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If you’ve tracked along with me since October 4th, you will have read the entirety of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. I really hope you enjoyed it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janice L. Dick, Author

Photo Credit: Glenda Siemens

Janice was born and raised on a farm in southern Alberta, Canada, and currently lives on a farm in central Saskatchewan with her husband. She has loved the written word all her life, and began writing purposefully in 1989. Since then she has traditionally published three historical novels and independently published two more (a third to be released shortly).

Besides historical and contemporary novels, Janice also writes short stories, blogs, articles and book reviews.

Blog/website:  www.janicedick.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/janicedick

If you enjoyed this story, please leave a review on Amazon. Thank you.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I write mostly historical fiction, novel length, third person. This story was a divergence from my norm, and once I met Debbie, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I would identify more with Jeanne, and finding Debbie was, for me, an encouragement to live life more fully and to embrace each day with faith and joy. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I want to acknowledge G.G. for encouraging me to write not only a short story, but to write it in contemporary genre. I changed it up a bit more and used the first person point of view.

Thanks to Deanna Robertson and Jeanne Heal for reading my manuscript and giving me their honest suggestions about writing what I had not personally experienced.

Thanks also to Gwen Hernandez, who offers excellent courses in Scrivener, so I could figure out how to format this story and set the template for future independent publishing ventures.  Also to Susan Russo Anderson for her helpful how-to article on compiling Scrivener for .mobi.

 

BOOKS BY JANICE L. DICK

STORM SERIES

(these three titles are temporarily out-of-print, but will be re-released soon)

Calm Before the Storm

Eye of the Storm

Out of the Storm

 

IN SEARCH OF FREEDOM SERIES

Other Side of the River

In a Foreign Land

Far Side of the Sea (to be released shortly)

 

SHORT STORIES

The Christmas Sweater

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS! May the reason for the season be JESUS!

 

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I’m glad you’re still with me for this final scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Read on and enjoy!

 

Chapter Three—Scene Eight(1425 w)

I called Debbie’s house after lunch and she answered the phone.

“It’s Jeannie. How are you?”

“Hey, girl,” she said in a ‘trying to be cheery’ voice. “Sorry I missed our walk this morning. I was really tired.”

“Don’t apologize,” I said. “Are you feeling a bit better now?”

“Yup. Come on over.”

I could tell when I saw her that she’d tried to fix herself up, but she couldn’t hide the dark circles under her eyes, or the lack of sparkle in her usually bubbly personality.

“Debbie, you’re going to be okay. I know it. Just trust that God has it all under control.”

“Whoa! No elephants allowed in this room. Way to get right to the point, sister.”

I smiled and shook my head, glancing up at the ceiling. “I’ve lived with elephants too long. I’m done with denial. Facing the problem is half the battle, right?”

She heaved a huge sigh and I wanted to bite back my words.

“I know you’re right,” she said, “but memories of the treatments from last time keep me from fully agreeing with you. It wasn’t fun.”

I used my head for once and kept my mouth shut. This was her time, not mine.

She glanced around to make sure Mickey wasn’t there and said, “Sometimes I wonder if I should forget about treatment and just enjoy whatever time I have.” She met my eyes. “It’s overwhelming when you know what’s coming…Oh, sorry. I promised you tea and here I am whining.”

Before she could pull herself to her feet, I jumped up. “If you can make tea in my house, I can make it in yours.”

She sighed again. “Upper cabinet beside the fridge.”

“Hey,” I said, “you have a 1-cup coffeemaker. Want me to make you a coffee instead?”

“I’d love that,” she said, and her face was as close to a smile as I’d seen that day.

“Coffee it is,” I said, hunting around in her cabinets until I found her stash of Dark Roast pop-ins. “Think I’ll have some too.”

That made her swivel around in her chair. “You? Coffee? Wonders never cease. By the way, how’s the packing coming?”

“Packing?” I needed time to figure out how to tell her.

“Yeah, packing. You’re going to Paris in a week or so. Paris, France, remember?”

I carried our cups to the table, along with a box of cookies I’d found on the counter, and sat beside her, avoiding her eyes. “I’m not going.”

“You’re not…” She pointed her finger at me before she even took a sip of her coffee. “Now you listen to me. You’ve been doing so well with all this, you’re finally looking forward to something. I’ve seen it in your eyes. Why on earth are you thinking of backing out now?”

