Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the thirteenth official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!
This week, Scarlett Alexandra of the always amazing and hilarious “NetfliXmas Podcast” will read to all of you Chapter Twelve of our tale, entitled “Christmas Wrapping”. Within this chapter, we switch back to the perspectives of Joey Nazario and Mary Holiday as they cross paths again for the first time in the decade since their Christmas Eve blowout. Trust us when we say, Scarlett truly raised the bar this episode with her incredible reading of this chapter. And make sure to stay through the end credits to hear some hilarious bloopers of her recording as well!
We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible! Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves journey back to the wonderful world of Rankin/Bass to discuss the 1968 special, “The Little Drummer Boy”, based on the song of the same name, and next Thursday for the thirteenth official chapter of this story – “Chapter Thirteen: Christmas Time Is Here”, which Mike Westfall of “Advent Calendar House” will be reading to you! In it, we switch back to the points of view of Aaron Rankin and his classmates on their Christmas Eve field trip to New York City!
Chapter Twelve: Christmas Wrapping
December 24th – 8:55 a.m. EST
Mary was woken from a deep sleep on the morning of Christmas Eve by the loud ringing of her phone, which she had forgotten to silence before she went to bed the night before. After blindly groping at her nightstand for a few moments, she finally brought her hand down upon it and brought it to her ear, annoyed. “What do you want?” she answered groggily.
“Aren’t you a ray of sunshine in the morning?”
“Why are you calling me so early?” Mary demanded of Natalie, her voice muffled due to the fact that she was speaking into her pillow.
“I wanted to check in and make sure you were okay,” Natalie replied over the sounds of the bustling city around her, which Mary could just make out on her end of the line.
“I was until you woke me up.” Mary pushed herself up into a sitting position and stared at her reflection in the mirror directly opposite the bed. She hadn’t bothered changing out of her clothes from the night before, and the makeup she had neglected to wash off her face was smudged. “What time is it?” she asked, reaching up to try to flatten her hair, which had gone bushy and askew during the middle of the night.
“It’s almost nine! Get up! Go out! Explore the city!”
“Ugh. That literally sounds like the worst idea ever.” Mary winced as she stood up to walk to the bathroom. “My feet are sore; I have to pee every ten minutes; and on top of all of that, I’m not a tourist.”
“How long have you lived in Newcastle now?” Natalie asked rhetorically. “Coming back to visit means you are a tourist. Besides,” she continued before her friend could interrupt her. “It’s Christmas! Your favorite time of the year in your favorite city on Earth! You should enjoy it! It might take your mind off of things,” she added surreptitiously.
“Well I do have some last-minute Christmas shopping to do,” Mary admitted, as she turned on the bathroom light to find all of the empty liquor bottles from the night before strewn in the sink and across the countertop. Smirking to herself as she made her way to the toilet, she wondered what housekeeping would think when they cleaned the room later that day. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I’m always right! Don’t you know that by now?” Natalie asked, mock offended. “Anyway, do you want to meet up for lunch later today? My treat!”
“You know, I’m grateful and all, but you don’t need to baby me,” Mary insisted. “I’ll be—”
“I want to,” Natalie cut across her. “Look, I’m about to walk into the office, but I’ll call you later and we can figure out where to meet, okay?”
Mary let out a resigned sigh as she sat down on the toilet. “Okay,” she said, exasperated. “I’ll see you later.”
After peeing, showering, peeing, getting dressed, and peeing once more, Mary bundled herself up in her stylish, light-blue winter coat and matching hat. Grabbing her purse, she made to walk out of her hotel room before pausing at the door with her hand on the knob to stare at herself in the full-length mirror just off to the side. As she had pointed out to Natalie the night before, she had gained all of her pregnancy weight in the stomach – otherwise, she barely looked pregnant. Sure, her breasts and butt had both gotten slightly bigger, in ways that Mary would miss once she gave birth and lost the baby weight, but her arms, legs, and face remained as thin as they had ever been. And while her stomach was big, it was still small enough that it was believable she had just gained a few extra pounds. At first, her lack of truly conventional weight gain had worried her, but her midwife had reassured her that the baby was perfectly healthy – some women just didn’t physically show they were pregnant.
