Authorís Notes: Just a little Christmas ditty. Nothing real heavy or dramatic Ė my two remaining functioning brain cells, Pink and Fluffy, needed a bit of a break from that as the two novel-length stories I am currently writing seemed to be filled with drama, and in some cases, lots of angst. Hope yaíll enjoy the break as much as I did.
To the readers of the Valiant Series, thank you for your patience Ė I am a little more than halfway done with Nightmare. And for those of you reading Brave New World, thank you for reading my first work-in-progress offering. There should be another update very soon.
Oh Ė I have lost my beta team to Real Life time constraints, so any and all errors contained herein belong solely to me. Pink and Fluffy have a real bad habit of dropping letters. Personally, I think they are leaving a trail so they can find their way home again.
The Storytellerís Cardinal Rule is in effect.
Once Upon a Time....
Jynx Townsend slapped the alarm as it blared obscenely loud music in her ear at the ungodly hour of four am. Being a retail regional manager of the largest toy chain in the world was never fun and games, and certainly not during the holiday season. She rose from the bed with a sigh and stumbled to the bathroom, looking back at her reflection with a grimace. She was working sixteen hour days trying to keep profits up and losses down, and that meant never seeing her family. It was a fact that her mama was less than forgiving about, and she didn't look forward to holiday dinner with them for that very reason. Fortunately, dinner with her parents was something she only had to endure a few times a year.
Jynx adjusted the water temperature of the shower and stepped in with a sigh of relief. Only a few more days and the madness would be done for another year. She had long since given up the need to understand why people went nuts at this time of year as opposed to just spending a little bit throughout. But she didn't knock it Ė the practice kept her in a job that gave her a comfortable living if not personal satisfaction. She was just glad not to be a participant in all the holiday fervor. Working in it was enough to satisfy any sort of need to participate.
She shut off the water and wrapped herself in a big fluffy towel before stepping out of the steaming enclosure. Then she dried and dressed in a comfortable pair of slacks and blouse before moving into the kitchen when her coffee had just finished brewing.
Jynx looked around the silent room, wondering offhandedly if she was missing something in her solitude. It was nothing more than a fleeting thought; then she snatched her keys off the pristine counter, and made her way out the door and back to the daily grind.
Naturally, there was a traffic accident on her way in to work, which she fumed about, knowing it was going to put her entire day behind schedule. But it gave her the opportunity to think, and she wondered how she had managed to get so far off track with her life and her goals.
Jynx smiled sadly to herself, remembering a time when she had believed in Christmas and everything about it Ė when she had wanted to be Santa Claus. Her folks hadn't laughed, but had encouraged her imagination, watching with pride as her first toy design was accepted for production by the company she now worked for. She wondered when that familial support had disappeared.
And how did I end up on the retail side of things instead of in research and development? The thought caused a frown to mar her features. I don't like retail or the number crunching involved in this side of the business. Her eyes widened. I don't like the business side of the business, so why...?
Jynx blinked, trying to remember what had happened and how she had gotten bogged down in the numbers when her heart's desire was in the design and production end. Then the traffic cleared and her thoughts went immediately to the stressful day she had to get through.
Her assistant, Nan, met her at the door with a cup of coffee and her pda in hand. The worried look Jynx had seen as she stepped off the elevator disappeared into something akin to relief as Nan was able to visually check her over and see for herself that her boss was okay.
"I was a little worried, boss lady," Nan commented softly, "especially since you left your phone here last night and I couldn't reach you. I heard about the accident on the radio, and I knew it was on your route. You all right?"
Jynx smiled. It was nice to have someone be concerned about your well-being, even if it was only out of a sense of duty. "Yeah," she nodded as she held the office door open for Nan to walk through in front of her. "It happened in front of me... some idiot trying to cut across three lanes of traffic so he didn't miss his exit."
"Well, I'm glad you weren't hurt," said with gentle sincerity.
"Me too," Jynx quipped. "Would have made for a real sucky start to my day. As it is, I am already an hour behind, so let's get to work."
"Actually, I took care of your first appointment this morning, and made it into a lunch meeting, so you're right on schedule. Let me show him in and I'll go get started on the mail."
Jynx nodded. "You're an angel, Nan. And thanks for the coffee. After that commute, I needed another jolt," turning her attention to the notes she'd made for this meeting.
She never noticed Nan's startled expression at being called an angel.
When lunch rolled around, Jynx was taken by surprise by the knock on her door, followed by a wheeled cart. Nan introduced the older gentleman that followed her as Mr. Smith, and proceeded to lay out the meal for Jynx and their client. The two made small talk until the service was set, then Jynx did something somewhat unexpected.
"Will you join us, Nan?"
Not that it was unusual for them to share the occasional lunch, but Jynx never invited her on the rare instance that she was entertaining a business acquaintance. She didn't notice the look that passed between her assistant and the dubious Mr. Smith.
"Thank you, Ms Townsend," Nan replied quietly, "but I can't. I have a couple errands to run during my lunch hour, so if you will both excuse me...."
Jynx nodded, but added the caveat, "Make sure you get something to eat."
Nan smiled and found both people facing her returned it. "I will, boss. Do you need anything else?"
Jynx made shooing motions. "No, thank you. Now get along with you and be careful." The two watched her out of sight, then Jynx closed the door.
"Well, Mr. Smith," she said, extending her arm towards the prepared table. "Shall we have a seat and talk while we eat? I apologize for the delay, but this morning...."
Mr. Smith held up his hand. "No need to explain, my dear. Your lovely assistant already did so. Besides, I was caught in the same ugly snarl trying to get here. And to be honest, I prefer the relaxed atmosphere of sharing a meal together to the stark coldness of a normal business meeting."
Jynx nodded and gestured to his plate. "Please," she said, picking up her own fork. "So what can we do for you, Mr. Smith?"
"It's not a matter of we, Jynx," slipping into comfortable familiarity without so much as a by your leave. Jynx blinked, but let it pass, curious as to what this man had to say. "I am here for what you can do for me, and what I can do for you."
Eyes which only a moment before held polite interest, now turned cold and distant. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that. I think you had best state your business before I have you removed."
Mr. Smith chuckled. "Oh, my dear. I meant nothing untoward about you in my comments. On the contrary, I am here to offer you the opportunity of a lifetime."
Jynx let one eyebrow crook up into her hairline. "I see. And what makes you think I don't already have that here, Mr. Smith? If I pull the numbers out for this year, I have a guaranteed promotion in the bag."
"True," he agreed amiably, "but is it what you really want to be doing in your life?" He paused. "Tell me, Jynx, when was the last time you found pleasure in the simple things?"
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I am not unhappy with my life."
"No, I never said you were, but you're not happy in it either. I want you to think about something. Would you give up what you have for a different life?"
"What kind of life?"
"Uh uh... that would be telling. Are you willing to risk the comfort and security you have now on something totally new? No guarantees." He stopped and she waited for him to continue. "I will be back on Christmas Eve. If you are willing to try something new, maybe you can recapture the awe you knew as a child."
"And if not?"
"If not, things will remain status quo. Except you will always be left to wonder - What if...? Think about it." He got up and went to the door, but stopped at the sound of her voice.
"Why me? And why now?"
Mr. Smith smiled at her in a way that was both comforting and familiar. "Because some wishes take longer to reach fruition than others. The time is finally right for this one." Then he closed the door behind him without a backwards glance.
When Nan returned, she found her boss staring out the window unseeingly into the world beyond.
"Ms Townsend?" No response. "Jynx?" Still no response. Concerned, Nan moved into the room and crossed to the window. Only when she placed a light hand on Jynx's arm did the other woman turn to face her.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Ms Townsend, but your next appointment is here. Do you need for me to reschedule?"
Jynx shook her head. "No, Nan. Please show Mrs. Hamilton in. It won't do to keep the boss's wife waiting, will it?" she added with a smirk. Neither of them was fond of the overbearing woman, but office politics were office politics and so they played the game.
