A CHRISTMAS STORY
by Lady Gato
Webmistress, Candy Candy Nation
The New York City winter was glorious. There had been enough cold weather to bring in snow, but not horribly frigid to make it unbearable. Yes, there would be a White Christmas, guaranteed. Skaters were out on the frozen ponds in Central Park, silver bells chimed merrily off horse drawn sleighs, Dickensian carolers filled the air with the songs of the season. Suzanne Marlowe was in high spirits. She was the fiancée of Terrence Grandchester, whom after coming back to New York after a "hiatus" in 1915, was the hottest actor on Broadway. And to her delight, they had started living together, upon his suggestion. She had moved into his new Fifth Avenue Flat on the Upper East Side (facing Central Park) with her mother, so that she would be properly chaperoned until the wedding. Although no date had been set, Suzanne was sure it would be soon…why else would he have asked her to move in?
She moved around better on her crutches, although she refused to try a prosthetic. But she became adept at using them and had some mobility in the house. When she went out, it would be in the wheelchair, although at times she tried to move on her crutches. So, given the season, she wanted to have a Christmas Tree. Her first Christmas with Terry in their home! She couldn’t wait. She marshalled up the housekeeper, the butler and her mother, to find the perfect tree, and shop for ornaments at Macy’s and Bloomingdales. She wanted the perfect trimmings for her perfect tree, for her perfect house and her perfect life…
Except for one thing.
Her life was not perfect. As much as she tried to convince herself otherwise, it was not perfect.
Even though she was living under the same roof as her fiancée, the man she was completely besotted with, she rarely saw him or interacted with him. She might as well have been living in Siberia, such was the gulf between them. Oh, he was gentle and kind to her, devoted in a certain way. His eyes would look at her with a resigned tenderness and his voice was calmly flat. He took care of her every financial and material need…but that was it. He either spent hours at the theatre or locked up in his study, studying his characters or devouring his books. The few meals they took together were pleasant, but distant. She would try to chatter and make small talk, but his answers, while polite, were short and to the point. He remained as inscrutable to her as the day she had seen him for the first time. But day after day she told herself she would keep on, because as she had written once to the woman she knew was still in his mind, soul and heart, she could wait forever. All she had to do was create the perfect world for them and sooner or later, he would come around.
But not even the perfect world was enough to entice him.
T T T T T T
Suzanne was busily directing the trimming of the tree, humming Christmas songs, when she heard him come into the formal salon, which faced the park. The huge 10 foot Silver Tip Fir she had ordered was up and was being festooned gaily with brilliant garland and multicolored glass ornaments. His face, as usual, didn’t register any emotion.
"Oh…Terry! My dear…I got you the nicest tree in all of New York!! Do you like it?" she chimed, enthusiastically, hopeful.
His eyes smiled sadly at her. "Whatever you want, Suzanne…if you like it, then I like it too…"
Her heart cringed…always the same answer, delivered in the same monotone, devoid of any emotion. It was sincere, but she knew it wasn’t honest.
"Do you want to help decorate it?" she offered, trying to engage him. She hid her feelings and kept up her excitement.
Terry looked at her briefly, then said, "Of course, Suzanne…whatever makes you happy…"
The same tone of voice. He was doing it only for duty. To please her because that is what she expected.
"Leave us, please…" she ordered to the staff and to her mother, who had been looking on the whole scene with disproving eyes. Mother hates him so, tells me all the time he’s no good and that he doesn’t care for me…
"But Suzanne…" protested Mrs. Marlowe.
"Mother, please…" she retorted in the tone of voice her mother knew meant that she was not to be trifled with.
"You should light up…" Mrs. Marlowe hissed at Terry, noting that night was falling. She wanted that damn Englishman to get her double entendre.
Terry ignored the woman he despised with all his heart, despite his efforts not to. He could not wholly blame her, when he himself had not spoken up when he had to. He knew he was living with the consequences of his bad decisions in the past…decisions that had cost him dearly.
"I can light up the candles myself, mother…we don’t need the electric lights…" Suzanne interjected, knowing well what her mother was trying to do.
"The church will burn down before you get a rise out of him…" Mrs. Marlowe seethed, before leaving.
Suzanne ignored her mother, and on her crutches, slowly went around lighting several pillar candles and the candelabras in the room. With the roaring fire in the fireplace, the whole room was bathed in warm, intimate lighting. Terry never looked more handsome to her. Yet, as he was silently and slowly placing ornaments on the tree, his gaze was blank and far away.