My turn to do the Debbie thing. I pointed right back at her. “Now you listen. You’ve been there for me since you moved in, prodding me to pull myself together and start living for real. And look what you’ve accomplished.”

“I didn’t do anything,” she interrupted. “You and God did.”

“Don’t get picky. What I’m saying is that now it’s my turn to be here for you. I’m not taking off on the trip across the pond to leave you here with your fears and worries.”

She snorted and leaned back in her chair. “Well if that doesn’t beat all.” Then she glared at me with those big dark eyes that had rediscovered a definite twinkle. “I’m not dead yet. I may not even be dying. I haven’t even had the tests. Could be I just caught a virus or something.”

She sat forward again. “I promise that if I have to, I will singlehandedly drag you onto the plane. Do you hear me? And remember, you have a daughter who needs you.”

I stared at her, indecision dancing in my brain. If I canceled my trip, I would leave Emily on her own. What kind of Christmas would that be for her? She was now depending on me to share this time with her. On the other hand, Debbie needed me too.

“Good,” she said. “At least you’re starting to think. I’ll let you finish your coffee and then you get back home and finish packing. Mickey and I are taking you to the airport next Tuesday and you’d better be ready.”

A slow smile spread over my face. She was right, of course. I couldn’t do much for her right now except listen and pray, and she’d never forgive herself if I stayed home because of her.

“But when I come back,” I began…

“When you come back, we’ll talk about it. Until then, don’t worry. We’ll do coffee every day I’m not up to walking. And I’ll let you know what the doc says as soon as we know.”

I had to say it. “But what about Christmas? This is the first year you and Mickey are away from your family. It’s going to be lonely.”

“Forget about it,” she said, with a wave of her hand. “We want to make the season special for my folks so we’ll be spending most of our time there. And,” she emphasized the word, “Mike Jr. and Sally are flying out for New Years. You’ll even get to meet them.”

I heard the click of doggie toenails enter the room and watched the mutt stop beside Debbie for an ear-scratch. Then, to my surprise, she trotted over and put her head on my knee.

Debbie laughed. “I don’t believe it! You take her for a walk once and she’s all over you.”

“Yup,” I said. “Steena and I are buddies, aren’t we?” I ruffled her silky curls and enjoyed the adoring look in her eyes, then grabbed a cookie and dipped it in my coffee. “Mmm. These are good.”

“You need a dog,” said Debbie, tongue in cheek.

“You might be right,” I said, and she nearly choked on her coffee. “That just might be my belated Christmas gift this year.”

She stared at me then hollered for Mickey. He arrived in short order, worry on his face. It smoothed out when he saw the sparkle in her eyes. “Honey,” she said, “will you get that box on the top shelf of our bedroom closet?”

“Anything for you, Pumpkin,” he said as he hurried off.

“Pumpkin?” I squeaked.

“Shush.”

Mickey returned in a minute with a large flat box, the kind clothing stores use to pack your purchase in.

“Thanks, Sweetie,” Debbie said, and turned to me. “I bought this a while ago already. Was gonna wait till you got home, but I think now is the time.”

Frowning, I looked from her to the box. “What’s this for?”

She grinned. “It’s a retirement gift.”

“Retirement? First of all, I didn’t work enough to warrant a gift, and secondly, I quit working a few years ago already.”

“Agh! Just open it, woman.”

Tentatively, I took the box, which was fairly lightweight, and set it on the table in front of me, careful not to spill my coffee. I opened it and saw, nestled inside, a fluffy sweater in a shocking shade of orangey-red. At a loss for words, I stroked the fabric.

“Oh Debbie, I love it. But why do you call it a retirement gift?”

“Because I won’t let you take Sam’s shabby shirt with you to Paris. Time to retire it, preferably in the trash, and start a new phase. So try it on already.”

I held up the sweater—a cardigan style with three large buttons down the front—then removed Sam’s shirt and pulled on the sweater. It felt as soft as Steena’s curls, and I pulled it around myself like a hug. “It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect. Sam would love it. Red was his favourite color.”

“I’m not telling you to get rid of Sam’s old shirt, but let this sweater mark a new beginning.”

I laughed. “I love this shirt, but it’s going to fall off me in pieces one of these days.”

