A Christmas' Hope

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
All Scarlett Shepherd has ever wanted is a baby. And after one stillborn and three miscarriages, she is over the moon when her daughter Hannah is born.
But when Hannah dies a matter of hours after her birth, Scarlett is plunged into what appears to be an eternal black hole of sadness and grief.
The next Christmas, Scarlett is starting to comes to terms with her loss when husband Christopher points out the ultimatum; they'll never have children.
But no matter what, Scarlett still hopes...
{My entry for Ryder Stokes' It's Christmas! contest}

Submitted: November 27, 2011

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Submitted: November 27, 2011

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A Christmas' Hope

 

All Scarlett Shepherd has ever wanted is a baby. And after one stillborn and three miscarriages, she is over the moon when her daughter Hannah is born.
But when Hannah dies a matter of hours after her birth, Scarlett is plunged into what appears to be an eternal black hole of sadness and grief.
The next Christmas, Scarlett is starting to comes to terms with her loss when husband Christopher points out the ultimatum; they'll never have children.
But no matter what, Scarlett still hopes...

Song: 'Last Christmas' by Wham!.

\"\"

Scarlett

 

~*~

 

I stand in the doorway of our completed, neutral nursery, staring at the empty crib. My hands cup my stomach, and I blink away tears.

This room has been decorated for the past five years, but never used. I've had five pregnancies in as many years, and only one of them have produced a live baby. The first resulted in a stillborn little girl, Emily, but the three others terminated themselves at about fifteen weeks. It was unusual for miscarriages to happen so far into the pregnancy, but my OB couldn't explain it.

I've only had one baby who cried after she was pulled from me. Hannah Elizabeth Shepherd was our fifth pregnancy, and she lived for about twenty hours before flat lining in the neonatal ICU the day after her birth. The doctors had told me that they were almost certain she wouldn't survive more than a few days, so every hour we had with her was precious.

Outside, the snow is falling past the window pane. It's early December, and uncharacteristically cold for Seattle. It had started earlier that day, when I'd been driving home from work, and I was sure that there must have been at least a foot or two of it outside now.

However, I don't worry about Christopher getting home. His Armada can handle it. I'm still, to this day, not quite sure what possessed him to keep his big SUV when we moved into the city limits, but all to their own, I suppose.

I step over to the changing unit and reach up to the shelf above it, and turn off the rotating light that sends brightly-coloured fish over the walls, and the room plunges into darkness. The only light comes from outside, the hazy streetlights that are weakened by the heavy snow.

I head downstairs, and into the kitchen. According to the oven clock, it's just gone seven. Where is Christopher?

I take my phone off of the counter and dial his number. It rings a few times, before he picks up. "Is everything alright Scar?" he asks.

"Where are you? It's late and snowy and I'm getting stressed."

"Don't," he soothes, the muted North Carolina accent almost humming melodically. He spent the first five years of his life in Charlotte, and then moved up to Cleveland for a few years before finally settling in Seattle to attend UW. "I'll be back in a little while. I needed to pick some stuff up from the store."

"Like what?" I ponder, starting to pull the components for dinner out of the refrigerator and setting them on the island.

"Hardware supplies. I'll be home in twenty minutes."
He blows me a kiss, and before I have chance to reply, he ends the call.

Sometimes, my husband aggravates me to no end. He's stubborn and determined and meticulous. He gets arrogant and cocky when he's drunk. (I discovered this the first time when he got slammed, and started proclaiming about the size of his 'ten-incher').

But at the same time he's the most beautiful man I've ever seen. Not just physically - although he has mesmerizing crystal-grey eyes - but in personality. He's caring and selfless and thoughtful. Perfect.

I'm rolling chicken in breadcrumbs when I hear the front door open. It's followed by the smell of snow and wood smoke. Christopher enters the kitchen a moment later, brushing snow off of his curly blond hair.

When I met my husband-to-be, I was a college freshman and he was starting his third year. It was early September, and I was sat out on the grassy patch in front of my residence hall, watching the stars. He threw something at me from his third-story room (which I later found out to be a gumball) and held up a sign saying 'CAN I JOIN YOU?'.

Needless to say, we've been together ever since. And thirteen years is a long time if your relationship starts when you're eighteen.

He leans over the island and plants a kiss on my lips. "Good evening," he mutters, slipping around the side of the island so that he stands beside me, and pulls me against him. "I've missed you today."

"Do you know what tomorrow is?" I whisper, not being able to look at him.

After a moment, he nods his head sadly. One year ago today, Hannah was born. Exactly three weeks before Christmas. Then one year ago tomorrow, at three in the afternoon, she passed away. I spent that holiday season in the sanctuary of my bedroom, sobbing, and didn't speak to anyone except Christopher until New Years' Eve.

