It started with Willa's gloves. Her favorite pair. The ones with the bunnies on them. She'd lost one and begged me to help her find it. We scoured the house. Went back to the school. By the time we found it buried in the snow and returned home, I realized something else was missing.
By now, my family knew the bracelet was important to me. They knew it was from Lochan. But I'd never shown anyone the inscription. I wasn't ashamed of it. It was just that so much of our short, passionate relationship had been exposed to people who never should have known our secrets. The simple, loving words engraved on the bracelet were mine. And mine alone now.
So, I tried not to panic. To let it show how much it hurt me to lose it. After all, it was almost Christmas, and there was so much to be done. I was trying everything I could to bring holiday cheer to the house. But it was more than difficult. It was our first Christmas without Lochie, and everyone was feeling the loss of him.
Of course I looked for the bracelet on my own. Searching the house once everyone was asleep. Watching the ground on my way to pick up Willa and Tiffin. It made sense to check all the places we'd looked for Willa's glove. But it wasn't there. It wasn't anywhere.
Someone must have picked it up. Decided to sell it for the silver. The thought of Lochan's words of love being melted down into nothing made me feel faint. Why did I have to lose the last bit of him I had left? The only proof that our love had been real and true and everlasting.
But I had to move on. I had to. There were Christmas presents to be bought. I was able to convince Kit to take care of Tiffin's present, but I still had to buy one for him. I tried to put a lot of thought into it and still ended up choosing a "safe" video game. Even Willa's present felt difficult this year. I finally got her a small bunny plush and a few pretty bits and bobs for her hair.
Christmas Eve, while I was placing the wrapped presents under the tree, I found myself giving a trembling sigh. It wasn't like there was a box missing: besides my bracelet, Lochan and I hadn't gotten each other gifts in a long time. But Lochan was missing. He should be sitting next to me now, feeling the relief of the shopping being complete. I let my head lull slightly to the side as I imagined wearily leaning against him. My comfort, my love. Gone.
I sniffed and brushed away some escaping tears. "Maya?"
I turned, quickly. Willa was behind me. "H-hey," I said, trying to smile. "Why are you out of bed? Is everything alright?"
"Are you crying?" she asked.
"Not really, just..." I sighed. "Yeah, a little."
"You miss Lochie." She said it as a statement. Her lips were pulled down into a deep frown.
"Yes, honey," I said, opening my arms for her to step into. The gesture was meant to comfort her, but I realized I needed it even more. I hugged her to me and let myself cry for a minute. She cried, too, but I was the one who had to pull my emotions back in. "I'm so sorry, sweetie. I'll be okay. You just go back to bed. Santa won't come until you're asleep."
Willa cast her eyes over the presents already under the tree. I realized the illusion had been broken. Kit had tried so hard to stop Willa from believing last year, but she never wavered. Losing Lochan had probably affected all of her young beliefs.
"You didn't get anything for Lochie," she observed, quietly.
My heart skipped a beat. What was I supposed to say to that? Had Christmas somehow caused her to regress into denial about Lochan's death? "Lochan doesn't need a present," I said, cautiously.
"But he got me one," Willa said.
My tired eyes went wide. I was really worried now. "What d'you mean?"
Willa bit her lip, partly smiling, partly sad, partly embarrassed. "Remember when I lost my glove?" I nodded. "I asked Lochie to help us find it. And we did!"
"Oh, well - I don't know if..." But I couldn't tell her it was probably a coincidence. That we would have found the glove anyhow. I gave a sad smile. "That was very nice of him, wasn't it?"
Willa nodded, enthusiastically. "So, don't forget to get him something, okay?"
"Okay," I said. But I knew there was only one thing Lochan wanted. And I was still keeping my promise.
Willa yawned and started to go back to bed. Then, she glanced back. "You can talk to Lochan, too, Maya," she said. "He misses you."
The tears sprung back into my eyes. "I - I know."
Willa smiled sleepily and walked away.
Once I was sure she was back in bed, I finished my chores and shut off the lights, heading to my room. I felt exhausted and restless at the same time. I knew I had a duty to provide the best I could for my siblings, but I didn't want to have a Christmas without Lochan. I just wanted to sleep through it.
Yet I felt like I might not sleep at all tonight. I turned out the light but opened my curtains to glance out at the sky. The moon shone down at me. Lochan, my heart called, I miss you so much. The sky did not answer.
Eventually, I decided I had to at least rest my weary body, even if I couldn't find sleep. I changed into an old shirt of Lochan's, the leftover scent of him probably an illusion at this point, and turned to get in bed. Something made me freeze. Something that sparkled in the moonlight.
I had looked there. I swear I had. But there it was, in the bed we had shared, peeking out from under my pillow. Like it had been placed there as a present. I took the bracelet in my trembling hands and kissed the metal, remembering the first time I had done so. How I'd felt it kept us closer. And even now, I imagined his lips on mine once more and could almost feel it.
Lochan was gone, and nothing could bring him back. The thought still hit me with agony sometimes. Forced me to sob into my pillow at night. But this, the return of the most precious object I would ever own, made me sure that my Lochie was still there. Looking out for us. Looking out for me. Loving me. From wherever he was.
And wherever he was, Lochan was still my soulmate, the love of my life. I knew he'd forgive me if I decided to move on one day, decided to love another. Maybe he'd even encourage it. But I also knew that would never happen. It wasn't what I wanted. I'd promised I would try to live on for him. To carry on as the head of our family. And I would. I would watch our kids get older. To find love and marry. And have kids of their own. I would love them all with everything I had. But that one part of my heart would never love anyone but Lochan.
I missed his kisses. I missed his warmth. But Lochan had once said the one thing they could never take away from us was our love for each other. And that would never change.
"Thank you, my love," I said, kissing the bracelet again. "Thank you."