Suzanne tried to make small talk, but as usual, his answers did not keep up his end of the conversation.
There was the habitual silence again, as Suzanne sat down to watch him.
Suddenly, a particular ornament had caught his eye. It was a figure of Juliet. Suzanne had bought it, because it reminded her of her previous life before the accident, the life that was taken away from her with the amputation of her leg. The role she was born to play.
I just need him to play Romeo…
She then noticed then a soft, loving gleam in his eye and a slight half smile on his face. His face glowed for a brief moment, then it was all gone.
He thought about her…
She recalled one time, about 4 years ago, when she had seen that expression in full force on his face. She had been spying on him…he was in the small alleyway next to the Stratford Theatre, reading a letter…from her, no doubt….it had to be, because she remembered how her insides burned with jealously at the look of love on his face and the emotion that was evident in his whole persona, from just reading a simple letter from her.
She saw as he hung that ornament in a very prominent place on the tree. Then he said "There…I think that looks good there…" He had not said anything similar about any other ornament he had hung.
Before she could respond, he moved over to the window, and stared out again, his eyes seemingly looking in the distance for something.
For the first time, Suzanne felt something in her heart that she had never felt before. She felt someone else’s pain. She felt someone else’s longing. She felt someone else’s forlorn…she felt someone else’s sadness. Before, seeing these emotions would only stoke her jealously, but this time, it evoked something else from deep inside her.
For the first time in her life, she truly wanted to give of her whole self without asking for anything in return.
It was Christmas, after all…the birthdate of the one who had come to show the world what true love really was.
"Terry…" she murmured.
He did not respond.
"Terry…please look at me…" she murmured again, a little more insistently.
He slowly turned around and looked at her. She could not bear the immense melancholy in his eyes.
"Yes, Suzanne…can I do something for you?" he asked.
"Terry…I…" she said, gathering herself, "Terry…I want to tell you what I want for Christmas…"
His eyes looked at her, awaiting her request.
"Tell me what it is that you want, and I will give it to you…whatever will make you happy…" he said again, in the usual tone.
"Terry…what I want for Christmas is for you to truly smile again…to truly believe in life and love again…I want you to be free…I want you to be happy, truly happy…" She said it from the heart.
He looked at her, in disbelief.
"Come again?" he said.
"I want you to go to her…I want you to tell her that you love her and I want you to live the rest of your life with her…"
"Terry…I cannot bear to see you thus anymore…I want to release you from this debt of duty and honor that has bound you to me all these years…you have been the most virtuous of gentlemen to do so…but I want to tell you, and you must believe me…that I have learned what love is…if I truly love you, I must set you free…"
For the first time, his eyes sparkled at her.
"Do you really mean this?" he asked, kneeling at her feet and taking her hands.
Her light blue eyes looked into his darker ones, which no longer seemed dead. They looked alive.
"I really do…what’s more, I want you to go to her now…I no longer want to hold you back…"
Even though what happened next wasn’t quite what she had waited for all these years, it still warmed her considerably and told her that she had done the morally and spiritually right thing. Terry kissed her hands and then her cheek, as he whispered "Thank you, Suzanne…God Bless You…"
"Tell you what, I will see you off at the station…promise me you will come back with her…I would enjoy seeing her and visiting with her…" she said, sincerely. She felt happy too.
T T T T T T
Terry’s train left early next morning, and as she promised, she had seen him off. Her mother, who had come with her, was disapproving, but she had learned long ago that she could not fight against her daughter’s whims.
"You are a fool, Suzanne…now what are you going to do?" she rebuked for the thousandth time again, as Terry’s train to Chicago departed.
"I’m going to live, mother…I feel alive…" Suzanne declared. She had used her crutches. "For starters, I’m going to see about getting a prosthetic…" she started to move away from the platform towards the waiting area, when she heard a voice say,
"Are you Suzanne Marlowe?"
She stopped and turned to the voice. In front of her was a very tall, elegant and distingushed looking man.
"Yes…" she murmured, mesmerized by the gentleman’s hazel eyes.
"I’m Franklin Meyer…Robert Hathaway never told you this, but I wanted your contract released to me…I wanted you to come work for me…I wanted you to star in The Lady of the Camelias at the time!"
