Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year's Eve Kiss

 "I'd like to kiss you at midnight," a handsome man with incredible brown eyes said.  He peered at his watch. "Not a lot of time left. Half hour."
As I glanced up at him from my table in the Starlight Ballroom, a wide smile curved his lips. Ordinarily, I'd be alarmed at such a request coming from a stranger, no matter how handsome. But this was New Year's Eve. Party time—music and dancing, laughing and kissing.
But tonight my date had walked out on me. "Just spotted an incredible long-lost friend," my date had said, dropping a fifty-dollar bill on the table. "For drinks and cab fare. I don't think I'll be back."
And with that I was left sitting alone at a table, red-faced, humiliated, and angry. Maybe a midnight kiss from a stranger is what I needed—a boost to my damaged ego. But I didn't feel like staying at this party—a thirty-year-old woman by herself. And I certainly didn't feel like kissing a stranger.
"I don't think there's a kiss in our future," I said.
"May I sit down?" the man asked, his voice soft and warm. "Please? Looks like your drink needs freshening."
"You may sit," I said. "But I'm leaving." I brushed the fifty-dollar bill toward him. "If a waiter comes by, tell him that's his tip."
The handsome man pulled out the chair across from me where my date—Eddie—had sat five minutes ago. Easing himself into the chair, the stranger picked up my glass, studied it, then sniffed. His left eyebrow cocked. "It's not wine. Not champagne."
"Ginger ale with a twist of lemon," I said, and shoved my chair back, ready to stand. "I'm a teetotaler."
"I saw what happened."
I blinked. "What happened?"
"The man you were with—I saw both of you talking furiously. Arguing maybe. And then he got up and left."
My eyes dipped. Heat flooded my face. I lifted my gaze and studied his handsome face. Soulful eyes, dark-brown hair cut just a little long, square-jawed—a man like this shouldn't be running loose tonight. He must have a girlfriend or a wife here somewhere. "Do I look so alone and out of place," I asked, "that you're offering me a charity kiss?"
"Your boyfriend," he said calmly, "just left with my date. I watched them go out the door."
I froze. For a second, I couldn't hear the music in the background or the laughter and chatter. I lifted my chin and said, "He's not my boyfriend. I met him three weeks ago. Blind date. This is the second time we'd gone out."
The handsome man shrugged. "I'm sorry. Would you like to dance while I explain what I know?"
When he gently took me into his arms on the dance floor, my heart triple-timed; I forgot about being humiliated and embarrassed. At times the music was fast, sometimes bouncy. But we danced slowly. He said his name was Troy Hamilton. I told him mine—Jodi O'Donnell.
His date was a friend—Liza—who worked in his office; they sometimes escorted each other to parties and banquets so as not to feel awkward and alone. Turns out my date and his date knew each other from long ago in college. Later, they joined the Peace Corp together but became separated and eventually lost touch. Tonight they'd rediscovered each other in the ballroom. "I think they've been searching for one another for ages," Troy concluded.
"And they found each other tonight?"
"I know. Weird, huh? Life is sometimes stranger than fiction."
"Unbelievable."
I discovered Troy and I had more than our dates in common. Books. He was purchasing agent for our school system; I was a middle school reading specialist. I wanted to thank him profusely for not cutting library funds. But before I could say anything, the music stopped; someone started the traditional New Year's Eve countdown: "Ten, nine, eight..."
He looked down at me with those deep-brown eyes. Oh my gosh! Is he actually going to kiss me?
"...five, four, three..."
He drew me closer into his arms. His lips landed on mine, and my heart cartwheeled. "Happy New Year!" rang throughout the crowded ballroom. When we released each other, he said with a touch of shyness, "I hope I didn't offend you."
I swallowed. "New Year's Eve—everyone kisses somebody."
We ambled to our table and sat down. "Night's young," he said. "You still going to leave?" He offered another shy glance. "That wasn't a charity kiss. How about another ginger ale with a twist of lemon?"
For a moment, I didn't know what to say. His date, my date—his kiss—I couldn't believe any of it. I swallowed again. "I'd love a rum and Coke."
He smiled. "That's more like it."
I smiled back and handed him the fifty-dollar bill still on the table. "Let's really celebrate on Eddie and Liza."
The End
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Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Tree for Christmas



