Copyright© December, 2006 by Alexa & Patrick Silver. All rights reserved.
"Happy holidays!" Mariah tried to inject some holiday spirit into her voice, but failed miserably. She had been on her feet for thirteen hours solid and there wasn't a break in sight. First, she had worked a half day at the family-owned art gallery. Her parents had taken off on a thirty-fifth wedding anniversary/Christmas cruise. Mariah had intended to spend the holiday with her sister, but Halley has called this morning, explaining that her new boyfriend had been in a car accident and had broken a leg. Of course Halley would choose to stay with her boyfriend instead of her twin sister. "Great, just great," Mariah muttered.
"Whatever is the matter, dear? Has your Christmas spirit abandoned you?" A gentle masculine voice broke into her thoughts.
"Oh! I'm so sorry, Mr. Snow." Mariah gave her friend a guilty look. "I was just woolgathering. I'm so sorry. What would you like to eat?" She gestured to the pans in front of her.
"I'll have some ham and some mashed potatoes and I'd love to have a conversation with you, Mariah. Aren't you due a break?"
"I guess so." Mariah moved back as another volunteer took her spot and gently nudged her toward the tables. She made Mr. Snow's coffee just the way he liked it and got herself a can of soda, then went to join her friend.
Mariah had been volunteering at this senior center for years, since her grandmother had been a very busy volunteer at this very facility. For the last few years, Mariah had been reading books to elderly bibliophiles, bringing her dog by for visits, teaching art classes, and helping out with holiday dinners. She had been here since noon, serving lunch, an afternoon snack, and now dinner, and she would be back in the morning to serve holiday brunch. She really enjoyed her time with the elderly and it seemed like a fitting way to honor her grandmother.
"What is a beautiful lady doing at a place like this on Christmas Eve?" Mr. Snow's blue eyes were bright with curiosity.
"My family is away. This holiday I'll spend alone." Mariah's voice trembled just slightly. Nikolas Snow knew that her fiancé had been lost in the war four years ago, and that she never discussed it.
"And why haven't you found yourself another man? You know that you can't replace him, but surely Jason would want you to be happy."
"Please stop, Nik. I care greatly for you, but I can't handle this conversation right now." She took a long drink of her water and exhaled slowly. "Being alone on Christmas Eve is hard enough, without memories of Jason and the life we could have had on my mind."
The older man nodded, then stroked Mariah's hand. She caught her breath as a tingle ran through her, making her feel alive, truly alive, for the first time in ages. It wasn't a sexual tingle at all—Mr. Snow was old enough to be her grandfather!—but it nudged her heart and soul to life in a different way.
"Eat up, Mariah. Then, go home. You're exhausted, my dear." Nik's voice was soft and gentle. He put a heaping plate on the table in front of her. "When you're done, we'll share a cab. I don't want you walking in this snow."
"Snow?" Mariah looked out the window in surprise. Sure enough, the darkness of evening was alit with fluffy white snowflakes. "I'd been so busy forgetting this day that I hadn't even realized it was snowing." She started to get up, but Nik's hand on her arm gently restrained her. She made a face at him, and he slipped her fork back into her hand.
"We've got about two inches so far. They expect at least twelve. It'll be a White Christmas and you know what that means, don't you?"
Mariah shook her head, her mouth full of the succulent meat.
"White Christmases are the time of miracles." Nik winked at her and resumed eating his meal.
Another thrill went through Mariah at her friend's words. She finished her meal quickly and went to speak with the other volunteers. They were only too happy to see her go home. Her exhaustion must have been apparent.
After a few minutes, Mr. Snow joined her, dressed in red and white, just like the man many said he resembled—Santa Claus. He gallantly offered Mariah his arm, explaining that he had phoned for a cab, which would arrive any minute now.
Nik escorted her through the newly fallen snow and into a taxi. Before she could speak, Nik directed the driver to her home address, which he must have gotten from the Christmas card she'd sent him.
The roads were empty, even though it was still early in the evening, and they arrived at Mariah's townhouse in only a few minutes.
"Mariah, may I use your facilities." He gave her an embarrassed smile. "I'm not as strong as I used to be."
Mariah paid the cab driver and asked him to wait for five minutes, then escorted Nik into her house. He looked around wide-eyed, a sad smile on his face. "You haven't even decorated, Mariah. For shame. Where is your Christmas spirit?"
"Far far away," she replied, flushing at the way her friend looked at her. "I'm sorry, Nik. I'm just not feeling it this year."
"Maybe I can change that." Nik gave her an enigmatic wink and disappeared into her bathroom.
In a few minutes, her friend was gone, taking with him a pumpkin loaf one of her friends had baked. He'd been fed dinner at the senior center and he had plans to go to his daughter's place up north for the rest of the holiday week.