Sunday, January 1, 2017


A Just for Fun Very Short New Year's Fiction
By Celia Jolley

This was not how she imagined her life.  Instead of being engaged to be married and looking forward to becoming a wife and mother, here she was stranded in life, alone.  It could be worse.  At least she had a job, a studio apartment and a cat.  But by her second week on the new job, she had been branded as "the other woman." 

Reeling from her broken engagement when her college sweetheart found someone new, she wanted to disappear. So instead of planning a wedding, she found this new job out of state. She moved jamming everything of importance into her car.  Now Hannah had a clean slate.  No one knew her history.  But that meant, now she knew no one.  It was rather lonely to go home to her studio apartment with no one to talk to. 

Maybe that was why she had been so susceptible to the visiting rep's flirtations followed by an invitation to dinner.  She hadn't meant to date anyone so soon after her breakup, but there he was, the week before Christmas.  Of course the first thing Hannah did was to look at his finger.  No ring. 

Hannah even asked, "So, are you single?"  He had just held up his hand and wiggled his bare ring finger with a grin.  She thought perhaps she saw a slight indentation where a ring once had been, but at least it wasn't any longer.  He was very friendly, clean cut and nice looking.

"So, will you got to dinner with me tonight?" Scott whispered, looking around to make sure no one overheard him.

"Sure.  I guess so, but I'll meet you there."  She wasn't about to let someone she didn't know come to her apartment.  So she had accepted, lonely as she was with no one else to share her holidays with.

Hannah should have stuck to cats.  Her Christmas gift to herself was a kitten, little Miss Harriet. They shared Christmas together, just the two of them.  But a cat couldn't sing Christmas carols or make Christmas cookies with her.  At least she could cuddle and feel the purr vibrate through her warm fur as she watched a marathon of Christmas movies trying to drown out her clamoring feelings of being betrayed. 

Yes, she had been foolish enough and had gone out with the man.  It started out as a lovely evening at a very nice restaurant the week before Christmas.  The twinkling lights, garlands, and a beautiful tree set the ambiance.  She ordered prawns while he ordered steak.  But it was a mistake.  His angry wife showed up even before Hannah finished her salad.  She never got a bite of her prawns.  She felt chewed up and spit out as the woman caused a scene, and rightly so it turned out.  The man was married, but had casually removed his rings while with her.  He never gave Hannah another look or an apology that night.  His wife sucked up all the air in the room.  So Hannah just grabbed her purse and coat and left trying not to hear the woman rail against her husband.  She was thankful she had escaped with only one hard shove to her shoulder by the betrayed wife.  At least she had driven herself.  But once again, she felt cheated on by a lying, two-timing, black hearted snake. 

The good thing was that the married man had never so much as had the chance to kiss her, not even to hold her hand.  The most he did was open the car door for her.  The bad thing was that it took no time at all for it to become known and spread around the office, and her reputation was dirt.  She was now known as "the other woman."  Hannah could hear the whisperings and see the disgust on their faces.  Especially her boss.  He glared at her the next day as he paused by her desk.  She was sure he considered firing her on the spot.  After all, her contract said, "fire at will."  There did not have to be a reason.  She met his angry eyes trying to look as innocent as she was.  Finally, he shook his head and walked away.  Hannah took a deep breath and let it out.

"You're lucky he didn't give you your walking papers.  He always takes up for Scott," the woman in the next cubicle said.  Her name was Barbara, Hannah thought.  Barbara was in the ad department while she was a copy editor.  It was the first time the woman had said anything other than "Good morning," or "See you tomorrow." 

"Why didn't you tell me Scott was married?  You were here when he asked me out.  I'm sure you could hear him."

"We thought you knew.  We all did.  He's here often enough and is a shameless flirt, that's for sure.  I don't know how his wife puts up with it though.  I guess that part of no ring on his finger misled you, huh."

"Yeah, of course!"  Hannah couldn't help but huff.

"Other than his wife, it's the boss you have to worry about.  He might not forgive you for going out with his best friend like a brazen hussy.  Everyone assumed you knew he was married."

"Of course I didn't know.  I'm not that kind of person to go out with a married man!" 

"Well, you'll wear the red letter on your chest at least for awhile.  That's too bad.  I guess I should have said something."

"I would have appreciated it," Hannah said blinking back tears.

"You never know.  The last girl he hit on couldn't care less that he was married.  That affair lasted about four months.  She got pregnant and left town.  It's not gossip, just common knowledge.  I was just trying to mind my own business, you know."

