A Christmas Void, Chapter 1- The Prologue

Once upon a time… isn’t that how all the classics go? Hmm.. that doesn’t quite fit with my story… A long time ago in a land far away… no, no, no! I mean, sure, for some people, my hometown is far away, especially if you’re reading this outside the country! And really, it wasn’t that long ago. Let’s see… how about ’twas the night before Christmas… Yes, I know. It’s yet another holiday story, one of hundreds already out there. It’s almost become cliché, and if you’re like me, you groaned a little because these things are so corny. Bear with me! I promise to keep the cheesiness to a minimum! My story needs to be told. Now, I just need to figure out how to begin…

It all began and ended in a small town in California called Dasher Lake. You probably never heard of it, so I’ll fill you in. When most people think of California, they think of the coast and big cities like LA or San Francisco. And people think the whole state is super high tech because of Silicon Valley. It’s all true… for the western region. California can get broken down to three regions actually. I already explained the west, no need to repeat it. Next is central California, which is basically a huge collection of farms sprinkled with some mid-size, industrial towns like Sacramento. Finally, there’s the eastern half, which is basically a bunch of small towns nestled between the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Dasher Lake is one of those small towns. So, my point of bringing all of this up is to give you a clear idea what I mean when I say I moved back to California. Don’t picture sunshine in a beachside city! I moved back to a sleepy little village after trying so desperately to leave!

Why was I so desperate to leave? Think of a cozy cabin nestled deep in the woods. Now, imagine a whole town of them. People gathered around the fireplaces at night, and in the day time, neighbors smiled at each other while they say their how-do-you-do’s. The people all live off of small mom and pop shops, and the place is virtually crime free. Yeah, it’s not like that! Not anymore anyways. The closer to the coast you got, the higher your rent got. Eventually a lot of people figured out that there’s more affordable housing inland, and the population increased dramatically. The town grew enough that big corporations deemed it lucrative enough to put their chain stores there, but this place ended up having more houses than jobs. A lot of people were unemployed or underemployed, and ambitious people tended to move to larger towns to find work. That’s why I left.

When I was in high school, I had it all planned out. I went to the local community college and got my bachelors degree in photography. I thought as soon as I graduated that a nationwide newspaper, prestigious magazine, or any elite company would want someone with my kind of dedication and talent. They didn’t see all that. All they saw was a low accredited school and a young girl with no professional experience. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from chasing my dreams, but something certainly did slow me down- rent. I loved my family, but my desire for independence was too strong to stay at my parents’ house. I rented a room from a lovely old lady in a mobile home and paid for it with what I earned from a minimum retail job. That job ended up going under, and I realized that if I wanted to avoid moving back in with my parents, I needed to look for work elsewhere. So, I came up with a new plan to get out of Dasher Lake.

Luckily for me, my childhood friend, Ruth, had the same problem, but her passion was fashion. I don’t mean to sound callous, I wasn’t happy that she was stressing out too! It was lucky because she was motivated to leave and she had a car. We drove almost two hours southwest to Sacramento. It wasn’t a huge city, but it was bigger than Dasher Lake for sure. The odds of us landing a more secure job was higher, and we were excited ab out finding a job in our field. We didn’t find a job in our field though, we ended up at a call center for a cable company called Strenia, which only existed in Utah. It wasn’t glamorous work, actually, it kind of sucked. Our title was customer service, but ninety percent of our calls were complaints. But, even though the work was cumbersome, we made enough to split an apartment. We were out of Dasher Lake, we were making it on our own, and we pursued our dreams on our days off, so life was good… for a couple of years.

We were enjoying chasing our passions, but soon Ruth found a new passion- her future ex-husband! They eloped at a local church and honeymooned in New York, where his family lived. While she was there, she applied for a paid internship at a major fashion label, and she got it! She moved to New York, and I worried about paying rent for our apartment in Sacramento. That’s when Strenia announced that they had expanded into Colorado and needed to hire a bunch of people to promote it. They offered me a job as a marketing assistant, which I accepted. Why not? I like to explore, and being in a new state would guarantee independence, so I decided to give it a shot. Big mistake!

