A Christmas Wish

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Romance


Two childhood friends find love on Christmas closer than either imagined.

Submitted: December 24, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 24, 2017

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A A A


A Christmas Wish

 

The Crystal City Mall drifts with the usual fare ranging from the browsers to the hardcore shoppers.  In the mix, you also find high schoolers seeking to be seen in their skinny jeans and funky hair styles like their favorite Anime characters.  Moms push strollers loaded with shopping bags trying to get the last-minute purchases done with junior squalling in tow.  Men in suits appear unsure what to buy for their significant others.  Most of them wander about the floors staring with desperation in display windows.  Hand in hand older couples stroll in and out of shops.  Some even drink from Starbuck’s containers while gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes.

It’s the love I see between these last strangers that swells my heart.  Warmth fills me with an equal measure of longing.  For a few months now, I've wanted some of that sort of romantic interaction for myself.  I even have the perfect candidate.  He just doesn’t know it. 

Wendel and I have known each other over half our lives.  As friends purely growing up under the worst circumstances, we've made the best of what life has dealt us.  It could have been worse since you could always find kids who had it worst than us.  We weren't abused or sickly, though. 

I don’t know.  Things have shifted between Wendel and I in the last few months.  The way our gazes linger a little longer where neither of us speak.  The touch of his hand down the curve of my back gives me thrills I’d never felt before.  The first and only kiss on the lips Wendel and I share has a lot to do with it, I'm sure. 

Wow!  I remembered every detail of it.  How soft Wendel's full lips were after we played the drinking game, for instance.  The hint of his tongue entering my mouth and tasting me was unexpected.  Overwhelmed, I also felt embarrassed at how good it felt to be kissing my best friend.  More of that foreign sensation running through me in excitement and warm tingles was what I desired.  The time limit for our kiss buzzed with its end one minute later in front of our whooting friends.  Wendel and I were flushed as red as the flashing light above our heads in time to the thump of the music. 

Maybe it was all that spiced rum we took?  Our friends and I were drunk as skunks that Halloween night, dancing on the furniture and breaking some of it in the process.  My friend Sue really was given the riot act about it and was forced to get a job to cover the expenses.  The party was so epic she declared it worth it. 

Sue didn’t mind the punishment much for another reason.  Her pay off surfaced in the hook-up with Tony.  A second-generation Italian out of Philly, he currently attended grad school at American U, and was a good friend and roommate of Wendel's.  Sue had been crushing on his dark good looks for a while but thought that I was interested in him.  I assured her I wasn't and that she should go after him if she wanted him.  Her other girlfriends sure were going to if Sue didn't.

No wonder Wendel and I pass out in each other’s arms on the floor with everyone else when Sue's parents return home earlier than expected.  Waking up beside my best friend was nothing new.  Wendel and I slept together plenty of times under the stars during the hot summers since our foster homes next door to each other had no air conditioners or central air.  We kept each other company in the backyard and fell asleep peacefully talking about the futures we wanted to lead. 

While only a little withdrawn, Wendel and I blossomed due to the friendship we cultivated.  It comforted us more than therapy to connect the way we did.  A real blessing in disguise, I always believed.  We understood each other so intimately and the loss we mutually suffered. 

Nothing like that sweet first kiss happens again.  Neither of us talks about it either.  I ponder it all the time without seeming to help it as I notice small things about my friend.  How he tilts his head at me when I say something goofy.  How his hazel eyes spark with his laugh at some joke, I ruin in the punchline of trying to cheer him up.  How his arms feel warmer as he holds me when I'm sad at how much violence fills our world and spews at us from the TV.  Every time I gather the courage to bring up the kiss and know Wendel’s thoughts about it, we are distracted by something else. 

“Clara, just tell him,” Sue said just two weeks ago.  She pushed the little blond curls of her new haircut from her forehead. 

I called myself keeping her company while she did inventory since it was slow in the restaurant after the lunch rush.  Nonetheless, I found myself distracted by Wendel.  Wearing jeans that were snug over his firm buttocks, my best friend replaced an overhead light in the hall leading to the small storeroom where I stood with Sue. 

“What?” I asked blushing at being caught checking Wendel out. 

With her deadpan expression, Sue said, “Tell him you’re in to him already.”

I shook my head in denial.  “No.  We’re friends.”

My friend put her fists on slim hips after lowering her tablet to a shelf.  “Friends don’t look at each other the way you two do.  Friends don’t spend every minute together the way you do, and friends do not swop spit the way you two did at my Halloween party.”

