Holiday Romance Happy

Each of the seven years Natasha Wright had lived in the small New England town of Belfry, she had experienced a rare encounter on New Year’s Eve, though she’d never known it. There was only one dual coffee and pastry shop in town: Little Armaño’s, which sold the best danishes and fruit cakes in the country, as far as the residents were concerned. Even those people who came in from the far reaches of the world lauded the small shop and the husband and wife who ran it. Natasha always got the same thing at the same time. She’d come in near closing - around 9:00pm, and order two cappuccinos and three chocolate chip muffins. A gentleman always came in after her, just as she was leaving, and held the door open for her. They’d share a quick “Happy New Year”, before she rushed into the warmth of her car and he closed the door behind her. That man was Victor Bravos, and it was he who stood before the doors of Little Armaño’s when Natasha arrived, a frown cutting through the black stubble on his face. 

“Happy New Year,” she said automatically, her breath fogging up as she spoke.

“Happy New Year. Place is closed,” he observed, shaking the door handles fruitlessly. 

“What? Closed?”

He nodded. “Indeed.” 

Natasha saw her own worried reflection in the glass - brown hair pushed haphazardly under a blue beanie with sparkles of snow glittering under the white streetlight. “I… I always get the same thing from here on New Year’s Eve!”

“Same here…”

“Is there any sign?” she asked breathlessly. He gestured to one, and she read out loud: “Due to low demand at late hours, Little Armaño’s will now close at 8:30pm. Thank you… Damn!” 

“Damn is right,” he said. “I don’t like going out of my routine.”

“I guess that serves me right for ignoring this place for 364 days in a year,” said Natasha.

He shrugged. “I must’ve missed it.” 

“So… what are you gonna do?” she had no idea why she cared, but all of a sudden nothing made sense to her in the world.

“Well, the nearest coffee shop not named Starbucks or Dunkin is in Mayfield… that’s about a ten minute drive - maybe fifteen this late and night with the snow coming down.” He pursed his lips. “I need coffee, and I need something sweet… and I won’t go to one of those big stores as long as I draw breath.”

“Why’s that?” she asked. 

“I didn’t move from Manhattan to Belfry to pay out of my nose for Starbucks - or to drink the afterthoughts Dunkin serves.” He set his jaw and turned away from Little Armaño’s. “I’m going to head to Mayfield. What are you gonna do?”

“Um… the same, I guess?” she headed to her car as the man did the same. 

“See you there,” he said with a small smile. 

“Mmhm.” She opened the food and shoved the key in the ignition, not keen on driving fifteen minutes just for two coffees and a few pastries. In truth, she was happy to head to the Starbucks just around the corner, but in talking to that tall, rather intimidating man… there seemed to be no other choice now. Natasha turned the key, but as soon as her car started there was a knock on her passenger side window. The man had an apologetic look as he gestured for her to lower her window, which she promptly did. 

“Hey again,” he scratched his beard, “So… my car won’t start. Any chance you got a pair of jumper cables?” 

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I… I don’t know much about cars. D’you have AAA?” 

“No… I’ve never needed it before now.” He looked down and took a deep breath. “No worries. I’ll just head over to Starbucks. It’s getting late anyway.” 

“Wait,” started Natasha, suddenly feeling warm in the face, “Do you… want a ride to Mayfield? I’m headed there anyway.”

“Only if you’re sure. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

She nodded. “Sure. I see you every year, don’t I?”

“Yeah, once a year,” he smiled. “Thanks.”

Once he got in and was buckled up, she pulled out and started down Main Street. “Isn’t it just straight down here until we hit Jefferson Street? Take a left there and head onto 495 north up to exit…”

“Exit 78, yeah. Then Main Street is just off the first left.”

“Awesome.” She cleared her throat and said, “So, what’s your name? I feel like I’ve known you forever but I don’t know you at all, y’know?”

He chuckled and said, “I’m Victor Brown. And you are…?”

“Oh, Natasha Wright, sorry.” 