"Can we go visit her?" I ask.

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," he mutters, resting his chin atop my head.

I sigh. "Please, Christopher. I need to see her."

"She's not alive, Scar," he murmurs into my hair. "I'm sorry."

I know I can persuade him later, so I let the subject go. He heads upstairs to get changed out  of his tie and shirt, whilst I finish dinner.

After college, he attended medical school whilst I finished my undergraduate degree in architecture. I then got my Masters' in the summer before we got married. Then, we were graced with out first pregnancy.

Seven and a half months later, Emily was born. We then through three more pregnancies before Hannah. And now, we're here, aged thirty one and thirty three, without a the single most thing we both desperately yearn for; a baby.

 

~*~

 

I wake up the next morning, and it's stopped snowing. I'm facing the window, so I can see the snow-topped townhouses opposite our own. Most of this street's houses have been converted into apartments, but from our house down they're mainly a single-family dwelling.

Against my back, Christopher stirs. "Are you awake?"
I nod, slowly. "I want to visit her," I mutter, rolling over so that our chests are pressed together. "Please."

"I know," he reluctantly replies, and kisses me.

As I'm about to continue persuading him, a sudden wave of nausea thrashes over me and I sprint from my bed into the bathroom, sliding on my knees across to the toilet bowl before my stomach empties itself into the water at the bottom. I wretch over and over, heaving. Christopher's by my side in a matter of moments, holding my hair as I throw up repeatedly.

After a few minutes, my stomach is completely empty, lining and all. My throat burns from the acid, and I have the sour taste of bile in my mouth. Christopher hands me my toothbrush and a beaker of water, before asking, "What the fuck was that?"

"You're the doctor," I point out, my voice hoarse.

He puts the palm of his hand flat against my forehead and frowns. "You're not hot..."

"I'm freezing," I reply. It feels as though the heating in the house has just stopped. In Christopher's arms, I shake. Normally, I'd be perfectly warm in my sweatpants and Christopher's T-shirt that I'm wearing, but I feel icy chills run down my spine.

Somehow, he manages to cradle me in his arm and carries me back into the bedroom. He tucks me under the comforter and presses a kiss to my forehead. "Go back to sleep. It's probably just a virus."
I sigh - I've never liked sleeping late, I feel as though I'm wasting too much time -  but agree. After all, he is a doctor. Shutting my eyes, I hear Christopher close the bedroom door and head downstairs a few moments later.

An hour later, I feel much better. Under the comforter, plus another quilt Christopher must have thrown over me whilst I was dozing, I'm boiling. I push it off of my legs and run my fingers through my hair as I go downstairs. My husband's sat at the island, eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. The man's in his thirties and he still loves the marshmallow cereal.

"Are you alright?" he asks as I open the fridge.

"Yeah, I feel fine now. It's weird."

He hums sceptically and continues his breakfast. "I was thinking about what you said yesterday, and I think it might be a good idea that we go and visit Hannah's grave."

"Oh."

"I think it might make us realise that that was the final straw. We're not going to be able to have kids, Scar, and I think we need to come to terms with that. There's always adoption or fostering..."

"I just want a baby to hold," I mutter, setting the Tropicana I'd pulled from the fridge on the counter and leaning forward on my elbows. "Why does everyone seem to be able to have a family? I feel like such a fucking failure."

Christopher sighs and moves to embrace me. "You're not," he soothes.

"How come my perfect older sister can have five kids, and I can't even have one?" I yell. I've always been jealous of my sister, Kath. I was always second best. My parents would say 'why can't you do your homework like Kath?' or 'Kath got an A when she did that assignment'. I always felt like they were comparing me to her.

She was the better daughter. At least that's what it felt like. Even now she's better than me. A perfect husband, a perfect house, five perfect children. She's only two years older than me, but she seems to have achieved so much more.

"Because your older sister isn't you," Christopher mumbles, tilting my chin up so that I have to look at him. "I love you, everything about you."

He kisses my forehead, and steps back. "I was looking up local adoption agencies last night. There's one based in Seattle, and I was wondering if we should maybe go over for an interview?"

I shake my head. "I need to get to work." I return upstairs and shower, spending more time than I actually have just letting the scalding water burn against my back. I turn the faucet off and get dressed.

Christopher's car is gone when I get outside. He must have showered in one of the other bathrooms. I tug my blazer further round my shoulders as I descend the steps up to our door, clutching the stone side because they're covered in ice and compacted snow. I manage to make it to my Camry without slipping, and slam the door shut. Before I pull out, I turn the heating on and turn up my iPod.

