“So, what’s your favorite Christmas carol?” Sean asked Bridget, handing her a mug of hot chocolate.
“Hmmm ...” she sounded, cradling her cup in both hands, letting the warmth soak through her red knitted gloves. She smelled it before taking a sip, initiating laughter from her companion.
“I didn’t spike your chocolate,” Sean said. “My family didn’t have any wild Christmas parties when I was a kid.”
Bridget grinned at her husband of six months. It was their first Christmas as man and wife. “I always smell my hot chocolate before drinking, and in answer to your question, Silent Night.”
“Mine’s Jingle Bells,” announced Jeff.
Bridget looked up over her mug at Jeff, her best friend’s new fiancé. Ever since the accident Bridget feared Caitlin might be looking for love in all the wrong places, this one though, wasn’t half bad.
“That’s not a carol,” Sean said.
Jeff frowned. “Why not?”
“Because it’s not traditional, not really,” Caitlin answered.
“It should be.”
Bridget set her hot chocolate aside on a windowsill, then picked out a plastic ornament from a beat-up cardboard box. Caitlin followed suit. They both searched for just the right spot on the blue spruce in Bridget and Sean’s front yard.
“Have you ever gone caroling?” Jeff asked Sean. “My dad’s a pastor and the church goes together. It’s great.” He smiled warmly in Caitlin’s direction. “You should go this year. My folks will love to have you.”
Caitlin froze in place, one hand in the ornament box. Watching her, Bridget swallowed back the lump rising in her throat.
“What?” Jeff asked cautiously. “What did I say?”
Caitlin turned away. “Nothin’” she squeaked.
“Caitlin,” Bridget tried.
“Stop.” Her friend sniffed. “Oh, you might as well just tell him.”
“Maybe you should.”
“I don’t think I can.”
Bridget glanced up at Jeff. He looked genuinely concerned. “Her parents were killed in a car accident,” she started, her voice quiet. “It happened on the way home from church. They’d been out late singing Christmas carols around the neighborhood.”
“Oh. I knew about the accident, but I-”
“Don’t,” Caitlin managed, her voice hoarse. Her back was still to them. “No more. I don’t want to talk about it.” Wrapping her sweater clad arms around herself she trotted off.
“I better go after her,” Bridget said, handing a blue star off to Sean.
As she walked she prayed for direction. Caitlin knew Jesus, but carried so much pain she couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Bridget’s breath swirled around her as she walked. An occasional snowflake lingered in the air.
She found Caitlin standing at the crosswalk. She was just standing, not looking ready to cross the street, but not ready to turn back around either.
She must’ve sensed Bridget behind her, because she looked over her shoulder. “Will it always be like this?” she asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“I know where they are, but what about me, here? I wasn’t ready.”
“Are you ready to talk about it?”
“I-I don’t know.”
Bridget frowned, knowing she’d slid headfirst into that wall of ice around Caitlin’s heart. Praying, she sought a way to chisel it. “Um . . . I like Jeff. He comes from a nice family?”
“Really nice.” She shook her head. “What does it matter? It’s not like my daddy will be walking me down the-” She turned into Bridget and the two women embraced.
“Please let me pray with you.” In the past Caitlin refused her. Maybe this would be the day.
Several minutes slunk by, the only sound coming from the occasional passing car, and Caitlin’s muffled sobs. Snow fell in soft white pedals around them. Finally Caitlin lifted her head and nodded.
Bridget enjoyed the way the warm summer sun reflected off the purple satin of her bridesmaid gown. Caitlin and Jeff’s mom did a great job putting everything together. She could stare at the fabric all day, but the sight of Caitlin being led down the aisle by Jeff’s dad was even better. He looked really proud of the both of them. Once Caitlin learned to see past her pain, Jeff’s family was able to take her right in, like the daughter they never had.
Trying hard not to cry and mess up her makeup, Bridget thanked God for the love Caitlin had found and for giving her friend the strength to walk the path put before her.
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