I'll be Home for Christmas ©
Disclaimer: I lay no claim to any of the original POTO characters such as Erik, and Christine. These belong to Leroux. The settings outside Opera House and all original characters to this story belong to me.
The title for this story is taken from the song I'll be home for Christmas by James Gannon (lyrics) and Walter Kent (music) copyrighted in 1943. It's first recording was by Bing Crosby that same year. Lyrics from the song are used throughout the story.
A/N: The beta for this story is Busanda. She is also the beta for my other story "Black Despair." Thank you as always.
Merry Christmas to all my readers. I hope you enjoy this modern short story. It will only run during the Christmas season. If you find a few minutes please leave a review. Thank you.
I'll be home for Christmas
you can count on me.
I'll be home for Christmas
if only in my dreams.(+)
Erik heard the melody on the radio as he drove through the snow. He was going home for Christmas. "Home," he said aloud as he approached the indoor garage. I guess any place I live in is home. Christmas was not his favorite season. Though, he did like winter for the comfort it provided him due to the mask. Everywhere, the images of happy families taunted him—mother and apple pie. Funny, how the images always had a mother smiling down on a child with a frostbitten nose. He had never seen an image with a scowling mother, screaming down on her noseless deformed child—the image he recalled from his childhood. He swerved and had to fight for control. Would anyone, except the paramedics, really care if he was found wrapped around a tree, like a Christmas present? Driving rule number one, no thoughts of Mother while driving. Even though she had been dead for the better part of his 50 years, she still managed to disturb him.
His only friend as a child had been Raoul's father, Joe. A kid whose parents paid for him to go to the school to which Erik had a scholarship. Why Joe had befriended him, Erik had no idea. He was very good looking, popular with both boys and girls, and huge. Joe had walked by his side, staring down the bullies that always threatened Erik. They had been best friends since then.
Erik always drove with his mask on, although he knew it cut down on his visibility. He had nearly created an accident more than once because of busybody onlookers. Better they think him eccentric than have the guilt of their deaths on his conscience. He wanted nothing to do with death or war. He was through with all that. Though considered a hero by the winning side, others still trembled at the thought of his interrogation methods.
Shaking his head clear of those thoughts, he opened the door to his apartment. He could have afforded to live in a more luxurious area, but he loved the privacy the semi-country setting afforded him, while still being close enough to the city and his school.
"Almost time to put in that turkey, huh?" he heard his neighbor ask.
"Yes, it is, Mrs. Williams. Will you be going away again this Christmas?"
"My children have asked me to go to them, but I hate to travel during the holidays."
"If you don't, you know I always make a large bird."
She always pretended her kids would be furious with her because she was not going to their place.
"I'll be disappointed if I don't eat a piece of your pie this Christmas."
"Maybe I'll make one and have it for you."
They had shared the past dozen Christmas dinners together. He knew what it felt like to be alone at this time of the year.
Upon entering his apartment, he opened the window to let in fresh air.
"My mom is all in my business. I'll be like gone, then she has to ask me a favor."
"Imagine being homeless in Hawaii, you can live on the beach."
"When I have my own apartment, that's where I'm gonna get it. I love the sun."
Erik rolled his eyes at the conversation floating in. A neighbor's daughter and her friend were standing under his window.
"Are you getting the CD?"
"My mom asked my Dad. It's my birthday, my money."
"You shouldn't have to ask, for crissake…"
"If I could just go and use my money. Ha, that would be so weird."
"Yeah, I know, my mom is the same way. She borrows from me! Then, if I don't want to give it up, she starts to talk about her surgery."
"Like that guy that lives in there with the mask."
"Yeah, what's up with that?"
He slammed the window closed. Never mind circulating air.
He picked up two Christmas cards waiting for him under the door. One was from Raoul and one from Yasser. He walked through and turned up the thermostat, it seemed to make up for the cold, lonely feeling in the apartment.
He heard a soft knock on the door. He wasn't expecting anyone, so, if it was a peddler, they could wait. He turned down the stew that was heating on the stove. The knock came again.
He threw the door open. "Well?" his irritation clearly coming through. As soon as he saw her, he was sorry for his tone. She stood on his doorstep, looking up at him, her eyes wide and her face flushed.
"I…I…do you have…" She had such a delightful accent.
An angel! Everyday, she had been coming over to borrow something—the highlight of his evening. How could he have forgotten? The dark circles under her eyes were a little darker today.
Her cotton outfit was not appropriate for the season, even with the thick grey sweater she wore. She held it tight to her but did not look cold. His beautiful next-door neighbor had been coming over to borrow food items almost everyday. He had not seen her husband for weeks now. Did they have a child? He could not remember ever seeing a child. The husband had always looked sleezy, barely greeting anyone, slipping in and out of their apartment.
