Lost in the Twilight Zone Marathon | Ep 12 | Nicklaus

“They always assign the crazies to the newbies, huh?” the guard says.

“Crazies?” I ask as I sign into the visitor log. The case seemed to be your standard open and shut B&E. Nothing was taken, though, according to the police report. No one was hurt, apart from a scared shitless thirteen-year-old who had fallen asleep on the couch while watching TBS’s A Christmas Story marathon.

“Guy thinks he’s Santa Claus.”

“Well, it is that time of year.”

The buzzer rings, and the door to my right clicks open.

“You can go back.”

I walk down the end of the hall to the meeting room, where my client waits alone at a gray round table handcuffed to a hook in the center.

I’m immediately taken aback by how he looks. I’m not sure what I expected to see. Surely not a jolly old man with all white hair in a big red suit. But I don’t think I expected to see this guy either. He’s young and, well, hot. His skin is a deep tan, as if he spends his summers in Southern Italy when he’s not in the frigid North Pole. He has sandy brown hair and eyes the same color. His eyelashes are long and curl up as if he’s wearing mascara. His beard is trimmed short, and his lips are full and pink. He licks them right before he speaks.

“Hi there. You’re my lawyer?” His voice is deep and intimidating. I wonder how his “Ho, ho, ho” sounds. Thunderous, I imagine, it could shake this whole room.

I nod and sit across from him. “I’m Jenny.” I reach over and shake his hand. His grip is strong. “So, you’re supposed to be Santa?”

“Not quite what you expected, hmm?” He leans back and crosses he left leg over his right knee. “I’ve always been curious about how these myths start. For example, how does a morbidly obese old man who probably has a breathing problem squeeze down a smoky chimney?”

“Good question.” I click my pen and open my notepad to an empty page. “So why don’t you tell me how you got into the Wilkinson’s house.”

“Right to business, huh? Okay.” He clears his throat, uncrosses his leg, and sits straight. “I was invited in.”

“Invited.”

“That’s how I get into every house. As long as there is someone there who believes.”

“Is that your defense? The girl who called the cops on Santa Claus believes in Santa Claus?”

“Please, call me Nicklaus. Don’t know how ‘Saint’ became ‘Santa.’ It sounds like baby talk, doesn’t it?”

“I—”

“In any case, I’m no saint. Another common misconception. There was a Saint Nicholas. And he was a very charitable man, no doubt. But I was around long before him.”

I’m at a loss for words, but in an effort to turn the conversation back to the case before he tries to tell me he’s Jesus or something, I ask again, “Who invited you in?”

“She has a younger brother.”

I shuffle through my stack of papers. “The boy was sound asleep the whole time. You mean to tell me he got out of bed, opened the door to let you in, and then returned to bed, all without being noticed?”

He chuckles, “Of course not,” then taps the side of his head with his index finger. “In his dreams.”

“His dreams?”

“Yep, a Miles Morales Spiderman suit he was dreaming about, if I’m not mistaken. I was able to deliver it under the tree before they came and arrested me.”

“You’re serious?” The guard was right about the “crazies.” Even his good looks can’t save him. I straighten my papers and return them to the manilla folder and then into my briefcase as I get ready to leave, my visiting time almost over. I’ve stayed longer than I was supposed to anyway. The purpose of this meeting was simply to introduce myself and inform him we were pleading guilty. Like the guard said, the newbies get the crazies, and the crazies are always the easy cases. No need to waste taxpayer money on a lawyer who only passed the bar a month ago after six tries, were my boss’s words. Plead guilty, take the 90-day jail sentence and community service, move on to the next crazy.

“You stopped believing in me at a young age.”

I stop, mid stride to the door, and spin around to face him again. “What?”

“Single mom working double shifts as a waitress. Five other siblings in a two-bedroom apartment. You were forced to grow up quickly.”

“How did you—” I start, and then, almost defiantly, I slam my briefcase back down and lean over the table, beyond the center point and dangerously close enough for him to reach up and wrap the chain of his handcuffs around my neck and squeeze, if he were a violent criminal. The jury’s still out on that. Crazies tend to get physical when you don’t accept their absurd logic.

“It’s kind of hard to believe when Christmas has only every been what my mom’s wages could afford. And after bills, that wasn’t much.”

“Is that why you spend so many sleepless nights in the public defender’s office? The best years of your life wasted on this fruitless job?”

“It puts bacon on the table.”

“But does it keep your bed warm at night?”

