Holiday Short Story Contest Winners

Hi everyone, 

We were originally going to have first, second, and third places, but since we received four stories, we added a fourth place so that all of the authors would receive a prize. We're so happy with how this contest turned out and we love all of the entries! Thank you to the writers for sharing your stories with us and the readers for taking the time to post your feedback. Here's how the stories ranked based on our opinions and reader comments:

1st place: Who Needs Mistletoe? by Lucie Simone - $50 Amazon gift card
2nd place: Love and Christmas Cookies by Cindy Arora - $25 Amazon gift card
3rd place: Christmas Angel by Karoline Barrett - $15 Amazon gift card
4th place: Kissing at Midnight by Sarah Tillitt - $10 Amazon gift card

Congratulations! You all did a fantastic job! You'll receive your prizes via email. 

Happy holidays! :)

The Chick Lit Bee

Holiday Short Story Contest: Christmas Angel

Christmas Angel

I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel as I waited for the green light. When it came, I let out an exasperated sigh as the ancient car in front of me proceeded to the next light at a snail’s pace. Sheesh! Why did I always get behind drivers that had no clue what an accelerator was for? 
Now, as I waited for the second light to turn green, I inched my SUV closer to the car in front of me, hoping to intimidate the person into moving a little faster once the light turned. No such luck. The light turned green. They sat.  
I gave a blast of my horn as I opened my window. I barely noticed the frigid air hitting my face. “It’s green! Come on! Some of us have places to be!”
The driver glanced in the rear view mirror. I felt a tiny pang of guilt. It wasn’t that I was a miserable, mean woman, but I really did have an important place to be. That, and the fact that tonight was Christmas Eve and I was spending it alone. Not to mention that I would be spending tomorrow alone without a tree or decorations, which didn’t exactly have me singing hallelujah.  All my friends thought I had plans, since that’s what I told them. I didn’t want them to take me in out of pity.
I rolled my eyes as we approached another light that had, of course, immediately turned red.  Suddenly, a blue truck rolled up next to me in the right turn lane. Where had that come from? There had been no one around a second ago. The man driving rolled down his window then indicated I should do the same.  What now? I gave him what I hoped was a thoroughly annoyed face, but he just waited. I rolled down my window, shivering  as cold air filled my car.
“Why did you yell at her?” he asked.   
I blinked. His voice was deep, and sounded like hot, melted dark chocolate.  My mouth opened, but nothing came out. First, because the sexy voice belonged to a hot guy whose looks screamed romance novel cover.  Second, what business was if of his? But for the life of me I couldn’t manage to ask him that very question. I was too mesmerized by a pair of dark blue eyes staring at me.  
“She’s holding me up,” I managed to finally sputter. I didn’t understand why I was even answering this guy, or why I felt so small.
He nodded once. “Maybe her husband recently died of cancer and she feels lost.” He raised an eyebrow at me as he rolled up his window.
 How did he know that? Was it even true? The light was still red, but I no longer cared. I watched as he turned right, then turned left. I frowned as I quickly closed my window. I maneuvered into the right turn lane, turned, then drove slowly by the street  mystery man had turned down. It was a dead-end alley, just as I thought. Not only that, but there was no sign of him anywhere. How weird was that?
By the time I had arrived at my destination, I had forgotten all about the slower-than-molasses driver, and the guy in the truck. I was thinking about the man I was about to meet. The man who wanted to buy The Cat’s Meow, my 1870 brick Italianate bed and breakfast. I rented out six of the bedrooms, and slept in the seventh. Not that I wanted to sell it, but it seemed I had no choice.
I had always dreamed of having a bed and breakfast, and five years ago I was able to buy one at an unbelievable price. Until this year, I had been doing quite well. But lately, the spare bedrooms stayed empty. My cats, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne had no one to entertain, and I was having problems making the mortgage payments, even with my full-time job as a librarian. On top of all that, my fiancé decided to elope with his cousin’s wife (don’t ask). So you can see why I might have been a little out of sorts.
I hated saying good-bye to The Cat’s Meow. Christmas at my cozy little bed and breakfast was my favorite time. I went all out with decorations, found the biggest tree I could find, and made Christmas as special as I could for my boarders. My parents lived three-thousand miles away in California and my brother and his wife lived in Alaska, so my boarders were often my family at Christmas time. I smiled to myself thinking of the eighty-year old newlyweds I had with me at Christmas last year, and the Do Not Disturb sign that hung on their door knob for most of their visit. 
I pulled into the office building where I was to meet Jackson Holloway, the lawyer who wanted to buy The Cat’s Meow. I realized that I would have to find a small apartment to live in very soon. 
“Victoria.” He strode out of his office to greet me after I had announced myself to his receptionist.
 “Mr. Holloway,” I responded shaking his hand.
“None of that now. It’s Jackson.” He put an arm around my shoulder in a way I found, well, off-putting to say the least, and guided me into his office.
I sat, eager to get down to business.  “I was hoping to wrap the sale up this week.”
Mr. Holloway leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head. “There’s a problem.”
I groaned inside.  “What is it?”
He let out a long sigh and sat up, leaning toward me. “I’m not going to be able to buy your establishment after all.”
“What?” I squeaked.  Even though I didn’t want to sell The Cat’s Meow, I wasn’t sure I could make the mortgage payment that was due next week. “Why not?”
“My accountant advised me not to.” He looked away from me.  “I’ve had a better offer to invest my money elsewhere. I’m sorry, missy.”
Missy? I stood up. “I see. Well, I’m disappointed, but thank you for your time.”
He got up and rushed to his office door, blocking my exit. “No hard feelings. How about dinner tonight, Victoria?”
I managed to squeeze around him and grab the door handle. I yanked it open. I smiled sweetly. “Sorry, I’ve got a better offer.”
When I got home it was almost dark. I made myself some tea, watched Jeopardy, and somehow ate a whole pound cake. I pulled my pink and green afghan around me.  Tears pricked my eyes as I looked at the Christmas tree-less living room. The cats stared at me. “I know, I know. I could’ve gotten a tree, but why?”             
               I bolted up, my heart racing. The VCR read 11:45 p.m. Alex Trebek was long gone, but something had startled me awake.
               “Maybe she’s not home,” a feminine voice said.
               Was someone at the door? A loud series of knocks—make that banging—on the front door answered my question.  My heart thumped even harder. Who on earth was it?
               “She’s home,” assured a masculine voice.
               I grabbed my cell phone from the end table. Should I call 9-1-1?
               “Victoria? Are you in there?” the feminine voice said again.
               I went to the door, wrapping the afghan more tightly around myself.  “Who is it?  My husband will be down in a minute. With his gun.”
              A male voice, that now sounded familiar, laughed. “You don’t have a husband. Or a gun. Come on, it’s freezing out here. We need to put up your tree.”
               Throwing caution aside, I tore open the door.  I stared. It was the truck guy and an old woman who looked a lot like Aunt Bea from the old Andy Griffith Show.  The truck guy was trying to balance the biggest Christmas tree I’d ever seen, and she was holding a big box. 
               “How did you know my name?” I demanded.
               She looked at the truck guy. “Caleb told me.”
