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Romance Sad Holiday

Snow peppered my eyelids as I hopped out of the back of my truck. I shivered in the biting wind, pulling my jacket tighter around my chest. 

One more delivery, I thought to myself, my teeth chattering as I slid open the door on the side of the truck. The metal burned my skin, it was so cold. One more delivery and you’ll be home to some apple pie. My stomach growled at the thought— I knew Abbie would make me pie tonight. She made it every year, day after Thanksgiving. 

Most people made pie on Thanksgiving day, I reflected as I scanned the metal shelves, empty of their packages and envelopes. But Abbie was different. 

“I’m too tired to make a pie after cooking all day,” she would always say, tossing her blond hair— well, it was graying now, though I knew better than to say anything to her. But apple pie was my favorite, so she would make it for me the day after. My stomach rumbled again.

I slid the last package out of its compartment, wincing when I took in the battered cardboard. I ran my fingers over the surface— it was soft, like it had been touched by many hands and rubbed into something almost as fine as suede. It was remarkable that it had lasted so long, had made it through America’s mail system without getting broken or tearing. The writing, written in a black ink long faded, was spidery, old fashioned, and addressed to a Miss Edna Holmes of 994 Brandywine Lane.

“You’re a resilient one,” I said, half to the package and half to myself as I slammed the door shut. The snow was coming down harder, burning my cheeks as I stared up the winding driveway to a small cottage, slowly getting buried in the stuff. I slipped the package inside my coat on an impulse, even though I didn’t owe it to the owner to get it to the door in one piece. With the promise of apple pie waiting for me, I could afford to be a little charitable. 

My boots slid on the ice-slicked driveway as I plowed through the now driving snow to the front door of the house. My finger trembled in its mitten as I pressed the doorbell, wiping my nose afterwards. 

“Hurry up, will you?” I muttered under my breath, shivering harder. I peered through the window. The lights were on. A small Christmas tree, decorated with only a single star of badly painted clay, stood in the corner of a neat and orderly little house. But no one was answering. Should I leave the package on the doorstep? It would be destroyed by the snow, surely, its fragile exterior ripped to shreds. But I also couldn’t afford to stand on the porch forever. I was just deciding to slip the package through the dog flap— it could possibly fit— when I heard footsteps. I jerked away from the window so the owner couldn’t see me approaching, wiping my nose again as I stood as tall as I could muster. 

“Finally,” I exhaled as the door finally creaked open, revealing a woman who looked about as worn as the package. Her white hair was perfectly styled in curls, her face painted with what Abbie would call “vintage” makeup. Her warm brown eyes widened behind her spectacles as she took in the sight— a bedraggled mail carrier standing on the porch, face red with cold. 

“A package for Miss Edna Holmes?” I peeled my coat aside to show her the package, clutched tightly against my chest. 

“That would be me.” She spoke in a wavering voice, her eyes widening even further with what must have been surprise. “But I didn’t order anything.” 

“It says your name right here, Miss Holmes. I had it under my coat, see, ‘cause I didn’t want it to get wet.” I held out the package, hoping she’d take the hint, but she only stared down at it. Senile, probably. “Miss Holmes— your package.” I rustled it under her nose, my mind drifting longingly to that warm apple pie, caramelly sauce dripping from perfectly browned and soften apples, surrounded by flaky golden crust… 

“Please come in. I’d like to have a look at that before you leave.” Miss Holmes opened the door, gesturing inside with a shaky hand. I opened my mouth, preparing to tell her that it wasn’t a mail carrier’s obligation to stay while the recipient looked at the package, but shut it quickly. It was a far better plan to follow her inside her warm house than to stand there on the porch, arguing with her while simultaneously freezing my tail off. But I would try the last tactic I could think of.

“I’m a stranger, ma’am. I shouldn’t go in your house.”

“Pish tosh. In you go. I’ll get you some cookies and hot chocolate while I take a look at that.” 

I shrugged. Cookies and hot chocolate could hold me over until apple pie, after all. I stepped inside, still feeling awkward about intruding into her home. I exhaled as a blast of warm air hit me— warm air mixed with the smell of what had to be snickerdoodles. 

“I started my Christmas baking early,” Miss Holmes said, gesturing to an embroidered chair for me to sit on. “I’m slow, you know. Takes me weeks to do anything.” 

“It smells delicious.” I placed the package on the coffee table as she gave me a sweet, old lady smile and scurried into the kitchen. I folded my hands complacently, letting my eyes wander the room. It looked like it had come straight out of the 40’s. I took special notice of a picture on the wall— a black and white one— of a young girl standing next to a boy with a fishing rod. Something about the features of the girl reminded me of my hostess, though it was hard to tell with the black and white photograph. I shrugged. 

