Sunday, December 18, 2022

My holiday gift to you.

I'm having some trouble finding stuff to watch on TV right now. All the limited-run shows seem to have paused over the holidays, which I guess makes sense because everyone is busy getting ready for their celebrations. But I've binged everything I'm interested in, and it seems like all that's left is Christmas rom-coms. 

I don't mind a good rom-com, to be clear, but most of these aren't. Even star power guarantees nothing. I watched one last night that starred Julie Andrews and James Garner. I was embarrassed for them -- the script was terrible. Of all the places the writers could have gone with the secondary plot, they went for cliches. And yet the movie has a 7.2 on IMDb, which I guess shows you that people don't care about the plot of a Christmas rom-com as long as they get their happily-ever-after at the end. 

Anyway. I haven't written any new books this year, but I do owe you a holiday ficlet. This one isn't exactly a Christmas rom-com -- a thousand words doesn't give you enough room for the usual complications -- but it's got a holiday tree and presents, and it has "Christmas" in the title. Also, the characters aren't from any of my books. But I hope you like it anyway.

By the way: Even though this ficlet says it's for Christmas, like all of my holiday ficlets, it covers the waterfront. So happy Hanukkah, happy Yule, happy Kwanzaa, and happy whatever else you celebrate in this sacred season in which the light returns.


wacomka | Deposit Photos
Christmas Gifts 

Kelly grabbed another tissue and wiped her eyes. Christmas rom-coms always made her puddle up, but this year it was worse than usual. She and Rob had moved cross-country to Washington, DC, after his graduation from Stanford Law School. He had a great job with a big law firm, and everybody said he was on track to make partner in record time – but he was stuck at the office every night and most weekends. She told herself she was reconciled to being alone so much, but her blubbering this year over terrible plots and happily-ever-afters belied that.

Even now, on Christmas Eve, Rob was late getting home. Something about a regulator dumping a big document request on his team. “The feds always do that,” his secretary, Sasha, had told her. “They clear their desks by sending out these requests just before Christmas, so they don’t have to work over the holidays.”

Ten more years of this ‘til he makes partner? Kelly thought. I don’t know if I can take it. 

She had hoped they could get back to California for Christmas. But when it became clear they were staying put, she had reluctantly pulled out their decorations. She gazed now at the twinkling tree as the credits rolled. The ornaments reminded her of happier times: the wine bottle from Napa, the little bear on skis from Palisades Tahoe back when it was Squaw Valley. They’d been so much in love – so there for each other. Kelly wasn’t sure that was true anymore.

The key turned in the front door lock. She flipped the TV off. Hastily, she wiped her eyes, smoothed her hair, and put on her brightest smile. “Merry Christmas, honey,” she called.

Rob came into the living room of their apartment, stamping his feet and shedding his coat. “Sorry I’m so late.” His greeting had become habitual. He crossed to the couch and kissed her, then went to hang up his coat. “Merry Christmas. It’s brutal out there.”

“It is?” She turned. Sleet was pinging against the window. Wrapped up in her own unhappiness, she hadn’t even noticed.

He plopped down on the couch next to her and took her chin in his hand. “You’ve been crying again,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said, laughing a little. “Dumb movie.”

He sighed and pulled her head onto his shoulder. “Dumb job. I’m sorry. I know it’s been rough on you.”

“But in just a few years…” she said, trying to rally for him. 

“Yeah.” He sighed again. They sat that way for a few moments, their arms about each other. Then he said, “Hey. Let’s not wait for tomorrow to open our gifts. Let’s do it now.”

“But we’re supposed to do a Zoom with the family at ten,” she reminded him. Ten a.m. Eastern, seven a.m. Pacific. She was getting good at calculating time zones.

“I know, but we can open our gifts to each other separately, right? They don’t have to be in on that,” he wheedled. “Let’s do it now.”

“Okay, I guess.”

He was up off the couch before she stopped speaking. “Great!” He dug under the tree, sorting through the packages – their families had sent them a lot of presents. “Here’s the one from you to me...” It was a large box, wrapped in red paper. He shook it briefly with one ear to it, which made her laugh. He grinned. Then from way in the back, he pulled out a small black-and-teal bag and handed it to her. “Here.”

“Thank you,” she said, as he resumed his seat on the couch next to her. “You go first.”

He ripped the paper off. Inside was a tiny toaster oven. “Oh,” he said.

“You always say you’re eating dinner out of Sasha’s candy dish,” she said. “This way you can have a decent meal. I got you a subscription to a meal service, too – they’ll deliver to your office every day. See the envelope on top?”

“Yeah, I see it,” he said in an odd tone. He set the appliance box aside.

“I thought you’d love it,” she said, baffled.

“I do,” he said. “I do. But open yours.”

Still bemused, she pulled the tissue paper out of the bag. Inside were two envelopes. She looked up at him, more confused than ever.

“Open them,” he urged.

The first contained lift tickets to Palisades Tahoe for New Year’s weekend. “Wait,” she said. “We’re going to Tahoe?”

Now he was smiling. “Open the other one.”

Inside the second envelope was a letter on the stationery of one of the biggest startups in Silicon Valley. It began, “We are pleased to offer you a position in our corporate legal department…”

“We’re going home?” she squealed. She threw her arms around him, laughing.

“Yep! The pay is slightly better. And I’ll be home every night for dinner.”

“Home,” she said. She liked the sound of that. A lot. “But why didn’t you tell me you were applying?”

“I didn’t want to get your hopes up,” he said. “You’ve been so unhappy here. I didn’t want to make it worse.”

She put a hand to his stubbly cheek. “I love you, Rob.”

“I love you, too, Kel.” They kissed for quite a while.

She pulled back and looked at the toaster oven. “This kinda makes my gift useless, doesn’t it?”

“Kinda,” he said with a laugh. “Do you have the receipt?” 

“I do. And maybe we can switch the meal service to our new address.” She picked up the lift tickets and sighed happily. “Is it so terrible that I want to start packing right now?”

“I thought you might say that,” he said. “I have boxes in the car.”

“You really do think of everything,” she said, and kissed him again.

These moments of happy holiday blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! 

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