The room is silent, save for the rhythmic tick-tock of the round, analog clock hanging from the smooth, pale grey walls. I tap my foot in time with the sound as I wait for my therapist to call me in. I’m the only one in the waiting room, but that comforts me. Being around other people is unnerving—I always feel like it becomes something of a competition, even if the only thing I’m doing is sitting here. That’s why I never want to get married—being alone is when I feel safe. My mother disagrees; even though she denies it, I know she’ll always be disappointed that I’m single. I don’t understand that, though—it’s not like she had a successful marriage. The best decision she ever made in that department was leaving my father. But she keeps insisting that I should find someone, otherwise what will I do for the rest of my life? As if being alone was the most outlandish idea she’d ever heard.
But even if I did want to get married, there’s nobody I trust enough to spend the rest of my life with. The last time I remember feeling any sort of connection at all was in high school, when I liked this girl named Scarlett. She was vibrant, she was beautiful, and she could run faster than anyone I’d ever met. She was also exceptionally good at jacks. Basically, she was everything I wasn’t—I guess that’s why I liked her. I talked to her once or twice, but she didn’t seem too interested. Not that I could blame her, of course. There’s nothing very remarkable about me, so I didn’t try too hard to get her to see anything in me at all. I didn’t even know if I was in love with her—it’s not like I knew her personally enough to come to that conclusion.
She didn’t know about me, either. We weren’t friends, more like casual acquaintances. As we approached our senior year of high school, she and I talked to each other even less than we had before, and we didn’t keep in touch after high school ended. But it was for the best—it probably wouldn’t have worked between us anyway. She was more interesting than I was, and she had a sort of dedication to things that I simply didn’t have. For whatever reason, she put her full heart and soul into everything she did. I didn’t really do that, and you can’t expect one person to do all the work in a relationship. That’s why my mother left my father. She was doing all the work.
I pick at a loose thread in the armchair I’m sitting in. My color-blindness prevents me from being able to tell if it’s red or green, but I like to think it would be red—it reminds me of Scarlett. I don’t feel anything for her anymore—after all, I haven’t seen or heard from her in twenty-two years—but she’s one of the few people I remember from high school. I wasn’t the most popular kid at high school—shocking, I know—so as a result I didn’t know that many people. Even now, I can’t say my life is particularly exciting. I live in a small apartment, without even a dog to keep me company, and I work as an accountant. I own a minivan and the complete works of ‘Journey’—from the perspective of being cool, I might as well be dead.
I sigh impatiently. This is taking a long time—whoever’s in there with my therapist must be even more messed up than I am—but then remember that it doesn’t really matter how long I have to wait. There’s nowhere else I need to be, nothing else I need to do. I look around the room and notice that the wall calendar is flipped to the month of October. I frown slightly—it’s December. Almost Christmas, come to think of it. Not that that’s anything to be particularly excited about. I have nobody to spend it with, except perhaps Mr. Simmons, the old man who lives in the apartment right below me. But he’ll probably have his own family over for Christmas, anyway, or at least have his cat. I can’t say the same for myself. At least I get a few days off work, but what would I do? Lounge around the apartment and watch some TV, I suppose.
What would Scarlett be doing for Christmas? Something adventurous, probably. Something exciting, something that would probably give me heart palpitations just by thinking about it. In high school, she would regularly do things like that. Seeing the calendar flipped to October reminds me about something she did just before Halloween—she had climbed onto the school roof to announce to everyone that whoever had snuck marijuana into her locker had better watch their backs. I remember that day vividly—her deep red hair, only a few shades darker than her name, had been swinging wildly down to her waist as she shimmied up the gutter pipe and climbed gracefully onto the roof, her long, slender legs finding the tiniest footholds in the wall. She didn’t lose her footing even once, as if she’d scaled the building hundreds of times before. She probably had, too—once, the principal had called us all in for an assembly because someone had vandalized one of the gargoyles on the roof. Although the person responsible was never discovered, I’m sure Scarlett had something to do with it.
I didn’t blame her—those gargoyles were sore on the eyes. Unlike Scarlett, of course—she was beautiful. Her vibrant, sea-green eyes contrasted uniquely with her hair, and she had a smattering of freckles splashed across her nose. Considering her looks, coupled with her daring spirit, it had remained a mystery to most of the students how she’d never had a boyfriend. Scarlett had shrugged and said that she’d be too much to handle, and besides, she’d never been one to settle for less. It seemed a reasonable explanation to me—she was too good for anyone in that school anyway, and we all knew that. Call her snobbish or conceited, but it was true.
When Christmas comes, I’m not going to do anything remotely like Scarlett—I’d buy myself a pack of instant noodles and a slice of carrot cake, and eat it in front of the TV with a cup of coffee. Then my mother would call me and make a point of not inviting me over for the holidays, because she’d have a man over. Not my father, of course—we hadn’t seen him in years—but probably some guy who had bought her a drink at a bar that day. She’d ask if I’d found anyone yet, and the answer would always be no, to which she’d reply that there was nobody foolish enough to marry me anyway. Then I would say that that’s what I’d been telling her for the past three years, but she would have already hung up.
Then, out of habit, I would call my father, not because I expected him to answer, but because it gave me the sense that I knew what I was doing, and that I had someone I could call up. Then, after leaving him a voicemail consisting of some obscenities—that was the best part of the day—I’d call Scarlett. Considering that the only number I had of hers was one that some guy had randomly given me during my senior year, I wasn’t sure if it was even correct, but I called her anyway. I knew she wouldn’t answer, so I talked mindlessly into the phone until my message became too long. Then I’d call her again, and keep talking until I had nothing else to say. I would usually stop after two voicemails, though—nothing interesting was ever going on in my life, and most conversations with Scarlett consisted of her talking and the other person listening in awe as she casually recounted whatever outlandish thing she’d done recently.
The one thing I never did during Christmas—aside from anything remotely exciting—was listen to Christmas music. Well, not on my own, at least. Of course, I couldn’t avoid it when I went to the grocery store, even in late November—I don't understand why they start playing Christmas music so early anyway. But in my apartment, it would be quiet, because I knew that Santa Claus wouldn’t be coming to town, and that bells wouldn’t be jingling, and I wouldn’t be giving or receiving anything for Christmas. It would be damn cold outside, though—and since my thermostat was broken, I’d make do with a heap of tattered blankets that I’d had for as long as I could remember. In other words, I would be spending this Christmas exactly the same way as I’d spent every other Christmas since I moved into my apartment eight years ago.
Suddenly, a secretary steps into the room, her high heels clicking loudly against the tiled floor. “Mr. Trey Gryffon?” she asks me.
I nod and stand up as the secretary says, “She’s waiting for you.”
She? I frown. “My therapist is Mr. Ayton.”
The secretary looks surprised. “Mr. Ayton quit his job last week. Didn’t you know?”
I shake my head mutely, but follow her to my new therapist’s office. The secretary knocks on the door, and we hear someone say, “Come in!”
“Have a good evening, Mr. Gryffon,” the secretary says with a smile.
“Y-you too,” I say, still confused, and the secretary walks down the hallway and disappears around the corner.
I open the door, and my eyes land on the woman sitting behind what was once Mr. Ayton’s desk. She’s typing on a computer, but that’s not the first thing I notice. No, it’s her deep red hair that catches my attention. She looks up from the computer and stares at me with piercing, sea-green eyes.
Her lips part slightly in surprise. “Trey?”
I blink, stunned, and nod. Maybe this Christmas will be different after all.