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She hoped that someday she would be happy again.
The Christmas cookies are overcooked so much that the festive trees and ornaments have spread into shapeless masses, stacked in a teetering tower on my mom's handmade ceramic plate. You would think that they would taste horrible, but in all honesty, they are delicious.
Miguel has eaten three and shows no sign of stopping. He will probably throw a fit later over his angry stomach, but it is Christmas, and we can all handle that. I can't get over the sight of him in a hockey helmet. It just doesn't look right, engulfing his tiny head with its endless depths. But it protects my angel, so I will accept its strangeness.
"When will everybody come?" I wonder, twisting my hands nervously. I decorated the daycare specially for the occasion, with looping garlands gracing the windows and a tiny tree over by the blocks. I have a feeling that my mom and dad were lying, that they really couldn't make it.
"Soon. Soon. They're just fashionably late." Quinn soothes, stroking my hair. "Have a cookie."
I am just pondering which obese Santa Claus I should eat when the door bursts open, filling the room with a blast of wintry air. In tumble all three little Iglesias, their mother, and a shy, slender man I assume is their father, Señora Ramirez, her sister, and Hanna. They engulf us in a blizzard of smiles, hugs, and coos of delight over the cookies. Gabriela raises herself up proudly, watching her handicrafts devoured one by one, until there are only two left.
Where are my parents? It's half an hour past the starting time, and they still aren't here. Mom promised she'd come, and she's never late. Quinn tries to calm me down, but tears creep to the corner of my eyes, stinging bitterly. I cry a lot these days.
Just as I am about to really break down, the door opens one more time. My mother, wearing a horrible holiday sweater, and behind her-- could it be? My dad! Home from work, smiling for once, sporting an identical grotesque top! They carry shortbread and fruit cake and even a huge bowl of apple cider, steaming with redemption.
"Sorry, honey, I forgot the shortbread and we had to go back home and pick it up," Mom apologizes, Dad nodding emphatically. He looks so old and eager to please that I go and hug him, breathing in the scent of ink and mothballs.
"It's okay, guys. Merry Christmas!" My dad seems unsure of how to respond, so I hug him harder, and eventually, he puts his arms around me too.
Later, when everybody is rolling from Mom's desserts, Quinn raps the table for attention. I look at him in surprise. This certainly wasn't planned, but I can't exactly stop him now.
"I'd like you all to thank Mariah, who was responsible for the majority of this party. You'll notice the decorations, all due to her fantastic artistic ability." The guests duly clap and cheer. My cheeks flame. "And she has something to show you, although she might not know it yet. It's definitely something you don't want to miss." There are whispers and giggles as I stare at him in confusion. He mimes squiggling with a pencil, eyes question, and all of a sudden I know. Thank you, Quinn.
I pull my dingy sketchbook out of my old bag and flip through the pages, smudged with graphite and sorrow. I've never shown anybody these drawings. They are mournful by my hand on those doleful afternoons in the days after Ryan's death, then suddenly beautiful and glorious last October. I haven't drawn since that day in the ambulance, and I choke up whenever I look in the book. It is me, and I am hesitant to show that to the world.
"Show us, Mariah!" Miguel pleads, and my heart melts. I think it's time to take a chance and kick my legs up into the air. Handstands aren't forever, but there will always be someone there to catch you when you fall.