Saturday 17 December 2011

Crimbo: Just what I needed

God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay

Justin looked up from his laptop, yawning. The incessant carols were making his head pound over and above the crick in his neck. He stretched, glancing at the clock on the wall. Another hour, he told himself, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. Another hour and I should be done. I hope. Holly had been nagging him about going Christmas shopping all week, and he had finally agreed to go with her this weekend. He groaned. This weekend started in two hours - if only he could finish all this work in time.
“Sir, we’re taking our last orders now. Is there anything else that you need?” the waitress hovered at his elbow.
He eyed the three drained mugs in front of him. “A mocha - no wait, give me an Espresso. Thanks.” He nodded the woman away, concentrating again on his spreadsheets. He barely realised the time ticking away as he worked, downing the steaming brew in gulps. It was past midnight when they finally shooed him out of the store to lock up. He shrugged his backpack on his right shoulder, gripping a file under his left arm as he dug in his pocket to find his car key.

It was just his luck, he grumbled to himself as he lay in bed, that the one night he needed desperately to sleep, his caffeine overdose had to kick into overdrive and leave him wide awake. He pulled the comforter over his head in a bid to keep the street lights out of his eyes, but ended up kicking the thing off the bed when it got too hot and stuffy. Time to get thicker curtains, he made a mental note, if he could afford it. He would not be able to afford it after tomorrow. Holly had a gift list a mile long, and expected him to chip in whether he wanted to or not. He hadn’t even thought about what to get for her yet. He glanced at the clock again, realising he had spent two hours awake in bed. He decided that since he couldn’t sleep, he might as well be productive. Justin turned on his laptop in the darkness of his room.

“Where are you, Justin? You were supposed to pick me up half an hour ago,” Holly whined when her boyfriend finally picked up the phone. There were muffled sounds on the other end of the line. “Don’t tell me you’re still asleep? It’s past noon, for goodness’ sake! What on earth were you doing last night? Partying?”
“Sorry, Hol. I was working,” Justin yawned into the phone. He rubbed his eyes, blinking against the strong sunlight. “I’ll be over in half an hour.”
“Fine. Don’t be late,” she snapped before hanging up.
Justin stared blearily at the laptop that was perched precariously between his lap and a stray pillow, trying to gather his scattered thoughts. Pulling it out of sleep mode, he squinted at the documents he had been working on before he fell asleep and saved it as a new file, just in case. He turned it off, placing it carefully on the floor beside him as he stumbled out of bed and into the shower.

For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas-day

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, seriously,” Holly started in on him as soon as she got into the car. “It’s Christmas. It’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to take time off, instead of working longer hours at that horrible office of yours. You’re turning into a regular Scrooge.”
“I have deadlines to meet, Holly,” he tried to say patiently.
“Don’t take that tone with me. You agreed to this shopping trip - don’t try to deny it.”
“I don’t deny it, it’s just that -” he bit down on his tongue.
“It’s just what? You can’t just spend the day with me anymore?”
“Hol -”
“I don’t suppose you care that I’ve been waiting for you all morning. I don’t suppose you actually care that all I wanted was an enjoyable day with you and now you’ve ruined it.”
“Don’t cry, please, Holly. We have the rest of the day before us. I’m sorry I overslept. We’ll have a great time, alright?” he reached over, gripping her soft, thin fingers in his. “We’ll have the best Christmas ever, you and I.
She sniffled softly, squeezing his hand in return.

Five hours later, he tried to stifle the huge yawn as it made its way out. Holly glared at him.
“Sorry,” he mumbled as he followed her into the next store, at least a dozen different bags gripped in his hands.
She ignored him, fuming inside. How dare he spoil Christmas with his ratty attitude? Can’t he see what he’s doing to me? It’ll totally serve him right if I don’t get him anything at all. Silently, she picked out a tube of lipstick and a bottle of perfume for her sister and waited as he paid for the bill.
“Do you want to break for dinner?” he asked as they walked out of the store.
She shrugged. “What do you have in mind?”
He wanted to suggest the cheapest food shop outside the mall, fried noodles or burgers for a few dollars each but he sucked in his breath and asked, “What do you fancy?”
She named an upscale restaurant and he almost winced, barely managing to nod in agreement. He mentally toted up the total charges made to his credit card during the day and decided to use his emergency card, just in case. She would never forgive him if he backed out on dinner now, or if his card was rejected during payment. He missed the days when Christmas was a nice family dinner and maybe a few friends going out for a drink; the days when they made their cards - and sometimes gifts - by hand, each personalised item saying volumes about both the giver and the recipient. He missed the manger and the babe, poignant reminders of a life bigger than himself.

