Flash-fiction: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

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I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know
It’s a long road back
I promise you

 “Hi, sweetie. I’m checked into the hotel, and I’ve got The Nutcracker on the television. I’m sorry we couldn’t see it together, but I know you’re having a great time at the ballet with Grandpa. I miss you, sweetheart, and I love you.”

The voicemail system wouldn’t leave her leave a message that was any longer. It was the 20th of December, and instead of being home with her daughter, putting up their apartment-sized tree and watching cheesy Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel, Rose was in yet another hotel room, in yet another city, preparing for yet another sales presentation in the morning.

Being a single mother was tough enough when she was home full time, but with her recent promotion, Rose was on the road nearly two weeks of every four. It was only temporary, of course. A new sales rep was coming on board after the holidays.

Until then, there would be four more nights of hotel sheets and hotel shampoo and hotel food, and the knowledge that she was missing all the holiday traditions she and her seven-year-old daughter had established in their life together.

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree

“Hi, honey. I’m sorry I missed you. I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel listening to a man play Christmas songs on the piano, and sipping peppermint hot chocolate. Grandpa promised to record your choir concert tonight – did you get the flowers I sent? Did you like the chocolates? – We can watch the video of your show when I get home, okay? I love you.”

It had to be the Peterson account that made her late for her evening call with her daughter. They were one of the oldest clients her company had, but they demanded special care. Sure, they’d provided a lovely meal, but the filet mignon had tasted like sand, especially when they were eating it in a restaurant decorated with a chocolate Christmas village. (She snapped a picture with her phone to show Daisy.)

“Is this seat taken?”

Rose looked up to see a man about her age, maybe a little older. Brown hair with a touch of gray at the temples, expensive suit with a whimsical Christmas-themed tie (Peanuts? Really?) and brown eyes that twinkled pleasantly. Any other night, she’d have said no.

“How can I say no to a man who’s willing to wear that tie in public?” she said, by way of an answer. “I’m Rose.”

“Michael,” he said, trading his name for hers. He settled into the seat across from her, adding, “My son picked out the tie.”

“You have a son?”

“Charlie; he’s eight.” His expression grew slightly sheepish. “I have to confess: I overheard you leave that message, and thought another parent would be a safe person to share a table with.”

Rose softened toward him. “I was trying to reach my daughter, Daisy. She’s seven. Her school’s winter concert is tonight, but my meeting ran late, and then there was dinner and…” she trailed off. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “I wish I were home with Charlie, probably about as much as you want to be home with your daughter. I had to leave him with my sister.”

“You’re divorced?” It was a safe bet. Single fathers always went for the silly child-provided ties.

“Widowed,” he answered softly. “My wife died last January. This is our first Christmas without her.”

“I’m so sorry,” Rose said. “That can’t be easy.”

Michael shook his head. “We’ll manage. We have to. What about you? You mentioned a grandfather…”

“Divorced. Daisy’s father and I dated in high college, got married too young, and ended things when she was one. He’s a good father, but he’s active duty army. Deployed.”

“Wow. Do you… is he safe?”

“I hope so,” Rose said. “He usually manages to get time on the satellite phone on Sundays, but this Sunday is Christmas, so…” She paused, and sipped from her drink. It was peppermint hot chocolate, as she’d told Daisy in her voice message, but the mint came from a healthy shot of peppermint schnapps. “I’m sorry; I don’t usually talk this much to total strangers.”

“We single parents have to stick together,” Michael said. “Don’t apologize.” He stared at her cup. “What are you drinking?” She told him, and he grinned and flagged down the server. “I’ll have what she’s having… and a plate of those butter cookies.”

It was a pleasant hour or so, Rose reflected later, sipping the beverage that warmed her in more ways than one, and sharing the lightly-lemon flavored half-moon cookies with her new… friend? Acquaintance? It didn’t really matter. She likely wouldn’t see him again.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

“Hi, Daisy. I’m at the airport but there’s snow here in Chicago, and my flight is delayed. I know tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, and I promise I’ll be home in time for pancakes and seeing Santa at the firehouse. Remind Grandpa to ask Anna to have your red velvet dress ready for tomorrow night.  I love you.”

