The first snow made its greeting just in time for Christmas. I stood on a stool, trying to place the star on top of the tree. Tristan sat in my dad’s old armchair, his nose buried in a book. Nearly toppling, I regained my balance and huffed, then pushed my hair out of my face.
“Some help wouldn’t be amiss,” I said. “You know, maybe a helping hand from a tall, strong man. Know anyone who meets that description?”
“Hmm?” Tristan raised his eyes. Seeing the look on my face, he said, “Oh, right.” Standing, the book dropped from his lap to the floor. He came to my aid, placing his hands on either side of my waist. “What seems to be the problem here?” He tried not to smile.
“Oh, wipe that silly grin off your face, Mr. Smarty Pants.”
“But I’m not smiling.” His tone failed to hide the smile in his voice.
I raised my eyebrows. “Oh, really? And what do you call that?” I pointed to the upturned edges of his mouth.
“That’s hardly a smile. Now, I can think of a better thing to do with my mouth than smile.” He lifted me off the stool, hoisting me over his shoulder, then flopped into the armchair.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, taken by surprise. I crashed into him, but Tristan caught my face and brought my lips to his.
After the kiss ended, I said, “You know you shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting.”
“Are you saying something about your weight, my darling?”
I gently smacked his arm. “Hey, now.”
He chuckled. “You’re as light as a feather. Don’t worry about that. Your curves are…mmm, the perfect caress for my hands.”
“Hmm, well, perhaps those hands can be put to a different task.”
Tristan looked affronted. “What better use could there be than writing, perhaps?”
“Very funny. I meant putting the star on the tree.” I pointed to the top of our real tree. Yesterday, the Macy, John, and their kids had joined us in buying a tree. It was the first time in several years I had a Christmas tree, and I was more than ready to create some new memories.
“Oh, I see how it is. Priorities, huh?” Tristan eased me off him as he stood. He pecked me on the lips right before picking up the star.
He poised the star on the top of the tree and stepped back. “Well, what do you think?”
“Looks perfect.” I beamed. “Are you ready to turn the lights on and see how it looks all put together?”
Tristan flicked the light switch next to the front door. At the same time, a bundle of mail spilled in through the slit.
“Can you imagine walking around with a heavy sack on your back in this weather?” Tristan asked, picking up the pile. He rifled through it, then stopped, his eyes like saucers.
“What? What is it?”
He handed one of the envelopes to me. “It’s an early Christmas gift.”
My eyes fell on the envelope. When I saw who it was from, tears blurred my vision. “Oh, Tristan!” I tore open the envelope and held the letter, taking in every word like it was my last breath.
I hope you get this. God above, I hope you get this. God alone knows how many times I have written to you and trusted that somehow you’ll receive word from me that I’m not dead.
I’m guessing you never received any of my letters because when I got yours, my heart nearly stopped. You made no indication you knew the truth, that yes, I’m alive.
To hear from you is a miracle. There, I’ll just say it. It’s a miracle! Words cannot say how sorry I am that you didn’t know sooner. So much is beyond our control, but I want you to know that I am as well as I can be. Don’t worry over me, please, but I know you, and I know you will worry. Please don’t. I know I’ll see you again one day.
How did this mess-up happen, you wonder? Because I’m a fool, that’s how. I had a friend, a good old boy named Fred. For good luck, some of the guys switched dog tags before going into battle. Fred and I did just that one fateful day back in May of ‘43. If I’d known he wouldn’t make it out alive, I’d never have be so stupid. Anyway, I was captured and taken prisoner, and they thought I was Fred. As I said, the truth didn’t come to light until much later. The Red Cross discovered I was alive at the camp, and then you must have gotten the news.
For now, just knowing that you’re happy and married makes me happier than I could imagine. And for the record, yes, you took me quite by surprise when you said you were married. Who’s this lucky stiff, this Tristan fellow? I’d love to shake his hand one day and tell him he picked the cream of the crop.
I must end this, but know that not a day passes where I don’t think of you, of home. One day soon, dear sister, I promise, one day soon.
Chucky (I signed it this way just for you.)
I reread the letter three times, my heart hammering out of my chest.
“Oh, Tristan! This is truly the best Christmas gift I could ask for besides Chucky coming home!” My tears fell over my smile as I went to him.
He pulled me close. “Nothing makes me happier than to see your smile.”
“Do you think Chucky will come home soon?”
“The tide has been turning in the Allies’ favor for several months now. I believe you will see your brother next year.”
I stepped back enough to gaze into Tristan’s face. “It’s too bad Chucky can’t be home for Christmas.”
Something shifted in Tristan’s eyes. He released me abruptly and stepped away. “That reminds me.”
I furrowed my brow. “What are you up to?”
“Trust me.” He cast a smile back at me as he went to the record cabinet and retrieved a record. “I thought this would be the perfect touch for your sentiment.”
I approached him and looked at the album in his hands. The 78-RPM single of Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas (If Only in My Dreams)” rested in his grip. Tears formed and fell freely. “Yes, put it on.”
Tristan removed the record from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable. He set the needle on the record and turned the player on. Crosby’s gentle, crooning voice filled the room a moment later, accompanied by the John Trotter Scott Orchestra. My husband and I wore twin smiles, the sadness and the happiness mixed, the hope and the grief of the lyrics tugging on our emotions. He took me in his arms, and we danced to the music. I leaned into his sturdy chest and allowed the words to take me somewhere else and nowhere at all.
