The Christmas Card
The falling snow blanketed the night, imparting a peaceful serenity that was unmatched in Janetís soul. It was Christmas Eve, and she had never felt so alone. Blake was asleep in his bedroom. Too young to understand why Mommy was sad, he had finally drifted off to a four-year-oldís dreams about reindeer and giant elves in red suits. Meanwhile, Janetís coffee grew cold beside her as she stared out the window, lost in thoughts of how things should have been.
Christmas hadnít always been this way. It was, in fact, her favorite time of year. She had grown up in a house filled with laughter and love year round, but especially at Christmastime. Her earliest memories were of holiday meals at her grandparentsí house, and of treks into the woods to find the perfect tree for the living room.
As she grew older, the holidays became even more special because of the get-togethers with brothers and sisters whom she rarely saw anymore. Now, she felt a catch in her throat, as she thought of this yearís reunion halfway across the country at her parentsí home. It was the first family Christmas without her and Tom. The catch became a quiet sob at the thought of him.
It was obvious she and Tom had been meant for each other from the beginning. They had similar tastes in everything - their love of books, their adventurous spirits, and especially their fondness for Christmas. Tom had even asked her to marry him on Christmas Eve, seven years ago tonight.
Thoughts of the anniversary they were celebrating apart from each other brought Janet back to the quiet of the living room. She became aware of the worries that were her constant companions, always in the back of her mind. She wondered where he was, and whether he was safe. But most of all, she wondered when he would be able to come home.
Tom was part of a military unit that had been deployed in November on an intelligence-gathering mission. Because of the nature of the operation, he wasnít able to tell her where he was going, or when he would return. She wasnít sure that he even knew. Even so, he had promised her and Blake that he would be home to celebrate Christmas with them.
She had known when she married him that times like these were possible, even likely. The knowledge had done little to prepare her for the reality of his absence. Her thoughts chased her into a fitful sleep, and became her dreams.
Three Months Later
The sights and sounds of a beautiful spring morning greeted Janet as she stepped out onto the porch. After a cold, gray winter that seemed to mirror her constant mood, the warmth of the day and the brilliant blue sky lifted her spirits. She felt better than she had in months. The smell of freshly mown grass brought back memories of carefree summer days spent exploring the creeks and the woods near her childhood home. As she walked to the mailbox, she smiled in spite of herself at the sight of the yellow daffodils that seemed to have bloomed overnight.
The mail contained the usual bills, credit card offers, and sales circulars. One envelope seemed very out of place amid the advertisements for gardening supplies and spring clothes. It was red, with an image of a wreath in the lower left corner. Janet knew that letters sometimes got misplaced in the postal system, only to be delivered months or even years later. She was curious as to which of her friends had unwittingly sent her a belated Christmas greeting. There was no return address to give away that secret.
Then Janet noticed the postmark. The location was smudged and illegible, but the date shown clearly. April 4, 2005 Ė three days ago. So, the letter had not been lost by the postal service. With a sense of hope that she couldnít explain, she tore open the envelope. The card inside was generic, but the message, written in the hand so familiar to her, blurred through the tears of joy streaming down her face.
The mission is over, and we are leaving for the States tomorrow. Put up the tree Ė Iíll be home for Christmas. Love, Tom.Ē
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