As soon as the toboggan halted, the front door swung wide
and out bounded an elder woman, her hair as white as the snow;
but it was the smile that warmed her the most
for it reminded her of a mother she once had.
“Land sakes, Micah! Get that child inside before she freezes!” The woman said.
“Yes, Ma’am” He replied with a grin.
In moments, she found herself in a plush sofa before the roaring fire
and a bowl of hot soup in hand.
“You must be exhausted, child.” Mrs. Claus said as she sat beside her.
Her mouth full of broth and vegetables, she only nodded.
“We’ll have you in a cozy bed in a jiffy. It’s Christmas Eve you know. All the children must be asleep before he can arrive!” Her grey eyes sparkled.
She swallowed before asking, “there are other kids here?”
The woman’s smile softened as she reached out to push a stray strand of hair from the girl’s cheek, “Oh, yes! And you will be meeting them all tomorrow.”
“Everything’s all set, ma’am.” Micah’s voice drifted from somewhere.
“Thank you, Micah. I’m sure Nick will be by tomorrow to see you.”
“I look forward to it. Good night, and Merry Christmas ladies.”
She turned around in time to see the door to the outside closing.
He was gone, and suddenly she felt sad.
“Don’t you worry, child. You will see him again soon.”
As promised, the woman had her tucked in a large fluffy bed a short time later.
“Drink up this hot cocoa, dearie. It will help you sleep.” Mrs. Claus handed her a tea-cup sized mug which she downed in one gulp.
“I don’t like to sleep.” She said as she laid her head on the pillow. “Bad dreams.”
The woman caressed her forehead. “You will have no such dreams tonight.”
True to her words, the first thing she saw once her eyes closed were flying reindeer with Micah leading them.
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The four-some now seated in chairs around the large oval oak table as the waiter retrieves the menus.
“I will get your orders in.” And the short black man walks away.
Julie’s brown eyes carefully study the faces around the table as she slowly sips at her wine. “So, Brad,” and turns them solely to the man sitting to her right, “What on earth have you been up to since I last saw you?”
Brad grins as he leans back. “Nothing exciting. Just work.”
“Marketing, huh?” She purses her lips, “For whom?”
“Altvision Communications.” He replies as he bit into a breadstick.
“Wow, one of the four media giants.” Her smile widen as she fingers her glass. “You must be one of the lowly assistants working his way up the career rung by now.”
He chuckles, “Hardly. Try the Director of the Marketing Department.”
“Di-rec-tor…my heavens, that’s a far cry from being a lab rat with Dalton Co-Op.”
“A lab rat?” Eddie’s hazel-green eyes sparkle as he stares at Brad across the table.
Brad lets out a laugh, “That’s Julie’s way of calling any desk clerk who worked for Dalton back in the day.”
“They were directly responsible for polluting all the lakes upstate which cost taxpayers well over a billion dollars.”
“And you don’t feel the least bit guilty for forcing them out of business and driving hundreds of people out of work?” Brad asks, the smile now gone.
“What they were doing was criminal, and it was my job to expose them.” Julie’s eyes now slits.
“Yeah, well, the timing couldn’t have been worse.” Brad grabs another breadstick. “You could have at least waited until after Christmas to break the story.”
“Are you a reporter?” Eddie’s interest now piqued as he focuses on the curly red head between Brad and Laura.
Julie shrugs, “Yeah, a crime beat reporter,” and takes another sip of the red wine.
“You don’t sound very enthused.” He says.
“It’s a job.”
“Don’t let her fool you, Ed.” Brad points a half-eaten breadstick at his friend. “Journalism’s in her blood just like her father, and her grandfather.”
“I see.” Eddie drinks from a bottle of beer. “A generational legacy that you don’t seem to relish much of.”
“It comes natural, and it made sense at the time.” She says.
“Writing comes natural to Julie all right. Did you know she’s also a published author?” Laura smiles at Julie who frowns back.
“Oh, really?” Brad says, “What do you write?”
“Guilty pleasure. Let’s not make a big deal out of it.” Julie replies.
“She writes horror.” Laura answers for her friend.
“A crime beat reporter slash horror writer. Wow, never saw that one coming.” Brad sneers.
“Whatever.” Julie flicks her long hair off her shoulders and turns to face Eddie. “What of you? Let me guess, an international spy?” She asks in a leering tone.
“You’re not too far off the mark.” Eddie replies. “I’m a freelance Threat Analyst.”
“What the heck is that?” Julie’s nose crinkles at him.
“Mainly I hunt the web for any malicious activities, and put a stop to them.”
“That sounds–interesting I suppose.” Julie says.
It was Eddie’s turn to laugh as he drinks more of the beer. “Oh, it can get very interesting.”
“What about you, Laura?” Brad asks.
Laura leans forward as she studies the flickering candle at the table’s center which casts shadows across her fair face. “I’m currently doing my Forensic Pathology Residency at North Peak’s Regional Medical Center.”
“Fascinating. We have a budding doctor with us.” Brad smiles at her.
“You did it.” Eddie says. “You’ve accomplished one of your dreams.” His warm smile causes Laura’s cheeks to color.
“It’s still a work in progress, but yeah, I’m getting there.” She returns his smile.
His expression then grows more somber. “I’m sorry I haven’t kept in touch. I never meant to leave like that.”