“Here you go, Mr. Postman.” Miss Holmes walked slowly out of the kitchen, carrying a plate with more snickerdoodles than anyone—except myself— could eat. “I was out of hot chocolate and I assumed you’d want to get on your way,” she continued, placing it on the coffee table next to the package. I nodded once and grabbed a cookie. It burned my freezing red hands, but I held onto it. I felt bad for thawing out on her nice chair, but what could a freezing postman do? I took a bite. 

“Well?” She looked at me, a look of expectancy on her face. 

“That’s pretty dang good,” I said through a mouthful of cookie. She smiled.

“Now. Let’s have a look at that package.” I watched as she sat on the green sofa across from me and drew it into her lap. Hands shaking— with either old age or anticipation, I couldn’t tell— she carefully began to tear the worn cardboard. It came to pieces in her feeble hands easily, as I had suspected it would. She reached inside and pulled out a small box, made of mahogany wood and engraved with a hummingbird. She gasped, her skin turning papery white as she dropped the box in her lap. 

“Miss Holmes?” I asked, leaning forward. She didn’t say anything, her eyes never leaving the box. “Miss Holmes!” I said, with urgency. That started her out of her reverie, and she raised her head to look at me. A small, crystal tear trickled out of the corner of her left eye. 

Roger,” she whispered. 

“Huh?” Now that I knew she was all right, I deftly snuck another snickerdoodle from the heaping platter. 

Roger,” she said again. Without another word, she looked back down at the box. Hands shaking even more frantically now, she opened the lid. It took her trembling hands three attempts, but she eventually was able to separate the lid from the box. Another gasp left her throat as she stared into its contents, her face like one who was looking at a ghost. I shifted in my chair, now more than a little spooked. I gripped the cookie tighter, my hands slick with sweat as I watched, her, hardly daring to move lest I scare her. 

Her lips parted as tears streamed from her eyes. She reached into the box and withdrew a small, sparkling silver object. I squinted, trying to see what it was as she fingered it with a blank expression. 

Roger.” Something about her voice caused my heart to pang. It was the voice of heartbreak and joy, the voice I’d only heard from my Abbie. I’d heard it when I’d asked her to marry me, when we’d buried our firstborn, when my cancer had been declared in remission. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t heard that voice in a while. 

Wordlessly, Miss Holmes reached out her hand, leaving the object of the box on full display in her hand. It was a ring. An engagement ring. 

“A ring,” I said, rather stupidly. She nodded numbly. “Well,” I cleared my throat. Her face still hadn’t changed expression. “Congratulations, Miss Holmes. Who are you marrying?” 

She looked up at me and I leaned back reflexively. Her face was torn between a haunted expression and a glow of pure, passionate love. 

Roger.” 

“So you’ve said.” I coughed, taking another bite of a cookie because, well, what else was I supposed to do? 

Roger.” 

Okay, she’s lost it, I thought. The thought of just leaving briefly crossed my mind, but I banished it. I might have been hungry for pie, but I wasn’t cruel. And she looked capable of collapsing any second. I sighed and gingerly reached over to take the cardboard packaging from her lap. Maybe there was a note or something that could tell me exactly what was going on. 

I fished in the package for a minute until my hand came across a piece of paper, thin and fragile as the cardboard surrounding it. I withdrew it to see that it was written on both sides— one side with the same spidery writing as the package and another side with blocky, modern, more recent print. I read that side first. 

Dear Miss Holmes, 

 I found this package in my uncle’s house while we were cleaning out his estate. It appears that he made up this package for you years ago and then forgot about it. 

I don’t know who you are or what you were to him, but he wanted to marry you. I figured you’d want this now that he’s gone.

I’m still not entirely sure what this is all about, but I can tell you this. After he finished law school, my uncle was in a car accident. He lost both of his legs and half of his face was paralyzed. 

I hope that, pairing with my uncle’s note on the back of this one, the truth will make sense to you. 

If this is the first word you’ve gotten of his passing, I’m sorry and I offer you my condolences. I hope the memory of my uncle will be renewed in your heart and you can remember him with new fondness. He loved you, Miss Holmes. 

Sincerely, 

Tina Beverly

I looked up at Miss Holmes after reading that to find her still staring at the ring in her palm. So that was what it was. An engagement ring from a long ago sweetheart who had died before professing his fondness. But… I shifted the package to look at the mailing address. Colorado, and in a town not far from where we were right now. Why hadn’t he come back from wherever he was? Legs or no legs, he should have at least told her. 

I flipped the note over, hoping that the answer was on the other side. 