“Listen old man,” I say, despite the fact that the only signs of age on him are a few strands of gray sprinkled in his beard. But you have to be close to him to see it, and I’m not really that close, although, I can feel his warm breath on my bottom lip. “If you’re trying to offer me your ‘services,’ my fee is covered already.”

“The service I want to give you is the Christmas you never had.”

“I’m a little past asking for toys, Santa.”

“Again, it’s Nicklaus. And what is your wish as an adult then?”

“Christmas is over.”

“Given that I’m the guy who invented it, I think I can decide when I can and can’t deliver presents.”

An army of church folk would beg to differ, but then the Christmas we celebrate today really isn’t all that Christ-centered either, so I play along.

“I’m sure you want to hear me say I want a husband who doesn’t disappoint. He’s fiercely loyal. Would do anything for me. Fulfills my every want and need. I would lack nothing because he’s a provider. His love is unconditional, and he supports me and my dreams, no matter how improbable. And we’ll have a couple kids, perfect little angels, and we’ll be one big happy family.”

“Sounds nice.”

“That’s not my wish.”

“Tell me.” He leans closer to me. “What do you want?”

His voice is barely above a whisper, almost seductive. Maybe that’s why I say, “To be naked on somebody’s beach.”

His eyes widen. “Oh, really?”

Not really, though it would be nice. What I really want is to be confident in my own skin. I don’t want to have to rely on what a job or a man can give me. I want to already have it myself. I want to make it. I want to live my own life, not what society has written out for me. I want to be independent. Free.

I feel myself lifting off the ground as I think about it, and when I look at him, he seems to be reading my mind. He smiles, and it feels as if every weight of the world has finally relinquished its pressure, but then the announcement that visitation is over echos from the speakers overhead, and everything comes crashing back down, and I backtrack and say, “I don’t know.”

Once again, I turn to leave, but he stops me with one word.

“Alright.”

“Alright?” I repeat.

“It’s done.”

“What’s done?”

He smirks. “You’ll see.”

When the door buzzer rings, I rush out, feeling flustered. I don’t make eye contact with the guard at the entrance as I exit. I don’t want him to think that the “crazy” has gotten to me, that even I’ve started to believe him. I’m supposed to meet with my boss back and the office to give a report, but the case is the furthest thing from my mind right now. I decide to go home for lunch instead. Maybe if I get something on my stomach, I can clear my head and get back to business before my boss starts to demand where I am.

When I walk through the front door, I can’t help but look at my pathetic attempt at a Christmas tree. It stands at only three feet tall, an artificial tree, and it hardly has any decorations, save for the ones I added last year and never bothered to put away, just like the tree, which has stood in that same corner between my patio door and the couch since last Christmas.

Santa, or, Nicklaus, or whatever his name is, was right. All those hours I spend at the office while my Christmas goes on unfulfilled. A whole year it stood and not a single present underneath—only, now I spot a red envelope caught in the branches.

“To: Jenny. From: N,” it reads.

“There’s no way,” I say, as I tear it open. Inside is a folded flyer that says “Fourteen-day all-inclusive stay at the Cap d’Agde resort on the French Mediterranean.” Could this be…

Before I can finish that thought, my phone rings. I fumble around in my briefcase for it and answer on the fifth ring.

“Jenny, where the hell are you?” It’s my boss.

“I uh—”

“Did you go see the Santa guy?”

“Yes. Actually, I just left.”

“What did you say to him?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s gone. I just got the call.”

“That, that’s impossible!” I look down at my flyer, shaking in my hands.

“You need to get down here ASAP. We need to figure out what’s going on. And you may have to answer some questions since you were the last to see him.” He hangs up without getting a confirmation from me or even bothering to say bye. I stand frozen in the middle of my living room. My bewildered gaze shifting from my phone and its shocking news and my all-inclusive resort vacation, an apparent gift from Santa.

None of this can be real, can it?

Just then I hear what I can only describe as jingle bells jangling right outside my door. I swing it open, and there in my front yard is Nicklaus sitting in a reindeer-drawn sleigh.

I cautiously step toward him. “I must be dreaming.”

“I did say that’s when I appear.” His eyes lower to the envelope and flyer in my hand. “How do you like your gift?”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, I didn’t include plane tickets, so I figured you might need a ride.” He slides over, making room for me in the sleigh. “And maybe, if you were feeling generous, you could invite a tired old man who’s been hauling presents for good little boys and girls across the world all night, just spent the last twelve hours in jail, and could really use a vacation.”

