Holiday Contemporary Sad

Arthur yanks on his mittens and quickly rubs his palms together in a pathetic attempt to generate some warmth. He wonders (for at least the hundredth time) why he hasn’t moved away from this godforsaken town with a windchill that makes Antarctica look like paradise. 

His car door creaks open as the cold December air sucks his breath away and freezes his nose hairs. Careful not to slip on the black ice in the parking lot, he places his boots firmly onto the ground and hoists himself up out of the car. 

A mother and her three young children bustle past him, one of them crying “Mommy, slow down!” Arthur barely has time to leap out of the way in order to avoid a collision with a stroller the size of a golf cart. 

Christ, what’s everyone in such a rush about? Arthur thinks to himself while shuffling towards the grocery store doors. The last thing he needs is to slip and fall in the parking lot. Being surrounded by a flock of do-gooders hastily running over to help a poor old man up off the cold, wet concrete sounds like his worst nightmare. Just thinking about it gives him a shiver of dread down his spine as he imagines the pity he’d elicit from the worried faces of strangers. 

Arthur wouldn’t be wandering into the grocery store alone, worrying about falling if Cece were still here. What would she think of him if she saw him now? Grief blooms in his chest. 

The sudden chime of the automatic sliding doors snaps Arthur out of his daydream. He notices a folding table set up outside the store entrance. It’s covered with a cherry red tablecloth and decorated with cut-out paper snowflakes, the ones he recalls making as a child in elementary school. There’s large thermoses resting on the table surrounded by stacks of styrofoam cups and bags of marshmallows. As Arthur approaches, he notices the sign boasting, “Best hot chocolate in town!” Adults and children hurry around the table pouring hot chocolate for those who have wandered up to the table for (what’s probably not) the best hot chocolate in town. 

Despite the cold, these people look pretty cheerful. A donation box sits perched on the far end of the hot chocolate stand, explaining that all proceeds will be donated to the local food pantry. Being in the presence of people doing good just to do good brings a pit to Arthur’s stomach. This is something he and Cece would have done during the holiday season, but instead he’s plotting how to sneak by them without making a donation. He wonders when he became a bitter old man. 

But, the feeling of guilt isn’t enough to make Arthur want to stop and make conversation with the friendly volunteers. 

“Would you like some hot chocolate?” He hears a tiny voice calling up to him from the ground. 

Arthur peers down at the small girl dressed in a shiny purple jacket with a purple knitted hat and gloves to match looking back up at him expectantly. 

“It’s really good. I promise!” She exclaims hopefully. 

At first, he says nothing. The child has a sprinkle of freckles across her round cheeks and little nose, both turned deep red from the cold. Two braids the color of honey stick out from the bottom of her hat. Her dark brown eyes shine up at him and her bright smile doesn’t falter. 

Not a bad salesperson, I’ll give her that.

“Um, no. No, that’s alright,” Arthur mutters as he tries to walk past her. 

What kind of monster am I, turning down a simple cup of hot chocolate from a little girl?

She is not deterred. “Are you sure? I can even put mini marshmallows in it!” The confident voice of this young child reminds him of his own daughter when she was that age. There’s no doubt Olivia inherited her charm and cheerfulness from Cece. 


Cece would be beaming back at this girl, already having said yes and standing in front of the table chatting with the other adults. He can just imagine the look on her face when she’d take her first sip and crouch down to tell the girl, “This really is the best hot chocolate in town!” Cece always knew just what to say. 

Arthur sighs and takes stock of his frozen nose hairs and chapped lips. He figures he can enjoy a quick cup of hot chocolate, throw a few singles into the donation box, and get on with his day. 

With resignation he says, “Well, alright. I’ll take one hot chocolate please. But go easy on the marshmallows.”

The child squeals out an excited, “Yes!” and hurries back over to the stand where an adult helps her assemble the drink. Arthur approaches the table and thanks the volunteer while placing a few dollars into the box. He smiles tightly, hoping to convey his gratitude while making it clear he’s not in the mood for small talk. 