For a change, though, Sylvia Hamilton was not completely unbearable; she was simply overly enthusiastic about the coming company party Ė demanding their attendance. Jynx didn't understand why the woman was so insistent. It wasn't like either she or Nan had missed a party in the five years they had worked together in the company's management.
However, Jynx just nodded agreeably, rolling her eyes at Nan when Sylvia finally took her leave of them. And so it went through the day.
When her last appointment left several hours later, Jynx drew a huge sigh of relief. She still had numerous hoursí worth of work waiting for her, but first she needed to send her assistant home. Nan had been working just as hard as she had and it was starting to wear on her. Sylvia had pointed it out, and Jynx made it a point to do something about it if she could.
Strangely, Nan didn't argue, but accepted the admonishment with a blush. As a compromise, she ordered dinner for Jynx before she left and allowed her boss to accompany her to the outer door. For her part, Jynx waited until Nan was out of sight, then went back to her office to wolf down the food Nan had provided even as she started going over facts and figures again. She was glad tomorrow would be spent out of the office and in the stores and warehouses.
Much later that evening, Jynx arrived home, worn out but pleased with her work. According to her figures, her promotion was a sure thing. And given the changing tenor of Sylvia's combined fawning and nagging, she felt fairly confident in her numbers.
She glanced around her silent, sterile dwelling with a sigh and shook her head. Then she dropped her keys on their place on the clean counter and walked into the bedroom, stripping down and crawling into her empty king sized bed.
Mr. Smith's words had kept intruding at unexpected and in some cases, inopportune moments all day, niggling at her until she was tired of it. Closing her eyes, she put him and the rest of her day firmly out of her mind. Her life was fine the way it was, thank you very much. She didn't need to think it over. She never even realized when she passed into the realm of sleep.
"Papa, are you sure?"
"Yes Angel. If she is to fulfill her destiny, it must be done."
"I like her, Papa. I don't want her to be hurt by this."
The old man sighed. "Angel, I give you my word Ė she won't. We are just going to remind her of... possibilities. Besides, *you* need her to know if you are ever to fulfill *your* destiny. Trust me, Angel."
"I do, Papa. It just seems like we've waited an eternity for this moment. I don't want to screw it up."
The old man laughed. "You sound more and more like them every day. Will you miss it when it is time to come home?"
She shrugged. "Parts of it maybe. But not having Mama act like some sort of ogress. What is up with that anyway?"
"Bad role model," the old man muttered. "But we're almost done. Everything will be decided in the next few days, and then we can move ahead, or...."
"We're going to move ahead," the young woman said firmly. "I don't want to think about the other."
The old man snorted. "Let's get to work then. We've got a lot left to do and a short time to work in."
Jynx opened her eyes and blinked at the bright sunshine streaming in the window of the cabin. She stretched, feeling the lassitude of contentment wash through her and heard the sound of another human being in the house. Sitting up slowly, she realized she was naked and, with a glance down at her torso, obviously well-loved.
She was quite calm about the whole situation. In the back of her rational mind she recognized she was dreaming, and simply decided to accept whatever scenario her imagination had conjured up.
She picked up the worn robe from the end of the bed and slid into it with a sense of well-being. It smelled of fresh air and sunshine much like the linens on the bed. Then she moved to the door...
... only to have it pushed in as Nan stepped into the room with a tray of food. Nan froze as she hit Jynx's warm body and only their quick reaction kept the food and the two of them from hitting the floor. When Jynx's arms surrounded her, Nan leaned back into her and greedily absorbed the warmth and support she offered. Then she tilted her head back to receive her morning kiss.
Jynx didn't hesitate, but passionately captured the full lips of the woman safely ensconced in her arms until she felt Nan begin to melt against her. When the tray started to tilt, Jynx pulled back to look into Nan's eyes.
"Good morning, love."
Nan smiled and eased out of Jynx's arms. "Good morning, sweetheart. I was hoping to get back quickly enough to surprise you."
Jynx chuckled. "I'd say you achieved your surprise, Angel." She moved back towards the bed and sat down, patting the spot next to her. "Join me?"
Nan waited for Jynx to get settled, then placed the tray across her lap before going around and crawling into the other side and cuddling up into Jynx's side. The fare was simple but there was plenty for both of them Ė fresh homemade bread lightly toasted with butter and fragrant hot chocolate that didn't come out of a can or envelope.
Jynx closed her eyes in pleasure as the tastes crossed her palate, and she made sure that Nan got a fair share. They might not have much, but what they had they shared between them. When they were done, Nan slid from the bed and picked up the tray before dropping a kiss on Jynx's lips.
"I could have gotten that, you know."
"I know, love, but you've got work to do. Go on. I'll be out to the workshop as soon as I get my work taken care of in here."
Jynx watched Nan walk out of the room, enjoying the roll of her hips. She didn't even blush when Nan turned around and caught her. Instead she wiggled her eyebrows and smiled rakishly. Nan shimmied before she disappeared into the small kitchen area.
Jynx stretched again, then rolled from the bed, shedding her robe to begin her day.
When she was dressed, Jynx stopped by the kitchen, wrapping her arms around Nan and squeezing gently. She placed a light kiss on her neck. "I'll take care of the wood, Angel. Then we can go to the workshop together."
Nan nodded and turned in Jynx's arms, returning the embrace and accepting another kiss before they released one another. "All right. You go get started and I'll be out to help as soon as I get finished in here. I'm nearly done."
Jynx took the last plate from Nan's hands and put it away before dropping a kiss on Nan's nose and escaping out the door.
Nan watched until Jynx picked up the axe and started swinging before she looked up at the ceiling.
"I don't know, Papa. I'm not sure this is going to help her find her destiny... or me to achieve mine."
"Patience, daughter. This is just the first."
Jynx sat up in bed abruptly as she was startled out of her dream by the raucous sound of the alarm that blasted music inches from her ear. She took a deep breath, shaken by the content of her dream. Not that she hadn't dreamed of her assistant before Ė she freely admitted to herself at least that she had always found Nan to be an attractive, desirable woman, and she had long since privately acknowledged that she loved Nan very much. But never had her dreams been so rich in detail... never had she been able to remember so much... never had she awakened so aroused by something so completely non-sexual in nature. And not only was she aroused, but she was felt comforted and grateful, and completely nonplussed by the sense of loss she felt upon waking and finding her dream was only that.
She scrubbed a hand through her hair, then rubbed the same hand over her face in an effort to orient herself. With a frustrated sigh, she threw the cover from her body and slid from the bed, reaching for the robe from her dream that didn't exist in this reality. Jynx shook her head at her foolishness, then walked into the bathroom to jumpstart another hectic day.
Jynx flushed slightly when she stepped off the elevator to see her assistant waiting with her morning coffee and her ever-ready pda. Memories of her dream were still fresh and she had to take a deep breath to calm her fluttering pulse before she greeted Nan with a polite, "Good morning."
"Good morning," Nan replied, wondering at the faint flush she could see under Jynxís skin. She clearly remembered the dreamscape they had shared and there hadnít been anything terribly embarrassing about it. Of course, Nan not only knew what was going on, she had also been waiting for this for a very long time. She only hoped Jynx would make the right decision for all of them.
However, she handed Jynx her coffee and waved the papers in her hands. "You have to sign of on these few things, then you will be free to escape the office." Nan smiled at Jynxís knowing but embarrassed grin. "Címon, boss lady. We both know how much you like to be out of the office doing anything that doesnít involve office stuff. So letís get to it so you can go get a little enjoyment out of your job for a change."
Jynx did a double take at Nanís firm, matter-of-fact tone. Not once in her cognitive memory did she remember making any sort of comment to her assistant to indicate her level of dissatisfaction with her management position, and her distinct desire to be anywhere else. And yet Nan spoke with the confidence that comes with knowledge.
Jynx stared at Nan so long she had to blush when she caught the raised eyebrow and slight smirk Nan was giving her at the scrutiny. So she shook her head and took the stack of paperwork, pushing the office door open with her elbow and crossing to her desk.
