Marcia scraped her fork across her nearly empty dinner plate. She looked her husband in the eyes. “You’ve barely said a word all night. What’s up?”
Kevin shifted in his seat and shoved a forkful of potatoes into his mouth, chasing them with a swig of milk. Marcia stared at him, waiting. He wiped his mouth and put his napkin on the table, then crossed his arms – a bit defensively, Marcia thought – and met her gaze.
“I’ve got one more haul to do.” There. He’d said it. Kevin sat still, bracing for his wife’s reaction.
Marcia breathed deeply and tried to stay calm. “Just one? It’s a week before Christmas. I’m surprised they don’t try to cram more in there.” She stood and collected the dishes.
Kevin followed his wife into the kitchen. It was no secret she resented him going on any kind of a run right before Christmas, and he couldn’t blame her. In the six years they’d been together, he’d never made it back home in time for the holiday. “It’s just this one, I promise. And it’s big money, babe. We can get a couple things paid off after this.”
Marcia turned to face him, twisting a dishrag in her hands. She sensed there was more to this haul than he was letting on. “Big money” always meant a job no other trucker wanted. “Where are you going?” she demanded.
He hesitated, but he couldn’t put off telling her forever. “Dawson.”
“In the Yukon?” Marcia flung down the dishrag and brushed past Kevin. “Say ‘hi’ to Santa for me.”
Kevin caught up with her and held her arm. “Babe, it’s big money.”
Marcia brushed him away and put her hands up as a barrier between them. “It’s not about the money. I’d like us to have one Christmas together, for a change.”
“It’s three days up and three days back, no more than that. If I leave tomorrow morning, there’s no way I’ll miss Christmas with you. I promise.”
Promises, promises, Marcia thought. She wasn’t ready to give in. “You know I love you, Kevin, and I trust you, but I’m not stupid. You don’t control the weather up there. One good snowstorm and you’ll be trapped for days.”
“Who sang that song, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’?”
Marcia was caught off-guard by the sudden change in subject. “What?”
“Who sang it? Sinatra?” Kevin persisted.
Marcia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right, Sinatra. It was Bing Crosby. What’s your point?”
Kevin cradled his wife as if they were dancing. “That’s gonna be our song, okay? From now until I get back. Everything that happens while I’m driving, every detour I have to make, every pit stop, it’s with that in mind: getting back home in time for Christmas with you.”
Marcia sighed. Kevin wasn’t one to pass on a job and she knew he’d leave in the morning with or without her blessing. “Fine. I don’t want to spend our last night together arguing.”
Kevin trailed her into the bedroom and undressed, tossing his shirt to the floor. “Don’t say it like that, babe. It’s only our last night together for the next six days, not forever.” He grabbed his duffel bag from the closet, then began pulling clothes out of the bureau. Marcia folded his clothes and fit them neatly into the bag. When they were finished, she undressed and embraced her husband.
In bed, Kevin lost himself in her emerald gaze. Nearly seven years ago, a friend had introduced him to Marcia Kennedy and he was undone that night by her pure green eyes. Despite vowing never to leave her side, Kevin had missed so many holidays with her, he’d lost count. And after ten years on the road, his pay wasn’t worth the constant separation. On Christmas Day he would give Marcia the best gift of all: he was quitting truck driving to go into business with a friend, no travel required.
Kevin rose early on Monday and found Marcia in the kitchen brewing coffee and fixing his traditional send-off breakfast of eggs Benedict and hash browns. He snuck up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her neck. Marcia leaned into his embrace, wishing they could stay like that for days. Six days, to be exact.
“Any chance you’ve changed your mind?” she asked.
Kevin loosed his grip and moved to the table. “They’re counting on me. I can’t expect another driver to cover this route at the last minute.”
She poured his coffee. “Just thought I’d ask.”
Kevin finished his breakfast over discussion of the route he’d take to Dawson and the weather forecast for the week ahead. The roads had been cleared all the way into the Yukon after the last blizzard and there was more snow predicted, but no major storms on the horizon. Temperatures were expected to drop below zero each night, typical of Canada in the winter. Marcia cleared the dishes while Kevin grabbed his duffel from the bedroom. She joined him at the front door, then followed him out to the driveway.
Kevin kissed his wife and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her to him. “Remember our song,” he managed before his voice failed him.
Marcia nodded and kissed him back. She knew leaving her was hard on him, but he was trying to do right by their little family. “I’ll see you on Christmas,” she answered. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, babe. I’ll call you every night. And I’ll drive like the wind, there and back. I promise.” Kevin kissed her again, climbed into his pickup, and drove away.
