The following short story is based on characters from my novel, What Was Missing.
It is told entirely from the point of view of Sharon Dupree, Malcolm’s mother. She has been out of prison for over eighteen months and this will be her first time spending Christmas with both her sons. It is not necessary to have read What Was Missing however it does contain major spoilers!
Thank you and enjoy!
It is told entirely from the point of view of Sharon Dupree, Malcolm’s mother. She has been out of prison for over eighteen months and this will be her first time spending Christmas with both her sons. It is not necessary to have read What Was Missing however it does contain major spoilers!
Thank you and enjoy!
Have you ever been startled by your own reflection?
I looked up and didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me. She appeared stiff and uncomfortable. She was wearing hair that wasn’t hers, clip on earrings (because she never got around to getting her ears pierced when she was younger) and an outfit that was entirely too trendy for someone her age. Ripped jeans and a pleather jacket; she looked like a biker chick on social security. Everything about her screamed: FRAUD.
Turning away from the glass partition, I shook off the harsh self-assessment and entered the store. My first thought was, what am I doing here? I felt so out of place. I knew nothing about shopping for a baby even though I’d had two of my own.
A white girl wearing bright red lipstick approached me, “Welcome to Osh Kosh. Can I help you find something?” she asked in a bubbly, high-pitched voice. She was young, probably too young to have kids. I didn't think she would be able to actually help me.
“Um, no- no thank you.” I responded as I started looking through the clothes on the nearest rack.
“Okay, let me know if you change your mind.” She said walking away.
I glanced around the store and noticed a woman who was probably my age or older browsing through the sales rack. I slowly made my way over to her.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you but I’m looking for something for my son’s daughter and I don’t have a clue what to get.” I smiled faintly and hoped I didn’t come across as too aggressive or frightening. I was always paranoid that people would look at me and immediately be able to tell I had been a convicted felon.
“Oh, I don’t work here,” she laughed lightly.
“I know- I just thought- you seem like you have experience shopping for kids.” I shrugged.
She raised an eyebrow. “You have a son? And he has a daughter, which makes her. . . your granddaughter, right?”
I grinned a little when she said it. I guess technically she was my granddaughter but I didn’t know her, not really. I barely knew her father. This Christmas would be my first time seeing her in person. I’d only seen her in photographs and videos.
“Yes, that’s correct.” I confirmed clearing my throat.
“And you’ve never bought clothes for either of them? How old is she?”
“She’s turning one in a few weeks. I haven’t been around and this will be my first Christmas with my son in a long time.” I said resisting the urge to reveal any more information. I knew I didn’t owe her an explanation but I was trying to make my story seem a little less strange.
She stared at me for a minute with an expression I wasn’t used to seeing. I figured I was making her uncomfortable. Just as I was about to tell her not to worry about it and that I would figure it out on my own, she spoke.
“The first birthday and first Christmas are always epic events. You have to get her– her first tutu,” she smiled widely as she beckoned for me to follow her across the store. “What’s her name?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Sophie Grace,” I replied proudly.
After buying a cute pink tutu, birthday onesie, sparkly headband, tights and a couple of dresses, I left the store feeling lighter and a little more excited about my upcoming trip.
Two weeks later, I stood in the lobby of my apartment building with two suitcases– one with my clothes for the week and the other with my wrapped gifts. I was waiting on Jason to arrive, so that we could go to the airport. He mentioned getting an Uber, which he explained was a car service. It sounded a little extravagant to me but he assured me it wasn’t as much as I thought and it would be cheaper than leaving his car at the airport for a week.
While I was waiting, I started to get nervous. Not only about the flight, (I hadn’t been on an airplane in almost thirty years.) but also about visiting Malcolm and staying at his house with his family.
Although we were working on establishing a relationship, we weren’t as close as Jason and I had become. I knew big part of it was because he lived in another state but it didn’t help that he was also holding on to past disappointments. Most of it had to do with my mother’s deception but she was dead now, so I had to bear the brunt of his anger. However I wasn’t innocent; I deserved a fair amount of his resentment as well.
Soon a dark blue car pulled up and the back door opened. After a few seconds, Jason exited the car wearing a puffy black jacket and white skullcap. He stuffed his hands in his pockets to shield them from the cold and hurried inside the building. He came to an abrupt stop when he saw me and looked down at my suitcases.
“You plan on staying in Union City permanently?” he laughed.
