Saturday, July 22, 2000

In/Exhale - Flashback: December 24, 2000 - Part I

Flashback: December 24, 2000 - Part I

“Are you sure about this?” Jon asked. They were sitting in his car in Vicky’s driveway, the engine running although the cold seeped in a little anyway.
Kai shivered. He’d made an effort today and had put on his nicest pair of jeans and a thick sweater over an oxford shirt he’d borrowed from Jon. Since Kai had lost so much weight during his nearly four weeks in the hospital, he could wear Jon’s clothes without ripping the seams or bursting the buttons.
“It’s OK if you want to go back home. We can spend Christmas just the two of us.”
Kai shook his head. “Vicky is your family now.” Besides, making amends with her was on his therapy to-do list. And Kai had always dreamed of a “family” Christmas. Gathering with the people he loved, surrounded by decorations and food and everything. Just like those silly Hallmark holiday made-for-TV movies the girls at County House loved to watch, and that Kai confessed a disdain for but actually secretly loved.
Of course, he’d probably get more of that at Vicky’s family home, but there was no way Kai could handle so many strangers. Or with David, but he and Megan had gone to Omaha for the holiday to spend it at her parents’ house. Not that Kai was ready to go back to his friend’s house anyway.
“Kai?” Jon asked, worried.
Over the past few weeks, Kai had a tendency to dissociate frequently. Not always into deep traumatic flashbacks; sometimes it was just zoning out in which his body was present but his mind wasn’t. And Kai wasn’t always aware of it, either.
Kai shook his head and forced a smile. “I’m fine, Jon. Let’s go in.”
Jon frowned. “Kai, you promised me you wouldn’t do that anymore.”
Kai blinked. He furrowed his brows.
“If you don’t want to do this, just tell me. I thought we were going to try to be honest with each other.”
Kai had to genuinely think for a moment. He had trouble identifying his individual emotions and extracting his often conflicting motivations. He spent so much time in his life masking what he truly felt and wanted, so much time giving people around him what they expected, that he sometimes found himself getting lost in the process. And Kai hadn’t even been fully aware of that until recently, working with Dr. Miller.
Hesitantly, Jon reached for Kai’s hand and squeezed it. “I won’t be mad if you don’t want to do this. Really. And Vicky will understand. You only just got out of the hospital.”
Kai blinked again. Did he want to spend Christmas with Vicky in her house, or was he doing this for Jon? Or was he just hoping to check off a box on “things you have to do to show people you’re getting better” list? Kai took in a breath. Jon wanted honesty, right? “I don’t know what I want. I know I want you to be happy. I know I want to try. Everything else is all crossed wires and confusion,” Kai said, pointing to his head.
Jon smiled. “Then we’ll go in, but we can leave any time if you need to, OK?”


Jon pulled into the garage, waiting for the door to shut before he turned off the car. He hadn’t said anything, but Kai knew he’d wanted to offer to help Kai transfer. Kai was still really weak from being sick for almost three weeks, and he hadn’t been eating that well in the week or so before that, either. In the hospital, Kai had used a sliding board with Jon or David or a nurse’s help to make most of his transfers, but Kai refused to use one now that he was discharged. He pulled the frame of his wheelchair from the backseat, his muscles burning in complaint. He couldn’t remember it ever feeling so heavy. He had to pause a moment before he reached back for the wheels and attached them one by one. God, he was out of shape.
Kai normally wouldn’t have bothered locking his wheels for what would, under other circumstances, be an easy transfer he’d make in seconds, but he couldn’t trust his arms wouldn’t give out on him right now. He set the brake, used his hands to lift his legs out so his feet were flat on the garage floor, then stretched one hand out for the cushion of his chair while the other braced against the car. He took a deep breath and prepared himself. Normally, it would be a simple push and pull to lever his body up and onto the cushion, but right now it was a strain and he failed a few times, starting to lift his butt up only to feel his stability and strength failing and having to let himself fall back into the car seat before he could try again.
“Let me help,” Jon said, his tone suggesting he’d been unable to keep silent any longer.
“I can do this,” Kai said through gritted teeth. He grunted and finally managed to heave his body into his wheelchair. He had to pause again for a few seconds, then lifted his legs to set them in place, his feet on the footplate.
“That’d be a lot easier if you used the transfer board,” Jon said, coming around to meet Kai near the door to the house. “Troy said you should use it your first week at home, until you get more of your strength back.”
“And Troy probably also told you I’m a stubborn asshole who never does what he says.”
