Welcome to Day 9 of the 8LW 25 Days of Stories. Today we’ve got a couple whose “happily ever after” could really use a reboot. This “Christmas Week Short Story Challenge” — a holiday version of our Friday Writing Sprints — features (some if not all) of the following words: snuggle, impress, mask, collapse, icicle, regret, famous, sneeze, scandalous, spark, impulse, and fantasy.
So here, courtesy of 8L Elizabeth, is today’s story.
Maddie looked at the shards of broken glass and dried greenery at the bottom of the ornament box and wondered if the universe was trying to tell her something.
Dan had given her the mistletoe filled globe on their first anniversary; a reminder of when they first met at a holiday party thrown by mutual friends.
Back then they’d been full of plans and dreams for the future.
After they got married, they bought this cabin from her grandparents, envisioning vacations with friends, big family gatherings, and festive holiday celebrations, but it turned out those plans were just a fantasy.
In reality Dan spent most of his time at the PR firm, dealing with his clients and their scandalous exploits while Maddie focused on finishing her graduate work and establishing her counseling practice.
They’d reached a point where they both had successful careers – well respected in their fields if not the elite of the rich and famous – but somehow they’d lost sight of each other along the way. They’d fallen victim to exactly the problems Maddie spent her days successfully counseling her patients about.
The irony was not lost on her.
So, here they were now, planning to spend the Christmas holiday getting the cabin ready for sale; the first step in the process of officially dividing their lives and going their separate ways.
They hadn’t intended to put up a Christmas tree or even celebrate this year, but when they arrived in town late this afternoon and stopped for gas, old Mr. Henderson had insisted they take one of the remaining trees on his lot. Maddie had known Mr. Henderson, who could have been Santa Claus’ twin brother, for as long as she could remember. He wasn’t the kind of person you said no to, which is why the packing boxes were still in the truck and the cabin had taken on a distinctly festive look, despite their lack of intentions.
Maddie could hardly regret the unexpected turn of events. She’d always loved Christmas and was more than happy to delay the inevitable, if only briefly.
She dumped the remnants of the broken globe into the trash and put the remaining ornaments on the tree while Dan continued his efforts to coax a small spark into a steady flame over at the massive stone fireplace.
Dinner was a silent, awkward affair. They so infrequently had time alone together these days, just the two of them with no cell phones that it almost felt as though they were strangers.
Though the evening was cold, the snow had stopped earlier and the night sky was clear. To break the tension after dinner was over and the dishes were washed, Dan suggested a snowshoe tramp to the lookout above the lake, where the stars shone brightly and the town below sparkled like a glittering quilt.
The scene was calm and peaceful and Maddie felt a little of the awkwardness slip away as they soaked in the view.
What happened next was a chaotic jumble of events that changed everything in a heartbeat. One minute they were at the lookout watching a plane streak across the night sky and the next there was an ominous crack and rumble as the ground collapsed beneath their feet.
Dan instinctively flung Maddie back toward safer ground but couldn’t stop his own descent and plunge into to the frozen lake below. She scrambled to her feet and half ran, half slid down the embankment to the water’s edge; never as relieved in her life as she was when, after what seemed like an eternity, she saw Dan surface from a break in the ice, coughing and sputtering, and attempt to lever himself out of the frigid water.
Despite an initial impulse to race across the ice to help him, she knew that venturing out was likely to result in both of them trapped in the icy water so instead, she yanked off her snow shoes and, with her scarf and the drawstrings she pulled from her jacket, fashioned a rope of sorts. Wrapping her left arm around a nearby branch, she slid the snowshoe end of the makeshift rope toward Dan so he’d have something to grab onto besides the crumbling ice.
The muscles in her arms were burning and her heart was racing like a freight train by the time he managed to pull himself out of the water and onto solid ground.
Maddie let go of the rope and wrapped her arms around him, needing the physical contact to be sure he was really there and safe. “You’re as cold as an icicle,” she said as they slowly made their way back to the cabin.
As soon as she got the door opened, they peeled off their sodden clothes and wrapped up in the blankets from the couch. She shooed Dan off to thaw out in the shower and then dug out the warmest clothes she could find for both of them and built up the fire in the fireplace.
Maddie wasn’t sure she’d ever be warm again. A glance at the clock showed that it had been little more than an hour since they’d finished dinner; an hour that felt like a lifetime.
She no longer felt trapped behind a mask of indifference. There was nothing like a brush with death to clarify what was really important.
She wondered if Dan had experienced a similar flash of clarity.
She really hoped so.
When Maddie came out of the kitchen with steaming mugs of cocoa to ward off the lingering chill a short while later, Dan was sitting on the couch, staring into the fire. She handed him a mug and then snuggled up next to him. When he reached an arm around and pulled her close, she felt the last of her tension release in a wash of tears. “I can’t believe I almost lost you.”
He held her close, his cheek resting on her head. “Thank you for rescuing me,” he said after her tears had stopped.
“I think we may have just rescued each other.”
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I hope you enjoyed that. Drop by tomorrow for another short story.