               I nodded as if that made all the sense in the world.  So that was his name. Caleb.
               “May we come in, dear? I’d like to help you get this tree up, then go to bed. It’s way past my bed time, you know,” the woman said.
               I stepped aside, still confused. Truck guy…um…Caleb, dragged the tree in. Where was I going to put that monster, and more importantly, who were these people?
“Who are you people?”
               “Got some more stuff in the truck. Be right back, then I’ll answer your questions,” Caleb said.
               I nodded, then turned to his companion. “How did he know my name?”
               “He’s your Christmas angel. And the father of your children.”
               My brows shot up. “He’s my who and what?”
               “Let’s start from the beginning.” She wandered into the living room.  “My name is Beatrice.  You were behind me today. Caleb told me.”
               “You were the woman driving so slo… I mean, driving in front of me?”
               “Yes, that was me, dear. Caleb was right.  My husband, Bernie, died of cancer a month ago.” She sniffled. “Sometimes it’s hard.”
               I reached out and touched her arm. “I’m sorry about Bernie.”
               Beatrice nodded as she pulled a tissue out of her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes. “It’s okay.”
               The door opened again. Caleb had two boxes in his arms. He winked at me and my heart warmed. “Come on, girls. Let’s get going.”
               I watched in wonder as Caleb strung the trees with multicolored lights. He glanced at me a couple of times and grinned. I felt all mushy inside.
               “We brought some decorations,” said Beatrice, “but not enough for this big tree, I’m afraid. You have some decorations?”
               “Of course. This is the first year I haven’t put up a tree. They’re all in the basement.”
               “I’ll help you,” offered Caleb.
               He followed me to the basement. I realized I was excited about the tree, and totally at peace with my visitors. I pointed out the boxes with my Christmas decorations in them. “Wait. Who are you?”
               Caleb brushed a finger down my check. I shivered. “I’m your Christmas angel.”
               “Christmas angel? That’s what Beatrice said.” I tried to stop thinking about his lips on mine.
               “Yeah. I’ve been given a second chance at life. All I had to do was bring love to three people. See, in my previous life, three people were very hurt because of me. I’ve been stuck between here and happily ever after as an angel. Tonight was my deadline to bring love to three people.”
            I hung onto his every word. “And did you?”
He looked at me for a long time, then stepped toward me. Suddenly, I was melting against his hard body. His hands cradled my face and his lips came down on mine.  My hands traveled up his muscled back, and I felt his big white wings flutter.  I deepened our kiss.  He was, after all, going to be the father of my children.
He slowly ended the kiss and pulled away. “Oh, yeah. I certainly did bring love to three people.”
I swallowed. I didn’t even remember what we were doing down in the basement. “What would have happened if you hadn’t?”
               “I’d lose my wings and go to...Well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be very comfortable there.”
               “Who did you bring love to?”
               He didn’t answer. Instead he picked up a box. “Let’s get the decorations upstairs. Beatrice probably wonders what happened to us.”
               With our hands full, we trudged back upstairs. But his kiss lingered on my lips, and certain other parts of my body were all a-stir.
               “Well, for corn’s sake,” huffed Beatrice as we came into the living room. “What took you so long?”  She was on the couch surrounded by three purring cats. She looked right at home. “I took a little tour of your bed and breakfast here. I’d like the purple room, if that’s okay. I always was partial to purple.”
               I smiled at her. “I think that’s fine. You’re staying the night?”  
               “Well, yes. Didn’t Caleb explain anything when you were downstairs? Or maybe you were otherwise occupied,” she tittered.
               I blushed. “No, he didn’t explain anything.” The only thing I knew was Caleb was the best kisser I’d ever come across. I couldn’t help but wonder what other talents he had.
               “Decorating first,” said Caleb, trying to look stern. “We can talk later.”
               The three of us worked in silence for an hour decorating the huge tree. When we stepped back, I had to admit it was the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen.
               Beatrice plopped down on the couch, yawning. “Okay, it’s decorated, Caleb. How about you tell Victoria the rest of your story?”
               I settled on the couch next to Beatrice. “Yes, you never told me who the three people were that you brought love to.”
               Caleb smiled down at us. “I’d been assigned to find Beatrice a new man. Or, so I thought. I was following her that day I ran into you. I finally caught up with her at the Blue Bird diner. I told her I was an angel, and I’d been sent to find her a new man. That was supposed to be my first good deed.”
               Beatrice rolled her eyes. “But he got his wires crossed, or whatever it is that gets crossed when you’re an angel. You’re the one he was supposed to find a new man for.”
               Caleb cleared his throat. “Can I finish my own story?”
               “By all means,” replied Beatrice, her hand waving in a theatrical gesture.
               “As Beatrice said, I got my wires crossed until Elvis straightened me out.”
               My jaw dropped. “Elvis? As in Elvis?”
               “No, not that Elvis. Elvis is next in command to the Big Guy.” He looked heaven-ward. “You know. The Big Guy up there. Elvis pointed out that you were the woman I was supposed to find a new man for.”
               I was sitting on the edge of the couch now. “Then what happened?”
               “Elvis let me know that you were heading west on Eighth Avenue. That’s where I found you,” he frowned, “yelling out your window. I recognized Beatrice in front of you. That’s when I rolled down my window. Since I knew her story, I felt sorry for her. I didn’t want you yelling at her like that. But when  I took a look at you, I realized I’d found the perfect man for you.”
               “Who?” I whispered.
               “Me,” he replied in a husky voice.
               I wanted Caleb to kiss me in the worst way, but first, I had an apology to make. “I’m sorry, Beatrice. Really sorry. I wish I could make it up to you.”
               Beatrice grinned. “Oh, you are. I’m going to move in and pay half your mortgage.”
               “You’re what?”
               Beatrice jumped up. “It’s a perfect arrangement. I’ve got tons of money. I’m alone. You need help. Don’t worry. I’ll be gone by the time you and Caleb get married. I know newlyweds need their privacy.” She winked at him. “He’s got one of his friends working on a man for me.”
               “So,” interjected Caleb, “the three people are you, Beatrice and me. I’ve found love for all of us. You and Beatrice will be helping each other and grow to love each other as friends. You and I are about to fall in love as lovers do.”
               I was speechless. Tears filled my eyes.
Beatrice pulled a tissue from her sleeve and handed it to me. “No need to cry. It’s Christmas for corn’s sake.” She glanced at the time. “Oh, Lordy, it’s almost one-thirty in the morning. I need my beauty sleep.” She waddled away, throwing her hand up in a wave.
               “Goodnight, Beatrice,” Caleb and I chorused.
               I turned to Caleb. He enveloped me in his arms. “You’re really going to be the father of my children?”
               “All six of them.”
               I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. I was busy pulling his head down for another one of his kisses. My hands skimmed past his waist and his back. I noticed the wings were gone.
               He pulled away from me and smiled. “I’m fully human again. No more Christmas angel.”
               “You’ll always be my Christmas angel,” I whispered against his lips.

