Recently, a follower asked me for a Christmas story, preferably with some warm fuzzy kind of feel to it. I felt obliged to give them one. So, here’s the first bit to this year’s Christmas Special. Enjoy!
Christmas. For some, the word struck dread into people’s hearts. For me? I felt nothing. I wasn’t an Ebenezer Stooge, I just didn’t have anyone to share it with. It had been three years since my parents had passed away, both of them within six months of each other. They always said they weren’t going linger without the other, and it was true. And being an only child of two only children, I had no relatives with which I could gather for the holidays.
It was Friday morning, three weeks before Christmas, when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I was sitting in my armchair in my apartment living room, working on a final project for the semester, a math sort of project that would bore all but a select few of you. I was attempting for a Masters in math, which some might find disgusting, but I found invigorating.
I fished the phone out of my pocket, and answered. “Curt Didas,” I said. A bright and cheerful voice greeted me.
“Hey, Curt, it’s me, Chance!” Chancellor Grivens was in nearly all of the same classes as me. His outgoing personality had infected even the most introverted of people (me), and we had become what some might call close friends.
“How can I help you?” I asked. I closed the computer; the paper was very nearly finished, and I just had to do one final spell and grammar check before I submitted it.
“So, I kind of have a few more friends than I expected for this Christmas. Any chance I could fit two of them in at your place?”
I looked around. I had a single bedroom apartment, which included a separate kitchenette and small dining area. Besides that, the only other room was the living room. But two people? I supposed my meager area could hold that number. “I suppose I could fit them in somewhere.”
“Great! They’ll be here the week before Christmas.”
A week? With two complete strangers living in my apartment? I shuddered at the thought, but swallowed and said, “Okay.”
“Marvelous. See you Monday!”
I put the phone back in my pocket. Unlike others in my class, I wasn’t addicted to it. I took a deep breath, then stood up, picking the computer from my lap. I retreated to my bedroom, deciding that it would be a good idea to get sleep before the next day’s work.
I worked at a local cafe, Street Smart, as an assistant manager. The pay was enough to keep my apartment. It was not enough to keep me from having student loans. Those, however, were kept to a minimum, thanks to both my grandparents and parents for setting up trust funds for education. Because I had no siblings or cousins with which to split the cash, I had a decent amount saved up. Or, at least I did, until I took four years of college.
The following two weeks dragged by. Once the semester finished, I picked up more hours at Street Smart, but still the days seemed to go forever. Everyday, Chance would text me, telling me about his party, and inviting me. I would always decline, feeling like the day would be better suited to relax and be alone.
Finally, the day arrived. Every five minutes, I peeked out the window. While others may think me like the child on Christmas morning, waiting for their parents to wake up, I felt more like the customer waiting to hear that my favorite ice cream flavor was out. Finally, I saw the bright red car pull in. Chance’s familiar frame got out of the driver’s side, followed by two other men. I opened my apartment door, and walked down the stairs. I opened the door to the building as if I was opening it to admit the Grim Reaper himself.
“Curt!” Chance said, bouncing up to the door. “Meet my best friends from back home. This is Dustin,” he motioned to the first man, who was tall and skinny, pale and bright blue eyed. I came up to his chin, which was impressive. Usually I’m to about to people’s ears. “And Robby.” Robby had black hair that hung over his eyes. A dark jacket hung open, showing a shirt that had a picture of a man hitting a wall. Captioned, it said, “DECK THE HALLS.” Both had large duffel bags over their shoulders.
“Welcome,” I said, smiling faintly.
“Nice to meet you,” Dustin said. The sentiment was echoed by Robby.
“Thanks for putting us up,” he added. His voice was deeper than I expected.
“Come on in,” I said, stepping back. They shuffled past, scraping snow off their boots. “I’m on the second floor,” I said as I took the stairs. The three followed me to the top, where I found my key and opened my apartment. “You two will be in here,” I said, motioning to the barren space. It wasn’t huge, but it could fit two sleeping people. “I have an extra air mattress, if you want it,” I offered.
“That would be great,” Dustin said. “All of ours are being used at Chancellor’s apartment.”
