The following short story comes from Writer's Block Coffee subscriber Suzanne Gochenouer, featuring the Writer's Block Coffee gang.
In addition to her writing, Gochenouer is an editor and writing coach. You can check out her website here.
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The Writer’s Block Coffee Hour: Santa’s Almost-Christmas Gift
I tiptoed into my living room. Blue and amber lights glowing on the live Noble Fir tree revealed someone rummaging through wrapped packages. The muffled thuds he caused had prompted me to toss aside my book and get out of bed. Shiny red velvet stretched across a broad chest and hugged muscular legs. His floppy-hatted head tilted down so that I couldn't see his face.
"Hands up! Don't make a move."
The intruder froze in place. "Is that a lipstick tube you've got stuck in my back?"
"Of course not. That would be stupid. Now turn around. Slowly," I demanded.
Instead, he spun, knocking my arm away from his body. My favorite lipstick went flying across the room.
I backed away, step by step to the other side of the room. The big guy stayed where he was.
When he raised his head I shrieked. And then burst into hysterical laughter. A bulbous, red nose above a maniacal grin filled with huge, cube-shaped teeth adorned his face mask. A gold overlay on the center tooth sparkled. Sloppy stitches attached a scrungy white beard to the edge of the mask below his chin.
Taking in the whole outfit, I choked back more laughter. "That is a truly disturbing look for the world's jolliest man."
"Never let them say that Santa doesn't have a sense of style." He posed in profile.
"Oh my, Santa, what shiny combat boots you're wearing."
He took a step closer to me. "The better to chase you with."
Hands propped on his hips, he inspected my footwear. "My, my, M.Y. Writer. What long ears your bunny slippers have."
I wriggled my toes in a cheerful wave. "The better to hear someone sneaking into my house. Oh, Santa, what a magnificent ammo belt you're wearing."
"The better to impress you with my manly derring-do." He removed the ammo belt slung over his shoulder and laid it on the console table in the foyer. No weapons were visible, but he could be carrying an arsenal under that outfit. He'd hidden plenty in the past, beneath far less padding than he wore at the moment. His attention returned to me.
"Dear me, Writer, what cute penguins those are, chasing those fat snowmen across the flannel pajamas you're wearing."
Blast! I had hoped he wouldn't notice I'd dressed for an early night of reading in bed, not for company from the North Pole.
"What are you doing under my tree tonight, Santa? Tomorrow is Christmas Eve." I pulled my heavy chenille robe tighter over the cute pajamas. It looked like he was staying a while, so I headed for the thermostat. Time to warm up the night.
Joe Noir lowered the disconcerting mask to reveal his own white grin. "Would you believe I got time off from the job for good behavior?" He moved toward me. "The team dropped me off."
"Hold it, Santa, baby." My upraised hand stopped him. "Have you completed your fourteen-day quarantine?"
"All taken care of."
I didn't know whether to dance in celebration or pout. He'd disappeared without a word months ago. Now he'd been back for two weeks and hadn't bothered to let me know? But I decided to let it go. I never knew how long he'd be staying. I'd make the most of his visit.
Noir removed his red coat and tossed it aside. Going to one knee next to the tree, he pulled out a shiny gold package. "Here's an early present, Writer. Open it now."
Pleased that he'd brought any present, much less an early one, I sat on the sofa, untied the royal blue ribbon, and carefully rolled it up. I knew that drove him crazy. He watched me peel the pieces of tape away slowly. I figured he was barely restraining himself from reaching out to do it for me.
When I finally pulled the paper free, Noir gave a big sigh.
I stared at my gift in puzzlement. "Noir, I always have plenty of Writer's Block Coffee on hand. You didn't have to bring extra."
"Take another look, Writer." He turned the bag so I could see the label.
"Whiskey Barrel-Aged Coffee—aged 30 days in vintage bourbon barrels." Just holding the bag made me thirst for my favorite beverage.
Noir pulled me to my feet. "I know you like to save your Southern Comfort for the eggnog during the holiday season. This blend will satisfy both our tastes." He'd walked me into the kitchen as he talked. He filled my coffeemaker with water before gesturing for me to hand over my present.
"It's nearly midnight, Noir. Is a cup of coffee the highest priority on your wish list right now?"
"Patience, Writer. We have somewhere to be at midnight. And no, it's not snuggled in bed with visions of dancing sugarplums." He hugged me close as the coffeemaker finished brewing.
"What should I wear for this mysterious outing?" I was less than enthused about changing or leaving the house, but intrigued that he had something planned for us.
"You're fine just as you are." Noir handed me a steaming mug of coffee before pouring his own. The aroma was enticing. The first sip tantalizing. Full-bodied, rich flavor, with a mellow hint of caramel and sweet grain. Delicious! I frowned when he plucked it away.
Noir bundled me into my full-length coat and placed the mug back into my hands. He shrugged into a heavy parka he grabbed from atop a duffel bag sitting near the front door. With his steaming coffee mug in hand, he steered me out to my front porch.
Moonlight bathed a cloudless sky. Our visible breaths hung in the frigid air.
"This is intriguing, Noir, but why are we out here freezing our tails when we could be snuggled on the couch?"
"Shhh, Writer. Open your senses and tell me what you observe." He stood behind me and wrapped his warm arms around me.
"It's quiet." I gazed around the neighborhood. "Everyone's already turned their holiday lights off for the night. But the moonlight is throwing sparkles off the frost on the tree branches."
A small cloud slid over the quarter moon.
