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First Christmas Alone

This year, Evie was determined that Christmas would be a good one, no matter what had happened that year.Yes, it had   probably been one of the toughest years of her life, and tough for the kids too.  But they had come through, and life was still good.  The bottom had fallen out of their world, but they were getting on with it, and that's what mattered.  And they were still smiling, still living, still happy.

The last two holidays hadn't been bad at all.  They had shared a Fourth of July barbecue with two other families who happened to be fatherless at that time too.  They had been to Evie's parents for Thanksgiving.  They'd even vacationed on the east coast at Evie's sister Andrea's home.  But Christmas they would celebrate in their own home.  And they were determined to enjoy every minute of it.

Evie and her two children Matthew (aged 12) and Sally (aged 10) were planning to attend the Christmas Service in their Church, they were involved in a church-sponsored  carol singing programme to help needy families and they had accepted invitations to two Christmas parties in the week preceding Christmas.  Although they were not not quite brave enough to host a Christmas party this year, Evie thought they would probably do it the following year.   All in all, she was looking forward to an enjoyable festive time with her children, a break from the monotony of everyday life.

The previous year, Christmas had been just awful.  The tension in the air had been palpable.  Her husband Mike  had been on edge, constantly walking out to take private calls on his mobile.  He behaved the whole time as if he would rather be somewhere a million miles away.

Evie had seriously thought to herself that as soon as the holiday season was over she would ask someone discreet for the telephone number of a good marriage counsellor.  In the end, Mike saved her the trouble. 

"Evie, we have to talk," he told her, two days after Christmas and then turned her life upside down with two words: "It's over!"

He'd put off telling her so as not to spoil her Christmas.  So considerate of him.  He had been in a new relationship for some time.  He had long found their marriage "shallow, meaningless and incomplete."  He was leaving to go and live with his lover, who wanted their relationship to be out in the open.

"Lily wants the truth to come out," he explained.  "She doesn't want that our relationship should be something shameful, hidden away in the corner.  It's better for everyone to bring it out in the open." 

"If that's the way you feel, then you'd better go!" Evie responded quietly. She didn't plead with him to change his mind.  As she saw it, if he had gone so deeply into his new relationship that he was ready to walk out on their life together and start again with someone else,  pleading would not help.  The best she could do was let him go quietly, make a civilized arrangement about his access to the children and maintenance payments - just because he had walked out on her it did not entitle him to skip his financial responsibilities regarding their  children.

It was very difficult to explain it to their children.  Evie tried told them that when she and their father had married, they had intended to be together for the rest of their lives.  But sometimes, for different reasons, people changed their minds.  Evie hadn't changed hers, but their father had changed his.  The main thing that the children should remember, she said, was that he was still their father.  They still needed him and he them.  They must meet regularly and tell each other what was going on in their lives.  Mike got into the habit of calling on Sunday mornings after Church.  He took the kids away until the evening.  Time would hang heavily on Evie's hands that day, but she used the opportunity to spend some time resting and preparing for the coming week.  She had been working for two years as a teacher, and was grateful for the job, and the occupation it gave her.

On Sundays, she got time to wonder where the marriage had gone wrong.  It wasn't the first time she had lost someone she thought she'd spend the rest of her life with.  When she was only twenty five, she'd lost her then fiance Jeff Wilson to cancer - they'd  got engaged two years earlier, just before  he'd been diagnosed.  Mike Gibson, Jeff's best friend had been a tower of strength to her, and she'd evenually married him three years after Jeff's death.    Evie knew herself that although she'd grown to love Mike, he may have felt second best on account of the fact that she'd been engaged to his best friend in the first place.  They had brought two wonderful children into the world, they had a lovely three bedroomed house, they had a comfortable  life.  Had Mike felt neglected when she'd gone back to work, she'd wondered.  He'd always seemed to feel that it was okay for her to work provided 'her' work in the home was not 'neglected'.  His job as an engineer always took precedence over  hers as a teacher.

Looking back, Evie could honestly say that she had given her marriage her best shot, and felt that Mike had left simply because he had wanted to.  He was fascinated with his new lady, Lily Pratt, a very competent and attractive businesswoman with whom he was often seen around town, especially in expensive restaurants and high profile social events - as and when these events occurred in their town.  Evie continued having a warm relationship with her mother-in-law and her husband, who lived quite near to her home.  Mike's mother, a widow who had raised her son alone before she had remarried,  had been horrified when Mike had walked out on Evie.  She had no liking either for Lily Pratt, who had come to visit her once or twice along with Mike.

"My son has taken leave of his senses.  I must have spoiled him!" she said once to Evie.  Evie had laughed and told her not to blame herself.

"Things happen!" she said.  "There doesn't always have to be a reason!"

Evie was glad she had handled things the way she had, with no accusation or recrimination.  She knew that her children would have been disturbed and upset by it.  As a result she was able to enjoy cordial relations with her husband, and the children, although missing their father, enjoyed meeting him regularly.  Deep inside, she had hoped he'd change his mind and come home, but by the time he'd been gone six months or so, she'd given up that idea.  She knew she'd have to let it go on order to move on and make positive changes in her life.

