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‘But I like museums.’
‘I know,’ said Bette, ‘but remember you’re going to the big aquarium in Boston.’ She pointed to the tickets Sasha had been given, which clearly were now about as alluring as a dental appointment. Luckily, Shane came to the rescue with an offer to go play Sasha’s new video game with her.
As they left the room, Bette looked at Tina and said, ‘That’s a love connection.’
‘Looks that way,’ Tina smiled.
Then Bette reached down under the tree and picked up a small oblong package, which she handed to Tina.
‘For me?’ Tina asked coquettishly.
Bette just laughed. She looked so relaxed this morning, kneeling beside the tree in her copper-coloured robe with her hair loose around her shoulders. The little golden bee hung around her slim neck. In the bright, snowy light from the window strands of grey and white seemed more pronounced at her hairline. The crow’s feet deepening around her eyes. Tina had never seen anyone more beautiful.
Tina unpicked the tape on the package. She was always so careful. It used to drive Bette crazy but now she loved it as another little part of who her wife was.
Inside the package was a bubblewrapped photo frame, and in the frame . . .
Tina’s voice fractured with emotion. She put her hand to her mouth and looked up, tears falling from her eyes and splashing on the photo. Bette laughed, kindly, at how completely dismantled Tina was by such a simple thing: a photo of Tina and Solly sitting together at the cabin. Tina was reading The New Yorker, the neckline of her red tartan jammies just a tiny bit erotic as it dipped into a shadowy ‘v’ between her breasts. Her hair was smooth and glossy, a few strands curling around her exquisite cheekbone. The downward curve of her eyelashes, seen so often in both sleep and pleasure, and so well beloved to Bette. And beside her in the photo was the non-human soul whom she loved like no other: Solly. With his head on her lap, his eyes closed and – you would swear – a completely happy smile on his face.
‘Shane took it,’ Bette said. ‘I loved it, but she said she’d try and get a better one – that’s why she’s been snapping everything the past two weeks – but we couldn’t beat that.’
Tina chewed her lip, tasting tears, then got up and hugged Bette. A long hug. Very, very long. And when Tina spoke, her voice was as soft as the falling snow.
‘I got all the luck in my life when I met you,’ she said.
Bette had no reply to that. But it didn’t need one when she could just hold Tina, as she always did, with infinite gladness and tender care. And then Solly got up from where he’d been lying watching them, and nudged her elbow.
‘Oh hello,’ Bette said, turning to look at him.
Solly gazed at her, then looked at Tina and barked. Bette jumped. Tina laughed. And then Solly flopped onto his back, ready for a tummy rub.
And so, dear reader, we arrive at the end of this Christmas story. And the song that Angie liked that was playing in the kitchen way back on Christmas Eve morning – ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ by Greg Lake – has the lines I want to leave you with:
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
Happy Christmas, Tibetters!