The snow that fell during the night had hardened into a crunchy crust that crackled loudly underfoot as Danny walked to work from his apartment on Second Avenue. His measured steps became bouncy strides when on the way he passed a smoky cart selling roasted chestnuts and hot pretzels.
For as long as he could remember, the appearance of these smoldering contraptions filled him with excitement because it meant that the Christmas season had begun. They usually appeared sometime after Thanksgiving, and for the duration of the holiday season filled the city streets with clouds of charcoal smoke that enticed passers-by to sample their wares. As he rounded the corner onto Fifth Avenue, the great tree at Rockefeller Center loomed into view and even though the lowest branch was more than a hundred feet away on the other side of the skating rink, he swore he could smell the tang of evergreen as he passed.
Inside Florabunda, the flower shop where Danny was part owner, the sweet scent of flowers replaced the sharp smells of Christmas in New York City and Amy, the co-owner of the shop, was already busy with customers’ orders. The plump elderly woman wore wire-rimmed glasses, and she looked like Mrs. Claus herself as she bustled around in her green apron and Santa hat that she wore in honor of the season.
Amy met Danny when he was a brash young man in his twenties with a fondness for heavy metal. She was recently widowed and was running the shop on her own when he came in looking for a job, and now, ten years later, they were more like mother and son than business partners. Danny still liked to wear black, but the only reminder of his heavy metal days was a small scar above his eyebrow from a concert that had gotten out of hand.
“How was your date last night?” Amy asked as she tucked a candy cane into the basket of flowers in front of her.
“It was a pretty good movie. We went for coffee afterwards. He’s in real estate, and he droned on and on about how much money he lost when the bubble burst. Another non-starter, I’m afraid,” Danny concluded with a heavy sigh.
Amy clucked her tongue with practiced motherly concern. “Be glad he was only boring; you never know who’ll show up when you answer those online personals. I still think it’s dangerous. Why don’t you let me introduce you to Mrs. Perkin’s son? He’s very nice and he has an MBA from NYU. He’ll be thirty five this year, just right for you.”
“Amy you know how I feel about that. I like doing things my own way,” said Danny. He was about to explain dating since the advent of the Internet when a cold blast of air from the direction of the front door alerted him that a customer had come into the shop. He smiled with relief at the opportunity to change the subject and was genuinely happy when he saw that it was his friend Kurt.
“Hi guys. My boss finally decided on the theme for our holiday party. It’s going to be Mischief Under the Mistletoe. We’ll all wear masks and the colors will be silver and black,” Kurt said brightly. “I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you. My boss has been out of town,” he apologized.
“No worries, you have plenty of time before Christmas Eve,” Danny said as pulled out a chair for Kurt at a binder laden table that they used for consultations.
“While you two work on the party, I’ll just take this up to the lawyers,” Amy announced, referring to the candy cane accented arrangement she had just finished.
“It’s snowing out there. You should let me do the delivery,” Danny protested.
“No, dear. They’re just the next door over. I’ll be fine. Besides, it’ll give me a chance to visit with everyone,” she said.
Danny knew better than to argue with the strong willed older woman and held the door as Amy tottered out of the shop with the basket and disappeared into the brisk flow of determined shoppers outside.
“So?” Kurt asked.
“So? You mean my date? I was just telling Amy that he was a loser,” Danny answered as he sat down with a clunk next to Kurt.
Kurt pulled his chair closer and placed a hand on Danny’s shoulder. “Dude, your trouble is that you are going about it all wrong; guys who put ads in the personals aren’t really looking to settle down. You need to meet someone who’s into family. I have just the guy for you. He’s a friend of mine from back home who just moved to the city.”
Danny gave his friend a wary look. “Hmm. What’s he like? He’s not one of your cowboy friends, is he? I’m desperate but not that desperate.”
“Just because I’m from Montana, it doesn’t mean all my friends are cowboys, asshole,” Kurt said with exasperation. “Well, he did run a medical marijuana farm in Oregon for a while. That doesn’t count. Does it?” he asked in a small voice.
Danny sighed and rested his chin on his hand. “Is a warm body to cuddle up to at Christmas too much to for ask for?”
It was already snowing hard as Amy walked the half block to the high-rise next door, and by the time she pushed through the revolving door to the lobby, she was covered in big fluffy flakes. The security guard gave her a friendly wave as she carried the basket of flowers past him on the way to the elevator that would take her up to Koenig, Koenig, Jones, Chang, and Bevans. When she reached her destination, Amy felt someone lift the basket from her hands as she stepped out of the elevator.