Once, she had to attend a teaching conference in another town and she asked Mike to take care of the children that weekend.  Mike had agreed very reluctantly, giving first the excuse that he and Lily had plans for Saturday evening to which Evie had scornfully replied that Lily knew what she was taking on when she got involved with a man who was a father of two children.  Then he had protested that there was no room in Lily's flat for two extra people to stay.  Evie replied that he could come home and spend the weekend with the children in their own house, which was still technically his home.

"Call me old-fashioned, but I won't have the children staying in your love-nest.  Let the pair of you become a married couple, then no problem.  And another thing," she added, "do not allow that woman to stay overnight in my home!"  This was the only time she ever spoken sharply to Mike since he had left her, and actually, she enjoyed having the opportunity to do so.  But she never checked up as to whether Lily Pratt had actually stayed in her house or not.  The children never said, and she didn't ask.

Mike said that it was terrible to see a mother of children giving such importance to her career.

"I am just as committed to my career as you are to yours!" replied Evie.  "No husband to fall back on now!  Are you planning to ask Lily to give up her career if you two have a child?"  That shut him up nicely, and Evie had a good laugh to herself about that!

The year had progressed smoothly.  Evie had a resurgence of interest in her teaching career and the kids brought home good school reports.  She decided to get rid of the double bed she had shared with Mike and buy new beds for herself and the children.  She couldn't believe how she loved rearranging her room just for herself, with a writing desk and bookshelves and space for her music - she felt herself as excited as a teenager who had just got a room of her own.  She left the remainder of  Mike's belongings in the garage,  so that Mike could remove them at his convenience.  She invested in three very nice foldaway beds for each bedroom - hers, Sharon's and Matthew's.  She braced herself for the fact that the new year would bring news of the beginning of divorce proceedings.   No doubt Lily would be anxious to legitimize her relationship with Mike, being such a conscientious lady, not wanting people to think that they were some temporary item.  However, Evie was ready.  She wanted to get the divorce out of the way so she could move on into her future.  She hoped that she wouldn't have to sell her lovely home so that Mike could claim his share.  If it was to be sold at least it should remain with her until the children went away to college.  That would be only fair.  She decided that after Christmas, she would shop around for a good lawyer.  She even wondered, a little guiltily, if the future would include a new partner.....Mike's mother had found a wonderful partner at the age of forty five!  Maybe she, Evie, could too?

The Christmas season lived up to her expectations.  Everything went beautifully.  After the Christmas Carol service on Christmas Eve,  Evie and her kids retired early as they  had always done.  Strangely, Mike had been vague about meeting the children over Christmas.  He was, apparently, not quite sure what his plans were for Christmas.  Strange!  According to the children, he was facing some problems with his job and was too preoccupied to give them a straight answer when they had asked him.  Evie was planning to go to her mother-in-law's house the next morning with the children, and sincerely hoped that her Christmas would not ruined by an accidental meeting with Mike and Lily Pratt over there.......

The telephone rang.  Maybe her parents, calling long distance?  She had a set beside her bed and picked it up....."hello?" she said.  No reply.  Then she heard a strange, yet familiar voice saying her name.

"Evie?" couldn't be!

"Mike?" she said.  "What's the matter?  You sound very disturbed."  It was Mike's voice all right, but it sounded strange, choked with sobs and emotion.

"Evie!" he said, "I want to come home!  Will you take me back?"  She couldn't believe it.

"Mike!  What happened?  You sound very upset!"   Then it all came out.  Mike had found that the grass wasn't always greener elsewhere.  After the initial excitement had worn off, Mike and Lily's relationship had simply ran it's course.  He was already living in Lily's place on borrowed time.  Three months before, she had told him that she felt they were getting bored with each other and advised him to find a place of his own, so they could continue their relationship as before he had moved in.  She was a busy woman, and while she loved being in a relationship, living with a man who expected her to look after his needs (for food and laundry etc) as well as her own was irritating her.  However, Mike had not yet found a place and this caused a lot of tension between him and Lily.  Finally, just before Christmas, she told him that she was going out of town for the holidays and advised him to be gone when she returned, and leave his key on the drawing room table.  He was devastated.

Speaking in a calm and reassuring voice, she advised him to come straight home.

"This is still your home!" she told him.  "Come home for the holidays.  Give yourself some time to figure out what to do.  There's plenty of time.  Don't worry.  Just calm down and come over here.  The children will love to have you home for Christmas."

"Thanks Evie!" he murmured thickly.  "I can't thank you enough!  You've been so good to me.  God bless you.  I'll be right there..." and he hung up.

So Evie got up and prepared the foldaway bed in her son's room.  Mike could sleep there for the holidays.  Was he back forever, or would he go running back again the minute Lily Pratt crooked her little finger?  But this was not the time to think of this, Evie reminded herself.  The father of the family was coming home for Christmas.  And that was good.......

This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 15/12/2009

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