It didnít take long, really, though it was longer than she expected before Jynx signed her name to the last paper. Before she could raise her eyes to the door or open her mouth to speak, Nan was standing at her desk ready to take them from her. Jynx just kind of blinked in startlement, then handed the paperwork to her assistant without a word. Nan took it, then referred to her pda.
"All right. I have a list of the places youíre supposed to visit today and the times you are scheduled to be there. If anything comes up here, I will let you know, but I expect it to be a fairly quiet day."
"Come with me," Jynx said impulsively.
Nan blinked. "Ms Townsend?"
"Címon, Nan. Youíve been shut up in this office as long as I have this season. Donít you wanna get out and see the fruits of all of our hard labors? I bet you havenít even had a chance to do your holiday shopping this year, have you?"
Nan blushed and dropped her head. "No maíam. Weíve been a little busy. But...."
Jynx slapped her desk and stood up. "Itís settled then. Weíll go make the rounds together. Anything here can just wait until tomorrow." She eyed her assistantís clothes carefully, then shook her head. "Do you have some casual clothes... some jeans or... I dunno, something?"
It was a legitimate question. In the five years they had worked together, Jynx had never seen Nan in anything less casual than a business suit. In fact the only time she had been out of a business suit, she had been in formal attire for whatever function they had been required to attend together. So the soft laugh caught her off-guard.
"Yes, I do have jeans or something. Would you like me to go home and then meet you back here in an hour, or would you like to come with me and we can leave from there?"
"You donít have a car. Let me drive and weíll just leave from your place. The first store is close to there, isnít it?" she asked, pulling up the list Nan had given her. She snatched up her keys and ushered Nan out the door in front of her. Nan detoured to grab her purse from her desk drawer and her coat from the stand by the door. Then they headed out the office door together.
It was a short trip to Nanís apartment and then it was three flights upstairs. At the door, Nan paused, then looked down as a slight flush colored her features. "Um, you know that neat personal assistant you have at the office?"
"Uh huh," drawling just a bit and wondering what was causing the adorable blush to wash over Nanís face. Jynx kept an eye on her assistant, smirking when Nan glanced up then looked back down immediately when she caught Jynxís gaze.
"Well, I ought to warn you that she is not nearly that neat at home, and I was running late this morning, so please excuse the mess."
Jynx smiled. "Nan, itís not a problem. Your home should be comfortable... a reflection of you. Besides, itís not like your boss ever gives you any time off to get anything done."
Nan smiled. "I dunno... I kinda like my boss."
"Thatís because youíre an angel with the patience of Job. Now címon. Weíve got places to be."
Nan opened the door and motioned Jynx in. Then she had to nudge her boss out of the way so she could cross the threshold and close the door behind them. Jynx just stood in awe.
The room was... astounding. One wall was floor-to-ceiling in dolls... antique dolls, wooden dolls, porcelain dolls. Dolls that Jynx had never seen or even imagined possible. Another wall held nothing but wooden toys Ė all carved and sculpted smooth into every imaginable shape and form. In front of this wall was a bench with any number of wood pieces in various states of becoming something... incredible. The third wall was a collection of books that had Jynx clenching her hands into fists to stop her natural reaction to want to touch. She couldnít tell just from looking, of course, but she was willing to bet from the titles and conditions of some of them that they were first editions. Scattered around the room on numerous tables in front of the shelves were models and die-cast metal cars and trucks. On another long bench there appeared to be electronics, though it was hard to be sure without only bits and pieces in view.
She stood there blinking in awe for a long moment, then she turned and gazed around her again. This wasnít a home in any traditional sense Ė it was more like a workshop. There was only room enough to walk around the tables or sit in the lone chair to work. Otherwise, there was no furniture in the room. Sheíd never seen anything quite like it except.... Jynx shook her head. There was no way what she was thinking was possible. She turned her attention to the rest of the apartment.
There was a single pathway leading down a hallway, which was the direction Nan had disappeared, but not having been invited, Jynx hesitated to follow.
About that time, Nan came back in her direction and motioned Jynx down the hall. She was dressed casually in a pair of form fitting jeans and a Christmas sweater. The work on it was lovely and intricate and Jynx would have stared at it longer had her attention not been taken with the woman who wore it.
Instead she fought to control her blush that wanted to crawl up her face at being caught staring. Then she cleared her throat nervously as Nan ushered her into a neat little kitchen that smelled heavenly, babbling apologies every step of the way.
"Iím so sorry, Ms Townsend. I never have people over and I forgot there really isnít anywhere to sit out there except my work stool. I guess I just figured you would follow me...." She froze and stopped speaking when Jynxís hands landed on her shoulders.
"Nan, take a deep breath, all right?" waiting until the other woman did so. She suddenly felt better knowing that Nan was just as nervous as she was. Jynx briefly wondered why, then just as quickly put the thought from her mind. She could contemplate later; for now she wanted to make Nan feel better.
"First of all, the name is Jynx, okay? I know you know it; I just want you to use it," flashing Nan a grin at the words and waiting for an affirmative nod before she continued. "All right. Now, everythingís just fine. I didnít realize you expected me to follow, but Iím kinda glad I didnít. I mean... wow!" she enthused, her eyes sparkling. "Maybe someday when we have more time, youíll let me look around a little more closely... maybe give me a tour?"
Nan smiled shyly. Those words gave her an unlooked for hope because they implied more personal time between them somewhere in the future, though she knew what conditions that time would have to fall under. But her only answer to Jynx was, "Maybe."
Jynx allowed another grin to cross her face at the shy smile that Nan gave her. Suddenly, the world seemed full of possibilities. Jynx cleared her throat again, not willing to lose the camaraderie they had just established between them to pursue those possibilities immediately. With a little luck, there would be time for that quest later. "So, are we ready to go?"
Nan looked down at her sock-covered feet. "Um, I probably should put on some shoes."
Jynx snickered. "Ya think?"
Nan turned and slapped Jynx on the shoulder before setting a cup of hot chocolate in front of her. "Be nice to me," she growled, "or no more hot chocolate for you."
Jynx mock shivered at the threat. "You fight dirty, Nan. You know how I love my caffeine."
Nan had just reached the doorway, so she stopped and turned with a wicked little twinkle in her eye. "I know, but trust me when I tell you that you have never had caffeine like this." Then she smirked and exited the kitchen, leaving Jynx blinking in silence behind her.
"Wonder whatís gotten into her?" she asked herself aloud before she picked up the cup and took a good-sized sip....
... then she nearly choked herself when she gulped the mouthful in surprise.
Jynx pulled the cup from her lips and looked at it carefully, then lifted it to her nose to sniff it. She took another sip, holding it in her mouth and inhaling to absorb the flavor. Then she swallowed, convinced that it was the same cocoa she and Nan had shared in her dream.
How was that possible? There is no likely way for Nan to have known, and yet....
Jynx sat sipping in silence, relishing the rich taste even as her mind puzzled over the mystery it had just been handed. There had to be a logical explanation.... Right about then, the sound of footsteps coming back down the hallway caught her attention. Jynx looked up to find Nan leaned up against the door jam, booted feet neatly crossed at the ankles and arms crossed over her chest.
Jynx rose from her seat rapidly and only just managed to keep her chair from crashing to the floor. She wasnít sure what her problem was all of a sudden, but she hoped she would get over it soon. She had no desire to keep embarrassing herself like some sort of pubescent schoolboy. Jynx picked up her cup and raised it to Nan before swallowing the last of it.
"Excellent hot chocolate. Iíve never had anything quite like it before."
Nan smiled and took the cup before placing it in the dishwasher. "Iím sure. Itís an old, old family recipe Ė been handed down for generations."
"A shame, that... you could make a fortune off it."
Nan smiled, though it didnít reach her eyes. Then she took Jynxís hand and led her from the kitchen back towards the front door. She reached for her coat only to have it gently removed from her hands. She smiled her thanks at Jynx and allowed her boss to help her on with it.
