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YOU Story: Christmas crackers

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Illustration: Michael De Lucchi
Illustration: Michael De Lucchi

Laura woke on Christmas morning with a heavy heart. She used to love Christmas and would plan for weeks in advance. Preparations would begin in October with the baking of the cake. Adam used to help her back then.  

He’d offer to stir, and he loved breaking eggs in the bowl. Once the cake was baked there were lists to be made. Phone calls would be made to her mom and dad, inviting them over. 

“Only if you’re sure it’s not too much trouble,” her mom would say. “You’ve got Adam to look after, remember.” 

As if Laura could forget her own son.  

“It’s never too much trouble, Mom. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without you and Dad. We’re all looking forward to seeing you.” 

Adam would help Laura to get the room ready for his grandparents. He had always been a good boy, helpful and kind. He used to love Christmas as much as Laura. But his behaviour had changed in the past 18 months. Adam had become surly and moody. He’d turned secretive, barely speaking. And that’s because he was a teenager now.  

“Merry Christmas, love,” Paul whispered to his wife. He kissed her on the lips and Laura snuggled against her husband’s warm body under the duvet.  

“What time is it?” she asked. 

“Time we got up,” Paul said. He jumped out of bed and thrust his arms into his dressing gown.  

“Paul! I’m worried about Adam,” Laura said. “He’s been very moody lately. Mom and Dad haven’t seen him like this and I’m concerned his behaviour might ruin Christmas.” 

Paul sat on the edge of the bed and put his arm around his wife. 

“It’s Christmas Day,” Paul said. “What can possibly go wrong?” 

Later that morning, after Laura and Paul had eaten breakfast, there was still no sign of their son. 

“Adam!” Laura called up stairs. “Grandma and Granddad will be arriving soon. Are you up yet?” 

There was no reply. Laura tried again, using the phrase that had been guaranteed to get Adam out of bed at the crack of dawn on Christmas mornings when he was younger. 

“Santa Claus has been!”  

Laura heard a distant groan from her son’s room.  

“Maybe you should go up and have a word with him,” she suggested to Paul. “He’s showing no sign of getting up.  

Other than storming into his room, flinging the duvet off him and throwing his curtains open, I’m not sure how else to get him out of bed.” 

“We could text him,” Paul laughed.  

“I’ve already done that. Twice,” Laura sighed. “I know teenagers need a lot of sleep but this is ridiculous. It’s Christmas morning for heaven’s sake! There are presents to be opened and food to be prepared and . . .” 

Paul laid his hand on Laura’s arm. 

“Don’t worry. You know I’ll help you there. We’ve got hours before your folks arrive. Let’s just enjoy the peace and quiet of the house before everyone arrives. Susan’s coming too, isn’t she?” 

Laura smiled at the thought of her sister. 

“She’s bringing her new boyfriend.  

It’s their first Christmas together.” 

“It’ll all work out, you’ll see,” Paul said.  

“Adam!” Laura knocked loudly at her son’s bedroom door. “Get yourself ready and come downstairs. It’s Christmas morning!” 

“I’m asleep,” Adam replied. 

Laura felt a smile rise to her face.  

“I’m coming in,” she warned her son.  

She pushed the door handle down, expecting to tiptoe into her son’s room for a heart-to-heart. She hoped to coax him from his bed and into the shower. But the door was locked. 

“Adam! Open the door immediately.” 

“Oh, Mom!” Adam groaned. “I’ll come down when I’m ready.” 

“Aunt Susan’s on her way,” Laura said. 

“Who else is coming?” Adam shouted. 

“She’s bringing her new boyfriend,” Laura replied. “You’re missing the best part of the day. Dad’s already opened the liqueurs. He’ll be dancing next.” 

Laura put her ear to her son’s bedroom door. Was she mistaken or did she actually hear Adam laugh? 

Laura's mom and dad arrived with her sister Susan and her new man, Sam.  

“What do you think of him?”  

Susan whispered when she and Laura were alone. Laura winked at her sister. 

“Looks like you’ve got a good one there.” 

“Where’s Adam?” Susan asked. 