Jon sighed but he smiled faintly, perhaps knowing that this was an argument he’d never win. After all, this wasn’t the first time they’d argued about the transfer board in the past couple days.
The garage opened into the laundry room, and Kai was surprised by how smooth the transition was. No need for him to wheelie, but better yet, he wouldn’t have to worry about his feet catching and tripping him on a threshold when he was walking.
The laundry room was a relatively small space, but still comfortably wide enough for him to manage in his chair. Along one wall were the washer and dryer--front loading, too, something Kai had only ever seen at the laundromat. Jon and Kai’s apartment complex had only top-loaders, and they were such a pain for him. So often he’d go wash his clothes at the washeteria instead, even if it meant wearing a mask for a few hours.
Kai knew it was stupid, and he knew he’d probably never move in here, but he couldn’t help getting excited by the prospect of doing his own laundry at home. Easily. He laid his hand on the washer and then pulled the door open, peeking inside. “I didn’t even know you could get these,” Kai said, looking up at Jon in awe.
Jon had stripped off most of his outerwear and his hair was standing up comically due to static electricity. “Neither did I. But Vicky’s family is big enough, she has several relatives in the building industry.” He hung up his coat and scarf on a high hook.
Kai removed his own outerwear, peeling off his gloves and testing his rims cautiously to see if they were still cold. They were, but not too bad, so he started to hand Jon his things when he noticed another set of hooks within his reach. It made Kai pause, a flood of emotion hitting him he didn’t know what to do with, and he had to fight it.
“Kai? You OK?”
Kai sucked in a breath. He wasn’t supposed to lie, Jon had insisted, but he nodded. “Yeah.”
“Come on, then,” Jon said in a flat voice that Kai interpreted meant he didn’t believe Kai was really fine but was going to leave it.
Kai followed Jon out of the galley-style laundry room into a partial hall. On his right were a couple doors, and on his left the wall slanted to reveal the main living area. Kai was immediately struck by how homey Vicky’s house was. He could see photographs and art on the walls, the hint of a fireplace and Christmas tree. It smelled like a mixture of pine and food, and Kai worried the tree was real. His allergies didn’t affect him as severely as they had before his surgery, but he was almost as allergic to pine as he was to flowers and animals.
“Vicky, we’re here,” Jon called out.
“Give him the tour? I just have a few things to finish in the kitchen,” Vicky’s voice echoed back.
Kai’s stomach began to get that nervous, butterfly feeling. He wasn’t even 100% sure why.
Jon sighed. “Well, this way is your room and bathroom, so I guess we’ll look at those first,” Jon said, gesturing.
Kai pushed down the hall. The first thing he noticed was the door was slightly wider than usual. He opened it and reached high along the wall for where he expected the switch to be, but began to panic when he couldn’t find it. The room wasn’t pitch dark; light streamed in through the partially shut blinds, but it didn’t assuage the anxiety that rushed through Kai’s system.
“Vicky had the switches in your room lowered,” Jon said, nudging Kai’s hand down gently until his fingers found the familiar plastic. “But not so low that it would be awkward when you’re walking.”
The nervous, nauseous feeling in Kai’s stomach grew as he flipped the switch. The room was decently sized, maybe a little bigger than his current bedroom, but not huge. The bed dominated the room. Queen sized, low to the ground but not too low, which meant it wouldn’t be hard to transfer to from his chair but also wouldn’t be too far to fall when standing. Jon walked around Kai and demonstrated by falling back on the bed with a bounce, sitting on it and observing Kai closely.
The headboard was fabric, and looked almost like the back of a chair. It was the type of thing Kai never would have chosen for himself, but as he watched Jon stretch out on the bed, he realized it would probably be really comfortable for reading. In fact, two reading lamps spouted out of the wall on each side, with easily reachable switches. Below them were two curved nightstands, and as Kai approached, he realized why they were that way. They gave him room for his knees if he wanted to park beside the bed in front of them.
Kai marveled at this, smoothing a hand over the wood, then looked up at Jon.
Jon smiled. “Vicky has a cousin who makes custom furniture. But she wants you to know you can replace any of the pieces with your own, if you’d like. Though she did put a lot of thought into this room. I was her guinea pig and advisor, both, since we’re essentially the same height.”
Kai tested the bed with his hand, but didn’t transfer.
“I tried to pick something that wasn’t too soft or too firm.”
