Excerpt: A Touch of Mistletoe

Here For You by J.K. Pendragon

I had always loved the smell of Christmas. Spices and pine, Christmas baking and the smoky scent of the fireplace. Missy had gone all out for her party, and the crackling of the fire and sounds of visiting voices intermixed with a light instrumental Christmas soundtrack. Silver Bells was playing.

I leaned against the wall, letting the sounds wash over me, feeling close to nothing at all. I wanted to close my eyes, but that would probably be rude. I started as Missy’s voice sounded from next to me. With all the noises from the crowd, I hadn’t heard her approach.

“Drink, Warren?”

“Oh.” I shook my head, hoping that she hadn’t already brought one for me. “No, thanks. I feel a bit light-headed already.”

“Are you having a good time?”

“Yeah.” I forced a smile. “It’s a great party, Missy. I’m glad you made me come.”

That was a lie. I wished I was at home, in the familiar silence and comfort, not surrounded by people I didn’t know, who were obviously not interested in talking to the blind man in the corner. Kali would have dragged me all over the house, introduced us to everyone, found someone for me to talk to. But I shouldn’t be thinking about that.

Missy gave my arm a squeeze. “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be in the kitchen.”

She left, and I sighed and leaned against the wall again, thinking that I should have taken the drink. The song switched to something more upbeat and contemporary. The voices seemed to grow louder and more oppressive, and I was hit with a sudden wave of desperation. I needed to get away for a minute.

I sidled along the wall towards the hall. I knew Missy and Alex’s large house well enough, we’d been friends for years, but I didn’t want to risk charging into someone, and I’d left my cane at the door. I slipped into the hallway, the voices mercifully fading behind me as I made my way toward one of the sitting rooms. The crackle of a fire and warmth emanated from one, and I followed, slipping in and feeling to find that the light-switch was off.

“Anyone in here?” I asked, but the room seemed to be empty. I left the light off and felt my way into the room, sliding my hand along the back of one of the thick plush couches before sinking down in front of the fire. I leaned my head back and warmed my hands in front of the fire, sighing and wondering how long until I could politely leave. I could get a taxi home, but Missy would probably insist on driving me. Or I could say I needed the fresh air and walk. Was it still snowing?

The door swung open a little and I tilted my head as the light pad of feet passed through the doorway and stopped in front of the fireplace. I waited, turning my head in the direction of the newcomer in case they wanted to speak to me. After a long moment of silence, they suddenly gasped. “I didn’t see you there!”

I’d forgotten it was dark except for the fire. “Sorry,” I said. “If it helps, I didn’t see you either.”

The man was quiet for a moment, and then he gasped again, obviously realising my joke. “O-oh! I’m sorry!” He had a soft voice, with a bit of an accent. Round vowels, and a tiny bit of trouble with the r sound in “sorry”. I was good at placing accents.

“You must be Missy’s Korean friend,” I said with a laugh. “She mentioned you’d be here”

“Well, Korean friend is better than gay friend,” he admitted. His accent was barely noticeable, which made sense, since I remembered Missy telling me that he’d spent several years in Canada as a child.

“And I’m the blind friend,” I said, leaning forward to offer him my hand. He took it, his handshake firm, and his skin soft and cool. “It’s Warren.”

“Kyung-sam,” he said quickly. “Sam is fine.”

“They call you Sam in Korea?”

“Ah, no.” I heard a bit of a smile in his voice. “Kyung, but it’s hard to pronounce.”

“I think I can wrap my lips around it.” I smiled again. Part of me wanted him to go away so that I could sit in silence some more, but part of me enjoyed the conversation. I didn’t get to meet new people very often, living in a small town. Especially not now that Kali… “You can sit, if you like. I’m not hogging the room to myself.”

He laughed again, a note of discomfort in his voice. “I should tell you something,” he admitted and I felt the couch shift as he sat next to me. “I think Missy was very thorough with her decorations because, uh, you’re sitting under mistletoe.”

A blush tinged my cheeks, and I hoped he couldn’t see it. The light was off, and I had dark skin, so he probably couldn’t, but I couldn’t hide the mortified look on my face. “Oh god, really?”

 

 

A Beautiful Thing by A.F. Henley

Scott was not doing what everyone in the entire city seemed to be doing. He was not picking up a gift for someone who had been forgotten or added to plans at the last minute. He was not getting just one more roll of overpriced paper, tape, or ribbon. Nor was he pulling his hair out trying to pick up a last minute something for a spouse or lover. All Scott was doing was grabbing a package of cigarettes.

He’d known the stores would be insane. He’d been more than aware that everything from gas station to grocers, from convenience to department store, would be crawling with consumers. Or, as Scott preferred to think of them, people desperate to throw away hard-earned dollars on crap that by that time next year would be either gathering dust on thrift store shelves, or adding even more weight to the already crippled waste-management system.

So he’d bought his groceries well in advance. He’d made sure the liquor cabinet was stocked back in November, and got his dry-cleaning picked up days prior. He’d been very, very careful. This was the year, he’d told himself, that he wasn’t going to get stuck in the middle of it all. This would be the year he could pretend none of these people, and none of their absurd, self-serving, meaningless traditions existed. And if the stocking-wearing, bell-jingling, coin-begging, bologna-sandwich-reeking freak that was playing the part of holiday elf down at the corner hadn’t bumped into him, and knocked his all but full pack of smokes into the rain filled gutter, Scott would have been able to call his plan a success.

He glared around at the garish, tired decorations, at the people running around in the nonsensical panic of doomsday preparation, and shook his head. Humanity was fucked—royally, righteously, ridiculously fucked beyond all redemption.

Never, Scott thought to himself as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He would never be part of this. It wasn’t the impossible reindeers and sleighs, or the overpriced talking dolls and iPads, either. It wasn’t the mass consumerism or the hyperactive reactions to unnecessary but well-marketed garbage. It wasn’t even the dismal concept of painting over a supposedly family-based, arguably-religious holiday with the greedy brush of enterprise.

It was the emptiness of it all. The pointlessness. The fact that something could be coveted so fiercely one day, and be nothing but trash the following one. It was the way that Christmas brought to the surface everything Scott found intolerable about people: their fickle attitude, their ever-changing priorities, and their inconsistent devotion.

The line shifted in front of him, like corralled cattle the rest of the line shuffled forward, and a growl of frustration rumbled from Scott’s throat. His basket banged against his thigh—a basket he only carried because he’d seen a dark roast coffee that he’d tried last year at that time, fallen in love with, and had then been unable to get afterwards. A “holiday only” product, they’d told him. As if coffee somehow could be. So he’d taken advantage of the find to pick up six bags. They’d stay fresh if he froze them. Probably. He was hoping anyway. But he swore to all the gods he could name that if the damned line didn’t start moving at a reasonable pace, he was going to drop the basket right where he stood and say fuck it, cigarettes and all. Maybe once and for all, in fact. That would serve them. He’d just quit. After all, he was already grumpier than hell. Why not throw some withdrawal drama on top of it? Oh yeah, that would make for a pleasant time off, indeed. That would be just perfect—

A flump in his basket cut Scott’s internal ranting short. He lowered his eyes, frowned, and turned back to glare at a little boy who immediately broke out into a giggle. As if the laugh were contagious, a slightly taller but otherwise carbon-copy image of the boy also started up, and the two of them stood there, tittering like Pan midprank.

With two fingers, as though the basket held something viral, Scott reached in and pulled out the recently deposited clump of plastic mistletoe. It was the very worst kind of recreation too—an overly green ball of waxy, tab-style leaves dotted by too many white plastic balls to look natural.

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