Therese rang their Christmas family’s doorbell, pulling her finger back before any of the paint could peel off onto her new coat. All of her co-worker’s donations sat in the large cardboard box at her feet. The pile of gift-wrapped dollar store presents and discount mart donations were a respectable demonstration of their Christmas spirit. This is the part that makes it worth it, she told herself. This is what kept her braving those stores with those people, even though Jack wasn’t with her.
The gusting wind cut through the expensive stitches of her coat, tickling her chest. Therese wrapped her arms and stamped her feet, hard enough she could feel it in her ribs. It just seemed colder this year, that’s all.
She forced her frozen mouth into a smile as Caroline opened the battered door. They’d obviously just returned, the children in the process of shedding their school lives in snaking trails across the hall, living room, and in paths terminating at their room.
“Come in,” Caroline said.
The oldest child – was her name Tamiko or Taneko, Therese couldn’t remember – saw the box of gift-wrapped boxes coming in the door. The little girl squealed in seven-year-old delight.
“Just put them under the tree!” Therese snapped – a little more harshly than she’d intended – as the children raced back into the room. “They’re for Christmas, not now.”
The children quickly ferried the boxes to the tree, and Therese found Caroline’s arms embracing her. The hoarseness of the younger woman’s voice surprised Therese. “Thank you so much, Thank you….I don’t know how I could have….”
Therese hugged her back, feeling a warmth she hadn’t known since Jack passed. The children came and hugged her legs, encasing Therese in a bundle of warm, thankful bodies. Therese hugged Caroline a little harder.
Over Caroline’s shoulder, Therese could just see the other woman’s shopping, still unpacked. Surely it was her tears that kept Therese from reading the cut-rate store’s name imprinted on the plastic.
Yes. It had to be the tears.