Every December, I feature a different kind of story; they’re always seasonal, and usually light. I hope y’all don’t find this one too sweet and sentimental; if you find it lacking in depth, you might amuse yourself by wondering why I made it a period piece, and what significance (if any) this particular time period has to the story.
Reggie opened the door to a sight he hadn’t quite expected. Oh, she was as pretty as she had represented herself to be, and probably not too much older than she had claimed on the phone. But she hadn’t warned him that her hair was so shockingly red, and somehow he’d figured she would dress a bit more…conservatively.
“That’s not funny,” he replied, then “get in here before the neighbors see you.”
“Wow, what a Grinch,” she said, dusting the snow off of her fur-trimmed red coat. “What did you expect when you hired a hooker named Holly on Christmas Eve?”
“The agency’s ad said ‘discreet’.”
“Trust me, honey, I didn’t stand around on your porch any longer than I had to. And unless you’ve got lots of sweet young things coming in and out of here for other reasons, I sincerely doubt my seasonal getup raised any more eyebrows than my just being here in the first place did.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right; I’ve just never done this before.” In response to her skeptical look, he added, “Had a girl come to my house, I mean.”
“Ah. Well, I don’t need to ask why you decided to start tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lots of unmarried men call on holidays; it’s tough being alone when the entire culture is loudly extolling the joys of family for weeks on end.”
“You’re pretty smart.”
She shrugged. “Not smart enough to make grad school easy. Hey, do you have anything hot to drink? This outfit isn’t as warm as it looks.”
“Nothing ready, but we could make something in the kitchen.”
“Bitchin’. You got any cocoa?”
“I think I have some of the instant kind.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’ll have to do.” Then after looking around for a few moments: “Don’t you have a kettle?”
“You can heat up the water in the microwave oven.”
“Nah, I don’t trust those things. My mom got one last year, but I’m kind of afraid they might cause cancer.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, handing her a pot from the cupboard.
“Will you have some with me? I brought cookies.”
He laughed in spite of himself. “You’re quite a character.”
“So they tell me. Gingerbread or sugar?”
A few minutes later, they sat at the table, drinking cocoa and eating cookies; at some point she had deftly made the cash envelope disappear. And before too long he found himself telling her about the divorce, and the increasing pressures of work, and the sense of loss and loneliness he had hoped to dispel this evening in some way that didn’t involve drinking himself unconscious. The eventual move to the sofa was very natural, and for some reason he was completely unsurprised when she pulled a VHS copy of It’s a Wonderful Life out of her absurdly-large purse and suggested they watch it together.
When she finally dressed to go, it didn’t bother him at all that they hadn’t done what he thought he wanted to do when he opened the phone book; in fact, he was so happy with her that he pressed an extra $50 bill into her hand. She gave him a very warm and sincere hug, and as she opened the door to leave he could hear the bells of the nearby church signalling the beginning of midnight mass.
“Every time a bell rings…” she said, laughing.
He laughed with her, and then said, almost as an afterthought, “You never did tell me what you’re studying.”
“Psychology,” she replied, almost sheepishly.
“But of course. Thank you, Holly; you were wonderful.”
“You’re welcome. Merry Christmas, Reggie, and a very Happy New Year!”
“I’m certain now that it will be. I’ll call you again soon.”
“I hope so!” And then she danced across the lawn, stopping to catch a snowflake on her tongue before waving to him from the gate and disappearing into a night that now seemed far less cold to him than it had a few hours before.