Chapter 1: Season's Greetings
She slowly opened her eyes, and then just as quickly shut them. She groaned softly into the pillow. This is not the way Christmas is supposed to be. Christmas was for family and friends and that someone special. To be alone on Christmas Day in a New York apartment, far from home, was the going to be the hardest thing that she ever had to endure. All because of a deadline.
Andie rolled over onto her back. Tears started and she silently let them roll down her cheeks. Instinctively she stretched her hand out to the other side of the bed, knowing that he wouldn't be there. He hadn't been there for six weeks and he would never be there again. Just the thought of him made the tears flow harder.
She rolled onto her side and pushed her face hard into the pillow and let the tears come. Damn his job... damn her job too. His job was so important to him; let him sleep with the damn job.
Paul was the best sales engineer in his company. His company quickly recognized his abilities and made him the troubleshooter for the really tough projects that seemed about to head for the crapper. Paul always seemed to be able to save the project. For that reason he was frequently in China, Europe, the Far East or Africa. He would often be gone as long as 60 days. Because he had been a transport pilot in the Air Force, he often piloted the corporate jet on his trips. That way he was not bound to airline schedules.
Andie had put up with his absences for two years. One afternoon, when they were driving in Connecticut, the subject of his travels came up. They had been snipping at each other all day for some reason or other. She couldn't even remember what they were arguing about. He had just gotten back from a 20 day trip to Europe. Paul chastised her for not realizing that he was building for their future and that his travels wouldn't be a problem after his next promotion. Naturally, she snapped back at him that she had spent enough time alone.
The rest of the afternoon they hardly spoke to each other as they drove through the Connecticut country-side. When they stopped for dinner they hardly spoke to each other throughout the meal. Andie's pride wouldn't let her back down and Paul was hurt that she had lashed out at him so he withdrew into himself.
When they got back to New York she pulled away when he tried to kiss her and told him that he had better re-evaluate his priorities. Paul said something unkind, she couldn't remember what he had said, except that it hurt a lot, and she went into her apartment and slammed the door leaving him staring at the door to her apartment.
When he called later that night she told him that she couldn't put up with his long absences any more and that she wanted some time to think. There had been frostiness in her voice that she knew he wouldn't miss.
The next morning she knew that she had made a mistake and that she was sorry for what she had said. She had reached for the phone 10 times that day but her pride wouldn't let her apologize to him. After all, he was partly to blame.
That evening he had called and told her that he had to go to Japan for 10 days, an emergency had come up, and that he wanted to see her before he left. Stupidly, she told him that she was busy and that he should call her when he got back if he felt like it. She snapped at him, saying that she had enough of this part-time relationship. When she hung up the phone she instinctively reached for it to call him back and apologize but she hesitated and decided to make him wait. When she called the next morning she got his answering machine. She didn't leave a message.
When Paul returned from Japan he didn't call until two days after he had returned. When he did call, he asked her if she had calmed down while he was gone and she took it as a slap at her and hung up on him.
As the youngest architect in the firm, the job of presenting the drawings for the office complex fell into her lap. She had been working with the developer for months and it was a slam-dunk that he would approve the drawings. Andie was very thorough and, although the drawings were supposed to be conceptual drawings, the only part of the project really left to design was the electrical and the mechanical systems. Once the developer approved the conceptual drawings she would begin work with the electrical and mechanical engineers.
When she had tried to get a flight that would take her back home to Iowa for the holidays she found that the trip home wasn't a problem but she couldn't get a return flight that would allow her to get back to New York in time for the meeting with the developer. It seemed that many other people had the same schedule.
She had tried to get the meeting rescheduled, but for construction to start in the spring, much more work on the design had to be done. The chief architect gave her the "teamwork" speech and told her that this was one of the most important projects in the works and that he needed her to sell this project to the client. Andie knew that this wasn't the most important project they were working on and the only reason that she was going to present it was because everyone else wanted the day after Christmas off.
The phone call to her mother had been hard. She could tell that her mother was heart-broken. She could almost hear the catch in her mother's throat as she talked. This would be Andie's first Christmas away from home. When Andie told her mother goodbye her mother quickly hung up. Andie knew that her mother was crying. She felt empty inside when she hung up the phone. She stared at the phone for a long time; the depression growing inside of her until it felt like ten cinder blocks sitting on her chest.
