Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the first official installment of Another Christmas Story!
This week, the author of this holiday rom-com himself, our very own Anthony, will read to all of you, the Prologue of our tale, entitled “Wonderful Christmas Time”! In it, you’ll meet the protagonists of this story – Joey and Mary – and get a hint of what their relationship is actually like. 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 will be discussing Mixed Nuts, and next Thursday for the first official chapter of this story – “Chapter One: Good King Wenceslas”! Enjoy, y’all!
Prologue: Wonderful Christmas Time
Christmas Eve – 11:30 p.m. EST
Joseph Nazario loved Christmas. The lights, the snow, the music, the movies, the television specials, the gifts, the quality time spent with friends and family – he loved it all.
He was spending this particular portion of Christmas Eve the same way he did every year – tucked into bed alone in the dark, watching TNT’s annual twenty-four-hour marathon of A Christmas Story. As he watched little Ralphie Parker ask the Higbee’s Santa Claus for a “Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time”, he couldn’t help but reflect on what a nice evening it had been. His parents had had their annual night before Christmas party for mom’s side of the family, which started as soon as five o’clock mass let out. As always, it had consisted of caroling around the piano, gift-giving, and an abundance of Christmas sweets. Of course, as the family was Italian, the celebration was very loud, overly personal, and full of so much food that Joseph currently felt sick. He patted his bloated stomach contentedly though, as Santa pushed Ralphie down the slide with his enormous black boot on the television, when –
Joseph jumped so high in fright that he nearly fell out of bed. Whipping his head around, he saw a face, which was white as a ghost, staring at him through the window of his third-story, attic bedroom. “Mary?”
“Let me in!” The girl pointed desperately at the lock on Joseph’s side of the glass, her voice muffled.
Climbing out of bed, Joseph quickly hurried across the room – turning on his bedroom lights as he did so – and unlocked the window before stepping aside and allowing his next-door neighbor to climb into the house. “Jesus, it’s freezing out there!”
“Well, it is snowing,” Joseph pointed out, glancing out of the window at his snow-covered front lawn, illuminated by the lights that adorned the face of his house, before staring up at the dark sky from which a steady cascade of flakes was still falling. “Of course it’s cold.” Shutting his window quietly, he turned around to face his neighbor. “How did you even get up here without breaking your neck?”
“I’m adept at sneaking into and out of houses, don’t you know that by now?” Mary rolled her eyes.
“Okay, better question then – why are you here?”
“Can’t I just come over to see my absolute best friend in the world?” Mary asked, tilting her head to the side as she stared up at her neighbor. When Joseph merely raised a steely eyebrow in response, she sighed deeply, dropping all pretense along with her shoulders. “I was at a party with Nat and had a little too much to drink, alright? I don’t want to go home yet in case my parents are still awake, so I decided to come here and hang out for a bit. Is that okay with you?”
Joseph considered Mary for a moment. The two had known one another since birth and used to be quite close friends. Now, eighteen-years-later, however, the two barely spoke at all, and rarely saw or spoke to one another outside of school. Despite this, he wasn’t going to kick her back out into the snow – especially after noticing the pleading hint of silent desperation in her bright green eyes. “Fine,” he said curtly. “Just – you know – keep it down. I don’t want you waking my parents or sister.”
“Relax, Joey.” Mary smiled wide. “Lighten up a bit! What are you watching?” She glanced at the television situated directly across from his bed. “Oh, I love this movie!” And without invitation, she climbed into bed to watch it.
Impressed by the girl’s boldness, Joey took in her appearance – a Santa hat was perched precariously atop her straight, light-brown hair, and a tight Christmas sweater accentuated her chest while her tight, form-fitting jeans were quickly covered up by the blankets she pulled up over herself. It wasn’t the first time his neighbor had been in his bedroom, or in his bed, but it was the first time since either of them had hit puberty. And had a younger version of himself been told she’d be in his bed again one day after developing into a woman, he never would have believed it.
“It’s freezing!” Mary shivered, as she glanced over at Joey, noticing that he was staring at her. When he quickly looked away, a pink flush creeping up his neck, Mary’s smirk widened. “Well? Are you going to stand there all night?” She patted the empty space on the bed beside her. “I don’t have cooties. And I promise that I won’t bite.” Before Joey could take more than three steps toward the bed, however, she quickly added, “Shut the lights first, I have a headache.”
“Just as demanding as ever,” Joey noted sarcastically before obligingly shutting the lights nevertheless.
“What can I say? It’s part of my charm!” Mary silently made note of how cute the boy next-door looked in his pajamas – a white t-shirt and a pair of flannel pants which had Snoopy and Woodstock all over them. He had clearly been comfortable in bed before she had knocked because his dark hair was all askew and there were bags beneath his bright, blue eyes. Nevertheless, despite his tired appearance, Mary was impressed by how much of a man her neighbor had grown into over the years. When he crawled into bed, very deliberately choosing to stay on top of the bedsheets since she was beneath them, she inched ever-so-slightly closer to him. “When was the last time I was in your bedroom?”