Kai felt his emotions surging and quickly pulled away. There was a dresser with a mirror and a comfortable-looking chair without arms--for easing transferring, maybe--in one corner. In the other were two doors he presumed led to a closet and the bathroom. He checked the closet first. It wasn’t that different from the one in his apartment, with folding doors and two rods for clothes.
“This is the cool thing,” Jon said, hopping up and crossing to stand beside Kai. He bent over, leaned in, and pulled something. Some kind of handle. To Kai’s amazement, it brought the entire upper rod down to Kai’s level.
“Holy shit.” Kai laughed. No more stretching and yanking things off hangers when he was in his chair.
Jon squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “Do you want to see the bathroom?”
Kai’s anxiety immediately swelled back up. He still had issues with bathrooms despite not wanting to. “Uh . . . I can see it later.”
“It’s OK,” Jon said, walking to the door. “Look.” Instead of swinging it, he slid it into the wall. Then he grabbed a leather strap from one side, brought it around the door, and fixed it to a spot on the wall. “It’s a pocket door. So it can’t shut on you like a regular one, and it’ll be easier for you to maneuver around. Plus, this way you can fix it so it can’t accidentally close on you.”
Kai carefully eased closer, touching the door and the strap keeping it open. His heart was still pounding, but he forced himself to enter anyway. The bathroom was larger than the one in the apartment and perhaps the most impressive modification yet. To his left was a cabinet with a roll-under sink, and on either side of the basin there were specialized cabinets that almost looked like they belonged in a kitchen.
“To store your medications,” Jon explained when Kai looked to him, confused.
To his right was the toilet, with grab bars, pretty standard. But across was the shower. It didn’t have a tub, but was instead a roll-in, with no curtain or door. Kai pushed closer, finding another light switch and hitting it. Kai entered the shower cautiously. It was tiled, with more grab bars inside, and a bench that was built into the wall in an L-shape so Kai could transfer and slide in all the way if he wanted, leaving his wheelchair safe and dry, though it looked like the entrance was still wide enough for him to roll in with a shower wheelchair, if he wanted. It had a rain shower head but also a hand wand, with both controls easily reachable from the seat, and plenty of lights to keep the space bright despite its enclosure. High up there were also small windows to let in some natural light. It was amazing that Vicky had managed to have all this work done in only a few weeks.
Jon smoothed his hand along the tile. “We don’t fit in regular tubs and I thought the more it didn’t look like . . .” Jon cleared his throat. “I thought you’d like this better.”
Kai pressed his palm against the wall. A shiver tore through him. When his aunt punished him sometimes, she’d force him into the tub and dump the bottles he’d filled with pee as if to prove how disgusting he was. Kai began to shake more noticeably as a genuine chill took over him. The feeling of the cold, wet liquid being dumped on his naked body. And the smell. And her cruel words.
Kai shoved the sleeve of his shirt up enough to expose the band he wore on his left wrist. He’d embedded flat-topped thumbtacks into it so if he pressed on the band hard enough, he’d get a jolt of pin-prick pain all along its surface. If he did so hard enough, he’d bleed, but he couldn’t kill himself with such tiny needles. It helped him from fully flashing back sometimes, but he was paranoid that Jon would find it and take it away from him, so he tried his best to not let his brother realize it wasn’t just a decorative bracelet, that there were pins underneath the fabric.
They bit into his skin and pulled Kai back to reality just in time. He was breathing hard, shaking, but he was in the present.
“Kai? Are you with me?”
Kai forced himself to nod. Carefully pulled his hand away from his wrist. Blood leaked out from around the band and Kai realized he’d have to be careful. “I started getting lost. But I’m OK.” He sucked in a deep breath a few times and carefully adjusted his sleeves before rolling back out. “Not having a bathtub was a good idea.”
Jon looked at him, clearly concerned.
When Kai caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he realized why. His face was eerily pale. “I’m very cold,” Kai said honestly. He shivered.
Jon felt Kai’s forehead and frowned. “Dr. Eisen said you’d have a low-grade fever for a while, but maybe I should see if--”
“I’m OK. I’ll sit by the fire for a while and warm up.”
Jon didn’t seem convinced, but he didn’t fuss.


Jon left Kai in the living room, warming himself by the fireplace, while he helped Vicky finish up in the kitchen. Fortunately, her house was fairly open-plan, so Jon could still watch Kai from where he was.
“Did he like his room?” Vicky asked hopefully as she spooned mashed sweet potatoes into a bowl.
“I think so. You know Kai is hard to read sometimes.”