I hugged her fiercely, then stood on tiptoe and gave Mickey a kiss on the cheek. “You guys are the best. God sure knew what he was doing when he brought you here.” We were all getting a little red-eyed, so I grabbed up my stuff and turned to go.

“I have packing to do, folks. Thanks for the sweater. Bye Steena.” The mutt licked my hand and I grinned as I headed back home.

 

**Well, folks, that’s the end of the story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you’d like to hear a little more about the story, the author, and other bookish things, please find me here next Thursday, December 6th.

If you enjoyed this story, and if you want to make an author (me) very happy, please take time to go HERE, scroll to the bottom of the page where it says Customer Reviews, and leave an honest review. Thanks in advance.

 

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Below, see the seventh installment of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and Christmas music in the background.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Seven

With the date of our trip coming up quickly, I spent a lot of time packing and making lists. I used the spare bedroom to lay everything out so I could see it at a glance and have a better idea if I’d missed anything. I even googled Paris and “what to take.”

I couldn’t remember being this excited in years and I knew I had no one to blame but myself. The more I thought about it, the more I felt badly for Sam and how I had kept him from doing some of the things he had really wanted to do. But I knew where he was now and that no earthly regrets bothered him.

I’d been living on the sidelines for so long I felt like a completely different person. I think my renewed excitement for life surprised even Debbie, which is a stretch. We’d been walking every day and as I grabbed my gear and headed out the door to pick her up, I thought of some things I needed to discuss with her about my trip.

It took several minutes for Mickey to answer the door, and when he did, I was stunned by his expression. His face was pale and pinched, his smile non-existent, and his manner subdued.

“Mickey, what’s the matter,” I asked as he stepped back to let me in. “Are you unwell? I just came by to pick up Debbie for our walk.”

He ran one of his large hands over his stubbly jaw and blinked rapidly a few times. “Listen, Jeannie,” he said. “Debbie isn’t feeling too well today, so you’ll have to excuse her. Sorry, I should have called and let you know.”

“Not well? How so? She looked fine yesterday. Maybe it’s a bug she’ll be able to shake in a day or so.” But in my heart I knew it could be something worse. When I stopped to think about it, Debbie had been quieter the past few days, and we had strolled more than hiked. Dread crept into my mind as I considered the possibilities.

“Can I see her?”

Mickey bunched his lips. “Can you give her a few hours? She didn’t sleep well and it’s taking her a while to pull herself together.”

I put a hand on his arm, aware that all the physical strength in the world couldn’t withstand emotional strain. “Of course. And count on my prayers in the meanwhile.” I paused, wondering if I should voice my worst guess, then thought of Debbie and plunged ahead. “Is it the cancer again?”

Tears formed in Mickey’s eyes. He turned his face away and shrugged. “Don’t know for sure. Going for more tests tomorrow, so we’ll see.”

“I’m so sorry. Please tell Debbie I love her.”

His grief kicked me in the gut and I turned to go. “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do.” An idea came to me. “Let me take Scruffy out. She’d love a walk.”

So I walked, more out of routine than anything else, but knowing the brisk air would clear my head. The silly mutt trotted along on her leash, as happy as if I’d given her a new chew toy. I’d done it again. First the endless months of grieving—not so much for Sam as for me I now knew, with my focus no more than six inches around me—then thinking of nothing but my upcoming trip. It was always about me, while Debbie spent her time counseling and encouraging me, even when she probably had a good idea her health was failing.

“Oh Lord,” I prayed as I walked. “Forgive me for my selfishness. I can’t believe what I’ve turned into this past year.” No, it had taken much more than a year to create the self-absorbed woman I’d become. Well, I had asked for forgiveness, and believed it granted, so now I had to do something about it. Walking Scooby was my first effort, and I’d continue to do so up until I left for Paris.

I stopped in my tracks, surprising the dog, and suddenly I knew what I had to do. Debbie had been there for me since she and Mickey had moved back. Now, when she really needed me, I was not going to take off on her.

 

**Only one more scene to go! Please come back next Thursday for the final installment!

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Here we are for the sixth scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Six

Debbie stuck her head in the door about suppertime and asked, “Have you called Emily yet?” Snuffles wagged behind her.

“No,” I admitted. “I will.”