Laura shrugs, “You had a family emergency that required you to leave the country. Besides, it was for the best. For us, anyway.”
Eddie nods. “You’ve always been so understanding, Laurie. You deserve someone to be equally so.” His accent now more pronounced.
“Oh my, here’s our dinner!” Julie blurts out as the waiter came to their table with a tray full of food. “I’m starving!”
End of Chapter Two
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Fluffy white flakes drift from the sky on to the urban landscape below. Mazes of paved and cemented pathways spread across the city like a grid, nearly all are inhabited by flickering white and red lights. While the heavens fill with solemn hushes, the earth brims with noise and movements among the living and their worldly gadgets and possessions.
On a particular street level, two women walk briskly, huddled deep in their coats and scarves. White mists emanating from their faces as they huffed.
“I can’t believe you talked me into going out tonight!” The shorter woman says.
“Nonsense, Laura.” replies the other. “You work too much. Besides, I haven’t seen Brad in years. I’m curious to see how rich and successful he became.”
“Really, Julie, you’re just too shallow.” Laura scoffs. “There are more to men than sex and money.”
“Don’t forget power.” Julie raises a hand covered in a black leather glove.
“You’re one to talk, dearie.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Laura smirks.
“Okay, how about Scott Mendler?” Red ringlets flickering across her cheeks.
“Him? The Pharmacist? Oh, c’mon! He didn’t know right from left!”
“Oh? Let’s try this one…Frank Aleman.”
“Computer repairman. Too boring.” Laura says.
“Kissed like a girl.”
Julie stops suddenly. “And you know this how?”
“Kidding!” Laura grabs her friend’s arm to prod her along once more. “I still don’t see your point.”
“My point is that you’re just as shallow as I am when it comes to men.” Julie says.
“Are you saying we’re hopeless?”
“Nah, just haven’t found the right ones.”
Laura shakes her head. “I’m starting to believe there’s no right one out there.”
“Perhaps we’ve been looking at the wrong ones.”
“Or perhaps I need to shorten my ‘qualities desired in an ideal mate’ list.” Laura frowns.
Julie suddenly stops. Again.
“Now what?” Laura asks.
Julie glances behind them. “Been having this feeling that someone’s following me all day.”
“Halloween’s long over.” Laura says.
“Yeah.” The red-head turns back around. “Probably just my imagination.”
“Comes with the territory for being a horror writer.” Laura replies.
“Well, that’s not all I do, honey.” She sneers.
“That’s even creepier.”
“Yeah, whatever, speak for yourself.” Julie pulls at her friend’s arm. “There it is. Let’s run…I’m freezing!”
The two women carefully jog across the icy road hopping from one section of tire-tread pattern on the ground to the next to keep from slipping. Once they reach the other side, they stood briefly at the wooden door with “Carroll’s Diner” etched in it.
And pushed it opened to enter inside.
Carroll’s Diner’s rustic interior immediately warmed up the women as they peer into the dining section for familiar faces.
“I think I see Brad at the bar.” Julie says as she immediately heads in that direction with Laura following close behind.
She quietly approaches a dark blonde-haired man and taps him on the shoulder which causes him to stir instantly.
“My god! Isn’t it jolly ol’ Julie!” His hazel eyes twinkling as he pulls her in to his arms for a bear hug.
“Easy there, Brad. You might break some ribs.” She giggles into his musky-smelling neck.
“Sorry, my bad.” And moves her to a more steady position, standing in front of him. He then notices a woman besides her. He blinks a few times before speaking. “Laura Hines?”
Laura smiles sheepishly. “Yeah, that’s me.”
Brad cocks his head slightly as he takes turns studying both women. “Friends?”
“Hard to believe, Bubba boy, but yep, we’re good friends now.” Julie smiles widely.
He shakes his head slowly and let out a low whistle. “I thought you two hated each other during college.”
“Old history.” Julie replies as she winks over at Laura. “It’s a long story.”
“I’ll drink to that!” He turns and picks up a shot glass and downs it in one gulp.
“Hey! Not so fast!” Julie pouts as she makes herself comfortable on a high stool. “I’ll have what he’s drinking.” She tells the bartender.
“Make that two.” Laura says as she sits on the other side of Julie.
Julie glances around Brad. “I thought there were two of you.”
He nods. “There is. He had a call but should be back any time.”
“Who’s back?” Comes a husky voice rich in accent.
The women both peer around Brad to see a gorgeous man taking his seat at the end of the counter. Golden brown skin. Dark black hair which even partially covers his face, but one could still spy the dimples in his cheeks when he smiles.
This time it would be Laura speaking first.
“Oh. My. God. Eddie?” Her voice rises several decibel.
“Hello, Laura.” His smile held as his deep hazel eyes meet her blue ones. “It’s been a long time.”
She shifts in her stool but never moving her gaze away from his face. “Yes.”
“Hello? Pheromone city!” Julie butts in effectively slicing the momentary connection. “You two know each other?”
Laura’s smile wavers as she fingers her glass that mysteriously appeared seconds earlier. “College.”
“History?” Julie whispers close to her ear.
Laura nods once.
“Well, I’m Julie Yourdon.” In her next move she turns to the dark hair man, and gives him her most alluring smile.
“Eduardo Santa Perez.” He bows his head to her. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“Pleasure’s all mine.” Julie mutters under her breath as she sips her liqueur.
End of Chapter One
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