Welcome to Tuesday Tales!!
This week is the last part of the Christmas story that started with this picture:
I’ve posted the whole story here, but if you’ve read the other parts and want to skip to the end, click here. (Also the story doesn’t have a title, so if you have any ideas, leave them in the comments.
It wasn’t going to be Christmas without snow.
But Lacey didn’t have much Christmas spirit this year anyway.
Lightning flashed as Lacey slammed on the brakes as a giant dog galloped across the street. Her nearly bald, rear tires fish-tailed on the wet roads.
The dog disappeared into the brush and Lacey wished the memories it evoked would fade away as easily.
Wind twisted and swirled the trees along the road and Lacey muttered, “You know Michigan weather. It can be three seasons in twenty-four hours.”
The sun had been shining when she left town. In another hour it’d probably be shining again. She flipped the headlights on as the first chunks of ice snapped against her windshield. The wipers swept them away, but they quickly grew large enough to ding the hood. Gusts battered her car and threatened to shove it into a ditch.
Lacey swerved into a dirt driveway and brought the car to a stop next to an old barn. She could barely make out the red paint through the gray sheet of hail. The building would provide better shelter than her car in the gusting wind as long as she could keep the memories at bay.
The tree in front of her car had already lost several branches and Lacey didn’t want to be under them when the next one crashed down. She counted to ten to summon her nerve, then shoved the door open and dashed for the open barn door. The hail zinged her neck and head.
The barn smelled of damp and dust at the same time. As she flicked chunks of ice from her hair, a whine alerted her that she wasn’t the only one seeking refuge from the storm.
The Great Dane she had almost creamed earlier was trying to bury its head under a bale. Unfortunately Ginger was accompanied by her owner Tom. If one thing went wrong today, a dozen did.
A crack of thunder shook the barn. The dog reversed and sprinted around the open area, banking off the bales and kicking up chaff. An open stall door swung and bounced off the wall adding to the racket of hail thumping on the metal roof.
Lacey raised her hands to ears and scanned the roof for leaks or for evidence that the wind would peel the surface away and leave them exposed to the torrent. The century-old beams appeared solid and unshakeable.
The furry mass barreled into her hip. Lacey hit the cement floor in a cloud of dust. She hadn’t even caught her breath before the dust sent her into rapid-fire sneezing.
Over the sound of her sneezes, she heard Tom attempting to calm the dog, alternately coaxing and commanding the frazzled mutt. “Here, babe. It’s okay!”
Ginger was having none of his endearments. Her long legs galloped across the length of the barn, sending up whirlwinds of dust.
Lacey started to lift herself off the floor in a pushup when she sneezed again. The sneeze led to the revelation that she might have been better off in her car, breaking tree limbs or not.
The hail increased its thunder against the roof and the lone light bulb flickered.
Lacey crawled out of her pushup as Tom managed to corral a panting Ginger. He looked up from the caressing the dog and met her gaze.
If she could have wished for lightning strike, she would have directed it for his GPS coordinates.
“Lacey,” he said, his voice flat.
“Tom,” she replied, attempting to keep her voice equally toneless, despite the bits of chaff tickling her nose.
“Funny meeting you here.” He rubbed his hands over the dog’s ears. The dog’s tongue lolled out and its eyes were glassy.
“I’m surprised you could find this place.” The meeting was only slightly less humiliating than the one they were supposed to have twelve months ago. Lacey wiped her face on her sleeve and crawled to a bale of hay. She sat, her nose twitching at non-existent allergens that nicked her composure.
“Was I supposed to?” Tom eased the dog over to another bale of hay, keeping a tight grip on its collar so it couldn’t bolt around the room again.
“A year ago you told me you would. I must have gotten the date wrong.” Thunder rumbled again, and the dog whined. Tom wrapped his arms around its neck and whispered calming sounds in its ear.
The barn was a small building with thin walls that kept the pouring rain and hail off them, but did little to block the wind howling and slamming through the wood slats.
Lacey wrapped her arms around herself, wishing for the mothball-encased coat in her storage. It had been sixty degrees this morning and now the temperature hovered around thirty.
“You didn’t have to send Kyra in your place.” The dog jerked his head back and forth and licked Tom’s face. Tom wiped his chin on his sleeve.
Lacey ran her hand over her hair, catching another piece of ice in her fingertips and flicking it to the ground. “I did no such thing.”
“That’s not what she said.” Tom met her gaze. A variety of emotions filtered his eyes. Anger, hurt, irritation.
The hail ceased and quiet filled the barn, quiet so thick it felt like cotton balls in her ears.
Lacey recalled the evening. Her anticipation of meeting Tom for the special question he’d hinted at in the note. Her excitement had prompted her to fix her hair and makeup meticulously. She’d spent extra time making sure her nails were flawless.
She had arrived at the barn precisely on time, surprised that Tom wasn’t waiting. And then she’d tiptoed around for fifteen minutes before she’d succumbed to sitting on a bale of hay as the sunset faded. Twenty more minutes as she checked her phone and social media for explanations for his delay. Thirty more minutes and she checked the emergency services pages for news of an accident. Each search came up with nothing. No explanation for Tom’s delay.
Two hours later she’d finally left, no longer feeling pretty and humiliated that she had expected one outcome of her evening and she’d left the barn with the exact opposite in her clutches.
The next day and the day after that no message from Tom had arrived to explain his absence or resolve the break in their relationship.
