Holiday Roommates by Tere Michaels

 

Chapter 1

 

 

THIS, THIS moment right here, was the humiliation frosting on the shitstorm cake his month had been. Nate Brandywine stood in front of the full-length mirror, oblivious to the chattering cast around him.

Happy Holidays, Nathaniel. You have a BFA in Theater from the Yale School of Drama, you spent two years on Broadway as a featured performer, and now? An elf costume.

From the curled shoes—jingle bells, seriously?—to the top of his pointed hat—a pom-pom, for real?—he was Wiggles the Elf, booked for a five-week stint at the brand new La Kiss Store on Fifth Avenue for their “Holiday Spectacular.”

It wasn’t even Macy’s, for God’s sake.

La Kiss—fake French at its finest—decided, as their US kickoff, to recreate a ’50s-era Norman Rockwell Christmas display, with Santa and elves and other winter-related characters learning life lessons while tucked into a silvery white wonderland, as a doo-wop quartet rotated through classic holiday songs. Nate read the “script” and the requirements—cover your tattoos, no jewelry, no gum chewing, no cursing, no current slang, teeth whitening was recommended—and blessed his poker face, because this was a crock.

It was a Monday night so it wasn’t like he had anywhere else to be. Once upon a time, seven on a Monday would have been a time for Nat to chill, enjoying a day off from being on stage as “Thad,” shaking his pelvis and belting out ’60s rock and roll in “Shake and Shimmy.” A show that earned good reviews, nice box office, and then was booted from the theater by the newest Disney production.

Nate was trying not to be bitter. And failing miserably.

Two years employment gone, and now—right before Christmas—he was pounding the pavement with the scores of other un- and underemployed actors in New York City. This was the longest period of time he’d been without a job since he was three, and wasn’t that disheartening. His agent was sympathetic, but she couldn’t conjure up work for all her clients, let alone the low-on-the-totem-pole dwellers. He’d have to wait it out, do what he could to get by.

And not let his mother know he was hanging on by the barest thread.

 

 

HE WOULDN’T have considered this role (air quotes) if he wasn’t currently laboring under the added weight of a rent increase that prompted his pot-addicted roommate/ex-stepbrother to pack up and move out. A fact brought to Nate’s attention via a sticky note on the spot where the television used to be when he got home from a networking (more air quotes) event the week before.

Once he paid his December rent with the last of his savings, he would have nothing until this job paid out on Christmas Eve. And no roommate, no long-term job—which meant no apartment come January first. It was almost too shattering to contemplate.

Facing eviction from your beloved apartment—and possibly having to move in with your mother and take her back as your manager—was enough to convince a man to take any role. Any role. If his penis were bigger, he would have considered porn.

So La Kiss’s gig it was. Nate owed his former castmate Carin a fruit basket for the recommendation. And he would send her one as soon as he could afford it. Currently, however, the full amount of rent due in seven days would leave him with seventy-four cents in the bank. Oh God, he had to stop thinking about it, or he would start screaming in the middle of this crowd of meandering elves.

“Looking good!” Astrid, the “elf wrangler” chirped as she floated by. “You are the perfect height for this!”

She could have kicked him in the nuts. It might have hurt less.

 

 

Holiday Sanctuary by Elle Brownlee

 

Chapter 1

 

 

SNOW BEGAN to fall in huge flakes. They grabbed onto one another dancing in lazy clumps, spinning and floating, taking their time in the still afternoon air before giving in to gravity. It was bracingly cold and fresh, surrounding pines gathering the snowfall, the frosty ground crunching underfoot. There was palpable quiet here. Snowflakes could be heard meeting and melding, while the gentle sway of tree trunks provided a soothing rhythm.

Chris stopped and had an appreciative look around. He whistled the chorus of an old holiday standard and admired how his breath clouded and crystallized. With a smile he sucked in a huge inhale of this perfect winter day, and then he shed his backpack to get a drink and check his bearings.

He was tromping around the great wilds of northeastern Maine through a vast park filled with hidden streams, huge glacial erratics, and the densely standing trees leaving an impression of ochre red and impenetrable green. It was new to him and proving to be wonderful. He’d come in the winter on purpose, was supplied and prepared in case the weather turned foul, but he hadn’t seen any grim alerts on his GPS. He would have enjoyed company, a rowdy group or even a special someone to share this with. But right now he didn’t have a special someone, and he had to admit, rowdy company wasn’t what he wanted, either. Beyond that he couldn’t think of any of his pals who’d be primed for winter backcountry survivalist adventuring. They were great in the office, and great at any microbrewery, but get them away from technology and comfort and forget it.

Okay so maybe he didn’t want company after all. Thoughts of someone else warming his sleeping bag, having a cup of coffee, creating a geyser of steam with him as they peeled from that shared sleeping bag in the frosty early morning, and conversation other than Apps and tech developments flittered through his mind. He amended one final time; definitely company, certain and special, but no one like that in his life these days. This lack seemed all the more glaring with Christmas being less than a week away. He had no plans except to be back to his car and checked into a motel for a shower.