Holiday Short Story Contest: Love and Christmas Cookies

Love and Christmas Cookies

Three weeks until Christmas Eve
Eggnog latte. Check. Christmas radio station playing Wham’s “Last Christmas.” Check. Inflatable thirty foot Santa Claus with eight reindeer on top of the Ford car dealership. Check, check and check.
I peek out the window and watch Gary Wyndam, owner of the car dealership, motion his hands like an orchestra conductor to the handyman standing on the rooftop. After several different tries, Gary finally flashes the okay sign. Santa and his reindeer sit perched on the building hovering above the 405 freeway as a glowing beacon of Christmas cheer to drivers stuck in gridlock traffic.
Looks like Christmas in Los Angeles has officially arrived, I muse happily and turn on my Christmas music a bit louder so I can rock out.
“Tis the season to be jolly, fa, la, la, la,” I sing off-key as I pour a cup of brown sugar into a vintage Depression pink mason jar. I pat the sugar firmly with a small pastry spatula, follow with a 1 ½ cup of flour, 2/3 cup of sugar, a teaspoon of baking powder, a cup of chocolate chips, a heaping cup of toffee chips and cup of chopped pecans. 
Slipping on the cap, I seal it shut and wrap a turquoise and silver ribbon around the pale pink nape of the jar and slide a miniature wood rolling pin and a stick of cinnamon for eye candy.  I step away from the jar and admire the different layers and textures knowing any baker will love finding this gift underneath their Christmas tree.
“Dear Nicole, Enjoy making these Blondie Bars. They are both delicious and sinful. Happy Baking this Holiday Season—Sweetly Yours, Mason Jar Betty”
The back door opens abruptly and my mother appears in front of me wearing a bright lemon yellow windbreaker with her teacup terrier Coco—named after the hot beverage, not the fashion designer—tucked under her arm.
“How could you not tell me that you and Kevin broke up?” she demands with the same look she gave me when she caught me smoking in high school.
How could I forget to lock the door?
“Mom, I don’t want to talk about it and there are no dogs allowed in a kitchen. Take him outside.” I slump against the stainless steel counter and mentally prepare myself for a good old fashion guilt trip that only a mother can do.
“He was practically family, Eleanor. We bought him a Christmas gift this year. What am I going to do with the craft beer of the month club we got him? Beers from Belgium? Holiday ales? Stouts?” my mother asks loudly while she ties Coco to a bike rack.
“Send it to me. I’m going through a breakup and alcohol helps.”
“That isn’t funny. How could you not tell us?  I called him this morning to ask him what time would work for dinner this Christmas since you have been avoiding my call,” she says with an accusatory look.  “And he told me you broke it off with him a month ago. A month? I was so embarrassed.” My mother groans, but I continue packaging the orders that need to go out today, refusing to let her bait me into another discussion on how I am mishandling my love life. “Well, at least I got to say goodbye to him,” she says with watery eyes.
“Seriously? Are you crying? This is why I don’t tell you, Mom. Where’s your tiara?”
She gets quiet and blinks at me while she thinks about this and then laughs at herself. “Okay. You may be right.” My mother tucks her car keys into her fanny pack and takes a seat on one of the stools in the kitchen that I rent three times a week at Naples Culinary School.  “So, I have to ask. What was wrong with this one? Not fun? Too rich? Not creative enough? I had a feeling he wasn’t going to make it to Christmas when he took you camping for your birthday. Your father and I were surprised to see him for lunch that next weekend.”
“For the record, I like camping, just not when it requires hunting for my own food,” I say tartly.
How do I explain to my mom that when it comes to love, I know what I am looking for because I have felt it before when I was too young and arrogant to know that big love, the kind that changes you, doesn’t happen often? If ever. How do I tell her that what I felt for Kevin and everyone else in the last eight years doesn’t  come close to what I felt once before? Do I tell my mother that? No.
“Mom, we just didn’t fit.”
“How can it be that no one ever fits, Eleanor?”
Two days until Christmas Eve
“Welcome to Long Beach Airport, seventy five degrees and clear blue skies. Happy Holidays, folks,” the pilot croons over the loudspeaker as the crowd of passenger’s mob their way to the front door.
Hello sweet sunshine, Danny O’Hare thinks as he steps off the plane and takes a deep belly breath of the crisp ocean air. How he ended up living in Wisconsin, is something he asks himself every February when he’s defrosting his car for thirty five minutes before driving to work in the dark of winter.
“Danny!” He hears his name and scans the cars lined up on the curb and sees his older sister Barbara waving at him from her station wagon looking nervously toward a cop who is staring at her and pointing to the “Loading Only” sign. “I cannot believe you are here little brother,” she says happily as he jumps in the car and she guns it out of the airport.
“Nice to see my girls. It has been way too long.”
“Mom is convinced you hate her new husband and that’s why you are skipping the holidays at her house.” Barbara settles into her chatty self and the two years they haven’t seen each other melts away. “Thursday is the city’s Christmas Eve on the Bay celebration, remember? Gosh, you used to work that festival every year when you worked at the coffeehouse on the pier. Beansmith, I think it was called?”
“All that hot chocolate and mulled apple cider paid for my beer money on the weekends.”
“Could be a fun way to spend some family time,” Barbara says with a sideways glance. “Mom tells me you haven’t dated anyone since you broke up with Patty last year. You in a slump or just taking a break?”
