All Holidays Matter by R.E.Mullins
Part One December 24th at 10:15 a.m.
Pulling this off is gonna take a Christmas Miracle…
Meg Howell finished setting the timer and placed her cell phone on the hastily cleared bathroom counter—next to a white, innocuous-looking, plastic stick.
She hadn’t realized she’d spoken out loud until her best friend muttered, “Chanukah.” Looking pale and nervous, Talia Baum sat on the closed toilet lid as she practiced controlled breathing.
“Jew here.” The finger Talia pointed at her chest shook, and she quickly rested her hand on her knee. “So,” she drew out the word. “Time and place. Time and place.”
Meg’s surprise quickly changed into chagrin, “Sorry.”
“All Christians get a little tone deaf around Christmas. Even happens to the good ones.” Eyes a little wild, Talia spoke as if she were trying to distract herself. "Jews," she moved her hand in a more or less gesture, "have gotten used to it. Hell, we even help you celebrate. Jews wrote at least half of the Christmas songs. You know?"
“Yep. And while we’re on the subject, you guys don’t have a monopoly on miracles either—like that one on 34th Street. We have a miracle too, and ours lasted eight days.”
“Not trying to compete,” Meg said dryly, “but the Christmas Miracle is the birth of Jesus from immaculate conception. It isn't fictional stuff like Miracle on 34th Street, Frosty the Snowman, or Rudolph the Flying Reindeer.”
Talia seemed to latch onto just one word. “Birth. Oh, my God.” Her eyes were panicked. “How much longer?”
Leaning forward, Meg checked the numbers that were steadily clicking down. “Twenty-five more seconds to get busy invoking that Chanukah miracle.” Tal’s moan sounded like an injured moose, and she lowered her head between her knees.
Meg meant to be comforting but, per usual, something else popped out of her mouth. “If you’re preggers, do you think we could get Aaron to sing that old, Paul Anka song? You know the one.” When Talia snorted, Meg sang part of the refrain. “‘Having my Baby. What a wonderful way to say what you’re thinking of me.' Mom said Dad sang it to her while they were expecting me."
“Not help—” The words froze on Talia’s lips as three short beeps indicated the wait was over. “You look.”
Meg grimaced. Best friend or not, she didn’t relish touching something recently peed on. “Since when did reading 'the stick of doom' get stuck on the best friend list?”
“Right.” First Meg scanned the package insert. Two lines in the test window would seal Talia's destiny. She might have to put off her last semester of college or, at the very least, move her wedding to Aaron forward. One line, however, meant her friends had dodged the bullet.
Gingerly picking up the indicator, Meg squinted at the tiny screen. “Huh,” she said before holding it aloft for better light and a different angle. “Huh,” she repeated.
“Well?” Tal demanded without raising her head.
“According to this, you’re just a little pregnant.”
“Give me that.” Surging to her feet, she snatched the test out of Meg’s hands and stared at it in disbelief.
“See?” Meg said helpfully, “The control line is nice and clear, but there’s only a tiny dot where the preggo line should be.”
That had her friend wailing, “What does that mean?”
“Don’t know. Test could be a dud. Or, maybe, you don’t have enough pregnancy hormone in your system to register yet.” Since it was Christmas Eve, Meg knew their options were limited. “There’s the walk-in clinic, or we can grab another test for you to take in the morning.”
“No clinic,” Talia said firmly. “I’ll buy every kind of test in stock. One of them has to work.”
Thump. Thump. Tal lightly pounded her head against the wall. “Aaron and I were supposed to meet Carter for lunch.” Thump. “I don’t feel like going now." Thump
“Carter? Carter West is back in town?”
“Through the third of January, I think." Thumping her head one last time, she tossed the test kit in the trash and joined Meg at the sink where they washed their hands. “You know, Carter suggested we bring you with us. I know he’s not your favorite person, but will you? Please? I think I can handle it if you’re there.”
The thought of seeing Carter created a skittering sensation in the pit of Meg’s stomach. She, Talia, Aaron, and Carter had grown up in the same neighborhood and, over the years, the Howells, Baums, Levinsteins, and Wests had thrown countless block parties, cookouts, and holiday gatherings. Heck, they’d even vacationed together a few times.
So, no one had been surprised when Talia and Aaron started dating their freshman year of high school nor when they got engaged right after graduation. The couple planned to attend the local university as it offered the Religious History degree Tal wanted to pursue. Undecided, Meg had wavered until Carter accepted a soccer scholarship at an out of state institution her family couldn’t afford.
During the end of summer party thrown for the college-bound teens, Meg felt physically ill at the thought of Carter leaving. At least she had until she’d overheard him tell his Uncle Jim, "Leave it alone. Meg isn’t my type.”
