“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Twenty-Nine – Run Rudolph Run – As Read By Manny Torres of “Feliz Christmas Merry Navidad”

“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Twenty-Nine – Run Rudolph Run – As Read By Manny Torres of “Feliz Christmas Merry Navidad”

Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the twenty-ninth official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!

In this week’s official episode, Manny Torres of “Feliz Christmas Merry Navidad” – which is celebrating its anniversary! – will read to all of you Chapter Twenty-Nine of our tale, entitled “Run Rudolph Run”. Within this chapter, we catch up with Hudson Jackson in addition to Elizabeth Meyer and Noah Clarke. 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 ears and eyes as possible!

Coming up on the show this upcoming Monday, August 23rd, we will be joined by not one, not two, but three special guests to discuss the (2) Christmas episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series“, the (1) Christmas episode of “The New Adventures of Batman“, and the (1) Christmas episode of “Justice League“! Joining them to geek out over the Caped Crusader are Gerry Davila of “Totally Rad Christmas“, Mike Westfall of “Advent Calendar House Podcast“, and Matt Spaulding of GreenMountainSanta.com and cohost of two podcasts, “Two Broke Geeks” and “The F.B.I.’s Most Unwanted“! If you want to follow along at home, the episodes we will be discussing are:

  • Batman: The Animated Series” – Season 1, Episode 2: “Christmas with the Joker”
  • Batman: The Animated Series” – Season 2, Episode 2: “A Bullet for Bullock”
  • The New Batman Adventures” – Season 1, Episode 1: “Holiday Knights”
  • Justice League” – Season 2, Episode 23: “Comfort and Joy”

And this upcoming Tuesday, August 24th, we will be joined by Charlyn Lewis of “Fashion Speaks” to discuss the film “The Best Man Holiday“! Before that drops in your feeds on Monday, August 30th, however, on Thursday, August 26th, you’ll get to hear Chapter 30 of “Another Christmas Story” entitled “Run Rudolph Run”, which listener Rebecca Boll will be reading to you!

Enjoy, y’all! 🎅🏻🎄🎁 🦌🦉⛄️🔔 🤶🏻 🎀 ❄️

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Run Rudolph Run

December 24th – 5:15 p.m. EST

“Alright, enough! Hey, come on! Stop for a second!”

Noah reached out a hand grasped Elizabeth’s shoulder firmly, forcing her to stop walking for a moment and turn around to face him. They were standing at the Fifth Avenue entrance of the northern side of Washington Square Park, just in front of the Christmas tree that had been erected under the square’s arch. The city had given up on even trying to keep up with the plowing and shoveling a few hours ago, and while there were still trucks on the road, they were few and far in-between and moving slowly, so that the white stuff was piling high everywhere. Indeed, the two college students found themselves up past their ankles in it. And though the snow was no longer falling as hard now, it was still coming down steadily, and the fact that darkness had fallen made it seem even colder now, despite the fact that the winds had died down a bit. In fact, when Elizabeth whipped around to face her boyfriend, Noah noticed that her lips were blue and her face raw red. “What’s wrong?” She asked, visibly shivering.

“You’re freezing,” Noah pointed out. “I’m tired. And we still have to get all of this footage edited and uploaded to the website before we drive to your parents’ house in Westchester in this mess! I’m putting my foot down,” he explained, stomping a foot on the icy ground to emphasize his point. “Let’s get back to the school, and out of this cold.” He was glad that they were only a five-minute walk from the campus – though in this weather, he surmised that it would probably take closer to triple the amount of time to get back. When his girlfriend opened her mouth, looking as though she were going to argue, he cut her off before she could utter a word. “What else could you possibly want? We have enough footage! We interviewed how many families today? On top of a Salvation Army Santa Claus, two staff members of a Florida school in town on a field trip, two cops, and the freakin’ President of the United States! And in addition to all of that,” he raised his voice. “I’ve gotten countless establishing shots of the city’s Christmas sights that would make the heart of the Grinch grow three sizes, and make Scrooge’s icy demeanor melt away! So I’m going to ask again – what else are you looking for in this mess?”

Before Elizabeth could answered, a faint meow caught their ears, travelling on the cold, winter wind and emanating from somewhere not far off. “Did you hear that?” she asked, furrowing her brow.

“It’s probably a stray.” Noah shrugged. “So what?”

“It’ll freeze to death out here!” Elizabeth chastised him. “Help me find it!”

