Authors: Lani Lynn Vale
I held a thumbs up to her. “Yes, mom.”
“I think you’ve got entirely way too much Christmas shit,” Elliott said to me as he hung more lights.
at him. “I know, isn’t it great?”
He sighed, coming to a stop when he got to the bottom of the tree. “Just don’t think I’ll do this every year.”
His statement was a bluff, and we both knew it.
He’d helped me decorate for three Christmases now, and would continue to do so in the future.
“Oh, Christmas Tree,” A deep raspy voice played sang the speakers, making my head shoot up with glee.
“It’s our song!” I squealed, bouncing over to him like a kangaroo on crack.
He sighed and caught me, plastering me to his side.
“I hate dancing,” he mumbled, but nonetheless, started to sway to the music. “You should give me a blow job later to make up for this embarrassment you put me through every year.”
I snorted and tried not to wince when he stepped on my pinky toe. The good thing was, was that he wasn’t wearing shoes, so it didn’t hurt like it usually did.
“I’ll give you a blow job, but only if you let me open one of my presents tonight,” I suggested.
He scrunched up his nose and shook his head. “No way, Jose.”
“Then I guess you’ll just have to settle for good old fashion sex,” I said before he twirled me around, hand above my head.
I went with it, even though he twirled me into the tree, pulling me back just in time to see the tree topple over on top of Steeler.
Who then proceeded to knock over my Wise Men, my Christmas baby collection, the glass of milk and cookies I’d jokingly placed on the coffee table, and finally the glass fiber optic angel I’d just bought that day.
It shattered to the ground in a million pieces, and I closed my eyes, laying my head onto Elliott’s chest. “Clumsy dog.”
He burst into laughter. “Damn straight.”
You don’t have issues. You have a mother lovin’ subscription.
Christmas number 4
I stared at my husband with my heart in my throat.
My heart was bleeding for him. His grief was almost palpable.
Elliott was sitting on the couch, reading an article in the paper with his head in his hands.
I’d only needed to read the article’s headline to know it would dredge up wounds that he’d spent a long time trying to bury.
Army Ranger’s memory lives on in surviving daughter.
Kayla, that sweet baby girl, was sitting on Santa’s lap, which happened to be Sam dressed up as Santa, in the picture to the side of the heading.
In the article, it went on to explain about Dougie’s life. How he’d been an Army Ranger, and had died doing something he loved with all his heart.
I felt selfish.
If Elliott hadn’t gotten out, would Dougie still be here? Had I pushed him to get out? I didn’t think I had, but Elliott had been distant.
The only times he was truly himself was when he made love to me in the night. I missed my best friend, and he wouldn’t be acting like this if I hadn’t pushed him to get out somehow.
I was being irrational. I knew it, yet I couldn’t stop blaming myself.
Backing away slowly, I walked through the kitchen and to the backdoor where I slipped my sock-covered feet into my tennis shoes and walked out.
I looked over my shoulder before I closed it, just to see if he was looking, but he wasn’t.
He hadn’t moved a muscle, still in the exact same position.
Looking to my left, I was surprised to see I wasn’t the only one on the back porch.
Cheyenne was there, too.
Her long blonde hair up high on her head in a ponytail. She was covered in a large comforter on her own porch, which connected to mine.
Free was set up to be more of a large duplex-type structure. Only with eight homes instead of two.
“Hey,” I called to Cheyenne.
She looked up and smiled. “Hey.”
I liked Cheyenne.
I liked how she watched out for Sam.
I liked how she made him smile. I honestly liked everything about her. Then again, if she could put a smile on Sam’s face during these dark days, then she would forever have a home inside my heart.
It’d been six long months since Dougie had died, and six long months of having each and every man that belonged on their team blaming themselves for not being there.
I was honestly exhausted.
To make matters worse, I’d yet to tell Elliott that he was going to be a father.
