She looked at herself in her oval, yellow mirror. She had been fighting with a brown wasp of hair for the past ten minutes, foolishly willing it to stay in place. But mockingly, it swung right back into place, over her left eye, as soon as she let it go. “Darn it!” she exclaimed to herself. The house was silent, except for the small timer that sat above their stove, slowly marking down the spiral of time. She was almost ready for her guests. All that was left to do was to put on her recently ironed plaid dress and shoes. Although tonight was a special evening, she preferred to be seen naturalistic, so sans makeup tonight.

“Wine, check. Toasted garlic bread, check. Lentil loaf, check,” she stated, running over her list. “Place settings, check. Salad, check.” Her mind raced around, as her body sprinted about trying to get dressed.

Guests were asked to arrive at 6:00 P.M. sharp, and she had made sure to remind them of that. She hated starting events late, not because it ruined her set schedule, but due to her husband who would complain how things she planned always took advantage of his time. “Why don’t you ever consider me, Kira? Why do we always have to do things your way?” he would shriek to her every time she didn’t stick to the plan.

Her shoes clicked around the bamboo floors that her husband installed last year, after months of begging on her part. He worked a busy schedule and she understood the complexity of his work-load. If she had experience laying down floors, she would have gladly done it on her own in between her classes and coursework. She would have actually done it much sooner. But he did it, and she moved around to finish dressing. She heard her husband moving around in his office where he had been held up for the past three hours. He claimed that when she got into her “cooking mode” she was not the woman whom he had married; she turned into some kind of “banshee who would chew his balls off if he gets in the way.” She saw things differently, of course.

She closed the door to their room when she had finished getting ready. She didn’t feel comfortable having her guests see the inside of their bedroom. Even though they were all good friends, if just didn’t feel right to her. A cold breeze hit against her neck as she stood there, hand holding onto the bronze doorknob.

“The dining room window will eventually need to be replaced,” she thought to herself. “This house is falling apart, bit by bit.”

She moved through the dining room, checking to see that everything was just right. It had been nearly a year since they had anyone over to the house for anything, let alone dinner. Her husband couldn’t bear the thought of having any visitors, not even family, if the house was not completed; it had been two years since they inherited the house and it was still not done.

The timer in the kitchen went off, so Kira rushed to turn off the loud shrieking noise. She didn’t want to start something before the guests would arrive; she remembered having to sit through those uncomfortable moments and she preferred not to ruin tonight, tonight was special. She moved around the kitchen gracefully and with purpose, grabbing an oven mite that hung above the stove, bending over slightly to steal a glance at her loaf. A blast of warm air escaped the oven when she opened it, soothing her cold skin. She debated leaving the door to the oven open for a bit, just to heat up the house more, but that thought quickly left her mind. “One less thing to argue about,” she thought. The clock on the microwave glared brightly, loudly informing her that is was 5:45 P.M. “Time to put out some of the food,” she stated to herself.

Her husband still had not made an appearance, nor had he come out to ask what time dinner was being served. She didn’t bother to knock on his office door, not yet anyway, not when she was alone. She placed the salad of mixed greens next to one of the candlestick centerpieces. The garlic bread would be placed closer to her husband’s seat at the head of the table; it was his favorite. She didn't have much time before the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of their invited guests. She rushed to remove the oven mites off her hands and lite the candlesticks. The doorbell sounded again and the door to her husband’s office was sharply opened.

“Kira,” her husband called out, “are you planning on opening the door anytime soon.”

Her feet clicked heavily against the floor as she rushed to the living room, which required her to pass the office. Although the door was open, Kira didn’t see her husband and could only smell the stale air that escaped the confined room. When she approached the front door, she paused briefly, unconsciously pressing down the front of her dress and fixing the wasp of hair that had been torturing her.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” Kira greeted, opening the door wide enough to see two men standing before her.

“Oh my dear, it is so nice to see you again,” the man on the left replied. He wore a navy peasant coat and a festive hat that didn't quite fully shield him from the December winds. He moved forward to hug Kira, his hat falling slightly back from the pressure of their hug.

“It’s so nice to see you, Ed. It has been a while,” Kira exclaimed.

“Don’t forget about me,” replied the second man, who held a vintage ’72 Chardonnay.

“Of course not, Tom.” Kira reached over and embraced both men at the same time.

“You’re letting out the heat,” yelled out her husband, causing all three to slightly jump at the intrusion of his voice. He walked into the living room, possibly to greet Ed and Tom.

