Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Christmas

         It had been a cold Friday, snow falling for the last three hours.
I parked in the Dooley Insurance Agency lot at 6:00 p.m. I expected to find all the lights inside the office turned off, but everything looked lit up. When I unlocked the front door and stepped inside, I found Heather Allison, our new office manager, so busy trimming the office Christmas tree she apparently didn't hear me entering.
She'd started work for the Dooley agency a month ago. What a beauty she was—short but curvy with blond hair tumbling across her shoulders. Big blue eyes. Single, too. Like me. I reigned in my hormones.
I closed the door softly, tilted my head, and smiled. I didn't dare speak. She stood on a metal folding chair in her stocking feet, stretching, trying desperately to reach the top of a seven-foot spruce tree to drop a gold star in place. I didn't want to startle her. She might fall off the chair. But if you rush up behind her, I told myself, and yell, "Merry Christmas!" she might fall into your arms.
Bad idea, I decided. So I waited until she heaved a big sigh and jumped off the chair, the star still in her hand. That's when I said, "Hey. What's happening?"
She whirled, her blue eyes popping. "Oh, Lord! You scared me. What are you doing here, Mark?"
I explained I'd made calls all afternoon and I was coming in to finish up paperwork in the office so I wouldn't have to bother on Saturday. "And what are you doing trimming the office tree all by yourself?"
"Everyone else bailed. Because of the snow, I think. But I love rimming a Christmas tree."
"It reminds me of home and of all the happy times our family had over the holidays."
I'd always wished for a happy holiday experience. After my folks died in a car accident when I was six—I had no other living relatives—I grew up in series of foster homes where money and love were sometimes scarce, Christmas trees sometimes nonexistent. "Need help?" I asked.
"What about your paperwork?"
"It can wait. Let's start with the star."
At six-two, I had no trouble stretching and reaching the top of the tree to set the star in place. "What's next?"
Heather looked at me curiously, as if my not knowing the next tree-trimming step was strange, but a warm light sparkled in her eyes; and, I swear, my heart quivered.
We worked on stringing the lights, then started hanging the many colored ornaments. All the while, we swapped details about ourselves. We were both thirty, never married, not even dating. She grew up with three sisters and three brothers and learned the value of hard work and cooperation.
I told her my story about the foster homes. "And after I graduated high school," I said, "and was lucky enough to get grants and a scholarship, I decided I was going to make a good life for myself—a meaningful life with everything I ever wanted."
"Like a family?" she asked.
That question, shot at me point-blank, startled me. Since I'd never been part of a real family and had never known close, loving ties, I tended to shy away from relationships that might lead me in that direction. "Um...I have a new car," I said.  "I'm on my way to owning a great house. I have a boat and motor."
She nodded silently. I'm sure she realized, like I did, that I'd mentioned only material things. But she said simply, "Next comes the tinsel—I'm old fashioned, I love tinsel."
Strand by strand, we meticulously hung tinsel, tinsel, tinsel on every branch. All the while, she softly hummed Christmas carols—"Silent Night," "Jingle Bells," "Little Town of Bethlehem"—and my heart begin filling with a warmth I'd never experienced before.
When we finished with the tinsel, I helped her wrap a cottony skirt that looked like newly fallen snow around the tree stand. Then we sat on the floor in front of the tree, our arms looped around our knees, like kids, and admired our work. The glittering, pine-scented tree, her nearness and warmth—everything thrilled me.
 "Tomorrow morning," she said, "I'm coming in to lay out the manger scene underneath the tree. I just bought it. It's at home."
I didn't think twice. "Need more help?"
She smiled.  "I'd like that."
"Maybe breakfast first? Pancake House?"
"I like that, too." She leaned back on her hands and gazed at the ceiling, her eyes darting around.
"What are you looking for?"
"Where should we hang the mistletoe?" she asked. "Over your desk?"
Both of us smiling now, we playfully bumped shoulders.
"I dare you," I said. Then I laughed and felt, well, merry. Very merry. Like this might be the happiest, merriest Christmas of my life.
The End
Welcome to reality! Contemporary YA fiction that'll rock your heart. Don't wait! Visit: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=jon+ripslinger