A bird flew against the window and snapped her out of her reverie. She went to the window and saw the sparrow sitting in the window ledge. Apparently the bird was just stunned because it flew away when it saw her. She watched until the bird was out of site and then turned and walked into the kitchen.
She took a cup out of the cupboard and reached for the instant coffee. She hated instant coffee but she didn't feel like going to the trouble of fixing a pot of coffee; besides she was the only one in the apartment and most of the coffee would go to waste.
Absent-mindedly she put two heaping teaspoons of instant coffee in the cup and filled the cup with hot water from the InstaHot. She looked out of the kitchen window, stirring the coffee. She continued stirring while her mind wandered to the last day they were together. She took a sip of the coffee and grimaced and ran to the sink and spit out the acrid brew into the sink. It immediately dawned on her what she had done. She normally used one slightly rounded spoon of instant coffee on the rare occasions that she did use instant.
Andie put her hands on the sink and lowered her head and let the tears flow. She knew that she wasn't functioning right and she knew that she had to get her head screwed on right before the meeting tomorrow. That's all she had to do was kill a project that was supposed to be a slam dunk.
When there were no more tears left she turned and walked into her bedroom. She pulled a clean set of fleece pants and sweat shirt. She wouldn't be going anywhere today. The fleece would be good enough to lounge around the apartment. Not the sexiest attire but who cares?
She turned the shower on as hot as she could stand it. She let the water cascade over her body for a while before she began to wash herself. The phone rang and she listened and her answering machine greeting droning on. She didn't hear anyone leave a message so she figured that it was one of her friends. A couple of her girlfriends had been hovering around her since her breakup with Paul, being very thoughtful as they listened to her pour out her heart. Each of them told her that she had to start dating again and get on with her life. Andie knew that she would remember and pine for Paul the rest of her life.
The phone rang again and Andie turned off the water. She knew that it was her mother checking up on her, trying to cheer her up on this first Christmas away from home. She dreaded having to call her mother back; Andie didn't know if she could hold the tears back. If she started crying her mother would start crying and that would spoil her Christmas too. As she dried herself off she found her self wondering what Paul was doing. When the thought came to her that he might be with a new girlfriend she felt as if someone had slapped her across the face. She knew that she was being silly but she didn't want to think of him with anyone else, it hurt too much.
She slipped into the bedroom and put on the sweat suit and slippers and walked into the living room. As she passed the answering machine she saw that there were two messages on the machine. As she reached for the button to retrieve the messages she paused; she just didn't want to talk to her mother just yet. Maybe a little later she could talk to her without tears.
Andie sat down at the kitchen table and turned on the TV. The announcers were talking about how the airlines were booked with travelers going home for the holidays and how the roads were going to be packed when everyone tried to get home. She didn't need to be reminded about not being able to get home for Christmas so she turned off the TV.
The phone rang again and Andie listened as the greeting played. Whoever called hung up without leaving a message. She stared into the living room at the answering machine. The silence of the apartment was becoming extremely loud and Andie looked around for something to get her mind off of being alone.
She looked at the answering machine once again and decided to get her messages before she started into something; maybe she'd clean the apartment again. She walked into the living room and hit the button on the answering machine to retrieve the first message.
The overly loud and brash voice of the developer that she was supposed to meet tomorrow started talking fast, "Miss Parsons, this is Cy Harmon. We're going to have to reschedule out meeting for later in the week. I'm still stuck here in Minnesota trying to hammer out this contract. Call my secretary and set up a meeting for Thursday or Friday; afternoon would be best. Hope this doesn't put a crimp in your plans. I'll talk to you later in the week."
Andie flopped down on the sofa. Her legs felt like they wouldn't hold her up any longer. Silent tears slid down her cheeks. The depression that she felt earlier returned and grew larger; threatening to take over her entire body. The realization that she missed being with her family for no good reason became the dominate thought in her mind. She was glad that Cy Harmon was not in her apartment; she felt like she would like nothing better than to strangle him. She saw the light blinking that indicated that she had one more message.
