A Just for Fun Christmas Fiction
Houston waded through the crowd of stranded passengers at the airport. The frustration felt inside was almost as thick as the snowfall outside. It was Christmas Eve, for goodness sakes, and people wanted to be with loved ones, not surrounded by strange strangers. However, people watching was never better than at an airport at Christmas. Houston observed smiling as a Santa had trouble making it through security.
He was amazed that his flight was going out tonight with the weather being what it was. The line was long. In front of him was a family with four or five or a dozen children. He didn't know how they kept track of them as it was like herding cats. Behind him was a poor little thing dragging her carry-on suitcase behind her. She wore a snow cap that looked like something Maisie would wear giving the young woman a child-like appearance. He'd first noticed her when they went through security. She'd had to really dig in her purse for her I.D., then had trouble taking her boots off to go through the scan holding up the line. But it was when she stood in the booth being given the wand once over that he noticed that she was pregnant, not far along, just barely a bump. That made his mind go places he didn't want it to with a chill. He turned away.
But of course, when they finally boarded, she was close behind him as he found his seat by the window.
"Excuse me, but I need to sit there," she had the audacity to say.
"I don't think so," he said checking his ticket. "No, this is my seat."
"But I get motion sickness and need to look out the window," she argued.
"I know there's car sickness, and sea sickness, but I'm sure there's no such thing on a plane when it's dark outside. That's ridiculous," he scoffed, but he saw that the determined little woman was causing a hold-up in the line as she waited for him to move.
"It happens and I don't think you want to find out," she scowled at him.
He groaned, but unbuckled, bent his tall frame over to scoot out of the seats and saw her struggling to get her bag in the overhead compartment. He took it from her and shoved it in.
She now sat in his seat staring out the window into the black sky. She had grabbed the barf bag front the back of the seat in front of her and clutched it to her chest.
"Really? You need that and we haven't even taxied down the runway yet?" he said exasperated. Houston hated to sit in the middle. He really hoped that someone really skinny would take the empty seat on the aisle. Looking at his seatmate, he saw her hands trembling.
"Are you afraid of flying or something?"
"There's nothing to it really. Just pretend you are a worm that a giant metal bird swallowed and then took off flying with you in its belly."
She looked at him dumbfounded. "Are you kidding me? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." She turned away from him pulling her snow hat off leaving a fuzzy halo of messy strawberry blonde hair.
"Have you flown before?"
"Once, and that was once too often. Let's just say it was a bad experience," she said frowning.
Wanting to change the subject to something more pleasant, Houston asked, "So, are you going to see family?"
She made a face. "No."
The young woman glared at him, so he gave up trying to be nice. "Sorry to be nosy then. I'm just trying to make polite conversation to get your mind off things that petrify you, like flying in a snowstorm in a 70 mile an hour wind in this hunk of metal."
That was mean of him, but something in her just made him a little bit angry.
Her eyes got wide, but he was distracted as someone was trying to stuff a bag in the overhead compartment above them. The man was big. Huge! It was going to get cramped, really cramped. He groaned.
He thought back to the crazy day he'd had already. It began walking into the kitchen seeing his best friend hugging Holly, the girl he'd crushed on but who had even rejected holding his hand. He huffed causing the girl next to him to look over at him. He dragged his hand over his face feeling the stubble there. It had been a long day already, he thought groaning. Then he chuckled thinking of his friend's consternation when the nice Christmas Eve dinner got interrupted time and again with the strange mix of uninvited guests. Again, the girl looked over at him.
"What?" he challenged her.
"You're acting weird. It's almost as bad as if you were talking to yourself, groaning and huffing and laughing," she said as she crossed her arms defensively. "I think you are crazy." she muttered.
"It's better than talking to you," he whispered back.
It was her turn to huff and look away.
Even though everyone seemed to already be boarded, the plane still sat. The winds were really rocking the plane now.
"I guess this is going to take awhile," he said to no one.
His other seatmate nodded. "Yeah, it's probably crazy that we are even going to try flying under these conditions."
He felt the girl next to him stiffen and place her hand over her belly as if to protect her unborn baby.
"Ahh, we'll be fine. I've flown in worse," he said trying to sound confident even though it wasn't exactly true. He'd never flown under these bad of conditions.
Just sitting, he could feel the wind gusts buffet the plane. It was enough to make even him nervous. Finally after thirty minutes or so, the captain came on the intercom.
