The midnight rainstorm had turned to frozen morning fog as winter swallowed the last memories of autumn. A small, familiar handprint grew in the middle of the frosty window.
How many years had those delicate fingers, that tiny palm clung to the glass? Lance couldn’t remember, but he could still see Tommy peeping in from outside, just a boy. Beckoning Lance to stop working for awhile, to come outside and play … push the swing, throw the ball … run.
Lance should have said yes more often.
“Yes,” he said into the phone now. “Yes, I understand.”
He sat quiet, listening to the deep voice on the other end of the line. Grave tones. Concern.
It was the blessing and curse of living in the same small town forever. You knew everyone, and everyone knew you.
Even your doctor was your friend.
“How long?” Lance asked.
Listened again. Blinked. Face blank.
“Merry Christmas, Ted,” Lance said and hung up the receiver.
The door creaked behind him, and twinkling light splashed against the dark back wall of the den.
Soft footsteps fell on the oak floor.
“Was that Ted?” Wilma’s voice was thick, clogged with worry and dread.
And, Lance thought, sorrow. He smiled into the gloom, still facing away from his wife, trying to lift his voice.
“Yes, it was.”
Wilma inhaled a shaky breath and padded forward another step.
“What did he say?”
Lance took a sip of cold coffee. It burned in his throat.
“Is Tommy coming home?”
Wilma was behind him now, hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” She kissed her husband on the head. “What did Ted say?” she repeated.
“He told us to have a merry Christmas.”