Heartfelt Holiday

Submitted into Contest #129 in response to: Set your story in a snowed-in chalet.... view prompt

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Fiction Inspirational Christmas

This story contains sensitive content

This Story has instances of sexual innuendo that may be sensitive.

Heart-felt Holiday

David Russell

WC 2,502

Tension filled the space shared by Rachel and Michael as cords from the harpist played to entertain diners at Vermont’s eloquent but quaint Stoner’s Ski Resort and Chalet. The soft, soothing tones from the harp contrasted the  worry induced by a text message on Michael’s mobile device. A corner fireplace offered pleasant aroma from the smoldering logs within.

"Who's the text from?" Rachel asked breaking their silence.

"Annette. This message is a threat,” Michael said, tone flat.

“four days and then."

"And then?"

Michael squirmed, sipped his red wine contemplating his answer.

"Let me get you a water, Michael. You look flushed. Something wrong?”

"Oh, don't fuss over me.”

"Yes, but I want us to have ..."

"Have what? A quality vacation? Is there such a thing?”

“Michael,” Rachel said puzzled by his change in demeanor.

~

"I can't wait! Just can't wait!" Rachel exclaimed setting her glass of wine on the bright colored tablecloth.

"You guys will have a great time at Stoner's Lodge. James and I were there last February. The inn Evidently, they remodeled and it looks fresh," Mary added, She and Rachel were sharing holiday cheer at the Claptrap, a casual bar-and-grill just outside the business district of Winterville.

"Don't you love Vermont this time of year? Ever since we learned to ski and snow shoe, winter isn't so drab, dull or long. Even James is more agreeable, especially since we cross country ski together.”

The waiter dressed in a bright-colored sweater-vest, approached setting down a bowl of fried mushrooms between Mary and Rachel

"Will it be another, ladies?"

"Yes, please bring us each a glass," Rachel said. She considered herself beginning the holiday from patients, reports and office politics.

"When do you leave for the resort?" Mary asked.

"On the twenty-first, coming back the twenty-sixth."  

~

The twenty-first was one day away. Michael worked as an accountant, and was having lunch with his secretary, Annette. They had worked together for three years, and though Michael was an item with Rachel, Annette had more than cachet for Michael. Inwardly, Annette craved, no, often fantasized moments of unbridled affection and intimacy with him. This did occur shortly after a recent tragedy occurred in Michael’s family.

"Rachel and I are going to Stoner's lodge tomorrow. We're coming back after Christmas," Michael said smile wide.

"

Annette stated slily, “You know, January may be truly the start of a happy new year before and after business hours.”

"Oh Annette," he said as he furled his brow, "Our rendezvous was just that, a tryst, damn it!"

“During our tryst, as you call it, remember some pretty awesome things that you told this girl?”

“that was passion talking.”

“If that was passion talking you better make some decisions or my passions talk."

"To whom?"

"Let’s see if you can figure that out.”

“Don’t you dare. We’re getting engaged,” Michael said, expression pleading.

“That’s right; we, as in you and I may be getting engaged?” Annette stated, tone calm.

"You threaten me with blackmail, and your life will become living hell."

"I'm really, really scared, honey," she laughed wryly with a hint of scorn. “Michael dearest, I’ll make your life and our time together loving heaven not living hell.” Annette reached over and lightly placed her hand on Michael’s forearm, adding, “Flames of passion will mark our time as a loving, caring couple.” Annette gazed into Michael’s eyes with a hint of seduction.

"Look! You can just start your vacation now, Annette. Perhaps you’ll find a match at the supermarket while I am away.”

Michael, rising slammed his chair into the table causing his empty glass to roll to the floor. "I'll finish my day going over the audit for Valsasio's account.”

~

That evening, Michael tidied up his condo and packed for his and Rachel’s ski trip; thoughts concerning Anette and Rachel vied for center stage. Michael’s life had undergone major alteration with the head-on crash ending his parents’ lives five months previous. The result was a constant nagging, a cold void,  begging to be assuaged. While Rachel represented something pure, familiar, known, Annette with her charm, attentiveness, slight far East accent stirred curiosity, adventure, frankly, his male libido.

Michael had met Rachel in a photography course last winter. They hit it off, and though both were in their mid-thirties, they felt young when together. An incoming call interrupted his reminiscence.

"Michael speaking."

"Hey, per chance are you ready?"

"Rachel, hi! Yes, if we were going to a nudist camp. Anyway, you excited?"

"About what?" she asked in a flirtatious tone.

"Our trip, Vermont, Stoner's ski resort."

"Oh! That trip. When are we going?” Rachel teased with flat tone.