“We’ll just take turns sleeping on it,” Robby said. He looked around, carefully setting his duffel bag on the floor. “What time do you want us to be in?”
“I have one extra key,” I said. “I’ll give you that, and you can come and go as you please. There’s a code for the door at the bottom. I can show you that later.”
“We should probably get set up now,” Dustin said, “So we’re not rustling around when we get back.”
I had entertained the same thought in my head, but I left that fact unknown as I nodded. “I’ll get the air mattress,” I said. It took me only a few seconds – having thought about the possibility of them needing one, I had dug it out of my closet several days beforehand. As they unpacked, I unrolled and filled it. The pump’s whine made conversation difficult, but I wasn’t there to be best buds, so I didn’t care.
“Thanks, man,” Robby said, once the machine was turned off. He lay his sleeping bag across the mattress, then slowly laid on it. “Ah,” he said, drawing it out as long as it possibly could go. “I could sleep right now.”
“We can’t,” Chance said. “We’ve got to pick up the rest of the crew, remember?” He looked at me. “You want to join us for dinner tonight? Nothing fancy, just Chinese takeout.”
“I’m fine, but thank you,” I said. “I should probably show you that code, right?”
“Oh, yes, that would be wonderful!” Robby said, springing to his feet. And I mean literally springing. He rolled off the bed, put his hands behind his head and flipped to his feet.
“And here’s the key,” I said, handing it over, pretending not to be impressed.
After showing them the code (and making sure they had it memorized), I waved goodbye and turned in for an evening by myself.
I was doing some light reading of A Wrinkle in Time, when my cell buzzed. I pulled it out, surprised to see Chance’s number. “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Curt?” This was not Chance’s voice. It was soft and very feminine.
“Speaking,” I said.
“This is Lindsey. I’m Chance’s sister. Um, I was wondering, did Robby leave his phone with his stuff?”
I glanced at the duffel bag on the ground. Sure enough, beside it was a big phone in a white case. “Is it white?” I asked, standing and walking to it.
“Yes! Did you find it?”
“Yes, I have it in my hand.”
“Great. He’ll be so relieved. He was afraid he forgot it altogether.”
“I’ll just leave it on his mattress,” I offered.
“Perfect. Thanks so much!”
“Not a problem. Have a nice night.” I hung up after hearing her return the farewell, then returned to my book. The rest of the night was spent in peace and quiet, enjoyed by myself. By the time I went to bed at 11, Robby and Dustin had not arrived.
The next morning, however, they were both there, trying to get themselves together without disturbing me. It was I, instead, who disturbed them, forgetting myself entirely and walking out of my bedroom in nothing but my pajama bottoms.
I was surprised at how well they took it. They barely blinked, but nodded at me, said, “Good morning,” and went about their business. I nodded in return, and continued about my morning routine.
As I started breakfast (scrambled eggs and toast), I called to them. “Can I offer you anything to eat or drink?”
“Is there a place we can get water?” Dustin asked, holding up a water bottle.
“Tap’s fine,” I replied. He squeezed by me to get to it. The water ran for a few second, and then he slipped past me again.
“We’re going over to Chance’s for breakfast, but thank you for offering,” Robby said.
“Just wanted to make sure,” I said, grabbing the toast from the toaster. I set it on a plate, and focused once again on my eggs.
“Chancellor’s here,” Robby said, glancing out of the window. “We’ll see you later. Thanks again for letting us camp out here.”
“Of course,” I said, turning around and nodding. Soon, they had left, leaving me alone. I checked the time. I had about an hour before I had to open at Street Smart, so I wasn’t in a big hurry.
As I ate, I checked my emails. Nothing important, as usual. Since we were no longer in the semester, our school was only sending basic information, like reminders to make sure our classes were scheduled, payments that were due, etc.
I finished my meal in due course, and prepared for Street Smart. As an assistant manager, I opted for business casual most days, something to look professional, but that I didn’t mind getting dirty. Typically, it consisted of button downs, but today, I chose a black polo with the company logo emblazoned on the breast pocket.