“That looks heavy. I’ll take it,” said a baritone voice from the other side of the flowers that blocked her view.
“Oh, hi, Kent. Thank you. These are for the small conference room,” Amy said when she saw that it was Kent Bevans, the youngest partner in the law firm.
“So how have you been, Amy?” Kent asked as they walked down the hall past richly paneled offices and workrooms that were abuzz with clerks and paralegals.
“As well as someone at my age could expect,” she said with a tinkle of a laugh. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you since I delivered those flowers for Mary Koenig’s birthday.”
Kent’s expression darkened. “Well, I’ve been through some changes. Brian and I broke up at the end the summer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. But if you don’t mind me saying so, it’s all for the best. You never seemed very happy when you talked about Brian.”
“Yeah, I suppose the signs were as big as billboards,” Kent said sadly.
Amy took Kent by the elbow after they had placed the flowers in their intended spot. “Now never you mind about Brian. It’s nearly Christmas, the time of year for magic and miracles!” she told him.
When they had made their way back to the elevators, Amy pressed one of her cards into Kent’s hand. “You know my Danny at the shop; well, he’s all alone too. It’s not good to be alone at Christmastime. You should come by the shop and say hello sometime. He’s there every day.”
Kent looked at the card and cracked a sliver of a smile. “You are incorrigible, Amy Keye,” he called out to the old woman. Amy didn’t answer but gave a little wave and a crinkle of a smile before the elevator whisked her away.
Later that afternoon when Danny had completed a multi-piece decorative display for CPS Asset Management, one of their new clients on Park Avenue, he headed out into the near blizzard snowfall to make the delivery. He shrugged his leather jacket over the thick sweater he was wearing and wrestled the heavy gold and silver trimmed arrangements into the back of the delivery van. Danny grumbled when wet, fat flakes of snow pelted a bit of exposed neck at the back of his collar. His breath hung heavily in the air and fogged the windshield as he slid into the driver’s seat. As he started the engine and pulled out into traffic, the radio blared out a pop version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. CPS Asset Management was twenty blocks away, and in the heavy snow it took Danny nearly an hour to get there.
The lobby where Danny was to install the decorations was an oasis of calm compared to the traffic-snarled, bone-chilling mess outside. Warm lighting and rich woods exuded an atmosphere of stability and wealth. However, florescent lights harshly illuminated the trading floor where they conducted the actual business of the firm, and its high-energy atmosphere was isolated from the sedate lobby by a nearly floor-to-ceiling glass wall. When Danny stepped from the elevator, the rows and rows of flat panel screens on the trading floor on the far side of the glass caught his attention, and he scanned the entire length of them before his eyes came to rest on the reception desk on the near side of the glass. A striking woman with skin the color of mahogany was standing in front of it, and she was talking to a handsome broad-shouldered man with a military haircut.
When Danny identified himself, the woman greeted him with a warm smile while the man gave Danny a brief, but friendly nod before going inside to the trading floor.
“I’m Susan, the office manager,” she said and offered Danny her hand. “I’ll just quickly go over what we have in mind, and then I’ll leave you to it.” Susan walked around the lobby as she talked. “I want the poinsettias and flowers scattered around the room. The garland and the miniature Christmas trees go up there,” she said and pointed to a ledge high above the glass wall that separated the lobby from the trading floor.
Danny looked up worriedly. “That’s pretty high. I’m going to need a ladder.”
Susan chewed on her lower lip for a moment. “We don’t have one handy, but I’m sure I can get one from somewhere.”
While Susan arranged for the ladder, Danny brought up the rest of the decorations and placed them around the room. When all that was left to do was to decorate the high ledge, the ladder was still nowhere in sight, so Danny stood in front of the glass and watched the activities on the trading floor while he waited. He smiled when he spotted the handsome man again and watched as the man larked about with the other workers. When the man got out of his seat to pitch a crumpled piece of paper at the back of one of his co-workers, Danny admired the well-muscled body straining at the crisp blue shirt that covered it, but he tore his eyes away when the man caught him looking and flashed a smile.
Now back on earth, Danny looked at his watch impatiently and wondered about the ladder. The weather outside had worsened over the last hour since he started working on the installation, and he wanted to get back to the shop while the streets were still passable. Spying a small table against the wall, Danny decided to use it to climb up to the ledge. Although barely two feet across, Danny found it surprisingly sturdy when he stood on it. He worked steadily and hummed a little tune as he climbed up and down from the little table with pots of miniature trees and armloads of fragrant pine garland.
Danny had just climbed up onto the table with his last armload of garland when he heard someone say, “Oh my God, I’m sorry!”