When it was on, Jynx rested her hands briefly on Nanís shoulders. "This really is an incredible workshop, Nan. I think you may be in the wrong line of work at the company."
Nan snorted. "And youíre not? You trying to get rid of me, boss?"
"No!" Jynx answered forcefully. "No," she repeated a little more gently. "I couldnít do without you. I just see real genius here, and it seems a shame to waste it as my office assistant."
They made it out the door and down the stairs before Nan formulated a response. "Well, maybe we should both go into R&D. You really donít like this side of the business." Silence met her suggestion and Nan closed her eyes. "Iím sorry, Ms Townsend. That was terribly presumptuous of me...."
Jynx clasped Nanís hand momentarily before returning her hand to the steering wheel. "I told you Ė the name is Jynx, and it was not presumptuous. I was just thinking... you are the second person in two days to mention my discontent with my job. I didnít realize I was so miserable people were noticing."
"I wouldnít say youíre miserable, Jynx, but it is clear to me, anyway, that your heart really isnít in your work. And knowing that you were brought in to the company for your design work...."
They pulled up to the first store and Jynx turned the car off before she shifted to face Nan. "Well, looks like we may have to sit down and have a talk between us over dinner later. But for now, letís go see what we can find. No one knows Iím coming because I didnít share my schedule with them, and they sure wonít expect me to be with anyone, so we can have a lot of fun if you want."
Nanís eyes sparkled in devilment. "Oh, you betcha."
They exchanged devilish smiles before they climbed out of the car and started into the store.
"Oh, my God!" Nan exclaimed as they were ushered to their table for dinner much later that evening. "I donít remember the last time I had such a good time. Itís a shame Christmas doesnít come around more often if we get to do that."
Jynx groaned. "Donít say that. Itís all I can do to tolerate one Christmas season a year."
Nan sobered immediately. "Do you really hate Christmas so much, Jynx?"
Jynx put her menu down and signaled the waiter over. They ordered dinner and drinks and sat in a slightly strained silence. Jynx was still considering the best way to answer Nan honestly, and Nan was anxiously awaiting Jynxís response. So much hinged on it.
The waiter brought their drinks to the table before Jynx drew a breath to speak. She folded her hands in front of her and looked squarely at Nan.
"It has less to do with the season, and more to do with the commercialism." Jynx chuckled ruefully at the shocked expression on Nanís face. "I know that sounds ridiculous, given what I do for a living, right? But Christmas has become nothing but retail madness. It doesnít seem to mean anything anymore... except for making the numbers."
"What should it mean, Jynx?" Nan asked seriously.
"Having time for simple things," Jynx replied after due consideration, surprising herself with her answer.
"Like?" Nan asked, leaning back to accept the plate of food the waiter placed in front of her, then picked up her fork and began eating. It gave Jynx a little more time to think about her answer. Besides, she was legitimately hungry; they had been going non-stop for over ten hours, and the food was really good here.
Jynx took several bites of her own food chewing slowly as she thought about her reply. She had the distinct impression she was being weighed in the balance and she felt the importance of that. Finally, though, she sat back and took a drink. Then she spoke.
"Iím not sure anymore really. Itís been so long since I really enjoyed them... or it seems like it anyway. And some of them I have never actually known." She cleared her throat and looked down at her plate, taking anther bite while Nan waited patiently. "I think Ė having dinner and good conversation with a friend," gesturing between them and smiling at the slight blush that ran up Nanís face, "or sharing incredible homemade hot chocolate," with another grin. "Quiet walks on a beach or through newly driven snow, reading a good book or listening to your favorite music...." Jynx grew quietly thoughtful again and Nan left her alone to think while they finished their meals.
Eventually, when they were both done and their plates pushed back slightly, Jynx spoke again, though her tone was much softer. "I think the most important thing is having time together with someone... having someone special to share the season with. Whether it be the family you were born to or good friends or a lover who shares your home and your life, just having someone to hold and to share with, to sit in front of a fireplace and absorb the whole ĎPeace on Earth, Good will towards mení thing. Thatís probably the single most important simple pleasure that seems to have completely disappeared from society at this time of year especially." She sighed and put her napkin on the table, signaling the waiter for the check. "I think that is the one thing I will miss never having experienced the most."
"You sound so sure," Nan commented wistfully as they made their way back to the car.
"I am," Jynx sighed, opening the door for Nan and circling around to her own side. "Our lives are all about making the numbers... not just yours and mine, but everyoneís." She shrugged. "Nobodyís fault really Ė thatís just what modern life has become. That means time for the simple things in life has disappeared, and I donít think it is fair to ask anyone to take second place to the numbers."
Nan was quiet for a while considering. They were just approaching her building when she spoke up quietly. "Well, Iím glad we were able to share a simple pleasure together tonight, Jynx. I think the world would be a much nicer place to live if more people took the time for them."
Jynx blinked and pulled into a parking spot, shutting off the car and turning to face Nan. She had a feeling there was a dig at her in there somewhere, but she couldnít find it in her heart to begrudge Nan that opinion Ė she felt the same way. Before she could formulate a response, Nan leaned over and clasped Jynxís hand, squeezing it for a long moment. Then she reached for the door handle and opened her door, the harsh light making them both blink rapidly against it.
"Thank you for taking me with you today, Jynx. I had a wonderful time."
Jynx smiled. "So did I Nan. Will you be all right going up alone?"
Nan smiled. Jynx had old-fashioned manners and Nan found them endearing. She patted the hand closest to her and slid from the car. "Iíll be fine, Jynx. Thanks for the concern though."
Jynx nodded. "Well, Iíll wait here until you get upstairs. See you tomorrow?"
"Bright and early."
Jynx waited til Nan waved from her apartment window before she turned her car around and headed for home. When she arrived, she looked around with new eyes. The room really was sterile, devoid of any real warmth and personality despite her efforts to add some color and life to it. Her thoughts turned to Nanís apartment Ė warm clutter and stamped with Nanís creativity. She wondered briefly how Nan still found time for the simple pleasures of life, remembering that incredible homemade hot chocolate. She shook her head in lieu of understanding, then dropped her keys on the otherwise bare counter and went to the bedroom.
Within moments, she was curled under the blankets sound asleep.
Jynx opened the door to the workshop, then simply stood in awe. The room was much larger than it appeared from outside and it felt so warm and comfortable and familiar. She blinked and looked around slowly.
A fireplace claimed one corner, with bookshelves on either side extending along the walls and comfortable chairs in front of it. In the opposite corner sat a heavy wood desk, more shelves, several file cabinets and another pair of comfortable chairs.
Around the four walls and across the ceiling ran several sets of train tracks, though the trains were not currently in motion.
On the back wall, between the two occupied corners was a floor-to-ceiling shelf unit covered in dolls of all descriptions and stuffed bears and other animals. To her left were die-cast metal and wood toys in every shape and size; to her right were games of all incarnations and electronics of every conceivable make and model. In the center of the room were several long work tables, each of them dedicated to a different craft.
Suddenly the madness and the ruthlessness of the retail industry came home to Jynx in a big way. When had it stopped being about the simple things? When had it stopped being about the sharing and the giving, and become about the wanting and the getting? When had it started being about the bottom line and the almighty dollar?
A warm hand on her back startled Jynx and she jumped until she heard Nanís voice. "Something wrong, love? You seemed awfully far away from here."
Jynx shrugged. "Just thinking, Angel, and admiring the shop. I always wanted a place like this to work in, you know."
Nan smiled and slipped past Jynx, moving directly to the fireplace to light it. "I know," she replied. "We talked about it, remember, when we were designing it. But itís always good to know that youíre happy here." The spark caught and she blew on it gently until it flared to life enough for her to add wood. She wasnít surprised to find Jynx behind her waiting with the wood in hand.
When the fire was sufficiently stoked, Nan moved over to the desk and removed a few files and a ledger. Then she settled down to work.
For her part, Jynx wandered slowly around the room, intently studying each bit of creativity and crafting in the room. Nan had long since pushed her work aside to watch her lover prowl around the room as though rediscovering their work. When Jynx reached the desk, she leaned against the desk, smiling big as she grinned down at Nan.
