“Pull over,” Samara whispered.
“What?” Frederik asked.
“I said pull over!” she screeched.
Frederik jerked the steering wheel to the right, pushing down on the break to guide the car to the soft shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, nervously and glanced over at Samara. She was covering her mouth with her mint scarf. Her powder-pink hat had dipped down past her forehead and into her eyes, obstructing her view. She didn’t do anything to fix it.
In one swift motion, Samara grabbed the handle and swung the car door open.
“Samara where are you-,” Frederik was cut off by the loud thud of the door. It shook the entire car.
Samara felt the cold wind biting her cheeks. She stood at the edge of the road and leaned against the metal barrier. She pulled her scarf down her chin and felt the bile rise from her stomach, up her throat and into her mouth. She spit it out onto the snow and felt the saliva gather on her chin. She didn’t wipe it away.
She stood there, frozen, hunched over, on the side of the road. She didn’t dare move. She didn’t want to think. Snow started to collect on her eyelashes and her new hat.
She felt a hand on her back.
“Sam, what’s wrong?” Frederik gently whispered in her ear.
She used her mitten to wipe the dried saliva off of her chin, suddenly feeling embarrassed. Her stomach clenched and her chest felt very tight.
“I don’t want to go,” she whispered.
Frederik started rubbing her back. She wanted to push his hands off and scream in his face. How does he not understand?
“I know families can be hard,” he ventured.
Samara shook him off.
“Hard is an understatement.”
“Well, you’ve got me,”
He put his finger on her chin and raised her face to his. She forced herself to stare into his dark eyes. They were swimming with wanting to understand her and see her life.
Samara didn’t want him to see but what choice did she have? They spent the last five Christmas holidays with his family. Now that they were engaged, Frederik had begged her to go to her families’ house for Christmas. At first, she tried to ignore his pleas and change the subject. When that didn’t work, she tried to make up excuses. Her sister just had a new baby, it would be far too much. Her mom was getting old and often took to bed, he’d barely even see her.
None of these excuses worked on Frederik. He desperately wanted to meet her new niece. He wanted to help her mother, especially during the holiday festivities.
Samara sighed. She slowly started walking towards the car, noticing how much snow had gathered on its hood in the time that she had escaped. Frederik followed her. She grabbed hold of the handle and swung the car door open. She hoisted herself up onto the cold leather seat. Frederik did the same thing on the other side and put the keys into the ignition. The engine purred to life.
They drove in silence. Frederik knew when he should leave her alone with her thoughts but Samara didn’t want to think about anything.
She tried to shut out all of the flashbacks. Lying in her single bed, watching her sister sleep peacefully, illuminated by moonlight, her parents’ yelling downstairs totally lost on her. Flicking through the TV channels and hearing her father stumble in, her mother dropping the casserole plate with a large thud, reaching for her sister’s little hand and dragging her upstairs to play dolls. Her mother waking her up in the middle of the night, telling her to grab her favourite toys and to meet her downstairs, climbing into the family station wagon in her pajamas, driving three hours to Grandma’s house only to go home to her father waiting at the kitchen table the next day.
Samara felt her hands starting to shake. Her stomach tossed and turned with every jostle of the car. She knew that they were almost there the same way that she knew every bump on this road. She could feel it in her bones.
“So, left here?” Frederik said quietly.
She didn’t realize she had been clenching her teeth.
“Yes,” she whispered.
The car slowly pulled into the driveway. She saw warm light illuminating from the inside the red-brick house. The messy, strewn out garden looked exactly the same even covered in a layer of fresh snow. The blinds were closed but she could make out figures moving in the living room. Her brother-in-law’s truck was in the driveway. She knew her mother was in the kitchen cooking a feast.
“Shall we?” she said, feebly.
“We shall,” said Frederik. He grabbed her mitten-clad hand and squeezed it.
Samara took a big, shaky breath. She grabbed the door handle for dear life and swung it open.
The driveway was icy. She shuffled forward, careful not to lose her footing. Frederik walked towards the trunk of the car. He opened it and swung their bags over his shoulder in a swift motion. Samara was grateful she didn’t have to carry anything right now. She skated carefully towards the front steps. She looked back at Frederik, patiently waiting for him. He carefully shuffled towards the front steps and grabbed hold of her hand. Together they climbed the stairs to the front door.
Samara raised her hand and knocked on it three times. She waited with baited breath. She looked over at Frederik. He winked at her.
The door swung open.
“Sammy! I knew it would be you!” her sister squealed, pulling her into a tight hug.
Samara couldn’t help but give a soft smile.
“And you must be Frederik!” her sister beamed, stepping back from the hug to take in Samara’s fiancee. Her eyes travelled up and down his slim figure.