“And what about Mrs. Claus?”

“Ah.” He turns ahead, leans back, and crosses one leg over the other as he did in the visitation room. “Also a myth. Contrary to popular belief, Santa Claus has been a bachelor for a very long time.”

“I thought you didn’t want to be called that.”

He shrugs. “It’s growing on me. So, are you coming?”

I stare at him, unsure of what my “yes” will mean. That my mind has finally cracked and this is all an elaborate hallucination? I don’t know, but as I drop my phone on the last step of my front porch and it splits in half, I wonder, what could possibly be worse?

He is grinning from ear to ear as I settle in next to him. He drapes his arm over my shoulder and pulls me even closer to him. I think for a second he’s going to kiss me. It seems weird, especially given that he’s apparently this ageless being who knew me as a child, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if he made a move. Instead, he turns his head and takes the reins in both hands, preparing to mush the reindeer. I count only eight.

“Where’s Rudolph? Don’t tell me he’s a myth too.”

This time, he does kiss me, but it’s only on my ear, and really, it’s just a whisper for me to look up, his lips enunciating the words. Then he breaks away. “Clear skies,” he says. “Rudolph and his bright red nose had the night off.” And with that, he whips the reins.

“On Dasher! On Dancer! On Prancer and Vixen…”


This hour’s story was inspired by the Twilight Zone episode “The Night of the Meek,” but you may notice some similarities with a certain Living Single episode too. Can you guess which one?

Christmas Spirit | Part 2

Read part one here.

I was still in the parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church thirty minutes after the funeral service was set to begin. I twisted the bottom corner of my blazer around my index finger, brushed away lent from my pants, checked my reflection in the rearview mirror, adjusted my lipstick, fluffed my hair. While I had attended funerals before, this was my first one for someone I met after death. How was I supposed to introduce myself? The church was no bigger than a small house in the suburbs, and I only counted eleven cars in the parking lot. Someone was bound to ask me who I was, how I knew the family.

I was cranking the engine when the doors to the church opened and four men in gray suits carrying the casket stepped down the stairs one by one, in sync with one another. Parked at the curb in front of the church was a black hearse. They pushed the casket into the back of the vehicle and returned to the bottom of the steps to assist people down the stairs. The first to exit was the family: the mother, the three sisters, and an older man who might have been the grandfather. They stood in front of the hearse as those headed to their cars stopped to pay their final respects. The mother could barely hold herself together. Every few minutes, she was pulling tissue from her purse to wipe her nose. Her face was red and her eyes swollen from all of the crying. After the sixth or seventh person walked up to her to squeeze her hands and reassure her that everything would be ok, she collapsed into her father’s arms in a fit of shudders. I didn’t have to roll my windows down to hear her wailing, “My boy! My Jason!” The girls stood off to the side, hugging themselves.

I turned off the engine and got out of the car. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but watching this woman break down over the death of her son, her only son, hurt my heart. Would she believe me if I told her I had seen Jason’s ghost?

“I just want to say that your son will truly be missed.” I spat out the first generic, unemotional words I could think of. I was so disgusted with myself I started back to my car before letting her respond.

“How did you know my son?” she called after me in a weak, shaky voice.

I slowly turned around, praying that I could think of an acceptable lie before my mouth opened and regurgitated another classic funeral line I’d learned over the years. “Excuse me?” I asked.

“I don’t think we’ve met. How did you know Jason?” the woman asked again, dabbing her nose.

“I, uh—”

“Are you one of the teachers at his school?”

“No.” A reflex answer, but I wished I had said “yes” to end the interrogation.

“Then how?” she asked. The pallbearers, the grandfather, the lingering friends waiting on the steps for their turned to give their condolences, or by their cars to head to the cemetery for the burial were all staring.

“I don’t remember seeing you in the service,” the grandfather said.

“She was in the car the whole time,” the youngest of the sisters said, pointing behind me to my car, the driver’s side door wide open. Had she been watching me?

“Who are you?” the mother demanded.

“I—I,” I couldn’t think of anything, so I told the truth. “I was there.”

“You were where?” she asked.

“When he died.” I didn’t want to say too much. I knew the circumstances were hard enough for them to bear. They didn’t deserve the reminder of how they had gotten there. However, when the only responses I received were confused faces, I began to wonder if I made the right decision in coming. “When he hung himself?” I added, hopeful.

A unified gasp came from all around.

“What are you talking about? My son was killed by a drunk driver!” the woman screamed. She fell over the side mirror of the hearse, heaved up air and released a series of loud sobs.

