The song playing on the radio felt like a heavy brass bell in my heart.
“All I want for Christmas, is you...baby.”
Right, I thought, weaving through the busy holiday traffic, heading toward my apartment.
I was spending Christmas alone this year, with my roommate jumping ship to fly home and be with her family. Some people had all the luck. My family was too poor to send me money, and I didn’t have enough to fly back, so I was stuck. In the big city.
It would be my first Christmas alone.
Mariah Carey continued jazzing through the song as I pulled into the parking lot next to my building and found an empty spot. It was easy for her to belt out the lyrics with her million dollar voice, but it didn’t bring any cheer. The words of the song only brought frustration.
I shook my head determinedly and headed up to my apartment. It was Christmas Eve and everyone was partying. The neighbors down the hall had invited me to come spend the evening with them, but that didn’t sound very fun. Think red neck reindeer hat, and you’ll get the idea.
I opened the door to the apartment, and switched on the lights. Going to the livingroom area, I switched on the lights for the small tree, lighting up the corner of the room with multicolored festivity.
Tossing my gloves and coat on the couch, I turned on the stereo to some instrumental music, and headed to the kitchen for something to drink. Eggnog sounded good and festive, I thought, searching through the fridge. I spied some on the top shelf and grabbed the container, along with the milk. We usually diluted it with sprite, but milk would have to do.
Friends from work had invited me to a Christmas Eve party at one of their houses, but while I didn’t want to be alone for Christmas, I didn’t want to be around drinkers. Most of my co-workers weren’t members and their definition of a party was to see how drunk they could get.
Fortunately, one of the families in the ward had invited me for Christmas dinner tomorrow, so I could look forward to that.
I took my drink back into the living area and turned on the gas fireplace before relaxing on the couch.
What a day. There were times that I wondered why I’d taken a job so far from home, family and friends – and this was one of them. Sure I used my college degree, the pay was okay, though always could be better (thus my unable to afford to go home state), and would look good on my resume, but surely money wasn’t all that mattered.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, hearing sounds from down the hall indicating the party had started. The words to the Mariah Carey song floated through my head again, and I groaned.
“Okay!” I said out loud. “I’m stupid and lame and should have given him a chance!” Standing up, I set my glass down hard, the liquid sloshing onto the table.
To be honest, the reason I’d picked this job was because I’d been running away from Jared Hatch. The guy had been my whole world. He’d come home from his mission and we’d discovered much the same interests, goals and desires. We’d even talked marriage, though he never proposed. Then the old flame from highschool moved back home for the summer, and it was as if I’d dropped off the face of the earth.
I paced back and forth in front of the Christmas tree, reliving last summer as if it were an open wound that needed cleaning.
At the end of the summer he’d come to my parents home, wanting to talk to me, but I couldn’t bear to see him. It had hurt too much. Then this job had come up and I’d jumped at it, never saying goodbye. I’d left right after Christmas last year and hadn’t been back. It wouldn’t seem like that big of a distance from Salt Lake City, Utah to Astoria, Oregon – but I didn’t have enough vacation days to drive home and not enough money to fly.
Salt Lake was okay - I mean, snow was a big plus! I’d never had a white Christmas before, so I was enjoying that aspect of it. Though learning to drive in the stuff was a real experience! Some people can be so rude...
Anyway - now I was stuck in Salt Lake, and Jared was probably in Astoria, married to the old flame.
“All I want for Christmas, is you...”
The song wouldn’t leave me alone! I was going to loose my mind. I sighed and went back to the couch. It was pretty pathetic, really. I should have let him come in and talked – found out when they were getting married and all that. In fact, mom had forwarded a wedding invitation a couple of months ago that I’d tossed when I’d seen it what is was. I didn’t want to know who was getting married that I wouldn’t be able to see.
Sitting down, I looked over at the tree and the few presents underneath. One from my roommate, a couple from my family that had arrived this week, and a couple from friends. Quite the haul, when you think about it. But what were presents anyway? Did they even matter in the eternal scheme of things? No. None of the materialistic things we lived with day by day mattered. Only people – family, friends and love.
Love. I snorted and looked away. There was no love in my life. No one had asked me out since I’d moved here. The singles wards were packed with available women in this area, and I wasn’t anything special. There were more blue eyed, blondes here than there were in California, or at least that’s what it seemed like. If they weren’t going to BYU, they were at the U, determined to show that a good LDS girl can go to school anywhere.
I should have gotten a job in Portland.
My stomach growled and I realized it was dinner time. I hadn’t even really thought about what to eat. Getting up, I went back to the fridge, this time spotting a note from my roommate.
