Oh, the weather outside is frightful… but Christmas is so delightful!
Leslie felt it in the air as she walked down the street, wrapping up in her shawl against the cold and snow.
She was headed to her favorite store that only opened nearer to the winter holidays and had all kinds of wonderful stuff.
She cherished this knowledge as something very close and personal: the store was small and not really well-known because of its peculiar schedule, so Leslie felt as if she was touching upon some secret only known to her.
But her singing mood was brought up short when she saw the “For rent” sign on the shop window.
Hey, what’s that mean?
She had been so engrossed by anticipation that she couldn’t believe her eyes.
Despite the obvious absence of anyone inside, she still knocked tentatively and waited…for something.
But nothing happened.
It seemed to her that the world suddenly stopped spinning. Upset and downtrodden, she already turned to leave, thinking about what she would do
now, when she noticed a small piece of paper tucked between the door and the jamb.
*** Alec wasn’t really fond of Christmas — too much hustle, everyone around seems to be so happy for no good reason, and the overall air of it didn’t bring him lots of joy; rather, anxiety because of the imminent expenses.
His birthday was on 29th, and that was twice as inconvenient: he had lots of friends, and most of them would be offended if he didn’t throw a party for everyone.
The prospect was harrowing: buy presents for everybody (especially for Jane: he was going to propose to her on New Year’s Eve), invite friends over to his place for a party… He wondered where to take all that money.
Deep in these anxious thoughts, Alec barely noticed stepping onto something soft but springy.
When he finally registered the weird sensation,
he turned around and saw it.
Thick one, half-buried in the snow.
Alec hesitated, but then took a step back and picked it up.
Inside was a hefty stack of hundred-dollar bills… and a photograph.
*** Marissa woke up covered in cold sweat and sheets clinging to her wet skin.
Another nightmare, this time about Ben — she didn’t exactly remember what it was about,
but something horrible happened.
Come on, even sleeping pills didn’t help any longer!
It was almost noon.
She fetched her phone and called Ben, just in case.
One, two, three long beeps… and he picked up.
Hearing his voice was… what?!
She jumped out of the bed and started looking frantically all over the place.
He couldn’t have… oh, no, it wasn’t there.
She hung up, telling him she’d call back in five, and began shoveling up every inch of the apartment.
Then the phone rang.
She thought it was Ben again, but the number wasn’t on her contacts list. Marissa picked up.
Voice she didn’t recognize called her by her name.
*** Leslie took the sheet and unfolded it.
Inside was a note from the owner of the store that read, “Whoever finds this, please call me” — and a number. Her heart suddenly racing for some reason, she produced her phone from her bag and dialed the digits.
After five tones she was already going to hang up, when something clicked and a voice
of the man she remembered from previous years started talking — answering machine.
If you hear this, then you’ve probably found my note in the door of the store.
I understand your frustration, but unfortunately, I’ve got no loan this year, so I probably won’t reopen before Christmas.
I have all the stock on me, though, so if you’d really like to order something, it would be my pleasure to call you back and arrange delivery.
If you’re interested, please stay on the line until the signal and tell me your phone number and/or email, whatever you prefer, and I’ll contact you as soon as I can.
Leslie was surprised, but waited for the signal and spelled her email she wasn’t fond of phone talks anyway.
*** Alec looked at the photo.
It showed a young African American woman, closer to her thirties, smiling and beautiful.
Alec turned over the card and saw name and a phone number on the other side: Marissa.
Clearly she wasn’t the owner of the wallet, but she probably knew who was.
He sighed and took the phone.
“Um, is it Marissa?
Yes, my name’s Alec, I’ve found a wallet in the street with your photo and phone number
Oh, it’s your brother’s?
Well, there’s… like, a lot of money in here, and I thought it would be nice if the
owner got it back.
Yeah, sure, Ben, is that right?
Okay, waiting for a call then.
Alec hung up and sighed again.
Lots of money, more than enough for all the presents… and that other stuff.