“I was thinking, maybe we should go to church for Christmas,” he said as they waited for their food to arrive.
“What on earth for?”
“Because it’s Christmas?”
“I don’t have time for that God crap,” she replied. “I’ll be busy preparing for lunch, remember - you are coming for lunch, aren’t you? I mean, it’s bad enough you’re not even going to have dinner on the eve with me - you had better be there for lunch.”
“I will be there for lunch. I told you, I have dinner with my family on Christmas eve.”
“Like that’s an excuse. Why can’t you invite me over?”
“Holly, please. I -” he stopped as his phone started ringing. “Sorry, it’s my boss,” he said, holding up a hand, begging her to wait. Holly rolled her eyes.
“Your boss again,” she griped loudly. “How many freaking times does he have to call you on the weekend? He’s such a… a Grinch!”
He scowled just a little and got out of his seat, walking to a quiet corner of the restaurant to answer the call. She was drumming her fingers on the table irritably when he came back and slid back into his seat.
“Am I or am I not your girlfriend?” she demanded.
“You are, but -”
“Then why is your stupid boss more important than me?”
“It’s my job. I need -”
“This is ridiculous. I can’t even spend a day with you without your job butting in on us.”
“And what do you suggest I do?” he said, from behind clenched teeth.
“I don’t know, leave it.”
“And where do I get money then?”
“Find another job. There are like millions of jobs out there - get another one.”
“It’s not that easy. Not many other jobs are willing to pay as much as this one does.”
“It’s about the money, is it?”
“No, it’s not. But I’m barely making ends meet with all the bills, all the stuff I pay for you, I -”
“Fine. Let’s call it quits then.”
“Holly -”
“You make me sound like some crazy demanding bitch who just wants your money. If that’s all you think of me, then we might as well break up!”
“Please -”
She grabbed her shopping bags and stalked out of the restaurant. He couldn’t help the whiny voice in his head that said but you are to her retreating back.

To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray

His tiny flat was cold and bare. He flicked the lights on and locked the door behind him. They had talked about putting up a tree, maybe some tinsel and lights. She had joked about mistletoe, saying that maybe for once he would kiss her. He had felt like such a prude when she said that, but it just hadn’t seemed right to him. Sometimes he felt like he belonged to another era. He tossed his keys and wallet on the table, wondering idly if it would be awkward for him to insist that she pay him back for the presents he had charged to his card today. At a loss, he switched on his laptop, drowning the fist around his heart in an endless list of numbers.

Justin smiled wanly at his family’s Christmas Eve dinner, his relatives putting down his lethargy to the long hours he put in at work. He didn’t bother to correct them. His caffeine habit would be hard to explain. He kept to himself, replaying the last few conversations with Holly over and over in his mind. He still couldn’t pinpoint the exact point in the conversation when everything went south. Looking up, he realised that his younger sister was hovering over him, hands on her hips. She grabbed his arm, pulling him after her out into the yard.
“What happened?”
He shrugged.
“You can tell me,” she urged, scanning the lines on his face.
“To what end, Janice?”
“To get it off your chest.”
“We broke up.”
“She dumped you?”
“Well -”
“She did, didn’t she?”
He shrugged again, reflexively.
“Why - and how do you feel?” she changed her question, trying to read him like she used to.
“Alright, actually. I’m finally seeing the inside of my own flat during the day now.”
“Right before Christmas too.”
“That’s mean.”
He gave her a look. “Butt out.”
“You shouldn’t let her do this to you.”
“I don’t know why it matters so much to you, Jan.”
“Because it’s mean. It’s unfair. You deserve better.”
He caught her hand. “Which is why I’m not going to pursue this,” he said, the sudden decision lifting a heavy burden off his shoulders.

He looked uneasily around the room, made unfamiliar from the months he had been away. A plastic smile on his face, he steered himself into the quiet corner where the nativity display was housed. Glancing around to make sure that no one was looking, he knelt in front of the manger.
“Hello,” he whispered, feeling a bit of a fool. “I haven’t seen you in a while. I don’t know how you knew, but you gave me exactly what I needed. It hurt, and I sometimes wish it hadn’t happened, but I think it was exactly the right thing at the right time.”
Justin picked up the little baby figurine. “I guess I’m not quite a kid anymore and maybe I haven’t been good enough to warrant any presents from Santa, but hey, I’ve got you.” He kissed the figurine, placing it carefully back in the manger full of straw. He left the church with a spring in his step.

O tidings of comfort and joy
comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy


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