Danny looks out the window and debates on his answer. Is he in a slump? He’d say so, but no matter how many dates he goes on or relationships he gets involved in, there is always a moment when he realizes it’s not what he is looking for or maybe he should say who. Eleanor Ortiz, the name and the girl have been taking up space in his mind since last Christmas, ever since he split up with Patty. A surprise since it looked as if they were moving toward a marriage proposal not a breakup.
But there they were, decorating a Christmas tree, fireplace blazing, drinking eggnog martinis and listening to Bing Crosby. In between kissing under the mistletoe and hanging the Christmas angel, Danny looked over at Patty and knew she wasn’t the one. Again. This keeps happening.
“I don’t mean to be nosey. Forget I asked. You’ll meet someone when the time is right,” Barbara says sheepishly. “I sound like mom sometimes and that really scares me.”
“It’s okay.  I’m in a slump. It’s official. But that’s why I came here to see you for Christmas, looking for some perspective.”
“Christmas cures everything. We can watch cheesy movies and bake cookies for the festival tomorrow. I’ll make your favorite …”
“Brown sugar shortbread,” Danny says, relishing the comfort of being with family.
“That’s right. And tomorrow night we will head out, sing a few carols and get you back in the right spirits. Sometimes, you have to come home to find what you’re looking for.”
“That’s what I’m hoping.”
Christmas Eve
No matter how old you are, how busy or how Grinch-like you may be, you can’t help but be charmed by our beach town Christmas. The city is turned into a winter wonderland of colorful lights, inflatable snowmen that buoy in the ocean and homes are transformed into glowing gingerbread houses and candy cane lanes.
It really is the most magical time of year, I think while looking at the bay sparkle with Christmas lights as the day dips into dusk and the smell of cinnamon and mulled cider mingles with salty ocean air.
“What did the maven of cookies make us this year?” asks Vivian Howard, the grey haired retired librarian who runs the cookie exchange with an iron rolling pin.
“Brown sugar shortbreads, peanut blossoms and Blondie Bars.”
Vivian nods approvingly and points at the Christmas sweater I unearthed at the Salvation Army sweater sale this week.
“How do you get that thing to glow?”
I put both hands on my waist and twirl around like an overzealous catalogue model to show off the reindeer with the red flashing nose.
“There’s a tiny battery in the sweater,” I say with delight. “I think I can win the ugly sweater contest with this one.
“No doubt about that sweetheart,” Vivian says while scanning the sign-up sheet.
“By the way, someone else is bringing in brown sugar shortbread cookies this year.”
“Really?” I reach for the clipboard. “I got that recipe from someone a long time ago. I’ve never met anyone who knows about them.” I read the list of names. “Barbara and Page LaRue. Never heard of them. Are they new to the neighborhood?”
“You know Barbara. She used to be Barbara O’Hare. The tall, leggy blonde who was always late returning her books.” Vivian tsks and then lowers her voice. “She moved back a few months ago from San Francisco with her thee-year old daughter.
My heart races. Barbara O’Hare is back in town?
“What time is she scheduled to drop off her cookies?” I ask casually.
“Five o’clock,” Vivian says and then lowers her bifocals down to peer at me in a way that only a woman of a certain age can. “You dated her brother, didn’t you? Danny? The quiet one. He was a bookworm that one and always returned his books on time. Such a good boy,” she sighs.
“Yes, yes he was a good one,” I agree absentmindedly.  Great, even Vivian loved him.
Just as I’m about to launch into an overly personal explanation on why Danny and I split up after college instead of getting married—and divorced—as so many of our classmates did. Vivian straightens her shoulders like a good Christmas soldier as Santa Claus walks past us.
“Merry Christmas, ladies. Let’s get ready.”
“Merry Christmas, Santa,” we chime back.
“Look alive, Eleanor. It’s starting.” Vivian is all business now. Christmas has officially started. My pending emotional share will have to be postponed.
“We need a tray of hot cocoas and mulled cider from Beansmith. Can you be a dear and pick them up? Tell Carol we need twenty of each and keep ‘em coming all night.”
“You got it. Be right back.” I dash off, hoping Barbara doesn’t arrive while I’m gone, but what’s  a few more minutes when I’ve waited eight years.
Rushing through the maze of the bay pathways, I decide to make a quick detour to the Myer’s house that is decorated into a brightly colored gingerbread house—dancing candy canes and gingerbread men included. It’s my favorite holiday house on display and also where Danny and I kissed for the first time.
I’ve never forgotten that kiss. Or him for that matter, I think as I turn the corner and come to an abrupt halt when I see Danny sitting on the bench. He’s facing the bay, watching the cluster of boats gear up for the Christmas boat parade.
I walk over and take a seat next to him quietly. “Danny O’Hare, I’ve been waiting for you,” I say as if I just saw him days before.
“Have you? Me too.” Danny doesn’t skip a beat either and takes my hand into his as our fingers instantly intertwine.
“I made a mistake” I say, thinking about the moment eight years ago when I broke up with him so I could move to Boston for my career.
But he lifts has hand, places his finger on my lips and shakes his head.
“I noticed that you still bake my favorite Christmas cookies. Why is that?” he asks, our noses nearly touching and both of us grinning at each other foolishly.
“I guess I hoped that if I set them out with a glass of milk, Santa would make my Christmas wish come true. Looks like he finally did,” I say as Danny pulls me close and leans in for a kiss.
“Merry Christmas, Eleanor Ortiz,” he whispers.

