It was 9.30am, Kate was wrestling with a turkey, and the phone was blaring. She looked back and forth between the bird and the phone for a few seconds, hoping the phone would stop.
It didn’t. She carefully laid the turkey where it could drain off its brine and ran over to pick the phone up with her clean hand.
There was a scuffle on the other end of the phone. Kate sighed and counted through her to-do list in her head.
She yanked the phone away from her ear and glared at it.
"Jeez Ben. Calm down."
"Yeah, you said that already. What have you done?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all."
Kate sighed again. "Oh really? You just rang me up in the middle of preparing Christmas dinner to tell me that absolutely nothing was happening?"
"Exactly. I just... I know how you worry, Kate-"
"I don't worry-"
"C'mon Kate. You worry. And I didn't want you to, so I thought I'd keep you up-to-date during the day. So you know that nothing's happening."
Kate rubbed her eyes. "Okay. Fine. I don't even want to know what's going on. Make sure you're back in time."
She hung up and moved back to the stove. After a moment, she went back and switched her phone to silent.
"Alright turkey. Time to go."
- - - - -
Ben sighed in relief and put his phone away.
"Okay. I think she bought it. No thanks to you."
"Of course she bought it. You're very convincing." said Tommy. "But I really think you should tell her."
"I thought you were on board with the plan."
He took a step forward, winced sharply, and leaned against Tommy for support.
"Of course I'm on board with the plan. I'm always on board with the plan. I just think that, maybe, having an open wound in your side, and not knowing where it came from, is the kind of thing you should probably tell Kate."
Ben sighed and shook his head. "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. If we tell her now, this is just going to wind up being another story about how Ben ruined Christmas. But if we wait until after it’s fixed to tell her, then it's just another funny story that we can look back at and laugh."
"Uh-huh. Yeah. Or it becomes the story of how you bled to death, and then ruined Christmas."
"Have a little faith, Tommy. It's Christmas. Now stop talking about it, the bus is here."
- - - - -
Kate's phone hadn't buzzed for nearly half an hour, and she was starting to get nervous. As soon as she had the turkey in the oven, and the rest of the various dishes had been started, she turned the ringer back on.
"Stop this." Kate told herself. "Ben doesn't run into trouble whenever he leaves the house. Well, not every time he leaves the house. He's probably just working on some silly surprise with Tommy. It's nothing."
"Why are you talking to yourself?"
Kate spun around. Maddie was standing by the counter in her new Christmas pajamas.
"No reason. Just thinking out loud. Do you want some cereal?"
"Okay. What happened to the couch?"
"The couch. It's gone. Are we getting a new one?"
"Don't be silly sweetie. The couch can't be gone. Your uncle Ben must have moved it or covered it, or... done something..."
She followed Maddie into the sitting room. The couch was gone.
"Sweetie, can you go grab my phone from the kitchen? I need to make a call."
- - - - -
"Oh no, it's Kate!" Tommy shoved his phone into Ben's hand. "You answer it!"
"I'm not answering it. It's your phone. You answer it. I called her last time."
"Yeah, but this is your plan. And your refusal to go to the emergency room."
"I'm not going pay some doctor to tell me that I have a hole in my side, because I already know that. And Hammy can fix me up as well as any fancy doctor."
The phone was still ringing. Tommy glared at Ben before answering.
"Hello Kate. It is so nice to speak to you. What can I help you with?"
"Cut the crap, Tommy. Where's my couch?"
"I have no idea what you're referring to."
"The couch, Tommy. In the middle of my sitting room, where Ben's been sleeping for the last week? Where's my couch?"
"I have no idea where your couch or any of your towels are-"
"My towels?" Kate cut him off. "What have you done to my towels?"
"I haven't done anything to your towels!"
Ben snatched the phone out of Tommy's hand, yelled 'OH NO A TUNNEL' into the mouthpiece, and hung up.
"A tunnel, Ben? Exactly where would we be going through a tunnel?"
Ben glared at Tommy. "You had to tell her about the towels, didn't you?"
