Family Stickers

I don't think the remains of one's happiness should be the tacky leftovers of a car decal on their SUV's rear window. The white sticker families made of karate masters and princess are not made to be removed. So when Keith's wife left him, her sticker left behind a mark, a sticky outline and remnant of where she should have been.

Now, a light dusting of snow falls, gathering on the car's window. It melts seconds after touching the glass, yet a thin layer collects over what is left of Keith's happy family: a father, a daughter, and a shadow of the past.

I can't ignore the dark car filled with memories not my own any more than I can ignore the chill that turns my breath to vapor.

“Meredith, are you coming in?” A high-pitched, preteen voice calls through the dark.

I glance to the house, where an open door streams light. There Jill waves to me, an arm tucked around her waist.

“Give me a second,” I answer.

My arms are laden with boxes decorated in bright colors and brown, paper bags hang from my wrists. Heat wafts from these, along with the smells of Christmas dinner. Roasted ham, sweet potato casserole, green beans, and apple pie. Cans of cranberry sauce threaten to rip through the bottom and scatter over the driveway.

Keith peeks out of the house and sidles by Jill. A smile slants his lips as he reaches for the bags. “Hmm,” he moans. “Smells like heaven.”

“Don't eat before you make it to the table,” I say.

At the door, Jill crinkles her nose at her dad. “You forgot your jacket.”

“There is no time for cold when chivalry is at stake,” he answers on his way to the kitchen.

I move to the living room. A tree engulfs a fourth of the room, its branches encircled with blue lights and white garland. Red ornaments hang mixed with pink and purple. On the lowest branch there is a clear orb with a photo of a young woman holding a baby. The words “Baby's First Christmas” are written in glitter pen on the surface.

“I'm going to eat this entire pie before you make it in here,” Keith calls. Paper crinkles with the clatter of silverware.

I take one more glance at the ornaments and then lay my gifts under the tree.

In the kitchen, Keith has set out the food and the bags are shredded in a heap on one end of the counter. Jill attempts to close a cupboard while juggling plates and glasses.

Arms sweep around my waist from behind and there is the faint waft of Keith's breath on the back of my neck. “Everything all right?” he whispers.

“Everything's fine.” I turn and kiss him so he can't doubt it's true.

Dinner passes with munching and giggles. Keith holds my hand under the table while Jill sits across from us, her chair turned so she can see the tree.

“Can we now, Dad?” she asks.

He chuckles and squeezes my hand. “I don't think Meredith is done eating.”

I glance from his smile to her hopeful gaze. “I think I've had enough to start on presents.”

She shoots from her chair and out to the hearth, soon returning with stockings in hand. “We'll do these first.”

My stocking is light. I feel the edges, detecting a small box and a piece of cardboard. The box is stuck deep in the toe and I wiggle my fingers in until my elbow is submerged. “You must not have wanted me to get this.”

Keith laughs. “It wasn't supposed to be that difficult.” He grips the end of the stocking and tips it up, dumping the box in my hand. Before I can look to see what it is, he snatches it from me and replaces it with the piece of cardboard. “This first.”

I look across the table. Jill watches me, her own stocking forgotten. “Don't you want to see what you got?”

“Not before you.”

With both their eyes on me, I turn to the gift. It is folded in half and taped at one end. I tip it over and squeeze the other side open. A wax-covered decal flutters into my lap.

For a moment, I forget to breathe. A smiling stick figure with long hair and triangle dress stares back at me. Paper crinkles as tears blur my vision.

“Do you like it?” Keith asks.

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Then I think you'll like this too.”

I blink back the tears and turn my gaze to his. He smiles and holds out the box, opening the mistletoe-wrapped lid. Inside, glittering in the Christmas lights, is a ring. And like the decal of me that will soon join the others on the back of Keith’s car, it is never coming off.