Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Written Fireside Christmas Blog Hop: "The Misfits of Christmas" Part 1

Welcome to the 

Written Fireside August Blog Hop!



Fifteen authors from Harper Impulse, a digital first imprint of Harper Collins 
will write fifteen stories all starting from one shared starting paragraph 
written by competition winner Georgia Beyers.

Each author will share a snippet/s from her story according to the schedule below, and then at Christmas time all fifteen complete short stories will be available to download as one awesome and free holiday anthology. 

Come, join us by the fire

Enjoy how each author's voice takes the starting sentences and creates a unique tale.

Lori Connelly - Aug 1,2,3  
Erin Lawless - Aug 4,5
Mandy Baggot - Aug 6,7 
Aimee Duffy  - Aug 8,9
Teresa F. Morgan - Aug 10,11
Angela Campbell - Aug 12,13 
Lisa Fox - Aug 14,15 
Lynn Marie Hulsman - Aug 16,17
Linn B. Halton - Aug 18,19 
Carmel Harrington - Aug 20,21 
Charlotte Phillips - Aug 22,23
Romy Sommer - Aug 24,25
Jane Lark - Aug 26,27 
Zara Stoneley - Aug 28,29 
AJ Nuest - Aug 30,31

Without further ado, here's part 1 of my quirky contribution. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion, and be sure to enter the giveaway below!
***

Charlotte sat at the bus stop wondering whether she would make the naughty or nice list this year. Last year she had rescued a stray kitten and therefore considered herself most definitely ‘nice’. This year she had broken Daniels heart into a million tiny pieces, so ‘naughty’ seemed to be the only answer. There’d be no Santa Claus coming down her chimney anytime soon.

“Ain’t that your ride, miss?”

Charlotte glanced up from her book at the lime green Ford Fiesta idling quietly at the curb before settling her gaze on the weathered face of the elderly man huddling beneath the small enclosure beside her. He’d been here each of the three days Trevor had picked her up outside her office building. Judging by the fact he’d been wearing the same clothes each day, Charlotte guessed the man was homeless.

She had no less than a dozen problems, but at least that wasn’t one, thank goodness.

“Oh! Yes. Thanks.” She gathered her bag and hurried toward her ride, pausing halfway to search through her purse. She had enough coins to pick up some canned food for Lucy. Turning back to the man, she said, “Merry Christmas.” And forced a smile as she held out the last of the paper cash she’d have until she got paid again Friday.

Eyes lighting up, the stranger reached out, but rather than taking the offering, he clasped her hand between both of his. “Bless you. May something wonderful happen to you today. Merry Christmas.”

“Er, Merry Christmas,” she repeated, hurrying along before Trevor gave up on her, and he would, too. Her cheeky neighbor was not known for his patience.

“What did you go and do that for? I might have needed some gas money for the Green Queen Machine,” Trevor complained as soon as she sank into the passenger seat. “He’ll probably spend it on alcohol or drugs or, god forbid, a booty call.”

She rolled her eyes. “I thought you hated stereotypes, Mr. Gay and Flamboyant. Please tell me you don’t actually call your car the Green Queen Machine.”

Sucking in his cheeks, he gave her a once over before he pulled into traffic. Trevor didn’t hate stereotypes. He embraced them. Not only was he was closely acquainted with eyeliner, every hair product known to man, and designer clothes, but every aspect of his speech and mannerisms flaunted his sexuality without shame. Charlotte actually admired him for his bold and brash approach to life. She did until he scoffed. “Maybe your car wouldn’t have decided to abandon you at Christmas if you’d given it a proper name.”

“My car has a name!”

His sideways look was not amused. “Chuck.”

“Chuck and I have been through a lot together!”

“If you named me Chuck, I’d have protested by breaking down on your skinny self a lot sooner, sister.” She gasped, so he quickly added, “Oh that’s right, Miss Who-Knew-Transmission-Fluid-Was-Even-A-Thing? It wasn’t Chuck’s fault. It was yours.” He waved a dismissive hand toward her. “I’m gay, and even I know about routine maintenance.”

“I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

Trevor breathed a sigh. “Oh, honey, I know you’re not pretty enough to be that stupid. This situation with Daniel has really messed you up, hasn’t it?”

Wait. Had he just insulted her or —?

