“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Twenty-Two – Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer – As Read By Jay Skipworth Of “Film Strip Podcast”

“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Twenty-Two – Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer – As Read By Jay Skipworth Of “Film Strip Podcast”

Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Happy first day of July to all of you, Happy Canada Day to all of our Canadian family and friends, and welcome to the twenty-third official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!

This week, Jay Skipworth, the man who is as iconic as the podcast he’s hosted for over a decade, “Film Strip Podcast“, will read to all of you Chapter Twenty-Two of our tale, entitled “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”. Within this chapter, we catch up with Officers Seamus Dwyer and Andrew Lee in addition to the beleaguered animal control employee, Hudson Jackson!

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! Make sure to check your main feeds on Monday as well to hear all three elves discuss “The I Love Lucy Christmas Show” and “Christmas With the Addams Family” in addition to next Thursday for the twenty-third official chapter of this story – “Chapter Twenty-Three: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, which Adam of “Merry Britmas Podcast” will be reading to you!

Enjoy, y’all! 🎅🏻🎄🎁 🦌🦉⛄️ 🤶🏻 🎀 ❄️

 

Chapter Twenty-Two: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

December 24th – 1:30 p.m. EST

As Officer Seamus Dwyer expected, being on standard patrol duty on Christmas Eve in the middle of an enormous snowstorm was as uneventful as one could imagine. He and Andrew spent the majority of the morning alternating between slowly walking and even more slowly driving up and down the snowy streets of midtown Manhattan, keeping their eyes open for anybody committing small crimes – or worse – doing something that could endanger the lives of all of those in the surrounding area, including the President of the United States and her foreign visitors. It appeared as though the spirit of the season had infected even the citizens of New York, however, because not only did they not see anything suspicious – nobody committing any crimes or looking as though they may want to – but passerby on the streets were being far more jovial to one another than they normally were. Normally, New Yorkers were always in a rush, pushing slow walkers out of the way while angrily cursing as they quickly headed toward their destinations. Today, however, despite it being one of the most busy and stressful days of the year, people hurried up and down the icy sidewalks, arms laden with Christmas gifts, with good-natured smiles on their faces and exuding ridiculous levels of patience and good cheer – it was enough to make Seamus sick to his stomach.

Seamus liked Christmas, the whole Christmas season, but ever since becoming a cop, he had become much more cynical toward that time of the year. He didn’t quite know why, but he assumed it had something to do with the fact that as a rookie, while climbing the ranks of the N.Y.P.D., he had been forced to work countless holidays and miss many family parties and dinners; he supposed it had made him a bit bitter. And here he was, after twenty-years on the force, being forced to work on Christmas Eve after having previously booked it off, yet again missing another family get together. (Given the state of things with his wife, who even knew if there would ever be another family get together to miss this time next year?) And for what? Not to escort the leader of the free world and her guests around as they toured Manhattan, but to amble around midtown for sixteen-hours on patrol duty. It annoyed the hell out of him because there he was, sitting in the driver’s seat of his patrol car – parked on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street – watching through the icy front windshield as his partner, cradling a paper bag full of roasting chestnuts in one hand, wrote a ticket for an illegally parked Toyota a few meters away.

Seamus had always been impressed with Andrew’s work ethic and the man’s ability to do any job assigned to him, no matter how mundane or beneath him, without a word of complaint, a smile on his face the entire time. He didn’t know if it was because the man was brought up in a stereotypically Asian family or what, but Seamus admired him for it and tried to be as dedicated to his work as he was – especially when it was at its most boring like today. So that entire morning, he had grinned and bared it as he surveyed their surroundings with alert eyes, looking for any signs of danger, keeping all of the complaints he had about being forced to perform the work of a rookie twenty-years younger than him on the inside. He was drumming his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel of his parked vehicle when Andrew hurried back over to it and climbed into the passenger’s seat, shivering. “It’s freezing out there!”

