“Stop moping around, Jenny. You haven’t even started on your Christmas shopping and here it is Christmas Eve.”
“I’m not moping. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without Jason. He could be killed any day. How can I be jolly?”
Anna hung a large blue ornament on the tree. “Jolly? Who’s asking you to be jolly? Jason is in Iraq, along with a lot of other men and women. Do you think he doesn’t want you to have fun because he can’t be here?”
“No.” Jenny sat up on the couch and put her book on the cushion. “But I don’t think it’s fair.”
Anna loosed a long sigh and rolled her eyes. “No one ever said life was fair.” She selected a crystal bell from the box of decorations and held it up, gazing at it as though it was a gem.
“Christmas isn’t about being together.”
Jenny stared at her. “Of course it is. People all over are travelling miles so they can be together. It’s a tradition.”
Anna nodded. “Yes, it certainly is a tradition, and it is more enjoyable that way, but Christmas is about love and rejoicing.” She stretched to hang the bell on a high branch.
Jenny lunged from the couch and rushed over to help Jenny. “Here, let me put that up before you get the cord wrapped around the baby’s neck.”
Anna made a face. “Oh, that’s an old wife’s tale. Raising your hands over your head when you’re pregnant doesn’t make the cord wrap around the baby’s neck.” She stepped back. “Still, it is difficult to keep from knocking the other ornaments off the tree with this big belly.”
“Yeah. Are you sure you’re not having twins?”
“The ultrasound says it’s one big boy. Tom says it probably weights 15 or 20 lbs.”
Jenny anchored the bell and glanced at her sister. “Well, let’s hope not.” She studied the tree absently. “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid? Are you talking about the pain of labor or the idea that something might go wrong?”
“Yeah,” Jenny answered, watching her sister intently.
Anna smiled. “Sure, I’m afraid, but I have no control over either, so there is no point in dwelling on it.”
“I’d be scared half to death.”
Anna shook her head. “You have to concentrate on the positive. The doctor says he’s healthy. Women have been having babies since . . . “ She shrugged and grinned. “Since before Christ was born in a stable.”
Anna’s smile was infectious, bringing a lopsided smile to Jenny’s lips. “Well, let’s hope little Tommy is born in the hospital.”
Anna giggled. “Yes. The doctor says it could be any time. We’re hoping he’ll be the first baby born on New Year’s Day.”
Jenny eyed her bulging stomach. “If you make it that long.” She slipped her shoes on. “I guess I’d better get out and do some shopping before the baby is born.”
“Or it starts snowing,” Anna added.
Jenny glanced out the window. It looked like it could start any time. She shivered. “I hate winter.”
Anna pulled Jenny’s coat from the closet. “Stop moaning. Get out and enjoy it. Maybe some snow would put you in the spirit.”
Jenny laughed. “Right. I hate winter, so naturally snow would cheer me up.” She grabbed her purse and paused at the door. “Now you call me if you have any pains, OK?”
Anna waved at her. “The baby isn’t due for another week. Go enjoy yourself.”
Jenny retreated into her coat as the cold wind whipped at her. Leaning into the wind, she sprinted for the car. Little Tommy already had more presents than she had ever had in her life. What could she get a baby who had everything and wasn’t even born yet? Her thoughts slipped back to Jason. If he hadn’t been shipped to Iraq, they might have had a baby by now. It had been almost a year now. Each night she found her gaze glued to the television in a grim search for him. Anna didn’t understand how it felt to fear for her husband’s life every waking moment of the day. She was happy for her, but she still felt a twist of envy now and then.
At the mall Jenny dropped some money in the red bucket hanging from the tripod, barely noticing the woman clutching the bell in her hand. She didn’t reply to the grateful response. She darted into the crowded mall, escaping the icy blast of wind outside. The mall was a chaotic jumble of people. Children were running down the hall, darting between people. Mothers were yelling at their children. Meanwhile, the intercom was blasting Christmas songs. “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you . . .” Just what she needed to hear. Yep, Christmas shopping was bound to cheer her up.
Two hours later she emerged from the mall with three sacks. Her Christmas shopping was done. She couldn’t even send Jason anything because of the terrorist threat. As she reached the car, a snowflake lit on her nose. She brushed it away. “Just in time,” she muttered.
