Hartford, Connecticut, 1989 — Six-year-old Connor rushed into his room, closing the door behind him. He tossed his backpack onto the floor, then climbed onto his bed and reached for the piggy bank on his dresser.
He opened the bottom and dumped the contents onto on the bed. His golden-brown eyes shone with excitement as he began to make little piles.
“Okay, I think I have…” He wrinkled his freckled nose as he counted. There was a crumpled dollar bill, five pennies, three nickels, two dimes, and a quarter. “One dollar and sixty-five cents.”
He clapped a hand over his mouth. Had Mom heard? Quickly, he shoved the money, along with the piggy bank, under his covers and hopped off the bed.
Mom knocked on the door.. “Hey, kiddo. You didn’t even say hi. Is something wrong?”
“Nope!” Connor said. He opened the door, smiling wide and showing off the gap where a top front tooth had been. “I’m fine, everything’s fine. Nothing bad is happening. Why?”
Mom smiled. “Well, if that’s the case, go wash up for dinner. It’s almost ready.”
“Okay! But can I put something away first?”
“Sure.” Mom left, and he bolted back to his bed. He stuffed the money back into the piggy bank and replaced it on top of the dresser.
Christmas Eve – It was time. Connor cracked open his bedroom door and gulped. Ever since the lights went out, he was scared to leave his bed at night, even with a flashlight in hand.
But this time, he reminded himself he had to be brave. He crept to the living room on tiptoe, hoping his flashlight’s beam didn’t wake Mom up.
Soon, he reached the stockings hanging from the fireplace mantel. Mom’s was the one on the left, with a reindeer on it.
He raised a clenched fist until it was safely over the opening and then opened it. The coins and dollar fell in and almost immediately after, he dashed back to his room before Mommy could wake up.
He jumped under the covers and turned off the flashlight.
Christmas Day – Margaret rubbed at her eyes and checked the time. Six-thirty seemed a little early to be getting up on Christmas. She had barely slept all night. Trying to find a stable, long-term job seemed to be harder with every passing month, and with every overdue bill that piled up in her dresser.
She yawned as she tied her robe belt together. She reached out a foot for her slippers, only to stop when she remembered she didn’t have any. Her last pair had been worn right through, and she hadn’t bothered buying a new pair, opting to save the money for food instead.
She left her room, and her eyebrows rose in surprise when she saw Connor sitting on the couch, swinging his legs.
“Merry Christmas, Mom!”
“Uh…Merry Christmas,” she replied. She walked over to the stockings and he bolted off of the couch.
“I’ll get them!” He grabbed hers and handed it over.
She blinked. “Connor, mine’s-” Her voice trailed off. Something felt off about her stocking, almost like it did have something in it, but it wasn’t so heavy that it was immediately noticeable.
Connor grabbed his own stocking, but didn’t look inside. Margaret suspected he wanted her to look inside hers first, and so she did.
She didn’t know how to react when her hand closed over the contents. She brought them out.
A tiny stash of money lay in her hand, a dollar and sixty-five cents to be exact. She looked at Connor, who was grinning.
“It’s so you can pay the bills, Mom!” he said.
She felt a swell of love even as her stomach flip-flopped, causing her to feel slightly sick. Oh, this precious boy.
“Connor, I…” She swallowed as her eyes watered. “Open yours.”
“Okay!” He reached into his stocking and brought out the only present she was able to get him this year. “Yay, another car! Thanks, Mom!”
Margaret suddenly dropped to her knees and pulled him in for a bone-crushing hug.
“Mom, I can’t breathe,” Connor said, even as he returned the hug.
She loosened her grip slightly. “I love you so much.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
©H.S. Kylian 2019
(Critiques are welcome and appreciated!)