"You sure you don't need me, Sir? I don't mind sticking around."
"No, Don. Go on, enjoy a few days off before we get swamped."
"All right, then. Thanks."
Don left his boss, who was in remarkably good spirits considering how close Christmas was and how busy they would get in a week. However, he decided, if the boss said take some time, Don wasn't one to argue. He knew he'd be working his ass off soon enough, so he'd get while the getting was good.
After speaking to the boss, he had a quick chat with Rudy, his supervisor, letting him know he'd be out but back in time for the big rush. Rudy nodded, immersed in schedules and rubbing his watery eyes and runny nose with a handkerchief. Don kept a distance; Rudy seemed to get colds on a regular basis this time of year and Don had no wish to catch one.
On his way back to his room, he saw Halley, one of his co-workers. "Hey, Don!" she chirped.
"Hey, yourself. You taking some time off, too?" he asked as she fell into step beside him.
She nodded and ran a hand through long brown hair. "You bet. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, that's my motto."
Don pulled a face and shook his own shorter, darker brown hair. "I never look at horses at all, thanks, gift or not." Halley laughed, a bright, tinkling sound.
"So, what are you going to do?" she asked.
"Oh, a bit of a busman's holiday, I guess. My cousin runs a limo service and he's short a couple of drivers. I told him I'd help out."
Halley frowned. "That doesn't sound like much fun."
"Actually, it is. You meet some really neat people, and at this time of year they're generally in a good mood." Don was looking forward to it. "We might even have time for a hockey game," he said.
Halley rolled her eyes. "Men. Is no season safe from sports?"
"Oh, come on." He poked her in the ribs. "We'll be watching the Wild. Their uniforms are very Christmas-y, lots of red."
"Well, that makes all the difference," she said dryly.
"Look, Halley, I've got to run." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll be back on the twenty-fourth in plenty of time, I promise."
"I'm not covering for you if you're late," she warned.
He held up two fingers, then crossed his heart. "I swear."
"Good." She snorted. "If I have to look at someone's ass all night, I'd prefer yours to Val's. Idiot thinks he's God's gift to women."
"Hey, a number of women agree." They both turned to see Val walking towards them. His dark, curly hair hung loose around a nearly angelic face. Angelic, one might say, except for the devilish smile and glint in his eyes. He stepped up and threw an arm around Halley's shoulder. "Come on, gorgeous. Open a present early."
"Buzz off, lover boy," Halley said, removing his arm as though it might carry something contagious. "I've got stuff to do."
Val took her rejection in stride. "Your loss, pretty lady."
Halley shook her head. "Enjoy your time off, guys. Bye, Don." She waved as she headed off to her apartment.
"How long are you going to keep hitting on her?" Don asked. Val didn't answer for a minute, watching Halley climb the steps. He sighed.
"Such a nice tail on that one," he said wistfully. Don rolled his eyes and smacked him on the back of the head. Val glared and rubbed at the spot. "Hey, I was just appreciating the view."
"Workplace romances are trouble," Don reminded him. "Remember when Dash tried it with her? It was cold as ice around here for months after that broke up. The boss had to put them in different departments, for crying out loud."
"Vicki and I managed," Val pointed out. Don gaped.
"You and Vicki? When was that?"
Val grinned widely. "See, I told you we managed."
"Forget it," Don said. "I don't want to know any more. I'm going to get my stuff, take some time off and rest up before the big day. You should do the same."
"I will, but your definition of 'rest' is different than mine." Val wiggled his eyebrows.
"I'm sure it is." Don didn't rise to the bait. "I'll see you on the twenty-fourth."
"So when's the last time you met someone?" Val asked. Val had his reputation as a Lothario, but Don suspected he was a romantic at heart. Don shrugged, not in a terribly romantic frame of mind.
"I don't know. Doesn't matter. I'm not looking right now."
"Oh, please." Val rolled his eyes. "Everyone's always looking. That's the problem; it tends to happen when you're not looking."
"Great, thanks ... Now, to quote the inimitable Halley: buzz off."