“And what are you going to do when you find it?” Noah asked, exasperated, as he began to spin on the spot, looking around in all directions as he did so for a sign of the cat that had made the pitiful sound. “Take it home to your parents?”

“Maybe,” Elizabeth replied absentmindedly, as she paced closer to the base of the Christmas tree before slowly walking around to the south side of it, facing the interior of the park, which was bustling with tourists taking pictures of it, and children farther in, throwing snowballs at one another excitedly, as residents of the city quickly walked the path through the small park with their heads down, trying to block out the commotion around them. Just when she was beginning to think that she had imagined the soft meowing, she heard it again, this time coming from behind her. Staring up at the Christmas tree, Elizabeth spotted a fat tabby cat, clutching high branches out of her reach, clearly terrified as it hid amongst the bright Christmas lights that were wrapped around the tree. At the sight of it, Elizabeth’s heart sank. “Can you reach it?” she asked her boyfriend, as he came around the side of the tree to join her. But when she saw Noah begin to extend his arms to try, she knew that it was a vain effort; the cat was too high for either of them to reach.

Taking out her cell phone, Elizabeth insisted, “I’ll call animal control. Who knows?” She smirked to herself as she Googled the organization’s number. “I mean, look how well it worked out for us when we interviewed those two cops! Speaking of which, we need a comment from the mayor’s office about what the comments they made to us earlier.”

“Fine,” Noah replied through gritted teeth, as the cat above them meowed helplessly again. “But after you interview animal control–”

“—then we can head back to the school,” Elizabeth interrupted with a curt nod of her head. “I promise.”

Relief flooded through Noah’s body at the words. “Good. Then when we’re back at the school, I’ll call the mayor’s office.” And he watched silently as the woman he was head-over-heels in love with placed her phone to her ear and paced slowly away from him, waiting for animal control to pick up the phone on the other end of the line.

* * *

It wasn’t until about twenty-past-five that Hudson Jackson received a second phone call from Abby about another stray animal spotting, this time downtown near Washington Square Park. Up until that point, Hudson hadn’t spotted any animals on his own, so he had been driving around aimlessly with Booster, who had finally settled down in the back of the truck and seemed resigned to being confined to a cage. They stopped only twice the entire day for Hudson to leash the dog and allow him to relieve himself outside, and both of these times, the gentle giant seemed extraordinarily grateful toward his captor for briefly free him – brushing up against his legs and licking his hands. Despite the fact that he had clearly been living on the streets for a substantial amount of time before being picked up, Hudson had a sneaking suspicion that once upon a time, maybe when he was a puppy, he had had a family to call his own, which was why he was so good around people now. It broke Hudson’s heart to think that anybody would get rid of such a loving creature, especially a beloved pet, and it made him even sadder to think that he would be betraying the animal’s trust later that night by taking him to the pound.

When Abby’s second call of the day came in, Hudson was driving his car west on 27th Street, and had passed his fifth car accident of the day. Considering the fact that the majority of people couldn’t drive well in the best weather conditions, it didn’t surprise Hudson that so many seemed incapable of driving safely in the middle of a blizzard. If anything, it only surprised him that he hadn’t passed more accidents than he had. When Hudson saw Abby’s name come up on his ringing phone, he answered in a more casual manner than he would for anyone else. “Two calls from you today! To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Abby let out an infectious laugh on the other end of the line. “You’re just lucky, I guess! Tired yet?”

“Nah. It’s not the first double I’ve worked in my day!” Then, noticing the time, Hudson asked, “What are you still doing at work?”

“Kellyanne is late for the start of her shift.” Given the tone of her voice, Hudson could visualize Abby sitting at her desk rolling her eyes. “Who knows if she’s even going to make it in in this snow! I know that if I wasn’t already out, I sure as hell wouldn’t venture out in this – especially for this crappy job that pays so little.” She gave a snort of derision. “So I’m settling in to be here until midnight just in case.”

“Good to know,” Hudson replied before adding, somewhat awkwardly, “That’s good news for me! It means I’ll have somebody to talk to until the end of my shift!”

“Funny how that worked out, eh?” Abby asked playfully. “You know what they say – there’s no such thing as coincidences! Everything happens for a reason!”

“Yeah, they do…” Hudson replied uncertainly, unsure of how to take the woman’s statement.

“How’s Booster doing?” Abby asked, the concern palpable in her voice.