The weather had caused the delay or outright cancellation of so many flights, but Rose had gotten lucky. She was flying away from the storm, not into it, and even though her original flight had been scratched, they’d found a seat for her on the ten p.m. to Denver. She wasn’t thrilled about having to drive the hour-plus home after midnight, but at least she’d make it home for the holiday.

And they’d bumped her to first class for her trouble.

Settling into her seat, Rose accepted the offer of a single glass of red wine, and arranged her neck pillow so she could look out the window and still be comfortable.

They were about to close the aircraft door when there was a flurry of activity and a brown-haired man appeared in the aisle. For a moment, she wasn’t entirely certain he was her companion from the other night, but then his tie – Calvin and Hobbes this time – swung free, and she smiled.

“Rose,” he greeted. “We meet again. Is Denver home for you?”

“Michael,” she responded. She sipped her wine before sharing, “I live about an hour away from the airport, in the mountains. Georgetown.”

“Oh, I know it well. Quintessentially cute, tucked in at the bottom of the switchbacks before Guanella Pass.”

“Okay, no one knows that…”

“They do if they live in Silver Plume.”

She couldn’t help it; she goggled at him. “Silver Plume kids go to school in Georgetown.”

“They do.”

“So if either of us were ever home…”

“We’d probably have met at parents’ night. I’m loving the irony.”

The plane had pushed back from the gate while they were chatting, but Rose barely noticed. What would have been one more excruciating flight had become a pleasant interlude in a month of disappointments and frustrations.

They chatted amiably from take-off to landing, parting ways in the parking garage, though Michael had insisted upon walking Rose to her car before going to find his own.

Inside her vehicle, Rose texted her father an update on her status while she waited for the engine to warm up. She’d forgotten to ask for Michael’s last name, but she could always ask Daisy about a boy named Charlie, one grade ahead of her.

Or not.

She saw him stowing his suitcases – like hers, one was full of presents for a waiting child – in the trunk of his car as she drove through the nearly-empty parking structure toward the exit. Impulsively, she pulled over and rolled down the window. “Hey, Silver Plume!”

“Georgetown!” he grinned at her. “We’re not using first names anymore? If you call me ‘Colorado’ does that mean we’re breaking up?”

She laughed. “Tomorrow morning, nine-thirty, the Happy Cooker. Daisy and I do ritual gingerbread pancakes and then see Santa iat the fire station down on Main. You and Charlie should join us.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!” She hesitated. “Make sure  he chooses a really good tie.”

They exchanged numbers, just in case, and then Rose put her car back in gear and headed home. The Christmas lights on their vintage Queen Anne-style home were switched on, waiting to welcome her back, and she smiled as she wheeled her luggage up the stairs.

Inside, her father was sitting at the kitchen table working a crossword puzzle. “Hey, traveler,” he greeted, rising to enfold her into a flannel-clad hug.

“Dad. You didn’t have to wait up.”

“Now, you know that’s not true.”

“Okay,” she said. “Would you mind heating up some water for tea? I want to peek in on Daisy.”

“She was out like a light, last I checked.”

Rose smiled, but she climbed up the stairs anyway, and kept her footsteps as quiet as possible as she moved down the hall to the end room where her daughter slept. The door was cracked open, as usual, but she pushed it wider so she could see her child’s still form.

She’d kicked the covers off again.

Rose moved into Daisy’s room and settled the sheets and blankets back over the little girl’s shoulders. Then she placed a gentle kiss on her daughter’s forehead.

The child stirred in her sleep. “Mom?”

“Yes, Daisy. It’s Mom. I’m home.”

“Good. Love you.” And she was asleep again, just like that.

“Love you too, sweetie,” Rose whispered. She retreated to the doorway where she remained, watching her sleeping child, until she heard the low whistle of the tea kettle.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

 

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, based on a poem by Buck Ram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Flash-fiction: I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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