But hey, it was Christmas, right?
This Ben must be awfully frustrated.
The phone rang.
Alec picked up, heard the voice and couldn’t believe it.
He knew the man.
*** Marissa let out the air from her lungs with relief.
A good man, this Alec!
She’d immediately told Ben to call him and went to dress up.
She had a short day today, but there was some stuff she needed done at the office — a mortgage and a business loan that she couldn’t get her hands on for a long time now.
When she arrived at the office, she remembered something and took out that loan request form.
Right, the name — it was Alec Hughes.Alec?
No, that would be too much of a coincidence.
Anyway, she decided to finally check it.
And there it was — a discrepancy that hadn’t let her approve the form.
She sighed and started calling the number of her new acquaintance’s namesake.
*** Leslie walked back with new anticipation.
At least the owner was a nice man.
But browsing his goods was always so exciting, much better than choosing something from a catalog.
Well, anyway, she had nothing else to do today, so she just headed home. And it would’ve been a short and uneventful walk if she hadn’t bumped into someone big.
She murmured an apology, looked at the stranger and her eyes got huge.
So it is you!
I’ve just talked to your sister, Marissa, how many years haven’t we seen each other, 5, 7?
Man, of course, come to the corner of 5th and Abbey Road, I’m heading there right now.
Yeah, coffee sounds great! Waiting for you there in 15.”
Who could’ve known it was his old pal Benjamin?
The world was awfully small, after all. When Alec came to the place, Ben wasn’t there yet.
He unlocked the door and let himself in.
The place looked grim and deserted.
He opened it every year before Christmas, just to put his mind at ease — more of a hobby than a business, really.Pity that the bank was taking so long to approve his loan this time: he was left with no choice but to put the store up for rent.
He took off his coat and scarf and got down to cleaning, but then the phone rang again.
*** The number popped up as soon as Marissa dialed the first three digits.
It was THAT Alec indeed!
She blinked and pressed the call button.
I’m looking at your loan request form right now…
Yep, I’m kinda your accountant, I guess.
Look, I couldn’t approve it, but… where can I find you?
It’s not a phone talk.
See you in a jiffy.”
Marissa stood up, knowing her partner wouldn’t approve, she left a voice note to her in case she showed up, put on her overcoat and dashed outside, to her car.
*** Leslie looked at Ben in shock.
She hadn’t seen him in years, and there he suddenly was, larger than life, in an elegant
tweed overcoat and grinning at her, no less surprised, evidently.
They’d been in love in college, but he disappeared after graduation — some terrible family
business that overwhelmed him.
Leslie thought he’d forgotten her and she let him go.
And now this!
When he told her where he was headed, she opened her eyes even wider and said she knew the place. And so they went there together.
*** Alec was on edge.
Ben still hadn’t come, but now all his thoughts were about Marissa.
Sudden rapping on the door made him start and he went to open.
It was her.
She came in and they sat down at the counter, where she showed him the mistake in the request form.
She couldn’t have corrected it herself, and by all means she should’ve rejected it, but given the circumstances… and then another knock on the door.
*** Ben and Leslie talked and talked until they finally came to the store.
Ben knocked, and when the door opened, Alec greeted him with a broad grin.
Then he saw Leslie, his most devoted customer, and his smile grew even wider.
“Come in, both of you, step inside!
Look who’s here, by the way!”
Marissa stepped from behind the counter, waved at Ben and stopped short. Right beside her brother was her long-time business partner, Leslie.
Way.This was just too much!
*** So it turned out they all knew each other this way or that. Haven’t met in years, but here they were.
Alec happily returned to Ben his lost wallet.
Leslie and Marissa, together, helped Alec correct his request form and compile it so that he got even more than he could hope for.
And Alec himself invited them all to his store for New Year’s Eve, promising to introduce them to Jane, his fiancée.
Marissa looked at Ben, Ben looked at Leslie, and she gingerly touched his hand.
Something good was being born there that day — the day before Christmas.