In no more than a week, my life has turned into a country song. Either that, or it’s a really depressing Christmas movie—you know, if you’re feeling festive. Which I’m not.
“Work, you stupid thing,” I growl at my car, begging it to start. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. The doesn’t is why I lost my job on Monday. You can’t afford to be late too many times when the company you work for has been recently bought out.
Officially, I was laid off and assured I’d get a nice recommendation. Unofficially, my new boss was just ticked that the peppermint mocha she’d ordered was lukewarm when I finally made it back to the office, and she didn’t want to risk her caffeine served cold in the future.
That same day, my landlord informed me I was being evicted. Not because I’d done anything wrong, mind you. No, his newly married daughter and son-in-law just need a place to live while they wait for their house to be built. I have two weeks to move out—two weeks at Christmas.
On Tuesday, my mini poodle, a feisty little geriatric by the name of Rock, passed away.
On Wednesday, well…nothing really happened, if you don’t count me lying in bed in the fetal position, wondering what the catalyst was to all this awfulness.
But today just might be the worst day in the mess that is my life because I have a plane to catch, and if this awful car doesn’t start, I won’t be spending the holidays at home—and right now, I desperately need home.
The car wheezes over and over, the engine sounding like a chain-smoker near death, and then it makes an ominous noise of finality that I believe means it’s never leaving the drive again.
I rest my head on the steering wheel and give in to the tears stinging my eyes. It’s because I’ve reached rock-bottom, because I’m at my very lowest point, that I pick up my phone and do the unthinkable.
There are dozens of people I could call who would console me, dozens of people who I could cry to.
But there’s only one I can’t.
And, right now, for a plethora of reasons I refuse to dwell on, he’s the one I want.
My finger hovers over Isaac’s name in my contact list. It’s been years since I broke up with him, years since I had the right to call him at all. His number has probably changed. If I call it, he won’t be the one who answers.
Maybe that reason alone is why I work up the courage to press his name and bring the phone to my ear. It rings on the other end, and I wait for it to go to voicemail—knowing I’m going to hear an unfamiliar voice and will have to come to terms with the fact our connection was truly severed long ago.
I’m so surprised when Isaac answers, I almost drop the phone. Once I realize it’s really him, I freak out…and end the call.
My heart beats so quickly, I wonder if it’s going to give out. I toss my phone on the passenger seat and press my glove-covered hands to my face.
Why did I do that? What the heck was I thinking?
Two seconds later, my phone rings. I changed the tone to “Deck the Halls” a few weeks ago, back when I was all happy and stupid. It’s an ominous sound now. Slowly, I turn my head to face the bright screen.
Acknowledging I don’t have a choice, I lean across the center console to retrieve the phone.
“Hello?” I say, pretending I don’t know who’s on the other end.
“Are you okay?” my ex-boyfriend asks immediately, somehow picking up on my mood from my short greeting. Or maybe he figured out something is wrong because I called and hung up on him after not talking to him for roughly ten years. That might have something to do with it too.
“Yeah,” I say, waving my hand in the air, all nonchalant-like, even though he can’t see me. “I was just scrolling through my phone, and I saw your name. I thought, ‘Georgia, you haven’t talked to Isaac in forever. You should wish him Merry Christmas.’” I pause, wanting very much to bang my head on the steering wheel. “So…Merry Christmas, Isaac.”
“You still talk about yourself like that when you’re nervous.”
The words strike me to my core, making me feel—I don’t even know. Isaac and I dated all through high school, and though we argued half the time, we somehow made it work. He drove me nuts, but I loved him. After graduation, I left him to pursue bigger and better things. (Which is obviously going great for me.)
“Old habits,” I murmur, not sure what else to say.
“Listen,” he says on a sigh. “I know why you’re calling, and you don’t have to worry about it.”
“Oh?” I sit a little straighter, curious. “Why exactly am I calling?”
He pauses as if confused. “Because my parents are spending Christmas with your family this year…”
This is something I should have been informed about, and believe me, I will be calling my mother as soon as I’m off the phone.
“But don’t worry—I’m not going to be there.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Aw, crud. Emotions—lots of them. I’m like the Grinch, clutching my cold, too-small heart.
“Okay,” I say after several seconds. “Well…that’s good.”
