You stumble upon old home videos of you and your siblings as toddlers. Nostalgia fades when you realize something isn’t quite right.
“Do we have to do this now?” Ashley whined.
Somehow, at twenty-nine, she still managed to sound just as annoying as she had at nine. I guess some people never grew out of it.
“It’s now or never,” I snapped, tugging the hair tie off my wrist and pulling my hair into a messy bun on the top of my head. Anything to get it out of my face and keep the strands from clinging to my sweat-slick skin. It figured. The only weekend we were allowed into our parents’ house to reclaim any of our belongings and it had to be the hottest, humidest one of the year. It didn’t help that my little sister’s regression into childhood behavior brought out the bitchy older sister in me.
I couldn’t figure out why the university was so insistent on only allowing us one weekend to sort through a lifetime’s worth of belongings. I mean, sure, they’d been funding our parents’ research. In fact, they’d been on a research trip when their plane went down over a year ago. And the school did own the house we’d grown up in. Living here rent free had been one of the perks of our parents working there.
Weirder still, I really didn’t get why we needed to have a chaperone from the psych department in the house with us. It wasn’t like we were going to steal our parents’ unfinished research and try to profit off it. We just wanted the normal things. Pictures. Books. A few childhood toys.
“Bridget. Ashley. Please come up here, a sec.”
“What’s going on?” I called heading for the stairs.
Ashley shot me a worried glance then followed behind. She didn’t like the tone of our brother’s voice any more than I did.
I stopped dead in front of the door to my old room. The chaperone was out cold–his wrists and ankles bound with duct tape and another silver length covering his mouth.
“Jared! What the hell?!”
My brother just looked at me. “Never mind him. There’s something you need to see.” He moved toward the small door next to my closet. The one that led to the attic and was kept locked at all times because of the colony of bats.
“You can’t open that,” I practically shrieked. It had been drilled into my head that the attic was off limits. The bats were an endangered species. As long as we left them alone, they’d leave us alone.
Holding my gaze, my brother wrenched open the door. I threw my hands up in front of my face, expecting hoard of squealing creatures to come hurling at us despite the fact that it was broad daylight.
But there were no squeals. And there were no bats. There was, however, an elaborate monitoring, and I assumed, recording system. There was a live feed into each of our childhood bedrooms as well as a live feed into each of our apartments and homes. I could tell it was live because my husband was feeding my kids lunch, and he was wearing the same Captain America t-shirt he’d had on when I left. The one I’d just bought him last night.
“What the hell is this?” I demanded, sparing a glance toward our chaperone, but he was still unconscious.
Ashley had turned a sickly shade of white. “I don’t understand.”
I pushed past her into the room. On the far wall were shelves and shelves of videotapes, arranged by year. Dread falling like icy boulders into the pit of my stomach, I pulled the first one down from the top shelf. It was labeled: Bridget, Jared, and Ashley – Christmas 1982. I would have been five.
“What the hell…we never celebrated Christmas.” Jared took the tape from my hand and looked around the room.
Closing my eyes, I tried to remember being that age. I tried to remember Ashley at three and Jared at seven. I had sort of hazy images, but nothing more. And there were no memories of Christmas or any other holiday, save the ones at friends’ houses with friends’ parents’ who always seemed to feel bad for us.
I opened my eyes at the sound of Ashley’s voice, and I froze, mesmerized by the brightly lit, tinsel-strewn Christmas tree that was playing on the TV/VCR combo Jared had found on an AV cart.
Three little dark-haired kids giggled and screeched in front of tree as they opened presents. The boy sort of looked like my foggy recollection of Jared as a child. And the smallest girl did have Ashley’s small upturned nose.
A man’s voice boomed over the camera mic, and a large, masculine hand reached into the tree. “Look, kids. It looks like Santa left something for Mommy. Bridget, how about if you bring this to Mommy.”
The camera panned to the middle child–me, I guess–who’d jumped up and grabbed the gift. “It’s little.”
“Just like you, poppet,” the man said, and a chill ran down my spine. Forget celebrating Christmas, my father had never called me poppet. But I called my kids that… My husband had asked if it was a family word, but I couldn’t remember ever hearing it before.
I watched as my past self ran excitedly ran across the room clutching the small box. “Mommy! Mommy! Look!”
The camera followed me, and for a minute, the scene went out of focus. But as the image sharpened, the woman who came into view was definitely not my mother. But past me threw her arms around the woman’s neck, and said, “Merry Christmas, Mommy. I love you.”
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