"Sorry folks, but our defogger isn't working properly, and we're going to have to ask you to disembark. You'll have to wait in the airport until we can find another plane for you. Thank you for flying with us tonight."
"Ha! We didn't fly anywhere with you, buddy," Houston muttered.
"Ha! We didn't fly anywhere with you, buddy," Houston muttered.
People were grumbling all around them, but he heard a sigh of relief from the young woman who was busily putting her knit hat back on her head. On the other side of him, the big man was pulling his carry-on out of the overhead compartment. When he moved on, Houston found the girl's rolling suitcase and his own bag then stood back motioning her to exit ahead of him.
She looked back apprehensively at him, but moved in the line snaking to the covered walkway leading back into the airport. Once they exited the plane and were in the tunnel she grabbed for her suitcase saying, "I can get that."
He handed it over though he would have been happy to take it for her.
"Where do we go now?" she asked.
"I think we'll just hang around where we were before we got on the plane and wait for their announcement. Happy Christmas Eve, huh."
"Don't remind me," she mumbled.
He wondered about her, what her story was, but left it alone. Yet he offered, "I'm going to get a snack. Want anything?"
She dug through her purse and finally pulled out a five dollar bill. "Can you get me a lemon-lime soda and some kind of crackers?"
"The soda I can do. I'll try my best to get you crackers, but no promises." He left looking for some place that served soup and might have crackers. Bingo. He stood in line and got himself a bowl of chowder, asking for extra crackers. He balanced his bag, the soup and the drink carrier and made his way through the stream of frustrated passengers all clinging to a hope to get out of there.
She looked so relieved to see him, that he was glad he'd offered. "Voila!" he exclaimed producing the packets with crackers.
"Oh, thank you!" she said grabbing them eagerly.
"It might help you if you eat a little something else though," he prodded.
"Not now," she said popping the oyster crackers in her mouth.
"Did I miss any announcements?" he asked as he gave her back her five.
"Nope," she said before sucking on her straw. "Ahh, I feel better already just getting off that plane. And thanks."
"Maybe next time you should consider taking a train." He knew he should keep his mouth shut. He didn't even have to be sitting by her right now, but her neediness somehow brought out an unfamiliar gallantry.
"Yeah, that's a great idea in hindsight." She added, "Then I might have gotten there by New Years."
"I concede your point. I'm Houston, by the way," he offered.
Okay, she was still going to be snippy, so what. It wasn't his problem. But his mouth kept moving.
"I'm flying to Denver to be with my family for Christmas. It might be New Years at the rate we're going though. I should have stayed at my friend's. He has two of the cutest kids." He smiled thinking of Maisie and little Chris. "When the little guy offered me his bed to sleep in, he also said that he'd give a bed to the little Lord Jesus if he had some hay."
"Ahh. That's sweet. So you like kids, but don't have any of your own?"
He watched her as she had looked for a ring on his finger. It was then that he noticed she didn't wear one herself. But he said, "Yeah, but I'm not having any luck in that department."
"No girlfriend then?" she asked.
He was surprised that she kept the conversation going. The snack must have sweetened her up instead of being as unpleasant as a prickly pear. "No, how about you? No boyfriend? Is the baby's father still in the picture?" Oh, he was on dangerously thin ice.
She blushed glancing up at him. "How do you figure? It's not any of your business," she snapped. Then after a pause, she added. "No, he's not. But that's why I'm flying. To tell him I'm pregnant."
"That's quite a surprise, huh? Wow!" It took him back to one of the roughest times in his life. He wished his girlfriend had told him she was pregnant before the abortion. After she'd made that choice without his say in the matter, he broke up with her. An abortion was so wrong. He would have been happy to marry the girl, but it was a little too late for that after the fact. That's when he figured he'd better get things right with God before trying to find love anywhere else. He had not told anyone else why they had broken up though, not even his closest friend Gabriel.
He blurted out. "At least you are willing to have his baby. That's something."
"If I do keep it," she turned away with a look of agony.
"Oh, don't even think about the alternatives. That won't really solved anything. You'd just exchange one problem with another because I think you'd regret it the rest of your life, not to mention the pain to the baby. Have you ever read what happens to the infant when they take its life?"
"If he doesn't want the baby, I don't know how I can support myself, let alone my baby.. But I think he already has another girlfriend," she said softly with tears running down her face. She wiped them away with the back of her hand. "Don't pay attention to me, it's just the hormones.
