The holidays are upon us, and strangely, during this hectic time of year I am more likely to want to write, even as I have less time to do it.
So, along with my sister-writers Lily Java, Jacinta Howard and Rae Lamar, I’ll be writing short pieces to celebrate the season. Mine will be available here on my blog, and on Facebook. And, like last year, the pieces may introduce you to new characters that you’ll hopefully get to know in 2018, and perhaps even some updates on old favorites.
I hope you enjoy. And Happy Holidays!
Funny Seeing You
Damon hoped it wasn’t her. But the way the woman turned, the lean of her head, the slightly buoyant gait, as if she was walking on the balls of her feet, and he knew.
It was Noelle.
Of all the people, and of all the times of year …
He made to turn away, and head in the opposite direction, but wasn’t quick enough. At that exact moment, she glanced back, over her right shoulder and caught sight of him. For a moment, the smile on her face—clearly intended for the man standing next to her—froze, and slipped a little. Then, she refreshed it, smiling again and lifting a hand in a graceful flutter, to offer him a wave.
In the near distance, there was the rhythmic sound of a bell—the Salvation Army asking for donations just outside the doors—and overlaying that, the determined cheerfulness of the piped in Christmas music.
Damon waved back, and tried to smile. He saw in her eyes that Noelle was weighing whether to come over. And he saw a little resignation in them, as she relented, and decided that she supposed she would have to. After all, he was the man she was once engaged to marry.
So … this was it. The moment he knew would come, when he would run into her out in the world; and see her smiling, looking happy again, and getting on with her life without him. He had imagined he would feel something. But not this.
As Noelle crossed the crowded store, dodging the people in her path, he saw the changes. The shorter hair—formerly past her shoulders, now cut just below her ears—and her slightly fuller, curvier frame though her face, interestingly, looked more angular, and her jaw and chin more defined.
The closer she got, the more Damon’s heartbeat sped up.
She stopped when she was directly in front of him. Then they had one of those awkward moments where one person leans in, then slightly away, while the other leans in … neither of them sure how intimate a greeting was warranted.
“Elle,” he said. His voice was slightly hoarse. He hoped she didn’t detect as much, and that the din in the crowded store had covered his nervousness.
“How are you?” She asked, like she really did want to know.
They finally navigated a brief kiss on the cheek. She smelled the way she always did—fresh, and brand new. A million memories rushed through his mind all in an instant.
Elle standing in front of him in line at the movies, then turning to ask him a question, her ponytail swishing, and brushing his chin, the summery scent of it, surrounding him for a nanosecond.
Elle straddling him on a Saturday morning, leaning forward, kissing his neck, and urging him to “get up, wake up, get out of bed,” so they could “play.”
And Elle when it ended, turning away from him abruptly, her long hair fanning in an arc, as she hid her face, so he wouldn’t see the tears.
But she was smiling now, even as her companion, the stocky brother in the tweed jacket (what the hell was Noelle doing with a brother wore tweed?) waited a respectful distance away, containing his impatience.
“I’m good,” Damon lied. “You?”
“Excellent,” she said. And she sounded like she meant it. “You remember, this is my favorite time of year.”
Remember? How could he forget. It was one of the first things she told him about herself when they met. Her name, Noelle, was because she was born on Christmas Day.
‘Other kids might have felt like they got shafted,’ she’d told him. ‘But I was a late-in-life baby, and the only one. My parents celebrated my birthday all month in December. And Christmas Day? They made it … magical.’
Damon—who was accustomed to professional, polished, and much harder women—didn’t even know what to make of someone so guileless, that they’d start gushing about their ‘magical’ childhood when clearly, he was just trying to get into her panties.
“Yeah,” he said now. “Of course, I remember.”
“You look good, Damon.” She looked him over, up and down. And smiled again.
“You do, too.” He glanced over her shoulder, in the direction of the man waiting for her. “So, who …?”
“Michael,” she said. “His name is Michael.”
“Is he …?”
Elle’s smile faltered a little, and she gave a little shake of the head as if to say, ‘no, please, let’s not.’
“I have so much more shopping to do,” she said, talking over the rest of his question. “And if I don’t do it all this weekend, I’ll give up in defeat. I avoided all that Black Friday madness, but it’s still so crazy out here. But you know my family …” She rolled her eyes.
Christmas was a big deal in the Cooper family. Huge, in fact. Though she was an only child there were cousins aplenty, so the big day was quite the event. Church, first thing, then a huge breakfast awaiting their return. Following that, everyone would retreat to bedrooms for naps (though he and Noelle found other, more enjoyable ways to use that time); and when they woke, coffee, gift exchange, and finally a large dinner later in the evening during which they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Noelle.
She was never far from Damon’s side the entire time, exchanging looks and smiles with him, because like she’d told him, it was “all so corny, and all so amazing at the same time”.
Damon wondered if ‘Michael’ would be taking his place this year. Sitting in Mr. and Mrs. Cooper’s living room, surrounded by the smells of cinnamon, and pine, baking hams, and roasting turkey. Children squealing, adults laughing, and Noelle’s hand resting lightly on the back of his neck.
It had only been six months … He didn’t want to ask. He didn’t want to hear her say that, yes, Michael would be there.
“Elle,” he said. He put a hand on her arm and she withdrew it. Her withdrawal, strangely, gave him the confidence to go on. It meant she wasn’t as unaffected as she seemed. “Elle, I’d love to … If we could talk, I think …”
“Damon,” she said, sounding almost sad. “It’s …” She shook her head.
Too late. That’s what he knew she meant. Those were the words unsaid. But he didn’t believe it. The lie of those words, was in her eyes.
Before he could say anything more, Michael had approached and was standing just behind Noelle. He put a hand at her elbow.
“Hey,” he said to her, not looking at Damon. “We should probably get a move on. We have that thing, so …”
“Yes. Right. Of course,” Elle said briskly.
Damon watched as Michael’s hand slid easily down Elle’s arm, and his fingers wrapped around hers. She accepted the hold easily, like she had done so many times before. Michael took a step away and Elle turned a little, her body oriented toward Michael, but still looking at Damon.
“Happy Holidays, Damon,” she said, with a sad smile. “It was so … funny seeing you.”
Yeah, Damon thought ruefully as she walked away. Funny seeing you, too.