A Christmas Void, Chapter 13- The Christmas Void

Doing the right thing shouldn’t be this hard! I kept saying that to myself over and over again. Gryla had given up on her quest to find the girl who tried to seduce her fiance, and no, she never figured out it wasn’t me. She didn’t want to stop, but it got too close to the wedding to keep spending several hours lurking in Millstone’s. Speaking of the devil, Millstone’s probably couldn’t ignore catching us in the bathroom stall together because they gave Isaac and me opposite schedules. We said hi to each other in passing, and I really thought about spouting out what I wanted to tell him right then and there just to get it over with, like ripping off a bandage, but there was always so many people around and at least one of us had the pressure of finishing a shift on time. I just didn’t think it was appropriate to do it like that anyway! This was really important, and it required more than a couple of minutes, but that’s all I seemed to get with him! Time was of the essence, and I had to do something soon! I wanted to call him, but Gryla hardly ever left him alone. I also considered texting him, but I didn’t want Gryla to get a hold of those messages. Plus, something I learned from my time as manager was that texts can easily get misinterpreted when a person can’t hear the tone or see the intention. I truly wanted to do the right thing, but I felt like the universe just wasn’t letting me!

I started to freak out after a week had gone by and I still didn’t get the chance. He was getting married in a week, and if I didn’t do it soon, it would be too late! Plus, Nicholaus Bell would contact me soon for an update, and I didn’t know what to tell him. I couldn’t make an important decision without knowing all the facts of the situation! If Isaac rejected me, it would hurt a lot, but I would at least be able to begin healing and move on. If he loved me, it would also hurt a lot to give up a chance to have a photography job, but he would be there to help me heal. Right then, the wound couldn’t heal because of all of the unknown factors keeping it from scabbing over. I needed to find out for sure either way so I could feel more sure about my decision!

I didn’t expect to see Isaac on the seventeenth, but in the middle of my shift, he showed up! With Gryla. He had his arm around her waist, and she just looked radiant. I didn’t know what I wanted more at that moment- to tear her apart or to curl on the floor and cry! I hastily spoke into the walkie-talkie that I was going on break, and without waiting for approval, I darted off towards the break room. To my dismay, I heard Gryla cry out, “Hey, Santa Monica, wait!” I cringed. What could they both want from me? I momentarily panicked because I thought that Gryla figured out my true identity. Did she really still think my name was Santa Monica or was that just sarcasm?

I got a little relief to see her smiling. I felt glad she didn’t feel angry, but I still felt the dread of impending doom of what she had to say. Plus, my heart still ached seeing him with her. I didn’t think anything they had to say to me at that moment would bode well for me. Gryla prated, “We wanted to ask you… Oh, I’m too excited! Honey-Bear, you say it!”

“No, no, it was your idea, you say it,” he responded somewhat bashfully. I couldn’t figured out why he seemed so uncomfortable. I thought maybe it was the “honey-bear” thing because that was pretty revolting, but maybe his discomfort came from something else…

“You say it!” she simpered. Her corniness almost made me vomit.

Isaac took the reins, “Well, our photographer canceled at the last minute, so we were wondering…”

“Will you be our photographer?” Gryla burst.

Gryla clearly loved the idea, but Isaac wouldn’t meet my eye. Obviously, on some level, he could sense my thoughts. I was dumbfounded. Of course, Isaac and I were friends, but it didn’t occur to me until then that I would actually get invited to the wedding! I guess I kind of thought the wedding wasn’t actually real because I convinced myself that he would cancel it to be with me, but now it didn’t feel like such a far-fetched concept. It was happening! I couldn’t stomach watching him marry her let alone photograph it! I realized I had created an awkward silence, but I didn’t know how to reject the offer without blowing my cover? I really tried to pull off the premise that I was totally cool about his engagement, but it didn’t occur to me that I’d get friend-zoned! They expected an answer, and I didn’t know what to say. Luckily, I was saved by the bell. Gryla picked up her phone and announced, “Oh, it’s the caterer. I gotta take this.” She went from sweet to screams in an instant, but thankfully, she walked away!

Finally, Isaac and I were alone! He tried to ease the tension by joking, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure she doesn’t make the check out to Santa Monica!” He nervously laughed.

I didn’t laugh, which commanded his attention. I had no choice, this was probably my last opportunity, so it was now or never. Suddenly, my tongue felt tied. I stared at his handsome face while those beautiful eyes gazed intensely, and I wanted him so bad! I realized the only shot I had with him was to confess my feelings, but I didn’t know how to begin. Everything I rehearsed over the week had vanished, and I had to figure out something to say soon because I didn’t know how long Gryla would stay distracted. I didn’t know how to put it all into words, but the pressure of saying something became insurmountable. I decided to let out the first thing that popped into my head, “Isaac, I can’t be your photographer. I can’t even go to your wedding!”

