I watch Ted take a huge bite of his greasy hamburger. Ketchup dribbles down his chin, dripping on top of the fries of his plate.
"Want one?" he says, lifting a French fry to me.
I cringe in disgust and he chuckles. Why did Ted irritate me so much lately? Bad enough that it’s the holiday season and he knows I dread this time of year. People seem to care more about stuff than each other. Don’t they realize how fragile life is?
“Lighten up, Carrie,” he says, wiping his chin with a napkin. “I’m only joking with you.”
I roll my eyes and take a sip of my latte. It was good, the only thing I ordered since I wasn’t all that hungry. I hate fast food anyway, but Ted insisted we come here, said he felt like eating a big juicy hamburger after all the shopping we did today.
“We need to stop by the post office and buy stamps for the Christmas cards, too,” I say wearily. There are only fifteen days left till Christmas.
Ted grabs a fry from his plate and studies me. “Are you okay, Carrie? You’re not yourself lately. As a-matter-of-fact, this happens every Christmas ever since we’ve been married.”
I glare at Ted. We’ve been married almost three years already. We had a Christmas eve wedding. All of our family and friends attended. It was a beautiful wedding. My father gave me away that evening and died the next day—a heart attack. My honeymoon was spent traveling back to the states and mourning over his loss with my mom and sister. Every Christmas I picture his tombstone in my mind and sorrow washes over me, but I don’t allow myself to cry. I straighten on the chair, folding my arms across my chest. “What do you mean, Ted?” I say icily.
Ted’s face softens. “Just hear me out, Carrie. You and I know why you get like this every Christmas.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I lie.
Ted shakes his head gently. “If you can’t talk to me about it, you need to find someone else you can talk to about it. A therapist. A counselor at the church...”
I stand up briskly. “I don’t need to talk to anybody,” I say, wrapping a pink scarf around my throat. It was a gift from my father. My eyes begin to sting. “I’ll wait for you in the car.”
Ted and I spend the rest of the evening mostly in silence. I busy myself writing Christmas cards. He brings in firewood from our backyard and starts a fire. Moments later, I turn my head to look for him. He’s laying on the couch staring at the flames. I have the sudden urge to cuddle up next to him but I resist since I’m still angry about what he said earlier.
The fire alarm screeches in my ears and wakens us a few hours later. Ted and I jump off our bed and I follow him, both of us scramble down the stairs.
The carpet in front of the fireplace is in flames. My mouth opens in shock. What happened?
“Call 911!” Ted yells.
I narrow my eyes. I don’t want to call 911. Mom told me help came too late for my father when she called 911 almost three years ago.
I hurry into the kitchen instead and grab the fire extinguisher from under the sink. I rush back into the living room. Ted is pushing the couch out of harm’s way but the Christmas tree is catching fire...
“Stand back!” I say, pulling the pin. I squeeze the lever and thick foam begins to spurt everywhere. I sweep the extinguisher over the carpet and tree. The foam covers the flames like a blanket of snow, and before I know it, the fire is out.
I hear sirens in the distance.
“Quick thinking, honey!” Ted says.
I fall to my knees in front of the damaged carpet and tree. Tears begin to pool around my eyes. Ted falls to his knees beside me and pulls me into his arms.
“You okay?” he says.
I choke back a sob. “Yes,” I say, closing my eyes, forcing myself to remember the flames of Christmas instead of my father’s tombstone. Tears run down my cheeks freely now and I smile crookedly. “I think I will be.”
Isabel Brown always dreamed of being a writer since the ninth grade when her inspiring English teacher gave her an A+ on a short story she wrote and encouraged her to continue to write. Years later, after serving in the United States Air Force, working as a civilian, and raising a family, Isabel is presently pursuing her dream. Visit her at: http://IsabelBrown.weebly.com/