“Chris – did you eat any of these Christmas cookies? I told you they were for a work function and that you absolutely were not to touch them.”
“I didn’t touch them.” Christena tried not to sound indignant, but she hated being accused of something she hadn’t done and Ben did that to her all the time.
“Well then explain why there are three missing. I brought home two full dozen from the bakery, but I’m short three.”
“Are you sure the bakery didn’t short you?” The moment the words escaped Christena’s lips she regretted them. Ben never would have left the bakery without counting and double counting them, obsessive compulsive as he was. Even suggesting otherwise was new cause for strife. He gave her a harsh glare.
“Do I even have to answer that? How could you do this to me? I had one for every person at the office party. I could have forgiven one – I would have foregone my own, but three? Now what am I supposed to do?”
“Buy a box of doughnuts on the way in to make up the difference?”
That response was met by a disgruntled huff and the slamming of their front door as Ben stormed out.
Christena slumped into the couch. It was her day off, even though her husband had to work. Unlike Ben she was never guaranteed that her free time would fall on a weekend. As a personal caregiver, she couldn’t keep regular Monday to Friday office hours because people needed care seven days a week. Ben had often belittled her for it, suggesting a real job would pay more and offer set hours – as if somehow crunching numbers the way he did was more valuable than caring for the sick and elderly.
As soon as she was sure Ben was long gone. Christena spoke out.
“Peeve? Peeve – come on out. I know you stole those cookies.”
Two beady eyes peered at her overtop one of the branches of the Christmas tree. Peeve, or that was what Christena had taken to calling the gremlin-like creature, had started appearing shortly after Ben had completed his internship and had gotten his current job. Since then, every time Ben treated Christena with any disdain or talked down to her as if he were more important than her, Peeve would exact some sort of revenge. It was getting worse, as was Ben’s treatment of her.
“You have to stop doing these things. I end up getting the blame for them and he leaves here irate. When he gets home later, he’ll be a grouch for the entire evening.”
Peeve blinked at her and grinned, as if he enjoyed being the instigator of Ben’s foul moods.
Christena heaved a gargantuan sigh. Things were bad enough between her and Ben without Peeve complicating them – not a welcome intrusion at all.
Life had been different while Ben and Christena were in college. He had been more relaxed then. After setting his sights on her, he had broken out the charm that he now saved only for networking. He had romanced her very diligently, with promises of a family and a pleasant future and he had kept it up until she had agreed to marry him. She realized now that his courting had all been a calculated ploy to get himself the pretty, docile wife he saw as a requirement for a successful businessman. She was just another notch in the post where he marked his achievements in life.
Since then, Ben had been constantly pressuring her to give up her job and find one that would better support his work hours – office work perhaps. She had actually suggested the night before that she would do that if they finally started trying to conceive the first of their planned children, offering him a trade-off, something he wanted in exchange for something she felt she needed. That was when Ben had dropped the startling bomb on her. He had changed his mind. He no longer wanted children because he expected they would interfere with his career. He had already scheduled a vasectomy that was to take place first week in January. Christena had been heartbroken. She wanted children more than anything else and she didn’t believe in divorce. It was another reason he had chosen her. Ben considered divorce scandalous, another form of failure.
“Just stop it – alright?” she told Peeve. “Unless you can fix what he’s about to do to me, you may as well just go away. I’m the one who has to live with him.”
For the first time since he had begun causing trouble, Peeve emerged from the shadows. His impish form dropped down from the tree, where it began to grow and change. By the time he was done, the only recognizable difference between Peeve and Ben were those beady little eyes. The monster in the shape of Christena’s husband walked over to their bedroom and paused in the doorway, gesturing for her to follow before proceeding into the room.
Christena hesitated for a moment before following, but only long enough to consider the potential consequences. Ben would never request an abortion – that was beneath him – and as long as the child was conceived prior to his operation, he would never try to suggest it wasn’t his, especially if it looked like him. Condoms weren’t 100% effective, and he knew it. She told herself she would be doing this as a gift for herself… much better than the practical, emotionless, although expensive, gift she no doubt would be receiving from Ben.
“Merry Christmas,” she said, visions of a rounded belly followed by baby smells, sights and sounds filling her head.
Peeve was about to provide Christena with the best act of revenge in the face of Ben’s heartlessness yet. And she would enjoy every minute of it.