"I panicked! And she would have found out anyway."
"Oh, she would have found out anyway? When she decided in the middle of Christmas dinner that she needed five towels? Would she have found out then?"
Tommy folded his arms tightly across his chest and stared straight ahead. Ben tried to ignore him, but only lasted a couple of minutes.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you. It's perfectly likely that she would have discovered all those missing towels. And I've been putting you under a lot of stress today."
"That's okay." said Tommy. "You're the one who's bleeding."
"I am bleeding. Thank you."
They sat in silence for a second.
"Do these towels make me look fat?" asked Ben.
"No." said Tommy. "They make you look like a slender person with five towels under their shirt."
- - - - -
Maddie was sitting on the counter, eating her cereal, and Kate was pacing back and forth.
“Do you think Ben did something terrible to the couch?” Kate asked.
“Or do you think that he did something terrible to the couch, but he thinks he’s done something wonderful and surprising to the couch?”
“I don’t know.” said Maddie. “I finished my cereal. Can I go play with my legos now?”
Kate scrubbed her hand over her eyes. “Yeah, just put your bowl in the sink. And don’t eat too much candy before dinner.”
Maddie slid off the counter. “Okay.”
Kate checked the turkey and continued pacing around the kitchen. She tried ringing Tommy again, then Ben, before finally giving up and pressing her forehead against the counter.
“Deep breaths, deep breaths.” She told herself. “Need to start focusing on the things I can actually fix.”
She stood up, drank a glass of water, and rang BJ. The phone rang nine times before anyone answered.
Kate checked her watch. “BJ, it’s nearly mid-day.”
There was a pause as some blankets rustled “Did you call for a reason, or is it just so you can judge me? Because if you wanted to judge me by text, I would be okay with that.”
“No, I just wanted to know what time you’d be coming over for Christmas dinner?”
“Dinner. Right. That’s today.”
“Yes. Because today is Christmas.”
“Alright, alright. I’ll be there. Like, five?”
“Actually, I think dinner’s going to be ready around fou-”
“Alright, see you at five.”
The connection clicked off. Kate sighed down at her phone.
“Hey Maddie! Why don’t you show me what you made with your legos?”
- - - - -
Tommy checked the bus timetable while Ben leaned heavily against the nearest tree.
“I told you we should have gone to the hospital.”
“This should have been fine. When I sprained my ankle last year, Hammy was able to fix me right up.”
“That’s because Hammy has a first aid certificate from being a lifeguard. I think open wounds are slightly beyond his experience levels.”
“I just think that it’s important to explore every option. Who says that going to the hospital is the best thing, just because it’s the expected thing? I’m a big thinker, Tommy. I break the mold.”
Tommy sighed. “Okay then, mold broken. But now, we’re going to the hospital.”
“Fine.” Ben scowled. “But if the bus doesn’t arrive soon, I think I’m going to need more towels.”
A small car pulled up by the bus stop. BJ poked her head out of the window.
“What are you guys doing waiting at the bus stop?”
Tommy and Ben exchanged a few awkward glances in silence.
Finally, Tommy spoke. “Due to a series of incidents last night that Ben does not entirely remember, he is currently in need of some medical attention.”
“So you’re just... waiting for the bus?”
“Yeah.” said Ben. “We were going to take then 17 down to Sycamore, then the 9 to Carlisle, then the 73 all the way to the hospital.”
“Should take about half an hour.” said Tommy. “Provided we make the connections, because obviously the 9 only comes twice an hour, so...”
“Right.” agreed BJ. “Well, I’ll see you at dinner.”
She shifted to pull away from the sidewalk, but Tommy waved his hands to get her attention back.
“Seeing as you’ve got your car, and dinner isn’t for a few hours, can you drive us to the hospital?”
“I promise to do my best not to bleed on your upholstery.” added Ben.
BJ glanced between the pair of them on the sidewalk, her watch, and the road ahead of her.
“I don’t know, guys... I mean, It’s a busy day...”
