Their Christmas Carol

By: Jessica Gilmore

It was such a cliché that time healed. But it was a cliché for a reason. She still missed Logan, of course she did, wished he could be there to watch their daughters grow up, to share the burdens of parenting and adulthood, but she no longer felt his absence so acutely, her grief was no longer constantly with her, especially now she was back in Marietta, a place where her memories of him were few and far between. Another point in Marietta’s favor.

It was a short walk, through the perfectly straight rows of fruit trees, to her parents’ house right on the edge of the orchard. Linnea paused as she reached the small arched bridge which ran over the shallow stream separating the house and yard from the orchard. She’d never expected to live in this house again and yet somehow it had never stopped being home. Painted white with a deep veranda running right round the house, a swing hanging from the old apple tree in the garden, a small wooden house perched high in the same tree, it had been a picture-perfect place to grow up in. Now it was a picture-perfect home for her girls to grow up in.

Linnea crossed over the bridge and followed the path around the house to the back. She clambered up the steps and unlatched the back door which led into the laundry and general store room. “Hello,” she called and waited for the return greetings.

No answer.

Slipping her shoes off, she crossed the room and entered the kitchen. Nothing about the homely kitchen had changed since she’d left for Yale. The same cream wooden cabinets, the same tiled floor, the same blinds at the window. Only the photos had changed; once the memo boards had been filled with pictures of Linnea. Linnea in her graduation gown, in her band uniform, her track uniform, at the piano. Always achieving, always smiling. A few photos of the three of them, Vika and Andreas’s Swedish roots clear in their clean-cut blond looks, Linnea shorter, darker. She’d never minded being adopted, she had just wished so many times it wasn’t so obvious.

Now the photos were a mixture of the girls’ baby photos, more recent pictures, her wedding photo. She always got a jolt when she saw it, she was so young, not even twenty. So unformed.

This was the first Thanksgiving she had spent in Marietta since she was eighteen. Then the kitchen would have been full of the rich smells of roasting turkey, fried yams and baking pies, the house filled with the chattering of various Olsens and Wallins, her mother’s family. But at some point in the last decade her father had started to open the store on Thanksgiving morning and her parents had accepted invitations to other people’s houses for Thanksgiving. The old guilt pulsed away. Linnea had always spent Thanksgiving with Logan’s family in their mansion by the Connecticut River. Spent Christmas there too, only returning to Marietta for a week every summer. It hadn’t been enough. All Vika had wanted was a large family to take care of, but it had never happened. They just had Linnea, and she had to make sure she was enough, that she filled the void.

As if Linnea’s thoughts summoned her, Vika walked into the kitchen, a smile broadening her high-cheekboned face as she caught sight of her daughter. “Linnea, darling, you’re back. How was it?” Vika Olsen had been fond of her son-in-law, and truly heartbroken at the tragedy that had befallen her daughter and granddaughters, but she couldn’t hide her happiness that her only daughter had finally returned home, her granddaughters were now in the same house, that she saw them daily not just a couple of times a year.

“Hi, Mom.” Linnea walked over to her mother and leaned against her, inhaling that coming-home scent; cinnamon and sugar and the fresh citrusy scent of her mother’s shampoo. As always, she had to reach up, as if she were still a little girl, Vika Olsen was a slim, statuesque five eleven; at barely five four Linnea was a good half a foot shorter than her mother. Their height wasn’t the only difference. Vika’s golden hair had faded to a stylish ash blonde, still straight and fine, cut in a becomingly sleek bob, her eyes were as piercing and blue as ever. Everyone agreed that Vika Olsen was a fine-looking woman; as a small child, Linnea had always felt their physical difference keenly, her own dark eyes and hair, her olive skin marking her as different. The visual proof that she didn’t quite belong, no matter how many times they told her how special she was, that she was their chosen one.

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