A Traditional Keystone Christmas Excerpt
Down the hall where she was sitting in the dark kitchen at a brown rectangular table that was covered with unpaid bills and unanswered Christmas cards, Linda Hart’s mind was currently two years back in the past reliving the last Christmas Eve that she had ever spent with Ronald Hart, the man who she had loved since high school…
“Guess what?” asked Ronald, a happy smile on his face as he wandered into the kitchen where Linda was cutting up some cheese to use for an hors d’oeuvres platter.
“What?” asked Linda, a curious smile on her face as she brushed her loose hair out of her eyes and turned to look at her husband over her shoulder.
Grinning, Ronald walked over and wrapped his arms around Linda’s shoulders from behind. “The kids are all in bed,” he declared as he leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Pulling away after a moment, he announced, “So it is officially time for us to play Santa.”
“The kids are all in bed, huh?” Linda asked. “Does that include our two oldest, Brendan and Keith?”
Ronald shrugged. “No,” he replied. “But does it matter? The last I checked, they didn’t believe in Santa anymore anyway, so…”
“All right then,” agreed Linda. “Bring out the presents.”
Ronald smiled. “Yes, Mrs. Claus,” he said as he gave Linda an affectionate squeeze. “I guess we now know who the true boss at the North Pole is.”
As Ronald gave her another kiss and then pulled away, Linda giggled. “Get those two older boys to help you if any of the gifts are too heavy,” she ordered as her husband began to make his way to the swinging kitchen door. “I don’t want you straining your back after you chopped all that wood for the fireplace today.”
Stopping at the door, Ronald saluted her. “Yes, mam,” he said.
As her husband pushed open the door and stepped out into the hallway, Linda turned back to her cutting board and began to happily and quietly hum “Silent Night”.
However, Linda’s happiness was short-lived because only a few moments later, the door opened again, and Ronald stuck his head back into the room. “Um, honey?” he said. “Are we putting things in the stockings this year? Because I can’t seem to find anything.”
Gasping, Linda put down her knife. “Oh, no!” she exclaimed as she whirled around to face her husband. “That’s the thing I forgot when I went out to do some last-minute shopping today!” Crossing her arms over the chunky long-sleeve oatmeal-colored turtleneck sweater that she was wearing with jeans and brown boots, she shook her head in dismay. “Aw, man! What are Cassie Lee and Marshall going to think when they don’t have anything in their stockings?”
Despite his wife’s panic, Ronald smiled. “Nothing,” he replied. “Because good old Santa is going to go out to the store and get them a few extra goodies.”
Linda gave him an uncertain look. “Are you sure?” she asked as Ronald came into the kitchen and grabbed his wallet and keys off the table. “Won’t all the stores be closed by now?”
Ronald just shrugged as he stuffed his wallet into his pocket. “Not the ones that are hoping to make some last-minute sales,” he replied. “No, being that it’s only nine, I’m sure a few places in the mall are still open. So don’t worry. I’ll be back before you know it.” Giving his wife an affectionate wink, he turned and pushed open the door again, having no inkling that it would be the absolute last time he would walk through it.
“Mom? Mom! Are you okay?”
Letting out a slight gasp of surprise, Linda slowly looked up to find that Brendan, who must’ve turned on the lights at some point, was now standing over her with his arms crossed and a concerned look on her face. “Oh, Brendan,” she breathed as she brushed her waist-length blond hair, which was hanging limply over her shoulders, behind her ears and then reached amongst the tear-soaked tissues that were scattered across the table and grabbed the driest one. “I didn’t hear you come in. So when did you get home?”
But instead of answering his mother’s question, Brendan simply began to look around the kitchen. “Here’s a better question,” he said as his eyes scanned over the dirty dishes that were piled in the sink and the old newspapers and pizza boxes that were stacked on the counter next to the white refrigerator. “Did you do anything today? Anything at all?”
As Linda finished dabbing at her eyes, which had been wet with tears for the majority of the day, and looked up at her son with a confused look, the swinging door burst open, and Cassie Lee came scampering into the room.
“Mommy,” said Cassie Lee as she stopped in front of Brendan. “I just remembered. We’re having a Christmas party at school, and I need to bring in money so my teacher can buy stuff for it. So can I have some?”
At the mention of the holiday, Linda sat back in her brown wood chair and crossed her arms over the dark blue long-sleeve thermal top, which had a button placket with three buttons at the collar, that she was wearing with red and dark blue plaid drawstring flannel pajama pants. “Christmas,” she said in a dreamy faraway voice. “I remember money for Christmas. Your father used to spend lots of it on toys for you and your siblings.”
“Huh?” asked Cassie Lee, her face pinching with confusion as Brendan put a hand to his forehead and grimaced. “Mommy, why are you talking about Daddy? Are you nu…”
Before Cassie Lee had a chance to finish asking the question that he was pretty sure was about to emerge from her lips, Brendan quickly reached around her and slapped a hand over her mouth.
“Mm!” protested Cassie Lee, kicking at her brother’s legs with the heels of her sneakers as he lifted her up into his arms.
Completely ignoring his squirming sister for a moment, Brendan looked his mother in the eyes and gave her a serious look. “Mom,” he said. “I know you’re hurting. We all are. But please. Find a way to manage this overwhelming sadness. Because we need you. Especially now.”
As her son turned and dragged his little sister out of the room, Linda sat up and folded her arms on the table. “I need someone too,” she sadly said. “I need my husband. My husband who would probably still be alive today if I hadn’t sent him out to buy some last-minute stocking stuffers two years ago!” Her head now dropping forward onto her arms, she burst into heartbroken sobs for what was probably the tenth time that day.