I got to the oven just in time before they burnt to a crisp. What did it matter anyway? Everyone expects women of a “certain age” to just love baking. But I just think it’s too much work for something you can buy from the store that’s just as good. And I really hate cookies. Especially snickerdoodles. But those were his favorite Christmas cookies. And everything had to be just perfect when he got here.
In 30 minutes all of my family and friends will be arriving for the “35th Annual Astor Family Cookie Exchange.” Somehow it gets bigger every year. I think it’s gotten a little out of hand, but they all insist that the bigger the party the more festive it is. I decided that I would make this year a little more fun so I planned a big surprise. I’m finally going to tell him. I can’t stand this loneliness. This big house just feels so alone sometimes.
I can’t go on living with this secret. I’ve held it in so long that my feelings have grown so big that I can’t contain them. I just can’t live in this big house, so alone, wondering what *could* be. So tonight is the night for my revelation. I’ll do it right after the cookie exchange. I have to make sure everything is just perfect and prepared.
I’ve set out all of the tables and prepared them for the mountain of cookies that will soon arrive. My snickerdoodles were lined up perfectly. Each one perfectly round and perfectly delicious. I’ve pressed the tablecloths, heated the hot chocolate, and lit all of the trees. Everything looks in order.
I have a few final preparations to make before he--I mean they--arrive. In the back of one of my closets, tucked away with treasures of the past, I find a festive scarf he gave me when we were young. I wrap it around my neck and make sure it looks absolutely perfect for greeting my guests. I wanted to make the perfect impression on everyone, especially him.
I hung up the mistletoe I had one of the gardners pick for me this morning. I always thought it was a bit of a sappy tradition, but I suppose it is the perfect way to let someone know how you feel around the holidays.
My last preparation I kept in my pocket until the time was right. Just a little something for him that I would save it until the perfect opportunity presented itself.
As I finished the last of my preparations the first car drove into the long drive. My children and grandchildren were among the first to arrive and place their cookies in the exchange room. Soon, the parking area was filled with cars and the twinkling lights outside lit up the house so brightly it was almost blinding. Old friends, neighbors, distant relatives all started piling in, lining their cookies up and getting ready for a delicious night. I was ready, too.
Finally, he arrived. I thought he would never get here. I was afraid he had forgotten. I took a breath of relief. Time to begin the festivities. Finally.
Soon, guests were bustling around the cookie tables, filling their cookie tins with goodies and sampling some along the way. I am hiding away in the kitchen. It’s all a little too messy for me. Thankfully the maids will be here bright and early to clean up all of the messes this evening will bring.
While I gather hot chocolate in the kitchen everyone is in the other room singing Christmas carols. He is playing the piano and livening up the party, getting everyone in the holiday spirit. I take him his hot chocolate first--with a peppermint stick. I remember just how he likes it. When he notices we’re under the mistletoe he gives me a big, sloppy kiss of gratitude. I blush and rush back to the kitchen.
Finally the cookies have been exchanged, carols have been sung, and hot chocolate has been served. People begin to mill about, exploring the decorations inside the home. Not an ornament out of place--like something out of a magazine! My grandchildren settle into the playroom with a Christmas movie and a board game while the rest of the party moves outside to the frozen pond.
Usually I leave the ice skating to the younger crowd, but tonight I’m bubbling over with excitement. My plan is coming together perfectly and I think it’s finally time to tell him. Under the romantic twinkling lights, all bundled up together underneath the cold December moon. I have to tell him soon or it will be too late. Filled to the brim with Christmas and cookies, he finally got out onto the ice with me.
“Edie, thank you for a lovely evening. You know how much I love our annual cookie exchange. Look how happy everyone is.”
I force a smile. I hate when he calls me that.
“Thank you for being there for me this year. With all of the hospital visits and health scares. You have been my constant. Not just this year, but for, what is it, 35 years now?”
I give him a loving kiss. Finally. It was time. But he continued…
“Edie, I love you. Thank you for making our home so happy. None of this stuff we have would mean anything if it weren’t for you. And for the family we’ve built together.”
He starts to falter on the ice, but I catch him. Time to say what I’ve needed to say for 35 years now.
“Harry, I hate this cookie exchange party. I hate this big lonely house that I’ve been expected to keep up while you jet off to parties and meetings all over the world. But most of all, I hate you. And when you’re gone I’m going to sell it all and spend your money however I want to. I think I’ll start with a trip. Away from all of this and these people.”
He looks bewildered. Hurt. Like a child whose new bicycle was stolen.
“Are you asking me for a divorce? I thought we were happy? I thought you loved me? You even wore that silly scarf I gave you on our first Christmas together? I thought that meant something?” Harry faltered.
“Oh of course it does. It means I needed witnesses. I don’t need a divorce, honey. It won’t be much longer now.”
As soon as I said it he started falling. I screamed and cried hysterically. Mother always said I should have been an actress. I guess now I could be. I could be anything I wanted now.
People started skating and running over to Harry as fast as they could. Someone called an ambulance, but I knew. I made it look like a heart attack. If I played my part right no one would suspect a thing. As usual, I had planned every single detail. No one would know.
As they wheeled his body away, I leaned down to whisper one last word to my “beloved.”
“My name is Edith.”