“What’s the second?” Nicholas asked.
“You said number one, looking too young. What’s your number two problem, Marie?” Her hesitation was obvious. “Come on. It’s dark and no one is here but me.”
“I can’t trust anyone anymore.” Her tone was sullen. “No one tells me the truth. All the people around me are playing parts.”
Isn’t everyone? “What part are you playing?”
“Yes, you are. Just like everyone else.” Except for him, of course, although he’d let her believe him a shrink. “I say we both come clean.”
“Okay, you first.”
He took a deep breath. Maybe those repeated requests for his honesty had sunk in, and he could be upfront with her. In the dark. “I think you’re probably nicer than you let on, and not a spoiled brat under that façade.”
“Is that what you meant by coming clean?”
“Young lady –”
“I think you’re as stuffy as this elevator.”
“You are a brat.” Uncharacteristic for him to be so blunt, but enough was enough. He was as much fun as the next person who’d spent years in the cold, only being needed once a year, keeping all his real gifts bottled up without appreciation. “I’ve sky dived.”
“No. I don’t believe it.”
“Yes, I have.”
She nudged him. Her tiny shoulder was pointy against his forearm. “Tell me more.”
Her interest was a light in the dark. “A few years ago, before…never mind.” He cleared his throat. “A few years ago, I spent a week in the Rockies, with only what I could carry on my back. I nearly drowned, white water rafting.”
“Oh, my gosh. I would never have guessed.”
“I’ve done a great many daring and dangerous things.” Memories flooded in, seeming more real than the present. “Once a year…well, I try to mix it up now and then, although messing up the routine isn’t advised, I am told. I have a great many advisors. But they’re really small people and don’t know it.” He should tell them that. They’d have to listen. But then, they were always listening. His life of late was more like sitting in this elevator, immobile. No light. Only mellow elevator music.
“Shh…listen. It’s the Rolling Stones. Now that is blasphemous.”
Marie giggled. “I love the Stones.”
“I got halfway backstage at their concert before security stopped me.”
“Nick!” She leaned into him.
He laughed. A real laugh. None of that ho, ho, ho they expected.
“Give me your hand,” she demanded.
“Come on. You can trust me.” She leaned into him again, her hand on his arm. “Give me your hand.”
Feeling silly, he complied. Without warning she stood and pulled him with her.
“Oh, I don’t think—”
“Come on. No one is here to see us.” Her laughter was contagious. “We can’t even see ourselves.”
Chuckling, self-consciously, he followed her lead. They held hands. At first awkward, he relaxed and imagined they danced in perfect sync. A subtle breeze brushed his face, her twirling and laughter disturbing the stale elevator air.
“You’re a lovely girl, Marie Louise.”
“Oh, sure. In the dark, I’m a real looker.” She let go his hands. “I’m realistic. Remember?”
“Whoa. Stop a minute.” He stilled. “Now you give me your hand.” Using her hand as a guide, he placed his fingers on her shoulder and turned her to face where the mirror would reflect them, if it weren’t so dark. “Now look closely and tell me you don’t see a beautiful young lady.”
“I don’t see a beautiful young lady. You’re only being kind and a little bit crazy.”
“I’m hardly ever kind to anyone over the age of nine.” Giving, however you could, that was the important thing. “Look at your gorgeous hair—the color of the sky when the moon is hiding on a cold snowy night. I can see it even in the dark. And your eyes are the color of tree bark against a white landscape. Your face has been kissed with tiny little freckles.” As he spoke, he imagined wrapping up his words with a big red ribbon. “How can you not see yourself? I don’t think you’re as realistic as you say you are. You are a lovely, adorable, intelligent, attractive young woman.”
“I am?” The words barely whispered, she intoned awe.
“You are from this moment forward.”
A loud ring choked off the sound of her appreciation. The phone call he hoped for—although the miracle he needed wouldn’t happen.
“Oh good grief, Nick. It’s the phone.”