“Alright, you need to leave,” the grandfather said in a deep, commanding voice. That was when I noticed the program in his hand. Underneath the words: “In Loving Memory of Jason Wilkins,” was a picture of a teenage boy with olive skin and a full face. He had brown freckles only on his nose. His hair was black and cut short, and his eyes were a dark brown. He was not my ghost.

I tried to speak, apologize for the trouble I’d just caused, but the grandfather glared at me and pointed towards the parking lot. “Get,” he said slowly.

I left humiliated, unable to hold back the tears. I drove straight home and stormed through my front door.

“Jason! Or whoever the hell you are because you’re not him!” I said, slamming the door behind me. “You made me look like a fool out there!”

I went to my room, looked behind the door, underneath the bed. “Come out!” I said. I snatched open my closet doors. They rattled against the wall. I pushed aside the clothes on the hangers, knocked on the back wall. I moved down to the floor of the closet, digging through piles of shoes I never wore and wrinkled dresses I never bothered to hang. I tossed everything behind me trying to reach the bottom.

“Where are you, Casper?” I shouted. Then I paused. “Oh, that’s right. You only show when I’m drunk!” I left the mess in my room and headed for the kitchen to get a Heineken from the refrigerator, but when I walked through the living room, I froze. All of my Christmas decorations were out of their boxes and on the coffee table. Not just the ones I’d bought, but also the ones that had been in the attic for over a year collecting dust: the glass ornaments, the candy canes, the red and green ribbons, even the angel.

He stood with his back to me looking at the Christmas tree.

“Hey!” I called.

He turned around. The wide grin on his face took me by surprise so much, I forgot my anger.

“Did you do this?” I asked.

He nodded his head.

“Why?”

He picked up an ornament with dancing elves painted all around it. He put a hook through the loop and hung the ornament on the tree. He looked at me, and with a grin spread from ear to ear, he clapped his hands vigorously without making a sound. He took a second ornament and held it out for me. I stepped toward him, confused. Then I looked down at the coffee table.

“You know,” I said with a wink. “Traditionally, we put the lights on first.” I ripped open one of the boxes and pulled out the string of white lights. I handed him one end, and together we circled the tree, wrapping the lights around each branch. When we finished, I plugged in the lights, and both the tree and the boy lit up. He went for the second box of lights and tossed me one end. Again, we went around the tree, making sure to light every dark space. When we finished, we hung the rest of the ornaments. Although I originally wanted a winter wonderland theme, I let him hang whatever he wanted: candy canes, reindeer, Peanuts characters, basketball ornaments, even a one-legged Santa I thought I’d thrown out years ago. The tree appeared weighed down for all the ornaments, the branches dipping to the floor. He wasn’t bothered, however. His face was void of all hints of sadness. I could barely even see the purple bruise around his neck.

Last to go up was the angel.

“I always wondered why we put angels at the top of Christmas trees,” I said. “I mean, Christmas is about Jesus being born. Why don’t we put him on top?”

I picked up the angel and examined it. She held a candle stick in each hand, and her robe was adorned with tiny light bulbs that would light up when plugged in. I went into the kitchen, took a paper towel sheet from the ring above the sink, balled it up, and stuffed it under the angel’s robe. I plugged the angel into the open plug on the end of one of string of lights on the tree closest to the top and sat the angel on the top branch.

“See, it’s Mary.” I pointed at the cluster of bright white lights perturbed from her midsection created by the paper towel. All the rest seemed to be pouring from her womb. “And that is baby Jesus. He is the light of the world, right?”

He stared up at the angel. His smile was gone but he wasn’t somber. He looked content. The depression and ghostly melancholy that came with his death no longer existed. Watching him, my anger receded. He was just a boy, a lonely boy. I felt a tear glide down my face, but my hand went for his cheek. He clasped my hand in both of his. He was surprisingly warm. He laid his cheek on my hand and closed his eyes. I closed my eyes with him, and when I opened them, he was gone.

Originally published December 31, 2015.

Flashback Friday: Christmases Past

Lisa’s “Baby’s First Christmas” in my hand. Trinkets Josiah and I bought on our many travels by my feet. On the treetop, the angel, whose skin Tessa and I hand-painted brown, its only decoration.

The night before Christmas, and I stand before a naked, drying tree, surrounded by boxes of ornaments and a lifetime of memories.