          I didn't know how I was going to get through the holiday season this year—I hadn't even looked for a tree.
My husband had died five years ago. I'd learned to deal with that, but my daughter, away at State University, suddenly seemed so independent she no longer needed me. Looking for a shoulder to cry on, I called my sister Celia a week before Christmas and told her my sob story: My daughter Ashley had called and said, if I didn't mind, she'd like to go home with a friend just until after Christmas Day.
Please, Mom! She'd spend all the rest of her holiday with me.A young man was involved. Someone "very special."
"Didn't you tell her," Celia wailed over the phone, "that she was leaving her forty-year-old mom high and dry?"
"I didn't want to ruin her plans—I remember being that age. Being in love."
"Tell you what," Celia said. "Why don't you help me this week?"
Celia spent a lot of time during the week before Christmas at the Children's Hospital, delivering little gifts she purchased during the year from a novelty store. She and her husband had lost their only child to leukemia. The boy had spent a long time in the hospital, and this was Celia's way of cheering up other youngsters who were ill. I told her I'd be delighted to help.
During that week, in the afternoon, Celia and I sported Santa hats—hers red, mine green—and delivered tons of little gifts that we each carried in a basket: Christmas pins—angels, Santas, reindeers, snowmen, snowballs. And candy canes tied with a red or green ribbon. Miniature cars, trucks, dolls, dogs, kittens.
Suddenly I felt my own spirits lifting because I was lifting someone else's.
On the third afternoon, just before getting ready to leave the hospital, I sat in the waiting room on the third floor waiting for Celia. She'd gone to the restroom.
While I browsed though a magazine, a tall man with sandy hair stepped into the waiting room. "Nice hat," he said, and smiled.
My heart did a little flip-flop, and my hand flew up to the green Santa hat I wore. I pulled it off. "I'm pretending to Mrs. Claus," I said. "Sort of..."
I felt myself blushing.
"I know. I saw you and your friend yesterday in the first-floor hallway, and today my son said you'd visited him. Room 2030."
I prayed the boy's illness wasn't serious. "His name...?"
"Danny. Danny Wilson," the man said. "He's ten. He has mono—pretty serious—but he's recovering. Though I don't know if he'll make it home for Christmas. It'll be a pretty lonely house without him."
"I know what you mean. My daughter is gone."
The man looked stricken. "I'm so sorry..."
"Off to college," I said quickly, waving a hand. "Not like you were thinking..."
Just then Celia appeared. She smiled at the tall man and they both said hello. I rose and told him I hoped his boy got better soon. As Celia and I left the hospital to get our cars in the parking lot, she told me she knew the man—Patrick Wilson. His family and he had once lived down the street from her. He was a widower. His wife, in her late thirties, had died during childbirth. "He's handsome," she added, pointedly. "Don't you think?"
I wanted to tell her I hadn't noticed. But I opted for the truth. "Very handsome."
I met Patrick again the next day, accidentally. We were both climbing out of our cars in the hospital parking lot, all bundled up because of the cold and snow.
"Where's your buddy?" he said, puffing out a frosty breath.
"Probably waiting for me in the lobby."
"We haven't been officially introduced—I'm Patrick Wilson."
"Ellen Thompson."
"It's a wonderful thing you're doing, Ellen, cheering these kids up during the holidays."
"Thanks. I'm having a lot of fun."
"Watch out!" He gripped my elbow, guiding me around a patch of ice hidden under the light snow that was falling. His touch sent my heart flip-flopping again.
"I'll find out today for sure if Tommy will be home for Christmas—I've got to get a tree tonight. I've been so busy—I manage a furniture store in the mall, and sales are booming."
"I don't have a tree either. Tying it onto the roof of the car, lugging it into the house, getting it balanced in a stand—my daughter always helped me with that."
"Your husband....?"
"I'm a widow. Five years now."
"I'm sorry."
"I'm getting along fine," I said.
Inside the hospital lobby, where I met Celia, Patrick and I parted. But before he stepped onto an elevator, he smiled and waved at both of us.
"I think he likes you," Celia said.
"Don't be silly." But I wondered if it could be true.
After Celia and I finished our rounds, emptying our baskets, we headed for the hospital doors. We both spotted Patrick sitting in a chair in the lobby as if he were waiting for someone.
"He's waiting for you," Celia whispered.
"He is not!" I hissed.
"Why do you think he's sitting there?" She tugged the empty basket from my grasp. "I'm going home. Talk to him." With that she gave me a nudge in the back.
When I approached Patrick, he stood up looking so uncertain I thought something might have happened to Tommy. But he said, "Tommy will be home for Christmas—and I wondered...well, I wondered if we could look for trees together."
I blinked. I was so surprised I couldn't talk for a second.
"I'll help with the lugging and all," he said. "Even the balancing."
I tried to breathe evenly but couldn't. "I'd love to look for a tree."
He smiled at me again. "Nice hat."
But this time I left the green Santa hat perched atop my head. The hat, it seemed to me, echoed the warm holiday spirit I felt bubbling inside myself.

The End
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