As she stared at herself in the mirror, Mary tried smiling but noticed that she couldn’t quite get it to reach her sad-looking, bloodshot eyes, no matter how hard she tried. And even worse in her mind were the giant bags beneath them, which her makeup couldn’t quite conceal. It was bad enough that she felt depressed, sore, and tired, but she refused to look depressed, sore, and tired. Therefore, she made the decision that her first stop that morning would be for a cup of coffee. She hoped that a small dose of caffeine would be enough to wake her up so she could fake a look of happiness better.
Ten-minutes later, Mary walked into a small diner called the Park Café, which was a ten-minute walk from the Plaza. Truth be told, she’d have preferred to stop for a quick breakfast sandwich and a coffee-to-go from Starbucks, but all of the ones she passed were chock full of tourists and commuters on their way to work. The café, on the other hand, while busy, was devoid of corporate workers and tourists, bustling instead with relaxed New Yorkers stopping in for breakfast and reading their newspapers where they sat in booths, eating and glancing up at the televisions mounted behind a countertop at which other patrons sat sipping their coffees.
As Mary made her way to the counter, which was lined with lighted-garland and atop of which sat a few very sad-looking, tiny Christmas trees, she glanced up at one of the mounted televisions in time to witness the President of the United States standing on the tarmac at JFK airport greeting the prime ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom. Then, squeezing herself between two men at the counter, she flagged down a young, pretty Greek waitress. “Merry Christmas Eve!” She smiled wide at Mary. “What can I get for you?”
“Coffee, please. Black.” Mary glanced back up at one of the televisions, but when she noticed the waitress wasn’t moving to fulfill her order, she turned back to stare at her inquisitively. “Is there a problem?”
“It’s just that…well…” The waitress bit down on her lower lip. “Are you sure that you should be drinking coffee in your – uh – condition?” She glanced down at Mary’s stomach.
“Ah, I get it.” Mary laughed, patting her stomach as the baby kicked inside of it. “It’s fine. Seriously.”
“Well, no, actually, it’s not fine.” The waitress laughed in disbelief, causing Mary to drop her shoulders with a loud sigh of annoyance.
“Look – Diana, is it?” Mary leaned across the counter to read the nametag pinned to the waitress’ shirt. “I did my research, okay? Studies are inconclusive as to the effect caffeine has on pregnancies. Therefore, the March of Dimes has stated it’s okay for pregnant women to drink one twelve-ounce cup of coffee per day, but advise not to exceed it. So, fill me up.” She tapped loudly on the counter, as the two men sitting on either side of her exchanged an impressed look behind her back.
Diana the waitress bristled with indignation. “I’m not sure that I feel comfortable serving you.”
“I don’t care,” Mary snapped loudly, drawing more looks from café patrons. “It’s your job! I’m paying you to provide me a service, so provide me with a cup of coffee, please!”
“And I have the right to refuse service to anyone that I want!” Diana’s voice was rising now, as she pointed at a sign in the window that indicated just that. “And I don’t feel like providing service to—”
“Howay man! What is with the hospitality industry in this city?” Mary let out a loud, humorless bark of laughter as the baby kicked inside of her and she began to shake with rage. “I mean, Jesus Christ! Whatever happened to peace on earth and good will toward men? Huh?” Her voice began to rise with each word, causing the heads of just about everyone in the establishment to turn and gaze in her direction. Even the cooks poked their heads out of the kitchen in order to stare in disbelief. “I just want a cup of coffee, alright? Just a damn cup of coffee! Is that too much to ask for? Is it?” She was so angry now that her natural, New York accent was beginning to poke through the English one she had acquired from living in the United Kingdom. Leaning over the counter to stare more closely at Diana, she smirked in a self-satisfied manner as the frightened waitress quickly backed away from her. “I’m not asking to sleep with your husband or murder a group of school children. I just want a cup of coffee! Though actually, if I’m being completely honest, what I really want is a damn bottle of wine, because yesterday was one of the worst days of my life! But I can’t have a bottle of wine, do you know why? Because I’m pregnant, and I am a responsible person! Really, I’m settling for a cup of coffee! So please, I am begging you, bring me a cup of damn coffee!” She slammed her hands down hard on the countertop again, making all of the cutlery along the length of it rattle.