When the song ended, my ends slid open. Snow continued falling beyond the windows, but in our little living room with its old-lady furniture and my messy paintings, hope and love blossomed that one day soon, Chucky would be home for good. I meant to tell him as much when I wrote him a letter later that day.
* * *
When Christmas Eve arrived, Tristan drove our car to church that evening. The light from the passing streetlamps illuminated his face as he watched the road. He wore a smart suit and bowler hat. A trim beard lined his jaw against the chill of winter. Under the hat, his freshly cut hair was shorter than it had been in months.
“This holiday season is just full of miracles,” I said, clutching my purse in my lap.
“What do you mean?” Tristan’s eyes glanced at me for a second, then returned to the road. No snow pelted the windshield, but the forecast called for the white stuff before midnight.
“Well, first the letter from Chucky. Then you visited the barber’s, and now you’re going to church with me. Will wonders never cease?”
He chuckled. “Stranger things have happened. It’s Christmas. I figured I could go this once.”
“Besides our wedding, when’s the last time your were in a church?”
He shrugged. “I couldn’t say. Probably for your brother’s now-fake funeral or Angela’s wedding. My family wasn’t exactly the church-going type.”
Tristan pulled into the parking lot of the Methodist church I’d attended while growing up and now frequented again. When I first returned last year after a six-year absence, I thought poor old Pastor Wilson would have a heart attack. I pushed such thoughts from my mind now, wondering how much longer the dear pastor would work. And heart attacks were nothing to joke about.
“Well, you’re here. That’s what matters.”
Tristan killed the engine, the car’s rumbling dying. “Let’s go in, shall we?”
He exited and came around, opening the door for me. I took his arm and leaned into him, resting my opposite hand over our entwined arms.
* * *
We stepped into a winter wonderland after the service concluded. White dusted our shoulders as we made our way to the Speedster. When we reached the car, we stopped and looked at the heavens.
“This was always my favorite part of Christmas as a kid,” I said. “I hoped for snow to be falling when church let out at midnight.”
“That means it’s Christmas Day.” Tristan kissed me. “Merry Christmas, my darling.”
“Merry Christmas, my everything.”
Tristan opened the door for me. I got in. He joined me a moment later. He didn’t turn the car on, and when the silence drew long, I cast a puzzled look at him.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
A soft laugh escaped from his lips. “Nothing is wrong. Nothing at all.”
“Then why so quiet?”
“I was just thinking how much I enjoyed this evening.” His hand took mine over the shifter.
A smile eased onto my face, my worries evaporating. “I’m so happy to hear it.”
With a gentle smile on his face, Tristan started the car and drove home. The snow was still falling with the grace of angels singing. I imagined that first Christmas night when the baby Jesus lay wrapped in his mother’s arms in a manger as I stepped out of the car and gazed at the sky. The stars were obscured, but it was the same sky as nearly 2000 years ago. What amazement, what fear the shepherds must have experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared among the stars and proclaimed the birth of the Savior!
“Thank You,” I whispered to God, then withdrew my gaze and took my husband’s hand.
We entered through the side door, throwing on the light. After peeling off our coats, gloves, and hats and hanging them, Tristan said, “There’s something I want to share with you before we head to bed.”
“Oh?” I sent a puzzled look his way, but he was already leaving the kitchen.
I followed Tristan into the living room.
“Please, sit,” he said, gesturing toward my father’s armchair. He flipped on the switch, and the tree bloomed with light.
I eased into the comfort of the cushions. Tristan got down on one knee and reached under the tree among the few gifts. He withdrew one and set it on my lap.
“Go ahead. Open it.”
“Shouldn’t I wait until morning?”
“I want you to see it now.” His eyes danced in the low light.
Smiling, I ripped the edge of the paper, careful to keep it in good condition for the following year. A box about three inches thick stared up at me. I removed the lid and stared at a bound stack of paper, only it wasn’t just any stack of paper. On the first page were the words “A Flower Among Rocks.” Then “By B.R. Stevenson.”
My mouth hung open in awe as my eyes shifted from the manuscript to Tristan. “Is this—?”
Tristan covered my hands with his and squeezed. “It is. It needs to go to my agent and be edited, but this is the first draft of my next novel. I contacted Riggs two weeks ago—the day after you received your brother’s letter, in fact. He’s anxious to receive it. I mailed it to him the next day.”
“That’s wonderful, Tristan!” I took his face in my hands and kissed him. “You did it! You really wrote another book, and to think I’ll be the first to read it… Thank you so much!” I flung my arms around him.
He returned the hug, awkwardly leaning forward as he knelt in front of the chair. He laughed. “Let’s just say a certain someone was the inspiration.” He tapped my nose.
“You are the sweetest, most thoughtful man on the planet. I can’t wait to read it. And this copy…it’s mine?”
He nodded, chuckling more. “You may have wondered what took me so long. I had to type out another copy.”
“You could’ve used carbon paper.” I laughed.
“That would’ve been the sensible thing to do, and we know me and sensible don’t match.”
“Truer words were never said.” I lost myself in laughter and hugs.
When our chuckles subsided, Tristan said, “But seriously, Lorna, I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be living a life like this. You have done more than you’ll ever know. When I told you I wrote when I was down and out in the past, that was true. Being married to you, though, sparked something new and alive in me. I found you were my inspiration to write now.”
He pulled me to standing and tucked me into the crook of his arms. “I’ll never, ever stop loving you.”
I cried happy tears into his shirt. “There you go, being all poetic with words again, reducing me to a blubbering, incoherent mess. How could I not love you?”
He chuckled, scooped me into his arms, and carried me into the bedroom.
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