not really far away,” said Erik. “That’s good.”
~ The End ~
Handmade, Holiday, Homicide is the tenth book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, published by Spot On Publishing. The first book in the series is Paper, Scissors, Death.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on January 1 for the chance to win a print copy of HANDMADE, HOLIDAY, HOMICIDE (U.S. residents only) or the e-book version (open to everyone).
Meet the author
National bestselling and award-winning author Joanna Campbell Slan is a real sap. She loves animals, kids, and crafts. (Not necessarily in that order.) She’s also a huge reader, who’s never without a book in her hands. You can find her walking the beach on Jupiter Island, looking for seashells. Learn more at www.JoannaSlan.com.