Christmas Dreams by Maya Tyler
I’d been ignoring my step-mother’s summons since I woke up this morning. It was the holidays, I was only home from college for a few days, and she had to be off her rocker, more than usual, if she thought I would spend my vacation waiting on her hand and foot. I pulled my quilt over my head. Maybe she would call her daughter to help instead. I snickered.
Knock, knock. “Allie, I know you’re awake. It’s not fair of you to laze around while we slave downstairs. We have the annual open house tonight, you know.”
Ah, yes, the annual open house. A time honoured tradition where I could be openly criticized by my step-mother’s friends and repeatedly asked if I was still single. Or worse, if you could imagine, have to dodge being matched up with someone’s son or some other miscellaneous male relative who couldn’t find a date on a calendar. I couldn’t wait. But I also couldn’t think of one good reason to stay in my room. I was sunk.
“Young lady, you better be decent, because I’m coming in!”
Oh shoot. She only threw out the “young lady” bit when she was really pissed. And she knew I hadn’t been ‘decent’ since the day her family joined mine. I was out of options. I threw off the covers and did what any mature, rational college student would do. I hid in the closet.
Peeking through the crack in the door, I saw her stalk into my room and huff in exasperation as she glared at my empty bed.
Well I dodged that bullet; for the moment anyway. I sunk to the floor and drew my knees toward my chest. Now the only question remained. How long could I hide in here?
* * * * *
I opened my eyes and stretched. I was stiff and achy from sitting in the closet. Pushing the door open, I stepped into a dark room. It was later than I had realized, I must’ve fallen asleep. Maybe I missed the open house. I felt a twinge of guilt. I was here for my Dad and he would be disappointed if I didn’t put in an appearance tonight.
Fumbling around for the light switch, I came up empty. I twisted around quickly and banged into a sharp edge, probably my bed. “Ouch!”
“Oh, there you are.” Dim light from a flickering candle filled the room. “Alison, we’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
The voice belonged to a vaguely familiar face, but the candle illuminated an unfamiliar room with stone walls and floor.
“Where am I?” I asked.
The young girl before me laughed. “Oh, Alison, you are so droll!” She outstretched her hand. “Come now, you have to get ready. Father is waiting.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t remember. You’ve spoken of nothing else for days.”
Like an unstoppable force, she and another young girl piled me into what felt like five dresses and pulled my hair into a gravity defying hairstyle.
Hell, no. But since she couldn’t read my mind, she tugged on my arm and pulled me stiffly toward her.
“It’s the most exciting night,” she gushed. Either she didn’t notice my reluctance or she didn’t care.
The girl, whose name I still didn’t know, rushed to greet a man wearing a fine looking robe. “Father! I found Alison!”
“Good girl, Meggie!” The man turned to face me.
I gasped. He looked like my Dad.
“I thought you were going to be late.”
Then I saw him. He looked like a dashing young prince from a forgotten time. His curly black hair fell across his forehead looking like someone tried to tame it and failed. He caught me staring at him. I swear my heart stopped.
“Who is that?” I whispered to Meggie.
“What is wrong with you tonight, Alison?” she whined. “It’s not funny. Stop staring at Robert like an imbecile and go speak to him.”
I didn’t need any further encouragement. I crossed the room and stopped in front of him. Clutching my hand, he pressed it gently to his lips.
“Hi,” I said, my voice taking on a breathless quality. I resisted the urge to tilt my head and bat my eyelashes. Had I morphed into a complete ditz?
“Hello, my love, shall we?” He gestured toward the dance floor.
Not trusting my voice, I nodded. He led me into the throng of people and twirled me close. We moved in time to the lively music. One song turned into another. I was smitten and the possessive way he held me spoke volumes. I didn’t want to break the spell, even though I was getting thirsty.
Without saying a word, he led me toward a punch bowl. Deftly, he poured a cup and handed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said; not sure if he could hear me over the noisy crowd.
Taking my arm, he led me outside onto a wide stone veranda. “Beautiful night,” he murmured, stroking my hair boldly with his free hand.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“Yes?” He leaned in and captured my lips in a kiss I hoped would last forever. He tasted like sweet cherries and I melted against him.
* * * * *
“What? Huh?” I sat up straight and bumped my head. I licked my dry lips and rubbed my eyes. Stepping out of the closet I saw my step-sister Margaret standing in the entrance to my bedroom with her hands on her hips.
“Mom and Dad are waiting for you,” she huffed impatiently. “You’re ruining everything!”
Harsh and a bit of an exaggeration; I doubt my step-mother mourned my absence.
“Just give me a minute and I’ll be down,” I snapped. Margaret could be such a pill sometimes. I gasped when I looked at the time. I’d lost the whole day. Oh well, it was my vacation. I pulled on a red sweater and a pair of jeans, ran a brush through my thick, brown hair, and splashed cold water on my face in an attempt to look presentable. There. Ready. Or not. Squaring my shoulders, I prepared myself for the onslaught of questions I would encounter downstairs. I would smile, circle the room, grab a bottle of wine, and escape back to my room. Here goes nothing.
Christmas music filled the room. Platters of appetizers were placed strategically. My step-mother was bustling about, wearing a black dress covered in poinsettias, replenishing food and drink. I was so busy zoning in on the bar I almost missed him. Standing in the shadow of our brilliantly decorated tree, he was wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and an equally ugly scowl. He swirled his drink and I was so tuned into him I swear I could hear the ice cubes tinkle. There was something about him, something familiar.
“Did your mom guilt you into attending?’ I asked as I sauntered up to him.
“Nope, mine’s dead,” I quipped.
A look of genuine remorse crossed his face. “God, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“How could you?” I shrugged. “I’m Allie.” I offered my hand.
“Rob.” His large hand dwarfed mine and his handshake was firm. “So how did you get roped into this lame party?”
“I live here.”
“Foot in mouth again.” He grimaced.
I smiled and waved the bottle of wine I’d snagged from the bar. “I forgive you. Want a drink?”
“Yeah.” He looked around the room. “Sounds good. A place without all the noise they’re trying to pass off as Christmas music sounds even better.”
“I know just the place, follow me.” I led him downstairs to the den, a cozy room with a battered leather couch and no music.
“Perfect,” he said as he sat down.
I poured the wine. “Merry Christmas.”
“Cheers.” He tapped his glass to mine, giving me an intense look. His eyes were a mysterious smoky grey and they seemed to see right through me.
“You look familiar, Rob. Were you here last year?”
“Nah. I was off on a shoot last Christmas.”
“Photo shoot. I’m a photojournalist.”
“What do you do?”
“School right now.”
I cringed. “Undecided.”
“I remember those days. You’ll find your way.” He leaned over and brushed a lock of hair off my forehead. “You’re so young.”
“And you’re so ancient,” I teased.
Looking at me solemnly, he said, “I’ve seen a lot; too much.”
He seemed lost and I didn’t know what to say to shake his demons. Without thinking, I leaned over and kissed him. He returned the kiss hungrily, his lips tasting like sweet cherries. Just like my dream; the one I’d had while hiding in the closet. I jerked back and gasped. How could this be? But it didn’t really matter. Fate, magic, whatever, we were together now and it was altogether possible he could be my ‘dream-come-true’. I smiled and leaned in to kiss him again.