I’d been thinking of Emily’s invitation all day, as well as Debbie’s counsel that I’d be sorry if I didn’t go but never sorry if I did. Wouldn’t they both be surprised if I accepted.

She glanced at her wristwatch. “You have an hour to call before I get back and call her myself.” She seemed a bit nervous, which was out of character. I waited.

“Listen, Oh Friend of Mine. Mickey’s at work and I have to go to an Alzheimers meeting at the  Seniors’ Centre and they won’t let me take Steena inside. I know you don’t like animals in your house, but could she stay right here in the entry? Just for an hour or so? I’d leave her at home but she’s been really scared of being left lately. I think she’s going through separation anxiety. We took her to Regina with us last time and it seemed to throw her to see my folks again but in a new place.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Not only was she commanding me to phone my daughter, she was requesting that I babysit her dog. In my home.

“Or you could come to my place and sit with her,” she said, as if reading my mind, “but I know you want to call Emily so I thought this made more sense.”

Well, I was tired of everyone thinking I was a wimp. I’d show them all, shut them up for good. The thought took root so quickly it shocked even me, spontaneity not being my forte.

“Go ahead. I’ll look after Stumpy,” I said, and tried to keep from laughing at her incredulous expression.

“Thanks…I think,” she said, and told the dog to stay put. I doubted the mutt understood, but it sat and wagged as Debbie backed out quickly, probably expecting me to change my mind.

When she’d gone, I sat down on the entry steps and spoke to my guest. “Well hello, Stinky. Nice of you to come by. I have nothing to offer you but my presence.” Tentatively, I reached out and patted her head. Her hair felt so soft and silky to my touch that I couldn’t help scratching her ears. She leaned her head on my knees and closed her eyes, and I had to chuckle. That launched a bout of tail wagging that made me laugh for real.

“You are a strange little creature,” I said. “Now I have to clear up my supper and make an important phone call. You remember what Debbie said: stay put right here while I call. The rug is quite comfortable enough for you.” I gave her one more pat on the head and went back into the kitchen.

I forgot all about the dog while I washed my few dishes and considered what I’d say to Emily. I hung the dishtowel under the sink and rubbed lotion onto my hands. Sam used to joke about the amount of lotion I rubbed into my skin, but he liked the resulting softness.

The phone sat mocking me from its cradle near the table, and I decided there was no time like the present. I had Em on speed dial, I’m not sure why since I rarely initiated the calls, so I hit the button and waited, wandering back and forth through the house just like Sam used to do when he spoke on the phone. Emily answered after three rings.

“Hello? Mom?” She sounded surprised I was calling and I guess I couldn’t blame her since it didn’t happen often.

“Hi, honey. How was your day?”

“Good, yours?”

Enough small talk. I was on a mission here. “Listen, about your invitation to Paris, you know how I feel about the timing and all, but I’ve decided, after a good deal of interference and coercion from an unnamed source, that I’ll take you up on it.”

Her silence lasted so long I thought the line had gone dead. “What did you say?”

“I said I’ll come. Have you changed your mind? You said you needed to know by today.”

The silence stretched between us, and a giggle escaped me at the incongruity of the situation.

“Are you jerking my chain, Mom? Because I was serious about the offer. I mean, if you don’t want to come, just say so.”

“After all this emotional upheaval, you want me to change my mind again? Sorry, Em, but the decision is final. I’m going—we’re going—to Paris. In two weeks.” I must be crazy.

I wasn’t prepared for her scream, but it ripped through the phone lines and into my house with such clarity that Stocky came running and buried her head in my lap. I started to chuckle and then the situation overcame me and I was laughing. In the background I heard Emily say, “Mom, are you all right? Have you started drinking?”

Her words made me laugh harder and that’s how Debbie found us, Spookie and me, when she returned from her meeting. She looked as troubled as Emily sounded. I knew I was on an adrenaline high, but I hadn’t had this much fun since…since Sam died. My laughter faded, but the bubble of joy inside didn’t go away.

“Listen, Em,” I said when I’d caught my breath. “I have to go. I’m babysitting Debbie’s dog and we’ve frightened her and Debbie’s here now. Just tell your friend I’m in and we can talk another day soon. Good night, my dear.”

“Goodnight, Mom.” I heard the uncertainty in her voice just before I disconnected.

“Hey, Debbie, how was your meeting?” The look on her face made me want to start laughing all over again, but I was too tired. It was exhausting being this happy.