“Well, shut the damn door before you let all the heat out!” Seamus instructed when Andrew was already halfway in the process of doing so. “I haven’t seen snow this bad in nearly a decade,” he indicated, ducking to peer out of the windshield at the bright white sky above. “If Elsa doesn’t stop early enough, Williams and her entourage may be stuck in town overnight, which means we’ll be stuck working until the early hours of tomorrow morning.”

Andrew gave a half-hearted shrug in a “what can you do?” type of way before holding out the bag of roasting chestnuts for Seamus to reach into. “At least it gives us an excuse to miss Christmas day celebrations.”

Seamus pursed his lips, grabbing a handful of the blissfully warm holiday snack. “I don’t think missing Christmas day with Ashley’s family would exactly bode well for me.”

“Things still rocky with you two?” Andrew asked, concerned.

“Indubitably.” Seamus threw a chestnut into his mouth and bit down on it with a satisfying crunch.

“Maybe you shouldn’t brazenly flirt with Pendleton every chance that you get then,” Andrew gently suggested.

Seamus rolled his eyes. “Flirting isn’t cheating,” he pointed out. “It’s not my fault that Lindsey wants me. I can’t help that we have chemistry!” He flashed his partner a toothy grin. “But in all seriousness, as sexy as she is, I wouldn’t cheat on Ashley. Especially with somebody like Lindsey. She’s too…” He searched around for the right word before finally settling on, “Controlling.”

Andrew laughed. “I think the only reason you have a problem with her is because she’s the only one who can put you in your place.” Seamus shrugged half-heartedly as he continued. “But seriously, I hope that you and Ashley can work things out. How are the kids handling everything?”

Seamus popped another chestnut into his mouth. “I think they’re still too young to notice that mommy and daddy are always fighting, and that daddy is sleeping in the guest room half of the time. I’m hoping things get better between us before they’re more aware of things like that.” He paused for a moment before bitterly adding, “I doubt that missing that flight to Massachusetts with them this morning helps my case though.”

“Ashley’s reasonable,” Andrew pointed out. “You guys have been together for years, she’s got to understand the requirements of your job by now.”

Seamus nodded, peering out of the driver’s side window at cars hurrying by with far more confidence and speed than they should have given the current weather conditions. Given that they were going the speed limit, however, there was nothing he could do to stop them. Distracted, he asked his partner, “So why aren’t you more upset about missing Christmas Eve celebrations with your family?”

Andrew stared down into the bag he was holding in his hands, searching for the perfect chestnut. “It’s part of the job,” he replied nonchalantly. “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. There’s no point complaining about it.”

Seamus rolled his eyes with a laugh of disbelief as he exclaimed, “Come on!”

“What?” Andrew asked defensively.

“How long have we been partners?” Seamus stared pointedly at Andrew for a moment, but when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to speak, he added, “Look, it’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it. I get it. But just say so instead of lying to me.”

“I’m not–”

“You were secretly relieved we were called into work today because you were planning on coming out to your family tonight at dinner, with Barry by your side, and you were scared shitless of doing it.” Seamus popped another chestnut into his mouth. “Don’t deny it,” he added when Andrew, whose face had gone beat red, opened his mouth to reply. “I can read you like a book.”

Andrew closed his mouth, at a loss for words. He stared out of the front windshield for a moment, seemingly becoming lost inside of himself as he watched the snow falling from the sky, before admitting, “I’m just worried about how my parents are going to take it, that’s all.”

“Dude, you came out to the entire precinct,” Seamus pointed out. “You know what some of the boys in blue are like – that can’t have been easy for you, and look what happened! Nobody cared! I’m sure your parents will be just as understanding.”

“You don’t know my parents,” Andrew replied with a hollow laugh. “There’s a good chance they’ll call me a stain on my family.”

“Did I call you a stain on the force when you came out to me?” Seamus asked, an eyebrow raised. “No. I just shrugged, said ‘cool’, and asked where you wanted to grab lunch.”

Andrew laughed at the memory before sadly pointing out, “You’re not my family.”

Seamus winced at the words. “And here I was thinking we were brothers.”

