A Christmas Story – Open Hearts

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Merry Christmas! Here’s a sweet story I wrote one year as a Gift of Writing for my writing group, The Saskatchewan Romance Writers. This year I’m sharing it here on my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Open Hearts

For Abigail Kelley working retail at Christmas equaled worst job ever. Small talk? With strangers? Not her strong suit. Even on a good day and good days were harder to find than Waldo. But a girl had to eat and she’d already proven she was a glutton for punishment. Besides it worked nicely with the whole ‘sucker’ theme she had going on this year. Broke, adrift, and one blinking engine light away from over and done.

She glanced at her watch. Ten minutes until closing time on December 23rd. The supersized big box store across the street was crammed to the rafters with late night shoppers. Not a soul crossed the street to browse at Adornments and Jewels with its swaying antique sign and out-dated window display. No one crossed the threshold where the dusty tiny bell waited to announce eager shoppers, or any shopper, and the scarred counters shined in preparation for inquisitive customers. Indeed, it was quiet as a mouse.

The quiet didn’t bother Abby, in fact, she preferred it. But noise equalled customers and paying customers equalled commissions. A pay check meant no more blinking engine light. No more blinking engine light meant the open road and finding her way back to the place she left her self-respect. She swiped her polishing cloth over the gleaming countertop glass as she leaned in and wondered over all the pretty baubles. Her mom would love the vintage silver locket. Maybe next year…

The tinkling of the bell startled her and she tripped as she turned to face the door. Clumsy as always. She stuck her dust rag out of sight and shoved a bunch of curls out of her eyes and got her first glimpse of the shoppers.

Very odd. There was no other way to put it.

Three men. Two of them in solid black suits with solid black shirts and solid black ties flanked an older, plump sort of gentleman dressed in chocolate brown from head to toe: brown corduroy pants, brown tweed overcoat, and brown wool cap. Except for his cherry red sneakers.

“Can I help you?” She dredged up a smile and pushed aside any silly misgivings. Shyness was not standing in the way of a decent supper.

“Yes. I hope so. I’m looking for a gift for my wife.” The man eyes twinkled from underneath bushy white eyebrows as he shoved his hands into his pockets.

“Well…wonderful. How long have you been married?” Clueless husbands were nice to help and this one seemed friendly enough despite his stiff companions.

He smoothed a hand over his very impressive moustache and down over his equally impressive snowy white beard. “Since-”

One of the suits pushed forward. “That’s strictly need-to-know, Ma’am.”

The flush of embarrassment heated Abby’s cheeks. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Not to worry.” The older gentleman held up a hand. “Now, Murray, no need to be like that. We talked about this, remember? We have a plan.”

Plan?

Abby stared as the other suit tapped his right ear and whispered into the black leather glove covering his left hand, which set off her inner crap-on-a-stick-I’m-alone-here alarm bells.

Undaunted the man–in-black kept talking. “Yes, I do remember. But I’m in charge of security on this mission and you agreed to follow the rules. That means no personal information. Need I remind you of the Wal-Mart debacle of ’03?”

Mission? Debacle?

She smiled again, in a hurry up and leave kind of way. “I’m just about to close the shop and my boss, who’s happens to be in the back, doesn’t like me to close late.”

The man dressed in brown dismissed the other two men with a wave. “Ignore these two. I’ve been married for…well, forever. And my name is Nick.” With a wink in her direction he held out his hand to her.

The introduction did not sit well with Murray but the huge amount of throat clearing in the background didn’t deter Nick. She stretched out a reluctant hand. Nick’s warmth spread from her fingertips across her palm and up her arm, and for no good reason some of her anxiety evaporated.

“Hi. Um, I’m Abby. It’s nice to meet you, Nick.” He gave her hand a friendly squeeze and let go.

