Noon, 1st December (8 days later). Christmas Hope
‘What time is he on?’ Kris asked as she hung another candy cane on the Christmas tree that had been put up in the formal living room.
‘Midday,’ Elsa replied as she helped Jason hang a glitter coated pine cone on a lower branch. ‘He’s got the whole show to himself again. I think Sally’s going to really grill him today given she won’t get a third bite at him.’
‘How was he feeling this morning?’ I know he hated the last time he went up against her, but he was awesome anyway. He made Sally look like an extra on her own show.’
Elsa reached into a box and pulled out two more ruby red baubles and gave one each to Jason and Millie who scurried off to hang them.
‘Yeah, he did,’ Elsa replied. ‘I’ve got to admit though, I don’t mind watching the odd bit of Sally Sainsbury. Sure, she’s fake and the whole show is sickening, but hey, if you’re looking for a release from reality, Sally’s the goods. You can’t get much more unreal or over the top than her.’
‘Can’t argue with that,’ Kris said as she stood on tiptoes to perch a snowman on a high branch. ‘Wow, this tree is huge! I’ve never had one even half as big as this.’
‘Me neither,’ Elsa agreed, pulling a length of silver tinsel out of the box and searching around for somewhere to string it up. ‘Hey, are you heading back to Brisbane to spend Christmas with your family?’
‘Just Christmas Eve and most of Christmas day. Be back Christmas night. Can’t afford to slack off this close to the finish line.’
‘Well, it’s your call,’ Elsa said as she tossed the tinsel off to the side and instead pulled out a small reindeer and a star for the kids, ‘but I reckon you should stay there through to Boxing Day. You’ve got Max this far. I think he can handle himself for a couple of days on his own. I know I don’t need to remind you this might be the last Christmas before the end of the world.’
Kris didn’t answer. Instead she paused and looked out the wide space of the opening onto the balcony. Outside, the rising heat of the midmorning summer sun formed a haze over the distant palm trees bordering the beach. The bleached blue sky hung flawlessly behind. Then the lazy silhouette of a Black Hawk droned into view offshore of the island, its ceaseless presence no longer a distraction.
‘Hey,’ Elsa said gently as she came up behind Kris and laid a hand on her shoulder. Kris stirred and half smiled. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to be a bully. You do what you want and I’ll shut up.’
‘No. It’s alright,’ Kris said, turning and fully opening up her smile. ‘You’re allowed to lecture me. Friends get a free shot. If it was anyone else, they’d be getting a death stare.’
‘I’d love to have you here on Christmas Day,’ Elsa added, ‘and I know Max and the kids would too and as for Abdullah? Well, I think we all know how he’d feel, even though Christmas is not technically on his calendar.’
Kris nodded and quickly turned away to walk back to the coffee table in the centre of the room to get her glass of water.
‘It’s none of my business,’ Elsa added, ‘but seeing as you gave me one free shot, I’ll take a second too. You and Abdullah need to sort out your feelings and get on with being together. This whole end of the world thing might cause some trouble with that too.’
‘What am I going to do?’ Kris said, raising a hand and then letting it drop to slap against her thigh. ‘I don’t even know how to, you know, ask him out.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘He’s Muslim and I’m not. That’s not going to work.’
‘Is that it? Is that what’s stopping you? Religion?’
‘Come on, Elsa?’ Kris said, putting her glass back down and walking back to rummage in the decorations box for another trinket. ‘Religion’s pretty important and let’s face it. Abdullah’s not exactly a casual worshipper and on top of that, he’s a king. There’s no way he could spend any time with me. He needs to have a princess for a girlfriend and a Muslim princess to boot. I’ve got nothing that’s going to work with him.’
Elsa smiled and looked upon her friend with soft eyes and a gentle smile. Kris noted the silence and looked back.
‘What?’ Kris said, her head askance.
‘I think it’s sweet.’
‘That you care so much about Abdullah that you think you’re not good enough for him and don’t want to hurt him by putting him into a difficult situation.’