Hannah swallowed her hard feelings.  She was the one who had been foolish.  How could she have been so gullible and trust a man so soon after...

"Now the boss, he's the catch.  Single, never been married.  But you probably lost your shot at getting his attention.  He's like Mr. Darcy, "My good opinion once lost is lost forever."  The man never forgets a black mark on anyone's character," the woman said shaking her head.   "That's why it's so puzzling the way he puts up with Scott."

"Great," she scowled.  She might as well start looking for another job.  It would have to be in this town though.  Hannah didn't have enough money to move again.

"I'll try to put a good word out there about you, but people will believe what they want to believe and that usually is the worst about somebody," Barbara said rolling her chair back until she was out of view.  End of conversation. 

That night, Hannah went home and hugged her kitten on her face and cried until the poor thing's fur was wet and slicked down.  She got a towel and dried her off.  "Sorry, kitty."  She said putting it down to grab a can of cat food.  The little thing tried to climb her leg already knowing what the sound of the can opener meant.

Hannah thought about trying to call her sister, but they didn't talk much.  The miles seemed to keep them apart.  What would she say?   "I've been stupid again?"  Then there was her brother, but he was deployed.  She'd written him and sent a care package last week.  She certainly didn't want to call any of her former friends either who might think it their business to keep her up to date with the latest gossip about how her ex was doing.  Tomorrow was Sunday, so she would find a church and hopefully find solace there.

She decided to try the rather large church that she passed every day on her way to work.   Someone greeted her with a welcoming smile at the door.  She purposefully came a little late and slipped in the back.  The nice lady next to her smiled and shared her Bible.  Of course, Hannah had forgotten hers.  The music was mostly choruses with the words up on the big screen.  Music was important, but the message was what would keep her coming back so she listened intently as the preacher spoke on "Who is without sin, cast the first stone.  Neither do I condemn you."  He preached on starting the new year with that thought of not judging or condemning, and the knowledge of being forgiven no matter our sin. 

Hannah had not really done anything worth having stones thrown at her, but had been condemned anyway.  She'd felt like she had been circled in her cubicle surrounded by hissing voices.  Of course, it wasn't that bad, but that's what it felt like none the less.  And before the move, it was the pitying looks and the head shakes at her as the poor little thing who got jilted wondering what had she done to lose her man, or not done to keep a fianc√©.  She'd felt that too.  Tears pooled in her eyes soaking up those precious words from Scripture. 

After the service, before she could ease out and escape, the woman who sat next to her tried to involve her in conversation.

"Hello, I'm Jan," she began.

"I'm Hannah.  It's nice to meet you."

"So if you are new here in town, who did you spend Christmas with?"

"My friend Harriet," she answered, not explaining that it was her kitten.

"Well, if you aren't doing anything for New Year's Eve, come over tonight and celebrate with our family and some friends.  It's nothing too exciting, just refreshments and table games and keeping us old folks awake until midnight before we turn into pumpkins.  You'd be more than welcome to come.  In fact, we are having a family dinner first at five.  More friends will come after that around seven.  I'd like you to join us when we sit down to the table so we can get to know you better," the nice lady named Jan said.  "Bring Harriet too, if you like."

"Umm, I will think about coming.  It is awfully nice to be invited, being new and all."  Hannah took a deep breath to be brave and said, "Maybe I will take you up on your offer, but Harriet won't be able to make it.  She has other plans tonight."  Yeah, like curling up and sleeping.

"Good.  I was hoping you'd say yes."  Jan wrote down directions on her bulletin and gave it to her. 

"Thanks.  I'll see you at five then.  What can I bring?" Hannah asked.

"Maybe just some finger food for later in the evening, but only if you want.  There is always plenty."  She gave Hannah a spontaneous hug.  "I'm so glad you are coming!  See you tonight."

Hannah was shocked that she had accepted the invitation.  Jan was certainly convincing.  Maybe she would make some other friends tonight.  The Lord knew she needed some, or at least one.

She went home to her cat.  She opened a can of food for her kitten and a can of soup for her own lunch.  Tonight she'd have real food.  That was something worth looking forward to.  Hannah searched her cupboards to try to figure out what to make to bring for tonight.  It would be brownies, always a favorite.  The smell of them baking almost made her want to sneak one, but she didn't want to take a pan with one missing.

Hannah had put on jeans and one of her prettier long sleeved blouses.  Boots rounded out her look.  Pulling on her coat, she said goodnight to her cat once more kissing her on the nose.  "Be good little one," she said setting her down and rushing out the door before the kitten could follow.