“Anyway. Guess who suddenly has fabulous plans for Christmas?”

“Definitely not me,” she mumbled.

“Oh, you poor thing.” He sped his wipers up as the windshield fought against a thickening onslaught of white. “Anyway. I’m spending the holiday at a resort in Cancun. My co-worker won a trip, and she invited yours truly to accompany her. Pretty sure she just wants to be a fag hag, but if it gets me a few days in the sun, who cares? Here’s the good news for you.”

“For me?”

“I’ve decided to let you drive the Green Queen Machine while I’m gone. Just drop me off at the airport in thirty minutes, promise no harm will come to my baby, and she’s yours for a week.”

“Really?” The unwanted news he wasn’t going to keep her company for Christmas was somewhat offset by the revelation that she would have transportation again.

Seeing him off at the airport with a hug and a promise not to so-much-as scratch his ridiculous vehicle, she stopped by a grocery store long enough to grab Lucy a few extra cans of food. The snow was really starting to come down now.

A white Christmas. She hadn’t seen one in years. Not since she’d moved from White Falls, Colorado, to Atlanta, Georgia, anyway.

Oh, she did hope that poor homeless man would be able to keep warm tonight. People in the South could not handle much snow. Pretty soon, things would be shutting down. At least she’d given him enough money to have a good, warm meal—and something, although it was probably wishful thinking, told her he would be spending the money wisely.

A comfortable warmth settled in her chest and in her cheeks as she realized she’d done at least one good deed today. That should surely land her at least halfway between naughty and nice on Santa’s list.

The feeling stayed with her until she reached the floor of her apartment and passed by 101. Daniel’s apartment. Probably empty since it was Christmas Eve, and his usual ritual was to spend the holiday with his family in California.

She quickened her pace toward 105, her unit, craving the solitude and peace of her modest home. Her heart banged against her ribcage at the sound of a lock turning and a door opening behind her.

“Charlotte?”

Her breath left her lungs on a rush. It wasn’t Daniel.

“Hi Mildred,” she said, hurrying to push her key into the lock so she could escape the elderly woman’s gossip.

“You’re home late.”

“I dropped Trevor off at the airport.”

“He’s not going to be here for Christmas?” The petite white-haired woman pressed a hand up to check that her finely coifed hair still had enough hairspray holding the curls in place. “You’ll be here. Isn’t that right?”

No way could she afford a plane ticket home now that her transmission had drained her savings, so she’d be spending Christmas right here with her cat Lucy watching sappy Christmas movies on TV. Not that she’d been looking forward to helping her mom and Aunt Susie struggle to prepare a vegan holiday dinner because Lilly, She Who Could Do No Wrong, had recently decided to shun meat and, therefore, the entire family had to suffer.

Meat. God, she could go for a burger right now, but she was so poor, she’d have to put a happy meal on layaway. As it was, she’d probably be eating cat food until Friday.

Her stomach grumbled a complaint. “Oh, shut up. I doubt tofu would have made you happy anyway.”

“Say what?” Mildred shuffled closer.

“Nothing.” She gave up on escape and turned toward the older woman. “When are you off to your daughter’s? Is Eugenia going with you, or is she visiting with her son’s family this year?”

Mildred and her sister were both in their late eighties and had managed to avoid assisted living, probably because they were each too stubborn to ever admit they needed it. Charlotte had taken them grocery shopping a few times, as she knew Trevor had done also, and the two siblings had bickered nonstop. It was a wonder they hadn’t killed each other by now, really.

“I’m not going.”

Charlotte blinked. “Why not?”

“I’m not going out in this mess. We’d be killed!” Mildred shook her head. “Eugenia and I wondered if you wanted to join us tomorrow for Christmas dinner. I guess us old maids will just have to make do together.”

Wait. Old maid? Oh god. “Um, I—”

The grinding of rolling luggage on concrete was suddenly loud as someone approached.

“Trevor!” Charlotte stared in amazement as he came into view, dragging his luggage behind him. And he wasn’t alone either.

Daniel lingered behind him with his own bags in tow.

“Surprise!” Trevor greeted. “Flights are canceled. Lucky for me, good old Daniel was there to offer me a lift home.” He stopped in front of them, hands on his hips. “Who decided to have a hallway party without inviting me?”

