Picture - #18
Disclaimers: Story mine, characters mine.
Annie glanced up from her sketchbook, grinning at the squirming child suddenly beside her. "Something I can help you with?"
"You said after Dora, Mom; can we go now? Please?"
"If Dora's over, that's our cue. Grab your hat; sunburns aren't allowed for Christmas."
As they strolled the sunny boardwalk, Annie marveled once again at the changes in their lives. A lifelong New Yorker, she'd always lived where Christmas meant cold. And while not a stranger to high-rise living, the huge expanse of Pacific Ocean had taken some getting used to. Still, she was adjusting; she just hoped her choices were the right ones for her sensitive young daughter.
At Molly's urging, they headed for the small playground. Blue beach umbrellas stretched along the shoreline, evoking incongruous images of lazy summer days. Annie settled on the lone bench, gazing out at the horizon.
"Mind if I join you?"
Startled from her reverie, Annie cast her eyes upward, happy to see a pleasant-looking woman smiling back. It was nice to see a friendly face.
"No, please. Have a seat."
"Thanks; I'm afraid Superman over there needs to burn off some energy, or one of us won't survive until Christmas. I'm Rachel by the way, and that's Lincoln." Annie smiled, charmed by the woman's gregarious manner.
"Annie, and that's my daughter Molly." She glanced over to where her daughter was playing, a tow-headed boy crouched beside her. Surprisingly, they appeared deep in conversation.
"First time here? I don't recall seeing you before."
"No, we come every day, usually later in the afternoon. She loves being outside; a warm winter is a huge change for her."
"Where'd you come from, Nome?"
Annie laughed at the idea. "Worse. Manhattan."
"New Yorker, huh? Recent transplant?"
"Two months. Just got the last of the boxes put away."
"That's quite a change. New job?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. That, and I decided Manhattan wasn't a great place to raise a child, especially for a single mother. My hours were crazy, and there was nowhere for her to play; I got a great offer, and here we are." Annie wasn't usually so forthcoming, but she found Rachel very easy to talk to.
"I know what you mean, about the single mom part - I'm a screenwriter, and work mostly from home, but it would be a disaster if I couldn't. We're pretty much a two-person team, Linc and I."
Annie smiled in empathy; this woman's situation was very similar to her own. She felt a pleasant spark of connection. She was also staring at the kids - she couldn't believe how sociable Molly was being. Since the move, she'd been even shyer than usual. She explained her surprise to her companion.
"I can't get over how well they're playing together. Your son is the first person she's taken to since we got here. I wish I didn't have to break up the party, but I'm afraid I have sketches to finish."
"I'm sorry, too. I've enjoyed talking with you."
Annie smiled in acknowledgement, then turned and called out, "Molly, honey, it's time to go. Tell Lincoln goodbye."
"Oh mom, not yet. Five more minutes, please?" Molly didn't wait for an answer, she just turned back to whatever game it was they were playing.
Beside her, Rachel laughed. "I've heard that one before - you sure she's shy? Sounds pretty normal to me…"
"Yes, she's shy. I think Superman there cast a spell on her."
"Well, if it got you to stay a little longer, I'm grateful. Any big plans for the holiday?"
"No, not really; I'm still trying to adjust to this odd weather. How do you celebrate Christmas in this heat? Does Santa wear his bathing suit down the chimney?"
"This weather isn't odd, it's wonderful! You do realize half the country is snowed in right this moment, don't you? This is heaven! You haven't lived until you've checked out the Christmas lights by convertible. You have toured the lights, right?"
"Nope, afraid not. So far, I've gone back and forth to work and picked up groceries; that's about it. I wouldn't know where to find Christmas lights, anyway. My neighbor does have a neon palm tree on his balcony - does that count?"
"Absolutely not. There are these spectacular places…"
A sudden chirping interrupted her, mid-sentence. She looked at her phone in surprise. "My alarm, sorry. I almost forgot, Clark Kent has a dentist appointment this afternoon. We've got to get going. Linc, wrap it up, son. Time to head out."
"Ah, c'mon mom, five more minutes? We're almost done."
It was Annie's turn to laugh. "Guess you have heard it before. This has been great; they're really cute together." Rachel grinned; Annie was happy that her new friend made no immediate move to go.
"So, tell me, what else is good about Christmas in California?"
"Well, how about watching your son - or daughter - ride their brand new bike, outside, right on Christmas morning? No rain, no sleet, no snow. That's pretty terrific."
"It would be, if we didn't live in a high-rise condo, on a busy street. No bike for us this year, I'm afraid."
"Gee, that's too bad - we live on a nice cul-de-sac. If you did get her a bike…"
"Which I didn't…"
"But if you did…"
Annie caught herself actually imaging a sunny Christmas morning, two happy kids pedaling down the street, this warm, engaging woman by her side. She shook herself to break the spell; they barely knew each other. She glanced at her watch, suddenly self-conscious. "Gee, look at the time -"
"Really, I need to get going. Maybe next week…"
"Wait, please. Don't go, not yet. The kids aren't done…"
Annie felt the pull, again, as she looked into Rachel's eyes. "I have a deadline..."
"I know, me too. But it'll wait, right? Five more minutes?"
Story by: CASEY ELLIOTT
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