Marcia spent the week distracting herself with lunches and shopping trips with her friends. As promised, Kevin called every night and updated her with tales from the road. At least two women had flashed him already, although one of them might have been a man, he reported. He’d called in three separate car accidents that he’d witnessed along the route and watched a rig barrel up a runaway truck ramp, something he’d never personally experienced, thank God. The trip was going well, and with no load to carry back, Kevin felt he was making good time.
On Christmas Eve, Marcia iced the last of the gingerbread cookies and snacked on some of them while decorating the tree. She set aside a few sentimental ornaments so that Kevin could hang them when he returned. At nine o’clock, the phone rang and Marcia dove for it, eager to hear from her husband. He hadn’t called last night, but she assumed he was worn out from the trip and needed to sleep more than he needed to gossip.
“Hello?” Marcia waited for his response, but there was none. “Hello? Kevin?” The phone clicked in her ear. It rang again seconds later and this time Marcia asked more urgently, “Kevin? Is that you? Are you alright?”
“Marcia.” Kevin’s voice sounded hollow and tinny, as if he were calling her from the other side of the world.
“I’m here, baby. Are you okay? I think we have a bad connection.” Marcia gripped the phone and realized she was trembling.
“I’ll be home for Christmas. I promise.”
“Baby where are you? Are you close?” Marcia pressed the receiver to her ear and held her breath. Her husband’s voice had been so faint, she was afraid to miss a word. She became aware of the grandfather clock in the hall, ticking seconds away between her question and his response, which had not yet come. “Kevin?” The phone clicked in her ear and silence was replaced with a dial tone.
Marcia unplugged the Christmas tree lights and put the gingerbread away. Unable to settle her mind, she turned in for the night, expecting to see her husband in the morning. Not expecting. She sat up in bed. I’m not expecting to see him. I’m only hoping to. Marcia shuddered at the disturbing thoughts spreading like mist across her mind. Where is this coming from? She sank into the mattress and buried her face in a pillow, trying to ignore the welling sense of dread.
At ten minutes past midnight, Marcia startled awake to the sound of a knock at the front door. Her heart pounded as she pulled on a robe and ran down the hall. “Who is it?” she asked, but received no answer. Anxious now, she jerked open the door. Kevin, appearing more handsome than she’d ever seen him, stood on the porch, glowing in the spotlight of the moon. Relief flooded Marcia’s body like ice water through her veins. She reached for her husband and pulled him inside.
“Baby,” she whispered, then chose to kiss him rather than speak.
Kevin laughed gently at his wife’s enthusiasm and held her arms. “You didn’t think I was going to make it, did you? Have I ever broken a promise?”
“Only every Christmas for the last six years.” Marcia blushed. “I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry.”
Kevin smiled and shook his head. “It’s okay, babe. I had it coming. I know this has been hard on you. Come on.” He grabbed her hand and led her to their bedroom. “Let me make it up to you now.”
Marcia woke with the sunlight, grinning as she stretched her limbs and recounted the night’s events. Kevin had already risen, so she hugged a pillow in his stead. “Enough of this,” she said aloud, then got out of bed and called through the open door, “Merry Christmas, honey. I hope you’re making coffee.” She listened but heard only the ticking of the clock in the hall.
“Kevin?” Marcia peeked into the living room, expecting to see her husband tearing through his gifts like an eager child. She wouldn’t have minded if he’d started without her, but he wasn’t there.
“Keviiin. Come out, come out, wherever you are.” Marcia crossed into the kitchen and grabbed a coffeepot to fill with water from the sink. “I guess it’s up to me, then,” she said loudly so that he’d hear her from wherever he was hiding. She peered out the window at the snow blanketing the tiny front lawn. Her blue car was hidden under a mound of snow and Kevin’s battered black pickup truck was – gone.
Marcia opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch to look up and down the block to see if her husband had parked away from the house. His truck was nowhere in sight. “Are you kidding me?” Her words became visible puffs of steam in the icy air. She shivered as she scanned the front yard, not understanding what her subconscious mind was trying to tell her. The yard was pristine, unmarked by the slightest indentation. That was it, then. There were no footprints in the snow. How much more had fallen this morning after Kevin had left? Marcia stepped back inside and closed the door, not wanting to consider the possibilities.
Determined to be in the holiday spirit whenever Kevin returned – bearing gifts, if he knew what was good for him – Marcia turned the radio on and went to work in the kitchen, brewing coffee, scrambling eggs, and arranging Christmas cookies on a platter. An hour later, someone knocked at the door. As she went to open it, Marcia called out “I hope you have a good excuse for leaving me on Christmas morning.” She opened the door to find two Mounties, hats in hands, on her front porch. Marcia looked behind them, expecting to see her husband, but he wasn’t there.
