On the Monday before Christmas, Angela walked through the canned goods section of the grocery store in search of the vegetable soup that was on sale. She was frowning at the time because of the song that was playing over the speaker system.
If I hear that song one more time, I’m going to scream, she thought to herself.
The song was “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” by Andy Williams and it seemed as if no matter where she went after Thanksgiving, it played at least one time while she was there.
Two years before, she’d have probably sung along in her head because Angela had loved Christmas then. She’d decorated her house with garlands of pine and tinsel, always had a wreath on her front door, and there was a special spot in the den for the Christmas tree. She’d stopped buying real trees years ago because it was a mess to clean up all the needles once they were taken down, but the tall artificial tree looked almost the same and on New Year’s day, it was easy to take apart and put back into the box.
Last year, she hadn’t put up any garland but she had put up and decorated the tree, and once she was done, sat on the couch and cried for an hour. This year, though it was the twentieth of December, and the tree was still in the box in her garage along with all the lights and ornaments.
Angela had thought about putting the tree up again, but then thought, why bother? It’ll be just me here and it’ll remind me of how it used to be. I’ll sit on the couch and cry for a while, and then be sad until I take it down.
Last Christmas had been hard because her husband had decided he didn’t love her anymore. He’d moved to a rented house that summer and had filed for divorce. Angela signed the papers the Monday after Thanksgiving but didn’t really come to grips with the fact she was single again until New Year’s day. It was too hard to believe that after twenty-four years of marriage, she was again alone. He’d have his fling and then realize what he’d had and come back to her. After all, she was only forty-eight and still had her figure. True, that figure was bigger than when she was eighteen, but two kids did that to a woman. The men who stared at her at the grocery store seemed to like her.
That Christmas, her two daughters brought their husbands over for Christmas dinner and it was almost like before except her husband wasn’t there and it felt a little strained. Her daughters had always loved their father because he gave them everything they wanted. Angela was left with the role of meting out discipline so her daughters would grow up to be good women. She knew both her daughters thought she was the cause for the divorce. Still, just having them there made her feel better about everything. It wasn’t until they left she felt really alone.
In some ways, Angela thought she probably was the cause. The inevitable happened to her when she was forty-five, and a few months later, her husband seemed to have lost interest in her. She’d tried to get him to have sex, but usually he’d say he was too tired or had to get up early in the morning. She’d asked her doctor about that. Her doctor said men went through a change too and it was probably just his age.
Angela didn’t think the problem was her husband’s age. One night after she’d tried to get him to come to bed early and failed, she woke up about an hour later and had to used the bathroom. When she came out of the bathroom, Angela noticed the lights in the living room were still on. Thinking he’d probably fallen asleep on the couch, she quietly walked to the door and then looked to see if that was the case.
It wasn’t. He wasn’t asleep. He was leaned back in his desk chair with his pants down around his ankles and looking at his computer screen. On that screen was a video of a naked young girl touching herself, and her husband was stroking his cock.
It was a year later he moved out. Angela had driven by the house he was renting one Saturday afternoon, and saw her replacement. The woman was about thirty, and her body was trim and fit.
At first, she was furious that her husband would want a woman young enough to be his daughter. A week later, she was crying every night, alone in her bed and wondering if there was a way to get him back. A month later, she was furious again and didn’t want him back. The divorce papers made her both sad and furious, sad because it was over, and furious because he’d just dumped her like a used tissue.
The summer after her first Christmas as a divorced woman, her daughter’s husbands had taken jobs on the West Coast, one in California and one in Washington State. She hoped they’d come for Christmas again, but they both called to wish her well on her birthday in October and said they couldn’t make it for Christmas. It was too far to travel and too expensive.
From then until the first of November, Angela was sad. By Thanksgiving, she was angry with them for moving so far away. When the stores started putting up Christmas decorations and having sales, Angela had decided Christmas was just a way for stores to take more of your money and that made her cynical about the whole thing.
It wasn’t the songs that angered her as much as the people. They were all walking around smiling. If she went to the mall, she saw men talking to saleswomen about sweaters or men talking to saleswomen in jewelry stores about earrings or necklaces. In Walmart, she saw smiling women searching the shelves in the toy department for dolls or toy cars or some other toy for their children or grandchildren.
Angela didn’t have any grandchildren to buy for. If she had, that would have made her a little happier, but her daughters had both said they wanted financial security first and children later. She couldn’t even buy anything for her daughters. They’d both decided Christmas was too commercial and had told her they weren’t going to buy her anything and didn’t want anything from her.
Angela wished the whole thing was over and people could get back to doing what they always did.
She finally spotted the vegetable soup above the sale tag with a picture of a wreath on it. Why did every store put anything she wanted on the top shelf? Didn’t they know there were a lot of women just over five feet tall and wouldn’t be able to reach it? Angela had one foot on the bottom shelf and was reaching for a hand-hold to pull herself up when a voice behind her said, “Ma’am, you’re going to hurt your self. How many do you want? I’ll get them for you”.
Angela stepped down and turned to tell the man she wanted two, but stopped when she saw who he was. He was a store employee, probably only around nineteen, and he was wearing a stupid red velvet pointed hat with a white pompom on top. It wasn’t enough that the store had to play Christmas music and have big plastic bows and candy canes all over the place, she thought. They had to dress up their employees too.
Angela said she needed two. He took them from the shelf, handed them to her, and then asked if he could do anything else for her. Angela wanted to tell him to take off his dumb hat and act like a grownup, but she couldn’t.
“No, thank you. This is all I need for now.”
The young girl at the checkout was wearing reindeer antlers and wished her a Merry Christmas. Angela had to stop herself from snapping back, “What’s there to be merry about”. She just stuck the receipt in her purse and then pushed her cart away from the checkout.
