Colors exploded across the night sky, shaking the hearts of souls cranking their heads back far enough to watch them crackle away. Christina Ammeen gasped at the beautiful display and blew her paper horn out the window as they drove through the crowded streets of downtown Buffalo, New York. The faint smoky odor of the firecrackers teased her nose drawing her eyes to the many restaurants still serving meals past their usual times.
A pleased smile grew on her face. Nothing was more exciting than being outside amongst people for the New Year countdown. So much happiness and anticipation for what was in store in the new year was the only vibe in the air. This made her hope that moving to Buffalo would be the greatest decision she and her mom had ever made.
“Ma next year we have to go to Times Square to see the countdown.”
Her mom, Michelle Ammeen, gave her a closed smile, eyes focused on weaving the car through the traffic.
“Maybe,” she muttered. “If the traffic will be like this in the big city then we might have to watch it on TV.”
Christina blew her horn again and fumbled with her glow-in-the-dark bracelets, pulling her back to when she was a little girl eager to discover new things.
“But, maybe right?”
“Yes maybe. Oh, Christina, I can’t believe I allowed you to persuade me to go to that countdown.”
“Oh, ma you know you loved it.”
“I did, but the traffic though.”
“We’re almost home,” Christina said. Her mom then slammed on the breaks as young people stumbled into the street, apparently drunk.
“Watch where you’re going?” She shouted out the window only to receive bright smiles and woohaas in response.
Christina chuckled and couldn’t help herself but to woohaa out the window. The group got extra pumped with joy and finally removed themselves from the middle of the street.
“Ma relax,” she said tapping her with the patriotic pompoms they had bought from an outdoor stall.
Her mom frowned, fingers tapping the stirring wheel with irritation or maybe worry. Christina couldn’t tell, but she knew one thing, her precious angel of a mother probably wanted to crawl into bed by now.
A few minutes later, they fumbled into their rowhouse on Fiddler Street and donned their coats, hats, and scarves. Although, they were far from the downtown area, Christina could still hear the distant booming of firecrackers and people pressing down on their car horns.
“That was great mama,” she said pulling her into an embrace and pecking a kiss on her cold cheek. “Thanks for taking me down there.”
“Yeah, you know why I did it right,” she said placing a hand on her hip.
Christina grinned and nodded. “For my birthday. I know mama. Next year I promise we will stay indoors for the countdown.”
“Please and thank you,” she said with an exhausted smile.
She shook her head at her mom who looked younger than her age of thirty-three. With cocoa brown skin that looked to have its own natural glow upon a strong boned face, and a shoulder length ponytail of locks, one would think she was some long-lost African queen.
At this point, the two went their separate ways. Christina went to her bedroom to change into her pajamas and her mom fumbled around downstairs before making it to her own room. Plugging her smartphone on the verge of dying, she turned on the television and snuggled into bed. She sniffed in the fresh lavender detergent her mom always used for laundry and felt nothing could go wrong from this point on.
She lazily flickered through the channels only to feel her fingers grow hot and numbed causing the remote to slip from her grip.
“Something is in store for you,” said the preacher in mid sermon. She frowned, stretching her hand until the feeling returned. “If you seek God, he will show you. Then at that moment you will see, how special you truly are.”
A settled knock on the door pulled her attention. “Yeah,” she said snatching the remote and returning to her hunt for something interesting to watch.
Her mom pushed the door open with a creak and entered with two glasses of milk, a pack of Oreos stuffed under one arm, and a gift bag dangling from the other arm.
“May I enter, my special queen?”
Christina raised an eyebrow at her mom’s choice of words. “What happened to my little queen, ma?”
“Well, you’re not little any more, right? No, you are a special queen now.”
She scrunched her nose. “But I thought you were the queen, I’m the princess.”
She chuckled, “Is this not your birthday?”
“So… special queen you are.”
“Whatever you say ma,” she mumbled with a raised brow. “What’s this?”
“Our favorite snack to start out the new year,” she said placing the glasses down on the nightstand. She grabbed the armchair, pulled it over to the bedside, and plopped into it. The chair creaked and groaned under her mom’s weight despite the fact she was slim. Her arms appeared hardcore though as if for a part of her life she used to handle weights.
“Mmhm sounds good,” she said grabbing the glass of milk and taking a sip. The cool liquid flowed down her throat, sweet and refreshing.
“Good huh?” her mom said, peeling open the pack of Oreos. “Shall we, my queen?”
“Yes, we shall, my lady.”
For a few moaning minutes, they dunked and devoured one section of cookies, and chuckled and shook their heads at the wimpy family in the TV show The Middle.