“Why not? Did I say something wrong?” His face was full of genuine concern.

“Yes!” I exclaimed. I didn’t think about it, the words just came out. “You said you’re marrying her! You don’t belong together! She’s more like a sister to you! Yes, she came through for you when you needed her, but you don’t owe her anything! What you want is important too! You need someone more caring, someone you can have more fun with, someone who supports your dreams! I-!”

Isaac, his face full of shock and hurt, interrupted and snapped, “You think you know what I feel? You’ve known me for a minute, and you think you know what’s best for me? What, you think I can just drop everything just like that? I’ve spent years planning this! Both our families have! And you expect to say one word and have everyone drop all of it? It’s crazy! It’s irrational and irresponsible! I’m supposed to forget my duties and obligations on a whim? I just… I can’t think about this right now!”

Isaac stormed off and left me standing there, totally devastated! I couldn’t believe it! He lashed out at me! I never thought he would hurt me! He never denied what I said about not loving Gryla. In fact, he reiterated my point about going through with it only out of some moral obligation. That just didn’t sound like the Isaac I knew! Maybe he was right, we didn’t know each other that long. I thought he was smart enough only to marry for love and no other reason, but maybe then I wondered if I knew him as well as I thought I did. Maybe I fell in love with an idiot! I was so angry for getting myself into this situation, and all I could do was stand there and cry!

At that moment, Mallory stomped over to me and screamed, “What are you doing? You left the registers without a cashier! The line is wrapped around the store! How dare you! It’s the busiest time of the year, and you were hired for this reason! Get back to work! It’s Christmas!”

She struck a huge nerve! Here I was an emotional mess and she made no mention of my feelings! She expected me to instantly pick myself up and go back to work? I had my breaking point just then! Nicholaus Bell considered my feelings! He gave me time to think about what I wanted out of the job, and he admired me for my values. Millstone’s never cared about me! They only cared about getting through Christmas! I hollered, “Screw Christmas! I don’t need this! I quit!”

Millstone’s had made me angry for a long time, but my fury from Isaac still burned brightly, so they got my full wrath! They deserved it! As I stormed over to the time clock, I expected the supervisors to react to my sudden departure. I could just picture Mara or Claudia screeching that I couldn’t just quit and demanding that I go back to work. I thought Brennan would get all judgmental and talk about the irresponsibility of leaving on bad terms. Korah would shame me for leaving them stranded, and Cecil would be disappointed that I created a scene and left without saying goodbye. But no one did. The whole store seemed to have stood still as I emptied my locker. Mallory hadn’t moved at all, she just looked flabbergasted. I still brimmed with ire, so I didn’t care. As I went through the automatic door, I tore my badge off and threw it behind me. Just like that, I never set foot in Millstone’s again!

It felt great to know I would never have to deal with Millstone’s ever again1 I was really grateful that I wouldn’t have to show up and face Isaac again! That jerk! Even though my blood still boiled, I couldn’t wait to get home! My abrupt entrance scared Finn, but I didn’t have time to apologize to him. The only way I could quell my nerves was to call Nicholaus Bell immediately! I briefly wondered if he would answer and thought that I would spew fire if I had to leave a message! I needed reassurance from him that I had just made the right move! Luckily, he picked up, “Tiffany! I was just about to call you! How are you?”

“Fine!” I realized that sounded rather aggressive, and I resolved to cool my temper for a couple of minutes. “I’m fine. Actually, I called to ask for a favor…”

“Anything!” he replied jovially.

His honest response made my heart feel a little better. It satisfied the gnawing beast growing inside me, and I had a good feeling about his possible response to what I wanted to request. “Can I start work next week?”

Clearly whatever he expected me to say, it wasn’t that. “You want to start on Christmas Eve?”

“Yes!” I asserted. “I’m going to book a bus ticket to San Francisco, and I’m ready to go in right away! I’m voiding Christmas this year! I just don’t wanna think about it, so I would very much like to get started right away!” I hoped that he would let me start early this year, and every year for that matter! That day changed for me, and I knew every year it would just remind me of Isaac. I didn’t know how long it would take to get over him, and in my heart, I didn’t think I ever would!

“Oh, okay…” Clearly, Nicholaus Bell got thrown off by this, and although he seemed confused by my attitude about the holidays, I could tell he decided not to ask. He obliged, “Well, we’re closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas, but we can get you started on the twenty sixth if you want!”

“Great! Thank you so much!” I gushed. I felt so relieved to have a plan after that impromptu decision I made earlier.