Brought to you by Fandango’s Flashback Friday. This post was originally published December 17, 2017, in response to the Monday’s One-Minute Fiction prompt ornament.

Another Therapy Session

“The seasonal depression is coming in hard this year, Dr. Sims.”

“Why do you think this time of year gets you so down?”

I never know how to answer this question. Loneliness? Overworked?

I glance out the window. The sky is completely clear of clouds. The sun shines brightly. The leaves are still on the trees, still a deep forest green.

“It’s pretty warm for December, isn’t it?”

“Huh?”

“Seventy the high, right?” I didn’t even wear a jacket leaving the house. Now I’m thinking of that song.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…

No snow this year. More disappointment.  

Flashback Friday: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Happy Friday! Finally, we’ve made it through another tough week, and to reward you, here’s a treat for this Flashback Friday.

(I’m glad to know “Flashback Friday” is still a thing, at least in the blogging world, thanks to Fandango. I was worried I was forever doomed to always be a decade behind).

A few years ago, I started a series on my blog called 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans, where throughout the month of December, I would post holiday-themed (hooligans optional) stories and poems. Here’s one that was published December 3, 2015.


‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

McDonald’s is closed on Christmas, so the bitter loners come the night before.

They bear the frigid wind as they walk to their driveways, skid across icy roads to the closest McDonald’s in cars that have yet to kick on the heat.

But it’s too cold to go inside, so they order their ice cream cones from the drive-thru, require that their French fries be cooked fresh, park in front to the pick-up window and demand to see the manager after the young cashier, three years post college graduation, who unsuccessfully searches Indeed.com for jobs in her field when business is slow, tells them that it’s 32 cents extra for barbeque sauce because they didn’t order chicken nuggets.

But the manager is too busy sipping sweet tea from the 12-ounce kiddie cups, meandering through the lobby that has been cleaned twice-over, looking for specks of dust to instruct idle crew members to wipe. He tells her to just give them the sauce because the cars behind them are waiting on double quarter pounders they ordered for their dogs.

But he forgets he sent the veteran on the grill home early to lower the labor, and the food is coming out much slower because the acne-prone teenager left alone to make the burgers only started a week ago.

So the dog lovers bark that it isn’t steak and if they wanted to wait, they would’ve gone to Outback, which closed their doors two hours earlier. The only lit signs for the next four blocks are the golden arches and the white-faced, redheaded clown beckoning weary travelers into the parking lot.

Now the college graduate is crying because this isn’t the future she saw for herself when she declared English Literature as her major, and maybe she should have gone into teaching even though she hates kids, but surely she can handle snot-nosed brats, better than hairless Grinches commanding their snarling German Shepherds to jump through the drive-thru window and bite off her hand in lieu of two greasy, freezer-burned patties.

This isn’t worth $7.25/hour, she thinks, but teachers make considerably less, haven’t received a raise in the last six years. So she slams the window shut, locks it, closes her job search app, and dials 9-1-1 for more underpaid aid.

The flashing blue lights reflect off the snow like glass ornaments hanging from an artificial tree as the officer sits in his cruiser and eats the free dinner of an off-duty police dog, waiting for the troublemakers to return.

Waiting on the Day, Christmas Day — A Novella

October is just a week away, which means the holidays are quickly approaching, and I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of the holidays, my mind immediately goes to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans, specifically, Countdown

I’d like to revisit the story of Natasha, Mitchell, Renee, Bryan, Rita, and Antonio this year, but in a special way…

Bound together in a short, self-published novella kind of special way.

Ambitious given it’s already the end of September, and I haven’t even begun to tackle this monstrous beast! Will I have time when I’ve barely had time enough to write anything other than my name this year? And what about the cover? As graphically challenged as I am, who will do it (for little to no money), or will I save that money and keep it simple—a picture and some text would do, right?

I’m not sure of all the logistics yet, but one thing I do know is that the story IS written. And just this morning while lying in bed, I thought of a synopsis to go on the back cover…

Six friends. Six personal battles they must all face and conquer before one Christmas wedding.

Natasha and Mitchell have been in love since college, and finally they are ready to profess their love in front of all of their friends and family and God most of all on the most special day of the year, but will one hastened mistake derail the life they planned together before it even starts?

Bryan and Rita both have troublesome vices Renee is desperate to have them overcome before the year ends. For Bryan, it’s cursing like his drunkard, retired navy sailor grandfather. For Rita, it’s a lifetime of bad choice, usually involving the opposite sex. Will they finish the year in victory, or will the pressure to turn their lives around for the better be too great to handle?