“I assure you the pleasure’s all mine.” He dipped his head and stepped up to the counter. The second suit spoke into his glove again and Abby looked from him to the other guy and back to Nick who appeared oblivious to everything as he peered through the glass counter into the black velvet cases below.

Murray risked another step forward. “Sir, time is of the essence.”

Which could mean all kinds of things, most of them bad, in a CSI or Law and Order kind of way.

“That one right there.” Nick tapped the glass over a beautiful cameo brooch that was paired with tiny cameo earrings.

“A lovely choice.” She wrestled the keys off her belt and opened the case to draw them out.

Murray coughed out a warning and at Nick’s, “What now, Murray?” leaned over and stated, “Sir, you can’t get those.”

Nick frowned. “Why ever not?”

Murray stepped closer and whispered in Nick’s ear.

“1932, you say. Perhaps not then.” He turned back to Abby. “You don’t by any chance have something unique in amongst your cases? Something not too modern.” He leaned over the counter and pretended to whisper, “My wife’s more a 19th century sort of woman. Kind of old fashioned if you know what I mean.”

Abby nodded even though she didn’t have a clue what to do with him or for him. She’d been in the jewellery business for seven days. But due to sheer boredom she’d inspected every item and there was one piece…

“Sir, I must object!”

“Relax, Murray. Besides, I’m sure our lovely, young Abby understands what I looking for perfectly.”

She understood things were going from bizarre to crazy right before her wondering eyes. A large bang overhead had them all looking up. More frantic whispering ensued and more talking into gloves and more trying to usher her commission out the door.

“Santa’s come early, I guess.” Abbey laughed in spite of herself and the whole of the strange little group stopped conferring to stare at her. Abby resisted the urge to back up a step. “Really. Ignore it. It happens all the time.”

Murray gaped at Suit Two who whispered into his glove again. Nick clutched his belly and chortled. “See, nothing to worry about boys. So, my dear Abby, do you have something? Unique, I mean? If it would help I could show you a pic-”

“No. Absolutely no showing of photographs. I forbid it.” Murray all but stamped his foot.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Nick sighed as he turned from Murray and winked at her again and flashed a mischievous grin. “Even though she looks nothing like you’d expect.”

Right.

She blinked her eyes a couple of times and tried to focus. There was a piece if she was brave enough to show it. “Unique. Let’s see. There is this one piece I think you might find interesting. It’s an antique with an airy type of charm and delicate grace to it. A gentle reminder οf a bygone era.”

Nick rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “It sounds perfect, Abby.”

She smiled in relief and inserted her key into a case further down the counter and pulled out a tray of brooches. “This lovely dragonfly with its diamond crusted wings, each set with a ruby, sounds like the perfect thing.” She set a tray on the counter and pointed to the beautiful dragonfly as it sparkled under the soft lights. “Do you think she’d like something like this?”

“She’ll love it.” Nick clapped his hands together in glee and turned to his security detail. “See, didn’t I tell you this was the right place to come.”

“It’s rather expensive. The most expensive piece in the shop as a matter of fact, so I understand if you want to think it over.” Stop talking, she should just stop talking. Now. Before she blew the sale.

“I know the perfect thing when I see it. How much do I owe you?” He pulled out a roll of cash that caused Abby’s eyes to glaze over and started peeling off hundred dollar bills.

“That will be $1,599.00 plus tax. Please. And thank you.” And everything in between. She took his money, found a box and a pretty ribbon to go with it and handed it back to him with a hand that shook the tiniest little bit.

“Thank you again for your assistance. You’ve been so helpful. I’d like to return the favour.”

The men in black stepped forward. “No. No way. Absolutely not. I mean it this time. We can’t go around granting-”

“Out. Both of you. Or I’ll have you both demoted to stable duty faster than you can blink.” He pointed to the door. They shuffled out clearly unhappy with the turn events. “I’m a firm believer in one good turn deserving another. There must be something I can do for you?”

