“Oh, Adele, it isn’t so late yet.” Mae’s brow wrinkled, and she clasped her hands to her chest.
His hopes rose. “Now Mae, if Adele would prefer to go, I would be happy to see you safely home. I have my car parked on the other side of the river. If you don’t mind riding the ferry boat across, I could see you to your door.”
The long-faced woman frowned an obvious “don’t do it” expression.
But Mae didn’t hesitate. “Thank you, Jonathan. I wouldn’t mind a ferry boat ride.”
Her friend pushed her chair back from the table and glared. “I’ll leave, but it’s not a good idea. I want you to call me when you get home.” With a huff, she stomped away.
Mae’s cheeks pinked. “I’m sorry, Jonathan. Adele surely has a vivid imagination. She really is quite a nice person.”
It was nothing new to Jonathan. Choosing one female at a table over another, leaving one scorned was a way of life. He was lucky to be rid of Adele so quickly. There was a time when he could play this scene out for several hours and not whittle it down to one woman until an hour before last call for alcohol. But those were days gone by, and the nights seemed shorter now. It wasn’t that his pace was any slower than it used to be; he preferred a different style now. That’s what it was, merely his new style.
Besides, he had a feeling about Mae.
Another hour of dancing and talking. He learned Mae had enough money to live comfortably. One son lived in Michigan. She’d seen many a fun time with her husband. Now, she enjoyed the heat, the river, an occasional night at the casino, and she’d forgotten how much she loved to dance. He listened until nearing ten o’clock.
“Jonathan, I’ve really enjoyed myself, but I need to get home and let out my dog.”
“What kind of dog?”
“Puddin’ is a Chihuahua.”
“Chihuahuas are my favorite dog.” Jonathan told her, not entirely dishonest. He’d never considered what kind of dog he liked. But if Mae liked them, he could, too.
They rode the boat from Nevada to the Arizona side. The air was dry, tinged with the scent of fish, and cool. As they ferried across, Jonathan didn’t miss the opportunity to tell Mae how she shone in the moonlight. In fact, the moonlight paled in comparison. By the time he’d driven her to her door, it was important to Mae he come in for a moment and meet Puddin’. And when they realized it was eleven o’clock and watching the reruns of Jeopardy was a nightly habit they had in common, another half an hour passed pleasantly. Plans were made for the following evening, and he kissed her gently on the cheek.
Most evenings they sat on her patio and watched the sun extinguish itself as it washed red and orange over the mountains, glistening in the Colorado River, until the final embers settled in hues of smoky purple. The sparkling river twinkled brighter than his diamond cufflinks. He found the richness of the desert colors more gratifying than the nightlights he’d chased for so many years.
“Mae.” He took her hand one evening as they gazed across the river. Puddin’, lounged in his lap and licked their entwined fingers resting on his thigh. “You’re a precious woman.”
“I do enjoy your company, Jonathan. But…”
His heart pinched. Had he found his forever only to have it yanked from his grasp? Had he misread the sweetness Mae showered on him?
Her pale blue eyes blinked as she appeared to search for the right words. “I know you’re a worldly man, and from what we’ve told each other about our pasts, you require variety in your life, where as I’m satisfied with my quiet existence here. I treasure each day now, and although you and I may only share a short time—”
“Are you ill?”
“Ill? No. Why do you ask?”
“It sounded like…never mind.” He squeezed her hand as his heart returned to normal. “I treasure you.” The thought of living without Mae, the river, and the desert chilled his arms as if the last rays of the sun refused to warm him.
Puddin’ gave his fingers one last lick and buried his nose in the fold of Jonathan’s slacks.
“You won’t get bored? With me? With us?”
He’d always had a golden tongue and a way with the ladies. But glib conversation escaped him. This moment required more. He brought her fingers to his lips and brushed them with a kiss. “No.”
Three days before Christmas, Jonathan moved in with Mae. He found his new style of living fit him better than the two dozen polyester shirts and leather dancing shoes taking up more than half of Mae’s closet.
He sold the gold bracelet from Lola to buy Christmas gifts for the dog and Mae. Jonathan beamed with the new life he’d found when he opened his gift of a coffee mug that said “Puddin’s Papa” on their first Christmas.
Twice a week they rode the ferry across the Colorado River and ate dinner at the Riverside Casino, dancing afterwards until it was time to go home and let out Puddin’.
And Puddin’s Papa was never alone on Christmas again.
I hope you enjoyed my contribution to Ringing in the Holidays. Please come back tomorrow for Jannine Gallant's story.
If you'd like to learn more about my novels and stories, please go to www.brendawhiteside.com.