The students had all left for winter holidays and so Christmas Eve I bought some enormous poinsettias for the front porch step and a beautiful wreath for the door, just to try and breathe some Christmas into the abandoned neighborhood. I skipped the midnight church service so I wouldn’t have to answer any Chris-questions. Then Christmas morning was just me, my parents and Zoe. My mom cooked a delicious dinner of turkey, corn, green beans, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings. The Yorkshire puds were her extra little present to me as I had been complaining bitterly for the past month that Zoe and I should have gone to Yorkshire with Evan. We watched Rudolph and Winnie-the-Pooh while my dad built a race-car-set on the porch that he later shared with a gleeful Zoe. It was a nice Christmas even though we were all quiet about how odd it was to have Chris gone. Astrid called and promised to come next year which was awkward and depressing. But the Mario Karts zooming around an impressive track kept things light and I went to bed, in my new fluffy, pink flannel PJ’s, determined to be thankful for what I had even though things were far from perfect.
Now, two days after Christmas my parents were packing up to go home. My dad was loading my up my car for me as and Zoe and I were heading back to the beach first thing the next morning. Their dog, Puma needed walking so I volunteered. All I could hear were birds, thousands of them in the trees. I smiled thinking that they must know that the students were still all gone so this was the perfect time to stop by. I walked down the middle of the road and remembered the first time I met Jake out here. Now I sat on the curb in front of his empty house and Puma sat next to me. We watched the birds fluttering about the tree-tops. I had stopped in to visit Jake when I first got into town and he told me he was taking Rissa home with him for Christmas. He was excited that she got him to mow the back yard so they cooked out on the grill all the time now. Their house seemed brighter and cleaner. I didn’t stay there for long since Rissa was acting weird towards me, asking me about Chris in a strange accusing way that made me defensive. She put her hands on her now 18-year-old hips, wearing the tank-top I gave her, and raised her eyebrows at me, “So is he coming home for Christmas?”
I said, “Of course” then immediately realized that all she had to do was go online to see that he would be in Australia and nowhere near me or Zoe. When I glanced at Jake he was looking at me inquisitively and I could tell he could see right through me which made me miss him, and I suddenly realized why Rissa didn’t want me there. I didn’t visit again but saw from my three houses away, them packing up his truck in his driveway on the last day of finals.
Now I watched birds soar above me. A restless Puma tugged on his leash. I wished I was staring at the ocean instead. Evan was still in England, he ended up taking a very excited, Luna with him since I passed on the invitation. I think we were both slightly relieved about that. After I tried to get him to kiss me at the bonfire he started to stand a few feet further away from me when we were hanging out. I took that as my cue to stand closer…not sure why I found it necessary but it was funny to me.
Chris called only to speak to Zoe and when his number showed up I didn’t even answer anymore. I just took the phone over to Zoe, put it on speaker and tried to get her to say, “Hi Daddy.” When they were done and he said, “bye Zoe” I just hung up. Any time I tried to have a conversation with him he would flatly tell me to get Zoe or that he had to go. It was awful being hated by him, and very tiring. Even after what I had done to him, it seemed like he was betraying me by shutting me off so severely. So when my phone buzzed out there on the silent curb, I had to read his text over and over a few times to process it. It said, “I still love you.”
I had practiced hardening my heart against him for so long that I just stared at the words like a zombie. If I let them in they would damage me. They could sit there on the phone screen, and stay there. I deleted the text and took a big breath. What the hell was that? Maybe he felt bad for not talking to me on Christmas. But it was more likely that one of the guys in the band was playing a prank on him.
I stood up and looked around the abandoned street. This is what it would look like if I was the last person on earth, and this is probably what it would feel like too.