Remember Miracle on 34th Street? This little tale from Cristina Rehn reminds us that life's little miracles are sometimes just what our hearts need. Read on and please leave a comment...
Robert looked away from his contemplation of the muted Santa Tracker on the bar’s TV. He eyed his half-empty beer bottle. He’d nursed it for an hour, after his co-workers abandoned him for last minute shopping and family Christmas Eve dinners. The bartender swabbed the polished oak bar.
“Scotch. Neat.” Robert pushed away his warm beer. He glanced around the room, strewn with the festive detritus of the office Christmas party. Bells jingled as a few stragglers stumbled out the door.
The bartender returned with an amber-filled glass. He waved away Robert’s cash.
“Lady took care of it.” He winked as he tilted his head to the left before walking away.
Robert turned. A figure at the end of the bar waved. He raised his glass and caught the glint of hers, lifted in return. He squinted. The flashing Christmas lights shadowed her face.
He sipped his scotch, savoring the burn as it traveled from tongue to gut. Warmth spread through his belly. He strolled towards the woman.
She pushed out a stool. Robert climbed up and extended his hand. “Thank you. I’m Robert.”
“I’m Looba. L-j-u-b-a. You’re welcome. We’re elevator buddies.” Ljuba’s warm hand clasped and released his. She flashed a wide smile. Chocolate-y curls escaped from a crimson beret. It matched her sparkly sweater, setting off an equally sparkling pair of eyes. He recognized her. She worked down in Marketing.
“So we are. So, Ljuba, no Christmas Eve plans?” He inwardly groaned at himself. No one with plans remained in the bar.
“I’m Jewish. Hanukah’s over - got my eight gifts, plus a dollop of guilt served with latkes.” Ljuba sipped her slushy drink.
“All that’s left is the Chinese take-out, right?” Robert blushed after he blurted the rude words.
Her snort of laughter was equally rude, but charming. “Chinese food’s tomorrow. I had a few invites tonight, but -”
Robert filled in the blank. “- you’re not interested in being the party orphan.”
Ljuba smirked. “Exactly. What about you? No plans?”
Robert set down his scotch, shrugged. “Mom’s with Sis, in Seattle. Grandkids trump a single son. Plus, I’m working the 26th.”
“Me too. I’m glad we finally met, closing down the bar. You headed home?” The light caught Ljuba’s glossed lips, a shimmering poinsettia red that drew his eye.
Robert blinked and refocused. “Um, I was thinking about going to a service. My Dad was a pastor. But he died a few years ago. I haven’t gone to church since - well, I just haven’t.” He stared at their garland-framed reflections in the mirror, hating the crack in his voice.
Ljuba’s touch startled him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
Her forefinger brushed the top of his hand. He gulped scotch to burn through the lump in his throat.
Ljuba filled the silence. “I’ve never been to a service. I love Carols. I’d go, if you like.”
“Really? There’s a church nearby with an eleven o’clock candlelight service.” Robert bit his lip, embarrassed at the eagerness in his voice.
“Perfect.” Ljuba pulled out her phone. “Do we need a cab?”
“We can walk, if you don’t mind the cold.” Robert tossed a twenty on the bar. He helped her with her coat.
“Merry Christmas, folks." The bartender waved as the door’s bells jangled.
As they walked, Ljuba chattered about her family. Robert didn’t say much, but he liked listening.
The church was crowded. They slipped into a back pew. A pimply-faced girl in a velveteen dress approached the organ and raised her trumpet. The opening notes of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ rang out.
Robert held their hymnal. Ljuba ‘s pitch-perfect alto surprised him. He switched to the bass part and earned a grin when he hit a low note.
The middle-aged woman pastor spoke the Gospel from memory: “…For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out…”
It wasn’t his father’s voice, but he liked hearing the words again. Ljuba squeezed his hand. Robert liked that too.
The candle-lighting began after the offering. The flame passed through the pews, each person tipping an unlit wick into their neighbor’s flame. When it reached their pew, the overhead lights dimmed. The choir sang the first verse of ‘Silent Night’ in German. The congregation joined in. Robert looked to the altar for his dad. The woman in the white collar smiled back. His voice faded.
Ljuba’s arm encircled his waist. “Harmonize with me.”
He breathed in and started singing. After the final notes faded, Robert pulled Ljuba to the exit for a quick handshake with the pastor. Flurries sprinkled their coats as they walked back.
Ljuba swerved around an icy patch of sidewalk. “Was that hard?”
Robert tucked her arm in his. “Yes, but…thank you. You have a great voice.”
“You too.” She stopped by the bar.
Robert sucked in a frosty breath. “I’ll call you a cab.”
They moved by the building to wait. The snow grew heavier, dulling the holiday lights. Ljuba didn’t speak, but he didn’t feel uncomfortable. It was just a silent night.
He saw the cab turn a few blocks up. “So…”
“So… My Chinese is homemade. My Kung Pao chicken will knock your socks off.” Ljuba peeked up, snowflakes melting in her curls.
Robert tugged up his pant leg, exposing his festive lime green, elf adorned ankle. “You want to knock these socks off?”
Ljuba giggled. “Definitely. So, noon?”
The taxi pulled up. Robert waved off the driver and opened her door. “Noon. I’ll bring pie.”
Ljuba got in, then leaned out, smiling, her cheeks rosy. “It’s a good story, Robert.”
“What’s a good story?” Robert brushed snow from his eyes.
“The Christmas story. The baby, the stable. The star. It says the right things. About love. About being open to everyday miracles.”
Robert bent down and brushed her lips with his, softly, like the lacy snow on her lashes. “Yeah. It is a good story. Happy belated Hanukah, Ljuba.”
“Merry Christmas, Robert.”
Cristina Rehn lives in Upstate NY with her husband, daughter and mother. A full-time job, a full-time family and two full-time stalker cats don't leave much time for writing, so it's still a hobby, but she hopes someday she'll shine and polish up something enough to be published. For now she just enjoys learning from other writers about both the craft and the business. Her hobbies are writing and reading, and eking out as much solitude and silence as she can to do both.