Holiday Short Story Contest: Kissing at Midnight

Kissing at Midnight
By Sarah Tillitt

Another Christmas – the time of joy, giving, crushing disappointment and bitter recriminations, if you were spending it at my house anyway.
Everything was a point of contention. The location. The food. The after-dinner movie. (My sister’s house, so we didn’t have to choose between Mom and Dad, ham and tofu for both friend and foe of the pig and anything not rendered in claymation, respectively.)
And then, of course, before the sting of Christmas had even faded, it was New Year’s Eve. Which, for me, meant Jamie’s and Julie’s annual New Year’s party, spending the evening with a roomful of couples and dodging unappealing men at midnight.
But not this year. Well, okay, realistically, this holiday would in all likelihood bear a striking resemblance to all those before it, but this year the mayhem would have a silver lining. A little icing on the cake, even if the cake was the horrible fruity kind nobody liked.
This year my sister Clare had a gift in store for me far more exciting than the typical bath and candle sets. Which were nice, don’t get me wrong, but without the sizzle factor of the flesh and blood man she was delivering this year!
Before you get the wrong impression, this was not a, er… gentleman of the night that she’d invited to Christmas dinner. Crazy as we may be in my family, that sort of carrying on would not go over well on the Lord’s birthday. No, this was her hunky husband’s cousin, Marc. Hopefully, her hunky husband’s equally-as-hunky cousin, Marc.
“Angela, he’s perfect! You’re going to love him!” she gushed the night before.
“If he’s so perfect, why’s he coming to our sideshow of a Christmas? Shouldn’t he have loved ones of his own to make miserable?” I was suspicious, not to be played the fool.
I’d discovered an interesting phenomenon in the past few years following my twenty sixth birthday. In light of my unwavering single status, the term “perfect” had become synonymous for “male and single.” It seemed my friends were under the impression that literally anyone would do.
“Well, technically Nate would qualify as a loved one,” Clare pointed out. “But he’s not spending Christmas with his parents because he was supposed to be spending it with his girlfriend’s family in Denver, but now they’ve broken up. And his parents had booked themselves a holiday cruise since he wasn’t going to be around, so now he’s coming here!” she finished triumphantly.
Hmm… seemed understandable enough. And since he’d been planning to be out of town, there was a chance he didn’t have any New Year’s Eve plans yet…
Clare and I spent the next half hour planning strategy for the next day and I went to bed with a feeling of excitement I hadn’t felt on Christmas Eve since I was a kid. It wasn’t that I was desperate, mind you (well not just that, anyway), but I refused to end up alone at midnight in Jamie’s and Julie’s living room once again.
People in couples seemed to be completely unaware of it, but as the stroke of midnight got closer and closer, a bizarre form of musical chairs began among the unattached party guests, with everyone trying to shuffle closer to a desirable kissing partner or farther away from the Quasimodos of the group.
However, it was all very covert and under the pretense of natural, nonchalant mingling and milling about. Making an obvious lunge to or from someone at twelve o’clock would leave you branded desperate or a rude kill joy. As such, at past parties, I wound up enduring kisses from two of Jamie’s and Julie’s weird neighbors, all the while some other lucky girl got to kiss a far more palatable man that I hadn’t dared to get within twelve feet of for fear of looking overeager and foolish.
I woke up extra early. Spent a long time prepping. Used a special new coconut shampoo and conditioner on my hair. By two o’clock that afternoon, I had done as much prep-work as possible and was ready to go. Properly buffed, polished and scented, I headed out the door.
Two hours later, things were not off to a roaring start. Clare and I had decided it was best not to mention our matchmaking scheme to Marc or Nate to avoid any awkwardness or whiffs of desperation. However, it seemed to be working a little too well. Marc and I had barely spoken. He’d been holed up with Nate in the kitchen watching football on their iPhones and complaining about his ex, who he’d apparently spotted with another man at dinner earlier this week.
Although, lucky me, he was well within earshot to hear Granny tell me how much “better” I looked since I put on a “little weight,” as she did every time she saw me for the past seven years. I shuddered to think how large I must have appeared to her at this point.
“Ugh, this is a disaster,” I sighed to Clare.
“No, no! It’ll get better. Once we get the present opening out of the way, you guys will have a chance to hang out.” She pressed mini-champagne into my hand as a bribe and shooed me into the living room.
The present opening was always a bit silly with our family. Rather than surprising our loved ones with holiday gifts, it had become more like doing monthly shopping, given the specificity and strictness of the lists. Going “off-list” was frowned upon and impressed no one.
It started with the gym membership we gave Mom a few years back. She spent the rest of the evening in a frosty silence, only deigning to speak when the chocolate peanut clusters came her way. “Oh, no. I couldn’t. Apparently, I don’t need any,” she said pointedly.