“Nice to meet you, Natasha.”

“Likewise,” they smiled and looked at each other. Natasha said, “So, what do you do for a living around here. Most people just farm or tend cattle.”

“Neither, I’m afraid,” Victor looked out of the window and said, “I’m an author.” 

“Oh, really? That’s pretty cool. Anything published?”

Victor nodded. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of it - it’s called Night Watchman. That’s my only book right now.”

“I think one of my colleagues was reading that,” she said, turning on her fog lights. “He loved it, as far as I could tell in the break room. It must’ve done pretty well to get you your own place, though. Took me a while to move out of the townhouses on Elm.” 

“It did well enough,” he answered evasively, “The truth is that the house was my father’s. He lived in Belfry as a kid, and when he passed away ten years ago he left me this house along with enough money to quit my job in IT and write full time. I’ve got another book coming… should hit shelves around May.”

“Sorry to hear about your father,” said Natasha. “I lost my dad pretty young, too. Leukemia.” 

“Ah. Mine was a chronic alcoholic, so no surprises when his liver failed.” 

She noticed he didn’t sound too sad. Without prying further, she just said, “Mm.”

“What about you? What d’you do?” Victor looked at her, and in the dark of the night his blue eyes shone with a calm aura. 

“Oh, I teach psychology at the University of Southern Maine. I’m an assistant professor there.” She brushed some hair away from her face and twiddled with the radio dial. 

“Oh wow… I’ve always loved psychology. I tried to learn as much about it before I wrote my first published book. I think it helps to get in the heads of your characters as much as possible.” He smiled. “How long have you been teaching there?”

“Eight years. Just before I moved up here. I tried living closer to Portland, but the prices were just too high. Even here, I had to live in a townhouse for years before I could afford my own place. And that’s only because I made some good investments.” 

“Mm. D’you like working at USM?” 

She chewed her words for a moment. “I do… it’s not what I imagined I’d be doing, but I like it. I love my students more than anything.”

“What did you plan on doing?” He leaned back in his chair, and Natasha took the left onto Jefferson Street, quickly heading on the ramp to 495. 

She merged safely before answering, “Well… I originally wanted to join the FBI and study behavioral psychology in violent crime, but years of being sedentary in college caught up with me. I couldn’t cut it in Quantico. I had asthma as a kid, and it turns out I didn’t outgrow it.”

“That’s surprising. You look great now.” 

Natasha felt herself blushing. “Thanks,” she said meekly. “You look good too.” Why did she say that, she thought, blushing harder. 

Before Victor could do much more than say, “Thanks,” Natasha turned off the highway and coasted along the off ramp. As soon as they were on Main Street, he continued, “So what do you normally get from Little Armaño’s?” 

“I… I get two cappuccinos and three chocolate chip muffins.” 

“Sounds a little specific. Any reason you order those things? You got three kids that demand a muffin each?” 

She laughed. “God no. The first cappuccino is for tonight - it gives me the boost I need to stay up. That’s also what two of the muffins are for. The other cappuccino I leave out and heat up in the morning with the last muffin. I find that’s the best way to wake up - coffee already prepared and a nice, decadent muffin. It’s a good way to start the new year, if not the most healthy.” 

“Sounds like heaven,” he said. 

“What about you?” she asked, pulling in front of one of Mayfield’s three small coffee shops. “What’s your normal order?” If she wasn’t mistaken, he blushed at her question, though it was dark. 

“Oh, uh… I get a large black coffee and a danish… to stay awake.” He looked away and tried the door, which remained locked for the moment. 

She couldn’t help but smile. “There’s nothing wrong with that. You do anything special on New Year’s morning?” 

“Well, if I roll out of bed before noon, it’s a miracle. Then I make myself a cup of green tea with a touch of honey, some oatmeal, and I sit down to write. At least, that’s what it’s been for the last ten years.” 

They got out of the car and Natasha asked, “So you’ve released one book in ten years?” 

