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Friendship Fiction Holiday

An early winter chill infiltrated the otherwise mild weathered town of Seaview, catching the residents and University students completely off-guard. Overnight packages from popular online shopping venues, containing sweaters, coats, hats and gloves dotted every front porch for miles, including that of college senior, Lydia Wyatt. Grateful for overnight delivery, Lydia spared little expense as she stocked up on winter wear, she never anticipated needing and truth be told, may never need again. Indulging in frivolous retail therapy and convincing herself it was all very necessary was a welcome distraction from the daunting and impending senior project Lydia hadn't even begun to consider. As she browsed the plethora of offerings in wearable warmth, Lydia thought of her friend Steve and decided to surprise him with a pair of black and white buffalo plaid earmuffs and matching scarf. “Perfect! And…..buy now!” 

Early Monday morning, Lydia gathered her things, including her gifts for Steve and headed uptown toward campus. She left plenty of time before her first class to stop for coffee and visit with Steve. Typically, Lydia was not a creature of habit, but the morning ritual of coffee and conversation became a satisfying staple in her otherwise trying weekday routine. “Two large coffees with cream and sugar, please.”

The barista, who’s body language obviously conveyed her disdain for her job, rolled her eyes and obligatorily asked, “Would you like to try one of our signature seasonal blends today?”

Lydia found humor in her lack of enthusiasm. “No, just two regular coffees, extra hot.” 

“Do you need a cup caddy?”

“Yes, if you don’t mind.”

“Whatever.”

The monotony in the barista’s voice was aggravating yet, Lydia did exercise a moment of restraint, but her natural character was so much stronger than polite composure. She reached for the cardboard caddy, still folded, and simply plopped on the counter by the indifferent woman wearing an ironic name tag. “Here, Joy, is it?  Let me assemble this for you. I’m assuming they don’t teach unfolding to just anyone. Such an advanced skill must be reserved for managerial candidates.” With a quick flick of the wrist, the two-dimensional cardboard slab transformed into a fully functional three-dimensional carrier specifically designed for holding hot cups of coffee. “Look at that!” she taunted. “Hey, by any chance, are you guys hiring?” 

The disgruntled barista slammed the coffee filled paper cups on the counter with excessive exaggeration, “Have a nice day.” she spat. 

Admittedly, Lydia felt satisfied with her reactive behavior, but in the back of her mind she was contemplating finding another coffeehouse to frequent for fear of swallowing the addition of unappetizing saliva gobs with her next purchase from Joy. She shuddered at the very thought, knowing her speculation held validity.

A little more than an hour until class began; plenty of time for coffee with her favorite person and quite possibly the only person on the planet who accepted her, sans negative discernment. Lydia crossed the park adjacent to the University to the west entrance where she and Steve always met. He often teased that they should carve their names in the park bench they frequented, claiming it for their own. He was already seated at the end of the bench when Lydia arrived, “Well Hello Lyddie Loo!” he sang. Normally, Lydia would aggressively protest the designation of ridiculous monikers, but Steve was so endearing and the only real human constant in her life; a cutesy nickname was a small concession to make in the grand scheme of things.

 “Hey Steve. I brought coffee.” She sat and turned her body toward her friend, tucking her right leg under her left. “Oh, and this is for you as well.” Lydia handed him an opened box from her favorite online shopping site. “It isn’t much, but I saw them and thought of you.” 

Steve reached inside the box, and carefully extracted its contents. “Oh, hey now, aren’t these just what a man who has everything would need? Thank you Lyddie Loo; they’re wonderful.” Lydia watched as Steve draped the scarf around his neck and tucked the earmuffs into his coat pocket. “I’ll save them for when I don’t have anyone interesting to listen to, ok?” 

“Very well, but you’d do better than to consider me interesting.” Lydia sighed, offering a weak smile. “So, I think I upset the barista at the coffee place this morning.”

“Which one?” 

“The woman with the perpetual scowl and orange lipstick at the Study Hall Cafe.”

“I wouldn’t worry. They do have great coffee, but I find the place rather pretentious. I know it is a bit off your regular path, but the people at Darcy’s Place on West Elm are wonderful. They serve a good cup of joe, and the Darcy family are compassionate and giving people, deserving of your business.” 

“Well, a glowing recommendation from you is as much an endorsement as I need. Maybe I will check it out tomorrow.” 

“I have a better idea, Lyddie. Would you agree to meet me there after your last class today? It’s a warm and welcoming place to sit and discuss your senior project. I take it you haven’t started, have you?” 

“I have not. My last class ends at three p.m. I could meet you thirty minutes later, would that do?” 

“It’s a date, Lyddie Loo. Now, go be brilliant, and thank you for my gifts. I do so appreciate you.” 

“You might be the only person who does, Steve. I have to run, but I’ll see you later at Darcy’s. Stay warm.” Lydia patted his hand and set about getting to her first class on time. 