A silence so protracted followed her rant that it would have been possible to hear a pin drop. Mary stared, red-faced and breathing heavily, her hands curled into fists and her eyes welling with emotion, across the counter at Diana, who stared back openmouthed, unsure of how to respond. Her eyes were wide, and though she sputtered to choke out words, she couldn’t successfully formulate any. Finally, the silence was broken by a soft, incredulous voice. “Mary?”
Mary spun around at the sound of her name and scanned the diner to find a man standing up at a booth where he had been sitting alone, staring at her uncertainly. “Who’s asking?” she demanded.
“Mary?” the man repeated again, the corners of his mouth turning upward ever-so-slightly. “Mary Holiday?”
Mary stared closely at the man, her eyes widening in amazement when she finally realized who he was. Though older – with a few gray hairs in the stubble on his face and in his slightly receding hairline, and more of a pouched stomach than she remembered – she’d recognize the man’s strong jawline and bright blue eyes anywhere. “Joey?”
Joey flashed her an uncertain smile that told Mary he was as unsure about how to feel about this chance encounter as she was. “What are the odds, huh?” He laughed nervously before staring past her at Diana. “She’s with me.”
Shocked by the words, but grateful that he was rescuing her from a potentially even more embarrassing situation than the one she already found herself in, Mary reluctantly made her way over to her childhood friend when he waved her over. When she reached the booth at which Joey stood, the two of them looked one another up and down, both feeling slightly uncomfortable. “It’s good to see you,” Joey finally said, embracing her in an awkward hug.
“You too,” Mary admitted, patting him self-consciously on the back before gently pulling away.
They stared at one another for a moment before Joey finally said, “Sit down, sit down,” and they both took a seat at the table across from one another, as the other patrons in the diner began to turn back to their own private conversations. “Cheers for that,” Mary said, as she began to strip off her coat and her hat.
“It’s no problem,” Joey replied. “I know what it’s like not to get my morning coffee.” He pushed his half-full coffee cup across the table toward her. “You can finish this if you want.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Mary said quickly, giving a small shrug. “I mean – I really probably shouldn’t be drinking coffee.” She patted her belly lovingly. “I just get annoyed when others tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing as if I haven’t done my research.”
Joey nodded his understanding, doing his best not to stare down at the woman’s swollen stomach. “She was being a bit of a bitch.”
“Right?” Mary asked, relieved to find that the man didn’t believe she had been overreacting. “A total bitch!”
“I’m surprised you weren’t asking for a cup of tea instead of coffee,” Joey remarked. “Your accent,” he clarified, when Mary stared at him, confused. “I noticed your – you know, you don’t sound much like Helen Mirren.”
Mary smirked. “It’s because I haven’t been living in London, I’ve been living up in Newcastle. It’s a much rougher sounding accent.”
“So that’s what people from Newcastle sound like then?”
“Geordies,” Mary corrected. “And not quite. During university, I lived in Newcastle, but a bunch of my flat mates were from Sunderland, so I guess my brain adopted a mix of both the Geordie and Mackem accents.”
“Well, whatever it is, I like it.” Joey smiled warmly before asking, “Do you want anything to eat? I can get a menu—”
“I’m fine,” Mary assured him. “Seriously, I’m really not that hungry.”
Joey’s eyes darted down to her stomach and back to her face yet again. “I had no idea you were pregnant!”
“I wouldn’t expect you to,” Mary remarked. “I mean, we haven’t spoken in – what’s it been now?”
