MAGIC OF YULE
Natalie Nicole Bates
The only thing keeping her in the café was the warm fire and the fact it was snowy and freezing outside.
Ryanna drummed her fingers on the table before once again looking at her watch. It was the morning of January 5, five minutes past midnight. It was official: She’d been stood up.
Now sitting alone and staring into the dredges of leftover cold cappuccino, she contemplated the reality of her situation. From the very beginning, when she first met Bobby Pearson, something felt—off.
The first time she saw him was a week before Christmas, through a window at the long closed antique shop. She was admiring an antique Frozen Charlotte doll, similar to one her grandmother once gave her as a child. Ryanna loved the doll, and was fascinated by the tale of the young woman who didn’t listen to her parents and went out in a blizzard for a ride with friends without a coat, and perished in the storm.
Bobby was inside the shop cleaning glass counters. He looked up from his work and raised a hand with a small hello.
The day following Christmas, she was once again in front of the shop admiring the doll and wishing the shop would open soon so she could at least ask the price, but knowing it was likely well out of her budget.
Lost in that thought, she startled when a hand touched her shoulder. It was him. Tall, with long way hair and dark eyes she knew she could lose herself in.
“What’s caught your fancy?” He asked.
“The Frozen Charlotte. I love looking at it.”
He only nodded in response.
“Are you reopening the antique shop?”
“Perhaps. I inherited this building recently from a relative. Right now, I’m just cleaning up, taking inventory, and…” he shrugged his shoulders beneath his heavy winter coat. “We’ll see, I guess.”
They met for coffee a day later, and another coffee a day after that. Things seemed to be going well, at least for Ryanna. Then it happened.
New Year’s Eve she went to the café to celebrate the new year with a glass of wine and enjoy the atmosphere. She was delighted when Bobby appeared. They danced close, and at the stroke of midnight, she waited for a magical kiss to usher in the new year. A kiss which never happened.
He was just shy, she assured herself. So she took matters into her own hands…or actually, her lips. On tip-toes, she attempted to place a friendly closed mouth kiss against his lips, only for Bobby to move his face, and her kiss landed awkwardly on his chin.
Talk about an embarrassing moment. He averted his eyes and mumbled an apology, while Ryanna wanted nothing more at that moment to vanish. Which she did, moments later when he offered to get her another glass of wine.
Then out of the blue, he sent a text asking to meet her at the café that night. She was skeptic, but wanted to give him one more chance. The truth was, she liked him, but maybe any interest on his part was just her imagination.
Yet, sadly she’d been right. Here is was, now the first minutes of Twelfth Night, and she was alone.
The signs were all there. He spoke little about himself beyond scratching the surface of his life. She sensed he wasn’t a cold or cruel man, just lonely and…stuck.
Sometimes she could see it in his eyes. That he had things to tell her, so much to reveal. But in his dark eyes lurked a world of sorrow and hurt. A man who lost his magic and happiness and didn’t know how to reclaim it.
She dabbed her lips with a linen napkin and slid back her chair. Enough humiliation for one night. It was time to trudge back to her home and forget all about this night, and about that man.
Climbing into her coat, she tossed a few bills onto the table to take care of her tab, and made her way to the exit.
As soon as she stepped outside the warmth of the café, the cutting wind whipped her hair furiously around her face. She made her way along the sidewalk and tried to step on the snow that had already been smushed down by others before her. The sky above was dark and clear, the snow clouds pushed out. It was colder than ever.
Almost no one was on the street, just a man filling the newspaper box with the morning edition, and a couple walking hand in hand and laughing across the street. Most likely everyone was home in bed, or snuggling with a loved one in front of the television.
She didn’t think much of the footsteps she heard thudding on the snow behind her until they were nearly on top of her. She glanced back to see Bobby. She picked up her pace.
“Ryanna! Wait!” He called out.
Should she stop, or just ignore him? Her conscience teetered.
“Please, Ryanna, just stop!”
Well, he did say please. She halted in her tracks, but did not turn back.
Within a few seconds he was beside her.
“Why didn’t you wait for me?” he asked.
“Wait for you? I waited for two hours!” She blurted. Her tone was stronger than she intended, but damn, she was angry and freezing.
“I left a message for you. Didn’t you get it?”
She chuckled a little, but not pleasantly. “Come on Bobby, you’ve lived in this little town long enough to know that cell phone service is patchy at best.” She opened her clutch and rifled around the contents for her phone. She pressed a few commands, and handed him the phone. “See, no service? No service, means no message.”
She began to walk again.
“Ryanna, I’m sorry,” he said.
There was such a sincerity on his voice, but she waved off his apology. “Forget about it. It’s fine.” She said the words but she knew it wasn’t fine.
He caught up and fell into step alongside her. “Ryanna…”
He wasn’t going to give up, she realized, so she stopped. “Listen, Bobby…I’m cold and I’m tired. I just want to go home and call it a night.” She flexed her fingers before they could turn into icicles, and reached into the pocket of her coat in search of her wool mittens. Instead, she found the little New Year’s gift she had for Bobby, but left it in her pocket. Maybe she would give it to him, maybe not. He might think it was just a silly little tradition anyway.
He steadied her chin with his gloved hand, and locked his dark eyes to hers. “Please, just give me a minute of your time, and if you don’t want to talk to me anymore, I won’t bother you, I promise.”