At first, everything was great. People were excited to get a new choice in internet because until Strenia came along, they only had one option. Actually, in some of the smaller towns, Strenia was the first cable service ever! After one year, I got promoted to marketing manager! I didn’t make enough to afford my own place though, but I got amazing experience that I thought would help me in the future. My roommate and I had opposite schedules, so I hardly ever saw her and it felt like I had my own place. I didn’t have much of a personal life, but I finally got my independence! Sure, it wasn’t a career in photography, but it was a start. Or, at least, I thought it was…

After the second year, things started to go downhill. Apparently, Strenia didn’t deliver great service. The lines going into people’s houses were weaker than what the installers originally projected and told the call center. The billing department constantly screwed up people’s bills, and Strenia’s competitor really stepped up their game and became very comparable to what they offered. All of those things combined in such a way that Strenia’s sales went down lower and lower. I ended up getting my hours cut to keep the business afloat. My roommate got fired from her job, and after interacting with her more, I realized I lived with a psychopath! Like, I spilled some soda and missed a spot when I cleaned it up, and she texted me at work and threatened me with dire consequences if I didn’t clean up better! The final nail in the coffin for me came during a rare conversation with a pleasant customer. I mentioned my background in photography, and he asked, “Oh, you used to be a photographer?” Used to be? That really got to me, and I realized that I needed to find a new career.

Strenia didn’t pay me enough to pay rent anyways, so quitting made more sense anyways. I borrowed money from my parents and searched for work that would pay enough for me to afford to live with a non-psychotic roommate. Any day I didn’t have an interview, I would visit beautiful sites all around Colorado to build my photography portfolio. After another month, I still didn’t have another job. It turned out that Colorado’s economy didn’t any better than California’s did. Rent was due, and I thought about borrowing more money from my parents, but I didn’t want to keep depleting their funds just so I could survive in another state. Plus, with them supporting me financially, I didn’t feel like I had my independence anyways. If they were going to keep helping me out, I thought they deserved the benefit of my presence. It wasn’t easy to admit defeat and move back to my hometown, especially at my age! I wouldn’t give up on my dreams, but I didn’t have much of a choice than to start over at the beginning, right back where I started!

On the bright side, I didn’t have to live in my parents’ house again. My reclusive aunt Sabine passed away in a condo that she hadn’t really left since the eighties. She did keep in contact with us at least and knew my position, so, in her will, she gave me her condo! All I had to do was pay for the utilities, which took a lot of pressure off of me in terms of finding a job in this town. I didn’t have to find a high paying job to survive out there this time! I packed my things in a moving truck and flew to California feeling optimistic. After dealing with all of the drama from Strenia, even a crummy retail job seemed more appealing! I didn’t know how I’d fare in Dasher Lake this time around, but one thing I knew for sure- nothing would ever be the same again!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 20

Dressed in a business casual outfit, Stacy trotted towards the front door. Barbara and Frank were eating cereal in the living room, and Frank inquired, “Where are you off to so early?”

“Another interview,” Stacy replied. “This one is at a record store, so I’m really hoping I do well on this one!”

Just then, the phone rang, but they all ignored it. Barbara chimed, “Good luck!”

Before Stacy could reply back, Hadeon’s voice rang out on the answering machine, “Stacy, pick up! We need to talk!” Stacy strolled over to the phone, picked up the receiver, and immediately hung up. She deleted the message and complained, “I’m getting tired of getting his calls!”

“You should tell him that he’s not allowed to contact you, just your lawyer,” Barbara suggested.

“I did, and he won’t stop!” Stacy exasperated.

“We’ll take care of it later,” Frank assured her. “Don’t let him make you late for your interview!”

“You’re right! Bye!” Stacy waved good-bye and left.

After the interview, Stacy dejectedly walked by the downtown park. She saw the bench with Charlie’s memorial on it, and all of the memories of Nick came rushing back. She sat down and caressed the placard. She whispered, “You knew him better than anyone, will he ever forgive me?” She stared at it as if it would give an answer, but she only heard silence. She tried hard to move on, but she missed him immensely! Suddenly, a rock band began to play, and it took her back to the day they met. Tears began to roll down her cheeks, and she ran away from that spot.