“He’s calmed down, thankfully.” Hudson glanced over his shoulder at the dog in question, who was lying down in his cage half-asleep. “He’s a sweetheart.”

“You sound absolutely smitten,” Abby pointed out. “Why don’t you adopt him? Take him home instead of to the pound?”

Hudson let out a bark of laughter. “Because where does it end then, Abby? I take one home, then what? What happens the next time I pick up an animal? My heart breaks for all of them! I wish I had the money to help them all, but I’m only one man!”

“It only takes one man to make a difference. Especially to the life of one dog,” Abby added pointedly. Before Hudson could reply, she pressed on. “Booster’s about to get some company, at any rate. We just got a call from a young woman in Washington Square Park who spotted a cat stuck up the Christmas tree under the arch.”

Hudson sighed wearily. “Wonderful.” He shuddered at the prospect of climbing a ladder to get the animal in these weather conditions if he was unable to coax it down of its own volition. “Did the girl say if she was going to stick around to make sure that the cat doesn’t get away?”

“She did,” Abby replied. “Her name’s Elizabeth Meyer, and apparently she’s a ‘pretty young blonde thing’.”

“Okay?” Hudson replied uncertainly, as Abby laughed.

“The description comes courtesy of her boyfriend chiming in from the background, when I asked the girl for some kind of physical descriptor so you could find her when you got there. But, uh…” She cleared her throat. “There is one other thing that you should know.” She hesitated for a moment before explaining, “The girl is a journalism student at N.Y.U. She’s covering public interest stories for Christmas, or something – I’m not entirely sure, she talked a mile a minute. But anyway, she asked me if I thought you’d be agreeable to an interview after you rescued the cat–”

“Please tell me that you said no,” Hudson implored with a groan.

“I said that normally you’d probably decline, but given the fact that it’s Christmas Eve, you’d probably be willing to acquiesce in the spirit of the season,” Abby continued, as though she hadn’t been interrupted.

Why?” Hudson asked, exasperated. “Why do you love torturing me?”

“Trust me, Hudson. If I was torturing you, you’d love it,” Abby teased in a playfully sensual voice that took Hudson by surprise and shut him up immediately. “It’s Christmas! Think of it as a good deed that you’re performing for your fellow man. Plus, it could be good publicity for ACS NYC!”

“Publicity?” Hudson gave a snort of derision, as he turned left onto Fifth Avenue and began driving south, in the direction of his downtown destination. “Who’s watching the N.Y.U. news channel on Christmas Eve?”

“Now, now, be nice!” Abby scolded. “And drive safe! It looks awful out there!” Them, with a loud click, the line went dead before Hudson could argue any more.

Hudson signed loudly at the sound. Despite the fact that the woman had shown compassion for the dog in the back of his truck, which he loved, and was clearly worried about his well-being driving around in this weather, he couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated with her for committing him to a random student interview without his consent. Glancing at Booster in the mirror seemed to calm him somewhat; he supposed it wasn’t a big deal, really. It was the Christmas season, after all, as Abby had reminded him moments ago. It was the season for peace on earth and good will toward men. ‘But what about animals?’ a nagging voice in the back of his mind inquired gently, which wiped the smile from his face instantly. Turning in his seat to look at Booster once again, he felt his stomach constrict uncomfortably; he wished there was something more that he could do for the dog.

“Stop it,” Hudson reprimanded himself out loud, as he shook his head. “Enough. This is a job. Get on with doing it.” So, squaring his shoulders, he gripped the steering wheel of his truck tightly and continued to guide it down Fifth Avenue. The good news was there seemed to be fewer cars on the road with each passing minute, due to a combination of the storm and people getting off of the island for the holiday. (He was sure that traffic was probably worsening on all major highways leading away from Manhattan.) The bad news was, the storm was worse than ever, and despite the roads emptying, he still had to go at a crawling pace in order to avoid slipping on black ice and losing control of his vehicle.

When Hudson finally did reach his destination, he parked his truck on the curb bordering the north side of Washington Square Park in an area reserved for emergency personnel and city officials. Turning off the engine, Hudson turned in his seat to face Booster, whose ears perked up at the sudden silence. “I’ll be right back, okay, boy? Don’t worry.” Then, noticing how quickly the temperature in the car was dropping with the engine turned off, Hudson reignited it and cranked up the heat. “That’s better, right?” He scratched the dog’s head through the bars of his cage before climbing out of the truck and walking around it to enter the park.

