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Friendship Holiday Christmas

A Christmas Story

“Come on, Mark. It’s Christmas. We need to celebrate.” The four of them pushed their way into the elevator and held it open for him.

He stopped half-way there, fake-patted his pockets. “Go on, okay? I forgot something. I’ll be right behind you.” They booed him as the elevator doors closed.

Mark turned the overhead lights off, leaving the office in the dreary glow of his desk lamp. After he did what he’d promised to do, he took a flask from his bottom drawer and took a long pull, then another, grimacing.  

A phone rang in the outer office gloom. “Nobody’s here!” he shouted out. “Some asshole just robbed them.” Maybe the liquor was working.

He sat down, hearing the chair springs protest, and took another swig, re-capping the flask. They’d wonder what was keeping him, saying, “Where’s Mark?” They’d want him there to celebrate their best year ever. His phone buzzed in his pocket. Already?

No, it was his sister. His hands were shaking.

“Hi. What’s up?” He set the phone down and put it on speaker.

“What’s up? That’s all you’ve got to say? Where are you, Mark?” She sounded anxious. He could hear the drone of a TV in the background.

“At the office. Just leaving. I had to wait until everyone was gone. You knew that.”

She lowered her voice “And then?”

He turned in his chair. Out the window, snow had begun to fall. “And then I’ll be on my way. Flight’s not until eleven, so—”

“When do you meet them?” She must have walked away from the TV.

“Tomorrow. Noon.” Feeling queasy, he swung back around so he was facing away from the window. Always had that little bit of acrophobia, even after three years on the eighteenth floor. “I’ve got the instructions.”

“What if you aren’t there?”

“How can you ask me that? Why the hell wouldn’t I be?”

“I’m worried about you, is all. I know you’re uncomfortable—”

“Uncomfortable? That’s rich.” Pulse elevated, feeling flushed, he stood up and shrugged out of his coat. He threw it in the general direction of the chair, watching it fall on the floor. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the building he heard an elevator ding. Maybe they’d sent someone back to get him. He sat and put his feet up on the desk, trying to fake his body into relaxing. Fat chance.

“Look, Mark, I never meant for you to compromise—”

“Jesus, Ellen. You presented this whole thing to me as a last resort. Everything rested on my willingness to ‘compromise’—my values, my career, my freedom—you name it. There was ‘no other way’, you said. And now you’re worried about how I feel? Little late for that, isn’t it?”

The phone went dead.

He sighed, let his feet fall to the floor, uncapped the flask, and took another swallow. Hoping for oblivion, knowing it wouldn’t come. What was it his father had said? “Life is hard and then you die.” Not that the old man made it up, but he’d been the poster child for that one until he checked out.

His phone. Ellen again. He pressed “end call.” Fuck her. She’d probably made some excuse to leave the apartment so she talk without Dickhead hearing her.

He was lifting the flask to his mouth when the phone buzzed again. This time, Jack. “Hey.”

“Hey, yourself. What the hell you doin, buddy? We’re all here getting wasted, and the man of the hour is M.I.A. Tell me you’re on your way.” Voices and music in the background, but muffled. Jack must have walked outside. Standing in the snow, looking down the block for his best friend. Couldn’t remember a time when Jack wasn’t there, looking out for him, trusting him without question. God, this was going to hit so hard.

He stood up. “I am, buddy. Coming right now.” He grabbed his coat off the floor and struggled to push his arm through the inside out sleeve. He wanted to throw it on the floor and stomp on it. “I promise.” His voice cracked.

“You sure? It’s only five blocks, and if you’re shittin’ me, I’ll march over there and drag you—”

“No way, Jackie.” He freed the sleeve, shoved his arm through, stuck his hand in his pocket and felt his keys Trying to breathe normally, he said, “I’m walking out the door right now.”

“You better be. I’m not celebrating without you.”

Something in his friend’s voice pushed Mark to try. “Hey, Jack?”

“Yeah?” Jack sounded . . .  hopeful.

 But Mark couldn’t do it. “Nothing.” He looked around the dimly lit office. The briefcase stood in silent reproach.

“No, no. You don’t get away with that. Fuck that ‘nothing’ stuff. You were gonna ask me something—something serious. I know that tone. What was it?”

“I was just going to tell you—” A sob caught in his throat.

“Mark? What the hell, man? You alright?”

“I—no. I’m not alright, actually. It’s just that . . . I’ve done something. Something wrong. I don’t deserve—” He choked up again.

“Wrong? No way I believe that bullshit.”

“But it’s true.” Tears were running down his face. He could taste salt.

“Listen, man. There’s nothing you could’ve done that bad. I know you.”

“You’re wrong. This is worse than bad. It’s ‘I gotta leave town’ bad. My sister—"

“Ellen? Did that prick she’s married to have anything to do with it?”

“No. He’s too dumb to—It’s her kid. He got himself in trouble—”

“Come on, Mark. Dante’s been a fuckup his whole life. You know it. You told me five years ago—”

“I know, but it’s Ellen, man. She raised me, remember? When our poor excuse for a dad—and now Dante’s all Ellen cares about, and—never mind.” He took a deep breath. “I’ll be okay.” He looked around again. “But I think I’m gonna have to skip the Christmas party.”