“We are,” Andrew said quickly, reassuring his partner. “But you’re not part of my biological, Asian family. Things can be…complicated with them. They…well…” He shrugged. “They may not take it so well.”

“If they have a problem with you being gay, that’s their problem, not yours,” Seamus forcefully pointed out. “But look, I’m sure you’re overthinking this and that everything will be fine.”

“Can we change the subject please?” Andrew snapped, his voice firm.

Taken aback, Seamus nodded as the two police officers drifted into a semi-uncomfortable silence, staring out at the city through the frosty windows of the car, looking for any signs of trouble. Seamus couldn’t help but feel bad for his partner, and wondered if his words were actually consoling or were making him feel worse. After all, he had no idea what the man was going through and couldn’t possibly imagine how hard it must be for him to be afraid to truly show himself to his family for the first time. Andrew, meanwhile, felt guilty for snapping at Seamus, whom he knew was only trying to help. In an attempt to ease the tension in the car and break the silence that was beginning to stretch longer between them, Andrew held out the bag of chestnuts to his partner once again and jerked his head forward in the direction of the parked car he had just written a ticket for, visible through the icy front windshield. “It amazes me that people still don’t know the city’s parking rules for when it snows.”

“Maybe they’re from out of town,” Seamus suggested, gratefully taking another chestnut.

Andrew shook his head. “When I ran the plates, the car came up as having been registered to the same address in Brooklyn for the past three years. People are just idiots.”

Seamus laughed. “I could have told you that!”

Before another word could be exchanged between the two men, there was a loud screeching sound that was followed by a loud “CRASH!” Immediately springing into action, Seamus and Andrew threw open the doors to their squad car and climbed out, hands placed cautiously on the handles of the guns secured in their holsters. Facing south, Seamus instantly spotted a car crash a few blocks away from them and felt a wave of relief flow through him due to the fact that it wasn’t anything more serious, yet at the same time feeling annoyed that he’d have to spend the next half-an-hour dealing with a fender bender. “Come on,” he instructed Andrew. “Let’s go.” And without another word, the two men climbed back into their squad car, turned on the flashing red and blue lights atop of it, and began to guide it down Fifth Avenue, their siren wailing so that cars in front of them would do their best to get out of their way quickly.

It took longer than it should have given the state of the roads and current traffic conditions for the two officers to drive six blocks south where the accident had occurred at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 48th Street, directly in the center of the intersection. It was starting to cause traffic to back up heading south and east, but when they did finally arrive on the scene, they parked their squad car in the middle of the street and left the lights atop of it flashing despite turning off the siren. As they climbed out, it was to find an old lady getting yelled at by a large, heavyset man who – judging from the shade of purple his face was turning – looked like he was about to have a heart attack. “What happened here?” Seamus asked authoritatively as he approached the two individuals, while Andrew began to circle the two cars in order to assess the damage. It appeared as though one – a 1997 navy Corolla – had come to a stop in the middle of the street where the other – a 2005 silver Honda – had t-boned it driving south.

“The old bag here ran a red light and came to a stop in the middle of the road while I was in the process of driving through the intersection!” The heavyset man roared, wildly flailing his arms.

“I already told you,” the stooped, feeble looking old woman began, holding her head high. “I made that light!”

“Then why did you stop in the middle of the road?” The man demanded, rounding on her so quickly that she took a startled step backward, nearly overbalancing on the icy ground.

“Hey, watch it!” Seamus snapped at the man, as he grabbed the woman’s arm to steady her. “Are you alright?” he asked her softly, receiving an uncertain nod of the head in response. Flashing her a quick smile, he let go of her arm before asking both her and the beast of a man standing before them, “License and registration, please.”

As the old woman began to fumble around with the overlarge purse she was clutching tightly to her chest, the huge man withdrew his wallet from his pocket, mumbling angrily to himself. Seamus watched them both, waiting patiently, when Andrew wandered over to join the conversation. “The damage doesn’t look too extensive,” he informed Seamus and the two individuals who had crashed. “No scratches or dents – only some paint rubbing off of both cars. But it’s nothing that a little buffering won’t be able to take care of.”

