Christmasland by Anne-Marie Meyer

1





Beatrice





“Merry Christmas!” the street vendor yelled into my face just as I walked past him.

He shoved a snow globe in my direction, and I stepped back right into a puddle of melted snow mixed with the runoff of New York City streets. I yelped and leapt forward, nearly taking out a group of women who were perusing the exact item that could have nearly killed me.

I gave them a sheepish smile, but they just glared at me and then returned to whispering and moving the snow globes around in their hands as if by rubbing the glass hard enough, they’d be transported to the clean and crisp depictions of a Christmas town.

I snorted. The only place such a town existed was in Christmas decorations and your imagination.

“Well?” the vendor asked as he waved the snow globe under my nose.

I studied him. Was he serious? Did he really think that I was going to buy something from him when my foot was soaked and freezing? I was pretty sure I was halfway to either getting a foot fungus or frost bite.

“I’m good,” I said as I lifted up my mittened hands and began to back away.

“You’re loss,” he shouted after me as I hurried away from him.

“Yeah, right,” I said as I spotted the Java Bean and veered toward it. This was the last time I was going to let Em pick our coffee spot for the week. Next time, we were going to Buzzed. It was a block down from my apartment and wasn’t surrounded by all of this Christmas cheer.

I wasn’t exactly what you would call a grinch, but there was only so much tinsel, cinnamon, and Santa a girl could take. My holly-jolly meter was pretty much full, and it was only the first week of December.

I reached the front door of Java Bean and had to wait as a group of sufficiently buzzed patrons exited. They were laughing and talking. From what I could tell, they were talking about their Christmas plans. I held the door open for them, using the polite gesture to eavesdrop.

As a writer, I got my ideas from everywhere. And so what if I used my goodwill to my advantage? They got the door opened for them, and I got material to use for the next chapter of my book.

That was what I called a win-win.

Once inside, I slipped off my pink beanie and shoved it into my jacket pocket. I attempted to smooth down my curly brown hair, but, with the mixture of static and my wiry hair, the effort was in vain. I ended up looking like Einstein’s granddaughter.

I heard Em’s easy laugh and spotted her red hair in the corner of the shop. After placing my very boring order of black coffee with two sugars, I made my way over and plopped down across from her.

She’d just finished taking a drink of something very Christmassy and very frothy. When she lowered her mug, there was a line of whipped cream above her lip. She saw me and smiled but didn’t move to wipe away the remnants of her drink.

“Em,” I said as my OCD went into hyperdrive and I grabbed a nearby napkin and reached over to wipe off the froth.

“I got it. I got it.” She giggled as she took the napkin from my hand and wiped her mouth. “I’m so glad to have you as my mother.”

I snorted as I sat back down in my chair and glanced around. Although I knew Em was joking, there was always a sadness that rose up inside of me at the mention of parents. I was one of the lucky products of the foster care system. And even though I was grateful that I had foster parents who cared about me, this time of year only made my loneliness more poignant.

Not wanting to be the downer at the table, I changed the subject. “Why did you drag me down here?” I motioned toward my water-stained suede boots and darkened pant leg.

Em laughed. “What happened to you?”

I glared at her. “It’s not funny. I was basically assaulted by a man selling snow globes. In order to avoid his clutches, I had to jump back and into a lovely puddle of melted snow and gunk.”

Em wrinkled her nose for a moment before she waved off my comment. “I like it here. There is Christmas everywhere. Unlike your apartment, which looks like a hospital room.” She cupped her mug with both hands and brought the rim to her nose, taking in a deep breath. She closed her eyes as if it were the most exquisite thing in the world.

“You are hopelessly optimistic,” I said as I sighed. Em lived and breathed Christmas.

“Oh,” she said so loudly that it startled me.

I clutched my hand to my chest and gave her an exasperated look. “What the heck?”

If Em heard me, she didn’t say anything. Instead she leaned forward with her eyes sparkling from excitement.