Minutes turned to hours for Lydia, struggling to keep attention on her studies. Normally, attending classes gave her purpose, and a sense of definitive identity. As long as she was seated in a classroom or lecture hall, Lydia wasn’t the lonely orphaned rich girl that no one seemed to care to know. She was a student, soon to be a college graduate; ready to conquer the world; alone. Well, at least she’d have her degree to keep her company.

 Lydia learned long ago, there was no real advantage to dwelling on her solitary situation as it only brought about more feelings of despair than anyone could possibly process. Her classmates often misinterpreted her detached demeanor for arrogance and animosity, but Lydia’s justification for her anti-social conduct was seeded much deeper. She found herself watching the clock and silently wishing the minutes away until she could leave campus to meet with Steve. The undeniable sense of urgency was inexplicable, yet Lydia instinctively knew meeting with Steve this particular afternoon would mean more than sharing an hour of extraneous banter over a cup of coffee. Three p.m. could not come soon enough. 

Lydia hurried across campus, through the park and down West Elm in search of her destination, Darcy’s Place. With seven minutes to spare, Lydia pulled on the frosted glass door and stepped inside. Darcy’s was a touch outdated with its vinyl booth seats and faded linoleum, but what it lacked in panache, it made up for in character. Plastic strands of orange and red leafy garland were draped across the front counter, over the doorway and framed the front windows signifying the Autumn season and upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Handwritten signs advertising their “Famous” pumpkin cheesecake were taped behind the register encouraging patrons to order theirs by tomorrow if they wanted them in time for dinner on Thursday. Lydia found herself feeling comforted, simply by standing in the doorway. She looked around the crowded dining area for Steve, but he was nowhere in sight. The woman behind the counter approached, “Lydia?” 

“Yes, I’m Lydia, how did you know?” 

“Steve mentioned you’d be here to meet with him this afternoon. He should be here any moment, let me get you to a table.” she kindly offered, ushering Lydia to the booth in the far-right corner, placing a stained and delaminating menu at the end of the table. “We may not be fancy, but the food is good, and the coffee is fresh. I’m Dina, by the way, Dina Darcy.” 

“It’s very nice to meet you, Dina.” 

“So, Steve tells me you have a big project to work on for school. If you don’t mind, I do have a few ideas I’d be happy to share.” 

“Oh, um, ok. Yes, please. I’m sorry, I had no idea Steve told you about me.”

“He most certainly did, Lydia. You mean more to him than you could ever imagine. Do you know anything about him?” 

“Not really. I’m not one to ask too many questions. Is there something I should know?”

“You and Steve have a lot in common. His wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver almost ten years ago.” 

“My parents died the same way, two years ago. No one understands why I won't go to parties like the other students, but the very possibility of drinking and driving infuriates me, which is why I don't have any friends my own age, I suppose."

“Steve told me about your parents, Lydia. I am truly sorry for your loss. He also mentioned you both feel very invisible and have managed to accept a life without any real or constant companionship.”

“It’s lonely.”

“For Steve as well. I suspect you don’t know how he spends most days and evenings?”

“No, other than seeing him in the park, I have no idea where he goes, or even where he sleeps.”

“Steve comes by here each day, insisting I put him to work. Sometimes he cleans up in the kitchen, washes the dishes, mops the floors and has even scrubbed the toilets a time or two in exchange for leftover food we would have discarded. I offered to give it all to him as I’d rather do so than grace the dumpsters with perfectly good food, but Steve insists on working for the leftovers. He takes the food to the homeless, especially the children. Steve cannot bear the thought of kids going hungry.”

“Oh, I knew he was special, but that is beyond noble.”

“He feels the same about you. Your gift today meant so much to him, and he couldn’t wait to come in and show it off.” 

“I’m nothing like Steve, although I wish I were.”

Oh, but you are. The real difference lies with your living situations, of course. Steve lost everything after his family died. He’s been homeless for the past eight years. You were the first person besides my husband and me to see him, acknowledge him and care for his well-being. He considers you to be family. Now, I do know that your project is centered around gratitude and if you don’t mind, my family and I would like to help.” 

“Oh, I had no idea. Thank you for telling me about Steve’s family. And yes, my project is supposed to celebrate the Thanksgiving season, but I cannot for the life of me come up with a concept by myself. Please, share what you have in mind.” 

“Let me grab a couple of coffees and maybe some of my pumpkin cheesecake. Hopefully by the time I return, Steve will be here.” Dina hurried off to the kitchen while Lydia contemplated her unsolicited kindness.

“Lyddie Loo, so glad you found the place.” Steve took a seat on the other side of the table and removed his tattered coat, leaving the scarf she gifted him around his neck. “Have you met Dina?” he asked.

“Yes, she’s amazing. She’ll be right back. Dina told me about your wife and daughter; I’m so very sorry, I had no idea.”

“I know. I’ve been wanting to share my story with you, but I feared it would only dredge up feelings of sorrow for you and the last thing I’d ever do is cause you pain.” 