Vicky set a bowl of spinach aside and touched Jon’s arm. “Did something happen? You have your ‘extremely worried’ look on your face.”
“As opposed to my plain ‘worried’ look?” Jon asked quizzically.
“Yep. You’re a world-class worrier. You have a whole range of worried looks. Is he not feeling well?”
“You know Kai. He could be bleeding out from a shotgun wound to the abdomen and still say he’s fine.” Jon sighed. “I’m concerned he may be feverish. More so than the doctor warned us he’d be while he recovers from the inflammation and infection. His hands were like ice.”
“He has lost, what, 15% of his body weight? He probably has absolutely no fat. Give the kid a break. It’s -30 with the windchill today. Why don’t you nudge the thermostat up a few degrees and I’ll fix him some tea.” Vicky kissed Jon’s cheek and went to work boiling some water.
“He loved the closet,” Jon remarked.
“Good. Maybe we’ll convince him yet.”


Kai was warmer thanks to the fire and the tea, and he was determined not to fuck up dinner. Vicky’s house was truly a home. It felt lived in, and Kai had explored the living room, admiring the family photos and trinkets, the Christmas decorations that looked like they’d been acquired over the years and put up with care. It unsettled Kai how comfortable he could be living here, how welcoming her home felt. Even the tree was the kind of thing he’d only ever seen on TV. Although it was fake for Kai’s allergies, it was enormous and loaded with twinkling lights and decorations like something out of one of his childhood fantasies. There were even wrapped presents underneath it. The fireplace had a row of stockings, too. One for Vicky, one for Jon, and even one for Kai, as if he really belonged here.
Kai had never belonged anywhere.
There was a gigantic box in the living room, covered in wrapping paper. Some kind of enormous present. For the first time since Kai was a kid, before his parents died, he had a spark of true anticipation for Christmas.
“You’re smiling,” Jon said, surprised.
Kai balked, then realized he was. He hadn’t smiled at all in weeks. He cleared his throat. Dipped his head. “Thank you for making me so welcome,” he said in a small voice.
“My pleasure,” Vicky said, and Kai could hear the smile in her voice. “Let’s pray; then if you could serve everyone, Jon?”
Jon nodded and accepted Vicky’s hand. Both of them extended theirs for Kai to take. He hesitated. He’d gotten OK with Jon and David touching him, though he was still reserved about it, and he didn’t like to touch other people if he could help it.
Jon looked at him with a face that said Kai didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to.
Kai took a deep breath and took each of their hands, which both felt so warm in comparison to his.
“Thank you, God, for all your blessings. Thank you for this food, and watch over all of us, but especially Kai, as he recovers, and over my baby. In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. Amen.”
Kai noticed Jon recited the final part of the prayer with Vicky, though Kai chose to remain silent.
Jon stood up and began serving.
“I would normally have made ham and mashed potatoes with peas and rolls, but I adjusted things for the two of you,” Vicky explained as Jon set her plate in front of her.
Kai nodded, not sure what else to say. Despite taking Zofran before they came over, Kai’s stomach was queasy. He’d only been eating by mouth for about a week, and he was still supposed to eat a very small portion of baby food or something similar every thirty to sixty minutes. But since today was Christmas, Kai was going off his physician-prescribed diet just enough that he could feel a tinge of normalcy.
Kai hadn’t had a real Christmas dinner, one with family gathered around table, since he was a kid. He watched Jon carefully measure out a spoonful of spinach and potatoes, not more than a tablespoon each, then place a tiny piece of turkey on Kai’s plate. Even though the portion was laughable by normal standards for a man his size, to him, it looked like an entire buffet line. Kai struggled to keep his disgust off his face. He didn’t want to hurt Vicky’s feelings.
Jon served himself last, heaping turkey on his plate and then adding only slightly more of the vegetables than he'd served Kai before sitting down.
Quiet descended as everyone began cutting their food.
Kai poked at the turkey with his fork. He hadn’t eaten meat in a year, and he’d lost the taste for it. He still ate mostly vegetarian, but because he’d lost so much weight while he was sick, his GI and his nutritionist had suggested Kai eat a little lean meat, at least for the first couple weeks post discharge. Jon was staring at him, so Kai grabbed his knife and started cutting his turkey.
Even though Dr. Miller didn’t believe Kai had a traditional eating disorder, because of his eating issues while he was a psych inpatient she’d had him spend some time in the eating disorder clinic. The idea being that Kai would have a chance to talk to people who also had love-hate relationships with food. Before that, the only people Kai had ever really encountered who struggled to eat were CF patients, who had digestive issues due to their disease that made eating difficult.