Nervously, I voiced the fear that blocked me every time I wanted to talk about it.  I knew there was no reason to deny if it seemed so evident to Sue.  “I don’t want to lose what we already have if this is all in my head.”

“It’s not.  I wish some guy as cute as Wendel would look at me the way he does you.”

I blinked at her in surprise.  Sue was the cutest girl with her sandy blond hair and blue eyes.  Me?  I was a brown-haired girl with the same colored eyes.  My figure was average.  Sue though was a little bigger on top than me with fuller hips.  A real hourglass shape she sported that had guys drooling over it when she wore a bikini or skintight jeans.  “Seriously?”

Sue threw her arms in the air.  “I can’t believe how clueless you two are.”

I scowled at her because I couldn't imagine what she was talking about.  “What?  I don’t know what you mean?”

She grabbed me by the shoulders and gave me a shake.  “Wendel is crazy about you!  Even when he’s not with you, he talks about you.  Why do you think he’s never dated anyone?”

My heart beat so fast because I wanted to know why that was, too.  I was eager to discover if it was the same reason I didn’t date.  How could I?  It’s always been Wendel for me. 

“Why?” I asked licking my lips that suddenly felt so dry like ancient paper at the answer of the ages.

“Are you kidding me?”  Sue shook her head slowly.  “He’s in love with you, Clara, as much as you are with him!”

So, another Christmas Eve arrives.  My friends visit with their loved ones.  Rather than sitting at home, I prefer to lose myself in the crowds shopping at my favorite mall.  The extra cash earned from tips in working at Ruby Tuesday’s in the same location allows me to go shopping now. 

On New Year’s Eve, I plan to meet up with friends.  We’ll exchange presents and party into the new year.  We’ve decided to hang out at our favorite pub called O’Meara’s in Arlington.  I look forward to seeing them all then. 

Today, I’m off.  So why come out?  I can’t help it.  It’s my favorite mall for people watching, and boy, it doesn’t disappoint! 

The news reports say that merchants worry about too few shoppers due to the surge of internet purchases.  It isn’t the truth at the Crystal City mall as I walk up the escalator from the subway.  I’m glad, too, because the last place I want to be is inside my own four walls right now.  I crave to be out with the masses because it doesn’t remind me that there is no one waiting for me to come home. 

The twinkling-colored lights delight me.  They help turn on the magic in how beautiful they are just like all the other jolly decorations.  Live wreaths of evergreen wrapped in red velvet bows hang above the entry doors.  A humungous live tree stands with reverence in the center of the food court at the bottom level complete with wrapped presents beneath.  In the halls dangle holly on ribbons with more velvet bows.  More evergreen is wrapped around banisters strung with white LED lights.  Streamers of white lights and crystal snowflake decorations hang across the expanse of the mall's open central area adding the finishing touches of dazzle.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” I ask with my hands clasped before me.  Grinning, I glance next to me.  My best friend in the world Wendel stands in his sexy ripped jeans and fitted gray sweater riding the escalator one step below mine.  We walk off at the same time. 

“Huh?” he grunts seemingly distracted with the blink of his soft hazel eyes.  For some time since we meet at the Eastern Market subway station he is, yet I am so wrapped up in the festive atmosphere cheering me up that I don’t notice. 

“Look around you!  It looks like Christmas!”  I gesture about as people hurry by us.

Wendel looks down at me before gazing around seemingly unimpressed.  “Uhh, I saw it fine when I had to help haul the crap out from storage and hoist it up by the ladders when the others couldn’t reach.”  He grimaces with the rub of his head of close-cropped black hair.  “In a week I’ll see it all up close again when I’ll have to help take it down.”

This is Wendel's least favorite holiday.  All the extra hours he’s had to put in the maintenance of the facility doesn’t help any.  I fight not to feel the same way because I know more than work bothers him.  Those other things sour his mood, which is why I drag him out of his lonely house with me.  I would be in a sour mood, too, yet I refuse to let it.

Ever since I was a little girl, I always loved Christmas.  Sure, I can’t celebrate it with my mom or dad anymore, but I try not to think about that loss.  The fire that stole them away from me changed my life. 