Angela was pushing the cart toward the door when she saw a little girl about five standing by the wall all by herself. Angela had read the stories about little children being abducted from stores, and it didn’t seem right to just let her stand there alone. None of the store employees were paying attention to her. She walked up to the little girl and smiled.
“Honey, where’s your mommy?”
The little girl’s face was serious.
“Daddy says Mommy is in Heaven now.”
It was the innocent statement of the unquestioning belief of a child, and nearly brought Angela to tears. She couldn’t leave her alone now.
“Well, is your daddy here?”
The little girl nodded and pointed at one of the checkout lanes. Angela had just looked up when a man quickly pushed his shopping cart up beside her. He looked angry. He sounded angrier.
“Why are you talking to my daughter?”
“I saw her standing here by herself, and it worried me that…well, I don’t like seeing children alone, especially little girls. Too many things can happen to them. I have two daughters of my own.”
The man seemed to calm down a little then.
“Oh, I thought…well, I guess I was thinking the same thing you were thinking. Erica likes to run around, so I told her to go stand by the wall where I could watch her while I checked out. ”
“I remember my daughters being that way when they were her age. What is she – five?”
The man smiled then.
“Six, actually. If you ask her, she’ll say six and a half though. She can’t wait to get older. I keep telling her one of these days, she’ll be wishing she wasn’t getting older, but I guess she can’t understand that yet.”
He bent down then because the little girl was tugging at his sleeve. She whispered something to him, and he frowned.
“It can’t wait until we get home?”
The little girl shook her head, and the man looked at Angela.
“Erica has to use the restroom. She’s old enough I don’t feel right taking her in the men’s, and I don’t feel safe letting her go in the women’s by herself. I really hate to ask, but could you…”
Angela would normally have said no, and especially so because of the mood she was in, but the little girl was so cute and the man was being so nice now that he knew why Angela had talked to the little girl. She smiled a genuine smile.
“Sure. Come on Erica. Let’s see if we can find the little girl’s room.”
When they came back out, Erica was smiling and holding Angela’s hand. Brent was surprised by that. Since his wife had been killed in a car accident, Erica hadn’t been very friendly to anyone but him, but evidently she liked this woman for some reason.
As he pushed his cart away from her, Angela was surprised that she actually felt happy again. It shouldn’t have been that way. That same stupid song was playing over the speaker system for at least the second time since she’d gotten there, and she knew the person who’d been outside the door ringing a bell and asking for donations would still be there, but for some reason she was happy. She caught herself humming to the song, but then stopped. It wasn’t right to be happy when she hated everything going on around her.
Angela drove into her drive and got out to take her groceries inside, but stopped when she saw a man come out of the house across the street and walk to his car, get a bag of groceries from the trunk and then go back inside. The sign in the front yard saying the house was for sale had been gone for two weeks, and she’d seen a different car in the drive, but she hadn’t seen any people.
The man looked a lot like the man from the grocery store, but that couldn’t be. Coincidences like that just didn’t happen. When he came back out, she looked more carefully, and realized it was him when he waved and started across the street toward her.
He was chuckling when he walked up to her.
“Back there at the grocery store, I didn’t know you were my neighbor. I’ve been busy trying to work and get moved in at the same time, so I guess we missed each other.”
Angela found herself smiling.
“I knew somebody had moved in, but I never saw you either.”
“You probably haven’t because at this time of year I leave for work in the dark and it’s already dark when I get home. I’m Brent Michaels. Pleased to meet you…again.”
He held out his hand and Angela took it.
“I’m Angela Jackson. When did you and Erica move in?”
“Just last week. I got transferred here and had to stay in a hotel room until I could get my house in Raleigh sold and buy one here. That all finally came together two weeks ago, so I took my relocation time over the Christmas holidays. The movers dropped off everything last Monday, and I moved in that night.
“Erica didn’t come with me. I didn’t want to take her out of one school and put her in a new one in the middle of the school year. She’s on Christmas break right now, and she wanted to spend Christmas with me. She’ll go back to Grandma’s the day after New Year’s. I guess I could have gone there, but Erica wanted to spend Christmas here for some reason. She’ll come to live with me after school’s out.”
Angela shivered then and Brent noticed.
“Looks like you’re freezing out here. I better let you get back inside to warm up. It was nice meeting you again.”
Angela smiled as she carried her groceries into the house. She’d been a little concerned about who would buy the house across the street. The former owners had been an older couple who kept to themselves most of the time, but they were friendly.
Brent seemed like a nice guy, and Erica was adorable. She reminded Angela of her own daughters when they were that age, except Erica was a little smaller and had blonde hair instead of dark brown. It would probably be nice having them in the neighborhood.
Angela worked in city government as an accountant, and all government workers except the police and fire departments always got Christmas Eve day off work with pay as well as the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This year, Christmas fell on a Sunday. Since the city offices weren’t open on Saturday, the Friday before Christmas became the Christmas Eve vacation day they’d have missed.
Angela planned to spend that Friday and the weekend like she usually did if she wasn’t working, or at least how she’d spent those days since her divorce. Her internal alarm clock wouldn’t let her sleep in, so she’d be awake at six, but she’d spend the day in her pajamas just lounging on the couch, eating when she felt like eating, and in general doing nothing.
That plan got interrupted on Friday morning while she was drinking coffee. When she answered the knock on her front door, Brent was standing there.
“Angela, I hate to ask you this but I don’t know anybody else to ask. We had a small fire at the factory this morning. It’s out now, but since I’m the Facility Manager, I have to go down and have a look at the damage.
“The problem is I can’t leave Erica at home by herself and I can’t take her with me. Could you maybe watch her until I get back? She’s had breakfast and she’s dressed and everything.”
Angela wanted to say no, but the look on Brent’s face wouldn’t let her.
