He was a traveling man and out to make his fortune. No time for a wife or children. "No time, no time," he'd say with an honest, if somewhat self-deprecating smile. No time for a proper house with a Christmas tree and the drapes pulled back so that the neighbors would see it all lit up and glittering with tinsel. No time for gifts and stockings and small footsteps excited upon the stairs. No time. And all the time in the world it had seemed and sometimes did again. But only when he was alone.
"I love Christmas," Wren sighed and the bartender nodded, pouring the man a generous cup of eggnog.
A thin string of lights hung over and around the bar. They winked green and red and white, and Wren smiled at them until he caught his reflection in the mirror. He was the only one in it and he picked up his drink.
"Me too," the bartender said, having moved to the end of the bar. He looked at his watch because his children were waiting for Santa Claus.
"Hi. Merry Christmas," a soft voice insinuated itself between Wren and his cup.
He held it just off his lips, not certain he'd heard it until Wren turned his head.
"Hello," she said with a smile just for him.
Wren blinked at her auburn hair, which was loose but falling all at once in a long train across her bare right shoulder. It seemed to curl upward between her full breasts and those, Wren was helpless to note, were wonderfully contained in a low cut dress of emerald green, a color that suited both the woman and the season perfectly.
"Merry Christmas," the bartender replied for both of them. "What can I bring you? Eggnog is on the house with a room key."
"Oh!" the newcomer's brown eyes seemed to light up, turning almost amber beneath the soft lights. "That sounds delicious, thank you."
"It's pretty good," Wren took a sip as if to prove it and the woman nodded eagerly.
"I see that," she said and offered a hand gracefully. "I'm Stacy."
"Stacy," he nodded. "I'm Wren."
"That's a nice name. Unusual. I like it," she decided agreeably. "You have a little..." Stacy smiled and touched her upper lip.
"What? Oh!" Wren's face reddened slightly and he frowned, reaching for a napkin. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Stacy pursed her lips into the tiniest pout imaginable and then spoiled it with another smile as the bartender placed a cup of eggnog in front of her.
"So, um ... Peace on Earth," Wren offered as a small toast and Stacy dipped her head.
"And goodwill towards men," she accepted and the two of them drank briefly.
"See? I told you it was good," Wren said.
"This is marvelous!" Stacy laughed lightly. "I've never had it before."
"You've never had eggnog before?" Wren gave her a doubtful smile.
"No, I really haven't." She wrinkled her nose and examined the contents of her cup, which was clear and crystal like Wren's. "It reminds me of..."
"Of what?" Wren wondered and it was an honest question, but Stacy didn't seem so sure.
"Hmmm? Oh!" she lifted her eyes momentarily and then dropped them again with some color rising in her prominent cheeks. Wren looked discreetly away and felt himself warming as his eyes were drawn to her reflection in the mirror.
"Are you in town long?" Wren asked and then worried that he sounded too nosy, "I mean, I'm just passing through. On my way to the coast, you know. Big business trip."
"A business trip?" Stacy tilted her head slightly. "It's Christmas eve."
"Yeah, well..." Wren shrugged.
"Are you married?" Stacy asked him and the soft lilt in her voice drew a sharp look from Wren. "I'm sorry. Was that rude of me?"
"No," Wren cleared his throat. "I'm ... No, I'm not married."
He held up his left hand, wiggling his fingers and apologizing for his bachelorhood by way of a chuckle. It had been his habit for some years, since he'd turned forty at least, and it most often brought sympathetic nods and knowing smiles in return. But not this time.
"Good for you," Stacy held her drink high with her own left hand and Wren couldn't help but notice that she wore no wedding band. She sipped her eggnog and set the cup carefully on the bar.
"Oh?" Wren smiled with some confusion and even the bartender looked down the length of the bar at the happy sound of Stacy's voice.
"You shouldn't be ashamed of that," she said, leaning closer although the two of them were side-by-side already. "A man has every right to bachelorhood."
"I'm not ashamed of it," Wren said and then he looked down as he realized Stacy's well manicured hand was now resting lightly on his right knee.
"Single men ... Mature, single men," Stacy said softly, glancing over her shoulder before confiding her secret, "are very attractive to a lot of younger women."
"Mature," Wren swallowed hard and he had to admit that was a good word for him, considering he was pushing fifty.
"Mature," Stacy nodded seriously. "A man like you," she licked her lips, "could probably teach a girl like me quite a lot. Don't you think?"
Wren took Stacy's invitation to look at her. He'd been courteous since the young woman's arrival, keeping his attention chaste and his posture polite, but now he sat back slightly, letting his gaze travel the length of the girl as she waited patiently for his judgment.
Stacy was beautiful and not in a purely physical sense, but more as if an aesthetic virtue had been somehow misplaced in that drab hotel bar. It wasn't merely her wonderfully sculpted body or even the piquant smile that elevated her grace, Wren realized. It was the texture of her presence that he found most exciting. Stacy seemed to envelop his senses, suggesting no direction of specific passion, but a more complete and aimless passage into the depths of desire.
If such a thing could be said to exist, Wren decided, this was magic.
"You're wondering how much," Stacy said abruptly and a myriad of anguished thoughts filled the man.
"What? No!" he protested immediately, but in truth the thought had occurred to him.
"It's alright," she shrugged. "I should be flattered perhaps."
"No, you shouldn't," Wren replied with forceful honesty.
"I'm not a prostitute," Stacy said.
"I know," Wren agreed quickly. "I didn't think so..."
"Three times before the cock crows?" she smiled.
" ... I just ... Why me?" Wren continued, not hearing her small joke. He looked around the piano lounge and it was largely deserted but for the two of them.
"Why not you?" Stacy asked. "It's getting late and we're alone."
"Yes," he said, for lack of anything better.
"I don't like to be alone, Wren," Stacy looked into his eyes. "It's Christmas."
"I know," he replied.
"Maybe I just want to give someone a gift," she smiled deliberately as if to break the sudden sobriety. "Even if it's only me."
"Only you?" Wren chuckled and shook his head at that. "Now I know you're teasing me."
"Never," Stacy whispered and her hand had remained on Wren's leg and she reminded him of that with a gentle squeeze.
Stacy was curled up comfortably on the double bed as if she'd been there waiting all night. Even before Wren had closed the door to his room, she was sitting against the pillows with her long legs folded beneath her. Stacy's hands were in her lap and she sat still in the dark, erect with an attentive smile and those amber eyes unblinking. They caught what little light there was, a friendly glow drifting through large windows stained with frost.
"Can I turn on the light?" Wren asked and he was filled with a curious mix of excitement and uncertainty.
"Can't we leave them off?" Stacy replied softly. "Look, it's snowing again. I like to watch it."
"Oh, is it?" Wren wondered and he couldn't tear his eyes from hers.
"Don't be shy," her voice teased him with a soft laugh. "I won't bite."
"I've never met anyone like you," Wren said. "I don't even know ... How old are you?"
"Old enough," Stacy smiled at him and reached with her left hand to smooth her hair, which had fallen once more to cup her right breast.
Wren could see her like that, but only enough to wish for more. She was a mirage, or a memory half-remembered, and he felt his desperation growing. He took a step and then another and then paused to kick off his shoes, feeling awkward and silly to be doing something so mundane while Stacy waited patiently, stroking her hair and smiling.
"I'm sorry," Wren apologized.
"For what?" Stacy tilted her head slightly, but her eyes didn't waver from his.
"Everything," Wren drew a wistful sigh. For not being thirty years younger, he almost said.
.... There is more of this story ...