“I wish I were kind and compassionate like you. I am not what you’d call a “people person.” It’s hard for me to set my own feelings aside in favor of someone else’s. I’m not uncaring, but honestly, I find it hard to open my heart.”

“You opened your heart for me, Lydia. Was that hard for you?”

“Well, no. There was something very approachable about you. I couldn’t help but trust you, Steve, from the moment we met.” 

Dina returned to the table with her promised offerings, “Coffee and cake on me, so enjoy my friends.” She placed the cups and plates on the table and pulled a wooden chair to the end for herself. “Now, let’s get down to business.”

Steve and Lydia thanked her and listened intently as Dina proposed a Thanksgiving celebration for the homeless community in their neighborhood. “We will gladly host it here.” she began. “I know our place is small, but we can offer two separate seatings: maybe the first at two o'clock, and the second at around four. That way, we can feed twice as many people. Does that sound good?” 

“Yes!” Lydia vehemently agreed. I have some money, you know, to pay for food and I will help in the kitchen. I may not be the best cook, but I’m sure you can find something for me to do.” 

Steve smiled, “I told you, Dina, my Lyddie Loo is a good soul.”

Lydia felt a flush in her cheeks, “I’m not, but you two inspire me. It is time I learned to put others before myself. My parents left behind a sizable estate. I own my home off campus and have money in the bank. It would be my honor to share my inheritance with those less fortunate.”

Dina clapped her hands together, “We were hoping you’d agree to help, but what you’re offering is more than we anticipated. Are you certain about this?” 

“Very certain. My parents would want me to live a charitable life rather than continue to only care for myself. I have been so bitter, and grief stricken with no one to remind me that life has the most meaning when you share it with others.” 

Steve interjected, “I know so many people who will be eternally grateful for a real holiday, and I could venture to guess, they wouldn’t mind if you asked them about their lives for your project. People want to be vital; they want to matter. We know more than most what it’s like to live unseen.”

Lydia finished her cheesecake and coffee. “Dina, that cake was the most delicious dessert I have ever tasted; thank you.” She felt humbled, and somewhat embarrassed for her ignorance toward those with less; or worse, nothing. 

“You’re very welcome. You know, we are only days away from Thanksgiving, and there’s much work to be done. Would you two mind meeting again tomorrow? We can sort out the details and maybe print some invitations to hand out.” 

Lydia had a sudden sense of purpose and it felt amazing. She couldn’t recall the last time she was excited for a holiday or looked forward to intentionally spending any significant amount of time with others. “Classes are over until next Monday, so I have plenty of time on my hands. Let’s meet around eleven?” she offered enthusiastically. 

Dina stood and wiped her hand across her apron, “Perfect. I will see you both in the morning, then. Oh, and Steve, you stay warm tonight, the temps are supposed to dip below freezing. Don’t make me worry about you.” 

Lydia stood and gave Dina an unexpected hug. “No need to worry for Steve. I have a cozy spare room. It’s humble offerings for such a noble man, but it's warm and frankly, I’d appreciate the company; that is if he’ll agree.” She turned to Steve and noticed his tear-filled eyes.

“He agrees. Thank you, Lyddie Loo, he absolutely agrees.” 

October 30, 2023 01:53

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9 comments

Malcolm Twigg
15:11 Dec 06, 2023

Expectation fulfilled with this, although I did find the conversations leading up to it to be a little tedious. This is the second story this week where I have commented on self introductions between customer and shop assistants - it would rarely, if ever, happen in the UK in my experience so I guess it's a cultural thing. Some punctuation hiccups, but flows along nicely and satisfyingly if predictably.

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Shirley Medhurst
18:14 Nov 13, 2023

Thank you, Miranda, for sharing such a beautiful and uplifting story 😁

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Hannah Lynn
18:44 Nov 09, 2023

I enjoyed your story! You never know what’s in someone’s heart and too often we miss out by not trying to find out. Well done!

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Mary Bendickson
16:10 Nov 01, 2023

I have a granddaughter named Lydia And we have added a 'loo' a time or two. I thought Oct. flew by, too. Happy THANKS GIVING.

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Myranda Marie
16:26 Nov 01, 2023

Awe...thanks for reading! We are a "nickname" family, always making things silly. When I was a kid, my bestie, Joe used to call me Randrew. {My real given name is Randi} ...just a bit of trivia..haha. P.S.....I LOVE Thanksgiving, and so did my grandfather, Steve.

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Bob Long Jr
02:50 Oct 31, 2023

A little sassy at the beginning that Lydia. We tend to forget sometimes that homeless folks have hopes and dreams and are well .. humans just like you and me. Good story Myrandaloo.

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Myranda Marie
09:08 Oct 31, 2023

Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it! I've had a few crazy nicknames in my time, but this is a first for Myrandaloo...lol....too cute!

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Karen Corr
01:49 Oct 31, 2023

A heart warmer, Myranda. It moved me along into the November holiday mood. (:

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Myranda Marie
02:43 Oct 31, 2023

Thank you! October flew by so quickly. I'm so ready for the season of thanks and gratitude.

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