“Sure. Bring her over. How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
“Probably just a couple of hours. I won’t be able to do anything about it until next week except get an idea of what has to be done. I can’t thank you enough.”
It had been over twenty years since Angela’s daughters were as young as Erica, so she’d forgotten how inquisitive little girls can be. Erica looked at everything in Angela’s living room and kitchen and asked questions about everything she saw. Angela answered them all until Erica asked when she was going to put up her Christmas tree. Angela didn’t know how to tell a six year old that after her husband divorced her and her daughters moved to the West Coast, Christmas didn’t mean anything to her any more.
“Well, Erica, it’s just me by myself, so there wouldn’t be anybody else to see my Christmas tree. I just decided not to put it up this year.”
“Daddy and I put ours up last night. Daddy put on the lights and then helped me put on the ornaments. We hung our stockings on the fireplace too.”
“Well, I hope Santa brings you everything you want.”
Erica smiled knowingly.
“Santa isn’t real. It’s just your mommy and daddy who buy you things at Christmas, just like they do on your birthday.”
Angela had to smile back. Her own daughters had come to the same conclusion as soon as they started school. She’d felt both proud that they were becoming more mature, and sad that they were losing their innocence.
It was almost noon when Brent knocked on Angela’s door again.
“Hi. I’m done now. The maintenance foreman and I toured the area and he knows what to do. I might have to check in next week, but I can probably do that by phone. How did you and Erica get along? I hope she wasn’t too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all except for asking me a million questions. She’s a smart little girl.”
“Yeah, too smart for her own good sometimes. Well, I’ll take her off your hands now. Thank you so much.”
Angela was surprised at herself after Erica left. She kept unconsciously looking around to see where the little girl was and what she was doing even though she knew Erica wasn’t there. She smiled at that. It was just like it was when her own daughters were living at home. If they were quiet, it meant they were up to something they shouldn’t be up to, and she’d go to investigate. That made her feel good inside, knowing she was past being a mother again, but still had a mother’s instinct. She felt almost good enough to put up with Christmas carols and stupid ornaments for the next week.
She was drinking her coffee the next morning when there was another knock on her door. It was Brent, and Angela thought maybe he needed her to watch Erica again. She was taken aback by what he did want.
“Angela, last night Erica told me you don’t have a Christmas tree and she thought everybody should have a Christmas tree. I told her maybe you just hadn’t had time yet, but she said you told her you weren’t going to put yours up.
“Then she asked if it would be alright if you came over for Christmas Eve to see our tree. We don’t do much on Christmas Eve, just have dinner and then watch a Christmas movie. Could I convince you to come over for a little while, just to have dinner with us and watch the movie? It would make Erica happy.”
Angela tried to think of a way to say she couldn’t, but then she thought about Erica. She liked the little girl and didn’t want to disappoint her.
“I suppose I could. What time? Do I need to bring anything?”
“About six would be great, and you don’t need to bring anything except you. Erica and I will take care of everything else.”
That afternoon, Angela took a shower, fixed her hair, and then put on a dress, the first time she’d worn a dress in months. When she looked in the full-length mirror in her bathroom, she thought the dress needed stockings and heels. After finding a pair of stockings buried in her underwear drawer, she put them on and then found her black heels in the back of her closet. When she looked in the mirror again, she smiled. She wasn’t the slender woman she’d been twenty years before, but she still looked pretty good.
When she knocked on Brent’s door, it was Erica who answered. The little girl grinned.
“Come in Mrs. Jackson. Daddy’s in the kitchen making spaghetti.”
As soon as Angela was inside, Erica ran off through a door on the other side of the room. A minute later, Brent came out with her.
“Let me take your coat, Angela.”
When she did, Brent grinned.
“Wow. You dressed up.”
Angela felt herself blushing.
“No, not really. It’s just a dress, but thank you.”
Brent turned to Erica then.
“Erica, is the table all set?”
When Erica nodded, he smiled at Angela.
“OK then, let’s eat.”
The spaghetti wasn’t anything special, but it was good. Angela felt comfortable sitting at one end of the table opposite Brent. She was a little embarrassed by how Erica kept looking at her and then Brent and then smiling.
After dinner, Brent put their plates and silverware in the dishwasher and then asked Erica what movie they should watch. Angela expected something like “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer”, or “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, but that’s not what the little girl said.
“I want to watch that one with the mean old man.”
Brent scratched his head, then smiled.
“Oh, you mean “A Christmas Carol”. Are you sure? It’s kind of scary in places.”
When Erica nodded, Brent turned to Angela.
“Connie and I always watched that movie on Christmas Eve. I didn’t think Erica would remember that, but I guess she did. Is that all right with you, or would you like something different?”
Angela had seen the movie before and didn’t particularly like Christmas movies anyway, but when she looked at Erica, she couldn’t say no.
“That would be fine.”
“Well, have a seat on the couch with Erica, and I’ll start it.
Erica sat between them while the movie played, but just after the ghost of Christmas past had visited Scrooge, she leaned against Angela and a few minutes later, she was asleep. Brent saw that and paused the movie.
“I’ll put her to bed so she’s not laying all over you.”
“No, leave her where she is. If you move her, you’ll just wake her up. I’m OK. Let’s finish the movie first.”
The reason Angela didn’t want Brent to put Erica to bed was it felt like it had felt years before and she liked that. She’d liked Christmas then because her daughters were so excited about everything. They didn’t watch a movie on Christmas Eve. Instead, Angela had read, “The Night Before Christmas” to them and then tucked them into bed with the instructions to stay there or Santa wouldn’t come.
It felt almost the same to be sitting there with Erica leaning against her arm. Without thinking about it, Angela lifted her arm and put it around Erica to hold her close.
When the movie ended, Brent picked up Erica and carried her to her bedroom. He came back a few minutes later.