It takes me twenty minutes to reach Shepherd Architecture, a low brick building that I designed. It houses my architectural firm, a team of ten that I've accumulated in the past ten years.

I swing into my designated parking space, and cross the small parking lot to the main entrance. I step into a large glass room before heading through a pair of sliding doors into the main room. There's a large display table in the middle, that currently holds a scale model of a high rise office block.

Amelia Seacrest, my head designer and my best friend of twelve years, is knelt by the side of the table and is gluing a miniature tree down to the MDF base of the diorama. "Hey gorgeous," she croons when she sees me. "Have a nice evening?"

I shrug. "Not really."

It takes a moment of Amelia frowning to realise why. "Oh honey, I'm so sorry."

Amelia was the first person I spoke to about Hannah. She was the reason I came out of my funk; she turned up on a freezing January morning with a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a block of Hershey's, demanding that I tell her what was wrong.

"Christopher and I are going to visit her grave tonight, lay flowers and all that. I think he's trying to get me to give up on my dreams, but I can't."

Amelia reaches up, grasping my hand. "You'll do what's best." She pauses, giving me a doubtful look. "Go home, I don't think you should be here today."

I shake my head; at least work is a distraction. I can't help but wonder what I would be doing right now if Hannah was still alive. I wouldn't be at work right now; I'd want to spend every minute with her.

Or if Emily had been born alive. She'd be five. She'd be a kindergartner.

I slip into my office, closing the door and pulling the blinds on the window out onto the main room. It's a silent haven in the bustle of the building.

I'm sorting through the mounds of crap on my desk when I come across a collection of Post-Its. My secretary, Mandy, writes stuff on them and sticks them to my blotter, but occasionally I add to the collection with shopping lists or birthday reminders.

I read through my writing on a bright pink one. Orange juice. Eggs. Tampax. Corn on the cob. I read through the list a second, third time. I remember writing this list a few months ago. It was just before we got a confirmation on a big contract. I got the OJ and eggs and corn. But no tampons.

No tampons.

In four and a half months.

Eighteen weeks.

Oh my God. I'm pregnant.

Or maybe I'm not. Maybe the menopause can set in aged thirty one? I quickly power up my computer and search on Google the onset age of the menopause. I find a Wikipedia page on 'premature ovarian failure'. It can onset any time from puberty.

That would explain everything. Why I couldn't produce a child who survived. I was menopausal.

Okay, calm down. I do not have premature ovarian failure. I've just... paused.

I take my phone out of my bag and call Christopher. As it starts to ring, I change. What if he thinks I'm being ridiculous? I can't be pregnant. Only two pregnancies have reached beyond fifteen weeks. And pregnancies start to show at seventeen weeks. I glance down at my stomach, tilting my head as though that will help me judge if there's been any growth.

I can't tell.

I dismiss this idea, and head out into the main room to get on with work.

 

~*~

 

It's just gone six by the time I pull up outside my house. The lights are off, and there's a note pinned to the front door. I've gone down. Meet me there. Love Christopher x.

I shove against the door, letting it swing open, and put my bag down on the floor before swapping my heels for a pair of walking boots and slipping my arms into my black pea coat. As I return outside, the wind whips my cheeks, and I throw a scarf around my neck as an afterthought.

It's half-raining, half-snowing as I walk down my street. You know how when it's not quite cold enough and but the sky seems determined to snow? You end up with a sludgy sleet sheeting the roads. The road is deserted, and the pavements are compacted with sheet ice. I walk in the middle of the road, flanked on both sides by snow-covered vehicles that obviously haven't moved in a day or two.

It takes about ten minutes to walk the half-mile to Saint Catherine's Church. I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but we got Hannah baptised shortly before she died. Just in case.

The church is set past a brick wall, with the cemetery scattered down a slope into a wooded area. I make my way down the winding gravel path, trying to keep my eyes from reading the names on the gravestones. It's mainly adults that are buried higher up, and the young children are laid to rest at the bottom of the slope.

I see Christopher sitting on a tree stump by Hannah's grave. He's crying quietly, his face cupped in his hands. It breaks my heart to see my strong, brave husband sobbing. "A whole year," I whisper, walking up behind him and placing my hand on his shoulder. "Since she broke our hearts."

"I can't keep on doing this," Christopher murmurs, glancing up at me. His eyes are bloodshot, and tears mingle with his five o'clock shadow. "Every time I lose a little bit of my heart."

I turn to Hannah's grave, and silently pray. Please, please, please let this be real. Give us a beautiful child, protect them and let them live. It's going to kill us. I

I'm praying to my daughter's headstone. I'm praying that we can have one final chance. To make us happy.