“Getting published is hard,” he answered quickly. “Especially as someone without any previous background in writing, and with no connections. I basically had to cold-query agents until one was merciful enough to ask for more material. I’d actually written three books before Night Watchman, but none of them were publishable.”

She opened the door to the coffeeshop for him. “What’s that mean, not publishable?”

“It’s just something I use for when books aren’t what agents are looking for. My first novel was way too long and unfocused, I’ll admit that. The second one was too far out there - agents like stuff that’s familiar with a twist, not straight out of left field. The third one was actually super publishable, but agents just didn’t bite. Now that I’ve made my advance back on Night Watchman, I should have no trouble getting my stuff published.” 

“That’s interesting.” She was waiting politely alongside Victor in front of the pastry showcase. 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so into it.” He looked down at the showcase and asked, “What d’you want? It’s on me.”

“What? Oh no, I couldn’t let you-”

He put a gentle gloved hand on her arm. “It’s the least I can do for the ride you gave me.”

“Alright,” she smiled. 

“You two gonna be ready this year?” asked the cashier sarcastically. 

“Yes, yes, sorry,” said Natasha. “I’ll have… two cappuccinos and three… you have any chocolate chip muffins?”

“If it ain’t in the display, we don’t got it,” said the cashier while punching in the cappuccinos. 

“Okay… I’ll take three orange marmalade danishes.” 

“Anything else?” 

“Why don’t you make it two of those?” asked Victor, pulling out his wallet. 

The cashier looked a little lost. “So that’s… four cappuccinos and six danishes? Or-”

“Yeah, you’re right,” interjected Victor. 

“Alright. That’ll be $35.27.”

Victor tapped his card on the reader and Natasha said, “Thanks again.”

“Oh thank you for the ride,” replied Victor quickly.

They waited for their food and coffee in a comfortable silence. Once they were served, Natasha slipped a few dollars in the tip cup and the two left the coffee shop. They got in the car and Natasha said, “Off we go.”

“That guy was rude, wasn’t he?” asked Victor, frowning at the dark windows of the coffee shop. 

“Yeah, I noticed that too. Mr. Armaño always has a smile on his face, no matter what time of the day it is, and his wife is just the sweetest thing. I don’t know if they remember me, seeing as they only see me once a year, but they’re the furthest thing possible from that scrawny, jaded teenager.” She started the car and pulled off of Main Street. 

“Well, the Armaño’s always know me. I’m in the shop pretty much every day - except on Tuesdays, when they close.” Victor took a sip of his cappuccino and shuddered. 

“Really? What d’you do there every day?” 

He frowned and said, “I like writing there between lunch and dinner. Their coffee is the best thing to stave off the 2:30 slump.”

“I guess I should try to get there more often. I get Tuesdays and Fridays off, along with the weekend. I ought to try Little Armaño’s more.” 

“If you come during the afternoon, maybe I’ll see you there.” He smiled and looked at her. “I’d like that.”

“I would too.” She forced herself not to meet his eyes, lest she blush and reveal what she was hiding even from herself in the depths of her heart. Instead, she turned onto the highway. So I never asked you - d’you have any family in Belfry?” 

“Nope. I have a sister who lives in California… I see her at Thanksgiving, but we don’t… we aren’t very close. I guess that’s par for the course in my family. What about you? Your family close?” 

She frowned. “I guess… About as close as we can get. I’m an only child, and my parents both died pretty young. I’ve got some cousins who I used to see a lot of when I was a kid, but now we live in different places, and it’s tough to ever get together.” 

There was a bout of silence while both of them acknowledged the personal nature of their conversation. It was Victor who took a step back, asking, “So if this were a normal New Year’s Eve, what would you be doing before the ball drops?”

“Actually, I like to watch movies. Before I came here I watched an indie movie called Coherence-”

“Oh, I’ve actually seen that! That’s the one with the friends gathering at the house, and there’s a comet passing over, and weird stuff starts to happen, right?” Victor paused and added, “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.” 