"This is so fabulous, Angel. Damn, we do good work."
Nan stood up and cupped Jynxís face in her hands, smiling when Jynx turned her head to brush a kiss across her palm. "Yes, we do. But is something wrong? You donít generally wander about the workshop when you have so many projects waiting that youíve been working feverishly over. Not that I disapprove of the slow-down Ė youíve just been a little more frantic lately. You always are at this time of year."
Jynx took Nanís hands from her face and clasped then tenderly in her own. "I know. But sometimes I like to take a minute and remind myself of the good we do here... of the good we have."
Nan smiled. "No complaints from me Jynx. You know how I feel about taking time to smell the roses or in the case of this season, the crisp, cold, pine-scented air," added with an impish smile.
"Yep. In fact," pulling Nan from her chair. "Letís go for a walk. Work can wait until after lunch today."
Nan blinked, then wrapped her hands around Jynxís arm. It wasnít like they didnít take a walk together everyday, but usually it was at the end of the day when the work was done. However, if Jynx wanted to change the routine a little, Nan was all for it. They generally came back brimming with new ideas on the rare occasion they decided to wing it. Not that they *needed* new ideas right now, given all the incomplete projects they had in the hopper at the moment, but Nan wasnít about to let that stop her from spending quality time alone with Jynx.
It was quiet as they walked; the only sound was the squeak of the snow as it crunched beneath their boots. The air was fresh and full of the scent of balsam and pine, and for a while they walked aimlessly just enjoying being together. Eventually though, they turned their steps back towards the cabin, knowing there was work to do.
Just before they stepped onto the path that led to their back door, Jynx knelt and pawed at the snow, revealing several wintergreen plants nestled below. She pulled of a handful of berries, crunching them with strong teeth. Next thing she knew, she was face down in the snow with Nanís laughter pealing overhead.
With a mock growl, Jynx rose to her feet, but Nan was already off and running. They laughed and chased around in the snow until they were breathless. So it was winded and warm with exertion that they fell into the cabin to prepare lunch together. And the feeling of contentment they shared in the dreamscape gave Jynx a feeling of peace when wakefulness came to her a short time later.
"What do you think, Papa? Is it going to be enough?"
"She is starting to understand, Angel," the old man replied seriously. "And we still have a little time. Besides, she cares for you deeply, you know," crossing a line in sharing the information, even though it was not the whole truth.
Nan nodded, but kept her eyes on the floor. "I know. I just hope is going to be enough."
"Faith, daughter. Even your mother is confident about this."
Nan chuckled, as much to relieve the tension as for the humor. "Papa, Mama is confident because she is ready for you to retire and take her to Hawaii."
Now the old man laughed. "My point, daughter. Have you ever known your mother to be wrong when she is that determined? Now get along with you, Angel. There is still work to be done before Christmas Eve."
Jynx was smiling when the elevator doors opened. She didnít understand what had caused her dreams to become so vivid or memorable in the past couple nights, but she was enjoying them Ė both the feelings they left her with and the possibilities they presented.
Nan met her with a cup of coffee - or would have had Jynxís boss not pushed the door into her back, throwing her forward into Nan... and the hot coffee. Fortunately, Nan had the presence of mind to drop the coffee when Jynx fell towards her and extend her arms to help them keep their balance together. Unfortunately, however, coffee can bounce up if it hits the floor hard enough and both of them were scalded because neither of them had chosen to wear pants to work that morning.
For his part, Maurice Hamilton was mortified with what his inadvertent carelessness had caused... at least on the surface. But Nan caught his sly wink even as he babbled profuse apologies to both women. Jynx never noticed his resemblance to her mysterious visitor of several days previous, Mr. Smith.
Regrettably, Mr. Hamiltonís faux pas set the tenor for the entire day, and it wasnít long before Jynxís good humor vanished, the peace of her dream forgotten completely in light of the chaos of her reality.
Her meeting with her boss went well enough, though of course most of it was spent with his giving her suggestions for improvements he wanted implemented. Never once did he comment on the numbers or give any indication that her promotion would be forthcoming.
Then there was the manufacturer who issued a recall on a part of one of their hottest toys for the season. There was the order that had been placed by their largest retailer that appeared to be completely lost in the black hole of cyber space. There was the truck that had been stolen from the warehouse door, right out from under the noses of their security, and another that jackknifed on route to the distributor scattering toys from pillar to post and destroying them in the process. And on and on it went throughout the day.
Every call she received seemed to be worse news than the last and Jynx was ready to pull herself bald and beg for mercy long before the business day ended. Her one consolation was that Nan stuck with her like a trooper. But they were both more than glad to see the day come to a close.
"Howís the leg?" Jynx asked as they traveled down the elevator together.
Nan shrugged. "Fine. But catch me wearing a skirt again before this year is over."
"Shame that. You look nice. But I canít blame you," Jynx continued ruefully. "Neither will I. But on the bright side, we only have a couple days of madness left and then we get to start all over."
Nan rubbed tired eyes. "Ms Townsend, please donít say that too loudly yet, will you? I am looking forward to a bit of down time first."
"Me too," Jynx admitted. "Promotion or not, I need a vacation."
It was only the opening of the elevator doors that made Nan breathe again, but it took Jynxís hand at her back to motivate her to step off into the lobby. In the five years of their association, Jynx had never taken a vacation, much less mentioned needing one.
"Do you want a ride home?" Jynx asked courteously, as she always did on the very rare nights she left the office with Nan. To her surprise, Nan actually accepted, citing the slight burn on her leg.
"My hose have about rubbed it raw," was what she offered in explanation.
Jynx nodded, understanding implicitly. Her own leg was tender to the touch and she had moved around far less than her assistant had. "At least tomorrow is Christmas Eve. After the party tomorrow night, weíll have all the next day to recharge before facing the fallout of the day after Christmas."
"No special plans for Christmas then?"
Jynx chuckled as she pulled the car into a parking space in front of Nanís building. "No. Iíll endure a couple hours of dinner at my folksí house, but otherwise, Iím not doing anything."
"Why endure?" dropping one line of questioning for another.
Jynx sighed. "Because though I know my folks love me, neither of them is happy with the direction of my life and they are quite vocal in their disapproval. My brothers understand; they have the same drive to succeed, but my parents think my work is destroying my life, or at least the life they want me to have." She shrugged. "It just gets old... especially since they used to be so supportive of me."
Nan didnít say anything, just reached over and squeezed her hand in a friendly gesture. Then she opened the door. "Thanks for the ride, boss. See you tomorrow."
"Night, Angel," Jynx whispered before driving back to her apartment. She wondered if Nan would visit her dreams again. Jynx would admit to herself, if no one else, that she hoped so. Though not erotic in nature, the underlying passion between them in real life gave her comfort and joy and peace in her dreams. It was something that given any encouragement from Nan, Jynx would have taken the opportunity to explore in their real lives. But short of that, sheíd decided to simply enjoy the moments that were given to her sparingly in her dreams and treasure the friendship that bound them outside of them.
Jynx was smiling as she opened the door to her apartment, confident in the fact that even though Nan did not love her, she truly did feel friendship towards her. And she was content with that, true friends being rare enough in any world to discount their worth. But she did look forward to seeing Nan her dreams, hoping she would not be disappointed and anticipating the comfort and pleasure they provided.
First however, she had a dinner date with her brothers and their wives. It was something the siblings did every month as a way of keeping up-to-date on each otherís lives. It was also a way to fortify themselves for the coming holiday dinner with their parents, because none of the boys or their wives approved of their parentís censure of their sister. By all accounts, including Jynxís own, she was content with her life, and except at this time of year, she had a life outside of work. Just because she did not have a husband or children did not mean work was destroying her life.
She was glad of their support and had a wonderful time. It was late before she got home, and she fell into bed utterly exhausted, asleep when her head hit the pillow.