Her resolve to leave slipped a little. “Be quick,” she said as she finally found her mittens in another pocket.
But as soon as she tried to slip one on, it fell from her hand and landed in the snow. They both bent down at the say time to retrieve the mitten, his hand landing on top of hers. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and she looked up to see him smile at her. For the first time in this brief, for lack of a better word, relationship, there was a breakthrough. Yet just as his lips descended upon hers, Ryanna heard the sound of a car engine, followed by a car barreling down the street, and then the ear-piercing screech of the brakes.
Before she could react, the car jumped the curb. The next thing Ryanna felt was a mighty shove, and Bobby’s body on top of hers, shielding her from the impact. As she lay in the snow, shock froze her body. For a moment she could do nothing but stare up into the black, night sky. In the distance she heard the car drive off at an alarming rate of speed.
Slowly, she regained her senses. “Bobby, are you okay?” She said a swift prayer to God or whatever Fate might be listening.
After an agonizing few seconds, he stirred above her. “I think so.”
“Do you think we’re still alive?” she asked, only half-joking.
“I believe so, but if we’re dead, we’re together and that’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah, it is,” she agreed.
Slowly he got up from her body, and to his knees. In the light of the streetlamp, she could see blood flow from his nose. She rolled over to where her clutch landed and dug out a few tissues. “I think I broke your nose.” She crawled her way to him, and pressed the tissues against his nose.
“You didn’t break anything. That jerk who was speeding and jumped the curb and nearly killed us is the one who is at fault.”
He slowly made his way to his feet and helped Ryanna up. “Are you okay, anything hurt?”
She shook her head. “Just more shocked and scared than anything. There’s no one around. We could have been injured, and on the ground in the snow until it was too late,” she murmured, fighting back the tears the desperately wanted to flow.
He wrapped a protective arm around her. “We’re fine, so don’t even think that. Let’s get to my flat and warm up. I’ll call the police, and then you and I can talk…if you want to.”
She nodded. “I would like that…very much.” Maybe the little gift in her pocket just performed its first act of good luck and happiness.
Ryanna finally stopped shaking in the warmth of Bobby’s flat. She tenderly cleaned the blood from his nose, and in the light, it only looked bruised, not broken.
She curled up on the sofa with him beneath a blanket. For a while they simply recovered in silence from the near miss tragedy.
Finally, he spoke. “I want to try to explain to you why I have been so distant.”
She nodded in agreement. If he couldn’t open up to her, then how could they ever move on as friends, or possibly even more?
“First let me say, Ryanna, I like you. Even though we haven’t known each other very long, I like you…a lot. There was this…instant spark, at least on my part.”
He shifted a bit beneath the blanket. Maybe he was embarrassed. “Of course I feel it, too,” she admitted, and hoped it would alleviate his discomfort. Now that he was talking, she didn’t want him to clam up again.
“Some time ago, I lost my fiancée. She died shortly before our wedding. Since then, I’ve sort of distanced myself from everyone and everything that meant something to me.”
Shock rocked her body. She didn’t know what she expected he’d say, but it wasn’t this. “Bobby, I’m so sorry…”
He put a hand up to silence her. “Don’t be sorry, just listen, if that’s okay.”
“When the opportunity came about to move here and work on the antique shop, it gave me a lot of time to think, and the more I thought about things, the more my mind cleared. Maybe it was acceptance…I don’t know. Then I met you, and I went back into a tailspin. There was the part of me so happy to connect with someone again, and the other part…” He stopped and shock his head, “that felt guilt. I mean, I know Lauren is long gone, and never coming back, but still…”
She absorbed his words, glad that he was able to unburden himself. Taking his hand, she said, “Thank you for telling me. All I ask of you is to be honest, and don’t hide what you’re feeling because it’s unfair to both of us. If you need to just be friends, that’s okay with me. If you think you’re ready to see where this might lead, I’d like that.”
His answer was to press his parted hips to hers.
“I have something for you.” He smiled.
“Really? I have something for you, too.”
He rose from the couch and retrieved a small wrapped gift from the mantle. “I’m sorry it’s late for both Christmas and New Year’s,” he sighed as he retook his seat beside her.
“It’s just in time for Twelfth Night,” she assured. She removed the tiny bow, the festive wrap, and removed the lid of the small pink box to reveal the Frozen Charlotte doll she’d admired so many times in the window of the antique shop. “Oh, Bobby!” She gasped. “It’s perfect! Thank you so much.” She pressed her cheek to his. “Now you,” she handed him the little pouch.
His dark brows drew together. “Thank you, but…”
She laughed. “What is it, right?” Before he could answer she said, “It’s a Twelfth Night tradition. The remnants of my family’s Christmas tree from last season. You use the wood chips to start the fire to bring about happiness and good luck in the new year.”
“Wow, I love the sound of this tradition. We should start the fire together.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
When the fire was glowing bright, they shared cocoa and kisses to ensure a perfect dawn.
“Thank you for saving me from getting killed earlier,” she said.
“Thank you for giving me a second chance. Not only me, but for giving me a second chance at happiness,” he replied.
She smiled. The magic of Yule was definitely working. “You’re very welcome. Happy dawn of Twelfth Night. Let’s spend it together.”
He pressed his lips to hers, and mumbled, “And hopefully, this is just the beginning.”