Though he had never ever told anyone else, he found himself telling her while reaching for her hand to offer comfort. "I wish my girlfriend had told me before she aborted my baby. I would have wanted to raise it and would have loved it. It's the worst thing that has ever happened in my life."
She looked up at him. "You're kidding. Really?"
He nodded. "If you hate flying so much, why don't you just call him. Give him a chance to do what's right. Even if you don't get back together, he'll be responsible for the baby financially. He might demand a D.N.A. test, though."
"I just wanted to see his face." Her chin was quivering now.
"Hey, it's the season of unplanned pregnancies," he said wiping a tear away with his thumb while trying to lighten up her apprehensions.
"If you mean Mary in the Bible, at least she had Joseph to stand beside her," she argued hanging her head.
"Well, only because an angel told him to," he countered.
"Since this baby is not the Son of God, I'm not expecting any angels," she tried to smile.
"Maybe not, but I believe every child is a gift from God and has an angel assigned to watch over him. The Bible says those angels stand before the face of God. That kind of tells you how they rate in God's eyes."
"Really?" Her face had a glow as she seemed to cling to some kind of hope. "Even if a child is conceived in sin," and she held up her fingers to make the quotations marks. "God still cares?"
"Of course. I believe all those aborted babies will be in heaven. I think I will see my child in heaven some day."
"Wow, I never thought about that," she said searching his face. "You really believe this, don't you."
"It's because of it that I got my heart back right with God. I want to go to heaven to meet my child someday. Yes, I believe."
"Maybe I will just call my boyfriend," she said obviously struggling with the decision. "It might not go over big if I just suddenly showed up on his doorstep, especially if his new girlfriend is with him, then I wouldn't know where to go."
"So you haven't told your parents yet?" Houston had no idea how he found himself in the middle of this girl's business."
"No. I've been at college and told them I was going to spend the holiday with my boyfriend's family. They have no idea I'm pregnant."
"Will they support you?"
"Probably. It's just hard to face. I guess I was wishing I could get back together with my ex-boyfriend first. I doubt that is going to happen. I think I was just desperate. This whole trip is a disaster."
"Well, we'll just have to settle in and get as comfortable as possible. It could be a long wait." Houston felt her head fall on his shoulder as she dozed off but woke when an announcer garbled over the P.A.
"We're sorry to inform you, that due to poor visibility and high winds, all flights are grounded until further notice. Please check in with your airline to find out more information."
"Did they just say what I think they said?" she asked sitting up with a blanched face.
"Yeah, they'll probably offer to refund you your ticket or give you a free ticket to be redeemed in the future. At the very least, they'll put you up in a hotel and give you money to eat on."
"What are you going to do?" She asked nervously looking around at all the stranded holiday travelers.
"I'll stand in line and get a ticket to be redeemed later, then I'll go back to my friend's house and spend Christmas with them." He smiled thinking back to all the surprise guests had showed up unexpectedly earlier on Christmas Eve. That gave him an idea.
"Hey, you don't want to spend Christmas alone in a hotel room, or worse, here in the airport, so why don't you come with me. My friend will welcome you to stay with him and his children. His kids have this really nice storybook kind of grandmother and a super nice sort of live-in babysitter not much older than you. You'd really like her." He grabbed her suitcase and dragged it along with his bag slung over his shoulder so they could stand in line to be compensated. The line was inching along as slow as a turtle. That brought an image of the turtle crawling away from her eggs left in the sand, the description Madge had made of her daughter's maternal instincts.
Mary chewed her lip. "Can you watch over my suitcase? I need to run to the little girl's room," and she disappeared. When she came back, she was using her phone. She stood away from him, but he guessed she was calling her boyfriend, if he was reading her fallen expression and the flow of tears correctly.
When she finally joined him again, she said, "I'm not going on, but I'll ask for a return ticket to go back home even if I have to spend the night here."
"Then come with me," Houston repeated.
She examined his face closely. "I can't believe they'd welcome a complete stranger."
"Trust me. You'd feel right at home. It's my home away from home. Gabriel and I have been best friends since first grade." Then he stepped over the line one more time. "So, you called and told your boyfriend and it didn't go over very well."
Mary looked up at him. She looked like a pixie, a short, but cute package. "How do you do that? How do you figure out my business?"
"I can read your face like a map to the land to regret. Maybe it's because I've been there. I guess it is why I can see it, takes one to know one kind of thing."
