Christmas eve a romantic.., p.1
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       Christmas Eve: A Romantic Holiday Story, p.1

           Rusty Fischer
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Christmas Eve: A Romantic Holiday Story
Christmas Eve:

  A Romantic Holiday Story

  By Rusty Fischer, author of A Town Called Snowflake

  * * * * *

  Christmas Eve

  Rusty Fischer

  Copyright 2015 by Rusty Fischer

  * * * * *

  This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, places and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

  Cover credit: © tatuimage – Fotolia.com

  * * * * *

  Author’s Note:

  The following is a FREE short story edited by the author himself. If you see any glaring mistakes, I apologize in advance and hope you don’t take it out on my poor characters, who had nothing to do with their author’s bad grammar!

  Happy reading… and Happy Holidays!

  Enjoy!

  * * * * *

  Christmas Eve:

  A Romantic Holiday Story

  “Mrs. Macy,” I say, standing from the table and greeting her as the hostess leads her to our corner booth.

  “Please,” she says, shaking my hand enthusiastically. “Call me Eve.”

  “Eve it is,” I nod as we sit down across from each other in the cozy leather booth.

  She’s in her late-50s, a single gray streak running through her auburn hair, lively green eyes behind rectangular black frames. She’s worn a pair of charcoal slacks and a maroon sweater with a softer, lighter purple scarf wound around her neck.

  All in all, my very first impression is more “classy lady” than “spinster on a budget”. So maybe this will be worth my time, after all.

  “Have you ever been here before?” I ask, nodding toward the blinking Christmas trees in every corner and flickering candles on every table and waitresses in frilly white bonnets and busboys in elf hats.

  “I can’t say as I have,” she says, giving me a bemused glance. I get that a lot.

  “I always bring new clients to Holly Day’s Diner,” I say, sliding the gingerbread shaped specials menu toward her. “I just feel like it gives the right tone to a partnership, you know?”

  I don’t mention that I went to high school with Gary, the assistant manager, or that he always hits the 50% button on my tab. Combine that with the early bird specials and my client lunches are practically free.

  “It’s certainly spirited,” she says, regarding the menu with a skeptical frown. Yeah, I get a lot of that, too.

  A waitress comes over, young, high school age, perky in her Christmas bonnet and matching tip apron over a red skirt and green blouse. The nametag on her apron says “Astrid”.

  “Welcome to Holly Day’s Diner,” she says cheerily. “Care for a Gingerbread Mocha or Jingle Bell Java to start off your meal?”

  Eve looks to me with a curious expression and I say, “Bring us one of each and we’ll see who likes what.”

  Astrid beams, like that’s the greatest idea ever, and rushes away to whip them up.

  “So,” I say, getting down to business. “Clara, our office manager, tells me you’re in the market for an apartment?”

  “Not just any apartment,” she corrects, straightening her silverware on the gingham tablecloth. “An apartment in the Winchester Arms.”

  I smirk. “Are you… sure about that?”

  “Of course I’m sure,” she says, firmly. It’s not quite a snap, per se, but just shy of one. And I’m pretty sure if we were sitting anywhere but in a year-round Christmas restaurant, it would be all snap. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

  “Well, I mean… it’s kind of a young person’s community.” I don’t tell her I live there, on the third floor, overlooking the hip, bustling Noel Galleria right next door.

  “Am I that old?” she snorts, fiddling nervously with the plum colored scarf around her neck.

  “No, of course not, I just… there are so many options for you in Noel, Eve. I mean, wouldn’t you rather live near the ocean or in a quieter part of town? There’s a great 50+ community right on the Bay we could look at, or the new development right downtown.”

  She sits a little straighter and pins me with those soft, green eyes. “Mr. Rainey,” she says crisply. “I was told your office handled apartment rentals, does it not?”

  I blush a little at her tone. Blinking Christmas lights or no, she’s in charge – no doubt about that.

  “W-w-well, yes,” I stammer, suddenly playing defense. “I mean we specialize in home sales, but we have a small department for rentals as well.”

  I don’t tell her the “small department” is me, myself and I.

  “Well then, that being the case, I would prefer if you spend more time looking for an apartment where I want than trying to put me someplace I don’t want.”

  “Agreed,” I tell her, nodding firmly as the waitress delivers our order.

  Both drinks are served in oversized Christmas mugs, one on a saucer with a gingerbread cookie to the side and the other frosty with whip cream and a light drizzle of red and green syrup.

  “Client’s choice,” I tell her and she chuckles, softly, reaching for the Gingerbread Mocha.

  “Good choice,” I tell her before taking a sip from mine. “It’s my personal favorite.”