Christopher stands up, pulling a long-stemmed white rose from his pocket and handing it to me. He takes another, and we both stare at each other for a moment, catching the desperately empty moment before we lay them down on the crisp snow. "Goodbye baby," I mutter, and start to cry.

Christopher pulls me into his arms, and we just stand there for a while, crying.

 

~*~

 

I walk alongside Christopher back up our street. It's eight, half-past maybe. We lost all track of time just being with Hannah. "I think I need to tell you something."

He throws me a sideways glance. "Are you alright?" His voice his rough from crying. There is no volume behind it, so I have to take a moment to confirm what he said.

"This may be nothing, but I don't know. I haven't had my period for a few months. I kind of forgot about it in the past months, since it was leading up to the anniversary of Hannah's birth. It was only when I found a post-it note earlier saying to buy some Tampax. It might just be due to stress or whatever..."

Christopher pauses, and frowns. "The throwing up, this morning. But how long did you say since your last period?"

"Four and a half months."
"It's weird. It normally will stop about three months. You've just probably got a bug," Christopher sighs, gazing up at the snow falling from the sky. It cuts across the sky diagonally, being pushed by the wind.

"Yeah," I say, slightly disheartened. It isn't logical, anyway.

There's something beautiful about the moment. Walking down a silent street in the middle of the city, just the two of us around. In the windows, I see families sat round dinner tables or watching television, and I feel a pang of jealousy in the pit of my stomach. What I would give to be able to spend the holiday season with my child.

When we reach home, I immediately head upstairs. In our ensuite, I lock the door and reach into the built-in cupboard by the bath. Up on the top shelf, behind a stack of guest towels, is a single pregnancy test.

I speed through the instructions, although not fast enough to make a mistake. After a few minutes, I'm sat on the lip of the bathtub staring at the plastic sheath. My mind races. Am I pregnant? Am I not? What would happen if I am?

I can't go through the heartbreak again.

My phone alarm buzzes after five minutes, and I eagerly reach at the test.

Oh my God. There's a blue plus.

I'm pregnant.

Following a minute of silence, I let out a blood-curdling scream and collapse to the ground.

 

~*~

 

My eyes flutter open  and I see Christopher sat on a chair to my right. I'm in hospital. I'm attached to a heart monitor, plus another that attaches to my stomach. "Why the hell am I in hospital?" I ask.

He looks up, smiling. "Hey, you're awake. You fainted in the bathroom and hit your head."

"Oh."

Christopher takes my hand, shuffling the chair closer to my bed and grinning. "Do you remember what happened?"

My mind cycles through the events of that evening. Getting home, visiting Hannah. The walk in the snow. Going upstairs. The pregnancy test. The blue plus.

"I'm pregnant," I mutter.

Christopher beams at me. His eyes light up like a little kid at Christmas. "You're approximately nineteen weeks pregnant. They did a scan, and the baby's fine, even after your fall." He moves his hand - and mine - to my belly. "We're having a baby."

I silence him with a shake of my head. "Christopher, don't be stupid. "It won't survive."

"Yes, she will. I know it."

"She?"

Christopher bites his lip, before offering me a small smile. "They found out the sex. We're having a baby girl!"

I glower at him, pulling my hand away from my stomach. "Stop being stupid. We've already had two daughters, and they're both dead. I'm a failure. What says this one isn't going to die?"

Christopher stands up, taking a photo from the nightstand to the side of my bed. "Here."

In can see the grainy form of a miniature human being, curled into a ball. She's so perfect. And there seem to be something different about her from my five other children. She looks like a person, and I can see her five years from now. Ten, twenty. When she's my age.

Unsure, I look up at Christopher, and he smiles. Then he starts quietly singing. "Last Christmas, you gave her your heart and the very next day, she took it away. This year, to save you the tears, you'll keep it for someone special."

I'm not sure whether it is from the hormones or the sheer beauty of Christopher's muted voice, but I start to cry tears of joy and reach up to kiss him.

 

~*~

 

Christopher

 

One Year Later

 

~*~

There is something magical about a sleeping baby. Any baby, but even more so with my daughter.

Hope dozes, her fist curled under her plump cheek, in Scarlett's arms. My wife is also asleep, on the glider, where she must have drifted off whilst getting Hope to sleep. "Scar," I coo, gently placing my hand on her cheek. "Honey."

Her eyes open slowly, and it takes her a moment to register her location. "Why am I asleep?"