“One has the presents.” I clarified.
He walked over and gave me a big hug. He was so affectionate and good-natured. I always hugged him back even tighter to show that I appreciated the affection. He had every right to hate me but he treated me as if I hadn’t abandoned him and chose to be an addict instead of a mother.
“Presents? Ma, you didn’t have to buy presents. You shouldn’t be spending your money on us, we’re grown.” He said as he pulled the suitcases outside to the waiting car.
I always felt a little emotional whenever he referred to me as “Ma”. I followed behind him with a smile on my face.
“Who said I bought you anything? It’s stuff for the kids.” I teased.
“Sophie is the only kid you know. Anthony is almost eighteen.”
“He’s still a kid.” I argued. I’d had the pleasure of meeting Anthony, Malcolm’s son, while I was still at the rehabilitation center almost eight months ago. He was a handsome, smart and friendly young man. He reminded me more of Jason than his dad. It was probably due to the fact that he spent a lot of time with Jason since they lived in the same city.
Anthony had gone to Malcolm’s house a week before Jason and me. This was his last year in high school and he would be attending college in Union City next year to study art and be closer to his father.
“Besides I have a lot of making up to do.” I explained referring to the presents. I started to feel a slight chill although I was wearing my long wool coat.
He closed the trunk and stared at me.
“Look, let’s go over this one more time, okay? We’re on a clean slate. We don’t want you to constantly feel like you have to pay for your mistakes.” He remarked.
“We? I doubt that’s how your brother feels.” I stated confidently.
“If he didn’t feel that way, trust me you wouldn’t be coming to his house to stay for a week. I want you to relax and just enjoy yourself okay?”
“Okay,” I replied as I nodded my head although there was no way I’d be able to do either. I was too anxious. It felt as if I was about to crawl out of my skin. I was glad I was leaving town because for the first time in a long time, I started to feel the itch for drugs. I told myself I just needed one hit to take the edge off but I knew that was a lie. It was the biggest lie addicts told themselves right after saying they didn’t have a drug problem in the first place. One hit would lead to another and then another and I’d be back where I started. I was too old and had entirely too much to lose to even be thinking about drugs.
Not to mention I’d been clean for over five years. I’d resisted temptation this long, so I felt strong enough to not give in to the momentary cravings. It wasn’t always easy trying to be a normal, regular person living a normal, regular life but I knew I was beyond blessed to have a second chance with my sons and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let a temporary high ruin it for me. But the sooner I got away from Georgia for a while the better.
Once we arrived at the airport, the first thing I noticed was how much the security process had changed. The line was nearly a mile long and you practically had to strip down to get to your gate. It reminded me of the random searches they used to do when I was locked up.
Jason tried to crack jokes and laugh with me as we walked through the airport but I just didn’t feel comfortable enough to let my guard down.
When it was our turn to board, I was scared the ticket agent was going to scan my ticket and tell me I couldn’t get on the plane because I was an ex-offender. Even though my parole time had ended three months ago, I still hadn’t adjusted to being totally free. Free in every sense of the word. No more addictions, no more toxic relationships, no more confinement.
The boarding process went smoothly and once we were settled on the plane, I listened closely to the flight attendant’s instructions about what to do in the case of an emergency. I glanced around and it seemed I was the only person paying attention but I didn’t care, it was always better to be safe than sorry. As the plane took off, I started saying a silent prayer and while my eyes were closed I dozed off. When I woke up we were getting ready to land in Union City.
“You have a good nap?” Jason asked. “You slept the whole flight.”
“It was only an hour or so,” I said defensively.
“Two and a half hours,” he corrected.
My eyes widened in surprised. “I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”
“Don’t ever apologize for sleeping. It’s one of my favorite things to do,” he winked. And in that moment he reminded me so much of his father. It was disarming and a little nauseating. The time I spent with Jason’s father had been some of the darkest years of my life. That was one of the main reasons I had taken Jason to live with my mother. I didn’t want any harm to come to him.
After we made our way through baggage claim we caught a bus to the rental car place and Jason rented a car. It was much colder in Union City than it was in Atlanta. There was even a little snow on the ground. We hadn’t gotten any snow in Georgia so far this year. I pulled my coat up around my neck and wished I had brought my scarf.