The Washington Square Arch – a marble, triumphal arch which marked the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States – served as the northern gateway of the park in question and loomed high above Hudson as he entered the open space. Before he even passed under the arch, Hudson could make out the enormous Christmas tree (though not so big that it rivaled the much more popular one standing tall in Rockefeller Center) situated just behind it on its south side, wrapped from trunk to tip in clear Christmas lights that twinkled brightly in the dark night sky, shining through the falling snow. Farther beyond the tree, he could make out matching Christmas lights strung along the bare trees lining the snow-covered paths winding through the park, which were teeming with residents of the city walking in both directions, their heads lowered in an attempt to brace themselves against the blowing wind while ignoring the din around them – tourists taking pictures, children running around building snowmen and throwing snowballs, and couples holding hands as they skated over the frozen surface of the relatively small Washington Square fountain (an impromptu ice-skating rink that was not sanctioned by the city of New York). It was, truly, a picturesque image, and Hudson was unsure of whether to be impressed by the determination of all of the people braving Elsa’s wrath, or shake his head at their stupidity.

Shivering, Hudson hurried over to the arch’s Christmas tree and slowly began to walk around it, staring up into its branches for any sign of a stray cat as he did so. When he reached the south side of the tree, a woman’s voice called out to him. “Are you with animal control?”

Hudson found the source of the voice almost immediately, his eyes landing upon a pretty blonde girl, who had a long, black coat draped around her. She was clutching a microphone tightly in her hands and was staring at him quizzically, as behind her, a muscular, bearded man with a beanie pulled down atop his head so that it covered his ears, loitered with a large video camera hanging limply at his side. Squinting at the pair, Hudson said, “You must be the intrepid reporter I was told to keep an eye out for.”

The blonde flashed him a dazzling, toothy smile. “That’s me.” She confidently stuck out her hand. “Elizabeth Meyer.”

Hudson took her hand and found himself momentarily taken aback by how firm her grip was. “Hudson Jackson,” he informed her before turning to stare politely at her companion.

“Noah Clarke,” the man answered his unasked question. “I’m the boyfriend.” He winked smugly, causing his girlfriend to roll her eyes.

“You can ignore him, he’s just the camera man,” Elizabeth exasperatedly pointed out, eliciting a laugh from Noah, whom she rounded on with a snap of her fingers. In response, he hiked up the heavy camera in order to perch it on his shoulder, as his girlfriend asked Hudson, “You don’t mind if we videotape this, do you?”

“Do I have a choice?” Hudson asked, only half-joking. “Do you really think people are going to be interested in a story about a stray cat stuck in a tree on Christmas Eve?”

“Stuck in a Christmas tree,” Elizabeth corrected, her face flushing pink as Noah let out a bark of laughter. “And given the state of the world we live in today, I personally think people could do with a little more news that’s pure fluff, don’t you?” she asked, her voice strained, as she fumbled with her microphone.

Though he didn’t admit it aloud, Hudson conceded to himself that the girl might have had a point. Glancing upward at the tree looming over them, he asked, “Where’s the cat, anyway?” Both college kids pointed high above his head, causing Hudson to practically lean his entire body backwards as he stared upward. His face fell when he noticed a large, overweight tabby cat perched precariously about four-feet above his head – ten-feet-or-so above the ground. The poor creature looked terrified, and Hudson knew that it would take a good bit of coaxing to lure it down into his arms, if he could manage it all; there was a good chance he might have to go back to his truck and pull out his ladder.

As he silently assessed the situation, the college girl standing beside him stared directly into the camera, which now had a flashing red light blinking on its surface, and began speaking into her microphone. “I’m standing here in Washington Square Park with Hudson Jackson, an employee of Animal Control Services of New York, who is responding to a report of a stray cat, stuck up in – you guessed it – a Christmas tree.” She flashed a wide smile at the camera before turning toward Hudson, who begrudgingly turned to face her. “Hudson, how are you this evening?”

“Are we live?” Hudson asked.

Elizabeth shook her head. “No, we’ll edit this together later.”

Hudson breathed a sigh of relief before answering her initial question with a resigned sigh. “Cold, Elizabeth. Very cold.”

“I think we all are.” Elizabeth let out a perfectly practiced laugh. “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, by the way.” Hudson nodded gratefully. “So tell me – how does animal control rectify a situation like this?”