I knew it wasn’t the right time. Then again, I wasn’t sure when that was going to be. Maybe never with the way he was going.
“I think I’m going to go for a walk,” I said as I hugged my jacket close to my body. “If Elliott asks,” I knew he wouldn’t. “Would you tell him where I went?”
She nodded. “Sure.”
We were both having our own problems.
On her part, she had someone threatening her. Then again, I did too, but nobody knew to what extent. Nobody except Sam. I wasn’t completely stupid after all;
I just didn’t want to make a big deal of it. I
didn’t want Elliott to look any worse than he already did.
Sam was reluctant to keep the fact that an ex-member of their old team was threatening me from Elliott, but I’d begged him, and he’d relented.
Only because I never went anywhere.
I did all my work online.
Taking a step off the porch, I made my way into the woods that lined the back of the property.
My business had taken off over a year ago, and now I was doing extremely well.
Most of the time I made purchases online, then I would make up an excuse to contact customer service. Depending on how they did, I rated them on my website, which now had over a million followers.
A quarter of my income came from advertising on my sight, which I approved, and sometimes even reviewed, later.
When I’d started this venture, I’d never thought that it would blow up like it had. But it did.
People seemed to love my opinions, and I was one hundred percent willing to give them to anyone who wanted to listen. If a store did well, I thought they deserved that credit. If they did badly, then they’d earn the sharp edge of
my tongue… or my fingers, that was.
I’d walked for over an hour, thinking about nothing consequential, when I realized that I no longer recognized the area anymore.
I knew I was still on Free land, but I didn’t know where I was, or how to get back.
And stupid me, I’d left my phone on the table next to my computer in my hasty exit.
“Damn,” I sighed, walking up to a large tree and leaning my back against it.
I slid down until my calves met the back of my thighs, pulling the sweatshirt I was wearing over my folded knees.
How long would it take Elliott to find me?
Realize that I’m missing?
Turns out, not that long.
I was napping with my head resting on my knees, my arms folded into my chest underneath the sweatshirt, when I heard the crunch of boots through the forest.
I’d been gone for a little over two hours now, by my count, and I was surprised that he came that quickly.
He walked slowly, unhurriedly, through the woods.
That’s when I realized that he wasn’t looking for me. He was just walking.
He wasn’t worried about me. Wasn’t actively looking at anything in particular.
He had his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
His blonde hair had gotten longer. It now brushed his collar, giving him more of a rugged look with his ever
growing beard. I wasn’t used to him being anything but shaven and sheared. This look was incredibly new to me, and I mostly enjoyed looking at him.
He looked a little meaner, but it got me hot.
Not that he’d know. He was too busy in his head to pay attention to me.
I’d tried to pull him out of his head, but every time I did, he became
mad at me. Storming off to the back porch, or the garage, completely ignoring anything I had to say.
In fact, in the months since Dougie had died, I’d spent less time talking to him than I had when he’d been deployed.
Staying where I was, I watched him walk by, not even bothering to get up.
I was comfortable. Maybe he’d come back through. Maybe he wouldn’t.
I didn’t care.
Then I scolded myself. I should care. I had a baby to think about.
Which was why I got up, knees protesting from being in the same position for so long, and started to follow him at a slow pace. Keeping him in my line of sight, but not getting close enough for him to hear me.
I’d thought I’d accomplished it, too, when he suddenly stopped and had his gun out and pointed at me before I’d even realized he stopped.
I froze, my heart pounding as I stared down the barrel of his gun.
It didn’t stay long, though.
When he realized whom it was, he lowered the gun like it was on fire, horrified at what he’d just done.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Blaine. What the fuck are you thinking following me in the woods? I could’ve killed you!” He bellowed.
I snorted at that asinine comment. He wouldn’t have killed me. He had too much control.
He did, however, scare the bejesus out of me. Man, but he was fast.
I rolled my eyes and started past him. “I’m fucking lost, asswad. I was in the woods first. You were the one following me.”