  “Oh?” she asks, hesitating to take a sip. “Do you want it back?”

  I shake my head, smirking playfully. “I like to try new things,” I explain.

  “Me too,” she says, without the smirk or, for that matter, much joy.

  The Jingle Bell Java is good, but too sweet, so I don’t drink much of it.

  We both order the daily special, a kind of turkey and sweet potato soufflé with a layer of browned marshmallows on top. The minute Astrid is gone to put in our order, Eve gets right down to business.

  “I’ll need a one bedroom apartment,” she says, “fully furnished, of course, on the third floor overlooking the little shopping mall there.”

  “The Noel Galleria,” I nod.

  “And I’ll need it by Christmas Eve,” she adds before asking, “Shouldn’t you be writing that all down?”

  “It’s pretty hard to forget,” I reply. “It’s also… a pretty tall order.”

  “How’s that?”

  “Well, I mean, the Winchester Arms is pretty popular, and it’s already the 17th and… are you sure about the furnished part?”

  She sets her face and is about to rip into me again when Astrid saves the day, setting two steaming soufflé rounds on the table in front of us, along with a basket of soft yeast rolls glistening with cinnamon butter.

  “Can I get you two anything else?” she asks, perkily, before Eve shoos her away. I notice the wedding ring on her finger, but don’t say anything else about it.

  “Are you saying you can’t help me, Mr. Rainey?”

  I shake my head. “Cole.”

  “Pardon?”

  “Please, call me Cole.”

  She nods and I offer her the basket of steaming rolls. She takes one, daintily, but doesn’t eat it, putting it on her bread plate, abandoned, instead. Her soufflé sits untouched as well.

  “Can you help me, Cole?” she asks, fork hovering over her plate. “Or not?”

  I shake my head, then nod as well. “It’s not if I can help you or not, Eve, it’s will the stars align to have someone move out of a third floor unit, overlooking the Galleria, by Christmas Eve? Can you see my predicament?”

  “Why yes,” she chuckles, smiling at last and using her clean fork as a pointer. “But look around you, Cole. Here at Holly Day’s Diner, it’s Christmas every day. And isn’t Christmas a time for miracles?”

  We finish our meals and I pay the tab and leave an impressive tip and s
he barely notices any of it. I walk her to her car, watch her drive away and as I’m turning to walk back to the realtor’s office, I hear the familiar sound of chuckling from the back laundry ramp.

  Gary is standing there, soft and warm in his Christmas sweater, smoking a cigarette by the Dempsey dumpster. “How was the soufflé today, buddy?”

  I chuckle and he offers me a cigarette from his battered soft pack. “You know I don’t smoke,” I remind him, taking it anyway. “Except in high stress situations.”

  “Renting an apartment is high stress?” he chuckles. “You should see this place on your average night in December, Cole, then come talk to me about stress.”

  Gary is chubby, red-haired, belly taut against his garish green and red sweater, which all the managers at Holly Day’s Diner wear, 365 days a year.

  We went to high school together, played on the same football team, graduated and then stuck around tiny Noel, North Carolina after everybody else went off to seek their fortunes.

  Gary wound up bussing tables for Holly Day’s and, a few years later, now he helps run the place. I got my real estate license, only to find myself lowest guy on the totem pole at Perfection Properties, a boutique real estate firm just up the street on pricey Elm Lane.

  Three years later, I’m still there.

  “What’s the problem?” Gary asks, lighting my cigarette for me.

  I inhale and exhale quickly, blowing smoke toward the dumpster so my boss, Ms. Breckinridge, won’t smell it on my navy blazer. “Just… this old lady wants a place in the Winchester Arms by Christmas Eve.”

  “Where you live?” Gary asks. “With the all the chicks who go to Emerson State and the pool parties every weekend? Is she going to be happy there?”

  “She’s not getting in there,” I grunt, taking another drag. “No way. That place has a waiting list a mile long.”

  “Did you tell her that?” he asks, arching one bushy red eyebrow.

  “No,” I sigh, taking one last drag before tamping the cigarette out under my shoe. “I mean, the manager there likes me, I’m hoping I can work something out.”

  “You better,” he says, finishing his cigarette as well. “Christmas is just over a week away.”

  “Yeah, I know that Gary,” I huff, making him arch the other eyebrow. “Sorry,” I chuckle, patting him on the knee because that’s all I can reach with him still standing on the loading bay. “Look, thanks for dinner,” I say, waving over my shoulder as I head back up to Elm Lane. “I gotta go and see about making a miracle happen.”