"By my calendar tomorrow. What time can you be ready?"

"How about after 10 in the morning," she stated.

"Okay you mean ten-fifteen or ten-thirty."

“Works for me.” they laughed together.

"I know it'll be fantastic," Michael said. Was he assuring himself as much as Rachel?

"Get some good night's sleep, Michael."

"You too, dearest. We're going to have an extraordinary week. I just know." They ended their phone call, Rachel put the last of her holiday cards on the stack to mail before they left town. She was content, happy, hopeful; he was anxiety-ridden within.

~

The clock in the car read 2:52 p.m., as Michael neared Stoner’s resort. The view of the mountains and sunshine illumined their time and sense of together. A light snowfall appeared to be increasing with intensity as they spotted the sign to the chalet ahead in the distance. “Look off to the right, a couple deer in the woods,” Michael said.

“Want to join them? After all, you’re my favorite deer,” Rachel said.

“Yeah, lets, what the hell. We can make a memory.” Michael hoped this would put an end to the continuous replay of his last conversation with Annette.

They walked a short distance, positioned themselves on a large rock and shared a prolonged kiss as they huddled in the grip of nature. Snow steadily descended on and around them in gentle fashion. In the car, some minutes later Rachel stated, “Look! It’s marvelous!” 

“There it is, Stoner’s Resort. The exterior is bright, quaint and inviting. Let’s get some photos before it’s all over,” Michael stated.

The lobby appeared comfy with armchairs and a couple coffee tables in view.

 Minutes later Michael and Rachel were embracing in the center of their spacious room. The only drawback was a large chandelier that touched his forehead whenever underneath it.

"Our room is comfortable," Rachel said setting her suitcase down in the far corner.

"I could almost go for a night ski after dinner," Michael said.

"Look at you! Mr. athletic."

"No, it's the company I’m keeping.  Do you notice there's a hint of wood fire aroma in the air. They reached for each other and enjoyed a prolonged cuddle rubbing each other’s back and shoulders.   

"By the way, did you bring your phone and charger?" he asked.

"I did bring my iPad. Thought I might grab a freelance article here and there if we get down time," Rachel said. She worked part time for a freelance service that wrote short travel guides on points of interest. It was a pleasant departure from working as a middle school counselor.

"I confess. I brought my phone just in case something comes up.” On saying that, the conversation with his secretary replayed. He turned his head toward the window to hide his anxious expression.

~

Their first evening, they went to the casual restaurant in the lodge for a light dinner and couple drinks. Rachel picked up a ski tour brochure in the lobby as they returned to their room. “up for some night skiing?" Rachel asked.

"Sure! This is our first time cross-country skiing together," he said. Before they exited the resort, they rented two pair of skis from the pro shop. The crisp air, cascade of stars in the sky, gentle snowfall, and soft breeze were nature’s welcome assuring a pleasant, memorable time together as the couple approached the beginner trails.

"Just follow me until we get to the top of the hill. Then you my love, can go down first," Michael said.

“I beg your pardon kind sir,” Rachel said tone condescending.

"Where's that photographer’s confidence I've enjoyed seeing?" he chuckled.

"This is like sky diving, not a photo op," Rachel said nervously. They continued for several minutes on the trail as it gradually ascended.

Arriving at the top Rachel said, "Okay, this is it. I'll go first."

"You sure?"

"I can see the bottom. The brochure said its about 225 feet down. I'll sit down if things get too scary." Facing forward, gripping her ski poles, Rachel led off with her right foot and built momentum as the descent continued. Her jacketed forearm grazed a walnut tree branch; she did a slight adjustment to get back into the track. A couple minutes later she was safe on ground, but body still felt in motion. Moments later Michael joined her; they embraced and kissed.

"Our first triumph," he said somewhat breathless.

"You know, we can do this, can't we?" Rachel stated. She had their future in mind.

~

Michael’s anxieties decreased somewhat over the past several hours;; was this a good sign?

~

December 22nd

The second afternoon, the couple were on skis. Rachel slid off the path into a knee-deep bank of snow.

“I can’t get enough push to get back to the track,” she said after several minutes of effort.

“You got a couple choices, babe. Wait until Spring, or leave the ski pole here and we’ll replace it.”

“Of those two, which do you prefer?” She asked.

“Without a thought, the second option. I want you in my life.” He kissed her before taking her hands to help her back to the ski path.

~

It was the twenty-fourth, Christmas Eve. Tables were filled to capacity in the Stoner's Resort restaurant Prime rib dinner was the special.