She had googled the address and knew exactly where to go.  It was a very nice neighborhood with brick homes and manicured lawns.  Jan answered the door.

"I'm so glad you could make it, Hannah," she said with a hug.  You can hang your coat here, she said opening a coat closet.  "Follow me," taking the pan of brownies from Hannah's hand.  We were just sitting down to eat.  I'll introduce you, then put this in the kitchen for later, she said leading her in from the entry."

"Hey everyone, this is Hannah," friendly faces turned her direction smiling except one.  She froze as the man turned around.  If looks could kill, she'd be dead.  It was her boss.  She could feel the blood draining from her face.

"Why on earth did you invite her, mom," he said standing to his feet barely catching his chair before it fell over.  "I can't believe you asked her after what she did to Angie."

Hannah grabbed her coat and ran out the door.  That was the most humiliating moment of her life.  Not only had she been publically shamed in front of that sweet church lady and her entire family, but now she'd for sure lose her job.  If only she'd known that Jan was her boss' mother, she never would have accepted her invitation. 

Hannah ran up the stairs to her apartment but her hand shook so badly that she had trouble using her key to get in.  Finally once inside, she broke down.  Her kitten mewed at her feet until she picked her up and tucked her under her chin.  When she got control over herself, she opened her laptop and started another job search. 

Last year her hopes had soared looking forward to a new year with her wedding looming.  Now, the bottom had fallen out of all her plans.  Tonight was the icing on a poisoned apple cake.  There was not one single thing she was looking forward to in this new year. 

When there was a knock on her door, Hannah about jumped out of her skin.  Her eyes went wild seeking something to use as a weapon.  All she could find was a small iron skillet.  The knocking continued so she tried to see out the peep hole, but she needed a new porch light.  Hannah took a deep breath then opened the door as far as her safety chain allowed.  It was her boss.  She felt nauseous.

"Can I come in?" he asked.

How could she politely turn him down.  Would he fire her for refusing him?  She blew out her breath and unlocked her door. 

"Come in, Mr. Steele."  She looked quickly around her studio and saw her bed was messy, her boots were there where she kicked them off and her coat was slung across her couch along with a Kleenex box and dirty tissues.  She scooped them up and threw them away quickly.  Hannah hated to think of what her blotchy face and swollen eyes looked like after indulging in tears earlier. 

"Would you like to sit down?"  She had not realized how large he was until he filled her small studio apartment and made her couch look small when he sat. 

He took off his baseball cap and squeezed it in his hands.  When Harriet, the kitten, jumped up and walked onto his lap, he absently rubbed her back without looking.  That really made him seem huge.

"I thought I should come over and try to clear the air.  It was rude of me to greet you the way I did under any circumstances. I just need to let you know that Scott and his wife Angie are some of my best friends."

She clenched her hands so tightly to keep them from shaking that her knuckles were white. 

"You look like maybe you should sit down, Miss White." 

She nodded and pulled the only other chair in her apartment over and sat down.  She took a gulp and decided to fight for her job.  "In spite of what it looked like, I had no idea Scott was married.  I asked him in fact.  He lifted his hand to show me that he wasn't wearing a ring.  Barbara who sits next to me heard me, in fact.  I would never knowingly ever go out with a married man!"

He huffed and mumbled under his breath.  "So you claim that you didn't know he was married?"

She nodded but bit her lip and decided not to answer him further averting her eyes.  It was obvious that he was not going to believe her. 

"Scott said that he accidently ran into you in the bar at the restaurant and you invited him to join you at your table," he said.

"And that sounds plausible?" she gasped.  "I don't drink.  The last place you'd ever find me is in a bar."

Mr. Steele ran his hand through his hair.  "I guess, it's only plausible if you want to give your best friend the benefit of the doubt.  As much as he's messed up in the past, he's never lied to me before now.  At least he's promised to go to counseling with his wife in the new year."

"Are you going to fire me, Mr. Steele?" she bravely asked sitting up straight, shoulders back.

He looked her in the eyes and said, "Not unless you give me a reason by failing to do your job.   Anyway, my mom won't let me back into the house unless I bring you back with me to dinner.  They are waiting to eat until we get there."

"I'm sorry, but no.  I hate to hurt your mother's feelings, but I can't face anyone tonight."

He stood.  "You'd do that to me?  Maybe I should threaten to fire you if you refuse to help me make up with my mother," he grinned. 

"No.  I'm sorry.  Fire away." She turned her back and walked to the door to see him out.  But was stopped by his hand on her arm.

"Please, Miss Smith."

"No, I can't.  I can't face people with swollen eyes and a blotchy face.  It's just not in me."