At 9:45 AM, I opened the front door, allowing two customers to enter the cafe. We had a small coat-room directly behind the door, beyond which was the cafe proper. On the right wall as you entered was a bar where you could order sandwiches, salads, etc, which bent around to three cash register stations, though only two were open in the morning. To the left, the room opened up to tables and chairs, with a raised platform on the far end, where we sometimes had bands perform, but was now taken up by a gigantic Christmas tree. Presents were stuffed underneath, most fake, some actual ones for the employees.
Work was slow that morning. The number of customers was far fewer than most mornings I worked. It worked well for me, as I could sit in the back and work on reports. At precisely 12:33, however, one simple thing changed my life.
Andy got sick.
I heard him run past my office door, to the staff bathrooms. And even as I tried not to listen, I heard it. All of it. As he came back past, I called to him. “Go home, Andy. I’ll cover your shift.”
“Thanks, Curt,” he said, then continued past.
Andy was our greeter. He was portly man of about 50, with graying hair and a broad smile. He would welcome the customers as they entered Street Smart, and watch over their belongings. The watching I could do. Welcoming? Not my forte.
The first interaction went horribly. A mother and father came in with their two children. “Welcome to Street Smart!” I said, a cheerful smile plastered on my face.
The younger child burst into tears. “Dat man’s creepy!!” he wailed.
Mortified, the mother picked her child up, and they hurried past.
The second interaction was almost as bad. It was an older gentleman, probably in his eighties. My voice probably should have been brighter, but I didn’t think it was depressed. I repeated the slogan, and the man looked right into my eyes. “It’s Christmas, son,” he said, as serious as anyone I’ve ever heard. “Don’t you feel the Christmas joy?” Then he hobbled past.
I should have quit right then and there, but I kept on trucking. For the next fifteen minutes, I made people feel a range emotions from fear to sadness. But never anything good. The only person I didn’t affect was the man who burst in, as bubbly as a shaken soda. “Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year,” he nearly shouted, grabbing my hand with both of his and shaking vigorously. He hung up his coat, a smile splitting his face, then bounced to the line for lunch.
At about twenty minutes into my taking over the job, I saw a familiar face peer through the glass door. “Curt!” Chance boomed as he stepped in. “You’re in a different spot today.”
“Andy’s home sick,” I explained. “Glad you guys stopped in.”
“It’s the best place in town,” Chance said, smiling broadly. “Oh, I should introduce you to the rest of the crew.” He motioned to the group following him. “You know Robby and Dustin. This is Lindsey, my sister, and her friends, Gloria, Janet, and Persephone.”
“You can call me Seph,” Persephone said, shaking my hand. The other girls did the same, the guys just nodding at me as they hung up the coats.
I motioned for everyone to move on. “Enjoy your meal.”
Five minutes later, Seph was back. “You’re not very good with social skills, are you?” she asked, having seen me perform another debacle.
“Not really,” I admitted.
“Let me show you,” she offered. As a man walked into the shop, her face lit up. “Merry Christmas!” she beamed. “We’re glad that you’re here.”
“I am, too,” the man replied, smiling back. “Merry Christmas.” As he hung up his coat, they made idle chitchat about the weather and other frivolous things.
Once he was out of earshot, I shook my head. “I can’t do that.”
Seph shook her head. “That’s just because you’re not in the holiday spirit. Look at you! You’re wearing black, for Pete’s sake. It’s Christmas time! Don’t you have anything more happy to wear?”
I looked down. I had to admit, I was pretty drab looking. “No, I guess I don’t,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered,” she said, searching for her coat on the racks. I pointed it out to her, and she smiled at me in thankfulness. She dug through the pockets, finally coming up with a Christmas cap – you know, the ones that look like nightcaps, with the little pom pom on the top. “Put this on,” she ordered, so I obeyed. Then she gave me a handheld mirror from her purse. “Don’t you feel more jolly now?”
“I guess, a little.”
“Great. This next one is yours.” She gave me a slight smile, then stepped back. The door opened, and I turned to face my doom.
I’m unable to write more at the moment – something just suddenly came up. I’ll write the rest.
Curt’s story finishes in part two.