Jenavieve was sleeping sitting in a chair next to his bed, with her head on his chest. She had snuck in the room after his parents had left. She had tried to stay awake, waiting for him to wake up, but his breathing had lulled her to sleep. “What are you doing here?” he asked weakly, as he painfully stirred and stretched. She took his hand, holding it tightly with both of hers as if to keep him from floating away. “I am dual enrolled in school remember. I ‘m going to nursing school and I do some of my training here.” She was smiling, but then she became serious. “Now, I don’t know if I can ever work in a hospital again. I was in the hallway when you died. You almost left me,” she trailed off, becoming inarticulate as she pressed her face to his chest and wept. He caressed her hair as she cried. “I died?” Lucas asked timidly, afraid of the answer. Jenavieve looked up, getting herself under control and wiping her eyes. “You died three times actually. You picked a strange time to be an overachiever.” She laughed shakily, and reached up to gently stroke the stitched up incision over his heart. He winced, moving her hand to his mouth and kissed it. She stood up, but he did not let go of her hand. “I need to go tell your parents you’re awake.” Seeing the horrified look on Lucas’s face as he imagined their first meeting, Jenavieve shrugged sadly. “Probably as bad as you think, maybe not. I’m not sure how to gauge their reaction. They really didn’t acknowledge me at all.” Lucas pulled her down, trying to lift himself up to kiss her. She pressed him back to the bed with her kiss, deep and passionate. She stood over him, their lips brushing as they whispered how much they loved each other. They were babbling words of desire, lost in the moment and breathing in each other’s exhalations. “I don’t care what they think, or acknowledge. I love you.” Lucas could see the pain in her eyes, the fear of losing him. “I will never leave you again. We will be together forever!” Lucas promised her, and she kissed him again. She held onto his face as if she was afraid she would fall into his mouth, or trying to pull him into hers. Their lips parted reluctantly and Jenavieve left the room, leaving Lucas breathless. She was crying now from joy.
A few months later, Lucas showed his parents the wedding ring he was going to buy Jenavieve. His father was strangely silent as always, but his mother was furious. “I almost lost you to your heart condition.” She had tried not to cry in front of Lucas and his father during the hospital ordeal, but now she screamed in anger and pain, the pent up feelings boiling over. She had tolerated that girl long enough. “I won’t lose you to her! You will not see that girl again!” She screamed. Lucas looked at his mother with pity, knowing he didn’t need or want her permission. She had slammed her bedroom door as she fled his dispassionate stare. She knew she was powerless to stop him, and hated him and herself for knowing. “You won’t be able to live here with her,” was all his father had said, and then he had gone to comfort his mother. Lucas had only gone to his room to start packing his things.
It was hours later when Lucas quietly left his room, walking through the dining room on his way to the front door, when his father spoke. He had been waiting for Lucas, sitting at the table in the dark. “Your mother loves you, you know. It may not seem like it now, but she does.” His father said hoarsely. Lucas paused without turning around and almost left with that sentence hanging between them. But instead he put his bags down and sat next to his father. “I am going to marry her, regardless of what you or mom think. You have held me back me for too long.” Lucas’ father flinched as if Lucas had slapped him. “I know you did it with love, because you were afraid I would die. But living in fear of death is not living, it is waiting to die. Jenavieve is my heart and soul. I can’t live without her. Can’t you understand that?” His father smiled sadly, strained tears slowly sliding down his face. He held up his left hand, adorned with his wedding ring but said nothing. Lucas got up, picked up his bags and started to leave again. “I can’t promise your mother will come, she is stubborn once she makes up her mind. But I will be there.” His father said finally. Lucas turned and smiled. “Thank you”, he said then left the only home he had ever known.
When Lucas proposed to Jenavieve, he gave her a long stem white rose on red velvet. The rose lay on a bed of snow within the velvet wrapping, and the ring was encircling the rose stem. Jenavieve fell to her knees before Lucas could go to one of his. She held on to him, her arms wrapped around his knees and wept. All the bad things that had happened in her life, all the name calling and hateful words, all the hunger and homelessness, had formed tumors in her soul. She thought she had gotten rid of them, but she had only shrunk them. Now they were being surgically removed by Lucas’ love, and she sobbed uncontrollable as they slowly worked their way out of her system. Lucas held on to her shoulders, kissing the top of her head, crying as well. “Is that a yes then,” he asked, trying to stop crying as he jokingly asked. All Jenavieve could do was nod her head and weep her soul clean.
They were married on Christmas day. Martha was there, and so were Lucas’s mother and father. They had no bouquet, but they also had no one to catch it so no one noticed. All Lucas or Jenavieve could remember clearly afterwards was their first kiss as husband and wife.