Ben took a step forward and leaned heavily against the car. “BJ, please. I don’t want to die.”
BJ sighed. “I guess it’s not totally out of my way. There’s a gym bag on the back seat, so if you could sit on that? Just to make sure you don’t like, bleed everywhere.”
Ben and Tommy climbed awkwardly into the back seat of BJ’s car, and they pulled away from the curb.
“So, are we absolutely sold on going to the hospital?” she asked.
“Yes, we a-”
“Why, do you have a better option?” Ben cut Tommy off.
“Well, you know my friend Big Rita? She’s practically a doctor.”
“Ben, you should really go to the hospital.”
“There’d be no queue. And she seriously owes me like, fifteen favours already, so you won’t have to pay for anything.”
“BJ, take us to Big Rita!”
- - - - -
Kate checked her fridge for milk, but there wasn’t any.
“Maddie! Put some clothes on, we have to go to the store.”
The air outside was crisp and cold, and Kate held Maddie’s hand tightly as they made their way down the street and around the corner. They were less than five minutes from their house when they came across a large bulky object, covered in sheets, sitting on a patch of grass.
“Maddie,” said Kate, “is it just me, or does that look like it could be our couch?”
“It’s not just you.” said Maddie.
Kate pulled out her phone and dialled Tommy. When it rang through to voicemail, she hung up and dialled again. It took six attempts, but Tommy finally answered.
“Hey Kate. What’s up?”
There was far too much forced nonchalance to his voice.
“You wouldn’t happen to know why something that looks really like my couch is on the grass beside the McWhirter’s house, would you?”
There was dead silence on the line.
“Because if there’s something horrible under there, I would really like to know before I take the sheets off...”
“Okay Kate, I’ll be honest with you. But first, you have to remember that some wounds bleed a lot, even if they’re not actually that serious.”
Kate snatched her hand back from where it had been reaching towards the sheet, and turned her head away from Maddie.
“Are you saying that there is blood all over my couch?”
“... I’m not saying there isn’t blood all over your couch. But maybe, if you decided not to look under the sheet, everyone would be a lot happier.”
Kate took Maddie’s hand again and lead her towards the grocery store, still speaking quietly into her phone.
“What happened? Is Ben okay? Are you at the hospital?”
There was another long pause.
“...We’re seeking medical attention.”
Kate sighed and rubbed at her eyes. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. I am going to pretend I have no idea what’s going on, and you are going to make sure that I don’t have to spend Christmas telling Maddie that she’s never going to see her Uncle Ben again. Okay?”
“Dinner’s at four-thirty. You will both be there. Understood?”
“Five-thirty. Yes. See you there.”
- - - - -
Tommy was helping Ben walk down the car as BJ followed them, looking at her hands.
“I’m never going to be clean again.”
“You know,” said Tommy, “If we’d followed my advice, and taken Ben to the hospital, you wouldn’t have had to assist, and we’d have a proper prescription for painkillers.”
“It’s fine,” Ben gasped as Tommy carefully lowered him into the car, “I’m sure alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen will be fine. So long as I don’t bump into anything. Or breathe too hard. Or start laughing. Neither of you are allowed make me laugh.”
The drive to Kate’s was uneventful, aside from the seven potholes BJ managed to hit, and the tiny moans from Ben in response.
They pulled up outside the house.
“Okay,” said Tommy, “Kate doesn’t want to know anything. So as long as Ben survives until at least New Year’s-”
“Then we can all forget this ever happened.”
“Speak for yourself,” said BJ, “I am never getting this blood out of my cuticles.”
They both ignored her.
“Deep breaths.” instructed Tommy. “And we’re on.”
Kate opened the front door and smiled at everyone. “If you bleed on any more of my furniture, then that is going to be a wasted hospital visit.”
“Oh Kate. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now where’s my niece? Maddie?”
Maddie ran in from the kitchen, “Uncle Ben!” and threw her arms around Ben’s waist.
Thirty-two minutes later, the tears had stopped, and everyone agreed to never speak of that Christmas again.