A gift that keeps on giving

You couldn’t ask for a better start to your birthday. It’s the school summer holiday with no homework left to be done and the sun is out and welcoming you to the day.

James loved the sun, so that was his first birthday present. He knew he’d get a present from his Auntie Helen and many more later at his birthday party. He couldn’t wait to see what his Auntie had got for him.

He rushed down the stairs into the kitchen to find her making him pancakes for breakfast. He loved his Auntie Helen, even though she wasn’t his real aunt. Years ago when James and his mum had been evicted from their home after falling behind with mortgage payments, Auntie Helen had offered them a place to stay until they could get back on their feet, but then his mum got ill and she said they could stay there indefinitely. After his mum died from cancer Auntie Helen took it upon herself to look after him as if he were her own. His mum’s best friend was always there for him and ever since he could remember he had affectionately called her Auntie Helen.

“Happy birthday sweetheart,” she called to him whilst working the pan on the hob. It was as if she had eyes in the back of her head. He could never sneak up on her.

“Thank you Auntie.” He raced around the breakfast bar to give her a hug. “Is it time for presents?”

“Not until you’ve eaten your breakfast, but then I’ve got a very special present for you.”

James couldn’t wait. He sat at the breakfast bar and scoffed his food as fast as he could. “I’m done. That was lovely. Present time?”

Auntie Helen gave him a wry smile acknowledging he was naughty to consume his breakfast so quickly. As it was his birthday she decided to let it slide. “I’ve been waiting for your 13th birthday to give you this. It was your mum’s idea.” James looked shocked. They didn’t really speak about mum that often. Five years was a lifetime to James. Time had faded his memories of his mum and she came up in conversations less, however he always kept a place for her in his heart.

“What is it, what is it?” James couldn’t contain his excitement any longer.

Auntie Helen placed a small silver box on the breakfast bar in front of him. “This is from your mum.”

James sat there a little underwhelmed. A trinket box isn’t exactly the most ideal present for a boy. He stared at it, looking slightly confused.

“Open it up,” Auntie Helen said, encouraging him.

He lifted the lid slowly. It was a little stiff to open, but it opened wide holding itself in position. The lid was curved, with the underside lined with purple velour. The inside of the box had no decoration, it was quite plain, at odds with the lid. The contents though were extra special.

Slowly James emptied the box. On the top was a photograph of his mum holding him when he was a baby. She had a smile to melt the coldest of hearts. A tear escaped his eye as soon as he recognised her.

Beneath the photograph were a few locks of blonde and brunette hair, carefully shaped into a heart and held together with a ribbon and bow. Attached to the bow was a handwritten label inscribed “Always in my heart.” James guessed the blonde hair was his baby locks and the brunette hair was his mum’s.

A locket and chain rested on a tightly wound scroll that was tied up with the same ribbon used for the hair. He placed the locket in the palm of his hand and opened it carefully. Inside was a picture of him in his first school uniform.

He unrolled the scroll and another tear ran down his face. It was a letter from his mum.

Happy Birthday my darling boy,

I miss and love you so very much. I wanted you to have this special box on your 13th birthday. It was given to me by your grandmother when I turned 13. It’s a place to store the things closest to your heart, that’s why I filled it with memories of you.

I love you James, my sweet sweet boy.

Forever in my heart, Mum. xxxx

James couldn’t control his crying. Auntie Helen gave him a comforting cuddle and kissed him on the forehead. She held him until he stopped, resting her head against his. He wiped his eyes and gently placed the items back in the box.

“Can I take this up to my room?”

“Of course you can sweetheart.”

James walked solemnly back to his room. It was his greatest ever present but also the saddest. He closed his bedroom door, sat on his bed and emptied the contents of the box onto his duvet. He stared at the lid noticing that the velour wasn’t sitting in place properly. He tried to reposition it but it fell out. There was something else wedged into the lid. It was another note. He pried it out and carefully unfolded it.

James, if you have received this box then you’re not safe.

Helen is not who you think she is.

I didn’t die from cancer. I was being poisoned. I never told you the truth in order to keep you safe. Helen said she’d kill you if I told you.

When you were 8, Helen started slowly poisoning me to make it look like I had an illness. She confessed when I could no longer walk on my own. She wanted you for herself and wanted you to love her.

I had to play along and wait until you were old enough to learn the truth. You have to escape. She loves children but hates teenagers. She will soon turn on you.

I managed to drag myself into the kitchen on one of the days she took you to school and I stole some rat poison. I’ve hidden it in the locket behind the picture.

Save yourself son. Use it wisely.

I love you James. Be strong, escape before it’s too late.

Mum xxxx

James couldn’t believe what he had read. He opened the locket, peeled away the picture to expose a dark blue rectangular-shaped pill.

“Are you ok, sweetheart? Come down for a cup of tea,” called the familiar voice from downstairs.

James shoved the letter and pill into his pocket, and went for a cup of tea with Helen.