Chris didn’t let that dampen his spirits or fun. He peered at the sky and pondered if it’d show him anything, dense gray and shouldered low to the earth with steadily falling snow distinguishable just reaching the treetops, but he wasn’t exactly an expert. It appeared the same as this morning, and the day before when there hadn’t even been a flake in sight.

The wind kicked up, swirling the snow and pushing the trees to circle in place. Chris put his knit cap back on and gathered his gear and with a last glance at the map, got going again. He was on a trail, and somewhere was a ranger who knew he was in here. He’d keep hiking—really, conditions didn’t feel too bad—but he’d head toward the park’s boundary and search for a road all the same. Better safe than sorry, even if that meant tomorrow he’d backtrack to this spot and resume his determined circuit of the interior.

Chris nodded and set off again. He’d be fine.

 

 

Holiday Homecoming by Elizah J. Davis

 

 

GAVIN HAD always liked to think of himself as a pragmatic kind of guy. Even when he’d been new to LA, fresh out of college, he’d known better than to think things would come easy. He’d been prepared to pay his dues, work hard for what he wanted, and take everything he was offered with a grain of salt. If it seemed too good to be true, it probably was, and yet….

It hadn’t seemed too good to be true this time, though. His big break, his chance finally to pitch his series to someone who could make it happen had seemed earned through years of shitty jobs and networking and constant revising and refining of his writing. He’d let genuine hope and excitement filter in through his cautious optimism, too much too early, and as a reward, it had all gone to shit.

I’m sorry, man. They loved the idea, and they thought you were great. Now’s just not the right time.

A rejection Gavin had barely heard over the noise of the bar, a waste of his last ten-minute break for the night. He’d gone out back and leaned against the wall next to the dumpster, wishing desperately that he’d thought to bum a cigarette off someone. It had been years since he quit smoking, but it was never too late to start again. He’d stayed out there until Jesse had come to find him. The bar had been packed with college kids celebrating their winter break freedom and making Gavin feel at least ten times older than he actually was.

It had been a long night. All Gavin wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed and sleep until he felt capable of dealing with the world again.

Naturally, his roommates were having a party.

Gavin had lived in the same dumpy little rental house for the past five years and had three roommate turnovers in that time. His current roommates were brothers willing to share a room, which meant rent was split three ways instead of two. At the time, the benefit had outweighed the fact that they were also in their early twenties and determined to become rock stars. There’d been many times in the past six months Gavin had come to regret his decision.

“Hey, man, have a beer,” someone shouted as Gavin pushed his way through the crowd in an attempt to get to his bedroom. The house reeked of beer, pot, and Axe Bodyspray, and Gavin’s head began to pound in time with the music blasting through the stereo.

“Leave room for Jesus,” Gavin muttered, feeling like a disapproving granddad as he passed a couple grinding in the corner. He’d been young once. He’d gone to parties and smoked and drank and had public almost-sex, but he wasn’t twenty anymore, and at the moment it all seemed exhausting at best. He made it to his room and pushed open the door, glad for the relative sanctuary his space provided.

“Occupied!”

Gavin flipped on the light to find a couple on his bed, well on their way to naked.

“Occupied?” The guy said again, giving Gavin a “come on, bro” eyebrow raise.

It was the “fuck you” cherry on the crap sundae the universe had bestowed upon him, and Gavin was suddenly and completely done with everything. “Get out of my room.” The “over it” must’ve been clear in his tone, because the couple scrambled from the bed without further protest and gathered their clothes. They were still dressing when Gavin slammed the door behind them.

For a moment all he could do was stand there, surveying his bedroom like it was his first time really seeing it. His bed sat directly on the floor with an overturned plastic crate that served as his nightstand, which held a little alarm clock and a lamp. The only other furniture in the room was a beat-up dresser he’d gotten at a yard sale and a plastic desk he’d inherited from whoever had lived in the room before him. There was nothing on the walls: no pictures or mementos out to personalize the space. It wasn’t home; this place was only ever meant to be temporary. A place to stay until he moved on to the next phase. Only the next phase had never come. Everything of value, aside from his computer, sat in a box next to his desk. It was filled with his sketchbooks and notebooks—one sad cardboard box full of dreams and ambitions that had amounted to squat over the past fourteen years.

What the hell was he still doing here? He was a thirty-four-year-old man still living like he was eighteen, and he was tired of it. He was tired of his ugly little bedroom and sharing a house with kids ten years his junior. He was tired of the LA scene and the late nights bartending. He was tired of the Hollywood bullshitting and the wasted hours of his life spent trying to get his foot in the door. He couldn’t stay here. Not another week, not even another night.

It took an hour to get his stuff packed and three trips to the car to get it loaded. One trip with his duffle bag full of clothes and toiletries, one trip for the box of books he couldn’t bear to leave behind, and one trip for his box of failed endeavors that marked his time in LA.

A sense of responsibility overriding his current irritation, Gavin left a note for his roommates on the bed, along with enough money to cover his share of the utilities. His rent was paid through December, and considering what he’d put up with in the time his roommates had lived there, he didn’t feel like he owed them more than that. After another moment of consideration, he left his contact information, just in case. It was almost Christmas, and he didn’t think he needed to provide the universe any more fodder to use against him. Gavin was already a defeated man. He’d packed up his toys, and he was going back home.