It was Black Friday, and while millions of folks were out chasing some of the most colossal deals of the century, all Alexis wanted was for this whole Christmas season to be over with. There were times when she wished she could feel differently, but ever since her mom had passed away five years ago, she hadn’t wanted anything to do with it. Of course, she did still recognize and mentally rejoice at the beautiful birth of Christ, but when it came to huge family celebrations and festive gatherings, she wanted no parts of them. What she did instead, mostly, was pray that New Year’s Day would come as quickly as possible so she could get on with her life.
Alexis curled her body into a tighter ball, picked up the remote control, and looked toward the flat-screen television on her bedroom wall. It was shortly past one in the afternoon, yet she still lay in her dark mahogany sleigh-style bed with her pajamas on. She just didn’t feel like doing anything, and the fact that almost every news channel she turned to showed massive shopping crowds and footage of customers and workers being trampled, well, that made Alexis want to turn off the TV altogether. As it was, she had already been trying her best to avoid every one of those sappy Hallmark Christmas card commercials, and she’d certainly been staying clear of one of her personal favorites—the Hallmark Channel itself, since they were doing what they did every year: airing those depressing Christmas movies day in and day out, twenty-four seven .
If only her mom were still here, Alexis would be so much happier. Even now, she couldn’t help thinking about how much her mom had loved, loved, loved Christmas. It had been by far her favorite holiday, and she’d adored it so much that she would immediately begin decorating the day after Thanksgiving. She would celebrate in various other ways, too, the entire month of December, including playing some of her favorite Christmas carols, such as “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and “The First Noel.” Then, on the twenty-fifth, she would host a huge family dinner. She bought gifts for everyone, she baked and cooked and baked and cooked some more, and on Christmas afternoon, she would say, “I almost hate to see the sun go down, because Christmas will be just about over.”
This was how it had always been, and it was because of these kinds of sentiments that Alexis was full of happy childhood memories. She even had fond memories from her adult life…that is, until her mom had passed. Now her heart was consumed only with sadness.
Alexis flipped through more channels, sighing heavily. But then she came upon one of her favorite movies, This Christmas, starring Loretta Devine, Regina King, and Idris Elba. She could tell the movie had been on for a while because Chris Brown was already walking toward the front of the church, preparing to sing…“This Christmas.” Alexis watched and listened, though she wasn’t sure why she tortured herself this way, because not once had she ever watched this scene without breaking into tears. It was such a reminder of her mom and the way she had loved and doted on her family. It also reminded Alexis of how her mom had taught her children exceedingly strong Christian values. She’d raised Alexis and her younger sister, Sabrina, to treat all people the way they wanted to be treated and to keep God and family first in their lives. The two of them had been very blessed to have such a loving, caring, and compassionate mother—and it meant everything.
Alexis watched Chris Brown singing from the depths of his soul and then saw family members standing and walking into the church aisle, embracing one another. It was after this that Alexis’s eyes welled up with tears, and she cried uncontrollably. She missed her mother so tremendously that her chest ached. Then, to make matters worse, the next scene showcased the entire family gathered around the dinner table. They looked as though they couldn’t be happier, and Alexis couldn’t help thinking how this was the way she’d once felt, too.
But as the saying went, that was then and this was now. Her mother was gone, and as far as Alexis was concerned, there wasn’t a single thing or person that could make her feel better about it, not even the people Alexis loved. Paula, her best friend since childhood, had been trying to lift her Christmas spirit for years, and so had Alexis’s fiancé, Chase, for the time he’d known her. But if anything, Alexis seemed to feel sadder with each passing year. In fact, this year she’d begun dreading the whole idea of Christmas as early as September. She wasn’t sure what had set her off, exactly; all she knew was that not long after Labor Day, the thought of Christmas had entered her mind and she’d become depressed. It was as if the simplest anticipation of it all had been enough to ruin Alexis’s day, which was the reason she’d taken that particular afternoon off. This hadn’t been hard to do, since she was self-employed as a motivational speaker and her hours were flexible, but she still hated that mere thoughts of Christmas affected her so gravely.
It also didn’t help that she and her sister, Sabrina, were usually at odds about one thing or another. Alexis and Sabrina had never gotten along the way sisters should. They were just too different, she guessed. But at least when their mom had been alive, they’d worked harder at it and tolerated each other more. Now, Alexis practically had to beg to see her niece, Courtney, and there were times when Sabrina still told her no just to be spiteful. The two of them had a lot of bad history, but that was a whole other story and one Alexis didn’t want to think about because it was far too distressing.
