It was a dark and snowy night. Arlene stared into the fire, her mind a thousand miles away. Here in Chicago, snow fell in quiet, fluffy perfection--as if God Himself had ordered up the evening straight out of a painting. Mark was far away, probably hot and dusty, which felt so wrong on Christmas Eve.
“How are you, hon?” Her father’s hand settled on her shoulder, pulling her thoughts back to the present. She was glad to be spending the holiday with her parents. It was no time to be alone and the baby was making her so tired lately. Dad nodded toward the single knitted baby bootie in her lap. “I plan for my grandson to have both feet, so you’d better keep going.”
Arlene managed a laugh, especially when the baby offered a kick in agreement. “Oh, he--or she--has both feet, I’m sure of it. They’re planted in my ribs too often for there to be only one of them.”
“This one will be a football kicker, hm?”
“Or a Rockette. We decided not to find out the baby’s gender, Dad, so stop acting as if you know when we don’t.” The baby in question decided to offer up a set of hard kicks for emphasis. Arlene rubbed her side. “Ouch. Tonight it feels like it could be twins in there.”
“Then maybe you’d better knit faster.” Dad chuckled. “The holidays have a way of taking up your time.”
Not this year. This year Christmas felt like nothing but time. She’d tried to keep herself busy, made lunch dates with friends and helped out at the USO and the church food pantry, but when evening came everything still boiled down to the cold hard truth of a Christmas without Mark. “True,” she said, not really meaning it. “I’m glad to be here.” She meant that. Arlene knew Army wives who seemed so much better equipped to spend the holidays with their husbands serving halfway around the world. Next Christmas, when the baby was here, would it be even harder if Mark was gone? She picked up the unfinished bootie and forced herself to continue stitching. “I wish I could shake the sadness, Dad. Mark will be here when the baby comes, and I should remember how grateful I’ll be then.”
“It’s your first Christmas without him. We’re simply going to have to make do and find the blessings where we can.” He smiled at the tiny knitted shoe. “Mark would be proud of you. If he were here, he’d tell you to hang on.”
Arlene felt a wave of sadness cinch her throat. Mark always told her to hang on. She just didn’t know how to do it without the sound of his voice calling to her, encouraging her.
“Hang on,” she told herself, closing her eyes and laying a hand across her belly. “We’re going to hang on.”
“Yes we are.”
She knew that voice! Arlene’s eyes flew open, needles and yarn scattering about as she leapt off her chair and turned. There, snowy and wearing a grin that banished all the sadness from the room, stood Mark. The look in his eyes as he took in her round belly--he’d been deployed before she ever really began to show--stole her breath.
“You’re beautiful. You’re so...”
Arlene didn’t give Mark the chance to finish the thought. She was too busy kissing him...and hanging on.