“It has to be a few years ago now,” Joey replied, shifting uncomfortably, before asking, “Look, can I get you a glass of water or something? To help sober you up?”
“I’m fine, thanks. Besides, you don’t want to go downstairs now! For all you know, Santa’s in the living room leaving your gifts under the tree!”
Joey snorted. “Santa was in bed half-an-hour ago, so I’m pretty sure the gifts are already out.”
“Pretty sure?” Mary laughed. “You’re telling me you haven’t gone down to shake a few packages to try and guess what your parents got you?”
Mary laughed, turning her attention back to the television. As she watched Ralphie and his younger brother tearing open Christmas presents beneath the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, she let out a small, happy sigh; she loved this time of the year. “So did Ryan drop by tonight?”
“Have you ever known him not to?” Joey laughed. He and Ryan O’Connor had been such close friends, for so many years, that he was like a second son to Joey’s parents. He was unequivocally an unofficial part of the family, and as such, was always present at major events and holidays.
“Did he eat all of the stuffed artichokes again?” Mary asked. “I’ll never forget the year he took the last one on your mother without realizing that she hadn’t had a chance to have one herself yet.”
Joey laughed at the memory. “This year it was the meatballs, I think.”
Mary smiled as she sighed wistfully. “Man, your parents always threw the best parties. Especially around the holidays. I miss them.”
“Well…” Joey began hesitantly. “You shouldn’t be so much of a stranger. You should stop by every now and again. When you’re sober, I mean,” he hastily added. “My mom would love to see you. She’s always asking about you.”
“Yeah, Irene’s always asking about you too,” Mary admitted, using her mother’s first name as was her wont whenever her parents weren’t present. She turned to study her neighbor closely for a moment through narrowed eyes before reaching across him. For one wild moment, Joey thought that she was going to straddle him, but it turned out that she was merely reaching for the remote control on his bedside table, which caused an odd sensation of mingled disappointment and relief to flood through his body. “What are you doing?” he demanded, as she pointed the remote at the television and began to flip through the channels.
“What?” Mary shrugged defensively, as she channel-surfed. “It’s on for twenty-four-hours! You can catch it tomorrow!”
“You know, you can’t just climb into my bedroom and–”
“Actually, I can,” Mary cut across him with a pointed wink. “Home Alone, no. The Grinch, no. Home Alone 2, no. The Santa Clause, no. Elf, no. Christmas Vacation, no.” She let out a sigh of frustration. “Why do all of these channels constantly show the same seven movies on a loop?”
“They’re called classics for a reason, Mary.”
“Modern classics,” Mary pointed out. “Where are all the older, black-and-white ones? The timeless ones like It’s a Wonderful Life or the original Miracle on 34th Street?” Then, miraculously, as though the universe had heard her complaints, Alastair Sim’s grainy, black-and-white face filled the television screen on the next station she clicked over to, a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck and a top hat atop his head. “Perfect! A Christmas Carol!”
“Oh, come on! Put A Christmas Story back on!” Joey reached for the remote, but Mary held it playfully out of his reach, an eyebrow raised.
“What, you don’t like Dickens?”
“Of course I like Dickens! That’s not – don’t you have a boyfriend who you can bug tonight instead?” Joey demanded, annoyed. “What happened to Brian?”
“We broke up the other day,” Mary answered, sounding as though she’d rather talk about anything else as she continued to hold the remote out of Joey’s reach.
Giving up the struggle for control of the T.V., Joey leaned back in bed, resigned, and the two watched in silence as the Ghost of Christmas Past came to visit Scrooge in the bedroom of his dark mansion. While Joey did truly like Dickens, and had a fondness for A Christmas Carol in particular, he had to be in a certain mood to watch it. More specifically, a reflective mood, because it was impossible for him to watch Scrooge be taken on a tour of his life without pondering which parts of his own past the ghosts would single out to show him were he in that same situation. Though he had to admit to himself, with a wry smirk, that it was pretty ironic that the girl from his past who had climbed through his bedroom window and was inadvertently forcing his mind to dredge up memories about their friendship, had chosen this movie, out of many others, to leave on the television. Perhaps Mary was reflecting on her past as well, for he noticed out of the corner of his eyes that she was staring at him full on now. “What?” he asked meekly, turning to face her.
There was a moment of silence, as Joey and Mary stared into one another’s eyes, before Mary launched herself at him, the Santa hat atop of her head falling off as she did so. Taken by surprise, it took Joey a few moments to allow himself to fall into the kiss and even longer to finally break away from it, grabbing his neighbor by her shoulders and holding her at arm’s length. “What are you doing?” Mary demanded, breathless.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to seduce you,” Mary replied incredulously before adding with a small shrug, “I thought it was obvious.” Joey smiled at the words despite himself and allowed a small laugh to escape his lips, prompting Mary to ask, “What’s so funny?”