My Dearest Edna, 

I hope I will one day have the courage to send this. This is the ring that I bought you when we were just sweethearts, the one that I planned on putting on your finger after I finished law school. 

Something terrible has happened to me, Edna. Something I know you won’t like or forgive. You were always prissy about appearances. 

I don’t have the courage to ask you to marry me, an unlovable cripple. It’s hard enough living with you thinking I’ve forgotten, but if I had to know that you didn’t want me… I don’t think I could live after your rejection. 

But I wanted you to know that, whenever I work up the courage to send this ring to you, that I loved you. I love you just as much as when we were kids and I told you I was going to love you forever. If I can’t have your hand, I at least mean to give you my heart. And that will never change. 

I hope you can forgive me for becoming a cripple. Not a day goes by when I don’t regret the decision to get in that car. 

I love you, Edna, even though you don’t know it and possibly never will. And I’ll miss you forever, my little hummingbird. 

Tenderly Yours, 

Roger Beverly

I wordlessly placed the note in Miss Holmes’s hands, feeling like I had just peeked behind the curtain of something very intimate and private. I watched as her eyes slowly scanned both sides, first Tina’s and then Rogers. She still didn’t move. 

My cookie long forgotten in my hand, I leaned forward. 

“Miss Holmes?” I asked, as gently as I could. 

She looked up. 

Roger.” Her lips trembled as her eyes met mine. Then, faster than I could blink, all sadness and fear disappeared from her face, and I saw very clearly the little girl in the black and white photograph. Joy burst over her face like the light of the sun on fresh snow. “Roger… loved me. All this time… Roger… loved me.” Tears poured down her cheeks now, creating rivers in the white powder. I reached out and grasped one of her hands, squeezing tightly. It felt so feeble and fragile in mine. 

“He loved you, Miss Holmes. He did. But…” I hesitated, but I was never good at speaking things with any tact at all. “Why did he think you wouldn’t love him? Does that bother you?” 

Miss Holmes closed her eyes for a moment before a slow, tender smile spread across her lips. She opened them again. 

“It does not bother me.” She cleared her throat, clutching the letter tightly in her other hand. “I cannot go back to change the past. But…” She let go of my hand and wiped the tears from her eyes. “This will make my future very, very sweet.” She smiled. 

“Roger is… gone, Miss Holmes,” I said, slightly afraid that she might have lost her mind. 

“I know.” Miss Holmes patted my knee. “And I am almost gone. And when I reach heaven, the first thing I’m going to do is marry Roger.” 

I exhaled in relief.

“Are you sure that’s how it works?” 

“Yes.” She stood up. Fascination overcame me as I watched her finger the letter, reading the words over and over again. As I did, I saw the face of Abbie in my own eyes, my wife, who I didn’t tell I loved her often enough. It’s strange, how being in the presence of perfect love can inspire you to love someone else. I watched as she took the note and folded it three times before sliding it into her dress pocket. She patted it tenderly. 

  “You should probably go home, Mr. Postman. Your wife and her pie are waiting.” 

“How did you—“ I began, but I was cut off as she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I closed my eyes, reflecting on how this was both the strangest and the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me.

I got up and she walked me to the door, holding it open for me to exit. I did so and stood there, snow falling on my shoulders as she shut the door gently. But before I turned back to the mail truck, I peered through the window again. 

Miss Holmes was standing in front of the picture of the girl and the boy with the fishing rod. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears as she reached up with a wavering hand and touched the boy’s face. 

Roger

Then, with the glowing eyes of a soon-to-be bride, she slipped the engagement ring on her finger and a bright smile on her face, like she couldn’t wait for the wedding.

November 29, 2021 17:29

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4 comments

Dustin Gillham
20:47 Dec 29, 2021

I truly enjoyed this. It made me feel like I was hearing and experiencing the story. Beautiful and happy. Left me smiling. Thank you for writing. I Look forward to future submissions.

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E. Pentecost
21:25 Dec 29, 2021

Thanks so much!!

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Amanda Lieser
23:06 Dec 28, 2021

Hello! Oh my goodness. This piece was so heartwarming. I really loved how you chose the character’s names. I absolutely felt I could picture Edna telling me this story in person. I also appreciated the way you wrote the notes in the story. This was a gray homage to the art of writing notes: a favorite that I see several writers integrate in their work. You did a beautiful job in this piece. Thank you so much for writing it. If you have a moment and you’d be willing, I’d love it if you’d read and comment on my latest piece, “Caroline’s Love H...

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E. Pentecost
01:10 Dec 29, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind words! I’ve been wanting to gain exposure for my stories, so your comment means a lot :) I’d be happy to read your other story. Blessings and peace!

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