 

**I hope you’re enjoying The Christmas Sweater. Only two more scenes to go. Join us next Thursday, November 22, for the seventh installment.

 

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This is the fourth installment of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Look for it through October and November on my blog. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One—Scene Four

Next day I woke with a headache. Must have been a change in barometric pressure or something. When I turned on the radio, Christmas carols assaulted me on every station. December first. ’Tis the season. I snapped it off and tried the TV just for white noise.Jeopardydidn’t necessarily air December reruns in December, but even the ads were all about Christmas, all the gifts you could/should buy for everyone from Great-aunt Hilda to the mail carrier.

Last year I’d loved it all, the music, the lights, the decorations, the shopping. I had begged Sam to put up the tree as soon as December rolled around.

I sank into my recliner, pulled the butter-yellow crocheted throw over me and leaned my head back. How could I be exhausted when I’d slept fairly well and only been up for an hour?

A couple of times I perked up, thinking I heard Debbie at the door, then remembered she and Mickey were in Regina and the noise was probably just the wind. She’d reminded me to go for a walk every day, but the outside world looked so gray and cold, I elected to stay put under my warm blanket.

I watched the flicker of movement on the TV screen without seeing it, lost in thoughts of yesterdays. Ever since Debbie came back, she’d dominated my mornings with tea, visits, interruptions, and walks. I’d been upset about having my well-planned schedule interrupted, yet the first day she was gone, I couldn’t get myself moving.

I woke an hour later, angry with myself for sleeping in the morning like an old woman. Maybe I was old, like yesterday’s newspaper. A sliver of sunshine had forced its way through the layers of cloud, making my frosted windows sparkle, and it seemed the wind had calmed. Without allowing myself time to think, I pulled on my winter garb, including the lime green toque, some thick mittens and my hiking boots, and forced myself out the door.

I felt like the Abominable Snow-woman, all muffled like that, but I was warm. I walked east then south toward the new school, passing homes in the process of being built. For a few minutes the sun shone on my face and I could almost hear Debbie’s joyful comments. I actually caught myself looking around for Snuffy. Silly dog.

Then the clouds huddled together and pulled a slate gray sheet over the sky again, and the wind picked up. Like my life. Gray. Cold. Empty. Ugly. Pointless. In spite of my flagging spirits, I forced myself to go the usual distance. Back home, I warmed up with hot chocolate and settled on the couch to read.

The phone rang about noon. My heart jumped with anticipation when I recognized the number on the call display. Emily! I mentally counted the weeks since my only child had called. I didn’t like to push, but was anxious to know when she’d be home for Christmas and how long she’d be able to stay.

“Em! How are you? I’ve missed you.”

“You too, Mom. How’s the weather in Winterland?”

I chuckled. “Wintry. How about you?”

“Rainy but warm and green. I love Vancouver.”

We talked of little things, I told her all about Debbie and her intrusive kindness. She skipped a beat and so did my heart. “What’s up, Emily?” I’d always been able to read between her words, even if I couldn’t see her face.

I heard a long-distance sigh and knew. She wouldn’t be coming home for Christmas. I felt like I was slowly slipping down a dark chute.

“Mom.” She had a way of saying it that sounded like a command. “You know I miss you and I know it’s only a year since Dad—you know—but, umm…”

“Just tell me, Em. You’re not coming. Something better came up.” As a mother, I should have been kinder, but the thought of being alone over Christmas bothered me more than I’d thought it would.

“Mom,” she repeated. “Just listen, okay?”

Did I have a choice?

“So, a friend of mine found a Groupondeal for a trip to Paris and you know how I’ve always wanted to go, and we’d see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, and we could wander along the Champs-Elysees. All in the beauty of Christmas, and well, I haven’t decided yet, said I needed to talk it over with you, but I have to let her know by Monday. What do you think?”

What could I say? You go ahead and have a good time in Paris while I die of loneliness here at home? I had to say something, it was just difficult to make my voice work. I cleared my throat and said, “Sounds like an offer too good to pass up, Em. Go ahead and have a good time. I’m sure I’ll survive here.”

Again there was a strange silence before Emily filled it. “I guess I haven’t been clear. I’m asking if you’ll come with me. I want us to experience Paris at Christmas. Together. How about it?”