Seamus nodded in response, as the purple-faced man snapped, “We can’t be sure about internal damage!” He thrust out his license and registration for Seamus to take at the same time the old woman held hers out gently. Irked by the man’s overbearing presence, Seamus took the woman’s first just to annoy the big guy even more before snapping the information from his hands with a little more force than was necessary. After glancing over them briefly, he passed them both to their respective owners. “Thank you, Betsy.” He smiled at the woman before turning to scowl at the large man, nodding his head. “Richard.” Turning back to the woman, he asked gently, “If you made the light, why did you stop in the middle of the intersection?”

“I had to!” Betsy implored the officer. “I didn’t want to hit the dog!”

Seamus and Andrew exchanged an uncertain look, as Richard scoffed loudly and rolled his eyes. “Didn’t want to hit the dog,” he mockingly repeated. “A likely story!”

Ignoring the man, who was wearing on his already thin nerves, Seamus asked politely, “What dog?”

“A massive dog darted in front of my car, and I had to stop short to avoid hitting it!” Betsy exclaimed. “He looked terrified! He darted off that way!” She motioned vaguely down East 48th Street.

“I didn’t see any dog,” Richard spat with derision. “I think the old bat is making up stories to explain why she ran a red light so that her license isn’t taken away!”

“Enough!” Seamus snapped angrily, as Betsy gasped, offended. “Listen, Dick…” He stepped forward so that he and the purple-faced man were barely an inch apart now, and stared coldly into his eyes. “I’m the cop here, alright? Keep your mouth shut until I address you. Otherwise, I’ll arrest you for disrespecting a police officer.” Richard looked affronted by the threat, and although his narrowed eyes flashed dangerously, he stayed quiet as instructed. Smirking in a self-satisfied manner, Seamus turned to his partner.

Meeting his eyes, Andrew nodded in response to the unasked question. “I’ll see if I can find the dog,” he said, before turning on his heel and darting off down East 48th Street without looking back at his partner or the two civilians he was serving as a mediator for. Shivering, he walked as fast as possible, his eyes darting every which way for signs of the dog the old woman had claimed she had seen, as he internally reflected on his partnership with Andrew. Fifteen-years ago they had been assigned one another’s partners, and since then, they had been inseparable; they had become as close as brothers. The rapport that had developed between them was reflected in their policing style – Seamus always played the tough cop with a gut-feeling, while he played the more sympathetic, analytical one. Andrew had known from the moment he witnessed how enraged the burly Richard had been that Seamus would be taking the lead with him.

Andrew was shaken from his internal thoughts when, two blocks away from the car accident he had left behind him, he spotted two Middle Eastern street vendors – hocking scarves, costume jewelry, and knock-off purses – bending low to peer beneath the table on which all of their supply was piled atop, yelling at a large dog that was cowering beneath it. Though Andrew couldn’t understand what the two men were saying, it was clear from their tones of voice that they were agitated and determined to get the dog to come out from its hiding place, only succeeding in frightening it even further. Taking pity on the scared animal, which he couldn’t quite get a proper glimpse of from his position, Andrew stepped forward with a wide smile. “Gentlemen!” he exclaimed brightly, stifling a laugh as both men jumped in surprise at the sound of his voice and scrambled to stand up as he approached. “Is there a problem here?”

“No, officer,” one of the men, who sported a bushy mustache, replied quickly. “No problems here.”

“I see.” Andrew’s eyes flickered over to the taller of the two men, who had a turban wrapped around his head and whose eyes were nervously scanning the table consisting of at least a few illegal products. His smile widening, Andrew gestured at the table before jerking his head up at the sky above, from which the snow was still falling steady and heavy. “You might want to think about packing up the shop for the day,” he remarked. “Before the snow ruins all of your goods. Or, you know, before a less understanding officer than myself happens to stroll by.” The two men exchanged a suspicious glance, clearly unsure of whether or not this was a trap. It wasn’t; Andrew, like most members of the N.Y.P.D., normally didn’t bother fining or arresting street vendors due to illegal, knock-off products or lack of permits. The fact of the matter was, there were just too many of them. But still, the threat of arrest normally made street vendors cooperate if cops passing by needed something from them. “I’ll tell you what,” Andrew continued when it became clear that both men were too scared to say anything. “Let me take that terrified dog hiding under your table with me, and you two can pack up everything here and find someplace warm to wait out the rest of the storm. Do we have a deal?”