“She’ll sleep all night now. She was so happy you came over. Thank you.”
Angela blushed again.
“I didn’t have anything better to do, and it was fun. I should probably be going now so you can get to bed. If Erica is anything like my two were at that age, she’ll be up at the crack of dawn and looking at her Christmas presents.”
Brent shook his head.
“No, Erica’s a night owl. She’ll sleep until about eight. Could I interest you in a cup of coffee? This is the first time since Connie…the first time in a long time I’ve actually been able to talk to anybody besides Erica and the people I work with.”
After he sat their cups on the table in front of the couch, Angela sipped hers and then asked if Connie was his wife. Brent nodded.
“Yes. We we’d been married a little over five years before the accident. She was coming home from the grocery store one Saturday morning when a pickup truck ran a red light. Thank God I was home and taking care of Erica or I’d have lost them both.”
“How old was Erica when that happened?”
“Just two. I’m thankful for that in some ways. She doesn’t remember her mother. She asks me about her sometimes, but she doesn’t really miss her. It’s been a job being both mother and father to her, but my mother helped me a lot. I don’t know what I’m going to do when Erica comes to live with me. Either hire a nanny or put her in day care before and after school, I guess. You have two daughters. What would you do in my position?”
Angela shook her head.
“I don’t know what I’d have done. I didn’t have to work for us to make ends meet, so I stayed home until they both got out of school and got jobs. If it was now…
“I’d hate to think of having someone else spending more time with my children than I did, but I guess that’s what people have to do anymore. I know I’d do a lot of checking before I hired someone else to take care of them or put them into day care.”
“Yeah, that’s about where I am too. I just don’t know anybody here well enough I’d trust them with Erica. I guess I’ll have to talk to everybody I know who has kids and see how they handle it. You’re lucky you could stay home and be a wife and mother.”
Angela regretted what she said then, but it was too late.
“Yes, for all the good it did me.”
Brent’s brow wrinkled.
“Oh. What does that mean?”
“I thought once the girls left home, it would be like when we were first married. I didn’t know I’d gotten too old for him until he left.”
“He left you? Why on earth would he do that?”
“She was a lot younger and a lot slimmer. That’s the only reason I can figure out. I thought I was a good wife and mother, but apparently that wasn’t enough.”
“I’m sorry, Angela. I shouldn’t have asked the question. I thought you were having a good time, but now you look sad.”
Angela waved her hand.
“I got over it. I wish things had turned out differently, but I got over it. It’s kind of nice living by myself now. Nobody asks me to do anything and I can do what I want, when I want.”
“Ever thought about finding another man?”
“Are you kidding? I’m forty-…I’m too old and too fat for any man to look at me that way.”
Brent stared at Angela for a few seconds. Connie had always been worried about her figure after Erica was born, but not like this. Angela seemed to have given up, but she wasn’t fat and he knew several single men who’d have wanted to do more than just look at her.
“I think you’re selling yourself short there, Angela. You don’t look fat to me and as for being old, I work with several young women who don’t look half as good as you do.”
Angela laughed again.
“Well, I could sit here and listen to that all night, but I think I’d better go home and go to bed before you start telling me the truth.”
Brent didn’t really know why he said it, but once he had, he was glad.
“Are your daughters coming for Christmas?”
Angela shook her head.
“No, they live on the West Coast. They told me it’s too far to travel and too expensive. I think the real reason is they blame me for the divorce. They just don’t want to see me.”
“Well, if you want, you could spend Christmas Day with Erica and me. I know she’d be tickled to death to have you here. She told me that this morning.”
When Brent rolled into bed that night, he wondered why he liked Angela so much. He barely knew her at all, and yet, having her there on the couch with her arm around Erica had just seemed right. She was older than he, but she didn’t act that way, and he could see that she’d already formed a bond with Erica.
He didn’t understand that either. After Connie had been gone for a year, he’d dated a couple of women, and had introduced them to Erica. Erica seemed to shy away from both of them even though they tried to win her over. With Angela, she had done just the opposite. Every other Christmas Eve since Connie died, Erica would sit as close to him as she could get, and would fall asleep with her head in his lap. She’d scooted over to Angela’s side as soon as Angela sat down. He couldn’t understand what had changed in Erica to make her do that.
When Angela slipped between the sheets she was smiling. Brent was a nice guy, too young to be interested in her, but he was a nice guy and Erica was a wonderful little girl. She felt sorry for him having to raise a daughter by himself, and wondered why he hadn’t remarried. It wasn’t that he wasn’t as nice looking as other men. If he hadn’t been her neighbor, she would have tried to…
Angela caught herself before she could finish that thought. That was a crazy idea. Brent was friendly and Erica liked her, but he couldn’t be more than thirty. He’d said she looked good, but that was just talk to make her feel better.
Still, he’d asked her to spend Christmas Day with them, and she’d surprised herself by saying she would. She fell asleep wondering why she’d said it and why she was looking forward to it.
Brent had said for her to come over about ten. They’d have been up long enough to have breakfast and get dressed then. At nine, Angela searched her closet for another dress to wear. It was silly, she thought, to be thinking about putting on a dress just to walk across the street, but she felt like it was something she needed to do.
The dress she found was one she’d bought for an office Christmas party three years before. It still fit when she tried it on, and when she looked in the mirror, she smiled.
Let him think I’m too old for him, she thought. I’m still pretty sexy for an older woman.
She turned this way and that, and smiled again. The low cut neckline gave her a little cleavage, not enough it looked trashy, but enough most men would look, and it was short enough the hem hit her at mid thigh. When she’d bought the dress, she’d liked the red color and the little sparkly sequins, and she still did.
It needs stockings, she thought, and retrieved the black pair she’d laid over the chair in her bedroom. After putting on her makeup and fixing her hair, she rummaged in her closet again to find the red heels she’d bought to go with the dress. At five to ten, she put on her coat and walked across the street.