"Please forgive me, I had a very insistent seller just before you knocked."
"Oh, I just needed to borrow…"
"Please come in." He took her elbow and helped her across his threshold. I touched her! He could not imagine what possessed him to touch her. Now that she was inside his home, his sudden bravado abandoned him, and he had no idea what to do.
"Have you eaten?" Erik, what a stupid thing to ask.
"Mmmm…no." He heard the hesitation in her voice.
"I just made a stew, and as usual I cooked too much. Won't you join me?" he asked softly, allowing his voice to beckon to her.
"It smells good, I…"
"Settled then, have a seat, I'll be right back." He left her sitting in his tiny dining area and rushed off to the kitchen before she had time to think about it and say no.
He walked into the kitchen and placed his back against the refrigerator. His knees felt as if they might give way. He should ask if her husband could join them, but he would not. Erik knew she belonged to another, but this moment was his. How was he going to eat when his stomach felt as if it had rocks in it. He, Erik, had a woman in his living room, waiting to have dinner with him! What do I do now? Bring out the stew?
He looked up, and there she was. She's going to say she needs to leave. He wasn't surprised that she would want to get away from him. It was a normal reaction.
"May I help you set the table?"
"Table?" She does not want to leave. How could he have forgotten about the table?
"Yes, there are plates and other things right here," he said, pointing to a cupboard.
She walked to where he pointed and began to gather two's of everything they would need before disappearing into the living room.
Relieved, he turned back to his dinner. He cut bread for them and stirred the cous-cous. Beef stew! For the first time in my life, a woman accepts an offer to share a meal with me, and it has to be reheated beef stew!
He served her a generous amount of food. She sat and began to eat her portion. He had never seen a woman eat like that. She was polite and delicate, but with surgical precision, she proceeded to cut and eliminate every morsel on her plate. He served her again, and with the same deliberate motions, she emptied that plate as well. His own plate was mostly untouched. He enjoyed watching her eat. She looked so satisfied at the end of the meal he felt as if he had given her something more intimate than a simple meal. They had exchanged pleasantries during the meal and realized that neither knew the other's name, which they quickly corrected. He found out she was a foreign student on scholarship. Several times, he wanted to inquire as to the whereabouts of her husband but held back, not wishing to hear her speak of him.
"Thank you. That was so delicious," she said, at the end of their meal.
"I have dessert." He needed to think of something to keep her there. He filled her wine glass again.
"I don't think I could eat another bite." She sipped her wine and yawned. "May I help you clean up?"
"I'll do that later." She is getting ready to leave.
"Well…thank you, again…I…" She got up.
Too late. He couldn't think of any way to retain her. Perhaps I should give her the leftovers…no!
"It was my pleasure, Christine…tomorrow, I'm making a rack of lamb. Would you care to join me?"
"Oh!" He saw her eyes widen. "I wouldn't want to take advantage."
"I hate to eat alone. You would be doing me a favor. Do you think I could eat a whole rack by myself? I would hate to throw it out." He held his breath.
"You must not throw food out! I suppose it would be alright…"
He controlled the exhale. Yes! He tried to sound calm. "Same time as today?"
Christine lay in bed with a full stomach. For the first time in weeks she was really full. The last few days had been the worst. She had been borrowing food from her next-door neighbor. Her neighbor was a quiet man who wore a mask over his face. She had been both scared and surprised the first time she saw him, but he had always been polite. She never saw anyone come in to visit him, so it was probably not due to kinkiness. Most likely, it was for medical reasons.
She had not known what to do when she had run out of food. So, she turned to her strange neighbor and asked him for bread and milk. Today, she was going to ask him for sugar so she could make sugar water and moisten her bread. He had practically forced her to enter his home and eat with him. She had been living in that building for over three months with Brent.
She wasn't sure what to do anymore. Perhaps she should go back to Sweden before her visa expired. If she stayed beyond its expiration, she would be deported. Once she handed Brent the five-thousand dollars, he had changed and was gone within the week, promising to return with her papers. Gone were the sweet words, the soft phrases. He said he would return, and then she could get her green card. However, now she had no papers and could be deported. Still, she thought she was better off doing what Brent asked; she would not leave the building. Any day now, he would return with the papers for her as he had promised.
In the meantime, she had another meal secured for tomorrow. Her neighbor had been a gentleman in every way. He might really just want her company. She was ashamed, but she had to take every crumb he was willing to give.
be Home for Christmas ©
aka Susana Martín
New York City
December 23, 2006
(+) I'll be home for Christmas© 1943 by J. Gannon and W. Kent.