He brushed a strand of hair out of the way, then tilted her face up as his eyes looked her over.  You look fine to me," he stated matter of factly.

She burst out with a laugh.  "You, sir, are stretching the truth.  Give my apologies to your mom.  You can even tell her that I forgive you."

He still looked searchingly at her.  "You do know that I feel like the biggest heel in the world making you cry.  Since you are missing dinner, how about if I take you out.  I at least owe you that.   I'll just call and let my mother know to go ahead and eat without us."

She was shocked.  "I'm sorry.  I've sworn off going anywhere with men right now, nothing personal.  You might just say it's my New Year's resolution.  I just accepted Scott's invitation, against my better judgment, since I didn't know another soul here in town.  But look how that turned out."

"You are kidding, right?" he asked flabbergasted.  "You don't plan on dating at all?"

"No, I'm dead serious.  You might say I've been burned once too often."  She stood with her arms crossed across her chest.

"So, I'll just have to be in trouble with my mother then?" he asked one more time hoping she'd change her mind.

"I like your mother, but this isn't my problem.  You'll have to face her yourself."  With that she opened her door and waited for her boss to leave.

He paused in the doorway and said, "Just call me Todd.  And Happy New Year."


But just then her kitten darted out between his legs.  She squealed.

"What's wrong?" he said looking around.

"My kitten, she escaped!" she ran out in her bare feet and no coat and started calling, "Here kitty, kitty."

He began looking as well.  The problem was, the apartment had bushes everywhere in thick tangles under the windows.  "You'd better go get your shoes on and grab your coat.  You'll freeze out here."

"You better call your mom and tell them to eat without you," she jabbed back, but went in shivering to put on her boots and coat.

"You're right," he said pulling out his phone and calling home.  "Hi mom.  Go ahead and eat.  Harriet's missing and I'm helping Miss Smith look for her."

"Her friend Harriet is missing?" his mother sounded truly worried.

"Harriet is her kitten, Mom.  I'm sure we'll find her soon," he assured her.

"But she told me she spent Christmas with her friend Harriet.  That means the poor thing had Christmas alone.  Make sure she doesn't spend New Years Eve alone too, whatever you have to do, son, especially the way you treated her earlier."

"Okay, mom, but she's rather stubborn," he said grinning as she came out obviously overhearing his conversation.  But when he saw the worried look on her face, he quickly said, 'I've got to go, mom.  I'll keep you posted."

Soon both of them were calling, "Here kitty, kitty."  Going down on their hands and knees onto frost encrusted grass to look under bushes.

"Why don't you try to lure her with some food.  Maybe she'll smell it and come out," he suggested.

"Good thinking.  She'll come running if she hears the noise of the can opener.  Hannah ran up the stairs leaving her front door open.  Sure enough, the cat came tiptoeing out and Todd scooped her up. 

"Eureka!" he yelled.  "I've got her."

Hannah ran back out and took her kitten from him kissing the top of its head.  He couldn't help but envy the kitten a wee bit.  He ran his hand over his face finding himself standing in her apartment once again not ready to leave yet.  

"Come in and shut the door," she said.  "Would you like a cup of coffee or some hot chocolate to warm you up before you go?" she asked.  "And thanks for helping me catch her."

"Hot chocolate sounds good.  I'd better call my mom back though.  She was worried that your friend Harriet had run off," he winked.

Hannah stood there with her lips in an "O."  "You told her?"

"Sure, I didn't know that you'd told her that you'd spent Christmas with your friend named Harriet.  I'm under strict orders that I not let you spend New Year's Eve alone, not even with Harriet for company.  So what do you want me to order in, pizza or Chinese food?"

She was standing stock still.  He could see the indecision on her face, not about the food, but about him staying here in her apartment.  He was a little curious about that himself why he'd suddenly decided that.

"Since the lady has not made known her preference, I'll order pizza.  A supreme?" he asked.

Hannah nodded slightly, still stunned.

She turned to feed the cat while he called his mother back.  "I'm not sure when or if I'll show up, so go ahead.  Hannah and I are eating pizza here, a sort of celebration over finding Harriet, the scamp."

She couldn't help but laugh and handed him his cup of hot chocolate.

Somehow over olives, sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni she told him of her broken engagement.  She hadn't planned to.  She'd wanted a clean slate with no one knowing her business prior to moving here.  But it kind of slipped out in pieces when he probed her on why she had taken the job her at his newspaper. 