“Yes, please come in,” Kira stated, smiling apologetically to the two men.  Her husband approached them and stretched out his hand in greeting. The air appeared to feel weighed down with the awkwardness of the four adults, partly due to the husband’s emotionless handshake with the two men. “Well let me take your coats. Honey, could you lead them to the dining room?” she asked her husband.

“The house looks wonderful,” commented Ed as they followed him. Kira sat down on the edge of the black sofa, taking a deep breath. She could hear the men’s voices drifting through the dark hallway. She smiled at hearing Ed, who was trying so hard to change the mood by complimenting their home. She took a deep breath, and again smoothed down the front of her dress.

“Kira, are we having dinner?” her husband called out to her.

“Yes, I’m coming.” She quickly walked to her dinner party. “I hope you gentlemen like lentils,” she playfully called out, making her way into the kitchen and around the island to the oven. “Honey, would you be able to start a fire in the dining room? It sometimes gets a bit chilly in there.” He did not offer her a response, but merely turned around and walked into the dining room. “I will come help,” Ed stated. “I’ve never started a fire before. No fireplaces in our loft.”

Kira stood alone with Tom in the kitchen, a moment she had been dreading. But she had prepared herself; run over a list of possible questions and answers in her mind. She was ready for certain lines of inquiry; for others, she was not. “Kira,” Tom’s soft voice questioned, breaking the silence. “So I need help bringing out the main dish,” she replied. “We really appreciate you inviting us over. To be honest, I was a little surprised when you called us. We haven’t spoken in nearly a year, not since…” he responded, his words cut short by his inability to vocalize the remainder of his thoughts.

“I know, Tom. I have been meaning to invite you and Ed over, especially after everything you have done for me. But with the house, he didn’t feel comfortable having guests over when we are living the way we are.”

“We don’t care about that, Kira. I have been so worried about you. We wanted to help, especially after Em…”

“Please don’t say that name,” Kira sharply interrupted, not allowing Tom to finish.

“But Kira, why can’t I mention her name?”

“He doesn’t like hearing it, and neither do I. Too many bad memories.” Kira stood there, staring out the window, her mind blank with silence and her hands shaking as it gripped a small pink towel. “I think we should take out the food. I know everyone is hungry.”

Both walked out into the dining room to find Ed kneeling by the wood stove, enraptured by the slow rise of red and orange flames that climbed out from the dark logs neatly placed down. “I wish we could put a stove in our apartment, but the loft board is against rustic charm,” he stated rising up to stand next to her husband. Ed received no response, only a slight nod from the other two men. The room began to warm up, but Kira still felt a slight chill, the bone tingling kind that runs up and down ones’ spine.

“Dinner is about to be served. So, I think you gentlemen should take your seats.”  

Tom and Ed pulled out chairs to set in the middle, as if they were the children and the hosts were the parents whose ordained seats were the ones at the end; Kira’s furthest from the fire, but closest to the kitchen. “The weather surely has changed,” Ed stated, attempting to make conversation. “To think that Christmas is only two weeks away. My gosh, how time flies!” No one responded to his remarks.

Kira’s footsteps into the room finally broke the awkwardness. “That smells delicious, Kira.” Tom commented, offering her a warm smile. “Yes, indeed it does,” Ed added. She placed her loaf in the center of the table, the final touch to her great design. Slowly, she began serving her guests, dishing perfectly sized portions of each thing. The first plate was placed in front of her husband, whose grunt of approval crawled up her arms. “Lentil loaf?” he questioned. “Well, I thought I’d try something a little bit more healthy,” she responded, still smiling. “The doctor told you that you needed to…”

“Fuck the doctor!” he angrily complained. “He doesn’t tell me what to do. I thought you were making steak or something?”

“I thought maybe just for tonight we could try a vegetarian dinner.” She returned to her serving place, aware that the other guests might be feeling uncomfortable by their exchange. “Here you go, Tom and Ed,” she stated, placing the warm plates before them. “Oh, I forgot the sauce!” she exclaimed, quickly heading back into the kitchen.

Her breath was rapidly moving through her, as if her body was rejecting it. She clamped her palms roughly against the counter facing the window, praying for the vial of pain to disappear. Walking over to the pantry, she quietly opened the door and squatted down to the lower shelf. Moving things aside, she reached in and grabbed an old, red tin can. She paused before opening it, her shaking hand hovering over its lid. Slowly she opened it, carefully not to make any noise and grabbed a small jar containing a clear substance. She wrapped her left hand around it and placed it against her heart. She felt comforted, and yet saddened by its contents. She had thought she would have not needed to grab this jar so soon in the evening, but her husband had made her need it, reach for it.

