When I hurried into Jamie's house, carrying all my goodies, I could hear "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" and smell a delicious aroma meandering throughout the house, but the lights in every room glared into the hollowness we felt. There were lighted Santas, elves, angels, bells. The tree was seven-foot tall, and colorfully wrapped presents spread from beneath it out into the room, almost the same distance as the tree was high; They neatly formed an isosceles triangle. Gill had dragged the tree up from the basement storage. It was as artificial as our laughter.
By 4:00 on Christmas Eve, everyone was there, everyone that is except Gil. He'd stepped up his drive-bys to every ten or fifteen minutes and had slowed down to a crawl when he passed the house, but so far hadn't stopped.
Finally, Jamie started talking about all the things that needed to be done to the house and the two and a half acres surrounding it, stuff Gill was in the process of doing when they separated.
So I said, "I guess there are things a man comes in handy for."
"I don't love him." She blurted out.
Everyone chuckled. She finally relaxed and smiled.
The question that remained was would Gill show up. No one knew where he was, so we couldn't needle him back into some common sense.
By 5:30, tables were lined up from the far end of a living room wall to the far end of the dining room. Gill still hadn't shown up, and everyone was starved. The food was getting cold, so we ate our traditional Christmas Eve meal of Lasagna, Smokey Links, Garlic Bread, and all kinds of desserts; all without him. But we left his favorite chair empty just in case he got up the nerve to stop.
After dinner, we always exchanged presents, but that night we waited until 7:00. When he hadn't arrived, we decided to go ahead with the gifts. Hollowness haunted the air. Even the children's laughter seemed to echo it. Even Little Terrence crawled all over the floor, crying. No one really felt like Christmas.
About ten minutes after we'd started on the gifts, somebody yelled, "Hey, Gill's spying at the window." As soon as everyone stared at him, he started to hurry back to his truck.
Troy, his oldest son, jumped up, opened the door, and ran outside, grabbing his dad's jacket sleeve. "Hey dad, where you going? You're missing all the fun. Come on in. Everybody has presents for you." Troy put his arm around his father's shoulders and guided him inside the house.
Gill hesitated, but stepped inside the door and gazed around at everyone. He was obviously looking for a certain someone. Troy quickly closed the door and locked it. At the sound of the bolt, Gill jerked a little; the path for his retreat had just been cut off.
Troy said, "Dad, why don't you sit in your favorite chair at the dining room table. It's waiting for you."
He looked relieved at that and rushed over there to plop down in the Captain's Chair. Still, he gazed around. We were deliberately blocking Jamie from his view, a little pissed at him for waiting so long to stop.
In a couple moments, she was at his side, offering him coffee in his favorite cup. And he accepted it. One glance between them was all that was needed. Then we could chat and open presents without pretense. Even Little Terrance was smiling while he tore our wrapping paper into tender bits. Christmas Eve was no longer hollow; it had become hallowed, because we were all together.
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