The silence of the workshop was only broken by the occasional rustle of paper since tightening screws didnít really require much noise. Carefully Jynx put the game aside and reached for the wooden puzzle she had been putting together. It was giving her fits as it wasnít working the way she had designed it to. Finally, she gave a deep sigh and rose from her stool, walking over to stand in front of Nan who was working over blueprints of new ideas at the desk.
"What am I doing wrong, Angel?"
Nan took the puzzle and looked it over thoroughly with a frown on her face. "I dunno, love. Let me get the plans out and weíll start over. Take it apart and weíll see whatís not fitting."
For the remainder of the afternoon, the two sat together quietly with their heads together, working things out until the puzzle worked as smoothly as it had been designed to.
It was with a distinct sense of satisfaction that they wandered back over towards the cabin just as the sun touched the horizon. Jynx went to stoke the fire in the fireplace while Nan went directly to the kitchen. In scant minutes, Jynx joined her and together they prepared a simple meal of salad and hot soup with fresh bread.
When dinner was over, they cleaned up their few dishes and retired to the small living room to sit in front of the fire. Each armed with a book, they took opposite ends of the couch and curled up to enjoy their chosen stories.
After a couple hours, by mutual unspoken consent, they put their books aside. Jynx got up and fetched a bottle and two glasses while Nan added another log to the fire. Then they curled up together to watch the flames.
"This has been a good day, Angel." She brushed a kiss on Nanís cheek, hugging her gently and feeling a firm embrace in return.
"Everyday we spend together is a good day for me, love."
"Me too," Jynx answered honestly. "I just feel like I am rediscovering us and the simple pleasures of life we share together." She sighed and returned her gaze to the fire. "You ever feel like youíve lost part of yourself only to find it in an unexpected place?"
Nan turned until she was facing Jynx dead on. "Are you unhappy, Jynx? Youíve never talked like this before."
"No, love, no!" She pulled Nan back into her arms. "Iíve never been happier. Thatís just it Ė I feel... like I gave up one life for another, but that I gained so much. Itís like this is all new, but so right." She sighed. "Iím not explaining this very well, Angel."
Nan cupped Jynxís face and kissed her firmly on the lips, smiling into it when it was passionately returned. "Itís okay. I understand." She leaned in for a second kiss. "Would you?"
When Jynx caught her breath from the kiss, she blinked, then frowned at Nan. "Would I what Angel?"
Now Nan looked to the fire. "If you had everything... everything except us, would you give it up for what we have now?"
Jynx pulled Nan onto her lap. "I have you, Angel. That means I already have everything."
Jynx entered the office warily and just a little out of sorts. The images from her dream, though comforting, were also confusing. Besides, she was a little afraid the disasters of yesterday would carry over to today. But when Nan met her with a smile and a cup of coffee that she was able to safely secure without incident, she drew a deep breath of relief. Then she returned Nanís smile and greeting, and headed into her office for one more day of madness.
But for a change everything went smoothly and the day was quiet. Managers came in and out with good reports and well-wishes for the holiday. Phone calls were pleasant. All in all, the day was exceptional, reminding Jynx of some of the things she liked about the job, because it was a good feeling when things fell together like they were supposed to.
They closed up shop early, knowing they had to prepare for the company Christmas party. Attendance was mandatory as was the formality of dress and that kind of presentation took time and effort.
Jynx stood in front of the mirror some time later putting the last minute touches on herself. Make-up was light, but perfect; hair was brushed to a smooth sheen. The floor-length gown swirled and hugged and flowed in all the right places and she finally gave herself a nod of approval.
"Címon, Jynx. Letís go party," rolling her eyes at her reflection. Then she snatched up her keys from their ever-present spot on her otherwise bare counter, and walked swiftly out the door.
Music wafted out on the warm air that ushered into the cold outside from the vast doors that stood open wide to receive the numerous people attending the festivities. Jynx pulled her overcoat tighter around her body to keep out the cold as the valet opened her door and helped her alight from the car. She drew a deep breath and walked up the short flight of step into the entryway where she was relieved of her coat. A shiver ran through her frame before the second door was opened for her and she was stepping into a world of music and warmth and twinkling lights.
Jynx hesitated on the landing to get her bearings before she began the short journey down to the floor where Sylvia and Maurice Hamilton waited to greet their guests as they arrived. Jynx greeted them cordially, though not nearly with the enthusiasm they showed, and allowed the lingering waiter to show her to her seat.
Jynx greeted colleagues as she made her way to her table. Several came to ask her to dance once she was seated and she accepted, enjoying the activity for the most part. She didnít get her toes stepped on, and those who asked her to dance were all people she considered friends in the company. Besides, she only had to endure the activity for a brief while before dinner was announced and everyone resumed their places at their assigned tables.
It was then that Jynx noticed not only was the seat beside her empty, meaning Nan hadnít arrived, but there was also an envelop addressed to her on her plate. She picked it up just as a server set her food in front of her. She looked at it closely, recognizing the handwriting as that of her assistant and wondering what had happened to keep her from attending, knowing how the Hamiltons felt about attendance here.
She debated on excusing herself from the table to read the message, then decided to simply open it and read it there. It was a decision she would regret.
Dearest Jynx, (it read)
It is with sincere regret that I sit down to write this. By the time you read it, I will be well on my way home. My father has demanded my immediate return, and unfortunately for me, not only *can* he do that, but he has the right. He promised he would only call for me if it was imperative for me to go home. I gave him my word when I came to work for you that I would return to him if he called me home, and after five years, he has exercised his prerogative to do so.
I do not know if I will be allowed to return to work for you. My father would not summon me without just cause and due deliberation. He knows much of you and of my life here and how important it is... you are... to me. I do not think he would interfere with that, with my happiness, without trying everything else first.
I am sorry I will miss the party. I had a beautiful dress for this year Ė all shimmers and sparkles Ė but you probably donít want to hear about that. I am also sorry I will miss getting to say goodbye to you. That, I think, I will regret most of all.
Youíve been a wonderful boss and an even better friend Ė someone I have been proud to know. If I wished for more and never got it, then more fault mine, because I never spoke up, thinking our time together was unlimited and hoping that what I thought I saw in your eyes when they looked at me wasnít just my wishful thinking or overactive creative imagination, and that someday one of us would find the courage to act.
The time for that opportunity has passed and it is time to move on. So I am tendering to you my resignation, effective immediately. You will find a more formal letter on your desk when you return to work. But I wanted you to know the truth first... about everything.
You will remain in my thoughts and in my heart Ė always.
With love forever,
Your Angel, Nan
PS Ė I still hope you go back into design or R&D. Youíll be happier there and thatís important to me.
"I promise, Angel," Jynx whispered to herself.
A hand on her arm brought Jynx back to the present and she looked up into the concerned eyes of the co-worker sitting next to her at the table. She blinked and began to breathe again, struggling to hear the words that were being spoken to her.
"Ms Townsend, are you all right? You look pretty pale." Jynx nodded and took a deep breath and picked up her glass with only a slight tremor visible in the movement, taking a sip to keep from needing to answer immediately. Instead, the woman continued speaking. "I guess you must be a little nervous though, given whatís going around the rumor mill."
Jynxís gaze sharpened so quickly, the other woman blinked in surprise. "What?" she grated out harshly, wondering if Nanís resignation had become public knowledge so quickly.
"Nothing bad, Ms Townsend. I just heard you were getting a promotion tonight." The woman smiled weakly.
"Oh," was Jynxís inadequate response and gave the other woman a shaky smile. "Sorry, itís been a rough week."
The woman laughed ruefully and turned back to her dinner. "Ainít that the truth."
Jynx sat quietly, ignoring the meal in front of her. Her mind was too busy processing a myriad of thoughts and feelings. She was ready to leave, wanting to go find Nan... wherever home was for her, but she knew she had to get through dessert first. Once the meal was over, sheíd be free to make her escape unnoticed. When dessert was brought to the table, it didnít interrupt her musings. But an elbow into hers did and she lifted her eyes from the table to find Maurice Hamilton standing at the podium in the front of the room. Jynx heaved a silent sigh of relief. That meant her night was quickly coming to an end.
