As she stood in the hallway, Laura couldn’t breathe. Her heart crashed against her chest like one of her father’s fists. It wasn’t as if her memory was about her mum, or even about Christmas, but the months that followed were etched in her memory. Anger rose from the soles of her feet and Laura’s brain felt like it was going to explode.
Her mum was alone with Thomas at Christmas, the fault was firmly in her court. She had slapped that tennis ball so far out of its lines, that it could have landed on Mars. Laura raised her arms and wanted to punch the wall – something to get rid of her anguish.
She hadn’t noticed Martin wrap his arms around her until his soft voice brought her down again. ‘Come on Laura, take a deep breath for me and count to ten.’ His hands stroked her palm and her breaths fell into his.
‘One . . . two . . . three,’ Laura counted and by the time she reached ten Martin came into focus once more.
Laura had always known there was a monster that resided in her father; especially after he had polished off a bottle, or three, of whisky. He certainly wasn’t a happy drunk and his fists would grow in strength when they were fuelled by this cruel liquid. But it was also in her too.
‘It’s okay Laura. You’re safe, Tabitha is safe.’
‘I just wish I weren’t so damaged.’
‘You’ve had to take a lot more in your life than anyone I know. Believe me when I say you will be okay. I know it’s difficult at this time of year, but Tabitha needs us to make this day special.’
‘Your right, but I might just go upstairs for a little while.’
By the time Laura got out of the bath, the turkey was on the turn.
A cheesy Christmas song was playing on the radio. She could imagine Martin dancing around the room in his reindeer apron and Christmas chef’s hat, leaving nothing but happiness in his wake. Tabitha would be dancing with him, happy and full of fun, but most of all loved. Laura was never once jealous of their unbreakable bond and couldn’t wait to join her beautiful family downstairs.
‘Do you need any help?’ Laura’s cheeks brightened at the sight of her daughter’s apron covered in butter and flour.
‘We’ve got it covered.’
Martin grinned, as he flicked flour over her dress.
‘We’ve been making mince pies,’ Tabitha announced, her hands smothered in mince.
‘I can see that!’
‘Daddy, can I give dolly a mince pie?’
‘Wash your hands first and just make sure she leaves room for dinner.’
As Tabitha ran into the front room, after a quick rinse under the tap, to give some mince pies to her new doll, Martin stepped closer. ‘Feeling any better?’
‘A little, sorry about earlier. I think I’m just worried about Mum.’
‘Do you want to call her?’
More than anything, she wanted to hear her mum’s voice, but one phone call could cause more harm than good. Laura shook her head. Even sending a text, while her father was in the house, was just as dangerous.
But today was all about Tabitha, and determined to enjoy the rest of it, Laura took a bite of the warm pastry. Its sweetness languished on her tongue. She loved her kitchen; it was the hub of their home. Most of the things they owned were from charity shops, but it didn’t matter, Laura preferred it that way. Even the ceramic blue owl, perched on top of the microwave, hooted its approval.
Smoke drifted out of the oven.
‘The turkey’s slightly burnt I think,’ Martin said, and took it out.
‘I don’t mind burnt – it just tastes better to me.’