Laura was about to reply when she heard a sound that put a smile on her face. It was the hot-water boiler firing up in the kitchen, a sure sign that the shower was running upstairs.  

“He’s on his way down,” Laura said.  

“At last.” 

“Still going through the teenage tantrum stage?” Susan asked. 

“I’m at my wits’ end,” Laura said. “He hardly talks to Paul and me anymore  

and when he does, he just grunts. We communicate by text message. At least we get a reply that way. He spends most of his free time in his room. It’s as if he wants to get as far away from Paul and me as he can.” 

Susan put her arm around her sister. 

“You were just the same at his age,” she said.  

“I was not,” Laura said.

Just then their mother walked into the room. 

“You were exactly like that,” she said. “And you, Susan. The pair of you turned moody and secretive and thought you knew better than me and your dad. Don’t worry about Adam,  

Laura. He’ll grow out of it, you’ll see.” 

And with that their mother swanned back to the living room. There was a noise behind Laura and she swung around expecting to see her mom again. But it was Adam. 

Laura wanted to hug her son to wish him Merry Christmas. She wanted to sit with him and watch him as he unwrapped each present and take delight in watching his face light up. She wanted to do all the things they’d done on past Christmas mornings. But she couldn’t.  

Adam’s behaviour towards her over the past months meant that Laura knew it would be the last thing Adam wanted. He was changing, growing up, and Laura knew she had to adapt.  

Laura took in the sight of her son. Where he’d been stocky as a boy he was now turning gangly, his limbs growing and his whole body changing. Laura felt a lump rise in her throat. 

“Would you like some breakfast?” Laura asked.  

Adam dropped his gaze to the kitchen floor.  

“Will toast do?” Laura asked.  

“Yeah,” Adam replied. 

Susan took the bread from the kitchen top. 

“Let me do it,” she said to Laura. “You two go in the living room and catch up with everyone. Grandma’s looking forward to seeing you. And you can meet my new boyfriend, Sam.” 

“Whatever,” Adam groaned. “Just got to get something from upstairs first.” 

Laura’s heart dropped.  

“I hope you’re not thinking of hiding away for the rest of the day?” 

Adam didn’t respond. He just headed away up the stairs.  

It was 10 minutes before Adam made his way downstairs again. When he walked into the living room, all eyes turned towards him. Laura couldn’t believe what she saw.  

Adam carried a box in his hands decorated with Christmas wrapping paper. The box was open at the top and when Adam laid it on the floor, Laura gasped when she saw what was inside. In it there were six homemade Christmas crackers. Each was a different colour and tied at both ends. When had her son had the time to be so creative? 

“One for you, Grandma,” Adam said, handing over a pink cracker.  

“Granddad, this one’s yours,” Adam said, handing him a blue cracker.  

Then he pulled two green crackers from the box. “Aunt Susan, one for you. And Uncle Sam, this is yours. I just found out this morning you were coming, so I had to make yours quickly.” 

Laura watched her son, amazed at the work he had done. 

“This is what you were doing this morning in your room?” she asked. 

Adam shrugged. 

“Yeah. And last week. This one’s yours, Dad,” Adam said.  

He handed his dad a purple cracker decorated with tiny silver stars. “And, Mom, this one is for you.” 

Laura took the cracker from her son’s hand. Hers was white with tiny red hearts.  

“It’s too good to crack open,” she said.  

“But you have to!” Adam cried, glancing around.  

“I made things inside for you too. Party hats and a slogan, just like real crackers have. Granddad, you go first.” 

Laura watched as crackers were pulled. She and Paul exchanged a look across the room and Paul smiled.  

It seemed Adam had been keeping them both in the dark about his creative talents. The crackers opened with a satis­fying bang. Party hats that Adam made from tissue paper were worn. And then the slogans were read.  

“Mine says dance like no one is watching,” Paul said. 

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” Sam read as he slipped his hand into Susan’s.  

“What about yours, Laura? What does it say?” Paul asked.  

Laura placed her party hat on her head. Then she unfolded the white slip of paper. When she read Adam’s hand-written slogan, she felt her heart flutter. There were just three words from her son.  

© GLENDA YOUNG 

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