Paul's voice jerked her alert, "Andie, I guess you went home for the holidays. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and talk to you a while. Please call me when you get back in town. I'm in New York. I couldn't get back for the holidays. Talk to you later. Please call, I'd love to hear your voice again."
Andie sat on the sofa stunned. Paul was the last person that she expected to call on Christmas Day. She figured that he'd be in Oregon. Paul was born and raised in Oregon and his father still lived there. Paul's mother had died right after he had graduated from college. Every couple of months Paul would go to Oregon or his father would come to New York. Paul's father hated New York and couldn't wait to get back home.
Andie replayed the message two times, trying to figure out from the lone of his voice why he had called. She reached for the phone several times and each time she pulled her hand back. As she sat staring at the phone it rang and she quickly answered it. She winced as she realized that she was talking too fast and too loud.
"Hi Andie," her friend Becky said, "I was wondering if you'd like to come over and spend Christmas with us. We're going to eat around five."
Andie hesitated before she answered, "I don't think I'd be very good company today. My meeting for tomorrow just called and postponed the meeting until later in the week. If I had known that was going to happen I could have gone home for the holidays."
"Damn, bummer," Becky retorted.
There was a long silence before either of them said anything.
Becky was the first to speak, "I was wondering if you heard from Paul lately?"
"He left a message on the answering machine. I was in the shower and I just let the machine pick it up."
She heard Becky snort, "Damn girl, did you call him back?"
"No, I don't know... I don't know if I will. I might call him back later."
Becky started shouting into the phone, "What the hell is wrong with you. Call him back. Don't you see how down you've been? I'm hanging up now. Call him back or I'm coming over there and I'll throw you into the Hudson. Now call him."
The phone went dead and Andie sat with it in her lap until the recorded voice started telling her that if she wanted to make a call please hang up. She turned off the phone and sat, trying to get up enough courage to call him. The phone ringing made her jump.
"Did you call him?" Becky asked.
"No, not yet," she sheepishly replied.
"Either you call him right away or I'm going to call him and tell him that you're in New York sitting in your apartment alone. Now call him, damn it."
Becky hung up and Andie dialed Paul's number. She hung up before it had a chance to connect. She shook her head and cursed herself for being so cowardly. She dialed Paul's number again. It rang three times before he answered.
"Hi Andie I'm so glad you called back. What are you doing in New York?"
She hesitated, "How did you know I was in New York?"
"Caller ID, remember?"
"Oh," she said self-consciously, "It's nice to hear your voice again. You left a message on my answering machine?"
"Yes, I got you a little something for Christmas and I'd like to give it to you. Are you going to be home all day?"
"I don't know if that would be a good idea Paul. I just..." her voice trailed off.
""I've got an idea. We're both alone for Christmas, far away from our families. How about we drive up to Connecticut and have dinner. There's a small restaurant in Clinton that is open on Christmas and believe it or not they do a good business on Christmas. I guess there are a lot of people in the same boat as us."
Andie realized that she was squeezing the phone so hard that her hand was going to sleep, "I don't know."
"Come on Andie," He said softly, "I don't want to be alone on Christmas and I'm sure that you don't either. Let's just enjoy each other's company and have a nice dinner. You don't get your present unless you go to dinner with me."
She sighed, "OK, but you have to give me a couple of hours to get ready. I look like a bag lady right now."
"Two hours it is, then. And thanks for saying yes. I really want to see you. I've got so much to tell you."
As soon as she hung up the phone she ran to the top drawer of her dresser and got out the two gifts she had picked up for Paul just before they broke up. Paul had a thing for watches and she picked him up a very good watch that was dressier than any he had. She also bought him a bottle of Lagerfeld after shave, mainly because she liked it. She smiled and hugged the gifts. She realized that she was acting like a teenager but so what.
Andie ran into the shower and was halfway through the shower when she remembered that she had just showered an hour ago. She smiled at herself. Maybe they would never get together again but at least she had him for a few hours today.
She tried on almost everything she owned before she made her decision about what to wear. She wanted to look her best for him. He was always so handsome and well-dressed whenever they went out. She noticed how all of the other women stared at him when he walked into a room. She wandered what he saw in her.
She had just finished putting on the final touches to her makeup when she heard his knock on the door. She glanced at the clock... two minutes early. She checked herself in the hallway mirror and opened the door.