Franklin Meyer was a famous producer on Broadway. He was one of the richest men in New York, and owned several theatres. He was starting to produce moving pictures.
"Oh, Mr. Meyer…you see, I had an accident!" she excused. She somehow felt magnetically attracted to this man in a way she had never experienced before.
"Pshaw, Miss Marlowe….with a prosthetic, no one could care less…your talent wasn’t in your leg, young lady...but tell me, do you still want to act? Does that sourpuss of your fiancée allow you to do any acting? You’ve fallen off the face of the earth, it seems…but
if I may say so, you are much more beautiful since I saw you last…from afar, of course…" his voice had a tinge of admiration that would have been associated more with a hopeful beau than a detached colleague.
Mrs. Marlowe watched the proceedings, agape. Had she a lightning rod in her hands, she was sure she would have captured a bolt.
"I’m no longer affianced to Mr. Grandchester, Mr. Meyer..."
"…Franklin…and…I’ve come back…" she smiled sweetly.
"May I escort you back home? We can talk some more…if you are willing, I still have great plans for you…has anyone told you that the camera would love a face like yours?"
Suzanne smiled. Somehow, she forgot all about Terry at that moment.
T T T T T T
"I’m afraid we’ve run out of holly to make our garland…" Sister Lane sighed, a bit aghast at her miscalculation.
Candy looked up from the popcorn garland she was helping Annie string. Archie and Albert were trimming the Douglas Fir at Pony’s Home. Candy and Albert had just returned from visiting Western Canada. The trip had done much to cement the fraternal feeling between the two…they were truly brother and sister now. Archie and Annie, who had just wed the past summer, had decided to spend the holidays at Pony’s.
Miss Pony brought out of tray of warm eggnog, with a spike of whisky. The afternoon was a tad nippy. Candy noticed there was a cup more than necessary.
"How’s this, Miss Pony?" she pointed out.
"Ah, Candy…you never know, a weary wanderer may show up…or one of you may find you want a second helping…" the older lady winked.
The parlor at Pony’s Home was aglow with the season and warmness. Christmas was Candy’s favorite season. She had learned to accept the bitter with the sweet in her life, and that made her appreciate what she had and the wonderful memories that were hers. Perhaps there was a void that would never be filled, but she was happy to have had the cause for that void, anyway. It never failed to warm her heart when she thought of the arrogant instigator, albeit wistfully.
"I’ll go get the Holly, Sister Lane!" she offered, taking a sip of the egg nog. "And save that extra for me…I may need it!" she warned.
She took her coat, her cap, muffler and mittens and stepped out into the crisp afternoon. The sun was starting to set. She breathed out and watched the little fog curl. She smiled, in wonder, at the effect and made her way to Pony’s Hill. Just past the Hill, was a patch of holly bushes. She walked briskly humming, "Deck the Halls" chanting the Fa La La out enthusiastically. Christmas Eve would be so gay that night! Annie would play the piano, they would sing…the children would stay up and open presents, and then have the wonderful midnight meal that Miss Pony was cooking…mmm…roast goose with all the trimmings, and of course the wonderful Buche de Noel she would bake.
She reached the top of the hill and looked at the horizon. The sun was about to set and the frigid atmosphere gave off the most wonderful shades of mauve and purple. The dying rays of the day streaked the sky. Candy sighed and looked at the tableau, appreciating the beauty of the moment.
She thought of him and murmured,
"Terry…wherever you are, please have a Merry Christmas…"
"Why shouldn’t it be, after such a wish?"
She stopped. The voice had come from behind her. It had to be a trick. It was that beloved voice, although it sounded a little bit older.
"Santa doesn’t come until midnight!" she called out, hoping to dispel the trick with her sassiness.
She felt a pair of hands on her shoulders turn her around. It had to be a trick…a dream…her most dearest, most secret wish was either coming true or her mind was toying cruelly with her.
"He decided to come a bit early this year…" Terry said, softly.
They both looked at each other, making up for the lost years.
"Suzanne wanted to send you a gift…" he explained "which can’t be returned to sender…"
"For keeps?" she whispered, eagerly.
"For keeps, Freckles…" he replied, then kissing her gently. Candy corresponded him in full, enjoying the gift of their mutual love and the happiness that she felt in their hearts.
Candy Candy Nation ©, 2004
Candy Candy Characters© and Story Kyoko Mizuki and Yumiko Igarishi