“A decade,” Joey answered quickly, taking the woman by surprise. “A decade tonight, actually.” He smirked sadly, feeling his cheeks go pink. “But still, it’s just – well, normally your mom keeps my mom informed about what’s going on with you, and then mom tells me, so…”
Mary laughed. “Your mom does that too, huh? So does mine,” she admitted, embarrassed. “I think they’re still upset we never ended up together.”
“You think?” Joey raised an eyebrow. “I know.”
Mary smiled as she stared down at Joey’s half-eaten plate of food. “But yeah, I wouldn’t expect you to have known I was pregnant because my parents don’t know yet.”
“How can they not know?”
“I only just flew into town last night,” Mary explained. “I’m staying at the Plaza—”
“—and haven’t been home yet,” Mary continued, as though she hadn’t been interrupted. “Natalie’s supposed to give me a lift back to Bayside tonight.”
“Still in touch with Nat, huh?” Joey laughed. “Great minds really do think alike, I guess! I just got into town this morning. Ryan’s supposed to be giving me a lift home after work.” Glancing out of the window at the falling snow, he added, “Though we’ll be lucky if we manage to get home tonight at all.”
Mary nodded as she glanced over her shoulder at the televisions mounted behind the countertop in time to see the president and her foreign guests climbing into her limo at JFK. Sighing deeply, she turned back to Joey. “Anyway, I’m planning on telling my parents later. I mean, I won’t be able to hide it from them anymore once they see me.”
“I don’t know how you’ve managed as long as you have,” Joey admitted with a laugh.
“We all have our secrets.” Mary winked, causing Joey to shift uncomfortably in his seat. “They’re easy to keep when you’re living an ocean away. I haven’t seen my parents or brothers in over a year, at least.”
“Is everything okay between you guys?”
“Yeah. Yes.” Mary waved his worry aside. “Everything’s fine between me and them. They’re all good.”
Joey eyed her shrewdly, unsure of whether or not he could believe her, before nodding curtly. “Good. Well, I’m sure they’ll be happy to hear about your good news, at any rate.” His eyes found her stomach again. “Do you know the sex yet?”
“Nope. I want it to be a surprise,” Mary admitted. “I know it’s stupid in today’s day and age, but—”
“I don’t think it’s stupid,” Joey said quietly, earning himself a genuine smile from Mary who was becoming more relaxed by the minute. “When are you due?”
“First week of January.”
“Wow!” Joey took a sip of coffee. “I’m surprised you even came home at all if you’re that close! What happens if you go into labor here with your doctor back in England?”
“I panic.” Mary laughed, as her stomach growled hungrily. Indicating Joey’s half-eaten plate of food, which he seemed to have abandoned, she asked, “May I?”
“Help yourself.” Joey slid it across the table toward her and watched as she dug into what was left of his corned beef hash.
“Oh my God!” Mary exclaimed with a mouth full of food, after letting out a loud, contented moan. “This is amazing!”
“Ryan recommended it.”
“He has good taste.” Mary swallowed and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. “Anyway, I figured I owe it to my parents to come home for Christmas to let them know I was pregnant before, you know, I actually end up having the baby.”
“Fair enough,” Joey replied, unsure of how else to respond to that. After a beat, he added, “Your husband must be excited about being a dad!”
Mary’s smile faltered as she held up her left hand to show the man her bare ring finger. “No husband.” She placed her hand on her stomach. “No boyfriend either. My baby’s going to end up just as much a bastard as the accent coming out of my mouth.”
“Oh, Mary – I’m so sorry!” Joey spoke quickly, his face red. “I didn’t—”
“Don’t be. I’m a lesbian!” Joey’s mouth fell open in shock, as he stuttered incoherently in a vain attempt to form words, prompting Mary to roll her eyes. “Relax! I’m joking.” Joey let out a sigh of relief as the woman added, “But damn, I hope no one ever chooses to come out to you.”
Joey laughed before asking, “So what’s the story then? How did this happen?” He motioned at her enlarged stomach.
“Well you see, when a man and a woman love one another, they—”
“You know what I mean.”