“Me? What could you do for me? You don’t even know me.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised. For instance, I know you’re tidy, you care about people, and your right handed. I bet you love the color yellow and miss your family. But more than that, I suspect you’ve lost your way. It’s in the eyes, you see. There’s just no hiding it.”

“I appreciate the…assessment. But I’m fine. Everything is fine.” She held out her hand in dismissal. “Thank you for shopping at Adornments and Jewels.”

“I see.” Nick dipped his head in what was hopefully surrender. “Well then, thank you for making my shopping experience a memorable one.” Nick clasped her hand and the same warmth as before enveloped her hand and spread up her arm. She nodded once before meeting his eyes. Gosh, he had the strangest eyes. They almost seemed to glow for a second. Couldn’t be. Could it? No, not possible. She pulled her hand back. The walk to the door was short and his people were waiting outside stomping their feet and blowing warm air into their black gloves. The blast of frigid air had her tugging her worn, faded yellow sweater tight around her middle.

“Off we go then, boys.” Nick turned back to Abby. “Do me one thing, Abby. Remember to keep the faith and make your own magic.” He tapped the side of his nose.

She waved before shutting the door, engaging the locks and flipping the OPEN sign to CLOSED. Another bang came from the roof of the building and Abby glanced back at the closed door, saw nothing then up again to the ceiling as dust specks floated down from the light fixtures and shrugged.

She set the alarm, dropped off the night deposit bag and made her way home. Her one room apartment in the middle of the poorest part of the city reeked of loneliness, of hard times and of someone who’d given up. It shamed her. She was made of sterner stuff then this. Her parents saw to it she knew how to take care of herself. She’d been too humiliated to let them know her true circumstances. They hadn’t wanted her to leave with Cole. Turned out they were right. And she didn’t want to hear that either.

Now she was alone and all but destitute after Cole had taken off with everything but her car which had been out of gas. And it was Christmas. She blinked back tears and thought of Nick. The little bit of warmth and kindness he’d shown her crept back in and pushed some of the loneliness away.

Christmas came whether you wanted it to or not and sometimes you just had to make do with what you had even if it was very little. She fixed a bowl of soup, grabbed some crackers and sat down. Besides, there was a beautiful old church one block over. On her way to work tomorrow she’d check out the times for services tomorrow night. No need to be alone, at least for a couple of hours.

Christmas Eve night she showed up for the 7:00 pm service. When she’d called to check on times the receptionist had mentioned the supper they served to the community after service and before she could change her mind Abby had offered to help.

The cathedral glowed with promise, the message of hope pushed out through the doors and windows and into the street.  Inside, Abby was surrounded by music, fellow worshippers, candles and noise. The supper afterwards was a huge hit and enjoyed by many. All shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds. After everyone else had eaten the servers sat down together and dined on leftovers. Abby kept close to the gracious lady she spent the evening mashing potatoes with and they laughed over a note one of the guests had jotted down on the white paper tablecloth. They spent the next couple of minutes reading over the other thank you’s and stories the minister had encouraged the supper guests to write down. Until she came to one that read: Abigail, Remember, keep the faith and make your own magic. Nick.

Okay, that was beyond weird.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

She blushed, thought of the note, and shook her head as much to clear it as give her consent.

“Thanks.” He was about her age. Mid-twenties, dressed in jeans and a button-up shirt, the cuffs rolled up. Short cropped black hair, blue eyes, and some very attractive scruff. Earlier, she’d noticed him chopping vegetables. Tall and lean he’d grinned at her over a mountain of carrots.

“You’re welcome.”

He smiled again now.

She pushed the shyness back, smiled and stuck out her hand before she could change her mind. “Hi, I’m Abby.”

He wrapped long warm fingers around hers and held them for an extra couple of seconds. “It’s nice to meet you, Abby. I’m Ryan.”

 I hope you enjoyed reading Open Hearts as much as I enjoyed writing it. Remember to create a little of your own magic this holiday season. 

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