As Jason stood in line for the car, I thought about how much he and Malcolm were spending on this trip. Malcolm had paid for our flights and Jason was paying for the cars. I hoped they didn’t think of me as a freeloader. The first time Malcolm came to see me in prison, he said that he didn’t want me bleeding Jason dry. And I was proud to say that I had done a good job of taking care of myself without much help from either of them.
Soon we were in the rental car on our way to Malcolm’s house. The realization that I would see him in less than an hour made my nerves go in to over drive.
“Wait. I don’t know if I can do this.” I said suddenly.
Jason took his eyes off the road and glanced over at me. “You okay? What’s wrong?”
I just shook my head. “I- this- this isn’t right. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be here after everything I’ve done. How can you even stand to look at me? I don’t deserve this,” I muttered more to myself than him.
He carefully pulled the car over to the side of the snowy road and put it in park.
“Take a few deep breaths,” he said inhaling and exhaling.
I copied his actions.
“You’ve got to stop this.” He frowned.
“I don’t know how. I’m not- I’m not a normal mom spending the holidays with her family. Do you know I was in the store a couple of weeks ago and I told a lady that I was buying something for my son’s daughter? I couldn’t even say the word granddaughter simply because it doesn’t feel right on my tongue. Even calling the two of you my sons feels wrong.”
“But that’s who we are– for good or for bad. We are your sons. You brought us into this world and nothing will ever change that.”
I looked at him. “I’m sorry. It’s just- I’m scared to want this. Scared to need it. To need you, need him- need a family,” My voice cracked.
“Because I know first hand that it can be taken away from me.” I said as tears streamed my cheeks.
He unbuckled his seat belt and reached across the console and hugged me tightly.
“Things are different this time. You’re different. And we need and want you just as much as you need and want us.” He assured me. I knew his words were sincere but I was pretty certain he didn’t speak for Malcolm.
“I know you’re worried about Malcolm.” He said reading my mind. “But he wants us to be a family too. No, it won’t be a traditional family. You aren’t a traditional mom or grandmother. But you’re all we’ve got and we’re grateful to have you.”
When he was sure my breakdown was over, he pulled the car back on to the road. We were both silent for the rest of the drive. He eventually arrived to a beautiful gated community and my eyes widened. I knew Malcolm was well off and had his own business but I wasn’t expecting something so lavish. Jason entered a code at the gate and it opened allowing us inside.
I was in awe at the large houses in the neighborhoods. We pulled into the driveway of a two-story house that reminded me of something out of the Architectural Digest magazines that my parole officer used to keep on his desk. I took a few more calming breaths and tried not to have a panic attack.
“You ready?” Jason asked.
“No.” I said seriously but laughed to ease the tension.
“You got this.” He winked at me again and I turned away.
Jason took our luggage from the trunk and lugged all three suitcases refusing my help.
He knocked on the door a few times before it swung open and Anthony appeared in the doorway. I couldn’t believe he’d grown even taller in since I saw him a couple of months ago.
“Hey! Did y’all get lost? Dad was about to come looking for you,” he commented but I could tell he was joking.
“We took the scenic route,” Jason laughed as he embraced him. Anthony lifted one of the suitcases inside the house while Jason brought in the other two.
“Hey grandma!” he said turning his attention to me and my heart fluttered at the word. He hugged me tightly and kissed my cheek.
I gently placed a hand on his face. “How do you keep growing and getting even more handsome every time I see you?” I smiled.
“Must be the genes.” He grinned. He was the spitting image of his father. “Come on in. Welcome to Casa de Dupree.”
“Thank you, it’s such a beautiful home,” I said sincerely. Once I was inside, Anthony closed the door and I noticed a huge, elaborately decorated Christmas tree in the spacious foyer and a ceiling that seemed to be at least twenty feet tall.
“Is that Jason and Sharon?” A cheerful voice asked. It was Malcolm’s wife Patrice. I liked her a lot. She was so kindhearted and even though she was well educated and obviously used to nice things, she was also very down to earth.
“Hey sis-in-law!” Jason exclaimed hugging her and lifting her from the ground.
“Hey you!” she said kissing his cheek.
“Sharon! Welcome, I’m so glad you made it.” She walked over and hugged me also.
I wasn’t used to so much affection but instead of resisting it, I welcomed it and clung to the feeling to sustain me when I went back to my solitary life.
“Thank you again for the invitation. Your home is beautiful,” I complimented.
“Thank you. And you’re family– you are welcome here anytime,” she said. “Anthony hang up your grandmother’s coat. Come on in and sit down, rest a little, I can give you a tour later.”