The door of Mildred’s apartment opened, and Eugenia’s silver head poked out. “Millie!” She yelled. “Something’s burning. Better come see what it is.”

Two seconds later, a smoke detector alarm screamed through their apartment doorway.

“For crying out loud, Eugenia! Don’t you know how to turn the burner off on your own?” Mildred scooted off toward the apartment, but not before Trevor rolled his eyes and beat her to it.

That left her and Daniel standing there alone. Her gaze ate him up, as hungry for the sight of him as her stomach was for food. His neatly trimmed brown hair looked as if his fingers had been pushed through it at least a few times. His hazel eyes gave no hint of whether he was happy or upset to see her.

The screeching of the alarm stopped.

Charlotte swallowed back the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. “Your flight was cancelled, too?”

“Afraid so.”

“I’m sorry.”

His jaw muscles clenched as he moved to his door and set about unlocking it. She chanced a few steps closer. “I’m sorry about a lot of things.”

“Where’s the new boyfriend? Isn’t he spending Christmas with you?”

She would have face palmed herself so hard if she’d been alone. Slinging that lie in his face had been a kneejerk response to finding out Daniel had cheated on her. But, of course, he hadn’t. She knew that now.

“There is no one else, Daniel. I lied.”

He turned and stared down at her as if she’d just admitted her parents were Cookie Monster and Elmo. “And why would you do that?”

“Because Janet told me you and she had, well, had a fling, and I believed her. I was hurt and wanted to hurt you. It was stupid, but there it is. That’s the truth. I’m sorry.”

“Janet told you that, and you didn’t even come to me and ask if it was true?” He scoffed. “I’m too tired for this. Merry Christmas, Charlotte.”

The slam of the door behind him was meant to shut her down and shut her out in one fell swoop. Tears stung the back of her eyes, so she retreated to her apartment before Trevor or Mildred could stop her.

Once inside, Charlotte scooped her pet up and cuddled her close. The vibration of Lucy’s purr calmed her nerves enough that she was able to move to the sofa before breaking down into sobs.

It didn’t help that even her cat reminded her of Daniel.

It had been a few weeks before the last Christmas when Charlotte had rescued the scraggly stray kitten from behind the dumpsters downstairs late one night almost a year ago. Poor thing had been meowing pitifully, covered in fleas, and starving when she’d carried it up to her apartment.

Charlotte had never owned a cat, had no idea what to do with a kitten, and had realized too late she didn’t have the proper supplies to care for one either. She’d gone across the hall, hoping that Mildred and Eugenia had some cream she could borrow, but they hadn’t answered her knocks.

So she’d taken a chance and knocked on her new neighbor’s door. She hadn’t yet met the handsome chef the elderly sisters had gone on and on about. He’d only moved in a few days before.

And, oh my, he certainly had been good looking. He’d come to the door, his silky brown hair ruffled from sleep, a hint of stubble shadowing his strong jaw. His muscular chest had been bare, but a pair of black sweat pants had covered the rest of him.

“I’m very sorry to wake you, but I found this stray kitten and I really need some milk to give it. Do you have any I could borrow?” she had babbled like an idiot.

“Milk?”

“Yes.” She briefly squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m Charlotte. I live next door.”

His smile had lit up his eyes, too. “I’m Daniel.” He seemed more awake then. “I have milk, and you’re welcome to borrow it but I don’t think it’s a good idea to give it to a kitten.”

“It’s not?”

“You’ve never had a cat before, have you?”

“Never.”

“Mind if I take a look at it?”

“Please do.” Relief had flooded her. “I’d be so grateful. I probably should have left it, but it seemed so miserable, I was afraid a dog or something worse would come along and snatch it up.”

He took only enough time to pull on a shirt before following her into her apartment. He’d handled the kitten gently, but that hadn’t stopped the tiny ball of fur from hissing and spitting at him the entire time.

“Has it scratched or bitten you?” He’d asked.

“No. I handled it with a towel and it’s been off doing its own thing since I let it loose in here.”

“Good. You don’t want to have to get a rabies shot.”

“Rabies?” She’d squeaked out the word. “Should I be worried?”

“Probably not. It’s about six weeks old. I doubt it could have survived if it had rabies. All in all, she looks very healthy, but you should get her to a vet as soon as possible.”