“You’re welcome!” he told me. “Look, I hate to cut this conversation short, but my ride is here, so I gotta get going. Let me know when you get to San Francisco! Have a safe trip!”

“I will!” After we said goodbye and hung up, I realized I had just opened up a new chapter of my life! Millstone’s almost ruined me. The whole thing felt like such a set up, and they misled me with false promises, including Isaac! I almost gave up an awesome career for that deception! It still really hurt, but I was glad I finally had some direction and could heal.

Time didn’t heal anything though. This event just hardened my heart, and I felt nothing. I only cared about getting the heck out of Dasher Lake. I had always been miserable there, and I had to stop trying to make it work there. Once again, my sole focus became escaping it, but despite my ardent desire to leave, I actually didn’t leave my condo for days. Besides finding a furnished place to live in San Francisco and packing what little I had, all I did was lay on my couch waiting for the time I had left there to run out. I couldn’t get a ticket out of there until eleven fifty-five on Christmas Eve, but I wasn’t sad about missing out on Christmas with my family. They would probably still participate in wedding festivities that day anyway! I could tell they were worried when I announced that I would be abruptly leaving, but I didn’t care. I had to leave! I had to void Christmas! It would never feel the same to me ever again!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 19

Stacy stared blankly out her bedroom window at the blue skies and sunshine, and it almost seemed to mock her. She hadn’t gotten out of her pajamas, she just didn’t have the strength, and life seemed to carry on without her. The weather didn’t seem to care about her somber mood, and she thought that, if it did, gray thunder clouds would wreak havoc on Makawee. She would have at least found a little satisfaction knowing she wasn’t the only one stuck at home. Unfortunately for her, she knew that lots of people were outside enjoying the warmth of the season, and it just tortured her to think she had no reason to go out and participate in anything like that. She knew she had a lot of work to do to find a job and pay for her divorce, but she couldn’t muster the willpower to do that lately, and she wondered if she ever word.

Barbara walked in unannounced and sat at the foot of the bed. Stacy knew she intended to make another attempt to draw out what she was feeling, and she didn’t want to indulge her. She knew she messed up and didn’t want to hear what she should or should not have done. She also didn’t want to receive any coddling or sappy attempts to buoy her spirits. She knew that at some point she would have to get up and try to fix her life again, but she felt almost ill right now and wanted to wait until she healed a little more. She didn’t say anything to her mother, and for a few moments, Barbara didn’t say anything either. To Stacy’s surprise, Barbara broke the silence by saying, “Look at that cloud! It looks like a cat stretching after it took a nap!”

Stacy curiously peered out the window and studied the cloud in question. She could sort of see what her mom meant, but she found it difficult to get the same joy from it as her mother did. “yeah, sure, I guess.”

“You know, your father and I went cloud watching in the beginning of our relationship,” Barbara brought up. Stacy didn’t respond, but she still carried on, “June fifth, Nineteen-fifty-nine, your father walked me home after church. We passed through the park, and I pretended that I needed to catch my breath under a shade tree, but really, I just wanted more time alone with him. Our conversation wasn’t too deep, we just had so much fun being with each other! We ended up laying down on the grass and just laughed about the shapes we thought the clouds were. It was a wonderful day that I’ll never forget, and to this day, when I feel stressed, I look at the clouds and it makes me feel better.”

“That’s not gonna make me feel better,” Stacy stated baldly. “And I’ve heard this story a million times! Sorry, Mom, I’m just not in the mood to hear how happy you and Dad were on dates.”

“Actually, it wasn’t an official date,” Barbara informed her. “I didn’t tell you the end of that story where our conversation came to a swift halt when Frank’s girlfriend came barging in!”

Stacy bolted up so fast that she almost fell out of bed. “What? Dad had a girlfriend when you met?”

Barbara smiled spritefully as she revealed, “We don’t like to talk about it ’cause it isn’t really proper, but yes, he was engaged actually when I met him.” Stacy’s mouth hung open, and Barbara clarified, “We didn’t sleep together, for goodness sake! We didn’t kiss or even hold hands until he broke up with Ingrid. Ingrid was another teacher at the school I worked at. She brought him in for career day, and as soon as I saw him, I fell in love! I know, love at first sight is so cliché, but something about his aura and the look in his eyes told me he was special! After that, I made a point of hanging out with Ingrid and her social circle just to get close to him. Eventually, Ingrid found out how close we had gotten, called him a cheater, threw her ring at him, and walked right out of his life.”

“You told me you met him at a malt shop!” Stacy found it astonishing that her parents had not me in the wholesome way that they had said before, and it felt eerie to think how much her story mirrored the way she met Nick!