I was the happiest little girl up until I turned eight.  Wonderful parents spoiled and loved me.  I was the daughter they were told by doctors they could never have.  And, then the fire happened.  It devoured the old nursing home where they worked part-time as volunteer nurses.  Mom and Dad first met there and soon fell in love.  Arson, the investigators reported, conducted by one of the patients who was mentally unwell.  So many died trying to save the patients like my mom and dad did.  They were declared heroes.

The same was true of Wendel’s dad.  A real hero he was also, fighting to put out the blaze.  In the end, he was isolated from his fire crew while trying to find a Dementia patient.  He was able to rescue her but not before the fire overcame him.  Wendel’s mother already passed away a year before due to cancer.  Like me, Wendel had no other family living to take him.

“Don’t be like that.”  I nudge him in the side where his face lightens only marginally.  I grin more and nudge him again.  “Come on, Wendel.  Catch some Christmas spirit!”

“Would you quit!”  He tries to get away from me, weaving in and out of the streams of walkers.

I pursue close on his heels and demand, “Not until you give me a smile.”

Wendel pokes out his tongue at me.  “Bah-humbug!”

Here we are for yet another Christmas, spending it alone because neither of us have family.  This time of year is so hard for us because we remember the years we spend in foster care longing for the time we could break free and be on our own.  We both entered the Peace Corps and finished our time teaching digital literacy to school kids in Guinea.  It was the most rewarding time of our lives to see how another culture lives.  After hearing some of their stories of poverty, raping suffered, and killing endured by the bandits to their villages, we really appreciate all the opportunities that being American citizens provides us. 

Now Wendel and I pick up jobs at the mall trying our best to figure out what course to take.  There are always plenty of federal government jobs around Washington, D.C.  We only start exploring those while putting in applications everywhere.  In fact, Wendel lands an interview next week with the VA medical hospital for an engineering position.  I know he'll be perfect for it.  His natural inclination seems aimed toward fixing things.

I think about searching the VA hospital for a volunteering opportunity.  It is the one thing Wendel and I have in common besides a love for strawberry ice cream.  We enjoy giving back to others like those who have given to us over the years after our parents were gone.  It takes our minds off what we don’t have and gives us purpose at the same time.  Wendel and I really have the heart for it. 

“Oh, no you don’t!” I shout as my friend attempts to slip away from me inside a Bath and Body Works store.

Wendel immediately regrets it as he starts sneezing his head off at all the different flowery or fruity scents bombarding his sensitive nose.  Before one of the clerks could greet him, he’s back out the door rubbing his nose before the last sneeze into the crook of his arm.

I giggle at him while offering a tissue from my purse.  Shaking my head at him I say, “What am I going to do with you?”

He pulls out a tiny box and lowers to one knee with everyone around gasping as much as I do.  His hazel eyes glitter at me as he holds out the gold ring with a small diamond in the center that shines brighter than any light around us.  My eyes grow larger yet.  I feel speechless and flush in the confused emotions running through me.

I remember the scrawny boy Wendel used to be.  We used to play house all the time at my insistence.  He would accept, of course.  Our play began with him asking me to marry him.  I agreed, and he promised to always be there for me. 

After all these years, I realize Wendel has been the one sure thing I could count on no matter what.  He’s kept true to his promise.  I’ve loved him so much for that.  My heart swells choking me in the tears rushing up to my eyes.

“Clara,” he begins in a voice that trembles like his hands that take mine.  They feel clammy which surprises me.  He’s nervous!  I’ve never seen him this way.  “You are my best friend and so much more.  More is what I wish.  I wish to come home to you.  I wish for your heart as you already have mine.  I love you, Clara.  With this promise ring, I promise to be true only to you and when we are ready to marry you if you’ll have me.”

“Oh, yes!”  I let him slip the promise ring on my shaking finger as everyone watching us start clapping.  “I love you so much!  I always have!”  I throw myself down on him bawling.  He catches me tightly to him as he stands, squeezing me.  The crowd gathered around us cheer even louder.  We are oblivious to them. 

Wendel makes it to his feet as my tears slow and the crowd thins to go on their way.  He wipes my cheeks with his thumbs and whispers with tears in his own eyes, “Merry Christmas.” 

My best friend and now boyfriend gives me a mega-watt smile this time before he leans down his tall frame to brush his lips against mine.  The emotions within me burst forth accompanied by a burning sweetness that sends tingles through all of me.  I am breathless again and so happy.  This love we share for each other is the best Christmas wish granted for both of us.

 


© Copyright 2018 Amy F. Turner. All rights reserved.

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