Then there was the leather purse given to my brother Josh’s vegan wife. The size twelve pants given to Clare, who claimed emphatically to be a size ten, despite all evidence to the contrary. Oh, and the at-home manicure set given inexplicably to Clare’s husband one year. We assumed it was an issue of mislabeling, but no one fessed up, so Nate was forced to ooh and ah good-naturedly, while Clare, Josh and I snickered behind our hands.
And so, these mishaps, among countless others, led to the institution of the Christmas lists two years back. The rules were simple and few: One – As a gift-giver, avoid deviating from the list. Two – As a list maker, all items should be readily available at the nearest shopping mall. All in the vain hope of securing a Christmas gift that was not crap. But no dice. Somehow we still got it wrong.
“Oh… er, lovely,” I said as I unearthed a misshapen tangle of yarn.
“It’s a sweater!” Vegan Mary proclaimed. “I made it myself! All synthetic, no animal products whatsoever!”
“I see that… yes, um, lovely.” There were a lot of “lovely’s” exchanged, usually followed by an awkward silence and a cough indicating the next victim was up.
But here was the real kicker. We actually made it all worse! In the past, at least after we’d opened our crappy, unwanted gifts, we were well within our rights to pillage the after-holiday sales and purchase what we really wanted. But not anymore because, apparently to some, a nasty man-made acrylic sweater with wonky sleeves looked just like a cashmere Donna Karen. So now, it would seem that there was no real reason I’d need to buy myself the sweater I’d actually wanted.
“Put it on, put it on!” Mary urged.
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. I scrambled to come up with a reason not to. Allergies? But to what? Hard to say what this thing was actually made of… Germaphobia? Probably wasn’t going to fly mere minutes after invoking the five second rule for a fallen canapé…
“Oh... sure. Yea... great!” I enthused. I sulked past Marc into the bathroom to trade my soft, emerald sweater for the lumpy, oatmeal colored atrocity.
Clare gave me a sympathetic look when I re-entered the family room. Nate and Marc, who up until now had been engrossed in the snack tray, chose this moment to tune back into the festivities. Thumbs up and smirks from both.
It was at this point that good judgment and I parted ways. The humiliation of the lumpy sweater combined with the lack of attention from Marc was making me dreary and self-pitying. I barricaded myself in the den with a tin of Christmas cookies and someone’s gift basket of wine.
Halfway through the bottle of wine, I regained bits of confidence and optimism, indisputably under false-pretenses, but convincing enough to cause me to rejoin the others. I was a little wobbly at this point, but thoughts of New Years past, and kisses not had, drove me out to try my hand once again with Marc.
It did not go well. I began by sitting too close to Marc, overcorrected and slid off the couch. Then pictures were brought out from the tumultuous bad-hair junior high years, and my resemblance to Justin Bieber was commented on and agreed upon by all. I laughed too loudly at all of Marc’s jokes and ignored Clare’s frantic looks.
The coup de grace was when I eventually spilled taco dip all over the table and my nasty acrylic sweater caught flame as I reached over a candle for the napkins. Sufficed to say, I didn’t end the evening with any more hope for a New Year’s Eve kiss than I began it. I didn’t bother mentioning the party to Marc.
A week later, I was at the dreaded New Year’s Eve party. I was eyeing the crowd, keeping close watch on who to avoid come eleven fifty five when the musical-chairs-midnight-kiss shuffle would begin.
And then I saw him. Marc. Marc, who I made a fool of myself in front of. Marc, who was looking handsome and standing with a group of girls, all of whom were laughing adoringly up at him. How had he ended up here? In that moment, I cursed Jamie, Julie and their ever-expanding social circle.
Shit. Not only did I not have a date, not only would I have to spend midnight evading the more repellant party-goers, but now I’d have to steer clear of the only attractive single man to avoid compounding on my pathetic Christmas day performance. If I could just slink away before he spotted me…
“Angela, hi!” he exclaimed, waving.
Damn, too late.
“Hey, Marc. How’s it going?” Breezy smile. Calm, cool, nothing like the flustered mess from Christmas.
“Good, good!” He made a show of grabbing my arm to examine my sleeve. “Still intact, I see,” he said with a grin.
“Oh, yes…er…. so far!” I felt my cheeks redden. I quickly forced out a little laugh, gestured at my empty wine glass and used the excuse to dart away.
He attempted to catch my eye a few times throughout the evening, but frightened with the possibility of rehashing more “funny” occurrences from the week before, I smiled noncommittally and looked away each time.
Who cares anyway? I thought. So what if I acted a little silly? And so what if I embarrassed myself in front of a sexy man in my last ditch attempt to find a kiss for New Year’s? It wasn’t the first time and sadly, probably not the last.
As the countdown began, I listed off my resolutions in my head. This year, I would be serene, more collected. Mysterious, even! I would not let myself be humiliated by bad junior high haircuts, ugly sweaters and spilled taco dip. I… I suddenly noticed a bit of movement to my right.
And there, with five seconds left in the countdown, doing the overly-nonchalant-midnight-on-New-Year’s-Eve-shuffle in my direction, was Marc! I adopted my own equally-nonchalant-glance-away-as-if-I-didn’t-notice-him look, hid a smile behind my glass and prepared to ring in the New Year.

