“There it is,” William said when Cheryl got home, pushing the gingerbread house toward her across the kitchen counter. “We made it at the Managers’ Meeting.”
Cheryl slid off her boots and hung up her jacket. “Wish I had a job like that.”
“It’s team building.”
“Looks pretty good though.”
“You should’ve seen Dan’s,” William said. “He put so much snow on the roof it looked like it was buried under a pile of coke.”
She came back to the counter. “So where should we put it?”
“How about on the shelf next to the tree? It’ll look good near the lights.”
“Your call Babe.”
Cheryl checked the Facebook post daily. Riley Vaughn’s account was public; she lived in Lebanon, about an hour away. Her photos showed a happy young woman who liked to ski and hike, to dance in bars in fuchsia or lime headbands and high-heeled boots.
The post was from earlier in December: “Some guy I met through work tried to give me this today. Random! It was kinda cute though. So I took a picture lol.”
Below was a picture of William’s gingerbread house. You couldn’t mistake it: green gumdrop doorknob; chimney missing one brick, built from a cut-up Snickers bar; crooked windows, drawn in glue and powdered sugar.
She was dredging chicken cutlets in flour one evening when their golden Lucky knocked the gingerbread house off the shelf, grabbed a chunk in his mouth and made a run for it.
“William!” she cried. “Get Lucky, he just took some gingerbread down to the basement!”
William wandered out of the bathroom. “Just let him eat it, who gives a fuck.”
“I’m making that chicken thing you like—can’t you go down and see what’s going on?”
“It’s gingerbread. He’ll be fine.”
“But you said there was glue in there! He’ll poison himself.”
His steps were heavy as he pounded downstairs. “Okay, fine.”
Lucky was okay. “He’s too dumb to know eating glue should’ve killed him,” was how William explained it.
While they took down the holiday decorations, Cheryl struck up the conversation. “I met Michelle today. She and David are going through shit again.”
William wound up some garland. “That’s too bad.”
“They’ve been together so long.” She took down a chipped blue bulb, tossed it at the giant carboard box marked “Xmas,” felt her voice lift as it shattered. “Do they stop communicating at some point? Do they just not care?”
William put the garland in the box. “I don’t think it ever worked in the first place.” She didn’t watch later as he bundled up for his run. “I’ll help when I get back, okay?”
After he left Cheryl took her time. Arranged their gifts into piles, Fitbit, Amazon cards, silk ties, bottle of Knob Creek, before bringing them all upstairs. Lucky watched her from the couch as she swept the floor: dust, dog hair, bits of wrapping paper, gingerbread crumbs.
Timothy Boudreau‘s recent work appears at Spelk, Fiction Southeast, Milk Candy Review, X-R-A-Y and Third Point Press. His collection Saturday Night and other Short Stories is available through Hobblebush Books. Find him on Twitter at @tcboudreau or at timothyboudreau.com.
‘I Love Our Voice When We Sing Off-Key‘ – Spelk
‘The Funkmeister‘ – Fiction Southeast
‘Eight Plants To Help You Thrive This Winter Even If You Live In Growing Zone Four‘ – Third Point Press
‘Saturday Nights and Other Stories – Hobblebush Books
Photo by Congerdesign
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