Jynx moved her napkin to the table and forced herself to focus on Hamiltonís words. Then those words started to sink into her hearing and her jaw dropped.
"... our newest vice president, Jynx Townsend."
The hall erupted into cheers, but Jynx sat slackly in her seat. It took Maurice Hamilton coming down to stand in front of her, offering his hand to escort her back to the stage for her to understand that it was real and hers for the taking.
She reached up and took his hand and the crowd resumed their cheering when they made their way back to the platform. Jynx looked around, surprised at the reception the announcement, and she was receiving. She hadnít realized she had so many friends in the company and she looked around in stunned silence.
Maurice Hamilton took pity on her and stepped up to the mic. "I think we took her by surprise," garnering a laugh from the audience. "Iíll tell you what... why donít we move ahead with our evening? Maybe Ms Townsend will be able to say something about her promotion by our New Yearís party." Hamilton looked at Jynx with a mock-fierce look, the twinkle in his eye betraying his humor. "That gives you a week."
He extended a hand and Jynx accepted it. "Thank you, sir." She turned to the mic and smiled at everyone. "Thanks, everyone. I promise to jump-start my brain before getting up here again." The room laughed and Jynx stepped down from the platform, moving out of the spotlight as quickly as she politely could. Hamilton resumed his place and continued with his announcements and awards.
Jynx took her coat and went outside, handing her ticket to the valet and waiting for her car to be brought around. She wasnít really surprised when Mr. Smith appeared beside her. It just seemed to fit with the way her day was suddenly going.
"So you got your promotion, hmm?" he asked while keeping his gaze focused out instead of towards her. Jynx cast a glance his way before returning her vision back to the darkness as well.
"And is it what you wanted? Does it make you happy?"
"Yes, on some level it does. Iíve worked really hard for this."
"Then thatís all there is to that then. It was nice to meet you, Ms Townsend. I hope youíll be very happy in your new position."
"Maybe," she replied. "I donít know," she answered honestly, but Mr. Smith had disappeared.
Jynx went by Nanís apartment on her way home, but there was no answer. The building manager was kind enough to open the third floor apartment door, though a little confused by the late-night request.
"I swear to you, miss, thereís been no one in this apartment for several months. If youíd like to see it by daylight I would be happy to show it to you then."
"Please, I have a friend was living here as recently as two days ago. I was here."
"If you say so, miss," he replied, pushing the door open and letting out a whiff of stale air. Jynx pushed around him into the room that had been filled with such wonderful delights just days previously to find... nothing. There was nothing in the room, not even a scrap of paper. Nothing to indicate the place had been occupied recently.
Jynxís shoulders slumped and she blushed before stammering out an apology for causing the man so much trouble so late in the evening. The manager just nodded gruffly. Though it had been a bit of an inconvenience, he could see she truly believed what she had said to him. He wondered what had happened to give her such delusions, but she seemed safe enough, so he simply saw her to the door and watched as she got in her car and drove off.
Jynx dropped her keys on the bare counter, shedding her shoes and her dress before falling into bed. But sleep was a long time coming to her, and when it finally did, there were no dreams. There was nothing at all but silence and darkness and the feeling of being utterly alone.
Jynx awoke with tears in her eyes.
Dinner at her parents was an ordeal, though not the kind she had been expecting. Somehow, and Jynx suspected it was the Hamiltons, her parents had heard of her promotion and were eager to celebrate with her. Unfortunately, Jynx didnít feel much like celebrating, but there was no way to explain that to them that they would readily accept or understand. For them it was a recognition she had long deserved and they hoped it would allow her more time for a personal life.
And though she knew that their concern was done out of love mostly, her mother had made no secret about wanting Jynx to have someone in her life and looking forward to more grandchildren, she still had doubts. But they remained unvoiced, and instead she let them celebrate. It was easier and much more pleasant than starting an argument over something Jynx herself wasnít even sure of anymore.
The following day, after another sleepless, dreamless night, Jynx arrived at the office, hoping against hope that Nan would be there waiting, despite every indication that she was really gone.
The office was dark and Nanís desk was completely clean. Only the letter that sat in the center of Jynxís on desk gave credence to the fact that Nan had actually existed, and despite the feeling of despair she felt over the fact that Nan was gone, Jynx felt her mind settle with the reassurance that at least Nan was real and had been a part of her life.
Then she got a look at the page and sank down on her desk cradling her head in her hands. It wasnít Nanís letter of resignation. It was her letter of promotion.
She started to snatch it up, to crumple it in her haste to remove it from her sight, then the ringing of the phone cause her to sweep it into a drawer. Another busy day had begun.
Jynx couldnít understand why no one noticed the absence of her exceptionally efficient assistant. But as the day went on, no one mentioned Nan, and the only reference there was to Jynx having an assistant was Mr. Hamilton assuring her she would have one before the end of the week as befitted her new position.
And so the week went. Work was crazy with training someone to take her regional management position, as well as trying to find a new assistant she could work with easily, plus trying to do her regular job and take on her new responsibilities to boot. She hadnít thought she could be busier than she had been before, but she was wrong. There wasnít time to breathe, much less enjoy any of the simple pleasures she had come to appreciate, if only in her dreams. Hell, she couldnít even get her new assistant Dylan to find the time for coffee.
Nights were harder. She was exhausted by the end of the day, but her mind continued to search for Nan, so her sleep was not restful. Finally on the evening before the big New Yearís Eve blowout, Sylvia Hamilton stopped by with an ultimatum.
"I donít want to see you here tomorrow, Ms Townsend. Youíve been working too hard this week trying to get everything settled, and at the rate you are going will run yourself into the ground before the New Year is here. Considering that that is only a few days away, I am ordering you to take tomorrow off. We want you fresh for the party. You owe Maury a speech, you know. Now, donít you worry about a thing, dear. Gary needs to learn to handle this job on his own, and the responsibilities of your VP position are still being decided. A day off wonít hurt anything. Iíll make sure your boxes get moved," motioning around the room at the few things Jynx had to take upstairs.
Jynx nodded silently, a little overwhelmed by Sylviaís forcefulness, but honest enough to admit her need for such a day. She was exhausted and nothing short of a miracle and a good nightís sleep was going to make it possible for her to attend the party, much less give a speech at it.
Sylvia nodded. "Good girl. You go get some rest, because you look terribly run-down. Tomorrow is a big, big day for you, and you want to be your best."
"Yes maíam," Jynx commented softly as she rose from her desk. Sylvia followed suit and soon they were both exiting the office, heading for different elevators. Jynx realized as she stepped into the elevator that she had crossed the threshold of that office for the final time. When she came in the following week, she was to go directly to the executive floor where her things were supposed to be moved in the morning. Her shoulders slumped. Once again, she felt the weight of her promotion as a burden instead of the prize she had expected it to be.
The following morning, early, Jynx decided to take a walk. She couldnít have said what her motivation was, except for a desire to escape the sterile loneliness of her apartment for just a little while. When she reached the park several blocks from her house, she found an empty bench in the sun and sat down, absorbing the peaceful sounds of nature that were prevalent here.
It wasnít the peace she had known with Nan in her dreams, but it was more peace than she had known in the week since her life had been turned completely upside down.
She couldnít have said how long she sat there, but eventually Jynx became aware that she was no longer alone. She turned her head, only to find the mysterious Mr. Smith had taken up residence on her bench. When she met his eyes, he returned her stare for a moment before he casually looked back out over the park. Jynx kept the gaze a minute longer before she too redirected her attention.
"Shouldnít you be at work? Iíd think there was a lot for you to do in your new position as a vice president," the old man inquired, not unkindly. But Jynx was right at the edge of her patience, and Mr. Smith had just pushed that last little bit and was on the receiving end of her loss of temper.
"Not that it is any of your business, but I was given the day off. What do you want?"