“What’s this about?” Marcia asked, a leaden ball growing in the pit of her stomach.
One of the men stepped forward. “I’m Sergeant McCann, this is Corporal Dubois. Are you Mrs. Kevin Holloway?”
When she spoke, Marcia realized she’d been holding her breath. “Yes. I’m Marcia Holloway.”
Sergeant McCann gestured with his hat toward the open door. “May we come in, ma’am?” He moved forward so that Marcia would step back and allow the men inside.
“Can I offer you some coffee?” She did her best to sound unconcerned by the sudden appearance of lawmen at her door. McCann waved her off. “Oh. Well, I think I need some myself,” Marcia said, heading for the kitchen. She knew without looking that the Mounties had followed her. She poured coffee into a mug and stirred in the milk, spilling some on the counter.
“Ma’am,” McCann prodded her, “When was the last time you spoke with your husband?”
Marcia looked down to see her hands trembling; she set her mug on the kitchen table. “Last night. He got home after twelve and he was here until this morning.” As she spoke, she noticed the men exchange glances.
McCann studied her face for a moment. “He was here last night? Are you sure?”
She reddened. “Of course I’m sure. Why wouldn’t I be? Don’t you think I can tell time?”
Dubois stepped forward to take the heat off his partner. These visits were never easy, especially with someone who was in denial. “Okay, we just want to be sure we have the right person, then. Does your husband drive a tractor trailer?”
Marcia’s blush deepened. Kevin must have done something on the road, something he didn’t want her to know about. There was a reason he had hurried that last phone call and then pulled a disappearing act this morning. Now she was left to deal with it. Marcia closed her eyes and steadied herself. Whatever Kevin was being accused of, he was still her husband. She loved him and she wasn’t about to send him up the river.
“He’s one of many tractor-trailer drivers, yes. I’m sure you’ve noticed others out on the road, too.” She looked from one man to the other, pushing back against their stares.
Dubois didn’t back down. “We understand that, ma’am, which is why we do our best to confirm a person’s identity before notifying the family.”
“What?” Marcia felt ill, her knees buckling. Officers notified families of tragedies, not minor crimes.
McCann reached out to steady the woman before she fell. He helped her into a chair and sat next to her. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I have to tell you your husband has passed away. We believe his rig hit a patch of ice and slid off the road two nights ago.”
Marcia surprised herself by laughing. She had been so worried about Kevin, but these two clods had gotten it wrong. “I’m sorry.” Marcia wiped her eyes. The officers were staring at her, concerned, she could tell. She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh. It’s just that I thought you came here to tell me something awful and – you’re wrong. Kevin is alive.”
McCann shook his head. Dubois studied the floor and then met her eyes. Marcia persisted. “He’s alive. He was just here last night. This morning, even. I talked to him on the phone last night at nine and he said he’d be home for Christmas and he was. He got home right after midnight.” She saw the disbelief on their faces.
Marcia stood up and flung her arm in the direction of the bedroom. “Go check!” She was angry now, but couldn’t stop herself. Who were these men to tell her that her husband was dead when she’d been with him a few hours ago? “Go see for yourself. His clothes on the floor, his toothbrush in the holder, his-”
Even as she said it, she realized it wasn’t true. Marcia hadn’t seen either of those things when she woke this morning. No clothes, no toothbrush. No tire tracks on the driveway. No footprints in the snow. Marcia sank to her knees and sent up a prayer. “Oh, God. Oh, God, don’t let it be true.” She shook her head, refusing to believe last night was nothing more than a fantasy. Tears spilled onto her cheeks and ran down her neck. Her body felt hollowed out, weightless.
McCann knelt beside Marcia, offering his sympathy, while Dubois rambled on with theories as to how her husband had died. Kevin had most likely been knocked unconscious. He didn’t feel a thing as he froze to death. His snow-covered rig lay undiscovered until Saturday evening and by then it was too late.
None of it mattered; Marcia knew Kevin had come home. He had been on the porch and in their bed. It wasn’t just her imagination playing tricks: Kevin had kept his promise. Marcia sank down and leaned her forehead on the floor. She sucked in a sharp breath, wishing it could be her last, and her body shook from the force of her grief. Beyond the kitchen, above the voices of McCann and Dubois, Bing Crosby crooned from the living room radio. Christmas Eve will find me where the lovelight gleams. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.