A ring for Christmas. Isn't it what every girl hopes for?
|"I'm glad we had this opportunity to talk, like adults, get it all sorted." Tom sat back with a self-satisfied smile hooking the corner of his lips.
Jane hadn't said a thing. As per usual, talking was what he did, and what she didn't do. Oil and mucus roiled in her belly. The flush of frustration welled up as a bright-red scarf of indignity around her neck. She remained quiet.
"So, at least we can stay friends, and in that spirit, I've got you a little something you've been dropping hints about for a long time." Tom pushed a petite, gift-wrapped box across the dining table.
Jane fought to control the trembling in her fingertips as she reached out for the box. Tom mistook the shaking for nervous upset, not the anger it was. He patronized her sensibilities and covered her hand with his own, oafish, lumbering palm.
"What is it?" she managed to croak.
"That ring you had your eye on. Thought it would make a nice Christmas gift."
"You're ending our relationship and giving me a ring?"
Tom looked confused. She'd taken it all so well up to now. It must be the shock of losing him. Poor girl.
Jane's dining chair scraped against the wooden floor in a high-pitched grumble as she rose. "Take this ring and give it someone who you want to be with this Christmas. I hope your generosity kills them."
She stalked away. Tom let her. Crazy. It wasn't as if they were engaged or anything. He pocketed the Christmas ring and checked his watch. He had time to see the guys for a Christmas drink before he met Sandy.
There she was, good old Sandy. What a gal. Never moaned when he rolled in on the beer wagon, never scolded when he went missing a few days, or turned up fashionably late in the mid-morning afterglow of a night on the tiles. And look at her! How could he even have bothered with plain Jane? Sandy was all blond curls and curves, held together with lipstick and giggles. Tom smiled a lopsided grin at her. She smiled back, tussled his hair and popped an oven-fresh gingerbread girl between his lips.
"You're the best." He peppered the statement with crumbs, staggered over to the pot of chili she was cooking and washed down the ginger treat with a ladle of the hot stuff.
"Hey! That's not ready. You'll get yourself all sick." Sandy made a grab for the spoon.
Tom made a grab for her waist. "Aah, love sick, maybes. Give me a kiss."
Sandy patted him away, but unconvincingly. "Mind my lipstick," she mumbled between chili crumb kisses.
He belched and the kiss was over. "I got you something."
"Yeah." Tom pulled the perfect packet out of his pocket and shook it under her nose.
"Ooh, baby, you didn't have to..."
"I know, which is why I did."
Her greedy fingers ditched the chili ladle and made for the gift. Tom used his free hand to pull open her blouse and he nestled the present between her breasts. Sandy giggled. It was an infectious noise, not like the gentle tinkle of Jane's repressed chortle. Hell, what had he been thinking all this time, two-timing a girl like Sandy? Well, those days were over.
She was through the packaging like a ninja through a bamboo forest. "Oh my gawd! Yes. Of course, yes!"
Willowy arms threatened to wring the life out of his neck.
"Of course I'll marry you. I never thought you'd ask." Tom stood still. It didn't make a difference; Sandy was jumping up and down and wriggling all over him like a social disease. Tears danced in her eyes. He'd let her down when he sobered. Right now, if her excitement was anything to go by, he'd be in for one heck of a night.
Sandy lay in bed. Tom farted in his sleep. The noxious odor a tell-tale sign that the chili may not have been the best. The street light streaked into the room and illuminated her twinkling ring in reflected flares of dull amber. He loved her. She'd always hoped so, but her friends had said he was a waste of skin. This proved them all wrong. The ring flashed again, promising her all the tomorrows she'd ever dreamed of. She closed her eyes to it, and toyed with the metal band until sleep claimed her.
Five years passed. He wasn't home. Again. The kids were fighting. The dinner was spoiled. His side of the bed hadn't needed making for two days straight. She stared blindly at the words on the doctor's letter that danced on the page, refusing to stay still enough to re-read: "HIV positive". How? How? The ring on her marriage finger winked at her. Who loves ya, baby? Whose gonna love a dying thing? Where're the years? Where's your husband? She twisted the ring around so the gem wouldn't mock her. It dug into the palm of her hand, drawing blood. Bad blood. Diseased blood. She couldn't even bring herself to lick it, even though it was hers. Who loves ya, baby? Chili. She'd cook up a fresh pot of chili and ditch the burnt offering made earlier. It was his favorite. They'd face this thing together. He loved her.
The morning after the night before was always a rough reality to face, but for Tom, today was a very good day indeed. Sandy had taken the whole 'not really proposing' speech rather well. Perhaps a little too well. Seemed like none of his girlfriends were that keen to keep hold of that ring he'd bought. She'd given it back with what sounded like a sigh of relief. Better dead than wed, he reckoned. No harm, no foul.
He showered, took her kisses at the door and breakfasted on one of the remaining gingerbread girls. He'd not seen Tina in a week. He grinned at the ring box. Looked like today was going to be her lucky day.
word count = 1008