The Uncle looked over at her, but she pretended to be raptly listening to one of Talia’s history factoids. Turning back to his nephew, he said, “I think she’s cute. What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing. She’s like a kid sister,” Carter dismissed her so easily. Pulling out his cell, he showed off a picture. “Now this is what I’m talking about,” he leered. “Jenny Grady. Head Cheerleader and all-round hot babe.”
To give Carter his due, he hadn’t spoken loudly. He hadn’t meant for her to hear. But she had. College might have physically separated them, but with those words, he emotionally split their group apart.
Joining Tal and Aaron at the local college, Meg had thrown herself into her studies. Now they were seniors, and the coming spring would see them receiving their diplomas. Meg would earn a dual degree in Education and Chemistry. Student teaching was a last semester requirement, but she’d proactively freed up a couple of afternoons a week. She’d spent two hours every Tuesday and Thursday aiding Mr. Adersley in her old High School laboratory.
For three years, it went without saying; she usually made herself scarce when Carter visited his parents. His mother, bless her heart, seemed equally determined to keep her up to date on his every breath. Meg was well aware he’d graduate in May with his Bachelors in Business. From there he’d join his father’s firm as a junior vice-president. Must be nice, she sneered, to be the golden boy.
If she was honest, it was a lot harder to hear about his social life. Though the big love affair with Jenny Grady ended when he left for college, according to Mrs. West, Carter never lacked for dates.
Like Meg cared.
“Well?” Tal broke into her thoughts, “Will you go? After lunch we’ll come back to get ready for the party.”
“Whatever.” Meg shrugged with faked indifference. “I’m bound to see him sooner or later.”
Part Two: December 24th 6:45 p.m.
Wearing a mini in forest-green and thigh-high boots, Meg entered the Levinstein's house. Each year the annual Christmas Eve/Chanukah party was rotated between the four households, and this year Aaron's parents were hosting.
Her dress fit like a glove, and Tal had spent close to an hour giving Meg’s light-brown hair long, beachy waves. Yes siree, she was looking pretty good—even if she said so herself. It was just her luck when she stepped into the kitchen to drop off a plate of appetizers that Carter was the first person she saw. He had an arm flung around Aaron’s mom, and they were laughing together.
“Meg,” Mrs. Levinstein exclaimed when she saw her in the arched doorway. “Well, now, don’t you look gorgeous. Come on. Give us a turn.” The older woman twirled her finger in the air and Meg, a bit self-consciously, obliged. The rotation earned her a wolf whistle from her hostess.
Carter laughed at the bawdy noise but warmly agreed with the sentiment. “You look fantastic,” he told Meg.
“Here.” Mrs. Levinstein took the covered plate. “You kids go enjoy.”
Much to the woman’s delight, Carter kissed her cheek before turning to Meg. “We’ve been ordered to enjoy.” Gesturing for her to proceed him from the room, he added, “Let’s see who else is here.”
Entering the den, they arrived just in time to see a Breaking News bar scroll across the bottom of the television screen. 'United Hebrew Temple vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, exterior doors damaged, and smashed windows,' it read. Contact police with any information.' The number for the local police station followed.
The United Hebrew Synagogue was a lovely old building where the Baum and Levinstein families attended Shabbat services. Knowing words would never be enough, Meg headed straight for her friend and wrapped Talia in a comforting hug. It took her a moment to realize her friend wasn't rigid with shock but fury.
“People pretend to love Jesus so much,” Talia spoke in a low and unnaturally hoarse tone. “Can’t they understand there wouldn’t be a Christmas or Christianity without a Jewish woman giving birth to a Jewish child?”
“Jesus would never approve of such hate,” Meg fervently agreed.
Finally, Talia lowered her head to her shoulder, and Meg was grieved anew to see the other reactions. She saw sadness and anger on their faces but no surprise. To her, that was worst of all. Her friends were so accustomed to bigotry that it no longer had the power to shock them
“I bet they hit our cemetery tonight.” Straightening, Talia bunched her hands into fists at her sides.
“No,” Aaron disagreed as he and Carter approached bearing cups of Brandy spiked eggnog. He handed her one. “The cops are on it so the vandals will lay low for a while.”
This didn’t appease his fiancée. “I think they will,” she insisted. “We ought to go—"
“We don’t need to be anywhere we suspect anti-Semitics might target,” Meg’s father gravely offered his opinion. “They’d bash in our heads as quickly as they’d desecrate a headstone.”
Silenced, Tal nodded slightly. Raising her eggnog, she took a sip, and the eyes she lifted over the rim of her glass told Meg a different story. A message that Meg read loud and clear.
Using her silent code, Meg lifted her brows fractionally. It let Tal know she was onboard. Any notion she might not participate never occurred to either of them.
This is the first installment - check in tomorrow for the 2nd part of ALL HOLIDAYS MATTER by R.E.Mullins
See what else R.E.Mullins has written at: remullins.com
Full length books: The Blautsaugers of Amber Heights Series. Join this vampire family as they humourously endure the challenges of life to find their own happily ever afters.
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