Mary smirked as she considered the man for a moment before shrugging. “It’s not a very interesting story. I accidentally got pregnant, the father didn’t want to be involved, I wanted to keep it, and so here I am!” It was the truth; at least partly. She didn’t want to admit to her former friend that the father had actually broken up with her last night. For one moment, however, she thought Joey was going to call her out on the half-truth, given how closely he was studying her, but a few seconds later a wide smile broke out across his face. “Well, I’m proud of you, Mary. It takes a strong, confident, independent woman to decide to keep their baby and raise it alone.”
“I’m nothing if not strong, confident, and independent.” Mary winked despite the sinking feeling in her stomach. It hadn’t fully registered with her until that very moment that she would be raising the baby alone, nor that she felt anything but strong and confident about such a daunting prospect. As emotion threatened to overcome her, she opened her mouth to change the subject when Joey did it for her.
“It’s pretty cool too,” he continued. “Being this pregnant around Christmas with your name, I mean. Imagine if you gave birth tomorrow?”
“Yeah, because I haven’t heard that one before,” Mary said sarcastically, as she took another bite of food. “That’s literally the last thing in the world I need. I already get teased enough around this time of the year with a name like ‘Mary Holiday’. I don’t also need to become the Mary who gave birth on Christmas morning.”
“I think it would be neat.” Joey shrugged. “But hey, that’s just me.”
“Speaking of you…” Mary raised an eyebrow. “What’s been going on in your life? Are you married yet?” Joey glanced down at the table, refusing to meet the woman’s eyes as he shook his head from side-to-side. “I’m surprised!”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “You just always seemed like the type who would try to settle down the moment you graduated college.”
“Well…people change, I guess,” Joey remarked, as his face fell. Then, before he could stop himself, he spouted out the lie, “I am engaged though!”
Mary smiled shrewdly. “I know. My mother showed me the engagement pictures. Why do you think I asked if you were married?” Joey blinked in surprise. “Your fiancée – what’s her name again?”
“Lilianna,” Joey answered, the knots in his stomach tightening.
“Lilianna, that’s right.” Mary nodded. “She’s very beautiful. Did she fly into town with you?”
“No,” Joey said quickly, avoiding the woman’s eyes as she finished the last of the food that he had left on his breakfast plate. “She, uh – she had prior commitments out in California.”
“That sucks. I’d have liked to have met her; tell her all the embarrassing things I know about you from growing up together,” she teased, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “Tell her I used to see you naked when you still had something smaller than a pinky down there.” She wiggled her own pinky in the air, causing Joey to stare around covertly, embarrassed.
“I’ll have you know, it’s nothing like that anymore,” he replied with every ounce of dignity he could muster, straightening up in his seat proudly.
“The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.” Mary stuck her tongue out at Joey, eliciting a laugh from him.
“Yeah, well…I used to see you naked when you were still flat-chested, so—”
“Yeah, well, look at me now!” Mary indicated her breasts, straining tight against the white shirt that she was wearing. Joey glanced quickly down at them before staring up again, once again red in the face. “I mean, seriously – these are the best things about being pregnant. Did you think they’d ever get this big?”
“Can’t say that I did,” Joey answered, trying – and failing – to appear nonchalant as he stared around the café, avoiding the eyes of the woman sitting across from him.
“Oh, come on, Joey.” Mary rolled her eyes. “With all of the history between us, you can’t even look at my chest when it’s covered up?”
“I just find it a bit weird, I guess, considering we don’t really have any recent history between us,” Joey pointed out with a sad smile on his face. “And in fairness, we don’t have any romantic or sexual history between us other than – well – if you count making out that one Christmas Eve…” He cleared his throat awkwardly as the memory came rushing back to him.
Mary’s smile faltered as she nodded her understanding, swallowing hard. “Anyway, when’s the wedding?”
“It’s kind of up in the air at the moment,” Joey lied. “You know, honestly, I don’t really feel like talking about it right now.”
Mary furrowed her eyebrows. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine. Is everything okay with you?”