I removed my coat and gave it to Anthony, who put it in a nearby closet on a hanger.
“Where’s the old man?” Jason asked.
“He’s finishing up Sophie’s bath,” Patrice replied.
“Okay, I’m going to take these to the guest room. Help me out nephew.” He called to Anthony as the two of them left Patrice and I alone.
I followed her into the living room and took a seat on the oversized sectional sofa. It was probably meant to be a casual space but it still seemed plush to me. There was a huge fireplace in the corner warming the room to the perfect temperature. I put my purse down next to me and crossed my feet at the ankles.
“How was the flight?” she asked.
“Good. I actually slept the entire way. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a plane.” I laughed lightly.
“That’s the best way to fly- I wish I could fall asleep but I’m usually wide awake.”
A high-pitched squeal came from the back of the house followed by laughter. Patrice rolled her eyes playfully. The next sound was of three deep male voices singing a song about a pretty princess.
“She has all three of them under a spell.” Patrice laughed.
“Who’s under a spell?” Malcolm asked coming around the corner and entering the room.
The sight of him always took my breath away. I didn’t know if I should stand or not. He seemed to command the attention and respect of everyone whenever he entered a room. I found myself perched on the edge of the couch.
“Hey Sharon, it’s good to see you. Welcome to Union City.” He said walking over to me. He always called me by my first name. I stood and he hugged me. It was never as tight as Jason’s hugs but I was still grateful. He let go first and moved away from me and stood next to where Patrice was sitting on the couch.
Anthony returned to the living room followed by Jason, who was holding the most beautiful brown baby I’d ever seen. She was squirming and giggling in his arms as he blew raspberries on her belly, which was covered by long-sleeved, pink onesie.
“Ma-ma!” she shrieked and reached out for Patrice when she saw her. Patrice took her in her arms and turned towards me.
“Sophie this is your grandmother. Grandma Sharon,”
“No!” Sophie cried reaching up for Malcolm.
“Sophie, say hello to Grandma Sharon,” Patrice tried again.
“Nooo,” she pulled away as far away from me as she could.
“It’s okay, we’ve got all week to get to know each other.” I said. She was obviously the only person who knew I shouldn’t to be there. I gently rubbed one of her sock covered feet.
“Pwiggy!” she said turning towards me and pulling off her sock.
“She likes doing the piggy thing,” Anthony informed me.
“The piggy thing?” I asked.
“You know this little piggy went to market,” Jason said.
I knew it very well. Once upon a time it was Malcolm’s favorite thing too.
I smiled and touched her big toe.
“This little piggy went to market,” I started.
“Toe!” she yelled.
Patrice laughed. “She wants you to pull it.”
I laughed and started again as I pulled her big toe earning a giggle from her. I eventually won over Sophie’s trust and she allowed me to hold her. I hadn’t held a baby since I had Jason almost twenty-eight years ago. She was so soft, beautiful and smelled magical. I never wanted to let her go.
The conversation flowed around me as I held on to Sophie and my thoughts drifted off to when Malcolm was first born. He wasn’t planned, I was only sixteen when I got pregnant with him but after he was born I’d never experienced that type of happiness before. I finally had someone who loved me unconditionally. No one loved me that way after my daddy died.
My mother wasn’t very maternal; she was a strict Christian and I had committed the ultimate sin by not only fornicating but also having a child out of wedlock. I think she treated me badly hoping God wouldn’t consider her guilty by association and condemn her to hell as well. I would have never imagined in a million years that she would get attached to Malcolm and eventually take custody away from me. My life was never the same after that.
My daydreaming was cut short after Sophie fell asleep and Patrice gently removed her from my arms and put her to bed.
Later that evening, Patrice cooked and we all sat down in their huge kitchen to eat. It was the best meal I’d had in a long time. Anthony and I helped Patrice clean up the kitchen before all three boys went in to play video games. It had been a long day and I was exhausted. Patrice showed me to the guest room, which also had a private bathroom.
After I undressed, I removed my pixie styled wig and wrapped my short, graying natural hair before stepping into the shower. I let the hot streams of water massage away the anxiety from my body. After lathering up with some of the most heavenly smelling body wash, I rinsed off, and dried myself with a big, fluffy towel. I felt like I was at a five-star hotel. Just as I finished putting on my pajamas, there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I said.
It was Malcolm.
“Hey, just checking on you. You okay? Got everything you need?” he asked.
