This is the fourth in a collection of related short stories that begin with Its the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. This one includes the same two characters as found in Do You Hear What I Hear, and deals with the same tragic event discussed in Blue Christmas. Of course, you can read this without reading those others first, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Once you’re done, head on over to Amazon and buy my book, 25 Songs of Christmas. The ebook version is on sale for $0.99 from now until Christmas Day.
December 4th, one year ago.
“In the meadow, we can build a snowman.”
I laughed. “This doesn’t quite count as a meadow. Besides, with the snow we’ve got here, we’d be lucky to build even a six-inch snowman.”
“Oh, come on,” April said. “Don’t be such a spoilsport. Sing it with me.”
I didn’t know the song well enough to sing along. The best I could do was hum with her as my girlfriend continued.
“We’ll pretend that he is Parson Brown. He’ll say, ‘Are you married?’ We’ll say ‘No, man. But you can do the job when you’re in town.”
“Wait, a minute. Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Are you trying to hint at something.”
April blushed. She folded her gloved hands and looked over at me demurely. “Maybe.”
I took her hands and pulled her slowly into a kiss. Her lips were warm but her nose was frozen as it brushed against my cheek. As we pulled apart I said, “I thought you wanted to wait until you graduated.”
“I do. But… not always.”
We pulled apart and I held her shoulders as I looked into her eyes. April was so beautiful. She was without question the best thing to have happened in my life in a long, long time. She was finishing up her last year at LeMoyne College for her nursing degree. I had graduated from Syracuse two years earlier but a couple months back I had asked work for a transfer down here to New York City to be closer to my mom. Her cancer had taken a turn for the worse and I wanted to be nearby. I was all she had.
Part of me wanted to propose to April right here and now so that she could join me here, but at the same time, she had her own life. I didn’t want her to be one of those girls who put their career aside to start a family. There will be plenty of time for that in the future. For now, we were together most weekends and through skype almost every day. A year and a week from today, December 12th next year she will graduate. If that seems too long to be apart, I can always transfer back to ‘Cuse once mom is better. They told me the door is always open.
For now, we just held hands and walked through Central Park on this crisp December afternoon. The tree at Rockefeller Center will be lit tonight for the first time of the season and so April and I are slowly making our way from my apartment, through the Park, to the Center. Apparently, some American Idol “also-ran” from a few seasons back is doing a concert and so its something we were going to do together. Part of me wishes I was going to pop the question tonight. It would be a great thing to do just as the tree lights come on. But I haven’t saved as much towards the ring as I would like and I’ve never been a fan of long engagements.
– – – – – – – – – –
December 4th, this year.
“In the meadow, we can build a snowman. We’ll pretend that he is Parson Brown. He’ll say, ‘Are you married?’ We’ll say, ‘No, man, but you can do the job when you’re in town.”
I know the words now. There is no snow here this year. We did manage to build a tiny little snowman that day one year ago. Really, it was more three snowballs of diminishing size stacked on top of each other. Twigs served as arms and a couple pebbles did for the eyes. I’ve still got a picture of it on my phone. But the last thing I want to do as I sit on this bench watching people walk by is to pull out my phone and start going through pictures. Not here.
Here, I’d rather sit with my memories of a time before everything fell apart. Before the year was out, mom’s cancer had taken a turn for the worse. I started withdrawing and my relationship with April started going south. After she died in March I completely shut down for weeks. April wanted to be there for me, but I refused to let her. On the surface, things seemed to get better by the summer, but underneath we just weren’t the same. She had her abortion in late September and I don’t think anybody in her family knew. Two weeks later she called it all off. Her choice hurt her more than she would admit. I had wanted to keep the baby, but ultimately it was her choice and I went with her to the clinic. I think she resented me for not fighting harder for the baby.
Or maybe, that is just my imagination. Now I will never know. I still can’t believe she is gone. I’d always held out hope that we would get back together and I know her brother, Jayson, was in my corner in that regard. But now… she’s gone. I am left with two years worth of beautiful memories and horrible regrets.
I pull the ring box out of my pocket. I don’t open it but just roll it around in my hand. I should have bought it sooner. So maybe it would have been a little cheaper and the carat a little less. So what? In my stupid pride, I waited. Then I waited some more. I thought I had all the time in the world. I thought we would have a lifetime together. But that is fancy as stupid as the song she was singing. Real life is no Winter Wonderland. I open up the box and I am right about to pull the ring out when I see him again. He is walking right towards me.
“Well hello again. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Hey. George, isn’t it?”
“Well, how about that. You remember my name. I’m honored.”
I smile. “You left kind of suddenly the other night.”
“Yes, that I did. That I did. I thought my job was done, but apparently, I’ve still got a bit more work to do.”
I grunted something in reply and George continued, “Say, I really love this park this time of year. It’s a regular winter wonderland, isn’t it?”
“Sometimes.” He says the word back at me, but it seems to hold a lot more weight for him than it did for me. “And those are the best of times. I’ve found we have to hold those times closest to our hearts, no matter how far away they might seem.”
He’s looking down at the box in my hand as he says that. I look away without responding. I’m choking up and I don’t want him, or anybody to see how close I am to losing control right here on the bench. We sit in silence for a while as I pull my emotions back from the edge. I wipe a tear from my eye and George is good enough to pretend not to notice. After a minute or two he says, “Say, I hear they will be lighting that big tree tonight down by Rockefeller Square. What about you and I go on down and watch it? I hear it’s a regular spectacle.”
I shrug, “Why not.”
“Now there’s the spirit.”
He pats my back as he stands. We walk together through the park taking the same route I did with April one year ago today. I’m lost in the memories, the sweet memories of that day that keep floating to the surface. George just strolls along with me, letting me pick the pace. The whole while he is whistling Winter Wonderland.