Holiday Short Story Contest: Who Needs Mistletoe?

Who Needs Mistletoe?

            “Son of a beach bum!” Delia said, dumping a large bag of holiday decorations on the middle of our living room floor. She tucked her long auburn hair behind her ear, carefully inspecting the pile.
            “What?” I asked, the room suddenly looking like a Christmas tree just vomited on our carpet.
            Delia, in her usual overly dramatic fashion, gripped my upper arms and looked me dead in the eyes. “Tara, I have some bad news.”
            “What?” I asked again, not entirely unshaken by her histrionics. Delia was an actress, and she had a habit of making things a lot more dramatic than necessary. But knowing how important this evening was to me, knowing that she knew how important this evening was to me, I had to believe that my theatrical roommate might actually have bad news.
            “I forgot the mistletoe,” she said lowering her head in shame.
            “What!” I shrieked, throwing her hands off my arms and grabbing hers in return, abandoning my characteristic calm almost immediately. “You forgot the mistletoe! The one thing I absolutely demanded that we have? The one decoration that I absolutely needed to make this evening end in perfect romantic holiday harmony? How…how?”
            Delia knelt on the floor next to the heap of colorful garlands, ribbons, bows, ornaments and other festive paraphernalia. “I just got caught up in the moment. It was mania, Tara. Pure mania. You should have seen the place. People were grabbing singing Santas, dancing elves, and glowing reindeers like they were made of gold and platinum. Everyone was filling their carts with the kind of madness you’d expect to see in a street riot downtown. I was lucky to get out with my life.”
            I folded my arms across my chest in a huff. I was sure she was telling the truth. It was five o’clock on Christmas Eve, after all. However, I was also sure that her failure to make a list of the items needed, instead relying on the pneumonic memory trick she’d recently developed to help her memorize lines, was also a factor. It didn’t help, either, that she left the decorating to the very last possible minute. The party was going to start in a mere three hours.
            Silently, I cursed my foolishness in letting Delia handle this task on her own. But I could hardly leave the cooking up to her. She barely knew how to boil water. The kitchen was my domain, and I’d devised a fairly impressive menu of stuffed mushrooms, herbed goat cheese canapés and mini cupcakes with pink frosting. I had to stay behind and prepare the food. This wasn’t going to be the kind of party where you just passed around a bag of chips, set out a bowl of salsa and cracked open a beer. This was going to be a sophisticated cocktail party. The kind of party certain to elicit a kiss at the end of it.
Besides, Delia was the queen of shopping. Hardly a day went by when she didn’t come home with some amazing bargain she’d nabbed at a trunk sale or found sifting through thrift store castoffs. I was sure she would have been able to find a few festive baubles and some measly mistletoe. 
            “This is a disaster,” I sighed, plopping onto the sofa. I realized I was being as overly dramatic as Delia, but I needed that mistletoe. It was part of my carefully crafted plan to orchestrate an end-of-the-evening kiss from Quentin, the guy that I was currently dating. Or, at least, the guy I hoped I was dating.
            Quentin and I had gone out precisely three times. And at the end of each date, as it were, he’d given me a friendly, platonic hug. A hug. Not even a peck on the cheek. After the last one, I started to wonder if we were even dating at all. Maybe we were just friends
            “Listen,” Delia said, “you don’t need mistletoe to make it happen with this guy.”
            I twisted my mouth in disagreement.
            “There’ll be champagne, won’t there?”
            “Prosecco, actually.”
            “What’s that?”
            “It’s an Italian sparkling wine.”
            “Well, it’s alcohol, right?”
            “Of course.”
            “Then you’ll be fine. Just keep the bubbly flowing. That’ll loosen him up. And if it doesn’t, well, he’s probably gay. Or, just not the guy for you,” she said with all sincerity. I knew she had my best interests at heart.
            I sighed. “You’re right. I’m being ridiculous.”
            “Now, go finish cooking, and I’ll take care of decorating. This place will be Christmas on crack when I get through with it.”
Three hours later, the mushrooms were stuffed, the cupcakes topped in fluffy pink frosting and the prosecco was chilled. Delia had whipped our living room into holiday splendor with colorful garlands draping the walls and dripping with crystal ornaments. White Christmas tree lights twinkled and wound their way around the room, bathing the small space in a heavenly glow. Flickering candles topped practically every hard surface, and shimmering metallic stars were hung from the ceiling, glinting as they twirled and danced overhead. It was set decorating at its best.
“Worthy of Beyoncé, no?” Delia asked, her hands on her hips. She had an all out obsession with the singer, and it manifested in practically everything she did. Even what she wore, from her gold sequined dress to the coral nail polish on her toes. But I couldn’t deny that Beyoncé would love it. It was divine.             “It’s fabulous.”
“As are you, darling,” she said, “but you’re missing one thing.”
“A little sparkle.” She handed me a little box wrapped in red ribbon. “It’s not too early to exchange prezzies is it?”
“No,” I said, suddenly giddy. I hurried into my bedroom and grabbed the little bag I’d prepared for her.
We both gasped as we opened our gifts. Mine, a starburst-shaped crystal encrusted brooch, and hers, a pair of sparkly blue earrings I’d found at a quirky antique store.
“I love it!” we both squealed in unison and hugged each other.
Delia pinned the brooch at the top of my hip where my sapphire blue wrap dress gathered in a bunch. “I saw a picture of Liz Taylor wearing a brooch like this. It’s very you,” she said. “Very sexy.”
My roommate and closest friend in Los Angeles knew I had a thing for old Hollywood style. More specifically, Elizabeth Taylor. With my fair skin, dark hair, and blue eyes, I worked hard to channel the beautiful actress, circa 1956. Ever since seeing National Velvet at the age of six, I’d developed a girl crush to rival any pop star’s fan. It was probably the reason I’d moved to Los Angeles in the first place. Not that I wanted to be an actress, but that I wanted to be a part of the magic that made Elizabeth Taylor so special. 
Delia took the gold hoops out of her ears and pressed the new blue ones in their place.
“You are so Beyoncé,” I said in a mock tease, and she giggled.
“She would be proud,” Delia said, “of both of us.”
The doorbell rang, and I jumped with excitement. “Guests!”
“You get the music,” she said, bustling our discarded gift wrapping into the trash, and heading for the door.
I cued up the iPod to my carefully selected playlist of Christmas music, and of course, the first song to pour from the speakers was Beyoncé’s rendition of Silent Night. Delia just gave me a look that said, “Oh, girl.”
Unfortunately, my excitement ebbed when she opened the door and I discovered that our first guest was not Quentin bearing a massive bouquet of flowers that I’d silently hoped for, but Delia’s boyfriend, Trey. With a dozen long stem red roses.