She’d limped on, day by day, attempting to stuff the hurt in a dark corner of her heart and wall it off brick by brick. Each morning, something had razed the wall she’d started and she had to begin at rock bottom again.
Thunder shuddered in the distance and the dog yelped.
“I don’t understand how you could do it.” She shielded her eyes with her hands to hide any evidence of the tears that threatened.
“I could do it? Who dumped who here?” Tom’s voice held a sharp edge. He held the dog tightly, the muscles in his arms twitching each time the dog threatened to bolt.
“What? You made it pretty clear that you wanted nothing to do with me.” The first time Lacey had seen Tom at the grocery store, he had pretended she didn’t exist and that was when she had started to remind herself that maybe she had made a narrow escape.
“Only after you sent Kyra in your place.” Tom’s dog whined as the thunder clattered in the distance. Tom dug his hands into the dog’s fur.
“I barely talk to Kyra, let alone would ever send her to talk to my expected fiancé.” Tears were no longer a threat. Memories of Kyra dammed the flow. “How would you ever believe that?”
“Because it was what she told me.” Tom shifted to the floor, so the dog was sheltering him from her stare.
“It wasn’t a message sent from me. Why would I send a message when you wanted to meet me?” Lacey rubbed her temple. A headache pounded on the sides of her head. The pain had likely started with the change in weather, transferring the rattling of the hail on the roof to the inside of her skull as the conversation with Tom unfolded.
She had stuffed all these memories away and locked the truck, but now the lock was rusted away and the lid was rattling. A moment of clarity stumbled through her fog. Something wasn’t adding up here. “I didn’t sent Kyra to meet you, but she knew you would be here.” She left the question unsaid. How had Kyra known Tom would be at the barn?
“You didn’t send Kyra,” Tom repeated. “And I didn’t invite you.”
Lacey winced. Although it explained the situation, the way he said it was a lightning strike to the heart.
“You don’t have to say it like that.” Lacey rubbed the goosebumps off her arms.
Tom jumped over beside her. He shrugged off his coat and draped it across her shoulders. His Great Dane crawled across the floor, and dropped at his feet as if the effort was exhausting.
“Sorry. I just wish…” Tom cleared his throat. “I just wish I’d thought of it.”
“Thought of it?” Lacey huddled inside his jacket, reminiscing in the pine fresh scent that clung to the flannel lining. The scent awakened so many memories she’d locked away.
“Meeting you here would have been the perfect moment.”
Ginger perked her head up and cocked an ear to Tom’s voice.
“Anything would have been better than the hours I waited for you to show up.” Lacey shook her head, squeezing a piece of straw between her fingertips. Her nail sliced down the length of it. “Kyra set us up.”
“Like a reverse matchmaker. She broke up a perfect couple,” Tom said.
Ginger pushed Tom’s knees into hers.
“Perfect?” Lacey asked. She hadn’t considered that she and Tom might have a future yet. Things had ended so abruptly it had been like Tom had died. The relationship had been cut off so swiftly and cleanly, there was no idea of resurrecting it, but Tom’s words caused the coals to flare.
She turned to look at him and hadn’t realized how close he had moved. That movement shoved the intervening months into the past. Her head cleared.
She had loved Tom. She still loved Tom. She tilted her head to hear the little whisper: could they make it work? The trunks where she had locked all the memories away burst open. She wanted this. She wanted Tom back.
“What about Kyra? Why would she send those notes? She must have had a reason for breaking us up?”
Ginger’s ears flipped back and a growl rumbled in her barreled chest.
Tom grimaced. “We had a thing for a little while, but it wasn’t going anywhere so I ended it.”
Ginger army-crawled around beside Lacey and nudged her knees. Her huge head dropped against her thigh and she blinked up at Lacey like she dangled a bacon treat.
“Ginger always had good taste,” Tom said.
Lacey slid her hand along Ginger’s ear. “You shouldn’t trust anyone your dog doesn’t like.” She caught Tom’s grin out of the corner of her eye.
“She makes better choices than I do sometimes. I shouldn’t have trusted Kyra. I should have found you and fought to hear the words directly from you.”
Lacey reached for his hand and squeezed it, remembering the feel of his skin against hers. “I wasn’t much better. I allowed the humiliation of being abandoned here rather than seeking you out and finding the truth.”
“Do you think there’s a chance? Can we start again?”
Ginger jumped to her paws and barked at the door, then slobbered her tongue across Lacey’s face.
Lacey laughed and rubbed her cheek on Tom’s coat sleeve. “Oops. Sorry. I think Ginger approves.”
Tom’s face brightened and his eyes softened even though Ginger continued barking. “What’s the problem?”
Ginger stepped toward the door, but the force of her barked inched her backward. Tom stood and Lacey followed, holding tight to his hand. She’d lost him once. It wasn’t happening again. “Do you think something’s out there?”
Tom eased the door open to reveal a blanket of snow across the ground, and fat, fluffy snowflakes tumbling from the sky. “Leave it to my dog to be afraid of hail and bark at snow.”
Ginger bounded through the doorway and scampered across the snow, kicking up flurries as fast as they fell.
“It’s beautiful,” Lacey whispered. The gloom that had hung over Lacey’s Christmas was trampled away by Ginger’s puppy-like frolicking. She screeched to a halt and tried to bite at the snow that landed on her nose.
Tom wrapped his arms around Lacey. “I don’t think Ginger should be the only one to kiss you tonight.”
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