“Well, despite the stereotypes, cats getting stuck up in trees aren’t as common as you’d think,” Hudson informed her, throwing surreptitious glances at the camera recording them. “Normally, when cats get up a tree all by themselves, they can also get down it of their own volition. What I expect happened here is that this particular cat in question scampered up this Christmas tree in an attempt to find warmth and shelter from this storm amongst its branches.”

“Or maybe it just wanted to celebrate the holiday,” Elizabeth joked, causing Noah to roll his eyes behind the camera as Hudson stared down at her uncertainly.

“Uh…right,” he mumbled. “As for why it won’t come down right now, I expect it’s wary to leave the safety and comfort of the branches because of all of the people currently swarming the area.” He motioned his arm around him in a sweeping motion, indicating the crowded park.

Elizabeth nodded her understanding, rearranging her facial features to look sympathetic. “So tell me, how do you go about getting a cat down from a tree?”

It took every ounce of self-control within Hudson not to audibly sigh or roll his eyes. He couldn’t imagine anyone sitting down to watch such a pointless interview, even if there was nothing else on television, and he felt like an idiot for being forced to participate in it. Nevertheless, he continued to play along against his better instincts. “Well, I’m hoping that I can coax it down into my arms with relative ease, but I may need to go back to my truck and retrieve a ladder – which isn’t exactly ideal in current weather conditions. If it panics and climbs even higher, I may have to retrieve my Ketch-All pole, which is even less ideal in my mind. The tightening of a wire around an already scared animal’s neck only exacerbates the situation and makes both the animal, and the animal catcher, more distressed. So…fingers crossed I can get it down without resorting to that.”

Elizabeth held up her crossed fingers for the camera to see as Hudson turned his back on her and leaned back to stare up at the cat in the Christmas tree once again. “Okay,” he mumbled, as the beautiful tabby stared directly down at him with wide, terrified eyes. “Let’s not make this hard, buddy.” The cat meowed loudly in response, as though it were offended by the man’s words. Hudson shrunk backwards a little bit hesitantly; while he loved all animals, he much preferred dogs over cats – cats always made him a little bit nervous. Acutely aware that Noah’s camera was focused on his back, and that both he and Elizabeth were staring at him intensely, he took a deep breath before holding a hand up high and rubbing his fingers together. “Pss. Pss. Pss. Come here. It’s alright, pal. Don’t worry, I’ll catch you. I’ll keep you safe. Pss. Pss. Pss.”

Noah snorted audibly behind Hudson, causing the animal control employee to flush with embarrassment and Elizabeth to shoot him a reproachful look. Determined to get the job done, however, Hudson kept his eyes glued on the cat, which was now shaking due to a combination of the cold, snowy night and the fear it was feeling. “Come on, it’s okay!” he insisted calmly, reaching up both arms to catch the cat should it decide to jump. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

The cat crouched low, taking a pouncing stance and wiggling its backside as its tail swooshed back and forth. Hudson tensed up, bracing himself for the animal to jump down, but it never did. The cat’s eyes merely widened as it maintained its low posture, clearly frightened to jump from such a height. As Hudson waited patiently, a cold wind blew through the park causing him to shiver, which expedited the erosion of his patience with the animal above him. It was freezing; his truck was running; Booster was alone and scared in a cage; he didn’t want to trudge through the snow and back to go get his ladder or Katch-pole; the eyes of two college students were burning into his sad soul; and all the while, the cat seemed determined to stay where it was. So, deciding to give the feline the nudge it needed, Hudson leaned over the low metal barricade erected around the tree so that people wouldn’t climb it, reached up as far as he could, and began to shake the branches directly beneath the animal.

The tree was so big, the entire thing didn’t sway from Hudson’s touch, but its branches directly above and below the ones that he shook did begin to tremble, dropping snow down onto his head – much to his annoyance – and making the cat hiss in annoyance, as it arched its back and its tail grew big in fright. “Come on,” Hudson muttered through gritted teeth. “Just jump down, already!”

And, much to his surprise, the overweight tabby did exactly that. With a loud yowl, it leapt from the high branch that it had been desperately clinging to before Hudson could remove his hands from the tree branches that he himself was tightly grasping in order to catch it. As a result, the cat used the top of his head as a springing board to leap high over the heads of Elizabeth and Noah behind him before landing hard on the snowy ground and darting off into the crowded park. Relinquishing his grip on the Christmas tree’s branches, Hudson bellowed, “Hey! Come back here!” and took off after the cat, whose paw prints in the snow were already disappearing due to the white powder still falling steadily from the sky.