“How do you know?”

“I have two sisters. I’ve handled more kittens than a grown man should ever admit.” He’d smiled down at her after he set the spitting beast back on the floor, where it scampered off underneath the sofa. “The milk we drink is actually bad for cats. Causes stomach upset. Make sure she has plenty of water and give her some tuna or canned food. She’ll be fine.”

“So it’s a girl?”

“Looks like it.”

Hearing tiny claws ripping at the sofa had prompted Charlotte to nickname her new pet Devil Cat, which Daniel had eventually changed to Lucy, short for Lucifer, a few weeks later. He’d come over the next day to see how they were getting on, and again the next, until one day he’d offered to make her dinner.

Charlotte supposed she owed Lucy for bringing them together.

Too bad the cat couldn’t mediate a reunion now.

Her phone rang, and she suffered through a round of twenty questions from her well-meaning mother. No sooner had she ended that call before loud knocks hit her door.

“Daaaamn girl. Have you been crying? Cause your face is fifty shades of a hot mess right now,” Trevor greeted. “Just sayin’.”

“I thought gay men were supposed to make great friends.” She sniffled. “I don’t think I like you very much.”

“Please.” Shutting the door behind him, Trevor slid an arm across her shoulders and pulled her close. “Consider me your Christmas angel meets fairy godmother. Since I have nothing better to do, I’m going to help you win back your prince.”

“I don’t think any words have ever terrified me more.” She pulled away from him. “I don’t think you should get involved. No way. Don’t even think about it, Trevor.”

Spreading his lanky body across her sofa, he pooh-poohed her protest. “Now, we’re going to need a few things.” He ticked each item off his hand as he went along. “Makeup, because did I mention what a hot mess you are right now? A sexy outfit. An ugly Christmas sweater. Some—”

“Wait. Ugly Christmas sweater?”

“Oh, yes. Did I forget to tell you we’re having Christmas dinner across the hall with the sisters? Remind me to pack some extra mimosas for that. Lucy is invited, too.”

“What about Daniel?”

“He was invited, but he declined. That will make things tougher, but I do love a challenge.”

She sank into the chair across from him. “He hates me.”

“If this little misunderstanding is the worst thing to ever happen between you two, consider yourselves lucky.” Something about his tone hinted at hurt, piquing her interest.

“Are you upset to be stuck here with me, Trevor?”

He flicked a wrist dismissively. “Where else would I be? Oh wait. Sunning and looking at hotties on the beach. Yes, I’m upset.”

No. That wasn’t what he was upset about. Charlotte scooted to the edge of her seat. “What about your family?”

“Those trolls? What about them?”

“Aren’t you upset you aren’t going home for Christmas?”

“No.” He sprang to his feet and began rearranging the knick-knacks in her apartment.

“Trevor.”

“I’m not welcome there. Are you happy? The whole lot of them disowned me when they realized the gay wasn’t going away.”

She’d heard of that happening but had never known anyone to have actually experienced it. The only other gay man she thought she knew worked in the office with her, and he was about as opposite of Trevor as a man got. Roger was masculine, clean cut, lived with another man, and had introduced Charlotte to his adoring mother one day when she’d run into them at lunch.

“I’m sorry.” Charlotte’s family might get on her nerves, but in the end, she was grateful she had each and every last one of them. “You know, if it weren’t for the snow and the fact I’m completely poor, you would have been welcome to go home with me for Christmas.”

He tinkered with a crystal figure sitting on her bookshelf. “Really?”

“Of course. So you’d better not make plans next year, mister, because you’re coming home with me. My family is crazy enough that you’ll fit right in.”

A broad smile spread across his face as he flopped across the sofa again. “First, we have to get through this one, and I am not stopping until I’ve given you the best present a gay man can give his fag hag. A hot man wrapped only in a bow.”

She stood and crossed her arms. “I am not a fag hag. I resent that label. It's offensive.”

“You resemble it too.” His satisfied smirk reassured her he was only teasing.

Daniel wrapped in a bow? Yeah, that pretty much topped her want list this year.

So she sat down again, sighed, and listened to Trevor’s ridiculous plan simply because she had nothing better to do.


***
Check back tomorrow for the second part of "The Misfits of Christmas"!

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