On the five-year anniversary of his last breakup, Jack Fleming went for a trip down Memory Lane. He dove deep into his closet and unearthed the suit he had bought for his first date with his ex. It barely fit, a button was missing, and the inner lining was torn. On any other night, the suit would go back into the dark space from whence it came. For tonight, though, and for what he planned to do, it was perfect. Jack slipped into the old suit, leaving it unbuttoned. He chose a tie at random and wrapped it around his neck. Jack slipped on his gray trenchcoat, completing the ensemble.
Jack left his apartment and walked down the hallway to the elderly elevator. Hank, the equally elderly elevator operator, smiled and held two fingers to his operator's hat in a casual salute. Jack didn't return it.
"Evening, Mr. Fleming," Hank said as Jack stepped into the elevator. It was one of those classic-style elevators that contractors didn't build anymore, the kind with mirrored walls and a padded bench inside.
"Evening," Jack replied.
"Hot date tonight?" Hank asked, noticing Jack's clothes.
Jack shook his head. "Nope. Just felt like dressing up."
"That's nice. Wish more people did these days."
"Yeah," Jack said as he settled himself onto the bench.
Hank nodded. "Well, where to?"
"To the lobby, Jeeves."
Hank grinned and rolled his eyes exaggerated as he punched the button marked "Lobby."
Jack stepped out of his New York City brownstone and into the cold winter air. A light, powdery snow fell, gracefully and silently, from the sky, coating the ground in a cool blanket of white and giving the city a strange, ethereal-looking look. Jack looked up and down the streets; the stoplights seemed to glow more than usual against the snow. The red-and-green seemed particularly appropriate tonight, on Christmas Eve.
Jack raised his arm and cocked two fingers into the air. A taxi worked its way off the street, through the snow, and up to the curb. Jack threw the door open and slipped into the cab.
"Where to?" the cab driver said in a thick Brooklyn accent.
"The Edison," Jack replied.
"Sure thing," the driver said, pulling away from the curb. "Got a party you're going to? Hot date?"
"Nah," Jack said. "Just felt like some music."
Jack always felt that Times Square was particularly beautiful when it was snowing. The Square was eerily quiet tonight, what with most people home with their families for Christmas, but the electric billboards never slept or took holidays; they shone, day or night, rain or shine or even snow. The reds and greens and whites bounced off the snowflakes, filling the air with a mixture of color.
Jack stepped out of the cab in front of the Edison Ballroom. He made his way across the icy sidewalk and into the warmth of the ornate, brightly-lit lobby.
"Good evening, sir," said the maitre d'. "Check your coat?"
Jack nodded, slipping out of his trenchcoat and handing it to the waiting attendant. As the hatcheck boy made his way to the checkroom, the maitre d' led Jack across the lobby and into the ballroom itself.
The house was empty; a fringe of unoccupied tables and chairs fringed the empty dance floor. Jack thought about what a contrast this evening was to the night, eight years ago, when he and Laney had had their first date here. That night, each table had been filled; in fact, the maitre d' had had to pull an extra table from the storeroom and set it up for them. That night, they had dined on filet mignon and chatted about love, poetry, and other such beautiful things while a fairly good Sinatra impersonator provided background noise. Tonight, however, there were no crowds, there was no false Sinatra, and there was no Laney.
The maitre d' guided Jack to a table with a perfect view of the stage. Jack sat down and settled back, all ready for another dinner of filet mignon. The maitre d', however, laid no menu down.
"Small bill of fare tonight, sir," the maitre d' said. "Turkey dinner. Will that work for you?"
Oh, well, Jack thought. He nodded. The maitre d' smiled and headed for the kitchen.
Jack turned his attention to the stage, where a lone pianist was playing a lovely instrumental rendition of "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." Jack closed his eyes and let the music carry him away. He listened to the notes, letting them reverberate off the walls of his brain and soothe him with their beauty.
When the music ended, Jack opened his eyes to see the pianist grinning at him. The pianist threw Jack a friendly nod, and Jack returned it. The pianist looked up toward the mezzanine and nodded. The lights dimmed.
A deep, resonant voice poured out of the Edison's sound system. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present to you one of the most beautiful voices in New York City, Ms. Maureen Shockley."
A beautifully shaped silhouette stepped around the piano and onto the center of the stage. A spotlight shot down from the ceiling and shone on who Jack assumed was Maureen Shockley.
Jack caught his breath, for standing there, on that stage, was one of the most beautiful women he had seen in his life. Ms. Shockley had alabaster skin, the kind that was so white that it looked like it had never seen sunshine. It didn't look unhealthy, though; in fact, it looked like the picture of great health in the spotlight's white gleam. Her hair was a perfectly-styled mass of cornsilk blonde that caught the light and seemed to glow along with her skin. She wore a red lipstick that made her lips look red as pomegranates. She wore a beautiful silver dress that poured down her svelte figure and puddled on the floor around her. Set back in Shockley's face were a set of piercing green eyes.
Ms. Shockley set her eyes on Jack. He felt a exhilarating shock run through his body, from the top of his hair follicles to the tips of his toes. Maureen kept her eyes on him as the pianist began to play. Maureen parted her pomegranate lips, and the opening lines of "The Christmas Waltz" began to float from her mouth.
Shockley's voice put the finishing touch on the spell she had cast on Jack. Her singing voice had a beautiful, deep, Lauren Bacall-esque quality, and it lent each line a special sort of resonance. Jack sat, entranced, as Maureen worked her way through her set, a combination of Christmas songs and Great-American-Songbook standards. Jack's eyes never wavered from Maureen's, and Maureen's eyes never wavered from Jack's.