The old man didnít even blink. He more than anyone else understood exactly how close to the edge Jynx really was. He sat there patiently, but Jynx had returned her attention back out to the park, doing her best to ignore his presence. He waited, and finally Jynx sighed in defeat.
"Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Smith?" still not apologizing for her previous outburst.
He looked at her, noting the dark smudges under her now lackluster eyes and the defeated droop of her shoulders. "No, Jynx, but there is still something I might be able to do for you. I am making you the same offer I made to you before, but it has a time limit. I must have your final decision before midnight tonight. After that...."
Jynx was silent, lost in thought, though the old man could see that his words had penetrated. There was hope in her eyes again.
"Think about it Jynx. Would you give up what you have for a different life?"
When she looked up to answer, he was gone.
It was the same building it had been a week before... the same warmth, the same music, the same people, even the food was similar. Only the costumes and the decorations had changed.
Jynx hesitated on the steps, as unsure of anything as she had ever been. She had remained on that bench for a very long time and only just gotten home in time to dress in her costume and get to the party. She straightened her costume and fixed the mask on her face before she took the remaining steps into the building.
The Hamiltons were waiting to greet her, just as they had been before, except instead of formal eveningwear, they were dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Jynx reflected on just how natural they looked in their guises as she accepted their greeting and returned one of her own. Then she moved off to find a quiet corner, hoping that the evening would be over soon.
The Hamiltons simply exchanged knowing glances and returned to welcoming their guests.
It was nearing midnight and Jynx knew Maurice Hamilton was going to tap her soon to give her speech and welcome in the new year. She stepped out onto the back balcony this time, away from the crowds but without giving her temptation of simply leaving like she had the week before.
It was cold, but out of the wind and with her costume, she was warm enough. She looked to the stars for a long time, remembering them a little differently from her dreams. Then she squared her shoulders and turned to re-enter the hall, ready to tender her decision. If she wasnít completely happy, at least she was not discontent.
She didnít actually expect to run in to Mr. Smith here, despite his words, and she stopped short when she nearly turned right into him.
He regarded her soberly. "So, youíve decided to settle instead of going for the gusto, huh?" He shook his head. "I thought better of you." He turned to walk away, but stopped when Jynx grabbed almost frantically at his arm.
"No," she whispered, then cleared her throat to try again. "No," she said louder. "I... can you really... if youíre offering me the opportunity... Iíd like to try. I really would."
Jynx shook her head. "But nothing. Iíve tried this, but itís not what I expected it to be. Iím not sure itís what I want out of life anymore."
Mr. Smith considered her words before nodding his head gravely. "You do realize I am offering no guarantees. And if you leave this place now, there will be no going back to what you have here now."
Jynx agreed. "Yes, but I also know that my guts are telling me I have to try this, and I learned a long time ago not to ignore them. Besides, itís not like I canít go back to designing toys if things donít work out for me with you. Iím good at that, I enjoy it and Iíd be keeping a promise I made."
"Very well. Take my hand."
Jynx did so without hesitation, feeling the world she knew drop away from her. When she opened her eyes, she was in a place she had never seen before, but she recognized Sylvia and Maurice Hamilton standing in front of her in the Claus costumes. Jynx cocked her head and parted her lips to speak, when an upraised hand from Maurice stopped her.
"Yes, this is all real, and yes, we are who you think we are."
Jynx swallowed hard though she did manage to keep her eyes from bulging out of her head. "Um... okay, but...."
"It was time," Sylvia responded to the unasked question. "Papa and I have been doing this for...." She cleared her throat self-consciously with a little giggle. "Well, a very long time. Weíre ready to retire and see a bit of the world together."
"But why me?"
"It was your destiny, and you were our daughterís choice."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Youíll understand soon," answered Maurice Hamilton cum Mr. Smith. Jynx blinked at his transformation, finally beginning to understand.
"You engineered this?"
"Not exactly," Sylvia Hamilton, Mrs. Claus? responded. "Please have a seat and weíll try to explain."
When they were done, Jynx just sat blinking dazedly. "Um, okay. So you really are actually Santa and Mrs. Claus?"
"Um, okay," she said again. "Then why are you in the retail toy business?"
Maurice Ė Santa, Jynx reminded herself again - smiled at her. "It was the easiest way to get new blood, new ideas and new cash flow into the business and still maintain an interest. Even Santa has to have capital to get the work done these days, and the elves were ready for retirement." He shrugged. "Canít blame them... Iím a little tired myself. Besides, itís time for the next generation to take over."
"And Iím part of the next generation?"
"You can be."
"What does that mean exactly?"
"Well, that really depends on you," came a voice from the far side of the room and Jynx whirled. In the doorway stood Nan with a welcoming smile on her face. Jynx took a hesitant step towards her before she stopped, not sure she could believe her eyes.
Jynx closed the remaining distance between them. "Jynx?" she asked daringly, taking Nan into her arms. "I seem to recall you promised me more than that." Nan smiled at the possessiveness in Jynxís eyes and in her tone and in her touch. It seemed like Jynx had finally come home.
"Hello, love. Iíve missed you."
The kiss was full of passion and promise and would probably have continued indefinitely if the sound of a throat clearing hadnít pulled them apart.
"I hate to interrupt," the old man said with a chuckle, "but we have things to talk about before all this becomes final."
"It will wait, Papa. Tonight is for Jynx and me to reacquaint ourselves with each other and the simple pleasures we share. Tomorrow is soon enough to get to work again. Besides, you and Mama have a party to finish hosting, remember?"
The old man laughed heartily, knowing he had been completely outmaneuvered. And he took his companionís hand and with a wave of his own, they disappeared. Jynx simply stood staring at the empty spot until Nan took her hand and led her from the room.
"Where are we going, Angel?"
"Home, love. We are finally going home."
There was no blaring alarm clock to waken her Ė only the rays of sunlight that came in from the window she and Nan had spent some time stargazing at the night before. They had returned to the cabin by a quiet walk through starlit, snow-covered ground. A banked fire awaited them, which Nan immediately stoked to life, and they wrapped up together in a blanket while the room heated and then they had stretched out in front of the fireplace to talk.
The scent of hot chocolate wafted to Jynxís nose and she couldnít top the smile that crossed her face at the memories that brought. They had had hot chocolate last night as well, long after their talking was over and the re-acquaintance with one another had begun, first in front of the fire and then later in their bed. Jynx looked forward to more reacquainting today, but first....
"Good morning, love" Nan said from the doorway. Jynx rose from the bed and captured Nanís lips in a heady, passionate kiss. It was only her swift reaction that kept the tilting tray from spilling its contents all over the floor. Slowly they pulled back from one another and rubbed noses.
"Good morning, Angel. I missed you when I woke up."
"Iím sorry, Jynx. I thought I could get back here before you woke up after the night we had together," smiling and blushing. Jynx returned the smile with one of her own and handed Nan one of the cups of hot chocolate and took her hand, leading her back to the bed.
"I am looking forward to nights like that for the rest of our lives together. But what about our days? Am I Santa Claus now?"
Nan laughed softly. "Actually, *we* will be Santa Claus now."
"We? But what about the company? And my folks? And the workshop? And our design ideas? And my dreams?" Only Nanís fingers across her lips caused her word flow to peter out.
"Our dreams are now our realities, and because you chose us, everything else will fall into place. Címon, love. There are lots of simple pleasures for us to share today. Letís go enjoy them."
Jynx took Nan in her arms, smiling at the way they fit together and the fervent way Nan returned her embrace. "Thank you," she whispered.
"For waiting - for waiting me to discover the simple pleasures in life. Thank you for waiting for me to discover us."
"I love you, Jynx. I would have waited a lifetime for you, but Mama wouldnít." They chuckled, knowing Nan spoke the truth on several levels. "I promise everything will work out, however unorthodox the resolution. I know itís a week late, but Merry Christmas, love, and many Happy New Years together."
"I love you, Angel. Merry Christmas."
Then they took their hot chocolate into the bathroom, and closed the door firmly behind them.
And they lived Happily Ever After.
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