“It’s just – I thought…never mind.”
Mary rolled her eyes and climbed on top of Joey, pinning him down roughly on the bed as they began to fully make out, their hands groping whatever parts of one another they could reach. Joey could feel both of their hearts beating rapidly and noticed that both of them were breathing heavily. He did his best to clear his mind of all the thoughts that were racing through it, but he couldn’t do it for some reason. It wasn’t until Mary straightened up to remove her shirt, however, that Joey snapped back to his senses. “Mary, just – just stop, okay?”
“What’s wrong?” Mary demanded, as Joey rolled off of her, scrambled from the bed, and hurried to turn on the bedroom lights again.
He stared around the bedroom before glancing out of his window at the Christmas lights and falling snow beyond, searching for an answer. “I just – I thought this night would go differently, that’s all.”
“What were you expecting to happen?” Mary asked, grabbing her Santa hat from the bed and shoving it back onto her head.
“What were you?” Joey snapped, annoyed now. “I mean, I’m having a nice, relaxing Christmas Eve, and you just climb through my window and – why the hell would you climb through my window?”
“I wanted to see you,” Mary admitted, as she bit down on her lower lip. “I’ve missed you. We haven’t talked in so long–”
“Not for lack of trying on my part,” Joey cut across her sharply, causing the girl to flinch.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” Mary climbed off of the bed and took a step toward him. “It’s just – God, this is going to sound so stupid, but…you’re the only person I know who likes Christmas as much as I do. More than I do in fact,” she added with a small laugh. “Remember growing up, all of those Christmas Eves that we’d spend together?” She was an inch from Joey now, standing so close to him that their noses almost touched. “They’re some of my favorite memories, and – I don’t know…” She shrugged. “The truth is, I wanted to recreate some of them tonight for old time’s sake.”
“By climbing into my bedroom in the dead of night and forcing yourself on me?” Joey shook his head in disbelief as he took a step backward. “We never did that growing up. You’re drunk, Mary. I’m not going to take advantage of you.”
“Oh, stop being so noble.” Mary rolled her eyes. “I may be drunk, but I know what I’m doing.”
“Which is what, exactly?” Joey demanded. “We have sex, then what? You climb out that window and we don’t talk again for another couple of years? I just become a funny, drunken story for you to tell Nat and your friends about?”
Hot tears of anger began to fill Mary’s eyes. “That’s not what this is!” She stamped her foot petulantly.
“Would you keep your voice down?” Joey insisted in a hushed tone. “You’re going to wake my parents.”
“You know what?” Mary pushed past him, making her way back toward the window. “It was clearly a mistake coming here tonight.”
“You clearly don’t want to even try to be friends again–”
“Of course, I do!” Joey interrupted. “But how about we try that first before trying for anything more romantic, huh? You were always the one who used to say you never wanted to endanger our friendship by trying for anything more!”
“And then we drifted apart anyway.” Mary spun around to face Joey again, a disbelieving smile on her face. “So, I guess that’s the universe telling us that we’re not meant to be in each other’s lives. Which is fine, I guess. Especially since we haven’t really been in them to begin with the past four years.”
Joey and Mary stared at one another across the bedroom with at least ten-feet of space between them, both at a loss for words. Finally, Joey asked, “So this is really it then? We’ve been friends since we were born, and now this is the end of it officially? Because I won’t do…that with you?” He gestured wildly at the bed behind him.
“I have enough friends,” Mary spat venomously. “I need a man in my life. Not a boy who’s afraid to make a move on me.” Joey winced at the words. “Besides, let’s face it – for all intents and purposes, our friendship ended when we started high school. Let’s just call it now and be done with it; we don’t have anything in common anymore. So let’s be thankful that we received the best gift either of us could have asked for this Christmas – clarity.” Joey opened his mouth, unsure of how to respond, but Mary was determined to get the final word. “Good-bye, Joey.”
And without so much as a backward glance, she threw open his bedroom window and climbed out into the snowy night beyond. Joey stared at the window as she disappeared from view before hurrying over and looking down to make sure she got to the ground okay. He was half-determined to follow after her but thought better of it; as much as it hurt to hear it, Mary had a point. Why fight to maintain a friendship that had clearly reached its end?
Once Mary had her feet firmly on the ground again, and Joey saw her head in the direction of her house, shivering in the falling snow, he slammed his bedroom window shut, turned off the overhead lights again, and climbed back into bed. Grabbing the remote, he quickly changed the channel back to TNT’s presentation of A Christmas Story just in time to watch Ralphie knock his glasses off with his beloved Red Ryder BB gun.
Smirking grimly to himself, Joey couldn’t help but think that the scene was ironically a perfect metaphor for the encounter he had just had, and pulling the covers up to his chin, he forced himself to concentrate on the Christmas classic playing on his television screen and not on what had just transpired between himself and Mary Holiday.