“Yes, everything is perfect. Thanks again for inviting me to your home. Everything is so beautiful both your home and your family. Sophie is too precious for words.”
“She is pretty amazing.” He said with a hint of awe in his voice.
He scratched his neck and took a deep breath before speaking again.
“I just want you to know I’m glad you’re here. I know you had some apprehension about coming but I’m glad you changed your mind.”
I wondered if Jason had told him about our conversation, I knew the two of them didn’t keep secrets from each other. But instead of reading too much into it, I just smiled.
“I’m glad I’m here too,” I said and I meant it.
The next morning was Christmas Eve and Patrice was up early cooking breakfast. I had to admit I was somewhat shocked that she seemed to be such a traditional domestic-type woman. I thought she would be a career woman with a nanny and a housekeeper like on that show, The Real Housewives. I laughed at that thought; I guess I watched too much TV. Things had changed so much in the world but in some ways things had stayed the same.
My mother had been a traditional stay at home mom but she definitely lacked skills in the actual mom part. However she kept a clean house and had dinner on the table every evening at six o’clock. She was upset that I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps and instead chose to get an education. One of my biggest regrets (behind not being there for my sons) was not finishing my degree. I was considered gifted throughout school and I still loved to read and had a knack for mathematical problem solving.
Some people found it hard to believe that I had been incarcerated for over thirteen years. They said I seemed too intelligent and articulate to be an ex-con or even an addict. The majority of the people I’d known while I was in prison were extremely intelligent, some even genius level but it didn’t mean they were exempt from making bad decisions– myself included.
Jason had been trying to encourage me to go back to college but I didn’t see the point. I was fifty-four and by the time I actually got a degree I would be almost sixty. I doubted anybody would want to hire a sixty-year-old woman with a criminal background even if she did have a college degree. It would be a waste of time and money.
After breakfast, the boys cleaned up the kitchen while Patrice and I went to Sophie’s room to wrap presents.
“I have to wait until Christmas Eve to wrap everything because all three of them behave like children shaking all the presents trying to guess what’s inside.” She laughed. She had been carrying Sophie on her hip but put her down on the floor once we were inside the room. Similar to the rest of the house, it was decorated extravagantly but it was the perfect room for little princess Sophie.
The walls were painted a soft green and all the furniture was white with pink bedding. She had a huge crib with a canopy over it and a little crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. There was also a big furry pink rug in the middle of the floor.
“Do you need any help?” I asked.
“No, I only have a few things. I just wanted you to keep me company,”
I took a seat in one of the two rockers in the corner as Patrice sat on the floor pulling out boxes, ribbon and rolls of wrapping paper. Sophie toddled over and tried to pick up the ribbon that had rolled near Patrice’s foot. I didn’t even know she could walk. Malcolm was also walking before his first birthday.
“No!” Patrice said firmly. “Sophie, why don’t you go get a book? Book,” Patrice pointed at the small white bookshelf in the corner. Sophie obediently went to the shelf and got a book. She brought it back to Patrice and then proceeded to mess with the wrapping paper and bows again.
“Sophie, Sophie bring me the book. Let me see the book,” I said reaching out my hand. I thought maybe I could read to her while Patrice got everything organized.
She took the book from her mom and brought it to me. After I took it from her, she turned to go back to Patrice.
“Come here little piggy,” I said scooping her up and bringing her to my lap.
“Noooo,” she squirmed in my lap until I tickled her feet. While I had her attention I opened the book.
“Ah, look at this- is that Sophie?” I asked in an exaggerated voice as I pointed to the brown princess in the book. She peeked up at me and then pointed to herself.
“Me,” she said.
I caught Patrice’s eye and she was smiling at us. “Thank you,” she mouthed.
The morning went by pretty fast and after a few failed attempts at getting Sophie to not bother the wrapping paper, Patrice decided to put her down for a nap.
“You’re really good with her,” she remarked sitting in the second rocking chair holding Sophie against her shoulder.
I shrugged. I suppose some instincts never went away.
"I should be complimenting you. I don't know how you keep it all together. This house is huge and then you have Malcolm and Sophie. And there doesn't seem to be a thing out of place." I said quietly so that I wouldn't wake Sophie.