By the time she reached the house, the snow was falling in large flakes. Well, it looked as though they were going to have a white Christmas all right. Whoopee. She slammed the car door in a sudden burst of anger. “Bah Humbug,” she said as she trudged toward the door. Was all this supposed to be part of God’s plan? If God had so much power, why were people suffering? Why were there wars?
She took the presents to the room she was using and began wrapping them. She had put their things in storage and moved in with her sister until Jason returned. Tears blurred her eyes. If he returned. It had been her thought at the time that helping her sister before and after the baby would keep her mind occupied with something besides Jason. But watching Anna and Tom was more a reminder. It was all the little things she hadn’t thought about before. The way his hand brushed her shoulder as he walked past; a long look – little things.
She sighed as she placed a blue bow on the last present. Maybe it would be different after the baby was born. She carried the presents in and placed them under the tree. A glance out the window confirmed it was still snowing. She glanced around on her way to the kitchen.
“In here,” came a faint reply from the bedroom.
Jenny raced to the bedroom, her stockings slipping on the carpet as she tried to stop at the bedroom door. Her feet kept going, leaving her body behind. She hit the floor with a solid thump and rolled over.
Anna was sitting up wide-eyed in the bed. “Are you alright?”
Jenny scrambled to her feet, rubbing a sore backside. “I’m fine. How are you?”
Anna made a face. “ I don’t feel too good. My back has been hurting off and on. I think I strained it decorating the tree.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
Anna lay back on the pillow. “It wasn’t THAT bad. I’ll feel better in a little while.”
“Well, I’ll get supper started. If it starts getting any worse, let me know.”
Anna smiled. “I will, but it will be OK. I feel better when I lay on my back and rest.”
Jenny went back to the kitchen and started supper. As she placed a pan in the oven, the front door opened and closed. She glanced at her watch. It wasn’t time for Tom. Her scraped into high gear. Had she locked the door? She gripped a knife handle from the holder and started to lift it.
“Anna? Jenny?” Tom called.
Jenny relaxed her grip on the knife and expelled her breath suddenly. “I’m in here. Anna’s in bed. You’re home early.”
“Yeah, it’s starting to get bad out there and it is Christmas Eve. They told us to go home – with pay.”
Jenny lifted her brows. “How generous of them,” she said sarcastically. Did Scrooge go home too?”
Tom chuckled. “Actually, old Eb is still at the store. There are a lot of people doing last minute shopping and we can’t afford to miss the business. Things haven’t been too good lately.”
“Tom?” Anna called from the bedroom.
Tom gave Jenny a questioning look. Jenny shrugged. “She says she thinks she strained her back decorating the tree.”
Tom strode down the hall. Jenny could hear them talking, but couldn’t understand what they were saying. Not that she wanted to. She was invading their privacy simply by staying in their home.
Tom made Anna stay in bed, since he couldn’t get her to go to the doctor. He carried her a tray and ate in the room with her. Jenny took her plate and drink to her room and watched the news. Afterward she did the dishes and then decided to stay in her room for the evening and give Tom and Anna some privacy. She propped a couple of pillows up so she could watch a Christmas Movie in bed.
She couldn't say when she fell asleep, but she woke to Tom pounding on her door. It was after 1:30 am.
Jenny jumped off the bed and staggered to the door. She jerked it open as Tom lifted his hand to hit the door again. “What’s the matter? Is Anna in labor?”
Anna called from her room. “Jenny! Tom?” Her usual calm had disappeared.
They both raced to the room to find Anna bent over in the throws of a contraction. Her blue eyes were large in a pale face.
“I think my back pains must have been the beginning of labor.”
“I’ll get the car ready,” Tom said as he turned toward the door. “Can you get her things?”
“No problem.” Jenny grabbed the bag they had packed and placed it on the bed. She opened the dresser drawer and took out some socks. “Here, we’ll put these on and your robe over your nightgown.”
“I have to take a shower and get dressed,” Anna protested.
“Socks,” Jenny said, picking up one of Anna’s feet. “As soon as they get you to the hospital they’ll put you in a gown anyway.”
She got Anna ready without further incident and then Tom came running in out of breath.
“The snow is too high. I can’t move the car!”