Hudson found it difficult running through the amount of snow that had built up on the ground, but maintained a steady enough pace to keep the backside of the tabby cat in his sights at all times as it ran through the legs of some people and caused others to dart out of its frenzied path. “Sorry! Excuse me! Sorry!” Hudson found himself repeatedly yelling at passerby as he sped past them, slipping and sliding on the icy ground beneath his feet, trying – unsuccessfully – to block out the sounds of the two college students hurrying after him, catching the whole scene on tape, which only did more to make his blood pressure rise uncontrollably.

As Hudson darted into the bustling crowds after the cat, he followed the animal’s progress through the dark by following the screams of those making their way through the snowy park, as people fell over themselves or dropped their coffee and shopping as the cat darted between legs. More than a few times, Hudson had to hop over individuals on the ground, had warm drinks spilled all over his uniform, and even barreled into innocent bystanders in his rush to catch the animal before it escaped his sights. Each time he threw frantic apologizes in every direction, unsure of whether he was acknowledging the people actually affected or not. Despite the angry comments being hurled his way, even more people laughed at the sight of the middle-aged man chasing a fat tabby cat through the dark park in the middle of a snowstorm, as Christmas lights twinkled all around them. Had Hudson not been the man in the center of the action, he guessed that he would find the sight amusing himself; unfortunately, at that moment, he couldn’t appreciate the humor and was certain that he’d never be able to.

Hudson’s eyes widened when he realized that the cat was darting straight for the impromptu ice rink that the park’s fountain had turned into. Winded, he shouted, “Somebody grab the cat!” But it was too late – the feline hopped right into the frozen fountain and began to yowl in terror as it lost its footing and ended up splaying out on its stomach, sliding across the ice and forcing skaters to dart out of the way to ensure that they didn’t hurt the poor creature by skating over the small animal with their sharp footwear.

Pausing momentarily at the edge of the fountain in order to catch his breath, Hudson watched as the cat tried – and failed – to repeatedly regain its footing, which only caused it to go skidding and spinning even faster over the frozen surface, preventing the few skaters who even dared to try and catch it from being able to do so due to its constant and fast-paced changes in direction. Though he didn’t want to run onto the ice himself, Hudson knew he had a job to do. So, with a deep breath, he hopped into the fountain and went gliding fast over the ice in the direction of the cat. His shoes gave him no traction or grip whatsoever on the slippery surface, and as people darted out of his path, laughing as he flailed his arms wildly in the air in a vain attempt to remain upright, he found himself spinning uncontrollably in circles before finally falling flat on his stomach and sliding across the ice, his limbs splayed out just like the cat he was chasing. Embarrassed, in pain, and out of breath, Hudson tried to push himself back to his feet multiple times before finally deciding to quit resisting it. Locking eyes with the frightened cat on the other side of the fountain, the man slid across the ice as fast as he could on his stomach in its direction, reaching his arms out in front of him as he did so, very aware of all eyes in the vicinity watching him closely. “Just a little bit closer,” he mumbled to himself, before finally – “Gotcha!”

Hudson let out a strangled laugh of relief as he finally managed to wrap his arms tightly around the nervous cat, which was spitting madly in distress as he pulled its tense body close to his chest. As he laid there with the poor feline, stroking it gently in an effort to soothe it, the awareness of his surroundings came rushing back to him. He stared around, flushing in embarrassment, as he saw hoards of people lining the perimeter of the Washington Square Park fountain – both on and off the ice – staring at him, many recording him with their cellphones.

As his eyes searched the crowds, Hudson spotted Elizabeth, who was smiling gleefully, as Noah stood beside her, laughing hysterically and catching the whole incident on camera for their university’s streaming service. Knowing that the antics of him and the cat were sure to go viral on YouTube, Hudson diverted his eyes from those of the people watching him, and placed his forehead against the cold ice, praying for patience. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he mumbled angrily, as the cat in his arms meowed in annoyance. Before he could even think of how he was going to stand up and make his way to the edge of the fountain in order to safely climb out of it, a voice from above him asked, “Need a hand?”