Patrice laughed lightly. "I wish I could take credit and say that I'm a modern day Superwoman but the truth is we have a housekeeper, a landscaper and one night a week Sophie's godmother Kendra, watches her so that Malcolm and I can have some time alone. It truly takes a village- I really understand the meaning of that now. There is no way I could do any of this without help." she smiled. "Not to mention, your son is incredibly hands on with Sophie. When he comes home I get to hand her over and I go soak in a hot tub to decompress from my day." she added.
"Well, that's wonderful to have such a support system." I appreciated her honesty and how comfortable she was referring to Malcolm as my son. “I’m going to get some water,” I whispered leaving her and Sophie alone.
I walked down the long hallway and passed through the living room before heading back to the kitchen. The boys were still there talking quietly.
“She just seems so sad,” I heard Jason say.
“She seems fine to me,” Malcolm said with a hint of agitation.
“Maybe she’s lonely- she needs a boyfriend. I’ll hook Grandma up. There’s this coach at my school-,” Anthony started before both Jason and Malcolm yelled, “No!”
I covered my mouth and stifled a laugh. They were all pretty perceptive. My feelings usually ran the range of being sad, to lonely to just fine most days. In many ways I was still adjusting to the person I’d become- the new me.
I cleared my throat to alert them of my presence and once I entered the kitchen they did a horrible job at pretending to be busy.
“Hey, Grandma. Everything okay? You need something?” Anthony asked.
I couldn’t resist: “Tell me more about this coach at your school that you want to hook me up with.” I smirked at him.
The look on his face was priceless as were the matching guilty expressions on Jason and Malcolm’s faces. Busted!
I laughed and so did Anthony. “I’ll slip you his number later,” he said as he left the room.
“So you heard us, huh?” Jason asked.
I shrugged. “I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop. I just got to the door and I heard Anthony.” I said going into the refrigerator to grab a bottle of water.
The two of them were still looking at me when I turned around.
“Don’t spend your time worrying about me. I’m fine.” I said. Malcolm glanced at Jason and raised an eyebrow.
“How is work?” Malcolm asked.
“She got promoted!” Jason said excitedly.
Malcolm shook his head and gave Jason an amused look. “Can you let her tell her own news?”
“He’s right, I got a promotion.” I confirmed. “I’m the team leader of my group.”
I worked for Kellogg in the assembly line area. I’d gotten the job a few months after I’d been released; they offered ex-offenders second chances. I’d been there almost eighteen months.
“That’s great! Congratulations,” Malcolm said sincerely.
“It came with a little pay increase too. Not a lot but more than enough for me to get by,” I commented.
“Well, if you ever need anything-,” Malcolm started.
I waved him off. “I’m good. But thank you.”
Even though he hadn’t completely warmed up to me, I had to admit Malcolm was very generous when it came to helping his family- me included- if they needed any type of financial assistance.
An hour later, we gathered to put presents under the tree and ended up in the living room playing a few board games. Later that afternoon we decorated cookies and talked about plans for Sophie’s birthday party, which was December 28th.
“I wanted to do it all at one time on Christmas day but got out voted by her father and Godmother Kendra.” Patrice shook her head.
“It’s her first birthday we’ve got to celebrate it right!” Malcolm argued.
“She’s going to be totally overwhelmed after Christmas. I don’t know how we’re going to do this going forward.” Patrice sighed.
I focused on my cookie pleased at how good it turned out. It was my first time decorating cookies. It was the simple things that I treasured the most.
“Is your family still coming next week?” I asked Patrice as I watched Anthony helping Sophie with her cookie. It was apparent he adored his little sister despite the huge age difference. Sophie took her finger and smeared it in the icing before sucking it off.
“Yeah, my mom, sister and niece will be here in time for her party but they’re only staying the weekend.” Patrice responded.
“This girl is going to have a sugar high!” Anthony exclaimed. “Soph- no, give me your hand,” he said trying to wipe the icing from her fingers.
“Nooo!” she said shoving three of her fingers back in her mouth. I was quickly learning “No” was her favorite word.
“Sophie Grace,” Malcolm said trying to sound stern but he was also trying not to laugh.
“Sophie, give some to Anthony, share with your brother.” Jason encouraged her with a devious laugh.
Anthony’s eyes widened and he tried to dodge Sophie’s little fingers as she took them out of her mouth. But she pushed them towards his face before he could turn his head.
We all laughed as she grinned and said, “Yummy,”
Anthony shook his head and went to wipe away the mess but she caught him off guard again and kissed him on his lips putting even more baby slobber and icing on his face.
