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 18

As soon as Nick met up with Stacy outside of the factory, she excitedly announced, “I found a gig for you!”

“Really?” Nick seemed stunned to hear this.

“Yes!” Stacy confirmed. “My mom is putting on an end of the year show at her school, and they’re looking for an entertainer to finish off the last ten minutes or so. Are you interested?”

When they got to the office that they usually practiced in, Nick sat down to mull it over. “Hmm… I don’t know if any of my songs are really child friendly…”

“Didn’t you use to perform at a school?” Stacy reminded him.

“For my high school, yeah,” Nick remembered. “It’s been so long since I performed any of those songs!”

“But you still could, you know you could!” Stacy urged him.

“It would mean taking a day off work…” Nick contemplated. “I can always call in sick if I need to. It would be fun to perform before a live audience again, something to add to my musical resume… Okay, I’ll do it!”

“Great!” Stacy beamed. “I promised my mom I’d let her know as soon as I found out. Can I use this phone?”

“Sure.” Nick stepped aside so she could make the call.

She feverishly dialed to their home phone and waited for her mother to answer. “Oh, hi Mom! Yes, he’ll do it. Okay, I’ll let you talk to him.”

Nick went over to the phone and picked up the receiver. “Hi, Missus Alyson. Okay, I can be there then. The school is paying me for this gig? Wow! No, it’s totally enough! It’s my first paid music job, so I’m excited! Okay, sounds good. Do you wanna talk to her again? Alright, thank you so much! Thanks!”

Nick hung up and sat there in a sort of daze. Stacy told him, “Congratulations! You’re officially a paid musician!”

“This is amazing! I couldn’t have done it without you!” Nick thanked her.

“It’s only the beginning!” Stacy claimed. “The gigs will get bigger and bigger!”

Nick was at a loss for words. “I… you… it’s…” He showed his appreciation by giving her a hug, and she savored the moment as she hugged him back.

Suddenly, a chill went down their spines as they heard glass fall to the floor! They turned their heads to the door only to see Janet standing there with a stunned look on her face! She had apparently brought some dinner and had dropped it on the floor out of shock. Nick immediately stepped towards her and said firmly, “Babe, it’s not what you think!”

“You lied to me!” Janet shrieked. “Again! This whole time I thought you were working, but you were spending time with her!”

“I was spending time with my music!” Nick argued. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think you would approve.”

Janet didn’t seem to buy his story. “Oh, you’re working on your music? Is she a musician too?”

“She’s helping me get gigs,” Nick informed her. “I have my first paid gig coming up on…” Janet scoffed, which incensed him. “See, this is why I didn’t tell you! You never understood why this is so important to me!”

“I never said you couldn’t have a hobby! I just said it shouldn’t get in the way of making actual money!” Janet corrected him.

Nick challenged, “So, you wouldn’t love me if I was a broke musician?”

Janet replied, “I want a future! I wanna buy a house and pay for a wedding! We’re in our thirties for god’s sake! We’re too old to go chasing far off dreams! You don’t wanna grow up, do you? If you did, you wouldn’t keep lying to me!”

“You keep talking about what you want, what about me?” Nick yelled. “You don’t care about me, do you? You want a husband, you don’t want me!”

Before Janet could respond, the security guard walked in! He saw the food on the floor and the three of them standing there and sadly shook his head. He picked up his walkie-talkie and spoke into it, “Sir, we have a problem here!”

“What? No! Please!” Nick beseeched.

The security guard coldly replied, “You know the rules. I’m gonna have to ask you all to leave. Please don’t come back!”

The security guard walked them out of the building and slammed the door behind him. Nick turned to Janet and assured her, “I’ll get another job right away…!” Janet ignored him and stormed off to her car. Nick stood in silence, perfectly still as he tried to absorb all that just happened. Stacy completely emphasized with him. In a matter of minutes, he lost his job and his girlfriend, and, just like that, the life he knew for several years had slipped through his fingers. She went through that herself not that long ago! She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, and to her astonishment, he immediately chucked it off! “Don’t give me your pity! This is all your fault!”

His harshness really stung Stacy. “My fault? How is it my fault?”

“I told you I didn’t wanna get back into the music business again!” Nick bellowed. “You sold me on pursuing it, and look what happened!”

“If I didn’t encourage your music, it still would have come out just like it did when you snuck away from her grandparents to see that recording studio in Canada!” Stacy defended herself. “Besides, it was your idea to keep practicing in the factory! And to keep it secret from Janet! I never told you to do that!”

Nick fumed, “I had a decent life until you came along! I’m homeless and jobless ’cause of you! Why couldn’t you have left me alone? Why didn’t you just let my music go?”

“It made you happy!” Stacy spat. “I’m the only one who seemed to care about your happiness!”

“Oh yeah, I’m real happy now!” Nick scornfully shouted. “My family always said dreams don’t pay the bills. They were right all along!”

Stacy disliked his attitude towards her right now, but she realized that he had the right to get upset. She didn’t remember much from after she walked out on Hadeon, but she could imagine she probably wasn’t too friendly. She tried to encourage him, “If you want a regular nine to five job, you have plenty of experience from working at Gilmar’s, so it shouldn’t take you long to get hired somewhere else! And Janet’s mad, but she hasn’t broke up with you yet. There’s still time to make things okay again!”

“I’m not taking your advice anymore!” Nick barked. “I listened to you before, got my hopes up, and look where it got me!”

“I’m sorry!” Stacy wailed. “Really, I just wanted to help! I’m still here for anything you need! How can I help you make this right?”

Nick didn’t say anything for a moment. He looked as though he were stiffling back his tears. Stacy really hoped his emotions would simmer down so they could maintain their friendship, but instead he sighed, “Just leave me alone!” He marched over to his truck without looking back at her.

“Nick, wait! Please!” Stacy implored him, but it was to no avail. He closed the doors, and she watched helplessly as he pulled out of the parking lot and sped away.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she stood alone on the lawn. She found such comfort in spending time with Nick, and encouraging his music made her feel like she had a purpose here, but now it looked as though she lost that. As she walked to the bus stop, she realized that she now had no job and no other projects to work on. The only activity she had to do out here was looking for jobs, but now she had no idea what kind of work to search for. Nick had made her feel like she belonged in the music world, but this fallout made her reconsider. This felt like a sign of how things would go if she dared to try. She didn’t want to mess up anyone else’s life! As the bus arrived, she speculated that if she wasn’t meant for that world, then she had no idea where she belonged! She didn’t notice how the bus driver reacted to her crying, and she didn’t care. She sat down and gazed forlornly at the town as the bus rolled by. She didn’t last in Nashville, and she couldn’t make it in Makawee, so she wondered where to go from here…

When she got home, she saw that her parents had gone out. She figured they must have went to get food, which she had no interest in right now. She felt grateful that she didn’t have to explain herself at the moment. She picked up the mail from the ground and tossed it on the table next to the phone. She noticed that they had a new message, and she pushed play on the answering machine. Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy, it’s your husband! I-!” She deleted it before he could finish talking. She didn’t know what he could possibly want from her right now, but she didn’t care. Dealing with him was the last thing she needed right now! She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. It calmed her nerves a bit, but she still felt empty inside. She kept sipping on it as she considered what she was going to do now…