I couldn’t even breathe, I was so surprised. “Me? To Paris? I’ve never traveled. Your dad and I never got farther than Maui the year you graduated. Paris! Paris?” What a ridiculous idea. Didn’t she realize the implications?

“Emily, it’s sweet of you to think of me, but I can’t go. I’m just not ready.” I paused to gather my emotions. “It will be the first anniversary of your father’s death. How could I possibly go now?”

I could envision the scowl on Emily’s face. “And how do you plan to “celebrate” Dad’s death? Sit in the dark and cry?” Even as my heart withered at her words, I heard her long-distance sigh. “Mom. Think about it. Dad would want you to go.”

“How do you know what Dad would want me to do?”

“It’s a guess, and a pretty good one, I think. Now are you coming or not?”

I took a deep breath. “No, Honey, I can’t. I’m sorry. But you go ahead. I’ll be fine.”

“I won’t go without you. I can’t leave you home alone over Christmas.”

“Why not? I’ve been alone for almost a year and I’m fine.”

“You don’t sound fine, Mom. You sound mad. Angry.”

Why did everyone think I was angry? They could all just leave me alone in my misery. “Emily, I’m telling you to go. Understood?”

Another sigh told me she was weakening. “Would you at least think about it until Monday? I’ll wait to give Carly my final answer until then.”

“I won’t change my mind, but thank you for thinking of me. I love you, Emily.”

“You too, Mom. Talk to you Monday.”

She sounded hopeful and I didn’t want to squelch her hopes, but really! What did she expect of me? I grabbed my book and sank back into the recliner, but I couldn’t read. It was all right. I was all right. I would cope, just as I had when Sam up and died on me. I pushed out of the chair and shuffled to the window. The emptiness of my life stared at me from my faint reflection in the glass, like the fading light of day outside. I fixed a small bowl of Greek yogurt with almond butter and raisins, had a cup of tea, and went to bed very early, hoping for blessed sleep to rescue me from my brokenness.

 

**Meet me here again next Thursday, November 8th, for the fifth scene of The Christmas Sweater.

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This is the third installment of my short story, The Christmas Sweater. Look for it every Thursday through October and November. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One—Scene Three

“We need to walk,” said Debbie Friday morning when she’d let herself into my house.

“Walk? Where to?”

“Just walk,” she said. “Doc says to keep the heart and lungs healthy we should walk every day. So how about it?” She was bouncing on the balls of her booted feet.

“Now?”

She shrugged. “Why not now? You have to vacuum first or what?”

I chose to ignore her ill-concealed sarcasm. “What about Mickey? Wouldn’t he like to go with you?”

“Can’t. He’s working.”

“Where?”

“Got hired on at the cop shop part time, just to help out over Christmas.

“He’s a cop?”

“Sheriff, actually, but he retired last year. Anyway, love, you’re my next choice and I’m getting too warm waiting.”

I stared out the window at the falling snow and shivered. “Looks cold out there.”

“Nah! It’s gorgeous. C’mom, grab a jacket and some mitts. I’m going to get my hat and scarf. Meet you outside in five. Steena’s gonna love it!”

Oh joy. We were going to take the dog too. I sighed. With no acceptable excuse, I donned my quilted jacket over Sam’s shirt, pulled on my heeled winter boots and a scarf and my driving gloves. I stepped outside into a chilly wind and hoped I wouldn’t freeze solid. When Debbie arrived, she took one look at me, ran back inside her house and came out with a lime green knitted toque which she unceremoniously pulled over my head.

“My hair!” I yelped. “I just had it done yesterday.”

“Fix it later. You have to dress properly if you’re gonna enjoy it. C’mon Steena.”

I was cold, but Debbie’s chatter kept me from dwelling on it. We talked of everything from the weather in Saskatchewan compared with Texas, to her grandkids and their antics, to Sam’s death. Again. Debbie seemed to home in on it like an hummingbird to sweetened red syrup.

“Are you set up okay?” Debbie asked.

“You mean financially? Yes.”

“Good. That’s a big worry for some people, you know, when their spouse dies. Sorry, passes away.”

“Passes. That’s what they call it now. As if he slipped away from me on a foggy night and I didn’t realize it in time.”

“I sense some anger here.”