Brent answered the door this time, and he smiled when he saw her standing there.
“I’m so happy you could come over. Erica keeps talking about how great it’s going to be with you here.”
When he took her coat, Brent stopped smiling.
“Angela, you’re a real knockout in that dress.”
Angela looked at the floor.
“It’s just a dress I bought for a Christmas party years ago. I thought since this is sort of a Christmas party, I’d wear it again.”
“Well, come in and have a seat on the couch. Erica has been looking at her presents since we had breakfast. It was hard to get her to stop long enough to get her dressed.”
Erica ran up then, and when she saw Angela, her eyes opened wide and she grinned.
“Mrs. Jackson, you look like the princess in one of my books.”
Erica took Angela’s hand in hers then.
“Come sit down. We’re going to open our presents now.”
Angela couldn’t stop smiling as Brent kept handing packages to Erica. She liked the sweater and jeans he’d gotten her, and she loved the book about animals. She giggled when she opened the biggest package. It was a big stuffed dog with plush fur. Erica pulled it out of the box, hugged it, and then brought it to Angela.
“Isn’t he soft? I’m going to put him on my bed and sleep with him every night.”
Angela stroked the stuffed dog.
“Yes he is, Erica. I used to have a stuffed dog when I was a little girl. I slept with him every night too.”
“Can you hold him? I need to give Daddy his present now.”
Angela couldn’t stop smiling, and her smile got bigger when Erica picked up the small package from under the tree and took it to Brent.
“Grandma helped me pick this out. She said you’d like it.”
Brent carefully opened the package and then lifted the thin leather wallet to show Angela. He hugged Erica then.
“Erica, this is the best Christmas present ever. My old wallet is all worn out so I need a new one. Thank you so much.”
Erica looked at Angela, grinned, and then went back to the Christmas tree. The package she picked up was thin and about the size of a sheet of paper. Erica carried it to Angela.
“I made a present for you. Daddy helped me put the paper on it this morning.”
Angela carefully tore open the package and found two pieces of cardboard sandwiched together. When she separated them, she caught her breath. It was a picture of two mostly round blobs with stick arms and legs, but Angela knew from how her daughters had drawn things at that age they were people. One was taller than the other and they were hand in hand. Both had lines to show long hair and they both had smiles with pointed teeth.
Erica giggled and pointed to the picture.
“This is you and me at the grocery store.”
Angela already had a few tears in her eyes because Erica had wanted to give her a present, but when Erica climbed up on the couch beside her, hugged her and said, “Merry Christmas”, she couldn’t stop them from streaming down her cheeks. She wiped them away, and when Erica asked why she was crying, she hugged the little girl.
“Because you made me very happy. This is a really good drawing, Erica. I’ll put it in a frame and hang it on my kitchen wall. Thank you very much.”
Brent had been watching all this and didn’t believe what he was seeing. When Erica had brought him the picture and said she wanted to give it to Angela, he’d been proud. He’d spent a lot of time telling Erica that Christmas was about giving to other people and not just about getting gifts.
When he watched Erica climb up on the couch and hug Angela, it looked like there was more there than just a desire to give Angela a gift. It was like Erica really liked Angela. He couldn’t understand why, but there were a lot of things he hadn’t understood since he’d met Angela. He was even more confused when Angela had started to cry and then hugged Erica. It looked like Angela was feeling more as well.
Those thoughts made him wonder about himself too. He’d loved spending Christmas alone with Erica over the last three years. Christmas Eve was always with his parents, but Christmas Day, he and Erica would be alone together. He’d enjoyed it because he could see Connie’s personality in Erica as she aged, and it was almost like having Connie there again.
When Erica asked him if Angela could come over on Christmas Eve, he didn’t think much about it. It wouldn’t be that much different than the Christmas Eve’s before. What surprised him was that when Erica asked if Angela could come over again on Christmas Day, he hadn’t said no. When he thought about why he hadn’t said no, he realized it was because he wanted to see Angela again.
There was something about her that attracted him. It felt the same way as when he’d first met Connie. It wasn’t something he could have described very well, but it was definitely there. Nothing could come of it, of course. No woman in her forties would even think of doing anything with a man who was only thirty-three. The only reason Angela had agreed was because of Erica, not because she liked him or anything like that.
Brent shook off that feeling and asked Erica what they should do next.
“I’ll bet there’s a Christmas parade on TV. Would you like to watch it or would you rather do something else before we eat?”
Erica looked at Angela.
“I wanna show Mrs. Jackson my book with the princess.”
Brent smiled at Angela.
“That would be “Sleeping Beauty”. It’s her favorite book.”
He turned back to Erica.
“Erica, Mrs. Jackson has probably already read ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I don’t think she’d like -.”
Angela cut him off because Erica was smiling at her and she looked so hopeful.
“Brent, any girl likes ‘Sleeping Beauty’ no matter how many times she reads it. Erica, show me where you keep your books and we’ll read it together.”
They’d been in Erica’s room for an hour and a half when he knocked on the door.
“Anybody interested in lunch?”
Angela had looked up from the book she and Erica were reading.
“Give us a minute. We’re almost done with this one.”
Erica was holding Angela’s hand when they walked into the kitchen about five minutes later. Brent chuckled.
“You two must have been having a great time.”
“Well, we found out we like the same books and so we read several of them, didn’t we, Erica?”
After lunch, Angela thanked Brent and Erica for inviting her, but said she should be getting home so they could enjoy Christmas by themselves.
Brent started to say it had been nice having them there, but Erica spoke before he could.
“Mrs. Jackson, don’t leave. Stay and go see the Christmas lights with us tonight.”
Angela looked at Erica’s smiling little face and then up at Brent. Brent shrugged.