"So that's why you are a little gun shy around men?  Sounds like you've had good reason.  I'm sorry Scott did you the way he did.  And I'm truly sorry I blamed you.  It's just that Scott and I went all through school together, played a lot of sports together, and I've always stood up for him.  But I'm really disappointed in him right now.  His wife doesn't deserve that kind of treatment."

"Do they have any kids?" she asked.

Todd shook his head.  "That's the only good thing, but it is also one less thing to tie him down to a commitment to his marriage.  I'll just have to keep praying."

"Were they going to be there tonight?" she asked lowering her eyes and taking her hair out of her pony tail.

Todd shook his head. "No, Angie said she's not ready to face people either.  It doesn't take long for gossip to get around that he'd cheated on his wife again.  Sorry, I didn't mean...well, it's not your fault.  He's the big jerk," he said with his jaw clenched.  "I'm not sure how Angie will see it though.  It's always easier to blame someone else, like I did."

She took a sip of her soda and looked away.  "Thank you for the pizza, but you should get back to your family's party," she said.

"Are you going with me?" he asked.

"No," she wadded up her napkin in her hand.

"Well, I'm not either.  Are there any good movies on tonight?" he asked.


"I'm not leaving you here by yourself.  I'm an obedient son," he grinned.

She crossed her arms and said, "I'm a big girl.  I can handle staying by myself.  I don't need you to babysit me."

"How about if I admit that I'd rather stay here with you than go hang out playing table games.  As long as you have some popcorn for later on, I'll be fine."

She did have popcorn, but she didn't know what her boss was doing.  He had her perplexed.  He held a tired kitten sleeping on his chest while she sifted through the T.V.'s guide of programs.  They decided on the classic, "A Roman Holiday."  He'd never seen it.

"Are you sure?  It's kind of a chick flick.  but it would round out your knowledge of movie trivia next time you play a game."

"I don't mind.  I don't watch much unless it's sports on television.  I don't know when I last saw a movie."

"Don't you date?" she asked not looking him in the eyes.

"Not much."

"Why not?" she asked.

"Maybe, it's just that...let's see how do I say this without stomping on feminist toes here, women tend to get a little more aggressive than they used to in a relationship.  As a Christian man, I find that a little off-putting."

"You didn't step on my toes, Todd.  I know what you mean.  It's like someone changed up all the rules in our culture, and I don't think it's made anything better, only worse for the most part.  Somewhere along the line, respect went out the window.  The most sacred things God has given to a man and a woman are trashed in the process."

"It puts guys like Scott in a bad predicament when they are hit on--not that I'm saying you did it--but he gets it all the time, you know.  I talk to him about how to resist, but the internet doesn't help his mind or his marriage, if you know what I mean.  I'm not trying to make excuses for the man, believe you me.  I'm so mad at him right now, I could bust his chops."

"How do you deal with it then?  I'm sure you are hit on yourself as handsome as you are."   Then she clapped a hand over her mouth and her eyes growing large not believing she'd just said that. 

"Thanks," he laughed self-consciously.  "Well, I quit going to the gym for one thing and just work out at home. I don't go to the bars.   I mostly socialize at church in the singles group where there's safety in numbers or play team sports leagues with the guys.  I have been known to ask a young woman to dinner once in awhile and usually don't get turned down," he smirked, "until tonight."

"That was different," she sputtered.

"How so?" he asked looking over at her where she sat blushing.

"Your mother put you up to it," she said.

"She didn't tell me to ask you to dinner," he countered.  "That was my idea."

"Well, it was the circumstances of the whole evening's fiasco that prompted it.  I didn't want to be the butt of a joke that you had to spend your New Year's Eve  taking poor Miss Smith out to dinner for making her cry," she managed to say.  "That's not even including the matter of my New Year's resolution."

"I see.  I guess we'll have to put off going out to dinner until next year.  I can be a patient man," he grinned.

She shook her head and laughed.  Hannah couldn't believe this was the same man who had intimidated her so badly.

The movie got over at 11:30.  So they half watched the Time Square's countdown, but kept finding more things to talk about.  When the ball dropped, he leaned over hesitating just a moment before brushing her lips with a kiss.  When she didn't move away, he kissed her again, only taking his sweet time as her hands went around his neck.

"I suppose this just broke all the rules about office fraternization," he said smiling when he sat back.

"I suppose it just shot my New Year's Resolution to smithereens," she added with a slight blush. "I think I just kissed it goodbye!"

"Happy New Years," he grinned.  "I know mine is starting out better than I imagined."

"Mine too," she said as Harriet stretched, yawned, then settled in making herself more comfortable on Todd's lap purring.

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