“Deal. Yes.” Both men nodded unenthusiastically, stepping away from the table to allow the satisfied officer to step forward.

Smirking to himself, Andrew crouched down beside the table to peer under it, coming face-to-face with the animal that had caused the accident two blocks away. The dog in question was massive, with an enormous head and brindle fur. Though it looked big enough to take on a grown man in a fight, it was shrinking backwards nervously, its eyes wide and worried. “It’s okay,” Andrew spoke softly, as he slowly extended a hand toward the creature. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Though the dog initially shied away from Andrew’s outstretched hand, it cautiously leaned forward to sniff it in an attempt to discern whether or not it posed a danger. When it became clear to the animal that it didn’t, the dog licked the officer’s fingers before leaning its head against them, inviting Andrew to scratch between its ears. As he stroked the head, Andrew wondered if the dog belonged to a family, noticing that it looked well-fed, before realizing that it lacked a collar. It was either a stray, or had been abandoned. Feeling sorry for it, Andrew asked it, “Do you want food?” At the mention of the word ‘food’, the dog’s tail began to wag excitedly. “Yeah? You want food? Come on then!” Andrew sprung to his feet once again, pleased to see that when he did so, the dog cautiously emerged from beneath the table. At the sight of how large it actually was, both Middle Eastern men took a few steps backward. Addressing them, Andrew pointedly reminded them to move their products inside and out of the storm before he began to lead the dog back toward the scene of the accident by mentioning the word ‘food’ over and over again.

Each time that he uttered the word, the dog got more excited until it was jumping high in the air beside him. Andrew was impressed by just how much height it could get, though this – coupled with its size – seemed to make passerby extremely wary, for people on the sidewalk began to allow them a wide berth as they walked by. When they reached crashed vehicles, besides which the police car was still parked, its lights flashing brightly, Andrew noticed how far traffic was backing up travelling south on Fifth Avenue and west on 48th Street because of the cars blocking the intersection. Loud horns blared impatiently, which only prompted the officer to roll his eyes – New Yorkers could be so impatient. As he and the dog came into view, Seamus, Richard, and Betsy – the former two of whom had been in a heated conversation – turned to stare at them. The sight of the dog caused the old woman’s face to break out into a wide, triumphant smile. “You see?” she excitedly asked. “I told you I saw a dog! That’s it! That’s him!”

Richard’s face went even more purple at the words, as Seamus nodded, impressed. “Nice work,” he commended his partner.

“It’s a stray,” Andrew informed him. “We should call Animal Control. We can lock him in the car in the meantime.” When Seamus nodded his agreement, Andrew opened the rear-door of their cruiser and instructed, “Go on boy, get inside!”

The dog’s excitement evaporated instantly at the command, and it stared at the open door with trepidation. “Don’t you want food?” Andrew asked. This got the dog’s attention, and it began to wag its tail excitedly, but still, it refused to get into the car. It appeared that the animal had trusted the office enough to follow him to this point, but if he wanted it to climb into his car, the officer needed to fork up.

That’s when Andrew remembered the bag of chestnuts.

Reaching into the front of the patrol car, Andrew pulled out the bag of chestnuts and waved them in front of the dog’s face. “Want food?” he asked again. The dog let out a bark of excitement and eagerly jumped high into the air.

“Jesus Christ!” Seamus exclaimed. “Look at how high that thing can get! It’s like a booster rocket!”

Andrew laughed. “Maybe that’s what we should call it.”

“Rocket?”