“Hey Bridget -
If I know you, you’ll be moping around here Christmas Eve. Well, I’ve stocked you some party supplies, so call some people and have a party. There’s cheese, crackers, shrimp, all sorts of stuff. I didn’t break the bank, but that’s part of your Christmas present from me. Have fun, see you in a couple of days. Janet.”
I laughed and really looked in the fridge this time. Sure enough, there was the makings for quite a party, and I shook my head in amazement. Janet was the best. We’d never met before being roommates, but we’d sure clicked the moment we’d met. She was from Logan and had gone to school in some small town in central Utah. She worked for a vet downtown so she didn’t make loads, but her parents were rich enough to make up the difference. They felt this was a ‘good experience’ for her.
“Well, Janet, my friend,” I said, raising my eggnog glass in salute. “Here’s to you.” I swigged the remainder and put the glass on the counter. Time to party.
Following through on her requirement was difficult though. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable calling people. Surely they would all be at a party they’d already been invited to? I picked up the ward directory, figuring I could start there. I glanced through the names, and stopped at one that had been written in. Mark Young.
Frowning, I tried to picture a face to match the name, but no luck. I think Janet mentioned that she’d met a new guy at a church activity last week, but I’d had to pull a late night and hadn’t paid any attention. Was that the guy? I shrugged and kept going through the names. Nah, all these guys had girlfriends, family and places to be. This was stupid.
I tossed the directory by the phone and went out to the livingroom again. It was snowing, small little flakes that looked like powdered sugar and covered the railing of our little balcony with a light dusting of white. I leaned against the doorframe and folded my arms. At least it was a beautiful night.
I stood there for several minutes, and then remembered that I was hungry. Shrimp calls, I thought with a grin.
Before I reached the kitchen though, there was a hesitant knock on the door. Stopping in surprise, I stared at the door, waiting for the knock to come again and prove that I hadn’t been hearing things.
Okay, it wasn’t my imagination. I slowly walked over and peaked through the peep hole, but it was shadowy in the hallway and I couldn’t see anything other than a big figure.
“Who is it?” I asked, feeling stupid.
“Um, is this the apartment where Bridget Haynes lives?” It was a rich deep voice, but it cracked a little, as if he was nervous or embarrassed.
I giggled, feeling silly about talking through the door. I threw it open to reveal a handsome man, tall, broad shouldered and sleek in a black leather coat, lightly dusted with snow. His short hair was light brown, curly on top and looked wet. I looked at the dark blue eyes that gazed at me, and felt like the world had tilted slighted at the core.
“Uh, I’m Bridget.”
“Oh, uh, wow.” He gulped and glanced around the hallway, as if he didn’t want anyone to witness his nervousness and then stepped a little closer, pulling out a tall, slim package wrapped with a large bow. “I’m, uh, my name is Mark – Mark Young. Your, ah, roommate mentioned that,” he looked in the apartment and realized there wasn’t anyone else there. “Oh,” he looked utterly embarrassed now, and I sighed.
“Janet told you I was having a party?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
I smiled, mentally throwing darts at my roommate’s picture. “She wanted me to, I just hadn’t gotten around to calling anyone. Come on in.”
It was the least I could do.
He chewed his lip, (a rather nice looking mouth) looking doubtful. “Well, I don’t want to horn in on anything if you aren’t having the party.”
I shrugged. “This whole thing was Janet’s idea,” I admitted. “I just don’t know who to call. Come on in and we’ll figure out some more people, or you can just eat something and then go when you’re ready.”
He still seemed reluctant, as if he’d had to talk himself into coming in the first place. Poor guy, he must be as lonely as I was to have taken her up on the offer.
“Your roommate gone home for Christmas too?” I asked, hoping to encourage him in. The hallway was chilly.
He flashed a white toothed smile. “Yeah, how’d you know?”
I shrugged and stood back, holding the door open. “Come on in, we can commiserate together.”
He took a deep breath and then nodded, walking past me with a slow step. I closed the door and started toward the kitchen.
“Come on back here. I was just going to start pulling things out of the fridge. I didn’t even know she’d planned this – the sneak.”
He gave a weak chuckle behind me, and then cleared his throat. “I, um, brought this. She said you liked candles.”
I turned and he handed the nicely wrapped tubular type present to me, his eyes sincere and his mouth pulled up at one corner in a wry smile.
“Well,” I said slowly, reaching out for it. “That was totally unnecessary and very sweet. She’s right, I do collect candles.” I waved a hand at the other room where I had several large ones placed around the room and just hadn’t gotten around to lighting yet.
He whistled in appreciation and then waved a hand at the gift. “Go ahead and open it,” he said with a shrug.