Barbara explained, “I know, it’s the eighties and no one cares about that sort of scandal anymore, but back in the day, we decided to keep the way we met a secret. Sometimes good stories don’t start so cleanly in the beginning. They’re messy and complicated, but then everything works out in the end.”

“Not everything!” Stacy murmured sadly.

“If something hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end,” Barbara sagely doled out. “This man of yours was pretty special too, wasn’t he?”

“How did you know?” Stacy replied incredulously.

Barbara told her, “Sweetie, music may have changed since I was your age, but love hasn’t! You mentioned a married friend, and just based on your behavior, we knew what happened. I don’t think you would befriend a man you weren’t in love with after what you went through. The fact that you trust him means a lot! You got over Hadeon pretty quickly, and I heard that the best way to get over a man is to get under a new one!”

“Mom!” Stacy felt stunned to hear her mother talk about this topic so casually. “I’ve never heard you talk about sex without showing me charts and graphs!” Barbara shrugged. “And we didn’t sleep together! We didn’t hold hands or kiss either! We weren’t like a couple or anything. So, why do I feel like a terrible person?”

“You’re not a terrible person!” Barbara assured her. “I mean, if you constantly went after someone else’s man, then we would be having a different conversation. I never thought I would’ve gone after someone else’s man either. That wasn’t even part of my plan originally. I wanted to get to him more to get this crush out of my system, but the more I learned about him, the stronger I felt. It made me feel a little guilty, but it’s not like either of us could help it! You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with!”

Stacy got some comfort from knowing that she wasn’t alone in this sort of predicament, but it didn’t take away the glumness that still lurked at the pit of her stomach. “So, now what?”

Barbara advised, “You’re not gonna get any answer pining away in your bedroom. You may not feel like it, but you gotta force yourself to get up and take one step at a time. Even baby steps will still move you forward! Now, come on! Get dressed! Today is Pop-Pop’s birthday and we’re visiting him at the home. And I won’t take no for answer!” Stacy knew she meant it, and even though it pained her to get out of bed, she got up and went to her closet.

In a small living room, an octogenarian man sat in a wheelchair while Frank and Barbara brought a cake up to him and joyfully called out, “Happy birthday, Dad!”

Stacy, who sat morosely on a chair next to the sofa, faked enthusiasm as she chimed in, “Happy birthday, Pop-Pop!”

“Thank you, guys!” Pop-Pop reacted pleasantly. Frank sat on the couch while Barbara went to the small kitchen behind them to cut the cake, and Pop-Pop conversed, “So, how are you all doing?”

Frank replied, “Good! Can’t complain!”

“Yes, I can imagine how carefree a cop’s life can be!” :Pop-Pop joked, and Frank laughed. He observed Stacy and asked her, “What about you, Dear? You’re not usually so quiet. Something wrong?”

Stacy didn’t want to explain her sordid love life, so she came up with something that she hoped would suffice, “”I’m having trouble finding work.”

Pop-Pop related to her, “I understand how that feels! When the Great Depression hit, the factory I worked for over a decade shut down, and I had a hard time finding work. Luckily, we kept food on the table when your grandmother got a job at a school.”

“Yes, I remember hearing about that,” Stacy responded. “She became a teacher because no matter how bad the economy got, they always needed teachers.”

“Actually, that was just a perk of going into that field,” Pop-Pop corrected her. Barbara and Frank began eating cake, but Pop-Pop and Stacy ignored theirs as they talked. “Your mother watched me struggle and vowed she would never go through it, so she became a teacher because of that benefit.”

Barbara added, “I started because of that benefit, but I stayed because I found that I love working with kids!”

“Of course, my dear!” Pop-Pop acknowledged.

Stacy inquired, “Why did Gam-Gam become a teacher?”

“She didn’t become a teacher,” Pop-Pop replied. “She taught music. She loved music, believed that it illustrated the heart and soul of humanity, and she thought it was important to spread people’s gifts far and wide.”

“Really?” Stacy had the same instincts as her grandmother, but she didn’t realize it until now!

“Take a look at that photo album.” Pop-Pop pointed to a bookshelf next to Stacy, and she grabbed it from the bottom. She flipped it open, and one of the first pages, she saw a young woman who looked a lot like her holding an expression of pure glee as she conducted a school band. Pop-Pop noted, “You remind me of her so much!” Stacy had previously thought her love of music was wrong because of its association with her fallout with Nick, but now she realized that it ran deeper than that, it was in her blood! Suddenly, everything became so much clearer to her. She did have a purpose, and just because one way she pursued it didn’t work didn’t mean she should stop trying! Her spirits lifted a little, and she knew that she couldn’t give up on something so important!