“It’s alright,” she nudged him with her elbow, amazed at how comfortable she felt with Victor - as though seven years of annual passings-by had softened any edge that meeting a stranger might imply. “Did you like it?”

“I did. There were some weird things - I watched it with a… friend when it first came out.” Victor paused to cough, after which he continued, “He was a physicist, and he pointed out about seven things wrong with the science. But as someone with a knack for writing, I thought it was pretty airtight. Did you like it?”

“Yeah… I don’t think I’ve seen a movie like that before.” Natasha stared out into the darkness, feeling as though she was in a movie herself.

“Ever seen A Cure for Wellness?” 

“I’ve heard of it,” she said honestly, “But I haven’t seen it. I heard it was pretty weird.”

He laughed. “It’s weird, for sure, but it’s unique. I love the twisted sanitarium setting they use, and the music and directing is great.” 

“You talk about movies like a critic,” she noticed. “That’s a good thing,” she added, as he’d looked away abashedly. 

“It’s a hobby,” he admitted. “Writing books and watching movies have always gone hand in hand for me. You must have some hobbies, right?”

“I mean, I like reading, if you can call that a hobby. I also like playing video games, but I’m way too casual for the online scene.” She normally didn’t admit that to people she just met, but for some reason, Victor felt like an old friend.

“That’s pretty cool. You have any favorite games?” 

She frowned and thought about it while she turned off the highway. “Sure. Red Dead Redemption Two, Ghost of Tsushima… and then there’s the classics like Super Mario Three, Halo, and Legend of Zelda… I grew up with those games, so they’ll always be special to me.”

“Hm. That’s awesome. I would’ve thought a psychology major would be more into theater and high art than video games.” He smirked. 

“Surprising, I know.” 

“Hey, so if you want,” said Victor, “You can take a left on Greenwood. I live right off there on Macy Avenue. That’s probably the fastest route.”

“Oh, uh… sure.” Natasha turned on her blinker and headed down Greenwood, a dark street filled with large houses. They remained silent as she turned onto Macy Street, a brighter cul de sac with even larger houses. 

“Mine’s 672 - the one right there on the right,” whispered Victor.


She stopped in front of Victor’s commanding colonial house, which was well lit with a manicured lawn and regal trees. She stayed silent, so Victor cleared his throat and said, “Look, Natasha… I’m sorry if I’m being too forward, but… I can’t remember the last time I had such a good time on New Year’s Eve. Driving around with you sure beats sitting alone in front of my TV again… I’m not sure I want that to end right now.”

She paused and said, “I… I don’t want it to end either.” Looking into his startling blue eyes, Natasha felt at ease, so she added, “I… Talking with you is as exciting as a first date, but I feel like I’ve known you forever.” 

“Would you like to come in?” asked Victor a little breathlessly, “I’m sure we can find some good movies to pass the night.”

She grinned. “I’d love to. Thanks.” 

“Besides,” he said as he exited the car, “I can’t remember which cappuccino I drank from, so I don’t know which one to give you anyway.”

She laughed, the sound echoing in the clarity of the frosted night. 

December 28, 2021 14:34

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Jon Casper
20:03 Dec 28, 2021

What a charming glimpse into a chance meeting! I thought the dialogue was excellent -- very natural, and nicely paced. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for something to go wrong, but it ended up being a perfectly lovely meeting. Well done!


Dhruv Srivastava
21:00 Dec 30, 2021

Thanks, Jon!


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Graham Kinross
06:06 Jan 10, 2022

Nice story. Good work as always.


Dhruv Srivastava
16:02 Jan 10, 2022

Thanks, Graham!


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Rajiv Iyer
23:47 Jan 05, 2022

This was a nice pleasant read. Conversation was very natural, flowing well!


Dhruv Srivastava
16:02 Jan 10, 2022



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Alice Richardson
02:30 Jan 02, 2022

A good story, well presented.


Dhruv Srivastava
14:44 Jan 03, 2022

Thank you!


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