Welcome to Fiction Fridays! We’ll give you a short bite of fiction every week – something to enjoy during your lunch hour – but with a twist: We want you to give us the idea for the next installment! Come join in the fun with our holiday short story, a contemporary romance. And don’t forget to vote to help us decide which way the story will turn!
By Lauren Christopher
Heath Davidson shrugged off his officer’s jacket as he pulled another “holiday meal” from the freezer. He had about five of them – meals with red-and-green holly cartoons decorating the boxes that were supposed to make him feel more festive – but they weren’t doing the trick.
As he stared at the microwave heating instructions for his first one, wondering if this holiday was going to be like every other, he heard it.
Or her, rather.
He heard her.
Her giggle drifted up the stucco stairwell they shared to their second-floor apartments – a lyrical, girlish note he’d become accustomed to over the last few months. A sound that wasn’t supposed to make him turn toward the front door with a frozen dinner in his hand, wondering if he should go see how her day was; a sound that shouldn’t have made him glance at the clock and wonder if she realized how late it was; a sound that shouldn’t have made the blood in his chest suddenly warm. But it was one that, embarrassingly, did all three right now.
He hesitated. What he would do next felt like a huge decision.
He’d been thinking about her all day while he was in his patrol car, all through his drive home tonight, glancing at her door as he’d unlocked his own. He felt like a fool. He was too old for this. He was a jaded, thirty-five-year-old confirmed bachelor, set in his ways. And she was a young, fresh-faced Pollyanna – too hopeful about life to want to spend time with a guy like him. Plus, they’d been friends – since the day she’d moved in across the stairwell three months ago – and she’d trusted him.
But he knew his feelings were different now.
He stared again at the dinner, trying to focus on the directions. He heard her whimsical laugh again. Then he heard a second set of footsteps: Her usual high-heeled clicks up the outdoor patio stairs were echoed by heavier thuds.
His neck became hot. He moved quickly away from the door, away from the sound – the sound of her and his almost-decision.
He busied himself with getting out a plate, a fork, opening the box with more force than necessary. Although he tried not to, he glanced at the clock. A pang stabbed his chest at the glowing 1 a.m. He wasn’t sure if the pang catapulted from worry or jealousy or protectiveness, but he knew none of those feelings were his to feel.
He tossed the dinner into the microwave and jabbed at the buttons while he tried to pinpoint when things had changed.
His first reaction to her had been one of interest, of course. But just in the normal level of interest every thirty-something bachelor feels when meeting a beautiful woman.
“I’m Julianne,” she’d said, holding out her hand in a fleeting kind of way.
He’d been struck with how spritely she seemed – a tiny woman, with hummingbird-like movements and a voice like Tinkerbell. She had short blondish curls that fell around her face, which she pushed away frequently. Her gestures were endearing, but a huge turnoff immediately. He was a large man, and he’d crush someone like her if he so much as leaned toward her. In fact, his first reaction was to barely touch her hand – for fear of crushing it in a normal handshake. But she’d looked nice enough to be a good neighbor, and that’s all he’d cared about.
As the weeks went on, however, he’d talked to her more than he’d ever talked to another neighbor in his three years at the California apartment complex.
He’d helped her move some furniture up the stairs – a set of dining chairs, a small end table. She’d asked him to help put new batteries in her smoke detectors; a week later, she’d asked him to look at the pilot light on her stove.
She brought a jack-o’-lantern over one fall evening and asked if he’d like to set it on his stucco balcony that faced the parking lot. (He’d said no.) She brought a plastic-wrapped plate of stuffing and turkey over one night and asked if he’d wanted any, since she’d made too much. (He’d said yes and brought it inside, saving it for after his next shift.) And she managed to catch him on the way to the mail boxes a few nights, talking all the way there and back, her voice quick-stepping along with her perpetually happy laugh.
Heath always had to smile, despite himself. Liking her somehow felt like believing in Santa Claus – touching a kind of magic that belonged only to the purest of hearts. And slowly … gradually … he found himself wanting her. Very badly. In a way he hadn’t wanted anyone since … well, Mandy probably.
His frozen-dinner sounded a depressing ding just as he heard another giggle from outside, then a thump, and a scraping across the patio floor.
Heath raised his head. He took two steps toward his front door. What the hell? If he looked through his peephole, he would have a clear view of her and her date – maybe holding on to each other, maybe making out passionately, maybe with their hands tugging at buttons or zippers. And since he wasn’t sure what he might find, and how he might feel when he found it, he stopped.
Another scrape. Another giggle.
“I’m so —–; I feel like the moon— is falling to —.” He couldn’t make out the words. Her voice was giddy and garbled – tipsy, perhaps. A rush of protectiveness swarmed through him.
He put his hand on the door, but forced himself to stop. Suddenly, he couldn’t figure out where his boundaries were: where he was ceasing his role as a peace officer, friend, or neighbor and beginning to act as a man who was smitten with an incredibly sexy woman who had a voice that made him believe in magic.
But when the man outside began laughing in a low, lecherous way, and another thud was met with Julianne’s soft squeal, Heath called off his inner moral reserve and lunged for the door. …
Ready for Part 2? See where Karen Fleming took this story: Read Part 2.
25 responses to “Fiction Fridays: Christmas Magic, Part 1”