Christmas is a time to delight in the unexpected and hope for generosity in mankind. It is a day of reflection, counting blessings, and being with those we love. A time to share memories of those special people still in our hearts but no longer with us. With the chaos of everyday life, we need this day to remind those close to us how much we care.
I would like to send a special holiday message to my Coffee Talk girls: thank you. Santa got it right. This group has been one of my most unexpected and cherished surprises of 2013. Your unconditional support and mentoring have sustained me through the best and worst of times. I don’t know what I would have done without you.
This has been a whirlwind year for me both personally and professionally. I am thankful for a loving and supportive family and loyal friends. My job is secure with good health benefits. In past years, I took these things for granted. With age, I have learned to appreciate all of the little blessings that are sent my way.
So may I extend a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all of my virtual friends I have met over the past year. The online support from so many of you have been a constant reminder of the good in all of us. In particular, I am grateful for the friendships of Susan Stuckey, Jena Baxter, Chris Drew, Louise Redman and Belinda Mellor.
And Happy Holidays to Melange Books, LLC for publishing my first story. If you need to a little nudge to believe in the magic of Christmas again, let me introduce you to Henry. Cheers to all of us!
Merry Christmas, Henry
Henry, a shy and talented artist, moonlights as a security guard at a museum and loses his heart to a beautiful, melancholy woman in a painting. As his obsession grows, he finds a kindred soul who helps him in his search for happiness. On Christmas Eve, Henry dares to take a chance on love and fulfill his dream.
“The museum will be closing in five minutes. Please make your way to the nearest exit.”
Henry tore his gaze from the painting, and looked around at the weekend crowd hurrying by. No one noticed him. He always blended into the background. Henry the Trifling—that would have been the title of his self-portrait. A soft sigh escaped as he pulled his gray coat over the frayed cuffs of a cotton shirt. There were extraordinary people and there were ordinary people. Henry considered himself less than ordinary. He was insignificant.
“You’ll never amount to nothin’. Just like your worthless father.”
He shrugged off the memory of his mother’s nagging image and looked toward the last group of art enthusiasts headed in his direction.
This was his favorite part of the day. In a crush of people, everyone was equal. No one stood out in the sea of indistinguishable faces. There was no pressure to make witty or charming conversation. Henry liked people but had never been good at interaction. The anonymity of a crowd gave the illusion of belonging. For a man as painfully shy as Henry, it was the only way to mingle in a city like Chicago.
Casting a last wistful look at the lady in the painting, Henry took a deep breath and eased into the middle of the exiting crowd. A large woman trying to grab her boisterous child knocked into his left shoulder. She distractedly patted a chubby hand at the obstruction and mumbled a quick apology without glancing his way. Henry smiled and nodded.
The group approached the turnstile and bunched up, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for their turn to leave. Someone jostled him from the
side and he felt the heat of another body against his back. He tried to absorb the vivid energy surrounding him. Last week a pretty woman had smiled at him. He had felt warm all the way home. He’d started painting her but had not yet decided on the setting. It had to be somewhere as beautiful and inviting as her smile—Venice, perhaps.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, he buttoned his overcoat against the early November chill. Christmas lights intermingled with the traffic lights, blinking and glowing on the wet streets. The wind had picked up and people rushed by with their heads down. Henry pulled his collar up against the icy sting of a light rain and quickly walked the few blocks to his small apartment.
Stopping in front of the dilapidated building, Henry looked up at his fourth floor window. He always left the light on so it seemed as if someone was home to greet him. He smiled as his thoughts returned to the woman in the painting. He would never forget that snowy December day she arrived at the museum. He had been working his usual graveyard shift and the day manager had needed help with a shipment arriving that morning.
“Hey, Henry, you want a little overtime?” the supervisor had asked. “Charlie called in sick and I could use an extra hand. Another rich collector remembered us in his will. We’ve got a pricey piece arriving in about an hour and I’d feel better with some extra security.”
Henry tried to wipe the smile off his face. Five years in the city and he still felt like a country bumpkin. “Sure.”
“The paper says a Rubens. Flemish, wasn’t he? But it’s a small one.”
Henry gave a whistle. “Impressive.”
“There’s a companion painting with it, artist unknown. We’ll have to find a spot for it in appreciation for the collector’s piece.”
An hour later, Henry held a priceless painting in his hands. God, he loved this job.
“The family probably figured they wouldn’t get any money out of the other one. But this one sure is a beauty,” the supervisor said as he reached for the Rubens.
Merry Christmas, Henry
“Yes, indeed,” Henry replied, as his eyes landed on the second painting. “Striking.”
Henry’s boss laughed. “I’m talking about this one, Bud. The little one is worth the big bucks!” His boss headed toward the office to start the paperwork on the new museum pieces.
“Yes, of course,” he murmured, but his attention remained focused on the woman in the larger painting.
She sat on the edge of a rocky cliff, her face slightly turned as if looking over the edge. Her legs were out to the side, knees bent, a long, olive-colored skirt spread around her haphazardly as if blown by the wind. The stormy ocean breakers rushed between jagged rocks then turned into frothy waves that lapped at the sand. The details in the picture were crisp and stark, the color was minimal—just the woman on a cliff with the turbulent water below. But the overall effect created a hauntingly beautiful scene.
He felt her distress, her sorrow. His fingers itched to reach out and pull her from the painting and hold her, soothe her, give her comfort. Henry knew that if she could turn and face him, he would be looking at the most exquisite creature he’d ever seen. His hand shook as he reached out to touch the canvas.
“Are you okay, Henry?”
Henry drew his hand back quickly as if he’d been caught in the act of—of what? Touching a frame? Good lord, he must be tired.
“What? Oh, yeah, I just need some sleep. ” As Henry turned to leave, he took one last look at the woman who had just stolen his heart. Fate had given him a precious gift. He whistled “Angels We Have Heard on High” all the way home.