As one thought after another raced through her mind, Alexis wept like a child. She was miserable, and she wished she could sleep for the next week. She knew this wasn’t logical, but she just wanted this awful pain to go away. She wanted to be at peace, and before long, she glanced over at the bottle of amitriptyline on her wooden nightstand. Her doctor had prescribed it for insomnia, and although she only took one ten-milligram pill at bedtime, and sometimes only half a pill, she contemplated taking much more. Or maybe all she needed to do was take two of them, because she knew one woman who took twenty-five milligrams for unexplained abdominal pain and another who took more than that for depression. If Alexis only took twenty milligrams, she wouldn’t be overdoing it, and she also wouldn’t likely wake up until many hours from now—meaning she wouldn’t have to think about the loss of her mom or anything relating to family or Christmas. She would simply be able to sleep away her sadness, and by tomorrow, Black Friday and all the hoopla surrounding it would be over. She was sure the media would continue covering all the shopping stories throughout the weekend as well as on Cyber Monday, but at least the biggest shopping day of the year would have ended, and she’d be one day closer to January 1.
All she had to do was bide her time, and things would return to normal. They had to, because after all, she and Chase were getting married in June, and the last thing she wanted was to be an unhappy bride. She was engaged to the man of her dreams, and she looked forward to becoming Mrs. Chase Dupont III. This was what she kept telling herself, anyway—especially since her future mother-in-law was the most heartless woman she’d ever met. Still, what woman in her right mind wouldn’t be thrilled about marrying a man like Chase? He was gorgeous, well educated, and CEO of a Fortune 500 company called Borg-Freeman Technologies—which, interestingly enough, was the same position his father had held for years before his passing. He’d also placed a five-karat ring on her finger, and he truly loved her. By most people’s standards, Chase was everything a woman could hope for, so Alexis tried to remember that.
But for now, she reached over and picked up her pill bottle, opened it, swallowed two pills with water, and lay back down. She closed her eyes and smiled. In a few moments, she’d be sound asleep and wouldn’t have to think about Christmas at all…and she certainly wouldn’t have to think about Chase’s mother—or the disastrous time she’d had with them yesterday during Thanksgiving dinner. She wouldn’t have a problem in the world, and just knowing that made her feel better already.
Alexis stretched her arms toward her headboard, yawned, and opened her eyes. She was still a bit groggy and felt as though she’d been sleeping for days, but she smiled when she saw Chase sitting next to her on the side of her bed.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” he said, smiling.
“Good morning,” she said.
“I didn’t think you were ever going to wake up. Even when I came by last night, I couldn’t get you to say more than a few words.”
“You were here?”
“Yeah. I’d been calling you all afternoon, and when you didn’t answer I got worried. So when I left work, I decided to drop by. Thank goodness I have a key. You were really out of it, though.”
“I was tired.”
“Maybe, but I’m sure those sleeping pills had a lot to do with it, too.”
Alexis wondered how he knew about those.
“You look surprised. Which means you don’t remember anything you told me last night, do you?”
Alexis stared at him but didn’t say anything.
“You said you only took two of them, but if you can’t even remember our conversation, then that must be some very strong medicine.”
“I just wanted to sleep.”
Chase caressed the side of her face. “I know this is a tough time for you, and I’m really sorry I had to go in to the office yesterday. I never expected to be there for as long as I was. I didn’t get out of there until after six.”
“It was fine.”
“No, it wasn’t. You sounded so sad when I called you yesterday morning, and I should have been here for you.”
“It’s not a problem, and I’m good now.”
“You wanna go out for breakfast?”
Alexis paused because she didn’t feel much like going anywhere, but she still said, “Sounds good to me.” Then she flipped the comforter and sheet away from her and sat up. When she stood, Chase pulled her back down beside him.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“You know,” he said, running his hand through her long hair.
“You know the rules, though, right?”
“Yeah, but how about we forget those rules for a change? Just for today.”
“Chase—” she began, but then lost her train of thought when he kissed her up and down her neck. “Chase, don’t. Breakfast ends at eleven.”
“You know we can’t do this.”
“Baby, come on. Just this once.”
“No,” she said between breaths while pushing him away. “We agreed, remember?”
“Some agreements are made to be broken,” he said, unbuttoning her pajama top and kissing her chest.
Alexis closed her eyes and hung her head back, moaning.
“Lexi, please” he begged. “I really wanna make love to you.”
She wanted him, too, but she whispered, “No. Baby, it’s wrong.”
“But remember how good it was when we first met?”
Alexis could barely contain herself, because she actually did remember. She’d never felt better in her life. She hadn’t been with a lot of men, but none of them had made her feel as wonderful as Chase had. It also didn’t help that he looked so good. She hated to refer to him as tall, dark, and handsome because it was so cliché, but that’s exactly what he was. He was six foot two, and he had short coal-black hair with a slight wave to it. Alexis was five foot nine, though, so when she wore heels, that made her love his height even more.
Chase slid her pajama top down her shoulders, lay on top of her, and kissed her on the lips.
But then his phone rang.
Alexis tried to push him away, but he kissed her more intensely.