Jeanette stood on the sidewalk at the train station. It was freezing and she pushed her gloved hands further into her pockets. Where was he? Ben had said he'd be here to pick her up and she'd been waiting over half an hour. She was willing to cut him some slack for traffic and the weather, but he should have at least called her by now. She debated calling him, but it meant taking her gloves off and she decided she could wait a little longer.
Sighing, she moved to sit on the bench, dragging her suitcase with her. Sitting was cold, but so was standing and her legs were tired. She would stay on the bench until she couldn't take it, then she'd stand again, although she hoped by then Ben would have arrived.
She stared idly around. The station was decorated for Christmas with lots of sparkling angels and wreaths, and she could see a Christmas tree in the little square down and across from the station. Jeanette always enjoyed Christmas, although her spirits were a little down this year.
Ben had refused to visit her family, saying that his mother would simply come apart at the seams. That had sent up a warning flag, but since her parents had planned a few months ago to take a cruise over the holiday, Jeanette decided to visit him. She wasn't crazy over the idea of being on a boat on all that open water; she was sure she was overreacting, but couldn't help it. Visiting Ben seemed like a good idea. She'd have company over the holiday and get to meet some of his family, then a couple of days later she'd head to her sister's and finish the holiday week with them.
"I wish he'd show up so I could get this started," she said to herself. She pulled her hat down more tightly over her blonde hair and wished she'd brought earmuffs.
Just as she was about to give in and call, her phone rang. By the time she'd pulled her hands out of her pockets, her glove off and retrieved the phone, it had stopped ringing. Cursing under her breath, she clicked to see a text message from Ben. I wish he wouldn't text while he's driving, she thought. Then she read the message and wished he'd text himself into a tree.
Sorry. Cant do it. Met someone. Take care.
Jeanette stared at the words on the tiny screen. Met someone? Take care? My God, he'd broken up with her via text message and had barely used complete sentences. I've been dumped with a tweet, she thought numbly.
Then her situation caught up with her. She was alone in a strange place, four days before Christmas, with no hotel reservations and no car. She covered her face with her hands and took a deep breath.
Okay, I can deal with this. One thing at a time, she told herself. She could get a cab and find a hotel, that wasn't really a problem. It wasn't how she thought she'd be spending the night, but it could have been worse. She'd have to charge the room, which wasn't what she wanted after all the Christmas shopping she'd done, but as a friend of hers had once advised, she wouldn't worry if she could solve it with money. Sighing, she stood and reached over for her purse.
Her hand fell on the empty bench. She whirled around, staring at the bench and the sidewalk underneath it. It was blank—no sign of her purse. Her heart started to race and she forced herself to take deep breaths until she was calm again. When had she last seen her bag? She thought back, couldn't remember.
Don't panic. Don't panic. She had her debit card, her driver's license and her cell phone. She could work something out. She looked around for a cab but only saw a black Town Car. Grabbing her suitcase, she pulled it behind her as she walked towards the station entrance, hoping they had a phone book or brochure with some useful phone numbers.
Don watched the pretty blonde go through a startling range of emotions in a short period of time. First there was boredom, then a bit of anger and anxiety after she checked her phone, then he thought he saw a bit of panic. She recovered nicely, though, only covering her face once. It was a cute face, he thought.
Sitting in the car, he idly tapped his fingers on the steering wheel to whatever Christmas music was on the radio. He preferred the classics, but didn't mind hearing jazzed up versions of old favorites, either. Keeps the season fresh, he thought.
Since not much was going on, and his passenger was late, he amused himself by keeping an eye on the blonde woman. He thought about offering to let her sit in the warm car, but wasn't sure how that would be received. Val could have pulled that off with no problem, but Don didn't have the savoir faire of his friend. She'd probably call the cops on him.
He watched as she walked over to the station door and tugged, stumbling when the door didn't give as expected. She tried once more before studying a flyer taped on the glass and then she let her head fall back, exposing a pale, smooth neck that Don suddenly found himself itching to nuzzle. Surprised at himself, he shook the image from his mind but kept watching.
.... There is more of this story ...