“Somebody get this kid!” he groaned.
Malcolm picked her up from the counter and kissed Anthony in the same spot where Sophie had kissed him.
“That is yummy,” he laughed.
Anthony sat there frozen. “Dad, no you did not just do that!” he exclaimed with a frown.
“Let me see,” Jason said going towards Anthony with his lips puckered like he was going to kiss him.
“No! Stop, y’all play too much!” Anthony yelled jumping up from his seat as Jason chased him around the kitchen.
The entire scene made me smile. It was apparent they all loved each other very much. I was so glad to be sharing the holiday with them but it also made me a little sad that I hadn't been around for all the holidays, birthdays and countless moments in the past. While they were all cleaning up the mess, I excused myself and went to the guest room to get my emotions in check. I dabbed at the tears that started falling when I was alone and whispered over and over, “You deserve to be here. You deserve to be here.”
I just couldn’t believe after everything I’d done God had brought me back to my sons. I’d given up on God for a while especially after my own mother had used religion and God as justification for taking my child away from me. If He allowed things like that to happen, I hadn’t wanted any part of that kind of God.
While I was in prison, I learned that sometimes people used God and religion to justify their actions and to keep others oppressed by portraying Him to be filled with condemnation and judgment unless you did exactly what He wanted you to do. That’s what had happened during slavery and that’s what happened with my mother.
But I also learned that God wasn’t that type of God and that he was in fact merciful, believed in redemption and wanted all of his children to have an abundant life. I was living proof. God had forgiven me for my sins and I was slowly working on forgiving myself.
The next day was Christmas and everyone woke up pretty early, I think we were all excited to see Sophie’s reaction to everything “Santa” had left for her. Just as Patrice predicted: Sophie was totally overwhelmed.
There were so many toys and presents not only had Malcolm and Patrice gone overboard but so had Jason. Not to mention Malcolm’s father, Charles had several gifts shipped to them from his home in Chicago.
If I was being honest, Charles was one of the main reasons I had gotten myself together. It’s not that I wanted to be with him. I knew that ship had sailed a long time ago. I was just inspired that he had gone on to become so successful. Malcolm deserved a father like him and I just hate it took over thirty years for them to meet. Charles and I had been high school sweethearts and after our first time having sex, I got pregnant. Charles’ parents took him out of school and I never saw him again.
It wasn’t until after I was in prison and got that first letter from Jason that I had someone look for Charles on the Internet. That’s how Jason had found me. I was amazed at how much information was available on the computer. It was a little scary that your whole life was out there and available for anybody who typed in your name. I was surprised to learn that Charles had gone into politics. After he and Malcolm met, they kept in touch and I could tell he was proud to say Congressman Charles Reynolds was his father. I wanted him to also be proud to tell people I was his mother.
After taking a million photos of Sophie, the adults started exchanging gifts.
“Since this is my first Christmas with family in- well, a very long time. I was wondering if it would be okay if y’all opened my gifts first?” I asked.
“You didn’t have to get us anything,” Malcolm frowned.
“Same thing I told her!” Jason said.
“Well, I wanted to. It made me feel good– I just hope I did okay,” I was suddenly worried that maybe I didn’t know them as well as I thought and they would hate my gifts. I’d saved up quite a bit to be able to afford them and I really felt proud to be able to give them something of value. I had also put handwritten notes in each of their Christmas cards.
They were staring anxiously at me as I walked over to get the presents before passing them out. At first everyone seemed hesitant but they eventually started to unwrap their individual boxes and envelopes. Sophie was sprawled out on the couch hugging one of the four dolls she'd gotten as her eyes started to drift close.
It was quiet as they read the cards attached to my gifts and I worried that I had ruined the festive mood. Patrice was the first to open her envelope.
“Sharon, this is too generous. Thank you so much,” she cried as she hugged me. “And your words were beautiful.” She whispered.
“Oh, it’s just a little something,” I was pleased that she was happy with her gift. I got her a gift certificate to a spa in Union City. I had one of the girls at work help me pay for it online and I printed the receipt.
Anthony was next. “This is dope! Thank you Grandma! I love it and I actually wanted some new graphite pencils. Thank you for the card too,” Anthony said as he leaned over and kissed my cheek. I got him a book called, The Art of Urban Sketching after he mentioned he wanted to practice drawing more urban landscapes. He was an extremely talented artist.
“You’re welcome.” I smiled.