Kris paused and held her gaze on Elsa for a moment to then let it drift away into space. Elsa let her words sink in for a few seconds more and then walked over to take Kris’ hand and lead her away from the tree to sit down on a couch.
‘Kris, you both care for each other,’ Elsa began, ‘not just as close friends, but as probably something more and given we’re all staring down the barrel of only one more month of life as we know it, take a chance. Don’t let something like religion get in the way of at least telling him how you feel. Life literally might be too short to waste this opportunity and you know what I think? I think that despite his devout belief in Islam, Abdullah is a much bigger believer in human spirit and if he cares for you in the same way you care for him, he won’t let his religion get in the way.’
Kris listened silently and nodded at the end. Elsa let the pause linger, waiting for Kris to break it first.
‘Okay,’ Kris finally said softly, looking down into her lap. ‘I’ll think about it.’
‘Don’t think about it!’ Elsa protested, reaching across to squeeze Kris’ hand. ‘Do it! Besides, the man’s a king! He’s rich and he’s pretty damn good looking too. If I didn’t have Max hanging around, I’d be all over Abdullah. The man’s a catch and so are you by the way, so get on with it!’
Now Kris smiled a wide, beaming grin. Elsa squeezed her hand again and Kris looked up.
‘Okay,’ Kris said. ’I’ll think really, really hard about it.’
‘That’s better,’ Elsa replied, turning to watch Millie and Jason start pulling a bunch of tinsel strings out of another box.
‘And what about you?’ Kris asked.
Elsa turned back and said, ‘What about me?’
’Now it’s my turn for a free shot. How are you holding up? You might be just about to lose your husband and then there’s Millie and Jason. How are you handling them?’
‘I don’t worry so much about Max and I know that sounds a bit cold, but the truth is, we’ve known for a long time that this was coming. It’s still hard to deal with, but Max has to do what Max has to do and I bought into that. What I do struggle with though is the kids. Not that they really know what’s coming. It’s more that when Max first told me all about his alien side and that Macktidas would one day come along and upend us, it was just us. Me and him. No kids to think about, but now we’ve got Millie and Jason and it’s different. Completely different. Now we have someone else in our lives to protect and its’ hard to come to grips with the fact that they might just be about to lose the greatest protector they could ever have in their father and then if that happens and Macktidas’ army comes in to kill us all, all they’ll have is me and I’ll be useless in helping them. I’m not a soldier, let alone anything like Max, so that’s what makes it hard. I just feel, you know, helpless when I think about it, so I shut it out, at least as much as I can.’
Elsa stopped and looked at her children as they wrapped each other in strings of green, red and silver tinsel, giggling like mad. Now it was Kris’ turn to look softly at her friend.
‘Let me tell you something,’ Kris said softly, dragging Elsa’s attention back to her. ’I’m not a mother and I may never be one, but I’ve spent enough time with you and Max and the kids and what I know is that when Millie and Jason look up at you, it’s unconditional love. Their eyes brim with it and if Max is no longer around to protect all of you, they don’t need you to be just like Max. They need you to be just like you. Their mother and someone who unconditionally loves them in return. You may not be able to fight off alien hordes, but the way you protect your children is by wrapping them in love all the way to the end and that’s better than anything else. Love may not save your lives, but it will keep the fear at bay and it’s hard to ask for much more than that. Love is really all a child wants and you’ve got loads of love to give them.’
Staring at Kris, Elsa’s eyes grew wide, her pupils deep and full as tears filmed across them. Leaning forward, Elsa gently embraced her friend and held her tight. Kris hugged her back and they stayed locked together in silence.
Suddenly, the two women felt little hands pulling at them and they broke apart to find Millie and Jason tugging on their clothes.
‘Our turn! Our turn!’ they pleaded. Elsa and Kris laughed, genuine, heart-warming laughter in return.
‘Okay!’ Elsa called out and hefted Millie off her feet as she stood up, hugging her close and spinning.
Kris followed suit, lifting Jason off the floor too, squeezing him into her chest as he giggled and giggled.