They moved in with Martha. Martha’s house became their house, but more so it became their home. They had no fairy tale honeymoon, but instead began the slow entangling of body and soul that we commonly call marriage. That first night, there was a lot more entangling of bodies than souls. They had their whole lives ahead of them to really know each other. They had Martha’s mothering and stories, and the Sunday picnics to put flowers on Frank’s grave. They had evenings on the porch and hot chocolate. Lucas got a job waiting tables at a coffee house. Jenavieve never could get the nerve to go back to the hospital, and dropped out of nursing school. She stayed home and wrote poetry, hoping to one day get published. She would help Martha cook and clean, and waited for Lucas with baited breath. When he came home every day, she would shower him with hugs and kisses. At night they would wrap themselves around each other, finding comfort in the unison of their beating hearts. Life was simple and perfect, for their dreams still seemed more real than reality. Reality, however, has a way of letting you know that happy endings only exist in fairy tales and Christmas stories.
Just after Thanksgiving, Martha became suddenly ill and had to be hospitalized. For the weeks following, Jenavieve visited her every day. She was driving back home from a visit, when a drunk driver ran a red-light. Jenavieve was killed instantly. It was Christmas day, and she was hurrying home for their first wedding anniversary. She had not noticed the other driver until it was too late. Lucas was on the phone with the hospital, when someone knocked on the door. He had called to see if Jenavieve was still in Martha’s room, because she was going to make them late for their dinner reservations. He looked to see who it was, but only saw the red and blue police car lights from the front yard. He dropped the phone when they told him Jenavieve was dead. He never heard the nurse tell him that Mrs. Steinman had also died. “I’m sorry for your loss,” the police men said as he left. The words were perfunctory if nor sincere. He then added awkwardly, because it also seemed to be customary, “Merry Christmas.”
Lucas stirred slowly, still draped in dreams. He hoped for a moment to find Jenavieve asleep on his chest, but he was alone. The ghosts of past Christmases could not bring her back to him. He stood up wearily, the shackles of his sorrow aging him decades in the year since Jenavieve’s and Martha’s deaths. As he walked to the kitchen he slowly removed the pictures of Jenavieve or Martha from the walls and shelves. Setting two handfuls of them on a counter, he turned on a burner on the gas stove. The hiss of natural gas followed him as he searched for matches to light the pilot light. He spied the box of matches behind a picture frame on top of the microwave. Lucas had purchased the microwave after the girls had died, and cooked all of his meals with it. He began to move the photo, when he stopped and stared at it. It was one he had taken last Christmas, of Jenavieve and Martha. They were sitting on the back porch holding their hot chocolate mugs up for a toast. Their smiles broke what resolve he had left, and forgetting the matches he returned to the stove. Setting the picture down with the others, he turned the other three burners on. He took three mugs out of the cabinets and three packets of hot chocolate from the pantry. Lucas could almost see Martha’s frown at the instant hot chocolate, and smiled bitterly. Gathering the pictures, he walked into the living room, the burners hissing at him as he left.
Lucas went around the house, Martha’s house he thought of it now, and collected all the other pictures. He had left the pictures up to ease his suffering, and they had at first. Eventually they became a cold comfort of his lonely life, of his abandonment by the one he loved most. He did not blame Jenavieve for her death, but he felt abandoned just the same. This morning, they seemed an accusation, as if he betrayed them somehow by living, and he couldn’t bear to look at them any longer. Throwing them in the fireplace, he went back into the kitchen to retrieve the matches he had forsaken earlier. Lucas was starting to feel dizzy from the gas fumes. He put the matches in his pocket, and filled the mugs with water. Putting all three in the microwave, he hit the three minute auto button. He went back into the living room as the light came on and the three mugs spun patiently in a circle.
Lucas took a Yule log and placed it over the top of the pictures. It was the commercial kind, one that you lit in the wrapper and burned with various holiday colors. He lit a match and watched it burn for a minute, captivated. The flame seemed to stretch towards the kitchen, as if smelling the flammable gasses there and yearning for them. He threw it into the fireplace, and the Yule log caught immediately. Lucas could hear glass cracking as the flames grew higher and hotter. He went back into the kitchen, took the mugs out of the microwave and mixed the hot chocolate. He was getting dizzy and his vision was blurry, and most of the hot chocolate powder ended up on the counter. The stove continued to hiss menacingly. Lucas placed two of the mugs at Jenavieve and Martha’s usual spots at the table, and sat at his. He coughed, and almost blacked out, but his vision and consciousness came back in a watery eyed start. The hiss of the stove became a whistling scream, as if the vespers of angels had become the dirge of demons. The living room suddenly bloomed with fire, a long finger of flame stretching slowly into the kitchen towards the incendiary emissions. Lucas could almost see them sitting there with him, Jenavieve to his right and Martha to his left. They pointed at him, their fingers twisted and sharp like shivs. The flesh was rotting off of them, and they smelled like rancid meat and brimstone. “Merry Christmas,” Lucas wept, and held his mug up in a toast. Today should have been their second wedding anniversary. Instead it was the first anniversary of Jenavieve and Martha’s deaths. The kitchen grew suddenly quiet as the flames hovered around the stove, savoring the coming feast.
The house exploded.