“Booster,” Andrew clarified, as he threw the bag of chestnuts into the backseat of the car, after which Booster immediately dove in after them. Quickly, he shut the door, trapping the dog in the warm vehicle. Breathing a sigh of relief, he noted, “Well, that’s that then.” He slapped his hands together. “Mission accomplished! I’m going to call Animal Control.” As he moved to step aside, he warily eyed the furious looking Richard. “You have everything under control here?” he asked his partner.

“Piece of cake.” Seamus nodded confidently. “Go do what you’ve got to do.” And after Andrew walked away from the three of them, pulling his phone from his pocket as he did so, Seamus turned back to the two civilians in order to settle their argument once and for all so that they – and all of the cars backed up in traffic because of them – could get back on their merry way once again. “Well, it looks like Betsy was telling the truth, Dick,” he pointed out brightly, as Betsy shot the man a smug look. “She didn’t run a red light; she just shortstopped to avoid hitting the dog.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that she caused an accident by shortstopping,” Richard growled angrily. “Besides, that could be any dog.” He jerked his head at the patrol car. “It doesn’t mean that the old biddy is telling the truth!”

“Excuse me?” Betsy’s mouth fell open, aghast.

Seamus held up a hand to prevent the woman from saying anything else. “I think she is.”

“I don’t care,” Richard spat. “I still want to exchange information with her due to the damage to my car.”

“Damage to your car? Paint rubbed off!” Seamus corrected. “But sure, you can exchange information if that’s what you want. Though if I were you, I’d just be grateful that neither car has been wrecked, go on your way, and enjoy your Christmas Eve.”

“Oh yeah?” Richard scoffed. “And why is that?”

“Because whether she ran a red light, or shortstopped to avoid hitting a dog, you crashed into her,” Seamus pointed out. “The way the insurance companies will see it, and the way I would testify in court, Dick, is that the accident was your fault. You shouldn’t have started forward while she was in the middle of the intersection.” He smiled wide as Richard began trembling at the words; it looked as though a vein were about to burst in his forehead. “But sure, I can oversee the exchange of information between you two.”

“Forget it,” Richard hissed through gritted teeth. “I’ll buffer out the paint myself.”

“If you insist.” Seamus shrugged, watching as Richard stormed away to climb into his car. “Merry Christmas, Dick!” he called cheerily after him, stifling a laugh as the man climbed into the driver’s seat of his Toyota and slammed the door shut loudly in response.

“I don’t know how I can thank you, officer,” Betsy said to Seamus, feeling overwhelmed as the cop turned to look down at her.

“I’m just doing my job, ma’am.” Seamus smiled. “But if you want to thank me, you can be a little more careful on the road and have a very Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Betsy hugged him tightly around the midsection, taking the officer by surprise. “Same goes to you!”

Seamus watched as she slowly climbed back into her car before stepping back up onto the sidewalk as Andrew walked back over to him. “All good?”

“All good,” he replied, watching as Betsy slowly began to drive down East 48th Street, allowing Richard to continue his journey down Fifth Avenue. “What about with you?”

“All good,” Andrew confirmed, as he peered through the window of their patrol car at the dog lying in the backseat within. “Animal Control is on its way; should be here in a few minutes. Apparently, a car was already in the area.”

“Good.” Seamus nodded before noting regretfully, “I wish we still had those chestnuts.”

Andrew laughed at the statement before silence settled between the two policemen, who watched as the pent-up traffic resumed in all directions, as they basked in the glow of the Christmas lights strung up all around them, shivering heavily as the snow continue to fall steadily from the sky as they waited for Animal Control to arrive.

* * *

The morning was as eventless, and went by as slow, as Hudson had expected it would. And still, almost two o’clock in the afternoon now, he had yet to pick up one stray animal or receive one call from dispatch about any sightings of unaccompanied beasts roaming the streets. It was just as well; traffic was even worse than Hudson had anticipated, and Elsa’s snow was badly impairing the vision of the drivers on the road. By the time Hudson managed to report to an area dispatch sent him to, chances were the hypothetical animals in question would be gone.