My anger was pouring off of me in waves.
“Asswad? Why are you talking to me like that? What have I done to you?” He asked in surprise.
I don’t know why I erupted. Maybe it was the hormones that were out of whack. Maybe it was the way he said it so surprisingly, like he couldn’t believe it. Maybe it was just on general principle since he’d been ignoring me. Whatever you called it, I flipped.
“You know, that’s exactly right. You haven’t done a single fucking thing to me. Not one. Not in six fucking months while I bust my ass trying to keep you from pulling away any further. Not like I’ve accomplished much, though. Not when
intent on going.” I yelled. Then I said what I’d never intended to tell him. “And I’m pregnant. How’s that for
fucking justice? We conceived when you fucked me in the dark. One of the times where you waited till I was asleep, or nearly asleep so I wouldn’t ask you any questions or talk to you afterwards.”
Man, but I sounded whiney, but I couldn’t help it.
I missed my husband!
His hand came up and he placed it over his chest. Almost as if my words had shot through his heart and left him bleeding out.
“You’re pregnant?” He asked softly.
I nodded, frozen to the spot.
He moved, walked slowly to me before pulling me into his body.
I stayed stiff for all of three seconds before I caved, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling him in close before I burst into tears.
“I’ve missed you so much,” I whispered fiercely.
Tears rolled down my cheeks, and I couldn’t do anything but cry harder when his own breath hitched at my admission. “I’m sorry, B. I don’t know how to get out. I just keep replaying it in my head. I was the one who suggested we all leave.”
“And do you think he’d
want you to do this? It’s Christmas Eve. We don’t even have a tree. Did you know that?” I sniffled.
He looked crestfallen when he realized I was telling the truth. Even going as far as to look
at his watch to confirm the date. “Shit.”
I nodded. “I love you, E. Come back to me.”
I left him there to contemplate what happened. Lucky for me I could see the front of our place, so it wasn’t a far walk to our house. I strode inside and closed the door to our empty place, wishing he’d get his act together.
The silence was deafening as I made my way through the house.
I laid down on the bed and cried my heart out. For us. For this little baby that was coming into this cruel world. For Dougie. For Dougie’s daughter that’d probably never remember her father.
I cried so long that I fell asleep, never hearing when Elliott came in.
I fucked up.
I thought, berating myself for being so stupid.
While I was busy wallowing in a state of pity over what I could’ve and should’ve done differently, my wife was busy holding us together by the skin of her teeth. I hadn’t realized it’d gotten that bad.
gotten that bad.
I went to work, and stayed there for nearly the whole day, not even coming home for dinner.
Blaine would set a plate in the microwave which I’d warm and eat, staying away from her until it was so late at night that I didn’t bother her when or
I finally went to bed.
It was the times that I’d needed comfort that I’d take from Blaine’s body.
She gave it to me willingly, and I hadn’t realized I was doing anything bad until an hour ago when she’d told me I was ‘fucking’ her. I never ‘fucked’ Blaine. I made love to her. Even if it was rough, it still wasn’t ‘fucking.’
Walking into the house, carrying the scrawniest looking tree that they’d had left at the Christmas tree lot, I prayed it’d be enough.
I’d picked up the Christmas things from the storage garage, surprised that she hadn’t asked me to do it much earlier in the season like she usually did.
Blaine loved Christmas, even going as far as to decorate in the beginning of November if I’d let her.
That had to be what astonished me the most, seeing that it was the 24
, and not one single piece of Christmas had been put out.
She hadn’t even worn her Christmas sweaters.
No pumpkin pie candles. No apple cider boiling on the stove. No string popcorn. Not a single Christmas carol had graced that beautiful mouth.
For the next thirty minutes, I worked on setting out Christmas decor
ations. Hanging our stockings and
Steeler’s, even though it went against the grain to hang a dog’s stocking, but whatever made Blaine happy.