Hudson glanced up at the figure that had skated to a stop beside him and was staring down at him with compassion, his arm outstretched helpfully. The man was lanky and thin, and had a beautiful androgynous face, the cheeks of which were flanked by his long, majestic red hair. “Thanks,” Hudson mumbled, as he took the proffered hand and allowed the good Samaritan to pull him to his feet, maintaining a tight grip on the tabby cat the entire while. The moment he was standing again, Hudson took a moment to steady himself, as the man began to slowly guide him back to the edge of the fountain, where many of the onlookers seemed to be coming to the realization that the comedy skit was over, and were beginning to go about their business once more. “That was quite an impressive show,” the man remarked thoughtfully.

“Yeah, well…” Hudson shrugged half-heartedly. “I’m sure you’ll get the chance to watch it again on YouTube as many times as you’d like within a few hours.”

“I didn’t mean it as an insult,” the man replied sincerely, taking Hudson by surprise. “I mean, the way you launched yourself out onto the ice like that to rescue that poor cat without any regards for your own personal safety…” He glanced at the cat in Hudson’s arms, which was finally beginning to relax thanks to the constant stroking of its head that Hudson was maintaining in order to reassure it that it was now safe.

“It’s my job.” Hudson laughed. “I’m with Animal Control.”

“Well, I think that what you just did went above and beyond what your job requires you to do.” The man flashed him a warm smile. “Plus, look at the way you managed to calm it down so quickly!” Hudson glanced down at the animal in his arms as the man continued. “You know what they say – we don’t choose our animal companions, they choose us.”

Hudson laughed. “Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to keep it. If I kept every animal I picked up off the streets, I’d be broke.”

The good Samaritan’s face fell slightly. “Well, I hope that this poor cat manages to find a loving home sooner rather than later,” he remarked. “Maybe it can change the heart of somebody who thought that they’d never like a pet.”

They had reached the wall of the fountain now, and the stranger helped Hudson climb out of it first before doing so himself. Hudson, who was glad to be on solid ground once again, turned to face the man gratefully. “Thanks again for your help – I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

“Gabe.” The man smiled as he extended a hand for Hudson to shake. “And don’t mention it. Tis the season for helping others, after all.”

Hudson nodded, as the stranger scratched the tabby cat behind the ears briefly before winking and disappearing amongst the crowds of people all around them without another word. Bemused by the man’s demeanor, Hudson turned to find Elizabeth and Noah standing behind him, conversing in low voices, and was surprised to see that the latter no longer had the heavy camera propped up on his shoulders recording. Instead, it hung limply at his side. Clearing his throat pointedly, Hudson asked, “Is there anything else you need from me?”

“We’re good.” Elizabeth flashed him a toothy smile. “Believe me, I think we have all the footage we could possibly ever need from you.”

Hudson rolled his eyes, as Noah snorted in a vain attempt to contain his laughter. “I’m sure you do,” he muttered, knowing full well that they would probably use his chase scene as a part of some kind of blooper real. “Well, it was a pleasure meeting you,” he lied before turning on his heel and hurrying back toward the northern entrance of the park, along which his truck was parked. As he walked, the people nearest him seemed to give him a wide berth, eyeing him and the cat in his arms warily, and Hudson did his best to avoid their eyes and hold his head proudly as he marched – in as dignified a manner as he could through the deep snow.

* * *

Laughing, Elizabeth and Noah watched Hudson, clutching the fat tabby cat desperately to his chest, slip and stumble on his way out of the park, hurrying as fast as he could through the snow piled high on the ground. Despite embarrassing himself, the man seemed to have taken it all in stride and had been a good sport about letting the two of them interview him and film his attempts to capture the cat – though it was clear by the way he hurried away without allowing them a chance to say goodbye that he’d rather not have. “See?” Elizabeth hit her boyfriend forcefully in the side. “If we had gone back to school earlier, we never would have gotten that all on tape! Nor would we have been responsible for saving the life of a stray cat!”

Noah nodded begrudgingly. “It’ll be good footage to put at the end of your segment – like an outtake reel. Because nothing says local news like hilariously awkward footage you can laugh at while relaxing at home.”

Elizabeth nodded, silently agreeing with her boyfriend, who asked, “Now can we go back to the school?”

“Yes, we can go back to school.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes, exasperated, despite finding it cute how wide Noah’s smile grew at the statement. “A promise is a promise. Come on.” She grabbed Noah’s hand, and the two slowly began to walk along the path that would allow them to exit the park’s south side. “If we get this edited quick enough, we may make it home in enough time to open gifts with my family tomorrow morning. That will make my parents happy.”

