Twelve Days of Christmas

“Home?“ she asks and I look straight into her warm green eyes. A nod. “Okay.”

The road is sugar-coated and empty ahead of us, the wheels are digging through cushions of fresh snow. It’s Christmas time. The radio’s playing old-time favorites, country singers and 60s show stars. Flakes are dancing on the windshield, the sound is damped. I close my eyes, inhale her scent.

“How was Ontario?” Her voice cuts gently into the silence of my thoughts.

“Lonely.” I smile and rest my hand on hers. Her skin is soft, her nails are brittle. “Did you find a tree?”

Donna clears her throat. Her voice is hoarse from a recent cold. “This morning. I wanted to surprise you.”

“I could’ve helped.”

“I know,” she smirks at me and shrugs. “Help me decorate instead.”

My fingers caress her skin as she navigates the car across a bridge to what looks like a winter wonderland. The house is crusted, hidden underneath at least three layers of fresh snow. The lights are soft, the decoration subtle. I am happy to be home with her for the holidays.

“Did Justin try to talk you into coming back early again this year?” Donna unloads the trunk before I have even left the car. Her question is subtle, as usual.

“He’s not big on Christmas, you know that.”

Donna sighs and shakes her head. I’m not sure if she nods or disapproves. “When did you say you’ll be back?” She hands me my suitcase and a bag of groceries.

“I’ll be back in January and no interruptions until then. I said bad reception in the mountains, no wireless.” I hate to tell her lies. She always seems to know.

She fakes a smile like so often, has given up on arguing with me about my job.

“You are away too much,” is what I get. A rare sign of protest from her otherwise calm demeanor. “Last week Chloe said her dad’s not living with us.”

Her words cut like daggers. “To whom?”

“Ms. Langley at pre-school.” She tries to soothe me with a kiss.

“That’s why you called.” It dawns on me as I let her slip away from me too soon.

She hums her yes and opens the door. I look after her for a moment, grab my bags and follow her inside. She’s busy, seems fine without me, has her way of doing things. The tree is beautiful and tall, boxes of tinsel, ornaments and gingerbread are all in place. Those little angels, Chloe’s Santa Clause, our stockings by the fire – the room looks perfect.

“Chloe made some gingerbread for you.” Donna announces festively.

I know she loves to bake with her. Our daughter’s little hands covered in flower and dough, the kitchen a mess of frosting, sprinkles and cake tins, captured and posted on Facebook for me to see.

“She’ll be back from your parents tomorrow.” My wife says, her daily routine making me feel dispensable.

“I missed you two terribly.” I try to break the rhythm she has found without me.

“I missed you, too.” The sadness in her voice startles me.

I close the door and stop her from doing her chores – groceries in the kitchen, suitcase upstairs – I want to hold her for a while. “I won’t go back until New Year’s.”

“Don’t lie to me,” she whispers and allows me to wrap her in my arms.

“I’m not. New Year’s is January.” I try to uplift her mood.

“Two weeks this time, really?” Her head feels good against my skin, her hair tickles my neck.

“Twelve days.” I pull her into a lingering kiss. “Twelve days of Christmas for us this year.”

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