“I told Erica about the lights in the park down by the river and she wants to go see them. I was going to take her out for a hamburger tonight and then to the park. If you can put up with her for the rest of the afternoon, you’re welcome to come with us.”
“I’m sure we can find something to do. Erica, I saw a doll house in your room. Why don’t you show me the inside after we eat?”
Brent sat on the couch and watched two movies. Occasionally he’d hear Erica’s cackling laugh. He’d missed that laugh while he’d been here and Erica was at her grandmother’s. He’d missed it because it was Connie’s laugh, just a little higher in pitch. When Connie had laughed, she’d just abandoned her self to it, and Erica did the same.
Erica was becoming more and more like her mother every day. When she did something, something like that laugh, it made him think of Connie. He’d come to grips with her death and though he missed her, it wasn’t her so much now as he missed having someone older than six to do things with. It had been great to put Erica to bed at seven in the evening and then sit on the couch talking or watching TV with Connie.
He found himself wishing Angela was talking with him instead of in Erica’s room with Erica. He was also a little jealous of Erica. She’d never known her mother, not really, so she wasn’t having any thoughts about comparing Angela to anyone. She’d just accepted Angela and Angela seemed to have accepted Erica. He was having some difficulty with the fact he liked Angela but she was probably too old to think the same thing about him.
That night, he drove them to a Burger King for dinner, and then to the park to walk through the light display. He’d had to take Erica’s car seat out of the front and put it in the back seat because Erica had insisted that Angela ride in front.
As he drove through the streets he started to feel like it was before. Connie always sat in front, and it felt right to have Angela there beside him. When he looked in the rear view mirror at a stoplight, the red glow coming through the window showed him Erica’s smiling face. She evidently thought it felt right too.
Angela hadn’t been to the park to see the lights in years, not since her girls said they’d outgrown childish things like that. She’d always loved the lights, all the candy canes and big balls hanging from the trees along the walk and the displays of Santa’s workshop and the reindeer and sleigh.
The displays had changed a little since she’d last seen them, but they were still beautiful. It felt right to have Erica holding her hand too.
It was silly that it did. Erica wasn’t her child and Brent wasn’t her husband, but there amid all the colored lights, it felt like they were a family out enjoying the sights of Christmas. Angela was smiling and happy as they walked back to the parking lot.
She didn’t see the patch of snow the park people hadn’t salted enough to make it melt away. Instead it had refrozen into clear ice, and when she stepped on it, she slipped and started to fall. She shrieked and tried to catch herself, but half a second later, she felt Brent’s arms around her and pulling her back to her feet.
When she was standing again, Brent still had his arms around her and he had a funny look on his face.
“Angela, are you OK”, he asked.
She wasn’t OK, because standing there with his arms around her had stirred the memories of other times she felt a man’s arms around her. The feeling had taken her mind away to those other times for a few seconds and she didn’t want Brent to let her go. Then, she realized he’d only caught her and that was all there was to it.
“I’m fine, Brent. Thank you for helping me. Uh…you can let me go now.”
Brent didn’t talk as he drove them back to his house because he was thinking. It was all so confusing. A week before, he’d been happy to have Erica with him and getting ready for Christmas. Then, he’d met Angela at the grocery store when she’d talked to Erica. He’d only asked her to be with them on Christmas Eve because Erica seemed to like Angela. Christmas Day had been the same. If Erica hadn’t wanted Angela there, he’d have been content to spend the day with Erica.
It was when they’d opened presents he’d started to see Angela differently. She was pretty in her dress but that wasn’t it. It was seeing how she and Erica got along so well. It was also the feeling that it was right that they should, and that led him to wonder if he and Angela could get along as well.
At Burger King, he realized that was happening. Angela had acted like Connie had always acted when they went out. She wasn’t another Connie, but she was a woman he thought he could grow very attached to.
When he’d stopped her from falling at the park, she was the first woman he’d touched in three years, and the feel of her body had made him think of her as maybe a woman he’d like to come into his and Erica’s life. When Angela hadn’t pushed him away as soon as she was standing again, and from what he saw in her face, he thought she might feel something too.
He didn’t say anything until Angela turned around and looked in the back seat.
“Erica’s asleep. I guess we wore her out.”
Brent took a deep breath then. He had to find out.
“It’s because she’s been so excited about everything. Would you help me get her to bed?”
Angela knew he wouldn’t really need her help. He’d done that by himself the night before. It couldn’t be that he just wanted to be with her, but maybe…
“Sure. I’d be happy to help you.”
When Brent pulled into his drive, he gave Angela his house key.
“If you could open the door, I’ll carry Erica inside. After we get her into bed, would you like a cup of coffee?”
Angela opened the door and then watched what she’d hoped would happen. Brent carried Erica to her bedroom, laid her on the bed and then covered her up. He tiptoed out of the room and then smiled.
“How about that cup of coffee now.”
Brent was nervous when he carried their cups into the living room. He’d been thinking about what he was going to say, but everything he’d come up with sounded like a corny line out of some B movie. He couldn’t just sit there, though. Angela was looking at him like she wanted him to say something.
“Angela, Erica really likes you.”
“Yes, I know she does. She told me she does.”
“Does that bother you? I mean, we’re just neighbors and she only met you a few days ago.”
Angela smiled. It sounded like Brent was trying to make conversation to avoid saying what he thought.
“No. It makes me feel good about myself. It’s hard when your husband says he doesn’t love you anymore and your daughters think it was all your fault. Erica’s the first person who’s said she likes me in a long time. I like her too. She’s a smart little girl.”
Brent sipped his coffee to think. He had to say it now, or he never would.
“Erica’s not the only person who likes you. I like you too.”
Angela felt a little shiver run down her spine. Could this really be happening to her?
