The third part in my Christmas blog story set on Christmas Eve night, around one building, twelve characters, and six relationships - some lovers, some friends, and some family.
Thank you to everyone who read the first two parts making up Jamie and Sophie's story in Santa Baby and Red. The competition to win a toasty treat is still open on part 1 until the weekend. Now read the third part and the start of Lionel and Dana's story.
"That's the third time you've checked your phone. Are you waiting on someone special?" Lionel Burgess coughed into his handkerchief and rubbed soothingly at his chest. The cold December air had done his seventy-two year old bones no favors. He ached and he swore the annoying cough had come from nowhere.
Dana rested her cell phone in her lap and folded her hands over the top of it. "No one," she said. Her voice was all silk and syrup and warmed Lionel's heart. "So, you were telling me about the photo." She pointed to the old, tattered Polaroid tucked in the edge of a frame.
Lionel looked at the faded sepia image and then at the photograph in the frame. He'd received them both in the mail two days before and with them old memories and regrets had surfaced. "His name is Jorge. I haven't spoken to him in almost fifty years." But he had often dreamed about the young men they'd once been.
"That's a long time," Dana said as she rested her head in her hand and gave him a comforting smile. She wouldn't understand just how sad it really was. "Why now?"
"He was clearing out some old things and thought I might like it." He stared at the image. "I was surprised he even remembered me. It was such a long time ago." He smiled to himself. Maybe he shouldn't be so surprised. He certainly remembered the two young boys in the old photograph—himself and Jorge at thirteen years old.
"Did you have an argument? Is there a reason you haven't spoken in so long?"
Not an argument. "The world was a different place back then and I wasn't brave enough."
Dana narrowed her dark eyes. "Brave?" She looked at the image. "The two of you were friends?"
Lionel nodded. "Yes. But for me it was more than that." He looked at Dana and admired her dark Latin American features. Maybe it was why he asked for her over and over. In some ways, her accent, her looks, she reminded him of Jorge. "I loved him." The declaration was like a weight being lifted from his chest. "We were children and innocent and it didn't feel wrong or bad. That was something we were taught as we grew up."
"Did he know how you felt?" Dana asked and something sparked behind her deep brown eyes.
If only. "Like I said. I wasn't brave enough."
"But he reached out to you. Maybe it's not too late."
Looking down at his hands, Lionel shook his head. No one wanted a weathered old man. "It's too late. I know that." He looked at the second photograph. There Jorge was, all grown up with a family. His wasn't a life Lionel dreamed of shattering with foolish confessions. "He invited me to visit."
"Then why don't you?"
He couldn't do that. Jorge had lost his wife and become a grandfather in the last year. It was too confusing. "You make it sound easy."
"Maybe it is." Dana slightly raised her hands as she tried to subtly check her cell. Whose name was she hoping to see on the screen?
"Maybe you should take your own advice?" he suggested and smiled as she blushed. "Who is he?"
Dana shook her head. "I'm here to talk about you, not me. It's your time."
Time. Too much of it and yet, somehow, never enough. For fifty years, he had been alone. No wife, no family, just memories and regrets. Hung up on a boy who grew up and moved on without him. With a sigh, he checked the time on his watch. Two full minutes into Christmas Day. It felt good not to see the holiday in alone this year. "Merry Christmas," he said and picked up an envelope and held it out to her. "For your time."
Dana took the envelope and looked inside. "You don't have to," she said of the four hundred dollars inside. "You already paid." Sure, he'd paid the agency, but this was just for her.
"It's a gift. Please. I want you to have it. Treat your boy to something nice."
Smiling, Dana folded the envelope in half and leaned forward, pushing it into her handbag. "Thank you," she said and stood up, collecting her coat from the back of the chair. Smoothing out the creases of her black cocktail dress, she then headed for the door. "Merry Christmas," she added with a smile, before leaving the apartment.
With a sigh, Lionel gazed at the photograph of the elderly Jorge. Taking a deep breath, he decided after tomorrow he would put the photographs away. He had his memories, and though he was curious about the man Jorge had become, all he wanted was to remember them as the boys they had been.
"Merry Christmas, Jorge," he said to the photograph and looked up at the ceiling as the light flickered overhead. Laughing, he got to his feet. He was too old to think it anything but a coincidence.