"Everything's so peaceful. The stars are brilliant tonight. There's woodsmoke drifting from someone's chimney. And an owl hooting in the big pine at the end of the driveway."
I heard movement at my back and turned to see Kaylee Juve and her parents, attired in their favorite ugly Christmas sweaters, huddled together and waving from their porch. Almost a quarter of an acre between our houses meant we didn't need to wear masks to call season's greetings to each other.
Farther down the street, a car door slammed, and a bright light appeared. As it drew near, I recognized the town banker, David Jefferson Grant, in the glow of the powerful flashlight he carried. He walked arm in arm with his sweetheart, Samantha Peach.
Samantha's full-length red gown peeked from beneath a silvery cape. His black tie and formal suit hinted at a special occasion. I was smug because he'd shared with me his plan to surprise her. He'd cooked a romantic dinner at his home since they couldn't go out to celebrate the season. David and Samantha waved and called, "Hello, Writer! And you, Noir. Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Juve and Kaylee. It's so great to see all of you!"
David looked beyond us, toward the other end of the street. Mack Hawkshaw lifted an old kerosene lantern in greeting as he and his secretary, Marlene Ministre, strolled our way. Bundled in heavy coats and hats, they had dressed for the frigid temperature. They stopped at a safe distance with the space of two lots between them and the other couple as they called greetings to everyone.
My friends hadn't visited for months, and I had sorely missed hearing about their lives. Seeing them now filled an empty corner in my heart, even if we couldn't gather around my kitchen table.
"What's going on, Noir? Why are all our friends out walking at midnight?"
Then from a distance, in the cold dark of that December midnight, a tenor voice lifted in song.
"It came upon a midnight clear…."
The breath caught in my throat as two more unseen singers harmonized with the melody.
At the beginning of the second verse, my friends lifted their voices to sing with the unseen trio. My eyes burned with unshed tears as Noir and I joined in. This moment had to be the most beautiful in the entire year. When our voices died away, there was a few seconds of silence before we all broke into applause. "Bravo!"
The trio concealed by the dark led off again with a rollicking Christmas favorite.
This time we all jumped in right away, trying to outdo one another with enthusiasm and loudness. More neighbors opened their doors to find out what was going on, grabbed their coats, and stepped outside to become part of our chorus.
Up and down the street, Christmas lights came back on, adding brilliant color to the scene. At each house people waved candles, flashlights, and even cell phone lights in time to the music. Three children danced and raced around one yard, excited to be awake and outside long after their bedtime.
For an hour, the mystery voices led us in familiar and loved Christmas carols.
Finally, the lead voice from beyond the light began again. "Silent night, holy night." His vocal partners joined him in quiet harmony. "All is calm. All is bright."
The final note faded away, and we paused to see what came next. But the night was still once more. My neighbors drifted back into their homes. Only the group of my treasured friends remained, standing in silence.
"Thanks for the invite, Noir," David called. He and Samantha waved before they walked back to his car. Mack threw a casual salute our way before he and Marlene turned to leave. The Juve family called out wishes for a glorious holiday as they entered their house.
It was just Noir and me now, under the starlit sky. In the distance, a light blinked off and on in a pattern I recognized as Morse code.
"Who's out there? Do you know the mystery singers?"
"Scourge, Ace, and Main Man. The guys were killing time singing country songs on our flight back. They sounded so good I asked them to help me surprise you and the whole gang who show up for morning coffee." Noir took a tiny flashlight from his pocket and sent an answer.
"They should have joined us."
His look said it all. Noir always had to remind me that his teammates operated under the radar. Way under.
"Still, it's a shame they couldn't be part of the group."
"They're used to being apart from everyone, Writer. They don't mind."
I had my doubts about that but didn't voice them.
His attention focused on the new message blinking out of the dark. He snorted.
"What did they say?" I was too tired to work it out for myself.
"They said, 'Merry Christmas, Writer. Thanks for being Noir's friend. He has so few.'"
"Will you say 'Thank you and Merry Christmas' for me? And tell them I hope we get a chance to meet one day."
He shook his head, but I saw the slight smile tugging at his lips as Noir sent my message.
"It doesn't feel right that we don't have a way to show our appreciation to them for making tonight so special, Noir."
"How about we give them a year's subscription to Writer's Block Coffee? Maybe the Whiskey Barrel-Aged blend."
"If they drink as much of the stuff as you do, that's perfect." I turned toward the door.
Not until we were inside the warm house did I become aware that my feet were freezing. Plopping down on the sofa, I wrapped myself in the throw blanket.
Noir sat beside me, and I hugged him close. His body generated enough heat to warm me fast. Closing my eyes, I leaned my head on his shoulder and felt his chin rest on my head.
"Thank you for my wonderful surprise, Noir. I needed to see my friends, and you, this season. We've all been missing that connection for too long. This night was the best present you could ever give me."
Above our heads we heard, "Ho, ho, ho, and to all a good—." The accompanying jangle of vigorously shaken sleigh bells stopped when a solid whump shook the roof. A muffled curse followed as something slid across the shingles and thumped onto the back lawn.
I raised my head to eye Noir. "Convince me that was the real Santa on a test run. I figure the jolly toymaker's insurance will cover his falls. I'm not too sure mine will cover injuries incurred by some fraudulent elf."
Noir keyed one number into his cell phone, listened for a moment, then hung up.
"Merry Christmas, Noir." Sleep was sneaking up on me now that I was warm again.
"Merry Christmas, Writer."
My eyes didn't even open. "If I wake up tomorrow and you tell me this was a dream, I swear I'll write you out of my next book."