CABB’s Winter

Challenge, 2022

DECEMBER HOLIDAYS

DECEMBER 31 ~ MAKE UP YOUR MIND DAY

YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO …

by JoAnn Baca

Did you ever have to finally decide?
Say yes to one and let the other one ride.
There’s so many changes, and tears you must hide.
Did you ever have to finally decide?

 
From Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind
by John Sebastian

 

Joe sat in a corner in a bar at a table sticky with spilled drinks. The New Year’s Eve party was in full swing, but he didn’t feel much like getting into that swing – not even a little bit. He was nursing the same beer he’d ordered when he’d arrived two hours ago, just wallowing in his own frustrations, too morose to drink.

It was stupid to have thought Radcliffe would have wanted to spend this night of all nights with me. Stupid to think she didn’t already have plans…plans much nicer than this bar in this neighborhood…with this fool. What had possessed me to ask her?

He knew what: he had approved her transfer to the Appeals Division, where she would no longer be doing any investigative work and, more importantly, where he would no longer be her supervisor. Dating outside the chain of command was allowed, and to celebrate that, he had asked her out…for New Year’s Eve.

Yep, good ole Joe Maxwell, Mr. Decisive – it had only taken him two years to make up his mind to ask her out. Sure, he’d gotten hints that she was involved with someone, but he had begun to believe that was a ruse. She had no photos of herself with this guy on her desk, she never mentioned places they’d gone to dinner, she brought a different person each time an office event required a plus-one. So really, what was a fella to think?

So, yeah, he’d taken the plunge. Finally. Asked her out.

Her answer? “I might stop by for a few minutes.”

Kind of missed the point there, Radcliffe.

Or maybe she hadn’t. At all.

He was torn from his musings by a change in the noise level. There were some wolf whistles at the front of the bar, elevating the dull roar of the crowd. Joe looked up to see what the ruckus was about. From where he was sitting, he could see the tops of two heads moving from the doorway back toward where he was sitting. As the crowd parted, he saw who it was.

Radcliffe. And that friend of hers. Jenna? No. Jenny.

They both looked amazing, all dolled up and worth every one of those wolf whistles they’d inspired. More, even. He would have whistled himself, but he didn’t want to get slugged in the arm by his newly-former office mate.

His heart did a stutter-step. Was it possible…?

“Hey, ladies!”

“Hi, Joe! You remember Jenny?” Cathy was standing in front of him, dressed in a figure-hugging velvet dress, a wool coat over her arm. Her companion was clad in some silky thing that accentuated her curves.

Joe did a double-take. She had more curves than Radcliffe. And her curly hair was piled loosely atop her head, making her look like some kind of movie star. He remembered meeting Jenny, but he didn’t recall her looking this good!

“Sure he remembers me,” Jenny said, smiling warmly in what seemed to be more than mere politeness. “How could he forget me?!”

Joe laughed. “I couldn’t possibly,” he replied, and was shocked to realize he was actually flirting with her. Where had his self-pitying down-in-the-dumps attitude of a moment ago gone?

Gazing up at her face, he noticed how Jenny’s brown eyes sparkled, the corners crinkling in a cute way. He didn’t think he’d ever paid attention to them before, or maybe he’d never really looked at her, never noticed just how attractive she was.

Jenny took the other chair at his table. “We ordered beers. Want one?”

Joe lifted his half-full bottle and waggled it. “Got my own.”

Jenny nodded. “How does that Billie Holiday song go? ‘God bless the child that’s got his own’?”

Admiration at her reference filled him. “You like Billie Holiday?” Not many women her age knew or appreciated just what a treasure Lady Day was. Joe had her music on all the time at home.

“Who doesn’t? Somebody with no taste in good music, maybe.” Jenny shook her head, as if feeling sorry for those idiots.

Two bottles of beer materialized in front of them. Joe looked up. How had he totally forgotten that Cathy was with Jenny? Now he was flustered. “Uh…let me find you a chair, Radcliffe.”

Catherine waved one hand in a dismissive gesture. “Don’t bother. I really can’t stay. I just came by to wish you a Happy New Year! Coming, Jen?” Her half-smile, directed at her old friend, suggested she didn’t expect her companion to join her.

“If Joe doesn’t mind, I think I’ll keep him company for a bit. OK with you, big guy?”

Jenny almost batted her eyelashes, but resisted. She just bent her head a bit and looked up at him with as fetching an expression as she could muster. She’d dragooned Catherine into setting her up with Joe, and planned to make the most of the occasion. If only Joe could take his mind off Cathy long enough to see someone who was interested in being with him.

Joe, surprised, gave one last wistful thought to the woman standing in front of him, the woman who was already putting on her coat to go who-knows-where to meet who-knows-who. A woman who had never shown the least interest in him in all the time he’d known her, while he’d mooned over her longingly.

His inner self bridled. Maxwell men should not “moon,” it isn’t in our DNA.

Meanwhile, a very lovely lady who seemed quite interesting and interested was sitting at his elbow.

Gotta make a choice. Gotta let one dream go if you want to take a chance on a different one coming true. Cut your losses. Take a leap. What did she call me? ‘Big Guy’? Nice!

He was already turning to face Jenny as he waved goodbye to Catherine. “See ya ‘round, Radcliffe! Happy New Year to you, too!”

OH! Catherine could barely contain her excitement when she opened the curtains in her apartment and saw the newly fallen snow on her balcony high above the city streets. She gulped some coffee as she rushed to dress in her warm woolen sweater, threw on her coat, and wrapped a scarf around her neck.

She ran out the door, putting on her gloves, then she raced to the drainage tunnel in the park, eager to share her delight with Vincent! She tapped hurriedly on the pipes, but before she could finish, he appeared, with the soft glow of warm light from within shining behind him. He blinked from the blinding sun on the new blanket of snow that covered all and muted the browns and greys of fall. And then his eyes adjusted to the brightness and he saw his love. Catherine!

He gently drew her to him for their welcome embrace full of longing, when suddenly a wall of snow slid off the top of the tunnel opening – landing on their heads, causing them to giggle. As they laughed and hugged, they lost their balance and tumbled together into the fluffy whiteness on the ground, and all around them shimmered and swirled in the sunlight.

As Catherine began to show Vincent how to make angels in the downy flakes, Vincent leaned over and they shared their first kiss in the snow. But they didn’t feel the cold seeping into their clothes. Their shared passion grew from within, melting the frozen powder that encased them.

“Come inside, to my chamber, “ said Vincent. “There, I will kiss your hands warm as we sit in the candlelit glow, and I’ll read to you as you lean against me, warming us both.”

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