It was twisted, but Kai did find a sick camaraderie with the anorexics. He’d expected them all to be only obsessed with not being fat, with being perfect beauty queens, but in the group sessions he’d been forced to participate in he’d learned many of them had other issues that affected the way they’d come to view food and their appearances. Many of them had suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that left them feeling hollow, disgusting, or not good enough somehow. Food was something they could control, sometimes the only thing in their lives they could, and that really resonated with Kai. Eerily so, but it did.
Kai had been tight lipped during group, but inwardly he had to admit that his struggles with food had only gotten worse after that summer with his aunt. And Kai had begun to realize that even twelve years later, he was often disgusted with himself. He still sometimes looked at food as something he wasn’t allowed.
Before Kai’s fever, while he was in the psych unit, he’d had a feeding tube in his nose--a requirement of his admission--but during the day an orderly brought him food three times a day and supervised while Kai ate it. Kai was required to eat at least 75% of his meal, even though he always threw it up. So Kai had honed a few of his habits to make it look like he was eating more than he actually was.
And he used those techniques now. Cutting the food up into as small of pieces as possible, then spreading everything around the plate. Then gathering it up to one side, slowly, so it looked like he’d made a dent in his meal. And if he had to eat something, especially if he was ordered to eat a certain number of bites, he’d already made them as small as absolutely possible.
As Kai did this, he knew in a remote part of his brain it wasn’t healthy, but since Thanksgiving Kai had felt like he was on survivor mode, and his stomach and intestines still hadn’t recovered from the infection. But Jon had eagle eyes.
“You need to eat, Kai. Playing with your food isn’t going to fool me.”
Kai felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment and his eyes darted momentarily to Vicky. Would she think he didn’t like her food? It wasn’t anything personal. Jon practically had to stick a funnel in Kai’s mouth and pour food down it.
“I’ll make you something else if you like,” Vicky offered.
“He has to learn to eat what’s in front of him,” Jon said.
Kai’s head popped up suddenly as he had some kind of strange deja-vu. He wanted to retort that he wasn't a child, but he'd promised himself he'd be on his best behavior. He wasn't going to ruin Vicky's Christmas Eve. Instead, he picked up a tiny amount of spinach with his fork. You like spinach, he told himself. Even if it looked and smelled revolting right now. He sucked in a breath and put the fork in his mouth, praying it appeared natural and not how he felt, like he was shoving live worms down his throat for a contest.
Half his stomach decided the spinach was delicious and it was starving, while the other half was ready to throw the bite back up immediately. Kai chose to ignore the second half and took a bite of sweet potato. That was easier. Partially because it tasted far better than the baby food he'd been forcing down lately.
“This is good,” Kai admitted, then regretted it. Making conversation could be a good distraction from how much you were eating, but complimenting the food could backfire. On one hand, it let them know you were eating, but they could end up serving you seconds.
Jon didn’t seem to believe Kai was telling the truth, but Vicky seemed pleased. “It’s really simple. Just boil some sweet potatoes, then mash them with a little milk, butter, and brown sugar.”
Kai nodded, forcing a smile although his stomach was desperately trying to reassert itself. But he wasn’t going to let it ruin another holiday. He was going to eat at least some of what was on his plate, and he was going to use every ounce of his willpower to keep it down.
Jon seemed to sense Kai’s genuine battle and softened. “Eat a couple more bites and you can try again in half an hour.”
Kai swallowed, took a deep breath. He wanted to close his eyes and do some mindfulness exercises, but Vicky was already looking at him warily. He was so close to throwing up, though, even the smell of the food--especially the turkey--was getting to him.
Jon reached across the table and squeezed Kai’s hand. “Take a few deep breaths. You’ll be OK.”
Kai nodded and decided to take Dr. Miller’s advice. When faced by his anxiety, especially if it was making him worry about what other people were thinking of him, he needed to shut them out. So Kai decided to forget about Vicky, and even Jon, for now, and close his eyes and just breathe. Do a mini mindfulness exercise. I feel my stomach is upset. I notice it, but I don’t dwell on it. I let it pass. Kai meditated for a few minutes, and though his stomach was still rumbly, he felt he was able to eat a little more.
He opened his eyes, stabbed a couple bites of turkey, and popped them in his mouth, swallowing them almost whole before he could have any opportunity to gag.