When she got home, she still felt pretty melancholy. Both of her parents had left for work, which didn’t bother her because she didn’t want them to know she was still hurting. As she picked up the mail off the floor, she considered having a drink to raise her spirits a bit. She sifted through the mail as she walked towards the table with the answering machine on it. She saw a blinking light indicating that they had a new message, and she sincerely hoped it wasn’t her ex-husband. When she pushed play, to her great dismay, Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy, listen, I’m in-!” She pushed delete and returned her attention to the mail.

She came across a letter that practically made her heart stop- it came from the recording studio in Nashville that she remembered from when she worked with her husband’s firm! She wished that when she opened it that she would see an invitation for an interview, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up. To her delight, the man who ran the company told her that he enjoyed collaborating with her a lot but Hadeon, not so much. She read that he was thrilled to have an excuse to dump him and intended to hire her as the their new marketing executive! She didn’t even need an interview, he already liked her! It took a long time for it to sink in; not only did she get a job, but she got her dream job! When it finally did hit her, she screamed from excitement!

She had to reread it to make sure she got the facts absolutely right, and after she confirmed it to herself, she noticed there was more said after the offer. He had a request, and she frowned trying to figure out how she would do it. As she mulled it over, she noticed the calendar, and once she saw what day it was, she knew exactly what to do. She put the envelope and letter in her purse and ran out of the house.

Stacy somewhat nervously opened the door, and when she didn’t see anyone backstage. She heard some kids talking on stage, so she knew he must have been around there somewhere. She had no idea where, but she saw his truck outside, so she knew for sure he was there somewhere. As she navigated her way around props and equipment, she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder. She thought it had to be him and turned around eagerly. When she saw who it really was, her face went pale as if she had seen a ghost! “Hadeon!”

Hadeon tightened his grip on her shoulder. “No escaping me now! We have to talk!”

Stacy freed herself from his grip and growled, “We have nothing to talk about! I told you, it’s over!”

“We’ll get to that in a minute,” Hadeon responded coldly. “You stole my client!”

“Oh!” It never occurred to her that Hadeon would talk to her about business, but nevertheless, she didn’t let him intimidate her. “He wasn’t happy with you! Besides, I haven’t even told him I accepted the job! Obviously, he meant to dump you whether I took the position or not!”

“You had no right to take my client!” Hadeon shrieked. Some kids that came backstage all stopped what they were doing and stared. “Let’s do this outside.”

“No!” Stacy refused. “I’m not going anywhere with you! You’re not even supposed to be talking to me! If you have something to say, call my lawyer!”

“I didn’t come all this way to talk to a lawyer!” Hadeon grabbed her arm and began to drag her out.

“Stop it!” Stacy shouted while trying to free herself. “You’re hurting me!”

Hadeon ignored her, but well before he could reach the door, someone punched him! When he hit the floor, Stacy saw it was Nick! She felt a spark of joy at his presence, but she saw the hardened look on his face, and as Hadeon stirred and tried to get up, she could tell Nick was ready to attack him again. She put herself in front of Nick’s path and told him, “Don’t! He’s not worth it!”

Anger still bubbled beneath the surface, but Nick acquiesced. At that moment, Frank and another police officer burst into the room. Frank gazed at Hadeon crumpled on the floor and Nick’s infuriated expression, and he declared, “Obviously, this was self defense.” Hadeon groaned knowing that arguing would pointless. Frank and the other police officer picked him up, and while the femal officer cuffed him, Frank confronted Hadeon in an almost euphoric manner, “When we got the BOLO, I was hoping I’d get to be the one to catch you! Hadeon Bancroft, you’re under arrest!”

“For what?” Hadeon sneered. “For hitting her? That’s fine, I can afford the bail!”

The police woman informed him, “Actually, you’re wanted under federal charges.”

“Why?” Hadeon sharply reacted.

“Tax fraud,” Janet revealed. Stacy ogled at her incredulously, and she shrugged. “It was just a hunch.” She turned to Hadeon and educated him, “You’ll be in prison for quite a while, buddy! And since you’re still married, your wife will take custody of all of your assets, including your apartment and your business!”