“It’s so wonderful to meet you, Natasha. I’ve heard so much about you,” Frederik said, the perfect gentleman.
“Good things only I hope!” Nathasha giggled.
Before Frederik could open his mouth, she was already ushering them inside.
“Come in, come in, put down your stuff. Mama is cooking up a storm.”
Samara timidly walked in, crossing the threshold to her old life. She was immediately hit by the strong smell of the sweet and sour spices her mother was stirring away in the kitchen. She could feel the heat coming from the fireplace in the other room. She knew her brother-in-law could make a mean fire. She looked down and noticed it was the same plush, red and green carpet from her childhood. The wooden table at the front door remained the same, littered with gloves and hats. Gingerly, she bent down to untie her shoes. Frederik also started stripping off his layers.
“How was the drive?” Natasha chippered.
“It was great,” Frederik beamed, eager to impress.
“The snow made it a bit more difficult,” Samara countered.
Natasha nodded, as if she could understand what it would be like to drive three hours through a snowstorm. But she didn’t. At 18, she got pregnant by her high school boyfriend and was destined to a life in the small town where she and Samara had grown up. Samara was secretly sickened by her. She had worked so hard to get good grades, play on the soccer team and start a leadership club so that she could get into a good college and leave the town behind. She couldn’t understand why her sister would ever make such a stupid mistake that would force her to stay here forever.
“Sam, come, please, meet Lena!” Natasha grabbed her hand, dragging her across the hallway. She hadn’t even had a chance to take off her jacket, only her snow boots.
They entered the living room and Samara drank in the familiar smell of driftwood and pine cones. The brown leather couch was in the same spot facing the TV. Her mother had upgraded to a bigger TV than she remembered. The same bookshelves lined the walls with colourful spines of her mother’s favourite books. The coffee table was the same wooden chest her grandfather had built with his own two hands. Theo, her brother-in-law, was sitting on her father’s old checkered chair, cradling a soft bundle of pale green blankets. She could see a small head peeking out. He looked up at her.
“Hey Sam, nice to see you. Come meet Lena,” said Theo.
Samara slowly walked forward, as if her footsteps could wake the sleeping infant. She peered into the green bundle and saw Lena’s little button nose, wispy lashes and chubby, rosy cheeks. Her heart swooned in her chest.
“She’s...she’s beautiful,” Samara whispered. She felt Frederik’s arms on her shoulders.
“What a precious baby,” he breathed.
“Wanna hold her?” Theo asked.
Samara nodded. She looked at her brother-in-law again. His face looked older with a few wrinkles and dark bags under his eyes but she could still make out a shadow of the handsome football player that he once was with his small, straight nose, bright blue eyes and chiseled jawline.
She sat down on the leather couch, hearing it squish beneath her thighs. Theo got up and placed the surprisingly heavy bundle in her arms. She barely noticed Frederik sit down next to her. She was mesmerized by Lena’s gentle breathing, the slow rise and fall of her tiny chest. One of her hands was curled up near her head, as if she were trying to support herself.
“Where are Tommy and Amy?” she asked without looking up.
“Oh they’re playing upstairs,” said Theo.
“Is that my Samara Anne?”
She looked up and saw her mother with her hands on her hips. She was wearing a bright yellow apron and sweat glistening on her wrinkled forehead. Wisps of silver hair had escaped her ponytail and were illuminated up by the firelight. Her smile had the same crooked curve Samara so easily remembered.
“Hi Mama,” she said.
“My darling,” her mother said, rushing over to give her an awkward hug without squishing the baby.
Once she was released, Samara looked over at Frederik beaming over the whole scene.
“Mama, this is Frederik. Frederik, this is Mama,” she said.
“Frederik, it is so wonderful to finally meet you,” said her mother.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Frederik said, holding out his hand.
Her mother reached her hand out and Frederik grasped it, kissing her knuckles.
Her mother laughed in surprise.
“What a fine young man,” she giggled.
Samara smiled. He was indeed.
“Well, I’ve made chicken, pot roast, potatoes, asparagus, squash and quinoa plus pumpkin pie for dessert. I hope you both brought your appetites!” Her mother boasted.
“Sounds delicious. Anything I can do to help?” asked Frederik.
“Don’t worry at all!” her mother said, turning on her heels and strolling back to the kitchen.
She looked over and saw her sister sitting on Theo’s lap, leaning her head on his chest. She could almost see the young, flushed high school versions of them cuddled up on the same couch after curfew, Theo sneaking out before anyone found them. Maybe some love is worth it.
Sitting there, holding her baby niece, warmed by the fire, she suddenly felt grateful for her family. She was proud of her sister for making a beautiful life for herself. She was proud of her mother for finally being able to be the parent she always wanted her to be. And she was proud to have Frederik meet her family, the most important people in her life.