December has arrived. With the onslaught of the Black Friday and Cyber Week sales underway, it’s inevitable that my thoughts would turn to the holidays. I didn’t really have much choice. The stores have been putting up Christmas decorations and items since Mid-October.
Thinking about Christmas brought to mind something we started when my sons were young. Normally they would come downstairs Christmas morning and attack the piles of carefully wrapped packages. There would be a moment of appreciation before they jumped to the next gift. Mounds of shredded paper grew. In what seemed like 5 minutes, everything was opened.
So we came up with the idea of hiding one present for each boy somewhere in the house. Then it was a matter of writing clues, sending them scurrying from one room to the next, looking for the hint that would lead them to this last treasure. I was surprised how much fun the boys had doing it.
But what surprised me more was the following year when Travis stopped me on Christmas Eve and reminded me to do the treasure hunt. Not only did they enjoy it, but it was something they were both looking forward to. But Travis did have one request. He wanted me to make the clues rhyme.
Apparently he thought I’d get inspiration from Dr. Seuss.
Of the books I’ve written, only “Devious” takes place around the holidays. Here’s an excerpt. In this scene, Jamie decides her old apartment no longer suits her and on the spur of the moment, decides to look for a new place.
It was a ranch house. Brick, maybe forty years old, with a gigantic pine tree in the front yard. Real wooden shutters guarded the picture window facing the street. The house was in the middle of a block where no two homes looked exactly the same. Even from out in the street, I knew this was the place for me. I drove slowly away, dialing the number on my cell phone. The number turned out to be a realtor named Maybelle Ross. I asked her for the particulars on the house but she demurred. Her voice was sugary sweet, like Vermont maple syrup.
"I like to let the house speak for itself. Can you be there in ten minutes?" Maybelle asked.
"I’m just around the corner." She hung up as soon as I said it.
Maybelle Ross could have been anyone’s grandmother. Snow white hair in tight little curls bounced on her head. Wide green eyes so merry, you expected her to pinch your cheek. She was shaped like a beach ball and seemed perfectly content that way. I could easily picture her wearing a frilly apron and pulling oatmeal cookies out of the oven. She left her Cadillac in the driveway and practically bounded across the lawn.
The house was even better on the inside. Originally it had contained four small bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. There was a fireplace, a small yard in the back and a basement big enough to hold a bowling alley. Someone had knocked out the adjoining wall for two of the bedrooms and made it into a suite. There were hard wood floors throughout the place. The kitchen had a skylight over the workplace by the stove and sink, with a chopping block counter in the center of the room. A bay window looked out over the back yard. I was hooked.
I rarely do something on impulse. Usually I hem and haw, and scuff my toes in the dirt until someone else makes a decision for me. Especially on a decision that was something this big. But today was different. I was ready for action.
"How much?" My voice trembled as I asked.
Maybelle gave me the price. It was hardly more than I was paying for the apartment. “You pay your own gas, electric and phone. The landlord will take care of landscaping and snow removal, along with any repairs.”
"How long has this place been available?" I was trying hard to disguise my excitement.
"Only a month. The woman who owns it is in a nursing home. Her son doesn't want to sell as long as she's alive, but he's willing to rent it," Maybelle said reassuringly.
"I'll take it." Somehow my checkbook had appeared in my hands. What was I saying about indecision?
Maybelle gently patted my hand. "Not so fast. We need to do a background check on you, before we agree to the rental. How soon would you like to move in, if everything is approved?"
Pretty soon they’ll be doing background checks if you want to have a pizza delivered. "Next week?"
She grinned. "Just in time for Christmas, huh?"
"You bet. Can we do it?"
Maybelle bubbled over with delight. "Let's get started."
I followed Maybelle to her office and filled out a sheaf of silly forms. I wanted to spring it on Malone as a surprise, but I didn't know how he'd react. The place was big enough for both of us, yet affordable for me to rent alone. I wanted him with me, but didn't want to scare him away. I didn't know what to do. And I didn’t want to think about Bert’s reaction when he found out about Malone and me.
* * *
Maybelle Ross called with the news. My application to rent had been approved. I was excited and frustrated in the same breath. Where the hell was I going to find a moving company on a week's notice? I still had to notify my landlord that I was moving out, and would undoubtedly lose two month’s rent on my lease. So what! I spent the rest of the day calling movers all around town. No chance. Everyone was booked until after the holidays.
I really wanted to spend Christmas in my new place. Part of the magic would be to spring it on Malone as a holiday surprise. Disappointment was closing in. I knew it was a last minute decision, but I had to go through with it. Inspiration saved me.
I didn't have to move completely, just enough stuff to get through a few nights. Kitchen gear for cooking, clothes to wear, gifts for the tree. A tree! Not some polyester conglomeration of wires and bristles. I wanted an honest to God Scotch pine with needles and a thirst, tinsel and popcorn and ornaments and lights. It was time to get moving.