“Well, Brent, I like you too. I’m happy to have you as a neighbor.”
Brent stood up, moved closer to Angela, and then sat back down.
“What if I said I liked you more than just as a neighbor?”
The words just slipped from Angela’s mouth without her realizing what she was saying.
“If you said that, I’d say you should show me what you mean.”
She was looking at him with her eyes wide open and her lips parted. It was without much thought that Brent leaned down and kissed Angela. When he raised back up, her eyes were closed and her lips were still parted.
“Angela, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. It’s just that it’s been so long and it looked like you –“
Angela put her index finger across his lips.
“Don’t be sorry. I’m not sorry.”
Angela put her arms around his neck and smiled.
“I’d like you to do it again.”
That kiss lasted longer, long enough Brent knew where it was going to end if he let himself go. He gently pulled away.
“Angela, I think you’d better leave. If you don’t…I don’t know if I can just stop with kissing you.”
Angela smiled at the look on Brent’s face. It was a look that told her he didn’t want her to leave, but thought that was what would be best.
“Brent, what makes you think I’d want you to stop? I don’t.”
He kissed her again while they stood beside his bed, and then unzipped her dress. Angela chuckled and stopped him when he tried to pull it down over her hips.
“My butt’s too big for it to come off that way. It has to come off over my head.”
After Brent lifted the dress from her arms and laid it carefully over the chair against the wall, he stopped and looked at Angela. In her bra and panties and stockings, she was so erotic he couldn’t do anything else for a while. Finally, he took her in his arms, then slipped his hands down to cup her hips.
“It’s not too big, Angela. It’s just the right size to make you really sexy.”
He saw Angela blush when she spoke.
“You’re just saying that.”
Brent unhooked her bra then, and when he eased it from her shoulders.
“I suppose you’ll think I’m just saying you have beautiful breasts too?”
Angela shivered when he stroked her left breast, and then caught her breath when his thumb stroked her nipple.
“Yes, that’s what I think.”
“What would I have to do to convince you I really think both those things?”
Angela caught her breath again because he’d slipped his hand between them and he was stroking her mound through her panties.
“What you’re doing is a good start.”
When he’d undressed, Brent gently pushed Angela down on the bed and then stroked his fingertips up her thighs to her hips. When he hooked his fingers in the waistband of her panties, Angela lifted her hips so he could get them down to her thighs, and then raised her legs so he could take them off over her feet.
Her head was spinning by then. Random thoughts flew through her mind. Did he really think she was sexy? How would he make love to her – fast until he spurted inside her or slow so she could feel the tension building in her core until her brain was screaming for the release? Her husband had seldom gotten her all the way to an orgasm. When he did, it was a crashing collision of sensations that shook her from head to toe. What usually happened was she had to do that part herself once he went to sleep, but when he did it right, it always left her breathless and wanting more.
After Brent lay down beside her and began kissing her while fondling her breasts and stroking her stiffening nipples, Angela didn’t have to wonder. She was already feeling her tummy roll and she felt a little contraction inside her each time that happened.
It seemed to Angela as if there were a thousand thoughts in her head and competing with the sensations she was feeling. Did he really like her body or was he just going through the motions because he thought he had to? Would he change his mind after they’d made love? Why hadn’t she just gone home instead of letting Brent get her hopes up? If he did change his mind, she’d know it was because she was too old and too fat.
His tongue touching hers when they kissed forced a moan from her throat. His fingertips gently rolling her nipples caused her to catch her breath and then moan as the sensation raced to her core and tightened it. Those sensations got more intense when he nibbled at her nipples and then sucked each one gently. When his fingertip parted the hair over her lips and then slipped between them, she couldn’t stop her hips from rocking up or the low moan that slipped from her mouth.
Brent was everything she’d missed for so long, and now that she was feeling it again, she wanted it to never end. She felt herself becoming wet as his fingertip massaged her full inner lips, lips her husband had said were ugly. Brent didn’t say anything like that. He just slipped his fingertip over the folds until Angela’s mind was crying out to be penetrated, to have his cock inside her and stroking them both to the abyss.
He didn’t do that. Instead, he slipped two fingers inside her, curled them up, and massaged the spot just inside her entrance. Angela gasped, then felt wet warmth flowing from her entrance and down between her cheeks. That had never happened to her before. It was almost like an orgasm, except she’d have wanted to stop for a while after an orgasm. His fingers made her want to feel that feeling again and again and again.
A little while later, after he’d kissed her again and then found and lightly stroked the little nub at the top of her lips, Angela wanted him inside her more than she’d ever wanted her husband.
She spread her thighs as wide as she could, then put her arm on Brent’s back and pulled him on top of her. After he kissed her until her core tightened into a knot of passion, she murmured, “I want you so much. Do it now.”
Brent entered her slowly. He wanted to feel the sensation of her soft lips around his cock head and the way her wet passage formed around his cock. He groaned quietly as that happened and then kept pushing until he felt the base of his cock flatten Angela’s lips against her thighs. He groaned again when he started to pull back out. Angela’s body was sucking at his cock and trying to keep it inside her.
He was stroking back in when Angela pulled his face to hers, opened her mouth, and then sucked at his bottom lip. When his tongue found Angela’s, she moaned and he felt her passage contract around his shaft. Her hands stroked down his back until his cock bottomed out, and when it did, she pulled on his ass to keep him there.
Brent couldn’t just stop. His body was nearly working by itself now, stroking his cock slowly in and out of Angela’s wet, rippled passage and lips. He couldn’t stop when he bent his head, sucked her right nipple between his lips and then sucked firmly. The little whimpering moan Angela made then and the way she lifted her body up only fired his need to feel her passage sucking at his cock when he pulled back out.