“Tomorrow morning?” Noah raised an eyebrow. “I’m hoping to get all of this edited quick enough to make it home in time for Christmas Eve dinner tonight!”

While Elizabeth thought that would be a stretch, she didn’t bother correcting her boyfriend. Then, suddenly remembering, she said, “We have to call the mayor’s office when we get back to the editing bay and see if they have any comment on what those two cops said to us earlier. Don’t let me forget.”

“I won’t,” Noah reassured her. Then, smiling mischievously, he asked, “Have I ever let you down?”

“The night’s still young,” Elizabeth teased, eliciting a laugh from her boyfriend, as she leaned her head on his shoulder and the two of them continued their stroll through the snow in a comfortable silence.

* * *

“You really caused me a lot of trouble tonight, little guy,” Hudson mumbled to the cat out of the corner of his mouth, as he continued to traipse through the snow. At the words, the cat meowed softly in response.

It wasn’t until Hudson and his new feline companion were walking around the side of the Christmas tree, directly beneath the park’s arch, that another human being addressed him directly. It was a little boy, who pointed excitedly at the cat in his arms. “Mommy, look! It looks like Dexter!”

The middle-aged woman who gripped the boy’s hand tightly looked frazzled and exhausted, as she let out a long sigh. “That’s right, sweetie, it does.”

Is it Dexter?” Hudson asked, holding the cat out for them to inspect in the hopes that the poor thing had a home and that he wouldn’t have to take it to the cold, dark, depressing animal shelter that night.

The woman smiled sympathetically. “Our baby boy is at home, so no.”

Hudson’s face fell, as he brought the cat back toward his chest again. “Ah well. Merry Christmas!”

“You too!” the frenzied woman replied before walking further into the park, half-dragging her excited son behind her.

Staring down at the tabby in his arms thoughtfully, Hudson remarked, “You kind of look like a Dexter. Think you’d like that name?” The cat meowed in response, which caused the man holding it to smile. “Are you even a male though?” He held the cat up to survey its underside before nodding. “Yup. Definitely a boy. Dexter it is.” A cold wind blew through the park at that moment, whipping snow into Hudson’s eyes. As he shivered, the cat buried itself closer into his chest. “Come on. Let’s get back to the truck!” And he hurried over to where he parked the vehicle on the curb of the park’s entrance without stopping again.

Throwing open its back doors, Hudson climbed into it to find it blissfully warm, and to find Booster pacing his cage nervously; apparently, the dog didn’t like to be left alone. “Brought a friend for you, Booster!” Hudson exclaimed cheerfully. “He can keep you company!” With some difficulty, the man managed to place the cat into the cage directly opposite the dog before locking it tight. “This is Dexter.”

The two animals eyed one another warily from their respective cages, but neither appeared frightened by the other. Dexter, however, did turn his head to peer at Hudson and meow at him in annoyance, as though he couldn’t believe the man had the audacity to lock him up in a cage like that. “I know, I’m sorry,” Hudson said sympathetically. “But it’s my job.” He hopped out of the back of the truck, secured both doors from the outside, and walked around the side of the vehicle to climb into the cab. Peering back at the animals over his shoulder, he asked, “Everyone cozy?”

In response, both the dog and the cat began to bark and meow in annoyance, scratching desperately at the doors of their cages in bids to escape, instinctively knowing that wherever it was Hudson planned on taking them, it wouldn’t be good for them. Hudson’s face fell and his stomach clenched uncomfortably at the noise, before he turned forward in his seat once again, doing his best to block out the noise.

Glancing down at his watch, Hudson felt his stomach turn again. It was almost six o’clock. He had planned to take his dinner break to coincide with Christmas Eve mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and surprise his mother, but the call from Abby to go pick up Dexter had derailed those plans, and now it was so late, there wasn’t even a point in even showing up tardy. “You really inconvenienced me tonight, Dexter.” Hudson sighed deeply without turning to face the yowling cat.

As his stomach growled loudly, Hudson decided that if he was going to miss church, he might as well eat. “Let’s get some food,” he remarked to the loud animals before turning the volume up on his radio as far as it would go in order to drown them out, and pulling his truck away from the curb and back into the snowy, Christmas Eve traffic of New York City.

 

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