Chapter Three She sat on the floor wrapping Christmas gifts, paper and ribbon were strewn around her. The tree stood in the corner, its lights twinkling warmly while carols played on the stereo in the corner. The gentle glow of the fire added to the festive feel of the season. Surrounded by what was supposed to represent joy and love, she never felt so alone. Philip was still not home, not that he had been home on time for some weeks now. There was always something at the office, something with the guys. Something that never seemed to include her. "I guess I've lead myself to this," she sighed. The cat rubbed his head against her leg, pressing for attention. She reached down and scratched his ears, and was rewarded with a loud purring. "At least you're here, Bosco." "Mmmrroww." As she began to pull a ribbon around the gift she had just finished wrapping, Bosco reached for it, chasing it like the tail of a mouse. "Hey! I need that!", but she let him play with it anyway. Her mind wandered back to an earlier time, a time when she was happy with her life. The more difficult the time she had now, the more she remembered the good times from before. Picnics by the lake at a rented cottage, lying on a blanket until the stars came out, naming the constellations, making love under the moonlight. Even the work they had done together, putting in long hours, seemed like heaven compared to what she had now. The sound of the phone ringing from somewhere on the floor pulled her from her melancholy. Rifling through the mass of papers, gifts and ribbons, she located the phone. "Hello? Oh, hi, mom. No, everything's fine, just tired. Yes, I got your package, and no, I haven't opened it. I'm saving it for Christmas morning, as instructed. How'se everything where you are? Everybody home for Christmas? That's great. Yeah, I wish we could be there, too. No, no major plans this year. Just the two of us, and Bosco, of course. Philip's parents can't make it this year. Yeah, sure, put her on. Hey, what's happening? Any more babies? No, I'm far too old to start with diapers and stuff. Philip and I have been talking about coming your way. Maybe next year. Merry Christmas to you guys, too. Love to all. Take care. Bye." She pushed the button that disconnected the phone and placed it back on the floor. As much as she loved to hear from them, it was always hard. She pulled her knees up to her chin, wrapping her arms around her legs. She sat there in the semi-darkness, clutching her legs and rocking like a child. Tears silently began to fall. She had married Philip Brecknall too soon, too quickly, and she realized it too late. Now, she felt trapped in a marriage she didn't want, in a life she never expected to have to live, sometimes feeling more like than a maid, chef and sometimes hostess than a wife. Bosco's paw yanking at her hand brought her back from her thoughts. "I bet you're hungry, aren't you?" As she wiped the lingering tears from her cheeks, the glitter of the diamond in her engagement ring caught the firelight. She held her left hand up in front of her, her mind imaging a different set of rings on her hand, the ones she really wanted to see there. The one that should be there, had everything gone right, instead of so terribly, terribly wrong. She had removed them only eighteen months ago, and had placed them in her jewellery box. Philip had told her to sell them, but she never would. She realized they meant more to her than the set she now wore in their place. The tears began to flow again, but she wiped them away with a determined, single stroke. She stood, picked up the cat and began to walk towards the kitchen. Something made her stop and turn around, searching the room as if she expected someone else to be there. "Don't be silly. He's not here," she said, trying more to confirm it to herself that anything else. She turned back towards the kitchen, but the feeling wouldn't go away. Her skin tingled, sending shockwaves up and down her spine. Bosco, also sensing something, scrambled out of her arms, leaving a scratch on her wrist. "Ouch! That hurt, cat," she cried, momentarily distracted as she surveyed the damage. But it was still there, the overwhelming feeling of something, someone in the room. She spun around hard. Someone was standing next to the fireplace, holding a single red rose towards her; standing there yet not standing there. Strangely, she felt no fear, but ... love? Stepping carefully towards the centre of the room, sudden realization made her gasp, moving her hand to her mouth. It can't be! As she reached out, the ghostly figure faded. Crumbling to the floor, she stared up at where the apparition had stood, tears distorting her perception. "No! It can't have been. It's just ... because I talked to his mom and sister. He was in my mind. That's all." But she knew it was more than that. She had sensed him, knew he was there, even before she had turned around. Her head hung down, tears dropping to the rug. "Oh, Sam."