“Really?” Joey nodded at the café’s counter, from behind which Diana the waitress kept throwing wary glances in their direction. “Because when you were up there ranting and raving about not getting a cup of coffee, you said that yesterday was one of the worst days of your life.”
“Did I?” Mary asked, feeling her cheeks flush pink. “Must’ve been the hormones talking.”
Joey surveyed her imperiously for a moment before stating matter-of-factly, “You know, you’ve always been a terrible liar.”
“I’d say I’m pretty much on par with you,” Mary replied without missing a beat.
The two childhood friends stared at one another in a prolonged, uncomfortable silence, as thoughts of the last time they had seen one another came rushing to the forefronts of their minds to join the thoughts pertaining to everything else they had each individually been through over the past twenty-four-hours. Finally, Mary pointed out the obvious. “Well, this took an awkward turn.”
“Just a little bit,” Joey admitted.
Mary drummed her fingers on the table, staring around the small diner as her baby kicked incessantly inside of her before she finally decided to push herself to her feet. “Well, it was great seeing you.”
“You’re going?” Joey asked, surprised, rising to his feet as well.
Mary nodded. “Count yourself lucky you can never get pregnant. Everything aches, and I feel sore in areas I didn’t know could feel anything at all. I think I’m probably just going to go back to the hotel and rest.”
“How much do I owe you for the food?” She began to rummage through her purse.
“Don’t worry about it,” Joey insisted. “It was my breakfast, you only ate what I couldn’t finish.”
“Are you sure?” Joey nodded, and as Mary stared across at him, she was surprised to see just how disappointed he looked all of a sudden. “Well…thank you.” Biting down gently on her lower lip, she conceded, “It was really great seeing you.”
“Definitely,” Joey replied so emphatically, he even took himself by surprise. “Maybe we can hang out sometime while we’re both still in town. I mean…” He laughed. “How often are we both home at the same time anymore?”
“I think the last time I caught a glimpse of you was three-years ago.” Mary thought back, remembering seeing him hurry into his parents’ house as she pulled her car out of her own parents’ driveway. “If I recall, you were a bit thinner then,” she teased.
“Speak for yourself.” Joey winked, earning himself a laugh from Mary, who had just finished buttoning up her coat and pulling her hat down firmly over her ears. She smiled, staring expectantly at him, which Joey took as his cue to lean in and hug her gently. “If I don’t see you, have a Merry Christmas.”
Mary didn’t know why, but her former friend’s warm embrace made her well up behind his back. “Yeah. Yeah, you too, Joey.” She patted him gingerly before wiping her eyes inconspicuously and breaking away from him. Forcing a smile onto her face, she patted his arm matter-of-factly. “I’ll see you around.”
And Joey watched as his former best friend turned on her heel and hurried from the diner, turning right when she walked out of the door. As he took out his wallet and began counting cash to leave on the table, he felt a knot in the pit of his stomach begin to tighten. It was funny; when he spotted her come into the restaurant, he had no desire to say hi to her. In fact, he had been afraid she’d notice him and he’d be forced to make conversation with her as a result, and knowing her as well as he used to, he was positive that she’d felt a small sense of fear wash over her when she spotted him too. But once they had started talking, he realized how easy it was to fall into their old cadence, even after not having spoken for ten-years. In fact, it made him realize that he sort of missed having her around in his life all of that time; especially during the holidays – Mary was the only person on the planet that he knew who loved Christmas as much as he did. And yet, now she was on her way to spend Christmas Eve alone in her hotel room when something was clearly bothering her, even if she didn’t want to admit it to him.
He hesitated for a moment, biting down on his lower lip as his mind raced. They weren’t friends anymore; it wasn’t his job to try and cheer her up. Yet he also firmly believed that nobody should spend Christmas (or Christmas Eve) alone – especially a nine-months pregnant, soon-to-be single mother. So, before he could talk himself out of it, he threw a wad of cash onto the table, grabbed his coat, and hurried out of the Park Café, heading north as he hurried down the sidewalk after Mary. “Mary!” He called loudly. “Mary!”