Jon nodded stiffly, as if to signal Kai didn’t have to eat anymore. “You can take that to the kitchen and sit in the living room by the fire for a few minutes, if you want.” Jon looked at Vicky for support. “And then we’ll open presents. OK?”
Kai hated how when he was sick, Jon too often treated him like a child, but he was too nauseous to care and didn’t want to make a scene in front of Vicky. With his facial expression he checked with her, too, to see if she was really fine with his leaving.
She smiled and nodded. “You can leave your plate. We’ll take care of it after presents. And I’ll make you a sandwich or something if you want later.”
“Thank you,” Kai said in a small voice, desperately trying to prevent his visually-oriented brain from making a picture of a sandwich in his mind, which would only make his battle with nausea harder to win.


Kai had spent several minutes by the fire, meditating, getting warm and trying to calm his stomach when Vicky put on some Christmas music while she and Jon presumably cleared the table, the song pulling Kai from his meditation. It was too much. Soft melodies Kai knew he should know by heart but that he only barely recognized floated through the air. Sentimental songs about family and home and things Kai had never experienced growing up.
It made him look around Vicky’s living room again, at the fireplace with the stockings, at the tree and the presents, and Kai felt that visceral self-hatred that was never far from the surface begin to push its way up, clawing at his brain, making his skin burn. He started to shake as he struggled to contain it. The voice that told him he didn’t deserve this. Jon was a good man, a loyal brother who finally had a chance at his own happiness, his own family, and Kai would just ruin it for him, like he ruined everything. No one had ever wanted Kai: not his parents, not foster families, and certainly no one to adopt him. Jon took care of him out of duty and pathological guilt, but Vicky had created this perfect Christmas, had spent time and money to remodel her house for him, and Kai was a poison that was going to corrode everything away.
Kai’s shaking became more pronounced, and attempts to silence the malicious voice in his mind weren’t working, so he transferred onto the ledge of the fireplace as quickly as he could, flipping his chair around to better access his bag. He yanked out a thick coloring book and some colored pencils and tore the book open to the first free page he’d found.
In the hospital, coloring had been part of his therapy. He’d resisted it at first, thinking it childish (even though they’d never gotten any empty coloring books or anything but broken crayons at CH), but he’d soon discovered how relaxing it could be, how satisfying it was to neatly shade in every segment, or simply scribble over the whole thing, releasing his anger. Coloring allowed Kai to pour out his emotions or simply focus himself so entirely on something outside of himself that he could calm the raging evil thoughts in his mind. If only for a little while.


And tiny tots with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight. . . . The echoes of Nat King Cole filled the air as Vicky and Jon loaded the dishwasher and packed away the leftovers.
She’d noticed that Kai had gotten out of his wheelchair and looked like he was coloring in a coloring book. She watched him for a while, apparently distracted enough she’d washed the same dish several times, because she felt Jon’s hands on her, stilling her movements.
“I warned you that things might be rocky. Kai’s still . . .” Jon sighed, hugging her from behind, letting her lean into him. “Well, Kai’s always difficult; it’s hard written into his DNA,” Jon said with warmth and fondness. “But he’s still recovering in more ways than one. I shouldn’t have forced him to eat with us.”
Vicky cradled Jon back, wrapping his arms around her. “I could tell he was trying really hard. So am I. Maybe I shouldn’t have forced you both into this whole Christmas thing.”
Jon shook his head. Vicky could feel its subtle movement against her. “Kai may not admit it, but he’s always dreamed of something like this. He doesn’t remember how dysfunctional our family was, so all he has is fiction--books and movies and TV specials--of what holidays are supposed to be.” Jon pulled away, turning her so they were facing each other. “Today isn’t easy for him, but we all needed this.”
Vicky sighed, touched her forehead to Jon’s. “What is he doing over there, though?”
Jon pulled away and glanced over. “Oh. Coloring. He picked it up in therapy. It calms him down. If he’s doing that, it means he was getting overwhelmed. But he’ll be OK.”
“I feel like you’re so much more ready to be a parent than I am.”
Jon caressed her cheek. “You will be a great mom, OK?” He kissed her forehead. “Let me go check and see if Kai is ready for us to join him while you finish up here?”
Vicky nodded. She had to admit she’d had a little of her own “perfect family Christmas” ideals in mind for tonight, and despite what Jon told her, she worried she’d been pressuring Kai. He was barely out of the hospital, and his last holiday had been a total disaster. Perhaps she was demanding too much from both brothers right now.



  1. Oh, I simply adore this Christmas flashback episode. It's so terrific in so many ways.