I tore off the wrapping to reveal one of those specialty homemade type candles that had layers of colored wax with dried flowers and berries inside. It wasn’t very large around, but it was almost a foot tall, and smelled heavenly.
I looked up at him with greater appreciation – this wasn’t your average candle.
“Where did you find this?” I asked, feeling the heavy wax with caressing fingers. “It’s amazing!”
He grinned. “I have my sources.”
Embarrassingly, my stomach growled again and I rolled my eyes as he laughed. “You said something about food?”
“Right in here,” I said, holding the candle close. I searched through a cabinet, finding the perfect small red plate with a gold trim. Setting the candle down, I found the matches and quickly lit it.
“Janet stocked all sorts of stuff,” I said, my back to him. “Should we try and call people first or would you rather just eat?”
“Well, would you mind if I’d rather not call anyone else?”
I turned around with wide eyes to see him standing behind me with a sheepish expression, my pulse racing with the implication of his words. “What?”
He licked his lips and shifted on his feet. “I asked your roommate about you and she showed me your photo and said you weren’t seeing anyone. She also said you’d be alone for Christmas and,” he paused, his mouth twitching for a moment. “I wanted to get to know you. Janet indicated that you haven’t been real big on dating, so I figured calling you up to take you out wouldn’t go over very big.”
“This, um, evening was your idea?” I asked, taking a step back to the counter and leaning against it. I wasn’t sure what to feel. He’d set this up? I was all alone with a man who could be anything from a serial killer to a date-raper. What had I done? What had Janet done?
He must have seen the wild look in my eyes, because he put his hands out, palms up and stepped back from me as far as the small kitchen would allow. “Hey, wait, don’t panic, it’s okay! I just wanted to get to know you – nothing sinister!”
Sure, anyone would say that, I thought, reaching for the phone.
He shook his head, his face going from anxious to resigned. “Wait, I’ll leave, okay? I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I watched as he started toward the door, my fears fighting with the knowledge that he’d wanted to spend the evening with me and he didn’t even know me. It was kind of...romantic.
“Okay,” I said, blurting it out before he reached the door. “You can stay. I - I’m sorry for being paranoid.”
He slowly turned around, a slightly hopeful expression on his handsome face. Man, he was good looking!
“You’ll give me a chance?” His voice was lower as he started back toward me, a light in his eyes that made me somewhat uneasy again. “I can’t believe it. Most girls wouldn’t give me the time of day after this.”
I blinked. He’d tried this before? “Um,”
He made a face. “I don’t mean this,” he said, waving a hand at my apartment and the burning candle (which was really starting to smell wonderfully of apples and cinnamon with a bit of pine thrown in). “I mean, I usually end up with girls dumping me. My family jokes that I’m the one-date wonder.”
I stared at him, feeling a little dismayed at the admission. What was wrong with him that girls wouldn’t go out again? He seemed normal and very good looking to me...
He sighed. “Man, this is not going anything like I’d hoped. Can I start again?”
I giggled. “You mean, at the door?”
“Please?” His eyes pleaded with me, and my stomach was suddenly full of butterflies.
“Okay.” We walked back to the door and he went out, closing it behind him.
I waited a few seconds, thinking he’d knock right away, but it was a good minute before I heard the doorbell ring. Okay...
“Who is it?” I asked through the door, deciding it could possibly be a neighbor and he’d taken off.
I opened the door ready to give him a bad time, to see him holding a sprig of mistle toe over his head.
“Uh, delivery boy?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“I’m Santa’s Helper,” He said, with a determined tone as he stepped near. “Santa sent me. He said you needed a Christmas Kiss.”
Before I could even form a thought, he was pulling me close, kissing me with a gentleness that blotted out any other feeling. Oh my!
He slowly pulled back and looked down at me with a satisfied expression, his eyes warm. “Merry Christmas, Bridget.”
I gulped. “M-merry Christmas, uh, Mark.”
I put a hand to my throbbing lips, wondering what to think. What now?
He smiled, slowly releasing me. “I hear there’s a party tonight.”
I giggled, feeling silly repeating everything – especially after that kiss. “I don’t know, I haven’t been able to call anyone to come.”
“Do you want anyone else to come?” he asked, his face hopeful as he gazed at me, those blue eyes still warm and lingering.
“Only you,” I found myself telling him, holding the door wide, the last verse of the Mariah Carey song playing in my head.
“Oh I don't want a lot for Christmas
This is all I'm asking for
I just want to see my baby
Standing right outside my door “
Wait till Janet heard about Christmas Eve, she was never going to believe me, but I decided Santa worked in strange ways as I shut the door.