Mary stopped dead in her tracks and turned around in surprise as Joey literally skidded to a halt beside her on a patch of ice. “Joey!” She widened her eyes, concerned. “What’s—”
“What are you doing?” Joey asked, out of breath from running full speed after her.
“I already told you,” Mary began, confused. “I’m just going to go back to my hotel and—”
“Let’s hang out.”
“Come on!” Joey flashed her a charming smile. “You’re waiting for Natalie to get off work; I’m waiting for Ryan to get off work. We may as well spend the day together while we wait. Where’s the fun in going back to your hotel to be alone?”
“I’m sore, Joey.” Mary stared down at her feet. “I don’t know if I can spend a whole day wandering the city.”
“Come on, Mary.” Joey faux-pouted. “It’s Christmas Eve! Nobody should be alone on Christmas Eve!”
“Who are you, Cindy Lou Who?” Mary asked, causing the man to laugh.
“I’m serious!” he insisted. “Come on, you’re the only person I know who loves this time of year as much as me. I want to do all of the stereotypical Christmas sightseeing that a tourist does, but doing it alone is just sad.”
“You’re just inviting me because you feel bad for me,” Mary theorized, as a strong, snowy gust of wind blew through the air around them. “You think I need cheering up.”
“I know you need cheering up,” Joey corrected, grabbing a stray piece of Mary’s hair that the wind had blown into her face and gently placing it back behind her ear, sending a shiver down her spine. “But guess what? So do I.”
Mary smiled despite herself, as she glanced up and down the street. Though originally anxious about having run into her former best friend, after their brief conversation at the diner, the idea of spending the day in his company didn’t seem so bad. Maybe he actually would be able to cheer her up. “Well, I do have some last-minute Christmas shopping to do…”
“It’s Christmas Eve, Mary,” Joey pointed out, astonished.
“So?” Mary glared at him, silently challenging him to pick a fight with her.
“It’s just – that’s not like you,” Joey said quickly. “Who do you still need to shop for?”
“My parents, my brothers, their wives, my nieces and nephews…” Mary began to rattle off the list on her fingers before admitting with a shrug, “Basically everyone.” She looked up and down the street, her mind racing, before smiling wide and saying, “You know what? Okay.” She nodded. “Let’s do it.”
A genuine look of relief crossed Joey’s face as a huge grin spread across it. “Great!”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Well, besides helping you finish your Christmas shopping, obviously…” Mary laughed as Joey shrugged. “I was thinking of starting downtown and making our way back up this way? Start by seeing the Macy’s windows – maybe even visit Santa,” he added, teasing. “What do you say?”
“Sounds good to me,” Mary admitted after only the briefest moment of hesitation. “But we have to set some ground rules. If we’re going to spend the day together, I want us to be honest with one another – no bullshitting each other or beating around the bush. It’s been ten-years, I want us to get to know one another again.” Joey blinked in surprise at the words, but Mary plowed on before he could say anything. “I’m not saying we have to go right for the personal topics of conversation – like talking about whatever’s going on with you and your fiancée, or what happened here…” She indicated her stomach. “But whatever topics of conversation do come up, I want to know I’m getting the truth. I want to know what’s actually going on in your life.”
Joey was taken aback by the woman’s blunt candor. Maybe, like it had for him, their conversation at the diner had made her realize how much she missed their friendship. As Mary stared at him expectantly, her arms folded across her chest, waiting, Joey looked up and down the busy street; it could be nice to actually talk to somebody who wasn’t in his life anymore to get unbiased opinions about what he was going through…
Finally, he nodded. “Deal.”
“Good.” Mary smiled, staring up at the face of her former best friend with excitement. “To Macy’s we go then!” As the two changed direction and began to walk downtown, falling into step beside one another, each preoccupied with their own thoughts, she added, “But the only way I’m walking twenty-one blocks is if you plan on carrying me back this way when it’s time to head back.”
Joey glanced sideways at Mary’s pregnant stomach before exclaiming, “Subway it is then!”, earning himself an appreciative laugh from the soon-to-be mom.