A Very Pembrook Christmas - Short Story
J. J. Hanna © 2021
Betty pushed through the front door, and I pushed my laptop off of my lap and ran to help her. Her arms were full of bags banging against the glass.
“What did you do? Buy the whole store?”
She smiled at him, her bright pink hair peeking out from under the elf hat she wore, complete with fake elf ears sticking out on the sides. She looked like a goth elf, and he was just as smitten with her siren smile as the day he met her.
“It’s Christmas!” she said, as if that answered every question in my mind.
“We . . . We’re allowed to celebrate Christmas?” he asked, thinking back to the financial spreadsheets he’d been looking over just before she walked in. “Pembrook will allow that?”
She laughed, and he melted. “Of course we get to celebrate Christmas. Our first job, always, is to blend in with society as a whole.” She leaned in and planted a soft kiss on my lips. I could taste the peppermint mocha she’d been drinking on her way home. “And part of blending in…” she held up the bags.
I looked inside and shook my head. I hadn’t signed up for this kind of work. “Oh boy. We’re going to be one of those houses?”
I laughed as she set down the rest of the bags she was holding and began digging through to find the lights. She was still as much of a mystery as she’d ever been for him. Sure, he got to wake up to her every day and go to sleep next to her every night, they shared sleepy breakfasts and coffee before she put her makeup on for the day. But every time holidays came around, he learned about her again and again.
Maybe it was because of how they fell in love and how they ended up together. Their destinies had been tied together from the beginning. Regardless, she still had a siren’s hold on my heart, and when she grabbed my hand and led him out to the car and he saw the eight foot fake tree waiting for them, her excitement for Christmas was overwhelming and fought away the grief that still held so tightly to my spirit.
This would be my first Christmas without my parents, at least, my first Christmas without my parents and without school to distract him from it. And he would have loved to dive into work and avoid the holiday altogether. But here she was, with a different plan, and her irresistible smile.
I helped her carry the tree inside and helped her set it up. She insisted on playing Mariah Carey’s Christmas album, and soon she’d swept him off into the center of the living room floor for a dance. She smelled vaguely of vanilla and pine, and he held her closer.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“For what?” she asked, her nose pressed against my cheek.
“For reminding me of what life used to be like. Before everything.”
She kissed my cheek. “I’m sorry it all had to happen the way it did. But even now, would you say you made the wrong choice?”
I shook my head and stole her elf hat, pulling it onto my own head and tugging the felt ears down over my own. “It’s not the choice I would have made if I’d really had a choice, but the way things went, I’m glad they turned out this way,” he said. “So what’s next? I haven’t decorated a tree in years.”
She did a little happy dance and grabbed the Target bags from the kitchen. “Lights! And garland! And ornaments!”
They spent the next three hours throwing the garland around each other more than the tree itself, pinning lights up around the house so effectively that by the time they were finished, Christmas had definitely exploded between their four walls.
Once the lights were up, once the tree was decorated, once all the bags were empty, I returned to my computer. Betty grabbed her own and curled up on the couch beside him, still wearing the elf hat she’d stolen back from him in the midst of their decorating. She was scrolling through class lists and researching potential future marks for the Pembrook Grant. And I was going through methodically ruining the lives of the people she’d chosen last year.
I wasn’t on the ground organizing car crashes or unpayable medical bills. I wasn’t causing the accidents that sent these students to their knees, begging for any other alternative. But I was part of the problem, and equally part of the solution.
My job was easier—I only had to think of the numbers on the screen. Betty had to look at their lives and choose a person as a person, not as a number. It never seemed to affect her, though. Maybe she’d just been doing it for so long. But she looked up at me, catching me staring as she did so often.
“What?” she asked softly.
“I love you.”
“I know.” She closed her laptop. “Let’s watch a Christmas movie.”
I saved my work on the spreadsheet and closed my computer as well. Ruining lives could wait one more night.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in any way. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real events is unintended by the author.
Want to get these stories straight to your inbox? Subscribe and skip the hassle of waiting for me to post!
J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her making YouTube videos and Online Courses about the publishing industry. Find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.