Sweet Christmas Kisses 4

- 14 Christmas romances -

Beate Boeker

Unique Christmas

Tomorrow is Christmas. The thought should have made me happy. Instead, it made me feel tired. I rubbed my eyes as I mounted the last rickety steps into my office to get my coat before going home. Major mistake. My right foot got caught somehow, and I fell through the flimsy door into my shadowy attic office, landing on my knees.

Grumbling, I picked myself up. My clumsiness had started sometime in my teens, when my legs and arms had grown with a speed that was downright scary. At the time, people laughed at me and found me cute. But now, I was thirty-two years old, and I still had all sorts of accidents all the time, and it wasn’t cute anymore. It was Embarrassing, with a capital E. At least, nobody had seen me this time.

I work as Public Relations Manager at the small but international advertising agency Bello & Pronto in Florence, Italy. This year, the agency had grown like my arms in my teens, and my boss had employed six new people. However, he had not really considered the need for all of us to sit and work somewhere, so the resulting space problem had given us a sardine-in-a-can-feeling.

When I had fallen over my colleague’s feet for the sixth time in one week in September, which resulted in a hissing fit of said colleague (I admit, her legs were a bit blue), my boss had the brilliant idea to give me some more space and quiet – by placing me in the attic. Never mind that it wasn’t really insulated. Never mind that you could only reach my new office by climbing the most rickety stairs you’ve ever seen.

For an instant, I had wondered if he was trying to throw me out of my job in some subtle way. Or murder me. However, I’d worked for my boss for six years already, and I knew he was a dear at heart. So I bought a rope to give myself something to hold onto when I mounted, and I accepted my new office. To my surprise, it was heaven. While writing the press releases I needed to churn out at an ever-increasing speed, absolute quiet helped me make the words sing, and when I lifted my head, I could look straight into the attic window on the house at the other side of the street.

Not that there was much to see. It was a dusty little window, and it showed an attic similar to mine, empty, with the exception of tons of dust and an old wooden cupboard at the far wall. That cupboard intrigued me. When I got stuck with my texts, I went to my window, opened it, leaned out and tried to imagine how that huge cupboard had ended up in the attic, and what it contained.

My office is in Via Montenerone, in the historic city center of Florence, but the street hardly ever appears on a map – it’s simply too small. The distance between the houses is so narrow I can almost touch the opposite wall when I lean out the window and stretch out my arm. I only tried that once. With my propensity for falling, it’s better not to press your luck when leaning out of windows. I contented myself with looking and speculating and admiring the fancy woodwork on the cupboard. Its doors were covered with little carved flowers I could easily discern when the sun shone in. That happened every day for about five minutes, but only until mid-September. Then the sun sank too low. I already looked forward to spring and wondered when the sun would make it above the roof tops again, so it could reach the room.

Now, I rubbed my knee and hobbled to my desk to get my handbag and coat. Ten days without work stretched out ahead of me, and I couldn’t wait to crash and sleep and relax. It had been an exhausting year.

From the retreating voices downstairs, I knew I’d soon be on my own in the building. Not that this was anything new. I’m a night owl and had long since received the keys to the office. Besides, we’d just said good bye and Merry Christmas to each other with a bit of Prosecco and some snacks. The office was about to close for the year, about an hour later than planned, but we were getting there.

I sighed with happiness and suppressed the slight feeling of unease that pooled in my stomach. My parents had gone on a cruise this year, leaving me alone for the first Christmas since I was born. I’d told them to go ahead and enjoy the sunshine, but now that Christmas was here, I wasn’t so sure anymore.

My sort-of boyfriend Rodolfo had also gone home to his parents in Milano for Christmas. I had to admit I’d waved him off with a lifting of my heart when his car had finally driven down the road. His stuffy presence had become unbearable these last weeks. Rodolfo was a lawyer and compliance manager at a big bank. He earned tons of money, making sure everyone in his bank stuck to every single law the governments of Europe and Italy had ever dreamed up. Some made sense. Most didn’t. He didn’t care about that. He spent his days enforcing all of them. When I got to know Rodolfo eight months ago, I had no idea a compliance manager had to have the most nitpicking personality imaginable. Talk about professional deformation: He quoted paragraphs at me even while undressing, and that really made me nervous.

On the other hand, he was a dear. He was sweet and reliable and steady. I did value that, which was why I tried to make a go of our relationship, but finally, a week ago, I gave up. I told him we needed to think about our relationship, and some time apart would help both of us to see clearer. He was devastated. I was relieved.

But now, with Christmas almost upon me, I hesitated. Was I going to be lonely? “Nonsense,” I told myself, trying to make my voice sound firm. “I’ll finally have time to—” I lifted my head and stopped mid-sentence.

The attic window in the house next door, the one that had intrigued me, was alight. I could see it clearly, a rectangle in the dark, like a medium-sized television screen or a tiny theater stage. A man sat at a desk that seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. He had his profile to me, and I could see his strong jaw, his coffee latte skin, and his mop of dark curls as if I stood in the same room. He stared at the screen of a notebook with a frown that made his eyebrows bristle, and he was wearing an ugly, hand-knitted sweater made of some mottled brown wool. Where had he sprung from?

Mesmerized, I took a step forward. In all these weeks, I had never seen a soul up there. The attics had been my private area, giving me the feeling the roofs were my world alone, and now, just before Christmas, this guy had appeared like . . . like Father Christmas.

I smiled at myself. No, he didn’t look like Father Christmas at all. I took my time to survey him a bit better. He looked like a teddy bear. A brown, cuddly teddy bear, particularly with that rough sweater and those unruly curls. A Christmas Teddy.
Actually, it was quite a nice view – a decided improvement. But what terrible timing! Would he still be sitting here in the New Year? I had spent my life in this attic these last weeks – at least, that’s how it felt – and now, on the very day when I planned to go on vacation, he appeared. It wasn’t fair.

Maybe I could say something nice to him? Something like Merry Christmas or equally meaningful stuff? Yes, that’s what I would do. Maybe we could have a little chat and I could find out if he’d come to stay for longer.

I went to the window, took hold of the handle and yanked it open. The window had a tendency to get stuck, but I’d long ago learned the trick. If I pulled just so, with all my might, and twisted it a bit to the side, it would open with a little, familiar creak.
There it was. The creak.

Then I heard another creak. Only it wasn’t a creak. It was a crash. And then, before I knew what was happening, the whole window became unstuck and crashed onto my head. I went down like a sack of potatoes.