By Christina Harlin
Continued from November 17, 2008
Still, when they popped back into the world on his brother’s back porch, Holly was rubbing her arm self-consciously. Before he could comment on this she gestured to the lighted glass doors, through which he could see his brother Harold, and Harold’s wife and their three children gathering around the table for takeout pizza.
“Debbie always orders pizza on Christmas Eve,” he explained. “She spends most of tomorrow cooking so she gives herself a break the night before.”
“And they always invite you,” said Holly, smiling at the scene before them, the mess of wrapping papers in the corner, the skewed stacks of Christmas catalogs in the merrily sloppy house, “and there are always four presents under their tree for you, one from the family, three from your little niece and your nephews. And you show up a couple days later with cash. Honestly, Blake.”
“I just don’t want to interfere with their fun,” he said. “Look what a good time they have. Why have grouchy old Uncle Blake skulking around?”
“Skulking is a choice.”
“I don’t have Christmas spirit, okay? I never have.”
“The problem is that you don’t have any spirit whatsoever. You have been dragging through your life finding no joy in anything, and you’re too honest to pretend that you do.”
Blake uttered a mild curse and turned to face his lovely tormentor. “Okay, and this warrants my getting a visit from three ghosts on Christmas Eve?”
“We only visit the people worth saving,” replied Holly. “If you didn’t have such great potential, you’d get the more mundane treatment of a near-death experience.”
“What’s mundane about that?”
“The funding. Near-death experience is very cheap. Anyway, three-ghost visitation is for special cases. You could make the world a better place.”
“I buy and sell real estate. How can that make the world a better place?”
Holly tsked and shook her head. “This is the part that always gets you guys confused. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. I have been watching you for a long time and I think that you love real estate transactions but don’t believe you should be allowed to love it. Thanks to that father of yours, who convinced you that if you love your job, you’re not working hard enough.”
The perception of this comment cut him, sharply enough that he drew back from the rather personal space they had been sharing on his brother’s back porch. Blake cast around, grasping for something to say that would change the subject, and came up with, “You’ve been watching me?”
Holly was the one to look flustered now. “Well, the case file, is, was, my assignment, assigned. To me. For watching.”
She brushed at her dress, though she was spotless. “The point is, that if you embrace what you love and do it with passion, with an eye to creating something worthwhile, then you may find yourself just full of, um, spirit. Christmas and whatnot.”
Blake couldn’t help but chuckle. “The world doesn’t work that way. Nobody likes a workaholic. Passion is only appealing from a distance. Up close, it drives people away.”
“Not so.” Having regained her composure, Holly said, “Which means that now we go see Tabitha.”
Blake frowned at the mention of his ex-fiancé’s name. He’d already relived their breakup through the generosity of Christmas Past. Now he had see her as she was today? “Can we skip it? I promise to stop and smell the roses, from now on.”
Ignoring him, Holly gave one last, rather envious look at the happy family through the kitchen doors and then said, “For God’s sake, go visit them tomorrow. On Christmas. And take those children something from the heart, not from your checkbook.”
“Where am I supposed to shop? It’s two in the morning!”
His question went unanswered as they snapped out of the world once again and then back into it, where he found himself in a tastefully furnished den in what surely must be a beautiful house. His ex-fiancée Tabitha, now over forty, looked lovely as ever as she sat quietly reading in a chair before the fireplace. The room was subtly decorated for the holiday; beneath the tree were few gifts but their wrapping suggested the contents might be quite costly. Tabitha was alone, her gold-streaked hair swinging forward as she concentrated on her book.
Blake was appalled. “This is how she spent her Christmas Eve? Where’s her husband?”
“He was on call at the hospital,” replied Holly. “And Tabitha’s on call tomorrow. They’re barely going to see each other. I believe they have only an hour planned to exchange gifts and celebrate together.”
Blake chuffed. “I thought that these visions were supposed to show me what a great time everyone was having without me.”
“Who says she’s not having a great time?”
“She’s alone on Christmas Eve.”
“Reading a book in front of a roaring fire, looking forward to an hour with my husband where I can try on the little black satin number that’s in that box over there? Sounds like a good time to me.”
Blake looked from Tabitha, to the box, and then to Holly. “Black satin?”
“Easy there. She’s not your girl anymore.”
“Actually I wasn’t thinking of Tabitha.” Of their own accord his eye flicked over her curves, and Holly did not miss it. Blake admitted, “Tabitha couldn’t deal with my work hours, and instead she ends up married to a man whose schedule is probably worse than mine.”
“Hers is bad too,” agreed Holly. “And yet they make it work. The hours apart make their hours together even better. Maybe it’s easier for you to blame being a workaholic for your breakup, but . . .”
“She couldn’t handle my schedule. Whenever we’d be together we just didn’t have anything to talk about.”
“Blake, it’s hard to love a man who doesn’t love himself, or much of anything else. You have a passion that you won’t let yourself be passionate about.”
Blake looked his ghost fully in the face, was swept away once again by the depth of those green eyes. Her age was hard to determine, if ghosts had ages, because her face was mature and her eyes were wise, yet there was something impish and youthful in the way she would smile. Holly was giving him that aged and knowing look right then. “How did you feel, when she finally left you?”
“I was devastated.” He realized that felt like a lie. “For her sake. I thought I’d broken her heart.” Holly continued to gaze at him. “I was relieved. Because I knew that we didn’t have what it took to be married to each other.”
Holly said, “Couples all over the world adore each other despite the fact that they have to earn a living. Stop looking for ways to blame your passion for your lack of a love life.”
Blake held up a hand to stop her. “No, that’s not right. Being a couple means that you have to work at it; you can’t just abandon the one you love for a real estate transaction.”
“Silly man, I’m trying to show you something. It doesn’t have to be about sacrificing one thing for the other. I’ve watched you. Watched your case file, I mean. You take a profession that sounds, frankly, rather dull and unproductive—”
“And turn it into an art form. You come alive when you’re in the middle of a great transaction. I saw it when you took those slums and renovated them into decent apartment buildings where families could actually live safely. You were on fire. The only problem? You wouldn’t let yourself love it. You spent the whole time thinking that you should work harder, harder, harder, because you were dangerously close to enjoying yourself.”
“You’re a stalker,” accused Blake, rather than to acknowledge that she was speaking the truth.
“I’m your case worker!” she argued, but she couldn’t make eye contact.
“And I don’t understand why I’m getting the Scrooge treatment. I’m not a Scrooge. Why didn’t I get the George Bailey, where you show what the world would be like without me?”
“The George Bailey is for people who don’t know their own value,” argued Holly, “and the Scrooge is for prunes like you, who stubbornly refuse to have any joy. And I don’t do the George Bailey anyway, that’s another department. Angels, not Ghosts.”
“You’re no angel, that’s for sure.” He grunted at her scowl of displeasure. “Still, your time be better spent trying to reform someone who was doing some damage”
“You are doing damage, to yourself. It gets worse, the older you get. In half an hour, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will show you where all this is leading, and I don’t think I can stand it.” Her voice hitched. Were ghosts able to cry? This one seemed about to do so. She swiped hastily at her eyes. “We’re not supposed to become emotionally involved,” she sniffled.
“Maybe it’s too late for that.” Impulsively Blake leaned over and kissed the side of her mouth, to see if she was still solid, or if her skin was cold. No, she felt warm and smooth. Her sharp intake of breath didn’t sound very ghostlike, either.
“I’m corporeal,” she explained softly, her eyelids fluttering closed.
“I see that,” murmured Blake, and kissed her fully on the lips.