She shook her head. "Yes, I called him. And no it didn't go over well at all. He lost it. After cussing me out, he demanded I get an abortion. But it's not his choice."
Houston clenched his fists. That's what his girlfriend had said when she'd chosen to have an abortion. It was chilling to hear these words, even if Mary chose to keep her baby. "So, since you can't get back home tonight and probably not even in the morning, come with me." He was pushing her.
She sighed. I really don't want to spend the night here, that's for sure. Okay. I guess I will."
He grinned. He had no idea why it was important to him, but it was. While they stood in line for nearly an hour, he'd used that time to call his folks to say he couldn't make it home. Then he called and woke up his buddy Gabriel to tell him he was coming back with a guest.
"Why not? It's been that kind of day. What's one more. I'll move the kids into my bed and make their rooms available to you again. Just let yourself in with your key I gave you and don't bother to wake me."
"Thanks, Gabe. I knew I could count on you."
"Hey, but I won't let you off the hook tomorrow when you try to explain why you are bringing this girl with you."
He laughed. "I guessed as much, but I don't have any idea myself."
They were almost to the counter when he hung up. Once there he stood beside her as she asked for a refund and compensation. Then he did as well.
"Hey, let's go rent a SUV and get out of this place. Oh, do you have more luggage?"
"No, only my carry on."
Houston was grateful that the car rental agency had an SUV still available. He thanked the person there saying, "Merry Christmas." It was after midnight, after all. He opened the door for Mary and then got the car warming. It was freezing! At least the vehicle had seat warmers. Then he went and threw their bags in the back.
"We're out of here! It's not that far. I have a key so we won't have to wake anyone up."
"I am so beyond tired," Mary sighed.
He glanced over. He noticed the dark circles under her eyes and remembered she'd not eaten for hours. It was crazy, but she somehow brought out his compassion and a need to protect her. Maybe it was because she was so tiny and with child, seeming too fragile to make it on her own. That was ridiculous, he knew, but there was no other explanation why he was driving to his buddy's house with a pregnant perfect stranger.
He helped her out carefully so she wouldn't slip on ice. She waited for him to get their bags. "It's beautiful," she said softly gazing at the home where he was privileged to be always welcome.
"Yes it is. And the people in it are pretty special. Come on." He led her in to walk past the tree still twinkling with lights and down the hall to Maisie's room.
"The bathroom is over there," he whispered. "So, goodnight, Mary, and Merry Christmas." He bent over and kissed her on the forehead. He should have slapped his own forehead for doing that. "I'm just across the hall." At least the girl had not shied away from letting him hold her hand earlier at the airport, because he'd done it to offer comfort, not romance. He sighed, kicked his boots off, dropped onto little Chris' bed and fell sound asleep.
He heard someone in the kitchen early. Probably Holly. He'd slept in his clothes, so he just followed his nose to the coffee.
"Good morning," he said running his hand through his hair.
"I wondered whose SUV was out there. After yesterday, it could have been anybody showing up," she said grinning.
"All the flights were canceled so I came back after midnight. But I did bring a stranger along. She had no where else to go except to be alone in a hotel."
Holly tapped his chest. "So a heart does still beat in there to help another damsel in distress. How nice, Houston. I can't wait to meet her."
Gabriel wandered in then. "Is the coffee ready? But I'm warning you, this is the lull before the storm. When the kids wake up, all, uh, joy will break out. So when do we get to meet this mystery guest, Houston?"
"She was pretty tired last night, so I don't know."
"And how do I know that there's a story here that you are not telling us?" Gabe probed stepping over and putting his arm around Holly's waist.
Surprisingly seeing them together didn't faze him a bit. "I can't explain it myself. I just found someone who could use a little infusion of this crazy family. It's Christmas. What can I say? You have always included me. What's one more, right?"
"Right. And is she cute?" Gabriel prodded.
"Yes, but that's beside the point."
"We actually had boarded the plane and had a less than friendly encounter as seat mates..."
"Hello." Mary stood in the doorway.
Holly responded first. "Hi, would you like some coffee? I'm Holly by the way."
"I'm Mary." She looked a little green just at the mention of coffee. Her long sweater fell away and revealed her stomach. All eyes dropped down in silent observation.
"How about some juice then, or milk?" Houston charged ahead.
"Juice sounds better, thanks."
