Mildred let me have a few gingerbread men. I passed a couple to Mikey’s mom as I returned to my seat. She had calmed Mikey’s sister into sleep on her shoulder. She mouthed a thank you to me and I smiled back. I set my remaining reward cookies on the tray table while I buckled in. Ellie was typing away at the laptop again.
She paused, though, sniffing the air, then her eyes locked on the gingerbread men. She reached out, then pulled her hand back, looking at me, ashamed.
I picked up a cookie and handed to her with a smile. “You really like ‘em, huh?”
She took the cookie gingerly—
“Really?” Nikki said flatly.
I grinned, unashamed.
—with both hands, cradling it more carefully than a mother with a new infant.
“Leo and I—” she choked on the words. “We—we used to make these every Christmas. Like a little ritual or something. We used to have so much fun making them. We made it into an all-day thing. One year we made a gingerbread Christmas village.”
“Sounds like fun. A lot of work, but fun.”
She nodded, still looking at the cookie. “I’ve been working so much the past few years. When was the last time we made cookies together? When was the last time there were cookies, period? He made them alone for a few years, but I can’t remember. Were there any last year, or the year before?”
She lifted the cookie, broke off a foot, and popped it into her mouth, chewing slowly. She closed her eyes, tears leaking out.
I pulled my handkerchief and leaned close, keeping my voice low. “I’m not a marriage counselor. I don’t know if your marriage can be saved, but I know that every time you’ve mentioned Leo, you’ve said his name with love. There’s no reason to give up on gingerbread cookies without a fight.”
“Matthew, you have a knack for being rather uninspiring when it comes to emotionally powerful moments.”
I shrugged. “I did say I wasn’t a marriage counselor. And what the heck is wrong with not giving up on gingerbread cookies? I thought it was inspired.”
She rolled her eyes at me.
“We should make some cookies. They’ll go well with the hot chocolate.”