“Kira, is there something I can help you with,” Tom’s voice called out to her. Her mind still focused on the jar and she could not hear anything beyond the thumping of her blood rushing to her hands. It wasn’t until Tom called out again that she realized she needed to return. “Yes, I’ve found the sauce,” she responded, putting her companion in her dress pocket. She grabbed the gravy boat and walked swiftly into the dining room.

“We thought you got lost in there,” Ed jokingly commented as she sat down to an empty plate. No one had touched their plates since she had left. She offered Ed a smile, “No, I couldn’t find that darn gravy boat, even though it was sitting right in front of my face.”

“To think that Christmas is only two weeks away. My gosh, how time flies.” Ed stated, again.

“Oh yes, two weeks. And we haven’t even decorated the house yet,” Kira replied.

“No decorations. Not this year.” Her husband stated, as he carved his way around the loaf on his plate.

“Oh just, a little bit. Maybe a wreath on the door, or something.”

“No, not this year. It’s too soon.”

“It’s been nearly a year. I think it will bring some holiday cheer to this house.”

Kira received no further reply from her husband, just a look, a look whose definition she knew all too well. “What are you and Ed doing for the holidays,” Kira asked, turning to face Tom.

“The same thing we do every year. Church on Christmas Eve then dinner at the in-laws. Although this year we have decided to mix it up a bit. “

“Oh yes,” Ed chimed in. “This year we have decided to hit up Frank’s.”

“Frank’s?” Kira questioned.

“The newest gay bar in Jeffersonville,” Tom gleefully answered, causing Kira to slightly blush and giggle, two things she had not done in a while.

“Sacrilegious,” her husband whispered openly to the table, tearing through a piece a romaine lettuce, another favorite of his. Tom’s head quickly turned to face him. “Excuse me?”

“The gays hitting up the town on a day that celebrates the birth of Christ.”

“Do you have a problem with the notion of someone attending a night club? Or is your problem more related to the fact that we are two gay men?” Tom asked, his voice slightly filled with anger and disgust.

“I really don’t think now is the time for us to get into this. Tom, I’m sure that’s not what he meant. Is it, honey?” She asked her husband, meeting his stare directly across the table.  

“No, it’s not,” he responded as he shoved a piece of loaf into his slightly opened mouth.

“Ed, how’s the gallery? I’ve been meaning to stop by and check out the new installation.”

“Uh, it’s doing well,” Ed replied, slightly clearing his throat, trying to appear more comfortable. “People seem to be liking the new show.”

“Where did the idea come from?”

“During our trip last year to Ethiopia we visited many communities whose main source of income were these tiny manufacturing warehouses. Stuffy, cramped spaces where young girls were forced to work. 14-16 hour days sometimes for below minimum wage.”

“Oh my goodness. That is horrible.”

“We were traveling with our good friend, Pat, who’s a photographer. He takes amazing pictures. Very unique style of cataloguing his environment. Anyway, he spent nearly the entire trip shooting. And when we returned home, he showed me some images. I was so moved,” he stopped briefly to compose himself, hesitant to show too much emotion in front his non-emphatic host. “We wanted people to see what was going on and we are proud of the response that it has received thus far.”

“That is so wonderful!” Kira congratulated him. “We will be sure to visit soon.” She never gave a definite date, merely saying it to appeared interested. She didn’t want to plan for something that she was unsure she would be able to attend; doing that would be rude, in her eyes.

“Well,” Tom began, looking at Ed lovingly, “It was such an amazing trip, that Ed and I have decided to move onto the next stage in our relationship.”

Kira’s eyes opened widely, unsure what news they were about to give her. “And what stage would be?” she fearfully asked, the vial of pain slowly returning. She reached under her napkin, into her pocket, and grabbed hold of her glass jar. It offered a bit of comfort, but she still needed more.

“We have decided to adopt a child,” Ed revealed. Kira gripped hard, her nails digging into the glass, trying to break through the pain. “Her name is Sofia. She’s 3 years old. We met her during our trip and it was love at first sight,” Ed informed them.

“Oh my,” were the only words that Kira could form. Her husband’s head had snapped up the moment Ed mentioned adoption and Kira could see the sadness fill his eyes, even though his face remained stoic. “That is such wonderful news! We are so happy for you both.” She stood up from her chair, sadly releasing the jar and embraced both men, a smile falsely placed across her lips. She was actually happy for them; happy that they were moving forward, even though she had been standing in the same place for nearly a year.