The girl was nothing if not relentless. And tactless. “I’m not angry, only shocked and left reeling. Anger is pointless.”

“Anger is part of the grieving—”

“Don’t start with that,” I interrupted. “I’ve heard the sermons, read the books about the phases of anger and how we all go through them, only at different levels and in various orders. I am not angry.” So shut up already, I said in my head.

Seeger ran in front of me and I almost tripped over her. Nuisance of a dog.

By the time we returned to my door, my fingers were numb, my feet and legs ached, but I was thankful for the toque, even if my hair would be a mess.

“Thanks for coming, Jeannie. Next time wear flat boots or you’ll kill your feet. Yeah, Mickey loves law enforcement. So tomorrow we’re going into Regina to see my folks and figure out how to help them. So I won’t see you till Monday…or Tuesday, depending on how it goes. Bye for now, love,” and she gave me a hug and a peck on my frozen cheek while I tried to keep up with her scattered conversation.

As I took off my winter clothes and hung them back in the hall closet, I thought about several whole days without chatter, interruption and unwelcome walks. It would be a lovely, quiet weekend.

 

**Next installment next Thursday, November 1 right here on my blog. Only one month until Christmas!

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This is the second installment of my short story, The Christmas Sweater. Look for it every Thursday right here on my blog. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One—Scene Two

I wished I could stop the time from passing. I didn’t want to have to face the anniversary of Sam’s death. And yet, I didn’t want to forget. I hugged the plaid shirt around me and let melancholia take over.

Mornings were bad enough, with the whole empty day ahead, but I could pretend Sam was at work. Evenings were always the worst. I was alone and he wasn’t coming back. Working in the house helped, reading distracted me for a while, TV rescued me from my circling thoughts and memories, but I kept coming back to my loneliness without Sam.

There’s a difference between loneliness and aloneness. I’d often been alone in my life, all the days Sam was at work and I wasn’t. I’d only ever worked a few days a week at the library because I liked being at home. But I was never lonely. Sam always came home at the end of the day happy to see me. I loved the evenings with him, watching TV or going for a drive or working on another of his household projects together. Sometimes we even entertained a few people, but he knew I didn’t like a lot of company.

I looked around me at the finely crafted cabinets, the dining table, the desk in the den, the arched doorway from dining to living room, all work of his hands. I wanted to smile but all that came were tears.

Why did he leave me so soon? Why just before Christmas? It had always been my favourite time of year: the decorating, small dinner parties, music.

The music was unbearable now. I couldn’t risk listening to the radio because of the songs of the season. Debbie’s words crept back into my mind. Are you coping or content?How about neither of the above?

A sharp barking jolted me from my doldrums. A dog? Here? Whose dog? Oh please, not the McCormick’s. No way was I going to put up with incessant barking at all hours. On my way to the door to make this clear I saw Debbie approaching, followed by a light brown, curly-haired mutt.

I opened the door before she could attack the bell, intent on making my feelings known, but she was already talking.

“Don’t worry, Jeannie, I won’t bring him inside. Just wanted you to meet him.” She picked up the fluffy creature and it grunted and snuffled at me. I backed up but they followed. “This is Steena,” she said. “She used to belong to my mom but she had to give her up when they moved into the condo in Regina. Say hello, Steena.”

No way was I touching the animal. And I don’t believe in talking to anything non-human. I opted for focusing on her owner. “How long have you had it?”

“Just picked her up a few days ago when we got here,” said Debbie, shifting the dog to one side and scratching her ears. “We adore her already. She’s a Doodle, you know.”

“A Doodle?”

“Yeah, a cross between a poodle and a retriever.”’

When there was no further comment from me, Debbie seemed to realize introductions were over. “Plug in the kettle, honey, while I take Steena home. I’ll be right back.”

It irritated me that Debbie never asked if it was convenient for her to invade my home. “I have an appointment this morning,” I said before she was out of earshot.

“What time?”

Nosy parker. “Ten-thirty.”

She grinned. “Lots of time for tea, and you look ready to go.”

I’m glad I don’t rely on her for fashion tips. I was wearing my housecleaning clothes and, of course, Sam’s shirt. She turned to take the dog home and I grumbled into the kitchen to fill the kettle. Was this my life from now on? Every day with Debbie?