Antonio is recently saved and struggles to come to terms with his new Christian life and the remnants of his past, sinful life in the form of his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, who repeatedly finds ways to get under his skin. Will he find a peaceful balance, or will he backslide into despair before he discovers the exuberance of being a follower of Christ during the most wonderful time of the year?

All of these stories come to a head on THE day, the day when most people celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. Christmas Day.

Will it be worth the wait?

If you’ve never read the original Countdown series, does this synopsis interest you? Would you want to read more? Would you want to read it in book form (more like Kindle form)? Let me know! I’m eager to get started. Christmas will be here before you know it!

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: After the Wedding

Seven days. Seven days, my period lasted, and each day was a heavier than usual flow. I went through an entire 36-count box of tampons, bought extra panty liners when I realized my tampons weren’t holding—but I would not go a size higher—and I had to toss three pairs of panties that I didn’t feel like scrubbing. It was so unusual, in fact, that I even made an appointment to see my doctor first thing in the New Year.

But this morning I woke up (Hallelujah!) dry, and I wanted to pounce on my husband right then and there!

Yes, my husband. The butterflies still flutter in my stomach when I think of it—I am married. I sit up on my elbows and watch him sleep, study his steady breathing, the slow rise and fall of his chest, how his nostrils sometimes flare when he inhales.

Does he know how much I love him?

I lift my left hand to caress his cheek, and my eyes are immediately drawn to the gold band around my ring finger—I am married. I feel like I’m floating, swimming in the love that is desperate to flow out of me and into him. I don’t want to touch the ground.

But I do come down, tip toe across the cool hard wood of his (our)—I am married—bedroom floor to our bathroom to freshen up.

I find myself giggling hysterically as the steam rises from the shower. The last time I was this giddy was ironically when I had my first period. I was nine years old and so excited to finally be a woman, to be able to make a baby. I saw the blood between my thighs and squealed in delight. I washed my panties in the sink while my mom talked to me about the difference between tampons and pads and which one would be more comfortable for me to use. When I changed my first pad, I wedged my finger underneath the sticky lining an slowly peeled it back from the cotton, like peeling an orange, and the sound, like Velcro, was music to my ears. I rolled it in up in toilet paper, tossed it in the waste basket attached to the stall, the only one in Lincoln Elementary School bathroom.

It lasted three days, and those three days I walked about nose in the air, shoulders drawn back, flat chest perked up and out, as if I had grown boobs overnight. No one could tell me anything. I had surpassed all the other girls in my class. I could do something they couldn’t. I was like my teacher who dressed in prim pressed white blouses and pencils skirts, like my principal who wore her shiny, blue-black hair in a low bun and stomped down the halls in Stiletto heels. I was a woman.

And when my period didn’t return on its scheduled 28-day cycle, I knew I was pregnant. I made that announcement to my mom over breakfast that she would be a grandmother, and she cocked her head at me and asked, “Have you let a boy touch you?” which confused me, because while our class was the guinea pig for the new sex education program, the instructors only taught us about out parts, how they worked, not how to make them work.

But I know how to make them work now. And tonight, I will touch a boy, and he will touch me back, and as I put my hands in my hair, tilt my chin toward the shower head and let the hot water cascade down the curves of my body, I hear the door creak, a light tapping on the frame.

“Tash,” Mitchell says, “what’s so funny in there? You woke me up with all that laughing.”

I peek from behind the shower curtain, call him in with the curl of my index finger. He follows, like a cartoon character that is lured by a sweet-smelling aroma. When he is in front of me, I grab his hand, my eyes locked only on his lips swooped in a side smirk, and whisper, “Take off your clothes.”

—Nortina


This concludes Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans! Thank you so much to those who stuck around (through this month, last month, and even last December when the first nine chapters were originally posted) to the very end! I have truly fallen in love with this story and this cast of characters, and while I plan to take a break from it for a little while, I do hope to return soon to edit and possibly self-publish it just in time for Christmas next year. Thank you so much for all the likes, comments, shares. It means the world to me. I wish you a wonderful, wonderful New Year, and a successful, productive, and prosperous 2018! ¡Besos! 🙂

——
Previous: First Date
Read from the beginning: Before the Wedding

#1MinFiction: Where are you, Christmas?

They thought they heard Santa Claus, never left their rooms as I packed all the presents into bins for the shelter and put them in the trunk of my car.