But then there was a stampede of little feet amazingly loud as they pounded down the hall yelling,"It's Christmas!" They bi-passed the kitchen and went running straight for the living room where presents were mounded under the tree. The adults filtered in with their drinks calling "Merry Christmas!" Maisie and little Chris were jumping up and down until they saw Mary. They stopped suddenly and Maisie said, "Who are you?"
This is Mary, my new friend," Houston said with a grin. She heard that Chris and Maisie were always willing to share their beds, with friends and even strangers.
Satisfied, the kids turned back wanting their dad to hurry and pass out the presents.
"Normally, we would read the Christmas story first, but your Grandpa Bob read that to us last night, so let's just do the gifts, okay? Of course that caused little voices to cheer. Here are the presents my mom and stepdad brought you from Papua New Guinea.
The kids ripped off the paper. Little Chris was now waving a child-sized spear over his head. At least it had a rubber tip. Maisie was putting on a pretty shell necklace. Then other gifts were passed out. Gabriel put his arm around Holly and whispered into her ear, "Thanks. You saved the kids' Christmas by being smart enough to second guess my choices. It would have been miserable tears, not smiles about now."
She grinned up at him. "You'll learn. If not, I'll be watching you closely."
"I hope so. I hope you watch me closely for a very long time," he said huskily.
Holly just looked up at him wide-eyed with her lips open in speechless wonder. But the kids demanded their attention as more gifts were wildly torn open. Gabe just chuckled. He couldn't ask to be any happier than he was in this moment. He glanced over at Houston. His buddy could hardly keep his eyes off their petite pixie guest. It was positively amazing!
Just as the kids finally settled down to play with their new toys, the new puppy who was being crate trained whined to get out. Holly went over and took her out cuddling the cute little thing. When she pulled on her coat on to take the puppy outside, Gabe was right behind her. As the little dog bounded through the snow, Gabriel handed her a package from his pocket. Holly was surprised, but took off her mittens to open it. Inside was a beautiful necklace, a silver heart with a small diamond in the middle.
"Oh, Gabe. It's beautiful!"
"I won't try to put it on you out here. My fingers are so frozen I'd drop it. Well, it looks like the puppy has turned enough snow yellow, so can we go back in now?"
Gabe was astounded to see his friend sitting relaxed with his arm around Mary. This was the guy who had not dated for an entire year since he had broken up with his last girlfriend. Just a couple of days ago, he'd failed to even get Holly to hold hands with him, for which Gabriel was thankful since that meant he was free to pursue her himself. Then Houston goes off to the airport and comes back a few hours later with a girl in tow, a pregnant one at that. Was there no end to surprises?
Later as they sat around eating homemade sweet rolls over more coffee, and milk, Houston leaned over and asked Gabriel. "What would you think if I offered Mary the position Holly left open in the branch offices' child care center? She's got the qualifications.
"But she's pregnant. How long would you be able to use her?" he asked. "I mean, we would have to add her to the group insurance and everything, then give her maternity leave..."
"Yeah, but we can't discriminate even against a pregnant woman."
Gabriel grinned. "I see how it is. Sure, you have my approval, as if you need it."
"Thanks, buddy," Houston grinned happily, and they fist bumped, their man thing again.
When the doorbell rang, Holly said, "I'll get it. It's probably another puppy, or even Pamela with a huge ball of mistletoe," She winked making the guys laugh heartily.
Holly opened the door to Madge. "Merry Christmas!" Madge kissed her on the cheek and then said, "That's a pretty necklace." The lady grinned broadly then added, "And no, I did not pick it out. He did that all by himself."
"Well, we have a another surprise left in store for you," Holly said. "Come into the kitchen, and I'll introduce you to Houston's new airport heartthrob."
Madge chuckled. "Maybe I'll have to go back and hang out at the airport myself if they are handing out eligible suitors. Do they have any with silver hair?"
The ladies went into the kitchen arm in arm giggling.
Maisie and little Chris ran in to hug her. Little Chris announced, "Guess what, Grandma! Houston found Mary at the airport so we need to find some hay before she has her baby."
Houston just gripped Mary's hand a tighter, before adding his own "Merry Christmas" looking down at his little airport mama. But it was her cool palm on the side of his face pulling him in for a kiss on his cheek that gave him hope that it was a gift that would keep on giving.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows:
when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,
before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
And Joseph her husband being a righteous man
and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
But when he had considered this,
behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying,
'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife;
for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus,
for He will save His people from their sins."