After her set, Maureen stepped off the table and walked up to Jack's table. Jack tried to tear his gaze away from her, but he couldn't. Maureen stopped at the table, across from Jack, and sat herself down in the chair that sat there.
"Are you in the habit of letting your dinner get cold before you eat it?" Maureen asked.
"Dinner?" Jack asked. He looked down to see a plate sitting before him, tastefully decorated with turkey, stuffing, corn, and mashed potatoes. Jack picked up his fork and scooped up a mouthful of potatoes. Sure enough, it was stone cold. Jack looked up sheepishly.
Maureen offered Jack a warm smile. "He brought it halfway through the show," she said. "You were too busy staring to notice."
Jack smiled back. "Sorry if I bothered you."
"Don't worry about it. I was staring, too."
"You were wonderful."
"Well, thank you," Maureen said. "And what brings you here on this cold Christmas Eve?"
This was it. They had come to the crossroads, and Jack knew that he had a decision to make. Tell the truth, or make up some warm, fuzzy lie? After a few seconds of deliberation, Jack made up his mind. Why not tell the truth? Wasn't honesty the best policy?
"Well," Jack began, "Christmas Eve is kind of a sucky night to be alone."
Jack paused for a moment. He looked at Maureen, looking for some indication of her feelings. Maureen smiled a friendly smile and nodded for him to go on, so Jack did. He told her things he had never told anyone else before. He told Maureen about Laney, about her flaming auburn hair and her muddy brown eyes, and how he had gotten lost in them one night at the Copacabana. He told Maureen about the first date at the Edison, and how he was trying to recreate that memory tonight. He told Maureen about the intervening three years, about the gifts and birthdays, about the small gifts and the tender kisses, about the slow dances through their apartments and the holiday dinners with friends. He also told Maureen about the bitter fight that had ended it all, and about the five years of loneliness leading up to this evening.
After the long story, Jack shut his mouth. He could feel his face going beet-red. He hadn't meant to say so much, but once he had started talking, he hadn't been able to stop. He looked up at Maureen to gauge her reaction, and was surprised to see tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," Jack said. "I didn't mean to ruin your Christmas with my sob story."
"No, no," Maureen replied, dabbing at her eyes with her fingers. "Don't apologize. I know what it's like to spend the holidays alone."
"Really?" Jack asked.
"Of course. You thought you were the only one in the Big Apple with a broken heart?"
"I know. Sometimes, it feels like you are the only one."
Jack nodded, feeling a smile spreading across his face. It felt comforting to finally find someone who understood. It felt even more comforting to see Maureen smiling back.
"Yeah," Maureen said, looking around the ballroom. "I guess the Edison's a good place to lick your wounds."
"Fancy enough place, anyway," Jack said.
"Yeah," Maureen said, with a laugh in her voice. "I'm licking a few tonight, too."
With that, Maureen told her own story, that of her and a guy named Will Sawyer. Jack was surprised to find how similar Maureen and Will's story was to his and Laney's; the details were different, but the basic framework was almost exactly the same.
As Maureen talked, Jack found himself liking her more and more. It was remarkable, he pondered as he listened, how much a listening ear could endear one person to another. It worked both ways; both being the listener and the listenee really helped color in a person who might have otherwise been a blank.
Jack was also beginning to feel some familiar stirrings, stirrings of the sort that he had first felt that night, eight long years ago, when he had first met Laney at the Copacabana. Jack could feel his brain trying to write it off, saying that these feelings were nothing more than a warm reaction to making a new friend. Jack's heart, however, began insisting that maybe, just maybe, these feelings were something a little deeper.
At the end of Maureen's story, she fell silent and stared into Jack's eyes. Jack knew exactly what she was doing; she was looking for a reaction, just as he had less than an hour ago. Jack smiled, and she smiled a relieved smile back.
"Thanks for telling me that," he said.
"Thank you for listening," Maureen replied.
Maureen and Jack just sat there for a moment, staring at each other for a moment, drinking in the quiet piano music. There was tension, but Jack felt that it was a friendly sort of tension. It was the kind of tension that two people felt when they knew that there exciting, good things to say, but neither really knew how to say them.
Finally, Jack decided to bite the bullet. "You know, Christmas is kind of an awful time to be alone."
Maureen nodded. "That it is."
Jack checked his watch. "It's midnight, and, you know, I know a pretty good all-night coffee shop not far from here. Why don't we go grab an early breakfast? It's better than being alone."
Maureen laughed. "Okay! Let me change, and let's go!" Maureen got up and disappeared into the backstage area.
Jack sat back in his chair, smiling at the warm glow that was seeping through him. What a night, Jack thought. Well, I guess Christmas IS the time for miracles.
Jack reached into his suit pocket, looking for his wallet, and, by extension, his wallet. It wasn't there. Jack flashed upon a picture of his billfold, sitting on his nightstand at home. Jack stared down at the meal, and a series of scary thoughts raced through his head. If there was one thing that Jack definitely didn't want, it was to have his Christmas miracle ruined by washing dishes.
Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice rang across the ballroom. "Hey, kid!"
Jack looked up to see the pianist looking at him. "On me tonight," the pianist said, smiling.
Jack grinned and snapped a salute at the pianist, just as Hank had earlier that Christmas Eve. The pianist snapped one back.
Jack settled back and smiled. Two Christmas miracles, he thought. Somebody up there must like me.