I don’t know what else to say. Isaac is the very last person I want to spend the holidays with. Knowing us, we’d slip into our old pattern and bicker half the time. Or worse, I’d end up throwing myself at him.
“I don’t think I’m going anyway,” I find myself blurting out. My throat tightens, and I blink several times to chase away stupid tears.
“Why?” He sounds like he’s moving around. There’s a lot of noise in the background—guys talking, music playing, and the sound of drills and other tools.
Mom mentioned that he became a mechanic, just like he planned. I’ve probably interrupted him at work.
“I should let you go,” I say, ready to hang up again.
“Georgia,” he says sternly, using a tone I know very well. It raises my hackles, instantly puts me on edge. “Why aren’t you going home for Christmas?”
“My car won’t start.” I rest my head on the headrest. “I’m supposed to be on a plane in a few hours.”
“What’s it doing?”
“It’s making this awful wheezing noise. It does it sometimes.”
“Are you still in Phoenix?”
He must have gotten my address from his mother just after I moved into the place because I get a Christmas card from the man every year—the kind you’d send to an acquaintance. Just a card wishing me the best, with his name quickly scratched at the bottom.
There’s one pinned to my kitchen bulletin board now. Maybe that’s why I thought of him—in fact, that’s probably why, after a decade, I still think about him more than I should.
“I have a friend over there now,” Isaac says. “Let me give him a call and see if he can drop by. If it’s not an easy fix, he can probably give you a ride to the airport.”
“No, Isaac, wait—”
“I’ll call you right back.” And then he hangs up.
I stare at my phone, wondering what just happened.
* * *
A sleek, dark blue classic car pulls in front of my house, and a man and woman step out. I open my front door, beyond embarrassed. What the heck was Isaac thinking?
This is just like him. He’s always been too helpful, too friendly, too eager to be of service—and apparently too eager to offer his friends’ service as well.
“I am so sorry…” I begin and then trail off because I’m at a loss for words. How do you properly apologize for this sort of thing?
“You must be Georgia,” the woman says, smiling in the dusky light of evening. She appears to be in her mid-twenties, maybe a few years younger than I am. “I’m Addison. This is Carter, my husband.”
Christmas lights are already flickering on around the neighborhood, and the Callahan’s snowman is just inflating across the street. It’s sixty-seven degrees, and there’s garland wrapped around a saguaro cactus in my front yard. I’ll never get used to Christmas in Arizona.
“Is this the car?” Carter asks, motioning to my recently deceased vehicle.
He glances at his phone. “What time is your flight?”
“I don’t think I have time to look at it, but we can drive you to the airport.”
Because getting in a car with complete strangers is such a great idea.
I fidget, trying to look at ease when I’m anything but. “That’s really nice of you, but I don’t want you to go to any trouble…”
“It’s no trouble,” Addison assures me, and Carter nods. “We’re happy to help a friend of Isaac’s.”
A friend of Isaac’s. What do you want to bet he didn’t tell them I’m less a friend and more an ex-girlfriend? One who isn’t terribly comfortable with his or his friends’ generosity.
“Oh, okay. Thank you.” I point toward the house. “Let me just…uh…I’ll be right back.”
I scurry inside. After I shut the door, I feel bad for not inviting the couple in—but I literally have no clue who they are. Quickly, I text Isaac.
Georgia: Prove you know these people, so I won’t worry I’m getting in a car with ax murderers.
Thirty seconds later, Isaac sends a picture. He’s in a tux, standing with a microphone right next to Addison and Carter. Addison is in a long white gown, so it’s obviously her and Carter’s wedding.
My eyes move back to Isaac. He looks exactly as I remember him and yet completely different at the same time. A man and not a boy.
But his smile is the same—genuine. Charming, too. Maybe too charming.
I’ve kissed that man, I think to myself.
I cheered for him from the stands of every high school football game. He went to all my swim meets, even when they were hours away. He took me to the school dances and gave me my first kiss our freshman year at Homecoming. And now here we are, ten years later, practically strangers, and he’s here for me again.
It would be insane to go with these people…but I really want to go home. I’d call a driver, but I have this major phobia that I’ll get in a car with some random person and never be seen again. At least I have some idea who these two are, and Isaac wouldn’t send just anyone…
Plus, a girl must watch her pennies when she’s currently jobless and about to be booted out of her house.
Georgia: Good enough.
I grab my suitcase and head out the front door.