Now my husband glares at me like I’m the Grinch that stole Christmas, but even the Grinch learned that the joy of this holiday doesn’t originate from a store.

“Come on kids, get your coats. We’re going caroling.” I will show them the true meaning.

—Nortina


Monday’s One-Minute Fiction challenges you to write a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided, but it looks like Grinch-mom stole all the presents from Monday’s Christmas-themed photo prompt! Guess she wants us to know it’s not all about the gifts too. 😉

 

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: First Date

Rita gathers her thick mane of hair to the top of her head, analyzes her profile in the mirror from the left and then the right. Deciding against an updo, she lets it fall back down to her shoulders, the corkscrew curls bouncing into place. Only the cluster of springs at her temples and along her edges remain resilient, trying too hard to imitate bangs but appearing like an 80’s mullet gone bad instead. No amount of curl control gel will tame them, so she lets them spread out wildly across her forehead.

It looks cute—in a chic throwback rock sort of way. She hates cute, hasn’t been cute since her first training bra. But cute beats sexy, and the last thing she needs to be right now is sexy. Sexy always leads to her panties being tossed in a corner somewhere, her knees being separated for a temporary houseguest, and since her New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to be celibate, sexy is no longer an option.

She can literally feel herself drying up between the legs as she thinks about it. It was only a month ago that she gave up smoking weed, but this, this is much harder, because she’s getting ready to go on a date with Hank, and Hank has touched places, kissed and licked parts of her body most men don’t get to see on the first date.

And it’s not only the date with Hank that’s got her anxious. What if it goes bad? She doesn’t want to fixate on whether or not he could be the one. She’s not even sure if she wants that now with so much change happening in her life. She isn’t the same person she was a week ago when she slept with him an hour after meeting him. If that’s what he’s hoping to get tonight, she hates to disappoint him, because she likes him, a lot, definitely more than just a one-night-stand.

She’s not a slut. She knows how it looks, with the way things started with Hank. But she doesn’t sleep around; it’s always with the same guy over and over again, until he grows tired of her. True, it’s usually some random guy she met at the bar, or online, or, when she’s really feeling low, Jerome. The affairs never last long, but they quell her of her temporary loneliness, and however brief, she can hide her pain underneath the pleasure she feels when that man, whoever he may be—a bar hopper, a Tender suitor, a weed dealer, a Home Depot employee— clings to her, pushes deep inside her, breathes heavy on her tongue.

She likes to be filled, wanted, needed, useful for something, even if it’s just a quick nut. Sex does that for her. It gives her a purpose, a release, an escape. She doesn’t know what she is without it.

Actually, she does know. Alone—that’s what she is—and she has a vague memory of a sad, stupid girl who quit medical school because some idiot broke her heart, left her in the dust his rear tires kicked up after he dropped off her clothes and $300 for an abortion.

It terrifies her that she could still be that girl.

But just as she’s about to give up on her vow of celibacy before the New Year even starts, she is reminded of something Reverend Murphy said to her—that she has so much God-given potential bottled up inside her. Taped to the upper left corner of her mirror is a list of scriptures he gave her to read, to guide her through the beginning steps of salvation. She’s read a few of them. Jeremiah 29:11 —God has plans you. Romans 12:1-2 — Renew your mind. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 — Your body is a temple for God. She’s heard Renee say that once. She thinks she’ll call her about it after her date with Hank. And she knows Tash has been through it—the struggle to be as perfect as you can yet still falling short. But she recovered. She got back up. She and Mitchell are happy, and married, and Rita would like to think their love is even stronger.

Even though they fell.

She checks the time. If she wants to meet Hank at the arcade by seven, she should be leaving now. He says he has a ride—a relief for her—it’ll be less tempting not having him in her car. It feels kind of childish, that he’s chosen video games as their first date over dinner, or a movie, reminds her again that he’s not yet old enough to drink, which might not be a bad thing since she’s given that up too.

Will this date end in something serious, or fizzle out like all the others? Rita can hope, but whether it’s Hank or any other man, she knows before she can consider a relationship, she has to discover her new self first, figure out who she is in Christ, which Reverend Murphy calls the most meaningful pursuit in life.

Tash is doing it, and Mitchell. Renee’s the best at it, and maybe one day she’ll get Bryan there as well. And Antonio, even Antonio is trying. Rita must try too. Fellowship, Reverend Murphy says, it’s the best thing any new Christian can have, Rita’s got that in her amazing group of friends who drive her crazy and inspire her all at the same time.