  The afternoon is cool and brisk, the air that clear bluish orange as another perfect December day blends into an equally stunning winter night. Mott Street is bustling and bold with blinking Christmas lights and busy shoppers and gingerbread storefronts full of holiday displays.

  I ignore them and grumble my way up Mott, then down Maple until I’m back on Elm, slipping in through the clean French doors of Perfection Properties.

  The reception area is grand, with hardwood floors, a sitting area and coffee tables and one cup coffeemaker and a blinking tree in the corner.

  “How’d lunch go?” Merilee asks with a smirk from behind the reception desk, which also features a smaller version of the same tree.

  “What?” I grumble knowingly. “She’s already called?”

  “Twice,” Merilee chuckles. “Once to ask if you were back from lunch yet, and a second time to replace you.”

  “Good,” I huff, taking the pink message slips from Merilee’s wriggling fingers. “What’d you tell her?”

  “I said you were our resident ‘apartment specialist’ and that if anybody could make a Christmas miracle happen, it’s you.”

  She chuckles, young and bright and alluring, but already engaged to a branch manager from the Noel Savings & Loan just down the street. I sigh and fold the message slips and slide them in my pocket and walk into my office and sit at my desk and frown.

  Then I stand, abruptly, and turn off the office lights. “Going home so soon?” Merilee asks, looking at the cell phone perched by her land line on the big, U-shaped reception desk. “You’re usually last to leave.”

  “I gotta see a man about an apartment,” I chuckle, slipping through the door.

  It’s a nice drive through Noel this time of night, Christmas music on the radio, twinkling lights in every store front, traffic moving slow on the way to the Noel Galleria.

  With only a week left before Christmas, it’s high shopping season and the Galleria with its quaint shops, sidewalk cafes and coffee shops mixed in amidst larger chain stores is the perfect draw for last-minute shoppers.

  I finally pull into the Winchester Arms and park in the 30-Minute Zone in front of the rental office. “Barry, my man,” I say, bounding inside.

  Barry’s in his 50s, nice head of hair, always wears a sweater vest. This time of year he drags his snow globe collection out on top of his cherry wood desk for all to see and admire.

  “What can I do for you, Cole?” he asks sternly as I slide into the chair on the other side of him.

  “Gotta client who wants to move in,” I say.

  His eyes light up a little and he slides his tablet over and starts tapping screens until he finds one that makes him happy. “When?” he asks, looking back up at me.

  I wince and say, almost apologetically, “Before Christmas Eve.”

  His face falls and he slides the tablet away, untapped. “You’re kidding, right?”

  “I wish, Barry. She was very insistent about that.”

  “Before next Christmas Eve, maybe. This Christmas Eve? Forget about it.”

  I lean forward a little. “Maybe somebody’s moving out this week, huh? Third floor? Overlooking the Galleria? Anything like that on tap?”

  He stares back, incredulous. “Are you high, man? There are only, like… five units that fit that description, and you’ve got one of them. And the other four aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, believe you me. People love it here at the Winchester Arms, Cole. That’s why nobody ever leaves, and everybody else wants to get in. You’ve been here a few years by now, right? You know that better than anybody…”

  I slump down a little in my chair. “What am I gonna do?” I ask out loud, but Barry’s already gone back to his tablet.

  “Why don’t you sub-let her your place?” he jokes as I stand, sighing so heavily I almost don’t hear him. “That’s the only way she’s getting in here on such short notice.”

  I chuckle in reply and wave over my shoulder as I walk toward the door. “Thanks anyway,” I grumble, passing the giant Christmas tree in the lobby.

  It’s a short drive around to Building C, and I trudge up to my unit with my leather messenger bag tapping my thigh heavily with every step. I slip inside and turn on the lights and grab a beer and slip out onto the porch, overlooking the busy Galleria.

  I can hear the kids singing in the courtyard from here. Every night since school let out for the winter break, they’ve had some Glee club or swing band or jazz trio in the grassy courtyard playing Christmas music. Giggling teenagers in black pants, white shirts and Santa caps playing cello or bad saxophone or big drums. Cute. A little annoying after awhile, but cute.

  I could see the appeal, for someone like Eve. She probably has grandkids that age, and could sit out here in an Adirondack chair and smile and wave all December long. Or trudge down to the courtyard with a lawn chair and flannel blanket and watch live and in person, like the rest of the crowd.

  I sip my beer and sigh, sagging down into the beach chair I never got around to replacing. It’s a winter ale, hoppy and red and thick, which reminds me I haven’t eaten dinner yet.

  But the weather is nice, the music is nicer and the beer is filling. So I sit, and smile and think and wonder how the heck I’m going to get Eve Macy to agree to live somewhere else.

 
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