Chapter 1: Do They Know It’s Christmas
Jack wasn’t sure how long he’d sat in his cold car staring at a neon sign in the bar window, the only place open in his neighborhood at this late hour. He knew gulping down alcohol wasn’t exactly a healthy remedy for his broken heart, but there was nowhere else to go except home to his empty apartment. It took all his willpower not to check his phone. Piper wasn’t going to call. It was over.
He wrung his hands on the steering wheel and revisited memories of his relationship with her, deconstructing where it all went wrong, where he missed a sign or a signal that made it so easy for her to say goodbye. Her assignment was to profile a prince for her magazine. Not fall in love with the guy.
Reaching across the console, he popped open the glove compartment and retrieved the little black box he’d been hiding in there for some time. Prying the lid up, he ran his finger over the diamond, twisting it so he could catch a glimmer of light to make it sparkle. The moving speech he’d planned to give her while down on one knee had dissolved from his mind. Jack snapped the box shut and tossed it back in the compartment.
He dragged both hands down his face to reset himself. A little voice repeated in his head: Go to her. Go to her, go to her, go to her. He shook the nonsense out. It was clear Piper had no interest in seeing him, and he had even less of an interest in booking a last minute international flight.
He got the gumption to go inside and let a few shots of Jim Beam whisper devious lies in his ear. The dark interior hid him from the handful of patrons closing the place down, and he preferred that to anyone getting a good look at his face. He averted his attention from the couple flirting in the corner and the other slow dancing to a song playing on the jukebox. He plopped on a stool and flagged the bartender with a weak flick of his forefinger.
“Double shot of whiskey.” Jack reconsidered his order, knowing it wouldn’t be enough to drown his sorrows until they stopped struggling. “Actually, make that two.”
A young woman beside him smiled behind the sheet of hair cascading over her profile. She absently stirred the ice in the bottom of her glass with her straw. He was surprised she even noticed him at all. No one ever did.
Jack adjusted the collar on his puffy navy colored vest and checked his phone for a missed call from Piper. His log was empty, of course. Piper was in Delbravia at the royal ball being twirled around the dance floor by the human embodiment of a Ken Doll. He imagined the way the prince kept his eyes only on her and wondered if she had completely forgotten about him, swept up in the dizzying passion of her so-called true love. He and Piper were average people, he thought, and average people didn’t get endings like that.
The bartender dropped a pair of shot glasses in front of him. Jack pried his gaze from the woodgrain weaving through the bar top. The presence of the plush reindeer headband on the bartender’s dome made him stuff a groan down deep in his throat. For the first time, he could relate to Ebenezer Scrooge’s resentment of the holiday. Everyone was supposed to be cheerful and happy and sing the songs and be dazzled by the lights and all Jack wanted to do was wake up in January. Bah humbug.
He lifted his head and looked over his shoulder when the first stanza of Elvis crooning Blue Christmas came through the speakers. He massaged the tension headache in the center of his forehead. The woman next to him set her glass down and grumbled something under her breath.
“Do you ever feel like the whole world is conspiring against you?” she asked, her voice soft.
Jack sighed. He tossed the first shot down the hatch and liquid fire curled into his stomach. “It does today.”
She eyed his drinks and folded the top of her straw into an accordion. “You look sad. Would it be nosy of me to ask you what happened?”
He started to reply, the words getting gummed up in his throat. It would be the first time he said it out loud. “I got dumped.”
She hoisted her glass. “Hey, me too.”
“I’m sorry. Worst timing ever, right?”
“Couldn’t be better.” She pushed her loose hair away from her face. She had eyes like a storm, and he was drawn in by their intensity. There was something else about her, something familiar, like they’d gone to school together or worked in the same building. He probed his already foggy brain for some context to place her in.
Jack’s limbs grew warm and tingly. His inhibitions dropping in her company, he angled toward her. “How did yours end?”
A smile passed over her lips, and then it was gone. “He fell in love with the owner of the bed and breakfast he was staying in. They’re getting married tomorrow.”
“On Christmas Eve?”
She threw her hands up and let them fall into her lap. “That’s what I said.”
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