I realized I was holding my breath waiting on Malcolm and Jason. Jason opened his gift box and pulled out the envelope on top. He’d recently taken up photography as a hobby and although I thought he took amazing photos, he said he wanted to take a class to sharpen his skills, so I paid for a three-week session. The classes started every month from January to May so he could attend whichever worked for his schedule.
“No. No way! Are you serious?” He put the certificate to his chest and took a stuttering breath before removing the tissue paper from the box revealing a picture frame. It was actually a photo a staff member at the rehab center had taken during one of Malcolm and Jason’s visits. I’d just come back from a job interview, so I looked pretty decent and of course they were both handsome, so I asked her for a three copies and had them placed in nice 5x7 frames. I gave each of the boys a copy and kept one for myself.
Jason covered his face before making his way over to me and hugging me. Once he pulled away, I could see the tears in his eyes and I couldn’t help but let a few fall as well. I’d missed twenty-seven of his Christmases. And some how I think this was one of the best.
“Thank you.” He beamed as he showed the photograph and his art class gift certificate to Patrice and Anthony.
I heard Malcolm clear his throat and he sniffed. “How- you remembered me saying something about this?” he asked confused.
I thought maybe I’d gotten it wrong. “I thought- yeah a while back you said you thought it was one of his best albums and you wish you had it on vinyl. There’s a lady I know who goes to this vintage record store in Augusta and I told her to look for it. Is that the right one?” I asked. I’d gotten him a rare copy of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life album.
Instead of saying anything he stood and placed our picture on the mantel and then walked over to the huge armoire on the back wall. He opened it revealing an elaborate sound system with a turntable.
He gently removed the album from its sleeve and examined it before placing it on the turntable. He moved the needle and suddenly the song Isn’t She Lovely came through the speakers. He walked over to me and held out a hand. I stood and placed my hand in his and he proceeded to twirl me around the living room. We danced a bit and everyone else joined in before he hugged me, tightly this time, “Thank you,” he whispered. “Best Christmas ever,” he said kissing my forehead. I clung to him and cried.
I had missed out on so much and I regretted not being the mother that my sons deserved but I was starting to accept that I couldn’t change the past. I could only do my best to be someone who they loved and respected right now. I was happy they all liked their gifts but they had given me most valuable gift of all, something I never thought I’d have again– a family.
Thank you for reading!
Sharon’s Handwritten Notes:
I didn’t know what to get the man who probably has everything he needs and if not, he could probably buy it. But I remembered one thing you mentioned wanting. . . I hope this completes your collection. Even though you didn’t have the traditional family you deserved growing up, you’ve managed to create an even better life for yourself and start your own family. And it might not mean much coming from me, but I just want you to know how incredibly proud I am of you and I am so very sorry that I wasn’t there for you for all the important moments in your life. I wish you nothing but happiness and peace for the rest of your days. I hope that we can continue to get to know each other even better.
Every time I start this, I start to cry and have to start over so I don’t get it wet with tears. But I think I’m okay this time. I wanted to get you something special to THANK YOU so much for looking me up and coming to see me while I was in prison. Thank you for giving me a second chance to be in your life. Thank you for treating me with such kindness and respect. You are an exceptional young man and I’m very proud of you. I look forward to growing closer in the coming years. And to seeing you settle down with a nice young lady. Lol. I know how important capturing images to document life is to you, so I hope you this gift helps with the basics.
You are such a blessing to someone like me. I know you know I wasn’t there for your dad or your uncle when they were your age, so I feel like I get a do-over in a way with you. You are a smart, kind and very talented young man and I pray that you stay that way always. You are extremely lucky to have Malcolm for a father and he’s extremely lucky to have you for a son. The sky is the limit, dream big and work hard and you will be successful at anything you do!
PS- Your artwork is magnificent!
Thank you so much for your kindness and honesty. Thank you for loving Malcolm and just being such a breath of fresh air. I love your spirit and I wish you nothing but the best out of life and love! Thank you for the gift of Sophie as well, she’s spectacular! I hope you use this to take some time off for yourself. You deserve it.
To Sophie Grace,
I know you can’t read this but one of the best moments of my life was getting invited to spend Christmas with you! Your FIRST Christmas! You are a beautiful and special girl that God designed full of goodness and love. I say a prayer for you every night that you are always safe and healthy. Happy First Christmas Princess!
Love, Grandma Sharon