“I’m ba-ack!” she called, before the water had even boiled. I quickly pulled out the Earl Grey, the sugar and cream and set them on the table. She probably wouldn’t have washed her hands after scratching the dog, and I wouldn’t have her thumbing through my cabinets with doggie hands.

“So you don’t like dogs?” she asked.

Congratulations, Debbie! You’ve guessed my secret.

“I don’t mind dogs, but not in the house and not yapping all hours of the day and night,” I said.

She looked hurt and I felt a twinge of guilt. It wasn’t personal, just a dislike for dirty animals in my home. Sam had wanted a dog early on in our marriage, but I’d refused. When Emily came along, I allowed her to keep a budgie, but it died before I could kill it myself. Messy creature scattered birdseed all over the floor, and the cage had to be cleaned more often than Emily did it. She also had a small aquarium for a while, but when the fish started swimming upside down we opted for a kitten, which had to live in the garage. Now she had a house full of cats, well, three of them, in downtown Vancouver, and I never went there. She came to visit us—me—occasionally, sans cats.

“Nothing personal, Debbie, I just don’t approve of animals in my house.”

I poured the hot water and we dipped our tea bags. Well, I dipped mine and she poked and prodded and squeezed hers, while she told me about their moving-in progress.

“We have the kitchen table and chairs set up and the barbecue on the deck. How about joining us for supper?”

“But it’s too cold to barbecue.” I shivered just imagining it.

“Nah! Mickey doesn’t mind. We have steaks and I’ll open a bag of potato chips and I saw a few jars of my pickles too.” She laughed. “Stop shivering, Kiddo. We’ll eat inside.”

The tea soothed my senses. “I’ll bring a salad,” I said. I had to make an effort to balance the meal.

Debbie’s eyebrows shot up. “Sure, if you want. I like salad but Mickey will probably skip it, so don’t make much.”

A picture of Mickey was forming in my mind, a huge hulk of a man with neither manners nor tact, snarly and unkempt. Someone resembling Daisy’s Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances. Poor Debbie. She deserved better.

“What time?”

She pursed her lips. “Six-ish. Whenever you smell grilling steaks.”

Their deck was on the opposite side of the house from mine, thank heavens, so I wouldn’t have to witness every barbecue.

About 5:45 p.m. my doorbell rang and a large but fit man of about sixty stood waiting outside.

“May I help you?” I asked.

He grinned widely. “I believe you can!” I was sure his broad Texan accent could be heard around the block. “Name’s Mickey McCormick and I came to escort you to my house to help me and the wife polish off a few fine steaks.”

I’m afraid I stared. “You’re Mickey?”

If possible, his grin widened. “Guilty! You were expecting the Incredible Hulk? What did Debbie tell you about me, anyway?”

I could feel the heat climbing into my face in spite of the cold air sweeping into my house from the open door. Better not to comment than to sputter and back peddle. “I’ll grab my salad and a jacket,” I said, as I shrugged out of Sam’s shirt. “Come in if you’d like.”

He entered and stood on the doormat. “Nice place you have here, Ma’am. Debbie’s been so excited about living next door to you. It’s been hard for her to leave the kids and grandkids, but we needed to come help look after her parents. So you being here is a lifesaver for her.”

I almost dropped the bowl of salad. Had to go back for the dressing. Debbie was having a hard time? I hadn’t entertained the possibility. She seemed so happy. And me, her saving grace? That was a stretch.

Supper turned out much better than I had anticipated. Yes, the house was cluttered and chaotic, but I was so entertained by the two of them, three if you included the dog, and by the perfectly grilled steaks, that time flew. Conversation too. I found Mickey very polite, even when I insisted he not call me Ma’am. Debbie obviously adored him and he her. He let her talk, helped her serve the food (or we wouldn’t have ever got at it) and looked after the details, even as far as shutting the dog away till we finished eating.

My house felt empty and too quiet when I returned from the McCormick’s. Theirs was a collection of mismatched furniture and goods, all needing order and decisiveness. I could have had it ship-shape in a few days, since the house had all been freshly painted by the VanWoordens and new flooring installed, but they had their own way of living and I didn’t intend to interfere.

Next day Debbie had an appointment so I got my house cleaned on time and things fell back into routine, but subconsciously I kept listening for the doorbell or the dog—Snoopy—or whatever its name was.

 

**Please come back for the third installment next Thursday, October 25th!

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