“No, no, no. That’s not gonna happen. Whatever it is, buddy, we can fix it. You know we can. Haven’t we always had each other’s back? Nothing we can’t do together—remember?”

“Listen, Jack,” Mark paused, his shoulders slumped and he looked down at his left hand and noticed, again, the absence of his wedding ring. “I’m on my own with this one—not about to drag you down, too.”

“What are you saying?” Jack’s voice raised. The door of the bar must have opened because revelers voices threatened to drown Jack out.

He spoke louder. “Gotta catch a plane. Tonight. I don’t think I can come back. Ever. There’ll be a mess to clean up here, and my name will be—” his throat closed up and he couldn’t finish. The line went dead. Jack never charged his phone, so he was probably standing in front of the bar cursing, maybe trying to borrow some stranger’s phone. Just as well. Get outta Dodge.

Mark grabbed the brief case and made his final trip to the elevator, dropping the nearly empty flask in the trash.

He pushed “G” and rode down to the garage listening to Muzak’s version of “Oh Christmas Tree.” His phone buzzed again. Ellen. “I’m leaving, right now. Headed to O’Hare. I can wait there—"

“No, stop! Don’t do it. I mean it. It’s over. Are you listening?”

“What the hell?”

“He turned himself in. Dante did.”

“To the police?”

“Yes. It’s over. I promise. Return the money. You still can, can’t you?”

“What made him—?”

“You. When I told him what you were willing to do—” She was crying. “Tell me you can, please!”

“I—"

The elevator doors opened. His car was the only one in the garage, and Jack was leaning against it, coatless, rubbing his arms for warmth. Mark motioned for Jack to join him in the elevator, and they rode back up to eighteen together, Mark trying to share his coat with Jack, breathing in the fumes of bourbon and tic tacs.

After Mark finished what he needed to do and they stood at the elevator together, Jack asked, “Are you gonna tell me?”

Mark laughed. It felt so good to laugh. “Sure. But not now. Let’s go celebrate Christmas with our friends.”

November 18, 2022 17:51

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9 comments

Thomas Minori
21:23 Dec 08, 2022

Pat, I loved the story and followed his dilemma. On the one hand he betrayed the company he works for and on the other he felt he had a duty to help his sister with her son. His sisters ex had nothing to do with it, in fact he didn't take this big step to help the son, he did it for what he felt he owed his sister for raising him. Good story Pat, keep them coming.

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Suzanne Williams
17:34 Nov 27, 2022

Pat, at first I was t hinking more, more,more! Then I realized the "short" story was all about the moral dilemma family, business and friendship. I Thoroughly enjoyed. Merry Christmas

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20:56 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks, Suzanne! I'm glad you "got" it.

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01:30 Nov 27, 2022

Pat, you are a master of showing not telling by your use of vivid details. I felt like your characters were real people I got to know because of the little tidbits you included to show who they were. The pace was good and propelled me through the story to the end, but when I got there, I thought I must have missed something. I wasn't sure about the enigmatic ending, but I loved reading the story and "seeing" it from your descriptions.

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03:37 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks, Gretchen. Lots was left out, I guess, in my efforts to help people see a man having a moral crisis and feel it with him. The purposeful vagueness was my effort to keep readers from getting hung up on the details. Maybe it needs work.

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09:48 Nov 26, 2022

Hi Patricia. Very evocatively written. Can totally picture the scene. But actually not totally. For that, I'd need to know what he was feeling. And, to be fair, we have a lot of that through your compelling show-don't-tell writing. But throw us a bone! I need some 'telling,' as well, lol! There's obviously a whole back-story here, which you really need to know in order to be able to appreciate the predicament he's in. Why does he need to leave town? Because the deadbeat son of his ex robbed a bank? How does that affect him enough ...

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03:35 Nov 27, 2022

Thanks, Marcus. I'm sorry you felt let down and confused, but I have gone over it a couple of times and feel like what exactly happened isn't really the point. It's Mark's crisis of conscience. His sister's kid Dante has gotten in trouble, and Mark feels he has to help his sister get her kid out of trouble, so he steals money from his budding company which has had "its best year ever," knowing he will have to leave or face being arrested. (Which is really shaky because where the heck is he going to go that he can't be found? Unless he's stea...

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01:43 Nov 28, 2022

He'd stolen from the company to help out the ex's robber-of-a-son? Ohhhhh! I understand! Right, makes much more sense. (To be fair, you probably did put enough enigmatic hints in there to help us reach that conclusion without actually whacking us in the face with it. I have been known to miss an obvious point before.) Thanks for giving me the Cliff Notes [embarrassed emoji!]

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22:33 Nov 28, 2022

His sister's son--the sister who raised him when his dad checked out. Not his ex. I have been guilty of skim reading myself, so I can sympathize. I appreciate your mea culpa, which wasn't necessary but appreciated.

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