His phone rang again, and suddenly she heard her home phone ringing, too. When she looked at her caller ID and saw their church’s toll-free number, she knew it was a sign from God. Whenever there were new church announcements she received a recorded call, and this one couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Baby, I can’t do this,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Chase looked at her and then lay on his back with his hands over his eyes. “You’re killing me.”
“I know you don’t like this, but I’m just trying to do what’s right. And having sex before marriage is wrong.”
Chase sighed. “Maybe, but this celibacy thing is driving me crazy, Lexi.”
She leaned over and propped her elbow on the bed. “We barely have six months to go, and then you’ll never have to go through this again.”
“It feels like a decade. But I will say this…at least you know for sure that I’m really in love with you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I would never deprive myself this way otherwise. I’m suffering like a starved animal.”
“Whatever,” she said, laughing.
“I’m serious. You have no idea what this feels like. Women can go without for years if they have to, but men? We’re in a whole different category.”
“Like I said, it won’t be long. And anyway, you’d better check to see who called you.”
Chase reached across the bed and pulled his phone from his black leather jacket. He must have laid it there while Alexis was asleep.
“It was Mother,” he said. “You don’t mind if she tags along with us, do you?”
Alexis wanted to scream. It was bad enough that she’d had to spend hours with Mrs. Dupont on Thanksgiving, so the last thing she wanted was to see her again today. Mrs. Dupont—or actually, Geneva, since that’s what she insisted Alexis call her—had even gone so far as making disapproving facial expressions when she took a bite of both the yams and the dressing that Alexis had made, even though everyone else had raved about them.
“She’s been pretty lonely since my dad passed away, and I sort of feel bad about leaving her alone during the holidays.”
Alexis knew a number of women who’d lost their husbands, but none of them had moved in with their children. Chase’s dad had passed two years ago, so Alexis wondered why Geneva was still living with Chase. If she’d been ill or didn’t have the financial means to take care of herself, Alexis could understand it, but Geneva had a huge mansion of her own and was extremely wealthy. Not to mention, the woman was sixty-five years old and feistier than most forty-year-old women. She was headstrong and noticeably independent, so none of this made sense.
Chase continued. “Since I’m her only child, I’m all she has. But she’s definitely moving out before our wedding. She’s already promised.”
Alexis didn’t say anything, but now she was sorry she’d agreed to go to breakfast with him. She fully understood how much Chase loved his mom, and she had the utmost respect for any man who took care of his mother the way Chase did, but Geneva Dupont was a real handful and one of the most controlling mothers Alexis had met. Geneva also didn’t seem too fond of the idea that Chase had asked Alexis to marry him, but in front of Chase, she pretended she was ecstatic about it.
Just as Alexis got up to go take a shower, Chase’s phone rang again. She knew it was Geneva, because whenever Chase didn’t answer his phone, his mother waited maybe five minutes to call him again. Sometimes she called back within seconds. She did this sort of thing all the time, calling him for no reason—especially when she knew he was visiting Alexis or they were out somewhere together.
He finally answered. “Hey, Mother…no, it was in my jacket, and I didn’t get to it in time,” he said, looking at Alexis.
Alexis shook her head and left the bedroom. She’d do anything to get out of going to breakfast with this woman, but she didn’t want to disappoint Chase. All she could hope for was that her time with Geneva wouldn’t be as bad as she was imagining. Maybe Geneva would treat her nicely for a change. It would take a miracle, but that’s what Alexis was counting on.
2. If you have ever lost a loved one, what helped you deal with the grief? What advice can you give others trying to cope with their own loss? What can you advise in terms of coping with family holidays after the loss of a loved one?
3. Are all losses created equal? Is losing a spouse different from losing a parent? What about losing a child or a sibling? Why or why not?
4. Do you think Alexis was clinically depressed or just feeling sad? Is there a difference and, if so, what is it? Do you think there is anything else Alexis could have tried doing to help herself? Was Paula right to intervene? What do you do personally when you’re feeling down to cheer yourself back up?
5. Was Alexis right to get involved with Courtney and her parents? Should she have handled the situation differently, or done anything else for her niece? If you believe so, please explain.
6. What do you think about the way Chase dealt with his mother? Could he—or should he—have done anything differently? Was it fair of Alexis to ask him to talk to his mother?
7. Have you ever had a Geneva in your life—a mother-in-law or mother of a significant other, or even a jealous friend who tried to come between you and someone you loved? If so, how did you deal with that person?
8. Both Geneva and Alexis disapproved of the person someone in their family was dating. Have you ever disapproved of the person someone in your family was seeing? Is it ever okay to speak up and get involved when you feel this way? If so, when? What are some appropriate ways to handle the situation?
9. Do you believe Alexis and Geneva will ever have a close relationship?
10. How do you define the spirit of Christmas? If you were to write your own Christmas prayer, what would it say?
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