Brent tried to keep going slow to make it last longer, but the way Angela was responding was making that impossible. One second she was lying under him, stroking his back and breathing normally. The next, he felt her lifting her hips into every stroke and forcing her body over his cock. Her hands changed from just softly stroking his back to clenching her nails when his cock stopped inside her and then opening as he pulled back out.
It seemed too fast, or at least too fast for him before Angela murmured, “Oh Brent, don’t stop.”
He felt her nails dig into his ass cheeks then, and a second later, Angela gasped, then held her breath and began lifting them both up off the mattress. She didn’t get far before she let out that breath with a low cry and fell back to the mattress. On his next stroke, she lifted her body to meet his cock halfway and held her breath until his belly was tight against her. She bucked against him with a little moan when he started to pull back out, then gasped and raised up a little higher.
When he stroked his cock back in, Angela lost control of everything. She cried out, tried to lift her body over his stroking cock, and when he was inside her all the way, her thighs began to shake. “Oh God”, she murmured, and then became shaking hips and thighs, wobbling breasts, and panting gasps as the orgasm took her away, away from everything except the release of the tension that had built to an excruciating lever. Brent made three quick strokes and splattered his seed inside her with each, then kept slowly stroking his cock in and out until Angela eased back down to the mattress and pulled him with her until his chest flattened her breasts.
When his cock refused to go back inside Angela on one stroke, Brent rolled to her side, then pulled her almost on top of him. He kissed her, then whispered, “Spend the night with me. I don’t want to let you go, not after this.”
“How would we explain it to Erica?”
Brent stroked Angela’s hips and felt her shiver at his touch.
“Erica wouldn’t understand what we’ve just done.”
Angela laughed quietly.
“Apparently one of the girls at school knows a lot about the birds and the bees. When Angela was showing me her dollhouse, I asked her why she had a boy doll and a girl doll on the bed together. She said Marsha told her that’s how babies get made. I think she’d know.”
Brent kissed Angela again, then stroked her face.
“Angela, what happens now then? Do you just go back home and be my neighbor? I don’t think I can live that way.”
Angela stroked his cheek.
“I’m a lot older than you. Doesn’t that make a difference?”
“Does it make a difference to you?”
“I thought it would, but now, no.”
“It doesn’t make a difference to me either. I just needed to hear you say that.”
Over the next several months, they tried to hide their relationship from Erica, but like Angela had said, Erica was a very smart little girl. She didn’t understand about sex, but she did understand that Angela was with them every weekend and that her father seemed to touch Angela a lot. They were at the zoo one spring day when Brent went to get them each a soft drink.
Erica turned to Angela and smiled.
“Are you going to be my new mommy?”
Angela didn’t know what to say, so she just asked if Erica would like it if she was. Erica grinned.
“I’d like to have a mommy like the other girls at school. I think Daddy wants you to be my mommy. I’m not supposed to tell you, but we went to the mall last night and Daddy was looking at rings at the jewelry store.”
Angela stroked Erica’s hair.
“We’ll see, Erica we’ll see.”
Erica is seven now, seven and a half if you ask her, and she’s all excited about Christmas. Last Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Brent put up the artificial tree and then watched TV while Angela and Erica put on the ornaments. They’re already plotting about what to get Brent for Christmas.
Brent is happy to have Angela as his wife. Erica loves having a mommy and that makes Angela smile. Angela is happy to be in a family again.
Tomorrow, they’ll hang a wreath on the front door and then decorate the rest of the house with pine garlands and bows. Angela wanted to make their house like it was when her own daughters were home. That’s because her daughters and their husbands are flying in for Christmas. Angela didn’t know exactly what had happened to change their minds about her, but she was happy they had. Even though she’d been angry with them for abandoning her, she still loved them and couldn’t be mad at them for very long. Evidently, they decided they still loved her too.
When Erica found out Angela’s daughters were coming for Christmas, she asked Angela if they were her big sisters now. Angela said, yes, they were. Since that day, Erica has been talking about what her big sisters and she are going to do. She’s drawn the same picture for both of them. It’s five people who look more like real people than blobs with stick arms and legs. Four have long hair and they’re smiling and holding hands. Since Erica can write now, under each figure is a name – Daddy, Mommy, Me, Sharon, and Patty.
It’s always very hard to get adults to listen to the voice in their head. They have too many things to think about and that one little voice gets lost in all the other thoughts. Children are a lot different. They hear that voice and understand what it tells them. I thought Erica would hear me, and she did. In the process, she made Brent and Angela listen too, though they didn’t know they were. It was just a little thought that Erica and I helped get big enough it overpowered the rest.
I didn’t go on after that truck ran into me because I couldn’t, not knowing my husband and daughter were going to be alone in the world. I tried to help Brent find another wife and mother to Erica, but he couldn’t hear me. It wasn’t until Erica got older that she could hear and understand me, but by then Brent was so absorbed with her, he’d stopped looking.
When I found Angela in the grocery store, I looked into her mind and discovered her husband and daughters had abandoned her, and she wasn’t happy about anything. To her, Christmas was the loneliest time of the year because she didn’t have anybody left. All she wanted was to be a wife and mother again, but she was so cynical about everything she couldn’t hear me either. Erica did, and my little girl helped me bring them all together.
I suppose there are those spirits who stay where they were and cause mischief, but most of us are just looking out for the people we once loved. They can’t see us and we can’t really talk out loud. We can’t do much besides give them suggestions through the little voice in their head, but if they listen, sometimes those suggestions work out. I’m happy it did with Brent, Erica, and Angela.
Maybe someday, I’ll be able to do as the people on TV say and “go on”, wherever “on” is, but for now, I’ll keep watching over them. I want them to be as happy as they are now, and they might need my help again someday. They won’t know I’m here or that I’m doing anything. Even Erica won’t, not at first, but she’s a smart little girl. Another little voice in her mind should fix things if they need fixing.