They kissed, and as Delia left for the kitchen to find a vase for the deep red buds, she gave me a pout. I knew exactly what it meant. That she knew I wanted the same kind of romantic gesture from Quentin.
But I couldn’t compare the two. Trey had been dating Delia for six months. And I’d only gone out with Quentin three times. Still, I couldn’t help but dream of romance and roses. It was Christmas Eve, and I had high expectations. 
I met Quentin at the opening party for a new restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Like me, he’d used his boss’s invitation to get in. We were both executive assistants for television producers, only he worked at Warner Brothers and I worked at ABC. Ironically, his show ran on our network, yet we had never before met. It wasn’t that unusual in Hollywood, really. Scores of people worked at both studios, and even if we had met, we probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to actually talk like we did at the restaurant.
And talk we did. All night. It was as if we’d known each other since kindergarten, but without any of the embarrassing shared memories—like when I ate too many onion rings at lunch and threw up all over my favorite black patent leather shoes. If I had been seven, it would have been no big deal. What kid doesn’t throw up at lunch at least once? But I wasn’t seven. I was seventeen. And it wasn’t just any lunch. It was my high school graduation lunch. But that was ancient history, and Quentin had no idea how big a dork I was back in my home state of Illinois. I was an Angeleno now. And that came with balmy Christmas Eves and high expectations for glamour and romance.
But it was after midnight, and Quentin still hadn’t arrived. He’d texted me twice that he was coming, but was delayed. His parents were having a little get-together at their place in the Hollywood Hills. Unlike me, Quentin was born and raised in Los Angeles, and his family held some importance in showbiz. His father was a successful film composer and his mother was a party planner to the stars. So, he couldn’t just skip their party in favor of mine. I understood that. But my little soiree was winding down, and I feared that soon I’d be left with nothing but unfulfilled Christmas wishes.
As the last of the guests strolled out our door a little after one in the morning, I felt my heart sink. Delia gave me another pout, and I knew exactly what that one meant, too.
He wasn’t coming.
Delia and Trey retreated to her bedroom, and I snuffed out candles (the ones that hadn’t already melted away). Michael Bublé’s sultry voice crooned All I Want for Christmas is You on my iPod, and a single, silly tear formed in the corner of my eye. I wiped it away with a sparkly napkin and silently cursed my foolishness. This time for getting all worked up over a boy I barely knew and a Christmas Eve party with too much at stake. Namely, my heart.
I fingered the beautiful brooch at my hip and reminded myself that I had a lot of love in my life already. A great girlfriend in Delia, and the many friends who did show up to our party tonight.
As I scooped up dirty plates and smudged glasses, the doorbell rang. Immediately, my heart began hammering wildly. Was it Quentin, after all? I put the dishes in the sink, brushed some crumbs from my dress, and gave my lips a quick swipe of gloss just in case.
I opened the front door, and in the darkness, I saw no one. The courtyard was empty but for a few palm trees. Then, I heard a voice.
“Quentin? Is that you? Where are you?”
“Here,” he said, stepping out from behind a tree sheepishly. He looked dashing in his trim dark suit and silver tie, his brown hair falling over one eye.
“What are you doing?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I was afraid you might open the door and throw something at me. Something sharp or really heavy. Because I deserve it.”
One corner of my mouth lifted up, and Quentin braved a step toward me. I showed him my open hands.
“I bear no weapons,” I said. “But I think I do deserve an explanation.”
“And you shall have one,” he said, edging closer. “If you’ll join me for a coffee.”
“Where do you expect to get a coffee in the wee hours of Christmas Eve?”
“I know a place. And actually, it’s Christmas morning.”
Quentin moved to the bottom stair below my front porch and stretched out his hand. I stood there for a moment pondering all this. Part of me wanted to slam the door in his face. But a bigger part wanted to take his hand and see where it led.
“I don’t know. It’s awfully late, and I’m tired.”
“I promise to make it worth your while. And I won’t keep you up all night. I’ll have you back before Santa can sneak a few presents under your tree.” 
“We don’t have a Christmas tree, which you would know if you had shown up for the party on time. Or at all,” I said, deciding that I couldn’t just let him off the hook all that easily.
“I see. But I’m here now. Better late than never, right?” His voice was timid, not cocky, and my heart softened just a little.
“Okay, but this better be a damn good coffee.”
I grabbed my coat and purse and we were off, headed in the direction of West Hollywood. The streets were empty and the storefronts were dark. I had to wonder where the heck he was going to find this fabled coffee. That is, until I saw a beacon of hope on the horizon. A brightly lit diner called Swingers. Inside, it was bustling with activity, and like a freaking Christmas miracle, I smiled when I saw that hanging above every single booth was a bunch of mistletoe.
We parked and made our way to a cozy booth inside. The restaurant was buzzing with Christmas cheer as waitresses in elf costumes and Doc Martens took orders, and fry cooks in Santa hats flipped burgers.
After we got our coffees, served up with a peppermint stick for stirring, I asked Quentin, “So, what gives? Why were you so late?”
“I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was helping my mom.”
I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Helping her do what?”
“Well, her party…at our house…it was a dud. No one showed up. Everyone had something better to do. Even me,” he said with a hint of shy insecurity. “Can you imagine? She throws parties for all these movie moguls, and when it’s her turn to celebrate, no one gives a damn. So, I couldn’t just leave her there with no one but my dad to sing songs with and drink eggnog. And I knew you’d have loads of guests at your party to keep you company. But I should have done better. I should have cloned myself and been at both.”
I smiled at his attempt to lighten the mood, but I was still hurt. “Yes, you should have. Or at the very least, communicated better. I thought you ditched me.”
“I would never do anything like that. I’m not that kind of man. But I’ll do better. I promise.”
And I believed him. I could hardly blame the guy for coming to his mom’s aid. I mean, clearly he was a good person. He didn’t want to let his mom down on her big night. And he did show up to my party, even if it was five hours late. But what I still didn’t know was whether or not he liked me.
I eyed the mistletoe above us. It was now or never. “Can I ask you something?”
“Do you want to kiss me?”
Quentin’s cheeks burned red and his smile spread wide. “You won’t be offended?”
“No,” I replied, silently chuckling to myself. It wasn’t that he didn’t like me, or that he was gay, or that he just wanted to be friends.
He was just a gentleman.
And with that, Quentin leaned across the table and planted a warm kiss on my lips. It tasted of peppermint and cream, and I knew in that moment that it would be the first of many.
And I thought, Who needs mistletoe? This was all me.