Jenny stared at him. Where had the calm rational man gone? “Well, call 911.”
“911 – That’s right. An ambulance.” He pulled out his cell phone and began dialing.
“What are you doing?” Jenny asked after he pressed the fifth button.
His face turned red. “I’m looking for the quick dial number.”
Jenny and Anna laughed. “Get a grip, Tom." Jenny said. "She’ll be OK. I’ll call an ambulance. You stay here with her.”
Jenny called the ambulance and gave instructions. The ambulance arrived in less than 10 minutes. The EMT’s were efficient and cheerful. In no time at all they had everyone in the ambulance and headed for the hospital. An examination indicated birth was not imminent, so the mood became more calm and jovial. At the hospital, Anna was whisked off to a room, with Tom in close pursuit. They would be examining Anna and getting her prepped, so Jenny decided to sit in the emergency waiting room.
She had been there no more than five or six minutes when she heard one of the nurses alerting another about several ambulances on the way. Minutes later Jenny heard the sirens. Several people were wheeled into the emergency rooms. Three teen girls came into the waiting room in tears.
“I wonder if Mom knew what happened,” one of the girls sobbed to another.
“I didn’t even realize anything was wrong until the car started sliding.” Said another.
The third wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue. “I saw the car coming at us. The driver must have lost control. The next thing I knew we were all spinning – and then that awful sound of metal against metal – and glass breaking.” She started to cry and the other two each put an arm around her.
“She’ll be alright,” one said. “Dad is with her.”
Jenny tried to read the magazine in her lap. Had the accident killed their parents?
Two policemen came into the lobby and started asking the girls questions about the accident. A little later a Priest arrived and was escorted back to an emergency room. One of the girls stood and covered her mouth. Another started to go to the room. One of the policemen stopped her.
“He isn’t here to see your parents.”
“The driver of the other car?” the girl whispered.
The policeman nodded.
Tom appeared in the doorway and beckoned Jenny. Relieved to get away from the anguished room, she stood and started toward him. She stepped aside as the door opened for an elderly couple. A Taxi driver followed them, apparently waiting for his fair but unwilling to ask.
“Busy tonight, isn’t it?” Tom said.
“Today,” Jenny corrected. “It’s Christmas Morning.”
Tom smiled, his eyes sparkling. “It is, isn’t it.”
“Not a merry one for those people in there.”
Tom sobered. “I was surprised to see a cab driver in there. I guess they run all the time, but I never thought about it – being Christmas morning and all.”
Yes, it was Christmas and people should be with their families – or so she had thought. Yet there were people away from their families in every city. The police, clergy, cab drivers, doctors, nurses, and lab technicians – all of whom were taken for granted. The realization left her ashamed. While she had been moping, all these public servants were busy comforting others. They couldn’t be home for Christmas, but they weren’t whining about it.
She glanced up at Tom and smiled. “Merry Christmas.”
He grabbed her arm and grinned. “I’ll say. I have the finest present in the world to show you.” He steered her to the nursery and pointed out a baby wrapped tightly in a white blanket. On his head was a red knit stocking cap with a white ball on the top.
Jenny stared at the baby. “Already? But they said . . .”
He laughed. “They were wrong. She barely got to the room before she delivered. The doctor said she had probably been in labor since yesterday evening – back labor, I believe he called it. I’m so glad she didn’t have to go through hours of pain. She’s doing great!”
Jenny gazed at the little bundle. They all had so much to be grateful for. Nowhere on earth could a person be assured of safety. She could sit around thinking the worst about Jason, or she could make the most of the time while he was away. This new baby knew nothing of the war, but he would pick up on her mood. And Jason – had her letters said more than words? Little Tommy and Jason both needed her support – not simply with words or presence, but with love born of true acceptance. All the sadness in the world would only serve one purpose – to make even more people miserable.
“You must be so proud!” she told Tom.
His eyes were shining. “And Anna was a real trooper. What a present for us both!”
As they walked down the isle to see Anna, it occurred to her that she had been given a Christmas present as well. Had it not been for the misfortune of others, she might not have found it. She closed her eyes and said a little prayer for Jason first, then for all the people in the hospital – and a special prayer for those who cheerfully tended them.