“I really hope you like it. I think it’s the best one I’ve made today!” The girl grins brightly at him. She turns away but after a few steps looks over her shoulder and calls back to him, “Oh, and Merry Christmas, sir!” 

Arthur brings the steaming cup to his lips and hesitantly takes a small sip. 

Laughter fills their kitchen. 

“Mom, I want you to open my gift next!” James shouts from the living room, where he’s sprawled across the living room floor in his plaid flannel pajamas. He peels open another chocolate snowman while Olivia peeks into her stocking. The fire crackles loudly and Christmas lights twinkle outside in the dark December night. 

“Okay, I’ll be right there sweetheart!” she calls back, quickly pouring steaming milk into four mugs featuring Santa’s face. 

“Arthur, would you grab the bag of–” She jumps and squeaks out a surprised “Oh!” Arthur has wrapped his arms around her waist to give her a firm squeeze accompanied by a quick kiss to the spot right below her ear. Cece turns to face him and places her hands on either side of his face, feeling rough stubble on her fingertips. She grins and his favorite dimple on her right cheek appears. 

“Kiss me. It’s Christmas,” he smiles back at her. 

“Ew!” Olivia shrieks as she slides into the kitchen on her new fuzzy reindeer-covered socks. 

Cece presses her nose to Arthur’s before releasing him and turning back to the hot chocolate. 

“Mom, don’t forget, I need extra marshmallows with mine,” James says while licking a smudge of chocolate off the side of his hand.

Arthur walks over to the pantry, reaching for the bag of marshmallows. He places them on the counter just as Cece swirls a spoon in each mug to dissolve the powdered chocolate. The clink of a spoon against the inside of a mug is the sound of Christmas Eve in their household. 

He grabs two of the mugs while Cece picks up the others and he follows her into the living room. He hands one to Olivia who says sweetly, “Thanks, Dad.” James has already taken his first gulp, and yells, “Ouch!” Cece chuckles and shakes her head. “Blow on it first, sweetie.”

Olivia snuggles into her spot on the couch while James goes searching for his present for Cece under the tree. Arthur sits next to his wife, placing an arm around her shoulder. He pulls her in close and taps his Santa mug against hers. The golden glow from the fire reflects off her dark brown eyes. 

“Merry Christmas, Cece,” he murmurs as he gently presses his lips to hers.

Arthur blinks and finds that his eyes are wet. The fist of grief that usually clenches his chest is replaced by a feeling of warmth. He’s finished his hot chocolate. 

Pulling the crinkled grocery list from his winter jacket, Arthur steps inside the store.

December 15, 2023 13:27

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01:15 Dec 28, 2023

This is a really sweet story with some great visual descriptions throughout!


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Leahcim Ejibat
10:10 Dec 20, 2023

Another great read! Your storytelling awakens my imagination and places me there. I feel the sensation of the cold and the taste of the hot chocolate as well as the heartwarming sentiment.


Tori Winterrose
18:40 Dec 27, 2023

Wow, thank you Leahcim! I'm so glad you enjoyed my story.


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AnneMarie Miles
22:20 Dec 19, 2023

Our stories are a bit similar this week, Tori, and I think that says something about the emotional associations we have with not just food, but people. How many people drink hot chocolate? Probably millions. But it is the memory of enjoying that food/beverage with someone we love deeply that bonds us to it. If Arthur was no grieving, this memory may not have even occured to him. But he is remembering that even something as simple as drinking hot chocolate is something he will never get to do with Cece again. These small moments in life are r...


Tori Winterrose
18:42 Dec 27, 2023

I completely agree with the emotional associations we all have with food, which ultimately connects us to people! I love that both of our stories captured that. I really enjoyed writing the flashback piece, so I'm glad to hear you connected with that. Thank you for your comment and looking forward to continuing to connect with you here! :)


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