“So, are you ready for school tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “This would be my third week and so far, it’s okay.”
“No one’s bothering you?”
“No,” she said shoulders stiffening. She rolled them out and felt an uneasiness forming in her gut.
“Under control… I think,” she muttered swallowing the cookie she was chewing. She scrunched her nose by how it felt like she had just consumed a thick rope. She gulped more of her milk to help it go down.
“That’s good to hear.”
“Yeah for now. Wait until someone crosses me the wrong way.”
“Now Christina, that was the whole purpose of the therapy, remember. People will always cross you, but it’s up to you on how to respond to it.”
Christina rolled her eyes knowing she was right, but she knew herself. Deep down in her soul was a lighter prepared to ignite upon anything that didn’t sit with her right. Despite it being wrong to have, she secretly did enjoy the release of the pressure.
“Yes ma,” she finally said drifting into a long yawn. She pointed to the gift bag on the floor. “So, what do you have there?”
Her mom glanced at the gift bag as if she had forgotten she brought it in. “Oh right,” she said putting down her glass. “This is your first birthday gift,” her mom grinned handing her the bag.
“Oh, I like the sound of that,” she said putting her own empty glass down.
“Turning sixteen is a very special age, Christina. You will gain so much by it. Hopefully, wisdom to make wise decisions, an anointing from God to give you everything you desire, and power to conquer all of your fears and the obstacles that may come your way.”
Christina gave a closed smile feeling her cheeks heat up with embarrassment. “Awe ma, really?”
“Yes. When I say you are special, I truly mean it. I will show you how very soon.”
“Oh really? Can’t wait to see this,” she grumbled.
She stuck her hand inside the bag and flinched by the heat that greeted her hand. She made a face and narrowed her hazel eyes at her mom who looked to be holding her breath. She pulled out a jewelry box, its rectangular shape obviously telling her it was a necklace. With sweaty hands, she opened the box and gasped. Staring up at her was a familiar jewel she had lost many years ago.
“Oh, my goodness. My pendant.”
Christina took hold of the thick chain linked with pure gold and raised the jewel in the air. Dangling from the long chain was a circle of gold leaves very detailed and precise, crowning a nickel-size pearl of white crystal that seemed to soak in the ceiling light.
“I thought I lost this a long time ago,” she said then studied her mom who’s left eyebrow was twitching. At times, she could always read her mom like a book. The way her left brow would twitch every time she was concerned, deep in thought, or withholding information. “Ma. How did you get this?”
“You got me. I took it from you. You were so young, honey and I didn’t want you to lose it,” she said. “But now you are sixteen, a proper and responsible age to keep such a jewel.”
“An expensive one too.”
“And very important. It means a lot to… me and our family.”
“An heirloom?” she said feeling an unusual weight falling upon her eyelids.
“Ah, yes. An heirloom. I want you to keep it safe and allow no one to touch it or see it.”
“Why keep something so pretty in hiding?” she said putting the jewel over her head and fumbling with the pearl that radiated a warm unnatural heat.
When her mom did not answer, she gave her a suspicious glare despite the sudden desire to shut her eyes. “Why?”
“How about I tell you tomorrow on your birthday.”
“Ma, it’s pass midnight,” she said in mid yawn. “It is my birthday.”
“True,” she muttered eyes averted to her fumbling fingers.
Christina rubbed her stiff neck and leaned against the headboard. “Whatever ma. Thank you so much for this gift. I love it and will keep it safe. Heck, if anyone tries to steal it, they have a death wish coming their way.”
“I bet,” she said a line of guilt forming along her brow.
A tingling sensation formed in her toes and fingers and her eyes burned with exhaustion. “Ma. I don’t feel too good.”
“I know,” she muttered still staring at her fingers.
“What?” she mumbled drifting into a heavy wheeze as her heart felt to implode. Hand pressed against her chest, the feeling in her legs and arms stiffened then numbed, cutting connections with her brain. Then her room began to blur into splotches of darkness. She fought to keep her eyes open, panic unraveling within her churning gut.
“Ma some-ding’s woong,” she said tongue stiffening.
“I am sorry, honey, but this has to be done,” her mom said voice muffling and growing distant.
What do you mean? What did you do? She wanted to ask.
Christina reached out to her mom only to see her arm hadn’t moved. Her mom appeared in her darkening vision. A frown had conquered her angelical smile and regret leaked from her eyes. Every muscle in her body relaxed sending her floating into the space of her consciousness. No matter how hard she tried to fight the sudden exhaustion the quicker it conquered.
“I’m sorry,” was the last thing she heard before she drifted into the serene beating of her heart.