"This looks inviting, and I'm sure hungry," Michael said as they seated themselves. They were at a window-table where they could see the mountain and ski area from their table. The snow had started to fall heavily earlier this day.  The harpist entertained with holiday carols and light classics.  

"I read in the travel magazine where connoisseurs from the Cooking Channel give the food service here a five-star rating. I hope the baked potato is very warm and buttered to perfection," Rachel said.

"Isn't that going raise cholesterol levels?" he asked joking.

"Hey, we're on vacation,” Michael said, reaching to hold Rachel’s hand.

Michael's phone sounded a text message signal. Holding it in his hand, he read: 

"Four days Michael, that's all, four days."

Closing the screen, he set the phone back down.

"Michael, do you want some water? You look pale.. Michael took some breaths calming himself and said,

"Honey, we need to talk."

"Can we do it after dinner and karaoke?"

"Yes, but definitely before we call it a day."

Michael was able to feign enjoyment of dinner, and even sang a song by the '70s rock group, The Eagles, in karaoke. Rachel sang duet with another woman on the pop song, Total Eclipse Of The Heart.  They returned to their room after a nightcap. The snow continued and appeared to be close to 14 inches accumulation.

~

"Rachel, the text message from Annette is a threat. Here, read it.”

“I don’t understand,” Annette said, tone questioning. Hesitating, she took the phone from Michael, and read the message aloud. This revelation he was about to unfold would either wreck everything or, he hoped, take them to a new level.

"Say more, Michael. I want the truth,"

"Well, about three months ago Annette and I went to a happy hour and drank more than we should have. Things got said that led to us both deciding to sleep together. I know, it's wrong and I was wrong. My parents, you know, died in a fatal car accident five months ago. I thought a tryst would rid the chronic emptiness.” Tears formed in his eyes. Rachel’s expression ashen.

"So, what does this “four days” business mean?" she asked in a calm tone.

"It means that unless we break up, Annette is telling all to you. She wants more from me than I want to give. I have no feelings for her, but she refuses to accept that. I don't want to break up.

“Break up? With whom?” Rachel asked weighing every word he spoke.

"This is Christmas eve, Michael.” Tears began to fall and Rachel dabbed her face with a tissue. Her stomach turned. Running into the bathroom, she gave up her dinner and sobbed.

"Your timing is truly impeccable! How the hell could you be so foolish?”

“I’m really, really sorry. I don’t want her.”

Michael, seated in an armchair stared blankly. Rachel sat facing him on the side of their bed.

"Okay. It is taking all I have to confess," Michael said.

"And, I'm supposed to just say all right honey, don't do it again?"

"Ideally yes, but I know that's asking the humanly impossible."

"You're damn right, humanly impossible, you jerk," Rachel said reaching over to slap his face.  

"I want to go home, Michael. I need time, a lot of time. But the snow has us here overnight. Oh my loving Gawd,” Rachel expressed.

“I know this changes everything. I can text Annette, tell her ..."

“Tell her Merry

Christmas baby. On second thought, let’s do it together,” Rachel said.

“What?”

“Yes, you and me, do it together. We will go from there, but sleep separate tonight and go home in the morning.”

“I like your idea,” Michael said. A sense of relief washed over him now that all was out on the table.

“Annette, Michael said, and together he and Rachel sang a Merry Christmas wish to her.

“I know about what is going on between you,” Rachel said when they finished the chorus.

“And?” Annette asked.

“He will tell you after tomorrow. I am not giving up,” Rachel stated in a definite manner.

 ~

Christmas morning, after checking out, the four-hour drive home was marked by silence between the couple. Within blocks of Rachel’s home, Michael said, "I'm truly sorry, Rachel. There is no excuse but reasons, which you know, and I swear are the honest truth!”

She let Michael help her get her suitcase to the front porch. Facing him she stated, "I think you should get some counseling. Don't call me for one month," Rachel stated.

“You are right. Goodbye Rachel,” Michael said. As he took slow steps back to his car, Rachel said,

“I meant what I told you both on the phone, I’m not giving up.” Rachel entered her home as Michael started to drive toward his home. The quiet, solitude, ornaments, reminded Rachel she was not going to be alone and was not alone in this wrenching moment.

End

January 17, 2022 22:01

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1 comment

David Russell
20:15 Jan 24, 2022

As the author of this story, I thank you for reading and perhaps leaving a reaction and or comment. I started with a scene from within the story to bring the reader into Rachel and Michael's world. The other choice was to leave this out, and begin with Rachel and her friend having "girl-talk" at the casual bar and proceed from that stance. How do you prefer being brought into a story? Best, David C. Russell

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