All three sat back down, and Kira returned her hand to her pocket. “When do we get to meet her?” she asked, not really caring for the answer.

“We are working with the agency now. Filling out the paperwork, meeting with our lawyer and their lawyer. We are trying to do everything as right as possible,” Tom answered.

“Actually, there was something that we were hoping you could do for us, Kira.”

“Sure, Ed. What can I do for you?”

“Our lawyer asked us to gather letters of character references from people we know. And since you and Tom have been friends for so long, we were hoping you could write one for us.”

Silence filled the room, until the sound of a knife falling to the ground broke the mist that hung over them. Tom reached down and picked up the fallen utensil, placing it next to its owner, Kira’s husband.

“Sure, I would love to.” Kira accepted, her heart pulling the oxygen from her body, making her feel lightheaded.

“Kira,” her husband began.

“I can do it. It’s not a problem,” she replied, ignoring her husband’s glare. “Just let me know when you need it by and where to send it to.”

“Kira, I don’t think you should. Not after…,” he began.

“I can do it.”

“Kira, I don’t want to make you do something if it’s too soon,” Tom offered placing his hand carefully over hers on the table.

“It’s fine, Tom. I would be honored.” She slid her hand from under his, hiding her discomfort by grabbing the glass of water that rested in front of her.

“Kira, you’re not ready to be happy for someone else. You’re not ready to do this.”

“Go to hell!” she yelled back. “These are my friends and they need my help. I will do this for them.” Her voice demanding her husband to not respond.

“Not after Emma’s death!” he yelled at her.

“Don’t mention her name,” Kira responded, quietly and unremorseful.

“I will mention her goddamn name if I please. She is my daughter,” he proclaimed through gritted teeth.

“She was your daughter. Past tense. If you can’t say that out loud then you don’t deserve to mention her name.” She held on tightly. The crackling fire bounced off the silence filling the room with a warmth that was bursting with anger and resentment. No one said anything.

“You should not mention her name. Not after what you did to her.”

“I loved my daughter. I took care of her and gave her everything I had.”

“I think we should probably leave…” Tom started, slowly rising from the table.

“No!” Kira commanded, not once removing her glance from across the table. “You don’t get to judge me. I did the best that I could,” she continued.

“She died, Kira. She died under your care. How could you let the happen?”

“It wasn’t my fault. The doctor told me that things like this happen all the time.”

“But you were there. How could you let that happen?”

“She just went to sleep.”

“But it doesn’t make sense, Kira. She was a happy baby. Healthy and happy. Then one day she goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up?” Her husband replied, his body leaning further into the table, as if it were the only thing holding him back from her.

“She just went to sleep. I gave her a bottle and then…” she stopped herself, the pain taking over her throat. She couldn’t go any further. She couldn’t make herself say it out loud; it was too soon. Her mind wasn’t ready to accept what happened, what she had done. The glass jar dug deeper into her lap, holding her down further in her chair. Her husband stared at her, blaming her for Emma’s death. She had given Emma her bottle, like she had done every day before her afternoon nap. Emma couldn’t go to sleep without it, and Kira needed her to sleep, especially that day. She just needed to have some time to herself, time to feel like a person. It had been so long since she felt right. So she mixed the bottle and placed it next to the old, red tin as Emma’s cries pierced through her mind, shattering any sense of reality. Kira had walked into Emma’s small room, reached into the crib, and gently inserted the warmed bottle into Emma’s awaiting mouth.

The sound of a scraping chair broke Kira’s attention. Tom and Ed sat silently by their undisturbed plates, trying to blend into the white walls. “I think we need to celebrate Tom and Ed’s wonderful news with champagne.” Before anyone could respond, Kira was up and was walking into her kitchen. She walked over to the liquor cabinet near her fridge and pulled out an aged bottle that was once a wedding gift. Taking out four glasses, she silently poured the bubbling liquid. She then reached into her dress pocket, pulling out the glass jar, and gently poured in half of its contents. Her body didn’t flinch and the pain didn’t make her feel sick anymore. Walking back into the dining room, the smell of burnt oak had faded away. No one had moved since she had left. She carefully placed all four glasses on the table and took her place again opposite her husband. She grabbed one glass, her eyes turning to her guests and then she looked at her husband.

“I am very happy for you both on your adoption. She is a very lucky little girl.” She lifted her glass and they followed suit. “Merry Christmas,” she offered, lifting the glass to her mouth, taking in the warm liquid in one complete gulp. She closed her eyes, the sound of a glass shattering against the bamboo floor filling her up with joy.