If things go south with Hank, she knows she can count on their support, that they will help her to get back on her feet and back on track in the direction she needs to be.

—Nortina


The final chapters of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

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Previous: Bedtime Story
Next: After the Wedding (Epilogue)

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Bedtime Story

Ryder’s head feels like five pound weights lying across Antonio’s lap. His breathing is slow, constant. It didn’t take much to put him to sleep. Antonio had barely finished chapter one before the snoring began.

Snoring. His eighteen-month-old son snores. Nothing too loud and obnoxious, like the Chewbacca noises Elise swears she doesn’t make. It reminds Antonio of the sound a small handheld fan makes when the motor is about to go dead. The rise and fall of the boy’s breath sooths him, and he imagines it could be recorded as a sleep track for people who suffer from insomnia. It even starts to lull him, and for a brief moment he forgets that this is the first time he’s ever heard his son snore.

His eighteen-month-old son.

As much as he wants to, he can’t make himself hate Elise for this. Even though she’s tried so hard to keep him exiled from their lives, and for a split second at the wedding, he feared Ryder wouldn’t even recognize him—it’s been that long.

But when he walked into the Fellowship Hall, one of the first people to arrive after the ceremony, and spotted Elise and Ryder sitting alone at a table toward the back corner of the room in front of the “bar” that only served sparkling cider—though he’s pretty sure Bryan and some of the other guests were sipping on something a little stronger—Ryder jumped to his feet, ran—more like wobbled, he’d only learned to walk a month ago, another milestone Antonio missed—arms outstretched, screaming, “Daaaaaddddy!”

And for the third time, Antonio ugly cried, standing there in the middle of the Hall, holding his son as wedding guests filed in looking for their assigned seats. He wouldn’t credit that to Elise, but to Ryder, how much he loved him, how much he missed him.

“I will always fight for you,” he whispered in Ryder’s ear, squeezing him even tighter, as if he feared the boy would slip out of his hands.

Looking back on it, Antonio realizes he didn’t let Ryder go that entire day, not until he strapped him into the car seat to take him home. At the reception, he sat Ryder in his lap as they ate boneless chicken wings and red velvet cake. He held Ryder’s hand on the dance floor and taught him how to slide. He even took the diaper bag from Elise and changed Ryder in the bathroom, which proved tricky to do since men’s restrooms don’t have changing table.

It was the first time—yes, the first time—he’d ever changed his son’s diaper, and it was the stinkiest, wettest, fullest diaper if ever there was one. He wouldn’t doubt that Elise intentionally skipped a few changes just to spite him, but he didn’t care. He sat Ryder in the sink and wiped him down with a smile on his face, a pained smile, but a smile nonetheless.

With Ryder nearing two, he knew he wouldn’t have many more moments like this, and no amount of dirty diapers could make up for the eighteen-months worth he’d missed. So if this was the most disgusting diaper he had to touch, if his pinky finger accidently grazed the soil, if Ryder peed on him will he tried to get the new diaper on, if it resulted in a diaper rash, he’d welcome it all.

And when it’s time to potty train him, Antonio will show him how to aim, teach him to shoot from a distance, be a man. Elise can’t take that from him. He thought she could, but now he knows she can’t. And she can’t teach Ryder to be a man either, not like a man can, not like Antonio can. Now that he has Ryder, he’s always going to be there for him, won’t let months lapse between seeing his son again. He can’t be lazy anymore, blaming Elise for everything he doesn’t have with Ryder. There are enough lazy fathers in the world, who blame the mother for why they don’t have relationships with their children, when they themselves won’t make an effort.

Antonio lightly pets the back of Ryder’s head, and Ryder snuggles closer to his leg. Antonio knows now he’ll always make an effort for Ryder, because he wants more nights like this—lying in bed reading bedtime stories.

And what better story than the original Christmas story? As many times as he’s heard it told, in movies, in songs, every Christmas Eve at Renee’s, he’s never actually read it himself. Now, though Ryder sleeps, he continues reading, fascinated by the whole thing—the virgin birth, the proclamation of the angels, the prophesy of the Messiah who came to save all people, His name, Immanuel, which means God with us.

Antonio’s only been saved a few weeks, has made a mess of it most of that time, but in the peace of his bedroom, Ryder by his side, the Word in his lap, he holds onto hope. The same hope of the shepherds, the wise men, the prophets, all who witnessed one little baby, born in a manger, who grew to change their lives, forever.

—Nortina


The final chapters of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

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Previous: Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Next: First Date