Every year I meet my friend Carol for spiced cider the week before Christmas. I’m never on time; she’s always early. I tell her that way, she gets to choose the table--preferably one with a cute waiter.
I enter the cafe and scan the seating area. There she is, waving me over. I stomp the snow off my shoes before crossing the sunny room, nod my head and mumble Merry Christmas to some folks I recognize.
“Sorry I’m late, traffic was horrible.” I take my seat across from her and she reaches for my hand.
“The weather outside is frightful,” she says.
I smile with relief. She’s not mad I’ve kept her waiting. “I’m almost done with my shopping,” I tell Carol. “I just need something for my little niece.”
She pulls a sales flier from her purse and points to a picture. “Give her a dolly that laughs and cries, one that will open and shut her eyes.”
I fold the ad and place it in my purse. “I knew you’d have an idea.” I sip the drink she thoughtfully ordered for me. “Thanks for the cider. I can’t believe we have snow.”
She smiles and says, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
“I know!” I agree. “Joe’s parents are due in tomorrow. I’m not sure what we’ll do for fun.”
Carol, of course, has the perfect suggestion. “It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”
I say, “That’s perfect. Joe’s parents love sleigh rides.”
Then our waiter appears with suggestions for dessert. “Ladies, can I get you some applesauce cake? Or perhaps our pumpkin torte?”
Carol says, “Oh, bring us some figgy pudding.”
I nod my head but he frowns at us. “I’m afraid we don’t have figgy pudding.”
Carol is not easily dissuaded. “We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here.”
He takes a step back. “Um, well, I’ll see what I can do.”
After he walks away, I say to her, “Do you and Chris have plans tonight?”
“Later on we’ll conspire, as we dream by the fire,” she says.
“Well, that sounds cozy,” I say. “I know you’ve been worried ever since he lost his job. Things any better?”
She smiles slightly. “From now on our troubles will be miles away.”
Suddenly I’m intrigued. “What do you mean? Are you moving? Planning an escape?”
She shakes her head. “There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief or pain. Because it’s Christmas, Christmas once again.”
Now I’m confused. “I’m so sorry. It must be really hard this time of year especially,” I say sympathetically.
“Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more,” she says.
I can’t help but wield the feeling that there’s something she’s not telling me. “You’re moving, aren’t you? We won’t be able to meet again like this--like we’ve always done all these years.”
She pulls a pack of tissues from her purse, hands me one and takes one herself. “You’d better watch out,” she sniffs. “You’d better not cry.”
But I do. The tears just come. “I’ll miss you. Christmas won’t be the same without your friendship.”
She wipes the tears from her cheeks and stands to hug me. “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again someday.”
I hug her tightly, sad to see her go, and when she gets to the door she tosses her plaid scarf over her shoulder and turns to wave. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas now,” she calls and then she’s gone.
I sit back down and the waiter reappears at my elbow. “Did your friend leave? I found some bread pudding. Is she coming back?”
I look at him, incredulous to his insensitivity. “If only in my dreams.”