In harmony, the lights chimed in on the second ring. He turned and fumbled with the half-opened door of the telephone cubby, grabbing the receiver. “Hello. Hello.”
“This is security. We’re going to get you out of there soon. Are you okay?”
“Are you alone or does there happen to be a Mrs. Marie Le Mare with you?”
“Mrs. Le Mare? No. Her name is Marie, but her last name is Smith.”
She covered her mouth in a giggle and shook her head.
“Well, I might have misunderstood. Let me ask her. Is your last name Le Mare?”
Still giggling with both hands to her face she nodded.
“Apparently, her last name is Le Mare. We’ll be waiting.” He replaced the receiver and spun around. “You lied.”
With a whir, the elevator gave a jerk, knocking him off balance. He grabbed the rail.
Her giggles turned into full laughter.
“You’re a brat.”
“Now, Nick. Don’t be angry. If I’d told you my name was Marie Louise Le Mare, you would’ve treated me differently.”
“You’re right! I read a lot of newspapers in the workshop while they’re making the toys.”
“Toys? What are you—”
“You’re the young bride. Married a millionaire old enough to be your father.”
“And we wouldn’t have had near as much fun, if you’d known.” Frowning, she tilted her head to the side. “I get tired of being treated like...like…I could break or something. Besides, playing mind games with you was just too tempting.” She punched his shoulder and smiled. “And you have to admit, we had fun.”
He couldn’t admit anything else. He squinted. The overhead lights did the wave through her hair again. “Yes, Marie, we had fun.”
Seconds later, the door opened and a short, over-weight man in gray coveralls greeted them. Two men in white coats stood behind him.
“Hey! Hope you folks are okay. Sorry it took so long, Mrs. Le Mare. Your husband said he’ll be right down.”
The two white coats stepped forward, one holding a hand out to Nicholas. “Well, Harry. Looks like you had an adventure today. Are you feeling okay?”
He recognized them. Too bad they hadn’t sent one of his helpers. These two guys wouldn’t be fooled. The attendant who’d waited for him after his session had been too busy playing games on his cell. Slipping past him had posed no challenge at all.
“I’m great. But I don’t know why you insist on calling me Harry.” He ignored the hand offered and stepped between them. “I haven’t missed the Snow Ball, have I?”
“No, no.” The short one smiled. “The Snow Ball wouldn’t be the same without you.”
They were nice enough fellows, even if confused about his identity.
He turned to face Marie. Her eyes opened wide and her lips parted in a question. Before he could say goodbye, a shout rose behind them.
“Marie! Thank God you’re okay.” A salt-and-pepper-haired man in a well-cut navy suit strode over.
Ah, the rich husband.Embracing her, he kissed both of her cheeks. “I’ll have the whole system checked out before this building closes tonight.”
The two white coats tugged on Nicholas’s arms.
Mr. Le Mare hugged his wife even tighter. “Oh, mon dieu. Trapped in the elevator with a crazy man. I’ve been worried sick.”
“Jean, please.” She glanced at him. Her face said sorry.It didn’t matter. The only opinion that mattered came from those who knew you. You could spend years with some people, like his friends in white, and they didn’t have a clue. A half hour with another person, and you gained a true friend for life.
Her husband grabbed her arm. “They said he wasn’t dangerous, but he’s delusional.”
“Is that what they call it?” She smiled at Nicholas. “Maybe we should all be a little more delusional.”
He’d come so close to his surprise appearance at the Snow Ball, although only a miracle would’ve made his solo entrance possible. She hadn’t needed his help—not the way he first thought—but a gift had been given. And returned in kind.
Marie waved. “Merry Christmas, Nicholas.”
“Merry Christmas, Marie.”
They’d had fun, like two normal people. This was a Christmas miracle he hadn’t counted on.
I hope you enjoyed my contribution to Christmas Miracles. If you’d like to check out my other stories and novels, please visit my web site at www.brendawhiteside.com.
Be sure to visit us tomorrow for another Christmas Miracle from Jannine Gallant.