I shrug, wrapping my hands around Hope's pyjama-clad stomach and lifting her into my arms. She doesn't stir as I transfer her into the crib. "It's midnight," I whisper. Scarlett bites her lip, but doesn't say anything. She knows what today is; the anniversary of Hannah's death.

But this year's different; we've finally got our daughter.

"Shall we go see her today?" I ask.

Scarlett shakes her head. "Not today," she replies, moving over to the crib and gazing down at our beautiful, miracle baby.

"Okay."
She nods. I place a kiss to her temple and murmur, "Come to bed soon." I leave the room, glancing back over my shoulder at Scarlett. She's still studying Hope. "I love you."

"I love you too," she whispers.

 

~*~

 

For the first time in our seven years of marriage, we are hosting Christmas.

That means that in our four-bedroom townhouse we'll have to fit Scarlett's parents; my Mom; Kath and her husband and their kids; and my little brother Max. Eleven guests, plus us.

This is going to be manic.

It's six o'clock in the morning, and Hope is screaming. I roll over, jealous of my unconscious wife and glare at her for a moment. Then I figure that since I'm up, I should get Hope ready.

She's sat in her cot, peering between the bars when I enter. Immediately, her face lights up and she starts giggling. Although Scarlett may not want to admit it, Hope's definitely a daddy's girl.

I've mastered the art of getting her dressed in under five minutes, courtesy of many a rushed morning. Scarlett and I agreed on two First Christmas outfits; one for the morning - present opening, family gathering, eating; and the other for post-post-meal-nap, since it was guaranteed that she'd spill something down her.

However, the great task of breakfast stands in our way before getting dressed. I slip Hope's PJs off and change her diaper before trundling downstairs and bustling into the kitchen.

She gurgles quietly as I prepare the delicacy which is mashed banana. I'm doing well until she shrieks. I cover my ears, ducking and scanning the room. Scarlett stands in the doorway, grinning at our daughter. "Hello pickle!"

The years of yearning for a baby finally paid off. I have never met a better mother than Scarlett. She's never complained about the night-feeds or lack of sleep or dirty diapers. Not once has she resorted to begging me to get up in the middle of the night to tend to Hope.

I watch her, in her pyjamas and with hair like a lion's mane, as she bends over and kisses Hope on the head. I hand her the bowl of mashed banana and a bottle of formula, and then press my lips to her cheek. "Merry Christmas."

~*~

 

It's light when we leave the house. We're expecting our guests at midday, shortly before lunch, but both Scarlett and I realised that there was something we needed to do.

Like last Christmas, it's snowing. Which is a rare thing in Seattle, so two years in a row is a miracle. I'm carrying Hope on my hip, dressed in her first outfit. A little ruffled bodysuit, jeans, a pair of cream fur boots, plus a grey swing coat that is slightly too large and a hat in the shape of a cupcake.

Scarlett ambles beside me, pushing Hope's stroller in case I get tired of carrying her. But for the moment, I don't want to let go.

It took us slightly longer than normal to reach the cemetery, as we dawdled and pointed out everything and then named them slowly, as though that would help Hope to magically mimic us.

There's nobody else in the cemetery when we arrive. Which is quite sad, considering it's Christmas. Nobody else wants to see a passed loved one. "It's pretty," Scarlett sighs, her eyes swooping over the snow-tipped branches. There must be little short of a foot of snow, and my feet are starting to get cold.

"We're going to see Hannah," I say to Hope as we descend the slope. "Haannaaaah," I slur.

"Dada dada," Hope replies smiling a gap-toothed grin.

Not quite, but I'm not fussy. This is the first time in Hope's eight months of life that she's been to visit Hannah with us, and she seems to know that something's up. Hope's quiet, snuggled into the crevasse of my arm. We eventually reach Hannah's grave and I kneel down beside it, setting Hope on my flat leg.

Scarlett takes three white roses from the stroller and hands two to me. I place one in Hope's fist and give her a supportive smile. Scarlett lays hers down first, whispering, "Merry Christmas, baby girl," before stepping back.

I place mine next to Scarlett's, and mutter hoarsely, "I love you."

Then I guide Hope's hand down and wait for her to drop the rose. "Go on, honey."

Hope looks up at me, frowning. "Haaaa-naah," she squeals.

Scarlett gasps quietly, grabbing Hope under the arms and swinging her up into her arms. "Oh baby girl, it is Hannah. It's your big sister Hannah."

Hope tosses the flower down the ground, and then looks between me and Scarlett before laughing and proclaiming, "Mama, dada, Hannah."

I watch as Scarlett, who I think is crying, nuzzles Hope's neck, and then adds, "And Hope."

 

~*~

 


© Copyright 2017 Alyssa Silvas. All rights reserved.

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