So, Hudson spent his morning aimlessly cruising around midtown – a metaphor, he thought, apt for his life – and listening to the dulcet crooning of Bing Crosby on the radio. Unlike a lot of people – especially of his gender and race – Hudson didn’t mind Christmas music; he found it to be extremely soothing in the best of ways. In fact, Hudson was pulled over on the curb of 57th Street, right beside Trump Tower, belting along to Let It Snow in-between mouthfuls of the meatball-sub that served as his lunch when he received his first phone call of the day. “Go for Hudson.”

“Hey, Hun. It’s Abby.”

“Abby!” Hudson straightened up at the sound of the cheerful voice, noticing his heartrate increase suddenly. “Finally have work for me?”

“Do I need work to give my favorite driver a call?” Abby asked, and in his mind’s eye, Hudson could just picture the woman winking playfully at him.

“I suppose not,” Hudson admitted. “It’s just that you normally do.”

“Well, if I didn’t call you for work, I wouldn’t hear from you at all!”

Hudson smirked at their repartee. Abigail “Abby” Collins was the person at ACS whom he got along with the most, and it just so happened that she happened to be a thirty-nine-year-old African American woman going through a divorce. That wasn’t the only reason that Hudson appreciated her company, however. Besides being sweet, and extremely funny, when she found out about his shameful past, she didn’t shy away from him. Indeed, if anything, she seemed to grow closer to him after he confided in her. Hudson definitely believed that his feelings for her were more than that of platonic coworkers, but he would never dare to make a move on her. One, he wasn’t sure what her feelings for him were, and two, she was going through a divorce! He’d wait until it was finalized, at the very least. In the meantime, he was happy with the close friendship, full of flirty banter, that the two had cultivated and which had defined their relationship thus far.

“Well, if I knew you liked talking to me so much…” Hudson allowed his voice to trail away as Abby laughed.

“How’s your Christmas Eve going, sugar?” Abby asked. “What are you doing for the holiday tomorrow?”

“Just spending the day with family at my mom’s house,” Hudson admitted. “What about you?”

“Nothing at all.” Abby sighed softly. “My parents are spending the holiday in the Caribbean this year, so I think I’m just going to spend it in my pajamas, eating takeout, and watching Christmas films.”

Hudson hesitated at the words, wondering whether it would be weird to invite her to his family’s celebration so that she wouldn’t have to spend the day alone. Before he could come to a conclusion, however, Abby continued, “Anyway, as chance would have it, I do have a job for you.”

“I knew you had an ulterior motive for calling me,” Hudson teased, eliciting a laugh from the woman. “It’s about time though,” he admitted. “It’s been dead today. I haven’t picked up a single animal yet.”

“I’m getting similar complaints from the other drivers,” Abby informed him. “Frankly, I’m glad. The stray animals of this city are probably hiding in warm areas to escape the cold, which means they’ll survive the holidays without being locked up and put down by us.” Though she obviously couldn’t see him, Hudson nodded his agreement. “Unfortunately, the subject of my call isn’t so lucky.”

“What is it, and where is it?” Hudson asked, pulling his truck away from the curb and guiding it back into the traffic snaking down the street.

“Stray dog at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 48th Street,” Abby replied, as Hudson turned his truck left into the heavy traffic of Fifth Avenue. “Right near H&M. Ran into traffic and caused a minor accident.”

“Is the dog alright?” Hudson asked, his stomach lurching uncomfortably.

“He’s fine,” Abby assured him. “The two officers responding to the scene of the accident managed to trick him into their squad car. That’s who you’ll want to ask for: Officers Lee and Dwyer.”

“Got it.”

“Have fun,” Abby replied in a sing-song voice. “And don’t be a stranger, sweetie. A girl gets bored sitting here all alone on Christmas Eve! Feel free to pick up a phone and call me every now and then – maybe even later today if you stay as ‘busy’ as you are right now.”

Hudson smirked to himself. “I’ll talk to you later, Abby.”

His answer was apparently enough to satisfy the woman, who hung up on him without another word, leaving Hudson alone to overanalyze every minute detail of their conversation as he continued to follow the traffic south.

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