“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells
Chapter 5: December 25, 2006
The patter of bare feet on wood floor brought Addison from her slumber. Seconds later, a child’s voice whispered in an ear, “Merry Christmas, Mommy.”
She reached out from the blankets and pulled the girl in bed with her.
“Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday,” she said as she cuddled the child close to her bosom.
“I want to open presents,” the child said.
“Me, too,” a husky voice said.
Daniel rolled over and hugged his wife and daughter. For a moment, Addie saw a whirlwind of light around them. The image faded like gossamer memories slipping away like fog in the lamplight that Daniel brought to the room. She peeked at the clock: 6:03.
“Okay,” she said to him. “You take Sara downstairs and I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
Daniel rolled from bed, scooped up their excited three-year-old daughter, and snatched his robe from the closet door.
The house phone rang next to the bed. She let Daniel answer it downstairs as she rose and stumbled toward the bathroom. In the hall, she bumped against a stand and knocked her blue diary to the floor. A photograph fell from the pages as she picked up the book. The photograph was of Sara at the hospital on the day she was born.
Addison took a pen from the stand and wrote the day’s date on a blank page. Then she wrote, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to my baby girl who means the world to her mommy and daddy.
Just then, Sara and Daniel called for her to hurry. She picked up the photo and tucked it away in the back of the book, and then hurried headlong in the rush that was Christmas and birthday presents shared with a loving family.
~ ~ ~
Across town, Catherine Johnson’s latest dream troubled her. She propped herself on elbows and looked around the bedroom that seemed familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The room seemed longer, rectangular, and its four windows seemed wider and spaced further apart — but that could be from the play of dim morning light trying to pass through her curtains. The bedroom suite was still the one she had purchased after Nate’s death seven years ago, and the cream carpet still had the stain where she had spilled some wine one night when she made love to a date that ended up a brief sexual encounter.
She fell dizzily back to her pillows and thought of going back to sleep. She was tired, much more tired than she had ever been before. As she warmed again to the blankets covering her, footsteps outside her door caused her to stir.
“Who’s there?” she called out, startled that someone would be in her house. Had she become careless and forgotten to lock one of the doors or a downstairs window last night? She reached for Nate’s pistol in the nightstand drawer and her hand passed through the space where the piece of furniture should have been. She gasped as she tumbled over the edge of the bed and slid to the floor.
The bedroom door shot open and a woman dressed in blue and white sweats rushed in.
“Momma, what happened? Are you okay?”
Catherine struggled to keep her face out of the carpet just inches from her nose, but gravity seemed to strengthen while her arms weakened from withstanding her body’s awkward position. Cold hands with long icy fingers gripped her left arm and pulled her from the floor.
“What were you doing?” the woman with the cold hands asked as she helped Catherine up.
Catherine swung her legs out of bed, sat on its edge, felt the blood rush from her face, and waited for her racing heart to slow. The strain caused her arms to shake, so she rubbed and warmed them until she relaxed.
The woman with the cold hands asked again, “Momma, are you okay?”
Catherine moaned softly. “Kay, what are you doing here?”
“I was on my way to the bathroom when I heard you gasp.”
Catherine looked up at her daughter. “Why aren’t you home with Frank and the boys?”
“Your husband and kids.”
“Ha. Very funny. You should be a stand-up.”
Catherine’s head spun and she grumbled. A dull ache was forming in the back of her head and her stomach rolled with a bit of nausea.
“Are you going to start cooking the rest of the Christmas dinner now?” Kay asked.
The thought of cooking, getting dressed up, and then getting together with family depressed Catherine. She crawled back under the blankets, hugged her pillow and sighed.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Kay said. “Get some sleep, Momma. I’ve already put the turkey in the oven.” She closed the door gently as she left.
The headache weakened and Catherine slipped back to sleep. Warmth took her away and she was lying somewhere sunny, next to Nate, snuggled in his powerful arms. She was happy to be with him again, even if it was a dream. Dreams were the best that she had, so she welcomed this one. In it, the shooting had not taken Nate from her — the senseless shooting the night he and Carl Weaver had responded to a domestic disturbance call. Nate had hated those calls and usually let Carl proceed while he maintained backup. But a gun had come into play, and Nate fell, shot through the heart. He had held on during the ambulance’s breakneck rush to the hospital, had made it to the emergency room, and had told Addie, one of the nurses that night, to tell Catherine he loved her.
Now, the past seven years of loneliness, pity dates and the constant pretending she was strong had been exhausting. She curled in closer to him and he leaned over and kissed her and brushed away the tears.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. “I’m home now.”
Catherine opened her eyes. “Nate?”
He looked at her and smiled. “Kay said you weren’t feeling well, so I tiptoed in. The pies you baked last night look scrumptious.”
It took several seconds before she could draw in a breath and scream.