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144 pages
Oct 2006

A Carol for Christmas

by Robin Lee Hatcher

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Carol Burke would never forget the day Jonathan drove over her heart. At least, that’s what it felt like.

It was the first of September, their eight-month wedding anniversary, and Jonathan had taken the afternoon off from work — a rare occurrence — to spend it with Carol. The day was warm, the sky cloudless, perfect weather for a picnic in the park.

“Hey, babe.” Jonathan lifted the wicker basket with his left hand and Carol’s guitar case with his right. “Can you get the blanket?”

“Sure, Johnny. I’ll get it.”

He headed out the door of their small basement apartment, calling over his shoulder, “Better grab the Instamatic too. We might want to take some pictures.”


Carol felt happy enough to burst. As much as she loved Jonathan, the past months hadn’t been easy — leaving college halfway through her freshman year, adjusting to married life, moving to Boise where she didn’t know a soul, feeling a bit homesick and out of place in her new family and her new church. The hardest part, however, had been the long hours, six days a week, that her husband spent at Burke Department Stores. Days like today, when they could spend time together — just the two of them — were too few and far between.

She opened the drawer of the nightstand where they kept the camera. Before slipping the strap over her wrist, she checked the back to make sure there was enough film left in the cartridge. Then she picked up the blanket and headed for the door.

The telephone started to ring.

Don’t answer, her heart whispered.

Jonathan stepped into the living room, shrugging his shoulders as his gaze met Carol’s. “I forgot the car keys.”

The phone continued to ring.

“I’ll get it,” Jonathan said.

Carol watched as he walked into the kitchen and picked up the receiver.

“Hello? Hi, Dad . . . No, I didn’t see it . . . No . . . Well, yes, but can it wait until morning? Carol and I were just . . . No . . . But — ”

Carol hugged the blanket closer to her chest.

“All right. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes. I’ll have to change my clothes . . . Sure . . . Fine. Bye.”

Disappointment welled in her chest, although she did her best to stuff it down.

After hanging up the phone, Jonathan turned to face her. “I’ve got to go back to the store.”

“Now?” This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened.

“I’m sorry, babe. I’ll hurry as fast as I can. There’ll still be time to go to the park when I get back.”

Carol believed Jonathan meant what he said. But she also knew how determined he was to prove himself at Burke’s. It wasn’t easy being Arlen Burke’s son and, at twenty years old, the youngest manager in the family business. He had to work twice as hard as anyone else to earn the same amount of respect. He would stay at the department store as long as it took to solve whatever the problem was.

“I’d better get changed.” Jonathan headed for the bedroom. “I can’t go into the store wearing Bermuda shorts. Dad would freak out.”

She didn’t know whether to cry or to scream. Maybe she should try both. Couldn’t they have one afternoon without the store interfering? Is this what it would always be like, Burke’s coming before everything else? Was Jonathan going to become a workaholic like his father, the very thing he’d vowed never to be when they began dating?

She wanted to tell Jonathan how she felt, but how could she? She knew he loved her. He was trying his best to be a good provider and a good husband. How could she fault him for wanting to succeed?

Jonathan came out of the bedroom wearing a white dress shirt, a red tie, and a pair of black trousers. When he reached her, he took hold of her upper arms and looked down, his hazel eyes solemn. “I really am sorry, Carol.”

“I know.”

“I promise to hurry.”

“Okay.” Once again swallowing her hurt feelings, she walked with him out the door.

At the top of the steps, he stopped to kiss her before striding down the walk to his Ford Fairlane, a high school graduation gift from his parents. As he pulled open the driver’s side door, he gave her a quick wave. “Back soon.”

She returned the wave.

A moment later, with Jonathan behind the wheel, the car’s engine roared to life. Carol saw him wave again, then he looked behind him as he started to back the Fairlane into the alley. A loud crunching sound reached her ears, and the car stopped moving.

She frowned. What on earth?

The car door opened and Jonathan got out. A few steps carried him to the back of the Fairlane. When he turned his gaze in her direction, she somehow knew what had made that horrible sound.

“Carol . . .”

She hurried forward, but before she reached him, he bent down and lifted the crushed guitar case.

“Babe, I’m sorry.”

Not her guitar. Not her most precious possession. Not the friend that had been with her as a teenager on the family farm in Ohio, with her in the dorm as a music student at the University of Colorado, and finally with her in their basement apartment in Boise.

Jonathan held the case toward her, a helpless expression on his face. “I forgot I leaned it against the bumper when I went back inside for the keys.”