Hadeon’s face fell completely, and Stacy smirked very pronouncedly. Hadeon pleaded, “No! Not my business! Please, anything but my business!”

Stacy stepped towards him, handed her arms, and gave him an icy look. “Sign the divorce papers with contest, and then I’ll sign over all my rights to your business.”

“Done!” Hadeon promised. Frank read him his Miranda rights as he and the other officer carried him out. He tried to look back but he couldn’t. Stacy watched him leave, and it slowly dawned on her that it was over, Hadeon was out of her life forever!

Stacy turned to Janet and gave her a hug. “Thank you so much! I can’t believe you were willing to help me after…”

Janet didn’t need to hear the end of her sentence to know what she meant. “It was the right thing to do.”

Stacy felt elated at her luck! Her abusive husband would finally give her the divorce she longed for, and she had the job of her dreams now! The only thing that made her heart sing was… She turned to Nick, who watched them sheepishly. She longed for him to come with her, but she figured that was a long shot. Still, she had to talk to him before she called her new boss to accept the job. She requested to Janet, “Look, I know you’re here to see Nick, and I wish you all the happiness in the world, but can you let me say good-bye?”

Janet agreed by nodding, and Stacy gingerly went up to Nick. She forgot how beautiful his eyes were, and he looked so handsome in the outfit he chose for the performance! All Stacy wanted to was leap into his arms, and that really made this process so much more difficult! “I got a job at a record company in Nashville. In my cover letter, I talked about a success I had in developing a talented musician in Makawee. He said he’s interested in auditioning you.” She reached into her purse and pulled out her new work’s business card. Stacy started tearing up, but she went on, “I really do think you’re a talent musician, and now you have a chance to become famous! At the very least, it’s a little money in your pocket. I hope that makes up for what I did! I also hope you can forgive me enough to give it a chance!”

Stacy couldn’t bear to look at him anymore and hung her head. She was about to leave when he gently picked up her chin so that they made eye contact again. He seemed at a loss for words, but she could tell he had a lot of gratitude for her. He finally murmured, “Thank you!”

Stacy smiled knowing he didn’t harbor ill feelings for her anymore, but she saw Janet waiting, and it broke her heart. “Well, have a good life!”

Before she could get far, Janet called out, “Wait!” Stacy wondered what else she could possibly want to tell her, but she guessed it probably was some kind of thank-you for getting him work. To her surprise, she turned to Nick and announced, “I’m breaking up with you!”

“What?” Nick and Stacy said in unison.

“Why?” Nick asked her.

Janet answered, “Because we’ve been together for over seven years, and you’ve never once looked at me like that!”

“Janet, are you sure?” Nick apparently needed verification of her sentiment.

She confirmed, “I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life knowing your heart belongs to someone else! Besides, I want someone to look at me like that! You have the chance to live the exciting life of a rock star, and I have the chance to find someone who wants a boring life in Makawee! You don’t want that, trust me, it’s okay!”

Nick hugged her gratefully. “I’ll have all of my rock star friends do their taxes with you!”

“You better!” Janet somberly laughed. “Bye, Nick!”

Nick and Stacy watched her leave, and suddenly, they knew they were alone together. They looked at each other knowing all of the ties that held them back from being together were now gone, and it took a while for that to absorb. Stacy saw a look of longing on his face, and her heart beat wildly. All of a sudden, he ran to her, and she willingly fell into into his arms! His face met hers, and Stacy could hardly believe he wanted this moment as much as she did! They kissed each other passionately, and it just felt so natural and peaceful that they could hardly believe they waited this long to do this! They took a breath, and, without words, they told one another that they loved each other!

Barbara peeked backstage and hissed, “Psst! Nick! You’re on!”

“Come on!” Nick took her hand and ran to the stage. She started to object because she hardly had any musical talent, but she relented because she trusted him so much. He took her on stage and greeted the crowd more enthusiastically than anyone she had ever seen! She swayed to the music as he played, and the lyrics were simple enough that she could sing along with the chorus. As their faces pressed together while they looked out to an adoring audience, she thought that she could get used to this! After all, this was only the beginning!

The End